President Trump blasts Biden's coronavirus pandemic plan; Fox News medical contributor Dr. Marc Siegel weighs in.
President Trump blasts Biden's coronavirus pandemic plan; Fox News medical contributor Dr. Marc Siegel weighs in.
Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos will today release the federal government's plan to drive down greenhouse gas emissions within the federal bureaucracy itself, with the goal of achieving "net zero" by 2050 through a radical restructuring of the government's property and vehicle portfolio.The Liberal government's "greening government strategy" sets new, more ambitious targets to drive down the emissions produced by government operations through a "climate-resilient" approach to the public service and its activities, according to a draft of the plan seen by CBC News.The plan follows on the government's pledge last week to implement national, binding targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the next 30 years.The multi-pronged approach includes retrofitting buildings, procuring more electric vehicles and staffing adjustments that will give public servants greater flexibility in deciding how and when they go into the office.Duclos said the government is in talks with public sector unions now about how to make pandemic-related telecommuting a more permanent feature in the working lives of public servants after the COVID-19 crisis is over.While more employees will be physically present when the pandemic subsides, remote work will become more common than it was before, Duclos said."Obviously, no one wanted a pandemic, we all want the pandemic to be over. That being said ... once we get through it there will be lessons learned and that will include lessons on how to improve the productivity of public servants," he told CBC News, adding there will be new "work arrangements" for some bureaucrats.Federal vehicle fleet to be 80% hybrid or electric by 2030The government is also proposing greater flexibility in start times for workers so that more public servants can avoid rush hour traffic.Duclos said cutting the amount of time tens of thousands of federal workers spend in idling cars will result in lower emissions. The government also will look to make carpooling a more viable option for workers.Under the new plan, the government will begin replacing its massive fleet of vehicles with more fuel-efficient options.The government owns 20,000 cars and trucks. The new green plan stipulates that, by 2030, 80 per cent of all the vehicles used by the federal government must be either hybrid or entirely electric (EV).And in what amounts to a first for any government anywhere, the green plan will impose the same standards on cars used by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) — with some notable exceptions for tactical vehicles and tanks that don't yet have electric equivalents.Duclos said tanks, fighter jets and ships will be exempt, but cars used on military bases or by Mounties on patrol will need to be hybrid or electric.For other modes of transportation in the federal fleet which still lack an electric option — such as planes and ships — the government says it will opt for cleaner fuels to reduce the amount of emissions produced.Duclos said the push to reconstitute the federal fleet of vehicles with electrics will create a ready-made market for car manufacturers; Ford already promised last month to retool its Oakville, Ont. plant to make electric cars. The widespread adoption of EVs by Ottawa, he added, could eventually drive down the cost of those vehicles for Canadians."It reduces the cost of access. Investments through procurements and the purchase of zero-emission cars — that generates new markets and supports the development of new technologies," Duclos said.Starting immediately, Duclos is also mandating that every new building built by or for the federal government be carbon neutral.Similar standards will apply to buildings that the government leases from private landlords, and 75 per cent of all buildings leased by the federal government will have to be carbon neutral. The government will also pursue energy efficient retrofits to existing buildings.Duclos said he couldn't state just how much this plan would cost taxpayers. A spokesperson for the minister said those details will be tabled by the finance minister at a later date. While a price tag hasn't been publicly released, Duclos said the federal government might actually book some savings through lower fuel and electric bills.Ottawa to consider dimming the lightsIn downtown Ottawa, where tens of thousands of public servants normally work in buildings scattered throughout the city core, lights burn at all hours in government offices even when there isn't anyone in them.Even with a great many public servants working from home due to the pandemic, the lights are still on in many of those offices, with few actually working at a desk."There is indeed a lot of waste to be reduced in the use of buildings," Duclos said. "I'm now sitting in my office and I do see lights on in a lot of government buildings ... clearly they could be turned off without any significant impact on the quality of the workplace."Duclos said the government already has made some progress toward the goal of net zero in thirty years' time. The government's overall emissions in 2020 are projected to be 34 per cent lower than they were in 2005."We are seeing the right slope," he said. "We're confident we can achieve this. We're leading by example. The government of Canada needs to do its part to support a cleaner environment, a cleaner economy."
As with so much else that surrounds the time Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, has spent in the Royal Family, her way of revealing that she had a miscarriage is different.In an opinion piece in Wednesday's New York Times, Meghan wrote of how she felt a sharp cramp one morning back in July, and as she was clutching her firstborn child in her arms, she knew that she was "losing my second."The revelation has been praised for offering support to others who have had miscarriages — and for helping to shatter the stigma and silence that so often surround a deeply personal trauma experienced in as many as one in four pregnancies.But such public sharing and insight into royal health is often more limited, putting Meghan's revelation in contrast to the way in which senior members of the Royal Family have approached matters of their own health."Announcements about royal babies and serious health issues relating to senior members of the family normally come from Buckingham Palace, but I don't think they would ever announce an early miscarriage," said royal author and biographer Penny Junor."The public would only be told if the palace had already announced the pregnancy and the child had been lost."That happened in the case of Sophie, Countess of Wessex, who is married to Prince Edward, the youngest son of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip. Sophie spoke of being "very sad" after losing a baby in 2001 following an ectopic pregnancy.It also happened in the case of Zara Tindall, Princess Anne's daughter, "who then went on to tell a newspaper that she had suffered two miscarriages but hadn't wanted to talk about it because it had been too raw," Junor said via email."So what Meghan has done is unprecedented, but not out of character."In the case of royal pregnancy, sometimes the public revelation has come earlier than might have been intended.When Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, had acute morning sickness in late 2012 and was hospitalized early in her pregnancy with Prince George, it was announced that she and Prince William were expecting their first child.That child, of course, is in direct line to the throne and would be the subject of particular public curiosity."Royal women have always experienced scrutiny of their pregnancies because of the place of their children in the line of succession and the influence of their personal decisions on the wider culture," said Carolyn Harris, a Toronto-based royal historian and author of Raising Royalty: 1,000 Years of Royal Parenting.Meghan and her husband, Prince Harry, stepped back as working members of the Royal Family earlier this year. Harry is also somewhat further down the line of succession, at No. 6. Their first child, Archie, born on May 6, 2019, is No. 7."Harry and Meghan have stepped away from their roles as senior members of the Royal Family, which gives them more freedom to speak openly about their experiences and their concerns," Harris said in an email.Meghan might also have been influenced by royal and celebrity examples of speaking openly about pregnancy and miscarriage, she said."Diana, Princess of Wales, spoke about the challenges of undertaking royal duties while experiencing morning sickness during her pregnancies," Harris said, noting that condition did not appear to affect the public schedule for Queen Elizabeth, who visited France early in her pregnancy with Prince Charles and Canada early in her pregnancy with Prince Andrew.Meghan's piece in the New York Times comes a few weeks after model and TV personality Chrissy Teigen shared her grief via social media following the loss of a son during pregnancy in September."Meghan's article where she calls upon people to commit to asking one another if they are OK may also reflect the influence of advocacy among the younger members of the Royal Family for greater emotional support for those experiencing difficult personal circumstances," Harris said.Because Meghan and Harry, who are now living in California, are no longer working members of the Royal Family, they can "more or less do as they please," Junor said."And writing in this way is Meghan all over. She feels strongly that it's important to talk about feelings — something pretty alien to the older generation of the Royal Family — and I suspect would have spoken out about a miscarriage whether or not she had married Harry."Junor said Meghan "is brave to be talking about it so soon after the event, and I am sure it will be a great comfort to women who are or have been in a similar situation."Still, she said, "it is puzzling that she should go public about something so very personal and painful when she has repeatedly asked for privacy."Jonny Dymond, the BBC's royal correspondent, said Meghan has "made her grief a way of bringing miscarriage closer to the everyday conversation."And he suggested on the BBC website Wednesday that her way of sharing her loss and heartbreak was in keeping with her overall approach."Meghan made it clear from the first event that she spoke at as Harry's bride-to-be that she wanted women's voices and women's experiences to be heard more clearly."Other royals have shared personal pain and grief in the face of stillbirths and miscarriages, although in earlier eras — generations long before social media and 24-hour international news cycles — such views would not have travelled so widely so quickly."Queen Anne spoke of her grief regarding her numerous stillbirths and miscarriages [in the late 1600s] in conversations with her friends and courtiers," Harris said."Her confidante Sarah Churchill, the Duchess of Marlborough, spoke of Queen Anne's hopes that she would bear a child who survived 'though she had 17 dead ones.'"The future King Edward VII was seen weeping at the funeral of his youngest child, Alexander John, who died at birth in 1871.The way the public responded to such expressions of royal grief has varied, Harris said."The death of King George IV's daughter, Princess Charlotte, in childbirth in 1817, giving birth to a stillborn son, prompted national mourning on a level that would not be seen again until the death of Princess Diana in 1997."But while there was public sympathy for Queen Anne, Harris said, "there were also satirical cartoons depicting Anne as desperate for a child and willing to knight any doctor who said that it was still possible for her to have children."Sometimes, Harris said, such deeply personal losses for members of the Royal Family become part of larger debates about its public image.
