Coronavirus: Ontario, Manitoba extend school closures

The latest:

Two provinces are extending their suspension of in-class learning for kindergarten to Grade 12 because of the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, with Manitoba announcing school buildings are closed “indefinitely” and Ontario saying students won’t be back at their desks until at least May.

Manitoba’s education minister said Tuesday that secondary students who were set to graduate still will. None of the province’s students will be held back because of the coronavirus pandemic, Kelvin Goertzen said in announcing the new measure.

Ontario has also announced it is going to extend the cancellation of in-class learning for students, meaning children from junior kindergarten through to Grade 12 won’t be back at their desks until at least May 4. Schools in the province have been closed since March 14, the start of the annual March Break.

“In order to protect our children, I’m prepared to extend these closures even further if we have to,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Tuesday.

Toronto is cancelling all city-led events, conferences, festivals and cultural programs until June 30. Events affected include the annual Pride Parade in June, Mayor John Tory announced Tuesday.

Several provinces — including Nova Scotia and Quebec — have already announced that in-class learning is suspended until at least May, while the Northwest Territories and the Nunavik region of northern Quebec have said that school buildings won’t open again this academic year.

Prince Edward Island has gone further, extending in-class closures to at least May 11. New Brunswick hasn’t provided an estimated date, saying that school buildings are closed indefinitely.

The coronavirus outbreak, which began in China in late 2019 and has now spread to countries in all corners of the world, has stretched health systems, strained protective gear supplies, crippled companies and cancelled in-class learning for children from daycare age right up through university.

Across the country, educators and school boards have been trying to sort out how to best keep students learning, including through a variety of e-learning programs. In B.C., the superintendent of the Surrey school board asked parents for patience as teachers turned to virtual learning after spring break. In nearby Vancouver, the superintendent also cautioned that it will “take time” to sort out how the year’s curriculum will be delivered.

A woman walks past signs to withhold rent in Toronto on Tuesday. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

Newfoundland and Labrador has said all K-9 students will advance into the next grade no matter what happens with the rest of the academic year. The plan for more advanced high school students in that province is not yet clear.

In Saskatchewan, final grades are set by default to what a student earned by March 13 — though they can improve it through continued online learning. The Saskatchewan government assigned all students at least a 50 per cent mark in their classes, even if they are failing.

WATCH | Talking to kids about the coronavirus pandemic:

How to talk to your kids about the COVID-19 pandemic. 2:01 

Ottawa allocating $ 2B for protective gear

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday that his government is allocating $ 2 billion for the purchase of critical protective supplies, like test kits and the face masks and gowns worn by health-care workers.

Additional information was also expected about a federal plan to offer wage subsidies of up to 75 per cent for businesses — big and small — that see at least a 30 per cent revenue drop. The temporary subsidies are also available to non-profits, many of which have seen a surge in demand as people struggle to pay bills.

The prime minister has urged businesses that could afford to cover the remaining 25 per cent to do so, and cautioned against trying to take advantage of a system meant to keep companies afloat during a time of crisis.

“If you have the means to pay the remaining 25 per cent that is not covered by the subsidy, do it,” Trudeau said Monday. “And if you think this is a system you can game or take advantage of, don’t.”

At the same time, Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, has reiterated a call to do everything possible to protect the vulnerable.

Tam said public health teams are doing “everything we can” to increase testing capacity for the coronavirus. She said Canada has been improving, but added “we can do better.” The government is looking at a range of measures, including upping capacity at provincial labs and scrutinizing new potential testing methods.

Also Monday, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said that Canada’s Armed Forces have 24,000 regular and reserve members ready to respond as needed.

The military, he said, could help with logistics, shipping or other needs that crop up amid the outbreak, including flooding or forest fires. 

The military had asked many members to self-isolate early in the outbreak to ensure they had healthy people if needed down the road, Sajjan said. He added that the military has prioritized the ability to be flexible in its response, with a particular emphasis on being able to serve people in the North.

Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance said troops have been sequestered to stay as “healthy as possible” so they are ready to go if needed. The response is “scalable” depending on the nature of the problem, Vance said. 

WATCH | Vance talks about what the military can offer in a pandemic: 

Canada’s top military commander Gen. Jonathan Vance says the Canadian Armed Forces are prepared to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. 1:01

The U.S. death toll climbed past 3,500 on Tuesday, eclipsing China’s official count. But experts say all numbers reported by governments and states in this pandemic are faulty in different ways, due to the lack of testing, mild virus cases that are missed, or the determination of some governments to try to seize and shape their pandemic narrative.

China, for example, faced questions at the height of its outbreak as it changed the way it determined who was a confirmed case, and Iran faced questions about whether it was accurately reporting cases.

