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How some Canadians plan to circumvent Ottawa's new hotel quarantine requirement – CBC.ca

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Some Canadians abroad plan to change their route home and cross the border by land, instead of air, to bypass Canada’s pricey new hotel quarantine requirement. 

“If I can avoid it, I’m going to do it,” said Brian Cross of Burlington, Ont., who is spending the winter with his wife, Anne, in Mesa, Ariz. 

The couple originally planned to fly back to Canada in April. But that was before the federal government announced last week that, effective Monday, most air passengers entering Canada must take a COVID-19 test upon arrival and spend up to three days of their 14-day quarantine at a designated hotel to await their test results. (They can leave earlier if their results come back early.)

Travellers must foot the bill for their stay, which could cost upwards of $2,000, according to the government.

But the hotel quarantine rule doesn’t apply to travellers entering Canada by land, inspiring some like Cross to revise their plans. 

“Common sense says, well, let’s do the path of least resistance, right? If I can save 4,000 bucks, why wouldn’t I do it?” he said, estimating the total hotel bill for two people. 

Brian Cross in Mesa, Ariz., where he is spending the winter. Cross said when he returns to Canada, he plans to fly to Buffalo and then cross the border by foot to avoid the cost of quarantining in a hotel. (Submitted by Brian Cross)

If the hotel quarantine rule is still in effect when Cross, 63, and Anne, 61, return home in April, he said they plan to fly to Buffalo instead of Toronto. Then they’ll take a cab to the Rainbow Bridge land border crossing at Niagara Falls, N.Y., and walk across the border to Niagara Falls, Ont. 

Cross said a couple of friends have agreed to drive his car to the Canadian side of the border and leave it there for him.

“We’ll just pick it up and drive home,” he said. 

Cross and his wife will still have to adhere to other new measures designed to curb the spread of COVID-19. As of this week, land travellers must show proof of a negative COVID-19 test at the border and, starting Monday, must take another test on arrival and a third near the end of their 14-day quarantine.

But there will be no hotel stay, which Cross argues is unfair to people flying home.

“It’s kind of discriminatory that you fly and you’ve got to stay in a hotel, but you drive in, you don’t.”

WATCH | Hotel quarantinies coming for air travellers:

The federal government has announced dates for new travel measures meant to keep COVID-19 cases in check, including requiring proof of a negative test at land borders beginning Feb. 15 and introducing mandatory hotel quarantines for international air travellers as of Feb. 22. 2:17

Why the rules are different

The government said its new rules vary due to different circumstances at the land border. 

Most leisure travelers enter Canada by air and, by funnelling all flights into four major airports, the government can ensure that arriving passengers check into nearby quarantine hotels.

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair says imposing the same requirement for the small number of leisure travellers entering by land poses a difficult challenge.

“At land borders we have 117 different points of entry and many of those points of entry are located in remote rural areas,” not near hotels or other amenities, said Blair during a news conference last week. 

In an email statement sent by his office, Blair also said that the government has implemented effective measures for both land and air travellers. 

“If people are not prepared to go through that rigour of keeping themselves and their communities safe, then I’d urge them to stay where they are, just to avoid all non-essential travel,” he said. 

Ben Mallory of Burlington, Ont., is currently in Virginia, visiting his girlfriend, Abigail Bettenhausen. Mallory said he’ll cross on land returning to Canada because he can’t afford the cost of quarantining in a hotel. (Submitted by Ben Mallory)

Cross says he’s happy to comply with all the test requirements at the land border and argues travelling by land carries less risk because he doesn’t have to check into a hotel with multiple employees and other guests.

“My plan is, I don’t see anybody except the cab driver from Buffalo,” he said. 

And he’s not the only Canadian air passenger planning to make a pit-stop at the land border on the way home.

Last month, Ben Mallory, who also lives in Burlington, flew to Lynchburg, Va., to visit his girlfriend. When he flies home in April, he too plans to land in Buffalo and then cross the border in Niagara Falls by foot. 

