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Passengers board a lifeboat from Holland America Line cruise ship MS Zaandam to be transported to her sister ship Rotterdam on Panama Bay, Panama during a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak on March 28, 2020.PANAMA MARITIME AUTHORITY/Reuters

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10:50 p.m. EDT

Trump says Canadians on two stranded cruise ships will be heading home

U.S. President Donald Trump says there are plans to remove nearly 250 Canadians from two cruise ships and get them back to Canada.

The U.S. Coast Guard has directed all cruise ships to remain at sea where they may be sequestered “indefinitely” during the coronavirus pandemic, but Trump said Canada is coming to get the Canadians from the MS Zaandam and its sister ship the Rotterdam.

“We’re taking the Canadians off and giving them to Canadian authorities. They’re going to bring them back home,” Trump said at his daily press briefing on Wednesday.

Trump said the same is true for citizens of the United Kingdom on the ships.

The president said states have been reluctant to take cruise guests, but he feels the U.S. is obligated to help. He said at a minimum, the U.S. will send medical teams on board.

- The Associated Press

10:00 p.m. EDT

Manitoba shuts two liquor stores due to COVID-19

Two Manitoba government liquor stores in north Winnipeg have been temporarily closed after a worker tested positive for COVID-19.

Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries says the employee worked in a store in the Garden City neighbourhood last Saturday and is self-isolating at home.

A second outlet has been closed because a worker there had been in contact with the Garden City employee who tested positive.

Both outlets are being cleaned and the Crown corporation is asking customers who attended the Garden City store last Saturday and who may have symptoms to call the provincial Health Links phone line for advice.

- Canadian Press

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Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw updates media on the Covid-19 situation in Edmonton on Friday March 20, 2020.JASON FRANSON/The Canadian Press

9:40 p.m. EDT

‘Inappropriate behaviour:’ Alberta warns of prescription abuse during COVID

Alberta’s chief medical officer is warning of prescription-dispensing abuse for drugs that are possibly, but not conclusively, linked to fighting COVID-19.

“I know we are all concerned about COVID-19, and this can sometimes lead us to inappropriate behaviour,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Wednesday.

She said that, according to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta and the Alberta College of Pharmacists, there has been an increase in prescriptions being filled for antibiotics, anti-viral and anti-malarial drugs touted as potential treatment for COVID-19.

“These behaviours must stop. These very same medications are used for patients suffering from chronic conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and HIV.”

Hinshaw also said there is no “robust evidence” to show those drugs work on COVID-19.

- Canadian Press

7:15 p.m. EDT

Third COVID-19 death reported in Saskatchewan, new cases include jail staff

For the first time in days, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe expressed some optimism that restrictions put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19 might be working.

The province’s chief medical health officer said Wednesday that the number of new cases show the province is still fairly flat in terms of the rate COVID-19 is spreading.

There were nine new cases of the virus, bringing the province’s total to 193, Dr. Saqib Shahab said.

The Ministry of Health said Wednesday a resident in their 90s had died from COVID-19 related complications, marking the province’s third death from the virus.

It said 24 of the overall cases in the province are linked to a snowmobile rally held last month where 110 people attended.

Shahab said more testing sites have also opened, but there seems to be a lower demand for tests.

The Ministry of Justice said five staff at a Saskatoon jail have also tested positive for COVID-19, but no inmates.

- Canadian Press

5:45 p.m. EDT

Convention centre to house homeless in Calgary

Mayor Naheed Nenshi says it’s not his first choice to turn Calgary’s downtown convention centre into a temporary homeless shelter during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But he says organizers have done an extraordinary job setting it up and have taken steps to ensure physical distancing is encouraged for anyone staying there.

Nenshi has said hotel rooms would have been a better option to try to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus through an especially vulnerable group, but the choice was up to the provincial government.

The temporary shelter at the Telus Convention Centre is being funded by the Alberta government and operated by Calgary’s Drop-In Centre.

It is to provide around-the-clock service for up to 300 people, freeing up space in existing shelters.

The temporary shelter is expected to operate for two months.

Nenshi says the spread of COVID-19 into the homeless community is the top public health risk. As of Tuesday, there were 453 confirmed cases in the Calgary area, and Nenshi said that could easily double or triple if the virus were to take hold in that population.

- Canadian Press

4:20 p.m. EDT

Calgary police investigate a pair of coronavirus-related threats

Calgary Police Service have pressed charges after someone allegedly threatened to try to spread the novel coronavirus to Indigenous people, and have a suspect in another case where an individual allegedly threatened a Chinese restaurant.

