As a number of provinces outline plans for relaxing restrictions and reopening their economies, Canada’s parliamentary budget officer warns the federal deficit for the year could hit $252.1 billion as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Those numbers are based on the nearly $146 billion in spending measures the government has undertaken in response to the pandemic, the decline in the country’s gross domestic product, and the price of oil remaining well below previous expectations.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended the government’s spending in his daily COVID-19 press briefing Thursday, saying Canada needs to invest now to make sure an economic recovery will be possible, “as quickly as possible.”
“Canadians are strong and resilient people, and our economy was in great shape before going into this,” Trudeau said. “There will be a time after this is all done … where we will have to make next decisions on how that recovery looks, but right now our focus is on getting through this as a country.”
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announced a three-stage plan to reopen Alberta’s economy Thursday. The plan will begin next week with the resumption of some non-urgent surgeries and office reopenings for service providers such as dentists, physiotherapists, speech and respiratory therapists.
Provided there is no surge in infection rates, the province will move to Stage 1 of its relaunch May 14, when some retail stores and businesses will be able to reopen. Those will include clothing and furniture stores, hair salons and barber shops, museums and galleries, and restaurants and bars, as long as they maintain only 50 per cent capacity.
“A full return to normal won’t come until there is an effective vaccine or treatment, or until the virus is no longer here to threaten us,” Kenney said in a news conference from Edmonton.
Access to provincial parks and public lands will also be reopened using a phased-in approach. Alberta Parks’ online reservations will be available May 14 to book site visits beginning June 1.
Physical distancing guidelines will be maintained and gatherings will be limited to 15 or fewer people. Arts and culture festivals, major sporting events, and concerts, movie theatres, theatres, swimming pools, recreation centres, arenas, spas, gyms and nightclubs will all remain closed.
Stage 2, which has no firm date attached, would see things like the potential reopening of kindergarten to Grade 12 schools, and access to more personal services, such as artificial tanning, manicures, pedicures, waxing and massage. Theatres could also reopen under specific restrictions and larger gatherings would be permitted.
Stage 3 would see the return of arts and culture festivals, nightclubs, gyms and pools, and non-essential travel.
Earlier in the day, Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, Newfoundland and Labrador’s chief medical officer of health, unveiled a five-stage plan for relaxing public health restrictions in that province.
The plan comes as the province marks the fourth straight day with no new COVID-19 cases. The only immediate rule change is the expansion of the household “bubble” — the immediate group that people live and interact with under public health restrictions. Now, households can pick a second household to spend time with.
Fitzgerald’s update came on the same day as Ontario Premier Doug Ford offered further guidance to businesses on how they should go about reopening. In a news briefing, Ford said he was “laser-focused” on reopening the province’s economy, as the infection curve in Ontario is flattening.
Manitoba unveiled its own phased plan for reopening some sectors of the economy on Wednesday. Prince Edward Island and Quebec have also offered glimpses of what the coming months might hold.
Also on Thursday, Nunavut reported its first confirmed case of COVID-19, according to a media release. In the release, Nunavut’s chief public health officer, Dr. Michael Patterson, wrote that such news “was only a matter of time” and that the individual is currently in isolation and doing well.
“We ask people not to place any blame, not to shame and to support communities and each other as we overcome COVID-19 in Nunavut,” Premier Joe Savikataaq was quoted as saying in the release.
WATCH | Nunavut confirms first COVID-19 case in the territory:
As of 5:45 p.m. ET on Thursday, there were 53,021 confirmed and presumptive coronavirus cases in Canada, with 21,211 of the cases considered resolved or recovered. The CBC tally puts coronavirus-related deaths at 3,275 in Canada and another two deaths of Canadians abroad.
The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. The Public Health Agency of Canada says the risk varies between and within communities, “but given the increasing number of cases in Canada, the risk to Canadians is considered high.”
Read on for a look at what’s happening in Canada, the U.S. and around the world.
What’s happening in the provinces and territories
British Columbia’s premier says the province will unveil its plan to loosen COVID-19 restrictions and open up some sectors of the economy at a briefing next week. The province also extended its state of emergency to May 12. Read more about what’s happening in B.C.
A meat processing plant in Alberta that is at the centre of a COVID-19 outbreak is set to reopen on May 4 with one shift, a decision the union for workers at the High River facility has described as “incredibly concerning.” The Cargill plant has been linked to more than 1,200 cases. Read more about what’s happening in Alberta.
