Ontario now 2nd province seeking military help in COVID-stricken care homes

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Canada hit a grim milestone Wednesday as the number of deaths across the country from COVID-19 exceeded 2,000. About half of those deaths have come in long-term care homes, which have been hard hit by the pandemic, particularly in Quebec and Ontario. 

The news came as Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced he will be calling in the military to help deal with the ongoing COVID-19 crisis in the province’s long-term care homes. 

Ford says he will formally request extra resources from the federal government today, including from the Public Health Agency of Canada and Canadian Forces personnel, specifically to help in five priority homes. He compared the situation in long-term care settings to a “raging wildfire” during his Wednesday news conference.

Canadian Forces personnel have already been deployed to Quebec to help out in the hard hit long-term care facilities there. On Wednesday, Premier François Legault said he’s asked the federal government to send 1,000 additional soldiers to help staff the  institutions.

Legault told reporters at his daily briefing that he made the request because the province has not been able to find enough trained workers to meet the system’s immediate needs, even after bringing in 350 medical specialists, as well as other nurses from elsewhere and nursing students.

A member of the Canadian Armed Forces arrives at Residence Yvon-Brunet a long term care home in Montreal on Saturday. Premier François Legault said has asked the federal government to send another 1,000 soldiers. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

The number of residences in Quebec considered to be in a “critical situation” nearly doubled in the past week, going from 41 to 80. 

In all, approximately 850 of the 1,041 people who have died from COVID-19 in Quebec were residents of CHSLDs or seniors’ homes.

In Ontario, 128 residences are currently dealing with active COVID-19 outbreaks. As of today, there have been at least 448 deaths in long-term care amid outbreaks at 127 facilities.

Ontario is also expanding COVID-19 testing to every resident and worker in long-term care homes.

Speaking at the daily briefing by cabinet members and federal health officials, Tam again said that continued vigilance is essential and highlighted the continued concern around long-term care facilities.

“As we continue to make progress in slowing the spread of COVID-19, we are seeing some bumps in the road that remind us we can’t let down our guard.”

Tam said protections are also needed at other high-risk settings where people live in close contact and share common spaces, citing seniors’ homes and homeless shelters.

WATCH | WHO’s Dr. Mike Ryan says countries will need to figure out how to minimize risk in long-term care homes:

It’s important to minimize the risk of bringing the virus into long-term homes and respond quickly when it appears, says Mike Ryan of the WHO’s Emergencies Program. 2:36

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday reiterated that the federal government is talking with provinces around support for long-term care homes, which are provincially regulated. Trudeau last week said the federal government was planning to consult with the provinces on topping-up wages of lower paid essential workers, but it’s not yet clear how or when that might happen.

Restarting the economy

Trudeau also said the federal government is co-ordinating with provinces and territories about how to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic — but he said each will make its own decision given the different circumstances of every region.

“We recognize that different provinces will make different decisions about how and where to start restarting and reopening their economies,” Trudeau said Wednesday during his daily briefing.

The decision around when to reopen the border with the U.S. is a nationwide measure and any change in that decision will come from the federal government, he said.

WATCH | Trudeau talks more about restarting the economy: 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke to reporters on Wednesday 0:48

Trudeau’s remarks come a day after Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam made similar remarks. Tam, who was speaking at a daily briefing on Tuesday, urged continued vigilance around public health measures and said steps taken by Canadians across the country to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus have prevented an explosion of cases. 

Tam said Tuesday that health officials across the country are closely monitoring for “continued and stable slowing of the epidemic” as they plan for what comes next.

“But we are still a ways off and the path remains uncertain,” Tam said, adding that she knows questions around recovery and what comes next are on everyone’s mind. While there are a lot of unknowns about the path forward, Tam said the actions Canadians have taken in recent weeks have been critical to slowing the spread of the virus.

“There is no doubt that our sacrifices and every day inconveniences over the past weeks have prevented an explosive outbreak in Canada like the ones that have overwhelmed health-care systems in places like Italy, Spain and New York.”

The virus, which was first identified in China in late 2019, causes an illness called COVID-19. There’s no proven treatment or vaccine for the virus, though researchers around the world are searching for potential treatments. 

Support for students

Strict public health measures meant to clamp down on the virus have led to huge financial strain for families and businesses, as well as for governments tasked with overseeing the response and assisting those who have lost income.

