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What does coronavirus mean for cottage season and rural communities?

THE BIG STORY | posted Wednesday, Apr 29th, 2020

In today’s Big Story podcast, it sounds like a first-world problem: “What if people can’t visit their second homes?” But behind the stereotype there are hundreds of thousands of people facing tough choices. People who flee cities for rural areas in the summer are not exclusively rich folks off to a lakefront mansion, and the communities people visit on hot summer weekends depend on that influx of cash to get businesses through the winter.

So with Victoria Day weekend approaching, what guidelines have been given to people who own cottages? To people who live year-round in the communities visitors frequent? What happens if small towns are overrun with city visitors, or if those visitors never show up at all? We’re about to find out.
GUEST: Matt Gurney, National Post

GUEST: Matt Gurney, National Post

Convicted drunk driver Marco Muzzo granted day parole

BT Toronto | posted Wednesday, Apr 29th, 2020

Convicted drunk driver Marco Muzzo, who killed three children and their grandfather in a car crash back in 2015, has been granted day parole.

Muzzo pleaded guilty to four counts of impaired driving causing death and two counts of impaired driving causing bodily harm and was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2016.

The Parole Board of Canada said he was denied full parole. There will also be conditions imposed on his day parole including no contact with the victims and geographical restrictions.

Muzzo was denied day and full parole at his first hearing in 2018 as the parole board said he lacked insight into his drinking habits and the risk they pose to others.

Jennifer Neville-Lake, the mother of the three children killed and daughter of the man, gave a victim impact statement via teleconference due to restrictions amid the coronavirus pandemic.

She posted news of his day parole on Facebook with the statement, “No matter what happened today, Daniel, Harry and Milly don’t get to come back home. My dad isn’t coming home to my mom. Nothing changes for me.”

Muzzo acknowledged the enduring anguish his actions inflicted on grieving relatives in a statement issued through his lawyers.

“I want to apologize to the Neville-Lake, Neville and Frias families for the terrible pain I have caused them and their loved ones. I ruined their lives and I take full responsibility for what I have done. I always will,” he said.

“I was careless and irresponsible when I made the choice to drink and drive. There is no way that I can undo the damage that I have caused. I will live with this for the rest of my life.”

No matter what happened today, Daniel, Harry and Milly don't get to come back home. My dad isn't coming home to my…

Posted by Jennifer Neville-Lake on Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Ontario outlines 3-stage plan for gradual reopening of economy

NEWS STAFF, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Tuesday, Apr 28th, 2020

The province of Ontario announced Monday that it will take a gradual, three-stage approach to reopening the economy while maintaining an emphasis on containment and public safety.

The province declared a state of emergency in mid-March in an effort to help curb the spread of the coronavirus, ordering the closure of any businesses it deemed non-essential. The state of emergency was recently extended until mid-May.

Premier Doug Ford wouldn’t provide any specific dates for the reopening, stressing the unpredictable nature of the highly-contagious virus.

“The framework is about how we are reopening, not when we are reopening,” Ford said.

“I won’t set hard dates until we are ready, because the virus travels at its own speed.”

According to a document released by the province on Monday, the first stage would see select workplaces reopen, and allow some small gatherings to take place.

Stage two would see more workplaces opened, along with larger gatherings.

The final stage would further relax restrictions on public gatherings, and open all workplaces responsibly.

“There is light at the end of this tunnel,” said Minister of Health Christine Elliott. “We have a clear path forward to safely and gradually ease restrictions.”

Elliott added that there’s a plan in place for bringing back elective surgeries, with cancer surgeries at the top of the list.

Each stage in the reopening plan would be monitored by public health officials for two to four weeks and certain measures and restrictions could be reapplied if the virus proves too difficult to contain.

“As public health measures are lifted and as economic activity resumes, the public will need to continue to maintain physical distancing and hand washing, along with self-isolation when experiencing COVID-19 symptoms,” the province said in a release.

