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Evening Brief: Love, Jill – iPolitics.ca

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Today’s Evening Brief is brought to you by News Media Canada. It’s time to level the digital playing field. Google and Facebook are using their monopoly to threaten and undermine local news. Other countries are taking action. It’s time for Canada to stand up to the web giants – and step up for local news. Learn more.

Good evening to you.

After reaching an agreement with Pfizer to speed up delivery of its COVID-19 vaccines, Ottawa now expects to receive enough doses to immunize just over one-third of all Canadians by the end of June. Under the deals with Ottawa, Pfizer and Moderna — the two companies whose COVID shots have been approved by Health Canada — have to deliver certain quantities of vaccines before the end of March, June, September, and December of this year. Ottawa now expects that, combined, the companies will send Canada 29 million doses before July, according to staff in the office of Procurement Minister Anita Anand, who’s responsible for securing Canada’s vaccines. Charlie Pinkerton reports.

As for other arrivals, much talked about new restrictions for incoming travellers will come into effect Feb. 22, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today. This includes a hotel quarantine, but there will be exceptions, including for truckers and health care workers. “We’re not trying to punish people, we’re trying to keep people safe,” the PM said. “These border measures will help stop the spread of COVID-19 and new variants.” That story from Global News.

From the Caribbean island of Saint Martin, Dominic Colvin, CEO of CannaPharmaRx, has already had his lawyer file a lawsuit asking the federal court to quash the government’s “arbitrary and capricious” decision to “incarcerate” travellers returning to the country in quarantine hotels. As the National Post reports, he’s afraid of being “unconstitutionally” forced into a quarantine hotel if he returns to his home in Kelowna.

While Canada has been bending the curve and seeing case counts come down, Trudeau, along with Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam each issued stark warnings today, calling for “extra” vigilance as new, more transmissible variants continue to spread, risking a third wave. Tam said now is not the time to ease public health restrictions. “These past weeks have been very challenging, but we’ve made great progress and are now almost two-thirds of the way down this curve… But we’ll need to keep putting the brakes on the spread of new virus variants of concern in Canada,” she said.

In Ontario, Premier Doug Ford announced the province is set to do exactly what Tam and other experts say is exactly what should not be done. A short while ago he announced that come Tuesday, the stay-at-home order and partial reopening of non-essential businesses will take place in 27 regions. In the same breath, he also told people to “stay home.” Well which is it, Doug??

Ontario is bringing rapid COVID testing to nursing homes and other essential workplaces. In an announcement on Friday, the province said it’s sent two million rapid antigen tests and 175,000 rapid diagnostic tests to essential workplaces and long-term care homes. “At scale, the province will be deploying approximately one million tests per week across targeted sectors,” said an unnamed official at a government technical briefing. “Ontario’s initial shipments of rapid tests from the federal government will not expire for several months, and we continue to deploy testing supplies quickly, using a ‘first in, first out’ approach.” Rachel Emmanuel reports.

In related news, experts say when it comes to Canada’s COVID case count, there’s likely been a “significant underestimation” and that it is actually much higher than reported.

Still in Ontario, a lot has happened since elected members last sat in the provincial legislature in November. There’s been a second wave of COVID infections. Vaccines were approved. A minister resigned over a Caribbean getaway. Vaccines were delayed. Variants emerged. Ontarians were locked down for a second time. And Ford’s government has been tested on everything from vaccine distribution to the safe reopening of schools. Now, with MPPs returning on Tuesday, it’s preparing for a packed legislative sitting and a looming provincial budget. MPPs return to Queen’s Park.

iPolitics/Matthew Usherwood

CBC News has learned that a government probe into allegations of sexual misconduct by Canada’s former top soldier came to a halt when former military ombudsman Gary Walbourne refused to turn over potentially incriminating emails and the name of the complainant. Deprived of that information, officials in the Privy Council Office was unable to move forward with concerns that had been raised about Gen. Jonathan Vance.

New federal gun legislation is expected to be introduced next week by the Liberals. Aimed at strengthening gun control, the Canadian Press reports the long-promised bill would flesh out last spring’s ban of many firearms, propose stricter storage provisions and target gun smuggling.

The Rebel to Rabble Review: Maxime Bernier’s anti-lockdown recruitment campaign

The Drilldown: Shell announces transition away from fossil fuels

The Sprout: Biden, Xi hold first phone call ahead of Lunar New Year

In Other Headlines:

Federal NDP propose doubling gas-tax funding to cities to aid economic recovery (CP)
Government missed out on N95 masks at the start of the pandemic: documents (CBC)
Former Conservative MP Rob Anders to face tax evasion trial in October (CP)
Payette scandal sours Canadians on perks, expenses for former governors general: Ipsos (Global)

Internationally:

Former president Donald Trump’s lawyers have rested their case after three hours of arguments. They argued their client’s impeachment trial and the case built by Democratic House impeachment managers are acts of “political vengeance.” They also insisted Trump’s speech ahead of the riot at the Capitol riot was merely “ordinary political rhetoric.” He could not have incited the violence that took place there as the riots were planned.

