Canadian coronavirus evening update: B.C. death toll rises, Quebec forbids gatherings

March 21, 2020 – Black Press Media is updating this file through the day

Black Press Media is updating news stories throughout the day as the coronavirus crisis escalates. This file focuses on national news.

Here are the latest updates, as of 5:30 p.m., Saturday, March 21, 2020:

B.C. orders spas, salons, massage and tattoo parlours to close

British Columbia’s provincial health officer says there are 74 new cases of COVID-19 in the province, bringing the total to 424.

Dr. Bonnie Henry says there are 27 people in hospital, 12 of whom are in intensive care. Six people have recovered.

She says there has also been another death associated with the Lynn Valley long-term care home in North Vancouver.

Henry says the province is ordering all personal service establishments to close, including salons, spas, and massage and tattoo parlours.

Quebec forbids indoor and outdoor gatherings

The Quebec government is forbidding most indoor and outdoor gatherings in its effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

A cabinet decree adopted today extending the province’s public health emergency until March 29 says the measure is necessary because of the serious threat the pandemic poses to the public.

The only exceptions for indoor gatherings are at workplaces not closed by government order, at stores and government offices to receive services, in public transit and for people who reside under the same roof or are providing a service or support in a home.

The decree says outdoor gatherings are permitted if the people gathered stay at least two metres apart or if they are members of the same household.

Business Council of Canada calls for strict self-isolation: Every day we delay will cost lives

The Business Council of Canada has called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to enforce a strict self-isolation policy across the country to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

Goldy Hyder, the organization’s president and CEO, says “all Canadians should be told, not asked or advised,” to stay home.

Hyder allowed that Canadians should be able to leave their homes if their jobs are essential or to purchase food and other necessities.

The letter warns Trudeau that “every day we delay will cost lives.”

Six virus victims in intensive care in Alberta

Health officials in Alberta believe 16 of the province’s COVID-19 cases could be the result of community transmission.

Alberta is reporting 31 new cases of the disease, bringing the province’s total to 226.

Of those cases, 11 people are in hospital and six are in intensive care.

Saskatchewan now can test for virus

The Saskatchewan government says it now has the capability to perform COVID-19 testing within the province.

The government says the Roy Romanow Provincial Laboratory in Regina now has the ability to do confirmatory testing, which will speed up obtaining results.

It says the tensing also means that 17 new cases reported in Saskatchewan today have already been confirmed and that officials will no longer be reporting presumptive cases.

It says the lab is processing about 456 COVID-19 tests a day.

Saskatchewan now has 44 cases of COVID-19 in total — 25 cases which are confirmed and 19 cases that are presumptive

Novia Scotia cases now at 6

Nova Scotia has six new presumptive cases of COVID-19, bringing the provincial total to 21.

All are travel-related.

The 21 individuals affected range in age from late-teens to mid-70’s.

Dentists can no longer practise in the province unless it’s an emergency.

Ontaria death toll rises to three people

A third person has died in Ontario because of COVID-19.

The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit confirmed the death of the man who was in his 70s today.

The man had been in close contact with another man who was the province’s first COVID-19 related death on March 11.

Six cases in New Brunswick

New Brunswick has six new presumptive cases of COVID-19.

Four of the people had been on a cruise ship, while the other two were close contacts to travel-related cases.

There are now seven confirmed cases and 10 presumptive cases in New Brunswick for a total of 17.

Residents of New Brunswick’s Campobello Island must travel through part of Maine to get to the New Brunswick mainland.

With the border closed, Premier Blaine Higgs says he has been assured that anyone who needs to travel between the island and the mainland for essential services will be allowed to do so.

B.C. bans evictions for non-payment of rent in BC Housing buildings

British Columbia’s housing minister says help is on the way to ensure renters are not evicted as the province cracks down on the spread of the new coronavirus.

Selina Robinson says the B.C. government is banning evictions for non-payment of rent in buildings funded by BC Housing.

Ontario limits prescription re-fills

Ontario’s health minister says the province is asking the doctors and pharmacists not to re-fill prescriptions for more than 30 days to prevent drug shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Christine Elliott says pharmacists have told the government some patients have been requesting refills of up to six months.

