There is still no evidence that the new, more contagious variants of COVID-19 found in the United Kingdom and South Africa are in Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada has said.
In a statement on Thursday, the country’s health agency said it was conducting an analysis of Canada’s coronavirus cases and so far, the fresh strain had not been identified over 25,000 virus samples.
Mutations, which are small changes in the genetic material of the virus, are common during outbreaks.
“While early data suggest that these new variants may be more transmissible, to date there is no evidence that these variants cause more severe disease symptoms or have any impact on antibody response,” PHAC said, adding that more research was needed.
The new variant, first reported in the U.K. on Dec. 14, has led to a slew of countries, including Canada, France, Germany and Italy, to enact travel bans in an effort to quell the spread of the virus. Canada will continue to suspend all incoming flights from the U.K. until Jan. 6, 2021.
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Canadian health authorities are also advising extra caution to Canadians travelling to the U.K. or South Africa.
“We continue to advise against non-essential travel to other countries and are advising extra caution if you must travel to the United Kingdom or South Africa,” Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said.
In a press conference on Wednesday, Tam said the new strain will likely eventually make its way to Canada, however, there are several variables that are helping slow it down.
“It wouldn’t surprise me that this variant is in many different countries,” she said Tuesday, adding that “it may become one of the more common strains.”
Meanwhile, the developments have also raised questions about whether the newly approved coronavirus vaccines by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna will protect people against the new strains.
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While not impossible, mutations affecting the efficacy of vaccines is doubtful, according to Levon Abrahamyan, a virologist at the University of Montreal.
The first doses of Moderna’s vaccine arrived in Canada on Thursday, with the rollout set to begin next week.
While Tam said she was hopeful, with the approval of a second COVID-19 vaccine for use in Canada, she called on Canadians to continue following public health recommendations.
“It is important to remember, however, that initial vaccine supplies will remain limited as vaccine rollout continues in Canada and we must not forget that infection rates remain very high in many parts of the country,” Tam said.
The country has been gripped by a second wave of the pandemic.
In Quebec, a provincewide lockdown went into effect on Friday, with businesses deemed non-essential ordered to remain closed until at least Jan. 11. Similar restrictions come into effect in Ontario on Saturday.
While some provinces, including Quebec and Ontario, have said they don’t plan to release new data on the spread of COVID-19 on Christmas, New Brunswick reported a single new infection Friday.
All other provinces as well as all the territories announced that they were not going to report new data until either after Christmas or Boxing Day.
As of Thursday, federal public health authorities said there were more than 75,000 active cases of COVID-19 across Canada and that an average of 3,392 people with COVID-19 were in hospitals across the country during the seven-day period ending Dec. 23.
An average of 114 deaths associated with the virus were reported each day during that same period.
— With files from The Canadian Press and Global News’ Rachel Gilmore
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
Feds on defensive as no Pfizer vaccine shipment arriving next week – CTV News
Canada will not be receiving any shipments of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine doses next week, which the federal government says will be the hardest hit the country gets during a month-long shortage in deliveries from the drug giant.
The news Canada will be experiencing a “temporary” delay in shipments resulting in an average weekly reduction of 50 per cent of coming doses due to the pharmaceutical company’s expansion plans at its European manufacturing facility came on Friday.
On Tuesday, Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin who is leading Canada’s logistical rollout revealed that in reality, while this week’s shipment includes 82 per cent of what was originally planned, next week no new deliveries of doses will be coming to this country.
That means over the next two weeks Canada is set to receive just over 171,000 vaccine doses instead of the more than 417,000 planned before Pfizer announced its delay.
“Next week’s deliveries have been deferred by Pfizer in their entirety,” Fortin said, adding that the company just confirmed the amounts Tuesday morning. He said deliveries will start back up in the first two weeks of February.
“But those numbers remain to be confirmed by Pfizer Canada,” Fortin said, adding that because the shipments come in trays with 975 doses, some provinces will feel the impact more than others, but the federal government will strive to keep the future allotments as proportional per capita as possible.
Procurement Minister Anita Anand said in an interview on CTV’s Power Play that Canada is still waiting for the future delivery schedule from Pfizer.
The shipment shortage has strained provincial rollout campaigns— plans are being made to hold off on giving first doses to more people and to delay the administration of second doses for some—and has put the federal government on the defensive.
