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Brazil has entered the deadliest phase of the pandemic so far, with the daily death toll exceeding 2,000 on some days this past week. But the government is still downplaying the disaster, and President Jair Bolsonaro has told people to 'stop whining.'

Bolsonaro tells Brazilians to ‘stop whining’ as COVID-19 death toll rises

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Bolsonaro tells Brazilians to 'stop whining' as COVID-19 death toll rises

Brazil has entered the deadliest phase of the pandemic so far, with the daily death toll exceeding 2,000 on some days this past week. But the government is still downplaying the disaster, and President Jair Bolsonaro has told people to ‘stop whining.’

CBC | World News

Surging in remote and poor areas, Brazil’s COVID-19 death toll is 2nd-highest in the world

It was late at night and a chaotic crowd had gathered in front of a hospital in Manaus, the biggest city in Brazil’s vast Amazon and the last hope for medical care for tens of thousands of COVID-19 patients in the region. 

Doctors shouted patients’ names, working their way down an impossibly long list while the sick and their families jostled through the jammed emergency entrance.

“Where is the help?” yelled Priscila Carvalho, whose mother lay on a respirator inside, in Portuguese to a cluster of TV cameras.

“People are dying here! It’s not a game!”

The scene was captured on video earlier this month by Reuters as cases continued to surge in the city of 2.2 million people.

Indeed, the death rate in that part of Brazil is more than 170 per 100,000 residents, three and a half times Canada’s. Nationally, deaths have topped 215,000, putting Brazil’s toll second only to the United States. It has the third-highest number of coronavirus cases after the U.S. and India, at more than nine million.

Priscila Carvalho, 31, reacts outside the 28 de Agosto hospital where her mother is hospitalized in Manaus. (Bruno Kelly/Reuters)

Freshly dug graves fill new cemeteries in Manaus and beyond, stretching to the horizon and growing quickly.

“Over the past two weeks, we’ve seen a sharp increase,” said Pierre Van Heddegem, the head of a mission run by Doctors Without Borders in the region, in a Skype interview with CBC News. 

“Fifty to 60 per cent of the people we test, test positive. That’s a huge amount.”

New, more contagious variant hits hard

That’s partially the result of a new strain of COVID-19 first detected in Brazil, a more contagious and possibly more deadly variant of the virus, known as P1. Research done by immunologist Ester Sabino at the University of Sao Paolo suggests that P1 accounted for 42 per cent of new cases in the Amazon’s biggest centre since last month.

“Everything points to this variant being behind the way the pandemic is evolving in Manaus,” Sabino told Reuters.

Experts on the ground say the spread is so rapid — and the government’s response so inadequate — it’s overwhelming doctors, nurses and hospitals.

Osmar Magalhaes, 68, gets care for COVID-19 at home in Manaus on Jan. 20 from his daughter and son. They are treating him an air tank at home due to the lack of oxygen in the public health system. (Bruno Kelly/Reuters)

Doctors Without Borders is struggling to find places for severe cases that need to be sent from the two smaller communities they are helping, São Gabriel da Cachoeira and Tefé, both several days’ boat journey from Manaus.

“If the system collapses in Manaus, this whole population of the interior of the Amazon will not have access to necessary higher levels of care, with potentially grave consequences,” said Van Heddegem.

Scenes of desperation

Local factors make conditions there ripe for the virus’ spread. Indigenous communities have large households, poor access to health care and little reliable information. And even in large centres like Manaus with more substantial medical facilities, huge distances and inadequate roads make it hard to bring in supplies or experts.

Kelvia Andrea Goncalves, 16, is supported by her aunt as she reacts during the burial of her mother Andrea dos Reis Brasao, 39, who died because of COVID-19 at Delphina Aziz hospital in Manaus on Jan. 17. (Bruno Kelly/Reuters)

All 650 of the region’s ICU beds have been full, and airlifts of critical patients to other Brazilian centres are slow — no more than a handful of people fit on transport planes brought in by the air force.

Oxygen supplies for the sick have all but run out as scenes of desperation spread online: five patients sharing a single tank in a hospital room, the infected suffocating to death and distraught nurses crying after losing patients. Long lines have been forming in Manaus and other centres, with families desperate to fill empty oxygen tanks for sick relatives at home.

Relatives of patients hospitalized or receiving health care at home, who are mostly suffering from COVID-19, gather to buy oxygen and fill cylinders at a private company in Manaus on Jan. 18. (Bruno Kelly/Reuters)

Meanwhile, teams of mortuary workers in hazmat suits have been patrolling the city to pick up bodies of those who die in their own beds, after being turned away from hospitals.

‘The risk is yours’

Brazil started a vaccination campaign in the past two weeks with fanfare, photo-ops and a declaration from Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello that “Brazil has made it” and promising “the largest vaccination campaign in the world!”

In fact though, the country is struggling to get even a tiny fraction of the vaccines it needs, with delays from suppliers in China and India. Initial doses were only enough for about 6 million people out of a population of 213 million. 

Many in the hardest hit areas — including the Amazon and Rio de Janeiro — have been eagerly awaiting the vaccine to stop the spread of COVID-19. But Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has not only declared he won’t be getting the shot, he’s cast doubt on its safety. 

“The risk is yours,” he said earlier this month. “If you turn into an alligator, that’s your problem.”

