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

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The latest:

People who have received the full course of COVID-19 vaccines can skip the standard 14-day quarantine after exposure to someone with the infection as long as they remain asymptomatic and meet certain criteria, U.S. public health officials advised.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Wednesday the vaccines have been shown to prevent symptomatic COVID-19, thought to play a greater role in the transmission of the virus than asymptomatic disease.

“Individual and societal benefits of avoiding unnecessary quarantine may outweigh the potential but unknown risk of transmission (among vaccinated individuals),” the CDC said.

The agency has laid down strict criteria for people who would no longer have to quarantine after the vaccinations, including having received both doses of a two-dose vaccine.

People who choose not to quarantine should do so only if they received their last dose within three months, the CDC document said. It also said the guidance around quarantine applied to people who are “fully vaccinated,” referring to people who are more than two weeks out from their final dose.

Fully vaccinated persons who do not quarantine should still watch for symptoms for 14 days following an exposure.

Two-dose vaccines from Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc. have been authorized for emergency use in the United States. Johnson & Johnson applied for a U.S. authorization of its single-dose shot last week.

The CDC also noted people who have been vaccinated should, “Continue to follow current guidance to protect themselves and others,” including wearing a mask, maintaining physical distancing, avoiding crowds, avoiding poorly ventilated spaces, washing hands often and adhering to local public health guidelines.

-From Reuters and CBC News, last updated at 8:35 a.m. ET


What’s happening in Canada

WATCH | Manitoba First Nations leaders aim to build trust with COVID-19 vaccine clinics:

First Nations leaders in southern Manitoba are hoping to build trust in the COVID-19 vaccines through pop-up clinics in larger communities, while the Canadian Forces help remote communities manage outbreaks. 1:57

As of 2:30 p.m. ET on Thursday, Canada had reported 816,250 cases of COVID-19 — with 37,978 cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 21,063.

Ontario reported 945 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, though health officials noted that case counts from Toronto had been underreported due to an ongoing data migration. The province reported 18 additional deaths, bringing the provincial death toll to 6,614.

Hospitalizations in Ontario stood at 883, with 299 people listed as being in the province’s intensive care units.

The province announced in an afternoon briefing that it is delaying March Break until April 12. The school break had been scheduled for the week of March 15.

In Quebec, health officials reported 1,121 new cases of COVID-19 and 37 additional deaths on Thursday. Hospitalizations stood at 874, with 143 COVID-19 patients in intensive care, according to an update posted to a provincial site.

Newfoundland and Labrador reported 100 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, another record after it reported 53 new cases and 32 presumptive cases on Wednesday. 

The province was set to head to the polls on Saturday for a provincial election, but voters in 18 districts will face a delay amid concerns over COVID-19.

Officials announced new restrictions on Wednesday in a bid to get the spread of the virus under control, including a move to online learning for all schools in the St. John’s area for two weeks, as well as the suspension of all group and team sports across the province.

WATCH | How variants impact COVID-19 in New Brunswick:

Comparing COVID-19 to a thief trying to get into your home, infectious disease specialist Dr. Gordon Dow explains how to fight the spread of the virus in the province. 5:20

In Atlantic Canada, New Brunswick health officials reported two new cases of COVID-19 and one new death on Thursday as health experts took questions about COVID-19 variants. Nova Scotia also reported two new cases on Thursday.

There were no new cases reported in Prince Edward Island on Wednesday.

In the Prairie provinces, Manitoba on Thursday announced it had made a deal to buy two million doses of a Canadian-made vaccine, pending approval by Health Canada. The province reported 90 new cases and three new deaths. 

WATCH | Manitoba buys made-in-Canada vaccine:

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister, clearly frustrated by a lack of COVID-19 vaccines from Ottawa, is buying two million doses of vaccine from Canada’s Providence Therapeutics. Pallister expects delivery later this year, depending on federal approval. 1:30

Saskatchewan reported 180 new cases and two additional deaths on Wednesday, while Alberta reported 339 new cases and six additional deaths. 

In British Columbia, health officials reported 469 new cases of COVID-19 and six additional deaths.

Across the North, Nunavut reported three new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday. No new cases were reported in Yukon or the Northwest Territories on Wednesday.

WATCH | Yukon enjoys COVID-free moment:

Yukon Premier Sandy Silver says the territory has seen no new cases of the coronavirus for four weeks and he promised booster shots for everyone who has received a first vaccination. 1:16

Here’s a look at what else is happening across the country:

-From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 2:30 p.m. ET


What’s happening around the world

A health worker prepares to take swab samples in a portable cabin of a mobile laboratory for conducting COVID-19 tests in Mumbai. (Indranil Mukherjee/AFP/Getty Images)

As of early Thursday morning, more than 107.3 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, with more than 60 million of those cases listed as recovered or resolved in a tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than 2.3 million.

