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Canada takes baby steps toward normalcy; Quebec passes 2,000 COVID deaths

Quebec, with the largest number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in Canada, is set to reopen retail stores outside Montreal on May 4

May 1, 2020  The Canadian Press

TORONTO — Canada took further baby steps toward post-pandemic normalcy on Friday as Atlantic provinces began easing rigid restrictions imposed to curb the COVID-19 scourge as Quebec’s death toll climbed past 2,000.

Elective surgeries and other non-urgent health-care services including physiotherapy and optometry restarted in Prince Edward Island, as did outdoor gatherings of up to five people from different households and non-contact outdoor recreational activities.

Nova Scotia reopened garden centres and nurseries, along with trails and provincial and municipal parks and was allowing single families to head to their cottages. New Brunswick had already allowed interactions between two families, a return to school for post-secondary students, as well as golfing, fishing and hunting.

Quebec, with the largest number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in Canada, is set to reopen retail stores outside Montreal on May 4 despite reporting 163 new COVID fatalities. The province also said it would double testing, aiming to do 14,000 tests a day by the end of next week.

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Ontario, which reported 421 new cases and 39 more deaths, most in long-term care facilities, also said some workplaces and businesses can restart May 4. Those include garden centres with curb-side pickup, lawn-care and landscaping services, and automatic car washes.

“Our patience is paying off,” said Premier Doug Ford, who urged people to maintain physical distancing. “We’re getting closer and closer to opening things up.”

Many non-essential businesses in Manitoba — retail stores and hair salons among them — are also set to open their doors on May 4.

Federal and provincial governments have called for a gradual and phased approach to a return to normalcy informed by public health concerns.

When it comes to reopening schools and child-care centres, Canada’s top public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, said distancing restrictions and strict cleaning were crucial for protecting adults who work in them, even if the virus appears to be less dangerous for the youngsters themselves.

Tam has also warned about the risk coronavirus disease poses to Indigenous communities, which are considered vulnerable due to often overcrowded living conditions and a lack of ready access to health-care services. To date, reserves have seen at least 129 cases and Inuit communities 16.

What the government is doing to prevent COVID-19 from ripping through the communities was the subject of a standing committee on May 1, with members of Parliament putting cabinet ministers, including Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett, on the hot seat.

The contagious SARS-CoV-2 virus, which has now killed more than 3,220 people in Canada and 270,000 globally, is believed to have originated in China. That’s prompted U.S. President Donald Trump to suggest Beijing withheld information about its epidemic from the World Health Organization and that the agency tried to cover up the initial outbreak.

Trump supporters have also pushed a conspiracy theory that the pandemic originated in a laboratory in Wuhan, China.

In Ottawa, Beijing’s ambassador praised Canada’s “cool-headed” co-operation in battling the spread of the disease. The United States, according to Ambassador Cong Peiwu, was “smearing” his country.

“To shift the blame, some U.S. politicians try to launch a stigmatization campaign against China,” the envoy said. “Attacking and discrediting other countries will not save the time and lives lost.”

The restrictions that have idled much of the economy have plunged the country into a recession, according to a new think-tank report. The report by the C.D. Howe Institute’s Business Cycle Council defines a recession as a pronounced, persistent, and pervasive decline in aggregate economic activity.

To combat possible infections in its prisons, Newfoundland and Labrador has released 65 inmates under the public health emergency the province declared on March 18th. So far, the province’s jails have been COVID-free. At least 285 federal prisoners, one of whom has died, and 82 guards have tested positive.

— By Colin Perkel

— With files from Canadian Press staff across the country.