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Ontario needs to be more transparent with COVID-19 data, critics say – CBC.ca

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If information is power, Ontario seems to be experiencing a brownout.

Three months into the COVID-19 crisis, one of Canada’s hardest-hit provinces is still unable to share some basic details about the spread of the disease, including the number of tests being performed per region, statistics on the success of contact tracing, the availability of personal protective equipment (PPE) or the location of outbreak “hot spots.”

The sort of data that is often readily available in other Canadian provinces and jurisdictions around the world.

On Wednesday, Toronto Public Health bowed to public pressure and released COVID case numbers for all of the city’s postal codes — information that may well spur more residents to get tested. This came just one day after Ontario Premier Doug Ford had rejected calls for a similar province-wide disclosure, saying he worried that the information could be “very stigmatizing” for people living in those areas.

Now, critics are calling for even more COVID transparency as Ontario struggles to flatten its curve and find a safe way to relax its lockdown.

“The province’s unwillingness and inability to collect the appropriate data, and in turn share it with the public, and public health units, is hindering our response to COVID-19,” said Joe Cressy, a Toronto city councillor and chair of the Board of Health.

Absence of information

Cressy cites not just the imprecise testing numbers but the absence of information on the race, occupation and living conditions of those who have fallen ill — details that might help authorities understand who is most at risk and how the disease is spreading.

WATCH | Toronto Coun. Joe Cressy says more COVID-19 data is crucial:

Toronto city councillor Joe Cressy disappointed in lack of provincial COVD-19 data. 0:19
He said this was especially crucial in the Greater Toronto Area, which currently accounts for 76 per cent of all new COVID infections in the province.

“In order to tackle a virus, you need to understand it,” said Cressy. “So for us to be able to tackle COVID-19, to test for it proactively, to respond with the appropriate protections in place, we need to know who it’s hurting and who it’s hurting most.”

It’s a call echoed by Dr. Andrew Morris, an infectious disease specialist at Toronto’s Sinai Health and University Health Network.

“Having data is really important for all aspects of tackling COVID-19. It lets us know where we’ve been. It lets us know where we’re going,” he said. “If we don’t have that information, we don’t really have a good idea of the best ways for us to approach it. And we also don’t have an understanding of where our blind spots are.”

Morris said that hospitals in the province are still operating in the dark when it comes to things like the availability of hand sanitizer and PPE or localized surges in positive tests — something that might allow them to plan for busy emergency rooms days in advance.

Last week, Ford vowed yet again to “ramp up” testing, to levels that “this province has never seen.”

“I’m going to be all over this testing,” said the premier.

Meanwhile, his health minister, Christine Elliott, has defended his government’s record to date. 

“Do we hit the targets every single day? No. There is an ebb and flow to this but we are increasing our capacity on a daily basis,” she said.

Complicated reporting systems 

Part of the problem, Morris said, are “archaic” systems that don’t allow hospitals, regional health authorities and the province to readily and easily share and analyze the data they have on hand.

“I think a lot of this relates to the chronic under-funding of public health in Ontario,” said Morris. “Many of the problems that we’re experiencing today were experienced during [the 2002-03] SARS crisis as well… Our public health infrastructure has really not ramped up to the level that we’ve needed to.”

Even the flow of basic information between the province and its 32 public health units is complicated. For example, Ontario’s daily COVID update pulls together information from four different databases — the provincial integrated Public Health Information System (iPHIS), which dates back to the early 2000s, as well as newer, municipally run reporting systems in Toronto, Ottawa and Middlesex-London.

Meanwhile, in the hastily constructed testing system — which is administered by the province — samples travel all over Ontario to both public and private labs for analysis. As a result, many local health regions say they don’t know how many tests they have performed, and can only disclose how many positive results have come back.

Dr. Andrew Morris, an infectious diseases specialist at Toronto’s Sinai Health and University Health Network, said that having data is important for tracking all aspects of COVID-19. (Turgut Yeter/CBC)

The way that news of positive tests is shared with public health officials depends on which lab or hospital has processed the swab. A Toronto Public Health spokesperson told CBC that it has been receiving lab reports through a variety of ways: electronically, by phone, fax, even through the mail. 

As of Wednesday, Peel, York, Ottawa, Durham, Waterloo and Windsor-Essex County followed Toronto as regions with the greatest number of COVID cases. 

Scattered data

CBC News canvassed these additional six public health units to determine recent counts of COVID-19 swab testing. The response was scattered. 

