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



The latest:

People in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick will see more COVID-19 restrictions eased next week, said officials, who pointed to signs of a waning Omicron wave.

In Nova Scotia, Dr. Robert Strang, the province’s chief medical officer of health, cautioned that the health system is still under “tremendous pressure” but noted that hospital admissions for COVID-19 have peaked.

Premier Tim Houston said the next shift will happen on Feb. 14, with the return of sports, arts and cultural events. Gathering limits for informal events will increase, and a range of businesses will be allowed to increase capacity.

The shift is happening because of “our high vaccination rates” and strong booster dose campaign, said Houston.

“It’s also happening because we know the need to balance between restrictions and the risk of COVID in terms of our overall public health.”

More restrictions will be lifted through a phased approach, Houston said.

In New Brunswick, Premier Blaine Higgs announced restrictions would be eased as of Feb. 18, including increased capacity at a range of businesses and increased limits on the number of people who can come together at household gatherings.

Dr. Jennifer Russell, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said while many people in the province are still being infected and hospitals are still under strain, the province is seeing signs that the Omicron wave is slowing.

“Today, there are 139 New Brunswickers in hospital due to COVID-19,” Russell said at the briefing on Wednesday, a decline from the peak of 165 a week earlier. The number of health workers off sick or isolating is also decreasing, which means hospitals are better positioned to handle current cases, as well as any increases, she said.

Hospitalizations as of Thursday stood at 140, with 15 people in New Brunswick’s intensive care units, according to the province’s COVID-19 dashboard.

Higgs said the end of mandates in New Brunswick is in sight — provided certain conditions are met, including hospitalizations declining as projected. When the province makes that decision, he said, “it will be based on science, as all of our COVID-19 decisions have been.”

“I am hopeful we’ll see the end of the emergency order, and further restrictions and mandates, by the end of March,” the premier said as he outlined the changes.

Higgs said the shift is not connected to a protest convoy expected in the province this weekend.

Horizon Health Network, a key health-care provider in New Brunswick, said Thursday that non-urgent procedures and surgeries are resuming. The update noted that hospitals are still under strain, but the organization “is now able to safely resume” procedures delayed by measures imposed to control the Omicron wave.

Prince Edward Island’s premier recently outlined a three-step plan to ease restrictions, with the first step to begin next week. 

In Newfoundland and Labrador, the province’s top doctor also unveiled an easing of some restrictions, including loosening rules around gatherings and sporting events.

-From CBC News, last updated at 11:45 a.m. ET

What’s happening across Canada

WATCH | Canadians weigh travel concerns ahead of March break

Canadians weigh travel concerns ahead of March break

14 hours ago

Duration 1:48

A continued advisory against non-essential travel and COVID-19 testing requirements have some Canadians reconsidering international travel over March break and some experts questioning the value of the restrictions. 1:48

With lab-based testing capacity deeply strained and increasingly restricted, experts say true case counts are likely far higher than reported. Hospitalization data at the regional level is also evolving, with several provinces saying they will report figures that separate the number of people in hospital because of COVID-19 from those in hospital for another medical issue who also test positive for COVID-19.

For more information on what is happening in your community — including details on outbreaks, testing capacity and local restrictions — click through to the regional coverage below.

You can also read more from the Public Health Agency of Canada, which provides a detailed look at every region — including seven-day average test positivity rates — in its daily epidemiological updates.

In Central Canada, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health is set to hold a pandemic briefing later Thursday. Dr. Kieran Moore’s weekly COVID-19 news conference comes a day after the province’s health minister said Ontario will keep its mask mandate and vaccine certificate system in place for now.

Moore’s news conference also comes after the province began making rapid test kits available for free at grocery stores, pharmacies and other sites.

Ontario on Thursday reported 1,897 people in hospital with COVID-19 — down by 162 from a day earlier — and 445 patients in intensive care. The province also reported 44 additional deaths.

In Quebec, the interim public health director said Wednesday that the province’s vaccine passport program is expected to stay in place until mid-March. The decision to stop using vaccine passports will be linked to the COVID-19 situation in the province, said Dr. Luc Boileau.

“We’ll see then if it’s still a lever that has all the efficacy it has had in the last few months,” Boileau said of the passports. “Mostly it’ll be related to the epidemiological situation and the progression of this wave.”

Health officials in Quebec on Thursday said COVID-19 hospitalizations stood at 2,312 — down by 36 from a day earlier — with 173 people in ICU.