The government says doctors and pharmacists will be allowed to use their own discretion if they believe a patient requires more than a 30 day supply.

Ontario premier calls on industry to produce key medical supplies

Ontario Premier Doug Ford is appealing to the province’s manufacturing sector to help produce key medical supplies.

Ford says there are shortages of many items needed by health workers because of global demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The premier says any company that can produce items like ventilators, face masks, surgical gowns, protective eye-wear and hand sanitizers should reach out to the government.

The province has established a dedicated website to help manufacturers communicate what they can provide.

Quebec cases rise to 181

Quebec Premier Francois Legault says there are now 181 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the province, up from 139 yesterday.

Legault also announced four new deaths, meaning there’s a total of five deaths in the province.

Legault says the four new deaths all came from the same senior residence.

The premier says the jump in cases was to be expected, as the province has increased its testing capacity.

Prime Minister concedes that Canadians will be trapped abroad

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says lock downs in other countries and air-space restrictions due to COVID-19 mean Canada won’t be able to get every citizen home who is trapped abroad.

Trudeau is urging Canadians currently stuck in foreign countries to make safe decisions, stay in touch with Global Affairs and not head to airports unless they have a confirmed seat on a flight back.

Trudeau says the federal government is working with airlines to arrange flights to countries where Canadians are.

Trudeau says the government will help cover some of the costs for these flights, but passengers will be expected to pay a reasonable price.

NWT bans non-essential travel to the territory

The Northwest Territories is planning to ban non-essential travel into the territory.

In a news release, the N.W.T. says chief public health officer Dr. Kami Kandola will make an order under the territory’s Public Health Act effective today.

Residents returning to the territory will be required to self-isolate in Yellowknife, Fort Smith, Hay River, or Inuvik.

The news release says disobeying the order is punishable by a fine of up to $10,000 and six months in jail.

The files below were reported as of 8:30 a.m., Saturday, March 21, 2020:

Case load in in BC climbs to 77

British Columbia is reporting 77 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total to 348.

That includes nine deaths.

B.C. has the highest number of cases in the country, surpassing the 318 being reported in Ontario.

Health Minister Adrian Dix says 22 patients are in acute care and the province will spare no effort to ensure it has the equipment in place to protect health care and other essential workers.

Borders closed to non-essential traffic

The new normal at Canada-U.S. border crossings went into effect at midnight.

In the ongoing struggle to stem the rising tide of COVID-19 cases all non-essential cross border traffic, such as tourists and people looking to do some shopping, is now banned until further notice.

Travel considered essential is still allowed, such as truckers hauling freight, health professionals and others who work on one side of the border but live on the other.

59 more cases in Ontario

Ontario is reporting 59 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total in the province to 377.

The total includes six resolved cases and two deaths.

No information is listed for more than half of the new cases, but a man in his 40s from the Simcoe-Muskoka area has been hospitalized with the virus.

Public Health Ontario says he contracted the illness during travel to England.

Premier Doug Ford is set to make an announcement later today related to COVID-19 with his health and economic development ministers.

Flight from Morocco expected to arrive today

An Air Canada flight bringing a group of Canadians home from Morocco is expected to land in Montreal today.

The repatriation flight departing from Casablanca was arranged with the help of the federal government.

Thousands of Canadians stranded abroad are becoming increasingly desperate as countries close borders and airlines cut flights due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

—-

The files below were posted on Friday, March 20.

Coronavirus cases approach 1,100 in Canada

The latest numbers of confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases in Canada as of 12:22 EST a.m. on March 21, 2020:

There are 1,085 confimred and presumptive cases in Canada.

  • British Columbia: 348 confirmed (including 9 deaths, 5 resolved)
  • Ontario: 318 confirmed (including 2 deaths, 5 resolved)
  • Alberta: 195 confirmed (including 1 death)
  • Quebec: 139 confirmed (including 1 death, 1 resolved)
  • Saskatchewan: 8 confirmed, 18 presumptive
  • Manitoba: 17 confirmed
  • Nova Scotia: 5 confirmed, 10 presumptive
  • New Brunswick: 7 confirmed, 4 presumptive
  • Canadians quarantined at CFB Trenton: 10 confirmed
  • Newfoundland and Labrador: 3 confirmed, 1 presumptive
  • Prince Edward Island: 2 confirmed
  • The Territories: No confirmed cases
  • Total: 1,085 (33 presumptive, 1,052 confirmed including 13 deaths, 11 resolved)

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 21, 2020.

