Living in British Columbia, Daria Lutz, 26, is in a more peculiar situation than most Canadians during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Until last Tuesday, when the province imposed a three-week-long “circuit breaker,” B.C. was one of few provinces that hadn’t entered a second lockdown after its first in March of last year. Masks were unregulated outdoors. Life went on relatively unchanged — at least when compared to other provinces with more stringent measures in place, such as Quebec or Ontario, where strict curfews and stay-at-home orders have been implemented to curb transmission.
But despite increasing cases of COVID-19 in B.C., Lutz, who works as a server at an Earl’s Kitchen and Bar in Whistler, spoke of “everyone having to go to work and act like life is normal.”
Meanwhile, she worried about her elevated exposure risk due to her work and avoided seeing friends even while following official guidelines on gatherings.
“There’s just that big mental health aspect that’s really been holding a lot of people down,” she said.
On March 24, she received the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Now, Lutz says she feels like she can finally breathe again.
Age eligibility in British Columbia is between 60 and 79 years of age, but as a frontline worker at a restaurant, she qualified for an early vaccination and was slotted into an appointment on March 24.
“My family lives in Ontario. I haven’t seen my mom in over a year now,” she said. “Just being that much closer to hugging my parents again is really, really big.”
That sense of relief is being felt by Canadians at home and abroad as the federal government ramps up its vaccine rollout and rushes to inject Canada’s most vulnerable with any one of its authorized doses.
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“It’s fantastic,” said Stanley Zhou, 27, who moved to San Francisco from Toronto in September to work as a scientist.
His father, who is 90 years old, was vaccinated on March 29 in Toronto.
“I’ve been abroad for the last six months, so I haven’t been able to be home and take care of them,” he said of his parents. “To be able to know that he is vaccinated and protected like that definitely makes me feel very relieved.”
To date, the federal government’s vaccination coverage page says 73.23 per cent of adults aged 80 and older have been vaccinated with at least one dose, while 92.48 per cent of adults living in long-term care facilities have received their first shot.
COVID-19 vaccines developed by Moderna, Pfizer-BioNtech, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca have been approved for use in Canada. The country’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) suspended the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine for Canadians under the age of 55 on March 29.
Don’t start hugging your grandparents just yet
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people who have been vaccinated can now safely meet indoors without masks in small groups. In an announcement on March 8, the CDC said vaccinated people can also meet in a single household with people considered at low-risk for severe disease, such as in the case of vaccinated grandparents visiting healthy children and grandchildren.
Canada, however, has no such guidance yet.
Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said on March 9 that measures will adapt “when it is safe to do so … based on evolving scientific evidence and expert advice.”
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For some, that means any hope of a quick return to normal due to COVID-19 vaccines have been short-lived.
Montrealer Valerie Shoif, 28, spoke of initial excitement when all three of her grandparents, who are in their 80s, were vaccinated earlier this month.
“I was so happy. I was thrilled, things had slightly shifted. I thought I was going to be able to breathe a sigh of relief and since I’m so careful, I thought maybe I would get to see them a little bit more often or see them at all,” she said.
But that didn’t happen. Shoif’s grandparents may be vaccinated, but Quebec still has provincial guidelines that prohibit her from seeing her grandparents.
“Relief has quickly shifted to disappointment,” she said.
To make matters worse, the increasing threat of COVID-19 variants has only prompted more severe regulations from provincial health authorities.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced an “emergency brake” shutdown on April 1 for a period of four weeks that temporarily shuttered many small businesses and non-essential services.
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Max Smith, a professor at Western University’s Faculty of Health Sciences, advised against flouting public health measures just because a person’s been vaccinated.
“Until we hear otherwise from public health officials and until enough of the population is vaccinated and our case count gets low, (everyone) sticking to the public health measures like wearing a mask and socially distancing is the best bet to make sure that we get out of this sooner rather than later,” he said.
Vaccines aren’t 100 per cent effective, he said, adding there isn’t sufficient evidence yet showing that vaccines prevent transmission. This means that a person could still transmit COVID-19 even though it’s unlikely someone who has been vaccinated would have a severe outcome.
“You might transmit the virus to your grandparents, and even if they don’t get sick, they could still serve as a vector and then transmit the virus on to some of their other older friends or relatives who may not be vaccinated, which would just continue that spread, which could just make other people sick,” he said.
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
Canada’s manufacturers ask for federal help as Montreal dockworkers stage partial-strike
MONTREAL (Reuters) – Canada‘s manufacturers on Monday asked the federal government to curb a brewing labor dispute after dockworkers at the country’s second largest port said they will work less this week.
