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Today’s coronavirus news: Ontario reports fewer than 100 cases for fourth day in a row; Manitoba union calls on Maple Leaf to shut down pork plant over COVID-19 cases

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KEY FACTS

  • 11:30 a.m. More than half of Canadians are afraid to go back to their workplaces, new research shows.

  • 10:30 a.m. For the fourth consecutive day, Ontario is reporting fewer than 100 cases, with 95 cases today.

  • 9:25 a.m. The House of Commons’ committee probing the government’s ill-fated deal with WE Charity will hear this morning from a charity watchdog organization.

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

12 p.m. A boating trip involving multiple families is behind a spike COVID-19 in southwestern Ontario as the Ministry of Health reports a fourth day in a row with fewer than 100 new cases across the province.

The health unit in Chatham-Kent said 12 of its 24 new cases in the last two days are from a trip of several days duration outside the region and suggested the number of infections from the highly contagious novel coronavirus could spread further.

“Chatham-Kent Public Health is isolating these cases and tracing their contacts, of which there is a large number,” the unit said in a statement Thursday. Officials did not provide details or dates of the boat trip.

The local medical officer of health told residents that a loosening of restrictions under Stage 3 does not mean precautions can be abandoned.

Read the full story from the Star’s Rob Ferguson: Boat trip with multiple families blamed for surge in COVID-19 in Chatham area

11:50 a.m. The union representing employees at a pork processing plant in Manitoba is calling for Maple Leaf to cease production after three more workers tested positive for COVID-19.

The United Food and Commercial Workers Local 832 says in a memo that it wants the company to stop work at the Brandon plant until Aug. 10 at the earliest.

It says time is needed to get outstanding test results from other employees.

The union says Maple Leaf has informed members that the plant will remain open and production will continue as usual.

One worker at the plant tested positive over the weekend, and the union says the three new cases are of non-production staff.

COVID-19 cases in Manitoba have remained relatively low, with a current total of 444, but there has recently been an increase in infections.

11:34 a.m. Canada’s labour market likely continued its comeback last month, but gains are slowing on the long road to full recovery.

Statistics Canada is expected to report that 365,000 jobs were added in July, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg survey of economists. That would bring total jobs recovered to 1.6 million in the past three months, or just over 50 per cent of the three million lost in March and April.

While the employment gains will be welcome, economists have warned it could still take years before the labour market returns to pre-pandemic levels. Nor are labour outcomes evenly spread.

Women, low-income earners, youth and immigrants have been hit harder and will take even longer to recuperate. On Friday, Statistics Canada will release jobs data by race for the first time that are expected to show minorities have been disproportionately hurt by the recession.

11:30 a.m. More than half of Canadians are afraid to go back to their workplaces and 77 per cent are worried their colleagues might show up infected with the coronavirus, according to research from consulting firm KPMG.

About six in 10 say they’ll will refuse to go back if they believe their place of work is not safe enough and 57 per cent are concerned about sharing meeting rooms and other common areas. The survey polled more than 1,000 Canadians online and was conducted July 22 to 24.

Major Canadian employers including Royal Bank of Canada, Bank of Nova Scotia and Telus Corp. have told many employees to continue working from home for the rest of the year. One potential issue for workers in Toronto’s financial district is its often-crowded subway system. The city has one of the busiest transit networks in North America, trailing only New York City and Mexico City.

In the KPMG survey, 71 per cent said they were worried about using public transportation for their commute. In Ontario, the figure was 78 per cent.

Ontario also had the highest percentage of people who said they were “afraid of returning” to the workplace, at 64 per cent. Nationally, the number was 54 per cent.

11:24 a.m. A workers-rights group is calling on the federal government to rethink the employment insurance program as an emergency benefit for workers is set to run out.

The government estimates four million people will be moved onto EI when the Canada Emergency Response Benefit starts winding down, and is promising a parallel benefit for gig and contract workers who don’t qualify for payments through the decades-old system.

The Workers Action Centre says many of the people it works with would get between $600 and $1,000 a month if they’re pushed onto EI next month, with the way the safety program is currently structured.

That would be less than the $500 per week paid out through the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, or CERB, to workers whose incomes crashed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Deena Ladd, the group’s executive director, says an overhaul of EI itself is necessary to provide adequate benefits to stabilize an economy with sectors that won’t fully open for months or may have to shut down in response to outbreaks.

A few of the workers involved with the centre shared their stories and concerns for the coming months during a virtual press conference this morning.

11:24 a.m. Quebec is reporting 133 new cases of COVID-19 and no new deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus.

The province has now recorded a total of 60,133 infections and 5,687 deaths from the disease.

Health authorities said today the number of hospitalizations decreased by two in the past 24 hours, for a total of 165.

There are 19 patients in intensive care, the same number as Wednesday.

The province says it conducted 17,042 COVID-19 tests Aug. 4, the last day for which testing data is available.

On Wednesday, Quebec’s blood collection agency published a study indicating about 125,000 people aged 18-69 in the province contracted COVID-19 — more than three times the official number reported by health authorities.

11:21 a.m. The Canadian Junior Football League has cancelled its 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The league made the announcement Thursday on its Twitter page.

“The Canadian Junior Football League has determined that it is not feasible to operate a regular season or playoffs for the 2020 season,” it said in a statement. “Our focus and attention will now be on our return to play plan for the 2021 season.”

Commissioner Jim Pankovich said safety remains the league’s top priority.

10:51 a.m. A Thai restaurant near Adelaide Street West and John Street is shutting its doors after one of its kitchen workers tested positive for COVID-19.

In an Instagram post on Wednesday, PAI Northern Thai Toronto said that the worker’s last shift was on Monday. The worker is currently quarantining, the restaurant said.