Saskatchewan to supply limited funding to residents forced to self isolate

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe is announcing stricter restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and money for those in self-isolation.

The government says it will give residents forced to self-isolate who aren’t covered by federal employment insurance programs $450 per week for a maximum of two weeks.

Moe says this program mostly applies to self-employed residents and will cost $10 million.

He also announced the ban on large gatherings will drop to no more than 25 people in one room except where two-metre social distancing can be maintained, and that bars and restaurants will be closing.

The government is also making it mandatory that people returning to Saskatchewan from foreign travel must self-isolate for 14 days and Moe says if they don’t they could be arrested or face fines.

Public health officials also announced six new presumptive cases of COVID-19.

The province has eight confirmed and 18 presumptive cases.

EI applications surge by 500,000 in just one week

Canadians have been trying to come to grips with a surreal new norm over the past week as the pandemic increasingly encroaches on every-day life. Businesses, schools and previously routine activities have been shutting down en masse as a growing number of people are forced into self-isolation or urged to practice social distancing to help “flatten the curve.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Service Canada and other government agencies have seen an exponential surge of calls for help in recent weeks, noting the government some logged 500,000 applications for employment insurance this past week, compared to 27,000 during the same period a year ago.

All Vancouver restaurants to close for dine-in service

All restaurants in Vancouver must be closed for dine-in service as of midnight.

Mayor Kennedy Stewart says the order will be enforced for restaurants that do not comply, starting with a notice that could escalate to prosecution if there is continued non-compliance.

Malcolm Bromley, general manager of Vancouver’s park board, said the department has also decided to close its playgrounds across the city.

The provincial government ordered bars and nightclubs to close earlier this week.

Sandra Singh, manager of arts, culture and community services for the city, said there is now a plan in place for the potential use of Vancouver’s community centres as shelters for homeless people.

Alberta: Province provides extra funding and staff for homeless shelters

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says the province will provide extra funding and staff to set up overflow homeless shelters and spots for those who have nowhere to go but need to self-isolate.

Kenney says the Expo convention centre in north Edmonton will be used as an overflow homeless location.

He says Calgary has also identified backup locations for homeless people.

The province has already promised $60 million for charitable and non-profit groups to support seniors and other vulnerable populations hit hard by COVID-19.

Coronavirus cases surge to 139 in Quebec

Quebec has seen the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases rise today to 139, up from 121 cases on Thursday.

One person has died in the province and one person has recovered, while 10 people are hospitalized.

Premier Francois Legault says the situation is still under control, and the province has put off elective surgeries and freed up 4,000 beds and is able to administer 6,000 tests per day.

Legault says it’s unlikely that school will resume this month and it’s possible it will be May before students are back in class.

Asylum seekers to be turned away

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair says asylum seekers who attempt to enter Canada at irregular border crossings like the one at Roxham Road will be turned back — but not detained.

Blair says there will be no detention by Canadian or U.S. authorities for those returned to either country, except in rare cases involving serious criminality.

Freeland: Be patient as details are hammered out

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland is asking Canadians for patience as the Liberal government hammers out the details of the major moves they are making to respond to the global pandemic of COVID-19.

She says officials are doing things that would normally take several months in a matter of days and that they are aiming for speed, rather than perfection.

She says that sometimes means making an announcement about the actions they are taking and then filling in the details after the fact.

Freeland says that is not how they would normally operate, but she hopes Canadians understand the extraordinary situation.

Top doctor cites travel restrictions

The consistent message from Canada’s top doctor is that Canadians need to avoid all non-essential travel.

And Dr. Theresa Tam repeated that message, without elaboration, when asked whether Canadian athletes should travel to Japan for the Tokyo Olympics, which are set to open July 24.

Health Minister Patty Hajdu adds that with disruption in air travel and border restrictions around the world, the safest thing for Canadians to do right now is stay home.

Ottawa secures 11 million respirator masks

The federal government has been able to secure more than 11 million N95 respirator masks and delivery will begin immediately.

Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand says her department has been working closely with the federal public health agency to figure out which medical supplies are needed and where.

She says her department recently asked manufacturers across the country to let Ottawa know what they would be able to provide and more than 5,800 companies responded by offering various goods or services to combat COVID-19.

She says the goal is to be “over prepared,” especially since global demand will continue to climb and border restrictions could affect the supply chain.

Businesses asked to help in war on virus

Industry Minister Navdeep Bains is asking Canadian business to step up and tell the government what they can do to help fight COVID-19.

He says some businesses, like distilleries, have already made quick changes to start producing high-alcohol hand sanitizers.

More money is being sent to researchers, and to small companies that might have innovative products that could help with the pandemic but aren’t ready right now, such as diagnostic tools.

Bains says the full weight of the federal government is behind the plan.

Saskatchewan ramps up child-care spaces for health workers’ children

The Saskatchewan government is converting child-care spaces in schools into daycares for children of health-care workers responding to COVID-19.

It says priority will be given to school-age children of staff in hospitals, long-term care facilities, labs and those working at COVID-19 testing and assessment sites.

The sites are to be open Monday.

Borders to close at 11:49 EST

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair says Canadians and Americans have drastically reduced their non-essential border crossings even before a closure of the Canada-U.S. frontier takes effect.

That formal closure takes effect at 11:59 Eastern Time tonight.

Blair adds that anyone crossing the Canadian border away from an official crossing point, including people crossing to claim asylum, will be redirected to the United States, with “necessary and limited exceptions.”

The restriction will only be in place for 30 days, but it’s subject to renewal if it’s still needed in a month.

Blair says people who have recently entered Canada to make refugee claims will be allowed to do so but will be kept in isolation for 14 days.

Here’s the latest number of COVID-19 cases in Canada

The latest numbers of confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases in Canada as of 3 p.m. on March 20, 2020:

There are 943 confirmed and presumptive cases in Canada.

  • Ontario: 308 confirmed (including 2 deaths, 5 resolved)
  • British Columbia: 271 confirmed (including 8 deaths, 5 resolved)
  • Alberta: 146 confirmed (including 1 death)
  • Quebec: 139 confirmed (including 1 death, 1 resolved)
  • Saskatchewan: 8 confirmed, 12 presumptive
  • Manitoba: 9 confirmed, 8 presumptive
  • Nova Scotia: 5 confirmed, 10 presumptive
  • New Brunswick: 2 confirmed, 9 presumptive
  • Canadians quarantined at CFB Trenton: 10 confirmed
  • Newfoundland and Labrador: 3 confirmed, 1 presumptive
  • Prince Edward Island: 2 confirmed
  • The Territories: No confirmed cases
  • Total: 943 (40 presumptive, 903 confirmed including 12 deaths, 11 resolved)

Manitoba the latest province to declare state of emergency

Manitoba has declared a state of emergency due to COVID-19.

Premier Brian Pallister says it was not an easy decision but it was necessary to protect the health and safety of all Manitobans.

The measures will limit pubic gatherings of more than 50 people, including at places of worship, restaurants and bars.

Pallister says Manitobans have been practicing social distancing.

As of Thursday, there were 17 cases of the virus in the province.

Walmart plans massive hiring spree during crisis

Walmart Canada says it will hire 10,000 more employees to work in its stores and distribution centres as it deals with issues related to COVID-19.

The company announced the jobs in a letter sent to customers by Walmart Canada CEO Horacio Barbeito, but did not provide details on where the jobs would be or whether they would be temporary.

The letter says Walmart is also accelerating its annual bonus payments given to its store associates and is doling out live online physician care to its more than 90,000 employees.

Walmart also says it’s experiencing high demand for pickup and delivery and has decided to now allow home grocery deliveries to be left at a customer’s door to minimize contact.

Manufacturers ramp up COVID-19 response

The government is working with manufacturers to retool and produce equipment needed to treat people for COVID-19.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says industry has volunteered its workers and factories and arrangements are well underway.

Ontario: Largest single-day increase in COVID-19 cases

Ontario is reporting 50 new COVID-19 cases today, bringing the total in the province to 308.

That is the largest single-day increase in new cases.

