Ontario is introducing a number of stricter public health measures — some provincewide and some more targeted to current hot spots such as Toronto, Ottawa and Peel — as the province reported a record-high number of new COVID-19 cases on Friday.
The provincial government is also making significant changes to the process of getting a COVID-19 test, which as of Oct. 6 will be done by appointment only. Assessment centres will stop offering walk-in tests of Oct. 4 in an effort to allow Ontario’s network of labs to work through a backlog of tests that ballooned to more than 90,500 today.
As part of today’s changes, Ontario is also putting the concept of social circles on pause and advising people to limit close contact only to people living in their own household and maintain two metres distance from everyone else. People who live alone may consider having close contact with another household.
“Just keep your circles tight,” Premier Doug Ford said at an afternoon news conference, during which multiple reporters expressed confusion about the details of the province’s updated advice.
For example. Ford and his top health officials struggled to answer when asked if someone should visit their parent who lives in a different house on Thanksgiving later this month.
Meanwhile, masks will now be required in all work places where physical distancing of two metres or more is not possible, as well as on all public transit and in shopping centres provincewide.
Any additional business reopenings in Ontario will be put on hold for at least 28 more days, Ford said.
CBC News previously reported on a proposal before Ford’s cabinet that would have designated Toronto, Ottawa and Peel as “red zones.” Ford confirmed he had been looking at that proposal but that he decided against doing so after speaking with Quebec Premier François Legault, who said the system, which is in place there, was not effective.
“I was talking to Premier Legault and he told me it was very very confusing to the public. You’re constantly changing the colours … Ottawa, Toronto and Peel, they’re the hot spots,” Ford said.
But Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, repeatedly called the three areas “hot zones” during Friday’s news conference.
Instead, in these three regions, the province has opted to:
- Limit capacity in bars, restaurants and nightclubs to ensure physical distancing up to a maximum of 100 people. There can only be six people at a single table. All customers must provide information for contact tracing.
- Limit the size of exercise classes to 10 people and allow a maximum of 50 people into gyms and other fitness settings.
- Limit on the number of people allowed at meeting and event facilities, including banquet halls, to six people per table and 50 people per facility.
WATCH | Ontario Premier Doug Ford introduces further restrictions across Ontario:
Criticism from local health officials
The province’s updated guidelines were not well received by Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s medical officer of health. The city saw 323 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday.
In a letter to the government, De Villa said it must introduce stricter measures to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus in the city.
- Prohibiting indoor dining.
- Asking people to only leave their homes for essential trips.
- Prohibiting all indoor fitness classes and indoor sports team activities.
- Requiring large venues to submit a plan to Toronto Public health outlining how they will comply with public health regulations.
“These are tough recommendations, but I believe they are necessary in order to protect seniors in our long-term care homes and students in our schools,” said Toronto Mayor John Tory in a statement.
Test backlog grows
Ontario reported 732 additional cases of COVID-19 today.
Toronto saw the most, though Health Minister Christine Elliott noted that some cases confirmed in the spring were included in today’s number due to a data review by Toronto Public Health.
Ottawa recorded 141 more cases and Peel 111.
Other public health units that saw double-digit increases include:
- York Region: 38
- Durham Region: 34
- Simcoe Muskoka: 13
- Halton Region: 11
- Niagara Region: 11
- Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph: 10
About 58 per cent of the newly confirmed infections are in people under 40 years old, Elliott noted, including 30 in students.
The previous record of 700 new cases came just five days ago on September 28.
The province’s official COVID-19 death toll took a considerable jump, increasing by 76 to 2,927. However 74 of those deaths were “reported for cases that occurred in the spring or summer and are now being recorded as part of a data review and data cleaning initiative,” the Ministry of Health said.
Ontario’s network of labs processed 40,093 test samples for the novel coronavirus yesterday, while the backlog of tests waiting to be completed grew to 90,513 — by far the most since the outbreak in late January.
The province says it hopes to build capacity for up to 50,000 tests daily by mid-October and 68,000 per day by mid-November.
