Coronavirus ‘ghost towns’: Saskatchewan trucker has isolating view of pandemic

Regina trucker Chris Smyth hasn’t seen anything like this during in his 10-plus years on the road.

The novel coronavirus pandemic has brought forth personal protective measures and supply concerns while the trucking industry continues to transport goods.

One of the provincial measures brought into effect has restaurants reduced to food delivery and drive-thru only. According to Smyth, it’s had an impact in more than one way.

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“Restaurants and diners are closed, where we usually take our breaks. That cuts out the little bit of social life that we do have,” Smyth said.

“I ran into a fellow driver here last week, an older man, and he looked just down in the dumps… he’s said that he’s really struggling because he doesn’t have his usual coffee shops to stop into and just chat with the locals or have a little bit of a social life.”

According to Susan Ewart, executive director of the Saskatchewan Trucking Association, the Thank a Trucker campaign was put out a couple of weeks ago as a way to highlight the drivers’ efforts.

“Truck driving is considered to be an essential service. Those men and women that are out on the roads today, they really are putting themselves on the front line,” Ewart said.

“We just wanted to make sure that the public understood the critical role that trucking does play in our economy and that we should be thanking those people.”

The campaign on social media aims to generate kindness on highways amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is an odd time. We just need to spread a little more kindness. It is weird. This whole kindness issue is taking off… that sense of community is a little bit amazing,” Ewart said.

Smyth said the campaign is working.

“There’s a lot of places now that are offering a hot meal. You can phone and order it ahead and they’ll come right to the truck. It is making life a little bit easier out here.”

The provincial government said, on an average day, roughly 38,000 trucks are travelling along Saskatchewan highways.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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Coronavirus: Worker at Hamilton McDonald’s charged after fake positive COVID-19 test closed restaurant: police

An 18-year-old woman from Hamilton has been charged after allegedly trying to get out of work at a local McDonald’s by submitting a fake doctor’s note claiming she tested positive for the new coronavirus, according to police.

On Saturday, McDonald’s said it closed down one of its restaurants on the Mountain after a worker reportedly tested positive for COVID-19, according to a spokesperson.

The restaurant chain alerted the public, saying the employee worked at the location at 20 Rymal Rd. E. just east of Upper James Street and was on duty between noon and 8 p.m. on March 15.

“We are in contact with Ontario Public Health to confirm this report. Out of an abundance of caution, McDonald’s Canada made the decision to immediately shut down the restaurant for a thorough cleaning,” spokesperson Ryma Boussoufa said on Saturday.

All staff at the restaurant believed to have been in close contact with the employee were told to self-quarantine until further notice.

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However, on Thursday, Hamilton police charged the woman with mischief over $5,000, fraud under $5,000, using a forged document and making a forged document.

“The fake note was presented to a restaurant supervisor on March 19, 2020. The McDonald’s restaurant, located on Rymal Road, took immediate safety actions by closing the store and sending all employees home to self-isolate,” Hamilton police said in a statement.

Investigators say they were tipped off about the fake note from Hamilton Public Health on Monday.

Police go on to say there was “significant impact” on the restaurant, local customers and employees.

The woman has been released and has a court date on May 18.

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Police officers in Montreal, Terrebonne pay tribute to hospital workers

Police officers in Terrebonne and Montreal are saluting frontline workers during the COVID-19 crisis in their own way.

Once their shift was done on Thursday, Terrebonne police officers drove by the Pierre-Le Gardeur Hospital in a caravan.

“We had warned the hospital a lot of police cars would be driving by so they didn’t worry, we just didn’t tell them why,” said Terrebonne police spokesperson Captain Joël Lamarche.

They lined up on the street –respecting social distancing measures– in front of the emergency room and displayed five letters spelling ‘MERCI’ — which is ‘thank you’ in French.

Lamarche said they were inspired by seeing people cheering for frontline workers from their balconies in Europe.

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Southern Alberta couple struggles to get home from Peru because of COVID-19 travel restrictions

A couple from Stavely, Alta., are two of about 1,700 Canadians trying to get from Lima, Peru back to home soil during a coronavirus pandemic.

Tim and Christine Nelson departed from Calgary on March 2. They had a six-week tour of Peru planned. After hearing the recommendation that international travellers should return home about 12 days ago, the couple hustled from Cusco back to Lima, trying to book flights back to Canada.

After signing up with the Registration of Canadians Abroad, the Nelsons had to wait for government codes to get on one of the flights from Lima back to Canada, but the first two times they received a code that indicated they didn’t have any luck.

“There are 400 seats on each of the planes that are coming in, and within, I’m going to say five minutes, those 400 seats are gone,” Christine said.

