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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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Enterprise charges customer more than $3,300 for damage incurred after truck returned – CBC.ca

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Samuel Wardlaw expected to pay $200 for his truck rental. Instead, Enterprise Rent-A-Car added more than $3,300 to his bill — for damage that occurred after he dropped it off.

He’d only used the truck for five hours, to move some belongings to his new apartment.

But a week later, an unexpected email from the rental giant said he was responsible for damage that occurred on the Enterprise lot after hours.

  • Have a question or something to say? CBC News is live in the comments now.

The email didn’t explain what had happened or why he was responsible — but it struck fear in Wardlaw, 29, a delivery driver for a lumber company.

“I was anxious about what the price was going to be,” he said. “So to see over $3,300 in damage? I was totally shocked.”

Enterprise said later that, after Wardlaw parked the truck and put the keys in a secure drop box, as instructed by an employee, someone stole its catalytic converter, a part of the exhaust system that contains valuable metals.

Enterprise pointed to a clause on page 7 of its rental contract that says drivers who drop off a vehicle after hours are responsible for any damage or theft until it’s checked in by an employee.

“It’s their truck, their lot, their catalytic converter. Everything about it is within Enterprise’s control,” said Wardlaw. “For them to say it’s my liability is pretty ridiculous.”

After Go Public got involved, Enterprise said in an email it had “decided not to pursue the claim.” 

The company did not explain why and said no one was available for an interview.

Go Public has checked the terms and conditions for the three major companies that account for an estimated 95 per cent of all car rentals in Canada: Enterprise (which owns National and Alamo), Avis (which owns Budget) and Hertz (which owns Dollar and Thrifty).

All the contracts contain similar clauses, claiming drivers are responsible for any damage or theft from the time they drop off a vehicle until it is checked back in.

An employee at this Enterprise location in north Toronto told Wardlaw he could drop off a truck after hours. Wardlaw says there was no mention that he’d be responsible for the truck until it got checked back in almost two days later. (Samantha Nar/CBC)

A consumer advocate and lawyer says Enterprise and other car rental giants give the impression there’s no downside to dropping off a vehicle after hours.

“We’ve all been there — the car company says, ‘No problem, stick the keys through the slot in the door,'” said Jennifer Marston, who works with the free legal clinic Pro Bono Ontario.

“But how many times do they say to you, ‘If anything happens when the car is parked on the lot, you’re responsible’? That’s never happened to me.”

‘Just put the keys through the drop off slot’

Wardlaw says when he arrived to pick up the truck, there was little discussion about the terms and conditions in the 30-page (English and French) contract.

“They told me that since they were going to be closed at 12 o’clock that day and I would be returning at around 1 p.m., to just put the keys through the drop off slot when I returned the vehicle,” he said.

Marston says big car rental outfits can’t hide behind lengthy contracts they know most people won’t read and may not understand when they contain ambiguous or unusual terms.

The rental contracts for Canada’s three biggest vehicle rental companies all contain similar clauses; claiming drivers are responsible for any damage or theft from the time they drop off a vehicle until it is checked back in. (Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg)

“They wrote it. They had the opportunity to put more effort into making it clear and they didn’t,” she said. 

She says legal precedent exists due to an Ontario case which found Tilden Rent-A-Car was required to bring unexpected terms to the attention of the consumer if it wants them to be enforceable. 

“When there’s an onerous term in the contract, a heavy term that puts a big burden on someone, if it’s buried in the fine print, then the company in a consumer transaction like this has the responsibility to bring that to the consumer’s attention,” said Marston.

The companies also have to meet a standard of proof when holding customers responsible for damage, said Marston.

When Enterprise told Wardlaw a thief had stolen that catalytic converter, it sent photographs of the damage, but they weren’t time-stamped. 

“We don’t know when those photos were taken,” said Marston.

