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Healthcare workers do testing at a drive-thru COVID-19 assessment centre at the Etobicoke General Hospital in Toronto on Tuesday, April 21, 2020.Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

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8:30 p.m. EDT

Saskatchewan to outline plan for ‘gradual’ restart to economy beginning next month

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe says the province has successfully flattened the curve of COVID-19 infections and will outline a plan on Thursday to gradually reopen some sectors of the economy beginning next month.

Mr. Moe used a televised address on Wednesday evening to caution that the process will be slow and methodical, and many restrictions in place now will remain for the foreseeable future.

“It’s not like flipping on a light switch,” said Mr. Moe. “If anything, it’s more like a dimmer switch that’s been turned down. And over the next several weeks, we will gradually be turning up the light once again on Saskatchewan’s economy.”

Saskatchewan has confirmed 326 cases of COVID-19, including six additional cases on Wednesday, and four deaths. Mr. Moe said that on a per capita basis, Saskatchewan is 70 per cent below the national average for infections while testing at a higher-than-average rate.

Several provinces have started talking about when they will be able to reopen areas of their economies and what that might look like, though few have laid out specific dates for when that will happen.

Mr. Moe said Saskatchewan’s plan, which was developed with the province’s medical health officer, will include five phases with proposed dates for each phase. That timeline may be adjusted as the province tracks COVID-19 infections.

- James Keller

6:50 p.m. EDT

Horgan tells workers stay home if sick after COVID-19 outbreak at chicken plant

B.C. Premier John Horgan says people who are sick must stay away from work after an outbreak of COVID-19 at a chicken processing plant in Vancouver.

Horgan said Wednesday workers should not go to work when they are sick because they fear losing wages, and that he was planning a meeting with Labour Minister Harry Bains and WorkSafe BC officials to discuss sick pay provisions.

Horgan said health investigators arrived at the United Poultry Co. Ltd. plant on Monday after one worker tested positive for COVID-19 and discovered more than two dozen other employees had the disease.

“The lesson that I’ve learned from the limited information I have on the poultry facility is that workers were coming to work because they were fearful that they would lose wages and not be able to meet their expenses,” Horgan told a news conference.

“We can’t have people putting others at risk for fear of economic consequences for themselves.”

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has said 28 workers at the plant in east Vancouver tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this week and the facility has been closed.

- Canadian Press

1:45 p.m. EDT

Ontario, Quebec premiers ask for military assistance at nursing homes

Quebe Premier François Legault is asking the federal government for 1,000 Canadian Armed Forces members to help in the province’s struggling long-term care homes.

Despite extensive recruitment efforts, Legault says he was only able to fill half the 2,000 positions needed to overcome a staffing shortfall rendered critical by COVID-19.

The Canadian Armed Forces have already committed about 130 medically-trained staff and personnel members to help in the province’s care homes, but Legault said the additional people he’s requesting won’t necessarily have medical qualifications but can help with general tasks.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford, meanwhile, says he will formally request extra resources from the federal government today, including from the Public Health Agency of Canada and Canadian Forces personnel. He says the additional personnel will be deployed to five priority homes. Ford says they will provide operational and logistical assistance so long-term care staff can focus on the care of residents.

- Canadian Press

11:55 a.m. EDT

Nova Scotia reports two deaths at Halifax-area nursing home

Nova Scotia is reporting two more deaths related to COVID-19, bringing the province’s total to 12.

The deaths occurred at the Northwood long-term care home in Halifax.

The province is also reporting 35 new cases of the virus bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 772.It says 10 licensed long-term care homes and unlicensed seniors’ facilities in Nova Scotia are dealing with cases of COVID-19, involving 148 residents and 65 staff.

- Canadian Press

10:38 a.m. ET

Ontario reports 510 new cases

Ontario is reporting 510 new cases of COVID-19 today and 37 more deaths. That brings the total number of cases in the province to 12,245 — a 4.3 per cent increase over Tuesday, which is the lowest growth rate in weeks. The total also includes 659 deaths and 6,221 cases that have been resolved, which puts the percentage of resolved cases over 50 per cent for the first time.

-Canadian Press

7:01 a.m. ET

Pandemic to drive carbon emissions down 6% this year: WMO

The coronavirus pandemic is expected to drive carbon dioxide emissions down 6% this year, the head of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said on Wednesday, in what would be the biggest yearly drop since World War Two.

“This crisis has had an impact on the emissions of greenhouse gases,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas told a virtual briefing in Geneva.

“We estimate that there is going to be a 6% drop in carbon emissions this year because of the lack of emissions from transportation and industrial energy production.”


