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EU drug regulator: COVID-19 boosters help restore some protection against Omicron

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The European Union’s drug regulator said early data shows a booster dose of a COVID-19 vaccine helps restore some protection against the new Omicron variant, although there is no evidence yet that tweaks to existing shots will be necessary.

“Data is showing that indeed there is a drop in the ability of the (COVID-19) vaccine to exert good neutralisation for Omicron,” said Marco Cavaleri, head of biological health threats and vaccines strategy at the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

“A booster dose is indeed able to restore quite (a) high level of protection from symptomatic disease,” he said later in the same briefing.

EMA Executive Director Emer Cook said the watchdog is prepared for the possibility that COVID-19 vaccines may be tweaked to fight the variant. “There is no answer whether we will need to adapt vaccines,” she said in the briefing.

Cook said EMA needs more data on vaccine efficacy, the variant’s transmissibility and the severity of disease it causes.

She said that when EMA gave the regulatory greenlight a year ago for the vaccine developed by Pfizer -BioNTech , the first in the region, she did not think there would still be a pandemic now.

The European Union has the capacity to make 300 million doses of vaccines per month as drugmakers have ramped up output to meet growing demand for its 450 million population, she said.

(Reporting by Pushkala Aripaka in Bangaluru and Josephine Mason in London; Editing by Jon Boyle, Angus MacSwan and Mark Heinrich)

Health

Canadian provincial leader wants to pause truckers’ COVID vaccine mandate

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The premier of Canada’s Alberta province on Thursday called on the federal government to pause a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for cross-border truckers that companies say will disrupt the supply chain and fuel inflation.

The mandate, imposed by Ottawa to help curb the spread of the coronavirus, has cost Canadian trucking companies about 10% of their international drivers, six top executives said this week. They said they are hiking wages to lure new operators during the worst labor shortage they have experienced.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, at a news conference in Calgary, urged the government to extend an exemption that had been in place for truckers since the start of the pandemic.

Kenney made his request on the same day the United States confirmed its own vaccine border mandate for truckers would start on Saturday. Canada’s has been in place since Jan. 15.

“Common sense tells us that we are at the peak of supply chain constraints across North America, around the world, huge inflation,” Kenney said.

This is not the moment “to lose potentially thousands of truckers on our roads, bringing groceries up from the US and who knows maybe (COVID) rapid test kits as well,” he said.

As many as 32,000, or 20%, of the 160,000 Canadian and American cross-border truck drivers may be taken off the roads by the mandate, the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) estimates. The industry was short some 18,000 drivers even before the mandate, CTA said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has resisted industry pressure to delay the mandate since it was first announced in November. On Wednesday Trudeau defended the mandate, saying Canada was “aligned” with the United States, its largest trading partner.

On Thursday, Canada’s transport ministry said the measure was not negatively affecting the supply of goods, and cross-border truck traffic had not varied significantly.

Within the next two weeks, consumers will see “there’s not as many choices on the shelves,” said Dan Einwechter, chairman and chief executive officer of Challenger Motor Freight Inc in Cambridge, Ontario.

“Eventually the prices will be passed on from the sellers of those products, because we’re passing on our increases to them,” he said.

Canada’s inflation rate hit a 30-year high of 4.8% in December and economists said the vaccine mandate may contribute to keeping prices higher for longer. In the United States, inflation surged 7% on a year-on-year basis in December, the largest rise in nearly four decades.

More than two-thirds of the C$650 billion ($521 billion) in goods traded annually between Canada and the United States travels on roads.

Rob Penner, president and CEO of Winnipeg, Manitoba-based Bison Transport, said from Jan. 1 it raised the base rate for cross-border drivers by almost 20% but failed to gain any.

“There’s more freight than there is people right now.”

Fresh foods are particularly sensitive to freight problems because they expire rapidly, though all imports from the United States could be affected, trucking managers said.

Canadian firms see labor shortages intensifying and wage pressures increasing, according to a Bank of Canada survey released on Monday. Investors increasingly expect the central bank to raise interest rates next week for the first time since 2018.

($1 = 1.2478 Canadian dollars)

 

(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Additional reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Paul Simao and Grant McCool)

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Ontario to start lifting COVID-related curbs, Quebec more cautious

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Canada’s most populous province of Ontario has blunted transmission of the Omicron coronavirus variant and will gradually ease restrictions on businesses from end-January, Premier Doug Ford said on Thursday.

The health care system is starting to stabilize in the wake of limitations imposed on Jan. 5, Ford told a news conference, saying Omicron cases should peak later this month.

