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Federal agency recommends 4 month interval between two-dose COVID-19 vaccines

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Thursday, Mar 4th, 2021

A national panel of vaccine experts recommended Wednesday that provinces extend the interval between the two doses of a COVID-19 shot to up to four months when faced with a limited supply, in order to quickly immunize as many people as possible.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization issued updated guidance for the administration of all COVID-19 vaccines currently approved for use in Canada.

Extending the dose interval to four months will create opportunities to protect the entire adult population against the virus within a short timeframe, the panel said in releasing the recommendation.

As many as 80 per cent of Canadians over 16 could receive a single dose by the end of June simply with the expected supply of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, the panel said.

The addition of the newly approved Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to the country’s supply could mean almost all Canadians would get their first shot in that timeframe, but the federal government has not yet said how many doses of that vaccine will be delivered in the spring and how many in the summer.

“The vaccine effectiveness of the first dose will be monitored closely and the decision to delay the second dose will be continuously assessed based on surveillance and effectiveness data and post-implementation study designs,” the panel wrote.

“Effectiveness against variants of concern will also be monitored closely, and recommendations may need to be revised,” it said, adding there is currently no evidence that a longer interval will affect the emergence of the variants.

A spokesperson for Ontario’s Minister of Health says the government welcomes the updated direction.

“This will allow Ontario to rapidly accelerate its vaccine rollout and get as many vaccines into arms as quickly as possible and, in doing so, provide more protection to more people,” read a brief statement.

The committee’s recommendation came hours after Newfoundland and Labrador said it will extend the interval between the first and second doses to four months, and days after health officials in British Columbia announced they were doing so.

Manitoba also said Wednesday it will delay second doses in order to focus on giving the first shot to more people more quickly.

THE BRITISH AND ISRAELI STUDY

Studies from Israel and the United Kingdom showed that a single dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine significantly reduced COVID-19 infections, helping to guide British Columbia’s decision to delay the second dose of vaccines by four months.

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has said the plan is based on research in the two countries as well as evidence collected by the BC Centre for Disease Control and in Quebec.

A study published Feb. 24 by a team at the University of Cambridge in the U.K., which has not yet been peer-reviewed, suggests that a single dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine can reduce the number of asymptomatic COVID-19 infections by 75 per cent.

The team examined thousands of COVID-19 test results of unvaccinated and vaccinated health-care staff, who showed no signs of infection, at the university hospital over a two-week period in January.

The study found that 26 out of 3,252 tests, or 0.8 per cent, from unvaccinated workers were positive. In comparison, 13 out of 3,535 tests, or 0.37 per cent, from vaccinated staff were positive less than 12 days after immunization, and four out of 1,989 tests, or 0.2 per cent, from vaccinated workers were positive more than 12 days after the shot.

The findings suggest a fourfold decrease in the risk of asymptomatic COVID-19 infection among health-care workers who were vaccinated more than 12 days earlier, or 75 per cent protection.

The U.K.’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization said in December that the second dose of either vaccine could be given up to 12 weeks after the first dose.

Another recent study in the U.K. concluded that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is more effective when the second dose is delivered later. The research, published in peer-reviewed medical journal The Lancet on Feb. 19, found the vaccine is 81 per cent effective when its second dose is given three months after the first, compared with 55 per cent efficacy after six weeks.

In Israel, researchers studied the effects of a single dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and published their findings in The Lancet on Feb. 18, determining that it was 85 per cent effective against symptomatic COVID-19 infections.

The study authors analyzed data from 7,214 health-care workers who were vaccinated at Israel’s largest hospital, the Sheba Medical Centre. They saw an 85 per cent reduction in symptomatic infections between 15 and 28 days after the first dose.

The manufacturers, for their part, provide different guidelines for the time between doses. Pfizer-BioNTech recommends three weeks, Moderna proposes four weeks and Oxford-AstraZeneca calls for eight to 12 weeks.

But the companies shouldn’t be the ones determining the appropriate interval, said Dr. Danuta Skowronski, an epidemiology lead at the BC Centre for Disease Control.

