Health

Your guide to COVID-19 and its impact on life in Canada

Developments in the global COVID-19 pandemic are nearly constant — and it's certainly difficult to keep track of everything that's happening. CBC News has compiled a roundup of stories, explainers and videos on a wide range of topics to keep you up to date on the latest information about the coronavirus.
A man walks past a COVID-19 alert sign in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside Thursday, March 26. The large number of homeless living on the streets and a lack of physical distancing may result in a easy spread of COVID-19. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

Travel restrictions, school closures and event cancellations are the new normal in Canada, and phrases like "self-isolation" and "physical distancing" are now part of the collective lexicon.

Developments in the global COVID-19 pandemic are nearly constant — and it's certainly difficult to keep track of everything that's happening.

CBC News has compiled a roundup of stories, explainers and videos on a wide range of topics to keep you up to date on the latest information about the coronavirus.

Latest guidance for Canadians on travel and returning home

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has warned Canadians of a long road ahead. Travel restrictions, physical distancing protocols and business closures could all continue longer than you might expect.

The United States border crossing at the Peace Arch Canada in Surrey, B.C., is closed to non-essential travel. Truckers hauling freight, health professionals and others who live on one side and work on the other are still allowed to cross. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

Border restrictions are in place, preventing "non-essential" travel between Canada and the United States — the global epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic. Those restrictions are set to end April 20, though President Donald Trump said they will likely be extended until at least April 30. One Liberal MP said that "all options are on the table" and being considered by the federal government when it comes to increased monitoring at the border, such as temperature screenings and longer questionnaires.

Travel into and out of all other countries is also being monitored. Air Canada and WestJet have cancelled most of their international flights, Canada has barred all travellers who are not citizens or permanent residents, and Health Minister Patty Hajdu said returning Canadian travellers must enter a mandatory 14-day period of isolation under the Quarantine Act. 

On Monday, Air Canada announced it would lay off 16,500 employees due to flight cancellations and reduced demand. Travel throughout the world has reduced dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

She said she would consider criminal penalties for those travellers who don't self-isolate at home for at least 14 days to reduce community spread.

Some Canadians have found themselves still stuck abroad as more countries enact travel bans and lockdowns of their own. They are fighting to get home from all over the world, from India to Peru and aboard a quarantined cruise ship searching for a country to let it dock.

Meanwhile, some provinces are asking Canadians to self-isolate even after travelling within Canada, and the Northwest Territories has opted to fully ban travel into the territory for non-residents, with limited exceptionsRead about two friends mapping travel restrictions in First Nation communities across the country.

Transport Canada says anyone with symptoms of the illness will be denied boarding on all domestic flights and inter-city passenger trains.

WATCH | More aggressive measures needed to stop spread of COVID-19, says Toronto critical-care doctor:

'Let's overreact,' says Dr. Michael Warner so Canada doesn't experience a health-care crisis like the one gripping Italy. 7:12

What kind of financial support will Canadians receive?

The federal government announced on March 18 an $82-billion  — later increased to $107-billion — support package for businesses and citizens. On March 23, Trudeau further announced a $5-billion credit program to support farmers directly, and on March 30 detailed who exactly is eligible. Read more about the government's aid package.

Many Canadians are being laid off because of the pandemic, as businesses scale back or shut down. More than 1.6 million people have applied for employment insurance since it was announced. Read more about how the government plans to process so many EI claims.

The government has now streamlined this financial support regime, rolling the Emergency Care Benefit and the Emergency Support Benefit into one. The application process is scheduled to open in early April, with individual income support payments amounting to about $2,000 a month expected to flow about 10 days later. The benefits will be available for four months.

WATCH | Businesses, nonprofits and charities eligible for COVID-19 wage subsidies:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that all businesses and nonprofits seeing at least a 30 percent drop in revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic will be eligible for a 75% wage subsidy but warns that companies that abuse the system will face ‘serious consequences’. 2:00

Applicants for EI usually need a medical certificate, along with records of employment, though the new rules allow quarantined workers to apply without the certificate. If you can't apply because you are quarantined, you can also file for EI sickness benefits later and have the claim backdated. Read more about the EI claims process here

Businesses, charities and non-profit organizations who have lost at least 30 per cent of their revenue because of the COVID-19 pandemic can apply for a 75 per cent wage subsidy program. That covers the salary of workers on the first $58,700, which could mean payments up to $847 a week, and they can be made retroactive to March 15. The subsidies are open to businesses of all sizes, though Trudeau warned that companies who abuse the system would face "serious consequences." Read more about how to apply here. 

