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Rise in homeless tent cities, encampments linked to health confidence: advocate

The Canadian Press | posted Tuesday, Apr 21st, 2020

VANCOUER, B.C. — Public health officials need to do more to help Canada’s homeless population as encampments and tent cities grow across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic, an advocate says.

The comments come as B.C. cities struggle to find adequate solutions to look after their homeless populations.

Fourteen people were arrested Sunday over allegations they broke in to Lord Strathcona Elementary, a school on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

A group calling itself the Red Braid Alliance was part of the protest over what its members said was a plan to highlight a demand for housing.

Alliance member Listen Chen said she wasn’t hopeful that the city would address the homeless problem.

“The city and the province both have the emergency powers to requisition every single empty hotel room in the city and to shelter people,” she said.

“The city of Vancouver is negotiating with individual landlords to open up units, but I don’t expect hotel landlords are lining up to open their rooms to a stigmatized population.”

Those arrested, ranging from young adults to seniors, face charges of break and enter, Sgt. Aaron Roed with the Vancouver Police Department said.

The growth of such tent cities are a natural occurrence when homeless residents feel unsafe about their living conditions, and the COVID-19 pandemic has heightened those feelings, said Tim Richter, the president of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness.

“If they don’t want squats, if they don’t want expanded rise in encampments then there needs to be a much better and safer response to homelessness today,” Richter said in an interview. “The necessary protections that public health is recommending for every other Canadian need to be in place for people experiencing homelessness.”

Victoria has requested the provincial government requisition its empty hotels to house its homeless population while in Vancouver, a camp at Oppenheimer Park has swelled to nearly 100 people with nearby residents concerned about violence they say is occurring in the park.

Homeless populations have different health risk factors than other citizens, such as underlying respiratory concerns and poor health, Richter said, adding that increases the possibility of an outbreak sweeping through the sites.

“The fact we have so many people at great risk of this disease for no other reason than lack of a home and access to adequate health care tells you we’ve got a pressing housing emergency in our country,” said Richter.

B.C.’s provincial health officer said she is aware of those concerns.

“We have two emergencies that we’re dealing with,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry, during a media briefing Monday. “The one, our overdose crises, has been compounded in many ways particularly for those who are homeless and under-housed, people who have substance use disorders, it has been compounded by the restrictions we’ve put in place to deal with the pandemic.”

The province announced a cross-ministerial team last week, headed up by Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction Shane Simpson, aimed at finding housing solutions.

Simpson called for patience when asked about the group’s concerns.

“I understand the urgency, frustration and barriers that people experiencing homelessness are facing right now. We are working to increase supports and will have more to say in the coming days. That being said, I cannot condone breaking the law and occupying a school at any time,” he said in a statement.

Both Henry and Simpson said they expect an announcement on housing to be made within the next few days.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 21, 2020.

The Canadian Press

More COVID-19 supports and hospitals band together ; In The News for April 21

The Canadian Press | posted Tuesday, Apr 21st, 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 April 21 …

COVID-19 in Canada …

OTTAWA — The federal government is expected to unveil today more financial support for vulnerable Canadians struggling to weather the COVID-19 pandemic.

Poor, disabled, homeless and seniors are among those who have been particularly hard hit by the health, social and economic ravages of the deadly virus as Canadians abide by orders to keep physical distance from one another and all but essential businesses are shut down.

Today’s measures are on top of previously announced moves to provide financial support to the homeless, women’s shelters, children’s counselling and local organizations that provide practical support to seniors, such as delivering groceries or medication.

The government is also expected to provide more details today about the timing and roll-out of the massive $73-billion wage subsidy program.

Among other things, the government is expected to provide details to businesses on how to apply for the subsidy.

In other Canadian news …

HALIFAX — The death toll from a killing rampage in Nova Scotia could rise today.

Nineteen people were confirmed dead as of yesterday following Sunday’s tragedy, but police expect the number of victims to go up.

Police say the 16 crime scenes include five burned buildings where it is feared additional bodies will be found inside.

RCMP Chief Supt. Chris Leather said he expects the number of victims to increase in the days ahead.

