Ontario is planning to lower the limits on social gatherings in a bid to stem a recent increase in COVID-19 cases.
Premier Doug Ford’s office has confirmed the move but won’t say when the new health guidelines will be available. The current limit on social gatherings is 50 people indoors and 100 outdoors.
Provincial health officials have attributed the spike in cases largely to people not following public health guidelines at social gatherings.
As of 7 p.m. ET on Wednesday, Canada had 139,747 confirmed or presumptive coronavirus cases. Provinces and territories listed 122,449 of those as recovered or resolved. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC’s reporting stood at 9,235.
Ontario reported another 315 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday — more than half of which are in people under 40. Quebec reported 303 new cases, marking the first time since May 30 the province has had more than 300 in a day. Alberta reported 171 new cases.
Ford has promised to take action in Ontario regions where most of the cases have emerged — Toronto, Peel, and Ottawa. He has also not ruled out further lockdowns in those areas if virus case numbers aren’t brought under control.
Infection control epidemiologist Dr. Colin Furness says the surge is either the sign of a “vicious” second wave beginning or — more likely — a reflection of recent fatigue with coronavirus guidelines and regulations. He says one thing that would help slow the surge is to close bars and restaurants.
“Right now, you can book a big table in a restaurant with lots of people not wearing masks, but you can’t do the same thing in your living room,” he told CBC News. And he said that doesn’t sit well with some people.
“We need a very clear, simple rule. And really, we need to have people not in the same air space not wearing masks.”
With the sudden spike in cases prompting more people to get tested, Canadians are coping with hours-long lineups at COVID-19 testing centres across the country — and some medical experts are calling on Health Canada to approve new devices to deliver faster results.
WATCH | How Ford says Ontario is preparing for a second wave:
Concerned parents and their children faced four-hour waits at Ottawa’s primary testing facility on Monday. A similar scene greeted those looking for a test on Tuesday. At Toronto’s William Osler drive-thru testing centre, residents were kept waiting for more than three hours.
Health Minister Patti Hajdu said Wednesday that the Canadian government is not yet ready to deploy a rapid test because it is not yet satisfied with any of the options it has reviewed.
She said Health Canada will not approve a test that in any way endangers the health of Canadians.
“I will say tests that don’t have a degree of accuracy to the satisfaction of the regulators can actually create further harms in communities,” Hajdu said.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved two antigen testing devices several months ago.
Health officials in Ottawa are urging people who don’t have symptoms or have not been referred to stop clogging up test sites.
There have been what they’ve described as record-breaking lines at testing centres recently as the city’s positive tests surge to levels not seen since early May.
Officials say most people coming for testing don’t need to be there, which is causing a backlog.
“Most simply, [get tested] if you have symptoms or you’ve been referred by public health,” said Vera Etches, Ottawa’s medical officer of health, in a news conference Tuesday.
Epidemiologist Furness says that is not a solution. He said anyone who feels they might have been exposed to the virus should get a test, whether they have symptoms or not.
“There are two very opposing schools of thought among public health officials,” he said. “One is that we should limit testing as a scarce resource and only use it when we need to. That perspective … is flat out wrong and dangerous in my view.”
He said instead, testing capacity should be increased.
WATCH | Furness’s full thoughts on how to slow the surge of cases:
What’s happening around the rest of Canada
As schools reopen across much of the country, some are voicing concern about the rising number of COVID-19 cases among students and worrying that not enough is being done to protect both children and teachers.
Ontario’s Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board has confirmed its first student case of COVID-19 at one of its schools, marking the region’s first reported infection in a school.
Stella Maris Catholic Elementary School in Amherstburg, Ont., was first notified of the diagnosis Tuesday morning, board officials said, and classmates of the COVID-positive student were dismissed through the day and asked to self-isolate for two weeks.
WATCH | How the first day of school looks in a pandemic:
“As soon as we were made aware of the positive case we contacted the health unit,” said Melissa Farrand, the school board’s COVID-19 lead. She said the health unit then worked with the school principal to find those who had been in close contact.
Five positive cases of COVID-19 have also been recorded within the Saskatoon school and daycare systems since students began returning to class last week.
“Due to the block scheduling and safety protocols that are currently in place, the SHA has determined the risk to be very low for our school community and there is no evidence of community transmission,” said a letter shared with parents.
