Health officials in Quebec are moving five more municipalities into lockdown on Monday in a bid to slow the spread of COVID-19.
The provincial government said the curfew will move from 9:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. ET Monday evening in the regional municipalities of Beauce-Sartigan, Bellechasse, Les Etchemins, Nouvelle-Beauce and Robert-Cliche.
Non-essential businesses will have to close starting Monday evening, as will restaurant dining rooms. Schools will also have to close for in-person learning. The measures will be in place until at least April 12, the province said.
The Quebec government imposed the same restrictions on three other cities last week, including Quebec City and Gatineau.
The announcement of the additional restrictions in Quebec came Sunday, as the province reported 1,154 new cases of COVID-19 and nine additional deaths. Hospitalizations stood at 502, the province said, with 128 COVID-19 patients reported to be in intensive care units.
The restrictions come as many provinces face mounting COVID-19 case numbers and increasing hospitalizations, prompting concern about strain on health-care systems.
Ontario is expected to provide two days’ worth of COVID-19 numbers later Monday. On Saturday, the last day health officials in Ontario posted updated COVID-19 statistics, the province reported more than 3,000 new cases and 16 additional deaths. As of Saturday, a provincial dashboard put the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations at 796, with 496 in ICU “due to COVID-related illness.”
-From The Canadian Press and CBC News, last updated at 7 a.m. ET
What’s happening across Canada
As of early Monday morning, Canada had reported 1,003,994 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 58,402 considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 23,062.
In Atlantic Canada, a hospital in northwestern New Brunswick is nearing its capacity for acute care patients, according to a statement released by the Vitalité Health Network over the weekend.
“The evolution of the variant and its atypical behaviours are creating problems that exceed the pessimistic projections that had been made for that region,” the statement from the organization’s president and CEO Dr. France Desrosiers said. “The Edmundston Regional Hospital will soon reach its maximum capacity in terms of patients requiring acute care.”
Desrosiers, who praised the efforts of front-line workers and health-care staff, noted that the transfer of patients to other facilities “is imminent.”
New Brunswick reported 11 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, with nine of the cases coming from the Edmundston region. Hospitalizations in the province stood at 15, health officials reported, with seven people in intensive care.
Nova Scotia reported seven new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, and there were no cases reported in either Prince Edward Island or Newfoundland and Labrador.
Across the North, there were no new cases reported in Nunavut, the Northwest Territories or Yukon on Sunday.
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In the Prairie provinces, Manitoba did not provide an update on COVID-19 on Sunday.
In Saskatchewan, health officials reported 221 new cases of COVID-19 and three additional deaths. Hospitalizations stood at 194, with 44 people in intensive care due to COVID-19, the highest figure recorded in the province.
In Alberta, a preliminary estimate of new case numbers reported Sunday stood at 950, the province’s top doctor said in a tweet. Dr. Deena Hinshaw said hospitalizations remained stable, noting that health officials would provide an update on Monday.
British Columbia will provide updated case numbers later Monday. Businesses putting staff and patrons at risk by remaining open in defiance of COVID-19 rules will face consequences, the province’s public safety minister said Sunday as the province works to bring surging infections under control.
The warning from Mike Farnworth comes after a Vancouver restaurant that flouted restrictions by serving patrons indoors was slapped with a closure notice on Saturday, which its owner has indicated she intends to ignore.
“Harassment of enforcement officials will not be tolerated, and closure orders by Vancouver Coastal Health or any other health authority must be respected,” Farnworth said in a statement.
-From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 7 a.m. ET
What’s happening around the world
As of early Monday morning, more than 131.3 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to a tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than 2.8 million.
In the Americas, Johnson & Johnson is taking over “full responsibility” for a subcontractor’s Baltimore facility that produces the drug substance for its single-dose COVID-19 vaccine after an embarrassing mix-up. The company said it’s adding leaders in operations and quality control to the Emergent BioSolutions plant to supervise the work of its vaccine line.
It comes after enough drug substance for about 15 million doses was contaminated by human error at the plant. The issue was flagged to federal regulators, who have yet to approve any doses from the Baltimore plant, last week.
J&J has delivered about 20 million doses from another plant to the federal government already and says it expects to deliver about 80 million more by the end of May.
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In the Asia-Pacific region, the Philippine government extended a lockdown by another week Monday after an alarming spike in coronavirus infections continued to surge and started to overwhelm many hospitals in the capital and outlying regions.
President Rodrigo Duterte placed Metropolitan Manila and four outlying provinces, a region of more than 25 million people, under lockdown last week as daily infections breached 10,000. Roman Catholic leaders shifted Holy Week and Easter events online after all public gatherings, including in places of worship, were temporarily banned.
