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Is Canada ready for a widespread coronavirus outbreak? Yes and no, experts say – Global News



As far as confirmed cases of the coronavirus go, Canada has kept the amount of people infected with COVID-19 in the country contained at 12.

But in a shifting tone from previous messages, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam told reporters Tuesday “it’s likely that this virus will cause a pandemic.”

“It’s not so much a question of if this will happen anymore, but rather more a question of exactly when,” Tam said.

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“For now, the risk in Canada is low, but the risk is evolving. Concerning developments in recent days tell us the window of opportunity may be closing, but there is still much that Canada can do to delay spread and become more prepared.”

With the exception of Antarctica, the illness has confirmed cases in every continent across the globe, but with the world bracing itself for widespread outbreak, is Canada prepared?

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Well, yes and no.

Experts say that Canada has all of the necessities for widespread disease outbreak — negative-pressure isolation chambers, supplies, medical procedures and assessment protocol — but hospital overcrowding remains a concern.

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COVID-19: Ontario health official outlines phases of pandemic plan

Hospitals already operating over capacity

According to Barb Collins, CEO and president of the Humber River Hospital, Canada is “certainly much more prepared than we were pre-SARS.”

“[There is] much more analysis going on and much more standardized language and practices around protecting staff and physicians, protecting patients and protecting the public than there would have been in the pre-SARS date,” she said, adding that the protocols and procedures for containing the virus would vary on a provincial level.

By the height of the SARS epidemic in Sept. 2003, the Canadian government said it had 438 confirmed cases of the disease. Of that, 44 people died.

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Dr. Alan Drummond, co-chair of public affairs for the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians and emergency physician at the Perth hospital, urged against fear-mongering and said Canada learned a lot of “hard-earned lessons” from the SARS outbreak in 2003.

His concerns, he said, were with whether Canada would have the space available to take care of its infected.

Drummond said the safe occupancy rate for any hospital is deemed to be at around 85 per cent, which provides “wiggle room” or a surge capacity in case of a sudden outbreak or increased demand for health care services.

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But over the last two decades, he said, Canadian hospitals have been trying to function at 100 per cent capacity or higher on a day-to-day basis — made worse in Ontario, where he said many hospitals operate at 120 per cent capacity.

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When a hospital is over capacity, he said patients going through the emergency department who are deemed sick enough to require admission find themselves without beds.

“They end up spending time in the hallway in the emergency department, waiting two, three days for transfer to a ward or to an ICU,” said Drummond. “That leads to a backlog of patients in the waiting room.

“It also leads to a backlog of ambulances waiting on the offload ramp, unable to get back to the community to respond to emergencies.”

“We can’t function on a good day. We can’t function in a mild flu season. What are we going to do if there is a major pandemic?”

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He said the impact of a disease like COVID-19 could lead to cancelled surgeries, premature discharges or transferring older patients to smaller hospitals with less intensive care to make room. If Canada were unable to prevent a pandemic, Drummond said, “some decisions are going to have to be made.”

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“If that terrible case scenario ever comes, will there need to be rationing of care and doctors making the decision of who lives and dies? I suspect the answer is yes,” he said.

As for whether or not Canada has enough beds, supplies, or is fully prepared for a pandemic, Colin Furness, an epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto, stressed there was no way to know if any amount of preparation is really enough.

“There are no experts in what this looks like. We just haven’t done it. We haven’t been tested that way,” Furness said of Canada’s health care system. “There’s too many variables.”

Countries must shift mindset to coronavirus preparedness: WHO expert

Countries must shift mindset to coronavirus preparedness: WHO expert

Health officials tout negative-pressure rooms, training

The Ontario ministry of health said in a statement to Global News they spent almost $206.8 million since 2019 to support 1,428 acute care spaces and increase the amount of spaces needed for beds in the hospital sector.

They said the province has at least 806 permanent negative-pressure rooms and 463 additional spaces that can be made into negative-pressure rooms in the hospital’s emergency department, should a widespread outbreak occur.

Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. David Williams, said in a press conference on Wednesday the province was doing between 30-40 tests a day, and had a lab that could do 1,000. As part of their pandemic plan, the official said Ontario would be widening its surveillance scope.

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An Alberta Health spokesperson said in a statement to Global News that provincial residents can “rest assured that we are well-prepared for any future situation that may arise,” touting a recently tested a pandemic plan in a government-wide exercise last year. Since January, the Albertan government has been gathering extra personal protective equipment and planning for separate assessment centres that can test for respiratory illness.

In their statement, they said there are 374 isolation rooms distributed throughout Alberta.

The Stanton Territorial Hospital in Yellowknife has 24 negative-pressure rooms in a brand-new facility that allows the hospital to section off entire wings as negative-pressure space, as well as one airborne isolation room in its Inuvik Hospital.

