COVID-19 in Canada: Ontario imposes new restrictions for 3 hotspots; Trudeau says 'we're at a tipping point' amid latest modelling data

·Editor, Yahoo Canada

On Friday, Oct. 9, jurisdictions around Canada reported 2,558 new cases of COVID-19, which marks the largest single-day spike the nation has recorded throughout the pandemic.

It surpasses the 2,437 cases that were announced a day earlier.

If people don’t start to limit their contacts, we could be seeing up to 5,000 cases a day by late October to early November, according to the latest modelling data that was presented Friday by Canada's Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam.

“We’re at a tipping point in this pandemic,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, while reflecting on the rise in cases nationwide.

At the same press conference, Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland unveiled new and expanded benefits for businesses amid the second wave.

In Ontario, after labs identified a record-high 939 new cases of COVID-19, Doug Ford announced new restrictions for the province’s three hotspots, which will severely impact businesses for the next 28 days.

“This is the single toughest decision I've made since I've taken office, bar none,” said Ford.

For more on today’s top stories and the spread of the novel coronavirus across the country, please refer to our live updates below, as well as our COVID-19 news hub.

‘All trends are going in the wrong direction’: New restrictions for Ontario’s three major hot spots

Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s government has announced new restrictions for its three major hotspots in Toronto, Peel Region and Ottawa, in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The news comes after Ontario reported a record-high 939 new cases on Friday.

“My friends, the situation today is extremely serious. ... All trends are going in the wrong direction,” Ford said.

The premier noted he is implementing all the recommendations that were presented to him by health experts, which will particularly have an impact on business owners.

“I can't stress it enough, how difficult, how painful it was to make this decision. ... My heart just breaks for these folks.

According to a press release by the government, “modified Stage 2 restrictions” for Toronto, Peel Region and Ottawa — which will come into effect on Saturday for the next 28 days — include:

  • Reducing limits for all social gatherings and organized public events to a maximum of 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors where physical distancing can be maintained. The two limits may not be combined for an indoor-outdoor event;

  • Prohibiting indoor food and drink service in restaurants, bars and other food and drink establishments, including nightclubs and food court areas in malls;

  • Closing of:

    • Indoor gyms and fitness centres (i.e., exercise classes and weight and exercise rooms);

    • Casinos, bingo halls and other gaming establishments;

    • Indoor cinemas;

    • Performing arts centres and venues;

    • Spectator areas in racing venues;

    • Interactive exhibits or exhibits with high risk of personal contact in museums, galleries, zoos, science centres, landmarks, etc.;

  • Prohibiting personal care services where face coverings must be removed for the service (e.g. makeup application, beard trimming);

  • Reducing the capacity limits for:

    • Tour and guide services to 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors;

    • Real estate open houses to 10 people indoors, where physical distancing can be maintained;

    • In-person teaching and instruction (e.g. cooking class) to 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors, with exemptions for schools, child care centres, universities, colleges of applied arts and technology, private career colleges, the Ontario Police College, etc;

    • Meeting and event spaces to 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors, and

  • Limiting team sports to training sessions (no games or scrimmages).

No additional restrictions have been put in places for schools, child care centres, and places of worship. Weddings will be able to proceed under existing public health rules. However, on Oct. 13, they’ll be limited to 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors at event spaces.

Ford said he is hoping that the federal packages that were announced today for businesses will help Ontarians. The premier also announced that he’s directed his finance minister to make $300 million available to support affected businesses, particularly small ones.

“This is the single toughest decision I've made since I've taken office, bar none,” said Ford.

The focus for Ford lies in keeping schools open and protecting long-term care homes where there’s been an increase in spread. Health officials have also started to identify cases that have over 100 close contacts.

According to the latest modelling data by Ontario health experts, there could be limited access to care within 30 days under any scenario due to the impact COVID-19 will have on the health-care system. Currently, there are 225 people in hospital in Ontario, the most since June 29.

Worst case, officials are warning that Ontario could see scenarios similar to Northern Italy or New York, some of the most severely impacted regions during the first wave.

“If I didn't make this decision now, I'd be negligent. We're putting in extraordinary measures,” Ford said. “I’m just asking people to please just go by the guidelines.”

Ford was asked whether he would bring in other experts as part of his team, after the rapid rise in cases from 500 a week ago to over 900 on Friday. The premier defended Dr. David Williams, the Chief Medical Officer of Health for Ontario, saying that he doesn’t believe “changing [his] dance partner in the middle of the dance here. He's been phenomenal.”

Ford credits Williams for getting Ontario’s daily case count to below 100 over the course of the summer. However, “maybe even the government, maybe we got a little too lackadaisical when we saw 80 cases, with a population of 14 million people and everyone thinks it's fine.”

Following the update on Friday, it’s the 12th straight day the province has exceeded the 500-case mark. Ontario’s daily case count continues to increase, breaking its own record on four occasions over two weeks. Before the recent stretch, the province had not reported more than 500 cases since May 2.

