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COVID-19 lockdowns brought in for Toronto and Peel, but not York – CBC.ca

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Ontario Premier Doug Ford is poised to announce Friday whether Toronto, Peel Region and York Region will face stricter COVID-19 measures — or even a lockdown — as the count of new coronavirus cases continues its upward climb. 

Ford’s cabinet meets each Friday to consider recommendations from Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams on changing the colour-coded restriction levels for each public health unit.    

  • Ford is making the announcement at a news conference beginning at 3:30 p.m. at Queen’s Park. You can watch it live in the video above or in this story.

As the week unfolded, Ford sent clear signals that stronger measures are looming for the three hardest-hit regions, all of which are currently in the red zone, one step short of lockdown. 

“We’re looking at lockdown, if this continues, in Peel and Toronto and York,” Ford said Wednesday. “I keep seeing the numbers climb. We have to stop this.” 

“We have some difficult but necessary decisions to make,” Ford said during his daily COVID-19 briefing Thursday.  “Tomorrow, our government will release further public health restrictions. As it’s looking, these measures, they will have to be tough in the hardest-hit areas.” 

Peel is by far the hardest hit region in the province, currently seeing 195 new cases weekly per 100,000 population — nearly five times higher than the province’s threshold of 40 for red-zone restrictions.

Toronto (with 112 new cases weekly per 100,000 population) and York Region (with 91) have also seen steady growth in COVID-19 infections since early September, despite the imposition of stricter pandemic measures along the way. 

The province has not specified the infection rate threshold that would trigger a lockdown, nor has it stated exactly what would get locked down. When asked Thursday to describe the scale of the restrictions being considered, both Ford and Williams declined to reveal any specifics.

“As always, what we’re trying to do is to make sure we keep our numbers plateauing and coming down, and especially in the areas of rapid growth,” said Williams.     

While Ford has been using the L-word, it’s far from certain that Peel, Toronto, and York will face the kind of lockdown Ontario ordered in March — with schools and all but essential businesses closed. 

All the signs from Ford suggest he won’t be announcing plans to close schools in the hot zones.  

Ontario Premier Doug Ford, left, is expected to announce Friday whether COVID-19 restrictions are to be increased in Toronto, Peel and York. ‘The situation is extremely, extremely serious right now,’ Ford said this week. ‘We’re staring down the barrel of another lockdown in those regions.’ (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

“I’ve heard from numerous, numerous doctors, not to mention our health table [of medical advisers], that the safest place for our children right now is actually in the schools,” Ford said Thursday. 

He also hinted that tackling transmission of COVID-19 in workplaces and social gatherings would be preferable to ordering a lockdown. 

“We can’t afford to have workplaces that are unsafe or host large gatherings or parties because this virus spreads like wildfire,” said Ford. “It hurts your customers, it hurts your workers, and it hurts your community.” 

Local officials in the hardest-hit areas have voiced support for stricter measures, but have stopped short of calling for a full-scale lockdown. 

“I do think further closures and restrictions are warranted at this time,” Peel’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Lawrence Loh told CBC News Network on Thursday. 

Loh said he supports short-term measures that would “reduce the number of contacts and interactions” among people in the region, which includes the cities of Mississauga and Brampton. 

Only three of the more than 4,800 schools in Ontario are closed because of COVID-19 outbreaks. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Toronto Mayor John Tory is looking to the province to strengthen prevention measures. 

“I support doing everything we can, based on public health advice, to stop the spread of COVID-19 in our city,” Tory said Wednesday.

York’s medical officer of health and with the regional municipality’s chair wrote to Ford on Thursday urging him not to impose a lockdown on the region, which includes Markham, Vaughan and other cities north of Toronto. 

“We are confident we can continue to protect the health and well-being of residents and bring our case numbers down,” said the joint letter from Dr. Karim Kurji and Wayne Emmerson. 

The letter committed to increased enforcement “in areas where we have issues with overcrowding and lack of physical distancing, including malls, big box outlets, grocery stores and banquet halls.” 

All this comes with Ontario reporting hospitalization and death rates from COVID-19 higher than at anytime since June. 

