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Canadian human smuggler allegedly charged migrants up to $65K for transport to Canada – Global News

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A notorious Canadian human smuggler allegedly charged up to $65,000 for illicit passage to Canada through the Caribbean, according to U.S. court documents that spotlight the hefty sums collected by those who transport migrants.

The FBI has accused former Toronto resident Srikajamukan Chelliah of levying fees of between C$28,000 and C$65,000 on a group of Sri Lankans caught aboard a cramped ship intercepted off the coast of Turks and Caicos last October.

U.S. authorities say the ship left Haiti carrying 158 passengers, including 28 Sri Lankans, who were destined for the U.S. From there, many of them were to continue by vehicle to Canada to make refugee claims according to the allegations. Some have families already in Canada.

READ MORE: Trial of U.S. man accused of helping migrants enter B.C. delayed by constitutional challenge

Chelliah was also arrested aboard the ship and has been extradited to the U.S. to stand trial for human smuggling.

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The interdiction of the ship has left many stranded in the Turks and Caicos, including 16 Sri Lankans who are seeking refugee status from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) so they can be resettled, possibly in Canada.

“Most of these people have borrowed or sold up to be able to fund this trip on the understanding that they would make a new life not just for themselves, but for their families,” their lawyer Tim Prudhoe told Global News from Turks and Caicos.

“It’s been a complete life disaster.”

Prudhoe said it’s been a nearly yearlong battle after he learned that dozens of people allegedly left stranded by Chelliah were being kept in a police processing facility from the middle of October until February, when he applied for their release. He said many made the desperate choice to pay the enormous sums of money to escape persecution and discrimination in Sri Lanka.

Communicating with his clients has also been extraordinarily challenging as they only speak Tamil, forcing Prudhoe to pay for a translator out of his own pocket. The ongoing restrictions around COVID-19 have also slowed the court process and meetings with clients, Prudhoe said.

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“They get on a boat overnight so overcrowded that it almost sinks only to be arrested as they reach the shore of the Turks and then taken at night to a police detention centre, which is designed to hold people for a few days at most,” he said. “It’s a processing centre with holding cells. They then spend several months crammed together in only two cells.”

Three of the 16 Sri Lankans Prudhoe represents have been designated as refugees and he is hoping for the same outcome for the remaining 13.

And while Prudhoe says they are now being cared for by the Turks and Caicos government, they are being given limited food and water.

“They’re hungry because they’re not being fed enough. They’re not being provided with enough water and they’re 10,000 miles away from their homeland and still a lifetime away, in some senses, from where they wanted to end up,” he said.

“For them, the sorts of money that changed hands were really life-changing amounts.”

A spokesperson for UNHCR said it is supporting Turks and Caicos to implement its responsibilities under the 1951 Refugee Convention to ensure that potential asylum seekers are protected from being returned until a final decision has been made in their case.

“The TCI Government has requested support from UNHCR to determine refugee status for several individuals who have requested asylum on the island,” said a spokesperson for the UN Refugee Agency in an email.

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Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, meanwhile, said it wasn’t able to comment on individual cases due to “privacy concerns.”

“This includes confirming or denying that an application has been submitted to us,” an IRCC spokesperson said in an email. “In general, we rely on the (UNHCR), other referral organizations and private sponsorship groups for referrals of refugees who need to be resettled.”


Click to play video 'Coast guard rescues 120 migrants off Turkish coast'



1:39
Coast guard rescues 120 migrants off Turkish coast


Coast guard rescues 120 migrants off Turkish coast

Chelliah, meanwhile, has been extradited to Florida where he is now facing charges including conspiracy to bring aliens to the U.S. and encouraging and inducing aliens to enter the U.S. for financial gain, according to U.S. court documents.

His public defender, Abigail Becker, declined to allow Global News to speak with her client.

“You cannot speak to my client about his pending case. Sorry, but that is not possible,” she said in an email.

