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

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The latest:

Health officials in British Columbia are warning of increasing strain on the health-care system as COVID-19 hospitalizations hit 209 — the highest they’ve been in the province since the global pandemic began. 

The province reported 762 new cases of COVID-19 and 10 additional deaths on Wednesday, with the majority of the cases concentrated in the densely populated Lower Mainland.

“This second surge is putting a strain on our health-care system, our workplaces and us all,” said a statement from Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix. 

With case numbers on the rise in B.C. and across much of the country, Premier John Horgan on Wednesday called on Ottawa to work with provinces to discourage non-essential inter-provincial travel.

“We need a pan-Canadian approach to travel,” Horgan said. “That is, the people of Quebec and Ontario and Manitoba need to know that they should stay in Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba until we get to a place where we can start distributing a vaccine across the country.”

In neighbouring Alberta, the chief medical officer of health warned on Wednesday that if the province doesn’t change its current COVID-19 trajectory the “implications are grim.”

The province reported 730 new cases and 11 additional deaths on Wednesday. Hospitalizations stood at 287, with 57 in intensive care. 

“This is deadly serious. I have asked for kindness but I also ask for firmness,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw said. “The need to control our spread and protect our health system is why I ask everyone, anywhere in the province, to abide by all public health measures.”


What’s happening across Canada

Canada’s COVID-19 case count — as of early Thursday morning — stood at 311,110, with 51,603 of those considered active cases. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC’s reporting stood at 11,186.

In Saskatchewan, health officials reported one additional death and 132 more COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, bringing the number of active cases in the province to 2,099.

The province recently stepped up its public health regulations, making masks mandatory in indoor public spaces and limiting the number of people allowed at private indoor gatherings to five. 

WATCH | Suffering through a COVID-19 lockdown in long-term care:

Months of isolation in her Saskatchewan long-term care facility brought Chelsea Dreher to the brink of suicide. As the province restricts care home visitors again, she shares her story with CBC News. 2:02

Manitoba’s top doctor said Wednesday it’s a “very daunting time” in the province as health officials announced 11 additional deaths and 400 more cases of COVID-19. Hospitalizations in the province hit 249, with 40 in intensive care.

Dr. Brent Roussin said in recent days contract tracers have dealt with hundreds of cases that don’t have a known source of exposure to the novel coronavirus.

In Nunavut, health officials reported 10 additional cases on Wednesday, bringing the number of confirmed cases to 70.

“This is it, folks — it’s time to take a stand and fight against COVID-19,” Premier Joe Savikataaq said as he provided an update on the first day of a two-week lockdown.

WATCH: Concerns about health-care access as Nunavut enters COVID-19 lockdown:

Nunavut has begun a two-week lockdown, after COVID-19 cases more than doubled this week. There are fears the virus will overwhelm the territory’s fragile health-care system. 2:03

There was one new case reported in Yukon on Wednesday and no new cases reported in the Northwest Territories.

In hard-hit Ontario, health officials reported 1,210 cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, with 361 new cases in Peel Region, 346 in Toronto and 143 in York Region.

As of Wednesday, hospitalizations stood at 535, with 127 in intensive care.

Premier Doug Ford on Wednesday warned that some of the province’s “red” zones could be facing another lockdown.

Quebec on Wednesday reported 1,179 new cases of COVID-19 and 35 more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus, including eight that occurred in the past 24 hours.

Health officials said hospitalizations increased by 14, to 652, and 100 people were in intensive care, the same number as the prior day.

In Atlantic Canada, there were nine new cases of COVID-19 reported in New Brunswick, with five of the new cases in the Moncton area. 

There were three new cases reported in Nova Scotia and two new cases reported in Newfoundland and Labrador. In Prince Edward Island, which has just three active cases, there were no new cases reported.


What’s happening around the world

WATCH | Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine heads into approval phase:

Pfizer is preparing to formally ask for emergency use authorization for its vaccine in the U.S., after new data showed it’s safe and 95 per cent effective. The vaccine’s approval in Canada could come within the next couple of months. 4:04

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

As of early Thursday morning, there were more than 56.3 million reported cases of COVID-19 worldwide, with more than 36.2 million of those cases listed as recovered, according to a COVID-19 tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than 1.3 million.

A day after an update from Pfizer about its potential COVID-19 vaccine, AstraZeneca and Oxford University’s potential COVID-19 vaccine produced a strong immune response in older adults, data published on Thursday showed, with researchers expecting to release late-stage trial results by Christmas.