Lawyer Jennifer Marston of Pro Bono Ontario says car rental companies are required to point out unexpected clauses in the fine print to their customers. (Samantha Nar/CBC)

“Maybe they were taken a week later. The burden is on the company to prove that.”

She says people caught in a dispute need to know one thing — the rental company isn’t the judge.

“They will send you a letter saying you’ve caused this damage, you owe this amount of money. But they’re actually not the ones who get to decide that,” said Marston.

“That’s just their position as one of the parties to a legal claim. And you have the opportunity to respond,” she said, with the understanding that the matter might end with a collection agency or small claims court. 

Go Public has learned that the same Enterprise location in north Toronto had half a dozen catalytic converters worth $24,000 stolen from its trucks shortly after Wardlaw’s incident. 

  • Read stats about the growing problem of catalytic converter thefts

The company declined to say what it is doing to prevent further thefts and damage. 

Marston says the companies should ensure their vehicles are being stored under safe conditions.

“The rental company could secure the perimeter. They could install security cameras. They can install anti-theft devices on vehicles,” she said.

“These options aren’t available to the consumers, so why should the consumer bear the loss?”

‘This is absolute BS’

Stuti Narula of Toronto says an Enterprise employee also told her to drop off the keys when she returned a car after hours, to a location in the city’s north end last December.

The next day, an Enterprise employee called to say she was responsible for a scratch on its passenger door — and owed $1,000.

Narula says the car was in perfect condition when she returned it, but — as with Wardlaw — an employee said she was liable for any damages incurred before it was checked back in and that the matter would be sent to a collection agency if she didn’t pay up.

“This is absolute BS,” said Narula. “If I have to be held liable for any damages to the car, I might as well keep it in my careful custody until the office opens the next day.”

She says the drop-off location had closed-circuit cameras, but she was told she couldn’t see footage.

WATCH | Enterprise charges customer more than $3K for damages incurred after truck returned:

Man charged $3,300 for damage after rental truck returned | Go Public

13 hours ago

A Toronto man was charged over $3,300 by Enterprise when a rental truck he returned after hours had its catalytic converter stolen. CBC’s Go Public investigated the clause in most rental contracts that makes the renter responsible when a vehicle is returned after hours. 2:10

Narula also says she was told the damage was discovered after an employee drove the car to a car wash — and she questioned whether that’s when the damage occurred.

“I’m entitled to know what investigation Enterprise carried out at its end before slamming the damage cost on me,” Narula wrote in an email to the car rental giant.

After fighting Enterprise for several months, Narula reluctantly asked her car insurance company to submit a payment, but she’s sworn off ever renting from Enterprise again.

Enterprise wrote in an email to Go Public that allowing customers to return vehicles after hours is a “convenience” and that “it is important to understand that the rental transaction is not complete until the vehicle has been inspected.”

Wardlaw says he’s relieved he’s no longer expected to pay his damage bill, but says Enterprise has lost him as a customer, too.

“Basically, from the moment I called them, they were arguing with me. I didn’t feel that there was any interest in resolution — other than to have me pay the full amount.”


Protect yourself ‘after hours’

  • Ideally, return your vehicle during operating hours and have an agent check it over and sign off on rental.
  • If you must drop off the vehicle after hours, note whether there are security cameras on the lot and try to park within view.
  • Set your smartphone to add a date and time stamp to photos and take pictures of the sides, front, back and roof of vehicle and — if possible — the underside, wheel wells, interior and trunk.
  • Take a photo of the mileage on the odometer.
  • Hold onto photos for at least six months.

Submit your story ideas

Go Public is an investigative news segment on CBC-TV, radio and the web.

We tell your stories, shed light on wrongdoing and hold the powers that be accountable.

If you have a story in the public interest, or if you’re an insider with information, contact GoPublic@cbc.ca with your name, contact information and a brief summary. All emails are confidential until you decide to Go Public.

Follow @CBCGoPublic on Twitter.

Read more stories by Go Public.