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According to a criminal complaint against Chelliah filed in July 2020, six confidential witnesses said they agreed to pay anywhere from UD$21,000 to UD$65,000 to be taken from Sri Lanka to Canada.

“Chelliah, together with others, had made arrangements with the Sri Lankan passengers to smuggle them to Canada in exchange for monetary payments,” the documents said. “The intended route to Canada for approximately half the Sri Lankan passengers was through the United States; and that the trip culminating in the sloop’s interdiction was part of that smuggling operation.”

READ MORE: Canadian charged with smuggling 34 Chinese migrants from U.S. into B.C. pleads guilty

One witness who spoke with Homeland Security told investigators they would have their payments reduced if they completed various tasks for Chelliah, which allegedly included “collecting the passports of other migrants who wanted to travel to Canada and booking hotels in the Caribbean.

“(The witness) heard Chelliah tell one group of travelers that they would fly to the Bahamas, take a boat to Miami, Florida, drive to Buffalo, New York, and enter Canada over land,” the documents said.

Chelliah spent 18 months in a U.S. prison after he was caught posing as a Canadian immigration officer and other offences. In 2004, he as deported back to Canada but soon went back to human smuggling and was arrested in 2011.

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He served a second prison sentence and was deported back to Canada again in 2016 but despite telling a judge he had “completely transformed,” he allegedly resumed his human smuggling business until his arrest last year. The FBI has accused him of smuggling hundreds of people into the U.S.

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Liberal MP Gary Anandasangaree said his office has been contacted “by individuals in the Turks and Caicos and their friends and family who live in Canada.

“We have connected them with the UNHCR in Washington for assistance,” he told Global News in an email. “Our office will continue to monitor the situation and work with them to explore options to ensure their safety.”

Prudhoe, meanwhile, said he believes the Canadian government will “inevitably” become involved in the ordeal as many of the Sri Lankans have family around the GTA.

“What will be interesting is to see whether or not (Canada’s) attitude towards these refugees is genuine and whether the (UNHCR’s) designation will be in some way tarnished by the Canadians knowing that these people were trying to be smuggled there in the first place,” he said.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Friday – CBC.ca

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The latest:

Provinces are taking different approaches to rising COVID-19 numbers. Alberta is not considering new restrictions, while Manitoba has announced tighter measures for its northern region and British Columbia warns new rules could be coming for social gatherings.

Canada saw a record high number of COVID-19 cases diagnosed on Thursday, with 2,788 new infections recorded.

Among the recently hard-hit province is Alberta, which broke two records on Thursday when the province reported 427 new cases and a total of 3,519 active cases.

While acknowledging the government is “obviously concerned” about the growing number of active cases, Premier Jason Kenney said there are no plans to impose “indiscriminate” restrictions that would shut down the hospitality industry.

WATCH | Reduce gatherings even more, health experts urge:

British Columbia’s Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry expressed concerns around the spread of COVID-19 at social gatherings, something that infectious diseases specialist Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti says is being seen across the country. 1:54

“I think it’s important to acknowledge that the virus is here to stay,” Kenney said Thursday while self-isolating at home after a minister in his government tested positive the day before. “And unless or until there is widespread immunity either through natural infection or through the widespread use of a vaccine, we have to cope with it and we have to carry on with life.”

The premier said Alberta has so far accomplished its primary goal of protecting lives while ensuring the health-care system is not overwhelmed.

Meanwhile, the Manitoba government has introduced sweeping new rules for the fourth time in as many weeks in an effort to get a handle on its own recent record-breaking COVID-19 numbers.

Effective Monday, the Northern Health region — where there are increasing signs of community spread and cases among vulnerable populations, such as those experiencing homelessness — will move to the orange, or “restricted,” level on Manitoba’s pandemic response system. 

