The Italian city that suffered the brunt of COVID-19’s first deadly wave in Europe is dedicating a vivid memorial to the pandemic dead: A grove of trees, creating oxygen in a park opposite the hospital where so many died, unable to breathe.
Bergamo, in northern Italy, is among the many communities around the world dedicating memorials to commemorate lives lost in a pandemic that is nearing the terrible threshold of five million confirmed dead.
Memorial flags, hearts, ribbons and other simple objects have stood in for virus victims, representing lost lives in eye-catching memorials from London to Washington D.C., and Brazil to South Africa.
The collective impact of white flags covering 20 acres on the National Mall in the U.S. capital is one such display, representing the more than 740,000 Americans killed by COVID-19 — the highest official national death toll in the world.
A memorial wall along the River Thames in London similarly conveys the scale of loss, with pink and red hearts painted by bereaved loved ones. Walking the memorial’s length without pausing to read names and inscriptions takes a full nine minutes.
The hearts represent the more than 140,000 coronavirus deaths in Britain, Europe’s second-highest toll after Russia; like elsewhere in the world, the actual number is estimated to be much higher, at 160,000.
“It shocks people,” said Fran Hall, a spokesperson for the group COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice. She lost her husband, Steve Mead, in September 2020, the day before his 66th birthday.
“Every time we are here, people stop and talk to us, and quite often they are moved to tears as they are walking by, and thank us.”
In Brazil’s capital, relatives of COVID-19 victims planted thousands of white flags in front of Brazil’s Congress in a one-day, emotion-laden action meant to raise awareness of Brazil’s toll of more than 600,000 deaths, the second-highest in the world.
And in South Africa, blue and white ribbons are tied to a fence at the St. James Presbyterian Church in Bedford Gardens, east of Johannesburg, to remember the country’s 89,000 dead: each blue ribbon counting for 10 lives, white for one.
Italy has not dedicated a national monument to its some 132,000 confirmed dead, but it has designated a coronavirus remembrance day. Premier Mario Draghi stood among the first newly planted trees in Bergamo’s Trucca Park on March 18, the anniversary of the indelible image of army trucks bringing dead to other cities for cremation after the city’s morgue was overwhelmed.
Bergamo’s mayor said the city considered proposals for statues or plaques bearing the names of the dead. One was too monumental; the other ignored that so many dead were not officially counted due to lack of testing.
“The Woods of Memory is a living monument, and it immediately seemed to us to be the most convincing, the most emotive and the one that was closest to our sentiments,” Bergamo Mayor Giorgio Gori said.
Only 100 trees have been planted so far of the 700 that are planned, facing the hospital’s morgue. The rest should be planted by next year’s March 18 remembrance day.
There are no plans to add names, but in at least one case, loved ones have claimed a sapling: Roses are planted at the base, with personal mementos hanging from it and a white rock bearing a handwritten name: Sergio.
What’s happening in Canada
Canadian health officials won’t be making a decision until the middle or end of November on whether the Pfizer vaccine will be approved for children aged 5 to 11, a senior official said on Friday.
However, they did recommend a wider group of vaccinated Canadians get booster shots.
The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) says everyone 80 and older should get a Pfizer or Moderna booster shot, regardless of where they live.
NACI is also recommending third shots for people fully vaccinated with the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot, as well as people aged 70 or older, more front-line health-care workers and people from Indigenous communities.
Although NACI makes recommendations, it’s up to the provinces and territories to decide who will be offered booster shots.
Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott plans to unveil details next week about when people in the province can expect to receive their third shot.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday gave the green light to the Pfizer vaccine for use in children aged 5 to 11. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention must sign off before shots can be distributed, but with that approval, vaccinations could begin as early as next week.
- Bakeries, diners and bars serve up defiance to Alberta’s vaccine passport program.
What’s happening around the world
As of Saturday, more than 246.2 million COVID-19 cases had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s online coronavirus database. The reported global death toll stood at more than 4.9 million.
In Europe, Russia on Saturday reported 40,251 new COVID-19 infections in the last 24 hours, its highest single-day case tally since the start of the pandemic.
