‘This is the new normal’ until a vaccine is developed: PM Trudeau

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Federal health officials urged Canadians to stick with public health measures aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19 as they offered their first look at national projections into how the outbreak could unfold, saying that the first wave of the outbreak may end in the summer. 

Several provinces, including hard-hit Ontario and Quebec, have already released their own projections and the federal government had faced growing calls to do the same.

Health officials noted that regions are having different experiences with COVID-19, which has now been reported in every province and territory except Nunavut.

When exactly the public health measures would be lifted wasn’t immediately clear, although Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reiterated at his daily briefing Thursday that efforts to keep case numbers down will take “months of continued, determined effort.”

“The initial peak — the top of the curve — may be in late spring, with the end of the first wave in the summer.”

The prime minister, citing Tam, said there would likely be “smaller outbreaks” for several months after that.

He said “this is the new normal” until a vaccine is developed.

WATCH | Dr. Theresa Tam outlines what models can (and can’t) offer: 

Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam says models are “imperfect” but that they can help understand the state and trajectory of the pandemic and the effect of public health measures to combat the spread of COVID-19. 1:03

Models are not a “crystal ball,” said Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer. The models can’t predict what will happen, she said. Instead, they help people see what could happen in certain scenarios and inform plans within the health system. 

A  forecast for the next week suggested Canada would see a cumulative total of between 22,580 and 31,850 cases by April 16, with the death toll reaching between 500 and 700. According to a tally maintained by CBC News, there were 476 known COVID-19-related deaths as of Thursday morning.

With strong control measures, the federal public health agency projects that 11,000 to 22,000 Canadians could die of COVID-19 in the coming months. The total number of positive diagnoses with strong controls ranges from 934,000 to 1.9 million. With poor containment measures, the death toll could be much, much higher.

Tam said health officials used two kinds of models: forecasting and dynamic. Forecasting models use actual data on cases in Canada to estimate how many cases to expect in the coming week. Dynamic models allow officials to take a longer view, using “evolving” knowledge of how the virus behaves.

The chief public health officer said the models are “highly sensitive” and changes in behaviour, including physical distancing, handwashing and other measures, are critical to stamping out the virus.

Tam said it’s critical to maintain resolve and try to drive case numbers down and keep hospitalization and ICU admissions down. She said what Canadians do together now will buy more time to investigate the virus and search for treatments and cures. 

“We cannot prevent every death, but we must prevent every death that we can.”

Health systems coping ‘for the time being’

Trudeau said that the modelling described by health officials shows that Canada is in an earlier stage of the outbreak than some other countries, which means Canada has a chance to determine how things will look in the weeks and months ahead.

“Our health-care systems across the country are coping for the time being. But we’re at a fork in the road, between the best and the worst possible outcomes,” Trudeau said.

The prime minister also talked about the staggering job losses, saying the government will keep expanding plans to protect jobs and help both individuals and businesses struggling with the economic fallout linked to the outbreak. 

Massive job losses in March

Earlier Thursday, new data from Statistics Canada showd that job losses are mounting in Canada, where measures aimed at slowing the spread of the virus have caused businesses to close and employers to cut jobs. 

The data showed that more than one million people lost jobs in March, sending the country’s unemployment rate up to 7.8 per cent. The 2.2 per cent increase in the national unemployment rate marks the worst single-month change over the last 40-plus years of comparable data and brings the rate to a level not seen since October 2010.

The federal government has rolled out a range of programs to try and get cash moving to people who are out of work and businesses struggling to stay afloat, but opposition politicians have expressed concern that money isn’t moving fast enough to meet the growing need. 

Call for more testing at long-term care homes

Public health officials have noted that while anyone can contract COVID-19, the elderly face a higher risk of severe disease or death if they contract the novel coronavirus, formally known as SARS CoV-2. The virus, which was first reported in China but has since spread around the world, causes an illness called COVID-19, for which there is no proven vaccine or cure.

Quebec’s premier says all residents and staff at long-term care facilities will be tested for COVID-19 as the hard-hit province tries to slow the spread of the coronavirus, which has caused deadly outbreaks at several nursing homes across the country.

Premier François Legault said Thursday that the province will also work to get more skilled staff into long-term care facilities. Health Minister Danielle McCann said that additional staffing support will first flow to homes that have seen outbreaks, but the goal is to eventually deploy extra workers to all homes. More doctors will also be deployed to help, McCann said.

“We want to protect those who built the Quebec we have today,” said the health minister.

WATCH | Nurses talk about shortages of critical supplies at long-term care homes:

Nurses brought in to help during a COVID-19 outbreak at the Ste-Dorethee long-term care home in Laval, Que., say the conditions were “inhumane” because of a lack of protective equipment and training. 2:05

A long-term care home in Almonte, west of Ottawa, has reported eight deaths related to COVID-19, according to a letter sent home to families. Two other residents at Almonte Country Haven, which is home to 82 people, died of unspecified reasons. The outbreak in eastern Ontario comes on the heels of a deadly outbreak at a long-term care in Bobcaygeon, Ont., and another at a facility in Scarborough, in Toronto’s east end.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who has called for increased testing in that province, said he wants to see tests of front-line health workers — including long-term care staff — as well as tests of seniors living in nursing home facilities.