“Remote work arrangements should continue where feasible.”

“By taking this incremental approach, the government can ensure there are appropriate measuers in place to reopen the province safely and limit any risks to people and public health. Each stage requires careful assessment and monitoring to know whether to adjust, tighten or loosen measures.”

Doctors say they see little progress on improving PPE supply: survey

LAURA OSMAN, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Tuesday, Apr 28th, 2020

The Canadian Medical Association has called for greater government transparency about the available supply of protective equipment in light of a new survey that suggests most respondents have seen no improvements in the last month.

Getting vital personal protective equipment, or PPE, to guard themselves against the virus has been a struggle for doctors across the country during the coronavirus pandemic.

A recent survey of nearly 2,500 doctors across Canada found 42 per cent had seen no change in the supply of gear such as masks and face shields in the last month, while 29 per cent felt the supply is now worse.

On the flip side, 22 per cent say there’s been some improvement to the PPE supply, but only six per cent say it’s been a significant change.

It’s the second survey of its kind the CMA has done since the pandemic began. The first survey captured doctors’ responses at the end of March, while this latest one is from April 20 and 21.

“We thought it might be better but, similar to the previous survey, a third of physicians were still fearful they were going to run out of PPE in a matter of days,” said CMA president Dr. Sandy Buchman.

The concerns were slightly more pronounced among community physicians compared to those who practice in hospitals, he said, which aligns with what he’s heard from members anecdotally.

Doctors in Saskatchewan seemed to feel most strongly that the PPE supply had deteriorated in the last three weeks, with 45 per cent describing the situation as worse.

The uncertainty about the strained supply of PPE has been adding to worries around the pandemic, Buchman said, with about 96 per cent of physicians surveyed saying they were experiencing some level of anxiety.

Doctors are worried about becoming vectors of the virus and transmitting it to patients, getting sick themselves or, perhaps worst of all, passing it on to their own loved ones, Buchman said.

The vast majority, 88 per cent, said a greater supply of PPE would reduce their anxiety during the pandemic, and 68 per cent said having more information would help.

The federal government has provided public briefings about its ongoing orders for more masks, gowns, gloves and other protective equipment from a highly competitive market abroad, as well as efforts to retool domestic production.

Buchman said he believes the government is working incredibly hard to acquire what’s needed to fight COVID-19, but specific information about when those supplies will reach individual hospitals and practices has been lacking.

“It’s somehow not getting down to the grassroots,” he said.

Clear information about where the supplies are going, who will get them — and when — would go a long way to easing doctors’ anxieties, he said.

The survey did show some minor improvements.

Across the country, 33 per cent of those who responded to the latest survey said they would have enough surgical masks to last at least 10 days, compared to only 20 per cent three weeks ago. Doctors reported similar improvements for supplies of gloves, gowns, face shields and N95 respirators.

A majority of doctors, 83 per cent, said increasing the level of testing for the virus would also allay their anxieties.

Canadians divided over making coronavirus vaccine mandatory: poll

LEE BERTHIAUME, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Tuesday, Apr 28th, 2020

While researchers across the planet race to find a vaccine for coronavirus, a new poll suggests Canadians are divided over whether getting it should be mandatory or voluntary — setting up a potentially prickly public health debate if a vaccine becomes available.

The federal government has committed tens of millions of dollars to help find or create a vaccine for the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, the respiratory illness that has infected at least 48,000 Canadians and killed more than 2,700.

Yet the poll conducted by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies found that while 60 per cent of respondents believe people should be required to get the vaccine once it is ready, the other 40 per cent think it should be voluntary.

While that doesn’t mean only 60 per cent would get the vaccine themselves, Leger executive vice-president Christian Bourque nonetheless said he would have expected much higher support for a mandatory vaccine given the scale and scope of the pandemic.

