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India's top diplomat touts improved relations with Canada, open to sending more vaccines – CTV News

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OTTAWA —
India’s top diplomat to Canada says relations between the two countries are in a “much better space” and that improvement could open the door to more AstraZeneca vaccines, should Canada request them.

Speaking to CTV News, India’s High Commissioner Ajay Bisaria said that the two countries are on better footing following a February phone call between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi. During the call Trudeau asked India for help boosting Canada’s vaccine supply, and it was a conversation that Bisaria described as “very warm” and “very friendly.”

“We have had some difficult and candid conversations but this is what strategic partners should be doing,” Bisaria said. “We believe there is a much greater understanding in Canada now across the political spectrum on India’s handling of the farm’s protest in which a great deal of disinformation had been spread earlier.”

For months, farmers in India have been living in tents on the outskirts of Delhi, protesting new laws passed in September by the Modi government to deregulate wholesale trading. The farmers say the new laws will devastate their livelihoods and allow big companies to drive down prices. The government, however, insist the reforms are long overdue and will modernize the agriculture industry by giving farmers greater freedom over who they can sell their products to and for what price.

In December, Trudeau said he was “concerned” about the treatment of farmers and that Canada would always support the right of farmers to protest peacefully. His statement prompted a sharp rebuke from India’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, which called out Canada’s “interference,” threatened that continued actions by Canada would have a “seriously damaging impact on ties” and even summoned Canada’s High Commissioner to India.

The High Commissioner’s comments come a day after 500,000 doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine from India’s Serum Institute – the largest drug manufacturer in the world – arrived in Toronto. In total, India is scheduled to deliver two million doses to Canada by the end of May.

The Prime Minister’s Office would not discuss exactly what the prime minister said during his February phone call with Modi, or whether he softened his stance with India in order to help secure doses of that country’s locally-made AstraZeneca vaccine. Instead, the PMO referred to a public readout provided after the bilateral call which only mentions “recent protests, and the importance of resolving issues through dialogue” as topics of discussions.

Asked about the status of Canada-India relations today and why India provided Canada with AstraZeneca vaccines, Bisaria suggested the deal was an attempt to start smoothing over relations that have been strained at times over the last few years, including as a result of Trudeau’s troubled 2018 India trip.

“India has the capacity and the ability to provide more vaccines,” Bisaria said. “Certainly the vaccine diplomacy, as you called it, and vaccine sharing is a part of India’s approach.”

While no discussions are currently ongoing with Canada for more doses, India’s vaccine diplomacy has led to tens of millions of doses being shipped to countries from Cambodia to Afghanistan and Nepal. Experts say that like China, India is using the vaccines as a diplomatic tool to find favour or even thaw frosty relationships with other countries.

“India is proud of its position as the pharmacy of the world and now as a major vaccine maker in the world,” Bisaria said, adding the country is “very aware of its and conscious of its global responsibility of being part of the global vaccine solutions.”

CTV News has reached out to Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau’s office for comment.

The Prime Minister’s Office refused to provide an official statement.

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Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Monday – CBC.ca

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The latest:

Hospitals across much of Ontario will start ramping down elective surgeries and non-urgent procedures Monday to ensure they have the capacity to treat more COVID-19 patients. Health Minister Christine Elliott said Friday that could increase intensive-care unit capacity in Ontario by up to 1,000 patient beds.

The province reported on Sunday that there were 1,513 people in hospital with COVID-19, including 605 people in intensive care “due to COVID-related illness.”

Ontario also said that there were 4,456 new COVID-19 cases in the province on Sunday, marking a new single-day high for new infections.

Hospitals in northern Ontario are exempt from cancelling non-urgent procedures, but a memo from Ontario Health on Thursday night said they should prepare to ramp down quickly in the near future.

The memo also asked hospitals to identify staff who may be redeployed to other sites if necessary.

Meanwhile, more than 700 pharmacies are joining Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout as the province races to slow the spread of the virus. Government officials say the move will rapidly expand availability of the AstraZeneca vaccine to people aged 55 and over this week.

-From The Canadian Press, last updated at 7 a.m. ET


What’s happening elsewhere in Canada

WATCH | Many educators still waiting for access to COVID-19 vaccine:

Educators are eligible for COVID-19 vaccines in several provinces, but many are still waiting for access to the shots. 2:01

As of early Monday morning, Canada had reported 1,060,163 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 73,446 considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 23,315.

