As the number of COVID-19 cases linked to the Cargill meat plant in High River, Alta., continues to climb, the Alberta government is confirming more details about the scope of investigations looking into both the outbreak there and a death linked to the facility.
As of Thursday, 480 workers at the Cargill facility had tested positive for COVID-19, including one who died, with another 140 cases linked to spread in the community.
In a statement issued to Global News on Thursday, a spokesperson for Alberta Labour said Occupational Health and Safety is currently investigating the death as well as “the circumstances at the work site that may have led to workers becoming infected.”
“These investigations will look at the circumstances surrounding potential exposure of workers at Cargill related to COVID-19,” Adrienne South, press secretary for Labour Minister Jason Copping, said in an email. “This will also include an investigation of any potential non-compliance that may have affected the health and safety of workers at the facility.
“Workplace factors such as training, control measures, different job roles, etc., will factor into determining the full scope of any investigation.”
More cases of COVID-19 linked to Alberta meat-packing facilities
Alberta NDP Labour Critic Christina Gray called for a public inquiry on Thursday into the handling of COVID-19 outbreaks in Alberta meat-processing plants.
“We believe the premier and the government cabinet failed to act at Cargill and also appear resistant to meaningful action at the JBS plant,” she said in a statement. “Now, we have significant community spread in two Alberta communities and at least one worker has died.
“This government has lost the trust of the public. The only way we can truly learn from these tragedies and hold the government to account on these serious matters is through the launch of a full public inquiry.”
At the JBS meat plant in Brooks, Alta., there have been 124 cases of COVID-19 involving workers and contractors as of Thursday afternoon. The death of a worker and another person from Brooks were confirmed Thursday as being caused by COVID-19.
“These two additional deaths are the ones that I mentioned yesterday with respect to Brooks, which have now both been confirmed as cases of COVID-19,” Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, said at a news conference in Edmonton on Thursday.
She added that one was an employee at JBS Foods and the other was a household contact of an employee.
“My sincere condolences go out to everyone grieving the loss of a loved one today.”
South said after the first COVID-19 case was reported at Harmony Beef north of Calgary, “an intergovernmental business resumption protocol was immediately established for provincially and federally licensed food processing facilities in Alberta.”
“While many food processing facilities have existing pandemic and emergency response plans in place, it was critical to work with all actors involved to bolster their plans and help keep workers safe and guarantee Alberta’s food security,” she said. “In addition to OHS, AHS officials have also visited Cargill High River on a number of occasions.”
At the Cargill site, South said a live inspection was done with an “inspector directing movement as required” and that video of the inspection was captured for OHS to refer to later if they need to.
“Due to the circumstances of the pandemic, video conferencing was employed,” she said. “Video inspections are being conducted to mitigate risk of exposure of all parties. Such inspections are not specific or unique to the Cargill facility.
“The officer doing the inspection observed the employees at their daily duties.”
South said a unionized plant worker and a shop steward with the United Food and Commercial Workers union joined the employer for the official OHS inspection.
Earlier this week, Hinshaw said plant conditions and practices aren’t the only factors that need to be looked at when it comes to understanding the COVID-19 outbreak tied to the Cargill plant.
“We know in this particular outbreak, when cases were identified, there were measures put in place at the plant, but some of the other measures that we’re now seeing are really critical,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw said on April 20. “There are things like carpooling that’s been identified as a risk, and so not just looking at the plant itself, but looking at how do people get back and forth to work, thinking about households.
“There’s households where people simply don’t have the space to self-isolate if they’re a case or if they’re a close contact and needing to provide supports to those people.”
The president of United Food and Commercial Workers union Local 401 said he believes the employers and OHS should have done more and sooner.
“This didn’t have to happen,” Thomas Hesse said. “The government’s job is to protect its citizens from large multimillion-dollar corporations and the government didn’t do its job.”
In a statement issued to Global News on Thursday, Cargill said that since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the company has “worked in lock step with local health officials and other regulators.”
