Canadian officials acknowledged some regions of the country could be closer to reopening parts of the economy than others, but continued to stress a careful approach as the border closure with the hard-hit United States was extended for another 30 days during the COVID-19 crisis.
“Let us be very clear, while we want to be optimistic, we need to be absolutely cautious,” Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos said Saturday.
Sobering reminders of the need for patience were heard throughout the day as case numbers continued to climb in Canadian nursing homes and prisons.
At Residence Herron, the suburban Montreal long-term care home where 31 people died from COVID-19 in less than one month, 61 of 99 residents have now tested positive for the virus, according to a regional health authority spokesperson.
Canadian Armed Forces members with medical expertise headed to long-term care homes in Quebec after Premier François Legault asked the federal government for assistance.
Meanwhile, alarms were raised about an outbreak at a federal women’s prison northeast of Montreal where 60 per cent of inmates have been infected, according to the Elizabeth Fry Society. The organization reported 50 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Joliette Institution, up from 10 on April 7, and other women’s institutions in Ontario and British Columbia also reported cases.
Trump, Trudeau strike different tones
Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed the extension for the closure restricting non-essential travel across the border, which began on March 21 and was set to expire on Tuesday.
“This is an important decision and one that will keep people on both sides of the border safe,” Trudeau said.
U.S. President Donald Trump said earlier this week that the border could open soon, but Trudeau and other Canadian political leaders did not strike the same tone in comments.
WATCH | Trudeau announces extension of U.S. border restrictions:
The U.S. has the most COVID-19 cases in the world, with more than 700,000 positive tests. Canada has more than 33,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 1,500 deaths.
Despite continuing grim news, glimmers of hope emerged this week as provinces and cities reported slower growth of the virus, and officials began discussing moves toward a “new normal.”
On Saturday, Trudeau repeated the need for caution and reminded Canadians to continue with physical distancing measures
“If we open too quickly, too soon or in the wrong way, we could find ourselves back in this situation a couple of months from now and everything we will have sacrificed during these months will have been for naught,” Trudeau said.
He said discussions with the premiers have found consensus on the need to co-ordinate how the country moves forward, but acknowledged that different provinces and municipalities are at different stages of the pandemic battle and may be able to relax measures sooner.
“The situation is very different right across the country from one region to the next and the measures that they will be able to move forward with at various moments will vary as well,” Trudeau said. “That’s going to be an important part of the recovery here.”
No defining guidelines on lifting restrictions
Trudeau’s messages of collaboration among provinces contrasted with the situation in the U.S. As protests formed against mandatory closures this week, Trump, on Twitter, urged supporters to “liberate” three states led by Democratic governors.
Trudeau’s government has so far held off on defining guidelines for provinces looking to lift restrictions, as Trump did for U.S. governors earlier this week.
At a Saturday news conference with cabinet ministers, Duclos said easing of measures will depend on factors like where the disease curve is heading, the number of deaths, equipment supply and space in intensive care units.
Meanwhile, Trudeau continued to stress he does not think it is a good idea for the House of Commons to resume business as usual Monday — with all 338 MPs, along with their staff, clerks, interpreters, security and cleaners.
CBC News has learned the Trudeau government made a new offer to opposition parties late Saturday afternoon to restart Parliament on Wednesday and compress five days of question period into two during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer is demanding up to four in-person sittings each week, with fewer than 50 MPs in the chamber, to hold the government to account for its response to the health crisis and the resulting economic disaster.
Trudeau also announced Saturday the government is providing $306 million to help Indigenous companies.
Here’s a look at what’s happening in the provinces and territories
British Columbia’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, said Saturday three more people died of the virus, all from long-term care facilities. The announcement came a day after Henry and other health officials released modelling data showing B.C. is flattening the COVID-19 curve to the point where plans are underway to loosen some provincial restrictions. Nevertheless, Henry is saying no to large summer events that are often the highlight of the season, such as the Pacific National Exhibition and Vancouver’s Pride parade. Read more about what’s happening in B.C.
Alberta reported one new death and 165 new cases on Saturday. Chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw partially attributed the recent rise in cases to a spike in testing. Read more about what’s happening in Alberta.
Saskatchewan reported six new deaths in a Saturday briefing. Read more about what’s happening in Saskatchewan.
Manitoba reported three new cases on Saturday. Meanwhile, paramedics in rural parts of Manitoba say they’re not getting the same personal protective equipment as health-care workers in the bigger cities, putting them at higher risk of contracting COVID-19. Read more about what’s happening in Manitoba, including an analysis of how the provincial government is handling the outbreak.
