This photo shows the nose of the Boeing 737-800 struck by multiple birds as it was approaching Victoria International Airport Tuesday morning. WestJet re-routed the plane to Vancouver. (Peter Wagner/Twitter)                                (PxHere)

This photo shows the nose of the Boeing 737-800 struck by multiple birds as it was approaching Victoria International Airport Tuesday morning. WestJet re-routed the plane to Vancouver. (Peter Wagner/Twitter) (PxHere)

Return home while you can, Ottawa tells Canadians as COVID-19 continues to spread

Poland is suspending all international flights and trains on Sunday, for example

The growing number of COVID-19 cases in Canada prompted a wave of restrictions aimed at protecting seniors on Saturday as officials made more insistent calls for travellers to return home without delay.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, meanwhile, announced he held a phone call with President Donald Trump following a news conference in which U.S. officials raised the possibility of grounding all domestic flights south of the border.

The threat was part of the growing alarm over the COVID-19 pandemic, which has triggered an unprecedented number of closures and other measures meant to protect the population.

The most notable new measures on Saturday targeted seniors and their loved ones in Quebec and Ontario. Both provinces announced rigid new restrictions on who could visit long-term care facilities in those provinces.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault took things one step further by advising anyone over the age of 70 to stay home until further notice and implementing a provincewide ban on visitors to hospitals and seniors’ residences.

“I know it’s tough because when you have your mother or grandmother, you’d like to visit her,” Legault said at a news conference. “But it’s not a good idea to visit people and take the risk that they get the coronavirus.”

In Ontario, chief medical officer of health Dr. David Williams urged long-term care residences to bar access to all but “essential visitors.” That group was defined as the relative of anyone who is dying or gravely ill, as well as the parent or guardian of a sick child or youth.

“The safety and well-being of our vulnerable residents is our top priority,” reads a memo Williams sent to the province’s long-term care facilities.

Meanwhile in Ottawa, Global Affairs Canada called upon Canadians currently abroad to hasten home while they still have the chance as countries around the world impose ever-tighter travel restrictions.

Word from Ottawa came as Canadians travelling in Europe scrambled to book flights ahead of looming border closures in many European Union countries.

The advice marks an escalation for the government, who previously urged Canadians to cancel or postpone non-essential trips.

“Airlines have cancelled flights. New restrictions may be imposed with little warning. Your travel plans may be severely disrupted and you may be forced to remain outside of Canada longer than expected,” the ministry said in an email to registered Canadians abroad.

“Find out what commercial options are still available to return to Canada. Consider returning to Canada earlier than planned if these options are becoming more limited.”

But heeding the latest advice from the government won’t be easy for Renata Kaniewski, of Ottawa, who travelled to Poland for her mother’s funeral.

She said the next available flight to Toronto offered by LOT Polish Airlines is scheduled for March 29, and there’s no guarantee that flight will take off thanks to the Polish government’s decision to suspend international flights and trains starting on Sunday.

“Right now I am worried about getting back to Canada, even with a new flight ticket for Mar. 29, because the government here in Poland keeps saying the international flights could be delayed even longer,” she said.

Trudeau, meanwhile, tweeted about his phone call with Trump, saying they talked about COVID-19, its impacts, and how the two leaders can keep people safe in both countries.

Travel woes played out as the COVID-19 pandemic continued to sweep across Canada, with Ontario remaining at the epicentre of the national outbreak.

The provincial government reported 24 new cases of the disease on Saturday, with at least six of the cases linked to recent travel outside of Canada.

At a COVID-19 assessment centre in Ottawa, hundreds of people turned up for screening only to be turned away because they did not meet the testing criteria. Anyone who didn’t have a cough or fever, and who had not recently travelled out of the country or been in contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 were turned away.

Dr. Bonnie Henry, the top public health official in British Columbia, said her province is also struggling with needless testing as the number of cases continues to climb. She reported nine new positive tests on Saturday, bringing the provincial total to 73.

“For most people, you do not need a test,” Henry said at a briefing in Vancouver. “We want to make sure that testing is available for all who do need it.”

New cases were confirmed elsewhere in the country, bringing the official national tally to at least 250.

Alberta’s top public health official, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, said 10 new cases were reported in the province on Saturday. Of those, she said one patient in Edmonton and one in Calgary are in intensive care.

Officials in Quebec reported seven new cases in the province, while New Brunswick recorded a second confirmed diagnosis.

Prince Edward Island also reported its first presumptive case of the virus, hours after two high-profile politicians went into self-isolation. Premier Dennis King and Health minister James Aylward both took the step after returning from trips outside of Canada, though both say they are not exhibiting symptoms.

READ MORE: B.C. calls on Trudeau to tighten border crossings for COVID-19

In Saskatchewan, the province’s two presumptive cases were reclassified as confirmed.