News reports that many snowbirds are heading south this winter — despite the COVID-19 pandemic — have angered some fellow Canadians who feel they shouldn't be allowed to go. "I think this should be absolutely, 100 per cent stopped," said Barry Tate of Sidney, B.C. "This is a pandemic. This is life and death."Tate and his wife, Patti Locke-Lewkowich, usually travel to Mexico for two months each winter. But this year, they're staying home because of fears of falling ill with COVID-19 while abroad. "We feel safer at home in the confines of our little home here," said Locke-Lewkowich.However, some snowbirds argue they'll be just as safe down south, because they plan to take all necessary COVID-19-related precautions.The federal government sides with Locke-Lewkowich, advising Canadians to avoid non-essential travel abroad during the pandemic.But it's only an advisory, which means Canadians can still freely leave and return to Canada — a decision that's rooted in Canadians' constitutional rights."It's always a balance between allowing people to kind of live their lives and the government attempting to keep health crises under control," said Kerri Froc, a constitutional law expert.Please don't goIn March, the federal government issued its advisory not to travel abroad in order to help stop the spread of COVID-19.After the cold weather hit in the fall and some snowbirds started packing their bags, the government doubled down on its messaging.Last month, it posted an alert on its website, warning seniors to stay home, because their age makes them more vulnerable to falling seriously ill with COVID-19. This month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland each made a public plea. "This is not the time for non-essential travel. It's not a good idea," said Freeland in French at a news conference on Monday. Watch: Canada's chief public officer talks about COVID-19's futureHowever, Freeland added that the government won't bar people from leaving. "We will not stop them," she said in French.As a result, Canadians are free to travel to countries that have open borders, including the United States, which, despite a closed land border, still allows Canadians to fly to the country. Meanwhile, some other Western nations — such as Australia, France and parts of the United Kingdom — prevent their citizens from travelling abroad for non-essential travel as part of current lockdown measures to help curb infection rates. "Going on holiday, including abroad, is not a reasonable excuse to leave," the Scottish government — which bars those who live in designated COVID-19 hotspots from travelling abroad — states on its website.Why doesn't Canada have a travel ban?During a government committee meeting on Wednesday, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said that the government doesn't have the authority to prevent Canadians from travelling abroad."And they have, under the Constitution, a right of return," he said. Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that Canadians have the right to enter and leave the country. Froc, an associate law professor at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, said the government could only limit that right for justifiable reasons and that justifying a travel ban would likely be an uphill battle. "The court takes a really dim view of absolute bans," she said. "I'm totally in favour of government taking the COVID crisis seriously, making policy to restrict travel, but they have to do so in a way that pays sufficient respect to people's constitutional rights."What are the risks?Locke-Lewkowich, who's staying home this winter, said she accepts that Canadians have the right to travel abroad but hopes those who do so won't get government aid if they run into trouble."Is Canada going to bail them out with our money?" she said. When COVID-19 began its global spread in the spring and flights were cancelled, Global Affairs Canada worked with airlines to fly stranded Canadians home.But now, the government department warns it may not assist Canadian travellers a second time round. "The government of Canada is not planning any further facilitated flights to repatriate Canadians and may have limited capacity to offer consular services," said Global Affairs spokesperson Christelle Chartrand in an email. Chartrand advised that, before leaving the country, Canadians verify if their medical insurance covers COVID-19-related illnesses and a possible extended stay abroad. Travel insurance broker Martin Firestone said if travellers fail to purchase adequate insurance and fall ill, they will be on the hook for the bill — and that includes any medevac charges. "You aren't getting medevaced home unless you give them a credit card first and they put it through and then it reads approved," said Firestone with Travel Secure in Toronto. "To the best of my knowledge, I don't see it falling back on the taxpayer."Despite the risks, many snowbirds still plan on heading south; Firestone said that around 40 per cent of his 1,000 snowbird clients have already booked their trips."That's with me telling them not to go," said Firestone, who advises his clients not to travel during the pandemic. "Even as good as you protect yourself, you still can't protect yourself against [the] total unknown."Canadian travellers returning home must quarantine for 14 days. Freeland said that the rule will continue to be "very strictly enforced."
A spokesman for Disney confirmed that the latest figures include the 28,000 layoffs announced earlier. Earlier this month, Disney said it was furloughing additional workers from its theme park in Southern California due to uncertainty over when the state would allow parks to reopen. Disney's theme parks in Florida and those outside the United States reopened earlier this year without seeing new major coronavirus outbreaks but with strict social distancing, testing and mask use.
By Melissa Renwick A new award has been launched by the lieutenant governor of British Columbia that aims to honour those who have demonstrated a commitment to furthering reconciliation with Indigenous peoples within the province. In partnership with the BC Achievement Foundation, the British Columbia Reconciliation Award was established to help inspire British Columbians to work together to help forge a new future. “Reconciliation to me is making the wrongs right,” said Judith Sayers, BC Achievement Foundation board member and president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council. “It’s addressing all of those historic grievances and putting them behind us.” Janet Austin, B.C. lieutenant governor, said she has a responsibility to demonstrate leadership towards advancing reconciliation within the province. "Reconciliation must take root in our hearts, within families, between generations and throughout our communities,” she said in a release. “I look forward to supporting this award and its deeply meaningful goal of building our relationships with each other across cultures and social barriers." The award was founded by Steven Point, former B.C. lieutenant governor and member of the Stó:lō Nation. He has a hand-carved red cedar canoe on display at the B.C. Parliament Buildings, which was gifted as a symbol of reconciliation. “We’re all in the same canoe,” he said, encouraging British Columbians to “paddle together.” "Our world and its issues are not apart from us, but rather are a part of who we are,” Point said in a release. “We must not stand by and observe the world, but rather take steps to bring positive change." Open to Indigenous and non-indigenous individuals, groups and organizations, nominations will be accepted until Jan. 15, 2021. "Reconciliation builds relationships and bridges the gap between two worlds through the efforts of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples,” said Sayers. While COVID-19 means that the award will be celebrated virtually, “it’s the reality we live in and hopefully we can do justice for those groups that are selected for the awards,” she said. As a member of the selection committee, Sayers said she hopes see a “broad, cross-section” of reconciliation efforts being made by British Columbians. “There’s a lot of negativity out there about ‘reconciliation’ – that’s it just an overused word,” she said. “But it really is an important cornerstone of what we’re building right now in B.C.”Melissa Renwick, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Ha-Shilth-Sa
WILMINGTON, Del. — On a day of grace and grievance, President-elect Joe Biden summoned Americans to join in common purpose against the coronavirus pandemic and their political divisions while the man he will replace stoked the fading embers of his campaign to “turn the election over.”Biden, in a Thanksgiving-eve address to the nation, put the surging pandemic front and centre, pledging to tap the “vast powers” of the federal government and to “change the course of the disease” once in office. But for that to work, he said, Americans must step up for their own safety and that of their fellow citizens.“I know the country has grown weary of the fight,” Biden said Wednesday. "We need to remember we're at war with the virus, not with one another. Not with each other.”President Donald Trump, who has scarcely mentioned the pandemic in recent days even as it has achieved record heights, remained fixated on his election defeat.He sent his lawyer Rudy Giuliani and other members of his legal team to meet Pennsylvania Republican state senators in Gettysburg. Inside a hotel near the hallowed battlefields of civil war, they again aired complaints about the election and repeated allegations of Democratic malfeasance that have already disintegrated under examination by courts.“We have to turn the election over,” Trump said from the Oval Office, where he joined the meeting by speakerphone.“This was an election that we won easily,” he said. “We won it by a lot.” In fact, the election gave Biden a clear mandate, and no systemic fraud has been uncovered. Judge after judge has dismissed the Trump campaign’s accusations as baseless, and the transition to Biden’s presidency is fully underway.Nevertheless, Trump repeated: “This election has to be turned around.”Trump had been expected to appear in person in Gettysburg, but did not after another member of his legal team tested positive for the coronavirus. Few at the meeting wore masks.Altogether, the forum heard — and cheered — yet another declaration from a U.S. president seeking to reverse a democratic election and the voters’ will because he wants to stay in power. The setting was about a mile from the scene of Pickett’s Charge, where Union troops repelled a desperate Confederate attack in July 1863 and helped turn the tide of the Civil War.The president followed up by pardoning former national security adviser Michael Flynn, the second Trump associate convicted in the Russia probe to be granted clemency by Trump.The pardon was part of a broader effort to undo the results of an investigation that for years has shadowed Trump’s administration and yielded criminal charges against a half dozen associates. The pardon voids the criminal case against Flynn just as a federal judge was deciding whether to grant a Justice Department request to dismiss the prosecution despite Flynn’s own guilty plea to lying to the FBI about his Russia contacts.For his part, Biden has largely projected serenity as the necessary elements of a presidential transition — money, access to office space and more — were held at bay for nearly three weeks by Trump’s machinations and a delayed ascertainment by the General Services Administration that he had won the election. On Wednesday, he addressed Trump’s raw tactics only in passing.“Our democracy was tested this year,” Biden said, “but the people of this nation are up to the task.”“In America, we have full and fair and free elections, and then we honour the results,” he said. “The people of this nation and the laws of the land won’t stand for anything else.”And he offered an optimistic vision, calling on Americans to “dream again” and predicting that “the 21st century is going to be an American century.”Biden pledged more virus testing, more protective gear and clearer guidance for businesses and schools to reopen when he becomes president. Until vaccines are distributed, he said, masks, social distancing and limits in the size of gatherings “are our most effective tools to combat the virus.”Biden’s remarks came as COVID-19 cases are surging nationwide. Hospitalizations, deaths and the testing positivity rate were also up sharply as the nation headed into Thanksgiving, and public health experts have warned that the large family gatherings expected for the holiday are likely to extend and exacerbate the surge.He has formed a coronavirus advisory board of scientists, doctors and public health experts, and plans to establish a COVID-19 co-ordinator in the White House to lead his administration’s response.This week, however, Biden focused beyond the crisis stateside and unveiled his national security team on Tuesday, including his nominees for secretary of state, director of national intelligence and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Drawing implicit contrasts with Trump, Biden said the team “reflects the fact that America is back, ready to lead the world, not retreat from it.” He’s also expected to name Janet Yellen as treasury secretary in the coming weeks.In urging Americans to be vigilant in their Thanksgiving plans, Biden said Wednesday he was taking precautions of his own, eschewing his traditional large family gathering and spending the holiday instead with just his wife, daughter and son-in-law.He’s travelling with his wife, Jill, to Rehoboth Beach, the small Delaware beach town where the two have a vacation home. That’s where they’ll host their family for Thanksgiving dinner. Biden is expected to stay through the weekend in Rehoboth before returning to Wilmington for further work on the transition.Trump will forgo his usual plans to celebrate Thanksgiving at his private club in Florida and will instead remain at the White House.___Colvin reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Mark Scolforo in Harrisburg, Pa., contributed to this report.Alexandra Jaffe And Jill Colvin, The Associated Press
