The Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre (CIFFC) says that 77 Canadians from across the country are headed down under in response to a request for help by national fire and emergency services in Melbourne.
The request for help is specifically for the states of Victoria and South Australia, according to a CIFFC statement tweeted Thursday.
“This is in addition to the Canadian resources that have already been deployed to the State of New South Wales,” CIFFC said in the statement.
The first contingent of Canadians that left in early December is back, they added.
CIFFC spokesperson Melanie Morin said these Canadian deployments, beginning from December, are the first time the agency has sent firefighting help to Australia.
“This is the first time that we’ve gone anywhere internationally other than the United States,” she said in a phone interview from Melbourne on Thursday, where she is part of a team helping coordinate personnel.
On Thursday, 28 fire management personnel were preparing to depart from Vancouver International Airport, bound for the state of Victoria, where at least half a dozen bushfires were listed on the government website along with clusters of grass fires.
Their deployment is slated to last 31 days.
“They will be undertaking roles in command, operations, planning, logistics and aviation,” CIFFC said.
Seven more Canadian fire aviation specialists will depart for 31 days — marking the seventh such deployment from Canada — on Friday to South Australia, where fire danger ratings on the state website range from very high to low-moderate.
The fires have affected the availability of food and water for local wildlife. Local firefighters in South Australia recently posted a video of themselves helping a pair of parched koalas. Similar videos of people helping thirsty koalas have periodically appeared since the start of the wildfire season. The World Wildlife Fund in Australia said last week it estimates more than a billion animals may have been killed directly or indirectly due to the fires.
On Sunday, 40 professional wildland firefighters from Canada along with two fire management personnel will head to Victoria for 31 days.
Morin said this is the first time CIFFC is sending frontline firefighters in response to a request by the state of Victoria.
“So we are now sending 40 firefighters that will be leaving Sunday night and arriving Tuesday morning in Melbourne,” she said. Half of them are from B.C., while the other half hail from Quebec.
Australia may have a “different topography, different terrain, different climate” than in Canada, she said.
“But once you have that base knowledge, then it can be transferred and applied here,” Morin said.
The firefighters all come from agencies across the country — B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, the Northwest Territories, and the Yukon.
All in all, by the time the eighth deployment lands in Australia next week, Canada will have sent a total of 172 fire professionals since early December to three different states in Australia.
“We have 46 from BC, two from the Yukon, 34 from Alberta, four from the Northwest Territories, 11 from Saskatchewan, eight from Manitoba, 28 from Ontario, 25 from Quebec, three from Newfoundland and Labrador, three from Nova Scotia and eight from Parks Canada,” Morin said.
Canada has mutual aid agreements with not just Australia but also New Zealand, the U.S., Mexico and South Africa. It has received similar firefighting assistance in the past.
“Canada has called on Australian support for firefighting personnel in 2015, 2017 and 2018 and we are proud to now reciprocate and assist them during this challenging fire season,” CIFFC said.
The wildfires in Australia have devastated more than 2,500 homes and ravaged an area roughly the size of a third of Germany since they first began raging in September.
— With files by Reuters
Russia fines Google for not deleting banned content
A Moscow court on Monday said it had ordered Alphabet’s Google to pay 4 million roubles ($52,526) for not removing access to content banned in Russia, the latest in a string of fines for the U.S. tech giant.
Russia upped the ante late last year in its efforts to increase pressure on Big Tech, handing massive, revenue-based fines to Google and Meta Platforms for repeatedly failing to remove content Moscow deems illegal.
Google declined to comment.
The TASS news agency reported that Google had been fined for providing access to links of banned websites.
($1 = 76.1530 roubles)
(Reporting by Alexander Marrow, Editing by Louise Heavens)
The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for Jan. 17 – CBC.ca
Health Canada approves Pfizer’s COVID-19 therapeutic
The good news for Canadian health practitioners and burned-out hospital staff is that Health Canada has just approved Pfizer’s antiviral pill Paxlovid for treatment in COVID-19 patients.
The downside is, as explained in Friday’s newsletter, demand far exceeds supply even in the United States, where the drug is manufactured.