“It’s almost as if it’s seen as just another flu vaccine,” Bourque told The Canadian Press. “I myself would have expected a higher number given the severity, given the crisis we’re in. But Canadians are kind of divided on this.”

The Leger poll was conducted April 24 to 26 and surveyed 1,515 adult Canadians recruited from Leger’s online panel. The internet-based survey cannot be assigned a margin of error because online polls are not considered random samples.

Older Canadians, who are most at risk of serious harm from COVID-19, were more likely to support a mandatory vaccine. Respondents who identified themselves as likely to vote Liberal were also most likely to agree with a mandatory vaccine while those leaning Conservative were least likely.

Bourque suggested this was a reflection of ideological differences seen throughout the crisis: those on the left of the political spectrum are more willing to accept government intervention than those on the right who prioritize personal freedoms.

The poll also looked for the first time at what activities Canadians would feel comfortable doing once government restrictions imposed because of COVID-19 are finally lifted, including returning to their offices, shopping, dining out and attending concerts and sporting events.

The results, which comes as many provinces are unveiling tentative plans and timelines for easing restrictions, was a mixed bag. Respondents were comfortable with some activities but not others, particularly those involving large groups of people in the same place.

The majority (58 per cent) felt they would be comfortable allowing in-home renovations by contractors, going to farmers’ markets (57 per cent) and shopping at the mall (53 per cent). And only 15 per cent said they would not be comfortable returning to their own workplaces.

Yet only 45 per cent said they would be comfortable eating in a restaurant while 24 per cent would feel comfortable going to the gym, 23 per cent flying on an airplane and 21 per cent attending a large gathering such as a concert or sports event.

“The ones that are at the top, these are activities where people feel they can manage some form of social distancing,” Bourque said.

The poll also indicated the level of trust and satisfaction Canadians feel toward their leaders and public-health officials has remained consistently high since a similar poll was conducted the previous week. The number who were afraid of catching COVID-19 also remained unchanged.

Yet the number of respondents who admitted to breaking at least one of the guidelines around managing COVID-19, such as practising physical distancing, going out only for necessities and washing their hands more often, was found to have increased to 33 per cent from 27 per cent.

“To me it’s an indication that they’re looking for deconfinement news because they’re starting to slack off a little bit on what they should be allowed to do,” Bourque said. “I think if there is no plan for deconfinement, people will start to become more delinquent.”

MPs to meet virtually Tuesday to discuss coronavirus measures

CORMAC MAC SWEENEY | posted Tuesday, Apr 28th, 2020

Federal politicians will be facing off in Ottawa on Tuesday but it will look much different than usual.

Members of Parliament will be holding their first virtual meeting since a majority of parties in the House of Commons agreed to hold just one in-person and two online meetings each week to respect health advice during the coronavirus pandemic.

In the past, small committees have met through video link, but never have all 338 MPs been asked to debate online like this.

This massive Zoom meeting will see the opposition hold the government to account and Conservatives say they are ready to question the Liberals on emergency stockpiles, gaps in the emergency benefits, and the restart of the economy.

“The Liberals have been slow to react, and their failures have cost Canadians,” Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said.

“The Prime Minister owes Canadians an explanation and a plan to fix his mistakes.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said the economic restart needs to be a slow and cautious process.

“If we get this wrong, everything we have sacrificed over the past many weeks could have been in vain,” he explained.

This is not technically a sitting of the House, so it will be a different format.

MPs will be allowed a five-minute time slot to ask multiple questions of the prime minister and his cabinet.

On Wednesday, politicians will debate and vote on the government’s $9-billion aid package for students, but that will happen in person with a limited number of MPs.

Teen at SickKids tests positive for coronavirus

BT Toronto | posted Monday, Apr 27th, 2020

A teenager at SickKids hospital has tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

In a release, the hospital said the patient is currently in an isolation room in stable condition.

“SickKids is actively investigating how the virus was transmitted to the patient and is working closely with Toronto Public Health,” the statement read.