Her husband Tim said the rush of getting a code was twice replaced with disappointment.

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“It was, ‘OK, here’s another code,’ and it’s go, go, go… and then it’s, ‘Oh no, you didn’t get the flight,’” he said.

“We’ve been back and forth, it’s kind of that up and down… like riding a roller-coaster.”

On Thursday morning, the pair walked to the nearby Canadian Embassy; a spot they said was busier than they could have expected.

According to Christine, the first two flights out of Lima took a total of 800 Canadian travellers home, but the embassy said nearly 1,700 remained in the city.

“And that’s only in Lima,” she said. “They are still not accounting for anybody that’s in Cusco, and there’s flights supposedly there today to pick them up and bring them to Lima, so they’re closer to the international airport.

But on Thursday afternoon, from the hotel the Nelsons had called home for 12 days, the mood had shifted, with seats on a flight to Toronto officially booked for the following day.

“We’re going to go drink some pisco sours,” Tim laughed.

“That is the local drink down here,” said Christine, “and all four of the Canadians — the two of us and two others that are here in the hotel — we all got on that flight. So there will be a little bit of celebrating going on here I think.”

The Nelsons said they don’t believe that the craziness of their time in Peru will deter them from coming back.

“It’s not going to put a damper on what we think of Peru or the fact that we will be back,” Christinesaid.

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Coronavirus: All Lake Simcoe Region conservation areas closed

All conservation areas under the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority are closed until further notice due to the novel coronavirus.

“Due to the non-essential nature of our conservation areas, we are no longer able to maintain trails, hazard trees and undertake other non-essential services during COVID-19,” reads a statement by the local conservation authority.

“This difficult decision was made in support of legislation put in place by the province to stop the spread of COVID-19 and to keep our watershed residents as safe as possible throughout this trying time.”

The local conservation areas include Scanlon Creek in Bradford, Sheppard’s Bush in Aurora, Thornton Bales in King, Rogers Reservoir in East Gwillimbury, Whitchurch in Stouffville, the Durham Regional Forest in south and west of Uxbridge, and the Beaver River Wetlands, between Uxbridge and Cannington.

On Monday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford ordered all non-essential businesses to close by Tuesday, March 24, at 11:59 p.m.

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As of Wednesday afternoon, there are 671 active cases of the novel coronavirus in Ontario. There have been nine deaths in the province.

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Coronavirus: Montreal restaurateurs urge premier to remove restaurants from essential services list

The co-owners of a Montreal restaurant are urging Quebec Premier François Legault to remove restaurants from the province’s list of essential services that will remain open as it grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Legault recently asked a majority of the province’s business owners to put their operations on pause for three weeks, with only essential services remaining open.

The move came one day after the provincial government’s decision to close shopping malls, dine-in restaurants, beauty salons and barbershops.

“We are asking all stores and businesses to close at the latest tomorrow (Tuesday) at midnight,” said Legault, calling his decision a difficult but necessary one to fight the spread of COVID-19. 

The businesses in question are expected to remain closed until April 13. Under the new regulations, the following are exempt and can remain open, as they are considered essential services:

  • Grocery stores and other food providers
  • Pharmacies
  • Depanneurs (corner stores)
  • Big-box stores not attached to shopping malls that offer grocery services, pharmacies or hardware supplies
  • Products for agriculture exploitation (mechanical, fertilizers, etc.)
  • Societe des alcools du Quebec (SAQ) and Societe quebecoise du cannabis (SQDC) locations
  • Funeral homes, crematoriums and cemeteries
  • Restaurants (takeout and delivery only)
  • Hotels
  • Dry cleaners and laundromats
  • Medical products and orthopedics stores
  • Pet food and product stores
  • Moving companies
  • Work equipment retailers (safety and protective gear)

“I can understand that for some businesses, it will be tough to do,” Legault said, adding that he hasn’t ruled out taking extra steps to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

But the move doesn’t go far enough, according to the owners of one restaurant in Montreal’s Mile-Ex neighbourhood, who made the decision more than one week ago to close up shop despite government guidelines allowing them to remain open. 

“I think everyone should shut down,” said Nicole Turcotte, owner of Dinette Triple Crown.

“One of our server’s brothers had cystic fibrosis, someone else has diabetes,” said Turcotte, who felt it was too much to ask her employees to stick around. She has laid off 18 workers, who are currently self-isolating after serving large groups of tourists before the restaurant closed on March 16.   

Turcotte’s business partner, chef Colin Perry, deplores what he calls mixed messaging from the government. On the one hand, he says, people are being asked to stay home, and on the other, restaurants are being encouraged to adopt a new model to avoid bankruptcy.

“We are being actively encouraged to transition to a takeout and delivery model,” Perry said.

