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Canada still on track for January 2021 vaccine rollout, despite domestic dose disadvantage: Feds – CTV News

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OTTAWA —
The federal government is still eyeing January 2021 as the start date for when people in Canada will begin to receive COVID-19 vaccines, despite frustration and concerns levelled at the Liberals by the opposition on Wednesday about Canada’s position in the queue to receive doses.

“At the beginning of next year, in January of 2021, assuming those approvals are given… Canadians will be able to start being vaccinated,” Queen’s Privy Council for Canada and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs Dominic LeBlanc said in an interview on CTV’s Power Play.

The approvals he is referencing are Health Canada approvals, which will be required before vaccine doses are doled out.

LeBlanc wouldn’t say what specifically the contracts say in terms of licensing and schedules for delivery, but disputed that Canada is at the back of the line and said that the number of doses coming to Canada will increase over time.

“We will start to receive the first millions of doses early part of 2021… those contracts are in place and that distribution will be made very effectively with provinces and territories,” he said.

In a separate segment on CTV’s Power Play, Conservative health critic Michelle Rempel Garner cast doubt on the timeline, saying there is no publicly available evidence to substantiate the government’s January 2021 target will be attainable.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sought to temper Canadians’ expectations around the timing and rollout of an eventual vaccine or vaccines to immunize against the novel coronavirus, acknowledging that Canada is at a “disadvantage” because Canada “no longer has any domestic production capability” to make our own and is relying on other nations.

While there has been promising news about some vaccine candidates that Canada will receive millions of doses early next year— to be distributed on a priority basis—several other nations are making plans to begin administering vaccines next month.

Among the promising candidates so far are Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca, all of which Canada has begun the domestic approval process for. However, Trudeau said that the countries where these pharmaceutical companies are based, including the United States, will “obviously” prioritize vaccinating their citizens before shipping doses internationally.

This caused a flurry of questions levelled at Trudeau during question period on Wednesday, with the opposition slamming the government’s handling of vaccine procurement.

“Why did this prime minister sign deals that placed Canadians months behind Americans for getting a COVID-19 vaccine?” asked Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole.

“The announcement of vaccines gave people hope, but when the prime minister said we’re not able to produce it in Canada people were afraid… They need to know that there’s a clear plan with dates,” said NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh during question period.

In a press conference, Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet said it was “unacceptable” that vaccines could still be months away from arriving in Canada, saying the federal government should have moved sooner to secure manufacturing rights and to ramp up production capacity at home.

Trudeau sought to defend his government’s handling, noting that it was under the previous Conservative administrations that Canada’s domestic capacity dwindled away.

Canada has begun funding domestic vaccine production capacity but Trudeau has said it will take “years” to get in place and likely won’t help Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine situation, but will be in place should there be future pandemics.

On Wednesday, LeBlanc suggested that should there be a second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine required, or subsequent booster shots in years to come, the domestic ability to produce the vaccines could be ready.

Canada does produce some vaccines, but not the kind so far looking promising for COVID-19. Pharmaceutical companies Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline make protein-based vaccines, but the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, for example, are mRNA vaccines, which use messenger ribonucleic acid to produce an immune response.

“One is like making wine, one’s like making Coke,” Andrew Casey, the CEO of BioteCanada, told The Canadian Press Wednesday. “Yes, they both grow in bottles. Yes, you can drink both out of a glass. But the manufacturing processes used for the two is so completely different. You can’t just say well, we’ll shut down the protein one, and we’ll switch over to the mRNA.”

On Friday the Public Health Agency of Canada confirmed to MPs that the country is on track to receive an initial six million doses by March, four million from Pfizer and two million from Moderna.

In total, Canada has signed deals with seven vaccine manufactures, securing more vaccines per capita than other countries. The deals include an agreement with Canadian-based Medicago, whose vaccine candidate remains the farthest away from approval of those Canada has contracts with.

With files from The Canadian Press

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Canada deporting thousands even as pandemic rages

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By Anna Mehler Paperny

TORONTO (Reuters) – Canada deported thousands of people even as COVID-19 raged last year, data seen by Reuters shows, and lawyers say deportations are ramping up, putting people needlessly at risk in the midst of a global health emergency.

Like many other countries, Canada is struggling to stop a second wave from spiraling out of control, and its political leaders are begging residents to stay home to prevent the spread.

Lawyers and human rights advocates are decrying Canada‘s November decision to resume deportations. Until now, the extent of the country’s pandemic deportations was not known, but recent interviews with immigration lawyers and scrutiny of government numbers has shed light on the situation.

Canada counted 12,122 people as removed in 2020 – 875 more than the previous year and the highest number since at least 2015, according to Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) data seen by Reuters. The government says this was necessary and done safely.

The CBSA says the high number last year is because it includes people who decided to leave on their own, termed “administrative removals.” In 2019 there were 1,657 administrative removals, compared with 8,215 last year.

Even subtracting those numbers, that leaves thousands of people deported as the pandemic raged and governments cautioned against travel of any kind for safety reasons.

Even as Canada continues to deport non-citizens during a health crisis, U.S. President Joe Biden paused deportations for 100 days within hours of being sworn in on Wednesday.

Canada officially imposed a moratorium on deportations in March that it lifted at the end of November.

“As much as a human rights concern it’s a common sense concern,” said Bill Frelick, director of Human Rights Watch’s Refugee Rights Program.

Countries’ deportation practices have varied over the course of the pandemic. Several, including the United Kingdom, suspended deportations before resuming them. Others, like Ireland, have kept suspensions in place.

The CBSA said it has been prioritizing deportations for reasons of “serious admissibility,” including criminality.

The vast majority of people deported in 2020 were for reasons of “noncompliance.” Even taking into account administrative removals, more than 1,000 people were deported during the suspension, the data shows.

