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

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The latest:

As coronavirus infections continue to climb across the country, the president of the Public Health Agency of Canada is quitting only 18 months into the job, leaving the federal agency tasked with co-ordinating the COVID-19 response without a leader.

Tina Namiesniowski said she needs to “step aside so someone else can step up,” in a letter to staff on Friday. 

“While responding to this crisis, we’ve done many things since then to add capacity, improve processes, take on new roles and really build up the competence that had diminished in recent years. All of this work has taken a personal toll on so many people … I put myself in that category.” 

Health Canada says a new president could be named as early as next week.

Public Health Agency of Canada president Tina Namiesniowski, left, appears at a Commons health committee hearing in January 2020, along with Chief Public Officer of Health Dr. Theresa Tam. Namiesniowski quit on Friday. (House of Commons/CPAC)

A group of students living off-campus in London, Ont., who came together and engaged in high-risk behaviour, is being blamed for triggering a COVID-19 outbreak that has raised to 28 the number of positive tests among Western University students.

After months of case counts that put London among the lowest areas for coronavirus transmission in Ontario, the local health unit is now dealing with a troubling outbreak. According to the Middlesex-London Health Unit, the new cases originated with a group of 15 young people, including 11 who lived in three different student houses. 

They came together and mixed with others in bars and at parties over a five-day stretch starting Sept. 8. During these get-togethers, they took part in behaviour that showed little regard for rules in place to curb the spread of the deadly virus. 

Similarly, Alberta has identified its first likely case of COVID-19 transmission within a school, the province’s chief medical officer of health said Friday.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw said a second case at Edmonton’s Waverley School was likely transmitted from another individual at the school who has tested positive.

Waverley School is a public elementary school in the Kenilworth neighbourhood in southeast Edmonton. Last year it had about 170 students.

WATCH | Alberta identifies first likely case of COVID-19 transmission within school: 

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, told a news conference Friday there had likely been the first instance of COVID-19 transmission within a school in Edmonton. 1:57

Edmonton Public Schools said about 12 students from a combined Grade 1/2 class and seven staff members will isolate at home for 14 days, monitor for symptoms and be tested.

In Ontario, “social circles” allow you to see up to 10 people without the usual pandemic precautions as long as everyone in a circle agrees to socialize only with each other. However, there have been reports of people flouting these rules. 

The province reported 401 confirmed cases on Friday, as Premier Doug Ford said walk-in testing for COVID-19 at pharmacies could be available as early as next week.

“We have the pharmacies coming onboard and ramping up. Hopefully by this time next week, we’ll have numerous pharmacies out there, helping out the system,” Ford said.

WATCH | Ontario limits gathering sizes in COVID-19 hot spots:

Ontario has reduced the number of people who can attend some indoor and outdoor gatherings in Toronto, Peel Region and Ottawa, which have all seen surges in COVID-19 cases. The province also announced a minimum fine of $10,000 for organizers who break the rules. 2:06

In British Columbia, the guidelines for a “bubble” are a little looser. Officials say the members of your immediate household can be “carefully expanded” to include outsiders, with the goal of limiting the number as much as possible — since these are people you’re allowed to kiss, hug, chat with and dine with, without masks or distancing. While in Alberta, the cap for your “cohort” is your household plus up to 15 other people.

Moviegoers wear masks as they sit physically distanced from one another at the Rio Theatre in Vancouver. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

Meanwhile in Saskatchewan, a $2,000 fine has been issued to the organizer of a “large social gathering” in a Saskatoon home that led to at least 21 COVID-19 cases, the province’s health ministry said.

About 47 people attended the private gathering, according to a Thursday news release from the ministry. Provincial rules limit gatherings to 30 people, provided there is enough space to maintain a two-metre separation between individuals who are not in the same household.

With infections rising in many communities, kids back in schools and more people returning to work, many public health experts agree that while social bubbles worked as a safe approach in the early days of the lockdown, it now comes with more risk.

“I honestly think with the return to school right now, most people’s bubbles have burst,” says epidemiologist Ashleigh Tuite. “You’re talking about large numbers of connections.”

WATCH | Quebec plans major policing blitz to curb COVID-19:

Quebec’s various security forces will visit hundreds of establishments this weekend to enforce public health measures meant to limit the spread of the coronavirus. 2:04

Ottawa is officially experiencing a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the city’s medical officer of health.

“It’s the speed of the increase that concerns us. We can’t sustain a rapid rise in cases,” Dr. Vera Etches said in news conference Friday.

Etches said the virus is spreading because of people’s actions with close contacts, families and gatherings.

