The COVID19 pandemic has shone a light on the core strengths of Canada’s health-care system while at the same time laying bare the serious shortcomings of the American system.
In this country, we have started to flatten the curve. Ontario and Quebec are not quite as far along as other provinces, but their spread rate of the virus has slowed considerably.
If we stick to adhering to public health protocols – keeping our physical distance, wearing a mask in many situations, not congregating in large crowds – there is every reason to think the curve will continue to flatten while the pandemic continues.
Not so on the other side of the border.
The COVID-19 situation in the United States is almost out of control in many places. States like California, Arizona, Texas and Florida are getting steamrolled by the deadly virus that is rampaging through them.
Even neighboring Washington, which thought it had the virus almost under control mere weeks ago, has seen a resurgence in case numbers, hospitalizations and deaths.
There seem to be many reasons for the stark differences between the two countries’ experience in fighting off the virus.
Perhaps the most important difference is that Canada’s response to COVID-19 is being driven and determined by public health officials, and not by politicians.
People like B.C. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and federal Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam have been in charge for the most part and they are being guided by science rather than politics.
Canadian political leaders, meanwhile, have primarily been responsible for devising financial aid packages for the millions of people hit hardest by the virus and have stayed out of the health side of the response.
Contrast that to the United States where, in some cases, elected officials (notably President Donald Trump) publicly clash with public health experts and ignore or override their advice.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the respected U.S. infectious disease expert, has almost disappeared from public view. Evidently, that is because the Trump administration does not want him offering the country expert advice.
Can you imagine if the B.C. government tried to muzzle Henry? A pitchfork-waving mob would instantly materialize in the streets.
Another key difference is that Canadians tend to follow rules created for the benefit of the larger community. We don’t chafe under state controls and when someone like Dr. Henry says, for example, that there will be no mass gatherings of people there generally is not (the public protests against racism are notable exceptions).
Americans, on the other hand, love to boast about their constitutionally protected personal rights and have been thumbing their noses at things like crowd limits since the pandemic began. In fact, the current surge in COVID-19 cases in the U.S. can be traced back to the Memorial Day long weekend in late May, when huge crowds gathered to celebrate.
Finally, it cannot be a coincidence that a country with a public health-care system is doing so much better fighting COVID-19. It allows us to take a centralized approach to taking on the virus.
The U.S., on the other hand, has a private system that has led to a decentralized approach. The result is a hodge-podge of results (within states, some neighboring counties have differing “lockdown” rules; some hospitals do not even report case numbers or deaths).
Two countries side-by-side, yet we could not be further apart in this pandemic.
Keith Baldrey is the legaslative bureau chief for Global BC, based at the Legislature in Victoria, B.C.
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
Former Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney advising PM on COVID-19 economic response – CBC.ca
Mark Carney — the former governor of the Bank of Canada and the Bank of England — has been acting as an informal adviser to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on the federal government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Carney “certainly has been advising the PM through different phases of this,” said a senior government official speaking on background. “I’d hope we can count on him for more.”
News of the informal role was first reported by Bloomberg on Monday.
Carney has long been rumoured to have political aspirations since returning to Canada after his term with the Bank of England expired earlier this year. Many in Liberal circles see Carney as a top candidate for finance minister should he seek office or as a possible leadership candidate to eventually succeed Trudeau.
With a sudden vacancy in the Toronto-area riding of York Centre there have been rumours that Carney could be a candidate in an upcoming byelection, though senior Liberal sources have repeatedly thrown cold water on that idea.
Carney is well-suited to advise the prime minister during difficult economic times. He led the Bank of Canada during the global financial crisis more than a decade ago and held the top job at the Bank of England during the Brexit uncertainty.
Carney, a former investment banker currently serving as the United Nations’ special envoy on climate action and climate finance, has likened the climate crisis to a financial crisis — and has urged financial sector to help tackle the issue.
The Liberals are under pressure to rein in the economy after pandemic spending helped drive the projected deficit for 2020-21 to $342.2 billion — some ten times higher than expected before COVID-19 — according to a financial snapshot provided last month by Finance Minister Bill Morneau.
Most of that figure can be attributed to the $212 billion in direct support measures Ottawa is providing to individuals and businesses.
Morneau said at the time that, aside from the pandemic program spending, the economic slowdown is estimated to have added another $81.3 billion to the deficit in 2020-21.
The economy is projected to shrink by 6.8 per cent this year before bouncing back by 5.5 per cent next year, Morneau said, making this crisis the worst economic contraction since the Great Depression.