In the Americas, Argentina surpassed two million COVID-19 infections on Wednesday, health officials said, as the country scrambles to ramp up a vaccination program ahead of the fast-approaching southern hemisphere autumn.

Health-care workers test teachers and school workers for COVID-19 at the exposition centre La Rural before the reopening of schools, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Matias Baglietto/Reuters)

In Mexico, a deputy foreign minister said that 2 million doses of China’s CanSino vaccine had arrived in the country.

In the U.S., the number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell slightly last week to 793,000, evidence that job cuts remain high despite a substantial decline in new confirmed viral infections.

Meanwhile, federal authorities are investigating a massive counterfeit N95 mask operation in which fake 3M masks were sold in at least five states to hospitals, medical facilities and government agencies. The foreign-made knock-offs are becoming increasingly difficult to spot and could put health-care workers at grave risk for the coronavirus.

These masks are giving first responders “a false sense of security,” said Steve Francis, assistant director for global trade investigations with the Homeland Security Department’s principal investigative arm. Officials could not name the states or the company involved because of the active investigation.

Nearly a year into the pandemic, fraud remains a major problem as scammers seek to exploit hospitals and desperate and weary Americans. Federal investigators say they have seen an increase in phony websites purporting to sell vaccines as well as fake medicine produced overseas, and scams involving personal protective equipment. The schemes deliver phony products, unlike fraud earlier in the pandemic that focused more on fleecing customers.

The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director said African countries that have not found cases of the coronavirus variant dominant in South Africa should go ahead and use the AstraZeneca vaccine.

John Nkengasong spoke to reporters a day after South Africa announced major changes to its vaccination rollout plan, citing a small study that suggested it was poor at preventing mild to moderate disease caused by the variant.

Nkengasong said just seven countries on the 54-nation African continent have reported the variant and none besides South Africa is being “overwhelmed” by the variant. None has expressed concerns about the AstraZeneca vaccine except for South Africa. Africa has had more than 96,000 confirmed deaths.

Pfizer, meanwhile, said it could deliver its vaccine, which requires ultra-cold temperatures for storage and distribution, directly to points of vaccination in South Africa.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Thailand announced plans to inoculate 1 million of its most vulnerable people by May and start mass vaccinations in June, with the aim of administering 10 million doses a month.

The Philippines is set to receive 600,000 doses this month of Sinovac Biotech’s vaccine donated by China, a portion of which will be used to inoculate military personnel, a senior government official said.

A man waits in a reception area as he takes part in a vaccination mock drill at the COVID-19 vaccination centre earlier this week in Seoul. South Korea conducted the drill ahead of the vaccination of the whole nation starting this month. (Kim Hong-Ji/Getty Images)

South Korea has reported 504 new coronavirus cases for the latest 24-hour period. It is the highest daily jump in about two weeks and raising worries about a potential surge as the country begins the Lunar New Year’s holidays.

Health officials said Thursday the newly reported cases took the country’s total for the pandemic to 82,434, with 1,496 deaths related to COVID-19. In recent weeks, South Korea’s caseload has displayed a gradual downward trajectory largely thanks to stringent distancing rules such as a ban on social gatherings of five or more people.

Officials have urged the public to maintain vigilance and stay at home during the four-day Lunar New Year’s holidays that began Thursday. Millions of people were expected to travel across the country to visit hometowns and return home during the holidays.

In the Middle East, Israel began reopening its education system on Thursday after a more than six-week closure due to the country’s worrying surge in coronavirus infections. Kindergartens and Grades 1 to 4 opened in cities with low infection rates, with around one-fifth of the country’s pupils returning to classrooms. Middle schools and high schools remained closed.

WATCH | Suppression of novel coronavirus important to stop mutations, says WHO Europe director:

The world must reduce transmission of the coronavirus to stop mutations that can affect vaccine efficacy, says Dr. Hans Henri P. Kluge, Europe’s regional director for the World Health Organization. (NEXU Science Communication/REUTERS) 0:55

In Europe, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany didn’t act quickly enough last fall to prevent a second surge in coronavirus infections.

“We didn’t shut down public life early enough or systematically enough amid signs of a second wave and warnings from various scientists,” she told lawmakers Thursday. Merkel and the governors of Germany’s 16 states agreed late Wednesday to extend the current lockdown, which was due to expire Sunday, until at least March 7. Schools and hairdressers will be able to open earlier, albeit with strict hygiene measures.

Merkel defended a decision to set a target of pushing the number of new weekly cases per 100,000 inhabitants below 35 before the lockdown is eased further.

“The virus doesn’t follow dates, the virus follows infection numbers,” she said. A vaccination program offered hope for the coming months, said Merkel, before noting that she understands people’s disappointment with the rollout, which is far slower than in Britain, Israel and the United States.

