Bank of Canada makes emergency rate cut; U.S. has more than 85,000 cases, exceeding any other country

The latest: 

Canada’s chief public health officer says the country’s health system is “not currently overwhelmed” but cautioned that the “seriousness of COVID-19 cannot be overstated.”

Dr. Theresa Tam spoke Thursday about the growing outbreak, which has health officials across the country scrambling to free up hospital beds and increase the supply of personal protective equipment. 

The COVID-19 pandemic, which began in China and has since spread around the world and infected more than 540,000 people, is also causing massive job loss and economic disruption.

The Bank of Canada on Friday made an unscheduled announcement dropping its benchmark rate by 50 basis points to 0.25 per cent in an effort to support an economy hit hard by the outbreak of coronavirus. The rate cut is meant to ease the cost of borrowing and cushion the blow from the economic shocks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and a recent plunge in oil prices, the central bank said.

Stocks also opened lower on Wall Street on Friday as markets gave back some of the ground they won in a rally earlier in the week.

Tam said on Twitter Thursday that to date in Canada, 6.1 per cent of COVID-19 cases require hospitalization, 2.6 per cent of cases fall critically ill and require ICU care, and one per cent of cases prove fatal. 

The one-per-cent case fatality rate “means our health-care system is not currently overwhelmed,” Tam tweeted. “But we can further reduce fatalities by preventing COVID-19 in vulnerable populations like long-term care.”

She also noted that the old aren’t the only ones at risk, saying the young are not immune to the novel coronavirus.

WATCH | Dr. Theresa Tam talks about COVID-19 in young people:

The coronavirus is not just a threat to older people, says Dr. Theresa Tam. 0:45

South of the border, the U.S. now has the most recorded cases of any country in the world, surpassing China — where the outbreak began — and Italy, which has been the epicentre of the outbreak in Europe. 

Across the United States, deaths from COVID-19 topped 1,200 on Thursday, and a database maintained by Johns Hopkins University put case numbers in the U.S. at over 85,000.

New York state has been particularly hard hit. On Tuesday, roughly 3,000 people were hospitalized with the virus. That number rose to 3,800 Wednesday and then leaped to 5,300 by Thursday morning.

Health-care workers treating the sick are worried they, too, will become infected. Many are feeling the emotional strain of caring for patients isolated from their families. Meanwhile, officials have scrambled to try and bring enough breathing machines to New York to care for growing legions of patients.

U.K. prime minister tests positive

On Friday, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that he, too, had tested positive for COVID-19. 

“Over the last 24 hours I have developed mild symptoms and tested positive for coronavirus,” Johnson said. “I am now self-isolating, but I will continue to lead the government’s response via video-conference as we fight this virus.” The news comes after a spokesperson for Clarence House announced that Prince Charles had tested positive and was self-isolating.

Matt Hancock, the U.K.’s health secretary, said he too had tested positive for coronavirus. Hancock said on Twitter that his symptoms are mild and he’s working from home while self-isolating.

For most people, the 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, or death. There is no proven vaccine or treatment for the novel virus.

Here’s what’s happening in Canada’s provinces and territories

As of 6:30 a.m. ET on Friday, Canada had a total of 4,043 confirmed and presumptive cases, with 39 deaths. To date, provinces have listed 228 cases as recovered or resolved. (Not all provinces are listing that information.) There has also been one reported COVID-19 related death of a Canadian abroad when a former passenger of the Diamond Princess cruise ship died in Japan.

In British Columbia, people who ignore COVID-19 public health orders face a fine of up to $25,000. The province has also banned reselling essential supplies, including cleaning materials and personal protective equipment. Read more about what’s happening in B.C.

Alberta Health Services is looking to free up additional hospital beds to help with the COVID-19 outbreak. Dr. Mark Joffe, vice-president and medical director for northern Alberta, said that AHS staff and doctors have been “working feverishly for a number of weeks now” to plan and are still working to find additional space in the system. Read more about what’s happening in Alberta, including a story from Edmonton about a laptop drive aiming to connect marginalized people during the coronavirus pandemic.

Saskatchewan is releasing more information about COVID-19 cases in the province, including information on residents who have recovered after testing positive. The province, which has reported 95 cases, lists three cases as recovered. Read more about what’s happening in Saskatchewan, which announced a new appointment-only testing site in Regina. 

