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Heroes of the pandemic: 'Tough' Canadian humanitarian worker takes on Ebola — and COVID-19 — in DRC – National Post

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Anne-Marie Connor has an impossible job, but just as impossible would be getting her to tell you that herself. She prefers framing impossibilities as problems, and tackling problems, including seemingly insurmountable ones, is a good part of what makes her tick.

So, how is this for a problem: Connor, a Sarnia, Ont., native, is a humanitarian worker working remotely from a townhouse in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a country known for, among other things, political corruption, crushing poverty, high infant mortality rates, an alphabet soup of rebel groups committing atrocities against innocent civilians, measles outbreaks, polio outbreaks and, lately, an Ebola outbreak that has claimed 2,200 lives since August 2018, and was within 48 hours of being declared over when two new cases recently popped up.

If all that misery isn’t enough Connor, the national director of World Vision’s humanitarian mission in DRC, and her staff of 500, now have COVID-19 to contend with, a calamity she describes as a “crisis within a crisis.”

“It is a lot to wrap your head around,” the 40-year-old says. “We felt we were at least going to put Ebola fully behind us before tackling COVID-19.”


Anne-Marie Connor, humanitarian worker, pictured on a brighter day for the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

World Vision

In Canada, the federal government has thrown billions at the pandemic. Money that won’t stop the economic bleeding, or save every job, but cash that can at least mitigate some of the hurt. In DRC, the government, such as it is, is widely distrusted by the public. There isn’t any money to bail people out, while an already fragile health-care system counts 65 ventilators in a country of 80 million souls, an estimated 80 per cent of whom must exit the home each morning to earn enough to feed their families at night.

In other words, the Congolese aren’t stockpiling food and toilet paper and binging on Netflix. They are just barely hanging on; social distancing isn’t an option. In early April, Connor was offered a way out, and invited to jump on a flight home organized by the Canadian Embassy.

But she gave up her seat to someone else instead.

“Anne-Marie is like the captain of a ship,” says her mother, Madeleine, in Sarnia. “She couldn’t abandon ship in the middle of a crisis and leave everybody to fend for themselves. People always ask, aren’t you worried about her? But we don’t fret. Our Anne-Marie is tough.”

Connor has two older brothers, Martin and Mathieu, who helped with the toughening process, while her parents, Madeleine and Ian, a doctor, travelled widely with their kids, exposing them to the world beyond Canada. As a teenager, Connor saw Stephen Lewis, the Canadian diplomat and one-time United Nations special envoy for HIV/AIDs in Africa, speak at an event in Sarnia.

“I think it made a lasting impression on her,” Madeleine says.

Connor admits it sounds corny, but she believes in “social justice.” She views the world, carved as it is between “haves and have-nots,” as desperately unfair, which is reason enough for her to want to try and change it. Of course, even tough as nails do-gooders have sleepless nights, and Connor is no exception. Lately the worries have been manifold: What if one of her staff gets sick? What if someone gets robbed? How can she secure enough PPEs to keep a 500-person team safe on an NGO-budget? What if she gets sick?

Typically, she travels two weeks a month, visiting sites around the country. Now she is under virtual house arrest, working from her dining room table and relying on yoga, an English spaniel named Imbwa — that’s Swahili for “dog” — and a husband, Ryan O’Reilly, to keep her company as they attempt to socially distance in a city of 11 million people.

DRC has reported close to 400 cases and a handful of deaths from COVID-19, numbers that were calculated with a limited capacity to test for the virus.

“We are absolutely worried about getting sick,” Connor said.

The initial national crisis, Ebola, kills about half of those who contract it. Those afflicted suffer high fevers, diarrhea and bleeding. The virus is transmitted by bodily fluids, often moving from the sick person to the person caring for them or preparing them for burial, once they are dead.

When Connor travels to Ebola-impacted areas, she washes her hands every “five steps.” To help spread the word on good hand hygiene, she and her team forged relationships with local faith leaders, often among the most trusted members in communities. The problem now is, people aren’t supposed to be gathering, including for church, so how to educate them about the new potential killer in their midst?

That message has been incredibly hard to push through

One strategy has involved creating a COVID-alert on Whatsapp, the mobile messaging application. Cellphone saturation is high in DRC, even if incomes are not. The alert echoes the directives heard in Canada during the early days of the pandemic. Wash your hands for 20 seconds, and stop shaking hands. As an added cultural adaptation, Congolese are being asked to refrain from kissing one another on the cheek three times, as per custom.

“That message has been incredibly hard to push through,” Connor says.

But she hasn’t stopped trying.

It is a race, as she sees it, and if COVID-19 wins the suffering exacted upon a country that has already suffered so much could be, well, awful.

Connor and her husband fly home every August, “like clockwork.” With no fixed address, they flit between family and friends, recharging, reconnecting. Among the things she delights in most is watching the sunset over Lake Huron. When she will see one next, she can’t say.

“We’ve been eyeing our August trip anxiously,” Connor says. “But it is looking less and less likely. If we don’t get home, we’ll miss the sunsets – the best in the world.”