The total includes five resolved cases and two deaths.

No information is listed for about half of the new cases, but two people are listed as being hospitalized and four are in a long-term care home in the Durham Region.

Deman for cannabis spikes during crisis

Provincial cannabis distributors across the country are making changes to protect consumers and employees and to help deal with a spike in demand during COVID-19 pandemic.

The Ontario Cannabis Store says it has suspended same-day and next-day deliveries because of a “higher-than-normal” volume of orders.

The OCS, the Quebec pot distributor Societe quebecoise du cannabis and B.C. Cannabis Stores also warn that Canada Post is no longer delivering parcels that require a signature or proof-of-age to customer doors.

Yukon politicians work overnight to pass budget

Urgency related to the COVID-19 pandemic prompted politicians in Yukon to work into the night to pass the territory’s latest budget.

After voting unanimously to bring the Liberal government’s 1.6-billion dollar budget forward for early consideration, it was debated and passed shortly before 11 p.m.

The legislature, which resumed March 5, has now been adjourned until October 1.

Premier Sandy Silver says passage of the budget means Yukon can focus all resources on fighting COVID-19 and provide spending assurances for the medical community, health, social services and the economy.

Canadian dies in Japan from virus

A Canadian has died in Japan from complications related to COVID-19.

Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne confirmed the news on Twitter and shared his condolences with the family of the as yet unnamed Canadian.

The federal government is providing consular assistance to the deceased’s family.

Plexiglas shields for Sobeys cashiers

Sobeys grocery stores are taking further steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among customers and staff.

The company began installing Plexiglas shields for cashiers in select stores last night and plan to have them in every store as quickly as possible.

Sobeys is also mandating that employees wash their hands every 15 minutes and will reduce store hours to allow more time for sanitizing.

Foreign Affairs Minister tests negative for virus

Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Francois-Philippe Champagne has tested negative for COVID-19.

He made the announcement this morning on Twitter.

Champagne had flu-like symptoms after travelling abroad and took the test yesterday as a precautionary measure.

City of Toronto announces payment holiday

Toronto Mayor John Tory announced a 60-day grace period for all city payments from residents and businesses.

The policy includes property tax, water and solid waste utility payments.

Tory said the move is meant to alleviate stress on people and business owners during the economic difficulties of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Irregular migrants to be turned away at Canadian border

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says irregular migrants will be turned away back to the United States when they reach the Canadian border.

He says it’s part of an agreement with the U.S.

The move addresses concerns about the difficulty of screening refugee claimants for COVID-19 when they arrive.

5,000 layoffs at Air Canada

A union official says Air Canada is laying off more than 5,000 flight attendants as the country’s largest airline cuts routes and parks planes due to COVID-19.

Wesley Lesosky, who heads the Air Canada component of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), says the carrier is laying off about 3,600 mainline employees as well as all of Air Canada Rouge’s 1,549 flight attendants.

The layoffs, which Lesosky says will take effect by April, affect roughly 60 per cent of flight attendants at the two segments.

Air Canada says the layoffs are temporary and employees will be returned to active duty status when the airline is able to ramp up its network schedule.

The Montreal-based company said Wednesday it will suspend the majority of its international and U.S. flights by March 31.

Feds boost medical equipment supply

The federal government is expected to announce today additional efforts to secure supplies of needed medical equipment to cope with the rapidly multiplying cases of COVID-19 across Canada.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has hinted at new measures to come, including involving industry and the military in the production of ventilators, masks and other personal protective gear.

He said the federal government is also expediting access to test kits to determine whether individuals have been infected with the novel coronavirus and other medical devices.

Ottawa has been working in close collaboration with provinces and territories, who deliver health care, to determine where gaps exist in the system and to try to fill them before they become a significant problem.

Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, says there has been no specific request for ventilators yet but the federal government is trying to pre-empt that by acquiring things that may be needed as the number of cases surge.

The cabinet committee on COVID-19 was to have been briefed about procurement of supplies by Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand.

Vancouver firefighters to limit responses to medical calls

First responders across the country say they’re putting measures in place to preserve their capacity to deal with emergencies as cases of COVID-19 continue to rise.

In Vancouver, Fire Chief Darrell Reid says the department is preparing to stop responding to medical calls unless they are urgent.

