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Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on March 27

There was more financial relief for Canadians Friday but continued uncertainty over how much longer measures to combat COVID-19 would have to be in place as the number of cases worldwide climbed past half a million.

Bank of Canada makes another emergency rate cut, U.K. prime minister tests positive

A sign announcing a business closure is seen in Toronto on Friday. (Michael Wilson/CBC)

The latest:

There was more financial relief for Canadians Friday but continued uncertainty over how much longer measures to combat COVID-19 would have to be in place as the number of cases worldwide climbed past half a million.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered the latest details on a plan meant to help small businesses get through the financial fallout generated by the coronavirus outbreak.

The COVID-19 pandemic, which began in China and has since spread around the world, leaving more than 590,000 people infected, is causing massive job loss and economic disruption.

Trudeau said Friday there are many projections around how the COVID-19 crisis will unfold — but those projections all "hinge on choices" Canadians have made in the past few days and will make in the days ahead.

WATCH | Trudeau says severity of the COVID-19 pandemic depends on Canadians' actions:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says projections of how serious the COVID-19 pandemic could become in Canada depend on Canadians' own actions. 1:17

"We know we're talking about weeks and possibly months," Trudeau said, as officials get a sense of whether efforts to slow the spread of the disease have been effective.

"But I am very optimistic that we're going to get through this in the right way, because Canadians do what they need to do to be there for each other and to keep us all safe."

As of midnight ET on Friday, Canadian health officials had reported more than 4,700 confirmed and presumptive cases, with 55 deaths, surpassing the 44 Canadians who died in the SARS outbreak, which was far less widespread with a little over 8,000 cases of infection around the world. There has also been one reported COVID-19 related death of a Canadian abroad, after a former passenger of the Diamond Princess cruise ship died in Japan.

Dr. Howad Njoo, Canada's deputy chief public health officer, cautioned that there are "many other people under investigation awaiting laboratory tests, or not being tested at all."

Testing has been rising in Canada, but the availability and process varies by region. To date, Njoo said, Canada has tested 165,000 people. For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death. There is no proven vaccine or treatment for the novel coronavirus.

Njoo reminded Canadians of "all ages" to not underestimate the severity of the disease, echoing a message from Canada's chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, the day before.

WATCH Dr. Howard Njoo says Canadians should expect the COVID-19 crisis to last many months:

Canada's Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Howard Njoo says Canadians should expect the COVID-19 crisis to last not just days, but many months. 1:16

At Friday's briefing, Njoo said everyone, no matter their age, must "strictly maintain physical distancing, comply with quarantine and self-isolation orders, and protect and support those who are most vulnerable."

Njoo and other government and public health officials have shifted phrasing slightly to say "physical distancing" instead of "social distancing" in a bid to be clear and emphasize the continued need for social connection even when people are physically separated.

World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Friday urged countries to refrain from using medicines that have not been demonstrated to be effective against COVID-19.

WATCH | WHO chief says 'there are no shortcuts' to treating COVID-19:

The World Health Organization is warning people against using unproven treatments in the fight against the coronavirus. 2:21

Small businesses wage subsidy gets big boost

Speaking outside his home at Rideau Cottage, Trudeau said he knows recent weeks have been "heartbreaking" for business owners and entrepreneurs.

He said the government, which had previously announced a temporary 10-per-cent wage subsidy, will boost that to 75 per cent for qualifying businesses — a move many in the business world, as well as labour groups and opposition politicians, had called for.

"We're helping companies keep people on the payroll so that workers are supported and the economy is positioned to recover from this," Trudeau said.

The prime minister said the subsidy for small- and medium-sized businesses would be backdated to mid-March. More details about the plan for small businesses, including a loan program, will be released in the coming days, he said.

A movie theatre with a billboard announcing its closure is seen in Vancouver on Friday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Also Friday, the Bank of Canada made an unscheduled announcement, dropping its benchmark rate by 50 basis points to 0.25 per cent in an effort to support an economy hit hard by the outbreak.

Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz said the whole world is being impacted by the COVID-19 shock, but said some economies are being affected also by the oil price competition between Russia and Saudi Arabia. That means the Canadian economy has two shocks to deal with, he said.

The budget watchdog for Parliament, meanwhile, is projecting the federal deficit in the coming fiscal year could hit $112.7 billion — a jump of almost $90 billion from previous forecasts. An online post from the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) said the "economic and fiscal outlook is extremely uncertain" and noted that the office will "update its scenario analysis as necessary" as more information and data becomes available. 

"We stress that this scenario is not a forecast of the most likely outcome. It is an illustrative scenario of one possible outcome," the PBO post said.

