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COVID-19: Ottawa's wastewater COVID levels rising; Canada's vaccine schedule 'accelerating significantly' – Ottawa Citizen

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What you need to know, at a glance

  • While the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 in Ottawa is relatively stable, “we have had a sharp rise of COVID in our wastewater,” Ottawa’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches said in a city media conference Tuesday. Etches said history has shown that whenever the wastewater indicators rise, the number of people testing positive follows suit.
  • Ottawa Public Health reported 40 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday and one new death
  • Ottawa’s health board chair Keith Egli implored the public to “please be kind to our case managers,” after hearing reports of resistance and even abusive behaviour towards the public health case and contact management team
  • Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday Canada’s vaccination schedule “is accelerating significantly,” with eight million combined doses from the four Heath Canada-approved manufacturers expected to arrive before the end of March
  • Canada received one million combined doses last week and is expecting another million this week. The 500,000 doses from the recently approved AstraZeneca vaccine are being distributed to provinces and territories “as we speak,” Trudeau said
  • Ontario is reporting 1,185 new laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases and six related deaths Tuesday

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While the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 in Ottawa is relatively stable, “we have had a sharp rise of COVID in our wastewater,” Ottawa’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches said in a city media conference Tuesday.

Etches said history has shown that whenever the wastewater indicators rise, the number of people testing positive follows suit.

While Ottawa is currently in the orange zone of the province’s colour-coded pandemic response framework, the weekly rate of COVID-19 per 100,000 people is at 37 — not far from the red-zone threshold of 40 in the framework.

Etches also said more transmission is being observed at private gatherings and among sports teams, including those for middle-aged and older adults.

Taking questions from reporters, Etches said she’s watching the situation very carefully, “but I think the people of Ottawa are paying attention and they’re holding things together, they’re keeping things steady as she goes, because we are still hanging out in the orange, close to red,” she said.

“We’re in orange because of people’s behaviour, and we could bring it down towards yellow, that would be great, but certainly holding it away from the red is a good goal for now, and I want to thank people — you’ve heard that message to limit your close contacts. It makes a difference.”

Meanwhile, Ottawa’s health board chair Keith Egli implored members of the public to “please be kind to our case managers,” after hearing reports of resistance and even abusive behaviour towards the public health case and contact management team.

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These staff members follow up with every Ottawa resident who tests positive for COVID-19 to identify places they might have visited while contagious, to get a list of close contacts, and to share information about measures needed to prevent further spread of the virus. They also notify high-risk close contacts of confirmed cases to provide info based on the individual’s level of risk.

“This work is important to the community as a whole. OPH staff are there for you, and they have been working tirelessly throughout the pandemic. Please treat them with kindness, patience and respect as they carry out their duties,” said Egli.

While it’s not the norm, Egli said he’s heard from senior OPH staff about instances where staff following up on contacts have been hung up on or yelled at.

Etches later pointed out that “we know that sometimes when things escalate to the point of abusive language, it can be a sign that people are struggling and they need more support.

“And so we do want people to understand — we get that too, this is a difficult time, many people have had very negative experiences because of COVID-19, and so there are supports available. That’s part of what we can do, is connect people to supports.”

She said staff are resilient, and OPH has taken pains to ensure they have the support needed when things escalate.

“We just can’t have an environment where this is something that’s tolerated. They’re human too, and so all of us, we just want to promote kindness and kind words.”

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Anthony Di Monte, general manager of emergency and protective services, said the city’s vaccination appointment booking line is receiving a significant number of calls from people who aren’t yet eligible to make vaccine appointments. He asked people to visit the OPH website and use the eligibility screening tool before phoning in to the booking line.

He also revealed that on the weekend, there were a couple of bars that “were not following the rules, that were going past the time, were continuing to serve individuals … Following complaints, we intervened rapidly and with the appropriate response, and there will be charges.”

The provincial framework permits bars and restaurants in orange-zone regions to sell or serve liquor only until 9 p.m. Establishments have to close at 10 p.m. and no liquor can be consumed after that time.

“Enforcement is not a solution,” Di Monte noted. “Each and every one of us have to internalize that if we want this to work. We have to follow the public health rules.”