There are now 5,652 active cases throughout the province. The most Ontario has ever had was on April 25, when there were 5,675 infected patients province-wide during the peak of its first wave.

Of those currently infected patients, 2,325 are in Toronto, 970 in Ottawa and 877 in Peel Region and 540 in York.

Canada could see up to 5,000 new cases a day by late October if we don’t limit contacts

The latest modelling data by the Public Health Agency of Canada shows that by Oct. 17, there could be 188,150-197,830 cases in the country, while the death toll is expected to increase to 9,690-9,800.

That means federal data projects that the country will see 133-243 additional fatalities and 12,591-22,271 more cases by Oct. 17 compared to Canada’s most recent complete statistics from Thursday.

“The acceleration of epidemic growth is concerning,” Chief Public Health Officer of Canada Dr. Theresa Tam said. “The actions of individual Canadians are needed now to reverse this trend.”

Modelling data also shows that Canada may see up to 5,000 cases a day by late October to early November if we maintain our current levels of contacts. If Canadians decrease them by 25-35 per cent, we could see fewer than 3,000 cases a day by November.

Credit: Public Health Agency of Canada
Credit: Public Health Agency of Canada

Tam said that the individual actions of people in some areas of the country have not been enough to decrease transmission. Therefore, such as in areas like Quebec and Ontario, additional measures have been in place, including strategic business closures in “order to put the brakes on the epidemic.”

Tam said that by acting fast and imposing restrictions, we have the best chance of limiting the spread and avoiding the public health system being overburdened.

“We are at an important juncture in the pandemic where we would very much like to see the voluntary actions of Canadians across the country be sufficient to bend the curve downward,” Tam added.

Tam, along with Trudeau and several other ministers, stressed the importance of limiting contacts this Thanksgiving weekend.

Credit: Public Health Agency of Canada
Credit: Public Health Agency of Canada

Along with the recent projections, the data showed how that across Canada trends vary, with the highest increase in cases occurring in Quebec, Ontario and Alberta. In contrast, there hasn’t been a significant resurgence in cases in the Atlantic bubble, which consists of Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador. There also hasn’t been any community transmission in the territories, said Tam.

Credit: Public Health Agency of Canada
Credit: Public Health Agency of Canada

Canada’s time-varying effective reproduction number (Rt), represents how many people are being infected by each new case. When it’s less than 1, it means that the “epidemic will die out.” However, Canada’s RT has been greater than 1 since August, meaning each 100 cases are passing on the virus to 100 others.

“We need to limit our contacts and opportunities for the virus to spread, bring RT below one again,” Tam said.

Credit: Public Health Agency of Canada
Credit: Public Health Agency of Canada

The number of active cases is also rising in First Nations communities, with the majority of cases in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

A map was provided to show the regions of the country that are being most severely impacted by the spread. Compared to the last update on Sept. 22, there are more regions that have incidence rates of over 50 cases per 100,000 people, which includes additional northern and rural areas.

Credit: Public Health Agency of Canada
Credit: Public Health Agency of Canada

Even though health officials have consistently observed the highest number of COVID-19 infections among those 20-39 years old, they're now seeing a concerning rise in infections among people 80 and up who are at highest risk of severe and fatal side effects.

More outbreaks are also being reported nationwide. There have been over 250 schools with more than two cases, but there’s been “little indication of transmission happening within the school environment,” Tam said. A growing concern is the rise in outbreaks in long-term care facilities, which are high-risk settings.

“At the same time a larger number of outbreaks are being reported related to private indoor gatherings, which several jurisdictions have noticed are contributing significantly to the spread of COVID-19,” Tam said.

Credit: Public Health Agency of Canada
Credit: Public Health Agency of Canada

Tam said hospitalizations and deaths are a late indicator of COVID-19 severity and they usually lag behind the increase of cases by several weeks. For more than two months, the nation observed fewer than eight deaths per day on average. Over the past week, the average number of reported deaths has increased to 18 per day.

“There is much we can do now to limit the impact of COVID-19 on the lives and livelihoods of Canadians,” Tam said. “Let’s act together in our actions and reduce the spread of the virus. Let's start today.”

More funding for businesses, mental health research amid second wave of COVID-19

At the same press conference for the latest modelling data, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland and other ministers provided updates on new economic benefits to help Canadians amid the second wave of COVID-19.

Freeland, who’s also Canada’s deputy prime minister, unveiled the new Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy program, which will provide rent support to businesses directly until June 2021, for those who have seen a revenue drop.

It replaces the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance, which ended in September. Unlike the previous benefit, businesses won’t have to rely on the participation of their landlord. The new program will cover up to 65 per cent of rent or mortgage interest payments for the hardest hit businesses with a revenue decline of at least 70 per cent.

For those who have experienced a revenue decline of less than 70 per cent, there will be a gradually decreasing level of support in line with the decline in their revenues, as a way of “delivering more targeted and accessible support,” said Freeland.

