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Canada's transport regulator hasn't settled a single COVID-19 flight cancellation complaint – CBC.ca

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The Canadian Transportation Agency has failed to settle a single complaint from Canadians demanding refunds for cancelled flights since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, CBC News has learned. 

The independent tribunal said it has been inundated with close to 10,000 complaints from mid-March, when global air travel largely ground to a halt, until Oct. 16. 

The agency confirmed it’s still processing complaints it received before March 11; it has yet to deal with any cases filed during the public health crisis.

For months, Canada’s Transport Minister has told Canadians if they are unsatisfied with refunds, the course of action is to file complaints with the tribunal.

Carly Aubertin and her husband Rob McLean are upset that they filed a complaint in April, which has been sitting in limbo ever since.

“It’s just so disheartening,” said Aubertin. “It’s frustrating that the government’s not there to support us.” 

The Ontario residents are considering selling their home as they wrestle with living off a single income because the pandemic has hurt McLean’s business. Sunwing gave them a voucher for a cancelled trip to Antigua due to COVID, rather than a full refund that could help pay their mortgage until the spring.

 “Right now, I mean, $5,000? There’s five months of mortgage right there,” she said.

Long backlog before pandemic started

The delay is partially due to a two-year backlog of complaints the CTA received before the pandemic struck. The backlog is tied to a significant influx of complaints received after new air passenger protection regulations came into effect in December 2019.

COVID-19 hampered further efforts to process complaints; the CTA temporarily paused its discussions with airlines regarding “dispute resolution activities” until June 30, 2020 to allow airlines to focus on more urgent matters. The agency also granted airlines an extension until Oct. 28 to respond to passengers seeking compensation.

But the CTA says it’s making progress on tackling the caseload. The agency processed a record number of complaints in the past fiscal year. The administrative tribunal also received a funding boost to get through cases more quickly and says it’s weeks away from starting on complaints filed during the pandemic.

WATCH | Thousands of Canadian travellers are waiting for flight refunds:

CBC News has learned that despite receiving thousands of complaints from travellers looking for refunds for flights cancelled due to COVID-19, the Canadian Transportation Agency has not settled a single one. 1:59

An ongoing battle for closure

The agency said it’s now working through about 17,300 complaints. 

Those includes complaints from Canadians like Aubertin and McLean, who spent about $5,000 for a spring vacation with a group of friends to celebrate some of their 40th and 50th birthdays.

McLean found himself without work during the pandemic, meaning the Port Robinson, Ont., couple has started to dip into their retirement savings. His last pay cheque was in February. 

“It’s frustrating because in these times we hear the leaders of our country saying to look out for everybody and do the right thing and respect your community, and then to allow these multimillion dollar companies to keep our money interest free for an extended period of time doesn’t feel like the right thing to us,” McLean said. 

Aubertin said the obstacles have been particularly disappointing given that other countries have taken a firmer stance on helping passengers.

In April, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued a notice reminding U.S. and foreign airlines that they “remain obligated to provide a prompt refund to passengers” despite the pandemic and warned that it would take “enforcement action” as necessary.

Carly Aubertin, left, and Rob McLean, right, have emailed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for help — but his office said the couple’s only option was to file a complaint with the Canadian Transportation Agency. (Submitted)

In Canada, airlines have been asking the government for financial help to survive an unprecedented drop in business during the height of the pandemic. In many cases, airlines have been issuing travel vouchers redeemable for two years, rather than refunds. 

The CTA said it issued a “non-binding statement” on issuing vouchers in the face of “unprecedented and extraordinary circumstances” during the pandemic.

The agency said the industry collapsed worldwide and there was an “absence of any general minimum obligation under the law for airlines to pay refunds for flights cancelled for reasons beyond their control.”

After months of public outrage, WestJet announced last week it was changing its refund policy on Nov. 2 to give customers back money for flights cancelled due to COVID-19.

Air Canada took to Twitter shortly afterwards and said it’s already repaid $1.2 billion to date for refundable tickets cancelled during the pandemic.

John Gradek, a former Air Canada executive and lecturer at McGill University’s aviation management program, said the timing is no coincidence.

Canada’s major airlines — WestJet, Air Canada, Air Transat, Sunwing and Swoop — are facing a series of class action lawsuits over refunds during COVID and the federal court certification hearing is scheduled for Nov. 2. 

