Quebec on Wednesday relaxed restrictions on some sports, such as tennis and golf, while CBC News has learned that Ontario is preparing to announce when it will lift restrictions on construction work and loosen restrictions on most retail shops as part of its reopening plan.
These new developments, along with similar ones across the country, come as some experts are warning about the risks related to reopening amid the pandemic.
The Institut national de santé publique du Québec (INSPQ) has published new predictions showing what may happen in Montreal and the rest of Quebec once physical distancing measures are eased. It found the current deconfinement plan in Montreal, which includes the schools and some retailers reopening on May 25, could lead to 150 deaths per day by July, without taking into account the situation in long-term care facilities.
Quebec accounts for over half of confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths in the country, with 39,931 cases and 3,220 deaths so far. As of 4:45 p.m. ET, provinces and territories in Canada reported a total of 72,200 cases, with 34,940 listed as recovered or resolved. A CBC News tally of coronavirus-related deaths based on provincial data, regional health information and CBC’s reporting stood at 5,389.
Premier François Legault is now strongly encouraging people to wear masks in public to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. In a press briefing Wednesday, Legault acknowledged that the province still hasn’t met its testing targets. He said the province is still conducting 9,000 tests a day, which is still well below the target of 14,000.
“I’m not happy. I’ve told the responsible people that we have to reach the 14,000 a day [target] in the next few days,” Legault said at his daily briefing.
WATCH | Trudeau on helping Quebec with COVID-19 testing:
In Ontario, there are also concerns about reopening too soon, as the province’s top doctor says he doesn’t feel confident that the province has met the threshold to begin its economic recovery plan.
At the same time, a draft news release obtained by CBC News shows Premier Doug Ford is ready to announce on Thursday plans to allow the reopening of retail stores that are not in malls, as well as seasonal businesses, pet services, household cleaning and maintenance, and in-person health and counselling services.
The draft release also announces “lifting essential workplace limits on construction” and allowing picnics in parks.
But the draft does not indicate when these restrictions will be lifted. In fact, the version obtained by CBC reads: “Ontario will begin Stage 1 of reopening on [insert date].”
Earlier, the province released a new emergency order allowing the government to temporarily control the management of long-term care homes hardest hit by the pandemic.
Premier Doug Ford said in a statement Wednesday morning that the move will help ensure the spread of the virus in care homes is contained. The order allows the province to step in if a facility has a high number of infections or deaths, or if it’s facing a staffing shortage.
Some 1,269 residents of long-term care comes in Ontario have died from COVID-19-related illness, while 2,982 have been infected with the novel coronavirus.
Ford also said Wednesday that he doesn’t think it is the right time to look at reopening the border between Canada and the United States for anything beyond commercial trade, which has continued throughout the lockdown.
WATCH | Why aren’t masks mandatory in public?:
“I want to keep it closed, and I made it very clear on the call with the premiers and prime minister, we need it closed,” Ford said Wednesday at his daily news conference.
“We just can’t risk it.”
Provincewide, Ontario’s network of labs processed 15,137 tests, the third consecutive day it has failed to reach its target of 16,000 tests per day. The backlog of samples waiting to be processed grew to 13,395.
WATCH | Toronto respirologist explains significance of Health Canada’s approval of antibody test for COVID-19:
In Ottawa, the House of Commons reconvenes today to debate legislation to permanently increase the Canadian Dairy Commission’s (CDC) borrowing limit to almost double its current level. The Crown corporation intends to buy more surplus butter and cheese to help farmers and processors weather the COVID-19 pandemic.
The bill up for debate Wednesday afternoon in the Commons will amend the Canadian Dairy Commission Act, allowing the government to use the Crown corporation’s buying power to mitigate unpredictable shifts in domestic milk supply and demand.
On May 5, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau announced a new assistance package for the farm sector, which included adding another $200 million to the CDC’s current $300 million borrowing capacity. The amount had been unchanged for 20 years.