Newfoundland and Labrador said all four of their regional health authorities were equipped with isolation beds and negative-pressure rooms, although they were unable to specify how many.

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Manitoba Health, Seniors and Active Living said they have implemented a Canada-wide Incident Management Structure to coordinate the health system’s activities to share information and responsive techniques to possible cases of COVID-19 with all provinces.

The Manitoba government said the risk for contracting the novel coronavirus remains low, but that they are “in the process” of assessing its infrastructure to determine how many isolation beds the province has.

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A spokesperson from the Nunavut Department of Health told Global News it had five negative-pressure rooms in its province, including four at its Qikiqtani General Hospital, although they said it was “unlikely” that someone would become infected with the disease.

The health department added they were performing routine infection prevention and control precautions, readied with personal protective equipment as needed.

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Negative air pressure rooms, which allow air in, but not air out, are considered ideal spaces for airborne diseases.

However, Furness said the beds aren’t necessary for COVID-19 cases, as this disease is spread through human-to-human transmission, droplet and contact means. More important, he said, is whether doctors entering rooms with infected patients are trained with the proper procedures, whether hospitals have proper signage, personal protective equipment and cleaning tools.

“In 2003, because we weren’t ready, a relatively small number of cases almost overwhelmed our health system. People don’t like to say that, but it did. It came close to it came closer than most people really want to talk about, and that was only a few hundred cases,” he said.

“We’re way better prepared now.”

Coronavirus outbreak: Authorities say risk of infection in Toronto remains low

Coronavirus outbreak: Authorities say risk of infection in Toronto remains low

Furness also noted that a majority of confirmed cases are either mild or asymptomatic, which could help prevent Canada’s health care system from being overwhelmed by an influx of patients seeking in-hospital admission.

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A shift in preparation measures

That the disease is less severe is good news for hospitals, said Dr. Vera Etches, the City of Ottawa’s top health officer. However it also means the disease is more likely to spread.

Etches said that up until now, the country has been focused on individual cases, but if there were a pandemic, the Canadian government would shift to other measures to try to slow down the transmission of the infection in the entire country.

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In preparation for an outbreak, Etches suggested Canadians make arrangements to be able to stay home for at least a week, as well as childcare arrangements in order to further prevent the disease from spreading.

“What we’re trying to avoid is that a whole bunch of people get sick all at once because there’s a lack of immunity,” she said.

“Trying to distance people from one another, sometimes useful in terms of breaking that or slowing down transmission so people can work from home or people can decrease the number of large gatherings that they’re participating in. These kinds of things can slow down transmission.”

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

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Quebec’s chief coroner calls inquest into last week’s three Montreal shooting deaths



MONTREAL — Quebec’s chief coroner is launching a public inquest after a 26-year-old man allegedly shot dead three Montreal-area men last week before being killed by police.

Pascale Descary said Monday that coroner Géhane Kamel will investigate the deaths of André Lemieux, Mohamed Belhaj, Alex Levis-Crevier and suspect Abdulla Shaikh.

Shaikh was killed by Montreal police Thursday morning, after allegedly gunning down the three victims on the street within a period of about 24 hours.

Provincial police have said it appears the 26-year-old, who was known to have mental health issues, chose his victims at random.

Descary said the investigation will analyze the factors that contributed to the deaths and make recommendations to prevent similar tragedies.

“The hearings will allow any person of interest to express themselves concerning the circumstances of these deaths in order to analyze all the contributing factors, and this, with a view to proposing possible solutions for better protection of human life,” the coroner’s office said in a news release.

Quebec’s mental health review board ruled in March that Shaikh, who was under the supervision of a mental health hospital, posed a “significant risk” to public safety but could continue living in the community.

The mental health review board — Commission d’examen des troubles mentaux — said in March the suspect’s psychiatrist concluded that Shaikh suffered from “denial and trivialization of behavioural disorders, violence and psychiatric pathology.”

The board recognized, however, that the suspect had shown improvements over the previous six months, and it agreed with the psychiatrist that he should remain released under certain conditions.

Quebec provincial police have said the suspect did not have a permit to carry a gun, but have not released details on how he obtained one.

Police allege Shaikh shot two men, Lemieux, 64, and Belhaj, 48, on Tuesday night in Montreal and killed Levis-Crevier, 22, in Laval, Que., around 24 hours later.

Stephanie Lefrancois, whose family has been friends with Lemieux since before she was born, said his friends and neighbours have been traumatized by the killings.

“We can’t believe his life was sadly, unjustly ripped away like that, out of nowhere,” she said in a phone interview.

Lefrancois describes Lemieux, a former mechanic, as a “very generous man” who took care of his elderly mother and was always helping his neighbours with repairs around their apartments.

