Canada’s top public health official struck an optimistic tone about the COVID-19 pandemic on Saturday, saying that efforts to flatten the curve are working as provinces across the country reported more positive figures.
“By following public health recommendations, we have collectively brought down the rate of infection. We are flattening the curve,” Dr. Theresa Tam said in a news release as federal officials and the prime minister took a break from their daily news conferences.
“While we can continue to be cautiously optimistic, it is important that everyone remains aware of our duty to protect one another, especially those who are most vulnerable, as we navigate the next few weeks.”
No active cases in N.B.
The message came as New Brunswick reported they had no more active cases of COVID-19 on Saturday after two weeks without a new infection, and Ontario Premier Doug Ford said his province could get through the pandemic faster than previously expected.
“We’re seeing a gradual downward slope in the public domain, and the lower we get the more we can open up and get back to the new normal,” Ford said.
“I don’t know the exact time … but if we keep going the way we’re going, we’re going to get out of this a lot sooner than we thought we might’ve been able to get out a couple of months ago.”
At the provincial legislature, demonstrators gathered for a second Saturday in a row for an anti-lockdown protest. Ford blasted the protesters for disrespecting the Canadian flag by flying it upside down during the demonstration.
“I understand, people are hurting out there and people want to get back out there,” Ford said. But he added that flying the flag upside down disrespects members of the Armed Forces who are overseas, as well as those helping in long-term care facilities in Ontario.
“What they’re doing is putting their lives in jeopardy as far as I’m concerned with congregating side-by-side,” he said.
Ford said he respected their right to protest but wondered whether it’s fair that mothers with their children receive fines for being in parks while anti-lockdown protesters aren’t fined.
More lockdown rules being lifted
Provinces across Canada are preparing to start relaxing lockdown rules in the coming week.
Businesses such as gardening centres and auto dealerships will be allowed to open in Ontario on Monday, while residents in Newfoundland and Labrador will be allowed to interact with one household other than their own.
Quebec has announced plans to gradually reopen daycares, elementary schools, retail businesses, construction and manufacturing during the month of May.
That province has seen most of its deaths in long-term care homes, and Quebec Premier François Legault has said the fight against COVID-19 is entirely different in those facilities an argument Ontario’s premier agreed with on Saturday.
“There’s two different worlds right now we’re fighting this virus, one in long-term care homes and one in the public domain,” Ford said. “In the public domain, everyone has done an incredible job … and that’s the reason why we see the trend going down.”
As of Saturday evening, Canada had 56,714 confirmed and presumptive coronavirus cases, with the majority concentrated in Ontario and Quebec. Provinces and territories list 23,814 of the cases as resolved or recovered. A CBC News tally of COVID-19-related deaths based on provincial data, regional health information and CBC’s reporting lists 3,656 deaths in Canada and two known coronavirus-related deaths of Canadians abroad.
The contagious respiratory illness causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. There is no proven treatment or vaccine for the virus, which first emerged in China in late 2019.
‘We cannot afford any missteps’
British Columbia’s top medical official Dr. Bonnie Henry urged people to stay vigilant, asking anyone with symptoms to contact health officials and take measures to protect their family and community members.
“It is far too easy to tip the scales against us and undo the hard work and sacrifice that everybody here in B.C. has made,” she said Saturday as the province announced just 26 new cases.
“We cannot afford any missteps as we look to ease our restrictions in the coming days and weeks.”
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with his counterpart in New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, to share information about fighting the pandemic while protecting the economy.
A readout of the call said the two leaders also spoke about the need to keep supply chains working throughout the global crisis, particularly in regards to medical supplies.
New Zealand has widely been seen as a success story in the effort to curb the spread of COVID-19.
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What’s happening in the provinces and territories
British Columbia’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, announced on Saturday a new community outbreak at a poultry plant, where there are three confirmed cases. Henry also said there were 26 new COVID-19 cases in the province on Saturday, bringing the current total to 2,171. Read more about what’s happening in B.C.
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Alberta reported 97 new cases on Saturday, the first time in weeks the daily new cases dropped below 100. The province also reported two new deaths. Read more about what’s happening in Alberta.