Demonstrators take part in a protest against Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, and his handling of the coronavirus disease outbreak in Brasilia on Jan. 24. (Adriano Machado/Reuters)

Two tiers of care

In the favelas of Rio, the densely packed slums on the outskirts of Brazil’s second-largest city, the crisis grows.

“It’s getting very much worse every day,” Dr. Gustavo Treistman told CBC News over Skype from Rio.

He works in the Souza Marques Family Clinic in Madureira, a poor neighbourhood where some 200 people die daily.

Treistman says he sees 30 to 40 patients who have COVID-19 during every six-hour shift, sending the serious ones to hospital by ambulance when he can and seeing some die when he can’t. Most are sent home.

The slums of Rio, such as Alemao, above, have been hit hard by the coronavirus. (Ricardo Moraes/Reuters)

“We don’t have the equipment to treat patients,” he said, with frustration in his voice.

At the same time, the government has refused to take other needed steps, he said, such as ordering lock-downs or giving financial support for the sick to stay home from work.

“I feel very sad, very angry sometimes. And very tired every day. It’s just too much for all of us,” he said.

Treistman blames Brazil’s high death rate on living conditions that make it hard for the poor to avoid COVID-19 and a two-tier health care system that favours the rich. 

Volunteers disinfect a road at the Santa Marta favela in April 2020. (Mauro Pimentel/AFP via Getty Images)

Brazilians who can afford ICU beds in private hospitals are almost twice as likely to survive COVID-19 infections than those who end up in the public hospital system, according to data from the Brazil Society of Intensive Care. Since last March, mortality rates in public hospitals were 51 per cent of ICU patients, compared to 28 per cent in private hospitals.

But with infections spreading so rapidly, Treistman says now everyone in Brazil is at risk.

Relatives of patients hospitalized with the coronavirus outbreak in Manaus, Brazil, react on Jan. 15. The ICU beds in the region are full, and oxygen supplies are running low while a new, more contagious variant is spreading in the Amazon region. (Bruno Kelly/Reuters)

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CBC | World News

‘A toll on everyone’s soul:’ Inside 2 hospitals’ struggle to save lives from COVID-19

During the coronavirus pandemic, Canadians are being told to stay home to keep hospitals from being overwhelmed. Yet most of us have no idea about what’s happening inside our hospitals, specifically intensive care units. 

Jan. 25 marked the one-year anniversary of the first person in Canada to be hospitalized due to COVID-19.  

To mark the anniversary, staff at two of Canada’s largest hospitals — Sunnybrook Hospital and Toronto General Hospital — filmed a day in their lives on the job, highlighting how they deal with the stress and strain they’re up against day after day. 

Watch as they give an intimate, inside look at why they’re so emotionally exhausted — and what gives them the strength to keep fighting o care for “everyone’s loved ones.”

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CBC | Health News

Iota weakens to storm in Central America but death toll rises as rain, floods bash region

 Unleashing torrential floods even as it weakened, Storm Iota churned through Central America on Tuesday, causing swollen rivers to burst their banks, flipping roofs onto streets and killing at least nine people across the region.

The strongest storm on record to reach Nicaragua, Iota struck the coast late on Monday, bringing winds of nearly 249 km/h and flooding villages still reeling from the impact of Hurricane Eta two weeks ago.

But by Tuesday night, the winds had fallen to 80 km/h as Iota weakened to a tropical storm but heavy rainfall continued, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

Iota was drenching already saturated towns and villages as it moved inland over southern Honduras and as authorities reported many people missing with some of the worst-hit areas still cut off.

“We’re flooded everywhere, the rain lasted almost all night and now it stops for an hour then comes back for two to three hours,” said Marcelo Herrera, mayor of Wampusirpi, a municipality in the interior of northeast Honduras crossed by rivers and streams.

Women walk in the rain brought by Hurricane Iota, in La Lima, Honduras on Tuesday. The Honduran government closed bridges and highways across the country on Tuesday, while opening more than 600 shelters where some 13,000 residents sought refuge. (Delmer Martinez/The Associated Press)

“We need food and water for the population, because we lost our crops with Eta,” he told Reuters.

The Honduran government closed bridges and highways across the country on Tuesday, while opening more than 600 shelters where some 13,000 residents sought refuge.

The double punch of Eta and Iota marked the first time two major hurricanes had formed in the Atlantic basin in November since records began. The Nicaraguan port of Puerto Cabezas, still partly flooded and strewn with debris left by Eta, again bore the brunt of the hit.

Frightened residents huddled in shelters.

“We could die,” said Inocencia Smith at one of the shelters. “There is nothing to eat at all,” she added, noting Eta had destroyed local farms.

Nicaraguan Vice President Rosario Murillo said at least six people had died as they were dragged down by raging rivers.

The wind tore the roof off a makeshift hospital. Patients in intensive care were evacuated, including two women who gave birth during the first rains on Monday, the Nicaraguan officials said.

‘In the hands of God’

Two people died on Providencia island, part of Colombia’s Caribbean archipelago near the coast of Central America, after it was clipped by Iota, President Ivan Duque said on Tuesday evening.

Nearly all of the infrastructure on Providencia — home to some 6,000 people — had been damaged or destroyed.