“This is going to be a long-term battle and we cannot let down our guard,” said Dr. Takeshi Kasai, the World Health Organization’s regional director for the western Pacific. “We need every country to keep responding according to their local situation.”

As of 1 p.m. ET on Tuesday, Canada had 8,486 confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19, with 92 deaths. Provinces and territories reported 1,217 cases as resolved, though it’s important to note that data isn’t available in all areas.

The numbers, which are updated at least daily by the provinces and territories, are not a complete picture, as they don’t account for people who haven’t been tested, those being investigated as potential cases and people still waiting to learn their test results.  

There have also been two reported COVID-19 related deaths of Canadians abroad — one in Brazil and one in Japan.

The novel coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.

The Public Health Agency of Canada, which has been monitoring the outbreak and emerging research, says that the situation around COVID-19 changes daily, but describes the novel coronavirus as a “serious” health threat.

“The risk will vary between and within communities, but given the increasing number of cases in Canada, the risk to Canadians is considered high.”

WATCH | The latest information on masks and who experts say should wear them: 

While public health officials tell Canadians not to wear masks unless they’re sick, other countries take a different approach, leading to confusion for some. 2:05

Read on for a look at what’s happening in your part of Canada, the U.S. and some of the hard-hit areas of the world.

Here’s what’s happening in the provinces

In British Columbia, the province recorded its first at-home death from COVID-19. “We are not through the storm yet. We have not yet reached our peak,” said top public health official Dr. Bonnie Henry as she stressed the need to stay home. Get the latest on what’s happening in B.C., including a call from some business owners for help with rent.

In Alberta, a third resident at a southeast Calgary long-term care facility has died of COVID-19, operator Revera Living confirmed to CBC News on Tuesday. As of midday Monday, 41 people had tested positive for the disease at the McKenzie Towne care home, including 36 residents and five staff members. Get the latest on what’s happening in Alberta.

Saskatchewan reported its first two deaths related to COVID-19 on Monday. The province’s chief medical officer of health said both people were in their 70s but declined to offer additional details about the deaths, which he described as “a sad milestone in our fight against COVID-19.” Get the latest on what’s happening in Saskatchewan.

Manitoba is shutting down non-critical services starting Tuesday. That means things like hair salons and massage therapy offices won’t be allowed to open and restaurants will be cut back to offering take out. “This is not a sprint — this is a marathon. And we have to make the necessary steps now to make sure that we keep that slope on [COVID-19] down,” Premier Brian Pallister said. Get the latest on what’s happening in Manitoba.

WATCH | Patient who is recovering from COVID-19 gives wrenching account of experience:

Wife Tracy Segura said she wasn’t sure she’d see husband Rene again after he landed in the emergency ward alone in a Barrie, Ont., hospital. 15:03

A small Ontario community is reeling after a COVID-19 outbreak at a long-term care home proved deadly for many residents and led to more than two-dozen infections among staff. “I’ve been in practice for 32 years. I’ve seen a lot of bad stuff happen, but I don’t remember anything with this level of sadness,” medical director of the Bobcaygeon, Ont., facility Michelle Snarr said Monday. By Tuesday there were 13 deaths linked to the facility — 12 residents and one woman who volunteered there and whose husband lived at the facility. Get the latest on what’s happening in Ontario.

Quebec reported Tuesday that it now has more than 4,100 cases, a 21 per cent increase in the last 24 hours, with 31 deathsPremier François Legault says the province still has capacity for “what will come next.”  Get the latest from Quebec, including new information on a Montreal homeless man who was thought to be positive for COVID-19, but was in fact not.

New Brunswick on Tuesday confirmed two new cases of COVID-19, bringing the province’s total to 70. Chief medical officer of health Dr. Jennifer Russell said the illness is now spreading through community transmission and therefore people should not be “lulled” by the modest increase in numbers. Premier Blaine Higgs said people ignoring the rules will face enforcement measures including thousands of dollars in fines and — in extreme cases — possible detention. Get the latest on what’s happening in N.B.

Nova Scotia’s COVID-19 lab has more than tripled its capacity to test for the new coronavirus. Charles Heinstein, technical manager at the QEII Health Sciences Centre microbiology lab in Halifax, said the staff have moved to an assembly line approach. Get the latest from N.S.

P.E.I.’s premier had tough words for people who aren’t following public health orders in the province, saying: “The time for education is over. The time for enforcement is now.” Dennis King said Islanders can expect to see fines being issued, and didn’t rule out jail time if people keep ignoring rules. Get the latest on what’s happening on P.E.I.