Chip Matthews loves the mail. The day he turned 6, he was happily surprised when his postal carrier greeted him with a “happy birthday,” reaching into her pockets to give him a $1 bill and four quarters -- a small fortune for the boy. (Nov 26)
When McMaster University student Elisa Do learned last week that her school would be delaying the start of classes in January following the winter break, she felt a wave of relief. The third-year kinesiology major and student journalist feels fortunate she's managed her workload this fall and thankful for professors who have kept students' pandemic challenges in mind. Still, Do is feeling burnt out continuing her studies virtually from home in Stouffville, Ont., rather than being on campus in Hamilton, more than 100 km away. Speaking to friends, she found others were also experiencing similar stress and exhaustion. Schoolwork "just feels a lot heavier," Do said."The workload ... I could handle it. But then because of the lack of social connection and not having emotional support from my friends, it really makes it harder to concentrate and feel as motivated to do the same workload." A longer break is going to really help students' mental health, said Do. She's looking forward to spending time with family as well as returning to hobbies — writing poetry, painting and sketching — that make her feel calmer and less overwhelmed.Most Canadian post-secondary students have traded lecture halls for laptop screens this fall and, as the pandemic continues, schools are largely staying the course through the next term. However, an increasing number of institutions are now pushing back their start dates in the New Year in recognition of strain felt by students and staff. In Ontario, Western University announced Tuesday it will delay the start of classes for the winter term, joining the likes of Wilfrid Laurier University, the University of Waterloo, the University of Toronto, Laurentian University, Carleton University and McMaster, as well as Quebec schools l'Université du Québec à Montréal, Concordia University and l'Université de Sherbrooke.Meanwhile, in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, the mandatory 14-day isolation required for anyone returning from outside the Atlantic region has also led Mount Allison University, Acadia University and St. Francis Xavier University to push back classes at the start of their winter terms. In recent weeks, there have been widespread student appeals for more downtime following a stressful autumn of predominantly online learning and being isolated from peers and instructors due to COVID-19. Mental health among students has been a growing concern for years, flagged by groups such as the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations. Now, additional stressors brought on by the pandemic appear to be aggravating the situation, according to Carleton researchers.The Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations also polled 2,200 faculty members and 500 students on the impact of COVID-19 on university life and education. Sixty-two per cent of the students and 76 per cent of faculty felt that "online learning has negatively impacted the quality of education in Ontario." More than half of the student respondents reported that their mental health was a major area of concern."We're well aware of the health issues, mental health issues right now," said Susan Tighe, vice president academic and provost at McMaster University, the school that Do attends.McMaster's winter break extension came out of a suggestion from its virtual learning task force and a survey of students and faculty that indicated everyone was interested in more time off to rest, recharge and prepare for the term ahead, according to Tighe."We're listening to what the students are saying," she said."We started to do that very early in September and ... tried to get as much early information as possible to make sure that we were providing the kinds of supports that are needed."Tighe added that McMaster has been working on investments into mental health supports, encouraging staff to boost connections with students, and making early, proactive decisions about things like scheduling and online learning."If you really are committed to your students' mental health and stability, you need to be clear in what you're doing and provide as much time to prepare."Students press for changeEarlier this month, a feeling of exhaustion coupled with the news another school had already extended its winter break spurred a trio of University of Toronto students into action. Nada Abdelaal, Rahat Charyyev and Javahir Saidov consider their school among the best in Canada, but began wondering why U of T was lagging behind others "when it's supposed to lead other universities by example," said Charyyev, a third-year student studying political science, French and geographic information systems.They quickly posted an online petition calling for a longer winter break and garnered thousands of student signatories over just a few days. "There were actually a lot of reasons that we did this. But, first of all, the main one was mental health. We were all burnt out," said Abdelaal, a second-year student studying political science and criminology remotely in Oakville, Ont., this term while balancing two part-time jobs.Though post-secondary education has always been challenging, the three said this term has been more difficult and stressful since the switch to remote learning during the pandemic. They're juggling an onslaught of online lectures and assignments deadlines and constantly play catch-up between courses, all while isolated from peer support.Though Saidov, a second-year political science and history major currently based in Barrie, Ont., took a course remotely during the summer term, he said it provided little preparation for his heavy course load this fall. "The school part has always been hard," he said. "But before we had the social part, where we get to talk to our friends, go to a library with them, go grab a cup of coffee to kind of help us relax and to kind of help us recharge. Now that part has been totally cut out, so we're only left with like 12, 14 hours of just school."Without the social part, it's very hard to do that productively." Charyyev, currently studying virtually from New York, added that school has also seeped into what previously would have been valuable downtime surrounding classes."Because you spend the whole day inside the house, whether it's dark [or] whether it's light outside, it doesn't matter … it's kind of like you really lose track of time zones, what day it is. And, it just feels like a never-ending cycle, like a hamster wheel," he said. The trio was thrilled when, just days after they launched their petition, their school announced a week delay for the start of a majority of winter term classes."We recognize that the past several months have been a challenging time for many students and we hope that this extended break provides an opportunity for rest and recuperation," Micah Stickel, University of Toronto's vice provost of students, said in a statement.The school also reiterated its ongoing effort to enhance student mental health supports, including directing to a new online portal of mental health services and resources.While the extended holiday break is greatly welcomed, "I hope this is just the start of something great that we can achieve," said Saidov, who is also involved with other groups campaigning to improve mental health and wellbeing services for students.He's heard from several peers, for instance, who tried to access campus resources and reportedly had to wait months to see a counselor."I don't think that's acceptable for a university," he said."Student action can result in change … but it's important to unite and to voice our concerns together."
Nearly three dozen engineers and doctors in Ontario are calling on the Health Ministry to better inform the public about the risks of airborne transmission of COVID-19, and improve ventilation standards across the province.In a letter, 21 doctors and 12 engineers and other scientists call on Ontario to update the province's COVID-19 guidelines, regulations and communication to reflect the Public Health Agency of Canada's acknowledgement earlier this month that COVID-19 can indeed spread in microscopic droplets, or aerosols, that can travel beyond two metres.> We need our public health leaders and scientists to be explaining this. \- Dr. Sarah Addleman"I think the public generally believes that if you are inside, as long as you are separated more than two metres from other people, you don't need to have a mask on and you'd be pretty safe," said Dr. Jennifer McDonald, a rehabilitation doctor at The Ottawa Hospital, and one of the doctors who co-signed Tuesday's letter."When in reality, especially if you have multiple people in that house or in that room, depending on the ventilation of that room, it could get very dangerous."McDonald conducted her own experiment at home with a carbon dioxide monitor, which can indicate how fresh the air is — generally, the lower the carbon dioxide level, the better the air quality.Outdoor air normally has 400-500 parts per million of carbon dioxide. McDonald found the air inside her home had 1,100 and 1,300 parts per million. A school can be as high as 2,000, she said."The public is not aware of that, that you're literally stewing in stale air that could be building up these virus particles," she said.By simply turning on the exhaust fan over her stove or opening a window, McDonald found she was able to improve her home's air quality within minutes.Knowledge is power, says doctorMcDonald and the other signatories want to see better guidance for high-risk businesses like gyms and bars, and want the province to mandate and fund ventilation assessments at places like schools and long-term care homes, as well as promote the use of HEPA air filters.They'd also like to see practical advice offered to the public about simple ways people can improve air quality at home, like replacing furnace filters and maintaining bathroom exhaust fans. On Thursday, the Ministry of Health said in a statement to CBC that it provides resources for workplaces to protect against the spread of COVID-19 including guidance on installing Plexiglas barriers and improving (HVAC) systems to increase air flow."The most important advice is to wear a mask when physical distancing is a challenge or when it is required," the statement said. "The vast majority of transmission of COVID-19 is by droplet spread between person-to-person. Transmission by small particles (aerosols) has been shown to possibly occur in closed crowded spaces with poor ventilation. There is no evidence at this time that the virus is able to transmit over long distances through the air e.g. through air ducts."Dr. Sarah Addleman, an Ottawa emergency room physician who also signed the letter, said information about COVID-19 airborne transmission shouldn't be frightening, it should be empowering. While handwashing and physical distancing are important, proper ventilation can provide an added layer of protection indoors, she said."People just deserve to know the facts because then they can make decisions for themselves, whether they're comfortable having other people inside their home [or] going to indoor bars or restaurants," Addleman said.Should people chose to host a small gathering indoors, they may decide to crack open a window, buy an air purifier or turn on a humidifier. Studies have shown COVID-19 prefers dry, cool air, she said."I never knew anything about ventilation until I started reading about it," said Addleman. "We need our public health leaders and scientists to be explaining this."