The murder and arson rampage finally ended when active shooter Gabriel Wortman was shot dead Sunday by RCMP officers in Enfield, N.S., next to the gas pumps at a service station.

Also this …

TORONTO — Hospitals facing urgent COVID-19 needs are banding together to close funding “gaps” for their institutions and embattled health-care workers.

Dubbed “The Frontline Fund,” the national campaign seeks donations on behalf of more than 100 institutions across the country for supplies, staff support and research.

Organizers say the money would help hospitals source personal protective equipment and ventilators, fund drug trials and vaccine research, and provide mental-health support to exhausted staff.

Ten per cent of funds will also go towards the northern territories and Indigenous health.

Steering committee member Caroline Riseboro, also CEO of Trillium Health Partners Foundation, says COVID-19 has raised unique needs that “wouldn’t necessarily be addressed through government funding.”

Examples of how the money could be spent include extra scrubs so caregivers can change their clothes before going home, or hotel rooms for front-line staff with immune-compromised relatives so they don’t have to fear bringing the virus home with them.

Organizers say $8.5 million has already been promised by lead corporate partners.

That includes five million dollars from the Canadian Medical Association Foundation, $2.5 million from Maple Leaf Foods and $1 million from TD Bank Group.

Riseboro says the goal is to raise $50 million. Canadians can donate at www.frontlinefund.ca.

COVID-19 in the U.S. …

WASHINGTON — Both Republican and Democratic governors say the White House must do more to help states carry out the coronavirus testing that’s needed before they can ease up on stay-at-home orders.

The governors pushed back Monday on U.S. President Donald Trump’s assertion that Democrats are playing what he called “a very dangerous political game” by insisting there is a shortage of tests for coronavirus.

Supply shortages have stymied U.S. testing for weeks. The needs range from basic supplies like swabs and protective gear to highly specialized laboratory chemicals for analyzing patient results.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration and congressional leaders are insisting a final deal is in reach on an aid package for small businesses that could exceed $450 billion, but both sides have been struggling for days to push an agreement across the finish line.

As small businesses suffer from a coronavirus-impaired economy, Trump says he hopes to see a Senate vote later today.

Most of the funding would go to replenish a payroll loan program that’s out of money.

Trump is also saying that he will sign an executive order “to temporarily suspend immigration into the United States” because of COVID-19.

He is offering no details on what he is referring to and the White House did not immediately elaborate on Trump’s tweeted announcement.

COVID-19 around the world …

BANGKOK — The World Health Organization said today that rushing to ease coronavirus restrictions will likely lead to a resurgence of the illness, a warning that comes as governments start rolling out plans to get their economies up and running again.

“This is not the time to be lax. Instead, we need to ready ourselves for a new way of living for the foreseeable future,” said Dr. Takeshi Kasai, the WHO regional director for the Western Pacific.

He said governments must remain vigilant to stop the spread of the virus and the lifting of lockdowns and other social distancing measures must be done gradually and strike the right balance between keeping people healthy and allowing economies to function.

Step-by-step reopenings were underway in Europe, where the crisis has begun to ebb in places such as Italy, Spain and Germany.

Australia said today that it will allow the resumption of non-urgent surgeries from next week as health authorities grow more confident that hospitals there won’t be overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients.

The reopenings come as politicians grow weary of soaring unemployment numbers and the prospect of economic depression. Asian shares followed Wall Street lower today after U.S. oil futures plunged below zero because of a worldwide glut as factories, automobiles and airplanes sit idled.

In other international news …

SEOUL — The South Korean government says Kim Jong Un appears to be handling North Korea’s affairs as usual after rumoured surgery.

The presidential Blue House says it had no information about the rumours on Kim’s health.

Speculation often surfaces about North Korea’s leadership based on attendance at important state events.  Kim missed the celebration of his late grandfather Kim Il Sung on April 15, the country’s most important holiday.

His last public appearance was at a political meeting April 11 and state media reported he sent messages and gifts more recently.

A U.S. official said the White House was aware before the reports appeared late Monday that Kim’s health might be precarious. The official said the U.S. had information that Kim may have undergone surgery and that complications may have rendered him “incapacitated or worse.”