“We have immediately closed our restaurant until further notice for deep sanitation and the full team at Pai is being tested and in self-isolation, although no other team members are experiencing symptoms,” reads the post.

“We will only reopen when we feel it is safe to do so and only with team members who have tested negative… we look forward to welcoming you back at Pai very soon.”

10:50 a.m. North Korea is quarantining thousands of people and shipping food and other aid to a southern city locked down over coronavirus worries, officials said, as the country’s response to a suspected case reinforces doubt about its long-standing claim to be virus-free.

But amid the outside skepticism and a stream of North Korean propaganda glorifying its virus efforts, an exchange between the country and the United Nations is providing new clarity — and actual numbers — about what might be happening in North Korea, which has closed its borders and cut travel — never a free-flowing stream — by outsider monitors and journalists.

In late July, North Korea said it had imposed its “maximum emergency system” to guard against the virus spreading after finding a person with COVID-19 symptoms in Kaesong city, near the border with rival South Korea.

State media reported that leader Kim Jong Un then ordered a total lockdown of Kaesong, and said the suspected case was a North Korean who had earlier fled to South Korea before slipping back into Kaesong last month.

10:30 a.m. For the fourth consecutive day, Ontario is reporting fewer than 100 cases, with 95 cases today, a 0.2 per cent increase, Health Minister Christine Elliott said on Twitter. With 159 more resolved, Ontario continues to see a persistent decline in the number of active cases. Yesterday, the province processed over 26,000 tests. Locally, 29 of Ontario’s 34 public health units are reporting five or fewer cases, with 15 of them reporting no new cases.

10:27 a.m. St. Louis County in northeastern Minnesota this week has added new coronavirus cases faster than any other county in the state.

Of the 475 cases in St. Louis County as of Wednesday, more than half were confirmed in July. The virus has been detected throughout the state’s geographically largest county, but about three-fourths of the cases came from Duluth, according to health officials.

While nursing homes were hit hard by the coronavirus in the spring and early summer, now nearly one-third of those infected in the county are in their 20s.

About 40 per cent of people who tested positive say they’d attended restaurants or bars during the period they were likely exposed to the virus, the county’s public health director Amy Westbrook says.

10:27 a.m. Gov. Kristi Noem is using coronavirus restrictions in other states to lure businesses to relocate to South Dakota.

In an online ad, Noem tells business owners to “grow their company” in South Dakota where government will stay out of their way.

“When it comes to supporting growth and eliminating government heavy-handed interference, South Dakota means business,” Noem said in the ad from the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.

The Republican governor says Minnesota’s COVID-19-related restrictions, including a mandate to wear face masks in public buildings, has created an opportunity for businesses there to cross the border to South Dakota.

Noem says in South Dakota, businesses won’t be shut down.

Noem has taken a relaxed approach to the pandemic. Even as Republican governors in states such as Texas have moved to require people to wear masks, Noem didn’t require physical distancing or masks at the July 3 celebration at Mount Rushmore, which President Donald Trump attended.

10:27 a.m. Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz says the country will begin human trials on a coronavirus vaccine in the fall.

Gantz made the announcement Thursday after a visit to the Israel Institute for Biological Research, a research centre under the Defence Ministry.

Gantz says the human trials would begin after the upcoming Jewish new year holidays, which take place in September and early October.

“All of the successful preliminary trials offer very significant news and a great deal of hope,” Gantz said. “The next phase, as we’ve determined, is to start trials in humans after the autumn holidays.”

More than two dozen experimental vaccines are in various stages of human testing worldwide.

9:25 a.m. The House of Commons’ committee probing the government’s ill-fated deal with WE Charity will hear this morning from a charity watchdog organization.

Charity Intelligence Canada has been referenced multiple times during finance committee hearings about the WE affair, but has yet to testify in the committee’s probe of the Canada Student Service Grant program.

Charity Intelligence has previously raised red flags about WE’s practices, which has garnered rebukes from WE and its co-founders, Craig and Marc Kielburger, who testified before the committee last week.

The controversy around the grant program has raised questions about WE’s complex structure and accounting mechanisms, its use of high-profile corporate sponsors and celebrity endorsements and its work culture.

Meanwhile, opposition parties are hoping the imminent release of government documents will shed some light on how an organization with close ties to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was awarded a deal to administer the $912-million student program.

The government has until Saturday to table with the finance committee all memos, briefing notes, correspondence and other documents related to the now-cancelled agreement.

8:46 a.m. A northern Norway university hospital says two more crewmembers who worked on a Norwegian cruise ship have tested positive for the coronavirus, bring the total to 55.

Following the outbreak on the MS Roald Amundsen, the ship’s owner halted all cruises on Monday and Norway closed its ports to cruise ships for two weeks.

The University Hospital of North Norway in Tromsoe, north of the Arctic Circle, where the ship currently is docked, said the two were admitted Thursday. They were described as foreign nationals working on the MS Roald Amundsen.

Earlier, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health said during the ship’s two journeys last month, a total of 37 crew members and 16 passengers tested positive. The passengers all registered as living in Norway.

The cruise liner often acts like a local ferry, travelling from port to port along Norway’s west coast. Some passengers disembarked along the route and authorities fear they may have spread the virus to local communities.

8 a.m. The British government says it won’t be using 50 million face masks it bought during a scramble to secure protective equipment for medics at the height of the coronavirus outbreak because of safety concerns.

The masks were part of a 252 million pound ($332 million) contract the government signed with investment firm Ayanda Capital in April. Papers filed in a court case reveal that the masks will not be distributed because they have ear loops rather than head loops and may not fit tightly enough.

The government says another 150 million masks supplied by Ayanda are unaffected but are still being tested.