The economy is expected to decline in 2020-21 more than twice as much as it did in 2009-10 in response to the global financial crisis.
More than 500 COVID-19 infections in Canada linked to exposures at public places, new data suggests – CTV News
New data suggests that more than 500 COVID-19 infections in Canada have been linked to public venues including stores, bars, restaurants, daycares and schools since the beginning of July as more businesses continue to reopen and restrictions are eased.
New numbers released on Monday by Project Pandemic report that at least 148 different stores, restaurants, bars, schools, daycares, and other public spaces have issued warnings about potential exposure to the virus.
Since July 4, the data found that 505 individual coronavirus infections were reported in connection with those public venues in 61 cities across seven provinces.
Project Pandemic is a collaborative mapping effort led by the Institute for Investigative Journalism at Montreal’s Concordia University. The project employs reporters from journalism schools across Canada along with traditional news media organizations such as CTV News to collect data about the coronavirus pandemic and to use analysis tools to allow a clearer picture of where the COVID-19 disease has spread.
While more than 500 infections may seem like a lot, infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch told CTVNews.ca that these numbers are expected.
“Those numbers are not really surprising. We see a few outbreaks associated with restaurants and bars. There has been a few, but really a small number of transmission, in other places like for example grocery stores or liquor stores,” Bogoch said in a phone interview on Monday. “It’s a good reflection of where some, but not all, of the virus is being transmitted in Canada.”
According to the new data, more than half of the recent infections involved food sales, with potential exposure to the virus reported at 85 grocery stores, liquor stores and restaurants. There were also at least eight reports of infections and exposures at day camps, eight at schools and daycares, and three at parks and pools.
Project Pandemic noted that the numbers are not a comprehensive dataset and said in a press release that it is likely that there may have been more exposure warnings and subsequent infection than those reported.
The data found that places most affected by potential exposure and infections include Loblaw grocery chains such as No Frills, Real Canadian Superstore and Shoppers Drug Mart throughout cities in Ontario and Alberta. Exposure warnings were also issued for some of Loblaw’s Provigo stores in Montreal.
In an emailed statement to CTVNews.ca, Loblaw said it continues to follow public health guidance on COVID-19 and has teams “working around the clock” to monitor the needs of customers and employees “as the situation continues to evolve.”
“With the community spread of COVID-19, it’s unfortunate but probable that some stores will be affected. That’s why we have invested heavily since the beginning of the pandemic to enhance our sanitization and protections as well as enforcing social distancing practices in stores since,” the statement read.
Other grocery stores affected included Walmart and IGA.
Despite accounting for a number of infections, Bogoch said the risk associated with virus transmission in grocery stores remains low.
“When you think about how many people go into those stores daily, there really are very few cases linked to those settings. Grocery stores are taking great care [in] ensuring people are physically distant, employees in the grocery stores are wearing masks and many places have Plexiglas set up to separate the cashiers from customers,” Bogoch explained.
“As long as people adhere to good public health measures, I think we’ll continue to see very few cases, transmitted in those settings.”
Another retailer that saw in a number of exposure warnings was various SAQ liquor store locations across Quebec with exposures reported in at least 10 different stores and depots.
In a statement emailed to CTVNews.ca, an SAQ spokesperson said its locations have followed the required protocol for confirmed COVID-19 cases including quarantining and self-isolation for those who may have come into close contact with the infected employee.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, our priority is to ensure the health and safety of our employees and our customers. The SAQ has strictly complied with all recommendations issued by public health authorities,” the email said.
Bogoch said the main concern of virus transmission continues to be restaurants and bars.
“We know that in indoor environments like restaurants when there’s multiple people close together for prolonged periods of time, those are perfect environments for this virus to be transmitted and certainly if the virus is introduced to a setting like that, it would come to no one surprised that we’ll see subsequent cases,” Bogoch said.
Project Pandemic reported that various restaurants reported outbreaks across Canada however multiple restaurants in Calgary made the list with potential exposure warnings issued for multiple locations of Cactus Club Cafe, The Keg, Fire N Ice Lounge and Village Brewery.
To see fewer outbreaks in these settings, Bogoch said it is up to both restaurant owners and patrons to ensure everyone is following public safety measures. However, that may be easier said than done.
“If restaurants and bars really take the initiative to ensure people can stick to their tables and spread apart, it’ll be okay but the likelihood of that happening, we know it’s not that high,” Bogoch said. “We’ve seen cases in Canada and elsewhere in the world people go to bars to consume alcohol and, of course, it’s just more challenging to adhere to physical distancing in those settings.”