Alberta Health Services employees speak with drivers at a drive-thru testing facility in Calgary on Friday. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

South of the border, the United States now has the most recorded cases of any country in the world, surpassing China — where the outbreak began — and Italy, which has been the epicentre of the outbreak in Europe. 

According to a case tracking system maintained by Johns Hopkins University, there are more than 100,000 cases in the U.S, with more than 1,500 deaths.

The Canada-U.S. border continues to be the subject of discussions, with the Canadian government balking at reported U.S. plans to station American troops near the border and to deport asylum-seekers turned back by Canada due to temporary pandemic containment measures.

"When we have more information, we'll share it," Trudeau said Friday. "We continue to engage closely in back-and-forths with the American administration on many, many issues around the border."

U.K. PM tests positive

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Friday that he, too, had tested positive for COVID-19. 

"Over the last 24 hours I have developed mild symptoms and tested positive for coronavirus," Johnson said. "I am now self-isolating, but I will continue to lead the government's response via video-conference as we fight this virus." 

Johnson, 55, was the first leader of a major nation known to have contracted COVID-19. Matt Hancock, the U.K.'s health secretary, also tested positive for coronavirus. Hancock said on Twitter that his symptoms are mild and he's working from home while self-isolating.

WATCH | U.K. prime minister tests positive for COVID-19:

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says he has tested positive for COVID-19 and has mild symptoms. Meanwhile, the health-care systems in Spain and Italy are overwhelmed as cases continue to rise. 2:10

The news comes after a spokesperson for Clarence House announced that Prince Charles had tested positive and was self-isolating.

On Friday, health officials said Britain had 14,579 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and 759 people have died — 181 deaths in 24 hours, the highest daily toll yet.

Here's what's happening in Canada's provinces and territories

In British Columbia, people who ignore COVID-19 public health orders face a fine of up to $25,000. The province has also banned reselling essential supplies, including cleaning materials and personal protective equipment. Read more about what's happening in B.C., including a note of cautious optimism from health officials who said Friday that physical distancing restrictions are succeeding.

Alberta announced the immediate closure of all non-essential businesses Friday, including close-contact businesses such as hair salons and barber shops, tattoo and piercing studios and esthetic services, and limited public gatherings to 15 people or fewer. Read more about what's happening in Alberta, including a story from Edmonton about a laptop drive aiming to connect marginalized people during the coronavirus pandemic.

Saskatchewan is releasing more information about COVID-19 cases in the province, including information on residents who have recovered after testing positive. The province, which has reported 95 cases, lists three cases as recovered. Read more about what's happening in Saskatchewan, which announced a new appointment-only testing site in Regina. 

Manitoba is expanding its COVID-19 testing to include symptomatic health workers, people who live in group care settings (including long-term care and remote work camps), inmates and more. Chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin also said all people living on First Nations in the province who are experiencing respiratory symptoms will be tested. Read more about what's happening in Manitoba, which recorded its first death on Friday.

An infectious disease specialist in Toronto is warning that "it's almost inevitable" that hospitals in Ontario are going to see a surge in COVID-19 casesDr. Andrew Morris says it's not yet clear exactly when it will happen but said the best estimates suggest clinicians will "start seeing a rise in the next week or so," and will see cases continue to increase for weeks, if not months. Read more about what's happening in Ontario, where one city has set up a new snitch line for reporting physical-distancing violations.

WATCH | WW II veteran dies from COVID-19, family unable to say goodbye:

The family of a Second World War veteran who died from COVID-19 was unable to visit him in the hospital to prevent further spread. 1:47

In Quebec, Premier François Legault is urging anyone who is in a position to help to volunteer at places like food banks, which are seeing an increase in demand. And Montreal declared a local state of emergency over fears of a COVID-19 outbreak among the city's homeless. Read more about what's happening in Quebec, including the story of a nurse working at one of Montreal's testing sites.

WATCH: Drone video of Montreal shows once-bustling public spaces nearly empty

As people isolate themselves around the world due to the coronavirus, drone footage taken over Montreal shows what things look like from high above. 0:58

New Brunswick's premier says between 25,000 and 30,000 people in the province have already lost their jobs in the COVID-19 pandemic. "We are facing a situation unlike we have ever experienced before," Blaine Higgs said Thursday. Read more about what's happening in New Brunswick, including an effort to connect laid-off workers with food manufacturers struggling to keep up with demand.

In Nova Scotia, the head of the province's telephone health service says anyone who gets a referral will get a COVID-19 test. Dr. Todd Howlett, medical director of 811, said the service is adapting to meet the demand created by the outbreak. Read more about what's happening in Nova Scotia.

