The head of the World Health Organization urged the world not to “squander” the opportunity to suppress and control the coronavirus, as lawmakers in both Canada and the United States took steps to get money flowing to people affected by the economic turmoil caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think we squandered the first window of opportunity, but we are saying today, in my message, I made it clear that this is a second opportunity which we should not squander,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Wednesday.
He said locking down populations is buying time and reducing pressure on health systems — but that this alone won’t extinguish an epidemic.
“Before lifting any lockdowns, countries should use this time to train and expand the health workforce, ramp up testing and adapt facilities to treat patients,” Tedros said.
WATCH | WHO chief urges world to suppress and control the coronavirus now:
“The last thing any country needs is to open schools and businesses, only to be forced to close them again because of a resurgence,” he said.
In Canada, the government and opposition parties in Parliament passed a $107-billion economic aid package bill to help Canadians struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The legislation was passed early Wednesday morning after a late night of tense negotiations to limit the Liberal government’s ability to spend more money without parliamentary approval — something Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said would have been an attempt at an “undemocratic power grab.”
A group of 15 senators, scattered through the chamber to ensure there was enough physical distance between them, reviewed the bill Wednesday morning, and it received royal assent in the afternoon. It contains $52 billion in direct support payments and $55 billion in tax deferrals.
Speaking to senators Wednesday, Finance Minister Bill Morneau said Canada has “enormous job loss” right now, adding that the government hopes and expects those losses will be temporary.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, speaking at a daily briefing outside Rideau Cottage, said nearly one million people applied for employment insurance last week. Trudeau said workers from different departments are being tapped to help process EI claims as the COVID-19 crisis continues.
“We need to make sure that we’re getting that money out quickly, but also reliably to Canadians,” he said.
WATCH | PM talks about program to help Canadians affected by pandemic:
Rebecca Zirk, who owns and operates a salon in Saskatoon, told CBC News Network that people like her need help — and soon — if they are going to have a business to come back to. She’s also worried that money won’t flow fast enough to those who need it as demand on the government’s system surges.
“We need immediate support for entrepreneurs,” said Zirk, who also suggested a universal benefit for all Canadians so that people don’t have to be in a “constant panic” as they wait for relief funds to be disbursed.
WATCH | Saskatoon small business owner says people like her need help immediately:
In the U.S., Senate leaders from both parties and the White House came to an agreement on a $2-trillion US aid package late Tuesday. The plan, which delivers aid for workers, businesses and the health-care system, came after days of arguing over how funding for large industries would be structured.
“We’re going to pass this legislation later today,” Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said after the deal was announced early Wednesday. Trump supports the measure, the White House said.
Prince Charles tests positive for coronavirus
In the U.K., which recently implemented tougher stay-at-home measures to try to combat the virus, there’s another high-profile case: Prince Charles has tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
A spokesperson for Clarence House said he has displayed mild symptoms but otherwise is in good health, and has been working from home. His wife Camilla has tested negative, the spokesperson said.
More than 450,000 people worldwide have been infected by the virus and some 20,000 have died, according to a Johns Hopkins University case tracker.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
It is the more severe cases — often requiring ventilators and specialized care — that threaten to overwhelm hospitals. Several countries are already running short of the critical equipment needed to treat patients and keep doctors and nurses safe. Doctors are dying in Italy, and Spain says 14 per cent of its infections are health-care workers.
In China, where the virus was first reported in late 2019, officials were loosening some restrictions in hard-hit Hubei province. The lockdown of Hubei’s capital Wuhan will be lifted on April 8, a milestone in China’s war against the epidemic as Beijing shifts its focus toward stemming imported cases and rebooting the economy.
In India, meanwhile, people woke up to quiet streets after the government announced broad restrictions to try to stop the virus from spreading. India had gradually expanded stay-at-home orders, banned international and domestic flights and suspended passenger service on its extensive rail system until March 31.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement of a three-week countrywide lockdown covering nearly one-fifth of the world’s population triggered panic buying on Tuesday night, but the situation eased after the government issued notices that essential services would be provided.
Read on for a look at what’s happening in Canada, the U.S. and around the world.
Here’s what’s happening in Canada’s provinces and territories
On Wednesday, Trudeau announced that Canada has accelerated its testing to 10,000 people per day and is ramping up production of emergency medical equipment and medication. More efforts — such as enforcing a mandatory 14-day quarantine for international travellers, which begins Wednesday at midnight — are also on their way as cases of COVID-19 increase.
As of 4:30 p.m. ET Wednesday, there were more than 3,200 confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19 in Canada, with 33 deaths and 187 cases listed by provinces as recovered or resolved. (Not all provinces are listing details about people who have recovered.)
There has also been one COVID-19-related death of a Canadian reported abroad. Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s top public health officer, said a passenger of the Diamond Princess cruise ship died in Japan.
For a look at what’s happening in your province and territory, check out CBC’s interactive case tracker.
In British Columbia, Premier John Horgan announced a supplemental payment of up to $500 dollars a month to renters struggling because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He also said the province is suspending current and future evictions with “some exceptions.” There will also be a rent freeze in B.C., while other changes — such as landlords being disallowed from entering tenants’ apartments — were announced. Read more about what’s happening in B.C.
