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'It's time for the hammer' to get second wave under control: Dr. Sharkawy – CTV News

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OTTAWA —
After a week of record-high case counts in several provinces and a series of regionally-specific adjustments to public health restrictions, CTV Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Abdu Sharkawy thinks the time has come for a national uniformed approach to get the second wave of COVID-19 under control.

“We’re in a pretty dire situation right now, I think it’s becoming abundantly clear: this is a nationwide crisis,” he said in an interview on CTV’s Question Period. 

“We need the hammer, and that hammer needs to be applied with conviction. It needs to be applied with some assertiveness, and we need to apply the support that’s necessary from an economic point of view to the people that would suffer if that hammer is laid down,” he said. 

Speaking from a Toronto hospital, Sharkawy gave the example of Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s week of moving the goalposts around the colour-coded zoning system the province has been moved under, as an example of the “dissonance” being shown as of late between politicians and health experts in terms of what measures are needed to respond to a surging second wave of the pandemic. 

“The principles of containment need to be uniformly applied across Canada. I think the error that we’ve made is going through this piecemeal approach of wait and see, going through a nuanced dance if you will, of COVID-19,” Sharkawy said. “The dance isn’t working anymore; we’re breaking each other’s legs. We’re doing it economically, we’re doing it in terms of lives that are lost,” he continued.

Trudeau said Friday that Canada has to reverse its accelerating growth trends now, or the federal government and the country could be facing a series of hard choices about where to deploy resources to respond to an overwhelmed healthcare system and hurting economy.

“We’re seeing a really troubling surge across the country, the fact that Dr. Tam is highlighting that modelling predicts 10,000 cases a day across the country by early December if we do not bend the curve should be a wake-up call for everyone,” he said. 

“The federal government will always be there to help, but… our resources are not infinite.” 

As has been his position during the peak of the first wave, despite there now being far more new daily cases in Canada, Trudeau remains resistant to invoke what many have seen as ‘the hammer’: The Emergencies Act.

The federal law would supersede provincial jurisdiction to grant “extraordinary powers” to Ottawa to enact certain nationwide security measures.  

Trudeau has said that because the severity of the pandemic is not being felt equally across the country, locking down the territories and Atlantic Canada with the deployment of this act wouldn’t be proportional to the situation on the ground in that region. 

While he has asked broadly for provinces to “do the right thing,” he hasn’t outright called out one premier or another for not doing enough to contain the virus’s spread. 

However, in an interview on this Sunday’s episode, cabinet minister and Ontario MP Marco Mendicino said he’s heard from his constituents that Ontario has not gone far enough. 

“They’d like to see Ontario move more quickly when it comes to fighting COVID-19,” he said. 

“At the same time, you have seen a very healthy degree of collaboration between the federal government and all of our provincial and territorial partners… but there is definitely a moment right now that we are experiencing. We’re in the midst of a second wave, and we do need to act decisively,” said Mendicino. 

‘CIRCUIT BREAKER’ INEVITABLE? 

Though, as Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi noted in a separate segment, he’s not sure the provinces’ messages are being heard, and said he was troubled by the narrative that it’s a choice between public health and the economy. 

“Here’s a crash course in Canadian federalism: Your powers and authorities vary by province,” he said, calling it “particularly frustrating,” for him as he’d have gone further this week than Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s government has. 

He said that while it’s not yet inevitable that some form of “circuit breaker” will need to be flipped, it’s looking “extremely likely.” 

“Government policy really matters, but what really, really matters is individual action. Don’t wait for the government to tell you what to do,” he added. “Don’t wait for government to act, especially not here in Alberta. Make those decisions yourself today and we still have the ability to flatten that curve. It’s not a huge chance and it’s a very limited window, but we’ve got to do it.” 

HOW WOULD EMERGENCIES ACT WORK?

Formerly known as the War Measures Act, the current iteration passed in 1988 and has never been used. It allows for actions to combat urgent and critical but temporary situations that seriously threaten some aspect of Canadians’ lives, and that cannot be effectively dealt with under any other law of Canada.

There are four types of emergencies listed under the Act: a public welfare emergency; a public order emergency; an international emergency; and a war emergency.

It’s likely that the COVID-19 pandemic would be deemed a “public welfare emergency” as it fits the bill of an emergency caused by “disease in human beings,” which is listed in this category alongside natural disasters and pollution.

And, as it may result in “a danger to life or property, social disruption or a breakdown in the flow of essential goods, services or resources.”

The Act explicitly states the requirement for parliamentary oversight on an emergency declaration. In addition to consulting premiers, an explanation of the reasoning for declaring an emergency would have to be presented within seven days to both the House and Senate.

