OTTAWA — As new cases of COVID-19 surge across Canada, the federal government and the provinces have been imposing stricter measures to try to limit the illness's spread. The Canadian Press interviewed three leading Canadian experts in disease control and epidemiology, asking their thoughts on Canada's handling of the pandemic, the new restrictions on activities — and what else can be done. Here's what they had to say. John Brownstein, Montreal-born Harvard University epidemiologist and chief innovation officer at Boston Children's Hospital Having a national testing strategy in Canada that uses rapid tests people could do at home would limit the spread of the virus, Brownstein says. "That would enable us to get insight on infection and actually have people isolate," he says. No such tests have been approved in Canada yet. "We've been saying this all along, so it's not just a purely Canadian issue, but having a strategy that implements that kind of information would go a long way to drive infections down in communities while we wait for the vaccine." Brownstein says curfews have unintended consequences because they force people to get together over a shorter period of time during the day. "We haven't seen a lot of evidence that curfews have driven down infection." He says a mix of testing and quarantine is the best way to make sure international travellers don't cause outbreaks when they return from the pandemic hot spots. Testing alone is not enough, he says, because tests can come back negative during the novel coronavirus's incubation period; people should be careful about relying on test results that could give a false sense of security. Brownstein says pandemic fatigue is real and the governments' support for people suffering in the crisis should continue. He says promoting low-risk activities, including walking and exercising outdoors, is also important. "Whatever we can do to allow for people to spend more time outside, probably the better." David Juncker, professor of medicine and chair of the department of biomedical engineering at McGill University Canada needs a national strategy for how to use rapid tests for the virus that causes COVID-19, says Juncker. Juncker is an adviser for Rapid Test and Trace, an organization advocating for a mass rapid-testing system across Canada. "Initially the Canadian government (spoke) against (rapid tests) and then they pivoted sometime in October or September," he says. The federal government then bought thousands of rapid tests and sent them to the provinces, where they've mostly sat unused. "Every province is trying to come up with their own way of trying them — running their own individual pilots. There's a lack of exchange of information and lack of guidelines in terms of how to best deploy them," he says. Juncker says the testing regime based on swabs collected in central testing sites was working in the summer but it collapsed in the fall. He says medical professionals prefer those tests because they are more accurate and can detect low levels of the virus, which is important for diagnoses, but rapid tests can be useful for public health through sheer volume, if they're used properly. A federal advisory panel's report released Friday, laying out the best uses for different kinds of tests, is a step in the right direction, he says. "I'm happy to see we're slowly shifting from the point of view of 'Should we use rapid tests?' to a point of view (of) 'How can we best use them?'" More recent research suggests that rapid tests are more accurate than was previously thought, he says. "We still don't have enough capacity to test everyone so we'd have to use them in a strategic way." Juncker says the lockdowns in Ontario and Quebec should have happened earlier in the fall, when cases started to rise. He says the late lockdowns in Canada won't be as effective as those in countries such as Australia, New Zealand and South Korea, where early lockdowns effectively stopped the disease from spreading. "Countries that were most aggressive early on, are the ones that have, I think, the best outcome." He says countries where health decisions are fragmented across the country, including Canada, have added challenges. "If you live in Ottawa-Gatineau, you have one province (that) allows one thing, the other province allows another thing, so this creates confusion among the citizens," he said. Donald Sheppard, chair of the department of microbiology and immunology in the faculty of medicine at McGill University and member of Canada's COVID-19 therapeutics task force: Canada's federal-provincial sharing of power over health care is highly inefficient and has led to major problems, says Sheppard. "There's a lot breakdown in communication, a lot of territorialism. It's greatly impacted the efficiency of the response," he says. The problems in long-term care homes are examples. "Quebec is screaming they want money but they're refusing to sign on to the minimum standards of long term care," he says. "I think it's heinous." He says highly centralized authority and decision-making has had a stifling effect on innovation. "It puts up roadblocks, and has led to the Canadian health-care system having lost any attempt to be innovative and nimble," he says. Sheppard says he doesn't think there will be mass vaccinations for Canadians this summer and the September timetable that the federal government is talking about for vaccinating everybody is optimistic. "Remember that we don't have vaccines that are approved in under-11-year-olds," he says. "There will still be opportunities for the virus to circulate in children, particularly children are in school settings." He suggested that the current immunization campaign's goal is not herd immunity, eliminating transmission of the virus and rendering is extinct. "The goal here is to create an iron wall of immunity around the 'susceptibles' in our population, such that this becomes a virus of the same public health importance as influenza." This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 18, 2020 ——— This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship. Maan Alhmidi, The Canadian Press
Moscow is ready for a quick deal with the incoming administration of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden to extend the last remaining arms control pact, which expires in just over two weeks, Russia's top diplomat said Monday. Months of talks between Russia and President Donald Trump's administration on the possible extension of the New START treaty have failed to narrow their differences. The pact is set to expire on Feb. 5. Biden has spoken in favour of the preservation of the New START treaty, which was negotiated during his tenure as U.S. vice-president, and Russia has said it’s open for its quick and unconditional extension Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at a news conference Monday that Moscow is ready to move quickly to keep the pact alive. “The most important priority is the absolutely abnormal situation in the sphere of arms control,” Lavrov said. “We have heard about the Biden administration’s intention to resume a dialogue on this issue and try to agree on the New START treaty's extension before it expires on Feb. 5. We are waiting for specific proposals, our stance is well-known and it remains valid." New START envisages the possibility of its extension for another five years, and Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that Moscow is ready to do so without any conditions. The Kremlin also has voiced readiness to prolong the pact for a shorter term as Trump's administration had pondered. The talks on the treaty's extension have been clouded by tensions between Russia and the United States that have been fueled by the Ukrainian crisis, Moscow's meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and other irritants. Sunday's arrest of Putin's leading critic Alexei Navalny in Moscow after his return from Germany where he was recovering from a nerve agent poisoning he blamed on the Kremlin would further cloud Russia-U.S. ties. Joe Biden’s pick for national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, called on Russian authorities to free Navalny. “Mr. Navalny should be immediately released, and the perpetrators of the outrageous attack on his life must be held accountable,” Sullivan said in a tweet. New START was signed in 2010 by U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. It limits each country to no more than 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads and 700 deployed missiles and bombers, and envisages sweeping on-site inspections to verify compliance. Arms control advocates have strongly called for its preservation, warning that its expiration would remove any checks on U.S. and Russian nuclear forces, striking a blow to global stability. Vladimir Isachenkov, The Associated Press
