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COVID ‘shutdown’ coming into effect in Canada’s largest province – Al Jazeera English

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Tighter restrictions will be in place across Ontario until at least January 9, as the province seeks to curb rising COVID-19 infections.

Canada’s most populous province is imposing tighter COVID-19 restrictions on Saturday in an effort to curb rising infections, deaths and hospitalisations linked to the novel coronavirus.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced the “provincewide shutdown” earlier this week, saying daily COVID-19 case numbers are putting the healthcare network and long-term care homes at risk.

“We need to stop the spread of this deadly virus. That’s why … we are taking the difficult but necessary decision to shutdown the province and ask people to stay home. Nothing is more important right now than the health and safety of all Ontarians,” Ford said in a statement.

The restrictions, which come into effect at 00:01am local time (05:01 GMT) on Saturday, include a ban on indoor gatherings between people from different households and a 10-person limit outdoors, as well as limits on non-essential businesses.

Big box stores that sell groceries can stay open, however, with capacity limited to 25 percent, while pharmacies and grocery stores can also operate at 50 percent capacity.

People wait in line to get a COVID-19 test at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto as the city entered renewed COVID-19 lockdown in late November [File: Carlos Osorio/Reuters]

The restrictions will be in place across the province until January 9, but they will remain in effect in southern Ontario, including Ottawa and Toronto, until January 23. Toronto, Canada’s largest city, has already been under tight COVID-19 rules since late November.

On Thursday, Ontario had a seven-day average of 2,306 new daily cases. That same day, it recorded the highest single-day tally since the start of the pandemic, with 2,447 new infections. Forty-nine additional deaths linked to the virus were also reported.

‘Delayed action’

Some public health experts in Ontario have criticised Ford, saying the premier acted too late and is doing too little to stem the spread of the virus, such as guaranteeing paid sick leave for workers who may fall ill.

Provincial data shows that 27 percent of 923 active COVID-19 outbreaks in Ontario are in workplaces.

“What part of ‘now’ and ‘action’ does Mr. Ford not understand?” Globe and Mail newspaper health columnist, Andre Picard, wrote earlier this week.

Picard criticised the premier for announcing the need for urgent measures on December 21 but only imposing the new restrictions five days later – and said the lockdown is hardly a lockdown at all.

“Half-measures and delayed action, an approach Ontario has embraced repeatedly, will not get results,” he wrote.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said this week he was ‘taking the difficult but necessary decision’ to impose tighter restrictions across the Canadian province [File: Carlos Osorio/Reuters]

Dr Nadia Alam, a family doctor in Georgetown, Ontario, a town about 60km (37 miles) west of downtown Toronto, told Al Jazeera on Friday that hospitals are full and struggling to handle high numbers of both COVID and non-COVID patients.

She said many nurses and other healthcare workers are doing double shifts, as the network is being stretched to its limits.

“We’ve run out of people. We’ve run out of space. The decisions [Ontarians] make in their individual lives will make or break our healthcare system,” she said.

Alam said the provincewide shutdown is necessary to try to limit peoples’ contact with others and the potential spread of the virus – and she urged people to respect the new, stricter public health directives.

“If lockdown doesn’t work, we’re in trouble. It already feels like we’re in trouble.”

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Canada will not approve new thermal coal mining projects

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Canada will not approve new thermal coal mining projects or plans to expand existing mines because of the potential for environmental damage, Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said on Friday.

“The government considers that these projects are likely to cause unacceptable environmental effects within federal jurisdiction and are not aligned with Canada‘s domestic and international climate change commitments,” he said.

In a statement, Wilkinson said thermal coal – primarily used for generating electricity – was the single largest contributor to climate change.

Canada produced 57 million tonnes of coal in 2019, just 1% of the overall global total. Canadian output in 2019 comprised 47% thermal coal and 53% metallurgical coal, which is used for steel manufacturing, according to official data.