“We can be confident that the worst is behind us and that we are now in a position to cautiously and gradually ease public health measures,” Ford said.

The province will allow restaurants, malls, and cinemas to operate with a 50% capacity limit from Jan. 31, before removing more curbs in February and March.

“While February will continue to present its own challenges, given current trends these are challenges we are confident we can manage,” Ford said.

In neighbouring Quebec, premier Francois Legault said he would maintain restrictions to help protect the health care system even though Omicron cases had peaked.

“I understand we are all tired, but lives are at stake. I’m currently under a lot of pressure to remove measures, but my duty is to be responsible to protect the lives of Quebecers,” he told a news conference.

Ontario and Quebec together account for around 61% of Canada’s population of 38.2 million people.

 

(Reporting by Ismail Shakil in Bengaluru and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Tomasz Janowski and Grant McCool)

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Canadian vaccine mandate to lead to inflation, empty shelves, trucking executives say

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Canadian consumers should soon see higher prices and some empty shelves in supermarkets and other retail outlets because of disruptions stemming from a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for cross-border truckers, top trucking executives warned this week.

The mandate, imposed by Ottawa to help curb the spread of the virus, has cost six Canadian trucking companies about 10% of their international drivers, and many are hiking wages to lure new operators during what they said is the worst labor shortage they have experienced.

Within the next two weeks, consumers will see “there’s not as many choices on the shelves,” said Dan Einwechter, chairman and chief executive officer of Challenger Motor Freight Inc in Cambridge, Ontario.

“Eventually the prices will be passed on from the sellers of those products, because we’re passing on our increases to them,” he said.

Canada’s inflation rate https://www.reuters.com/business/canadas-annual-inflation-rate-hits-48-dec-highest-since-sept-1991-2022-01-19 hit a 30-year high of 4.8% in December and economists said the vaccine mandate may contribute to keeping prices higher for longer. In the United States, inflation surged https://www.reuters.com/world/us/us-consumer-prices-increase-strongly-december-2022-01-12 7% on a year-on-year basis in December, the largest rise in nearly four decades.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has championed vaccine requirements for federal employees, has resisted pressure from industry to delay or drop the mandate that was announced in November.

The vaccine requirement to enter Canada started on Jan. 15, and the one to enter the United States begins on Saturday.

Since more than two-thirds of the C$650 billion ($521 billion) in goods traded annually between Canada and the United States travels on roads, truckers were deemed essential workers until now and traveled freely even when the border was closed for 20 months.

Trudeau defended the mandate on Wednesday, saying Canada was “aligned” with the United States, its largest trading partner.

“We will continue to make sure that we are getting what we need in Canada while, as always, putting the safety and health of Canadians as our top priority,” Trudeau said.

As many as 32,000, or 20%, of the 160,000 Canadian and American cross-border truck drivers may be taken off the roads by the mandate, the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) estimates. The industry was short some 18,000 drivers even before the mandate, CTA said.

“We raised our base rate for cross-border drivers effective Jan. 1 by almost 20% … and it didn’t gain us any drivers,” said Rob Penner, president and CEO of Winnipeg, Manitoba-based Bison Transport. “There’s more freight than there is people right now.”

Canada’s transport ministry said in a statement the measure was not negatively affecting the supply of goods, while cross-border truck traffic had not varied significantly since the mandate came into effect.

BAD TIMING

The six executives who manage nearly 9,200 trucks between their companies and have a combined 173 years in the industry say strong demand for freight during a labor shortage will inevitably translate into higher prices for consumers.

“We’ve been oversold by 5% or 10%, depending on the day, for the last four or five months … The timing of all this couldn’t have been worse,” said Mark Seymour, CEO of Kriska Transportation Group in Prescott, Ontario.

Canadian firms see labor shortages intensifying and wage pressures increasing, according to a Bank of Canada survey https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/firms-see-increasing-labor-shortages-wage-pressures-bank-canada-survey-2022-01-17 released on Monday. Investors increasingly expect https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/even-omicron-slams-canada-bets-january-rate-hike-rise-2022-01-18 the central bank to raise interest rates next week for the first time since 2018.

Fresh foods are particularly sensitive to freight problems because they expire rapidly, though all imports from the United States could be affected, the trucking managers said.

“We have to move the milk, we have to move food. But the rates are going to be much higher,” said Doug Sutherland, president of Sutherland Group Enterprises in Salmo, British Columbia.

“Inflation is going to be the biggest impact of what’s going on here.”

($1 = 1.2478 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Additional reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Paul Simao)

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