Bangladesh began enforcing a weeklong nationwide lockdown Monday, shutting shopping malls and transportation as authorities try to stop a surge in coronavirus infections and deaths.
The decision came after health authorities said that they were facing overwhelming pressure in intensive care units in recent weeks because of severe infections. This is the second time the South Asian nation has enforced a virus lockdown after the first last March.
India has reported its biggest single-day spike in confirmed coronavirus cases since the pandemic began, and officials in the hard-hit state home to Mumbai are returning to the closure of some businesses and places of worship in a bid to slow the spread.
The Health Ministry on Monday reported 103,558 new COVID-19 infections in the last 24 hours, topping the previous peak of 97,894 daily cases recorded in late September. Fatalities rose by 478, raising the country’s death toll to 165,101.
India now has a seven-day rolling average of more than 73,000 cases per day and infections in the country are being reported faster than anywhere else in the world.
In the Middle East, Iran’s capital is once again facing the highest level of restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus as the country struggles with a new surge in daily deaths. State media said the measure on Monday is the third time Tehran has faced a so-called code red since the pandemic began. A code red involves a ban on any travel by personal cars to and from cities, and limits working hours of many businesses and offices to prevent the spread of the virus.
About 50 cities and towns are in code red, with only 23 in code blue, or “safe” status, out of the country’s total of more than 800 cities and towns. The rest are in orange and yellow status, which involve less restrictions.
The report comes as Iran’s daily death toll again reached three digits, after months of being under 100. On Sunday, 161 deaths were reported, bringing the registered death toll in Iran to more than 63,000, the highest in the Middle East. Iran has reported some 1.9 million confirmed cases of the virus
Also on Monday, Iran said it received the first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines from the Netherlands through the global COVAX initiative.
In Africa, South Africa’s health minister said Sunday that the number of confirmed cases in the country — the hardest-hit on the continent — stood at more than 1.5 million, with nearly 53,000 recorded deaths.
In Europe, Portugal on Sunday extended restrictions on travel via land and sea to Spain that had been due to end this weekend until April 15.
Bank of Italy Governor Ignazio Visco told the Financial Times newspaper that the biggest threat to a global economic recovery is the irregular pace at which countries are vaccinating their populations against COVID-19.
-From The Associated Press, Reuters and CBC News, last updated at 7:05 a.m. ET
SNC-Lavalin, former executives charged with fraud in alleged bribery case: RCMP – Globalnews.ca
The SNC-Lavalin legal saga was thrust back into the spotlight Thursday after the RCMP announced they’ve charged they’ve charged two former executives and the engineering company itself for allegedly paying bribes to obtain a Montreal bridge repair contract.
Former SNC-Lavalin vice-president Normand Morin and former SNC-Lavalin International Inc. vice-president Kamal Francis, along with SNC-Lavalin and its subsidiary, have each been charged with forgery, conspiracy to commit forgery, fraud, conspiracy to commit fraud, fraud against the government, and conspiracy to commit fraud against the government.
The two former executives have been released from custody and are due to appear in a Montreal court on Sept. 27 along with representatives from SNC-Lavalin and SNC-Lavalin International.
The Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions (DPCP) has agreed to send an invitation to negotiate a remedial agreement with SNC-Lavalin and SNC-Lavalin International Inc. The invitation went out on Thursday. Neither executive is eligible for such an offer.
Such a deal, a so-called deferred prosecution agreement, would allow SNC-Lavalin to continue doing business with the governments of Quebec, Canada and abroad.
“It also reduces the negative consequences on employees, retirees, customers and shareholders of organizations,” the DPCP said in a statement.
SNC-Lavalin said it welcomes the opportunity to negotiate an agreement to resolve these charges that promote accountability while also permitting the company to continue to do business and protect the livelihoods of employees, clients, investors and other stakeholders.
”I want to emphasize that these charges stem from events that took place nearly 20 years ago, involving former employees who left the company years ago and who no longer have any involvement with our organization,“ stated CEO Ian Edwards.
He said the company has made great strides over the past decade and today operates at the highest ethical standards.
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“We see this as a further step to put the past behind us and allow the company to focus on the future.”
The RCMP said the charges are the result of a complex investigation dubbed Project Agrafe (“Staple”) that started in 2013. It said the investigation was carried out by the Sensitive and International Investigations division of the force, which is mandated to investigate criminal activity that poses a threat to Canada’s government institutions, public officials, the integrity of the Crown, or that imperils Canada’s political, economic and social integrity.