He says triaging calls will help preserve the fire department’s capacity to respond to major fires and other emergencies.

In Halifax, Deputy Fire Chief Dave Meldrum says dispatchers are not sending firefighters to COVID-19 calls.

While they typically go out in teams of four, he says only two firefighters will work on a patient in the case of a medical call now.

And he says firefighters are equipped with protective gear and a screening tool kit to help them identify potential COVID-19 cases.

The RCMP says the novel coronavirus has not affected how police respond to emergencies. However, some detachments are closing counter service and other activities in their offices, in consultation with local authorities.

Around the world

California’s governor ordered people in the most populous U.S. state to stay home as the coronavirus pandemic’s toll worsened so much world leaders warned of “record” economic pain.

Iran accused the United States of helping spread the virus by retaining sanctions that prevent it importing desperately needed medicine and medical equipment. Iran’s 1,200 deaths are exceeded only by those in Italy and China, and fears remain that it is underreporting the scale of its outbreak.

Iran’s U.N. Mission said the sanctions, imposed over the country’s nuclear program, were making it virtually impossible for Iran to import what it needed to fight the virus.

“In other words, while the U.S. is trying to curb the virus internally, it is helping the spread of the virus externally,” it said in a statement.

Worldwide, the death toll from COVID-19 passed 10,000 and infections exceeded 244,000, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally.

More than 86,000 people have recovered, mostly in China, but the pace is much slower than the spread of the virus. Recovery takes two weeks or so for mild cases but can be up to six weeks for those that turn serious, according to the World Health Organization.

The developments came as nations impose ever-stricter border controls and lockdowns to keep people at home and keep away outsiders, hoping to slow the spread of the virus while preparing for an onslaught of sick patients. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned of a looming global recession “perhaps of record dimensions.”

In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom said that if strong action wasn’t taken, 56% of the state’s 40 million residents could contract the virus over the next eight weeks. He expanded restrictions on non-essential movement outside of homes, saying it was necessary to control the spread of the virus, which was threatening to overwhelm California’s medical system.

Similar restrictions are in place in virus hotspots like Italy, Spain and central China.

Canadians face financial uncertainty

When it comes to her family’s financial future, Kim Petrie says the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic has erased any certainty about what lies ahead.

Over just a few days, the Hamilton resident watched significant changes ripple through her household of five.

Her three children — ages 17, 20 and 22 — live at home, but each lost their job in the restaurant industry on Monday. Now Petrie wonders if her casual part-time role as a mortgage specialist’s assistant could also be in question if the economy buckles. That would leave her family to lean on her husband’s commission-based paycheque in a market that’s caught in the grip of fear and uncertainty.

Other hurdles lie ahead for her family too, since her daughter was planning to work through the summer to save money for university in September. Her attention has shifted to applying for unemployment in the short term.

“At the moment, we’re feeling a little bit numb,” Petrie said.

“It’s almost like somebody’s going to come (from) behind a screen and say, ‘Oh, nothing ever happened and we’re back to reality.’ But we know that’s not the case.”

Like most Canadians, Petrie’s life has been upended by COVID-19, and she’s hoping an $82-billion stimulus package unveiled by the federal government may soften the blow.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau outlined rough details on Wednesday of a plan that would introduce wage subsidies for small businesses, laid off employees who don’t normally qualify for employment insurance, and families with child care expenses.

But exactly how the benefits will be rolled out is still unclear and the clock is ticking for many Canadians who feel they’ll need support if the fallout of COVID-19 drags on for months.

Should I keep away from others while walking?

Walking has been a welcome relief for people feeling cooped up in these unprecedented times of social distancing, but even this ordinary activity raises questions about what’s appropriate when approaching fellow pedestrians.

Exercise and fresh air are important for both physical and mental health during the COVID-19 outbreak — but so is following some key guidelines, advises Corinne Hart, associate professor of Ryerson University’s Daphne Cockwell School of Nursing.

Maintaining six feet of space is at the top of her list.

And while dog parks are a popular place to hang out — they’ve been as busy as ever this week as people flock outdoors — Hart said it’s better to stay away from them. Congregating anywhere isn’t a good idea, and dogs are unpredictable.