Mallory said he understands why the government introduced the hotel quarantine requirement, but he’s still determined to avoid it because he can’t afford the price tag. 

The 23-year-old e-commerce administrator graduated from university in April and didn’t land a job until September.

“A $2,000 sudden expense would be quite devastating,” he said. “That would put me in a negative balance with my bank account.”

Mallory says the government should cover the cost of the hotel bill, or at least provide financial assistance for travellers who need it.

“Having to quarantine in a facility with these prices, it just seems a bit ridiculous.”

On Sunday during an interview on CBC’s Rosemary Barton Live, Blair responded to a question about people who can’t afford the hotel bill.

“I think there will be ways in which we will find to manage those individuals, but, quite frankly, what we are urging Canadians to do right now is not travel,” he said.

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Canada's COVID-19 Immunity Task Force co-chair explains why she now backs 2nd dose delay – CBC.ca

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The co-chair of Canada’s COVID-19 Immunity Task Force says she’s now “very much in favour” of delaying the second dose of COVID-19 vaccines for shots that must be administered under a two-dose regimen.

It’s a relatively new reversal for Dr. Catherine Hankins, who told CBC Radio’s The House that she resisted the idea of extending the interval between first and second doses as recently as January.

“I didn’t feel that we had the data,” Hankins told host Chris Hall. “But the population, real-world data coming in from the U.K., from Israel and even from B.C. and Quebec are convincing to me.”

On Wednesday, Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommended that the maximum interval between the two doses should be stretched to four months to increase the number of people receiving their first shot.

The committee previously recommended that the maximum interval between Pfizer-BioNTech doses should be three weeks, a number that climbed to four weeks for the Moderna vaccine and 12 weeks for the AstraZeneca-Oxford product. The newly approved Johnson & Johnson shot is a single-dose vaccine. 

The updated guidance comes from findings from two clinical trials examining the efficacy of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines after a single dose, as well as population health data from several countries — and two Canadian provinces — on how well those shots performed after being administered once.

While the population studies yielded lower efficacy results after one dose than the clinical trials, NACI said the difference was expected given that vaccine effectiveness tends to be lower in the general population than it is under the controlled setting of a clinical trial.

CBC News: The House15:50Vaccination frenzy grips Canada

CBC’s J.P. Tasker walks through a busy week of vaccine developments and COVID-19 Immunity Task Force co-chair Dr. Catherine Hankins discusses prospects for achieving mass immunization. 15:50

One dose still confers benefits — and reduces transmission

Hankins said it was the population health data that convinced her to change course.

“Basically, it’s showing that you have sustained protection … for two months, in terms of reducing hospitalizations and deaths, including against this B117 variant that was first identified in the U.K.,” she said.

“So you have those benefits to the individuals that get the single dose, but you have then this additional benefit that they showed in Israel, that people who get infected after they’ve had the vaccine … are much less likely to transmit to other people.”

Hankins, who is also a professor of public and population health at McGill University in Montreal, cautioned that the new recommendation does not mean people should forgo the second dose altogether.

“What’s clear is we can offer more individuals the direct benefit that [a] single dose will bring, plus the indirect benefit of reduced transmission that will avert hospitalizations and deaths for people who don’t yet have the vaccine. So to me, it’s a win-win situation.”

Before NACI released its guidelines, British Columbia had already moved to implement a four-month gap in administering doses. A number of other provinces have now extended their dose intervals to widen initial rollout efforts.

A registered nurse delivers a COVID-19 vaccine to a front-line worker at Vancouver General Hospital on March 4. British Columbia was the first province to put in place a four-month gap between vaccine doses. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Science continues to evolve

The decision has its critics — Canada’s chief science adviser, Mona Nemer, on Monday called B.C.’s plan a “population level experiment,” a comment Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said was “unfortunate.”

Nemer told CBC’s Power & Politics that data from Pfizer and Moderna is based on first and second doses being spaced weeks apart, rather than months.

Hankins said she understands the confusion that can arise from mixed messaging, but noted that the evidence is clear that one dose can confer a degree of protection and help curb chains of transmission.