Manitoba is expanding its COVID-19 testing to include symptomatic health workers, people who live in group care settings (including long-term care and remote work camps), inmates and more. Chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin also said all people living on First Nations in the province who are experiencing respiratory symptoms will be tested. Read more about what’s happening in Manitoba, where a group of workers at the water treatment plant in Brandon are staying at the facility to ensure water keeps flowing.

An infectious disease specialist in Toronto is warning that “it’s almost inevitable” that hospitals in Ontario are going to see a surge in COVID-19 casesDr. Andrew Morris says it’s not yet clear exactly when it will happen but said the best estimates suggest clinicians will “start seeing a rise in the next week or so” and will see cases continue to increase for weeks, if not months. Read more about what’s happening in Ontario.

WATCH | WW II veteran dies from COVID-19, family unable to say goodbye:

The family of a Second World War veteran who died from COVID-19 was unable to visit him in the hospital to prevent further spread. 1:47

In Quebec, Premier François Legault is urging anyone who is in a position to help to volunteer at places like food banks, which are seeing an increase in demand. “We’re counting on you to create a wave of solidarity in Quebec,” Legault said — adding that people who need help shouldn’t hesitate to reach out. Read more about what’s happening in Quebec, including the story of a nurse working at one of Montreal’s testing sites.

WATCH | Advice from a nurse working at a Quebec COVID-19 testing site:

Nurse asks Montrealers to stay home, says she’s confident we’ll get through this. 1:21

New Brunswick’s premier says between 25,000 and 30,000 people in the province have already lost their jobs in the COVID-19 pandemic. “We are facing a situation unlike we have ever experienced before,” Blaine Higgs said Thursday. Read more about what’s happening in New Brunswick, including an effort to connect laid-off workers with food manufacturers struggling to keep up with demand.

In Nova Scotia, the head of the province’s telephone health service says anyone who gets a referral will get a COVID-19 test. Dr. Todd Howlett, medical director of 811, said the service is adapting to meet the demand created by the outbreak. Read more about what’s happening in Nova Scotia.

Prince Edward Island has reported a total of nine cases of COVID-19, including at least one who has recovered. Read more about what’s happening on P.E.I.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, the health minister says the province’s public health emergency could last months. “I am pretty sure that it’s going to be some time in June,” John Haggie said. “Whether or not we make a Canada Day celebration, time will tell.” Read more about what’s happening in N.L.

Yukon’s government is banning residential evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Air North, meanwhile, is laying off more than half of its workers and reducing service because of the outbreak. Read more about what’s happening across Canada’s North.

Here’s what’s happening in the United States

From The Associated Press and Reuters, updated at 8:30 a.m. ET

U.S. President Donald Trump declared that “I’ll be the oversight” as lawmakers were in the final days of drafting what became a $2.2-trillion rescue plan for American businesses. In the end, Congress ensured that won’t be the case.

The legislation, designed in part to help businesses and corporations hammered by closures due to the coronavirus pandemic, creates multiple layers of accountability for the billions of dollars in loans, grants and direct cash that will soon flow from the federal government. 

The new oversight system will test the relationship between the White House and Congress, which frayed after Democrats won the House and deteriorated severely during Trump’s impeachment as officials flouted requests for witnesses and documents.

The House is expected to begin a two-hour debate on the sweeping bill Friday morning despite doubts over whether it can quickly pass on a voice vote or will be delayed into the weekend.

While most of the House’s 430 members are in their home districts because of the coronavirus outbreak, several are expected to travel to Washington for a vote sometime after 11 a.m. ET, according to an advisory issued on Thursday.
The leaders of the Democratic-majority House want to pass the bill on Friday, or at the very latest on Saturday, hoping to provide quick relief to Americans. 

The number of U.S. cases passed 82,000, and the death toll reached almost 1,200 on Thursday.

WATCH | COVID-19 overwhelms New York City, New Orleans could be next:

COVID-19 cases are already overwhelming hospitals and morgues in New York with no end in sight while New Orleans is expecting a similar situation in the coming days. 2:19

New York state, the epicentre of the U.S. outbreak., reported 100 more deaths in one day, accounting for almost 30 per cent of the 1,300 fatalities nationwide. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the number of deaths will increase soon as critically ill patients who have been on ventilators for days succumb.

“That is a situation where people just deteriorate over time,” Cuomo said.

