The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for Nov. 25
- Coronavirus tracker: Follow the spread of COVID-19 as case numbers remain high in most of Canada.
- Alberta doctors, health-care advocates say province's new COVID-19 restrictions don't go far enough.
- Small retailers push back against lockdown policies that favour big-box stores.
- A look at how Canadians in Australia grade that country's response to a virus surge.
- Read more: Recent polling of Canada's conservative premiers amid coronavirus surge could give them pause; U.S. heads into Thanksgiving with distressing COVID-19 death toll, hospitalizations.
Ontario auditor general highly critical of province's COVID-19 response
Ontario's response to the COVID-19 pandemic was hampered by poor emergency preparedness, inadequate lab capacity and a disorganized public health system, according to a report issued Wednesday by Bonnie Lysyk, the province's auditor general.
"Ontario's response to COVID-19 in the winter and spring of 2020 was slower and more reactive relative to most other provinces and many other international jurisdictions," Lysyk says in the report.
The report looks at general and specific and finds fault in a number of areas, including: weaknesses in public health lab and information systems that were repeatedly flagged following the 2003 SARS crisis but which were never addressed; an "overly cumbersome" command structure for the COVID-19 response; delays in testing and regional public health unit responses to positive cases; and an order for all long-term care facility workers to wear masks on shift that didn't come until nearly a month after the World Health Organization declared a pandemic.
With respect to the command structure — the development of which included a payment of $1.6 million to a consultant — Lysyk characterized the decision not to give its chief medical officer of health the lead role in its COVID-19 response as "unusual."
Health Minister Christine Elliott called the report a disappointment.
"We have different views on various aspects of her report," Elliott said.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford scoffed, "I'm really proud that the auditor general just got a medical degree and became a doctor over the last year or so."
The auditor says a second special report on COVID-19, which will focus on health-related pandemic expenditures, personal protective equipment and long-term care, will be issued soon.
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Alberta doctors, health-care advocates say new restrictions are inadequate
Premier Jason Kenney on Tuesday announced new measures for Alberta in the face of growing coronavirus cases, including a ban on indoor social gatherings and some students moving to online learning, but businesses like restaurants, bars and casinos are allowed to remain open.
"Alberta priorities: schools closed, but bars stay open," Dr. Ilan Schwartz, an infectious disease researcher at the University of Alberta, posted on Twitter in response.
Sandra Azocar, executive director of the public health-care non-profit Friends of Medicare, is questioning Kenney's contention that the restrictions are based on an understanding of where transmission is taking place.
"How can the government possibly claim that they are making data-based policy decisions when we have virtually no provincial contact tracing data for the last three weeks?" she said.
Meanwhile, The Canadian Federation of Independent Business is pleased restrictions are allowing businesses to continue to operate at reduced capacity, unlike wider shutdowns seen in Manitoba and Ontario, which both have lower active case counts than Alberta.
"A blanket lockdown would have pushed Alberta small businesses to the brink of closure," the federation says.
As of Tuesday, there were 348 patients in provincial hospitals due to the virus, with 66 in intensive care.
Small retailers push back against lockdown policies that favour big-box stores
Small business operators in Toronto and Peel regions not considered as essential services are chafing at the new Ontario restrictions that mandate they need to close for in-person shopping, even as big-box stores that sell essentials like groceries can also ring up sales for other items.
Said Tracy Pepe, owner of The Scented L'air, an essential oil shop in Brampton, "We have done many things beyond expectations to keep our customers safe and we follow the protocol."
The timing couldn't be worse for small business owners.
"If retailers miss out on four weeks in late November [and] early December, they're done," said Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB).
Kelly Ackerman, co-owner of Face to Face Games echoes that concern.
"If back in March you told me, 'Hey, pick one month you're allowed to be open this year and be closed the other 11,' it would be from now until January 1," Ackerman said. "Typically we see two to three times our daily sales this time of year because people are shopping for their family, for their friends."
Ontario Premier Doug Ford said earlier this week it would "be a logistical nightmare" for big-box stores to only be able to sell some of the items they have on offer.
The CFIB is calling on the Ontario government to adjust the rules so that small businesses can serve up to three in-person customers at once and salvage some earnings at the tail end of a difficult year.
