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Airlines suspend China flights, cut service on virus fears

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | posted Wednesday, Jan 29th, 2020

British Airways and Asian budget carriers Lion Air and Seoul Air are suspending flights to China as fears spread about the outbreak of a new virus that has killed more than 130 people.

Several other airlines including Finnair, Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific and Singapore-based Jetstar Asia are reducing the number of flights to the country as demand for travel drops because of the outbreak.

Air Canada said it is cancelling select routes due to a fall in demand.

“In response to the coronavirus situation, we are cancelling select flights to China to better match capacity with expected demand,” the airlines said in a statement.

“Air Canada currently operates 33 flights a week to China and the resulting capacity reduction is relatively small. Those customers who are affected will be notified and provided with alternate travel options.”

British Airways said Wednesday it is immediately suspending all flights to and from mainland China after the U.K. government warned against unnecessary travel to the country amid a virus outbreak.

The airline operates daily flights from London’s Heathrow Airport to Shanghai and Beijing. It took the measure a day after Britain’s Foreign Office updated its travel advice on China, warning against “all but essential travel” to the mainland, not including Hong Kong and Macao.

Air Seoul, a budget airline, became the first South Korean airline to suspend its fights to mainland Chinese destinations that wasn’t Wuhan, stopping its flights to the cities of Zhangjiajie and Linyi.

Lion Air said it has cancelled more than 50 flights to China well into February. The flights are from five international airports in Denpasar, Manado, Surabaya, Jakarta and Batam to 15 airports in China.

Lion Group spokesman Danang Mandala Prihantor said the suspension would be phased in gradually and would continue until further notice.

China has cut off access to Wuhan and 16 other cities to prevent people from leaving and spreading the virus further. The outbreak has infected more than 6,000 on the mainland and abroad.

Hong Kong airlines are cutting the number of their flights to the mainland by about half through the end of March in response to government virus-control efforts.

Cathay Pacific Group said flights to 24 mainland destinations would be reduced to 240 weekly. The company owns Cathay Pacific Airways, Hong Kong Airlines, Cathay Dragon and Hong Kong Express.

Helsinki, Finland-based Finnair, which has actively promoted its position linking Asian and Western destinations, said it was cancelling three weekly flights to Beijing Daxing International Airport through late March, as well as its twice-weekly flights to Nanjing. It will continue operating flights to four other mainland Chinese destinations, including Beijing Capital Airport.

Jetstar Asia said it will temporarily suspend flights to the Chinese cities of Hefei, Guiyang and Xuzhou starting Thursday through the end of March due to a drop in demand.

South Korea’s second-largest carrier, Asiana Airlines, said it will temporarily suspend flights to the Chinese cities of Guilin, Changsha and Haikou starting next month.

Korean Air, South Korea’s biggest airline, said it is also considering grounding some of its flights to mainland China as passenger demand drops. Korean Air had operated four flights a week to the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, before suspending them on Jan. 23.

Taiwan’s Eva Air announced a partial cancellation of flights to and from mainland China for two weeks starting Feb. 2. In addition, the airline also has stopped providing towels, magazines, table clothes, and is limiting blanket and pillow in flight.

No injuries reported in suspected drive-by shooting in Mississauga

BT Toronto | posted Wednesday, Jan 29th, 2020

Peel police are investigating a suspected drive-by shooting in Mississauga early Wednesday morning.

Emergency crews were called to the scene on Acorn Place, near Hurontario Street and Eglinton Avenue East, just after 1 a.m.

It’s believed two males were sitting in a car in front of a building when another vehicle pulled up and a gunman opened fire.

Bullets shattered the windows and even hit an unoccupied apartment in the area.

No injuries have been reported.

A description of the suspect’s vehicle has not been released.

Elementary teachers, province to return to bargaining table on Wednesday

ALLISON JONES AND THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Wednesday, Jan 29th, 2020

The first sign of potential progress in more than a month in contract talks between elementary teachers and the province emerged Tuesday, as looming strike escalation threatens to shut schools twice a week.