Tony Passarelli was used to having a bit of breathing trouble.The 52-year-old's asthma often flares up in the spring, but this past March, something felt different. He started wheezing, and several rounds of antibiotics didn't solve whatever was ailing him.Later that month, his wife of more than 25 years, Linda, fell ill as well. Then she tested positive for the virus behind COVID-19. While she isolated in a room at the couple's Bolton, Ont., home, Tony took a turn for the worse, and his wheezing became a cough that just wouldn't quit. He headed to the nearest emergency department — Headwaters Health Care Centre in Orangeville — on March 29."They just said I had pneumonia," Tony said, "and that they were going to keep me."That's the last thing he remembers.What happened next, according to the soft-spoken father of three, was a weeks-long ordeal with COVID-19.After passing out in the hospital, he wound up intubated in an intensive care unit, was transferred to Etobicoke General Hospital in Toronto, suffered round after round of fevers and infections, then became so ill that doctors thought there was nothing more they could do to keep him alive."There's nothing else left," Linda recalled being told by one of the ICU physicians in early April.Then came a sliver of hope.Tony qualified for an ECMO treatment — or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation — which could be his last chance at survival.'High level' of demandRoughly 40 Canadian hospitals have access to at least one ECMO machine, representing just three per cent of all hospital sites across Canada — though it's unclear how many machines in total the country has access to.Offered at only a handful of Ontario hospital sites, with the bulk of the machines at Toronto General Hospital, it's a form of life support that uses a pump to circulate blood through a machine that replaces the work of someone's lungs and, in some cases, their heart.The machine removes carbon dioxide, then sends oxygen-filled blood back into the bloodstream, giving damaged lungs a chance to rest and recover.Patients who qualify for the treatment are usually under 65 and have few pre-existing health conditions, ensuring they have the best shot at surviving.Linda credits the device with saving her husband's life, and she's not alone. In the pandemic's first wave in Ontario, 34 COVID-19 patients were given this potentially life-saving treatment, and more than half survived.Now, as coronavirus infections are surging to record-breaking levels, there's concern that demand is quickly rising again for ECMO — this time as Toronto General juggles both COVID-19 cases and other patients requiring the last-resort approach that's in limited supply, including those hospitalized for lung transplants."It's a pretty high level," said Dr. Marcelo Cypel, surgical director for the University Health Network's extracorporeal life support program, which includes the ECMO treatment at the network's Toronto General site.In just the last two weeks, Cypel said, at least a dozen COVID-19 patients have been hooked up to ECMO machines. At the time of his interview with CBC News on Tuesday, nine of the hospital's 11 intensive care admissions were being given the treatment, using nearly a third of the hospital's 30 ECMO machines — a supply that was increased this year to brace for the earlier influx of COVID-19 patients."We are working at our full ICU capacity right now already," Cypel said. "And that's a concern, because we continue to receive referrals every day."ECMO team 'may have to slow down'While the first coronavirus wave saw the cancellation of thousands of elective surgeries and other procedures to make room for COVID-19 patients, Cypel said in the second wave, his team is handling another influx of the sickest of those patients, as well as anyone needing ECMO for other reasons.But he worries that may not be sustainable much longer.If recent provincial lockdowns for Toronto and Peel Region don't put a dent in case growth and ICU admissions, Cypel said, the ECMO team "may have to slow down," which could affect patients waiting for other crucial hospital services such as transplants.That's a situation Renee Alkass finds alarming, since she once had the treatment herself for a non-COVID medical issue.In 2017, long before the COVID-19 pandemic, the University of Guelph student developed an ear infection that spiralled into acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). After struggling to breathe, Alkass was hospitalized, and doctors discovered that both of her lungs were filled with fluid.She wound up being sent to Toronto General and was on ECMO for 18 days during her stay."I can't even fathom to understand what everyone must be feeling," said the 21-year-old, who has since recovered from ARDS and was eventually diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disorder."And I do hope that there's a light at the end of all this and things start looking up from here, and there isn't such a stretch or this need."When asked if the province has any plans to address the recent demand for ECMO at Toronto General, provincial officials didn't outline any.Instead, a spokesperson told CBC News the decision to use it is a clinical one, with the Ministry of Health providing dedicated funding to the hospital for patients who require the treatment."The hospital can expense the ministry for costs related to treating patients with COVID-19 ... if it is above and beyond their funding allocation," the ministry said in a statement."So, it's not expected that the needs of patients with COVID-19 will impact the use of the therapy for other patients."1 in 10 ICU beds have COVID-19 patientsBut Anthony Dale, president and CEO of the Ontario Hospital Association, said the pressure on the ECMO program is just one example of the impact from rising numbers of COVID-19 hospitalizations and ICU admissions.Roughly one in every 10 intensive care beds in Ontario is now occupied by someone infected with the virus, he recently noted."What people simply have to appreciate is that critical care is the most complex care that you can access in an Ontario hospital, and it's located in only certain hospitals," Dale said. "And it's totally dependent on having access to the right kinds of health professionals with the right kind of technology."Both Dale and Cypel say the key to lowering demand for limited treatments like ECMO is simply reducing the amount of community spread of COVID-19."I don't want people to only see how serious this is when the province's hospitals are facing an even more destabilizing crisis," Dale said."Right now I know it's hidden from you. But I assure you that right now hospitals, especially in major urban centres, are bracing for serious impact over the next two to four weeks."'We're so blessed that he was picked'When Tony Passarelli finally woke up at Toronto General, months before the second surge of COVID-19 cases, he had no idea a machine had helped him get to that point."I just remember one of the nurses there saying, 'Do you know where you are? Do you know what day it is?' Groggily I said, 'I'm in the hospital, but day-wise, no,'" he recalled. "She said the date — which I don't remember — and she says, 'You've been here three weeks.'"Tony soon learned more alarming details: His entire family in Bolton, northwest of Toronto, including his three children and mother, all wound up having confirmed or likely infections of the virus.And he found out there was a long recovery ahead. Tony's motor skills weren't working, and he couldn't eat or drink on his own. He was transferred back to Etobicoke General and discharged in early May, and he now uses an oxygen machine to help him breathe.But he's alive, Linda said, and that's enough."Our family's a family right now because of the ECMO," she added.What scares the couple now? The realization that there's high demand for only a limited number of machines across the entire province."The fact that there are so few, and there's such a demand ... that is incredibly scary," Linda said."We're regular people; we're so blessed that he was picked and he's here today."
On a bright November morning in Australia, Andrea Seccafien takes a call from a Toronto reporter before a pair of late spring runs with temperatures set to reach 33C."Never a rest day," said Canada's record holder in the women's half marathon. "To run more 5K to half marathon I need to run a lot."Seccafien doesn't mind the scorching heat now that she's finally training for a race — a half marathon Dec. 13 in the Australian island state of Tasmania — after two coronavirus pandemic lockdowns kept her out of competition from March through October.Seccafien's mental health suffered greatly through those months. Sharing a small apartment with fiancé Jamie Whitfield, she became overwhelmed by "a spiral of thoughts, a lot of worries" and took a break from training in June before the second lockdown of 111 days.Seccafien often wondered if the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics would indeed be held next summer. Would she get a chance to qualify for the Summer Games in the 10,000 metres? What would a long layoff mean for her career?> Everything felt so much harder because my heart rate was always 20 beats over a normal amount. — Canadian runner Andrea Seccafien on training while struggling with mental health"I didn't know what was wrong [with me]. I was definitely dealing with a lot of anxiety but thankfully we have a really good support group with Athletics Canada," said Seccafien, who also began seeing a sports psychologist in Australia, where she has lived since late 2017 after Jamie landed a job as a post-doctoral researcher at the Melbourne campus of the Australian Catholic University."I also wasn't sleeping well, so it was just a lot of things going on."During lockdown, Melbourne's five million residents could leave home to exercise outside and buy groceries but not travel further than five kilometres. Fortunately, there was 31 km stretch of running space for Seccafien on a nearby trail system. Still, the native of Guelph, Ont., faced many challenges."Everything felt so much harder because my heart rate was always 20 beats over a normal amount," the 30-year-old recalled, her voice cracking with emotion. "My body was amped up all the time.'Nerve-racking' without treatment"I would try to do a workout but running a time that would normally be very easy would feel as if I was doing a threshold or a pace faster and harder than a regular easy run."During tougher training sessions on the road, Jamie would bike alongside Seccafien and joined her on all long runs."That was extremely helpful. It was really hard [emotionally] but we're a good team," said the Melbourne Track Club member, who found it "nerve-racking" running 150 km weekly and not being able to receive physio and massage therapy.Looking back, Seccafien realizes stepping away was necessary after struggling through training and not seeing improvement in her fitness."When we went back into lockdown in July, it gave me time to train on my own, at my own pace and not compare myself to others, which was beneficial to getting back into fitness and confident again," said Seccafien, who also focused on meditation and her daily training responsibilities to work through the anxiety. "I think if I had to go back training [with my group] it would have spiraled again. Now, I feel normal."Seccafien is also in good physical health after tearing her right plantar — the ligament connecting the heel bone to your toes — in September 2018. After attempts to run through the pain led to a stress reaction (deep bone bruise) and prevented her from racing the 10,000, Seccafien reinjured the plantar while finishing second in the 5,000 at the Canadian championships in Montreal on July 25, 2019.She recovered to run two personal-best times in three days that October in Doha, Qatar — 15:04.67 in the semifinals to shave nearly four seconds off her PB and hit the 15:10 Olympic standard, then clocking her first-ever sub-15-minute 5,000 to place 13th in her first world final.WATCH | Andrea Seccafien runs sub-15-minute 5,000m for 1st time:"You always want to finish higher, so the goal in Tokyo would be top eight or 10," said Seccafien, who was 20th at her 2016 Olympic debut in Rio. "In Rio I was so green. I was making moves and wasting energy. Now, I feel I've learned how to run those [championship] races."In Tasmania, the former University of Toronto Track Club runner will race for the first time since setting a 33:05 PB in the 10K on Feb. 23, three weeks after taking down Natasha Wodak's Canadian half marathon record in 1:09:38 at the Kagawa Marugame International Half Marathon in Japan."Since August, I have had a consistent block of training and I do think I'm quite fit, so there is no reason it shouldn't go well," said Seccafien, who remains hopeful of running the 5,000 and 10,000 in Tokyo. "I don't know if it'll be a Canadian record race, but I hope to be around that time."
