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Expert says warnings about N.B.'s COVID reopening plan were voiced, ignored – CBC.ca

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An infection control epidemiologist who publicly warned in July that New Brunswick was courting a COVID-19 outbreak by dropping public health restrictions too early doesn’t accept the province’s claims that its current health crisis could not be forecast.

“It was absolutely, absolutely abundantly clear in July that what they were doing was fundamentally wrong,” said Colin Furness, an associate professor at the Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation at the University of Toronto.

“I’m getting sick and tired of government officials saying, ‘This was unforeseen, this was unpredictable, no one could have anticipated this.’ You can’t improve your performance or decision-making if you can’t be honest with yourself about the nature of mistakes.”

On Friday, during briefings to announce and explain the reintroduction of a provincial state of emergency and mandatory order to deal with a surging COVID-19 outbreak, New Brunswick political and health officials acknowledged the decision to lift public health restrictions at the end of July was a mistake. But they suggested they couldn’t have known the mistake they were making.

“Absolutely, all of us in this room right now, with the evidence of this rapid increase of delta virus in the province, would all agree that was not the right decision to make,” said Dr. Gordon Dow, an infectious disease expert with Horizon Health.

“But that’s with the benefit of in retrospect.”

Premier Blaine Higgs also agreed Friday that the July 30 reopening “could” have been an error. But he insisted danger signs were not apparent at the time. 

“I have to reiterate that the decision we made at the time was based on the facts available and the situation our province was in, and how we would go forward. It’s always easy to look back,” he said

Vaccination rates among those under 40 in New Brunswick were below 50 per cent in late July when the province announced the ending of public health restrictions. (Rozenn Nicolle/CBC)

New Brunswick is in the middle of its largest COVID-19 outbreak of the pandemic. It has recorded more than 1,400 new cases since lifting public health restrictions in July, including 470 for the week ending last Friday.  

That was the highest case count per capita in any province east of Saskatchewan for the week and has put sudden pressure on the province’s hospital system.

Furness claims that deterioration was predictable.

He said it was clear in July that New Brunswick did not have enough people fully vaccinated, especially among the young, to protect itself from an outbreak of COVID-19’s highly contagious delta variant.  

COVID-19 hospitalizations in New Brunswick reached a record 33 on Sunday. Concern over rising cases overwhelming the province’s health-care system led to a state of emergency being reinstated on the weekend. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

He believed at the time of New Brunswick’s July reopening that public health protections like mandatory indoor masking needed to be maintained to protect against what is happening now, and said so publicly.

“There was tonnes of data available, concurrent data available about what delta was doing,” said Furness

On July 23, Higgs announced the province would be dropping all public health restrictions at midnight on July 30 even though it had not reached its goal of having 75 per cent of the eligible population fully vaccinated.  

At the time of the announcement, 64 per cent of those in the province over the age of 12 had received two vaccine doses.

That was problematic enough, according to Furness, but made riskier because the majority of vaccinations were concentrated in higher age groups.   

Dr. Theresa Tam is Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Among those under 40, just 48 per cent had been fully vaccinated at the time reopening was announced. On July 27, Furness said in an interview with CBC that New Brunswick was heading for trouble if it did not at least maintain rules requiring mask use indoors.

“People in their 80s are not serving tables in restaurants, they’re not working as grocery store clerks and they’re not going to heavy-duty parties. It’s the ones in their 20s who are. And that group is not protected,” he said

Furness was not alone in those concerns.

On July 30, just hours before New Brunswick dropped all of its mandatory public health restrictions, Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Public Officer of Health, recommended against abandoning masking rules until vaccination rates among the young improved.

“We have to be cautious about how we reopen,” Tam said in a national briefing about a detected rise in the delta variant in Canada that she said would soon assert itself “in every jurisdiction.”

Colin Furness, an epidemiologist at the University of Toronto, warned New Brunswick in July that it was courting a COVID-19 outbreak by dropping public health restrictions before raising its vaccination rates. (CBC)

“If the 18 to 39-year-olds can get vaccinated fully up to at least 80 per cent you can actually avert significant impacts on the health system.”

