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The latest COVID-19 news from Toronto and Canada. This post will be updated regularly
7:35 am Canadian Olympic Committee issues cautionary statement on Tokyo Games
The Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) has issued an open letter saying that it supports the decision of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to continue with the Olympic Games in Tokyo this July.
But in a letter issued last night, the COC says that hopes the Games will go on “needs to be put in context. The current pandemic is among the most challenging health issues that we have had to confront in many generations. Lives are at risk on a global basis, and there is an unprecedented level of worry and anxiety in our communities. Sport, understandably and appropriately, ranks low in terms of these priorities.”
Olympic qualifying events have been cancelled by the IOC. Some 43 per cent of countries have yet to qualify athletes for events. The IOC has set up a task force, which includes the World Health Organization (WHO), to continue preparations for the Games, including the Games supply chain.
But the COC’s statement strikes a cautionary tone. It goes on to say that “The anxiety that athletes are feeling about the pandemic is much like anyone else’s, and although it includes hope for the Olympic Games, it is clear that hope for containment of this virus is first and foremost.”
The COC says it will make decisions going forward “based on the information provided by the IOC, WHO and our health experts.”
9:55 pm The Bay to close for two weeks
All Hudson’s Bay stores are closing for two weeks, effective immediately. The retailer will pay staff for all scheduled shifts that were planned for the two-week period.
8:33 pm Book retailer Indigo to temporarily close all locations
Indigo is the latest retailer to close down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The book seller is shutting all locations until March 27 and will support employees who had scheduled shifts with full pay.
No employees have tested positive for the virus and there have been no reported cases in Indigo offices, stores or distribution centres, the company said in a statement.
“We believe that this temporary shut-down is an opportunity to do our part as members of team Canada to control the spread of COVID-19 and keep our employees, customers and broader community safe,” CEO Heather Reisman said in a statement.
7:15 pm Toronto city hall to close
The city is scaling back all non-essential services. In an afternoon press conference broadcast from his condo living room, Mayor John Tory announced that starting tomorrow and until April 5, city hall and Metro Hall will also close. Tory is currently in self-isolation following a business trip last week to London, England.
Emergency response services including garbage collection, shelter operations, Toronto Police, fire and paramedic services, Toronto Water, the TTC and Toronto Hydro will continue to operate uninterrupted. City staff who work in non-essential services will be working from home.
5:17 pm National parks among new COVID-19-related closures
Parks Canada is suspending all visitor services in all national parks, historic sites and marine conservation areas “until further notice.”
The agency in charge of Canada’s national parks says in a statement released this afternoon that it will cease taking new reservations until April 30. And that all existing reservations will be refunded in full.
Visitor facilities closed temporarily include washrooms and day-use facilities.
The agency says that visitors may use “front country and backcountry areas as well as accessible green spaces,” but that they will be responsible for their own safety and that search and rescue services “may be limited.”
There are a number of tourism businesses within Parks Canada that may continue to operate, the agency said, but clients should check before visiting to see if they’re open.
4:38 pm LCBO announces scaled-back hours
A day after quashing rumours that the LCBO would be closing its stores in the face of the rising COVID-19 pandemic, the provincial liquor store confirmed that it would be instead reducing its hours.
“Beginning Thursday, March 19 all LCBO stores will operate from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. daily,” the company said in a statement.
Read more COVID-19 retail news here.
3:41 pm Ontario confirms first death linked to COVID-19
Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health David Williams has confirmed Ontario’s first death linked to COVID-19. As reported earlier, the individual is a 77-year-old man who died on March 11 at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Barrie. He was only tested for the virus after his death.
Williams said in a press conference held this afternoon that the next two to four weeks will be “very important” if Ontario is to stem the spread of the virus.
He says the government’s recommendation to practice social-distancing is only part one of the province’s containment strategy. Declaring a state of emergency in the province and ordering all bars and restaurants closed was the second part of that plan. Williams says that we’re entering another phase in the province’s containment strategy – to stop the potential spread of the virus from Ontarians returning from abroad, in particular, snowbirds from the United States. All of those individuals will be under a federal travel advisory to self-isolate.
Williams equated Ontario’s response to the COVID situation to the kind of preparations that would be made before a storm. And stressed the need for Ontarians to remain calm.
“We looked at the data. We had our experts. And they said this was coming and you need to do something.” He says that it’s important now and that “citizens of Ontario remain engaged” and continue to take precautions to help halt the spread of the virus.
He said the opening of assessment centres will decrease pressure on emergency rooms dealing with the virus. But Willams advised members of the public not experiencing symptoms to refrain from getting tested. He says testing should be prioritized for those experiencing symptoms.
The nine cases confirmed so far today has gone down from 30 reported yesterday. But Williams says we shouldn’t read too much into that. He says there are still some 1,566 samples that haven’t been tested, which will take a few days to get through. As a result, he said we might still see a “bump” in the numbers of those infected.
2:47 pm Ontario reports potential coronavirus-related death
Ontario health officials have confirmed the province’s first death potentially related to COVID-19. The individual was a 77-year old man who passed away on March 11 at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Barrie.
“This individual was a close contact of a positive case and COVID-19 was recently identified after death,” David Williams, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said in a statement. “The coroner’s investigation is ongoing and more will be known about the specific cause of death in the days ahead.”
If confirmed, it would be Ontario’s first coronavirus-related death.
12:50 pm Doctors urge Ontarians to focus on mental health during COVID-19 emergency
The Ontario Medical Association is advising Ontarians who are practicing social distancing during Ontario’s COVID-19 state of emergency to mind their mental health.
