The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for August 27
- Thousands of Quebec students return to school.
- First Nations back-to-school COVID-19 funding falls far short, AFN regional chief says.
- Is Tenet worth the risk? Doctors say no, but theatres say please.
- Victoria party host calls $2,300 fine for breaching COVID-19 rules 'a bunch of BS'; outdoor gear is selling out as Canadians stock up for pandemic staycations.
- Read more: Get the latest pandemic updates from Canada and around the world.
Federal election during pandemic could turn to 2-day weekend voting, Elections Canada says
Elections Canada is ramping up its plan to run a pandemic election that might come as early as this fall — a plan that could include a two-day weekend voting period instead of the traditional one-day Monday vote. The move would help maintain physical distancing between voters and allow greater access to polling locations, such as schools, that otherwise would be unavailable, according to new information on Elections Canada's website. The agency is also considering ways to meet the potential demand for mail-in ballots, but said it is not considering online voting at this time.
Under the heading "approach to a possible fall election," Elections Canada said that if an election were to be called before the proposed measures are fully implemented or passed by Parliament, the agency would focus on physical distancing and other public health measures at polling stations and elections offices, including providing protective equipment for workers. "Given the current minority government, an election could take place at any time," the website stated. Formal recommendations will be put to Parliament in September after Elections Canada consults with stakeholders and surveys Canadians.
The agency is now determining the cost of proposed pandemic-related changes. An estimate will be released after an assessment is complete. Elections Canada says it is taking part in a COVID-19 election preparation working group of experts from electoral management bodies across the country, and is monitoring media reports about election issues nationally and internationally. In an "extreme and unexpected case," based on the advice of public health experts, the Chief Electoral Officer could determine it's not possible to run an election in one or more electoral districts and recommend that the election be postponed. That has never happened in Elections Canada's history.
New Brunswick is going to be the first jurisdiction in Canada to hold a pandemic election; its vote is scheduled for Sept. 14. Officials there are expecting more people to participate with mail-in ballots. Other precautions are in place to ensure safety, such as physical distancing at polling stations. Elections Canada also has conducted research on potential voter turnout and the uptake for various voting methods. As of mid-August 2020, that research suggests most Canadians would vote in person, either at a polling station (29.4 per cent) or at an advance polling station (28.6 per cent), while others (21.8 per cent) said they would prefer to vote by mail.
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Thousands of Quebec students return to school
Thousands of students in Quebec returned to school on Thursday — including kids in Montreal, who were back to class for the first time since the pandemic shut down schools in the spring. Some students were greeted with temperature checks at the entrance, while sanitizer dispensers lined the hallways and desks. Stickers and signs on the floors and walls ensured they kept physical distance. Students in many school networks across the province, including many in the English system, resume classes early next week.
In the days and weeks leading up to the return to school, many teachers, parents and health-care workers have expressed concern about the government's plan. A group of health-care professionals, including doctors and medical school professors, circulated an open letter last weekend asking the Quebec government to implement tougher measures against COVID-19 in schools. Quebec is the first province to welcome students back amid the pandemic, with most schools across the country set to reopen next month; students in Yukon, meanwhile, have already resumed classes.
In Quebec, students aged 10 years or older are required to wear masks on school buses and when circulating outside of classrooms. Younger students are not required to wear masks, but they are allowed to do so. The return to school is mandatory for all students, unless they have a doctor's note proving they have a medical condition that makes them more vulnerable to developing complications from COVID-19. Already Thursday, three staff members in three separate Montreal schools tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Centre de services scolaire de la Pointe-de-l'Île, which services the northeastern part of the island.
First Nations back-to-school COVID-19 funding falls far short, AFN regional chief says
The $112 million for COVID-19 back-to-school preparations for First Nations that the federal government announced yesterday falls far short of needs faced by communities, according to the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) regional chief responsible for education. Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Chief Bobby Cameron, who is the AFN regional chief for Saskatchewan, said the more than 630 First Nations across Canada need about $1 billion to fully prepare for the restart of classes amid the pandemic. "Obviously our expectations were much higher," said Cameron, who holds the education portfolio.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the $112 million specifically for on-reserve schools in addition to a broader $2 billion unveiled Wednesday to help provinces and territories prepare to return to classes amid the pandemic. This followed an $82.5 million announcement Tuesday by Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller for COVID-19-related mental health support for First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities. Health experts have said Indigenous communities are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 outbreaks due to housing shortages and overcrowding, water shortages and other service and infrastructure gaps that contribute to lower health levels than the general Canadian population.
