Canada hit another grim milestone in the COVID-19 crisis today, with the number of deaths exceeding 3,000. As of early evening, there were 3,133 deaths, and 51,597 cases.
The news came just after Manitoba became the latest province to release details on how it plans to lift COVID-19 restrictions and restart some sectors of the economy, with Premier Brian Pallister saying people will be dealing with a new normal as officials try to prevent a “COVID comeback.”
Pallister said some restrictions will be lifted beginning May 4. Non-urgent health care, ranging from dentistry and physiotherapy to elective surgery, will be allowed to operate again. Rules around outdoor recreation will also be loosened, though physical distancing will still be important, the premier said.
Some retail businesses — including clothing stores, restaurant patios and hair salons — will also be allowed to reopen.
“We must remain vigilant, and we must remain committed — we do not want a COVID comeback.”
In all cases, Pallister said, businesses will need to follow public health guidelines and ensure a safe experience for both staff and customers.
WATCH | Manitoba premier details reopening plans:
Pallister said health officials may look at the cap on group gatherings, but he cautioned that large-scale events like festivals and concerts aren’t likely anytime soon.
As for schools, Pallister said Manitoba is in the “early days” of the COVID-19 recovery and the presence of a large number of kids in a school makes social distancing a challenge. The province “isn’t entertaining” the idea of opening schools at this time, he said.
The second phase, which would include more personal services and indoor dining rooms, doesn’t have a firm date attached, but the province said it would be no sooner than June 1.
Pallister’s move came a day after Quebec announced that some businesses in the hard-hit province will be reopening in May, with Premier François Legault saying the challenge is to “gradually restart the economy without restarting the pandemic.”
Canada has more than 50,000 confirmed and presumptive coronavirus cases, with more than 3,000 COVID-19-related deaths, according to a CBC News tally based on provincial data, local health information and CBC’s reporting. Quebec accounts for 26,594 of the cases and 1,761 deaths.
Legault outlined a plan that would allow some retail, construction and manufacturing operations to resume at some point next month. But the premier emphasized that the reopening of some businesses doesn’t mean that people should be congregating in groups or ignoring public health guidelines.
He also stressed the importance of continuing to protect the vulnerable, particularly those living in the province’s long-term care homes, which have seen devastating and deadly outbreaks.
At their daily briefing Wednesday, federal health officials stressed that the virus is still spreading, and that people need to keep following the guidelines for lowering the risk, such as physical distancing and hand washing.
Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam also urged workplaces to have “good plans” for when they start to reopen and employees return.
WATCH | ‘We need to do better,’ says Dr. Theresa Tam:
Prince Edward Island, which has just 27 cases (with 24 considered recovered) also outlined its initial reopening plan on Tuesday. The small province is taking a phased approach — and like Saskatchewan and Quebec, it has attached specific dates to some early stages.
On May 1, P.E.I. will allow non-urgent health care to resume, a move that covers everything from cancer screenings to optometrist visits. There will also be some loosening of social restrictions, as non-related groups of up to five people will be allowed to visit — provided they are outside and at least two metres apart.
Phase 2, which allows small indoor and slightly larger outdoor gatherings, as well as more business openings, is set for May 22. Phase 3, which allows even larger gatherings and reopens some personal services, recreation facilities and restaurants in a limited way, is set for June 12. There’s no date attached to Phase 4, which the province describes as the “new normal” for P.E.I.
“We need to be cautious, we need to be careful and we need to be methodical,” P.E.I. Premier Dennis King said. “There are no programs to bring people back from the dead.”
Alberta is expected to outline its reopening plan later this week, though the precise timing is not yet clear.
“Some of this we’re going to have to make final decisions as we get closer to them, based on how well we do,” Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said Tuesday. “But I do hope that we will be able to begin reopening aspects of social and economic life that have currently been suspended in the month of May.”
Ontario’s recently revealed plan has a detailed framework outlining what needs to happen before restrictions can be lifted, but Premier Doug Ford has repeatedly described the plan as a roadmap, not a calendar.
WHO defends its response
The novel coronavirus, which was first reported in China in late 2019, causes an illness called COVID-19. Health officials have said most people who contract the virus experience mild to moderate symptoms, but have cautioned that older people and those with underlying health issues face a greater risk of severe illness or death.
There are no proven treatments or vaccines for the virus, though teams of researchers around the world are frantically working to find answers.
The chief of the World Health Organization on Wednesday defended the agency’s response to the coronavirus in a news briefing, saying it had acted “quickly and decisively.”
The Geneva-based UN body has faced mounting criticism in recent weeks, especially from top donor the United States, which has cut off funding.
