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Health Canada not ready yet to greenlight AstraZeneca vaccine – CTV News

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OTTAWA —
Health Canada is not yet ready to make a decision about approving the COVID-19 vaccine from AstraZeneca, more than two weeks after it signalled the ruling could be imminent.

The World Health Organization gave its seal of approval to AstraZeneca Monday, and if Health Canada follows suit, almost 500,000 doses could be shipped to Canada in March through the global vaccine-sharing program known as COVAX.

But Health Canada is still having a back and forth with the British-based company on the clinical data behind the vaccine.

“Health Canada continues to work with AstraZeneca to receive the information needed to complete its review,” said Kathleen Marriner, a spokeswoman for the department.

While it was expected AstraZeneca would be the third vaccine approved in Canada, it is now on the verge of being surpassed by Johnson and Johnson.

The Food and Drug Administration in the United States is meeting to decide on approving that vaccine Feb. 26, and the European Medicines Agency expects to make a decision in early March. Health Canada has been collaborating with both on vaccine reviews for COVID-19.

“While each country makes independent decisions in keeping with its own processes, Health Canada is on similar timelines with the decisions of our key regulatory partners, once all of the data needed to make a decision has been received and reviewed,” Marriner said.

In addition to getting AstraZeneca doses from COVAX, Canada bought 20 million directly from the company, and 10 million doses from Johnson and Johnson. Deliveries of both would begin this spring if they get approved.

Nobody has yet approved Johnson and Johnson’s vaccine, but AstraZeneca has been authorized by more than two dozen jurisdictions. Only Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine has been approved in more places.

The FDA is waiting for a clinical trial of AstraZeneca’s vaccine in the U.S. to be finished, but Europe authorized it Jan. 29. That decision prompted Health Canada to change its language from saying the AstraZeneca review was “ongoing”, to saying a decision would be announced “in the coming days.”

On Feb. 9, Health Canada’s chief medical adviser Dr. Supriya Sharma said the review was in “the final stages,” just awaiting some final “back and forth” to finalize the rules for how the vaccine is to be used and on whom.

A week later, and there is still no sign that decision is imminent.

Sharma said the vaccine has been complicated to review because of a number of factors, including a mix-up in how big the doses were during the clinical trial and questions about how effective it is against new variants of the virus that causes COVID-19.

South Africa last week stopped using AstraZeneca’s vaccine completely, fearing it wasn’t doing enough to prevent people from getting sick from the B.1.351 variant that now dominates infections there.

The company was also challenged about what data it had on the effect the vaccine had in older adults, with fears not enough people over 65 were exposed to the virus after getting the vaccine to be certain of how well it protected them. Antibody tests, however, showed similar immune responses in people over 65 as was seen in younger people.

Many European countries, including France and Germany, authorized it only for use on people younger than 65. Several other countries have approved it for all age groups, including the United Kingdom, which has leaned heavily on the AstraZeneca vaccine to get at least one dose to nearly 16 million people in just two months.

The World Health Organization’s approval this week is also for everyone over the age of 18.

The age decision is one factor that has been of concern to Health Canada, Sharma noted last week.

Canada has been falling down the list of countries in terms of how many people have been vaccinated, largely as deliveries of both vaccines approved here slowed in mid-January.

As of Wednesday afternoon, almost one million people have received at least one dose, with 335,000 of them having received the second needed dose. But the U.K. has vaccinated almost one in four people, and the United States about one in six.

Procurement Minister Anita Anand told a Canadian Chamber of Commerce event Wednesday that the delays did slow things down but that the worst is over.

“I think what you are going to see is the story on vaccinations is still being written,” she said. “Canada is going to see a very, very steep incline in the next weeks and months ahead.”

Pfizer-BioNTech’s delivery delays are now over, with 403,000 doses arriving this week and plans to ship three million over the next six weeks. Moderna intends to ship almost 1.5 million doses before the end of March.

Together the two companies are to ship 20.8 million doses in the spring and more than 50 million in the summer.

Pfizer’s deliveries did face another slight delay Monday, but this time weather was the culprit. A snowstorm in Louisville, Ky., prompted UPS to close its air hub there, pushing Canada’s deliveries back 24 to 36 hours.

Canada’s doses come from Belgium but are shipped via Kentucky. Health Canada says the shipments should all be in Canada by Friday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 17, 2021.

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Chinese giant DJI hit by U.S. tensions, staff defections

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By David Kirton

SHENZHEN, China (Reuters) – Chinese drone giant DJI Technology Co Ltd built up such a successful U.S. business over the past decade that it almost drove all competitors out of the market.

Yet its North American operations have been hit by internal ructions in recent weeks and months, with a raft of staff cuts and departures, according to interviews with more than two dozen current and former employees.

