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Alberta confirms 1,413 new cases of COVID-19, 25 additional deaths – 660 News

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EDMONTON (660 NEWS) – Alberta has confirmed 1,413 new cases of COVID-19 and 25 additional deaths within the province.

A total of 815 Albertans have now died from complications with COVID-19.

The most recently reported deaths took place from Dec. 4 to 17 and included 11 from the Calgary Zone, nine from the Edmonton Zone, two from the Central Zone, two from the North Zone, and one from the South Zone.

There are 19,607 active cases within the province, with 759 in hospital and 141 in ICU.

There are currently 433 schools within the province with outbreaks or alerts. There are 1,971 active cases within schools.

Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw says some numbers being reported are positive.

The current number of active cases in Alberta is the lowest since Dec. 5.

“We are starting to see some early positive signs in our province. On Tuesday of this week, there were 1,286 new cases of COVID-19 identified. That was the lowest daily total since Nov. 26.”

She says the provincial positivity rate fluctuates from day to day but is on an overall downward trend.

However, she says the pandemic is far from over.

“We expect that hospitalizations and ICU admissions will continue to rise in the coming weeks, as these are lagging indicators.”

She adds that the health system continues to feel the strain of the pandemic, but encourages Albertans to have hope.

“But what these numbers show us is that together we have the power to protect our communities and change our future.”

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Ontario reports 2,578 new coronavirus cases; testing falls to lowest point since early January – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News

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Ontario reported a considerable drop in new COVID-19 cases and deaths on Monday, which could be partially explained by a corresponding fall in testing rates to the lowest point seen in two weeks.

The province reported 2,578 new cases and 24 new deaths on Monday, on the strength of 40,000 test specimens, or 20,000 fewer than what was processed the day before.

Ontario reported 3,422 new cases on Sunday and 3,056 on Saturday.

The seven-day average now stands at 3,074, which is down 10 per cent from this time last week (3,394).

“Locally, there are 815 new cases in Toronto, 507 in Peel, 151 in York Region, 151 in Niagara and 121 in Hamilton,” Health Minister Christine Elliott wrote on Twitter.

Approximately 421 people have died of novel coronavirus infection in the past seven days. Fourteen of the 24 deaths reported on Monday involved residents of the long-term care system.

Monday’s case total is the lowest Ontario has seen since Jan. 1.

There are now 28,621 active cases of infection across the province, down from a peak of 30,141 six days ago.

Provincial labs processed 40,301 test specimens, generating a positivity rate of at least 6.6 per cent. A further 18,481 specimens remained under investigation on Monday.

The number of tests processed is the lowest Ontario labs have completed in a 24-hour period since Jan. 5.

More than 400 patients are receiving care in intensive care for COVID-19 symptoms across the province, with the number of intubated patients climbing by 10 to 303 on Monday.

Toronto’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa told the city’s Board of Health Monday that existing intensive care units in the city will reach capacity by the end of January.

There were a total of 1,571 patients admitted to hospitals across Ontario for novel coronavirus infection on Monday, up one from Sunday.

Meanwhile the number of long-term care homes facing an outbreak of COVID-19 grew by 2 to 248 of Ontario’s 626 facilities.

Elsewhere in the GTA, Hamilton reported 121 new cases, Halton Region reported 79 new cases and Durham Region reported 76 new cases.

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How Couche-Tard’s ambitious bid for France’s Carrefour was cut down – Financial Times

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Every January at the glittering Palace of Versailles, President Emmanuel Macron hosts a conference called “Choose France” to convince the heads of big multinationals that there is no better country to invest in.

Yet when one of Canada’s biggest companies, Alimentation Couche-Tard, made such a choice last week with a €16.2bn bid for French supermarket chain Carrefour, the government moved decisively to extinguish the chance of a deal.

Just 24 hours after the companies revealed they were in talks, French finance minister Bruno Le Maire declared his opposition, calling Carrefour “a key link in the chain that ensures the food security of the French people”. With its grip on a deal slipping, Couche-Tard, a $33bn group which operates convenience stores and petrol stations in North America and Europe, scrambled.

Alain Bouchard, its billionaire founder and chairman, flew into Paris for a meeting to persuade Mr Le Maire that the company would be a good owner for Carrefour, while Canadian politicians, including Quebec’s economy minister, worked the phones. 

It was to no avail. The 72-year-old entrepreneur was sent packing back to Laval, Québec where he founded Couche-Tard, best known for its Circle K chain, in 1980. Late on Saturday, the companies admitted the talks were off, but insisted they would examine operational partnerships.

