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Canada halts flights from U.K. in response to new coronavirus strain – CBC.ca

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Canada joined several European nations in halting flights from the U.K. on Sunday in an effort to prevent a new, more contagious strain of the coronavirus from spreading to this country.

CBC News obtained a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) issued by Transport Minister Marc Garneau stating that all commercial, private and charter flights transporting passengers from the U.K. will be suspended indefinitely as of midnight tonight. The restriction doesn’t apply to cargo flights, aircraft landing for safety reasons or flights that land for technical stops where no passengers disembark.

The notice said the minister “is of the opinion it is necessary for aviation safety and the protection of the public, to prohibit the [operations] of commercial air … from the United Kingdom for the transport of passengers on an inbound [flight] to Canada.”

The decision followed an afternoon meeting of the Incident Response Group (IRG), a group of cabinet members and senior government officials. 

Garneau, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Health Minister Patty Hajdu, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc and Public Safety Minister Bill Blair all attended the meeting, according to Trudeau’s office.

New coronavirus strain

The IRG meeting was convened as several European nations restricted travel from the U.K. after Prime Minister Boris Johnson revealed on Saturday that a new variant of the coronavirus that is more than 70 per cent more transmissible than existing strains is driving a rapid rise in the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 in the U.K.

Ireland, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria and Italy all blocked flights from the U.K. — some for 48 hours and others for longer. Germany called a special crisis meeting of EU countries scheduled for Monday to co-ordinate the response to the virus news among the bloc’s 27 member states.

Johnson also announced strict lockdown measures for the city of London and much of the southern U.K. because of the existence of the strain. Those measures would see non-essential shops close and household mixing banned just days before Christmas celebrations.

Johnson said the new strain of coronavirus, while more contagious, doesn’t appear to cause more severe infections or a higher rate of death. There is also no evidence that existing vaccines wouldn’t provide immunity against it, Johnson said.

British Health Secretary Matt Hancock added to the alarm when he said “the new variant is out of control.”

The U.K. recorded 35,928 further confirmed cases on Sunday, around double the number from a week earlier.

Canada has severely restricted travel into the country since March. Broadly, only citizens, permanent residents and specialized foreign workers — most of whom travel from the U.S. — are granted entry. There are some exceptions, including for close family members of citizens and permanent residents.

Opposition politicians press for action

Prior to Trudeau gathering with his cabinet ministers, Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-François Blanchet called on the government to follow Europe’s lead and impose a travel ban on the U.K. to prevent the strain from reaching Canada.

“It will be several months before the pandemic is contained, especially with the number of [vaccine] doses available remains far too small,” Blanchet said in a statement released in French.

“If a variant of COVID-19 were to spread with increased speed among vulnerable people, the effects could be devastating on people’s health as well as on the health-care system and staff already under tremendous pressure.”

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh echoed that call in a Twitter post, saying that while more information is needed, flights from the U.K. should be suspended in the meantime.

“With vaccines still very rare, if this new strain gets loose here in vulnerable populations, it will be a disaster,” his post read.

Conservative health critic Michelle Rempel Garner called on the Liberal government to provide more information about the new genetic variant and to explain any decision to restrict flights.

“Canadians are looking for accurate information about the new variant of COVID-19 that has been identified in the United Kingdom,” Garner said in an emailed statement.

“The ties between our two countries are extremely close, with many Canadians’ families overseas … if the Trudeau government is considering a similar travel ban, they need to clearly communicate this to Canadians and their rationale for doing so as soon as possible.”

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Commons returns with opposition leaders slamming COVID-19 vaccine program – CBC.ca

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Canada’s opposition leaders attacked the federal Liberal government’s COVID-19 vaccination program today in their first encounter in the House of Commons following the winter break.

Vaccine deliveries will grind to a halt this week as a shutdown at Pfizer’s plant in Belgium disrupts shipments from that company.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said that while the prime minister promised a steady supply of the Pfizer-BioNTech shots in the first three months of 2021, the country’s inoculation efforts are now “in jeopardy” and provinces are scrambling to meet vaccination targets.

