Physical distancing should last months, not weeks, says epidemiologist

A sign is posted in a park reminding people to practice social distancing Wednesday, March 25, 2020, in Houston, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Physical distancing and working from home is the new reality for most Canadians. Unfortunately, this new reality may last more than a few weeks, longer than most Canadians had anticipated, according to one epidemiologist. 

“If you’re an optimist we’re talking about social distancing for about 12 weeks, if you’re a pessimist you should believe about 24 weeks,” said Dr. Gerald Evans, Chair and Medical Director of Infection Prevention & Control at Kingston Health Sciences Centre.

Physical and social distancing refers to the practice of leaving at least a six foot distance between yourself and the person nearest to you, while also eliminating non-essential behaviour. 

“These kinds of social distancing and public health measures are going to have to go on for months, not weeks,” said Dr. Evans.

Data shows the rate of COVID-19 infections is climbing every day in Canada with the country hitting its current peak of 701 cases on Mar. 24. Evans said Canadians have to be ready to wait out the storm.

This past weekend numerous photos surfaced online of Vancouverites congregating in beaches and parks disobeying Canadian public health officials advice to physically distance. However, Evans notes expecting people to be entirely comfortable in accepting a drastic change can be a daunting task.

“It takes a little bit of time to wrap yourself around a change in your life routine, and I think that’s a little of what we saw this past weekend,” he said. “It takes a little time for all of society to wrestle with the issue.”

Evans' estimate of three to six months of physical and social distancing may seem harsh, but he says if Canadians want to avoid a similar COVID-19 outbreak like Italy, they need to be in it for the long haul.

In terms of Canada’s response at the federal and provincial levels, Evans points to the measures put in by countries to implement physical distancing.

Both Quebec and Ontario’s provincial government took the stance of taking power out of people’s hands by ordering mandatory closures of all non-essential workplaces by Tuesday evening. The closures will last at least 14 days.

After its first confirmed case of COVID-19, the Northwest Territories banned non-essential travel into the area. In Atlantic Canada, Prince Edward Island’s government is telling people who are traveling from outside the area, even other parts of Canada, that they will need to self-isolate for 14 days.

Following South Korea’s model

After the first few patients in Canada tested positive for COVID-19 and the WHO declared an epidemic, Evans was pleased with Canada’s response to get the health system up and running.

“We’re way ahead of curve considering all the places where this has hit very badly like Italy and Iran,” said Evans.

With early implementation of testing measures and with residents following recommendations of physical distancing, Canada could flatten the curve. 

“Our situation may be like the better situations of South Korea, Singapore and even Japan to some extent,” Evans said.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has pointed to South Korea as one of the countries who effectively flattened the curve. 

In a single day, Feb. 29, there were 909 new cases in the country of 50-million-plus, but through measures of social distancing and aggressive testing they were able to limit the spread.

One of the things holding Canada back from reaching South Korea’s 20,000 tests per day is not having access to the materials needed by healthcare professionals, due to a halt in manufacturing in China and Italy.

There’s a stark difference between South Korea’s mortality rate of 0.94 pet cent to Italy’s 9.6 per cent, where at least 600 people have died per day since March 20.

“The epidemic [in Canada] appears to be relatively small [according to tested numbers] and there is evidence of spread, but you’re not seeing a cluster of deaths like in Italy,” said Dr. Jerome Kim, Director General of the International Vaccine Institute .

One of the reasons for the lower mortality rates in South Korea is a result of the country having prior experience dealing with the Middle East respiratory syndrome-related coronavirus (MERS-CoV) in 2015, from which 38 people died.

According to Kim, South Korea’s government started to take greater precautions and preventative methods to avoid another outbreak.

“With everything preparedness helps...the last preparedness drill was in December, they had no idea [COVID-19] was coming, but it was useful,” says Kim. 

Messaging is key

According to Kim, one of the first things the South Korean government did was communicate to the country of more than 50 million people through social media and broadcast channels that they needed to follow physical distancing.

“They were transparent...the messages were clear, they were simple,” he said.

But most of the credit in reducing the outbreak belongs to South Koreans who heeded the advice of public health professionals without needing government or military intervention.

“The [government] gave people advice and they followed it. Koreans had experienced an outbreak before and nobody wanted to get infected,” he said.

Even now, a month removed from the physical and social distancing recommendations, South Korean are still abiding by the recommendations.

“You’re starting to see some people out, but it’s nothing like what you would see on a normal day,” he said. “People are still respecting the idea that they should be physically distancing.”

Evans is cognizant of South Korea’s methodology and the willingness of their people to limit the spread and hopes Canadians will follow suit.

“Be patient, it’ll take months, but when everything is safe, people can and should resume their lives,” he said.

  • COVID-19 in Canada: Alberta projects 800,000 infections, Ontario Premier Doug Ford blasts lack of tests as 'unacceptable'
    Yahoo News Canada

    COVID-19 in Canada: Alberta projects 800,000 infections, Ontario Premier Doug Ford blasts lack of tests as 'unacceptable'

    As cases of COVID-19 continue to spread around the world, Canadians seem to be increasingly concerned about their health and safety.

  • Canadian Transportation Agency says travel vouchers OK for cancelled flights as U.S., EU mandate refunds

    Canadian Transportation Agency says travel vouchers OK for cancelled flights as U.S., EU mandate refunds

    While the Canadian Transportation Agency states airlines only have to offer passengers travel vouchers for cancelled flights due to the COVID-19 pandemic, both the European Union and the U.S. have declared that — under their rules — passengers are entitled to refunds."Canadians should have the same rights to get their refund," said passenger Olinda Vieira of Toronto. Although Sunwing initially promised her family a refund after cancelling their March 17 trip to Cuba, the airline issued a credit for future travel instead, she said."In my view, they're keeping [my money] hostage."Vieira is one of dozens passengers who complained to CBC News after receiving a credit or voucher instead of a refund for flights cancelled by Canadian airlines during the pandemic. Due to a huge decline in air travel, airlines worldwide have been forced to cancel many flights or, in some cases, suspend operations entirely.On March 18, the European Commission clarified that airlines must offer refunds for cancelled flights, as laid out in its EU passenger rights regulations. On April 3, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) also ordered airlines to offer refunds during the pandemic. "The obligation of airlines to provide refunds … does not cease when the flight disruptions are outside of the carrier's control," said DOT in a statement.Canadian airlines affectedDOT said its rules also apply to foreign airlines cancelling flights to and from the U.S. That means a Canadian airline cancelling a round-trip flight from, say, Toronto to Miami must offer passengers full refunds. According to EU rules, Canadian airlines cancelling flights departing from Europe, including the U.K., must offer up refunds. WATCH | Why a decline in global air traffic makes it harder to forecast the weather On their websites, major Canadian airlines Air Canada, WestJet, Air Transat and Sunwing state they're currently providing credit for cancelled flights which must be redeemed within 24 months. CBC News asked all four airlines if they will issue refunds for flights that fall under U.S. and EU rules.Only Sunwing responded, saying only its cancelled flights to Florida are affected, and that it's waiting on advice from its U.S. lawyers on how to proceed.Air passenger rights expert Christian Nielsen said airlines are obligated to pay up, but because their revenues have plummeted during the pandemic, passengers may face difficulty collecting refunds under EU and U.S. rules at this time."Remember that you have this right to a refund and claim it a little later when that airline's cash situation improves," suggests Nielsen, chief legal officer with AirHelp, a company that pursues compensation claims for passengers for a fee. Passengers can also file a complaint with DOT or a European enforcement body for EU passenger rights. CTA says it's striking a balanceThe Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) issued its position on March 25, stating airlines only need to provide travel vouchers for flights cancelled due to the pandemic. The airline watchdog said that Canada's air passenger regulations — which cover flights to, from and within Canada — only require that airlines ensure passengers complete their trip for flight cancellations caused by reasons outside of their control.The agency said in an email to CBC News that its position "strikes a balance" between passengers' rights and airlines, which are suffering financially during the pandemic. But passenger Vieira said she feels her rights have been violated because Sunwing initially committed to refunding her cancelled $3,413 March vacation package for herself and two family members. On March 16, the family also saw a message Sunwing posted to Instagram — since deleted — saying that it was issuing refunds.On the same day, the airline announced in a news release that passengers whose flights were cancelled "will be eligible for a full cash refund." Even so, Vieira never got a refund. Instead, she said she learned on March 30 that Sunwing was now offering only travel credits."They're going back on their word," she said. "It's very concerning that during these times ... they're trying to keep people's money."We had to make adjustmentsSunwing had to adjust its policy due to "changing circumstances," said spokesperson Jacqueline Grossman in an email to CBC News. "We understand that some customers would have preferred a refund, but are confident that during the next two years they will be able to take the flights or vacations they had planned."Grossman added that Sunwing's policy is in line with other Canadian airlines and the CTA's statement approving credit for cancelled flights.But passenger rights expert Nielsen argues that the agency's position isn't an official ruling on the matter."It's not legally binding on consumers," he said. "You could take it further — and we actually see a class action already."In late March, a proposed class-action lawsuit targeting Canada's major airlines was filed in federal court, alleging breach of contract for not offering refunds for cancelled trips. The suit has to be certified by a judge before it can proceed.The CTA declined to comment on the proposed lawsuit and said its current position "provides guidance in a situation without precedent."The agency added that dissatisfied passengers can file a complaint with the CTA. Vieira's family has done just that. However, the family may have to wait a while. The CTA has suspended its complaint operations until June 30 to focus on more urgent matters during the pandemic.

