Parliament reconvenes today to debate multi-billion-dollar wage subsidy bill

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Parliament is being recalled Saturday for a rare weekend sitting to debate legislation that would free up billions of dollars in financial aid for Canadians and businesses to weather the COVID-19 crisis.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be in attendance for the debate on legislation that was revised from the original wage subsidy bill in March. The House of Commons will reconvene starting at 12:15 p.m. ET. The Senate will sit starting at 4 p.m. ET. 

The governing Liberals shared a draft copy of the bill with the opposition parties last Monday. The NDP, Bloc Québécois and Conservatives all have news conferences scheduled before the special session begins.

Just over 30 MPs will be in the House, enough for a quorum, in order to maintain physical distancing measures. The prime minister will skip his usual, daily media briefing outside his residence in order to join the debate and will instead address Canadians from within the Commons.

He plans to take time off on Sunday and Monday to spend time with family. Trudeau primarily has been working from home since March 12 when his wife tested positive for COVID-19.

WATCHScheer and Singh on the Commons recovening:

Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh speak with PNP Host Vassy Kapelos 10:13

The governing Liberals shared the draft of the revised bill with the opposition parties last Monday. The NDP has a news conference scheduled for 9 a.m. ET Saturday. The Bloc Quebecois will be next to speak at 9:30 a.m., and the Conservatives at 10 a.m.

By the end of Friday there were 22,148 confirmed and presumptive cases of the contagious respiratory illness and 569 people had died across the country. Confirmed infections reached about 1.7 million worldwide, including more than 100,000 deaths, while the number of cases surpassed half a million in the U.S., according to a Johns Hopkins University count.

The spread of the novel coronavirus, first reported in China in late 2019, continues as Christians around the globe mark the Easter weekend, with church leaders urging them to watch services online instead of gathering in pews.

In Canada, a physician who tweeted about an elderly patient who chose to forgo a ventilator is now asking the government not to forget about community doctors during the pandemic. 

On Thursday, Dr. Nadia Alam of Georgetown, Ont., posted a tweet about a 72-year-old man with worsening COVID-19 symptoms she treated that day. Despite the fact that his condition was quickly worsening, Alam said, he did not want to be hooked up to the machine sometimes critical to keep COVID-19 patients alive.

“He turned to me and said ‘If I go, if I die from this, I would rather die looking at the sky. I would rather die looking at my family,'” Alam told CBC’s Rosemary Barton in a Friday interview.

 

Instead, Alam sat with the man, and called his family. 

That tweet struck a chord with Canadians as it was shared widely online, but Alam said there is another pressing issue she would like addressed. 

While hospitals are already struggling with dangerously low supplies of personal protective equipment like gowns and masks, Alam said many family doctors have already run out completely. And while the government has launched measures to supply hospitals, it’s important local doctors have the equipment they need as well.  

WATCH |  Doctor talks about the angst around putting COVID-19 patients on life support:

Dr. Nadia Alam of Georgetown, Ont., describes how one elderly patient didn’t want to be on a ventilator and how her children are afraid that she, too, may get sick. 10:28

“I know that you’re focused on the hospitals — please don’t forget about the communities,” Alam said, “because that is where we take care of our pregnant patients, that is where we take care of little kids, that is where I take care of my patients with heart failure and cancer, for pain control.”

Earlier on Friday, Prime Minister Trudeau addressed the issue of health-care workers contracting the virus, and the need for hospital workers to have personal protective equipment. He said health workers need to know “that we have their back” and have the support they need. Other health workers have already expressed concern about shortages of the protective gear they need.

The daily briefing outside Rideau Cottage also looked at financial assistance to businesses and the supply of personal protective equipment, but the prime minister also took questions about testing, saying that expanded testing will be a “key part” of the path forward.

After facing calls for more data about what was driving decisions, Canadian federal health officials on Thursday presented modelling information on how the outbreak could unfold

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said that the models aren’t crystal balls — but they “help us to plan and they tell us that our collective actions can have a direct and significant impact on the epidemic trajectory.”

WATCH | Trudeau lays groundwork for never-used Emergencies Act:

Sources tell CBC News that the federal government has sent a letter to provinces and territories as part of the consultation period — a required step before triggering a public welfare emergency. 6:21

The models suggest that even with stringent public health measures, Canada could see 4,400 deaths linked to the growing epidemic. That figure — the most optimistic in the models presented — is just one of the projections offered by officials, who stressed that how people behave now will be critical to how the epidemic evolves.

