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Head of Ontario's vaccine task force set to leave as province's vaccine booking system launches –



The head of Ontario’s vaccine task force will leave his job in the coming weeks, Premier Doug Ford said Monday.

The news about retired general Rick Hillier comes with Ontario reporting an additional 1,268 COVID-19 cases, and the province’s vaccine booking system launching both by phone and online for those over the age of 80. 

During the province’s news conference Monday, Ford said Hillier will only be around “for a couple more weeks,” as his Order in Council is running out.

“I tried to get him to renew it, but as he said, ‘Doug, I did the job I came for, and we got everything set up,'” said Ford, who indicated he agreed with that sentiment.

In a statement issued Monday afternoon, Ford spokesperson Ivana Yelich said Hillier’s contract expires on March 31.

“The general was tasked with overseeing the development of Ontario’s vaccine rollout plan and associated infrastructure,” she said. “The plan and infrastructure are now in place, and the province is administering more and more vaccines each day.”

Thousands of people logged on to Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine booking system within minutes on Monday morning, with many reporting long wait times and error messages.

Toronto nurse Stephanie Prosper told CBC News this morning she was able to get onto the system and fill out the required information by 8:05 a.m. — just five minutes after the government website and an accompanying phone line officially went live. 

She had been trying to book vaccine appointments online for her aunt, uncle and their neighbour, who are all seniors living in Niagara.

By then, there were already 10,000 people ahead of her in the queue, with her wait time estimated to be “more than an hour.” 

Prosper, who works in a COVID-19 assessment centre, said she is worried about people navigating the site who aren’t tech savvy. 

“A lot of the seniors don’t really have computers, some of them don’t have family members to help them,” she told Metro Morning host Ismaila Alfa on Monday morning. 

Ford said Monday he was a little nervous when the new system launched, but that thus far he’s happy with what he’s seen, with more than 45,000 people booked.

“I was just praying all night this thing wasn’t going to crash,” Ford said, while promising to “iron out” any issues.

WATCH | Premier addresses problems with vaccination bookings:

Ontario Premier Doug Ford promised to tackle a series of reported delays in the new COVID-19 vaccine booking system after touting its success for booking hundreds of people every hour. 0:48

Reports of error message

Some who used the site shared their successes on social media, while others complained of attempting to book appointments online, only to get an error message informing them that “the form has been tampered with.” 

Sue Gowans, a Toronto resident hoping to book an appointment for an elderly relative, said she received the error message.

She then called the phone line for the portal, where she was transferred to the booking system for the Niagara Public Health Unit. After waiting for someone to pick up, she was then told they couldn’t book an appointment for her. 

“This has escalated to ridiculous,” Gowans wrote in a message to CBC Toronto. 

In a statement, the Eastern Ontario Health Unit said it has been told by the province that some clinic locations have yet to be entered into the system.

“If someone gets a message saying ‘Form has been tampered with,’ this is a technical problem that the province is working to resolve as quickly as possible,” the statement reads.

Only try to book an appointment if you’re eligible, province warns 

Ford said Sunday it’s crucial that only eligible residents make use of the system. For now, that group consists solely of those 80 and older.

While many of Ontario’s 34 public health units have already established their own systems for booking vaccination appointments, the provincial portal will now either enhance or fully replace those setups in many areas.

In addition to allowing vaccine-seekers to book their shots, the portal also provides instructions on how to schedule appointments based on protocols in place in each specific health unit.

The province said people who are eligible to get vaccinated can book online here, while those wishing to schedule by phone can call 1-888-999-6488.

First and second vaccination appointments will be arranged at the same time, the government said, noting people will be asked to provide their provincial health card details, birth date, postal code and email address or phone number.

Ford said the booking system will be open to other age groups in April as part of the next phase of Ontario’s vaccine rollout.

“Everyone will have their chance to get vaccinated, but we’re prioritizing our most vulnerable,” he said.

Vaccines rolling out at quarter of Ontario’s capacity: Ford 

The launch of the provincial portal marks the latest step in Ontario’s mass immunization drive, which introduced new elements targeting some 60- to 64-year-olds in recent days.

A pilot project allowing pharmacies to administer shots launched last week in the Toronto, Windsor-Essex and Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington health units.

Family doctors in six other public health units — Toronto, Peel, Hamilton, Guelph, Peterborough and Simcoe-Muskoka — also began delivering vaccines to eligible patients in the same age bracket as of Saturday.

Both pilot projects will see eligible residents receive shots of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine.

Ontario has the resources to administer 4.8 million vaccines per month, said Ford, but the rollout is running at about a quarter of that capacity because of limited supply. He said the province needs more vaccines.

“The infrastructure is in place, and I can tell you folks we are ready,” he said.

According to the ministry, health units across Ontario administered 33,198 vaccines yesterday. A total of 287,283 people in Ontario have now been given both shots of a vaccine.

9 straight days of more than 1,000 new cases 

This is the ninth straight day Ontario has reported more than 1,000 new COVID-19 cases. The seven-day average now stands at 1,350. 

Monday’s new cases include 366 in Toronto, 220 in Peel Region and 147 in York Region. 

The Ontario Hospital Association said in a statement Monday the province is now in the midst of a third wave of the virus, citing data from Ontario’s Science Advisory Table.

Provincial Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams said at a press conference Monday that Ontario could be in a “slight undulation,” or a smaller wave, but the province is monitoring the situation.

“You can always tell when you’re in it after it’s over,” he said.

The province also said Monday COVID-19 has been linked to nine additional deaths.

Officials say 699 people are being treated in hospital for COVID-19, an increase of 98 from Sunday.