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Nova Scotia reports 1 more death at Northwood, 1 new case of coronavrius – Globalnews.ca

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“Our thoughts are with those who are mourning at this time. I recognize how difficult it can be for family and friends to grieve with restrictions in place,” said Premier Stephen McNeil, in a press release.“As these restrictions are loosened over the next week, I ask all Nova Scotians to continue to respect the rules and follow public health advice.”As of Saturday, Nova Scotia confirmed one new case of novel coronavirus, bringing the total number of cases to 1,056.“This summer will look very different. I know there are things people want to do and can’t,” said Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health.READ MORE: Nova Scotia to allow 10-person gatherings as no new coronavirus cases announced Friday“I continue to ask for people’s patience, understanding and cooperation. No matter what you do, please respect the rules – practise good hygiene, stay home if you’re feeling unwell, limit large groups and wear non-medical masks when and where appropriate.”The province said the QEII Health Sciences Centre’s microbiology lab completed 694 Nova Scotia tests on May 29 and is operating 24-hours.To date, Nova Scotia has 41,391 negative test results, 1,056 positive COVID-19 test results and 60 deaths.

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Newswatch COVID-19 Digest: Saturday May 30, 2020 – Cornwall Newswatch – Cornwall Newswatch

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(Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston, File)

Here are the latest local, regional and national headlines on the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) for Saturday, May 30, 2020:

  • There have been 27,210 confirmed cases of COVID-19 across Ontario, an increase of 344 cases (or 1.3 per cent) from the previous day. There are 20,983 people recovered from the virus while 2,230 people have died. The number of Ontario people tested is 680,687 of which 13,351 have pending results.
  • Canada’s coronavirus case total is 89,418. The country has 6,979 deaths from the virus – 164 in British Columbia, 143 in Alberta, 10 in Saskatchewan, seven in Manitoba, 2,230 in Ontario, 4,363 in Quebec, three in Newfoundland & Labrador and 59 in Nova Scotia.
  • A person who has been weeks in an Ottawa intensive care unit has been released and is on the regular floor of the hospital. There are still a total of three in hospital with one other person still in ICU. The number of confirmed cases stayed steady Friday at 147 with 11 deaths and 92 recoveries. Local testing jumped by 273 on Friday to 8,378 tests. The breakdown of cases are 15 in Cornwall (15 resolved), 25 in SD&G (20 resolved) and 107 in Prescott-Russell (57 resolved). There are two active nursing home outbreaks.
  • The Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit added another case Friday to a total of 342 confirmed cases. There was also another death bringing that total to 50. Ninety per cent of COVID-19 cases (264) have recovered.
  • Officials with Public Health Ontario outlined their next phase of novel coronavirus testing across Ontario. Testing will concentrate on first responders, more essential workers and those in prison settings. It will also concentrate on hot spot areas, where Ontario Public Health would send a strike team into a business, for example, where there’s increased COVID-19 activity.
  • Premier Doug Ford says the government is looking at a regional reopening of the economy. “It’s an option that we’re looking at. Everything is on the table.” Ford says they are getting a better picture of the spread of the disease through more testing and mobile testing units.
  • New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Friday that the North Country and Central New York could move to the next phase – phase two – of reopening. That includes St. Lawrence County (home to Massena, Potsdam and Canton) and Franklin County (home to Malone). New York’s phase two includes reopening office-based business, in-store retail shopping, and limited barber and hairdressing services. St. Lawrence County has had 201 positive cases to date, which 183 recovered and two deaths.
  • The Children’s Treatment Center will resume in-person counselling with children and parents on Monday, June 8. The center says it will “implement all necessary measures” to provide safety for children, parents and staff members. Executive Director Robert Smith reduced his counselling hours and the center has hired another counsellor, Ashley Dicintio, who previously had a private practice in Cornwall and works at the Ottawa Carleton Detention Center as a women’s social worker.
  • A ban on cruise ships entering Canadian waters has been extended until October. The ban was to expire on July 1.
  • The federal government has rolled out an additional $650 million for First Nations, Inuit and Metis communities across Canada. It will go to public health, income assistance and shelters for women and children. That’s in addition to the $305 million already promised.
  • A health care worker in New Brunswick has been suspended after travelling to Quebec and not self-quarantining after returning, choosing instead to go to work. There’s now an outbreak in the Campbellton area with at least six new cases, including two in ICU. The RCMP is investigating.

Have a story or news release related to COVID-19? Send it along for possible inclusion in a future digest on Cornwall Newswatch. Email editor@cornwallnewswatch.com. Please put “COVID-19 Digest” in the subject line.

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Province surpasses testing targets for a second straight day, adds over 300 cases to Ontario-wide caseload – Barrie 360 – Barrie 360

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Public Health Ontario says the province has exceeded its daily testing target twice in a row. Over 18,500 tests were run to get yesterday’s batch of results. Yesterday, over 17,500 tests were detailed. The province is shooting for 16,000 daily and hopes to reach 25,000 in time.

There were 13,351 tests waiting to be run, in an apparent continued surge in people seeking out testing.

Friday’s update revealed another 344 cases of COVID-19 were added to the provincial caseload that now exceeds 27,000. Of those, over 77 percent are recoveries, at 20,983 people. That’s an increase of 310 recoveries since yesterday’s update.

Another 41 lives lost, 2,230 to date.

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