“We shouldn’t ask the manufacturer for their blessing in doing this. That’s not their role,” she said.

“It really is squarely the responsibility of public health authorities to do that full benefit/risk analysis for their population.”

Henry has said that the manufacturers completed their clinical trials according to a short timeline in order to get the vaccines to market as quickly as possible.

Skowronski led the B.C.-based research that underpinned the province’s plan, including the finding that a first dose of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines reduced the risk of COVID-19 among long-term care residents and health-care workers by up to 90 per cent.

She also examined Pfizer-BioNTech’s submission to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and found that it underestimated the efficacy of its own first dose. The manufacturer said it was 52 per cent effective, but it included data from the first two weeks of the shot, a time when vaccines are typically ineffective.

When Skowronski cut the first two weeks of data, she found it was 92 per cent effective, similar to a first dose of the Moderna vaccine.

B.C. reported 542 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday and seven new deaths, bringing the total number of fatalities linked to the virus to 1,372 in the province. It also said there have been 18 new cases of variants of concern, for a total of 200 cases.

Horacio Bach, an adjunct professor of infectious diseases at the University of British Columbia, said the province has enough evidence to back the four-month interval, though he believes it was the first in the world to announce such a long delay between doses.

He said people who receive their first shot now will still have a reserve of antibodies four months later. Even if one assumes four months is too long to wait, people will still have enough antibodies to prevent severe illness and hospitalization, he said.

“Four months, I don’t think, is something out of the box,” he said. “It’s a decent period of time that we can wait.”

Bach pointed out, for example, that the booster for the hepatitis B vaccine is delivered after a year.

Giving as many people as possible a first shot will help prevent transmission of the disease in the province, he added.

“The more people you vaccinate, the less chance you give to the virus to infect. When the virus cannot find a host, meaning a person, it will reduce the level of infection automatically.”

Cuomo addresses harassment claims, vows to stay in office

MARINA VILLENEUVE AND MICHAEL R. SISAK THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | posted Thursday, Mar 4th, 2021

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday said he intends to remain in office in the face of sexual harassment allegations that have weakened his support and led to calls for his resignation.

The Democratic governor, speaking somberly in his first public appearance since three women accused him of inappropriate touching and offensive remarks, apologized and said that he “learned an important lesson” about his behaviour around women.

“I now understand that I acted in a way that made people feel uncomfortable,” Cuomo said. “It was unintentional and I truly and deeply apologize for it.”

Asked about calls for him to step aside, the third-term governor said: “I wasn’t elected by politicians, I was elected by the people of the state of New York. I’m not going to resign.”

Cuomo acknowledged “sensitivities have changed and behaviour has changed” and that what he considers his “customary greeting” — an old-world approach that often involving kisses and hugs — is no longer acceptable.

But the allegations against the governor go beyond aggressive greetings.

Former aide Lindsey Boylan accuses Cuomo of having harassed her throughout her employment and said he once suggesting a game of strip poker aboard his state-owned jet. Another former aide, Charlotte Bennett, said Cuomo once asked her if she ever had sex with older men.

Both women rejected Cuomo’s latest apology, doubling down on their disgust after he issued a statement Sunday attempting to excuse his behaviour as his way of being “playful.”

“How can New Yorkers trust you ?NYGovCuomo to lead our state if you `don’t know’ when you’ve been inappropriate with your own staff?” Boylan tweeted.

Cuomo said he will “fully co-operate” with an investigation into the allegations being overseen by the state’s independently elected attorney general. Attorney General Letitia James, also a Democrat, is in the process of selecting an outside law firm to conduct the probe and document its findings in a public report.

Cuomo addressed the allegations during a news conference that otherwise focused on the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, the kind of briefings that made him a daily fixture on TV and a national star among Democrats.

Before that, Cuomo last spoke to reporters during a conference call on Feb. 22. His last briefing on camera was Feb. 19.

Two of the women accusing Cuomo worked in his administration. The other was a guest at a wedding that he officiated.

Bennett, 25, said Cuomo quizzed her about her sex life, asked if she felt age made a difference in relationships and said that he was fine dating “anyone above the age of 22.” Bennett said she believed he was gauging her interest in an affair. Cuomo has denied making advances at Bennett.

