Canada·Coronavirus Brief

The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for Oct. 16

The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for Oct. 16.
A woman walks past a sign promoting COVID-19 precautions at a park in Seoul. (Ahn Young-joon/The Associated Press)

Can Quebec find a balance between a lockdown and freedom?

Having tasted something like freedom over the summer, most Quebecers are back living under a complex array of public health rules, wondering if the rest of the pandemic will be one long roller-coaster ride between extremes. When Premier François Legault announced last month a 28-day partial lockdown to quell a rising tide of infections, he counselled Quebecers to get used to a "fragile balance" while they wait for a vaccine.

In Quebec, the back-and-forth between lockdown and freedom has been more abrupt than elsewhere in Canada, write CBC's Benjamin Shingler and Jonathan Montpetit. The Legault government didn't hesitate to close schools and businesses early in the pandemic. Then many restrictions were lifted in quick succession at the start of the summer, and for a few months life almost went back to normal.

Legault was reluctant at first to reimpose restrictions as cases started to creep upward in August, but when the government finally did respond, it didn't wait long to resort to drastic measures — banning all social gatherings in so-called red zones, including Montreal and Quebec City. Mylène Drouin, Montreal's public health director, questioned whether it was sustainable to continue oscillating between poles of relative freedom and relative confinement. "We have to identify measures that we can live with for many months to come," she said.

But the tricky part is figuring out what those measures are. Quebec is halfway through a 28-day partial lockdown. Along with the ban on social gatherings, bars and restaurant dining rooms have been closed, as have gyms and movie theatres. These are all things Quebecers were able to enjoy over the summer. While some experts say that may have been a mistake, the current partial lockdown is yielding the desired results in at least one measurement. Quebec's Rt, which tracks the number of people a single person is likely to infect, has dropped back below one, said Université de Montréal epidemiologist Hélène Carabin.

Meanwhile, the latest projections by government-affiliated experts say Quebecers will need to be more diligent about social distancing and further reduce their contacts to avoid a rise in the number of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths. The projections — presented on Friday by Quebec's public health research institute, the INSPQ — suggest that even with the closure of bars and restaurants, the cancellation of organized sports and further restrictions in schools put in place at the beginning of October, those numbers will continue to rise into the New Year. But if the population reduces its contacts by another 25 per cent, according to one model, by maintaining a two-metre distance in public spaces, wearing masks and limiting gatherings, the spread of the virus is likely to plateau and even decline.

Click below to watch more from The National

The push for people to get a flu shot this year because of the COVID-19 demand has resulted in more Canadians trying to get the vaccine. Some pharmacies are running out or booked weeks in advance because COVID-19 protocols also reduce the number of doses that can be delivered each day. 1:58

IN BRIEF

Another Ontario region moving to modified Stage 2 amid COVID-19 case surge

York Region will join Toronto, Peel and Ottawa in moving into a modified version Stage 2 as it deals with a surge in new COVID-19 cases, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Friday. The change will take effect at 12:01 a.m. ET Monday and stay in place for at least 28 days, Ford said at his daily news conference. That means that gyms, indoor dining rooms and movie theatres will be closed in the region, which includes Markham, Vaughan and Richmond Hill.

On Thursday, Ford said York has been "teetering for a while," and that the province was keeping a close eye on the region, calling its numbers "concerning." But he said the decision was a difficult one to make, given the potential consequences for local businesses. "I hate doing this," Ford said. He said York's testing positivity rate is currently 2.77 per cent, which is above the "high alert" threshold of 2.5 per cent. Meanwhile, Ontario reported another 712 cases of COVID-19 on Friday as the number of people in Ontario hospitals with confirmed cases of the illness continued its slow but steady climb.

"The trends we've seen in York Region are in the wrong direction," Health Minister Christine Elliott said. Both the premier and health minister also issued a plea to those living in Halton Region — located west of Peel — which has also seen recent increases in new daily cases, to keep following public health guidelines to prevent similar action there. Meanwhile, residents of long-term care homes in Toronto, Peel and Ottawa are not allowed to go out for social or personal reasons as of today. Ontario also announced work with businesses and the manufacturing sector to expand production of domestic personal protective equipment (PPE).

Read more about what's happening in Ontario

Canadians applying for new pandemic benefit report confusion, frustration

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that applying for the new Canada recovery benefit (CRB) would be "simple" and that no Canadian would be left behind in the transition to a new pandemic benefit. But some say the application process has been deeply frustrating and they still don't know when — or even if — they'll get the money. CBC News has received at least three dozen complaints about access to the benefit.

"I've never felt this hopeless," said Hajar Pittman from Brampton, Ont. The mother of two toddlers was on maternity leave when the pandemic hit. She was laid off from her job in the airline industry in June and collected the Canada emergency response benefit (CERB) — the benefit replaced by the CRB — throughout the summer. Pittman said that when she first tried to apply for the new CRB on Monday, she got an error message — "COV-026" — telling her she was ineligible for the benefit without explaining why. It took hours of phone calls with the Canada Revenue Agency, she said, before a CRA agent suggested that the fact she collected parental leave benefits might be causing confusion in the CRB process. Pittman said she has now requested a letter from Service Canada clarifying her status.

