Canadians crossing into the United States for fuel and other essential supplies will be exempt from having to show a negative COVID-19 test result on their return, as Ottawa seeks to help flood-hit residents in British Columbia, a federal official said on Sunday.
While the flood situation in Canada’s westernmost province remains serious, there have been some improvements as water levels drop and roads and highways reopen, Bill Blair, minister of emergency preparedness, told a media conference. But more potentially damaging weather is forecast for the province this week.
Blair said the exemption would allow people living in a border community who travel to the United States for essential goods to return without the requirement of a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test.
British Columbia declared a state of emergency after a phenomenon known as an “atmospheric river” brought a month’s worth of rain in two days, paralyzing parts of the province, leading to food and fuel shortages.
The flooding has killed at least four people and could become one of Canada’s worst natural disasters.
The province has imposed an 8-gallon (30-litre) limit for fuel purchases for non-essential vehicles.
More rain, wind and snow are forecast for the province’s North Coast regional district, which includes Haida Gwaii, an archipelago off the northern Pacific coast, through Monday, potentially causing flooding and landslides.
Last week’s flooding washed out roads and railways, cutting off Vancouver, Canada’s third-biggest city, and the lower mainland region from the rest of the country, and blocking access to some towns entirely.
Canadian Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said he is optimistic that the rail corridor will be reopened by midweek, based on feedback from rail operators.
Some 500 Canadian troops will be in the province by Sunday night to help with rescue efforts.
(Reporting by Denny Thomas; Editing by Peter Cooney)
Canada updates travel rules for Canadians flying in from South Africa – Canada Immigration News
Canada has temporarily tweaked its travel rules to allow Canadians to return home from South Africa without having to do a COVID-19 test in a third country.
Canadian citizens and permanent residents will be able to get a pre-departure test in South Africa, provided they meet all of the following eligibility requirements on the government website:
- Get a pre-departure negative COVID-19 molecular test from an accredited laboratory in South Africa no more than 48 hours before the scheduled departure, or a positive test result from between 14 and 180 days before departure.
- Fly from Johannesburg or Cape Town to Frankfurt, Germany on a Lufthansa flight that departs on or before December 13, 2021.
- Transit through Frankfurt airport to travel on a direct Lufthansa or Air Canada flight to Canada.
The Canadian government made the amendment on Saturday evening, after Canadians spoke out against the new travel rules. Many said the requirement to get tested in a third country prevented them from returning home.
Canada implemented the rules following the emergence of the Omicron variant. So far, travellers from 10 countries are restricted from coming to Canada:
- South Africa; and
On Friday, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra tweeted four flow charts that offer visual guidance on the new travel measures.
Protecting the health and safety of Canadians is our priority. We have measures to prevent the importation of COVID-19, including Omicron. In addition to the test to be taken 72 hours before coming to Canada, here are the different scenarios after arriving at the border: pic.twitter.com/ItAQhghPby
— Omar Alghabra (@OmarAlghabra) December 4, 2021
Regardless of vaccination status, if you are a Canadian coming home from one of the 10 prohibited countries, you have to go into isolation after you arrive. You also have to do COVID-19 tests upon arriving to the airport, and on day 8 of your quarantine.
Vaccinated travellers from all countries other than the U.S. will need to do an on-arrival test and quarantine until they receive a negative result. If the result is positive, they must remain in isolation for 10 days.
Unvaccinated travellers from all countries other than the U.S. who are allowed to come to Canada, will need to quarantine at home for 14 days.
© CIC News All Rights Reserved. Visit CanadaVisa.com to discover your Canadian immigration options.
Federal government says Canada border testing contracts worth up to $631 million – CTV News
When Halifax-based blogger and social media influencer Kayla Short pulled up to a Canada-U.S. land border last month, she was prepared.
She had all her receipts from her one-week trip to Boston along with her travel documents, proof of vaccination and a negative COVID-19 test from the day before ready to show Canadian officials at the Calais, Maine, crossing.
What Short wasn’t prepared for was to be selected for a mandatory COVID-19 arrival test — less than 24 hours after completing her last test.
The federal government has awarded three companies with contracts worth up to $631 million for COVID-19 border testing and other screening services as concerns about the Omicron variant deepen ahead of the busy holiday travel period.
Public Services and Procurement Canada said Switch Health, LifeLabs and Dynacare are carrying out testing of international travellers entering Canada at airports and land border crossings.
The random arrival testing program is part of broader COVID-19 screening and testing being rolled out by the three companies.
While air travellers selected for additional screening are usually directed to an on-site clinic for a test, travellers crossing land borders are usually handed a test to self-administer.
Short said while the intentions of the program are “good on paper,” she said trying to complete a test during a pit stop at a New Brunswick hotel room with unreliable internet was “cumbersome and overwhelming.”
“The whole thing took me probably two hours from creating an account online and then waiting 45 minutes to speak to someone over a video call with spotty Wi-Fi so they could walk me through the test,” she said. “Then the next day we had to do a detour in Moncton to find a Purolator drop-off box.”
Health Canada said it was working on responding to questions about the COVID-19 arrival testing program sent to the department last week. However, a response was not received before deadline on Monday.