Cameron said the back-to-school money announced by Trudeau would do little to allay fears for many First Nations that are considering delaying the start of the school year or not opening classrooms at all. He said Ottawa has consistently failed to provide the needed funding for First Nations throughout the pandemic. Miller said the $112 million for First Nations COVID-19 back-to-school funding — which will flow through education envelopes — amounts to more per-student on reserve than for students under the provincial allotment. "It is a number with respect to which we will have an enormous amount of flexibility," said Miller.
Is Tenet worth the risk? Doctors say no, but theatres say please
Aiming to be a saviour for an industry starving for new content, Christopher Nolan's latest film Tenet arrives at a critical time for movie theatres. The highly anticipated movie was originally supposed to open July 17 but was pushed back several times because of the pandemic. It hit theatres for evening screenings this week in Canada — where theatres began reopening in late June — and is scheduled to open across the U.S. on Sept. 3.
Some theatres where Tenet is playing are already selling out, albeit at limited capacity. Cineplex vice-president of operations Daniel Seguin said there are plans in place to meet the wave of movie fans the industry is hoping will return. "When there's an increase in terms of the flow [of customers], we need to ensure proper social distancing in our lobby or theatre environment," he said. Overall, Seguin said, early feedback to the safety protocols has been positive. But some medical experts say the very things that make the movies an enjoyable escape add to the risk.
Dr. Tasleem Nimjee is an emergency room physician in Toronto and the lead for Humber River Hospital's COVID-19 response team. While theatres are encouraging the use of masks, she said opening concession stands sends contradictory signals. "We're making sure that our children of senior kindergarten age are wearing masks in school, and then when you go to movies, you can take them off and munch on popcorn for two-and-half hours. So, it's very confusing, which is why not a lot of us are in love with the idea." With the current conditions, Nimjee said you need to ask yourself: how badly do you want to see that movie?
Canadian COVID-19 clinical trial scrapped after China wouldn't ship potential vaccine
A collaboration between a Chinese company and a Halifax research team aiming to carry out Canada's first clinical trials of a potential COVID-19 vaccine has been abandoned. The partnership between the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and CanSino Biologics was announced by the federal government in May.
A team at the Canadian Centre for Vaccinology at Dalhousie University was supposed to work with CanSino to run the first Canadian clinical trials for a possible COVID-19 vaccine. CanSino's vaccine, called Ad5-nCoV, was already being run through human trials in China and has shown promising results. In May, Health Canada gave the go-ahead for the Canadian trials to begin, and the hope was that clinical trials in Halifax could begin within weeks.
But in late July, The Canadian Press reported that the Canadian-Chinese partnership was on the rocks, saying China had held up shipments the company was supposed to send to the Halifax researchers by the end of May. In an emailed statement, the National Research Council (NRC) said the vaccine candidate had not been approved by Chinese customs to ship to Canada.
The end to the partnership was not "necessarily" tied to diplomatic tensions between the two countries, Canadian Foreign Minister François-Philippe Champagne said on Thursday. "We are going through a difficult time" in bilateral relations, Champagne told reporters, "but I would not necessarily make a link between that discussion and the Canadian or the Chinese position." This was echoed by Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson for China's foreign ministry, who said earlier on Thursday that the end of the vaccine collaboration had nothing to do with soured diplomatic relations.
Outdoor learning gains traction as schools get ready to open amid COVID-19
As school boards grapple with what classrooms will look like when students return, the outdoors could likely play a big part in the school day amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Health experts have said the novel coronavirus has less of a chance to spread in outdoor settings, which also allow for easier physical distancing. Combined with concerns around children's safety as they return to classrooms this fall, that has put a spotlight on "forest schools" in which students learn through interaction with nature.
Advocates of the schools have long touted the benefits of children spending more time outside. "When you walk outdoors, you're interacting with wildlife, with people, with history," said Andrew McMartin, executive director of the Pine Project, which has been operating in the Toronto area for about a decade. The not-for-profit organization traditionally holds after school, March break and summer programs for kids.
Now, the Pine Project has received so much interest this school year that it has expanded its programming to full days as parents look for solutions amid worries about the pandemic. For McMartin, the pandemic wasn't his preferred method of drawing more attention to his cause, but he's excited about more parents wanting to get their kids involved. "It's building resilience, building physical health, their mental health, creating problem solving skills and positive approaches to facing challenges," he said.
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With files from CBC News, The Canadian Press, The Associated Press and Reuters