Across Atlantic Canada, health officials reported 15 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, including:

  • 9 new cases in the Edmundston area of New Brunswick, which entered a lockdown on Sunday.
  • 5 new cases in Nova Scotia, which brought the number of active cases in the province to 40.
  • 1 new case in Newfoundland and Labrador, putting the number of active cases in the province at 10.

Prince Edward Island, which did not report any new cases on Sunday, is as of Monday allowing people aged 55 and up to get the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine at 12 pharmacies on the island.

In Central Canada, Quebec health officials on Sunday reported 1,535 new cases and five new deaths. Hospitalizations in the province, as reported on a provincial dashboard, stood at 608, with 139 people in intensive care.  The province, which has moved up its curfew in Montreal and Laval, on Sunday night saw hundreds of protesters gather in Old Montreal.

In the Prairie provinces, Manitoba reported 112 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, while neighbouring Saskatchewan reported 321 new cases of COVID-19 and one additional death.

Health officials in Alberta, meanwhile, reported 1,183 new cases of COVID-19 and one additional death. The province’s chief medical health officer said 50.5 per cent of the active cases in the province are variants of concern.

In British Columbia, health officials have decided that all adults who live or work in Whistler are eligible as of Monday for a COVID-19 vaccine as the region struggles with increasing cases.

Across the North, there were no new cases of COVID-19 reported on Sunday in Nunavut, the Northwest Territories or Yukon.

-From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 7:05 a.m. ET


What’s happening around the world

Women take a selfie with their drinks on Monday at The Fox on the Hill pub after its reopening as coronavirus restrictions ease in London. (Hannah McKay/Reuters)

As of early Monday morning, more than 136.1 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to a tracking site run by Johns Hopkins University in the United States. The reported global death toll stood at more than 2.9 million.

In Europe, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has urged people to “behave responsibly” as shops, gyms, hairdressers, restaurant patios and beer gardens reopen after months of lockdown. Monday sees the easing of restrictions that have been in place in England since early January to suppress a surge in coronavirus infections linked to a more transmissible new variant of the virus.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are following their own, broadly similar plans to ease lockdown. Britain has had Europe’s worst coronavirus outbreak, with more than 127,000 confirmed deaths.

Meanwhile, in France, more than 10 million people have received a first shot of a COVID-19 vaccine, Prime Minister Jean Castex said.

In the Asia-Pacific region, the hard-hit Philippine capital and four nearby provinces have been placed under a lighter coronavirus lockdown to avoid further damage to an already battered economy despite a continuing surge in infections and deaths. The Philippines has long been a Southeast Asian coronavirus hot spot, with about 865,000 confirmed infections and nearly 15,000 deaths.

“Our emerging strategy is to increase our bed capacities instead of closing the economy,” said presidential spokesperson Harry Roque  who spoke in a televised news briefing from a Manila hospital after contracting COVID-19 like many cabinet members.

Hundreds of thousands of Hindu devotees flocked to take a holy bath in India’s Ganges river, even as the nation racked up the world’s highest tally of new daily coronavirus infections.

Thai workers prepare a field hospital for COVID-19 patients in Bangkok on Monday. Thailand’s Health Ministry warned Sunday that restrictions may need to be tightened to slow the spread of a fresh coronavirus wave as the country hit a daily record for new cases. (Somchai Chanjirakitti/The Associated Press)

In the Middle East, Iran imposed a 10-day lockdown across most of the country on Saturday.

In the Americas, the United States had administered 187,047,131 doses of COVID-19 vaccines and distributed 237,796,105 doses as of Sunday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

Venezuela has secured the funds to fully pay for coronavirus vaccines via the COVAX system, President Nicolas Maduro said on Sunday, a day after a surprise announcement that the country had paid more than half the amount due.

In Africa, Tunisia approved Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine and will soon receive 1.5 million doses of the vaccine under an African Union plan.

-From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 7:10 a.m. ET


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Myanmar military sentences 19 to death, says anti-coup protests dwindling

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(Reuters) – Nineteen people have been sentenced to death in Myanmar for killing an associate of an army captain, the military owned Myawaddy TV station said on Friday, the first such sentences announced in public since a Feb. 1 coup and crackdown on protesters.

The report said the killing took place on March 27 in the North Okkalapa district of Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city. Martial law has been declared in the district, allowing courts martial to pronounce sentences.

The military rulers who overthrew an elected government said on Friday that a protest campaign against its rule was dwindling because people wanted peace, and that it would hold elections within two years, the first timeframe it has given for a return to democracy.

