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

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The latest:

The United States will require airline passengers from the United Kingdom to test negative for COVID-19 before their flight, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced late Thursday.

The U.S. is the latest country to announce new travel restrictions because of a new variant of the coronavirus that is spreading in Britain and elsewhere.

Airline passengers from the U.K. will need to get negative COVID-19 tests within three days of their trip and provide the results to the airline, the CDC said in a statement. The agency said the order will be signed Friday and go into effect on Monday.

“If a passenger chooses not to take a test, the airline must deny boarding to the passenger,” the CDC said in its statement.

The agency said because of travel restrictions in place since March, air travel to the U.S. from the U.K. is already down by 90 per cent.

Last weekend, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the new variant of the coronavirus seemed to spread more easily than earlier ones and was moving rapidly through England. But Johnson stressed “there’s no evidence to suggest it is more lethal or causes more severe illness,” or that vaccines will be less effective against it.

WATCH | Pfizer, Moderna vaccines can be modified to tackle variants, expert says:

According to infectious disease specialist Dr. Zain Chagla, vaccines that use mRNA technology can be reverse engineered quite quickly to take on variants — such as the recent U.K. variant of the coronavirus. 1:42

This week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said three airlines with flights from London to New York — British Airways, Delta and Virgin Atlantic — had agreed to require passengers to take a COVID-19 test before getting on the plane. United Airlines on Thursday agreed to do the same for its flights to Newark, N.J.

Britain has been under considerable pressure since word of the new variant of the virus was made public. Some 40 countries imposed travel bans on Britain, leaving the island nation increasingly isolated.

On Christmas Day, about 1,000 British soldiers were clearing a backlog of truck drivers stuck in southeast England after France briefly closed its border to the U.K. then demanded coronavirus tests from all amid fears of the new virus variant.

Even as 4,000 international truck drivers spent yet another day cooped up in their cabs, some progress was evident Friday, with traffic around the English Channel port of Dover moving in an orderly fashion toward the extra ferries that were put on to make the short crossing across to Calais in northern France.

Meanwhile, Russian authorities have ordered those arriving from the U.K. to quarantine for two weeks, after the country suspended direct flights from the U.K. earlier this week. 

The order from the Rospotrebnadzor sanitary safety agency posted Friday on the portal of official information obliges all those travelling from the U.K. to remain in isolation for 14 days after their arrival in Russia. The measure is effective starting Saturday.


What’s happening in Canada

As of Friday morning, Canada’s COVID-19 case count stood at 535,243, with 76,459 of those cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 14,720.

The first shipment carrying doses of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine arrived in Canada on Thursday afternoon, just over 24 hours after Health Canada authorized the vaccine for use in people over the age of 18.

The shipment contains a portion of the 168,000 doses expected to arrive before the end of the year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted, along with a photo of a FedEx plane being unloaded at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport.

“This is another big step in our national vaccine rollout,” Trudeau said. “But it doesn’t mean we can let up just yet. The vaccine won’t help you if you get sick now.”

Canada on Thursday also expanded enhanced screening and monitoring measures for travellers arriving from South Africa, citing the rise of a more infectious variant of the coronavirus in that country, similar to one that has emerged in the U.K.

This followed a move on Wednesday by Trudeau to extend to Jan. 6 a ban on passenger flights arriving from the U.K., citing the variant.

No cases of the variants have been found in Canada so far, Health Canada said in a release, noting it had tested over 25,000 samples. “All travellers who have been in the United Kingdom or South Africa within the period of 14 days before the day on which they seek entry into Canada will be subject to secondary screening and enhanced measures,” Health Canada said.

Those measures include “increased scrutiny of quarantine plans,” it said.

Canada also updated travel advisories for both the U.K. and South Africa to advise extra caution. Health officials continue to advise against all non-essential international travel.

WATCH | Christmas gatherings threaten to spike COVID-19 numbers:

Despite pleas from premiers and the prime minister for people to stay home, Christmas gatherings threaten to spike COVID-19 numbers that are already breaking records in Ontario and Quebec. 2:31

COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to rise across Canada, with the two most populous provinces both posting record highs in new cases on Thursday.

