Today’s coronavirus news: Ottawa to extend wage subsidy; Ontario announcement on stage 3 of reopening expected today

KEY FACTS

  • 11:37 a.m. Ottawa plans to extend wage subsidy program

  • 11 a.m. Ontario reports 116 new cases of COVID-19

  • 7:00 a.m.: Ford to announce Ontario moving to stage three of reopening plan

The latest coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Sunday. This file will be updated throughout the day. Web links to longer stories if available.

12:18 p.m. Military sentries are returning to their spots in front of the National War Memorial and Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as the threat posed by COVID-19 appears to be receding.

The Canadian Armed Forces has posted a ceremonial guard at the monuments near Parliament seven days a week from April to November since 2014.

The sentry program was established both as a way to honour the sacrifices of those who have served in uniform and to protect the memorial and tomb from vandalism and other acts.

This year’s iteration looked like it might be cancelled entirely because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But the military says it was decided after talks with Ottawa city officials that the sentry program is a “low-risk outdoor activity” and one way to return a sense of normalcy after months of lockdown.

The first sentries took up their positions this morning and the guard will remain in position five days a week until Nov. 10.

Sentries normally stand guard seven days a week, but the military says it will be using a reduced schedule this year.

While visitors often stand beside the sentries for photographs, they are being asked to remain at least two metres away from the sentries because of COVID-19.

12:11 p.m. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says bilateral discussions are continuing on the Canada-U.S. border, which remains closed to non-essential travel as the number of new COVID-19 cases in the U.S. continues to rise. Trudeau says he spoke to U.S. President Donald Trump in a phone call earlier Monday.

He says the two countries will make an announcement before the current border agreement expires next week.

12:05 p.m. Health officials are monitoring several cases of COVID-19 exposure in Kelowna, B.C., and say they’ve identified two more locations where people may have contracted the respiratory illness.

Interior Health says in a statement issued Sunday that a restaurant and spin studio have been added to the resort and a bed and breakfast identified on Friday in an advisory about the Okanagan outbreak.

An email from the health authority says eight positive tests for the virus are linked to visits to downtown Kelowna and the city’s waterfront between June 25 and July 9.

Visitors to the Boyce Gyro Beach Lodge on July 1 or the Discovery Bay Resort from July 1 to July 5 were advised Friday to self-isolate and monitor themselves closely for symptoms.

The health authority is now urging visitors to Kelowna’s Cactus Club restaurant on Water Street between July 3 and July 6, or the Pace Spin Studio on July 2, 4, 5, 7, 8 and 9 to self-monitor and get tested if COVID-19 symptoms appear.

Public health contact tracing is underway and the health authority says it is reaching out directly to anyone who has been exposed, where possible.

11:44 a.m. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he’s very sorry he didn’t recuse himself from the government’s decision to award a contract to WE Charity to manage a major student-volunteering program.

He says his and his family’s longtime involvement with the WE organization should have kept him out of the discussions.

And he says he’s particularly sorry that the delay in the program caused by WE’s eventual decision to withdraw will harm students looking for ways to help in the COVID-19 pandemic.

11:37 a.m. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the federal government planning to extend its program to subsidize wages in companies hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic until December. More details are expected this week.

The program is the heart of the government’s promise to help Canadians get back to work, even if has to be at a slower pace, as the pandemic wanes.

11:16 a.m. A health-care worker at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown is the eight person on the Island to test positive for COVID-19 in the past week.

Chief medical officer of health Dr. Heather Morrison said today the man in his 40s tested positive Sunday night after being identified through contact-tracing of another case.

Authorities say he had been in contact with a Queen’s County woman who tested positive on the weekend.

The woman, in her 80s, had gone to the hospital by ambulance on July 4 and came into contact with the health-care worker.

Morrison says the worker had travelled in Canada, but outside the Atlantic provinces, and returned to work July 4 after testing negative for COVID-19.

P.E.I. has now had 35 cases of COVID-19, including 27 that are considered recovered.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 13, 2020.

Correction, July 13, 2020: This entry has been updated from a previous version said the worker was infected by the patient.

11 a.m. As Ontario prepares to further reopen the economy, the province is reporting 116 new cases of COVID-19.

Health Minister Christine Elliott said Monday that 29 of the province’s 34 public health units reported five or fewer cases, with 21 of them reporting no new cases at all.

“Having seen a continued decline in the number of new COVID-19 cases as the province entered stage two, and with hospitalizations being at all-time lows, today we’re providing details about stage three of our plan to continue the safe and gradual reopening the province,” Elliott said on Twitter.

There are 104 patients in Ontario hospitals with coronavirus, 28 of whom are in intensive care units. Of those, 20 are on ventilators.

Read the full story from the Star’s Robert Benzie: Ontario reports 116 new cases of COVID-19 as province gears up for next stage of reopening

10:35 a.m. Amid pervasive backsliding on social distancing, Britain and France are weighing whether to require people to wear masks in public places.