But, the official stressed that the U.S. had nothing to confirm the surgery had taken place or that any complications had occurred.

The U.S. official, who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, would not elaborate on where the information came from or when it had been received. The White House and State Department had no comment.

COVID-19 and Ramadan …

This week is usually when kids in the Muslim community get excited about an annual trip to see the full moon that marks the start of Ramadan.

But Cindy Jadayel, a member of the Mosque of Mercy in Ottawa, says it will be one of many community events that will be cancelled during Ramadan this year.

The month of Ramadan, in which Muslims go without food or drink from sunrise to sunset every day, often features gatherings where families and friends break fast and pray together.

It’s set to start on Thursday based on the Islamic lunar calendar, and will last until May 23.

The moon sighting trip follows an early tradition where religious leaders would declare the start of the new month when a full moon was spotted. Those events, as well as nightly congregational prayers and community events at the mosque, will be cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jadayel says not having the community aspect of Ramadan this year is going to be challenging.

She says people will have to work harder this year to have families happier in the home because we can’t go out and celebrate with others.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 21, 2020.

The Canadian Press

Ottawa to announce more financial support for vulnerable Canadians

The Canadian Press | posted Tuesday, Apr 21st, 2020

The federal government is expected to unveil today more financial support for vulnerable Canadians struggling to weather the COVID-19 pandemic.

Poor, disabled, homeless and elderly people are among those who’ve been particularly hard hit by the health, social and economic ravages of the deadly virus as Canadians abide by orders to keep physical distance from one another and all but essential businesses are shut down.

Today’s measures are on top of previously announced moves to provide financial support to the homeless, women’s shelters, children’s counselling and local organizations that provide practical support to seniors, such as delivering groceries or medication.

The government is also expected to provide more details today about the timing and roll-out of the massive $73-billion wage subsidy program.

Among other things, the government is expected to provide details to businesses on how to apply for the subsidy.

Officials told the Commons finance committee last week that online applications are to open April 27 and they expect to have processed 90 per cent of claims by May 4, with payments starting to roll out later that week.

The subsidy is retroactive to March 15 and available to companies that lost 15 per cent of their revenue in March or 30 per cent in April or May. The federal government will pay eligible companies 75 per cent of the first $58,700 earned by each employee, up to $847 per week for up to 12 weeks.

The government is hoping the wage subsidy will prompt companies to rehire vast swaths of the millions of Canadian workers who have asked for emergency federal aid since the pandemic brought the global economy to a virtual standstill.

Former ambassador and public servant Allan Gotlieb dies at 92 in Toronto

The Canadian Press | posted Monday, Apr 20th, 2020

TORONTO — Allan Gotlieb, a long-time public servant who was Canada’s ambassador to the United States during the Regan administration, has died.

He was 92.

A death notice says Gotlieb died of cancer and Parkinson’s disease at his home in Toronto on Saturday.

A long-time public servant and companion of the Order of Canada, Gotlieb became deputy minister of the department of communications in 1968 and was later named deputy minister of manpower and immigration.

He became the ambassador to the United States in 1981, and held the position throughout Ronald Regan’s administration.

Gotlieb penned five books, including “The Washington Diaries,” recounting his time in the U.S. capital.

He is survived by his sister Judith Shotten, his daughter Rachel and son Marc, along with six grandchildren.

He is predeceased by his daughter Rebecca.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 20, 2020.

The Canadian Press

Lack of deal sets stage for House of Commons to re-open today amid coronavirus

The Canadian Press | posted Monday, Apr 20th, 2020

OTTAWA — The House of Commons is poised to re-open today despite the coronavirus pandemic thanks to an impasse between the four main political parties.

The Liberals announced Sunday that they had an agreement with the NDP and Bloc Quebecois to have 32 MPs meet in the House in person each Wednesday starting this week, with up to two virtual sessions also added for MPs to ask questions of the government.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters it would be “irresponsible” to resume parliamentary sittings at a time when health experts are urging Canadians to limit their movement and work from home as much as possible to prevent the pandemic from spreading.