Public Services and Procurement Canada spokesman Gabriel Leboeuf said Switch Health, LifeLabs and Dynacare provide comprehensive border testing services, including appointment booking, test administration and results management.
They also provide further testing support for temporary foreign workers, refugees, asylum seekers and international students, he said
Switch Health is responsible for testing in Ontario, Alberta and Atlantic Canada, with a contract value worth up to $440 million.
LifeLabs is providing testing services in British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Yukon with a contract worth up to $111 million, and Dynacare is operating in Quebec and Manitoba with a contract worth up to $80 million.
“As of November 30, 2021, the total approved value of the border testing contracts is approximately $631 million,” Leboeuf said in an email. “However, since companies are paid for services delivered, this amount may not be fully spent.”
Jordan Paquet, vice-president of public affairs with Switch Health, said most of the company’s randomized arrival testing at airports is done on-site.
He said the Canada Border Services Agency will put a sticker on a traveller’s passport or travel document indicating whether they can proceed directly to baggage claim or stop at the testing site first.
At land border crossings, however, Paquet said travellers who are selected for random screening are provided with a test kit to take with them.
“It would get massively backed up if we stopped people to do the tests in person, especially at the bigger land border crossings like the Detroit-Windsor bridge,” he said.
Travellers complete the at-home tests with the help of a Switch Health employee through a video call. They are then directed to put the test in an envelope provided and then in the mail.
“The validity of a test is going to be more guaranteed if someone is proctoring it online,” he said. “It ensures accuracy.”
Paquet said the average wait time to be connected with a Switch Health official online is 15 minutes, making Short’s wait time of 45 minutes longer than usual.
Still, while he acknowledged the inconvenience of being selected for additional testing, he pointed out that self-administering a test from a hotel room is likely preferable for many to standing in line at a testing centre.
Meanwhile, Paquet said the pandemic has shone a light on some of the gaps in the health-care system and has shown that companies like Toronto-based Switch Health can work with governments to improve patient experiences.
“We’re not there to replace anything in the health-care system,” he said. “Our whole goal as a company is to deliver better health care in general for Canadians and more decentralized diagnostics.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 6, 2021.
COVID-19 antiviral drug molnupiravir to be manufactured in Canada – CTV News
Merck Canada announced on Monday that it is partnering with Thermo Fisher Scientific to manufacture its COVID-19 antiviral drug in Canada for global distribution in a deal Ottawa hopes will help jump-start the country’s position as a biomanufacturing centre and better secure its supply chain for future public health emergencies.
The existing Thermo Fisher facility in Whitby, Ont. will produce doses of molnupiravir, an investigational drug developed in collaboration with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, for distribution in Canada, the U.K., the European Union, Asia Pacific, and Latin America, pending approvals in those respective regions. The drug is awaiting approval by Health Canada.
The facility was chosen because of the capacity, capability, and speed with which it is able to produce the drug, Merck Canada’s new president Marwan Akar said during a press conference.
The Whitby location is one of three facilities in the world that will produce this pill, which would be the first drug treatment for COVID-19 patients can take at home.
“We are marking a very key milestone, and rebuilding Canada’s biomanufacturing capability,” Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry Francois-Philippe Champagne said during the news conference.
“We’ll be producing COVID medications for Canadians and indeed for the world… so to me this is a very big step in how we intend to rebuild our biomanufacturing sector in Canada.”
Earlier in the pandemic, Canada came under criticism for its inability to manufacture COVID-19 vaccines domestically, leaving Ottawa reliant on U.S. and European manufacturers to produce and provide doses. To ensure Canadians had access to vaccines as they became available, the federal government ordered hundreds of millions of doses of vaccine candidates from more than half a dozen companies.
Minister Champagne said the latest announcement is part of the government’s efforts to ensure Canada is better prepared and that “we redesign the supply chain so whatever may come next, we would be ready.”
The new manufacturing deal will also help Ontario’s economic recovery with a $19 million capital investment supporting more than 50 high-paying jobs in the region, according to Victor Fedeli, Ontario Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade.
ANTIVIRAL LESS EFFECTIVE THAN FIRST THOUGHT
Last week, the federal government signed a deal with Merck to purchase 500,000 molnupiravir pills, with an option for another half million, pending approval. Request for approval of the drug was submitted in August.
The company says its oral pill reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by about 30 per cent for at-risk, non-hospitalized adult patients with mild or moderate infection. This was sharply lower than the 50 per cent reported in the initial data.
In a narrow vote last week, a panel of expert advisers to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommended the drug be authorized for treatment of COVID-19, but expressed concerns over whether it could cause the virus to mutate and its potential to cause birth defects. Studies in rats showed the drug caused toxicity and birth defects at very high doses.
While Merck has yet to conduct specific research on the medication’s effectiveness against the Omicron variant, the company appeared confident that it should have some potency based on its effectiveness against other variants. Final authorization for emergency use by the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is pending.
Antiviral drug treatments are considered another tool in the fight against COVID-19, experts say, after personal protective equipment, testing, and vaccines.
With files from The Associated Press
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