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Verdict expected for Calgary man accused of killing four-year-old daughter

BILL GRAVELAND, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Wednesday, May 13th, 2020

CALGARY — A judge is to deliver a verdict today for a man charged with killing his young daughter five years ago.

Oluwatosin Oluwafemi, 44, has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder in the 2014 death of four-year-old Olive Rebekah Oluwafemi.

The trial heard that Oluwafemi called his wife at work on the afternoon of Dec. 19, 2014, and she rushed to their Calgary home to find him performing CPR on their daughter.

A paramedic testified that when he arrived the girl was unconscious, not breathing and in cardiac arrest. He said he received no explanation from the people in the home about what happened.

Crown prosecutor Donna Spaner said in her closing arguments before Justice Suzanne Bensler that there may only be circumstantial evidence, but common sense makes it clear that Oluwafemi killed his child.

“He assaulted her in a manner that included multiple blows, punches, kicks and/or slaps. The assaultive behaviours culminated with an event of force that caused the catastrophic damage to her neck, to her cervical spine,” Spaner told court.

The trial was also told that a simple fall would not have caused the severity of the girl’s injuries, which were equivalent to her jumping head first into a swimming pool and hitting her head.

Oluwafemi, who had lost his job months earlier, was the only person in the home looking after the child, Spaner noted.

Oluwafemi’s lawyer, Rebecca Snukal, said there was no proof her client did anything to the little girl, who was an active child and got bumps and bruises from her rough play.

Snukal reminded the judge that the girl’s mother testified she sometimes disciplined the child by pulling her ears, hitting the palm of her hand with a flip-flop, smacking her or yelling.

Oluwafemi was arrested in Ontario a year after the girl died. He had moved to the community of Keswick to be closer to family.

Originally from Nigeria, he was working as a mining engineer for NorWest Corp. but was laid off about two months before his daughter’s death.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 13, 2020

— Follow @BillGraveland on Twitter

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

The latest numbers on COVID-19 in Canada

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Wednesday, May 13th, 2020

The latest numbers of confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases in Canada as of 4 a.m. ET on May 13, 2020:

There are 71,157 confirmed and presumptive cases in Canada.

_ Quebec: 39,225 confirmed (including 3,131 deaths, 10,056 resolved)

_ Ontario: 20,907 confirmed (including 1,725 deaths, 15,391 resolved)

_ Alberta: 6,345 confirmed (including 118 deaths, 4,866 resolved)

_ British Columbia: 2,360 confirmed (including 131 deaths, 1,832 resolved)

_ Nova Scotia: 1,020 confirmed (including 48 deaths, 864 resolved)

_ Saskatchewan: 573 confirmed (including 6 deaths, 374 resolved)

_ Manitoba: 278 confirmed (including 7 deaths, 251 resolved), 12 presumptive

_ Newfoundland and Labrador: 261 confirmed (including 3 deaths, 247 resolved)

_ New Brunswick: 120 confirmed (including 118 resolved)

_ Prince Edward Island: 27 confirmed (including 27 resolved)

_ Repatriated Canadians: 13 confirmed (including 13 resolved)

_ Yukon: 11 confirmed (including 11 resolved)

_ Northwest Territories: 5 confirmed (including 5 resolved)

_ Nunavut: No confirmed cases

_ Total: 71,157 (12 presumptive, 71,145 confirmed including 5,169 deaths, 34,055 resolved)

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 13, 2020.

The Canadian Press

Details on $1B aid and Whitecaps back to training; In The News for May 13

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Wednesday, May 13th, 2020

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 May 13 …

COVID-19 in Canada ….

OTTAWA — The federal government will disclose details today of nearly $1 billion in emergency aid to be doled out to small businesses through its six regional economic development agencies.

The government announced several weeks ago the creation of a new Regional Relief and Recovery Fund but did not reveal much in the way of detail, apart from the overall amount of $962 million.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Economic Development Minister Melanie Joly are expected to fill in some of the blanks today, including how much money each of the six regional agencies — for the West, North, Atlantic, Quebec and northern and southern Ontario — are to receive and what each plans to do with it.

Each agency is expected to take a somewhat different approach to its share of the fund, targeting small businesses most in need in each region.

Overall, the fund is to commit $675 million to support regional economies, businesses, organizations and communities and another $287 million to support the national network of community futures development corporations, which are to specifically target small businesses and rural communities across the country.

The fund is intended to cushion the financial blow experienced by businesses and organizations to allow them to continue their operations, including paying their employees, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In other Canadian news …

CALGARY — A judge is scheduled to deliver a verdict today in the case of a Calgary man charged with killing his young daughter.

Oluwatosin Oluwafemi has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder in the death of four-year-old Olive Rebekah in 2014.

The trial heard that Oluwafemi called his wife at work, and she rushed home to find him performing C-P-R on their daughter.

A paramedic testified that when he arrived the girl was unconscious, not breathing and in cardiac arrest.

He said he received no explanation from the people in the home about what happened.

The Crown says the case is largely circumstantial — that the little girl died of multiple blunt force trauma, and the only other person in the home at the time was her father.

The defence told the trial that there’s no proof the man did anything to the child.