Perry and Turcotte estimate delivery and takeout will only amount to about 25 per cent of their revenues while increasing anxiety around the transmission of the virus.  

“We’ve lost half of our savings from the last eight years in the last two weeks,” said Turcotte, who believes many restaurants are staying open due to a lack of financial relief from the government.

“It’s making people have to choose between making an income and doing the responsible thing,” said Turcotte. “The sooner we can get it (COVID-19) under control then maybe restaurants can start opening again.”

Turcotte and Perry’s hope is that delivery and takeout services will be removed from the provincial government’s list of essential services so that restaurant workers and owners will no longer be required to stay on the job and put their health on the line.

“Food is an essential service,” said Perry. “Having a prepared meal delivered to your home is an extravagance and an unessential luxury.”

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ANALYSIS: Expect Ottawa to declare national COVID-19 emergency only when premiers want one

Time and again over the last week, at his now-daily press conferences, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been asked when he will declare a national emergency and, in so doing, give the federal government powers it does not presently have to respond to the novel coronavirus crisis.

His answer, every time, has been the same: nothing is off the table. Ottawa is considering all options. The federal cabinet will take any step it deems necessary to respond to the crisis.

But, in fact, those clamouring for the federal Emergencies Act to be proclaimed may be missing the point that, with Nova Scotia declaring an emergency on Sunday, every single province has now proclaimed its own version of the Emergencies Act and, in doing so, every province now has arguably more sweeping powers than Ottawa does to respond to the crisis.

“We are a federal system of government, and Canada is one of the most decentralized federations in the world, which means that the provinces have powers that are almost the powers held by sovereign countries in very practical terms,” said former Quebec premier Jean Charest in a podcast published Friday by the law firm McCarthy Tetrault, where he is a senior adviser.

“You will see different approaches in different provinces, but it will depend on what the needs are and what the situation is, which is fine.”

Indeed, many are.

Over the weekend, for example, Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s cabinet signed off on an order, exercised under Ontario’s Emergency Management Act, suspending the collective agreements of nurses and other health-care workers. That allows hospital administrators and health authorities to hire or reassign staff, cancel vacations and so on without regard to, for example, waiting periods prescribed in a collective agreement.

Quebec’s Premier François Legault invoked powers under his province’s version of a similar act to order that all shopping malls in the province be closed.

And if those or any other province believe that harsher measures must be taken to control the spread of COVID-19, they are free to literally do anything they legally want, so long as it can be reasonably justified as part of the crisis response.

By contrast, there is no such “blank cheque” clause in the federal Emergencies Act. Instead, the federal government, should it proclaim a national emergency, is confined to nine specific, though important, kinds of actions it can take. (They are all listed in Section 8 of the act. ) And all of those actions overlap or duplicate powers that have already been invoked by every province.

In other words, there is no power in the federal Emergencies Act that provinces do not already have. Ottawa is not “holding back” any authority that premiers do not already possess.

In fact, it cannot be stressed enough how important the provinces are to this crisis response.

Provinces have the legal authority to compel individuals and businesses to do just about anything. And, it should be noted, provinces have police officers to enforce their orders. The federal government does not because the federal Emergencies Act prohibits Ottawa from assuming control over any municipal or provincial police force, including the RCMP, where it provides policing services for a province or municipality.

The key role of the federal government is to lead when it comes to co-ordination. Indeed, that is one of the top items on the agenda for a conference call Trudeau is having with the premiers on Monday evening.

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COMMENTARY: Laughter may not always be the best medicine, but right now it’s my saving grace

As of Friday, COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, has infected more than 240,000 people worldwide and killed over 10,000. Our country is taking strong measures to contain the virus, and the situation changes not daily but hourly.

All of us have been asked to do our part. Our front-line heroes are working around the clock to care for us, putting themselves at great risk in the process, while my task is a much simpler one — to stay home and help #flattenthecurve.

But as the days go on, I feel more anxious. As the global tallies rise, I sometimes feel overwhelmed. For many, anxieties are running high in these unprecedented times — my saving grace in the new world order of this virus has been humour.

One of my father’s favourite sayings is “you can laugh or you can cry,” and I’ve been doing my best to do more of the former as I navigate our new normal for the unforeseeable future. Make no mistake: I do not think this is something to take lightly, not by any means. I understand the severity of this virus, especially for our most vulnerable, including my own diabetic, elderly father.

That said, I see the value that laughter and humour play as a coping mechanism and as a way of showing resiliency and agency. Laughter creates a sense of community in times of uncertainty, and I have personally felt its positive effects this first week at home.