How Australia succeeded in lowering COVID-19 cases to near-zero
When Australia was hit with a surge of COVID-19 cases in late July, just weeks after declaring victory against the first wave, it prompted one of the world's longest lockdowns in Melbourne, which closed virtually everything that wasn't a grocery store or hospital for nearly four months.
Even when restrictions were eased, there was a nightly curfew and people weren't allowed to be more than five kilometres away from home.
The approach has largely worked. The nation's recorded cases peaked at 739 on Aug. 5, and since then, the count has dwindled steadily and most Australian cities have gone weeks without a single new case.
It has come at the cost of a million jobs nationwide and thousands of now-failed businesses, but Dr. Nancy Baxter, a Canadian who moved to Melbourne just before that city entered its first lockdown, says it was worth it.
"You can't have a well-functioning economy with a raging pandemic. It's not an economy versus lives," Baxter, who runs the University of Melbourne's School of Population and Global Health.
As an island nation, Australia has the ability to severely limit entry into the country. Canada, meanwhile, is highly reliant on commercial truck drivers to bring food and other goods from the United States, and they are among the essential workers exempt from quarantine requirements.
"Australia is unique in that we can really control who comes in and out of the country," said Jason Dutton, another Canadian transplant in Melbourne. "We've gone about it the right way, going for the aggressive suppression to zero."
Stay informed with the latest COVID-19 data.
Indoor air is the pandemic's ultimate enabler, experts say
Syed Sattar, a professor emeritus at the University of Ottawa, was one of the first researchers to look at how a coronavirus spreads indoors. He says in general, there's a lack of appreciation for how well pathogens survive in air, but that's changing.
"The thinking has certainly shifted in favour of the role of air in the spread of SARS-CoV-2, and this unfortunately took a little longer for the influential public health agencies such as the World Health Organization to adopt," he said.
Recently, a group of researchers writing in the journal Science urged governments and public health agencies to provide "clear and consistent" guidance to inform the public about the risks of smaller droplets, including microscopic ones called aerosols. Aerosols can linger in the air from seconds to hours, and can travel farther than two metres.
The challenge is that it's often hard to prove aerosol transmission occurred, Sattar said, let alone predict how factors such as humidity, airflow, temperature and dilution affects the risk of contracting the virus in the real world. Experts hypothesize that homes with radiator heat may be less risky in terms of spreading droplets than forced air systems.
- CBC's Marketplace tested over 20 masks for filtration efficiency. See the results.
Both Sattar and Jason Tetro, host of the podcast Super Awesome Science Show, emphasize the importance of masks and physical distancing. Crowding into small, stuffy spaces is especially dangerous.
"If you happen to be in an environment where there isn't a lot of ventilation going on, then it's going to be imperative on you to be absolutely sure that you are protecting your airway and you're not spreading it out there," says Tetro. "It's going to help you to ward off any droplets, no matter how large they are, from getting inside of you."
New Brunswick home delivery business takes off during pandemic
While the pandemic has been a struggle for small businesses, one New Brunswick outfit has found a niche. Door2Door deliveries started operating in February and has already grown to a fleet of five delivery vans and more than a dozen drivers, several who came to Canada from countries such as Nigeria, India, Nepal and Sudan.
"Four weeks after we started operations, the pandemic struck. All of a sudden, everybody switched over to the delivery business for the essential services they needed," owner Seun Richards Agunbiade says from his home office in Saint John.
The business plan was designed to cater to recent arrivals to Canada without their own transportation, international students, the elderly and immunocompromised customers who don't want to venture into busy places.
The original idea came out of Agunbiade's own experience. When he and his wife, Ese, arrived in Saint John in 2018, they found it difficult to get tasks and errands done with three young children in tow. Agunbiade is now completing his PhD locally in addition to running the business.
Door2Door has grown quickly, with the company recently landing a contract with Amazon.
"Generally, we deliver about 500 packages a day," said operations manager Jason Cosman, who was hired to help manage the expansion.
Cosman expects even faster growth once the company launches its new app within the next few weeks.
Find out more about COVID-19
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With files from The Associated Press and Reuters