  • Embassy in Peru praised for organizing buses, planes and a trip home for stuck Canadians

    Embassy in Peru praised for organizing buses, planes and a trip home for stuck Canadians

    An Edmonton man who arrived back home on a repatriation flight earlier this week says he's thankful to be back on Canadian soil even though it meant cutting his six-month trek through South America in half. Michael Melymick, 24, and his girlfriend, Teneille Aulotte, 20, touched down in Edmonton on Sunday morning after spending the better of three weeks trying to get home from Lima, Peru. "It was super-stressful. I haven't been stressed out like that in a while," said Melymick, who works in construction and left Canada for Columbia in December. Their journey to get back home though started in the middle of March. After spending a couple of days in Lima, Peru, at the start of the month, the couple travelled north to the surfing town of Mancora, which is about a 20-hour bus ride.At first, Melymick said, everything was fine. Then, on March 13, the Peruvian government put a travel ban in place. The first case of coronavirus in March was confimed on March 6. As of Monday, the country had 1,746 cases and 73 deaths. 'No one else but us'All travel by land, sea and air was suspended meaning Melymick and his girlfriend had to wait it out in Mancora.  They spent the next 20 days at their seaside hotel. A curfew meant everyone had to stay indoors between 5 p.m. and 4 a.m. "We were actually the only people at the hotel. There was no one else but us,' he recalled.Melymick says the hotel owner gave them a discount and upgraded them to a better room."The first day we got there, the beach was just packed with people. And then toward the end, you wouldn't see a single soul on the beach because there was police," he added."It was really weird and just an uncomfortable feeling," he said. "You're on vacation, you don't want to be constantly being approached by police and military." During the lockdown, Melymick was in daily contact with his dad Mike in Edmonton.He heard about the repatriation flights and registered with the government online, where he says he received email updates on when they could get back home. 'Going home, finally'Eventually, Melymick was notified about a flight to Toronto out of Lima on April 5. The problem was the couple was nearly 1,200 kilometers away. On April 3, they took a seven-hour bus ride to the city of Piura. They flew to Lima, then got onto an Air Canada flight headed for Toronto. The bus trip from Mancora stopped in several towns to pick up other Canadians for the flight out of Piura. It had a military escort, which is something Melymick says he'll never forget.At several stops, the bus was boarded by police who checked the passports and temperatures of all the passengers."Everyone was kind of keeping to themselves a little bit," he said. "But you could tell everyone was happy and relieved to be going home, finally."There was joy back in Canada, too.   Melymick's dad had been trying since February to convince his son to come back home and was relieved to hear they were booked on the repatriation flight. "I think he was flying over Cuba and he sent an email," recalled Mike Melymick from his home in Edmonton. "That was the yell, the cheer, the crying. That was the big moment, you knew he was coming home."'Blows my mind' Melymick and his girlfriend touched down in Toronto at about 2 a.m. on April 5. Their connecting flight to Edmonton left five hours later, getting them home at 9 a.m. Sunday morning.  The cost to get home was $1,400 Canadian each.  Both Melymicks had high praise for the Canadian embassy in Lima for its efforts getting the Canadians home."It's right out of a movie," the senior Melymick said of his son's adventure. "The staff at the Canadian embassy in Peru really went to bat for these Canadians.   "It just blows my mind the logistics that would have happened to get this rescue — buses and planes — to pick up Canadians. It's unbelievable."

  • 23 Canadians at quarantine sites and Trump criticizes WHO; In The News for April 8
    The Canadian Press

    23 Canadians at quarantine sites and Trump criticizes WHO; In The News for April 8

    In The News is a roundup of stories from The Canadian Press designed to kickstart your day. Here is what's on the radar of our editors for the morning of April 8 ...COVID-19 in Canada ...Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to announce today further measures to financially support entrepreneurs, small businesses and young people who aren't eligible for previously unveiled emergency federal aid programs.Among other things, Trudeau is expected to announce a retooled Canada Summer Jobs program aimed at helping students find work in those industries that haven't shut down due to the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.The federal government has already unveiled the $24-billion Canada Emergency Response Benefit for people who've lost their jobs and a $71-billion wage subsidy program for companies that have lost 30 per cent of their revenues because of the health crisis.But in the rush to get those programs up and running as fast as possible, eligibility rules were set that threaten to leave hundreds of thousands of Canadians without financial assistance.An analysis by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives last week estimated one-third of unemployed Canadians, about 862,000, won't get help from employment insurance or the CERB. Another 390,000 will get some help, but below the $500 per week under the CERB.Among those who may be left out are contract or gig economy workers who want to keep small jobs or who can't afford to go without work for two weeks to qualify for the emergency benefit.Volunteer firefighters or municipal politicians who receive an honorarium for their work, even if they have lost their day jobs due to COVID-19, could also be shut out.Trudeau has repeatedly affirmed that more help is coming for those who've fallen through the cracks between the emergency aid programs announced so far.\---Also this ...The Trudeau government says 23 Canadians were being held at federal quarantine sites as the week began to prevent the spread of COVID-19.The newly released figure, the most current available, provides a glimpse into how the federal government is using its considerable powers under the Quarantine Act in an effort to contain the virus.The Public Health Agency of Canada says that as of Sunday night, the almost two dozen Canadians were in federally designated quarantine sites and federally supported self-quarantine lodgings.The agency set up the sites and says it is working with partners to manage them.Agency spokeswoman Maryse Durette says no information about the location of the sites is being disclosed to protect the privacy of quarantined Canadians.Under the Quarantine Act, the health minister can designate any place in Canada as a quarantine facility.An emergency order under the quarantine law requires all travellers returning to Canada to immediately self-isolate for 14 days. Those with symptoms must put on a mask before leaving the airport.\---COVID-19 in the U.S. ...President Donald Trump threatened to freeze U.S. funding to the World Health Organization, saying the international group had "missed the call" on the coronavirus pandemic.Trump also played down the release of January memos from a senior adviser that represented an early warning of a possible coronavirus pandemic, saying he had not seen them at the time. But he turned his anger on the WHO, first declaring that he would cut off U.S. funding for the organization, then backtracking and saying he would "strongly consider" such a move.Trump said the international group had "called it wrong" on the virus and that the organization was "very China-centric" in its approach, suggesting that the WHO had gone along with Beijing's efforts months ago to minimize the severity of the outbreak. The WHO has praised China for its transparency on the virus, even though there has been reason to believe that more people died of COVID-19 than the country's official tally."They should have known and they probably did know," Trump said of WHO officials.Throughout his presidency, Trump has voiced skepticism toward many international organizations and has repeatedly heaped scorn on the WHO. In its most recent budget proposal, in February, the Trump administration called for slashing the U.S. contribution to the WHO from an estimated $122.6 million to $57.9 million.The organization's current guidance does not advocate closing borders or restricting travel, though many nations, including the United States, have enacted those steps. The WHO declared COVID-19 a public health emergency on Jan. 30, nearly a month before Trump tweeted that "The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA" and a full 43 days before he declared a national emergency in the United States.\---COVID-19 around the world ...After 11 weeks of lockdown, the first train departed Wednesday morning from a re-opened Wuhan, the origin point for the coronavirus pandemic, as residents once again were allowed to travel in and out of the sprawling central Chinese city.Wuhan's unprecedented lockdown served as a model for countries battling the coronavirus around the world. With restrictions now lifted, Hubei's provincial capital embarks on another experiment: resuming business and ordinary life while seeking to keep the number of new cases down.As of just after midnight Wednesday, the city's 11 million residents are now permitted to leave without special authorization as long as a mandatory smartphone application powered by a mix of data-tracking and government surveillance shows they are healthy and have not been in recent contact with anyone confirmed to have the virus.The occasion was marked with a light show on either side of the broad Yangtze river, with skyscrapers and bridges radiating animated images of health workers aiding patients, along with one displaying the words "heroic city," a title bestowed on Wuhan by president and Communist Party leader Xi Jinping. Along the embankments and bridges, citizens waved flags, chanted "Wuhan, let's go!" and sang a capella renditions of China's national anthem."I haven't been outside for more than 70 days," said an emotional Tong Zhengkun, who was watching the display from a bridge. Residents in his apartment complex had contracted COVID-19, so the entire building was shut down. He couldn't go out even to buy groceries, which neighbourhood workers brought to his door."Being indoors for so long drove me crazy," he said.\---Also this...British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was in stable condition with the coronavirus Tuesday in a hospital intensive care unit, where he was given oxygen but was breathing on his own without a ventilator, officials said.Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has temporarily taken over many of the prime minister's duties to lead the country's response to the pandemic while Johnson is being treated. Britain has no official post of deputy prime minister.The 55-year-old Johnson is the first major world leader confirmed to have COVID-19. He was admitted to St. Thomas' Hospital late Sunday with a fever and cough that persisted 10 days after he was diagnosed with the virus and was moved to the ICU on Monday evening after his condition worsened.At a news conference, Raab said the government's thoughts were with Johnson's family and his fiancee, Carrie Symonds, who is pregnant and is herself recovering from coronavirus symptoms."He is not just the prime minister. For all of us in Cabinet, he is not just our boss. He's also a colleague and he's also our friend," Raab said."And I'm confident he'll pull through because if there's one thing I know about this prime minister, he's a fighter."Johnson was "receiving standard oxygen treatment and breathing without any assistance," Raab said, adding: "He has not required mechanical ventilation or noninvasive respiratory support."\---COVID-19 in entertainment...John Prine, the ingenious singer-songwriter who explored the heartbreaks, indignities and absurdities of everyday life in "Angel from Montgomery," "Sam Stone," "Hello in There" and scores of other indelible tunes, died Tuesday at the age of 73.His family announced his death from complications from the coronavirus; he died at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee.His wife Fiona said last month that she had tested positive for COVID-19 and she has since recovered, but her husband was hospitalized on March 26 with coronavirus symptoms. He was put on a ventilator and remained in the intensive care unit for several days.Winner of a lifetime achievement Grammy earlier this year, Prine was a virtuoso of the soul, if not the body. He sang his conversational lyrics in a voice roughened by a hard-luck life, particularly after throat cancer left him with a disfigured jaw.He joked that he fumbled so often on the guitar, taught to him as a teenager by his older brother, that people thought he was inventing a new style. But his open-heartedness, eye for detail and sharp and surreal humour brought him the highest admiration from critics, from such peers as Bob Dylan and Kris Kristofferson, and from such younger stars as Jason Isbell and Kacey Musgraves, who even named a song after him.In 2017, Rolling Stone proclaimed him "The Mark Twain of American songwriting."\---COVID-19 in sports...The Canadian Grand Prix has become the latest major sports event in the country to be postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.The Montreal-based Formula One race was scheduled to take place June 12-14 before Wednesday's postponement.Formula One said it hopes to reschedule the event this year.Race organizers said in a statement that they were "saddened" to postpone the race and that the decision was made in consultation with Formula One and representatives from the City of Montreal, Tourism Montreal and provincial and federal governments."This postponement was not a decision that was taken lightly or easily," the statement said.The postponement came hours after the CFL pushed back the start of its regular season in June. Last week, another major Canadian sports event scheduled for June — the Queen's Plate at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto — also was postponed.The RBC Canadian Open, June 11-14 at St. George's Golf and Country Club in Toronto, remains on the PGA Tour schedule but Golf Canada and RBC said in a joint statement last week they are evaluating their options.\---This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 8, 2020.The Canadian Press