In case you missed it …

TORONTO — The Canadian National Exhibition has been cancelled by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The annual summer spectacle joins a slew of large public events sidelined by the outbreak, which also forced the cancellation of Toronto’s Pride Parade and Caribbean Carnival, the Calgary Stampede, live Canada Day events in Ottawa and music festivals across the country.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford broke the news at a televised press conference Tuesday, when he reminisced about his own treasured memories at the family-friendly cavalcade of amusement rides, agricultural exhibits and food.

“These are some of the sacrifices that we’re facing as a society,” Ford said. “It’s something part of our culture here, part of our heritage going back over 100 years, so I’m going to miss it.”

The Canadian National Exhibition Association said Tuesday the cancellation was “the right decision during this critical time to protect the health of all Canadians.”

This is only the second time in the fair’s 142-year history that it has cancelled all events. The last time was the Second World War, when the site was transformed into a training and recruitment centre.

The CNE is one of the largest fairs in North America and attracts more than 1.4 million visitors each year.

The 18-day event had been slated to run Aug. 21 to Sept. 7.

COVID-19 in the U.S. …

It appears the dispute between Tesla and San Francisco Bay Area authorities over the reopening of a factory in the face of coronavirus shutdown orders is coming to an end.

The Alameda County Health Department announced on Twitter today that the Fremont, Calif., plant will be able to go beyond basic operations this week and start making vehicles this coming Monday — as long as it delivers on worker safety precautions that it agreed to.

It wasn’t clear from the statement whether Tesla would face any punishment for reopening Monday in defiance of county orders.

In Washington, the U.S. government’s top infectious disease expert issued a blunt warning that cities and states could see more COVID-19 deaths and economic damage if they lift stay-at-home orders too swiftly.

As Dr. Anthony Fauci testified by video to a Senate committee, his cautions on Tuesday marked a sharp contrast to President Donald Trump, who is pushing to right a free-falling economy.

COVID-19 around the world …

BEIJING — China reported seven new cases of the coronavirus today. Six of them were in the northeastern province of Jilin where authorities have raised alert levels and suspended rail connections to once county where a cluster of unknown origin has appeared over recent days.

Another 754 people are in treatment for being suspected cases or for having tested positive but not shown symptoms, while 104 people are in hospital undergoing treatment.

China has reported a total of 4,633 deaths among 82,926 cases.

On Tuesday, local media reported the government would conduct tests on all 11 million residents of Wuhan, the central industrial city where the virus was first detected late last year.

COVID-19 in sports …

The Vancouver Whitecaps got back to training Tuesday, albeit via voluntary individual workouts at the club’s practice facility.

Still it was a welcome return for 16 players, who each had a quarter of a field to work in during their hour-long outdoor sessions. Another nine are slated to go Wednesday at the team’s training centre at the University of British Columbia.

The players had been on their own since March 12 when MLS suspended play two weeks into the 2020 season due to the global pandemic.

“”It was special … especially on the mental side,” said Whitecaps head coach Marc Dos Santos. “Just to have the players being together and slowly seeing each other, even if it’s on another side of the field.”

“I think it’s a very important step,” he added. “It’s Step 1, cleats going on the grass, touching the ball, seeing their teammates around, seeing coaches back around. It’s a beginning.”

Toronto FC started individual workouts Monday. The Montreal Impact are looking to join them after having their initial request rejected by Montreal Public Health.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 13, 2020

The Canadian Press

Reopening plans and Canadians’ anxiety on leaving home; In The News for May 12

The Canadian Press | posted Tuesday, May 12th, 2020

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 May 12 …

COVID-19 in Canada ….

OTTAWA — Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland says Ottawa and Washington are working on plans to deal with an increase in cross-border traffic as states and provinces begin reopening.

There’s currently a Canada-U.S. ban on non-essential travel, which is set to next week.

British Columbia is allowing a partial reopening of its economy starting May 19, right after the Victoria Day long weekend.

The mayor of the provincial capital says the city wants to lend some support by spicing up the downtown core.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said Monday the recipe for a successful restaurant recovery during the COVID-19 pandemic could involve adding outdoor patios, parking lots, sidewalks and even streets to allow for physical distancing.

Vancouver’s council is also preparing to debate the issue today.

Ontario, one of the provinces hardest hit by COVID-19, is expected to extend its state of emergency to June 2, as retail stores were allowed to partly reopen.

The provincial legislature will sit today, while also holding question period again.

Also this …

OTTAWA — As restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 persist, a new survey suggests more than half of Canadians find it stressful to venture out in public.

In a web survey conducted by polling firm Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies, 57 per cent of respondents said leaving their home for a public space caused anxiety.

While the figures were relatively consistent across the country, they reached a high of 64 per cent in Ontario and a low of 48 per cent in Alberta.

In comparison, 64 per cent of American respondents said they found it somewhat or very stressful to go out in public during the pandemic.

The survey was conducted May 8 to 11 among 1,526 Canadians and 1,004 Americans, 18 or older, who were randomly recruited from an online panel.

COVID-19 in the U.S. …

WASHINGTON — U.S. President Donald Trump is insisting that his administration has “met the moment” and “prevailed” on coronavirus testing.

The president’s latest assertions come as governors across the country continue to call on the federal government to do more to boost the testing supply to meet the requirements needed to begin “reopening” the nation.

