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Today’s coronavirus news: Canada preparing for COVID-19 surge in fall, Tam says; Canada-U.S. border restrictions extended to Sept. 21 – Toronto Star

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KEY FACTS

  • 12:38 p.m. Canada’s chief public health officer says surges in new cases of COVID-19 are expected going forward

  • 12:20 p.m. Restrictions at the Canada-U.S. border will be extended another 30 days due to the COVID-19 pandemic

  • 10:15 a.m. Ontario is reporting fewer than 100 cases

The latest coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Friday. This file will be updated throughout the day. Web links to longer stories if available.

3:23 p.m. Ontario school boards said Friday their reserve funds are already budgeted for high-priority initiatives not related to the COVID-19 pandemic and should not be used to lower class sizes and hire new teachers, as the government is asking them to do.

A group representing the province’s school boards also said they were not consulted before Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced a plan Thursday that would see boards access $500 million of their own savings to achieve physical distancing in classrooms.

Cathy Abraham, president of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association, said boards across the province were “frustrated and concerned” by the Progressive Conservative government’s plan.

“As Minister Lecce has often said, we are in unprecedented circumstances as a result of this pandemic, and we need an unprecedented response — something more than the use of reserve funds that normal prudent budgeting would allow.”

Lecce said Thursday the government wanted to offer school boards more flexibility to cut elementary class sizes to address pandemic safety concerns by accessing their surpluses.

He described the funds as “rainy day” savings that can help immediately. The government will also spend $50 million to update school ventilation systems, and another $18 million to hire principals and support staff to administer online learning.

Several teachers’ unions and many parents have been calling on the government to mandate smaller class sizes, especially in elementary school.

3:09 p.m. The chief public health officer says people are losing sight of the fundamentals that kept the number of COVID-19 cases low in Manitoba as the province reported 40 new cases.

There has been one day in April with a case count that high since the beginning of the pandemic.

Dr. Brent Roussin says it’s clear some people are not social distancing, avoiding large indoor crowds or staying home when they are sick.

He added people need to start wearing masks when they are indoors in public spaces and stores.

Roussin says health officials now can go through as many as 25 or more close contacts for each person who has tested positive.

A cluster connected to a meat-processing plant in Brandon has grown to 39 positive cases in employees, but Roussin says there’s still no indication it is being spread in the facility.

2:40 p.m. Deadpool” star and B.C.-born heartthrob Ryan Reynolds has strong words for young partiers spreading COVID-19.

His main message? Don’t kill my mom.

“Young folks in B.C., yeah, they’re partying, which is of course dangerous,” he said in a voice message directed to Premier John Horgan in a tweet Friday. “It’s terrible that it affects our most vulnerable. B.C. is home to some of the coolest older people on earth. I mean, David Suzuki, he lives there. My mom!

“I hope that young people in B.C. don’t kill my mom or David Suzuki, or each other,” the message goes on.

Read the full story from the Star’s Alex McKeen: Ryan Reynolds to B.C. partiers spreading COVID: ‘Don’t kill my mom’

2 p.m. Federal health officials are preparing for surges in new cases of COVID-19, including an expected peak of the outbreak this fall that could temporarily exceed the ability of the health-care system to cope.

As Canada continues to reopen and as more people gather together indoors, the federal government is planning for a “reasonable worst-case scenario.”

National modelling projections released Friday show an expected peak in cases this fall, followed by ongoing ups and downs, which chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam says could overwhelm health systems in different parts of the country.

That’s why health officials across Canada are now getting ready for outbreaks that could surpass the highest spikes of the virus experienced in March and April, to ensure they’re ready for the worst.

“It’s preparing for — something could happen to this virus, who knows? Something could change,” Tam told reporters Friday in Ottawa.

“We don’t know the seasonality of this virus, it’s continued throughout the summer, that’s for sure, but what if it demonstrates a certain type of acceleration under certain conditions?”

Canada is better prepared than it was when the pandemic first hit the country this spring, she said, but officials are now planning for the likelihood of concurrent outbreaks of seasonal influenza, other respiratory illnesses and COVID-19 this fall and winter.

“We are over-planning beyond what we had for the previous wave and I think that’s the prudent thing to do,” Tam said.

“This planning scenario is to get all of our partners up and down the health system to over-plan.”

1:48 p.m. Florida reported more than 6,200 new coronavirus cases and 200 deaths on Friday.

The state health department reported 229 new confirmed deaths, bringing Florida’s death total to 9,276 since March 1. Over the past week, Florida has averaged 175 reported coronavirus deaths per day — only Texas was higher with 212.

Florida’s total confirmed cases is more than 563,000. The positivity rate for testing remains at 12.8% in the last week. The number of patients treated for coronavirus in Florida hospitals was 5,943 on Friday, down from a peak of more than 9,500 three weeks ago.

In the past month, COVID-19 has become Florida’s leading cause of death, averaging more than 140 reported fatalities per day. By comparison, the state health department says cancer and heart disease each average about 125 deaths per day.

COVID is easily the state’s deadliest infectious disease: Pneumonia, AIDS and viral hepatitis kill about 10 Floridians per day combined.

1:15 p.m. At his daily COVID-19 news conference Premier Doug Ford announced that as of tomorrow, up to 50 people can work out inside gyms at the same time.

1:11 p.m. This Sunday, the only thing keeping a flotilla of minimally clothed Americans on their side of the border is a strong west wind.

It’s the same predicament every year in Sarnia, Ont., when thousands of U.S. citizens — and some Canadians — hop aboard rafts, inner tubes and the odd trampoline or picnic table rigged with barrels — and transform the St. Clair River into a party for a 12 kilometre float downstream. In earlier decades, officials tried to stop the “unsanctioned marine event” known as the Port Huron Float Down, but now there is a weary acceptance that on the third Sunday in August thousands of people will show up without fail, in storms, strong winds and, yes, even in a pandemic.

Aside from the safety concerns, drifting into Canada without a passport used to be the biggest hassle for participants. Authorities have never endorsed this method of entering the country but, with high COVID-19 case counts in Michigan and a closed border, the RCMP is letting Americans know there are repercussions to floating across the river, including potential arrests under the Quarantine Act, arrests under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, fines, imprisonment — and they’ve made it clear that you can forget about police holding onto your raft or beer cooler for safekeeping. First responders are worried about the risk of COVID-19 spread with so many people expected to participate. The stakes have never been higher, but some officials expect the crowds could be the same, if not larger, because of pandemic boredom.

Read the full story from the Star’s Katie Daubs: Thousands of Americans are expected to float down the St. Clair River this Sunday. The border is closed. The current is strong. The pandemic persists. What could possibly go wrong?

1:08 p.m. The Star spoke with five Canadian doctors and health researchers to ask whether they would send their children back to school in September.

The specialists explain their decisions, and provide advice for caregivers grappling with this difficult situation.

I have kids, and am going to send them back to school. But I think its important to note that what’s good for my family does not necessarily mean what’s good for everyone else,” said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, infectious diseases specialist at Toronto General Hospital.

“The message is not that I’m doing this, therefore it’s safe; The message is everyone has to look at their unique situation, and make decisions that best fit their situation.

Some questions you can ask include: Are your kids at greater risk of severe infection because of a medical condition? Who do your kids come to? How is their school implementing the provincial plan?”

Read the full story by the Star’s Joanna Chiu: Are Canadian doctors sending their kids to school this fall? Here’s how they’re weighing the risks of COVID-19

1 p.m. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey’s chief of staff is quarantining at home after his wife tested positive for the coronavirus.

Ivey spokeswoman Gina Maiola says Ivey’s Chief of Staff Jo Bonner doesn’t have symptoms but is in quarantine at home. Bonner’s wife took a test after attending a visitation for a funeral last Friday in Mobile where she later learned several other attendees had tested positive. Janee Bonner doesn’t have symptoms of the virus, but the test was positive.

Maiola says Bonner was not with the 75-year-old Republican governor this week and Janee hasn’t been around the governor in several months.

1 p.m. Germany’s disease control centre says a study of a previous coronavirus hotspot town indicates there were almost four times as many infections from an outbreak in March.