Panama’s government said a person had died in its western Ngabe-Bugle region due to conditions caused by the storm.

A resident of Brus Laguna on the Honduran coast told local radio a boy was killed by a falling tree, although the mayor, Teonela Wood, said she had no reports of fatalities.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said flooding from Iota risked causing disaster after Eta.

Two people died on Providencia island, part of Colombia’s Caribbean archipelago near the coast of Central America, after it was clipped by Iota. In this photo released by the Presidency of Colombia, President Ivan Duque, second left, tours the island on Tuesday. (Nicolas Galeano/Colombia Presidential Press Office/The Associated Press)

“We are very concerned about the potential for deadly landslides in these areas as the soil is already completely saturated,” IFRC spokesman Matthew Cochrane told a media briefing in Geneva on Tuesday.

About 100,000 Nicaraguans and Hondurans had been evacuated from their homes, authorities said.

Iota was about 56 kilometres southeast of the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa, the NHC said, moving west at 19 km/h where it could provoke “catastrophic flash flooding and mudslides.”

The center added that Iota could dump up to 76 centimetres of rain in some areas.

“We are in the hands of God. If I have to climb up trees, I’ll do it,” said Jaime Cabal Cu, a farmer in Guatemala’s Izabal province. “We don’t have food, but we are going to wait here for the hurricane that we’re asking God to stop from coming.” 

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CBC | World News

She survived the Holocaust and died of COVID-19. Her family says pandemic’s human toll is lost in the numbers

The last time Jeff Shabes saw his mother alive, dementia had transported her back to the nightmare of her childhood, screaming out for her late mother and father in Siberia where they fled from occupied Poland and terrified she’d miss her train to safety. 

Malvina Shabes survived the atrocities of the Holocaust. But COVID-19 took her in only a matter of days.

In their final moments together, Jeff Shabes — sitting across the room in full protective gear — repeated to his mother the stories she so loved to tell him, like how as a little boy, he made her sandwiches when she was unwell after suffering a miscarriage.

“I hadn’t called my mother ‘mummy’ in, I don’t know, 45 years,” he said. “So I referred to her as, you know, ‘I love you mummy, you’ll always be a part of our lives and memories. And it’s OK to close to your eyes. We want you to close your eyes and be with dad.”

As he left the room, the screaming went on. But Shabes was sure his mother heard him. Less than 24 hours later, she was gone.

Somewhere along the lines though, as the spectre of a global pandemic went from looming threat to daily reality, the human toll behind daily case counts and testing numbers seems to have slipped from collective sight, he said.  

“That’s one of the reasons that I agreed to do this. It’s the main reason,” Jeff Shabes told CBC News.  

‘So much more than just a number’

“We have to educate people that these are not just 1,500 cases a day and 13 deaths. There are families that are suffering not just after the loved one has passed away, but during … It’s so much more than just a number.”

Born in Krakow in 1929, Malvina Shabes was forced to flee Poland at the age of 10 along with her two-year-old brother, grandparents and nanny. Their journey ended in Siberia, Russia, at a labour camp, where food could be scarce and they often had to be hidden to survive. 

Born in Krakow in 1929, Malvina Shabes was forced to flee Poland at the age of 10 along with her two-year-old brother, grandparents and nanny. She arrived in Canada in the 1940s at the age of 19 and married soon afterward. Her husband of 60 years died seven years ago. (Submitted by Jeff Shabes)

After the war, Malvina went back to Poland briefly and onto Germany, before coming to Canada in the late 1940s at the age of 19. Not long afterward, she married and had two sons, Jeff and his brother Steven.

Over the years, family and friends were her number one priority, Jeff said. When her own mother was diagnosed with blood cancer, she and her brother resolved to find a doctor who could help. Her mother survived until the age of 93. 

CBC News wants to learn more about the Canadians we have lost during the pandemic. If you would like to share the story of someone who has died of COVID-19, email us at COVID@cbc.ca

Malvina and her husband celebrated 60 years of marriage before he died seven years ago. But in recent years, she began experiencing dementia.

She was moved to a home that specialized in care for dementia patients and found a way to adapt, participating in virtually all of its programs to the extent that she could and her appearance — as ever — remained immaculate. 

“She always had her hair done and her nails done,” Shabes said with a laugh, recalling how he’d never seen his mother with grey in her hair until recently. “She was really truly quite the matriarch and an elegant person.”

In recent years, Malvina Shabes was moved to a home that specialized in care for dementia patients and found a way to adapt, participating in virtually all of its programs to the extent that she could and her appearance — as ever — immaculate. She insisted on elegance, her hair and nails always done, her son told CBC News. (Submitted by Jeff Shabes)

‘Easy to lose track of the faces, the lives, the tragedy’

But stories like Malvina’s are increasingly lost amid the daily din of numbers, said Toronto geriatrician Nathan Stall. That’s not just a matter of sentiment, he said, but ultimately has an impact on policy itself.

“Once you pass a milestone like like 10,000 deaths, it becomes easy to lose track of the faces, the lives, the tragedy the families are experiencing,” Stall said. “And that could be something that would motivate us to change our approach during the second wave.”

WATCH | New figures show the second wave could be hitting long-term care homes:

By far most Canadian COVID-19 deaths have been in long-term-care homes, where residents and staff have faced unsafe conditions. New figures show it could be about to happen all over again. 1:59

Canada surpassed 11,000 COVID-19 deaths this week. 