“I would say this is a very pragmatic public health policy decision,” she said. “It’ll be monitored very, very closely, both in terms of breakthrough infections, variants and how they’re being dealt with, etc.”

And that means scientific guidance could change again.

“I think it’s important for the public to realize that we are gathering data all the time and it’s helping inform decisions, and they should expect there to be changes as we go forward,” Hankins said.

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The latest news on COVID-19 developments in Canada – Burnaby Now

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The latest news on COVID-19 developments in Canada (all times Eastern):

7:30 p.m.

Alberta’s chief medical health officer says there are 341 new COVID-19 cases in the province in the previous 24 hours, and one additional death.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw says in a series of tweets that the new cases include 36 which are tied to virus variant of concern.

She says there are 4,649 active COVID-19 cases in Alberta, with the number of those hospitalized falling to 247.

She says 42 of those patients are in intensive care.

Hinshaw says today’s test positivity rate is 4.1 per cent.

3:10 p.m.

Saskatchewan is reporting three new COVID-19 deaths among residents who tested positive for COVID-19.

The province’s daily pandemic update says all three were from the Saskatoon zone and ranged in age from their 50s to their 80s.

The update also notes there 163 new COVID-19 cases in the province today.

Saskatchewan has 1,613 cases that are considered active, and 142 people currently in hospital with the virus.

2:55 p.m.

Nunavut is reporting another four new cases of COVID-19 today.

All are in Arviat, bringing the total number of active cases there to 21.

The community is the only one in Nunavut with active cases.

Officials also reported four additional cases in Arviat on Friday, plus 10 the day before.

Nunavut’s chief public health officer, Dr. Michael Patterson, said Friday that despite the new cases, the outbreak in the community is contained.

2 p.m.

Manitoba is reporting one new COVID-19 death today — a woman in her 20s in the Winnipeg health region.

The daily pandemic update from the province notes there were  66 new COVID-19 cases as of 9:30 this morning, six of which are the variant originally found in the United Kingdom and three of which are a variant first detected in South Africa.

The update says Manitoba’s five-day COVID-19 test positivity rate is 3.1 per cent provincially and 2.2 per cent in Winnipeg.

There are 1,114 active COVID-19 cases in Manitoba, with 158 patients in hospital.

1:15 p.m.

New Brunswick health authorities are reporting six new cases of COVID-19.

Officials say all six patients are self-isolating and contact tracing is underway.

There are now 35 reported active COVID-19 infections in New Brunswick with three people in hospital, including two in intensive care.

Public health has confirmed 1,453 cases in the province since the onset of the pandemic, including 28 deaths.

12:50 p.m.

Newfoundland and Labrador health authorities are reporting two new cases of COVID-19.

Officials say both cases are close contacts of previously identified patients.

Authorities say there are now 87 active reported COVID-19 cases across the province.

All but two of those infections are in the eastern health region, where an outbreak spread rapidly through the St. John’s metro area last month.

11:25 a.m.

Nova Scotia health officials are reporting six new cases of COVID-19 today.

Authorities say all six infections are connected to travel or to previously identified cases.

Public health says there are now 29 active reported cases of COVID-19 across the province, with two people in hospital with the disease.

There have been 1,657 infections reported in the province since the onset of the pandemic.

11:15 a.m.

Quebec is reporting 749 new COVID-19 infections over the past 24 hours, along with 10 new deaths linked to the virus. 

The province also says it administered 19,865 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine on Friday, marking a new single-day high for Quebec’s immunization drive.

Hospitalizations in the province declined by 16 to 601 today, while the number of patients in intensive care decreased by two to 109.

10:30 a.m.

Ontario is reporting comparatively low COVID-19 case figures today, logging 990 new infections and six virus-related deaths over the past 24 hours. 

Health Minister Christine Elliott says there are 284 new cases in Toronto, 173 in Peel Region, and 82 in York Region.

Two of those long-standing hotspots, Toronto and Peel, are due to rejoin the province’s COVID-19 response framework at the grey lockdown level starting on Monday.