Ottawa Public Health reported 40 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday and one new death.

There have now been 15,207 cases in Ottawa and 444 related deaths.

There are currently 512 active cases in the city, a number that has remained relatively flat in recent weeks.

There are 27 patients in hospital and two in ICU.

Ottawa remains in the Orange (Restrict) zone of the provincial framework, and while key indicators had been trending in the wrong direction, there have been some encouraging signs in local data released in recent days.

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Ottawa’s daily test positivity was 1.4 per cent on Monday, well below the weekly average of 2.2 per cent.

That weekly rate must remain below 2.4 per cent to remain in Orange.

Ottawa’s weekly average rate of infection is 36.8 cases per 100,000 population, down slightly from 37.9 on Monday. That rate must remain under 40 cases per 100,000 population to remain in Orange.

The R(t) number — another key indicator measuring the secondary cases generated by a single confirmed COVID-19 infection — must be between 1.0 and 1.1 to remain in Orange.

Ottawa’s R(t) number had approached that Red (Control) threshold in recent days with a 1.08 score on Monday, but that has since receded to an average 1.04 weekly score as of Tuesday.

Any number above 1.0 indicates the virus is spreading in the community, while any score under 1.0 indicates the spread is coming under control.

Updated vaccination numbers were not immediately available Tuesday, and as of the latest count, Ottawa had administered 63,576 of the 71,180 doses it had received.

Meanwhile, a staff member who last worked at the city’s Dempsey physical distancing centre on March 5 has tested positive for COVID-19.

According to a memo from Community and Social Services GM Donna Gray, the centre is now in outbreak mode and not accepting new referrals. Another physical distancing centre on Nicholas Street “continues to accept a limited number of new referrals for men and women based on the ability to safely separate within the facility,” said Gray.

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The city’s website directs those looking for placement at the Nicholas centre to call 311, then dial 4, for Social Services.

Federal

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday Canada’s vaccination schedule “is accelerating significantly,” with eight million combined doses from the four Heath Canada-approved manufacturers expected to arrive before the end of March.

Canada received one million combined doses last week and is expecting another million this week. The 500,000 doses from the recently approved AstraZeneca vaccine are being distributed to provinces and territories “as we speak,” Trudeau said.

Trudeau was vague, however, on the timeline for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to begin flowing into Canada.

Trudeau said government officials have had “many conversations” with the manufacturer, who have expressed some “challenges around the production” of the vaccine.

“We look forward to receiving those doses as soon as possible,” Trudeau said, and the government will release the delivery schedule once those details are known.

Approaching the one-year anniversary of the World Health Organization’s declaration of the COVID-19 global pandemic, Canada is designating the March 11 date as a National Day of Observance.

Trudeau joined other officials in mourning the more than 22,000 Canadians who have died from COVID-19.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said she felt a “mix of emotions” reflecting on the week ahead, with a sense of “solemn remembrance” while saying “it is clear our work is not done.”

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There have been more than 890,000 total COVID cases across Canada. There are now more than 30,300 active cases in the country, and an average of 2,900 new cases and 37 deaths each day over the past week.

There are more than 2,080 Canadians in hospital with 550 in critical care.

Provincial

Ontario is reporting 1,185 new laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases and six related deaths Tuesday.

There have been 311,112 total cases since the beginning of the pandemic and Ontario’s death toll is 7,083. Another 972 cases were resolved in the previous 24 hours, and of Ontario’s total case count, 292,806 are now considered resolved.

There was a steep increase in hospital admissions in the past 24 hours and there are now 689 patients in Ontario hospitals (there were 626 people in hospital as of Monday), with 290 in intensive care and of those, 184 requiring a ventilator.

The provincial test positivity rate continues to climb, with 33,264 tests conducted in the previous 24 hours at a 3.7 per cent positivity rate, showing a steady rise from last week’s low of 2.1 per cent.

The majority of Ontario’s cases continue to be identified in the Greater Toronto Area, with 343 new cases in Toronto, 235 in Peel and 105 in York region Tuesday.

There were 45 new cases in Ottawa, according to provincial data.

