Ontario reported an additional 409 cases of COVID-19 on Thursday as the province announced it would shift back toward testing only symptomatic people and those in high-risk groups to relieve pressure on publicly funded testing sites and clear a severe backlog of samples.
The news comes as Premier Doug Ford said his government will invest $1 billion to expand testing and contact-tracing capacity heading into flu season, including some $30 million to “prevent and manage outbreaks” in priority settings like long-term care facilities, retirement homes and schools.
The province’s network of labs is currently facing a backlog of 53,840 test samples, the most since cases of the respiratory infection were first detected in January.
During a media briefing Thursday morning, health officials said that publicly funded testing sites are moving away from offering tests to asymptomatic people. Instead, the province will return to a more targeted approach, as hospitals, testing sites and labs have reported being overwhelmed by public demand for tests.
“We know that over the summer when we opened up testing to anybody who wanted it, we did not find cases. Right now, we need to focus on people who are symptomatic, people who are contacts, people in outbreaks, or in very specific populations where we have designated that testing needs to occur,” said Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario’s associate chief medical officer of health.
“Your average person out there who is not exposed to a case, who is not part of an outbreak, has no symptoms, should not be going for testing. There’s no value. In fact, what we found is when there’s very little COVID in that group, what we end up with is false positives, which just complicates things even more.”
WATCH | Dr. Barbara Yaffe explains Ontario’s plan to target only symptomatic people for testing:
Testing of asymptomatic people will be limited to pharmacies, an initiative announced by Ford earlier this week. The government has said that testing will be available at 60 pharmacies by week’s end, with a plan to expand the initiative in coming weeks, although representatives at some pharmacies on the list told CBC News they will not be ready by Friday.
According to Matthew Anderson, president and CEO of Ontario Health, the province hopes to have capacity for up to 50,000 tests per day some time in October.
“We continue to work toward the 50,000 goal. We’re very close to it now. We are struggling a bit with some of our supply chain challenges,” said Anderson.
“We continue to build that capacity out, and do expect that we will be in that range in the next couple of weeks.”
At his daily news conference, Ford acknowledged that the updated testing guidelines are a move away from his government’s messaging in recent months. Over the summer, he repeatedly encouraged anyone who wanted to take a test for the novel coronavirus to get one. But that has become untenable, he told reporters, as school has restarted and the province prepares for the upcoming flu season.
The focus on those showing symptoms is part of Ontario’s fall COVID-19 strategy, which Ford and Health Minister Christine Elliott have been releasing in stages this week.
CBC News has obtained a 21-page draft version of the entire plan, provided by a government source, which focuses primarily on preventing another widespread lockdown like the one implemented in March.
Ford said the economic fallout from such a lockdown could devastate some businesses.
“That would be extremely difficult on a tremendous number of people,” he said.
He added, however, that if new daily case counts continue on an upward trend, his government would re-evaluate its plan.
“If it’s a huge spike, then everything is on the table.”
WATCH | Ontario to invest $1B to upgrade testing, tracing of COVID-19:
Doctors warn time to tighten restrictions is now
Meanwhile, a group of physicians and health care leaders issued an urgent call for the province to immediately tighten restrictions on non-essential businesses and activities that lend themselves to gatherings, including dine-in restaurants, bars, nightclubs, gyms, theatres and places of worship.
“Given the sharp rise in COVID-19 cases over the last two weeks, and the speed at which this virus spreads, now is the time to put public health measures in place to immediately limit opportunities for disease transmission,” the Ontario Hospital Association said in a news release Thursday.
The group is also calling for non-essential businesses to have employees work from home and for universities and colleges to hold classes online wherever possible.
They note Ontario has seen a seven-day average of about 400 cases per day, a figure last seen at the height of the pandemic in May.
“Without immediate action, we know from international experience that this extremely contagious and life-threatening virus will spread rapidly through our schools, long-term care homes, retirement homes and other congregate settings.”
409 new COVID-19 cases
Consistent with recent weeks, a majority of new cases were concentrated in three public health units:
- Toronto: 151
- Ottawa: 82
- Peel Region: 46
Several other areas also registered double-digit increases:
- York Region: 34
- Waterloo Region: 26
- Durham Region: 12
- Middlesex-London: 12
- Halton Region: 11
Elliott noted in a series of tweets that about 63 per cent of the newly confirmed infections in today’s update involve people under 40 years old.