  • How an east-end Toronto hospital is helping long-term care homes fight COVID-19

    How an east-end Toronto hospital is helping long-term care homes fight COVID-19

    A hospital in Toronto's east end is reaching out to long-term care facilities in the area to help them stop the spread of the novel coronavirus and protect their vulnerable residents from the ravages of COVID-19.Michael Garron Hospital at Coxwell and Mortimer avenues has assembled a special team as the pandemic has taken the lives of at least 15 people in long-term care and retirement facilities in Toronto. More than 40 people have died of COVID-19 in long-term care and nursing homes across the province.St. Clair O'Connor Community Long-Term Care Home is one of eight institutions Michael Garron is helping. It's one of the smallest in Ontario with only 25 beds — and the tight knit environment at the centre has made the loss of four of its residents to COVID-19 especially difficult."It's like a family," said Mary Hoare, CEO of the home."It's really hard when you know that someone you really care about is ill."Thirteen additional residents have tested positive for COVID-19 at the facility located at St. Clair Avenue East and O'Connor Drive, and 10 of the centre's staff are also off with the virus. "We are very, very short staffed," Hoare said. As the devastating outbreaks continue to plague long term care facilities in Ontario, the new effort led by Michael Garron Hospital's medical director of infection prevention and control has provided relief to this home and seven others in eastern Toronto. Hoare said it's been a life-saver."They have been amazing," she said. "I don't know what we would do without them."Launched two weeks ago, the long-term care collaborative outreach group consists of members from Michael Garron Hospital's infection control team, a geriatrician, nurses and family physicians. The hospital first reached out to the long- term care homes to determine what was needed.Hoare said at her facility, nurses visited to help hydrate residents who were ill, and the hospital also delivered personal protective equipment for the staff and residents. Daily check-ins have become the norm, she added."They call us to ensure we have all the equipment we require so our staff can go in and nurse those people and they stay safe," she said.The hospital is also offering environmental cleaning services for infected rooms."Their rooms are disinfected and also the belongings they have will be properly sanitized before being given back to the families," Hoare added.Hoare said it's given the home the ability to safely manage the positive cases within the long term care home and avoid sending more cases to Toronto's busy emergency departments."If elderly people aren't cared for properly they're going to end up in their emergency rooms." Preventing cases, building relationships Dr. Jarred Rosenberg, a geriatrician at Michael Garron Hospital, has been heavily involved in the initiative."One area that was identified as a significant concern was [personal protective equipment]," he said."And so we have helped all the long-term care facilities that we're working with have the right PPE and address their immediate needs."Rosenberg said the focus has been preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus among elderly people who are vulnerable, adding there are approximately 50,000 seniors in eastern Toronto."We've supported physicians in all the long-term care facilities and homes in our area, providing education for families and residents about COVID-19 and we're helping facilitate discussions on their goals of care in the context of a pandemic," the doctor explained.The team is also working to expedite the screening process at the area's long-term care homes "to make sure there is a timely diagnosis and to prevent spread."Rosenberg believes the work being done now will continue to benefit the community after the pandemic is over."As devastating as COVID has been, the relationships we've been able to build and the incredible response that we've had from long-term care facilities has been incredibly rewarding as a geriatrician and for the rest of the team," he said."We hope some of these relationships we've built will grow and flourish well beyond the COVID pandemic."Guidance from the provinceIn an emailed statement to CBC News, Gloria Yip, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, said homes should be communicating with local hospitals if there's an outbreak, "including how many residents are in the facility, and how many may potentially be transferred to hospital if ill, based on advanced care directives.""Residents with severe illness should be transferred to hospital by ambulance," the statement said.The ministry released guidance for long-term care homes with COVID-19 cases and outbreaks, saying testing should be conducted for every symptomatic resident in homes, and home should inform paramedics and the hospital when residents are being transferred.Hoare said she knows there will be challenging days ahead, but the help from Michael Garron Hospital has made it far more manageable."They're a source of encouragement," she said."You call them when you're down and you don't know what to do about something and they give us advice," Hoare added."They tell you, 'We're going to get through this together.'"