The delivery delay is already prompting some provinces — notably Alberta and Ontario — to warn that they will have to curtail vaccination appointments in the weeks ahead as they direct the existing supplies of the two-dose Pfizer vaccine to patients who need their second shots.

“We want to see our government succeed but this prime minister has abandoned us. The Liberal plan for vaccines must be reviewed by all of Parliament. We must work together to improve the Liberal vaccine plan and get Canadians back to work,” O’Toole said.

“We wish we could trust the prime minister but this situation demands Parliament’s urgent attention.”

Canada will receive no doses of the Pfizer product this week, and a dramatically reduced shipment next week, as the company retools its plant to pump out many more shots this year than planned.

O’Toole said the Liberal government should have prepared for delivery disruptions like this one with a contingency plan to prevent the provinces from running dry.

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, the military commander leading vaccine logistics at the Public Health Agency of Canada, has said Pfizer deliveries will be reduced by roughly 50 per cent over a four-week period — and Canada doesn’t know for certain how many doses will arrive over that time period.

The Health Canada website that tracks vaccines has been scrubbed of all Pfizer delivery forecasts, citing “changes to manufacturing timelines.”

“Unknown means there is no real plan,” O’Toole said. “Canadians are worried. We’re in the second wave of the pandemic, there’s U.K. strains and this week we’re receiving zero Pfizer vaccines.”

Moderna, which delivers shots to Canada every three weeks, is expected to deliver roughly 230,000 doses over the first week of February.

Later in question period, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged the “ongoing challenges” with the global supply vaccine chain but said Canada is expecting “hundreds of thousands” of Pfizer doses, some in February. He said Canada expects to have enough doses on hand this year to vaccinate every Canadian who wants a shot by the end of September.

Michelle Rempel Garner, the Conservative health critic, questioned that promise, saying that Canada needs to start getting through tens of thousands of vaccinations each day to reach that target.

With only 100,000 people fully vaccinated so far, Canada would have to administer well over 200,000 shots a day for the next 248 days to fully vaccinate Canadians with the two-dose Pfizer and Moderna products.

O’Toole said the Liberal government never should have partnered with the Chinese firm CanSino Biologics to develop a vaccine — a collaboration that was derailed last summer when China refused to ship vaccine samples to Canada for clinical trial testing.

After that partnership was shelved, O’Toole said, Canada then turned to procuring promising vaccine candidates from U.S. firms like Pfizer and Moderna.

Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand has disputed this version of events. Speaking to reporters in December, Anand said the CanSino deal fell within former industry minister Navdeep Bains’ portfolio, not her own, and nothing about the project prevented her from negotiating with other companies.

Anand has said she started talks with the companies behind promising vaccine candidates in July — companies that were recommended by the COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force — before Canada walked away from the ill-fated CanSino partnership in late August. Canada was among the first countries in the world to sign deals with Pfizer and Moderna.

“Engagement and negotiations with COVID-19 vaccine suppliers began in early July 2020, following the receipt of recommendations from the vaccine task force in June,” a spokesperson for the minister told CBC News.

O’Toole said Canada should have sought domestic manufacturing of vaccine candidates to avoid having to depend on other countries for supply. The government did not pursue domestic manufacturing rights for the AstraZeneca product.

Asked what he’d do to jump-start the stalled vaccination campaign, O’Toole said he would encourage Trudeau to obtain doses from the Pfizer manufacturing plant in Kalamazoo, Mich., which is not experiencing the same disruptions as the Belgian facility and is only 220 kilometres away from the Detroit-Windsor border crossing.

“There are vaccines being made not far from us, in Kalamazoo. Did the prime minister ask for the ability to have that plant used, not just rely on the retooled plant in Belgium?” O’Toole said. “There are a lot of options here, but there’s never any leadership from Mr. Trudeau.”

Anand has said the Michigan facility’s product is earmarked for the American market in the first quarter of this year.

While there will be significant delivery disruptions over the next month, Anand has said that Canada still expects to receive 4 million doses of the Pfizer product and 2 million Moderna shots in the first three months of this year. That would be enough to vaccinate 3 million people by the end of March.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh pointed out that the prime minister and his office are mired in a scandal of their own making over the abrupt resignation of former governor general Julie Payette amid reports of workplace harassment.

