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Chinese dairy investor pressed Canada to ‘mitigate the risk’ of new NAFTA

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Less than three weeks after talks concluded on the revised North American free trade agreement, executives from a Chinese infant formula manufacturer that had invested $332 million to build a new plant in Kingston, Ont. asked for a sudden meeting with Canadian officials.

Zhiwen Yang, the general manager of Canada Royal Milk — the Canadian subsidiary of China Feihe Limited — wrote to then-Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay and the Liberal MP for Kingston and the Islands, Mark Gerretsen, describing how Canada’s concessions in the Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA) put his business plans in jeopardy by limiting how much cow’s milk formula it can export and dismantling the dairy ingredient pricing system.

Yang asked the federal government to “mitigate the risks to the project.” His three-page letters, dated Oct. 16, 2018, were released to CBC News under the Access to Information Act.

A few days later, Feihe International Inc. “respectfully” asked the president of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and another senior government official to meet for 90 minutes on Oct. 29 with Yang and his boss, Feihe International chair Youbin Leng, who was travelling to Canada with his directors of research and regulatory affairs.

“The purpose of the meeting is to discuss the regulatory framework in China and explore how we can work together. The expectation is not for a decision to be made, but to begin a conversation,” said the email from Carey Bidtnes, Canada Royal Milk’s human resources manager, who was part of the team that worked on bringing this investment to Canada during her previous employment with the Kingston Economic Development Corporation.

Bidtnes said that Canada Royal Milk was working with Health Canada and the CFIA to “resolve a challenge” with exporting its formula.

The documents reveal that the financial stakes for Feihe were higher by the fall of 2018 than they were in 2017, when CBC News reported on the potential international trade issues triggered by Feihe’s plans to export the vast majority of the infant formula it manufactures in Canada back to Chinese consumers.

As construction began, the Chinese investment was pegged at $225 million. A year later, the investment was estimated at $332 million and project proponents were predicting it would bring 277 direct full-time jobs to the region once production ramps up. A further 300 construction jobs have been created in the Kingston area and the plant is expected to generate the equivalent of over 1,000 more jobs in its eventual supply chain.

Chinese companies have a deeper relationship with China’s central government than private sector firms in North America do with their own national governments. Feihe is listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange, but its subsidiary, Canada Royal Milk, is incorporated in Canada.

The investment — the largest foreign direct investment in Ontario agriculture in the last decade — was finalized with officials from the Canadian Dairy Commission during a 2016 visit to Canada by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.

CUSMA limits exports, changed pricing

American officials were monitoring this Chinese investment. President Donald Trump — and the powerful U.S. farm lobby — regard Canada’s supply management system as “unfair” because it blocks most American dairy from Canada’s domestic market.

In the CUSMA, Canada agreed to several concessions that harm its dairy industry — including strict limits, enforced by new export charges, on international exports of infant formula and skim milk.

CUSMA’s export limit for cow’s milk formula is lower than what Feihe originally planned to produce in Kingston, according to a presentation obtained three years ago by CBC News.

Newly released government talking points say Canadian negotiators “were in contact with a number of individuals with direct knowledge of the proposed facility’s operations,” including the Kingston Economic Development Corporation, “to ensure negotiators had a thorough understanding of the intended operation … with a view to avoiding unintended impacts.”

 

Kingston’s mayor, Bryan Paterson, and a team of other local officials visited China to help land the infant formula facility in Eastern Ontario. It’s the largest foreign investment in Ontario’s agriculture industry in a decade. (Office of Mayor Bryan Paterson)

 

It’s the same response CBC News got in 2018 when it asked whether Canada’s NAFTA renegotiation team spoke directly to Feihe about its plans before signing off.

Another concession Canada agreed to in the CUSMA talks dismantled part of its dairy pricing regime, ending lower ingredient pricing that kept processors competitive. Canada’s prices are now based on American rates.

When Feihe agreed to invest in Ontario, Canada’s lower ingredient price was part of its forecasts.

Xinhua, the Chinese news agency, reported that then-foreign affairs minister Chrystia Freeland spoke to Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to brief him within days of concluding CUSMA negotiations.