 

‘IT’S UNBELIEVABLE’

Public health experts have warned that travel of any kind can spread COVID-19 from one place to another, a risk that grows with the advent of more highly transmissible COVID variants.

Many of the deportation trips involve transfers at multiple airports and flights during which people are placed in enclosed space in close quarters with other people for hours at a time, a situation ripe for transmission.

Since August Canada has been conducting deportations with CBSA escorts, so Canadians are also making thousands of these round-trip flights for deportation purposes.

Organizations including the Canadian Bar Association and the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers spoke out against Canada‘s decision to resume deportations.

“As everybody is putting in place more restrictions in an effort to flatten the curve … CBSA made a shocking decision to simply go back to business as usual,” said Maureen Silcoff, president of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers.

Canada has taken the position that nonessential travel is barred yet people are now being removed and there’s no indication that those removals are essential.”

The CBSA said in a statement it lifted the moratorium on deportations because foreign government offices and borders had reopened, airlines restarted their routes and public-health protocols “have contributed to a high degree of safety for persons being removed by air.”

Canada continues to uphold both its human rights and public safety obligations in relation to the removal of inadmissible foreign nationals,” the statement said. “The removal process includes many checks and balances to ensure that the removal is conducted in a fair and just manner.”

But these deportations are endangering not only the people being deported but the government officers tasked with accompanying them to their destination, lawyers say.

Immigration lawyer Lorne Waldman’s Toronto office went from getting no removal cases to getting three or four in the space of a week, he said. He is now fighting for a failed refugee claimant with two young Canadian children who faces deportation to Egypt Monday.

“They’re ramping it up as if there was no pandemic,” he said. “It’s unbelievable.”

 

 

(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny in Toronto; Editing by Denny Thomas and Matthew Lewis)

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Canada’s Trudeau presses Pfizer CEO on vaccine shortage, hints at travel crackdown

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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Friday that Pfizer had reassured him it would meet Canada‘s vaccine order in full by end-March as, with a second COVID wave spreading across the country, he hinted at a clampdown on citizens leaving home.

Pfizer, which is retooling a European manufacturing plant, told Canada on Tuesday it would receive no vaccine next week, promising more pain for provinces already complaining about a shortage of supplies.

Pfizer also said it would cut supplies to the European Union.

Trudeau, under pressure from political opponents to do more to address the shortage, said that, though the coming weeks would be challenging, the company’s Chief Executive Albert Bourla had reassured him it would supply 4 million vaccine doses as scheduled by March 31.

Expressing irritation that Canadians were still taking vacations despite the worsening second wave, Trudeau also indicated Ottawa would bring in measures designed to make it harder and more expensive to travel.

He spoke on Thursday to the premiers of the 10 provinces, some of whom want Ottawa to clamp down on non-essential travel. He reiterated that people should stay home.

“We could be bringing in new measures that significantly impede your ability to return to Canada at any given moment, without warning,” said Trudeau, promising more details in coming days.

Canada, which has so far reported 18,622 coronavirus deaths from a total of 731,450 cases, already requires all arrivals by air to go into self-administered quarantine for 14 days.

Trudeau said one option was to force people to spend the time in hotel rooms they would have to pay for.

 

 

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by John Stonestreet)

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New cases of COVID-19 dropping in Canada as experts say lockdowns are working – CTV News

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TORONTO —
New cases of COVID-19 have steadily dropped over the last 12 days, a downward trend that experts say offers reason for hope even as the second wave pushes hospitals dangerously close to capacity.

Tracking by CTVNews.ca shows the country’s seven-day average has consistently fallen since Jan. 10, from 8,260 cases to 5,957 cases by Jan. 22.

Twelve days may seem brief, but infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch said the trajectory is a clear trend in the right direction.

“It looks like we have at least started to turn the corner, but we have a long road ahead,” Bogoch told CTVNews.ca on Friday.

The downward trend is particularly good news because respiratory viruses typically flourish during the winter, said infectious disease specialist Dr. Zain Chagla.

“Clearly it’s not just a few days’ numbers. There is a significant decrease, which is great,” Chagla said.

It may be tempting to point to vaccines as a potential reason for the drop, particularly as countries such as Israel have seen cases plummet amid their own aggressive vaccination plan. But both doctors rejected the idea that vaccines are responsible, since only two per cent of Canada’s population has received vaccines. In Israel, more than a quarter of the country has been vaccinated.

“(Canada’s vaccines) have been rolled out primarily to long-term care and health-care workers. That enough is not enough to drive down the case counts,” Chagla said.

Instead, both Chagla and Bogoch point to stricter public health measures in Quebec and Ontario, where lockdowns have shuttered non-essential businesses and social gatherings have been banned for weeks.

“So really it does come to the lockdowns,” Chagla said.

The downward trend comes at a time when some experts had predicted the country would still be experiencing the worst of a post-holiday surge in cases. While that’s not happening right now, Bogoch pointed out that Canada still experienced a sharp rise in cases following the holidays, with Canada’s seven-day average hitting its peak on Jan. 8 with 8,310 cases.

“It was pretty bad. I honestly think if we didn’t have those measures to blunt it, it would’ve been significantly worse,” he said.

Even as new cases fall, Canadian hospitals continue to struggle to keep up with hospitalizations, according to David Fisman, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Toronto.

“Unfortunately critical illness lags, so we still have ICU admissions at high levels that reflect the holiday surge,” he said.

Canada’s case count may hold promising news, including the possibility of providing more breathing room for hospitals, but Bogoch said it’s far too soon to pat ourselves on the back.

“I still think we’ve got to be careful here. While the trend is going down, we can’t let out guard down,” Bogoch said.

“We cannot plateau. We have to continue that downward trend.”​

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