Some banks are also offering mortgage deferrals, although there are worries the program could lead to lowered credit scores and jumps in mortgage payments. Read more about the mortgage deferrals.

Meanwhile, several grocery chains have announced they are increasing wages or hiring temporary workers to keep their shelves stocked during the pandemic. Read more about the grocery chains' plans here.

What's happening in the job market?

Professional recruitment firms are seeing openings dry up for all types of employment in just about every sector of the economy.

"In terms of the labour market in Canada, it's been an incredible collapse … that I've certainly never seen in my decades in the business," said Jeff Aplin, CEO of the David Aplin Group.

The travel, tourism, retail, restaurant and convention industries are just some of the hardest hit, he said, and likely face the biggest challenge recovering after the virus risk abates.

However, there is job growth in some limited sectors right now. For instance, Aplin expects job opportunities in technology and IT from the main telecom and internet corporations and from firms big and small that play a role in providing or supporting online services. In addition, the health-care, delivery and grocery sectors are seeing growth in demand for their services. Read more about job-hunting here.

Trudeau announced on March 27 more help for small and medium-sized businesses to keep employees on the payroll during the COVID-19 crisis, including a 75 per cent wage subsidy and guaranteed interest-free loans.

Do I have COVID-19, the flu or a cold?

Depending on the severity of the illness, COVID-19 can present with a variety of different symptoms — or no symptoms at all. Some mimic the flu or common cold, while the World Health Organization said they have begun to investigate whether a loss of smell and taste could be a telltale marker of the disease. With all of these different possibilities, if you feel sick, when should you get tested? 

Some basic facts about the virus, its symptoms, prevention and what to do if you believe you are infected can be found here.

For pregnant women, there could be additional concerns and uncertainty over the potential impact of the coronavirus for them and their babies. Read our breakdown of what pregnant women need to know about COVID-19 here.

WATCH | Coronavirus — What are the symptoms?

It starts out looking like a regular flu. But when the virus attacks lung cells, shortness of breath ensues, says family physician Dr. Peter Lin. 0:27

How deadly is COVID-19?

COVID-19's fatality rate is one of the biggest unanswered questions around the disease. Between different countries, drastically different ratios have been reported — from 0.5 to 10 per cent of those infected dying in some regions. Some experts see Germany's low death rate, for one, as a temporary run of good luck, while Italy's relatively high elderly population could be contributing to their numbers. Read more about why fatality rates are different in every country.

Meanwhile, doctors are warning young people that they are not immune to the disease. Things like vaping or smoking cigarettes or cannabis put young people at increased risk. And in Alberta, 41 per cent of COVID-19 patients admitted to hospitals are between the ages of 35 and 54.

What do I do if I think I have COVID-19?

If you have symptoms of COVID-19, the first step is to contact your health-care provider or local public health agency by email or telephone.They'll be able to tell you if you're eligible for testing in your area. Some communities have even launched drive-thru testing sites.

In Victoria, nurses are screening residents for COVID-19 at a drive-thru testing clinic which was recently launched by Island Health along Cook Street. (Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press)

Most provinces and territories are limiting testing so that there will be enough for the highest priority patients, including health-care workers.

Do not show up unannounced at a clinic or hospital. However, if you have a sharp turn in your condition, including shortness of breath, call 911 or your local emergency number. Read our guide to what to do in each province and territory.

The importance of staying home

As coronavirus cases continue to rise, Canadians are explicitly being told to stay home to protect their health and the health of everyone in their communities. Ontario is prohibiting gatherings of more than five people.

Reinforcing the government's message of physical distancing, Gov. Gen. Julie Payette issued a statement March 25, reminding Canadians to "resist the temptation to visit friends and neighbours."

