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

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The latest:

As COVID-19 cases continue to rise, Alberta is planning for the creation of field hospitals to treat hundreds of COVID-19 patients, while B.C. has introduced new restrictions on indoor group activities.

In Alberta, health officials recently met to discuss a plan for two or more indoor field hospitals to treat 750 COVID-19 patients, with 375 beds each in Calgary and Edmonton for patients with mild-to-moderate symptoms, according to an internal government document obtained by CBC News.

Patients requiring intensive care would remain in city hospitals, according to the draft implementation plan detailed in the Alberta Health Services (AHS) document.

There has been increasing pressure on hospitals in the province, which has recorded more than 1,000 COVID-19 cases each day for nearly two weeks. On Wednesday, officials reported 1,685 new cases, along with 10 new deaths. There were 504 people in hospital, 97 of whom were in intensive care.

WATCH | Prospect of field hospitals concerns Edmonton intensive care doctor:

‘This is damage control,’ said Dr. Darren Markland, an intensive care physician in Edmonton, speaking about an internal government draft plan to treat 750 COVID-19 patients in field hospitals. 6:03

Also on Wednesday, CBC News reported that Alberta has informally asked the Trudeau government and the Red Cross to supply field hospitals, according to a federal source.

The source said the province would likely receive at least four field hospitals — two from the Red Cross and another two from the federal government.

Alberta introduced new COVID-19 measures on Nov. 24. They included banning all social gatherings in people’s homes, making masks mandatory for all indoor workplaces in the province’s two largest cities and moving all students in grades 7 to 12 to online learning starting Nov. 30.

Meanwhile, British Columbia officials have announced new restrictions that prohibit all indoor adult team sports and return children’s programs to earlier, more restrictive guidelines.

The move came as the province reported 834 new cases and 12 more deaths on Wednesday, with COVID-19 hospitalizations rising to another new high of 337, including 79 in critical care.

“We continue to see that indoor group activities — whether for fitness or team sports — are much higher risk right now,” Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said in a written statement.

In her Wednesday press briefing, Henry again urged everyone to not travel unless absolutely essential, citing the example of an old timers’ hockey team from the Interior that recently travelled to Alberta for games.

Some team members came back with COVID-19 and exposed their family members and co-workers, which led to “several dozen” new cases in the community, Henry said.

WATCH | B.C.’s top doctor asks residents to avoid non-essential travel:

Dr. Bonnie Henry asks residents of B.C. to avoid non-essential travel as cases rise in the province. 1:52

Separately, news that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is shortening the recommended length of quarantine after exposure has Canadian health experts weighing whether a similar approach could be useful here.

The CDC is shortening its quarantine recommendation from 14 days to 10 — or seven days with a negative test result. Health Canada was still recommending a 14-day quarantine period as of Wednesday.

In an interview with CBC News, infection control and disease specialist Dr. Michael Gardam said he believes that duration could be lowered given what has been learned about the disease since the pandemic began.

WATCH | Why one expert says Canada should look at shortening quarantine period:

Health Canada is still recommending a 14-day quarantine period for people who may have been exposed to COVID-19. But according to infection control and disease specialist Dr. Michael Gardam, that duration could be lowered given what has been learned about the disease since the pandemic began.  1:04

What’s happening across Canada

As of 11:15 a.m. ET on Thursday, Canada’s COVID-19 case count stood at 393,070 — two additional cases are pending confirmation — with 68,292 of those cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC’s reporting stood at 12,369.

Ontario reported 1,824 new cases of COVID-19 and 14 new deaths on Thursday. However, the number of new cases was inflated due to a processing error that resulted in the Middlesex-London public health unit recording three days’ worth of case data, the provincial health ministry said.

The number of patients confirmed to have COVID-19 in the province’s intensive care units has risen to 203, according to a report by Critical Care Services Ontario.

A person walks past a COVID-19 assessment centre in Toronto on Wednesday. Toronto and Peel region continue to be in lockdown. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Public health officials have said that 150 is the threshold for when unrelated surgeries and procedures may be postponed or cancelled to accommodate the influx of COVID-19 patients. 

Health Minister Christine Elliott said on Wednesday that the province has “plateaued at a very high level,” and the results of lockdowns in Toronto and neighbouring Peel Region, which began Nov. 23, won’t be seen until next week.

Quebec reported 1,470 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday — a day after surpassing 1,500 daily cases for the first time — along with 30 new deaths.

The province has tightened the health guidelines for stores and malls for the holiday shopping season, including a maximum capacity of customers based on floor space available to customers.

Deputy Premier Geneviève Guilbault said that many shopping venues already have such measures in place but those that don’t risk being fined up to $6,000 or closed altogether.

A sign showing the maximum number of clients as part of COVID-19 measures is seen at the entrance of a clothing store in Montreal on Wednesday. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

In Atlantic Canada, Nova Scotia reported 17 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday.

In the evening, Sipekne’katik First Nation Chief Mike Sack confirmed two cases were found in the community in the province’s northern health zone — the first time COVID-19 has been detected on a First Nation in Atlantic Canada. Those cases were not part of Wednesday’s numbers reported by public health.