The papers are part of a lawsuit against the Conservative government by campaigning groups the Good Law Project and EveryDoctor.

As the coronavirus outbreak accelerated across the U.K. in March, it became clear that the country lacked sufficient stockpiles of masks, gloves, gowns and other protective gear for health care workers and nursing home staff. That sparked a race to buy billions of pieces of equipment from suppliers in the U.K. and abroad.

Opposition parties are calling for an urgent investigation into the way personal protective equipment was acquired.

8 a.m. As Africa’s confirmed coronavirus cases near 1 million, the director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that “we cannot at all exercise fatigue” in the pandemic response.

John Nkengasong spoke to reporters as the continent’s cases are now at more than 992,000. More than half are in South Africa.

Africa has seen an 11 per cent increase in cases in the past week, lower than in recent weeks, but Nkengasong says that while it’s tempting to see a decrease, the numbers must be observed over several weeks to determine the real trend of infections on the continent of 1.3 billion people.

Five countries account for 75 per cent of cases: South Africa, Egypt, Nigeria, Ghana and Algeria.

The low rate of testing remains a concern, but Nkengasong says that if countries do the right things “we have a good chance of beating back this pandemic.” He says the CDC is closely watching countries including Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan as cases climb.

8 a.m. The Philippines reported 3,561 new coronavirus cases Thursday, overtaking Indonesia with the most infections in Southeast Asia, as Manila plunged into a recession.

The latest jump brings confirmed cases to 119,460, including 2,150 deaths. Indonesia reported a total of 118,753 confirmed infections as of Thursday, with 5,521 deaths.

The economy slumped by 16.5% in the second quarter in the worst contraction on record in decades that caused the Philippines to slip into a recession.

The stagnant economy has begun to rebound slightly after President Rodrigo Duterte eased a three-month lockdown in June. But he put the capital and outlying provinces of more than 25 million people back under a two-week moderate lockdown Tuesday, after medical groups warned the health care system was being overwhelmed and could collapse.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque says, “I’ll be honest with you, the economy can no longer withstand a much longer lockdown.”

8 a.m. Nepal has reimposed some restrictions, shutting down hotels and restaurants and restricting travel because of the increasing number of coronavirus cases.

The Home Ministry statement says all gatherings are prohibited and movement of people and vehicles only allowed during the night.

In the districts with high numbers of cases, vehicles will be allowed on the streets on alternating days by even-odd license plates.

Nepal’s lockdown imposed in March lasted for 120 days. The country has had 21,390 cases and 60 deaths, including 81 infections and two fatalities on Wednesday.

8 a.m. A health official says Vietnam’s COVID-19 outbreak could peak in the coming 10 days as the country reported another death and scores of new infections.

Deputy Health Minister Nguyen Truong Son, who is in hot spot Da Nang to oversee the fight against the virus, says new infections have been found every day and “therefore, we have to continue keeping guard up.”

To cope with an increase in virus patients, Da Nang completed a 700-bed makeshift hospital on Wednesday. The hospital, converted from a sports auditorium, has a maximum capacity of 3,000 beds.

A 67-year-old woman became Vietnam’s ninth fatality. She had suffered from other health complications.

Since the outbreak returned to Vietnam two weeks ago after more than three months, 270 local infections have been confirmed, most of them traced to a cluster of hospitals in Da Nang. Among the new cases are six in a high-tech industrial park in the city.

The virus has since spread to 11 provinces and municipalities, including the largest cities of Ho Chi Minh with eight cases and Hanoi with three.

Among measures to curb the outbreak, the government is encouraging the use of a smart phone app that alerts clients if they had come into contact with a person who tested positive.

8 a.m. Germany’s national disease control centre has registered the highest number of new coronavirus infections in a day for three months.

The Robert Koch Institute says 1,045 cases were recorded on Wednesday. It was the first time since May 7 that it has counted more than 1,000 cases in a day. It’s still far short of early April’s peak of more than 6,000.

While daily numbers are volatile, the figure fits into a pattern of new cases edging higher over recent weeks as authorities deal with a number of small outbreaks in different parts of the country.

The disease control centre’s daily report repeated its assessment that “this development is very disturbing.” Officials last week pleaded with Germans to respect mask-wearing and social distancing rules.

Germany’s COVID-19 response so far is widely regarded as relatively successful. The Robert Koch Institute has recorded 9,175 deaths from over 213,000 confirmed cases — a lower death rate than in many comparable countries.

8 a.m. India has recorded the biggest single-day fatalities of 904 in the past 24 hours as fresh coronavirus infections surged by another 56,282 cases to reach nearly 2 million.

The Health Ministry says the total fatalities touched 40,699. India has recorded 20,000 deaths in the past 30 days.

The ministry also said the recovery rate has improved to 67% from 63% over the last 14 days. Nearly 600,000 patients are still undergoing treatment.

The case fatality rate stands at 2.09%.

Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh are the worst-hit Indian states.

8 a.m.The premier of Australia’s hot spot Victoria state has urged residents not to panic-buy as he announced reductions in meat productions.

The state capital Melbourne began its first full day of tough lockdown restrictions on Thursday as Victoria posted 471 new COVID-19 infections and eight deaths.

Premier Daniel Andrews says beef, lamb and pork production will be reduced by one third from late Friday because of the virus transmission risks in abattoirs and meat processing plants.

Poultry production will be reduced by 20%.

He says the measures are designed to drive down to the lowest possible numbers of workers to without at the same time delivering a shortage of products.

Andrews says there was no need for shoppers to stockpile, as has occurred spasmodically and to various extents during Melbourne’s first and second lockdowns.

He says, “You may not necessarily be able to get exactly the cut of meat that you want, but you will get what you need and you will get all the products that are, basically, fundamentally important to you.”

