TTC allows employees to wear masks Ontario reports 25 new COVID-19 cases

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10:14 pm Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF) announces cancellation

The latest in a long line of Toronto events to cancel due to the coronavirus pandemic is Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF), a massive annual event geared toward indie comic artists, graphic novelists and zinemakers that draws artists from all over the world. This year’s fest was set to take place at the Toronto Reference Library May 8-10.

Organizers said they made the decision to cancel the event due to feedback from partners, sponsors and venues, as well as the ongoing nature of travel restrictions and quarantine measures.

“We want to say to the entire comics community: We tried very hard to make this work, as we’re very aware of the financial and career necessity that TCAF has become for many working comic authors. At present, cancellation is the only ethical option,” they wrote, adding all exhibitors would receive refunds for tables.

Read the full statement here.

9:16 pm TTC announces new operational protocol for COVID-19

TTC employees are now permitted to wear face masks. The transit authority rolled out new protocols on Wednesday, including implementing all-door boarding on all vehicles to avoid crowding in single-door entry. Employees can also wear their own masks even though Toronto Public Health advises healthy people against wearing them.

“Masks may in fact increase risk as they can lead to individuals touching their face more often than necessary,” the TTC said in a statement. “However, going forward employees who choose to wear additional [personal protective equipment] will not be asked to remove it. The TTC has determined that, for the comfort of employees, and to ensure continuity of transit service for those who need it at this time, it will not restrict employees from wearing masks while at work.”

The TTC is also working with Toronto Community Housing to transport community housing clients who are symptomatic to healthcare centres for testing and then to isolation centres – if required – via Wheel-Trans. Operators driving these vehicles, which will undergo intense cleaning protocols, will be outfitted with appropriate PPE, as well patients, per public health guidelines.

“Our frontline TTC workers move our city every day but it is more important than ever that they keep service running so that health care workers who rely on transit can get to work to help people who need it the most right now,” mayor John Tory said in a statement.

7:40 pm Two more confirmed cases in Ontario

Public health officials confirmed two more positive cases of coronavirus in Ontario on Wednesday evening. In all, 25 new cases were reported today, bringing the provincial total to 214.

7:30 pm The Beer Store reduces hours

The Beer Store is reducing store hours to 10 am to 7 pm, Monday through Saturday, effective March 19. The new hours will last until March 31. Stores that are open from 10 am to 6 pm are not affected and Sunday hours remain unchanged.

The retailer is also suspending empty container returns at all stores across the province for the same dates.

“Deposits will be fully honoured upon return when we resume operations and city officials ask for public cooperation in keeping these deposit containers out of the blue box,” the company said in a statement. “In addition, at times we may need to limit the number of customers in our stores. This is to enhance protection for both customers and our dedicated employees who are working hard to serve customers.”

Beer Xpress home delivery and in-store pick up is still available.

6:25 pm Seven new cases of COVID-19 in Toronto and 11 cases of community transmission 

During the city’s daily afternoon press conference, Toronto’s chief medical officer of health Eileen de Villa confirmed there are seven new cases of COVID-10 and now 11 cases of community transmission.

Community transmission cases are not linked to travel and not connected to a person who has tested positive for COVID-19. With community transmission now in effect, de Villa stressed the importance of social distancing.

“Having friends over for coffee or dinner is not social distancing. Arranging play dates is not social distancing. Visiting family in hospital or care homes is not social distancing. Stopping at a grocery store to stock up after travel is not social distancing,” de Villa said during the presser. 

Read more on social distancing here.

4:53 pm OCAP calls on city to convert empty buildings into shelters for homeless

The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty says that a “rapid and dramatic increase in shelter and drop-in space” doe Toronto’s homeless is needed to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The City has announced it will add 200 shelter spaces by the end of this week but OCAP says the shelter system “needs at least 10 times” that number to bring occupancy levels at current shelters down to manageable levels.

“Chronic overcrowding in Toronto’s shelters, respites and drop-in sites make social distancing and physical isolation impossible,” says a statement released by the group.

The release points out that the closure of public facilities like libraries and community centres that homeless people rely on – as well as the scaling back of drop-ins – is compounding the shelter problem for homeless people.

OCAP suggests repurposing city buildings that have been closed to the public into homeless shelters to alleviate crowding in emergency shelters.

OCAP says food, bathrooms, showers and telephone access must be part of the city’s plans for homeless people unable to access shelters because “they have nowhere left to go.”

3:57 pm Ontario plans to boost COVID-19 testing to 5,000 a day

Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health David Williams held his daily briefing on the government’s COVID-19 response. He was joined by Barbara Yaffe Associate Medical Officer of Health with Toronto Public Health.

