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How Canada’s first long-term coronavirus pandemic projections hold up today – Global News



In early April, Canada’s public health agency first released estimates of how widely the novel coronavirus might spread in the country and how many people might die as a result.

Those projections, released on April 9, predicted that COVID-19 could take between 11,000 and 22,000 Canadian lives over the course of the pandemic, if strong public health controls were implemented. The agency also offered worse estimates for scenarios involving weaker epidemic controls, or none at all.

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Nearly four months later, the deaths of about 9,000 people have been linked to the virus in Canada — but the pandemic is far from over, according to the World Health Organization.

How did those initial forecasts influence Canadians’ behaviour — if at all — and how do they hold up today? Here’s what experts have to say.

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How Canada responded

The April 9 estimates showed that weak to no controls during the pandemic could see anywhere from 25 per cent to 80 per cent of the population infected and between 100,000 and 350,000 deaths — a startling difference from the approximately 500 deaths reported at that time.

“I think [the projections] did scare people, at least helped people understand the extent of what we were talking about,” said Ashleigh Tuite, an infectious disease epidemiologist and mathematical modeler at the University of Toronto.

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Coronavirus: Ontario premier, treasury board president discuss how COVID Alert app works

Nicholas King, an associate professor at McGill University who researches public health ethics and policy, said his impression is that the first modelling numbers likely served as a wake-up call for Canadians and decision-markers.

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“I think it’s likely that that helped convince policymakers of the necessity to act, and act earlier than a lot of other jurisdictions,” King said.

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Tuite argued that the lockdown and distancing measures that Canadians imposed and followed in the following months “did have a huge effect.” She pointed to early results of an analysis of 10,000 blood donor samples that suggested less than one of per cent had been infected with the virus.

How do the first projections hold up?

Those early projections were based on the case data available in Canada at the time, as well as the knowledge experts had about how the virus behaves, Dr. Theresa Tam, the country’s chief public health officer, said on April 9.

Four months into the pandemic, Tuite said those projections could still be “relevant” today. But she said the long-term estimates for deaths and cases might be “overly optimistic” if there are resurgences of the virus and continued outbreaks across the country.

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King agreed, arguing we’re likely only in the middle of the pandemic right now.

“It may be that this turns into something that looks a lot more like influenza or some other viruses that become endemic and stay with us for a long time — in which case, the projection of 11,000 to 22,000 (deaths) for the pandemic is likely to be an underestimate,” he said.

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“I think it’s really hard to assess those things just because we have no idea what the end date for the pandemic is going to be.”

Toronto and Peel Region enter Stage 3 of reopening

Toronto and Peel Region enter Stage 3 of reopening

It could go the other way, however. How much more the total death count grows ultimately depends on the overall case count and what population gets infected, said Caroline Colijn, an infectious disease modeler and mathematics professor at Simon Fraser University.

“We might expect to see fewer deaths per number of reported cases if our cases are landing predominantly in younger people — which is starting to happen because of more community wide-transmission — as opposed to hospital or long-term care outbreaks where people are more vulnerable.”

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While nearly 200 COVID-19 deaths were linked to long-term care homes by April 9, Tuite says she doesn’t believe the initial forecasts reflected the scale of the spread in seniors’ home.

“I don’t think the extent of it was known,” she said. “I know that most of the models that were developed didn’t incorporate the outbreaks in long-term care homes.”

Will PHAC release updated long-term estimates?

Since early April, the Public Health Agency of Canada has released four sets of short-term projections for COVID-19 case numbers and deaths — which for the most part, have proven to be accurate.

With a second wave of the virus expected this fall, Global News asked PHAC if it would release another set of long-term COVID-19 projections.

“As we learn more about the virus, we update our models accordingly. A future presentation will be announced close to the date,” a statement from the agency said.

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Experts say the pandemic’s course rests largely on peoples’ actions and behaviour. While those things are challenging to predict — and the COVID-19 situation varies by province — Coljin said she does think there’s a case for having “a national-level picture and federal-level communication over what’s going to be necessary.”