CPS hinted the alleged threats may be considered hate crimes.

“We continue to take seriously threats that target people because of their race, ethnicity, religion, gender, age, sexuality or other similar characteristic,” CPS said in a statement Wednesday. “Recently, we have seen two cases of threats directly connected to COVID-19.”

In one case, police allege “a man commented on an Indigenous social media group threatening to try intentionally spread COVID-19 to Indigenous people.” CPS said it pressed charges for uttering threats, although it is unclear if only one person is facing charges. CPS worked on the case with its counterparts at Tsuut’ina National Police Service and Blood Tribe Police Service.

Meanwhile, a local Chinese restaurant received an anonymous threat on March 14 and CPS noted it is "believed to have been motivated by current events.” The police have a suspect, but have not pressed charges. The investigation, however, is not over.

“This is a time when we should all be coming together to encourage one another and keep everyone safe," Constable Craig Collins, Hate Crimes Coordinator with CPS, said in a statement. "It is unacceptable that some members of our community are weaponizing this pandemic to make others feel even more vulnerable than everyone already does. We won’t ignore it.”

CPS’s statement detailed how hate crimes work. “If the threat is motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on one of nine personal characteristics of the victim, it can also be prosecuted as a hate-motivated crime,” the agency said. If a judge decides a convict was motivated by hate, the court can consider that an aggravating factor when determining the person’s sentence.​

- Carrie Tait

4:00 p.m. EDT

14 residents dead amid outbreak at Ontario nursing home

Two more residents of a central Ontario nursing home dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak have died.

Fourteen residents and the spouse of a resident of Pinecrest Nursing Home in Bobcaygeon have now died amid what the local health unit is calling the largest COVID-19 outbreak in the province.

The Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit has said at least 24 staff members are also infected.

- Canadian Press

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First responders transport a resident of a seniors home to hospital, Tuesday, March 31, 2020 in Montreal.Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

3:30 p.m. EDT

Almost a quarter of Quebec seniors’ homes have at least one COVID-19 case

Nearly a quarter of Quebec’s seniors residences have at least one case of COVID-19, Premier Francois Legault said Wednesday.

Legault said 519 of the province’s roughly 2200 seniors homes and long-term care facilities have reported cases, and he urged Quebecers to refrain from visiting elderly people who are highly susceptible to the virus.

“There must be no visits in residences. It’s a matter of life and death,” he said.

The Quebec government has already pledged $133 million in emergency assistance for seniors residences to help them hire new staff and adapt to the crisis. On Wednesday, Legault said the government would also offer to pay for hotels for workers who want to limit their contacts outside of work.

The number of cases in the province rose by 449 on Wednesday, to a total of 4,611. Two more people died, bringing that total to 33.

- Canadian Press

2:35 p.m. EDT

Morneau puts $71-billion price tag on wage subsidies

Finance Minister Bill Morneau says wage subsidies for large and small businesses will cost about $71-billion.

The program is expected to offset the cost of emergency benefits for workers, and reduce spending on those benefits to $24 billion. The wage subsidy will be available to large and small businesses who have lost significant revenue due to COVID-19.

Morneau has encouraged businesses to rehire employees they may have laid off in the wake of COVID-19, and says the wage subsidy will be available in six weeks.

- Canadian Press

2:00 p.m. EDT

Toronto announces stricter measures to enforce physical distancing

Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health says she’s using her powers to issue new mandatory orders to keep people with COVID-19, and those suspected of having it, in self-isolation – threatening fines for those who fail to comply.

Saying she is deeply concerned about the rapid rise in cases of the virus, Dr. Eileen de Villa announced Wednesday she was issuing new “class orders” under the province’s Health Promotion and Protection Act. The orders give teeth to what had up to now been recommendations of 14 days of self-isolation for those who have COVID-19 or are suspected of having it, and those have been in close contact with a positive case.

Dr. de Villa said the order was necessary, as there have been reports that people who were supposed to be in self-isolation had not been following the recommendations. Now, they could face fines of up to $5,000 a day.

- Jeff Gray

12:25 p.m. EDT

COVID-19 pandemic could lead to shortages of drugs, medical devices in Canada for other conditions

The deputy minister of Health Canada says the COVID-19 pandemic will likely lead to shortages of drugs and medical devices that treat other conditions.