“The focus should be on the pandemic and the struggles that we’re going through. This has become a distraction,” Singh said of the Payette affair. “The focus … should be entirely on making sure people are vaccinated.”

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Canada’s Telus International aims for nearly $7 billion valuation in IPO

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(Reuters) – Telus International (Cda) Inc, a subsidiary of wireless carrier Telus Corp., aims to raise as much as $833 million in its initial public offering (IPO), which would give the Vancouver-based company a valuation of nearly $7 billion.

The flotation would be one of the largest in recent years for a Canadian company. Last year, Canadian waste management firm GFL Environmental Inc raised about $1.4 billion in its IPO, making it one of the largest ever stock market listings in Canada.

Telus International said it planned to list its shares on the New York Stock Exchange and the Toronto Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol “TIXT”.

The company plans to offer 33.33 million shares in its IPO and has set a price range of between $23 and $25 per share.

Telus International said its revenue for the full year ended Dec. 31 was estimated to be between $1.57 billion and $1.58 billion, compared with $1.02 billion a year earlier, according to regulatory filings from the company. [https://bit.ly/3sXwZYi]

Started in 2005, Telus International provides IT services to global brands and counts Cisco Systems Inc, Salesforce.com Inc and Google Cloud among its customers.

J.P. Morgan and Morgan Stanley are the lead underwriters of the offering.

 

(Reporting by Sohini Podder in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D’Silva)

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Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Monday – CBC.ca

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The latest:

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is stepping up efforts to track coronavirus mutations and keep vaccines and treatments effective against new variants until collective immunity is reached, the agency’s chief said on Sunday.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky spoke about the rapidly evolving virus during a Fox News Sunday interview as the number of Americans known to be infected surpassed 25 million, with more than 419,000 dead, just over a year after the first U.S. case was documented.

Walensky, who took over as CDC director the day President Joe Biden was sworn in, also said the greatest immediate culprit for sluggish vaccine distribution was a supply crunch worsened by inventory confusion inherited from the Trump administration.

“The fact that we don’t know today, five days into this administration, and weeks into planning, how much vaccine we have just gives you a sense of the challenges we’ve been left with,” she told Fox News Sunday.

Biden’s transition team was largely excluded from the vaccine rollout deliberations for weeks after his election, as then president Donald Trump refused to concede defeat and permit access to information his successor needed to prepare to govern.

Licensed vocational nurse Joselito Florendo, right, administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Michael Chesler at a mass vaccination site set up in the parking lot of Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, Calif., last week. Hard-hit California is seeing some progress in its fight against COVID-19. (Jae C. Hong/The Associated Press)

In a separate interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Ron Klain, Biden’s chief of staff, said a plan for distributing the vaccine, particularly beyond nursing homes and hospitals, “did not really exist when we came into the White House.”

Walensky said she was confident the government would soon resolve supply questions, and go on to dramatically expand vaccine production and distribution by late March.

Uncertainty over immediate supplies, however, will hinder efforts at the state and local levels to plan ahead for how many vaccination sites, personnel and appointments to set up in the meantime, exacerbating short-term shortages, she said.

Race against variants

Vaccination has become ever more urgent with the recent emergence of several coronavirus variants believed to be more transmissible, and in the case of one strain first detected in Britain, possibly more lethal.

“We are now scaling up both our surveillance of these and our study of these,” Walensky said, noting that the CDC was collaborating with the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration and even the Pentagon.

The object, she said, was to monitor “the impact of these variants on vaccines, as well as on our therapeutics,” as the virus continues to mutate while it spreads.

Until vaccines can provide “herd” immunity in the population, mask-wearing and physical distancing remain vital to “decrease the amount of virus that is circulating, and therefore, decrease the amount of variants,” Walensky said.

Although British officials on Friday warned that the variant of the coronavirus first identified in the U.K., already detected in at least 20 U.S. states, was associated with a higher level of mortality, scientists have said existing vaccines still appeared to be effective against it.

