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Black (market) Friday | The Star – Toronto Star

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Retailers in Manitoba are finding new loopholes within mandated public-health orders to peddle non-essential products, just in time for the busy holiday sales this weekend.

But speaking to reporters Friday, chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said the province doesn’t want to penalize large businesses for exploiting apertures in prescribed restrictions just yet — even if they are directly contravening them by pushing merchandise out the door through new ways such as drive-thru services.

It’s a repeat of what happened only a week ago, epidemiologists and commerce stakeholders told the Free Press, when code-red restrictions were heightened to prohibit the in-person sale of non-essential items to begin with.

This time, however, they said the provincial government has had enough time to act and make appropriate changes before mass turnouts at retailers.

“We’re acting on good faith,” said Roussin, as bargain-loving Winnipeggers didn’t let pandemic restrictions keep them from their Black Friday shopping missions. “We’re not going to be issuing fines on this right now.”

News of in-person bargains travelled quickly Thursday and overnight, with hordes of shoppers lining up Friday morning, as early as 5 a.m. Parking lots were also quick to fill up with cars chock full of customers hoping to purchase discounted non-essential items, including electronics, toys, jewelry, makeup and clothing.

At Walmart, a new drive-thru service has been introduced, with individual locations either designating specific lanes for cars or asking people to park anywhere before a salesperson approaches them. Without requiring any advance notice or appointments, customers were able to place orders with a sales associate and pick between several items before paying for them with credit and debit cards or cash.

“It’s like I’m legit shopping for my stuff the way I would inside the store just by being outside,” said Gina Torros, a Winnipegger who waited in advance to get into the drive-thru outside the Empress Street Walmart to buy a new TV.

“It’s really cool, kinda like the pandemic doesn’t really affect this type of full shopping experience.”

Asked whether Walmart’s new services are allowed under current public-health rules for the province, Roussin said it is “completely against the spirit of the orders.”

He said only remote purchasing of non-essential items (through curbside pickup or delivery) is permitted. “Just because we are not fining them doesn’t change our overall message,” added Roussin.

Walmart declined to comment further on how it will adapt its new drive-thru services to be applicable under provincial restrictions. A spokesperson said the retailer, however, plans on continuing drive-thrus in Manitoba until at least Dec. 13, with discounted flyer items open to customers every Friday, Saturday and Sunday leading up to it.

Meanwhile, customers at the Real Canadian Superstore and Costco have been sent online flyers with discounts for in-person sales — resulting in plenty of traffic lined up at several of their parking lots in the city on Friday.

Martin Groleau, vice-president of marketing at Costco Canada, told the Free Press those lineups are “not necessarily our fault.”

“Yes, we’re offering discounts for Black Friday, but they’re not being offered in Manitoba stores,” said Groleau, who is also the director of membership at the company. “We are certainly not selling non-essential items either, please know that.”

The provincial government said a Costco on McGillivray Boulevard was handed a $5,000 fine for selling non-essential items to customers, in a news release on Friday. Groleau said he did not want to comment on that, and that he “still stands beside” his statement.

At Manitoba Liquor Mart locations, “hot buy” discount programs also caused some lineups. But a spokesperson said that wasn’t necessarily because of Black Friday specials.

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“We are not running any Black Friday specials — any and all discounts in our stores are the same as you would find any day or week of the year,” said Andrea Kowal, director of public affairs at Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries, in a statement.

“The only advertising campaign we are doing right now… is actually to discourage busy stores — it encourages customers to not shop at peak times and think about using home delivery.”

Cynthia Carr, an epidemiologist and health policy expert based in Winnipeg, said “all of this put together could easily cause COVID-19 transmissions.

“While I can’t speak to exactly the socio-economic or health reasons which Dr. Roussin is thinking of,” she said in an interview, “I can certainly say there’s already enough ways for people to access purchasing items if they need to — and maybe, a stern order would help preventing businesses from finding such loopholes.”

“It certainly is much safer just to stop this from happening altogether.”

Chuck Davidson, president of the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce, said public health should “move beyond messaging” for business owners and allow for restrictions, instead of “continuously telling them what to do without rules to govern it.”

“If you want to prevent it, you should,” he said. “But I don’t think you can blame businesses for finding creative ways to survive during this time until you’re going to. It’s the only time of the year they can be making up their pandemic losses.”

Roussin said Friday the onus is on customers flocking to stores, however.

