Canada·Coronavirus Brief

The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for Oct. 19

The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for Oct. 19.
A health worker waits to collect swab samples from residents to test for the novel coronavirus at a sample collection centre in Hyderabad, India, on Monday. (Noah Seelam/AFP via Getty Images)

Canada-U.S. border closure extended but Trump, Trudeau far apart on next steps 

Although Canada and the U.S. have agreed to close their shared land border to non-essential travel, they don't appear to agree on several related issues — including what to do next. More than seven months after the border closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Donald Trump have offered up contradictory messages about the border's future.

The Canada-U.S. border closure agreement was set to expire on Oct. 21, but the Canadian government announced on Monday that the closure will be extended until at least Nov. 21. In an interview last Wednesday on Winnipeg podcast The Start, Trudeau said Canada plans to keep the border closed as long as COVID-19 case counts in the U.S. remain high. "We keep extending the border closures because the United States is not in a place where we would feel comfortable reopening those borders," he said.

Four weeks prior, Trump offered a different prognosis for the Canada-U.S. border closure. "We're looking at the border with Canada — Canada would like it open," he said at the White House on Sept. 18. "So we're gonna be opening the borders pretty soon.... We want to get back to normal business."

Foreign affairs expert Edward Alden said the disconnect between the two leaders suggests there are currently no joint discussions about an eventual reopening plan. Alden said he understands why the border is closed for now, but that it's important to start laying the groundwork for a reopening plan. "The problem of not having those negotiations is, when do we possibly have a sense of when it will be safe to reopen the border?"

Even though many Canadians support the border closure, which took effect in late March, it has devastated the tourism industry, separated loved ones and hurt border communities in both Canada and the U.S.

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Ontario recommends against trick-or-treating in COVID-19 hot zones

The provincial government is recommending that kids not go out trick-or-treating in those parts of Ontario that have been hardest hit by a resurgence in COVID-19 cases. "Given the high transmission of COVID-19 in the modified Stage 2 public health unit regions of Ottawa, Peel, Toronto and York Region, traditional door-to-door trick-or-treating is not recommended and people should consider alternative ways to celebrate," provincial Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams said in a statement.

The province says trick-or-treating is permissible outside of those regions, but with numerous safeguards in place, including only going out with members of your household, wearing a face covering other than a costume, and not leaving treats in buckets.

Some health professionals objected on Twitter to the ban. Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist and researcher based at Toronto General Hospital, said the "goal should be to find ways to do things safely rather than cancel. Halloween shouldn't be too tough to do safely: Outside, wearing masks, restricted to family units, distant from others ... is about as low-risk as it gets." Dr. Andrew Morris, a professor in the department of medicine at the University of Toronto who studies infectious diseases, asked why kids are allowed in classrooms, and outdoor unmasked dining is permitted in these regions, but trick-or-treating is not.

At his daily news conference Monday, Ford said these measures are necessary to "protect Christmas and the holiday season. "We're trying to make it as safe and as simple as possible," Ford said. "My friends, we all know this isn't going to be a regular Halloween. We just can't have hundreds of kids showing up at your door if you live in a hotspot." Both Ford and Williams were asked about what specific benchmarks the province would need to see to allow for relaxed restrictions around the Christmas season. Neither provided specific answers, citing uncertainty around the world when it comes to the virus.

Commons installs plexiglass to protect pages as MPs accused of ignoring physical distancing rules 

The House of Commons is installing new plexiglass barriers by Monday because pages are reporting that MPs have been flouting COVID-19 pandemic public health rules, CBC News has learned. According to an internal Commons administration email, some pages have expressed concerns about their health and their families' safety because some MPs and staffers are not physically distancing from others while their face masks are off in the lobbies — the lounges on Parliament Hill where MPs can hold meetings or grab food while monitoring events inside the Commons chamber next door.

"Specifically, some members and staff who are not wearing masks are sometimes in close proximity to you when you are posted in the lobbies," Alexandre Jacques, procedural clerk and page program co-ordinator, wrote in an Oct. 1 email to House of Commons pages. "This is something that supervisors and I have noticed in the past few days and are concerned about this."

MPs and staff do not have to wear masks while sitting in the House of Commons chamber or in the government or opposition lobbies — but they are supposed to physically distance themselves, according to rules from the governing body of the Commons. A House of Commons source told CBC News that the pages' complaints are aimed at behaviour observed in the opposition lobby shared by the Conservatives, NDP and Bloc Québécois. Some MPs and staff from all three of those opposition parties have been seen breaking the rules, the source said.