There are often discrepancies between Ontario’s daily case counts and those logged by local public health units. Ottawa Public Health pulls local data and reports the numbers around 12:30 p.m. each day. OPH says its data is typically the most up-to-date.

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New cases continue to rise in surrounding regions, with 10 new cases in the Eastern Ontario Health Unit, two in Hastings, one in Kingston, three in Renfrew County and seven new cases in Leeds, Grenville & Lanark.

Provincial officials are also tracking the spread of variants of concern, though no new cases involving variants have been identified in Ottawa or surrounding regions.

There were 29 new cases of the B.1.1.7 variant identified in Ontario on Tuesday, and there are now 908 confirmed cases involving that strain.

There were no new cases of B.1.351, and there remain 39 known cases of that strain; and no new cases of P.1, with 17 known cases of that strain in the province.

There remain eight known cases of B.1.1.7 and two known cases of B.1.351 in Ottawa.

On the vaccination front, another 31,047 vaccine doses were administered, and Ontario has administered a total 943,533 doses, with 276,193 Ontarians now fully immunized.

The province announced it reached a “key milestone” this week in the vaccine rollout to remote and isolated Indigenous communities, with teams now having visited all 31 fly-in northern communities. Moosonee will offer first doses as part of Operation Remote Immunity.

Vaccines are being administered to residents of First Nations elder care homes and Indigenous communities in remote areas, who face a disproportionate risk from the virus, the province said in a statement. The communities have few health-care facilities and resources, the province said, making the risk of COVID-19 “potentially devastating.”

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As of the latest update, 15,324 doses have been administered so far, including 12,660 first doses and 2,664 second doses.

COVID-19 BY THE NUMBERS

Ontario

1,185: New confirmed cases

311,112: Total cases

6: New deaths

7,083: Total deaths

689: Currently in hospital

290: Currently in ICU

184: On a ventilator

31,047: Vaccine doses administered the previous day

943,533: Total doses administered

276,193: People fully vaccinated

Ottawa

40: New confirmed cases

15,207: Total cases

1: New deaths

444: Total deaths

27: In hospital

2: In ICU

36.8: Weekly COVID rate per 100,000 population

2.2 per cent: Weekly test positivity percentage (excluding LTC)

1.04: Estimated R(t), seven-day average

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Almost half of Shopify’s top execs to depart company: CEO

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By Moira Warburton

(Reuters) – Three of e-commerce platform Shopify’s seven top executives will be leaving the company in the coming months, chief executive officer and founder of Canada‘s most valuable company Tobi Lutke said in a blog post on Wednesday.

The company’s chief talent officer, chief legal officer and chief technology officer will all transition out of their roles, Lutke said, adding that they have been “spectacular and deserve to take a bow.”

“Each one of them has their individual reasons but what was unanimous with all three was that this was the best for them and the best for Shopify,” he said.

The trio follow the departure of Craig Miller, chief product officer, in September. Lutke took on the role in addition to CEO.

Shopify, which provides infrastructure for online stores, has seen its valuation soar in the last year as many businesses went virtual during COVID-19 lockdowns. It has a market cap valuation of C$182.7 billion ($146 billion), above Canada‘s top lender Royal Bank of Canada.

It is Canada‘s biggest homegrown tech success story, founded in 2006 and supporting over 1 million businesses globally, according to the company.

“We have a phenomenally strong bench of leaders who will now step up into larger roles,” Lutke said, but did not name replacements.

Shopify said in February revenue growth would slow this year as vaccine rollouts encourage people to return to stores and warned it does not expect 2020’s near doubling of gross merchandise volume, an industry metric to measure transaction volumes, to repeat this year.

Chief talent officer, Brittany Forsyth, was the 22nd employee hired at Shopify and has been with the company for 11 years. She said on Twitter that post-Shopify she would be focusing on Backbone Angels, an all-female collective of angel investors she co-founded in March.

Shopify shares fell 5.1% while the benchmark Canadian share index ended marginally down.

($1 = 1.2515 Canadian dollars)

 

(Reporting by Moira Warburton in Toronto; Editing by Aurora Ellis)

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CANADA STOCKS – TSX falls 0.14% to 19,201.28

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* The Toronto Stock Exchange’s TSX falls 0.14 percent to 19,201.28

* Leading the index were Stantec Inc <STN.TO​>, up 3.4%, Imperial Oil Ltd​, up 3.3%, and Corus Entertainment Inc​, higher by 2.9%.