In Ontario, Toronto Mayor John Tory met with city officials Saturday to discuss how and when businesses and municipal services can reopen. No clear timeline was announced. Ontario’s current set of emergency measures last until May 11. Read more about what’s happening in Ontario, where 485 new cases were reported Saturday, bringing the provincial total to 10,010.
In Quebec, Canadian Armed Forces members with medical training are arriving to help in the province’s long-term care homes. About 125 nursing officers, medical technicians and support personnel have been sent to help after Quebec asked Ottawa for assistance earlier this week.
Meanwhile, Premier Legault said he took “full responsibility” for the “deteriorating” situation in the province’s long-term care homes. Such facilities are struggling with staffing as a number of workers have fallen ill, while the senior residents of those homes have been dying at an alarming rate. Read more about what’s happening in Quebec.
New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs has floated May 1 as a possible date for lifting some restrictions in the province — if new case numbers remain low and recovery rates stay high. The province reported one new case of COVID-19 on Saturday in the Fredericton area. Eighty-seven people from New Brunswick have recovered from the virus. The province has 118 confirmed cases. Read more about what’s happening in N.B.
Nova Scotia is reporting three more deaths, along with 43 new positive tests. A government news release says the three recent deaths occurred at the Northwood long-term care home in Halifax on Friday. Premier Stephen McNeil says the government is working with the home on an emergency plan to protect residents from the outbreak. Read more about what’s happening in N.S.
Prince Edward Island for the second weekend in a row is offering free care packages containing potatoes and dairy products at drive-thru locations set up by the government, Amalgamated Dairies Ltd. and the P.E.I. Potato Board. The province, which is in its second day under a state of emergency, reported no new cases on Saturday. Read more about what’s happening on P.E.I.
The Northwest Territories isn’t saying who is on its COVID-19 enforcement task force, and Yukon reported one new case on Friday. Read more about what’s happening across Canada’s North, including the efforts at a micro-manufacturing centre in Inuvik to create items essential workers need.
Here’s a look at what’s happening in the U.S.
Stores in Texas can soon begin selling merchandise with curbside service, and hospitals can resume nonessential surgeries. In Florida, people are returning to a few beaches and parks. And protesters are clamouring for more.
Governors eager to rescue their economies and feeling heat from President Donald Trump are moving to ease restrictions meant to control the spread of the coronavirus, even as new hot spots emerge and experts warn that moving too fast could prove disastrous.
Adding to the pressure are protests against stay-at-home orders organized by small-government groups and Trump supporters. They staged demonstrations Saturday in several cities after the president urged them to “liberate” three states led by Democratic governors.
Protests happened in Republican-led states, too, including at the Texas Capitol and in front of the Indiana governor’s home. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott already said that restrictions will begin easing next week. Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb — who signed an agreement with six other Midwestern states to co-ordinate reopening — said he would extend his stay-at-home order until May 1.
For the first time in weeks, people were able to visit some Florida beaches, but they were still subject to restrictions on hours and activities. Beaches in big cities stayed closed.
Meanwhile, infections kept surging in the Northeast.
Rhode Island, between the hot spots of Massachusetts and New York, has seen a steady daily increase in infections and deaths, with nursing home residents accounting for more than 90 of the state’s 118 deaths. The state’s death rate of around 10 people per 100,000 is among the nation’s highest per capita, according to data compiled by the COVID Tracking Project.
Massachusetts had its highest number of deaths in a single day on Friday, with 159. Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, citing health experts’ advice, said states should wait until infection rates and hospitalizations decline for about two weeks before acting.
Here’s a look at what’s happening around the world
- Major cities in Brazil saw protests Saturday by hundreds of people denouncing pandemic lockdown measures also opposed by President Jair Bolsonaro, a fierce critic of stay-at-home measures imposed by state governments.
- Singapore reported a sharp, one-day spike of 942 infections, the highest in Southeast Asia, mostly among foreign workers staying in crowded dormitories. That brought the total to almost 6,000 in the city-state of six million.
- Total cases topped 10,000 in Japan, where Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said he’s concerned that people are not observing social distancing and announced a 100,000-yen ($1291 Cdn) cash handout to each resident as an incentive to stay home.
- France‘s national health agency said Saturday that the number of virus patients in intensive care dropped for the 10th straight day, and overall virus hospitalizations have fallen for three consecutive days. The country has seen almost 20,000 virus deaths. The agency urged the French public to stick to strict confinement measures, which have been extended until at least May 11: “Don’t relax our efforts at the moment when confinement is bearing fruit.”
- In Spain, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said his government will seek to extend the state of emergency to May 9 but begin easing the total confinement of children beginning April 27. Children are thought to be a major source of transmission even if they rarely fall ill from the virus. They’ve been confined to their homes for five weeks, prompting parents to ask that they be allowed to at least take a daily walk.