The loss of key managers, some of who have joined rivals, has compounded problems caused by U.S. government restrictions on Chinese companies, and raised the once-remote prospect of DJI’s dominance being eroded, said four of the people, including two senior executives who were at the company until late 2020.

About a third of DJI’s 200-strong team in the region was laid off or resigned last year, from offices in Palo Alto, Burbank and New York, according to three former and one current employee.

In February this year, DJI’s head of U.S. R&D left and the company laid off the remaining R&D staff, numbering roughly 10 people, at its flagship U.S. research centre in California’s Palo Alto, four people said.

DJI, founded and run by billionaire Frank Wang, said it made the difficult decision to reduce staffing in Palo Alto to reflect the company’s “evolving needs”.

“We thank the affected employees for their contributions and remain committed to our customers and partners,” it said, adding that its North American sales were growing strongly.

“Despite misleading claims from competitors, our enterprise customers understand how DJI products provide robust data security. Despite gossip from anonymous sources, DJI is committed to serving the North American market.”

It did not comment on the other U.S. staff departures that current and ex-employees spoke of, although it told Reuters last year its global structure was becoming “unwieldy to manage”.

DJI, which has become a symbol of Chinese innovation since it was founded in 2006, is one of dozens of companies caught in the crossfire of trade and diplomatic hostilities between Washington and Beijing, like Huawei and Bytedance.

Staff sources and competitors say the company’s brand reach, technical know-how, manufacturing might and sales force mean it won’t lose its crown anytime soon in the multi-billion-dollar U.S. and global markets for non-military drones.

But a December order adding the company to the U.S. Commerce Department’s “Entity List” along with the closure of its R&D operation in California could affect its ability to serve the needs of U.S. customers, according to three former senior executives and two competitors.

The Commerce Department listing, enacted over allegations including DJI enabled “high-technology surveillance”, prohibits the company from buying or using U.S. technology or components.

The same month, Romeo Durscher, DJI’s U.S.-based head of public safety, who had played a central role in building the company’s business in providing drone technology to non-military U.S. government departments and agencies, left his job.

Durscher, a former NASA project manager and an influential figure in the drone industry, now works at Swiss company Auterion, a competitor to DJI.

He said he left DJI because he was disheartened by the staff cuts and what he described as internal power struggles between the U.S. team and its China headquarters. He added that the U.S. reorganisation complicated the task in dealing with the fallout from U.S.-China tensions and winning government business.

“It’s not an easy decision to leave the market leader that’s really far ahead of everyone else,” said Durscher, who joined DJI in 2014. “But those internal battles were distracting from the real purpose and in 2020 it got worse … we lost tremendous talent at DJI and that’s very unfortunate.”

U.S. SECURITY CONCERNS

Privately held DJI doesn’t publish sales figures. The U.S. Department of Defense estimated the American non-military market was worth $4.2 billion last year. Consultancy DroneAnalyst said DJI controlled almost 90% of the consumer market in North America and over 70% of the industrial market.

The December listing by the Commerce Department, and the prohibition on buying U.S. parts, may impact the firm’s mobile apps, web servers and some battery and imaging products, said David Benowitz, head of research at DroneAnalyst and a senior figure with DJI’s enterprise team, which works with industrial customers, in Shenzhen before he left last summer.

DJI said in December that the ban would not affect U.S. customers’ ability to buy and use its products.

The listing followed other official blows. In October, the U.S. Department of the Interior said it would only buy drones from companies okayed by the Department of Defense, which last August published a list of five approved drone suppliers to the federal government – four American and one French.

DJI said there was no “broad-based U.S. government ban on purchasing DJI drones”.

“Congress considered that approach last year and rejected it, because … such a ban would be challenging for many companies and government bodies that rely on drones,” it added.

‘WE’RE STILL PRIMITIVE’

Benowitz said persisting U.S.-China tensions and the push by Washington to support DJI’s rivals could see the company’s North American market share decline. He added that, while the federal government comprised a relatively small part of DJI’s business, its restrictions could have a “chilling effect”, with other buyers worried about tougher measures in the future.

“We’re at a point where there are too many market opportunities for one player to dominate,” he said.

Yet he added alternatives to DJI were relative minnows, though both policy support and security concerns over Chinese drones had brought them growth in the last year. Competitors to DJI include France’s Parrot and California-based Skydio.

Chris Roberts, CEO of Parrot Inc, Americas, said 2020 had been a significant year for the company in the United States, having been named an approved supplier by the Defense Department and won business from emergency services and security agencies.

Skydio announced $170 million in D-round funding last week and said it had a valuation of over $1 billion.