The White House itself has become a potent symbol of the risk facing Americans everywhere by belatedly ordering everyone who enters the West Wing to wear a mask.

That directive comes after two aides tested positive for COVID-19 late last week.

Trump himself continues to appear in public without a mask, as he did during his news conference Monday.

COVID-19 around the world …

ATHENS — Across Europe and beyond, parliaments have had to adapt their operations to stop the new coronavirus spreading through the corridors of power.

Social distancing, online debates, masks, plexiglass, hazard tape — each country’s legislature has adopted its own measures.

A plexiglass barrier has been installed around the speaker’s podium in Greece and Britain’s House of Commons now features hazard tape and red “no sitting” signs.

Italy’s prime minister was heckled for removing his mask to speak.

Lebanon moved its entire parliamentary session into a cavernous theatre, and in Spain, a cleaner disinfecting the speakers’ microphone gained sudden online celebrity status.

COVID-19 in sports …

MANCHESTER, England — Abandoning the English Premier League season prematurely was discussed by clubs as a potential option on Monday even as the government cleared a path to resuming the competition in June if there is no new spike in coronavirus infections.

While spectators will not be allowed into stadiums for some time, the British government embraced the return of professional sports in contrast to rulings by French and Dutch authorities who have banned any events until September.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the House of Commons that restoring some sports “could provide a much-needed boost to national morale” after being shut down as Britain went into lockdown in March.

But the fate of the Premier League is in doubt partly because clubs cannot all agree on the plan, advanced by police, to play only in neutral stadiums. The opposition is led by relegation-threatened clubs who discovered on Monday that their final placings could be determined without playing another game.

“It was the first time we discussed curtailment,” Premier League chief executive Richard Masters said after a conference call with clubs. “It’s still our aim to finish the season but it’s important to discuss all the options with our clubs.”

No conclusions were reached on whether that would involve finalizing the league standings based on a points-per-game formula as the French league did before declaring Paris Saint-Germain champion.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 12, 2020

The Canadian Press

‘Fascinating’ Asian hornets don’t deserve ‘murder’ moniker: expert

Michael Talbot | posted Tuesday, May 12th, 2020

There’s only been a handful of confirmed sightings of Asian hornets in North America, but the swarm of ominous headlines has taken on biblical proportions.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the arrival of so-called ‘murder hornets’ made it feel like 2020 was the butt end of a cruel joke. Not only did we have a deadly virus to contend with, but we were now suddenly facing an imminent invasion of mammoth bees loaded with heart-stopping venom?

It was fodder for some amusing social media memes as the battered public pictured a masochistic supreme being unleashing a cherry-on-the-top plague upon us when we were already beaten down by the cruelness of COVID-19.

But according to one of Canada’s most renowned bee experts, the reality is far more mundane and innocuous.

Matthias Buck has been the assistant curator of Invertebrate Zoology at the Royal Alberta Museum since 2009. Before that he spent nearly a decade as the curator of the insect collection at the University of Guelph.

“I’m an expert on these groups of wasps,” Buck said. “I’m kind of one of the very few people in North America that studied these creatures for a living.”

Buck is adamant that the Asian hornet doesn’t deserve its ‘murder’ moniker.

“Putting labels on species like that just leads to fear and irrational reactions,” he argues. “They are not aggressive, they will sting only when their nests get disturbed or when they otherwise feel under duress, like if you harass them or you grab one or if one flies under your jacket and then is in a confined space, they will feel threatened and they will sting. They will never attack you completely unprovoked. It just doesn’t make sense biologically. They are not out there to pick a fight.”

That doesn’t mean he thinks they’re the bee’s knees. Buck acknowledges that the largest known hornet species packs a wallop of venom that could prove life-threatening to those with allergies. But the largest concern is an economic sting.

The predatory Asian hornet targets honey bees, which could impact several related industries.

“The main concern would be for beekeepers because it would start a certain economic damage,” he noted. “But it would not wipe out beekeeping, because it’s not doing it other areas of the world. China is a major honey producer worldwide and they have the hornet … but it will inflict a certain economic damage.”

“They will never attack you completely unprovoked. It just doesn’t make sense biologically. They are not out there to pick a fight.”

One of the things that makes Asian hornets so unique is the same thing that makes them such a formidable threat to honey bees.

“Unlike most other social wasps, (Asian hornets) are able to communicate the location of a food source like a beehive to their nestmates,” Buck explained. “And when they attack a beehive it’s a coordinated attack.

“Only because they have developed that ability are they able to take down a beehive, otherwise they wouldn’t be able to do that.”

“The ecosystem here is perfectly able to function without honey bees,” he adds, noting that honey bees are not native to North America. “But we have certain crops that are heavily dependent on honey bee pollination.”

How dangerous are they to humans?

While the impressive size of Asian hornets makes them quite conspicuous and easy to avoid, it also means they’re loaded with a considerable amount of venom.

“They are slightly (more dangerous than other hornets) because the quantity of venom is higher,” Buck said. “The toxicity of the venom is not higher. It’s definitely not the most toxic venom, but the quantity is higher so therefore it would typically take fewer stings to get you into trouble.

