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Alberta asks federal government, Red Cross for field hospitals as COVID spreads – CBC.ca

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As COVID-19 cases soar in Alberta and hospital capacity is stretched, the province has reached out to the federal government and the Canadian Red Cross for help, CBC News has learned.

A federal source with direct knowledge of the situation says Alberta has asked the federal government and the Red Cross to supply field hospitals to help offset the strain COVID-19 is having on the health-care system.

The source said Alberta would likely receive at least four field hospitals — two from the Red Cross and another two from the federal government. The source, speaking on condition of confidentiality, said there was no request for human resources to staff the hospitals and no request for support from the military. 

The source said a formal request has still not been sent by the province, but officials have been discussing in detail the level of support Alberta could receive. 

A health-care official walks down the halls of a pandemic response unit at Peter Lougheed Centre in Calgary on Nov. 14, 2020. The temporary structure was set up early in the pandemic to deal with a potential flood of cases. (Submitted by AHS/Leah Hennel)

Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu is scheduled to speak with Alberta Health Minster Tyler Shandro on Wednesday to discuss the requests and what other supports Ottawa can offer the province during the pandemic. 

A provincial government official confirmed to CBC News that a request had been made for field hospital help, but said the request represented contingency planning only at this point.

The official said Alberta Health Services is gathering resources and materials it may need, but there is no plan yet to staff or construct the hospitals.

An official from Public Safety Canada said they have not received any requests for field hospitals from any other provinces or territories.

Alberta continues to set new daily COVID-19 infection records and leads the country in the number of active cases per capita. It has also sometimes led the country in total active cases. For example, on Tuesday, there were 16,628 active cases in Alberta, compared to 14,524 in Ontario — a province with more than three times as many people.

On Tuesday, the province reported 1,307 new cases and a test positivity rate of 8.4 per cent. Alberta has reported more than 1,000 cases each day for nearly two weeks. 

There were 479 people in hospital and 97 in ICUs on Tuesday, but the province will update those numbers on Wednesday afternoon at a news conference to be attended by both Premier Jason Kenney and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw.

  • CBC News will carry that news conference live here at 3:30 p.m. MT/5:30 p.m. ET.

The last time Kenney appeared at a COVID-19 update was on Nov. 24 when he introduced new restrictions on social gatherings, among other measures, in an attempt to stem the rising tide of cases while continuing to focus on the province’s economic health. 

He said those restrictions would be revisited on Dec. 15 and stricter measures could be imposed if cases continue to rise. 

Critics have called those measures insufficient

Since then, doctors have warned of overburdened hospitals and ICUs and the province has taken the step of double-bunking some patients in ICU rooms as part of its plans to deal with a surge

On Nov. 27, Alberta Health Services sent a memo to staff asking them to conserve oxygen supplies as demand increases.

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Commander leading COVID vaccine rollout leaves pending investigation

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A top military commander tasked with Canada‘s COVID-19 vaccine rollout has unexpectedly left his assignment pending the results of a military investigation, a government statement said on Friday.

Major-General Dany Fortin was brought in by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government to lead Canada‘s vaccine distribution in November, describing the effort as the greatest mobilization effort the country has seen since World War Two.

The brief statement did not elaborate on the nature of the investigation. Acting Chief of the Defence Staff, Lieutenant-General Eyre will be reviewing next steps with Fortin, the statement added.

Fortin, who has decades of experience including in warzones, was a key fixture of the government’s vaccine briefings and his team coordinated the logistical challenge of reaching vaccines to Canada‘s far-flung places.

Canada‘s vaccination campaign has picked up pace after a rocky start, with some 43.1% of the country’s population receiving at least one dose.

 

(Reporting by Denny Thomas; Editing by Sam Holmes)

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Canada slams ‘unconscionable’ Iran conduct since airliner shootdown

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Canada on Thursday condemned Tehran’s “unconscionable” conduct since Iranian forces shot down an airliner last year, killing 176 people, including dozens of Canadians, and vowed to keep pressing for answers as to what really happened.

The comments by Foreign Minister Marc Garneau were among the strongest Ottawa has made about the January 2020 disaster.