Pittman said she was also told she might have to wait 21 business days for that letter to arrive. Once she gets it, she'll have to send it on to the CRA — so she has no idea how long the total application process could take. In the meantime, instead of the $500 per week she could be collecting from the CRB, she has no money coming in. And looking for a job in a pandemic has led her nowhere. "I'm relying on family and friends and savings that I've put away over the years," she told CBC News. The Canada Revenue Agency said in a statement that it is aware some applicants are receiving error codes related to their eligibility. The statement noted that as of end of day Wednesday, 497,100 applications had been approved for the CRB. The agency did not say how many people had been told they were not eligible for the benefit.

Read more about the situation

COVID-19 quarantine exemption for Costco CEO shouldn't have happened, Ottawa says

The American CEO of Costco was granted a special exemption from Canada's mandatory 14-day COVID-19 quarantine to attend the openings of the grocery chain's newest outlets, a CBC News investigation has learned. Craig Jelinek and another top company executive, Joe Portera, travelled to Canada aboard a private Gulfstream jet in late August for a three-day store inspection blitz that took them to Ontario, Quebec and Alberta — the epicentres of this country's novel coronavirus outbreak.

The pair first touched down at the Ottawa International Airport on Aug. 25 — the same day that the billionaire CEO of Wisconsin-based Uline Inc. and two of her senior executives were granted similar quarantine exemptions after arriving by private jet at Toronto's Pearson International Airport. In both cases, the business executives were allowed to enter the country and skip the two-week self-isolation period on the grounds that they were "essential" workers — decisions that the federal government now characterizes as mistakes made by front-line Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers.

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, who oversees the CBSA, vowed to fix the problem after a Sept. 16 CBC News report documenting the quarantine-free visit that the Uline executives made to the company's warehouse in Milton, Ont. He declined a request for an interview about the Costco exemptions and the steps that he has since taken. "Their travel was deemed to be essential when it should not have been," Blair's office wrote in an email response to questions this week about the grocery store visits. John Ossowski, president of the CBSA, also declined an interview request. A spokesperson for the agency confirmed that Jelinek and Portera, Costco's executive vice-president, were not eligible for quarantine exemptions and should not have been allowed into Canada.

Read more from the investigation

Stay informed with the latest COVID-19 data.

THE SCIENCE

Remdesivir has little effect on hospital stay or mortality in COVID-19 patients, WHO study finds

Gilead Sciences Inc.'s remdesivir had little or no effect on COVID-19 patients' length of hospital stay or chances of survival, a clinical trial by the World Health Organization (WHO) has found. The antiviral medication, among the first to be used as a treatment for COVID-19, was one of the drugs recently used to treat U.S. President Donald Trump's coronavirus infection.

The results are from the WHO's "solidarity" trial, which evaluated the effects of four potential drug regimens, including remdesivir, hydroxychloroquine, anti-HIV drug combination lopinavir/ritonavir and interferon, in 11,266 adult patients across more than 30 countries. The study found the regimens appeared to have little or no effect on 28-day mortality or the length of the in-hospital course among patients hospitalized with COVID-19, the WHO said on Thursday. The results of the trial are yet to be reviewed and were uploaded on the preprint server medRxiv.

Earlier this month, data from a U.S. study of remdesivir by Gilead, the company that developed the drug, showed the treatment cut COVID-19 recovery time by five days compared with patients who got a placebo in a trial that involved 1,062 patients. "The emerging [WHO] data appears inconsistent, with more robust evidence from multiple randomized, controlled studies published in peer-reviewed journals validating the clinical benefit of remdesivir," Gilead told Reuters.

WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said on Wednesday that during the study, hydroxychloroquine and lopinavir/ritonavir were stopped in June after they proved ineffective, but other trials continued in more than 500 hospitals and 30 countries. Remdesivir received emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on May 1, and has been authorized for use in several countries.

AND FINALLY...

Pandemic motivates mother of 4 to start printing business that showcases Plains Cree language

Tiffany Carrier started a printing business with her family during the pandemic that she hopes will 'inspire others with the Plains Cree language.' (Submitted By Newo Designs.)

When Tiffany Carrier decided to leave her job in finance to stay home with her children during the COVID-19 pandemic, she knew she wanted to combine her love of language and her business training. "My intent is to inspire others with the Plains Cree language," Carrier said. The 38-year-old mother of four from the Piapot First Nation in southern Saskatchewan decided to start a printing business with her teenage children out of their home.

The business began with making hoodies and T-shirts and has expanded to travel mugs and face masks. The family shares a love for their culture so each product uses simple Cree phrases such as Sâkihtaw Ki-pìmatisiwin (love your life), Kìyam (let it be) and Ahâm mâka (let's go). She often includes Cree syllabics within her imagery — characters and symbols that are used to write several Cree dialects that include Woodland, Swampy, Moose and Eastern Cree. Carrier uses Plains Cree, also called the Y dialect, on her products.

The company name, Newo Designs, comes from the Cree word for four. "I have four children and four is a significant number within the Indigenous medicine wheel," Carrier said. "Four is a sacred number. We were looking at other names but that is the one that stuck with me the most." Influenced by her grandmother, who was a Cree language teacher, Carrier said she wants to instil the teachings she has received from her elders and family into her children. "It is a fun way to learn to have that visual in front of you, even if it's just a hoodie or something as simple as a mug."

Read more about the business here

Find out more about COVID-19

Still looking for more information on the pandemic? Read more about COVID-19's impact on life in Canada, or reach out to us at covid@cbc.ca if you have any questions.

If you have symptoms of the illness caused by the coronavirus, here's what to do in your part of the country.

For full coverage of how your province or territory is responding to COVID-19, visit your local CBC News site.

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

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