She said he would visit her regularly, often to watch videos of his son, professional boxer David Lemieux, of whom he was incredibly proud.

Lefrancois says she, like many others, feels more needs to be done to stop gun violence in Montreal, which she says “didn’t start yesterday.”

“They didn’t deserve to die like that, André, or the others,” she said.

Premier François Legault, meanwhile, clarified comments he made on the shooter last week, after facing criticism for saying he was happy “we are rid” of the suspect.

Speaking Monday at an unrelated announcement in Quebec’s north shore region, Legault said that he’d meant to say he was happy the suspect had been taken out of harm’s way.

“Clearly I didn’t rejoice that he was dead, we don’t want that,” Legault said. “There are people who have mental health problems.”

Legault said the investigations underway, including the one announced by the coroner, would help clear up, among other things, why the suspect had been released.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 8, 2022.


Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press

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Bill Graham, ex-interim Liberal leader and post-9/11 foreign affairs minister, dies



OTTAWA — Condolences from Canadian politicians past and present poured out Monday as they learned about the death of Bill Graham, who served as foreign affairs minister when the country decided against joining the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

“Mr. Graham will be remembered as a master negotiator and a skilled statesman who shared his love for Canada with the world,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a statement Monday evening.

Former Liberal MP John English told The Canadian Press that Graham died Sunday, according to a member of his family who shared the news with him earlier Monday.

English said Graham had cancer and died peacefully after being in poor health for some time.

“He was a fun guy. I went out with him for drinks just three or four weeks ago. He wasn’t drinking … He enjoyed a good glass of wine but he couldn’t join us,” he recalled.

“He’s such a wonderful presence. So positive, so optimistic. He’s a person to be taken seriously, but he never took himself seriously. He was full of laughter. He laughed very easily.”

Graham, 83, was serving as chancellor of Trinity College at the University of Toronto. Both he and his wife, Catherine, were students there and married in the chapel. They had two children: Katy and Patrick.

Graham was first elected as a Liberal member of Parliament for the riding then known as Toronto Centre-Rosedale in 1993, after two unsuccessful runs.

Former colleagues eulogized Graham as a skilled MP, having spent time on the backbenches before entering cabinet, and someone who demonstrated a deep passion about helping those in his community.

George Smitherman, who represented the same downtown Toronto area for the Liberals provincially as Graham had federally, said Graham had a remarkable way of connecting with people, no matter their background.

Smitherman, who is gay, said he first arrived in what is now known as Toronto Centre as a kid finding comfort with his sexuality and at the time Graham and the local Liberals had embedded AIDS activism in their politics.

“That, to me, was one of the most defining attributes of the way political parties ought to operate,” Smitherman said.

“It was really a huge impact on me in my life.”

Longtime Liberal MP John McKay said Graham was a “complete politician.”

“A good constituency person, a good national person and a good international person. Not many people can say that,” said McKay, who represents the Toronto riding of Scarborough-Guildwood.

“He was (an) immensely smart, decent, classy man,” he added.

In January 2002, months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks shook the world, Graham was appointed to serve in cabinet as foreign affairs minister by then-prime minister Jean Chrétien.

At that time, Canada had to decide whether to join the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and then navigate its relationship with its closest ally when it opted against doing so.

Graham was roundly praised for not only assisting in that decision, but his overall handling of the role at a turbulent time in international relations.

“He was an outstanding minister of foreign affairs and a skilled parliamentarian,” tweeted John Baird, who served as foreign affairs minister under former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper.

After his time in foreign affairs, Graham was moved to the defence portfolio.

Eugene Lang was his chief of staff at the time and said Graham, who was well travelled before entering politics, was well liked by most everyone, including MPs of different political stripes and public servants.

“He treated everybody with a huge amount of respect. There was no arrogance in Bill.”

Lang said while Graham was only in the role of national defence minister for less than two years, he had many accomplishments, including securing a funding boostand also recommending the appointment of Rick Hillier as chief of defence staff.

Former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin released a statement after learning of Graham’s death, saying he “helped our government and the country navigate a challenging period of history as we deployed into Kandahar in southern Afghanistan.”

“His loss will be felt by all who knew or worked with him.”

After the Liberals lost government to the Conservatives in 2006 and Martin resigned, Graham stepped into the role of the party’s interim leader.

“The Liberal party owes him a huge debt of gratitude,” said McKay, who said he was an obvious choice for many.

Harper said Graham was the first official Opposition leader he faced after winning government.

“Bill was always a gentleman,” he tweeted.

“He always kept the best interests of the country in mind.”

Former Liberal cabinet minister Ralph Goodale, who was Opposition House leader when Graham was interim Liberal leader, called his former colleague “wise and thoughtful, especially in matters of foreign policy and defence.”

