March 30, 2020

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The latest developments on COVID-19 in Canada

Workers restock grocery store shelves with canned goods early in the morning in Toronto on Friday March 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Workers restock grocery store shelves with canned goods early in the morning in Toronto on Friday March 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

The latest news on the COVID-19 global pandemic (all times Eastern):

11:10 p.m.

Ontario is barring personal visits to inmates in its adult provincial jails to try to keep COVID-19 out.

Its health minister and solicitor general announced the move late Friday night.

They say professional visits, such as from prisoners' lawyers, will continue.

Offenders who serve their sentences on weekends will also see their restrictions loosened.

They're to report to jail at the usual time but will be sent home again, since they're considered low risk.


8:45 p.m.

The Federal Court is closing its buildings and offices to visitors in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, although the court will remain open for urgent case-related matters.

Chief Justice Paul Crampton says all general sittings of the court are cancelled for cases previously scheduled between March 16 and 27.

In a statement, he says hearings, special sittings and case conferences that are already scheduled to be held by telephone conference will proceed, unless a request is made to adjourn.

Crampton says the court will try to accommodate all requests for a teleconference hearing in other cases as well.

"The court is committed to being as flexible as reasonably possible in assisting the public to deal with this extraordinary situation and the hardship that it may cause," the statement says.

7 p.m.

Public schools in New Brunswick are closing for two weeks, starting Monday, because of COVID-19.

The government says the decision was made by an all-party cabinet committee and it will be reassessed on an ongoing basis.

Early learning and child-care facilities, including those located in schools, are not being closed.

6:55 p.m.

British Columbia's provincial health officer says directives to cancel large gatherings and international travel do not mean all of society needs to shut down.

Dr. Bonnie Henry says the risk of transmitting COVID-19 in B.C. remains low and it's still OK to go to restaurants, to go shopping and take part in outdoor activities.

Henry also clarified that the province's advisory against international travel does not include people who work in the transport of people and goods across borders, like long-haul truckers and flight attendants.

But she says those people should be supported to check for symptoms each day and stay home if they have symptoms.

She also says if you return from travel and get sick, it doesn't necessarily mean you need to be tested for COVID-19.

6:50 p.m.

The Alberta government is changing labour laws to provide 14 days of paid leave for workers who are isolating because of COVID-19 or caring for someone who has it.

The government says employees will not need a doctor's note nor will they have had to work for 90 days previously to qualify.

Alberta has announced six new cases of the disease, bringing the total number in the province to 29.

Schools, however, will remain open.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw says the evidence on whether closing schools is an effective way of limiting the spread is inconclusive.

6:45 p.m.

British Columbia has 11 new cases of COVID-19, all of them in the Vancouver area, bringing the total in the province to 64.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says the new cases also involve an "additional cluster" that was reported earlier today at the Lions Gate Hospital in North Vancouver.

Three administrative workers at the hospital have tested positive for COVID-19.

Vancouver Coastal Health says they are in self-isolation at home and are recovering.

Henry says they have not worked in the hospital's clinical areas.

There is also another case related to the Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver, where the other cluster is located in the province.

Henry says the other new cases are linked to travel to Iran, Egypt, the Philippines and Mexico.

She says two people are now hospitalized, six have recovered and the rest are in isolation at home.

6:10 p.m.

A fourth person in Manitoba has tested positive for COVID-19.

The province says the man, who is in his 40s, appears to have been exposed to the virus during recent travels to South Korea, the Philippines and Japan.

The three other cases in Manitoba also appear to be travel-related.

5:45 p.m.

British Columbia Premier John Horgan says his counterparts were told during a conference call with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau today that federal funding to support provinces in the fight against COVID-19 will be distributed on an as-needed basis.

Horgan says he's pleased the $1 billion announced won't be divvied up on a per capita basis, as is typically the case with federal funding, but instead according to need.

During the call, Horgan says he called for employment insurance benefits to be extended beyond those who are already covered to include self-employed people, contract workers and others who wouldn't typically qualify so they can stay home if they have symptoms.

He says B.C. Finance Minister Carole James is working on a stimulus package to support small businesses during the pandemic and the province is prepared to adapt its budget to respond to market crashes and other economic impacts.

Horgan also says he called on the federal government to "up its game" at border crossings, adding British Columbia is now seeing increases in cases linked to the United States.

5:25 p.m.

Two more provinces are suspending jury trials.

Alberta Court of Queen's Bench is temporarily suspending all upcoming jury trials and jury selection, effective immediately, until May 31 or further notice.

