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For many Canadians, being safe this holiday season means being apart from family –



There’s a caveat in the popular holiday standard I’ll Be Home for Christmas — “if only in my dreams” — and it’s taken on additional meaning as many people prepare to spend the holidays apart from family.

With COVID-19 case numbers rising across the country and a province-wide lockdown in Ontario coming into effect Saturday, returning to one’s hometown to see family and friends is an unlikely and unadvisable prospect.

Across the country, public health experts have urged Canadians to to limit — or even avoid — large Christmas get-togethers this year to avoid spreading the novel coronavirus. That’s caused anxiety for some who’ve had to make difficult phone calls to parents and loved ones to say they won’t be home.

This Christmas is the first that some young people won’t spend at home. Their families say they understand, given the severity of the pandemic. Some have tried to mitigate the disappointment by sending care packages and presents. Others have made elaborate plans for Dec. 25 phone calls and virtual reunions.

Mollie Roy, a 25-year-old who’s staying in Vancouver instead of returning to her Ottawa hometown, admits she felt tempted as she saw people risk a reunion and go home. She was away from home last Christmas due to work, but this year felt different.

“You see other people doing it and you’re like, ‘Well, why shouldn’t I do it if other people are doing it?’ But that’s not really the right attitude, I don’t think, to have at this time of year in general and just about this whole pandemic,” said Roy, who works jobs in the restaurant industry as well as remotely as an office manager.

“Once I made the concrete decision, there was almost relief and just peace.”

She feels fortunate her family is healthy and that she can spend Christmas in Vancouver with her roommate and boyfriend. Roy is in contact with her family and friends in Ottawa, and will reach out to them during the holidays.

Roy said she’ll be spending the holidays in her self-described ‘Christmas palace’ in Vancouver. (Submitted by Mollie Roy)

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) said the safest way to celebrate “is with members of your immediate household” and urged Canadians to check with their local health authorities for additional guidance. Each province and territory has its own rules and limits on indoor gatherings, and many have allowances for people who live on their own to have contact with another household.

Dr. Ami Rokach, a clinical psychologist in Toronto, said this holiday season is particularly difficult because of many people’s expectations that this time of year means spending time with family — and restrictions that are still in place after nearly a year disrupt that.

Rokach, who also teaches in the psychology department at York University, recommends people use this time to focus on their individual well-being and to shift their perception.

“Not being able to be with people that you really want to be with doesn’t mean that you need to be lonely,” he said. Technological advances and safe gatherings can “provide us kind of a bridge to a better time,” he added.

WATCH | Psychiatrists discuss coping with being apart during the holidays:

Two psychiatrists answer viewer questions about staying mentally healthy while being isolated during the pandemic over the holidays, including how to cope with isolation and how students can balance added screen time from online schooling. 6:58

Far from home, but still connected

Seb Rocca, a 21-year-old political science student at McMaster University in Hamilton, won’t be returning to England for the holidays. He hasn’t seen his family in nearly a year.

When he left for Canada, his mother urged him to come home for Christmas. But lockdown concerns and fears of not being able to return due to flight cancellations meant he’ll be apart from family at Christmas for the first time. Even if he did decide to return, recently imposed travel restrictions between Canada and the U.K. due to a new variant of the coronavirus would have impacted any plans.

Seb Rocca said his mother mailed him a Christmas care-package from England to make sure he still felt connected to his family during the holidays. (Submitted by Seb Rocca)

Rocca will be spending Christmas with his girlfriend and her parents just outside Hamilton. In advance of this visit, he said he self-isolated as a precautionary measure.

His family in England have gone above and beyond to make him feel at home. His mother sent a stocking, a tree ornament and cards from various members of his family.

“I love my family a lot. They try very hard to make sure that I’m OK,” Rocca said.

He hopes he’ll be able to see his family for graduation in the spring — and he knows exactly what he’ll do then.

“Hug them like it was the last thing I can do on Earth,” he said. “Whether it’s in England or Canada, I just want to hug my family.”