Hart, who teaches community health nursing and practice at Ryerson, also cautions against walks for people in self-isolation. While people in isolation surely crave the outdoors more than anyone, self-isolating means halting all contact with others. Leaving the house presents too many risks.

But for those not in self-isolation, outdoor exercise is recommended. And biking and running don’t pose any more of a risk than walking, as long as they’re not done in close contact with others.

Ontario researchers work on vaccine

A team of Western University researchers has begun work on creating a vaccine for the devastating novel coronavirus.

University officials say experts in virology, microbiology, vaccinology, bioinformatics and immunology have united in a bid to develop and test a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

They also hope to create a “vaccine bank” of several ready-made vaccines that could be used if another strain sparks a new coronavirus outbreak.

The team is building off of work begun by Chil-Yong Kang, a professor emeritus at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry who has been working on a vaccine for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

MERS is caused by a class of coronavirus similar to the virus that causes COVID-19.

The work is backed by $998,840 in funding announced Thursday from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. It is one of 96 projects funded across the country.

“MERS-CoV is highly related to this new virus, so it is possible to adapt that vaccine strategy quite rapidly for SARS-CoV-2,” Eric Arts, a professor at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry, said in a release.

“With the technology we have today, we can also introduce all the genetic diversity that exists for these coronaviruses in bats and other species, and create thousands of ‘seed’ vaccines.”

Scientists hope that the next time an outbreak occurs, it would be possible to identify which strain is circulating early on and immediately start producing a vaccine from the vaccine bank.

No evidence ibuprofen makes COVID-19 worse: experts

Canadian health officials are trying to calm fears that anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen can worsen COVID-19 symptoms by stressing the lack of concrete evidence.

Debate over whether ibuprofen products such as Advil should be bypassed for acetaminophen medications including Tylenol continues to rage among many people confused by conflicting reports spreading online.

Alberta’s medical health office offered assurances Thursday on Twitter, stating “there is no strong evidence to indicate that ibuprofen could worsen COVID-19 symptoms beyond the usual known side effects.”

“Until more information is available, people may wish to take paracetamol/acetaminophen to treat COVID-19 symptoms, unless advised otherwise by their doctor,” said the account, run by public health staff on behalf of chief medical officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw.

The executive vice president and chief pharmacy officer of Ontario Pharmacists Association also said Thursday there was not enough evidence to avoid the common painkiller but nevertheless suggested concerned patients use acetaminophen instead.

“It’s sometimes good to err on the side of caution because we can’t disapprove what that statement was,” said Allan Malek, referring to a weekend tweet from France’s health ministry that sparked the controversy.

“Because there is another alternative — acetaminophen, which are the Tylenol-based products — that would be a good alternative in terms of treating fever and pain that may come along with positive symptoms of COVID-19.”

Controversy over ibuprofen arose last weekend when France’s health minister tweeted that nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs — a category of drugs known as NSAIDs including ibuprofen — could be an aggravating factor for COVID-19 patients.

Drug safety researcher Mahyar Etminan traced the confusion back to a letter in a medical journal that hypothesized ibuprofen should not be used, and anecdotal evidence in France that suggested COVID-19 patients who took ibuprofen did poorly.

The files below were written on March 19, 2020

Updated at 1600 March 19.

Death toll in B.C. increases to eight dead

VANCOUVER — British Columbia has recorded an eighth death from COVID-19 as the number of infected cases has climbed to 271.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says the latest death is a man who was a resident of the Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver, where six others have died.

The province has recorded 40 new cases.

Henry says B.C. now has 271 cases of COVID-19, with the majority being in the Vancouver Coastal and Fraser health regions.

She is urging people to maintain social distancing to fight the novel coronavirus, but adds they can step outside for fresh air while maintaining their distance from others.

Health Minister Adrian Dix also announced that the province is waiving waiting periods for people who have applied for medical service plan insurance including those who are returning from infected areas in other countries.

British Columbia has declared both a provincial state of emergency and a public health emergency because of COVID-19.

Vancouver city council followed the province with its own local state of emergency today.

The city says the declaration allows staff to take additional measures in the battle against the virus including giving the city priority in acquiring clothing, equipment or medical supplies to cope with the pandemic.