Here’s what’s happening in Europe

From Reuters and The Associated Press, updated at 7:15 a.m. ET

Italy, the epicentre of Europe’s pandemic, has by far the most virus deaths of any nation in the world, a grim tally of 8,165. On Friday, Italy is on track to surpass China in its infection count and have the most cases of any nation behind the U.S. “It is something devastating,” said the Rev. Mario Carminati, who has turned over a church in the tiny Lombardy town of Seriate to host coffins before they are taken by military convoy to be cremated. This week, dozens were lined up in two neat rows down the central aisle, and were immediately replaced by new ones when they were taken away.

Despite the toll, officials have also expressed cautious optimism that the exponential spread of the virus is starting to slow in the hard-hit north, thanks to two weeks of military-enforced stay-at-home orders. For several days this week, new infections and deaths showed signs of slowing down, and emergency rooms weren’t seeing the tsunami of sick that characterized the first weeks of the pandemic following Italy’s first positive test Feb. 20.

An Italian army officer runs past a military vehicle parked in the Monumental Cemetery on Thursday in Bergamo, near Milan, Italy. The army has been brought in to ferry coffins out of Bergamo as its morgue and its crematorium struggle to cope with the surging coronavirus death toll. (Emanuele Cremaschi/Getty Images)

Spain’s coronavirus death toll rose overnight by 769 cases to 4,858, the health ministry said on Friday, a new record in the number of fatalities recorded in 24 hours. The total number of those infected rose to 64,059 from 56,188 on Thursday. 

Germany has proposed using big data and location tracking to isolate people with coronavirus once social distancing measures now in force have slowed its spread, media reported on Friday.

Hospitals in and around Paris will be swamped within 48 hours, the head of the French Hospital Federation said on Friday, with the peak not expected until April. A 16-year-old French schoolgirl from the Essonne region has become the youngest person in the country to die from COVID-19. Even though the death rate from the virus among young people is
low, France’s public health body has said that 35 per cent of intensive-care patients are under 60.

WATCH | London erupts in applause for health-care workers:

Londoners take part in the “Clap for Carers” tribute. People around the U.K. took to their doorsteps and windows at 8 p.m. local time to salute the front-line workers in the National Health Service who are dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. 0:39

Switzerland’s infections topped 11,800 as the government pumped money into the economy and army medical units helped hospitals. Swiss authorities are lighting up one of their most famed landmarks, the Matterhorn, to show solidarity in the fight against the coronavirus.

Here’s a look at what’s happening in some other parts of the world

South Korea said it will block any passenger with even a mild fever from entering the country starting next week to counter a rise in coronavirus cases linked to arrivals from abroad. Health Ministry official Koh Deuk-young on Friday said all airlines flying to South Korea from Monday will be required to screen passengers for fevers and deny boarding to anyone with a temperature higher than 37.5 C. Koh said airlines will refund tickets for those who are denied flights.

South Korea in past weeks has been scrambling to strengthen border controls, including enforcing two-week quarantines on South Korean nationals and foreigners with long-term stay visas arriving from the United States and Europe amid broadening outbreaks in the West.

Chinese leader Xi Jinping has told U.S. President Donald Trump that China “understands the United States’s current predicament over the COVID-19 outbreak and stands ready to provide support within its capacity.” The official Xinhua News Agency said Xi delivered the message in a call to Trump on Friday, in which he also urged the U.S. to “take substantive action in improving bilateral relations.”

In the phone call, Xi “suggested that the two sides work together to boost co-operation in epidemic control and other fields, and develop a relationship of non-conflict, non-confrontation, mutual respect and win-win co-operation,” the official Xinhua News Agency reported. The virus outbreak was first reported in China in December and now appears to have peaked in the country, even while the government remains on guard against imported cases.

Iran has confirmed another 144 deaths from the coronavirus and says thousands more are in critical condition as the military completed work on a 2,000-bed field hospital in an exhibition centre in the capital. Iran has reported nearly 2,400 deaths among more than 32,000 cases.

Iranian officials have repeatedly insisted they have the outbreak under control, despite concerns it could overwhelm the country’s health facilities. Authorities have urged people to stay home but have not imposed the sweeping lockdowns seen elsewhere in the region.

Israel has meanwhile seen a surge in infections in recent days. It now has 3,035 confirmed cases and 10 fatalities.

South Africa has announced its first two deaths from the coronavirus as the country’s cases rose above 1,000. The health minister said in a statement that the deaths occurred in Western Cape province. South Africa has the most cases in Africa and as of midnight entered a three-week lockdown. The military is in the streets helping to enforce measures that include bans on alcohol sales. Concerns are high about water supply in crowded, low-income townships.

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