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Today’s coronavirus news: Toronto reports 14 new infections; Australia declares disaster in Victoria; Ontario reports 116 new cases

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KEY FACTS

  • 7:02 a.m.: Philippines virus cases top 100,000 in ‘losing battle’

  • 6:57 a.m.: India’s cases cross 1.75M

  • 6:50 a.m.: Australia declares disaster in Victoria, imposes curfew

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.

9 p.m.: The City of Toronto is reporting 14 new infections Sunday, bringing the total to 15,401. There were no new deaths reported, 82 are still in hospital and 24 more have recovered, for a total of 13,945.

7 p.m.: Toronto teens will attend high school every day for half a day, taking two courses at a time in classes of 15.

They won’t eat lunch there, can’t use their lockers and all sports are on hold.

Details of what schools will look like starting this September are part of a final report that Toronto District School Board trustees will receive Tuesday before it is submitted to the education ministry.

The Star’s Kristin Rushowy and Miriam Lafontaine has the full story.

5:40 p.m.: Nova Scotia Health advised people about two potential COVID-19 exposures in the province since mid-July.

The first took place between 3 and 3:30 p.m. Friday at the playground of the Maritime Muslim Academy in Halifax, the authorities said.

The agency said anyone potentially exposed to the virus at that location should self-monitor for symptoms, which may appear between now and Aug. 16.

It also warned of an earlier potential exposure on WestJet flight WS 254 that left Toronto at 9:45 p.m. on July 12 and arrived in Halifax just after midnight on July 13.

Nova Scotia Health said passengers in seats A-C in rows 14 through 20 are more likely to have been exposed to the virus.

While the two-week exposure period has ended, the agency said passengers who may have had COVID-19 symptoms between July 12 and July 27 should get tested.

3:30 p.m.: Quebec reported 141 new COVID-19 cases and three more deaths linked to the novel coronavirus on Sunday as it gets ready to increase public gathering limits.

The province is set to permit indoor and outdoor public gatherings of up to 250 people beginning Monday, up from 50. But a 10-person limit will be maintained for private gatherings, such as in homes and chalets.

The province has now reported 59,599 COVID-19 cases.

Health authorities added three deaths on Sunday — including two which occurred before July 25.

Quebec continues to have Canada’s highest COVID-19 death tally with 5,681 reported since the beginning of the pandemic.

Hospitalizations dropped by five to 172, while the number of patients in intensive care stood at 17, a decrease of one.

One day after setting a record with 18,437 tests performed on July 30, the province reported 14,934 tests completed on Friday — the last day for which those figures were available.

1:15 p.m.: Nova Scotia is now reporting two new cases of COVID-19, both related to travel outside of Canada.

Both cases are in the central zone, which includes Halifax, and are in self-isolation.

The province now has four active cases — all travel-related — but no one is in hospital due to the virus.

A mandatory mask rule came into effect Friday in most indoor public spaces across the province, including businesses and places of worship.

Dr. Robert Strang, the chief medical officer of health, said the measure is necessary to minimize any potential second wave of COVID-19.

Nova Scotia now has a total of 1,071 cases.

12:15 p.m.: As COVID-19 restrictions ease and restaurants start to welcome customers back, one thing Canadians may soon have to get used to is providing their personal information before they grab a bite.

Guidelines for restaurants vary in each province. But some jurisdictions are requiring a customer’s name and phone number or email address, along with their table number, to help with contract tracing in the event of an outbreak.

Ontario announced Friday that it will require bars and restaurants to keep client logs for 30 days. These will have to be disclosed to the medical officer of health or an inspector if tracing is needed.

In Toronto, collecting the info can be done at the time of reservations or through another system, said Toronto Public Health spokesperson Vinita Dubey.

She said indoor bars and restaurants present a higher level of risk for COVID-19 transmission because they involve crowds, close contact and closed spaces.

Similar guidelines apply to restaurants and bars in British Columbia, where public health officials now require restaurants to collect personal information from customers when they make reservations or at the time of seating. The details also have to be kept for a month.

Restaurants Canada vice-president David Lefebvre said there are costs associated with collecting personal details. And it can be time-consuming for places that provide quick service to a lot of customers.