The shortlived drama riveted the French business elite, while briefly holding out the promise of a payday for some of the top investment banks and law firms in Paris. Couche-Tard was advised by Rothschild, where Mr Macron worked from 2008 to 2010. Rival Lazard advised Carrefour.

The saga has also reignited a debate over whether France is as open for business as Mr Macron once promised. By branding a Couche-Tard takeover as a risk to France’s “food sovereignty”, some executives and bankers are worried the government has done lasting damage to its ability to attract foreign investors.

Breakdown of the retail groups: Carrefour vs Couche-Tard

“How can you tell me France is investor friendly and go and do something like this?” said one person involved in the deal. “Protectionism may be politically popular but it is bad for the country in the long run.”

A far-fetched plan

Despite a reputation for protectionism, it is relatively rare for France to block a foreign takeover. In recent years, steelmaker Arcelor, telecom gear specialist Alcatel-Lucent, cement giant Lafarge, and energy group Technip were all snapped up by buyers from outside France. The country was Europe’s top destination for foreign direct investment in 2019, according to a study by EY.

One longtime ally of Mr Macron and adviser to many French companies said the failure of Couche-Tard’s gambit owed more to bad timing than any fundamental change of approach in the Elysée. France was still attractive for investors, the person argued, pointing to labour reforms and tax cuts passed by Mr Macron’s government. 

Alain Bouchard, Couche-Tard’s billionaire founder and chairman
Alain Bouchard, Couche-Tard founder and chairman, flew into Paris for a meeting to persuade the French finance minister that the group would be a good owner for Carrefour © Canadian Press/Shutterstock

“The idea that the government would stand by while the biggest private employer in France was sold to a foreign buyer in the middle of a pandemic and one year before a presidential election is simply far-fetched,” the person said.

“Carrefour is a very visible asset in France — everyone from the labour unions to the farmers who supply their milk, cheese, and meats would have been up in arms,” they added.

Anticipating such concerns, Couche-Tard had planned to allay them by pitching the deal as a way to forge a French-speaking global retailing powerhouse better armed to compete with Amazon. It pledged to invest €3bn over five years, not cut jobs for two years, and to maintain dual listings in Toronto and Paris, according to people close to the group.

Given how foreign takeovers can quickly turn political in France, companies sometimes quietly run deals by officials to gauge their reaction. In 2005, PepsiCo was rumoured to be weighing up a bid for yoghurt maker Danone, prompting the then Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin to vow to protect the company in the name of “economic patriotism”. A bid never materialised.

Column chart of Revenues (€bn) showing Couche-Tard and Carrefour sales

Months later, France passed a decree giving the government the ability potentially to block takeovers by foreign buyers in sectors deemed strategic, such as defence and security. It is a definition that has steadily broadened to include energy, water and telecoms. In 2019, “food security” was added, creating the legal tool that would eventually thwart Couche-Tard.

Pascal Bine, an M&A specialist at law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, said the Covid-19 crisis had made the government more willing to block takeovers that could threaten the country’s supply chains. In December, it rejected US group Teledyne’s bid to buy Photonis, a maker of night vision goggles for military use.

Couche-Tard is best known for its Circle K brand
Couche-Tard is best known for its Circle K brand © Chris Helgren/Reuters

“With the health crisis, there is a new doctrine emerging on foreign investment in France. More attention is being paid to ensure that France has supplies of key goods like medical equipment and food, and the proposed Carrefour deal does raise questions about sovereignty,” Mr Bine said.

“Legally nothing has changed but culturally something has . . . do not forget that the 1789 revolution started in part over bread shortages,” he added.

With the pandemic’s disruption hitting share prices, other countries have also been uneasy about potential foreign takeovers. The UK in November expanded its ability to review takeovers of any size in 17 key sectors, while the EU has sought similar new powers and voiced concerns over state-backed Chinese buyers.

Carrefour’s unwanted discount

If the French government could not stomach the Couche-Tard deal, Carrefour’s board and management were open to considering it.

Instead, Carrefour’s chief executive Alexandre Bompard will have to keep cutting costs to improve profits, while trying to stem a multiyear decline in sales at its large-format stores, known in France as hypermarkets. The company’s shares were down 6 per cent on Monday.

Line chart of Forward 12m price-earnings multiple (x) showing Carrefour trades at a discount to peers

Three years into a five-year turnround plan, Mr Bompard has earned credit for selling assets in China and expanding the group’s ecommerce business. But with most cost savings going to pay for restructuring, margins have barely budged.

