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Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Sept. 17

With climbing cases of COVID-19 across Canada, health experts are struggling to trace the source of new infections — raising concerns that several provinces are lacking crucial information to curb a potential second wave this fall. 

Health experts struggling to trace the source of new COVID-19 infections

People line up outside a COVID-19 testing facility in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

The latest:

  • Quebec urges residents to continue to follow public safety measures this coming weekend.
  • Ontario Premier Doug Ford tightens restrictions in some regions amid rise in cases. 
  • British Columbia confirms record-breaking 165 new cases.
  • Officials shut down high school in Ottawa Valley, first in the province to close.
  • Ontario health experts struggling to trace the source of new infections.
  • Testing priorities will change in Alberta, chief medical officer of health says.
  • India has confirmed another record jump in coronavirus cases.
  • U.S. economy still struggling to recover, Labour Department says. 
  • 10 fans told to quarantine after Kansas City Chiefs game

With climbing cases of COVID-19 across Canada, health experts are struggling to trace the source of new infections — raising concerns that several provinces are lacking crucial information to curb a potential second wave this fall. 

In Quebec, Health Minister Christian Dubé and chief public health officer Dr. Horacio Arruda held a press conference on Thursday, to encourage residents to continue practising safe social distancing as the weekend approaches. Dubé said this weekend is not the time to go out partying and risk pushing a region into a higher COVID-19 alert level.

He said regions will remain yellow, but will be changed to orange in the coming days depending on the progress and the number of active cases over the weekend.

Dubé also reminded people that bars, even if they sell food, cannot sell liquor after midnight and that includes restaurants and microbreweries.

WATCH | Quebecers warned to heed health measures to slow coronavirus:

Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé said this weekend is not the time to go out partying and risk pushing a region into a higher COVID-19 alert level. 1:15
 

As of Thursday afternoon, there are 66,356 confirmed cases in Quebec. 

B.C., Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec have all reported a bump in cases throughout September, and some have paused their reopening plans as a result. 

As of 3:40 pm ET on Thursday, Canada had 140,556 confirmed or presumptive coronavirus cases. Provinces and territories listed 122,842 of those as recovered or resolved. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC's reporting stood at 9,238.

In B.C. a record number of new cases were confirmed on Thursday, and two new outbreaks have been declared in hospitals in the Lower Mainland.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry urged British Columbians to stick to gatherings with six or fewer people and to keep those groups of six consistent. She said the new restrictions to end the sale of alcohol after 10 p.m. is necessary to slow transmission of the disease.

British Columbia Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry provides an update on COVID-19 on Sept. 17, 2020. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Meanwhile in Ontario, Premier Doug Ford unveiled a series of new measures to stop the spread of COVID-19, including restrictions on social gatherings in three regions and significant fines for violating the new rules. 

Ford held a news conference Thursday afternoon saying the increasing number of confirmed COVID-19 cases "are concerning," and that the province has decided to "implement further restrictions," starting Friday.

He also announced that Ontario will have the "highest fine anywhere in the entire country," with a minimum amount of $10,000 for organizers of illegal social gatherings, and a $750 fine for individuals who "break the rules and show up to these parties."

As a result of the growing pandemic in Ontario, health officials have shut down a high school in the Ottawa Valley after a third staff member tested positive for COVID-19 — making it the first school in the province to close since the new school year began.

All in-person classes at Fellowes High School in Pembroke, Ont., were halted Wednesday after the latest case was linked to two previous ones, also involving staff members.

WATCH | Ford announces new COVID-19 gathering limits, freeze on rent increase:

Ontario Premier Doug Ford unveiled a series of new measures to stop the spread of COVID-19, including restrictions on social gatherings in three regions and significant fines for violating the new rules. 4:41

In an emailed statement to CBC News, Renfrew County District School Board spokesperson Jonathan Laderoute said the closure will remain in place until further notice.

