British Columbia imposes fresh curbs on nightclubs as COVID-19 cases spike

OTTAWA (Reuters) - British Columbia on Tuesday ordered the closure of all nightclubs and Ontario delayed an easing of remaining restrictions imposed to fight the coronavirus pandemic, as Canada reported a spike in new COVID-19 cases.

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The rise comes as schools across the country started to reopen after a nearly five-month forced shutdown to contain the spread of the virus, which has killed 9,153 people, according to latest government data. New cases jumped by 1,606 in the past 24 hours, taking the total to 133,748.

“This week is a really critical week,” Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam said. An average of 545 new cases had been reported daily over the past week, up from about 300 in July.

“This is concerning ... when cases occur, including in schools, it is a reflection on what’s happening in the community,” Tam told a briefing.

Canada’s western province of British Columbia has asked restaurants, pubs and bars to end sale of liquor at 10:00 p.m. and ordered bars and restaurants to close by 11:00 p.m., unless serving food, according to a government statement.

Several of Canada’s 10 provinces started reopening schools this week for in-person learning after investing millions in added protections. Quebec, which welcomed back pupils last month, has already reported a number of cases in schools.

Tam noted the increase in infections was concentrated among younger adults and cited the risk posed by private functions and family gatherings.

Alberta, which reopened schools one week ago, reported 11 COVID-19 cases spread across 11 different schools, Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw said on Tuesday, adding the infections were spread in the community, and not acquired within the schools.

Alberta now has 1,692 known active cases, the most since early May.

The premier of Ontario, Canada’s most-populous province, railed against young people and students who he said were holding unauthorized parties and warned them he wanted the police to lay charges if necessary.

“No more parties. I just can’t stress it enough,” Doug Ford told a briefing on Tuesday. Ontario is suspending by a month efforts to lift remaining restrictions in place to fight the outbreak.

The coronavirus reproduction number, which shows how many people someone with COVID-19 is infecting, has risen to just above one, an indication that the virus is spreading.

“That is not a good sign,” Tam said.

Quebec unveiled a four-step alert system for measures to curb COVID-19 that would introduce restrictions such as limiting the number of people allowed to gather depending on the risk of transmission.

Reporting by David Ljunggren and Julie Gordon in Ottawa,; Additional reporting by Allison Lampert in Montreal and Allison Martell in Toronto and Rod Nickel in Winnipeg; Editing by Peter Cooney, Tom Brown and Richard Pullin