B.C. health officials recommend against travel outside Canada, large gatherings

B.C. health officials recommend against travel outside Canada, large gatherings
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Dr. Bonnie Henry speaks to reporters on March 12, 2020.

B.C. health officials are advising against non-essential travel outside Canada, along with large gatherings.

“It’s become apparent that this is a rapidly changing situation and the risk for us in B.C., while it hasn’t changed a lot here, the risk has increased all around us. Our understanding of the situation has also changed,” Dr. Bonnie Henry said at the B.C. legislature Thursday.

“We are strongly advising people not to travel.”

Health Minister Adrian Dix, who made the announcement with Henry said anyone who chooses to travel outside Canada must self-isolate for 14 days when arriving back in B.C. This includes people who are coming back to B.C. now.

“We have a good sense of what’s happening in Canada,” Henry said, adding that it’s harder to know exactly what’s happening in other countires.

Henry also said all gatherings of more than 250 people should be cancelled. She said this means religious leaders should look at how they can reduce the number of people attending faith services.

Schools will not be closed at this time but Henry noted that spring break is starting next week and they will continue to evaluate the schools.

“I believe these actions are necessary, right now, to slow down the spread of this disease and to protect the health of our communities and everyone here in British Columbia,” Henry said.

Henry announced Thursday seven new cases of COVID-19 in B.C., bringing the total in the province to 53. Six people diagnosed with COVID-19 have recovered in B.C.

Henry said there is an outbreak at a second long-term care home in West Vancouver. Three announced Thursday are linked to Hollyburn House in West Vancouver. They include a resident in his 90s and two health-care workers who are also connected to an outbreak at Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver.

Henry said Hollyburn House had flagged respiratory illness’ and so tests were done.

The other new cases are linked to travel in the U.K. and Egypt. There is another apparent case of community transmission, making a total of six community cases in B.C. with unknown sources.

Henry said she does not believe there is widespread community transmission.

“Pressure on us is increasing and our risk is increasing,” Henry said.

The recommendation against events for 250 people or more was also made in Alberta and Quebec. In B.C., Henry said workplaces should start to explore more distancing, such as working from home and teleconferencing.

Most people diagnosed with COVID-19 experience mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, and the vast majority of those who contract the virus recover. The Public Health Agency of Canada says the risk to the general population is low.

However, for some, including Canadians aged 65 and over, those with compromised immune systems and those with pre-existing conditions, the illness can be much more severe. Among the Canadians diagnosed with the illness so far, fewer than 15 per cent have required hospitalization.

Henry said the measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 are likely to last for weeks but maybe months.

“This is not forever, this is for now,” Henry said.

Dix said an announcement about testing centres, which will be by referral,  will be coming but B.C. continues to do an “extraordinarily” amount of testing in the province.

“We’re looking at other ways through health authorities to give people other opportunities to get tested in a safe way. But our advice always is to call first and that will be the case after the fact,” Dix said.

Henry said she does not think B.C. is at the point of drive-thru testing.

The latest news on the novel coronavirus and the illness dubbed COVID-19:

4 new cases in Alberta

Alberta has four new confirmed cases of COVID-19.

The province’s chief medical health officer, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, says the cases include a two-year-old who had travelled with family to Florida.

The child, who is from the Calgary area, is expected to recover.

Hinshaw is also recommending organizers cancel events in the province with more than 250 people, and that no one travel outside Canada.

Alberta now has a total of 23 cases – all travel-related.

Montreal closing libraries, arenas and swimming pools

Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante says the city will close all its libraries, arenas and swimming pools to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The closings, which also include the city-run planetarium and botanical gardens, will take effect Friday.

Plante called it a major response to a major situation.

She says the city’s subway system will remain open, in part because it is an essential mode of transportation for health-care workers, but she encouraged employers to allow flexible hours so people can avoid rush-hour travel.

Ottawa’s Carleton University moves classes online

Ottawa’s Carleton University is preparing to move classes online for the rest of the term.

University president Benoit-Antoine Bacon says in a public message that the decision hasn’t been made but could be within the next week.

Carleton has cancelled several large events and camps it intended to run for younger students during March break.

Bacon says nobody on campus has tested positive for COVID-19 but “a few individuals” are in self-isolation over recent travel.

Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ont., has cancelled face-to-face classes.

Assembly of Quebec Catholic Bishops cancel mass

The Assembly of Quebec Catholic Bishops has announced the cancellation of all Saturday and Sunday masses in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19.

The organization of 28 bishops from across the province says the move follows Premier Francois Legault’s appeal today to limit large gatherings.

It notes in a statement that many parishioners are 65 and older and are at greater risk of contracting the novel coronavirus.

Churches will remain open for smaller gatherings and personal visits.

Ontario closes public schools

Ontario is closing all public schools for two weeks after March break in light of COVID-19 concerns.

A joint statement from Premier Doug Ford, the health minister and the education minister says the decision is based on the advice of the province’s chief medical officer of health.

Schools have been ordered closed from March 14 to April 5.

The politicians say they recognize the significant impact the move will have on families, students, schools and the broader community, but it’s a necessary precaution to keep people safe.

Canadian Screen Awards cancelled

The Canadian Screen Awards set for later this month in Toronto have been cancelled due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The Academy of Canadian Cinema and Television says the cancellation affects the broadcast gala scheduled to air on CBC on March 29th as well as all Canadian Screen Week events in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.

Organizers issued a statement saying the decision comes after “a thorough review of Canadian Screen Week events and an assessment of the potential risk” to its attendees.

The academy says it is committed to the celebration of the nominees and special award honourees and will share an update in the coming weeks.

Annual Vaisakhi Khalsa Parade in Surrey, B.C. cancelled

Organizers of the annual Vaisakhi Khalsa Parade in Surrey, B.C., have cancelled the event.