The Robert Koch Institute says recent blood tests conducted on 2,203 adults in the southwestern town of Kupferzell showed that 7.7% had antibodies for the coronavirus.

In March, about 100 people tested positive for the coronavirus with a swab test and three died following an outbreak linked to a church concert in Kupferzell, population 6,000.

The study’s authors say this indicates more people were exposed to the coronavirus than previously thought and developed antibodies. The authors note many people with the virus show only minimal or no symptoms.

Also, more than a quarter of the people tested who had COVID-19 later showed no antibodies. However, the authors say this doesn’t mean they didn’t have immunity to the virus.

1 p.m. Greek authorities issued a “strong recommendation” for people to wear masks for a week indoors and outdoors in public areas after returning from areas with high coronavirus cases.

Public gatherings will be limited to 50 people in all areas considered hot spots. A ban on restaurants, bars and nightclubs operating between midnight and 7 a.m. has been extended to cover much of the country, including the greater Athens area, until Aug. 24.

Also, Greek authorities say eight migrants have tested positive for coronavirs in a mainland camp for asylum-seekers in the northeastern Evros area. The Fylakio camp, which has about 200 residents near the Turkish border, was quarantined Friday.

Greece had a record-high 262 new infections on Wednesday. There’s been 6,400 confirmed infections and 221 total deaths.

1 p.m. Some churches in Alaska’s largest city have recently defied the emergency order limiting the size of gatherings to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Alaska Public Media reported the Anchorage health order prohibits indoor gatherings of more than 15 people in public, including religious services.

Anchorage Baptist Temple held in-person services Sunday, about a week after the emergency order took effect. Other churches saying they are not complying with the measure include the Wellspring Ministries and King’s Chapel in Eagle River.

12:50 p.m. Quebec is reporting 87 new cases of COVID-19 and three more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus.

The province said today there were no new deaths reported in the past 24 hours, but three occurred from Aug. 7-12.

Quebec has reported a total of 61,004 cases of COVID-19 and 5,718 deaths linked to the disease.

Hospitalizations increased by two in the past 24 hours, for a total of 151.

Of those patients, 25 are in intensive care, an increase of two.

The province says it conducted 18,596 COVID-19 tests on Aug. 12, the last day for which testing data is available.

12:45 p.m. Nova Scotia has changed its rules for the use of non-medical masks in schools, saying new federal guidelines mean younger students will be required to wear them when classes resume on Sept. 8.

Education Minister Zach Churchill announced today that all students in Grades 4 to 12 will be required to wear a mask while inside school, except when they are seated at desks two metres apart that face the same direction.

Masks must also be worn in hallways and other common areas if a two-metre distance cannot be maintained.

When the province unveiled its back-to-school plan on July 22, the mask requirement was limited to high school students.

Robert Strang, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said the change reflects new scientific evidence that has confirmed children as young as 10 can spread COVID-19.

12:38 p.m. Canada’s chief public health officer says surges in new cases of COVID-19 are expected going forward.

Dr. Theresa Tam says as Canada continues to reopen, the federal government is planning for a “reasonable worst-case scenario.”

That would mean a peak in cases this fall, followed by ongoing ups and downs, where the demand could temporarily exceed the capacity of the health-care system to cope.

Tam says continuing to build up that capacity, while encouraging people to follow best public health practices, is essential.

The federal government released its latest national modelling projections for the spread of the novel coronavirus today.

It suggests the number of cases by Aug. 23 could be as high as 127,740 and the number of deaths as high as 9,115.

12:20 p.m. Public Safety Minister Bill Blair says restrictions at the Canada-U.S. border will be extended another 30 days due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It means the two countries will continue their mutual ban on non-essential cross-border travel until at least Sept. 21.

In a tweet, Blair says officials will keep doing what’s necessary to keep communities safe.

A formal announcement of the extension was expected to come later.

The Canada-U.S. border has been closed to so-called “discretionary” travel like vacations and shopping trips since the pandemic took hold of the continent in mid-March.

The United States has been grappling with fresh COVID-19 outbreaks across the country in recent weeks.

12:15 p.m. Mandarin Restaurants announced today plans to reopen its restaurants, beginning with its Brampton location at Hwy. 410 and Steeles. However, the restaurant will not be operationg as a buffet, but as a new dine-in experience it is calling Mandarin Small Eats. “Mandarin Small Eats will be a delicious selection of about 70 freshly prepared, small plates of Mandarin classics — good for sampling and sharing. The dishes will be served right to your table and priced from $1.99 to $4.99,” the company announced in a news release on its website.

11:47 a.m. Nova Scotia is reporting one new case of COVID-19.

The province said today the new case was identified Thursday and involves someone in the northern zone.

Public health says it is investigating the case.

The province has reported a total of 1,072 positive cases of COVID-19 and 64 deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus.

There are no patients in hospital being treated for the disease.

Nova Scotia has one active case of COVID-19.

11:43 a.m. The Toronto public board wants to create smaller elementary class sizes this fall — a key demand of parents and educators during the COVID-19 pandemic — but in order to do that, school reopening might have to be delayed a week, or the start-up date staggered, says the chair.

“We will probably go for smaller class sizes,” and a vote on the issue is scheduled for early next week, said newly elected Chair Alexander Brown, the trustee for Willowdale.

“But the issue is, where do we put all the kids? In my area, schools are at 100, 110 per cent capacity. We don’t have any room. We need time to find space in libraries or community centres or wherever we can to set up those classes.”

The city of Toronto is offering to help with extra space required to offer smaller classes, loaning use of community centres or other city buildings.

Read the full story from the Star’s Kristin Rushowy and David Rider: Toronto school board says it needs more space, more time to prepare for smaller classes. The city says it can help

11:23 a.m. A new survey indicates Atlantic Canada is largely opposed to lifting travel restrictions for Canadians who live outside the region.

More than 3,300 Atlantic Canadians participated in the Narrative Research online survey between Aug. 5-9. The results, published Thursday, indicate more than three-quarters of respondents were opposed to lifting 14-day quarantine requirements for visitors from the rest of Canada within the next month.

COVID-19 numbers have remained low across the four provinces this summer. In July, Atlantic Canada created the so-called travel “bubble,” which waived the 14-day self-isolation rules for residents of the region who enter into Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.

Margaret Brigley, CEO of Halifax-based Narrative Research, said measures to suppress the novel coronavirus have paid off and put the region in an “enviable position,” but the survey results, she added, show Atlantic Canadians are uncomfortable with the perceived risks of accepting more visitors.

“Findings suggest that residents are not confident that safety measures in place would protect us from a viral spread if borders were to open,” Brigley said Thursday in a statement.

Opposition to opening up the travel bubble was highest in Nova Scotia, at 80 per cent.

11:10 a.m. The statistics are clear: across the country, women and low-wage, racialized workers in precarious employment were hit hardest by this year’s COVID-19 job losses.

For touring sound engineer Rena Kozak, the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) was a necessary if insufficient lifeline; while it didn’t cover all her costs, it kept her afloat.

But as the benefit winds down next month — to be replaced in part by a new and as-yet undefined Employment Insurance program — uncertainty about the future is taking a heavy toll.

“It is not a happy time,” said Kozak.

A survey by the Toronto-based Workers’ Action Centre of more than 1,400 workers about their experiences accessing CERB provides a glimpse at what that mounting uncertainty looks like. For low-earners, the most common concerns are the inability to find a job come fall, eligibility for EI, and worries about surviving on what EI offers, the poll found.

“The incredible stress and fear of what was going to happen to people in their families from the uncertainty really seep through many of the comments,” said Mary Gellatly of Parkdale Community Legal Services, who helped analyze the survey responses.

Read more from the Star’s Sara Mojtehedzadeh: Reduced hours, job loss and bankrupt employers — it’s ‘not a happy time’ for CERB recipients as benefit winds down

11:09 a.m. The last thing Matthew Bonn remembers from that hazy July night was going to wash his face after snorting three lines of fentanyl.

He woke up with an IV in his arm, surrounded by police, paramedics and concerned friends, and was later transported to hospital.

Bonn has been using fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid, since 2012, but he said this time hit him unlike anything before. It forced him to face a reckoning about his drug use.

“I just realized I have so much to lose … I didn’t want to become a statistic.”