“There are two sides to this — it’s a supply and a demand,” he said. “But, no matter what these stores have set up, there shouldn’t be a demand. Manitobans should be staying home.

“They should be responsible for going shopping for non-essentials when that is not our messaging.”

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Statement from the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada on January 23, 2021 – Canada NewsWire

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OTTAWA, ON, Jan. 23, 2021 /CNW/ – As the resurgence of COVID-19 activity continues in Canada, we are tracking a range of epidemiological indicators to monitor where the disease is most active, where it is spreading and how it is impacting the health of Canadians and public health, laboratory and healthcare capacity. The following is the latest summary on national numbers and trends, and the actions we all need to be taking to maintain COVID-19 at manageable levels across the country.

Since the start of the pandemic, there have been 737,407 cases of COVID-19, including 18,828 deaths reported in Canada; these cumulative numbers tell us about the overall burden of COVID-19 illness to date. Though many areas continue to experience high infection rates, it is important to remember that the vast majority of Canadians remain susceptible to COVID-19. This is why it is important for everyone to continue with individual precautions to protect ourselves, our families and our communities. 

At this time, there are 65,750 active cases across the country. The latest national-level data indicate a recent downward trend in daily case counts (past 10 days), with a 7-day average of 6,079 new cases daily (Jan 15-21). While this suggests that community-based measures may be starting to take effect, it is too soon to be sure that current measures are strong enough and broad enough to maintain a steady downward trend. With still elevated daily case counts and high rates of infection across all age groups, the risk remains that this trend could reverse. Likewise, outbreaks continue to occur in high-risk populations and communities, including hospitals and long term care homes, correctional facilities, congregate living settings, Indigenous communities, and more remote areas of the country. These factors underscore the importance of sustaining public health measures and individual practices and not easing restrictions too fast or too soon. This is particularly important in light of the emergence of new virus variants of concern that could rapidly accelerate transmission of COVID-19 in Canada. 

As severe outcomes lag behind increased disease activity, we can expect to see ongoing heavy impacts on our healthcare system and health workforce for weeks to come. Provincial and territorial data indicate that an average of 4,651 people with COVID-19 were being treated in Canadian hospitals each day during the most recent 7-day period (Jan 15-21), including 870 of whom were being treated in intensive care units. During the same period (Jan 15-21), there were an average of 149 COVID-19-related deaths reported daily. This situation continues to burden local healthcare resources, particularly in areas where infection rates are highest. These impacts affect everyone, as the healthcare workforce and health system bear a heavy strain, important elective medical procedures are delayed or postponed, adding to pre-existing backlogs.  

Stringent and consistent efforts are needed to sustain a downward trend in case counts and strongly suppress COVID-19 activity across Canada. This will not only prevent more tragic outcomes, but will help to ensure that new virus variants of concern do not have the opportunity to spread. Unless we continue the hard work to suppress COVID-19 activity across Canada, there is a risk that more transmissible virus variants could take hold or even replace less transmissible variants, which could result in a significant and difficult to control acceleration of spread. Staying the course will also buy critical time for vaccines to begin working, as we continue to prepare the way for widespread and lasting control of COVID-19 through safe and effective vaccines.

A range of public health measures and restrictions are in place across Canada as we continue our collective effort to interrupt the spread of the virus. Canadians are urged to continue following local public health advice and to consistently maintain individual practices that keep us and our families safer: stay home/self-isolate if you have any symptoms, reduce non-essential activities and outings to a minimum, avoid all non-essential travel, and maintain individual protective practices of physical distancing, hand, cough and surface hygiene and wearing a face mask as appropriate (including in shared indoor spaces with people from outside your immediate household).

Canadians can also go the extra mile by sharing credible information on COVID-19 risks and prevention practices and measures to reduce COVID-19 in communities and by downloading the COVID Alert app to break the cycle of infection and help limit the spread of COVID-19. Read my backgrounder to access more COVID-19 Information and Resources on ways to reduce the risks and protect yourself and others, including information on COVID-19 vaccination.

SOURCE Public Health Agency of Canada

For further information: Media Relations, Public Health Agency of Canada, 613-957-2983, [email protected]

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Alberta confirms 643 new cases of COVID-19, 12 new deaths – 660 News

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EDMONTON (660 NEWS) – Alberta has confirmed 643 new cases of COVID-19 and 12 additional deaths linked to the virus.

