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Ottawa closes all restaurants and bars, PM closes borders to most non-citizens

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to the media outside his home in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada March 16, 2020. PATRICK DOYLE / REUTERS. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

Pan Pacific Agency | COMMUICATION AGENCY FOR PACIFICA REGIONS

OTTAWA, Mar 17, 2020, Ottawa Sitizen. Ottawa added three new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, raising the city’s total to 13. They are among 32 new cases in Ontario listed Monday morning on the province’s tracking website. There were no new cases listed on the site’s afternoon update, Ottawa Sitizen reported.

No other information about the age, gender or method of transmission for the Ottawa cases was released.

Monday’s numbers bring Ontario’s total of confirmed COVID-19 cases to 177, although five of those are listed as resolved. Nearly 10,000 Ontario residents have been tested so far, and 8,464 of those tests have come back negative.

Ottawa’s first COVID-19 case, confirmed on March 11, was a man in his 40s who worked for Ciena at the company’s Kanata campus. The company confirmed Monday morning that a second Ciena employee is also ill with the novel coronavirus and the campus is now shut down until March 30.

And get ready to do more of your own cooking: Mayor Jim Watson tweeted late Monday that “@ottawahealth has accepted the recommendation from the Province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health that all bars, theatres and entertainment venues should close temporarily, and that restaurants limit operations to take-out and delivery,” taking effect Tuesday.

Ottawa Public Health, which has been overwhelmed with calls and requests for testing, is now asking people not to call them or seek testing if they have no symptoms, or even if they have mild symptoms, no matter what their travel history. People in those categories are advised to self-isolate and monitor their symptoms.

“The priority of the health-care system is being able to test those who are most in need. Not everyone requires testing,” says the Ottawa Public Health novel coronavirus website in a new message.

“People without respiratory symptoms (such as fever or cough) will not be tested for COVID-19, regardless of potential exposures.”

Ottawa Public Health also says people with mild symptoms — not including shortness of breath — should not call them and should remain at home until 24 hours after symptoms have ended.

Meanwhile, Canada will close its borders to those who are not Canadian citizens or permanent residents, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Monday, with the exception of U.S. citizens. Anybody who has symptoms will not be able to come to Canada, he added. Canadian travellers will be able to get financial assistance to help them return home.

Trudeau urged those who have returned home from international flights to self-isolate for 14 days. “If you’re abroad, it’s time to come home,” he said.

Starting on March 18, only four airports will receive international flights: Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary and Montreal.

The daily direct flight to and from London’s Heathrow Airport is the only flight at the Ottawa airport affected by the ban, said airport spokeswoman Krista Kealey.

“COVID-19 is a crisis that reaches far beyond the airport. We understand that measures were required to stem the transmission of the virus, including closing the border to a great extent, and we know that the impact on our airport and the industry will be profound,” Kealey said in an email. “We will continue to work with health authorities at every level, to ensure that we remain in lock-step with best practices and the evolving situation.”

Ontario will also introduce legislation to protect workers’ jobs if they are under quarantine or self-isolating due to COVID-19, Premier Doug Ford announced early Monday.

Ontario’s top medical official, Dr, David Williams, is recommending that all private schools and daycares also close, along with churches and other places of worship.

He says people should not gather in groups larger than 50, in line with a federal recommendation.

Ontario’s finance minister, Rod Phillips, also announced that the budget, which was set to be released on March 25, will be delayed. In its place will be an economic update.

Meanwhile, OC Transpo implemented new policies Monday to limit spread of the virus. Only passengers who have special accessibility needs will be allowed to board at the front door of the bus. All other passengers must use the rear door and a tape will be installed to separate the driver from the passengers.

Drivers will no longer accept cash fares or paper transfers and not all buses have Presto card readers at the back door. “We believe the potential loss of revenue associated with this change in practice is a necessary cost to protect the safety of our staff and our customers,” transit general manager John Manconi said in an email to city councillors.

OC Transpo has also stepped up cleaning, with daily wipedowns of buses, trains and stations, and Para Transpo vehicles, Manconi said.

“Every rail vehicle is going into service with every surface from floor to ceiling cleaned and disinfected, including operator cabs,” the email said.

“As more resources become available, we will move to performing targeted cleaning of rail vehicles while in service. This will include wipe downs of surfaces that experience regular touching, such as stanchions, hand straps and hand holds.”

Vending kiosks and customer service counters are also getting enhanced cleaning “with appropriate sanitizer products.”

Taxi companies are also increasing their cleaning, including cabs used by Para Transpo passengers.

Mayor Jim Watson and Coun. Eli El-Chantiry will also co-chair a task force with representative from BIAs, the Ottawa Board of Trade, Ottawa Tourism and others to find ways to help small businesses deal with the crisis.

The city’s finance department is also examining if it can defer taxes to help small businesses manage their cash flow and meet payroll.

Coun. Jan Harder tweeted that while many people have been asking why city daycares have not closed, she said they remain open to serve parents who are unable to work from home “with procedures in place to help protect everyone.”

All child-care centres and licensed home daycares are asked to “actively screen” children, parents, staff, visitors and delivery people for any respiratory symptoms and travel history. If possible, Ottawa Public Health recommends that a parent, guardian or caregiver stay home with children.

Meanwhile, Ottawa’s hospitals made a joint announcement late Monday that each of them will restrict visiting, but details vary from one to another.

With COVID-19 now assumed to be spreading in the community, Ottawa’s medical officer of health appealed to city residents Sunday to stay home and to strictly limit social gatherings of any kind.

Dr. Vera Etches told reporters that some of the people diagnosed with COVID-19 in Ottawa had been walking around undiagnosed in the city for weeks. It means, she said, that hundreds of people could be infected in the city.

“We do assume that the coronavirus, COVID-19, is circulating in Ottawa, that there is local community transmission of the virus,” Etches said at a dramatic afternoon news conference. “That means we will benefit from more social distancing between people and cancelling events of all sizes.

“Therefore, I’m asking today that people strengthen their social distancing measures … I mean that people should stay home unless there’s an essential reason to take a trip to the grocery store, to the pharmacy, to look after an ill friend or family member.”

Etches said social distancing is the only way to control the spread of the virus and to ensure that health care workers are not thrust into a position where they have to choose between one life or another because of a limited number of ventilators.

Ontario remains the hardest hit province in the country, although every province is now reporting confirmed or probable cases. Public Health Agency of Canada figures published Monday morning said there are 324 confirmed and 17 probable cases in the country, though that figure doesn’t include the most recent Ontario tally.

Toronto was the hardest hit city, with 11 new cases listed on the provincial website, which is updated twice daily, at 10:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.

York Region had five new cases, and Hamilton and Peel each reported four new cases. New cases were also confirmed in Wellington, Halton, Sudbury, Durham and Niagara.

Meanwhile, the Ottawa courthouse is suspending on Tuesday all Superior Court proceedings until further notice. The criminal courts remained open Monday for in-custody hearings and urgent matters. If you don’t have business at the Elgin Street courthouse, you are asked to stay clear to reduce the spreading of the virus.

With files from Andrew Duffy and Gary Dimmock

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