TOKYO — Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga vowed Monday to get the pandemic under control and hold the already postponed Olympics this summer with ample coronavirus protection. In a speech opening a new Parliament session, Suga said his government would revise laws to make anti-virus measures enforceable with penalties and compensation. Early in the pandemic, Japan was able to keep its virus caseload manageable with non-binding requests for businesses to close or operate with social distancing and for people to stay home. But recent weeks have seen several highs in new cases per day, in part blamed on eased attitudes toward the anti-virus measures, and doubts are growing as more contagious variants spread while people wait for vaccines and the Olympics draw closer. Suga said his government aims to start vaccinations as early as late February. “In order to restore sense of safety, I will get the coronavirus pandemic, which has raged worldwide and is now severely affecting Japan, under control as soon as possible,” Suga said. “I will stand at the frontline of the battle while I get the people's co-operation." Suga pledged to achieve the Olympics as “a proof of human victory against the coronavirus." “We will have full anti-infection measures in place and proceed with preparation with a determination to achieve the Games that can deliver hope and courage throughout the world," he said. Recent media polls show about 80% of the Japanese public think the Olympics will not or should not happen. Suga said the vaccine is the “clincher” of the pandemic and hopes to start vaccination when Japan's Health Ministry is expected to approve the vaccine developed by Pfizer, one of three foreign suppliers to Japan, as early as late February. But the pace of inoculation could be slow, as surveys have shown many people have safety concerns. Suga later told reporters that he created a new ministerial post to ensure smooth delivery of safe and effective vaccines, appointing Administrative Reform Minister Taro Kono to double as vaccine minister. Suga also said in his speech, just two days ahead of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, that he hoped to meet the new American leader soon to further strengthen the Japan-U.S. alliance and to co-operate on the pandemic, climate change and other key issues. Japan has confirmed more than 330,000 infections and 4,500 deaths from COVID-19, numbers that have surged recently though they are still far smaller than many other countries of its size. Suga on Jan. 7 issued a state of emergency for the Tokyo area and expanded the step last Wednesday as the surge in infections strained medical systems. But he has been criticized for being slow to put preventative measures in place after the new surge began, apparently due to his government’s reluctance to further hurt the economy. He kept the state-subsidized “Go To” travel promotion campaign active until late December, which critics say misguided the public when people needed to practice more restraint. Suga in Monday’s speech made no mention of the “Go To” campaign, which was designed to support the tourism industry devastated by the pandemic. The state of emergency — covering more than half of Japan’s 127 million people — asks bars and restaurants to close by 8 p.m., employees to have 70% of their staff work from home and residents to avoid leaving home for nonessential purposes. It's set to end Feb. 7 but could be extended. One of the proposed changes to anti-virus measures would legalize compensation for business owners who co-operate with such measures and allow fines or imprisonment for those who defy them. Suga's government also plans to revise the infectious disease law to allow authorities to penalize patients who refuse to be hospitalized or co-operate with health officials, Economy Revitalization Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, in charge of virus measures, said on a NHK public television talk show Sunday. Health officials believe a growing number of people are defying instructions from health officials to self-isolate or be hospitalized, spreading the virus and making contact tracing difficult. Opposition lawmakers and experts are cautious about punishment for the patients, citing human rights concerns. They also say such punishment is pointless when hospitals are running out of beds and forcing hundreds of people to wait at home. ___ Follow Mari Yamaguchi on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/mariyamaguchi Mari Yamaguchi, The Associated Press
MONTREAL — A growing number of Canadian entrepreneurs say they plan to invest more in 2021 than they did last year as the vaccine rollout, improving cash flow and a quick rebound in some sectors buoys optimism for the year ahead. The findings of the Business Development Bank of Canada’s quarterly survey of 1,000 entrepreneurs released in a new report today are the most upbeat since the pandemic began. Pierre Cleroux, chief economist of the Montreal-based bank, says the more positive results bode well for the country’s economic recovery. He says investment intentions are improving, with technology emerging as the biggest focus of spending. The bank’s survey found that the key reasons for investing in technology included improving processes to reduce costs, boosting a company’s online presence and investing in remote working. Cleroux says while many entrepreneurs were wary about allowing employees to work from home before the pandemic, he says the last 10 months have shown it can benefit a business. “The pandemic has changed the game,” he said. “It changed the perception of working from home.” Cleroux said remote work can improve productivity, increase worker motivation and spur innovation. “It can also reduce costs,” he said, noting that 18 per cent of business owners surveyed by the bank said they plan to reduce their office space. Despite an increase in COVID-19 cases across much of the country, Cleroux said the optimism uncovered by the survey is unlikely to change. Businesses understand that once restrictions are lifted, the economy will rebound much faster than with other recessions, he said. “This optimism we’re seeing will likely survive the second wave of the virus because we all believe the vaccine is going to improve drastically the situation of the economy,” Cleroux said. Still, while business confidence has improved for the first time since the pandemic began, the study found that investment intentions compared to previous years are still relatively weak. Across Canada, business investment intentions for the next 12 months are down three per cent compared with last winter, for example, but have improved significantly from last spring’s rock bottom decrease of 32 per cent, according to the bank’s report. Investment intentions is the difference between negative and positive business sentiment. Of note are the investment intentions of small- and medium-sized enterprises in Atlantic Canada and Quebec, which at one per cent and four per cent, respectively, are the only positive results on investment intentions in the survey. Meanwhile, investment intentions in B.C. are down three per cent, Ontario came in at four per cent lower, while the Prairie provinces were the lowest at a 13 per cent decline. The online survey of business owners was completed between Dec. 3 and Dec. 18, 2020. The poll measures the confidence of entrepreneurs in the economy, business and hiring outlooks, as well as investment plans over the next 12 months. According to the polling industry’s generally accepted standards, online surveys cannot be assigned a margin of error because they do not randomly sample the population. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 18, 2021. The Canadian Press
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Saudi Arabia, for years one of the world's most prolific executioners, dramatically reduced the number of people put to death last year, following changes halting executions for non-violent drug-related crimes, according to the government’s tally and independent observers. The Saudi government’s Human Rights Commission said Monday it documented 27 executions in 2020. That's compared to an all-time high of 184 executions the year before as documented by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. The change represents an 85% reduction in the number of people put to death last year, compared to 2019. "The sharp decrease was brought about in part by a moratorium on death penalties for drug-related offences,” the Saudi rights commission said. When asked by The Associated Press, the commission said the new law ordering a stop to such executions came into effect sometime last year. The new directive for judges does not appear to have been published publicly and it was not immediately clear whether the law was changed by royal decree, as is typically the case. The AP previously reported that Saudi Arabia last year also ordered an end to the death penalty for crimes committed by minors and ordered judges to end the controversial practice of public flogging, replacing it with jail time, fines or community service. The force behind these changes is 34-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has the backing of his father, King Salman. In an effort to modernize the country, attract foreign investment and revamp the economy, the prince has spearheaded a range of reforms curtailing the power of ultraconservative Wahhabis, who adhere to a strict interpretation of Islam that many Saudis still practice. For years, the kingdom's high rate of executions was in large part due to the number of people executed for non-lethal offences, which judges had wide discretion to rule on, particularly for drug-related crimes. Amnesty International ranked Saudi Arabia third in the world for the highest number of executions in 2019, after China where the number of executions is believed to be in the thousands, and Iran. Among those put to death that year by Saudi Arabia were 32 minority Shiites convicted on terrorism charges related to their participation in anti-government protests and clashes with police. While some crimes, such as premeditated murder, can carry fixed punishments under the Saudi interpretation of Islamic law, or Shariah, drug-related offences are considered “ta’zir,” meaning neither the crime nor the punishment is defined in Islam. Discretionary