Dozens of passengers on Canadian airlines have been slapped with fines or warning letters by Transport Canada in recent months for refusing to wear a mask on board a flight, with more incidents involving Alberta airports than any other province.
A review of Transport Canada data by CBC News reveals that WestJet passengers have been the hardest hit — with 50 of the 72 incidents, or nearly 70 per cent, involving passengers on the Calgary-based airline.
WestJet passengers were issued eight of the nine fines, known as administrative monetary penalties, meted out since June. The ninth fine was to a passenger who flew from Vancouver to Whitehorse on Air North in August.
Transport Canada has issued 12 warning letters to passengers on Air Canada flights, two to Jazz passengers and two to people on Air Transat flights, while Air North, Calm Air, Flair, KLM and Swoop each had one passenger who received a warning letter.
While Transport Canada provided information in September on the amounts of the first two fines levied — one in June for $1,000 and another in July for the same amount — it would only provide ranges for the amounts of most of the fines.
Overall, two people were fined between $100 and $500, five received fines ranging from $501 to $1,000, one passenger was handed a fine that ranged from $1,001 to $1,500 and another was hit with a fine of between $1,501 and $2,000.
Another 63 passengers have received warning letters. While the warning letters don’t lead directly to fines, Transport Canada spokesperson Sau Sau Liu said they can result in higher fines for a second offence.
“Based on Transport Canada’s graduated approach to enforcement action, when warranted by the results of an investigation where mitigating factors are taken into consideration, a first offence may result in a letter of warning,” she said.
“The letter serves as a reminder of the consequences the offender may face should the infraction be committed again in the future. Should a second or subsequent violation occur for the same offence/violation, Transport Canada’s process would trigger an enhanced level of enforcement action, which could result in a penalty of up to $5,000.”
But if there is evidence of “aggravating factors, such as blatant and repeated refusals to comply,” combined with such things as disrespectful or abusive language, physical or verbal threats, a first offence can result in a fine and even criminal charges, Liu said.
WestJet has ‘zero-tolerance’ mask policy
While Alberta has 11.5 per cent of Canada’s population, 36.8 per cent of the incidents occurred on flights to or from an Alberta airport. Calgary’s airport — which is a WestJet hub and is Canada’s fourth largest — was involved in 37 incidents, while Edmonton’s airport was involved in 14.
In Ontario, which has 38.2 per cent of the country’s residents, incidents on flights to or from the province’s airports made up for 23.6 per cent of the total. According to the data, Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, which has more traffic than any other Canadian airport, was the departure or arrival point in 30 incidents.
British Columbia was involved in 19.4 per cent of incidents. While 18 incidents involved flights going to or from Vancouver International Airport, there were also incidents involving flights that visited Kelowna (4), Kamloops (1), Abbotsford (3), Comox (1) and Terrace (1).
Only five incidents involved passengers flying to Canada from international airports — two from London’s Gatwick Airport, two from Paris and one from Israel.
WestJet spokesperson Morgan Bell said the airline adopted a zero-tolerance policy on mask-wearing in September.
“Our approach is zero-tolerance, as Canadian travellers and all of our WestJet Group employees are counting on us to keep them safe,” she said, pointing out that WestJet has flown more than 28,000 flights and more than a million passengers since the pandemic began.
“Travellers must understand if they choose to not wear a mask, they are choosing not to fly our airlines.”
Bell said WestJet has issued 34 red cards to passengers who refused to wear masks on board — barring them from flights on WestJet, WestJet Encore and Swoop for a year. Another 121 passengers received yellow warning cards.
Air Canada spokesperson Peter Fitzpatrick said the airline has complied with reporting obligations and worked with Transport Canada during its investigations.
Air Canada was one of the first airlines to require face coverings and recently strengthened its policy to improve the safety of passengers and crew members, he said.
“For customers eligible for a face-covering exemption, as of Dec. 15, 2020, they will also need to present a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours from departure, at the airport check-in and/or prior to boarding the flight,” he wrote in an email.
“They may need another negative COVID-19 test for their return journey if the departure of their return trip exceeds 72 hours from the time the initial test was taken.”
Wesley Lesosky, president of the Air Canada component of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, said he hears from his members almost every day about cases where a passenger didn’t want to wear a mask.
