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COVID-19 complicates holiday travel for Canadian sun seekers – CTV News

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MONTREAL —
Tania Azevedo wasn’t sure if she would make it to Aruba after all.

After Ontario’s lockdowns forced her to close her hair salon in Toronto, Azevedo decided to capitalize on the free time by visiting friends in the small island nation. She had filled out the country’s application for foreign visitors, purchased the mandatory insurance and taken a COVID-19 test in the days before her departure.

But when she arrived at the airport, airline staff informed her that she had taken the wrong test — RNA, not PCR — and that she would have to take another test and quarantine on arrival.

“I almost didn’t get on my flight,” Azevedo said, adding that in the end, Aruban authorities approved the test and let her skip the quarantine.

With some hotels and airlines offering special terms to lure in travellers this holiday season, sun seekers like Azevedo are nevertheless running into new logistical challenges brought on by efforts to contain the pandemic.

Entry requirements for Canadians heading to the most popular destinations vary from country to country, and range from mandatory quarantines on arrival to required testing and insurance programs. Beachgoers also have to contend with fewer options for airline routes and measures such as mask requirements and temperature checks in place at every step of the journey.

Travellers must quarantine for 14 days at home when they return to Canada, a federal measure that the travel industry has fiercely contested, arguing that replacing it with a testing program at airports would be as effective at containing the disease and would increase people’s appetites for travel.

Still, with the winter cold settling in across the country, many Canadians have decided that the benefits of taking a beach vacation during a pandemic outweigh the inconveniences.

“It was definitely worth it and I’d do it again,” Azevedo said from quarantine in her Toronto home.

Christina Miller, a Montreal-based real estate agent who owns a vacation home in the Dominican Republic, had to fly into Punta Cana instead of the smaller airport closer to her house, filling out at least two documents about virus symptoms and taking a rapid COVID test along the way.

Speaking from the Caribbean island, she said she felt safe on the plane ride there and planned to exercise the same level of caution about the virus abroad as she did at home, adding that she has had her temperature taken everywhere she has gone inside to sit.

“I can honestly say that it’s much easier to respect social distancing in 28-degree weather than it is in freezing temperatures, that’s for sure,” Miller said.

Melissa Iantosca, a spokeswoman for Air Canada Vacations, said the company’s most popular beach destinations remain Cancun, Cayo Coco, Punta Cana and Varadero, meaning passengers’ tastes haven’t changed drastically since the start of the pandemic. But airlines have reduced their capacity by as much as 85 per cent this winter in anticipation of lower demand.

“Analysis of the data we have confirms that people are interested in travelling, but the continued entry restrictions at destination and the quarantine imposed on returning to Canada are limiting bookings and delaying travellers’ plans,” said Debbie Cabana, a spokeswoman for Air Transat.

In a November survey of regular winter travellers in Canada conducted by Snowbird Advisor, for example, 40 per cent of more than 3,000 respondents said they would not be travelling this winter (the poll cannot be assigned a margin of error because it was not based on a random sample).

The mandatory quarantine for those returning to Canada has made it impossible for many people to travel, splitting up some families that normally vacation together. Amanda Steinberg, a dietitian who lives in Montreal, flew to Florida this week with her daughter, but had to leave behind her husband, who wouldn’t have been able to work remotely while in quarantine, and her son, whose high school isn’t allowing students to travel.

Steinberg said she had to take a shorter vacation this year, factoring in the length of the quarantine when she gets back. She wasn’t sure yet whether she felt comfortable enough to do some of her usual vacation activities in Florida, like spin or yoga classes, she said.

Other holiday travellers have felt COVID-19 culture shock upon arrival in their destinations. Brittany Pekeles, who flew to Florida from Montreal in December, felt nervous when she first arrived, realizing that she would have to adapt to the locals’ attitudes toward mask-wearing and physical distancing, which she said were lax by Canadian standards.

