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Barring Taiwan from WHO is a serious health concern, Canada, U.S., and allies say – CBC.ca

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Canada, the United States and six major allies have told the World Health Organization (WHO) that its ongoing exclusion of Taiwan has created a serious public health concern during the COVID-19 crisis.

That sharp message was delivered in a letter, a draft of which has been viewed by The Canadian Press, that tells WHO director general Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreysus to allow Taiwan to be given observer status at a major meeting of the organization on Monday.

Geneva-based diplomats from Canada, Australia, France, Germany, New Zealand, Britain, Japan and the U.S. issued the demand orally in a May 7 meeting with two other senior WHO officials, with the envoys from Washington and Tokyo taking the lead.

Canadian health officials also took part Friday in a videoconference that was hosted by Taiwan’s Ministry of Health and Welfare, said a senior government official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the issue due to its sensitivity.

Support for Taiwan is controversial because China vigorously opposes granting any such access. It views Taiwan as a breakaway province and wants the world to heed its “one-China policy.”

Letter: Taiwan’s isolation a public health concern

While Canada does not recognize Taiwan’s sovereignty, it does maintain trade and cultural relations, and Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne has said the island’s presence as a non-state observer at this week’s meetings would help the pandemic fight.

The draft of the letter delivers a sharp explanation of that point: it says Taiwan’s early success at controlling the pandemic qualifies it for a seat at the World Health Assembly meetings, and the letter essentially tells the agency to stop playing politics.

“Taiwan’s isolation from the global health community not only presents a serious public health concern, but also is an obstacle that hampers ongoing and future efforts,” letter states.

WATCH | Trudeau questioned on China and Taiwan:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with reporters on Friday. 1:24

The letter also says the international community is “harmed” when important health information is not permitted to “flow freely and easily.”

The letter calls Taiwan a capable and responsible player in the world’s health community, and says it has scientific and technical expertise “that could help save lives around the world.”

The letter says it was “regrettable” that the WHO broke with its guiding principles by excluding Taiwan from the assembly. It defines the WHO’s guiding principle as ensuring that “all people” have a right to the highest health standards, regardless of political belief, race, religion or economic or social conditions.

Move politically sensitive amid Canada-China dispute

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke Friday with his British counterpart Boris Johnson and they discussed their work together in “various international organizations, and committed to continuing to work together on shared priorities such as combating climate change and promoting democratic values,” according to the Prime Minister’s Office.

The WHO has faced accusations from U.S. President Donald Trump and Canada’s Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer that it is too cozy with China, and that the People’s Republic was not forthcoming to the international health agency as the pandemic was breaking out in Wuhan earlier this year.

Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne has said that Taiwan’s presence as a non-state observer at this week’s meetings would help the fight against COVID-19. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

The move is politically sensitive for Canada because it is mired in a dispute with China over what Canada calls the “arbitrary” imprisonment of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.

Despite co-operation on health and trade since the pandemic’s outbreak, relations between Canada and China have been severely strained since the RCMP arrested Chinese high-tech scion Meng Wanzhou on an American extradition warrant in December 2018.

China arrested Kovrig and Spavor nine days later in what is widely viewed as retaliation and has levelled accusations that the former diplomat and the entrepreneur were engaged in actions undermining China’s national security. Canada has marshalled a broad coalition of international support calling for their release and that has angered Chinese leaders.

Message in letter echoed in new report

The message in the letter to the WHO is echoed in a new report released this past week by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, an agency of Congress that advises on the national security implications of trade with China. It says Taiwan’s continued exclusion from the WHO is “jeopardizing global health.”

The report noted the WHO ignored Taiwan’s early requests for information about the pandemic, which it said created “critical delays” in how other countries responded.

“The spread of the virus to 185 countries — with more than four million confirmed cases and 286,000 deaths worldwide as of May 12 — demonstrates the deadly ramifications of China’s influence over the WHO for the international community’s pandemic preparedness,” says the U.S. report.

“Had the WHO allowed Taiwan’s health experts to share information and best practices in early January, governments around the world could have had more complete information on which to base their public health policies.”

Michael Spavor, left, and former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig, right, were arrested in December 2018. (The Associated Press/International Crisis Group/The Canadian Press)

Beijing continues to oppose Taiwan’s inclusion

As of Tuesday, Taiwan had 440 confirmed cases of COVID-19, a “stunningly low” number in a population of 23.6 million, the report said.

Adam Austen, a spokesperson for Champagne, reiterated Canada’s support for “Taiwan’s meaningful participation in international multilateral fora where its presence provides important contributions to the public good.”