The government-appointed mediator called the two sides back to the table Tuesday for talks Wednesday — the first negotiations since Dec. 19.

“We look forward to the opportunity to negotiate to reach a voluntary settlement that ends the union-led escalation that is hurting so many students,” Education Minister Stephen Lecce said in a statement.

“Our hope is the union will come to the table with realistic proposals that prioritize student success over compensation demands.”

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario said it is optimistic the government will engage in meaningful bargaining.

“Open exploratory talks with the Ford government’s negotiators must include a mandate to remove further cuts, increase supports for students with special needs, preserve the current kindergarten model with a teacher and designated early childhood educator, and maintain fair and transparent hiring practices,” president Sam Hammond said in a statement.

If no deal is reached by Friday, ETFO plans to stage a provincewide strike once a week — with the first one set for Thursday, Feb. 6 — and each board where it has members will be hit by a one-day rotating strike as well.

Ontario’s English Catholic teachers also announced Tuesday they will hold a provincewide strike next Tuesday, Feb. 4. It will be the second such action by the union since negotiations broke down earlier this month.

OECTA president Liz Stuart said she knows Ontarians are growing impatient, but the teachers can’t let the government wear them down and accept cuts.

“Strike action is tough for everyone, but it is a sacrifice we need to make to show the government we will not be deterred in our efforts to protect what we have worked so hard to build,” Stuart said in a statement.

The Ministry of Labour-appointed conciliator has said the two sides are too far apart to make negotiations worthwhile, Stuart said.

“The government cannot claim our association has not been flexible,” she wrote. “As far back as October, we have been making creative and forward-thinking proposals that should have satisfied all parties. But the government’s negotiators have refused to move, insisting they have no authority from their political leaders to reach an agreement that does not include deep cuts that take valuable resources out of the classroom.”

Lecce responded by saying the Catholic teachers are demonstrating “disregard for parents.”

“Union leaders are prepared to stand up for things like higher benefits for their members but appear unable to stand up for the basic expectation that students should learn each and every day,” he said in a statement.

Teachers’ unions, including OECTA, are opposed to class size increases and mandatory e-learning requirements imposed by the government. The Tories announced last March that average secondary school class sizes would jump from 22 to 28 and four e-learning courses would be mandatory for graduation.

The province has since scaled back those increases, to an average class size of 25 and two e-learning courses, but the unions say that’s not good enough.

Lecce has framed compensation as the key issue for all teachers’ unions.

Unions are asking for wage increases around two per cent to keep up with inflation, but the government passed legislation last year capping wage increases for all public sector workers to one per cent for three years. The teachers’ unions and several others are fighting it in court, arguing it infringes on collective bargaining rights.

All four major teachers’ unions are engaged in some form of job action, from work-to-rule campaigns to rotating strikes. They have been without contracts since Aug. 31.

Cases of new virus in China top its total for SARS

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | posted Wednesday, Jan 29th, 2020

China, with 5,974 cases of a new virus, has more infections than it did in with SARS, though the death toll is still lower. China had 5,327 cases of SARS in the 2002-2003 outbreak.

China reported another large jump in cases Wednesday and a rise in the death toll to 132. That compares to 348 people killed in China during SARS. Severe acute respiratory syndrome killed nearly 800 people worldwide.

Scientists say there are still many critical questions to be answered about the new virus, including just how transmissible and severe it is. More than 50 cases have been reported outside China.

Countries began evacuating their citizens Wednesday from the Chinese city hardest-hit by the outbreak.

A Japanese flight carrying evacuees home included four people with coughs and fevers, two of whom were diagnosed with pneumonia. The three men and one woman were taken to a Tokyo hospital in separate ambulances for treatment and further medical checks. Another woman developed nausea at the airport and was also hospitalized.

It wasn’t immediately known whether they were infected with the new type of coronavirus that appeared in the central city of Wuhan in December. Its symptoms, including cough and fever and in severe cases pneumonia, are similar to many other illnesses.