Health officials projected that 11,000 Canadians would die over the course of the pandemic if 2.5 per cent of the population was infected, a number that increased to 22,000 if the infection rate hit five per cent of the population. All the projections are “highly sensitive” to behaviours, Tam said as health officials outlined models with strict measures as well as offering a glimpse into what might have happened without controls.

Public health officials have urged people to stay home, avoid large gatherings and keep up physical distancing, handwashing and other measures.

WATCH | Public health officials want people to stay apart to slow the spread of COVID-19. Here’s a look at how to do that in some tricky situations:

Physical distancing has radically changed how we socialize. But there’s still some scenarios where it’s difficult to limit our physical contact with others. Here’s how to best navigate them. 3:23

On Friday, Trudeau said Canadians should continue to take those preventative measures for a “number of weeks, and then possibly we can, and I hope to be able to, talk about relaxing the current rules in the summer.”

“But even in the fall, we will have to live with certain measures to keep you safe and minimize the risk of a resurgence of COVID-19,” he said, adding that people should not expect a full return to normality until there is a vaccine against the respiratory illness, also known as SARS-CoV-2.

WHO cautions against easing movement restrictions

Elsewhere, as weeks of lockdowns were extended in nation after nation, world governments were pressed to ease restrictions on key businesses and industries.

After a two-week freeze on all non-essential economic activity, Spain decided to allow factories and construction sites to resume work on Monday, while schools, most shops and offices will remain closed. In Italy, the industrial lobbies in regions representing 45 per cent of its economic output urged the government to ease its two-week lockdown on all non-essential manufacturing, saying the country “risks definitively shutting down its own motor, and every day that passes the risk grows not to be able to restart it.”

The head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, warned that a premature lifting of restrictions could “lead to a deadly resurgence.” 

WATCH | WHO warns against lifting restrictions too quickly

The World Health Organization says that lifting restrictions prematurely during the coronavirus pandemic could lead to a deadly resurgence of the virus. 1:35

He said there had been a “welcome slowing” of the epidemic in some European countries — Italy, Germany, Spain and France — but there had been an “alarming acceleration” elsewhere including community transmission in 16 countries of Africa. 

There is no known cure or vaccine for COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus. While most people who contract the illness will experience mild to moderate symptoms, health officials have cautioned that certain segments of the population, including the elderly and people with pre-existing health issues, face a higher risk of severe disease and death.

The Public Health Agency of Canada, which has been posting updated information about the virus, says that COVID-19 is a “serious health threat.” The agency says that risk varies between communities but notes that the overall risk to Canadians is ” considered high.” 

Read on for a look at what’s happening in Canada and around the world. 

Here’s what’s happening in the provinces and territories

As of midnight ET on Friday, Canada had more than 22,100 confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19. The provinces and territories that provide data on recovered cases listed more than 6,000 as resolved. A CBC News tally of deaths, which is based on public health information and reporting, lists 621 COVID-19-related deaths in Canada, as well as two coronavirus-linked deaths of Canadians abroad.

British Columbia’s top doctor says she doesn’t plan to build out projections around possible COVID-19 death tolls“Our modelling is about what we need to prepare for,” Dr. Bonnie Henry said. “As you can see, deaths are not something that can be predicted. It depends on how your outbreak evolves.” Read more about what’s happening in B.C.

A person wearing a P100 respirator crosses a street in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver on Friday. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Alberta reported its highest single-day death toll with seven fatalities. They include four new deaths at the McKenzie Towne continuing care centre in Calgary, bringing that facility’s total to 17.

Meanwhile, Alberta’s chief medical officer, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, said new mandatory mask requirements are being put in place for health workers at long-term care sites, and staff at continuing care homes will be prevented from moving from facility to facility starting next week. Read more about what’s happening in Alberta.

Two women wear masks as people practise physical distancing in Calgary on Thursday amid a worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Saskatchewan announced $50 million in funding to help small and medium businesses impacted by the fallout from the COVID-19 outbreak. Read more about what’s happening in Saskatchewan, including what the premier has said about whether the Emergencies Act should be used.

In Manitoba, a Winnipeg man in his 70s has died, bringing the province’s number of deaths to four. Additionally, three people linked to the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg have tested positive. They are all in self-isolation and Manitoba Health is doing contact tracing, an email obtained by CBC News says. Read more about what’s happening in Manitoba.

A woman is seen wearing a mask in Toronto’s subway system as the city copes with a shutdown due to the novel coronavirus on April 1. (Cole Burston/Getty Images)

Ontario Premier Doug Ford says the province will quadruple its testing capacity over the course of a month, from 4,000 daily tests today to 16,000 on May 6. Ford says the focus will be on testing vulnerable groups, including those in long-term care homes and health-care workers. Provincial officials said testing resources will be concentrated on people exhibiting symptoms, because those who are asymptomatic could get false negative results.

