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Coronavirus: Canada faith groups find ways to safely serve – Al Jazeera English

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Toronto, Canada – When Canada’s largest Sikh gurdwara shut down its langar, or community kitchen, last month due to the coronavirus, volunteers knew it could not be closed for long.

“Nothing like this has happened before,” said Ranjit Singh Dulay, secretary of the Ontario Khalsa Darbar in Mississauga, Canada. “I’m here in Canada 35 years. I’ve never seen like that.”

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Before it closed, volunteers quietly served freshly-made meals to up to 2,500 people from the greater Toronto area on an average day. Regular patrons included the elderly and international students, many of whom struggled to put food on the table.

“People worried about their bills, money for groceries – now is when they need these services,” Dulay said.

That is why the langar was adapted so it could reopen as a take-out service. Up to 600 people a day continue to receive food packets, Dulay said.

When governments closed non-essential services and limited gatherings, faith organisations moved quickly, closing most churches, mosques and gurdwaras to visitors, and launching online portals or live-streams. But it was the sudden loss of experiences around worship – like communal gatherings, meals, and face-to-face connections – and necessary services that have hit faith communities the hardest. The lockdowns have been more difficult as important faith holidays – Easter, Vaisakhi, Ramadan and New Year – approach and pass.

“Langar is more than just food,” said Jaskaran Singh Sidhu, the former executive director of World Sikh Organization. As an integral expression of seva or service, a central tenet of Sikhism, community members volunteer their time, preparing meals and serving others. Sidhu said he grew up around the gurdwara. “They’re bedrocks of the community. The outpouring was really clear – it’s something that people relied on.”

‘Caremongering’

Canadians’ anxiety levels meanwhile have worsened dramatically since COVID-19, according to the results of a survey published on April 2. Nearly six million Canadians have filed for job loss benefits.

During crisis, religious communities often turn to their faith, said Shahina Siddiqui, founder and executive director of the Winnipeg-based Islamic Social Services Association. “Not to be able to go to a mosque, or be in a congregation, adds a layer to that anxiety.” Her clients include refugees and the elderly.

For many in the faith community, the response to COVID-19 measures has been to look outwards, to help those in need. “While mosques may be closed, Canadian Muslims have taken this as an opportunity for caremongering,” said Mustafa Farooq, CEO of the National Council of Canadian Muslims, referring to the trend that has emerged in Canada to help vulnerable communities.

Volunteers with Islamic Relief put together packets of necessities for those in their communities [Courtesy of Islamic Relief Canada]

Zahraa Saab, a public health professional, has been working with her local mosque and faith leaders to develop a database of evidence-based information and community services for those in need. She says there has been a tremendous outpouring of support. Initiatives like the Good Neighbour Project were created in March, with community members mobilising, delivering groceries, checking on elders, and providing services to those in need. “Charity is a very important pillar of our faith, and people are really putting that into action.”

Humanitarian aid organisations like Islamic Relief Canada and Khalsa Aid have organised drop-offs at local food banks and shelters across Canada. Islamic Relief said they have donated 5,000 kits across the country in the last three weeks, with volunteers quickly putting together hygiene products and non-perishable food for people in need. They are also providing financial aid. Khalsa Aid volunteers have delivered rations, including prescription medicines and groceries, to people in more than 600 locations. In one city alone, a Khalsa Aid team delivered rations to 65 international students in need. Khalsa Aid Canada’s national director, Jatinder Singh, said volunteers at his gurdwara in Victoria, British Columbia, are sewing cloth masks for essential workers and care homes in nearby communities.

 Islamic Relief - Canada faith orgs

Islamic Relief volunteers pose near packets of necessities for the community [Courtesy of Islamic Relief] [Daylife]

Several charities and mosques have jointly called on the federal government for more support. “On one hand, the demand for services have increased, but the ability to deliver has decreased,” said Farooq, as fundraising activities have been directly affected by closures related to COVID-19.

The mosque closures have been personally difficult for Farooq. “I’ve been going to congregational prayers since I was a child; to suddenly not go, to not see my colleagues, it’s been challenging.”

As the month of Ramadan approaches, Saab feels nostalgic, as events and gatherings common to this time are cancelled. “The realisation that we might not be able to break fast together, in person, will be tough,” she said.

In Surrey, British Columbia, the annual Vaisakhi Parade has been cancelled. The biggest one outside India, last April it drew more than 500,000 people.

“We don’t really notice it, in our day-to-day lives,” said Sidhu, “but it’s in these moments that you gain a true understanding of how important these institutions are and the role they play.”

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Canadians living in China watch developments in Meng case closely – CTV News

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Canadian teacher Christopher Maclure remembers the first time he felt afraid living in China.

Almost all the newspapers there carried stories about how angry Chinese officials were when Huawei’s chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou was detained by Canadian authorities in Vancouver at the behest of the United States.

But it wasn’t until a few days later when the two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, were arrested by China that Maclure felt fear.

“That’s when I got really scared,” he said in a phone interview from China where he has lived for more than two decades. “It was the top news story in China.”

