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WHO chief on COVID-19: 'This is a time for pulling out all the stops' –



Nations around the world girded for months of disruptions from the coronavirus Thursday as its unrelenting spread brought ballooning infections, economic fallout and sweeping containment measures.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the World Health Organization (WHO), said Thursday that 95,265 cases have been reported around the world, with 3,281 deaths. 

Tedros said WHO is concerned that in some countries, “the level of political commitment, and the actions that demonstrate that commitment, do not match the level of threat we all face.”

“This is not the time to give up,” he said. “This is not a time for excuses. This is a time for pulling out all the stops.”

In places around the globe, a split was developing.

China has been issuing daily reports of new cases, that are drastically down from their highs. Factories there are gradually reopening and there is a growing sense that normalcy might not be that far off.

Meanwhile, countries elsewhere are seeing escalating caseloads and a litany of cancellations, closures, travel bans and supply shortages.

Dr. Bruce Aylward, a Canadian who serves as a senior adviser to Tedros, told CBC News Network that border restrictions aren’t the way to go. He said the “big thing” health officials and governments can do is educate the public about what really helps prevent the spread of disease, like handwashing.

WATCH: Dr. Bruce Aylward talks about what can be done to slow spread of COVID-19

Dr. Bruce Aylward says Canada is doing a ‘superb’ job on the fundamentals to help reduce transmission of the virus. 5:45

Aylward, who recently led a WHO mission to China, said unlike flu, it’s possible to get ahead of COVID-19, which provides a window to “reduce disease and save lives.”

Read on for a look at what’s happening in Canada and the U.S, as well as some of the hard-hit regions around the world.

Here’s what’s happening in Canada

A second case of the coronavirus was confirmed in Quebec on Thursday. Quebec’s public health agency announced the presumptive case in the morning and later received confirmation from the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg. The patient in question recently returned from a trip to India.

Ontario health officials confirmed three more cases, bringing the province’s total to 23.

One of the patients, a woman in her 50s, returned to Kitchener, Ont., from Italy; another patient, a man in his 60s, returned to the Toronto area from Iran; and the third patient, a man in his 60s, was aboard the Grand Princess Cruise Ship from Feb. 11 to 21 before returning to Canada on Feb. 28.

WATCH: Health officials preparing for possibility of community outbreak

Health Minister Patty Hajdu and Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam say they are working with local and provincial health officials to ensure they are prepared for the possibility of a community outbreak of COVID-19. 2:28

British Columbia identified eight more presumptive cases on Thursday. There have now been 21 positive tests for the coronavirus in B.C., including 13 linked to the outbreak in Iran.

Among the new cases is a woman who has no recent travel history. Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said officials have launched a detailed investigation into how the patient was infected.

Alberta also reported its first presumptive case of COVID-19 on Thursday.

The Public Health Agency of Canada, which assesses the situation on an ongoing basis, says the risk in Canada is low.

Here’s what’s happening in the U.S.

Dozens of new COVID-19 cases were reported across the U.S. on Thursday, including the first cases in Tennessee, Texas, Maryland, Nevada and in San Francisco. The number of people with the illness in Washington also state nearly doubled to 70.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a statewide emergency after the first death in the state from the virus.

A cruise ship that has been quarantined off the coast of California by public health officials over fears of a possible COVID-19 outbreak includes 235 Canadian passengers, Global Affairs Canada has confirmed.

According to a department statement, there are no confirmed cases on board the Grand Princess.

WATCH: Health expert criticizes U.S. government’s COVID-19 response

When it comes to outbreaks, politics can inspire complacency or panic, says Laurie Garrett, a global health expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. 1:45

In the Seattle area of King County, where there have been at least 10 deaths, officials announced they are buying a $4 million US motel to put COVID-19 patients under quarantine. The deal is expected to close on Friday and officials hope to have the first patients there within days.

Officials said Thursday 11 people have died in Washington state — including those in King County — bringing the U.S. death toll to 12. The number of infections swelled to over 200.

