By William James and Guy Faulconbridge
LONDON (Reuters) -The Group of Seven rich democracies will on Tuesday discuss ways of countering challenges from China and Russia without trying to contain Beijing or escalate tension with the Kremlin, two of its top diplomats said.
Founded in 1975 as a forum for the West’s richest nations to discuss crises such as the OPEC oil embargo, the G7 is debating responses to the two vast and increasingly assertive countries as well as the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change.
“It is not our purpose to try to contain China or to hold China down,” U.S. President Joe Biden’s secretary of state, Antony Blinken told reporters on Monday ahead of the first in-person G7 foreign ministers meeting since 2019.
He said the West would defend “the international rules based order” from subversive attempts by any country, including China.
China is the focus of discussions on Tuesday morning while afternoon talks will turn to Russia, including how to respond to a troop manoeuvres on the border with Ukraine and the imprisonment of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.
China’s spectacular economic and military rise over the past 40 years is seen by diplomats and investors as the most significant geopolitical events of recent times, alongside the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union which ended the Cold War.
The G7 combined is still packs a powerful punch: it has about $40 trillion in economic clout and three of the world’s five official nuclear powers.
Russia was included in what became the G8 in 1997 but was suspended in 2014 after annexing Crimea from Ukraine. China, now the world’s second largest economy, has never been a member of the G7.
Britain will seek to agree decisive action from G7 partners to protect democracies at a time when it says China’s economic influence and Russian malign activity threaten to undermine them.
“The UK’s presidency of the G7 is an opportunity to bring together open, democratic societies and demonstrate unity at a time when it is much needed to tackle shared challenges and rising threats,” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said.
Longer term, there are deep concerns in both Washington and European capitals about how the West should act towards both Beijing and Moscow, which both argue that Western criticism is unjustified and counter-productive.
Blinken said the United States would prefer more stable ties with Russia but that much depended on how Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to act, especially in theatres such as Ukraine which Blinken will visit later this week.
“We have reaffirmed our unwavering support for the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine,” Blinken said.
“We’re not looking to escalate: we would prefer to have a more stable, more predictable relationship. And if Russia moves in that direction, so will we.”
The ministers will lay the groundwork for Biden’s first scheduled trip abroad since taking office: a G7 summit in Britain next month.
In addition to the G7 members Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States, Britain has also invited ministers from Australia, India, South Africa and South Korea this week.
(Reporting by William James; editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Philippa Fletcher)
Canadians seeking vaccines rely on web-savvy volunteers
By Anna Mehler Paperny, Moira Warburton and Harry Miller
TORONTO (Reuters) – Canadians want vaccines. Many can’t figure out how to get them.
The country’s vaccine rollout, ramping up after a slow start, has been plagued by confusion and mixed messages, becoming so convoluted that Canadians are turning to a Twitter account and Discord channel run by a team of savvy volunteers to steer them to a shot.
Like a giant national game of Pokemon Go, the accounts post details of vaccine clinic locations, eligibility, how many shots are available and, sometimes, how long the lines are.
Unlike the game, the payoff for @VaxHuntersCan users is a chance to get inoculated against the coronavirus.
“Very short line at the Newtonbrook Mobile Clinic (155 Hilda Ave). M3H just added so goooooooooooo!!!!!” a recent tweet said, referring to the Toronto postal code whose residents had become eligible for vaccinations.
Vaccine Hunters Canada, a six-week-old group, has 66 volunteers running its Facebook page, Discord chat and Twitter account, which has more than 240,000 followers.
“The craziest thing is keeping up with the information,” said Josh Kalpin, one of the group’s four founding members.
Kalpin, a software developer by day, got involved when another co-founder helped him schedule vaccine appointments for several of his family members. “I just wanted to help as many friends and family as I could,” he told Reuters.
He works 16-hour days, trying to keep on top of an ever-changing landscape.
Much of the activity happens in the evening. Information comes in via email, direct messages and texts about upcoming clinics and available doses. The group also has a designated portal on its website (http://vaccinehunters.ca/)for pharmacists.
Volunteers collect information on vaccine availability and eligibility and, once they verify it, post it on their channels.
They also field thousands of queries daily from people who need help booking a vaccine or who have questions about the shot. Volunteers from the health sector assist, though they do not provide medical advice.
Kaitlyn Gonsalves is among them. The 27-year-old master’s degree student got involved with Vaccine Hunters just as the coronavirus was wreaking a lethal impact on her own family, with the death of a close cousin. It renewed her conviction in what she was doing.
“Helping people work through that made me feel I was doing something more than just grieving,” she told Reuters.
Gonsalves gets questions like – “Am I eligible?” “Where can I get a vaccine?” – on Twitter and via Discord, as well as in her community work in Scarborough, on the street or at the grocery store.
