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Trudeau announces deal to extend border restrictions with U.S. for 30 days; Ontario records 39 COVID-19 deaths and 622 new cases per the Star's latest count; York Regional Forest reopens – Toronto Star



The latest novel coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Saturday (this file will be updated throughout the day). Web links to longer stories if available:

1:30 p.m.: In an announcement made today by Premier Doug Ford and Ross Romano, Minister of Colleges and Universities, Ontario will be investing $20 million to advance medical research to find a vaccine to combat COVID-19 through the Ontario COVID-19 Rapid Research Fund.

Ontario researchers, research institutions, and research corporations are encouraged to submit proposals before April 24, 2020 through the Ontario Together website.

Researching eligible for funding includes, but is not limited to, researching the COVID-19 strain, developing a vaccine, enhancing testing procedures, or improving modelling tools to help track the virus, according to the province’s media release.

“We have some of the best and brightest minds anywhere in the world right here in Ontario,” said Premier Ford. “Whether it’s developing a vaccine, using 3-D printers to make personal protective equipment or designing better portable ventilators, our brilliant researchers are leading the charge in the fight against COVID-19 and giving our frontline health care workers the tools and resources they need to deliver top-notch care for patients.”

The provincial government says they are working with colleges to get trained paramedic students into the workforce to support frontline health care workers. “Colleges will provide training opportunities and a streamlined path to early graduation and practice for paramedic students with valuable skills needed by the health care sector,” according to the media release.

1 p.m.: Premier Doug Ford gives his daily address to Ontarians and reporters from Queen’s Park at 1 p.m.

11:25 a.m.: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the U.S. and Canada have agreed to keep the border closed to nonessential travel for another 30 days.

Trudeau says it will keep people on both sides of the border safe amid the pandemic. U.S. President Donald Trump said Wednesday the U.S.-Canada border will be among the first borders to open. Nearly 200,000 people normally cross the border daily.

In his opening remarks the Prime Minister announced two planes filled with N95 masks and coveralls arrived in Canada on Friday.

Trudeau thanked Toronto Stamp Inc., a manufacturer of signs, rubber stamps and badges, is supplying millions of face shields over the next two months.

Trudeau also announced the allocation of $306M to support Indigenous businesses. The sum includes interest free loans and non-refundable amounts of money that are set to be administered by the National Aboriginal Capital Corporations Association.

11:20 a.m.: Ontario’s regional health units are reporting another 39 COVID-19 deaths and 622 new cases in the last 24 hours, according to the Star’s latest count.

As of 11 a.m. Saturday, the Star had counted a total of 10,934 confirmed or probable COVID-19 cases, including 557 fatal.

The case total is up 6.0 per cent from the same time Friday morning, around the same rate of daily growth the province has seen over the last seven days. If sustained, that growth rate would double the province’s case total about every 12 days.  

Still, Ontario’s COVID-19 epidemic has slowed from earlier: Last week, cases averaged 8.6 per cent daily growth and the week before that averaged 15.6 per cent growth.

Ontario’s case total have more than quadrupled since March 31; deaths have risen even faster, up nearly 800 per cent from 61 at the end of last month.

The Star’s count is based on the public tallies and statements of Ontario’s 34 regional health units, the local bodies that collect and publish this data often before reporting to the province through its central reporting system. As such, the Star’s count is more current than the data the province publishes each morning. 

Earlier Friday, the province reported that testing labs had processed nearly 9,500 samples in the largest single-day total since Ontario quietly changed how it reports the data.

The province says 828 patients are now hospitalized with COVID-19, including 250 in an intensive care unit, of whom 197 are on a ventilator — totals that remain significantly less severe than Ontario’s worst-case projections. A total of 4,875 people have recovered after testing positive for the virus, according to the provincial data.

The province says its data is accurate to 4 p.m. the previous day. The province also cautions its latest count of deaths — 478 — may be incomplete or out of date due to delays in the reporting system, saying that in the event of a discrepancy, “data reported by (the health units) should be considered the most up to date.”

The Star’s count, includes some patients reported as “probable” COVID-19 cases, meaning they have symptoms and contacts or travel history that indicate they very likely have the disease, but have not yet received a positive lab test.