Carrefour stock has long traded at a discount to those of other big food retailers like Tesco or Walmart, reflecting the intense competition in France, where it still earns half its sales. With a 20 per cent market share, it is the second-largest player in France behind privately owned E Leclerc.

Fabienne Caron, analyst at Kepler Cheuvreux, said that closing the valuation gap will be that much harder now that a foreign takeover is off the table and regulators have previously frowned on domestic consolidation. “The key lessons of this week is that no foreign company can buy a French food retailer, and that Carrefour is up for sale,” she said. 

The lessons have not been lost on Carrefour’s three largest shareholders, who together control about 23 per cent of the stock. The group includes France’s richest man, LVMH founder Bernard Arnault, and the Moulin family behind department store group Galeries Lafayette.

They were open to selling their stakes to help the Couche-Tard deal, according to people familiar with the matter.

They were displeased with the government’s intervention, said one person familiar with their thinking, especially because they have long supported Mr Macron. Spokespeople for Mr Arnault and the Moulin family declined to comment.

Although painful, Couche-Tard’s French snub is unlikely to dent its ambitions. Under Mr Bouchard, the group has completed almost 40 takeovers over the past decade in the fragmented convenience store sector. The relentless dealmaking had, by 2019, made it Canada’s largest publicly traded company by revenue. 

Carrefour chief executive Alexandre Bompard
Carrefour chief Alexandre Bompard has earned credit for selling assets in China and expanding the ecommerce business, but most of the cost savings have gone towards paying for restructuring © Christophe Morin/Bloomberg

Couche-Tard’s move for Carrefour was aimed at cutting its heavy reliance on petrol sales, which are expected to decline in the coming decades as electric vehicles become widespread.

A solid balance sheet certainly gives the company the license to go shopping. According to Barclays analysts, the group’s net debt-to-ebitda ratio for 2020 was 0.9 times and is projected to be 0.5 times this year.

Stephen Groff, a portfolio manager at Cambridge Global Asset Management which owns Couche-Tard shares, said the group’s record has earned it the right to hunt for a major deal — even if the approach for Carrefour came as a big surprise.

“They’re a very effective operator with a decentralised mindset that’s enabled them to adapt to very different market conditions around the world,” he said.

But “shareholders are likely to want to get further clarity on what their long-term ambitions are given this is a different path than what many may have expected.”

Additional reporting by Kaye Wiggins in London

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Ontario seniors 'living in fear' of COVID-19 feel forgotten in vaccine rollout plan – CBC.ca

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When the first COVID-19 vaccine was approved in Canada, Ketty Samel and her 76-year-old husband Morris believed the end to the long months of isolation was in sight. Since last March, the Thornhill, Ont., couple has been hunkering down in their home.

“We’re living in fear. For me to go to a grocery store right now, I’m in a total sweat. I’m stressed, I walk in and I walk out. I grab whatever I need off the shelves and that’s it.”

Under Ontario’s vaccination rollout plan, Samel, 71, and her husband will be vaccinated in Phase 2 — a phase that could begin as early as March, according to government officials, and will continue through to July.  It’s a tiered system by age groups, starting with those 80 years of age or older, then decreasing by five-year increments.

“They’ve told us from the beginning of this pandemic that we were vulnerable. [After] long term care we were the next vulnerable population,” said Samel.

“And all of a sudden we’re expendable. That’s our feeling.”

The Ontario Ministry of Health says the roadblock to vaccinating more people faster is supply, which is expected to increase in Phase 2. 

But in the meantime, some are questioning whether everyone getting a dose in Phase 1 is as vulnerable as seniors in the community, with figures from Public Health Ontario showing that more than a third of COVID-19 deaths are adults over 60 who aren’t in long-term care.

Long-term care nurse Limin Liu, right, takes a selfie as registered nurse Sasha Vartley vaccinates her with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 mRNA vaccine during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Dec. 15. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Federal guidelines

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommends adults 70 and older to be part of the first stage of immunization rollout, alongside residents and staff in seniors’ congregate living settings, health-care workers, and adults in Indigenous communities “where infection can have disproportionate consequences.”

Actual plans vary by province. In Ontario, Phase 1 of the rollout involves vaccinating all residents, staff, essential and other workers in long term care and retirement homes, health care workers, adults in First nations, Metis and Inuit populations and recipients of adult chronic home care. 

