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Don’t travel unless ‘absolutely necessary,’ Hajdu reminds Canada ahead of holiday season – Globalnews.ca

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As the weather starts to get colder and Canadians start eyeing sunny destinations to the south, Health Minister Patty Hajdu has a reminder: non-essential travel is still not advised.

Hajdu said prospective travellers should keep that in mind as they consider going to visit relatives or think about taking a beach vacation amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’ll remind Canadians that, as annoying as it is…we still have travel advisories in place recommending that people don’t travel unless it’s absolutely necessary,” Hajdu said, speaking during an interview with The West Block host Mercedes Stephenson.

Read more:
4th wave of COVID-19 no longer growing, cases could decline in coming weeks: PHAC

There are “a couple of reasons” why the travel advisory is still in place, Hajdu added, including the fact that there are “a number of places in the world” where “COVID is still very, very out of control” — including some American states.

Hajdu also pointed out that travel rules can change in different jurisdictions “very quickly.”

“We’ve seen a number of stories over the last 18 months or so of Canadians finding out, when they’ve arrived in another country, that the rules have changed and that they now have hurdles to get back to Canada or challenges to get into the country in which they’ve just arrived,” she said.


Click to play video: 'The cost of travel during the COVID-19 pandemic'



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The cost of travel during the COVID-19 pandemic


The cost of travel during the COVID-19 pandemic

Her comments come on the heels of news that the fourth wave in Canada is starting to show signs of slowing, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC).

While progress has been uneven across the country, new modelling presented by PHAC on Friday suggests that if current transmission levels are maintained, the number of new daily cases could decline in the coming weeks.

Overall, the numbers give “reason for optimism” said Dr. Theresa Tam, chief public health officer of Canada.

“With the level of vaccine coverage that we have achieved in Canada to date, we are much better protected going into the respiratory infection season,” Tam said.

“By maintaining basic and less restrictive measures such as masking and limiting close contact, we could reduce the impact of COVID-19 this winter.”

Read more:
Federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate: Here’s what we know, what we don’t

Meanwhile, the government has been preparing for a time when COVID-19’s spread slows sufficiently to allow Canadians to travel recreationally once again.

Hajdu said the government is working with other countries to try to ensure that when Canadians do travel, their vaccines are accepted — even in cases when an individual received two different kinds of COVID-19 vaccine.

“This is something that I think all countries are working through — which vaccines will they accept as proof of vaccination for entry into the country — and we’re going to continue to work with our American counterparts to share all the data they need to to move on this issue,” she said.

The Americans have yet to make a decision as to whether they’ll consider Canadians who received two different COVID-19 vaccine doses as being fully vaccinated.


Click to play video: 'Current COVID-19 vaccine coverage leaves Canadians ‘better protected’ heading into winter, Tam says'



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Current COVID-19 vaccine coverage leaves Canadians ‘better protected’ heading into winter, Tam says


Current COVID-19 vaccine coverage leaves Canadians ‘better protected’ heading into winter, Tam says

Hajdu would not reveal whether the U.S. administration appears open to recognizing COVID-19 vaccine dose mixing, but said Canadian officials will “continue to, obviously, press the Americans to recognize” it.

“I suspect that this will continue to be a work in progress for countries, including the United States, including Canada, about how we ensure that we have the confidence in vaccines that we haven’t had the ability to fully review from a scientific data base,” she said.

“That’s the work that we’ll continue to do here in Canada, and I’m confident our international partners will do so as well.”

— with files from Global News’ Leslie Young

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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U.N. plane aborts landing as air strike hits Ethiopia’s Tigray

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An Ethiopian government air strike on the capital of the northern Tigray region on Friday forced a U.N. aid flight to abort a landing there, the United Nations said.

In neighboring Amhara region, people were fleeing intensified fighting.

Humanitarian sources and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which controls the area, said a university in the regional capital Mekelle was hit by the air strike.

Government spokesman Legesse Tulu said a former military base occupied by TPLF fighters was targeted, and he denied the university was hit.

Reuters was not able to independently confirm either account. TPLF-controlled Tigrai TV reported that 11 civilians were wounded in the air strike. It was at least the fourth day this week that Mekelle had been attacked.

The United Nations suspended all flights to Mekelle after a U.N. plane with 11 passengers had to abort landing on Friday.

The flight from Addis Ababa had been cleared by federal authorities but was told by the Mekelle airport control tower to abort the landing, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said

“This is the first time that we had a flight turn around, at least to my knowledge, in the recent past in Ethiopia because of air strikes on the ground,” senior U.N. aid official Gemma Connell, who heads U.N. humanitarian operations in southern and eastern Africa, told reporters in New York on Friday.

The passengers were aid workers traveling to a region where some 7 million people, including 5 million in Tigray, need humanitarian help, she said.

The flight safely returned to the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, Dujarric said.

‘THE WHOLE CITY IS PANICKING’

The two sides have been fighting for almost a year in a conflict that has killed thousands of people and displaced more than two million amid a power struggle between the TPLF and the central government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in Addis Ababa.

The TPLF dominated the Horn of Africa country’s ruling party for decades before Abiy, who is not a Tigrayan, took office in 2018.

The government has stepped up air strikes on the Tigray capital as fighting has escalated in Amhara, a neighbouring region where the TPLF has seized territory that the government and allied armed Amhara armed groups are trying to recover.

Residents in Dessie, a city in Amhara, told Reuters people were fleeing, a day after a TPLF spokesperson said its forces were within artillery range of the town.

