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Health and safety inspection of Alberta meat plant linked to 515 COVID-19 cases was done by video call – CBC.ca

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Days after dozens of cases of COVID-19 were confirmed at a meat plant in southern Alberta, provincial health and safety investigators conducted an inspection by video call and concluded the plant was safe to remain open.

Now, just under one week after that call, one person is dead and 515 people sick with COVID-19 due to the outbreak at the Cargill facility near High River, and the union representing the plant’s workers says it’s time for an independent investigation.

The facility announced Monday it will temporarily shut down as soon as it has finished processing the meat already in the plant.

“It’s very, very hard to specifically ascertain what’s going on. They aren’t allowing any visitors to the plant,” said Thomas Hesse, president of UFCW Local 401.

Prior to the temporary closure announcement, employees at the facility had accused the company of ignoring physical distancing protocols and trying to lure them back to work from self-isolation.  

Hesse said that shutdown came way too late.

WATCH | COVID-19 outbreak forces Alberta meat processing plant to close:

A COVID-19 outbreak at the Cargill meat processing plant in High River, Alta., has forced the facility to temporarily close, raising concerns about beef prices and supply. 3:03

“They knew there was a problem. Why did they wait until somebody died?”

The first 38 cases of COVID-19 at the plant were brought to the attention of media by the union on April 13. Two days later, a Cargill employee recorded a video inspection of the plant to send to a provincial Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) inspector, accompanied by a union shop steward and a worker.

OHS has a mandate to ensure Alberta workplaces are operating in a way that is healthy and safe for employees.

OHS deemed the plant safe.

“When an OHS officer won’t attend the plant and instead does a plant tour by cell phone, that should tell you that there’s something wrong,” Hesse said.

UFCW Local 401 president Thomas Hesse says there needs to be an independent investigation into the situation at Cargill. (Charlotte Dumoulin/Radio-Canada)

OHS is currently working through the formal process to determine whether to open a fatality investigation, Adrienne South, a spokesperson for the provincial labour minister, said in an email.

“After the first COVID-19 case was identified at Harmony Beef, an intergovernmental business resumption protocol was immediately established for provincially and federally licensed food processing facilities in Alberta,” South said.

“While many food processing facilities have existing pandemic and emergency response plans in place, it was critical to work with all actors involved to bolster their plans and help keep workers safe and guarantee Alberta’s food security.”

Tents are set up outside the Cargill facility near High River to test workers for COVID-19. The outbreak at the plant has now lead to 515 cases, and the plant will soon temporarily shut down. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

South said the live video call wasn’t unique to the Cargill facility, and was done to mitigate risk of exposure to all parties involved due to the pandemic.

The inspection was interactive, with an OHS officer directing the camera if needed to observe employees at their daily duties and video was recorded to be reviewed later, she said. Direction for mitigation measures at the facility have also been provided by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Alberta Health Services and Alberta Agriculture, the spokesperson said.

200 AHS staff responding to Cargill outbreak

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, said Tuesday that due to the number of people that go in and out of the plant, it’s possible that the virus was spread before mitigation efforts were put in place.

AHS now has a dedicated task force of more than 200 staff responding to the outbreak, and translation services are being used to communicate with workers and their families who speak English as a second language.

Contact tracing is also underway to determine people who may have come in contact with someone who has tested positive, AHS said.

Gil McGowan, the president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, has written a letter to the province’s labour minister requesting both an OHS investigation into the worker’s death and a criminal investigation.

“Given that the workers at the plant and their union begged both you and their employer  to suspend operations at the plant more than two weeks ago, it is our contention that managers failed in their duty to ‘prevent bodily harm’ to the
worker who died and to the hundreds of [her] coworkers who have become infected,” McGowan wrote.

Opposition Leader, Rachel Notley and Alberta Federation of Labour President, Gil McGowan explain what could have been done to prevent the COVID-19 outbreak at the Cargill plant. 3:40

Opposition Leader Rachel Notley described the single video inspection as a negligent approach to health and safety.

“How can you judge proper working conditions and safety protocols without having stepped on to the worksite? But somehow the minister assured workers and Albertans that he could,” Notley said, referring to a tweet from the agriculture minister on Saturday reassuring Albertans that the plant was safe. 

Marichu Antonio is with Action Dignity, a community group working to support Cargill’s 2,000 employees, who come from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. 

Antonio said the worker who died was a Vietnamese woman in her 60s, and her husband is now being treated in hospital.

“The fear of losing their jobs is very real to them. Plus the fear of what’s going to happen to their family members,” Antonio said.

Five employees at Seasons Retirement Communities in High River have also now tested positive for COVID-19, three of whom are married to meat-packing workers at Cargill.

Health Minister Patty Hajdu explains what the government is doing to support the entire agrifood sector. 1:00

Sylvain Charlebois, director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University, said perhaps other meat-packing facilities can learn a lesson from what happened in High River.

“I do believe the plant should’ve idled much sooner, but again I don’t have all the details in place,” he said.