But if the two ministers discussed the dairy concessions, they apparently didn’t resolve the manufacturer’s concerns because the documents show that, within days of that conversation, Feihe began its own outreach to the Canadian government.

Chinese asked Canada to limit competition

Earlier presentations of Canada Royal Milk’s business plans didn’t mention producing and exporting skim milk powder for the adult market. But this letter to MacAulay said the company would produce skim powder for export during a “ramp up” period of testing the new facility.

Canada already has a significant surplus of skim milk powder, left over after meeting Canada’s strong demand for butter. Making baby formula at this new plant was supposed to help use up this surplus, not exacerbate it.

 

Feihe eventually plans to manufacture formula from both cow and goat milk at its Kingston facility, exporting most of it to China. A decade after its tainted milk scandal, some Chinese consumers still have more confidence in foreign formula. (Andy Wong/Associated Press)

 

The global market for skim is crowded and ultra-competitive, with American farmers hostile to any threats. Under the World Trade Organization’s Nairobi Agreement, Canada agreed to stop exporting skim milk products as of January 2021.

“The export cap is a very serious issue for the operations of the company for 2019 and 2020,” the letter from general manager Yang to then-minister MacAulay said, “and we believe it will hinder the growth of the entire industry in the future.”

In its correspondence, Feihe asked for assurances that its facility had the support of all levels of government. It also requested “reasonable quota” so it could take maximum advantage of the tariff-free exports that would be allowed under the CUSMA, including a “guarantee that the full annual export quota for infant formula would be assigned to Canada Royal Milk.”

Our team has already been contacted by U.S. dairy producers who are eager to sell their products to us.– Zhiwen Yang, General Manager, Canada Royal Milk

Canada is allocating its export quota for skim milk powder based on processors’ past production. But for infant formula, export quota was distributed according to planned production — presumably to accommodate the new plant coming online.

“Currently, details on which entities have received an allocation for the dairy export thresholds are not public,” Jean-Sébastien Comeau, a spokesperson for Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau, told CBC News.

In a question redacted from one document released to CBC News but repeated without redaction in another, Yang also asked the government if it would “take steps to limit the licensing of new infant formula manufacturing in Canada.”

While that appears to be anti-competitive behaviour, no other Canadian dairy processor has shown interest in making infant formula in recent years — which is why Canada pursued the Chinese investment in the first place.

Looking for compensation

On the demise of ingredient pricing, “it’s unclear how this will impact our operations in the medium to long term,” Yang’s letter to MacAulay said.

“Our team has already been contacted by U.S. dairy producers who are eager to sell their products to us,” the letter continues.

“What has the government proposed to assist dairy processors to overcome the loss of [ingredient] pricing?”

The letter sent to MP Gerretsen repeated the same demands.

 

Construction of the massive Canada Royal Milk facility in Kingston, Ont. was expected to create about 300 jobs. Once production begins, it expected to employ 277 people full-time jobs and create the equivalent of another 1,000 jobs in local supply chains. (Feihe International Inc.)

 

Although Bibeau announced funding for dairy producers harmed by trade deals with the European Union and Pacific Rim countries in the days leading up to the 2019 federal election, the industry is still waiting for the compensation it was promised when NAFTA was replaced.

It’s unclear whether Canada Royal Milk would be eligible for compensation but the Chinese investment has qualified for other federal and provincial support programs.

If Feihe believes its investment was harmed by Canada’s concessions, it could sue for damages under the 2012 Canada–China Foreign Investor Protection Agreement, which was negotiated by the previous Conservative government.

“The sued country can opt not to make public anything until an arbitration award,” Osgoode Hall law professor and investment treaty specialist Gus Van Harten said, noting this agreement is unique in this regard.

International Trade Minister Mary Ng’s spokesperson Ryan Nearing said “there has been no dispute launched against Canada under the Canada-China FIPA to date, nor notification of an intention to do so.”

Despite delays, manufacturer now ‘confident’

In an interview with CBC, MP Gerretsen said he passed on the requests he received from the company to officials at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. But he said the only formal encounter he’s had with Canada Royal Milk was a tour of the construction site in his riding earlier in 2018.

“A number of the issues that were in their letter I believe have been addressed,” he said.

In departmental email, one bureaucrat called Yang’s correspondence “an interesting letter indeed.”