8 a.m. The governor of Japan’s Aichi Prefecture has announced a regional “state of emergency” seeking to curb the coronavirus.

Gov. Hideaki Ohmura on Thursday asked businesses to close altogether or close early and urged people to stay home at night.

The measures continue through Aug. 24, a period that coincides with the Obon holidays, when schools and many companies close. Aichi includes Nagoya, which is home to Toyota Motor Corp.’s headquarters.

The governor says confirmed coronavirus cases have been rising in Aichi since mid-July at 100 or more a day. Before that, daily cases had been zero for extended periods.

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Japan’s national government in April called for social distancing and business closings, though those measures were gradually lifted. Japan has had nearly 42,700 confirmed coronavirus cases and about 1,000 deaths.

8 a.m. New COVID-19 cases in China’s northwestern city of Urumqi have shown a slight rise, with 27 reported Thursday, five more than the day before.

The uptick in the Xinjiang region shows authorities are still battling to end country’s latest major outbreak that appeared around three weeks ago. Officials have responded with stiff control measures, including locking down some residential neighbourhoods, limiting public transport and restricting travel outside the city.

Urumqi is the capital and biggest city in Xinjiang, which has reported more than 600 coronavirus cases but no deaths.

With no new deaths, China’s total remains at 4,634, among 84,528 confirmed cases recorded since the coronavirus was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.

8 a.m. Mexico is nearing 50,000 confirmed deaths from COVID-19.

The federal Health Department reported 829 newly confirmed deaths Wednesday, giving the country a total of 49,698 such deaths. That is the third highest number of pandemic deaths in the world.

Officials said Mexico’s number of confirmed infections rose by 6,139 to 449,961.

Authorities acknowledge Mexico’s real number of deaths could be much higher, in part because it has done so little testing. Only about 1 million tests have been performed in the country of almost 130 million people since the pandemic began.

8 a.m. Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb is defending school reopenings in the face of mounting reports of students and education staff testing positive for the coronavirus since returning to classes.

Box said Wednesday that she “continue(s) to believe that our schools can safely reopen.” She says improved testing and hospital capacity are added safeguards for returning students for in-person learning.

The governor adds that her biggest recommendation to students and families is to know when to stay at home.

8 a.m. The Arkansas state government is requiring public schools to stay open five days a week when classes resume this month, complicating efforts by some districts to limit on-site instruction because of the coronavirus.

Education Secretary Johnny Key issued the guidance to schools Wednesday as the state reported 912 new confirmed virus cases and 18 more deaths.

The state’s guidance says schools must be open all five weekdays to comply with the state constitution. Some districts had planned to limit on-site instruction and use remote learning on the days that schools weren’t open.

Arkansas’ public schools are set to reopen the week of Aug. 24.

8 a.m. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee says schools in the much of the state should strongly consider online-only learning for students this fall due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Inslee also urged Wednesday that they cancel or postpone sports and all other in-person extracurricular activities.

Health experts say the virus is still spreading too extensively in the state, which saw the nation’s first confirmed virus case in late January. Since then, Washington has recorded more than 59,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 1,600 deaths.

8 a.m. Vermont officials say nearly 150 Vermont inmates housed in a Mississippi prison have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Vermont houses 219 inmates at the Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility in Tutwiler, Mississippi, because of a lack of capacity in its own prisons.

Late in July, six inmates who were returned to Vermont from the private Mississippi prison tested positive when they arrived at the Rutland correctional facility. That prompted Vermont’s Corrections Department to order that the remaining Vermont inmates in Mississippi be tested.

Interim Vermont Corrections Commissioner James Baker says there were 147 positive tests, 62 negative ones, two tests that are pending and eight inmates refused to be tested.

8 a.m. The United States and seven European countries are calling on Russia to withdraw its forces from the Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions in Georgia and allow medical evacuations and aid deliveries during the coronavirus pandemic.

The eight countries said after a closed U.N. Security Council session Wednesday that Russia’s presence further divides communities and puts at risk “the health and lives of the conflict-affected population” during the pandemic.

Deputy Russian Ambassador U.N. ambassador Dmitry Polyansky tweeted that the statement is “only a fiction.”

Georgia made a botched attempt to regain control of its breakaway province of South Ossetia in 2008, setting off a short war with Russia. Moscow then recognized the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and set up military bases there.

7:45 a.m. Bombardier Inc. says its net loss surged to $223 million (U.S.) in the second quarter on a big drop in revenues due to pandemic related disruptions.

The Montreal-based transportation company, which reports in U.S. dollars, says it lost 13 cents per diluted share, compared with a loss of four cents per share or $36 million a year earlier.

The company, which will focus on business aircraft after the sale of its railway operations to Alstom are completed, says early trends are encouraging from new interest in private air travel.

“Bombardier continues to take the right actions to manage the impact of the ongoing public health crisis while protecting the business for the long-term,” stated CEO Eric Martel.

6:44 a.m. The Bank of England predicted Thursday that the economic downturn in the U.K. economy might be less severe than it thought at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic — even as it warned it would take a longer time to heal the scars.

The central bank opened the door to providing more monetary stimulus as Britain reopens after the pandemic lockdowns and said the economy probably won’t return to pre-pandemic levels until the end of 2021 as spending by consumers and businesses remains weak.

It also expressed concern about rising rates of unemployment — particularly at a time in which no one knows what will happen next.

“The outlook for the U.K. and global economies remains unusually uncertain, the bank said in a statement. “It will depend critically on the evolution of the pandemic, measures taken to protect public health, and how governments, households and businesses respond to these.’

6 a.m. The NHL says the laboratories hired to conduct daily COVID-19 tests on players in Edmonton and Toronto keep their supply chains separate from the public’s to ensure never the twain shall meet.