Pekeles said she is comfortable eating at restaurants outside, but won’t be going to any nightclubs, which in Florida are permitted to operate at full capacity even as the state reports 10,000 new virus cases per day, on average.

“It’s definitely not the same vacation as it would be,” Pekeles said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published December 17, 2020.

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PM urges Canadians to cancel travel plans after data reveals 1M travelled over holidays – CTV News

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TORONTO —
After an analysis of mobile phone data revealed more than a million Canadians – the majority of whom were white and wealthy – traveled overnight during the holiday season, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said anyone with a trip still planned should “cancel it.”

Federal public health guidance has not changed regarding non-essential travel out of Canada and Trudeau, along with health officials at the local, provincial and federal level, have repeatedly issued strong warnings against vacationing at this time.

“My message to Canadians remains clear, no one should be taking a vacation abroad right now,” Trudeau said at his briefing Friday.

As March comes around the corner, the prime minister emphasized – “don’t book a trip for spring break.”

Current federal public health guidance says to avoid all non-essential trips outside of Canada, and despite several Canadian politicians being swept up in public backlash for travelling over the holidays – it turns out a substantial number of the public travelled abroad during the holidays. 

Approximately 1.2 million people in Canada, many from affluent neighbourhoods, spent at least one night away from home between Dec. 23 to Dec. 30, according to mobile phone location data analysis.

The data – which was analyzed by marketing research firm Environics Analytics for The Globe and Mail – came from a database of location data comprised of 20 million mobile phones, which they then cross-referenced with census demographics and postal codes to build a profile of who was travelling.

The data shows that the vast majority who travelled were wealthy, with an average household income of approximately $118,000 per year, and 70 per cent of them were homeowners. The majority were white, with only a third belonging to racialized groups.

Environics estimates 3.3 per cent of Canadians travelled over the holidays, but most provinces saw a drop of at least 50 per cent in overnight holiday travel compared with the same period in 2019, according to The Globe and Mail report.

Minister of Public Safety Bill Blair echoed Trudeau’s words at the federal ministers COVID-19 briefing Friday.

“To be very clear, it is not the time to travel,” Blair said.

“Temporary restrictions remain on optional and discretionary travel….we will continue to strongly advise Canadians against travel abroad, unless it’s absolutely necessary,” he said, adding that the government had scaled up the presence of borderpPatrol and public health officers to ensure travelers follow quarantine protocols.

“Quarantine has been, and continues to be our most effective measure,” Blair reiterated. 

Minister Dominic LeBlanc also urged Canadians to “stay close to home,” and avoid any international or even cross-Canada travel, saying the cabinet was considering even more stringent measures on anyone coming back into the country from abroad.

Currently travelers must show a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of departure to be allowed to fly into Canada, with a mandatory 14-day quarantine upon their arrival. 

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Canada's top judge is now acting Governor General, but expert urges speedy replacement – CTV News

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TORONTO —
Julie Payette’s resignation amid allegations of workplace harassment means that the chief justice of the Supreme Court will now assume the governor general’s powers, but a Crown expert says this temporary appointment should be as brief as possible as it presents potential conflicts.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accepted Payette’s resignation on Thursday following reports of a workplace harassment investigation that sources described to CTV News as “damaging.”

Chief Justice of Canada Richard Wagner will fulfill the role of administrator on an interim basis until Trudeau recommends a new governor general to the Queen, something Trudeau says he will do “in due course.”

Philippe Lagasse, a Carleton University expert on the Westminster system and the Crown, described Payette’s resignation as “a bit sad, really,” and stressed the importance of limiting the amount of time Wagner stays in this role.

“I have to say, as somebody who is concerned about how offices appear in public, it’s really not ideal to have the chief justice of the Supreme Court act as an administrator for any long period of time,” Lagasse told CTV’s Power Play on Thursday.

The reason: the Governor General is in charge of turning bills into law through royal assent. Having an active Supreme Court judge in this role could be potentially problematic down the road, Lagasse said.