Troops fired rifle grenades at anti-coup protesters on Friday in the town of Bago, near Yangon, witnesses and news reports said. At least 10 people were killed and their bodies piled up inside a pagoda, they said.

Myanmar Now news and Mawkun, an online news magazine, said at least 20 people were killed and many wounded. It was not possible to get a precise toll because troops had cordoned off the area near the pagoda, they said.

Junta spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun told a news conference in the capital, Naypyitaw, that the country was returning to normal and government ministries and banks would resume full operations soon.

More than 600 people have been killed by security forces cracking down on protests against the coup, according to an activist group. The country has ground to a standstill because of the protests and widespread strikes against military rule.

“The reason of reducing protests is due to cooperation of people who want peace, which we value,” Zaw Min Tun said. “We request people to cooperate with security forces and help them.”

He said the military had recorded 248 deaths and he denied that automatic weapons had been used. Sixteen policemen had also been killed, he said.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) activist group has said 614 people, including 48 children, had been killed by security forces since the coup, as of Thursday evening. More than 2,800 were in detention, it said.

“We are humbled by their courage and dignity,” a group of 18 ambassadors in Myanmar said of the protesters in a joint statement.

“We stand together to support the hopes and aspirations of all those who believe in a free, just, peaceful and democratic Myanmar. Violence has to stop, all political detainees must be released and democracy must be restored.”

The statement was signed by the ambassadors of the United States, Britain, the EU, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Switzerland and several other European nations.

“The suggestions from neighbouring countries and big countries and powerful people in politics, we respect them,” Zaw Min Tun said. He also accused members of deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy of arson and said the protest campaign was being financed by foreign money, but gave no details.

Suu Kyi and many of her party colleagues have been in custody since the coup.

Zaw Min Tun said reports that some members of the international community did not recognise the military government were “fake news”.

“We are cooperating with foreign countries and working together with neighbouring countries,” the spokesman said.

Ousted Myanmar lawmakers urged the United Nations Security Council on Friday to take action against the military.

“Our people are ready to pay any cost to get back their rights and freedom,” said Zin Mar Aung, who has been appointed acting foreign minister for a group of ousted lawmakers. She urged Council members to apply both direct and indirect pressure on the junta.

“Myanmar stands at the brink of state failure, of state collapse,” Richard Horsey, a senior adviser on Myanmar with the International Crisis Group, told the informal U.N. meeting, the first public discussion of Myanmar by council members.

The U.N. special envoy for Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, had wanted to visit the country but said she has been rebuffed by the generals.

She said on Friday she had arrived in Bangkok, the capital of neighbouring Thailand.

“I regret that Tatmadaw answered me yesterday that they are not ready to receive me,” Schraner Burgener said on Twitter, referring to the Myanmar military. “I am ready for dialogue. Violence never leads to peaceful sustainable solutions.”

 

(Reporting by Reuters Staff; Writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Grant McCool; Editing by Nick Macfie and Daniel Wallis)

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Australia abandons COVID-19 vaccination targets after new advice on AstraZeneca shots

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By Paulina Duran

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia has abandoned a goal to vaccinate nearly all of its 26 million population by the end of 2021 following advice that people under the age of 50 take Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine rather than AstraZeneca’s shot.

Australia, which had banked on the AstraZeneca vaccine for the majority of its shots, had no plans to set any new targets for completing its vaccination programme, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a Facebook post on Sunday afternoon.

“While we would like to see these doses completed before the end of the year, it is not possible to set such targets given the many uncertainties involved,” Morrison said.

Authorities in Canberra changed their recommendation on Pfizer shots for under-50s on Thursday, after European regulators reiterated the possibility of links between the AstraZeneca shot and reports of rare cases of blood clots.

Australia, which raced to double its order of the Pfizer vaccine last week, had originally planned to have its entire population vaccinated by the end of October.

Australia’s hardline response to the virus largely stopped community transmissions but the vaccination rollout has become a hot political topic – and a source of friction between Morrison and state and territory leaders – after the country vaccinated only a fraction of its four million target by the end of March.

About 1.16 million COVID-19 doses have now been administered, Morrison added, noting the speed of Australia’s vaccination programme was in line with other peer nations, including Germany and France, and ahead of Canada and Japan.

Australia began vaccinations much later than some other nations, partly because of its low number of infections, which stand at just under 29,400, with 909 deaths, since the pandemic began.

(GRAPHIC – Global COVID tracker: https://graphics.reuters.com/world-coronavirus-tracker-and-maps/)

 

(Reporting by Paulina Duran; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

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