In the Americas, long lines to get tested have reappeared across the U.S. ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday  — a reminder that the nation’s strained testing system remains unable to keep pace with the virus.

The delays are happening as the country braces for winter weather, flu season and holiday travel, all of which are expected to amplify a U.S. outbreak that has already swelled past 11.5 million cases and 250,000 deaths.

Conditions inside the nation’s hospitals are deteriorating by the day as the coronavirus rages across the U.S. at an unrelenting pace.

“We are depressed, disheartened and tired to the bone,” said Alison Johnson, director of critical care at Johnson City Medical Center in Tennessee, noting that she drives to and from work some days in tears.

The number of people in the hospital with COVID-19 in the U.S. has doubled in the past month and set new records every day this week. As of Tuesday, nearly 77,000 were hospitalized with the virus.

The out-of-control surge is leading governors and mayors across the U.S. to grudgingly issue mask mandates, limit the size of private and public gatherings ahead of Thanksgiving, ban indoor restaurant dining, close gyms or restrict the hours and capacity of bars, stores and other businesses.

New York City’s school system — the nation’s largest, with more than one million students — suspended in-person classes Wednesday amid a mounting infection rate, a painful setback in a corner of the country that suffered mightily in the spring but had seemingly beaten back the virus months ago.

Texas is rushing thousands of additional medical staff to overworked hospitals as the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients statewide accelerates toward 8,000 for the first time since a deadly summer outbreak.

Meanwhile, in Uruguay, a relatively coronavirus-free zone in hard-hit Latin America, health officials are starting to see a worrying rise in cases.

The African continent has surpassed two million confirmed cases as the top public health official warned Thursday that “we are inevitably edging toward a second wave” of infections.

The Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the 54-nation continent had crossed the milestone. Africa has seen more than 48,000 deaths from COVID-19. Its infections and deaths make up less than four per cent of the global total.

In Europe, Russia on Thursday surpassed two million cases after reporting an additional 23,610 infections and 463 deaths related to COVID-19, both record daily rises.

WATCH | Inside a Moscow COVID-19 ward:

A well-equipped, high-tech COVID-19 ward set up inside a Moscow convention centre is a stark contrast to the overwhelmed hospitals elsewhere in Russia. CBC News got a first-hand look at the facility and found out what’s creating the disparity in health care. 6:34

Ukraine registered a record of 13,357 new cases in the past 24 hours, while the number of deaths also hit a new high.

In the Asia-Pacific region, the leader of the small Pacific nation of Samoa appealed for calm Thursday after the country reported its first positive test for the coronavirus, although a second test on the same patient returned a negative result.

Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi addressed the nation live on television and radio, urging people to remain vigilant with their virus precautions.

Samoa was among a dwindling handful of nations to have not reported a single case of the virus.

According to the Samoa Observer, the prime minister said the patient was a sailor who had been staying in a quarantine facility since flying in from New Zealand on Friday. He said the sailor returned a positive test four days after arriving, but then a second test on Thursday returned a negative result.

Tokyo raised its coronavirus alert to the highest level as the city’s daily tally of new infections rose to a record 534, while daily cases in Japan also hit a new record of 2,259.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is calling for closer international co-operation on making a vaccine for the coronavirus available.

“To beat the virus and promote the global recovery, the international community must close ranks and jointly respond to the crisis and meet the tests,” Xi said in an address delivered via video at an event at the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum.

Chinese companies Sinovac and Sinopharm are in the late stages of testing vaccines, putting them among nearly a dozen companies at or near that level of development. That has introduced both commercial and political competition among countries and companies to be the first to offer a solution to the pandemic.

In the Middle East, Iran on Wednesday said it registered 13,421 new infections in 24 hours, a new daily record. The country has reported more than 800,000 cases and more than 42,000 deaths.

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Tesla seeks entry into U.S. renewable fuel credit market

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Tesla Inc is seeking to enter the multi-billion dollar U.S. renewable credit market, hoping to profit from the Biden administration’s march toward new zero-emission goals, two sources familiar with the matter said.

The electric car maker is one of at least eight companies with a pending application at the Environmental Protection Agency tied to power generation and renewable credits, the sources said. The EPA produces a list of pending applications with some details, but not companies’ names.

Tesla’s entry could potentially reshape the renewable credit market, established in the mid-2000s to boost investment in the U.S. biofuel industry. The market generated some 18 billion credits in 2020 and is currently dominated by ethanol producers. Tesla’s application would likely be tied to the production of electricity associated with biogas.

