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City officials optimistic provincial budget will cover COVID-19 costs –



The provincial budget appears to be offering Ottawa “a good start” at covering the city’s projected $153-million deficit this year, says Mayor Jim Watson.

The 2021 budget tabled Wednesday at Queen’s Park provides $905 million for municipalities and their services: $500 million to shore up operational costs; another $150 million for revenue-ravaged transit systems; and $255 million for social services.

All this spending was pre-announced by the government earlier this month, but is welcomed nonetheless by the city, which is currently forecasting a $153-million deficit if the pandemic continues through to the end of the year.

Ottawa’s share of the new provincial funds comes to about $70 million, but the federal government is expected to match that amount in its own budget next month.

“A good portion of it actually is for costs that we’ve incurred for everything from PPE to paramedic overtime costs to running the vaccination centres at city facilities,” the mayor told CBC Ottawa’s All In a Day host Alan Neal on Wednesday. “It’s not going to go to new programs. It’s going to basically cover the costs that we’ve incurred as a direct result of COVID-19.”

OC Transpo lost $108 million in revenue last year, after ridership fell by 80 per cent. (Christian Patry/Radio-Canada)

City ended with surplus last year

In fact, COVID-19 had a net impact of $238.5 million on the city last year, according to a staff report that was made public Wednesday evening.

The hardest hit department was transit by a wide margin. OC Transpo, which saw its ridership plummet as workplaces and schools closed, lost $108 million of revenue in 2020.

But the city’s shortfall was more-than-covered by federal and provincial funding, and Ottawa actually ended the year with a surplus of almost $22 million, says the report that is going council’s finance and economic development committee next month.

Even better, it appears that the city carried over $103 million of unused provincial and federal funding from last year into 2021, although $79.4 million has to be used by March 31, 2021. And unspent money will have to be sent back.

‘Very optimistic’ on public health

Like Watson, Ottawa Board of Health Chair Keith Egli wants to hear about the budget details before breathing a sigh of relief — but so far, so good, he said.

“We’re very optimistic,” Egli told CBC. “We made it very clear to the province that there were going to be unforeseen expenses related to the vaccine rollout. They’ve indicated go ahead — get as many people vaccinated as quickly as you can.”

The government earmarked $1 billion to fund the province’s vaccination program, including this inoculation clinic at Ottawa City Hall. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Ottawa Public Health (OPH) saw its costs increase by $19 million last year — a figure that will likely soar in 2021 as staff roll out the massive vaccination plan. The province put aside $1 billion in its 2021 budget for the vaccine program, and another $2.3 billion to pay for COVID-19 testing and contact tracing in 2021 and 2022, an indication that the government doesn’t think we’ll be quite done with coronavirus this year.

It’s too early to say whether those funds will be enough, said Egli. Circumstances change rapidly, including this week when the province’s online appointment system double-booked residents for shots. The city had to pivot, finding shuttles to take those who were overbooked to a different vaccination centre.

“Nobody really knows what’s going to cost at the end of the day,” he said.” There’s a certain level of working on faith here.”

Egli said OPH needs “to forge ahead and do the work and and sort it out when the dust clears,” adding that the province has given “every indication that they’re going to be there for us and make us whole.”

Money for hospitality, not for housing

Watson said he was relieved to see help for small businesses extended, and a new $100-million program for hard-hit tourism and hospitality businesses, which will be eligible for one-time payments between $10,000 and $20,000.

Tourism is Ottawa’s third-largest industry and the mayor hopes that the province will spend some of its economic recovery money on marketing. He expects “a much more focused campaign on domestic tourism,” targeting Toronto, Kingston, Montreal when it’s appropriate to travel.

Tourism, Ottawa’s third-largest industry, has taken a huge hit during the pandemic. The mayor looks forward to a marketing campaign to bring regional tourists to the capital when appropriate. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Watson was disappointed, however, to see little new money for affordable housing. Ottawa’s city council declared a housing emergency in Ottawa last year, and earlier this month approved its first-ever long-term financial plan to deal with housing and homelessness. That plan calls for the provincial and federal governments to equally split a $585-million price tag for new housing over the next decade.

Ontario’s 2021 budget didn’t address the housing issue in any significant way.