New Brunswick reported six new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, while Newfoundland and Labrador reported one new case.

Prince Edward Island, which did not provide an update on Wednesday, is adding 55 new front-line positions to schools across the province to support students and staff during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Manitoba, students in grades 7 to 12 will shift to remote learning for two weeks following the winter break as part of efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus, Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen said Wednesday.

The announcement came as the province hit a record high of 351 people in hospital due to COVID-19, including 51 in intensive care. Officials also reported 277 new COVID-19 cases and 14 additional deaths.

Saskatchewan reported 238 new cases of COVID-19 and two additional deaths on Wednesday.

WATCH | Nunavut lifts territory-wide lockdown but restrictions remain in Arviat:

Nunavut’s chief public health officer, Dr. Michael Patterson, warns Arviat needs to keep its tight restrictions to stop the spread of COVID-19. 1:04

In the North, Nunavut moved out of a two-week territory-wide lockdown on Wednesday, with restrictions easing for all communities except for Arviat, where community transmission of COVID-19 is still occurring. The territory reported 11 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, all in Arviat.

Yukon reported three new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday. Wearing a mask in public indoor places became mandatory in the territory this week, following a sharp rise in cases in the past few weeks.

The Northwest Territories did not report any new cases on Wednesday. There have been 15 confirmed cases in the territory since the start of the pandemic, none of which are considered still active.


What’s happening around the world

From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 7 a.m. ET

As of early Thursday morning, there were more than 64.6 million reported cases of COVID-19 worldwide, with more than 41.6 million of those listed as recovered or resolved, according to a tracking tool maintained by U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at nearly 1.5 million.

In the Americas, U.S. deaths from the coronavirus pandemic have surged past 2,000 for two days in a row as the most dangerous season of the year approached, taxing an overwhelmed health-care system with U.S. political leadership in disarray.

The toll from COVID-19 reached its second-highest level ever on Wednesday with 2,811 lives lost, according to a Reuters tally of official data, one short of the record from April 15. Nearly 200,000 new U.S. cases were reported on Wednesday, with record hospitalizations approaching 100,000 patients.

Santa Claus gestures to visitors in their cars as they attend the Dodgers Holiday Festival, a physically distanced drive-thru light and performance event honouring the Dodgers’ World Series win and celebrating the holiday season, at Dodgers Stadium in Los Angeles on Wednesday. (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

The sobering data came as the head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday warned that December, January and February were likely to be “the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation.”

CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield told an event hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that the United States could start losing around 3,000 people — roughly the number that died in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 — each day over the next two months.

In Europe, coronavirus infections in Russia hit a new record on Thursday, as the country’s authorities reported 28,145 new confirmed cases — the highest daily spike in the pandemic and an increase of 2,800 cases from those registered the previous day.

Russia’s total number of COVID-19 cases — nearly 2.4 million — remains the world’s fourth-highest. The government coronavirus task force has reported 41,607 deaths in the pandemic.

The country has been swept by a rapid resurgence of the outbreak this fall, with numbers of confirmed COVID-19 infections and deaths regularly hitting new highs and significantly exceeding those reported in the spring. The country’s authorities have resisted imposing a second nationwide lockdown or a widespread closure of businesses.

In the Asia-Pacific region, hundreds of thousands of masked students in South Korea, including 35 COVID-19 patients, are taking the country’s highly competitive university entrance exam despite a viral resurgence that has forced authorities to toughen physical distancing rules.

The Education Ministry says about 493,430 students began taking the one-day test at about 1,380 test sites across South Korea on Thursday. It says the test sites include hospitals and other medical facilities where the 35 virus patients and hundreds of others placed under self-quarantine will take the exam.

Africa’s top public health official says 60 per cent of the continent’s population needs to be vaccinated against the coronavirus in the next two to three years. The director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, John Nkengasong, told reporters that if it takes four to five years, “the virus will be endemic in our communities.”

Concerns are growing that the continent of 1.3 billion people will be near the end of the line in obtaining doses. Nkengasong isn’t sure whether vaccines will be available in Africa before the second quarter of next year. But he pushed back against vaccine misinformation, saying that “if I had my way today to take a flight to the U.K. and get that vaccine, I would be doing it right now.”

The continent now has well over 2.1 million confirmed virus cases and more than 52,000 COVID-19-related deaths.

Iran, the hardest-hit nation in the Middle East, passed one million total COVID-19 cases on Thursday with 13,922 new cases recorded in the past 24 hours, the health ministry said.

Ministry spokesperson Sima Sadat Lari told state TV that 358 people had died from the coronavirus since Wednesday, bringing the death toll to 49,348.

Iran has introduced tougher measures to stem a third wave of coronavirus infections, including closing non-essential businesses and travel restrictions.

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Commander leading COVID vaccine rollout leaves pending investigation

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A top military commander tasked with Canada‘s COVID-19 vaccine rollout has unexpectedly left his assignment pending the results of a military investigation, a government statement said on Friday.

Major-General Dany Fortin was brought in by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government to lead Canada‘s vaccine distribution in November, describing the effort as the greatest mobilization effort the country has seen since World War Two.

