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Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on March 24

Canada's chief medical health officer Dr. Theresa Tam says an equal number of Canadians who have tested positive for COVID-19 contracted the virus from travel and from community transmission.

Olympics will be delayed amid coronavirus outbreak, Japanese PM says

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam speaks at a news conference on COVID-19 at West Block on Parliament Hill on Tuesday. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

The latest:

Roughly half of the more than 2,700 people in Canada with the coronavirus got it from community transmission, marking a fundamental shift in how the virus is spread, according to the country's chief medical health officer. 

Dr. Theresa Tam said Tuesday the trend is turning toward community transmission, as opposed to contracting the coronavirus from travel.

Nearly 90 per cent of new cases reported to the public health agency since last week were due to community transmission, according to deputy chief public health officer Dr. Howard Njoo.

Tam said if Canada is going to get a handle on community spread, social distancing and maintaining a two-metre barrier between people is essential.

She also said 220 passengers from the Grand Princess cruise ship who have completed their 14-day quarantine at CFB Trenton in Ontario and are symptom-free were released earlier in the day.

A lone commuter wearing a protective mask enters a subway car in Montreal on Tuesday. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

In Peru, a chartered plane carrying 402 Canadians departed Lima and was en route to Toronto.

The Canadians were stranded in Peru after the South American country closed its borders on March 16 in an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19. 

Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said there are more flights planned to depart from Peru later this week.

WATCH | Stranded Canadians prepare to leave Peru:

Hundreds of Canadians, stranded when the country closed its borders to contain the COVID-19 outbreak, are now preparing to leave. 1:17

The Foreign Affairs Department said an additional flight is planned for Morocco, where Canada has already repatriated hundreds of citizens.

More than a million Canadian citizens and permanent residents returned home last week as governments around the world ramped their response to the coronavirus pandemic. 

A spokesperson for the Canada Border Services Agency said 959,600 Canadians and 43,890 permanent residents returned between March 14 and 20. That lines up with when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau began urging Canadians to avoid all international travel and Champagne told tourists to get home as soon as possible. 

Meanwhile, a small number of MPs are back in Ottawa today, a day after provincial governments in Ontario and Quebec issued orders calling for the closure of non-essential businesses in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The MPs were returning to vote on measures to spend billions on aid for families and businesses struggling to cope as the outbreak hammers the economy, but quickly suspended that vote to negotiate the finer points of the legislation.

Cases of COVID-19 have been reported in people in every province and territory except Nunavut. Ontario and Quebec, along with British Columbia, have reported the most cases to date.

A railway worker sprays disinfectants in Jammu, India, on Tuesday. (Channi Anand/Associated Press)

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said Tuesday that Canadians have "overwhelmingly" risen to the challenges presented by COVID-19.

Scheer said all parties recognize that these are "unprecedented times" that require urgent action. He said his party would work to get measures passed to ensure funding flows to Canadians who need it — but he also noted that Conservatives would continue to ask "tough questions" about how the crisis is being handled by the Trudeau government.

"We've already pointed out some gaps that we believe should be addressed," he said, including a call for the government to increase the support it is offering small businesses.

WATCH | Andrew Scheer on government's COVID-19 response:

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says Parliament must continue to provide oversight of the government during the COVID-19 crisis.  1:03

Conservatives want to ensure the economic aid bill is focused on measures that help Canadians, Scheer said, adding that all other conversations about new powers for the government need to be part of a separate discussion.

The message from cities and provinces — to stay home, keep a safe distance from others and avoid groups — is also coming straight from the prime minister. 

On Monday, Trudeau urged people to "go home and stay home." 

"This is what we all need to be doing, and we're going to make sure this happens, whether by educating people more on the risks, or by enforcing the rules, if that's needed," Trudeau said at his daily briefing. "Nothing that could help is off the table." 

The prime minister repeated that message Tuesday, saying if people don't follow guidelines the government will put "more stringent" measures in place. 

The federal government has so far declined to invoke the Emergencies Act, which gives it temporary authority to do things like restrict travel and impose fines if people don't comply with rules issued under the act. But at least one premier, New Brunswick's Blaine Higgs, has said a federal emergency declaration would allow for a more unified national response.

