Coronavirus Updates Canada: Time to 'Plank the Curve' as Case Count Nears 800

Ontario confirmed 43 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday after Newfoundland and Labrador introduced the strictest measures in Canada to stymie virus spread, including steep fines and jail time.
March 19, 2020, 5:11pm
Elderly women sitting far apart from each other
Two U.K. women observe social distancing measures as they speak to each other from adjacent park benches amidst the novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images

This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.

Updated at 12:45 p.m. (EDT): Social distancing needs to be done right—right now—to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), said Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Medical Officer, on Thursday, shortly before Ontario announced its second death.

Canada’s case count climbed to 772 on Thursday morning, Tam said.

The daily “shock increase” in Canadian cases with no known links to travel are particularly concerning, Tam said.

Tam said social distancing is the only way for Canadians to reduce opportunities to virus spread, particularly in at-risk regions such as First Nations, Metis, and Inuit communities.

“We don’t just need to flatten the curve; we need to plank it,” Tam said, referring to the steep progression of COVID-19 cases around the world.

Health professionals have administered more than 55,000 COVID-19 tests across Canada, Tam said, 10,000 in the past 24 hours alone.

Canada-U.S. border closing overnight Friday

The Canada-U.S. border will likely close overnight on Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced earlier Thursday.

Trudeau also reiterated the importance of social distancing but would not commit to how long it will last, only saying it could be weeks or months.

Trudeau did not announce additional financial support to the $82 billion he detailed Wednesday, but said Canada will continue to assess individual and business needs as virus spread continues.

When asked if Ottawa will restrict movements between provinces, Trudeau said the government is “not ruling anything out.”

Asylum seekers still allowed in

Once the Canada-U.S. border closes, all entry to Canada will be barred for non-essential travellers, including tourists. Canadians will always be allowed back home, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland reiterated. She also said irregular asylum seekers will still be allowed in the country.

All asylum seekers will have to spend 14 days in quarantine upon entering the country, Freeland said.

Another cruise ship with COVID-19 is full of Canadians

At least 77 Canadians are stuck on a trans-Atlantic cruise ship that has confirmed COVID-19 cases aboard. Costa Luminosa, which has more than 1,400 people on board, is heading for the port of Marseille in southern France. Global Affairs Canada said it is standing by to support the Canadian passengers, but Trudeau said he doesn’t have specific details about the ship yet.

Newfoundland ready to jail social distancing offenders

Newfoundland and Labrador introduced the strictest measures in Canada—including the threat of jail time—to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) as cases of the virus in the country surpassed 700.

On Wednesday, the province joined Ontario, Quebec, Prince Edward Island, and British Columbia by calling a public emergency, and banned most non-essential services, including public gyms, bars, and theatres. Only restaurants that can enforce social distancing are allowed to operate at half capacity.

Prince Edward Island furthered its effort by announcing that all government-run liquor and cannabis stores are closing on Thursday at 2 p.m. local time.

Health Minister for Newfoundland and Labrador, John Haggie, announced strict penalties for people and businesses that fail to comply with provincial orders.Those who don’t comply face fines of up to $2,500 and jail time of up to six months. Corporations will see fines of up to $50,000. Reoffenders will face steeper penalties, the province said.

Financial support for Albertans

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announced several measures to economically support Albertans on Wednesday, including a six-month interest-free moratorium on student loan payments, deferrals on utility payments, and $572 for Albertans who are stuck in isolation because of COVID-19. Kenney is also deferring corporate tax payments until August 31, and said he expected social distancing measures to last for months.

Small businesses reeling from COVID-19

Many small businesses say they will not survive long-term social distancing. A report by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) said more than half of Canada’s small businesses have seen a steep decline in revenue since Canada’s public health officials started doubling-down on social distancing calls last week. According to the report, about one quarter of small shops can only last one month in the current state before they’ll be forced to shut down. The hospitality, arts, retail, and personal services industries are the hardest hit, with many businesses already engaging in temporary layoffs or reduced hours for staff.

In Quebec, two major unions representing two-thirds of the province’s construction workers are calling on Quebec to shut down all construction sites over unsafe conditions. According to their letter to the premier, there is often a lack of soap and water for handwashing, and many sites use portable toilets, which don’t offer running water. The union added that construction staff often work in close proximity to one another.

$82 billion for the hardest hit Canadians

Trudeau’s Thursday address comes a day after Trudeau closed the U.S.-Canada border and announced up to $27 billion in direct support and up to $55 billion in tax deferrals for many Canadian hardest hit by the COVID-19 economic downturn, including a six-month interest-free moratorium on student debt payments, funding for homeless and women’s shelters, and an emergency relief fund akin to employment insurance for people aren’t eligible for EI—gig workers, freelancers, for example—who have to stay home because they’re sick with or at risk of COVID-19. People taking care of a loved one who contracted the virus are also eligible for financial support.

Nunavut bracing for the worst

Canada’s territories—Yukon, the Northwest Territories, and Nunavut—have not seen any cases yet. But Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, said COVID-19 could have devastating impacts because the territory struggles with overcrowded housing, making social distancing difficult. Aside from Iqaluit, remote communities in Nunavut depend on air traffic for testing. Because the weather can cause flight delays, it could impact how quickly results can be produced, a spokesperson from the Nunavut Department of Health told CBC News.

More than 700 cases, 8 deaths

Cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) continue to surge. As of Wednesday night, the number of confirmed or presumed cases surpassed 700—an almost 100-case increase from Tuesday. There are eight deaths in Canada so far. Every province is affected:

British Columbia: 231

Alberta: 119

Saskatchewan: 16

Manitoba: 15

Ontario: 251

Quebec: 94

Newfoundland and Labrador: 3

New Brunswick: 11

Nova Scotia: 12

Prince Edward Island: 1

There are more than 250,000 COVID-19 cases globally, with just over 9,000 deaths.

This is a breaking news story. We will continue to update it as it unfolds.

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