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Canada is shifting to 'living with the virus' — for better or worse – CBC News

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Canada’s pandemic response is rapidly shifting toward “learning to live with the virus” — where COVID-19 is eventually treated like other seasonal illnesses, surveillance is massively scaled back and public health measures are widely lifted.

But as some provinces move closer to easing restrictions after facing the deadliest month of the pandemic since COVID-19 vaccines became widely available, there appears to be a dramatic divide on what living with the virus actually means — and how it will work.

​​Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said Friday Canada needs to find a more “sustainable” way to deal with the pandemic and all existing public health policies, including provincial vaccine passports, need to be “re-examined” in the coming weeks. 

“What we need to do going forward, as we emerge out of this Omicron wave, is recognize this virus is not going to disappear,” she said. “We do need to get back to some normalcy.” 

But even with record-high hospitalizations and ICU admissions that are only now beginning to show signs of declining nationally, public health officials and politicians across the country have already embraced this new pandemic strategy as they gear up to lift restrictions.

A nurse attends to a patient in the intensive care unit of Humber River Hospital, in Toronto, on Jan. 25. Record-high hospitalizations and ICU admissions are only now beginning to show signs of declining nationally. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Saskatchewan set to lift all restrictions 

Saskatchewan pivoted to living with the virus on Thursday by announcing further limits to PCR testing, ending the sharing of daily COVID-19 data and stopping the investigation of most outbreaks outside of hospitals and long-term care.

The shift came after Premier Scott Moe released a letter last Saturday lending support to protesters in Ottawa demanding an end to all vaccine mandates or a change in government, while also inaccurately claiming “vaccination is not reducing transmission.”

But while two-dose effectiveness has been significantly reduced against Omicron, there is growing evidence that boosters still hold up well against infection, severe illness and death.

Moe’s comments are a huge shift in messaging from what he said just a few months ago, when the premier openly criticized the unvaccinated and imposed mandatory masking and proof of vaccination policies during a devastating fourth wave. 

“As a government, we have been patient with those who have chosen to remain unvaccinated,” he said on Sept. 16. “But the time for patience is over.” 

Fast forward to today, and while Saskatchewan has left current restrictions like mask mandates and vaccine certificates in place for now, Moe has hinted they won’t last long — and he’s not alone.

“For better or for worse, this is what’s going to happen across the whole country,” said Dr. Alexander Wong, an infectious diseases physician at Regina General Hospital and associate professor at the University of Saskatchewan. 

“The question is, why are we in such a rush to do all of this? It’s clearly political.”

WATCH | Saskatchewan premier says COVID-19 restrictions ‘ending very soon’:

Sask. premier says COVID-19 restrictions ‘ending very soon’

2 days ago

Duration 2:01

Sask. Premier Scott Moe says all provincial COVID-19 restrictions, including proof-of-vaccination and mask mandates, will be “ending very soon,” but health experts say it’s too early to drop such precautions. 2:01

Alberta ready to reopen when hospitalizations drop

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said he also hopes to lift all COVID-19 public health restrictions by the end of February if hospitalizations decline, but the situation is still showing no sign of slowing down as the province continues to routinely report double digit daily deaths

“On our COVID ward right now, our hospital is full to the rafters,” said Dr. Lynora Saxinger, an infectious diseases physician and associate professor at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. 

“And I think at this point talking about, ‘Well we’re just going to go back to normal,’ it doesn’t feel normal yet and I think we do need a bit more of a cushion.” 

Saxinger said there is a “necessary transition” that will occur with the pandemic where Canada will move away from COVID-19 case counting, containing outbreaks and trying to find each case — but whether that should happen right now is still unclear. 

“There comes a point, especially with Omicron which is so pervasive right now, where that’s not really even feasible. It’s like trying to isolate a tree in a burning forest — it doesn’t necessarily make sense anymore,” she said. 

“Does this mean we have to accept the burning forest though?” 