The House of Commons has already moved some business online with two parliamentary committees conducting hearings by video conference. The British Parliament is also poised to adopt a hybrid approach in wich some MPs will grill ministers in person while others participate online.

But Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer rejected the proposal, suggesting there remained many unanswered questions about holding a virtual sitting of the House of Commons and insisting on three in-person sittings per week.

Negotiations were still underway Sunday evening, but all four parties needed to agree to prevent the House from officially resuming on Monday. The question then will be how many MPs show up and what they will discuss.

The government had suggested that if an agreement wasn’t reached, the House of Commons would resume business as usual with all 338 MPs and their staff, along with Parliament Hill clerks, interpreters, security and cleaners, returning to work in Ottawa.

Scheer, however, noted only 20 MPs need to be in the House for a sitting. He has accused the Liberals of misleading Canadians to put pressure on Opposition parties to accept fewer in-person sessions to hold the government to account for its pandemic response.

Except for two single-day sittings to pass emergency aid bills, Parliament has been adjourned since mid-March. Those two sessions were held with a limited number of Parliament Hill staff, which Scheer said could be easily replicated to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The NDP was preparing to have three MPs, including Leader Jagmeet Singh and deputy leader Alexandre Boulerice, in the House of Commons on Monday if a deal could not be reached.

The political wrangling in Ottawa came as provincial health authorities reported at least 117 more deaths from COVID-19, bringing the national total to 1,587.

Yet while Ontario and Quebec also reported hundreds more positive tests, bringing the national total to more than 35,000, New Brunswick as well as Newfoundland and Labrador reported no new cases.

Nova Scotia massacre and COVID Commons wrangle; In The News for April 20

The Canadian Press | posted Monday, Apr 20th, 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 April 20 …



RCMP say 17 people are dead, including one of their officers, after a man who at one point wore a police uniform and drove a mock-up cruiser went on a rampage across northern Nova Scotia in one of the deadliest killing sprees in Canadian history.

An RCMP officer, Const. Heidi Stevenson, is counted among the dead.

Investigators say the alleged shooter, identified as 51-year-old Gabriel Wortman, was also killed after police intercepted him at a gas station in Enfield, N.S.

His death is now being investigated by a police watchdog.

Meanwhile, RCMP are probing exactly how the weekend rampage unfolded.

Premier Stephen McNeil described the massacre as “one of the most senseless acts of violence in our province’s history.”

“I never imagined when I went to bed last night that I would wake up to the horrific news that an active shooter was on the loose in Nova Scotia,” McNeil said in Halifax on Sunday.

In a series of tweets, he added that all Nova Scotians would be affected by the tragedy.

COVID-19 in Canada …

The House of Commons is poised to re-open today despite the COVID-19 pandemic thanks to an impasse between the four main political parties.

The Liberals announced Sunday that they had an agreement with the NDP and Bloc Quebecois to have 32 MPs meet in the House in person each Wednesday starting this week, with up to two virtual sessions also added for MPs to ask questions of the government.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said it would be “irresponsible” to resume sittings at a time when health experts are urging Canadians to limit their movement and work from home as much as possible to prevent the pandemic from spreading.

But Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer rejected the proposal, suggesting there remained many unanswered questions about holding a virtual sitting of the House of Commons and insisting on three in-person sittings per week.

Negotiations were still underway Sunday evening, but all four parties needed to agree to prevent the House from officially resuming on Monday.

The question now is how many MPs show up and what they will discuss.

Also this …

Tossing and turning in the middle of the night. Lying awake for lengthy stretches. Waking up groggy.

The COVID-19 pandemic seems to be messing with a number of peoples’ ability to get a good night’s sleep these days. And sleep experts aren’t surprised by that.

David Samson, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Toronto, believes our restless nights can be caused by our bodies’ fear response to the coronavirus outbreak.

“When fear becomes chronic, you have a mismatch scenario (regarding) your perception of fear, and that creates an inability to fall asleep,” Samson TOLD The Canadian Press. “With COVID-19, the threat isn’t actually a lion or a rival group seeking to take your resources, it’s invisible. And humans simply aren’t very well-evolved to fight off invisible enemies.”

