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Lawsuits expected over mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania, other crucial Rust Belt swing states

Republicans are keeping their legal options open to challenge absentee ballots in Pennsylvania, if the battleground state could swing U.S. President Donald Trump’s re-election. A top Democratic lawyer says the suits are meant to sow doubt about the results and lack merit.

Two federal lawsuits aim to prevent absentee votes from being counted. Republicans have already laid the groundwork at the Supreme Court for an effort to exclude ballots that arrive after polls close Tuesday. Trump has railed over several days about the high court’s pre-election refusal to rule out those ballots.

“You have to have numbers. You can’t have these things delayed for many days and maybe weeks. You can’t do that. The whole world is waiting,” Trump said Tuesday at his campaign headquarters.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, counselled patience Tuesday night.

“While counting these ballots will take longer than in past years, Pennsylvania will have a fair election and every eligible vote will be counted, as it must be,” he said.

In a lawsuit filed Tuesday in Pennsylvania, Republicans accused county officials in Democratic-leaning Montgomery County of improperly giving voters a chance to fix problems with their mail-in ballots before Tuesday. A county spokesperson said state law doesn’t ban the practice. A federal judge in Philadelphia has set a hearing for Wednesday morning on the Republican bid to stop the count of 49 ballots that were amended in the suburban Philadelphia county.

On Tuesday night in Pennsylvania, Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly and five other plaintiffs filed suit in state court to block the state’s counties from allowing voters whose mail-in ballots were disqualified to cast a vote by provisional ballot.

WATCH | Rush to count mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania:

A large vote-counting operation has been set up at the Philadelphia Convention Center to count mail-in ballots. Machines called extractors separate the ballot from the main envelope and the security envelope and then the ballots are scanned. They can scan 30,000 an hour. 0:40

Pennsylvania’s top election official, Kathy Boockvar, a Democrat, insisted that the practice is legal and not prohibited by law. Regardless, she said, there aren’t “overwhelming” numbers of voters who cast a provisional ballot after their mail-in ballot was disqualified, but she did not give an exact figure.

“So I don’t think this is going to be huge issue no matter which way it goes,” Boockvar said.

‘Blue Wall’ counting

The majority of the state’s mail-in and absentee ballots were cast by Democrats.

Even a small number of contested votes could matter if Pennsylvania is the state that decides the election and the gap between Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden is so small that a few thousand votes, or even a few hundred, could make the difference.

With half of the state’s ballots counted at 11:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday, Trump held 56 per cent of the vote, compared to 41.6 per cent for Biden, according to CBC News data. Final results in Pennsylvania are not expected until Friday.

A larger number of mail-in ballots this election, coupled with pandemic precautions and restrictions on when counts can begin, which vary by state, have been blamed for the delays to final results.  

Rita Brown, a supporter of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, watches election results at a watch party in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., on Tuesday. Michigan’s secretary of state said late Tuesday she believes final results from the battleground state will not be available until Wednesday night.  (David Goldman/The Associated Press)

Similar trends played out across the so-called Blue Wall of states in the Rust Belt traditionally held by Democrats, but won by Trump in 2016. 

In Michigan, with just under half of ballots counted, Trump led with 54 per cent of counted ballots, compared to 43 per cent for Biden. 

Michigan’s secretary of state said late Tuesday she believes final results from the battleground state will not be available until Wednesday night. 

 In Wisconsin, Trump led 51 per cent to 46 per cent with 67 per cent of ballots counted. 

Addressing voters at a rally early Wednesday morning in Delaware, Biden said his campaign “feels good” about its chances of winning the Rust Belt states as more mail-in ballots are counted in the coming days. 

Trump, for his part, accused his opponents of trying to “steal the election” and said votes couldn’t be cast after the polls closed.

‘A cloud over the election’

Bob Bauer, a member of the Biden campaign’s legal team, said in a call with reporters on Tuesday that many lawsuits fronted by the GOP around the country were designed only to get attention and to arouse unnecessary concern in voters, unsupported by any true legal basis.

“They’re designed to generate the appearance of a cloud over the election,” he said.

Since the 2000 presidential election, which was ultimately decided by the Supreme Court, both parties have marshalled legal teams to prepare for the unlikely event that voting doesn’t settle the contest. This year, there is a near presumption that legal fights will ensue and that only a definitive outcome is likely to forestall them.

A man watches results come in on a screen at an election night gathering at Independence Mall on Tuesday in Philadelphia. (Michael Perez/The Associated Press)

Even before election day, the 2020 race was the most litigated in memory.

With early voting numbers eclipsing 2016 figures, there’s already been roughly 300 election-related lawsuits filed in dozens of states across the country. Many involve changes to normal procedures because of the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 230,000 people in the U.S. and sickened more than nine million. Legal battles ensued over signature matches, drop boxes and secrecy envelopes.

Lawyers enlisted

The candidates and parties have enlisted prominent lawyers with ties to Democratic and Republican administrations should that litigation take on a new urgency.

The Pennsylvania case at the Supreme Court pits Donald Verrilli, who was President Barack Obama’s top Supreme Court lawyer, against John Gore, a onetime high-ranking Trump Justice Department official.

Lenore Kurek, centre, watches with fellow supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump as election results are broadcast on a television at a watch party in Shelby Township, Mich., on Tuesday. (David Goldman/The Associated Press)

Trump said this weekend he was headed to court to prevent Pennsylvania from counting mailed ballots that are received in the three days after the election. The extension had been ordered by Pennsylvania’s top court. The Supreme Court left that order in place in response to a Republican effort to block it.

Trump is unhappy over the decision, even though Pennsylvania will keep those ballots separate from the rest in case of renewed court interest. He spent much of his final days of campaigning railing against the decision, often employing inaccurate characterizations that it would allow “rampant and unchecked cheating” as well as undermine the law and even foster street violence. No evidence supports that view.