Bonn, a harm reduction advocate in Halifax, could easily have become one of Canada’s record number of overdose deaths — a trend that, like every aspect of life in the past six months, has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

But as the attention of governments and policy-makers is focused on the toll the virus has taken on hospitals and long-term-care homes nationwide, the opioid epidemic continues to kill in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic — and it’s now outpacing the virus in monthly deaths in Canada.

Read more from the Star’s Omar Mosleh: In the shadow of COVID-19, Canada’s opioid epidemic has suddenly become deadlier

10:17 a.m. Asylum seekers working on the front-lines of the COVID-19 crisis are getting an early chance at permanent residency in Canada.

Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino announced the program today in response to public demand that the so-called “Guardian Angels” — many in Quebec — be recognized for their work in the health-care sector during the pandemic.

Ordinarily, asylum seekers must wait for their claims to be accepted before they can become permanent residents, but the new program waives that requirement.

To apply for residency now, they must have claimed asylum in Canada prior to March 13 and have spent no less than 120 hours working as a orderly, nurse or other designated occupation since then.

They must also demonstrate they have six months of experience in the profession before they can receive permanent residency and have until the end of this month to meet that requirement.

In a statement, Mendicino says the approach recognizes those with precarious immigration status are filling an urgent need and putting their own lives at risk to care for others in Canada.

10:15 a.m. With Toronto Public Health’s data in from yesterday, today Ontario is still reporting fewer than 100 cases, with 92 cases of COVID-19, a 0.2% increase, Health Minister Christine Elliott reported on Twitter. The province processed over 30,000 tests.

9:56 a.m. Spanish Health Minister Salvador Illa has announced a range of new nationwide restrictions to help fight a surge in coronavirus cases.

Illa said after an emergency meeting Friday with leaders of Spain’s autonomous regions that authorities are shutting all discos and night clubs across Spain.

Visits to nursing homes are limited to one person a day for each resident for only one hour. People are prohibited from smoking in public areas if they are unable to keep at least 2 metres (6.5 feet) away from others.

Police will begin cracking down harder on banned night-time street gatherings by young people to drink alcohol. New daily cases in Spain have been steadily climbing since the country on June 21 ended a more than three-month lockdown.

Authorities have officially recorded almost 50,000 cases in the past 14 days, an average of about 3,500 new cases a day.

9:56 a.m. New Jersey’s governor says the state will move to a nearly all-mail election this November, following the model it used for the July primary because of the coronavirus.

Democrat Gov. Phil Murphy said during an interview with CNN on Friday that all voters would get a ballot. It’s not clear if people who aren’t registered will get an application to register.

Murphy indicated the only in-person voting will be with provisional ballots. That means if voters want to cast their ballot in person, they’ll have to go to one of a reduced number of polling places and cast a ballot that will be counted only after officials determine the voter didn’t mail in a ballot.

The development comes a day after President Donald Trump acknowledged he’s starving the United States Postal Service of cash to make it harder to process millions of mailed-in ballots.

9:56 a.m. Norway officials are recommending masks on public transportation in Oslo and banning private gatherings of more than 20 people after a local spike in coronavirus cases.

Health Minister Bent Hoeie says masks must be used in Oslo and in a municipality southwest of the capital starting Monday.

Oslo has had 19 news coronavirus cases in the past two weeks. Nationally, Norway has 261 confirmed deaths related to the virus.

9:56 a.m. Britain has secured 90 million doses of two vaccines being developed to fight COVID-19.

The deals with Novavax, an American biotech company, and Janssen, a Belgian company owned by Johnson & Johnson, mean the U.K. has now acquired the rights to 340 million doses of six different experimental vaccines as the government seeks to hedge its bets on products that are still being tested to see if they are safe and effective.

Kate Bingham, chair of the government’s Vaccines Taskforce, told ITV there was no guarantee any of the vaccines would work “because there have been no vaccines against any human coronavirus.

“So what we’re doing is we’ve chosen six of the most promising vaccines across four different vaccine types and we’re hoping that one of those will work.’’

9:56 a.m. Denmark has added Belgium and Malta to its list of European nations where non-essential travels are not recommended as the Scandinavian country has seen a flare-up of coronavirus cases.

The Scandinavian country’s reason for doing so is that both nations have seen more than 30 cases of coronavirus per 100,000 inhabitants. Danish health officials say the number is 32.5 for Belgium and 31.5 for Malta.

As of Friday midnight, people who travel from Belgium or Malta must self-quarantine upon return.

Denmark earlier has listed Spain, Andorra, Bulgaria, Luxemburg and Romania as countries where non-essential travels are not recommended.

Danes also don’t recommend trips to countries outside Europe with the exception of Canada, New Zealand, Australia, South Korea, Georgia, Japan, Thailand, Tunisia and Uruguay.

9:56 a.m. German authorities in the western state of Baden-Wuerttemberg have established a new coronavirus testing station at a highway rest stop by the French border after noting a strong increase in cases in the neighbouring country.

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The dpa news agency reported Friday that the centre has started testing travellers at the Neuenburg-Ost rest stop, across the border from the French town of Chalampe. Travellers from designated risk areas are required to be tested upon return to Germany, and the centre will also test any others who want to be checked.

France reported more than 10,000 new confirmed cases over the past week.

Baden-Wuerttemberg already has test centres at airports in Stuttgart, Friedrichshafen and Baden-Baden, as well as the Stuttgart main train station.

The Neuenburg rest stop centre is the first such station outside Bavaria, which has had roadside testing since the end of July. They have generated so much interest that Bavarian officials have reported a backlog of cases, with about 44,000 people not yet informed of their results, including more than 900 who tested positive for COVID-19.

Baden-Wuerttemberg says it expects to be able to inform people within four days of their tests.

9:56 a.m. A man in his 20s has become the youngest person to die of the coronavirus in Australia.

He was among 14 new deaths and 372 new infections reported by Victoria state health officials Friday in an outbreak centred in Melbourne, the second-largest city.

And Prime Minister Scott Morrison said 188 elderly people had died over the past week as the virus ripped through aged-care homes in Melbourne. Officials say about 70% of Australia’s 375 virus deaths have been at aged-care facilities.

Morrison said that Australians had high expectations of the services and standards at nursing homes and other facilities like hospitals and schools.

He says, “On the days that the system falls short, on the days that expectations are not met, I’m deeply sorry about that, of course I am.”

He said the country was moving heaven and earth to defeat the virus and it would eventually win.

9:56 a.m. South Korea is reporting 103 new coronavirus cases. It is one of the country’s biggest daily jumps in months, and officials are expressing concern that infections are getting out of control in the capital of Seoul and other major cities as Koreans increasingly venture out in public.

The figures released by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday brought the national caseload to 14,873 cases, including 305 deaths.

Eighty-three of the new cases were in the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area, where authorities have struggled to stem transmissions. Infections were also reported in other major cities such as Busan, Gwangju and Ulsan.

Friday’s jump was driven by local transmissions, which health authorities said could worsen because of the increase in travellers during the summer vacation season.

9:56 a.m. A private school in California has been ordered to close after it reopened classrooms in violation of a state health order aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus.

Fresno County issued a health order Thursday against Immanuel Schools in Reedley. The K-12 school was told to close its classrooms until the county is removed from a state monitoring list for two weeks.

The school has about 600 students and it allowed students into classes Thursday without masks or social distancing. The school’s trustees and superintendent say they believe students’ development will suffer if they can’t be taught on campus.

9:56 a.m. China has reported another eight cases of locally transmitted coronavirus infections, all in the northwestern region of Xinjiang where the country’s last major outbreak has been largely contained.

Officials said Friday that 22 other new cases were brought from outside the country by Chinese travellers returning home. China has reported a total of 4,634 deaths from COVID-19 among 84,786 cases.

Hong Kong reported 69 new confirmed cases and three deaths over the past 24 hours. The semi-autonomous Chinese city has required masks be worn in all public settings, restricted indoor dining and enacted other social distancing measures to bring down transmissions that now total 4,312 with 66 deaths.

9:56 a.m. Mexico has passed the half-million mark in confirmed coronavirus cases.

