Here are some of the latest development in the coronavirus outbreak:
- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says additional screening measures are being put in place
- Canada’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Theresa Tam says there were 313 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and all 10 provinces reported cases for the first time.
- The U.S. Federal Reserve cut interest rates in another emergency move to help shore up the U.S. economy amid the rapidly escalating global coronavirus pandemic.
- Nova Scotia says it has first three presumptive cases of coronavirus, Saskatchewan is reporting an additional four presumptive cases and Manitoba says three more people have tested positive.
- The federal prison system is shutting down all visits to inmates indefinitely, saying that contact can be maintained by video or telephone
Ontario jail authority considering releasing some inmates to limit spread of virus
Ontario's jail authorities say they are evaluating how to limit the spread of the virus in correctional facilities. John Struthers, president of the Criminal Lawyers' Association says one of the options being considered is the release of hundreds of inmates. He said 1,500 security bracelets have been gathered so offenders could be monitored if released.
The CLA supports the idea, he said.
The province would begin with 250 inmates, focusing on non-violent offenders who pose no public safety risk, Mr. Struthers said. There are roughly 8,300 inmates in Ontario jails serving sentences of up to two years less a day in custody.
Separately, those serving their sentences on weekends have been told they do not need to report to jail.
Kristy Denette, a spokeswoman for the ONtario Solicitor General’s Ministry said: “The ministry is evaluating all options to limit the possible spread of COVID-19 within our correctional system. Our priority remains the health and safety of our staff and appropriate care of those in our custody.”
While the details are unclear, the province could release those whose sentences are nearly up, and those seeking bail who aren't a safety risk. They could set conditions, such as remaining at home under a form of house arrest.
"Everyone's looking for ways to empty the jail population as much as they can," lawyer Daniel Brown said.
“The people in jail are the most vulnerable” to the impact of the novel coronavirus, he said. “At home we can self-isolate, but in overcrowded jails there’s nowhere to hide. It’s going to be a death sentence for many.”
Alberta to share tool for online virus assessment with other provinces
Alberta is sharing an online tool it developed for coronavirus assessment with other provinces. Saskatchewan launched its own online assessment on Sunday morning, based the program developed by its next-door neighbour.
Alberta is also working with Ontario to set up a similar online system, said Kerry Williamson, executive director of issues management at Alberta Health Services (AHS). The provincial health body has also got similar requests for help from other countries.
The Alberta online tool guides users through a series of questions about symptoms and helps to determine whether a person needs testing. It’s designed to reduce volumes for health phone lines.
In Alberta, the tool was launched the evening of March 13. Just more than 24 hours later, the assessment had been used more than 400,000 times.
“We are working to add to the tool to allow those taking the assessment, who have symptoms of COVID-19, to automatically be referred for testing,” Mr. Williamson said. “Hopefully we can launch that part of the tool in the coming days.”
Federal prison system to shut down visits to inmates, Ontario courts taking measures to reduce spread of virus
The federal prison system is shutting down all visits to inmates indefinitely, saying that contact can be maintained by video or telephone. Ontario’s prisons have also shut down inmate visits.
The Ontario Superior Court of Justice will close, as of Tuesday, to all matters except urgent health and safety concerns – such as orders sought by the province’s medical officer of health related to the novel coronavirus – and to urgent criminal, civil and family matters, such as those involving child protection.
The Ontario Court of Justice has suspended all trials for the next 10 weeks except where the accused is currently in custody. Its courts will be open only to these trials, bail hearings and urgent motions. All others given court dates in the next 10 weeks are being told to show up 10 weeks from now.
The Ontario Court of Appeal is encouraging all parties to “non-urgent appeals” between now and April 30 to accept adjournments. Parties to urgent appeals should consider appearing by video or teleconference, the court says in a message on its website.
Nova Scotia courthouses will not hold civil weddings until further notice.
Alberta closing K-12 schools and daycare centres effective immediately
The Alberta government has ordered the immediate cancellation of all kindergarten to Grade 12 classes in the province and closure of daycares as it tries to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw says there have been 17 cases of the disease detected in the province in the last 24 hours including seven people who appear to have contracted the virus at a gathering in Calgary.
