Too early to talk about so-called ‘immunity passports,’ says Trudeau

The latest:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says it’s premature to talk of so-called “immunity passports” for Canadians because the science is unclear about whether people who have recovered from COVID-19 are protected from catching it a second time.

As some provinces begin opening up their economies from COVID-19 lockdowns, Trudeau said on Saturday none of those recovery plans hinge on people being immune to catching COVID-19 twice.

Trudeau said he spoke to premiers Friday and they discussed a basic framework that provinces will use as they reopen businesses, schools and other institutions. The focus, he said, is on preventing the spread of the virus through physical distancing and personal protective equipment.

“It is very clear that the science is not decided on whether or not having had COVID once prevents you from having it again,” he told reporters. “It’s something we need to get clearer answers to and until we get those clearer answers, we need to err on the side of more caution.”

Trudeau was responding to a recent World Health Organization brief stating there is no evidence that people who have recovered from the virus have antibodies that protect them from getting infected again.

The WHO issued the brief in the context of certain countries announcing the possibility of providing so-called “immunity passports” or “risk-free certificates” to citizens who have already been infected.

Sask. and N.B. unveil multiphase plans

As the global death toll from COVID-19 topped 200,000 on Saturday, countries and jurisdictions around the world took cautious steps toward easing some lockdowns, while fears of infection made even some pandemic-wounded businesses reluctant to reopen.

At his regular news conference at Rideau Cottage on Saturday, Trudeau said any plans to reopen the economy will be based on science, data and expert advice.

Trudeau said Canada shouldn’t be reopening any sector without a plan to protect workers, which hinges on adequate supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE). He says planeloads of PPE are expected in the coming weeks, and domestic production will be on line soon.

WATCH | Prime minister and premiers discuss how and when to reopen:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a conference call with provincial leaders to discuss how and when Canada can begin to return to normal after shutting down during the COVID-19 pandemic. 2:00

In addition to multiphase plans unveiled by New Brunswick and Saskatchewan this week, the federal government has circulated a set of draft guidelines that could form the basis of the joint document. The federal guidelines were prepared largely by the Public Health Agency of Canada and include feedback from provincial medical officers.

N.B. Premier Blaine Higgs released early details of a phased reopening plan for that province Friday afternoon. Also on Friday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said that his government will offer some details early next week about its reopening plans.

The framework will provide a “gradual and measured approach” to opening up, Ford said, adding that health and safety will “always come first.”

WATCH | Some good news from around the world on Saturday:

With much of the world struggling through the COVID-19 pandemic, there are still some good-news stories to report. Here’s a brief roundup. 2:53

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has called for a national plan, expressing concern about a “possible patchwork approach across the country.”

Higgs said New Brunswick’s plan would begin immediately with the loosening of physical distancing restrictions to allow two-household gatherings. Post-secondary students, who require access to their campus to fulfil their course requirements, will be able to do so, but elementary, middle and high schools won’t reopen until at least September.

Further steps would see the province eventually reopen elective surgeries, child-care facilities, barbers, churches and other facilities in stages over the coming weeks, as long as cases in the province remain low.

On Thursday, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said restrictions will be gradually lifted in phases over a period of weeks. All businesses and public venues will be required to keep following physical distancing and cleanliness rules — as will customers.

$62.5M for fish and seafood sector

Also Saturday, Trudeau announced $62.5 million to support fish and seafood processors.

The prime minister said the money will help processors buy personal protective equipment, adapt to new health protocols and support physical distancing.

He says the funding can also help pay for other equipment, such as freezers, so that companies can store food products while they adapt their factories to ensure workers can maintain a safe distance from one another.

WATCH | Trudeau says new funds will help industry adapt to COVID-19 challenges:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says that new funds for Canada’s fish and seafood processors will help them adapt to challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. 0:58

According to a Johns Hopkins University database, there are now more than 2.8 million known COVID-19 cases worldwide, with more than 200,000 deaths. The U.S., where some states are also taking steps toward reopening, accounts for more than 906,000 of those cases, as well as 52,000 deaths.

As of 4:15 p.m. ET on Saturday, Canada had 45,138 confirmed and presumptive cases, with 16,364 listed by provinces and territories as resolved or recovered. A CBC News tally of coronavirus-related deaths, which is based on provincial data, local public health information and CBC reporting, put the death toll at 2,518 in Canada, plus two deaths abroad.