Canada has “clearly communicated” to the WHO that Taiwan should be allowed to take part in the upcoming World Health Assembly meetings, said Austin.

“We continue to encourage the WHO to engage with experts from Taiwan and to support Taiwan’s meaningful inclusion in global discussions on health.”

The spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry once again registered Beijing’s strong objections on Friday to including Taiwan at the WHO, calling it an attempt to “seek independence under the pretext of the pandemic with the help of some Western countries.”

Spokesman Zhao Lijian said the “few countries” that are backing Taiwan “are only aiming to politicize the health issue to seek selfish political gains,” according to a translation of his remarks on his ministry’s website. He said that would only result in “hijacking the WHA and undermining global anti-pandemic co-operation.”

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Bouncing back? Canada added 290,000 jobs in May – CBC.ca

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After losing more than three million jobs in March and April, Canada’s economy added 290,000 jobs in May, Statistics Canada reported Friday.

The data agency reported that 290,000 more people had paid employment in May than in April. The surge means May was the best one-month gain for jobs in Canada in 45 years, although it happened from an admittedly low bar. It also  means the labour market has bounced back by about 10 per cent of the hit it took from COVID-19.

Despite the job gains, Canada’s official unemployment rate rose to 13.7 per cent, as 491,000 more people were looking for work in the job market, notably students, whose search for summer work isn’t normally recorded in the months before May.

In February, Canada’s jobless rate was 5.6 per cent. It increased to 7.8 per cent in March and 13 per cent in April. The number of unemployed Canadians has more than doubled since February.

Blows away negative expectations

The job gains came as a pleasant surprise to economists, most of whom were expecting more job losses for the month.

The average expectation for the job numbers from economists polled by Bloomberg was for a loss of about 500,000 more jobs. But not all of them thought the number would plunge again.

Economist Benoit Durocher at Desjardins was one of just two to forecast the adding of jobs — 400,000 to be precise.

That was his call before the numbers came out, and his optimism proved prescient.

His reasoning was simple: as many Canadian provinces cautiously reopened in May, some of those people who were laid off temporarily in March and April would trickle back to work and show up in May’s employment numbers.

“Employment should rebound and return to positive territory in May, but the extent of the rebound remains unclear,” Durocher said ahead of the numbers coming out. “Under these circumstances, the unemployment rate should begin trending downwards. However, the return to pre-COVID-19 levels could be fairly slow.”

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Should everyone be tested for COVID-19? Most Canadians think so, poll shows – CTV News

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TORONTO —
Experts say widespread testing for COVID-19 is one of the most effective defences against a second wave of infections, a measure most Canadians support according to a recent poll.

More than three in five Canadians say they are in favour of testing every Canadian for the novel coronavirus, according to a Nanos Research poll commissioned by CTV News.

The random survey of 1,009 Canadians, which took place between May 26 and 28, revealed that 28 per cent of respondents support and 33 per cent somewhat support widespread testing measures, while more than one in three opposed the idea.

Polling data shows that residents of Atlantic Canada and Ontario have a higher intensity of support for universal testing than residents in Western Canada.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, provinces are working to expand their testing criteria to include people with very mild or even abnormal COVID-19 symptoms, an effort Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam says will help spot possible community cases that would otherwise go undetected.

Officials are also working to roll out the country’s first antibody test as rapidly as possible to help determine how much of the population may have been infected.

But some provinces, including Ontario and Quebec, have routinely fallen behind their diagnostic targets. The criteria for who can get tested also ranges widely between each province.

Nanos polling also shows that Canadians are more likely to say they are confident that there will be a vaccine available to fight COVID-19 within the next 12 months. However, four in ten respondents are not confident in that timeline.

Tam has noted that officials are working to understand how administering an eventual vaccine would be prioritized to certain segments of the population while considering “the maximum number of Canadians who may wish to be vaccinated.”

 

MOST CANADIANS HAPPY WITH PROVINCIAL RESPONSE

According to the poll, more than three in five Canadians are confident that their public health authorities have an accurate count of the number of COVID-19 cases in their province.

However, Ontario residents were less confident in the province’s data, with the majority of respondents doubting the official case count.

Ontario, one of the hardest hit provinces, has had several instances of reporting errors since the beginning of the outbreak.

On Thursday, the province recorded a spike in the number of deaths due to COVID-19 after days of relatively lower numbers. However, officials said the increase may have been due to a lag in reporting from local public health units. This comes just days after officials revealed nearly 500 COVID-19 patients were not flagged to local public health agencies for contact tracing due to a reporting error.

