Ontario’s Stage 3 reopening brings no surge in COVID-19 cases so far
Fears of a resurgence in COVID-19 cases in Ontario after bars and other indoor spaces were reopened have not panned out — at least so far. Four weeks ago today, Toronto and Peel Region joined the rest of Ontario (with the exception of Windsor-Essex) in Stage 3 of the province’s pandemic reopening plan. That means 97 per cent of Ontario’s population has been living under looser restrictions for at least four weeks, enough time for trends in new coronavirus infections to emerge.
Despite that, the provincial average number of daily new cases has increased only slightly since early August, when the trendline hit its lowest point in months. While it would be absolutely premature for the province to declare victory over the coronavirus, the absence of a spike in new cases suggests it’s fair to call the first month of Ontario’s Stage 3 reopening a success, writes CBC’s Mike Crawley. “The province is actually doing much better than I would have expected as we moved into Stage 3,” said Ashleigh Tuite, an epidemiologist at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health. “We have seen an increase, but that increase has not been as rapid as I would have thought.”
Health experts attribute Ontario’s relatively successful reopening to a range of factors, including local bylaws requiring masks in shops and on transit; physical distancing and occupancy restraints on indoor businesses; and summer weather that allowed people to spend time outdoors, where the risk of transmission is at its lowest. Ontarians “got the message relatively early that COVID was a problem,” said Dr. Zain Chagla, an associate professor of medicine at McMaster University and an infectious disease consultant at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton. He believes most everyone in the province has realized the potential consequences of failing to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Efforts to “flatten the curve” of COVID-19 cases have not worked out perfectly across the province. Public health officials have expressed some concerns about case counts in recent days in Toronto, Peel Region and Ottawa. Regional differences are important to watch for because the pandemic manifests differently in different places, said Raywat Deonandan, an epidemiologist and associate professor at the University of Ottawa’s faculty of health sciences. “Overall, Ontario is doing well,” he said in an interview. “Not as good as it could be doing, but well.” Deonandan said he is concerned about evidence suggesting that people in their 20s and 30s are accounting for a growing proportion of COVID-19 cases in the province.
None of Ontario’s success in August guarantees that the province will continue to see low case counts or escape a second wave of infection in the fall. Clearly, risks remain in the weeks ahead as school resumes, workers return from holidays, cooler weather pushes people indoors and flu season arrives. “Everything rides on whether schools can be opened up safely,” said Deonandan. Schools can be breeding grounds for spreading the coronavirus if proper preventive measures are not taken, he said. “Are young people taking it home to their parents and grandparents? When that happens, then I’ll start to panic.”
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Canada’s economy just finished its worst quarter for GDP ever — but also its best month on record
Canada’s economy shrank at the fastest pace on record in the second quarter, as consumer spending, business investment, imports and exports all dried up because of COVID-19. Statistics Canada reported Friday that the country’s gross domestic product shrank by 11.5 per cent in the three-month period between April and June. That’s a 38.7 per cent pace of contraction for the year as a whole, far and away the steepest and fastest decline on records that date back to 1961.
While the second quarter was the worst quarter for Canada’s GDP in almost 60 years, the numbers for June specifically make that month the biggest bounceback on record, too. June’s GDP grew by 6.5 per cent from May’s level as provinces reopened their economies and consumers and businesses started spending again. But the economy has yet to fully bounce back to where it was. Even after June’s strong numbers, Canada’s GDP is still nine per cent below where it was in February.
Retail sales have fully recovered, but key industries like manufacturing, construction and the energy sector have yet to get back to their pre-pandemic levels of output, the numbers released Friday show. Preliminary data for July suggests the economy grew by another three per cent that month from June’s level, which is why economists are hopeful that the recovery that is underway will be enough to get the economy fully up and over the hole it fell into during the first wave of COVID-19. “Because the weakness was entirely front-loaded — the economy was essentially shut in April — there are already plenty of signs that growth will snap back with purpose in Q3,” Bank of Montreal economist Doug Porter said of the numbers.
Health officials looking into whether airport COVID-19 tests can replace quarantine measures
Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said officials are looking into whether it’s practical to test people for COVID-19 when they enter Canada instead of requiring them to quarantine. Canada closed its borders to most non-citizens back in March, with some exceptions. People who cross into Canada have to self-isolate for 14 days to make sure they don’t spread the virus, whether they’re experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 or not.
