Coronavirus: What’s happening in Canada and around the world Thursday

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The latest:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced a new assistance program meant to help businesses offset monthly rent.

The Canadian Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance program will help small businesses offset rent in April, May and June, Trudeau said during his daily COVID-19 address. Ottawa will work with provinces to roll out the program, as it falls under provincial jurisdiction. 

The announcement was made in conjunction with plans to loosen eligibility requirements to the Canadian Emergency Business Account (CEBA), in order to aid more small- and medium-sized businesses struggling with the fallout of the pandemic, and on the day the number of COVID-19 cases across the country exceeded 30,000.

CEBA will now cover businesses who spent between $20,000 and $1.5 million on payroll last year, Trudeau said. Previously, the threshold for businesses was a minimum payroll of $50,000 and a maximum of $1 million.

Trudeau spoke Thursday evening with premiers about how to boost pay for critical support workers in long-term care homes. He tweeted following the phone call, but gave no details of the discussion. 

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair received a request from Quebec last night, he said, asking for government to send both doctors and members of the Canadian Armed Forces to help.

“It is impossible to imagine the anguish that families, and indeed our elders, are going through in this situation,” Trudeau said. “There is just so much fear, so much uncertainty. We need to do a better job of being there for them.”

WATCH | Trudeau talks about Quebec’s request for military help:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with reporters on Thursday. 0:47

In a later question-and-answer period, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said the government is “urgently” looking at that request, but doesn’t yet have details on what aid could be sent.  

Trudeau had said Wednesday he would talk to provincial and territorial leaders about raising pay for essential workers making less than $2,500 a month. Quebec, where several long-term care homes are struggling with COVID-19 outbreaks, has already said it will increase pay for eligible workers.

Ontario announced more testing and infection control measures, as well as an emergency order that prevents long-term care staff from working at multiple facilities — though the provincial opposition said the order had a loophole around workers from temp agencies. Health-care worker unions have long raised the issue, saying staff often work at multiple facilities because they’re unable to get full-time positions.

“This is a temporary measure to allow for the reduction of the spread of COVID-19,” Long-Term Care Minister Merrilee Fullerton said.

The announcement came the same day news broke that a second health-care worker has died of COVID-19 in Ontario. The woman, in her 50s, worked at Altamont Care Community, a long-term care home in Scarborough Ontario. Last week, a 58-year-old health-care worker at Brampton Civic Hospital died of complications linked to COVID-19.

The province also announced a change to how it is tabulating data from its testing. Public health officials are now counting how many samples are being tested, rather than how many people. That means some of the 9,001 tests cited so far in the province could have come from the existing testing backlog or from hospitalized patients, from whom a minimum of two samples are collected and processed by labs.

Cautious optimism — and a reminder to stay vigilant

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, has previously said around half of Canada’s COVID-19-related deaths are linked to long-term care. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but seniors and people with underlying health issues face a higher risk of severe disease and death.

On Thursday, Tam restated her belief that the epidemic appears to be slowing, but Canadians now need to “double-down” on social distancing to prevent outbreaks in high-risk settings. Alongside long-term care homes and seniors’ residences, those experiencing homelessness and precarious housing are at particular risk, Tam said. If there is not immediate action, she said, there will be broader outbreaks and avoidable deaths.

“If the measure of a society is in how it cares for its most vulnerable, this pandemic has revealed the chink in our armour,” Tam said.

Despite President Donald Trump’s statement Wednesday that he would consider relaxing border restrictions at the Canada-U.S. border, Trudeau said Thursday that those restrictions will likely stand “for a good while to come.” 

Those restrictions were initially put in place on March 21, and are due to be reviewed on April 19. 

WATCH | ‘Significant amount of time still’ before looser border restrictions, Trudeau says: 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says there’s a “significant amount of time still” to go before Canada can consider loosening travel restrictions at the U.S.-Canada border, despite President Donald Trump saying they could ease soon. 2:26

Trudeau defends WHO

G7 leaders held a video teleconference Thursday and agreed the development of a vaccine will be crucial to stop the spread of the coronavirus, a British statement said following the virtual summit.

The White House said that the leaders also called for a review and reform process at the World Health Organization (WHO) and agreed to ensure a co-ordinated global approach to the pandemic. Earlier this week, Trump cut funding to WHO amid accusations it is too cozy with China, while other countries including Canada have defended the UN agency as vital to fighting the pandemic.