An internal report from Critical Care Services Ontario, obtained by CBC Toronto on Thursday, shows 150 patients with COVID-19 in hospital intensive care units. Health officials have said scheduled surgeries and procedures will likely need to be cancelled to keep space available in the ICUs once the number of COVID-19 patients exceeds 150. 

So far this month, 307 people with COVID-19 have died, according to provincial figures.

If the province does resort to a form of lockdown, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath is calling on the government to provide financial support to small businesses for costs such as rent and payroll.

She’s also renewed her call for a legislated minimum number of paid sick days for all Ontario workers, a measure that Ford’s government scrapped in 2018, shortly after taking power. 

Changes could also be announced Friday to the restriction levels in other public health units around Ontario, depending on whether their infection rates have risen or fallen. 

  • The Region of Waterloo, currently under orange zone restrictions, could end up in the red zone as its weekly infection rate per 100,000 residents has reached 63, according to the latest figures from Public Health Ontario
  • Durham Region, also in orange, is showing a weekly infection rate approaching 53, which exceeds the threshold for the red zone.
  • Among the seven public health units currently under yellow zone restrictions, the highest infection rate is in Huron-Perth (43), making it the most likely candidate for stricter measures.  

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Hong Kong freezes listed shares of media tycoon Lai under security law

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Hong Kong authorities on Friday froze assets belonging to jailed media tycoon Jimmy Lai, including all shares in his company, Next Digital – the first time a listed firm has been targeted by national security laws in the financial hub.

Also among assets targeted were the local bank accounts of three companies owned by him, Hong Kong’s Secretary for Security John Lee said in a government statement.

The statement, issued after the market close, said Lee had issued notices “in writing to freeze all the shares of Next Digital Limited held by (Jimmy) Lai Chee-ying, and the property in the local bank accounts of three companies owned by him”.

Lai was sentenced to 14 months in prison for taking part in unauthorised assemblies during pro-democracy protests in 2019.

He faces three alleged charges under a sweeping new national security law imposed by Beijing, including collusion with a foreign country.

The move against his assets was also made under the security law, which criminalises acts including subversion, sedition, collusion with foreign forces and secession with possible life imprisonment.

The decision by authorities to use the law’s powers for the first time to target a Hong Kong listed company could have repercussions for investor sentiment.

There have been signs of capital flight since the law was imposed last June, to foreign countries including Canada, according to government agencies, bankers and lawyers.

CLAMPDOWN

Beijing said it imposed the law on the former British colony to restore order after months of pro-democracy, anti-China protests in 2019.

However, critics say the law has been used by China‘s Communist leaders to suppress freedoms and pro-democracy campaigners – scores of whom have been arrested and jailed, or have fled into exile.

The chief executive officer of Next Digital, Cheung Kim-hung, told the Apple Daily that Lai’s frozen assets had nothing to do with the bank accounts of Next Digital, and that their operations and finances would not be affected.

The firm’s employees pledged to continue to “uphold their duty and keep reporting”, in a statement posted on the Facebook page of Next Digital’s trade union.

Under Hong Kong stock exchange filings, Lai is Next Digital’s major shareholder and holds 71.26 percent of shares that were worth around HK$350 million ($45 million) based on Friday’s closing share price.

The value of the other “property” assets frozen by the authorities was not immediately clear.

Next Digital runs the Apple Daily, Hong Kong’s most influential pro-democracy newspaper that has long been a thorn in the side of Hong Kong and Chinese authorities.

Senior Hong Kong officials have recently warned Apple Daily about its coverage and have spoken of the possible introduction of a “fake news” law. Critics say this is all part of an ongoing crackdown on the city’s media.

The Taiwan arm of Apple Daily said on Friday it would stop publishing its print version, blaming declining advertising revenue and more difficult business conditions in Hong Kong linked to politics.