While each unit publishes detailed COVID-19 updates online, York Region Public Health Services, Windsor-Essex County Health Unit and Ottawa Public Health are the only regions in the group that publish daily testing numbers. York’s website provides the most comprehensive daily counts, broken all the way down to specific testing centres. According to the data, the entire region tested 705 people on May 25.

All of this is a sharp contrast to British Columbia and Alberta, which have both managed to share regional testing numbers throughout the crisis. Or Quebec, which provides case numbers by district for its major urban centres. 

New York City, perhaps the hardest-hit spot in the worldwide pandemic, has a municipal website that tracks everything from hot spots to local testing levels to the distribution of PPE and free meals.

New York City’s public health authority shares extensive and comprehensive COVID-19 data, including daily testing counts, cases by zip code and the numbers of free meals that have been distributed so far during the pandemic. (NYC Health)

Then there’s South Korea, where the government has been providing the public with detailed information on where novel coronavirus patients reside, so they can steer clear of specific streets or neighbourhoods.

False impression of spread

The man quarterbacking Ontario’s COVID-19 response, Dr. David Williams, the chief medical officer of health, defended the provincial approach on Wednesday, suggesting that things like Toronto’s list of postal code hot spots might actually give a false impression of the spread of the disease. 

“You may find that you have a number of people in an area because you have the same postal code,” Williams said. “Does that mean that neighbourhood is the problem? Or that the people went and worked in different companies that happen to have outbreaks in those companies?”

Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams has defended the province’s decision to not disclose neighbourhood locations of COVID-19 outbreak ‘hot spots.’ (CBC)

Government transparency advocates say they don’t buy such claims.

“We feel that governments in general should be more open with the information that’s coming out,” said Ian Bron, a project co-ordinator with the newly formed Canadian COVID-19 Accountability Group.

“Many Canadians don’t know where the hot spots are. And that’s the kind of information that citizens should have in order to make informed decisions about where to go and where to go afterwards. For example, if you’re going to visit a loved one in a long-term care facility.”

Bron acknowledged that governments have been forced to improvise during the crisis but said that shouldn’t be an excuse for obscuring information that could be ultimately useful for public health.

“It’s a little too easy to say we’re in the middle of an emergency so we can’t do anything right now. That doesn’t mean you can’t start taking steps in the right direction,” he said. In a new report, his group is calling for measures like federal and provincial COVID ombudspersons to help improve transparency.

U.S. produces ‘much better data than we do’

Bron points to American jurisdictions as a positive example for Canadian governments.

Ian Bron is a project co-ordinator with the newly formed Canadian COVID-19 Accountability Group. (Courtesy of Carleton University )

“Although it seems like a terrible mess in the States, they produce much better data than we do. They go to much greater levels of granularity,” he said.

There are worries about the consequences of too little information as the COVID outbreak grinds on. Morris pointed to a recent mass gathering in a Toronto park as evidence that the public might be at risk of losing the COVID plot.

“Today, I’m not sure that the average citizen really understands why there’s a need to physically distance, self-isolate and [wear a] mask, and part of that relates to not having a clear [government] strategy,” he said. “I think if there were one overarching challenge that we haven’t overcome yet, it’s a clearer message.”

It’s an absence of illumination that threatens to leave an entire province groping around for a way forward.

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Bank of Canada holds rate steady, saying COVID-19 economic impact 'appears to have peaked' – CBC.ca

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The Bank of Canada held its benchmark interest rate steady at 0.25 per cent on Wednesday and said it thinks the economic impact of COVID-19 on the world’s economy “appears to have peaked.”

Canada’s central bank has dropped its rate dramatically since the pandemic began, cutting its rate from 1.75 per cent in late February to 0.25 per cent barely a month later.

The bank’s rate influences the rates that Canadian borrowers and savers get from their banks on things like mortgages and bank accounts. The central bank cut its rate in an attempt to encourage borrowing and investing to stimulate the economy, but those rate cuts weren’t the only thing it did to try to buttress the economy from the unprecedented hit of COVID-19.

The bank also started a number of bond and debt-buying programs in order to make sure there is enough cash in the system.

It announced on Wednesday it will tinker with two of them because things are starting to look up, but it is still buying up government bonds at a record-setting pace in order to make sure banks have enough cash on hand to lend to credit worthy borrowers.

“The Bank’s programs to improve market function are having their intended effect,” the bank said. “After significant strains in March, short-term funding conditions have improved. Therefore, the Bank is reducing the frequency of its term repo operations to once per week, and its program to purchase bankers’ acceptances to bi-weekly operations.”