In their opening arguments, Trump’s lawyers used a spliced video montage of prominent Democrats saying “fight” taken out of context as evidence. As CBC News reports, that drew rebukes and laughter from some Senate Democrats.

Senators are now questioning both sides. A final vote on whether to convict the ex-president for inciting the Capitol riot could happen this weekend. You can follow along live here on The Hill.

Minutes before his lawyers began their defense in D.C., a banner flew over Trump’s home at Mar-a-Lago reading: “CONVICT TRUMP AND LOCK HIM UP”

As The Hill reports, Senate Republicans, including those who do not plan to vote to convict Trump, say this week’s trial has effectively ended any chance of him becoming the GOP presidential nominee in 2024.

Meanwhile another Trump appointee has managed to find her voice and say that Trump has no future in the GOP: In an interview with Politico, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley criticized him for his involvement stoking the Capitol riot in a new interview. “We need to acknowledge he let us down,” she said. “He went down a path he shouldn’t have, and we shouldn’t have followed him, and we shouldn’t have listened to him. And we can’t let that ever happen again.”

Deputy White House press secretary TJ Ducklo has been suspended for one week without pay after a Vanity Fair story revealed he had threatened a reporter who was working on a story about his romantic relationship with another reporter. In a statement today, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Ducklo had apologized to Palmeri over what she described as a “heated conversation about his personal life.” “He is the first to acknowledge this is not the standard of behaviour set out by the President,” Psaki said, noting when Ducklo returns from suspension, “He will no longer be assigned to work with any reporters at Politico.” As CNN reports, her response isn’t sitting well with Politico reporters.

In Other International Headlines:

Obama adviser Podesta on Biden’s Keystone XL decision: ‘He’s not going back’ (CP)
Olympic swimmer Klete Keller faces new charges over Capitol riots (BBC)
Calls for Cuomo to resign amid allegations of hiding nursing home deaths (Guardian)
China refuses to give WHO raw data on early COVID-19 cases: report (Reuters)
Biden will try to close Guantanamo after ‘robust’ review (AP)
Nigerians win U.K. court OK to sue Shell over oil spills (Reuters)
Alexei Navalny back in court, anti-Kremlin movement gets a bitcoin boost (Reuters)

In Featured Opinion:

Gen. Romeo Dallaire and Dr. Shelly Whitman: Red Hand Day: The international day against the use of child soldiers

The Kicker:

Twitter Photo: @betsy_klein

Finally this evening, ahead of Valentine’s Day on Sunday, First Lady Jill Biden spread a little love on the White House lawn this morning. “I just wanted some joy,” she said. “With the pandemic, just everybody’s feeling a little down. So, it’s just a little joy. A little hope. That’s all.”

Here in Ontario, as Monday is Family Day, so we’ll be back here on Tuesday.

Have a great long weekend.

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B.C. gets 1.7 million calls as lines open to book vaccine appointments for elderly – Alaska Highway News

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VANCOUVER — British Columbia’s health minister promised to “do better” on Monday after call centres to schedule vaccine appointments were overwhelmed on the first day of booking.

Adrian Dix said there were 1.7 million calls in less than three hours after the phone lines opened for people over 90 and Indigenous elders over 65 to book their appointments.

Dix said he believed that people who were not yet eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine were flooding the lines, but he also acknowledged that more staffing was needed.

“It’s really important in order to allow those over 90 to get their appointments that we only call when our age group becomes open for calling,” he told the province’s COVID-19 briefing.

“It’s also important that we do better. I know that people have called in and have waited a long time today.” 

Dix said that more resources would be added in the coming weeks, as more age groups become eligible to call to book their vaccines.

People born in 1936 or earlier can start calling for appointments on March 15 and those born in 1941 or earlier can start to schedule their immunizations March 22.

Fraser Health was the only authority to launch an online booking platform on Monday, but Dix said a web-based system would become widely available on April 12.

Some residents with elderly parents said they spent hours redialing their health authority’s number and only got a busy signal or a recorded message telling them to call back later.

Julie Tapley, whose 90-year-old father lives in the Vancouver Coastal Health region, said she was frustrated that the authority had not yet established an online booking system.

“I just want to get in the queue and start the process so that (my parents) can return to their normal lives.”

B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, said creating an online booking system is “quite a large project” and Fraser Health was the only authority with an existing platform.

Of about 80,000 people eligible to book appointments this week, roughly 26,000 have already received a shot, so a relatively small number of people should be calling, Dix said.

He said about 10,000 appointments were booked as of Monday afternoon and a “significant number” of those were scheduled through the Fraser Health online site.