The Biden administration is expected to review the EPA applications and lay out how electric vehicles could qualify for tradable credits under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) this summer, the two sources said.

The move could represent the largest expansion of the RFS program that was created by President George W. Bush and aimed at boosting rural America and weaning the country off oil imports.

The entry of Tesla and other electric vehicle makers to the renewable energy scheme could attract investment for a much-needed infrastructure network, including charging stations, for electric vehicles.

However, it is likely to anger some in the U.S. refining industry who would need to buy the credits, known as RINs, generated by Tesla and other alternative fuel providers, essentially subsidizing an electric car company that seeks to put petrochemical refiners out of business.

Rural farmers could view Tesla’s entry as the Biden White House prioritizing electric vehicles over biofuels as an answer to the climate crisis.

BIOGAS LOGISTICS

In 2016, just before the Obama administration exited office, the EPA published a proposal seeking comment on how best to structure credits for renewable electricity that is used as a transportation fuel.

The proposal largely sat dormant during the Trump administration, which spent most of its time on fuel credits trying to find common ground among rivals in the corn and oil industries.

Electricity from biogas – mainly pulled from the nation’s landfills – is already eligible for generating credits under the RFS program, but the EPA has never approved applications to do so because the agency hasn’t yet figured out the logistical issues.

Key questions include how to trace the credit-eligible biogas from its origin through to a car’s battery, and who along that supply chain should be allowed to claim the lucrative credits.

Under the RFS, refiners must blend biofuels like corn-based ethanol into their fuel pool or purchase compliance credits in a credit market, where prices have swung wildly in recent years.

The program has helped drive investment in ethanol plants in states like Iowa and Nebraska, but liquid fuels have been under attack from the Biden administration.

Tesla would generate the most lucrative type of credits, known as D3s, which trade at a significant premium to the larger pool of traditional ethanol credits.

As well as building electric cars, Tesla is also investing in charging stations and large-scale batteries.

 

(Reporting By Jarrett Renshaw and Stephanie Kelly; Editing by Heather Timmons and Richard Pullin)

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Cyberattack exposes lack of required defenses on U.S. pipelines

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The shutdown of the biggest U.S. fuel pipeline by a ransomware attack highlights a systemic vulnerability: Pipeline operators have no requirement to implement cyber defenses.

The U.S. government has had robust, compulsory cybersecurity protocols for most of the power grid for about 10 years to prevent debilitating hacks by criminals or state actors.

But the country’s 2.7 million miles (4.3 million km) of oil, natural gas and hazardous liquid pipelines have only voluntary measures, which leaves security up to the individual operators, experts said.

“Simply encouraging pipelines to voluntarily adopt best practices is an inadequate response to the ever-increasing number and sophistication of malevolent cyber actors,” Richard Glick, the chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), said.

Protections could include requirements for encryption, multifactor authentication, backup systems, personnel training and segmenting networks so access to the most sensitive elements can be restricted.

FERC’s authority to impose cyber standards on the electric grid came from a 2005 law but it does not extend to pipelines.

Colonial Pipeline, the largest U.S. oil products pipeline and source of nearly half the supply on the East Coast, has been shut since Friday after a ransomware attack the FBI attributed to DarkSide, a group cyber experts believe is based in Russia or Eastern Europe.

The outage has led to higher gasoline prices in the U.S. South and worries about wider shortages and potential price gouging ahead of the Memorial Day holiday.

Colonial did not immediately respond to a query about whether cybersecurity standards should be mandatory.

The American Petroleum Institute lobbying group said it was talking with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the Energy Department and others to understand the threat and mitigate risk.

THIN STAFFING

Cyber oversight of pipelines falls to the TSA, an office of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which has provided voluntary security guidelines to pipeline companies.

The General Accountability Office, the congressional watchdog, said in a 2019 report that the TSA only had six full-time employees in its pipeline security branch through 2018, which limited the office’s reviews of cybersecurity practices.

The TSA said it has since expanded staff to 34 positions on pipeline and cybersecurity. It did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether it supports mandatory protections.

When asked by reporters whether the Biden administration would put in place rules, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said it was discussing administrative and legislative options to “raise the cyber hygiene across the country.”

President Joe Biden is hoping Congress will pass a $2.3 billion infrastructure package, and pipeline requirements could be put into that legislation. But experts said there was no quick fix.

“The hard part is who do you tell what to do and what do you tell them to do,” Christi Tezak, an analyst at ClearView Energy Partners, said.

