The federal government has announced a $1.1-billion plan to marshal Canada’s scientific community in the fight against the coronavirus, as some provinces with relatively fewer cases begin to weigh how they will relax restrictions put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Scientists around the globe are scrambling to come up with tests, treatments to lessen the severity of the disease and ultimately, a vaccine to protect against the coronavirus that has killed more than 2,000 Canadians and almost 200,000 people worldwide.
At his Thursday news conference outside Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the government was putting in place a three-point medical and research strategy.
WATCH | Trudeau lays out the government’s strategy:
This plan includes:
- $155 million for research on vaccines and other treatments, support for clinical trials and expanding national testing and modelling.
- $662 million for clinical trials led by Canada.
- $350 million to expand national testing and modelling of COVID-19, including a COVID-19 immunity task force that includes Dr. David Naylor, Dr. Catherine Hankins, Dr. Tim Evans, Dr. Theresa Tam and Dr. Mona Nemer.
In mid-March, the Trudeau government committed $275 million for research, as part of the first emergency aid package.
That was supplemented later in the month with the creation of a new strategic innovation fund, which provided another $192 million to specific companies and research institutions working on the development of drugs and vaccines.
As well, the government has provided $52 million through national granting councils to almost 100 research teams across the country.
With several provinces beginning to talk cautiously about reopening the economy, which has been virtually shut down since mid-March, the pressure is on to find reliable, rapid tests to determine who is infected with the virus and who has developed immunity to it.
Saskatchewan’s reopening plan
Saskatchewan became the first province Thursday to outline a concrete plan for how some businesses and services could be allowed to resume next month provided the number of cases there stays low.
Premier Scott Moe said restrictions will be lifted May 4 for dentists’ offices, optometry clinics and physical therapy
Golf courses will reopen May 15 and retail shops selling clothing, books, flowers and sporting goods might be allowed to open their doors on May 19.
Hairdressers and barbers could also start seeing clients again on May 19, but employees working directly with the public would have to wear masks.
Physical distancing and strict cleanliness standards would have to be maintained through every phase.
For the next phases — for which there are no start dates yet — officials would consider lifting restrictions on indoor and outdoor recreational and entertainment facilities and bumping up the size of allowable gatherings to 30 people from the current 10.
The final phase of the plan would include lifting restrictions on crowd sizes, visits to long-term care facilities and non-essential travel. Moe has already said those will stay put for some time.
The government’s plan doesn’t provide a timeline for when gyms might be allowed to operate or when daycare capacity might be increased. Nor does it give a time frame for food services and restaurants to reopen, but when they do, they will be expected to operate at half their capacity.
Prince Edward Island, where the COVID-19 caseload is low, is aiming to ease measures put in place to slow the spread in late April and reopen businesses in mid-May.
‘Not exactly islands’
Dr. Craig Jenne, an infectious disease researcher at the University of Calgary, said easing restrictions in one province could present challenges for others.
“Many provinces in Canada have no hard borders,” he said in an interview with The Canadian Press. “Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba — we are not exactly islands where we can cut off travel between provinces.
“We are going to have to make sure we’re on the same page with this.”
‘Failing our parents, our grandparents’: Trudeau
Trudeau said the military will respond to provincial requests for assistance at long-term care facilities. But he said the measure is a short-term solution and that Canada should not need soldiers to take care of seniors.
“If you’re angry, frustrated, scared, you’re right to feel this way. We can do better. We need to do better. Because we are failing our parents, our grandparents, our elders.”
WATCH | Should long-term care homes be federally regulated?
The comments today followed requests by Ontario and Quebec on Wednesday for hundreds of soldiers to help long-term care facilities that have been hit hard by COVID-19. The Canadian Armed Forces is now assessing what more it can provide to respond to these requests.
Trudeau said the government is sending the military to help in long-term care homes in Ontario and Quebec — 130 troops were sent to help five long-term care facilities in Quebec last week — but said it should never have come to this, and there are tough questions to be asked once the crisis is over.
The outbreak of COVID-19 in long-term care homes has outraged many Canadians and Trudeau said that outrage is not misplaced.
WATCH | Dr. Nathan Stall says there wasn’t enough attention paid to long-term care residences during pre-pandemic planning:
During his daily briefing Thursday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford, whose mother-in-law is in a long-term care home and has just tested positive for COVID-19, paused to gather himself before pledging to improve Ontario’s long-term care system.
“I recognize the system is broken,” he later said.
WATCH | Doug Ford’s full response:
Quebec resident Jonathan Marchand, who has muscular dystrophy, told CBC News that it’s not only the elderly who are vulnerable in those long-term care institutions.