U.S. Congress on Thursday passed an $8.3 billion US bill to combat the virus and develop vaccines.

Here’s what’s happening in East Asia

Tedros, the WHO chief, said officials are seeing some “encouraging” signs in South Korea which, with Iran and Italy, have seen the most cases outside China, which itself accounts for the vast majority of cases and deaths.

In South Korea, Tedros said, the number of new cases appears to be declining and those that are being reported “are being identified primarily from known clusters.”

The country declared a “special care zone” on Thursday — around Gyeongsan, a city of about 275,000 people 250 kilometres southeast of Seoul — and the U.S. military confirmed two new cases among relatives of its troops in South Korea.

South Korean soldiers wear protective gear as they prepare to spray disinfectant as a precaution against the novel coronavirus in Seoul on Thursday. (Lee Jin-man/The Associated Press)

Mainland China had 143 new, confirmed cases on Thursday, the country’s National Health Commission said on Friday, up from 139 cases a day earlier. The death toll rose by 30.

The total number of confirmed cases in mainland China so far stands at 80,552, and the death toll was 3,042.

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s state visit to Japan has been postponed so both countries can fight the coronavirus outbreak, Japan’s chief government spokesperson said Thursday. 

A child, wearing a protective face mask following an outbreak of coronavirus, uses hand sanitizer at a daycare centre in Tokyo on Thursday. (Stoyan Nenov/Reuters)

Japan said Thursday it will impose 14-day quarantine on people arriving from China and South Korea to prevent spread of the virus.

Earlier, Olympics minister Seiko Hashimoto signalled the Summer Games would go ahead as planned in July and August, even as the outbreak spread to new regions.

What’s happening in Africa

South Africa on Thursday confirmed a case of coronavirus, the health ministry said, the country’s first case.

“The patient is a 38-year-old male who travelled to Italy with his wife. They were part of a group of 10 people and they arrived back in South Africa on March 1, 2020,” the ministry said.

Here’s what’s happening in South America

Brazil has eight confirmed cases of COVID-19 Thursday, the Health Ministry said Thursday. That’s up from three the day before.

The ministry said it has registered its first case of local transmission within the country, whereas previous infections were among people who contracted the virus abroad and then travelled to Brazil.

Here’s what’s happening in Europe

Italy’s government has adopted a decree with emergency new measures to contain the coronavirus as it struggles against the worst outbreak in Europe, which has killed at least 148 people. 

The cumulative number of cases in the country, which has been hardest hit by the virus in Europe, totalled 3,858, up from 3,089 on Wednesday. The head of Italy’s Civil Protection Agency said that of those originally infected, 414 had fully recovered versus 276 the day before.

The decree covers everything from how to handle public events to protocol for how people can access emergency departments. 

Dr. Chiara Vismara handles vials during a swab test process in the molecular biology laboratory of the Ospedale Niguarda in Milan on Thursday. Italy is dealing with the worst outbreak of COVID-19 in Europe. (Emanuele Cresmaschi/Getty Images)

Here’s a look at some of the key points of the Italian decree:

  • People in Italy are being told not to hug or shake hands and to keep a “safe distance” of at least a metre from other people.

  • Public events that don’t allow for the one-metre safety limit — for example, theatres and cinemas — are to be suspended. Sporting events must be played behind closed doors.

  • All schools and universities are closed until at least mid-March. Training for doctors and health workers, however, continues. Government is loosening rules for home working, encouraging people who can work from home to do so.

  • Travellers who have visited so-called red zone areas can be told to self-isolate at home for two weeks. 

In Switzerland, a 74-year-old woman died after contracting the novel coronavirus, the country’s first death from the rapidly spreading disease outbreak. She was a high-risk patient suffering from chronic disease, authorities said. 

In Germany, the number of cases jumped by 109 within a day, a public health institute said on Thursday. As of Thursday morning, there were 349 cases spread across all but one federal state, up from 240 on Wednesday morning and compared with 262 on Wednesday afternoon, the Robert Koch Institute said.

