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Toronto expected to announce new workplace closures following weekend probe

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Monday, Apr 26th, 2021

Toronto is expected to announce its first workplace closures today under new rules meant to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Public health units in both Toronto and Peel introduced the rules, which allow them to shutter establishments where five or more workers have tested positive for COVID-19 over a 14 day period.

Toronto Public Health said it was conducting investigations over the weekend and planned to announce which workplaces would be affected today.

Peel Region announced its first two closures on Saturday.

It partially closed two Amazon fulfilment centres — one in Brampton and one in Bolton.

Peel Region could also announce new closures today, as it says it plans to update its list of affected workplaces each weekday at noon.

Future nurses, doctors want lessons from pandemic to create better health-care system

CAMILLE BAINS, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Monday, Apr 26th, 2021

Sang Hee Baek started nursing school at the University of Toronto last fall as the second wave of the pandemic was putting health-care staff in parts of the country through an endurance test, making her wonder if she’d made the right career choice.

Nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists and others working with COVID-19 patients were becoming physically and mentally exhausted as some hospitals filled up, deaths climbed and vaccines were not yet a reality.

“I was worried a little bit,” 30-year-old Baek said, recalling the questions she asked herself: “Am I making the choice at the right time or am I not knowing enough to enter this profession and solely relying on my passion?”

She’d applied to nursing school in her last year of a life sciences degree after connecting with community health nurses working with marginalized people, including deaf and hard of hearing adolescents who faced challenges making an appointment to see a family doctor.

“The waiting time for them to just book a translator service can be up to two weeks,” said Baek, who learned sign language to better understand their needs.

“That just made me look further into what’s going on with the Canadian health-care system and made me think: “I want to be a part of this. And if I want to be a part of it I want to be a nurse.”

The pandemic ultimately fuelled Baek’s passion for nursing as she realized the burden being carried by essential workers who are more vulnerable to COVID-19.

“I think it’s a chance for many of the nursing students or medical students, anyone who wishes to offer something to the field, to take it as kind of a mission,” she said of her decision to forge ahead in nursing with a greater awareness about the specific needs of diverse communities.

Baek’s sentiments about a career in health care are shared across the country as nursing schools see a rise in applicants, although the vast majority among the diverse talent pool aren’t being accepted due to a lack of spaces.

Elizabeth Saewyc, director of the University of British Columbia’s school of nursing, said a number of applicants over the last year have mentioned the pandemic motivated them to take on the challenges of a job that could have them saving lives.

She said others pointed out they saw more clearly how inequity is affecting marginalized populations during the pandemic.

The importance of nurses in the treatment of Spanish flu patients served as an impetus for the establishment of the University of B.C.’s nursing program in 1919.

Now, Saewyc said the COVID-19 pandemic has again revealed the value of nursing, with hundreds of applicants vying for 120 coveted spots at the University.

“In previous years we generally had between 500 and 600 applications and this year it was 860,” she said. “In our nurse practitioner and masters of science in nursing programs we’ve seen a 50 per cent or greater uptick in numbers of applicants, and even in our PhD program we saw a jump in terms of the number of applications.”

Lesley Mak, assistant dean and registrar at the University of Toronto’s school of nursing, said applications for the undergraduate program have jumped by almost 25 per cent, while those for the graduate degree have risen by around 20 per cent.

Kimberley Thomson of Prince George, B.C., is in her first year of medical school at UBC and is the western regional director of the Black Medical Students Association of Canada.

Thomson is hoping that the lessons learned about the gaps in the health-care system during the pandemic will better serve patients and health-care professionals who have been overwhelmed and overworked.

Neither she nor her fellow students have been deterred from pursuing their dreams of becoming a doctor.

But Thomson has come to understand that addressing issues like burnout among those working in hospitals that are running out of beds in the third wave of the pandemic will have to involve systemic changes after COVID-19 is over.

“That was a really interesting turning point for me because I started realizing that there’s some bigger system-level issues that I’m going to have to be going into as I continue in my career,” she said.

