- Quebec records more than 1,000 new COVID-19 cases in 24 hours.
- Ottawa spending another $600 million to help businesses survive lockdowns.
- Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island to join COVID Alert app.
- U.S. President Donald Trump and Melania Trump test positive for coronavirus.
- Russia reports biggest jump in new coronavirus cases in four months.
- Authorities in Pakistan close more than 100 restaurants and six wedding halls over physical distancing violations.
As parts of Canada deal with spikes in coronavirus cases and long wait times at COVID-19 testing centres, some provincial government officials across the country are once again introducing stricter public health measures.
In Quebec, more than 1,000 new coronavirus cases were reported over a 24-hour period. This is the first time since May the province saw numbers this high, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 76,273.
Starting this afternoon, provincial police said they will begin an “awareness” operation that will focus on discouraging people from travelling for non-essential reasons from areas that are on high alert to neighbouring regions that are under a lower alert level.
On Thursday, the greater Montreal area, Quebec City and the Chaudière-Appalaches region south of the provincial capital were placed under a partial lockdown after they were moved to the province’s highest alert level.
Both outdoor and indoor gatherings have been banned in the province’s red zones, and bars, movie theatres and concert halls have also been ordered to close. Restaurants are permitted to stay open for takeaways and delivery.
Seven new deaths were also reported on Friday. However, none of them took place during the preceding 24 hours. Six of those deaths occurred between Sept. 25 and Sept. 30, and one happened before Sept. 25.
According to Quebec’s health officials, there are now over 300 people in hospital for COVID-19, and 49 people are in intensive care.
WATCH | Premier Ford introduces further restrictions across Ontario:
In Ontario, Premier Doug Ford urged residents to limit close contact only to people living in their own household and maintain physical distance of two metres or more from everyone else. People living alone can consider having close contact with another household.
“Just keep your circles tight,” Ford said during a news conference Friday afternoon with his top health officials.
He also talked about some significant changes to the process of getting a COVID-19 test. In an effort to allow Ontario’s network of labs to work through a backlog of tests that ballooned to more than 90,500 today, assessment centres will stop offering walk-in test sites effective Oct. 4.
Meanwhile, masks will now be required in all workplaces where physical distancing is not possible, as well as on all public transit and in shopping centres across the province.
On Friday, Ontario reported 732 additional coronavirus cases, including 141 cases in Ottawa and 111 in Peel.
According to Health Minister Christine Elliott, Toronto saw the highest number recorded as cases confirmed in the spring were included in Friday’s numbers after a data review by Toronto Public Health.
The previous record of 700 new cases was on Sept. 28.
In Manitoba, where hours-long waits for swabs at some testing sites have been reported, officials vowed to address the issue but said additional sites won’t open until “the coming weeks.”
“As far as testing goes, we can look at it from every which way, and it comes out we don’t want waits like that. We’re doing what we can to address it,” said Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer, at a news briefing Thursday.
Roussin said nothing is off the table for improving wait times, including expanding and staggering hours at existing sites or opening new ones.
WATCH | Manitoba woman describes hours-long wait for COVID-19 test:
A new mobile testing site in Winnipeg on Portage Avenue served 75 people on its first day Wednesday, Health Minister Cameron Friesen said.
He promised more mobile testing sites will open in Winnipeg in “the coming weeks,” along with sites in Dauphin, Brandon, Portage la Prairie and Winkler.
But opening new testing sites is not as simple as it was earlier in the pandemic, when health-care services were massively rolled back to create capacity in the system to handle COVID-19, Friesen said.
That’s not the case now as the province works through a backlog of thousands of elective surgeries that were postponed.
Long lineups for testing were also seen in Newfoundland and Labrador’s Happy Valley-Goose Bay after the province asked that people arrange a COVID-19 test if they visited two specific stores, travelled on certain flights or stayed at the Holiday Inn Express in Deer Lake between Sept 21-23.
The recommendation was prompted by a recent COVID-19 case, an essential health-care worker who travelled to Labrador from Saskatchewan after receiving a travel exemption, according to the government.
The provincial government said it is looking into whether or not the woman, who is not a resident of the province and is between the ages of 20 and 39, self-isolated outside of work hours.
Following the government’s recommendation on Wednesday, there were close to 90 cars along the side of the road near the testing site in in Happy Valley-Goose Bay by mid-morning Thursday.
At a press conference Thursday, Health Minister John Haggie tried to clarify who needs to be tested and how much of a risk there is when it comes to the virus while acknowledging there is “significant anxiety and concern.”
“I think the reasons for going and getting a test are very clear: either you have been identified by public health as a close contact or you fall into the categories” flagged by the government, said Haggie.
People who don’t fall into those categories don’t need to get tested, he said, and are potentially displacing people who should. “If you’re in the queue and you happen to live in Happy Valley-Goose Bay [but] you weren’t on the flight, you weren’t at those stores and you didn’t go to the health centre, don’t sit in the queue. Go home.”
Also Thursday, Nova Scotia said it has validated a saline gargle test in the province for use in children. The test was earlier introduced in British Columbia to make testing more accessible for young people.
Patients take sterile salt water, swish it around their mouth, gargle with it and, after repeating three times, spit it into a tube.