11:10 a.m.: Toronto Mayor John Tory told the Star Friday he felt it was time to convene the senior leaders of the city’s emergency response to the COVID-19 to start work on how to reopen the city when public health officials say it is safe.

The mayor said he didn’t expect detailed plans to be drafted. He hoped for a framework for how to allow, in stages, Toronto businesses and residents to start to get back to normal.

They’ll start to work on questions such as, when restaurants can reopen dining rooms — should the city start by allowing them to fill only part of their capacity.

Public health officials will be at the meeting to ensure the plans, as they unfold, follow the best advice on how to avoid further infections or a “second wave” of the virus.

“Saturday is to deal with ‘How do you develop the staged plan?’ And how do you marry it with the requirements of public health?’”

10:17 a.m.: The Regional Municipality of York announced access to the York Regional Forest will reopen to the public Saturday, with COVID-19 guidelines for all users.

“With milder weather coming, York Region recognizes the need for people to get outside and connect with nature and the much-needed health benefits our public tracts provides,” York Region said in a statement.

The region is enforcing stricter guidelines for the public accessing the York Regional Forest and its 21 public forest tracts. Including physical distancing of at least two meters between forest users, leashes on dogs in all areas, and no littering.

10 a.m.: Members of a Manitoba First Nation will each be handed a mask, gloves and sanitizer as they head to the ballot box on Saturday.

“We’ve never gone through this before,” said Shawn Kent, a councillor for Brokenhead Ojibway Nation. “It’s unprecedented and it’s a different way of doing things that we are going to find out if it’s viable or not.”

First Nations across the country are deciding whether to hold elections during the COVID-19 pandemic. Brokenhead, about 65 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, chose earlier this week to go ahead with its election for chief and four council members.

It was a difficult decision, said Chief Deborah Smith. Officials were receiving constant and changing information about the novel coronavirus and steps had already been made to hold the election.

Mail-in ballots were sent out weeks ago to about 1,200 community members who live off reserve. For the 700 members who live on the reserve, however, Smith said there was a lot of anxiety.

“There were people that felt that because of the health factors that we should delay. But there was also a voice from the community that wanted to proceed … so that they could exercise their democratic rights.”

Marc Miller, minister for Indigenous Services Canada, urged First Nations across the country to delay elections for six months.

But First Nations in many regions voiced concern that if they chose to delay it would have a serious consequence — a gap in leadership during a health crisis.

The Indian Act says that a chief and council cannot extend their terms. First Nations communities were concerned that without an election, an interim government or third party would be put in place to lead the community.

Word spread throughout Indigenous communities that this meant they would be forced to hold elections, said Arlen Dumas, grand chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.

The group representing 62 First Nations in Manitoba reached out to the minister last month about the concerns. Dumas said eight First Nations elections were already scheduled in the next three months for Manitoba.

Dumas said that last week the minister let communities know that a temporary regulatory option had been introduced to allow First Nations leaders to continue in their roles for up to six months, with a potential extension for another six months.

“During this pandemic, the health and well-being of Indigenous communities is our primary focus,” Miller said in a statement Thursday.

Dumas said it’s the right step but it should have come much sooner.

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs is going to be recommending all communities delay elections, he said.

“It’s quite a scary thing to think about what could possibly happen with having our elections.”

But, ultimately, it will be up to local leadership.

Smith said Brokenhead leaders considered what a delay on short notice would mean and consulted with members. Some wanted to delay, but many thought it was important to go ahead.

Saturday’s vote will have extensive precautions to mitigate the risk of spreading COVID-19, she added.

Each person who votes at the recreation centre will get a special personal protective equipment kit, which includes a mask, gloves, sanitizer and a pen. Only one person will be allowed in at a time and there will be Plexiglas between the voter and electoral officer.

Extra security has been hired to ensure people waiting to vote stay far enough apart. Voters driving into the community will be screened for signs of illness and their recent travel history and will be required to leave immediately after.

“The way things have been done in the past is considerably different than the way we are going to have to do it now,” Kent said.

7:30 a.m.: Spain has reached 20,000 deaths for the coronavirus pandemic and total infections increased to more than 190,000.

Spain’s health authorities reported 565 deaths in the last 24 hours. Only the United States and Italy have more deaths.