Bogoch said this does not mean that Canadians should avoid restaurants, but that patrons and employees must remain vigilant in preventing the spread of COVID-19.
“Businesses really have to be set up for success. That means protecting their employees and also protecting their customers. That means creating a safe environment for people to eat and drink. You can have the best laid plans but if they’re not adhered to, they’re meaningless,” he said.
In restaurants, Bogoch said the key to limiting possible exposure is customer adherence to safety measures, but it is the business’ responsibility to enforce those measures. However, he added that following public health guidelines is what makes restaurants a challenging environment.
“If the restaurant or bar is set up in a way that is safer and if they really ensure that customers are adhering to the right policies and if customers are vigilant… then it’ll be OK. But of course, when we put that into real world settings, we see that many places do that, but some do not,” Bogoch said.
“And in the places that are not adhering to these measures, we’re seeing outbreaks.”
“Project Pandemic: Canada Reports on COVID-19” is a national collaboration bringing together journalists and journalism students from news organizations and universities across Canada to gather information as a public service.
The consortium draws on data gathered by governmental health authorities, journalists and the nonprofit platform Flatten.ca. This project is co-ordinated by Concordia University’s Institute for Investigative Journalism, with the support of the Canadian Association of Journalists. For the full list of credits, please visit concordia.ca/projectpandemic.
Over 500 coronavirus cases connected to public places in Canada since July 4, data shows – Global News
There have been over 500 reported cases of the novel coronavirus connected to outbreaks or confirmed infections at public places like grocery stores, restaurants and day camps across Canada since early July, according to new data on COVID-19 cases.
The data, compiled by the Institute of Investigative Journalism (IIJ) at Concordia University, reveal new details about how the virus has spread across Canada, since July 4, in places where members of the public can gather.
Reporters at the IIJ’s Project Pandemic identified at least 505 reported infections linked to outbreaks or exposures at 148 locations that span across 61 cities in seven provinces.
The newly released statistics come at a crucial moment in Canada’s fight against its COVID-19 outbreak, with many provinces and municipalities entering the final stages of their plan to reopen their economies and students set to return to classrooms in September.
According to the data, a majority of the documented COVID-19 exposures or infections were related to food sales — with groceries, restaurants and liquor stores accounting for a total of 198 cases that involved employees and patrons. Only locations open to the public were included in the analysis of data and excluded facilities like long-term care homes or food processing plants.
Two major outbreaks of COVID-19 in July occurred at the Cactus Club restaurant and Fire and Ice lounge, both located in downtown Calgary. The Cactus Club location was linked to 25 COVID-19 cases, while Fire and Ice was linked to 57, according to the data.
“The safety and well-being of our guests and employees is our number one priority,” the Cactus Club said in a statement. “While (Alberta Health Services) has not mandated it, we have decided to voluntarily close this location out of an abundance of caution to ensure the health of everyone.”
The owners of Fire and Ice did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Eight fitness centres were linked to 79 infections, with one location in Alberta accounting for 62 cases. The cases were linked to the Ride Cycle Club in Calgary, which was added to Alberta’s list of confirmed outbreaks in July.
The company has said the studio was informed on July 13 that a member of its training community had tested positive for COVID-19 and “immediately shut down all Calgary operations and deployed a notification and awareness strategy.”
Eight day camps were associated with 46 infections, while schools or daycares had 23 infections at seven locations. One of the largest outbreaks occurred at a day camp on Montreal’s south shore, the Boucherville-based Les Ateliers de Charlot l’Escargot, which has seen at least 28 cases of COVID-19 among kids and staff.
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Retail stores, which include electronic and hardware shops, were also among the highest in the country with a total of 21 reported outbreaks. Other public areas that were measured as having fewer exposures or outbreaks included parks, hotels and malls, according to the data.
On a province-to-province basis, the highest number of exposures or outbreaks occurred in Quebec, which had a total of 65. Alberta closely followed at 61 COVID-19 exposures or outbreaks, and Ontario had 45.
Saskatchewan and Manitoba had 21 and 11 recorded incidents, respectively, while both British Columbia and Nova Scotia’s reported exposures were in the single digits.
To date, Canada has reported over 119,000 cases of the coronavirus as well as 8,981 deaths. Daily reported increases in coronavirus cases across the country have averaged at about 400 over the past week, according to Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam.