Tammy Oliver-McCurdie lost her younger sister, Jolene Oliver, in last April's mass shooting in Portapique, N.S., and her worst fear remains that the 39-year-old woman, her husband, Aaron Tuck, 45, and their 17-year-old daughter, Emily, lay injured for hours.The family of three were among the 13 people killed on April 18 in their tiny subdivision in rural Nova Scotia, about 130 kilometres north of Halifax. A gunman went on to kill nine more people the following morning in what became one of the worst mass killings in Canadian history.A police officer shot and killed the man responsible at a gas station in Enfield, N.S., on Sunday, April 19 at 11:26 a.m., after the gunman travelled about 195 kilometres.During a teleconference on July 3 with the Oliver family, who live in Alberta, the RCMP said they didn't discover the couple and their daughter until 5 p.m. on April 19 — 19 hours after investigators believe they were killed.By that point, family members had been frantically calling and looking for information for hours, pleading with the RCMP to send an officer to check on their loved ones.Police assured the Oliver family they did not suffer, though the final reports from the Nova Scotia medical examiner about how exactly they died are still not complete."Always what goes through your mind is how long did they lay there for alive?" Oliver-McCurdie said in an interview with CBC News. "The best story is yes, they went fast. But what if they didn't?"CBC's The Fifth Estate investigated and found that while the RCMP did tell some residents to leave their homes late on April 18, they left others in the community to sleep through the night, unaware a neighbour had gone on a shooting spree.Families have questions about delaysThe Oliver family is among several that lost loved ones in the rampage who have raised questions about how the RCMP responded and why it took so long to confirm the deaths.Oliver-McCurdie said she still doesn't understand the delay, given that the subdivision is small and police arrived Saturday night. The Oliver-Tuck home was located about two kilometres from the entrance to the community."I would hope that police would check the house to see if everyone was OK, especially if they're missing the shooter. So a lot of questions and a lot of anger coming out of that piece for me and my family," she said."I'm upset over it. It makes no sense when it comes to a public safety standpoint, it makes no sense."At the July 3 meeting, RCMP investigators said officers in Portapique were still in the process of clearing homes on the Sunday afternoon, which is why it took so long to get to Oliver and Tuck's house. They also said at the meeting that on the day after the shooting, they were concerned about properly identifying victims and not releasing incorrect information.WATCH | Thirteen Deadly Hours: The Nova Scotia Shooting:The Oliver family, calling from Red Deer, Alta., on the Sunday, became frantic after Jolene didn't pick up her mother's daily phone call while they have their morning coffee. Aaron and Emily Tuck also didn't respond to calls, texts or Facebook messages.Before noon Nova Scotia time, the family had heard there was a situation in Portapique and had begun calling the RCMP and hospitals. Twelve hours later — five hours after police say they discovered the family — an RCMP officer finally contacted them to pass on the horrific news.Oliver-McCurdie said that by then, she, her other sister and parents assumed the worst but had still wondered if somehow the family of three had managed to escape."It's one thing to find out that your family is dead and have the confirmation, and it's another excruciating piece to wait in limbo for confirmation," she said."You have all these officers, you're supposed to have all these resources. There's no reason why someone couldn't have just driven down there [and checked the house].... After a dozen or more phone calls my family made during the day, it doesn't make sense."By Sunday night, the police were dealing with 16 crime scenes in several communities. Investigators told the Oliver family that the medical examiner couldn't move the bodies from the home until Tuesday afternoon — a further delay that Oliver-McCurdie said caused them grief and anxiety.Mass shooting subject of public inquiryThe RCMP declined to answer any questions from CBC News about the case, citing an ongoing public inquiry into the mass shooting called by the provincial and federal governments."The RCMP recognizes the need to provide the factual account of what transpired this past April. With the public inquiry now ongoing, the most appropriate and unbiased opportunity to do so is with our full participation in the inquiry," Cpl. Lisa Croteau said in an emailed statement.The inquiry's final report isn't expected for two more years.In the meantime, Oliver-McCurdie said, her family decided to speak out about the details of the deaths of her sister, brother-in-law and niece — and the questions that remain — to promote discussion about how policing in rural areas could be improved and how April's tragedy might have been prevented.She said she would also like police forces to tighten the rules and limit access to their own logos and equipment. The shooter — Gabriel Wortman, 51, a denturist with a clinic in Dartmouth — purchased decommissioned police cars and gear online and used them to masquerade as a Mountie. Information on the specifications for the graphics on RMCP cruisers remains publicly available."If a positive piece is better public policy, better safety, for those living in Canada ... that makes their deaths ... a little bit easier if we can do better as a society and do better with protecting people in Canada. That needs to be the aim," Oliver-McCurdie said.'They did everything, just the three of them'Jolene Oliver, who grew up in Alberta, moved east with her husband and daughter seven years ago to be closer to Tuck's parents. But she left behind a miniature Christmas village she loved, and Oliver-McCurdie said she has been trying to find a way to display her sister's collection.Oliver worked as a restaurant server because she loved interacting with people — being there to listen to them, support them and make sure they got home safely, her sister said."She made the best of everything she ever had. A really unique outlook on life, a very positive outlook on life."In Portapique, Oliver-McCurdie said, Jolene loved walking along the shore of Cobequid Bay and would insist on taking a proper picnic basket for the family's snacks."They did everything, just the three of them," she said.The family moved into a home that didn't have electricity, and they spent months working on it together. When they needed a washing machine, Aaron Tuck was industrious enough to find a solution, Oliver-McCurdie said."He just had that knack, that creative art with welding and wood and things and just understanding them. He had a very great mechanical mind that he could come up with an invention for almost anything," she said.Emily Tuck spent time in the garage with her father, learning about motors and welding. Like Aaron, Emily also had a creative side and loved playing her fiddle.WATCH | Emily Tuck plays the violin:"She made a lot of art and a wrote a lot of poems," Oliver-McCurdie said. "She's a really unique kid and a really unique outlook. She's was a lot of fun."For now, as the Oliver family wait for answers, they continue to grieve. In Alberta, they planted three oak trees from Nova Scotia's Colchester County in memory of the branch of their family they've lost.
A residential school survivor in Manitoba who received his high school diploma last week says he hopes to inspire others to believe in their education goals."Now I can prove that an elder like me could graduate. If anybody like me can do it, they can do it," 61-year-old Glenn Courchene said.Courchene is Anishinaabe from Sagkeeng First Nation, located 100 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.He received his high school diploma from the Empower Adult Education Centre, in the neighbouring community of Pine Falls, Man., on Nov. 18.Courchene made the commitment in February 2019 to obtain his high school diploma."I wanted to go back to school and I wanted to complete my education, so what I did was I encouraged myself to believe in myself," he said.As a child, he attended the Fort Alexander Indian Residential School in Manitoba for eight years starting in the 1960s. He also attended the day school in the community for three and half years.At the residential school, he had only gone up to Grade 6, and he blamed the schools for him not being able to speak Anishinaabemowin, the Ojibway language, and for hurting his confidence."My education in the residential school, it was kind of hard for me," Courchene said."We couldn't learn because of what happened to us. We were abused, physical and all that. We were there to learn, not to get hurt."Arriving early before staffCourchene said he wouldn't have been able to finish school without the support of his friends and the staff at the Empower Adult Education Centre.Among the staff members he gives credit to is Karen Legall, the school's work counsellor. She helps students upgrade their skills so they can take the courses that are required for graduation.Legall said Courchene tried to give school a chance back in 2012 but didn't follow through with it at the time.When he returned in 2019, she said, he was there at the school every day.Every morning, Courchene walked the roughly seven kilometres to the centre from Sagkeeng to Pine Falls — often getting picked up along the way and given a ride.Legall said he would often arrive at the school before the staff, waiting for the doors to open."Last year he just took off," she said, adding he really enjoyed his math studies."He just started coming in every day. And then we thought, you know what, let's get your Grade 12. And he was so excited and he did it."Legall described Courchene as funny and caring and said he has shared many stories with the staff since he started at the school. She said he made individual dreamcatchers, as well as a big heart-shaped dreamcatcher for the staff at Empower."He really likes to share all his knowledge over the years. And we appreciate him doing that. We've learned a lot from him," Legall said.Courchene said he plans to go to university to obtain a bachelor's degree."I've gone through a lot of hurt, and I respect myself for going to school. And I will never give up school because I want to keep learning."
As western Quebec experiences its deadliest month so far during the COVID-19 pandemic, the region's top health official says it's imperative to limit outbreaks at retirement homes.In November alone, 33 people in Outaouais have died from COVID-19 — 43 died from the start of the pandemic until Oct. 31.As of Wednesday, Outaouais reported 947 new cases of COVID-19 in November, compared to 946 confirmed cases for the same period in Ottawa, a jurisdiction with more than double the population.Dr. Brigitte Pinard, director of the Centre intégré de santé et de services sociaux de l'Outaouais, said Wednesday that 10 retirement homes are currently experiencing outbreaks."We know a part of the increase [in cases and deaths] is associated with those outbreaks, yet those outbreaks don't explain the entire situation," said Pinard.Red zone designation until at least Jan. 11Of the total 76 deaths since the start of the pandemic, 29 have been of residents in retirement homes.Pinard said retirement homes in Outaouais managed, for the most part, to avoid outbreaks during the first wave of the pandemic, but a combination of community transmission and possible fatigue with COVID-19 prevention measures explain the outbreaks during this second wave."It's possible that as the retirement homes were less affected during the first wave, that there was still some need to increase vigilance," she said.Outaouais was upgraded to red status, the maximum level on Quebec's COVID-19 alert scale, in October. The earliest the provincial government said it might lower the threat level is Jan. 11, 2021.Pinard said it's imperative to stabilize the rate of infection before the holidays to keep numbers from getting out of control. "It's a situation we consider to be quite fragile," she said. "People everywhere need to apply measures so we decrease the transmission and we also decrease the risk of having our most vulnerable population contract the disease."Protecting hospitals is keyMeanwhile, hospitals in western Quebec are currently caring for 40 patients with COVID-19, including one in intensive care. Sixty-six hospital staff are infected with the virus, something that is especially concerning to Dr. Denis Marcheterre, president of the health care advocacy group Action Santé Outaouais."If we have more outbreaks it won't look pretty in the hospitals," he said. "We have a pretty fragile health-care system and we've got to protect it."Marcheterre said he supports the red zone designation for Outaouais through the holidays."There is a significant lack of nurses and support staff in hospitals and elderly care homes," he said. "We have to stay in the red zone to protect our hospitals."