WATCH | COVID-19 not going away: Alberta’s top doctor:

COVID-19 will not go away, says Alberta’s top doc

2 days ago

Duration 2:07

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, says the province will at some point need to move away from a COVID-19 pandemic response into an endemic phase. 2:07

Saxinger said if Canada is planning on moving to a state where a background level of COVID-19 is expected without doing anything extreme to contain it, there has to be clear benchmarks for what level is acceptable and whether we will need to alter course. 

“I really regret when people don’t acknowledge that we might have to change our plan,” she said. “To me right now, the discussion of learning to live with it seems early.”

Ontario ‘confident’ that ‘worst is behind us’

Ontario began easing public health restrictions at the end of January, with a plan to lift most remaining measures by mid-March, as the rate of COVID-19 hospitalizations remained on a downward trend despite the daily death toll continuing to rise

“We’re taking a cautious approach,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Jan. 20, before adding he was “confident” the reopening plan would work and that “the worst is behind us.”

But Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore said Thursday while there is a general improvement in the COVID-19 situation, the coming weeks “will continue to be difficult” for the province’s hospital system.

WATCH | Ontario’s top doctor says ‘we’ve let our lives be controlled’ by COVID-19:

‘We’ve let our lives be controlled’ says Ontario’s top doctor amid surge of Omicron cases

9 days ago

Duration 0:19

Dr. Kieran Moore said Thursday that Canadians have lived with a significant amount of fear about COVID-19 but that thinking is going to have to change. 0:19

“We’re not out of the woods yet. We still have to be cautious,” he said. “But we’ve learned significantly from the last two years and I believe we’re in a much better position to learn to live with this virus and to be less fearful of it.” 

Moore said Ontario would be “monitoring the situation internationally,” while other officials have also pointed to countries like Denmark and the U.K., which have recently lifted nearly all COVID-19 restrictions, as examples to watch closely for reopening. 

“It’s important to kind of keep an eye on people who are a little bit farther ahead than us as we’re making plans,” Saxinger said. “Because you don’t want to have to relearn the lesson that’s being learned elsewhere already.” 

A nurse gowns up before attending to a patient in the intensive care unit of Humber River Hospital, in Toronto, on Jan. 25, 2022. Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health said while there is a general improvement in the COVID-19 situation, the coming weeks “will continue to be difficult” for the hospital system. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

But directly comparing Canada to countries with completely different demographics does not provide firm conclusions on what lies ahead here — especially when our vaccination rates are significantly lower. 

More than 60 per cent of Denmark’s population have had third doses, as well as more than 65 per cent of those eligible in the U.K., compared to just over 40 per cent of Canadians. 

“That’s the difference between your hospitalizations not crushing you,” Wong said. 

Too early to ‘declare victory’ 

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu warned Tuesday against the trend gaining traction worldwide to ease restrictions due to public pressure and pandemic fatigue, and cautioned that Omicron should not be underestimated. 

“We are concerned that a narrative has taken hold in some countries that because of vaccines — and because of Omicron’s high transmissibility and lower severity — preventing transmission is no longer possible and no longer necessary,” he said at a press conference.

“Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s premature for any country either to surrender or to declare victory. This virus is dangerous and it continues to evolve before our very eyes.”

Timothy Caulfield, Canada Research Chair in health law and policy at the University of Alberta, said learning to live with the virus shouldn’t mean immediately lifting all public health measures going forward, adding we need to “bring the public along with us” and continue to watch the virus closely in the population. 

“It doesn’t mean we’re going to go back to the state of normalcy and COVID is just going to be background noise in our lives,” he said. “It means that we’re constantly going to have to be vigilant.”

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G7 leaders hear from Ukrainian President, Russia-allied India at summit

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SCHLOSS ELMAU, GERMANY — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed G7 leaders virtually at their summit in Germany on Monday as they discussed the threat to global stability posed by Russia’s invasion of his country.

The leaders met in a bright and beautiful meeting room in Schloss Elmau, Germany, a veritable mountaintop castle surrounded by blooming meadows and stunning vistas.

Zelenskyy appeared on a small monitor looking down on the group, stone-faced, in front of a grey background.

The conflict has been a running theme through Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s meetings with world leaders in Germany, as well as last week at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Rwanda.