WATCH | Manitoba’s top doctor on the increasing community spread of COVID-19:

Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer, explains why increasing community spread of COVID-19 makes targeted approaches to control the illness less effective. 0:48

The decision was made after consultation with municipal and First Nations leaders in the region, Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said at a news conference Thursday. “We know that the north is already at risk for transmission of this virus, especially in remote, isolated communities, [with limited] access to health care,” he said.

The new measures, which are already in place in the Winnipeg area, include a five-person cap on gatherings, the closure of casinos and other sites with live entertainment licences and a requirement for many businesses to cut occupancy to 50 per cent.

In British Columbia, the provincial health officer warned Thursday she may introduce new rules on gatherings like weddings and funerals as B.C. announced a record-high 274 new cases.

Dr. Bonnie Henry said the measures could include conditions on wedding licences and reducing the province’s current 50-person limit on gatherings.

WATCH | B.C.’s current rules for weddings, funerals not enough, says Dr. Henry:

Dr. Bonnie Henry’s warning comes as Fraser Health reports a number of social gatherings lasting days has led to a surge in COVID-19 cases in the province. 1:39

“The reality is that, right now, everywhere in B.C., weddings, funerals and other life occasions need to be small — as small as possible,” she said. “Every gathering needs to be our own household only, and at maximum, our safe six.”


What’s happening elsewhere in Canada

As of 1 p.m. ET on Friday, Canada had 210,881 confirmed or presumptive coronavirus cases. Provinces and territories listed 177,307 of those as recovered or resolved. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC’s reporting rose to 9,883.

The federal government has signed a contract to procure 76 million doses of a promising COVID-19 vaccine from the Quebec City-biotech company Medicago, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Friday.

Ottawa is spending $176 million to help Medicago develop the vaccine, which is being developed in partnership with British drug company GlaxoSmithKline, and build a large plant in Quebec to produce it.

So far, Canada has secured 358 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine through contracts with pharmaceutical giants, including AstraZeneca, Moderna and Pfizer — an insurance policy if some of the vaccines in development prove to be ineffective in clinical trials.

Trudeau also announced a $18.2-million investment in Vancouver-based Precision NanoSystems, which offers technology to produce vaccines and therapeutic drugs.

Nova Scotia reported new no cases of COVID-19 on Friday, a day after the province warned residents against unnecessary travel to the Campbellton-Restigouche area of New Brunswick due to a COVID-19 outbreak.

The recommendation came after New Brunswick announced new restrictions for the Campbellton region, almost two weeks after it was pushed back to the orange phase of recovery. While Zone 5 will remain in the orange stage, people will be limited to interacting with a single household bubble, N.B. Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell said.

New Brunswick announced two new COVID-19 cases and eight recoveries on Friday. That brings the total number of cases the province has recorded to 324, with four deaths.

Newfoundland and Labrador announced no new cases of COVID-19 on Friday. The province has recorded a total of 288 cases and four deaths.

Ontario reported an additional 826 cases of COVID-19 on Friday, as the seven-day average of new daily cases continued its upward trend to 778. That’s the second highest it’s been since the resurgence of COVID-19 in the province began in early August.

Nine more deaths were also recorded. There are currently 6,474 confirmed, actives cases of COVID-19, a record high for the province.

Meanwhile, the list of Toronto hospitals that have declared outbreaks of COVID-19 grew to seven, with Sunnybrook announcing five cases in a surgical unit at the hospital.

A nurse performs a test on a patient at a drive-thru COVID-19 clinic in Montreal on Wednesday. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Quebec on Friday reported 905 new COVID-19 cases and 12 deaths, four of which were in the past 24 hours.

There are 540 people in hospital, including 99 in intensive care. In its latest projections, the province’s national health institute said hospitals will not reach full capacity in the next four weeks due to the rate of transmission having stabilized in recent days.

Premier François Legault has said it’s likely the province will have to maintain many public health restrictions currently in place in red zones past Oct. 28, including keeping restaurants and bars closed.