The Health Department reported 7,371 newly confirmed cases Thursday, bringing the country’s total for the pandemic to 505,751. The department reported 627 more confirmed COVID-19 deaths, giving Mexico a total of 55,293.

Experts agree that due to Mexico’s extremely low testing rates, those numbers are undercounts and that the real figures may be two to three times higher. With only about 1.15 million tests conducted to date in a country of almost 130 million people, less than 1% of Mexicans have been tested.

9:56 a.m. Texas is reporting fewer than 7,000 hospitalized coronavirus patients for the first time in six weeks.

That encouraging sign Thursday was clouded by questions over testing as students return to school and college football teams push ahead with playing this fall. Testing has dropped off in Texas, a trend seen across the U.S as health experts worry that patients without symptoms aren’t bothering because of long lines and waiting days to get results.

Numbers from Texas health officials this week offer a hazy picture of how much testing has fallen. At one point this week, the infection rate in Texas was as high as 24%, only to suddenly drop Thursday to 16%.

Officials have not offered explanations about the wild swing in infection rates.

9:56 a.m. California will resume eviction and foreclosure proceedings Sept. 2, stoking fears of a wave of evictions during the coronavirus pandemic unless the governor and state Legislature can agree on a proposal to extend protections.

The Judicial Council of California voted 19-1 Thursday to end the temporary rules blocking such proceedings that had been in place since April 6.

Since the pandemic began in March, more than 9.7 million people have filed for unemployment benefits in California. A survey from the U.S. Census shows more than 1.7 million renters in the state could not pay their rent on time last month.

California Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye has been reluctant to let the rules stay in place much longer, saying it is the job of the judicial branch to interpret the laws, not make them.

9:56 a.m. Britain will require all people arriving from France to isolate for 14 days — an announcement that throws the plans of tens of thousands of holidaymakers into chaos.

The government said late Thursday that France is being removed from the list of nations exempted from quarantine requirements because of a rising number of coronavirus infections, which have surged by 66% in the past week. The Netherlands, Malta, Monaco and the Caribbean islands of Aruba and Turks & Caicos also were added to the quarantine list.

France is one of the top holiday destinations for British travellers, who now have until 4 a.m. Saturday to get home if they want to avoid two weeks in isolation.

The number of new infections in Britain is also rising.

9:40 a.m. British Columbia’s Health Minister urged those thinking of attending large events where social distancing isn’t possible to re-think their plans, and warned bylaw officers would be out as enforcement.

Adrian Dix says parties may not be immediately shut down but there would be consequences for those found flouting the rules.

“(Private parties) have been a significant source of problems,” he said at a press conference on Thursday.

“I have to say this, if you’re thinking of organizing a party — especially one involving alcohol, where there’s so specific limits on distancing that you’re putting in place — you should not do so.”

He warned that environmental health and bylaw officers would be out checking banquet halls and other places that hold events to ensure the 50-person capacity limit is being respected.

“They can expect to be visited,” he said of those hosting private events. “The rules will be enforced and that will have consequences.”

Dix’s comments come as B.C. reported 78 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the province’s total to 4,274.

No new deaths were reported Thursday, leaving the province’s total at 196.

People between the ages of 20 to 29 now make up the group seeing the largest increase of infections, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said.

Those infections have been seen after exposure events, such as parties where young adults have been gathering, she added.

9:31 a.m. (updated) Around 550 people may have been exposed to COVID-19 at Brass Rail Tavern over the course of four days, Toronto Public Health announced in a news release Friday morning.

An employee who tested positive for COVID-19 was at the strip club, located at 701 Yonge St., during these times:

  • Aug. 4 from 7 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. (Aug. 5)
  • Aug. 5 from 8 p.m. to 3 a.m. (Aug. 6)
  • Aug. 7 from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. (Aug. 8)
  • Aug. 8 from 7 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. (Aug. 9)

Toronto Public Health said in the release that “there was no risk to anyone attending the Brass Rail Tavern outside of these dates and times.”

As a precaution, TPH is advising anyone who attended the Brass Rail Tavern during these dates and times to monitor themselves for COVID-19 symptoms for the 14 days since their last visit during this period.

Read the full story from the Star’s Ted Fraser

7:37 a.m. Cineplex Inc. reported a loss of $98.9 million in its latest quarter as its movie theatres were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The company says the loss amounted to $1.56 per share for the quarter ended June 30 compared with a profit of $19.4 million or 31 cents per share in the same quarter last year.

Revenue totalled $22.0 million, down from $438.9 million.

Cineplex temporarily closed all of its theatres and other entertainment venues March 16 as public health authorities started to put restrictions in place to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The company started to reopen its theatres just before the end of the quarter.

Cineplex has also had to deal with the fallout from Cineworld Group PLC’s decision to walk away from a deal to buy the company on June 12. It has filed a lawsuit against its former suitor over the failed deal.

7:35 p.m. New coronavirus cases in the U.S. topped 50,000 for the second day in a row, as countries around the world struggled to curb the virus’s spread.

Total cases in the U.S. exceeded 5.2 million, about a quarter of the world-wide total, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The nation’s death toll rose by about 1,000 to more than 167,000. That was down from the previous day’s tally, which was the highest daily total since May 27.

6 a.m. More people in Indonesia rolled up their sleeves Friday to test a potential coronavirus vaccine developed by a Chinese company.

The Indonesian government announced the partnership between state-owned enterprise Bio Farma and the Chinese company Sinovac BioTech in early July. As part of the deal, Indonesia recruited 1,620 volunteers for the trial. The first 20 were injected with the candidate vaccine in Bandung, West Java province, on Tuesday, and more followed suit.

“We hope that this third clinical trial will be completed in six months. We hope that in January we can produce it and at the same time, if the production is ready, vaccinate all people in the country,” President Joko Widodo said on Tuesday.

After passing a medical and PCR test to confirm their health, volunteers were given a first dose of the experimental vaccine or a placebo, then a second dose 14 days later.

“I am not worried about the vaccine trial as I have searched the information related to a Sinovac vaccine before,” said Rina Mardiana, 44. “I want to join the trial for humanitarian reasons. I hope the pandemic will end soon.”

Clinical trial research leader Kusnandi Rusmil told The Associated Press that half the volunteers will be injected by the vaccine and the other half with the placebo. “We will see the comparison … in seven months,” Rusmil said.

5:55 a.m. Germany added the most new cases since May, while the head of the French Health Agency Jerome Salomon said the situation in his country is worsening. Travel stocks slumped after the U.K. government said it will require travelers from France, the Netherlands and four other countries to quarantine.

Infections continued to rise in Spain, prompting warnings from business leaders about the cost to the economy if new lockdown measures have to be imposed. New Zealand recorded 12 new local cases on Friday, including some outside the largest city Auckland, where the lockdown was extended.

Democratic nominee Joe Biden said U.S. governors should require masks for the next three months, an approach he said would save more than 40,000 lives, though President Donald Trump said this would be unenforceable.

5:51 a.m. The head of France’s national health service says Paris and Marseille have been declared at-risk zones for the coronavirus as authorities observe a sharp increase in infections.

Jerome Salomon, speaking on France Inter radio, warned “the situation is deteriorating from week to week” in the country. He says virus clusters emerge every day following family reunions, big parties and other gatherings amid summer holidays.

A government decree issued Friday allows authorities to impose stricter measures in the Paris and Marseille areas.

Salomon says there are “more and more people who tested positive, more and more people arriving in hospitals…we need to react before counting new deaths.”

The national health agency reported 2,669 new infections across on Thursday, putting France’s infection rate per 100,000 people to above 30.

4:21 a.m. India’s coronavirus death toll overtook Britain to become the fourth-highest in the world with another single-day record increase in cases Friday.

According to the Health Ministry, India reported 1,007 deaths in the past 24 hours. Its total rose to 48,040 deaths, behind the United States, Brazil and Mexico.

India’s confirmed cases reached 2,461,190 with a single-day spike of 64,553 in the past 24 hours. More than 70 per cent of people infected in India have recovered.

The daily increase in newly reported infections was around 15,000 in the first week of July but jumped to more than 50,000 in the first week of August. The ministry cited its testing efforts, with more than 800,000 tests in a single day, taking cumulative tests to more than 26 million.