"The decision was made shortly after a third case was confirmed earlier today that was linked to two previous cases," the email reads. "The school will reopen only with public health approval." 

WATCH | Alarms raised after COVID-19 cases close Ontario high school:

An Ottawa-area high school is the first in the province to shut down after three staff test positive for COVID-19, prompting concerns about cases in schools and how outbreaks are handled in schools. 2:02

Despite the school closure and an increasing caseload, health officials in Ontario say they can't trace how roughly half of its latest COVID-19 cases became infected, even as Ford announced new measures to try to slow the pace of spread.

To gain insights into the September surge of COVID-19 in Canada's largest province, CBC News has analyzed Ontario's data on active cases — those who have most recently tested positive for the virus and are either hospitalized or still considered to be infectious. 

Data suggests that many Ontarians are currently contracting COVID-19 through unmemorable interactions with others in the course of their daily lives. Experts are worried that failing to track the source of so many new infections will hamper efforts to rein in the spread of the virus. 

Those under 40 are driving the spread in most provinces. In Ontario, health officials have identified smaller, indoor gatherings as the culprit. Younger people may also be working in precarious jobs where their exposure is increased, or where sick days may not be readily available. 

"If we don't understand how and where people are getting infected, it's very hard to control this disease," said Ashleigh Tuite, epidemiologist at the University of Toronto's Dalla Lana School of Public Health. "It suggests that our contact tracing is not up to the level that we wanted it to be."  

A health-care worker walks along the lineup of people waiting outside a COVID-19 testing facility in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Alberta is starting to see a caseload similar to that in Ontario and Quebec, which is concerning as the prairie province has a much lower population, said Dr. Stephanie Smith, an infectious disease expert at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. 

On Thursday, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said testing priorities will change as the province prepares for increasing testing demands.

With flu season upon us, Hinshaw said asymptomatic testing will therefore no longer be recommended for general population.

"We and every other province in Canada must prepare for a surge in demand in tests this winter. We must prioritize our testing, especially as we prepare for the flu system to ensure that testing is scheduled and that results are returned as quickly as possible." 

For the first 15 days of September in Alberta, the province has reported an average of 137 new cases of COVID-19 per day. That's up from an average of 88 cases for that same period in August, meaning that cases have gone up by about 55 per cent in the last month.

WATCH | Looking back at six months of COVID in Alberta:

Even though it may feel much longer, it’s officially been six months since COVID-19 restrictions were put in place in Alberta - here’s a look back at when and how it started. 1:50

The province is also facing widespread community transmission of COVID-19, Smith said, rather than the disease appearing in a few specific hotspots, like a long-term care facility.

While some of the increase in Alberta cases could be attributed to more testing in September with upwards of 30,000 people tested per day, Smith said these jumps in case counts are still concerning.


What's happening around the rest of Canada

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says dealing with COVID-19 remains his government's number one job.

Trudeau says Canadians deserve an ambitious plan for a healthier and safer Canada, a country that's fair and inclusive and clean and competitive.

He made his comments at the end of a two-and-a-half day cabinet retreat.

A COVID-19 testing site is opening up for Indigenous people in Toronto, just in time for the cold and flu season. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says dealing with COVID-19 remains his government's number one job. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

"There's not much trust for some Indigenous folks in our health-care system because of discriminatory practices or blatant racism," said Steve Teekens, executive director of Na-Me-Res, an emergency shelter and housing organization.

"We have a vacant building here and one of our managers thought this would be a fabulous idea to offer it up as a COVID testing facility for Indigenous people," Teekens said. 

Roughly 250 students have been sent home from John Pritchard School in Winnipeg as the number of COVID-19 cases linked to it climbed to seven, Manitoba's education minister said on Wednesday.

Students at the North Kildonan school in Grades 6, 7 and 8, as well as those in a split Grade 4/5 class and the Henderson Early Learning Centre (the school's before and after program), started remote learning on Wednesday, Kelvin Goertzen said at a news conference.

