Friday COVID-19 update: Canada at 157 cases, travel not advised, Tony Cote games and other events cancelled

Herald file photo

Cancellations continued to pile up Friday, as both the E.A. Rawlinson Centre and Spark Theatre announced cancellations.

Spark Theatre cancelled its planned upcoming pair of shows, Gin and the Real Inspector Hound. Friday’s Terry Barber performance at the E.A. Rawlinson Centre was also cancelled.

The Rawlinson Centre posted a notice on its website Friday noting that events will be considered on an individual basis and gatherings of 250 people or more will be cancelled.

Late Friday, the Prince Albert and District Chamber of Commerce announced it would be suspending all networking events until further notice. that includes cancelling the luncheon with Finance Minister Donna Harpauer that had been set for March 27 and postponing the Samual McLeod Business Awards until further notice. The April 9 PA@5 with Melanie Markling was also postponed. It will now be held on May 14.

The City of Prince Albert said all public facilities remain open, but precautions will be taken as needed, including additional cleaning requirements and assessment of programs and provision of services. Business closures are not recommended.

“At this stage, the City of Prince Albert is focusing on informing our staff and planning for future measures should the situation worsen,” they said.

The Seniors’ Advocacy Centre also postponed and cancelled all existing meetings until further notice.

Celine Dion postponed her Saskatoon tour date.

Sask. announces second presumptive case, bans gatherings of over 250 people

The Government of Saskatchewan announced a second presumptive case of coronavirus in a Saskatoon resident. This resident, in their 60s, travelled to Oregon and returned on March 10. They began feeling ill and self-isolated. It’s the second travel-related case seen in the province.

The province also announced new measures Friday to help slow the spread of the disease. Effective Monday, the chief medical health officer is ordering that no public gathering of over 250 people in any one room take place. That doesn’t include places where people are distributed in multiple rooms, such as schools or workplaces. The order also banned events of over 50 people with speakers or attendees who have travelled internationally in the last 14 days.

The province said they will not be ordering schools closed at this time.

Retail locations and faith-based organizations are exempt but should have their own measures in place. Anyone who has travelled outside of the province in the last 14 days or has acute respiratory or flu-like symptoms should avoid visiting long-term care homes and hospitals.

The province also announced it has expanded HealthLine 811 to 69 lines from 32 and has more than doubled the service’s staff. They intend to continue to expand the service as needed.

While the province isn’t closing schools, some First Nations communities are. Both Muskoday and Fond Du Lac announced school closures. Muskoday’s is until March 27. Fond Du Lac is cancelling classes for the next two weeks.

Canada up to 157 confirmed cases

Canada is up to 157 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the federal government announced Friday morning.

The news came as the government also announced stricter measures aimed at slowing the spread of the virus. 

During a pair of press conferences Friday morning, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and members of his cabinet announced that cruise ships will be banned from docking in Canada until July, and overseas travellers arriving in Canada will be streamlined to a handful of airports to help improve testing and screening measures.

The chief public health officer of Canada, Dr. Theresa Tam, passed on her own advice for Canadians to do their part to slow the spread of the virus.

She advised that all Canadians should postpone or cancel all non-essential travel outside of Canada, a measure particularly important for older adults and health care workers.

She warned that if you do travel abroad, you could be subjected to the measures of other countries. 

“Your one week trip may become longer,” she said.

While only Canadians travelling from high-risk countries will be required to self-isolate for 14 days, Tam asked all travellers from outside Canada to consider self-isolating. All travellers should monitor for symptoms for the first 14 days they’ve returned, including checking their temperature twice daily.

“We have to do things within Canada to flatten the epidemic curve,” she said. “Social distancing is an important contribution everyone can make to our control measures.”

That means, in addition to washing hands, cough into your sleeve and avoid shaking hands, hugging and kissing where possible. Tam also advised residents to stay within two arms’ lengths of others, a distance of about two metres.

If you’re ill, she said, do not attend large events or crowded places.

“Now is the time to be cancelling events.”

The risk to Canadians, though, remains low.

Most, if not all, cases are connected to travel. There remains little evidence of community spread.

Still, sports events remain cancelled. Hockey Canada postponed all sanctioned activity, including tournaments and league play, Thursday. All North American professional sports leagues have also postponed or suspended play.

FSIN ends all out-of-province travel, cancels Tony Cote games

The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations has cancelled all out-of-province travel and suspended, cancelled or postponed all gatherings.

That includes the Tony Cote winter games, which were set to be held in Prince Albert this April.

“FSIN implemented our own pandemic measures to minimize the risk to COVID-19,” said vice-chief Heather Bear in a press conference Friday morning.

“We are in bitter winds right now and we would like the public to know, our First Nations communities that we are using only essential staff. All non-essential staff will work out of home. We have also prohibited any outside of the province travelling.”

Bear said events have been postponed until further notice and they know and understand what they’re dealing with.

The decisions were made “to protect our people our elders,” she said.

“We represent a vulnerable population.”

The FSIN said they need to see the federal government’s plan for First Nations communities now. They have concerns such as language barriers and remoteness of northern communities in getting both the word and services out.

“We encourage our First nations to not be in panic. We have withstood the test of time,” Chief Bobby Cameron said.