Alberta now has 56 reported cases of COVID-19 and Hinshaw says the discovery of non-travel-related cases in Alberta is concerning.
The province had initially planned to keep classes running while asking students to keep their distance from one another and extra cleaning for classrooms.
But Hinshaw says teachers on the front lines told her those steps would be impossible and the decision to cancel classes was made.
Provincial Education Minister Adriana LaGrange says provincial achievement tests will be cancelled this year, but Grade 12 diploma exams will go ahead.
Alberta economic stimulus plan coming by end of week, oil price worries
Alberta is set to release an economic stimulus package this week as the province has been hit hard from the COVID-19 pandemic and plunging oil prices.
Premier Jason Kenney will play host Monday to a conference call with a new economic advisory council, chaired by Calgary economist Jack Mintz, as the province hashes out the best way to give its teetering economy a fiscal shot in the arm.
With fiscal year-end approaching, along with spring breakup for oil drilling rigs and the start of construction season, Mr. Kenney said his government is moving as quickly as possible on an economic rescue package.
U.S. Fed cuts interest rates to near zero, coordinates with other central banks to combat economic effects of virus
The U.S. Federal Reserve cut interest rates for the second time in less than two weeks on Sunday in another emergency move to help shore up the U.S. economy amid the rapidly escalating global coronavirus pandemic.
In a statement, the central bank said it was cutting rates by to a target range of 0 per cent to 0.25 per cent.
“The effects of the coronavirus will weigh on economic activity in the near term and pose risks to the economic outlook. In light of these developments, the Committee decided to lower the target range,” the Fed said in a statement.
Ontario Cannabis sales spike as people are told to self-isolate
Ontario cannabis sales spike amid COVID-19 concerns
Ontario is seeing record cannabis sales with online orders up 80 per cent this weekend, as people are being told to self-isolate amid COVID-19 concerns.
Ontario Cannabis Store says there has been “a marked increase” in online orders over the last three days, as well as a high demand for same day and next day delivery.
Some authorized retail stores also reported an increase, he said.
Online orders on Saturday were up 80 per cent over an average Saturday, with almost 3000 online orders, he said.
“At present, we have sufficient inventory to meet demand and we are in frequent communication with our licensed producer partners to understand their operational plans and capabilities and plan accordingly,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation said Sunday that all casinos in the province would temporarily close within 24 hours.
“The health and safety of casino customers and employees is a priority for OLG and its service providers,” the OLG said in a statement.
“This action is consistent with the recommendations of the province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health related to new precautionary measures for COVID-19.”
The LCBO and Beer Stores stores will remain open for now.
A spokeswoman for the LCBO said the situation is unchanged from Friday.
“LCBO stores remain open for business and we are proactively planning for increased demand,” the LCBO press office said.
Ontario to continue “enhances measures” to contain virus, not considering lockdown
Ontario is not considering a lockdown to respond to COVID-19 concerns, even as a top health official urged the province to close non-essential services.
The Ontario government says it continues to put “enhanced measures” in place to contain COVID-19 based on the advice of the chief medical officer of health and other experts.
“The province is not currently considering a lock-down,” said Prabmeet Sarkaria, associate minister of small business. “We ask that Ontarians exercise a high degree of caution during this time and ensure they’re relying on information from credible sources.”
Dr. Kevin Smith, president and CEO of University Health Network in Toronto, told the Globe he hopes Ontario becomes more aggressive in social isolation policies, including shuttering non-essential businesses.
“There’s no reason to think that we’re not going to look like Europe, so I believe to be prudent that is what we should be aiming towards,” he said.
"I know there will be some who say that's an overreaction. I would dramatically prefer overreacting to underreacting."
Meanwhile, the province is asking hospitals for pandemic plans as the Ontario Medical Association (OMA) recommends putting elective surgeries on hold. Dr. Sohail Gandhi, president of the Ontario Medical Association, said the recommendation was “very difficult” and not one the OMA took lightly.
