Quebec on Wednesday relaxed restrictions on some sports, such as tennis and golf, while CBC News has learned that Ontario is preparing to announce when it will lift restrictions on construction work and loosen restrictions on most retail shops as part of its reopening plan.
These new developments, along with similar ones across the country, come as some experts are warning about the risks related to reopening amid the pandemic.
The Institut national de sante publique du Quebec (INSPQ) has published new predictions showing what may happen in Montreal and the rest of Quebec once physical distancing measures are eased. It found the current deconfinement plan in Montreal, which includes the schools and some retailers reopening on May 25, could lead to 150 deaths per day by July, without taking into account the situation in long-term care facilities.
Quebec accounts for over half of confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths in the country, with 39,931 cases and 3,220 deaths so far. As of 6:45 p.m. ET, provinces and territories in Canada reported a total of 72,278 cases, with 35,177 listed as recovered or resolved. A CBC News tally of coronavirus-related deaths based on provincial data, regional health information and CBC’s reporting stood at 5,409.
Premier Francois Legault is now strongly encouraging people to wear masks in public to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. In a news briefing Wednesday, Legault acknowledged that the province still hasn’t met its testing targets. He said the province is still conducting 9,000 tests a day, which is still well below the target of 14,000.
“I’m not happy. I’ve told the responsible people that we have to reach the 14,000 a day [target] in the next few days,” Legault said at his daily briefing.
WATCH | Trudeau on helping Quebec with COVID-19 testing:
In Ontario, there are also concerns about reopening too soon, as the province’s top doctor says he doesn’t feel confident that the province has met the threshold to begin its economic recovery plan.
At the same time, a draft news release obtained by CBC News shows Premier Doug Ford is ready to announce on Thursday plans to allow the reopening of retail stores that are not in malls, as well as seasonal businesses, pet services, household cleaning and maintenance, and in-person health and counselling services.
The draft release also announces “lifting essential workplace limits on construction” and allowing picnics in parks.
But the draft does not indicate when these restrictions will be lifted. In fact, the version obtained by CBC reads, “Ontario will begin Stage 1 of reopening on [insert date].”
Earlier, the province released a new emergency order allowing the government to temporarily control the management of long-term care homes hardest hit by the pandemic.
Premier Doug Ford said in a statement Wednesday morning that the move will help ensure the spread of the virus in care homes is contained. The order allows the province to step in if a facility has a high number of infections or deaths, or if it’s facing a staffing shortage.
Some 1,269 residents of long-term care comes in Ontario have died from COVID-19-related illness, while 2,982 have been infected with the novel coronavirus.
Ford also said Wednesday that he doesn’t think it is the right time to look at reopening the border between Canada and the United States for anything beyond commercial trade, which has continued throughout the lockdown.
WATCH | Why aren’t masks mandatory in public?:
“I want to keep it closed, and I made it very clear on the call with the premiers and prime minister, we need it closed,” Ford said Wednesday at his daily news conference.
“We just can’t risk it.”
Provincewide, Ontario’s network of labs processed 15,137 tests, the third consecutive day it has failed to reach its target of 16,000 tests per day. The backlog of samples waiting to be processed grew to 13,395.
WATCH | Toronto respirologist explains significance of Health Canada’s approval of antibody test for COVID-19:
In Ottawa, the House of Commons was to debate legislation to permanently increase the Canadian Dairy Commission’s (CDC) borrowing limit to almost double its current level. The Crown corporation intends to buy more surplus butter and cheese to help farmers and processors weather the COVID-19 pandemic.
The bill up for debate Wednesday in the Commons will amend the Canadian Dairy Commission Act, allowing the government to use the Crown corporation’s buying power to mitigate unpredictable shifts in domestic milk supply and demand.
On May 5, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau announced a new assistance package for the farm sector, which included adding another $200 million to the CDC’s current $300 million borrowing capacity. The amount had been unchanged for 20 years.
With restaurants and other institutional food services closed, the dairy industry has been reeling from the collapse in demand for certain dairy products this spring. That forced producers in some regions, such as Eastern Ontario, to dump milk that could no longer be used.
The CDC will now be able to sign contracts with cheesemakers who currently are not operating at full capacity to transform future milk surpluses into cheese, which is easier to store. In addition to preventing waste, the bulk purchases also help with the processors’ cash flow issues until the market stabilizes again.
Meanwhile, Trudeau said Wednesday that post-secondary students will be able to apply for the Canada Emergency Student Benefit starting Friday. The program, announced in April, affords students up to $1,250 a month from May through August. That sum can go up to $2,000 a month if the student is caring for a dependent or has a disability.