Health experts say it needs to be higher, given India’s population of 1.4 billion.

India’s two-month lockdown imposed nationwide in late March kept infections low. But it has eased and is now largely being enforced in high-risk areas. The new cases spiked after India reopened shops and manufacturing and allowed hundreds of thousands of migrant workers to return to their homes from coronavirus-hit regions.

Subways, schools and movie theatres remain closed.

Thursday 10:15 p.m. Despite initial findings and statements to the contrary, it seems children do transmit the coronavirus and play a substantial role in its spread, according to emerging research and several experts who spoke to the Montreal Gazette this week, raising concerns about the prospect of opening schools in three weeks.

But epidemiologists and pediatricians contend the health risks that come with keeping kids away from the classroom remain greater than the risks associated with sending them back — especially for the children themselves, who don’t tend to get as sick from the coronavirus. The experts admit, however, it is possible their return to school will fuel more community spread.

While treating patients on the COVID-19 ward at Ste-Justine Hospital, Dr. Fatima Kakkar, a pediatric infectious disease clinician-researcher, has been struck by how well kids seem to handle the infection.

“It’s been fascinating to me to call a family (to inform them of a positive COVID-19 test) and sometimes they’re even shocked the result came back positive, because the child is already feeling better,” she said. “But what’s also interesting is that in that same family you can have a parent who is very sick, going to the hospital, whereas the child has already recovered.”

The virus affects young children differently, Kakkar said, leading her to believe that worries of children contracting COVID-19 at school and becoming gravely ill are largely inflated.

COVID-19 has so far killed no children in Canada, she said; less than 100 have been hospitalized with the virus, and less than 20 have landed in intensive care. Compare that with last year’s influenza season, she said, which saw 15,000 cases among children, 200 of whom ended up in the ICU and seven of whom died.

But though they don’t get as sick, there are new concerns about the role children play in spreading the virus. An article in the Medical Journal of Australia published online this week claimed that, contrary to claims made by some researchers, children do play an important role in spreading COVID-19.

“Research suggesting otherwise is hampered by substantial bias,” wrote the article’s author, Dr. Zoë Hyde. “Additionally, large clusters in school settings have been reported, with implications for the control of community transmission.”

Thursday 9:30 p.m. A surge of COVID-19 cases among Southwestern Ontario’s Mennonite communities is prompting the region’s public health offices to work together to keep the virus from spreading in the enclaves of farm families who lead a faith-based lifestyle.

From Huron-Perth to Chatham-Kent and Windsor-Essex, public health officials have reported a rise of positive cases among Low German-speaking Mennonite communities in recent weeks.

Chatham-Kent’s top public health doctor said “almost all” of their cases – 84 are active as of Friday – are members of the Low German Mennonite community.

As of Wednesday, in Huron-Perth, 10 of the region’s 74 cases are among Low German Mennonites, mostly in the Perth East area, which includes Millbank and Milverton.

Thursday 8:30 p.m. Mexico has passed the half-million mark in confirmed coronavirus cases.

The Health Department reported 7,371 newly confirmed cases Thursday, bringing the country’s total for the pandemic to 505,751. The department reported 627 more confirmed COVID-19 deaths, giving Mexico a total of 55,293.

Experts agree that due to Mexico’s extremely low testing rates, those numbers are undercounts and that the real figures may be two to three times higher. With only about 1.15 million tests conducted to date in a country of almost 130 million people, less than 1% of Mexicans have been tested.

Read more of Thursday’s coverage here.

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COVID-19 in Canada will get worse before it gets better, and here's why – CBC.ca

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Cases of COVID-19 will likely continue to climb in Canada’s most populous provinces for a while even if people start to hunker down, experts say, because of the nature of the infection.

Epidemiologists look at the effective reproductive number of COVID-19, which describes how many other people an infected person will pass the coronavirus onto on average.

Public health experts like to see the value significantly below one so cases don’t snowball and spread out of control.

The effective reproductive number of COVID-19 in Canada continues to hover at 1.4, the Public Health Agency of Canada reported on Friday. That means for every 10 people who test positive for COVID-19, they’ll likely infect 14 others who then pass it on to 20 others and so on.

Christopher Labos, a physician in Montreal with an epidemiology degree, said the effective reproductive number also varies depending on the population in which a virus is spreading.

“If nothing changes, certainly it’ll keep rising and may even surpass a number of cases we had before,” Labos said. 

The doubling time depends on how contagious someone is, the likelihood they’ll contact and infect another susceptible person and the frequency of contact.

But Labos said there’s another important factor: individual changes in behaviour.

WATCH | Flattening Canada’s COVID-19 curve again:  

New COVID-19 infections are emerging at double the rate of just two weeks ago. Experts say the curve is getting steeper and the only way to bend it back is to change behaviours — fast. 3:28

“We probably will see rising case numbers in the next few days, maybe in the next few weeks. But if we take action now and control stuff, we might see this virus plateau before the end of the year. And that’s really what we’re trying to hope for.”

To that end, Quebec’s premier announced on Monday partial shutdowns in areas with high case counts, namely Montreal, Quebec City and Chaudière-Appalaches, south of the provincial capital.

“We see that our hospitals are in a fragile situation,” Premier François Legault said.

As of Thursday for 28 days, visiting those in other households won’t be allowed (with exceptions), restaurants will be serving delivery and takeout only and other gathering places such as bars, concert halls, cinemas, museums and libraries in the affected regions will close, he said

To explain why, Legault said protecting people in school communities, hospitals and long-term care homes is a priority.

Sacrifices required to change course

“None of this is a given. We can change the outcome,” Labos said. “It simply requires us to sacrifice a little bit.”

Nicola Lacetera, a behavioural economist at the University of Toronto, first studied compliance with physical distancing during the start of the pandemic in Italy. He found that the more frequently governments extended lockdown dates, the more disappointed the public tended to get, which could lessen co-operation.

“People say, ‘Well, I don’t know anybody who has COVID,'” Lacetera said. “From a statistical point of view, it makes no sense. But people tend to over-weigh what’s closer to them, like having known someone who got COVID.”

When the public can’t see the health consequences of COVID-19 directly in their daily lives then Lacetera said making hygiene, distancing and wearing masks more of a habit, alongside consistent messaging from different levels of government and communicating the science, could help.

A woman wears a face mask as she walks by a sign instructing people to wear masks at a market in Montreal on Sept. 13. The city’s restaurants will face new restrictions this week. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

‘Targeted’ measures

Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams, suggested “targeted” measures are under consideration. His Toronto counterpart, Dr. Eileen de Villa, called for new limits in restaurants on Monday, such as reducing the number of patrons from 100 to 75 and requiring establishments to collect contact information from those attending.

De Villa also said the extent of spread of the infection in the city means the concept of the bubble or a social circle “no longer reflects the circumstances in which we live.” 

Jacob Wharton-Shukster said his Toronto restaurant would stay open until 2 a.m. before the pandemic. He voluntarily chose to close at 11 p.m. after watching what can happen elsewhere in the world late at night when people have been drinking alcohol.

“The numbers are doubling from last week, and this is all reasonably foreseeable,” he said. ” We would have had to have taken a mitigation strategy a month ago to see any result now.”

Epidemiologists agree, saying the effects of measures only become apparent two weeks down the road because of the lag when someone is newly infected, develops symptoms, gets tested and receives the result.

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Today's coronavirus news: Vast majority of Canadians working from home aren't eager to rush back to their work, poll says; Israel's virus lockdown likely to be extended – Toronto Star

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KEY FACTS

  • 9:25 a.m. Trudeau says Canada will commit additional $400 million to combat COVID-19 worldwide

  • 6:34 a.m.: Germany says debt won’t reach financial crisis level

  • 5:06 a.m.: UN secretary-general says pandemic toll is “mind-numbing”

The latest coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Tuesday. This file will be updated throughout the day. Web links to longer stories if available.

9:43 a.m. Botswana has extended its state of emergency for a further six months to combat the spread of COVID-19.

The southern African country will maintain several restrictions, including limits to international travellers and tourism, in contrast to neighbouring South Africa and Zimbabwe, which are opening up their economies.