  • Canadian oil production could fall 25% before post-COVID 'resurgence'

    Canadian oil production could fall 25% before post-COVID 'resurgence'

    With an American election at this year, the chief executive of Enbridge was already expecting 2020 to be a "choppy" year for the company, since presidential candidates can have differing viewpoints on whether major pipeline projects should proceed and on the oilpatch, as a whole. The steps the company took to brace for any political uncertainty are now being used to gird its operations against significant upheaval in the oil and gas industry because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the glut of oil supply around the world after Russia and Saudi Arabia flooded the market.Western Canada produces about five million barrels of oil everyday, but the volume is already dropping as oil prices hit record lows in recent weeks. The magnitude of how deep the production cuts will reach is difficult to predict, but Enbridge's Al Monaco speculates oil companies will take significant measures."It could see about maybe 20 per cent, 25 per cent, somewhere in that range, come off from there," said Enbridge's Al Monaco, adding the magnitude of how deep the production cuts will reach is difficult to predict.The price for Western Canada Select, a heavy oil blend in Alberta, fell to about $4 US per barrel on Tuesday. In February it was worth more than $30 per barrel.Demand for jet fuel has plummeted as has gasoline because of the pandemic. Diesel consumption has remained steady.Many oil companies are having to decide whether to lower production or shutdown some facilities entirely because prices are so low."Anything is on the table depending on the economic circumstances," Imperial Oil executives said on Tuesday. "As we speak, we are running normal operations, but obviously we are watching everything very closely. Across the industry you are going to see volume reductions."When the pandemic is over, Monaco expects the oilpatch in Western Canada to thrive in the coming years because oil producers will have more ability to export their product on pipelines.Enbridge is creating additional space on its existing pipelines, while also pushing ahead with the Line 3 replacement project. Meanwhile, TC Energy expects to begin constructing the Keystone XL pipeline this summer and work continues on the Trans Mountain expansion project, which is owned by the federal government."We have to remember there are many projects in the oilsands that are, I would say, sitting on a shelf waiting for pipeline capacity. So once demand normalizes, the basin is going to be in good shape," Monaco said Tuesday during the Scotiabank CAPP Energy Symposium."Overall, once we get through this process , we're going to see a good resurgence in volume out of the basin and investment," he said.Construction of the Line 3 replacement project is complete in Canada, although construction is delayed south of the border. The pandemic has had very little impact on the permitting process in the American state, according to Monaco, as the file is handled by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the state's Department of Natural Resources."Hopefully that'll all bring itself to fruition sometime in June, July. And, you know, once that's done, we'll be ready to start construction. Obviously, we've been planning for that. We've got crews ready to go," he said. "That's the game from here."When proper approvals are obtained in Minnesota, the American leg of the project is expected to take between six and nine months to build.

  • Back away from the clippers: Why you should leave haircuts to the professionals

    Back away from the clippers: Why you should leave haircuts to the professionals

    One of the charms — and conceits — of the popular reality television show Survivor, where contestants are dumped onto a deserted island and cut off from the world for a few weeks, was seeing the physical transformations of the contestants. At the end of the season, the group, subsisting on whatever the producers had deemed appropriate, would be skinnier. Their bodies were often bug-bitten and deeply tanned, their one change of clothes sweat-stained and faded after days of repeated wear. And their hair! Curled, matted and shaggy. Grey streaks, patchy stubble and sun-bleached tips. Yet now, for those of us in self-isolating on the island that is our home, the pandemic has turned into our own very special season of Survivor.While our wardrobes and diets may not suffer as those contestants' did, it's our hair that will betray us in the season finale (whenever that may eventually be).And we're just at the beginning of our pandemic metamorphosis. It was only on March 21 that B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry ordered salons and barber shops to shut their doors in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19. But some have already felt the alluring pull of a DIY-trim. Watch Dr. Bonnie Henry apologize to her stylist:At a press conference Tuesday, Henry herself offered an apology to her stylist, saying that yes, she had tried to tinker with her own hair."They say the number one thing not to do in a pandemic is your own hair and I will say, believe them," said Henry, with chagrin.The doctor, who is on her 12th straight week doing public-facing updates on COVID-19 and probably the most well-known face in the province, can be forgiven for wanting to take some care about her appearance.But what of the rest of us trapped on the island? Should vanity go the way of any gathering over 50 people?   "Hair is such a big part of people's lives … [so] it's a hard time to go through," says Alexa Davis, a Vancouver-based hairstylist at Axis in Coal Harbour.Davis' own strategy has been to radically embrace the situation. She decided to give herself a buzz cut. "I went straight down the middle of my head and there was no going back."Watch stylist Alexa Davis get a pandemic buzz cut:Davis had been considering going short — "a lot of people once in their lifetime have this weird urge where they would like to take it super short" — but the prospect of being at home until summer made her decision easier. For her clients, however, she's advocating a relaxed, less-is-more strategy, one that's been endorsed by many other stylists across the country."Doing your hair at home can be a really difficult thing," she said. "Nowadays, with hairdressers, our cuts and colours are so precise, trying to recreate that at home, you don't even really know the reason why we would go in and do certain things." Instead, she says, it's a great time to embrace your natural hair style and take the down time to reflect on what you want. And even if you have to do a little trim here and there, or a dye-job ("semi-permanent is best," she says), keep it to a minimum so it can be fixed upon your eventual return to the salon. Davis says the stylists will be ready to transform us back to our pre-pandemic selves when the time comes.

  • Pink supermoon seen around the world
    Yahoo News Canada

    Pink supermoon seen around the world

    All over the planet, people stepped outside sometime between April 7 and April 8 to see the same thing: a pink supermoon.It was the closest that the moon will be to the Earth for all of 2020, a mere 356,907 kilometres, appearing up to seven per cent bigger than a typical full moon.The “pink moon” is the name given to the full moon of early spring, named for the flower Phlox subulata, a common springtime flower. Despite its appearance in some photos, the moon doesn’t actually turn pink — it’s just a haze in some areas.This moon was also the Paschal Moon, which is how the date is set for Easter each year (hence why Easter falls on this Sunday, the first one after the Paschal Moon).If you didn’t get a chance to see it for yourself (or just want to admire it again), here’s a look at some of the shots people snapped from around the world.

  • Sewing volunteers right on the button for health-care workers

    Sewing volunteers right on the button for health-care workers

    An army of sewers is mustering its thread, needle, bobbins and especially buttons to join the fight against COVID-19. Its troops will fashion skull caps, scrub hats, headbands and non-medical masks out of fabric, using centuries-old skills that are suddenly in demand in a modern pandemic.Here are two Ottawa initiatives that are helping answer the call.EcoEquitableAnouk Bertner is executive director of EcoEquitable, an Ottawa charity and social enterprise that provides temporary work and training for immigrant and underemployed women.Because it's not deemed an essential service, the organization was one of many that shut down in March.> And we thought, oh my gosh, we can do that. \- Anouk Bertner, EcoEquitableBertner reached out to The Ottawa Hospital to see if her battalion of skilled sewers could help with the scarcity of personal protective equipment. She was directed to the province's procurement website, where she discovered EcoEquitable was not equipped to make medical-grade equipment."They all had these really, really high requirements in terms of flammability and blood permeability. So I took a step back and I said, OK, we're not gonna do masks."But then an industrial designer reached out via email and shared a picture of a U.S. nurse wearing a headband with buttons. Because the elastic bands that secure medical-grade masks put pressure on the back of the wearer's ears, nurses and doctors have been sewing buttons onto headbands to hold the masks in place."And we thought, oh my gosh, we can do that," Bertner said.A prototype is currently being field-tested by a nurse at the Queensway Carleton Hospital. The initial design got mixed reviews, according to Bertner. "She said, 'I love the stretching. I love the fabric. But the buttons are just a little bit high.' So we're going to make a few changes." EcoEquitable is launching an Indigogo campaign on Friday to raise money to commission its workers to sew a buttoned-headband "for every nurse in Ottawa to start off with. And then every nurse in Ontario and then eventually all of Canada, if we get that kind of public support," Bertner said.Sewing for OttawaA Facebook group called Sewing for Ottawa is also joining the fight after its creator and organizer, Jordana McIlhenney, noticed nurses reaching out on social media, looking to purchase headbands or scrub hats with buttons to hook their masks onto."I thought, they shouldn't be paying for these things. They are front-line workers and we should be helping them," McIlhenney said.She tapped into her network of skilled artisans to sew headbands with buttons, using donated materials or textiles purchased at cost through Ottawa's Mimi Fabrics. Buy Nothing groups across Ottawa also put out a call for fabric and buttons, and donations poured in.> It's just incredible. I am so proud of our city. \- Jordana McIlhenney, Sewing for Ottawa"We have over 180 sewers working on these requests. We have over 100 requests from various hospital units across the city. It's just incredible. I am so proud of our city," McIlhenney said.Health-care workers who are using the finished products call McIlhenney and her crew of sewers "angels.""They're so happy that we're saving their ears. I've had people come back and … make another request because now 'my nursing friend at this unit is interested,' and it's great that they're loving it."And in the giving back, there is receiving. "I was moping around my house feeling helpless," McIlhenney said. "Now I feel like I'm actually helping and fighting this virus and doing something positive. A lot of our sewers feel the same way." People can donate money, fabric or buttons here, or order finished headbands or scrub caps via email or on Facebook here.