They worry, however, that a more contagious South African variant may reduce the efficacy of current vaccines and shows resistance to three antibody treatments developed for patients. Similarities between the South African variant and another identified in Brazil suggest the Brazilian variant may likewise resist antibody treatment.

“We’re in a race against these variants,” said Vivek Murthy, nominated by Biden to become the next U.S. surgeon general, on ABC’s This Week program on Sunday.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease specialist, said in late December he was optimistic the United States could achieve enough collective immunity to regain “some semblance of normality” by the fall of 2021.

But Murthy said getting to herd immunity before a new school year begins in September was “an ambitious goal.” Nevertheless, Murthy suggested the government may exceed Biden’s objective of 100 million vaccinations in the first 100 days of his presidency, telling ABC News, “That’s a floor; it’s not a ceiling.”

Fauci, appearing separately on CBS News’ Face the Nation, said the 100-million goal includes those who may have received both injections of the two-dose vaccines and those who only got the first.

About 21.8 million Americans, or about 6.5 per cent of the population, have received at least one dose of vaccine to date, of the 41.4 million doses shipped, CDC data showed on Sunday.

On Monday, hard-hit California lifted regional stay-at-home orders statewide in response to improving coronavirus conditions. Public health officials said the state will return to a system of county-by-county restrictions intended to stem the spread of the virus. The state is also lifting a 10 p.m.-to-5 a.m. curfew.

The decision comes with improving trends in the rate of infections, hospitalizations and intensive care unit capacity as well as vaccinations. The lifting of the order is based on projections that the state says show improving ICU conditions, although officials have not disclosed the data behind the forecasts.

-From The Associated Press, last updated at 11:45 a.m. ET


What’s happening across Canada

WATCH | Where things stand 1 year after Canada’s 1st COVID-19 case:

Infectious disease specialist Dr. Michael Gardam says more aggressive restrictions earlier to stop the spread would have made a ‘huge difference.’ 1:01

Ontario on Monday reported 1,958 new cases of COVID-19, according to a tweet from Health Minister Christine Elliott.  The province also reported 43 additional deaths, bringing the provincial death toll to 5,846.

“Locally, there are 727 new cases in Toronto, 365 in Peel and 157 in York Region,” Elliott said in a tweet.

Hospitalizations in Ontario stood at 1,398, with 397 COVID-19 patients in the province’s intensive care units, according to a provincial dashboard.

The updated figures come after schools in seven public health units in the hard-hit province were set to reopen for in-person classes on Monday. Education Minister Stephen Lecce said that means 100,000 students will be returning to the classroom for the first time since before the winter break.

Ontario is implementing more safety measures in areas where schools are reopening, including requiring students in Grades 1 through 3 to wear masks indoors and when physical distancing isn’t possible outside as well. It’s also introducing “targeted asymptomatic testing” and enhanced screening protocols in those regions.

In Quebec on Monday, health officials reported 1,203 new cases of COVID-19. Hospitalizations stood at 1,321, with 217 people in intensive care, according to the province.

As of 11:20 a.m. ET Monday morning, Canada had reported 750,546 cases of COVID-19, with 62,621 cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 19,180.

The House of Commons is back in session on Monday, albeit with virtual attendance, after a six-week break. The minority federal government’s handling of the national COVID-19 vaccination campaign is expected to dominate the agenda.

Here’s a look at what’s happening across the country:

-From The Canadian Press and CBC News, last updated at 10:55 a.m. ET


What’s happening around the world

As of early Monday morning, more than 99.2 million cases of COVID-19 had been detected worldwide, with more than 54.8 million of those cases considered recovered or resolved, according to a database maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than 2.1 million.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Hong Kong has formally approved use of the Fosun Pharma-BioNTech vaccine, the city government said on Monday, the first COVID-19 vaccine to be accepted in the Asian financial hub.

The first batch of around one million doses is expected to arrive in the second half of February, the government said in a statement. The move comes with Hong Kong lagging other developed cities in rolling out vaccines and after mainland China started its vaccine program in July last year.