U.S. Representatives Fred Upton, a Republican, and Bobby Rush, a Democrat, said on Wednesday they have reintroduced legislation requiring the Department of Energy to ensure the security of natural gas and hazardous liquid pipelines. Such legislation could get folded into a wider bill.

The power grid is regulated by FERC, and mostly organized into nonprofit regional organizations. That made it relatively easy for legislators to put forward the 2005 law that allows FERC to approve mandatory cyber measures.

A range of public and private companies own pipelines. They mostly operate independently and lack a robust federal regulator.

Their oversight falls under different laws depending on what they carry. Products include crude oil, fuels, water, hazardous liquids and – potentially – carbon dioxide for burial underground to control climate change. This diversity could make it harder for legislators to impose a unified requirement.

Tristan Abbey, a former aide to Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski who worked at the White House national security council under former President Donald Trump, said Congress is both the best and worst way to tackle the problem.

“Legislation may be necessary when jurisdiction is ambiguous and agencies lack resources,” said Abbey, now president of Comarus Analytics LLC.

But a bill should not be seen as a magic wand, he said.

“Standards may be part of the answer, but federal regulations need to mesh with state requirements without stifling innovation.”

 

(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Marguerita Choy)

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Fed privately presses big banks on risks from climate change

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The U.S. Federal Reserve has asked lenders to start providing information on the measures they are taking to mitigate climate change-related risks to their balance sheets, according to four people with knowledge of the matter.

The previously unreported supervisory discussions highlight how U.S. watchdogs are moving to execute President Joe Biden’s agenda to incorporate climate risk into the financial regulatory system, with potentially major ramifications for Wall Street.

While European regulators are this year rolling-out climate-change “stress tests” for lenders, the Fed lags its peers.

Fed officials have previously said they are considering a new scenario analysis to help them understand how climate change may affect trillions of dollars’ worth of bank assets, but have not said how or when they would start to apply such tests.

In private discussions, however, Fed supervisors have begun pressing large lenders to detail the measures they are taking to understand how their loan books would perform under certain climate change scenarios, the four people said.

Fed officials have not dictated the parameters for the analysis but have made it clear they expect lenders to conduct the internal risk-management exercises and hand over the data, the people said.

That analysis includes testing the geographical exposure of bank assets to physical risks such as flooding, drought and wildfires, as well as testing exposures to different sectors, such as how oil and gas loans may perform versus renewable energy loans.

The aim of the tests is to identify risks, but the Fed has not indicated that the data it is gathering would translate into any additional capital charges or other regulatory actions.

“They’re being very pragmatic. They’re doing their homework,” said one of the people.

Global banks — including JPMorgan, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley — have been exploring the implications of climate change for some time, both internally and in some cases with European regulators like the Bank of England who are more aggressively integrating climate change risks into the regulatory framework.

Nevertheless, the new climate scrutiny from the U.S. central bank adds to the pressure on Wall Street lenders, forcing them to make investments in technology, data management and staff.

“The data work is a big deal,” said another of the sources.

The banks did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the private discussions with the Fed.

STRESS TESTS

Climate change could upend the financial system because physical threats such as rising sea levels, as well as policies and carbon-neutral technologies aimed at slowing global warming, could destroy trillions of dollars of assets, risk experts say.

In a 2020 report, a Commodity Futures Trading Commission panel cited data estimating that $1 trillion to $4 trillion of global wealth tied to fossil fuel assets could be lost.

The Fed in January appointed Kevin Stiroh, one of its top supervisors, to lead a new team focusing on climate-related financial risks, but some congressional Democrats are pushing the central bank to move much faster and add climate risks to bank stress tests which dictate Wall Street’s capital plans.

In March, Fed governor Lael Brainard said that climate scenario tests could be helpful but that they would also rely on qualitative judgments and be highly uncertain.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell has said the agency will tread carefully and focus on incorporating climate change into existing regulatory obligations, as opposed to creating strict new rules. It is unclear, though, if he will be renominated to lead the Fed after his term expires next year, while his vice chair Randal Quarles, a Republican appointee who oversees bank regulation, is expected to leave this year.

Progressive groups say there is much more the central bank could do to address climate risks, even if it does not want to go as far as its European counterparts.

Tim Clark, a former senior Fed official who helped build its stress tests after the 2008 financial crisis, said it should publicly communicate that it expects banks to incorporate climate change into their risk management processes.

“That’s something they can basically start right now and make it clear to the industry that they expect banks to be working hard on this.”

 

(Reporting by Pete Schroeder; Editing by Michelle Price and Lisa Shumaker)

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