Like Pennsylvania, North Carolina has seen a court fight between Democrats who support extending the deadline for absentee ballots and Republicans who oppose it. The six-day extension was approved by a state court.

In Minnesota, late-arriving ballots also will be segregated from the rest of the vote because of ongoing litigation, under a federal appeals court order.

Challenging local decisions

Republican lawsuits have challenged local decisions that could take on national significance in a close election.

In Texas, Republicans asked state and federal courts to order election officials in the Houston area not to count ballots dropped off at drive-in locations. The Texas Supreme Court on Sunday denied the GOP’s plea. On Monday, a federal judge also turned away the effort to invalidate the nearly 127,000 votes. Appeals were planned.

In Nevada, a state court judge rejected a bid by the Trump campaign and state Republicans to stop the count of mail-in ballots in Las Vegas, in the state’s most populous and Democratic-leaning county. The state Supreme Court refused to stop the count on Tuesday, instead calling for written filings to be completed by early next week. Around 400,000 absentee ballots from Clark County have been returned and accepted as valid, according to state election data.

Most of the potential legal challenges are likely to stem from the huge increase in absentee balloting brought on by the pandemic. In Pennsylvania, election officials don’t start processing those ballots until election day, and some counties have said they won’t begin counting those votes until the following day. Mailed ballots that don’t come inside a secrecy envelope have to be discarded, under a state Supreme Court ruling.

“I still can’t figure how counting and verifying absentee ballots is going to go in some of the battleground states like Pennsylvania,” said Ohio State University law professor Edward Foley, an election law expert.

Late-arriving ballots

Several conservative justices indicated they’d be open to taking the issue up after the election, especially if those late-arriving ballots could mean the difference in the state.

The legal issue is whether the extension ordered by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, relying on voter protections in the Pennsylvania constitution, violated the U.S. Constitution. The argument advanced by Republicans is that the Constitution gives state legislatures — not state courts — the power to decide how electoral votes are awarded, including whether absentee ballots received after election day can be counted.

A Philadelphia election worker processes mail-in and absentee ballots for the 2020 general election in the United States at the Pennsylvania Convention Center on Tuesday in Pennsylvania. Final results from the crucial swing state may not be known for several days. (Matt Slocum/The Associated Press)

Roughly 20 states allow for late-arriving ballots, but Pennsylvania’s Republican-controlled legislature did not authorize an extension, even with the huge increase in mailed ballots because of the pandemic.

The Supreme Court generally does not second-guess state courts when they rely on their own constitutions. But Democrats were alarmed by Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s reference to the court’s 2000 Bush v. Gore decision that effectively decided the presidential election in favour of George W. Bush.

Although it was not the majority opinion in the case, an opinion joined by three conservative justices in 2000 would have ruled for Bush because the Florida Supreme Court’s recount order usurped the legislature’s authority. 

The Supreme Court has never cited Bush v. Gore as the basis for a decision of the court. Kavanaugh is one of three justices who worked for Bush in the Florida case 20 years ago. Chief Justice John Roberts and new Justice Amy Coney Barrett are the others.

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CBC | World News

Why doctors say it’s crucial to focus on COVID-19 spread in working-class neighbourhoods

Toronto doctors say they’re optimistic politicians are beginning to turn their attention to the spread of COVID-19 in working-class neighbourhoods full of essential workers, and that Ontario’s new testing strategy could help tackle one of the virus’ last bastions in Canada.

Naheed Dosani, a Toronto physician who works with vulnerable communities, says he was elated when the city finally released COVID-19 postal code data this week, which showed that residents in lower income neighbourhoods appear to be disproportionately affected by the virus in Toronto.

A day after that data was released, Ontario announced it would shift its testing strategy to focus on vulnerable communities and essential workers — which includes the addition of pop-up assessment centres in some of the province’s hardest-hit areas.

Dosani says both of these things signal a big step in the right direction, and a lack of focus on these populations until now could be one of the reasons Ontario has struggled to get its outbreak under control.

“We now have another iteration of data showing that COVID-19 is not impacting our communities equally,” he said in an interview with CBC’s The Weekly. “And if our [vulnerable populations] are more likely to get COVID-19, then so are all of us.” 

A nurse administers a test for COVID-19 at a drive-through assessment centre in the Toronto area. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

‘These are folks who actually have to show up to work’

Epidemiologist David Fisman says it has become clear in recent weeks that the virus has largely moved from institutional outbreaks in Ontario, like in hospitals and long-term care homes, to workplaces and working-class neighbourhoods in places like Toronto, Peel Region, and Windsor.

A similar story is playing out in Quebec, where low-income neighbourhoods, home to a large percentage of essential workers, have also become COVID-19 hotspots

“These are folks who actually have to show up to work. They have to show up to long-term care facilities, they have to show up to factories,” said Fisman, who is also a physician and professor at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health.

He says many of these essential workers are required to gather in confined spaces as part of their job, and working-class neighbourhoods tend to have a larger percentage of multi-generational households.

“If you have multigenerational households, where the younger people are doing essential work, and then bringing the disease home to their mom or their dad, or their grandma and grandpa — those folks can get very sick, and they can die,” he said.

Some infectious disease experts, Fisman included, have thus far been critical of Ontario’s messaging on testing.

But Fisman calls Ontario’s new plan — which will include targeted campaigns to test asymptomatic essential workers, like taxi drivers, factory workers, and retail employees — “amazing news.”

“If it’s implemented as it was written, then I think we’re going to turn the corner.” 

On Friday, Ontario completed over 20,000 COVID-19 tests, the most it has ever completed in one day — and well above its target total of 16,000 daily.

Targeted messaging

While Dosani welcomes wide-spread testing with enthusiasm, he says it’s only part of the equation. He hopes that politicians and public health officials are also thinking more about how to better support vulnerable communities, through things like access to sick leave, safe housing, places to self-isolate, proper protections at work, and a focus on the use of shared spaces like transit and parks.