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Canada boosts U.S. natgas exports, drills more as global prices surge

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Demand has jumped for relatively cheap Canadian natural gas, driving exports to the United States to three-year highs and prompting producers in Canada to boost capital spending and drilling activity.

Global natural gas prices have hit multi-year highs as world economies recover from last year’s slowdown during the pandemic. Now, natural gas stockpiles in Europe are dangerously low and demand in Asia has been insatiable, so utilities around the world are competing for liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports.

Canada‘s gas is remote, and prices at the AECO hub in Alberta are among the cheapest in North America, with production far from major U.S. demand centers and LNG export terminals in the U.S. Gulf Coast, some 2,500 miles (4,023 km) away. Canada has no LNG export terminals.

Still, at around C$5 ($4.12) per million British thermal units (mmBtu), AECO prices are well above their 2021 year-to-date average of C$3.38 ($2.73), and some of Canada‘s largest gas producers including Tourmaline Oil Corp are seeking to capitalize.

“A number of producers are accelerating capital into Q4 (fourth quarter) to add production volumes into the higher-priced winter market,” said Matt Murphy, an analyst at Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co (TPH) in Calgary.

Gas receipts into TC Energy’s NGTL pipeline system hit an all-time high of 12.75 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) in mid-October, according to TPH records dating from 2013. The NGTL system is the main artery shipping western Canadian gas to market, and can be used as a proxy for output from the region.

TPH is forecasting further gas receipt growth to 12.9 bcfd in December, with new highs in 2022.

Data provider Refinitiv said Canadian exports to the United States averaged 8.3 bcfd year-to-date, the highest over that time period since 2018. In 2020, Canadian exports hit their lowest level since 1993 because of the pandemic, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration data.

The increase in drilling activity in Canada contrasts with a more cautious approach among U.S. gas producers, who are still being careful with their capital after the pandemic decimated demand in 2020 and left the industry on its knees.

The Canadian gas rig count is currently 70, up 75% from this time last year, while U.S. gas rigs are up about 32% to 98 over the same period, according to energy services firm Baker Hughes Co.

Tourmaline, Canada‘s largest gas producer, is accelerating drilling in the second half and bringing capital spending originally earmarked for 2022 into this year, according to a company presentation in September.

“The company will monitor natural gas supply/demand balances and schedule new production startups appropriately through the course of winter and the balance of 2022,” Tourmaline said.

The company expects to produce on average 500,000-510,000 barrels of oil equivalent next year, up from 440,000-445,000 in 2021.

Other major Canadian gas producers increasing activity include Canadian Natural Resources Ltd and ARC Resources, industry analysts said. ARC declined to comment and CNRL did not respond to a request for comment.

However, a shortage of skilled crews to operate drilling rigs in Canada could limit how much gas output climbs, and some producers remain cautious that increased supply may rein in prices.

“How do we do more even if we wanted to do more? We’re at a limit on the people that we have,” said Darren Gee, Chief Executive of Peyto Exploration and Development Corp.

($1 = 1.2363 Canadian dollars)

 

(Additional reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg; Editing by David Gregorio)

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Edward Rogers to take battle for Rogers Communications Inc. to B.C. Supreme Court – CTV News

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TORONTO –

The ousted chairman of Rogers Communication Inc. says he’ll go to the British Columbia Supreme Court in a bid to wrest back control of the company.

Edward Rogers made the assertion after holding a meeting that included five hand-picked directors, meant to replace members of the board that on Thursday removed him as its chair.

A statement from his camp says Edward Rogers was elected chair of the board at Sunday’s meeting.

An earlier statement from Rogers’ siblings and the board they endorse pre-emptively rejected any outcome of Sunday night’s meeting, saying that only the board as it existed Thursday has any authority.

The statement says it comes from a group representing the majority of the board.

But Edward Rogers remains chair of the Rogers Control Trust, the controlling shareholder, which, along with Rogers family members, owns 97 per cent of Class A voting shares.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 24, 2021.

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