A lack of medications to fill ordinary prescriptions is an ongoing issue in Canada, but deputy health minister Stephen Lucas, the federal department’s top public servant, says COVID-19 is worsening the problem.

In a House of Commons health committee meeting Tuesday, Lucas explained the pandemic has had an impact on global supply chains.

- Canadian Press

12:15 p.m. EDT

U.S. appears to be standing down on plan to send troops to border with Canada, Trudeau says

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the United States appears to have backed off on its plan to send soldiers to the Canada-U.S. border.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security had been floating the idea to help U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials keep migrants from crossing the border between official entry points.

The prospect of U.S. soldiers along the world’s longest unmilitarized border prompted strong opposition from the Prime Minister’s Office and diplomatically pointed language from Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland.

- Canadian Press

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses Canadians on the COVID-19 pandemic from Rideau Cottage in Ottawa on Tuesday, March 31, 2020.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

11:30 a.m. EDT

Trudeau says Parliament needs to sit again for COVID-19 relief package

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he’s planning to call Parliament back for another sitting to pass more measures to help the Canadian economy through the COVID-19 pandemic.

He says approving perhaps the biggest social program in Canadian history needs to be a team effort.

Conservatives have pointed out that the emergency legislation Parliament has already passed didn’t allow for the scale of the wage-subsidy program the Liberals are promising to help employers keep people on their payrolls.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau is to provide more details on the 75-per-cent wage subsidy this afternoon in Toronto, but Trudeau says the money will go to companies that aren’t publicly funded.

He also says companies that receive the cash need to do whatever they can to pay the remaining 25 per cent.

Any worker who receives the wage subsidy can’t at the same time receive a $2,000-a-month emergency benefit aimed at those who have lost their sources of income, Trudeau says.

- Canadian Press

10:45 a.m. EDT

Ontario reports largest increase of COVID-19 cases: 426

Ontario is reporting 426 new COVID-19 cases today — the largest number so far — including four new deaths.

It represents a nearly 22-per-cent increase and brings the provincial total to 2,392.

That includes 37 deaths and 689 cases that have been resolved.

- The Canadian Press

10:15 a.m. EDT

Cargo ship denied entry to port of Halifax

The Public Health Agency of Canada says a cargo ship travelling from Germany has been denied entry to the port of Halifax because several crew members have symptoms of COVID-19.

The Siem Cicero is carrying a shipment of cars, which is considered non-essential.

In a statement, the health agency says it was notified about the condition of some crew members on March 17 and the vessel was denied entry to the port under the federal Quarantine Act.

It says the move was made to protect the health of Canadians and to prevent supply chain disruptions at the port of Halifax.

The health agency says it is continuing to monitor the situation and has advised the ship and its shipping agent that the vessel won’t be granted entry to the port until 14 days after the last date symptoms appeared in the crew.

According to the Siem Car Carriers website, the Siem Cicero is a Liberian flagged vessel that can carry 7,000 vehicles.

- The Canadian Press

9:45 a.m. EDT

Manitoba health-care workers test positive

Some Manitoba health-care workers have tested positive for COVID-19, leading to other health workers having to self-isolate.

One staff member at a hospital in Selkirk tested positive after travelling within Canada, and had been working while symptomatic between March 19 and 23.

The Manitoba Nurses Union says a nurse at a hospital emergency room in Winnipeg has also tested positive.

And St. Boniface Hospital has sent a letter to workers that says a staff member in the echocardiography department has tested positive, and was working while symptomatic on March 25.

- The Canadian Press

8:10 a.m. EDT

Ontario hospital to build COVID-19 unit

A hospital in Burlington, Ont., is building a temporary COVID-19 unit in anticipation of a surge of patients.

Joseph Brant Hospital says the structure being built on hospital grounds will have 93 beds.

The hospital’s chief of staff, Dr. Ian Preyra, says the pandemic response unit will allow the hospital to keep its critical care and high acuity beds for the sickest patients.

-The Canadian Press

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Dr. Michael Duchnay is photographed in his office in Toronto on March 30, 2020.Christopher Katsarov/The Globe and Mail

7:30 a.m. EDT

Insurer says it will pay dentists’ claims for pandemic coverage

Aviva Canada CEO Jason Storah says the insurance company will “stand by" its pandemic coverage for dentists who followed provincial orders to close down their practices because of the outbreak of COVID-19.