Businesses that are forced to temporarily shut down by mandatory public health orders will be able to qualify for funding that covers up to 90 per cent of eligible rent.

Freeland also announced that the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy has been extended until June 2021, in order to help businesses keep employees on the payroll amid the pandemic. Freeland said the subsidy will freeze at the current rate of up to 65 per cent of eligible wages until Dec. 19.

In addition, the Canada Emergency Business Account will be expanded. For businesses that have already qualified, they can get an additional loan of $20,000. Up to half of it ($10,000) it will be forgivable if repaid by June 31, 2022.

“This is the economically smart thing to do and it's the right thing to do,” Freeland said.

Ministers also announced a $100 million investment to help food banks and community organizations. An additional $37 million in funding will be provided to territories as part of the Safe Restart Agreement, and a supplemental $41.4 million will go toward air carriers to ensure essential air services to remote communities in the North.

To better understand how to protect the mental health of Canadians, the government also announced they are investing over $10 million into research projects around the country.

Two New Brunswick regions moved to ‘Orange’ level as rise in cases continues

With New Brunswick reporting 13 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, officials have decided to transition the Moncton and Campbellton regions to the “orange” level.

It’s the second highest level as part of its COVID-19 recovery plan, which imposes further restrictions due to the heightened risk of COVID-19 in the community.

Throughout New Brunswick, there are now 37 active cases — the most since April 12. Twenty-one of those currently infected patients are in the Moncton region, 13 are in the Campbellton region, two in the Saint John region and one in the Fredericton region.

"It is not an easy choice to move any area of this province to orange, but we must all use the tools available for us to slow down the spread of this virus," said New Brunswick Blaine Higgs on Friday. "If everyone follows the simple rules in place, they will protect us. I am confident we'll be able to keep these cases contained and quickly flatten the curve once again."

The province’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Jennifer Russell said public health recommended that the Moncton region returns to the orange level due to additional potential public exposures to the virus that have been identified through the investigation of existing cases.

In the Campbellton region, there’s been a community outbreak involving several settings with potential exposures to the virus. In both regions, there have been reports of low compliance with public health measures in some higher-risk settings, along with instances of possible community transmission.

No link has been found between the outbreaks in Moncton and Campbellton upon an initial investigation.

According to a press release, these restrictions will now apply to the two regions:

  • Two household bubble plus formal or informal caregivers and members of immediate family (parents, children, siblings and grand-parents) is permitted.

  • Outdoor gatherings with physical distancing of 10 people or fewer are permitted. Physical distancing required in all other settings.

  • Indoor religious services, weddings and funerals of 10 people or fewer are permitted.

  • Face masks remain mandatory in all public spaces, both indoors and outdoors.

  • Non-urgent medical procedures and elective surgeries allowed.

  • Strict visitor restrictions are maintained in vulnerable settings.

  • Primary care providers and regulated health professionals may operate utilizing virtual appointments whenever possible.

  • Unregulated health professionals are allowed, however, close contact personal services such as barbers, hair stylists or spas are closed.

  • Daycares and K to 12 schools are open under strict guidance, with virtual learning to be used for at-risk populations. Day camps are allowed.

  • Post-secondary education can continue to operate.

  • Outdoor recreational activities are allowed, including campgrounds, ATV or snowmobile trails. However, no organized sports are allowed.

  • Gym and fitness facilities are closed, including other similar sport or recreational businesses or facilities.

  • Casinos, amusement centres, bingo halls, arcades, cinemas and large live performance venues are closed.

  • All other businesses, including food, beverage and retail, can operate under a COVID-19 operational plan. Record keeping for seated venues is a requirement.

Higgs advised that people don’t travel to and from the orange level areas.

"We are discouraging travel in and out of the two impacted zones except for essential reasons,” Higgs said. "If you live in another zone [and] travel on the Trans-Canada Highway which passes through Greater Moncton, please do not stop at this time."

Of the 13 cases identified on Friday, 12 of them involve people in the Campbellton zone, while the other is in Moncton. On Friday, health officials notified the public that there’s been a confirmed case at Sugarloaf High School in Campbellton., which has forced the closure of the school. It’s the first case in a New Brunswick school since they opened for the fall semester.

Public health has also identified a potential public exposure to the virus at the McDonald’s Restaurant on Morton Avenue in Moncton. People who visited this location between 8 a.m. and 12 p.m. from Sept. 28 to Oct. 5. should self-monitor for symptoms for 14 days.

A rise in cases became a concern for New Brunswick after at least 19 cases were linked to an outbreak at Manoir Notre-Dame special care home in Moncton. That includes 17 cases that were announced on Wednesday, while there are now 150 people that are self-isolating in connection to the outbreak, said Russell.

On Friday, it become mandatory to wear masks in most indoor public places, a public health order that was announced on Thursday. An investigation by the province’s Department of Justice and Public Safety, which surveyed 600 public spaces, estimates that about 36 per cent of people wear masks when required.

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