The prime minister defended WHO after the G7 meeting.

“I think we all recognized on the call how important it is to continue to co-ordinate and collaborate the science around the pandemic, to work on public health measures around the world, to share information around vaccine development, around treatments that can work,” Trudeau said.

“There is a need for international co-ordination and the WHO is an important part of that collaboration and co-ordination.”

That includes supporting international efforts “to develop a vaccine, expand treatment, expand testing and ensure the critical medical supplies get to the front lines,” he added.

As of 7 p.m. ET on Thursday, Canada had 30,106 presumptive and confirmed COVID-19 cases. Provinces and territories that provide data on recovered cases listed 9,742 as resolved or recovered.

A CBC News tally of COVID-19-related deaths based on provincial and regional public health data, as well as CBC’s reporting, stood at 1,273. There have also been two reported coronavirus-related deaths of Canadians abroad.

WATCH | How do you predict who will be hit hard by COVID-19?

Researchers can’t yet say who will be hardest hit by the coronavirus, says infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch, but a person’s immune system is key. 5:03

Read on to see what’s happening across Canada, in the U.S. and around the world.

Here’s what’s happening in the provinces and territories

In British Columbia, Correctional Service Canada has confirmed an inmate from the Mission Institution has died of COVID-19-related complications. It is the first death related to COVID-19 among federally sentenced inmates.  Read more about what’s happening in B.C.

In Alberta, there are at least 12 cases of COVID-19 linked to the Kearl Lake oilsands facility north of Fort McMurray. The site is jointly owned between Imperial and ExxonMobil Canada. “We are taking this situation very seriously,” Simon Younger, vice-president of production for Imperial, told CBC News. “We have completed contact tracing for all of these individuals and have asked additional members of our workforce to self-isolate while further testing is underway.” Read more about what’s happening in Alberta, including the latest coronavirus case numbers. 

Saskatchewan’s premier said it isn’t likely schools in that province will reopen this academic year. Scott Moe also said the province’s state of emergency will be in place at least another two weeks. Read more about what’s happening in Saskatchewan.

WATCH | What happens after Canadians flatten the curve:

The curve for COVID-19 cases in Canada is starting to flatten, but before cases see a major decrease in the number of deaths that number will continue to rise. 2:02

Manitoba is looking at expanding its testing. The province currently tests only symptomatic people in certain higher-risk categories, including health-care workers, recent travellers and known contacts of those with COVID-19. “To be frank, though, the opening of our economy is vital, and so this is an issue of importance and discussion that we’re undertaking right now,” Premier Brian Pallister said Thursday. People from remote communities, long-term care centres, jails and shelters also are being tested, as well as patients hospitalized for respiratory symptoms.  Read more about what’s happening in Manitoba.

Despite an emergency order prohibiting employees in Ontario from working at multiple long-term care facilities, a loophole allows temporary workers to do just that. That order was passed after it became clear that outbreaks were linked to employees working at more than one site. Read more about what’s happening in Ontario.

A 44-year-old Quebec doctor has died from complications of COVID-19, the province’s public health director said on Thursday. That doctor, who had not been treating patients, is the first doctor in Quebec to die from the disease. Read more about what’s happening in Quebec, which has also seen large-scale outbreaks in long-term care facilities.

New Brunswick has extended its state of emergency for another 14 days. The province reported no new COVID-19 cases Thursday, but officials said it is not the time to loosen restrictions. “This is good news, but we must not lose focus,” chief medical officer Dr. Jennifer Russell told reporters during the daily update in Fredericton. Read more about what’s happening in N.B.

Long-term care homes in Nova Scotia are planning for how they would handle an increase in COVID-19 cases, with some setting up isolation units for coronavirus cases. Read more about what’s happening in N.S.

P.E.I. declared a state of emergency on Thursday and renewed their state of public health emergency for an additional 30 days. Under the measures, anyone travelling to the province will need to disclose the purposes of their travel to determine if it is essential or not. Read more about what’s happening in P.E.I. 

Newfoundland and Labrador is expanding its testing criteria for COVID-19. Read more about what’s happening in N.L., including why the premier says the province urgently needs more financial support.