Seb Rocca, left, sits beside his brother Dom during a family visit in 2019. Rocca hasn’t seen his family in nearly a year due to the pandemic. (Submitted by Seb Rocca)

New traditions out of necessity

Christmas is a big deal for Annabel Thornton’s family. Her family moved to Victoria from the United Kingdom when she was five, and the holidays have consistently been when the four of them could be together.

But Thornton, who’s now working on her Ph.D in economics at the University of Toronto, recognized last spring that returning to Vancouver Island during the holidays might be difficult due to the pandemic.

The 24-year-old was able to visit her family in B.C. during the summer. Her boyfriend also returned from Halifax, where he attends university, in mid-November. The two will spend the holidays together at their Toronto apartment.

Annabel Thornton won’t be doing her traditional Christmas Day walk with her family in Victoria this year, but there are still plans for her family to connect for the holiday while she stays in Toronto. (Submitted by Annabel Thornton)

“I have a really good support network in Toronto, thankfully, so I have a lot of friends and I have a lot of people I can talk to,” Thornton said about how she’s handled living on her own for parts of the pandemic. “But it’s definitely hard not seeing [family] at this time of year.”

In lieu of the traditional Christmas Day nature walks and extended pyjama time, her mother has organized a “Zoom murder-mystery” so the extended family can still connect during the holiday.

“We’re just trying to make the best of a sub par situation,” Thornton said.

‘Christmas is a really big thing in my family,’ said Thornton, adding that personalized stockings and extended pyjama time on Christmas morning are part of how her family usually celebrates the holiday.  (Submitted by Annabel Thornton)

A time to be thankful

Eric Laing, 22, feels fortunate to have spent most of the pandemic near family. He spent the summer at home in Peterborough, Ont., with his mom, then moved to Vancouver in September to start work as an accounting associate.

Laing, who lives with his brother in Vancouver, is staying in B.C. for the holidays. Their family was supportive of the decision, with some members particularly appreciative that the brothers wouldn’t be putting themselves at risk of exposure during the cross-country flight.

Eric Laing, second from right, said his family was understanding when he decided not to return home for the holidays this year. (Submitted by Eric Laing)

Laing relished being able to go for walks and bike rides with family and friends during the summer in Peterborough, and he and his brother spent the fall hiking and going to the beach. He said that, combined with Zoom and FaceTime calls with his mother, helped keep the feelings of isolation at bay.

“It would be really nice to see the rest of my family for the holidays as we have for so many years,” Laing said. “But I’m really just feeling grateful to be able to spend it with my brother at least.”

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Too soon to know if Canada's COVID-19 case decline will continue, Tam says – CTV News



Canada’s chief public health officer says it’s still too soon to know whether the recent downward trend in new COVID-19 cases will continue.

Dr. Theresa Tam says there’s been an improvement in the COVID-19 numbers in B.C., Alberta, Ontario and Quebec but the disease is regaining steam elsewhere.

She says it appears local health measures may be starting to pay off, but it’s not clear whether they’re strong and broad enough to continue to sustain progress.

Some long-standing virus hot spots have made headway in lowering the number of new cases in recent weeks, but are still fighting outbreaks and flare-ups as they race to vaccinate vulnerable communities.

The federal public safety minister announced today that the Canadian Armed Forces will support vaccine efforts in 32 First Nations communities in northern Ontario.

Quebec, meanwhile, reported a fifth straight decline in the number of hospitalizations as the health minister urged citizens to keep following health measures.

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Garneau won't rule out invoking Emergencies Act to limit pandemic travel –



Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau says the federal government won’t rule out invoking the federal Emergencies Act to limit travel as parts of the country continue to experience high infection rates of COVID-19.

“We are looking at all potential actions to make sure that we can achieve our aims. The Emergencies Act is something you don’t consider lightly,” Garneau said in a Sunday interview on Rosemary Barton Live. “But we are first and foremost concerned about the health and safety of Canadians. And if we can do that in a way that we have the regulatory power to do it, we will do it.”