China’s latest figures cover the previous 24 hours and add 26 to the number of deaths, 25 of which were in the central province of Hubei and its capital, Wuhan. The 5,974 cases on the mainland marked a rise of 1,459 from the previous day, although that rise is a smaller increase than the 1,771 new cases reported on Monday. Dozens of infections have been confirmed abroad as well.

The United Arab Emirates, home to long-haul carriers Emirates and Etihad, confirmed its first cases on Wednesday in members of a family who had come from Wuhan, the state-run news agency reported. It wasn’t immediately clear how many family members were involved.

British Airways announced it was immediately suspending all flights to and from mainland China after the U.K. government warned against unnecessary travel to the country. BA said in a statement Wednesday that “we apologize to customers for the inconvenience, but the safety of our customers and crew is always our priority.” The airline operates daily flights from London’s Heathrow Airport to Shanghai and Beijing.

The outbreak has also affected international sporting events, with the International Hockey Federation postponing Pro League games in China and qualifiers for the Tokyo Olympics scheduled in February in soccer, basketball and boxing being moved outside of the country. With just 177 days before the summer Games, Tokyo organizers are on edge over the outbreak’s possible knock-on effects.

In Australia, health officials said the Chinese women’s national soccer team was quarantined in the city of Brisbane over concerns it had passed through Wuhan a week ago.

The team will be kept in isolation in a hotel until Wednesday next week. None of the group of 32 players and staff have shown symptoms.

Chartered planes carrying evacuees home to Japan and the United States left Wuhan early Wednesday as other countries planned similar evacuations from areas China has shut down to try to contain the virus. The lockdown of 17 cities has trapped more than 50 million people in the most far-reaching disease control measures ever imposed.

A plane carrying Americans who had been in Wuhan left for Anchorage, Alaska, where they will be re-screened for the virus. U.S. hospitals are prepared to treat or quarantine people who may be infected. After departing Alaska, the plane is to fly to Ontario, California.

At the Tokyo airport, Takeo Aoyama, an employee at Nippon Steel Corp.’s subsidiary in Wuhan, told reporters he was relieved to be able to return home.

“We were feeling increasingly uneasy as the situation developed so rapidly and we were still in the city,” Aoyama said, his voice muffled by a white surgical mask.

Tokyo Metropolitan Government confirmed the condition of the four ill passengers after the flight of 206 Japanese evacuees arrived. They were taken in separate ambulances to a Tokyo hospital for treatment and further health checks.

All of the passengers had their temperatures checked before boarding and on the plane, and plans had been made for all of the evacuees to be treated and quarantined depending on their test results.

Among those remaining in Wuhan was Sara Platto, an Italian animal behaviour researcher and veterinarian, and her son, Matteo.

“My son turned 12 on January 23, the first day of the lockdown in Wuhan. So he couldn’t invite his friends over. We had a remote birthday celebration, with people ‘visiting’ him over Wechat,” Platto said, referring to China’s Twitter-like messaging app. “We called it the epidemic birthday.”

Platto said there were 25 Italians stuck in Wuhan, some students, some very young, who stay in touch online for material and emotional support. She has used her scientific background to offer advice and debunk sensational false news, reminding friends to wash their hands and faces often.

As much as panic, people spending most of their times indoors have to deal with boredom.

Matteo usually has a very busy agenda between his school, sports, and volunteer work, but now “it’s like suddenly everything has slowed down,” Platto said. As with other international schools, classes are moving online until the all-clear is sounded.

“We have most of what we need for now. I think it’s a serious situation, but we are not in zombie land,” she said.

Several countries have confirmed cases of the virus, with most of them being Chinese visitors, people who visited Wuhan or family members in close contact to the sick. Japan’s six confirmed cases include a tour bus driver who drove visiting groups from Wuhan. Germany says four workers at an auto parts company possibly were infected when a colleague from Shanghai visited.