The province is also reporting a single-day high of 39,698 doses of COVID-19 vaccine administered since Friday’s update.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 6, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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Ontario sees 990 new COVID-19 cases and 6 deaths – CBC.ca

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Ontario is reporting 990 new cases of COVID-19 and six new deaths, according to the latest provincial figures.

The new daily case count brings the total number of cases since the pandemic began in Ontario to 306,997.

Toronto saw 284 new cases while Peel Region saw 173. Both regions are under stay-at-home orders that are scheduled to lift on Monday. York Region reported 82 new cases.

WATCH | Hillier talks about vaccine rollout:

Retired general Rick Hillier, head of Ontario’s Vaccine Distribution Task Force, says the addition of two newly approved COVID-19 vaccines will allow the province to ‘crush those timelines’ and get one dose of vaccine into every willing Ontarian who is eligible by June 20. 1:17

The update follows the release of Ontario’s accelerated vaccine rollout plan, which should see all adults 60 and older given a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine by early June — a month sooner than initially planned.

“That was very optimistic,” Dr. Peter Lin told CBC News on Saturday.

Lin applauded the province’s rollout strategy for including an option to space out shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines by up to four months.

“[That] means more people can get vaccinated and the whole idea is to burn the virus out,” he said. “If you have lots of people vaccinated, the virus can’t find a new host and we could say goodbye to the virus quicker and get back to normal life faster.”

To date, Ontario has administered more than 860,400 doses of COVID-19 vaccines with more than 270,600 people fully vaccinated. Toronto, the province’s largest city, is responsible for the administration of nearly 200,000 of those doses — a figure that amounts to more than 124,686 people being vaccinated.

In a Saturday news release, the city said 197,155 doses have been administered, and that several clinics are underway on Saturday to vaccinate hospital and community-based healthcare workers who are in Phase 1 priority groups. 

Vaccine availability continues to be a stumbling block for cities, including Toronto, which has a population of more than 2.9 million.

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

  • Ottawa: 60
  • Thunder Bay: 54
  • Halton Region: 34
  • Waterloo Region: 33
  • Durham Region: 32
  • Lambton: 27
  • Simcoe Muskoka: 27
  • Windsor-Essex: 27
  • Hamilton: 24
  • Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District: 19
  • Sudbury: 17
  • Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph: 17
  • Eastern Ontario: 12

(Note: All of the figures used in this story are found on the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 dashboard or in its Daily Epidemiologic Summary. The number of cases for any region may differ from what is reported by the local public health unit on a given day, because local units report figures at different times.)

2 regions to see restrictions eased Monday

Infectious diseases specialist Dr. Zain Chagla told CBC News on Saturday that Canada’s approval of the single shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine — news that came after Ontario released its vaccine plan — should definitely help speed up the timeline.

“We’ll get to the point where vaccines are scaling up and up and up,” he said.

But he cautioned: “There may be turbulence for the next month or so.”

On Monday, stay-at-home orders in Toronto and Peel Region will be lifted, although both regions will stay in lockdown. Medical officers of health for both regions had urged caution ahead of the shift.

“Vaccines do us no good if they’re not in arms yet,” Dr. Lawrence Loh said at a Wednesday news conference. “We must stay the course.”

Last month, the province made a few changes to what people are allowed to do in a grey lockdown.

As of Monday, residents in Toronto and Peel Regions will be able to shop in person at reduced capacity: 50 per cent for grocery stores, convenience stores and pharmacies and 25 per cent for other retailers. Loitering in shopping malls or other stories will not be permitted. Individuals will still need to wear a mask and practice physical distancing.

WATCH | Toronto and Peel Region to move into grey zone as stay-at-home order lifts on Monday

It’s now official — Toronto and Peel will move into the grey zone starting on Monday. The stay-at-home order will also be lifted — meaning in-person shopping will be permitted at limited capacity, but indoor dining, salons and gyms will remain closed. Farrah Merali with reactions to the news. 2:15

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