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She said officials can make national long-term forecasts “based on what behaviours and level of control we have now.”

“Those forecasts are always kind of thought-experiments for what could happen and I think they can help guide us in making decisions on what to do,” she said.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Mexican union was set to lose disputed GM workers’ vote



General Motors Co workers in Mexico were on track to scrap the contract negotiated by one of the country’s biggest unions, according to a Mexican government report on a vote last month that led to a U.S. complaint under a new North American free trade deal.

On Wednesday, the Biden administration called for a probe into allegations that worker rights were denied at GM’s Silao pickup truck plant during the vote to ratify workers’ collective contract with the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM).

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Thursday said he accepted the U.S. recommendation to make sure there would be no fraud in union votes, noting that many “irregularities” had been detected in the union-led vote at GM.

The CTM, which represents 4.5 million workers, is one of several traditional unions accused by workers and activists of putting business interests over workers’ rights.

A ministry report into the vote, reviewed by Reuters, shows that 1,784 workers cast ballots against keeping the CTM contract, while 1,628 workers voted to maintain it.

Allegations of interference – including the ministry’s findings that some blank ballots in union possession were cut in half – have raised suspicions among some activists and experts that the CTM may have been headed for a deeper defeat.

A follow-up vote, which the Labor Ministry ordered to take place within 30 days, could result in a wider margin against keeping the current contract, especially if more workers who were apathetic or scared of voting turned out the second time, said Alfonso Bouzas, a labor scholar at Mexico’s National Autonomous University.

“This whole new opportunity is going to awaken conscience and interest,” Bouzas said.

CTM’s national spokesman, Patricio Flores, said the union supported the regional trade deal and would comply with the law and whatever “would not harm investment in Mexico.”

He did not dispute the vote tally in the labor ministry report, but called for an investigation into the disputed proceeding before a second vote.

“We should listen to the voice of these workers and not let pressure from unions in the United States and Canada have influence right now,” CTM said in a statement.


The ministry document showed that just over half of the 6,494 workers eligible to vote did so in the first of two days of voting, before labor inspectors halted the process.

If GM workers scrap their contract, either the CTM or a new union could negotiate new collective terms.

Many collective bargaining contracts in Mexico consist of deals between unions and companies without workers’ approval, which has helped keep Mexican hourly wages at a fraction of those in the United States.

The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which took effect last year and replaced the 1994 NAFTA, sought to strengthen worker rights in Mexico and slow migration of U.S. auto production south of the border.

GM has said it respects the rights of its employees to make decisions over collective bargaining, and that it was not involved in any alleged violations. It declined to comment on the Labor Ministry report.

GM has indicated that it is ready to shift away from the old system that had let companies in Mexico turn a blind eye to worker rights, said Jerry Dias, the head of Canada‘s largest private sector union, Unifor.

“The rules are changing and a company like GM is not going to get caught,” he said.

Dias said he hoped to personally monitor the follow-up vote at the Silao plant.

Contract ratification votes are required under Mexico’s 2019 labor reform, which underpins the renegotiated free trade pact, to ensure workers are not bound to contracts that were signed behind their backs.


(Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon; Editing by Christian Plumb, Richard Pullin, Paul Simao and David Gregorio)

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UK sanctions Myanmar Gems Enterprise in bid to cut off junta funding



Britain announced sanctions against state-owned enterprise Myanmar Gems Enterprise (MGE) on Monday, saying the move would deprive the military junta there of a key source of funding.

The United States and Canada also announced further sanctions against Myanmar, which has been in crisis since the military seized power from Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government on Feb. 1.

“The designation against MGE will cut off a key source of funding for the military junta, which continues to subvert democracy and is responsible for the violent repression and serious human rights violations against the people of Myanmar, including the killing of children,” the foreign office said in a statement.

Myanmar is the world’s main source of jade, a sought-after stone in China, and a major source of rubies and other rare gems. The United States blacklisted MGE in April.