Boylan, 36, said Cuomo commented on her appearance inappropriately, kissed her without her consent at the end of a meeting and went out of his way to touch her on her lower back, arms and legs. Cuomo has denied Boylan’s allegations.

Anna Ruch told The New York Times that Cuomo put his hands on her face and asked if he could kiss her just moments after they met at a September 2019 wedding in Manhattan.

Bennett’s lawyer, Debra Katz, said the governor’s news conference “was full of falsehoods and inaccurate information.”

She said Cuomo’s claim that he was unaware he had made women uncomfortable was disingenuous, considering that Bennett had reported his behaviour to her boss and one of Cuomo’s lawyers.

“We are confident that they made him aware of her complaint and we fully expect that the Attorney General’s investigation will demonstrate that Cuomo administration officials failed to act on Ms. Bennett’s serious allegations or to ensure that corrective measures were taken, in violation of their legal requirements,” Katz said.

Cuomo’s support has plummeted amid a one-two punch of scandals, and even some Democrats have called on him to step aside. The harassment allegations follow accusations that Cuomo covered up the true COVID-19 death toll on nursing home residents.

“I don’t think it’s in his DNA to resign or back down,” said Queens Assembly member Ron Kim, a Democrat who accused Cuomo of bullying him over the nursing home issue. “I think he will do whatever it takes to fight this.”

Cuomo said he inherited his gregarious way of greeting people from his father, the late former Gov. Mario Cuomo, and that he intended it as a way of welcoming people and making them feel comfortable. He said he realizes now, “it doesn’t matter my intent, what it matters is if anybody was offended by it.”

Speaking about the allegations, Cuomo initially said he was apologizing to “people” who were uncomfortable with his conduct, but he didn’t make clear as he continued which of the women he was referring to.

At one point, he said he was apologizing to “the young woman who worked here who said that I made her feel uncomfortable in the workplace,” though that description could apply to both Boylan and Bennett.

Asked what he was saying to New Yorkers, Cuomo said: “I’m embarrassed by what happened… I’m embarrassed that someone felt that way in my administration. I’m embarrassed and hurt and I apologize that somebody who interacted with me felt that way.”

The governor, who has touted a law requiring all workers in New York to receive sexual harassment training, said he felt at the time that his behaviour was innocuous but now acknowledges that sexual harassment centres on how the victim is impacted _ not the offender’s intent.

“I didn’t know at the time I was making her feel uncomfortable. I never meant to, but that doesn’t matter,” Cuomo said. “If a person feels uncomfortable, if a person feels pain, if a person is offended, I feel very badly about that and I apologize for it. There’s no but _ it’s, ‘I’m sorry.”’

 

Air Canada refunds for cancelled, postponed flights on the way: Unifor

RICHARD SOUTHERN AND THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Thursday, Mar 4th, 2021

Air Canada has agreed to refund passengers who had their flights cancelled or postponed during the pandemic, according to Unifor.

“The company (Air Canada) has agreed to Ottawa’s crucial demand to repay the many customers who weren’t reimbursed for their plane tickets,” a Unifor representative tells 680 NEWS.

When asked for comment, Air Canada did not confirm the news, a spokesperson for the airline referred to a Feb. 12, 2021 statement that indicated discussions with the federal government are ongoing.

Unifor represents airline workers at Air Canada as well as other airlines in the country and has been pushing for an aid package for the Canadian airline sector.

The issue of passenger refunds has been a key part of those talks, with Ottawa saying that any financial support is contingent on refunds.

In December, the federal government directed the Canadian Transportation Agency, which oversees issues related to passenger rights, to strengthen rules that require airlines to refund travellers for cancelled flights.

However, those rules would have only applied to future cancellations and would not be retroactive.

Consumer rights group Air Passenger Rights has estimated that as of Sept. 30, around 3.9 million air passengers including those with Air Canada have been denied a refund for flights they did not take.