In a news release, Alberta Courts said the decision applies to all jury trials and jury selections that have not yet started.

And in Manitoba, all trials scheduled to proceed by judge and jury before June 30 will not proceed with a jury.

Manitoba Courts say they will either be held by judge alone or rescheduled for a later date.

The one jury trial in progress will continue.

5:15 p.m.

Toronto's medical officer of health says all licensed childcare centres will be closed until April 5 to stop the spread of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Dr. Eileen de Villa is also recommending that anyone who has travelled recently outside of Canada to self-isolate for two weeks.

The city will also shut down many public buildings including libraries, recreation centres and swimming pools as well as cancel March break camps.

Officials, however, are not asking people to avoid mass public transit.

Toronto Mayor John Tory, who recently returned from a trade mission to London, says he has no symptoms but will go into self-isolation for the next 12 days.

4:35 p.m.

Canada has officially issued a global travel advisory to avoid non-essential travel outside of Canada until further notice.

Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne tweeted the notice, which also tells Canadians who are already outside Canada to find out commercial options for returning and consider ending their trip early.

The government is also warning Canadians travelling abroad right now to make sure they have enough money and necessities in case their plans are disrupted.

It notes new border restrictions, flight cancellations and quarantines mean it's possible that people may not be able to come home.

4:30 p.m.

The National Police Federation says RCMP officers are concerned about access to protective supplies and equipment to prevent the transmission of COVID-19.

The federation, which represents 20,000 members, says officers are concerned about an insufficient number of nitrile gloves, approved face masks and disinfectant.

Federation president Brian Sauve says questions have also been raised about travel-related quarantines for RCMP members returning from vacation and those who have cross-border residency.

Sauve says first responders cannot voluntarily self-isolate unless they have symptoms or direct exposure to COVID-19, which means protective measures are critical for them.

The RCMP could not immediately be reached for comment.

4 p.m.

Three administrative workers at Lions Gate Hospital in North Vancouver have tested positive for COVID-19.

Vancouver Coastal Health says they are in self-isolation at home and are recovering.

The health authority says they have not worked in the hospital's clinical areas.

The authority's medical health officers are investigating the source of the transmission and following up with other staff members who might have had close contact with the infected employees.

Starting today, the health authority says only family members are allowed to visit the hospital, out of an abundance of caution.

There are no restrictions on patient access.

3:40 p.m.

Victoria's harbour is bracing for 114 cancelled cruise ship arrivals and almost 300,000 fewer passengers this spring and summer after Transport Canada suspended the cruise season until July 1.

Greater Victoria Harbour Authority CEO Ian Robertson says he respects the federal government's decision to protect the health and safety of Canadians, but the suspension will have far reaching negative economic effects.

He says Victoria's original cruise ship projections for the 2020 season, which typically runs from April to October, was for 300 ship arrivals with an estimated 800,000 passengers.

Robertson says the cruise ship season provides about 1,000 local jobs, with many small businesses, artisans, entertainers and tour guides counting on tourists from cruise ships.

Robertson says the cruise industry is worth about $3 billion annually to Canada's economy, with two-thirds of that generated on the West Coast.

3:30 p.m.

Manitoba will suspend classes for three weeks beginning on March 23 to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The province is dealing with three presumptive cases of COVID-19, which all appear to be travel-related.

Health Minister Cameron Friesen says the measure is a way to stay proactive and follow the lead of other jurisdictions, such as Ontario and Quebec.

3:20 p.m.

Canada's national museums are set to shut their doors Saturday as the COVID-19 pandemic hits cultural venues across the country.

National Museums of Canada has announced that the public institutions will be closed until further notice to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The decision impacts the Canadian Museum of History, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, the Canadian Museum of Nature, the Canadian War Museum, Ingenium and the National Gallery of Canada.

2:15 p.m.

Stephen Poloz says the Bank of Canada is cutting its overnight rate target by half a percentage point in response to COVID-19.

The move brings it to 0.75 per cent as an emergency measure.

The last rate cut was last week, when it dropped from 1.75 per cent to 1.25 per cent.

2:10 p.m.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau says the government is making $10 billion available to businesses through a credit facility program.

He says it was an effective tool during the 2008 financial crisis and will be again now.

Morneau says he's also been in touch with CEOs of the major banks, who told him they will "support businesses and individuals" with fairness and compassion.

1:40 p.m.