Amanda Jewson, a sleep consultant in Toronto, blames pandemic-related sleep struggles on our bodies’ physiological response to stress and anxiety.

She says hormones like cortisol and adrenaline spike when we’re afraid, and that makes it difficult to get proper rest.

COVID-19 in the U.S. …

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump says he will use the Defence Production Act to increase manufacturing of swabs used to test for the coronavirus.

Many governors have for weeks urged the White House to further evoke federal powers to increase private industry’s production of medical supplies as health officials work to slow the spread of the virus.

Trump has generally been reluctant to do so. But the president said during a briefing Sunday evening that he would use the measure to increase production of swabs and that he would soon announce that production reaching 10 million per month.

To emphasize the point, Trump waved a swab in front of reporters. Trump also said Vice-President Mike Pence would hold a call with governors on Monday to discuss testing and send a list of lab facilities in their states.

COVID-19 around the world …

BERLIN — The European Center for Disease Control says the continent now has more than 1 million confirmed cases and almost 100,000 deaths from the new coronavirus.

According to a tally posted on the ECDC website Sunday, Spain had the most cases in the region with 191,726, followed by Italy, Germany, Britain and France.

It listed Italy as having the most deaths in Europe, with 23,227, followed by Spain, France, Britain and Belgium.

According to the tally, Europe accounts for almost half the global case load and more than half the total deaths.

COVID-19 in entertainment…

NEW YORK — Organizers of Saturday’s “One World: Together At Home” special say nearly $128-million was raised to fight the COVID-19 outbreak.

Most of the money came from corporate sponsors lined up before the special.

It was intended as a message of support for medical personnel and essential workers and a pick-me-up for those quarantined at home.

Lady Gaga, who curated the special, opened with a peppy version of the Charlie Chaplin song “Smile.”

Canadian artists Celine Dion, Shawn Mendes, and Michael Buble made appearances.

The Rolling Stones, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Keith Urban, Kacey Musgraves, Taylor Swift, Eddie Vedder, Billie Joe Armstrong, Lizzo, John Legend with Sam Smith and Billie Eilish with Finneas were among the other performers.

Beyoncé was a surprise guest who spoke about how the virus is disproportionately affecting the black community.

NEW YORK — Another Broadway star has been hit by COVID-19.

Canadian actor Nick Cordero had to have his right leg amputated because of complications from COVID-19.

His wife says the Tony Award-nominated actor survived the surgery, and is now resting and recovering.

The 41-year-old Cordero was placed in intensive care at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles on March 31st.

Cordero’s credits include “Bullets Over Broadway,” which earned him his Tony nod.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 20, 2020.

The Canadian Press

1st federal inmate dies from COVID-19 complications at prison in B.C.

AMY SMART, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Friday, Apr 17th, 2020

Lawyers are strengthening their calls to thin prison populations following the first death related to COVID-19 at a federal institution.

The Correctional Service of Canada said in a statement that an inmate from Mission Institution in B.C. died Wednesday from an apparent complication related to the novel coronavirus.

The medium-security institution has been one of the hardest hit prisons during the pandemic, where 54 inmates and eight correctional officers have tested positive for the virus.

The inmate, whom the agency did not identify, died at Abbotsford Regional Hospital where a mobile medical unit has been deployed to provide additional capacity to treat prisoners.

“Given the size of the inmate population it was almost inevitable, but it doesn’t make it any less tragic,” said criminal defence lawyer John Hale, who is vice-president of the Criminal Lawyers’ Association.

The correctional service said it was the first death from the novel coronavirus among federally sentenced inmates in the country.

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said in a statement the government is looking at further measures to ensure that inmates, staff and communities are as safe and healthy as possible during the pandemic.

The correctional service has already suspended work releases for offenders and visits from the public and volunteers.

“Our greatest responsibility is keeping Canadians safe _ that includes those in our correctional institutions,” Blair said.

“We know the unique vulnerabilities facing correctional institutions during this public-health crisis. The situation around COVID-19 is both challenging and rapidly evolving, and our response will continue to adapt as required to prevent further tragic loss of life.”

The inmate’s next of kin has been notified and the BC Coroners Service will review the circumstances of death, the correctional service said.