As of 11 a.m. ET on Friday, Canada had 141,565 confirmed or presumptive coronavirus cases. Provinces and territories listed 123,251 of those as recovered or resolved. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC’s reporting stood at 9,240.

The gold standard swab of the nose or throat for testing can be uncomfortable. In contrast, a key promise of saliva tests is that people could collect saliva themselves so that fewer nurses and other health professionals would be needed at assessment centres, as staffing is one of the factors that can drive up wait times.

WATCH | Let this drone show you how long the line is at an Ottawa COVID-19 test site:

This drone video, provided by Emil Mihov, shows people lining up to be tested for COVID-19 at Ottawa’s Moodie Drive assessment centre on Wednesday. On Thursday, the site had reached capacity by about 11 a.m. 2:31

But that ideal won’t happen immediately. Currently in Canada, both saliva collection and testing remain a research project that regulators are closely evaluating. 

There are three main barriers to overcome before saliva tests roll out widely. 

Gobs of saliva vary in how fluid they can be, so collecting a high-quality sample can be a challenge even for something as non-invasive as spitting into a cup. The next hurdle for scientists is to get accurate and consistent results on the presence of the virus. Finally, clinicians need to determine how well the test results help them to correctly identify those with the disease. 

Health Minister Patty Hajdu said on Wednesday that Health Canada will not approve a test that endangers Canadians’ health because they are inaccurate or offer a false sense of security.

In Canada, the mobile Spartan Cube was recalled because of reliability problems with its swab for the lab-in-a-box PCR test (also known as a polymerase chain reaction test) that was billed as providing results in less than an hour. In the United States, wide-scale problems early on with another PCR test developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hampered containment efforts.


What’s happening around the rest of Canada

More than six months into the global pandemic, the Liberal government is being accused of failing to meet the needs of Canadians with disabilities who number among those hardest-hit by the public health crisis.

Marie-Claude Landry, chief commissioner of the Canada Human Rights Commission, said COVID-19 has “expanded the circle of vulnerability” in Canada — but people with disabilities still aren’t getting the support they need.

WATCH | Getting tested before a party ‘is not going to help you,’ medical officer of health says:

Vera Etches, Ottawa’s medical officer of health, says testing should prioritize those who have symptoms or have been exposed to a positive case of COVID-19. 0:47

“We urge the government to immediately address the unmet financial needs of people with disabilities in an equitable way,” she said in a media statement.

The federal government has promised a one-time $600 emergency benefit for Canadians with disabilities, but that money has not yet been spent.

Landry said people with disabilities faced barriers before COVID-19 and the pandemic has only made their plight worse.

As the pandemic continues to leave people unemployed, some renters fear they’ll be living on the streets as provinces lift protections for renters and the Canada emergency response benefit comes to an end next month.

“I think a lot of people are going to end up homeless or they’re going to be precariously housed,” said Danielle Sabelli, a lawyer with the Community Legal Assistance Society in British Columbia.

She said she wants governments to reinstate moratoriums on evictions and rent increases, and to allow rent forgiveness.

Prairie Mountain Health region will be lowered from orange to the yellow caution level under Manitoba’s colour-coded pandemic response system, starting Friday, health officials say.

Masks will still be strongly recommended in public places in that region, but will no longer be required, Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said at a news conference on Thursday.

Gathering sizes will be bumped back up to 50 indoors and 100 outdoors, the same as the rest of the province’s health regions.

“Manitobans in [the] Prairie Mountain Health region really stepped up in August and until now to really flatten that curve,” Roussin said.

Canadians yearning to travel abroad — despite the COVID-19 pandemic — can now get medical insurance to cover costs if they get sick with the coronavirus while travelling. 

In March, when the virus began its global spread and Canada advised against non-essential travel abroad, travel insurance providers stopped selling COVID-19 medical coverage.

WATCH | Alberta moves away from widespread asymptomatic testing:

Calgary microbiologist Craig Jenne explains why Alberta is now going to focus more on patients who show symptoms of COVID-19 or are in a high-risk category. 0:58

Now, several insurance providers have resumed offering the coverage along with their regular travel insurance plans. 

Air Canada, WestJet, Sunwing and travel agency Flight Centre have also joined in, offering free COVID-19 medical coverage to passengers booking certain international flights and vacation packages. 

A passenger wheels his luggage through Pearson International Airport in Toronto. Several insurance providers have resumed offering COVID-19 coverage, though Canadians are still advised to avoid international travel. (Cole Burston/Getty Images)


What’s happening around the world

According to Johns Hopkins University, the global total of confirmed coronavirus cases stands at more than 30.2 million. More than 946,000 people have died, while 20.5 million have recovered.