“From the beginning, the WHO has acted quickly and decisively to respond to warn the world,” WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said after giving a timeline of what the body knew in the lead-up to declaring COVID-19 a global emergency on Jan. 30.
WATCH | ‘We sounded the alarm early and we sounded it often’:
As of 9:30 p.m. ET on Wednesday, there were nearly 3.2 million known cases of the coronavirus around the world, with more than 227,000 deaths, according to a case-tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University.
Read on for a look at what’s happening in the provinces and territories, the U.S. and around the world.
What’s happening in the provinces and territories
British Columbia is dealing with outbreaks at two more poultry processing plants, Sofina Foods Inc. and Fraser Valley Specialty Poultry. Eighty COVID-19 cases have been linked to two Metro Vancouver poultry processing facilities that were closed earlier this month. Read more about what’s happening in B.C. including the decision to extend the state of emergency for another two weeks.
The Alberta government is providing emergency payments to thousands of people in northern Alberta who have been evacuated from their homes because of flooding. Premier Jason Kenney announced Wednesday that adult evacuees will be eligible to receive $1,250 and $500 per dependant child. Read more about what’s happening in Alberta, including plans to reopen the Cargill meat processing plant.
Saskatchewan announced Wednesday that a sixth person has died from COVID-19 in the province. Health officials say the resident was in their 80s and from the far north region, which is dealing with an outbreak. The province announced 17 new confirmed cases today, with 11 in the remote community of La Loche. Read more about what’s happening in Saskatchewan, including details around revised COVID-19 projections.
Manitoba’s premier says the businesses that are allowed to reopen next week will need to follow strict cleaning and distancing protocols. “I want to be clear. This is not an announcement about a return to normal … because the normal will be a new normal,” Brian Pallister said during his briefing on the plan. Read more about what’s happening in Manitoba.
Ontario is expanding eligibility for child care in the province. Education Minister Steven Lecce says along with front-line health-care workers, people who work in grocery stores and pharmacies, retirement homes, as well as truckers and other essential workers, may now access child care. Read more about what’s happening in Ontario.
Quebec is getting another 400 soldiers to help out in the province’s overburdened long-term care homes. The soldiers are in addition to those who have been working in the province since April 20. More than 60 per cent of the province’s deaths have occurred in care homes, where absences and illnesses due to COVID-19 have worsened pre-existing understaffing issues. Read more about what’s happening in Quebec, including a warning from the Montreal mayor that the summer will not be what people are used to.
New Brunswick announced an 11th day of no new cases on Wednesday. But Dr. Jennifer Russell, chief medical officer of health, said the province is far from the end of the crisis. She encouraged more people to wear a mask when out in the community, saying in time, it will become more normalized. Read more about what’s happening in N.B.
Nova Scotia schools will be closed until at least May 19. Classes had been set to resume next week, but officials extended the closure due to ongoing concern about COVID-19. Read more about what’s happening in N.S., including about how the province wants to expand testing.
Prince Edward Island reported no new cases again on Wednesday, after reporting one on Tuesday, the first since mid-April.The province has extended the state of emergency in the province until the end of May, but some public health restrictions will start being lifted as of May 1. Read more about what’s happening in P.E.I, including full details around its newly released reopening plan.
WATCH | Dr. Theresa Tam on WHO response to COVID-19, reopening Canada:
Newfoundland and Labrador reported no new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, leaving the provincial total at 258. Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, chief medical officer of health, announced two new orders including one requiring assisted living facilities for seniors to take steps to protect their residents, and another restricting visitors to the province. Read more about what’s happening in N.L
Officials in Yukon are looking at a plan around reopening, but don’t yet have a target date. “If we move too quickly, or without understanding the necessary planning and co-ordination, we risk increasing the spread of COVID-19 in our territory,” Premier Sandy Silver said. Read more about what’s happening across the North.
What’s happening in the U.S.
From The Associated Press and Reuters, updated at 6:00 p.m. ET
U.S. President Donald Trump said Wednesday the federal government will not be extending its coronavirus social distancing guidelines once they expire tomorrow, and his son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, predicted that by July, the country will be “really rocking again.”
The U.S.death toll has surpassed 60,000 in less than three months, higher than the number of Americans killed in the Vietnam War over almost two decades.
Kushner described the administration’s response to the pandemic as “a great success story.”
Trump also mentioned at the briefing the hopeful preliminary results of a key clinical trial of the antiviral drug remdesivir that showed it helped certain patients recover more quickly from COVID-19.
The number of known U.S. coronavirus infections has now passed the one million mark. The actual count is believed to be higher, with state public health officials cautioning that shortages of trained workers and materials mean they have limited testing capacity, resulting in an incomplete picture of the spread of the virus.