“We are going to need to scale back things that don’t absolutely need to be done right now,” he said.
Elective surgeries include those that have been planned for a period of time and are not life-threatening, such as removal of tonsils or gallbladders.
Health Minister Christine Elliott’s office said the province will be issuing guidance this week for hospitals to initiate pandemic plans, including postponing elective surgeries. It will be up to each hospital to decide on its plans, based on a recommendation of the Ontario Hospital Association
British Columbia exempt quarantine for health-care workers who have traveled abroad
One group of British Columbians has been exempted from the 14-day quarantine for all international travelers: health care workers.
Late last week, the province announced that British Columbians who have traveled outside Canada must stay home from work or school for 14 days upon their return.
A letter obtained by The Globe and Mail, however, reverses this advice for health care workers: “Self-isolation does not apply to health-care workers who travel outside of Canada and provide direct patient care (e.g. physicians, nurses, care aides, etc.) unless they have travelled to Hubei Province in China, Italy, or Iran.”
The memo, written by Dr. Bonnie Henry, the province’s health officer, requires clinicians who have travelled outside of Canada to “self-monitor daily and use appropriate [personal protective equipment] when providing care.”
Should a nurse or doctor develop symptoms, “they should self-isolate and contact 8-1-1,” Dr. Henry advised. If they become symptomatic while treating patients, they “should immediately put on a mask and finish any essential services they are providing before self-isolating.”
Some clinicians have expressed concern about the directive, saying it could spread the virus in clinics and hospitals. Dr. Henry could not be reached for comment.
Quebec orders bars, movie theatres to close to limit spread of coronavirus
Quebec Premier Francois Legault ordered the closing of gathering places such as bars, theatres, gyms and movie theatres on Sunday as the province brought in more aggressive measures to contain the spread of COVID-19.
He said restaurants were allowed to stay open but were being asked to limit the number of clients to 50 per cent capacity.
Legault said Quebecers should try to stay at least one metre away from other people and limit their activities outside the home.
The directive came as Quebec’s number of confirmed cases rose by 11 on Sunday, from 24 to 35.
All Canadians urged to cancel travel outside the country
Canada’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Theresa Tam urged everyone living in Canada to cancel their international travel and self-isolate for 14 days upon their return to the country as she called the COVID-19 pandemic a “serious public health threat.”
On Sunday, Dr. Tam confirmed there were 313 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and all 10 provinces reported cases for the first time. Ontario also saw the largest single day increase in cases to date, she said.
“With cases rapidly increasing in Canada, particularly in British Columbia, Ontario and Alberta, our window to flatten the curve of the epidemic is narrow,” Dr. Tam said. “We all need to act now.”
She called on everyone to take “strong action” to delay the spread of the virus, including cancelling any events with more than 250 people, and suggested Canadians should think twice about travelling domestically because it’s difficult to maintain proper social distance in those circumstances.
Other health officials in Canada went much further in their policies directed at Canadians, with Ottawa telling people to only go outside when necessary and to cancel all events.
Dr. Tam said anyone at high risk of severe illness should “separate yourself whenever and wherever you can.”
“This is our chance right here, right now. We need to act now and act together,” Dr. Tam said.
Via Rail cutting by half its services in the core Quebec City-Windsor corridor
On Sunday, Via Rail said it is cutting by half its services in the core Quebec City-Windsor corridor as of Tuesday through to March 27. In a statement, the passenger railway service said it is making the changes both because of a significant reduction in passenger volumes over the last week, and the need to redeploy its resources.
The Montreal-Halifax, the Toronto-Vancouver and the Prince Rupert-Prince George-Jasper routes are cancelled until March 27; regional routes are largely unaffected.
On Friday, Via said it is waiving its usual cancellation or trip modification fees for any trips taking place in March or April. It also said it is stepping up its cleaning protocols. On Sunday, Via further tightened its hygiene procedures, saying its staff will clean coach cars while they are in service. Meal service is also being scaled back as the company moves to minimize contact between its staff and passengers.
The company said it has cancelled 388 trains since Friday, affecting more than 20,000 passengers.