judgments for “ta’zir” crimes led to arbitrary rulings with contentious outcomes. The kingdom has long been criticized by independent rights groups for applying the death sentence for non-violent crimes related to drug trafficking. Many of those executed for such crimes were often poor Yemenis or low-level drug smugglers of South Asia descent, with the latter having little to no knowledge of Arabic and unable to understand or read the charges against them in court. Saudi Arabia carries out executions mainly by beheading and sometimes in public. The kingdom had argued that public executions and those of drug traffickers serve as a deterrent to combat crime. “The moratorium on drug-related offences means the kingdom is giving more non-violent criminals a second chance," the president of the government's Human Rights Commission, Awwad Alawwad, said. In a statement obtained by the AP, he said the change represents a sign the Saudi justice system is focusing more on rehabilitation and prevention rather than solely on punishment. According to Human Rights Watch, there were just five executions for drug-related crimes last year in Saudi Arabia, all in January 2020. Human Rights Watch Deputy Middle East Director Adam Coogle said the decrease in executions is a positive sign, but that the Saudi authorities must also address “the country’s horribly unfair and biased criminal justice system that hands down these sentences.” “As authorities announce reforms, Saudi prosecutors are still seeking the death penalty for high-profile detainees for nothing more than their peaceful ideas and political affiliations,” he said. “Saudi Arabia must immediately end all executions and death sentences for non-violent crimes.” ___ Follow Aya Batrawy on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ayaelb Aya Batrawy, The Associated Press
It's been nearly a year since some P.E.I. gymnasts have had a chance to test their skills at a competitive level, but this weekend they got a taste of it. Provincial championships were cancelled and some athletes lost their opportunity to compete at the national level. It's all due to COVID-19 and the travel restrictions created by it. However, on Sunday, the Island Gymnastics Academy hosted a test competition. "It's just to … get their feet wet and get a feeling of all the jitters of trying to perform," said Shelley Ferguson, competitive program director at the academy. Usually the test happens right before Christmas, but circuit-breaker restrictions closed the academy for 10 days, Ferguson said. "The end of February, first of March, was our last actual competing time but they have been training since June," she said. "We feel very blessed because there are a lot of clubs across Canada that are completely closed." Island gymnast Isabelle MacKinnon, in Grade 8 at Queen Charlotte Intermediate School, said she was worried she may have forgotten a few things. But it all came back when she hit the floor. "The last time I competed was back last February, so it feels a little weird to get back, but it feels good," she said. "I like seeing my friends and like competing. Competing is really fun, especially at … floor because you have your own music." MacKinnon said she hopes she can get back to competing outside of P.E.I. soon. Parents, physically distanced and wearing masks, were able to watch as the gymnasts practised on floor, bars, vault and beam. "This is sort of the first competitive event that our gymnasts have had in which they are able to put on their gym suit and perform in front of judges," said Nick Murray, executive director of the academy. "I think everybody is delighted. I know the gymnasts have been really excited the last couple weeks. It gives the parents an opportunity as well. They haven't been in the gym in 10 months." Competition season usually runs from January until around May. 2021 competitions? Murray said he already knows the Eastern Canadian championships has been cancelled and there is a question mark around the nationals. "We just have to be grateful for what we got," he said. "The fact we are able to … run a program, it certainly is a good thing for us as a club." More from CBC P.E.I.
SEOUL, Korea, Republic Of — South Korea’s president on Monday urged the incoming Biden administration to build upon the achievements and learn from the failures of President Donald Trump’s diplomatic engagement with North Korea. A dovish liberal and the son of northern war refugees, Moon Jae-in had lobbied hard to help set up Trump’s three summits with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, but their diplomacy stalemated over disagreements over easing crippling U.S.-led sanctions for the North’s disarmament. Biden has accused Trump of chasing the spectacle of summits rather than meaningful curbs on the North’s nuclear capabilities. North Korea has a history of staging weapons tests and other provocations to test new U.S. presidents, and Kim vowed to strengthen his nuclear weapons program in recent political speeches that were seen as aimed at pressuring the incoming Biden administration. The South Korean leader has been desperate to keep alive a positive atmosphere for dialogue in the face of Kim’s vows to further expand a nuclear and missile program that threatens Asian U.S. allies and the American homeland. And while Moon acknowledged that Biden is likely to try a different approach than Trump, he stressed that Biden could still learn from Trump’s successes and failures in dealing with North Korea. During a mostly virtual news conference in Seoul, Moon claimed that Kim still had a “clear willingness” to denuclearize if Washington and Pyongyang could find mutually agreeable steps to decrease the nuclear threat and ensure the North’s security. Most experts see Kim’s recent comments as further evidence he will maintain his weapons program to ensure his regime’s survival. When asked about the North’s efforts to increase its ballistic capacity to strike targets throughout South Korea, including U.S. bases there, Moon said the South could sufficiently cope with such threats with its missile defence systems and other military assets. “The start of the Biden administration provides a new opportunity to start over talks between North Korea and the United States and also between South and North Korea,” which have stalled amid the stalemate in nuclear negotiations, Moon said. “The North Korean efforts to expand its nuclear program and acquire more weapons systems are all because we have not succeeded yet in reaching an agreement over denuclearization and establishing peace. These are problems that could all be solved by success in dialogue,” he said. During an eight-day congress of North Korea’s Workers’ Party that ended last week, Kim described the United States as his country’s “foremost principal enemy.” He didn’t entirely rule out talks, but he said the fate of bilateral relations would depend on whether Washington abandons its hostile policy toward Pyongyang. The erosion in inter-Korean relations have been a major setback to Moon, who met Kim three times in 2018 while expressing ambitions to reboot inter-Korean economic engagement when possible, voicing optimism that international sanctions could end and allow such projects. Moon said the South would continue to seek ways to improve relations with the North within the boundary of sanctions, such as pursuing humanitarian assistance and joint anti-virus efforts against COVID-19. But Kim during the ruling party congress already described such offers as “inessential” while slamming South Korea for its own efforts to strengthen defence capabilities and continuing annual military exercises with the United States, which were downsized under Trump to create space for diplomacy. Experts say Pyongyang is pressuring Seoul to break away from Washington by halting their joint drills and to defy sanctions and restart inter-Korean economic co-operation. During Trump’s first summit with Kim in June 2018, they pledged to improve bilateral relations and issued vague aspirational vows for a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula without describing when and how it would occur. But the negotiations faltered after their second meeting in February 2019 when the Americans rejected the North Korean demands for major sanctions relief in exchange for the dismantling of an aging nuclear reactor, which would have amounted to a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities. Moon said that Trump and Kim’s agreement in their first meeting was still relevant and the Biden administration should take lessons from the failures of their second meeting, “The declaration in Singapore under the Trump administration was a very important declaration for denuclearization and building peace in the Korean Peninsula,” Moon said. “Of course, it’s very lamentable that the (content of the) declaration remains theoretical because of the failures to back it up with concrete agreements," he said. "But if we start over from the Singapore declaration and revive talks over concrete steps, it’s possible that diplomacy between North Korea and the United States and between South and North Korea would gain pace again.” Moon said he hopes to meet Biden as soon as possible and that South Korean officials were actively communicating with their American counterparts to ensure that the North Korea issue remains a priority for the new U.S. government, which inherits a horrendous coronavirus outbreak and domestic political turmoil. Kim Tong-Hyung, The Associated Press
Starting next week, Austria will introduce a similar rule nationwide.View on euronews