“Our position as an association on this is: let’s make sure everybody, as a recommendation, respect the public health requirements,” he said. “But at the same time, let’s make sure that it’s not something that becomes too onerous and costs too much.”

10:15 a.m.:

There are now a total of 116,599 cases of COVID-19 in Canada, with 116 new cases in Ontario.

Health Minister Christine Elliott said that represents a 0.3 per cent increase “as the province once again processed over 30,000 tests. Locally, 27 of 34 public health units are reporting five or fewer cases, with 16 of them reporting no new cases. There are 122 more resolved.”

She also tweeted that “hospitalizations, ICU admissions and patients (on ventilators) all remain largely stable today” and noted that the next update on coronavirus numbers will come Tuesday, because of the holiday on Monday.

Total confirmed cases across Canada to date:

  • Alberta: 10,843 (including 196 deaths)
  • British Columbia: 3,641 (including 195 deaths)
  • Manitoba: 403 (including 8 deaths)
  • Newfoundland and Labrador: 266 (including 3 deaths)
  • Nova Scotia: 1,069 (including 64 deaths)
  • New Brunswick: 170 (including 2 deaths)
  • Ontario: 39,333 (including 2,777 deaths)
  • Quebec: 59,458 (including 5,678 deaths)
  • Saskatchewan: 1,334 (including 18 deaths)

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  • Nunavut: No confirmed cases
  • Canada: 116,599 (14 presumptive, 116,585 confirmed including 8,941 deaths)

9:31 a.m.: Toronto has been in the coronavirus’s grip for just over six months, though it may feel like a lifetime. The path of the virus has twisted wildly: nearly every month has brought a new upheaval.

In July, Toronto Public Health released an important dataset: a catalogue of every case reported in the city since the first known case in late January, roughly 15,300 total. Identifying details have been removed to protect privacy, but each case includes the person’s age bracket, neighbourhood and source of infection; whether they were hospitalized, in critical care or intubated; whether they recovered, are still fighting infection, and more.

You might think you know the story of COVID-19 and Toronto. But the dataset, which TPH says it released in the interest of transparency, contains revelations about how the virus slipped into Toronto and gained a foothold before taking aim at the most vulnerable residents and neighbourhoods.

Read the Star’s analysis of this trove of information and full story here.

7:15 a.m.: Coronavirus outbreaks at mink farms in Spain and the Netherlands have scientists digging into how the animals got infected and if they can spread it to people.

In the meantime, authorities have killed more than 1 million minks at breeding farms in both countries as a precaution.

The virus that first infected people in China late last year came from an animal source, probably bats, and later spread from person to person, as other coronaviruses had done in the past. Some animals, including cats, tigers and dogs, have picked up the new coronavirus from people, but there hasn’t been a documented case of animals spreading it back to humans.

The outbreaks among the minks on the farms in the Netherlands and Spain likely started with infected workers, although officials aren’t certain. But it also is “plausible” that some workers later caught the virus back from the minks, the Dutch government and a researcher said, and scientists are exploring whether that was the case and how much of a threat such a spread might be.

7:10 a.m.: Confirmed coronavirus cases are hovering at near record levels in Japan, raising worries the pandemic may be growing more difficult to control.

The Tokyo government reported 292 new cases Sunday, about half in their 20s. Japan in total reported 1,540 cases on Saturday— the second straight day the number was above 1,500.

Nationwide cases for Sunday will be tallied at midnight. Numbers are usually fewer over the weekend because of fewer tests. Japan has avoided a total lockdown, encouraging business activity while urging people to wear masks, social distance and work from home.

7:02 a.m.: Coronavirus infections in the Philippines surged past 100,000 Sunday after medical groups declared that the country was waging “a losing battle” against the virus and asked the president to reimpose a lockdown in the capital.

The Department of Health reported a record-high daily tally of 5,032, bringing the total confirmed cases in the country to 103,185, including more than 2,000 deaths.

The Philippines has the second-most cases in Southeast Asia after Indonesia. President Rodrigo Duterte eased a tough virus lockdown in the capital, Manila, on June 1.

6:57 a.m.: India’s coronavirus caseload crossed 1.75 million with another spike of 54,735 in the past 24 hours. The new cases are down from 57,118 on Saturday.

