The Manitoba government announced further restrictions as COVID-19 numbers continued to surge to near-record levels Friday,
Starting Sunday morning, the cap on outdoor gatherings will drop to five people from 10. Restaurants, bars and patios will close to in-person dining but can still provide takeout and delivery services.
Gyms, museums, art galleries and libraries will have to close and indoor religious services will be prohibited.
Organized team sports will not be permitted. Dance, theatre and music schools will close. The maximum capacity at retail stores will drop to 10 per cent from 25.
The changes came as the province announced 502 new COVID-19 cases – the highest one-day number since the middle of the second wave of the pandemic last winter – and one death.
The number of people testing positive for the virus had risen to 9.6 per cent provincially and 11.3 per cent in Winnipeg.
Intensive care beds, which normally number 71, were expanded to 129 at the peak of the second wave and were approaching that number again Friday.
“The numbers that we’re seeing come in, admitted to [intensive care], especially this last week, have been high,” said Lanette Siragusa, chief nursing officer with Manitoba Shared Health.
“If we sustain those high admission numbers over the next days, not even weeks, we could reach that number.”
The expansion would mean diverting more staff from other areas of health care and more delays in elective surgeries, she added.
The government also promised Friday to increase penalties for people who repeatedly break the rules.
Fines for individuals that currently range from $298 to $1,296 will be doubled for a second or subsequent offence, Premier Brian Pallister said.
“There is a small selfish minority of people that aren’t doing their part. And in doing so, they are putting the health of themselves and others at risk,” Pallister said.
Those who refuse to pay can have their wages garnisheed and be blocked from renewing their driver’s licence.
The province has been expanding its vaccination program as more international supplies arrive.
Health officials reduced the minimum age for doses among the general population at government-run super sites and pop-up clinics to 40 from 45. Vaccines are also available to Indigenous people, certain front-line workers and people living in high-transmission areas starting at age 18.
Tougher measures imposed in Nova Scotia as outbreak intensifies in province
Nova Scotia’s COVID-19 outbreak intensified on Friday as the province reported another death linked to the virus and 227 new infections – another daily high.
The province’s chief medical officer of health confirmed that an additional 200 positive cases had yet to be entered into the province’s database because of a backlog caused by the sudden surge.
Dr. Robert Strang announced new measures aimed at preventing further spread of the deadly virus, tightening a provincewide lockdown imposed 10 days ago.
Among other things, the province has extended school closures to the end of May and imposed tougher border restrictions.
As of Friday, Nova Scotia had 1,464 active cases of COVID-19. There were 50 people in hospital, including nine in intensive care.
There have been a number of outbreaks in Atlantic Canada since the pandemic began, but the sudden spike in Nova Scotia has been the worst in the region so far.
Most of the new cases in Nova Scotia have been reported in the Halifax area, but the entire province has been subjected to strict health protocol measures since April 28, which include a ban on travel outside residents’ home municipalities.
About 2,000 Alberta truckers delivering in Montana can get COVID-19 vaccine in the state
Premier Jason Kenney says about 2,000 Alberta truckers are now eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine when they deliver goods in Montana.
Kenney says it’s part of an agreement with the U.S. state to help Canadian workers and maintain the cross-border flow of materials during the pandemic.
Montana will supply the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to drivers at a rest stop in Conrad, about 80 kilometres south of the Alberta-Montana border.
Kenney said about 800 trucks cross over into Montana every day.
Kenney urges federal government to push U.S. for surplus COVID-19 vaccines
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is urging the federal government to push hard to bring surplus COVID-19 vaccines in from the United States.
Kenney says he has spoken with regional governors who are stymied by an American export ban on shipping doses over the border.
“I’ve asked Prime Minister (Justin) Trudeau to please lobby the U.S. government to relax the export restrictions (on vaccines),” Kenney told reporters Friday.
“It makes no sense for our neighbours and regional states to be sitting on doses that we cannot use.
“One state in particular has reached out and another has expressed a willingness to offer us doses,” he added.
“These are both states in the region. They have close economic ties.
“They see what’s going on in Alberta.”
In the meantime, Kenney said some Albertans have travelled south of the border to get inoculated and urged anyone else who can to do so.
“If Albertans are down south for whatever reason and they want to get a jab, I think they can pretty easily do so in most of the United States,” he said.