Toronto’s top doctor recommends City move to ‘grey-lockdown’ next week

BT Toronto | posted Thursday, Mar 4th, 2021

Toronto’s medical officer of health is recommending the city move to the “grey-lockdown” zone of the province’s reopening framework next week when the stay-at-home order is set to expire.

WATCH: https://toronto.citynews.ca/2021/03/03/toronto-top-doctor-recommends-city-move-to-grey-lockdown-next-week/

Toronto has been under stringent lockdown measures for over 100 days and a shift to the province’s colour-tiered framework would lift some restrictions.

The city entered its second lockdown on Nov. 23 of last year. Premier Doug Ford issued another state of emergency and eventually transferred the province into lockdown on Boxing Day with a stay-at-home order going into effect on January 14.

The grey zone would see some capacity limits for businesses and stores must post capacity limits publicly. This includes 50 percent capacity for supermarkets and other stores that primarily sell groceries, convenience stores and pharmacies. All other retail would be capped at 25 percent capacity, including, but not limited to discount and big-box retailers, liquor stores, hardware stores, and garden centres. Curbside pick-up and delivery are permitted.

Gyms, movie theatres, and hair salons would remain closed under this tier. Indoor dining remains prohibited while takeout and delivery would be allowed.

Dr. Eileen de Villa said Wednesday that opening under the “red-control” zone is not advisable at this time.

“I said throughout the pandemic I am guided by the facts as they are,” she said. “I understand that each course of action comes with benefits and costs. Overall, case counts at present call for a cautious approach that will allow us to reopen and do so as safely as possible.”

De Villa also issued new workplace orders to offer protection for people on the job.

Businesses must ensure the use of masks at all times throughout the duration of the outbreak and maintain records of every person entering the workplace, among other measures.

De Villa also cautioned that variants of concern are rising and more than doubled from a week ago.

“Case counts are down but variant cases are up,” de Villa added.

Toronto’s top doctor confirmed 126 new COVID-19 variant cases: 122 B.1.1.7 (first discovered in the U.K.), three cases of the P.1 variant (first discovered in Brazil), and one case of the B.1.351 variant (first found in South Africa).

“The variant number is not where I want it to be,” she continued.

In Peel, Dr. Lawrence Loh said numbers in the region have not improved enough to warrant eased restrictions and the region has seen a “reversal of the favourable trends” in recent weeks.

The most recent numbers in Peel Region show the region seeing 13.6 cases per 100,000 with a test positivity rate of 5.4 percent.

Mississauga mayor Bonnie Crombie said last week she wanted the city to be put into the “red-control” zone when the order expired, even if the rest of the region remained in lockdown.

Both Dr. Loh and Brampton mayor Patrick Brown rejected the idea of having different public health measures within the same region.

York Region, as well as Halton and Durham, have since moved to “red-control” which allows indoor dining of a maximum of 10 patrons, among other measures.

Biden vows enough vaccine for all U.S. adults by end of May

ZEKE MILLER, LINDA A. JOHNSON AND JONATHAN LEMIRE, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | posted Wednesday, Mar 3rd, 2021

President Joe Biden said Tuesday that the U.S. expects to take delivery of enough coronavirus vaccines for all adults by the end of May, two months earlier than anticipated, as his administration announced that drugmaker Merck & Co. will help produce rival Johnson & Johnson’s newly approved shot.

With the bolstered supply, Biden also announced he would be using the powers of the federal government to direct all states to prioritize vaccinating teachers, and said the federal government would provide the doses directly through its pharmacy program. He challenged states to administer at least one dose of the vaccine to all educators by the end of March as part of his administration’s efforts to reopen more schools across the nation.

“We’re now on track to have enough vaccine supply for every adult in America by the end of May,” said Biden, who likened the partnership between the two drug companies to the spirit of national co-operation during World War II.

Biden’s twin announcements quickly raised expectations for when the nation could safely emerge from the pandemic with the promise of additional vaccines, but it highlighted the looming challenge facing the nation: successfully putting those doses into arms.

Even as he expressed optimism, Biden quickly tempered the outlook for a return to life as it was before the virus hit.

“I’ve been cautioned not to give an answer to that because we don’t know for sure,” Biden said, before saying his hope was sometime before “this time next year.”