In his Rideau Cottage address on Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sought to reassure people about having access to considerably fewer Pfizer shots over the next few weeks, saying that “doses are coming,” and vaccinations for long-term care home residents and health-care workers continue.
Trudeau said he knows there is “a lot of work still to do,” but the overall goal of vaccinating six million prioritized people by March, and then everyone who wants to be by the end of September 2021, remains on track despite this “roadblock.”
Asked why he hasn’t tried to put more direct political pressure himself on Pfizer to rectify Canada’s complete absence of doses next week, Trudeau said the company remains contractually obligated to provide Canada with the doses purchased.
The federal government also faced questions about why it appears Pfizer is not treating all countries equally as promised when it comes to scaling back the size of shipments, with some European countries reporting their deliveries will not be as severely impacted as Canada’s.
Neither Trudeau or Anand could offer an explanation, with the prime minister stating that in his weekend call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel she too raised that she was being criticized for her country’s rollout.
“She sort of complained to me that every day she gets it from the German media that they’re not doing as well as Canada. I think a lot of people are comparing stories from country to country, and trying to figure out how we can all move quicker,” Trudeau said.
According to CTV News’ vaccine tracker, Canada is immunizing people faster than Germany by a small margin.
Anand said the situation with Pfizer’s delay is “very disappointing,” and she “spent the weekend on the phone with Pfizer executives,” pushing for Canada to return to the regular delivery schedule as soon as possible.
She said Canada “insisted” on equitable treatment, which she said Pfizer assured her Canada is receiving.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Tuesday he was “very angry” about the situation and if it was up to him, he’d be “on that phone call every single day,” with Pfizer. He then floated that in the interim, President-Elect Joe Biden should send Canada one million doses from the U.S.-based Pfizer facility, which is not experiencing delays.
Anand said Tuesday in response to Ford’s suggestion that all the vaccines being made at the U.S. plant will be distributed within Canada but she will “continue to press all levers.”
In an interview on CTV’s Question Period that aired on Sunday, Anand said she’d heard concerns from some vaccine companies about lengthy delays between vaccine doses, as they go beyond what their clinical-trial-based recommendations are.
In an email, Pfizer said some provinces decision to delay the administration of their second doses was not a factor in the current delivery schedule for Canada, stating that the decision to scale-up at the Belgium plant is so that by the end of 2021 the pharmaceutical giant can deliver 2 billion doses worldwide.
“Pfizer is working closely with all Governments on allocation of doses. While the precise percentage allocation may fluctuate, we anticipate that it will balance out by the end of Q1 2021. Pfizer remains dedicated to helping each country meet the vaccination needs of its citizens without compromising our highest safety and quality standards,” said spokesperson Christina Antoniou.
Canada was planning on receiving between 124,800 and 366,600 Pfizer doses every week between now and the end of February, as part of the plan to have six million doses total from Pfizer and Moderna by the end of March when Phase 1 ends. Officials continue to state that once next week passes, deliveries will ramp-up and make up for the loss with larger batches arriving.
Fortin said Tuesday that Canada’s Moderna deliveries will continue as planned. These vaccines are delivered in a three week cycle, with the next shipment of 230,400 doses coming the first week of February.
Anand said come the spring Canadians will see a “dramatic increase in vaccine deliveries,” but cautioned about “additional supply challenges along the way.”
“This is precisely why we have multiple agreements in place with multiple manufacturers,” Anand said.
In a statement, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said he is “deeply frustrated by the government’s on-going failure to procure and deliver vaccines for Canadians.”
He is calling on the Liberals to deliver an “emergency plan,” and disclose Canada’s precedence in comparison to other countries’ vaccine delivery contracts.
“We cannot accept this kind of failure, not with so much at stake,” O’Toole said.
So far, more than 604,000 Canadians have received their first dose of one of the two approved COVID-19 vaccines, and nearly 37,200 have received both shots required in the two-dose regimen.
Alibaba’s Jack Ma makes first public appearance in three months
SHANGHAI (Reuters) – Alibaba Group founder Jack Ma made his first appearance since October on Wednesday when he spoke to a group of teachers by video, easing concern about his unusual absence from public life and sending shares in the e-commerce giant surging.
Speculation over Ma’s whereabouts has swirled in the wake of news this month that he was replaced in the final episode of a reality TV show he had been a judge on, and amid a regulatory clampdown by Beijing on his sprawling business empire.