COVID-19 testing guidelines are being expanded in the Northwest Territories, meaning people with milder symptoms will be able to get a test. Read more about what’s happening across Canada’s North.

Here’s a look at what’s happening in the U.S.

From Reuters and The Associated Press, updated at 5:30 p.m. ET

New White House guidelines outline a phased approach to restoring normal commerce and services, but only for places with strong testing and decreasing COVID-19 cases.

Trump unveiled his administration’s plans to ease social distancing requirements on a call Thursday with the nation’s governors. The new guidelines are aimed at clearing the way for an easing of restrictions in areas with low transmission of the coronavirus, while keeping them in place in harder-hit locations.

Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world Thursday
U.S. President Donald Trump issued guidelines Thursday to reopening the U.S. economy. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Places with declining infections and strong testing would begin a three-phase gradual reopening of businesses and schools.

In phase one, for instance, the plan recommends strict physical distancing for all people in public. Gatherings larger than 10 people are to be avoided and nonessential travel is discouraged.

In phase two, people are encouraged to maximize distancing where possible and limit gatherings to no more than 50 people unless precautionary measures are taken. Travel could resume.

Phase three envisions a return to normalcy for most Americans, with a focus on identification and isolation of any new infections.

WATCH | Trump leaves it to states to decide when to reopen:

U.S. president says administration will provide guidance despite lack of widespread COVID-19 testing 1:16

Governors of both parties made clear they will move at their own pace. An audio recording of the conference call obtained by The Associated Press has the president telling the governors, “You’re going to call your own shots,” while his administration will be “standing alongside of you.” 

The comments came after a week in which he clashed with governors over his claim that he has “total” authority over how and when the country reopens.

Governors, for their part, have been moving ahead with their own plans for how to safely revive normal activity. Seven Midwestern governors announced Thursday they will co-ordinate on reopening their economies. Similar pacts were announced earlier in the week in the west and northeast.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday extended an order closing businesses and schools by two weeks, until at least May 15, in co-ordination with other states in the region.

The number of people hospitalized for the novel coronavirus and related deaths in New York fell to their lowest levels in more than a week, adding to evidence that the hardest-hit state was controlling its spread, Cuomo said. 

A total of 17,735 people were hospitalized across the state — the lowest total since April 6 — while 606 people died from the virus on Wednesday.

WATCH | The race for a COVID-19 vaccine:

There are at least 70 research teams around the world, including in Canada, racing to develop a COVID-19 vaccine in a year, something that has never been done before. 1:58

The overall U.S. death toll in the global pandemic is approaching 32,000, with more than 654,000 cases nationwide, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

The country is grappling with the challenge of ramping up contact tracing. Experts have said it could require new public health employees numbering in the six figures, and potential measures could include employing Peace Corps members or students studying in related fields.

The U.S. is also struggling to contain transmission in long-term care homes. New Jersey is reported to have at least one COVID-19 case in nearly every nursing home in the state. At one facility alone in northern New Jersey, more than 100 residents and staff members have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, the New York Times reported.

Here’s a look at what’s happening around the world:

From Reuters and The Associated Press, updated at 3 p.m. ET

More than one million COVID-19 tests will be rolled out starting next week in Africa to address the “big gap” in assessing the true number of cases on the continent, the head of the African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday, while one projection estimates more than 10 million severe cases of the virus in the next six months.

“Maybe 15 million tests” will be required in Africa over the next three months, John Nkengasong said.

WATCH | Some good news from around the world on Thursday:

With much of the world struggling through the COVID-19 pandemic, there are still some good-news stories to report. Here’s a brief roundup. 2:18

Experts have said Africa is weeks behind Europe and the U.S., but the rise in cases has looked alarmingly similar.

The concern about how the outbreak will unfold in Africa comes as some European countries consider easing restrictions. WHO said countries that ease restrictions should wait at least two weeks to evaluate the impact, as some European countries including Spain and Austria have begun small-scale steps to reduce severe lockdowns.

Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world Thursday
Health-care workers put protective suits on before testing employees and residents for COVID-19 at the Hospital Sant Miquel care home for the elderly in Barcelona on Wednesday. (Lluis Gene/AFP/Getty Images)

In France, the overall death toll from the disease has risen to 17,167, including 10,643 at hospitals and 6,524 in nursing homes. National health agency chief Jerome Salomon says there were about 500 fewer people infected with the virus at hospitals than the day before, marking the first such decrease since the outbreak began.