Later in the day, Trudeau downplayed the need for a federal budget in the short term, saying the fast-moving effects of the COVID-19 pandemic would render those projections moot. He faced pushback from some Conservatives, who are demanding that Finance Minister BIll Morneau table some sort of update to give Canadians a better sense of the country’s fiscal health during a time of unprecedented government spending.
Morneau was set to deliver a federal budget at the end of March, though the pandemic disrupted those plans. The parliamentary budget officer said Tuesday that a federal debt topping $1 trillion this year is “not unthinkable,” though Trudeau said the government is focused on “immediate” needs over long-term budgeting.
What’s happening in the provinces and territories
While there are hundreds of COVID-19 cases in British Columbia‘s Lower Mainland — a small area of the province, but its most populated — there are only 14 active cases in the rest of the province. And with the potential of the virus being virtually contained in large areas of B.C. well before the Lower Mainland, some politicians are calling for the government to consider regional approaches in the province’s restart strategy. Read more about what’s happening in B.C.
Alberta will proceed to the first phase of its relaunch plan on Thursday, though Calgary and Brooks will reopen more slowly than the rest of the province, says Premier Jason Kenney.
Citing encouraging statistics about case numbers and hospitalization rates, Kenney announced at a news conference on Wednesday that the first stage of the relaunch will go ahead as planned in most parts of the province.
Starting Thursday, retail stores, hair salons, museums, daycares and day camps will be allowed to open, with restrictions, and people will be able to dine in restaurants and cafes with up to 50 per cent capacity. In Calgary and Brooks, retail stores can open Thursday. But restaurants, cafes, hair salons and barbershops won’t be allowed to reopen until May 25. Read more about what’s happening in Alberta.
WATCH | Alberta releases relaunch plan with some COVID-19 restrictions:
Saskatchewan’s government is waiting on an approval before it can receive and start using 50 rapid COVID-19 testing units capable of testing 25,000 people for traces of the novel coronavirus. According to the provincial Ministry of Health, the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) ordered the so-called Cube tests from Ottawa-based Spartan Bioscience, but Health Canada recently restricted the device to research use only after it experienced problems. Read more about what’s happening in Saskatchewan.
Starting Thursday, Manitoba will allow residents to get a COVID-19 test without a referral from Health Links or a health-care provider. Instead, anyone who meets the criteria should get tested for the virus, even those with only mild symptoms, said Lanette Siragusa, chief nursing officer for Shared Health. Read more about what’s happening in Manitoba.
Ontario reported 329 additional cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, bringing the province’s total number since the outbreak began to more than 21,200. Nearly three-quarters, or some 15,845, of the cumulative cases are now resolved, according to the Ministry of Health.
Both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier Doug Ford were noncommittal when asked Wednesday if their governments would provide the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) with a financial bailout. In a new report, the TTC says its ridership and revenues figures are about 80 to 90 per cent below where they should be, and that it has already lost 63 per cent of the passenger revenue it expected to make in 2020. Read more about what’s happening in Ontario.
Quebec‘s Public Health Director Dr. Horacio Arruda blamed the lack of testing in the province partly on a lack of people seeking out the tests in some of Montreal’s hard-hit areas. Arruda said one reason Quebec is missing its target is because fewer people are seeking out tests than anticipated. Read more about what’s happening in Quebec.
In New Brunswick, there were no new confirmed cases Wednesday, while hospital services in the province are being restarted for “urgent and critical” elective surgery. The province announced Friday the start of the orange recovery phase. Dr. Jennifer Russell, chief medical officer of health, said this means health authorities can restart non-emergency surgeries, diagnostic procedures and health services in a “progressive” manner. Read more about what’s happening in New Brunswick.
WATCH | People across N.B. line up as malls reopen:
Nova Scotia reported four new cases on Wednesday, bringing the number of confirmed cases in the province to 1,024, with 870 of those considered resolved. Of the province’s 51 deaths from COVID-19, 45 have been at the Halifax long-term care home Northwood, which has been the epicentre of the virus’s outbreak in Nova Scotia. Read more about what’s happening in Nova Scotia.
The P.E.I. government says it is investigating the possibility that people may have entered the province stowed away in vehicles. “There is an investigation that is going on on a couple of incidents, but they’re still under investigation,” Public Safety Minister Bloyce Thompson said Tuesday. “There’s two separate incidents that are being investigated.” Read more about what’s happening in P.E.I.
Wednesday marked Newfoundland and Labrador‘s sixth straight day of no new cases. The total province’s total caseload is 261, with 247 people recovered and three deaths, leaving 11 active cases. “Now that we have a relatively low number of cases of COVID-19 in our province we are in a position to keep this virus under control in our communities,” said Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald during a daily briefing. Read more about what’s happening in N.L.