A total of 145 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19 at federal prisons.

The largest outbreaks have occurred at the Mission prison and Joliette Institution in Quebec, where 48 inmates and 34 correctional officers have tested positive for the virus.

Hale said it’s time to “aggressively depopulate” jails and prisons as much as possible in the interest of public safety.

He pointed to an affidavit by physician and epidemiologist Dr. Aaron Orkin that the Criminal Lawyers’ Association has circulated to its 1,600 members for use in court.

Orkin’s affidavit says an outbreak in prisons or jails would be no different than the spread of the virus on cruise ships or at long-term care facilities involving close quarters where outbreaks have proven “near impossible” to contain.

It’s extremely likely that COVID-19 will arrive in nearly every correctional facility in Canada, which means almost all inmates will be exposed in one way or another, the document says.

“The only available method to substantially reduce the resulting infections and deaths is therefore to reduce the population in those settings.”

Hale said not every inmate is an appropriate candidate for release, but many are.

“Obviously there are people in the jails who are dangerous and need to be kept in to protect the community, but there are a lot of people in jail who are not dangerous who could be either serving a sentence or awaiting trial outside of jail,” Hale said.

Hale said judges have granted release to two of his clients, including one man who was awaiting trial at a minimum-security provincial facility centre in Ottawa.

“He was really concerned because he was in an open area, he didn’t have his own cell,” he said.

The facility had about 30 beds, each about a foot apart from one another. Although most of the beds had been vacated, about 10 inmates remained and they still had to share showers, sinks and other facilities, Hale said.

Donna Turko said she’s concerned about her own clients at both the medium- and minimum-security institutions in Mission, B.C.

She is trying to convince the parole board to grant them a temporary release or parole by exception, which would allow for their release based on unforeseen circumstances at the time of their sentencing.

But she said the bureaucratic system of applying for parole is showing its weaknesses in an emergency.

The situation has been complicated further because she hasn’t been able to reach her medium-security clients since last week and her minimum-security clients since Tuesday, she said.

“They’re not sentenced to death, they’re not sentenced to come out of prison with lung and other permanent afflictions because they were exposed to COVID,” she said.

“The question I have is, is it too little too late?”

Turko said she hopes a response she received from the Department of Justice Thursday promising to assign a lawyer “without delay” to address her concerns with the parole board means things might start moving.

The Correctional Service of Canada did not immediately respond to questions about why the inmates could not be reached.

COVID-19 has been confirmed at several other prisons by the federal government and the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers.

The Federal Training Centre in Laval, Que., counts 25 inmates and four correctional officers who are sick.

Also, in Quebec, 10 inmates and 15 officers tested positive at the Port-Cartier Institution, alongside two new correctional officer cases at the Drummond Institution.

Eight inmates and one officer are sick with coronavirus at Grand Valley Institution for Women in Ontario.

Does letting kids get coronavirus help build immunity among the wider society?

GIUSEPPE VALIANTE, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Friday, Apr 17th, 2020

MONTREAL — The Quebec government has suggested that reopening schools and daycares could be a way to both kick-start its economy and slow the transmission of coronavirus in the province.

Quebec’s public health director, Horacio Arruda, told a news conference last Friday it was “very excessively rare” for children to develop severe symptoms from COVID-19. Allowing them to catch the virus and become immunized would help the wider society, he said.

“Because the more children will be, in my opinion, naturally immunized by the disease, the less they will become active vectors with older people,” Arruda said.

Evidence that children infected with the novel coronavirus rarely develop serious symptoms of the disease has led to talk of exposing students to the virus as a quasi-vaccination strategy and a way of building herd immunity — a type of resistance to the disease’s spread within society.

Premier Francois Legault has floated the idea of reopening schools and daycares before May 4, if COVID-19 hospitalizations stabilize, so adults can return to work without worrying about finding care for their children.

But his comments sparked indignation among teachers’ unions and parents, who talked about logistical nightmares of opening schools too soon and the threat of kids transmitting the virus to their older relatives.

Health experts also question that strategy and say there are larger ethical questions that need to be considered.