Britain extended its nationwide lockdown for at least another three weeks on Thursday, as stand-in leader Dominic Raab ordered Britons to stay at home to prevent the spread of an outbreak that has already claimed more than 138,000 lives globally. The U.K. has the fifth-highest official death toll from COVID-19 in the world, after the United States, Italy, Spain and France, though the figure only covers hospital fatalities and the real number is probably much higher.

Spain said on Thursday the overall number of COVID-19 fatalities rose to 19,130, even as figures from Catalonia indicated the real total could be several thousand more. Catalonia’s health department announced late on Wednesday its tally of deaths had nearly doubled after they began including data from funerary services on suspected and confirmed coronavirus deaths in nursing homes and private homes. Until now, the Catalan health department was only reporting coronavirus deaths in hospitals and those confirmed by tests.

New Zealand reported just 15 new cases of coronavirus on Thursday as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern began outlining what restrictions imposed during a strict four-week lockdown might be eased from next Wednesday. New Zealand has reported 1,401 cases of COVID-19 and nine deaths.

Lawmakers will make a final decision on Monday on whether to proceed with easing the restrictions. Under Ardern’s plan, primary schools would reopen but attendance would be voluntary, and some businesses could reopen, including drive-thru and delivery restaurants. Malls and retail stores would remain closed and large gatherings banned.

Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world Thursday
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern uses hand sanitizer while arriving with health director Dr. Ashley Bloomfield for an update on COVID-19. Under the country’s COVID-19 Alert Level Four measures, all non-essential businesses are closed, including bars, restaurants, cinemas and playgrounds. (Mark Mitchell/Getty Images)

South Korea has confirmed 22 more cases of the coronavirus over the past 24 hours, raising the country’s total tally to 10,613 with 229 deaths. The new cases recorded Thursday mean that South Korea’s daily increase in virus infections has been below 30 for the fourth consecutive day. The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says in a statement that 7,757 people have recovered and been released from quarantine.

Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe announced a state of emergency in the country that will take effect Friday and last until at least May 6, the end of Japan’s “golden week” holidays. He said the nationwide state of emergency is aimed at stopping cross-border movement of people and achieving as much as an 80 per cent reduction in social contact “to overcome this national crisis in an all-out national effort.”

Abe’s previous state of emergency declaration on April 7 only covered Tokyo and six other prefectures deemed at highest risk of infection. He initially issued a stay-home request only to the people in those areas, though later expanded the measure to the rest of the country.

Singapore has reported a record 447 new coronavirus cases, it’s third straight day of sharp daily spikes, to raise its tally to 3,699. The number of infections has jumped by 1,167 since Monday, mostly linked to crowded dormitories that house foreign workers from Bangladesh, India and other poorer Asian countries.

Despite successfully managing the first wave of infections, Singapore has overlooked this vast population of foreign workers who live in dormitories that typically house up to 20 men in a room with shared kitchen, toilets and other facilities. Tens of thousands of workers have been quarantined in their dormitories, while some were moved to alternative sites to reduce crowding.

WATCH | See what experts had to say to your questions about COVID-19 in a CBC News virtual town hall:

CBC News held a virtual town hall Wednesday evening to address some of the questions and concerns on the minds of Canadians across the country. 1:19:45

China reported 46 new virus cases on Thursday, 34 of them brought from outside the country, but no new deaths from the outbreak. Of the domestic cases, three were recorded in the capital Beijing, which has been enforcing strict quarantine and physical distancing measures. Four others were reported in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang, where authorities have been rushing to stem a new flare-up among Chinese citizens crossing the border from Russia.

China has now reported a total of 3,342 deaths from the virus among 82,341 cases, though it has faced questions about how it counts and reports cases.  Around 3,000 people remain hospitalized with COVID-19 or under isolation and monitoring for showing signs of the illness or testing positive but not displaying symptoms.

Mexico’s government on Thursday said its health experts have recommended the country extend its current anti-coronavirus measures until May 30. But Deputy Health Minister Hugo Lopez-Gatell said restrictions could be eased in some parts of the country where there are no coronavirus cases or very few incidents of transmissions by May 17.

Haiti has decided to reopen its key textile industry next week, suggesting the country had escaped the worst of the pandemic by imposing a state of emergency early on.

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