Before federal government officials met with the Chinese, two senior officials from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office, Brian Clow and Simon Beauchemin, joined an “urgent briefing” with MacAulay’s office — an “additional twist,” another bureaucrat called it.

“The Chairman is in Canada in the context of making more investment,” a senior official said. The request to meet with the president of the CFIA was “in the context of the application for export,” he said, “which may not be the full reality.”

Comeau, Bibeau’s spokesperson, tells CBC the Kingston facility now has its licence to export from the CFIA.

The Canadian Dairy Commission originally hoped an investor like Feihe could build a second facility, perhaps in Western Canada. But now, the government “is not in discussion with Canada Royal Milk about additional future investments,” Comeau said.

Earlier plans obtained by CBC News suggested Kingston facility would be exporting by now. Bidtnes told CBC News its production lines are complete and it is pleased with the results of its test batches.

“Timelines for beginning commercial production have been stretched into the fall due to the impact of COVID-19 on some regulatory processes,” she said, adding that the company remains “confident in our business plans and the support we have received from all levels of government.”

Source:- CBC.ca

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Travel restrictions eased for remote communities along Canada-U.S. border – CBC.ca

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The federal government has relaxed travel restrictions, allowing people in remote communities along the Canada-U.S. border to access the necessities of life — including food and medical services — and allowing cross-border students to attend school.

The communities of Stewart, B.C., home to about 400 residents, and Hyder, Alaska, which has a population of 63, are about three kilometres apart.

Residents and local politicians have been asking for the border to be reopened since the travel restrictions went into effect on March 21 in an effort to limit the spread of COVID-19. 

On Friday, Bill Blair, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, gave them the news they’ve been waiting to hear.

Under the new adjusted rules, the statement reads: “residents of Campobello Island, New Brunswick; Stewart, British Columbia; Northwest Angle, Minnesota; and Hyder, Alaska will be exempt from mandatory 14-day quarantine only to access the necessities of life (e.g., food, medical services) from the nearest Canadian or American community.”

The communities of Stewart, B.C., and Hyder, Alaska, are about three kilometres apart. (CBC)

Blair noted the changes, which come into effect Saturday, will allow students (and one driver) to cross the border to go to school and they also allow children who are part of a shared custody arrangement to be exempt from the quarantine period, along with a parent. 

“The limited and practical changes will continue to protect Canadians’ health and safety while removing hardships for children and for residents in remote communities impacted by the border restrictions.”

Relief in the communities

People living in Hyder and Stewart have been calling for changes to travel restrictions for months.

The President of the Hyder Community Association, Wes Loe, said people in the community are relieved, especially children who can now see their friends and attend school.

“Stewart and Hyder, it’s like one community with a border in between. We celebrate weddings. We celebrate births. It’s one community, then all of a sudden seven and a half months ago they put a wall there.”

Loe said the rule change is what residents in the remote communities needed.

“It’s a good feeling in the community. It’s a positive feeling.”

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Kelowna reports largest crime rate increase in Canada in 2019 – CBC.ca

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A new Statistics Canada study on police-reported crime data from 2019 shows Kelowna with the fastest growing crime rate in Canada.

Crime increased by 24 per cent, compared to 2018, according to StatsCan. The violent crime rate increased 65 per cent. And the crime severity Index — a measurement of the volume and severity of crime — rose 20 per cent, which is also more than any other city in Canada.

The Kelowna census metropolitan area’s crime rate is now 10,747 incidents per 100,000 residents, the second highest overall in Canada, just behind Lethbridge, Alta. 

The national average is 5,874 per 100,000 residents.  

The central Okanagan city’s metropolitan area for census purposes includes the cities of Kelowna, West Kelowna, Peachland, Lake Country and their surrounding rural areas.

Statistics Canada notes one reason for the crime rate increase, especially in violent crimes, was the new Kelowna RCMP reporting method.

In 2018, the detachment faced public criticism over its handling of sexual assault cases. Statistics Canada revealed 40 per cent of sexual assault cases reported to Kelowna RCMP were dismissed as “unfounded” — three times the national average. 

A national RCMP sexual assault review team investigated and recently determined that there was an underlying clerical error in how the cases were being classified that skewed the statistics.