She said any province dropping public health restrictions risked having its hospital system overrun “if the vaccine rate going up is not as fast as the relaxation of measures.”

“Delta is a formidable foe,” said Tam. “We know what works. Continue masking, distancing.” 

In July, the number of those fully vaccinated in New Brunswick between the ages of 18 and 39 was well short of the 80 per cent level Tam said was required to fend off the worst of a “delta driven” wave and is still below 70 per cent. 

Furness said he finds excuses now that warnings were not clear enough in July are not credible.

“When you looked at the contagiousness of delta, you didn’t even need to know about vaccine effectiveness. Just looking at the spread pattern, just looking at the contagiousness, there was no way that [safely opening] was valid knowledge back then. Flat out no way.”

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Ecuadorean indigenous communities sue to halt oil development

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Indigenous communities from Ecuador’s Amazon on Monday sued the government to halt plans by President Guillermo Lasso to increase oil development in the country, calling the expansion efforts a “policy of death.”

Lasso, a conservative ex-banker who took office in May, issued two decrees in the first days of his administration meant to facilitate the development of oil blocks in environmentally sensitive jungle areas and attract more foreign investment for mining projects.

Leaders of Amazonian  indigenous communities are asking the Constitutional Court, the country’s highest judicial body, to nullify the decrees.

“The Ecuadorean government sees in our territory only resource interests,” said Waorani leader Nemonte Nenquimo, in remarks outside the court, surrounded by dozens of supporters.

“Our territory is our decision and we’ll never allow oil or mining companies to enter and destroy our home and kill our culture.”

Lasso has said he will seek international investment to increase oil production to 1 million barrels per day by the end of his term in 2025.

He also wants to make mining one of the country’s top sources of income.

The indigenous communities plan to present a separate suit against the decree related to mining, they said in a statement.

Expanding oil extraction will put in danger some of the world’s most biodiverse jungle, home to dozens of indigenous communities, the indigenous leaders said.

The energy ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“They seek to continue this policy of death,” said Leonidas Iza, who heads the CONAIE indigenous organization. “This isn’t a problem of the indigenous, it’s one of civilization.”

Indigenous groups have said they could hold protests against Lasso’s social and economic policies.

 

(Reporting by Tito Correa; Writing by Alexandra Valencia and Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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Brazil’s Votorantim and Canada Pension Plan to form energy joint venture

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Privately-owned Votorantim SA, one of Brazil’s biggest diversified industrial groups, has announced a plan with Canada Pension Plan to consolidate their energy assets in Brazil to create a listed integrated renewables platform, they said on Monday.

The joint venture between Votorantim Energia and CPP Investments, Canada Pension Plan ‘s global investment arm, will include another stakeholder, Companhia Energetica de Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo’s power generation company known as CESP.

CPP Investments will invest an additional 1.5 billion reais (C$340 million) to increase the venture’s capital base, the companies said.

The new company will have net revenue estimated at 5.8 billion reais based on the 2020 results, and a diversified energy matrix with an installed capacity of 3.3 gigawatts (GW), of which 2.3 GW is hydroelectric sources and 1.0 GW in wind power, they said.

The company will already be born with a pipeline of projects that combine hydro and solar sources, as well as hybrid solutions, totaling 1.9 GW, they said in a statement.

The new company will also be one of the largest energy traders in Brazil, with more than 2.6 average GW sold in 2020 and a portfolio of more than 400 customers.

“By consolidating our assets in a single company, Votorantim and CPP Investments intend to start a new cycle of growth and value generation together with CESP’s shareholders,” said Joao Schmidt, Votorantim’s chief executive.

 

(Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Chris Reese)

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N.S. reports 72 new COVID-19 cases over the weekend, three Halifax-area schools to close – CTV News Atlantic

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HALIFAX –

Health officials in Nova Scotia are reporting 72 new cases of COVID-19 and 63 recoveries since Friday, as the number of active cases rises to 208.

The province’s COVID-19 data dashboard will not be updated on Monday due to a technical issue, said Public Health in a release.

Thirty-one new cases were reported on Oct. 16; 19 new cases on Oct. 17, and 22 new cases are being reported on Oct. 18.