“The whole city is panicking,” a resident said, adding that people who could were leaving. He said he could hear the sound of heavy gunfire on Thursday night and into the morning, and that the bus fare to Addis Ababa, about 385 km (240 miles) to the south, had increased more than six-fold.

There are now more than 500,000 displaced people in the Amhara region, the National Disaster Risk Management Commission told Reuters.

Seid Assefa, a local official working at a coordination centre for displaced people in Dessie, said 250 people had fled there this week from fighting in the Girana area to the north.

“We now have a total of 900 (displaced people) here and we finished our food stocks three days ago.”

Leul Mesfin, medical director of Dessie Hospital, told Reuters two girls and an adult had died this week at his facility of wounds from artillery fire in the town of Wuchale, which both the government and the TPLF have described as the scene of heavy fighting over the past week.

(Reporting by Addis Ababa newsroomAdditional reporting and writing by Maggie Fick and Ayenat Mersie in Nairobi, additional reporting by Michelle Nichols in New York; Editing by John Stonestreet, Peter Graff, Alex Richardson, William Maclean)

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Nigerian state to shut camps for people displaced by insurgency

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Nigeria‘s Borno state, the epicentre of an ongoing Islamist insurgency, will shut all camps that are holding thousands of internally displaced persons by the end of the year, its governor said on Friday, citing improved security in the state.

The conflict between the insurgents and Nigerian’s armed forces has also spread to Chad and Cameroon and has left about 300,000 dead and millions dependent on aid, according to the United Nations.

Borno, which shares a border with Niger, Cameroon and Chad has for more than a decade been the foremost outpost of an insurgency led by Islamist group Boko Haram and later its offshoot Islamic State for West Africa Province (ISWAP).

Speaking after a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja, Borno governor Babgana Zulum said security had improved in the state so much that those living in camps in the state capital Maiduguri could return home.

“So far so good, Borno State government has started well and arrangements have been concluded to ensure the closure of all internally displaced persons camps that are inside Maiduguri metropolis on or before 31st December, 2021,” Zulum said.

But humanitarian groups say most families are unwilling to return to their ancestral lands especially in the northern parts of Borno, which they deem unsafe.

Buhari has in the past months claimed his government was gaining ground on the insurgents. Last week the country’s top general said ISWAP leader Abu Musab al-Barnawi was dead, without giving details.

Zulum said Borno state authorities would continue to repatriate Nigerian refugees from a camp in Cameroon.

Boko Haram’s leader Abubakar Shekau died in May and Nigeria says hundreds of fighters loyal to the Islamist group have been surrendering to the government since then.

 

(Reporting by Maiduguri newsroom, Writing by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by David Gregorio)

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Exclusive-U.S. hopes to soon relocate Afghan pilots who fled to Tajikistan, official says

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The United States hopes to soon relocate around 150 U.S.-trained  Afghan Air Force pilots and other personnel detained in Tajikistan for more than two months after they flew there at the end of the Afghan war, a U.S. official said.

The State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, declined to offer a timeline for the transfer but said the United States wanted to move all of those held at the same time. The details of the U.S. plan have not been previously reported.

Reuters exclusively reported first-person accounts from 143 U.S.-trained Afghan personnel being held at a sanatorium in a mountainous, rural area outside of the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, waiting for a U.S. flight out to a third country and eventual U.S. resettlement.

Speaking on smuggled cell phones kept hidden from guards, they say they have had their phones and identity documents confiscated.

There are also 13 Afghan personnel in Dushanbe, enjoying much more relaxed conditions, who told Reuters they are also awaiting a U.S. transfer. They flew into the country separately.

The Afghan personnel in Tajikistan represent the last major group of U.S.-trained pilots still believed to be in limbo after dozens of advanced military aircraft were flown across the Afghan border to Tajikistan and to Uzbekistan in August during the final moments of the war with the Taliban.

In September, a U.S.-brokered deal allowed a larger group of Afghan pilots and other military personnel to be flown out of Uzbekistan to the United Arab Emirates.

Two detained Afghan pilots in Tajikistan said their hopes were lifted in recent days after visits by officials from the U.S. embassy in Dushanbe.

Although they said they had not yet been given a date for their departure, the pilots said U.S. officials obtained the biometric data needed to complete the process of identifying the Afghans. That was the last step before departure for the Afghan pilots in Uzbekistan.

PREGNANT AFGHAN PILOT

U.S. lawmakers and military veterans who have advocated for the pilots have expressed deep frustration over the time it has taken for President Joe Biden’s administration to evacuate Afghan personnel.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was pressed on the matter in Congress last month, expressing concern at a hearing for the pilots and other personnel.

Reuters had previously reported U.S. difficulties gaining Tajik access to all of the Afghans, which include an Afghan Air Force pilot who is eight months pregnant.

In an interview with Reuters, the 29-year-old pilot had voiced her concerns to Reuters about the risks to her and her child at the remote sanatorium. She was subsequently moved to a maternity hospital.

“We are like prisoners here. Not even like refugees, not even like immigrants. We have no legal documents or way to buy something for ourselves,” she said.

The pregnant pilot would be included in the relocation from Tajikistan, the U.S. State Department official said.

Even before the Taliban’s takeover, the U.S.-trained, English-speaking pilots had become prime targets of the Taliban because of the damage they inflicted during the war. The Taliban tracked down the pilots and assassinated them off-base.

Afghanistan’s new rulers have said they will invite former military personnel to join the revamped security forces and that they will come to no harm.

Afghan pilots who spoke with Reuters say they believe they will be killed if they return to Afghanistan.

 

(Reporting by Phil Stewart; editing by Grant McCool)

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