Somewhere over 96 per cent of those who have died in Canada of COVID-19 are over the age of 60. And close to 80 per cent were long-term care residents, Stall said. 

“I would argue that those people aren’t the types of people that most Canadians identify with. There’s a bias we speak about called an identifiable lives bias … We react most emotionally and most directly when it comes to public policy and action for the types of lives that we identify with.” 

Consider a turning point in Canada’s COVID-19 story, he said: “It wasn’t the death of a long-term care resident… it was actually the NBA shutting down. It was Sophie Gregoire Trudeau catching COVID. It was Tom Hanks. That’s what actually made us act.”

Nathan Stall, a geriatrician at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Toronto, said Canadians have to some extent lost sight of the human toll behind COVID-19 numbers. (CBC)

Now, as a second wave has taken hold, there appears to be more of focus on business and keeping doors open rather than on the human cost of the resurgence, he said.

“There seems to be a sort of acceptance, a really chilling acceptance of the death of older adults and those living in long-term care homes.”

‘Waking up everyday and checking the numbers’

Holding provincial news briefings outside a long-term care home rather at businesses would be one way to keep the focus on victims and workers on the frontlines, Stall said. 

“If we dehumanize what’s going on with COVID-19, I think it’s easy for the population to also think that there is this acceptable trade-off.

“I think in some respects, the Canadian experience has been waking up everyday and checking the numbers… But I think that our leaders could play a role in changing that and putting the focus back on the tragedy that so many Canadians are experiencing and sadly will continue to experience over the next several months.” 

Asked late last week by CBC reporter Mike Crawley about whether his apparent focus on the impact of COVID-19 on businesses was equal to his concern for the pain of families, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said at a news conference: “Nothing weighs more on me than when I talk to family members on the phone… I met a lady the other day that came up to me and said, ‘I want to thank you for doing a great job and I lost both my parents in long-term care a week apart two weeks ago.

“I take hundreds of calls. I’m one of the few elected officials in this country … that’s up till midnight in his office taking personal calls and listening to the concerns. Does that weigh on Mike? It weighs on me, I can assure you… if you don’t think this weighs on me, you don’t know me very well.”

Statistics are ‘people with the tears wiped off’

Since his mother’s death last Tuesday, Shabes and his family have held prayers each night.

But like so many families that have lost loved ones to the virus, their grieving process has been anything but normal. 

Since his mother’s death last Tuesday, Jeff Shabes and his family have held prayers each night. But like so many families that have lost loved ones to the virus, their grieving process has been anything but normal.  (CBC)

“We can’t be there to just hold on to one another,” he said. “It’s a time for consolation and really the beginning of a long healing process. We don’t have that.”

Reasons like that mean Canadians can’t afford to lose sight of the lives behind the numbers, Stall said.

“There’s a line that I’ve come back to often during the pandemic from really one of the most famous epidemiologists who died nearly a century ago, Sir Austin Bradford Hill,” he said.

“Health statistics represent people with the tears wiped off.”

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CBC | Health News

More than 600 deaths since August: the growing toll of Quebec’s second wave of COVID-19

Pietro Iasenza was in fantastic shape for his age when he celebrated his 89th birthday last June.

He had no health problems, lived in his home, still drove and ran all his own errands.

“He lived his life to the fullest every day,” said his youngest daughter, Angela. “He was so independent. I couldn’t even keep up with him.”

But over the Thanksgiving weekend last month, the Montreal man began to feel ill and develop flu-like symptoms. He tested positive for COVID-19 a few days later.

The result came as a huge shock to both Iasenza and his close-knit Italian family.

“He thought he was invincible, he didn’t think he’d catch it,” said Angela.

Two weeks later, he was gone.

Iasenza is among the steadily rising number of Quebecers who have died from COVID-19 during the province’s second wave.

Quebec has so far avoided the striking losses seen in the spring, when the province regularly recorded upwards of 100 deaths a day from COVID-19 as the virus ripped through ill-prepared long-term care homes.

But the death toll has again begun to rise, with more than 600 deaths since school began in late August.

More than half of those have occurred in just over three weeks. The province recorded 38 deaths on Tuesday.

The answer to the question “who is dying?” is broadly similar to the spring: mostly, it’s the elderly. What’s different is where the people who have died had been living.

Unlike the first wave, it isn’t primarily or even mostly in long-term care homes. Many of those who have died within the last month were living in their own homes, in the community.

Experts have long predicted the surge of cases Quebec saw in late August, September and October, coinciding with the start of school, would lead to more hospitalizations and deaths.

That appears to be happening, though on a scale along the lines of the more moderate projections issued last month by the INSPQ, Quebec’s national institute of public health.

In all, more than 6,000 people have died in Quebec from COVID-19, by far the most of any province. 

But many jurisdictions across the country are also experiencing spikes, and have been stepping up health and safety measures to combat increasing case rates.

Toronto is moving into the “red” level of Ontario’s colour-coded coronavirus shutdown system after reporting 520 new cases on Tuesday.

And Manitoba officials announced a temporary province-wide shutdown Tuesday in response to a rise in cases and in deaths at long term care homes in recent weeks.  