He says communication is also important. 

“I think that sometimes the [public health] messaging focuses on a very particular population. We need to think about language, we need to think about culture… we need to find creative ways to communicate these messages so that every Canadian understands their role,” he said.

Fisman wonders if officials in Quebec and Ontario could also start sharing their experiences as they begin to prepare for a potential second wave. “It really does seem like the end game is very similar in Montreal and in Toronto, and perhaps we can learn and support each other.”

Both agree that knowing who is most vulnerable to the virus, and focusing public health support on them, is an important piece of the puzzle.

“There is no doubt that income, housing status, workplaces, and racial backgrounds have a huge impact on who’s getting COVID-19,” said Dosani. “There are multiple risks at play… you just have to dig a little deeper to see them.”

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CBC | Health News

China didn’t warn public of likely pandemic for 6 crucial days: AP probe

In the six days after top Chinese officials secretly determined they likely were facing a pandemic from a new coronavirus, the city of Wuhan at the epicentre of the disease hosted a mass banquet for tens of thousands of people, and millions began travelling through the city for Lunar New Year celebrations.

President Xi Jinping warned the public on the seventh day, Jan. 20. But by that time, more than 3,000 people had been infected during almost a week of public silence, according to internal documents obtained by The Associated Press and expert estimates based on retrospective infection data.

That delay from Jan. 14 to Jan. 20 was neither the first mistake made by Chinese officials at all levels in confronting the outbreak, nor the longest lag, as governments around the world have dragged their feet for weeks and even months in addressing the virus.

“This is tremendous,” said Zuo-Feng Zhang, an epidemiologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. “If they took action six days earlier, there would have been much fewer patients and medical facilities would have been sufficient. We might have avoided the collapse of Wuhan’s medical system.”

The Chinese government has repeatedly denied suppressing information in the early days, saying it immediately reported the outbreak to the World Health Organization.

“Those accusing China of lacking transparency and openness are unfair,” foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said Wednesday when asked about the AP story.

China in mid-April has reported a total of 3,342 deaths from the virus among 82,341 cases, though it has faced questions about how it counts and reports cases. Around 3,000 people remain hospitalized with COVID-19, or are under isolation and monitoring for showing signs of the illness or testing positive but not displaying symptoms.

Other experts noted that the Chinese government may have waited on warning the public to stave off hysteria, and that it did act quickly in private during that time.

But what is clear, experts say, is that China’s rigid controls on information, bureaucratic hurdles and a reluctance to send bad news up the chain of command muffled early warnings. The punishment of eight doctors for “rumour-mongering,” broadcast on national television on Jan. 2, sent a chill through the city’s hospitals.

Here is a look at how the crisis played out in China from the internal documents:

Jan. 13: Thailand case raises concerns in China

For almost two weeks, China’s Center for Disease Control did not register any cases from local officials, internal bulletins obtained by the AP confirm. Yet during that Jan. 5-17 period, hundreds of patients were appearing in hospitals not just in the city of Wuhan but across the country.

Doctors and nurses in Wuhan told Chinese media there were plenty of signs that the coronavirus could be transmitted between people as early as late December. Patients who had never been to the suspected source of the virus, the Huanan Seafood Market, were infected. Medical workers started falling ill.

But officials obstructed medical staff who tried to report such cases. They set tight criteria for confirming cases, where patients not only had to test positive, but samples had to be sent to Beijing and sequenced. They required staff to report to supervisors before sending information higher, Chinese media reports show. And they punished doctors for warning about the disease.

The Wuhan Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market is seen on Jan. 21. By that time, expert teams had been investigating the cluster of virus cases from the market for two weeks, but they appear to have not widened their probe elsewhere in Wuhan. (Dake Kang/The Associated Press)

An expert team dispatched from the central health agency on Jan. 8 failed to unearth any clear signs of human-to-human transmission in Wuhan. Yet during their stay, more than half a dozen doctors and nurses had already fallen ill with the virus, a retrospective China CDC study published in the New England Journal of Medicine would later show.

The teams looked for patients with severe pneumonia, missing those with milder symptoms. They also narrowed the search to those who had visited the seafood market — which was in retrospect a mistake, said Benjamin Cowling, an epidemiologist at the University of Hong Kong who flew to Beijing to review the cases in late January.

The muffling of warnings left top leaders in the dark. It took the first confirmed case outside China, in Thailand on Jan. 13, to jolt leaders in Beijing into recognizing the possible pandemic before them.

An internal memo cites China’s top health official, Ma Xiaowei, as saying the situation had “changed significantly” because of the possible spread of the virus abroad.

Jan. 15: Warning to regions, with a caveat

The memo, on a secret Jan. 14 teleconference held by Ma, shows that Chinese officials were deeply alarmed and had come to a much grimmer assessment than they were letting on in public.

For weeks, officials had stuck to the line that there was “no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission,” calling the disease “preventable and controllable.”

But during the teleconference, Ma said that “clustered cases suggest human-to-human transmission is possible.”

“The epidemic situation is still severe and complex, the most severe challenge since SARS in 2003, and is likely to develop into a major public health event,” the memo cites Ma as saying.

WATCH | WHO says it didn’t know about human-to-human risk on Jan. 5:

The World Health Organization has defended its handling of the coronavirus outbreak after President Donald Trump orders withdrawal of U.S. funding for the organization. 2:55

After the teleconference, officials adjusted their language slightly, but continued to downplay the threat.

“We have reached the latest understanding that the risk of sustained human-to-human transmission is low,” Li Qun, the head of China CDC’s emergency centre, told Chinese state television on Jan. 15.

In response to the teleconference, the CDC in Beijing initiated the highest-level emergency response internally, level one, on Jan. 15.

It assigned top CDC leaders to 14 working groups tasked with getting funds, training health workers, collecting data, doing field investigations and supervising laboratories, an internal CDC notice shows. The National Health Commission also distributed a 63-page set of instructions to provincial health officials, obtained by the AP.