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Saskatchewan announced that its number of cases has climbed to 421, with six new cases recorded on Saturday. Of the new cases included in the update, four are in the North, one is in Saskatoon and one is in Regina. Northern leaders say drastic action may have to be taken unless more people start following public health orders, as they say some people are still trying to go around the restrictions. Read more about what’s happening in Saskatchewan.
Manitoba reported one new case on Saturday. The province says there is also one more hospitalization, bringing the total to six. On Monday, the Manitoba government is allowing restaurants to open patios if they follow specific guidelines for physical distancing, which has left owners weighing the pros and cons of taking part. Read more about what’s happening in Manitoba.
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In Ontario, a union representing health-care workers says a third personal support worker has died in as many weeks. SEIU Healthcare says workers have been asking for more personal protective equipment, which is currently being rationed. Read more about what’s happening in Ontario.
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Quebec’s director of public health says the province is launching a more “aggressive” testing strategy as it begins to loosen pandemic restrictions. Dr. Horacio Arruda says Quebec is planning to conduct 14,000 tests a day, up from roughly 6,000 tests a day that it’s currently doing. The province wants to start testing regular citizens, including some without symptoms. Until late this week, Quebec was only testing essential workers with symptoms, with a focus on health-care workers. Read more about what’s happening in Quebec.
New Brunswick is COVID-19 free, according to the latest numbers from the province. The province says there were no new cases on Saturday for the 14th straight day and all 118 cases have now recovered. That makes New Brunswick the only province without a confirmed active case in the country. Read more about what’s happening in N.B.
Nova Scotia is reporting two more deaths at the Northwood long-term care home in Halifax. That brings the death toll in the province to 31. The province also reported four news cases, bringing the total number of positive cases to 963. To date, 609 people have recovered from COVID-19. Twelve people are in hospital, including three in intensive care. Read more about what’s happening in N.S.
In Prince Edward Island, Phase 1 of the province’s plan to ease restrictions began Friday. P.E.I.’s chief public health officer, Dr. Heather Morrison, said the provincial government will continue to emphasize physical distancing, good hygiene and staying home as much as possible. The Island has 27 confirmed cases, but only two since April 8. Read more about what’s happening on P.E.I.
Newfoundland and Labrador has no new reported cases of COVID-19 on Saturday. According to a news release issued by the provincial government, the number of total cases in the province remains at 259.
Saturday is the fifth day this week without any new reported cases of COVID-19 in the province, with only three new cases since April 18. Read more about what’s happening in N.L.
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In Canada’s North, all of Yukon’s 11 confirmed cases of COVID-19 have recovered.
Meanwhile, Yukon Justice Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee announced Friday that someone has been charged under Yukon’s Civil Emergency Measures Act for allegedly failing to self-isolate as required. Read more about what’s happening across the North.
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What’s happening in the U.S.
Gorgeous spring weather across the U.S. Saturday drew people cooped up inside for weeks outside to soak in the sun.
Though grateful to be outdoors, people were still wary masks were worn everywhere, and a New York City farmer’s market enforced the familiar two metres of space between people waiting to buy spring flowers. Mothers in Central Park reminded their kids to give people space. And small groups of picnickers kept their safe distances, while joggers moved past each other without a glance.
Retired New York attorney Stan Neustadter pulled down his mask to say it’s been important to his spirit to get out. “Why live like a rabbit? Plus I’m approaching 78, I’ve had a great run,” Neustadter said.
Police and park officials were spread out across New York City, which sent out 1,000 officers to enforce social distancing on the warmest day since mid-March. But they were more likely to break up large groups, leaving the nuisances of social distancing and hanging out safely outside to New Yorkers themselves.
“Go for a walk, but respect the social distancing and wear a mask,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.
With gigs drying up at clubs and concert halls, German native Julia Banholzer, a saxophonist, said she has taken to playing al fresco in Central Park for whoever happens by. On Saturday that was a steady stream of folks, most wearing masks, who left tips for her trio as they worked their way through a set of jazz standards.
