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Canada says COVID-19 cases rising again, foreign travel should raise alarm bells

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COVID-19 cases in Canada have started to increase and severity trends could also rise, Ottawa warned on Friday, saying the rapid spread of the Omicron variant abroad should be a “serious alarm bell” for those wanting to travel.

“As we head into the winter months with a strained health system in many areas … a high degree of caution is needed to minimize spread and impact, particularly during the upcoming holiday season,” said chief medical officer Theresa Tam.

Canada has so far recorded 87 COVID-19 cases caused by the Omicron variant, all of them asymptomatic or mild. Most of the initial cases detected were linked to recent international travelers or their close contacts.

Omicron has the potential to spread much faster than the highly transmissible Delta variant, which is responsible for most Canadian cases, Tam said.

“The trend in average daily case counts has shifted from decline to a gradual but steady increase,” she told a briefing. “With daily new cases increasing, there is concern that national severity trends could begin to rise again.”

As of Nov 27, 86.2% of Canadians above the age of 12 had been fully vaccinated.

The Omicron variant has been reported in 57 nations and the number of patients needing hospitalization is likely to rise as it spreads, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday.

Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said this meant Canadians wishing to travel abroad had to be vigilant.

“Things are happening very quickly outside of Canada. So if you think of traveling, that should be a serious alarm bell,” he said, adding that Canadians returning home “should expect delays and hassles.”

Canada is blocking entry to people who have recently been in 10 southern African nations and is requiring everyone arriving by air to take a COVID-19 test. The measure does not apply to flights from the United States.

Ottawa has not yet formally advised Canadians to avoid foreign travel, Duclos said, adding “that could come”.

 

(Reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Bill Berkrot)

Health

Canadian provincial leader wants to pause truckers’ COVID vaccine mandate

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The premier of Canada’s Alberta province on Thursday called on the federal government to pause a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for cross-border truckers that companies say will disrupt the supply chain and fuel inflation.

The mandate, imposed by Ottawa to help curb the spread of the coronavirus, has cost Canadian trucking companies about 10% of their international drivers, six top executives said this week. They said they are hiking wages to lure new operators during the worst labor shortage they have experienced.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, at a news conference in Calgary, urged the government to extend an exemption that had been in place for truckers since the start of the pandemic.

Kenney made his request on the same day the United States confirmed its own vaccine border mandate for truckers would start on Saturday. Canada’s has been in place since Jan. 15.

“Common sense tells us that we are at the peak of supply chain constraints across North America, around the world, huge inflation,” Kenney said.

This is not the moment “to lose potentially thousands of truckers on our roads, bringing groceries up from the US and who knows maybe (COVID) rapid test kits as well,” he said.

As many as 32,000, or 20%, of the 160,000 Canadian and American cross-border truck drivers may be taken off the roads by the mandate, the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) estimates. The industry was short some 18,000 drivers even before the mandate, CTA said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has resisted industry pressure to delay the mandate since it was first announced in November. On Wednesday Trudeau defended the mandate, saying Canada was “aligned” with the United States, its largest trading partner.

On Thursday, Canada’s transport ministry said the measure was not negatively affecting the supply of goods, and cross-border truck traffic had not varied significantly.

Within the next two weeks, consumers will see “there’s not as many choices on the shelves,” said Dan Einwechter, chairman and chief executive officer of Challenger Motor Freight Inc in Cambridge, Ontario.

“Eventually the prices will be passed on from the sellers of those products, because we’re passing on our increases to them,” he said.

Canada’s inflation rate hit a 30-year high of 4.8% in December and economists said the vaccine mandate may contribute to keeping prices higher for longer. In the United States, inflation surged 7% on a year-on-year basis in December, the largest rise in nearly four decades.

More than two-thirds of the C$650 billion ($521 billion) in goods traded annually between Canada and the United States travels on roads.

Rob Penner, president and CEO of Winnipeg, Manitoba-based Bison Transport, said from Jan. 1 it raised the base rate for cross-border drivers by almost 20% but failed to gain any.

“There’s more freight than there is people right now.”

Fresh foods are particularly sensitive to freight problems because they expire rapidly, though all imports from the United States could be affected, trucking managers said.

Canadian firms see labor shortages intensifying and wage pressures increasing, according to a Bank of Canada survey released on Monday. Investors increasingly expect the central bank to raise interest rates next week for the first time since 2018.

($1 = 1.2478 Canadian dollars)

 

(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Additional reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Paul Simao and Grant McCool)

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Ontario to start lifting COVID-related curbs, Quebec more cautious

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Canada’s most populous province of Ontario has blunted transmission of the Omicron coronavirus variant and will gradually ease restrictions on businesses from end-January, Premier Doug Ford said on Thursday.

