Coronavirus: What’s happening in Canada and around the world on Thursday

The latest:

  • Ontario provides temporary raise for personal support workers.
  • Federal government offering Red Cross support to COVID-19 hot spots, sources say.
  • New COVID-19 restrictions come into effect in Quebec’s red zones.
  • Air Canada orders first batch of 25,000 rapid COVID-19 testing kits.
  • Two largest U.S. school districts roll out ambitious plans to test students, staff for virus. 
  • Greek police, students clash at protest against classroom overcrowding.
  • Madrid to obey new COVID-19 rules but will fight them in court.
  • India reports 86,821 new cases, projected to become pandemic’s worst-hit country within weeks.

As COVID-19 continues to rise in parts of Canada, front-line workers have consistently been overstretched to help fight its spread.

In Ontario, Premier Doug Ford announced a temporary pay raise for personal support workers, with a $3/hr more for 50,000 PSW’s in long term care settings, 38,000 in home care and 34,000 in children’s service. PSWs working in hospitals will receive a $2/hr raise.

The raise goes into effect Oct. 1 and will last until March 2021, Ford said, adding that longer-term support could be on the way.

“Yesterday’s modelling data was a wake-up call,” Ford said at a news conference on Thursday. “Please don’t let your guard down.”

Ontario reported another 538 cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, as the province’s backlog of tests waiting to be completed grew to a record high of more than 82,000. Health authorities have said they are expecting new daily cases of COVID-19 to reach 1,000 in the first half of October.

WATCH | Ontario announces new temporary raise for personal support workers:

Saying Ontario needs to stabilize it’s personal support workforce, Premier Doug Ford announced a $461 million investment to temporarily raise hourly wages for more than 147,000 personal support workers, effective immediately. 2:54

As parts of Canada grapple with the onset of a second wave of COVID-19, sources say the federal government is offering to send the Canadian Red Cross into hot spots, while Quebec is giving police new legal tools to help enforce stricter public health measures taking effect in the province’s designated red zones.

Ottawa has been reaching out to hard-hit regions recently experiencing outbreaks and surges, said a senior government official who was speaking on the condition of anonymity.

The official said so far the government has made contact with British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec, and with Toronto, Ottawa, Windsor-Essex and Peel Region in Ontario, with plans to talk to Winnipeg on Thursday.

A volunteer cleans his hands as he enters a tent in a mobile hospital set up in partnership with the Canadian Red Cross in Montreal’s Jacques-Lemaire Arena in April. The hospital was set up to help care for COVID-19 patients from long-term care centres. (Christinne Muschi/Reuters)

Depending on an individual region’s needs, the Red Cross could provide logistical support for testing centres and long-term care homes, help in isolating infected individuals, assist with feeding and caring for the sick and offer psychological aid, said the official.

The work would be covered by the $100 million in new funding the federal government gave the Red Cross back in May.

Over the summer, Health Canada worked with the Red Cross — a charity that receives funding from the Canadian government and has a long history of responding to disasters — to build up a civilian workforce to deploy during regional outbreaks in the event of a second wave of infections in the fall.

The organization has already helped to deliver food to temporary foreign workers isolating in southwestern Ontario and deployed to Quebec long-term care homes.

Meanwhile, three Quebec regions — Greater Montreal, Quebec City and Chaudière-Appalaches — are now under stricter COVID-19 measures, as the provincial government attempts to slow the surge of new coronavirus cases.

The new restrictions, announced earlier this week, took effect at 12:01 a.m. ET on Thursday and are set to last until Oct. 28 in those regions, which have been designated as red zones under the province’s COVID-19 alert system.

The restrictions include: a ban on home gatherings (with some exceptions, such as a single caregiver allowed per visit); the closure of all bars, casinos and restaurants, except for takeout; the closure of libraries, museums, cinemas and theatres; and mandatory masks during demonstrations.