The government’s coronavirus task force reported 1,160 deaths related to the virus, three short of the daily record of 1,163 set the day before. The death toll since the pandemic began is about 462,000, state statistics service Rosstat said Friday.
Russia will go into a nationwide workplace shutdown in the first week of November and the capital Moscow has reimposed a partial lockdown from Thursday, with only essential shops, like pharmacies and supermarkets, allowed to remain open.
In the Americas, 10 states filed a lawsuit on Friday to stop U.S. President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for federal contractors, arguing that the requirement violates federal law. Attorneys general from Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming signed on to the lawsuit, which was filed in a federal district court in Missouri. The states asked a federal judge to block Biden’s requirement that all employees of federal contractors be vaccinated against the coronavirus, arguing that the mandate violates federal procurement law and is an overreach of federal power.
Canadian energy, health, manufacturing sectors were major targets of ransomware attacks: cyber spy agency – CBC.ca
More than half of the known ransomware victims in Canada this year were critical infrastructure providers, according to a new threat assessment from Canada’s cyber spies — and the number is likely even higher.
As part of a new awareness campaign, the Communications Security Establishment (CSE), Canada’s foreign signals intelligence agency, released a ransomware bulletin Monday looking at the key trends of ransomware in 2021.
In its report, CSE’s Cyber Centre said ransomware attacks are “brazen, sophisticated, increasing in frequency, and, for the cybercriminals, very profitable.
“The impact of ransomware can be devastating, and the severity of the financial consequences related to a ransomware attack can be profound.”
For the first time, the agency also confirmed publicly Monday that it has used its new cyber attack powers, granted to it through legislation back in 2019.
“The Communications Security Establishment Act gives CSE the legal authority to conduct cyber operations to disrupt foreign-based threats to Canada, including cybercriminals,” said CSE spokesperson Evan Koronewski.
“Although we cannot comment on our use of foreign cyber operations (active and defensive cyber operations) or provide operational statistics, we can confirm we have the tools we need to impose a cost on the people behind these kinds of incidents.
“We can also confirm we are using these tools for such purposes, and working together with Canadian law enforcement where appropriate against cybercrime.”
Ransomware is a form of malware used by threat actors and criminals who encrypt files on a device then demand a ransom in exchange for decryption. Once successfully hacked, ransomware victims are often attacked multiple times.
CSE said it’s aware of 235 ransomware incidents against Canadian victims from Jan. 1 to Nov. 16 of this year and more than half of those targets were critical infrastructure providers, including those in the energy, health and manufacturing sectors.
The number is likely higher, as the agency said most ransomware events go unreported.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has made organizations like hospitals, governments and universities more mindful of the risks tied to losing access to their networks and often feeling resigned to pay ransoms,” notes the report.
“Cybercriminals have taken advantage of this situation by significantly increasing the value of their ransom demands.”
Canadian hospitals hit
Newfoundland and Labrador is still reeling after a cyber attack hit its health-care system, cancelling thousands of medical procedures ranging from chemotherapy to X-rays.
Sources have told CBC the security breach is a ransomware attack, but so far government officials have not confirmed the nature of the cyberattack and will not say if they have received a ransom demand.
This summer Humber River Hospital in the Toronto area was forced to shut down its IT systems in order to prevent a ransomware attack.
Staff were unable to access electronic patient records and diagnostic test results leading to long waits in the emergency department and prompting the hospital to cancel clinics and redirect some ambulances to other hospitals.
CSE said it expects high-impact targeting to continue.
“We assess that ransomware operators will almost certainly continue to target large organizations with operational technology (OT) assets, including organizations in Canada, to try to extract ransom, steal intellectual property and proprietary business information, and obtain personal data about customers,” it warned.
Canada is far from alone. This year has been marred by the highest ransoms and the biggest payouts around the world.
Earlier this year the Colonial Pipeline, the largest fuel pipeline in the U.S., was hit by an attack attributed to the Russia-based DarkSide RaaS cybercriminal group.