We're answering your questions about the pandemic. Send yours to COVID@cbc.ca, and we'll answer as many as we can. We publish a selection of answers online and also put some questions to the experts during The National and on CBC News Network. So far, we've received more than 57,300 emails from all corners of the country.How safe is it to go shopping?With the holidays on the horizon and Black Friday promotions out in full force, readers like Sue G. are asking if it's still safe to go shopping.First, it's important to note public health authorities are urging people to stay home as much as possible by limiting errands and outings to just the essentials.So, if you have to buy something, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) is advising that you reduce your risk of exposure by making purchases online or using curbside pickup when possible. In fact, these may be the only options in some parts of the country, such as Manitoba or parts of Ontario, where non-essential retail has been temporarily restricted.But if the stores are open where you live, does that mean it's safe? Despite Canadian chains, including Loblaw and Sobeys, reporting numerous positive cases throughout the pandemic, experts have said there is no evidence that grocery shopping has led to significant outbreaks or transmission. That said, shopping is not without risk."I would not spend any more time than necessary at an indoor mall or store," said epidemiologist Lisa Lee, a professor at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., and a former official at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States."Steer clear from anyone without a mask, and do not spend more than 15 minutes near others," she said in an email to CBC News.PHAC is also advising that Canadians avoid close-contact situations where they can't keep two metres apart from other people, as well as skipping crowded places and closed spaces with poor ventilation.So are smaller stores with fewer people safer than larger ones? Not really, said Linsey Marr, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech, who studies how viruses are transmitted in the air."In the larger stores, the risk is lower because people can be more spaced out in there," Marr said. "Larger, more modern buildings tend to have better ventilation systems."Retailers are also doing their part to mitigate risks.Michael LeBlanc, a senior retail advisor at the Retail Council of Canada, said people should plan ahead so they don't spend any more time than necessary when shopping. Some retailers have made a conscious effort to stretch out sale periods so consumers aren't compelled to all go at the same time."Keep your distance, be patient, wear your mask, be cool, be calm," LeBlanc said. "We don't want retail to be this social gathering place where everybody hangs out."Is it safe for seniors to walk in the mall?Some of our other readers also want to know if it's safe to go to the mall but not necessarily for shopping.Wendy M. asked if it's OK for seniors to get their exercise walking in the mall as the weather gets colder.While all of the experts we spoke to agree that it's important to exercise and stay healthy during the pandemic, they are split on whether or not the mall is the right place for seniors to take their winter walks."For a person who is at high risk of serious complications, they should exercise, yes, but only when crowds are very sparse," said Dr. Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto's faculty of information. "A really big mall with high ceilings that isn't crowded won't be especially dangerous." Adrian Wagg, a professor of healthy aging at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, agrees that walking in the mall is not a risk as long as you stay more than two metres apart from others, wash your hands regularly and wear your mask. However, Dr. Anand Kumar, an associate professor in the department of medical microbiology at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, said he would recommend seniors try to workout at home or outdoors instead."Exercise substantially increases the amount of air you exhale and inhale per minute," he said. "It's been shown that exercise is one of the high-risk situations, especially if you are in an enclosed space."Is there a safe way to get together?While Christmas isn't cancelled this year, experts say it should be done differently, with large, extended family gatherings likely off the table.Corrine B. wanted to know if there were any strategies for making gatherings safer indoors. First, it's important to check what your local public health guidelines allow. Indoor gatherings are being discouraged in most places across the country. In Manitoba and some regions of Ontario, they're not allowed at all.But if gatherings are allowed where you live, the experts said there are some things you can do to minimize the risk."There is no such thing as a perfect risk-free alternative," said Dr. Matthew Oughton, attending physician in the division of infectious diseases at the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal. "This is all about reducing risk as much as possible." The virus spreads when people are in close contact with one another and those who are older or have underlying medical conditions tend to have worse outcomes when infected by the virus, Oughton said. He suggested taking the following steps to make gatherings safer in your home. * Have guests distance within your home. * Provide ample access to supplies for good hand hygiene. * Avoid hugging and close contact. * Avoid singing (even Christmas carols). * Don't share food or drinks. In a previous article, medical experts also warned that the risk of getting the virus increases when you spend longer periods of time in close contact with others.And while raising a toast may be a holiday tradition, it's a good idea to limit how much alcohol guests drink, Oughton said. "Alcohol lowers inhibitions and during a pandemic, unfortunately, it's inhibitions that in part are helping to keep people safe," he said. Wearing masks and opening windows can also help, but improving air circulation doesn't replace the need to keep your distance from other people, Oughton said in an earlier article.And if you can hack it, you may want to consider meeting outdoors if your local public health guidelines permit it. Research shows the risk of transmission is lower outside, likely due to better ventilation and because it's easier to physically distance.What about a small dinner in my garage?With winter weather making outdoor gatherings a lot less appealing, Susan M. wrote to ask if it was safe to have guests over in her garage."If you're just comparing being in a garage with an open door versus being indoors without any windows open — certainly being in an area where there is more and better ventilation is better," said Dr. Alon Vaisman, an infectious diseases and infection control physician with the University Health Network in Toronto.Aerosol expert Marr agrees. But she would "still have people be masked and distanced."Vaisman said that even with garage doors and windows open, they are "not necessarily safe."If you follow local public health guidelines in most parts of the country they would advise you not to visit other people's homes or garages, Vaisman said.Doesn't the cold weather kill the virus?The answer is no. In fact, Marr cautioned that the opposite is true — viruses survive longer in colder, drier environments whether they're in the air or on surfaces.She also identified recirculated air in heated homes and buildings as a potential risk."This leads to greater potential for a virus to build up in the air and for people then to be exposed to higher levels of it," Marr said. Experts said dry air can also make our bodies more vulnerable to pathogens, like the virus that causes COVID-19, by drying out the protective mucous membrane that lines our respiratory tracts.Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious disease physician at St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton and an associate professor of medicine at McMaster University, pointed to another issue that impacts how we cope with COVID-19 in the winter — our behaviour."There's a reason why we see respiratory viruses in the winter in Canada," he said. "We tend to be more indoors, more gathered [in] more poorly ventilated settings."So what should we do? Invest in some good, warm winter clothing, Chagla said. "We're going to have a long winter and the outdoors is still a viable option for people to meet," he said."The risk is so low — it isn't zero — but it's modified," Chagla said.As long as it's permitted to meet outside, it's a good option, he said. Even short outdoor meetings can provide a much-needed boost."Having 15 minutes of real life interaction is just so precious for people." How safe is it to fly? Despite the government's travel advisory, we're hearing from a number of Canadians looking to head south this winter. Ursula H. said she's Florida-bound and wanted to know how safe it was to get on a plane right now.When it comes to transmission of the virus, experts say airplanes are actually quite safe. Canada's Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said earlier this month that there was little evidence that COVID-19 was being transmitted by passengers on airplanes, even though the Public Health Agency of Canada was aware of reports that infected people had travelled into the country by air."There have been very few reports, extremely rare reports, actually, of transmission aboard aircraft," Tam said. "Very, very little."In fact, a Harvard University study found that flying may actually be safer than other routine activities, such as grocery shopping, because of "layered" prevention measures, such as air filtration systems, mask policies, frequent cabin cleaning and screening for symptomatic passengers.Another study conducted by the U.S. Department of Defence also found ventilation systems and stringent masking policies have made onboard transmission rare.Chagla said an airplane's ventilation system is pretty similar to those used in operating rooms, but being on board isn't the riskiest part of flying.He pointed to everything leading up to and after the flight, such as taking transit to the airport and waiting in line, as opportunities for transmission. "All of that probably presents a higher risk than the flight itself," Chagla said. Can vitamin D protect me from COVID-19?If you're not racing for warming temperatures, some readers have been wondering if they should be heading to the pharmacy to buy vitamin D supplements. But do they actually help?The answer is probably not, according to Dr. Christopher Labos, a cardiologist at Notre Dame Hospital in Montreal. "To date, there is no research showing that taking a vitamin tablet will prevent or help cure [the] coronavirus," Labos said.When it comes to vitamin D specifically, Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist and researcher based at Toronto General Hospital, noted that there were some "poorly constructed studies" that said it might help, but that the research fell apart on closer examination.Labos said some studies have shown people with low levels of vitamin D tend to have worse outcomes after having contracted COVID-19, but he warned against drawing the wrong conclusions.It's not that the low vitamin D levels cause disease or cause COVID-19, but that older people or people with pre-existing medical conditions tend to have low vitamin D levels, he said.So while it's unlikely that taking a supplement will help prevent you from contracting, or fighting COVID-19, should you take it anyway? Not necessarily.Statistics Canada says about two-thirds of Canadians already get enough vitamin D from natural sources or supplements.Dr. Todd Alexander, a pediatrician and professor at the University of Alberta, said you probably don't need to be taking supplemental vitamin D, and that in fact, it might have adverse effects. "You're getting plenty, and in my opinion, the risks would outweigh the benefits."The risks of taking too much vitamin D can vary depending on your health and age.In children, for example, too much vitamin D can cause a buildup of calcium in the blood, which can lead to kidney stones, said Alexander.So you should always ask your doctor whether supplementing with vitamin D is right for you.