  • Rescued dancing sloth bear now enjoys the peaceful life at beautiful sanctuary

    Rescued dancing sloth bear now enjoys the peaceful life at beautiful sanctuary

    Sloth bears of India are commonly referred to as dancing bears or dancing sloth bears. A centuries old practice involves capturing the bears as cubs and knocking their teeth out so they are not a threat to their handlers. Hot pokers are used to pierce a hole through the snout to allow a rope to be passed through and tied in a manner that lets the handler to control the bears through pain. Fortunately, this practice was deemed cruel and illegal in the 1970s throughout all of India. But enforcement was lacking and the practice continued for decades. This sloth bear can be seen enjoying a quiet moment to relax in a dirt hole, free from the worry and anxiety of its former life. It lives at WildlifeSOS in Agra, India along with many others of its kind. The bears exhibit more relaxed behavior here, often playing with other bears in moments of true joy and happiness. WildlifeSOS is one of several organizations committed to stopping the torture. They have rescued and provided shelter for more than 620 of these beautiful animals. Their facility allows the bears to live a peaceful life in a setting that is as close as possible to what nature intended. The bears have an impressive amount of freedom, proper nutrition, mental stimulation, opportunities for socialization with other bears, and highly skilled veterinary care. The oldest facility of its kind, it was established in 1995. Incredibly, they do not simply address the issue of caring for the bears. They also took a serious approach to training the Kalandars, the impoverished people who had exploited the bears for their own survival. Through education, retraining, and support, they were able to help these people gain better employment so they would see that their livelihoods were not threatened when the bears were rescued. This was a crucial step in eliminating the problem on a large scale instead of simply rescuing a bear to have it replaced by another. WildlifeSOS sent more than 1600 children to school. The people learned more marketable skills so they did not need to exploit the animals. The rehabilitation model that has been created here helps both the people and the animals, eliminating the problem and the source of the problem at the same time. Anyone wishing to help support this centre can visit to make a donation or to volunteer.

  • City prepares for a flood season without volunteers

    City prepares for a flood season without volunteers

    Staff with the City of Ottawa have been filling thousands of sandbags in case the Ottawa River floods again this year because they know volunteers won't be an option during the COVID-19 pandemic.Employees, some from recreation centres that are temporarily closed, began the preparations at a garage in Ottawa's rural west end last week, according to Coun. Eli El-Chantiry. They have been following the advice of public health officials and keeping a safe physical distance from one another, while also using tractors and other machinery to do the job."We need to be prepared. Without the volunteers, it's going to be very difficult. It's just not possible to do what we did last time," said El-Chantiry, who is the council lead on this year's spring melt while the mayor is focused on COVID-19.Last spring, 15,000 volunteers helped fill 1.5 million sandbags.El-Chantiry and city management will give city council an update about flood risk and preparations during its meeting Wednesday.El-Chantiry said the City of Ottawa doesn't expect to see the devastating water levels that flooded homes both in 2017 and last spring, and he hopes no emergency develops when the city is already strained by the virus. But he said last year, things changed quickly over the course of April and the same could happen again, depending on how snow melts up north or if there is a lot of rain."Our residents, including myself, we are nervous. We are concerned that if it's going to happen, how prepared can we be under the circumstances of physical distancing?"By this weekend, city staff hope to drop off 20,000 sandbags at the most at-risk areas along the Ottawa River.

  • The importance of saying goodbye: Montrealer opts for isolation to spend time with dying father

    The importance of saying goodbye: Montrealer opts for isolation to spend time with dying father

    Peter Wheeland will be in self-isolation for the next two weeks, unable to leave his home.  For Wheeland, it's a small price to pay to have been at the side of his father in his final days.Ken Wheeland is just one of almost 100 elderly Quebecers living in a long-term care residence to have died of COVID-19 since the outbreak began. He died Saturday; he was 85 years old. "I was telling him stories about how he had helped shape my life and the positive influence that he played in my life," said Peter Wheeland about those final moments he spent with his father at the LaSalle seniors' home where Ken Wheeland had been living."I wanted to make sure that he knew that I appreciated it. I think he did, but I wanted to say it one last time before he died."Peter Wheeland is far from alone in his grief, as the number of infected seniors' home residents climbs, and along with it, the number of deaths.It is estimated that COVID-19 may be present in as many as 700 out of the province's roughly 2,200 chronic-care institutions.In the best-case scenario,1,200 Quebecers will have died of COVID-19 by the end of April, provincial public health officials now project. But depending on how well physical-distancing measures and other restrictions work to curb the spread of the coronavirus, that number could ultimately be much higher — and seniors have proven to be the most likely victims.Nearly 9 in 10 dead over age of 70About 88 per cent of Quebec's 150 COVID-19 deaths have been people over the age of 70.Roughly 65 per cent, or two out of three victims, lived in long-term care residences, said Horacio Arruda, the province's public health director, Tuesday.Arruda was asked some hard questions about how the outbreak could have infiltrated so many seniors' homes, at such a galloping rate."We always said that we were concerned for these vulnerable people," he said, pointing out other jurisdictions are grappling with the same issue."I don't have the impression that we underestimated the situation in the residences and CHSLDs," Arruda said.One problem, he said, is that patient-care attendants and other staff have continued to work with what they may have thought was just a mild cold, and other workers may have been infected but were asymptomatic.Precautions were in place in all seniors' residences, and visitors were banned in mid-March despite pushback from some families.Montreal area hit hard by infections, deathSome institutions have been hit particularly hard. In total, three out of five long-term care homes (CHSLDs) in Laval have identified COVID-19 outbreaks, and nine people have died.One of the worst outbreaks is at Laval's Sainte-Dorothée CHSLD, where 105 of 250 residents have been infected, with 15 others still under investigation. In Montreal, 39 out of 294 seniors' residences have confirmed coronavirus infections, with some harder hit than others.Ken Wheeland was one of 14 residents of the LaSalle CHSLD to die after contracting COVID-19, and 29 other residents there have tested positive.Across the city, the situation remains grim. As of Monday afternoon, nearly 900 people over the age of 70 have contracted COVID-19, according to Montreal's public health authority.A total of 63 Montrealers have died out of more than 4,400 confirmed cases.Remembering a role modelKen Wheeland's COVID-19 infection wasn't confirmed until Sunday, the day after he died. Although officially there is a ban on visitors at long-term care homes across the province, Peter and two of his four siblings were allowed to spend time with their father in the days leading up to his death, although they were required to wear extensive personal protective gear during the visit.Ken Wheeland's wife of 62 years, Connie, wasn't able to be there.Until recently, the couple lived together at a private long-term care home, the CHSLD Herron in Dorval, but that changed a few weeks ago when Ken Wheeland's condition deteriorated.By the end, Peter Wheeland said, his father could no longer speak, with oxygen tubes hooked to his nose, but his eyes were open and at times, he peered around."My father was a very forgiving man," said Peter Wheeland. "When most parents would react with anger or violence — verbal or physical or whatever — my father would respond with compassion.""I wanted to tell him how much I appreciated that role-modelling that he did not just for me, but for a lot of other people."