The instructions ordered health officials nationwide to identify suspected cases, hospitals to open fever clinics, and doctors and nurses to don protective gear. They were marked “internal” — “not to be spread on the internet” and “not to be publicly disclosed.”

No public warning for Lunar New Year

Before the teleconference, health authorities had focused narrowly on Wuhan.

They searched for visitors to a market that dealt in live game, believing the virus was largely transmitted from animals to humans. But rattled by the case in Thailand, Chinese leaders launched a nationwide hunt to find cases, the documents show.

The memo warned the risk of transmission was higher with many people travelling for the upcoming Lunar New Year holiday. “All localities must prepare for and respond to a pandemic,” it said.

A worker walks along a corridor leading to wards at the Leishenshan Hospital, which was constructed in a parking lot from prefabricated modules in two weeks in Wuhan, in central China’s Hubei province, to address the rise in infections. The hospital officially closed on April 9 but still has a small number of patients, mainly elderly with underlying complications. (Ng Han Guan/The Associated Press)

Officials in Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, were instructed to begin temperature checks at transportation hubs and cut down on large public gatherings.

The public was not warned, even as the new measures began to turn up hundreds of cases across the country and thousands of people dined at a mass Lunar New Year banquet in Wuhan.

In the memo, Ma demanded officials unite around Xi. It made clear that social stability was a key priority during the long lead-up to China’s two biggest political meetings of the year in March.

“Emphasize politics, emphasize discipline, emphasize science,” the memo cites Ma as saying.

Jan. 20: Xi goes public

On Jan. 20, President Xi issued his first public comments on the virus, saying the outbreak “must be taken seriously” and every possible measure pursued.

A leading Chinese epidemiologist, Zhong Nanshan, announced for the first time, on national television, that the virus was transmissible from person to person. If the public had been warned a week earlier to take actions such as physical distancing, mask wearing and restricting travel, cases could have been cut by up to two-thirds, one paper later found.

WATCH | Tips on wearing a mask:

Dr. Samir Gupta provides crucial information about wearing a mask during the COVID-19 pandemic and what to think about before putting one on. 2:30

Wuhan’s case count had climbed exponentially by the time of Xi’s comments — four on Jan. 17, then 17 the next day and 136 the day after. Across the country, dozens of cases began to surface, in some cases among patients who were infected earlier but had not yet been tested. In Zhejiang, for example, a man hospitalized on Jan. 4 was only isolated on Jan. 17 and confirmed positive on Jan. 21. Shenzhen, where Yuen had earlier found six people who tested positive, finally recorded its first confirmed case on Jan. 19.

The Wuhan Union Hospital, one of the city’s best, held an emergency meeting on Jan. 18, instructing staff to adopt stringent isolation — still before Xi’s public warning.

An earlier warning could have saved lives, said Zhang, the doctor in Los Angeles.

However, other health experts said the government took decisive action in private given the information available to them.

“They may not have said the right thing, but they were doing the right thing,” said Ray Yip, the retired founding head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s office in China. “On the 20th, they sounded the alarm for the whole country, which is not an unreasonable delay.”

If health officials raise the alarm prematurely, it can damage their credibility — “like crying wolf” —and cripple their ability to mobilize the public, said Cowling, the epidemiologist in Hong Kong.

Rewriting history, and a blame game

By late January, boiling public anger over China’s initial handling of the outbreak put the leadership on the defensive. Health experts accused Wuhan’s leaders of a coverup, and Beijing fired local officials.

National leaders began to publicize directives they had earlier made in secret in apparent attempts to demonstrate they had acted decisively from the beginning. On Feb. 17, Xi revealed he had led the response as early as Jan. 7, two weeks before his first public comment on the virus. Days later, the National Health Commission published a notice revealing its confidential teleconference, dated to Jan. 14.

Workers are seen at a production line for masks at the Wuhan Zonsen Medical Products Co. Ltd. in Wuhan, in central China’s Hubei province, on April 12. China won’t restrict exports of medical goods needed to fight the coronavirus pandemic, a government spokesperson said Thursday, amid global tension over scarce masks and ventilators. (Ng Han Guan/The Associated Press)

The public notice omitted sections of the internal memo showing how alarmed officials had been at the time. It added lines suggesting that commission leaders were responding proactively to what then seemed a minor outbreak.

In the weeks after the severity of the epidemic became clear, some experts accused Wuhan officials of intentionally hiding cases.

“I always suspected it was human-to-human transmissible,” said Wang Guangfa, the leader of the second expert team, in a Mar. 15 post on Weibo, the Chinese social media platform. He fell ill with the virus soon after returning to Beijing on Jan. 16.

Wuhan’s then-mayor, Zhou Xianwang, blamed national regulations for the secrecy.

“As a local government official, I could disclose information only after being authorized,” Zhou told state media in late January. “A lot of people didn’t understand this.”

It wasn’t just Wuhan. In Shenzhen, hundreds of miles away in southern China, a team led by microbiologist Yuen Kwok-yung used its own test kits to confirm that six members of a family of seven had the virus on Jan. 12. In an interview with Caixin, a respected Chinese finance magazine, Yuen said he informed CDC branches “of all levels,” including Beijing. But internal CDC numbers did not reflect Yuen’s report, the bulletins show.

Some world leaders turned blind eye to outbreak

The delay may support accusations by U.S. President Donald Trump that the Chinese government’s secrecy held back the world’s response to the virus.

However, even the public announcement on Jan. 20 left the U.S. nearly two months to prepare for the pandemic. Given the Trump administration’s often bellicose and skeptical stance toward China in the previous three years, it’s not clear earlier knowledge would have changed its approach.