“I know a lot of snowbirds and others who have done just that.”
Kenney made the pitch to Trudeau this week when the prime minister called to offer any additional resources to help Alberta stem its surge of cases. Kenney’s office said the response was that no extra federal help is needed at this time.
Kenney’s government is banking on new restrictions and ramped up vaccines to reverse a surge in COVID-19 cases in Alberta that threaten to buckle the health system in weeks and force doctors to decide which critically ill patients get care and which don’t.
Alberta is approaching 25,000 active cases and, on Thursday, the province’s chief medical health officer, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, said it’s not clear whether this third wave has crested.
More than 1.7 million Albertans have so far received at least one vaccine dose. Kenney has announced that expected additional supplies will allow everyone as young as 12 to soon get inoculated.
Those as young as 30 can now book their appointments and those as young as 12 can do so Monday. At that point, 3.8 million Albertans will be eligible out of a total population of 4.4 million.
No fines handed out at first B.C. COVID-19 roadblock as checks move across province
The Mounties in British Columbia say no cars were forced to turn around at a roadblock in place to ensure residents abide by travel restrictions due to COVID-19 as enforcement spreads over the weekend.
Cpl. Chris Manseau says 127 vehicles were stopped at a roadblock in the Manning Park area with no fines handed out.
Manseau says there are clear indications of an upcoming roadblock so drivers are well aware they are approaching one.
The RCMP say three other roadblocks will be set up over the weekend on Highway 1 in the Boston Bar area, Highway 5 in the Old Toll Booth area, and at Highway 99 in the Lillooet area.
Drivers will be asked for identification, documentation regarding their name and address, as well as the purpose for their travel.
Motorists breaking travel rules can be fined $230 for failing to follow instructions at a road check or $575 if the reason for travel violates the essential travel health order.
Manseau said in an interview that he believes the Mounties would be happy if no fines were handed out.
“We want people to stay home,” he said. “This isn’t a punitive thing. If this all goes through until the pandemic is over and we don’t issue any fines, I think we’d find that as a greater success than a lot of fines.”
He urged those thinking of travelling this weekend to ensure they’re only doing so for essential purposes, and to stay within their health region if they are not.
British Columbia’s solicitor general recently said police conducting checks will only ask drivers and not their passengers whether they’re travelling for non-essential reasons. Mike Farnworth said passengers will not be questioned for constitutional reasons based on legal advice, so the stops at high-traffic corridors and two ferry terminals don’t stray into potential investigations.
Non-essential travel in B.C. is limited to three regions, which are areas covered by the Fraser and Vancouver Coastal health authorities; the Northern and Interior health authorities; and Vancouver Island.
Trudeau pushes back on border closures after Ontario PC ad
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says finger-pointing won’t help Ontarians as the province grapples with the third wave of COVID-19.
Trudeau made the comment in response to an ad issued Thursday by Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Party, which accuses him of failing to appropriately restrict travel into the province.
The Prime Minister says Ottawa is willing to work with Ontario on further limiting the number of people allowed to enter the province.
But he says Premier Doug Ford has yet to follow up on a request for tighter rules made last week.
Trudeau says he has offered to impose stricter limits on temporary foreign workers and agricultural workers, on compassionate exceptions and on international students, noting Ontario approved the arrival of 30,000 international students over the past month.
Ford’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Meanwhile, Ontario reported 3,166 new cases of COVID-19 today and 23 more deaths linked to the virus.
The Ministry of Health said that due to a technical issue with the laboratory data feed, today’s case count may be under-reported.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said there are 876 new cases in Toronto, 817 in Peel Region, and 300 in York Region. She said there are also 205 new cases in Durham Region and 148 in Hamilton.
Manitoba’s top doctor questioned in church challenge of COVID-19 restrictions
Manitoba’s top doctor, facing questions in court Friday about his public health decisions, said there would be severe economic and societal consequences if COVID-19 were allowed to spread unchecked.
Seven Manitoba churches are fighting public health orders meant to stem the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
“Our hospitals were full of COVID-19 patients. Our ICUs were full of COVID-19 patients,” Dr. Brent Roussin testified in Court of Queen’s Bench about why decisions on restrictions were made during the pandemic’s second wave last fall.
“We had to act on the trends we’re seeing and we were in crisis.”