Australia and New Zealand were the latest countries planning evacuations. Both countries also stepped up their travel advice to China, as did Britain. Experts have feared travel during the Lunar New Year holiday would enable the further spread of the virus, and China expanded the holiday to keep people home, closing schools and offices to try to contain it.

Hong Kong’s leader said the territory will cut all rail links to the mainland and halve the number of flights. Mongolia and North Korea were closing their borders with China, and many places have curtailed flights or are screening travellers arriving from China.

Wuhan is building two hospitals in a matter of days to add 2,500 beds for treatment of patients with the virus.

The new virus is from the coronavirus family, which includes those that can cause the common cold as well as more serious illnesses such as SARS and MERS.

The source of the virus and the full extent of its spread are still unknown. However, the World Health Organization said most cases reported to date “have been milder, with around 20% of those infected experiencing severe illness.”

On Tuesday, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus met with Chinese leader Xi Jinping to discuss the latest information on the outbreak and reiterate their commitment to bringing it under control.

“The National Health Commission presented China’s strong public health capacities and resources to respond and manage respiratory disease outbreaks,” WHO’s statement said.

It said discussions focused on ways to co-operate to contain the virus in Wuhan and other cities and provinces and studies that could contribute to the development of medical countermeasures such as vaccines and treatments. Other WHO experts will visit China as soon as possible, it said.

“Stopping the spread of this virus both in China and globally is WHO’s highest priority,” Tedros said.

Associated Press writer Christina Larson in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.

2 pedestrians struck in 2 separate incidents; police investigating

BT Toronto | posted Tuesday, Jan 28th, 2020

The traffic services unit of the Toronto Police Service is investigating after two pedestrians were struck in two separate incidents Monday evening.

The first incident occurred in the Morningside Avenue and Highway 401 area at around 6 p.m.

Police said a woman was struck by a vehicle. EMS said they transported her to the hospital with serious, non-life-threatening injuries.

The second incident occurred in the central-west Toronto neighbourhood of Lambton.

Police tweeted at around 8:45 p.m. that they had been called to the Dundas Street West and Scarlett Road area for a report that a man in his 60s had been struck by a vehicle.

His injuries were described as “very serious,” police said.

The driver stayed at the scene.

Both incidents remain under investigation and police ask anyone with information to contact them directly or to leave an anonymous tip with Crime Stoppers.

Elementary teachers plan province-wide walkout, more frequent rotating strikes

ALLISON JONES AND THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Tuesday, Jan 28th, 2020

Ontario’s public elementary schools are expected to be closed twice a week starting next week, as teachers announce escalating job action with no signs of movement in contract talks.

The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario said Monday that effective next week, Feb. 3, they will stage a provincewide strike once a week, and each board where they have members will be hit on another day by rotating strikes as well.

Union president Sam Hammond said those plans will go ahead if no deal is reached by this Friday. No talks are scheduled, and none have happened since Dec. 19.

“There is nothing to be gained by (Education Minister Stephen) Lecce avoiding meaningful and fair contract talks other than further damaging the reputation of the Ford government,” Hammond said in a statement.

“Educators and parents are not going to accept the government’s deep cuts to public education that only serve to harm the quality of education for generations to come.”

Lecce suggested unions are only striking to get higher wages, and said the job action will directly impact students and parents.

“The consequences of union-led escalation are real, as families are forced to find childcare on short notice,” the minister said in a statement.

Hammond says the main issues in bargaining include classroom size, resources for students with special needs, protection of full-day kindergarten and compensation.

Elementary teachers, along with teachers in other unions, are asking for wage increases around two per cent to keep up with inflation, but the government passed legislation last year capping wage increases for all public sector workers to one per cent for three years. The teachers’ unions and several other unions are fighting it in court, arguing it infringes on collective bargaining rights.

ETFO has been staging rotating, one-day strikes at boards across the province this week and last week, and has been on a work-to-rule campaign since November. Both aspects are set to escalate next week, with teachers withdrawing from all extracurricular activities — not just those outside school hours — and ramping up the strikes to include more boards per day.