WATCH | Premiers say federal Emergencies Act not necessary yet: Trudeau:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he and the provincial and territorial leaders spoke about the possibility of invoking the federal Emergencies Act as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads. 1:31

In business, WestJet said it's laying off thousands of workers amid a downturn it blames on the pandemic.

The Calgary-based airline said the vast majority of the departing 6,900 employees are doing so voluntarily. That number represents about half of its workforce, the company said in a statement. 

Later Tuesday, the airline said it had been advised that some two dozen of its flights in the past three weeks carried passengers who tested positive for the coronavirus.

Additionally, Parks Canada announced it will close all national parks to visitors starting Wednesday.

India to go under 21-day lockdown, Olympics delayed

The coronavirus pandemic has infected more than 382,000 people and killed more than 16,500 worldwide. COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, results in mild or moderate symptoms in most people — but severe symptoms are more likely in the elderly or those with existing health problems. More than 101,000 people have recovered so far, mostly in China.

In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to the country ahead of a sweeping 21-day lockdown plan.

Indian health officials have reported 469 active cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, and 10 deaths. Officials have repeatedly insisted there is no evidence yet of communal spread but have conducted relatively scant testing for the disease.

Swings are taped off and closed at a park in Vancouver on Tuesday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Modi said in a televised speech Tuesday night that people across the country need to stay in their homes. If the 21-day lockdown isn't handled properly, he said, it could set the country back 21 years. Modi called Tuesday's order a "total lockdown" and did not address whether any service providers would be exempt. He said that "all steps have been taken by central and state government to ensure supply of essential items."

The pandemic has led to border restrictions and business closures — and now, it has led to the postponement of the 2020 Olympics.

WATCH | Scott Russell of CBC Sports weighs in on the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics:

CBC Sports' Scott Russell says the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics could jeopardize careers of some of Canada's older athletes. 5:57

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Tuesday the International Olympic Committee president has agreed to delay the Summer Games amid growing concern about the pandemic that has infected hundreds of thousands of people around the world.

The announcement came a day after Canada's Olympic and Paralympic committees announced that they would not be sending athletes to Tokyo this summer if the Games went ahead as planned.

Abe said IOC president Thomas Bach is "in agreement 100 per cent" about the decision. The prime minister said the decision to postpone makes it possible "for athletes to play in the best condition and to make the event a safe and secure one for spectators."

WHO chief says pandemic is 'accelerating'

World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Monday that the pandemic is "accelerating." 

"It took 67 days from the first reported case to reach the first 100,000 cases, 11 days for the second 100,000 cases and just four days for the third 100,000 cases. You can see how the virus is accelerating," he said.

But he noted that people and governments aren't "helpless bystanders" to the outbreak. "We can change the trajectory of this pandemic."

He said defensive measures like social distancing are important, but urged an "attack" as well. Tedros urged governments to test every suspected case, isolate and care for every confirmed case and find and quarantine close contacts of COVID-19 patients.

WATCH | Grocery stores stepping up safety measures:

With grocery stores among the dwindling number of businesses still open to the general public during the COVID-19 pandemic, some companies have stepped up measures to try to protect their cashiers and shelf stockers. 2:14

The WHO chief also expressed concern about rising case numbers among health-care workers.

"Even if we do everything else right, if we don't prioritize protecting health workers, many people will die because the health worker who could have saved their life is sick," he said.

On Tuesday, after more than a week in which China said the vast majority of new virus cases were imported from abroad, authorities said the restrictions in Hubei would end. People cleared by health authorities would be able to leave the province after midnight. The city of Wuhan itself will remain locked down until April 8.

Read on for a look at what's happening in Canada's provinces and territories, the U.S. and around the world.

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

In British Columbia, the premier announced a $5-billion coronavirus relief plan. The plan, which Finance Minister Carole James described as a "first step, but a critical step" includes funding for people whose livelihoods have been impacted by the coronavirus fallout, as well as for businesses. Read more about what's happening in B.C.

People wait to be tested at a COVID-19 assessment centre in Toronto on Tuesday. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Alberta's top public health official says her team is closely tracking community transmission, saying "that is our biggest concern." Dr. Deena Hinshaw said there are existing measures to deal with returning travellers, a message Premier Jason Kenney reiterated Monday when he urged people returning home from the U.S. to take self-isolation seriously, saying it isn't a "vague general hint or suggestion." Read more about what's happening in Alberta.