Biden’s speech was set against the backdrop of states across the country moving to relax virus-related restrictions. This comes despite the objections of the White House and the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who have raised alarm about new variants of the virus and pleaded against any relaxation of virus protocols until more Americans are vaccinated. In Texas, GOP Gov. Greg Abbot moved to lift his state’s mask-wearing mandate and a host of other limitations. Michigan’s Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer eased capacity limits on restaurants and both public and residential gatherings.

Fauci has previously said the nation must achieve a vaccination rate of about 80% to reach “herd immunity.” Only about 8% of the population has been fully vaccinated according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, though the pace of vaccination has been increasing, with the U.S. setting a new daily record for injections on both Thursday and Friday of last week.

In hopes of increasing vaccinations even further. the Biden administration told governors to make preparations to administer even more doses in the coming weeks. More shots are also heading toward the federally backed program to administer doses in retail pharmacies, which federal officials believe can double or triple their pace of vaccination. More than 800,000 doses of the J&J vaccine will also be distributed this week to pharmacies, on top of the 2.4 million they are now getting of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine supply.

Those pharmacies will be key in getting the vaccines into the arms of teachers – particularly in the roughly 20 states where they have not been prioritized for shots – which will help reopen schools to better educate students who have been at risk of falling behind during the pandemic and reduce the burden on parents who have had to choose between childcare and a job.

“Let’s treat in-person learning as the essential service that it is,” Biden said. Teachers will be able to sign up directly through the participating retail pharmacies in their local area, the administration said.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki also announced Tuesday that the federal government was increasing supply of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines to states next week to 15.2 million doses per week, up from 14.5 million previously. States will also receive 2.8 million doses of the J&J shot this week.

On a call with governors Tuesday, White House coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients said states should prepare for administering 16-17 million total weekly doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines by the end of March, climbing to 17-18 million weekly by early April. The supply of J&J doses to states, expected to dip after the initial shipment this week, will climb to 4-6 million weekly doses by the end of March and 5-6 million doses weekly through the end of April.

Officials have said J&J faced unexpected production issues with its vaccine and produced only 3.9 million doses ahead of its receiving emergency use authorization on Saturday. The company has promised to deliver 100 million doses by the end of June.

Before the approval of the J&J shot, Biden had suggested that it would take until the end of July to have enough vaccine for every adult in the U.S.

Facing questions about the company’s slipping delivery schedule, J&J Vice-President Richard Nettles told lawmakers on Capitol Hill last week that the company had faced “significant challenges” because of its “highly complex” manufacturing process.

The assistance from Merck was expected to help J&J meet its production commitments and expand supply even further, but the administration did not immediately provide specifics. The news was first reported by The Washington Post.

Psaki said that an “across the administration effort” was required to get the two historic rivals to work together on the vaccines, even though conversations between the two companies have been going on for months.

“There’s a difference between conversations and it moving forward,” she said.

The White House said Merck would devote two plants to the production process. One would make the vaccine and the other would handle inserting the vaccine into vials and ensuring strict quality controls. Psaki said the Biden administration was using its powers under the Defence Production Act to help Merck retool to work on the production.

Still it was not immediately clear when the effect of Merck’s assistance would be reflected in supply. Federal officials have cautioned that setting up the highly specialized manufacturing lines to produce vaccines would take months.

Compared to the two-dose versions produced by Moderna and Pfizer, the J&J vaccine is less resource intensive to distribute and administer, making it a critical piece to U.S. plans to spread vaccinations around the world – but only once Americans are inoculated. The J&J vaccine can be stored for months at refrigerated temperatures, rather than frozen, and doesn’t require patients to return for a second dose three or four weeks later.

J&J has set up a global production network that includes brewing bulk vaccine at its Janssen facility in the Netherlands, and with a company in the U.S., Emergent BioSolutions, and another in India, Biological E. Ltd. Other contract manufacturers are lined up to help with later steps, including putting the vaccine into vials, in the U.S., Italy, Spain and South Africa.