Public health officials caution that the numbers don’t capture the full story, as they don’t include people who haven’t been tested or potential cases that are still being investigated.

A resident and staff wave at Orchard Villa Retirement Residence in Pickering, Ont., on Saturday. (Carlos Osorio/Reuters)

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, has urged people to behave as though there is coronavirus in their community, even if there aren’t any officially recorded cases. There are no proven treatments or cures for the novel virus. 

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

British Columbia is enacting a public safety order to move homeless people living in tent city encampments into hotels in Vancouver and Victoria during the COVID-19 pandemic. Ministers Mike Farnworth, Shane Simpson and Judy Darcy made the announcement, along with representatives from BC Housing, on Saturday morning. The plan is supported by an order under the Emergency Program Act and the ongoing provincial state of emergency. Read more about what’s happening in B.C.

The Alberta economy is being battered by the pandemic, and the government has authorized the finance minister to borrow up to $25 billion to deal with the crisis. The opposition NDP supports the move, but has suggestions on how that money should be spent. Read more about what’s happening in Alberta. 

In Saskatchewan, a recently released public health order is restricting all “non-critical” travel into northern Saskatchewan, which has the most active cases in the province. The move came after repeated public criticism and calls for help for the area. Read more about what’s happening in Saskatchewan.

WATCH | See how Saskatchewan plans to handle a phased reopening:

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe unveiled the province’s plan to start easing COVID-19 restrictions starting in May. 2:03

Manitoba is set to ramp up surgeries after a month of postponements due to COVID-19. The number of new coronavirus cases continues to be low enough that health officials say they can pivot some of the system’s resources back toward surgeries. “Our numbers have been looking like they’re in the right direction, and we’re at a position right now where we can start to plan on gradually loosening some of these restrictions,” Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said. Read more about what’s happening in Manitoba. 

Ontario Premier Doug Ford says front-line workers, including people working at shelters and long-term care homes, will receive a raise of $4 per hour for the next four months as they help in the fight against COVID-19. Ford says eligible workers will also receive an extra payment of $250 per month if they work more than 100 hours in a month. The provincial government says 350,000 workers will be eligible for the pay premium.

The government also said provincial parks and conservation areas will remain closed until May 31 to protect public safety.

Ontario reported 476 new cases of COVID-19 today, and 48 more deaths. There are now a total of 13,995 confirmed cases of the virus in the province and a death toll of 811. There are 245 COVID-19 patients in intensive care, most of whom are on ventilators. Read more about what’s happening in Ontario.

A family doctor receives a bag of KN95 medical masks during a donation drive for personal protective equipment and medical supplies to benefit long-term care homes, shelters, family physicians and hospitals in Ottawa on Saturday. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Quebec Public Health Director Dr. Horacio Arruda has changed his guidance on masks, now recommending people wear them if they anticipate being in a situation where distancing isn’t possible. He said people should closely follow guidelines the government released yesterday for masks, including washing hands before putting one on and removing them. Arruda said people could make their own masks, as long as they are clean and have at least two layers of fabric.

Arruda had been adamant before that his fear was masks would provide Quebecers with a false sense of security because they may be more inclined to touch their face when wearing one. He also didn’t want people to purchase masks in short supply that would be more useful to health-care workers. Read more about what’s happening in Quebec.

Paramedics transfer a patient to an ambulance from Notre-Dame-des-Anges seniors residence in Montreal on Saturday. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

New Brunswick’s gradual recovery plan has already started, with physical distancing restrictions loosened to allow two households to partner in a “two-family bubble.” Public health reported no new cases on Saturday, marking one week since there was a positive case. Read more about what’s happening in N.B. 

Nova Scotia is reporting six more deaths related to COVID-19, bringing the total to 22. Five deaths occurred at the Northwood long-term care home in Halifax Regional Municipality, while a man in his 80s with underlying medical conditions died in the Western Zone of the province. He was not a resident of a long-term care home.

The province is reporting 15 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the provincial total to 865 confirmed cases. There are 10 licensed long-term care homes and unlicensed seniors’ facilities in Nova Scotia with cases of COVID-19, involving 191 residents and 90 staff. Read more about what’s happening in N.S.

Prince Edward Island is working on a plan to begin easing COVID-19 restrictions in May, but gatherings with people outside of one’s household still are not permitted for now, said Dr. Heather Morrison, P.E.I.’s chief public health officer. More details on P.E.I.’s plan to ease restrictions are expected in the coming week, said Premier Dennis King. Read more about what’s happening on P.E.I.