In the Prairie provinces, Manitoba is hoping to lift all restrictions by spring, but Dr. Jazz Atwal, the province’s
deputy chief public health officer, said the plan will be dictated by science — not the decisions of other jurisdictions or demands from protesters.

“Just because one province is doing something doesn’t mean we’re necessarily going to do that,” Atwal said Wednesday. Manitoba recently announced slight easing of COVID-19 restrictions, including allowing for larger gatherings.

The remarks came after major shifts in restrictions from officials in Saskatchewan and Alberta.

In the North, the latest COVID-19 wave hit the territories later than the rest of Canada, said Dr. Andre Corriveau, the deputy chief public health officer for the Northwest Territories. That means any opening plans will also lag behind, he added.

“The goal is still there,” Corriveau said. “The intent is that the public health emergency will be gone in the next couple of months.”

British Columbia is still working through the details of its public health orders and Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said more information will be provided next week about the “gradual process” of lifting restrictions. She said COVID-19 remains a severe illness and British Columbia’s resources are still stretched thin.

-From The Canadian Press and CBC News, last updated at 11:15 a.m. ET

What’s happening around the world

As of early Thursday morning, more than 403.3 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus tracker. The reported global death toll stood at more than 5.7 million.

In Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, said 85 per cent of Africans had yet to receive a single dose of vaccine, and uptake needed to be significantly accelerated.

“A steady supply of doses is now reaching our shores, so the focus needs to be on translating those into actual shots in people’s arms,” she said.

In Europe, Paris police on Thursday banned road blockades threatened by groups organizing online against COVID-19 restrictions, in part inspired by protesters in Canada. Citing “risks of trouble to public order,” the Paris police department banned protests aimed at “blocking the capital” from Friday through Monday. Police will put measures in place to protect roads and detain violators. The vast majority of French adults are vaccinated against COVID-19.

In the Asia-Pacific region, South Korea will begin offering Novavax Inc.’s COVID-19 vaccine at hospitals, nursing homes and public health centres next week, adding another tool to fight a fast-developing Omicron surge. The country reported a record 54,122 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, but officials are expressing cautious hope that the country’s high vaccination rate will prevent an explosion in serious illnesses and deaths.

They say Novavax’s protein vaccine, which is similar to shots used for years against diseases including the common flu and hepatitis B, could appeal to people who are hesitant to use other COVID-19 vaccines designed with newer technologies.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has said she is deeply sorry and anxious about long queues at coronavirus testing centres and isolation facilities after a record number of new cases left authorities scrambling.

A long queue of people snakes down a road for a mobile COVID-19 testing station in Hong Kong on Thursday. (Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images)

In the Americas, the governors of New York and Massachusetts announced on Wednesday that they would end certain mask mandates in their states, joining a growing list of state leaders planning to lift face-covering rules as the latest COVID-19 surge eases.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said her state would stop requiring people to wear a mask or prove they had received a COVID-19 vaccine when entering most indoor public places, starting on Thursday, thanks to a decrease in COVID cases and hospitalizations.

“This is what we have been waiting for: tremendous progress after two long years,” Hochul, a Democrat, said at a news conference. “We’re not done, but this is trending in a very, very good direction.”

In New York City, the country’s most populous city, a requirement that people show proof of vaccination to enter restaurants, gyms, theatres and other indoor places will remain in effect for the time being, the office of Mayor Eric Adams said.

In Massachusetts, students, teachers and staff will no longer be required to wear masks in schools after Feb. 28, Gov. Charlie Baker said at a news briefing on Wednesday.

Baker, a Republican, said Massachusetts had “far more tools available to us to deal with the pandemic than we had at the beginning,” noting that children are unlikely to get seriously ill from COVID-19 and that his state has the country’s second-highest child vaccination rate.

In the Middle East, countries have seen a rise in coronavirus infections in the last six weeks because of low vaccination rates, officials at the WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office said.

-From Reuters, The Associated Press and CBC News, last updated at 9:15 a.m. ET

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Team leader critical of RCMP mental health support after Nova Scotia mass shooting



HALIFAX — The RCMP’s treatment of their tactical team in the days following the April 2020 mass shooting in Nova Scotia was characterized as “absolutely disgusting” Monday during testimony before the public inquiry examining the killings.

Retired corporal Tim Mills, who headed the 13-member Emergency Response Team, told the inquiry that a lack of mental health support in the week after the rampage that claimed 22 lives is the main reason he left the force after a 29-year career.