“DJI makes good hardware but we are still very early in the market, and very primitive compared to what ultimately should exist,” Skydio CEO Adam Bry told Reuters.

PHANTOM DRONE FLEETS

When Durscher joined DJI back in 2014, the company’s Phantom series was transforming drones from a niche hobby to a mainstream gadget. He said he was particularly drawn by the chance to bring drones into the kit of fire and rescue departments.

He said the technological advances of smaller rivals in the last year were tempting for some public-safety agencies, who might say “let’s go with this drone now so we don’t have to deal with the data security”.

He added that change could come as government departments and companies looked to replace drone fleets that are nearing the end of their life cycles.

A fleet is typically expected to last three to four years, according to Benowitz.

Durscher and several other staff compared DJI’s internal rivalry over projects to “Game of Thrones”, the TV series where rival factions vie for power. He said this resulted in a rotating door of Shenzhen bosses, and that he reported to 12 different managers in his six years at the company.

Durscher’s departure from DJI followed those of other key executives in North America last year, including director of business development Cynthia Huang.

Huang, who now works with Durscher at Auterion, said she became increasingly frustrated because she felt DJI wasn’t able to meet all the growing demands of the enterprise market. Additionally, she said, job cuts over the past year added to the reasons she decided to leave. The losses in Palo Alto, Burbank and New York had followed cuts made to DJI’s global sales and marketing teams, which Reuters reported in August.

“Some of the people that we lost in those layoffs, it didn’t make sense,” said Huang, who was hired in 2018 to take the lead in building DJI’s enterprise business in North America. “The continued exodus of talent was discouraging.”

 

(Reporting by David Kirton; Additional reporting by Jane Lee in San Francisco, Alexandra Alper and David Shephardson in Washington; Editing by Pravin Char)

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Socially distanced Iditarod sled dog teams dash off from secluded Alaska river site

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By Yereth Rosen

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) – Forty-six mushers and their teams of huskies dashed off into the Alaska wilderness on Sunday in a socially distanced start to the annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, embarking on a course drastically altered by the coronavirus pandemic.

The starting gate of the 2021 event was placed off-limits to the usual crowds of cheering spectators, and few if any fans are expected along the abbreviated route for this year’s 49th running of the world’s most famous sled-dog marathon.

Access to the starting area – a secluded spot at the edge of the frozen Deshka River in Willow, Alaska, about 75 miles north of Anchorage – was generally restricted to competitors, essential race personnel and media.

The staggered launch of the race began with Iditarod veteran Aaron Peck of Grand Prairie, Alberta, Canada, followed by rivals charging onto the trail one team at a time every two minutes amid sunny skies and a clamor of barking and yapping.

Victoria Hardwick of Bethel, Alaska, was last out of the chute, rounding out the smallest field of contestants since 1978. A 47th musher on the roster scratched hours earlier due to a non-COVID-19 family health concern, race organizers said.

The weather was relatively balmy by Alaska standards, with temperatures climbing to at least 25 degrees Fahrenheit, the warmest Iditarod start on record, though the mercury was expected to plunge on the trail as the day wore on.

But the biggest change this year was in diverting the finish line far from the Bering Sea gold-rush town of Nome, the usual end point for a race commemorating the legendary diphtheria serum run to Nome by dog sled teams in 1925.

Instead, the 2021 race will run to an uninhabited checkpoint called Iditarod and an abandoned mining settlement named Flat, then turn around for a second leg sending mushers back to Deshka Landing for the finish.

The total distance is about 860 miles, roughly 100 miles shorter than the traditional route to Nome.

“This is kind of a different year. It’s going to be a little odd going on the trail,” 2018 champion Joar Leifseth Ulsom, a native Norwegian who lives full time in Alaska, said on Sunday before the start. He is considered one of this year’s favorites.

VIRUS-ALTERED ROUTE

The coronavirus-altered route is designed to minimize contact with residents of the region.

Even where the trail nears villages, checkpoints are isolated with restricted access. The route skips all the native Athabascan villages along the Yukon River and all the Inupiat villages on the Bering Sea coast.

The mountains of the Alaska Range will pose the greatest challenge to competitors this year, with mushers routed across the range twice in two directions.

This year’s highly competitive field includes Leifseth Ulsom and three other returning champions – four-time winners Dallas Seavey and Martin Buser, and 2019 victor Pete Kaiser.

Also competing are the Iditarod’s top women – Aliy Zirkle, planning to retire after this year’s race, and Jessie Royer, who finished third the past two years.

The Iditarod, as it has every year, faced criticism from animal-rights activists condemning the event as inhumane, putting pressure on race sponsors.

Exxon Mobil has said it will end its longtime sponsorship after this year’s race.