“In an era of deep polarization and extremist populism, Bill’s sense of moderation, propriety and balance is sorely missed. Our love and respect surround his family, friends and colleagues,” Goodale said in a statement.

Longtime Liberal cabinet minister Carolyn Bennett said she remembers Graham as someone who was comfortable around everyone and a generous listener in conversation.

“There’s no one else you’d rather have dinner with. And I think that’s what a lot of us feel,” she said Monday.

“He just was so special. It’s just really hard to believe he’s gone,” Bennett said, her voice breaking.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 8, 2022.

— With files from Allison Jones and Jordan Omstead in Toronto


Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press


Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version incorrectly referred to Liberal MP John McKay, who represents the Toronto riding of Scarborough-Guildwood, as a former MP.

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Canadian warships missing from NATO naval forces for first time since 2014



OTTAWA — For the first time in eight years, Canadian warships are not involved in either of two NATO naval task forces charged with patrolling European waters and defending against Russian threats.

The revelation has cast a spotlight on what experts say are the growing trade-offs that Canada is having to make with its navy, which is struggling with a shrinking fleet of aging ships and a lack of trained sailors.

Canada had been a consistent presence in the Standing NATO Maritime Groups since Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014, deploying at least one Halifax-class frigate to the North Atlantic or Mediterranean on a rotational basis.

The federal Liberal government made a point of deploying a second frigate in March as part of its response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. That ship had been planned for a months-long deployment in the Indian Ocean and Middle East.

But Defence Department spokeswoman Jessica Lamirande says Canada does not have any frigates attached to either of the NATO naval groups since HMCS Montreal and HMCS Halifax returned to their home port last month.

“With the return home of HMCS Montreal and Halifax on July 15, the CAF does not currently have a ship tasked to either Standing NATO Maritime Group 1 or 2,” Lamirande said in an email. “This is the first time this has occurred since 2014.”

Lamirande linked the decision not to send any new frigates to Europe to the deployment of two such vessels to the Asia-Pacific region, as well as the Halifax-class fleet’s maintenance and training requirements.

Canada has instead deployed two smaller Kingston-class coastal defence vessels to work with a different NATO naval force that is focused on finding and clearing enemy mines.

Chief of the defence staff Gen. Wayne Eyre said that will help Canadian sailors gain experience in an important area of naval warfare while still showing Canada’s commitment to European security.

But he conceded in an interview with The Canadian Press on Monday, “we are stretched from a resource perspective. And so we’ve got to make those decisions as to where we invest, and when we invest.”

He added that he approved the decision to send two frigates to the Pacific, where tensions between the West and China are growing, “because we want to deliberately increase our presence in Asia-Pacific, because we are a Pacific nation.”

China last week launched a massive military exercise around Taiwan, the self-ruled island that Beijing considers its territory, after U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taipei. The exercise came amid growing fears of a potential Chinese invasion.

University of Calgary shipbuilding expert Timothy Choi said the decision to send two frigates to Europe at the same time earlier this year played a large role in constraining Atlantic Fleet’s ability to send another frigate in the short term.

“To my mind, it doesn’t mean the availability of the ships and crews have deteriorated over the last few years,” he said.

“Rather it’s the unavoidable consequences of forcing a small fleet to concentrate more resources into a smaller time frame which results in more time required to recuperate.”

But defence analyst David Perry of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute predicted Canada will have to make increasingly difficult trade-offs in where to send its warships given the size and state of its navy.

While Canada has 12 frigates, Perry said the navy’s maintenance and training requirements mean only a handful are available to deploy at any given time. Canada used to also have three destroyers, but those vessels were retired in 2014.

Adding to the difficulty is the growing age of the frigates, which entered service in the 1990s and are becoming increasingly more challenging to fix and maintain, according to both senior officers and internal reports.

“Those decisions about trade-offs are going to become increasingly difficult because, and we’re already experiencing this, the maintenance cycle on a ship that old is becoming more intense, more labour-intensive and longer,” Perry said.

Adam MacDonald, a former naval officer now studying at Dalhousie University in Halifax, said the navy and Canadian Armed Forces are also expected to face growing pressures to maintain a presence in not Europe, Asia and the Arctic.

“It’s going to be very pressing because there’s going to be demands on all three of those geographic environments,” MacDonald said. “On top of anywhere else we operate: the Caribbean, West Africa, South America.”

The federal government is overseeing construction of a new fleet of warships to replace the frigates and destroyers, but the multibillion-dollar project has been plagued by cost overruns and repeated delays.

The navy, like the rest of the military, is also facing a severe shortage of personnel.

In the meantime, MacDonald predicted the Kingston-class minesweepers will continue to pick up more slack as the navy faces increasing demands overseas.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 8, 2022.


Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

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