WATCH | Fort McMurray tries to manage devastating flood during pandemic:
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe is clamping down on travel between communities in the far north of the province as the region deals with an outbreak of COVID-19. Moe says he’s ordering a ban on non-essential travel between northern communities. The government is also sending $20,000 to La Loche to fund public safety and food security. Read more about what’s happening in Saskatchewan.
Manitoba is going to start easing some of its COVID-19-related restrictions starting on Monday by allowing dentists, physiotherapists, retail stores, hair salons and restaurant patios to open at no more than 50 per cent capacity. Campgrounds, museums, libraries and art galleries will also be allowed to reopen, and all will have to maintain physical distancing and comply with public health restrictions. Read more about what’s happening in Manitoba.
At his daily briefing on Thursday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced 65 new safety guidelines for businesses as the province prepares for a gradual reopening. “We’re on the path to reopening the economy because we see that curve is flattening,” Ford said. “I’m laser focused on opening things up as quickly as we can.” The province reported 459 additional cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, a figure consistent with new daily case counts seen throughout much of April. Read more about what’s happening in Ontario.
The death rate from COVID-19 in Quebec will remain very high for the foreseeable future, Premier François Legault warned Thursday, even as he sought to address criticism of his government’s plan to ease pandemic restrictions in the coming weeks. Of the 98 new deaths recorded in the past 24 hours in the province, 92 have been of seniors in care. Read more about what’s happening in Quebec.
WATCH | It’s time to be more disciplined than ever, Legault says
New Brunswick reported no new cases for the 12th day in a row. Still, Premier Blaine Higgs extended emergency measures for another two weeks, with some revisions. Read more about what’s happening in N.B.
WATCH | How New Brunswick avoided a potential COVID-19 catastrophe:
Health officials have identified 12 new cases of COVID-19 in Nova Scotia, bringing the province’s total to 947, while the number of deaths remains at 28. Most of the deaths have occurred at the Northwood long-term care facility in Halifax. The home is facing the most significant outbreak of any facility in the province, with 208 residents and 73 staff infected as of Wednesday. Read more about what’s happening in N.S.
Prince Edward Island’s premier is reminding people that the first phase of reopening that begins this week doesn’t mean a return to normal. “All of us, we have had to make painful and disruptive adjustments to our lives. I wish I could tell you that that would end on May 1, but that wouldn’t be the truth,” Dennis King said. Read more about what’s happening in P.E.I, including how the virus’s spread is ensuring tourists won’t be coming to the Island anytime soon.
WATCH | COVID-19 could be more severe in people with asthma:
Newfoundland and Labrador unveiled the provincial government’s five-stage plan for relaxing public health restrictions Thursday, including benchmarks that need to be met as the province progresses from present conditions — what it calls Level 5 — to living with COVID-19, which is Level 1. The first step was announcing the expansion of the household “bubble” — the immediate group that people live and interact with under public health restrictions. Now, households can pick a second household to spend time with. Read more about what’s happening in N.L.
Nunavut reported its first case of COVID-19 on Thursday, with the individual reportedly in isolation and otherwise good health. The Northwest Territories has released a broad overview of how it plans to handle reopening amid COVID-19. The plan, which begins with a “response” stage, then a “recovery” stage, before moving to “resiliency,” had few specifics, sparking concern from the opposition. Read more about what’s happening across the North.
What’s happening in the U.S.
From Reuters and The Associated Press, updated at 4:15 p.m. ET
The virus has killed more than 230,000 people worldwide, including more than 61,000 confirmed deaths in the U.S., and led to lockdowns and other restrictions that have closed factories and other businesses around the globe.
Confirmed infections globally have reached about 3.2 million, including one million in the U.S., according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. The true numbers of deaths and infections is likely much higher because of limited testing, differences in counting the dead and concealment by some governments.
The U.S. said its gross domestic product, or output of goods and services, shrank at an annual rate of 4.8 per cent in the January-March period, the sharpest quarterly drop since the global financial meltdown of more than a decade ago. That was before major shutdowns in many places.
And the worst is yet to come: the Congressional Budget Office has estimated the economy will shrink at a 40 per cent annual rate in this quarter.
Government figures released Thursday showed that 3.8 million laid-off workers applied for jobless benefits in the U.S. last week, raising the total to about 30.3 million in the six weeks since the outbreak forced the shutdown of factories and other businesses from coast to coast.
