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As Omicron fuels COVID fatigue, Canadians weigh the risks for themselves – Global News



As the news first spread that the Omicron variant of COVID-19 had entered Canada, Ottawa resident Saad Khan calculated his personal risk tolerance for a very important event — and he decided it was worth it.

“On Dec. 16, I took the risk — by seeing the new Spiderman movie,” he said.

Khan said he wore two masks and refrained from eating popcorn or buying any sweet treats. The movie, he said, was “amazing.”

Read more:

Ontario to begin lifting COVID-19 restrictions on Jan. 31

Across the country, Canadians have been grappling with ever-changing restrictions as COVID-19 — and our ability to treat, prevent and fight it — changed, too.

From staying home to dining indoors with distancing, from wearing three-layer cloth masks to wearing N95 masks, public health advice has been shifting as the science evolves, and Canadians like Khan have been doing their best to keep up.

Still, Khan says it’s been “pretty confusing.”

Click to play video: 'COVID-19:  Elliott outlines Ontario’s phased reopening plan, to see most measures lifted by mid-March'

COVID-19: Elliott outlines Ontario’s phased reopening plan, to see most measures lifted by mid-March

COVID-19: Elliott outlines Ontario’s phased reopening plan, to see most measures lifted by mid-March

He’s not alone. As restrictions come and go, many Canadians are starting to live by their own rules — even if those rules are more or less stringent than what public health officials advise.

Susan Murphy said in a message to Global News that she feels safest when she’s “staying at home” in Ottawa.

“I will meet friends outdoors and distanced, which is more challenging in the winter!” Murphy said.

Another Twitter user said in a reply to Global News that they are “way past the point of freaking out anymore.”

“I just go about my life,” they said.

“We’ll all contract this thing someday like we do with the flu anyhow.”

What do doctors advise?

The risk calculation is about to shift once again for Canadians living in Ontario. As of Jan. 31, they’ll have the option of dining indoors again as restaurants and bars reopen with a 50 per cent capacity limit.

Medical experts say everyone will have their personal risk tolerance levels when that day comes — but there are also some firm facts to consider as you decide whether to go out.

“If you go to a restaurant now, (it’s) pretty much guaranteed someone there is infected and probably infectious. The numbers are just pointing in that direction,” said Raywat Deonandan, epidemiologist and associate professor at the University of Ottawa.

“But if there is good quality mask-wearing, if there’s high-quality ventilation, people are keeping their distance and are minimizing the time they spend there, you reduce the risk appreciably — not to zero, obviously.”

But determining the level of risk, he said, “is complicated.”

“At the individual level, it comes down to how much you can tolerate infection in your life — because it’s going to get into your life,” Deonandan said.

Read more:

As unvaccinated workers sue for wrongful dismissal, Ottawa working on shielding employers

For example, Deonandan has a child under five who can’t get vaccinated. He said people in his position are “going to be a lot more concerned.”

“So I’m not taking any of these risks, because I don’t want to run the risk of exposing my child to possible infection,” he said.

The other half of the equation, Deonandan added, is “thinking about the population risk.”

“Our hospitals are being challenged,” he said.

“Is it ethical to be exposing yourself to infection, even if your individual probability of having a bad reaction is low?”

Hospital capacity is also a part of the individual risk calculation, according to Dr. Matthew Miller, who is an associate professor of infectious diseases and immunology at McMaster University.

Hospitalizations from the Omicron wave, which has just seen its case counts crest, according to the federal government’s public health figures, won’t be happening “for several weeks still,” he said.

Click to play video: 'Healthcare workers feeling the strain of COVID-19 related hospitalizations'

Healthcare workers feeling the strain of COVID-19 related hospitalizations

Healthcare workers feeling the strain of COVID-19 related hospitalizations

While the risk of being hospitalized after receiving three doses of a vaccine is “extraordinarily low,” Miller said, you might want to consider whether the hospitals will have the capacity to help you if that does happen.

“I feel good knowing that if I were to get really sick, I know I’m going to get excellent care and probably be fine,” Miller said.

“(But) if our hospital system is stretched to the limit, that may not necessarily be the case.”

Still, Miller added that Canadians “don’t need to live our lives in fear of Omicron.”

“However, I also don’t think we want to go and put ourselves in situations where the risk of contracting even what might be a mild infection is extremely high,” he said.

COVID fatigue and changing restrictions

In response to a Global News tweet asking about Canadians’ personal risk assessments, one user made it clear they’re done with the pandemic.

“I have had three vaccines (Moderna) and COVID twice. There’s no escaping this thing,” they wrote.

“So we need to keep on living.”

This feeling of pandemic fatigue has been one of the ongoing struggles for health officials, Miller said. Part of the issue, he explained, is that effective public health messaging is “simple” because you “don’t want there to be confusion.”

“Unfortunately, reality is not simple, and there is a lot of nuance,” Miller said.