What’s happening around the world

According to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, the global total of confirmed coronavirus cases stands at more than 41.9 million. More than 1.1 million people have died, while more than 28.4 million have recovered.

In the Americas, the pandemic was predictably the opening topic of the U.S. presidential debate between Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden on Thursday evening. Trump claimed the country was “rounding the corner” even as cases spike again across the country, while Biden said: “Anyone who’s responsible for that many deaths should not remain as president of the United States of America.” More than 223,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus.

WATCH | Trump, Biden clash over pandemic in debate: 

The president lamented that the city became a ‘ghost town’ amid the pandemic, while the Democratic candidate praised its response in flattening the curve. 1:00 

The Peruvian government said on Thursday that it refused to sign a coronavirus vaccine purchase agreement with AstraZeneca PLC because it did not provide sufficient data from its studies and offered minimal amounts of inoculations.

In Europe, the Netherlands began transferring COVID-19 patients to Germany again on Friday, as hospitals come under increasing strain from a second wave of infections. During the first wave in March and April, dozens of Dutch patients were transferred to Germany, where the intensive care capacity is significantly larger.

Poland will close restaurants and bars for two weeks and limit public gatherings to five people, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Friday, after new coronavirus infections hit a daily record of more than 13,600.

The number of new coronavirus infections in Romania also rose by a daily record, with 5,028 cases added in the past 24 hours, the government said on Friday, as new restrictions were introduced in Bucharest and other cities.

People ride bikes and an electric scooter in Bucharest on Thursday. Romania’s capital city has decided to close schools and cinemas and make mask-wearing in public spaces compulsory. (Daniel Mihailescu/AFP/Getty Images)

In Asia, South Korea on Friday reported 155 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus, its highest daily jump in more than 40 days. Officials say most of the new cases were local transmissions and primarily in the Seoul region, where hundreds of infections have been tied to a handful of hospitals and nursing homes.

Iran’s health ministry on Friday reported a record 6,134 new coronavirus cases for the previous 24 hours, bringing the national tally to 556,891 in the Middle East’s hardest-hit country. A spokesperson said 335 people had died from the disease in the past 24 hours, bringing total fatalities to 31,985.

India reported 54,366 new cases on Friday, the fifth day in a row below 60,000 new cases, and 690 deaths in the
past 24 hours. A political row erupted after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party promised free COVID-19 vaccination, when it is available, to people in eastern Bihar state, where state elections are scheduled to begin next week. Opposition parties accused Modi’s party of politicizing the pandemic.

Motorcyclists gather during a rally in Amritsar, India, this week to raise awareness about the use of face masks and physical distancing to fight the spread of COVID-19. (Narinder Nanu/AFP/Getty Images)

In Africa, Ethiopia’s attorney general’s office has announced people can be jailed for up to two years if they deliberately violate COVID-19 restrictions, amid concern that citizens are becoming lax after a state of emergency was lifted.

Countries on the continent have reported a total of more than 1.6 million confirmed COVID-19 cases, according to the World Health Organization Regional Office for Africa. There have been more than 40,000 deaths, for a case fatality ratio of 2.4 per cent, and 1.3 million recoveries so far.

Have a coronavirus question or news tip for CBC News? Email us at COVID@cbc.ca

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Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Friday – CBC.ca

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The latest:

Provinces are taking different approaches to rising COVID-19 numbers. Alberta is not considering new restrictions, while Manitoba has announced tighter measures for its northern region and British Columbia warns new rules could be coming for social gatherings.

Canada saw a record high number of COVID-19 cases diagnosed on Thursday, with 2,788 new infections recorded.

Among the recently hard-hit province is Alberta, which broke two records on Thursday when the province reported 427 new cases and a total of 3,519 active cases.

While acknowledging the government is “obviously concerned” about the growing number of active cases, Premier Jason Kenney said there are no plans to impose “indiscriminate” restrictions that would shut down the hospitality industry.