Seniors in the community aren’t slated to be vaccinated until Phase 2.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford watches a health-care worker prepare a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccine clinic in Toronto on Jan. 7. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

This discrepancy between federal guidelines and Ontario’s planned rollout is one that 76-year-old Toronto resident Brian Corcoran calls frustrating.

“We’re not considering elderly people. They don’t have that criteria in Ontario,” said Corocoran. 

Corcoran, like many other seniors in Ontario, has called his local health clinic to try to find out when he’d be vaccinated, only to be told staff have received no direction.

“By having the seniors in limbo is not good for a lot of people. A lot of people will get depressed. A lot of people will be isolated.”

Corcoran said he believes in the importance of vaccinating seniors in long-term care homes and front line workers first, but said he doesn’t understand why older adults like him aren’t included in the first phase after them.

Brian Corcoran, 76, pictured outside his Toronto home. He’d like to see elderly people such as himself vaccinated in Phase 1 of Ontario’s rollout plan. (Pelin Sidki/CBC)

It’s a sentiment shared by Samel and her husband.

“If we should contract COVID, it’s most likely that we are going to end up taking up a hospital bed and end up not surviving. That’s the bottom line,” she said.

‘The numbers don’t lie’

According to Public Health Ontario’s figures as of Friday, there have been 5289 COVID deaths in the province.

A closer look at the numbers show that of the estimated 5289 deaths, 96 per cent — 5064 people — are aged 60 and over. (The majority — 3137 deaths — have been seniors in long-term care homes, but nearly 2000 estimated deaths have been seniors not in long-term care.)

Those figures are prompting some medical professionals and advocates to call for Ontario’s vaccination plan to look more closely at older adults. 

“The numbers don’t lie,” said Dr. Samir Sinha, director of Geriatrics at at Mount Sinai and the University Health Network Hospitals in Toronto. 

“And yet our government is basically following a kind of a plan that I don’t actually think really follows the science.”

Dr. Samir Sinha, director of geriatrics at Sinai Health and University Health Network in Toronto, says he doesn’t believe the government is using science to guide its vaccination rollout plan when it comes to seniors. (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC)

Sinha questions why some essential workers in hospitals — who don’t interact with patients — are being vaccinated before older adults.

“The science says that when 96 per cent of the people dying in this pandemic are people older than 60. Why would you make that make that population wait until April, that 3.5 million people, and start vaccinating 1.5 million essential workers months in advance of that?” 

Sinha pointed to other countries — such as Israel — that he said have already vaccinated more than 70 per cent of its population over the age of 60 in a matter of weeks. 

Bill VanGorder is the Chief Policy Officer for the Canadian Association for Retired Persons (CARP). He says with community spread in Ontario, there is a serious risk to those seniors living in their own homes. (CARP)

Each province has its own timeline for vaccinating seniors. In British Columbia for example, only those 80 years of age or older who live in the community will be vaccinated before April.

In Quebec, the provincial government plans to start vaccinating those 70 years and older by February 15 with the hope that all Quebecers over 70 will get vaccine by April. In Alberta the plan is to start offering vaccines to seniors 75 and older by February.

Some seniors’ advocates say older adults must be prioritized regardless of where they live.

“There is great risk to people who are living in their own homes. They’re still visited … by caregivers, by their own family,” said Bill VanGorder, chief policy officer with the Canadian Association for Retired Persons (CARP)

“And we know how bad community spread is right across [Ontario]. Why would we not want to vaccinate them just as quickly as possible first?”

WATCH | Why some provinces are delaying 2nd dose of vaccine against recommendations:

As provinces rush to get vaccines into arms, debate continues over how late second doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines can be given. Canada’s Vaccine Task Force is pushing for manufacturer guidelines to be adhered to, while Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization says up to 42 days is OK. 2:01

Ministry response

CBC News reached out to the Ontario Ministry of Health to ask why older adult aren’t part of Phase 1 and why the province hasn’t moved to vaccinate them sooner.

In a statement it said the province has the ability to ramp up its capacity to vaccinate more people, but the problem is supply. 

“We continue to urge the federal government to deliver more COVID-19 vaccines as soon as possible to keep up with Ontario’s capacity to administer.”

It added: “As the province continues to receive more doses, we will continue to expand locations across the province to vaccinate our most vulnerable and over time every Ontarian who wishes to be immunized.”

For Ketty Samel and her husband, that’s not good enough. They’ve started a letter-writing campaign to the provincial government.

“They’ve told us and warned us that we are so vulnerable,” said Samel. “If we’re so vulnerable, why is nobody looking at this?”

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