Newfoundland and Labrador announced one new case on Saturday, after going a full week without any new COVID-19 cases. Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, the province’s chief medical officer, on Friday praised people for the “dedication” they have shown and urged everyone to keep following public health rules. Read more about what’s happening in N.L.

The Northwest Territories government is revamping its rent assistance program to help during COVID-19. Read more about what’s happening across the North.

Here’s a look at what’s happening in the U.S.

In the U.S., the states of Georgia, Oklahoma and Alaska have begun loosening lockdown orders on their pandemic-wounded businesses, even as the confirmed U.S. death toll from the coronavirus soared past 50,000 and health experts warned that such steps might be coming too soon.

Republican governors in Georgia and Oklahoma allowed salons, spas and barbershops to reopen, while Alaska cleared the way for restaurants to resume dine-in service and retail shops and other businesses to open their doors, all with limitations. Some Alaska municipalities chose to maintain stricter rules.

PHOTOS | Businesses open up in Oklahoma, Georgia amid pandemic:

Though limited in scope, and subject to social-distancing restrictions, the reopenings marked a symbolic milestone in the debate raging in the United States and beyond as to how quickly political leaders should lift economically devastating lockdown orders.

In Michigan, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer extended her stay-at-home order through May 15, while lifting restrictions so some businesses can reopen and the public can resume outdoor activities such as golf and motorized boating. Michigan has nearly 3,000 virus-related deaths, behind only New York and New Jersey.

On Friday, President Donald Trump spoke optimistically of the economy but also asked people to continue social distancing and using face coverings. The same day, he signed a $484 billion US bill to aid employers and hospitals. In the past five weeks, roughly 26 million people have filed for jobless aid, or about 1 in 6 U.S. workers.

Trump also said his widely criticized comments suggesting people can ingest or inject disinfectant to fight COVID-19 were an attempt at sarcasm.

Here’s a look at what’s happening around the world

WHO warned Saturday that governments should not issue “immunity passports” or “risk-free certificates” to people who have been infected as their accuracy could not be guaranteed.

In a scientific brief, the UN agency said there was currently “no evidence” that people who have recovered from COVID-19 and have antibodies are protected from a second coronavirus infection.
 
The practice could actually increase the risks of continued spread because people who have recovered may ignore advice about taking standard precautions against the virus, it said.

Trudeau said Saturday that Canada would not be discussing the issue while there is no solid scientific evidence about immunity.

WATCH | WHO announces ‘landmark’ initiative to defeat COVID-19:

The World Health Organization drew together powerful actors to push for the “speed and scale”  needed to combat the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. 1:27

Italy has reported 415 deaths and 2,357 new cases in the last 24 hours. The Italian health ministry puts Europe’s highest death toll at more than 26,000. The total known infections stand at more than 195,000.

The Lombardy region registers the most cases in Italy, adding some 700 on Saturday for a total of nearly 72,000 cases there since Italy’s first case in that northern region on Feb. 20.

Meanwhile, nearly 200,000 Italian companies have asked authorities for permission to be able to operate during the lockdown, either because they help essential businesses or because they deem themselves strategic for the national economy during the coronavirus pandemic. The interior ministry said Saturday that a streamlined procedure is being implemented that “trusts the sense of responsibility of individual business persons” in allowing companies to resume operations.

People wave and chant from their windows with the Italian flags draped on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of Italy’s Liberation Day in Rome on Saturday. (Andrew Medichini/Associated Press)

Spain’s health authorities say 2,944 new infections were confirmed in the previous 24 hours, taking the total to nearly 206,000 cases. There were 378 reported deaths in that period, bringing the death toll since the start of the pandemic in Spain to nearly 23,000.

“The recent tendency of the evolution of the pandemic appears to hold true, each day improving a bit, but it is important to not fall into excessive euphoria,” Spanish health official Fernando Simon said. “We must be prudent. We have to develop ways to transition [out of lockdown], but first we must guarantee our security capabilities.”

On Sunday, Spanish children under 14 years old can go outside with a parent for a maximum of one hour and within one kilometre from home. They’ve been indoors since March 14. Parks and schools remain closed.