Even so, the national team wound up recommending Kelowna RCMP reinvestigate 12 of the cases it had closed.

The 2019 StatsCan report also shows increases in robbery, car theft, mischief, uttering threats and shoplifting.

According to the report, Kelowna also has the highest rate of opioid-related offences in Canada, at 124 per 100,000 people, compared to 35 in Vancouver.

‘Communities remain extremely safe,’ say RCMP

RCMP Supt. Kara Triance, the new commander of the Kelowna detachment, responded to the new statistics in a written statement, blaming much of the increase in the overall crime rate on non-violent property crimes and a transient population.

“We recognize that this ranking appears concerning, but I would like to stress that Kelowna and the surrounding communities remain extremely safe,” Triance stated.

“Kelowna is also a resort destination during the summer with a significant increase in visitor population. While that number is not reflected in our population statistics, it does affect reported crime.”

Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran says he would like to see a co-ordinated effort involving the province to help deal with the surge in non-violent crimes in his municipality. (Colin Basran/Facebook)

Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran also noted the increase in non-violent crime and called for more co-ordination and provincial support to tackle the problem.

“We work with RCMP every day to address criminal behaviour, but we need senior levels of government to address the underlying problems of health, housing and poverty that contribute to these downstream issues,” Basran stated. “RCMP need support from other agencies to deal with repeat offenders.”

Since 2015, the city has approved funding for 34 new full-time RCMP officers and 23 police safety support staff.

The detachment has increased patrols on Friday and Saturday nights and bolstered investigative support teams involved in complex crimes. 

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

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The latest:

Health officials across Canada continue to warn about the risks of gatherings as a family Thanksgiving dinner in Ontario is cited as the source of a major COVID-19 outbreak, and British Columbia announces the death of an elderly woman who contracted the virus at a small birthday party.

In the case of the Thanksgiving dinner in Renfrew County, Ont., up to 20 people attended the event, Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Cushman told CBC News.

“Someone must have showed up to the event with COVID. Either they were asymptomatic or they didn’t pay attention to their symptoms,” he said. “And then it continued to spread.”

WATCH | Family Thanksgiving dinner was superspreading event, health official says:

Dr. Robert Cushman, medical officer of health for Renfrew County, says a Thanksgiving gathering attended by up to 20 people has led to a dozen cases of COVID-19 so far. 0:59

About a dozen cases have been linked to the dinner so far, Cushman said.

Among them were two teenagers, which necessitated “some very aggressive contact tracing and testing in their particular high school,” he said. As a result, about 70 students missed at least a week of classes.

In British Columbia, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry highlighted the province’s most recent COVID-19 death — a woman in her 80s who contracted the disease at a birthday party — as she urged residents to remain vigilant.

“Somebody unknowingly brought COVID-19, and even though it was a small party in one person’s home, the majority of people who were in that home became infected with COVID-19,” Henry said.

The birthday party, which had fewer than 10 people, took place in the Fraser Valley region, which has more than half of B.C.’s identified cases despite accounting for only 39 per cent of the population.

(CBC News)

Meanwhile, with Halloween this weekend, health experts are urging Canadians to be mindful of certain things to keep any holiday activities from becoming superspreaders.

“Halloween is usually an outdoor activity — keep it exclusively outdoors,” Dr. Matthew Oughton, an infectious diseases specialist at Jewish General Hospital in Montreal, told CBC News Network.

He said people should make sure trick-or-treaters don’t cluster together to get candy from a communal bowl; rather, prepackaged bags of candy should be available that can be handed out one or two at a time. 

WATCH | Keep Halloween activities outdoors, says infectious diseases specialist:

People should keep Halloween activities outdoors while making sure that kids don’t cluster together for candy when trick-or-treating, says infectious diseases specialist Dr. Matthew Oughton. 1:35

On Friday, the federal government released new modelling projections that found all Canadians must reduce close contacts by 25 per cent in order to flatten the second wave. 

Dr. Theresa Tam, the country’s chief public health officer, said despite new health restrictions, transmission will continue if Canadians keep up the number of contacts they currently have.

The projections show the number of COVID-19 cases could rise from the current level — 230,547 as of 11:20 a.m. ET Friday — to 262,000 by Nov. 8. Another 300 people are expected to die during that period if cases rise at that rate. 