Staff members are tested with a digital thermometer at Liszt Ferenc Airport on Thursday in Budapest, Hungary. (Attila Kisbenedek‏/AFP via Getty Images)

In the U.K., a patient with an underlying health condition in southeast England has died after testing positive for the novel coronavirus, the first person in the country to succumb to the disease. The person, who was not identified, is among the 115 people in the U.K. who have tested positive for the virus.

Health authorities in Ireland on Thursday reported the first community transmission of coronavirus. The number of cases in the country rose to 13 from six a day earlier.

In France, three more people have died — taking the total to seven — while the number of confirmed infections rose by 138 to 423, a health official said. A total of 23 people are in very serious condition, health agency director Jerome Salomon said at a daily briefing about the virus.

Hungary has confirmed a third case of the coronavirus, after a Hungarian man who had returned from Milan to the eastern city of Debrecen on Feb. 29 tested positive, the government said on its official website on Thursday. The first two cases, confirmed on Tuesday, had both been Iranian students in the country.

Here’s what’s happening in the Middle East

Iran will set up checkpoints to limit travel between major cities and urged citizens on Thursday to reduce their use of paper money to fight a spreading outbreak of the novel coronavirus, which has killed at least 107 people across the Islamic Republic.

Iranian state TV reported that Hossein Sheikholeslam, a 68-year-old diplomat and adviser to Iran’s foreign minister, died of the coronavirus.

The announcement in Iran came as Palestinian authorities said the storied Nativity Church in the biblical city of Bethlehem, built atop the spot where Christians believe Jesus was born, will close indefinitely later in the day over coronavirus fears. The church was expected to draw tens of thousands of visitors and worshipers next month for the Easter holiday.

A city worker disinfects a bus stop sign because of the novel coronavirus in Tehran, Iran, on Thursday. Iran has one of the highest death tolls in the world from the coronavirus outside of China, the epicentre of the outbreak. (Vahid Salemi/The Associated Press)

These mark the latest disruptions of life due to the virus across the Mideast, which has seen over 3,740 confirmed cases.

Iran’s Health Minister Saeed Namaki announced his country’s new restrictions at a televised press conference. He added that schools and universities will remain closed through Nowruz, the Persian New Year, on March 20.

He said people should stay in their vehicles at gas stations and allow attendants to fill their gas tanks to avoid the spread of the virus.

Canada on Thursday updated its travel advice for Iran to urge people to avoid all travel to the country.

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A report on wildfire in Lytton, B.C., says more community fireproofing needed



VANCOUVER — A wildfire that destroyed the British Columbia village of Lytton couldn’t have been stopped, even with an area-wide emergency response, says a new report.

Published this month by the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction, the report says scientists found the root cause was “easily ignitable structures and homes, and not just a wildfire problem.”

Even the best possible fire response would have been “overwhelmed” because at least 20 buildings were fully engulfed within 80 minutes and would have required at least 60 fire trucks to contain, it says.

Alan Westhaver, a wildland urban fire consultant and co-author of the report, said there was nothing the firefighters could have done to prevent the spread once it had started.

“It’s an overwhelming amount of fire in a very short span of time,” he said in an interview Tuesday.

“Firefighting is important. It’s going to be critical, but we have to change the conditions around our homes so that fewer homes ignite.”

Westhaver said there needs to be more co-ordination between governments, agencies, homeowners, corporate landowners and private businesses to help prevent future disasters.

“Everyone in the community needs to work together and do their share and deal with issues on their property because fire does not stop at property lines.”

The report includes 33 specific recommendations for ways to mitigate wildfire risk, while reducing exposure and vulnerabilities within so-called home ignition zones.

They include mandatory mowing of tall grass and weeds around residential areas and evacuation routes, and development changes like minimum distances between buildings. Itwould mean at least an eight-metre distance between one-storey structures and 13 metres for two-storey buildings.

The report also says flammable objects such as firewood should be separated from main buildings.

