TORONTO — Canada took further baby steps toward post-pandemic normalcy on Friday when Prince Edward Island became the second province to begin easing rigid restrictions imposed to curb the COVID-19 scourge.
Elective surgeries and other non-urgent health-care services including physiotherapy and optometry were restarting in the province, as were outdoor gatherings of up to five people from different households and non-contact outdoor recreational activities.
Quebec, with the largest number of COVID-19 cases and related deaths in Canada is set to reopen retail stores outside Montreal on Monday, with those in the city to follow on May 11. New Brunswick has already allowed interactions between two families, a return to school for post-secondary students, and golfing, fishing and hunting.
Other provinces — Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba — were planning to ease some restrictions on Monday. Ontario, which has yet to lift any restrictions, reported 421 new cases on Friday and 39 more deaths, most in long-term care facilities.
The federal government, in collaboration with the provinces and territories, unveiled earlier this week national guidelines for re-opening shuttered businesses and allowing Canadians to resume more normal activities in a gradual and phased approach informed by public health concerns.
Even as the infection rate appears to be slowing down in most of the country, Canada’s chief public health officer has warned about the growing risk to Indigenous communities considered highly vulnerable due to often overcrowded living conditions and the lack of ready access to health-care services. To date, reserves have seen at least 129 cases and Inuit communities have seen 16.
What the government is doing to prevent COVID-19 from ripping through First Nations reserves and remote Inuit communities was expected to be taken up by a standing committee on Friday, with members of Parliament expected to put several cabinet ministers, including Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett, on the hot seat.
China, where the COVID pandemic is believed to have started, has praised Canada’s “cool-headed” co-operation on battling the spread of the disease. The United States, according to Beijing’s envoy to Ottawa, was “smearing” his country.
President Donald Trump has suggested China withheld information about the outbreak 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.
“To shift the blame, some U.S. politicians try to launch a stigmatization campaign against China,” Ambassador Cong Peiwu 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 the 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.
-With files from Canadian Press across the country.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 1, 2020.
Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press