The latest on the coronavirus outbreak from CBC News.
- Widespread COVID-19 vaccinations not expected until mid-2021, WHO says.
- Why millions of travellers have entered Canada despite COVID-19 travel restrictions.
- Canada added 246,000 jobs in August, but employment still 1 million short of pre-COVID level.
- Struggling with post-COVID-19 syndrome in a First Nation with limited health services; Quebec’s health minister pleads for diligence ahead of long weekend as COVID-19 cases rise.
- Read more: Temperature checks and no masks: School is back in Russia, but classes are much the same.
Ontario judge sides with mother in sending son to school during pandemic
In a precedent-setting ruling, an Ontario Superior Court judge has sided with a parent who wants her son to return to school over the objections of the child’s father, who insisted the child take his classes online during the COVID-19 pandemic. The ruling, the first of its kind in Ontario since the pandemic began, comes as family lawyers tell CBC News that many estranged couples are bringing up the question of who decides whether their kids go back to school or distance learn. They say that threatens to tax a family court system already under strain as a result of delays caused by COVID-19.
Justice Andrea Himel heard motions related to the case in the Newmarket courthouse north of Toronto in mid-August and ruled in favour of the mother last week. “Unfortunately, for some separated and divorced parents this is another battleground, one more arena where their child may become the prisoner of the war,” Himel wrote in her judgment. In her ruling, Himel reminded parents that there are other tools to resolve such disputes and that they should exhaust those before heading to court. In a written statement to CBC Toronto, lawyer Melanie O’Neill said the child’s mother, Jennifer Chase, is “thankful that the case was looked at from the standpoint of her child, and not what is best for the child’s father and his new partner.”
In the case, the nine-year-old boy’s mother argued that a return to in-class learning will be more successful and productive for him as isolation at home has been difficult for him socially. But while the father agreed that attending school in person is preferable academically, socially, physically and psychologically, he argued that during the pandemic the health risks are significant. In her ruling, Himel noted that no one in either household has any underlying medical conditions that make any of them particularly susceptible to the adverse effects of COVID-19, and that the province’s “decision to reopen the schools was made with the benefit of medical expert advisers and in consultation with Ontario school boards.”
O’Neill also said clients are bringing up the school issue more and more often and she hopes this decision will provide clarity as to how Ontario courts are dealing with it, so that parents don’t need to turn to the legal system. Leanne Townsend, a family lawyer and partner at Brauti Thorning LLP, agreed that the issue is coming up in many of her clients’ cases. “COVID-19 has created many opportunities for high-conflict parents to find more things to argue about,” said Townsend, who added that Himel emphasized parents are better off using the tools they have as well as alternatives to court in coming to their decision.
There have been only two other decisions in Canada, both from the Quebec Superior Court, regarding a dispute between parents over whether to send their children back to schools during the pandemic. The judge refused to order children to return to class in one decision, citing the risk to a family member who had an autoimmune disease and was at high risk of COVID-19 complications. In the second decision, the judge stated it is “not for the courts, but rather for the competent government authorities, to assess the potential risks of contamination of the population in a pandemic situation and to take the necessary measures to limit the spread of the disease.”
Click below to watch more from The National
Students with disabilities face extra complications heading back to school in a pandemic, including how to access support services, and parents say more planning was needed from governments. 2:11
Coronavirus IN BRIEF
Widespread COVID-19 vaccinations not expected until mid-2021, WHO says
The World Health Organization does not expect widespread vaccinations against COVID-19 until the middle of next year, a spokesperson said on Friday, stressing the importance of rigorous checks on their effectiveness and safety. None of the candidate vaccines in advanced clinical trials so far has demonstrated a “clear signal” of efficacy at the level of at least 50 per cent sought by the WHO, spokesperson Margaret Harris said. Russia granted regulatory approval to a COVID-19 vaccine in August after less than two months of human testing, prompting some Western experts to question its safety and efficacy.