Of the patients currently in hospital, 298 are in intensive-care units. However, data provided by Critical Care Services Ontario, which provides a more up-to-date look at critical care data, shows there are now 349 people in intensive care. 

Other public health units that saw double-digit increases in cases were:

  • Hamilton: 71
  • Thunder Bay: 61
  • Ottawa: 57
  • Durham Region: 53
  • Halton Region: 47
  • Simcoe Muskoka: 33
  • Sudbury: 33
  • Niagara: 27
  • Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District: 19
  • Waterloo Region: 18
  • Brant County: 17
  • Lambton: 14
  • Eastern Ontario: 13
  • Windsor-Essex: 10

Labs also confirmed 70 more cases linked to the variant first identified in the United Kingdom, bringing the total thus far to 1,106.

Ontario’s lab network completed 33,875 test samples since the last update and logged a test positivity rate of 3.8 per cent.

Ontario also reported an additional 110 school-related cases on Monday. Of those, 91 were among students, 15 were among staff, and four were reported among individuals not identified by the province. 

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Canada’s manufacturers ask for federal help as Montreal dockworkers stage partial-strike



MONTREAL (Reuters) – Canada‘s manufacturers on Monday asked the federal government to curb a brewing labor dispute after dockworkers at the country’s second largest port said they will work less this week.

Unionized dockworkers, who are in talks for a new contract since 2018, will hold a partial strike starting Tuesday, by refusing all overtime outside of their normal day shifts, along with weekend work, they said in a statement on Monday.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Quebec’s 1,125 longshore workers at the Port of Montreal rejected a March offer from the Maritime Employers Association.

The uncertainty caused by the labour dispute has led to an 11% drop in March container volume at the Montreal port on an annual basis, even as other eastern ports in North America made gains, the Maritime Employers Association said.

The move will cause delays in a 24-hour industry, the association said.

“Some manufacturers have had to redirect their containers to the Port of Halifax, incurring millions in additional costs every week,” said Dennis Darby, chief executive of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters (CME).

While the government strongly believes a negotiated agreement is the best option for all parties, “we are actively examining all options as the situation evolves,” a spokesman for Federal Labor Minister Filomena Tassi said.

Last summer’s stoppage of work cost wholesalers C$600 million ($478 million) in sales over a two-month period, Statistics Canada estimates.

($1 = 1.2563 Canadian dollars)


(Reporting By Allison Lampert in Montreal. Additional reporting by Julie Gordon in Ottawa; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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Canada scraps export permits for drone technology to Turkey, complains to Ankara



OTTAWA (Reuters) –Canada on Monday scrapped export permits for drone technology to Turkey after concluding that the equipment had been used by Azeri forces fighting Armenia in the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, Foreign Minister Marc Garneau said.

Turkey, which like Canada is a member of NATO, is a key ally of Azerbaijan, whose forces gained territory in the enclave after six weeks of fighting.

“This use was not consistent with Canadian foreign policy, nor end-use assurances given by Turkey,” Garneau said in a statement, adding he had raised his concerns with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu earlier in the day.

Ottawa suspended the permits last October so it could review allegations that Azeri drones used in the conflict had been equipped with imaging and targeting systems made by L3Harris Wescam, the Canada-based unit of L3Harris Technologies Inc.

In a statement, the Turkish Embassy in Ottawa said: “We expect our NATO allies to avoid unconstructive steps that will negatively affect our bilateral relations and undermine alliance solidarity.”

Earlier on Monday, Turkey said Cavusoglu had urged Canada to review the defense industry restrictions.

The parts under embargo include camera systems for Baykar armed drones. Export licenses were suspended in 2019 during Turkish military activities in Syria. Restrictions were then eased, but reimposed during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Turkey’s military exports to Azerbaijan jumped sixfold last year. Sales of drones and other military equipment rose to $77 million in September alone before fighting broke out in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, data showed.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa and Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Gareth Jones and Peter Cooney)

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Investigation finds Suncor’s Colorado refinery meets environmental permits



By Liz Hampton

DENVER (Reuters) – A Colorado refinery owned by Canadian firm Suncor Energy Inc meets required environmental permits and is adequately funded, according to an investigation released on Monday into a series of emissions violations at the facility between 2017 and 2019.

The 98,000 barrel-per-day (bpd) refinery in the Denver suburb of Commerce City, Colorado, reached a $9-million settlement with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) March 2020 to resolve air pollution violations that occurred since 2017. That settlement also addressed an incident in December 2019 that released refinery materials onto a nearby school.

As part of the settlement, Suncor was required to use a third party to conduct an independent investigation into the violations and spend up to $5 million to implement recommendations from the investigation.

Consulting firm Kearney’s investigation found the facility met environmental permit requirements, but also pinpointed areas for improvement, including personnel training and systems upgrades, some of which was already underway.

“We need to improve our performance and improve the trust people have in us,” Donald Austin, vice president of the Commerce City refinery said in an interview, adding that the refinery had already undertaken some of the recommendations from the investigation.

In mid-April, Suncor will begin a turnaround at the facility that includes an upgrade to a gasoline-producing fluid catalytic cracking unit (FCCU) at Plant 1 of the facility. That turnaround is anticipated to be complete in June 2021.

Suncor last year completed a similar upgrade of an automatic shutdown system for the FCCU at the refinery’s Plant 2.

By 2023, the company will also install an additional control unit, upgraded instrumentation, automated shutdown valves and new hydraulic pressure units in Plant 2.

Together, those upgrades will cost approximately $12 million, of which roughly $10 million is dedicated to Plant 2 upgrades, Suncor said on Monday.


(Reporting by Liz Hampton; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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