* Lagging shares were Aphria Inc​​, down 14.2%, Village Farms International Inc​, down 9.9%, and Aurora Cannabis Inc​, lower by 9.4%.

* On the TSX 91 issues rose and 134 fell as a 0.7-to-1 ratio favored decliners. There were 24 new highs and no new lows, with total volume of 228.0 million shares.

* The most heavily traded shares by volume were Toronto-dominion Bank, Royal Bank Of Canada and Suncor Energy Inc.

* The TSX’s energy group fell 0.32 points, or 0.3%, while the financials sector climbed 2.46 points, or 0.7%.

* West Texas Intermediate crude futures rose 0.52%, or $0.31, to $59.63 a barrel. Brent crude  rose 0.4%, or $0.25, to $63.2 [O/R]

* The TSX is up 10.1% for the year.

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Air Canada signs C$5.9 billion government aid package, agrees to buy Airbus, Boeing jets

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By David Ljunggren and Allison Lampert

OTTAWA/MONTREAL (Reuters) -Air Canada, struggling with a collapse in traffic due to the COVID-19 pandemic, reached a deal on Monday on a long-awaited aid package with the federal government that would allow it to access up to C$5.9 billion ($4.69 billion) in funds.

The agreement – the largest individual coronavirus-related loan that Ottawa has arranged with a company – was announced after the airline industry criticized Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government for dawdling. The United States and France acted much more quickly to help major carriers.

Canada‘s largest carrier, which last year cut over half its workforce, or 20,000 jobs, and other airlines have been negotiating with the government for months on a coronavirus aid package.

In February, Air Canada reported a net loss for 2020 of C$4.65 billion, compared with a 2019 profit of C$1.48 billion.

As part of the deal, Air Canada agreed to ban share buybacks and dividends, cap annual compensation for senior executives at C$1 million a year and preserve jobs at the current level, which is 14,859.

It will also proceed with planned purchases of 33 Airbus SE 220 airliners and 40 Boeing Co 737 MAX airliners.

Chris Murray, managing director, equity research at ATB Capital Markets, said the deal took into account the “specific needs of Air Canada in the short and medium term without being overly onerous.”

He added: “It gives them some flexibility in drawing down additional liquidity as needed.”

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said the government was still in negotiations with other airlines about possible aid.

Canada, the world’s second-largest nation by area, depends heavily on civil aviation to keep remote communities connected.

Opposition politicians fretted that further delays in announcing aid could result in permanent damage to the country.

Air Canada said it would resume services on nearly all of the routes it had suspended because of COVID-19.

‘SIGNIFICANT LAYER OF INSURANCE’

The deal removes a potential political challenge for the Liberals, who insiders say are set to trigger an election later this year.

The government has agreed to buy C$500 million worth of shares in the airline, at C$23.1793 each, or a 14.2% discount to Monday’s close, a roughly 6% stake.

“Maintaining a competitive airline sector and good jobs is crucially important,” Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland told reporters, adding the equity stake would allow taxpayers to benefit when the airline’s fortunes recovered.

The Canadian government previously approved similar loans for four other companies worth up to C$1.billion, including up to C$375 million to low-cost airline Sunwing Vacations Inc. The government has paid out C$73.47 billion under its wage subsidy program and C$46.11 billion in loans to hard-hit small businesses.

Michael Rousseau, Air Canada‘s president and chief executive officer, said the liquidity “provides a significant layer of insurance for Air Canada.”

Jerry Dias, head of the Unifor private-sector union, described the announcement as “a good deal for everybody.”

Unifor represents more than 16,000 members working in the air transportation sector.

But the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents roughly 10,000 Air Canada flight attendants, said the package protected the jobs of current workers rather than the 7,500 members of its union who had been let go by the carrier.

($1=1.2567 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa and Allison Lampert in Montreal; Additional reporting by Julie Gordon in Ottawa and Munsif Vengattil in Bengaluru; Editing by Dan Grebler and Peter Cooney)

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