Botswana, a diamond-rich, landlocked country of 2.3 million people, has reported 3,172 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 16 deaths, according to figures released Tuesday by the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The disease burden has made it clear and imperative for us to extend the state of public emergency in the interest of the public,” said President Mokgweetsi Masisi, before parliament voted to continue the emergency on Monday night.

Botswana will continue to restrict public gatherings but it has reopened schools and allows the sale of liquor during limited hours. Facemasks must be worn in all public places.

9:39 a.m. Moscow authorities are extending school holidays by a week amid a surge of new coronavirus cases.

Mayor Sergei Sobyanin on Tuesday ordered all schools to go on holiday between Oct. 5-18 and urged parents to keep their children at home during this period.

“Children (account for) a significant share of infections, often asymptomatic,” Sobyanin said in an online statement. “When they come home, they easily transmit the virus to adults and elderly members of the family, who get sick more severely.”

Health officials on Tuesday reported 8,232 new virus cases, with 2,300 in Moscow — the highest daily number in the Russian capital since late May. Russia currently has the fourth largest caseload in the world with over 1.16 million confirmed infections. It ranks 11th in the world with a reported 20,450 deaths.

Last week, officials asked the elderly to stay at home starting on Monday and requested employers to allow as many people as possible to work from home.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday urged Russians to remain vigilant. “The fight against the epidemic is not over, it goes on. The risks remain,” Putin said.

9:25 a.m. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada will commit an additional $400 million in development and humanitarian spending to combat COVID-19.

Trudeau says the new money will go to trusted partners that are fighting COVID-19 around the world.

Trudeau made the pledge during a videoconference at the United Nations that he co-hosted with Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness.

It was the second time since the spring the three held a meeting of the UN’s High-Level Event on Financing for Development in the Era of COVID-19 and Beyond.

Trudeau says Canada will invest more in the coming years and he will continue to advocate for debt relief for countries facing economic hardship because of the pandemic.

Trudeau says Canada will push to have the voices of those countries heard in larger forums such as the G7, G20 and the World Bank.

9:21 a.m. The Swedish government has decided to increase the number of spectators allowed to attend sporting events from 50 to 500 as of Oct. 15.

Swedish Sports Confederation chairman Bjorn Eriksson says the decision is “a step in the right direction.”

The exemption applies as long as there is no increased spread of infection in the country.

Sweden has opted for a much debated COVID-19 approach of keeping large parts of the society open. People in the Scandinavian country kept enjoying many freedoms while most of Europe locked down their populations early in the pandemic by closing schools, restaurants, fitness centres and even borders.

9:20 a.m. The Spengler Cup, has been cancelled. Organizers of the event held in Davos, Switzerland, during the December holidays cite the impact of the pandemic.

The invitational tournament was first played in 1923, and a six-team edition was won last year by Team Canada, comprising of mostly Europe-based players.

Travel to and from Switzerland “for the teams from Finland, Russia, the Czech Republic and Canada is currently only possible under strict adherence to the quarantine policies, if at all,” organizers say.

Though Swiss authorities are allowing more fans to attend hockey games from October, standing areas in stadiums cannot be used.

Spengler Cup organizers say games “in a half-empty stadium, and without standing room, has nothing in common with the hockey festival we have become accustomed to.”

9:18 a.m. One southern Philippine province and its war-battered capital will be placed under a mild lockdown starting Thursday and the rest of the country will be under more relaxed restrictions to boost the battered economy of the country counting the most coronavirus infections in Southeast Asia.

President Rodrigo Duterte announced the quarantine restrictions for October in televised remarks Monday night. Lanao del Sur province and its capital, Marawi city, will fall under a lockdown starting Thursday due to infection spikes in recent weeks.

Most of Marawi’s commercial and downtown areas were destroyed after hundreds of Islamic State group-aligned militants laid siege to the mosque-studded city in May 2017 and the military launched a massive offensive and airstrikes to quell the five-month uprising. Many residents remain displaced, now staying with relatives or in government-constructed housing units.

9:15 a.m. Public health officials in the U.S. could take heart at the end of the summer. Even as the new coronavirus continued to spread, fewer people were winding up in the hospital because of COVID-19, and fewer were dying.

Now, as the seasons turn, there are signs suggesting there will be more deaths and serious illness ahead.

Data collected by the COVID Tracking Project shows that the number of people hospitalized has plateaued at about 30,000 in the past week, after a decline from nearly 60,000 that began in late July. Deaths, meanwhile, averaged about 750 over the seven days through Sunday, higher than the roughly 600 deaths a day in the first week of July.

Scientists had hoped that a warm-weather reprieve could soften an expected reemergence of the coronavirus in the colder months. Instead, the contagion continued to spread across the country after Memorial Day, with early-summer outbreaks in Sun Belt states followed by the recent surge of new infections in the Upper Midwest and on college campuses nationwide.

Any indication hospitals are attending to more coronavirus patients is likely to reignite concerns that the health care system could be overwhelmed by new cases as the weather cools and more activities, including school and holiday socializing, move indoors.

9:10 a.m. Hundreds of thousands of elementary school students are heading back to classrooms this week as New York City enters a high-stakes stage of resuming in-person learning during the coronavirus pandemic, which is keeping students at home in many other big U.S. school systems.

Twice delayed, the elementary school reopening on Tuesday came over objections from school principals who said the city’s complicated, changing plans put them in a staffing bind.

Meanwhile, officials are worried about recent spurts in virus cases in some city neighbourhoods after a summer of success at keeping transmission fairly stable in the city as a whole.

“It’s a big moment for the city,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said on cable news station NY1 Monday night. With in-person learning for middle and high school students scheduled to begin Thursday, he noted, “as many as half a million kids could be in school in the course of this week.”

With over 1 million public school students, New York City initially had a more ambitious timeline than many other big U.S. school systems for bringing children back to schoolhouses this fall. Families have the option of choosing all-remote learning, and a growing number are doing so — 48 per cent as of Friday, up from 30 per cent six weeks earlier, according to city Education Department statistics.

7:55 a.m. The pandemic and record low mortgage rates have played out in a blockbuster summer for the Toronto region’s new construction home market, according to numbers released by the building industry on Tuesday.

August sales of single family homes — a category that includes detached, semi-detached, link and town houses (stacked town homes excluded) — soared 355 per cent year over year in August, outstripping the gains of condos, which also saw a 159 per cent year over year boost in sales last month.

Although the benchmark price of newly built and pre-construction homes dipped slightly compared to July, condos still sold for 15.7 per cent more year over year at $972,859, and single-family homes were up eight per cent annually to $1.17 million.

Read the full story from the Star’s Tess Kalinowski

7:51 a.m. With Monday’s milestone of 700 new COVID-19 cases reported, experts say to expect more days with 500-plus new cases as more people get tested and many continue to ignore public health guidelines.

And with Premier Doug Ford himself confirming that Ontario is now in its second wave of the virus, the importance of physical distancing, mask-wearing and handwashing couldn’t be more clear. While the premier said the second wave will be “worse than the first wave,” he stressed that we don’t yet know just how bad it will be.

In Ontario at least, experts say it will get worse before it gets better, with more days with new-case totals at levels not seen since the beginning of the pandemic — or even higher.

Read the full story from the Star’s Patty Winsa and Kenyon Wallace

7:32 a.m. After celebrating its 40th anniversary last year, the Toronto International Festival of Authors is beginning its fifth decade with big changes. Some we were expecting — it’s the first festival for new director Roland Gulliver — while others are driven by something entirely beyond the festival’s control: COVID-19.

TIFA will still run for 10 days, from Oct. 22 to Nov. 1. One of the biggest changes this year: it’s free. There are more than 200 events and activities and, because it is all available digitally, the festival is open to national and global audiences for the first time.

You will need to register to attend; that begins Tuesday at FestivalofAuthors.ca.

Headlining opening night is Margaret Atwood. Other high-profile events feature Desmond Cole on anti-Black racism and institutional oppression; Linwood Barclay interviewing Harlan Coben; American novelist Richard Ford interviewed by Gulliver; and Marilynne Robinson talking about her latest novel.