Dr. Donald Vinh, an infectious disease specialist at the McGill University Health Centre in Montreal, said that while elderly people remain vulnerable to the virus, there have been some positive developments.

“Even though the elderly are still the major targets in the second wave, there are fewer cases of deaths and hospitalizations than in the first wave,” he said.

That’s due in part, he said, to the improved controls over the system of long-term care homes and a better understanding among both health-care workers and the public of the virus.

“So, for example, at the beginning, having less understanding of the virus, there was a tendency to hospitalize more and more frequently and on a larger scale. Now, we know, for example, that with adequate follow up and care, not everybody will necessarily need to be hospitalized,” he said.

Alan Cohen, an assistant professor in the department of family medicine at the University of Sherbrooke with a background in epidemiology, said it appears the virus is less lethal during the second wave, but remains a concern given its presence in the community.

“What we certainly know is we know how to treat it medically,” he said.

“As long as we have enough hospital beds we are now in a position to keep people alive longer.”

New data released Tuesday by the INSPQ reinforced Cohen’s remarks. The public health institute found that although 98 per cent of those who died were over 60, there appears to be a drop in the death rate — and that more study is required to determine why.

With the virus better controlled in long-term care facilities, commonly referred to as CHSLDs (centre d’hébergement et de soins de longue durée), the proportion of deaths of people living at home is greater than in the spring.

Premier Francois Legault has repeatedly pointed to this when asked about recent deaths. 

“The big difference between this fall and this spring is that we now have far fewer deaths in CHSLDs,” Legault said recently. “I see a big improvement in CHSLDs.”

Still, the deaths continue to mount, at a rate of roughly 15 people a day over the past three weeks, each representing the loss of a loved one.

For months, Iasenza’s family had gone out of their way to keep him safe by limiting their contacts, washing their hands and social distancing when they saw him.

Angela said her father was cautious and had a mask and hand sanitizer at the ready when he went out.

“Did he wear his mask properly? Not sure. But he always had it. Did he sanitize his hands after pushing a carriage? Did he clean the carriage? I’m not sure.”

Pietro Iasenza celebrated his 89th birthday in June. His family thought he’d be around for many more. (Submitted by Angela Iasenza)

After Iasenza tested positive, his family cared for him at home, but they had to take him to Montreal’s Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital when his oxygen level dipped dangerously low.

It was the first time in his life Iasenza had ever been hospitalized.

They have no idea how he got infected. None of the places Iasenza frequented reported having sick employees and no one in their family or circle of friends had symptoms of the virus, said Angela.

She’d like to see stores adopt stricter cleaning guidelines and for people to take preventive measures seriously.

“He should have lived,” said Angela. “His mother died at 99. We thought we’d have him for a few more years.”

WATCH |She changed careers to work in a long term care facility, and then COVID-19 happened

Lisa started a new career as a leisure technician in a CHSLD just before the pandemic hit. As COVID ripped through long-term care homes in the first wave, she was infected. 3:55

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CBC | Health News

Cuba braces for storm Eta after deadly toll in Central America

Hundreds of thousands of Cubans began evacuating their homes on Saturday as Tropical Storm Eta neared the Caribbean island’s southern coast, threatening torrential rain and flooding after killing dozens in Central America.

The storm is expected to make landfall in central Cuba overnight, the Cuban meteorology’s office said, warning of winds of 90-110 kkm/h, a storm surge and heavy coastal flooding.

Inundations could be a problem more broadly, it said, given that Cuba was already waterlogged in the wake of recent heavy rains, and Eta could potentially dump more than 30 centimetres of water on the country. Already, outer bands of rain had unleashed 9.5 centimetres of water on eastern Cuba.

Cuban authorities, who are known for preparedness in the face of natural disaster, said that farmers were moving their livestock to secure locations and harvesting as much crop as possible before the storm hit.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said damaging tropical storm-force winds, with hurricane-force winds possible, were expected from Sunday night in the Florida Keys and parts of southern Florida.

A soldier helps a person to cross a flooded street after passage of Eta in La Lima, Honduras, on Saturday. (Jorge Cabrera/Reuters)

Heavy rainfall could also spark flash flooding there, it said.

One of the fiercest storms to hit Central America in years, Eta struck Nicaragua as a Category 4 hurricane on Tuesday with winds of 241 km/h before weakening to a tropical depression as it moved inland and into neighbouring Honduras and Belize.

Across swaths of the mostly poor countries wedged between Mexico and Colombia, high winds, torrential rains and catastrophic flooding caused deadly mudslides and damaged hundreds if not thousands of homes.

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CBC | World News

Man, 70, pulled out alive in Turkey as quake’s death toll hits 60

Rescue workers extricated a 70-year-old man from a collapsed building in western Turkey on Sunday, some 34 hours after a strong earthquake in the Aegean Sea struck Turkey and Greece, killing at least 60 people and injuring more than 900.

It was the latest series of remarkable rescues after the Friday afternoon earthquake, which was centred in the Aegean northeast of the Greek island of Samos. Search-and-rescue teams were working in nine toppled or damaged buildings in Izmir, Turkey’s third-largest city, but appeared to be finding more bodies Sunday than survivors.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan raised the death toll Sunday in Izmir to 58. Two teenagers were killed Friday on Samos and at least 19 others were injured.