WATCH | Reduce gatherings even more, health experts urge:

British Columbia’s Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry expressed concerns around the spread of COVID-19 at social gatherings, something that infectious diseases specialist Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti says is being seen across the country. 1:54

“I think it’s important to acknowledge that the virus is here to stay,” Kenney said Thursday while self-isolating at home after a minister in his government tested positive the day before. “And unless or until there is widespread immunity either through natural infection or through the widespread use of a vaccine, we have to cope with it and we have to carry on with life.”

The premier said Alberta has so far accomplished its primary goal of protecting lives while ensuring the health-care system is not overwhelmed.

Meanwhile, the Manitoba government has introduced sweeping new rules for the fourth time in as many weeks in an effort to get a handle on its own recent record-breaking COVID-19 numbers.

Effective Monday, the Northern Health region — where there are increasing signs of community spread and cases among vulnerable populations, such as those experiencing homelessness — will move to the orange, or “restricted,” level on Manitoba’s pandemic response system. 

WATCH | Manitoba’s top doctor on the increasing community spread of COVID-19:

Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer, explains why increasing community spread of COVID-19 makes targeted approaches to control the illness less effective. 0:48

The decision was made after consultation with municipal and First Nations leaders in the region, Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said at a news conference Thursday. “We know that the north is already at risk for transmission of this virus, especially in remote, isolated communities, [with limited] access to health care,” he said.

The new measures, which are already in place in the Winnipeg area, include a five-person cap on gatherings, the closure of casinos and other sites with live entertainment licences and a requirement for many businesses to cut occupancy to 50 per cent.

In British Columbia, the provincial health officer warned Thursday she may introduce new rules on gatherings like weddings and funerals as B.C. announced a record-high 274 new cases.

Dr. Bonnie Henry said the measures could include conditions on wedding licences and reducing the province’s current 50-person limit on gatherings.

WATCH | B.C.’s current rules for weddings, funerals not enough, says Dr. Henry:

Dr. Bonnie Henry’s warning comes as Fraser Health reports a number of social gatherings lasting days has led to a surge in COVID-19 cases in the province. 1:39

“The reality is that, right now, everywhere in B.C., weddings, funerals and other life occasions need to be small — as small as possible,” she said. “Every gathering needs to be our own household only, and at maximum, our safe six.”


What’s happening elsewhere in Canada

As of 1 p.m. ET on Friday, Canada had 210,881 confirmed or presumptive coronavirus cases. Provinces and territories listed 177,307 of those as recovered or resolved. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC’s reporting rose to 9,883.

The federal government has signed a contract to procure 76 million doses of a promising COVID-19 vaccine from the Quebec City-biotech company Medicago, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Friday.

Ottawa is spending $176 million to help Medicago develop the vaccine, which is being developed in partnership with British drug company GlaxoSmithKline, and build a large plant in Quebec to produce it.

So far, Canada has secured 358 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine through contracts with pharmaceutical giants, including AstraZeneca, Moderna and Pfizer — an insurance policy if some of the vaccines in development prove to be ineffective in clinical trials.

Trudeau also announced a $18.2-million investment in Vancouver-based Precision NanoSystems, which offers technology to produce vaccines and therapeutic drugs.

Nova Scotia reported new no cases of COVID-19 on Friday, a day after the province warned residents against unnecessary travel to the Campbellton-Restigouche area of New Brunswick due to a COVID-19 outbreak.

The recommendation came after New Brunswick announced new restrictions for the Campbellton region, almost two weeks after it was pushed back to the orange phase of recovery. While Zone 5 will remain in the orange stage, people will be limited to interacting with a single household bubble, N.B. Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell said.

New Brunswick announced two new COVID-19 cases and eight recoveries on Friday. That brings the total number of cases the province has recorded to 324, with four deaths.

