The federal government is extending its U.K. travel ban by two weeks as part of its effort to prevent a new variant of the novel coronavirus from spreading to Canada.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on Wednesday that passenger flights from the U.K. to Canada would be temporarily suspended until Jan. 6 and that the government was in the process of contacting those who arrived from the U.K. recently with more direction.
All commercial and private passenger flights from the U.K. were initially suspended for 72 hours on Monday after a new variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 was identified in that country. This new variant is causing some concern due to early signs suggesting it is significantly more transmissible than other strains, though no indication it is more deadly.
There have been no recorded cases yet in Canada of this variant. Viruses naturally evolve as they move through the population and there have been thousands of new mutations of the coronavirus since almost the beginning.
Most of the time, the changes do not impact how infectious it is or how sick people get, but this new variant appeared to be spreading quickly through the population, and is the cause of nearly 60 per cent of recent infections in London, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Friday – CBC.ca
Coronavirus infections may be about to hit a plateau in the United States based on recent seven-day averages, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, though the top U.S. infectious disease expert cautioned the country was still in a “very serious situation” with the virus.
At a White House briefing Thursday, Fauci also said that if 70 to 80 per cent of Americans are vaccinated by the end of summer, the country could experience “a degree of normality” by the fall.
The pandemic has killed 410,000 people and infected more than 24.6 million in the United States, the highest numbers anywhere in the world, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
Fauci said coronavirus vaccines can be modified to account for new variants of the virus, and that while the variant first identified in South Africa is concerning, it does not appear to be in the United States.
Another highly transmissible variant of the virus first discovered in the United Kingdom has spread to at least 20 U.S. states, Fauci said.
Fauci said he expects current vaccines will be effective against the recently discovered virus mutations.
“Bottom line: We’re paying very close attention to it for our alternative plans if we have to ever modify the vaccine,” he said. “But right now, from the reports we have … it appears that the vaccines will still be effective against them.”
The United States still has a limited ability to track the presence of new variants in its population, he noted.
Biden sets COVID-19 plan into motion
Fauci praised U.S. President Joe Biden’s willingness to “let the science speak” in contrast to the previous Trump administration, standing by his side earlier Thursday as Biden unveiled sweeping measures to battle COVID-19 on his first full day in office.
“This is a wartime undertaking,” the Democratic president said at a White House event where he signed executive orders to establish a COVID-19 testing board to ramp up testing, address supply shortfalls, establish protocols for international travellers and direct resources to hard-hit minority communities.
WATCH | Biden implements COVID-19 travel restrictions:
Biden also made a personal plea to all Americans to wear masks over the next 99 days to stop the spread of the virus. “The experts say, by wearing a mask from now until April, we’d save more than 50,000 lives,” he said.
Among other actions signed by Biden on Thursday was an order requiring mask-wearing in airports and on certain public transportation, including many trains, airplanes and intercity buses.
The administration will expand vaccine manufacturing and its power to purchase more vaccines by “fully leveraging contract authorities, including the Defence Production Act,” according to the plan.
The Trump administration had invoked the law, which grants the president broad authority to “expedite and expand the supply of resources from the U.S. industrial base” for protective gear, but never enacted it for testing or vaccine production.
The president has pledged to provide 100 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine during his first 100 days in office. His plan aims to increase vaccinations by opening up eligibility for more people such as teachers and grocery clerks.
As of Thursday morning, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it had administered 17.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine out of some 38 million distributed.
Biden has also rescinded Trump’s planned withdrawal from the World Health Organization.
The new president has put fighting the disease at the top of a daunting list of challenges, including rebuilding a ravaged economy and addressing racial injustice, and has proposed a $1.9-trillion US COVID-19 package that would enhance jobless benefits and provide direct cash payments to households to alleviate the financial pain from the coronavirus.
The House of Representatives is planning to bring the bill to a vote the first week of February, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Thursday.
– From Reuters, last updated at 7 a.m. ET
What’s happening across Canada
As of 7 a.m. ET on Friday, Canada had reported 725,495 cases of COVID-19, with 68,413 cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 18,462.
In Ontario, the seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases continues to fall as the province reported 2,632 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, along with 46 more deaths.
While epidemiologists told CBC News that public health measures seem to be working as Ontario nears four complete weeks under “lockdown” conditions, they cautioned that the province is still far from ready for a return to normalcy.
WATCH | Research into coronavirus variants still early, epidemiologist says:
Meanwhile, local public health officials are expressing concern about a yet-to-be identified variant of COVID-19 at a Barrie, Ont., long-term care home.
The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit said the unusually rapid spread of the virus at Roberta Place earlier this month, with 55 people at the nursing home becoming ill within 48 hours of the first COVID-19 case being identified, prompted officials to start testing for a variant strain.
The variant was identified in six cases and further results are expected in the coming days, the unit said.
At least 122 of 130 residents at Roberta Place Long-Term Care Home have tested positive for COVID-19, the home said in a statement to CBC Toronto on Thursday. Since the outbreak, 19 residents have died and 69 staff are infected.