“The biggest danger is to people that have allergic reactions. If you’re allergic, one sting would totally be enough to get you into a life-threatening situation. Otherwise it’s going to be a heck of a pain, but you will live.”

Buck said it would take dozens of stings to threaten the life of a healthy, non-allergic person — a situation that would likely only take place if you disturbed a nest and didn’t have the ability to flee.

He adds that Asian hornets nest in the ground, so it is conceivable that a person or pet could unknowingly disturb a nest. But usually, the sheer size of the hornets provides ample warning and incentive to steer clear.

“They are very large so they are easy to see,” he explained. “A lot of the stinging incidents happen, like with yellow jackets, when they are relatively small and easy to overlook. These ones are not easy to overlook. They are so big people notice them and people’s instinctive reaction is to get out of the way and that’s a good reaction, especially when you are around a nest. Always give them their space and you will be fine. ”

Buck also points out that the nests would only be found in heavily wooded areas.

“They are not going to be become established in downtown Toronto.”

Are they coming to Ontario?

Asian hornets have been confirmed in British Columbia, but they’re not widespread and Buck doesn’t think they’ll become established enough to spread to Ontario.

“Now they might have a foothold in B.C. (but) before it would be able to spread to Ontario it would have to have a thriving population in B.C. otherwise they won’t spread that quickly.

“If they are very rare in B.C. then the likelihood of one getting carried to Ontario is fairly low.”

“They have to keep an eye on it in the west and should do everything they can to try to exterminate it because it’s never a good thing to have exotic species become established. It should always be avoided.”

Buck explained how the insects can inadvertently be introduced to new regions of the world.

“What typically happens is they (are transported) as stowaways accidentally. Because of the shipping of goods, worldwide trade, they end up in a shipping container or on a truck or on a rail car and then they can get transported around.”

The bee expert doesn’t just find all the sensational ‘murder hornet’ headlines inflammatory and annoying, he also thinks they can be dangerous.

“One of my fears is that it will cause a backlash against some of the native species that are beneficial and not a concern. And that is very regrettable.

“I see a lot of false reports coming now about people thinking they have seen one. They are not in Ontario. They’ve been found in B.C. Their chances of now, just one year after they first showed up in B.C., showing up in Ontario are extremely low.

“They are fascinating,” he concludes. “Like all social insects they have fascinating behaviours. It’s just because honey bees are one of their preferred prey that puts them in our bad books, but that doesn’t mean they are bad. In nature they all have their own role and their own purpose.

“They are impressive insects.”

Bryan Adams facing criticism for profanity-laced rant on China, coronavirus

Talia Knezic | posted Tuesday, May 12th, 2020

Canadian musician Bryan Adams is facing criticism for what many are calling a racist post on social media.

Adams was supposed to be starting a series of shows at London’s Royal Alert Hall.

A post on his Instagram account from Monday states: “Tonight was supposed to be the beginning of a tenancy of gigs at the @royalalberthall, but thanks to some f—ing bat eating, wet market animal selling, virus making greedy bastards, the whole world is now on hold.”

A video of himself singing Cuts Like a Knife is posted alongside the caption.

The tirade was also posted on Twitter with a link to the Instagram post, but the tweet has since been deleted. The Instagram post was still as of Tuesday morning.

“He might have to re-release ‘Please Forgive Me’ after this rant #BryanAdams,” one person wrote on Twitter.

“It’s a good thing you have zero relevance in today’s world. What songs from the 80’s were you going to sing? Or were you going to play songs off your new album that no one listens to?,” another person wrote.

Adams has not commented or issued a statement since the post.

The musician was one of the many Canadians to perform in the COVID-19 charity concert “Stronger Together: Tous Ensemble” on April 25.

Coronavirus testing, contact tracing key to fending off second wave, experts say

BRENNA OWEN, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Monday, May 11th, 2020

VANCOUVER — Provinces hit hardest by COVID-19 have ramped up testing capacity as they plan to reopen their economies, but infectious disease experts say there will be recurring outbreaks without more robust testing, contact tracing and quarantine services across the country.

A Canadian Press analysis of provincial data over a seven-week period starting in late March shows the provinces with the highest number of infections — British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia — each faced their own unique epidemics, with different positivity and mortality rates based on the number of confirmed cases.

Those provinces also took different approaches to determining who to test and when, decisions that were at least partly influenced by their ability to scale up lab capacity as well as the resources some had available to do tests.

“The rationing has become less prominent each week as availability of testing capacity has increased,” said Dr. Peter Phillips, a clinical professor in the division of infectious diseases at the University of British Columbia. “Testing is not easy access like buying chewing gum across the country, but it’s a lot more accessible.”

Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, has said reopening schools and businesses relies on testing and the ability of public health departments to trace the contacts of positive cases. Physical distancing also remains critical since people who aren’t experiencing symptoms can spread the disease.

More than a million people in Canada have been tested for the novel coronavirus, with over 61,000 positive tests as of Friday.

Alberta has been a testing front-runner with 3,950 tests completed per 100,000 people between Jan. 23, when testing began, and last Thursday. More than 174,300 tests in total were completed in the province to that point.

That province’s cumulative per capita testing is bested only by the Northwest Territories. The territory of just under 45,000 had completed the equivalent of 4,184 per 100,000 residents as of Thursday.