The U.S. economy shrank at a 4.8 per cent annual rate last quarter as the coronavirus pandemic shut down much of the country and began triggering a recession that will end the longest expansion on record.
It was the sharpest fall since the economy shrank at an 8.4 per cent annual rate in the fourth quarter of 2008 in the depths of the Great Recession.
Widespread business shutdowns have caused roughly 30 million workers to lose jobs over the past month and a half. As layoffs mount, retail sales are sinking, along with manufacturing, construction, home sales and consumer confidence.
The Federal Reserve signaled Wednesday that it will keep its key short-term interest rate near zero for the foreseeable future as part of its extraordinary efforts to bolster the economy.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis says Florida’s restaurants and retail stores will be allowed to reopen Monday at 25 per cent capacity, if the local government allows it. The governor specifically excluded hard-hit, heavily populated Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, saying their businesses will begin Phase 1 when it is safer.
The governor also will allow hospitals and surgical centres to restart nonessential, elective procedures — but only if they have sufficient medical supplies and agree to help nursing homes and assisted-living facilities prevent and respond to coronavirus outbreaks. Parks, golf courses and other outdoor recreation areas already began reopening in some counties Wednesday.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio oversaw the dispersal of a large, tightly packed Hasidic Jewish funeral and lashed out at the mourners who had gathered in defiance of physical distancing rules. Critics accused de Blasio of singling out Orthodox Jews for censure when other New Yorkers have also violated guidelines intended to curb the spread of the coronavirus. The mayor defended his actions and said the number of daily deaths is still “disgustingly high.” New York reported 330 new COVID-19 deaths Wednesday, continuing a trend of daily fatalities decreasing slowly over the past three weeks.
What’s happening around the world
From The Associated Press and Reuters, updated at 6:30 p.m. ET
With 325 new confirmed deaths from coronavirus, Spain on Wednesday saw a slight rebound in fatalities for a total of 24,275 since the beginning of the pandemic. Infections stand at over 212,000, although the Health Ministry’s figure only includes the cases confirmed by the most reliable laboratory tests that are not being conducted massively. Authorities want to come out from a near total freeze of social and economic life in stages and at different speeds depending on how its provinces and islands respond to the health crisis.
The coronavirus pandemic will plunge Germany’s economy into its deepest recession since the Second World War, Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said on Wednesday as the government cut its economic growth forecast for this year. “We’re facing major challenges, both economically and politically,” Altmaier told reporters in Berlin, presenting the government’s updated growth forecast for Europe’s largest economy.
Russia’s nationwide tally of confirmed coronavirus cases neared the 100,000 mark on Wednesday after 5,841 new cases of the virus were registered overnight along with a record daily rise in the death toll. More than 1,000 cases have been found among workers building a liquefied natural gas facility in the far northern Murmansk region.
WATCH | Russians impoverished by COVID-19 pandemic with little help from Kremlin:
Sweden‘s southern city of Lund says it is spreading stinking chicken manure on the grounds of a central park to discourage a public celebration there on Thursday. It’s traditionally a big festive day among Swedish students and youth.
Sweden has maintained a relatively relaxed approach to public restrictions amid the coronavirus outbreak. But the government is strongly urging citizens to practise proper social distancing. Sweden, with a population of about 10 million, has reported 19,621 coronavirus cases and 2,355 deaths.
In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Wednesday announced an easing of population movement restrictions outside Budapest, which has reported the most cases of coronavirus infections, saying shops will be allowed to reopen without time limits. However, the wearing of masks will be mandatory in shops and on public transport.
Public health officials in India have shelved their plan to administer hydroxychloroquine or HCQ, an untested anti-malarial, to thousands in Mumbai’s crowded slums as a way of preventing infections in healthy people. Health officials in Mumbai said that the plan to “conduct a test” was still on the cards but had not yet been approved by the Indian government.
The United Nations humanitarian chief says there have been 44 cases of COVID-19 and four deaths in Syria. Mark Lowcock told the UN Security Council that a health-care system decimated by nine years of war can’t be expected “to cope with a crisis that is challenging even the wealthiest nations.” He says “testing capacity remains very limited,” and measures aimed at containing the spread of COVID-19 are already hurting the most vulnerable.
South Korean infectious disease experts have downplayed concerns that patients could get reinfected with the new coronavirus after fully recovering. While hundreds in South Korea have tested positive again after their release from hospitals, Oh Myoung-don, who heads the country’s central clinical committee on new infectious diseases, told a news conference on Wednesday there was a “high possibility” that such test results were flawed.