Operating on the expectation that the government’s interpretation of the Act would be to view the novel coronavirus pandemic as a “public welfare emergency,” here’s some of what the government could do:

  • Regulating or prohibiting travel within any area within the country;
  • Evacuating people and removing or requisitioning personal property;
  • Directing any person to render essential services they are qualified to provide;
  • Regulating the distribution of essential goods and resources;
  • Making emergency payments and compensating those who experience loss as a result of actions taken under the Act; and
  • Imposing fines between $500 and $5,000 or jail time between six months and five years, for contravening any order or rule set under the Act.

Putting the country under these kind of restrictions is something that would likely be met with resistance. Premiers have advocated that they are able to decide what degree of public health measures are appropriate for their regions based on the COVID-19 situation on the ground, and small business advocates have cautioned that more closures could be “fatal.” 

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Tesla seeks entry into U.S. renewable fuel credit market

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Tesla Inc is seeking to enter the multi-billion dollar U.S. renewable credit market, hoping to profit from the Biden administration’s march toward new zero-emission goals, two sources familiar with the matter said.

The electric car maker is one of at least eight companies with a pending application at the Environmental Protection Agency tied to power generation and renewable credits, the sources said. The EPA produces a list of pending applications with some details, but not companies’ names.

Tesla’s entry could potentially reshape the renewable credit market, established in the mid-2000s to boost investment in the U.S. biofuel industry. The market generated some 18 billion credits in 2020 and is currently dominated by ethanol producers. Tesla’s application would likely be tied to the production of electricity associated with biogas.

The Biden administration is expected to review the EPA applications and lay out how electric vehicles could qualify for tradable credits under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) this summer, the two sources said.

The move could represent the largest expansion of the RFS program that was created by President George W. Bush and aimed at boosting rural America and weaning the country off oil imports.

The entry of Tesla and other electric vehicle makers to the renewable energy scheme could attract investment for a much-needed infrastructure network, including charging stations, for electric vehicles.

However, it is likely to anger some in the U.S. refining industry who would need to buy the credits, known as RINs, generated by Tesla and other alternative fuel providers, essentially subsidizing an electric car company that seeks to put petrochemical refiners out of business.

Rural farmers could view Tesla’s entry as the Biden White House prioritizing electric vehicles over biofuels as an answer to the climate crisis.

BIOGAS LOGISTICS

In 2016, just before the Obama administration exited office, the EPA published a proposal seeking comment on how best to structure credits for renewable electricity that is used as a transportation fuel.

The proposal largely sat dormant during the Trump administration, which spent most of its time on fuel credits trying to find common ground among rivals in the corn and oil industries.

Electricity from biogas – mainly pulled from the nation’s landfills – is already eligible for generating credits under the RFS program, but the EPA has never approved applications to do so because the agency hasn’t yet figured out the logistical issues.

Key questions include how to trace the credit-eligible biogas from its origin through to a car’s battery, and who along that supply chain should be allowed to claim the lucrative credits.

Under the RFS, refiners must blend biofuels like corn-based ethanol into their fuel pool or purchase compliance credits in a credit market, where prices have swung wildly in recent years.

The program has helped drive investment in ethanol plants in states like Iowa and Nebraska, but liquid fuels have been under attack from the Biden administration.

Tesla would generate the most lucrative type of credits, known as D3s, which trade at a significant premium to the larger pool of traditional ethanol credits.

As well as building electric cars, Tesla is also investing in charging stations and large-scale batteries.

 

(Reporting By Jarrett Renshaw and Stephanie Kelly; Editing by Heather Timmons and Richard Pullin)

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Fed privately presses big banks on risks from climate change

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The U.S. Federal Reserve has asked lenders to start providing information on the measures they are taking to mitigate climate change-related risks to their balance sheets, according to four people with knowledge of the matter.

The previously unreported supervisory discussions highlight how U.S. watchdogs are moving to execute President Joe Biden’s agenda to incorporate climate risk into the financial regulatory system, with potentially major ramifications for Wall Street.

While European regulators are this year rolling-out climate-change “stress tests” for lenders, the Fed lags its peers.

Fed officials have previously said they are considering a new scenario analysis to help them understand how climate change may affect trillions of dollars’ worth of bank assets, but have not said how or when they would start to apply such tests.

In private discussions, however, Fed supervisors have begun pressing large lenders to detail the measures they are taking to understand how their loan books would perform under certain climate change scenarios, the four people said.

Fed officials have not dictated the parameters for the analysis but have made it clear they expect lenders to conduct the internal risk-management exercises and hand over the data, the people said.