“The continued mining and use of thermal coal for energy production in the world runs counter to what is needed to effectively combat climate change,” Wilkinson said. In 2018, Ottawa introduced regulations to phase-out conventional coal-fired electricity across Canada by 2030.

The new policy would apply to privately-held firm Coalspur’s plans to expand an existing thermal coal mine in the western province of Alberta, he said.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

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Victoria cancels Canada Day celebration after mass grave discovery

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Victoria British Columbia has decided to cancel a virtual celebration of the national Canada Day holiday on July 1 after discovery of unmarked graves of children at a now-defunct indigenous boarding school.

The city council of Victoria voted on Thursday instead to air programming led by the local indigenous nation at a later date. Local indigenous leaders who usually participate in Canada Day ceremonies declined after remains of 215 children were found at the former school in Kamlooops, northern British Columbia.

“They’re grief-struck and reeling, as are many indigenous people across the country,” Lisa Helps, mayor of Victoria, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation on Thursday.

Victoria will “produce a broadcast to air later this summer guided by the Lekwungen people and featuring local artists, that explores what it means to be Canadian, in light of recent events,” she said.

The Songhees Nation, of which the Lekwungen people are members, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

 

(Reporting by Moira Warburton in Vancouver; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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NATO summit seeks return to gravitas with Biden

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NATO leaders will seek reassurance on Monday from that after four years of denigration by his predecessor Donald Trump, the alliance can count on the support of the United States, its most powerful member.

In a more pared-back gathering than past NATO summits in part due to COVID-19 restrictions, without fighter jet fly-pasts, the 30 allies will gather in their glass and steel headquarters to agree reforms for a multipolar, post-Cold War world where China’s military rise presents a new challenge.

The summit is a “unique opportunity” to renew transatlantic ties, according to NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.

Brussels’ town hall in the historic Grand Place will be illuminated in NATO’s signature blue on Sunday night while the Belgian capital’s famed bronze fountain of a boy urinating will also don a NATO-branded outfit on Monday.

“The first thing is for Biden to recommit to NATO’s collective defence,” Jamie Shea, a former senior NATO official who was at a 2018 summit at which Trump considered quitting the alliance.

Trump brought a television reality-show quality to the NATO summits he attended from 2017 to 2019, diplomats said, attracting international attention but also wearing down allies whom he called “delinquent” for not spending enough on defence.

Biden has already annulled a Trump decision to pull U.S. troops out of Germany, although there is still American pressure for European allies to pay more towards their own security. Stoltenberg said on Friday that European allies, Turkey and Canada will have collectively increased their defence budgets by $260 billion by the end of 2021, compared to 2014.

“This summit with Biden should be a signal to the world that NATO is back,” said a senior European NATO diplomat who was also at the alliance during the Trump years.

“There was so much noise and it was a difficult time. But now we can actually talk about the things that matter, the defining security challenges of our time,” the envoy said.

Founded in 1949 to contain a military threat from the Soviet Union, NATO celebrated its 70th anniversary at a summit in London in December 2019.

Russia, climate change, Afghanistan and new technologies are on the menu of the day-long summit, which will culminate in a special leaders’ session in the amphitheatre-like North Atlantic Council chamber.

“I expect Allies will agree a new cyber defence policy for NATO,” Stoltenberg said. “It will recognise that cyberspace is contested at all times,” he told a news conference.

Having strengthened its capability to carry out its core mission of defending Europe following Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, NATO now aims to be more ambitious.

In a twist of fate, the NATO summit will agree reforms to the alliance, known as NATO 2030, which were set in motion after Trump questioned its relevance.

Stoltenberg will set out nine areas where NATO could modernise over the medium term, including more joint allied funding of military operations. However, France has already expressed concern about the proposal, fearing it will take money away from national military priorities.

Leaders are likely to agree to draw up a new master strategy document, known as NATO’s Strategic Concept, to include China’s military rise as a challenge for the first time.

(Reporting by Robin Emmott; Editing by Giles Elgood and Angus MacSwan)

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