  • 'Seder in a Box' nourishes Jewish tradition during COVID-19 Crisis

    'Seder in a Box' nourishes Jewish tradition during COVID-19 Crisis

    Passover, or Pesach, is one of the most significant holidays in the Jewish calendar.It's a time for families and communities to come together to share traditions, including a Seder feast, to mark Jewish liberation from slavery in ancient Egypt.But the COVID-19 outbreak means Passover celebrations will be very different this year, with physical distancing  separating families and friends. Seniors in particular find themselves alone as they try to protect their health.Traditions in a boxCongregation Schara Tzedeck has stepped up to deliver a "Seder in a Box" to isolated seniors. It's an expansion of an annual program run by the Vancouver synagogue to help vulnerable community members. Volunteers deliver a hamper of special foods for a Seder feast, and a copy of the Haggadah, a prayer book used at Seder."Although physically we can't be together ... we are still here for one another," say Camille Wenner, executive director of Schara Tzedeck. "Maybe we're not able to pass another a piece of Matzah or share a glass of wine together. But we are here and we want to make sure that everyone feels they are part of our community, no matter where they are in the city."Powered by donations, volunteersDonations from the community funded hamper supplies which must meet strict "kosher for Passover" requirements. Wenner says COVID-19 restrictions means ingredients are harder to come by this year, and more expensive. Maple Grill stepped up with catering services and volunteers came together at the synagogue on April 7 to pack the hampers for delivery in time for the start of Passover on Wednesday.Physical distancing requirements meant the assembly team had to be smaller than usual, and everyone wore masks and gloves. But that didn't dampen the spirits of longtime volunteer Howard Kallner."It's an amazing feeling to see all of this food being laid out and packaged," said Kallner, who is also the synagogue president. "In this awful time ... it's been really great to see the outpouring of people wanting to help others."Alone at Passover, but still connectedVolunteer drivers fanned out across Vancouver to deliver 350 meals to 215 households.Florence Morris, 93, will be spending her first Passover alone this year. The "Seder in a Box" will help her carry on traditions with her family from afar when she connects online for a Seder feast."It's the one time of the year that I'm absolutely vehement about all the children coming together," says Morris, who always travels to Toronto to join her son's family. "But of course, not this year. It's not safe."The situation hadn't completely sunk in when her hamper arrived, which she described as "lovely.""It's kind of surreal," says Morris. "It's like it's not happening because I'm not cooking, I'm not baking. I'm not setting the table for 20 people and I'm not in Toronto helping my daughter-in-law making the gefilte fish and helping her get ready for Seder."Morris, who was adamant about making a generous donation to the program to help make sure anyone who needed a hamper could receive one, looks forward to connecting her family through technology — and tradition — in these difficult times."I think that continuity of this is what holds us together. I really think so."Listen to Margaret Gallagher's report on On the Coast

  • 'Gig economy' workers worried about qualifying for income support

    'Gig economy' workers worried about qualifying for income support

    "Gig economy" workers say they're worried they'll fall through the cracks when it comes to federal income support benefits introduced to help Canadians weather the coronavirus pandemic.Nearly one million people applied for the Canada emergency relief benefit (CERB) on the first day of the emergency program, some of whom juggle multiple jobs to make ends meet.Toronto-based standup comedian Dave Burke said he doesn't know when he'll be able to work again."Comedy was completely shut down, and I'm lucky to still be able to work this part-time office job from home," Burke said.But Burke said that office job means he can't qualify for the CERB, which offers about $2,000 a month for up to four months for people who've completely lost their income due to COVID-19."Half my income is gone and I have no relief on the horizon. It's just distressing," Burke said. "I'm going to be in serious financial trouble now unless they announce a decision really soon."'Gig economy' disconnectMargo Hébert, interim general manager of Arts Network Ottawa, said several performers and artists are in similar situations now that gallery showings and performances are cancelled.She said the CERB needs to be adjusted to reflect the reality that some people hold down multiple jobs to make ends meet."It's not really how many folks within the gig economy work. It assumes you have regular shifts. It assumes that your workshops work for 14 days on end. It's not conducive to how a lot of artists work," Hébert said."It's going to mean an increase in folks going to food banks. It's going to be an increase in folks having to beg, borrow and steal funds from friends and family."The CERB also creates a complicated situation for artists who are now trying to make a living through online streaming shows, sales or earned royalties for broadcast use, because the benefit requires 14 consecutive days without income.Occasional teachers also uncertainThe Ottawa-Carleton Elementary Occasional Teachers Association has some members who qualify for the CERB, but there's uncertainty for daily occasional teachers who may also have been holding down retail or other jobs."Some of the members don't qualify because they still have a one-day-a-week job or something. They're rather anxious about how they're going to manage their finances through this period," said David Wildman, the association's president.Wildman said it's unclear what demand school boards will have for daily occasional teachers as they move to online learning.The possible loss of shifts replacing sick teachers could put teachers on long-term part-time contracts in a position where they don't have access to short-term shifts to supplement their income. "It would be very difficult for someone in a 25 per cent long-term assignment to live on 25 per cent of a beginning teacher salary, but they wouldn't qualify for additional help from the government because they do have an income," Wildman said.University students are also facing uncertainty about summer employment and may not have earned enough income during the school year to qualify for the CERB or employment insurance.Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged the concerns on Monday, when CERB applications opened. Trudeau said the government is working to fill in the gaps for students and people who are facing reduced work hours due to COVID-19.

  • Legions begin fundraising to save branches as financial challenges mount
    The Canadian Press

    Legions begin fundraising to save branches as financial challenges mount

    TORONTO — A number of Royal Canadian Legion branches across the country have launched online fundraising efforts to keep their doors open after suffering financial setbacks because of COVID-19.The head of the national veterans' and community service group said this week that despite ongoing work to help veterans and seniors in their communities during the pandemic, many branches are now turning to fundraising to pay the bills and ensure they can re-open when the crisis ends.Dominion President Tom Irvine said branches act as independent small businesses from the national command, but that oversight body has taken a series of actions, including easing fundraising restrictions and releasing $3 million to give struggling branches some cash flow.But with over 1,300 branches spread across the country, that might not be enough to save every one."Our branches are out there still serving their communities," Irvine said. "They're delivering food, groceries, making food, but they're still closed. They are hurting because the revenue is not coming in."Legion branches operate under strict rules concerning how they can spend the money they raise. Cash raised each year from the Poppy Fund must be spent locally on veterans.Branches fund their operations by renting their halls and running bars and restaurants. But with those operations closed because of the pandemic, paying the bills has quickly become a problem that could result in branches closing, Irvine said.Last week, the legion executive waived local fundraising restrictions and gave branches permission to set up online fundraising efforts on sites such as GoFundMe."This is a way for the branches to raise funds locally to help them offset what they're going through," Irvine said. "This is just another tool to help them raise money."A series of online campaigns have started to spring up, with branches asking for anywhere from $5,000 to $30,000 to keep their operations solvent.The president of a branch in Salmon Arm, B.C., said they have no option but to ask the community for help. The sudden onset of the pandemic closures meant his branch, like many, had no time to prepare financially."I just don't want to come out on the other end of this thing and find we can't get started again," Matt Fowler said.Fowler said the branch is also making calls locally and hoping a series of small donations from community members will help them stay afloat."I felt bad asking at all. I know people are having a tough time getting food for themselves and paying their bills, but this isn't a normal thing. We can't lose this place," he said.Irvine reiterated that even in the face of financial challenges, branches continue to serve their communities."I'm praying that when this is all over, that the Canadian public will see that the legion was out there throughout the entire time.... Maybe they might want to come in and help us continue down the line"This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 8, 2020.Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press

  • Polish presidential postal ballot raises concern: EU commissioner

    Polish presidential postal ballot raises concern: EU commissioner

    Poland's last-minute decision to carry out its May presidential elections by post due to the coronavirus pandemic has raised "concern", EU Values and Transparency Commissioner Vera Jourova told Polish daily Rzeczpospolita on Wednesday. Poland's parliament, where Poland's ruling nationalists, the Law and Justice (PiS) party, have a majority in alliance with two other parties, this week backed a plan to conduct the presidential election on May 10 by postal ballot to limit the risks of coronavirus transmission.

  • Obesity is major COVID-19 risk factor, says French chief epidemiologist

    Obesity is major COVID-19 risk factor, says French chief epidemiologist

    Being overweight is a major risk for people infected with the new coronavirus and the United States is particularly vulnerable because of high obesity levels there, France's chief epidemiologist said on Wednesday. Professor Jean-François Delfraissy, who heads the scientific council that advises the government on the epidemic, said as many as 17 million of France's 67 million citizens were seriously at risk from the coronavirus because of age, pre-existing illness or obesity. "That is why we're worried about our friends in America, where the problem of obesity is well known and where they will probably have the most problems because of obesity."

  • 'Painful lesson': how a military-style lockdown unfolded in Wuhan

    'Painful lesson': how a military-style lockdown unfolded in Wuhan

    As the world grapples with the escalating coronavirus pandemic, China reopened the city of Wuhan on Wednesday, allowing its 11 million residents to leave for the first time in over two months, a milestone in its effort to combat the outbreak. Using virus case data, official reports and over a dozen interviews with officials, residents and scientists in Wuhan, Reuters has compiled a comprehensive account of how the military-style quarantine of the city unfolded. Wuhan health authorities reported the first case of what turned out to be the new coronavirus in December, and the first known death linked to the virus in early January.