As a result, the company’s operations were affected, resulting in record price increases, panic-buying, and gasoline shortages
Ransomware operators will likely become increasingly aggressive: CSE
In Canada, CSE said the estimated average cost of a data breach, which includes but is not limited to ransomware, is more than $6 million. The average price has stabilized over the past years, a trend CSE attributes to cybercriminals becoming better at tailoring their demands to what their victims are most likely to pay.
Ransomware operators will likely become increasingly aggressive in their targeting in 2022, including against critical infrastructure, warned the agency.
Part of the problem fighting ransomware is that many operators and their affiliates are based in countries with lax or non-existent laws against cybercrime, said CSE.
“Mitigating the increasing risks will require concerted national efforts to improve cyber security and adopt best practices to harden critical systems, as well as co-ordinated international actions to undermine criminal infrastructure and tactics,” said the report.
As part of that effort, CSE, working with the RCMP, has published what they call a “playbook” that outlines steps organizations and businesses can take to protect against ransomware, and what to do if attacked.
Organizations urged to implement cyber safety measures
A handful of cabinet ministers have signed an open letter to Canadian organizations urging them to implement basic cyber security measures.
The letter, co-signed by Defence Minister Anita Anand, Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino and International Trade Minister Mary Ng, said the federal government is working with its allies to pursue cyber threat actors and disrupt their capabilities.
“We are also assisting in the recovery of organizations compromised by ransomware and helping them to be more resilient going forward,” they wrote.
“Our message is clear: taking basic steps to ensure your organization’s cyber security will pay swift dividends.”
Canadian employers, facing labor shortage, accommodate the unvaccinated
Canada‘s tight labor market is forcing many companies to offer regular COVID-19 testing over vaccine mandates, while others are reversing previously announced inoculation requirements even as Omicron variant cases rise.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau‘s government adopted one of the strictest inoculation policies in the world for civil servants and has already put more than 1,000 workers on unpaid leave, with thousands more at risk.
Airlines, police forces, school boards and even Canada‘s Big Five banks https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/canadas-major-banks-require-employees-entering-premises-be-vaccinated-2021-08-20 have also pledged strict mandatory vaccine policies. But following through has proven less straightforward, especially as employers grapple with staffing shortages and workers demand exemptions.
Job vacancies in Canada have doubled so far this year, official data shows, and vaccine mandates can make filling those jobs harder, potentially putting upward pressure on wages. That could fuel inflation https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/canadas-annual-inflation-rate-hits-47-oct-highest-since-feb-2003-2021-11-17, already running at a near two-decade high.
“It’s already difficult to find staff, let alone putting in a vaccine mandate. You’d cut out potentially another 20%” of potential workers, said Dan Kelly, chief executive of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.
There are pitfalls to employing the unvaccinated. Companies run a higher risk of COVID-19 outbreaks and many vaccinated employees are uncomfortable working with those who have not had the jab, said industry groups and marketing experts.
At Luda Foods, a Montreal-based soup and sauce maker, president Robert Eiser said he has 14 open jobs, no vaccine mandate and no plans to restrict new hires to the vaccinated.
“I don’t know that I want to reduce the (labor) pool, which is already quite low,” said Eiser. “We need to attract people to meet the demand. If we don’t, our competitors will.”
Data released on Friday underpinned Canada‘s tight labor market, with a hefty 153,700 jobs https://www.reuters.com/markets/us/canada-posts-hefty-job-gains-outlook-clouded-by-omicron-variant-2021-12-03 added in November. It also showed a growing mismatch between available workers and unfilled jobs. And job postings are far above pre-pandemic levels.
The province of Quebec backtracked on a vaccine mandates for healthcare workers last month, saying they could not afford to lose thousands of unvaccinated staff. Ontario, which was also eyeing a mandate, said it would not go ahead.
Toronto-Dominion Bank and Bank of Montreal have both softened their vaccine policy to allow regular testing for workers who missed their Oct. 31 inoculation deadline.
