- Provinces reconciling limiting spread of COVID-19 while keeping economy functioning.
- Public health officials say Canada is at a crossroads in its pandemic battle.
- Ontario looks to avoid lockdown-style measures to combat second wave of COVID-19.
- Quebec health minister says to avoid all social gatherings as community transmission increases.
- Swiss health authorities have ordered a quarantine for 2,500 students.
- U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds infected young people caused COVID-19 surge that spread to older populations.
Provinces across Canada are reconciling with how to limit the spread of spiking COVID-19 infections among communities while also trying to keep the economy functioning and open to deter further economic downturns.
Infectious disease experts say Canadian health authorities must tighten restrictions again or hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 will increase exponentially in the coming weeks.
As of 3 p.m. ET on Thursday, Canada had 148,783 confirmed or presumptive coronavirus cases. Provinces and territories listed 128,336 of those as recovered or resolved. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC’s reporting stood at 9,286.
WATCH | Governments avoid rolling back reopening as COVID-19 cases surge:
Echoing comments made Tuesday by Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam, who said Canada is at a crossroads in its pandemic battle, experts in public health are urging governments to take decisive action to prevent the current resurgence of the virus from spiralling out of control.
Ontario wants to avoid imposing lockdown-style measures to combat a second wave of COVID-19, but is prepared to take “targeted action” such as closing certain higher-risk businesses, CBC News has learned.
CBC News obtained a copy of Ontario’s fall pandemic preparedness plan, still in draft form, even as Premier Doug Ford’s government is in the midst of announcing some of its elements.
The 21-page draft, provided by a government source this week, acknowledges the recent upsurge in new COVID-19 cases and lays out three possible scenarios of what the second wave could look like: small, moderate or large.
The plan shows a commitment of at least $2.2 billion to the pandemic response, of which $1.4 billion will go toward multiple public health measures including increased testing capacity, contact tracing and actions taken to reduce transmission.
Another $475 million from that budget will be used for preparing the health-care system for an influx of cases.
WATCH | Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s address to the nation:
This comes as Toronto Mayor John Tory says officials are looking at specific actions that the city could take to slow the spread of COVID-19.
At a city hall news briefing on Wednesday, Tory said officials have pinpointed four “areas for action” and these areas are being monitored closely because they are places where the novel coronavirus seems to be spreading.
Tory said the city is working with provincial and federal officials and Toronto Public Health (TPH) staff to determine how best to proceed amid a resurgence of the virus. TPH and provincial officials are investigating the four areas, he said.
One action the province is taking is to begin offering COVID-19 testing in pharmacies on Friday, starting with up to 60 pharmacies around the province, the premier said.
WATCH | Infectious disease specialist knocks Ontario plan to test for COVID-19 in pharmacies:
The testing will be available by appointment only, for those not experiencing symptoms of the novel coronavirus, and is expected to roll out to further locations in the coming weeks, the province said.
Of the 13 pharmacies contacted, seven said they won’t be ready to test by Friday because they don’t yet have the necessary supplies or training, while the others said they don’t yet know.
However, Ontario on Thursday moved to limit who could get a COVID-19 test as labs struggled to keep up with demand, with the province refocusing on people with symptoms, close contacts of confirmed cases and some other high-risk groups, and discouraging tests for low-risk people without symptoms.
“Doing this will help support access to testing for those who need it, and help us to prevent and control the spread of COVID-19,” Barbara Yaffe, the province’s associate chief medical officer of health, said at a briefing.
The new guidance says asymptomatic people at the site of specific outbreaks may be considered for asymptomatic testing, along with high-risk populations like long-term care home workers, residents and visitors.
WATCH | Ontario’s health minister says $1B in funding will improve testing, tracking infections:
On a federal level, the Liberal government says it will extend emergency support for Canadians hit by the COVID-19 crisis. It also said it plans to impose criminal penalties for those who neglect vulnerable, elderly Canadians after the pandemic exposed shocking gaps in some long-term care facilities.
It is promising to expand supports for struggling businesses and to extend the wage subsidy program until next summer. That program, which aims to keep employees on the payroll to ensure a smooth post-pandemic economic transition, covers 75 per cent of employee wages for the initial claim period — up to $847 a week — before being gradually reduced in subsequent claim periods.
WATCH | Throne speech outlines 4 approaches to pandemic recovery:
The wage subsidy extension is part of the government’s vow to create a million jobs, which would restore employment to pre-pandemic levels. It is also promising to “scale up” its strategy to help young people gain skills and find jobs.
“The economic impact of COVID-19 on Canadians has already been worse than the 2008 financial crisis. These consequences will not be short-lived,” said Gov. Gen. Julie Payette, reading from the speech in the Senate Chamber.
What’s happening in the rest of Canada
Nova Scotia is working to implement the COVID-19 swish, gargle and spit test recently introduced for school-aged children in British Columbia, but right now there aren’t enough cases to confirm the testing method.