Trudeau spoke to Zelenskyy on the first day of the G7 summit to inquire what he needs from the leaders. According to Zelenskyy’s Twitter account, the two spoke about increasing defence support for the embattled country.

The heads of the world’s most developed economies dedicatedtheir first session of the day to discussing the war and listening to Zelenskyy’s pleas for more aid.

Before the meeting, Trudeau and summit host Chancellor Olaf Scholz spoke during a walk from the manor building, or schloss in German, down to one of the meadows, nestled between the building and the mountain view.

“We are … cautious that we will help the Ukraine as much as is possible, but that we also avoid that there will be a big conflict between Russia and NATO,” Scholz told the media during a photo op with Trudeau.

The night before in Ukraine’s capital city Kyiv, weeks of general calm were shattered by Russian missile strikes. The missiles hit a kindergarten and a residential building, killing one man and injuring a woman and child, the city’s mayor said.

While G7 leaders have been united in their condemnation of Russia, they are also expected to meet with Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, who has been invited to the summit but who also tightened economic and diplomatic ties with Russia in recent months.

Trudeau will meet with Modi one-on-one in a private meeting as well.

On Sunday, the United Kingdom announced new sanctions against Russia which would ban the import of Russian gold, the country’s biggest non-energy export.

The U.K. government says the same will apply to Canada, the United States and Japan, which, as a combined effort, would shut Russia out of formal markets. The idea is to “ratchet up pressure on Russia’s war machine,” squeezing the country out of funds to finance the conflict.

Russia was poised to default on its foreign debt for the first time since the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution on Sunday, further alienating the country from the global financial system.

Russia calls any default artificial because it has the money to pay its debts but says sanctions have frozen its foreign currency reserves held abroad.

— With files from The Associated Press

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 27, 2022.

 

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press

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How Canada handled COVID-19 compared to other countries – CTV News

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Canada handled key aspects of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic better in the first two years of the health emergency than most G10 countries, according to a new study.

Researchers from the University of Toronto and Unity Health Toronto compared COVID-19 infection, death, excess mortality and vaccination rates, social and public health restrictions and economic performance to determine how the G10 countries performed.

The countries — including Canada, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States — were chosen due to similarities in their economic and political models, per-capita income levels and population size.

Dr. Fahad Razak, who co-authored the study, also serves as scientific director of the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table.

“The pandemic had an enormous impact on all countries… and if we look at countries that are very similar to our own, we see that there were enormous challenges across the board,” Razak told CTVNews.ca.

“Given all of that, the burden of the pandemic we experienced in Canada was probably lower than many other countries, and it was probably related to the engagement we had with things like vaccination and the restrictions that were experienced here.”

While Canada was one of the slowest to introduce COVID-19 vaccines, it had the highest proportion of fully vaccinated people as of February, 2022.

Canada’s per-capita rate of COVID-19 cases per million — 82,700 — was the second lowest of all the countries included in the study, after Japan.

Canada’s rate of COVID-19 deaths was also second-lowest among countries included in the study, at 919 deaths per one million, as was its excess mortality rate, which incorporates the number of deaths during a period of crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic compared to the expected number of deaths in nominal conditions. Only Japan’s COVID-19 death and excess mortality rates were lower, despite the country’s lower vaccination rates, less severe restrictions and older population.

ALTERNATE OUTCOMES

The study determined that if France’s rate of infection had occurred in Canada in the first two years of the pandemic, Canada would have seen about 8.75 million more infections. If America’s vaccination and COVID-19-related death rates had occurred in Canada, about 5.9 million fewer Canadians would have been vaccinated and about 68,800 more would have died from COVID-19.

“That number means that most of us probably would have a friend or a family member… who would have died in Canada in the last two years… and who’s alive today,” Razak said.

Canada’s public health restrictions were the most stringent after Italy’s, and it had the most weeks of school closures after the U.S. Canada’s economy experienced trends similar to to other countries in inflation and public debt, but Canadian GDP growth was weaker.

While it might be tempting to assume Canada’s weak GDP growth was the result of public health restrictions including retail closures and restrictions on public gatherings, Razak cautioned that GDP is affected by a complicated range of factors across many different sectors.