Of the 12 new deaths, five were from the Edmonton Zone, three were from the Calgary Zone, three were from the Central Zone, and one was from the North Zone.

All 12 of the deaths had additional health issues.

There have now been 1,512 deaths linked to the virus in Alberta.

Currently, there are 9,987 active cases in the province, 691 of which are in hospital and 115 in ICU.

A total of 97,785 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered.

The province’s positivity rate sits at 4.9 per cent.

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Provinces doing 'extraordinary' job to avoid wasting doses of COVID-19 vaccine – CollingwoodToday

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OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tried to calm anxieties over COVID-19 vaccines Friday by reporting that the CEO of Pfizer is promising Canada’s deliveries will be fully restored in three weeks.

Trudeau spoke to Albert Bourla by phone Thursday evening, a week after the company informed Canada its deliveries of COVID-19 vaccines were going to be drastically cut over the next month while the company expands its production facility in Belgium.

“The next few weeks will be challenging when it comes to deliveries,” Trudeau said Friday.

“That said, Dr. Bourla assured me that hundreds of thousands of Pfizer doses will be delivered the week of Feb. 15 and in the weeks to follow.”

Canada is getting only one-third of its promised doses between Jan. 18 and Feb. 7, including none next week. Deliveries the week of Feb. 8 aren’t yet confirmed.

Trudeau said Canada will be caught up to its delivery schedule by the end of March, with all four million promised doses delivered by then.

He said there will be enough delivered from Moderna and Pfizer by September to vaccinate all Canadians who want it.

“We’re working around the clock to get as many vaccines as we can, as fast as we can,” he said. “It’s what I’m thinking about when I wake up, when I go to bed, and every hour in between.”

Gary Kobinger, a vaccine expert and director of the Research Centre on Infectious Diseases at Université Laval in Quebec City, said this week if we can get half the population immunized against COVID-19, it will start to have a real impact on the pandemic, but the magic number to see the spread start to plummet is 70 per cent.

With the two vaccines it has approved, and the delivery schedules promised from Pfizer and Moderna, Canada won’t get enough doses to get to 50 per cent until after Canada Day. Children have also not yet been approved to get any vaccine, with trials on kids as young 12 underway now, and those as young as five expected to start in the spring.

Ashleigh Tuite, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of Toronto, said the month-long delay in doses isn’t going to affect herd immunity because Canada wasn’t going to be anywhere near herd immunity by the middle of February even on the original vaccine delivery schedule.

But she said on an individual level, delaying the vaccination of highly vulnerable people can have an impact, particularly at a time when we have record numbers of cases and “raging epidemics” in long-term care homes. 

“If you delay the time that it takes for the vaccines to get into those people’s arms, you’re delaying the ability to protect those people from getting infected and from having bad outcomes,” she said. “So it does have an impact.”

While COVID-19 can cause severe illness in anybody, the risks to people over the age of 60 are far greater overall. Health Canada reports that as of mid-January, people over the age of 60 account for about one-fifth of the total cases of COVID-19, but almost three-quarters of all hospitalizations, two-thirds of admissions to intensive care, and 96 per cent of deaths.

In Ontario alone since Jan. 1, 550 long-term care residents and two workers have died of COVID-19. There are 252 ongoing outbreaks in long-term care homes in Ontario, and 164 outbreaks in retirement residences.

Fears about future delivery delays grew Friday, when AstraZeneca warned European nations initial deliveries of its vaccine would be smaller than expected because of production issues.

Johnson & Johnson warned officials in the United States that it was about two months behind schedule producing doses of its vaccine.

Both companies have applied for approval of their vaccines in Canada but are still in the midst of final clinical trials and the reviews are not complete. It’s expected both could be approved for use here by early spring.

Health Canada did say this week that provincial vaccine workers were doing an “extraordinary” job preventing many doses of precious COVID-19 vaccine from going to waste.

Canada has received more than 1.1 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna since mid-December, and has now given at least one dose to more than 767,000 people.

A spokeswoman says “wastage has been very minimal” and well below initial estimates.

Before the vaccination campaign began, there were concerns that as many as one-fifth of the doses delivered to Canada could end up being wasted due to intense cold-chain requirements and the complexity of distribution.

The federal department did not provide statistics but said provinces and territories are reporting their experiences and waste has not been a notable problem thus far. 

Both vaccines have to be kept frozen, but the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is particularly delicate and must be stored at temperatures below -60 C until just before it is used.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 22, 2021.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

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