TORONTO: Canadians and their governments scrambled on Thursday to come to grips with the COVID-19 pandemic as case numbers rose, social distancing ramped up, and everyday life morphed into an abnormal new normal that could last months.
Amid growing economic turmoil, workers across the country have been idled at home, the U.S.-Canada border is set to close to all “non-essential” travel and airlines have drastically curtailed operations, leaving thousands of travellers stranded abroad.
“There’s no doubt, these are uncertain times,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said as he urged people to self-isolate.
Trudeau gave no timeline for how long the “difficult and extraordinary” measures now in place would need to last, saying experts have suggested weeks to months. Full details of the border closure with the U.S. were still being worked out but should come in a day or so, he said.
The prime minister said he had spoken to Air Canada and WestJet about finding ways to help Canadians stranded abroad get back.
A health unit in Ontario reported a new death as the province had a jump in cases _ 43 new ones _ on Thursday, bringing its total to 257 with two deaths. Canada is now closing in on 800 cases, 10 fatal. Seven of the fatalities have occurred in British Columbia, which has also surpassed the 200-case mark.
Most people with COVID-19 show mild symptoms, with the elderly and those with underlying health problems at greater risk.
Experts say frequent hand-washing and keeping at least a metre from others is the most effective way to prevent the spread of the virus.
In line with others entering Canada, all would-be refugees arriving at the Roxham Road border crossing into Quebec from New York state will be quarantined in temporary housing for 14 days, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said. She also said she had spoken to all the premiers about the issue.
The fast spread of the novel coronavirus prompted hundreds of doctors, nurses and activists to call on provincial governments to ensure immediate access to free health care for recent immigrants and other newcomers. Typically, new arrivals, including Canadians returning from longer stretches abroad, have to wait at least three months to access provincial health coverage.
“We are deeply concerned about these pre-existing barriers to health care for uninsured individuals in Canada, and the potential public health implications in the context of a pandemic,” the group OHIP For All said in an open letter to the Ontario premier and health minister.
Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said the province was looking to change the rules for returning Canadian citizens.
As the country grapples with how best to deal with the disease’s spread and the unprecedented economic fallout, scam artists have been taking full advantage. Some ploys involve sending people messages that they have tested positive for the virus and directing them to call a number, where they are asked to provide credit card and other information.
The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre has put out a list of the known COVID-19-related scams. Others flagged include offers of duct cleaning services or filters, threats to disconnect electricity, lists purporting to show who in an area is infected and door-to-door salespeople offering disinfectant services.
The centre advises never to provide financial information under such circumstances.
Fears of more stringent measures prompted hundreds of people to line up at liquor and cannabis stores in Prince Edward Island on Thursday. B.C.’s Municipal Affairs Ministry cancelled three municipal byelections and a referendum in four communities.
Toronto’s transit agency reported a positive COVID-19 test for one of its employees, who worked a shift at a bus maintenance workshop after returning from vacation last week. The person’s infection has prompted as many as 170 TTC employees to self-isolate.