“It’s not a safe environment,” he said. “What I want is to get out of here.”
WATCH | Quebec man talks about feeling unsafe in his long-term care home:
Thousands of layoffs in transportation
The pandemic also continues to wreak havoc on the Canadian economy. Calgary-based WestJet says a further 3,000 of its workers will be laid off in early May as demand for flights craters.
As of 7 p.m. ET Thursday, there were 2,232 COVID-19-related deaths in Canada, plus two reported COVID-19-linked deaths of Canadians abroad, according to a CBC News tally based on provincial and local health data, as well as CBC reporting.
There are 42,110 confirmed and presumptive cases, and 14,774 resolved cases among the provinces and territories that make such data public.
Here’s a look at what’s happening in Canada, the U.S. and around the world.
Here’s a look at what’s happening in the provinces and territories
British Columbia has confirmed an outbreak at a second poultry processing plant. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Thursday that two cases have been identified at the Superior Poultry plant in Coquitlam, a sister plant to the United Poultry location in Vancouver, where 29 people have tested positive for the coronavirus. Read more about what’s happening in B.C.
Alberta has cancelled the Calgary Stampede for the first time in almost 100 years. The July event typically draws a million spectators. Organizers have already laid off 80 per cent of its staff. Read more about what’s happening in Alberta.
WATCH | COVID-19 outbreak forces Alberta meat-processing plant to close:
In Saskatchewan, a team of College of Engineering grad students and staff at the University of Saskatchewan is trying to create a new reusable medical mask in an effort to reduce the global shortage of N95 respirators. The team is collaborating with the Saskatchewan Health Authority. Read more about what’s happening in Saskatchewan.
Manitoba reported five new cases of COVID-19, its biggest single-day jump in nearly two weeks. Of the new patients, two are in their 20s, two in their 30s and one is in their 80s. Read more about what’s happening in Manitoba.
Ontario, environmental groups are raising concerns after the government changed its rules to allow it to approve some projects without public consultation. The provincial environment minister says the exemption is intended only for projects related to the pandemic that need to be built quickly, but the bulletin on the province’s website doesn’t specify that. Read about that issue here, and read more about what’s happening in Ontario here.
In Quebec, nurses in Montreal who have volunteered to work in a private long-term care home where more than half the residents have tested positive for COVID-19 say there is “shockingly little” protective gear available for employees. CHSLD Vigi Mont-Royal has more than 150 residents who have tested positive for the virus. Read more about the care home here, and read more about what’s happening in Quebec here.
New Brunswick officials warned the province is not in the clear, even though only 14 active cases remain there. Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jennifer Russell said the province’s success has “given us a chance to get ready for what comes next,” but that physical distancing will be in place for “weeks and months ahead.” Premier Blaine Higgs said businesses should prepare to reopen, while also respecting physical-distancing measures. Read more about what’s happening in N.B.
Nova Scotia‘s four new COVID-19 deaths are all connected to long-term care homes. The province has also seen higher infection rates among women, who account for 59 per cent of cases. Chief Medical Officer Dr. Robert Strang says it’s because more women live in long-term care homes and more women work in those facilities, too. Read more about what’s happening in Nova Scotia.
Prince Edward Island, with only two active cases, is focusing on screening people at its small number of entry points. Checkpoints at Confederation Bridge and Charlottetown Airport have been in place since March 21, and now the province says people could be on the hook for a quick return flight if their travel there is not essential. Read more about what’s happening in P.E.I.
WATCH | What to do when you return from the grocery store:
In Newfoundland and Labrador, chief medical officer of health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald says the province will be able to relax some distancing measures in the near future, but warns that residents shouldn’t expect a full return to normal any time soon. There have been no new cases reported in the province for five days. Read more about what’s happening in N.L.
In the North, territorial health authorities are testing less than before, despite expanded criteria. Dr. Sarah Cook, the Northwest Territories’ territorial medical director, said that’s partly because other public health measures have been effective. Read more about what’s happening across the North.
Here’s a look at what’s happening in the U.S.
From The Associated Press and Reuters, updated at 7:30 p.m. ET
The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday passed a $484 billion US bill to expand federal loans to small businesses impacted by the coronavirus outbreak and hospitals overwhelmed by patients suffering from COVID-19.
By a vote of 388-5, the House passed the measure, which was unanimously approved on Tuesday by the Senate. It now goes to President Donald Trump for signing into law.