They say the day-long event, which was scheduled for April 25, is the largest Vaisakhi Parade in the world and draws more than 500,000 people.

The organizers say the decision was made after consultation with public health officials.

The celebration is considered one of the most significant days in the Sikh calendar, and marks the creation of the Khalsa in 1699.

International Air Transport Association trade group asks for assistance

The International Air Transport Association trade group is calling on governments to assist airlines with extended lines of credit, lighter tax burdens and other measures.

It’s forecasting that the pandemic will wipe out more than $113 billion in airline revenue.

The $1-billion funding package Ottawa announced Wednesday, which targets the country’s health-care system and workers forced to isolate themselves, offers no direct support to airlines.

Canada’s health minister said Canadians should stay home during March break

Health Minister Patty Hajdu says Canadians looking at whether to travel for March break should consider staying home.

Speaking to reporters before question period in the House of Commons today, Hajdu said her advice to Canadians considering travel during school spring break is that they should consider a “staycation.”

Canadians are being encouraged to continue to check travel advisories before leaving for any international trips.

Montreal postpones St. Patrick’s Day Parade

Organizers say Montreal is postponing its annual St. Patrick’s Day parade.

The United Irish Societies of Montreal announced today the 197th edition of the parade will not occur as scheduled on March 22 because of COVID-19 concerns.

The decision was made in conjunction with the City of Montreal not long after the Quebec government banned indoor gatherings involving more than 250 people.

Montreal joins Toronto, New York City, Chicago, Boston and Dublin in calling off St. Patrick’s Day parades.

NHL suspends season

The National Hockey League says it’s suspending its season effective immediately as a result of the spread of COVID-19.

The announcement comes a day after the National Basketball Association took the same step in the wake of a positive diagnosis for one of its players.

Earlier in the day the NHL advised teams to skip meetings, skates and practices.

Daycare in Calgary closes after child tests positive for COVID-19

A daycare in a downtown Calgary office tower has closed after a child tested positive for COVID-19.

Suncor Energy spokeswoman Erin Rees says the Pump-Kin Patch Child Care Centre is closed until March 23.

She says families of children there have been told to self-quarantine until March 20.

Suncor doesn’t operate the daycare but the centre is located in Suncor’s office building, and Rees says many employees have children that attend.

Peter MacKay suspends all campaign events

Conservative leadership candidate Peter MacKay says he is suspending all campaign events for the foreseeable future due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

MacKay made the announcement in a tweet.

Separately, organizers of the annual Manning Conference in Ottawa say they are cancelling this year’s gathering, which regularly attracts a wide-range of high-profile conservative politicians.

In an online notice, Manning Centre president Troy Lanigan says they have reached out to MacKay and other leadership candidates to see if a planned debate could go ahead as a live-streamed event.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says emergency aid package coming

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says his government is putting together an emergency aid package in response to a “triple whammy” hitting his province’s economy.

Kenney says the economic fallout from COVID-19, the plunge in oil prices and the potential for a looming global recession must be addressed.

He says details are coming soon and he has assurances from the federal government that they will support it.

He says he is also exploring how to ensure the spread of the novel coronavirus doesn’t result in a shutdown of either critical provincial services or the energy sector.

Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh says he’s limiting contact with public

Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says he’s feeling unwell and will be limiting contact with the public for the foreseeable future.

Singh released a tweet saying his symptoms are not consistent with COVID-19, but his doctors have urged him to stay home all the same.

Singh says it’s important to take steps to protect people who may be vulnerable to illness, including the novel coronavirus.

Quebec asks everyone returning to province from travel abroad to self-isolate

Quebec Premier Francois Legault is asking all people returning to the province from travel abroad to self-isolate for 14 days.

The measure will be mandatory for all government employees.

He is also asking organizers to cancel all indoor events attracting crowds of more than 250 people and all other large gatherings that are not considered essential.

The province now has 13 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

17 new COVID-19 cases in Ontario 

Health officials say there are 17 new cases of COVID-19 in Ontario.

The latest positive test results bring the total number of cases in the province to 59.

The patients include a baby boy under the age of one.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and wife  Sophie Gregoire Trudeau self-isolate 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau are in self-isolation after she began showing mild flu-like symptoms.

Gregoire Trudeau recently returned from a trip to London, U.K., and is currently being tested for COVID-19.

A release from the Prime Minister’s Office says her symptoms have subsided, while Trudeau is not currently showing any signs of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

An in-person meeting of Canada’s First Ministers set for today has been cancelled, though the provincial and territorial leaders will still meet by phone.

First presumptive positive case of COVID-19 in Saskatchewan 

Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Health says the province has its first presumptive case of COVID-19.

The province’s chief medical health officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab, says the person recently travelled to Egypt.

The person, who is about 60, was tested in Saskatoon earlier this month and has been self-isolating at home.

Toronto’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade cancelled 

Toronto’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade has been cancelled amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

The city’s St. Patrick’s Parade Society made the announcement this morning.

The event had originally been scheduled to take place this Sunday.

The cancellation marks an about-face for the society, which had released a statement on Wednesday saying the parade would go ahead.

Juno Awards cancelled 

The Juno Awards have been cancelled amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The show, which celebrates Canadian music, was to take place Sunday at the SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon.

The Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences says the decision was made with input and guidance from provincial tourism and health authorities.

Three case of COVID-19 in Manitoba 

Manitoba has announced more presumptive cases of COVID-19, bringing the total in the province to three.

Two men in their 30s from the Winnipeg region have tested positive.

The province announced it’s first case this morning, a woman in her 40s, who recently travelled to the Philippines.

With files from The Canadian Press

Alexa HuffmanAlexa Huffman

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