The billionaire, who commands a cult-like reverence in China, had not appeared in public since Oct. 24, when he blasted China’s regulatory system in a speech at a Shanghai forum. That set him on a collision course with officials and led to the suspension of a blockbuster $37 billion IPO for Alibaba’s financial affiliate Ant Group.
Alibaba and his charitable foundation both confirmed he participated in an online ceremony for an annual event for rural teachers on Wednesday.
In the 50-second video, Ma, wearing a navy pullover, spoke from a room with grey walls, a large painting and floral arrangements. It was not clear where the room was.
Alibaba’s Hong Kong-listed shares jumped over 10% on the news, which was first reported by Tianmu News, a media outlet backed by the government of Zhejiang, the province where Alibaba’s headquarters are based.
“Jack Ma’s reappearance has given investors peace of mind after a lot of rumours, allowing them to pile into the stock which had been a laggard in the market,” said Steven Leung, sales director at brokerage UOB Kay Hian in Hong Kong.
The topic “Jack Ma makes his first public appearance” and his video address to the teachers soon began trending on China’s Twitter-like Weibo, triggering heavy discussion.
Although Ma has stepped down from corporate positions and earnings calls, he retains significant influence over Alibaba and Ant and promotes them globally at business and political events. He also continues to mentor management talent in the “Alibaba Partnership”, a 35-member group of company managers.
China has stepped up a regulatory crackdown on anticompetitive behaviour in the internet sector and Alibaba became the target of an antitrust investigation launched last month by Chinese authorities.
The company plans to raise at least $5 billion through the sale of a U.S. dollar-denominated bond this month.
(Reporting by Brenda Goh and Luoyan Liu in Shanghai, Kane Wu, Donny Kwok and Sumeet Chatterjee in Hong Kong, Yingzhi Yang, Cheng Leng and Zhang Yan in Beijing and the Shanghai Newsroom; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Edwina Gibbs)
Biden intelligence pick favors ‘aggressive’ stance on China threat
By Mark Hosenball and Arshad Mohammed
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States should take an “aggressive stance” toward the threat posed by the aggressive and assertive China that it faces today, Avril Haines, President-elect Joe Biden‘s choice for the top U.S. intelligence job, said on Tuesday.
Biden’s nominee for Director of National Intelligence (DNI) also said she thought it would be some time before Tehran returned to strict compliance with the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and that the Democratic Biden administration might itself return to the agreement, which outgoing Republican President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018.
Haines, a former CIA deputy director, said her priorities include restoring trust and confidence within the U.S. intelligence community, which Trump at times denigrated, as well as among the American people.
Pressed by both Republican and Democratic senators on the importance of the Chinese intelligence threat, Haines said she would make it a priority to devote more resources to China.
“Our approach to China has to evolve and essentially meet the reality of the particularly assertive and aggressive China that we see today,” she said. “I do support an aggressive stance, in a sense, to deal with the challenge that we are facing.”
Haines also told the committee that U.S. agencies have “not solved the issue” of deterring cyber attacks and have not yet figured out how to handle such asymmetric threats.
She said President-elect Biden has indicated the United States should find a way to impose costs on attackers for the recent SolarWinds attacks, attributed to Russia, on U.S. government agencies and businesses. Russia has denied responsibility.
Speaking to the Senate Intelligence Committee that will vote on her nomination, Haines drew an implicit contrast to the Trump administration, which at times has been accused of politicizing intelligence agency findings.
“The DNI must never shy away from speaking truth to power — even, especially, when doing so may be inconvenient or difficult,” she said. “The DNI must insist that, when it comes to intelligence, there is simply no place for politics — ever.”
Haines’ confirmation was expected to move rapidly, a Democratic congressional official said, though some activists have questioned her role in helping to manage the CIA’s response to probes of its past use of harsh interrogation techniques.
In a possible effort to neutralize that issue, Haines told the panel she would not permit their use and that she believed “waterboarding in fact constitutes torture under the law.”
In a written answer to panel questions, she said she believed that post-Sept. 11, 2001, interrogation methods used on suspected extremists “included torture, which violates U.S. commitments and obligations” under U.S. laws and international conventions.
Senator Mark Warner, the panel’s incoming chairman, praised Haines in a statement. He said the committee would schedule a vote on her nomination as soon as possible, and urged the full Senate to confirm her “without any unnecessary delay.”
(Reporting By Mark Hosenball and Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Paul Simao, Dan Grebler and Jonathan Oatis)
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