Newfoundland and Labrador has set up a 30-bed unit for COVID-19 patients. “It has a number of negative pressure rooms, which is part of the technology that helps us keep the patients and staff as safe as possible when we have highly infectious diseases,” David Diamond, president and CEO of Eastern Health, said of the setup at Health Sciences Centre in St. John’s. Get the latest on what’s happening in N.L., including the story of a man staying in a prospector’s tent in his driveway for 14 days while his family lives inside.

Yukon has reported a fifth COVID-19 case after a “cluster” investigation, and the territory’s top health official says there may be more to come. In the Northwest Territories, where schools have been closed for the rest of the academic year, education officials said students should expect final grades even as they get fewer hours of schooling. Nunavut, meanwhile, has said people who violate a mandatory self-isolation order could face jail time. Get the latest from across Canada’s North, including the story of Yukon First Nations helping members who can’t pay bills.

Here’s what’s happening in the U.S.

From Reuters and The Associated Press, updated at 1:30 p.m. ET

As the U.S. death toll mounted on Tuesday, in hard-hit New York, a mammoth convention centre started taking patients to ease the burden on the city’s overwhelmed health system. Arthur Ashe Stadium, where the U.S. Open is held, was also being turned into a hospital. New York remains the nation’s deadliest hot spot, with about 1,550 deaths statewide, the majority of them in New York City.

WATCH | New York, faced with growing outbreak, asks for help:

Even as a U.S. navy hospital carrying 1,000 beds sails into New York City, the state pleads for more health-care workers and relief as hospitals are overrun with COVID-19 cases and deaths. 2:02

Meanwhile, a U.S. navy hospital ship with 1,000 beds that docked in the city Monday was expected to begin accepting non-coronavirus patients on Tuesday.

Close to 80,000 former nurses, doctors and other professionals are already said to be stepping forward to help New York. New York City also sought to bring in 250 out-of-town ambulances and 500 paramedics and emergency medical technicians to help its swamped EMS system.

In California, officials put out a similar call for medical volunteers as coronavirus hospitalizations doubled over the last four days and the number of patients in intensive care tripled.

U.S. officials want to build hundreds of temporary hospitals across the country to cope with the thousands of new coronavirus cases being diagnosed daily.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which converted New York City’s Javits Center into a 1,000-bed hospital in the space of a week, is searching for hotels, dormitories, convention centres and large, open spaces to build as many as 341 temporary hospitals, the chief of corps said on Tuesday.

“The scope is immense,” Lt.-Gen. Todd Semonite told Good Morning America. “We’re looking right now at around 341 different facilities across all of the United States.”

At least six members of the U.S. Congress have announced that they have contracted the novel coronavirus, and more than 30 others are or were self-quarantining in hopes of limiting the spread of the pandemic.

WATCH | World landmarks light up in display of thanks to health-care workers:

As an expression of gratitude to health-care workers battling the coronavirus, the Eiffel Tower, Empire State Building and other famous sites around the world are shining brightly. 0:52

Here’s what’s happening in hard-hit Italy, Spain and around Europe

From The Associated Press and Reuters, updated at 1:30 p.m. ET

In Italy, the reported death toll was about 12,400 on Tuesday, but the country’s emergency co-ordinator, Domenico Arcuri, acknowledged that officials don’t have a handle on how many people outside of hospitals are contracting the virus and how many are dying at home or in nursing homes.

Dr. Silvio Brusaferro, the head of the Italian National Institute of Health, said that three weeks into a national lockdown, the hardest-hit country in Europe is seeing the rate of new infections level off. “The curve suggests we are at the plateau,” he said. “We have to confirm it, because arriving at the plateau doesn’t mean we have conquered the peak and we’re done. It means now we should start to see the decline if we continue to place maximum attention on what we do every day.”

A mural dedicated to all Italian medical workers depicting a nurse cradling Italy and reading ‘To All Of You… Thank You!’ is seen on a wall of Papa Giovanni XXIII Hospital last week in Bergamo, near Milan, Italy. (Emanuele Cremaschi/Getty Images)

Spain reported more than 840 new deaths Tuesday, pushing its death toll above 8,000 and forcing Madrid to open a second temporary morgue after an ice rink pressed into service last week became overwhelmed. Dozens of hotels across Spain have been turned into recovery rooms for patients in less-serious condition, and authorities are building field hospitals in sports centres, libraries and exhibition halls.

A member of the medical staff, wearing protective suit and face mask, checks the temperature of a patient at an emergency COVID-19 centre inside a gymnasium in Champigny-sur-Marne near Paris on Tuesday. (Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters)

Poland‘s government is ramping up regulations in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus because too many people are failing to practise the required physical distancing and the number of infections is rising. In announcing the new measures Tuesday, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that too many people were seen out in public spaces on a weekend that saw warm, spring-like weather. The number of infections is still lower than in western Europe but is growing, with 2,132 infections and 31 confirmed deaths as of Tuesday.