U.S. President Donald Trump has put the World Health Organization in the crosshairs, announcing Tuesday the U.S. would halt funding and accusing the agency of mismanaging the coronavirus crisis by being too deferential to China. Today on Front Burner, we take a closer look at the UN body, the organization’s track record and its limitations, with Guardian science writer Stephen Buranyi. 26:36

After Jan. 20, Trump ignored the warnings of his own staff and dismissed the disease as nothing to worry about, while the government failed to bolster medical supplies and deployed flawed testing kits.

Trump defenders have pointed to his impeachment trial in the Senate as diverting his attention, but he was acquitted in early February, holding six more campaign-style rallies and dismissing the possibility the virus would spread extensively in the U.S.

Leaders across the world turned a blind eye to the outbreak, with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson calling for a strategy of “herd immunity” — before falling ill himself.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro sneered at what he called “a little cold.”

According to tracking by Johns Hopkins University in Maryland, there were over two million reported COVID-19 cases worldwide as of early in the day on April 16, with about 138,500 coronavirus-related deaths.

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CBC | World News

Coming week a crucial period in COVID-19 struggle, says Canada’s chief public health officer

Canada’s top doctor says this coming week will be a crucial time during which public health officials will start to see if the aggressive physical distancing measures taken to prevent the spread of the coronavirus are working.

Dr. Theresa Tam said she is keeping a close eye on Ontario, Quebec and Alberta — provinces where the coronavirus is spreading within communities — to see if there will be a decrease in the rate of new confirmed cases, as British Columbia has seen.

“I still think it’s a little too early to tell because we are only at the end of March, but next week will be very important in terms of looking at those trends,” said Tam at her daily update on Sunday.

Canada currently has over 6,200 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus, and just over 60 Canadians have died from it. Thousands more people are awaiting test results.

The number of confirmed cases has increased rapidly since the beginning of the month as testing ramped up and travellers were called home from abroad.

Provincial and municipal governments began taking steps in earnest to reduce the spread of COVID-19 about two weeks ago — closing schools and businesses, restricting mass gatherings and encouraging people to work from home.

But because of the incubation period of the virus, which can survive in the human body for up to 14 days, measures taken over the course of the past two weeks won’t start showing up in the data tracking the rate of spread until this week, Tam said.

Cautious optimism in B.C.

On Friday, the B.C. government released a report showing that physical distancing measures had helped to cut the province’s rate of growth in new cases to 12 per cent per day. Without physical distancing measures, the report said that number would be closer to 24 per cent.

B.C.’s chief public health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the data offered a “glimmer of hope,” but that the province needed to stay the course.

“I’m trying not to over-call it, but I do believe we’ve seen a flattening, a falling-off of that curve,” said Henry on Friday.

Watch | Dr. Bonnie Henry says B.C. is starting to see ‘glimmers of hope’:

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says B.C. modelling shows that while the spread of COVID-19 appears to be slowing, the next two weeks are critical. 1:20

One development that could put upward pressure on Canada’s caseload is the return of travellers, including snowbirds and families returning from March Break vacations.

More than a million Canadian citizens and permanent residents returned home from other countries between March 14 and March 20, the Canada Border Services Agency said last week.

Global Affairs Canada has been co-ordinating a series of repatriation flights for Canadians from a number of countries. Two flights from Spain and Kuwait arrived in Canada on Saturday, while additional flights from Ecuador, Guatemala and Spain are expected to bring people back today.  

More Canadians are set to return from Haiti, Honduras, El Salvador, Sudan, Senegal, Congo and Ghana in the coming days.

Tam said she’ll be paying close attention to whether returning travellers brought the virus with them.

“With the influx of any groups of persons, whether it’s from a cruise ship or from returning travellers like the snowbirds, we have to be really, really vigilant and do the sort of rapid case identification, contact tracing,” said Tam.

“If someone is actually staying in the home for that 14 days where the incubation period occurs, that is the fundamental public health measure.”

Hospitals preparing for surge in sick patients

At the same time as trying to reduce the rate of the spread, governments and health-care providers are preparing for a surge of hospitalizations. 

Tam said hospitals are seeking to clear hospital beds and reduce occupancy in intensive care units to make room for COVID-19 patients. They are also trying to reduce what Tam calls the “burn rate” of protective masks and other equipment as the federal government seeks to obtain more.

She said these measures make sense to ensure masks and other needed resources are not wasted before more can be obtained.

“Responding to a pandemic is also about handling and prioritizing your most critical and scarce resources,” said Tam. “So is the effort to preserve them as much as possible while we’re still getting some more as well.”

There have been reports in recent days of Canadian hospitals rationing masks and other protective gear as they wait for fresh supplies to arrive amid what has become a global shortage of such equipment.

The Chinese Embassy in Ottawa tweeted Saturday that China was sending to Canada 30,000 medical masks along with gowns, gloves and goggles to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, prompting a message of thanks from Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne.

Canada had previously shipped about 16 tonnes of personal protective equipment to China in February, when that country was the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak.

At his daily update on Sunday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said federal health authorities will not cut any corners when it comes to ensuring masks provided by China meet the necessary standards for protecting Canadian health-care workers from COVID-19.

The comment follows reports the Dutch government is recalling around 600,000 defective masks that were recently shipped from China and had been distributed to various hospitals in the Netherlands.

“Health Canada has very strong procedures for evaluating, for ensuring that what we get is up to the necessary standards,” said Trudeau. “There will be no corners cut on this one, we need to make sure that the equipment that our health-care workers rely on to keep them safe, as they keep us safe, is of a quality that is going to actually do the job.”

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CBC | Health News

Wild’s Galchenyuk ties game late, adds SO winner to steal crucial point from Canucks

Alex Galchenyuk scored the tying goal and the shootout winner as the Minnesota Wild beat the Vancouver Canucks 4-3 on Wednesday.

Kevin Fiala and Luke Kunin also scored in regulation for Minnesota and Mats Zuccarello had two assists. Devan Dubnyk stopped 31 shots.