New infections rose by nearly 4,500. More than 74,000 people in Spain have recovered.

This week, health authorities said there were discrepancies in the statistics of virus deaths and infections reported by regional administrations. The central government has ordered regions to give more precise data and use the same parameters.

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As the outbreak’s spread slows, pressure on hospitals has relaxed. Authorities have closed one part of a huge field hospital with thousands of beds set up by the military in a convention centre in Madrid.

But strict confinement rules are expected to be extended beyond April 26.

7 a.m.: Germany, Canada, France, the U.K., South Korea and eight other nations issued a joint statement noting the “critical role” of the World Health Organization in tackling the virus outbreak.

The so-called Ministerial Coordination Group on COVID-19 said a “strong and co-ordinated global health response” is needed. The U.S. is not a member of the group. President Donald Trump has criticized the WHO and ordered a halt to contributions to the organization.

The 13 nations also agreed that emergency measures to tackle the virus “must be targeted, proportionate, transparent and temporary.” They must not “create unnecessary barriers to trade or disruption to global supply chains” and must comply with WTO rules.

4:56 a.m.: Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s chief of staff died on Friday after contracting the coronavirus in Germany. Abba Kyari, whose age wasn’t disclosed, was regarded as one of the most powerful politicians in the West African country and a strong supporter of state intervention in the economy.

4:51 a.m.: Russia recorded its largest daily increase in coronavirus infections, with the new cases rising by almost 5,000 in a single day.

New infections jumped by 4,785 to 36,793, the official Russian coronavirus information centre reported on its website. Forty people died in the past day, including 21 in Moscow, bringing the number of fatalities to 313. The pace of new cases increased 17.6% after slowing to less than 15% in the previous two days.

4:47 a.m.: A group of thirteen countries including Britain, Brazil, Italy and Germany is calling for global co-operation to lessen the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

In a joint statement the group said it is committed to “work with all countries to co-ordinate on public health, travel, trade, economic and financial measures in order to minimize disruptions and recover stronger.”

The countries emphasized the need to maintain “air, land and marine transportation links” to ensure the continued flow of goods, including medical equipment and aid, and the return home of travellers.

They want key transport hubs around the world to remain open and for airlines to maintain major routes.

The group — also including Canada, France, Indonesia, Mexico, Morocco, Peru, South Korea, Singapore and Turkey — stressed “the importance and critical role of the scientific community in providing guidance to governments” and suggested pooling scientific resources.

4 a.m.: The federal government is deploying celebrities in new ads meant to amplify the plea of public health experts for Canadians to stay home to curb the spread of the deadly COVID-19 virus.

The ads, one in French, one in English, are to begin broadcasting nationally tonight during the “One World: Together at Home” concert.

The English advertisement features astronaut Chris Hadfield and women’s hockey star Hayley Wickenheiser, alongside Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer.

The trio exhorts Canadians to stay home and save lives.

Hadfield says Canadians have always overcome challenges by looking out for each other and doing their part.

Wickenheiser, noting that even people without symptoms can spread the disease, reminds Canadians that their actions can make the difference between life and death.

The French ad conveys similar messages, using astronaut David Saint-Jacques and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, the Canadian football star who helped the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs win the Super Bowl in February. They appear alongside Dr. Mona Nemer, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s chief science adviser.

The exhortations to stay home come as federal political parties are to continue negotiating today about when and how Parliament should reconvene in the middle of the pandemic.

2:37 a.m.: A German cruise ship has left Western Australia state after a three-week stay during which three people on board died of COVID-19.

The Artania began its journey from Fremantle back to Europe, keeping to its scheduled early afternoon departure time Saturday.

A total of 79 crew and passengers from the Artania tested positive for coronavirus in Western Australia. They included a 42-year-old crewman from the Philippines who died in a Perth hospital on Thursday, raising the state’s toll to seven.

The ship’s captain, Morten Hansen, said the crew member had been with the company since 2006 and most recently served as a motorman, describing his death as “heartbreaking.”

Two other people from the Artania died last week, one a passenger in his 70s, and the other a 69-year-old crewman.

Some of the crew who are expected to return home on a charter flight were removed from the ship on Saturday and transferred to a Perth hotel. The ship is expected to make stops in Indonesia and the Philippines en route to Germany.