U.S. public health officials and Pfizer Inc. said on Thursday a vaccine could be ready for distribution as soon as late October. That would be just ahead of the U.S. election on Nov. 3 in which the pandemic is likely to be a major factor among voters deciding whether President Donald Trump wins a second term. “This Phase 3 must take longer because we need to see how truly protective the vaccine is and we also need to see how safe it is,” Harris told a United Nations briefing in Geneva. This referred to the phase in vaccine research where large clinical trials among people are conducted. Harris did not refer to any specific vaccine candidate. All data from trials must be shared and compared, Harris said.
The WHO and GAVI vaccine alliance are leading a global vaccine allocation plan known as COVAX, which aims to help buy and distribute shots fairly. The focus is on first vaccinating the most high-risk people in every country such as health-care workers. COVAX aims to procure and deliver two billion doses of approved vaccines by the end of 2021, but some countries that have secured their own supplies through bilateral deals, including the U.S., have said they will not join. Meanwhile, an independent panel appointed by the World Health Organization to review its co-ordination of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic will have full access to any internal UN agency documents, materials and emails necessary, the panel said Thursday as it began the probe.
Why millions of travellers have entered Canada despite COVID-19 travel restrictions
Since Canada imposed COVID-19 travel restrictions in late March, more than four million people have entered the country. While that’s far fewer than normal, sightings of U.S. licence plates or international flights landing have still been sparking concerns that foreigners have found ways to sneak in. A small number of fines have been doled out to Americans skirting Canada’s travel rules, but the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) pointed out that there are many legitimate reasons why Americans may have entered the country.
To help reduce the spread of COVID-19, Canada only allows foreigners to enter for non-discretionary purposes. Those given a pass include qualifying international students and workers in industries deemed essential such as health, food services and transport. In June, the federal government relaxed its rules to allow foreigners to visit immediate family in Canada. Meanwhile, Canadian citizens, dual citizens and permanent residents, can still freely leave and re-enter the country. They must self-isolate for 14 days upon their return. Since Canada’s travel restrictions took effect, the CBSA has turned away thousands of foreigners. The agency reports that between March 22 and August 19, it denied entry to more than 16,000 people trying to cross from the U.S. by land or air. Close to half were rejected because they wanted to enter for recreational reasons such as sightseeing and shopping.
Kelley Lee, a professor of public health at Simon Fraser University, said it’s debatable whether all types of travel Canada has defined as “essential” belong in the category. She cites as an example Canada allowing Americans to drive through the country to Alaska for work or to return home. The rule has angered Canadians who fear it has become a loophole for Americans wanting to enter Canada for a vacation. Lee, who also studies global health governance, said another concern is that Canadians can still vacation abroad. Global Affairs Canada currently advises against non-essential international travel, but says it’s up to Canadians to decide if their trip is essential. “People are travelling on holiday abroad and coming back again, so that does worry me,” said Lee. “No travel is risk-free. We are risking infection every time.”
Canada added 246,000 jobs in August, but employment still 1 million short of pre-COVID level
Canada’s economy added 246,000 jobs in August, a figure that pushed the jobless rate down 0.7 percentage points to 10.2 per cent. Statistics Canada reported Friday that most of the new jobs recorded in the month were full-time work. The figure was in line with what economists had been expecting. August’s number brings the four-month total of new jobs to almost two million since May. But because of the plunge in March and April, Canada still has 1.1 million fewer paid workers than it did in February, before COVID-19 hit.
Almost every province added jobs, but most came from the two provinces hardest hit in the early days of the pandemic — Quebec added 54,000 new jobs, while Ontario gobbled up more than half of the national total, with 142,000 new positions. Toronto-Dominion Bank economist Sri Thanabalasingam said that while the numbers on the whole were encouraging, they underline just how slow the recovery is likely to be from here on out. “It will be difficult for the labour market to maintain the current pace of job gains,” Thanabalasingam said. “Future employment improvements will be closely tied to the path of the virus. This final third could be the longest stretch in the road to recovery for Canada’s labour market.”