Ontario had completed more than 397,000 tests at the same point, which amounts to just under 2,700 tests per 100,000 people. However, in the last week Ontario surpassed Alberta’s number of daily tests per capita.

Alberta has still completed nearly six times the number of tests for every person who has died due to COVID-19 compared with Ontario — a measure Phillips said is useful to assess the extent of testing relative to the true size of the epidemic.

Nova Scotia had completed 3,462 tests per 100,000 residents as of Thursday, Quebec had done 3,173, and B.C. had conducted 2,054 tests per 100,000 people.

As of Friday, Quebec had 36,150 cases of COVID-19, Ontario 19,598, Alberta 6,098, B.C. 2,315 and Nova Scotia had 1,008.

Phillips said Quebec’s high proportion of positive tests is an indicator that significant transmission is still happening. As of Thursday, more than 13 per cent of the nearly 271,000 tests completed in Quebec yielded positive results.

By comparison, as many as one in four tests come back positive in the United Kingdom and New York, a proportion Phillips called “very disturbing.” Countries that are bringing the epidemic under control are seeing “very few of their tests coming back positive,” he said.

As public health restrictions are eased, Phillips said the provinces and territories must maintain a low threshold for testing in order to detect and isolate COVID-19 cases quickly and avoid large outbreaks and exponential growth in cases during a second wave.

To stop transmission, provinces will need to test “very liberally” to identify cases, and not just the symptomatic ones, he said.

Testing also goes hand in hand with contact tracing, which involves isolating and questioning each person who tests positive about any behaviour that might have caused the virus to spread.

“The contacts should be tested because that may identify other people, which will then trigger more contact tracing on those people who are testing positive,” said Phillips, adding that not all the provinces with a higher number of cases have taken that approach.

The extent to which people who are directed to self-isolate or enter quarantine are being monitored across Canada is also unclear, he said.

Other jurisdictions that are closer to the origin point of the virus in Wuhan, China, such as Hong Kong and Taiwan, have done better than Canada when it comes to keeping COVID-19 cases and fatalities at bay, said Phillips.

He attributes that success in no small part to contact tracing enhanced by mobile apps, which have sparked a privacy debate in Canada.

Phillips said COVID-19 moves too fast for conventional public health measures alone and privacy is not the only concern.

“What about the liberties of uninfected Canadians who are at substantial risk of dying here?” he asked.

Phillips also expressed concern that public health departments are underfunded and overloaded, especially in Ontario and Quebec, which are still reporting hundreds of new cases each day.

“COVID-19 is the biggest thing this country has had since 1918,” said Phillips, referring to the flu pandemic that killed at least 50 million people around the world. “And for strange reasons, the public health department, which is our main defence, doesn’t seem to be getting a big funding rescue package.”

A spokesperson for the Public Health Agency of Canada said it’s slated to receive $230 million of the $1.1 billion Ottawa has committed to public health measures in the wake of COVID-19.

The federal government also allocated $500 million to support the provinces and territories, but the Finance Department did not respond to questions about how much money is going to contact tracing and quarantine services.

The chief of the microbiology division of the Nova Scotia Health Authority agreed with Phillips, saying public health is one of the first places provinces have looked to cut spending over time.

“It takes a lot of human resources to do good old contact tracing,” said Dr. Todd Hatchette. “So if you don’t fund it appropriately, you’re not going to get the biggest bang for your buck.”

Here is a look at the approach to testing in the five provinces with the most cases of COVID-19:

British Columbia

Although B.C.’s handling of the epidemic has garnered praise, the province has consistently been testing at a lower level than the other four hardest-hit provinces.

The Ministry of Health said in an email that labs have the capacity to complete around 6,500 tests per day, and 82 collection sites across B.C. are well stocked with supplies.

But last week, daily tests completed in B.C. ranged from around 1,800 to 2,800.

B.C. initially began testing symptomatic people who had travelled to areas of China affected by the novel coronavirus. In mid-March, the province expanded testing to include health-care workers, residents of long-term care facilities and hospital patients with respiratory symptoms, as well as people connected to a cluster or outbreak.

Starting April 8, clinicians could order COVID-19 tests, but daily testing didn’t increase until later in the month, when provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced updated guidelines that emphasized testing anyone with new respiratory or COVID-19 compatible symptoms, however mild.

There were more than 15,230 tests completed in B.C. between April 4 and 17, and just under 29,630 in the following two weeks between April 18 and May 1.

The latest guidelines also prioritize testing for residents of remote or Indigenous communities, people living in congregate settings, such as work camps, correctional facilities and shelters, as well as people who are homeless and essential service providers.

Henry said there’s no specific number of tests that must be done each day, but it’s important to test the right people.

Phillips agreed there isn’t a magic number, but he said there’s increasing evidence that people who came into contact with a case should be tested even if they are not experiencing symptoms and regardless of whether they are connected to an outbreak.

“I suspect there could be more testing in B.C., for sure, and I think as we move towards opening up commerce and getting back to something closer to normal, the testing threshold should be kept low, so that we’re not missing any transmission in the community.”

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control says people who aren’t experiencing symptoms don’t require a test, even if they are a contact of a confirmed case or a returning traveller who is self-isolating at home.