There was some debate over the magnitude of the earthquake. The U.S. Geological Survey rated it 7.0, while Istanbul’s Kandilli Institute put it at 6.9 and Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD) said it measured 6.6.

Ahmet Citim, 70, was pulled out of the rubble in the middle of the night and was hospitalized. Health Minister Fahrettin Koca tweeted that Citim said: “I never lost hope.” The minister visited the survivor and said he was doing well.

An earthquake survivor waits on Sunday for news of his loved ones, believed to be trapped under collapsed buildings after a powerful earthquake struck in Izmir, Turkey on Friday afternoon. (Burak Kara/Getty Images)

The quake triggered a small tsunami that hit Samos and the Seferihisar district of Izmir, drowning one elderly woman. The tremors were felt across western Turkey, including in Istanbul, as well as in the Greek capital of Athens. Hundreds of aftershocks followed. Turkey’s disaster agency said 920 people were injured in Turkey alone.

Turkish Vice-President Fuat Oktay said 26 badly damaged buildings would be demolished.

“It’s not the earthquake that kills but buildings,” he said, repeating a common slogan.

Turkey has a mix of older buildings and cheap or illegal construction, which can lead to serious damage and deaths when earthquakes hit. Regulations have been tightened in light of earthquakes to strengthen or demolish buildings and urban renewal is underway in Turkish cities but it is not happening fast enough.

This aerial photo shows what’s left of one of nine buildings that was toppled or damaged by the quake in Izmir. (Ozan Kose/AFP/Getty Images)

Two destroyed apartment buildings in Izmir where much of the rescues are taking place had received reports of “decay” in 2012 and 2018, according to the municipal agency in charge of such certificates. Turkish media including the Hurriyet newspaper said one of the buildings, which was built in 1993, was at risk of earthquake damage because of its low-quality concrete and the lack of reinforcements. However, the building continued to be occupied.

Turkey’s justice minister said prosecutors had begun investigating several collapsed buildings and promised legal repercussions if experts identified neglect.

Turkey prone to earthquakes

AFAD said nearly 6,400 personnel had been activated for rescue work and hundreds of others for food distribution, emergency help and building damage control.

Turkey is criss-crossed by fault lines and is prone to earthquakes. In 1999, two powerful quakes killed some 18,000 people in northwestern Turkey. Earthquakes are frequent in Greece as well.

Mourners attend a funeral ceremony Sunday for two members of the Dogruya family who died in the earthquake in Izmir. (Burak Kara/Getty Images)

In a rare show of unity amid months of tense relations over energy resources in the eastern Mediterranean, Greek and Turkish government officials have issued mutual messages of solidarity over the quake toll.

The quake occurred as Turkey was already struggling with an economic downturn and the coronavirus pandemic. So far, Turkey has more than 10,000 confirmed virus deaths, but some experts have accused the government of concealing the true impact of the virus with the way it counts infections.

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Death toll reaches 27 in quake that hit Turkey, Greek island

Rescue teams on Saturday plowed through concrete blocks and the debris of eight collapsed buildings in search of survivors of a powerful earthquake that struck Turkey’s Aegean coast and north of the Greek island of Samos, killing at least 27 people. More than 800 others were injured.

The quake hit Friday afternoon, toppling buildings in Izmir, Turkey’s third largest city, and triggering a small tsunami in the district of Seferihisar and on Samos. The quake was followed by hundreds of aftershocks.

Early on Saturday, onlookers cheered as rescuers lifted teenager Inci Okan out of the rubble of a devastated eight-floor apartment block in Izmir’s Bayrakli district. Her dog, Fistik, was also rescued, Sozcu newspaper reported. Friends and relatives waited outside the building for news of loved ones still trapped inside, including employees of a dentist’s surgery that was located on the ground floor.

In another collapsed building, rescuers made contact with a 38-year-old woman and her four children — aged 3, 7 and 10-year old twins — and were working to clear a corridor to bring them out, state-run Anadolu Agency reported.

Two other women, aged 53 and 35, were brought out from the rubble of another toppled two-story building earlier on Saturday.

In all, around 100 people have been rescued since the earthquake, Murat Kurum, the environment and urban planning minister, told reporters.

Some 5,000 rescue personnel were working on the ground, Kurum said.

Rescue teams on Saturday ploughed through concrete blocs and debris of eight collapsed buildings in Izmir, Turkey’s third largest city, in search of survivors of a powerful earthquake. (Darko Bandic/The Associated Press)

At least 25 people were killed in Izmir, including an elderly woman who drowned, according to Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency, or AFAD.

Two teenagers were killed on Samos after being struck by a collapsing wall. At least 19 people were injured on the island, with two, including a 14-year-old, being airlifted to Athens and seven hospitalized on the island, health authorities said.

The small tsunami that hit the Turkish coast also affected Samos, with seawater flooding streets in the main harbour town of Vathi. Authorities warned people to stay away from the coast and from potentially damaged buildings.

The earthquake, which the Istanbul-based Kandilli Institute said had a magnitude of 6.9, was centred in the Aegean northeast of Samos. AFAD said it measured 6.6. and hit at a depth of some 16 kilometres.

It was felt across the eastern Greek islands and as far as Athens and in Bulgaria. In Turkey, it shook the regions of Aegean and Marmara, including Istanbul. Istanbul’s governor said there were no reports of damage in the city, Turkey’s largest.