An internal Saskatchewan Health Authority document estimates a "worst-case scenario" of up to 15,000 deaths in the province. The SHA document predicted a 30 per cent infection rate, dwindling medical supplies and overwhelmed hospitals. Read more about what's happening in Saskatchewan.

In Manitoba, officials say people arriving in the province should self-isolate for 14 days — even if their travel was inside Canada. There are some exceptions, including truckers and people who live on one side of a provincial border and work on the other. But chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said Monday: "I want to make it clear that this is not just a suggestion." Read more about what's happening in Manitoba, which reported a new case on Tuesday.

Ontario says it will temporarily lower electricity rates in response to the increased number of people working from home. All of the current time-of-use pricing will be moved to off-peak rates, Premier Doug Ford said. Read more about what's happening in Ontario.

A shopper washes their hands at a supermarket in Fredericton, N.B., on Tuesday. (Maria José Burgos/CBC)

Several regional daily newspapers in Quebec has ceased their print editions, citing a drop in ad revenue amid the COVID-19 economic fallout.  Le Soleil, La Tribune, Le Quotidien, Le Nouvelliste, Le Droit and La Voix de l'Est will also lay off a total of 143 workers. Read more about what's happening in Quebec.

Newfoundland and Labrador's government is ordering more businesses closed as the province sees more cases of COVID-19. "We are actively considering further actions to reduce our risk," chief medical officer of health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said Monday. Read more about what's happening in N.L.

New Brunswick's premier wants to see a national approach to stopping COVID-19. Premier Blaine Higgs said he's in favour of the prime minister invoking the Emergencies Act, saying it would unify the approach to handling the growing outbreak. Read more about what's happening in N.B.

Passengers wear protective gear as they wait in line to check in for their flights at JFK airport in New York on Tuesday. (Mary Altaffer/Associated Press)

Children in Nova Scotia likely won't be back in class in early April, the province's top public health official says. "I just need to signal to people that this is in all likelihood not just a two-week period. It's longer than that," Dr. Robert Strang said Monday. Read more about what's happening in N.S., where police say they will move cautiously on enforcing rules under the province's state of emergency.

Prince Edward Island has set up a "strict" system of fines for people who aren't following rules aimed at stamping out COVID-19. Read more about what's happening on P.E.I.

Nunavut is closing its border to all but returning residents and critical workers in a bid to slow the spread of COVID-19. The Northwest Territories government is closing a major highway and Yukon is dealing with its first reported cases of COVID-19 after a couple returned from the U.S. Read more about what's happening in the North.

Canada has more than 2,700 confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19. Here's a look at the number of cases — including deaths and recoveries — by province.

  • British Columbia: 617 confirmed cases, including 173 resolved and 13 deaths.
  • Ontario: 588 confirmed cases, including eight resolved and seven deaths.
  • Alberta: 358 confirmed cases, including three resolved and two deaths.
  • Quebec: 1013 confirmed cases, including one resolved and four deaths.
  • Saskatchewan: 72 confirmed and presumptive cases.
  • Manitoba: 21 confirmed and presumptive cases.
  • New Brunswick: 18 confirmed and presumptive cases.
  • Nova Scotia: 51 confirmed cases, including one resolved.
  • Prince Edward Island: Three cases the province lists as positive.
  • Newfoundland and Labrador: 35 confirmed and presumptive cases.
  • Northwest Territories: One confirmed case.
  • Yukon: Two confirmed cases.
  • Repatriated Canadians not included above: 13 confirmed cases.

Presumptive cases are individuals who have tested positive, but still await confirmation with the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg. Not all provinces are listing figures on those who have recovered. The recent COVID-19 related death of a Canadian in Japan is not currently included in the province-by-province tally of cases.

Here's what's happening in the U.S.

From Reuters, CBC News and The Associated Press, updated at 7 p.m. ET

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo sounded his most dire warning yet about the pandemic Tuesday, saying the infection rate in his state is accelerating and could be as close as two weeks away from a crisis that sees 40,000 people in intensive care.

Such a surge would overwhelm hospitals, which now have just 3,000 intensive care unit beds statewide. The rate of new infections, Cuomo said, is doubling about every three days.