Phillips said declining admissions to intensive care due to COVID-19 indicate the size of the epidemic in B.C. is smaller than it was several weeks ago.

Henry said B.C. plans to ramp up testing heading into the fall, when there will be more respiratory illness circulating, including influenza.

Alberta

Alberta has boasted of having one of the highest testing capacities globally and says further expansions are key to its economic relaunch strategy.

“Our decisions about opening businesses and resuming activities require us to have the most accurate and detailed information possible,” Health Minister Tyler Shandro said recently.

Dr. Ameeta Singh, an infectious diseases specialist at Edmonton’s Royal Alexandra Hospital, said “if things continue as they are, we should be good to go.”

Singh, also a University of Alberta clinical professor, suggested the province’s centralized health and laboratory systems — versus patchwork regional authorities elsewhere — could be one reason for its high testing rate.

Alberta has the capacity to complete up to 7,000 tests a day but has recently been averaging under 4,000. The province aims to expand its daily capacity to 16,000 by June.

Until mid-April, testing was limited to certain vulnerable groups or symptomatic people with recent travel history or contact with confirmed cases.

Since then, anyone with a cough, shortness of breath, runny nose or fever could get a test. And last week, the list of symptoms was expanded to include less common ones, such as loss of taste and smell, and digestive problems.

The number of tests surged from about 28,000 completed between April 4 and 17 to nearly 61,000 between April 18 and May 1.

“The criteria that have been established in this province are very reasonable and based on good scientific principles,” said Singh.

Chief medical officer Deena Hinshaw said the province doesn’t intend to constantly max out its testing capacity but aims to have slack in the system for potential surges.

She said fewer tests are being done because transmission rates are lower with everyone in lockdown. But as the economy reopens, all types of viruses will start spreading again.

“The actual number of people that we test, that is reflective of who is feeling ill, who are in outbreak settings, those who are close contacts. But it’s not reflective of the success or failure of our testing program,” Hinshaw said Thursday.

“The success of our testing program is that we can respond to demand, we can respond to surges and that’s what we’re making sure we have put in place.”

Alberta Health says the province will look at whether it needs to further expand its testing criteria as the economy reopens in stages.

Ontario

Canada’s most populous province initially lagged behind the rest of the country when it came to testing for COVID-19. It faced criticism for having a low per capita testing rate amid the country’s second-most severe outbreak of the novel coronavirus, next to Quebec.

At first, Ontario didn’t have enough assessment centres, then it lacked the lab capacity to process the tests, then it ran low on key chemicals needed for testing. It managed to clear a backlog of tests that at one point reached 11,000.

By early April, Ontario was conducting fewer than 4,000 tests per day, although it had the capacity to complete 13,000. Shortly afterwards, public health officials issued new guidelines, expanding testing for front-line health workers and long-term care residents.

A spokesman for the Health Ministry said updated guidelines for testing have lowered the threshold to ensure more people can be tested, adding that clinicians are also instructed to use their discretion when referring people for testing.

Recently, the province has been conducting the most tests per day among the hardest-hit provinces in terms of both volume and per capita.

But in mid-April, Ontario changed how it compiles testing data. It switched from reporting the number of people tested to the number of tests performed, making it difficult to get a clear picture of the shift in the scope of testing.

Dr. Camille Lemieux, chief of family medicine at the University Health Network in Toronto, said that change in reporting — combined with co-ordination issues between labs and ongoing confusion in community assessment centres over who gets sent for testing — means officials may not have the best information on the status of the epidemic at this pivotal time.

Bottlenecks still occur at some labs while others could be processing the tests, and the turnaround time for test results varies between labs, which means “the way we’re counting is not truly in real time the way it should be,” she said.

“It’s really important to know what accurate numbers are as we’re looking to reopen and scale back up,” said Lemieux, who is also the medical lead for Toronto Western Hospital’s assessment centre.

As Ontario gradually loosens its COVID-19 restrictions, the province should take a two-pronged approach to limit the risks of a devastating second wave of infection, she said.

The first prong consists of broader and more consistent testing of health-care workers, regardless of whether they show symptoms. The other is expanded community testing that includes “anybody who wants or needs to be tested,” even if they show minimal or no symptoms, as well as randomized testing, said Lemieux.

That will help identify so-called hotspots of the virus, she said, comparing them to the smoldering embers that remain after a house fire has been put out. If those hotspots aren’t identified, they’re “going to flare right back up again,” she said.

A spokesperson for the Health Ministry said Ontario has created a network of public, hospital and private labs that work together to ensure tests are processed efficiently.

“This includes redirecting the overflow of specimens from one lab to another as well as monitoring and managing limited testing supplies such as reagents,” Christian Hasse said in an email.

“There has also been a significant investment made in new machines and new technologies in both the hospitals and public health laboratories. The labs have never worked together as a system before, so this is also an opportunity for us to build a better provincewide approach to COVID-19 testing.”

Quebec

Quebec is the epicentre of the COVID-19 epidemic in Canada and trails Alberta, Nova Scotia and Ontario in terms per capita tests completed each day, though it has tested more people per capita cumulatively than Ontario and B.C.

Nima Machouf, an epidemiologist and professor at the University of Montreal’s school of public health, said much of Quebec’s testing data reflects the shortages of testing materials and capacity the province experienced.

