A month-long slowdown in Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine deliveries should end next week, with the single biggest shipment of vaccines from Pfizer and BioNTech to date and almost two million doses expected in the next month.
“We’re approaching something we’re calling the big lift,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday in a virtual roundtable with nurses and doctors from around Canada.
Trudeau acknowledged the struggle with deliveries, and how frustrating it has been for Canada, but he said things will get better in the weeks ahead, and even better than that in April, when Canada is expecting as many as one million doses a week.
But the troubles aren’t entirely over. Moderna’s next shipment on Feb. 22 will now be only two-thirds of what it was supposed to be. Pfizer’s deliveries will only meet the promised number of doses if medical professionals can adjust to extracting six doses instead of five from every vial.
Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, the military commander overseeing Canada’s vaccine distribution, says Pfizer has confirmed it will ship 403,000 does next week, 475,000 the week after that, and then 444,000 doses in each of the first two weeks of March.
“I think it’s very promising,” said Fortin.
Canada’s vaccination efforts have slowed to a crawl since mid-January, when Pfizer slowed production at its plant in Belgium to expand it. Instead of getting 1.15 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine between Jan. 18 and this week, Canada was shipped 339,000 doses.
Christina Antoniou, spokeswoman for Pfizer Canada, says that work is now done and the company is on track to deliver four million doses by March 31, as stated in its contract.
Antoniou also said next week’s shipment to Canada has been authorized for export by Europe, which imposed new export transparency controls as it tries to get vaccines to its population as well.
Moderna, however, has confirmed its next shipment on Feb. 22 will be only 168,000, two-thirds of what had been promised. Moderna, which delivers once every three weeks right now, shipped 180,000 doses last week. That was only 80 per cent of the promised amount.
To date, Canada has received about 928,000 doses from Pfizer and 515,000 from Moderna.
Pfizer will need to ship 450,000 doses a week on average in the last two weeks of March to meet its contract for four million doses by March 31. Moderna will need to ship about 1.3 million doses in March to meet its contract to ship two million doses by the same date.
Next week also marks the first time Pfizer’s label will say the vials each contain six doses. The company found it was overfilling its vials with enough vaccine to get that sixth dose, and Health Canada agreed to the change earlier this week.
Getting that sixth dose requires the use of a low dead-volume syringe, which traps less vaccine in the needle and syringe after an injection, which goes to waste.
Canada has now ordered 72 million of those syringes, and two million were delivered last week. Almost half are to arrive by mid-April and almost 90 per cent by May, with the rest due to come by the end of the summer.
Fortin said those are being shipped to the provinces to be ready for Monday. Several provinces reported not yet receiving any of the low-dead volume syringes. Alberta’s chief medical officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Thursday that Alberta had received a shipment and now had “a good supply” of them.
Provincial governments are also concerned about how easy it will be to get that sixth dose, even with the special syringes.
Deputy chief public health officer Dr. Howard Njoo said Thursday about 1,800 professionals took part in an English-language training session online Wednesday to learn how to do it. There will be a second session Friday in French.
Federal officials did not answer questions Thursday about whether there is a clause in the label change approval or the contract with Pfizer that would amend the doses being sent if Canada can’t get that sixth dose all the time.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 11, 2021.
Pandemic job losses threaten to leave women behind permanently, RBC warns – CBC.ca
Jerty Gaa is one of the nearly 500,000 women in Canada who remain unemployed amid the pandemic.
She found herself on hiatus from her job as a hotel attendant in Vancouver when lockdown measures were introduced last spring. Then, months later, another blow. At the end of July, she says she and most of the other staff at the hotel were let go.
According to the most recent job numbers from Statistics Canada, as of the end of January, Canada’s economy had 858,000 fewer jobs than it did before the pandemic. But those losses are not being borne evenly across the board
Women — especially ones who weren’t earning much to begin with — are bearing the brunt of the job losses, as they made up a majority of the work force in hard-hit sectors like hospitality, retail and food.