  • Pikwakanagan warning visitors to stay away

    Pikwakanagan warning visitors to stay away

    Volunteer firefighters are stationed at the entrance to Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation telling visitors all its businesses are closed as a precaution against COVID-19 and advising them not to enter."We cannot risk this illness reaching us. The way I look at it, death is at our door and it's not welcome here. If we can do anything to prevent it getting in here, then we will," said Chief Wendy Jocko.A state of emergency in the small community about 150 kilometres west of Ottawa on Golden Lake was declared on March 31 — Jocko's second day on the job.She said her training in the military and as a funeral director prepared her for making difficult decisions.> The way I look at it, death is at our door and it's not welcome here. \- Wendy Jocko, Chief of Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation Nearly 200 cars from Ottawa, Belleville and around eastern Ontario arrived on Tuesday alone, Jocko said, after Ontario closed government-run cannabis stores.Pikwakanagan is home to 10 cannabis stores, along with gas stations and a handful of cigarette shops."We've witnessed a significant influx of people in our community and this increase was drastically increasing the risk of exposure to our members and our front-line workers," she explained.Protecting the vulnerableThough there hasn't been a confirmed COVID-19 case in the Algonquin community, health-care workers recommended the shutdown to protect vulnerable people.Jocko estimates around 70 people in the community of 450 are more vulnerable to COVID-19 because of their age or health, plus residents of its long-term care home.Community health nurse Brittany Martin says the structure of the community also puts families at risk. "First Nations communities often have a large number of people living in very close quarters. For the spread of the disease, it will occur quickly," she said."Families are usually close-knit as well so there's often multiple generations living in the same home and people caring for elderly parents." Though there was initial concern about the supply of drinking water, so far bottled water deliveries have been sufficient, Martin noted.The community's food bank is delivering more, prioritizing the vulnerable so they don't have to go grocery shopping. While all events have been cancelled in April, leaders have organized virtual activities such as window-decorating competitions.It's not clear whether the mid-August pow wow will take place but a "family gathering" inviting relatives from the Algonquin community Kitigan Zibi that same weekend has been cancelled.The Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte and Akwesasne, which has a confirmed case of the American side of the border, are also under states of emergency.

  • How a simple plastic box could protect health-care workers across Canada from COVID-19

    How a simple plastic box could protect health-care workers across Canada from COVID-19

    For clinicians, inserting a tube into the airway of a COVID-19 patient is a high-risk procedure.It usually means front-line workers are staring right into someone's open mouth, and directly in the line of fire, should a sudden cough send virus-filled droplets flying.And with more patients needing help breathing, the risk is growing."We're seeing week-by-week, day-by-day, patients are getting sicker, more patients being admitted, and more patients are being put on respiratory support and a ventilator," says Dr. Alyssa Wong, an emergency physician with Trillium Health Partners in Mississauga, Ont.Wong started wondering about the dangers facing her peers, and she wasn't the only one.In a physician WhatsApp group, where COVID-19 articles were flying back and forth, her colleague Dr. Daniel Shogilev shared coverage of a doctor in Taiwan who'd developed a transparent plastic shield to cover patients during intubation, helping reduce the risk to clinicians.That was a few weeks ago in mid-March. Wong knew some people outside the medical community who might be able to help make the concept a reality in Canada, and a small team hoping to develop what they've since dubbed the "COVID Box" met on a Zoom teleconference the next day.Since then, the little volunteer coalition of clinicians, entrepreneurs and tech company founders has designed and tested their cube-shaped shield, inspired by the open-source design from Dr. Hsien Yung Lai in Taiwan.The early rounds were a bit of trial and error. Entrepreneur Dave Phillips, whose wife Dr. Dana Phillips is an emergency physician at Sunnybrook Hospital, says his first prototype was "rough," using hand-tools and a hacksaw.Then mechanical engineer Jonathan Norris, the co-founder and chief technology officer at Toronto-based tech company Taplytics, built a digital design made for automated machines.Boxes sent to hospitals across the GTAThanks to funding and support from Norris's company, along with Trillium Health and architectural fabrication firm Eventscape, the team has built more than 20 prototypes of the polycarbonate device, and started sending them around to hospitals across the GTA.In the Wellington Street West office of Taplytics , Norris and Phillips show how easy the COVID boxes are to build.The sturdy, transparent sheets come flat-packed and can be assembled in minutes, with three pieces connecting to form a shield that's held together by zip-ties, with two circular holes at the front where clinicians can insert their arms to intubate each patient.After each procedure, the team says the boxes can be quickly disassembled and easily disinfected with medical-grade cleaners."The challenge we've seen is the cost of polycarbonate in the last week has basically doubled," Norris says, noting the growing popularity of plastic shields for cashiers and other workers dealing with the public amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.That hike brought the production cost up to around $200 per box.The team is now hoping a combination of crowd-funding and corporate donations will help them supply hundreds, if not thousands of boxes, to hospitals across Canada and beyond — since inquiries are pouring in from around the globe.While the physicians on board say the boxes aren't a perfect fix, they could offer added protection to front-line workers amid a shortage of other personal protective equipment, which is forcing hospitals to ration supplies while government officials scramble to order more amid a surging number of COVID-19 cases.Wong says the level of "knowledge transfer" and support has been great to see amid the ongoing crisis."Everybody's trying to take small steps to mitigate this pandemic," says Shogilev. "The mantra of emergency medicine is, 'Do what you can with whatever you've got,' and I think we're all trying to do that."

  • Doctors investigate rare COVID-19 symptoms in effort to move quickly from anecdotes to science

    Doctors investigate rare COVID-19 symptoms in effort to move quickly from anecdotes to science

    Dry cough, fever and difficulty breathing are the most common symptoms of COVID-19, but specialists are starting to learn more about less common potential symptoms such as loss of one's sense of smell, disorientation and even seizures.Some doctors are trying to understand how widespread these symptoms are in order to assist with diagnosing patients.Dr. Sherry Chou, a Canadian neurologist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical School with training in critical care and strokes, said it's important to know whether a small portion of patients with COVID-19 present with neurological symptoms rather than fever or cough."We need to figure that out as quickly as we can because we need to know to screen those patients for COVID-19," Chou said.Effective screening is an important way to slow the spread of the virus, which has killed more than 420 Canadians. Patients with neurological symptoms would also require different treatment than those with respiratory symptoms, Chou said.What a team of specialists is looking forTo learn more, Chou is leading a team of investigators from the Neurocritical Care Society, an international organization of health-care providers based in Chicago whose goal is to improve outcomes for patients with life-threatening brain and spinal cord injuries.The specialists caution the research is at an early, hypothesis stage and they still need to find out specifically how the pandemic virus affects the neurological system, or whether, for example, such symptoms simply result from low oxygen levels in the blood.Deborah Copaken, an author in New York, has been sick with COVID-19 since March 18. Her main symptom is not being able to take a deep breath. She said she's exhausted and was prescribed a nebulizer and inhaler to help with her breathing.Then, on March 23, Copaken decided to reorganize her spice rack."I started taking the spices out of their old containers and putting them in new containers and I realized I had to label the containers quickly because I couldn't smell anything," Copaken recalled in an interview. "I couldn't differentiate between, say, basil and herbs de Provence. All the green spices smell the same."Her husband and youngest son were also infected. Their symptoms were a bit different.Copaken said her husband endured three days of intense fever and was unable to get out of bed. He also had diarrhea — another of the less common symptoms that have caught the attention of researchers.Her 13-year-old son lost his senses of taste and smell and ate less than normal for a few days but was otherwise fine, she said.WATCH | B.C. patient with COVID-19 describes her breathing troubles:In another case, Kym Murphy of New Brunswick experienced a painful headache and fatigue."I was shocked that it came back positive," Murphy said of her COVID-19 test in Saint John. "I didn't have the fever. I didn't have the shortness of breath. I didn't have the coughing, but I just felt that there was something not right."In Italy, where there have been more than 135,000 cases, physicians set up separate units to treat patients with COVID-19 who also have neurological symptoms that resemble a type of encephalitis, which is an inflammation of the brain that is more common as a rare complication of influenza or flu in children.Encephalitis can have many underlying causes such as viral or bacterial infections. Chou cautioned it is too soon to comment on what neurologists are seeing with COVID-19 because the numbers are so small.CT scan for stroke Dr. Erin O'Connor is an emergency room physician at Toronto General Hospital, where she said they're seeing some suspected COVID-19 patients who have respiratory symptoms as well as nausea and other stomach discomfort and difficulty with their senses of smell and taste.WATCH | Ontario man describes his hospitalization and recovery:"It seems to be more of a loss of sense of smell without having the runny nose and the blocked nose at the same time," O'Connor said. She said there are anecdotes circulating in the medical community about how stroke-like symptoms could also be an indication of COVID-19 as well."All of our patients who present with stroke symptoms we're testing and we're actually doing … CT scans on their test as well to look for signs of COVID infections," O'Connor said.The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists emergency warning signs associated with severe cases of COVID-19 that warrant immediate medical attention. They include: * Trouble breathing. * Bluish lips or face. * New confusion or lethargy.The agency cautioned the list is not all inclusive and people are advised to consult a health-care provider for any other symptoms that are severe or concerning.