Read the full story from the Star’s Deborah Dundas

6:34 a.m.: Germany’s debt load won’t reach the level it did in the financial crisis a decade ago as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the finance minister said Tuesday, and it will still look better than that of Germany’s peers in the Group of Seven did before the virus outbreak.

Olaf Scholz was presenting to parliament a draft 2021 budget that foresees significant borrowing for the second consecutive year as Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, works to limit the economic fallout of efforts to contain COVID-19.

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The crisis has derailed the government’s dedication to keeping its budget balanced, long a point of pride. After six years in the black, it is borrowing a net 217.8 billion euros ($253.7 billion) this year to finance rescue and stimulus packages and cover an expected shortfall in tax revenue. Next year, it plans to borrow a further 96.2 billion euros.

5:31 a.m.: Authorities are concerned by a COVID-19 outbreak aboard a cargo ship off Australia’s northwest coast that has infected most of the crew.

Eight more members of the Filipino crew tested positive for the new coronavirus on Monday, bringing the number of infections to 17 out of a crew of 21.

Seven of the infected sailors remained aboard the Liberia-flagged bulk carrier Patricia Oldendorff, which is anchored off Port Hedland, a major iron ore export terminal, Western Australia State Health Minister Roger Cook said on Tuesday.

The seven are part of an essential skeleton crew of nine. The other 10 infected crew members were in hotel quarantine at Port Hedland. None required hospital treatment.

5:20 a.m.: Brussels authorities have decided to ban prostitution until further notice in a bid to slow the spread of coronavirus in Belgium’s capital city.

In addition, authorities have shut down three hotels hosting sex workers because social distancing measures were not respected, Wafaa Hammich, a spokeswoman at Brussels city hall told The Associated Press on Tuesday. She said police controls will be stepped up to make sure the ban is enforced.

The decision came after Brussels decided to impose a curfew on bars. Since the start of this week, all bars and cafes have to close between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. while any other businesses selling drinks or food will shut down at 10 p.m.

Brussels is facing a surge of new coronavirus infections.

5:13 a.m.: A southern Philippine province and its war-battered capital will be placed under a mild lockdown in October, while the rest of the country will have more relaxed quarantine restrictions.

President Rodrigo Duterte announced the quarantine restrictions for October in televised remarks Monday night. Lanao del Sur province and its capital, Marawi city, will fall under a lockdown starting Thursday due to infection spikes in recent weeks.

Most of Marawi’s commercial and downtown areas were destroyed in 2017 fighting between the military and Islamic State group-aligned militants.

Metropolitan Manila and five other cities will remain under general quarantine restrictions with more businesses and public transport allowed to partially operate on the condition people wear masks and stay safely apart.

5:11 a.m.: India has registered 70,589 new confirmed coronaviruses cases in the past 24 hours, maintaining a noticeable decline in daily infections.

The Health Ministry raised India’s confirmed total since the pandemic began to more than 6.1 million on Tuesday, but said the country had a little less than 1 million active coronavirus cases. It also reported 776 fatalities in the last 24 hours, which pushed the death toll to 96,318.

India is still registering the highest number of daily cases globally, but with a recovery rate of more than 82.5%, the number of recoveries has passed 5 million, the Health Ministry said.

The first two weeks of September saw India clocking 90,000 cases every day. Since then India has seen a sharp decrease in the number of new daily cases.

5:06 a.m.: United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres says the loss of 1 million people to the coronavirus is an “agonizing milestone” that has been made worse by the “savageness of this disease.”

In a statement released after the global death toll from the pandemic crossed 1 million, Guterres called it a “mind-numbing figure.”

“They were fathers and mothers, wives and husbands, brothers and sisters, friends and colleagues,” he said. “The pain has been multiplied by the savageness of this disease. Risks of infection kept families from bedsides. And the process of mourning and celebrating a life was often made impossible.”

Guterres warned “there is no end in sight to the spread of the virus, the loss of jobs, the disruption of education, the upheaval to our lives.”

5 a.m.: Israel’s health minister says the country’s nationwide lockdown is likely to be extended.

The Israeli government imposed a second countrywide lockdown ahead of the Jewish High Holidays earlier this month in a bid to halt the spread of the coronavirus.

The lockdown was initially slated to be lifted on Oct. 11, but in a radio interview on Tuesday Health Minister Yuli Edelstei said that “there is no scenario that in another 10 days we will lift everything and say ‘It’s all over, everything is OK.’”

Israel has recorded more than 233,000 confirmed cases of the virus since the pandemic began and more than 1,500 deaths from the disease, according to the Health Ministry.

While Israel garnered praise for its swift response to the arrival of the pandemic in March, the country’s reopening of the economy in May saw new infections skyrocket over the summer, and now it has one of the highest infection rates per capita in the world.

4 a.m.: The federal government’s economic recovery plan has inspired some confidence that it will create jobs and a stronger economy in future, a new poll suggests.

But, in the meantime, the vast majority of Canadians who’ve been working from home aren’t eager to rush back to their work places as cases of COVID-19 surge across the country.

Fifty-two per cent of respondents to the survey, conducted by Leger and the Association for Canadian studies, said they are very (nine per cent) or somewhat (43 per cent) confident that the recovery plan, outlined in last week’s throne speech, will create jobs and strengthen the economy in future.

Thirty-nine per cent were not very or not at all confident.

The throne speech appears to have given the governing Liberals a boost, with their support up five points over the past week, to 40 per cent of decided voters. The Conservatives had the support of 30 per cent, the NDP 17 per cent and the Greens five per cent.

4 a.m. The three main parties in the B.C. election campaign clashed Monday over the best way to help the economy recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

B.C. Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson says he would eliminate the provincial sales tax for a year if the party wins the election on Oct. 24, which would cost the government’s coffers about $7 billion.

He said the PST would return at three per cent in the second year, down from the usual seven per cent on most goods and services, because cutting the tax would help stimulate the economy.

NDP Leader John Horgan said he hasn’t seen an assessment of the impact of the Liberals’ proposed tax cut on provincial revenues, but he hopes Wilkinson will tell voters what services would face getting cut to cover the cost.

Green Leader Sonia Furstenau also criticized Wilkinson’s proposal, describing it as “antiquated.”

She said people need economic security to help the province recover from COVID-19.

Monday 9:30 p.m.: Members of Parliament have completed their first-ever remote vote in the Canadian House of Commons, a historic occasion marked by numerous technical glitches, lengthy delays and cameo appearances by some of their kids and even a family dog.

The vote was on a Bloc Québécois sub-amendment to a Conservative amendment to last week’s throne speech, a routine matter that normally would have taken 15 minutes. It was roundly defeated by a vote of 293-33 — with help from one Bloc MP who accidentally voted against his own party’s sub-amendment “due to all the confusion” over voting by video conference.

But it took almost two hours to arrive at that result.

Right off the bat, a system failure by Microsoft delayed the vote for about 40 minutes.

For the eventual vote, only a few dozen MPs were physically present in the Commons while the rest joined in from remote locations in an excruciatingly slow, roll-call video conference vote.

Click here to read more of Monday’s COVID-19 coverage.

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Chinese dairy investor pressed Canada to 'mitigate the risk' of new NAFTA – CBC.ca

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Less than three weeks after talks concluded on the revised North American free trade agreement, executives from a Chinese infant formula manufacturer that had invested $332 million to build a new plant in Kingston, Ont. asked for a sudden meeting with Canadian officials.

Zhiwen Yang, the general manager of Canada Royal Milk — the Canadian subsidiary of China Feihe Limited — wrote to then-Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay and the Liberal MP for Kingston and the Islands, Mark Gerretsen, describing how Canada’s concessions in the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA) put his business plans in jeopardy by limiting how much cow’s milk formula it can export and dismantling the dairy ingredient pricing system.

Yang asked the federal government to “mitigate the risks to the project.” His three-page letters, dated Oct. 16, 2018, were released to CBC News under the Access to Information Act.

A few days later, Feihe International Inc. “respectfully” asked the president of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and another senior government official to meet for 90 minutes on Oct. 29 with Yang and his boss, Feihe International chair Youbin Leng, who was travelling to Canada with his directors of research and regulatory affairs.

