The 160-bed hospital in the Po River Valley town of Chiari has no more room for patients stricken with the highly contagious B117 variant of COVID-19 first identified in Britain, which has put hospitals in Italy’s northern Brescia province on high alert.
That history was repeating itself one year after Lombardy became the epicentre of Italy’s pandemic was a sickening realization for Dr. Gabriele Zanolini, who runs the COVID ward in Chiari’s M. Mellini Hospital.
“You know that there are patients in the emergency room, and you don’t know where to put them,” Zanolini told The Associated Press. “This for me is anguish, not to be able to respond to people who need to be treated. The most difficult moment is to find ourselves again in a state of emergency, after so much time.”
The B117 variant surge has filled 90 per cent of hospital beds in Brescia province, which borders the Veneto and Emilia-Romagna regions, as Italy crossed the grim threshold of 100,000 pandemic dead on Monday and will mark the one-year anniversary Wednesday of Italy’s tough lockdown, the first in the West.
While Zanolini was able to offer a safety valve to hard-hit Bergamo during last spring’s deadly surge, and to Milan and Varese in the fall, now he must ask hospitals elsewhere in the region to take virus patients he himself cannot admit.
New measures are again being considered in Rome to tamp down the increase in new cases attributed to virus variants, including those first identified in South Africa and Brazil. With the B117 variant prevalent in Italy and racing from school-age children and adolescents through families, Lombardy has again put all schools on distance learning, as have several regions in the south, where the health-care system is more fragile.
Zanolini said in this surge, patients in the Chiari hospital COVID ward are increasingly family members — husbands and wives, fathers and sons. And unlike previous spikes, the average age has dropped, with many of the virus patients needing breathing aid between 45 and 55 years of age.
“We have seen, however, that they respond well to treatment,” Zanolini said of the younger patients, noting that mortality remains high among the elderly.
Pandemic ‘not yet defeated’
Despite months of renewed restrictions starting in October, Italy’s death toll remains stubbornly high — several hundred a day. It topped 100,000 this week, the second-highest in Europe after Britain.
Italy’s new premier, Mario Draghi, is focusing on vaccines to help the country emerge from pandemic, pledging in a video message this week to intensify the campaign significantly in the coming weeks.
“Everyone must do his part to contain the spread of this virus,” Draghi said Tuesday. “But above all, the government must do its part. Rather, it must try to do more every day. The pandemic is not yet defeated.”
The vaccine is the only way out, Zanolini said. He sees that people have grown weary of the restrictions, and are becoming too relaxed about gatherings, distancing and masks.
“We are worried because we don’t see an end. It seems like the tunnel is still very long,” Zanolini said. “We find ourselves hit by another wave, and we are very tired.”
-From The Associated Press, last updated at 8:20 a.m. ET
What’s happening across Canada
WATCH | What’s behind Canada’s confusion about AstraZeneca’s vaccine?
As of early Tuesday morning, Canada had reported 890,703 cases of COVID-19, with 30,332 cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 22,276.
In Atlantic Canada, New Brunswick reported five new cases of COVID-19 on Monday. Health officials in Newfoundland and Labrador reported three new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, while officials in Prince Edward Island reported two new cases.
In Nova Scotia, health officials reported no new cases of COVID-19 for the first time since Feb. 12.
Health officials in Quebec on Monday reported 579 new cases of COVID-19 as well as nine additional deaths due to the illness. Hospitalizations declined by two to 590, with 108 people in intensive care, which is one more than a day earlier.
Ontario reported 1,631 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, though health officials noted that a data delay had resulted in a higher than expected number of new cases. The province also reported 10 additional deaths. Hospitalizations in the province increased to 626, with 282 people in intensive care units with COVID-19.
In the Prairie provinces, Manitoba reported 63 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday and one additional death.
Dr. Brent Roussin, the chief provincial public health officer, said that for the most part, numbers in the province continue to trend in the right direction — but he expressed concern about the number of people still in hospital and intensive care units. As of Monday, the province had 164 COVID-19 patients in hospital, with 22 in intensive care units.
“There continues to be a need for us to be on guard,” Roussin said. “The variants of concern add to that need. We are still at risk.”