“It’s a health and safety concern to all, but it’s their work environment, and they need to be safe when they’re in their work environment. And if they feel unsafe because somebody doesn’t have a mask, they’re not required to put themselves in that particular situation.”
PM warns Canadians to expect more travel restrictions soon – CTV News
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is warning Canadians to expect more travel restrictions in the near future.
At his briefing Tuesday, Trudeau reiterated federal public health guidance to avoid all non-essential travel, both abroad and in between provinces.
Trudeau said in French that the constantly evolving news of COVID-19 variants from other countries has spurred the government to look at improving the measures already implemented – and that an announcement would come very soon.
The prime minister also reiterated his previous statements on upcoming travel, telling Canadians to cancel any plans they may have booked, and that while the number of cases linked to traveling abroad are low, “one case is too many.”
Trudeau said the “bad choices of a few” should not be allowed to put others at risk.
Currently, the land border between Canada and the U.S. remains closed to travellers, while international travellers flying into the country must show a negative COVID-19 test 72 hours before their departure flight. They then must quarantine for 14 days upon arrival.
Violations of any of these measures can result in charges under the Quarantine Act, with a maximum sentence of six months in jail or fines up to $75,000.
Last week, Quebec Premier Francois Legault called for Ottawa to implement an outright ban on non-essential travel – and as Trudeau said at his Tuesday briefing, “all options are on the table if necessary.”
The Public Health Agency of Canada has reported more than 200 flights, both international and domestic, that have confirmed COVID-19 cases, as well as one VIA Rail train trip.
Overall, travel outside Canada has been deemed the primary cause of 1.4 per cent of COVID-19 cases in Canada since the start of the pandemic, with contact with a traveller accounting for another one per cent of infections.
Made-in-Canada coronavirus vaccine starts human clinical trials – CBC.ca
A made-in-Canada vaccine to protect against COVID-19 began human clinical trials Tuesday in Toronto, says the biotechnology company that developed the vaccine.
Toronto-based Providence Therapeutics said three shots will be given to 60 adult volunteers at a clinical trial site in Toronto in the first phase of the trial on Tuesday.
Fifteen of those volunteers will receive a placebo, and 45 will get the vaccine, called PTX-COVID19-B.
Brad Sorenson, the company’s CEO, said it’s the first time a vaccine designed and manufactured in Canada has begun clinical trials. The company has purchased a site in Calgary to mass produce the vaccine.
Vaccines are designed to trigger an immune response in the body. Providence’s product is an mRNA vaccine and is similar to the Moderna coronavirus shot being given to people across Canada.
Quebec-based pharmaceutical Medicago began clinical trials last July of its coronavirus vaccine that is based on another technology. Unlike Providence, a large portion of Medicago’s vaccine doses will be manufactured outside the country, in North Carolina.
Medicago’s vaccine is currently in Phase 3 clinical trials — the last stage before it can apply for approval from Health Canada and other regulators to market the product.
Sorenson said Providence designed and built its vaccine last March.
“We reached out to the Canadian government in April and said, ‘Hey, you’ve heard of Moderna. We’re doing the exact same thing,'” Sorenson said in an interview.
“We went from concept into the clinic in under a year without the same level of support as our peers had.”
Purchased Calgary site
The federal government provided financial sponsorship and support for the early phase clinical trial through the National Research Council of Canada’s Industrial Research Assistance Program.
Currently, Canada lacks the capacity to manufacture the millions of doses of coronavirus vaccines needed to immunize people outside of a clinical trial setting. It’s why the federal government struck deals with Pfizer and Moderna — both manufactured abroad — to obtain the vaccines being rolled out across Canada.
While the company was developing the vaccine in pre-clinical studies, Sorenson said it also started to build the infrastructure to manufacture the vaccine in Canada as well.
The company purchased a 20,000-square-foot facility in Calgary that includes 12,000 square feet of lab space to mass produce the vaccine. The facility will be up and running in two months, Sorensen said.
Pending regulatory approval, a larger Phase 2 trial with adults over 65, youths under 18 and pregnant people could start in May, Sorenson said.
Initial focus was cancer research
If the vaccine proves safe and effective in clinical trials and Health Canada approves it, the goal is to have it ready for the global market by January 2022.
Sorenson founded Providence Therapeutics in 2013 to focus on cancer vaccines.