Gradek also believes airlines realized there wasn’t public support for a government bailout unless carriers refunded passengers first. The Globe and Mail reported Friday cabinet is currently deliberating a package for the aviation sector that includes scaling back airport fee increases and low interest loans.

CTA losing credibility, Bloc MP says

Passengers and consumers have a right to feel upset about the federal government’s lack of action, said Bloc Québécois MP and transport critic Xavier Barsalou-Duval.

On Friday, he presented a bill seeking to amend the Canada Transportation Act in order to ensure passengers are fully refunded in the event that an air carrier cancels a flight. 

He said Transport Minister Marc Garneau’s failure to resolve the issue has put undue pressure on the CTA.

“By not acting, Mr. Garneau’s transferring the weight of the situation on the shoulders of the CTA and that’s a big problem,” said Barsalou-Duval. 

“[The CTA is] losing credibility. And that’s the big problem because usually they’re supposed to… apply the rules, apply the law.”

Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau’s office has stated for months that he sympathizes with those seeking refunds, while reiterating that airlines are going through a difficult time. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

In a statement to CBC News on Sunday, Garneau said he understood the frustration.

“This situation is far from ideal,” he said. “We are encouraged to see that some airlines have refunded their customers, and expect air carriers will do their best to accommodate passengers under these extraordinary circumstances,” the statement read.

“This is an important issue to Canadians. We also continue to work with the airlines to address the overall challenges they are facing due to the pandemic.”

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Ottawa extends international travel restrictions citing COVID-19 risk – CBC.ca

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The federal government has extended existing international travel restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, barring entry to most travellers who are not Canadian citizens, permanent residents or people entering from the U.S. for “essential” reasons.

In a news release issued Sunday, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair and Health Minister Patty Hajdu announced that travel restrictions on U.S. citizens and foreign nationals seeking to enter Canada from the U.S. will be extended until Dec. 21.

Similarly, restrictions on travellers arriving from other countries will be extended until Jan. 21, as will the mandatory requirement for anyone who is granted entry to self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival.

Emergency orders brought forward on Mar. 16 banned most foreign nationals from entering Canada for non-essential travel. There are a number of exceptions for immediate family members of citizens, essential workers, seasonal workers, caregivers and international students, to name a few.

By extending the expiration dates to the 21st of the month, today’s change brings the timing of the international travel restrictions in alignment with those governing the Canada-U.S. land border. Previously, international restrictions expired on the last day of each month while the Canada-U.S. border restrictions expired on the 21st.

Both have been regularly extended since March.

“The government continues to evaluate the travel restrictions and prohibitions as well as the requirement to quarantine or isolate on an ongoing basis to ensure Canadians remain healthy and safe,” the release said.

“The ability to align U.S. and international travel extension dates, as well as the mandatory isolation order, beginning on Jan. 21, 2021 will enable the government to communicate any travel extensions or changes as quickly as possible and provide certainty for Canadians, U.S. and international travelers.”

International travel restrictions on U.S. citizens and foreign nationals seeking to enter Canada from the U.S. will be extended until Dec. 21. (Rob Gurdebeke/The Canadian Press)

Exemption for amateur sports events

The release also said the government will begin accepting applications from “high-performance amateur sport organizations” seeking to hold single sport events in Canada. Applicants will need to show they have a plan to protect public health that is approved by provincial or territorial officials and the relevant local health authorities in order to be considered.

Sport Canada, which is part of the Department of Canadian Heritage, will be responsible for authorizing such events, in consultation with the Public Health Agency of Canada, the release said.

More than 1,300 professional athletes have been issued national interest exemptions, which allow those who don’t qualify under current COVID-19-related restrictions to travel to Canada, or to skip the mandatory 14-day quarantine when they arrive.

Last month, the federal government expanded the eligibility for people coming from the U.S. on compassionate grounds. Those changes governing family reunification have been broadened to include exceptions for certain extended family members of Canadian citizens and permanent residents including couples who have been dating for at least a year, including their children, grandchildren, siblings and grandparents. 

Despite travel restrictions, more than five million arrivals into Canada have been allowed to skip the 14-day quarantine requirement, according to data from the Canada Border Services Agency, mainly because they’re essential workers.