While the number of deaths have risen, it’s at a slower rate than earlier in the pandemic. Tam said this is likely because more young people have had the virus recently and recovered at home, and because treatment options have improved.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also said Friday that the federal government will provide further supports for Indigenous communities dealing with the pandemic.

Ottawa is adding $200 million to its funding to help those communities fight COVID-19, he said. More than half of that money will go toward pre-schools and daycare centres, to improve training and staffing and enhance cleaning.

Around $60 million is going to First Nations to make community buildings safer with renovations, better cleaning and upgraded ventilation, while $26 million is going to Indigenous post-secondary institutions, Trudeau said. 

The new money is on top of more than $2.2 billion the federal government has already allocated to help Indigenous and northern communities get through the health crisis.


What’s happening in the rest of Canada 

As of  6 p.m. ET on Friday, Canada had 231,727 confirmed or presumptive coronavirus cases, with 27,903of those active. Provinces and territories listed 193,715 as recovered or resolved. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC’s reporting stood at 10,109.

In the Yukon, the first COVID-19-related death was announced on Friday. The territory has reported 23 confirmed cases since the pandemic and 17 of those positive cases are considered recovered.

The person who died was from the rural community of Watson Lake, where there has been a recent cluster of cases with an unknown source of infection. Yukon’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brendan Hanley said at a news conference Friday that the person was “older” and had “significant” underlying medical conditions. 

On Thurdsay, Yukon reported its most recent case, which officials said was travel-related and not linked to Watson Lake.

Ontario reported another 896 cases of COVID-19 and nine new deaths on Friday, with 796 recoveries. Its seven-day average of daily cases has now climbed above 900 for the first time in the pandemic.

Premier Doug Ford said Friday that he’ll ask the province’s health experts when more businesses can open in harder-hit areas after the 28-day period of tightened restrictions ends next month. 

At Friday’s news conference Ford also said he’d ask Ontario’s health team if lifting Stage 2 restrictions can be done safely. 

Associate Medical Officer of Health Dr. Barbara Yaffe told reporters that while cases continue to increase, the climb has slowed — making it possible to discuss loosening restrictions.

WATCH | Gym owners, patrons frustrated by renewed COVID-19 closures:

Despite Manitoba’s surge in COVID-19 cases, gyms remain open in most of the province even though the facilities are closed in Ontario and Quebec. Gym owners and patrons are increasingly frustrated and want to know why they’re paying more to contain the pandemic than other jurisdictions. 1:57

The province is not yet declaring a victory around data showing that there are fewer COVID-19 deaths so far associated with the surge in infections over the last few weeks. Doctors told CBC News that a person who is infected with COVID-19 now is more likely to survive than they would have been during the initial spring outbreak, as they now know more about how to treat the virus effectively. 

However, the number of deaths may rise in the coming weeks as there is a “lagging issue” in that it takes time for COVID-19 to jump from younger people to older, more vulnerable members of the population. 

In Ottawa, the city’s medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches said that spread has slowed in the region but there are outbreaks at long-term care homes that are concerning. Provincial data released Thursday showed that although Ottawa is a COVID-19 hotspot, it’s fairing better than other regions with a high number of infections. 

Quebec reported 1,108 new cases, 1,150 new recoveries and 18 new deaths on Friday.

Cases in hard-hit Montreal have remained steady at 250 new infections per day on average, but some neighbourhoods are grappling with more outbreaks than others, Montreal Public Health Director Dr. Mylène Drouin said on Friday.

Workplace transmission has become less of an issue, but health officials are seeing more cases of the virus in schools, she said. There are 93 schools currently experiencing outbreaks. 

Clients write comments on the outside wall of a gym during a morning protest in Montreal on Thursday. The Quebec government has extended the closure of gyms until Nov. 23. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

New Brunswick reported one new COVID-19 case and three recoveries on Friday.

That comes a day after the province reported four new confirmed cases, declared an outbreak at a special care home in Balmoral and announced new isolation rules for people who travel outside the Atlantic bubble for work.

Newfoundland and Labrador reported no new cases on Friday for the fourth straight day in a row. Three active cases remain in the province. 

