Premier Doug Ford blasted the “unacceptable” number of daily COVID-19 tests being done in Ontario as the province confirmed 550 new cases of the virus and the number of dead surpassing 200.
“What’s unacceptable is the number of tests we are doing,” Ford said at a news conference Wednesday. “My patience is running thin.”
Minister of Health Christine Elliott said Tuesday Ontario currently has the capacity to run as many as 13,000 tests daily, but the province’s 100 dedicated testing centres have not been submitting that many swabs each day.
At first there weren’t enough assessment centres, then there was not enough lab capacity, then the supplies of reagent — key for testing — were low, but those issues have been dealt with, Ford said.
Now, he says, the province needs to “get a move on it.”
‘No more excuses’
“We need to start testing everybody possible,” Ford said, especially front-line health workers including those working in hospitals and long-term care homes, as well as first responders, police and paramedics.
Ford also said all seniors at long-term care homes should be tested, as well as all vulnerable people across the province.
“We have to keep testing the public too, it’s all hands on deck now,” Ford added. “There’s no more excuses, we need to get it done, bottom line.”
The premier added that he will be following up with his team later today to make sure there’s a clear plan in place to boost the daily tests to 13,000, but did not say if any accountability measures might be in place if the testing does fall short.
Total of deaths in Ontario tops 200
The number of confirmed cases of the virus jumped by 11.6 per cent on Wednesday, bringing the provincial total to 5,276.
It is the largest single-day increase in cases since the outbreak began.
The official tally includes 174 deaths, though CBC News has compiled data from regional public health units across the province and counted at least 215 COVID-19-linked deaths.
Some 1,102 people are awaiting test results.
Data from the Ministry of Health shows there were just 2,568 new test results provided on Tuesday. That’s roughly half the daily target of 5,000 that the government promised to achieve in late March, and far short of the 19,000 tests per day promised for the third week of April.
The slower-than-promised pace continued Wednesday, with Ontario announcing 3,237 new test results.
Testing capacity has grown significantly, health officials say
Public health officials acknowledged Wednesday that lab capacity has grown significantly and that the push is now on to get more people to take the test at community assessment centres.
“The bottom line is we want to do more testing, we’re working very hard now to increase the testing,” said Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario’s associate chief medical officer of health, when asked about guidelines that restrict tests, even for some who display COVID-19 symptoms.
Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. David Williams, said there’s an expert group that will report very shortly on a strategy to expand the number of tests and further increase the capacity of testing centres.
Although Williams said the increased capacity will make long-term care workers and residents a priority, he added health officials also hope to expand testing within Indigenous populations, prisons and the province’s homeless population.
Williams also said the fewer tests seems to coincide with fewer people using the province’s telehealth service and its online assessment tool, which tells people whether they meet the criteria for COVID-19 testing.
“It may be evidence of some flattening,” he suggested, admitting he preferred to “be optimistic” in believing it could be due to fewer travellers and fewer people with symptoms.
“We’re not trying to limit (testing),” he insisted.
Williams cautioned that testing too widely would produce “biased” data that skew too heavily toward negative results when the goal is to reflect the population-at-large.
He also said global demand for testing and laboratory supplies is still high, requiring continued rationing, even as criteria is expanded to include milder symptoms.
Province asks for 40% of federal 3M mask order
At the press conference on Wednesday, Ford also said he’s more confident now than a few days ago when it comes to the province’s access to personal protective equipment.
He also said he is expecting Ontario to receive 40 per cent of the federal government’s order of 500,000 3M masks.
Nearly 60 long-term care homes dealing with COVID-19 outbreaks
Health authorities are tracking 58 COVID-19 outbreaks at long-term care facilities across the province.
At the Seven Oaks long-term care home in Scarborough, Ont., there have now been 16 deaths related to COVID-19, Toronto public health officials said Tuesday.
There are also 45 confirmed cases among residents, 13 confirmed cases among staff, and an additional 56 probable cases at the home.
In Bobcaygeon, Ont., another resident of Pinecrest Nursing Home has died, bringing the death toll there to 28.
Mary Carr, the facility’s administrator, confirmed the most recent fatality to CBC News.
And in Oshawa, Ont., there have been seven deaths at Hillsdale Terraces long-term care centre, up from three deaths reported on Friday.
Meanwhile, the virus continues to seriously sicken hundreds.
The latest data shows that of the 605 people who have been hospitalized:
- 246 are in intensive care units.
- 195 are on ventilators.
The Ministry of Health also offered the following breakdown of total cases since Jan. 15:
- 46.1 per cent of cases are male, while 53.3 per cent are female.
- 36.4 per cent of cases are people 60 years of age and older.
- Greater Toronto Area public health units account for nearly 52 per cent of cases.
Toronto to receive thousands of masks to replace faulty ones
The province will replace thousands of faulty masks the City of Toronto was forced to recall, Mayor John Tory said during the city’s daily COVID-19 update on Wednesday.
The city recalled some 240,000 poorly-made masks that had been given to front-line workers, which had already been used by over 200 long-term care staff.
Tory said the province will replace 200,000 of the faulty masks in “another example of the good cooperation between the City of Toronto and Province of Ontario.”
Province announces new workplace safety measures
Ford also announced the implementation of enhanced workplace safety measures for essential businesses during the outbreak.
Monte McNaughton, Ontario’s labour minister, said on Wednesday the province can expect more safety inspections as well as a higher capacity for workers to voice concerns.
He also said the province is hiring retired inspectors to followup on those concerns.
“Our government is working day and night to support you,” McNaughton told those working jobs deemed essential.
Essential construction projects extended to 24 hours per day
The province is also extending construction hours for essential health-care construction projects to 24 hours per day.
Those projects include building hospital expansions, COVID-19 assessment centres and temporary structures amid the pandemic.
New portal for health-care workers gets thousands of applications
Meanwhile, Ford said 8,000 people have already signed up for the province’s new online portal, which matches skilled front-line workers with employers.
The province says the Health Workforce Matching Portal will allow health-care providers with a range of experience —including retired or non-active health-care professionals, internationally educated health-care professionals, students, and volunteers with health-care experience — to join in the province’s fight against COVID-19.
The portal, launched Tuesday, has already matched 1,000 people to potential jobs, Ford said.
Dealership offers RVs to hospital staff who can’t go home
The owner of several RV dealerships in Durham Region is offering up dozens of RVs to hospital staff who can’t go home.
Although the dealerships are closed to the public, a small team has volunteered to stay and help frontline workers.
“We are doing this in order to help support our first responders who need ways to get to work [and] home,” said Bob Verwey, president of the Owasco Group in Durham, Ont.
Verwey said the dealership has as many as 70 RVs and trailers on offer to hospitals in Oshawa and Ajax for doctors and nurses to live in during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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)