More than 620 health-care workers in Ontario have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, data shows. Read more about what’s happening in Ontario.

Schools in Quebec could reopen as early as May, Premier François Legault said Friday. He cited the latest numbers on the coronavirus pandemic as evidence that the first wave is stabilizing, though the province continues to have the most cases in the country. Read more about what’s happening in Quebec, including details about extra staff being sent to hard-hit nursing homes.

A nearly empty downtown Winnipeg is seen on Friday. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs said Thursday that there’s hope the province could return to “normal in some form this summer.” Higgs said that reopening businesses will depend on how the situation evolves in the coming weeks and months and noted that the economy won’t reopen fully until a vaccine is developed. Read more about what’s happening in N.B.

Nova Scotia doesn’t plan to lift restrictions in place because of COVID-19 until at least June. Dr. Robert Strang, the province’s top health officer, said the summer “is going to look somewhat different than most summers.” Read more about what’s happening in N.S.

Paramedics take a patient from an ambulance at the Verdun Hospital in Montreal on Friday. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Prince Edward Island has created a $750,000 fund to help farmers as they face the fallout from the novel coronavirus. Read more about what’s happening on P.E.I.

Newfoundland and Labrador’s health minister is warning people that the province’s peak is expected later than other provinces — and says that restrictions could be in place for months to come. Read more about what’s happening in N.L.

The Yukon government is offering financial assistance for eligible businesses that have been impacted by COVID-19 and the measures to fight it. Read more about what’s happening across Canada’s North.

Here’s a look at what’s happening in the United States

From The Associated Press and Reuters, updated at 6 a.m. ET

Health authorities have reported hundreds more cases in New York City and the surrounding region, an area with some 20 million people that accounts for more than half of the 500,000 American cases, which include over 18,500 deaths.

The United States by far accounts for most of the world’s confirmed cases of COVID-19, the highly contagious lung ailment caused by the novel coronavirus. Only Italy has recorded more fatalities. Other U.S. hot spots are in Detroit, Louisiana and the national capital, Washington.

WATCH | This isn’t the time to pull back, says Dr. Anthony Fauci:

White House COVID-19 physicians warn against complacency if U.S. infection numbers start levelling off. 1:17

The number of deaths in New York City now totals more than 7,800. Officials said the number of people in intensive care dropped for the first time on Friday since mid-March and hospitalizations were slowing: 290 new patients in a single day, compared with daily increases of more than 1,000 last week.

South Florida has become one of the new hot spots in the United States with confirmed cases exceeding 17,448 and the death toll reaching 419 as of Friday.

Election officials in Yongin, South Korea check their protective gear on Saturday as they wait for voters during early voting for the April 15 general elections at a special polling station set up for coronavirus patients and medical workers. (Hong Ki-won/The Associated Press)

Social distancing is a problem in the state, say local officials, especially in south Florida, where people were lined up attempting to apply for unemployment benefits in person earlier in the week after the state’s website was overwhelmed. 

New U.S. government figures show novel coronavirus infections will spike during the summer if stay-at-home orders are lifted after 30 days as planned, the New York Times reported on Friday. It cited separate forecasts from the U.S. departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services projecting the death toll could reach 200,000 if stay-at-home orders are lifted.

An emergency alert is seen on a phone in Dartmouth, N.S., on Friday. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

In New York City, officials have shortened the amount of time unclaimed remains will be held before they are buried in the city’s public cemetery, as the city struggles to deal with a mounting death toll and dwindling morgue space.

WATCH | Drone footage shows bodies in caskets being buried in New York City:

New York City is burying more of its dead in a potter’s field on Hart Island amid a surge in deaths due to the coronavirus. 3:24

Under the new policy, the medical examiner’s office will keep bodies in storage for just 14 days before they’re buried in the city’s potter’s field on Hart Island. 

Here’s a look at what’s happening around the world 

From The Associated Press and Reuters, updated at 6:00 a.m. ET

Iran began reopening government offices Saturday after a brief nationwide lockdown to help contain the worst coronavirus outbreak in the Middle East, which has killed more than 4,300 people in the country out of 68,000 total cases.

Authorities had ordered most government agencies and all non-essential businesses to remain closed for a week after the Nowruz holiday ended on Apr. 4.

There are more than 134,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the Middle East, including over 5,300 fatalities.