Join us as experts answer some of your vaccine questions on a special CBC News National Town Hall on Tuesday, March 9. We’ll discuss the differences between vaccines, how vaccine passports work and where you might be in the queue. The special starts at 8 p.m. ET on CBC Gem and CBC News Network, and 10 p.m. local time (10:30 p.m. NST) on CBC Television.
In Saskatchewan, health officials reported 97 new cases of COVID-19 and one additional death on Monday. In neighbouring Alberta, health officials reported 278 new cases of COVID-19 and six additional deaths.
In British Columbia, health officials reported 385 new cases of COVID-19 and 11 additional deaths.
Across the North, there were no new cases reported in Nunavut, the Northwest Territories or Yukon.
-From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 7 a.m. ET
What’s happening around the world
WATCH | U.S. guidance a glimpse into life after COVID-19 vaccines:
As of early Tuesday morning, more than 117.2 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, with more than 66.3 million of those cases listed as recovered by Johns Hopkins University, which maintains a case-tracking tool. The global death toll stood at more than 2.6 million.
A senior World Health Organization official said that so-called “vaccine passports” for COVID-19 should not be used for international travel because of numerous concerns, including ethical considerations that coronavirus vaccines are not easily available globally.
At a press briefing on Monday, WHO emergencies chief Dr. Michael Ryan said there are “real practical and ethical considerations” for countries considering using vaccine certification as a condition for travel, noting that the UN health agency advises against it for now.
“Vaccination is just not available enough around the world and is not available certainly on an equitable basis,” Ryan said. WHO has previously noted that it’s still unknown how long immunity lasts from the numerous licensed COVID-19 vaccines and that data is still being collected.
Ryan also noted the strategy might be unfair to people who cannot be vaccinated for certain reasons and that requiring vaccine passports might allow “inequity and unfairness [to] be further branded into the system.”
In the Asia-Pacific region, Indonesia has received about 1.1 million ready-to-use doses of vaccine produced by AstraZeneca under the global vaccine-sharing COVAX facility.
Singapore has launched a travel “bubble” business hotel that allows executives to do face-to-face meetings without a risk of exposure to the coronavirus, in one of the world’s first such facilities.The hotel has meeting rooms fitted with airtight glass panels to reduce the risk of transmission and even has a special compartment with an ultraviolet light to sanitize documents so they can be shared between participants.
In the Americas, preliminary studies suggest the AstraZeneca vaccine will protect against the P1 variant of the coronavirus, Mauricio Zuma, the head of production at Brazil’s Fiocruz biomedical institute, said on Monday, confirming a Reuters report from Friday.
South Africa remained the hardest-hit country in Africa, with more than 1.5 million reported cases of COVID-19 and more than 50,800 deaths.
In Europe, Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine against COVID-19 could be produced in Europe for the first time after a commercial deal to produce it in Italy was signed by the Moscow-based RDIF sovereign wealth fund and Swiss-based pharmaceutical company Adienne.
Hungary set records Tuesday for the number of COVID-19 patients being treated in Hungarian hospitals and the number of new daily virus deaths amid a powerful surge in cases.
Nearly 350 people in Hungary were hospitalized with the virus in the last 24 hours, bringing the number of hospitalizations on Tuesday to 8,270, breaking the previous record of 8,045 set on Dec. 8. The number of patients on ventilators also set a new record with 833. Health-care experts say that could within days reach the threshold of 1,000, the maximum number of critical patients the country’s health system can handle.
A new round of lockdown measures went into effect in Hungary on Monday requiring most shops to close for two weeks. Kindergartens and primary schools have also been closed until April 7.
The number of people treated in French intensive care units for COVID-19 reached 3,849 on Monday, while total hospitalizations for the disease increased for the second day running, to 25,195.
In the Middle East, Iran’s total reported cases was approaching 1.7 million. The country has recorded more than 60,800 deaths.
-From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 7 a.m. ET
Canada’s manufacturers ask for federal help as Montreal dockworkers stage partial-strike
MONTREAL (Reuters) – Canada‘s manufacturers on Monday asked the federal government to curb a brewing labor dispute after dockworkers at the country’s second largest port said they will work less this week.
Unionized dockworkers, who are in talks for a new contract since 2018, will hold a partial strike starting Tuesday, by refusing all overtime outside of their normal day shifts, along with weekend work, they said in a statement on Monday.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Quebec’s 1,125 longshore workers at the Port of Montreal rejected a March offer from the Maritime Employers Association.