Expecting doctors to be personally responsible for making changes in their lives won’t improve the overall health-care system itself, Thomson said.

“So people are sometimes told, ‘Focus on meditating, your own well-being, exercise, eat well.’ Those are all great, but it detracts attention from the system-level issues, that people are working in these really toxic environments,” she said, referring to low staffing levels and a lack of resources such as personal protective equipment.

“I’m worried about, down the road, experiencing burnout and not loving and being passionate about what I do. That would be my biggest worry.”

Canada to get 1.9M vaccine doses this week, including first Johnson & Johnson shots

The Canadian Press | posted Monday, Apr 26th, 2021

OTTAWA — The federal government says it expects Canada to receive around 1.9 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine this week, including its very first shipment of single-dose shots from Johnson & Johnson.

Canada is set to receive about 300,000 doses of the J&J vaccine, which will come in addition to more than 1 million Pfizer-BioNTech shots and around 650,000 jabs from Moderna.

The country is not currently scheduled to receive additional supplies of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which has been in heavy demand after the eligible age for the shot was dropped to 40-plus in several provinces.

That demand is only expected to increase after the National Advisory Committee on Immunization adjusted its age recommendation for the shots, announcing on Friday that Canadians 30 and older should get the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Some provinces, however, have said they don’t have enough supply to expand eligibility any further.

Federal Public Procurement Minister Anita Anand said last week the government is in talks with the United States to secure additional AstraZeneca doses after President Joe Biden suggested his country might share the shots with Canada.

The U.S. has stockpiled tens of millions of AstraZeneca shots, but health officials there have not approved the vaccine for use.

Anand said earlier this month that Canada still expects to receive 4.1 million doses of AstraZeneca from all sources by the end of June.

The expected arrival of the first Johnson & Johnson doses later in the week follows the end of an 11-day pause in the U.S. as health officials looked into six cases of rare blood clots.

There have also been questions and concerns about possible contamination of AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson doses at a Baltimore factory.

Health Canada released a statement on Sunday offering assurances that the two vaccines are safe.

“Health Canada has verified that the 1.5 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine imported into Canada from this facility meet quality specifications,” it said.

“The department reviewed test results of all vaccine lots that came into Canada, as well as the company’s quality control steps implemented throughout the manufacturing process to mitigate potential risks of contamination.”

The Johnson & Johnson vaccines expected this week do not come from the Baltimore facility, it added.

This week will also mark the last in which Canada will receive less than 2 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, as the pharmaceutical giants prepare to ramp up deliveries for the foreseeable future.

The government expects the Pfizer-BioNTech shots to arrive early in the week, and the Moderna doses around mid-week.

Provinces reported 231,540 new vaccinations administered over the past 24 hours on Sunday, for a total of 12,044,741 doses given since the start of the vaccination campaign in the winter.

Across the country, 1,018,381 people, or 2.7 per cent of the population, had been fully vaccinated. The provinces have administered doses at a rate of 31,780.926 per 100,000.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 26, 2021.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

Montreal latest Canadian city to consider granting voting rights to non-citizens

VIRGINIE ANN, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Monday, Apr 26th, 2021

Montreal officials are looking into extending voting rights to more than 100,000 non-citizens in order to better integrate immigrants and encourage more racialized people to participate in municipal politics.

The idea isn’t new: for years, Canadian cities such as Toronto, Vancouver and Saint John, N.B., have debated or proposed giving the vote to permanent residents — but none have succeeded in convincing provincial or federal governments to modify citizenship and voting laws.

Montreal can “show leadership” on this issue and rekindle the debate in the country, according to an April 19 report by the city’s committee on social development and diversity.

“Granting voting rights to permanent residents is one of the ways to foster political participation and ensure better representation of the various groups that form society,” the report said.

“Montreal, the city that welcomes the largest number of immigrants to Quebec each year, should ensure it reflects the diversity of its population.”