Wildfire embers are often responsible for starting small spot fires within communities, so making homes more resistant to fires should be a priority, Westhaver added.

Two people were killed in the Lytton fire and most of the village burned to the ground on June 30 last year in the middle of a heat wave that marked the hottest day ever recorded in Canada at 49.6 C in Lytton.

Westhaver said the report findings should also be used to help other communities prepare for wildfires.

“Lytton was an extreme event, but it wasn’t exceptional. The disaster followed a very familiar pattern that we see at virtually all other major wildland urban fire disasters,” he said.

“Wildland fires are inevitable, but wildland urban fire disasters are not.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 17, 2022.


This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.


Brieanna Charlebois, The Canadian Press

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Regular travel and public health measures can’t coexist: Canadian Airport Council



OTTAWA — International arrivals at Canadian airports are so backed up that people are being kept on planes for over an hour after they land because there isn’t physically enough space to hold the lineups of travellers, says the Canadian Airports Council.

The council blames COVID-19 protocols and has called on the federal government to do away with random tests and public health questions at customs to ease the serious delays passengers face when they arrive in Canada.

The extra steps mean it takes four times longer to process people as they arrive than it did before the pandemic, said the council’s interim president Monette Pasher. That was fine when people weren’t travelling, but now it’s become a serious problem.

“We’re seeing that we clearly cannot have these public health requirements and testing at our borders as we get back to regular travel,” she said.

The situation is particularly bad at Canada’s largest airport, Toronto Pearson International, where passengers on 120 flights were held in their planes Sunday waiting for their turn to get in line for customs.

Sometimes the wait is 20 minutes, other times it’s over an hour, Pasher said.

Airports are simply not designed for customs to be such a lengthy process, she said, and the space is not available to accommodate people. The airport is also not the right place for COVID-19 tests, she said, especially since tests are rarely required in the community.

“Getting back to regular travel with these health protocols and testing in place, the two can’t coexist without a significant pressure and strain on our system,” Pasher said.

The government is aware of the frustrating lineups at airports, a statement from the transport minister’s office said.

“Current health measures in place are based on the advice of public health experts to protect Canadians. We will continue to base our measures and adjustments on their expert advice,” the statement read.

The ministry is working with the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority to post more screening officers at checkpoints, the minister’s office said, and the agency is working on hiring even more.

The government will not ask airlines to cut back their flight schedules, the statement noted.

Between May 1 and May 7, about 1.3 per cent of 1,920 travellers tested at airports were COVID-19 positive.

For comparison, 3.46 per cent were positive between April 1 and April 9, though significantly more tests were performed during that time.

Public health measures have scaled up and down over the course of the pandemic as waves of the virus have come and gone. Right now, they are the least restrictive they have been in months, with vaccinated travellers tested only on a random basis.

The requirements are out of step with peer countries, said Conservative transport critic Melissa Lantsman. She said she wants to know why the Canadian government is acting on advice that is different to that of other countries.

“We’re effectively taking the government at their word that they are receiving advice and that they are acting on it, but they haven’t shared any of that with the Canadian public,” she said.

The lengthy delays at the airports send a negative message to travellers and she worries about the impact it will have on Canadian tourism as the industry struggles to get on its feet this season after the pandemic lull.

“It tells you to go elsewhere, that we’re not open for business,” she said.

On Monday, several industry groups, including the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, pleaded their case for fewer COVID-19 restrictions at the House of Commons transport committee.

“These are costing our economy deeply and are hurting our international reputation as a top destination for tourism, international conferences and sporting events,” Robin Guy, the chamber’s senior director for transportation policy, told the committee.

The witnesses urged the government to review their COVID-19 regulations at the border and do away with those that are no longer necessary.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 17, 2022.


Laura Osman, The Canadian Press

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Prince Charles and Camilla kick off Canadian tour – CTV News



St. JOHN’S –

Prince Charles and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, arrived Tuesday in St. John’s, N.L., to begin a three-day Canadian tour that will largely focus on reconciliation with Indigenous people.