“I mean [more than] 15 per cent of all cases in Alberta are linked to that plant. That is a lot.”

As of Tuesday, JBS meat-packing facility in Brooks had 67 confirmed cases of COVID-19. The plant is staying open.

As of Tuesday, there were 3,095 COVID-19 cases in Alberta.

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GM to recall about 7 million pickups, SUVs for faulty air bag inflators – CBC.ca

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General Motors will recall about seven million big pickup trucks and SUVs worldwide to replace potentially dangerous Takata air bag inflators.

The announcement came Monday after the U.S. government told the automaker it had to recall six million of the vehicles in the U.S.

GM says it will not fight the decision, even though it believes the vehicles are safe. It will cost the company an estimated $1.2 billion US , about one third of its net income so far this year.

The automaker had petitioned the agency four times since 2016 to avoid recalls, contending the air bag inflator canisters have been safe on the road and in testing. But the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on Monday denied the petitions, saying the inflators still run the risk of exploding.

Owners complained to the NHTSA that the company was placing profits over safety.

Exploding Takata inflators caused the largest series of auto recalls in U.S. history, with at least 63 million inflators recalled. The U.S. government says that, as of September, more than 11.1 million had not been fixed. About 100 million inflators have been recalled worldwide.

27 deaths worldwide

Takata used volatile ammonium nitrate to create a small explosion to fill air bags in a crash. But the chemical can deteriorate when exposed to heat and humidity, and they can explode with too much pressure, blowing apart a metal canister and spewing shrapnel.

Twenty-seven people have been killed worldwide by the exploding inflators, including 18 in the U.S.

Monday’s decision by NHTSA is a major step in drawing the Takata saga to a close. It means that all Takata ammonium nitrate inflators in the U.S. will be recalled, NHTSA said. Earlier this year the agency decided against a recall of inflators with a moisture-absorbing chemical called a dessicant. NHTSA said it would monitor those inflators and take action if problems arise.

GM will recall full-size pickup trucks and SUVs from the 2007 through 2014 model years, including the Chevrolet Silverado 1500, 2500 and 3500 pickups. The Silverado is GM’s top-selling vehicle and the second-best selling vehicle in the U.S. Also covered are the Chevrolet Suburban, Tahoe and Avalanche, the Cadillac Escalade, GMC Sierra 1500, 2500 and 3500, and the GMC Yukon.

It took the agency more than four years to arrive at its decision, which comes toward the end of U.S. President Donald Trump’s four-year term.

NHTSA said in a prepared statement that it analyzed all available data on the air bags, including engineering and statistical analyses, aging tests and field data.

“Based on this information and information provided to the petition’s public docket, NHTSA concluded that the GM inflators in question are at risk of the same type of explosion after long-term exposure to high heat and humidity as other recalled Takata inflators,” the agency said.

Declared defective

The company has 30 days to give NHTSA a proposed schedule for notifying vehicle owners and starting the recall, the statement said.

GM said that although it believes a recall isn’t warranted based on the factual and scientific records, it will abide by NHTSA’s decision.

Spokesman Dan Flores said Monday that none of the inflators have blown apart in the field or in laboratory testing. But he said GM wants to avoid a drawn-out fight with the government.

“Although we are confident that the inflators in the GMT900 vehicles do not pose an unreasonable risk to safety, continue to perform as designed in the field and will continue to perform as designed in line with the results of our accelerated aging studies, we will abide by NHTSA’s decision to maintain the trust and confidence of customers and regulators,” he said in an email.

In a 2019 petition to NHTSA, GM said the inflators were designed to its specifications and are safe, with no explosions even though nearly 67,000 air bags have deployed in the field. The inflators, it said, have larger vents and steel end caps to make them stronger.

But Takata declared the GM front passenger inflators defective under a 2015 agreement with the government.

In its petition, GM said that Northrop Grumman tested 4,270 inflators by artificially exposing them to added humidity and temperature cycling, and there were no explosions or abnormal deployments.

However, NHTSA hired air bag chemical expert Harold Blomquist, who holds 25 air bag patents, to review the data, and he concluded that the GM air bags were similar to other Takata inflators that had exploded.

Test results for the GM inflators included abnormally high-pressure events “indicative of potential future rupture risk,” NHTSA said in documents. “These findings illustrate that GM’s inflators have a similar, if not identical, degradation continuum” to other Takata inflators that have exploded, the agency wrote.

Flores said GM already has purchased 1.6 million replacement inflators made by ZF-TRW that do not use ammonium nitrate.

‘Unexploded hand grenade’

Jason Levine, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety, which opposed GM’s petitions to avoid recalls, said it’s a good day for millions of GM owners who had to wait four years for a decision on “whether they are driving with an unexploded hand grenade in their steering wheel.”

Shares of GM rose nearly 3 per cent in Monday morning trading to $44.21. The company said the recalls will be phased in based on replacement inflator availability, and will cost $400 million this year.

Drivers can check to see if their vehicles have been recalled by going to nhtsa.gov/recalls and keying in their 17-digit vehicle identification number.