All 83,000 ETFO members are planning for a province-wide strike on Thursday, Feb. 6.

One-day strikes would be held next Monday in Bluewater, Grand Erie, Halton, Ontario North East, Renfrew County, Superior Greenstone and Trillium Lakelands school boards.

Those would be followed by strikes next Tuesday at the Avon Maitland, Durham, Durham Catholic, Hastings-Prince Edward, Lambton Kent, Peel, Rainbow, Thames Valley and Upper Grand school boards and the Campbell Children’s School Authority.

The Kawartha Pine Ridge, Keewatin-Patricia, Lakehead, Near North, Ottawa-Carleton, Penetanguishene Protestant Separate, Rainy River, Simcoe County and Upper Canada school boards would follow suit next Wednesday, alongside the Ottawa Children’s Treatment Centre.

The week would end with a strike next Friday in Algoma, Greater Essex County, Hamilton-Wentworth, Limestone, Niagara, Toronto, Toronto Catholic, Waterloo and York Region school boards as well as Bloorview, John McGivney Children’s Centre, KidsAbility, Moosonee, Moose Factory and Niagara Peninsula Children’s Centre school authorities.

All four major teachers’ unions are engaged in some form of job action, from work-to-rule campaigns to rotating strikes. They have been without contracts since Aug. 31, and issues include class size increases, mandatory e-learning and compensation.

Teachers were angered when the Tories announced last March that average secondary school class sizes would jump from 22 to 28 and four e-learning courses would be mandatory for graduation.

The province has since scaled back those increases, to an average class size of 25 and two e-learning courses, but the unions say that’s not good enough.

Hong Kong halts trains from mainland China as virus spreads

JOE MCDONALD AND THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | posted Tuesday, Jan 28th, 2020

Hong Kong’s leader announced Tuesday that all rail links to mainland China will be cut starting Friday as fears grow about the spread of a new virus.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam, wearing a green surgical mask, said both the high-speed rail station and the regular train station would be closed.

She stopped short of a total closing of the border but said that flights from the mainland would also be reduced.

China’s death toll from a new viral disease that is causing mounting global concern rose by 25 to at least 106 on Tuesday as the United States and other governments prepared to fly their citizens out of the locked-down city at centre of the outbreak.

The total includes the first death in Beijing, the Chinese capital, and 24 more fatalities in Hubei province, where the first illnesses from the newly identified coronavirus occurred in December.

Asian stock markets tumbled for a second day, dragged down by worries about the virus’s global economic impact.

The U.S. Consulate in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where authorities cut off most access Jan. 22 in an effort to contain the disease, was preparing to fly its diplomats and some other Americans out of the city on Wednesday. Japan and South Korea said they would send planes to Wuhan this week to evacuate their citizens. France, Mongolia and other governments also planned evacuations.

China’s increasingly drastic containment efforts began with the suspension of plane, train and bus links to Wuhan, a city of 11 million people. That lockdown has expanded to 17 cities with more than 50 million people in the most far-reaching disease-control measures ever imposed.

China extended the Lunar New Year holiday by three days to Sunday to reduce the risk of infection by keeping offices and factories nationwide closed and the public at home. Authorities in Shanghai, a global business centre and home to 25 million people, extended the holiday in that city by an additional week to Feb. 9.

U.S. health officials expanded their recommendation for people to avoid non-essential travel to any part of China, rather than just Wuhan and other areas most affected by the outbreak.

Mongolia closed its vast border with China and North Korea said it was strengthening quarantine measures. Hong Kong and Malaysia are barring visitors from Hubei. Chinese travel agencies were ordered to cancel group tours nationwide.

There were 1,771 new cases confirmed in China on Monday, raising the national total to 4,515, according to the National Health Commission. It said 976 people were in serious condition.

The government has sent 6,000 extra medical workers to Wuhan from across China, including 1,800 who were due to arrive Tuesday, a commission official, Jiao Yahui, said at a news conference.