To avoid a third wave of infections, however, a little more patience is required. “I don’t think that the back and forth — opening up then closing down again — brings more predictability for people than waiting a few days longer,” said Merkel.

Germany’s disease control agency said there were just over 64 cases per 100,000 inhabitants nationwide in the past week. The Robert Koch Institute said there were 10,237 new cases and 666 deaths in the past day, taking the total cases to 2.31 million, including 63,635 deaths.

-From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 10:55 a.m. ET

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Tourmaline to expand in Montney with C$1.1 billion deal for Black Swan

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Canada‘s Tourmaline Oil Corp said on Friday it would buy privately owned Black Swan Energy Ltd in a C$1.1 billion ($908.79 million) deal, as the oil and gas producer looks to expand in the Montney region, one of North America’s top shale plays.

Canada‘s Montney, which straddles Alberta and British Columbia, has seen a wave of consolidation as companies buckled under collapsing oil prices amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tourmaline said the deal represents a key part of its ongoing North Montney consolidation strategy and the company sees the area as a key sub-basin for supplying Canadian liquefied natural gas.

The company in April acquired 50% of Saguaro Resources Ltd’s assets in the Laprise-Conroy North Montney play for $205 million and entered into a joint-venture agreement to develop these assets.

Analysts at brokerage ATB Capital Markets called the Black Swan assets a “hand in glove” fit with its recent acquisitions.

Tourmaline stock rose 4.5% to C$32.1.

The deal value consists of 26 million Tourmaline shares and a net debt of up to $350 million, including deal costs.

Tourmaline will acquire an expected average production capacity of over 50,000 boepd when the deal closes, likely in the second half of July.

The company, which also raised its dividend by 1 Canadian cent per share, expects the Black Swan assets to generate free cash flow of $150 million to $200 million in 2022 and beyond.

The Canadian energy sector has seen a flurry of deals with companies expecting to benefit from the rebound in oil prices as global fuel demand picks up.

ARC Resources Ltd in April bought Seven Generations Energy Ltd for C$2.7 billion to create Montney’s largest oil and gas producer.

($1 = 1.2104 Canadian dollars)

 

(Reporting by Rithika Krishna in Bengaluru; Editing by Vinay Dwivedi)

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Exxon losing veteran oil traders recruited to beef up profit

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Exxon Mobil Corp has lost two top crude oil traders from its U.S. energy trading group, according to people familiar with the matter, in a continued exodus from the group.

Exxon last year reversed course on a major expansion of its oil and petroleum products trading as fuel demand tumbled during the pandemic. It suffered a $22.4 billion loss in 2020 from its oil production and refining businesses, leading to deep cost cuts across the business.

Veteran oil traders Michael Paradise and Adam Buller, both of whom joined the company in 2019 after lengthy careers elsewhere, resigned last week, the people said. Paul Butcher, an Exxon trader in Britain, plans to leave in September, another person familiar with the operation said.

Butcher was recruited by Exxon in 2018 to advise it on North Sea oil markets and on accounting for trading transactions. He earlier worked for BP Plc, Glencore Plc and Vitol SA.

Exxon declined to comment on the departures, citing personnel matters.

“We’re pleased with our progress over the past couple of years to grow our team and capabilities,” said spokesman Casey Norton. Exxon’s scale and reach “give our trading teams a broad footprint and unique knowledge and insights” that can generate value for shareholders.

Paradise was a highly regarded crude oil trader who joined Exxon from Noble Group and earlier was director of crude oil trading at Citigroup Inc and BNP Paribas. Buller joined Exxon in late 2019 after trading oil for Petrolama Energy Canada and Spain’s Repsol SA. He earlier was director of international oil trading at BG Group.

Exxon recruited a cadre of experienced traders hoping to replicate rivals BP and Royal Dutch Shell in trading. Both generated enormous trading profits last year by buying oil during the downturn. They sold it at higher prices for future delivery, posting multibillion-dollar profits for the year.

In contrast, Exxon began restricting the group’s access to capital as the pandemic accelerated, laid off some staff and offered early retirement packages to others, Reuters reported. Exxon does not separately report the performance of its trading unit.

(Reporting by Gary McWilliams in Houston, Devika Krishna Kumar in New York and Julia Payne in LondonEditing by David Evans and Matthew Lewis)

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G7 global tax plan may hit corporate titans unevenly

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An agreement by wealthy nations aimed at squeezing more tax out of large multinational companies could hit some firms hard while leaving others – including some of the most frequent targets of lawmakers’ ire – relatively unscathed, according to a Reuters analysis.

Finance ministers from the Group of Seven leading nations on Saturday agreed on proposals aimed at ensuring that companies pay tax in each country in which they operate rather than shifting profits to low-tax havens elsewhere.