The committee, composed mostly of elected officials from the two main parties at city hall, wants Montreal to publicly affirm its desire to grant voting rights to permanent residents who have lived “for at least 12 months on the territory of the city of Montreal.” It also wants the city to lobby the provincial and federal governments to change laws to allow non-citizens to vote in municipal elections.

The idea has its critics. Frederic Bastien, history teacher at Montreal’s Dawson College and former leadership candidate for the Parti Quebecois, says allowing non-citizens to vote could endanger the foundations of the nation state.

He says citizenship comes with an understanding of the culture, language and history of a country, adding that the idea could be a political strategy by Mayor Valerie Plante ahead of next November’s municipal election.

“It is part of a series of gestures from the Plante administration,” Bastien said in a recent interview. “It’s a ‘woke’ trend among Projet Montreal and it’s a toxic vision of social and public life,” he added, referring to Plante’s political party.

Chris Erl, doctoral candidate in McGill University’s geography department who researches municipal politics, disagrees that granting voting rights to marginalized communities would undermine the country’s democratic values. Rather, he said, doing so would provide a voice for many people who have been excluded from politics.

“Where all the political parties have failed in the past is in recruiting candidates from communities of colour,” Erl said. “Something like this could certainly help inspire people that may feel isolated from the political system to get involved.”

He said he questions the fairness of refusing to allow people who are actively engaged in the urban life of a city the right to select those who represent them in office.

“People need to look at this from the very basic idea that their neighbours, who might not have citizenship, are paying the same property taxes, they use the same services and they have the same ideas and opinions about how the city could be better run, so why shouldn’t they be able to send people to city hall to make decisions?” Erl said.

The city’s diversity committee noted that permanent residents compose about 9 per cent of Montreal’s population, equalling about 170,000 people — roughly 105,000 of whom would qualify as voters.

Montreal’s city administration says it’s interested in letting non-citizens vote in order to attract more people to the political process — especially immigrants. Voter turnout in the 2017 municipal election was 22 per cent in Cote-des-Neiges—Notre-Dame-de-Grace, the most ethnically diverse borough in the city, according to government data.

But it’s unclear what the Quebec and federal governments think of Montreal’s idea. A spokesperson for Quebec’s municipal affairs minister didn’t return a request for comment. And Corinne Havard, spokesperson for federal Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc, said Ottawa doesn’t play a role in municipal elections and directed questions about reforming voting laws to the Quebec government.

Montreal doesn’t seem interested in pushing the issue at the moment — at least not ahead of November’s city election.

Genevieve Jutras, spokeswoman for Plante, said the city will take its time to examine the report, adding that it is up to the provincial government to modify voting rights.

“The administration doesn’t have the intention to request a modification before the next municipal election,” Jutras said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on April 26, 2021.

Virginie Ann, The Canadian Press

Trudeau to receive AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccination Friday

BT Toronto | posted Friday, Apr 23rd, 2021

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be receiving a COVID-19 vaccination on Friday after the eligibility for the AstraZeneca vaccine was lowered to 40 years of age and older in Ontario.

Trudeau shared the news in a tweet in which he said his wife, Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau would also be getting the shot.

DP leader Jagmeet Singh has already received his jab and Conservative leader Erin O’Toole is set to get his COVID-19 vaccine this weekend.

Ontario lowered the eligibility of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine from 55 years old to 40 and appointments became available on Tuesday. Over 1,400 pharmacies are currently offering the vaccine.

Premier Doug Ford and Toronto Mayor John Tory also both publicly received their first dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in a pharmacy.

The province has administered 4,266,802 vaccine doses so far and 351,354 residents have been fully vaccinated.

‘We got it wrong’: Ford apologizes for controversial COVID-19 measures

BT Toronto | posted Friday, Apr 23rd, 2021

Premier Doug Ford has apologized for the heavy handed pandemic measures introduced last week, while also promising to bring in a paid sick-leave program.

“We got it wrong, we made a mistake… I’m sorry and I sincerely apologize,” Ford said while speaking outside his home where he is currently quarantining after a member of his staff recently tested positive for COVID-19.