"Of course, we knew that there would be cases within the school system, and we wanted to ensure that there could be quick response when those cases arose," Goertzen said.

Those students may continue learning from home for up to two weeks, the Winnipeg school said in a letter to parents on Tuesday.

Alberta's health minister and chief medical officer of health have said they would support repealing a piece of legislation that gives the government the power to make vaccines mandatory. 

The Public Health Act currently contains a section that allows the Lieutenant Governor in Council to order Albertans to be immunized or re-immunized against a communicable disease in certain circumstances, like an epidemic. 

That power has never been used in the province's history, nor can Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the chief medical officer of health, imagine a scenario where it would be.

"I think if we have a piece of legislation that we're unlikely to use, I'm not sure it provides much benefit," she told the legislative review committee examining the act in August. "I would be comfortable with that particular piece of the legislation being removed."

Travellers flying out of Halifax will soon have their temperature taken before liftoff to scan for one of the symptoms of COVID-19.

Next Wednesday, the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) is rolling out temperature screening stations in the departure sections of 11 airports, including Halifax Stanfield International Airport.

WATCH | Rapid rise in cases in many parts of Canada, infectious disease specialist says:

Parts of Canada are seeing 'exponential' growth in COVID-19 cases with Ontario headed toward a thousand new cases per day, says infectious disease specialist Dr. Michael Gardam. 0:58

All passengers who have a fever (38 C and above), and don't have a medical certificate to explain a condition that would result in an elevated temperature, will not be allowed to continue their travel and will be asked to rebook after 14 days.

Leah Batstone, spokesperson for the Halifax International Airport Authority, said they're happy to have another feature to help ease people's fears and concerns about air travel.


What's happening around the world

According to Johns Hopkins University, the global total of confirmed coronavirus cases stands at more than 29.9 million. More than 941,000 people have died, while 20.3 million have recovered.

Authorities in Pakistan have closed as many as 22 schools across the country after detecting violation of physical distancing regulations amid a steady decline in COVID-19 cases.

The government action comes only two days after authorities allowed schools to reopen.

Thursday's announcement by the military-backed command and control centre came after health officials alerted the government that students at some schools were violating distancing guidelines.

The number of new confirmed coronavirus infections have hit a record in the Czech Republic, surpassing 2,000 cases in one day for the first time.

The country's health ministry said a total of 2,139 cases were registered on Wednesday, about 450 more than the previous number recorded a day earlier.

The ministry said 388 people have been hospitalized with COVID-19, 55 more than the previous day, with 81 in serious condition.

India has confirmed another record jump in coronavirus cases, logging 97,894 cases in the past 24 hours.

A health worker collects a swab sample from a man for a coronavirus test at a public health centre in Hyderabad, India. (Noah Seelam/AFP/Getty Images)

The country's health ministry said on Thursday the new cases raised the nation's confirmed total to more than 5.1 million since the pandemic began. It said 1,132 people died in the past 24 hours, for a total of 83,198.

At the current rate of infection, India is expected within weeks to surpass the 6.6 million reported cases in the United States, which is currently the country with the most reported infections.

The number of people in the United States applying for unemployment benefits dropped to 881,000 last week, but the Labour Department reported Thursday that the economy is still struggling to recover and rebuild the job market.

Before the pandemic hit the economy, the number signing up for jobless aid had never exceeded 700,000 in a week, even during the depths of the 2007-09 Great Recession. Now they've topped 700,000 for 26 straight weeks.

Meanwhile, 10 fans who attended the Kansas City Chiefs game last week have been told to quarantine after one tested positive for COVID-19, Kansas City health officials announced Thursday.

A person who watched the NFL game from the group's box in Arrowhead Stadium's lower level tested positive a day later, the health department said.

The health department and Chiefs organization worked together to track down those who had contact with the person.

Airline industry workers hold signs during a protest in Federal Plaza in Chicago. (AFP via Getty Images)

With files from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press

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