“The RCMP as an organization wants to give this impression that they care about their members,” Mills testified. “The way that we were treated after this (Portapique) was disgusting, absolutely disgusting.”

Mills detailed his attempts to get more time for his eight part-time team members to “decompress” after the April 18-19, 2020, rampage instead of quickly returning to general duties at their detachments after the unit was stood down for three days.

He said it was agreed during a debriefing involving team members and three psychiatrists on April 24 that a request would be made for the part-timers to work at headquarters with the full-time team members for a period of two weeks.

“Their advice was to be around like-minded people, talk openly about it, stay busy,” Mills said.

But, he said the request appeared to go nowhere, and by April 29 he was told the part-time team members had to return to their home units.

“There are members off because of Portapique … that are still off today, that didn’t see what we saw. They forced our guys back to work a week and a half after.”

Mills said he pushed to find out who had made the decision, but it all became too much for him by November of 2020. “At that point I was like, ‘I’m done working for a broken organization,’” he said. Mills retired from the RCMP in July 2021.

Meanwhile, Mills and the team’s second-in-command the night of the shootings, Cpl. Trent Milton, gave testimony Monday related to an inquiry document detailing the team’s initial response to the shootings.

Mills said he was first notified of the ongoing situation around 10:45 p.m. on April 18, 2020. The first members of his team arrived outside Portapique just under two hours later.

Milton was the first one there and he said he decided to wait for Mills and the team’s tactical assault vehicle about 10 minutes behind.

“At that time, based on the information and facts that we had, it was what I’ll call a non-active threat, there was no active gunfire and the location of the perpetrator was unknown,” Milton testified, adding that other Mounties were already at the scene.

Soon after its arrival, the team was about to enter Portapique when it was sent to check out several suspicious sightings involving someone with a flashlight outside homes in the community of Five Houses, across a river and nearly three kilometres away.

But they did not have operational tracking and digital mapping devices in their vehicles, while technology that was on their phones and would have allowed team members to locate one another wasn’t working. As a result, they relied on verbal radio directions from commanders to navigate their way in the pitch dark.

At one point, the document notes that Mills had difficulty finding the location of the reported sightings using the instructions he was given over the radio, which also had too many members on it at the time.

He soon asked Staff Sgt. Brian Rehill, who was the risk manager at the RCMP’s Operational Communications Centre in Truro, N.S., to call his cellphone to sort things out.

“If you listen to the radio comms at all, total confusion on that geographical area,” Mills testified. “It was totally pitch black that night, poorly marked roads, rural area. So trying to figure out where to go that night … was frustrating and tough to do.”

Mills also voiced frustration over the team’s next assignment, which was to rescue Clinton Ellison, who had been hiding in a wooded area in Portapique following the killing of his brother Corrie Ellison by the gunman hours before. Mills told inquiry investigators that Ellison would have been found sooner had there been tracking technology or a helicopter overhead to detect a body heat signature.

He said the same may have applied to the gunman’s common-law spouse, Lisa Banfield, who spent the night hiding in the woods and was found by the tactical team the next morning after she sought refuge in the home of a Portapique resident.

The inquiry document confirms that RCMP knew for certain from talking to Banfield at around 6:45 a.m. that gunman Gabriel Wortman was heavily armed and on the loose in a fully marked RCMP cruiser complete with a light bar.

The tactical team was finally updated at 8:20 a.m. with further information that the marked car had a call sign on its side of 28-B11.

During its nearly nine hours in the Portapique area, the tactical team also came across several victims of the gunman and verified that they were dead. Those victims included Corrie Ellison, Lisa McCully and Greg and Jamie Blair.

The team was in the midst of conducting a house-to-house evacuation of the area with a Department of Natural Resources helicopter overhead when police received a 911 call around 9:35 a.m. about a shooting in Wentworth, along with a witness report of an RCMP vehicle leaving the scene.

Const. Trent Milton, another team member, told the commission: “We knew that … was obviously our individual. We had an active threat again, and we were pushed into the threat to try to stop it.” The chase ended shortly after 11:25 a.m. on April 19 when Emergency Response Team officer Const. Ben MacLeod and another Mountie shot Wortman at a gas station north of Halifax.

Mills told commission investigators that he was satisfied with his team’s performance when confronted with a unique situation. “Put it this way,” he said, “you would never dream up a scenario like this, you know, because there’s too much going on at once.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 16, 2022.


Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press

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Alberta premier visits U.S. capital to talk North American energy security



WASHINGTON — The Alberta government’s all-out effort to become America’s preferred provider of oil and gas will face a critical moment Tuesday as Premier Jason Kenney delivers his province’s sales pitch to some of the most prominent members of the U.S. Congress.

He’ll see some friendly faces, including Sen. Joe Manchin, the swing-vote West Virginia Democrat who has bonded with Kenney over the issue of North American energy security. Others might be less hospitable, like Vermont’s progressive standard-bearer Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Kenney is convinced he has common sense on his side.

“Alberta is by far the largest source of U.S. energy imports — 10 times more than Saudi Arabia, and five times more than all of OPEC combined. I doubt there’s 100 people in the United States who know that,” the premier said Tuesday in a meeting with Canadian journalists in D.C.

“It is deeply frustrating to us. We don’t even seem to show up on the radar screen when it comes to these discussions.”

That’s why the government has installed former Conservative MP James Rajotte at the Canadian Embassy as Alberta’s U.S. emissary. It is also opening new offices this summer in Denver, Chicago and Seattle and has a slick new US$6-million ad campaign based on the tag line “Look North.”

It’s also why the likes of Energy Minister Sonya Savage and Environment Minister Jason Nixon will be racking up frequent-flyer miles to convince a gridlocked Capitol Hill and seemingly indifferent White House of the energy security solution Kenney believes is staring them in the face.

“I think you can expect to see an Alberta delegation of ministers down here in Washington at least every other month,” he said.

“I was here two months ago, they’re going to be here one month from now — we’re going to be really picking up the tempo of our presence here.”

The hearing, to explore the “energy and minerals” partnership between Canada and the U.S., will also feature virtual testimony from Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, as well as Nathalie Camden, Quebec’s deputy minister of mines, and Electricity Canada president Francis Bradley.

Wilkinson said Monday he expects senators will hear a unified message about the vital role Canada can and should play in securing a reliable and sustainable supply of North American energy.

And it will be in that spirit he will remind the committee of the importance of Line 5, a key energy artery between Alberta and Michigan that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is actively trying to shut down out of fear of an ecological disaster in the Great Lakes.

“Part of what I will be saying to the committee on Line 5 is, ‘Let’s not actually take steps backwards,’” Wilkinson said in an interview.

“This is an important part of North American energy security. Yes, it’s important for Canada, but there are American states that also get products off this line. So let’s declare that we need to be moving forward.”

The rare spectacle of a premier at a Senate committee comes at the invitation of chairman Manchin, a household name in Washington these days as a critical — and notoriously unreliable — swing vote for Democrats and President Joe Biden in the evenly divided Senate.

Manchin, who has made no secret of his concerns about rampant inflation in the U.S. as well as soaring energy prices, paid a high-profile visit to Alberta last month, where his message seemed torn directly from Kenney’s United Conservative songbook.

Biden, Manchin said, made a grievous error when he cancelled the presidential permits for the Keystone XL pipeline expansion. It would have ultimately added 800,000 barrels a day of capacity to Alberta’s ability to export oilsands bitumen to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.

“The Keystone XL pipeline is something we should have never abandoned. Now we wish we hadn’t,” Manchin said during his visit.

Republicans, mindful of midterm elections this November that are widely expected to deliver a sharp comeuppance to Democrats in Congress and in several key statehouses, have also taken to blaming that decision for a dramatic spike in gas prices.

The truth is more complicated: inflationary pressure from a pandemic spending spree, lingering supply chain issues, a shortage of domestic oil and gas production, soaring demand and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have all played an outsized role.

Nor would Keystone XL have been completed and operational in time to make a difference, experts say. Even if it was, it would not likely have resulted in enough of a production increase to make much of a dent. Even the project’s original architect, Calgary-based TC Energy Corp., has written it off.

So why keep talking about it?

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” said Kenney, acknowledging in the same breath that the original expansion project is well and truly “dead.” The private sector, he said, will never put billions in capital on the line considering the political and regulatory climate surrounding pipelines.

But the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion between Edmonton and the B.C. coast faced the same uncertainty until the federal government “de-risked it” by buying it outright, Kenney said, predicting it would be fully operational in another 15 months, creating capacity for an additional 600,000 barrels a day.