Several scientists contributed to the pre-clinical research on Providence’s vaccine, including those at the lab of Dr. Mario Ostrowski, a scientist at the Keenan Research Centre for Biomedical Science and an infectious disease clinician at St. Michael’s Hospital, Dr. Anne-Claude Gingras at Mt. Sinai Hospital, Dr. Samira Mubareka and Dr. Rob Kozak at Sunnybrook Research Institute, as well as Dr. Michael Pollanen, Ontario’s chief forensic pathologist.
In August, Ostrowski, whose laboratory performed the animal trials, said results were on par with tests of vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech at that stage.
Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Tuesday – CBC.ca
The European Union on Tuesday warned pharmaceutical giants that develop coronavirus vaccines to honour their contractual obligations after slow deliveries of shots from two companies hampered the bloc’s vaunted vaccine rollout in several nations.
The bloc already lashed out Monday at pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, accusing it of failing to guarantee the delivery of coronavirus vaccines without a valid explanation. It also had expressed displeasure over vaccine delivery delays from Pfizer-BioNTech last week.
“Europe invested billions to help develop the world’s first COVID-19 vaccines. To create a truly global common good,” EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told the World Economic Forum’s virtual event in Switzerland. “And now, the companies must deliver. They must honour their obligations.”
The statement Tuesday highlighted the level of distrust that has grown between the 27-nation bloc and pharmaceutical companies over the past week.
On Monday, the EU threatened to impose strict export controls on all coronavirus vaccines produced in the bloc to make sure that companies honour their commitments to the EU.
The EU said it provided €2.7 billion (more than $4.1 billion Cdn) to speed up vaccine research and production capacity and was determined to get some value for that money with hundreds of millions of vaccine shots according to a schedule the companies had committed to.
“Europe is determined to contribute to this global common good, but it also means business,” von der Leyen said Tuesday via video link.
Germany was firmly behind von der Leyen’s view.
“With a complex process such as vaccine production, I can understand if there are production problems — but then it must affect everyone fairly and equally,” German Health Minister Jens Spahn told ZDF television. “This is not about EU first, it’s about Europe’s fair share.”
The EU, which has 450 million citizens and the economic and political clout of the world’s biggest trading bloc, is lagging badly behind countries like Israel and Britain in rolling out coronavirus vaccine shots for its health-care workers and most vulnerable people. That’s despite having over 400,000 confirmed virus deaths since the pandemic began.
The EU has committed to buying 300 million AstraZeneca doses with an option on 100 million extra shots. Late last week, the company said it was planning to reduce a first contingent of 80 million to 31 million.
The shortfall of planned deliveries of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is expected to get medical approval by the bloc on Friday, combined with hiccups in the distribution of Pfizer-BioNTech shots is putting EU nations under heavy pressure. Pfizer says it was delaying deliveries to Europe and Canada while it upgrades its plant in Belgium to increase production capacity.
The European Medicines Agency is scheduled to review the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine Friday and its approval is hotly anticipated. The AstraZeneca vaccine is already being used in Britain and has been approved for emergency use by half a dozen countries, including India, Pakistan, Argentina and Mexico.
The delays in getting vaccines will make it harder to meet early targets in the EU’s goal of vaccinating 70 per cent of its adults by late summer.
The EU has signed six vaccine contracts for more than two billion doses, but only the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines have been approved for use so far.
-From The Associated Press, last updated at 7:15 a.m. ET
What’s happening in Canada
WATCH | Inside two Toronto ICUs one year since Canada’s first COVID-19 case:
As Parliament resumed Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau faced a barrage of questions from MPs of all parties as they blasted the Liberal government for what they described as a botched approach to rolling out vaccines.
Both Trudeau and Procurement Minister Anita Anand repeated the government’s promise that by the end of September, all Canadians wishing to be vaccinated will have received their shots.
Trudeau has stressed that the delay that is currently hampering vaccination efforts is only temporary and that Canada is expected to receive four million doses of the Pfizer vaccine by the end of March. The prime minister noted that the country is still receiving shipments of the Moderna vaccine.
Earlier Monday, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said there is “tremendous pressure” on the global supply chain for vaccines that the government has tried to mitigate.
“We are working on this every single day, because we know how important vaccines are to Canadians, to first and foremost the lives of Canadians and also to our economy,” she told a news conference in Ottawa by video.