“The purpose of the meeting is to discuss the regulatory framework in China and explore how we can work together. The expectation is not for a decision to be made, but to begin a conversation,” said the email from Carey Bidtnes, Canada Royal Milk’s human resources manager, who was part of the team that worked on bringing this investment to Canada during her previous employment with the Kingston Economic Development Corporation. 

Bidtnes said that Canada Royal Milk was working with Health Canada and the CFIA to “resolve a challenge” with exporting its formula.

The documents reveal that the financial stakes for Feihe were higher by the fall of 2018 than they were in 2017, when CBC News reported on the potential international trade issues triggered by Feihe’s plans to export the vast majority of the infant formula it manufactures in Canada back to Chinese consumers.

As construction began, the Chinese investment was pegged at $225 million. A year later, the investment was estimated at $332 million and project proponents were predicting it would bring 277 direct full-time jobs to the region once production ramps up. A further 300 construction jobs have been created in the Kingston area and the plant is expected to generate the equivalent of over 1,000 more jobs in its eventual supply chain.

Chinese companies have a deeper relationship with China’s central government than private sector firms in North America do with their own national governments. Feihe is listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange, but its subsidiary, Canada Royal Milk, is incorporated in Canada.

The investment — the largest foreign direct investment in Ontario agriculture in the last decade — was finalized with officials from the Canadian Dairy Commission during a 2016 visit to Canada by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.

CUSMA limits exports, changed pricing

American officials were monitoring this Chinese investment. President Donald Trump — and the powerful U.S. farm lobby — regard Canada’s supply management system as “unfair” because it blocks most American dairy from Canada’s domestic market.

In the CUSMA, Canada agreed to several concessions that harm its dairy industry — including strict limits, enforced by new export charges, on international exports of infant formula and skim milk.

CUSMA’s export limit for cow’s milk formula is lower than what Feihe originally planned to produce in Kingston, according to a presentation obtained three years ago by CBC News.

Newly released government talking points say Canadian negotiators “were in contact with a number of individuals with direct knowledge of the proposed facility’s operations,” including the Kingston Economic Development Corporation, “to ensure negotiators had a thorough understanding of the intended operation … with a view to avoiding unintended impacts.”

Kingston’s mayor, Bryan Paterson, and a team of other local officials visited China to help land the infant formula facility in Eastern Ontario. It’s the largest foreign investment in Ontario’s agriculture industry in a decade. (Office of Mayor Bryan Paterson)

It’s the same response CBC News got in 2018 when it asked whether Canada’s NAFTA renegotiation team spoke directly to Feihe about its plans before signing off.

Another concession Canada agreed to in the CUSMA talks dismantled part of its dairy pricing regime, ending lower ingredient pricing that kept processors competitive. Canada’s prices are now based on American rates.

When Feihe agreed to invest in Ontario, Canada’s lower ingredient price was part of its forecasts.

Xinhua, the Chinese news agency, reported that then-foreign affairs minister Chrystia Freeland spoke to Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to brief him within days of concluding CUSMA negotiations.

But if the two ministers discussed the dairy concessions, they apparently didn’t resolve the manufacturer’s concerns because the documents show that, within days of that conversation, Feihe began its own outreach to the Canadian government.

Chinese asked Canada to limit competition

Earlier presentations of Canada Royal Milk’s business plans didn’t mention producing and exporting skim milk powder for the adult market. But this letter to MacAulay said the company would produce skim powder for export during a “ramp up” period of testing the new facility. 

Canada already has a significant surplus of skim milk powder, left over after meeting Canada’s strong demand for butter. Making baby formula at this new plant was supposed to help use up this surplus, not exacerbate it.

Feihe eventually plans to manufacture formula from both cow and goat milk at its Kingston facility, exporting most of it to China. A decade after its tainted milk scandal, some Chinese consumers still have more confidence in foreign formula. (Andy Wong/Associated Press)

The global market for skim is crowded and ultra-competitive, with American farmers hostile to any threats. Under the World Trade Organization’s Nairobi Agreement, Canada agreed to stop exporting skim milk products as of January 2021.

“The export cap is a very serious issue for the operations of the company for 2019 and 2020,” the letter from general manager Yang to then-minister MacAulay said, “and we believe it will hinder the growth of the entire industry in the future.”

In its correspondence, Feihe asked for assurances that its facility had the support of all levels of government. It also requested “reasonable quota” so it could take maximum advantage of the tariff-free exports that would be allowed under the CUSMA, including a “guarantee that the full annual export quota for infant formula would be assigned to Canada Royal Milk.”

Our team has already been contacted by U.S. dairy producers who are eager to sell their products to us.– Zhiwen Yang, General Manager, Canada Royal Milk

Canada is allocating its export quota for skim milk powder based on processors’ past production. But for infant formula, export quota was distributed according to planned production — presumably to accommodate the new plant coming online.

“Currently, details on which entities have received an allocation for the dairy export thresholds are not public,” Jean-Sébastien Comeau, a spokesperson for Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau, told CBC News.

In a question redacted from one document released to CBC News but repeated without redaction in another, Yang also asked the government if it would “take steps to limit the licensing of new infant formula manufacturing in Canada.”

While that appears to be anti-competitive behaviour, no other Canadian dairy processor has shown interest in making infant formula in recent years — which is why Canada pursued the Chinese investment in the first place.

Looking for compensation

On the demise of ingredient pricing, “it’s unclear how this will impact our operations in the medium to long term,” Yang’s letter to MacAulay said.

“Our team has already been contacted by U.S. dairy producers who are eager to sell their products to us,” the letter continues.

“What has the government proposed to assist dairy processors to overcome the loss of [ingredient] pricing?”

The letter sent to MP Gerretsen repeated the same demands.

Construction of the massive Canada Royal Milk facility in Kingston, Ont. was expected to create about 300 jobs. Once production begins, it expected to employ 277 people full-time jobs and create the equivalent of another 1,000 jobs in local supply chains. (Feihe International Inc.)

Although Bibeau announced funding for dairy producers harmed by trade deals with the European Union and Pacific Rim countries in the days leading up to the 2019 federal election, the industry is still waiting for the compensation it was promised when NAFTA was replaced.

It’s unclear whether Canada Royal Milk would be eligible for compensation but the Chinese investment has qualified for other federal and provincial support programs.

If Feihe believes its investment was harmed by Canada’s concessions, it could sue for damages under the 2012 Canada–China Foreign Investor Protection Agreement, which was negotiated by the previous Conservative government.

“The sued country can opt not to make public anything until an arbitration award,” Osgoode Hall law professor and investment treaty specialist Gus Van Harten said, noting this agreement is unique in this regard.

International Trade Minister Mary Ng’s spokesperson Ryan Nearing said “there has been no dispute launched against Canada under the Canada-China FIPA to date, nor notification of an intention to do so.”

Despite delays, manufacturer now ‘confident’

In an interview with CBC, MP Gerretsen said he passed on the requests he received from the company to officials at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. But he said the only formal encounter he’s had with Canada Royal Milk was a tour of the construction site in his riding earlier in 2018.

“A number of the issues that were in their letter I believe have been addressed,” he said.

In departmental email, one bureaucrat called Yang’s correspondence “an interesting letter indeed.”

Before federal government officials met with the Chinese, two senior officials from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office, Brian Clow and Simon Beauchemin, joined an “urgent briefing” with MacAulay’s office — an “additional twist,” another bureaucrat called it.

“The Chairman is in Canada in the context of making more investment,” a senior official said. The request to meet with the president of the CFIA was “in the context of the application for export,” he said, “which may not be the full reality.”

Comeau, Bibeau’s spokesperson, tells CBC the Kingston facility now has its licence to export from the CFIA.

The Canadian Dairy Commission originally hoped an investor like Feihe could build a second facility, perhaps in Western Canada. But now, the government “is not in discussion with Canada Royal Milk about additional future investments,” Comeau said.

Earlier plans obtained by CBC News suggested Kingston facility would be exporting by now. Bidtnes told CBC News its production lines are complete and it is pleased with the results of its test batches.

“Timelines for beginning commercial production have been stretched into the fall due to the impact of COVID-19 on some regulatory processes,” she said, adding that the company remains “confident in our business plans and the support we have received from all levels of government.”

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