Turkey is crossed by fault lines and is prone to earthquakes. In 1999, two powerful quakes killed some 87,000 people in northwestern Turkey. Earthquakes are frequent in Greece too.

Authorities warned residents in Izmir not to return to damaged buildings, saying they could collapse in strong aftershocks. Many people spent the night out in the streets, too frightened to return to their homes, even if they sustained no damage, the DHA news agency reported.

Men sit on the ground during rescue operations in Izmir, Turkey on Saturday after an earthquake struck the Aegean Sea. (Murad Sezer/Reuters)

More than 3,000 rescue personnel were sent to Izmir, as well as relief supplies. The Turkish Red Crescent set up kitchens.

In a show of solidarity rare in recent months of tense bilateral relations, Greek and Turkish government officials issued mutual messages of solidarity while the presidents of Greece and Turkey held a telephone conversation.

Relations between Turkey and Greece have been particularly tense, with warships from both facing off in the eastern Mediterranean in a dispute over maritime boundaries and energy exploration rights. The ongoing tension has led to fears of open conflict between the two neighbours and NATO allies.

WATCH | Earthquake strikes in the Aegean Sea between the Turkish coast and the Greek island of Samos:

More than a dozen people were killed and hundreds were injured when a massive earthquake struck the Aegean Sea between the Turkish coast and the Greek island of Samos. 1:44

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COVID-19 taking a toll in prisons, with high infection rates, CBC News analysis shows

Robert Langevin was scared he might die behind bars.

“I am an urgent case and I am a vulnerable human being. I have rights. This isn’t human,” he pleaded in writing with Quebec’s provincial ombudsman in March from his cell at Bordeaux jail, known officially as the Montreal Detention Centre, where he was awaiting trial.

The 72-year-old from Valleyfield, Que., had heart problems, and he needed daily medical care and an oxygen mask. “I don’t want to die here,” he wrote.

That was on March 27. A few weeks later, the jail where he was being held was hit by one of the biggest COVID-19 outbreaks in the country. Ninety-six inmates and 39 employees tested positive for the virus — among them, Langevin.

“I couldn’t care for my brother. It’s like he was abandoned,” his sister Pierrette Langevin said in an interview with CBC News.

A preliminary analysis by CBC News suggests that, despite prevention measures such as releasing thousands of low-risk offenders, infection rates are still five times higher in provincial jails and up to nine times higher in federal facilities than in the general population.

Overall, 600 inmates and 229 employees have tested positive for COVID-19 and three people have died in federal or provincial correctional institutions for which data was available, CBC’s analysis found. 

Confined to cells 24 hours a day

Pierrette Langevin said her older brother was an optimistic man with a big heart who loved throwing dinners and block parties at his home, collected clothing for charity drives and would call the city any time a lamp went out at the neighbourhood playground.

Pierrette Langevin, Robert’s sister, said the family started worrying after he stopped calling home in early May. They had no idea some inmates at Bordeaux jail were being confined to their cells for 24 hours a day after a first case of COVID-19 was found. (Carl Mondello/CBC)

He’d served time for a string of break and enters in his youth but had been keeping to himself and working odd jobs, including as a mechanic, an electrician, a bar manager and a butcher, before being arrested in December on drug-trafficking charges.

The family started worrying after Langevin stopped calling home in early May. They had no idea some inmates at Bordeaux jail were being confined to their cells for 24 hours a day — with no access to phones, laundry or showers — after a first case of COVID-19 was found.

On May 19, they received a call late at night from Montreal’s Sacré-Cœur Hospital. On the line was the jail’s chaplain, who told them Langevin likely wouldn’t make it through the night.

He died in the following hours, too sick to say goodbye to his family.

“It’s a shock. How come I couldn’t talk to him?” his sister said. “Why didn’t the jail tell us he was so sick?” 

Higher risk for outbreaks

While the federal and Quebec governments regularly publish detailed figures on testing and confirmed COVID-19 cases in jails and prisons, the rest of the provinces and territories do not. In May and June, CBC News asked every correctional department in the country for its statistics on testing, confirmed cases and number of inmates. They all replied except Nunavut. Several provinces had zero cases to report.

Thirty-nine out of 137 provincial and federal institutions for which data was available, or one in four, reported at least one inmate or employee who tested positive for COVID-19.

“Even before COVID-19, we knew that prison environments were at high risk for outbreaks,” said Alexandra Blair, a researcher at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health who’s been tracking cases of the virus in federal jails for an upcoming study.

Blair said that much like residents of long-term care homes, inmates are more at risk in part because they live in close quarters with many common areas and interact daily with several employees for their basic needs, such as meals, access to the yard and showers.

“We have a lot of people crowded in small spaces, sometimes in buildings that are older that don’t have great ventilation,” she said.

“These are also places where everybody eats next to each other. They are perfect environments when you’re thinking about something that can be passed on through a cough or droplets.”

Bordeaux jail in Montreal was hit by one of the biggest COVID-19 outbreaks in the country. Ninety-six inmates and 39 employees tested positive for the virus, including Langevin. (Daniel Thomas/Radio-Canada)

CBC’s figures also show how pervasively the virus can spread behind bars in a given institution: The majority of confirmed cases — more than 80 per cent — are concentrated in two provincial and three federal facilities in Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia, including Montreal’s Bordeaux jail.