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Which provinces are pushing Canada's COVID-19 active case count higher than ever? – CTV News

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TORONTO —
The number of active COVID-19 cases in Canada has more than doubled this month, as the total number of Canadians infected by the novel coronavirus since the start of the pandemic nears one per cent of the country’s population.

There were 364,810 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Canada as of end-of-day Saturday, according to a CTV News tracker, including 61,421 cases that were classified as active – an increase of 113 per cent over the 28,875 cases that were active as of Nov. 1. The current number of active cases is greater than the population of Fredericton, N.B.

Every part of the country has helped contribute to that surge. The Atlantic “bubble” has popped, with New Brunswick being the first Atlantic province to show COVID-19 activity at similar rates to the spring. There have also been significant ramp-ups in virus detections in the North, with Yukon reporting record numbers and Nunavut just starting to fall back from a worrying period that left it with the highest per capita infection rate in Canada.

It’s Central Canada and the West that are carrying the lion’s share of this phase of the pandemic, with the four most populous provinces all reporting record single-day infection totals since Friday.

Ontario and British Columbia set their records on Friday, logging 1,855 and 911 cases of the virus respectively. Alberta and Quebec took their turns on Saturday, with 1,731 new infections recorded in Alberta and 1,480 in Quebec.

All of this activity helped push Canada to a record single-day total of 5,967 new cases on Friday. That number fell to 5,743 on Saturday, albeit without any data from B.C.

Modelling data released by Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, has projected that there could be 10,000 new cases of COVID-19 a day diagnosed in Canada by mid-December if Canadians do not do more to curb their interactions with others.

Dr. Ronald St. John, a former director-general of the Public Health Agency of Canada’s Centre for Emergency Preparedness, told CTV News Channel on Sunday that Canada is on track for that scenario, at which point large-scale lockdowns may be necessary in order to preserve capacity in the health-care system.

“That’s been repeated over and over in country after country after country, and Canada will be no exception,” he said.

THE WESTERN FRONT

While Ontario, Quebec and Alberta are all jockeying for first place in the race for the most infections, adjusting the data for population leaves us with a much different leaderboard.

The recent record-setting numbers in Ontario leave the heavily populated province with a seven-day average of 10.52 new cases per 100,000 residents – lower than any province outside Atlantic Canada.

By this measure, the Prairies are by far Canada’s current COVID-19 hotspot.

Alberta’s seven-day average increased Saturday to 30.91 cases per 100,000 residents, a new high-water mark for that province. Manitoba had been above the 30-per-100,000 line earlier in the week but fell to 29.19 per 100,000 as of Saturday.

Those two provinces are followed by Saskatchewan, which set a record Friday at 22.88 cases per 100,000 and fell back slightly on Saturday. Fourth place on the list is Nunavut – which, at 20.21 cases per 100,000, has cut its rate in half over the past week – and Quebec at 14.65 per 100,000.

To put the worries in Atlantic Canada in perspective, Nova Scotia has the highest rate in that region, at 1.64 cases per 100,000 population. Nonetheless, its government introduced a host of new public health restrictions this week in hard-hit parts of Halifax, closing restaurants for in-person dining, halting recreational and religious gatherings, and restricting retailers to 25 per cent capacity.

Alberta, which has a per capita infection rate nearly 19 times that of Nova Scotia, introduced its own province-wide restrictions one day later. Measures taken there include bans on social gatherings except with those in one’s household and indoor recreational gatherings, as well as capacity limits for religious services.

“When you look at the measures that the government of Alberta has put into place, they are similar to what Ontario and Quebec had in place before that didn’t work,” Dr. Anna Banerji, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Toronto, told CTV News Channel on Sunday.

“There might have to be a reality check coming up in the next little while.”

Meanwhile, in the United States, 42 out of 50 states have higher seven-day average infection rates, per capita, than Alberta, with 22 reporting new COVID-19 cases at double Alberta’s rate.

FEARS IN ONTARIO

Although Ontario is fairing relatively well compared to both other provinces and states – Hawaii is the only state that currently has a lower per capita infection rate – there are still concerns that COVID-19 activity might be enough to overwhelm the province’s health-care system.

The number of COVID-19 patients in Ontario intensive care units is already high enough to jeopardize some scheduled surgeries, and the province’s latest modelling data suggests the situation will only get worse before the end of the year.