New York state has seen more than 25,000 cases and at least 210 deaths, according to official figures. Most have been in New York City, an emerging worldwide hotspot in the outbreak.

The Illinois National Guard operates a COVID-19 drive-thru test site for medical personnel and first responders Chicago on Tuesday. (Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)

Deborah Birx — the response co-ordinator for the White House's COVID-19 task force — said about 56 per cent of the cases in the U.S. are coming out of the New York metro area. 

Birx said anyone leaving the area should self-quarantine for 14 days after they reach their destination.

About one per 1,000 people leaving the area are infected, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is advising President Donald Trump on the pandemic. He says that's eight to 10 times more than in other areas.

WATCH / Officials say all leaving New York must self-isolate:

"You may have been exposed before you left New York City" 1:43

According to the WHO, there are more than 42,000 confirmed cases and more than 470 deaths in the U.S.

Cuomo also balked at Trump's call to loosen COVID-19 restrictions to get people back to work and everyday activities soon — possibly in a few weeks.

He said the American people would choose public health over the economy.

WATCH / Cuomo angry at Trump's call to ease COVID-19 restrictions:

'No American is going to say accelerate the economy at the cost of human life,' says Cuomo, whose state is hardest-hit 1:53

"No American is going to say 'Accelerate the economy at the cost of human life,'" he said.

Trump said earlier in the day he would "love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter," which falls on April 12 this year.

Cuomo has also called on the administration to nationalize the medical supply chain and use the Defense Production Act to force private companies to produce needed supplies.Meanwhile in Congress, Democrats and Republicans said on Tuesday they were close to reaching a deal on a $2-trillion US coronavirus economic stimulus package, raising hopes that Congress could soon act to try to limit the economic fallout from the pandemic.

A person wearing a face mask is seen in London on Tuesday. (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC)

Democrats have twice blocked attempts to advance the bill, saying it did not provide enough money for states and hospitals, lacked sufficient aid for unemployed Americans and did not include adequate supervision of a massive fund to aid big businesses.

Wall Street jumped at the open on Tuesday at signs that Washington was nearing a deal, but the World Health Organization said the U.S. had seen a "very large acceleration" of infections.

Asked whether the United States could become the new epicentre of the outbreak, WHO spokesperson Margaret Harris said: "We are now seeing a very large acceleration in cases in the U.S. So it does have that potential."

Here's what's happening in Europe

From The Associated Press and Reuters, updated at 12:30 p.m. ET

Confusion rippled through Britain on the first morning after Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered a three-week halt to all non-essential activity to fight the spread of the new coronavirus. Despite telling most stores to close and ordering people not to leave their homes except to access essential services, photos on Tuesday showed crowded subway trains amid confusion about who is still allowed to go to work. The government says police will have powers to fine people who flout the rules, but some expressed doubts about whether the lockdown could be enforced.

A patient is transferred to a medicalized hotel in Madrid, Spain, on Tuesday. (Bernat Armangue/Associated Press)

Ireland banned all non-essential travel within the country and shut non-essential retail on Tuesday while significantly increasing income support for those already left unemployed. The additional measures are on top of some €3 billion (roughly $4.67 billion Cdn) already committed to boost sick pay, fund the health service and offer assistance to businesses, Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said.

In Italy, declines in both new cases and deaths for a second consecutive day provided a faint glimmer of hope. Officials said Monday that the virus had claimed slightly more than 600 additional lives, down from 793 two days earlier. The outbreak has killed more than 6,000 Italians, the highest death toll of any country, and pushed the health system to the breaking point there and in Spain.

WATCH | Scenes from European cities dealing with COVID-19:

European cities struggle with life and death issues as the coronavirus takes hold. 1:08

Meanwhile, German hospitals with spare capacity on Tuesday welcomed their first coronavirus patients from Italy. A first group of six patients arrived at Leipzig airport in the eastern state of Saxony on Tuesday morning, while the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia also announced plans to take 10 more over coming days. Germany, the first country to take in Italian patients, has 27,000 confirmed coronavirus cases of its own but only 114 deaths and is using the time before the expected surge to strengthen its intensive care capacity.

Spain reported its sharpest daily increase in coronavirus cases on Tuesday, with infections rising among health workers, while funeral vans began arriving at Madrid's ice rink, hastily transformed into a makeshift morgue. Madrid is one of the hardest hit of Spain's 17 regions, with some 1,300 deaths, approximately half the national total. The number of deaths overall in the country also jumped by a record number of 514 to 2,696. 