Dix urged eligible residents and their families to keep calling in the coming days. There are plenty of appointments available and it is not a “first-come, first-serve” system, he said.

Although B.C.’s case numbers have been on the rise, Henry said some restrictions would be eased in the coming weeks as the weather warms and immunizations ramp up.

Outdoor gatherings, larger meeting places and layers of protection such as masks will still be recommended, she said.

“I like to think of it as slowly turning up the dial again rather than flicking a switch,” she said. 

She also said she hopes to see the return of sports and in-person religious ceremonies within weeks.

Officials have been developing a plan with faith leaders to enable the gradual return of in-person services, as there are important dates in many religions coming up, Henry said.

A B.C. Supreme Court judge reserved his decision on Friday on a petition filed by three Fraser Valley churches who argued that a ban on in-person services violates charter rights.

Henry reported on Monday 1,462 new COVID-19 cases and 11 deaths over three days, pushing the death toll to 1,391 in the province.

She said there was one new outbreak in a long-term care home, the Cottonwoods Care Centre in Kelowna, where a high number of residents and staff had already been vaccinated.

The flare-up serves as a reminder that while vaccines are effective and prevent severe illness and death, they don’t necessarily mean that all transmission will be stopped, she said.

There have been 144 new cases that are variants of concern, bringing the total to 394 confirmed cases. Officials still do not know how about a quarter of the cases were acquired.

Henry became emotional when quoting Chief Robert Joseph, a knowledge-keeper with the Assembly of First Nations.

“We will celebrate our lives again, dream our dreams again and watch our children regain their hope,” Henry quoted him as saying, with tears in her eyes.

“That’s what we can look forward to in the coming months.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 8, 2021. 

Laura Dhillon Kane, The Canadian Press

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COVID-19 vaccine call centres flooded with 1.7 million calls on first day – Vancouver Is Awesome

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B.C.’s health minister is pleading with British Columbians not to ring up COVID-19 vaccine call centres unless they’re eligible to book an appointment for a shot.

Adrian Dix revealed Monday (March 8) call centres meant for booking vaccine shots have been flooded with 1.7 million calls since launching at 7 a.m.

Fewer than 100,000 British Columbians are currently eligible to book — 47,000 people 90 years old or above, and 35,000 Indigenous people 65 years or older.

“If you’re not in those categories, please don’t call us today so that we can continue to proceed through those appointments. We’ve got five days to do it, there’s going to be lots of time,” Dix said during a media briefing.

“Remember, this is not first come first serve, that there’s going to be appointments available all week.”

Initial bookings are to be done through dedicated call centres for the province’s five local authorities and family members are able to book on behalf of seniors who may not feel comfortable scheduling their vaccinations on their own.

Fraser Health is the only health authority providing online bookings.

Booking eligibility will expand to those 85 years and older by March 15, and 80 years and older by March 22.

Vaccinations for elderly British Columbians begin March 29 as the province continues to prioritize vulnerable groups and frontline health-care workers for vaccinations over the next three weeks.

Dix said an online booking platform will be ready to launch April 12 as the province begins vaccinating the broader population with more doses expected to be pouring in from manufacturers.

Details on the province’s online platform remain sparse and provincial officials said one week ago more information would be made available in the coming weeks.

The call centre will ask British Columbians for their legal name, date of birth, postal code, personal health number and current contact info.

Call centre workers will not be asking for financial info, such as credit card details.

Instructions for call centre bookings and local health authority call centre numbers are available at gov.bc.ca/bcseniorsfirst.

torton@biv.com

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City of Toronto launches website for booking COVID-19 vaccinations – MobileSyrup

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The city of Toronto has launched a website for booking and registering for COVID-19 vaccinations ahead of the province’s upcoming centralized online system.

Only eligible individuals are allowed to register at the moment. The website outlines that the availability of vaccination appointments depends on vaccine supply.

Provincial prioritization guidance states that people who are 80 years of age or older, health care workers in high priority risk groups and Indigenous adults are eligible for vaccinations right now.

Eligible individuals can use the website to either book an appointment or pre-register for when an appointment becomes available. You can book an appointment through the website, through a chat room or by phone.

The municipal government says the website is being used until the provincial government launches a centralized online registration website, which is currently in the works and set to roll out on March 15th.

Last month, the Ontario government provided a proposed timeline for when residents can start accessing the online booking system once it launches. Those who are age 75 and above can access the system starting April 15th, residents aged 70 and above can start May 1st and those who are 65 and older can begin June 1st.

The proposed schedule will be in place as long as the supply of vaccines remains steady. It’s also worth noting that although the booking system is expected to open for eligible people during these windows, it will likely take some time to get an appointment reserved.

Ontario is behind other provinces in launching the online booking system, as residents in Alberta and Quebec are already able to start booking appointments online.

You can access the city of Toronto’s booking website here. 

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