Roughly 1,500 samples are collected and analysed daily in each city not only from players, team and NHL personnel, but from restaurant and hotel workers supporting the post-season tournament in each hub.

Prior to the NHL’s restart this summer, deputy commissioner Bill Daly estimated between 25,000 and 30,000 tests will be administered through the end of the Stanley Cup final.

Aware that even a perceived conflict with public testing could sour each city’s population on hosting a dozen NHL teams, the league and labs insist there isn’t one.

The chief executive officer of DynaLife in Edmonton says the lab sources chemicals and machinery from manufacturers that don’t supply Alberta Health Services.

“A very simple analogy would be public health has chosen to run a fleet of Chevrolets and Fords as their vehicles,” Jason Pincock told The Canadian Press.

5:52 a.m. Germany will require people arriving from countries considered high-risk to take coronavirus tests starting this weekend, the health minister said Thursday, as the country recorded its highest daily tally of new infections in three months.

German officials have voiced alarm over a steady upward creep in the number of new infections over recent weeks. The national disease control centre, the Robert Koch Institute, said 1,045 cases were recorded on Wednesday — the first time since May 7 that it has counted more than 1,000 cases in a day.

Daily figures can be volatile or distorted by delays in reporting, and the number is still far short of the peak of more than 6,000 reached in early April.

“What we are seeing is a lot of small outbreaks,” Health Minister Jens Spahn told reporters. “People are getting infected at family parties, at their place of work or at community facilities.”

On top of that, school holidays — the dates of which are staggered across Germany’s 16 states — are ending in some regions, increasing concerns that vacationers could bring home the virus.

4 a.m. Opposition parties are hoping the imminent release of government documents related to the WE Charity affair will shed some light on how an organization with close ties to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was awarded a deal to administer a federal student grant program.

The government has until Saturday to table with the House of Commons finance committee all memos, briefing notes, correspondence and other documents related to the now-cancelled agreement.

In the meantime, however, the committee’s efforts to delve deeper into the controversy could be stymied due to the unavailability of key witnesses.

The committee, which heard last week from Trudeau and WE Charity founders Craig and Marc Kielburger, is scheduled to hold another video conference meeting Thursday.

But committee chair Wayne Easter says it could be cancelled because, as of late Wednesday, none of the invited witnesses had yet confirmed their appearance.

Thursday 5 a.m. Newfoundland and Labrador’s chief medical officer of health is set to take the stand Thursday in a legal challenge of a travel ban limiting entry to the province she ordered in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Janice Fitzgerald will appear as a witness at the case being heard in provincial supreme court in St. John’s this week.

The special measures order from Fitzgerald came into effect in May, banning anyone but permanent residents and workers deemed essential from entering the province.

Halifax resident Kim Taylor and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association filed a claim in May alleging the restrictions violate the charter and fall outside the province’s jurisdiction.

Taylor’s request to travel to Newfoundland after her mother died was initially denied and though the decision was later reversed and she was granted an exemption, she said it came too late.

Dr. Proton Rahman, who is leading the team preparing models on COVID-19 in the province, will also appear as a witness Thursday.

Thursday 2:11 a.m. A court in Myanmar on Thursday sentenced the Canadian pastor of an evangelical church to three months imprisonment after finding him guilty of violating a law intended to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

Myanmar-born David Lah was charged with flouting a ban on large gatherings by holding a religious meeting in Yangon on April 7.

Lah’s lawyer, Aung Kyi Win, said the court had found his client guilty of violating an article in the Natural Disaster Management Law because he failed to comply with a directive against gatherings.

The judge credited Lah with time served since he was jailed in May, so it appears he may be released within a couple of weeks.

A Myanmar colleague of Lah, Wai Tun, received the same sentence.

Thursday 12:06 a.m. President Donald Trump said Wednesday that he’d support an extension of payroll support for airlines as the coronavirus pandemic continues to eat away at their business.

Trump’s support comes after 16 senators signed a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., asking for the extension to spare potentially tens of thousands of airline jobs that are at risk after current funding is exhausted at the end of September.

“We don’t want to lose our airlines,” Trump told reporters at a White House briefing on Wednesday. “If they’re looking at that, whether they’re Republican or Democrat, I’d certainly be in favor.”

Unions representing airline employees and more than 200 members of the House of Representatives have supported an extension of CARES Act funding for airlines, which received $25 billion from Congress when it passed the law in March.

10:30 p.m. Wednesday At least four people have died after swallowing hand sanitizer during the coronavirus pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday.

In a report, the CDC said more than a dozen adults have landed in hospitals in Arizona and New Mexico since May 1 after drinking disinfectants.

“Alcohol-based hand sanitizer products should never be ingested,” the CDC said in the report.

In addition to the four fatalities, which included a trio of people in their 30s, another three patients suffered visual impairment after swallowing sanitizer, according to health authorities.

The cases involved methanol, a toxic substance, the CDC said. The Federal Drug Administration has issued warnings about sanitizers containing methanol and has piled up a list of more than 100 types of cleaners that it advises Americans to avoid.

Wednesday 8:15 p.m.: As COVID-19 remains in the community, B.C. health officials say so does the anxiety and stress that comes with the uncertainly and increased isolation.

A joint statement from Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says younger people may not understand why activities they enjoyed have been restricted, and they urged family members and friends to offer mental health support.

The government announced 47 new positive tests of COVID-19 on Wednesday, bringing the total number of cases to 3,834.

There are 351 active cases of COVID-19, with nine people hospitalized and six of those are in intensive care.

There have been no new deaths since the province’s last update and the toll stands at 195.

Dix and Henry asked B.C. residents to treat the summer of 2020 as a time of consideration and care for others.