The Iditarod, however, has gained some new sponsors and is drawing revenue from a subscription service sending video directly to fans.

 

(Reporting by Yereth Rosen in Anchorage, Alaska; Editing by Steve Gorman, Diane Craft and Himani Sarkar)

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Coronavirus pandemic pushed thousands of new migrants to leave Canada for home: Statistics Canada – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News

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OTTAWA — The economic and life disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted some recent immigrants to leave Canada and return to their countries of origin, where they have more social and family connections.

The number of permanent residents who have been in Canada for less than five years declined by four per cent to 1,019,000 by the end of 2020 from 1,060,000 the year before, according to an analysis of Statistics Canada’s labour force survey that measures the number of workers between 15 and 65 years old by their immigration status.

The number had grown three per cent a year, on average, in the previous 10 years.

The data show that the number of permanent residents who have been in Canada for five to 10 years also dropped from 1,170,000 in 2019 to 1,146,000 in 2020.

“It’s actually not uncommon to have immigrants go back to their home country during the recessionary periods,” said Robert Falconer, a researcher at the University of Calgary School of Public Policy.

“If they’ve lost their job, they can go and live with their family and not pay rent. They can maybe find some social connections and work back home.”

He said the number of new immigrants fell by about three per cent between 2008 and 2009 during the financial crisis and the recession that followed.

He said many of those who have left in the past year might not come back if the economy doesn’t recover quickly.

“The longer they stay at home in their home countries, the less likely they are to come back to Canada.”

A study by Statistics Canada released in August showed that in the early months of the pandemic, recent immigrants to Canada were more likely than Canadian-born workers to lose their jobs, mainly because they had held them for less time and, as a whole, are overrepresented in lower-wage employment. That includes in service-sector jobs.

Julien Berard-Chagnon, an analyst with Statistics Canada, said the agency doesn’t keep a monthly count of immigrants who leave the country but a group of its analysts are now working on a paper to examine the issue during COVID-19 pandemic.

“The literature signals that immigrants, especially recent immigrants, are more likely to emigrate than the Canadian-born population,” he said.

While the pandemic has also driven down immigration to Canada by about 40 per cent in 2020 compared to 2019, the Liberal government announced in October that Canada is seeking to admit upwards of 1.2 million new permanent residents in the next three years, including 401,000 this year.

But this number seems optimistic as travel restrictions and the sharp economic downtown remain.

“I doubt they will hit their target this year,” Falconer said.

A spokesman for Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said the government is very confident it will meet it immigration targets in the next three years.

“In January 2021, we welcomed more new permanent residents than in January 2020, when there was no pandemic,” Alexander Cohen said in a statement.

“We’re already ahead of schedule, welcoming new permanent residents at a rate 37 per cent higher than our projections.”

Falconer said the government is focusing on transitioning temporary residents in Canada to permanent status.

“It’s the best thing to do for people who are living here,” he said. “But in terms of this population growth, it’s a wash, meaning that we’re not actually increasing our population.”

He said this policy is necessary but not sufficient to help the government meet its high immigration target this year.

“Not every temporary resident wants to become a Canadian permanent resident or Canadian citizen. Some of them are here to work, to study and they are perfectly happy to go back home.”

He said the incentive for the government is still to try to increase immigration numbers, especially in jobs related to health care and technology because having fewer immigrants will harm these two sectors more than others.

Andrew Griffith, a former director of citizenship and multiculturalism at the Immigration Department, says immigrants who arrive during an economic downturns tend to suffer economically, at least in the short term, more than those who arrive when the economy is growing.

He said maintaining high levels of immigration at a time when the economy is weak and sectors such as hospitality, retail and tourism are devastated has an element of irresponsibility.

Griffith said immigrants leaving Canada can reflect a failure of Canadian integration policies.

He said the government needs to put more focus on immigrants who are already here as we face structural change in sectors including hospitality, travel and service industries that will affect mostly women, visible minorities and recent immigrants.

“We may be in a fairly structural shift that will eliminate some jobs or dramatically reduce some jobs, and then what kind of retraining programs or other programs we need to support people as they transition.”

Cohen said the government has invested in settlement services during the COVID-19 pandemic by increasing funding to help boost wages by 15 per cent. It has helped buy personal protective equipment to keep staff safe, as well as cellphones and laptops to ensure services, including language training and job-search help, can be offered remotely.

Falconer said the government should address problems with licensing and professional development that many newcomers face in Canada.

“We make it very, very difficult for somebody who worked in a profession in their home country to come here and work in the same profession.”

“Immigrants come here with aspirations or hopes of being able to work and earn a much better living here in Canada than they did in their home country and they discover that they’re actually going to be working in an unpaid, underemployed job.”

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