That analysis includes testing the geographical exposure of bank assets to physical risks such as flooding, drought and wildfires, as well as testing exposures to different sectors, such as how oil and gas loans may perform versus renewable energy loans.

The aim of the tests is to identify risks, but the Fed has not indicated that the data it is gathering would translate into any additional capital charges or other regulatory actions.

“They’re being very pragmatic. They’re doing their homework,” said one of the people.

Global banks — including JPMorgan, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley — have been exploring the implications of climate change for some time, both internally and in some cases with European regulators like the Bank of England who are more aggressively integrating climate change risks into the regulatory framework.

Nevertheless, the new climate scrutiny from the U.S. central bank adds to the pressure on Wall Street lenders, forcing them to make investments in technology, data management and staff.

“The data work is a big deal,” said another of the sources.

The banks did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the private discussions with the Fed.

STRESS TESTS

Climate change could upend the financial system because physical threats such as rising sea levels, as well as policies and carbon-neutral technologies aimed at slowing global warming, could destroy trillions of dollars of assets, risk experts say.

In a 2020 report, a Commodity Futures Trading Commission panel cited data estimating that $1 trillion to $4 trillion of global wealth tied to fossil fuel assets could be lost.

The Fed in January appointed Kevin Stiroh, one of its top supervisors, to lead a new team focusing on climate-related financial risks, but some congressional Democrats are pushing the central bank to move much faster and add climate risks to bank stress tests which dictate Wall Street’s capital plans.

In March, Fed governor Lael Brainard said that climate scenario tests could be helpful but that they would also rely on qualitative judgments and be highly uncertain.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell has said the agency will tread carefully and focus on incorporating climate change into existing regulatory obligations, as opposed to creating strict new rules. It is unclear, though, if he will be renominated to lead the Fed after his term expires next year, while his vice chair Randal Quarles, a Republican appointee who oversees bank regulation, is expected to leave this year.

Progressive groups say there is much more the central bank could do to address climate risks, even if it does not want to go as far as its European counterparts.

Tim Clark, a former senior Fed official who helped build its stress tests after the 2008 financial crisis, said it should publicly communicate that it expects banks to incorporate climate change into their risk management processes.

“That’s something they can basically start right now and make it clear to the industry that they expect banks to be working hard on this.”

 

(Reporting by Pete Schroeder; Editing by Michelle Price and Lisa Shumaker)

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Cuban tanker en route to Venezuela reports missing sailor at sea

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A crew member aboard a Cuba-flagged oil tanker on its way from a Mexican shipyard to Venezuela was reported missing this week, according to a shipping report seen by Reuters, marking the second incident aboard the same vessel in about a year.

Sailor Rafael Desiderio Martinez Alonso was not found last Sunday by the doctor onboard oil tanker Petion, which set sail on May 6 from Mexico’s port of Veracruz bound for the Cardon terminal in Venezuela’s western coast.

The report by the tanker’s shipping agency to Venezuelan port authorities about the incident said Martinez Alonso, who was one the tanker’s fitters, is believed to have fallen into open waters because his shoes were found near the ship’s gas plant. He has not officially been reported dead.

The tanker’s general alarm was activated the same day to start search and rescue operations, but after 24 hours the sailor was not found, said the report, which is dated May 11.

The report did not identify Martinez Alonso’s nationality. Cuba-flagged vessels frequently use all-Cuban crews.

Venezuela’s oil ministry and Cuba’s foreign ministry did not immediately reply to requests for comment.

The Petion made a stop on Monday for about 18 hours near the Cayman Islands in the Caribbean, changing its status from “underway using engine” to “not under command.”

It continued its voyage to Venezuela on Tuesday, according to Refinitiv Eikon tanker monitoring data.

The same ship last year reported the death of a Cuban sailor while anchored near Venezuela’s Amuay port, after the helmsman fell overboard, according to people familiar with the accident.

Both the Petion and its managing firm, Cyprus-registered Caroil Transport Marine Ltd, were hit with U.S. sanctions in 2019 for transporting Venezuelan oil to Cuba. The vessel was serviced in Mexico between March and May.

Caroil could not be reached for comment.

A separate tanker, the Cameroon-flagged Domani, arrived in Venezuelan waters in March with a dead crew member onboard, according to two sources with knowledge of the incident. The death was reported as a suicide before Venezuelan authorities.

 

(Reporting by Mircely Guanipa in Maracay, Venezuela, and Marianna Parraga in Mexico City. Additional reporting by Sarah Marsh in Havana; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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