Wednesday 6:05 p.m.: As of 5 p.m. Wednesday, Ontario’s regional health units are reporting a total of 41,760 confirmed or probable cases of COVID-19, including 2,821 deaths, up 78 new infections in 24 hours.

The province continues to be at its lowest rate of new infections since well before the pandemic first peaked in Ontario in the spring. Ontario has averaged 96 cases per day over the last seven days, down from a peak of nearly 600 daily, seen in mid-April.

On Wednesday, 20 of Ontario 34 health units reported no new cases; none reported more than 20 cases.

Meanwhile, one fatal case was reported Wednesday in the province, in Chatham-Kent. The southwestern Ontario health unit is the only area of the province that’s currently experiencing its worst rate of infection since the beginning of the pandemic — a still-relatively low 8.3 cases per day over the last week.

Earlier Wednesday, the province reported that 66 Ontarians are currently hospitalized with COVID-19, including 30 in intensive care, of whom 15 are on a ventilator.

The Star’s count includes some patients reported as “probable” COVID-19 cases, meaning they have symptoms and contacts or travel history that indicate they very likely have the disease, but have not yet received a positive lab test.

The province cautions its separate data, published daily at 10:30 a.m., may be incomplete or out of date due to delays in the reporting system, saying that in the event of a discrepancy, “data reported by (the health units) should be considered the most up to date.”

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John Turner, PM and Liberal leader who battled free trade with U.S., dead at 91

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John Turner, Canada’s 17th prime minister who spent decades in federal politics as a cabinet minister and Liberal Party leader during some of the most turbulent moments in modern Canadian history, has died at 91.

Turner led Canada for 79 days in the summer of 1984 — the second-shortest time in office of any prime minister.

Dubbed “Canada’s Kennedy” as a stylish, up-and-coming young MP in the early 1960s, Turner was Pierre Trudeau’s chief anglophone lieutenant in cabinet for years. Turner served as justice minister when the government decriminalized homosexuality and suspended civil liberties during the October Crisis in 1970, and was the finance minister as Ottawa struggled to control deficit spending and inflation during the oil crisis.

After a shock resignation from Trudeau’s government and a period of self-imposed exile on Bay Street, Turner eventually completed his climb to the Liberal leadership in the mid-1980s. But he inherited a party suffering from years of accumulated scandals and an electorate ready for change after more than two decades of nearly unbroken Liberal rule.

In the end, Turner’s most enduring moments in federal politics came once his short stint at 24 Sussex was over — namely, years of bitter battles waged with Brian Mulroney over free trade with the United States. They were fierce fights that Turner eventually lost, but the legacy of those debates continues to shape Canadian politics today.

On Saturday, Mulroney remembered Turner as a man “destined for great success” and a politician who “never believed in the politics of personal destruction.”

WATCH | Remembering former prime minister John Turner:

Once dubbed ‘Canada’s Kennedy’ as an MP in the early 1960s, the country’s 17th prime minister, John Turner, has died at 91. 3:23

Early life

Turner was born in the English town of Richmond upon Thames on June 7, 1929. When his father died just three years later, his Canadian-born mother moved the family to Canada, where they eventually settled in Ottawa’s posh Rockcliffe Park neighbourhood, surrounded by members of the country’s ruling political class.

After the Second World War, his mother remarried — to industrialist and future B.C. lieutenant governor Frank Ross — and the family moved west, where Turner attended the University of British Columbia. He became a track star, setting a national record for the 100-yard dash in 1947, and narrowly missed his chance to compete at the 1948 Olympics after smashing his knee in a car accident.

“Chick,” as the popular athlete became known, graduated from UBC in 1949 and received a Rhodes scholarship to study law at Oxford. He was called to the bar in London and started a doctorate at the Sorbonne in Paris, but he returned to Canada in 1953 before it was completed, joining the Montreal law firm Stikeman Elliott shortly thereafter.

Meteoric rise

Turner’s first taste of national politics came when C.D. Howe, the storied “Minister of Everything” under Mackenzie King, recruited him in 1957 to help organize a Liberal re-election campaign. 

The young lawyer’s profile swelled within the Liberal ranks as he started speaking at policy conventions, but it truly took off after he made headlines worldwide for dancing with Princess Margaret during a 1958 royal tour of British Columbia. Letters from the princess published in 2015 revealed she “nearly married him,” and it was reported the pair only broke up after Buckingham Palace ordered an end to the relationship. 

Former prime minister John Turner and Princess Margaret made headlines in 1958 during the princess’s visit to Canada. Newly unearthed letters written by Margaret reveal the pair may have ‘nearly married.’ (The Canadian Press)

In 1961, with the Liberals languishing in opposition and eager to recruit young talent, Turner was wooed into running for the party in the 1962 federal election.

The 32-year-old lawyer accepted, winning his Montreal riding and joining a cohort of rookie lawmakers — including Herb Gray and Gerald Regan — that Maclean’s magazine called “probably the brightest group of MPs ever to appear simultaneously in a Canadian Parliament.”

Turner married his wife, Geills McCrae Kilgour, in 1963, at a time when he was quickly rising within the Liberal caucus. By 1965, he had joined Lester Pearson’s cabinet as minister without portfolio, and by 1967 he was minister of consumer and corporate affairs.

When Pearson stepped down as prime minister in 1967, Turner eagerly entered the race to replace him on an anti-establishment platform that pledged to lower the voting age and improve skills training for young Canadians.

Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson, second from right, and, from left, cabinet ministers Pierre Trudeau, John Turner and Jean Chrétien talk in Ottawa in April 1967.

“My time is now and now is no time for mellow men,” Turner told delegates at the 1968 Liberal leadership convention.