“And the more you add nuance to guidance that was once simple, the more people are confused, and so I really sympathize with the public who are feeling fatigued and confused.”

Read more:

Booster uptake lags initial vaccinations. Experts worry pandemic fatigue at play

But Deonandan had a word of hope for those feeling tired and overwhelmed as the pandemic inches closer to its two-year anniversary.

“One of the positive aspects of Omicron is that it’ll be over faster, so we’re not asking people to bear down for months on end. It’s weeks, and this wave will be done, probably, before spring. Well before spring,” Deonandan said.

“We’ll see what the receding tide holds for us. Hopefully, it’s the gift of immunity. So this is probably the last great battle of COVID before we settle into some new kind of normal.”

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Women’s groups warn Liberals against ‘downloading’ gun control to potential victims



OTTAWA — Several women’s groups are imploring the federal Liberals to abandon the idea of creating a new regime for an endangered person to seek a court order to remove firearms from a stalker or abuser.

They say the so-called red flag provision, proposed in a bill that did not pass last year, would lead to more tragic deaths by downloading responsibility for gun-law enforcement to potential victims.

The plea comes in a letter to Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino and Women and Gender Equality Minister Marci Ien as the government prepares new gun-control legislation.

The May 16 letter is signed by Tiffany Butler, executive director of the National Association of Women and the Law, on behalf of representatives of the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund, YWCA Toronto, the Canadian Women’s Foundation, and Women’s Shelter Canada, among others.

“Firearms increase the likelihood that domestic violence will end in death,” it says. “Firearms increase the number of victims: children are often also killed and injured and, in 50 per cent of the cases of domestic violence involving firearms, the perpetrator commits suicide.”

The women’s groups object to a provision in last year’s federal gun bill — which expired upon the general election call — that proposed to create a new regime for emergency prohibition orders. Under the regime, anyone would be able to apply to a provincial court judge to prohibit another person from possessing a gun for 30 days on safety grounds.

Instead, the women’s groups support efforts to use existing means, as well as additional powers and community education, to identify risks and swiftly remove firearms from people who pose a threat to themselves or others.

“There is no support for downloading or eroding the responsibility of law enforcement and other government officials to implement gun laws,” the letter says.

“They are, and must remain, responsible and accountable for ensuring that firearms licences are denied and revoked when there are potential risks to women. Citizens or other organizations, much less potential victims, should not be expected to put themselves at risk by going to court to request action that should be immediate and within the direct responsibility of police.”

It is widely recognized that women are in greatest danger during and after separation, and shifting the onus of enforcement to women and third parties “is a guaranteed route to increased fatality,” the groups say.

The letter cites a number of shootings in which people were aware of patterns of threats and violence against women. “In some cases, police were in fact notified, but no action was taken.”

The groups call on the government to promote use of the existing “red flag” mechanisms in the system, such as the Firearms Incident Police system, and ensure they are used as intended. In particular, they say officials should:

— ensure those flags are raised by a broad range of offences and behaviours;

— encourage community members, health care professionals and others to report red flags; and

— ensure immediate and effective action is taken in response to such red flag reports.

The letter urges the government to focus on training, more rigorous screening, better enforcement, and accountability of police and other government officials responsible for safeguarding the security of women and other potential victims of gun violence.

The offices of Mendicino and Ien had no immediate comment Wednesday.

In a recent mandate letter issued to RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki, Mendicino said victims of intimate partner violence deserve protection.

He asked Lucki to work with chief firearms officers across Canada so that they respond without delay to calls from Canadians who have safety concerns about anyone who has access to firearms, and to work with police of jurisdiction to remove firearms quickly as needed.

Lucki was also directed to provide awareness and training on the importance of recording incidents involving dangerous behaviour and firearms. “This work will also involve implementing new procedures and educational tools in close partnership with community groups, women’s shelters and organizations, academia and more.”

The coming firearm legislation is expected to address several distinct issues. The Liberals have promised a mandatory buyback of banned guns they consider assault-style firearms, a crackdown on high-capacity firearm magazines and new efforts to combat gun smuggling.

The planned buyback would make it mandatory for owners of a wide variety of banned firearms to either sell them back to the government or have them rendered inoperable at federal expense. The list includes the Ruger Mini-14 used in the 1989 shooting at Montreal’s École Polytechnique, where 14 women were killed.

The buyback plan has won applause from gun-control advocates but criticism from some firearm owners and Conservative MPs who say it unfairly focuses on legitimate gun users.

The Liberals have also pledged to work with any province or territory that wants to ban handguns.

The women’s groups and many other organizations pushing for stronger gun laws advocate a truly national ban on handguns.

The letter to Mendicino and Ien says the federal government should not hand off regulation of firearms, including handguns, to the provinces or municipalities. “In order to ensure effective gun control in Canada, your government must proactively exercise the full extent of its powers in this area.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 25, 2022.


Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press

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Weekend storm: Quebec says some parts of province won’t get power back until Saturday



MONTREAL — Quebec’s hydro utility says more than 80,000 customers are still without power following last weekend’s violent storm that left a trail of damage from Gatineau to Quebec City.

Hydro-Québec president Sophie Brochu and vice-president of operations and maintenance Régis Tellier told reporters the utility hopes to restore power to more than 50,000 people by the end of the day.

They say the majority of customers still in the dark should get their power back by the end of Thursday.

But people in more remote areas of the province will have to wait until Saturday — one week since the storm levelled trees and power lines across the province and in Ontario.

The deadly storm killed at least nine people in Ontario and one person in Quebec, who died after her boat capsized on the Ottawa River.

Wind gusts up to 151 kilometres per hour caused serious damage to power lines and other infrastructure across both provinces.

The hardest-hit areas in Quebec include the Laurentians, where almost 50,000 customers are still off the electricity grid, along with the Outaouais and Lanaudière regions.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on May 25, 2022.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.


The Canadian Press

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Emergency alerts when severe weather happens can be improved: Guilbeault



OTTAWA — Emergency weather alerts that are broadcast over the mobile network should be improved to make sure they are getting to the right people at the right time, Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault said Wednesday.

Guilbeault is in Germany for a G7 environment ministers meeting this week and adapting to the reality of climate change is high on the agenda.

He said part of that conversation includes public awareness of emergencies, because severe weather is becoming more and more frequent right across Canada.

Large swaths of Ontario and Quebec are still cleaning up after severe storms. There was at least one tornado confirmed in Uxbridge, Ont., and a major wind storm known as a derecho on Saturday.

Environment Canada issued a broadcast alert on the cellphone network for a thunderstorm for the first time Saturday as the storm raced across Ontario with wind speeds above 130 kilometres per hour.

But there have been some complaints about the warnings not being issued early enough or others not getting the message at all.

At least 10 people were killed, most from falling trees, as the storms moved from Sarnia, Ont., to Quebec City over the course of about six hours Saturday. One man was killed after being hit by a tree on a golf course and a woman was killed by a tree while out for a walk. One woman drowned when the boat she was in capsized on the Ottawa River during the storm.

Others were trapped in their cars in Ottawa as power lines fell around them. At Canada’s Wonderland, an amusement park north of Toronto, people were trapped on a roller-coaster in the severe weather for nearly half an hour after the power went out.

“The challenge for us at Environment and Climate Change (Canada) is to put out those warnings when the situation is really dire,” Guilbeault said. “Because if we start putting out warnings too often, then people will just get used to them and not pay attention. And we want to make sure that when those warnings are issued, people pay attention.”

But he said “there is something to be said” for finding a way to improve coordination between the federal government, provincial governments, municipalities and Indigenous communities “to ensure that when the warnings go out, people get the information.”

Environment Canada said in a statement this week the first warning for a severe thunderstorm in southern Ontario was issued around 11 a.m. Saturday, through weather channels and websites. Around 12:30 it was sent out to the first people via the mobile Alert Ready program. It was repeated in other regions as the storm moved east.

Alert Ready is the same emergency alert system that sends people notifications on their phones for missing children. It is only used for weather when there is a tornado, baseball-sized hail or winds exceeding 130 kilometres an hour.

Guilbeault said some people got the warnings four or five hours before the storm hit, others only 10 or 15 minutes ahead.

“Can we ensure that it’s better disseminated?” Guilbeault asked. “Absolutely. Can we ensure that it’s getting to the right people as fast as possible? Absolutely.”

He said that will form part of the discussion as the government works toward its promised national adaptation strategy, which is expected by the end of this year.

Kim Ayotte, general manager of emergency and protective services at the City of Ottawa, said there were warnings about the storm throughout the day. But he also said public education about what to do when people hear warnings is necessary.

“So there were a lot of weather warnings, and the alert came in and I think that it did what it was supposed to do,” he said. “But I have no problem continuing to have these discussions with Environment Canada to see if there’s any opportunity for improvements, but as far as I’m concerned, it worked the way it should have.”

The need for alerts is expected to grow, because climate change is not an abstract concept but a reality we’re already living with, said Guilbeault.

“We’ve entered the era of climate change and we’re not ready in Canada,” he said.

Adaptation generally refers to hardening the defences against extreme weather, such as with better flood protection, or efforts to protect critical infrastructure like power lines from severe storms.

Ottawa, where more than half the city lost power initially and one in six hydro customers are still in the dark, is dealing with its second massive power outage in four years. Tornadoes that hit the city in September 2018 left more than half the city off the power grid for several days.

A climate risk assessment of the Ottawa power grid done in 2019 said the number of days of severe thunderstorms in the city is expected to double in the next three decades, and the risk of tornadoes will rise 25 per cent.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 25, 2022.


Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

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