The number of patients in Ontario hospitals with confirmed cases of COVID-19 continued its slow but steady climb, increasing by seven up to 167. Thirty-eight of those people are being treated in intensive care units, and 21 are on ventilators.
The number of confirmed outbreaks in long-term care homes is now at 44.
RNAO calls for tighter restrictions
The Registered Nurses Association (RNAO) called on the provincial government Friday to immediately impose stricter public health measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
“Urgent action is needed to prevent a full lockdown later on. This is something we have implored government officials to do, but their actions are timid and ineffective,” said RNAO CEO Dr. Doris Grinspun in a statement posted online.
Grinspun adding that “the numbers will get much higher unless immediate action is taken to stem the rising tide.”
The letter urges the closure of bars, indoor dining, places of worship and gyms across the province.
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UPS executive granted special ministerial exemption from Canada's COVID-19 quarantine – CBC.ca
The president of U.S. operations for global shipping giant UPS was granted a special ministerial exemption from Canada’s mandatory 14-day COVID-19 quarantine, a CBC News investigation has learned, which he used to lobby Ontario employees to accept the company’s new contract offer.
Nando Cesarone travelled from Atlanta to Toronto for three days of meetings starting Oct. 19.
The company says Cesarone sought and received an authorization for a conditional exemption from mandatory quarantine from Global Affairs Canada.
It’s a decision that the Teamsters, the union representing UPS workers in Canada, finds mystifying.
“We don’t understand why Mr. Cesarone was allowed to come into Canada and why the government waived his 14-day quarantine requirement,” said Christopher Monette, public affairs director for Teamsters Canada.
“We believe the government needs to explain itself on that one. It’s absolutely crucial.”
Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne has granted 191 such quarantine exemptions on “business mobility” grounds since the pandemic began — 138 of them over the past six weeks, a spokesperson said. Permission to skip the self-isolation requirement is given only under “exceptional circumstances,” the department said, and applicants must “thoroughly justify the immediacy of their purpose of travel to Canada.”
Global Affairs refused to discuss Cesarone’s exemption, citing the federal Privacy Act.
Cesarone declined interview requests, and UPS did not respond to written questions about the exact reasons for his trip or why the meetings couldn’t be conducted remotely.
But in a statement to CBC News, the company noted that UPS is an essential service, responsible for delivering needed supplies to Canadian businesses and consumers — including personal protective equipment and “hopefully vaccines soon.”
Cesarone observed “every regulatory and safety protocol” and followed a detailed COVID-19 “risk mitigation plan,” which included wearing a mask, physical distancing and testing, while in the country, the company said.
However, two employees who met with Cesarone dispute the company’s characterization of the trip and his health precautions, telling CBC News that the meetings “were 100 per cent about labour” and that on at least one occasion, the UPS executive removed his mask so that he could be better heard in a crowded room. The employees asked not to be identified for fear of repercussions.
Visit raises issues of transparency, safety: union
Teamsters Canada says that Cesarone’s visit, which included stops at facilities in Toronto and Mississauga, Ont., raises issues of transparency on the part of the company and the federal government, as well as concerns about workplace safety.
“What’s important for us is that everybody is just playing by the same set of pandemic rules,” Monette said. “Just out of respect for the health, the safety of UPS drivers and UPS workers in general — who are, at the end of the day, essential front-line workers.”
Voting on the new labour agreement at UPS began on Oct. 22, and the results are expected to be released on Nov. 2.
Officially, Canada’s border has been closed to non-essential travellers since March 21. But according to the Public Health Agency of Canada, more than 4.6 million people have entered the country over the past seven months. Some 1.1 million, mostly Canadian citizens returning from abroad, were obliged to self-isolate for 14 days. The other 3.5 million — essential workers such as truckers, technicians and health-care providers — were excused from quarantine.
Over the past month, CBC News has uncovered two instances where senior U.S. executives flew into the country on private jets and were granted exemptions by front-line Canada Border Services Agency officers for non-essential meetings and facility tours — cases that Ottawa now calls errors.