“The people who need [help] most are the people who are not on Twitter, who are not on Instagram, who don’t have internet access, who live in multi-generational homes, who live in encampments, who live in their cars,” she said.
Toronto, Canada’s largest city, has agreed to partner with the group and give it information on available vaccine spots.
“While I think it is great that the Vaccine Hunters group is filling that need and has been really instrumental in vaccinating a lot of Canadians, I do think it is an inequitable approach and the message doesn’t reach all Canadians equally,” Dr. Amanpreet Brar, who has been working with grassroots groups to get vaccines to high-risk populations, told Reuters.
Actress Roanna Cochrane was able to get a shot for herself only by following Vaccine Hunters Canada on Twitter, after struggling to navigate government websites. Cochrane’s husband got a shot after they wrote their names on Post-It notes for a draw for a clinic’s spare appointments.
“The fact that we needed a Twitter handle account in order to give us the information feels very disappointing,” she said.
(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny in Toronto and Moira Warburton in Vancouver; Editing by Dan Grebler)
Alberta drops vaccine age to 12 as COVID-19 cases surge
CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) -Alberta will become the first Canadian province to offer COVID-19 vaccines to everyone aged 12 and over from May 10, Premier Jason Kenney said on Wednesday, a day after he introduced tighter public health measures to combat a raging third wave of the pandemic.
United Conservative Party premier Kenney has come under fire for mixed public health messaging as the crest of Canada‘s third wave of the pandemic shifts from Ontario to Alberta.
Oil-rich Alberta has the highest rate per capita of COVID-19 in the country, with nearly 24,000 active cases and 146 people in intensive care. (Graphic on global cases and deaths) https://tmsnrt.rs/34pvUyi
“We must act to bend the curve down one last time,” Kenney told a news conference.
Based on current trends, Alberta’s healthcare system will be overwhelmed within a month, he added.
On Wednesday, Alberta reported 2,271 new cases, exploding from less than 200 in early February.
Canada has authorized the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for use in children from 12 to 15, the first shot to be allowed for people that young.
Under Alberta’s new restrictions, schools will be confined to online learning for two weeks, while other measures including restaurant patios being closed will last for three weeks.
Opposition NDP leader Rachel Notley said the timelines announced by Kenney were unrealistic.
“We are concerned that he is continuing his pattern of over-promising and under-delivering,” Notley told a news conference on Tuesday evening.
On Wednesday, the province reported its first death of a patient from a rare blood clot condition after receiving the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.
(Reporting by Nia Williams; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Bill Berkrot)
Canada sends medical supplies to India as COVID-19 overwhelms country’s health care – Global News
The federal government will send up to 350 much-needed ventilators from its national emergency stockpile and up to 25,000 vials of antiviral remdesivir to help, Global Affairs Canada (GAC) said in a release on Wednesday.
Remdesivir, which is also known as Veklury, is a medication used to help treat patients with severe symptoms of COVID-19. According to GAC, 25,000 vials of remdesivir can be used for at least 4,000 courses of treatment.
In an emailed statement to Global News, the Canadian Armed Forces said the members of the Royal Canadian Air Force left from Trenton, Ont., early Wednesday morning, and are set to arrive in India on Saturday.
“After identifying the needs and requirements on the ground and how best Canada can assist, these requested medical supplies have been made available to help bring some relief to those affected by COVID-19 in India,” said Canadian Health Minister Patty Hajdu.
India is undergoing a catastrophic second wave that has left the country in critically short supply of oxygen, ventilators and hospital beds, leaving patients dying waiting for help and suffocating to death in ICUs.
On Wednesday, the country reported 382,315 new confirmed cases and 3,780 reported deaths within the last 24 hours, in what is widely believed to be an undercount.
COVID-19 patients in India can’t find hospital beds
In collaboration with its international partners, Canada is also providing 1,450 oxygen concentrators. GAC said that the funding for the concentrators comes from the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, which was announced in December 2020.
“The supplies identified for this donation will not compromise continued efforts of the COVID-19 response at home in Canada,” the statement read.
Last week, the federal government also pledged $10 million to the Indian Red Cross, which is helping India procure medical supplies and medicine.
Countries are racing to provide India’s population of 1.4 billion people with medical supplies, but some experts worry they may not be enough.
“Ten million and a few ventilators is a drop in the bucket,” Rajshri Jayaraman, an associate economics professor at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy, previously said of one of Canada’s efforts.
“For a country that size, and where daily case counties have reached over 300,000 — which is probably a massive underestimation — $10 million is just not going to get you very far.”
Ashish Shah, senior director for philanthropy and community engagement at Indiaspora, a global network of people of Indian origin who work for social change, called the situation in India “desperate.”
“We need to get the funds and deploy them because after a month, it’ll be too late,” he said.
— With files from the Canadian Press and the Associated Press
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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