The federal government and provinces have launched a range of initiatives aimed at supporting families and businesses, but some critics argue that the funding has been both too narrow and too slow.

Trudeau on Wednesday said the government plans to roll out funding and expanded job placement programs for post-secondary students who are struggling to find enough work during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has left thousands of Canadians infected and prompted health officials to introduce a range of measures aimed at keeping people home.

WATCH | Trudeau outlines aid available for students:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announces a suite of programs and benefits for students affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. 1:30

Trudeau outlined a number of initiatives targeted at students, including supports for students who fill certain volunteer roles.

The prime minister said the government will work with opposition parties to pass legislation around the student supports.

As of 5:15 p.m. ET, there were 2,041 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 39,813 confirmed and presumptive cases, and 13,919 resolved cases among the provinces and territories that make such data public. 

Read on for 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

Health officials in British Columbia say 28 employees at a chicken-processing plant in Vancouver have tested positive for COVID-19. Read more about what’s happening in B.C.

Alberta’s chief medical officer says even as the province sees positive signs around COVID-19, people need to remember the virus “is still with us, and we need to continue to take it very seriously, even as we start to think about reopening again.” 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 is expected to address people in the province live Wednesday night, a day before officials are scheduled to release a plan on how the province will reopen. Read more about what’s happening in Saskatchewan.

A Manitoba couple is urging people to stay home and take COVID-19 seriously after recovering from the virus. “It escalated very quickly,” said Kristie Walker, who tested positive after returning from the U.S. “It felt like you were in a car accident. Everything hurt. Absolutely everything.” Read more about what’s happening in Manitoba.

Another Ontario long-term care home is reporting COVID-19-related deaths. Hawthorne Place Care Centre in northwest Toronto said Tuesday that five deaths of residents have been attributed to COVID-19. Read more about what’s happening in Ontario.

WATCH | When will Ontario start easing restrictions? Hear what experts say:

Queen’s Park reporter Mike Crawley speaks to experts about three key things they think need to happen before Ontario pulls back on its restrictions. 2:07

In Quebec, COVID-19 has swept through a Montreal hospital, affecting patients in five wards, including those being treated for cancer and diabetes. Read more about what’s happening in Quebec, including details around a recent outbreak at a Montreal hospital.

New Brunswick has launched a web portal where people can access results of their COVID-19 test. Read more about what’s happening in N.B., including details about what the province is planning around reopening.

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil says the province will waive extra pharmacy dispensing fees for those enrolled in family pharmacare and seniors pharmacare. Because of COVID-19, people can only get a 30-day supply of medication, and each refill costs $4.49 to $12.99. Read more about what’s happening in Nova Scotia.

Prince Edward Island’s premier and top health official say they hope to lift some of the restrictions put in place to deal with COVID-19 by early May. “It’s going to involve a process with consultation and a risk assessment with industry, government departments, businesses and communities,” Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Heather Morrison said. Read more about what’s happening on P.E.I, including the latest on what’s happening with the lobster season.

WATCH | COVID-19 may trigger potentially deadly immune response:

Doctors working with COVID-19 patients say the virus may cause a deadly immune response called a cytokine storm in some patients. A team of Canadian scientists are leading research on how it could be treated. 2:01

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.

The Northwest Territories is handing out $1.6 million in low-interest loans to businesses affected by COVID-19 and the rules in place to slow it. 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 3 p.m. ET

U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted his apparent support on Wednesday for governors planning to start reopening their economies this week.

“States are safely coming back. Our Country is starting to OPEN FOR BUSINESS again,” he tweeted, though it is not yet clear how safe it will be.

A handful of mostly southern states have announced they will begin loosening economic restrictions later this week. The Republican governors of Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee and Ohio all announced on Monday they would begin peeling back the curbs on commerce and social activity aimed at stopping the coronavirus outbreak over the next two weeks. Colorado’s Democratic governor said on Tuesday he would open retail stores on May 1. 

The United States has by far the world’s largest number of confirmed coronavirus cases at more than 840,000, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally. The database puts the U.S. coronavirus-related death toll at more than 46,000.

WATCH | Frustration over COVID-19 lockdown boils over at Pennsylvania protest:

Thousands of people frustrated by the ongoing COVID-19 lockdown protested in Harrisburg, Pa., on Tuesday. 2:02

Amid those reopenings, the U.S. government announced on Wednesday that it will assess whether the World Health Organization is being run the way that it should be, after Trump paused U.S. funding to the global body.