Former Green Party leader Elizabeth May told CBC News she's personally witnessed MPs in the opposition lobby ignoring physical distancing guidelines on multiple occasions. She said she's seen both Conservatives and New Democrat MPs breaking the rules but thinks the Bloc caucus has been more careful. She said she has found the Liberal lobby to be "pretty well empty" lately. Independent MP Jody Wilson-Raybould said mask use indoors should be made mandatory for MPs throughout the House of Commons. "All MPs should wear masks when indoors, just as rules are set for all other indoor spaces in Ontario," she said.

Companies wary of hiring and expanding because of COVID uncertainty, Bank of Canada survey finds 

The Bank of Canada says companies are hedging hiring plans and wage growth expectations in the coming months over heightened uncertainty from the COVID-19 pandemic, The Canadian Press reports. The central bank's business outlook survey finds hiring intentions remain below their historical averages, suggesting modest hiring plans even as the overall outlook on employment edges up.

Almost one-third of businesses told the bank they expect their workforce numbers to remain below pre-pandemic levels for at least the next 12 months, or to never fully recover. The survey also finds that wage growth is widely expected to slow over the next year, mostly a result of the pandemic and ongoing uncertainty, with some firms reporting a wage freeze.

The bank also says that nearly half of firms surveyed used the federal wage subsidy program to avoid layoffs or quickly refill positions. About 100 firms took part in the bank's regular survey out this morning, but did so between late August and mid-September when COVID-19 case counts were still low.

(CBC News)

Stay informed with the latest COVID-19 data from Canada and around the world


One-size-fits-all COVID-19 messaging falls flat, project suggests

Behavioural medicine suggests that moving away from a one-size-fits-all message for pandemic messaging to a more personalized approach would work better at motivating people to make important sacrifices.

Prof. Kim Lavoie, who holds the Canada Research Chair in behavioural medicine at the University of Quebec at Montreal, and Prof. Simon Bacon of Concordia University, have been surveying people throughout the pandemic about what motivates them as part of the iCARE (International COVID-19 Awareness and Responses Evaluation Study) project.

The findings suggest that younger people might be more motivated by the socio-economic fallout of reimposing restrictions rather than risk to their individual health from COVID-19, compared with people over the age of 65. "Show how long it's going to take us to pay down the debt, this is how long it's going to take, the longer we remain in this," Lavoie said.

Individual goals matter, too. A common message from public health officials is: "We're all going to get through this." But to Lavoie, that doesn't go far enough. Her version is: "We are going to get out of this only together. This is how and this is why, and this is what's in store for us the quicker we achieve that," she said. "We're all going to benefit. Some of you will benefit by protecting your health. Some of you will benefit by protecting your business. Some of you will benefit by being able to have your dream wedding."


NHL could be forced to play next season in modified bubble

Tampa Bay Lightning players celebrate in front of empty stands after defeating the Dallas Stars to win the Stanley Cup in Edmonton last month. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press)

If the NHL hopes to start a new season in January, there probably won't be any fans in the buildings and games could be played in some sort of modified bubble format, say some experts. The NHL and the NHL Players' Association will begin meetings in the coming weeks to discuss a return to play, although there's already been some dialogue between the two sides. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has said the league hopes to begin Jan. 1 and wants to play a full 82-game season with fans in arenas.

But whatever plans are in place when the season opens could change over time. "It would be premature to speculate on what next season might look like at this point," Gary Meagher, the NHL's executive vice-president of communications, told CBC Sports in an email. "The league and the NHLPA are focused on what makes the most sense from a scheduling standpoint. We are going to be flexible and adaptable, but we also understand that important considerations like the status of the Canada-U.S. border and the state of COVID in the next few months are simply guesswork at this point."

Earl Brown, a professor emeritus in biochemistry, microbiology and immunology at the University of Ottawa, said even if a vaccine were developed for COVID-19 in the next couple of months, it's unlikely enough people would be immune by the beginning of the new year. "So given the way it is now, I would not put my money on [the] NHL [having fans] at the beginning of next year," he said.

Moshe Lander, a senior lecturer in the economics of sports, gaming and gambling at Concordia University, also questioned the league's suggested timetable. "I cannot see that all of the boxes are going to be checked for the NHL," said Lander. "They're not going to be able to start on Jan. 1 with fans [and] with free movement of teams. Something's going to have to be sacrificed there."

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