Alarming new projections for the spread of COVID-19 in Canada are expected to forecast a dramatic rise in cases over the next few weeks if Canadians don’t strictly limit their contact with people outside their households.
Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam has already warned that Canada is on track to hit more than 10,000 cases per day by early December if current trends continue.
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That’s more than double the current daily case count, which is already straining the health care system in some regions.
New federal modelling of the course of the pandemic is to be presented publicly Friday morning.
Sources briefed on the work say the modelling will also project a much worse scenario — as many as 60,000 cases a day — should Canadians rise their number of contacts as the holiday season approaches.
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The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the modelling before its official release.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gave federal opposition leaders an advance look at the numbers Thursday in a confidential briefing from Tam and her deputy, Dr. Howard Njoo.
The Prime Minister’s Office said the purpose of the briefing was to keep opposition leaders in the loop and impress upon them the need to put aside partisanship and join in a common effort to urge Canadians to strictly limit their contacts with people outside their households.
That did not stop Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole from blaming the Trudeau government for the worsening state of affairs.
“What struck me was that 11 months after news about the spread of COVID-19 emerged, after thousands of lives and millions of jobs have been lost, and hundreds of billions of dollars has been added to the national debt, we as a country are worse off than we were at the start of the pandemic,” O’Toole said in a statement after the briefing.
“We are in this position because the government failed to give Canadians the ability to rapidly and frequently test for COVID-19; has failed to tell Canadians how they plan to deliver a vaccine; and failed to be transparent with Canadians about what COVID-19-related information they are using to make decisions that affect lives and jobs.”
O’Toole called for a “real plan to test, trace, and isolate those who are infected” and added that “shutting down the entire country again is simply not a solution.”
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NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh told CBC’s Power and Politics he found the projections “troubling” and said they show “if we don’t act now we could lose many more lives.” He reiterated his call for an end to for-profit long-term care homes.
Green Leader Annamie Paul told CBC the briefing was “sobering” and that it underscored her call for a co-ordinated national strategy to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet did not attend the briefing. He sent his House leader, Alain Therrien, in his stead.
Tam has said Canadians need to reduce their current rate of contact with others by at least 25 per cent in order to flatten the curve.
And last week, she and Njoo gave a graphic description of the consequences if the trajectory toward more than 10,000 cases per day is not halted.
At the current level of just under 5,000 cases per day, Tam said routine medical procedures are being cancelled, intensive care beds are almost full and health-care workers are exhausted.
“So you can only imagine that if we got to that level (of 10,000), that the pressure on the health-care system will be huge,” she told a news conference in Ottawa on Nov. 13.
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“You would definitely not be doing routine surgeries, and that the already exhausted health-care workers will be, you know, extremely stretched,” she said.
Njoo pointed to what happened in northern Italy and New York City last spring, when their health systems were overwhelmed.
“Doctors were having to make a life and death decision in terms of who would be on a ventilator, who wouldn’t. And who wants to be in that position?”
© 2020 The Canadian Press
Hong Kong freezes listed shares of media tycoon Lai under security law
Hong Kong authorities on Friday froze assets belonging to jailed media tycoon Jimmy Lai, including all shares in his company, Next Digital – the first time a listed firm has been targeted by national security laws in the financial hub.
Also among assets targeted were the local bank accounts of three companies owned by him, Hong Kong’s Secretary for Security John Lee said in a government statement.
The statement, issued after the market close, said Lee had issued notices “in writing to freeze all the shares of Next Digital Limited held by (Jimmy) Lai Chee-ying, and the property in the local bank accounts of three companies owned by him”.
Lai was sentenced to 14 months in prison for taking part in unauthorised assemblies during pro-democracy protests in 2019.
He faces three alleged charges under a sweeping new national security law imposed by Beijing, including collusion with a foreign country.
The move against his assets was also made under the security law, which criminalises acts including subversion, sedition, collusion with foreign forces and secession with possible life imprisonment.
The decision by authorities to use the law’s powers for the first time to target a Hong Kong listed company could have repercussions for investor sentiment.
There have been signs of capital flight since the law was imposed last June, to foreign countries including Canada, according to government agencies, bankers and lawyers.
Beijing said it imposed the law on the former British colony to restore order after months of pro-democracy, anti-China protests in 2019.
However, critics say the law has been used by China‘s Communist leaders to suppress freedoms and pro-democracy campaigners – scores of whom have been arrested and jailed, or have fled into exile.
The chief executive officer of Next Digital, Cheung Kim-hung, told the Apple Daily that Lai’s frozen assets had nothing to do with the bank accounts of Next Digital, and that their operations and finances would not be affected.
The firm’s employees pledged to continue to “uphold their duty and keep reporting”, in a statement posted on the Facebook page of Next Digital’s trade union.
Under Hong Kong stock exchange filings, Lai is Next Digital’s major shareholder and holds 71.26 percent of shares that were worth around HK$350 million ($45 million) based on Friday’s closing share price.