The ship had been scheduled to depart earlier this month before being granted an additional 14-day quarantine period by the Australian Border Force. Some 219 of the state’s 541 cases have been among people linked to cruise ships.

1:28 a.m.: Indonesia has extended stricter social-distancing rules to millions of people living on the main island of Java, and in West Sumatra, as the world’s fourth-most populous nation strives to stem a spike in coronavirus cases.

Large-scale social restrictions will be put in place across five regions in West Java that collectively house almost 9 million people, Health Minister Terawan Agus Putranto said in a statement issued by the Indonesian cabinet secretariat. A similar order has been given for Tegal, a city in Central Java, and for the province of West Sumatra. Putranto noted a significant increase in the spread of COVID-19 cases in these areas.

There were 407 new infections in Indonesia on Friday, the biggest daily increase since the Southeast Asian country reported its first case, taking total confirmed cases close to 6,000. The government has continuously expanded a partial lockdown to more cities outside the capital Jakarta, the epicentre of the outbreak. The virus is expected to infect 95,000 people in May and to rise to 106,000 in July, according to the government estimates.

The five regions in West Java include Cimahi City, Bandung Regency, West Bandung Regency, Sumedang Regency and Bandung City — the nation’s fourth-most populous city.

10:10 p.m.: Millions of workers in Indonesia are planning to break social distancing rules to stage rallies across the country on April 30 in protest over an overhaul of labor-market rules, according to the Jakarta Post newspaper.

Labor unions say changes to the labour rules, contained in a so-called omnibus bill currently being considered by lawmakers, legitimize the exploitation of workers. President Joko Widodo had put the bill forward as an essential reform even before the virus hit as he sought to appease those who see the labour law and generous severance pay conditions as a major barrier to investment.

“The option is either to die from the coronavirus for joining a rally or die of starvation from having nothing to eat,” the paper cited Inter-Factory Labourers Federation chairwoman Jumisih as saying.

7:43 p.m.: President Donald Trump said there’s enough coronavirus testing capacity to put in place his plan to allow a phased reopening of the economy, even though some state officials and business leaders have raised alarms about shortages.

“We’ve already built sufficient testing capacity nationwide so states can begin their reopenings,” the president said Friday at the White House.

Business leaders and lawmakers told Trump in phone calls this week that the U.S. must increase its testing capacity before attempting to reopen the economy. Trump also tweeted on Friday that “the States have to step up their TESTING!”

In many parts of the country, health officials say adequate levels of testing still haven’t been reached. California has been especially hamstrung, reporting more than 7,000 backlogged tests on Friday despite massive pushes to process more tests.

6:28 p.m.: Federal Minister of Transport Marc Garneau announced that as of April 20, all air passengers will be required to wear a “non-medical mask or face covering” during air travel. Travellers on flights departing or arriving at Canadian airport will be required to demonstrate they have the appropriate mask prior to boarding, otherwise they won’t be able to fly.

According to the ministry, passengers travelling by bus are “strongly encouraged” to wear masks “as much as possible,” and may be asked by the operator to cover their mouths and noses when social-distancing isn’t possible.

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What you need to know about the coronavirus right now



(Reuters) – Here’s what you need to know about the coronavirus right now:

Airborne transmission

Hundreds of scientists say there is evidence that the novel coronavirus in smaller particles in the air can infect people and they are calling for the World Health Organization (WHO) to revise its recommendations, the New York Times reported on Saturday.

However, the health agency said the evidence for the virus being airborne was not convincing, according to the NYT.

“Especially in the last couple of months, we have been stating several times that we consider airborne transmission as possible but certainly not supported by solid or even clear evidence,” Dr Benedetta Allegranzi, the WHO’s technical lead of infection prevention and control, was quoted as saying.

World’s third-highest

India now has the world’s third-highest number of novel coronavirus cases behind Brazil and the United States, at nearly 700,000, according to the latest data, as the outbreak shows no sign of slowing.

India has seen eight times the number of cases as China, which has a similar-sized population and is where the virus originated late last year.

Late on Sunday, India cancelled the planned reopening of the Taj Mahal, citing the risk of coronavirus infections spreading in the city of Agra from visitors flocking to see India’s most famous monument.