Meanwhile, in Hamilton, Ont., educators and their unions are becoming increasingly worried about what they say is a large number of students not wearing masks in local public schools.
Jeff Sorensen, president of the Hamilton-Wentworth Elementary Teachers’ Local, told CBC News there are complaints coming from staff at schools, with one school apparently reporting 25 per cent of students not wearing masks.
Families can opt out of mandatory masking in Hamilton schools if their children have medical issues that would prevent them from using a face covering or mask or if they have difficulty breathing in one. But they don’t need to provide any proof.
“It’s alarming,” Sorensen said.
Internationally, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said closing schools again should be a “last resort” and only applied in places with high levels of transmission.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus touted the importance of keeping schools open, when possible, and warned that the more kids are out of school, the less likely they are to return in many places.
He said “distance learning” should be available where possible.
WATCH | Students ask: What do we do with masks at recess?
In Canada, the transition to virtual schooling has not been a smooth one, with issues like parents feeling left in the dark, postponements, enrolment lists in flux and technical hiccups.
“I have zero faith that [schools are] organized… The feeling I get is that they don’t have a plan, they’re not prepared,” said Ashley St John, a Toronto mother of a blended family of five children between the ages of two months and 12 years.
Parents in Calgary are also decrying a lack of key information and details about the Calgary Board of Education’s Hub online learning program, which was slated to begin as early as Monday.
“We just don’t have any information as to what time we need to be home and in front of our computers to be able to let the kids connect with their teachers,” said Tamara Rose, who is working from home full time due to multiple autoimmune diseases.
In Quebec, the wife of Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet said she is in self-isolation after testing positive for COVID-19.
In a tweet, Nancy Deziel said she was tested Monday after losing her sense of smell.
Deziel said she and those close to her will be in isolation until next Tuesday. She’s continuing to work remotely as a scientist and city councillor in Shawinigan, Que.
Blanchet himself, along with the Bloc Québécois caucus, was already in isolation as a precaution, after a member of his staff tested positive Monday.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, tested positive for COVID-19 early in the pandemic but has recovered.
What’s happening around the world
The head of the United Nations says the COVID-19 pandemic remains “out of control,” with the world approaching “the grimmest of milestones: one million lives lost to the virus.”
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told a news conference Wednesday that the coronavirus “is the number one global security threat in our world today,” posing a crisis that is “unlike any in our lifetimes.”
He said that’s why he called for a global ceasefire of all armed conflict on March 23 to tackle the pandemic.
He stressed that a vaccine “must be seen as a global public good, because COVID-19 respects no borders,” and also said that a vaccine must be “affordable and available to all — a people’s vaccine.”
Spain’s official death toll for the coronavirus surpassed 30,000. The total cases increased beyond 600,000, as Spain became the first European country to reach that threshold.
The Health Ministry added 9,400 new confirmed infections to the total and 156 deaths.
The country has been experiencing one of Europe’s steepest second curves of contagion, with new cases increasing since mid-July.
With 1,273 patients in ICUs, Spain has as many beds devoted to treat grave patients of COVID-19 as France, the United Kingdom, Germany and Italy together. Officials say selective lockdowns could be back in place by next week.
Amid growing anger over a bottleneck in the United Kingdom’s creaking coronavirus testing system, the government promised on Wednesday to do whatever it takes to boost laboratory capacity, which has left people across the land with no way to get a COVID-19 test.
In an attempt to slow one of the highest coronavirus death tolls in the West, Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised in May to create a “world-beating” system to test and trace people exposed to the virus.
But repeated attempts by Reuters reporters to get COVID-19 tests failed, while at a walk-in testing centre at Southend-on-Sea in eastern England, hundreds of people were queuing to get a test — some from as early as 5 a.m. GMT.
“Laboratory capacity has been an issue. We are working our way through that,” Justice Secretary Robert Buckland told Sky News.
WATCH | Respirologist describes ‘alarming’ wait times for COVID-19 testing:
The WHO regional director for Latin America is warning the region is reopening too soon.
During a virtual briefing, Carissa Etienne said coronavirus cases in Colombia’s border area with Venezuela have increased ten-fold in the last two weeks, and that death rates are climbing in parts of Mexico, with similar trends in Ecuador, Costa Rica, Bolivia and areas of Argentina.
“We must be clear that opening up too early gives this virus more room to spread and puts our populations at greater risk. Look no further than Europe,” she said.