Internet for smaller municipalities

The budget contained a few shout-outs for smaller municipalities, too. In particular, the government pledged to spend $2.8 billion to bring broadband to more people over the next four years. 

And the province will temporarily increase the Regional Opportunities Investment Tax Credit for businesses outside large centres like Toronto and Ottawa, a move that will cost the government $61 million.

As well, the Ontario Municipal Partnership Fund — which helps smaller centres with their operating costs — remains stable at about $500 million.

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Canada will not restrict AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, says benefits outweigh risk



OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada‘s health ministry said on Wednesday it would not restrict use of AstraZeneca Plc’s COVID-19 vaccine after a review showed the benefits outweighed the very rare risk of blood clots.

A separate advisory council had earlier recommended Canada stop offering the vaccine to people under 55. The panel is now reviewing that advice, the health ministry said in a statement.

Denmark on Wednesday became the first country to stop using the vaccine altogether over a potential link to the rare blood clots. Other nations have imposed limits on its use.

But Health Canada, the federal health ministry, said in a statement that a review of data from Europe, Britain and AstraZeneca had not identified specific risk factors.

“Therefore, Health Canada is not restricting the use of the vaccine in any specific populations at this time … The potential risk of these events is very rare, and the benefits of the vaccine in protecting against COVID-19 outweigh its potential risks,” it said.

Canada on Tuesday said it had recorded its first case of blood clotting with low platelets after someone received the AstraZeneca shot. The patient in question, a woman from Quebec, is recovering. (Graphic on vaccines:

COVID-19 cases are surging in Canada with the country reporting a near-record number of new cases recently. (Graphic on cases:


(Reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa and Allison Martell in Toronto; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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Factbox-Some countries limit AstraZeneca vaccine use, US pauses J&J shot



(Reuters) -Some countries are restricting use of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to certain age groups or suspending use after European and British regulators confirmed possible links to rare blood clots.

Denmark became the first country to stop using the vaccine altogether, as it said results of investigations showed “real and serious side-effects”.

Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot vaccine has also been hit by concerns over blood clots, with European regulators reviewing such cases and U.S. federal health agencies recommending pausing its use for a few days. J&J noted no clear causal relationship had been established between the clots and its vaccine.

The developments pose a risk to vaccination plans in Europe.

Regulators have said the benefits of the AstraZeneca shot outweigh risks.

Anglo-Swedish drugmaker AstraZeneca said it was working with regulators to list the possible brain blood clots as “an extremely rare potential side effect” on the vaccines labels.

As of April 4, the European Medicines Agency had received reports of 169 cases of a rare brain blood clot known as cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST), after 34 million doses had been administered in the European Economic Area. Most cases were in women under 60 years of age.



Said on April 8 it recommends people under 50 should get Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine in preference to AstraZeneca’s shot.


Has resumed use.


Authorities said they would not limit use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, saying benefits outweigh risks.


The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has said an alternative to the vaccine should be given for people under 30 where possible, but people should continue to have a second shot if they have received a first dose.


Resumed inoculations from March 19.


Resumed inoculations on March 19.


Authorities said in early April they would pause offering the vaccine to people under 55 and require a new analysis of the shot’s benefits and risks based on age and gender. On April 13, the country said it had recorded its first case of blood clotting with low platelets.


Suspended use of the vaccine for people under 60 on April 7.


Approved resumption of the vaccine on March 19 but said it should be given only to people aged 55 and over. On April 9, recommended that recipients of a first dose of the AstraZeneca shot who are under 55 should receive a second dose with a messenger RNA vaccine.


Resumed using the AstraZeneca vaccine from March 29, but only for people aged 65 and over.


Has limited use of the vaccine following the death of a nurse from anaphylactic shock, and vaccinations will continue only in full-fledged medical centres, Russian news agency TASS reported on March 19.


Sticking to its guidance from March 31 to limit use of the vaccine to those aged over 60. On April 1, Germany’s vaccine commission recommended people under 60 who have had a first shot of the vaccine should receive a different product for their second dose.


Continuing the vaccine’s rollout.


Resumed use on March 25 after suspending it on March 11.


Resumed using the vaccine on March 22 but warned against its use in people with a low blood platelet count.