The health care system is starting to stabilize in the wake of limitations imposed on Jan. 5, Ford told a news conference, saying Omicron cases should peak later this month.

“We can be confident that the worst is behind us and that we are now in a position to cautiously and gradually ease public health measures,” Ford said.

The province will allow restaurants, malls, and cinemas to operate with a 50% capacity limit from Jan. 31, before removing more curbs in February and March.

“While February will continue to present its own challenges, given current trends these are challenges we are confident we can manage,” Ford said.

In neighbouring Quebec, premier Francois Legault said he would maintain restrictions to help protect the health care system even though Omicron cases had peaked.

“I understand we are all tired, but lives are at stake. I’m currently under a lot of pressure to remove measures, but my duty is to be responsible to protect the lives of Quebecers,” he told a news conference.

Ontario and Quebec together account for around 61% of Canada’s population of 38.2 million people.

 

(Reporting by Ismail Shakil in Bengaluru and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Tomasz Janowski and Grant McCool)

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Canadian vaccine mandate to lead to inflation, empty shelves, trucking executives say

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Canadian consumers should soon see higher prices and some empty shelves in supermarkets and other retail outlets because of disruptions stemming from a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for cross-border truckers, top trucking executives warned this week.

The mandate, imposed by Ottawa to help curb the spread of the virus, has cost six Canadian trucking companies about 10% of their international drivers, and many are hiking wages to lure new operators during what they said is the worst labor shortage they have experienced.

Within the next two weeks, consumers will see “there’s not as many choices on the shelves,” said Dan Einwechter, chairman and chief executive officer of Challenger Motor Freight Inc in Cambridge, Ontario.

“Eventually the prices will be passed on from the sellers of those products, because we’re passing on our increases to them,” he said.

Canada’s inflation rate https://www.reuters.com/business/canadas-annual-inflation-rate-hits-48-dec-highest-since-sept-1991-2022-01-19 hit a 30-year high of 4.8% in December and economists said the vaccine mandate may contribute to keeping prices higher for longer. In the United States, inflation surged https://www.reuters.com/world/us/us-consumer-prices-increase-strongly-december-2022-01-12 7% on a year-on-year basis in December, the largest rise in nearly four decades.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has championed vaccine requirements for federal employees, has resisted pressure from industry to delay or drop the mandate that was announced in November.

The vaccine requirement to enter Canada started on Jan. 15, and the one to enter the United States begins on Saturday.

Since more than two-thirds of the C$650 billion ($521 billion) in goods traded annually between Canada and the United States travels on roads, truckers were deemed essential workers until now and traveled freely even when the border was closed for 20 months.

Trudeau defended the mandate on Wednesday, saying Canada was “aligned” with the United States, its largest trading partner.

“We will continue to make sure that we are getting what we need in Canada while, as always, putting the safety and health of Canadians as our top priority,” Trudeau said.

As many as 32,000, or 20%, of the 160,000 Canadian and American cross-border truck drivers may be taken off the roads by the mandate, the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) estimates. The industry was short some 18,000 drivers even before the mandate, CTA said.

“We raised our base rate for cross-border drivers effective Jan. 1 by almost 20% … and it didn’t gain us any drivers,” said Rob Penner, president and CEO of Winnipeg, Manitoba-based Bison Transport. “There’s more freight than there is people right now.”

Canada’s transport ministry said in a statement the measure was not negatively affecting the supply of goods, while cross-border truck traffic had not varied significantly since the mandate came into effect.

BAD TIMING

The six executives who manage nearly 9,200 trucks between their companies and have a combined 173 years in the industry say strong demand for freight during a labor shortage will inevitably translate into higher prices for consumers.

“We’ve been oversold by 5% or 10%, depending on the day, for the last four or five months … The timing of all this couldn’t have been worse,” said Mark Seymour, CEO of Kriska Transportation Group in Prescott, Ontario.

Canadian firms see labor shortages intensifying and wage pressures increasing, according to a Bank of Canada survey https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/firms-see-increasing-labor-shortages-wage-pressures-bank-canada-survey-2022-01-17 released on Monday. Investors increasingly expect https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/even-omicron-slams-canada-bets-january-rate-hike-rise-2022-01-18 the central bank to raise interest rates next week for the first time since 2018.

Fresh foods are particularly sensitive to freight problems because they expire rapidly, though all imports from the United States could be affected, the trucking managers said.

“We have to move the milk, we have to move food. But the rates are going to be much higher,” said Doug Sutherland, president of Sutherland Group Enterprises in Salmo, British Columbia.

“Inflation is going to be the biggest impact of what’s going on here.”

($1 = 1.2478 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Additional reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Paul Simao)

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