What’s important right now, Razak said, is that people understand the impact of their actions — including following public health guidelines and getting vaccinated — on Canada’s infection and death rates. Even a reduction in the number of non-fatal SARS-CoV-2 infections means a lower percentage of the population will suffer from the effects of long-term COVID-19 symptoms. While scientists are still learning about the condition, many COVID long-haulers have reported difficulty working and caring for their families.

“We achieved this over the last two years with real costs; with costs to individual freedom and restrictions on societal functions and potentially some economic costs as well,” Razak said. “Was it worth it? That’s the question people need to ask themselves.”

What people decide when considering this question could have implications for the way they handle potential future restrictions, should cases surge again in the fall. Canadians have already shown signs of growing fatigue around COVID-19 restrictions and vaccination recommendations. For example, while approximately 81.7 per cent of Canada’s total population is fully vaccinated, only 48.6 per cent of Canadians have received a booster dose as of May 22.

“That is a really important signal of the fact that the public’s engagement with the steps for pandemic control is starting to erode,” Razak said. “And there’s an important need for policy makers to re-engage the public and emphasize how well we’ve done, but also use that as a launching point to say, ‘Here are the next challenges.'”

____

What questions do you have about travel rules amid COVID-19?

CTVNews.ca wants to hear from Canadians with any questions.

Tell us what you’d like to know when it comes to rules around entering or leaving Canada.

To submit your question, email us at dotcom@bellmedia.ca with your name, location and question. Your comments may be used in a CTVNews.ca story.

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US Ambassador to Canada on cross-border issues – CTV News

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David Cohen has been the United States’ Ambassador to Canada since November 2021, and in the time since, both Canada and the United States have experienced a series of shared challenges.

Cohen, in an interview at his official residence in Ottawa, opens up about the state of the relationship.

He touches on how inflation, central banks, potential gas tax breaks and the “Freedom Convoy” protests have affected cross-border relations. He also delves into what impact U.S. abortion rights rulings and gun control crackdowns may have, and when cross-border travel rules could further ease.

This transcript of Cohen’s interview with Evan Solomon for Sunday’s episode of CTV’s Question Period has been edited for length and clarity.

———————————————————

Evan Solomon: We are in a time, both in the U.S. and in Canada, with inflation at 40 year highs, 7.7 per cent here. It’s affecting Americans at the pump, and the grocery store… Everyone says it’s about supply chains. What is the U.S. and Canada doing together explicitly to help people fight inflation?

Ambassador Cohen: “So, you know, inflation is clearly the dominant economic issue of the day in both the United States and in Canada. It is scary because remember, inflation is a product of macroeconomic forces… The economy, the macro economy is larger than any government any official, and it’s just not something that you can wave a magic wand and make inflation go away. It’s a huge macroeconomic force.

“That said there are a bundle of tactics and strategies that government writ large can and should execute in inflationary times. And the first of all of those is a central banking function. I’m not an elected official, so I’m allowed to say this: It is true that the major responsibility for managing macroeconomic forces in the economy like inflation, is a central bank function. It’s not a presidential or prime minister function.”

Solomon: A lot of people say the central banks both in your country and in Canada blew it, because they didn’t ease back quick enough.

Ambassador Cohen: “I agree with you that it’s become politicized. But I don’t think some of that criticism is political. I think the criticism is by other serious economists who look at this issue and say, the central bank should have done something differently. Then you’ve got elected officials taking that comment and politicizing it. So those are, I think those are two different stages of the same of the same particular issue…

“We’re a victim of something that’s awfully good, which is as the pandemic eases, people are returning to their leisure and their vacation plans with a vengeance, and it’s the summer season. It’s the season where that happens. And so demand for gasoline is spiking to all time highs at a time when supplies are are not as robust as they have been at some times in history. And that is causing an increase in gas prices, which is a significant contributor to the overall increase in cost of living and to overall inflationary trends.”

Solomon: Was it a mistake for Joe Biden to cancel Keystone given where the world is now, which would have helped in this situation?