New COVID-19 directives from the Ontario government about how people should celebrate the holidays have some changing their plans, while others are forging ahead.On Wednesday, Premier Doug Ford urged people to celebrate with only those people in their households, adding that those who live alone can join one other household. The announcement came as the province saw another 1,373 cases of COVID-19 and 35 more deaths.The news meant a hard decision for Ottawa area resident Kevin Farrell, who usually celebrates with his adult children at a restaurant each year. But he said since those children live in two different households he can't see them together, and couldn't pick only one to visit."I'm extremely disappointed," Farrell said. The decision was made even harder by some good news he received this year. "On November 11, I became a grandfather for the first time. I haven't been able to hold my grandson yet and I was really looking forward to that … It looks like that's not going to happen."Coming home despite warningsOttawa's medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches urged residents Wednesday to keep travel to a minimum and avoid going from areas with higher case numbers to places with lower. But that warning doesn't sit well with Carlos Verde, who's still planning to come home to Ottawa from Toronto for the holidays."It's kind of hard to stomach this idea that it's been fine to go home the last eight months," he said. "At a time when mental health is nosediving, as we go into winter and stuff — when people really need to kind of have some family face time ... now you're telling us that all of a sudden we can't go home."Verde said he has been following the rules throughout the pandemic by keeping his bubble to just his roommate, working in an isolated office away from co-workers and he plans to quarantine before returning home.He said his family will be isolating before too in order to ensure their visit is safe.
The federal government's prescription for the COVID-19 pandemic — spending is the best medicine — hasn't varied much since the spring. The finance minister is signalling that approach will continue (if in much smaller doses) in next week's economic statement."Our plan will continue to support Canadians through the pandemic and ensure that the post-COVID economy is robust, inclusive and sustainable," Chrystia Freeland told the Commons this week.Her economic statement will be the first detailed fiscal update from the federal government since March 2019. Back then, the Liberals were still in their first mandate. Bill Morneau was the finance minister. COVID-19 didn't exist.While other countries have produced financial blueprints since the pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns, the Trudeau government initially refused, arguing the pandemic made it impossible to forecast economic growth, or even government spending, with any degree of accuracy.That's one of the reasons Freeland's update on Monday is generating so much advance interest.Keep your eye on the ball, says business council"We're expecting the update will be very pandemic focused and that is good news," said Goldy Hyder, the president and CEO of the Business Council of Canada, which represents more than 150 companies in every sector and region of the country."Let's make sure we are managing the crisis at hand and not ... 're-imagining' Canada."Government sources (who are not authorized to speak publicly) tell CBC News the update will include new but time-limited spending measures to deal with the pandemic's economic impact on specific industries and vulnerable Canadians, while laying the groundwork for the policy priorities listed in September's speech from the throne.They also say the cost of the new stimulus will be in line with the percentage of GDP represented by other G7 countries' pandemic plans.While they would not set out exact details, the measures in the update are expected to include: * Support for airlines and the tourism and hospitality sector, which have yet to recover from border closures and ongoing lockdowns. * Money to help long-term care homes control infections. * Support to help women return to the workplace. * Some infrastructure projects tied to the government's commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as part of the economic recovery.Job creation with a green glossIn 2009, stimulus projects meant to help lift Canada out of the global recession were tied primarily to putting people back to work.The focus this time would be on both job creation and helping Canada meet its emission reduction targets. Rather just widening a highway, for example, a pandemic stimulus project might also install charging stations for electric vehicles. A project to refurbish a hockey arena might include the installation of solar panels."Think of these measures as a down payment on what is to come once we are in the post-pandemic recovery," said one source.The timing of that recovery is still in flux as Canada awaits shipments of vaccines, and while severe outbreaks continue to plague many parts of the country.It's also not clear how much room Freeland still has to add to the country's deficit.Running out of road?In September, the parliamentary budget officer pegged this year's deficit at $328 billion — and that's without factoring in the extension of the emergency wage subsidy and revamped rent relief program that became law just last week, or the top-up to the interest-free loans available for businesses.Still, the sources suggest the update will include assistance not only for the airlines, hotels and restaurants that have lost business, but for their suppliers as well.Freeland also is expected to earmark funds to help meet the commitment in the throne speech to set national standards for long-term care facilities — which accounted for nearly 80 per cent of the deaths in the pandemic's first wave."We can't be going through the same sort of carnage we went through in long-term care in the second wave that we did in the first wave," said another source. "That would be irresponsible."Those sources suggest there will be a down-payment on efforts to help women in the workforce — people who were more likely to lose their jobs to the pandemic "she-cession" and less likely to return to work following the first wave.There could also be money to help families cover one-time expenses they incurred when schools shut down — things like laptop purchases and additional expenses associated with online classes."These are short-term costs," one source cautioned. "It's not a long-term commitment to increase the availability of child care across the country."Economist Armine Yalnizian has written extensively on the impact the pandemic has had on women. In the Financial Post last month, she argued that a lack of child care is "the policy chokepoint of a she-covery.""There will be no recovery without a she-covery, and no she-covery without child care," she wrote. "The sooner we accept the simple facts of pandemic economics, the sooner we can stop making things worse than they need be."Hyder said that while business leaders aren't opposed to more spending, he wants to see some commitment from the federal government to start balancing budgets again — to signal to financial markets and investors that this country is on a sustainable path."This country has 37 million people. The population is aging dramatically. Trade patterns are changing. Our economy is heavily dependent on natural resources," he said. "The question being asked is, 'How are you going to pay this all back?'"That answer likely will have to wait until the full budget next spring. In the meantime, Freeland and her cabinet colleagues seem willing to spend whatever they think the country needs to deal with the pandemic's second wave.
Mexico's ambassador to Canada apparently watches question period — and it seems he did not like what he saw and heard on Tuesday."Mexico has worked hard to ensure equitable access to vaccines for all," Juan José Gómez Camacho tweeted on Tuesday night. "We believe a pandemic is a time to promote solidarity, rather than showing selfishness, which could endanger us all."The ambassador tagged Conservative leader Erin O'Toole and Conservative health critic Michelle Rempel at the end of his message. During question period on Tuesday, Rempel dwelled upon reports suggesting that Mexico's first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine might arrive before Canada's first vaccinations.Mexico was really just an unlucky bystander caught up in an outbreak of vaccine nationalism in Ottawa this week. The hope offered by glowing reports on the leading vaccine candidates has given way to questions about when exactly Canada will receive its first shipment of a vaccine, and how close to the front of the line Canada might be among the 195 countries of the world.Those questions represent significant risks for the Liberal government — even if Canadians ultimately have to accept that they can't necessarily expect to go first.The impetus for the Official Opposition's questions on Tuesday was the prime minister's acknowledgement that other countries will be able to start vaccinating their citizens before Canada."The very first vaccines that roll off an assembly line in a given country are likely to be given to citizens of that particular country," Justin Trudeau told a morning news conference. "But shortly afterwards, they will start honouring and delivering on the contracts that they signed with other countries, including with Canada."WATCH: Federal government can't guarantee vaccination timelineSpecifically, Trudeau suggested that the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany might get the first vaccines. In each of those countries, it has been suggested that vaccinations could start in December.On Wednesday, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc told CBC's Power & Politics that Canada should "start to receive" vaccine doses in January. That might not immediately amount to a huge difference — but this week's debate offers just a hint of how the international rollout of a vaccine might be used to keep score between nations.It's not clear yet whether the Trudeau government could have done something over the past eleven months to change Canada's place in the pecking order, or whether Canada will even receive vaccines markedly later than most other countries.Trudeau said that "Canada no longer has any domestic production capacity for vaccines" — but that's not quite right. This country does have vaccine manufacturing facilities — GlaxoSmithKline has one near Montreal and Sanofi Pasteur operates in Toronto. What Canada doesn't have is a production facility connected to any of the current leading candidates for a COVID-19 vaccine.'Horrendously complex'Those major manufacturers are also producing other vaccines. And even if they had excess capacity, setting up a new facility to deliver a new vaccine would be a complicated, time-consuming endeavour."Manufacturing vaccines is horrendously complex," said Robert Van Exan, a former executive with Sanofi Pasteur in Toronto and now a consultant on immunization policy. "And you don't just take it from one facility to another."Trudeau's government has spent federal money to boost research and manufacturing capacity at facilities in Saskatchewan and Quebec, which could lead to vaccine production next year. In the meantime, the government has signed contracts with a number of international suppliers.During question period on Wednesday, Trudeau pointed to what he called the "most diverse portfolio of vaccines anywhere in the world" (a claim recently supported by the Economist) and insisted that his government's approach was informed by experts in the field (the Liberals have established a vaccine task force).Rempel asked whether the government had attempted to negotiate the right to produce those vaccines in Canada. Trudeau said the government "looked at different ways of ensuring domestic production as much as we were able to," but it was not something it could "move forward on."WATCH: Opposition leaders push for vaccine rollout planAnyone looking for errors or oversights in this aspect of Canada's pandemic response might have to look a little deeper into the past."I think what it shows, if anything, is a lack of foresight in our pandemic planning," Van Exan said. He suggested the federal government could have invested years ago in reserving manufacturing capacity at a domestic facility — one that would be needed only in the event of a pandemic.In any pandemic, Van Exan said, the country where the vaccine is being manufactured will insist on getting the first doses."The problem is you can't make enough in the first months to do the whole world," he said. "It's going to take years to make enough vaccine to do the whole world. So there's going to be a rollout of this and there will be some who get it sooner and some get it later."Politicians might be worrying now that Canada might not get the vaccine as fast as other countries — but just three weeks ago, some observers were warning that wealthy countries like Canada were buying up too many doses and pushing developing countries to the back of the queue.Mexico's government has suggested it might have the vaccine in December. But a lot about international vaccination efforts is still up in the air — when the first doses will arrive, how much individual countries will get in their first shipments, how quickly each country can vaccinate its entire population.The number of viable vaccines might increase and supplies might progressively expand. But Van Exan contributed to a study by the Center for Global Development that estimated in October it could take until 2023 for every person in the world to be vaccinated. Various factors could push that into 2024.It is easy to see the opposition heaping scorn upon the Trudeau government if there's a significant vaccine gap between Canada and a large number of other countries. Envious eyes will no doubt be cast at the first doses deployed in the United States, if Americans do see a vaccine before we do. But in that respect, Canadians might be like citizens in many other countries.The whole world is living and dying with the same pandemic. This week's debate might have alerted Canadians to the fact that they are not necessarily entitled to first crack at what will be — at least initially — a limited supply of a life-saving vaccine, and that there's no particular reason Canada should get to go ahead of Mexico.But Trudeau will still be judged by what his government did to ensure Canadians got their share as fast as possible. And the further Canada is from the front of the line, the easier it will be to criticize.