“It’s great to have an audience after all these weeks.” she said. “All my dates have been cancelled through September, and I don’t know if any will come back this year. New York is a tough place, but this is just another tough period we need to get through.”
‘So far, so good’
Meanwhile, fighter jets from the U.S. Navy Blue Angels and U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds drew people outside as they flew over Atlanta, Baltimore and Washington in honour of health-care workers. In Atlanta, motorists stopped on a major highway while other people found open places to look to the sky on rooftops or a cemetery.
New Jersey reopened state parks Saturday. Limited to 50 per cent capacity in their parking areas, several had to turn away additional arrivals by the afternoon. But nearly everyone followed the rules on social distancing and Gov. Phil Murphy said “so far, so good” at his daily briefing.
Margie Roebuck and her husband were among the first people on the sand at Island Beach State Park. “Forty-six days in the house was enough,” she said.
There are economic factors to consider as well. In some areas of the United States, reopening is being urged to ease the shutdown of businesses that plunged the global economy into its deepest slump since the 1930s and wiped out millions of jobs.
It has created a patchwork of rules across the 50 states. In South Carolina, where about 20 per cent of the state’s revenue comes from tourism, beach hotels were allowed to reopen Friday. Webcams showed dozens of people on the beach Saturday, but pools still closed. South Carolina also hasn’t reopened dine-in restaurants, unlike neighbouring Georgia. Some U.S. states have yet to start the reopening process.
Business owners have also been left wondering if customers will return. On a postcard-perfect spring day, Detroit’s Eastern Market had far fewer customers and vendors than normal at the farmers market.
Jill and Mark Thomas said they felt safe selling bottles of homemade wine from their Unwined Winery, but it wasn’t the same in the COVID-19 world.
“It’s easier when you can get samples to people,” said Jill Thomas. “We’re not allowed to do that now.”
What’s happening around the world
China’s health authorities say two new coronavirus cases were confirmed Saturday, continuing a downward trend since the government took steps to cut the number of people arriving from overseas. China’s official confirmed case count stands at 82,877 and its death toll has reached 4,633.
The government has blocked virtually all foreigners from entering the country and sharply curtailed the number of international flights, making it difficult for Chinese citizens to return from overseas too.
Yemen’s health authorities say there are three new coronavirus cases in the southern city of Aden and the western city of Taiz, bringing the total number of cases to 10 with two deaths. Saturday’s announcement comes as the U.N. health agency has warned of the invisible outbreak of the virus, saying that it’s “actively circulating throughout the country.” The agency says testing and resources to detect the virus are “grossly insufficient.”
Yemen has been embroiled in civil war for more than five years and has a fragile health system, with half of the health facilities not properly functioning.
Britain’s Department of Health says a total of 28,131 people have died in hospitals, care homes and the wider community after testing positive for the new coronavirus in the United Kingdom, an increase of 621 from the previous tally.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday told the nation that Britain had passed its peak in the COVID-19 outbreak and said he has plans to reveal a “road map” outlining how lockdown steps might be eased in the coming week.
In Italy, the number of beds treating COVID-19 patients continued to decline as the country prepared to ease its strict lockdown measures on Monday.
The Civil Protection Agency said that there were 212 fewer people hospitalized with the virus and 39 fewer in intensive care in the past 24 hours, numbers that have been consistently easing in recent weeks. That has given authorities confidence to be able to cope with any new spike in cases as more businesses reopen and individuals are allowed more freedom to move around their towns and cities of residence.
At the same time, the number of dead nudged up the most in 11 days by 474 and the number of people who have recovered from the virus was the lowest in more than two weeks. Italy has registered the most deaths after the United States, at 28,710.
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In Spain, people filled the streets Saturday to exercise for the first time after seven weeks of confinement to fight the coronavirus.
People ran, walked or rode bicycles under a sunny sky in Barcelona, where many flocked to the maritime promenade to get close to the still off-limits beach. Others jogged around parks and along sidewalks across the nation.
“Some people think it may be too early, as I do, but it is also important to do exercise for health reasons,” says 36-year-old Cristina Palomeque in Barcelona.
Spain has 24,824 confirmed deaths from the virus and 215,216 infections.