Job losses aren’t the only way that the pandemic is impacting the job market, as many more people are finding themselves working less than they normally do as well. Statistics Canada says an additional 713,000 people who still had jobs during the month had what the data agency calls a “COVID-related absence” from work. That brings the number of workers affected by the pandemic to 1.8 million. In April, that figure peaked at 5.5 million, with three million lost jobs and 2.5 million people working less. The number of people who described themselves as being on “temporary layoff’ — meaning they expect to eventually return to their old job — declined to 230,000 last month. That number peaked at 1.2 million in April, but the figure going down is not necessarily good news, because it means those people may still be laid off, but it’s no longer “temporary.”
Coronavirus THE SCIENCE
Ontario’s back-to-school plan has no mandatory COVID-19 testing. Here’s why experts say it’s the right call
Despite some two million Ontario students heading back to school this month amid a global pandemic, the provincial government says there is no scenario in which a student will be required to take a COVID-19 test. The province’s strategy has the support of multiple public health and medical ethics experts interviewed by CBC Toronto, who said Ontario’s decision to forgo mandatory COVID-19 testing in schools is appropriate, at least for the time being.
“Mandatory testing in some cases is quite beneficial. In school-aged children I think we have to be a bit more cautious,” said Dr. Nitin Mohan, a physician epidemiologist and assistant professor at Western University in London, Ont. While Mohan said mandatory testing could, “in theory,” be an effective way to contain the spread of the coronavirus in schools, he said there are many uncertainties that make the reality more complicated. Primarily, Mohan pointed to inevitable false positive results and a lack of research on how the virus spreads among children. Properly screening for symptoms will likely be more effective than relying on test results, he said.
No Canadian jurisdictions have any form of mandated testing for students, and the strategy has not been widely adopted in other countries. While none of the experts expressed outright opposition to the idea of mandatory testing, most said other strategies have a more realistic chance at preventing outbreaks. The prospect of mandatory testing as a form of proactive screening — in which students would be randomly tested regardless of their symptoms — was also described as costly and burdensome by Dr. Peter Juni, a University of Toronto professor and the executive director of Ontario’s COVID-19 science advisory table.
Experts also said there are promising strategies in development that could both prevent outbreaks and also provide public-health officials with information about the prevalence of COVID-19 in schools. Juni pointed to the emerging tactic of wastewater testing, in which health officials sample a location’s wastewater for the presence of COVID-19. Positive test results can signal a possible outbreak more efficiently than individually testing all the people at a given location, he said. An approach like wastewater testing could provide many of the benefits of mandatory testing without the associated problems, Juni said, though he cautioned that it’s not yet clear if Ontario has the capability to introduce it on a wide scale.
Coronavirus AND FINALLY…
When pools closed because of COVID-19, this B.C. youth swim team jumped in the ocean
When you’re part of a swim team and all the pools in your neighbourhood are closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, you find creative ways to train. For the Winskill Dolphins in British Columbia, much of the spring was spent dryland training, running and getting instruction from their coaches through video chats. Then one of the team members had an idea — why don’t we just jump in the ocean?
“On Easter long weekend, one of the other swimmers started going,” said team member Isabel Rapier, 15. “There were about five of us in the beginning and then it just took off.” The team started out by swimming about a kilometre at a time and built their way up to the point where they now swim up to eight kilometres. Parents and family members follow the group on kayaks and paddleboards as a safety precaution. This weekend, the Dolphins will embark on their longest swim of the year from Crescent Beach to Boundary Bay, a 12.6-kilometre journey that is expected to take between three and five hours.
Pools reopened several weeks ago, allowing the team to get back to its regular training, but they’ll also keep swimming in the ocean until it gets too cold. Rapier and teammate Naomi Cole, 17, both love swimming in the pool but they plan on continuing with ocean swimming. There are some things they see out on the open water that you can’t find anywhere else. “On Mother’s Day, there was a pod of grey whales, so we would see their spouts and hear them,” said Cole. “There’s a seal that follows us around and he’s really cute.”
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