A Buddhist monk wearing a face mask has their temperature checked by a Korea Red Cross official at the Jogyesa temple in Seoul on Tuesday. (Ahn Young-joon/Associated Press)

In the Netherlands, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases rose by 811 on Tuesday, a 17 per cent increase from a day earlier to a total of 5,560, health authorities said. There were 63 new deaths, the largest increase yet, bringing the country's total to 276, the National Institute for Health said in a daily update.

Armenia banned all people from walking on the streets without a passport on Tuesday while only those over 65 are allowed to shop between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m., Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said in a televised address. Pashinyan also announced that 1,000 businesses would close, leaving only grocery stores, pharmacies and banks open for at least a week. Armenia has reported 249 cases of coronavirus so far, with no deaths. 

Norway on Tuesday extended restrictions on a range of public and private institutions because of the coronavirus pandemic until April 13, including the closure of schools and nurseries. With the decision, Norway is joining Denmark in prolonging the restrictions, which include refusing entry to foreigners who do not live and work in the country and forbidding people to go to their cabins if they have one until after the Easter holiday.

Here's a look at what's happening elsewhere, including hard-hit areas like Iran and South Korea

From Reuters and The Associated Press, updated at 9 a.m. ET

Iran's death toll from the coronavirus outbreak increased by 122 in the past 24 hours to 1,934, Health Ministry spokesperson Kianoush Jahanpour said on Tuesday. The total number of people diagnosed with COVID-19
increased by 1,762 in the past 24 hours, to 24,811, he added on state TV.  There are over 31,000 confirmed cases of the virus across the Mideast, the vast majority in the hard-hit nation of Iran.

South Korea says 19 of 1,444 passengers who arrived from Europe on Sunday were found to have the coronavirus, the first cases detected after authorities began testing all people coming from the continent. South Korean Health Ministry official Yoon Tae-ho also said Tuesday that 101 of some 1,200 passengers who arrived from Europe on Monday have exhibited fever or respiratory symptoms. South Korea says it will fully fund the treatment for virus carriers regardless of their nationality. Even if they test negative, South Korean nationals arriving from Europe or foreigners who enter the country from Europe on long-term stay visas are required to quarantine themselves at home for two weeks.

In Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro is sticking with his contention that concern about the new coronavirus is overblown, and has accused Brazilian media of trying to stoke nationwide hysteria. Bolsonaro said in a nationally televised address that the media had seized on the death toll in Italy, which he said is suffering so severely  because of its elderly population and colder climate.

"The virus arrived, we are confronting it, and it will pass shortly. Our lives have to continue, jobs should be maintained," he said. About 2,200 people in Brazil have been infected so far, with 46 dead.

South Africa's coronavirus cases leapt again to 554 on Tuesday, the most of any country in Africa, as its 57 million people rushed to prepare for a lockdown that begins Thursday. President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday night announced the 21-day lockdown. Rwanda and Tunisia earlier announced lockdowns. Workers in South Africa will be required to stay home except for those in essential services including health care and security, as well as the production and distribution of food, utilities and medical products. Across Africa, 43 of its 54 countries now have cases, with the total at 1,788. Thirteen countries have reported 58 deaths. South Africa has not recorded one.

Egypt will impose a two-week, nightly curfew in the Arab world's most-populous country in an effort to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, its prime minister announced Tuesday as the International Monetary Fund warned a lack of supplies could affect the Mideast's poorest nations. Egypt has 366 confirmed cases and 21 fatalities, including two senior military officers. The IMF, which traditionally has urged governments to implement greater austerity measures, now urges Mideast governments to offer temporary tax relief and cash transfers. It also warned a lack of medical supplies could hurt Iraq, Sudan and Yemen if it leads to a surge in prices.

Authorities enforced lockdowns across most of India, Nepal and parts of Pakistan on Tuesday to halt the spread of coronavirus in one of the world's most densely populated regions, as four NATO personnel tested positive in Afghanistan.

WATCH | Wuhan springs to life as COVID-19 recedes:

The city of Wuhan, China is bustling with activity as a two-month coronavirus lockdown ends. 0:31

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

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