In Canada, 86% of adults are fully inoculated, though that drops under 80% among 18-40 year olds. At least 15 cases of the new Omicron https://www.reuters.com/markets/rates-bonds/canada-has-reported-total-11-cases-omicron-variant-health-official-2021-12-03 variant in Canada have been reported in the past week.
John Cappelli, vice president of onsite managed services in Canada for global recruitment firm Adecco, said half of his clients are mandating vaccines with the other half allowing regular testing for the unvaccinated.
But he expects the Omicron variant will prompt more workplaces to get strict on vaccination, even as they grapple with the tightest job market he’s seen in his 25-year career.
“We are now starting to see our first workplace (COVID-19) cases in five months,” he said.
The number of Canadian job postings on search website Indeed mentioning vaccine requirements has quadrupled since August.
In the hard-hit manufacturing sector, where 77% of firms say their top concern is attracting and retaining workers, vaccine mandates are more rare.
Dennis Darby, CEO of Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, said most of Canada‘s factories have operated safely throughout the pandemic. While CME encourages vaccination, “some companies are still using rapid testing if somebody doesn’t want to get vaccinated,” he added.
But companies risk a hit to their reputation if they are overt in efforts to tap into the unvaccinated as a labor pool, said Wojtek Dabrowski, managing partner at Provident Communications.
“If you go out and say, ‘We are intentionally seeking to hire unvaccinated people,’ many customers are equating that with you being anti-science and anti-safety,” said Dabrowski.
(Reporting by Julie Gordon and Steve Scherer in Ottawa, additional reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg and Nichola Saminather in TorontoEditing by Alistair Bell)
CN trains rolling again after B.C. tracks repaired amid mounting backlogs – CBC.ca
Amid growing backlogs, Canadian National Railway Co. says trains are moving again in southern British Columbia after the third atmospheric river in two weeks descended on the region.
CN says service resumed Sunday after crews worked around the clock on the Vancouver-Kamloops corridor, which was first cut by mudslides and washouts amid torrential rain in mid-November.
The country’s largest railroad operator restored limited activity along the vital supply link late last month before opting to close the line again a week ago as more downpours triggered further flooding, landslides and debris.
“CN crews will continue to monitor both the rail infrastructure as well as the terrain over the coming days and weeks,” CN spokesperson Jonathan Abecassis said in an email.
The restored connection will allow freight to flow to and from the Port of Vancouver and begin to clear the massive backlogs of incoming shipping containers and outgoing grain.
The repaired lines will also allow Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd, which shares tracks with CN through part of the Fraser Valley, to boost its shipments.
End of year is a critical time for shipment of grain — canola in particular — with the bulk of Canadian grain transported via rail to B.C. ports.
Some can be diverted to Prince Rupert, B.C., the United States or Thunder Bay, Ont., but the window for the latter is nearly closed as winter ice looms, while rail cargo generally is hard to divert en masse.
“Regardless of when the traffic on the mainlines resume handling normal levels of traffic, the reverberations back through the grain supply chain in Western Canada (and all commodities) will be measured in months,” Steve Pratte, policy manager at the Canadian Canola Growers Association, said in an email.
The backlog of Prairie grain may lose much of its value if trains can’t ship it to port before spring, when prices typically drop amid heightened global supply, according to the Western Grain Elevator Association.
Contract extension penalties and demurrage fees — issued by a shipping line when freight exceeds the time allotted at a terminal — also present a threat for farmers and grain elevators trying to clear out brimming barns and silos.
The number of grain cars unloaded at West Coast ports dropped by 83 per cent year over year in the third week of November, according to the federal grain monitoring program’s latest update.
As of Nov. 28, there were 24 grain vessels at berth or at anchor around the Port of Vancouver waiting for deliveries of up to 1.4 million tonnes of grain — mainly wheat, canola and barley — the update states.
“These shipments are critical to ensure that Canadian farms get the cash flow required to cover the operating costs accumulated through the season, and it is a race against winter every year to try to get as much grain to port before winter conditions settle in,” Geoff Backman, markets manager at the Alberta Wheat and Barley Commission, said in a statement.
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