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

The latest:

The federal government is expected to announce new measures 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 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.

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.

A laboratory technologist at LifeLabs demonstrates one of the steps taken when a specimen is tested for COVID-19 at the company’s lab in Surrey, B.C., on March 26. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

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.

A runner and walker keep their distance from each other on the Charlottetown boardwalk in late March. P.E.I. is among the provinces eyeing the relaxation of some COVID-19-related restrictions. (Brian McInnis/CBC)

Prince Edward Island, where the caseload is low, is aiming to ease measures put in place to slow the spread in late April and reopen businesses in mid-May.

The Saskatchewan government is to outline a plan Thursday for how some businesses and services could be allowed to resume next month if the number of cases there stays low.

Provinces ‘not exactly islands,’ researcher says

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.”

As of Wednesday, Saskatchewan had recorded more than 300 cases, including four deaths, but less than 20 per cent of cases were considered active.

The province’s chief medical health officer has said any easing of restrictions would have to be done carefully.

Next door, in Alberta, there are more than 3,000 cases, including dozens of deaths.

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.

More than 2,000 deaths in Canada

As of 8 p.m. ET Wednesday, there were 2,074 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 40,190 confirmed and presumptive cases, and 13,994 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 seen a spike in confirmed cases because of three new outbreaks in long-term care homes. Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Wednesday’s spike of 71 new cases, the largest B.C. has seen in weeks, is a reminder that residents need to continue their efforts to break the chains of transmission by staying home and maintaining safe distances from other people. Read more about what’s happening in B.C.

Alberta had its highest single-day number of new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, with 306. Premier Jason Kenney struck a positive note, saying the province is doing “so much better” than many other jurisdictions, with relatively few people in hospital. “I know this is getting increasingly difficult for Albertans, but I do believe with the progress we’ve made that we can see light at the end of the tunnel here.” Read more about what’s happening in Alberta.

WATCH | COVID-19 outbreak forces Alberta meat-processing plant to close:

A COVID-19 outbreak at the Cargill meat processing plant in High River, Alta., has forced the facility to temporarily close, raising concerns about beef prices and supply. 3:03

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe says the province’s plan to reopen has five phases, beginning next month. In a televised address Wednesday evening, he said, “if we move too quickly, we risk increasing the spread of  COVID-19. If we move too slowly, we risk permanent damage to the livelihoods of thousands of Saskatchewan people.” The government will say on Thursday which businesses will be allowed to reopen in each phase. Read more about what’s happening in Saskatchewan.

Manitoba has a relatively low number of cases, including just two new cases reported Wednesday, but health-care workers are among the most affected lately. There were four new cases of COVID-19 over the past week involving people in that field, bringing the total to 25 health-care workers in the province who have tested positive. Read more about what’s happening in Manitoba.

In 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.

WATCH | Ontario calls for military help in long-term care, increases coronavirus testing:

Ontario has called for the military to help with the COVID-19 crisis in long-term care homes as it also implements increased testing in the facilities. 2:03

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

WATCH | Dr. Nathan Small says there wasn’t enough attention paid to long-term care residences during pre-pandemic planning:

Dr. Nathan Small, a geriatrician from Sinai Health System, says there wasn’t enough attention paid to long-term care residences during pre-pandemic planning. 1:16

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 chief medical officer of health and the province’s largest public sector union squared off Wednesday about conditions inside a long-term care residence that is the epicentre of the province’s COVID-19 outbreak. The Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union claims nurses it represents have “extremely serious concerns” about poor infection control and limited safety protocols at the facility. Dr. Robert Strang, the province’s chief medical health officer, rejected the charge as baseless fear-mongering. 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:

Andrew Chang explains what you should do after you’ve brought your supplies home from the grocery store. 1:05

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.

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 U.S. 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.

Hundreds of members of the U.S. House of Representatives will gather in Washington on Thursday to pass a $484-billion US coronavirus relief bill, bringing the unprecedented total of funds approved for the crisis to nearly $3 trillion.

Visitors to the U.S. Department of Labor in New York last month are turned away at the door by personnel because of closures over coronavirus concerns. Applications for jobless benefits continue to climb in the United States. (John Minchillo/Associated Press)

The measure is expected to be approved with solid bipartisan support in the Democratic-led House, but opposition by some members of both parties forced legislators to return to Washington despite stay-at-home orders intended to control the spread of the virus.