The Emergencies Act would give cabinet the power to regulate or prohibit travel “to, from or within any specified area, where necessary for the protection of the health or safety of individuals.”

On Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged Canadians to rethink all travel plans inside and outside Canada’s borders, particularly as March break approaches.

“People should not be planning non-essential travel or vacation travel outside of the country, particularly because, as I said a few days ago, we could be bringing in new measures that significantly impede your ability to return to Canada at any given moment without warning,” Trudeau cautioned. 

“Last night I had a long conversation with the premiers about a number of different options that we could possibly exercise to further limit travel and to keep Canadians safe, and we will have more to say on those in the coming days.”

When asked by CBC’s Chief Political Correspondent Rosemary Barton when such plans would be announced, Garneau said the measures are “in very active discussion.”

“I’m not going to predict when or what, but I can tell you that we are very seized with it in our government.”

Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau says all options are on the table when it comes to implementing stronger measures to restrict travel during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

U.S. moves to strengthen land border measures

The minister also said Canada is looking at implementing COVID-19 testing along the Canada-U.S. land border as the United States moves to strengthen safety measures at land ports of entry.

“It would be easier to do … if we have quick tests that can be done because it’s a little bit more challenging to do testing at the border. But it’s something that we’re looking at very seriously,” Garneau said.

“As quick tests come along, that makes a big difference because there are challenges with respect to … certain land border points being very congested. And meanwhile, there’s a huge amount of traffic flow that has to keep going.”

U.S. President Joe Biden signs a series of orders in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C., after his inauguration on Wednesday. One executive order in the country’s national pandemic response strategy includes potential COVID-19 safety measures imposed along the Canada-U.S. border. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

According to an executive order within the U.S. government’s national pandemic response strategy, top officials have been ordered to “commence diplomatic outreach to the governments of Canada and Mexico regarding public health protocols for land ports of entry.”

Within 14 days of the date of the order, officials must submit a plan to President Joe Biden to put appropriate public health measures in place.

“We will engage in a very serious way with the U.S. administration on how best to deal with land borders,” Garneau said.

The Canada-U.S. border remains closed to non-essential travel until Feb. 21.

Currently, travellers over the age of five returning to Canada by air must produce proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken no longer than 72 hours before boarding a flight.

Biden open to Canadian input on ‘Buy American’ concerns

Aside from implementing a new approach to tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, an executive order is expected Monday on Biden’s “Buy American” plans, fulfilling his campaign promise to purchase, produce and develop made-in-America goods.

“Obviously, if we see that there can be cases where there is damage done to our trade because of Buy America policy, we will speak up,” Garneau said. “President Biden has indicated that he is open to hearing from us whenever we feel concerned.”

Trudeau has already expressed his disappointment in Biden’s decision to revoke the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, with many now turning to Buy American provisions as another potential obstacle in the bilateral relationship between the two countries.

“Less than an hour after the end of the inauguration ceremony, we were in touch with top-level advisers in the White House and discussed many things,” Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., Kirsten Hillman, told CBC Radio’s The House this week. “Among them was Buy America.”

Garneau also said that he plans to speak with Antony Blinken — Biden’s nominee for secretary of state and Garneau’s U.S. counterpart — very soon.

“I’m really looking forward to talking to Secretary Blinken and carrying on the messages … between our prime minister and the president,” he said.

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Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Sunday –



The latest:

Canada’s chief public health officer says the country is in a “critical” stage of the COVID-19 pandemic and is urging Canadians not to let up.

“At this stage of the pandemic, many of us are experiencing mental fatigue and exhaustion, which is certainly normal and expected,” Dr. Theresa Tam said in a statement on Sunday.

“The past year has been challenging and a lot has been asked of Canadians — to stay home, wear a mask, limit gatherings and adopt new ways of living and working, among others.”

Tam compared the pandemic to a marathon and said Canada is at “a critical point in the race.”