“Quebec’s testing strategy was guided by a lack of tests,” she said in a phone interview.

“The ideal would be to test massively since the beginning, but we didn’t have the tests in hand to do it.”

As a result, she said the province kept its testing criteria narrow, focusing on segments of the population where there were likely to be more positive cases: symptomatic travellers at first, then their contacts who fell ill in the community, then health workers and people associated with long-term care homes.

The actual rate of community infection in Quebec is likely much higher than the tests reflect, said Machouf, given that infected people can be asymptomatic.

“Everywhere, not only in Quebec, but in Canada and around the world, it’s only the tip of the iceberg we’re seeing.”

On Friday, the number of deaths in Canada was highest in Quebec at 2,725, with the majority occurring in seniors’ residences or long-term care homes.

While hospitalizations and death rates are often cited as the most reliable way to assess and compare outbreaks across different jurisdictions, Machouf said they also reflect which segment of the population is getting ill.

“Given that we have more and more elderly people infected, that will result in more hospitalizations and deaths.”

Machouf praised Quebec’s method of diagnosing cases and deaths through “epidemiological link,” meaning they are counted as COVID-19 cases in the absence of testing if the person showed symptoms after known exposure to the virus.

She said the strategy, which saves tests for those who need them, means that Quebec’s declared death rates are likely fairly accurate, since they include patients who never got a test but who died likely after contracting the virus.

The Quebec government has said it will massively ramp up testing, promising 14,000 to 15,000 per day as the province gradually allows businesses and schools to reopen.

Machouf said it will be “very important” that this strategy includes testing not only people with symptoms, but also their contacts and random members of the population to find out how many people might be spreading the virus without showing symptoms.

She said the true extent of the outbreak will likely only be known much later, once testing to determine how many people have developed antibodies, which indicates they’ve recovered from COVID-19, becomes more widespread.

Phillips said antibody testing is easier and less expensive to scale up than the methods used to test for active COVID-19 infections, and it will be valuable to assess which groups of people were most affected by the disease.

But, he said, the vast majority of people are still susceptible to future waves of the virus because 50 to 70 per cent of the population must be infected to attain so-called herd immunity.

“The idea of going to herd immunity without a vaccine, you know, it’s a pipe dream.”

Nova Scotia

Dr. Todd Hatchette of the Nova Scotia Health Authority said an “aggressive” approach to COVID-19 case management has been key to Nova Scotia’s mitigation of the epidemic.

All of the contacts of a person who is confirmed to have the disease are tested, whether they are symptomatic or not, said Hatchette, who also credited Nova Scotians for staying home to help stem the spread.

The province just received equipment that would allow for between 2,500 and 3,000 tests to be completed each day, he said, though it’s testing below capacity now that flu season is over and there are fewer people with symptoms compatible with COVID-19.

There were 7,353 tests completed in Nova Scotia between March 21 and April 3, increasing to 10,912 between April 4 and April 17, and dropping back down to 9,730 in the last two weeks of April.

The province continues to trail only the Northwest Territories and Alberta when it comes to the number of tests completed per capita so far, though its daily per capita test rate dropped below Ontario and Alberta last week.

Like other provinces, Nova Scotia started out testing and contact tracing symptomatic people with recent travel histories, and then dropped the travel requirement and modified the list of symptoms that trigger testing, said Hatchette.

“Other jurisdictions still (only) test symptomatic people. We did do more asymptomatic testing associated with known cases, whether that’s known individual cases in the community or part of outbreak clusters. The testing has been aggressive.”

Hatchette said Nova Scotia’s comparatively small population meant the vast majority of testing is concentrated in one lab, which is an advantage over more populous provinces.

“This virus, nobody knew about it in December, so all of these tests had to be developed and validated and … it’s easier to do that in one location or a very small number of locations before sort of broadening out the testing.”

Hatchette said he has regular meetings with the Canadian Public Health Lab Network to discuss challenges and share ideas, and the group is “not afraid to share the lessons learned early on to make sure that we can help each other.”

How testing can support the relaxing of physical distancing in the coming months is a “hot topic of discussion” across Canada, he said, noting lab and swabbing capacity are still factors and it’s impossible to test the entire population.

“But if we have our surveillance programs in place so that we protect the most vulnerable and target the places where outbreaks occur more frequently, so hospitals, long-term care facilities (and) homeless populations, then hopefully that risk is lowered significantly so it doesn’t translate to further community-based spread.”

— With files form Paola Loriggio in Toronto, Morgan Lowrie in Montreal and Lauren Krugel in Calgary.

Brenna Owen, The Canadian Press

More coronavirus restrictions being lifted across the country

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Monday, May 11th, 2020

Some significant steps will be taken Monday in the slow process of lifting restrictions imposed to limit the spread of the coronavirus pandemic in Canada.

Quebec, which accounts for more than half of the country’s novel coronavirus cases, is reopening elementary schools and daycares outside the Montreal area.

Students will be subject to physical distancing and frequent handwashing while school officials follow public health guidelines for cleaning and disinfection.

Attendance, however, is not mandatory, and two school boards have told The Canadian Press that most of their students will be staying home for now.