However, despite the increase in cases, the World Health Organization (WHO) says much more is known now than at the beginning of the pandemic.

WATCH | Insights gained months into the pandemic, according to WHO’s Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove:

Despite ‘worrying trends,’ the World Health Organization’s Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove says much more is known now than at the beginning of the pandemic, and the world should already be thinking about the next one. 3:02

On Friday, Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove pointed out that in order to break chains of transmission, people need to continue to isolate and quarantine themselves.

She urged countries that have the influenza vaccine available to utilize it as “circulation of other respiratory pathogens will complicate” matters.

In Guatemala, president Alejandro Giammattei announced he tested positive for the coronavirus on Friday, just as the central American country reopened its border and international airport for the first time since mid-March.

“The coronavirus test result was positive,” Giammattei told a local radio station, adding that he had been tested six times during the pandemic.

Guatamalan president Alejandro Giammattei, seen here in 2018, announced on Friday that he had tested positive for the coronavirus. (Oliver de Ros/The Associated Press)

Three days ago, the 64-year-old president removed his face mask to deliver an Independence Day speech in Congress.

He did not say if he was experiencing any symptoms from the virus.

Only a few other world leaders have had confirmed coronavirus cases, including Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. The president of neighbouring Honduras came down with the illness earlier in the pandemic.

Guatemala has so far recorded 84,344 coronavirus infections and 3,076 deaths.

In the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he wants to “avoid another lockdown” despite saying a second wave is now hitting the country.

“There is no question … that we are now seeing a second wave coming in,” Johnson said, noting that the country has prohibited gatherings of more than six people.

Fresh restrictions on social gatherings in England — potentially involving limiting pub opening hours — appear likely to happen soon as the British government seeks to suppress a sharp spike in new coronavirus infections.

WATCH | Second wave hitting U.K., Boris Johnson says:

Despite saying a second wave of the coronavirus is now hitting the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he wants to avoid another national lockdown. 1:20

British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Friday that the country has to “come together” over the coming weeks to get on top of the spike, which he noted is leading to a doubling in the number of people being hospitalized with the virus every seven to eight days.

“We want to avoid a national lockdown altogether, that is the last line of defence,” he told BBC radio. “It is not the proposal that’s on the table.”

The metropolitan government in South Korea’s capital Seoul said on Friday it would seek 4.6 billion won ($5.2 million Cdn) in damages against a church for causing the spread of the coronavirus by disrupting tracing and testing efforts.

A fresh wave of infections erupted at a church whose members attended a large protest in downtown Seoul in mid-August, becoming the country’s largest cluster in the greater capital area. The outbreak has driven triple-digit increases in daily COVID-19 cases for more than a month.

People walk past an electronic sign displaying health advice about COVID-19 in Bolton, England. Fears about rising infection rates across the U.K. have forced the government to impose tighter lockdown restrictions, particularly in the north of England. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

The Seoul city government said it will file a lawsuit against the Sarang Jeil Church and its leader, Rev. Jun Kwang-hoon, accusing them of disrupting coronavirus tests and providing inaccurate lists of its members, which the government said aggravated the latest epidemic.

“The city is seeking to hold the church and the pastor responsible for contributing to the nationwide re-spread of COVID-19 by refusing and hindering epidemiological surveys or aiding and abetting such acts, as well as submitting false materials,” it said in a statement.

People wait in queues to get a COVID-19 test at a Northcote testing facility in Auckland, New Zealand. (Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

New Zealand has reported no new confirmed cases of the coronavirus for the first time in more than five weeks, as hopes rise that an outbreak discovered in Auckland last month has been stamped out.

Friday’s report also marked the fourth consecutive day without any cases of community transmission. All recent cases have been found among quarantined travelers returning from abroad.

China says imported coronavirus cases climbed to 32 over the previous 24 hours.

Thirteen of the cases reported Friday were in the northern province of Shaanxi, whose capital, Xi’an, is a major industrial centre. The eastern financial and business hub of Shanghai reported 12.

China has gone more than a month without reporting any cases of locally transmitted coronavirus cases within its borders.

But it remains highly vigilant for cases brought in from outside the country. It has suspended issuing new visas and anyone arriving from abroad is required to undergo a two-week quarantine.

WATCH | Israel enters second lockdown as COVID-19 surges:

Freelance reporter Irris Makler reports on the anger and confusion over the lockdown, which begins as Israelis mark the Jewish New Year. 3:54



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