Unionized dockworkers, who are in talks for a new contract since 2018, will hold a partial strike starting Tuesday, by refusing all overtime outside of their normal day shifts, along with weekend work, they said in a statement on Monday.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Quebec’s 1,125 longshore workers at the Port of Montreal rejected a March offer from the Maritime Employers Association.
The uncertainty caused by the labour dispute has led to an 11% drop in March container volume at the Montreal port on an annual basis, even as other eastern ports in North America made gains, the Maritime Employers Association said.
The move will cause delays in a 24-hour industry, the association said.
“Some manufacturers have had to redirect their containers to the Port of Halifax, incurring millions in additional costs every week,” said Dennis Darby, chief executive of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters (CME).
While the government strongly believes a negotiated agreement is the best option for all parties, “we are actively examining all options as the situation evolves,” a spokesman for Federal Labor Minister Filomena Tassi said.
Last summer’s stoppage of work cost wholesalers C$600 million ($478 million) in sales over a two-month period, Statistics Canada estimates.
($1 = 1.2563 Canadian dollars)
(Reporting By Allison Lampert in Montreal. Additional reporting by Julie Gordon in Ottawa; Editing by Marguerita Choy)
Canada scraps export permits for drone technology to Turkey, complains to Ankara
OTTAWA (Reuters) –Canada on Monday scrapped export permits for drone technology to Turkey after concluding that the equipment had been used by Azeri forces fighting Armenia in the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, Foreign Minister Marc Garneau said.
Turkey, which like Canada is a member of NATO, is a key ally of Azerbaijan, whose forces gained territory in the enclave after six weeks of fighting.
“This use was not consistent with Canadian foreign policy, nor end-use assurances given by Turkey,” Garneau said in a statement, adding he had raised his concerns with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu earlier in the day.
Ottawa suspended the permits last October so it could review allegations that Azeri drones used in the conflict had been equipped with imaging and targeting systems made by L3Harris Wescam, the Canada-based unit of L3Harris Technologies Inc.
In a statement, the Turkish Embassy in Ottawa said: “We expect our NATO allies to avoid unconstructive steps that will negatively affect our bilateral relations and undermine alliance solidarity.”
Earlier on Monday, Turkey said Cavusoglu had urged Canada to review the defense industry restrictions.
The parts under embargo include camera systems for Baykar armed drones. Export licenses were suspended in 2019 during Turkish military activities in Syria. Restrictions were then eased, but reimposed during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Turkey’s military exports to Azerbaijan jumped sixfold last year. Sales of drones and other military equipment rose to $77 million in September alone before fighting broke out in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, data showed.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa and Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Gareth Jones and Peter Cooney)
Investigation finds Suncor’s Colorado refinery meets environmental permits
By Liz Hampton
DENVER (Reuters) – A Colorado refinery owned by Canadian firm Suncor Energy Inc meets required environmental permits and is adequately funded, according to an investigation released on Monday into a series of emissions violations at the facility between 2017 and 2019.
The 98,000 barrel-per-day (bpd) refinery in the Denver suburb of Commerce City, Colorado, reached a $9-million settlement with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) March 2020 to resolve air pollution violations that occurred since 2017. That settlement also addressed an incident in December 2019 that released refinery materials onto a nearby school.
As part of the settlement, Suncor was required to use a third party to conduct an independent investigation into the violations and spend up to $5 million to implement recommendations from the investigation.
Consulting firm Kearney’s investigation found the facility met environmental permit requirements, but also pinpointed areas for improvement, including personnel training and systems upgrades, some of which was already underway.
“We need to improve our performance and improve the trust people have in us,” Donald Austin, vice president of the Commerce City refinery said in an interview, adding that the refinery had already undertaken some of the recommendations from the investigation.
In mid-April, Suncor will begin a turnaround at the facility that includes an upgrade to a gasoline-producing fluid catalytic cracking unit (FCCU) at Plant 1 of the facility. That turnaround is anticipated to be complete in June 2021.
Suncor last year completed a similar upgrade of an automatic shutdown system for the FCCU at the refinery’s Plant 2.
By 2023, the company will also install an additional control unit, upgraded instrumentation, automated shutdown valves and new hydraulic pressure units in Plant 2.
Together, those upgrades will cost approximately $12 million, of which roughly $10 million is dedicated to Plant 2 upgrades, Suncor said on Monday.
(Reporting by Liz Hampton; Editing by Marguerita Choy)