The union representing WestJet flight attendants is expecting layoffs of more than 50 per cent of its staff as the number of flight cancellations continues to mount amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

An internal memo sent to union officials and obtained by The Canadian Press says that travellers are rebooking "in such massive numbers" that the situation quickly became grave.

Chris Rauenbusch, president of CUPE 4070 — which represents WestJet cabin crews — says that daily conversations with senior management alerted him to the situation, which has also seen new bookings dry up.

WestJet did not immediately respond to a request for comment

1:15 p.m.

Health Minister Patty Hajdu says public health officials will be reaching out to everyone who had contact with Sophie Gregoire Trudeau since she became symptomatic.

The prime minister's wife was diagnosed with COVID-19 yesterday after returning from the U.K.

Hajdu says that, because of the relatively low number of cases in this country, it's still possible for public health officials to do "contact tracing" for people diagnosed with the illness.

The country's deputy chief public health officer says Gregoire Trudeau was not symptomatic on the plane, so it's not necessary to reach out to those who flew with her.

1:10 p.m.

Canada's deputy chief public health officer is outlining some best practices for people to follow during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Howard Njoo says in general, people should stay about two arms'-lengths apart from one another.

He says it's safer to get together in small groups if everyone follows that advice, and the previous advice to avoid large public gatherings stands.

12:45 p.m.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he won't be tested for COVID-19 unless and until he shows symptoms of the virus.

He says that's the advice he's receiving from public health officials.

Trudeau's wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau was diagnosed with a mild case of the illness yesterday.

The family will stay in isolation for 14 days.

12:35 p.m.

Canadian Armed Forces commander Gen. Jonathan Vance is ordering a ban on all international travel for military personnel for at least the next three weeks as a result of COVID-19.

In a letter posted to Twitter, Vance says the move is necessary to protect the military from being unduly affected by the illness given its "unique and existential obligation" to continue operations and be prepared for unknown challenges.

All non-essential gatherings in Canada have also been suspended, while military personnel are being told to work from home where possible.

Military schools and colleges will continue operating, but students are confined to bases.

Vance says military personnel who have purchased vacation packages will be reimbursed for cancelling.

12:30 p.m.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he's keeping in close touch with his counterparts in the provinces and abroad in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak.

He says he'll be speaking with the premiers and Indigenous leaders later today.

And Trudeau says he's also spoken with world leaders including U.S. President Donald Trump, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron.

He made the remarks in a news conference outside his home, where he's in self-isolation following his wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau's diagnosis with the virus.

12:05 p.m.

Transport Minister Marc Garneau says no cruise ships carrying more than 500 people will be allowed to dock in Canada until at least July 1.

The restriction will apply to ports in the North for the whole season, because the risk from COVID-19 is greater in more remote communities.

He says the government is also planning to restrict the airports that can accept international flights, so people arriving on them can be more closely screened.

Garneau says the list of airports that will be included hasn't been settled yet.

12:05 p.m.

Quebec is closing all schools, junior colleges, universities and daycare centres in the province for two weeks beginning Monday to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Premier Francois Legault is also calling on the federal government to rapidly limit the entry of foreign visitors into the country.

He says it is inconsistent that the province's citizens are being told to self-isolate for two weeks upon returning from travel, but foreign visitors face no restrictions.

Speaking to reporters in Quebec City, Legault said daycare service would be available for health care workers and others providing essential services.

12 p.m.

Canada's chief public health officer says Canadians should not travel outside the country unless they have to, out of concern over the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Theresa Tam says any non-essential trip should be cancelled or postponed.

Besides the risk of catching or spreading the novel coronavirus, she says there's a danger of getting caught in a travel ban or quarantine abroad.

11:55 a.m.

Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu says every Canadian has to do their part to keep the COVID-19 pandemic at bay.

She says the actions we take today will save lives.

Staying home when you're sick, coughing into your elbow and washing your hands is critical, the health minister says.

She says governments are doing all they can but stopping the spread of the novel coronavirus comes down to numerous individual decisions to be careful.

11:45 a.m.

Ontario is reporting 19 new COVID-19 cases today, bringing the total to 79.

The total includes a new case that was reported late Thursday — in Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, the prime minister's wife.

The new cases include people who live in Toronto, York Region, Peel Region, Ottawa, Niagara, and Waterloo.

Most of the new cases are in people who recently travelled, to places such as the United States and Egypt, or are close contacts of other confirmed cases.

However, six cases are not listed with specific sources of transmission, but health officials didn't immediately say what that means.

11:35 a.m.

