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

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The latest:

With climbing cases of COVID-19 across Canada, health experts are struggling to trace the source of new infections — raising concerns that several provinces are lacking crucial information to curb a potential second wave this fall. 

B.C., Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec have all reported a bump in cases throughout September, and some have paused their reopening plans as a result. 

As of 10:45 a.m. ET on Thursday, Canada had 140,040 confirmed or presumptive coronavirus cases. Provinces and territories listed 122,449 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 9,235

Ontario has seen an average of 184 cases a day for the first 15 days of September, compared to 90 cases a day for the same period in August. This amounts to a 104 per cent increase in reported infections, month over month. On Thursday, the province recorded 293 new COVID-19 cases. 

WATCH | Alarms raised after COVID-19 cases close Ontario high school:

An Ottawa-area high school is the first in the province to shut down after three staff test positive for COVID-19, prompting concerns about cases in schools and how outbreaks are handled in schools. 2:02

As a result of the growing pandemic in Ontario, health officials have shut down a high school in the Ottawa Valley after a third staff member tested positive for COVID-19 — making it the first school in the province to close since the new school year began.

All in-person classes at Fellowes High School in Pembroke, Ont., were halted Wednesday after the latest case was linked to two previous ones, also involving staff members.

In an emailed statement to CBC News, Renfrew County District School Board spokesperson Jonathan Laderoute said the closure will remain in place until further notice.

“The decision was made shortly after a third case was confirmed earlier today that was linked to two previous cases,” the email reads. “The school will reopen only with public health approval.” 

Despite the school closure and an increasing caseload, health officials in Ontario say they can’t trace how roughly half of its latest COVID-19 cases got infected, even as Premier Doug Ford prepares fresh measures to try to slow the pace of spread.

A health-care worker walks along the lineup of people waiting outside a COVID-19 testing facility in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

To gain insights into the September surge of COVID-19 in Canada’s largest province, CBC News has analyzed Ontario’s data on active cases — those who have most recently tested positive for the virus and are either hospitalized or still considered to be infectious. 

Data suggests that many Ontarians are currently contracting COVID-19 through unmemorable interactions with others in the course of their daily lives. Experts are worried that failing to track the source of so many new infections will hamper efforts to rein in the spread of the virus. 

Those under 40 are driving the spread in most provinces. In Ontario, health officials have identified smaller, indoor gatherings as the culprit. Younger people may also be working in precarious jobs where their exposure is increased, or where sick days may not be readily available. 

“If we don’t understand how and where people are getting infected, it’s very hard to control this disease,” said Ashleigh Tuite, epidemiologist at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health. “It suggests that our contact tracing is not up to the level that we wanted it to be.”  

Meanwhile in Quebec, Dr. Matthew Oughton says cases in the province are “picking up speed” in terms of community spread and that the majority of cases are happening with a younger population.

The average number of cases Quebec has reported in the first 15 days of September has been around 204 per day, compared to 90 per day the province recorded for the same period in August.

“The major contributor seems to be not one huge outbreak … but seems to be much more community transmission based on small family and friend gatherings,” said Oughton.

WATCH | Concerns mount as COVID-19 cases increase in Quebec:

The rate of new COVID-19 cases in Quebec has more than tripled over the past month, and with cases appearing in schools and long-term care homes, the province is running out of options for how to police behaviour. 2:01 

Alberta is starting to see a caseload similar to that in Ontario and Quebec, which is concerning as the prairie province has a much lower population, said Dr. Stephanie Smith, an infectious disease expert at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. 

For the first 15 days of September in Alberta, the province has reported an average of 137 new cases of COVID-19 per day. That’s up from an average of 88 cases for that same period in August, meaning that cases have gone up by about 55 per cent in the last month.

The province is also facing widespread community transmission of COVID-19, rather than the disease appearing in a few specific hotspots, like a long-term care facility, said Smith.

While some of the increase in Alberta cases could be attributed to more testing in September, with upwards of 30,000 people tested per day, these jumps in case counts are still concerning, said Smith.


What’s happening around the rest of Canada

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says dealing with COVID-19 remains his government’s number one job.

Trudeau says Canadians deserve an ambitious plan for a healthier and safer Canada, a country that’s fair and inclusive and clean and competitive.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says dealing with COVID-19 remains his government’s number one job. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

He made his comments at the end of a two-and-a-half day cabinet retreat.

A COVID-19 testing site is opening up for Indigenous people in Toronto, just in time for the cold and flu season. 