According to a new analysis by RBC published Thursday, nearly 100,000 working-age Canadian women have completely left the workforce since the pandemic started, which means they aren’t even trying to get a job any more. The figure for men is more than 10 times smaller — a sign that on the whole, they are not feeling quite so gloomy about their prospects.
While some parts of the economy are reopening, public-facing, high-contact jobs — like those in the hotel industry — are still languishing, or at the very least trying to change the way they operate on the fly. That often means running with fewer staff, and the longer that goes on, the more likely it is those jobs are gone forever, according to Dawn Desjardins, one of the authors of the RBC report.
“The longer these women are out of the labour force, the greater the risk of skills erosion, which could potentially hamper their ability to get rehired or to transition to different roles as the economy evolves,” the report says.
For Gaa, it’s been almost a full year without a job. While she is hoping to go back once the hospitality sector opens up, she doesn’t know when it’ll happen, of if she will manage to get her old job back once the sector recovers.
Despite working overnight shifts for 11 years, Gaa only received eight weeks’ worth of severance. She says she was told that was the maximum employees can get with the pandemic.
“I expect that I’m going to retire there. I work so hard. I do what I can do and try to do my best, working overnight shifts. It’s not easy,” Gaa said. “We do our job and this is what we get. They don’t care about us.”
She’s still holding out hope she’ll be able to get her job back once vaccines are distributed and things return to normal. The 54-year-old says she’s taking things one day at a time and is hoping not to have to switch careers at her age.
A job change at this point would mean a pay cut from about $27 an hour to something closer to the minimum wage of $15 an hour, she says. That’s not enough for her to live on.
Gaa said she’s had to dip into her retirement savings and didn’t want to tell her kids, as she thinks of herself as pretty independent. One of her daughters, who works in the casino industry, has also been forced out of work.
It’s not just different industries being hit unevenly, either. The RBC report shows that the job losses are worse for members of certain demographic groups, too. Mothers, visible minorities, young people and new immigrants are all disproportionately impacted.
Winny Shen, an associate professor at Schulich School of Business who studies inclusion in the workplace, worries career interruptions like the ones we’re seeing now might signal to employers that women are less committed. She says that can have repercussions on a company’s willingness to spend money on retraining.
Coming out of the pandemic, there might also be a tendency for companies to tighten the purse strings in general, Shen says. There might be issues with understaffing — asking people to do more with fewer people as a way to cut costs.
A long-term issue
Almost a year since that initial lockdown, a sizeable number of Canadian women are at risk of their skills atrophying, Desjardins finds.
“There could be changes underway that are more structural in nature, that are going to be more long-lasting,” she said.
She says economists even have a name for it — they call it the scarring effect. She says some of the skills you have diminish when you’re not using them.
“The longer you’re out, the harder it is sometimes to get back into those networks— to hear this place is happening or these are the jobs that are in demand,” Desjardins said.
The economist points to a few areas of potential job growth, like child care, remote working or digital sales.
“Knowing how to participate in the digital economy is really essential,” Desjardins said, adding that both the government and business will have a role to play in moving people into training programs.
Forced to pivot
Valentina Dzeoba has also been unemployed for more than a year. The Thunder Bay, Ont. resident was let go due to downsizing at the local Bombardier plant before the pandemic.
For a while, she was working one day a week helping people retrain to find work, but says jobs in the community are hard to come by.
Like many people, Dzeoba has pivoted, going from manufacturing to retraining as a hairdresser. She says it’s something she’s always been interested in, and that the change has been beneficial.
“I’m in the business of making people feel good,” said Dzeoba. “I love it.”
Desjardins said the country needs everyone to continue working to ensure a prosperous economy. She said that if women participated at the same rate as men, it would add $100 billion to Canada’s GDP every year.
She said that as a result, everyone enjoys a bigger piece of the economic pie. “We want everyone who wants a job to have a job.”
Jerty Gaa said she’s happy to have received the Canada emergency response benefit as well as unemployment insurance. But at the same time, she said, “people are going to be happier if we keep our jobs.”
