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Virtual Thanksgiving gatherings urged to control COVID-19


OTTAWA — Canadians should celebrate Thanksgiving virtually this weekend to avoid spreading COVID-19, federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu said Tuesday.

Hajdu’s advice came at the second government health briefing in as many days as COVID-19 cases continue to rise across the country, with Quebec and Ontario leading the way.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, and her deputy, Dr. Howard Njoo, echoed the message to Canadians to avoid indoor gatherings and discouraged visits to restaurants and bars that are currently allowed to serve patrons in most provinces as falling temperatures drive customers off outdoor patios.

Tam said case counts across the country have risen to an average of 1,951 a day over the most recent seven days. That seven-day average fell as low as 273 in early July.

“It's been a challenging week and virtual dinners, although less appealing rather than an in-person gathering, can make a difference in reducing the spread of COVID,” Hajdu said.

“Saying no to friends and close ones is an act of love.”

Tam said people often head indoors as it gets colder and the weather becomes harder to predict.

"We will be able to return to these cosy indoor gatherings one day," she said. "But while we live with COVID-19, we all need to think carefully about our Thanksgiving plans this year to protect ourselves, our loved ones and communities."

Families and close friends give us comfort, she acknowledged.

"It might feel safer together with them. But this is in fact a false sense of security, and can increase the risk of COVID-19 for those you love the most."

Even if people choose to gather outdoors with people they don’t already live with, they need to take precautions, Tam said, including maintaining proper distance while bringing their own food and objects.

“Too close is too close even if you are outdoors,” Tam said.

Canada’s two most populous provinces remained COVID-19 hot spots, with Quebec setting a record for new daily cases.

Cases are surging in several parts of the country, but Quebec and Ontario account for about 80 per cent of the country's total.

Quebec reported 1,364 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 Tuesday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in that province to 81,014.

It was Quebec’s fifth consecutive day of more than 1,000 new diagnoses, eclipsing Monday’s record of 1,191.

Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé said the second wave of the pandemic is hitting his province differently from the initial outbreak in the spring. The first wave saw serious outbreaks in long-term care centres but there was limited community transmission outside of them.

Now, there are more than 500 active outbreaks across the province, and Dubé said the government doesn't know how the virus is spreading through the community.

"It's really hard to say, when you have a student being diagnosed at school, where he got it. Did he get it from his parent? Did he get it from his friend? From an uncle who got it at work?” said Dubé.

Ontario’s count of new diagnoses fell slightly today to 548, down from 615 on Monday. But Ontario has also reduced its testing over the past few days as assessment centres have switched from walk-ins to appointment systems.

Hajdu said that 3.5 million Canadians have downloaded the COVID Alert app, as she urged all Canadians to use it, saying it could provide a heads-up about outbreaks in remote communities, for instance.

Federal officials could not say in a briefing Tuesday which provinces saw the highest uptick in usage. A total of 160,000 of those downloads occurred in the past 24 hours, after Quebec became the latest province to adopt the application on Monday.

Health Canada also announced it had approved another rapid test for COVID-19. The Panbio antigen test can deliver results on site, in less than 15 minutes. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 6, 2020.

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said 3.5 million Canadians have uploaded the COVID Alert app.

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