Alison Thompson, a professor at University of Toronto’s faculty of pharmacy, said letting children be exposed in schools to COVID-19 is a far cry from a mandatory vaccination program.

“It’s not just a matter of building immunity — they have to get sick first,” she said in a recent interview, calling the proposal a “sickness strategy.”

Erin Strumpf, a professor in the department of epidemiology at McGill University, said Arruda’s strategy follows the same logic as a vaccination program. When people receive a vaccine, they are given a weakened form of the virus, allowing their immune system to build antibodies to kill it.

The more people in a society are vaccinated against a virus, the fewer people are around to transmit it to a vulnerable person.

Strumpf, however, questioned whether Arruda’s strategy would build a sufficient herd immunity in society to protect the most vulnerable. Schools should eventually be opened for other reasons, she explained, but immunizing children is a side benefit.

Reopening schools would allow more people to go back to work and to ensure children from disadvantaged backgrounds have access to proper education, she said: “It would level the playing field.”

But the logistics of allowing daycares as well as primary and secondary schools to open are not obvious.

Josee Scalabrini, president of the federation that represents the majority of Quebec’s teachers, questioned how older and vulnerable teachers can be protected from infected students and how physical distancing can be maintained in crowded classrooms, cafeterias and school buses.

Thompson recognizes that closing schools hurts the economy, but she said opening up the schools too quickly poses many problems. She noted that children are major vectors of pathogens.

“This is not immunity acquired through vaccine,” she said. “This would be naturally acquired immunity, and it’s hard to know how they would acquire that without posing a great risk to the adults that they are in contact with.”

Legault has since tempered some of his initial optimism about opening schools before May 4. He now says the schools will stay closed until public health officials agree to open them and until he has the assurance that there is no risk to children and teachers.

But the premier said Thursday that COVID-19 hospitalizations “are under control” and he is preparing a plan to open up the economy. “We will start with companies. We want to do it in a very gradual way, in an intelligent way,” he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 17, 2020.

Giuseppe Valiante, The Canadian Press

Trudeau deflects Trump and Belgian bluebells in bloom; In The News for April 17

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Friday, Apr 17th, 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 April 17 …

COVID-19 in Canada …

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be under pressure today to flesh out his promise to do more to protect the elderly in long-term care homes, which have been hardest hit by the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.

Trudeau promised earlier this week that the federal government would provide funding to top up the wages earned by essential workers in nursing homes who earn less than $2,500 a month.

That promise was the subject of discussion during a conference call among first ministers late Thursday.

No details of the call were immediately forthcoming, other than a brief summary of the discussion issued by the Prime Minister’s Office which said first ministers “agreed on the urgent need to ensure long-term care facilities have the resources they need to protect the health and well-being of their residents and workers.”

Since the salaries paid to workers in long-term care homes fall under provincial jurisdiction, Trudeau has been clear whatever the federal government does must be in collaboration with the provinces.

Seniors Minister Deb Schulte told CBC News late Thursday that the federal government will boost transfer payments to the provinces and territories, to allow them to top up wages. She did not say how much money Ottawa is prepared to ante up.

Also this …

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tried to let Donald Trump down gently, warning that Canada is still a long way from being ready to agree to relax mutual travel restrictions along its border with the United States.

Trudeau said he discussed the issue with the U.S. president during a videoconference with fellow G7 leaders, and the two agreed, given the unique relationship between the two countries, that they would continue to take a different approach to managing bilateral travel with each other from the ones they use with the rest of the world.

That does not mean, however, that a decision to relax the travel ban is imminent, he added.

“The work that we continue to do to keep our citizens safe, while co-ordinating very carefully, is unlike our approaches with other countries around the world. There’s a recognition that as we move forward, there will be special thought given to this relationship,” Trudeau said.

“But at the same time, we know that there is a significant amount of time still before we can talk about loosening such restrictions.”

Trump, who often makes it abundantly clear that he’s in a hurry to get the American economy back on its feet, seemed to suggest Wednesday that his impatience might well extend to the northern border — a shift in the usual balance of anxieties that has tended to define the Canada-U.S. relationship.