“To really validate a test, you have to have people who have the virus, so that we can compare gargles to our standard testing,” said Dr. Todd Hatchette, the chief of service for microbiology in the Nova Scotia Health Authority’s central zone.
“Nova Scotia has done such a tremendous job at flattening the curve that we don’t really have positive tests at the moment that will allow us to do that.”
Hatchette said the health authority is working with colleagues in B.C. to get specimens in order to corroborate the gargle test in Nova Scotia.
COVID-19 could have been carried to Quebec by as few as 247 people coming home from travelling, according to a genome sequencing study conducted by the Institut national de santé publique du Québec (INSPQ) and the McGill Genome Centre.
The study looked at the genome sequences of 734 COVID-19 samples in Quebec between mid-February and April 1 and compared them to more than 21,000 other samples elsewhere in the world.
In Quebec, the first confirmed case of COVID-19 was traced back to as early as Feb. 25, according to the study, but it and other early cases were well contained, and did not lead to sustained transmission.
“It was a trickle at first,” said Jesse Shapiro, a professor in the department for human genetics and head of genome sciences at McGill, noting that it was easier to manage the few cases of COVID-19 in the province at that time.
At a news conference Thursday, Quebec’s Health Minister Christian Dubé asked residents to avoid all social gatherings including weddings, funerals and dinner with friends.
He also told Quebecers to cancel Thanksgiving plans in order to have a shot at “a nice Christmas.”
Alberta is seeing a COVID-19 outbreak within three units at Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary. The virus spread in the facility has now resulted in the deaths of three people, along with 17 patients and nine staff members testing positive. A total of 114 staff are in isolation.
Another outbreak involving three health-care workers has also been declared at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton. At-risk patients have been tested, and no other positive cases of COVID-19 have been identified so far among patients.
Twenty-seven schools in Alberta are reporting outbreaks of the coronavirus, with 10 schools in the Calgary zone, 11 in the Edmonton zone, one in Lethbridge, one in St. Albert, one in Okotoks and three in northern Alberta.
What’s happening around the world
According to Johns Hopkins University, the global total of confirmed coronavirus cases stands at more than 32 million. More than 979,000 people have died, while over 22 million have recovered.
European Union officials urged member nations Thursday to move quickly to slow the latest wave of COVID-19 infections to avoid a repeat of the broad lockdowns that paralyzed the continent’s economy in the spring.
EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides said the most recent risk assessment showed that some countries are reporting more cases now than they did during the pandemic’s earlier peak in Europe.
“We are at a decisive moment. All member states must be ready to roll out control measures, immediately and at the right time, at the very first sign of potential new outbreaks,” Kyriakides said. “This might be our last chance to prevent a repeat of last spring.”
Swiss health authorities have ordered a quarantine for 2,500 students at a prestigious hospitality management school in the city of Lausanne after “significant outbreaks” of COVID-19 that are a suspected by-product of off-campus partying.
Authorities in Switzerland’s Vaud canton, or region, said all undergraduates at the Ecole Hoteliere de Lausanne, known as the Lausanne Hospitality Management University in English, have been ordered to quarantine both on- and off-campus because the number of outbreaks “made a more targeted closure impossible.”
India reported another 86,508 new coronavirus cases, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi sees little merit in imposing even short local lockdowns.
India now has confirmed more than 5.7 million cases, the second-most in the world. The country’s health ministry also said Thursday that 1,129 more people have died, for a total of 91,149.
Foreigners holding certain types of visas and residence permits will be permitted to return to China starting next week as the threat of coronavirus continues to recede.
The new regulation lifts a months-long blanket suspension covering most foreigners apart from diplomats and those in special circumstances.
Spain’s Madrid region requested urgent help on Wednesday to hire hundreds of foreign doctors and reinforce police as they registered 1,290 new coronavirus infections and considered extending a partial lockdown to more areas.
Representing over a quarter of Spain’s 4,143 new cases in the past 24 hours, the capital region has been hardest hit by a second wave of COVID-19, with the number of daily deaths and infections soaring to levels not seen since May.
Madrid has already restricted movement between and within some districts where about 850,000 people live since midnight on Monday.
The French health ministry reported on Thursday that the number of people in intensive care because of the coronavirus jumped to over 1,000 for the first time since June 8.
The ministry also said that the number of people with COVID-19 in hospital was up by 136 to 5,932.
The number of coronavirus infections in the Netherlands hit a daily record at 2,544 on Thursday, data released by health authorities showed.
Coronavirus infections in the country have reached record levels almost every day since mid-September. The previous high of 2,357 was reported on Wednesday, when the total number of reported cases passed 100,000.
In the United States, a new report published Wednesday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that young adults who became infected with COVID-19 caused a surge that has now cascaded over to older populations.
Outbreaks in the U.S. that were traced to gatherings at bars and parties eventually impacted older people who came into contact with the younger cases, the report shows.
Sending students home from post-secondary schools that are experiencing outbreaks is problematic as they may bring COVID-19 back to other communities, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, at a U.S. congressional hearing Wednesday.