Scientists say the two countries’ governments should have done so ever since they started easing lockdowns — like many other European nations did – instead of exposing their populations to the risk of infections from mass dance parties and summer vacationers who think there’s no longer anything to worry about.

Whether to make masks mandatory isn’t just a matter of debate in the United States, where infection rates are still climbing fast.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged U.K. residents Monday to wear face coverings in shops and other tight indoor spaces — but stopped short of making it compulsory.

Critics have accused Johnson’s government of failing to provide clarity on mask-wearing in the days since he began backtracking on its previous advice that suggested face covers were not necessary. After the prime minister then was photographed wearing one in a shop, government ministers appeared on TV urging personal choice in the mask issue.

Meanwhile, France’s government said Monday it’s considering requiring masks in all indoor public places amid signs of a small rise in confirmed virus cases – and a big drop in public vigilance. French scientists have pushed for such a requirement in recent days as families crisscross the country for summer vacations, but the government has remained cautious.

10:04 a.m.: Gyms in Boston are welcoming back members and the iconic duck boat tours are rolling out again as the city enters the third phase of its coronavirus economic restart.

Boston begins Phase 3 on Monday, a week after most of the rest of Massachusetts, allowing museums, movie theatres, historical sites and gyms to reopen with certain restrictions.

The New England Aquarium and Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum are among those expected to reopen this week.

Boston Duck Tours are also beginning on Monday. The company says its limiting the number of people on the duck boats so guests can socially distance and is requiring face masks for staff and guests.

9:23 a.m.: Health authorities in Thailand are seeking to trace the contacts of two recent foreign arrivals in the country who were infected with the coronavirus and may have violated quarantine rules.

The two cases, an Egyptian military officer and the 9-year-old child of a diplomat from Africa, surfaced as Thailand marked seven weeks with no local transmissions of the coronavirus. With few foreigners allowed to legally enter the country, all other recent cases have involved Thai nationals repatriated from abroad.

That recently arrived foreigners were cleared for entry despite testing and quarantine procedures meant to keep them isolated has caused concern as Thailand considers how and when to reopen on a larger scale to foreign tourists.

9:11 a.m.: Teachers in Ontario’s northern school boards are sounding the alarm about back-to-school plans, saying the region’s vast geography and sparse population present challenges not considered in southern parts of the province.

School boards provincewide are still in the process of developing contingency plans for September, and while the teachers say reopening will be hard for everyone, they note that the general guidelines developed by the Ministry of Education don’t take into account the lack of resources in the Far North.

“We want to be in the schools. We want to be delivering quality education,” said Kim Douglas, president of the local elementary teachers’ union for the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board. “(But) I don’t think they have enough equipment, enough cleaning, enough help to even allay the fears that people are feeling, going back into the school.”

The Dryden, Ont.-based union representative, who spent three decades as a teacher, said schools in her board are few and far between, and have scant staff.

In one school, she said, there’s one full-time teacher, a part-time teacher and an education assistant. There’s no administrator, which raises a new host of problems during a pandemic.

“When there’s no administrator on site, and a kid gets sick, what do you do?” Douglas said. “Who’s gonna be responsible for that child?”

(UPDATED) 9:00 a.m.: A government source says Quebec Premier Francois Legault will order that mask-wearing be mandatory in all indoor public places in the province starting Saturday.

The premier is expected to make the announcement this afternoon in the company of Dr. Horacio Arruda, the province’s director of public health.

Owners of shops and other enclosed public spaces would be responsible for ensuring the new regulations are respected.

Individuals are not expected to face fines for non-compliance.

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Companies that do not ensure clients and patrons follow the rules, however, could face fines of between $1,000 and $6,000.

A bylaw making face coverings mandatory on public transit in the province came into effect today.

8:50 a.m.: A May 17 Ipsos poll indicated that only 20 per cent of Canadians anticipate travelling outside Canada in 2020; 50 per cent would not be at all likely to do so.

Undoubtedly, they are influenced by Global Affairs Canada’s ongoing COVID-19 travel advisory, recommending that Canadians “avoid all non-essential travel outside Canada and to avoid all cruise ship travel until further notice.” The ban has meant that Canadian insurers are not issuing travel health insurance for people who ignore the advisory, putting snowbirds at risk for health expenses related to COVID-19 and other ailments.

Read the full story from our personal finance expert here.

8:28 a.m.: The United States was grappling with the worst coronavirus outbreak in the world on Monday, as Florida shattered the national record for a state’s largest single-day increase in new confirmed cases.

Meanwhile, two World Health Organization experts were part of a mission in China to trace the origin of the pandemic. The virus was first detected in central China’s city of Wuhan late last year. Beijing had been reluctant to allow a probe but relented after scores of countries called on the WHO to conduct a thorough investigation.

Deaths from the virus have been rising in the U.S., especially in the South and West, though they are still well below the heights hit in April, according to a recent Associated Press analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University.