“I will always try to do what’s right,” Ford said. “If we get something wrong, we’ll fix it.”

An emotional Ford also said they are working on a paid sick day program – something that his government has resisted since the pandemic began.

He says people forced into quarantine should not have to worry about their jobs or income.

He says the province is now working on a solution because the federal government hasn’t expanded its own policy but did not go into details or provide a timeline. In a statement released later in the day, Ford says they will not mandate Ontario companies to provide sick days.

“While we work to fill the gaps in the federal paid sick leave program, Premier Ford made very clear today that our government will not impose any additional burden on the backs of Ontario businesses that have been ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Ford’s press secretary said.

Critics slammed Ford for failing to make substantial commitments to immediately implement sick leave and noted he also didn’t move to follow other recommendations from experts like closing all non-essential workplaces.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath quickly responded following Ford’s virtual press conference, saying the Premier “chose to walk people into a catastrophic third wave,” adding that his comments offered nothing.

“No more delays and disastrous decisions that cost lives. Ford must pass paid sick days, close non-essential businesses, and send vaccines to hotspots. Today,” Horwath said.

“Entire families are lying in the ICU. Folks go to work with symptoms because they can’t afford a sick day. Vulnerable people and our frontline heroes cannot get a vaccine. Every day Ford delays action, more lives are lost, and more families and businesses are devastated.”

Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca, who recently issued a statement urging Ford to step down, said Ontarians are losing confidence in the Premier’s ability to lead the province through the current circumstances.

“Doug Ford knows he’s spiralling and that Ontario voters have lost confidence in his ability to manage this emergency. But ‘Sorry, folks’ won’t cut it,” said Del Duca.

“His cold-hearted refusal to introduce paid sick days for more than a year has already cost lives.”

Asked if he still has the moral authority to lead Ontario, Ford said “I’m not one to walk away from anything, we will continue to lead through this pandemic.”

The union representing public employees also criticized the sick leave announcement as lacking action, saying it left workers hanging.

“It’s time for far more than assurance that he’ll work on something,” Fred Hahn, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Ontario said in a statement.

In his morning press conference, Ford did acknowledge that the lockdowns have been “devastating for people.”

“I hear it everyday – every single day. People telling me their stories, the stories that make you cry. Families that haven’t been able to hold hands…,” Ford said as he became emotional, his voice quivering. “Hold the hand of their mum or dad as they passed away because of COVID-19 restrictions in hospitals.”

The turnaround came after Ford announced new COVID-19 regulations on Friday that gave police sweeping new powers and closed playgrounds and other recreational facilities, sparking a furious backlash from law enforcement, municipal leaders and medical professionals.

The government announced the new restrictions amid soaring cases and an alarming rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations.

Pregnant women being moved to highest risk category for vaccine eligibility: source

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | posted Friday, Apr 23rd, 2021

Pregnant women will soon be able to receive a COVID-19 vaccine as the province plans to move pregnancy from the at-risk category of health conditions to the highest risk category for vaccine eligibility, a source has confirmed to 680 NEWS.

The change will be effective April 23. The majority of health units are offering vaccinations to those in the highest risk and high risk categories.

Twitter post from Chatham-Kent’s Public Health Unit also said the province had moved pregnancy to the highest risk category for health conditions identified in Phase 2 and encouraged pregnant woman to book their appointment.

Pregnancy was originally announced as part of the third tier of health condition or the “at-risk” category with vaccine eligibility estimated to be in mid-May.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the largest reports on COVID-19 vaccination in pregnancy was published Wednesday by researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and bolstered evidence that it is safe, although the authors did say more comprehensive research is needed.

The preliminary results are based on reports from over 35,000 U.S. women who received either the Moderna or Pfizer shots while pregnant.

Their rates of miscarriage, premature births and other complications were comparable to those observed in published reports on pregnant women before the pandemic.

Canada to suspend flights from India, Pakistan for 30 days

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Friday, Apr 23rd, 2021

The federal government is suspending incoming passenger flights from India and Pakistan for the next month as cases of COVID-19 surge in both countries.