In the scramble to create COVID-19 vaccines, the three Western drug makers who’ve dominated the vaccine industry for decades – Merck & Co., Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline – surprisingly all fell short. Merck halted its own plans to develop a coronavirus vaccine earlier this year, finding that their candidates were generating an inferior immune system response compared with other vaccines. It said it would instead focus its work on developing treatments for COVID-19.

Now, amid the global clamour for more vaccine doses, those heavyweights are helping manufacture doses for less-experienced rivals whose vaccines won the first emergency authorizations from regulators.

Merck has since said it was in talks to help other drug companies with vaccine production, but wouldn’t say Tuesday whether other deals are imminent.

“Merck remains steadfast in our commitment to contribute to the global response to the pandemic and to preparing to address future pandemics,” the Kenilworth, New Jersey-based company said in a statement.

Sanofi Pasteur, named for pioneering French biologist Louis Pasteur, produces more than 1 billion vaccine doses a year and is a leader in pediatric, influenza and polio vaccines. It, too, has had delays with its COVID-19 vaccine candidates. While it tries to resolve those problems, Sanofi has agreed to bottle and package about 125 million doses of the vaccine from Pfizer and German partner BioNTech, as well as roughly 12 million doses per month of J&J’s vaccine.

GlaxoSmithKline, which makes vaccines against shingles, hepatitis, meningitis and many childhood illnesses, has focused its COVID-19 efforts on combining its adjuvant technology with rival companies’ vaccines. Adjuvants boost immune system response to vaccines, meaning smaller doses could be used and supply could be stretched.

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Ontario won’t administer Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to seniors, health minister says

BT Toronto | posted Wednesday, Mar 3rd, 2021

Ontario seniors won’t receive the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine since there’s limited data on its effectiveness in older populations, the province said Tuesday, but it remained unclear who those shots would go to.

Health Minister Christine Elliott said Ontario plans to follow the advice of a national panel that has recommended against using the newly approved vaccine on people aged 65 and older. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization has cited concern about limited information on how the vaccine will work in seniors.

Elliott said it’s a “very versatile” vaccine because it doesn’t have the same cold storage requirements as the other two currently in use. The Oxford-AstraZeneca shots might be used in correctional facilities for that reason, she said.

Canada is set to receive a half-million doses of the newly approved vaccine Wednesday, according to the federal procurement minister.

Elliott said an updated vaccination plan that factors in expected Oxford-AstraZeneca supply will be shared soon but the province is first awaiting guidance from the immunization committee about potentially extending the interval of time between first and second doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines to four months.

“There’s a lot that is in the mix right now, but we expect that to be finalized very shortly and we will be making a public announcement of the plan very soon,” Elliott said.

British Columbia announced Monday that it was implementing the four-month interval for doses.

Elliott said the extending the time between doses would make a “considerable” difference in the vaccine rollout, but the government wants to make its decision based on the scientific advice.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the lack of clarity on the government’s vaccine distribution plan is troubling.

“Why isn’t the government being upfront, being clear, being transparent about what the plan is,” she said. “I don’t think the government is providing any of that information and Ontarians deserve to know.”

Ontario reported 966 more COVID-19 cases on Tuesday and 11 more deaths from the virus.

The province reported 22,326 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine administered since the previous day’s report, for a total of 727,021 doses administered across Ontario so far.

Unanimous committee report calls on Trudeau not to trigger election during pandemic

JOAN BRYDEN, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Wednesday, Mar 3rd, 2021

A House of Commons committee is unanimously urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to promise he won’t call a federal election while the COVID-19 pandemic rages across Canada.

In a report by the procedure and House affairs committee, even Liberal members supported a recommendation calling for a commitment that there will be no election during the pandemic, unless Trudeau’s minority Liberal government is defeated on a confidence vote.

The committee makes no similar call for opposition parties to promise not to trigger an election during the pandemic by voting non-confidence in the government.

However, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has vowed his party won’t vote to bring the government down as long as the country is in the grip of COVID-19.

That should be enough to ensure the survival of the minority Liberal government for the foreseeable future, unless Trudeau decides to trigger an election himself.