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during an April 14, 2020 White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing, where he announced he would halt funding for World Health Organization. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

 

Washington will also use this pause to look for alternative partners outside the WHO to continue to carry out “important work” such as vaccines, to ensure it does not have a disruption in its aid efforts, said USAID’s acting administrator, John Barsa. 

An Iowa pork plant critical to the nation’s pork supply suspended operations Wednesday after more than 180 infections were linked to it. Officials still expect that number to rise dramatically, while testing of the Tyson Foods plant’s 2,800 workers is expected to begin Friday. 

Here’s what’s happening around the world

From The Associated Press and Reuters, updated at 4 p.m. ET

Spain, one of the world’s worst-hit countries, is planning to allow children out of their homes next week for the first time in nearly six weeks. “I am aware of the tremendous effort that the confinement has demanded of our smallest ones and their families,” Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said. The country’s death toll reached nearly 22,000, behind only the United States and Italy, after 435 more deaths were reported Wednesday. The numbers reflect a plateauing of the outbreak, though on Wednesday the government still voted to extend Spain’s lockdown until May 9.

A volunteer prepares to disinfect his town during the coronavirus pandemic on Monday in Zahara de la Sierra, Spain. Zahara has mostly cut itself off from the outside world since March 14, a decision broadly supported by its residents, many of whom are elderly. (Juan Carlos Toro/Getty Images)

Turkey has brought the coronavirus outbreak under control, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Wednesday, as data showed deaths from the virus increasing by 117 to 2,376, with 3,083 confirmed cases in the past 24 hours.

A total of 69 people who worked for Britain’s National Health Service have died of COVID-19, while the number of staff in care homes for the elderly who have died from the disease is not known, Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said on Wednesday.

A food bank volunteer sweeps the floor at a temporary food bank at Kensington Olympia in west London on Wednesday. (Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images)

Singapore’s coronavirus infections surged past 10,000 after it reported 1,016 new cases Wednesday. The tiny city-state’s tally rose to 10,141, maintaining its position as the worst-hit nation in Southeast Asia. The health ministry said the vast majority of the new cases are again linked to foreign workers’ dormitories, which have been locked down and where virus testing has been ramped up to curb transmission.

China on Wednesday again reported no new deaths from the coronavirus, but registered 30 more cases — 23 of them brought from abroad. Of the domestic cases, all seven were reported in Heilongjiang province near the Russian border, where a field hospital has been set up to deal with a new flare-up related to people coming home from abroad.

Just over 1,000 people are hospitalized for treatment, while about the same number are under isolation and monitoring as either suspected cases or after testing positive but showing no symptoms. China has reported a total of 4,632 deaths among 82,788 cases, the bulk of them in Wuhan where officials recently raised the death toll by 50 per cent after a review of records.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has sought support for an international investigation into the coronavirus pandemic — including the response of the World Health Organization —  in phone calls with U.S. President Donald Trump, and the German and French leaders overnight. Later Wednesday, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell responded, saying that any apportioning of blame could threaten international co-operation to confront the pandemic. “We will only defeat the pandemic through global efforts and co-operation,” Borrell said, “and this co-operation cannot be jeopardized by blaming one or the other about the origins.” 

Borrell also commented on Iran, saying the EU has urged the United States to ease sanctions and approve economic aid to help the country deal with the pandemic. Borrell said its calls were rejected.

The total death toll from the coronavirus in Bangladesh reached 120, while the number of total infections rose to 3,772 with another 390 positive cases on Wednesday, an official said. Nasima Sultana, additional director general of the Directorate General of Health Services, said another 10 people, including seven men and three women, died over the last 24 hours amid growing concern that the upward trend could continue over the next few weeks as community transmission has taken place across the country.

Reports say many positive cases are asymptomatic, which poses a serious threat to the community. A nationwide lockdown is in place until Saturday to help contain the virus’s spread.

Volunteers spray disinfectant on a motorist along a road during a government-imposed shutdown as a preventive measure on Sunday against COVID-19 in Dhaka, Bangladesh. (Munir Uz Zaman/AFP/Getty Images)

South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a 500 billion-rand rescue package, equivalent to 10 per cent of the GDP of Africa’s most industrialized nation, to try to cushion the economic blow of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Wednesday that his government will increase the budget for social programs and critical projects by $25.6 billion US in order to address the coronavirus crisis.

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