“There’s not much trust for some Indigenous folks in our health-care system because of discriminatory practices or blatant racism,” said Steve Teekens, executive director of Na-Me-Res, an emergency shelter and housing organization.

“We have a vacant building here and one of our managers thought this would be a fabulous idea to offer it up as a COVID testing facility for Indigenous people,” Teekens said. 

Roughly 250 students have been sent home from John Pritchard School as the number of COVID-19 cases linked to it climbed to seven, Manitoba’s education minister said on Wednesday.

Students at the North Kildonan school in grades 6, 7 and 8, as well as those in a split Grade 4/5 class and the Henderson Early Learning Centre (the school’s before and after program), started remote learning on Wednesday, Kelvin Goertzen said at a news conference.

“Of course, we knew that there would be cases within the school system, and we wanted to ensure that there could be quick response when those cases arose,” Goertzen said.

Those students may continue learning from home for up to two weeks, the Winnipeg school said in a letter to parents on Tuesday.

Alberta’s health minister and chief medical officer of health have said they would support repealing a piece of legislation that gives the government power to make vaccines mandatory. 

The Public Health Act currently contains a section that allows the Lieutenant Governor in Council to order Albertans be immunized or re-immunized against a communicable disease in certain circumstances, like an epidemic. 

That power has never been used in the province’s history, nor can Dr. Deena Hinshaw imagine a scenario where it would be.

“I think if we have a piece of legislation that we’re unlikely to use, I’m not sure it provides much benefit,” she told the legislative review committee examining the act in August. “I would be comfortable with that particular piece of the legislation being removed.”


What’s happening around the world

According to Johns Hopkins University, the global total of confirmed coronavirus cases stands at more than 29.9 million. More than 941,000 people have died, while 20.3 million have recovered.

The emergencies chief of the World Health Organization (WHO) says scientific disagreements over COVID-19 interventions — like masks and vaccines — shouldn’t be treated as “some kind of political football,” but acknowledged that “it isn’t easy for everyone to be on message all the time.”

Asked to respond to the open disagreements between U.S. President Donald Trump and the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over the effectiveness of masks and when a coronavirus vaccine might be available, Dr. Michael Ryan said “it is important that we have consistent messaging from all levels.”

WATCH | WHO urges ‘consistent messaging’ on COVID-19:

‘This is complicated stuff,’ said Mike Ryan of the WHO’s health emergencies program, and needs communicating without turning the process into ‘political football.’ 0:53

“This is complicated stuff,” Ryan said at a news briefing on Thursday. “What is important is that governments [and] scientific institutions step back, review the evidence and give us the most comprehensive, easy-to-understand … information so that people can take the appropriate action.”

Authorities in Pakistan have closed as many as 22 schools across the country after detecting violation of physical distancing regulations amid a steady decline in COVID-19 cases.

The government action comes only two days after authorities allowed schools to reopen.

Thursday’s announcement by the military-backed command and control centre came after health officials alerted the government that students at some schools were violating distancing guidelines.

The number of new confirmed coronavirus infections have hit a record in the Czech Republic, surpassing 2,000 cases in one day for the first time.

A health worker collects a swab sample from a man for a coronavirus test at a public health centre in Hyderabad, India. (Noah Seelam/AFP/Getty Images)

The country’s health ministry said a total of 2,139 cases were registered on Wednesday, about 450 more than the previous number recorded a day earlier.

The ministry says 388 people are hospitalized with COVID-19, 55 more than the previous day, with 81 of them in serious condition.

India has confirmed another record jump in coronavirus cases, logging 97,894 cases in the past 24 hours.

Its health ministry said on Thursday the new cases raised the nation’s confirmed total to more than 5.1 million since the pandemic began. It said 1,132 more people died in the past 24 hours, for a total of 83,198.

At the current rate of infection, India is expected within weeks to surpass the 6.6 million reported cases in the United States, currently the country with the most reported infections.

The number of people in the United States applying for unemployment benefits fell last week to 860,000, a historically high figure that reflects economic damage from the coronavirus outbreak.

Airline industry workers hold signs during a protest in Federal Plaza in Chicago. (AFP via Getty Images)

Before the pandemic hit the economy, the number signing up for jobless aid had never exceeded 700,000 in a week, even during the depths of the 2007-2009 Great Recession. Now they’ve topped 700,000 for 26 straight weeks.

The Labour Department said Thursday that U.S. jobless claims fell by 33,000 from the previous week and that 12.6 million are collecting traditional unemployment benefits, compared with just 1.7 million a year ago.



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