J.T. Miller scored twice in the third period and Jay Beagle had the other Vancouver goal, while Quinn Hughes recorded two assists. Jacob Markstrom made 25 saves.

The single point moved the Canucks (32-22-6) into a tie with the Calgary Flames for second place in the Pacific Division.

The Wild (28-24-7) moved to 1-1-0 since Dean Evason took over the head coaching duties from Bruce Boudreau last Friday. Minnesota is five points out of the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference.

The Wild opened the scoring just 63 seconds into the game, when Fiala collected his 15th goal of the year on Minnesota’s only shot in the first 11 minutes of the game.

Dubnyk was busy at the other end of the ice in his first start in four games. He squeezed a Miller shot from a breakaway between his pads and denied Antoine Roussel on a close-in attempt from the slot as the Canucks outshot the Wild 10-5 in the first period.

Vancouver evened the score early in the second when Hughes threaded a goalmouth pass through to Beagle for his second goal of the year and first in 42 games.

The Wild retook the lead with 6:57 left to go in the second, when a Kunin redirection trickled between Markstrom’s pads and into the net.

The Canucks came out strong to start the third. After Miller hit the post on an early 2-on-1, he was rewarded with his career-high 23rd goal of the season when he deflected a point shot from Tyler Toffoli past Dubnyk. Toffoli’s assist was his first point as a Canuck after being acquired from the Los Angeles Kings in a trade on Monday.

Miller put the Canucks ahead just over three minutes later with his second of the night, a blast from the left circle after a sharp pass from Troy Stecher.

Galchenyuk tied the game with under five minutes left, with his first point since being traded to the Wild on Feb. 10. He scooped a wraparound off Vancouver defenceman Troy Stecher and past Markstrom.

Galchenyuk beat Markstrom for the winner after Bo Horvat was denied on the other end in the fifth round of the shootout.

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History on Canada’s side ahead of crucial match vs. Mexico at women’s Olympic soccer qualifier

History and the numbers are on Canada’s side Tuesday when it faces Mexico to decide first place in Group B at the CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Championship.

Eighth-ranked Canada is 21-1-2 all-time against No. 26 Mexico and undefeated in their last 13 meetings (11-0-2). The Canadian women have outscored the Mexicans 26-7 over that 13-game stretch.

The one loss was costly, however. Mexico’s 2-1 win in 2004 prevented Canada from going to the Athens Games.

Both teams are 2-0-0 going into the match at H-E-B Park. With a goal difference of plus-20 compared to plus-seven for Mexico, Canada will finish atop the group with a win or tie.

The top-ranked U.S. beat No. 37 Costa Rica 6-0 on Monday in Houston to win Group A.

Topping Group B is desirable given it means likely avoiding the U.S. in the semifinals.

The top two in each pool advance to the cross-over semifinals, A1 versus B2 and B1 versus A2. The semifinal winners will represent CONCACAF, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean, at this summer’s Tokyo Olympics.

Canada has finished runner-up to the U.S. at the last three CONCACAF Olympic qualifiers.

The Canadians opened play here with an 11-0 shellacking of No. 127 St. Kitts and Nevis before thumping No. 51 Jamaica 9-0. Mexico defeated Jamaica 1-0 and St. Kitts 6-0.

WATCH | Canada puts 9 goals past Jamaica:

Jordyn Huitema tallied five goals and Janine Beckie added a hat trick of her own in Canada’s 9-0 victory over Jamaica in the CONCACAF Olympic Qualification tournament. 1:47

“Mexico have players that can play well all over the pitch and they have a deep roster,” Canada coach Kenneth Heiner-Moller said in a statement. “They’ve played the U.S. a few times in the past months, they’ve played Tier-1 teams, so they know what we are able to do and that we can put on that kind of pressure as well.

“Every match has its own story, and hopefully we can write a good one early in these 90 minutes.”

WATCH | Sinclair becomes international soccer’s top scorer:

Canadian Christine Sinclair scores the 185th goal of her career, passing American Abby Wambach on the all-time goals list. 1:10

Eight different players have scored for Canada. Going into Monday’s play, Jordyn Huitema led the tournament with six goals followed by Adriana Leon (tied for second with four). Other Canada goal-scorers are Janine Beckie (three), Ashley Lawrence and captain Christine Sinclair (two each) and Jessie Fleming, Jayde Riviere and Deanne Rose (one each).

Sinclair’s strikes were Nos. 184 and 185 of her career, moving her past retired American Abby Wambach to become the world’s all-time leading goal-scorer.

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Canada looks to silence critics in crucial Nations League showdown against U.S.

Coach John Herdman says Canada’s upcoming CONCACAF Nations League match against the United States will come down to who wants it more.

And he suggested his young Canadian team is ready for its closeup.

“It’s going to come down to the will to get the job done,” he said Wednesday before training. “This group has got the belief. I think they feel they’ve got the talent there as well to get a result and put the performance on.

“But it’ll come down to that will and the will to get the job done … I think it will come down to who wants it more. I’ve got a feeling that our boys will just leave it all out there. And there’s nothing better than a football match like that.”

Herdman clearly likes what he sees when he surveys his team, citing his players’ passion, energy and talent.

“It’s all coming together,” he said. “We’re just waiting for that moment where we step forward, and we silence the critics. But also we ignite those that really want to see this team do well.”

Americans betting favourites

On paper, the Americans will enter Tuesday’s game at BMO Field as favourites.

They are ranked 21st in the world, compared to No. 75 for Canada. And the Canadian men, while holding an all-time record of 8-11-14 against the U.S., have not beaten the Americans since March 1985.

The Canadians are 0-9-8 since then and have been outscored 17-1 in the last 11 matches. On the plus side, two of the last three meetings have been 0-0 draws with the U.S. winning the other match 1-0.

The two teams will meet again Nov. 15 in Orlando. The U.S. plays Cuba on Friday in their first outing in CONCACAF Nations League Group A play. Canada has already beaten No. 178 Cuba twice.