For the last four years, the Dr. Hugh Twomey Health Care Centre in Botwood has been without 24-hour emergency services. Just prior to the 2019 provincial election, then-premier Dwight Ball pledged to bring those services back to the hospital in the fall of 2020 once a protective care unit was finished. According to Exploits MHA Pleaman Forsey, the time has come for the Liberal government to come through on its promises. “We are left with a commitment from the Liberal minister of health to review the service after the long-term care facility was finished in Botwood,” Forsey said in a prepared statement this week. “That’s not good enough.” The provincial government stripped the hospital of the service in 2016 in a move by Central Health to reduce its operating budget. An analysis completed by the Department of Health in 2018 indicated patient data supported the decision. Forsey recently sent an email to Central Health about the issue and was told the new health unit is expected to be in use by the end of this month. “This creates added stress to the residents of the Exploits district,” Forsey said of not having 24-hour emergency services. The provincial government's department of health and community services said in a statement the work on the protective unit was nearing completion and the matter of returning to 24-hour service will be looked at when it is done. "Following the completion of construction, the demand and the staffing will be examined to see whether or not there is a need to change the way emergency services are provided to the people in Botwood," wrote a spokesperson for the department. On several occasions since Ball pledged the return of 24-hour emergency services, the Botwood council has written to Gander MHA John Haggie, the minister of health and community services, regarding the status of emergency services at the hospital. Botwood Mayor Scott Sceviour said responses the town has received have not indicated if or when any announcement will be made about the return of regular emergency services. At the time, the town was caught off guard by the decision to alter the emergency services at the hospital. It was expected to help save money, but the mayor says little money has been saved by the decision. “There was no justification for it,” he said. “It was a surprise to all of us.” Now that the area MHA has brought the issue to the forefront again, Sceviour said the town will write to Premier Andrew Furey about the commitments of his predecessor and bring him up to speed on the situation. Botwood is scheduled to have a council meeting this week, where the issue will be on the agenda. “We are going to hold this government to the promise,” said Sceviour. Nicholas Mercer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Central Voice
MANILA, Philippines — Coronavirus infections in the Philippines have surged past 500,000 in a new bleak milestone with the government facing criticism for failing to immediately launch a vaccination program amid a global scramble for COVID-19 vaccines. The Department of Health reported 1,895 new infections Sunday, bringing confirmed coronavirus cases in the country to 500,577, the second highest in Southeast Asia. There have been at least 9,895 deaths. The Philippines has been negotiating with seven Western and Chinese companies to secure 148 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine but the effort has been fraught with uncertainties and confusion. About 50,000 doses from China-based Sinovac Biotech Ltd. may arrive later next month followed by much larger shipments, according to the government, but concerns have been raised over its efficacy. President Rodrigo Duterte says securing the vaccines has been difficult because wealthy nations have secured massive doses for their citizens first. Duterte’s elite guards have acknowledged they have been inoculated with a still-unauthorized COVID-19 vaccine partly to ensure that they would not infect the 75-year-old president. Duterte’s spokesman and other officials have denied the president himself was vaccinated. A flurry of criticism has followed the illegal vaccinations, but few details have been released, including which vaccine was used and how the guards obtained it. Some senators moved to investigate, but Duterte ordered his guards not to appear before the Senate. In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region: — Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga vowed Monday to get the pandemic under control and hold the already postponed Olympics this summer with ample coronavirus protection. In a speech opening a new parliament session, Suga said his government will revise laws to make anti-virus measures enforceable with penalties and compensation. Early in the pandemic, Japan was able to keep its virus caseload manageable with non-binding requests for businesses to close or operate with social distancing and for people to stay home. But recent weeks have seen several highs in new cases per day, in part blamed on eased attitudes toward the anti-virus measures, and doubts are growing as more-contagious variants spread while people wait for vaccines and the Olympics draw closer. The health ministry also reported Monday that three people who have no record of recent overseas travel had tested positive for the new, more easily transmitted coronavirus variant first reported in Britain, suggesting that it is making its way in Japan. Suga said his government aims to start vaccinations as early as late February. Japan has confirmed more than 330,000 infections and 4,500 deaths from COVID-19, numbers that have surged recently though they are still far smaller than many other countries of its size. — A Chinese province grappling with a spike in coronavirus cases is reinstating tight restrictions on weddings, funerals and other family gatherings, threatening violators with criminal charges. The notice from the high court in Hebei province did not give specifics, but said all types of social gatherings were now being regulated to prevent further spread of the virus. Hebei has had one of China’s most serious outbreaks in months that comes amid measures to curb the further spread during February’s Lunar New Year holiday. Authorities have called on citizens not to travel, ordered schools closed a week early and conducted testing on a massive scale. Hebei recorded another 54 cases over the previous 24 hours, the National Health Commission said on Monday, while the northern province of Jilin reported 30 cases and Heilongjiang further north reported seven. Beijing had two new cases and most buildings and housing compounds now require proof of a negative coronavirus test for entry. — Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has unveiled a new 15 billion ringgit ($3.7 billion) stimulus to bolster consumption, with the economy expected to reel from a second coronavirus lockdown and an emergency declaration. Muhyiddin obtained royal consent last week to declare a coronavirus emergency, slammed by critics as a desperate bid to cling to power amid defections from his ruling coalition. The emergency, expected to last until Aug. 1, doesn’t involve any curfew or military intervention but suspends Parliament, halts any election and gives Muhyiddin’s government absolute power, including in introducing new laws. It came at the same time as millions in Kuala Lumpur and several high-risk states were placed under a two-week lockdown to halt a surge in coronavirus cases. Muhyiddin on Monday acknowledged concerns over the emergency but repeated that it was only aimed at curbing the coronavirus. He said the economic impact from the lockdown will be manageable because more activities are being allowed this time. He said the stimulus will provide more funds to battle the pandemic and support livelihoods and businesses. A businessman has filed a lawsuit challenging the emergency declaration and the opposition plans to appeal to the king to rescind his support. Malaysia has recorded more than 158,000 coronavirus cases, including 601 deaths. — Nepal’s health ministry says the country's first cases of the new, more infectious coronavirus variant first found in the United Kingdom have been confirmed in three people who arrived from the U.K. The ministry said Monday that samples from six people who arrived in Nepal last week were sent to a laboratory in Hong Kong with the help of the World Health Organization. Three of the people — two men and a woman — tested positive for the new variant, it said. Two have recovered and one is still sick, the ministry said. Nepal has recorded 267,322 coronavirus cases, including 1,959 deaths. The Associated Press