“At this time we believe the risk to patients, families and staff is low.”

The other patients on the unit were tested for COVID-19 on Saturday and the results came back negative.

The hospital said members of the clinical team are also being tested and will be off-duty while they await their results.

Mixed messages as Ontario, Quebec prepare to unveil tentative plans to reopen

LEE BERTHIAUME THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Monday, Apr 27th, 2020

OTTAWA — Residents of Canada’s two largest provinces are expected to learn this week what the path to a new normal might look like when the governments of Ontario and Quebec unveil their initial plans for reopening their locked-down economies.

Sunday saw warnings about raising unrealistic expectations as public-health officials across the country reported more than 1,200 new cases of COVID-19 and at least 95 additional deaths. Ontario, meanwhile, announced schools would remain closed through the end of May.

There was nonetheless a palpable sense of expectation as Sunday marked a rare day in which federal and provincial leaders remained largely out of the spotlight ahead of what is likely to be a significant week for the country.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford is planning early in the week to unveil a framework for reopening the province’s economy, which has been shuttered since mid March because of COVID-19. Quebec Premier Francois Legault is also expected to reveal his own timeline for reopening his province.

The two provinces, which have the most COVID-19 cases in Canada, will be the latest to lay out some details for easing their own lockdowns after Saskatchewan, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick announced tentative timelines for a return to some semblance of normal last week.

Yet that path, in Ontario at least, won’t be quick. Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced Sunday that publicly-funded schools will remain closed until May 31, adding the closure could be extended if recommended by public health officials.

“The commitment I can make to parents today is to ensure safety guides our decisions,” Lecce said. “We will never compromise the safety of your child, knowing how important it is to make sure that our youngsters, the most vulnerable in our country, remain safe.”

Ford, who on Saturday criticized demonstrators outside the Ontario legislature as “yahoos” for disobeying physical-distancing laws and calling for an immediate end to the lockdown, has previously said any reopening will be done in stages to prevent a resurgence of COVID-19.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who talked to the premiers on Friday about their recovery strategies, has previously stressed that none of the plans hinge on people being immune to catching COVID-19 twice.

David Fisman, an expert on infectious diseases at the University of Toronto, said the proper approach should be compared to using a dimmer switch instead of a light switch that only turns on and off.

“We can’t just flick distancing on and off,” Fisman said in a Twitter thread on Sunday. “But economically and psychologically, we have to figure out what we can restart and what we can’t.”

Fisman added businesses and services that don’t require large gatherings could be re-opened safely, if they follow the same rules used by essential businesses.

Parks and green spaces could also be re-opened to access, he said.

Federal opposition parties were similarly looking toward the future on Sunday.

During a news conference in Ottawa, Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre demanded the government obtain enough protective equipment to help provinces re-open their economies.

Yet even as he underscored the need for the Canadian economy to eventually return to “investment-fuelled production rather than debt-fuelled consumption,” Poilievre called on Ottawa to make sure businesses aren’t cut off from federal support if they re-open partially, but not fully.

“If businesses open in Saskatchewan, but the government of Canada tells them they can’t open and start attracting revenue or they’ll lose their rental subsidy, then many businesses will effectively be banned for financial rather than public health reasons from going forward and working.”

Federal New Democrats, meanwhile, are launching an effort to identify areas in which the economy should change after COVID-19. The party says the process will include consultations with experts such as entrepreneur Jim Balsillie and former parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page.

The party’s hope is to leverage its influence in the current minority Parliament and some of the harsh realities of the current crisis to advance certain economic and social reforms.

“What’s really becoming clear is that we’re going to need a plan to restore the economy and to move towards a new normal,” said NDP MP Charlie Angus, who is leading the task force.

“One of the fundamental realities of getting out of this crisis is that the market is not going to simply carry on. It’s going to require a massive public investment. … So that necessitates a conversation around what kinds of public investments and who is it going to benefit?”

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