($1 = 7.7658 Hong Kong dollars)

(Reporting by Twinnie Siu, Jessie Pang and James Pomfret; Writing by James Pomfret; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Gareth Jones)

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Wall St sees chance of higher bid for Kansas City Southern from Canadian Pacific

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Wall Street is expecting Canadian Pacific to raise its offer for Kansas City Southern even at the cost of more debt to win the bidding war with larger Canadian railroad rival Canadian National.

In the latest twist to the takeover saga, the U.S. railroad operator on Thursday accepted Canadian National’s $33.6 billion offer, leaving Canadian Pacific just five business days to make a new offer.

Analysts said Canadian Pacific was unlikely to let go a chance to be the first railway spanning the United States, Mexico and Canada easily even though it had said it would not leverage its books to outbid Canadian National.

“If CP is willing to compromise a bit more on the leverage ratio, it could…match or potentially beat CNR’s latest offer,” Scotiabank analyst Konark Gupta wrote in a note.

It all started in March when Canadian Pacific agreed to buy Kansas City Southern in a $25 billion cash-and-stock deal, but Canadian National topped the offer in April.

Canadian Pacific’s shares have added about 3% since its March 21 offer, while Canadian National has fallen about 9% from its April 20 bid.

This gives Canadian Pacific room to cut down the size of any potential debt that it would need to outbid its rival. As of Thursday’s close, the implied value of its offer rose to $286 per share from $275 per share, according to Gupta.

That is just $39 per share below Canadian National’s offer of $325 per share. To match it, Canadian Pacific would need to stretch its leverage ratio to as much as five times, from about four times currently.

It had a long-term debt of about C$8 billion ($6.61 billion) as of March 31, while it was C$13 billion for Canadian National.

A final outcome for either combination would still hinge on a regulatory approval by the U.S. Surface Transportation Board (STB), which oversees freight rail.

“The true power in this saga remains where it always has been…with the STB,” Cowen analyst Jason Seidl wrote in a note.

Shares of Kansas City Southern were down 1% and Canadian National 3.5%, while Canadian Pacific was up about 1% in early trading on Friday.

($1 = 1.2096 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by Ankit Ajmera in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur)

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Italy lifts COVID quarantine for EU, UK and Israel from Sunday

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-Italy will scrap mandatory quarantine from Sunday for visitors from the European Union, Britain and Israel who test negative for COVID-19, the government said on Friday as it looks to give summer tourism a boost.

With vaccine roll-outs picking up pace in the EU, more countries are looking to ease travel curbs and restrictions on the hospitality sector to help it recover from the pandemic.

“We have been waiting for this move for a long time and it anticipates a Europe-wide travel pass,” Tourism Minister Massimo Garavaglia.

The EU plans to start a unified system recording COVID-19 vaccinations, tests and recovery from June to allow more movement.

People entering Italy from these countries have so far been requested to quarantine for five days and test both before arrival as well as at the end of their isolation period.

Quarantine for other countries, including the United States, is longer.

Entry restrictions on those coming from Brazil will remain in place, the health ministry said.

The government also extended the so-called COVID-tested flights to cover some destinations in Canada, Japan and the United Arab Emirates. There will be no quarantine for those who test negative upon arrival on these routes, as well as on certain flights to Rome, Milan, Naples and Venice.

Although asked to supply a negative swab before travelling, passengers of these flights will be tested upon arrival and, if negative, exempted from quarantine.

Travel between Italy and much the rest of the world has been severely restricted for months as the government sought to contain resurgent coronavirus infections.

However, cases have declined steadily in recent weeks thanks in part to an increasingly effective vaccination campaign.

The national health institute (ISS) said on Friday the “R” reproduction number had fallen to 0.86 from 0.89 a week earlier. An “R” rate above 1 indicates that infections will grow exponentially.

Italy has recorded nearly 124,000 deaths due to coronavirus, the second-highest number in Europe after Britain. As of Monday, 19 of Italy’s 20 regions will be designated as “low-infection” zones and only one as a “medium-risk” one.

Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s government is also due to discuss on Monday easing or abolishing Italy’s nationwide 10 p.m. curfew.

(Reporting by Maria Pia Quaglia and Angelo Amante, editing by Giulia Segreti and Gabriela Baczynska)

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