In Ontario, where a provincewide lockdown is set to take effect after midnight on Boxing Day, Premier Doug Ford urged people to stay home.

“I know the lockdown starts on December 26 — but I have to tell you, folks, every time you take a trip it puts people in jeopardy,” he said. “So please, as of right now, please stay at home when you can.”

Ontario on Thursday reported 2,447 new cases of coronavirus and 49 additional deaths, bringing the provincial death toll to 4,278. Hospitalizations stood at 967, with 277 COVID-19 patients in Ontario’s intensive care units, according to provincial data.

Meanwhile, Quebec reported a single-day record of 2,349 new cases on Thursday. Health officials in the province also reported 46 deaths, bringing the provincial death toll to 7,913. Hospitalizations stood at 1,052 with 146 people in ICUs, according to a provincial database.

Projections released by a government research centre — the Institut national d’excellence en santé et services sociaux (INESSS) — showed hospitals in Montreal are rapidly using up the space they have allotted for COVID-19 patients and could run out of beds by Jan. 12.

The projections, released weekly, noted that hospitalizations have more than doubled in the Montreal area over the past month.

WATCH | Why some families are having a giftless Christmas:

Some families are keeping Christmas simple and spending less because of stores closed by lockdowns and limits on gatherings, while others just can’t afford holiday celebrations or gifts. 2:00

With COVID-19 cases on the rise, communities across Canada have made adjustments to traditional Christmas celebrations. Here’s a look at how some in Canada are celebrating this year.


What’s happening around the world

As of 11:45 a.m. ET on Friday, more than 79.5 million coronavirus cases had been reported worldwide, with more than 44.8 million cases considered recovered or resolved, according to a running tally kept by Johns Hopkins University researchers. The global death toll stood at more than 1.7 million.

In the Americas, U.S. President Donald Trump spent his Christmas Eve golfing in Florida after making a last-minute demand that threatens to blow up a massive COVID relief and government funding bill and force a government shutdown in the midst of the pandemic. Failure to agree on the bill could deny cheques to millions of Americans on the brink.

Trump’s departure to his Palm Beach golf club came as Washington was still reeling over his surprise, eleventh-hour request that an end-of-year spending bill that congressional leaders spent months negotiating give most Americans $2,000 US COVID relief cheques — far more than the $600 members of his own party had agreed to.

The idea was swiftly rejected by House Republicans during a rare Christmas Eve session, leaving the proposal in limbo.

WATCH | Is one COVID-19 vaccine better than another?

Infectious disease physicians answer viewer questions about COVID-19 vaccines, including if one is better than another and how vaccinations will impact the health-care system. 6:35

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro used his Christmas message to cast more doubt on a coronavirus vaccine purchased by one of the country’s states from Chinese biopharmaceutical firm Sinovac.

In his live broadcast on social media Thursday, Bolsonaro said “the efficacy of that vaccine of Sao Paulo seems to be very low,” though he gave nothing specific. Sao Paulo health authorities have not presented complete trial results a week after announcing that there were encouraging Phase 3 studies on the shot’s effectiveness.

In Europe, Queen Elizabeth released her annual Christmas message in which she acknowledged the “difficult and unpredictable times” while paying tribute to front-line workers and young people who have helped their communities during the pandemic.

With infection rates soaring in recent weeks and many hospitals nearing their capacities, the British government on Dec. 19 cancelled Christmas gatherings and festive shopping for millions in a bid to control the spread of the virus.

Meanwhile, Pope Francis made a Christmas Day plea for authorities to make COVID-19 vaccines available to all, insisting that the first in line should be the most vulnerable and needy, regardless of who holds the patents for the shots.

“Vaccines for everybody, especially for the most vulnerable and needy,” who should be first in line, Francis said in off-the-cuff remarks from his prepared text, calling the development of such vaccines “light of hope” for the world.