Such measures are taking on increasing importance. On March 20, police in Quebec City arrested a woman who tested positive for COVID-19 while she was out for a walk. Police in Quebec also issued $1,200 in fines to a man that hosted a gathering in an apartment in Gatineau.

WATCH | What to do if you're self-isolating at home for COVID-19:

You might choose to self-isolate at home if you’ve been exposed, or think you’ve been exposed, to COVID-19. Ellen Mauro explains what to do. 1:50

Meanwhile, neighbours are banding together online to stay connected and are offering to deliver essential supplies to people who can't make the trip. Some small gyms are also offering online classes. Read more about how Canadians are helping each other here.

What's the difference between physical distancing and self isolation?

There are a lot of different terms floating around out there for ways to keep yourself healthy. Canadians should take different precautions based on their level of risk, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada

WATCH | How to create physical distance in the grocery store:

As Canadians avoid gatherings and crowds amid the COVID-19 outbreak, grocery stores present a challenge as people stock up and pick shelves bare. 2:07

People are understandably confused about what activities are safe and which ones aren't anymore. CBC's health unit has published a helpful guide to physical distancing. Read more about social distancing here.

My neighbours aren't following the rules. What should I do?

Police are receiving hundreds of calls about people flouting physical distancing rules. They ask that you do not call 911, but if you feel help is needed, reach out to your local police station. One law professor suggests giving it a great deal of thought before you pick up the phone. "Bottom line: probably a good idea to 'snitch' only in clear, unambiguous cases," Daniel Weinstock said.  Read more here.

Is it safe to order takeout?

With virtually everyone at home, the lure of ordering takeout is strong. The chances of transmission from a food courier or takeout packaging are low, but experts say a few precautionary steps can help put your mind at ease.

Diners should maintain a safe distance from delivery drivers. You can also ask them to leave the food at the door. Read more here.

What products are actually helpful?

Products are flying off the shelves — everything from disinfectant to toilet paper. Public officials are urging people not to stockpile, assuring Canadians there is enough of everything to go around. 

But what should you actually spend your money on?

WATCH | Should I change my clothes when I get home from work?

Doctors answer your questions about the coronavirus in Canada, including whether it’s necessary to change clothes after work. 5:05
 

If you're buying hand sanitizer, make sure it's at least 60 per cent alcohol. The old-fashioned habit of washing with soap and water works, too — even better than wearing surgical gloves.

WHO's website has a set of instructions for making hand sanitizer, and it recommends an even higher concentration of isopropyl alcohol.

Health Canada has provided a list of hard-surface disinfectant products that meet its requirements for use against the coronavirus.

Wearing a mask can help prevent the spread of germs to others, but won't necessarily protect you from catching the coronavirus. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Masks are already in short supply, even for health-care workers. And a mask won't necessarily protect you from catching the coronavirus. Read more about what products can help you here.

What you need to know about masks

Public health officials in North America discourage healthy people from wearing masks, saying there's no evidence they provide effective protection against the spread of the coronavirus, which causes COVID-19. But officials in Asia often point to masks as a key tool used in slowing down the spread of the novel coronavirus, and countries in Europe have begun adopting them more readily. Recently, Canada's chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam did seem to suggest the government may reconsider its advice that regular citizens not wear masks, while the U.S. Centers for Disease Control denied it was about to reverse its directive on mask use.  

Confused?

Here's a closer look at the debate around mask wearing, and why some doctors are questioning the widespread advice against using them. 

I can't find hand sanitizer. What does effective handwashing look like?

The National's Andrew Chang explored what proper handwashing looks like with the help of a black light and some helpful children. The results might surprise you.

WATCH | How to wash your hands using WHO's recommended method:

Using “glo germ,” a product that shows up under black light, Andrew Chang takes a first-hand look at how germs are transmitted, and how to wash them off our hands effectively. 7:03

I don't actually feel sick. Could I still have coronavirus? 

Probably not, but there is some evidence that people can get infected with this virus and not show any symptoms, said Dr. Allison McGeer, an infectious diseases specialist at Toronto's Mount Sinai Hospital, who worked on the front lines of the SARS epidemic in 2003.

Those people probably don't carry it for any length of time, McGeer said. Their immune system will respond to it, and they'll get rid of it. The evidence so far is that those people are less likely to spread the virus than people who are sick. 