Bond-buying

Bank of Montreal economist Benjamin Reitzes noted that “both of these operations have seen much less take-up (or none at all) of late.”

“The bank stands ready to adjust these programs if market conditions warrant,” the central bank said. “Meanwhile, its other programs to purchase federal, provincial, and corporate debt are continuing at their present frequency and scope.”

In barely two months, the feverish pace of bond buying to buttress the economy has ballooned the bank’s balance sheet by $125 billion, Toronto-Dominion Bank economist James Orlando calculated. 

Slowing the frequency of new purchases is likely to bring that number down a little, but stimulus measures will remain in place for a while yet, CIBC economist Royce Mendes says.

“The bank had accumulated a large swath of short-term securities on its balance sheet, but now that those programs can wind down, the composition of the bank’s balance sheet is likely to change.”

Worst case scenario avoided for now

The reason for the bank’s cautious optimism is the bank’s belief that Canada has avoided the worst-case economic scenario that it painted in April.

The central bank now expects GDP to decline between 10 and 20 per cent compared with the fourth quarter of 2019, less than the 15 to 30 per cent decline forecast in April. 

“Massive policy responses in advanced economies have helped to replace lost income and cushion the effect of economic shutdowns,” the bank said in explaining its rate decision. “Financial conditions have improved, and commodity prices have risen in recent weeks after falling sharply earlier this year.

The rate decision means that Canadians with variable rate mortgages shouldn’t expect any changes to their lending rate any time soon.

Mortgage rates

“The historically low mortgage rates currently in the market are here to stay until the economy approaches the level it was at before the pandemic started,” said James Laird, co-founder of Ratehub.ca and president of mortgage brokerage CanWise Financial.

“This means that anyone with a variable rate can expect prime to remain unchanged. Fixed rates will stay near historic lows.”

Wednesday’s decision is the last one under the leadership of Stephen Poloz. Tiff Macklem was named to replace him. Macklem “participated as an observer in governing council’s deliberations for this policy interest rate decision and endorses the rate decision and measures announced in this press release,” the bank said Tuesday.

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Trump decries ‘lowlifes’ and racism in Canada; In The News for June 3 – CityNews Toronto

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In The News is a roundup of stories from The Canadian Press designed to kickstart your day. Here is what’s on the radar of our editors for the morning of June 3 …

American anti-racism protests …

Undeterred by curfews, protesters streamed back into the nation’s streets Tuesday, hours after President Donald Trump pressed governors to put down the violence set off by George Floyd’s death and demanded that New York call up the National Guard to stop the “lowlifes and losers.”

But most protests passed peacefully, and while there were scattered reports of looting in New York City, the country appeared calmer by late Tuesday than it did a day earlier, when violence swept through multiple cities.

The president, meanwhile, amplified his hard-line calls from Monday, when he threatened to send in the military to restore order if governors didn’t do it.

“NYC, CALL UP THE NATIONAL GUARD,” he tweeted. “The lowlifes and losers are ripping you apart. Act fast!”

One day after a crackdown on peaceful protesters near the White House, thousands of demonstrators massed a block away from the presidential mansion, facing law enforcement personnel standing behind a black chain-link fence. The fence was put up overnight to block access to Lafayette Park, just across the street from the White House.

“Last night pushed me way over the edge,” said Jessica DeMaio, 40, of Washington, who attended a Floyd protest Tuesday for the first time. “Being here is better than being at home feeling helpless.”

The crowd remained in place after the city’s 7 p.m. curfew passed, defying warnings that the response from law enforcement could be even more forceful. But the protest lacked the tension of the previous nights’ demonstrations. The crowd Tuesday was peaceful, even polite. At one point, the crowd booed when a protester climbed a light post and took down a street sign. A chant went up: “Peaceful protest!”

COVID-19 in Canada …

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will continue today to make the case for a co-ordinated global response to cushion the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the world’s poorest countries.

He’ll be among the leaders and heads of state to deliver remarks during a virtual summit of the Organization of African, Caribbean, and Pacific States (OACPS).

Among other things, he is expected to promise that Canada will partner with developing countries, which stand to be the hardest hit by the pandemic, and help to rally the world behind measures like debt relief to help them survive the crisis.

That is similar to the message Trudeau delivered last week while co-hosting a major United Nations summit, alongside UN secretary general Antonio Guterres and Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness.