She wants to know what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and B.C. Premier are doing to prevent permanent layoffs.
Hairdresser-in-training Dzeoba says she was nervous about starting over. But it turned out everyone in her program was nervous, too.
When she’s done training, Dzeoba thinks she’ll be able to get a job — hopefully under a senior stylist, so she can keep learning. For other women considering a major shift, she suggests networking and reaching out to employment centres.
“There’s a lot to be depressed about, but there is help out there,” said Dzeoba.
Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Thursday – CBC.ca
U.S. President Joe Biden said on Wednesday decisions to end the required wearing of masks — such as those by the governors of Texas and Mississippi — amounted to “Neanderthal thinking,” given the rising death toll from the coronavirus pandemic.
Asked if he had a message for Texas and Mississippi, Biden told reporters, “I think it’s a big mistake. Look, I hope everybody’s realized by now, these masks make a difference.”
Cases in the U.S. have declined from peaks seen earlier this year, but remain above 50,000 a day — even after the government has distributed more than 100 million doses of vaccine, putting shots into more than 50 million arms, according to federal data.
The U.S. alone has seen more than 28.7 million reported cases of COVID-19 and more than 518,000 recorded deaths, according to a tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University.
Biden’s comments about masks came as the Senate delayed the start of debate on the president’s $1.9-trillion US COVID-19 relief bill until at least Thursday after reaching a deal to phase out $1,400 payments to higher-income Americans in a compromise with moderate Democratic senators.
The Democratic-controlled Senate is hoping for a final vote later in the week on passage of Biden’s top legislative priority. Before the bill hits the chamber floor, Democrats are negotiating limits to a measure Republicans have attacked as wasteful.
The bill would pay for vaccines and medical supplies, boost jobless assistance and send a new round of emergency financial aid to households, small businesses, and state and local governments. Democrats aim to get it to Biden to sign into law before March 14, when some current benefits expire.
“The plan that we are going to vote on this week is going to provide real, robust relief for all of us,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said.
Republicans, led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, have denounced the bill.
On Wednesday, McConnell called it a “vast catalogue of liberal spending” and a partisan “smorgasbord of borrowed money” packed with “crazy provisions” unrelated to the pandemic, which has killed more than 517,000 Americans and left millions more jobless.
-From Reuters, last updated at 7 a.m. ET
What’s happening across Canada
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As of early Thursday morning, Canada had reported 875,564 cases of COVID-19, with 29,930 cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 22,105.
In Atlantic Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador reported three new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday — but health officials also reported the most recoveries ever recorded in a single day in the province, bringing the number of active cases to 149.
In Quebec, officials announced next steps around easing restrictions on Wednesday, saying the province will be moving more regions into the lower “orange” pandemic-alert level, including Quebec City and the Eastern Townships, starting on March 8.
Premier François Legault said the greater Montreal area will remain in the highest “red” level, because of fear of novel coronavirus variants.
The province reported 729 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday and 19 additional deaths. Health officials said hospitalizations dropped to 618 and the number of people in intensive care dropped to 120.
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In Ontario, health officials reported 958 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, with 17 more deaths. COVID-19 hospitalizations stood at 668, with 274 patients in the province’s intensive care units.
In the Prairie provinces, Manitoba reported 51 new cases of COVID-19 and three additional deaths on Wednesday. In neighbouring Saskatchewan, health officials reported 121 new cases and two additional deaths.
In Alberta, meanwhile, health officials reported 402 new cases of COVID-19 and 12 additional deaths. The province said there were 251 people in hospital with the illness, with 48 in intensive care units.
British Columbia on Wednesday reported 542 new cases of the illness, along with seven more deaths. Hospitalizations in the province stood at 246, with 64 COVID-19 patients in intensive care.
The update came as health officials in the province said it was pleased with a national vaccine panel’s endorsement of its approach to wait up to four months before a second dose of COVID-19 vaccine is offered.The Council of Chief Medical Officers of Health has also given its nod to the province’s four-month interval between shots, up from 42 days.