En entrevue au journal Haute-Côte-Nord, le médecin spécialiste en santé publique et médecine préventive au CISSS de la Côte-Nord, Richard Fachehoun, a confirmé que la situation était inquiétante en Haute-Côte-Nord en raison de l'augmentation du nombre de cas de COVID-19, dont ceux dans les écoles primaires. « Les cas sont beaucoup plus élevés qu'on s'attendait dans la MRC de la Haute-Côte-Nord », indique Dr Fachehoun. Selon ce dernier, la hausse du nombre des infections à la COVID-19 dans une petite communauté augmente les risques que les personnes vulnérables soient malades et que des complications surviennent. « Les personnes vulnérables sont celles qui vivent le plus de complications quand elles sont atteintes de la COVID-19. Si elles sont infectées, elles risquent de se retrouver hospitalisées, ce que nous ne souhaitons pas », déclare-t-il. En ce qui concerne les deux cas enregistrés dans deux écoles de la Haute-Côte-Nord au cours des derniers jours, le médecin spécialiste en santé publique affirme que la collaboration se déroule très bien. « Les classes touchées ont été placées en isolement préventif, les parents ont été informés par une lettre et la santé publique a également communiqué avec eux pour les aviser des consignes à suivre », soutient Dr Fachehoun précisant que la santé publique fera un suivi de la situation durant les deux prochaines semaines. Même si la situation peut paraître inquiétante, le médecin-conseil assure aux parents que les milieux scolaires sont sécuritaires. Il insiste toutefois pour que les enfants qui présentent des symptômes, « aussi légers soient-ils », se fassent dépister rapidement. « Il ne faut pas attendre, surtout qu'il n'y a pas de cas de grippe présentement. » Milieux de travail Quant aux 5 cas enregistrés en Haute-Côte-Nord le 14 janvier, un seul concerne le milieu scolaire. « Les quatre autres sont reliés entre eux et concernent une éclosion dans un milieu de travail », assure Dr Richard Fachehoun. D'ailleurs, le médecin spécialiste demande aux gestionnaires de la MRC de privilégier le télétravail lorsque possible. « Il faut renforcer les mesures mises en place comme la surveillance des symptômes, le lavage des mains, le port du couvre-visage et le respect du 2 mètres de distanciation entre les employés », rappelle-t-il. Le nombre de tests de dépistage effectué demeure stable depuis les deux dernières semaines. Toutefois, Dr Fachehoun croit qu'il sera en augmentation en raison des éclosions qui sont survenues au cours des derniers jours. « La collaboration de la population est importante pour protéger la région et notre système de santé », de conclure le médecin spécialiste en santé publique.Johannie Gaudreault, Initiative de journalisme local, Journal Haute-Côte-Nord
Ambiguous language and the alleged killing of an inmate have led to a dispute between the Newfoundland and Labrador government and the province's largest public sector union. The province is refusing to pay the legal fees for 10 correctional officers accused of playing a role in the homicide of Indigenous inmate Jonathan Henoche, according to a source close to the situation. It's believed the total amount could range as high as $1 million to represent the officers in criminal proceedings, let alone any civil actions that are likely to follow. An arbitrator will be called in to settle the dispute between the government and the officers' union, NAPE. Both the union and provincial government declined comment for this story. According to the source, there is a fundamental disagreement between both sides around the wording of the collective agreement. "The employer shall undertake to assure a full and complete defence to any employee who is sued or charged in a criminal proceeding arising from the performance of his/her duties provided he/she was not deemed to have performed in a negligent manner as determined by the facts or the courts," the collective agreement states. According to several lawyers consulted by CBC News, the phrase "facts or the courts" leaves room for interpretation. It leaves space for someone other than a judge to interpret the facts of the case, and could allow the province to walk away from covering the guards if it deems them to have acted with negligence. "Management will abide by the terms of the collective agreement," reads a statement that theTreasury Board Secretariat issued last Tuesday. When pressed for more details, a government spokesperson said they could only provide that one line. How legal aid works Information on the Treasury Board Secretariat website states that in cases where the province provides lawyers for its employees, it will also pay for any settlements or damages that arise in civil court. It also states the province cannot claw back money from an employee in a case where a lawyer has been provided. That seems to indicate the province could not pay their legal fees in the beginning and then recoup money if the guards are found guilty. Seven officers are charged with negligence causing death, while three are charged with manslaughter. The officers, who are between the ages of 28 to 51, range in experience from newer guards to a senior lieutenant who has twice been commended by the province for exemplary service at Her Majesty's Penitentiary. Jonathan Henoche was involved in a physical altercation in his cell, before being taken to the segregation unit in the basement of the jail. It's not clear what happened next, or how much time elapsed before he was pronounced dead. Henoche was charged with first-degree murder in the 2016 death of Regula Schule, 88, a Swiss-born former missionary who had been living in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. He had been transferred to HMP while he awaited trial. Sources tell CBC News the incident in Henoche's cell was captured on video. Once an arbitrator has been appointed to the case, both sides will make arguments and the arbitrator will render a judgment. Both sides will then have a chance to appeal the decision in the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador. No timeline of proceedings has been provided to CBC News. The 10 guards are set to make a first court appearance on Feb. 11 in St. John's. Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador
OTTAWA — Federal Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole pushed back against attempts to link his party to Trump-style politics on Sunday, saying there is "no place for the far right" in the Tories while accusing the Liberals of divisive dirty tricks.In a statement Sunday, O'Toole asserted his own views on such issues as abortion, gay rights and reconciliation with Indigenous people in Canada while insisting that his party is not beholden to right-wing extremists and hatemongers. "The Conservatives are a moderate, pragmatic, mainstream party — as old as Confederation — that sits squarely in the centre of Canadian politics," O'Toole said."My singular focus is to get Canada's economy back on track as quickly as possible to create jobs and secure a strong future for all Canadians. There is no place for the far right in our party."The unusual statement follows the riot on Capitol Hill, which U.S. President Donald Trump has been accused of inciting and which has since been held up as proof of the dangers posed by right-wing extremists to Western democracy.It also comes on the heels of a Liberal Party fundraising letter sent to members last week that accused the Conservatives under O'Toole of "continuing a worrisome pattern of divisive politics and catering to the extreme right."As one example, it cited the motto used by O'Toole's leadership campaign: "Take back Canada."It also referenced a photo that has been circulating of Conservative deputy leader Candice Bergen wearing a hat with Trump's slogan, "Make America Great Again," and a since-deleted Tory website alleging the Liberals want to rig the next election.O'Toole on Sunday condemned the Capitol Hill attack as "horrifying," and sought to distance himself and the Tories from Trumpism by touting his party's support for free and fair elections, the peaceful transfer of power and accountable government.To that end, he lashed out at the Liberals, referencing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's decision to prorogue Parliament last summer as hurting accountability, before turning the tables on the governing party and accusing them of using U.S.-style politics."If the Liberals want to label me as 'far right,' they are welcome to try," O'Toole said. "Canadians are smart and they will see this as an attempt to mislead people and import some of the fear and division we have witnessed in the United States."Former Conservative strategist Tim Powers, who is now chairman of Summa Strategies, believes O'Toole's team saw a "gathering storm" and felt the need to act to prevent the Liberals from painting the Conservatives as beholden to Trumpism.Such action was especially important ahead of what could be an extremely divisive week down in the U.S., where there are fears that Trump supporters and far-right actors will respond to Joe Biden's inauguration as president with violence.Powers suggested it is also the latest act in O'Toole's effort to introduce himself to Canadians and redefine the Conservatives ahead of the next federal election, both of which have been made more difficult by COVID-19.And when Conservatives in caucus make statements or otherwise act counter to his stated positions, Powers said O'Toole will need to "crush them and take them out" to prove his convictions.Shuvaloy Majumdar, who served as a policy director in Stephen Harper's government, welcomed O'Toole's statement while also speaking of the threat that events in the U.S. could pose to the Tories in Canada — particularly if the Liberals try to link them.O'Toole was accused during last year's Conservative leadership race of courting social conservatives who oppose abortion, among other issues. That raises questions about the degree to which he may anger the party's base by taking more progressive positions.But Majumdar suggested many of the populist elements left the Tories for Maxime Bernier's People's Party of Canada and that O'Toole is seeking to appeal to more voters by taking a broader view on social issues while sticking to the party's core economic positions.This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 17, 2021. Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version misquoted Shuvaloy Majumdar saying many social conservatives had left for the People's Party of Canada. He actually said many of the populist elements had left.