Germany’s labour minister says he expects the number of people on a government-backed short-term work program to exceed the 1.4 million it reached during the financial crisis in 2009. The government has recently made it easier for companies to put workers on the program, which was credited with limiting job losses during the financial crisis and speeding the rebound.

The death toll in England from the coronavirus outbreak rose 29 per cent to 1,651, with one person as young as 19 dying without any underlying health conditions, the National Health Service said. “Patients were aged between 19 and 98 years old and all but 28 patients (aged between 19 and 91 years old) had underlying health conditions,” it said. Scotland said 60 people had died as of Tuesday. Wales said 69 people had died. Northern Ireland said its toll was 28.

Belgian authorities say a 12-year-old girl has died of the coronavirus, by far the youngest person among the more than 700 victims in the country. Announcing the news Tuesday, national crisis centre coronavirus spokesperson Emmanuel Andre said it is “an emotionally difficult moment, because it involves a child, and it has also upset the medical and scientific community.” No details about the girl were provided. Andre said that 98 people had died from the disease over the last 24 hours, bringing the total toll to 705 in a country of around 11.5 million people. More than 12,705 cases have been confirmed in total so far.

Here’s a look at what’s happening in China, South Korea, Iran and some other areas of the world

From Reuters and The Associated Press, updated at 2 p.m. ET

The epidemic is “far from over” in the Asia-Pacific region, and the current measures are merely buying time for countries to prepare for large-scale community transmissions, a WHO official said on Tuesday. 

Chinese officials say the coronavirus epidemic isn’t over in their country and that daunting challenges remain. Foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said Tuesday that authorities need to make sure that infected people arriving from abroad don’t spread the disease and start new outbreaks. She hit back at U.S. criticism of her country’s handling of the epidemic, saying that China and the U.S. should work together to fight it. Hua noted that some local Chinese governments and companies have provided virus-related medical supplies to the United States, even as the demand for those supplies remains high in China.

Tokyo recorded more than 70 new infections on Tuesday for its highest tally in a single day, as pressure built on Japan’s prime minister to order a lockdown.

A vendor serves a customer at her stall at a wet market in Las Pinas, in Manila, through a plastic cover to enforce physical distancing on Monday. (Ezra Acayan/Getty Images)

Iran’s death toll from coronavirus reached nearly 2,000 Tuesday, with 141 deaths in the past 24 hours, Health Ministry spokesperson Kianush Jahanpur told state TV on Tuesday, noting that the total number of infections has jumped to 44,606. The government has banned inter-city travel and warned of a potential surge in coronavirus cases because many Iranians defied calls to cancel travel plans for the Persian New Year holidays that began on March 20. It has so far stopped short of imposing a lockdown on Iranian cities.

Saudi Arabia wants Muslims to wait until there is more clarity about the coronavirus pandemic before planning to attend the annual hajj pilgrimage in late July, the minister for the event said on state TV on Tuesday. Some 2.5 million pilgrims from around the world usually flock to the holiest sites of Islam in Mecca and Medina for the week-long ritual, which is a once-in-a-lifetime duty for every able-bodied Muslim and a major source of income for the kingdom.

The Philippine government is studying the possibility of deploying ships that can serve as “floating quarantine hospitals” for people infected by the coronavirus once leading hospitals are filled to capacity. At least six private metropolitan Manila hospitals have announced they are full and can no longer accept COVID-19 patients.

Shortages of protective gear in India are forcing some doctors to use raincoats and motorbike helmets while fighting the virus, which has the whole country in a 21-day lockdown. India has 1,200 confirmed cases of the coronavirus across the country, including 32 deaths, a quarter of which have been linked to a religious gathering.

People stand apart in a line to receive free food being distributed on a street during a 21-day nationwide lockdown to limit the spread of the coronavirus in New Delhi on Monday. (Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters)

South Korea has managed to bring down its rate of new infections to about 100 or fewer a day, but groups of cases in churches, hospitals and nursing homes, as well as imported cases, are still emerging. Authorities have postponed the beginning of the new school semester three times from early March to April 6, and have decided to do so again, given the persistence of the outbreak.

South Africa’s president on Monday night announced that the country, which has the most cases in Africa with 1,326, will launch a mass screening and testing program with about 10,000 field workers going door-to-door. And, Uganda and Botswana are the latest countries to impose lockdowns in an effort to prevent the virus’s spread. Africa’s confirmed coronavirus cases are now above 5,200, with 173 deaths. Shortages of testing materials mean the real number of cases could be higher.

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro said there can be no more quarantine measures imposed on the country than those already in place because jobs are being destroyed and the poor are suffering disproportionately.

Mexico declared a health emergency on Monday and issued further restrictions.

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