The reassurance to the dental community comes two weeks after provincial dental associations “strongly recommended” that thousands of dentists immediately suspend all non-essential and elective or routine services for patients.

But after submitting claims with Aviva for business interruption insurance - which includes pandemic coverage - many dentists were left in the dark about whether their policies would be honoured, with several dentists told it was highly unlikely because they shut their offices down voluntarily.

Mr. Storah said late Tuesday the company received “unprecedented COVID-19 related pandemic coverage insurance claims” from dentists and that the delay was due to a “number of complex legal, regulatory and operational hurdles” related to the dentists’ claims. However, he said, the hurdles have been resolved by the provincial governments’ shutdown orders for non-essential services.

- Clare O’Hara

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Derek Root's Gradient Spaces skylight installation at Tunney's Pasture in Ottawa's light-rail transit station is seen in a 2019 file photo.The Globe and Mail

7:30 a.m. EDT

Ottawa transit driver tests positive for COVID-19

A driver in Ottawa’s transit system is in isolation after testing positive for COVID-19.

The city says the driver developed symptoms on March 20 and was tested for the virus that causes the illness the next day.

The local health unit says there’s concern the driver might have spread the virus in the days before feeling sick.

The city says it’s deep-cleaning the buses that the person drove, which mostly ran between downtown Ottawa and western suburbs.

-The Canadian Press

7:25 a.m. EDT

Cruise ship with 250 Canadians aboard to arrive in Florida

A ship carrying passengers sick with COVID-19 is expected to arrive in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Thursday.

About 250 Canadians are among the passengers aboard Holland America’s Zaandam, which was denied entry by several countries after reporting four deaths and dozens of infections.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has said the state’s health care resources are already stretched too thin to take on the ships’ coronavirus caseload.

But President Donald Trump said people are dying on the ship, and he’s going to do “the right thing” for humanity and allow it to dock in Florida.

-The Canadian Press

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A poster calling for a rent protest is photographed in Toronto on March 24, 2020.Fred Lum/the Globe and Mail

6:35 a.m. EDT

Rent day arrives as thousands seek financial relief

It’s April 1st and rent payments are due for millions of Canadians for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic led to an economic shutdown and many layoffs.

Hundreds of thousands of Canadians have signed petitions, asking for the outright cancellation of rents and mortgage payments for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suggests that’s not going to happen, but says the banks have been asked to give people a break if they need it.

Multiple provinces have placed an outright ban on evictions, while others have placed an effective ban by closing down landlord and tenant boards.

Applications for federal support payments and details about wage subsidies that are meant to help Canadians weather the storm are still to be released.

-The Canadian Press

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer speak at Parliament Hill in a 2019 file photo.PATRICK DOYLE/Reuters

4 a.m. EDT

Trudeau, Scheer among MPs to donate pay hike to charities during COVID-19 crisis

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer are among the MPs who are promising to donate an automatic increase in their salaries to charity, as the COVID-19 pandemic ravages the economy and puts thousands of Canadians out of work.

The raise goes into effect today, as does the latest increase in the federal carbon tax.

Trudeau has been under pressure to cancel both.

However, he has ruled out scrapping the planned increase in the carbon tax and there’s nothing he can do about the salary hike without recalling Parliament, which has been adjourned until at least April 20 as part of the nation-wide bid to curb the spread of the deadly virus.

Under legislation passed in 2005 to de-politicize parliamentarians’ pay, salaries paid to MPs and senators increase automatically on April 1 each year, based on the average increase negotiated by major bargaining units in the private sector.

This year, MPs are entitled to a 2.1 per cent hike, which will increase their base salaries by just over $3,750 to $182,656.

-The Canadian Press

Parliament may need to be recalled again to approve wage subsidy program

Canadians are supposed to get more details today of the federal government’s massive emergency wage subsidy program — a day later than promised.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Small Business Minister Mary Ng were to have held a news conference Tuesday to fill in the details of the program — including the multibillion-dollar price tag — but that was cancelled.

The pair, along with Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains, are expected to try again today to explain the program, aimed at saving jobs in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic that has shuttered businesses across the country.

A government official says the delay was simply a matter of trying to iron out all the fine print in a huge program that, in normal circumstances, would have taken months to put together.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter, acknowledged that the government is also trying to sort out whether it will need to recall Parliament again to approve legislation to authorize the wage subsidy program.

Parliament, which has been adjourned since mid-March as part of the nationwide effort to curb the spread of the deadly COVID-19, was recalled briefly last week to approve a $107-billion emergency aid package.