As the number of Canadian cases related to the global outbreak kept mounting, businesses and sports organizations continued to take extraordinary steps out of what they describe as an abundance of caution and a bid to curb further transmission.

Toronto-based theatre titan Mirvish Productions announced Saturday it would be suspending performances effective immediately and lasting until at least April 12. The cancellations include performances of “Hamilton,” one of the most hotly anticipated shows of the year. Refunds will be available for affected ticketholders.

The World Curling Federation announced it would be cancelling the men’s curling world championship in Glasgow, Scotland, at which Newfoundland and Labrador’s Brad Gushue was set to compete starting on March 28.

The women’s world curling championship in Prince George, B.C., was officially cancelled earlier this week.

Meanwhile, coffee chain Second Cup announced it would stop accepting cash payments, asking customers to complete transactions using credit, debit or gift cards and mobile payments instead.

Tech giant Apple said Saturday it is closing its stores outside of China for two weeks, including all its 29 Canadian locations. The company will continue to sell online as part of efforts to fight the viral pandemic.

The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 as a global pandemic on March 9 as cases began to spike in countries around the world.

But Canadian public health officials continue to describe the risk to the public as relatively low as they urge hygiene measures such as frequent handwashing and social distancing.

The virus has infected more than 150,000 people worldwide and killed upwards of 5,600 globally, including one person in British Columbia.

Most people diagnosed with COVID-19 experience mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, and the vast majority of those who contract the virus recover. The Public Health Agency of Canada says the risk to the general population is low.

However, for some, including Canadians aged 65 and over, those with compromised immune systems and those with pre-existing conditions, the illness can be much more severe. Among the Canadians diagnosed with the illness so far, fewer than 15 per cent have required hospitalization.

The growing number of cases has prompted widespread closures of schools and universities, mass cancellation of large-scale events, multimillion-dollar economic stimulus packages from governments, and the suspension of the Parliament until April 20.

Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Highway 1 eastbound has one lane closed as crews worked to clear up an accident earlier this afternoon.
Accident shuts down one lane eastbound on Highway 1 in Abbotsford

Major congestion between Riverside Road and Sumas exit

Alan Pryor in 2015, during the Agassiz Fire Department’s 70th year. (Greg Laychak/The Observer)
Agassiz fireman celebrates 51 years at the hall

Al Pryor has been a key member in the Agassiz Fire Department since he was 16

Scales of Justice
Court awards woman $167K after vehicle was struck by White Rock taxi in 2016

Plaintiff’s knee injuries and resulting chronic pain disability are genuine, judge rules

Mike Bismeyer of Abbotsford is the recipient of the national Savita Shah Award for his work promoting kindness and anti-bullying initiatives.
Abbotsford man who was bullied as a teen receives national kindness award

Mike Bismeyer is one of two Canadians to earn Savita Shah Award

RCMP were on scene under the Menzies Street bridge in Chilliwack on Thursday, March 4, 2021 where a body was found. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
UPDATE: Body found under Menzies bridge in Chilliwack that of man in 20s

Death not considered suspicious, said Chilliwack RCMP

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry head for the B.C. legislature press theatre to give a daily update on the COVID-19 pandemic, April 6, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. nears 300,000 COVID-19 vaccinations, essential workers next

564 new cases, four deaths, no new outbreaks Thursday

Walter Gretzky father of hockey hall-of-famer Wayne Gretzky waves to fans as the Buffalo Sabres play against the Toronto Maple Leafs during third period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky, father of the Great One, dies at 82

Canada’s hockey dad had battled Parkinson’s disease and other health issues

Municipal Affairs Minister Josie Osborne speaks in the B.C. legislature, March 4, 2021. (Hansard TV)
B.C. Liberals, NDP sing in harmony on local election reforms

Bill regulates paid canvassers, allows people in condo buildings

(National Emergency Management Agency)
No tsunami risk to B.C. from powerful New Zealand earthquake: officials

An 8.1 magnitude earthquake shook the north of New Zealand Thursday morning

(AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)
Pandemic stress, isolation key factors as to why Canadians turned to cannabis, alcohol

Study found that isolation played key role in Canadians’ substance use

Burnaby Mounties responded to 56 complaints and issued 10 tickets to people flouting COVID-19 restrictions in February. (Patrick Davies/100 Mile Free Press)
COVID denier fined $2,300 for hosting gathering in her home: Burnaby RCMP

The woman told Mounties she does not believe the pandemic is real

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Grand Forks’ Gary Smith stands in front of his Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster float. Photo: Submitted
Grand Forks’ Flying Spaghetti Monster leader still boiling over driver’s licence photo

Gary Smith, head of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster of B.C., said he has since spoken to lawyers

Most Read