The Republican-led Senate already passed the legislation, so approval by the House will send it to the White House, where President Donald Trump has promised to quickly sign it into law.

Some Republicans are unhappy that so much government spending has been approved so quickly.

Trump has said he supports more funding for states, and has promised to back it in future legislation after fellow Republicans refused to include it in the current relief package.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell suggested in a radio interview on Wednesday that states could go bankrupt, but said later he did not want states to use federal funds for anything unrelated to the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, some Democrats expressed great concern after the head of a U.S. government agency combating the coronavirus pandemic alleged Wednesday he was ousted for opposing politically connected efforts to promote a malaria drug that Trump touted without proof as a remedy for COVID-19.

U.S. President Donald Trump, right, gives the podium to Centers for Disease Control director Robert Redfield to address the daily coronavirus outbreak task force briefing at the White House on Wednesday. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Rick Bright, former director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, said in a statement Wednesday that he was summarily removed from his job on Tuesday and reassigned to a lesser role.

BARDA, the agency that Bright formerly headed, is a unit of the Department of Health and Human Services created to counter threats from bioterrorism and infectious diseases. It has recently been trying to jump-start work on a vaccine for the coronavirus.

“Specifically, and contrary to misguided directives, I limited the broad use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, promoted by the administration as a panacea, but which clearly lack scientific merit,” Bright said.

Trump on Wednesday denied knowing Bright or anything about his reassignment.

Here’s what’s happening around the world

Spain‘s deputy prime minister says children under 14 will be allowed to leave their home for one hour if they are supervised by an adult and walk no further than a kilometre from their home.

With more than 21,000 officially recorded deaths, officials 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.

Health-care workers attend a coronavirus patient at the intensive care unit of the Principe de Asturias hospital in Alcala de Henares, near Madrid, on April 22. (Pierre-Philippe Marcou/AFP/Getty Images)

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.” 

The United Kingdom‘s economy is crumbling under the strain of the coronavirus lockdown and government borrowing is soaring to the highest levels in peacetime history, increasing pressure on the government to set out an exit strategy.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, recuperating at his country residence after being seriously ill with COVID-19, is facing criticism from opposition politicians and some epidemiologists for reacting too slowly to the coronavirus outbreak.

A business owner uses a thermal fogger as he disinfects trucks at a haulage firm in Barnsley, south Yorkshire, U.K., on April 22. (Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images)

Ministers are already struggling to explain high death rates, limited testing and shortages of protective kit, and the grim reality of the damage to the world’s fifth-largest economy hit home on Thursday.

“Based on the early indicators, and based on the experience in other countries that were hit somewhat earlier than the U.K., it seems that we are experiencing an economic contraction that is faster and deeper than anything we have seen in the past century, or possibly several centuries,” Bank of England interest-rate setter Jan Vlieghe said.

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.

The North also said it has so far released 25,139 people from quarantine since Dec. 31, according to Edwin Salvador, WHO’s representative to North Korea, in an email to The Associated Press on Thursday.

The North’s claim that it hasn’t had a single case on its territory is questioned by many outside experts.

Describing its anti-virus efforts as a “matter of national existence,” the North has banned foreign tourists, shut down nearly all cross-border traffic with China, intensified screening at entry points, and mobilized health workers to monitor residents and isolate those with symptoms.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel says she understands the urge to relax coronavirus restrictions as soon as possible, but is criticizing some states for moving too quickly, saying that they’re risking setting back what the country has achieved.

A pupil walks between distanced tables as she arrives for a test at a secondary school in Berlin on April 22. (Tobias Schwarz/AFP/Getty Images)

In an address to parliament on Thursday, to lawmakers sitting apart from one another in line with the country’s strict physical distancing guidelines, Merkel said even though the numbers of new infections in Germany were starting to slow, there is still much work to be done.

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.

Kwon Joon-wook, a senior official from South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Thursday officials are considering a variety of options, such as testing groups of people in the worst-hit city of Daegu and nearby areas, or obtaining blood samples from military conscripts.

He said such tests would be crucial in understanding how the virus spreads and preparing for another surge in infections, which he said could happen in the autumn or winter when cold temperatures move more people indoors.

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