Black Press Media is updating news stories throughout the day as the coronavirus crisis escalates. This file focuses on national news.
Updated at 1600 March 19.
Death toll in B.C. increases to eight dead
VANCOUVER — British Columbia has recorded an eighth death from COVID-19 as the number of infected cases has climbed to 271.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says the latest death is a man who was a resident of the Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver, where six others have died.
The province has recorded 40 new cases.
Henry says B.C. now has 271 cases of COVID-19, with the majority being in the Vancouver Coastal and Fraser health regions.
She is urging people to maintain social distancing to fight the novel coronavirus, but adds they can step outside for fresh air while maintaining their distance from others.
Health Minister Adrian Dix also announced that the province is waiving waiting periods for people who have applied for medical service plan insurance including those who are returning from infected areas in other countries.
British Columbia has declared both a provincial state of emergency and a public health emergency because of COVID-19.
Vancouver city council followed the province with its own local state of emergency today.
The city says the declaration allows staff to take additional measures in the battle against the virus including giving the city priority in acquiring clothing, equipment or medical supplies to cope with the pandemic.
Foreign Minister self isolates due to flu symptoms
TORONTO — Canada’s foreign minister is being tested for the coronavirus after experiencing flu-like symptoms after travelling.
Foreign Minister François-Philippe Champagne said on Twitter he is self-isolating at home for 14 days and says he expects the results of his test very shortly.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is already self-isolating at his residence after his wife tested positive following a trip to London.
Champagne says he will continue to work to support Canadians facing difficulties abroad and to help co-ordinate the international response to the crisis.
Canada’s top doctor: Don’t flatten the curve, ‘Plank it!’
OTTAWA — Canada’s top doctor says it might be months until we know whether social distancing measures being employed across the country are slowing the spread of COVID-19.
Canada has seen a “concerning” daily in the number of cases of COVID-19 across the country. The latest federal count is 800 cases and 10 deaths, and Alberta recorded an additional death after that tally.
But the numbers of newly confirmed cases released daily reflect people who were tested days ago, and they would have spent several days with the virus that causes COVID-19 before developing symptoms.
“I always tell people it’s a bit like the light from a star,” said chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam in a Thursday news conference.
“What you’re seeing reported today is something that actually happened a while back.”
Across the country people have taken drastic measures to limit their contact with others and keep the virus from spreading.
Some provinces have even mandated the closure of certain businesses to make sure people don’t gather in large groups.
It’s all in an effort to make sure there isn’t a sudden sharp increase in the number of cases, so that the spread of the virus is slowed over time. Public health experts call it “flattening the curve.”
“What I would like to see, and I’ll be watching very closely in the next two weeks or so, what actually happens to that curve,” Tam said.
Most cases of the virus in Canada have been mild, and found in people of working age. But it can be far more serious for older people or people with underlying health conditions.
So far the demographics of people who have contracted COVID-19 matches what other countries are seeing as well.
Today Tam called for Canadians to not flatten the curve but “plank it.”
In China and South Korea, which saw major outbreaks before Canada, it took about two and a half months to get the situation under control, Tam said.
Ideally, she said, Canada will never reach the point others did.
“I’ll see how Canadians do in the next couple of weeks,” she said.
Prairies: Doctors’ bonspiel puts physicians at risk
REGINA — An investigation is underway in at least two provinces after a Saskatchewan doctor who attended a curling bonspiel in Edmonton tested positive for COVID-19.
Dr. Allan Woo, president of the Saskatchewan Medical Association, said in a letter to members that he tested positive for the virus on Wednesday night.
“I attended a curling bonspiel held March 11-14 in Edmonton,” he said in the letter Thursday. “This bonspiel is an annual event that usually attracts 50-60 physicians from Western Canada.
“I believe I contracted the COVID-19 virus at this bonspiel.”
Woo is one of four new presumptive cases of COVID-19 in Saskatchewan, bringing the total in the province to 20.
The Ministry of Health said three of the new infections are related to travel, with the other being a close contact of a previously reported case.
Dr. Saqib Shahab, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said all of the participants have been alerted about the positive tests, meaning they will be required to be in self-isolation until further details are known.
Doctors Manitoba said in an emailed statement that the organization is aware of three doctors from Manitoba who participated in the bonspiel.
Workers sent home from northern mine
Quebec mining company Agnico Eagle has decided to send home its Nunavut-based work force from the two gold mines it operates in south central Nunavut.
All local workers on site will be returned home and those off-site will not return.
These employees will continue to be paid.
The move is being made to eliminate the possibility of Nunavut workers being infected by those flying in from the south.
As yet, Nunavut has no confirmed COVID-19 cases.
The mines will continue to operate with remaining staff.
Passport services suspended
The federal government is suspending its passport services until further notice.
Canadians will only be able to obtain or renew passports if they need to travel for urgent reasons.
This includes serious illness, the death of friend or family member, humanitarian work or would otherwise lose a job or business.
Service Canada says anyone who does not meet the criteria for urgent travel — or is experiencing symptoms such as a fever, coughing, having trouble breathing — will have to wait.
So would anyone who is in self-isolation.
Social Development Minister Ahmed Hussen says that with travel restrictions in place, Service Canada needs to focus on assisting Canadians with issues that are currently the most critical.