WATCH | Ontario criticized for delaying vaccine rollout for long-term care homes:
Alberta, like Ontario, has seen its long-term care homes particularly hit hard during the pandemic.
To date, 988 of the province’s 1,500 COVID-19 deaths have been in long-term care and designated supportive living facilities, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, said Thursday.
CapitalCare Lynnwood in west Edmonton is the site of Alberta’s deadliest COVID-19 outbreak, with 55 lives lost. A total of 262 cases have been linked to the outbreak, Alberta Health said in a statement to CBC News.
WATCH | Other COVID-19 vaccines awaiting approval could mean more choice:
New Brunswick continues to see a spike in COVID-19 infections, reporting 32 new cases on Thursday as officials declared an outbreak at another Edmundston care home.
At a COVID-19 briefing, the province’s chief medical officer of health said the situation in the Edmundston region remains “gravely concerning.”
There are now 113 cases in that area, “the largest number of any zone in the province,” said Dr. Jennifer Russell.
Premier Blaine Higgs said that a complete lockdown of the Edmundston region has been discussed and looks “likely” to happen in the days ahead.
Here’s a look at what’s happening across the country:
– From CBC News, last updated at 9:45 a.m. ET
What’s happening around the world
As of early Friday morning, more than 97.5 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, with more than 53.8 million of the cases considered resolved or recovered, according to a tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than two million.
In the Asia-Pacific region, South Korea reported 346 new cases on Friday, its smallest daily increase in coronavirus infections in two months as officials express cautious hope that the country is beginning to emerge from its worst wave of the pandemic.
Health authorities have clamped down on private social gatherings since late December, including setting fines for restaurants if they accept groups of five or more people. The 1,241 infections reported on Christmas Day were the country’s largest 24-hour jump of the pandemic.
In Africa, Mali plans to buy more than 8.4 million doses of coronavirus vaccine and expects to start a vaccination campaign in April, the council of ministers said in a statement on Thursday.
The sprawling country of about 20 million has recorded just over 7,900 COVID-19 cases and 320 deaths since the pandemic began, according to Johns Hopkins.
In the Middle East, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that China had approved delivery of a second consignment of the CoronaVac vaccine and 10 million doses could arrive in Turkey by this weekend.
Turkey has already received an initial consignment of three million doses of the vaccine, produced by Sinovac Biotech, and has so far vaccinated more than 1.1 million people, mostly health workers and elderly people.
In the Americas, Mexico has posted new one-day highs for the pandemic, with 22,339 newly confirmed coronavirus infections and 1,803 deaths related to COVID-19.
Mexico has recorded over 1.71 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 146,000 test-confirmed deaths related to COVID-19 since the pandemic began. However, official estimates suggest the real death toll is closer to 195,000.
Officials also said Thursday that hospitals remained at 89 per cent capacity in Mexico City, which is the current centre of the pandemic in Mexico.
In Europe, the number of people testing positive for the coronavirus in England decreased slightly in the latest week but prevalence overall remained high, the U.K.’s Office for National Statistics said on Friday.
The ONS estimated that around one in 55 people had COVID-19 within the community population in England in the week ending Jan. 16, a lower prevalence than the estimate of one in 50 people in the last full infection survey published two weeks ago.
– From The Associated Press, last updated at 8:45 a.m. ET
Trudeau spoke with Pfizer CEO amid concerns of vaccine delays – CTV News
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with the CEO of Pfizer Global on Thursday and was assured that, despite an ongoing delay in vaccine deliveries, the company will follow through on millions of vaccine shipments due in March.
News of Trudeau’s conversation with CEO Dr. Albert Bourla comes as officials overseeing the vaccine rollout release new projections as they work to assure Canadians that the current shipment slowdown won’t hamper the country’s long-term schedule.
“Today, I spoke with the CEO of Pfizer Global, Dr. Bourla, about the timely delivery of COVID-19 vaccines to Canada,” Trudeau tweeted Thursday. “He assured me that we’ll receive 4 million doses by the end of March. We’ll keep working together to ensure Canadians can get a vaccine as soon as possible.”
Officials overseeing the vaccine rollout say Canada remains on schedule, although the country will see a short-term drop in supply in the coming weeks.
Projections released Thursday by federal health officials suggest that Canada will be able to vaccinate 3 million people by the end of March, accounting for eight per cent of the entire population. Even if Canada doesn’t approve any more vaccines by the fall, estimates suggest that doses from Pfizer and Moderna will cover 13 million Canadians, or 34 per cent, by June and 36 million, or 95 per cent, by September 30.
While the long-term plan remains on track, Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, who is leading Canada’s logistical rollout, said Canada is only getting about one-third of the expected deliveries between this week and Feb. 7. Canada is set to receive no new deliveries of doses next week and 79,000 Pfizer doses in the first week of February.
This delay will impact Canada’s short-term vaccine supply, but Fortin said future shipments are expected to make up for the shortage.