“We need a lot of help. We need services. We need to see the plan right now. We can’t wait for another two weeks to see the plan.”

They said they don’t want to see a repeat of 2009 when communities asked for help and instead received body bags.

Cameron said the organization will respect and support any decisions made by individual First Nations.

The Tony Cote games organizers issues a statement Thursday evening on Facebook.

“We, regretfully, have decided to cancel the Tony Cote Winter Games to be held in Prince Albert,” they said.

“As the games were scheduled for one week, in April, postponing would not be conducive to the schedules of our Saskatchewan athletes.”

They said the cancellation of the games will “provide for preventative measures in the potential spread of coronavirus.”

The statement seemed to indicate that Prince Albert will remain the host community for the next edition of the games.

Saskatchewan enhances remote access to doctors, NDP asks for more answers

The province also took action Friday, announcing they would be taking steps b providing support for virtual doctor appointments.

The virtual services will be supported through a new payment code and will enable patients to connect with doctors by phone immediately.

The Ministry of Health is working to provide patients with the ability to connect with doctors by secure video. They expect that to be in place by early next week with offices that offer that option.

“Keeping Saskatchewan residents healthy and containing community transmission of this coronavirus is a priority for our government,” Health Minister Jim Reiter said. “Provision of virtual care by telephone or video is just one strategy we are using to ensure residents have options for accessing health care.”

“The SMA is pleased with this development because it provides patients with remote access to physicians,” SMA President Dr. Allan Woo said. “This kind of access also provides a safer work environment for doctors and their staff during this pandemic. We need a healthy physician workforce to tackle the challenges presented by the outbreak of COVID-19.”

The province said the risk to residents still remains low, but advised people to wash their hands frequently, sneeze or cough into a tissue or your sleeve, practice social distancing and stay home if sick.

Patients who suspect they are ill as a result of a COVID-19 infection should fist call HealthLine 811. More information is available at http://www.saskatchewan.ca/coronavirus/

The provincial NDP held a press conference Friday morning imploring the province to provide more information about its protocols and readiness.

NDP leader Ryan Meili, a family doctor before entering politics, called for an enhanced 811 service. Residents have been reporting struggles to get through as it becomes overwhelmed.

“You really want to be making sure we’re flattening the curve so we limit the spread, that we do all those measures to decrease transmission so we are not having a big influx of people into the (health care) system,” he said.

“That’s why we’re asking for some clear information.”

That information, he said, includes what inventory the province does have, how capable it is to respond to an increased need for testing and at what point it would consider measures such as closing schools or cancelling public events.

“That kind of clarity will help people to understand where we are,” he said. “I think it will help to calm some of the clear public concern out there. Right now, we don’t have a clear sense of when those choices should be made.”

Meili said the province should be as assertive as it can when it comes to social distancing to avoid or slow down the spread of the virus and ease pressure on the health care system.

He also repeated calls for a delayed provincial budget to better reflect changes to the world economy and changes to what the province needs right now.

Saskatchewan Polytechnic said that for the time being, it’s business as usual.

“It is currently business as usual at all Sask Polytech campuses,” the institution said in a statement.

” We are taking a proactive approach to ensure faculty, staff and students are aware of COVID-19 and are taking steps to mitigate the risk of contracting or spreading the virus.”

That means classes will continue in-person. Some Ontario and Alberta institutions have moved classes online.

Cases in those provinces, though, are more prevalent than the one presumptive case in Saskatchewan.

House of Commons adjourns for a month, government given spending power

The House of Commons won’t meet again for another month.

On Friday, Canada’s federal parties agreed to adjourn until April 20. Still, though, the federal government has been given the power to spend on health and economic measures throughout that time period.

Trudeau is working from home after his wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, tested positive for the virus. She is in self-isolation. The prime minister has no symptoms.

Trudeau said he has spoken with world leaders and will speak with premiers and Indigenous leaders today.

“I want to thank all of Canada’s health professionals and public health agencies doing a good job protecting all of us,” he said.

“We’re in good hands. We have full confidence in Canada’s health officials and professionals.”

Trudeau said Finance Minister Bill Morneau will announce measures this afternoon to support Canadians. That’s in addition to the $1-billion response announced earlier this week.

“No one should have to worry about paying rent, buying groceries or additional child care because of COVID-19,” Trudeau said. “We will help Canadians financially. We’ll be supporting the health of Canadians and the economy at this time.”

Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced a $10 billion credit facility to lend money to businesses under stress as a result of the pandemic. Money will flow to the Business Development Bank of Canada and Export Development Canada to help companies get cash and keep exporting at a time when COVID-19 is affecting how the global economy functions.

Morneau said a similar tool was effective during the 2008 financial crisis, and will be again now.

Morneau’s announcement came during a press conference where the Band of Canada also announced another cut to the bank rate. That will result in the overnight rate target falling by half a percentage point to 0.75 per cent. In addition, the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions announced an additional $300 billion in lending capacity for big banks to ensure liquidity. That office regulates Canada’s financial institutions. The move will encourage banks to keep lending to businesses to avoid an increase in bankruptcies.

Trudeau promised a fiscal stimulus in the days ahead.

“Our public officials are giving us the right advice for Canada. We have outstanding public health authorities that are doing an outstanding job. We will get through this together.”