Pope Francis delivers his traditional Christmas Day Urbi et Orbi speech from inside the Hall of Blessings at the Vatican on Friday. (Vatican Media/Handout/Reuters)

Amid a surge of coronavirus infections this fall in Italy, Francis broke with tradition for Christmas. Instead of delivering his Urbi et Orbi speech — Latin for “to the city and to the world” — from the central balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, he read it from inside a cavernous hall at the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace, flanked by two Christmas trees with blinking lights.

In Asia, Japan’s Health Ministry has confirmed the country’s first cases of infection with the new variant of the coronavirus that was identified in Britain.

The five people arrived between Dec. 18 and Dec. 21, before Japan stepped up border control on Friday for entrants from Britain. A man in his 60s developed fatigue, but the other four were without symptoms. Health Minister Norihisa Tamura said they were sent to quarantine straight from the airports.

Christmas Day has brought South Korea its biggest daily increase in coronavirus infections of the pandemic as officials urged for citizen vigilance to help curb a viral surge that has worsened hospitalization and deaths.

The 1,241 new confirmed cases reported Friday raised the country’s total to 54,770. Officials said 17 more people had died from COVID-19 in the previous 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 773.

A man reads a book while waiting in line at a coronavirus testing site that is temporarily set up in front of a railway station in Seoul on Friday. (Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters)

Authorities in China’s northeastern port city of Dalian are testing millions of residents after seven new coronavirus cases were reported there in the last 24 hours.

The cluster that has emerged in recent days has grown to 12 cases. In five neighbourhood divisions, authorities have shut schools and public spaces and are restricting anyone but essential workers from leaving their residential compounds.

In Africa, at least 15 people have died in recent weeks on the South African side of the Beitbridge border with Zimbabwe in lengthy queues that have been slowed by coronavirus screening, television news channel eNCA said on Friday.

The Health Ministry, Department of Home Affairs and South African police did not respond immediately to Reuters’s requests on Friday for confirmation of fatalities that local media outlets attributed to exhaustion and ill health owing to a lack of facilities while waiting to cross the border, sometimes for days.

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Federal government settles lawsuit with Canada's former ambassador to Israel – CBC.ca

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A lawsuit launched against the Trudeau government by the former ambassador to Israel has reached a settlement — but neither party is willing to divulge the details. 

The federal government is refusing even to disclose the date the settlement was reached.

Vivian Bercovici was named ambassador to Israel by Stephen Harper before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau replaced her with Deborah Lyons in 2016.

In 2018, Bercovici launched a lawsuit against the federal government alleging, among other things, that the Trudeau government acted in bad faith when it terminated her mandate and that she had not been properly compensated for her pension benefits.

The following year, the former ambassador succeeded in adding to her lawsuit the name of Katie Telford, chief of staff to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, accusing her of intentional infliction of mental suffering.

A mysterious letter

Bercovici made an offer to halt her lawsuit against the Government of Canada and Katie Telford in a letter she wrote to Alan Bender, a Toronto businessman and Liberal supporter, on Nov. 5, 2019.

Radio-Canada spoke with Bender, who said Bercovici told him she wanted to do something to thank him after he had saved her life. Bender said he suggested dropping the lawsuit and Bercovici followed up with the offer in writing on Nov. 5.

The former ambassador wrote in the letter: “I would be prepared to end my lawsuit against the Government of Canada and Katie Telford, with no terms or conditions, at the earliest opportunity … This is the clearest and most emphatic expression of appreciation I can make for your compassion and recent tremendous help that has saved my life.”

A copy of the letter was sent by an anonymous source to many journalists and media. Radio-Canada was able to confirm that it was written by Bercovici.

Bender, a Kuwaiti-born Toronto businessman who works in the field of international mediation, told Radio-Canada that he mainly works for the ruling families of the Arab states in the Persian Gulf. 

He said he was asked by important political figures, including one from Israel, to intervene to help Bercovici, who lives in Tel Aviv. He said he saved Bercovici’s life along with her professional and personal reputation.

Bender said he doesn’t want to give any more details about how he saved Bercovici’s life and reputation without her permission; she does not wish to comment.

