Federal government streamlines, expands COVID-19 benefits program
Access to and eligibility for the federal government’s COVID-19 emergency benefits have been the subject of numerous emails from Coronavirus Brief readers. Today, Ottawa announced that it has streamlined the program and said Canadians who are struggling financially can now expect payments within weeks.
The Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) collapses the two previously announced benefits into one as the government struggles to cope with an unprecedented volume of employment insurance (EI) claims.
CERB offers income support for up to 16 weeks to those who lose pay because of the pandemic. A government news release said the “simpler and more accessible” program will cover Canadians who lost their jobs, got sick, are under quarantine or have to stay home because of school closures.
It’s available to wage earners, contract workers and self-employed people who don’t qualify for EI. Dozens of Canadian business groups, meanwhile, are calling on governments to make a “national effort” to protect jobs and keep essential goods moving during the COVID-19 crisis — one that would include direct income supports for laid-off employees.
Mandatory isolation orders for international travellers kick in at midnight, health minister says
All travellers returning to Canada — with the exception of what the federal government calls “essential workers” — will have to enter a mandatory 14-day quarantine as of midnight, federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu said.
Starting Thursday morning, Canada Border Services Agency officers will inform all returning Canadians and permanent residents of the new orders to begin isolation at home, and tell them that they are forbidden from stopping along the way.
The minister said officials will begin taking down contact information at the border to follow up with returning travellers and will be enforcing random inspections.
Hajdu told the Senate that individuals who exhibit symptoms will be banned from taking public transit to their places of isolation — but later clarified that all returning travellers will be forbidden from taking city buses, trains and subways.
In this time of social distancing, what is permitted in terms of going outside and getting some exercise?
Under social distancing guidelines, you can go out for groceries and other necessities — and you may also go out for some exercise.
Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases specialist at the University of Toronto, said going for a jog with one other person is OK as long as you keep a two-metre distance from each other.
What about team sports? “Playing soccer, basketball or other team sports with friends is not social distancing,” said Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s medical officer of health. She added that exercise doesn’t necessarily require leaving your home.
What if you don’t want to go outside? “Staying home can still mean staying active,” de Villa said. “You can try free live-streamed online fitness classes, or apps to guide your in-home workout.”
(An important note: These recommendations apply to people who are symptom-free, have not recently travelled internationally, have not been in contact with someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 and are practising social distancing.)
Why Canada’s COVID-19 response could be derailed by a swab on a stick
Shortages of testing swabs and laboratory chemicals, along with a bottleneck at provincial laboratories, means Canada has not been able to ramp up its capacity to test Canadians for COVID-19.
“Everything is a choke point. If it wasn’t yesterday, it will be today or tomorrow.” said Dr. Allison McGeer, an infectious disease researcher at the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute in Toronto.
Most hospitals keep a short-term supply of swabs, which works in normal, non-pandemic situations. But now, Canada is competing with the rest of the world to buy everything from swabs to masks to testing kits — including the U.S., where many of these products are made.
“The supply chain for the clinical labs for actual tests is getting to be very constrained, to the point where we’re probably literally days away from running out of key components,” said Jim Woodgett, director of research at the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute.
Currently, most provincial labs are running at full capacity, with each PCR machine able to do about 96 tests every three to four hours. That’s not fast enough, writes CBC science correspondent Kelly Crowe.
More than half of reported COVID-19 cases in Canada now caused by community spread
More than half of Canada’s COVID-19 cases are caused by spread in the community from an unknown source, and experts say that signals there could be a silent epidemic happening across the country.
Of the 1,352 cases that the Public Health Agency of Canada has provided epidemiological data on as of yesterday, 53 per cent are a result of infection from community transmission, while 44 per cent are tied to travellers and people who came into close contact with a traveller who tested positive.
Community transmission is the spread of an illness with no known link to travel or previously confirmed cases, which suggests a growing number of cases are likely going unreported across the country.
“If a virus is now spreading in the community, what that means is that we don’t have a really good ability to be able to monitor where that virus is, who it’s going to and who that person has contacted,” said Jason Kindrachuk, an assistant professor of viral pathogenesis at the University of Manitoba and Canada Research Chair of emerging viruses.
Bringing hope to Regina, one heart at a time
Heather Getz created a Facebook page called Hearts YQR with the goal of sharing images of hearts in windows around Regina. Getz said she was inspired by a woman in B.C. with a similar page and decided to start her own when she couldn’t find one locally.
“Watching for hearts on people’s houses makes you feel connected and it gives the kids something to watch for, too,” Getz said. “I hope it helps them to feel connected, and then they’re not all alone right now. Social isolation can be a tough thing for people.”
In addition to hanging signs and hearts in windows, some children went out to tape up paper hearts around their street so people had something to find when walking around.
“There’s still joy and there’s still hope,” Getz said. “I want people to remember to stay strong and to stay healthy and that even though we’re physically apart that we are all together.”
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