  • UK's Johnson 'improving' as he fights COVID-19 in intensive care

    UK's Johnson 'improving' as he fights COVID-19 in intensive care

    British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's condition is improving and he is able to sit up in bed and engage with clinical staff, finance minister Rishi Sunak said on Wednesday as Johnson remained in intensive care battling COVID-19. Johnson was admitted to St Thomas' hospital on Sunday evening with a persistent high temperature and cough and was transferred to intensive care on Monday. The 55-year-old British leader, who tested positive for the new coronavirus nearly two weeks ago, has received oxygen support but has not been put on a ventilator.

  • Why Alberta's COVID-19 testing numbers have been down lately — and are set to pick back up

    Why Alberta's COVID-19 testing numbers have been down lately — and are set to pick back up

    If you're among the many Albertans who have been following the daily COVID-19 data obsessively, you'll likely have noticed that the province has been testing fewer people for the disease in the past few days.A lot fewer.After peaking above 4,000 tests per day at one point, we've been completing only about 900 per day, on average, for the past three days.And this isn't the first time testing has noticeably ebbed; there have been several two or three-day periods in the past few weeks where the numbers have dropped off sharply.  One of these periods was due to a temporary shortage in reagent — a chemical required to do genetic analysis and detect the virus — but the other two were not due to shortages of testing materials, according to Alberta Health.Rather, these ebbs are the result of the change in testing criteria that the province adopted just over two weeks ago.The province announced on March 23 it would stop testing returning travellers with mild symptoms and would limit tests to people at high risk from the coronavirus (including people hospitalized with respiratory illness and residents of long-term care homes). Health-care workers with respiratory symptoms would also be tested.It took some time to fully implement these measures, as the province continued to test anyone who had already been promised a test.But over time, the change in eligibility led to some ebbs in the daily test volumes."There will always be variation between any given day," Alberta Health spokesperson Tom McMillan said in an email."The decline seen in recent days is the result of the changes implemented on March 23."But those eligibility criteria have now changed again.New, expanded eligibilityAs of Tuesday, the province has opened opening tests up to a broader range of Albertans, based on their profession or their age.Alberta's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, said people with symptoms such as shortness of breath, runny nose, cough, fever or sore throat will be considered "testing priorities" if they work in certain roles, including:  * Group home and shelter workers. * Firefighters. * Staff at jails and prisons. * Police, peace and bylaw officers. * Public health inspectors.In addition, anyone who's at least 65 years old and has any of those symptoms will also be considered a priority for testing."Knowing that older Albertans are at increased risk of complications if they are infected with COVID-19, we are expanding testing access to enable early detection of infection in this group of people," Hinshaw said."Identifying infections in all of these groups will help us to prevent the spread to high-risk populations living in close quarters, more closely trace any community transmission among the testing groups and provide more valuable information on the effects of our public health measures."Testing set to return to 'maximum capacity'As a result, the number of people tested daily is now set to ramp back up. "We expect that testing will soon be back at maximum capacity as a result of this new, expanded testing criteria," McMillan said.In a televised address Tuesday evening, Premier Jason Kenney also said there are plans for Alberta to conduct as many as 20,000 tests per day in the future, using "new tests that are being developed and approved to identify positive cases and those with immunity more quickly, so we can get people back to work."As of Tuesday, 65,265 people had been tested for COVID-19 in Alberta.That's roughly 1.5 per cent of the population.You can find all the latest statistics and more context surrounding the data in this story, which is updated daily.

  • Health

    Call for transparency at Almonte nursing home hit by COVID outbreak

    The daughter of a resident in a nursing home in the community of Almonte in Mississippi Mills, Ont., is calling on both the home's owners and the local health district to be more transparent with families amid the COVID-19 pandemic.Jan Carter Lea's 82-year-old mother, Gail Attfield, has been a resident at the Almonte Country Haven long-term care home for about a year."The care is wonderful and we're profoundly grateful," said Carter. "We're really really concerned with the transparency."On March 26, the Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit declared a COVID-19 outbreak at the 82-bed nursing home after three of its residents and one staff member tested positive for the coronavirus.Despite isolating all 82 residents in their room, a male resident died of COVID-19, a fact reported on March 31 by both the health unit and the private owners of the nursing home, Peterborough, Ont.-based OMNI Health Care.Lea said since then, "we've had zero information" and her mother, who suffers from dementia, isn't able to help."It's hard to not know anything. Is it advancing? Is it stopped? When we know the numbers we can prepare ourselves."Both the local health unit and OMNI declined to provide an update on the number of COVID-19 related deaths and positive cases at the Almonte Country Haven. Patrick McCarthy, president and chief executive officer of OMNI, emailed the CBC."We continue to direct inquiries regarding cases to Public Health, but note that specific information is considered private to the individuals and their families."The Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit also provided a written statement saying "The information about cases and deaths belongs to the home. They report it to public health for surveillance purposes only."Both responses did not sit well with Lea. "Families have the right to know," said Lea. "We don't want to know names out of respect for privacy for the families going through this terrible time."The only numbers Lea and the families of residents of the Almonte Country Haven have been able to get from the health unit are general numbers that combine all long-term care homes in the district, and they show an alarming trend.From March 31 to April 6, the number of long-term care homes in the health district experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak has grown to six, while the number of residents at those homes who've tested positive has increased from three to 36.Lea said it comes down to having some information in a situation in which she feels helpless. "It would be nice to know that day when the numbers start to shift," Lea said.

  • Science summary: A look at novel coronavirus research around the globe
    The Canadian Press

    Science summary: A look at novel coronavirus research around the globe

    Thousands of scientists around the world are working on problems raised by the COVID-19 pandemic. Here is a summary of some recent research from peer-reviewed academic journals and scientific agencies:\---Scientists writing in the British journal BMJ report they've estimated the effect physical distancing has on the spread of the novel coronavirus. Their study involves 34 different international jurisdictions across four continents. Using a mobile phone app that tracks planned trips using public transit, researchers found a 10 per cent decrease in mobility was associated with a nearly 12 per cent decrease in the spread of the virus. They found a two-week time lag between the start of the distancing requirements and slowing of the infection rate. The study was released as a preprint and has not been peer reviewed.\---BMJ is also publishing a report analyzing the models doctors are using to anticipate the effect of COVID-19 in patients. The report contains 31 different prediction models and concludes that all were "at high risk of bias." It said the models were based on research that had several problems, including poorly designed control groups. It warns that although prediction models are needed to help medical decision-making, the ones in use may be too optimistic. Unreliable predictors "could cause more harm than benefit in guiding clinical decisions."\---Preliminary results on the use of blood plasma from recovering COVID-19 patients to treat the newly afflicted have shown encouraging results. In a pilot study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 10 patients between the ages of 34 and 78 received plasma containing high levels of novel coronavirus antibody. Within three days, symptoms such as fever, cough, shortness of breath and chest pain, significantly improved. Patients had improved liver and lung function and reduced inflammation. Within seven days, lung lesions were being reabsorbed. No serious adverse reactions were observed.\---An oral antiviral drug has stopped the novel coronavirus from reproducing in lab tests on human cells, says research published in the journal Science. EIDD-2801 also improved lung function, reduced viral load and prevented weight loss in mice when it was administered either before or within 48 hours of the mice being infected. The researchers did not examine the drug’s efficacy when administered to mice more than two days after infection.\---The website Retraction Watch notes that the paper that appears to have triggered U.S. President Donald Trump's interest in the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 treatment is being questioned by the society that publishes the journal in which the work appeared. The International Society of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy says the March 20 article did not meet the society's standards. Retraction Watch says hydroxychloroquine is not without side effects and is essential to patients suffering with lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, who now have to hope that they can still get the drug.\---The journal Trends in Pharmacological Sciences has examined all current clinical trials of vaccines and treatments for COVID-19. A breakdown of all 344 trials suggests what scientists feel is most likely to yield results. There are about 70 trials of drugs known to be effective on other similar viruses. Antimalarial drugs are the subject of another 35 trials. Therapies using stem cells or blood plasma from recovering COVID-19 patients are being studied in 46 trials, and drugs that work on the immune system are the subject of another 35. A variety of other approaches are also being tested. The study notes there are about 100 ongoing clinical trials of traditional Chinese medicine, including acupuncture, on COVID-19. \---This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 8, 2020Bob Weber, The Canadian Press