South Korea announced plans Saturday to strap tracking wristbands on people who defy quarantine orders. Officials there say stricter controls are required because some of the 57,000 people who are under orders to stay home have slipped out by leaving behind smartphones with tracking apps. Plans for broader use of wristbands were scaled back after objections by human rights and legal activists.

Britain’s health secretary on Saturday reiterated appeals to health-care workers not to overuse personal protective equipment, urging everyone to treat PPE as a “precious resource.” Matt Hancock’s comment came after he recently faced backlash from health-care workers who say they do not have enough PPE when treating patients with COVID-19.

On Friday, the U.K. government said a total of 8,958 people had died in hospital after testing positive for the virus, up 980 from the previous day. That daily increase was bigger than anything witnessed in Italy and Spain, the two European countries with the greatest number of coronavirus-linked fatalities.

Italian authorities are using helicopters, drones and stepped-up police checks to make sure Italians don’t slip out of their homes for the Easter holiday weekend. The virus has killed more than 18,800 people in Italy and over 95,000 worldwide, according to data gathered by Johns Hopkins University.

The coronavirus has claimed at least 15,843 lives in Spain and has officially infected 152,446 people, although both the rate of contagion and mortality are dropping, official health ministry data showed Friday. The 605 new deaths recorded overnight were the lowest increase since March 24.

A person leaves with a bag of donated groceries from a van outside a church in Lawrence, Mass., on Friday. (Elise Amendola/Associated Press)

There were encouraging signs in France, where the national health agency saw indications the crisis is stabilizing, though more than 13,000 lives have been lost. The health ministry said 7,004 people were in intensive care, a fall of 62 or 0.9 per cent following a 1 per cent fall on Thursday.

Workers clean the Hazleton Transit Center in Hazleton, Pa., on Friday. (Warren Ruda/Standard-Speaker via AP)

India’s 21-day nationwide lockdown was supposed to end on Tuesday, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi has decided to extend it to tackle the spread of the coronavirus, the Delhi state’s chief minister said on Saturday, without saying how long the extension would be for.

In Kazakhstan, 10 people have tested positive for the novel coronavirus at one of the worker camps located next to the giant Tengiz oilfield, Kazakh authorities said on Saturday. The Chevron-led consortium operating Tengiz, the Central Asian nation’s No.1 oil producer, was not immediately available for comment on Saturday.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei suggested mass gatherings may be barred through the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which runs from late April through most of May. 

Turkey announced a two-day lockdown in Istanbul, Ankara and other major cities as the country’s death toll rose above 1,000. The move, which covers 31 provinces, scales up restrictions under which people below the age of 20 and senior citizens have been told to stay at home. 

Health-workers cry during a memorial for their colleague that died of COVID-19 at the Severo Ochoa Hospital in Leganes, Spain, on Friday. (Manu Fernandez/The Associated Press)

Yemen reported its first case on Friday, as aid groups try to prepare for an outbreak where war has shattered the health system and spread hunger and disease.

China’s Wuhan city, where the pandemic began, is still testing residents regularly despite relaxing its tough two-month lockdown, with the country wary of a rebound as it sets its sights on normalizing the economy.

The total number of novel coronavirus infections in Japan hit 6,003 on Friday, public broadcaster NHK reported.

People observe social distancing as they queue up to shop outside a branch of the Tesco supermarket chain in west London on Friday. (Matt Dunham/Associated Press)

All Botswana’s parliamentarians, including the president, will be quarantined for two weeks and tested, after a health worker screening lawmakers for the virus tested positive.

In the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, people desperate for food stampeded, pushing through a gate at a district office in the Kibera slum. Police fired tear gas, injuring several people.

The epidemic has so far infected over 440 people in Burkina Faso, including six government ministers, and killed 24.  

WATCH | WHO raises concern about coronavirus escalation in Africa

The World Health Organization is increasingly concerned about the spread of the coronavirus in Africa, where rural areas are particularly vulnerable. 1:09

Chile will start handing out certificates to people who have recovered that will exempt them from adhering to quarantines or other restrictions.

Mexico has recorded its first two deaths of pregnant women from the coronavirus as the reported death toll reached 194, the health ministry said

Brazil’s Health Ministry says a teenager from an Indigenous tribe has died of coronavirus, marking the first resident of an Indigenous community to die from COVID-19 and raising alarm about the spread of the virus in the country’s protected lands. Meanwhile, President Jair Bolsonaro took to the streets of Brasilia on Friday, drawing crowds and greeting followers in his latest public pushback against social isolation measures.

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