The province has been gradually increasing restrictions in various regions based on local virus activity. Dr. Dale Kalina, medical director of infection at the Joseph Brant Hospital in Burlington, Ont., told CTV News Channel on Saturday that it will be “another week, at least” before those changes show up in daily case counts – and that some hospitals are already offloading patients to neighbouring facilities.

“We’re not going to be able to continue to do that if people don’t help us [by following public health measures],” he said.

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Canada ‘not at the back of the line’ for COVID-19 vaccine, Moderna chairman says

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The head of a U.S. biotechnology company that is developing one of the most promising COVID-19 vaccine candidates says Canada is not far behind other countries when it comes to receiving doses of its vaccine.

“Canada is not at the back of the line,” Noubar Afeyan, co-founder and chairman of Moderna, told CBC’s Chief Political Correspondent Rosemary Barton on Sunday.

Afeyan said because Canada was among the first countries to make a pre-order with Moderna, the country is guaranteed to receive a certain portion of the company’s initial batch of doses — as long as the vaccine proves safe and effective and is given regulatory approval.

“The people who were willing to move early on with even less proof of the efficacy have assured the amount of supply they were willing to sign up to,” Afeyan said in an interview on Rosemary Barton Live.

“Nothing that happened subsequently can affect that.”

The Canadian government secured an agreement on Aug. 5 with Moderna for 20 million doses of its mRNA vaccine, with the option to procure an additional 36 million doses. It’s one of seven vaccine makers Canada currently has agreements with.

Moderna’s vaccine is currently in Stage 3 clinical trials and preliminary data released two weeks ago showed it appears to be 94.5 per cent effective.

Despite that promising news, the Liberal government came under intense pressure this week to lay out a timeline for when Canadians will begin receiving an inoculation as countries like the U.S., U.K. and Germany have all announced plans to begin vaccinating their populations in December.

Opposition politicians and some premiers argued Canada was falling behind other countries in its planning after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canadians would have to wait to get vaccinated because the first doses of any vaccine will go to people in the countries where the vaccines are being manufactured.

Federal officials said on Thursday that if all goes well as many as three million Canadians — mainly those in “high-priority groups” — could be vaccinated in early 2021.

WATCH | Federal government pressured on when Canadians will get COVID-19 vaccine

 

As other countries give timelines, the Trudeau government faces mounting questions about when Canadians will get a COVID-19 vaccine. But the complex task of delivering doses depends on factors still up in the air. 2:00

Regulatory approval pending

Moderna is in the process of applying for emergency-use authorization with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Once the company obtains that authorization, Afeyan said it will begin shipping doses to countries that have made pre-orders, including Canada.

Afeyan said he expects to start shipping the vaccine to Canada in the first quarter of 2021 and the quantity of shipments should increase through the second quarter and throughout the rest of the year.

The company expects to be able to produce a total of 20 million doses by the end of 2020 and between 500 million and 1 billion doses throughout 2021.

Moderna submitted early safety and pre-clinical data from Phase 1 and 2 trials with Health Canada last month as part of the regulator’s rolling regulatory review process. Health Canada must approve any COVID-19 vaccine before it can be distributed to Canadians.

Experts say Moderna’s vaccine — which requires two shots taken 28 days apart — will be relatively easy to store and distribute because the vaccine can remain stable at normal fridge temperatures of 2 C to 8 C for 30 days. By contrast, another leading candidate manufactured by U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer must be shipped and stored at -70 C.

 

Health Minister Patty Hadju says some hesitancy around a new vaccine is ‘normal’ and stresses the value of regulatory independence. 10:42

Health Minister Patty Hajdu said it’s difficult to nail down a delivery date at the moment for any of the leading vaccine candidates because of the long list of uncertainties stemming from unfinished clinical trials, ongoing regulatory reviews, and manufacturing and logistical challenges related to distribution.

“We’re all anxious to get out of this mess as a world, but certainly as a country as well,” Hajdu said.

“As Canada’s health minister, I’m staying focused on Canadians and on our own process, making sure our delivery plans are well laid out and that we have what we need in terms of being able to deliver on the variety of different kinds of vaccines.”

Hajdu added that her top priority is ensuring that Health Canada has what it needs to make sure the regulatory process proceeds smoothly so that any vaccines that are approved are safe and effective.

Source: – CBC.ca

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