The winner of Group A will advance to the final four of the tournament next June.

Cracking top 6

The Canadians are looking for the valuable FIFA ranking points that would accompany a victory over the Americans. Canada, currently ranked seventh among CONCACAF countries, is looking to crack the top six in the rankings after the June international window so as to make the six-country Hex round of World Cup qualifying, the most direct route out of CONCACAF.

“This is massive for us,” Herdman said of the U.S. game.

Canada currently trails El Salvador by five ranking points in the race for sixth spot in the region, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean.

Depending on how the U.S. does against Cuba, a Canada win over the Americans could be worth 17 or 18 rankings points.

El Salvador plays Montserrat and Saint Lucia next.

The only change to the Canadian roster is Toronto FC’s Liam Fraser replacing Orlando City’s Will Johnson, who was unable due to family reasons.

Defender Doneil Henry is here but is unavailable to play after being red-carded last time out against Cuba. Midfielder Stephen Eustaquio is returning from a knee injury, so will have his workload managed in his first senior camp.

“Everyone else is just raring to go,” added Herdman.

‘Battle hardened’

He acknowledged the extent of the U.S. challenge, saying No. 12 Mexico and No. 86 Haiti had previously been Canada’s biggest foes under his management. Canada lost both of those encounters at the Gold Cup, 3-1 to Mexico and 3-2 to Haiti after blowing a 2-0 lead.

“This is building on those learnings,” said Herdman.

“We’re battle-hardened coming into this [match],” he added. “We’ve got a few more scars and you need those things.”

Herdman says his players see the Americans as standing in their way on the road to the 2022 World Cup. Canada, the U.S. and Mexico are co-hosting the 2026 tournament.

Focus in camp will be the commitment to defence, he said.

“We know we can score, but keep the clean sheet as well. And defend properly.”

The U.S. will be without striker Jozy Altidore, who injured his quad in Toronto FC’s 1-0 win over Columbus on Sunday.

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Toronto drop crucial points in race for playoff seeding

Omar Gonzalez had a goal and an assist to help Toronto to a 2-2 tie with the Chicago Fire on Sunday.

Toronto (12-10-11), which has already qualified for the post-season, can clinch a home game in the knock-out round with a win, and losses by New York and D.C. United, in next Sunday’s regular-season finale.

Chicago (9-12-12), which had its three-game unbeaten streak snapped, was eliminated from playoff contention.

Gonzalez headed home a corner kick Alejandro Pozuelo in the 80th minute to make it 2-2.

Jozy Altidore gave Toronto a 1-0 lead in the 59th, stumbling after contact with a defender and then rolling a shot from the top of the area through the legs of goalkeeper Kenneth Kronholm.

Aleksandar Katai ran onto through ball by Przemyslaw Frankowski behind the defence on the left side and rolled a shot between defender Gonzalez and goalkeeper Quentin Westburg to tie it in the 68th minute and Fabian Herbers headed home a cross by Nicolas Gaitan to give the Fire a 2-1 lead in the 77th.

WATCH | Omar Gonzalez salvages crucial point for TFC:

Toronto FC tied Chicago Fire 2-2 behind goals from Jozy Altidore and Omar Gonzalez. 1:14

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Christine Sinclair passed on crucial penalty kick in loss to Sweden and many are wondering why

Christine Sinclair has put Canadian soccer on her shoulders for close to 20 years.

So when Janine Beckie and not the talismanic captain walked to the penalty spot Monday in Canada’s Women’s World Cup loss to Sweden with a chance to tie the round-of-16 game at 1-1, many wondered why.

And in a country where hockey is king, memories of the 1998 Nagano Olympics resurfaced for some. Back then a nation wondered why Wayne Gretzky was nailed to the bench as Canada lost a semifinal shootout to Dominik Hasek and the Czech Republic.

The similarities are that Canada lost both games and Sinclair and Gretzky are Canadian treasures. But that’s it.

Team Canada coach Marc Crawford elected to go with five other shooters while No. 99 crossed his fingers and hoped a sixth would be needed.

Wayne Gretzky is consoled by Czech Republic goaltender Dominik Hasek after Canada’s shootout loss in the 1998 Olympics in Nagano. People still question the decision to not have the all-time scoring leader participate in the shootout. (Brian Bahr /Allsport)

Sinclair chose her own fate. As is her right. Strikers need to feel in the mood when it comes to spot kicks.

Having had her spot kick saved by the same ‘keeper — Hedvig Lindahl — in Canada’s penalty shootout win in the Algarve Cup third-place match in March, Sinclair conferred with Beckie during the video review prior to the 69th-minute penalty at Parc des Prince.

“We have a group of players on the team that practise PKs after every practice pretty much and there’s a group of us that are comfortable doing it,” Sinclair explained afterward. “Hedvig saved mine in the Algarve just a couple of months ago so I went up to Janine and asked her ‘If you want it, it’s yours.’ And she said, ‘Absolutely.”‘

“I feel bad for even asking her,” she added. “But I have all the faith in the world in her. We all do. She’s fearless out there.”

WATCH | Christine Sinclair says Canada ‘left everything on the field’:

Sinclair believes that while the last two World Cups haven’t gone as planned, Canada still finds a way to the podium in Olympics. 1:41

Beckie hit a fine penalty, toward the lower corner. Lindahl made a better save.

“I asked her after the game if she’d placed it where she wanted to and she said yes. And I’m like ‘Then you can’t do anything more,”‘ said Sinclair. “The keeper made a world-class save and you have to tip your hat to her.”

Beckie confirmed Sinclair had asked her if she wanted to take it because of what happened at the Algarve Cup.

“I said, ‘It’s up to you.’ And she told me to take it,” Beckie related.

Beckie does not change her penalty routine, something the Swedes clearly remembered.