6:36 a.m. ET

Coronavirus outbreak in Philippines jail sees 123 inmates infected

A prison in the Philippines is suffering from a major outbreak of the new coronavirus with 123 infected inmates, officials said on Wednesday, adding to concerns among activists about contagion risks in some of the world’s most overcrowded jails.

The mayor of Cebu City said a new building in the prison capable of handling 3,000 people would be used as an isolation facility to contain an outbreak that accounts for 40% of cases in the Philippines’ second biggest city.

There were no details about the possible source of the outbreak. Eighteen cases have been found at a jail in Manila’s Quezon City, among them nine members of staff, and media has reported infections at other facilities.

New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) was among several groups that called for inmates held for minor, non-violent offences, or those with health conditions, to be freed from Philippine prisons to create more space.

Activists globally have been urging governments to free political prisoners.


6 a.m. ET

Child advocates worry about kids at risk

Reports to authorities about suspected child abuse or neglect are down as much as 40 per cent in some regions but child advocates say it’s not because fewer kids are at risk.

Daphne Penrose, Manitoba’s advocate for children and youth, said the anxiety, financial toll and physical stresses imposed by the pandemic’s stay-at-home orders, means families need more help than ever from a system that is less able to provide it.

“It does appear to be almost the perfect storm,” said Penrose, who is the watchdog and advocate for child and family services in Manitoba.

Sara Austin, the founder and CEO of Children First Canada, said they have seen reports of child abuse to authorities across Canada fall between 30 and 40 per cent since the crisis began in mid-March. She said there was a small spike in reports in the first few days but since then, the numbers have gone down everywhere.

“It’s very worrisome,” said Austin.

“We don’t have any reason to believe child abuse is going down. It’s that those who are trusted adults in the lives of children no longer see them.”

Austin said when schools are open, teachers usually account for nearly one-third of all reports of suspected abuse to authorities. It’s not just teachers who are absent from kids’ lives these days. Doctors are seeing fewer patients, often only for emergencies. Daycare workers, after-school activity co-ordinators, religious leaders, even grandparents, friends and neighbours — all part of the “safety net” for kids — are being forced to limit contact.

Penrose said the services that families under stress often turn to, such as child welfare agencies, mental health supports, and respite workers, also are less able to help, with their own staff restricted by physical distancing rules.

“When families can’t access the services they need, they get into crisis,” she said.

Evidence of the stress on kids is seen by the higher demand for services from Kids Help Phone, the charity that offers phone and text support to kids who need support. In March, the organization reported a 350 per cent increase in texts for help from youth.

The federal government injected another $7.5 million to Kids Help Phone to try and aid its efforts to respond. Austin said Ottawa needs to do more to co-ordinate a national approach to child safety efforts.

Austin said her organization is also encouraging provincial education ministers to ensure teachers are doing what they can to maintain contact with kids, particularly the ones they may have been concerned about before this started.

The risk to kids is exacerbated by a jump in online activities for kids, many of whom are now on the internet for school. The Internet Child Exploitation unit of the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Team reported this week that investigative referrals for online child exploitation were more than double the normal number in March. The unit receives most of its referrals from the RCMP, which works with internet service providers and social media sites to track suspected exploitation online.

On Monday, the team said it had received 243 reports of online child exploitation in Alberta. The monthly average over the last two years is about 110 reports.

Austin said anybody who has any concern about a child’s well-being should not be afraid to report it.

-The Canadian Press

5:44 a.m. ET

Feds expected to unveil more emergency aid for students, young Canadians

The federal government is expected to announce today more significant financial support for students and other young Canadians struggling to stay afloat and find jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new measures are intended to target support at young people who have fallen through the cracks of other emergency financial assistance.

Some students, for instance, have complained that they don’t qualify for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit.

It provides $500 a week for up to 16 weeks to Canadians who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic and had an income of at least $5,000 in the previous 12 months — criteria that doesn’t apply to many students.

Today’s measures are in addition to some steps the federal government has already taken to specifically help young people weather the health crisis.

It has put a six-month, interest-free moratorium on student loan repayments.

It has also bolstered the Canada Summer Jobs program in a bid to encourage employers to hire young workers for essential jobs.

Employers this year will receive a subsidy of up to 100 per cent of the provincial or territorial minimum hourly wage for each youth employee — up from the usual wage subsidy of 50 per cent.

The government has also expanded the program to include part-time workers and extended the this year’s employment period to the end of February 2021.

As well, the government has provided $20 million to support young entrepreneurs who are facing challenges due to the pandemic.

-The Canadian Press

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