“The behavior of the Iranian government has been frankly unconscionable in this past 15 months and we are going to continue to pursue them so we have accountability,” Garneau told a committee of legislators examining what occurred.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards shot down the Ukraine International Airlines flight shortly after it took off from Tehran Airport. Iran said its forces had been on high alert during a regional confrontation with the United States.

Iran was on edge about possible attacks after it fired missiles at Iraqi bases housing U.S. forces in retaliation for the killing days before of its most powerful military commander, Qassem Soleimani, in a U.S. missile strike at Baghdad airport.

Garneau complained it had taken months of pressure for Iran, with which Canada does not have diplomatic relations, to hand over the flight recorders for independent analysis and said Tehran had still not explained why the airspace had not been closed at the time.

In March, Iran’s civil aviation body blamed the crash on a misaligned radar and an error by an air defense operator. Iran has indicted 10 officials.

At the time, Ukraine and Canada criticized the report as insufficient. But Garneau went further on Thursday, saying it was “totally unacceptable … they are laying the blame on some low-level people who operated a missile battery and not providing the accountability within the chain of command.”

Canada is compiling its own forensic report into the disaster and will be releasing it in the coming weeks, he said.

 

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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Mexican union was set to lose disputed GM workers’ vote

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General Motors Co workers in Mexico were on track to scrap the contract negotiated by one of the country’s biggest unions, according to a Mexican government report on a vote last month that led to a U.S. complaint under a new North American free trade deal.

On Wednesday, the Biden administration called for a probe into allegations that worker rights were denied at GM’s Silao pickup truck plant during the vote to ratify workers’ collective contract with the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM).

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Thursday said he accepted the U.S. recommendation to make sure there would be no fraud in union votes, noting that many “irregularities” had been detected in the union-led vote at GM.

The CTM, which represents 4.5 million workers, is one of several traditional unions accused by workers and activists of putting business interests over workers’ rights.

A ministry report into the vote, reviewed by Reuters, shows that 1,784 workers cast ballots against keeping the CTM contract, while 1,628 workers voted to maintain it.

Allegations of interference – including the ministry’s findings that some blank ballots in union possession were cut in half – have raised suspicions among some activists and experts that the CTM may have been headed for a deeper defeat.

A follow-up vote, which the Labor Ministry ordered to take place within 30 days, could result in a wider margin against keeping the current contract, especially if more workers who were apathetic or scared of voting turned out the second time, said Alfonso Bouzas, a labor scholar at Mexico’s National Autonomous University.

“This whole new opportunity is going to awaken conscience and interest,” Bouzas said.

CTM’s national spokesman, Patricio Flores, said the union supported the regional trade deal and would comply with the law and whatever “would not harm investment in Mexico.”

He did not dispute the vote tally in the labor ministry report, but called for an investigation into the disputed proceeding before a second vote.

“We should listen to the voice of these workers and not let pressure from unions in the United States and Canada have influence right now,” CTM said in a statement.

‘DOESN’T SEEM RIGHT’

The ministry document showed that just over half of the 6,494 workers eligible to vote did so in the first of two days of voting, before labor inspectors halted the process.

If GM workers scrap their contract, either the CTM or a new union could negotiate new collective terms.

Many collective bargaining contracts in Mexico consist of deals between unions and companies without workers’ approval, which has helped keep Mexican hourly wages at a fraction of those in the United States.

The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which took effect last year and replaced the 1994 NAFTA, sought to strengthen worker rights in Mexico and slow migration of U.S. auto production south of the border.

GM has said it respects the rights of its employees to make decisions over collective bargaining, and that it was not involved in any alleged violations. It declined to comment on the Labor Ministry report.

GM has indicated that it is ready to shift away from the old system that had let companies in Mexico turn a blind eye to worker rights, said Jerry Dias, the head of Canada‘s largest private sector union, Unifor.

“The rules are changing and a company like GM is not going to get caught,” he said.

Dias said he hoped to personally monitor the follow-up vote at the Silao plant.

Contract ratification votes are required under Mexico’s 2019 labor reform, which underpins the renegotiated free trade pact, to ensure workers are not bound to contracts that were signed behind their backs.

(Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon; Editing by Christian Plumb, Richard Pullin, Paul Simao and David Gregorio)

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