Canada is struggling to contain rising Covid-19 infection rates as a second wave engulfs the nation, threatening to stifle an economic rebound that began in summer.
Ontario, where nearly 40% of the country’s population lives, reported a record 1,388 new cases Tuesday. Quebec’s biggest cities remain in modified lockdown, with bans on indoor activities including restaurant dining, due to persistently high case counts.
The prairie province of Manitoba will move to “critical” stage restrictions Thursday, forcing personal service businesses such as hair salons and most retailers to close. Oil-rich Alberta is considering a snap two-week lockdown, and British Columbia -- an early success story -- has been forced to tighten restrictions too.
Health officials are reporting 268,735 active cases of Covid-19 across Canada, and 10,564 people have died from the disease so far. The economy, meanwhile, has recovered nearly 80% of jobs lost after the initial sweeping lockdown in March -- posing a dilemma for politicians across the country.
“I would hope that no leader in our country is easing public-health vigilance because they feel pressure not to shut down businesses or slow down our economy,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters Tuesday in Ottawa Tuesday. “Beating Covid is the only way to protect our economy.”
Trudeau urged provincial premiers and mayors to “do the right thing” by acting to protect public health, stressing that any vaccine is still months away despite recent breakthroughs. Loosening restrictions, he added, would only result in “businesses going out of business and the economy damaged even more.”
‘Do What It Takes’
Ontario Premier Doug Ford has come under scrutiny for changing the province’s Covid-19 guidelines, which have relaxed the rules for some businesses in some regions despite a jump in cases and hospitalizations.
“I can’t rule out anything,” Ford said Tuesday when asked if he would consider returning to a stricter lockdown. “If the numbers get totally out of control, I won’t hesitate to do what it takes to protect the health and safety of the people.”
Quebec is struggling to get a grip despite closing restaurants, museums and other indoor public places until Nov. 23 in many parts of the French-speaking province. Daily cases have averaged 1,180 over the past seven days and hit a record on the weekend as regions that had been spared in the first wave face outbreaks. The province was the epicenter of the crisis in the spring and recorded almost two-thirds of Canada’s deaths.
“I understand that the situation is difficult for a lot of people, but our measures are necessary to save lives, to keep our children in school, to keep our workers at work and to save our health system,” Premier Francois Legault said Tuesday at a press conference. “It also gives us a chance to see our friends and family at Christmas.”
Canada’s western provinces are also confronting the realities of a second wave. Premier Brian Pallister declared a “red zone” in Manitoba on Tuesday and is moving to reimpose anti-Covid measures seen in March and April with most indoor businesses shuttered and all social gatherings forbidden.
Alberta is considering a two-week shutdown amid a surge of new cases. “That idea of a circuit breaker is one of many options under discussion,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw, chief medical officer of health, told reporters Monday after reporting 644 new cases Monday. “Every choice for managing this pandemic comes with downsides so, unfortunately, there is no easy path through this.”
British Columbia, which had successfully clamped down on one of North America’s earliest outbreaks at the beginning of the year, is struggling as well. Infections hit a fresh record last Friday with 589 new cases, prompting provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry to announce new restrictions over the weekend.
“We need to keep essential services and essential activities open and operating safely -- this is now in jeopardy,” Henry said Saturday, when the new measures took effect.
Until at least Nov. 23, residents in Canada’s third most populous province are not to socialize with anyone outside of their immediate household. Group indoor fitness activities -- including yoga, a de facto city pastime in Vancouver -- have been suspended. Travel in and out the Pacific coast city and its surrounding regions is restricted to essential trips only, according to the guidelines.
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