“We need to start testing everybody possible,” Ford said Wednesday as the province faced questions about testing shortfalls.

How to protect the elderly and vulnerable is an issue of concern around the world as case numbers rise. According to a database maintained by Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins University, there are more than 1.5 million known COVID-19 cases worldwide, with almost 90,000 deaths. The true numbers are almost certainly much higher because of limited testing, different rules for counting the dead and concealment by some governments.

Japan reported more than 500 new cases for the first time Thursday, a worrisome rise since it has the world’s oldest population and COVID-19 can be especially serious in the elderly. Hard-hit Italy, which has recorded more than 17,000 deaths, has the oldest population in Europe.

In Belgium, authorities in the French-speaking Walloon region have requested the support of the armed forces to tackle the worrying situation at nursing homes, where several hundred residents have died because of COVID-19. According to official figures released this month, a third of the deaths linked to the deadly virus in the region of southern Belgium have been registered in resting homes.

The Public Health Agency of Canada has described COVID-19 as a “serious” health threat and said the risk to Canadians is considered high.

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

As of 7:30 a.m. ET on Thursday, Canada had reported 19,291 confirmed and presumptive cases. The provinces and territories that offer data about cases that are considered to be recovered listed 4,666 cases as resolved. CBC News has counted a total of 476 COVID-19-related deaths in Canada, and there are two known coronavirus-related deaths of Canadians abroad.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, has urged people across the country to behave as though COVID-19 is in their community, even if there are no known cases. Health officials have also reiterated that case numbers don’t offer a complete picture as that data doesn’t capture people who have not been tested or potential cases still under investigation.

British Columbia’s COVID-19 death toll is at 48 after the province recorded five more deaths. Dr. Bonnie Henry, the province’s top health officer, urged people not to travel over the coming long weekend. Read more about what’s happening in B.C.

Alberta says its supply of critical equipment — including ventilators and personal protective equipment — should carry it through the expected COVID-19 peak if the province doesn’t hit the more “extreme” of the projected scenarios. The province projects its peak in coronavirus-related hospitalizations to come in late May. Read more about what’s happening in Alberta

In Saskatchewan, health officials say it’s too soon to tell when COVID-19 will peak in the province. Dr. Jenny Basran, senior medical information officer for the Saskatchewan Health Authority, said the province is on “a better trajectory than in our ‘what-if’ scenarios, but at the moment we do not have enough information to know for certain.” Read more about what’s happening in Saskatchewan.

WATCH | See how ERs are preparing for COVID-19:

David Common sees how emergency department staff are preparing to treat a potential onslaught of COVID-19 patients in respiratory distress. 2:18

A worker at a Winnipeg nursing home has tested positive for COVID-19 and is now home in self-isolation. Health officials in Manitoba said Wednesday that 20 health workers have tested positive for the virus. Read more about what’s happening in Manitoba.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford says his “patience is running thin” over COVID-19 testing rates. The province has the capacity to run up to 13,000 tests daily but the swabs coming in have fallen short of that. Read more about what’s happening in Ontario.

In Quebec, reported COVID-19 cases have topped 10,000, with 175 deaths. Premier François Legault said Wednesday that the province has a better sense of when cases might peak, but cautioned people to stay vigilant about measures like physical distancing. Read more about what’s happening in Quebec.

New Brunswick’s top public health official is warning people not to gather over the long weekend. “You may think, ‘It’s just my family,’ or ‘It’s just my friends.’ But the COVID-19 virus may be an uninvited guest at your table, brought along by someone who has only mild symptoms, or no symptoms at all. Do not let that happen,” said Dr. Jennifer Russell. Read more about what’s happening in N.B.

Ten per cent of reported COVID-19 cases in Nova Scotia are believed to be from community transmission, the province’s top doctor says. “We have more of our recent cases that are under investigation where it’s not as clear-cut that there’s a clear explanation, and therefore we may end up concluding there is community spread,” said Dr. Robert Strang. Read more about what’s happening in N.S.

Prince Edward Island officials believe the province could see thousands more COVID-19-related job losses. Read more about what’s happening on P.E.I.

A projection suggests Newfoundland and Labrador could have a shortage of intensive care beds as COVID-19 case numbers rise. Premier Dwight Ball said the numbers show why people must continue to follow public health orders over the long weekend and beyond. Read more about what’s happening in N.L. 

Yukon has reported another COVID-19 case, bringing the territory’s total to eight. Read more about what’s happening across Canada’s North, including a plan to invest in testing capacity in the Northwest Territories.

Here’s a look at what’s happening in the U.S.

From The Associated Press, updated at 11 a.m. ET

With a startling 6.6 million people seeking unemployment benefits last week, the United States has reached a grim landmark: More than one in 10 workers have lost their jobs in just the past three weeks to the coronavirus outbreak.

The figures collectively constitute the largest and fastest string of job losses in records dating to 1948. By contrast, during the Great Recession, it took 44 weeks — roughly 10 months — for unemployment claims to go as high as they now have in less than a month.