“We can think in our constitutional metaphysics that they’re wearing a different hat when they’re providing royal assent, you can imagine that it could create discomfort on the part of the judge who wants to be seem completely and utterly impartial if ever that legislation appears before them in a constitutional or legal challenge,” he said.

Asked about the timeline to replace Payette, intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc said “obviously it’s not a question of months.”

“The constitutional role can be fulfilled as of tonight by Chief Justice Wagner and until a successor is sworn in,” LeBlanc told CTV’s Power Play.

“We obviously haven’t turned our attention to the details of how that successor would be recommended to Her Majesty, but we’ll have more to say about that in the coming days. But it’s not a circumstance that can go on for months and months.”

The Governor General holds the second-highest office in Canada after the Queen, with the role out-ranking even the prime minister. That’s because the Governor General can be called on to make decisions related to the formation of government, such as to prorogue Parliament or dissolve Parliament on the advice of a prime minister to trigger an election.

The Governor General also plays a key role in minority governments, as is the current case. If a minority government loses a confidence vote in the House of Commons, the prime minister would then have to request Parliament be dissolved. The Governor General then has the discretion whether to agree to that, and call an election, or allow another party in the House to attempt to form a government that would have the confidence of the House.

For example, in 2008, Stephen Harper asked then-Governor General Michaelle Jean to prorogue Parliament to avoid a non-confidence vote that he was expected to lose, which she allowed.

Everything considered, Lagasse said it’s in the country’s best interests to appoint a new Governor General pronto.

“To the extent possible, we should have a full-on governor general appointed as soon as possible, given the possibility of an election on the horizon,” he said.

“And ultimately, I would imagine the chief justice is not really keen on the idea of having to make some of these decisions and make some of the calls, particularly if another election returns another hung Parliament, and if there’s controversy around a dissolution of Parliament in the middle of a pandemic. These are all things that I imagine the chief justice doesn’t want to be particularly involved with either.”

CTV royal commentator Richard Berthelsen said that the Governor General plays a critical constitutional role in Canada as a representative of the Queen, but is also seen as a moral leader.

“So this really was a day that, in a lot of ways, had to happen. It’s sad that it has happened, but the report has left everyone with no alternative,” Berthelsen told CTV News Channel.

With files from CTV’s Rachel Aiello in Ottawa and The Canadian Press

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

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The latest:

Coronavirus infections may be about to hit a plateau in the United States based on recent seven-day averages, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, though the top U.S. infectious disease expert cautioned the country was still in a “very serious situation” with the virus.

At a White House briefing Thursday, Fauci also said that if 70 to 80 per cent of Americans are vaccinated by the end of summer, the country could experience “a degree of normality” by the fall.

The pandemic has killed 410,000 people and infected more than 24.6 million in the United States, the highest numbers anywhere in the world, according to Johns Hopkins University data. 

Fauci said coronavirus vaccines can be modified to account for new variants of the virus, and that while the variant first identified in South Africa is concerning, it does not appear to be in the United States.

People are processed at the entrance to an empty department store being used as a COVID-19 vaccination centre in Chula Vista, Calif., on Thursday. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

Another highly transmissible variant of the virus first discovered in the United Kingdom has spread to at least 20 U.S. states, Fauci said.

Fauci said he expects current vaccines will be effective against the recently discovered virus mutations.

“Bottom line: We’re paying very close attention to it for our alternative plans if we have to ever modify the vaccine,” he said. “But right now, from the reports we have … it appears that the vaccines will still be effective against them.”

The United States still has a limited ability to track the presence of new variants in its population, he noted.

Biden sets COVID-19 plan into motion

Fauci praised U.S. President Joe Biden’s willingness to “let the science speak” in contrast to the previous Trump administration, standing by his side earlier Thursday as Biden unveiled sweeping measures to battle COVID-19 on his first full day in office.