City council will discuss Monday extending a program that encourages businesses to expand or set up new operations in three areas of Calgary. By cutting red tape and reducing cost, the city hopes businesses can get moving with their plans quicker. The proposal would see more exemptions from development permits, allowing immediate applications for building permits and doing away with some permit fees. The pilot project would apply to the International Avenue business improvement area in Forest Lawn, the Montgomery business improvement area as well as two commercial streets in Sunalta. While the program would result in benefits for businesses, the city would also need fewer resources for permit processing. That's not a significant benefit as those services are paid for by permit fees. Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he would have some questions about the program but is generally in favour. "We're taking a pilot project that we've used downtown to cut some red tape and encourage investment and development and expanding that to different parts of the city," said Nenshi. "I'm very much in favour of that as a concept." Downtown tried it first A similar project called the City Centre Enterprise Area was rolled out in 2017 as a way to make it easier for businesses to expand or try different concepts in many empty storefront spaces downtown. In 2019, council voted to extend that project until July 2021. The city acknowledges that there is greater commercial interest in the core, more employment uses and in normal times, more people in the vicinity than the three areas now being looked at for the program. However, the city says choosing the three additional areas for a small pilot project allows it to monitor change of use or renovation exemptions closely. Tough times Administration says making it easier for businesses to start up or expand their operations is critical in Calgary's pandemic-ravaged economy. The executive director of the Montgomery on the Bow business improvement area, Marion Hayes, said the city approached her organization to see if there would be interest. She said they jumped at the opportunity as businesses need ways to quickly adapt to the current environment. "If they can bring change to their business without going through a lot of red tape and also a lot of additional cost, it's a great benefit to them," said Hayes. If council approves the proposal, the pilot project in the three areas will be tried for a year and then be reviewed.
Abandoned houses and properties are found everywhere in Newfoundland and Labrador. They are houses with chipped paint, boats laid on the shore for the last time and old barns that have been beaten down by the elements. Sometimes, families just left these places and never came back. Other properties fall into disrepair because owners aren’t quite sure what to do with them. Regardless of how they were left, these objects are living history and lend themselves to the story of the people who lived there. Photographer Cory Babstock has documented many of the abandoned structures and objects in his home of Clarenville and the surrounding area. He even produced a small book made up of images of houses left behind, called "Unsettled." “It is important to me. … I’m all about preserving what I can for my kids so that they know we didn’t always live in these bungalows, clumped together in orderly fashion,” he said. That idea of preserving history is part of the reason Babstock takes such pride in photographing the buildings and objects that are left behind. The photos he takes are a historical record of the people and the places where they lived. Last fall, what was left of the Mary Ruth, a sailing vessel built in 1918, had disappeared from its usual spot in Southport. An old home in Open Hall-Red Cliffe that Babstock had photographed frequently has blown down in recent years. Someday, others will be lost to time and there won’t be any record they were ever there. “There is a whole other story, and somebody has to document them," said Babstock. “Sometimes families aren’t able to.” Joe Woods started the Abandoned and Historic Newfoundland and Labrador Facebook group in 2016. He did so to showcase the many such structures across the province to a wide audience. It allowed photographers and those interested in those buildings to interact while sharing their experiences and their work. The group has about 20,000 members and there are several posts daily. “I love finding new places to explore, and Newfoundland and Labrador is endless with them,” Woods said in a social media conversation. In the group, there are pictures of ancient graveyards, abandoned barns, empty storefronts and the skeletons of wooden boats. Often, the interactions inspire others to seek out the images they find in the group, while adding their own. When a new picture is posted, the comment section will sometimes spiral into a cross-section of a person’s connection to the object in the photo, people marvelling at the photo and others who seek to add that object to their photo bucket list. After a quick scroll through the comments, it becomes swiftly evident that these callbacks to an earlier time strike a nerve with people. “One day photographs will be all we have to remember they even stood one time,” said Woods. “It's second chances to admire the beauty and architecture.” The abandoned places Babstock walks don’t always feel like they’re supposed to. Those homes hit your senses differently as you try to picture how families lived a life that was so different from your own, he says, and stepping through their doors pulls you somewhere else. “Every one of these places has a different feel to them,” said Babstock. “Some places resonate with sadness.” He recalled an abandoned home he entered — Babstock always gets permission first — where he found a bed that was left behind. It still had some dressing and a pillow laid on top of it. The floor of another home had long collapsed when he found it. Babstock found a table in the home with dishes still set on it. The dishes appeared to have been left behind in a hurry, he said. “There is a different weight to (the place),” said Babstock. Life has kept west coast photographer Jaimie Maloney from chasing life through a camera lens recently, but that hasn’t diminished her love for photographing and exploring old buildings. When her schedule did allow her to explore the west coast, she found herself drawn to the older structures she found there. “I find it draws me in because it wants to tell me a story,” said Maloney. “I go looking at them and feel the energy and think of various people living there and what they may have done. “It's like the building is talking to you and wants you to share it and pass the information along. It’s almost like being a detective.” Nicholas Mercer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Central Voice
NASHVILLE — As their state faced one of its toughest months of the pandemic, Tennesseans watched Gov. Bill Lee’s rare primetime address to see whether new public restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus might be coming. It was late December, and the state’s hospitals were bursting at the seams with virus patients. Spiraling caseloads placed Tennessee among the worst states in the nation per capita, medical experts were warning that the health care system could not survive another coronavirus spike, and Lee had been affected personally -- his wife had the virus and the governor himself was in quarantine. If ever there was a juncture to change course, the speech seemed like the time and place. But as he stood before the camera, the businessman-turned-politician declined to implement recommendations from the experts, instead announcing a soft limit on public gatherings while stressing once again that stopping the spread of COVID-19 was a matter of personal responsibility. Lee’s decision to stick to his approach has dismayed critics who say the state's situation would not be so dire if he had placed more faith in the government’s role in keeping people safe -- criticism he pushes back against as he keeps businesses open. The first term governor’s response has largely been in step with Republican governors in other states, including