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First Canadian coronavirus case officially confirmed, second is presumptive, 19 people under investigation

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TORONTO — Canada’s first presumptive case of the novel coronavirus has been officially confirmed, Ontario health officials said Monday as they announced the patient’s wife has also contracted the illness. Meanwhile, 19 cases are under investigation in the province.

Dr. Barbara Yaffe, the province’s associate chief medical officer of health, said the confirmation came through earlier in the day following tests at the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg. A Toronto man in his mid-50s had initially tested positive at a provincial facility days after returning to Toronto from Wuhan — the virus’s epicentre in China — via Guangzhou.

Yaffe said the testing process is now being repeated for the man’s wife, believed to be the second coronavirus patient in the country.

Public health officials say the woman’s husband had been showing mild symptoms on his flight from Guangzhou to Toronto. Upon arrival at Toronto, the man did not report to border-service officers that he was feeling ill, despite “detection” measures at the airport, which includes screening questions at electronic border kiosks that ask about previous travel to Wuhan in the past 14 days and remind people to report flu-like symptoms to border service agents.

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A day after the man went home, a family member called 911 to report he was feeling ill, and that he had recently travelled to Wuhan, the National Post’s Sharon Kirkey reports. Paramedics, donned in protective gear, took him to Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, where he was immediately placed in isolation in a negative-pressure room. He was listed in stable condition Saturday.

After he became more ill, “when he needed medical support, in fact he followed all the information provided at the airport,” federal health minister Patty Hajdu said. “For me, that is a sign that the information at the border did actually percolate through to the patient and his family.”

A spokesperson for the ministry of health told the Post that the 19 people under investigation exhibited some of the symptoms of coronavirus and had a travel history to affected areas, while the presumptive cases tested positive with the provincial test.

“In many ways, this case is not surprising,” said Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health. “This individual has been in close proximity to her husband and, having also arrived in Toronto from the area of Wuhan, could also have been exposed to the virus in China.”

Toronto public health is working “flat out” to try to contact those passengers on the couple’s Jan. 22 flight from Beijing most at risk of infection – people in the three rows in front of and behind the pair’s own seats, said Dr. Eileen De Villa, the city’s medical officer of health.

She said they had so far managed to reach a “few” of them, but did not say exactly how many passengers the department is targeting.

The Post’s Tom Blackwell reports the vast majority of the 19 people under investigation in various parts of the province have been admitted to hospital and are in isolation, with appropriate protective measures taken around them, said Yaffe.

Canada’s chief public health officer has said she believes there will be more cases “imported into Canada” because of global flight patterns, but she notes there’s little risk of becoming infected here.


Chief Public Health Officer of Canada Theresa Tam participates in a press conference following the announcement by the Government of Ontario of the first presumptive confirmed case of a novel coronavirus in Canada, in Ottawa, on Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020.

Justin Tang /

THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Toronto man “has been managed with all appropriate infection and prevention control protocols, so the risk of onward spread in Canada is low,” Tam said.

“Nevertheless it would not be unexpected that there will be more cases imported into Canada in the near term given global travel patterns.” Nine other suspected cases in Ontario alone were under investigation as of Sunday.

The news of Canada’s first coronavirus patient came Saturday as authorities around the world grappled with the new type of virus, which originated in China but has since spread.

Several countries, including the United States, have said they plan to evacuate diplomats and visitors from Wuhan, the virus’s epicentre.

Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said in a statement Sunday that Canada doesn’t have a diplomatic presence in Wuhan, but he noted the government is in contact with and providing assistance to Canadians in the area.


A directions sign is seen at Sunnybrook Hospital, where a patient is being treated in isolation for what Canadian health officials call the first presumptive confirmed case of novel coronavirus, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada January 26, 2020.

REUTERS/Carlos Osorio

China is reporting 2,744 cases and 81 deaths, but it remains to be seen whether the virus is as dangerous as the common flu, which kills thousands every year in Canada alone.

A top Chinese health official warned on Sunday that the virus’s spread was accelerating despite a lockdown affecting 56 million people. The quarantine could make the situation worse, including by exacerbating shortages of medical supplies.

Most of the 2,744 people who have contracted the virus live in China, but it has spread to 10 other countries. Five cases have been confirmed in the U.S.

Canadian doctors are urging concerned citizens to take the same sorts of precautions they would to avoid common illnesses, such as frequent hand-washing and coughing into the arm or sleeve rather than the hand.

They also say that wearing surgical masks during everyday life has little use in protecting against coronavirus, despite being effective in hospital settings. Early data on the new form of virus suggests masks won’t be especially effective, and some say that repeatedly touching and adjusting the masks with unwashed hands could do more harm than good.

But the fear that would prompt someone to buy such a mask is perhaps heightened by parallels to the 2002 SARS outbreak that originated in China and infected more than 8,000 people, killing 800. There were 44 Canadians killed by that strain of coronavirus.

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Ontario pharmacists get greenlight to prescribe COVID-19 treatment Paxlovid – CBC.ca

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Starting next week pharmacists in Ontario will be able to prescribe the antiviral drug Paxlovid as a treatment for COVID-19, the health minister said Thursday.

Sylvia Jones made the announcement at a morning news conference in Toronto, where she said the prescriptions will come at no cost to patients. The new policy takes effect December 12.

There are about 4,000 pharmacists in the province who are already dispensing the drug. The prescription program will work on an opt-in basis, so it is unclear how many pharmacies will choose to take part.