“This is a wartime undertaking,” the Democratic president said at a White House event where he signed executive orders to establish a COVID-19 testing board to ramp up testing, address supply shortfalls, establish protocols for international travellers and direct resources to hard-hit minority communities.

WATCH | Biden implements COVID-19 travel restrictions:

On U.S. President Joe Biden’s first full day in office, he signed an executive order for new international travel restrictions, which will make it tougher for Canadians to cross the border. Biden is expected to lay out more details tomorrow, during his phone call with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. 2:38

Biden also made a personal plea to all Americans to wear masks over the next 99 days to stop the spread of the virus. “The experts say, by wearing a mask from now until April, we’d save more than 50,000 lives,” he said.

Among other actions signed by Biden on Thursday was an order requiring mask-wearing in airports and on certain public transportation, including many trains, airplanes and intercity buses.

The administration will expand vaccine manufacturing and its power to purchase more vaccines by “fully leveraging contract authorities, including the Defence Production Act,” according to the plan.

The Trump administration had invoked the law, which grants the president broad authority to “expedite and expand the supply of resources from the U.S. industrial base” for protective gear, but never enacted it for testing or vaccine production.

Members of the West Virginia National Guard monitor statewide efforts to distribute COVID-19 vaccines at the National Guard Joint Forces headquarters in Charleston, W.Va., on Jan. 14. West Virginia has used 72 per cent of the doses it has received to date, a relative success amid a sluggish vaccine rollout in the U.S. (John Raby/The Associated Press)

The president has pledged to provide 100 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine during his first 100 days in office. His plan aims to increase vaccinations by opening up eligibility for more people such as teachers and grocery clerks.

As of Thursday morning, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it had administered 17.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine out of some 38 million distributed.

Biden has also rescinded Trump’s planned withdrawal from the World Health Organization.

The new president has put fighting the disease at the top of a daunting list of challenges, including rebuilding a ravaged economy and addressing racial injustice, and has proposed a $1.9-trillion US COVID-19 package that would enhance jobless benefits and provide direct cash payments to households to alleviate the financial pain from the coronavirus.

The House of Representatives is planning to bring the bill to a vote the first week of February, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Thursday.

– From Reuters, last updated at 7 a.m. ET


What’s happening across Canada

As of 7 a.m. ET on Friday, Canada had reported 725,495 cases of COVID-19, with 68,413 cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 18,462.

In Ontario, the seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases continues to fall as the province reported 2,632 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, along with 46 more deaths.

While epidemiologists told CBC News that public health measures seem to be working as Ontario nears four complete weeks under “lockdown” conditions, they cautioned that the province is still far from ready for a return to normalcy.

WATCH | Research into coronavirus variants still early, epidemiologist says: 

Dr. Christopher Labos says research on mutated strains of the virus is too preliminary to draw firm conclusions. 1:38

Meanwhile, local public health officials are expressing concern about a yet-to-be identified variant of COVID-19 at a Barrie, Ont., long-term care home.

The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit said the unusually rapid spread of the virus at Roberta Place earlier this month, with 55 people at the nursing home becoming ill within 48 hours of the first COVID-19 case being identified, prompted officials to start testing for a variant strain.

The variant was identified in six cases and further results are expected in the coming days, the unit said.

At least 122 of 130 residents at Roberta Place Long-Term Care Home have tested positive for COVID-19, the home said in a statement to CBC Toronto on Thursday. Since the outbreak, 19 residents have died and 69 staff are infected.

WATCH | Ontario criticized for delaying vaccine rollout for long-term care homes:

An Ontario panel says the province failed residents of long-term care homes by not prioritizing them for COVID-19 vaccinations and the decision cost hundreds of lives. 1:58

Alberta, like Ontario, has seen its long-term care homes particularly hit hard during the pandemic.

To date, 988 of the province’s 1,500 COVID-19 deaths have been in long-term care and designated supportive living facilities, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, said Thursday.