While the most accurate form of COVID-19 testing is done through a nasal swab, parents had been calling for Nova Scotia to move to another method of testing, especially for young children who may have common cold symptoms and required a COVID-19 test.
What’s happening in the rest of Canada
As of 2:50 p.m. ET on Thursday, Canada had 162,363 confirmed or presumptive coronavirus cases. Provinces and territories listed 137,329 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 9,405.
With workers facing the prospect of more economic hardship as infection rates rise in hot spots across the country, the federal government is giving $600 million to help small- and medium-sized businesses deal with possible lockdowns, Radio-Canada has learned.
The funding — aimed at sectors such as tourism, manufacturing and technology — will be added to the $962 million already invested in the Regional Relief and Recovery Fund. The announcement will be made Friday by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
About $456 million of the new money will be made available to help businesses struggling to bridge their finances through another lockdown. It will be distributed through regional development agencies.
Another $144 million will help provide capital and technical support to rural businesses and communities through the offices of Community Futures Canada, which provides small business services to rural communities.
WATCH | Quebec’s red zones shut down to slow COVID-19 spread:
In Quebec, the province is making $100 million in financial aid available to the estimated 12,000 businesses that are shutting down this month because of new lockdown measures.
Starting Thursday, bars, restaurant dining rooms and reception halls in the province’s so-called red zones — which include Montreal and Quebec City — are under orders to close for the next 28 days.
Economy Minister Pierre Fitzgibbon said the businesses that are forced to close, or scale back, will be eligible for loan reimbursements of up to $15,000 each.
In the east, regional chief medical officers are proposing that the Atlantic provinces take a more targeted approach in their COVID-19 restrictions to minimize the “unintended consequences” on the economy and public health.
With a surge in COVID-19 cases outside the Atlantic bubble, the four senior health officials from each of the Atlantic provinces cautioned the public in an online discussion Thursday night to remain “vigilant” in order to ward off a potential second wave on the East Coast.
But a broad shutdown should be avoided if possible, said Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health.
He said that could mean a more “focused and targeted response” for a particular geographic area, certain segments of the population or specific settings with a greater risk of spreading the virus.
Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, chief medical officer of Newfoundland and Labrador, also said more attention should be given to the “unintended consequences” of the emergency restrictions and a more “refined approach” should be employed when reviewing them.
In addition to the economic downturn, she said the measures have had a negative impact on mental health — particularly in long-term care homes — and the reorganization of the health-care system, which has led to backlogs in testing, treatment and procedures and the deployment of government resources and personnel to manage the COVID-19 crisis.
Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island will soon join the COVID Alert app, likely in the next week, according to federal officials speaking to reporters on a teleconference.
This would leave Alberta, B.C. and Quebec as the only remaining provinces that don’t yet allow their residents to report a positive test through the app and alert others of a potential exposure.
Federal officials say COVID Alert has been downloaded more than 3.1 million times, and that at least 645 users have reported a positive test through the app. They say the app is compatible with 92 per cent of smartphones in Canada.
What’s happening around the world
According to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, the global total of confirmed coronavirus cases stands at more than 34.3 million. More than one million people have died while over 23.9 million have recovered.
Much of the world’s attention was on the United States on Friday morning, after President Donald Trump announced that he and first lady Melania Trump have tested positive for the coronavirus.
The news comes just a month before the presidential election and after Trump spent much of the last year largely downplaying the threat of the virus.
Trump’s positive test came just hours after he confirmed that senior aide Hope Hicks, who had travelled with him several times this week, had tested positive for the virus.
Trump was last seen by reporters returning to the White House on Thursday evening and looked to be in good health. Trump is 74 years old, putting him at higher risk of serious complications from a virus that has now killed more than 205,000 people nationwide.
The president’s physician said that Trump and his wife, who is 50, “are both well at this time” and “plan to remain at home within the White House during their convalescence.”
The coronavirus outbreak in Russia continues its rapid growth, with the government reporting more than 9,000 new confirmed cases on Friday but the Kremlin saying a second lockdown is not being discussed.
The 9,412 new cases reported on Friday bring the country’s total to over 1.19 million and mark the highest surge since late May. Russia currently has the fourth-largest caseload in the world after the U.S., India and Brazil and has so far reported more than 21,000 deaths.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Friday another lockdown is currently not being discussed in the government.
At the same time in Moscow, which has been reporting more than 2,000 new cases a day since Monday, officials have recommended the elderly self-isolate at home and have extended upcoming school holidays by a week. On Thursday, Moscow’s mayor also ordered employers to have 30 per cent of their staff work from home.
Pakistan authorities have closed more than 100 restaurants and six wedding halls in the financial capital of Karachi over violations of physical distancing rules amid a sudden increase in COVID-19 deaths.
The government has also imposed a lockdown in some of the city’s high-risk areas to contain the spread of the coronavirus. A similar crackdown over social distancing rules has also been ordered in other parts of the country.
Pakistanis have been seen routinely violating social distancing since last month when wedding halls were allowed to open on the condition they adhere to such rules.
Authorities earlier reported 13 out of the country’s 15 single-day COVID-19 fatalities in southern Sindh province, of which Karachi is the capital. Pakistan has reported 313,431 confirmed cases with 6,499 deaths.
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