Here are the latest developments:

• Williams says he is still awaiting direction from the federal government on further possible border restrictions. The feds have announced the closure to all non-essential crossings.

• Williams says he’s gratified by the response of Ontarians since social distancing plans came into effect three days ago. “Ontarians are taking this seriously. For the most part, they’re limiting activities. People are listening and taking care.”

• Travellers returning from abroad are encouraged to use the self-assessment tool online to determine their level of exposure to COVID-19. Williams advises individuals who may be experiencing symptoms to contact an assessment centre for further tests.

• Just under 1,000 COVID-19 tests are being conducted each day. The plan is to increase that number to 5,000 per day within a week or so, says Yaffe. The turnaround for test results right now is three-to-four days.

• Consideration is being given to changing the criteria used in COVID-19 testing to determine if a person is negative, says Yaffe. Right now two negative tests 24 hours apart are needed to officially declare a person negative.

• Doctors who have patients showing COVID-19 symptoms should refer them to an assessment centre for testing. Doctors are also being advised to see patients online where possible.

• A number of reporters asked questions about doctors and nurses reporting shortages of masks and other equipment to protect them from the virus when dealing with patients. Williams says the supply issues may vary from region to region in the province.

• COVID-19 planning and preparations are ongoing in Indigenous communities throughout the province.

3:50 pm Elliott says province wants to emulate South Korea for testing

During the afternoon press conference, health minister Christine Elliott confirmed a backlog of coronavirus tests and said the province is currently expanding lab capacities. “The four-day wait [for lab results] is not acceptable,” Elliott said.  “Certainly 24-48 hours is what we’re aiming for.”

Elliott also confirmed that some people who are showing symptoms are being denied tests and that those people should continue to self-isolate. If they’re showing symptoms after 14 days, they should contact their local public health unit for advice and continue to self-isolate until their symptoms disappear.  

The province is currently conducting around 2,000 tests a day and is working towards 5,000 a day. Yesterday, Premier Doug Ford announced $300 million relief package and to establish 25 additional COVID-19 assessment centres.

Elliott cited South Korea, where new cases are in decline, as a model the province is hoping to emulate in terms of testing. That country has tested more than 290,000 people and identified more than 8,000 infections, Reuters reports.

“South Korea has done a really exemplary job,” Elliott said. “We’ve followed some of their practices in setting up the assessment centres separate from the hospital emergency departments and having some drive-thru centres as well.”

There are 3,379 coronavirus cases under investigation in Ontario.

2:40 pm Ford to introduce legislation for workers tomorrow

Premier Doug Ford praised prime minister Justin Trudeau’s economic bailout package at his afternoon press conference and said the province will introduce legislation tomorrow to provide further protections for workers. The legislation will cover workers with symptoms of COVID-19, workers who have been asked to self-isolate, and parents or guardians who have to take time off due to school and daycare closures.

Further economic supports will be outlined next Wednesday, March 25 as part of finance minister Rod Phillips’s economic and fiscal update.

2:31 pm Ontario addressing Telehealth technical issues

Provincial health minister Christine Elliott said Ontario has added 300 additional health lines and is working to address reported technical issues with health information service Telehealth. Callers are reporting being unable to get through, put on hold or disconnected. Elliott said she is hoping the problems to be resolved “imminently.”

“We are actively working with the provider to remedy that,” she said during an afternoon press conference at Queen’s Park. “We hope to have it up and ready again very soon.”

1 pm Ontario confirms 23 new cases of coronavirus

Provincial public health officials have reported 23 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total number of active cases in the province to 205. Three of the cases are in Toronto.

Most of the new cases have a travel history to countries including Austria, Brazil, Japan, Pakistan and the United States. Others are listed as having contacted the virus through close contact. Four are listed as pending.

All patients are listed as being in self-isolation.

Five cases in Ontario are listed as no longer infectious and there has been one death. There are 3,379 cases under investigation and 10,305 people have tested negative.

12:00 pm Ottawa’s emergency financial relief package: the details

In a morning press conference, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a sweeping aid package that includes $27 billion in “direct support” for Canadians and businesses, plus $55 billion in tax deferrals.