Swedish goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl stops Janine Beckie on a penalty shot in Canada’s 1-0 loss in the round of 16 on Monday. (Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

“I’m not one that changes where I go. I’m confident in my penalty. I thought about it on the spot but yeah she made a fantastic save.”

Coach Kenneth Heiner-Moller said Canada doesn’t keep a list of penalty-takers.

“It’s the feel of the game and who’s going to step up and Janine did that,” he said. “That’s a tough thing to do. So good for her, she did it. I’m proud of her for sure.

“It was actually a pretty decent kick. But an excellent save from Hedvig.”

The 24-year-old Beckie, who has 25 goals in 60 games for Canada, was disconsolate after the game.

WATCH | Canada eliminated from women’s World Cup: 

Janine Beckie was robbed of a goal when Swedish keeper Hedvig Lindahl made an incredible save, leading her country to a 1-0 win. 1:23

“I feel like I let the team down, that’s really what I’m feeling right now. Frustrated, disappointed and all the negative emotions.”

The missed penalty was not the reason Canada lost, although it would have likely been a different game if it had gone in.

A giveaway, sadly by Beckie, set the stage for the 55th-minute goal by Stina Blackstenius, with a major assist to Kosovare Aslanni for driving down the field and delivering a marvellous curling cross that carved opened the Canadian defence.

And Canada showed few teeth in front of goal. Sweden took its chance and then battened down the hatches for the 1-0 win.

Sinclair, who has 182 goals under her belt, showed her penalty kick mettle four years ago when she slammed home a 92nd-minute penalty for a 1-0 win over China in the 2015 World Cup opener.

Sinclair is famous for her composure in front of the goal.

“It’s always her. It’s always her that gets the goal that we need to win the cup or win the game,” Rhian Wilkinson, a former teammate who served as a Canadian assistant coach at the World Cup, said before the tournament.

Christine Sinclair could not mask her emotions following her team’s loss to Sweden. (Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

And there lies the rub.

No one can fault Sinclair for not feeling the vibe for taking a spot kick. After 286 internationals, here’s guessing she knows what she’s doing.

As selfless as they come, she put the team before herself by reasoning in this instance, the ball was perhaps better off in someone else’s hands.

Canadians aren’t used to that when it comes to women’s soccer.

At 36, the remarkable Sinclair is in the twilight of her career. Some time sooner than later, she will walk away for good.

Monday proved how difficult that will be.

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Maple Leafs hope to change playoff fortunes with crucial Game 1 win

In a seven-game playoff series, it’s almost as important to enjoy a strong start as it is to finish well.

Just ask defencemen Jake Muzzin and Ron Hainsey as well as head coach Mike Babcock, the three members of the Toronto Maple Leafs who own Stanley Cup rings.

But all the Maple Leafs knew the importance of a strong start. They fell behind 1-0 in their series against the Washington Capitals two years ago and were promptly dispatched in six games.

Last year, the Bruins skated out to a 2-0 lead and even though Toronto battled back to tie the series at 3-3, Boston prevailed with a dominant third period in the deciding game.

That made for a long 351 days before the Maple Leafs could get another post-season shot at the Bruins. Toronto made the most of its long wait.

WATCH | Highlights from Toronto’s win:

Mitch Marner scored twice, including the game winner, as Toronto beat the Bruins 4-1 on Thursday. 2:11

Babcock could not have asked for a better start from his club in its near-perfect 4-1 win in Beantown against the Boston Bruins on Thursday evening to make the road team the winner in four of the first six games of these Stanley Cup playoffs.

The Maple Leafs out-played, out-hustled and — surprise, surprise — out-hit their Original-Six rivals in their own building, where the Bruins had the second-best home record in the regular season behind the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Tampa Bay Lightning.

After surrendering a Patrice Bergeron power-play goal midway through the first period, the Maple Leafs stayed patient and slowly took over the game. There were hiccups. But when Babcock’s side stumbled, as they did in the middle part of the second period, goalie Frederik Andersen bailed out his mates. He made 21 of his 37 saves in the middle frame.

Toronto tied the game late in the first period on a Mitch Marner rebound. He gave the Maple Leafs the lead on a short-handed penalty shot early in the second period.

Boston’s Karson Kuhlman is upended in front of Toronto goaltender Frederik Andersen on Thursday. (Charles Krupa/Associated Press)

The Bruins finished the regular season with 65 power-play goals, third in the league. But they also surrendered 15 short-handed goals, tied with the Pittsburgh Penguins for the most.

The nifty Marner was able to exploit this area when he was hauled down on his short-handed breakaway by Boston’s Jake DeBrusk, resulting in a penalty shot. William Nylander extended the advantage to two goals late in the second period.

There were so many positives in this outing for the Maple Leafs, possibly their best game this season.

♦ Muzzin, whose 51 career post-season games is second to Patrick Marleau’s 185 on the Maple Leafs, and his defence partner Nikita Zaitsev were able to shut down the Bruins top line of Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak. This trio combined for 20 points in the first two games of the series a year ago. They were ineffective in five-on-five situations in Game 1.

♦ The fourth line of Connor Brown, Trevor Moore and Frederik Gauthier had an excellent game. One of the strengths of the Bruins attack is the mistake-free hockey they receive from their fourth line. Well, the Maple Leafs had that in the series opener.

♦ John Tavares won 16 of 26 faceoffs, including a late-game draw against Bergeron which led to an empty-net goal from Tavares to quash any thoughts of a late-game comeback by the Bruins.

♦ Babcock finally exhibited enough faith in Auston Matthews. He led all Toronto forwards in ice time at 20 minutes, 42 seconds.

♦ Andersen shook off a season-ending slump with a strong game.

This is a series that pits the Maple Leafs’ blazing speed against the tenaciousness and physicality of the Bruins. Boston’s physical game was missing in action on Thursday.

The Maple Leafs know the Bruins will be better in Game 2 in Boston on Saturday. All the more important Toronto started the series in fine form. Now the Maple Leafs can work on their finish.

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