- Officials crack down on gathering as people flout size limits.
- Canadians with disabilities say Liberal government failing to meet their needs.
- COVID-19 medical coverage now available even though Canadians advised to avoid international travel.
- British officials consider fresh restrictions on social gatherings in England.
- Seoul’s government sues church for causing outbreak of coronavirus.
Provinces say people are flouting provincial rules around gathering size limits, leading officials to impose new restrictions as COVID-19 infections climb across Canada.
A group of students living off-campus, who came together and engaged in high-risk behaviour, is being blamed for triggering a COVID-19 outbreak that has raised to 28 the number of positive tests among Western University students in London, Ont.
In Ontario, “social circles” allow you to see up to 10 people without the usual pandemic precautions in place as long as all of those family members, friends or neighbours make a pact to socialize only with each other. However, there have been reports of people flouting these rules.
WATCH | Ontario cuts gathering sizes in COVID-19 hot spots:
After months of case counts that put London among the lowest areas for coronavirus transmission in Ontario, the local health unit is now dealing with a troubling outbreak. According to the Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU), the new cases originated with a group of 15 young people, including 11 who lived in three different student houses.
They came together and mixed with others in bars and at parties over a five-day stretch starting Sept. 8. During these get-togethers, they took part in behaviour that showed little regard for rules in place to curb the spread of the deadly virus.
In British Columbia, the guidelines for a “bubble” are a little looser. Officials say the members of your immediate household can be “carefully expanded” to include outsiders, with the goal of limiting the number as much as possible — since these are people you’re allowed to kiss, hug, chat with and dine with, without masks or distancing. While in Alberta, the cap for your “cohort” is your household plus up to 15 other people.
Meanwhile in Saskatchewan, a $2,000 fine has been issued to the organizer of a “large social gathering” in a Saskatoon home that led to at least 21 COVID-19 cases, the province’s health ministry said.
About 47 people attended the private gathering, according to a Thursday news release from the ministry. Provincial rules limit gatherings to 30 people, provided there is enough space to maintain a two-metre separation between individuals who are not in the same household.
With infections rising in many communities, kids back in schools and more people returning to work, many public health experts agree that while social bubbles worked as a safe approach in the early days of the lockdown, it now comes with more risk.
“I honestly think with the return to school right now, most people’s bubbles have burst,” says epidemiologist Ashleigh Tuite. “You’re talking about large numbers of connections.”
As provinces crack down on gathering and infection rates climb across the country, Canadians in several provinces face long lines for a swab to help diagnose COVID-19 as school and workplaces open, leading some to call on the federal government to fast-track new testing methods.
As of 6:30 p.m. ET on Thursday, Canada had 140,867 confirmed or presumptive coronavirus cases. Provinces and territories listed 123,073 of those as recovered or resolved. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC’s reporting stood at 9,239.
The gold standard swab of the nose or throat for testing can be uncomfortable. In contrast, a key promise of saliva tests is that people could collect saliva themselves so that fewer nurses and other health professionals would be needed at assessment centres, as staffing is one of the factors that can drive up wait times.
WATCH | Drone video shows long lines at Ottawa COVID-19 test site:
But that ideal won’t happen immediately. Currently in Canada, both saliva collection and testing remain a research project that regulators are closely evaluating.
There are three main barriers to overcome before saliva tests roll out widely.
Gobs of saliva vary in how fluid they can be, so collecting a high-quality sample can be a challenge even for something as non-invasive as spitting into a cup. The next hurdle for scientists is to get accurate and consistent results on the presence of the virus. Finally, clinicians need to determine how well the test results help them to correctly identify those with the disease.
Health Minister Patty Hajdu said on Wednesday that Health Canada will not approve a test that endangers Canadians’ health because they are inaccurate or offer a false sense of security.
In Canada, the mobile Spartan Cube was recalled because of reliability problems with its swab for the lab-in-a-box PCR test (also known as a polymerase chain reaction test) that was billed as providing results in less than an hour. In the United States, wide-scale problems early on with another PCR test developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hampered containment efforts.