Ottawa is opening its first dedicated assessment centre for COVID-19 at noon.

Set up in a city skating rink just outside downtown, the centre is meant to let people be tested for the novel coronavirus without going to hospitals, potentially spreading it there and requiring constant cleaning in busy emergency departments.

The assessment centre is to be open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day.

It's meant for people who have COVID-19 symptoms such as fever and cough, and who have either recently returned from international travel or have close contact with someone who has a confirmed case of the illness.

11:30 a.m.

The National Arts Centre is suspending its programming in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The president and CEO has announced that performances and events at the Ottawa institution will be cancelled through April 5.

Christopher Deacon says tickets for cancelled shows will be exchanged or refunded.

Deacon says the centre's public spaces will remain accessible, and all other operations will continue.

10:45 a.m.

The suspension of the House of Commons means the federal budget won't be presented March 30 as Finance Minister Bill Morneau had promised.

Government House leader Pablo Rodriguez says the deal among all the parties allows a new date to be set.

He says the new date will be decided later.

The agreement also allows the Commons to sit with fewer MPs if it has to, so it can hold debates and votes only with members who don't have to travel far.

10:37 a.m.

The House of Commons is cancelling all public tours until April 20.

Visitor access is also being curtailed.

A message from Speaker Anthony Rota says committee travel and all parliamentary functions and events in the parliamentary precinct around Parliament Hill are cancelled.

Rota says the preventative measures were agreed to by an all-party board of internal economy.

A release from his office says the board is taking these measures to ensure a healthy and safe work environment in buildings and "to protect individuals who may be at risk for more severe complications from COVID-19."

10:35 a.m.

Part of the deal for closing Parliament for five weeks is ratifying the new NAFTA.

The House of Commons approved it unanimously and the Senate is expected to pass it quickly this afternoon before also adjourning for weeks.

10:30 a.m.

The judge presiding over a high-profile murder case in Toronto has told jurors the trial will continue amid new precautionary measures related to the novel coronavirus.

Justice Michael Dambrot says the Kalen Schlatter trial will be completed, "hopefully as quickly as possible."

The Superior Court of Justice of Ontario announced yesterday that jury selection has been suspended for future trials and anyone summoned for jury duty for upcoming proceedings should not come to court.

But it says trials currently underway can continue, unless the judge says otherwise.

10:30 a.m.

The University of Toronto is cancelling all in-person classes across its three campuses for undergraduates and research-stream masters and doctoral courses.

It will take effect starting Monday for the rest of the semester, and the school says it will "provide teaching by other means," including online.

Libraries, residences, food services, health and wellness centres, athletics and recreation facilities and other public spaces on all three campuses remain open.

Yesterday, U of T cancelled all university-sponsored learning programs abroad, advised that non-essential travel should be reconsidered and recommended the cancellation or postponement of all discretionary events.

More universities in Alberta are also cancelling classes, including the University of Calgary and the University of Lethbridge.

Those classes are just cancelled for the day, with longer-term measures to be announced in the next two days.

10:28 a.m.

Some mosques across the country are cancelling or altering their Friday prayer sermons in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The move comes after two Islamic organizations called on all mosques to drop the practice.

The Muslim Medical Association of Canada and the Canadian Council of Imams said mosques should cancel the congregational prayer until further notice.

Mosques in Toronto, Ottawa and Niagara Falls, Ont., have since cancelled the prayer, while other mosques in Vancouver and Montreal have opted instead to limit the size of the prayers to under 250 people.

Friday prayers are a religious practice similar to the Catholic Sunday Mass.

10:25 a.m.

The House of Commons is breaking until April 20, an extended suspension to try to keep legislators and staff from catching or spreading COVID-19.

All the parties say they've agreed to the measure, extending a planned one-week break into five.

Government house leader Pablo Rodriguez says the Commons could come back sooner if an emergency requires it.

He says it's a sign of how seriously MPs take the COVID-19 fight that they've found a way to compromise in a way that lets the federal government keep operating without routine votes in Parliament.

10:18 a.m.

McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., says it is suspending in-person classes at the end of the day.

The school says it is also cancelling in-person exams, and is telling students that instructors will let them know in the next few days what is happening with the rest of their course work and how grades will be evaluated.

McMaster also cancelled all "discretionary events" as of Thursday and urged everyone in the university community to avoid travel outside Canada.

10:15 a.m.

The CN Tower will be closed for the next month.

Canada Lands Company, which owns the landmark, says the tourist destination will close tonight and won't reopen until April 14.