Ottawa urging residents to cancel events, avoid going outside for non-essential reasons
Officials at Ottawa Public Health are urging residents to cancel all events and avoid going outside for non-essential reasons, in an effort to “strengthen their social distancing measures.”
“People should stay home unless there is an essential reason to take a trip to the grocery store, to the pharmacy, to look after an ill friend or family member,” Ottawa’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches said Sunday.
Dr. Etches said children should not be sent to daycare unless parents need to work for an essential purpose. She said people can still go outside, play in the park and walk their dog, but to maintain a distance of one to two metres while outside.
The increased stringency in measures is a result of the doubling of confirmed cases in Ottawa and expectations from officials that the coronavirus is being spread in the community, and not just from travelers arriving in the city.
Dr. Etches said public health officials believe there could be anywhere from a couple hundred to 1,000 cases of COVID-19 in Ottawa. That estimate is based on a total of 10 confirmed cases as of noon on Sunday, and because the travel associated with those cases occurred two weeks ago. One case of COVID-19 can generally lead to two more cases, but Dr. Etches stressed the chain of transmission can be broken if residents follow the new guidelines.
“It’s a number that grows rapidly and we need to take action now,” Dr. Etches said. “We can, it can be successful, if we separate ourselves from each other, we’ll drop that number so one case does not have to result in two cases.”
Ontario government plans bill to help workers affected by coronavirus pandemic
Premier Doug Ford’s office says the government is drafting legislation that would remove employers’ ability to require sick notes for people in self-isolation or quarantine.
A spokeswoman for Ford says the bill would include a number of measures aimed at helping workers affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.
Ivana Yelich says it would direct employers to ensure protected leave for workers who have to take unpaid leave to be in self-isolation or quarantine.
Three more people test positive for COVID-19 in Manitoba, total of seven
Manitoba officials have announced three additional cases of COVID-19.
A man in his 70s and two women, one in her 50s and one in her 70s, have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
There are now a total of seven cases in Manitoba, with four being confirmed.
Nova Scotia says it has first three presumptive cases of coronavirus
Nova Scotia has confirmed its first three presumptive cases of COVID-19, all related to travel.
In a news release, the Health Department says the individuals have been notified and are in self-isolation.
Earlier, the provincial Justice Department announced it had moved to restrict access to provincial jails as it looks to prevent a possible spread of COVID-19.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says additional screening measures are being put in place
Travellers arriving in Canada are criticizing the government for a lack of screening and information as they land at airports from abroad.
On Friday, federal public health officials advised everyone arriving from abroad to self-isolate for 14 days no matter where they had visited, but on Saturday, travellers arriving in Canada said there was no information about self-isolation posted and people found themselves crowded into customs areas despite cautions about the need for social distancing.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told CTV News Sunday morning additional screening measures were in the “process” of being put in place and the number of airports accepting international flights would be reduced. Those measures were announced by his government on Friday and he did not explain why it hadn’t already been fully implemented.
Saskatchewan reports four more presumptive cases of coronavirus
Saskatchewan has announced four more presumptive cases of COVID-19, bringing the province’s current total up to six.
But Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer says it’s “business as usual” for schools and there is no reason at this time to shut them down over concerns about COVID-19.
Dr. Saqib Shahab says the six presumptive cases in the province are travel-related and the risk is still low of contracting the novel coronavirus.
WestJet set to slash international, domestic flights amid coronavirus outbreak
WestJet Airlines is set to slash its international seat capacity by 60 per cent and cut domestic flights by at least 40 per cent amid government actions to limit travel to contain the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Calgary-based WestJet has halted capital projects and asked vendors for price cuts, but did not say how many layoffs are in store for the company’s 12,000 flight attendants, pilots and others employees.
WestJet did not confirm news reports that half of WestJet’s flight attendants will be laid off, but said that is one of the scenarios being considered. “Unfortunately, we … have no alternative but to reduce the number of employees. Our first and most preferred option is to ask WestJetters to consider voluntary leaves, unpaid vacation, reduced work time among other voluntary measures.”
With reports from The Canadian Press
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