WATCH | Quebec steps up enforcement for new COVID-19 restrictions:

Quebec has strengthened its COVID-19 restrictions, especially for areas under the provincial red zone designation, and have provided legal tools for police to enter homes and break up unsanctioned gatherings. 3:39

Speaking during a late-afternoon news conference on Wednesday, Premier François Legault said the negligence of a few has led to the crackdown. “Lives are at stake. We want to keep our children in schools,” he said. “We also want to protect our health network.”

To that end, the premier said police in red zones will be issuing $1,000 fines to those who violate the newly strengthened public health rules. With fees, those fines will top $1,500.

With the crackdown on house guests, police are authorized to demand proof of residency and if residents refuse entry, officers will be able to obtain warrants faster through a new, virtual system that was established in collaboration with the Crown, the premier said.

Normally the process for obtaining a warrant can take a day or two, but that won’t work when police want to break up parties that very same evening, Legault said. He said people who shrug off the rules and host parties are “putting the lives of other people in danger.”

Quebec reported 838 new cases of COVID-19 but no new deaths on Wednesday. Since the start of the pandemic, there have been 74,288 confirmed cases and 5,834 people have died in the province.

What’s happening in the rest of Canada

As of 2:00 p.m. ET on Thursday, Canada had 160,229 confirmed or presumptive coronavirus cases. Provinces and territories listed 136,066 of those as recovered or resolved. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC’s reporting stood at 9,349.

With the country bracing for spikes in cases, Air Canada has ordered 25,000 testing kits that can detect COVID-19 in a subject in as little as five minutes, a key hurdle for an industry that’s desperately trying to make it safe and possible for travellers to fly again.

The first batch of tests will be for employee volunteers, now that the devices by Abbott Laboratories have been approved for use in Canada by federal health and safety authorities, the airline said Thursday.

WATCH | Dr. Zain Chagla on the newly approved rapid COVID-19 test:

Despite some concerns about its accuracy, infectious disease specialist Dr. Zain Chagla says the newly approved rapid test for the coronavirus will make testing available to more people. 0:57

Current tests have to be administered at testing centres, which have been plagued by long lines, and results can take days.

The new test is faster and requires a nasal or throat specimen to be collected from a patient on a swab and inserted into an analyzer to detect the presence of the virus. Positive results come back in as little as five minutes. Negative results can take about 13 minutes to verify.

In Ontario, vaccines normally offered in school to Grade 7 students will instead be delivered at community clinics and doctors’ offices in parts of the province, meaning parents will have to make arrangements to ensure their children are immunized.

The Ministry of Health says local public health units, which are responsible for immunization programs including those in schools, are working to let residents know where they can access the vaccines.

Students in Grade 7 are typically given vaccines for Hepatitis B, Human Papilloma Virus and Meningococcal disease in school. Those programs have been disrupted due to COVID-19, which has seen thousands of students choose virtual lessons over in-person classes.

Manitoba has become the fifth province to activate the COVID Alert app that notifies users if they’ve been in contact with another user who has tested positive for COVID-19.

The app officially launched in Ontario in July. Since then, Newfoundland and Labrador, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick have also signed on.

The free, voluntary app works by exchanging random codes between smartphones via Bluetooth every five minutes.

The technology estimates how close users are based on the strength of the signals it receives. If a pair of users are assessed to be closer than two metres for more than 15 minutes, the app records it as an exposure, the federal government’s website says.

A user who tests positive can enter a one-time key from their health authority, which instructs the app to notify other users who were exposed to that person.

What’s happening around the world

According to Johns Hopkins University, the global total of confirmed coronavirus cases stands at more than 34 million. More than one million people have died, while over 23.6 million have recovered.

In the United States, the two largest school districts in the country are rolling out ambitious and costly plans to test students and staff for the coronavirus, bidding to help keep school buildings open amid a rise in infections among the nation’s school-age children.

New York City is set to begin testing 10 to 20 per cent of students and staff in every building monthly beginning Thursday, the same day the final wave of the district’s more than one million students returns to bricks-and-mortar classrooms for the first time in six months.