That package included a wage subsidy of just 10 per cent.

However, the day after the package was approved, the government announced a greatly enhanced wage subsidy program that will cover 75 per cent of an employee’s wages, up to $58,700. That will amount to as much as $847 a week per employee.

Businesses, regardless of size, whose revenues have decreased by at least 30 per cent because of the COVID-19 pandemic, are eligible for the subsidy, which is to be backdated to March 15.

TD Economics has previously estimated that the enhanced subsidy would cost about $25 billion, while RBC separately estimated its value at $28 billion.

The government is also expected to provide more details today on the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, a taxable benefit that is to provide $2,000 a month for up to four months for workers who lose their income as a result of the pandemic.

The benefit was included in last week’s emergency aid package. At the time, the government said it hoped to have a portal for applications opened by April 6.

-The Canadian Press

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Jon Stanfield, president and CEO of Stanfield's Ltd., stands in one of the production areas of the garment manufacturing company in Truro, N.S., on March 31, 2020.Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

Long john producer Stanfield’s will ‘pivot’ to medical gowns

A historic Canadian undergarment factory famed for long johns and boxer shorts is about to rapidly reinvent itself as a domestic producer of medical gowns.

Stanfield’s Ltd. of Truro, N.S., is among five firms that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Tuesday have received letters of intent to manufacture personal protective equipment and clothing for front-line health workers.

Jon Stanfield, the chief executive of the fifth-generation family firm, said in an interview he’s already sourced approved fabric from nearby Intertape Polymer, and is ready to be producing medical clothing within days.

The 48-year-old says once the federal government provides details of its offer, the company could bring back over 75 of its over 200 staff who were sent home earlier this month as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

He describes the restart as a “pivotal” signal that Western governments are moving to ensure there are domestic suppliers of medical gear and gowns crucial to public safety in the future.

Stanfield said the firm has patterns and machinery that would initially produce more than 2,000 gowns daily per shift to help feed a Canadian demand for garments that emerged after the pandemic sliced supply from China.

-The Canadian Press

3:30 a.m. EDT

Police to enforce public health measures

A police unit has been assembled in Newfoundland and Labrador to enforce public health measures related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Three investigators, an analyst and a supervisor with the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary make up the unit.

They are tasked with following up on possible incidents of non-compliance of emergency orders aimed at slowing spread of the illness.

The police force says investigations may involve gathering video, interviewing witnesses or paying “compliance check” visits.

-The Canadian Press

N.B. says social distancing is working

New Brunswick’s chief medical health officer says measures to “flatten the curve” are starting to have an effect and cautions people against becoming complacent.

Doctor Jennifer Russell says there are three cases of community transmission so far in the province, and nine people who were positive have recovered.

New Brunswick reported two new cases yesterday for a total of 70.

Russell says one case is travel-related, and the other is a contact of a previous case.

-The Canadian Press

N.S. sees COVID-19 cases in long-term care facilities

Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health says long-term care is a particular concern when it comes to widespread transmission of COVID-19 as has been seen in larger provinces like Ontario and British Columbia.

Doctor Robert Strang says to date, four staff members and two residents of three long-term care facilities have tested positive for the virus.

Strang says that’s concerning, but he feels measures have been taken to limit the possibility of virus introduction and there are “robust” response plans in place for long-term care facilities.

Nova Scotia reported 20 new cases yesterday for a total of 147 confirmed cases province-wide.

-The Canadian Press

3 a.m. EDT

Ontario jail guards protest lack of screening

The union representing Ontario’s jail guards says no one is being screened as they go into provincial correctional facilities.

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union says lack of screening puts both staff and inmates at risk of contracting COVID-19.

Guards at an Ottawa-area jail refused to work a shift yesterday in protest of the lack of screening protocols.

Everyone scheduled to work the morning shift at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre refused to go inside, leaving managers to perform their duties for the day. (The Canadian Press)

-The Canadian Press


March 31: Ontario, B.C., Quebec begin building makeshift hospitals; Toronto cancels all public events through June 30

March 30: COVID-19 devastates Bobcaygeon, Ont. nursing home; Ford extends Ontario’s state of emergency; Trudeau says businesses, non-profits, charities all eligible for wage subsidy

March 29: Canada to make sure Chinese masks meet quality standards, Trudeau says; 5,866 COVID-19 cases nationally, 63 deaths