Arizona, Arkansas, Oklahoma, which along with Tennessee have ranked among the worst in the country as case numbers, deaths and hospitalizations increase while the governors rebuff calls for new restrictions. As of Friday, Johns Hopkins University researchers reported 1,236 new confirmed cases per 100,000 people in Tennessee over the past two weeks, which ranks eighth in the country. One in every 187 people in Tennessee tested positive in the past week. “We don’t have to be here. We don’t have to continue this trend. We can do something about it,” Dr. Diana Sepehri-Harvey, a Franklin primary care physician told reporters in a video conference Tuesday. Lee, whose office declined a request for an interview for this article, has rejected claims he hasn’t done enough, countering that he aggressively pushed for more expansive COVID-19 testing throughout the state during the early stages of the pandemic and arguing that sweeping mask requirements have become too political to become effective. He says decisions about masks are best left to local jurisdictions, some of which have imposed them in Tennessee, particularly in more populated areas. According to the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, about 69% of Tennesseans — but fewer than 30 of 95 counties — are under a face mask requirement. Those researchers found that counties that don’t require wearing masks in public are averaging COVID-19 death rates double or more compared with those that instituted mandates. Dr. Donna Perlin, a Nashville-based pediatric emergency medicine physician, sees mask-wearing and other precautions as basic government safety measures. “Just as we have requirements to stop at red lights, or for children to wear seatbelts, or bans on smoking at schools, so too must we require masks, because the refusal to wear masks is endangering our children and their families,” she wrote in a recent editorial. Despite the criticism, Lee hasn’t wavered from his vow never to close down restaurants, bars and retail stores after Tennessee became one of the first states in the country to lift businesses restrictions last year. He also has long advocated for schools to continue in-person learning and has sent school districts protective equipment for teachers and staffers. The governor is quick to point out the state’s swift COVID-19 vaccine rollout, praising Tennessee for being among the country’s leaders in distributing the immunizations. “In addition to creating a strong infrastructure for distribution, we’re currently one of the top states in the nation for total doses administered, vaccinating more than 150,000 Tennesseans in just two weeks,” Lee said in a statement earlier this month, omitting that the state’s initial goal to vaccinate 200,000 residents got delayed because of shipping issues. The CDC reports that 3.7% of Tennessee’s population has been vaccinated, with more than 251,000 shots administered to date — making it among the top 10 states for administration rates. But community leaders and Democratic lawmakers have tried in vain to appeal to the governor in their campaign for a mask mandate and other public health regulations. “What we are doing now is NOT working!” Democratic state Sen. Raumesh Akbari tweeted. “We need a mask mandate, increased testing and contact tracing, and need to consider some business closures. Our hospitals are at the brink! We must act to save lives!” Some have even appealed to Lee's Christian faith, which he regularly touted on the campaign trail and references while governing. “Wearing a mask is loving your neighbour, and taking care of yourself as a Temple of the Holy Spirit,” the Rev. Jo Ann Barker recently wrote to Lee, speaking for the nonpartisan Southern Christian Coalition. “A statewide mask mandate is caring for the community God gives you to care for. If that isn’t important to you, Governor Lee, then what is?” ___ Associated Press writers Jonathan Mattise and Travis Loller contributed to this report. ___ Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak. Kimberlee Kruesi, The Associated Press
Miramichi Youth House has stepped up and started the process to bring a homeless shelter for adults to the Miramichi. The group's mandate is to provide services to youth ages 16 to 19. The youth house, running under executive director Samantha Fairweather, provides overnight shelter beds, low cost housing and an outreach program. But Fairweather, like many others working in the sector in Miramichi, sees a desperate for services for adults. "Unfortunately, it just seemed that nothing was being done, nothing was coming to life," she said. "So that's where we were inspired to create the project manager position." Fairweather applied to Reaching Home, a federal grant program, and received funding to hire someone. Kaitlin Carroll left her job as a social worker with Horizon Health to become the project manager of the homeless shelter. "It was something that I felt very passionate about," said Carroll. She said exact numbers are hard to come by, but working with different agencies in the region, she estimates there are anywhere from 40 to 80 people experiencing homelessness. "We have folks sleeping in wooded areas in tents, cardboard boxes (and) other types of shelters, sleeping in condemned buildings, cars, breaking into places to stay warm, bank vestibules." said Carroll. And then there are the people who are less visible, those who are couch surfing. "That is the urgent need that is boiling over in our community," said Carroll. She said Miramichi Youth House receives calls on a weekly basis from people looking for a place to stay. After doing a survey of the province and country to see what has worked in other centres of a similar size, Carroll decided the place to start is a six to eight bed shelter, set up in a retrofitted house. The shelter would be staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Carroll said the Department of Social Development has made an NB Housing unit available, but Robert Duguay, director of communications with the department said the location is still up for discussion. "We are still having discussions to determine how the province can support this initiative," he said. "The type of support will depend on the specifics of the project, funding by other levels of government, as well as stakeholders and the needs identified within the community." Carroll said funding is the barrier every step of the way. She said operational costs are covered, but salaries have not, and Carroll said a number of grant requests have been written and different groups in the Miramichi region have been approached. She'll know by February if the applications were successful, so the best case scenario is the shelter is open in March. "We're ready to press the go button," she said. It can't happen soon enough for Patricia Michaud, executive director of the Miramichi Emergency Centre for Women. Her shelter would normally have 12 beds for woman and children fleeing domestic violence, but since COVID restrictions came into affect, only seven spaces are available, and they are all currently full. Michaud said the shelter receives five to 10 calls a month from women who fall outside her mandate, and she can't accept them. "It's horrible and we hate doing that," she said, adding that exceptions are sometimes made but it depends on how much space is available. "There's always been someone trying to open up something, trying to get a homeless shelter because we've helped them with stats and things like that, but it's never come to fruition," said Michaud. "It's desperately needed." She said she's spoken to Carroll, and has seen how far the project has come in a short time and is hopeful it will happen. But Carroll isn't stopping at a shelter because she understands it's not a solution to the problem. The next step is affordable housing. Miramichi has a 1.3 per cent vacancy rate, much lower than Campbellton's, a city of comparable size, whose vacancy rate is 4.2, according to Statistics Canada. "There's a lot of luxury townhouses and apartments, but not a lot in the affordable housing range," said Carroll. She said it's too early to go into details, but the group is also working on two affordable housing developments, one on each side of the Miramichi River.