Bender told Radio-Canada he is an active member of the Liberal Party and that he acted on his own when he suggested that Bercovici drop the lawsuit. He said Telford and the government only learned of his involvement when he gave Telford Bercovici’s letter.

Bender made international headlines when Saudi Arabia’s authorities had him testify against a Saudi businessman, Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, who was detained following the so-called anti-corruption drive launched by the Crown Prince and leader of Saudi Arabia Mohammed Bin Salman in 2017.

Lawsuit remained active

According to court documents, Bercovici’s lawsuit remained active after the letter was given to Bender.

In December 2019, the month after the letter was sent, lawyers representing the Government of Canada were back in Ontario Superior Court seeking to have Telford’s name removed from the lawsuit.

In his January 2020 decision, the judge sided with the government on its request that Telford be removed from the lawsuit, and Bercovici was ordered to pay court fees incurred by the government.

After this date, nothing else appears on the court register in relation to Bercovici’s lawsuit against the Government of Canada.

Silence from the PMO

Sources first told Radio-Canada that there had been a settlement in the lawsuit. For three days, Radio-Canada tried to get information about the settlement and a comment from the government about the letter.

The Prime Minister’s Office and the Department of Justice referred those requests to Global Affairs Canada.

After directly contacting the department a few times and reaching out to the Foreign Affairs minister’s office, a spokesperson for Global Affairs sent this short response on Wednesday night:

“A settlement has been reached. We cannot comment on the details.”

It is still not known who leaked the letter to the media and why, or whether there is a link between the settlement and the letter. The email address the letter was sent from no longer exists.

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Canada's COVID-19 case numbers show early positive signs – CBC.ca

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Cases of COVID-19 are declining in many parts of Canada, but experts say those early positive signs are dependent on widespread restrictions. 

Quebec, now under a province-wide curfew, has seen new cases declineOntario has showed 10 consecutive declines in its seven-day average, a metric that helps to spot long-term trends compared to daily numbers that can spike up and down.

Caroline Colijn, an infectious disease modeller at Simon Fraser University, said most of the provinces seem to be declining.

“Ontario’s kind of uncertain, Saskatchewan’s growing still or again, but the rest are kind of flat or declining,” said Colijn, who also holds a Canada Research Chair in mathematics for evolution, infection and public health.

“That’s the first decline we’ve seen in Quebec and Ontario for quite a while,” she said. “In our models, it looks like a genuine decline.”

More tools needed

In B.C., for example, Colijn said the epidemic is stabilizing with strict measures such as telling people not to socialize outside their household.

But Colijn fears Ontario’s stay-at-home order, Quebec’s curfew and restrictions in other provinces aren’t solutions that people can sustain for months.

If people don’t limit their number of contacts with others then cases will start to climb again until vaccinations reach the general population. 

“Unless we want to do this for six months, we do need to be thinking about throwing other tools that we have available at this problem.”

WATCH | Researchers test new tools for COVID-19 surveillance:

Researchers at Dalhousie University in Halifax are working on a 3D-printed ball that can collect a building’s sewage and test the water for coronavirus. They say the tool could be used to trace outbreaks and to test the effectiveness of vaccines. 4:05

Colijn said widespread restrictions, symptomatic testing and contact tracing remain cornerstone tools. But those tools should be supplemented with wider rapid testing technologies coming to the fore, which Colijn believes could support re-opening the economy.

Federal and provincial scientists are validating rapid tests, currently used at remote mines as well as the film and airline industries, for more widespread use. 

Sask. heading in the wrong direction

Nazeem Muhajarine, an epidemiologist at the University of Saskatchewan, divides the country’s into three main groups based on per-capita case counts:

  • The top: Atlantic Canada, which has the fewest cases.
  • The middle: Manitoba, Alberta and B.C., which have showed month-long improvements in COVID-19 activity following lockdowns. If trends in Ontario and Quebec continue, then they could be added to the middle group. 
  • The bottom: Saskatchewan, which Muhajarine said isn’t even heading in the right direction, with an average of 300 new cases daily.

Muhajarine is concerned about the steep climb in COVID-19 deaths in the Prairie province.