WATCH | New urgency for vaccinations in long-term care homes:
Despite the vaccine delay, some provinces continued to report encouraging drops in the number of new cases and hospitalizations. Ontario reported fewer than 2,000 cases on Monday, as well as fewer people in hospital. It was a similar story in Quebec, where hospitalizations dropped for a sixth straight day.
As of early Tuesday morning, Canada had reported 753,011 cases of COVID-19, with 62,444 cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 19,238.
In Alberta, health officials reported the province’s first case of a COVID-19 variant first seen in the United Kingdom that can’t be directly traced to international travel. Health Minister Tyler Shandro said that while it is one case, the variant has the potential to spread faster than the original novel coronavirus and could quickly overwhelm hospitals if not checked.
“There’s no question that this kind of exponential growth would push our health-care system to the brink,” Shandro told a virtual news conference Monday.
Here’s a look at what’s happening across Canada:
–From The Canadian Press and CBC News, last updated at 6:45 a.m. ET
What’s happening around the world
As of early Tuesday morning, more than 99.7 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, with more than 55.1 million of the cases considered recovered or resolved, according to a tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than 2.1 million.
In Europe, the U.K. is set to announce changes to its quarantine rules later Tuesday that could see anyone arriving in the country having to spend ten days in a hotel at their own expense. Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said there will be an “announcement on this issue later on today,” but would not be drawn on what the changes would entail.
The British government has been reviewing its quarantine policies amid concerns over new variants of the coronavirus. Whether the changes will be universal and apply to everyone arriving, including British citizens, or just to those arriving from high-risk coronavirus countries, is unclear. Zahawi told Sky News that “as we vaccinate more of the adult population, if there are new variants like the South African or the Brazilian variants, we need to be very careful.”
The U.K. has seen more than 3.6 million reported cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, according to Johns Hopkins University, with more than 98,700 deaths.
Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s deputy prime minister and finance minister, said Monday that Canada is considering additional international travel restrictions. Speaking on CBC’s Power & Politics, Freeland said she is, “very sympathetic to the view that, with the virus raging around the world, we need to be sure our borders are really, really secure.”
In Portugal, the health minister said authorities are considering asking other European Union countries for help amid a steep surge in COVID-19 cases. Portugal has had the world’s worst rate of new daily cases and deaths per 100,000 people for the past week, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
Health Minister Marta Temido said sending patients to other EU countries is not uncommon in the bloc. But, she said, Portugal has the disadvantage of being geographically remote and hospitals across the continent are under pressure from the pandemic. She said the country may instead be asking for medical workers to be sent.
Portuguese hospitals are under severe strain, Temido told public broadcaster RTP. “We have beds available,” she said. “What we’re struggling with is finding staff.”
That request may be difficult to fulfil, because all countries in the 27-nation bloc are dealing with their own pandemic strains, made more difficult now because of the emergence of virus variants.
In the Asia-Pacific region, health authorities in Taiwan are quarantining 5,000 people while looking for the source of two new coronavirus cases linked to a hospital.
Indonesia’s confirmed coronavirus infections since the pandemic began crossed one million on Tuesday and hospitals in some hard-hit areas were near capacity.
Indonesia’s Health Ministry announced that new daily infections rose by 13,094 on Tuesday to bring the country’s total to 1,012,350, the most in Southeast Asia. The total number of deaths reached 28,468.
The milestone comes just weeks after Indonesia launched a massive campaign to inoculate two-thirds of the country’s 270 million people, with President Joko Widodo receiving the first shot of a Chinese-made vaccine. Health-care workers, military, police, teachers and other at-risk populations are being prioritized for the vaccine in the world’s fourth-most populous country.
Chinese airlines are offering refunded tickets as the coronavirus continues to spread in the country’s northeast. The offer Tuesday from the government’s aviation authority comes amid a push to prevent people travelling during the Lunar New Year holiday next month.
In the Americas, Mexico’s death toll passed 150,000 on Monday following a surge in infections in recent weeks.
In Africa, Russia and China have approached Zimbabwe about supplying vaccines to tackle its escalating COVID-19 outbreak amid concern about Harare’s ability to afford the shots.
In the Middle East, Oman said earlier this week it will extend the closure of its land borders for another week until Feb. 1.
-From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 7:10 a.m. ET
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