The U.S. unemployment rate for April is due late next week, and economists have said it could range as high as 20 per cent — a level last seen during the Depression.
Later Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said U.S. state and local governments could need close to $1 trillion US in aid over several years to cope with the aftermath of the pandemic, as lawmakers began plotting more coronavirus relief legislation.
But the Democrat’s proposal drew an immediate negative reaction from an influential member of the Republican-run Senate, John Cornyn, who called it “outrageous.”
It was the first time Pelosi has used such a high number publicly when talking of covering state and local costs of battling the COVID-19 pandemic. State governors have requested $500 billion to help cover public health expenses and lost tax revenues and to assist people getting back to work.
Also Thursday, world equity benchmarks saw their best month in 11 years as a rebound in oil prices, expectations of more government stimulus, and encouraging early results from a COVID-19 treatment trial helped ease the pain of February and March.
WATCH | Excitement, caution follows upbeat news about trial of antiviral drug for COVID-19:
Meanwhile, California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday ordered all state beaches closed after people flocked to the seashore in a few locations last weekend. The governor said he hopes the order won’t last very long. But he said he felt he had to do it to protect public health.
An Orange County official, where one of the state beaches is located, called it “an overreaction,” as residents have been following physical distancing guidelines. Some beaches under county jurisdiction have already been closed during the crisis.
What’s happening around the world
From The Associated Press and Reuters, updated at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spain recorded its lowest daily coronavirus death tally in six weeks on Thursday, but data showing the economy shrank by the widest margin on record in the first three months of the year laid bare the heavy cost of measures to control the outbreak. The death toll stood Thursday at about 24,500 after an increase of 268 in the last 24 hours, or 57 less than the increase the day before. The caseload is officially more than 213,000, although Spain is not counting untested infections or those that are becoming known through antibody tests, which mostly identify patients after they have passed the COVID-19 disease.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Britain was now past the peak of its coronavirus outbreak and promised to set out a lockdown exit strategy next week, despite rising deaths and criticism of his government’s response. The government has been criticized for failing to catch most cases of COVID-19 and now says wide-scale testing will be key to controlling the virus and easing a nationwide lockdown. Earlier this month it vowed to perform 100,000 tests a day by April 30. The number has been climbing steadily, but the highest daily total reached so far is 52,000.
Germany’s health minister has warned against significantly relaxing restrictions imposed to curb coronavirus infections, saying this could “recklessly” endanger the country’s achievements in fighting the pandemic. Jens Spahn said the government wanted to take “small steps, rather than risk a big step back.”
Chancellor Angela Merkel is holding talks with the governors of Germany’s 16 states Thursday to discuss the impact that existing measures have had on slowing the spread of the virus.
Denmark, the first country outside Asia to ease its lockdown, said the spread of COVID-19 has not accelerated since the gradual loosening of restrictions began in mid-April.
COVID-19 appeared to come late to Russia, compared with North America and Europe, but now, it’s striking with a vengeance, the damage compounded by the lack of personal protective equipment for hospital workers. The country surged past 100,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with approximately 1,000 reported deaths. Those are extremely low numbers compared with the experience of western Europe. Still, many doctors — even those sympathetic to the government — have told CBC News part of the challenge is that Russia’s tests return an unusually large number of false negative results. On Thursday, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin told President Vladimir Putin that he had been diagnosed with the coronavirus.
South Korea reported no new domestic cases. The national tally stood at 10,765, while the death toll rose by one to 247.
Indonesia’s confirmed COVID-19 cases have surpassed 10,000. The government reported nearly 350 new cases, bringing the country’s total to over 10,000 with almost 800 deaths as of Thursday. The country also reported there are more than 1,500 patients who have recovered.
Total reported coronavirus cases in Brazil soared to 78,162, with 449 deaths in the last 24 hours.
The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says coronavirus cases across the continent have increased 37 per cent in the past week.
Africa now has more than 36,000 cases, including more than 1,500 deaths.
While the continent’s capacity to test for the virus is growing, shortages of test kits remain across Africa. That means more cases could be out there. But the head of policy with the Africa CDC, Benjamin Djoudalbaye, tells reporters that the virus “is not something you can hide.”
In South Africa, which has the most cases in Africa with more than 5,300, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize says that authorities are “very hopeful we have averted the first storm.”
The country has been praised for testing assertively and will slightly loosen a five-week lockdown on Friday.
WATCH | Dr. Theresa Tam on WHO response to COVID-19, reopening Canada:
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