The Health Ministry on Sunday also reported 853 deaths for a total of 37,364. Randeep Guleria, a top government expert, said that New Delhi and Mumbai may have crossed their peak levels with declining trends.

The month of July alone has accounted for more than 1.1 million cases in India. Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said the case fatality rate is progressively reducing and currently stands at 2.18%, one of the lowest globally.

6:50 a.m.: The premier of Australia’s hard-hit Victoria state has declared a disaster among sweeping new coronavirus restrictions across Melbourne and elsewhere from Sunday night.

An evening curfew will be implemented across Melbourne from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. Premier Daniel Andrews says the state of disaster proclamation gave police greater power.

He says 671 new coronavirus cases had been detected since Saturday, including seven deaths. It comes among a steadily increasing toll in both deaths and infections over the past six weeks in Victoria.

“If we don’t make these changes, we’re not going to get through this,” Andrews said. “We need to do more. That is what these decisions are about.”

He said there would be more announcements about workplaces on Monday, including the closure of certain industries.

Melbourne residents will only be allowed to shop and exercise within 5 kilometres (3 miles) of their homes. All students across the state will return to home-based learning and child care centres will be closed.

5:15 a.m.: Early bands of heavy rain from Isaias lashed Florida’s east coast before dawn Sunday as authorities warily eyed the approaching storm, which threatened to snarl efforts to quell surging cases of the coronavirus across the region.

Isaias weakened from a hurricane to a tropical storm late Saturday afternoon, but was still expected to bring heavy rain and flooding as it barrels toward Florida.

“Don’t be fooled by the downgrade,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis warned during a news conference on Saturday after the storm — pronounced ees-ah-EE-ahs — spent hours roughing up the Bahamas.

Florida authorities closed beaches, parks and virus testing sites, lashing signs to palm trees so they wouldn’t blow away. The governor said the state is anticipating power outages and asked residents to have a week’s supply of water, food and medicine on hand. Officials wrestled with how to prepare shelters where people can seek refuge from the storm if necessary, while safely social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus.

Saturday 7:30 p.m.: South Africa surpassed 500,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, representing more than 50 per cent of all reported coronavirus infections in Africa’s 54 countries.

Health Minister Zwelini Mkhize announced 10,107 new cases Saturday night, bringing the country’s cumulative total to 503,290, including 8,153 deaths.

South Africa, with a population of about 58 million, has the fifth-highest number of reported cases in the world, behind the U.S., Brazil, Russia and India.

Saturday 6:40 p.m.: The head of Mexico’s efforts to fight the coronavirus pandemic has sidestepped calls to resign after Mexico’s death count rose to overtake the United Kingdom as the third-highest in the world.

Assistant Health Secretary Hugo Lopez-Gatell said that “I express my respect” to the nine of Mexico’s 32 state governors who called for his resignation, adding “I hope we can continue to work together.”

On Saturday, Mexico reported yet another new daily high for confirmed cases — 9,556, which raised the total cases to almost 425,000. The country also posted 784 more confirmed COVID-19 deaths, raising its total to 47,472.

Click here to read more coverage from Saturday.



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University education program still on hold for inmates across Canada

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As university and college students start school this month, inmates across the country will not have access to a program that offers university credits at no cost.

The Walls to Bridges program has been on hiatus at federal prisons and provincial jails since the start of the pandemic shutdown in March as a safety precaution. It’s not clear when it’ll start again, according to Shoshana Pollack, who founded the program in partnership with Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener, Ont. in 2011.

The program has been taught in five federal institutions across Ontario, Alberta, Manitoba and British Columbia, as well as several provincial jails. It’s even been expanded to a jail in Paris, France.

The university or college working with the facility helps fund the course for the incarcerated students with the help of community organizations and charities, and then the other half of the class is made up of students from the school.

“We’re the only post-secondary program in Canada that brings people from outside to study with people on the inside,” said Pollack, who’s also a professor in the Department of Social Work at Wilfrid Laurier University.

The program is an accessible option for students because it doesn’t require an internet connection, which inmates don’t often have access to, said Pollack.

‘Felt like I was a human being’

Rachel Fayter, who was incarcerated at Grand Valley Institution from 2014 to 2017, says she’s concerned for the students who are missing out on the program because of the pandemic.