Foreign Minister self isolates due to flu symptoms

TORONTO — Canada’s foreign minister is being tested for the coronavirus after experiencing flu-like symptoms after travelling.

Foreign Minister François-Philippe Champagne said on Twitter he is self-isolating at home for 14 days and says he expects the results of his test very shortly.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is already self-isolating at his residence after his wife tested positive following a trip to London.

Champagne says he will continue to work to support Canadians facing difficulties abroad and to help co-ordinate the international response to the crisis.

Canada’s top doctor: Don’t flatten the curve, ‘Plank it!’

OTTAWA — Canada’s top doctor says it might be months until we know whether social distancing measures being employed across the country are slowing the spread of COVID-19.

Canada has seen a “concerning” daily in the number of cases of COVID-19 across the country. The latest federal count is 800 cases and 10 deaths, and Alberta recorded an additional death after that tally.

But the numbers of newly confirmed cases released daily reflect people who were tested days ago, and they would have spent several days with the virus that causes COVID-19 before developing symptoms.

“I always tell people it’s a bit like the light from a star,” said chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam in a Thursday news conference.

“What you’re seeing reported today is something that actually happened a while back.”

Across the country people have taken drastic measures to limit their contact with others and keep the virus from spreading.

Some provinces have even mandated the closure of certain businesses to make sure people don’t gather in large groups.

It’s all in an effort to make sure there isn’t a sudden sharp increase in the number of cases, so that the spread of the virus is slowed over time. Public health experts call it “flattening the curve.”

“What I would like to see, and I’ll be watching very closely in the next two weeks or so, what actually happens to that curve,” Tam said.

Most cases of the virus in Canada have been mild, and found in people of working age. But it can be far more serious for older people or people with underlying health conditions.

So far the demographics of people who have contracted COVID-19 matches what other countries are seeing as well.

Today Tam called for Canadians to not flatten the curve but “plank it.”

In China and South Korea, which saw major outbreaks before Canada, it took about two and a half months to get the situation under control, Tam said.

Ideally, she said, Canada will never reach the point others did.

“I’ll see how Canadians do in the next couple of weeks,” she said.

Prairies: Doctors’ bonspiel puts physicians at risk

REGINA — An investigation is underway in at least two provinces after a Saskatchewan doctor who attended a curling bonspiel in Edmonton tested positive for COVID-19.

Dr. Allan Woo, president of the Saskatchewan Medical Association, said in a letter to members that he tested positive for the virus on Wednesday night.

“I attended a curling bonspiel held March 11-14 in Edmonton,” he said in the letter Thursday. “This bonspiel is an annual event that usually attracts 50-60 physicians from Western Canada.

“I believe I contracted the COVID-19 virus at this bonspiel.”

Woo is one of four new presumptive cases of COVID-19 in Saskatchewan, bringing the total in the province to 20.

The Ministry of Health said three of the new infections are related to travel, with the other being a close contact of a previously reported case.

Dr. Saqib Shahab, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said all of the participants have been alerted about the positive tests, meaning they will be required to be in self-isolation until further details are known.

Doctors Manitoba said in an emailed statement that the organization is aware of three doctors from Manitoba who participated in the bonspiel.

Workers sent home from northern mine

Quebec mining company Agnico Eagle has decided to send home its Nunavut-based work force from the two gold mines it operates in south central Nunavut.

All local workers on site will be returned home and those off-site will not return.

These employees will continue to be paid.

The move is being made to eliminate the possibility of Nunavut workers being infected by those flying in from the south.

As yet, Nunavut has no confirmed COVID-19 cases.

The mines will continue to operate with remaining staff.

Passport services suspended

The federal government is suspending its passport services until further notice.

Canadians will only be able to obtain or renew passports if they need to travel for urgent reasons.

This includes serious illness, the death of friend or family member, humanitarian work or would otherwise lose a job or business.

Service Canada says anyone who does not meet the criteria for urgent travel — or is experiencing symptoms such as a fever, coughing, having trouble breathing — will have to wait.

So would anyone who is in self-isolation.

Social Development Minister Ahmed Hussen says that with travel restrictions in place, Service Canada needs to focus on assisting Canadians with issues that are currently the most critical.

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