Prince Edward Island has reported a total of nine cases of COVID-19, including at least one who has recovered. Read more about what's happening on P.E.I.

People practice social distancing while lining up to buy supplies from a shop in Barcelona on Friday. (Emilio Morenatti/Associated Press)

In Newfoundland and Labrador, the health minister says the province's public health emergency could last months. "I am pretty sure that it's going to be some time in June," John Haggie said. "Whether or not we make a Canada Day celebration, time will tell." Read more about what's happening in N.L.

Yukon's government is banning residential evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Air North, meanwhile, is laying off more than half of its workers and reducing service because of the outbreak. Read more about what's happening across Canada's North.

Here's what's happening in the United States

From Reuters, updated at 5:00 p.m. ET

U.S. doctors and nurses on the front lines of the coronavirus outbreak came under increasing stress on Friday as the number of cases skyrocketed and hospital staff were forced to ration care for an overwhelming number of patients, a day after the U.S. surpassed a grim milestone, becoming the country with the highest number of infections in the world.

One emergency room doctor in Michigan said he was using a single paper face mask for an entire shift due to a shortage and that his hospital would soon run out of ventilators, the machines needed by sufferers of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus, to help them breathe.

After claiming on Thursday that he believed the numbers of ventilators being requested by states were sometimes exaggerated, U.S. President Donald Trump promised an announcement later Friday on the purchase of additional ones.

On Friday, Trump signed a sweeping $2.2-trillion relief bill into law, only hours after it had been approved by the House of Representatives, after having been passed by the Senate earlier this week. 

Trump also signed an order under the Defence Production Act mandating carmaker General Motors to produce ventilators for hard-hit hospitals. A later White House memo said that Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar would determine the number of ventilators GM must now produce.

WATCH | Trump orders GM to make ventilators:

U.S. President Donald Trump signed an order under the Defence Production Act mandating carmaker General Motors to produce ventilators for hard-hit hospitals 0:58

Here's what's happening in Europe

From Reuters and The Associated Press, updated at 5 p.m. ET

Italy has become the second country to overtake China in coronavirus infections, reaching 86,498 cases on the same day it recorded its single biggest leap in deaths, with 969 more victims. Italy has recorded more virus-related deaths than any other country in the world, and has reported a further 9,134.

And in Vatican City, Pope Francis gave a dramatic, solitary prayer service to an eerily empty St. Peter's Square. Sitting alone in a square that normally draws tens of thousands of people, but is now closed because of the pandemic, he urged the world to see the crisis as a test of solidarity and a reminder of basic values. "We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed," he said. "All of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other. On this boat … are all of us. All of us."

WATCH | Pope Francis holds solitary Vatican service for those dealing with the coronavirus

Under darkness and rain, Pope Francis holds solitary Vatican service for those dealing with COVID-19 virus 1:23

France is extending its nationwide confinement measures another two weeks past the original end date of Tuesday, until April 15. Saying "we are only at the beginning" of the virus wave, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced the extension Friday. The move comes after the head of the French Hospital Federation said hospitals in and around Paris will be swamped within 48 hours, with the peak not expected until April. France has reported nearly 1,700 deaths, the fifth-highest number of any country worldwide, including a 16-year-old schoolgirl from the Essonne region, the youngest person in the country to die from COVID-19.

Spain's coronavirus death toll rose overnight by 769 cases to 4,858, the health ministry said on Friday, a new record in the number of fatalities recorded in 24 hours. The total number of those infected rose by more than 7,800 on Friday to 64,059.

A doctor takes a sample from a driver at a drive-thru testing point for the novel coronavirus in a parking lot in Halle, Germany, on Friday. (Ronny Hartmann/AFP/Getty Images)

Ireland on Friday ordered a lockdown until April 12, with Prime Minister Leo Varadkar telling citizens to leave home only for grocery shopping, brief exercise or essential family visits. Travel more than two kilometres from home is banned, while all those over 70 are being instructed to "cocoon."

"I'm appealing to every man, woman and child to make these sacrifices for the love of each other … Show that you care for your family and friends: Stay home," Varadkar told a news conference.

Germany has proposed using big data and location tracking to isolate people with coronavirus once social distancing measures now in force have slowed its spread, media reported on Friday.