“Effective 11:30 p.m. Eastern time tonight, I am suspending all commercial and private passenger flights arriving in Canada from India and Pakistan for 30 days,” Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said Thursday.

“Cargo flights will be allowed to ensure the continued supply of vaccines, PPE and other essential goods. This is a temporary measure while we assess the evolving situation and determine appropriate measures going forward.”

To discourage people from getting around the flight ban by booking flights through other countries, Canada will require passengers transiting through a third nation to go through customs in that country and remain there until they obtain another negative COVID-19 test. Only then can they board their flight to Canada. They will be required to quarantine in Canada as well.

“Those are the measures that are actually effective in not just eliminating direct flights and the risk that might represent from hot-spot countries but also by taking the steps that are necessary to ensure that we don’t allow people using connecting flights,” said Public Safety Minister Bill Blair.

The rules apply to Canadian citizens and foreign nationals.

All passengers arriving in Canada by land or air from any country have to show a negative COVID-19 test and quarantine for two weeks, with some exceptions for essential workers. Air passengers must quarantine for the first three days at an approved hotel awaiting a COVID-19 test result, and must test again 10 days after arriving.

About 300 people have been fined $3,000 each for refusing to quarantine in an approved hotel upon arrival.

Health Canada has said about one per cent of all hotel quarantine passengers test positive for COVID-19.

Health Minister Patty Hajdu said half of the people who are testing positive for COVID-19 after arriving in Canada on an airplane came from India, even though Indian flights accounted for only one-fifth of air traffic.

She said passengers coming from Pakistan are also testing positive at higher rates than average.

British Columbia’s provincial health officer said it’s a difficult time for not just people in India but those living here who have family and friends in that part of the world.

“We hope that they will be able to get control of this wave in that country,” Dr. Bonnie Henry said.

B.C. health officials are “very supportive” of the federal government temporarily stopping flights coming into Canada from India and Pakistan, she said.

“We’ve seen this when we had increased rates in the U.K., where we needed to take a break and ensure that we had an understanding of what was going on.”

Canada is struggling with a third wave, so anything that can be done to stop further introductions is welcome, especially since officials have noticed “challenges” with the quarantine program for international travel, Henry said.

Health Canada data show 112 flights landing in Canada since April 7 have carried at least one passenger who later tested positive for COVID-19, including 32 from Delhi and two from Lahore, Pakistan.

There were also 10 such flights from France, 20 from multiple cities in the United States, and 10 from the United Arab Emirates.

India is seeing the biggest surge of COVID-19 to date, with more than 314,000 new cases reported Thursday, its highest one-day total ever.

Ruby Dhami, a travel agent in Surrey, B.C., said families of those who had travelled to India and planned to return in the coming days have been calling to ask how their loved ones could get home.

“We don’t have any answers on that,” she said, adding about 80 per cent of people who went to India live in Canada as permanent residents on a work or student permit.

“With a lot of COVID cases coming up a lot of their family or friends have passed away so most likely people have gone for that.”

Travellers who feared a temporary ban on flights from India as COVID-19 cases surged there had booked up return flights for April and May, Dhami said.

“If someone has to come from India for an emergency, only business class is open. All economy classes, everything’s been sold out.”

Pakistan’s government warned this week that major cities might be closed if COVID-19 cases there keep growing.

Canada joins several other governments in clamping down on travel from India. Pakistan has barred entry from India for two weeks, Hong Kong banned incoming flights from India for two weeks and New Zealand went as far as to stop entry to anyone who had been in India, including New Zealand nationals.

New Zealand did so April 11 after 17 people arriving from India tested positive for COVID-19.

On Friday, the United Kingdom is expected to add India to its “red list” of countries from which travellers are not welcome. British citizens are allowed to return home but must quarantine in a hotel for 10 days.

Alghabra said there are no flights currently arriving from Brazil but Canada won’t hesitate to ban further commercial flights if the data support it.

With files from Camille Bains and Hina Alam in Vancouver.

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