Hong Kong has secured a total of 22.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine from Fosun Pharma-BioNTech, China’s Sinovac Biotech and Oxford-AstraZeneca, the city’s leader Carrie Lam said in December.

Government workers wearing personal protective equipment clean a street in the locked-down part of the Jordon district on Sunday in Hong Kong. (Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)

Fosun Pharma is German drug manufacturer BioNTech’s partner in Greater China including in special administrative regions Hong Kong and Macau. Fosun is responsible for cold-chain management, storage and distribution. China’s Sinovac vaccine is likely to arrive in Hong Kong after BioNTech’s vaccine in February, with AstraZeneca’s vaccine due by the middle of the year.

Home to 7.5 million residents, Hong Kong has a separate approval process from the mainland for vaccines. The city has recorded nearly 10,000 coronavirus cases and 166 deaths since January 2020. Cases have spiked over the past week after an outbreak in an old residential building located in a busy commercial and residential area.

In China, a vaccination program for emergency use started in July with products from domestic manufacturers Sinopharm and Sinovac Biotech. The program was widened in December to focus on additional priority groups including employees in the cold-chain industry, transportation sector and fresh food markets.

Bangladesh has taken delivery of five million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine from an Indian producer. Bangladesh has planned to buy 30 million doses of vaccines from the Serum Institute of India in phases. 

Australia has suspended its partial travel bubble with New Zealand after New Zealand reported its first coronavirus case outside of a quarantine facility in two months.

Workers wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) spray disinfectant at the Samut Sakhon Shrimp Center market that was temporarily shut down due to several vendors testing positive for COVID-19. (Jonathan Klein/AFP/Getty Images)

Thailand on Monday discovered a record 914 new cases of the coronavirus, all in Samut Sakhon province near Bangkok where a major outbreak began in December. The new cases shot the national total past 14,000.

The previous high was on Jan. 4, when 745 cases were reported, mostly in Samut Sakhon among migrant workers from Myanmar. The province is a centre for fishing and industry. The first case reported in the recent surge was detected there in mid-December at a major seafood market, which has been closed. Any new cases in other provinces will be announced in Tuesday.

In Europe, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday he was looking at toughening border quarantine rules because of the risk of “vaccine-busting” new coronavirus variants.

Norway will widen the capital region’s lockdown from Monday, increasing the number of affected municipalities to 25, while Sweden said on Sunday it would temporarily stop all foreigners coming in from Norway from midnight.

People, many of them Czechs on their daily commute to their workplace in Germany, wait in line for a rapid COVID test near the Czech-Germany border during the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic on Monday. (Gabriel Kuchta/Getty Images)

German police said hundreds of cars and pedestrians are lining up at border crossings along the Czech-German border after Germany declared the Czech Republic a high risk area in the pandemic, meaning it requires proof of a negative coronavirus test result before entry.

At the crossings in Waldmuenchen and Fuerth im Wald, authorities said hundreds of cars lined up on the Czech side trying to get into Germany in the early morning hours. Further backup was expected during the day Monday.

In the Americas, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said he has tested positive for COVID-19.

In the Middle East, Israel will ban passenger flights in and out of the country from Monday evening for a week.

Oman will extend the close of its land borders for another week until Feb. 1.

President Hassan Rouhani said COVID-19 vaccinations will begin in the coming weeks in Iran, the Middle East’s worst hit country.

In Africa, four Zimbabwean cabinet ministers have died of COVID-19, three within the past two weeks, highlighting a resurgence of the disease that is sweeping through the southern African country.

A nurse at Lancet Clinical Laboratories conducts a PCR COVID-19 test at its drive-thru facility located at St Anne’s Hospital last week in Harare, Zimbabwe. (Tafadzwa Ufumeli/Getty Images)

President Emmerson Mnangagwa said the coronavirus is reaping a “grim harvest” in the country.

“The pandemic has been indiscriminate. There are no spectators, adjudicators, no holier than thou. No supermen or superwomen. We are all exposed,” Mnangagwa said in a nationally televised address.

-From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 10:10 a.m. ET

Have questions about COVID-19 in Canada? We’re answering as many as we can in the comments.

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