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Canada frets over rising coronavirus cases as schools start to reopen

OTTAWA, Sept 8 (Reuters) - Canada is seeing a worrying increase in the number of people infected with the coronavirus as schools across the country are starting to reopen, a top medical official said on Tuesday.

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam said an average of 545 new cases had been reported daily over the last week, up from around 300 in July.

“This is concerning and I want to underscore that when cases occur, including in schools, it is a reflection on what’s happening in the community,” she told a briefing. “This week is a really critical week.”

Several of the 10 provinces have started to reopen schools this week for the first time since March after investing millions in added protections. Quebec, which welcomed back pupils last month, has already reported several cases.

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

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.

Canada has recorded a total of 132,142 COVID-19 cases and 9,146 deaths.

The rising number of cases prompted Ontario, the most populous province, to announce on Tuesday a one-month suspension of efforts to lift remaining restrictions that had been imposed to fight the outbreak.

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.

Further west, Saskatchewan announced C$51 million ($38.6 million) in one-time COVID-19 related funding to schools. The largest item is sanitization, including hiring 191 new custodial staff. ($1=1.3200 Canadian dollars) (Reporting by Allison Lampert in Montreal, Allison Martell in Montreal, and Julie Gordon in Ottawa; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

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