“Our team are essential workers like health-care workers and first responders,” spokesperson Daniel Sullivan said. “Our hearts go out to our employees who are impacted by the virus.
“We have taken industry-leading health and safety measures, including temperature testing, providing and encouraging the use of face coverings, cleaning and sanitizing procedures, prohibiting visitors from our facilities, stopping travel, adopting social distancing practices where possible and offering shift flexibility, staggered breaks, and increased spacing and partitions in work areas.
“We have and continue to follow OHS guidance and are fully engaged in addressing the community-wide impacts of the virus.”
Earlier this week, Cargill said it was taking steps to temporarily close the plant. There are still questions about what that decision will mean for workers there.
The UFCW is now calling for the JBS plant in Brooks to temporarily shut down.
In an email to Global News on Wednesday, a spokesperson for JBS said the company “cannot know for certain how, where or when our team members were infected given the widespread nature of the virus.”
“Each case is heartbreaking. Our sympathies go out to everyone around the world who has been impacted by this common enemy we all face,” the email reads.
“The Brooks facility remains open to continue to provide food for the country. We will not operate a facility if we do not believe it is safe.
“We are working diligently to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and have adopted enhanced safety measures, health protocols and worker benefits to keep our workplaces, team members and products safe. The health and safety of our team members providing food for us all during this unprecedented time remains our top priority.”
–With files from Global News’ Heather Yourex-West and The Canadian Press’ Bill Graveland
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
OPEC and allies reportedly agree to extend record production cut – CNBC
An OPEC sign hangs outside the OPEC Secretariat in Vienna, Austria, on Nov. 29, 2017.
Akos Stiller | Bloomberg | Getty Images
OPEC and its oil-producing allies reportedly agreed to extend the historic 9.7 million barrels per day production cut that was set to expire at the end of June, according to two sources familiar with the matter.
The cut will be extended through the end of July, and the group is expected to confirm the agreement at its meeting on Saturday, which kicked off a little before 8:30 a.m. ET.
The closely watched meeting was initially scheduled for June 9-10, but was pulled forward after Iraq agreed to comply with its quota.
On Friday West Texas Intermediate jumped 5.72% to settle at $39.55, while international benchmark Brent crude gained 5.78% to settle at $42.30. It was each contract’s sixth straight week of gains, and the highest settle since March 6.
“OPEC+ looks set to formally announce a one-month deal extension at [Saturday’s] ministerial meeting,” said Helima Croft, RBC’s global head of commodities strategy. “Nevertheless, there could be some last minute theatrics at the virtual gathering and we suspect that some individual producer performance will still be less than perfect on a go-forward basis.”
Under the current agreement, which was set during an extraordinary multi-day meeting in April, the 23-member group cut production by 9.7 million bpd beginning May 1 and through the end of June. The cuts would then begin to taper. From July through the end of 2020, 7.7 million bpd would be taken offline, followed by 5.8 million bpd from January 2021 through April 2022.
The cut — the largest in history — came as oil demand fell off a cliff due to the coronavirus pandemic. The International Energy Agency estimates that about one quarter of demand was sapped in April as billions of people around the world stayed home in an effort to slow the spread of Covid-19. The hit to demand came as producers continued to pump oil, which sent WTI tumbling into negative territory for the first time on record, while Brent fell to a 20-year low.
Since then, prices have steadily climbed higher as economies begin to reopen and as producers further rein in output. In the U.S., production has fallen from a record 13.1 million bpd in March to 11.2 million bpd, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. WTI is still about 40% below its January high of $65.65, however.
“Although small in scale, this cut is however important in squaring the group’s strategy, which has this year alone swung from price focused cuts, to market-share recapture, to internal price war to finally a record large cut,” Goldman Sachs’ Damien Courvalin wrote in a note to clients Friday.
– CNBC’s Brian Sullivan and Michael Bloom contributed reporting.
Unemployment rate increases in Alberta despite more jobs: StatCan – CTV News
Alberta gained 28,000 jobs in the month of May, according to the latest Labour Force Survey released Friday morning from Statistics Canada.