During a health briefing in Ottawa today, Tam was asked whether the government is looking at testing passengers at international airports instead of requiring them to quarantine for two weeks — a measure which would drastically reduce their time in isolation. “Absolutely. We’ll be actively looking at those options,” Tam said, adding that more research is required before any changes are introduced. Tam offered no timeline and stressed that the Public Health Agency still needs to conduct more research into how mass testing would work, and would have to reach out to local health authorities about implementation.
Tam’s comments came as Reuters reported that Air Canada is planning a voluntary COVID-19 test trial for passengers arriving at Pearson airport in Toronto, the country’s largest airport, to help persuade the federal government to end strict quarantine rules. According to a presentation delivered by Air Canada chief financial officer Michael Rousseau and obtained by Reuters, the airline is working with the Greater Toronto Airports Authority and expects to begin a trial after the Labour Day holiday on Sept. 7. It would consist of a test at Toronto’s Pearson airport followed by two tests at home.
Schools resort to phone and fax machine to restart classes in northern Ontario First Nations
High school students in some remote First Nations in northwestern Ontario will talk to their teacher on a landline and get their lessons through a fax machine next month in an effort to keep their learning on track and keep them safe during the pandemic. It’s one of the ways Matawa Education and Care Centre in Thunder Bay has had to adapt to serve its students in fly-in communities that lack reliable internet access. Matawa will open on Sept. 3 with a mix of in-person, online and remote learning options for its roster of about 130 students, said principal Brad Battiston.
It’s not clear how far the $112 million in federal funding announced for First Nations education during the pandemic will go toward addressing those needs. “We acknowledge the support, but we are discouraged that [Wednesday’s] announcement doesn’t provide details on specific resources, timelines, how to access the funding or how it will be allocated,” said deputy grand chief Derek Fox, of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, representing 49 First Nations in northern Ontario. “We are concerned that proposal-based funding will cause significant delays, and we call on the government to respect community needs,” Fox said in a news release.
There are few high schools on reserves in Ontario’s remote north and in ordinary times that meant students had to leave their homes to fly into Thunder Bay or Sioux Lookout to receive their secondary schooling. Most stay in boarding homes or student residences. Not this year. Matawa had hoped to have its new student residence open this fall, but the pandemic has pushed that back. Matawa is also looking for classroom space in the First Nations it serves, but it’s not easy when elementary schools are already overcrowded and any spare space in community halls or administration offices is being used to isolate people who may have been exposed to COVID-19.
The pandemic has slowed human consumption of Earth’s resources — for now
Each year, the Global Footprint Network, an international non-profit organization that aims to draw attention to sustainability, releases an estimate on the day when humanity’s demand for ecological resources surpasses what the planet can regenerate in that year. The calculations for Earth Overshoot Day include things like carbon production, cropland and forests, among other types of land use. The date has fallen earlier and earlier based on historical data going back to 1970.
But this year, there was a bit of good news: the date moved ahead by three weeks, from July 29 (in 2019) to Aug. 22, owing to a 9.3 per cent reduction in the world’s ecological footprint. While the news for 2020 is more positive, the Global Footprint Network warns that it was largely because of the pandemic, which resulted in shutdowns around the world. “Yes, we reduced our demand, but it is reduced by disaster, not by design,” said Mathis Wackernagel, CEO and founder of the Global Footprint Network.
This isn’t without precedent, CBC’s Nicole Mortillaro wrote in this week’s What on Earth? newsletter. Similar trends have occurred at times of global crisis, such as the dissolution of the former Soviet Union, the savings and loans crisis in the 1980s and the post-2008 global financial crisis. But every time, as governments try to stimulate the economy and thus increase the demand for resources, our ecological footprint eventually pushes that date earlier and earlier. Some don’t entirely agree with Earth Overshoot Day, saying it doesn’t accurately take into account all metrics for measuring our environmental impact. But Wackernagel said that the overarching message is “to translate the numbers in a way that people can understand.”
Drive-thru PNE up and running amid COVID-19 restrictions
Kicking off its drive-thru experience amid COVID-19 restrictions, the Pacific National Exhibition (PNE) is offering guests a taste of some of the favourite aspects of the fair this summer. The PNE has restructured its fair experience with a partial reopening of some of its attractions in Vancouver.
Guests are required to stay in their car and tickets must be booked online prior to attending. “We really wanted to showcase those special PNE memories of great entertainment and bring together British Columbians for their traditional end-of-summer PNE experience that celebrates the best of the PNE Fair,” said Patrick Roberge, the fair’s creative director.
Watching a SuperDogs show or driving through Agricultural Alley to view farm animals are some of the events that will be familiar to past PNE fairgoers. “We wanted to bring our son to the PNE for the first time,” said Amy Chang, holding her 20-month-old son Jacob. “So far so good!”
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