But the growing number of special ministerial exemptions has opposition politicians again wondering why Canada’s supposedly closed border appears so porous at a time when COVID-19 cases are spiking around the globe.
Opposition parties question need for visits
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole raised the issue in question period in the House of Commons on Tuesday.
“Last month we learned the Liberal government allowed two different American billionaires to enter Canada, and they waived the quarantine rules,” O’Toole said, going on to ask if there is “one set of rules for the rich friends of this government and one set of rules for everyone else?”
WATCH | Federal party leaders spar over COVID-19 quarantine exemptions:
Jack Harris, the MP for St. John’s East and the NDP’s public safety critic, questions why it was necessary for Cesarone to travel to Canada at all.
“You know, we conduct parliament by Zoom. We do meetings though Zoom…. I don’t see the necessity to have some special exemption like this”, Harris said.
“I can’t go to Ottawa and come back to St. John’s, Newfoundland, without a [provincial] 14-day exemption. We have workers from Newfoundland doing the same thing, coming back to work and having to have a 14-day quarantine here.”
Harris is calling on the Liberal government to share more details about which foreign visitors are being granted exemptions from quarantine and why.
“This idea of behind-closed-doors, non-transparent ministerial exemptions, where you have to dig around to find out why it’s happening, that’s not fair to Canadians,” he said. “And I don’t think Canadians would accept that as fair and reasonable.”
The federal government has recently begun to relax border restrictions and grant entries on compassionate grounds, allowing more foreign citizens and Canadians who live abroad to reunite with romantic partners or visit sick or dying relatives.
As of Tuesday, Health Canada had received 2,250 such applications and exempted 1,335 people from all, or part, of the 14-day quarantine for what the government decided were compelling personal reasons. Another 630 people were allowed into the country, but forced to self-isolate for the full two weeks.
Family members of PS752 victims report receiving threats for speaking out against Iranian regime – CBC.ca
Canadians who lost loved ones when Iran shot down Flight PS752 earlier this year have been reporting an increasing number of threats warning them against criticizing Iran’s response to the disaster.
“These are ugly, insidious crimes, apparently orchestrated at the behest of a foreign power. That is something that would be disturbing to every Canadian,” said former MP Ralph Goodale who is acting as Canada’s special adviser to the government on the incident.
Goodale says two cases of intimidation and harassment were reported to police in the spring. The number of such incidents of which authorities are aware has now increased to 11, he said. RCMP, local police and security organizations are working with Canada’s allies around the world and taking the threats seriously, Goodale added.
Hamed Esmaeilion lost his nine-year-old daughter Reera and wife Parisa when PS752 was shot down by the Iranian military over Tehran on Jan. 8, killing all 176 people aboard. He’s the spokesperson representing an association of victims’ families in Canada seeking justice and he said he has been receiving hateful messages for months.
‘Let’s talk about the last moments of your wife and daughter’
But the situation escalated after a rally he held on Parliament Hill on Oct. 5, he said.
A suspicious vehicle loitered outside his house that night, pulling up in front of his driveway and then backing up, Esmaeilion said. He also reported receiving a suspicious phone call on Oct. 5 from someone who left a message saying, “Let’s talk about the last moments of your wife and daughter.”
Esmailion said he blocked the number but received a threat in Farsi through his Instagram account later the same day: “Your name is on a list of terror, so enjoy your life before you get killed. And you would be a lesson for out of country traitors.”
Esmailion said he met with RCMP on Friday and was told to keep a record of further calls.
“It doesn’t scare me, honestly,” he told CBC. “This is something we have been through since the beginning and especially in the month of May and June … That was, I think, the peak of insulting and hateful messages that I received.”
He said he believes the messages are coming both from Iran and Canada but he has no idea whether they’re from representatives of the Iranian regime or just from its supporters.
Mahmoud Zibaie, who also lost his wife and daughter when PS752 was shot down, told CBC News that he received a call from someone identifying themselves as the chief investigator of the military court in Iran dealing with the lawsuit for compensation launched against the regime.