“To that end, we expect a rapid scale-up of deliveries in the upcoming weeks following this current supply disruption,” Fortin said at a press conference.
Pfizer advised Canada last week that upgrades to its plant in Belgium would temporarily slow production and reduce doses delivered to every country except the United States, which has its own production facility. Canada can expect to see its deliveries cut in half over four weeks, the company initially said, with the factory returning to full production on Feb. 15.
The next shipment of Moderna vaccines is due in the first week of February and will include an estimated 230,400 doses. Overall, Canada expects to receive 6 million doses of both vaccines by the end of March.
Canada’s vaccine rollout could happen faster if more vaccines are approved. The projections suggest that, based on all vaccines Canada has procured but have yet to be approved, as many as 23 million Canadians could be vaccinated between April and June, accounting for 61 per cent of the population. Canada could have enough doses for up to 73 million people between July on September. In such a scenario, there would be more than enough vaccines for everyone who wants one.
Fortin described those estimates as “planning data” meant to give provinces and territories an idea of what to expect if everything goes better than expected.
“The last thing we want to do is put jurisdictions in a place where we have additional doses coming and we hadn’t factored that in early to our planning,” he said.
Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada’s deputy chief public health officer, said that, while the government’s overall timeline for vaccines hasn’t changed, there is always the possibility of unexpected supply issues or new vaccine approvals.
In the meantime, the best thing Canadians can do while they wait for the vaccine is to follow public health guidelines, Dr. Njoo said.
Federal government settles lawsuit with Canada's former ambassador to Israel – CBC.ca
A lawsuit launched against the Trudeau government by the former ambassador to Israel has reached a settlement — but neither party is willing to divulge the details.
The federal government is refusing even to disclose the date the settlement was reached.
Vivian Bercovici was named ambassador to Israel by Stephen Harper before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau replaced her with Deborah Lyons in 2016.
In 2018, Bercovici launched a lawsuit against the federal government alleging, among other things, that the Trudeau government acted in bad faith when it terminated her mandate and that she had not been properly compensated for her pension benefits.
The following year, the former ambassador succeeded in adding to her lawsuit the name of Katie Telford, chief of staff to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, accusing her of intentional infliction of mental suffering.
A mysterious letter
Bercovici made an offer to halt her lawsuit against the Government of Canada and Katie Telford in a letter she wrote to Alan Bender, a Toronto businessman and Liberal supporter, on Nov. 5, 2019.
Radio-Canada spoke with Bender, who said Bercovici told him she wanted to do something to thank him after he had saved her life. Bender said he suggested dropping the lawsuit and Bercovici followed up with the offer in writing on Nov. 5.
The former ambassador wrote in the letter: “I would be prepared to end my lawsuit against the Government of Canada and Katie Telford, with no terms or conditions, at the earliest opportunity … This is the clearest and most emphatic expression of appreciation I can make for your compassion and recent tremendous help that has saved my life.”
A copy of the letter was sent by an anonymous source to many journalists and media. Radio-Canada was able to confirm that it was written by Bercovici.
Bender, a Kuwaiti-born Toronto businessman who works in the field of international mediation, told Radio-Canada that he mainly works for the ruling families of the Arab states in the Persian Gulf.
He said he was asked by important political figures, including one from Israel, to intervene to help Bercovici, who lives in Tel Aviv. He said he saved Bercovici’s life along with her professional and personal reputation.
Bender said he doesn’t want to give any more details about how he saved Bercovici’s life and reputation without her permission; she does not wish to comment.
Bender told Radio-Canada he is an active member of the Liberal Party and that he acted on his own when he suggested that Bercovici drop the lawsuit. He said Telford and the government only learned of his involvement when he gave Telford Bercovici’s letter.
Bender made international headlines when Saudi Arabia’s authorities had him testify against a Saudi businessman, Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, who was detained following the so-called anti-corruption drive launched by the Crown Prince and leader of Saudi Arabia Mohammed Bin Salman in 2017.
Lawsuit remained active
According to court documents, Bercovici’s lawsuit remained active after the letter was given to Bender.
In December 2019, the month after the letter was sent, lawyers representing the Government of Canada were back in Ontario Superior Court seeking to have Telford’s name removed from the lawsuit.
In his January 2020 decision, the judge sided with the government on its request that Telford be removed from the lawsuit, and Bercovici was ordered to pay court fees incurred by the government.
After this date, nothing else appears on the court register in relation to Bercovici’s lawsuit against the Government of Canada.
Silence from the PMO
Sources first told Radio-Canada that there had been a settlement in the lawsuit. For three days, Radio-Canada tried to get information about the settlement and a comment from the government about the letter.
The Prime Minister’s Office and the Department of Justice referred those requests to Global Affairs Canada.
After directly contacting the department a few times and reaching out to the Foreign Affairs minister’s office, a spokesperson for Global Affairs sent this short response on Wednesday night:
“A settlement has been reached. We cannot comment on the details.”
It is still not known who leaked the letter to the media and why, or whether there is a link between the settlement and the letter. The email address the letter was sent from no longer exists.
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