The House also approved a select committee, with subpoena power, to probe the U.S. response to the coronavirus. It will have broad powers to investigate U.S. preparedness, how federal dollars are being spent, and Trump administration deliberations.
That aid came as another 4.4 million Americans filed for government jobless benefits for the first time last week, as joblessness continues to hit the U.S. economy at a breathtaking pace.
The figure brings the total number of newly jobless people in the United States in the past five weeks to more than 26 million. That’s more than the entire number of new jobs created in the U.S. economy since the financial crisis of 2008.
As of 9 p.m., there were more than 867,000 confirmed cases and nearly 50,000 deaths in the country, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally.
On Thursday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a screening of 3,000 people in the state found nearly 14 per cent tested positive for antibodies for the coronavirus, suggesting that 2.7 million residents across New York may have been infected with the disease.
Cuomo noted that the survey was preliminary and had limitations, though at least initially indicated a fatality rate of about 0.5 per cent of confirmed cases, far lower than some experts feared.
Meanwhile, shares of American pharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences fell more than four per cent Thursday, after the Financial Times reported its experimental coronavirus drug failed its first randomized clinical trial. The report cited draft documents published accidentally by the World Health Organization.
In a statement on Friday, Gilead said the post included inappropriate characterizations of the study and that the study was terminated early due to low enrolment and, as a result, it was underpowered to enable statistically meaningful conclusions.
Here’s what’s happening around the world
From The Associated Press and Reuters, updated at 7:30 p.m. ET
European Union leaders edged forward on Thursday toward joint financing of an economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic by agreeing to ask the European Commission to work out the details of such common support.
Still, a decision is likely months away as member countries disagree on how much financial aid should be given out.
Austria, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands all opposed recovery aid through grants, while a broader northern camp — including Germany — were in favour of linking a new Recovery Fund to the bloc’s next long-term budget for 2021-27, sources said.
Hard-hit Italy called for a Recovery Fund of 1.5 trillion euros ($2.3 trillion Cdn) as well as grants to member states, while French President Emmanuel Macron said Europe’s response required financial transfers to the hardest-hit states, and not just loans. Macron also said the European project had no future if member states failed to respond to the “exceptional shock.”
The World Health Organization said it would announce a “landmark collaboration” on Friday to speed development of safe, effective drugs, tests and vaccines to prevent, diagnose and treat COVID-19.
The Geneva-based agency, in a brief statement issued late on Thursday, said the initiative with partners aims to make technologies against the disease caused by the novel coronavirus “accessible to everyone who needs them, worldwide,” but gave no details.
With more than 22,000 officially recorded deaths, officials in Spain are now preparing for rolling back some of the strict lockdown restrictions. The confinement has helped slow the daily contagion rate increase from more than 20 per cent to less than two per cent, although Spain has not been testing widely and the real contagion is believed to be higher.
China says Australian calls for an independent investigation into the cause of the coronavirus outbreak are politically motivated and unhelpful in dealing with the global pandemic. Australia is among a number of countries and localities that are calling for more information from China about where the virus originated and whether all efforts were made to stop it spreading across China and then around the globe.
China also said on Thursday it would donate a further $30 million US to the World Health Organization, about a week after U.S. President Donald Trump announced that U.S. funding would be halted while Washington reviewed the WHO’s role “in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is planning to return to work as early as Monday after being hospitalized earlier this month with COVID-19, the Telegraph reported, even as the U.K. economy is crumbling under the strain of the coronavirus lockdown.
North Korea has told the World Health Organization it tested 740 people for the new coronavirus as of April 17 but that all came out negative. That claim is being questioned by many outside experts.
South Korea‘s health authorities are planning to soon begin antibody tests to learn how widespread the coronavirus infection is within the population. They are also researching how long people maintain immunity after recovering from COVID-19.
South Africa‘s President Cyril Ramaphosa said the government will allow a partial reopening of the economy on May 1, with travel restrictions eased and some industries allowed to operate under a five-level risk system. International borders will remain closed while travel will be only allowed for essential services.
COVID-19 cases surged 43 per cent in the past week across Africa, reaching 26,000 according to the director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The figures underscored a recent warning from the World Health Organization that the virus could kill more than 300,000 people in the continent and push 30 million into desperate poverty.
Ecuador’s health minister said on Thursday the country’s coronavirus case total was twice as high as previously confirmed, as authorities added 11,000 new infections that resulted from delayed testing. With 560 confirmed deaths, the outbreak has ravaged the economy of the oil-producing country and overwhelmed sanitary authorities in the largest city of Guayaquil, where corpses remained in homes or for hours on the streets.