Meng has been held in Canada since December 2018. She’s out on bail while fighting extradition to the United States on fraud charges. Last week, her lawyers’ first round of arguments was thrown out by a B.C. judge, meaning the case continues.

Nine days after Meng’s arrest, Chinese authorities sent Kovrig, an ex-diplomat working for the International Crisis Group, and Spavor, an entrepreneur who did business in North Korea, to prison. They are accused of violating China’s national security interests, but Canadian argues the men have been “arbitrarily detained.”

Maclure said his family was quite worried while these events played out and their fears were renewed when the B.C. court ruled against Meng last week.

But Maclure said he has felt safer in China than in any country in the West, he said.

“Everything is on camera here. It provides me with a sense of security,” he said. “And I speak Chinese quite well.”

Maclure said he censors what he says on WeChat, a Chinese social media site.

“Being a teacher … I’m sometimes a little paranoid that I’d be a person to detain,” he said. “We have a saying in China that when it’s all the same the tallest tree gets the most wind. It means the more you express your opinion, the more critical you are, the more likely you are to get cut down.”

Myriam Larouche, a Quebec woman who is a graduate student in China, said she’s not worried about being affected by the Meng case. Larouche is in Canada now, but she plans to return to China once flights resume and school starts.

Larouche said she had “some concerns” when she heard the two Canadians were arrested, but “I asked some friends and they said ‘No, no you don’t have to be worried.’ “

Global Affairs Canada said there are currently 12,885 Canadian citizens in China who have voluntarily registered with the department.

Ottawa is “aware” of 118 Canadians currently in custody in greater China with the most common charges being drug-related and fraud.

A court in southern China handed down a death penalty to a Canadian in April of last year on drug charges. In a separate drug smuggling case, China sentenced Canadian Robert Lloyd Schellenberg to death in a sudden retrial in January — one month after Kovrig and Spavor were detained.

Wayne Duplessis had been living in China for more than two decades prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and said he hopes to go back.

He remembers reading about the arrests of Meng, Kovrig and Spavor.

“A friend contacted me a couple of days after (Kovrig and Spavor were arrested) and said, ‘are you concerned?’ I guess there was a brief moment when I thought ‘should I be concerned?’ “

But that passed, Duplessis said.

He said he and his family have been treated well in China and people there have a lot of respect for Canada.

“By and large I never feel uncomfortable about this. It seems very much unrelated to us.”

Duplessis said he feels badly for Spavor and Kovrig.

“I can’t imagine what it would be like to be in custody for more than 500 days — even one day. Terrifying,” he said

Canadians living in China can stay in touch with the embassy and cultivate “good working relationships locally,” he said.

“I hope this is a blip and I hope that things get cleared.”

But people can’t be ruled by their fears, he added.

“We have to move forward or we just don’t get anywhere. So, you try to be as cautious as you can, you try to understand the risks — there’s no sense in being foolish about it — but we do have to move forward.

“We do have to build our lives.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 4, 2020.

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Strains from Europe and Eastern Canada account for most COVID-19 cases in B.C., genomic data shows – CBC.ca

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Strains traced to Europe and Eastern Canada are by far the largest source of COVID-19 infections in B.C., according to new modelling presented by the provincial government Thursday.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry revealed the results of genomic tracing of different strains of the virus, showing that of those samples that have been sequenced, early cases linked to travel from China and Iran appear to have been well contained, leading to relatively few other infections.

But beginning in March, with an outbreak that began with the Pacific Dental Conference in Vancouver, infections with strains from Eastern Canada and Europe spiked dramatically.

“One of the people that we knew was positive and had attended that conference had previously been in Germany during his incubation period before he became ill,” Henry said.

Strains traced to Washington state have also been linked to a large number of cases, particularly in long-term care homes in the Vancouver Coastal Health region.

Henry explained that this kind of tracing is possible because the genome of the virus changes relatively quickly, but not as fast as diseases like influenza.

Genomic tracing of different strains of the novel coronavirus show most infections are linked to variations that have been traced to Europe and Eastern Canada. (B.C. government)

She also announced nine new confirmed cases of the virus on Thursday, for a total of 2,632 to date. No new deaths have been recorded, leaving B.C.’s total at 166.

The new cases announced Thursday include four people who have already recovered, people that Henry described as epidemiologically linked to previous patients who have tested positive.

This means these four people were close contacts of known cases and developed symptoms of COVID-19, but may not have had access to testing at the time.

There are currently 26 people in hospital, including six in intensive care. To date, 2,265 people have recovered from their illnesses, and there are now 201 active cases across the province.

Meanwhile, there has been a new community outbreak at the Beresford Warming Centre in Burnaby, where three people have tested positive for the virus.

Richmond has lowest caseload in Lower Mainland

For the first time, Henry also provided more detailed geographic data about COVID-19 cases in B.C., breaking them down by the 16 health service delivery areas.

The numbers show that in the Lower Mainland, Richmond has had the lowest percentage of cases, with just 444 per million residents, compared to 832 in Vancouver, 911 on the North Shore, and 1,241 cases per million in the area from Abbotsford to Hope in Fraser Health.