A hospital worker is seen at a staff COVID-19 assessment area outside Lions Gate Hospital in North Vancouver on Wednesday, March 18. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

Part of the reason for all of this physical distancing and keeping away from people, though, is there is a possibility that you could have this and not know it, she said. 

It's also unclear if people can contract coronavirus for a second time once they have recovered from it, she noted. Read more here

Why experts say we need to increase physical distancing 

The spread of COVID-19 cases in Canada with no known link to travel — called community transmission — is already underway. Many think there are thousands of unreported cases, and the time to act to limit them is now. Read more answers to Canadians' medical questions on COVID-19 here.

WATCH | What social or physical distancing actually looks like:

Social distancing measures like working from home, school closures and cancelling sporting events could lead to a drop of new infections of coronavirus. 1:54

How should I explain what's happening to my kids?

Explaining the coronavirus to children without upsetting them is a dilemma. Youth psychiatrist Dr. Rachel Mitchell, with Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, said it's important to validate fears held by children, to listen to them and to be sure to speak to them at the age-appropriate level. If they have asked questions, answer them honestly, and don't share any more information beyond what they asked. Read more advice here.

CBC Kids has published an informative video about physical distancing just for them. Find it here.

WATCH | Coronavirus — How can you avoid catching it?

By now, you likely know not to touch your face. But if you do suspect you've already caught it, reach out by phone for assistance, says family physician Dr. Peter Lin. 1:02

What does all of this mean for pets?

A 17-year-old dog in Hong Kong originally tested positive for the coronavirus, but was later cleared. 

On March 18, it was announced that the dog, which belonged to a patient with COVID-19, had died. Vets in Hong Kong say the stress and anxiety of being in quarantine while under examination may have been a contributing factor. Read more about pets and COVID-19 here.

WHO has said there is no evidence that pets can be infected with the coronavirus.

WATCH | Coronavirus — How does it spread?

A report in the New England Journal of Medicine claimed a woman who wasn't showing symptoms triggered a chain of coronavirus infections. Infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch explains how the report got it wrong. 3:25

What does a state of emergency mean?

Every province and territory in Canada has now declared either a state of emergency or public health emergency related to the coronavirus outbreak. These announcements give provincial and territorial governments extra powers that can, essentially, suspend people's rights during a crisis, such as controlling their movement or forcing evacuations. Read more about emergency declarations here.

A customer wearing a protective mask leaves a Tim Hortons with its dining area closed in Montreal on Tuesday, March 17, (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Will warmer weather stop the virus?

While the public and experts alike had hoped that the spread of COVID-19 would slow when warmer summer months arrived in Europe and North America, as happened in the 2002-03 SARS epidemic, that no longer seems likely. Though Southeast Asia has close travel, business and investment ties with China, there were few reported cases until recently. Health experts say that wasn't due to its hot climate, but was instead caused by limited testing and under-detection.

"People in Europe hope warm weather will kill the virus," said Tikki Pangestu, a professor at Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. "I doubt this will be the reality." Read more about how temperature could affect COVID-19 here.

The European Centre for Disease Control has released a report, citing research that suggests summer heat is unlikely to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

The ECDC report cited preliminary analyses from the outbreak in China, which found the virus was able to maintain high levels of reproduction in tropical places with high humidity, such as Guangxi and Singapore.

WATCH: 'Massive scale-up' of public health capacities one of key ways to move forward, WHO says

Governments will need to go on the offence against the coronavirus, according to the World Health Organization, and that means ramping up efforts. 2:55

I've been getting strange emails related to the virus. Should I be concerned?

Fraudsters have been targeting Canadians with a variety of coronavirus-related scams, according to police.

These include: text messages offering free face masks in order to obtain your personal information, phishing emails designed to look like they come from WHO or Public Health Agency of Canada, or fake phone calls claiming you have tested positive for the virus and asking for your credit card details.

Police are urging Canadians to be aware of these scams and to check with friends, family or official government websites before giving away any information. Read more about what scams to look out for here

There is, however, one important exception to the rule. The federal government has asked some telecommunications companies to send text messages to Canadians who are still outside of Canada to help get in touch with them. 

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