Agra, site of one of India’s first big clusters of the virus, remains the worst-affected city in Uttar Pradesh, the country’s most populous state.

Not since the Spanish flu

Officials are closing the border between Australia’s two most populous states from Tuesday for an indefinite period as they scramble to contain an outbreak of the coronavirus in the city of Melbourne.

The decision marks the first time the border between Victoria and New South Wales has been shut in 100 years. Officials last blocked movement between the two states in 1919 during the Spanish flu pandemic. Victoria’s only other internal border, with South Australia state, is already closed.

The number of COVID-19 cases in Melbourne, Victoria’s capital, has surged in recent days, prompting authorities to enforce strict social-distancing orders in 30 suburbs and put nine public housing towers into complete lockdown.

Hydroxychloroquine and HIV drugs off the table

The WHO said on Saturday that it was discontinuing its trials of the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine and combination HIV drug lopinavir/ritonavir in hospitalised patients with COVID-19 after they failed to reduce mortality.

The setback came as the WHO also reported more than 200,000 new cases globally of the disease for the first time in a single day.

The U.N. agency said the decision, taken on the recommendation of the trial’s international steering committee, does not affect other studies where those drugs are used for non-hospitalised patients or as a prophylaxis.

Kicking in place

Soccer-mad Argentines in the farmbelt city of Pergamino have devised a clever way to keep playing while avoiding risk of spreading COVID-19: a human foosball pitch with zones for each player to avoid physical contact.

The game, known as “metegol humano” divides the pitch into rectangular zones with white lines limiting where a player can move – helping to enforce social distancing, though limiting slide tackles or pitch-length dribbles with the ball.

Two teams of five players – a goalkeeper, a defender, a midfielder and two forwards – can take part, said Gustavo Cuiffo, a creator of the project.

Seen from above, the demarcated court resembles a large foosball table – though with real people and no swivel handles.

“It is the first time I have kicked in several months,” said Gustavo Santapaola, who took part in a match at the Play Fútbol ground. “I honestly tell you, I am excited.”

(Compiled by Karishma Singh; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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Britain to put nearly $2 billion into arts to help survival



LONDON (Reuters) – Britain will invest nearly $2 billion in cultural institutions and the arts to help a sector that has been crippled by the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Sunday.

Theatres, opera houses and ballet companies have been left without a live audience for months.

Though English museums and cinemas can re-open with strict social distancing in the latest easing of lockdown which began on Saturday, guidelines still dictate no live performances at theatres or concert halls.

That has created an existential crisis for much of the sector, which has been vocal in calling on the government for support.

“This money will help safeguard the sector for future generations, ensuring arts groups and venues across the UK can stay afloat and support their staff whilst their doors remain closed and curtains remain down,” Johnson said in a statement.

The government said the 1.57-billion pound ($1.96 billion) investment was the biggest ever in Britain’s culture sector.

It said that Britain’s museums, art galleries, theatres, independent cinemas, heritage sites and music venues would be protected through emergency grants and loans.

The government will consult with figures from Arts Council England, the British Film Institute and other specialist bodies on awarding grants, while it said repayable finance would be issued on affordable terms.

(Reporting by Alistair Smout, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

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Nearly 40 feared dead as torrential rains hit southwest Japan



TOKYO (Reuters) – Nearly 40 people were feared dead as torrential rains continued to hit Japan’s southwestern island of Kyushu, with river banks at risk of bursting on Monday morning and new evacuation orders put in place.

Flooding and mudslides that began at the weekend torrential rains killed 21 people so far. A further 18 people were showing no vital signs and presumed dead pending official confirmation, and 13 people were missing, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a news conference.

“I offer my deepest condolences for those who have passed from the torrential rains,” Suga said, adding that some 40,000 members of the Self-Defence Force were involved in rescue missions.

He added that evacuation centres were also working on preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus by distributing disinfectant and asking evacuees to maintain their distance from each other.

As of Saturday, some 200,000 have been ordered to evacuate their homes, according to Kyodo news agency.

The floods are Japan’s worst natural disaster since Typhoon Hagibis in October last year that left about 90 people dead.

(Reporting by Sakura Murakami; Editing by Michael Perry)

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