Once the investigation was complete, the RCMP said it passed on its evidence to Quebec’s Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecution to proceed with formalizing the charges and warrants of arrest.
The charges date back to events that took place between 1997 and 2004. Michel Fournier, former president and CEO of the Federal Bridge Corp., admitted to receiving bribes from SNC-Lavalin worth $2.23 million related to a $128-million Jacques-Cartier Bridge repair project through Swiss bank accounts. Fournier of Victoria, B.C., was sentenced to five and a half years in prison in 2017 and has since received full parole.
After retiring in 2004, Fournier created an offshore shell company in the Virgin Islands to bring the bribe money back to Canada, according to court documents. The government was only able to confiscate $775,000 of the bribes because Fournier lost a significant amount of money in the stock market.
SNC-Lavalin was previously charged with bribery and fraud in relation to its past work in Libya, which was at the centre of the high-profile 2019 battle between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and then-attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould.
In December 2019, the company reached an agreement in which its construction division pleaded guilty to a single count of fraud, accompanied by a $280-million fine, while other charges related to acts committed in Libya between 2001 and 2011 were set aside. The company retained the right to bid on federal government contracts.
SNC-Lavalin was an issue during the 2019 federal election and surfaced again in the election this year after Wilson-Raybould wrote a book that touched on the criminal prosecution of the company and her testimony that senior party leaders pressed her to halt the case for political reasons.
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Trudeau said during the recent campaign that the matter had been thoroughly dissected in parliamentary committee hearings, newspaper articles and other testimony prior to the last federal election. He said the RCMP had never contacted him regarding the SNC affair.
The Liberals won another minority government on Monday.
Industry analysts downplayed the significance of the latest charges and potential penalty on SNC-Lavalin.
Yuri Lynk of Canaccord Genuity said the development doesn’t diminish his “bullish stance on SNC in the least.”
He said investors shouldn’t be taken off-guard because alleged improprieties surrounding the company’s involvement in the bridge have been in the news for years and SNC has warned that potential charges are a risk.
Lynk added in a report that the potential financial penalty shouldn’t be significant given that the magnitude of the gains was small and SNC lost money on the project. The past fine of $280 million payable over five years was for $127 million in bribes, compared with $2.23 million in bribes in this instance.
“Based on this, we estimate a fine related to the Jacques Cartier Bridge would be in the tens of millions of dollars range,” he wrote, noting that SNC has more than $660 million in cash.
“We view this as a bump in the road leading to SNC’s recovery.”
Analyst Maxim Sytchev of National Bank Financial said he expects a quicker resolution to these charges because SNC-Lavalin would want to quickly sit down with the federal government, whereas last time it was not invited to negotiate an agreement.
“Given the long-dated nature of the contract and its small size, we believe any charges would be commensurate with the infraction,” he wrote in a note to clients.
© 2021 The Canadian Press
As COVID-19 vaccines for kids get closer, experts weigh up how to reassure parents – CBC.ca
As Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech say they’ve moved a step closer to providing their COVID-19 vaccine for younger children, one mother says she’s keen to have her eldest vaccinated, but hears some hesitation among other parents.
“As parents, you’re nervous and you’re apprehensive, obviously, about any risks,” said Fallon Jones, who lives in Halifax with a five-year-old daughter and two-year-old son.
“But we have to weigh the pros and the cons here, and I think that this is a good opportunity to protect them against a potentially deadly virus,” she told The Current’s Matt Galloway.
Pfizer-BioNTech said Monday that a clinical trial of its COVID-19 vaccine recorded a robust immune response in five- to 11-year-olds, and the company plans to seek regulatory approval as soon as possible. Children received two shots, each one-third the dose size given to adults. The findings have not been peer-reviewed, nor published.
For any vaccine to be approved by Health Canada, the manufacturers supply the necessary clinical trial data for review. If the regulator grants approval, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) will make a recommendation on their use, but the final decision to deploy the vaccines rests with provincial authorities.
In a statement to The Current, Health Canada said the makers of all COVID-19 vaccines approved in Canada are conducting or planning studies in adolescents and younger children, but it has so far not received any submission for the approval of any COVID-19 vaccine for children under 12.
In her work at a vaccine hesitancy clinic in Calgary, Dr. Cora Constantinescu meets parents who are experiencing “a lot of fear and anxiety” around their children potentially getting the vaccine.
“We often have parents who are fully vaccinated themselves, who may be hesitant about their kids,” said Constantinescu, a pediatrician and infectious disease doctor at Alberta Children’s Hospital.
She said that parents talk to her about things they’ve seen online, including “anti-vaccine rhetoric and a lot of misconstrued science.”