Along with Bordeaux, one of Canada’s hardest-hit provincial jails is the Ontario Correctional Institute in Brampton, where 91 inmates and 25 employees tested positive for the virus.

The most-impacted federal penitentiaries are the Federal Training Centre in Laval, Que., and B.C.’s Mission medium-security institution — where the data suggests as many as a third of inmates were infected.

More data and testing figures needed, says expert

The numbers obtained by CBC are not a complete picture. Several provinces, including B.C. and Ontario, said they couldn’t break down their testing figures by jail or by day. Many didn’t know how many employees had been tested. Others didn’t specify if testing figures included multiple swabs of the same person.

“Having all that information will be essential for us now but also going forward with COVID-19,” Blair said. “The outbreaks that we see now are likely not the last.”

Available figures suggest 45 per cent of provincial inmates have been tested while 11 per cent of all federal prisoners have been swabbed, compared with nine per cent of the general population.

Infection rates were calculated using a snapshot of the total number of inmates per facility on one day between May and July, as provided by each correctional department. With the exception of B.C., CBC was not provided with weekly counts of newly admitted and released inmates. It is unclear whether the inmate population changed dramatically on a daily basis during the period we examined.

‘You have to be fearful,’ says Ottawa prisoner

CBC News spoke with current or recently released inmates in several facilities across the country, including a man who was held at Bordeaux with Robert Langevin.

“Things like masks and gloves, that all started at least three weeks too late,” said Claude Laberge, who was staying in Block C. He said at least 10 people were infected in that area.

Laberge, who now lives with his partner’s elderly relatives, said he got tested immediately after his release in early May and learned then that he’d contracted the virus behind bars.

“We would see guards, no gloves, sharing food or giving medication [to inmates] with no masks … and we would scream at them to distance or be careful,” he said. “It was causing a lot of sparks and tension inside.”

None of the current or former inmates were surprised to learn they are more at risk behind bars.

For those still incarcerated, they said they don’t have masks or gloves and are given little access to water or soap to wash their hands. Few physical distancing measures have been put in place, they said.

“My anxiety is always through the roof,” said Deepan Budlakoti. He’s being held at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre, which has no reported cases of the virus.

“You have to be fearful because at any given point, this jail could fall on lockdown.”

Since the beginning of the pandemic, advocates have been organizing noise protests in front of prisons, including Bordeaux jail in Montreal, demanding action to stop the spread of COVID-19 behind bars, in solidarity with prisoners. (Courtesy of Jamie Ross)

According to CBC’s research, at least 3,000 inmates across the country have been placed in isolation since the beginning of the pandemic in March  to prevent or contain a COVID outbreak — including in facilities without any cases.

In a statement to CBC, Ontario’s Ministry of the Solicitor General said measures to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus in its facilities include “medical isolation of impacted inmates as appropriate,” but it stressed that “there is no blanket lockdown in our institutions in response to COVID-19.”

Correctional Service Canada explained in an email that all new prisoners, as well as symptomatic individuals or close contacts of symptomatic individuals, are placed in medical isolation “as a precautionary measure … to protect inmates that do not have the virus and those who may be more vulnerable.”

In June, the Correctional Investigator of Canada issued a report criticizing the practice of  isolating inmates, stating, “My office is looking for an overall lifting of restrictions on conditions of confinement…. Rights need to be respected and restored,” it said.

“It’s a form of torture,” said a guard in B.C.’s Mission jail, where 120 inmates and 12 employees were infected — and another inmate died. CBC agreed to conceal his identity because he fears losing his job for speaking with the media.

A prison guard keeps watch at a secure mobile medical unit set up at the Abbotsford Regional Hospital to treat prisoners from the Mission correctional institution infected with COVID-19, in Abbotsford, B.C., in April. (Jesse Winter/Reuters)

Correctional officers were explicitly told not to wear masks in the early days of the pandemic, as management feared it would scare inmates, the guard said. “They’re not going to be intimidated because we wear a mask. In fact, the inmates wanted us to be wearing masks.”

Blair, the U of T researcher, said prisons and jails have a “toolbox of interventions” they can use to slow or stop the spread of infections, including ramped-up hygiene, universal testing and protective equipment for inmates and guards.

But if those tools aren’t used effectively and facilities rely only on long-term isolation, she said, “that is not … humane or just.”

The B.C. guard also said that despite management knowing an inmate tested positive for COVID-19, he was allowed to continue coming in contact with staff and other inmates for several hours afterward. This lack of precaution may have caused the outbreak at Mission, he said.

“I just look at it like they were just playing Russian roulette with everyone’s lives.”

Pierrette says her older brother, Robert, was an optimistic man with a big heart who worked odd jobs, including as a mechanic, an electrician, a bar manager and a butcher. (Submitted)

Pierrette Langevin said she feels her brother lost that lottery — and that little was done to prevent his death.

“I forget about the inmate. I see the man, my brother, someone in pain who needed help.”

Both Quebec’s Ministry of Public Security and the provincial coroner have launched investigations into allegations of negligence surrounding Langevin’s death.

At this time, he remains the first death related to COVID-19 in a provincial jail in Canada.

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