Thirty-one are classified as school-related, including 24 students, three staff and four categorized as “individuals not identified.”
The province’s website tracking outbreaks in school and child care centres — which lags behind information parents would get directly from their school — shows there have been at least 210 school-related cases, including 101 students who have been infected.
Ontario has now seen a total of 48,496 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the outbreak began in late January. Of those, about 86.4 per cent are considered resolved. Another 286 were marked resolved in today’s report.
There are currently some 3,774 confirmed, active infections provincewide, the most since June 9.
The province also reported two new outbreaks in long-term care facilities, bringing the current total to 33.
Ontario’s official COVID-19 death toll increased by one, and now sits at 2,836. A CBC News count based on information provided directly from public health units puts the real toll at 2,876.
Further, the province’s network of labs processed more than 30,600 tests for the novel coronavirus yesterday; however the Ministry of Health notes that that figure provides an incomplete picture because of a temporary outage at Public Health Ontario.
There is no indication that the outage affected the number of new cases in today’s report.
Tour team staffer tests positive
Meanwhile, Ford’s office said he did not have “close contact or prolonged exposure” to a staff member of his tour team who tested positive for COVID-19.
“All staff that had contact with their teammate will self-isolate and monitor for symptoms,” wrote Ivana Yelich, spokesperson for the premier’s office, in an email to media.
“The premier will closely monitor for symptoms and take appropriate next steps if necessary,” she continued.
In a tweet, Ford wished the staffer a speedy recovery.
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.
Ginella Massa to join CBC News Network as primetime host – CBC.ca
Journalist Ginella Massa will join CBC News Network as the host of a new primetime show, the Crown corporation announced Wednesday as part of programming changes over the next few months.
“She’s just got a spark and curiosity to her that is refreshing at a time when there’s so much to be interested in, and so much that is sort of unchartered in terms of the kind of journalism we do, the kind of stories we tell,” said Michael Gruzuk, CBC’s senior director of programming.
Massa will also join CBC’s flagship news program The National as a special correspondent, as well as take part in “many of our CBC News specials,” according to an internal CBC memo.
A graduate of Seneca College and York University, Massa is currently a reporter for CityNews in Toronto. In 2019, she was part of the CityNews team that won a Canadian Screen Award for best live special for coverage of an Ontario leaders’ debate.
She has also worked with CTV, NewsTalk 1010 and Rogers TV, moving from behind the scenes as a news writer and producer to in front of the camera as a television journalist.
In 2015, she became the first hijab-wearing TV reporter in Canada, and then the next year, the first to anchor a major newscast in the country.
Massa said she hopes to use her new CBC role to focus on stories from different perspectives — be it race, religion or class.
“For the last decade of my career in journalism, both behind the scenes and on air, I have often been the only one who looks like me in the room,” Massa said.
“I do try to bring those perspectives to the newsroom … bring the stories that people around me are talking about, which aren’t always the stories that get the most attention.”
Beginning in the new year, Massa’s hour-long show will air weeknights at 8 p.m. ET on CBC News Network.
Her hiring comes alongside a number of other changes on the cable network.
On Nov. 1, it will launch Rosemary Barton Live, a two-hour Sunday program focused on federal politics, followed by the premiere of CBC News Live with Vassy Kapelos, a weekday “fast-paced roundup of breaking political and Canadian stories” on Nov. 2, the internal memo said.
Kapelos will continue to host Power and Politics, which moves to a new time slot of 6 p.m.-8 p.m. ET on weekdays.
CBC journalist Carole MacNeil will host a new weekday afternoon show on News Network, which will be “more programmed” rather than focusing on breaking news that just happened, Gruzuk said.
The changes come weeks after Barbara Williams, CBC’s executive vice-president of English services, announced 130 job cuts across the country. That included 58 news, current affairs and local positions, with most of them in Toronto.
The company cited higher costs and lower revenues as the reason for the cuts, precipitated by a $21-million budget deficit. That shortfall was, in particular, “due to declines in advertising and subscription revenues linked to our traditional television business,” Williams wrote in a letter to staff.
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