While new cases of the virus continue to follow a downward trend across Canada, health experts and authorities continue to warn of a potential second wave or another outbreak should measures to prevent the spread of the virus ease too soon.
Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases physician at Toronto General Hospital, said the new data confirms what public health experts have been sounding the alarm over: indoor settings spread transmission.
“Indoor settings where there is lots of people in close proximity for prolonged periods of time are at the greatest risk of transmitting infection,” Bogoch said. “There have even been a few cases transmitted at grocery stores and liquor stores.”
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Bogoch said masking, handwashing and physical distancing have had a significant impact on reducing the number of cases across all provinces but warned that we still need to vigilant as more people flock to bars and restaurants and schools look to reopen in the coming weeks.
“We’ve had a few high profile outbreaks associated with restaurants and bars in the country and of course internationally,” he said. “We know these are hotspots for infections.”
“The key, is ensuring that people adhere to public health measures while in bars,” he said. “It’s one thing to have a plan in place. It’s another thing to implement that plan.”
He’ll also bee watching Ontario’s case numbers closely as the province has seen less than 100 cases for nearly a week, but reported 115 new cases on Monday.
“Some of this could be undone if people disregard these public health measures,” he said. “If businesses and organizations provide a safe environment for employees and customers, then we will be doing OK.
“If there are breakdowns, then it should come to no one’s surprise that we are going to see a rise in cases in congregate settings.”
Community shutdowns more effective than closing schools, study finds
New research from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) found that shutting down communities — closing businesses and asking people to stay home — has a greater impact on reducing the total number of infections than closing schools.
According to a study published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, researchers with PHAC used computer modelling to evaluate the impact of several of the main interventions used to control the spread of the virus — case detection and isolation, contact tracing and quarantine, physical distancing and community closures — taken both together and alone.
After adding school closures to that mix, they found that while closing classrooms would indeed reduce the rate of infections within schools, it had far less of an impact on the pandemic overall compared to partial community closures, the likes of which were seen across Canada starting in March.
In a scenario without any other public health measures taken, for example, the overall rate of virus infection was 54.7 per cent with schools closed versus .04 per cent with much broader closures, including workplaces and schools.
“When we have high levels of community transmission combined with minimal public health interventions and low adherence to physical distancing, school closures will have a minimal impact in combination with these interventions and will not be sufficient to control the epidemic,” lead researcher Dr. Victoria Ng, senior scientific evaluator with PHAC, said in a statement.
“In contrast, workplace and general community closures were much more effective, because transmission outside of the household is occurring predominantly in these settings,” she said.
Bogoch said Canada saw the effectiveness of lockdown measures play out in real time in March, April and May.
“We were able to bring our new cases down to very low levels from coast-to-coast,” he said. “It was extremely challenging and economically devastating for many individuals. It’s psychologically and emotionally challenging … but it did reduce the transmission of COVID-19.”
The findings come amid intense scrutiny over the decision to reopen schools in all provinces, as well as the effectiveness of the measures governments have in place to protect students.
After peaking in early May, the number of new coronavirus cases in Canada has declined dramatically this summer, though some provinces, including B.C. and Alberta, are seeing a recent uptick.
“The virus doesn’t care about our past efforts. It’s what we do now that matters,” Tam said in her daily statement on Sunday.
“We’ve come too far, lost too much, and have so much to protect. Our biggest struggle is to persevere with our collective effort, to maintain the careful balance of keeping the infection rate low… protecting the most vulnerable, while minimizing the unintended health and social consequences of restrictive public health measures.”
Researchers found that anywhere from 0.25 per cent to 56 per cent of Canadians could become infected over the course of the pandemic depending on the level of public health intervention implemented in the coming months and even years. The infection rate of 56 per cent could occur if no control measures were taken.
According to the study, the infection rate varied and depended on how much testing, isolation, contact tracing and quarantine were carried out, combined with effective physical distancing measures.
And while each of the measures studied was effective at curbing the spread of COVID-19 to varying degrees in the model, none of them except partial community closure could eliminate the virus on its own.
A combination of case detection, isolation and contact tracing — and ramping up those activities along with physical distancing — was crucial to lowering the infection rate to a quarter of a percentage point.
“These interventions would need to be maintained until the epidemic is extinguished (either via herd immunity or vaccination), or there will be a resurgence,” the authors wrote.
Project Pandemic is co-ordinated by the IIJ, with the support of Esri Canada and the Canadian Association of Journalists.
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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