Quebec is also allowing most retail stores outside Montreal to open Monday, but pushed back the opening date for schools and other businesses in the hard-hit metropolis to May 25 as case numbers there remained high.

Meanwhile, Ontario is allowing non-essential retail stores to open for curbside pickup, after letting hardware and safety supply stores to reopen on the weekend.

It’s also opening its provincial parks, though visitors must adhere to physical distancing rules and park camping grounds, beaches and playgrounds will remain closed.

Alberta is also planning to allow some retail stores to open this week, while Saskatchewan and Manitoba began to gradually reopen last week.

British Columbia is phasing in the reopening of its economy with certain health services, retail outlets, restaurants, salons and museums resuming some operations in mid-May.

On the other side of the country, Newfoundland and Labrador is allowing some medical procedures to resume today, as well as low-risk activities, such as golf, hunting and fishing. Low-risk businesses, including garden centres, and professional services such as law firms can also reopen.

As of this morning Canada had recorded 68,848 confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases, including 4,871 deaths and 32,109 cases resolved.

Relaxing restrictions and the Cargill concern: In The News for May 11

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Monday, May 11th, 2020

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 May 11 …

COVID-19 in Canada ….

Some significant steps will be taken today in the slow process of lifting restrictions imposed to limit the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada.

Quebec, which accounts for more than half of the country’s novel coronavirus cases, is reopening elementary schools and daycares outside the Montreal area.

Students will be subject to physical distancing and frequent handwashing while school officials follow public health guidelines for cleaning and disinfection.

Attendance, however, is not mandatory, and two school boards have told The Canadian Press that most of their students will be staying home for now.

Quebec is also allowing most retail stores outside Montreal to open today.

Meanwhile, Ontario is allowing non-essential retail stores to open for curbside pickup today, and is also opening its provincial parks, though with some restrictions.

Alberta is also allowing some retail stores to open this week, while on the other side of the country, Newfoundland and Labrador is allowing some medical procedures to resume today, as well as low-risk activities, such as golf, hunting and fishing. Low-risk businesses, including garden centres, and professional services such as law firms can also reopen.

As of this morning Canada had recorded 68,848 confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases, including 4,871 deaths and 32,109 cases resolved.

Also this …

MONTREAL — A Cargill meat-processing plant south of Montreal is closing its doors after at least 64 workers tested positive for COVID-19.

The outbreak in Chambly, Que., marks the second time the company has experienced a COVID-19 closure at one of its facilities in Canada.

A spokeswoman for the union representing the workers said the Cargill plant will close temporarily as of Wednesday so all its workers can be tested.

Roxane Larouche said 171 workers were sent home last week as a preventative measure, and 30 of them have tested negative. The testing is expected to last until Friday, and the plant will reopen once there are enough uninfected employees to run it safely.

Cargill said the 64 workers represent 13 per cent of the workforce at the plant. The company said three employees have recovered.

The workplace had implemented safety measures for employees, including installing plexiglass between workers where possible, staggering arrival and departure times and providing masks, visors and safety glasses, Larouche confirmed.

A Cargill beef-packing plant in High River, Alta., reopened last Monday after a two-week shutdown.

More than 900 of 2,000 workers at that plant have tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

COVID-19 in the U.S. …

WASHINGTON — U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence is self-isolating after an aide tested positive for the coronavirus last week.

An administration official says Pence is voluntarily keeping his distance from other people in line with CDC guidance.

The official says Pence has repeatedly tested negative for COVID-19 since his exposure but is following the advice of medical officials.

Pence’s move comes on the heels of three members of the White House coronavirus task force placing themselves in quarantine after being exposed to someone at the White House who had the virus.

COVID-19 around the world …

PARIS — The French began leaving their homes and apartments today for the first time in two months without permission slips as the country began cautiously lifting its virus strict lockdown.

In Paris, crowds packed into some subway lines and train stations despite new social distancing rules. Clothing shops, hair salons and real estate agencies were among businesses large and small reopening today, albeit with strict precautions to keep coronavirus at bay.

Teachers were returning to prepare classes to welcome students later in the week, but in limited numbers.

But Health Minister Olivier Veran held out the possibility of a re-confinement if infections rise again.

France is among the countries hardest hit by the virus, with more than 26,000 deaths in hospitals and nursing homes.

COVID-19 in sports …

JACKSONVILLE, Florida — UFC President Dana White wanted a major fight card weeks ago. He was confident his team could pull it off whether it took place on a tribal land, on a private island or in any of the 10 states offering to host it.

Coronavirus testing. Fan-free arena. Social distancing. Self-isolation. White looked at all those unprecedented details that seemed too complex and too risky to some outsiders as merely extra challenges.

But White and the UFC look like the big winners following their big show at Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville Saturday night. And UFC 249 could serve as a blueprint for other sports leagues around the U.S. and the world as they start to resume during a global pandemic.

The NFL, NBA, NHL, Major League Baseball and NASCAR, all of them had to have an eye on how the UFC approached and handled the first major human-centric sporting event in the U.S. since the new coronavirus shuttered much of the country nearly two months ago.

The UFC created a 25-page document to address health and safety protocols, which included disinfecting the octagon between bouts and mandating tests and masks for nearly everyone in attendance.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 11, 2020

The Canadian Press

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