Ambassador Cohen: “I hope this isn’t headline news. After all, I’m Joe Biden’s friend and his representative in Canada. But Joe Biden absolutely did not make a mistake in canceling the Keystone pipeline. We don’t have enough time to run through every argument there. But we’re talking about inflation, which is fair, as Joe Biden has said it is the number one issue the United States faces. But it’s not the only issue. And energy is not the only issue that Canada or the United States faces. You could argue that climate change is the existential issue of our generation. And then unless we get a hold of climate change and get a hold of the impacts of climate change quickly, we’re going to cause irreversible damage to our environment.

“And by the way, that is something that has a tremendous Canadian implication, because of the adverse impact on the Arctic, from runaway climate change. And if you are Joe Biden and you’re the president of the United States, and frankly, if you’re the prime minister of Canada, you have to juggle not just inflation—no matter how important the issue is— not just prices of gasoline at the gas pump. But, you have to focus on the whole range of issues that confront your country.”

Solomon: Canada has just announced it’s going to invest in the next six years $4.9 billion to upgrade the NORAD system, the radar defense system that is out of date… Has your country asked Canada when that system will be updated? And what is your view about how vulnerable we are now?

Ambassador Cohen: “I’m not bashful about expressing opinions, but I hope I don’t get out of my lane and express opinions about things that I really don’t fully understand or know. So the question you ask, which is how vulnerable are we today, is a fundamental defense professional question… I just don’t know enough to answer that question intelligently. I do think and the line that I have used is that whether its post-February 24, when Russia invaded Ukraine, or even before that time… Those issues are particularly relevant and important in the Arctic, and we need a 21st century defense response with 21st century funding to be able to put us in a position to defend ourselves adequately…

“I have been asked a lot of times about Canada’s commitment to NORAD and what the United States was looking for. And my answer was, we’re, you know, Canada and the United States are partners in this binational command, the only binational defence command in the world, and our expectation our hope if you will, for NORAD and for Canada, is that they be a good partner.”

Solomon: On Friday… The [U.S.] Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. This is not a surprise… What is the significance for women and globally that that Roe v. Wade and access to abortion rights are no longer constitutionally protected in your country?

Ambassador Cohen: “So as you say, this is not a surprise, but that doesn’t mean that it is not a major disappointment. You know, the significance of Roe vs. Wade is that for 50 years, these rights were deemed to be constitutionally protected. I think it is a tremendous blow for what is a very important constitutional right for women in the United States. I think it is a tremendous blow for gender equity in the overall equality democratic sense. It is a major disappointment. President Biden has said that in the event this decision came down, it would be a real blow to women’s rights and to and to the treatment of women in the United States of America.

“This now becomes a matter of individual states to determine the rules that will apply to abortion. So in a sense, the battlefield has shifted to a different governmental level in the United States. The reason I want to be careful is because you’ve got such a large number of states under conservative— usually Republican—control where I think abortion rights will be will likely be restricted…

“So this is not a good day for women, for the treatment of women. It is not a good day for our respect for women, and for their right to choose what happens with their own bodies. And so I can’t sugar coat that except just to say that we do need to shift the battlefield now and we need to try and preserve as much of a women’s right to choose in as many states as possible.”

Solomon: We are in a debate here, intensely, about the necessity of the Emergencies Act. Was the U.S. government pressuring Canada to resolve this because of the economic consequences on cross-border trade?

Ambassador Cohen: “I don’t want to get into the internal Canadian debate on the propriety of the invocation of the Emergencies Act, but I have no problem saying that the threat to trade and commerce between the United States and Canada as a result of the blockades at points of entry—particularly in Windsor at the Ambassador Bridge, which is where the largest single implication was—we’re talking about a few hundred million dollars a day of blocked trade.

“And remember, this was having implications on real people. There were automobile plants in Canada and the United States where shifts were being cut back, people were losing income as a result of this, there was a real threat to the integrated automobile supply chain. There was a legitimate threat to the trade and commerce of both Canada and the United States.