What’s happening around the rest of Canada
More than six months into the global pandemic, the Liberal government is being accused of failing to meet the needs of the Canadians with disabilities who number among those hardest-hit by the public health crisis.
Marie-Claude Landry, chief commissioner of the Canada Human Rights Commission, said COVID-19 has “expanded the circle of vulnerability” in Canada — but people with disabilities still aren’t getting the support they need.
WATCH | Getting tested before going to a party ‘is not going to help you,’ medical officer of health says:
“We urge the government to immediately address the unmet financial needs of people with disabilities in an equitable way,” she said in a media statement.
The federal government has promised a one-time $600 emergency benefit for Canadians with disabilities, but that money has not yet been spent.
Landry said people with disabilities faced barriers before COVID-19 and the pandemic has only made their plight worse.
Prairie Mountain Health region will be lowered from orange to the yellow caution level under Manitoba’s colour-coded pandemic response system, starting Friday, health officials say.
Masks will still be strongly recommended in public places in that region, but will no longer be required, Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said at a news conference on Thursday.
Gathering sizes will be bumped back up to 50 indoors and 100 outdoors, the same as the rest of the province’s health regions.
“Manitobans in [the] Prairie Mountain Health region really stepped up in August and until now to really flatten that curve,” Roussin said.
Canadians yearning to travel abroad — despite the COVID-19 pandemic — can now get medical insurance to cover costs if they get sick with the coronavirus while travelling.
In March, when the virus began its global spread and Canada advised against non-essential travel abroad, travel insurance providers stopped selling COVID-19 medical coverage.
Now, several insurance providers have resumed offering the coverage along with their regular travel insurance plans.
Air Canada, WestJet, Sunwing and travel agency Flight Centre have also joined in, offering free COVID-19 medical coverage to passengers booking certain international flights and vacation packages.
What’s happening around the world
According to Johns Hopkins University, the global total of confirmed coronavirus cases stands at more than 30.2 million. More than 946,000 people have died, while 20.5 million have recovered.
Fresh restrictions on social gatherings in England — potentially involving limiting pub opening hours — appear likely to happen soon as the British government seeks to suppress a sharp spike in new coronavirus infections.
British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Friday that the country has to “come together” over the coming weeks to get on top of the spike, which he noted is leading to a doubling in the number of people being hospitalized with the virus every seven to eight days.
“We want to avoid a national lockdown altogether, that is the last line of defence,” he told BBC radio. “It is not the proposal that’s on the table.”
The metropolitan government in South Korea’s capital Seoul said on Friday it would seek 4.6 billion won ($5.2 million Cdn) in damages against a church for causing the spread of the coronavirus by disrupting tracing and testing efforts.
A fresh wave of infections erupted at a church whose members attended a large protest in downtown Seoul in mid-August, becoming the country’s largest cluster in the greater capital area. The outbreak has driven triple-digit increases in daily COVID-19 cases for more than a month.
The Seoul city government said it will file a lawsuit against the Sarang Jeil Church and its leader, Rev. Jun Kwang-hoon, accusing them of disrupting coronavirus tests and providing inaccurate lists of its members, which the government said aggravated the latest epidemic.
“The city is seeking to hold the church and the pastor responsible for contributing to the nationwide re-spread of COVID-19 by refusing and hindering epidemiological surveys or aiding and abetting such acts, as well as submitting false materials,” it said in a statement.
New Zealand has reported no new confirmed cases of the coronavirus for the first time in more than five weeks, as hopes rise that an outbreak discovered in Auckland last month has been stamped out.
Friday’s report also marked the fourth consecutive day without any cases of community transmission. All recent cases have been found among quarantined travelers returning from abroad.
China says imported coronavirus cases climbed to 32 over the previous 24 hours.
Thirteen of the cases reported Friday were in the northern province of Shaanxi, whose capital, Xi’an, is a major industrial centre. The eastern financial and business hub of Shanghai reported 12.
WATCH | Israel enters second lockdown as COVID-19 surges:
China has gone more than a month without reporting any cases of locally transmitted coronavirus cases within its borders.
But it remains highly vigilant for cases brought in from outside the country. It has suspended issuing new visas and anyone arriving from abroad is required to undergo a two-week quarantine.