Here’s a breakdown:

  • Workers who do not qualify for paid sick leave and are sick, in quarantine/self-isolation or forced to stay home to care for children or other ill family members will qualify for the Emergency Care Benefit. Administered through the Canada Revenue Agency, they’ll receive a flat-payment of $900 bi-weekly for up to 15 weeks.
  • Workers who lose their jobs or face reduced hours due to COVID-19 and do not qualify for employment insurance (EI) will qualify for the Emergency Support Benefit, which will provide $5 billion in support. Exact details of how individual workers will benefit have yet to be announced.
  • Small businesses, non-profits and charities that are facing revenue losses will qualify for a temporary wage subsidy for three months. The subsidy will be equal to 10 per cent of remuneration paid during that period, up to a maximum of $1,375 per employee and $25,000 per business.
  • Increasing the GST credit for low-income individuals and families. Eligible adults will receive up to $300 and up to $150 per child, Trudeau said.
  • Interest-free six-month moratorium on student loans.
  • Increasing the maximum annual Canada Child Benefit (CCB) benefits amount by $300 per child.
  • $305 million will go toward an Indigenous Community Support Fund
  • Women and children fleeing violence will be supported with up to $50 million, which will go to women’s shelters and sexual assault centres to help with capacity to manage/prevent an outbreak in their facilities.

Asked when Canadians can expect cheques to arrive, Trudeau said “in a few weeks,” adding that legislation must be passed and that opposition parties in the minority parliament are “fully cooperative.” He also said that the money will be ready to go before the house returns to enact the emergency measures.

Read our detailed breakdown of the new worker relief benefits here.

11:36 am Toronto Pride is still a go – for now

Toronto Pride is not making a decision to cancel this June’s festival due to COVID-19 “as the situation could change in the next several months,” organizers said in a statement.

“We will continue to closely monitor and assess the situation, including the possibility of postponing the festival to a later date,” they added.

If postponed, the festival might require “significant modifications” based on public health guidelines. In the meantime, community consultations are postponed and committee and volunteer meetings are being postponed or held remotely.

Toronto’s month-long Pride festival is scheduled to begin on June 1 and culminate with Pride Weekend on June 27-28.

10:54 am Trudeau confirms border to close to non-essential travel

Justin Trudeau confirmed U.S. president Donald Trump’s earlier tweet that the country’s border with the United States will temporarily close to non-essential travel.

Essential travel, including trucking, will continue. “It’s critical that we preserve supply chains between both countries,” the prime minister said, adding that food, fuel and live-saving medicine will continue to move across the border.

“To ensure your safety, we’re recommending to everyone that they work from home,” he added.

10:47 am Trudeau announces $82-billion financial relief package

The Prime Minister has announced an $82-billion aid package to support Canadians and businesses during the pandemic. Justin Trudeau said the money, which represents three per cent of Canada’s GDP, includes $27 billion in direct support to Canadian workers and businesses plus $55 billion to meet liquidity needs through tax deferrals to help stabilize the economy.

More details to come

10:25 am Porter Airlines to suspend flights

Porter Airlines is suspending all flights, effective at the end of the Friday, March 20. The airline plans to resume flying on June 1. Cancellation fees are being waived. Porter reps will be in touch with passengers who had booked flights during the suspension period.

Flights will operate as normal until Friday.

“It is apparent that restricting activities is what’s required to keep people healthy, and ultimately end this fast-spreading pandemic,” the company said in a series of tweets. “In order to get you home safely ASAP, we’ve waived our change/cancellation fees. If you don’t need to travel, we encourage you to cancel your booking to make room for those who need to return home.”

10:15 am Ikea closes Canadian stores until further notice

Ikea is the latest major retailer to announce a shut down due to COVID-19. The company is closing all stores nationwide until further notice, but Home delivery will continue and pick-up hours are 11 am-6 pm.

Ikea’s 7,300 employees will be supported through a “comprehensive benefits package and paid leave policy,” the company said.

9:50 am Trump tweets Canada-U.S. border to close

U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted this morning that the U.S.-Canada border will temporarily closed to non-essential traffic “by mutual consent.”

“Trade will not be affected,” he added. “Details to follow!”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is due to speak at 10:30 am from Rideau Cottage in Ottawa.

8:10 am Ottawa to announce economic package: reports

The federal government is expected to announce billions in economic aid for Canadians and businesses weathering the fallout from the coronavirus outbreak, according to CBC News. The package is reportedly going to be worth between $20-$30 billion.

During a press conference on Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said there will be changes to tax season. He added that Parliament could be recalled to pass legislative measures around employment insurance.

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.

The COC says that it hopes the Games will go on, but the event “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. 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.”

7:05 am Gap Inc. announces store closures

Gap Inc. has announced the closure of its Old Navy, Athleta, Banana Republic, Gap, Janie and Jack and Intermix stores across North America for two weeks effective tomorrow.

In a statement released this morning, the San Francisco-based retail giant says it will continue to pay employees and cover benefits during that period. Meanwhile, its business will move online.

Sonia Syngal, the company’s incoming CEO, says in a statement that “Our focus remains on supporting the health and livelihood of our employees while caring for our customers and communities.”


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