  • Fifty-eight new cases were identified in the province’s Central zone.
  • Eight new cases were identified in the province’s Northern zone.
  • Five new cases were identified in the province’s Western zone.
  • One new case was identified in the province’s Eastern zone.

Health officials say there is community spread in the Central zone, primarily among people aged 20 to 40 who are unvaccinated and participating in social activities.

Public Health says it is closely monitoring all four health zones for community spread.

THREE HALIFAX-AREA SCHOOLS CLOSE FOR WEEK

Three schools in the Halifax Regional Municipality will close for the rest of the week in order to contain the spread of COVID-19.

In a release sent Monday afternoon, the province announced École Mer et Monde and Joseph Howe Elementary in Halifax will both be closed from Oct. 19 to Oct. 25, to prevent further spread of the virus among the school community.

The schools and public health will share more information later in the week about reopening plans. The principals will contact staff and families about learning from home, which will begin Tuesday, Oct.  19. There are no classes for students on Friday, Oct. 22, as it is a provincial conference day.

Officials say testing would be available at both schools next weekend from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. because next Monday is a school development day.

In a release issued Sunday evening, Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health, recommended the closure of Dartmouth South Academy.

The P-9 school, located at 111 Prince Arthur Ave., will be closed to students from Oct. 18 to Oct. 22 to prevent further spread of the virus among the school community. The pre-primary centre, which is located on a separate site from the school, will remain open.

“While our goal is to keep students learning in the classroom, I was clear that if stronger measures were needed, like closing a school, we would not hesitate to act,” said Dr. Strang. “The regional medical officer of health team has been closely monitoring this situation, and they are recommending a temporary closure to contain the spread.”

The school and public health will share more information later in the week about reopening plans, and the principal will contact staff and families about learning from home.

With the latest closures, four schools in the Halifax area have been temporarily closed in the last two weeks.

Duc d’Anville Elementary School in Halifax was closed for four days last week after 14 cases of novel coronavirus were linked to the school.

Health officials also sent exposure notices for eight schools in the province since Friday.

The latest school exposures are at Cumberland North Academy in Amherst, École Mer et Monde, Halifax West High, Joseph Howe Elementary, Beechville-Lakeside-Timberlea Elementary and St. Catherine’s Elementary in Halifax, and Portland Estates Elementary and Dartmouth South Academy in Dartmouth.

“It is important to note that an exposure associated with a school does not mean there is spread within the school or that the initial case was first exposed to the virus in the school. As always, all staff, parents and guardians are notified of exposures if a positive case (student, teacher or staff) was at the school while infectious,” said N.S. Health in a release.

A list of schools with exposures is available online

COVID-19 CASE DATA

Nova Scotia Health Authority’s labs completed 3,557 tests on Oct. 15; 2,755 tests on Oct. 16; and 2,792 tests on Oct. 17.

According to the province’s online COVID-19 dashboard, there have been 7,149 cumulative COVID-19 cases in Nova Scotia. Of those, 6,843 people have recovered and 98 have died due to COVID-19.

There are currently 15 people in hospital in Nova Scotia due to COVID-19, with three in an intensive care unit.

Since Aug. 1, there have been 1,253 positive COVID-19 cases and four deaths. Of the new cases since Aug. 1, 1,041 are now considered resolved.

There are cases confirmed across the province, but most have been identified in the Central zone, which contains the Halifax Regional Municipality.

The provincial state of emergency, which was first declared on March 22, 2020, has been extended to Oct. 31, 2021.

VACCINE UPDATE

The province’s COVID-19 online dashboard provides an update on the number of vaccines that have been administered to date.

As of Monday, 1,547,472 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered. Of those, 747,632 Nova Scotians have received their second dose.

The province says it has received a total of 1,661,340 doses of COVID-19 vaccine since Dec. 15.

All Nova Scotians are encouraged to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as they are eligible. COVID-19 vaccination appointments can be made online or by phone at 1-833-797-7772.

LIST OF SYMPTOMS

Anyone who experiences a fever or new or worsening cough, or two or more of the following new or worsening symptoms, is encouraged to take an online test or call 811 to determine if they need to be tested for COVID-19:

  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Shortness of breath
  • Runny nose/nasal congestion   

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