“For those folks that are locked up, Walls to Bridges might have been their only opportunity to have an education,” said Fayter.

“There’s not very much access to [post-secondary] education, there’s not internet access, the computers are ancient … any kind of mail correspondence you have to pay for the courses yourself. So it’s very difficult for somebody in prison and has no income.”

Fayter, who’s now a third year PhD student in the Department of Criminology at the University of Ottawa, says the program changed her life.

It didn’t happen after the first class, but the confidence it gave her changed her outlook. She became hopeful again.

“In the Walls to bridges classroom, it was the first time in probably a year where I actually felt like I was a human being and my voice and experiences were valuable and respected,” said Fayter.

The classes are taught through a learning circle. The idea is to allow all perspectives into the circle, learn from one another and discover how students’ experiences have shaped how they view the world.

‘Don’t know where I’d be’

Since 2011, there have been 559 inmates across the country who have taken courses through the program.

Rachel Fayter (left) and Shoshana Pollack (second from left) with two other alumni of the program. Fayter says the program changed her life. (Submitted by Shoshana Pollack)

Melissa Alexander is another graduate. She was studying computer systems technology at Seneca College in Toronto before she became an inmate at Grand Valley Institution. 

“When you’re inside, you feel like you have no rights,” said Alexander. “Even when you get out you feel like there’s nothing you can do because you have a permanent record.”

Alexander took four courses over three years through the social work department at Laurier. 

Inmates who complete courses then become part of a collective, helping advise the program going forward. She describes that community as pivotal in helping her forge a path for herself after her release in 2017.

“Without this group, I don’t know where I’d be today,” said Alexander, who now is a peer support worker in Toronto and a carpenter apprentice. She also plans to get her degree in social work with a minor in law.

‘It’s a necessity’

Peter Stuart, chief of education at Grand Valley Institution, says when women come into the prison, they’re often hungry to learn. They want to further their education, he says, and post-secondary education is critical.

“This idea that post-secondary education is a perk for offenders, I think is an outdated concept. I think it’s a necessity,” said Stuart.

“In our society, a high school diploma is obviously essential, but it’s not really enough anymore. Especially if you have a criminal record as an obstacle, you need to have not only the same as what other people have, but if anything something more,” said Stuart.

He says the prison looked at different models such as video conferencing to keep the program going through the pandemic, but Walls to Bridges relies on having students from the outside and inside together in one space without barriers.

“The model that Walls to Bridges uses just couldn’t work while COVID protocols were in effect,” said Stuart.

The women have been taking part in literature exchanges and correspondence while the program is on hold, according to Stuart. He hopes the program will start running again in the spring of 2021 at the prison. 

“As soon as we get the go ahead from public health and provincial and federal authorities, we’ll bring it back in immediately,” said Stuart.

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Government of Canada announces ongoing investments to improve railway safety

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OTTAWA, ON, Sept. 17, 2020 /CNW/ – The Government of Canada is committed to keeping Canadians safe by improving rail safety and increasing public awareness and confidence in Canada’s rail transportation system.

Today, the Minister of Transport, the Honourable Marc Garneau, announced funding of more than $25 million over three years for the Rail Safety Improvement Program. This investment will support 165 new projects and initiatives that will increase safety and Canadian’s confidence at grade crossings and along rail lines.

The Rail Safety Improvement Program is an essential component of the Government of Canada’s commitment to improving rail safety and preventing serious incidents. In the past four years, $85 million have been invested in the form of grants and contributions.

Today’s announcement includes funding for:

  • 161 new projects that focus on Infrastructure, Technology and Research, including: safety improvements on rail property; the use of innovative technologies; research and studies; as well as the closures of grade crossings that present safety concerns.
  • Four rail safety Education and Awareness initiatives that focus on reducing injuries and fatalities in communities across Canada.

Quotes

“Rail safety remains my top priority, even as we continue to face the challenges of COVID-19. Over the years, our government’s renewed commitment to rail safety demonstrates our dedication to supporting projects that keep Canadians safe, stimulate the economy, and ensure that our rail network remains one of the most efficient and secure rail transportation systems in the world.”