Britain has previously announced sanctions and asset freezes on other entities and individuals linked to the February coup.

“The military junta in Myanmar continues to crush democracy and attack its own people with brutal ferocity,” foreign minister Dominic Raab said in a statement.

“We are working with our allies to impose sanctions that hit the junta’s access to finance, and deliver a return to democracy.”


(Reporting by William James, editing by Andy Bruce)

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U.S. Supreme Court takes up major challenge to abortion rights



The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday agreed to consider gutting the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide, taking up Mississippi’s bid to revive a Republican-backed state law that bans the procedure after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

By hearing the case in their next term, which starts in October and ends in June 2022, the justices will look at whether to overturn a central part of the landmark ruling, a longstanding goal of religious conservatives.

The ruling, expected next year, could allow states to ban the procedure before the fetus is viable outside the womb, upending decades of legal precedent.

In the Roe v. Wade decision, subsequently reaffirmed in 1992, the court said that states could not ban abortion before the viability of the fetus outside the womb, which is generally viewed by doctors as between 24 and 28 weeks. The Mississippi law would ban abortion much earlier than that. Other states have backed laws that would ban the procedure even earlier.

“Alarm bells are ringing loudly about the threat to reproductive rights. The Supreme Court just agreed to review an abortion ban that unquestionably violates nearly 50 years of Supreme Court precedent and is a test case to overturn Roe v. Wade,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is among those challenging the law.

The office of Mississippi’s attorney general did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Roe v. Wade ruling recognized that a constitutional right to personal privacy protects a woman’s ability to obtain an abortion. The court in its 1992 decision, coming in the case Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, reaffirmed the ruling and prohibited laws that place an “undue burden” on a woman’s ability to obtain an abortion.


Abortion opponents are hopeful that the Supreme Court will narrow or overturn the Roe v. Wade decision. The court moved from a 5-4 to a 6-3 conservative majority following Senate confirmation last year of Republican former President Donald Trump’s third appointee, Justice Amy Coney Barrett.

The Supreme Court in a 5-4 June 2020 ruling struck down an abortion law in Louisiana that imposed restrictions on doctors who perform the procedure. The late liberal Justice Ruth Bader was still on the court at the time, and conservative Chief Justice John Roberts voted with the court’s liberal wing in the ruling. Roberts at the time, however, made it clear that he voted the way he did because he felt bound by the court’s 2016 ruling that struck down a similar law in Texas.

The 2018 Mississippi law, like others similar to it passed by Republican-led states, was enacted with full knowledge that was a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade.

After the only abortion clinic in Mississippi, Jackson Women’s Health Organization, sued to try to block the measure, a federal judge in 2018 ruled against the state. The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2019 reached the same conclusion, prompting the state to appeal to the Supreme Court.

“States may regulate abortion procedures prior to viability so long as they do not impose an undue burden on the woman’s right, but they may not ban abortions. The law at issue is a ban,” 5th Circuit Judge Patrick Higginbotham wrote.

Abortion remains a divisive issue in the United States, as in many countries. Christian conservatives are among those most opposed to it. Abortion rates in the United States have steadily declined since the early 1980s, reaching the lowest levels on record in recent years, according to the nonprofit Guttmacher Institute.

The June 2020 ruling in the Louisiana case marked the court’s first major abortion decision since Trump appointed Brett Kavanaugh in 2018 and Neil Gorsuch in 2017 as justices. Both voted in favor of Louisiana’s restrictions. If Barrett were to vote on similar lines, conservatives could have a majority to curb abortion rights regardless of how Roberts votes. Trump had promised during the 2016 presidential race to appoint justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade.

The Mississippi appeal had been pending at the court since June 2020 without the justices taking action on whether or not to hear it. During that time, Ginsburg died and was replaced by Barrett and Trump lost his re-election bid, to be replaced by Democratic President Joe Biden, who supports abortion rights.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

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