“We are partway through, but with the current momentum of the epidemic and continued high rates of infection in many areas of the country, now is the time to strengthen our resolve, regroup and make sure that we have the stamina to keep our pace and make it across the finish line,” she said.

Tam also continued to urge Canadians to follow public health guidelines on wearing masks, physical distancing and frequent handwashing, saying they play a vital role in curbing the spread of more transmissible coronavirus variants.

“With vaccines rolling out in Canada and across the world, I am hopeful that the finish line will soon be in sight,” Tam said. “Together we can win this race.”

Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau says the federal government won’t rule out invoking the federal Emergencies Act to limit travel.

“We are looking at all potential actions to make sure that we can achieve our aims. The Emergencies Act is something you don’t consider lightly,” Garneau said in a Sunday interview on Rosemary Barton Live.

“But we are first and foremost concerned about the health and safety of Canadians. And if we can do that in a way that we have the regulatory power to do it, we will do it.”

WATCH | Garneau says not ruling out using Emergencies Act to limit travel:

Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau says the federal government is actively discussing further measures to limit travel as COVID-19 cases continue to rise. 9:30

The Emergencies Act would give cabinet the power to regulate or prohibit travel “to, from or within any specified area, where necessary for the protection of the health or safety of individuals.”

On Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged Canadians to rethink all travel plans inside and outside Canada’s borders, particularly as March break approaches.

What’s happening across Canada

As of 1:45 p.m. ET on Sunday, Canada had reported 746,660 cases of COVID-19, with 63,793 cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 19,067.

Saskatchewan reported 260 new COVID-19 cases and three more deaths on Sunday.

Manitoba announced 222 new cases and two additional deaths. More than half of the new cases — 116 — are in the province’s northern region, which was excluded from Saturday’s easing of some strict pandemic restrictions.

Ontario registered 2,417 new cases and 50 more deaths. Meanwhile, a teenager who died of COVID-19 has been identified by the long-term care home near London, Ont., where he worked as Yassin Dabeh. 

Quebec reported 1,457 new cases and 41 more deaths.

WATCH | Montreal woman ‘shocked’ after mother received doses of 2 different vaccines:

Two weeks after receiving the Moderna vaccine, Antonietta Pollice was given a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, said her daughter, Patrizia Di Biase. Pollice, who has dementia, did not understand what vaccine she was receiving, Di Biase said. 2:02

New Brunswick is reporting 20 new cases. The figure comes a day after the Edmundston region went into full lockdown.

Nova Scotia added one new case, but its active caseload dipped as it also announced two recoveries. Starting Monday, the province will ease some restrictions on sports and the performing arts.

Newfoundland and Labrador saw no new cases.

In Prince Edward Island, more people were allowed in churches and other places of worship after the province eased some measures this weekend.

Nunavut says it will tighten restrictions in Arviat after the territory announced 13 new infections in the hard-hit community.

In Yukon, the White River First Nation in Beaver Creek is calling for a harsher penalty against two Vancouver residents who broke COVID-19 rules and got vaccinated in the community.

What’s happening around the world

As of Sunday, more than 98.9 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, with more than 54.6 million of the cases considered resolved or recovered, according to the coronavirus tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than 2.1 million.

In Africa, four Zimbabwean cabinet ministers have died of COVID-19 — three within the past two weeks — highlighting a resurgence of the disease in the country.

Pallbearers carry the coffin of government minister Ellen Gwaradzimba in Harare, Zimbabwe, on Jan. 21. Gwaradzimba is among four cabinet ministers to have died of COVID-19. (Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/The Associated Press)

In Europe, the French government says it may impose a third lockdown in the coming days if an existing 12-hour-a-day curfew doesn’t significantly slow virus infections.

In Asia-Pacific, New Zealand has reported its first coronavirus case outside of a quarantine facility in more than two months, although there was no immediate evidence the virus was spreading in the community.

In the Americas, the U.S. has surpassed 25 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began. The country accounts for roughly one of every four cases reported worldwide and one of every five deaths.

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