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Ontario’s chief medical officer of health said in a related statement the change will expand access to the medication, increase protection to the most vulnerable, and ease hospital pressures.

It’s a move Dr. Kieran Moore said last month the government was considering in part to help keep people out of hospital, especially in rural areas where access to primary care physicians can be limited.

The antiviral medication is taken orally within five days of symptom onset and is recommended for people at higher risk of COVID-19 complications, including people over 60 and people who are immunocompromised.

The announcement comes as hospitals in the province continue to strain under pressure from multiple respiratory illnesses.

Across all ages, the number of Ontarians going to emergency departments with respiratory complaints remains well above pre-pandemic seasonal averages, according to Ontario’s Acute Care Enhanced Surveillance (ACES) database.

Some pediatric hospitals have stopped surgeries and other procedures to maintain capacity for patients seeking care for respiratory symptoms.

Meanwhile, Ottawa’s children’s hospital has accepted staffing help from the Canadian Red Cross and opened a second pediatric intensive care unit, though others had not sought extra support as of this week.

Jones touted co-operation between pediatric and community hospitals one innovation helping to make sure more health-care professionals are trained to treat children with respiratory illnesses.

She also said it has been a difficult flu season and thanked health-care workers for their efforts under tough conditions.

“I really want to reinforce that these are incredibly dedicated, incredibly talented, educated people who have stepped up and continued to step up through what has been a very challenging virus season,” she said.

Throughout the surge in respiratory illnesses in Ontario, Jones has insisted that the province was prepared to handle it. With respect to steps some hospitals have had to take to deal with an influx of patients, both Jones and Premier Doug Ford have credited them with “thinking outside the box” and not doing “business as usual.”

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Bank of Canada raises key interest rate to 4.25 per cent, its highest since 2008 – CTV News

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The Bank of Canada has raised its overnight rate by 50 basis points to 4.25 per cent, marking its seventh rate hike in nine months. The last time the bank’s policy rate was this high was in January 2008.

The inflation rate remained high at 6.9 per cent in October, well above the bank’s 2 per cent target. Higher gas prices put upward pressure on the cost of most goods and services, according to the Consumer Price Index released by Statistics Canada last month.

The bank says the economy continued to operate in excess demand during the third quarter and the labour market in Canada remained tight. With unemployment remaining at historic lows, Statistics Canada reported average hourly wages rose by 5.6 per cent year-over-year in October.

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The bank says tighter monetary policy is affecting domestic demand in the Canadian economy, with declines in the housing market and consumption moderating during the third quarter. Since its monetary report in October, the bank continues to expect economic growth to stall through the end of this year and into the first half of 2023.

“The November GDP data showed us that economic activity in Canada had already started to shrink,” said Sheila Block, senior economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. “Given that slowdown, any hopes for a soft landing have been crushed by today’s rate hikes.”

During a press conference following the bank’s last rate announcement on Oct. 27, Bank of Canada Governor Tiff Macklem signalled “the tightening phase will draw to a close, we are getting closer, but we aren’t there yet.”

On Wednesday, the bank did not rule out further rate increases to tackle inflation.

“Looking ahead, Governing Council will be considering whether the policy interest rate needs to rise further to bring supply and demand back into balance and return inflation to target,” reads the release.

However, experts think it will be difficult for the bank to raise rates during a period of low growth.

“It will be very hard for a central bank to raise interest rates when the economy is in a recession,” said Kevin Page, Institute of Fiscal Studies and Democracy President and CEO. “I think it is highly probable that the central bank will not need to raise interest rates in the short term (next three to six months).”

Speaking to reporters in Ottawa, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre blamed the cost of living crisis on the federal government’s increased spending during the pandemic.

“It’s another uppercut for Canadians,” said Poilievre. “It’s all because of the inflationary deficits and spending of Justin Trudeau.”

Meanwhile, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh called for other measures to help combat inflation.

“The federal government has to do more to look at the solutions around inflation,” said Singh during a press conference in Ottawa. “Some of those solutions include acknowledging that high profits in the corporate sector — corporate greed — is contributing to the cost of living going up.”

In the House of Commons, Associate Minister of Finance Randy Boissonnault defended his government’s policies to address the increased cost of living.

“The bank is doing their job. We’re doing our job by making sure we have the fiscal fire power to face what’s going to come,” he said during Question Period. “We’re helping Canadians to buy a new home, we’re advancing the payments for worker benefits and we’re also making sure student loan interest gets removed forever.”

The next policy rate announcement is expected on Jan. 25, 2023.

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Media shunning transparency law due to worsening delays, journalist says

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Veteran journalist Dean Beeby says reporters are abandoning the federal Access to Information Act as a research tool because turnaround times are terrible and getting worse.

The access law allows journalists and others who pay a $5 fee to request documents — from internal emails and expense claims to briefing memos and studies — but it has long been criticized as antiquated and poorly administered.

Federal agencies are supposed to respond within 30 days or provide valid reasons why they need more time to process a request.

The law has not been significantly updated since its introduction almost 40 years ago, and many users complain of lengthy delays as well as heavily blacked-out documents or full denials in response to their applications.

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Beeby, an independent journalist who spent much of his career at The Canadian Press, says bureaucrats now realize they face a much bigger blowback from releasing information than from withholding it — and the law provides a rich menu of excuses to keep things buried.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 7, 2022.

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