The man who killed six people in a Quebec City mosque in 2017 received a "cruel and unusual" punishment when he was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 40 years, Quebec's Court of Appeal ruled on Thursday.In a unanimous decision, the court reduced Alexandre Bissonnette's life sentence to 25 years without parole while at the same time invalidating sections of the Criminal Code that allow judges to hand out consecutive life sentences for murder.A spokesperson for the mosque where the attack took place said he was dismayed by the decision to lighten Bissonnette's sentence."We would have liked a definitive sentence to prevent other attacks from taking place," said Boufeldja Benabdallah, a founder of the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre. "We're not thinking of only ourselves but of all Quebec society."The court's decision to invalidate the consecutive sentencing provisions in the Criminal Code applies only in Quebec.But if appealed, it opens the door to a possible Supreme Court of Canada ruling on the sentencing provisions that Stephen Harper's Conservative government introduced in 2011.Since then, several convicted murderers have been given consecutive life sentences, including Justin Bourque, who is serving a life sentence with no chance of parole for 75 years for killing three RCMP officers in Moncton, N.B., in 2014.The lawyer who represented Bourque at trial said he intended to inform him about the ruling in Quebec. "I would say that this is a situation of national importance. I would assume that the Supreme Court has to rule on it," David Lutz said.Quebec's prosecution service said Thursday it was taking time to review the ruling and hadn't yet decided whether to appeal. The federal government also declined to say whether it intended to appeal."I know that today's decision is going to rekindle a great deal of hurt and anger among those who were affected by this terrible crime: the victims, their families and friends, people in Quebec and across the country," federal Justice Minister David Lametti said in a statement."There are important questions raised by this judgment and we will take the necessary time to fully examine it."Sentencing provisions 'absurd'Bissonnette was sentenced in 2019 after he pleaded guilty to six counts of first-degree murder and six counts of attempted murder. It was the longest sentence ever handed down in Quebec.In issuing the original sentence, Superior Court Justice François Huot made it clear he was uncomfortable with consecutive sentences.Crown prosecutors were asking for a life sentence of 150 years without parole eligibility. Huot settled on a sentence of 40 years without parole, composed of five concurrent 25-year life sentences and an unusual 15-year term for the sixth count, to be served consecutively. The Court of Appeal justices said that hybrid sentence was the wrong way to address concerns about the constitutionality of consecutive sentences.Often using strong wording to criticize the provisions introduced by the Conservatives, the justices wrote that it was unconstitutional to force a prisoner to wait longer than 25 years for parole eligibility.Doing so, they said, violates two sections of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms: Section 12, which protects against cruel and unusual treatment and punishment, and Section 7, which guarantees the right to life, liberty and security of the person.The justices noted the "absurdity" of handing out life sentences that only allow a prisoner to apply for parole after they are likely to have died. They added that a fundamental concept of Canadian criminal law is the right of rehabilitated prisoners to be paroled."In Canada, even the worst criminal having committed the most heinous of crimes benefits at all times from the rights guaranteed under the charter," the justices wrote. Aimed at childrenBut they also stressed that eligibility for parole in the context of a life sentence must not be mistaken for likelihood of ever being paroled. "In other words, there is no guarantee that the Parole Board will grant parole in 25 years," the decision states.Bissonnette, who was 27 when he attacked the mosque, will now be eligible for parole when he turns 54.During the appeal hearing, his lawyers had tried to argue for a more lenient sentence by producing security camera footage from the night of the shooting that they said proved Bissonnette took care not to harm young children.The Appeal Court ultimately rejected Bissonnette's request to have the evidence admitted, but the justices nevertheless commented on what the footage showed.They said Bissonnette can be seen shooting at a section of the mosque where two children were hiding and a "little girl is standing ... completely frozen." A man later helped her take shelter behind a column."The evidence as a whole [shows] that the appellant attempted to kill young victims and that he was certainly not 'careful about the children,' as he stated to the police officers," the justices said.
Tanya Hayles is not an anti-vaxxer. The Torontonian has made sure her eight-year-old son Jackson is up to date with the standard vaccines, and she, too, has been inoculated."There are diseases that we were able to eradicate as a result of vaccines," she said.The event planner, whose business has suffered as a result of the pandemic, would like nothing more than to see the end of COVID-19 as well. Given the choice, though, she said she wouldn't be "first in line" for a COVID-19 vaccination.She points out that side effects of the immunizations she and her son have received in the past are well-known to doctors. "They can say, 'Oh, look for a rash around the needle point,' et cetera."However, Hayles has concerns about whether such clarity will be available with a coronavirus vaccine that has been developed so quickly."Something this big, something this major, something this rushed — I would want to know more information before I put it in my body," she said.Health authorities say the benefits of approved vaccines far outweigh any risks. But international research shows that while most people anxiously await the availability of pandemic-crushing immunizations, a sizeable minority are unsure whether they'd get the vaccine, at least in the early days after one is approved.As Canada readies itself to evaluate and eventually distribute COVID-19 vaccines, this vaccine hesitancy is becoming a key focus of the country's top officials.According to Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam, 65 to 78 per cent of Canadians have indicated they would get a COVID-19 vaccine. Tam said in an interview with CBC that it's "critical" for public health to bring what she calls the "moveable middle," or undecided Canadians, onside."I think that's why it is a very key pillar of our approach in the days and weeks and months ahead, to be able to get that group of people the information that they need to get vaccinated," she said."It is really important that as many people get vaccinated as possible to protect themselves," Tam added, "but also others who are at higher risk."Alongside Health Canada's commitment to study the data about the vaccines themselves, Tam said the government is preparing a multipronged campaign to inform the public about it. That includes working with social media companies, such as Facebook and Twitter, and even gaming platforms.Canada's public health team has learned that people who get their information via social media are less likely to get vaccinated than those who follow traditional media, Tam said. "So, we'll be collaborating with similar platforms to get the message out to Canadians about the safety of the vaccine, and how the trials are going, and what happens in terms of the programmatic implementation as well."Battling misinformationResearch shows that such messaging will have to contend with a lot of misinformation that is already spreading about the COVID-19 vaccines on some of those same platforms."Vaccine hesitancy is a real and persistent problem in Canada, and it does appear to be growing somewhat," said Aengus Bridgman with the Media Ecosystem Observatory in Montreal. He is studying perceptions about the coronavirus and COVID-19 vaccines on social media.Beyond the more staunch anti-vax posts, Bridgman has seen concerns about safety and effectiveness of the vaccines, as well as questions about the necessity of getting immunized against this virus. What differentiates it from anti-vax sentiment, he said, is that although "it can contain misinformation and often does," much of it isn't "anti-science or anti-intellectual."The danger, though, is that those who are simply hesitant can be swayed by information that plants "the seed of doubt," he said."We know from previous work that we have done, and that other academics have done, that repeat exposure to misinformation [or] to misleading content can change opinions," Bridgman said."This is certainly going to be a major, major public health challenge over the coming year."Global issueIt's not just a concern in Canada. Some in the scientific community have already begun to tackle this issue. Using the hashtag TeamHalo, scientists working on COVID-19 vaccine development around the world have been using platforms like Tiktok to debunk false claims and answer questions that average people may have about the process.In 2019, before the pandemic hit, the World Health Organization (WHO) listed vaccine hesitancy as one of the top 10 global health threats. Now, the fear is that those who hold off getting the eventual COVID-19 vaccine pose a risk to herd immunity.With no other health measures in place, around 70 per cent of Canadians would likely need to be vaccinated to stop the virus from spreading, according to Dr. Scott Halperin with the Canadian Immunization Research Network in Halifax.Halperin is working with public health officials to identify and address Canadians' top vaccine concerns. He said the speed of vaccine development keeps coming up as a persistent worry among members of the public."When somebody says, 'Well, it takes 10 to 15 years to develop a vaccine,' that's correct," he said. But he added that, "the rapidity of the development of these vaccines was built on the shoulders of a lot of work that went before."Research on similar coronaviruses, like SARS and MERS, meant "we had three or four years head-start already in terms of the basic science," he said. What's more, he said the usual administrative red tape of waiting for research funding and queueing for approvals was eliminated with the global prioritization of COVID-19."And that in itself cuts off three to five years," Halperin said.Dr. Tam said that this is the message she most wants to send to Canadians about the vaccine. "Just because of the incredible speed with which vaccines are being developed does not mean that we cut any corners on safety of these vaccines," she said.Tam points out that Health Canada "is one of the most stringent regulatory authorities in the world." In order for vaccines to get approved in this country, she said, "they have to be safe, effective and high quality."For her part, Tanya Hayles said she will listen to the advice of Canada's public health teams and is open to hearing more about the potential side effects of the COVID-19 vaccines in development.In the end, she said, "I will do what is necessary, of course, for my health and the health of my son and the people around me."