WATCH | N.L. tourism hit hard by COVID-19:
The Northwest Territories could begin the first part of its reopening plan as soon as Friday, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola said. The plan includes more gatherings and the possible reopening of some schools and businesses — while the territory’s borders remain closed indefinitely to non-residents and non-essential workers, with some exceptions. Read more about what’s happening across the North.
WATCH | Airline industry will be ‘smaller’ after pandemic, says Air North president:
Here’s what’s happening in the rest of the world
From Reuters and The Associated Press, updated at 6 p.m. ET
The World Health Organization’s emergencies chief said it’s possible the new coronavirus may be here to stay, warning it’s impossible to predict when the pandemic might be controlled.
“This virus may never go away,” Dr. Michael Ryan said in a news briefing on Wednesday. He said the number of people infected by COVID-19 so far is relatively low. Without a vaccine, it could take years for the population to build up sufficient levels of immunity to it, he said.
Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead for COVID-19, said she recognized some people were “in a state of feeling quite some despair,” but pointed out that stopping the virus without a vaccine or cure is possible.
“The trajectory of this outbreak is in our hands,” she said. “We have seen some countries bring the virus under control.”
WATCH | It’s not a choice between the economy and the health system, WHO says:
Britain tentatively began easing its coronavirus lockdown on Wednesday. Some people who cannot do their jobs at home were urged to return to work, as stark economic data showed the disastrous impact of the pandemic.
The worst-hit country in Europe, with more than 40,000 deaths from COVID-19 according to official data, Britain has been in an extensive lockdown since March 23.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Wednesday that 144 people employed within the National Health Service and 131 social care workers have died.
As of Wednesday morning, Britons in manufacturing and certain other sectors were being asked to return to work if they could. Gross domestic product (GDP) data on Wednesday showed the economy shrank by a record 5.8 per cent in March from February, and the April data is likely to be even worse as the country was under lockdown for the entire month.
In the U.S., Los Angeles County has reopened its beaches in the latest easing of coronavirus restrictions that have closed most public spaces and many businesses in the state for nearly two months. County beaches and many city-owned beaches along the coastline reopened Wednesday but with physical distancing rules.
Also Wednesday, U.S. President Donald Trump called on governors across the U.S. to work to reopen schools that were closed because of the coronavirus, pointedly taking issue with Dr. Anthony Fauci’s caution against moving too quickly in sending students back to class.
“I think they should open the schools, absolutely. I think they should,” Trump told reporters at the White House, echoing comments he had made in a television interview. “Our country’s got to get back and it’s got to get back as soon as possible. And I don’t consider our country coming back if the schools are closed.”
Fauci had urged caution in testimony before a Senate committee Tuesday, although he made clear that he believes reopening decisions will likely differ from one region to the next.
WATCH | Beaches open in California as governor relaxes stay-at-home order:
Spanish health officials say large-scale testing for the coronavirus has demonstrated there is no herd immunity in the country. The head of the National Epidemiology Centre, Marina Pollan, says a major ongoing survey shows so far that about five per cent of the population — around two million people — has been infected by the virus.
Officials on Wednesday presented preliminary results from the survey of 30,000 households that were tested for the virus. The survey started in the last week of April and is scheduled to last eight weeks. Authorities hope it will reveal the true scale of the outbreak, help them monitor its dynamics and steer health policy.
Pollan said it has revealed deep regional differences, with the worst-hit areas showing a number of infections five times higher than in the least-affected parts of the country. She said no great difference in infection rates has been detected between age groups or sexes. Spain has recorded at least 27,000 COVID-19 deaths and almost 229,000 cases.
Italy has approved a massive package of tax cuts and financial aid to help citizens ranging from hotel and restaurant owners to working parents who are struggling with the economic devastation of the pandemic. The relief measures, aimed at reducing the damage to Italy’s economy, which was already stagnant before the COVID-19 outbreak, have been estimated to cost some 55 billion euros ($84 billion Cdn).
Under the package, parents would receive 1,200 euros ($1,830 Cdn) to pay for babysitting or for summer recreation centres, since schools have been shut since March and won’t reopen until September.
China reported seven new cases Wednesday, six of them in the northeastern province of Jilin where authorities have raised alert levels and suspended rail connections to a county where a cluster of unknown origin has been growing.
Authorities in Wuhan, the city where the pandemic began late last year, are preparing to test all 11 million residents for the virus. The effort was initiated after a new cluster was discovered, the first local infections the government has reported in Wuhan since before a lockdown was eased in early April.
China has reported a total of 4,633 deaths among 82,926 cases.
New Zealand dropped most of its lockdown restrictions at midnight Thursday as the South Pacific nation of five million prepared itself for a new normal.
The reopening reflects New Zealand’s success in its bold goal of eliminating the virus. The country reported no new cases of the virus on Tuesday and Wednesday. More than 1,400 of the nearly 1,500 people who contracted COVID-19 have recovered, while 21 have died.