Trudeau has repeatedly insisted he has no interest in forcing an election but opposition parties remain suspicious.

“Unfortunately, the Liberal government has already indicated their desire to recklessly send Canadians to the polls at whatever time they deem to be the most advantageous for the prime minister,” the Conservatives say in a supplementary report to the committee’s report.

Indeed, the Conservatives assert, without explanation, that Trudeau has already tried to orchestrate his government’s defeat.

They thank Liberal committee members for taking “a stand against the whims of the prime minister, who has been eagerly pressing towards an election for the last few months.”

At the same time, Conservatives have been pursuing a strategy that could give Trudeau justification for calling an election: They’ve been systematically blocking the government’s legislative agenda, including repeatedly delaying a bill authorizing billions in pandemic-related aid.

They have also blocked debate on a bill that would give Elections Canada special powers to conduct an election safely, if need be, during the pandemic.

Bill C-19 is the government’s response to chief electoral officer Stephane Perrault, who has said special measures are urgent given that a minority government is inherently unstable and could theoretically fall at any time. However, some opposition MPs view the legislation as proof that the Liberals are planning to trigger an election.

In their own supplementary report, New Democrats argue that an election in the midst of the pandemic “has the potential to undermine the health of our democracy.” They point to the current delay in Newfoundland and Labrador’s election due to a COVID outbreak as an example of the “delays, confusion and unforeseen barriers in voting” that could undermine Canadians’ confidence in the outcome of a federal election.

“This raises the spectre of a government whose political legitimacy is openly challenged,” the NDP committee members say, adding that could lead to the kind of crisis that provoked a riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 by supporters of former president Donald Trump.

The Capitol riot, sparked by Trump’s unfounded claims that mail-in ballots were fraudulent, appears to have been on the minds of opposition committee members when it comes to other recommendations for how to safely conduct an election, if necessary, during the pandemic.

Anticipating a massive increase in mail-in ballots, the chief electoral officer has, among other things, suggested that mail-in ballots received one day after the close of in-person polls should still be counted.

The Conservatives say the procedure and House affairs committee should have rejected that proposal, arguing that “the election should end on Election Day and Canadians deserve to know the results without delay.”

Bloc Quebecois committee members, in their supplementary report, similarly argue that extending the deadline for receipt of mail-in ballots “would delay the election results, which would fuel voter suspicion and undermine confidence in the electoral system, which is obviously undesirable.”

Raptors rule out several players due to ‘health and safety protocols’ for Detroit game Wednesday

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Wednesday, Mar 3rd, 2021

The Toronto Raptors have ruled out five players for “health and safety protocols” for their game against the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday.

O.G. Anunoby, Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, Patrick McCaw and Malachi Flynn were ruled out for the match-up that was originally slated for Tuesday at Amalie Arena but was postponed due to what the league said was “positive test results and ongoing contact tracing within the Raptors organization.”

Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bulls was also postponed.

Nick Nurse and five members of his staff who were sidelined for Friday’s game against Houston will also be unavailable for Wednesday’s game.

General Manager Bobby Webster said they will likely be out for Thursday’s game as well against the Boston Celtics due to the protocols. It is their last scheduled game until the All Star break.

The Raptors have called up two players from their G-League team the 905.

The NBA cautioned that Wednesday is a tentative rescheduling date for the game against the Pistons, and is “pending additional test results.”

Toronto had managed to largely avoid the global pandemic until now, despite playing their home games out of Florida — a COVID-19 hotbed — due to Canada’s border restrictions and health and safety protocols in Ontario.

The Raptors were one of four remaining teams in the league that hadn’t had a game postponed until Tuesday.

GM Bobby Webster was asked what he’s learned from the team’s first major brush with the virus.

“It’s what you can imagine,” Webster said in a Zoom call with media on Tuesday night. “It’s the emotional stress of having colleagues that potentially, obviously, can be sick. The enormous amount of stress everyone feels, everyone’s walking a bit on eggshells here in the locker room and you can’t necessarily be as friendly.”

“The basketball will go on, we’ll play the games, but just to maintain everybody’s belonging and familiarity is really important.”

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