Newfoundland and Labrador announced no new cases of COVID-19 on Friday. The province has recorded a total of 288 cases and four deaths.

Ontario reported an additional 826 cases of COVID-19 on Friday, as the seven-day average of new daily cases continued its upward trend to 778. That’s the second highest it’s been since the resurgence of COVID-19 in the province began in early August.

Nine more deaths were also recorded. There are currently 6,474 confirmed, actives cases of COVID-19, a record high for the province.

Meanwhile, the list of Toronto hospitals that have declared outbreaks of COVID-19 grew to seven, with Sunnybrook announcing five cases in a surgical unit at the hospital.

A nurse performs a test on a patient at a drive-thru COVID-19 clinic in Montreal on Wednesday. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Quebec on Friday reported 905 new COVID-19 cases and 12 deaths, four of which were in the past 24 hours.

There are 540 people in hospital, including 99 in intensive care. In its latest projections, the province’s national health institute said hospitals will not reach full capacity in the next four weeks due to the rate of transmission having stabilized in recent days.

Premier François Legault has said it’s likely the province will have to maintain many public health restrictions currently in place in red zones past Oct. 28, including keeping restaurants and bars closed.


What’s happening around the world

According to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, the global total of confirmed coronavirus cases stands at more than 41.9 million. More than 1.1 million people have died, while more than 28.4 million have recovered.

In the Americas, the pandemic was predictably the opening topic of the U.S. presidential debate between Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden on Thursday evening. Trump claimed the country was “rounding the corner” even as cases spike again across the country, while Biden said: “Anyone who’s responsible for that many deaths should not remain as president of the United States of America.” More than 223,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus.

WATCH | Trump, Biden clash over pandemic in debate: 

The president lamented that the city became a ‘ghost town’ amid the pandemic, while the Democratic candidate praised its response in flattening the curve. 1:00 

The Peruvian government said on Thursday that it refused to sign a coronavirus vaccine purchase agreement with AstraZeneca PLC because it did not provide sufficient data from its studies and offered minimal amounts of inoculations.

In Europe, the Netherlands began transferring COVID-19 patients to Germany again on Friday, as hospitals come under increasing strain from a second wave of infections. During the first wave in March and April, dozens of Dutch patients were transferred to Germany, where the intensive care capacity is significantly larger.

Poland will close restaurants and bars for two weeks and limit public gatherings to five people, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Friday, after new coronavirus infections hit a daily record of more than 13,600.

The number of new coronavirus infections in Romania also rose by a daily record, with 5,028 cases added in the past 24 hours, the government said on Friday, as new restrictions were introduced in Bucharest and other cities.

People ride bikes and an electric scooter in Bucharest on Thursday. Romania’s capital city has decided to close schools and cinemas and make mask-wearing in public spaces compulsory. (Daniel Mihailescu/AFP/Getty Images)

In Asia, South Korea on Friday reported 155 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus, its highest daily jump in more than 40 days. Officials say most of the new cases were local transmissions and primarily in the Seoul region, where hundreds of infections have been tied to a handful of hospitals and nursing homes.

Iran’s health ministry on Friday reported a record 6,134 new coronavirus cases for the previous 24 hours, bringing the national tally to 556,891 in the Middle East’s hardest-hit country. A spokesperson said 335 people had died from the disease in the past 24 hours, bringing total fatalities to 31,985.

India reported 54,366 new cases on Friday, the fifth day in a row below 60,000 new cases, and 690 deaths in the
past 24 hours. A political row erupted after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party promised free COVID-19 vaccination, when it is available, to people in eastern Bihar state, where state elections are scheduled to begin next week. Opposition parties accused Modi’s party of politicizing the pandemic.

Motorcyclists gather during a rally in Amritsar, India, this week to raise awareness about the use of face masks and physical distancing to fight the spread of COVID-19. (Narinder Nanu/AFP/Getty Images)

In Africa, Ethiopia’s attorney general’s office has announced people can be jailed for up to two years if they deliberately violate COVID-19 restrictions, amid concern that citizens are becoming lax after a state of emergency was lifted.