With restaurants and other institutional food services closed, the dairy industry has been reeling from the collapse in demand for certain dairy products this spring. That forced producers in some regions, such as Eastern Ontario, to dump milk that could no longer be used.
The CDC will now be able to sign contracts with cheesemakers who currently are not operating at full capacity to transform future milk surpluses into cheese, which is easier to store. In addition to preventing waste, the bulk purchases also help with the processors’ cash flow issues until the market stabilizes again.
Meanwhile, Trudeau said Wednesday that post-secondary students will be able to apply for the Canada Emergency Student Benefit starting Friday. The program, announced in April, affords students up to $1,250 a month from May through August. That sum can go up to $2,000 a month if the student is caring for a dependent or has a disability.
Later in the day, Trudeau downplayed the need for a federal budget in the short term, saying the fast-moving effects of the COVID-19 pandemic would render those projections moot. He faced pushback from some Conservatives, who are demanding that Finance Minister BIll Morneau table some sort of update to give Canadians a better sense of the country’s fiscal health during a time of unprecedented government spending.
Morneau was set to deliver a federal budget at the end of March, though the pandemic disrupted those plans. The parliamentary budget officer said Tuesday that a federal debt topping $1 trillion this year is “not unthinkable,” though Trudeau said the government is focused on “immediate” needs over long-term budgeting.
What’s happening in the provinces and territories
While there are hundreds of COVID-19 cases in British Columbia‘s Lower Mainland — a small area of the province, but its most populated — there are only 14 active cases in the rest of the province. And with the potential of the virus being virtually contained in large areas of B.C. well before the Lower Mainland, some politicians are calling for the government to consider regional approaches in the province’s restart strategy. Read more about what’s happening in B.C.
Forty Canadian food inspectors — including 21 from Alberta — have contracted COVID-19, Sen. Paula Simons tweeted on Wednesday. Among the infected are 18 of the 37 inspectors at Cargill meat plant near High River, south of Calgary, she said. That meat plant is the site of the largest single outbreak in Canada. Read more about what’s happening in Alberta.
Saskatchewan’s government is waiting on an approval before it can receive and start using 50 rapid COVID-19 testing units capable of testing 25,000 people for traces of the novel coronavirus. According to the provincial Ministry of Health, the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) ordered the so-called Cube tests from Ottawa-based Spartan Bioscience, but Health Canada recently restricted the device to research use only after it experienced problems. Read more about what’s happening in Saskatchewan.
Starting Thursday, Manitoba will allow residents to get a COVID-19 test without a referral from Health Links or a health-care provider. Instead, anyone who meets the criteria should get tested for the virus, even those with only mild symptoms, said Lanette Siragusa, chief nursing officer for Shared Health. Read more about what’s happening in Manitoba.
Ontario reported 329 additional cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, bringing the province’s total number since the outbreak began to more than 21,200. Nearly three-quarters, or some 15,845, of the cumulative cases are now resolved, according to the Ministry of Health.
Both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier Doug Ford were noncommittal when asked Wednesday if their governments would provide the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) with a financial bailout. In a new report, the TTC says its ridership and revenues figures are about 80 to 90 per cent below where they should be, and that it has already lost 63 per cent of the passenger revenue it expected to make in 2020. Read more about what’s happening in Ontario.
Quebec‘s Public Health Director Dr. Horacio Arruda blamed the lack of testing in the province partly on a lack of people seeking out the tests in some of Montreal’s hard-hit areas. Arruda said one reason Quebec is missing its target is because fewer people are seeking out tests than anticipated. Read more about what’s happening in Quebec.
In New Brunswick, there were no new confirmed cases Wednesday, while hospital services in the province are being restarted for “urgent and critical” elective surgery. The province announced Friday the start of the orange recovery phase. Dr. Jennifer Russell, chief medical officer of health, said this means health authorities can restart non-emergency surgeries, diagnostic procedures and health services in a “progressive” manner. Read more about what’s happening in New Brunswick.