The Honourable Marc Garneau,
Minister of Transport

Quick Facts

  • Grade crossing and trespassing accidents still cause the most rail-related deaths and serious injuries in Canada.
  • Transport Canada is taking action to implement recommendations from the 2018 Railway Safety Act Review report, including improving grade crossing safety and safer interactions of people and trains. Today’s investment complements efforts to bring together a broader range of partners to work with us to find ways to reduce largely preventable deaths and injuries at grade crossings due to trespassing.
  • This year, Transport Canada is funding four public education and awareness activities, 146 grade-crossing improvements including crossing infrastructure projects, 12 grade crossing closures and three technology and research projects across the country.

Related Products

  • Backgrounder – Rail Safety Improvement Program

Associated Links

SOURCE Transport Canada

For further information: Livia Belcea, Press Secretary, Office of the Honourable Marc Garneau, Minister of Transport, Ottawa, [email protected], 613-314-0963; Media Relations: Transport Canada, Ottawa, 613-993-0055, [email protected]

Related Links

http://www.tc.gc.ca/

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Post-secondary students paying for inaccessible services as they study online

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OTTAWA —
Brandon Rheal Amyot is taking on debt to pay about $3,000 in tuition this semester, including fees for services and facilities that cannot be used.

With classes having moved online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many students aren’t on campuses to visit libraries and athletic centres, if they’re even open.

On Thursday, Western University in London, Ont., announced an outbreak of COVID-19 that prompted it to shut down many non-academic activities, including athletics and recreation, as well as in-person events and club meetings.

Amyot, a second-year student at Lakehead University’s campus in Orillia, Ont., was charged fees for recreation and wellness, computer maintenance and supplies for the media studies lab.

The 23-year-old said it’s frustrating that students are paying the same fees for their education while they’re studying online.

“I don’t know what the quality of my education is going to be like,” Amyot said.

The university is doing its best to adapt during the COVID-19 pandemic, Amyot said, who argued it wasn’t provided with the proper resources by the government.

Lakehead University did not respond to a request for comment.

Brenna Baggs, a spokeswoman for Universities Canada, said post-secondary institutions need to be able to serve and educate students over the long term.

She said the hope is that facilities and services are going to be up and running again in the next semester or the year after that.

“In the meantime, the building doesn’t disappear,” she said.

“The cost of running and renting that building doesn’t disappear. The costs of paying staff to do their work remotely don’t disappear.”

Universities Canada is an umbrella organization that advocates for universities at the federal level.

The University of Toronto didn’t make changes to tuition fees for the fall semester, but it has reduced some student services and student societies’ fees by 10 to 40 per cent.

The Ontario government decreased tuition for domestic students by 10 per cent last year, then froze levels for 2020-21.

However, some international students are experiencing tuition increases of up to 15 per cent, said Nicole Brayiannis, the national deputy chairperson for the Canadian Federation of Students.

Some universities outside Ontario are raising their tuition for the fall term despite moving online.

Dalhousie University in Halifax has upped its tuition by three per cent for domestic students. The University of Calgary has increased tuition this year by five per cent for continuing students, seven per cent for new domestic students, and 10 per cent for new international students.

The issues that students are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic are not new, Brayiannis said, but they are worse than before.

“It’s simply been exasperated now, and it’s going to be a struggling reality moving forward,” she said.

She said decades of governments underfunding post-secondary institutions has led to a precarious situation where students are the ones now footing the bill.

She said students shouldn’t be forced to pay fees for services they don’t have access to.

“Students have been left behind throughout this pandemic and they’re really feeling the restraints of that,” she said.

Brayiannis said that holding classes remotely is costly but that shouldn’t be downloaded onto students, especially since that has drawbacks for students too.

Amyot said that studying online is an emotional experience.

“It’s a constant reminder that everything has changed.”

The federation is calling on the federal government to double the federal grant that students can apply for, which is up to a maximum of $6,000 for full-time students.

“That doesn’t even cover the full amount of tuition,” Brayiannis said.

The federation is also urging the federal government to reallocate the up to $912 million originally budgeted for the since-abandoned student-volunteer program and use it to extend the Canada Emergency Student Benefit that ended last month instead.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 17, 2020.

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