The brief statement did not elaborate on the nature of the investigation. Acting Chief of the Defence Staff, Lieutenant-General Eyre will be reviewing next steps with Fortin, the statement added.

Fortin, who has decades of experience including in warzones, was a key fixture of the government’s vaccine briefings and his team coordinated the logistical challenge of reaching vaccines to Canada‘s far-flung places.

Canada‘s vaccination campaign has picked up pace after a rocky start, with some 43.1% of the country’s population receiving at least one dose.

 

(Reporting by Denny Thomas; Editing by Sam Holmes)

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Canada slams ‘unconscionable’ Iran conduct since airliner shootdown

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Canada on Thursday condemned Tehran’s “unconscionable” conduct since Iranian forces shot down an airliner last year, killing 176 people, including dozens of Canadians, and vowed to keep pressing for answers as to what really happened.

The comments by Foreign Minister Marc Garneau were among the strongest Ottawa has made about the January 2020 disaster.

“The behavior of the Iranian government has been frankly unconscionable in this past 15 months and we are going to continue to pursue them so we have accountability,” Garneau told a committee of legislators examining what occurred.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards shot down the Ukraine International Airlines flight shortly after it took off from Tehran Airport. Iran said its forces had been on high alert during a regional confrontation with the United States.

Iran was on edge about possible attacks after it fired missiles at Iraqi bases housing U.S. forces in retaliation for the killing days before of its most powerful military commander, Qassem Soleimani, in a U.S. missile strike at Baghdad airport.

Garneau complained it had taken months of pressure for Iran, with which Canada does not have diplomatic relations, to hand over the flight recorders for independent analysis and said Tehran had still not explained why the airspace had not been closed at the time.

In March, Iran’s civil aviation body blamed the crash on a misaligned radar and an error by an air defense operator. Iran has indicted 10 officials.

At the time, Ukraine and Canada criticized the report as insufficient. But Garneau went further on Thursday, saying it was “totally unacceptable … they are laying the blame on some low-level people who operated a missile battery and not providing the accountability within the chain of command.”

Canada is compiling its own forensic report into the disaster and will be releasing it in the coming weeks, he said.

 

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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Mexican union was set to lose disputed GM workers’ vote

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General Motors Co workers in Mexico were on track to scrap the contract negotiated by one of the country’s biggest unions, according to a Mexican government report on a vote last month that led to a U.S. complaint under a new North American free trade deal.

On Wednesday, the Biden administration called for a probe into allegations that worker rights were denied at GM’s Silao pickup truck plant during the vote to ratify workers’ collective contract with the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM).

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Thursday said he accepted the U.S. recommendation to make sure there would be no fraud in union votes, noting that many “irregularities” had been detected in the union-led vote at GM.

The CTM, which represents 4.5 million workers, is one of several traditional unions accused by workers and activists of putting business interests over workers’ rights.

A ministry report into the vote, reviewed by Reuters, shows that 1,784 workers cast ballots against keeping the CTM contract, while 1,628 workers voted to maintain it.

Allegations of interference – including the ministry’s findings that some blank ballots in union possession were cut in half – have raised suspicions among some activists and experts that the CTM may have been headed for a deeper defeat.

A follow-up vote, which the Labor Ministry ordered to take place within 30 days, could result in a wider margin against keeping the current contract, especially if more workers who were apathetic or scared of voting turned out the second time, said Alfonso Bouzas, a labor scholar at Mexico’s National Autonomous University.

“This whole new opportunity is going to awaken conscience and interest,” Bouzas said.

CTM’s national spokesman, Patricio Flores, said the union supported the regional trade deal and would comply with the law and whatever “would not harm investment in Mexico.”

He did not dispute the vote tally in the labor ministry report, but called for an investigation into the disputed proceeding before a second vote.

“We should listen to the voice of these workers and not let pressure from unions in the United States and Canada have influence right now,” CTM said in a statement.

‘DOESN’T SEEM RIGHT’

The ministry document showed that just over half of the 6,494 workers eligible to vote did so in the first of two days of voting, before labor inspectors halted the process.

If GM workers scrap their contract, either the CTM or a new union could negotiate new collective terms.

Many collective bargaining contracts in Mexico consist of deals between unions and companies without workers’ approval, which has helped keep Mexican hourly wages at a fraction of those in the United States.

The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which took effect last year and replaced the 1994 NAFTA, sought to strengthen worker rights in Mexico and slow migration of U.S. auto production south of the border.

GM has said it respects the rights of its employees to make decisions over collective bargaining, and that it was not involved in any alleged violations. It declined to comment on the Labor Ministry report.

GM has indicated that it is ready to shift away from the old system that had let companies in Mexico turn a blind eye to worker rights, said Jerry Dias, the head of Canada‘s largest private sector union, Unifor.

“The rules are changing and a company like GM is not going to get caught,” he said.

Dias said he hoped to personally monitor the follow-up vote at the Silao plant.

Contract ratification votes are required under Mexico’s 2019 labor reform, which underpins the renegotiated free trade pact, to ensure workers are not bound to contracts that were signed behind their backs.

(Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon; Editing by Christian Plumb, Richard Pullin, Paul Simao and David Gregorio)

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