Nova Scotia reported four new cases on Wednesday, bringing the number of confirmed cases in the province to 1,024, with 870 of those considered resolved. Of the province’s 51 deaths from COVID-19, 45 have been at the Halifax long-term care home Northwood, which has been the epicentre of the virus’s outbreak in Nova Scotia. Read more about what’s happening in Nova Scotia.
WATCH | N.S. border screenings less stringent than N.B., commuter says:
The P.E.I. government says it is investigating the possibility that people may have entered the province stowed away in vehicles. “There is an investigation that is going on on a couple of incidents, but they’re still under investigation,” Public Safety Minister Bloyce Thompson said Tuesday. “There’s two separate incidents that are being investigated.” Read more about what’s happening in P.E.I.
Wednesday marked Newfoundland and Labrador‘s sixth straight day of no new cases. The total province’s total caseload is 261, with 247 people recovered and three deaths, leaving 11 active cases.
“Now that we have a relatively low number of cases of COVID-19 in our province we are in a position to keep this virus under control in our communities,” said Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald during a daily briefing. Read more about what’s happening in N.L.
The Northwest Territories could begin the first part of its reopening plan as soon as Friday, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola said. The plan includes more gatherings and the possible reopening of some schools and businesses — while the territory’s borders remain closed indefinitely to non-residents and non-essential workers, with some exceptions. Read more about what’s happening across the North.
Here’s what’s happening in the rest of the world
From Reuters and The Associated Press, updated at 2:30 p.m. ET
Britain tentatively began easing its coronavirus lockdown on Wednesday. Some people who cannot do their jobs at home were urged to return to work, as stark economic data showed the disastrous impact of the pandemic.
The worst-hit country in Europe, with more than 40,000 deaths from COVID-19 according to official data, Britain has been in an extensive lockdown since March 23.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Wednesday that 144 people employed within the National Health Service and 131 social care workers have died.
As of Wednesday morning, Britons in manufacturing and certain other sectors were being asked to return to work if they could.
Gross domestic product (GDP) data on Wednesday showed the economy shrank by a record 5.8 per cent in March from February, and the April data is likely to be even worse as the country was under lockdown for the entire month.
WATCH | Fauci warns U.S. Senate about reopening too soon:
In the U.S., the head of the Federal Reserve said Wednesday the central bank is not considering using negative interest rates, despite President Donald Trump seemingly pushing for them.
In a tweet Tuesday night, the president said other countries are enjoying the advantages of negative interest rates, and he urged his own central bank to accept the “gift” they would bestow on the U.S. economy.
A new prediction from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IMHE) at the University of Washington, one of the models used by the White House and state governments, revised its projection of deaths by Aug. 4 upward by 12,000. The projection under the current trajectory now estimates 147,000 American deaths by that date.
Leading U.S. infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci warned a Senate committee similarly on Tuesday.
The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases told a U.S. Senate panel that states should follow health experts’ recommendations to wait for signs, including a declining number of new infections, before reopening. U.S. President Donald Trump has been encouraging states to end a weeks-long shuttering of major components of their economies.
Tim Kaine, gentleman train robber <a href=”https://t.co/2bm76gkHAE”>pic.twitter.com/2bm76gkHAE</a>
In business, Twitter has become the first major U.S. tech company to allow employees who can work remotely to do so indefinitely, as the coronavirus outbreak forces unprecedented changes in work culture across the world.
The social media company said Tuesday it will not reopen most offices before September, and employees can choose whether to come to the facilities. BuzzFeed first reported Twitter’s move.
The World Health Organization said Wednesday the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 could become endemic like HIV. It warned against any attempt to predict how long the virus would keep circulating and called for a “massive effort” to counter it.
WATCH | It’s not a choice between the economy and the health system, WHO says:
New Zealand dropped most of its lockdown restrictions at midnight Thursday as the South Pacific nation of five million prepared itself for a new normal.
The reopening reflects New Zealand’s success in its bold goal of eliminating the virus. The country reported no new cases of the virus on Tuesday and Wednesday. More than 1,400 of the nearly 1,500 people who contracted COVID-19 have recovered, while 21 have died.