As I’ve watched this pandemic unfold across the globe, checking in with my family and friends living near and far — from the U.S. to the U.K., India and Australia — the common thread is the reliance on humour to ease some of the tension. I’ve even been sent the same joke in different chat groups, just with a few tweaks or sometimes language changed to fit the cultural context.

In South Africa, humour and satire are used so often to comment on current affairs that the phenomenon has been dubbed “pavement radio” by historian and human rights activist Stephen Ellis. COVID-19 has proven no different — South Africans took to social media almost immediately after the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed with a series of jokes and memes, ranging from political to inspiring in tone and nature.

From the barrage of toilet-paper-hoarding memes to the struggles of working from home with our children (and trying to maintain some sort of schedule with said children), handwashing 101, grooming nightmares and more, the commentary shared on social media has helped lighten the mood and provided a sense of community.

There is an underlying meaning in the humour.

Some may scoff, but it’s important to take popular culture seriously. Understanding how people use humour to alleviate their anxieties can help those in charge address and respond to those fears. This week, our political leaders have repeatedly reassured us that there is no shortage of TP and other household supplies, and now some of our retailers have also placed limits on these products. Our social discourse has played a role in that.

The unfiltered, no-holds-barred discussions in my friend chat groups reached new levels — and a new range of emojis — this week as we opened up candidly on everything from our health concerns to economic uncertainties, with a healthy dose of humour sprinkled into the conversation to alleviate one another’s stresses.

There has also been a change in how I am spending time with my children. We are usually always in a rush — rushing to school, ballet, basketball, birthday parties — this week we weren’t in a rush to go anywhere. However, slowing down the pace has meant the kids are leaning a lot more on us parents for entertainment.

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Coronavirus: Hamilton hospitals implement no-visitor policy during COVID-19 pandemic

St. Joseph’s Healthcare and Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) hospitals — including Hamilton General and Juravinski hospitals — are no longer allowing visitors to their facilities as of Friday in an ongoing fight against the spread of the new coronavirus.

“The policy is being introduced as part of our ongoing efforts to protect the public, patients, staff and physicians from the potential transmission of the COVID-19 virus,” said St. Joe’s spokesperson Elaine Mitropoulos in a media release.

There are some limited exceptions for St. Joe’s, according to Mitropoulos, which include compassionate grounds for those who have connections to some palliative patients.

Other exceptions may be partners of women in labour and others with special needs.

The exceptions are to be determined by the hospital’s patient care team, according to the release.

St. Joe’s is recommending friends and family reach out to patients using free Wi-Fi, telephone and the hospital’s television services.

Meanwhile, HHS has adopted a similar policy that is set to be implemented as of noon Friday, discontinuing visits to its hospitals, including Hamilton General, Juravinski Hospital, Juravinski Cancer Centre, McMaster University Medical Centre, St. Peter’s Hospital and West Lincoln Memorial Hospital.

“We are doing this to maintain a safe environment for our patients, staff and physicians,” HHS spokesperson Lillian Badzioch said in a press release Friday morning.

HHS said its exceptions — to be approved by a clinical manager or delegate — include those who have a connection to a pediatric patient with COVID-19, ambulatory clinics, the emergency department, patients having surgery or a partner who is pregnant or in labour.

Other exceptions, such as end-of-life scenarios, will also be considered for entry.

On Tuesday, St. Joe’s began COVID-19 screening protocols for staff, patients and visitors at its health-care facilities.

HHS began a similar program on Thursday.

Those protocols are expected to continue, minus the now-banned visitors.

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Could Ontario recreate South Korea’s success in containing coronavirus outbreak?

As Ontario grapples with rising COVID-19 case numbers, containment remains the key to battling the outbreak of the novel coronavirus disease.

Countries like Italy, Iran and the United States continue to be overwhelmed trying to care for COVID-19 patients as worries grow that Ontario could soon be in the same situation.

South Korea, however, has emerged as a global beacon of hope after the country had major success in reducing its case numbers. After a peak of 909 confirmed cases on Feb. 29, South Korea’s numbers have rapidly dropped and are now in the single digits — on Tuesday, just 79 new cases were reported.

In a news conference on Wednesday, Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said the province is looking at South Korea’s model.

While South Korea’s population is vastly larger than Ontario’s, its per-capita testing for the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has been much higher. The republic ramped up testing immediately after a handful of cases were first identified, and it has also made the process simple and easily accessible to its population.

More than a quarter-million residents have been tested for the virus, with the ability to conduct up to 20,000 tests a day at 633 sites. South Korea is utilizing pop-up facilities and drive-thru clinics.

“We acted like an army,” Lee Sang-won, an infectious diseases expert at the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told Reuters.

South Korea has also aggressively pursued contact tracing, which, in turn, has resulted in case isolation.

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