Volunteers in protective gear take samples from people at a COVID-19 testing centre at the seaport city of Hondarribia, Spain, on Saturday. (Ander Gillenea/AFP via Getty Images)

France’s President Emmanuel Macron is aiming to ease some lockdown measures on May 11 with schools reopening first, although the government has yet to finalize how it might work in practice. 

France has also offered retailers some relief by saying it wants them to reopen when the lockdown is due to end on May 11, although some curbs could remain in certain areas to delay a new wave of the coronavirus.

The country’s health ministry reported 369 new deaths on Saturday, bringing the toll to 22,614.

People wearing face masks practice social distancing as they waits to buy produce in Groslay, France, on Saturday. (Thibault Camus/Associated Press)

Britain’s confirmed tally of hospital deaths among people with COVID-19 has topped 20,000, making it the fifth country to reach the grim milestone. Britain is the fourth European country after Italy, Spain and France to reach 20,000 deaths. The United States has recorded more than 50,000 fatalities.

The government says 20,319 people with COVID-19 have died in British hospitals, an increase of 813 from the day before. The figure doesn’t include deaths in nursing homes, which are likely to number in the thousands.

There are signs the United Kingdom outbreak has peaked, with the number of people hospitalized declining. But the government says it is too soon to ease a nationwide lockdown imposed on March 23 and extended to May 7. Still, some businesses are planning to reopen after implementing physical distancing measures. Several automakers say they will restart production in May.

People wearing protective masks walk past a social distancing banner in London on Saturday. (Alberto Pezzali/Associated Press)

China for the 10th straight day reported no new deaths. Twelve new cases were reported on Saturday, 11 of them brought from overseas and one local transmission in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang bordering Russia, according to the National Health Commission.

Just 838 people remain hospitalized with COVID-19, while another 1,000 people are undergoing isolation and monitoring for being either suspected cases or having tested positive for the virus while showing no symptoms.

China, widely believed to be the source of the global pandemic, has reported a total of 4,632 deaths among 82,816 cases.

People wearing face masks pose for a selfie at a public park overlooking the Forbidden City, which remains closed to the public, in Beijing on Saturday. (Mark Schiefelbein/Associated Press)

In Brazil, there are concerns Latin America’s largest country is veering closer to becoming a pandemic hot spot.

Medical officials in Rio de Janeiro and four other major cities warned that their hospital systems are on the verge of collapse or already overwhelmed.

In Manaus, the biggest city in the Amazon, officials said they have been forced to dig mass graves in a cemetery. Workers have been burying 100 corpses a day — triple the pre-virus average.

A health worker is seen at Tide Setubal public hospital, where three workers died from suspected coronavirus disease, in Sao Paulo. (Amanda Perobelli/Reuters)

Iran says it registered 76 more deaths in the previous 24 hours. That puts the reported death toll from COVID-19 at 5,650 and confirmed cases at over 89,000. Iran is the country hardest hit by the virus in the Middle East.

Health Ministry spokesperson Kianoush Jahanpour says more than 1,100 new confirmed cases were detected from the previous day. Jahanpour added nearly 3,100 patients are in critical condition.

Shoppers wearing face masks and latex gloves buy produce from a merchant in Tajrish Bazaar in Tehran on Saturday. (Atta Kenare/AFP via Getty Images)

South Africa plans to reopen its agriculture sector and allow some manufacturing and retail to resume as the country balances the need to restart the economy and curb the spread of the coronavirus, Trade Minister Ebrahim Patel said on Saturday.

Norway’s Culture Minister Abid Raja said during a news conference Saturday that country is extending the ban on all events with more than 500 participants until Sept. 1. Norway has reported 201 deaths and 7,493 confirmed cases.

India allowed a limited reopening of shops in neighbourhood and residential areas on Saturday, more than a month after the nation went into lockdown.

An police officer and para-military force soldiers request people to get inside their houses after a three hour relaxation of restrictions to buy essential items in New Delhi, India, on Saturday. (Manish Swarup/Associated Press)

Turkey’s health ministry has documented 106 new deaths, bringing the death toll to 2,706. Minister Fahrettin Koca shared daily figures Saturday, showing 2,861 new confirmed cases. The total number of confirmed infections has reached 107,773. 

“The rate of positive tests is decreasing,” Koca tweeted and urged continued precaution.

Turkey ranks seventh in the world for the number of confirmed infections, according to Johns Hopkins University. But experts believe the actual toll of the pandemic around the world is higher than the tally.

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