Sri Lanka will reimpose a 24-hour countrywide curfew as part of the country’s stringent measures designed to contain the spread of the coronavirus, effective Thursday night and continuing until May 4. The government’s decision to go for a blanket curfew across the island comes after a surge of confirmed cases in the last three days. There are now 630 COVID-19 cases in Sri Lanka, including seven deaths.
WATCH | Vaccine development aided by intense global focus, says Toronto respirologist:
Trudeau nominates first judge of colour to sit on Supreme Court
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday made history by nominating the first judge of color to sit on the country’s Supreme Court, which has only ever had white justices in its 146-year existence.
Mahmud Jamal, who has been a judge on Ontario‘s court of appeal since 2019, trained as a lawyer and appeared before the Supreme Court in 35 appeals addressing a range of civil, constitutional, criminal and regulatory issues.
“He’ll be a valuable asset to the Supreme Court – and that’s why, today, I’m announcing his historic nomination to our country’s highest court,” Trudeau said on Twitter.
Trudeau has frequently said there is a need to address systemic racism in Canada.
Jamal, born in Nairobi in 1967, emigrated with his family to Britain in 1969 where he said he was “taunted and harassed because of my name, religion, or the color of my skin.”
In 1981 the family moved to Canada, where his “experiences exposed me to some of the challenges and aspirations of immigrants, religious minorities, and racialized persons,” he said in a document submitted to support his candidacy.
Canada is a multicultural country, with more than 22% of the population comprised of minorities and another 5% aboriginal, according to the latest census.
“We know people are facing systemic discrimination, unconscious bias and anti-black racism every single day,” Trudeau said last year.
Jamal will replace Justice Rosalie Abella, who is due to retire from the nine-person court on July 1.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Matthew Lewis)
Donors pledge $1.5 billion for Venezuelan migrants, humanitarian crisis
More than 30 countries and two development banks on Thursday pledged more than $1.5 billion in grants and loans to aid Venezuelan migrants fleeing a humanitarian crisis, as well as their host countries and vulnerable people still in the country.
The $954 million in grants announced at a donors’ conference hosted by Canada – which included pledges of $407 million from the United States and C$115 million Canadian dollars ($93.12 million) from Canada – exceeded the $653 million announced at a similar event last year.
But that fell short of the needs of countries hosting the more than 5.6 million Venezuelans who have left their country since 2015, as the once-prosperous nation’s economy collapsed into a years-long hyperinflationary recession under socialist President Nicolas Maduro.
Most have resettled in developing countries in Latin America and the Caribbean who have themselves seen their budgets stretched thin due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Does this cover all needs? Of course not,” Filippo Grandi, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, told reporters. “We will have to continue to encourage donors to support the response.”
At the conference, Ecuadorean President Guillermo Lasso announced that the country – which hosts some 430,000 Venezuelans – would begin a new process to regularize migrants’ status. That came after Colombia in February gave 10-year protected status to the 1.8 million Venezuelans it hosts.
Karina Gould, Canada‘s minister for international development, said the amount pledged showed donors were eager to support such efforts.
“There is that recognition on behalf of the global community that there needs to be support to ensure that that generosity can continue, and can actually deepen, in host countries,” Gould said.
In addition, the World Bank and Inter-American Developmemt Bank pledged $600 million in loans to address the crisis, Gould said.
($1 = 1.2349 Canadian dollars)
(Reporting by Luc Cohen, Michelle Nichols and David Ljunggren; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Aurora Ellis)
Ecuador to start new ‘normalization process’ for Venezuelan migrants
Ecuador will implement a new “normalization process” for the 430,000 Venezuelan migrants living in the South American country, President Guillermo Lasso said on Thursday, without providing further details of the plan.
Lasso’s announcement, at a conference hosted by Canada intended to raise money to support the more than 5.6 million Venezuelans who have fled an economic crisis in the South American country, came after Colombia in February gave 10-year protected status to the nearly 2 million Venezuelans it hosts.
“I am pleased to announce the beginning of a new regularization process, which in order to be an effective, lasting and permanent policy should be complemented by strategies for economic integration and labor market access,” Lasso said.
Ecuador in late 2019 launched a regularization process for Venezuelans who arrived before July of that year. That included two-year humanitarian visas meant to facilitate access to social services.
Lasso said Ecuador needed outside funding to continue caring for Venezuelan migrants, estimating that more than 100,000 additional migrants were expected to arrive before the end of the year.
“I call on our partners in the international community to be co-responsible and have solidarity with Venezuelan migrants and refugees, and with the countries that receive them,” he said.
(Reporting by Luc Cohen; editing by Barbara Lewis)