In Nova Scotia, officials said Friday that the state of emergency would be renewed as the province announced two new cases. The emergency status will begin at noon on Nov. 1 and run until Nov. 15, unless the province extends it. 

Alberta recorded a dramatic jump in COVID-19 cases on Friday, reporting 622 new infections. That figure is significantly higher than the daily average of 450 that the province has seen in the last 10 days. 

Currently, 140 Albertans are in hospital with the disease, 25 of them in ICU, also both record numbers. The province also reported another five deaths. 

Manitoba reported another 480 new cases on Friday, shattering the record number of new cases announced on Thursday.

As a result of the continued increase in cases, the Winnipeg region is being moved to the critical red alert, which is the highest level  on the province’s pandemic response system. The rest of the province is being moved to the orange level.

Starting Monday, bars and restaurants will be closed in Winnipeg and will be offering take-out or delivery only. Concert halls and movie theatres will also close.

WATCH | Dr. Brent Roussin explains new, strict health rules being implemented in Manitoba: 

While widespread closures and capacity restrictions have significant impacts on people, Manitoba’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin says a concerning trend of rising COVID-19 cases and strain on the healthcare system in recent days forced the province to introduce the latest round of rules meant to slow the spread of the illness. 0:42

Other restrictions are being ushered in as well, including hospitals suspending non-urgent and elective procedures, retail outlets being reduced to 25 per cent capacity and faith-based gatherings will be limited to 15 per cent capacity. The new rules will be in place for two weeks, and then reassessed, said Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer.

In orange zones outside of Winnipeg, new rules are also being implemented including reducing capacity to 50 per cent at restaurants, bars, retail stores, museums, galleries and libraries. 

The shutdown announcement comes as 12 doctors in the province published a letter Friday in the Winnipeg Free Press directed toward the premier and health minister, stating it’s time for a province-wide shutdown. Manitoba’s positivity rate has climbed to 8.6 per cent, and there are 104 people in hospital as of Friday.

The physicians say in the letter that what’s needed is mass closures such as those implemented in Manitoba and elsewhere when COVID-19 emerged in the spring.

It’s important to note that Manitoba’s active case count is currently inaccurate, as there’s a backlog for tracking recoveries, Roussin said earlier this month.

Saskatchewan reported 76 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, with 34 of those cases coming from the Saskatoon area. There are currently 22 people in hospital with sixteen of those receiving inpatient care. 

A public health order on nightclubs is now in effect in Saskatoon, where drinking alcohol is barred between 10 p.m. and 9:30 a.m. CST, and they are required to close between 11 p.m. and 9:30 a.m. CST. Karaoke and dance floors have been closed at the clubs, where guests are to be seated and cannot mingle between tables. 

Two medical experts told CBC News they’re worried the number of new infections will overwhelm the province’s health system. 

British Columbia announced in a written public statement another 272 cases of COVID-19 on Friday and one additional death. There are currently 2,390 active cases in the province.

Three new outbreaks at health care facilities were announced by health officials who also reminded residents not to hold large parties over the Halloween weekend. 


What’s happening around the world

A database maintained by Johns Hopkins University put the cumulative number of COVID-19 cases reported around the world since the pandemic began at more than 45.1 million as of Friday morning, with more than 30.3 million of those listed as recovered. The death toll reported by the U.S.-based university stood at more than 1.1 million.

European Union officials said Friday that the World Health Organization (WHO) needs to be quickly overhauled to be strengthened, so it can be faster when handling emergencies. 

Those comments were made during a video conference of EU health ministers who endorsed an EU document outlining changes they say need to occur at WHO. The document also urges the UN body to make public how and if member states respect their obligations to share information on health crises. 

The move comes after criticisms that some countries, including China, did not share information with WHO about COVID-19 quickly enough at the outset of the pandemic. 

At the same conference Germany’s health minister said that when a vaccine for COVID-19 is ready, it will be distributed equally among all European Union member nations. 

Jens Spahn told EU health ministries that they will wait for Phase 3 trials to be completed and then organize fair distribution.

Spahn, who was in quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19, has emphasized that comprehensive clinical trials must be completed before the vaccine is approved for use.