The approval came Monday, weeks after positive results in a clinical trial were published in which Pfizer said the drug reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by 89 per cent compared to a placebo in non-hospitalized high-risk adults with COVID-19. While the trial involved unvaccinated individuals, further studies have shown desired effects for vaccinated people.
Experts say an effective pill that’s easy to self-administer at home for those infected could relieve some of the pressure on the health-care system and change the trajectory of the pandemic, although it’s unlikely to be of major impact for this Omicron wave.
“This is welcome news — we have one more tool in our toolbox,” said federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos. “But no drug, including Paxlovid, can replace vaccination and public health measures.”
Canada has placed an order for an initial quantity of one million treatment courses but at a Monday briefing, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said the federal government is expecting “supply at the beginning will not be great anywhere.”
Health Canada is authorizing it to treat adults with mild to moderate COVID-19 who are at high risk of progressing to serious disease, including hospitalization or death.
The drug is intended for use as soon as possible after diagnosis of COVID-19 and within five days of the start of symptoms. The treatment consists of two tablets of nirmatrelvir and one tablet of ritonavir taken together by mouth twice per day for five days.
Paxlovid could be useful for people who have underlying conditions that increase the risk of hospitalization and death related to the coronavirus, such as heart disease or diabetes.
Health Canada has warned, however, that the product shouldn’t be used while a patient is on any of a long list of other drugs, including common medications used to treat erectile dysfunction, high cholesterol and seasonal allergies, among others.
Pfizer is promising to churn out 120 million courses of the treatment by year’s end. That means in the absence of new, vaccine-evading coronavirus variants — a big if — next fall and winter could look a lot different in Canada in terms of the impact of COVID-19.
From The National
Hundreds of air passengers broke in-flight mask rules in 2021
The issue of passengers flouting COVID-19 rules on airplanes has been in the spotlight in recent days after passengers on a Sunwing chartered flight from Montreal to Mexico were seen partying and vaping while not wearing masks.
Between January and December 2021, Transport Canada received 1,710 reports of passengers refusing to wear masks. In the vast majority of those cases — 1,594 — passengers refused to wear masks or to resume wearing them after they had finished eating or drinking.
In seven cases, passengers were not allowed to board the plane; in 108 cases, passengers who had boarded were ordered to leave the plane.
Figures collected by Transport Canada show that 959 of those cases resulted in enforcement action, ranging from warning letters to fines.
Wesley Lesosky, head of the Canadian Union of Public Employees’ airline division, which represents 14,000 flight attendants with nine Canadian airlines, said staff are in the uncomfortable spot of being the “mask police” in addition to their other duties.
“We have had incidents that have escalated to a physical nature,” he said. “We have had issues of obviously being sworn at, we have had issues of being spit at. We have had issues of just disgruntled people. We have had people [who] are just ticked off with the mask policy.”
Unruly behaviour has been a frequent problem in the U.S. Last week, three people were charged in connection with an incident in September at New York’s JFK Airport, where a security guard was allegedly assaulted as a pandemic-related exchange escalated.
The wearing of a mask to mitigate COVID-19 has been politicized in the U.S., with several Republican governors overruling mask mandates imposed by local authorities in their states. Travellers from all 50 states, however, have to abide by the mask mandate imposed in the pandemic if they enter an American airport or board a plane.
According to a CNN report last week, citing Federal Aviation Administration data, there were 5,981 reports of unruly passengers logged in 2021. Of those, 4,290 — nearly 72 per cent — were for mask-related incidents.
From 1995 to when the pandemic began in 2020, the FAA averaged 182 such incidents a year, per the report.
In contrast to Canadian data, which indicate there were more incidents as 2021 progressed, the first six months of the year in the U.S. had far more reports of adverse behaviour than the second half of 2021. That could partially be explained by the fact that, in general, the U.S. has had more business activity open and fewer societal disruptions than Canada, including airline travel.
Another wrinkle in the U.S. concerns Southwest Airlines, whose CEO has been the most vocal among the big airlines in criticizing the mask mandate. Unionized flight attendants at Southwest have just filed a grievance, indicating some pilots are not masking up in accordance with the FAA guidelines.