Countries on the continent have reported a total of more than 1.6 million confirmed COVID-19 cases, according to the World Health Organization Regional Office for Africa. There have been more than 40,000 deaths, for a case fatality ratio of 2.4 per cent, and 1.3 million recoveries so far.

Have a coronavirus question or news tip for CBC News? Email us at COVID@cbc.ca

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Trudeau announces plan to purchase 76 million doses of Canadian-made COVID-19 vaccine – CBC.ca

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau today announced another contract to buy a promising COVID-19 vaccine now in development — part of a plan to secure millions of vaccine doses to inoculate Canadians from the novel coronavirus.

Trudeau said the government has signed a contract to procure 76 million doses from the Quebec City-biotech company Medicago.

Medicago is developing the vaccine in partnership with the British drug company GlaxoSmithKline. The two companies have said its pre-clinical results show the vaccine demonstrated a “high level of neutralizing antibodies following a single dose.”

If the vaccine also performs well in a clinical setting, the companies are on track to make it available in the first half of 2021. Medicago has said it has the manufacturing capacity to produce as many as 100 million doses in 2021.

The federal government is spending $173 million to help Medicago develop the vaccine and build a large plant in Quebec to produce it. Trudeau also announced a $18.2 million investment in Vancouver-based Precision NanoSystems, which offers technology to produce vaccines and therapeutic drugs.

Canada already has signed contracts for tens of millions more vaccine doses with other pharmaceutical giants, such as AstraZeneca, Moderna and Pfizer. All told, the federal government has secured 358 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine — an insurance policy if some of the vaccines in development prove to be ineffective in clinical trials.

“We are coming at this from every angle,” Trudeau said.

This massive procurement effort is aimed at ensuring there will be enough vaccine doses on hand for all Canadians who want them, although a timeline for delivery is not yet certain. No COVID-19 vaccine has been approved for use in the western world.

When asked for a more precise timeline on when the vaccines will be available in Canada, Trudeau said there’s still much more work to do to ensure a vaccine candidate is safe to use.

Trudeau said he’s hopeful that vaccines can be deployed in the early part of 2021. He said that, to start, front line health care workers and vulnerable populations, such as seniors living in long-term care homes, will have priority access.

“Nothing will be distributed in Canada until Health Canada is absolutely certain that the safety of Canadians is being properly covered and taken care of,” Trudeau said.

“We were hoping that the vaccines would arrive yesterday, but they won’t. There’s still more months of work to do. We all want to get this crisis behind us as quickly as possible. We’re working on a vaccine safely, responsibly and quickly.” 

Trudeau also detailed the government’s plan to deploy rapid tests throughout the country — devices that health experts say could lessen the burden on lab-based testing in this country as cases continue to climb.

Trudeau said trucks full of Abbott Laboratories’ Panbio COVID-19 Rapid Test devices are out today distributing tens of thousands of tests to the provinces and territories. Another Abbott product, the ID NOW, arrived in Ontario yesterday, Trudeau said.

Trudeau said it will now be up to provinces to determine how to use these tests as part of a larger testing strategy.

“Access to rapid tests will vary across the country depending on the province in question. Rapid tests have advantages but also disadvantages, and need to be part of a whole strategy of testing and tracing,” Trudeau said, adding that the federal government’s function is to simply buy and distribute them to the jurisdictions charged with administering health care.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford and other provincial leaders have encouraged Health Canada regulators to quickly approve such devices so tests can be deployed to airports, high-risk workplaces, long-term care homes and schools, among other settings.

The regulator has so far approved four point-of-care molecular testing devices and an antigen test, which detects the presence of viral proteins in biological samples. These tests are destined for health care settings like doctors’ offices, pharmacies and walk-in clinics.

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