The previous Takata recalls drove the Japanese company into bankruptcy and brought criminal charges against the company. Eventually it was purchased by a Chinese-owned auto parts supplier.

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Market Crash Alert: What Goes up Must Come Down – The Motley Fool Canada

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Investing in stocks has risks, because the market is never predictable. If you can transfer people’s day-to-day behaviour or routine to the stock market, then everyone would be rich. Unfortunately, it won’t happen. The only sure thing is that prices will rise and fall.

Innate behaviour of the stock market

Stocks behave depending on emerging or prevailing market or business environments. Since the market comes in cycles, traders rely on trends or patterns to make profitable investments. The key to successful stock investing is the execution of the strategy, although it’s not easy.

You must also understand that during a cycle, some asset classes will perform better than others. For example, the energy sector is in a rut at present because of low oil prices and weak demand. Investors stay away from energy or oil stocks because of elevated volatility. The same goes for airline stocks.

When oil prices begin to surge, along with demand, it will start a new cycle. In such a case, you follow the golden rule: buy low and sell high. Investors will follow the trend and ride on the momentum. As energy stock prices rise, investors will profit take at some high point.

TSX rally

The pandemic triggered a stock market crash in March 2020, causing a market-wide carnage. The S&P/TSX Composite Index saw its biggest one-day drop since 1940. On March 12, 2020, the TSX fell 12.34% from 14,270.10 to 12, 508.50. Canada’s main stock market sunk further a week later to 11,228.50.

However, the bloodletting did not last long, as a bull rally ensued. On November 18, 2020, the TSX finished at 16,889.80, or a +50.42% climb from its COVID-low. It has recovered from the losses and is down by only 1.02% year to date. Of the 11 primary sectors, five are in positive territory and six remain in the red.

Thus far, the top three performing sectors are information technology (+38.05%), materials (+16.83%), and industrials (+13.05%). The energy sector is the worst performer with its -44.02% loss.

Bucking the pandemic

If you’re wary of the present market uncertainty, North West Company (TSX:NWC) is proving to be irrepressible and pandemic-resistant in 2020. Investors in this consumer-defensive stock are winning by 25.31% year to date. Likewise, its 4.35% dividend yield should be safe and maintainable, given the 57.39% payout ratio.

This $1.6 billion Canada-based multinational grocery and retail company serves communities in extreme geographies. It has a monopoly of the markets. Even an e-commerce juggernaut is hardly a threat.

You can find North West stores in underserved rural communities and urban neighborhoods in northern Canada, western Canada, rural Alaska, the South Pacific islands, and the Caribbean. Customers in these markets can buy a broad range of products and avail of various services. The highest preference, however, is food.

If you were to invest today, the share price of $32.84 is a good entry. Analysts forecast the stock to climb further by 15.71% to $38 in the next 12 months.

Reversible trend

Expect the TSX to get hotter once the availability of the COVID-19 vaccine becomes a certainty. However, don’t get too excited, as rising infections and a return to lockdowns could reverse the trend.

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Bank of Canada deputy downplays risks of consumer default wave – BNN

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The massive policy response from the Bank of Canada and the federal government successfully prevented the country’s financial system from buckling, though vigilance is still needed, according to a top central banker.

Signs of overwhelming financial strain are few, and the risk of a wave of consumer defaults seems low, Deputy Governor Toni Gravelle said in remarks via video conference to the Autorite des marches financiers. Almost all of the households with expired debt deferrals have resumed repayments, and government measures are helping businesses in many sectors manage cash flows, he said.

“We have long warned that a recession could create broad stress across the financial system,” Gravelle said in a semi-annual update on vulnerabilities in the financial system. “Yet, despite the devastating economic impact of the pandemic, this risk has not — as of yet — materialized.”

The speech paints a reassuring picture of Canadian consumers and companies emerging from the unprecedented shock in decent shape, in spite of elevated debt levels. It also casts the central bank’s own response as largely successful in averting the worst effects of the crisis, though Gravelle said the pandemic remains a source of “considerable financial system risk.”

The deputy governor downplayed signs of overheating in the nation’s housing market, hinting the recent surge in prices reflects fundamental factors such as pent-up demand and a shift in preferences to larger homes. Values have risen fastest, meanwhile, in cities with moderate mortgage levels.

“To this point, we do not see signs that home prices are rising due to speculation, like we saw in the greater Toronto and Vancouver areas a few years ago,” he said. At the same time, he cautioned about the need to be vigilant in certain segments of the market such as condos.

Gravelle added, however, that it’s too soon to declare victory, in particular because many mortgage deferrals only ended in October, meaning the full effects may not be known until the end of the year or early 2021.

He was less sanguine on the prospects for business, which he said may need more financing in the near term to get through a bumpy recovery. That’s why the central bank is ready to support the financial system if needed, even though it has recently pulled out of some programs.

“We expect that an increasing number of businesses will need financing in the coming quarters to get by,” he said. “Staff will be conducting simulations using firm-level data to quantify this, and we plan to publish those results in the next couple of months.”

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