A baby boy was delivered by surgery in Wuhan after his 27-year-old mother was hospitalized as a “highly suspected” virus case, state TV reported. The mother, who has a fever and cough, was 37 weeks pregnant, or two weeks less than a standard full term.

Doctors wore protective masks and clothing for the delivery Friday at Union Hospital.

“It was unlikely for her to be able to give natural birth,” said the hospital’s deputy director of obstetrics, Zhao Yin. “After the baby was born, the mother would suffer less pressure in her lungs and she could get better treatment.”

Also Tuesday, the Education Ministry cancelled English proficiency and other tests for students to apply to foreign universities. The ministry said the new semester for public schools and universities following Lunar New Year was postponed until further notice.

The Hong Kong government announced some government offices would remain closed until at least Monday and non-essential public employees were allowed to work from home.

Chinese financial markets were closed for the holiday, but stock indexes in Tokyo, Seoul and Sydney all declined.

Beijing’s official response has “vastly improved” since the 2002-03 SARS outbreak, which also originated in China, but “fears of a global contagion are not put to bed,” said Vishnu Varathan at Mizuho Bank in Singapore.

Airlines, resorts and other companies that rely on travel and tourism suffered steep losses. Prices of gold and bonds rose as traders moved money into safe haven holdings.

The Shanghai Stock Exchange, one of the world’s busiest, announced it was postponing the resumption of trading after the holiday by three days to Monday.

Scientists are concerned about the new virus because it is closely related to other diseases including SARS, which killed nearly 800 people.

So far, the new coronavirus doesn’t seem to spread as easily among people as SARS or influenza. Most of the cases that spread between people were of family members and health workers who had contact with patients. That suggests the new virus isn’t well adapted to infect people.

China has reported eight cases in Hong Kong and five in Macao, and more than 45 cases have been confirmed elsewhere in the world. Almost all involve mainland Chinese tourists or people who visited Wuhan.

On Tuesday, Taiwan said two 70-year-old tourists from Wuhan had been confirmed to have the disease, raising its total to seven cases. Thailand reported six members of a family from Hubei were new cases, raising its total to 14.

Germany confirmed its first case late Monday. Infections also have been confirmed in the United States, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Nepal, France, Canada, Australia and Sri Lanka.

The five American cases — two in southern California and one each in Washington state, Chicago and Arizona — are people who had recently arrived from central China. Health officials said they had no evidence the virus was spreading in the United States and they believe the risk to Americans remains low.

During the SARS outbreak, Chinese authorities were criticized for reacting slowly and failing to disclose information. The government has responded more aggressively to the latest outbreak.

Wuhan is building two hospitals, one with 1,500 beds and another with 1,000, for the growing number of patients. The first is scheduled to be finished next week.

The coronavirus family includes the common cold but also more severe illnesses such as SARS and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome. The new virus causes cold- and flu-like symptoms, including cough and fever, and in more severe cases, shortness of breath and pneumonia.

The virus is thought to have spread to people from wild animals sold at a Wuhan market. China on Sunday banned trade in wild animals and urged people to stop eating meat from them.

Officials warn of fake coronavirus alerts at GTHA universities and colleges

BT Toronto | posted Tuesday, Jan 28th, 2020

Coronavirus alerts at some Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area universities and colleges on Monday have been debunked as fakes by officials.

Ryerson University tweeted at around 5:45 p.m. Monday that “Ryerson University is aware that there are fake social media posts alleging that students have been admitted to hospital with the coronavirus today. There are no cases of coronavirus at Ryerson.”

The university said an investigation is underway and that people should check the school’s security alerts page for the latest information.

Meanwhile down the QEW in Hamilton, an image purporting to show a “quarantine notice” at a student residence at McMaster University was also shot down by officials.

“McMaster has confirmed that this sign was false, and there is no cause for concern,” the university said on Twitter.

Durham College in Oshawa was also busy de-bunking fake social media posts, saying “there are no known cases of the coronavirus at DC.”

Some people were clearly not amused with the fake social media posts, with one person posting to Twitter asking the responsible parties to “relax and go study.”

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