In Alberta, there are early indications that social distancing and business closures could be blunting the infection curve. At the same time, the Alberta government has opened applications for emergency payments to out-of-work Albertans — $1,146 to eligible recipients. University of Calgary medical students have quadrupled the province’s ability to trace those who’ve been in contact with an infected person. That news comes after Tuesday’s announcement of 57 more cases in the province, along with Alberta’s second COVID-19 death. Read more about what’s happening in Alberta.
On Wednesday, Saskatchewan capped gatherings at 10 people, and flagged 14 Regina and Saskatoon flights with a confirmed COVID-19 case onboard. Also on Wednesday, a union representing thousands of Saskatchewan health-care workers blasted a leaked government plan estimating between 9,000 and 15,000 COVID-19 deaths as “deficient,” and called for significant changes in how the pandemic is dealt with.
WATCH | All alone, together: Helping each other during COVID-19:
Manitoba reported 14 new cases on Wednesday, including a girl younger than 10. Also on Wednesday, a planned emergency shelter for vulnerable people to use during the COVID-19 pandemic was cancelled over safety concerns. Read more about what’s happening in Manitoba.
Toronto is closing all city-owned playgrounds effective immediately, following 100 new cases reported in the province. The Ontario government also announced a reworked spending plan, including a health budget rise of $3.3 billion, an increase of 5.5 per cent from last year. Meanwhile, the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario called for more support for health-care workers, pointing out that there are already shortages of masks and other protective equipment at hospitals across the province. “We are in a war, and the enemy is the COVID-19 virus,” the organization said in a statement. Read more about what’s happening in Ontario.
There were two more deaths in Quebec on Wednesday, bringing the total to six. The province’s confirmed cases include paramedics and health-care personnel, seniors and one homeless man in Montreal. After testing positive, that man turned up at a Montreal homeless shelter Monday seeking food, prompting advocates to question why he was left to wander the streets instead of receiving care. Read more about what’s happening in Quebec.
New Brunswick is setting up screening checkpoints at provincial borders following Premier Blaine Higgs’s announcement prohibiting unnecessary travel into the province. Officers stationed at the Quebec, P.E.I. and Nova Scotia borders will be authorized to turn people away, and will collect information on travellers allowed into the province. Read more about what’s happening in New Brunswick.
Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer is urging people to be honest about travel history. “People will receive the care they need no matter what their health issue is, but if you do not tell the truth about travel history, we cannot be alerted about the potential for COVID-19 and you’re quite frankly putting other people at risk, especially health-care workers,” said Dr. Robert Strang. Read more about what’s happening in N.S., which has also stepped up testing capacity.
Prince Edward Island’s government is working with a grocery store to offer gift cards to people struggling amid the COVID-19 crisis. The temporary program will give $100 gift cards to workers who are waiting for employment insurance after being laid off. Read more about what’s happening on P.E.I.
Newfoundland and Labrador’s chief medical health officer is reminding people who are sick to stay home — and urging the healthy to do the same barring essential trips. “To those that are healthy and well, unless it is necessary for you to get groceries and other essentials, please stay home,” Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said. Read more about what’s happening in N.L, including details about a woman who was arrested under the Public Health Protection and Promotion Act after ignoring an order to stay home.
Yellowknife’s largest school board says schools will be closed — for the rest of the academic year. In Nunavut, there’s concern about what the COVID-19 closures mean for food security for children and the homeless. Read more about what’s happening in Canada’s North.
Here’s what’s happening in the U.S.
From Reuters, The Associated Press and CBC News, updated at 5:30 p.m. ET.
The White House and Senate leaders of both parties announced agreement early Wednesday on an unprecedented $2-trillion US emergency bill to rush sweeping aid to businesses, workers and a health-care system slammed by the pandemic.
Stocks rose two per cent early Wednesday on Wall Street based on the development. The Republican-led Senate could vote on the measure later Wednesday, but the timetable for a vote in the House is unclear, with members mostly scattered around the country.
The strain of the fast-spreading outbreak, meanwhile, has accelerated beyond the hot spots of New York, California and Washington state, with Louisiana and Iowa declaring federal disaster areas. The governors of at least 18 states, including New York, have issued stay-at-home directives affecting about half the U.S. population.
But New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose state has more than half the cases in the country, expressed a note of optimism Wednesday, saying there were tentative signs the spread of the virus was slowing.
Cuomo said the state’s total known cases now number 30,811, with 285 deaths.
“Our closeness makes us vulnerable,” said Cuomo, who also announced additional “density-control” steps such as banning contact sports in parks and closing some public streets to vehicles and instead opening them to pedestrians to facilitate social distancing.
WATCH | U.S. could become coronavirus epicentre as Trump talks economy:
Medical professionals say social distancing needs to be stepped up, not relaxed, to slow the spread of infections. At a White House briefing Tuesday, public health authorities said it was particularly important for people in the hard-hit New York City metropolitan area to quarantine themselves for 14 days and for those who have recently left the city to do the same.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, said pointedly at the briefing: “No one is going to want to tone down anything when you see what is going on in a place like New York City.”