“So the way you ask the question gives me a chance to make a very important point, because it’s not the United States’ place to pressure Canada into doing anything. Canada is its own sovereign country. We are friends, we are allies…That does not give us the right to tell Canada you need to do this. It does give us the right to have a serious discussion with our friend about the implications of this embargo on our mutual trade, on both sides of the border. And so there was a high level of concern. There were repetitive, high-level conversations with Chrystia Freeland, with multiple ministers in the Canadian government, with members of the cabinet. I was personally involved in many of those discussions, the White House got involved. So it was a matter of serious concern, but nobody in the United States to the best of my knowledge ever said to Canada, ‘you must resolve this problem,’ … It was very serious. It should have been taken seriously, and it was taken seriously.”

Solomon: I spoke with Congressman Higgins from New York, I’ve spoken to Canadian mayors, they want the ArriveCAN app dropped because it’s hurting trade. Should Canada drop the ArriveCAN app? Is it hurting trade now, and tourism?

Ambassador Cohen: “I don’t know enough about that. I say as a person now who has traveled multiple times between the United States and Canada, I have not experienced the problems with the ArriveCAN app that I read about in the newspapers. But, this is in the category of Canada being a sovereign nation. They need to make their own basic decisions about this. I do think when you look at a trend line of decisions that the U.S. and Canada have been making, we’re certainly moving toward fewer restrictions on border travel, and lowering barriers to the ability of people to move between our countries. And I think ArriveCAN will get caught up in that trend, and is a part of that ongoing conversation.”

Solomon: The tragedy in Uvalde, Texas was just one of the latest. Horrific… The debate in Canada is that the gun problem is coming from the United States. It’s illegal guns coming over the border from the U. S. What is the U.S. doing to help Canada stop the flow of illegal guns from your country into this country?

Ambassador Cohen: “I don’t want to be provocative, but I don’t know that there’s enough evidence that the gun violence problem that is experienced in Canada, is due either solely or maybe even primarily to illegal guns in the United States coming over to Canada. Because, the fact of the matter is that there’s not very good data on that question. It’s become sort of accepted conventional wisdom, but not based on data.

“But, the answer to the question is that the US and Canada have to cooperate on cutting down on illegal guns coming into Canada, if they are… We’ve had multiple collaborations and discussions about gun tracing, and how we trace and how we can help Canada do its gun tracing because Canada just doesn’t have the capacity… The United States has offered to help with that. And so it’s part of a high-level collaboration around gun violence, all designed to crack down on the importation of illegal handguns, whether it’s from the United States or elsewhere, coming into Canada.”

Solomon: The January 6 hearings. We’ve been watching those… Here in Canada, there’s more concerns of another convoy coming around Canada Day. Is there a threat to democracies from a rising populism? Or is this kind of an event that will pass, or is it a deeper concern?

Ambassador Cohen: “So I think that I think that question is an incredibly important question… I do think in the United States and Canada, in all of the world’s democracies, there is a disturbing growth of extremism, populist movements, usually coming from the hard right…

“It is a real threat and a real trend. I think a lot of it is based on misinformation, and is fueled by disinformation on social media. I think as a result, it is an extremely complicated question… I firmly believe that democracy will prevail, it will survive and that ultimately democracy will beat back autocracy. And one of the reasons I feel that way, is because one of the strengths of democracy is the discussion we’re having.”

Solomon: Last question. You’re a democracy optimist. Russia is attacking a democracy. There’s going be a NATO meeting, Canada has not hit its two per cent [of GDP spending on defence]. In the U.S.’ view, how long does this fight go on for? Just give me your sense, are we in a long-term potential war with Russia?

Ambassador Cohen: “I don’t think we’re in a war with Russia, now. Frankly, I don’t know that there’s going to be a quick resolution to the war in Ukraine. So we have to be in this for the long haul is the bottom line, and we have to recognize that autocracies like Russia, and like China by the way, are deserving of our attention. We have to be prepared to take those countries on and to continue to fight for our democratic ideals. And, and not to sound hokey, but to fight for liberty and justice for all.”

Solomon: Thanks, Ambassador.

Ambassador Cohen: Thank you again. Thanks for coming.

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