Roussin, chief public health officer, testified that hospitals fill up and more health-care workers are out sick when there’s significant community infection. It can mean serious consequences even for people who don’t have the virus and need health services.
“When we risk overwhelming our health-care system, which in November and December it was, we now start affecting morbidity and mortality for people who’ve never had COVID-19,” he said.
Roussin, who has a medical and law degree on top of a master of public health, has been the face of the province’s response since the beginning of the pandemic last year.
The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, a Calgary-based group representing the churches, has said Manitoba’s health measures are unjustified violations of charter-protected freedoms.
The churches are arguing their right to worship and assemble has been violated by the restrictions, which has led to “a crisis of conscience, loneliness and harm to their spiritual well-being.”
Worship services in Manitoba are restricted to 10 people or 25 per cent capacity, whichever is less, and everyone is required to wear a mask.
Government lawyers have told court it’s within the bounds of the legislature to grant the chief public health officer authority to impose reasonable rules.
Jared Brown, a lawyer for the churches, asked about the efficacy of the PCR test to detect COVID-19 and its ability to tell if a person is infectious. It’s one of the main tests used to detect the virus.
Roussin told court that PCR tests have been important to understand what is happening in the community. Seven per cent of positive cases show up in hospital about 10 days later.
Brown also questioned whether widespread community transmission has taken place even with restrictions. Roussin agreed that it is taking place now.
The Manitoba government reported 502 new COVID-19 cases Friday, the highest one-day count since the pandemic’s second wave. Health officials said they are adding intensive care beds to prepare for a surge of hospitalizations.
Court heard that age, as well as other health issues, is one of the main factors leading to severe outcomes from COVID-19.
Roussin said, however, that even if younger people don’t get as sick with the virus, infections in that population can have a significant effect on society, including on health-care workers, first responders and people who work with critical infrastructure.
He added that the goal with public health orders is to keep people safe, avoid mortality as much as possible and minimize social disruption. He said the province is still studying some of the unintended or unexpected consequences of the orders.
He told court many physicians and nurses have called for even tighter restrictions.
“I’m bound by using the least restrictive means,” he said.
The constitutional challenge is one of the latest attempts by churches across the country to quash pandemic restrictions on faith gatherings.
The Justice Centre has filed similar challenges in Alberta and British Columbia.
In Alberta, a pastor accused of violating public health orders was on trial earlier this week.
Quebec sets daily vaccination record after more than 100,000 shots administered
The province set another record that day, with 272,000 people booking vaccinations, Health Minister Christian Dube said Friday.
Slightly more than 40 per cent of Quebec’s population has received at least one dose of vaccine.
Dube said on Twitter the province is ready to ramp up vaccinations when vaccine deliveries permit, and he called the response from Quebeckers “exceptional.”
Meanwhile, Quebec reported 919 new COVID-19 cases Friday, the fifth consecutive day health officials have reported fewer than 1,000 new cases. They also reported five more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus.
Officials said hospitalizations dropped by six, to 574, and 139 people were in intensive care, a drop of five.
Montreal reported the most new cases with 194; followed by Monteregie, south of Montreal, with 140; and Chaudiere-Appalaches, south of Quebec City, with 137 cases.
The province has reported a total of 356,216 COVID-19 infections and 10,974 deaths linked to the virus. Quebec has 8,737 active reported cases.
Officials lowered the vaccine eligibility age Thursday to people 35 and up; the government has said all adults will be able to book an appointment by mid-May.
Montreal wants to help struggling city restaurants compete with food-delivery services
Montreal says it wants to help build a home-grown competitor to food delivery giants like Uber Eats, SkipTheDishes and DoorDash to support struggling restaurants as they emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Friday, Luc Rabouin, mayor of the city’s Plateau borough, told reporters Montreal will provide $500,000 in funding to help establish a local non-profit or co-operative that can compete with large food delivery services. The city, which has launched a request for proposals, hopes to work with existing local startups, he added.
Rabouin said Montreal’s intention is to help struggling restaurants that are dealing with the high cost of delivery services, which compose up to 30 per cent of a customer’s bill. Quebec introduced a temporary 20 per cent cap on delivery fees in March that applies in regions where indoor dining is banned.