COVID-19 in the U.S. …

President Donald Trump and some of his officials are flirting with an outlier theory that the new coronavirus was set loose on the world by a Chinese lab that let it escape. Without the weight of evidence, they’re trying to blame China for sickness and death from COVID-19 in the United States.

“More and more, we’re hearing the story,” Trump says. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo adds, “The mere fact that we don’t know the answers — that China hasn’t shared the answers — I think is very, very telling.”

A scientific consensus is still evolving. But experts overwhelmingly say analysis of the new coronavirus’ genome rules out the possibility that it was engineered by humans, as some conspiracy theories have suggested.

Nor is it likely that the virus emerged from a negligent laboratory in China, they say. “I would put it on a list of 1,000 different scenarios,” said Nathan Grubaugh of Yale University, who studies the epidemiology of microbial disease.

Scientists say the virus arose naturally in bats. They say the leading theory is that infection among humans began at an animal market in Wuhan, China, probably from an animal that got the virus from a bat.

Even so, Pompeo and others are pointing fingers at an institute that is run by the Chinese Academy of Sciences and has done groundbreaking research tracing the likely origins of the SARS virus, finding new bat viruses and discovering how they could jump to people.

COVID-19 around the world …

The British government announced that a nationwide lockdown imposed to slow the spread of the new coronavirus will remain in place for at least three more weeks, as health officials said the U.K.’s coronavirus outbreak — one of Europe’s worst — was nearing its peak.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said “any change to our social distancing measures now would risk a significant increase in the spread of the virus.”

The lockdown has been in place since March 23. Schools, pubs, restaurants and most shops are closed, and most people are allowed to leave home only for essential errands or exercise.

Medical officials say the outbreak in the U.K. is reaching its peak but it’s too early to loosen restrictions on daily life.

Chief Scientific Officer Patrick Vallance said that while transmission of the virus has been dramatically reduced, “we run the risk of a second peak” if the lockdown is loosened now.

As of Thursday, 13,729 people have died in U.K. hospitals after testing positive for coronavirus, an increase of 861 from a day earlier. That number still understates the true toll of the pandemic since those figures do not include hundreds, and maybe thousands, of virus-related deaths in nursing homes and other settings.

COVID-19 in entertainment…

Chris McKhool still has many questions about how the federal government will support Canadian artists in the latest update to the COVID-19 emergency benefits program — but for now he’s trying to stay focused on the music.

The violinist in Sultans of String, a three-time Juno nominated act, has spent the past several weeks in a holding position as he wondered if accepting live streaming performance spots that paid a couple hundred bucks might disqualify him from the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB).

He got a somewhat clearer answer on Wednesday after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expanded the reach of CERB to include support for people who are still working, but earning $1,000 or less per month, meaning McKhool could start accepting those gigs with confidence.

“I can still be an artist because of this, that’s how I feel,” McKhool said.

“It’s a huge burden lifted off me, that I don’t have to worry about whether or not I can be performing.”

But he’s still unclear on the specifics around getting paid, including whether the Canada Revenue Agency will claw back more of his earnings than anticipated in the future. Similar questions have echoed across Facebook groups dedicated to musicians and others in the creative community.

COVID-19 in springtime…

When nature is at its brightest this year, it needs to be hidden from sight.

Parks and woods in Belgium, like in much of Europe, are a riot of colour and scents in springtime, many so magnificent they would draw far too thick a crowd in the times of a pandemic.

So some are closed, or parking areas are off limits and non-locals are banned from visiting. Many tourists are sent back and some are even fined if they won’t take no for an answer.

The extraordinary measures are felt deeply as bluebells are in bloom in the Hallerbos forest, some 15 kilometres (10 miles) south of Brussels. In a good year, up to 100,000 tourists come to gaze in wonder at its vast purple carpet under the beech trees.

“This pains the heart badly,” Halle mayor Marc Snoeck told the Associated Press. “This goes against anything that we normally work for.”

During the annual April Bluebell Festival, the throngs on weekends or sunny days are so big that social distancing would become impossible along the walking paths. During their three-week stretch of flowering, the bluebells attract tourists from as far as China and the United States.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 17, 2020.

The Canadian Press

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