How the flouting of COVID-19 restrictions by leaders damages credibility and trust
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his government have been on apology blitz after a woeful week of revelations concerning hypocritical behaviour in regards to the country’s COVID-19 restrictions.
First, Johnson acknowledged public “rage” after it was learned he attended a May 2020 garden party involving dozens of Downing Street staff, held in contravention of COVID-19 restrictions that Britons were supposed to be following at the time. Then just two days later, Johnson’s office offered a separate apology to Queen Elizabeth over a pair of parties held by Downing Street staff on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral in April 2021 — a time when pandemic restrictions prompted the Queen to sit alone in her grief in St. George’s Chapel the following day.
It will be up to the British people and the Conservative Party to see if Johnson can ride out the firestorm, but experts say the contradictory, rule-defying behaviour by rule-makers undermines key pandemic messaging and does little to build trust with the people paying attention to what their leaders say and do.
Maya Goldenberg, an associate professor of philosophy at Ontario’s University of Guelph who studies vaccine hesitancy, said such erosion of trust is a problem for people trying to lead the way out of a pandemic.
“The leadership in this pandemic, both politicians and scientists, needs a lot of public buy-in to successfully implement pandemic containment measures,” she said in an email to CBC News.
“When the leadership act as if the rules don’t apply to them, they damage public trust in the leadership — and by doing that, they undermine their own ability to lead effectively.”
Monica Schoch-Spana, who has worked in public health emergency management for more than two decades, said she fears that the repeated coverage of such stories may potentially be “reinforcing people’s lack of trust in government.”
Schoch-Spana, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore, said the stories about leaders who aren’t abiding by the rules are becoming fodder “for a proxy war for people in how they feel about politicians and governments more generally.”
They can also lead to distortion, as for every story about California Gov. Gavin Newsom or the Dutch king, dozens of political leaders have seemingly been modelling the correct behaviour for their constituents.
Closer to home, Canada has seen some of its own political leaders doing what they wanted, not as they urged others to do in the name of public health.
The list includes premiers going places they told others not to visit or holding gatherings that were questionable under the rules in place, as well as politicians taking verboten trips outside of Canada in the middle of the ongoing global health emergency. As recently as last month, a Liberal MP was removed from parliamentary committee duties after taking a non-essential trip outside the country.
Find out more about COVID-19
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Snowstorm strands motorists, grounds planes in eastern U.S., Canada
A winter snowstorm creeping up the East Coast of the United States into Canada on Monday was expected to dump more than two feet (60 cm) of snow in some areas, grounding planes and stranding motorists.
More than 4,200 flights in the United States were canceled or delayed on Monday, according to FlightAware. Nearly 90,000 homes and businesses between Georgia and Maine lacked electricity, according to PowerOutage.US.
Traffic was snarled in Toronto, Canada’s largest city, as the snowstorm brought visibility to near zero, shut subway lines and left motorists stranded on local highways for hours.
Buses were at a standstill and passing pedestrians helped push cars up a street at a main commuter route in central Toronto. The region was predicted to get up to 2 feet of snow, and an extreme weather warning was in effect. Authorities asked residents to stay off the roads.
In neighboring Quebec, the weather caused traffic accidents, including pileups involving dozens of vehicles that forced authorities to close some highways, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corp (CBC).
In the eastern United States, officials likewise urged residents to stay off snowy roads on the holiday honoring slain civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr.
Ashtabula, Ohio, on Lake Erie, recorded 27 inches of snow, according to the National Weather Service, while parts of New York state, Pennsylvania and North Carolina received more than 20 inches.
Atlanta saw its first snow in four years, according to the NWS, and some regions in North Carolina had record snowfalls.
As the storm swept north, northern Maine and New Hampshire were still due for another 2 to 4 inches of ice and snow Monday evening, the weather service said. Blustery conditions were predicted across much of the region into Tuesday.
(Ismail Shakil in Bengaluru, Andy Sullivan in Washington, Daniel Trotta in California and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Scott Malone, Leslie Adler, Heather Timmons and Paul Simao)
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