“I really do think we could control this, and it’s the human element that is so critical. It should be an effort of our country. We should be pulling together when we’re in a crisis, and we’re definitely not doing it,” said University of Florida epidemiologist Dr. Cindy Prins.

7:45 a.m.: Mario Castillo Tamayo was the first COVID-19 patient to end up in Humber River Hospital’s intensive care unit and he remained there on a breathing machine from late March to early June — about nine weeks.

At one point doctors in the hospital thought the 51-year-old was going to die because his oxygen levels dropped so low. “One of his doctors called and said my husband is ‘getting worse, and we don’t know if he will make it,’” said Castillo Tamayo’s wife, Maricar Pagulayan, 40.

The doctor added that if her husband did survive, he’d be on a ventilator for the rest of his life, she recalled.

But Castillo Tamayo pulled through — miraculously, doctors say — and is now alert, speaking, eating and getting around with a walker. He is COVID-free after testing negative multiple times.

Read the full story from the Star’s Donovan Vincent here.

7:14 a.m.: The demand for mail-in ballots is surging. Election workers need training. And polling booths might have to be outfitted with protective shields during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As officials prepare for the Nov. 3 election, one certainty is clear: It’s coming with a big price tag.

“Election officials don’t have nearly the resources to make the preparations and changes they need to make to run an election in a pandemic,” said Wendy Weiser, head of the Brennan Center for Justice’s democracy program. “We are seeing this all over the place.”

The pandemic has sent state and local officials scrambling to prepare for an election like few others, an extraordinary endeavour during a presidential contest, as virus cases rise across much of the U.S.

7:00 a.m.: As new cases of COVID-19 remain manageable and hospitalizations decrease, Premier Doug Ford will announce Monday that Ontario is moving into the third stage of reopening the economy.

Senior government officials confirmed to the Star on Sunday that the premier is set to announce that more businesses and attractions will be able to open by the end of this week.

That means restaurants and bars, which are restricted to serving meals and drinks on patios, could be allowed to offer indoor dining as long as patrons maintain safe physical distancing.

Sources close to Ford, speaking on background in order to discuss internal deliberations, said officials are poring over the data from regional public health units to determine which regions can open first.

As it was with stage two, which took effect last month, Toronto and Peel Region will likely be among the last regions to reopen. Durham, Halton, York, Hamilton, London, and Ottawa should open sooner.

Read the full story from the Star’s Robert Benzie here.

4:01 a.m.: On the East Coast, Prince Edward Island is reporting another new case of COVID-19 — a woman in her 80s from Queens County tested positive and is self-isolating at home.

P.E.I. has reported four new cases of the infection since July 4 after being COVID-free during the months of May and June.

4:01 a.m.: Health officials in Quebec, the epicentre of the pandemic in Canada, are concerned about a spike in COVID-19 cases in Montreal linked to the reopening of the city’s bars.

Over the weekend Montreal’s public health authority urged patrons and employees who have frequented bars since Canada Day to get tested for the coronavirus.

Quebec reported 114 new COVID-19 infections Sunday, boosting its total to 56,521 cases.

The province is to introduce mandatory masks on public transit starting today, with a two-week grace period before users will be denied service as of July 27.

Montreal has also indicated that it intends to bring in mandatory masks for enclosed public spaces as of that date.

9:39 p.m. Sunday: Mexico surpassed Italy on Sunday in the number of COVID-19 deaths, and has become the world’s fourth-deadliest nation.

Deaths rose by 276 to 35,006, according to data released by the Health Ministry on Sunday. Cases rose by 4,482 to 299,750. Over the last two weeks, total deaths in Mexico also overtook Spain and France, as Latin America has increasingly become a hotspot for the pandemic.

Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has prioritized reactivating the economy over enforcing strict lockdowns, a strategy that has drawn criticism that his government hasn’t taken the virus seriously enough. Like other Latin American countries, Mexico has vulnerable populations where people must work to meet basic needs and live in crowded quarters, adding to the challenge of enforcing social distancing.

The country posted repeated record rises in cases this week, with health officials reporting more than 7,000 new confirmed cases for the first time Thursday night. Despite that, Deputy Health Minister Hugo Lopez-Gatell has said the illness is not spreading in the country as quickly as it was.

8:55 p.m. Sunday: Toronto FC and D.C. United, whose opening match at the MLS is Back Tournament was postponed early Sunday in the wake of worrying COVID-19 tests, will now play at 9 a.m. on Monday.

Major League Soccer confirmed the rescheduled start on Sunday evening. Toronto didn’t make it out of the hotel for the 9 a.m. kickoff Sunday after a pair of COVID-19 tests prompted the match to be called off minutes before it was scheduled to start at the ESPN sports complex in Orlando, Fla.

The league said a round of pre-game testing Saturday had returned a positive test for a D.C. United player and an inconclusive test for a Toronto player. The positive test was considered unconfirmed until backed up by a second test.

“Both teams participated in another round of testing today, and all players from the two clubs tested negative,” the league said. “Based on those results, the game will be played (Monday) morning at 9 a.m. ET.”