Under partly cloudy skies, the couple landed at St. John’s International Airport aboard a Canadian government jet. They then headed by motorcade to a welcome ceremony at the provincial legislature with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Gov. Gen. Mary Simon.

The couple were met by an honour guard and various dignitaries before shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries with people in the crowd. On the steps leading to the legislature, about 100 schoolchildren waved small Canadian and provincial flags.

Grade 6 student Anna Jeans said she was thrilled at the possibility she might get a high-five from Charles or Camilla. “I’m very excited,” she said, bouncing on her toes. “It’s a big opportunity for me.”

Nearby, Tara Kelly — wearing a homemade fascinator with a tall plume of green feathers — said she’s long been a fan of the Royal Family. “It’s a fantasy,” she said.

Inside the Confederation Building’s purple-lit foyer, the prince and the duchess looked on as Innu elder Elizabeth Penashue offered a blessing and Inuk soprano Deantha Edmunds sang.

The event began with a land acknowledgment honouring the province’s five Indigenous groups as well as the Beothuk people, who were among the first inhabitants of Newfoundland, their history stretching back 9,000 years.

Simon welcomed Charles and Camilla to Canada in Inuktitut. She asked Charles and Camilla to listen to the Indigenous groups they will meet in Canada and to learn their stories.

“I encourage you to learn the truth of our history — the good and the bad,” she said. “In this way, we will promote healing, understanding and respect. And in this way, we will also promote reconciliation.”

The prince started his speech by noting that the land that became Canada has been cared for by Indigenous people — First Nations, Metis and Inuit — for thousands of years.

“We must find new ways to come to terms with the darker and more difficult aspects of the past, acknowledging, reconciling and striving to do better,” he said. “It is a process that starts with listening.”

The prince said he had spoken with the Governor General about the “vital process” of reconciliation.

“(It’s) not a one-off act, of course, but an ongoing commitment to healing, respect and understanding,” he said. “I know that our visit this week comes at an important moment with Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples across Canada, committing to reflect honestly and openly on the past.”

Charles and Camilla then moved on to Government House, the official residence of Lt.-Gov. Judy Foote, the Queen’s representative in the province.

Outside the residence, they will take part in a reconciliation prayer with Indigenous leaders at the Heart Garden, which was built to honour Indigenous children who attended the province’s residential schools.

Earlier in the day, Trudeau said reconciliation will form part of the discussions Charles and Camilla engage in during their visit. But the prime minister avoided answering when asked if he thinks the Queen should apologize for the legacy of residential schools.

“Reconciliation has been a fundamental priority for this government ever since we got elected, and there are many, many things that we all have to work on together,” he said. “But we know it’s not just about government and Indigenous people. It’s about everyone doing their part, and that’s certainly a reflection that everyone’s going to be having.”

Metis National Council President Cassidy Caron has said she intends to make a request for an apology to the prince and duchess during a reception Wednesday at Rideau Hall in Ottawa.

Caron has said residential school survivors have told her an apology from the Queen is important as she is Canada’s head of state and the leader of the Anglican Church. “The Royals have a moral responsibility to participate and contribute and advance reconciliation,” Caron said in Ottawa on Monday.

Earlier this year, Pope Francis apologized for the Catholic Church’s role in residential schools when Indigenous leaders and residential school survivors visited the Vatican. He will travel to Canada to deliver the apology this summer.

Leaders from four of Newfoundland and Labrador’s Indigenous groups were expected to attend the prayer ceremony at the lieutenant-governor’s residence in St. John’s. Elders and residential school survivors were also invited to take part in a smudging ceremony, musical performances, a land acknowledgment and a moment of silence.

Charles and Camilla will then tour Quidi Vidi, a former fishing community in the east end of St. John’s.

The couple are expected to arrive in Ottawa tonight. Their tour will also take them to the Northwest Territories.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 17, 2022.

— With files from Michael MacDonald in Halifax and Kelly Geraldine Malone in Winnipeg

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