The value of the other “property” assets frozen by the authorities was not immediately clear.
Next Digital runs the Apple Daily, Hong Kong’s most influential pro-democracy newspaper that has long been a thorn in the side of Hong Kong and Chinese authorities.
Senior Hong Kong officials have recently warned Apple Daily about its coverage and have spoken of the possible introduction of a “fake news” law. Critics say this is all part of an ongoing crackdown on the city’s media.
The Taiwan arm of Apple Daily said on Friday it would stop publishing its print version, blaming declining advertising revenue and more difficult business conditions in Hong Kong linked to politics.
($1 = 7.7658 Hong Kong dollars)
(Reporting by Twinnie Siu, Jessie Pang and James Pomfret; Writing by James Pomfret; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Gareth Jones)
Wall St sees chance of higher bid for Kansas City Southern from Canadian Pacific
Wall Street is expecting Canadian Pacific to raise its offer for Kansas City Southern even at the cost of more debt to win the bidding war with larger Canadian railroad rival Canadian National.
In the latest twist to the takeover saga, the U.S. railroad operator on Thursday accepted Canadian National’s $33.6 billion offer, leaving Canadian Pacific just five business days to make a new offer.
Analysts said Canadian Pacific was unlikely to let go a chance to be the first railway spanning the United States, Mexico and Canada easily even though it had said it would not leverage its books to outbid Canadian National.
“If CP is willing to compromise a bit more on the leverage ratio, it could…match or potentially beat CNR’s latest offer,” Scotiabank analyst Konark Gupta wrote in a note.
It all started in March when Canadian Pacific agreed to buy Kansas City Southern in a $25 billion cash-and-stock deal, but Canadian National topped the offer in April.
Canadian Pacific’s shares have added about 3% since its March 21 offer, while Canadian National has fallen about 9% from its April 20 bid.
This gives Canadian Pacific room to cut down the size of any potential debt that it would need to outbid its rival. As of Thursday’s close, the implied value of its offer rose to $286 per share from $275 per share, according to Gupta.
That is just $39 per share below Canadian National’s offer of $325 per share. To match it, Canadian Pacific would need to stretch its leverage ratio to as much as five times, from about four times currently.
It had a long-term debt of about C$8 billion ($6.61 billion) as of March 31, while it was C$13 billion for Canadian National.
A final outcome for either combination would still hinge on a regulatory approval by the U.S. Surface Transportation Board (STB), which oversees freight rail.
“The true power in this saga remains where it always has been…with the STB,” Cowen analyst Jason Seidl wrote in a note.
Shares of Kansas City Southern were down 1% and Canadian National 3.5%, while Canadian Pacific was up about 1% in early trading on Friday.
($1 = 1.2096 Canadian dollars)
(Reporting by Ankit Ajmera in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur)
Italy lifts COVID quarantine for EU, UK and Israel from Sunday
-Italy will scrap mandatory quarantine from Sunday for visitors from the European Union, Britain and Israel who test negative for COVID-19, the government said on Friday as it looks to give summer tourism a boost.
With vaccine roll-outs picking up pace in the EU, more countries are looking to ease travel curbs and restrictions on the hospitality sector to help it recover from the pandemic.
“We have been waiting for this move for a long time and it anticipates a Europe-wide travel pass,” Tourism Minister Massimo Garavaglia.
The EU plans to start a unified system recording COVID-19 vaccinations, tests and recovery from June to allow more movement.
People entering Italy from these countries have so far been requested to quarantine for five days and test both before arrival as well as at the end of their isolation period.
Quarantine for other countries, including the United States, is longer.
Entry restrictions on those coming from Brazil will remain in place, the health ministry said.
The government also extended the so-called COVID-tested flights to cover some destinations in Canada, Japan and the United Arab Emirates. There will be no quarantine for those who test negative upon arrival on these routes, as well as on certain flights to Rome, Milan, Naples and Venice.
Although asked to supply a negative swab before travelling, passengers of these flights will be tested upon arrival and, if negative, exempted from quarantine.
Travel between Italy and much the rest of the world has been severely restricted for months as the government sought to contain resurgent coronavirus infections.
However, cases have declined steadily in recent weeks thanks in part to an increasingly effective vaccination campaign.
The national health institute (ISS) said on Friday the “R” reproduction number had fallen to 0.86 from 0.89 a week earlier. An “R” rate above 1 indicates that infections will grow exponentially.
Italy has recorded nearly 124,000 deaths due to coronavirus, the second-highest number in Europe after Britain. As of Monday, 19 of Italy’s 20 regions will be designated as “low-infection” zones and only one as a “medium-risk” one.
Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s government is also due to discuss on Monday easing or abolishing Italy’s nationwide 10 p.m. curfew.
(Reporting by Maria Pia Quaglia and Angelo Amante, editing by Giulia Segreti and Gabriela Baczynska)
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