When it comes to the economic ramifications of the outbreak, nearly eight in ten Canadians say the opening up of the economy in their province is being done in a safe (33 per cent) or somewhat safe (46 per cent) way.

Residents in B.C. and Atlantic Canada were the most confident in the safety measures being taken to reopen the economy.

However, when asked which approach Canada should take to opening its border with the U.S., 40 per cent of Canadians say Canada should keep the border closed to non-essential traffic until the end of the summer. Thirty-one per cent say Canada should keep the border closed until there is a vaccine.

Twenty per cent of Canadians say the border should open to non-essential traffic once businesses are allowed to open, even if social distancing is still in place, with residents of the Prairies the most likely to be in favour of reopening.

 

METHODOLOGY

Nanos conducted an RDD dual frame (land- and cell-lines) hybrid telephone and online random survey of 1,009 Canadians, 18 years of age or older, between May 26 and April 28, 2020. Participants were randomly recruited by telephone using live agents and administered a survey online.

The margin of error this survey is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

The research was commissioned by CTV News and was conducted by Nanos Research. 

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Canadians living in China watch developments in Meng case closely – CTV News

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Canadian teacher Christopher Maclure remembers the first time he felt afraid living in China.

Almost all the newspapers there carried stories about how angry Chinese officials were when Huawei’s chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou was detained by Canadian authorities in Vancouver at the behest of the United States.

But it wasn’t until a few days later when the two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, were arrested by China that Maclure felt fear.

“That’s when I got really scared,” he said in a phone interview from China where he has lived for more than two decades. “It was the top news story in China.”

Meng has been held in Canada since December 2018. She’s out on bail while fighting extradition to the United States on fraud charges. Last week, her lawyers’ first round of arguments was thrown out by a B.C. judge, meaning the case continues.

Nine days after Meng’s arrest, Chinese authorities sent Kovrig, an ex-diplomat working for the International Crisis Group, and Spavor, an entrepreneur who did business in North Korea, to prison. They are accused of violating China’s national security interests, but Canadian argues the men have been “arbitrarily detained.”

Maclure said his family was quite worried while these events played out and their fears were renewed when the B.C. court ruled against Meng last week.

But Maclure said he has felt safer in China than in any country in the West, he said.

“Everything is on camera here. It provides me with a sense of security,” he said. “And I speak Chinese quite well.”

Maclure said he censors what he says on WeChat, a Chinese social media site.

“Being a teacher … I’m sometimes a little paranoid that I’d be a person to detain,” he said. “We have a saying in China that when it’s all the same the tallest tree gets the most wind. It means the more you express your opinion, the more critical you are, the more likely you are to get cut down.”

Myriam Larouche, a Quebec woman who is a graduate student in China, said she’s not worried about being affected by the Meng case. Larouche is in Canada now, but she plans to return to China once flights resume and school starts.

Larouche said she had “some concerns” when she heard the two Canadians were arrested, but “I asked some friends and they said ‘No, no you don’t have to be worried.’ “

Global Affairs Canada said there are currently 12,885 Canadian citizens in China who have voluntarily registered with the department.

Ottawa is “aware” of 118 Canadians currently in custody in greater China with the most common charges being drug-related and fraud.

A court in southern China handed down a death penalty to a Canadian in April of last year on drug charges. In a separate drug smuggling case, China sentenced Canadian Robert Lloyd Schellenberg to death in a sudden retrial in January — one month after Kovrig and Spavor were detained.

Wayne Duplessis had been living in China for more than two decades prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and said he hopes to go back.

He remembers reading about the arrests of Meng, Kovrig and Spavor.

“A friend contacted me a couple of days after (Kovrig and Spavor were arrested) and said, ‘are you concerned?’ I guess there was a brief moment when I thought ‘should I be concerned?’ “

But that passed, Duplessis said.

He said he and his family have been treated well in China and people there have a lot of respect for Canada.

“By and large I never feel uncomfortable about this. It seems very much unrelated to us.”

Duplessis said he feels badly for Spavor and Kovrig.

“I can’t imagine what it would be like to be in custody for more than 500 days — even one day. Terrifying,” he said

Canadians living in China can stay in touch with the embassy and cultivate “good working relationships locally,” he said.

“I hope this is a blip and I hope that things get cleared.”

But people can’t be ruled by their fears, he added.

“We have to move forward or we just don’t get anywhere. So, you try to be as cautious as you can, you try to understand the risks — there’s no sense in being foolish about it — but we do have to move forward.

“We do have to build our lives.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 4, 2020.

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