Canada is on track to see a “strong resurgence” of COVID-19 cases across the country if the more transmissible variants continue to spread and become more commonplace, and if public health measures remain at current levels, according to new modelling.
New long-range projections being presented by Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) officials show that if Canadians increase, or even maintain the current number of people they come into contact with each day, COVID-19 cases are set to spike to levels not yet experienced during this pandemic.
This is prompting Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam to implore people and provinces to take more precautions and reassess current steps, such as new closures and ensuring people are using effective masks whenever physical distance cannot be maintained.
“Current community-based public health measures will be insufficient to control rapid growth,” she told reporters Friday. “It’s clear that we need to hold on together a bit stronger and longer until vaccines have us better protected,” she said, calling the latest figures “discouraging, after so many months of sacrifice.”
Seeking to offer an incentive to double-down now, Tam said that eventually easing restrictions will only be possible if current spread is brought under control.
Despite these warnings, at least one premier has already come out questioning PHAC’s data. Asked whether it’s time to reassess that province’s restrictions, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney cast doubt on Tam’s past predictions, saying that in his view they have been proved to be “spectacularly inaccurate,” though the most recent past modelling accurately predicted the current uptick in variant spread.
Kenney is continuing to call for the federal government to gain faster access to more vaccines as the way to prevent further lockdowns or the variants taking hold.
It’s a call that echoes Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s recent requests. In Ontario, restrictions were recently eased slightly in certain regions, though considerable variant spread is being detected. On Friday, Tam suggested that the frequent up and down of imposing and then lifting of measures as soon as the spread starts to come down, is the wrong approach at this time.
“It may not be stay at home for every area… You’ve got to implement measures that work in your community where people are going to stick to as few interactions,” she said. “If there are detections that this activity is ramping up, then definitely don’t relax.”
VARIANT SPREAD INCREASING
The modelling shows that the number of and proportion of variant of concern cases are “increasing rapidly” in several parts of Canada, and that the experience internationally demonstrates that stronger measures are needed if Canada wants to control the spread of more contagious variants.
“In parts of Canada where variants of concern represent an increasingly high proportion of cases and are associated with a greater number of outbreaks, we need to maintain high degree of vigilance to keep COVID-19 infections rates down as vaccine programs scale up,” Tam said Friday, noting Canada is currently in a “tight race” against the variants.
Following the modelling presentation, Health Minister Patty Hajdu pointed to the $53 million being spent on a national “variants of concern strategy” that includes funding for research into the variants, surveillance of their spread, and sequencing of the virus.
Daily case counts and severity indicators are once again on the rise, after an easing off of lockdown measures in major provinces west of Atlantic Canada, with an average of 4,057 new cases, 2,194 hospitalizations, and 29 deaths over the past seven days.
Source: Public Health Agency of Canada. Data as of March 24, 2021.
“Daily case counts have increased over 30 per cent in the past two weeks… Every 100 cases in Canada, passes the virus to more than 100 others,” said Tam, advising Canadians it is not safe to gather in groups in-person for coming celebrations such as Easter, Ramadan and Passover.
The highest incidences of COVID-19 are currently being experienced in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and parts of Ontario, while overall the incidence rates are highest among young adults aged 20 to 39 and have declined among older Canadians.
VACCINES ALONE WON’T FLATTEN CURVE
In a positive indication that vaccinations are working to tamp down new outbreaks among highly-immunized settings, the number and size of outbreaks in long-term care homes and other retirement residences continue to be on the decline.
However, Tam said seeing more people vaccinated will not be enough to ease public health measures and other restrictions, noting that virus transmission; efficient public health capacity to test, trace and quarantine new cases; sufficient health care capacity exists to respond to surges; and risk-reduction measures are in place in high risk settings, are all components that will need to be in place before life gets back to some degree of normalcy.
Source: Public Health Agency of Canada. Data as of March 24, 2021.
Summer “holds promise” and Canada is “closer now than ever” to a new-normal, according to Friday’s presentation, but Canadians should expect to maintain, for some time to come, the personal health precautions adopted in the last year.
The short-term forecast is predicting Canada will hit between 973,080 to 1,005,020 cases by April 4, and between 22,875 to 23,315 cumulative deaths.
As of the modelling being issued there have been more than 951,500 COVID-19 cases and 22,790 deaths in Canada.
Canada’s manufacturers ask for federal help as Montreal dockworkers stage partial-strike
MONTREAL (Reuters) – Canada‘s manufacturers on Monday asked the federal government to curb a brewing labor dispute after dockworkers at the country’s second largest port said they will work less this week.