The increase in employment follows a cumulative decline of 361,000 jobs from February to April.
Alberta’s job increases were entirely driven by the services-producing sector after the province allowed some businesses such as restaurants and non-essential shops to reopen as of May 14.
The unemployment rate in the province increased by 2.1 percentage points to 15.5 per cent, which is now the second highest in the country behind Newfoundland and Labrador at 16.3 per cent.
Nationwide, the average rate of unemployment is now 13.7 per cent, topping the previous high of 13.1 per cent set back in December 1982.
Canada added a total of 290,000 jobs across the country. According to Statistics Canada data, the total number of hours worked is increasing at a faster pace than employment.
Total hours worked across all industries grew by 6.3 per cent in May, compared with an increase of 1.8 per cent (290,000 jobs) in employment.
Alberta Economic Recovery Plan
In response to one of the most dramatic economic downturns in Alberta’s history, the provincial government will start rolling out an economic recovery plan later this month focused on cultivating key industries.
Premier Jason Kenney said last week that Alberta’s strategy will take a “pedal to the metal” approach to diversification after a steep decline in the price of oil.
On Monday, Finance Minister Travis Toews announced that his financial blueprint will be centred on growing sectors such as energy, agriculture, technology and petrochemical manufacturing.
A recent study from the Conference Board of Canada projects Alberta will see its economy shrink by 6.8 per cent this year.
Toews called that report realistic and noted the downturn will be measured in months not weeks.
Canadian government pushes 3500MHz spectrum auction to June 15, 2021 – MobileSyrup
In light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the government announced that it has postponed the 3500MHz spectrum auction by six months.
The new date for the auction is now June 15th, 2021. Several of the other key dates associated with the auction are listed on the government’s site since they’ve also been pushed back by six months.
“Canada’s telecommunications service providers are doing their part in this difficult time, providing essential services to keep Canadians connected as we face the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic together. A number of providers have raised concerns, and the Government is implementing measures to address them,” said Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry.
“The Government will continue to reach out to telecommunications service providers—and to the private sector more broadly—to understand their challenges and support them to ensure that Canadians have access to high-quality networks and broad coverage at low prices.”
The government’s press release from June 5th, 2020 states that this is in line with what other countries are doing. It will help the telecommunication companies focus on providing robust service to Canadians as many of us are still self-isolating at home.
Beyond this, a consultation on the 3800MHz spectrum is set to begin in August to get the ball rolling on that slice of 5G spectrum as well. Notably, both the 3500MHz and 3800MHz are considered key due to their ability to transport data at 5G speeds at a reasonable range.
In a statement to MobileSyrup, Chethan Lakshman, the vice president of external affairs at Shaw, stated, “given the pandemic’s impact on Canadian society and overall business operations, we support the decision to provide additional time for industry and the government to prepare for this auction. A well-run auction process will ensure that Canadians and the Canadian economy will benefit from strong competition in wireless and 5G for years to come.”
“Our networks are the backbone of so much of our economy and as we continue to rollout Canada’s first 5G network, driving innovation and productivity, we look forward to accessing 3500 Mhz spectrum as soon as it is available,” Rogers said in a statement to MobileSyrup.
Telus, meanwhile, sent MobileSyrup the following statement:
“While we would like to see the auction proceed as soon as possible, we appreciate the government’s recognition of facilities-based carriers for keeping Canadians connected at all times, even during the pandemic. Because of our continued investment in building out communications infrastructure, TELUS’ 4G LTE network speeds are among the fastest in the world; faster even than South Korea’s 5G network speeds, according to Opensignal. We have long been ready to make the crucial investment in 3500 MHz spectrum and network infrastructure required to realize the full promise of 5G so that Canadian entrepreneurs, businesses, and innovators can leverage the next generation of connectivity that promises to benefit us all. In the interim, we will continue to provide our customers with access to the fastest and most reliable networks possible and focus our efforts on supporting Canada’s recovery from COVID-19 in whatever ways we can.”
Update 05/06/20 4:19pm ET: Updated with statements from Rogers and Telus.
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