“On Dec. 1, we had 51 deaths and by Jan. 1 it tripled to 155,” he noted.

In the first 21 days of the month, another 84 people have died in Saskatchewan.

“We really need to reverse course,” Muhajarine said. “To do that, we need very strict measures with a stay-at-home order and enforcement of orders. When we see the case numbers reverse course, we have to get our testing, tracing and isolation regime back up.”

Restrictions on retail stores, restaurants and bars could help bring cases, hospitalizations and deaths down given how Saskatchewan is “stretched to the limit,” he said.

Even places with early signs of decline, like Ontario, will see hospitalizations and deaths continue to climb for a period because of the lag time from new infections in December, health experts say. 

Essential workplaces key for Ontario

Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti, an infectious disease physician with Trillium Health Partners in Mississauga, Ont., said the province’s seven-day averages are encouraging.

A worker at the Gateway Postal facility, in Mississauga, Ont., on Wednesday. Canada Post confirms a major outbreak of COVID-19 at the plant — the largest mail facility in the country that reflects how cases continue to occur among essential workers. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

“We’re now more than two weeks past what would be the New Year’s surge,” Chakrabarti said, referencing people socializing over the holidays despite advice from public health officials and politicians to stay at home. 

Now that the holiday peak in new cases is over, regular winter transmission of the virus is happening in the population, he said.

Chakrabarti recalls how during the province’s first wave in the spring, cases came down and then were stuck at a plateau for months, which he said could happen again.

Driving case counts down further would ease pressure on health-care systems and protect vulnerable residents of long-term care homes.

The key, he says, is to tackle where transmission is still happening: essential workplaces.

“We were seeing people getting infected at work and then bringing it home to their family, where it was being amplified,” he said of the first wave. “That’s still happening and something a lockdown doesn’t address.”

It’s why Chakrabarti and others advocate for:

“Yes, there are some people who are breaking the rules,” Chakrabarti said. “But we also need to look at the very different industrial setups because these factors are huge, right? This is one of the reasons why things haven’t ever really turned quickly in Ontario.”

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Now hiring: StatCan needs 32000 Canadians to administer 2021 census – CTV News

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TORONTO —
Statistics Canada plans to hire 32,000 employees across Canada to conduct the next census in May 2021.

StatCan said in a press release on Thursday that individuals will be hired in “both big and small communities” to collect “crucial data that will be used to plan for the future.”

The agency says positions available include supervisory and non-supervisory roles between March and July 2021.

“Over the past 100 years, through the census, Statistics Canada has captured an ever-evolving snapshot of the country and its people. Canadians have relied on census data to tell them about how the country is changing and about what matters to them,” Anil Arora, Chief Statistician of Canada at Statistics Canada, said in the release.

Arora noted that the data from the “large-scale nation project” holds even more significance amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As we all work to respond to the social and economic impacts of COVID-19, it is more important than ever that we collectively pursue data-driven solutions that work for families, businesses and diverse communities from coast to coast to coast,” Arora said.

With COVID-19 in mind, Statistics Canada said the census process has been adapted to ensure Canadians have the opportunity to be heard “in the best and safest way possible.”

According to the release, census procedures have been redesigned to limit the amount of contact required to participate, with the majority of Canadians being able to complete the questionnaire through a “user-friendly” online application.

StatCan said it will provide all equipment required to keep census employees safe while on the job, and will have employees work close to home in their local communities.

The agency says census staff will “identify dwellings on maps, follow up with respondents by phone and conduct physically distanced in-person interviews, when required.”

According to the press release, census workers will be paid between $17.83 to $21.77 per hour, depending on position. In select northern and remote communities, StatCan says the rate of pay ranges from $29.25 to $31.25 an hour. In addition, all employees will be paid for authorized expenses.

The agency said applicants must be 18 years or older, eligible to work in Canada and able to commit to a “flexible work schedule,” including on evenings and weekends.

“As we prepare for the 2021 Census, we thank all Canadians who have trusted Statistics Canada to tell their unique stories and capture the diverse and changing portrait of our nation as it grows and evolves,” Arora said.

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