CapitalCare Lynnwood in west Edmonton is the site of Alberta’s deadliest COVID-19 outbreak, with 55 lives lost. A total of 262 cases have been linked to the outbreak, Alberta Health said in a statement to CBC News.

WATCH | Other COVID-19 vaccines awaiting approval could mean more choice:

The federal government is still evaluating other COVID-19 vaccines, including from AstraZeneca and Johnson and Johnson, which could be approved within weeks. The vaccines in the pipeline work differently and some Canadians hope that might give them a choice about which vaccine to get. 2:05

New Brunswick continues to see a spike in COVID-19 infections, reporting 32 new cases on Thursday as officials declared an outbreak at another Edmundston care home.

At a COVID-19 briefing, the province’s chief medical officer of health said the situation in the Edmundston region remains “gravely concerning.”

There are now 113 cases in that area, “the largest number of any zone in the province,” said Dr. Jennifer Russell.

Premier Blaine Higgs said that a complete lockdown of the Edmundston region has been discussed and looks “likely” to happen in the days ahead.

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

– From CBC News, last updated at 9:45 a.m. ET


What’s happening around the world

As of early Friday morning, more than 97.5 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, with more than 53.8 million of the cases considered resolved or recovered, according to a tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than two million.

In the Asia-Pacific region, South Korea reported 346 new cases on Friday, its smallest daily increase in coronavirus infections in two months as officials express cautious hope that the country is beginning to emerge from its worst wave of the pandemic.

Health authorities have clamped down on private social gatherings since late December, including setting fines for restaurants if they accept groups of five or more people. The 1,241 infections reported on Christmas Day were the country’s largest 24-hour jump of the pandemic.

Bottles of hand sanitizer are displayed for use at a park in Goyang, South Korea, on Friday. Daily infections have slowed in the country after tougher rules were imposed in December to slow a virus surge that erased months of hard-won gains. (Ahn Young-joon/The Associated Press)

In Africa, Mali plans to buy more than 8.4 million doses of coronavirus vaccine and expects to start a vaccination campaign in April, the council of ministers said in a statement on Thursday.

The sprawling country of about 20 million has recorded just over 7,900 COVID-19 cases and 320 deaths since the pandemic began, according to Johns Hopkins.

In the Middle East, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that China had approved delivery of a second consignment of the CoronaVac vaccine and 10 million doses could arrive in Turkey by this weekend.

A woman receives a shot of Sinovac’s CoronaVac COVID-19 vaccine at a nursing home in Ankara, Turkey, on Tuesday. (Umit Bektas/Reuters)

Turkey has already received an initial consignment of three million doses of the vaccine, produced by Sinovac Biotech, and has so far vaccinated more than 1.1 million people, mostly health workers and elderly people.

In the Americas, Mexico has posted new one-day highs for the pandemic, with 22,339 newly confirmed coronavirus infections and 1,803 deaths related to COVID-19.

Mexico has recorded over 1.71 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 146,000 test-confirmed deaths related to COVID-19 since the pandemic began. However, official estimates suggest the real death toll is closer to 195,000.

Officials also said Thursday that hospitals remained at 89 per cent capacity in Mexico City, which is the current centre of the pandemic in Mexico.

A man walks through a disinfection chamber while pulling oxygen tanks for his relatives infected with COVID-19, as part of a city government free refill program, at the municipality of Iztapalapa in Mexico City on Monday. (Toya Sarno Jordan/Reuters)

In Europe, the number of people testing positive for the coronavirus in England decreased slightly in the latest week but prevalence overall remained high, the U.K.’s Office for National Statistics said on Friday.

The ONS estimated that around one in 55 people had COVID-19 within the community population in England in the week ending Jan. 16, a lower prevalence than the estimate of one in 50 people in the last full infection survey published two weeks ago.

– From The Associated Press, last updated at 8:45 a.m. ET

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