The uncertainty caused by the labour dispute has led to an 11% drop in March container volume at the Montreal port on an annual basis, even as other eastern ports in North America made gains, the Maritime Employers Association said.
The move will cause delays in a 24-hour industry, the association said.
“Some manufacturers have had to redirect their containers to the Port of Halifax, incurring millions in additional costs every week,” said Dennis Darby, chief executive of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters (CME).
While the government strongly believes a negotiated agreement is the best option for all parties, “we are actively examining all options as the situation evolves,” a spokesman for Federal Labor Minister Filomena Tassi said.
Last summer’s stoppage of work cost wholesalers C$600 million ($478 million) in sales over a two-month period, Statistics Canada estimates.
($1 = 1.2563 Canadian dollars)
(Reporting By Allison Lampert in Montreal. Additional reporting by Julie Gordon in Ottawa; Editing by Marguerita Choy)
Canada scraps export permits for drone technology to Turkey, complains to Ankara
OTTAWA (Reuters) –Canada on Monday scrapped export permits for drone technology to Turkey after concluding that the equipment had been used by Azeri forces fighting Armenia in the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, Foreign Minister Marc Garneau said.
Turkey, which like Canada is a member of NATO, is a key ally of Azerbaijan, whose forces gained territory in the enclave after six weeks of fighting.
“This use was not consistent with Canadian foreign policy, nor end-use assurances given by Turkey,” Garneau said in a statement, adding he had raised his concerns with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu earlier in the day.
Ottawa suspended the permits last October so it could review allegations that Azeri drones used in the conflict had been equipped with imaging and targeting systems made by L3Harris Wescam, the Canada-based unit of L3Harris Technologies Inc.
In a statement, the Turkish Embassy in Ottawa said: “We expect our NATO allies to avoid unconstructive steps that will negatively affect our bilateral relations and undermine alliance solidarity.”
Earlier on Monday, Turkey said Cavusoglu had urged Canada to review the defense industry restrictions.
The parts under embargo include camera systems for Baykar armed drones. Export licenses were suspended in 2019 during Turkish military activities in Syria. Restrictions were then eased, but reimposed during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Turkey’s military exports to Azerbaijan jumped sixfold last year. Sales of drones and other military equipment rose to $77 million in September alone before fighting broke out in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, data showed.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa and Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Gareth Jones and Peter Cooney)
Investigation finds Suncor’s Colorado refinery meets environmental permits
By Liz Hampton
DENVER (Reuters) – A Colorado refinery owned by Canadian firm Suncor Energy Inc meets required environmental permits and is adequately funded, according to an investigation released on Monday into a series of emissions violations at the facility between 2017 and 2019.
The 98,000 barrel-per-day (bpd) refinery in the Denver suburb of Commerce City, Colorado, reached a $9-million settlement with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) March 2020 to resolve air pollution violations that occurred since 2017. That settlement also addressed an incident in December 2019 that released refinery materials onto a nearby school.
As part of the settlement, Suncor was required to use a third party to conduct an independent investigation into the violations and spend up to $5 million to implement recommendations from the investigation.
Consulting firm Kearney’s investigation found the facility met environmental permit requirements, but also pinpointed areas for improvement, including personnel training and systems upgrades, some of which was already underway.
“We need to improve our performance and improve the trust people have in us,” Donald Austin, vice president of the Commerce City refinery said in an interview, adding that the refinery had already undertaken some of the recommendations from the investigation.
In mid-April, Suncor will begin a turnaround at the facility that includes an upgrade to a gasoline-producing fluid catalytic cracking unit (FCCU) at Plant 1 of the facility. That turnaround is anticipated to be complete in June 2021.
Suncor last year completed a similar upgrade of an automatic shutdown system for the FCCU at the refinery’s Plant 2.
By 2023, the company will also install an additional control unit, upgraded instrumentation, automated shutdown valves and new hydraulic pressure units in Plant 2.
Together, those upgrades will cost approximately $12 million, of which roughly $10 million is dedicated to Plant 2 upgrades, Suncor said on Monday.
(Reporting by Liz Hampton; Editing by Marguerita Choy)