The United States now has nine million cases of COVID-19 according to data compiled by John Hopkins University. The country was at eight million just two weeks ago, marking the fasted accumulation of another million cases reported so far.

Infections are rising in nearly every state. The U.S. also broke its single-day record for new coronavirus infections on Thursday, reporting at least 91,248 new cases, as 21 states reported their highest daily number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients since the pandemic started, according to a Reuters tally of publicly reported data.

WATCH | COVID-19 long-haulers share experience with prolonged symptoms:

During a World Health Organization news conference, an infectious disease epidemiologist, a nurse and a software engineer share the long-term effects they’ve had after getting COVID-19. 5:38

Among the hardest-hit states are those most hotly contested in Tuesday’s presidential election between Republican President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden, such as Ohio, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Also in the U.S., Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, a biotech company based out of Tarrytown, N.Y., said Friday that their study testing an experimental antibody drug for the coronavirus has been paused to investigate a possible safety issue.

Independent monitors had recommended placing on hold enrolment of the most severely ill patients — those who need intense oxygen treatment or breathing machines — because of a potential safety problem and unfavourable balance of risks and benefit, they said. 

The study can continue to test the two-antibody drug combo in hospitalized patients who need little or no extra oxygen. Other studies in mild or moderately ill people also are continuing.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also released a new study on Friday that found COVID-19 can spread in households more extensively than previous research suggests. The report emphasizes why it’s important for those who test positive to isolate from other household members while they are recovering.

The research looked at 101 homes in Tennessee and Wisconsin and discovered about 53 per cent of household members tested positive after the first person became sick. 

Confirmed coronavirus infections in Slovakia have also hit a new record high as the country gets ready for countrywide testing.

The Health Ministry says the day-to-day increase in the country of 5.4 million reached 3,363 on Thursday, more than 300 above the previous record set on Saturday.

People are seen at a COVID-19 testing site in Nizna, Slovakia, last week. Authorities are hoping a broad testing program will help them respond to the pandemic more effectively. (Radovan Stoklasa/Reuters)

The government wants to use antigen tests, which are less accurate than polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests but have the advantage of producing faster results, for testing almost the entire population older than age 10 over the next two weekends. It’s not compulsory and is free of charge.

India reported 48,648 new coronavirus cases, continuing a month-long slowing trend in infections even as the country adds to its eight million cases.

The Health Ministry also reported 563 more fatalities in the past 24 hours, raising the confirmed death toll to 121,090.

Even as cases are dropping across the country, New Delhi is facing what could be a third wave of infections. The capital is India’s worst-hit city and is among the few regions in the country seeing further new infections, clocking more than 5,000 daily in the last three days. The surge comes while seasonal pollution levels are soaring in the capital, worsening respiratory illnesses.

Muslims, many wearing masks, leave the Jama Masjid mosque after offering Friday prayers on the occasion of Eid-e-Milad-ul-Nabi, the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad, in the old quarters of Delhi on Friday. (Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters)

In Britain, a weekly survey by the region’s statistics agency shows an average of nearly 52,000 daily coronavirus cases, an increase of nearly 50 per cent in the most recent week.

The highest rates were shown in northern England, where restrictions have been tightened the most in the last few weeks. 

France is grappling with a strict new lockdown that started Friday. Parisians fled for the countryside, jamming up roads and booking trains solid to ride out the lockdown away from the city.

The entire country, made up of 67 million people, has been ordered to stay at home at all times with no visitors. Those who break the rules could face steep fines or be charged. There are some exceptions, including being allow outside for one hour per day within one kilometre of home, going to work, medical appointments, or shopping for essentials. 

A woman walks by closed shops near Galeries Lafayette in the center of Paris as a national lockdown went into effect. (The Associated Press/Lewis Joly)

Restaurants have closed, other than offering take-out. Per capita, France has two and half times the number of cases the U.S. has. The lockdown is set to last for four weeks until it’s reassessed. 

Kenya has joined the trial of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine candidate, which was developed with Oxford University. The Kenya Medical Research Institute said the first of 40 volunteers in the country who have been vaccinated are all front-line health workers.

The news of the east African nation joining the trial comes as Kenya’s government said a second surge in COVID-19 cases had begun there. 

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