A child wears a mask on a school bus in the Borough Park section of Brooklyn, New York City on Tuesday. There has been a rise in COVID-19 infections among school-age children in the United States. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

“Every single school will have testing. It will be done every single month. It will be rigorous,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said in announcing the plan as part of an agreement with the teachers’ union to avert a strike. At least 79 Department of Education employees have died from the virus.

With an estimated 100,000 to 120,000 tests expected each month, each costing between $78 US and $90 US, New York City’s school-based testing plan goes well beyond safety protocols seen in most other districts.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Unified School District has launched a similarly comprehensive, $150-million US testing program to help determine when it will be safe to resume in-person instruction. The district began the school year remotely in August for all 600,000 students. The New York and Los Angeles systems are respectively the nation’s largest and second-largest school districts.

Greek police used tear gas Thursday to disperse protesting high school students who have organized scores of school strikes in response to classroom overcrowding during the coronavirus pandemic.

Brief clashes broke out near the parliament in central Athens after students threw several gasoline bombs at police. No arrests or injuries were reported.

School protest groups say classroom seating limits are frequently not observed at many state-run schools.

WATCH | Greek students clash with police at protest for better COVID-19 measures:

Student protesters in Greece threw petrol bombs at police, who responded with tear gas, as the students continue to demand improved safety protocols to protect them from the coronavirus. 0:46

Greece’s largest teaching union endorsed the rally, and pressed the government to hire more teachers to reduce classroom numbers during the pandemic.

Coronavirus cases have risen steadily in the country in the last few months, particularly in the capital of Athens, prompting authorities to impose further restrictions such as the mandatory wearing of masks in all public indoor spaces. The 354 new coronavirus cases reported Wednesday brings the total since the first case in February to 18,475.

In Spain, Madrid will carry out a national order restricting mobility in large Spanish cities with rapid virus spread, but its regional president announced Thursday she will fight the Spanish government’s resolution in the courts because she deems it arbitrary.

Spain’s official gazette on Thursday published the Health Ministry order that gives the country’s 19 regions two days to implement limits on social gatherings and shops’ opening hours, and restrict trips in and out of any large cities that have recorded a two-week infection rate of 500 cases per 100,000 residents.

A woman wearing a protective face mask walks in the working-class neighbourhood of Orcasitas, which has been under partial lockdown amid the COVID-19 outbreak, in Madrid, Spain, on Wednesday. (Sergio Perez/Reuters)

Countrywide, only Madrid and nine of its suburban towns met the criteria as of Thursday.

Spain’s central government and regional officials in Madrid have been at odds for weeks over how to respond to the pandemic while the spread of the virus in the Spanish capital surged to the highest level in Europe’s second wave of infections.

The centre-right Madrid government has resisted the stricter measures in the city of 3.3 million and its suburbs for fears of damaging the economy. Regional chief Isabel Diaz Ayuso also claims that Spain’s national left-wing coalition is targeting Madrid for political reasons and disregarding her efforts to contain the spread of the virus.

India has reported 86,821 new coronaviruses cases and another 1,181 fatalities, making September its worst month of the pandemic.

The Health Ministry’s update raises India’s total caseload to more than 6.3 million and 98,678 dead. India added 41 per cent of its confirmed cases and 34 per cent of fatalities in September alone.

A health worker wearing personal protective equipment collects a swab sample from a resident for a coronavirus test at a temporary collection centre in Secunderabad, India, on Thursday. (Noah Seelam/AFP/Getty Images)

India is expected to become the pandemic’s worst-hit country within weeks, surpassing the United States, where more than 7.2 million people have been infected.

The government announced further easing of restrictions Oct. 15. Cinemas, theatres and multiplexes can open with up to half of seating capacity, and swimming pools can also be used by athletes in training.

The government also said India’s 28 states can decide on reopening of schools and coaching institutions gradually after Oct. 15. However, the students will have the option of attending online classes.

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