SUDBURY, Ont. — A class has been sent home from a Sudbury, Ont., elementary school following a confirmed case of COVID-19. Parents of a senior kindergarten/Grade 1 class at St. David's Catholic elementary school were told their children should stay home. Director of Education Joanne Benard says in a letter issued to parents on Sunday that the person with the confirmed case of the novel coronavirus is self-isolating. She says public health officials will notify the parents of anyone considered a close contact. Benard also says all students in the class should self-isolate until Jan. 29 and get tested for the virus as soon as possible. She says "it's understandable that this situation may make caregivers anxious" and says parents of children in other classes should notify the school if they choose to keep their youngsters at home. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 18, 2021. The Canadian Press
Calling an emergency responder. Accessing an affordable housing unit. Children learning inside school buildings, not portables. Patients receiving care in a hospital room, not a hallway. The services delivered in cities are the heartbeat of safe and comfortable communities, ones that attract residents, jobs, and investment opportunities for municipal and regional development. Municipalities own 60 percent of Canada’s infrastructure, according to StatsCan, and bear the corresponding duty to maintain its state of good repair with limited resources. Peel’s cities rely on funding from higher levels of government to provide key services to residents, including local children’s aid societies, healthcare, schools, and social services. A tacit feature of funding to Peel is – no matter the party colours at Queen’s Park or Parliament Hill – the hyper-growth region is not getting its “fair share” of public dollars, despite the equal contribution of local income taxpayers. During the pandemic, the latest examples from Ottawa and Queen’s Park include the federal government’s initial decision to give Toronto $14 million for COVID-19 isolation centres and none to Peel, before local efforts to point out the higher infection rates in the region forced the feds to allocate $6.5 million to Peel. Queen’s Park, meanwhile, despite socio-economic conditions that drove higher case counts in Peel, gave Toronto 17 provincial testing centres, but funded only 4 in Peel, which advocates said was one of the reasons the viral spread was not properly contained in the hard hit region. “What the pandemic has done is put more of a spotlight on how we’re chronically underfunded,” said Regional Councillor Martin Medeiros, of Brampton. “The leader of any political party needs the 905 to win a majority, and we’ve delivered…But when it comes to getting love, we don’t get the love. Why is that?” Local leaders have struggled to glean an answer to this for more than three decades. But what was once a booming battle cry to put pressure on upper levels of government – most recently via a campaign called the Peel Fair Share Task Force – has been reduced like a diminuendo to a restless hum. Nine months shy of the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, in June 2019, Brampton councillors began making some noise through demands for increased funding to address its healthcare emergency. They highlighted the dangerous lack of hospital beds in the city, which has less than half the per capita number of Ontario overall. The city receives $1,000 less in funding for healthcare, per person, about half the provincial average. These inequities have been magnified during the pandemic. The region has had the highest infection rates in the province, and residents were put at increased risk because of the chronic failure of healthcare funding, which has left local hospitals particularly vulnerable to capacity issues. Prior to the pandemic, the three full-service hospitals in Mississauga and Brampton were already among the worst in Ontario for performance, with average wait times to be admitted between two-and-a-half and three times higher than the provincial target of 8 hours. As part of its 2020 budget asks, the City launched a “Fair Deal for Brampton” campaign for immediate funding to expand Peel Memorial hospital’s urgent care capabilities, fund the second phase of its build, and create a third healthcare facility. A city of about 650,000 residents, Brampton currently has only one full-service hospital, Brampton Civic, operated by the William Osler Health System. More than one-third of Brampton’s population has at least one chronic condition, and the City says it is projected to have the highest rate of dementia between 2015 and 2025. According to a 2014 study by researchers at St. Michael’s Hospital in collaboration with Peel Public Health, the region was headed for a rate of one in six people having diabetes by 2025, largely due to the significant South Asian-Canadian population, which suffers much higher rates of the disease than the general population. At the time, it was one in ten, as reported by Peel’s former medical officer of health in 2018. According to the City’s pre-pandemic data, the emergency department at Brampton Civic was equipped for 90,000 visits a year, but received about 130,000, while Peel Memorial is funded for 10,000 visits a year and received 75,000. Patient-loads have skyrocketed over the course of the pandemic. As of January 15, Osler’s system was treating 109 COVID-19 patients, where about nine weeks ago, patient transfers were triggered around the time when it was treating just 64 people. In October, Premier Doug Ford announced funding to support the addition of 766 beds for 32 hospitals in the province, including 46 at Etobicoke General Hospital, which is also in the Osler system, and 41 beds in Brampton, which has about 60 percent more residents than Etobicoke. The smaller community was also given two testing facilities through Osler during the first half of the pandemic, among the total of 17 in Toronto, while Brampton only had one. The apparent differential treatment between funding the two hospitals under Osler’s management is a snapshot of the issues facing Brampton as it seeks its fair share from the province, Councillor Medeiros said. “They gave [funding] to Etobicoke without any ties. Notwithstanding, it’s the Premier’s riding,” Medeiros said. “Yet, when the City of Brampton is looking for more investment in healthcare, and we're looking to complete the second phase of Peel Memorial Hospital, they say that there’s provincial legislation requirements that we give 20 to 30 percent as a contribution.” A lack of commensurate allocation by the Province and federal governments has also affected Peel’s $1-billion Housing Master Plan, which has not yet been fully funded. The plan seeks to create 280 emergency shelter beds and another 5,300 affordable housing units by 2034. As previously reported by The Pointer, the federal government’s commitment of $276.5 million is on top of the Region’s $333.5 million, which has been criticized by Peel social services staff as being “significantly and disproportionately high.” Regional Councillor Annette Groves, of Caledon, said that local taxes and development charges are not sufficient to support the wealth of services offered by Peel. “I don't think it has anything to do with the current government. I think that it’s been such a long, outstanding battle,” Groves told The Pointer. “The Province has given us some funding to help with the pandemic, and so has the federal government, but again, it’s still not enough because we’re so far behind in terms of, for example, affordable housing.” Both Queen’s Park and Ottawa are guilty of a form of hypocrisy. The federal government sets immigration targets for the whole country, 401,000 for 2021 and growing to 421,000 in 2023. But it does not establish a funding formula for those municipalities that willingly accommodate newcomers. Brampton, over the past two decades, has welcomed more immigrants per capita than any other large city in Canada, but the federal government does little to provide adequate services and infrastructure for the hyper-growth community that openly supports the country’s immigration policies through its growth planning. Queen’s Park, meanwhile, relies desperately on Peel to accommodate the province’s largest share of population growth, but continues to ignore the funding needs it creates through provincial growth legislation, known as the Places To Grow Act. While Mississauga and Brampton rapidly expand, schools, for example, are not brought on line fast enough by the Province, forcing the use of portables, which have become a common feature in Peel’s education landscape. GO services are also glaringly under-funded, as more and more commuters move into the region without proper transportation infrastructure. The list of inadequate funding commitments for Peel grows every year. On top of education and healthcare, affordable housing, transportation, public health, settlement support, legal aid, children’s aid and almost every other funding area are all under-funded in Peel. For example, despite skyrocketing demand, Mississauga’s legal aid clinic receives far less funding per capita than Toronto. In 2019 the co-executive director of the city’s legal aid clinic, Douglas Kwan, said it receives the second lowest funding per capita of all legal aid clinics in Ontario: the lowest – Brampton. Led by Mississauga Councillor Carolyn Parrish, Peel revived efforts in its Fair Share for Peel coalition about four years ago to address its municipalities receiving less than half of the per capita rate of others in Ontario. In the fall of 2017, the Region organized a $90,000 conference with neighbouring municipalities, called the Summit 4 Fair Funding, to encourage a dialogue surrounding funding needs ahead of the 2018 provincial election. According to the Brampton Guardian, the summit was later cancelled after staff were not able to obtain transparent formulas as to how funding transfers were calculated from the provincial and federal governments. The effort followed years of pressure, culminating in an earlier effort in 2011 to assess underfunding and service delivery obstacles including those for seniors, people with disabilities, and victims of violence and abuse. As Peel braces for what February brings during the pandemic, the Region’s Governance Committee continues to advocate for government dollars. After almost a year of neglect, which contributed to Peel’s designation as a COVID-19 hot spot, and its placement in the current lockdown on November 23, the Ontario Ministry of Health recently agreed to a one-time funding disbursement of $14-million to Peel Public Health, to “support extraordinary costs associated with monitoring, detecting, and containing COVID-19 in the province.” Email: email@example.com Twitter: @LaVjosa COVID-19 is impacting all Canadians. At a time when vital public information is needed by everyone, The Pointer has taken down our paywall on all stories relating to the pandemic and those of public interest to ensure every resident of Brampton and Mississauga has access to the facts. For those who are able, we encourage you to consider a subscription. This will help us report on important public interest issues the community needs to know about now more than ever. You can register for a 30-day free trial HERE. Thereafter, The Pointer will charge $10 a month and you can cancel any time right on the website. Thank you. Vjosa Isai, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Pointer
The emergency department at Kings County Memorial Hospital in eastern P.E.I. will open at 8 a.m. Monday as usual, after being forced to close on Sunday. Heavy rain and melting snow caused flooding in that area of the Montague hospital on Sunday, forcing its closure at midday. It was uncertain at the time when it would be able to open again. Health PEI confirmed Monday morning the department was ready to reopen. The emergency department at the hospital is open daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. More from CBC P.E.I.