A member of the Iranian army walks past rows of beds at a temporary 2,000-bed hospital for COVID-19 patients in Tehran. (Ebrahim Noroozi/Associated Press)

Poland has temporarily closed its borders to thousands of cross-border workers. The measures take effect Friday and require cross-border workers to stay on one side of the border until April 11, just before Easter. Except for trucks and trains carrying goods, anyone crossing into Poland will be put on 14-day quarantine. The country has confirmed 1,244 cases of infection and 16 people have died.

In southern Finland, police are preparing to enforce the new regulation aimed at ceasing all unnecessary human traffic to and from Uusimaa, the region that includes the capital, Helsinki, according to Social Affairs Minister Krista Kiuru. The Nordic country has so far confirmed 958 coronavirus cases — the vast majority of them in Uusimaa — and five deaths. The exceptional move, which is set to end April 19, affects the daily lives of some 1.7 million people, nearly a third of Finland's population.

Switzerland's infections topped 11,800 as the government pumped money into the economy and army medical units helped hospitals. Swiss authorities are lighting up one of their most famed landmarks, the Matterhorn, to show solidarity in the fight against the coronavirus.

Here's a look at what's happening in some other parts of the world

Iran has confirmed another 144 deaths from the coronavirus and says thousands more are in critical condition as the military completed work on a 2,000-bed field hospital in an exhibition centre in the capital. Iran has reported nearly 2,400 deaths among more than 32,000 cases.

Iranian officials have repeatedly insisted they have the outbreak under control, despite concerns it could overwhelm the country's health facilities. Authorities have urged people to stay home but have not imposed the sweeping lockdowns seen elsewhere in the region.

Red Cross workers carry boxes containing emergency relief kits at a Korean National Red Cross facility in Seoul. (Ahn Young-joon/Associated Press)

Brazil on Friday barred all non-residents from entering the country through its airports. At the same time, President Jair Bolsonaro urged Brazilians to return to work instead of practicing measures like physical distancing. Bolsonaro, whose response to the pandemic has brought him criticism from both the public and state governors, launched a #BrazilCannotStop television campaign on Friday, reminiscent of the #MilanWillNotStop campaign, which became popular in Italy until the country became the global epicentre of the outbreak. While the mayor of Milan later apologized for promoting #MilanWillNotStop, Bolsonaro has said he wants to keep the Brazilian economy running, scoffing at the "hysteria" surrounding a virus he calls "a little flu."

South Korea said it will block any passenger with even a mild fever from entering the country starting next week to counter a rise in coronavirus cases linked to arrivals from abroad. Health Ministry official Koh Deuk-young on Friday said all airlines flying to South Korea from Monday will be required to screen passengers for fevers and deny boarding to anyone with a temperature higher than 37.5 C. Koh said airlines will refund tickets for those who are denied flights.

South Korea in past weeks has been scrambling to strengthen border controls, including enforcing two-week quarantines on South Korean nationals and foreigners with long-term stay visas arriving from the United States and Europe amid broadening outbreaks in the West.

A police officer chases a person who violated lockdown in Johannesburg on Friday. (Jerome Delay/Associated Press)

Chinese leader Xi Jinping has told U.S. President Donald Trump that China "understands the United States's current predicament over the COVID-19 outbreak and stands ready to provide support within its capacity." The official Xinhua News Agency said Xi delivered the message in a call to Trump on Friday, in which he also urged the U.S. to "take substantive action in improving bilateral relations."

In the phone call, Xi "suggested that the two sides work together to boost co-operation in epidemic control and other fields, and develop a relationship of non-conflict, non-confrontation, mutual respect and win-win co-operation," the official Xinhua News Agency reported. The virus outbreak was first reported in China in December and now appears to have peaked in the country, even while the government remains on guard against imported cases.

South Africa has announced its first two deaths from the coronavirus as the country's cases rose above 1,000. The health minister said in a statement that the deaths occurred in Western Cape province. South Africa has the most cases in Africa and as of midnight entered a three-week lockdown. The military is in the streets helping to enforce measures that include bans on alcohol sales. Concerns are high about water supply in crowded, low-income townships.

Mexico reported 717 cases and 12 deaths as of Friday night. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has been criticized for not taking the epidemic seriously enough, but in recent days has made more of an effort to urge Mexicans to stay at home and be aware of the symptoms. On Friday, he announced 17 military-operated hospitals that will increase the number of intensive care beds are nearing completion.

Indonesia's coronavirus cases surpassed 1,000 in the biggest one-day jump as the government ordered mass testing across the country to contain the disease's spread. The government on Friday confirmed 153 new COVID-19 cases, with 87 deaths. Indonesia has planned to distribute about a half million test kits across the archipelago nation, which is home for 270 million people.

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      With files from The Associated Press, Reuters and The Canadian Press

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