One proposed measure would allow countries where customers are based to tax a greater share of a multinational company’s profits above a certain threshold. The ministers also agreed to a second proposal, which would levy a minimum tax rate of 15% of profits in each overseas country where companies operate, regardless of profit margin.

The Reuters review of corporate filings by Google-owner Alphabet Inc suggests the company could see its taxes increase by less than $600 million, or about 7% more than its $7.8 billion global tax bill in 2020, if both proposed measures were applied. Google is among the companies that some lawmakers have criticized as paying too little tax.

Meanwhile, medical group Johnson & Johnson, which is also U.S.-based, could see its tax bill jump by $1 billion, a more than 50% rise over its $1.78 billion global tax expense last year, according to Reuters’ calculations.

Both Google and J&J declined to comment on the calculations.

In a statement Saturday following the G7’s agreement, Google spokesman José Castañeda said: “We strongly support the work being done to update international tax rules. We hope countries continue to work together to ensure a balanced and durable agreement will be finalized soon.”

Determining the exact impact the new rules will have on companies is difficult, in part because companies don’t typically disclose their revenues and tax payments by country. And key details about how the rules would be implemented are still pending, tax specialists say, including to which countries profits would be reallocated and to what degree taxes generated by the new measures would offset taxes owed under the current system.

The proposed rules themselves also face hurdles. In the United States, several top Republican politicians have voiced opposition to the deal. Details of the agreement are also due to be discussed by the wider Group of 20 countries next month.

Four tax specialists concurred with Reuters’ methodology but noted that there is still uncertainty about how the measures would be applied, including which tax breaks are included in the 15% minimum overseas tax.

The G7 comprises Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States.

“The deal makes sure that the system is fair, so that the right companies pay the right tax in the right places,” said a spokesperson for the UK Treasury, which hosted the G7 meeting. “The final design details and parameters of the rules still need to be worked through.”

SHARING PROFITS

The first proposed measure focuses on large global firms that report at least a 10% profit margin globally. Countries in which the companies operate would have the right to tax 20% of global profits above that threshold in an effort to stop companies reporting profits in tax havens where they do little business.

Applying that formula to Google could result in as much as $540 million in additional taxes, according to the Reuters analysis.

Based on Google’s 2020 global profits of $48 billion, Reuters calculated what portion of that income could be reallocated based on the G7’s proposed formula. Reuters then calculated how much more the company would pay if tax was levied on that portion of income at the rate of 23% – which is the average tax rate for developed nations as identified by Paris-based research body the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development – rather than the average overseas tax rate of 14% that Google said it paid last year.

Applying the same methodology to J&J, and its 2020 global profits of $16.5 billion, the healthcare company would see its global tax bill rise by about $270 million as a result of the first measure.

The exact impact on each company’s tax bill would depend on how much income is actually reallocated. Also at issue is which country the profit is moved from and to – and therefore what the increase in tax rate is. If all the reallocated profit comes out of zero-tax jurisdictions, the impact could be greater.

MINIMUM TAX OVERSEAS

U.S. and UK officials say the other measure, involving a 15% global minimum tax, will have a bigger total impact on how much in taxes governments collect. But its effect on companies will vary widely. In recent years, Google-parent Alphabet, like some other targets of tax campaigners, has reorganized its international tax structures and last year reported over three-quarters of its global income in the United States compared to less than half in each of the previous three years, according to its corporate filings.

Google reported $10.5 billion of dollars of earnings from outside the United States last year and an average overseas tax rate of 14%, which is one percentage point below the G7’s proposed minimum tax.

If Google’s overseas earnings were all taxed at 15%, the additional tax due would be $100 million. The impact could be higher if a large proportion of the money is earned in zero-tax jurisdictions like Bermuda, where Google used to report over $10 billion a year in income. Conversely, the impact of the minimum tax would be reduced if the first measure prompted Google to reallocate some of its non-U.S. earnings out of tax havens.

Excluding the impact of the first proposed measure, increasing the tax rate on overseas income to 15% would mean $45 million of additional tax.

The situation for J&J would be very different. It earned 76% of its 2020 income outside of the United States and paid 7% tax on average on that overseas profit. Applying a 15% tax rate to that overseas income figure would result in $990 million in additional taxes, according to Reuters’ calculations.

While the reallocation of profit under the first measure would reduce this impact, the combined result of the two measures would be more than $1 billion.

Academics say businesses are adept at mitigating the impact of measures that are designed to reduce tax avoidance and therefore could re-organize in order to limit the impact of the proposed measures. And, in reality, tax incentives offered by governments mean companies may end up paying less in practice.

 

(Reporting by Tom Bergin; Editing by Cassell Bryan-Low)

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