On April 12, the country said it was restricting use of the vaccine to those over 60.


Has recommended the vaccine be used only for people over 60, the country’s top health adviser said.


Announced it was restarting administering the shots from March 19.


Restarted use on March 19.


Drug regulator Cofepris said on April 7 it did not “at this time” plan to limit the vaccine’s use but was investigating the information raised by Britain.


Limited use of the vaccine to people over 60, the Dutch government said on April 8.


Health minister said on March 31 the vaccine would be limited to people aged over 60 as a precautionary measure.


Suspended use of the vaccine for people under 60 on April 8.


Has resumed use of the vaccine after temporarily stopping vaccinating people with one batch of the vaccine on March 11.


Resumed use of the shot for people aged 30 or older on April 12. On April 7, it had suspended providing the AstraZeneca shot to people under 60.


From April 8, it was giving the vaccine only to people over 60.


Resumed use of the vaccine on March 25 for people aged 65 and older.


Began use on March 15 after delaying rollout the week before.



Suspended administration of the vaccine it was scheduled to receive on March 20 as part of the global vaccines sharing scheme COVAX, the health ministry said.


In a world first, Denmark decided to stop using the AstraZeneca vaccine altogether after initially suspending use of the shot.


Authorities said on March 26 Norway would delay a decision on use of the vaccine, with a decision expected by April 15.



On April 13, U.S. federal health agencies recommended pausing use of J&J’s COVID-19 vaccine for at least a few days after six women under the age of 50 developed rare blood clots after receiving the shot.


The company said it would delay the rollout of the vaccine to Europe, after regulators said they were reviewing rare blood clots.

Widespread use in the EU had not yet started after the company began delivering the doses in the week beginning April 12. The European drug regulator recommended storing doses already received until its safety committee issues an expedited recommendation


Suspended use of J&J’s vaccine on April 13.

(Reporting by Pushkala Aripaka, Yadarisa Shabong, Manas Mishra, Vishwadha Chander, Amruta Khandekar and Mrinalika Roy in Bengaluru; editing by Josephine Mason, Alison Williams, Timothy Heritage, Larry King, Barbara Lewis)

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Ontario hospitals may have to withhold care as COVID-19 fills ICUs



By Allison Martell and Anna Mehler Paperny

TORONTO (Reuters) – Doctors in the Canadian province of Ontario may soon have to decide who can and cannot receive treatment in intensive care as the number of coronavirus infections sets records and patients are packed into hospitals still stretched from a December wave.

Canada‘s most populous province is canceling elective surgeries, admitting adults to a major children’s hospital and preparing field hospitals after the number of COVID-19 patients in ICUs jumped 31% to 612 in the week leading up to Sunday, according to data from the Ontario Hospital Association.

The sharp increase in Ontario hospital admissions is also straining supplies of tocilizumab, a drug often given to people seriously ill with COVID-19.

Hospital care is publicly funded in Canada, generally free at the point of care for residents. But new hospital beds have not kept pace with population growth, and shortages of staff and space often emerge during bad flu seasons.

Ontario’s hospitals fared relatively well during the first wave of the pandemic last year, in part because the province quickly canceled elective surgeries.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario told doctors last Thursday that the province was considering “enacting the critical care triage protocol,” something that was not done during earlier waves of the virus. Triage protocols help doctors decide who to treat in a crisis.

“Everybody’s under extreme stress,” said Eddy Fan, an ICU doctor at Toronto’s University Health Network. He said no doctor wants to contemplate a triage protocol but there are only so many staff.

“There’s going to be a breaking point, a point at which we can’t fill those gaps any longer.”

In a statement, the health ministry said Ontario has not activated the protocol. A September draft suggested doctors could withhold life-sustaining care from patients with a less than 20% chance of surviving 12 months. A final version has not been made public.

Ontario’s Science Advisory Table had been forecasting the surge for months, said member and critical care physician Laveena Munshi. During a recent shift she wanted to call the son of a patient only to discover he was in an ICU across the street.

“The horror stories that we’re seeing in the hospital are like ones out of apocalyptic movies,” she said. “They’re not supposed to be the reality we’re seeing one year into a pandemic.”

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