The U.S. has by far the most confirmed cases of COVID-19 of any nation, with over 430,000 people infected. New York state on Wednesday recorded its highest one-day increase in deaths, 779, for an overall death toll of almost 6,300, more than 40 per cent of the U.S. total of around 15,000.

Marlboro Diner owner Kara Petrou, right, and Evangelia Italou wear masks preparing Passover meals for pickup on Wednesday in Marlboro, New Jersey. The state limits restaurants to offering takeout and delivery service in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. (Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

“The bad news is actually terrible,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. Still, the governor said hospitalizations are decreasing and many of those now dying fell ill in the outbreak’s earlier stages.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the United States’ top infectious-diseases expert, said the Trump administration has been working on plans to eventually reopen the country amid evidence that physical distancing is working to stop the virus’s spread.

But he said it’s not time to scale back such measures: “Keep your foot on the accelerator because this is what is going to get us through this,” he said at Wednesday’s White House briefing.

Vice-President Mike Pence warned that Philadelphia was emerging as a potential hot spot. Washington, D.C., Louisiana, Chicago, Detroit and Colorado were also seeing worsening outbreaks.

Pence said he would speak to leaders in African American communities who are concerned about disproportionate impacts from the virus. Fauci acknowledged that historic disparities in health care have put African Americans at risk for diseases that make them more vulnerable in the outbreak.

Here’s a look at what’s happening around the world, including the latest from Spain and Italy — as well as reports of reinfection in South Korea

From The Associated Press, Reuters and CBC News, updated at 8:30 a.m. ET

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was reportedly improving on Thursday in intensive care, where he is battling COVID-19, as his government extended its overdraft facility and reviewed the most stringent shutdown in peacetime history.

“Things are getting better for him,” said Culture Minister Oliver Dowden. “He’s stable, improving, sat up and engaged with medical staff.” On Thursday, Johnson’s spokesperson said he had a good night at St .Thomas’ Hospital in central London and is able to contact people if needed.

In Spain, confirmed case numbers rose to 152,446, the health ministry said Thursday. The death toll in the country also rose, marking a grim new milestone as it passed 15,000.

Cecilia Alvarez Velasco cleans a condominium residence in Barcelona on Thursday during a national lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19. (Josep Lago/AFP/Getty Images)

There were 542 deaths from COVID-19 in Italy on Wednesday, lower than the 604 the day before, taking the total death toll to 17,669. There were 3,693 people in intensive care, down from 3,792 on Tuesday, marking the fifth daily decline in a row.

Italy may start gradually lifting some restrictions in place to contain the novel coronavirus by the end of April, provided the spread of the disease continues to slow, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told the BBC on Thursday: “We need to pick sectors that can restart their activity. If scientists confirm it, we might begin to relax some measures already by the end of this month,” Conte said. 

In Germany, the health minister said restrictions on public life are flattening the curve of new coronavirus cases. “The number of newly reported infections is flattening out, we are seeing a linear increase again rather than the dynamic, exponential increase we saw in mid-March,” Health Minister Jens Spahn said.

South Korea says at least 74 people who had been diagnosed as recovered from the novel coronavirus tested positive for the second time after they were released from hospitals.

Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Thursday health authorities were testing virus and serum samples to determine whether patients who tested positive again would be capable of transmitting the virus to others and whether their bodies had properly created antibodies.

She said some of the patients didn’t show any symptoms before their follow-up tests turned positive, while others were tested again because they were exhibiting respiratory symptoms. She said none of these patients so far have seen their illness worsen to serious conditions.

Singapore confirmed 287 new coronavirus infections on Thursday, the biggest daily increase yet, taking the total there to 1,910, its Health Ministry said. More than 200 of the new cases were linked to outbreaks in foreign worker dormitories.

Indian authorities have identified and sealed dozens of hot spots in the Indian capital and the neighbouring Uttar Pradesh state to check the rising trajectory of new coronavirus infections. Government statements late Wednesday said people will be given food, medicines and other supplies at their doorsteps and they will not be allowed to leave these areas.

Workers prepare an isolation centre Thursday at the NSCI dome in Mumbai during a government-imposed nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against COVID-19. (Punit Paranjpe/AFP/Getty Images)

Authorities also made it compulsory for people to wear face masks when stepping outdoors in areas not covered by these restrictions in the two states. The sealing of hot spots came as the number of confirmed cases in India crossed the 5,000 mark, with 166 deaths, according to India’s Health Ministry.

Iran’s coronavirus death toll has risen by 117 to 4,110, Health Ministry spokesperson Kianush Jahanpur said on Thursday. The total number of infected people with the novel coronavirus has reached 66,220, he said.

The World Bank says sub-Saharan Africa is expected to fall into recession for the first time in a quarter-century amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Africa, which has more than 10,000 documented cases across the continent, has had some of the world’s fastest-growing economies in recent years. The World Bank says African nations will require a “debt service standstill” and other financial assistance. African leaders have been calling for debt relief, warning the pandemic will continue to threaten the world if any region goes without needed support.

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