COVID-19 cases march higher despite restrictions and threats of punishment

TORONTO — The unrelenting climb in COVID-19 cases in Canada continued Thursday amid tightening restrictions aimed at curbing the pandemic, which has so far killed 35 people and infected nearly 3,600 others.

Ontario reported 170 new cases, another daily record jump, bringing the provincial total to 858. Thirteen people have died in the province and at least 12 of the new patients — including two in their 20s — are in hospital.

article continues below

The pandemic, which is taxing the health-care system, has idled large swaths of the work force in a matter of days. Claims for employment insurance benefits have skyrocketed.

To ease the financial devastation, governments across the country have opened the money taps. They've also urged creditors to go easy on those suddenly unable to make rent or other payments.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday the federal government was asking banks and credit card companies to lower interest rates on financially struggling Canadians. The government was also looking at extending lower-interest credit directly to consumers, Trudeau said.

The grim situation is being seen around the globe, with close to half-a-million people identified as infected and more than 22,000 deaths reported.

Trudeau was slated to hold discussions via video conference on Thursday with leaders of the world's biggest economies about the global impact of the pandemic.

Parliament on Wednesday approved the flow of $52 billion in direct financial aid to Canadians and another $55 billion in tax deferrals. Despite the extraordinary all-party effort to get the legislation passed, it could be weeks before needy recipients start getting cash in their hands.

COVID-19 is highly contagious and can strike anyone, although it is older people and those with less optimum health who are most at risk of succumbing to the flu-like illness, experts say. People can also infect others without showing any signs themselves.

Frantic efforts to develop a vaccination or cure are continuing around the world. Experts are warning about the risks of unproven treatments. British Columbia's College of Pharmacists urged health professionals to resist growing demands for access to anti-viral or anti-malaria drugs that have not been shown to be safe or effective for treating the virus infection.

If therapies such as the anti-malarial hydroxychloroquine are prescribed outside of a clinical trial, pharmacists have been instructed not to fill the prescription, the college said.

Government and health authorities upped their pleas for people to keep their distance from others as one of the most effective ways to dampen the coronavirus spread, with fines or jail threatened for those violating rules to self-isolate or avoid larger gatherings.

"Practice physical distancing by keeping two metres from others at all times," Dr. Theresa Tam, the country's chief public health officer, said in a series of tweets. "For those who have no symptoms, it’s OK to walk in the fresh air but the two-metre-rule still applies, always, everywhere."

In addition, Tam said, physical distancing must be paired with frequent hand-washing and disinfecting high-touch surfaces.

Activists pressed their concerns about the difficulties facing the homeless. The closure of coffee shops and drop-in centres has only increased the logistical difficulty for those without homes to wash their hands and keep their distances from others, they said.

Grocery Gateway, which delivers supermarket goods ordered online in and around Toronto, said one of its drivers has tested positive to COVIC-19. The company, which bills itself as Canada’s largest online grocery delivery service, said it had alerted customers who had contact with the driver over the past 14 days.

For those returning to Canada, a mandatory 14-day quarantine is now in effect, with potentially stiff penalties in place for non-compliance. Scofflaws face a maximum $750,000 in fines or six months in jail, Health Minister Patty Hajdu said.

Trudeau said he was talking to the United States about ensuring the Canada-U.S. border remains free of military presence. The U.S. was reported as considering troop deployment to its northern border to thwart irregular border crossers.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 26, 2020.

© Copyright Battlefords News Optimist