Unionized dockworkers, who are in talks for a new contract since 2018, will hold a partial strike starting Tuesday, by refusing all overtime outside of their normal day shifts, along with weekend work, they said in a statement on Monday.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Quebec’s 1,125 longshore workers at the Port of Montreal rejected a March offer from the Maritime Employers Association.
The uncertainty caused by the labour dispute has led to an 11% drop in March container volume at the Montreal port on an annual basis, even as other eastern ports in North America made gains, the Maritime Employers Association said.
The move will cause delays in a 24-hour industry, the association said.
“Some manufacturers have had to redirect their containers to the Port of Halifax, incurring millions in additional costs every week,” said Dennis Darby, chief executive of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters (CME).
While the government strongly believes a negotiated agreement is the best option for all parties, “we are actively examining all options as the situation evolves,” a spokesman for Federal Labor Minister Filomena Tassi said.
Last summer’s stoppage of work cost wholesalers C$600 million ($478 million) in sales over a two-month period, Statistics Canada estimates.
($1 = 1.2563 Canadian dollars)
(Reporting By Allison Lampert in Montreal. Additional reporting by Julie Gordon in Ottawa; Editing by Marguerita Choy)
Canada scraps export permits for drone technology to Turkey, complains to Ankara
OTTAWA (Reuters) –Canada on Monday scrapped export permits for drone technology to Turkey after concluding that the equipment had been used by Azeri forces fighting Armenia in the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, Foreign Minister Marc Garneau said.
Turkey, which like Canada is a member of NATO, is a key ally of Azerbaijan, whose forces gained territory in the enclave after six weeks of fighting.
“This use was not consistent with Canadian foreign policy, nor end-use assurances given by Turkey,” Garneau said in a statement, adding he had raised his concerns with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu earlier in the day.
Ottawa suspended the permits last October so it could review allegations that Azeri drones used in the conflict had been equipped with imaging and targeting systems made by L3Harris Wescam, the Canada-based unit of L3Harris Technologies Inc.
In a statement, the Turkish Embassy in Ottawa said: “We expect our NATO allies to avoid unconstructive steps that will negatively affect our bilateral relations and undermine alliance solidarity.”
Earlier on Monday, Turkey said Cavusoglu had urged Canada to review the defense industry restrictions.
The parts under embargo include camera systems for Baykar armed drones. Export licenses were suspended in 2019 during Turkish military activities in Syria. Restrictions were then eased, but reimposed during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Turkey’s military exports to Azerbaijan jumped sixfold last year. Sales of drones and other military equipment rose to $77 million in September alone before fighting broke out in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, data showed.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa and Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Gareth Jones and Peter Cooney)
Investigation finds Suncor’s Colorado refinery meets environmental permits
By Liz Hampton
DENVER (Reuters) – A Colorado refinery owned by Canadian firm Suncor Energy Inc meets required environmental permits and is adequately funded, according to an investigation released on Monday into a series of emissions violations at the facility between 2017 and 2019.
The 98,000 barrel-per-day (bpd) refinery in the Denver suburb of Commerce City, Colorado, reached a $9-million settlement with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) March 2020 to resolve air pollution violations that occurred since 2017. That settlement also addressed an incident in December 2019 that released refinery materials onto a nearby school.
As part of the settlement, Suncor was required to use a third party to conduct an independent investigation into the violations and spend up to $5 million to implement recommendations from the investigation.
Consulting firm Kearney’s investigation found the facility met environmental permit requirements, but also pinpointed areas for improvement, including personnel training and systems upgrades, some of which was already underway.
“We need to improve our performance and improve the trust people have in us,” Donald Austin, vice president of the Commerce City refinery said in an interview, adding that the refinery had already undertaken some of the recommendations from the investigation.
In mid-April, Suncor will begin a turnaround at the facility that includes an upgrade to a gasoline-producing fluid catalytic cracking unit (FCCU) at Plant 1 of the facility. That turnaround is anticipated to be complete in June 2021.
Suncor last year completed a similar upgrade of an automatic shutdown system for the FCCU at the refinery’s Plant 2.
By 2023, the company will also install an additional control unit, upgraded instrumentation, automated shutdown valves and new hydraulic pressure units in Plant 2.
Together, those upgrades will cost approximately $12 million, of which roughly $10 million is dedicated to Plant 2 upgrades, Suncor said on Monday.
(Reporting by Liz Hampton; Editing by Marguerita Choy)