Across the North, there were no new cases reported in Yukon, the Northwest Territories or Nunavut on Wednesday.
-From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 7 a.m. ET
What’s happening around the world
As of early Thursday morning, more than 115.2 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported around the world, with more than 65.1 million listed on the Johns Hopkins University tracking site as recovered. The global death toll stood at more than 2.5 million.
In the Americas, Brazil’s second-biggest city of Rio de Janeiro will be the latest to adopt new COVID-related restrictions on Friday, including a night curfew, in a bid to slow a deadly second wave that is ravaging the South American country.
The city of 6.7 million people will impose a curfew from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. and order restaurants to close at 5 p.m., while certain businesses, such as clubs, will be shut altogether, according to information published in the city’s official bulletin on Thursday.
While COVID-19 deaths and infections are falling globally, that is not the case in Brazil, where a record 1,910 people died from the virus on Wednesday. In response, various states and cities have adopted new restrictions on commerce in recent days, including the Federal District, home of capital Brasilia, and Sao Paulo state, Brazil’s most populous.
The new restrictions in Rio are due to last through March 11.
In Europe, the medicines regulator said on Thursday it has started a real-time review of the Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine developed by Russia’s Gamaleya Institute for possible approval in the region.
Germany’s health minister says the country’s independent vaccine committee has formally approved giving the AstraZeneca shot to people age 65 and over.
Minister Jens Spahn said the decision was, “good news for older people who are waiting for a vaccination. They will get vaccinated faster.”
The vaccine made by British-Swedish company AstraZeneca is one of three authorized for use in the 27-nation European Union. But several countries, including Germany, initially restricted it to people under 65, or in some cases under 55, citing a lack of data on its effectiveness in older people.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is seeing a resurgence of cases in central and eastern Europe as well as a rise of new cases in several western European countries, the head of its European office said.
Chancellor Angela Merkel and German state leaders have agreed to a phased easing of coronavirus curbs along with an “emergency brake” to let authorities reimpose restrictions if case numbers spike again, while France is preparing for a possible easing of restrictions from mid-April.
Italy will administer a single vaccine dose to those who have already been infected with COVID-19, the health ministry said.
In Africa, Kenya received over a million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine this week, while Rwanda said it was the first in Africa to secure shots from Pfizer.
Egypt, meanwhile, expanded its vaccination rollout to include the elderly and people with chronic diseases after several weeks of vaccinating medical staff.
In the Middle East, Iran remained the hardest-hit country in the region, with more than 1.6 million cases COVID-19 and more than 60,000 reported deaths.
In the Asia-Pacific region, Sri Lanka’s drug regulatory body has approved the Russian Sputnik V vaccine as the second available for use in the Indian Ocean island nation.
South Korea’s central bank says the country’s economy shrank for the first time in 22 years in 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic destroyed service industry jobs and depressed consumer spending.
Preliminary data released by the Bank of Korea on Thursday showed that the country’s gross domestic product last year contracted 1 per cent from 2019. It marked the first annual contraction for the country’s economy since 1998, when it was in the midst of a crippling financial crisis.
The economy would have been even worse if not for the country’s technology exports, which saw increased demand driven by personal computers and servers as the pandemic forced millions around the world to work at home.
-From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 8:20 a.m. ET
Canadian banks, insurance firms owe $1.2B in employee vacation pay, class actions allege – CBC.ca
When Leigh Cunningham of Winnipeg left her 26-year career as an investment adviser with RBC Dominion Securities, she did some math and realized that for decades she hadn’t been receiving six per cent vacation pay on her full income.
Cunningham has launched a proposed $800-million class-action lawsuit on behalf of thousands of advisers.
She alleges that RBC, which last week reported soaring profits, has systematically short-changed workers by failing to provide proper vacation pay to advisers whose compensation is based mostly on commissions and bonuses.
“It’s just wrong,” Cunningham told CBC News. “We are helping as employees to create that profit.”