“Social distancing does not mean social isolation,” says OMA president Dr. Sohail Gandhi in a statement released this afternoon. “We must stay in touch with each other – family, friends and colleagues. Reach out and call, or email, or Skype – technology provides many options to keep in touch.”
The OMA president also supported the Ontario government’s move to close down non-essential services and spend $50 million on the purchase of protective equipment for frontline health care workers. The province also announced funding for additional doctors, nurses, personal support workers, and COVID-19 testing and assessment centres.
12:28 pm Trudeau unveils emergency fund for travellers
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau held a press conference on Wednesday and announced an emergency loan program through Global Affairs that would provide $5,000 per person to help Canadians travelling abroad to return home. The fund is called the COVID-19 Emergency Loan Program for Canadians Abroad.
Later this week the government will also announce changes to tax season, Trudeau said. More economic announcements will be made tomorrow. Parliament will also likely be recalled to pass legislative measures around employment insurance and the house is also looking at adopting other measures under the Emergency Measures Act.
11:30 am Eight new coronavirus cases in Ontario
Ontario confirmed eight new cases of novel coronavirus on Tuesday morning. The province’s total number of cases is now 185. All the new cases are in Hamilton or London and all patients are in self-isolation. There are 1,567 cases under investigation in Ontario.
10:35 am Prime Minister not prepared to declare a state of emergency
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told 680 News this morning that the science doesn’t yet support declaring a federal state of emergency on COVID-19. He says the federal government already has the powers it needs to manage the spread of the disease. Trudeau, who has been holding daily briefings with the press on government efforts to contain the virus, advised Canadians to stay home.
He said the federal government has been discussing ways to “get money into the pockets of Canadians” and will be making an announcement as soon as tomorrow on a number of measures, including possibly boosting the Child Tax Benefit and “help with mortgages and rents.” He noted that the Bank of Canada has already reduced interest rates. He described as “unprecedented” the Liberal government’s move yesterday to close the Canadian border to all non-citizens. He said the decision to exempt American citizens from the border clampdown was a “special situation because of the effects on supply chains.”
9:35 am John Tory supports state of emergency
Toronto Mayor John Tory said he “fully supports” Premier Doug Ford’s state of emergency declaration.
In a statement, he added: “I hope the seriousness of this declaration will make it clear to every resident how important their personal actions will be in the coming days. If people can stay home then stay home and limit your interactions with other people. We know from our medical professionals that engaging in social distancing will protect people’s health and the health of their family and neighbours.”
9 am Ford promises $300 million “relief package”
During Wednesday’s press conference, Premier Doug Ford said the province is making a $300-million relief package available to fight the spread of COVID-19. The funding is the “first stage” in a larger initiative, he added.
The money will be used to add 75 critical-cared beds and 500 post-acute care beds in hospitals. The province will also establish 25 additional COVID-19 assessment centres, add 1,000 more nurses and 50 more doctors and purchase more personal protective equipment like, masks and gloves, for medical workers.
8:30 am Doug Ford declares a state of emergency in Ontario
The premier has declared a state of emergency in the province. “We’re taking this measure because we must offer our full support in every power possible to help our health care sector fight the spread of COVID-19,” Doug Ford said on Wednesday morning at Queen’s Park.
“This is not a provincial shutdown,” he added. “The vast majority of businesses including those vital to day-to-day life will not be affected by this order. Essential services and essential needs will be available to every individual and family.”
The move means organized public events of over 50 people, including parades and services within places of worship, are prohibited until March 31. Establishments ordered to close effective immediately until March 31 include indoor recreational programs, public libraries, licensed childcare centres, bars and restaurants – with the exception those that offer takeout/delivery – all theatres, cinemas and concert venues.
Grocery stores, pharmacies, convenience stores, public transit, factories and office buildings can continue to operate.
8:23 am WestJet to suspend international flights
WestJet will suspend all international flights starting on Sunday, March 22 for a 30-day period. The airline announced overnight that the last commercial flight will take off on Sunday by 11:59 p.m., local time. After that, WestJet will operate rescue and repatriation flights in partnership with the Canadian government. Tickets are no longer available for the 30-day period.
The company’s move follows Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urging all Canadians to return home and imposing new travel restrictions on non-citizens. WestJet is lowering prices on remaining seats and reducing its domestic scheduled by 50 per cent. Read the company’s full statement here.
8 am Doug Ford to make announcement
Premier Doug Ford will give an update on the COVID-19 pandemic at Queen’s Park at 8:30 am. He will be joined by Health Minister Christine Elliott, Minister of Finance Rod Phillips and Solicitor General Sylvia Jones.
March 16 evening Shoppers Drug Mart prioritizes high-needs customers
Shoppers Drug Mart will start dedicating the first opening hour at all stores to customers who need assistance or consideration, including seniors and people living with disabilities.
“We encourage you to check with your local store to confirm operating hours,” the company said in a statement.
The store will also offer its 20 per cent Seniors Day discount (usually only applied Thursday) on regular-priced items during the first hour of each day.
March 16 evening George Brown College closes campuses
George Brown College has announced it will close all its facilities “until further notice.”
The College says the student residence will remain open and that teachers will continue to work remotely “to develop alternate delivery options (including online) for courses and services, so that we will be prepared to deliver courses remotely on March 23.”
The college says there are no known cases of COVID-19 at George Brown but that it “has taken this unprecedented step to safeguard its community and help slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.”