Zibaie said the caller told him that he needed to return to Iran to participate in the suit for compensation. He said the compensation is low down on the list of what he wants from Iran.
“In some sense, I can say that I can regard it as a threat because he … kept telling me that, ‘Okay, we have to see each other. You have to get back to Iran. You have to come here and you have to launch a lawsuit,'” he said.
Zibaie said he plans to share the audio of that call with the RCMP.
Javad Soleimani of Edmonton lost his wife on the flight. He said he is not taking the threats seriously because he has no family left in Iran but worries about those with family back home who could be targets for harassment or persecution.
“These threats and families harassment, actually, have been something ongoing from the very beginning,” Soleimani told CBC News. “From hijacking the funeral routine, writing congratulations on your martyrdom on the coffins, and also … detaining some family members in Iran.”
“It’s I think it’s a national threat to Canada,” he said. “I think the only way to deal with these intimidation or threats or concerns for families is that the Canadian government more publicly support families of victims.”
Goodale said the federal government is taking the threat very seriously.
“It is an offence against Canada, It is a crime under the Criminal Code, and foreign interference attacks the very sovereignty and integrity of our country. So it is indeed treated with gravity it deserves,” he said.
The RCMP issued a statement today saying that it is “aware of allegations of intimidation of the grieving families of the PS752 and we take such complaints seriously.”
“While we cannot comment on individual cases, Canadians and all individuals living in Canada, regardless of their nationality, should feel safe and free from criminal activity,” said the statement.
Watch: Families of Flight 752 victims report threats from Iran:
Canada expecting uptick in excess deaths amid COVID-19: StatCan – CTV News
Canada is expecting to see an increase in excess deaths as COVID-19 cases are once again trending upwards, according to Statistics Canada.
Between March and June 2020, as COVID-19 spread across the country, Canada saw over 7,000 excess deaths. That figure refers to deaths that exceed the number that would normally be expected during any given period of time.
While these excess deaths skyrocketed in the early months of the pandemic, there was a brief dip in July, when these figures returned to a normal, pre-pandemic range, which according to Statistics Canada falls around 21,000 deaths per month.
Meanwhile, there were over 170 COVID-19 deaths in August and September respectively — but by the time the first 10 days of October were over, Canada had already reported 244 deaths.
That means there were more COVID-19 deaths reported in those 10 days than were reported in the months of August or September.
“Overall, if the similarities between public health surveillance figures and official death data persist through the resurgence of cases, Canada will likely experience an increase in excess deaths in October,” the publication on the Statistics Canada website explains.
Statistics Canada says that these figures can be an important indicator of both the “direct and indirect effects” of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“While the direct effects include deaths attributable to COVID-19, the indirect effects relate to measures put in place to address the pandemic,” the agency wrote.
“These measures could cause increases or decreases in mortality, such as missed or delayed medical interventions, fewer traffic-related incidents, and other possible changes in behaviour such as increased substance use.”
In its publication, Statistics Canada said it based its findings on “an updated provisional dataset from the Canadian Vital Statistics Death Database” as well as the Public Health Agency of Canada’s COVID-19 Outbreak Update.
It gave the caveat that this data only includes deaths that provinces and territories have reported to Statistics Canada, meaning reporting delays could impact the figures. The data also doesn’t include Yukon. However, Statistics Canada said they adjusted to account for incomplete data “where possible.”
The agency asserted that the figures “provide an important benchmark for understanding the potential impacts of the resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic on communities across Canada.”
Excess deaths by province
The charts below plot the number of deaths reported by provinces on a weekly basis from the beginning of January until the end of September. The data is provisional, and because of reporting delays, do not reflect all the deaths that occurred during the reference period. Ontario, for example, shows a steep drop in deaths during the summer months of 2020, but that may be partly due to delays in reporting.
Years before 2019 are represented by faint grey lines behind the chart. Numbers have not been adjusted for populations growing year over year.
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