“If the U.S. is serious about this energy problem, all I’m saying is, we’ve got the supply. We just need more infrastructure,” he said.

What’s more, Keystone XL taught the industry in general and TC Energy in particular some valuable lessons, Kenney added. That included the importance of using U.S. steel, engaging more closely with Indigenous stakeholders and taking more seriously the concerns of climate activists and protesters about the potential impact of greater oilsands production.

“All of those issues became irritants. I think we could learn from the mistakes of the last 10 years and figure out how to do this in a more intelligent way,” he said.

“But ultimately, if you want the energy, somebody’s got to build the infrastructure.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 16, 2022.


James McCarten, The Canadian Press

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Prince Charles to come face to face with ‘woolly doppelgänger’ on royal tour



The Prince of Wales is set to be greeted by a sheepish figure when he arrives in Canada on Tuesday: his own “woolly doppelgänger.”

Prince Charles will lock eyes with a life-size, hand-needle-felted bust of his own visage as he meets with Canadian wool enthusiasts in St. John’s, N.L., at one of the first stops on his three-day cross-country tour alongside wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall.

But that’s not even the “piece de resistance” of the prince’s woolly welcome, said Matthew Rowe, CEO of the Campaign for Wool in Canada. The non-profit industry association will also present its royal patron with a wool sculpture of his mother, the Queen.

“He’s going to come face to face with his woolly doppelgänger,” Rowe said. “What we’ll be unveiling for the first time at that event will be a second bust, this time of Her Majesty, in honour of the Platinum Jubilee. So he’ll meet his woolly mother as well.”

Franco-Manitoban fibre artist Rosemarie Péloquin said she had many conversations with the royal busts over the hundreds of hours she spent making each of them, poking and pulling wool with a barbed needle to felt the fine details of their faces.

Now, Péloquin is preparing to speak to the real-life prince Tuesday as she introduces him to his woolen double.

“You spend so much time in the studio with him that I feel like I’ve gotten to know him, really, in the making,” Péloquin said by phone from St-Pierre-Jolys, Man. “I can’t wait to meet him and to see him looking at himself.”

The sculpture of the prince stands 56 centimeters tall, and aside from a wooden base, is made completely of homegrown wool — from the wrinkles on his forehead, to his red, white and blue tie.

Péloquin said she conducts extensive research on her subjects so she can render not only their appearance, but their “essence.” She homed in on what she saw as some of the prince’s defining features, including his “kind eyes” and his ability to connect with others.

“He’s very interested in people, and that’s why I made him leaning forward and listening,” she said. “I hope that that brings us together in a conversation about wool and about art, and about people and the world.”

Péloquin said wool felt like a fitting material to capture both the Queen’s strength as a monarch, and a her warmth as a mother and grandmother.

The artist adorned the bust with the Queen’s signature pearls and a maple leaf brooch. But Péloquin said the sovereign’s personality shines through this stately veneer. The piece shows her smiling with a “twinkle in her eye,” and the long curly wool that Péloquin used gave her iconic coif slightly more volume.

“I feel that that’s not only the the essence of the sheep coming through, but also of her,” she said. “There’s that kind of fun aspect of her that’s there, and we might not see it and she might not show it in public all the time, but it’s there.”

Péloquin said she’ll be disappointed to part ways with the Queen after escorting her on the plane to St. John’s in side-by-side seats. But even as she says goodbye to her creation, Péloquin is excited for the fabric Queen to greet the public.

“Half of the artwork is that reaction that other people have to it,” said Péloquin. “You have to put your baby out in the world and smile and be proud.”

Founded in 2010, the Campaign for Wool was launched in Canada in 2014 during Prince Charles and Camilla’s visit to Pictou, N.S.

Rowe said the prince’s support came at a nadir for the national wool industry as the forces of fast fashion depleted demand for the age-old textile.

In 1941, Canada sold more than 10 million pounds of wool, Statistics Canada data suggest. By 2006, sales had plummeted to roughly 2.8 million pounds.

Rowe said the campaign commissioned Péloquin’s busts in recognition of all the prince has done to bolster a fibre that has been “interwoven in the history of Canada” since French settlers brought the first sheep to the country in the mid-17th century.

“(The campaign) sort of — pardon the pun — knit together the global wool industry,” said Rowe. “It’s a great opportunity to kind of check in to show what we’ve been able to accomplish for Canadian wool.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 16, 2022.


Adina Bresge, The Canadian Press

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