“Some of these [delivery] businesses ask up to 30 per cent of the total bill to make the delivery, which deprives restaurateurs of the majority of their profits,” he told reporters. “Even though the government of Quebec has intervened to limit these exorbitant fees during the pandemic ... they will remain too high after the pandemic.”
Montreal isn’t alone in its concern about the fees that restaurants must pay to third-party delivery apps. In December, British Columbia and Ontario temporarily capped delivery fees at 20 per cent of a customer’s total order, but like Quebec, Ontario’s cap only applies where indoor dining is banned.
Toronto adds thousands more vaccination appointments at two clinics
Toronto says it has added thousands more vaccination appointments for next week at two of its clinics.
The city says more than 2,400 spots have been made available at the Malvern community centre between next Monday and Wednesday.
The clinic was initially supposed to suspend its operations during that time so the centre could undergo infrastructure work, but the city says a solution has been found and the clinic can stay open.
Another thousand have been added on Tuesday at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.
All educational settings in Toronto ordered to limit in-person attendance beginning Monday
All educational settings – not just schools – in Toronto are being ordered to limit in-person attendance starting Monday.
Toronto Public Health has issued a new order it says is meant to supplement the provincially mandated school closures.
It says the provincial order only applies to institutions designated as schools or private schools under the Education Act, and doesn’t bar kids from attending for purposes other than going to class.
The agency says its new rule is aimed at education providers, so parents and kids can’t be charged with breaking it, though they’re encouraged to comply.
Canadians prepare for muted Mother’s Day celebrations for second year in a row
Many Canadians are set to miss out on Mother’s Day hugs for a second year in a row.
Public officials say it’s unsafe to host holiday gatherings this weekend, even as COVID-19 vaccinations seem to open opportunities to celebrate.
The director of public health emergencies in the hot zone of Peel Region, west of Toronto, says she appreciates the heartache many families must feel after more than a year apart.
But Doctor Nazia Peer says ill-advised get-togethers are risky.
Last spring, Ontario’s health minister partly blamed improper Mother’s Day gatherings for driving up COVID-19 cases in the province.
Peer says there’s concern that the Mother’s Day fallout could be even worse this year because of more contagious COVID-19 variants.
She says vaccines offer hope but warns that having just one dose of the two-dose series doesn’t justify in-person celebrations on Sunday.
Peer says the best gift you can give mom is to follow public health guidelines and get vaccinated.
All Saskatchewan residents 12 and over to be eligible for COVID-19 vaccine by May 20
The Saskatchewan government says all residents who are 12 and older will be eligible for the first shot of a COVID-19 vaccine by May 20.
“We plan to offer vaccines within the schools before the end of the school year,” Health Minister Paul Merriman said Friday.
The province said health officials and school districts will communicate with parents about in-school vaccination plans, and that children and teenagers will also be able to get vaccinated at clinics and pharmacies.
However, because 12 to 17-year-olds are only approved for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, they would have to go to specific locations.
For adults, the eligible age is set to drop to 32 on Saturday and will go down every second day until May 20, dependent on vaccine delivery. If deliveries are delayed, officials said the schedule would be revised.
Most of a shipment of 31,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine scheduled for next week has arrived early, so the province is already distributing those to clinics, First Nations and pharmacies.
B.C. doctors defend province’s approach to releasing COVID-19 data
British Columbia’s top two doctors are defending the province’s approach to releasing data on COVID-19 but say they’ll provide more information about case counts in neighbourhoods rather than large health regions so it may be more helpful for the public.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and her deputy, Dr. Reka Gustafson, said Friday they wouldn’t characterize data first released to the Vancouver Sun by someone at the B.C. Centre for Disease Control as “leaked” because it would have been available in some form later anyway.
Documents from the centre show higher rates of COVID-19 in some parts of Surrey, for example, but Henry said the province has maintained the city – with a greater number of essential workers – has more cases.
“If you look at our information, most of it, all of it actually, aims to provide the same level of granularity at the provincial level,” Gustafson said.
“It wasn’t yet of the validation or the standards that we were necessarily ready to put it out proactively,” she said, adding the goal in the coming weeks is to provide neighbourhood-level immunization and case counts at the same time so they can be compared with other areas.
Information about outbreaks is being used by local public health officials to take action and data are analyzed before being released so there wasn’t an effort to keep anything from the public, Gustafson said.
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