Cunningham’s lawsuit was served to RBC in December but not made public until now.
It is one of five proposed class actions launched against banks and insurance companies since early 2019 seeking a total of $1.2 billion for vacation pay that’s allegedly owed current and former employees.
The allegations include that employers would calculate vacation pay based only on an employee’s base salary, without including commissions and bonuses that can make up a large portion of a worker’s compensation.
If successful, experts say these suits could open the floodgates on major employers that fail to pay salespeople and commissioned staff in accordance with various provincial and territorial employment standards laws across Canada.
‘I need my money. Plain and simple.’
RBC, named in three of the five proposed class actions, declined to discuss specifics, but did issue a statement to CBC News.
“RBC takes pride in ensuring that everyone who works at any RBC company is fairly compensated,” RBC Insurance communications director Greg Skinner wrote in an email.
“The policies that apply to the employees involved in the action state that their compensation includes vacation pay and statutory holiday pay.”
Maureen Barrett of Brampton, Ont., resigned her position as an insurance salesperson for RBC in 2017, after almost a decade with the company.
She, too, is now a lead plaintiff, but in a different proposed class-action lawsuit seeking $80 million from RBC Insurance on behalf of its salespeople.
“I need my money, plain and simple,” Barrett told CBC News. “There’s no bells and whistles around it, you owe me my money. I’ve worked for it.”
Barrett’s claim alleges she only ever received vacation pay on her base salary of $37,500 and that RBC Insurance systemically failed to include in the calculation the commissions and performance bonuses that routinely made up a large share of her compensation.
“We need to make sure that this is rectified for those who are taken advantage of,” she said. “That’s how I feel. When this happened, when I found out that this took place, I felt as if I was taken advantage of.”
Barrett says she moved to a new job as a salesperson with a smaller company, and was paid the proper amount of vacation pay from the start.
The Bank of Montreal is facing a similar class action launched by former BMO private wealth adviser Paul Cheetham in Vancouver.
BMO declined to comment on the suit.
Allstate Insurance is also facing a $160-million claim launched by home and auto insurance salesperson Sung Taek Lee in Toronto.
It said the claim is “completely without merit” and that it will defend its case “in due course.”
“Allstate compensates its employees in full compliance with all provincial employment legislation,” it said in a statement.
The class actions have yet to be certified by the courts, and so none of the allegations have been tested by a judge or jury.
A wake-up call for major employers, lawyer says
The class actions on behalf of large groups of employees have emerged following recent court decisions that upheld individual employees’ rights to outstanding vacation pay as part of severance packages.
Toronto investment banker David Bain sued his former employer, UBS Securities Canada Inc., after he lost his job in 2013 when the company shut down part of its Canadian operations.
In 2018, Ontario’s Court of Appeal upheld his right to $87,472 in vacation pay for his years of service, calculated as a percentage of his base salary as well as his bonuses.
These kinds of rulings have been a wake-up call for major employers, according to Toronto lawyer James Heeney, who specializes in employment law and is not involved in any of the class-action lawsuits.
“Many companies have caught up and changed the way that they pay people to be compliant, but many, many haven’t,” he told CBC News.
He says employment standards across Canada vary by province and by profession and need to be modernized.
He suspects the $1.2 billion worth of lawsuits and class actions over vacation pay could be just the beginning.
“If you look across the country, there’s at least hundreds of millions of dollars of liability, if not more, because there are just so many entities that have not caught up,” he said.
While the five proposed class actions have yet to be given a green light, lawyers for Leigh Cunningham of Winnipeg hope to be in court later this year to certify the action on behalf of RBC investment advisers.
She acknowledges advisers are usually well paid, but says she worked hard for her clients and is entitled to what is provided for under the law.
“If the law states that an investment adviser is entitled to receive a holiday and vacation pay, why should I be penalized?” she said.
“If you look at six per cent over 21 years … RBC Dominion Securities has really had the use of that six per cent of mine, my money.”
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