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed that the Trump administration send thousands of ventilators to New York City — which needs 30,000 of them, he said — and demanded that Trump use wartime authority to force manufacturers to produce them.
WATCH: Drone footage from around the world shows the impact of anti-coronavirus measures
Here’s what’s happening in Europe
From Reuters and The Associated Press, updated at 4 p.m. ET
Spain registered an overnight jump of 738 deaths from coronavirus on Wednesday, pushing the death toll above that of China, where the disease originated, for the first time as the country struggles to cope with soaring numbers of infections.
With 3,434 fatalities, Spain now has the second-highest number of deaths globally after Italy’s 6,820, in an outbreak that has seen a Madrid skating rink turned into a makeshift morgue and dozens dead in overwhelmed nursing homes across the country. As of late Wednesday, authorities had arrested 484 people in total since the start of quarantine, including 55 over the previous 24 hours for failing to comply with security measures, police said.
Fatalities in Italy surged again on Wednesday, growing by 683 to 7,503. At the same time, the hardest-hit northern region of Lombardy reported a sharp fall in the number of deaths compared with the day before, the lowest daily death toll in Lombardy since March 19. The region still remains in a critical situation, with a total of 4,474 deaths and 32,346 cases.
France’s death toll is much higher than the official tally, which only accounts for those dying in hospitals and does not include those dying at home or in retirement homes, the head of the hospitals federation said. France’s Scientific Council has recommended that France’s home confinement, which began one week ago, should last at least six weeks in total. The recommendation was voiced to French President Emmanuel Macron during a special expert meeting on Tuesday.
In the U.K., more than 170,000 people signed up to help the National Health Service, and Parliament is set to suspend sitting for at least four weeks. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said more than 400,000 people responded within a day to the government’s call for volunteers to help the country’s most vulnerable people. They will deliver medicine, drive people home from doctor’s appointments and make phone calls to check on patients.
In contrast to other European countries, Germany offered some hope that it has flattened the exponential spread of the virus, which has infected some 30,000 people. The German lower house on Wednesday suspended the country’s constitutionally enshrined debt brake, approving a massive stimulus package by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government to weather the economic fallout from the outbreak.
Russia’s prime minister ordered provincial governors Wednesday to move more quickly to ready hospital beds for coronavirus patients as the outbreak has spread across the vast country. The government reported 658 cases of COVID-19 in Russia, up from 495 a day before. That marked a significantly bigger daily increase compared to the previous day, when the number of infections increased by several dozen.
The warning to governors came a day after the mayor of Moscow told Russian President Vladimir Putin that the Russian regions weren’t acting energetically enough to prepare for the outbreak.
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Here’s what’s happening elsewhere, including hard-hit Iran and South Korea
From The Associated Press and Reuters, updated at 5 p.m. ET
Iran is battling the worst outbreak in the region, with more than 27,000 confirmed cases and a death toll of at least 2,077. Authorities have advised people to stay at home but have not imposed the kinds of lockdowns seen elsewhere. State television aired footage of people thronging the streets Monday night, ignoring social-distancing warnings. President Hassan Rouhani imposed new restrictions on parks, saying he was left with “no other choice.”
Mexico so far has more than 400 cases and five deaths but is bracing for a fast rise in infections in coming weeks. Still, life appeared to go on largely as normal in Mexico City on Wednesday even as the government implemented social distancing measures to help control the coronavirus outbreak. Sidewalks, metro stations and buses were crowded as people went about their business. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has been criticized for an allegedly cavalier approach to the virus, encouraging people to go out to restaurants, for example, despite more stringent measures recommended by his government.
WATCH | Mexico City seemingly unconcerned by COVID-19 warnings
Saudi Arabia expanded its curfew hours in the cities of Mecca and Medina, home to Islam’s holiest sites, as well as the capital, Riyadh. Residents now must remain inside their homes from 3 p.m. to 6 a.m. The kingdom also banned travel in or out of the three governorates. Saudi Arabia has reported 676 cases.
South Korea said it plans to provide coronavirus testing materials to the United States in response to President Donald Trump’s request for help. Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the country is willing to send chemical reagents used to extract genetic material during COVID-19 tests, but at a level that doesn’t affect its own testing capacity.She didn’t provide a detailed estimate on the size of supplies that could be shipped to the United States.
South Korea is pushing an aggressive test-and-quarantine program that some experts say possibly contributed to its lower death toll in comparison with mainland China and hard-hit European nations. As of Wednesday, South Korea had tested around 358,000 people while reporting 9,137 infections and 126 deaths.
Cases across Africa are now well above 2,400. With Mali, Libya and Guinea-Bissau announcing their first, 46 of the continent’s 54 countries now have the virus. The Portuguese news agency Lusa reported the Guinea-Bissau cases, citing the presidency. Public hospital doctors and nurses in Zimbabwe, which recorded its first COVID-19 death this week, went on strike Wednesday over a lack of protective gear. The move came as neighbouring South Africa’s coronavirus cases jumped to 709, its health minister said, as the country prepared to go into lockdown Friday.
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