In Halifax, Jones said she often hears other parents say they don’t know what’s in the vaccine, so they won’t give it to their kids. When she asks if they knew what was in the vaccines their kids received as babies, the response is usually no, she said.
“I completely respect and understand how there would be some fear associated with it,” she said.
But ultimately, “we trusted our doctors then and we trusted the science then, and we need to do the same with this vaccine.”
How should parents approach vaccine question?
Constantinescu said many parents have seen misinformation on social media, where there is a “huge polarization of the pro-vaccine and the anti-vaccine crowd.”
“The parents are caught in the middle, scared and worried about their kids, trying to make the best decision they can,” she said.
As parents approach the decision, they should consider the dual impact of COVID-19 on children, she said.
“We’re seeing the direct effects of COVID on children, and we know that that can range from mild disease, to respiratory illness, to being hospitalized, having a multi-system inflammation, to ending up in ICU,” she said.
There is also an indirect cost, including mental health issues and issues around socialization, she said.
The news from Pfizer-BioNTech gives her hope that those impacts can soon be addressed, but she warned that the data has not yet been made public, or reviewed by Health Canada.
If it is approved, she said parents should approach the vaccine as an issue of “personal protection first.”
“It’s about protecting their kids directly, looking out for them, and wanting to return them to a normal life,” she said.
‘Pull out all the stops’ to protect kids
Dr. Kashif Pirzada, an emergency physician in Toronto, wants to see a safe vaccine for kids approved and available as quickly as possible.
“I’m calling for all of these processes to be speeded up and done very transparently,” said Pirzada, who is also a co-founder of Masks4Canada, a group that advocates for public health measures to slow the spread of the virus.
He added that more work should be done to reassure parents that the vaccines are safe. He warned that COVID-19 is not harmless to children, and the longer they remain unprotected, the more infections there will be.
In the meantime, vaccination sites and health-care workers could be prepared to ramp the vaccination campaign back up, he said.
“Once that approval comes, we should pull out all the stops and get these shots into little arms as quickly as possible.”
Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Rachel Levy-McLaughlin, Arianne Robinson and Joana Draghici.
Gold price drops as Powell talks 'gradual' tapering, downplays Evergrande contagion concerns – Kitco NEWS
(Kitco News) The gold market saw its earlier gains reversed as Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell talked about “gradual” tapering while downplaying China’s Evergrande contagion effect on the U.S. market.
On Wednesday, the Fed said it may soon start tapering its $120 billion in monthly asset purchases, with central bank officials showing growing support for raising interest rates in 2022.
“If progress continues broadly as expected, the Committee judges that a moderation in the pace of asset purchases may soon be warranted. These asset purchases help foster smooth market functioning and accommodative financial conditions, thereby supporting the flow of credit to households and businesses,” the Fed said in a statement.
When clarifying the Fed’s stance at a press conference following the Fed statement, Powell indicated that it would be a “very gradual taper,” which could conclude in the middle of next year.
Powell also pointed out that the central bank has the freedom to speed up or slow down the tapering process as it sees fit. He added that markets should not expect a rate hike while the Fed is still tapering.
Tapering does depend on substantial further progress made by the U.S. economy. And if the economy continues to advance in line with expectations, the Fed could move ahead with tapering at the next meeting.
“For me, it wouldn’t take a knockout [August] employment report. It would take a reasonably good employment report for me to feel like that test is met,” Powell said. “I would say that in my own thinking, the test is all but met. I don’t personally need to see a very strong employment report. Again it’s not to be confused with the test for [rate] liftoff, which is so much higher.”
The Fed Chair was also asked about China’s Evergrande debt issue, which sparked a rout in the markets earlier this week.
“The Evergrande situation seems very particular to China, which has very high debt for an emerging economy,” Powell told reporters. “Corporate defaults in the U.S. are very low right now … You would worry that it would affect global financial conditions through confidence channels.”
When asked about the stock-trading policies for Fed officials, Powell replied that they are “not adequate” and the Fed “could do better.”
Powell noted that it is reasonable for Fed officials not to own the same assets as Fed buys. “We are going to be looking at all those things,” he said.
On the debt ceiling issue, Powell also urged Congress to raise the debt limit in a timely fashion. “It is critically important. Failure to do that is something that could result in severe damage to the economy and financial markets.”
He added that no one should assume Fed can protect the economy if the debt ceiling is not raised.
In response to Powell’s comments, gold saw some losses as markets interpreted Powell’s comments as upbeat when it came to the U.S. economy. At the time of writing, December Comex gold futures were trading at $1,767.20, down 0.62% on the day.
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