Ontario and Quebec are among the provinces going ahead with plans to ease COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, despite concerns about their capacity for testing and tracking the spread of the virus that causes the contagious respiratory illness.
Health officials in Ontario on Saturday released data showing the province has added 412 cases, a number not as high as the 441 counted on Friday — the most on a single day since May 8 — but it’s still in line with an upward trend seen in the past week and a half.
Dr. Matthew Oughton, an infectious diseases expert and professor at McGill University, spoke to CBC News about the need for being prepared.
“We should be monitoring much more, even than what we currently are, and we should certainly have more capacity in our hospital system to absorb new cases than we do right now,” he said.
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“If we are lucky and everything goes smoothly, everyone would be thrilled with that. But if things don’t go smoothly, we need to have surplus capacity, not already be at capacity in hospitals. That’s really a setting for potential problems.”
Earlier in the week, the Quebec government began allowing people to gather outdoors in groups of up to 10, from a maximum of three households. There were 646 new cases of COVID-19 in the province on Friday and 65 more deaths.
Ontario, meanwhile, entered Stage 1 of its framework to reopen the economy on Tuesday, giving the green light for retail stores outside of shopping malls with street entrances to reopen with physical distancing measures. Golf courses, marinas and private parks were also allowed to reopen.
As of Saturday, labs across Canada have tested 1,429,000 people for COVID-19, with about five per cent of these testing positive, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said.
“We are now testing an average of 28,000 people daily,” Tam said in a statement.
As warmer weather draws more people outside, public health officers have been urging Canadians not to get complacent about safety. Deputy chief public health officer Dr. Howard Njoo says people should get outside for fresh air and exercise, but physical distancing is still recommended.
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Njoo says it is too early to know whether an uptick in cases in Ontario in the last few days is a sign of a second wave of infections or something else but says overall Canada has been good at flattening the curve.
As small businesses begin reopening, some are starting to add a COVID-19 surcharge. It’s there to help cover the cost of personal protective equipment, and for some, to make up for income lost from having to reduce the number of customers they serve.
Winnipeg hair salon owner Joanne Rempel opened three weeks ago and says masks and hand sanitizer are expensive. She has scaled down the workplace, cutting the number of sinks and stylist chairs. Rempel herself is doing without a salary because she is just trying to get all her stylists back to work and pay the rent.
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Non-medical masks increasingly look likely to be part of the country’s new normal, especially in places where physical distancing is largely impossible. In Winnipeg for example, unions appealed this past week for masks to be mandatory on buses.
The Ontario government is recommending, but not enforcing masks on public transit as the province’s economy gradually reopens. It says transit agencies should provide sanitizers in the vehicles, barriers between drivers and passengers, and physical distancing measures.
Health Minister Patty Hajdu said Friday her ministry has been working with provinces to make sure they have the materials needed to meet their testing goals, including swabs, reagents and people to do the work.
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“We see ourselves as building capacity for all the provinces and territories to test to their fullest need,” she told the House of Commons committee on government operations. Each province has its own testing strategy, and Ottawa must adapt its support to meet their individual needs, she said.
On the political front, negotiations are to continue this weekend among federal parties over how Parliament should function as the COVID-19 crisis drags on, along with lockdown measures introduced in March.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has said Parliament should reconvene on Monday for regular in-person sittings, arguing that the current practice of virtual meetings has run its course. He wants Parliament declared an essential service.
The House of Commons has been largely adjourned since mid-March. Fewer than three dozen MPs have been meeting in the Commons chamber once a week, and twice a week by videolink, giving more MPs a chance to participate without risk of spreading the novel coronavirus.
As of 6 p.m. ET on Saturday, Canada had 83,621 confirmed and presumptive coronavirus cases, with 43,318 of those considered resolved or recovered. A CBC News tally of deaths attributed to coronavirus based on provincial data, regional health information and CBC’s journalism stood at 6,447.
Federal public health officials have been encouraging people to stick with frequent handwashing, cough etiquette, physical distancing and staying home when sick. On Wednesday, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam added another recommendation, saying people should wear non-medical face masks in public when they aren’t sure they will be able to physically distance.
Here’s what’s happening in the provinces and territories
British Columbia’s Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Saturday that, for the first time in a long while, no new cases have been reported among residents of the province’s long-term care homes.
Days into B.C.’s transition into Phase 2 of re-opening, Henry noted the probability of new infections will go up as there are more gatherings — and that could be reflected in the number of cases early next week.
“Catching it early means we can respond, and make sure the chains of transmission are stopped,” she said. “The faster we can identify new cases, the faster we can respond to prevent spread.” Read more about what’s happening in B.C.
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In Alberta, Calgary and Brooks will join the rest of the province by allowing bars, restaurants, hair salons and barbershops to open on Monday, while more restrictions will be lifted across the province on June 1.
Premier Jason Kenney said Friday that the decision comes on the advice of the chief medical officer of health, though he warned that the virus is still a threat.
“While this is positive news for many, it doesn’t mean that we’re out of the woods yet,” said Kenney. Read more about what’s happening in Alberta.
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Saskatchewan said it will move to the next phase in its reopening on June 8. Bars and restaurants are among the businesses that will be allowed to reopen in Phase 3, though they will have to operate at reduced capacity and with physical distancing measures in place. Read more about what’s happening in Saskatchewan.
In Manitoba, two residential care homes run by the same company have been fined a total of more than $5,000 for violating public health orders in place to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the province.
The homes are run by the private home-care business Daughter on Call, which confirmed earlier this week that one of its employees tested positive for COVID-19 on May 10. Read more about what’s happening in Manitoba.
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Ontario reported 412 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday, continuing an upward trend and pushing the total number of cases in the province to more than 25,000 since the pandemic began.
Meanwhile, new testing regulations took effect on Saturday, with asymptomatic front-line health-care workers being tested across the province.
The province will also begin a second round of testing in long-term care homes, which have been hardest hit by COVID-19. As criticism mounts about the number of tests being done in Ontario, Premier Doug Ford appealed to anyone with symptoms on Friday to visit a COVID-19 assessment centre. Read more about what’s happeing in Ontario.
In Quebec, advocates say Montreal police have been unfairly ticketing homeless people and the support workers helping them and are calling for a moratorium on fines given to people living in the street.
New Brunswick reported no new coronavirus cases on Saturday. A case reported Wednesday in the Campbellton region remains active and is still under investigation. The total number of cases is 121 with 120 of those patients listed as recovered. No one with COVID-19 is in hospital. Read more about what’s happening in N.B.
Nova Scotia reported one new case on Saturday.
“New case numbers are staying low and we continue to head in the right direction. We can, and should, be proud of how we’ve fared,” said Dr. Robert Strang, chief medical officer of health, said in a press release sent out Saturday. Read more about what’s happening in N.S.
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Prince Edward Island moved into Phase 2 of reopening on Friday, and is now allowing retail stores to open their doors to the public with physical distancing measures. Read more about what’s happening on P.E.I.
Newfoundland and Labrador reported no new coronavirus cases on Saturday, marking 16 days without a new case. Read more about what’s happening in N.L., where the government has announced new measures to help businesses impacted by the pandemic.
There were no new cases of coronavirus reported in Yukon, the Northwest Territories or Nunavut on Thursday. Read more about what’s happening across the North.