The announcement comes a day after the Ontario government said it would shutter schools for two weeks following March Break, which begins on Monday.

After that announcement, the province's chief medical officer encouraged parents not to take their kids to enclosed public spaces such as museums and shopping malls.

10:10 a.m.

Parliament is preparing to stop sitting to keep politicians and staff safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Details are still emerging as MPs discuss the plans in the House of Commons.

Conservative whip Mark Strahl says the opposition will continue to hold the Liberals to account outside Parliament.

Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet says his party is supporting the plan in the interest of the common good, but days legislators don't sit will have to be made up later.

10:10 a.m.

York University in Toronto says it is suspending all face-to-face instruction and its classes will be moving online starting Monday.

All non-essential events are also being cancelled or postponed due to the novel coronavirus.

President and vice-chancellor Rhonda Lenton says members of the York University community will likely fall ill, but the school will be part of the network of family, friends and institutions that will help them recover.

9:50 a.m.

Nova Scotia is requiring public sector workers and public school children who travel abroad to isolate themselves for two weeks when they return to Canada.

The province's Liberal government introduced the travel protocols today with the goal of reducing the spread of the novel coronavirus in the province.

Premier Stephen McNeil says the private sector in the province is being encouraged to take the same approach and citizens who feel they need to travel must "show the courtesy" of isolating themselves when they return.

The province is also recommending that organizations limit social gatherings to no more than 150 people and McNeil says he's in discussions with the federal government about delaying the start of the cruise ship season.

The province has not yet reported a presumptive or confirmed case of COVID-19.

9:20 a.m.

Theatres are taking steps to assure audiences it's still safe to see movies on the big screen amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

TIFF Bell Lightbox is asking movie-goers to maintain a three-seat distance within its cinemas.

The Toronto theatre will be selling fewer tickets for each screening for at least the next four weeks.

Staff will also sanitize all tables, arm rests and other areas in and around the cinemas.

Cineplex says it's also rolling out "enhanced cleaning protocols" at locations across the country.

The chain says it's implementing policies to ensure hourly staff don't suffer a financial hit for staying home.

8:45 a.m.

The Royal Bank is predicting Canada will fall into a recession later this year as the economic impact of COVID-19 and the plunge in oil prices weigh on the economy.

The bank is predicting the economy will grow at an annual pace of 0.8 per cent in the first quarter, but then contract in the second and third quarters of the year.

RBC is forecasting an annualized decline of 2.5 per cent in the second quarter and 0.8 per cent in the third quarter.

It says the forecast is based on an assumption is that the impact of the virus will run its course by the end of the first half of the year, however the persistence of low oil prices will prevent the economy from recovering.

RBC expects the economy will pick up more substantially in the fourth quarter.

8:10 a.m.

Classes at the University of Alberta are suspended — at least for the day — as official decide whether the campus should remain open while the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise.

The University says campuses and all services remain open but classes have been suspended to allow for additional consultation with health experts.

The one-day suspension comes as Alberta Health announced Thursday that certain large gatherings of people should be cancelled to ward off the spread of the respiratory virus — although school closures were not ordered.

A statement from the university says "large research institutions are unique in their scale and diversity of experiences" and a decision on the resumption of classes will be made by this Sunday, at the latest.

7:00 a.m.

A Canadian biotech firm says it has produced a viable vaccine candidate for COVID-19.

Quebec-based Medicago says it has created a virus-like particle of the coronavirus, the first step in developing a vaccine.

The product will now undergo preclinical testing for safety and efficacy and the firm hopes to begin human trials by the summer.

The company is also using its technology to develop antibodies to the coronavirus in collaboration with Laval University's Infections Disease Research Centre.

Many global firms are in the race to find a vaccine, but experts caution the process could take more than a year.

6:30 a.m.

A hospital in Ottawa has established a drive-thru testing station to screen patients for COVID-19.

Queensway Carleton Hospital and Foundation says the station has been established outside its emergency department and is available to people who've been told by Ottawa Public Health to receive testing on the virus.

The hospital says the testing centre opened Thursday night and will be open as long as they deem necessary.

6:15 a.m.

A group of scientists from the Toronto-area say they've isolated the COVID-19 virus, which means they'll be able to better research and fight the illness.

The scientists, from Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, University of Toronto and McMaster University, say isolating the virus allows them to conduct long-term research and will help with developing treatments, vaccines and tests for the virus.

A statement from Sunnybrook says they'll collaborate with more scientists as they research the virus.

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