The numbers also show that Richmond had no new COVID-19 cases in the last two weeks of May, the only part of the Lower Mainland where that was the case. 

As well, 83 per cent of B.C.’s new cases in the last two weeks of May were in just two health delivery areas — Fraser East and Fraser South.  

In the rest of the province, the only sub-region with a significantly higher percentage of COVID-19 cases was north Vancouver Island (comprising areas north of Qualicum Beach), with 483 cases per million residents compared to 92 cases in central Vancouver Island and 112 cases in south Vancouver Island. 

Men account for more deaths and hospitalizations

The figures presented by Henry also show a trend that has been noted in most other parts of the world. 

While slightly more women and girls have tested positive for COVID-19 in B.C., men and boys have been much more likely to have serious cases of the disease.

About two-thirds of COVID-19 patients who have been hospitalized were male — a proportion similar to those in intensive care and those who have died.

Data from the B.C. government shows that male patients are much more likely to be hospitalized or to die because of COVID-19. (B.C. government)

“We’ve talked about the biological reasons why this might be, but we do not have all the answers yet,” Henry said.

Meanwhile, people over the age of 70 are much more likely to die from the virus, even though people between the ages of 30 and 60 account for the majority of infections.

Other data presented Thursday suggest that since businesses and services began reopening on May 19, British Columbians have managed to keep their social contacts to between 30 and 40 per cent of what they were before the pandemic.

“That’s what we want to see,” Henry said.

She also said that modelling suggests that the partial reopening of schools that began on June 1 should have minimal impact on the spread of the virus, as long as adults maintain social distancing and those who are ill commit to self-isolating.

B.C. is now testing between 1,500 and 2,000 people for COVID-19 every day, and the percentage of those tests coming back positive has fallen in recent weeks. Anyone with symptoms can now get tested, and Henry said the province has the capacity to ramp up the testing rate if necessary.

If the curve of infection remains relatively flat, Henry said, she is hopeful that travel within B.C. will be safe by late June or early July.

If you have a COVID-19-related story we should pursue that affects British Columbians, please email us at impact@cbc.ca.

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Coronavirus cases in Canada continue steady decline, death toll increases by 139 – Global News

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New novel coronavirus cases in Canada have been dropping for the past several days, with Ontario and Quebec continuing to account for the vast majority of new cases and deaths.

Canada saw 637 new lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 reported on Thursday, slightly lower than 705 a day earlier and 994 a week earlier, bringing the country’s caseload to more than 93,500 cases.

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The national death toll rose by 139 deaths, for a total of more than 7,600.

New modelling data revealed Thursday that Canada could see up to 9,400 deaths by mid-June.


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Quebec remains the hardest hit province, with 55 per cent of the country’s cases and more than 60 per cent of Canada’s fatalities. The province reported 259 new cases and 91 deaths on Thursday — a drop from last week’s numbers, which hovered in the 500 range.

More than 52,000 cases have been reported overall, with over 17,000 recoveries. Nearly 4,900 people have died.

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Ontario reported 356 new cases and 45 new deaths, bringing its figures to nearly 29,500 cases and more than 2,300 deaths.

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British Columbia saw no new deaths on Thursday and five new cases, as well as four “epidemiologically-linked” cases — people who are symptomatic or have had close contact with a COVID-19 case, but haven’t been tested.

Global News has only included the five lab-confirmed cases in its official tally.






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B.C. has seen more than 2,600 cases and 166 deaths, along with more than 2,200 recoveries. The number of people in hospital in the province has hit an 11-week low.

Alberta reported 15 new cases and one new death Thursday. More than 7,000 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and 146 people have died. More than 6,600 people are considered recovered so far.


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Saskatchewan reported just one new case and saw its active COVID-19 cases drop below five per cent. The province has seen nearly 650 cases so far, including more than 600 recoveries and 11 deaths.

New Brunswick reported one new case as well as its first COVID-19-related death on Thursday.






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The province’s first death related to the coronavirus is linked to the ongoing outbreak in the Campbellton region — a cluster that has been traced back to a doctor who contracted the virus in Quebec and did not self-isolate upon his return.

The man who died was an 84-year-old resident of a long-term care home in Atholville, N.B.

Nova Scotia reported one new death, bringing its tally to 1,058 cases and 61 deaths, as its active case total continued to go down. The majority of its death toll is linked to one long-term care home in Halifax.

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No new cases

Three provinces didn’t report any new cases or deaths on Thursday, while two territories that have seen all their COVID-19 cases resolved have not seen any new ones. Nunavut is the only region in Canada that has not reported a positive case.

Manitoba says it has seven active cases, out of a total of 287 lab-confirmed cases. That number includes seven deaths so far. The province says it has no COVID-19 hospitalizations at the moment.


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Newfoundland and Labrador is left with two active cases out of 261 total cases, including three deaths.

Globally, the virus has caused more than 1.8 million cases and close to 389,000 deaths, according to data tracked by Johns Hopkins University.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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