Without a global co-ordinated recovery plan, the UN estimates the pandemic could slash nearly US$8.5 trillion from the world economy over the next two years, forcing 34.3 million people into extreme poverty this year and potentially 130 million more over the course of the decade.

While no country has escaped the economic ravages of the deadly novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, developing countries, already in debt distress before the pandemic, cannot afford the kinds of emergency benefits and economic stimulus measures undertaken in wealthy, industrialized countries like Canada.

And this …

Nova Scotia’s largest nursing home is planning for a future of private rooms to keep residents safe, but it has taken a wrenching pandemic death toll to create the shift — and it remains unclear whether government will fund a long-term fix.

“We’re currently down to fewer than 25 rooms with shared accommodations at the Halifax campus,” Janet Simm, the Northwood facility’s chief executive, said in a recent interview.

That’s a huge shift from before the pandemic when more than 240 residents lived in two- or three-person units. Now, fewer than 50 people remain in the shared spaces, some of whom are couples or others who specifically request a roommate, Simm said.

But the facility’s desire to create more space, which its board sought for years before the pandemic, unfolded through tragedy rather than design.

COVID-19 illnesses spread among the 485 residents after asymptomatic workers brought the virus there in early April, and Simm says the bulk of the 53 who had died, as of Tuesday, and the 240 infected were in shared units.

COVID-19 in sports …

Khari Jones doesn’t have to look far for a reminder that racism exists in Canada.

The Montreal Alouettes head coach divulged during a teleconference Tuesday he received death threats while he was the quarterback of the CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers because of his interracial marriage. Jones is black and his wife, Justine, is white.

An emotional Jones — speaking just over a week after a white policeman kneeled on the neck of a black man, resulting in a tragic death in Minneapolis — said the threats came in the form of letters that remain in his possession.

“It’s just a reminder you always have to be on alert a little bit,” Jones said. “It could’ve been one person but one is still too many and to do that on the basis of a person’s skin colour is horrible.

“Every once in a while, every blue moon I take a look at them. They never found the person who wrote the letters — he used a fake name — but he’s still out there, people like him are still out there. That was 20-something years ago and it’s still happening.”

Interest rate announcement looms …

The Bank of Canada is expected to keep its key interest rate unchanged this morning on the first day of governor Tiff Macklem’s tenure.

Economists expect the central bank will maintain its target for the overnight rate at 0.25 per cent, which former governor Stephen Poloz has repeatedly said is as low as it can go.

Poloz and the bank’s governing council would have met over the past few days and finalized the rate decision last night.

Macklem likely would have been part of the meetings, but it’s unlikely that the language of the rate announcement will fully capture his views.

Instead of focusing on the rate itself, experts say they will be paying close attention to the language used in the rate announcement about the expected path for the economy in the coming weeks and months.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 3, 2020

The Canadian Press

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Canada’s daily coronavirus death toll surges from day prior as 705 new cases reported – Globalnews.ca

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The death toll from the novel coronavirus in Canada more than doubled from the day prior, with 69 lives reported taken on Tuesday.

A further 705 new cases of COVID-19 were also identified across Canada as the country moved into its second week of daily cases ranging below the 1,000 mark.


READ MORE:
How many Canadians have the new coronavirus? Total number of confirmed cases by region

Tuesday’s numbers brings Canada’s total lab-confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths to 92,399 and 7,395, respectively.

Of those total cases, over 50,000 people have recovered from the virus. Canada-wide coronavirus tests have also surpassed 1.8 million.

Ontario, which reported 446 new cases surpassed the total reported by Quebec at 239 for the second straight day however.

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Until Monday, Quebec was generally considered the epicentre of Canada’s COVID-19 outbreak as both daily reported cases and deaths within the province topped the country over the course of the pandemic.

Both cases and deaths within the eastern province account for more than half of Canada’s totals.

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Several other provinces have also announced new cases of the coronavirus on Tuesday.






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Coronavirus around the world: June 2, 2020


Coronavirus around the world: June 2, 2020

British Columbia reported only four new cases of the virus, whereas Alberta added another 13 infections. No fatalities linked to COVID-19 were reported by either province.

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Manitoba also announced two new cases of the virus. The province’s death toll, however, has remained at seven since the first week of May.


READ MORE:
Canada sees lowest daily coronavirus death toll in 2 months, 759 new cases

In Atlantic Canada, only New Brunswick was the only province to report a new case of the virus.

More to come…

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

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