Trudeau emerged the victor at that convention, but Turner hung on until the final ballot. The 195 delegates who stuck with him until the bitter end were rumoured to have subsequently formed the “195 Club,” a secretive cadre of well-placed political organizers quietly waiting for his next leadership campaign.

Trudeau heir apparent

The promising Liberal would soon be considered Trudeau’s heir apparent and the natural choice to continue the Liberals’ traditional anglophone-francophone leadership rotation. 

Appointed justice minister in 1968, Turner championed key reforms to Canada’s Criminal Code that opened the door to LGBTQ rights and legal abortions. He also implemented, defended and eventually dismantled the controversial War Measures Act during the FLQ crisis and appointed Canada’s first Jewish Supreme Court justice, Bora Laskin.

Shuffled into the finance portfolio in 1972, Turner faced mounting economic pressures due to the global oil crisis. He also became the government’s main economic interlocutor with the White House, playing tennis with Treasury Secretary George Schultz and frequently ironing out bilateral issues over dinner with President Richard Nixon.

Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau explains federal proposals to deal with the energy problem as Finance Minister John Turner looks on at the Ottawa conference centre in January 1973. (The Canadian Press)

Successive Turner budgets prioritized low unemployment levels, but at the cost of double-digit inflation and soaring deficits. Still, some Liberals would later defend Turner as a voice of fiscal prudence at the Trudeau cabinet table, implementing the government’s policy in public but privately advocating restraint while other ministers clamoured for ever-bigger budgets.

In time, Turner and Trudeau developed a notorious rivalry, and after 10 years as a senior minister in the Trudeau government, Turner resigned from cabinet in 1975 with a terse, enigmatic letter.

Waiting in the wings

Turner formally vacated his seat in Parliament in 1976 and decamped with his wife and four children to Toronto. On Bay Street, he became a high-paid lawyer at McMillan Binch and joined the boards of some of Canada’s most powerful companies, including Canadian Pacific, Seagram’s and Holt Renfrew.

He remained in Toronto for the ensuing eight years, refusing to give interviews but maintaining a public profile as the Liberal Party’s leader-in-waiting.

Turner would also prove a thorn in the side for many former cabinet colleagues, pumping out corporate newsletters to clients that lambasted the Liberals’ economic policies. While Jean Chrétien, another of Turner’s bitter rivals, dismissed the newsletters as a “gossip column,” opposition MPs eagerly weaponized the missives in Question Period.

WATCH | Turner returns to public life:

After close to a decade of self-imposed exile, Turner the lawyer returns to public life to claim the title of Liberal leader – and prime minister. 5:59

1984 coronation

After Trudeau’s second resignation in 1984, Turner finally won the top Liberal job, becoming leader and prime minister at a convention many saw as a coronation.

But he inherited a party sagging and scarred from too many years in power. Turner’s decision to move ahead with over 200 appointments proposed by Trudeau in his final days as prime minister cemented the party’s image as out of touch and too comfortable in power.

During the ’84 televised election debate, Mulroney eviscerated Turner when the Liberal leader unconvincingly argued he had “no option” but to follow through with the appointments. In one of the most iconic exchanges in modern Canadian politics, Mulroney replied: “You could have said: ‘I am not going to do it. This is wrong for Canada, and I am not going to ask Canadians to pay the price.'”

WATCH | Behind the scenes at the 1984 Liberal leadership convention:

A behind-the-scenes look at the drama and bitterness behind John Turner’s win at the 1984 Liberal leadership convention. 21:09

In the end, the Liberals suffered a resounding defeat at the hands of the Progressive Conservatives, receiving just 40 of 282 seats — at the time, the party’s worst-ever showing. 

Turner had been prime minister for little more than 11 weeks. Only Charles Tupper held the country’s top job for less time — 68 days in 1896. 

Turner hung on as Liberal leader, however, rebuilding the party and duelling with Mulroney over the Meech Lake Accord and, most memorably, Canada’s trading relationship with the U.S. — a battle he called “the fight of my life.” 

He also weathered the firestorm created by Reign of Error, a searing biography by journalist Greg Weston that portrayed Turner as a heavy-drinking, hypocritical loose cannon. One CBC reporter said it was “written with acid.”

Free-trade fight

Fearing the impact Mulroney’s Free Trade Agreement would have on Canadian sovereignty, Turner made the controversial move in 1988 to instruct Liberal senators to block legislation that would have ratified the deal. 

Turner was accused of misusing the powers of the unelected Senate, but he told CBC’s Bill Cameron at the time, “I believe if Canadians are given a choice to vote on this trade deal, people will reject it.”

WATCH | Mulroney battles Turner on free trade in 1988:

An invigorated John Turner takes on Brian Mulroney over his controversial free trade deal with the U.S. 4:36

The decision triggered an election dominated by Canada’s trading relationship with the U.S., during which Turner, with the support of Canada’s labour unions and arts community, fiercely fought the future agreement. In another iconic live TV election debate, Turner told Mulroney “You’ve sold us out” with “one signature of a pen,” and argued the deal would “turn us into a colony of the United States.” 

In the end, although the Liberals increased their share of the House of Commons to 83 seats, Canadians returned the PCs to power with a second majority. The FTA was successfully ratified in Parliament, and after surviving an attempted caucus putsch, Turner eventually retired as Liberal leader in 1990.

Retreat from public life

In an exit interview with CBC Radio’s Dale Goldhawk in 1990, Turner said the trade agreement was “a bad contract for Canada,” adding “history will prove me right.”

He also said that he wished he’d done more to create opportunities for education, protect the environment, promote gender equality and “[bring] Aboriginal people back into the mainstream.”

Former prime ministers, right to left, Pierre Trudeau, John Turner and Kim Campbell applaud former parliamentarians who were honoured at a plaque unveiling ceremony in the House of Commons in May 1996. (Tom Hanson/The Canadian Press)

Turner retained his seat in the House until 1993 but largely retreated from public life after stepping down as Liberal leader.

In 1994, he was named a companion of the Order of Canada and, in 2004, led the Canadian delegation of election monitors in Ukraine.

After leaving full-time politics, he returned to practising law in Toronto but remained an outspoken advocate against the centralization of power in Ottawa, the manipulation of House of Commons debates and bills and the diminishing role of parliamentary committees in the legislative process. He also showed a particular interest in speaking about politics with young people.

Turner stands during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in November 2017. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

“Democracy doesn’t happen by accident, you’ve got to work at it,” he told the Globe and Mail in 2009. “At the moment, Canadians are getting a little lazy about it, a little inattentive, and we’ve got to revive it.”

Turner is survived by his wife and four children.

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Staffing to be adjusted in some Regina schools as online teacher-to-student ratio hits 1 to 67: trustee

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Teachers in some Regina schools are being shuffled due to significant demand for online learning, according to Regina Public School Board trustee Adam Hicks. 

Hicks posted a Facebook video Thursday evening talking about the changes, saying they will start to come into effect on Monday.

In the video post, Hicks said 2,200 students have registered for e-learning, with 33 teachers assigned to online teaching — a ratio of 67 students for every teacher.

“With 2,200 students in e-learning, our allocations of staff were, unfortunately, not enough,” Hicks said in the video.

Just over 25 staff from 22 schools will be reassigned to accommodate e-learning — a move made necessary by budget constraints, he said.

“We hired as many new teachers as we possibly could [for online teaching], but when it came down to it, we don’t have additional funding to hire all the rest.”

Education Minister Gord Wyant said Public Health was involved in the decision, and that the safety of staff and students is the top priority in this shuffle.

The Opposition NDP says the staff shuffle shows a failing in the Saskatchewan Party government’s back-to-school plan, but Wyant defended his government’s overall pandemic response as “exceptional.”

“I think that the response that the government has made … has been sufficient to support children and teachers in the classroom,” Wyant said. “I discount the criticism we’ve received for that.”

Children are safe in classrooms and getting the education they deserve, he said.

Earlier this month, Wyant and his ministry announced $51 million for school divisions as a first round of government money to deal with additional costs associated with schooling in a pandemic. Of that, $9.5 million is allocated to address additional distance-learning capacity, including funding 102 teachers and staff.

Hicks said in his video that the Regina Public School Board’s projections for the number of students attending classes in school were off. Fewer children are in school than they had originally thought, which means that funding — which is based on in-school enrolment — will be less than anticipated.

Wyant said he expects more students will return to in-class learning as the school year goes on.

But NDP Leader Ryan Meili said the government should ensure that funding remains consistent. 

“They’re still having to provide that teaching to people online but they are basically not … sure that they’ll be able to fund the number of teachers they have in place,” Meili said.

“We should absolutely have a commitment from this government that no money will be pulled back because of enrolment changes.”

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More than 1 in 10 Quebec schools have at least one case of COVID-19

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A total of 272 schools in Quebec have at least one positive case of COVID-19, be it a student or staff member, according to the province’s Friday update.

That’s 25 more schools affected since Thursday’s report. 

That means more than 10 per cent — or one in 10 — of Quebec’s 2,685 schools are affected by the pandemic.

In all, 189 classes have had to be shut down since the start of the school year.

The Education Ministry is gathering data from all 72 service centres and school boards from across the province as well as 260 private schools. In all, it adds up to just over one million students.

A total of 401 students and 106 staff members have tested positive since the start of school — increasing by 54 in 24 hours.

Montreal remains the most affected region with 81 schools having at least one case of COVID-19. The Quebec City area has 41, Montérégie has 38, Laval 24 and the Outaouais has seven.

The list is not complete, the government says, as some schools are undergoing audits.

As for the rest of the province, there were 297 new cases of COVID-19 and one more death reported Friday.

Some worry substitutes will worsen situation

Wit the situation appearing to worsen, some substitute teachers fear they will become vectors of COVID-19 as they move between schools.

Amélie Beaulieu says she has filled in for teachers at seven schools since the year’s start.

“There are regularly situations where teachers are absent as they are waiting for results,” she told Radio-Canada.

And even though she wears a mask on the job, Beaulieu worries substitutes like her will create a situation like that seen in long-term care homes and hospitals this spring.

Minister of Education Jean-François Roberge says it is a mistake to compare health-care workers to substitute teachers when it comes to spreading the disease. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

Staff moving between health facilities or even between hot and cold zones in hospitals did lead to outbreaks.

After witnessing the tragic results of migrating health staff, Beaulieu isn’t the only one who is worried.

“We do not want to repeat what happened in the spring in the health network,” said
Marc-Étienne Deslauriers, a parents’ committee member in Montreal.

“If people move, we have to make sure that all the conditions, the sanitary measures, are respected.”

Catherine Beauvais-St-Pierre, of the Alliance des professors de Montréal, said teachers see more than students as they change schools. They bump into other adults as well.

“It is worrying for these teachers and it is also worrying for the spread of the disease from one establishment to another,” she said.

Roberge says substitute teachers aren’t a risk

Neither public health nor the workplace safety board (CNESST) have enacted specific measures concerning the movement of substitutes between schools.

Education Minister Jean-François Roberge said substitute teachers are not the same as health-care workers and it is a mistake to make the comparison.

Employees of long-term care homes or hospitals must get close to residents and patients, he said.

“That’s nothing like a Secondary III math teacher who moves from one school to another, but who has no direct contact with students, who stays two metres from students and who rubs shoulders with students who are more than 99.5 per cent negative [for] COVID-19,” he said.

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