In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s no secret that cancellations of flights have become far more regular than in pre-pandemic times.
Peachland resident John Wardley is just one of many who have experienced it, after his WestJet flight from Kelowna to Mexico via Calgary booked just a few weeks ago for Nov. 28 was cancelled last week.
However, Wardley says it’s not the cancellation that bothered him the most – it was the inability to talk with someone on the other end of the phone.
“I went to the website [on Monday], the flights were cancelled and there was a phone number. When you call that number, the answering machine says that there is a six to eight hour wait, and if you leave your number, you can call back. Which I did, I called back and that was 36 hours ago, I haven’t had a call back.”
He called WestJet another 6 or 7 times later that evening, and listened to a different answering machine telling him they were accepting call backs for Sunday – six days later.
“I realize everybody has to change their business models, but you’ve got to make sure that the people who are supporting you, your paying customers, treat them right. Tell them why this is happening, this is what we’re going to do, not you can book a phone call in a week’s time, which I still couldn’t do.
“You’re allowed six different attempts, you pick six times, and I picked six different times, and then the recording says you’ve extinguished all your attempts – goodbye.”
Eventually resolving his case by posting a critical review on WestJet’s Facebook page, Wardley hopes the company will make changes to ensure others will not find themselves in the same position he did.
However, booking onto another WestJet flight scheduled for Dec. 5 hasn’t been without further costs on his part.
Wardley rented out his home for the five months he planned to be in Mexico, and has now been forced to make other arrangements due to the schedule change.
“As of Dec. 1, I’m homeless. I’ve rented my house out for five months and my flight date was Nov. 28, so as of Dec. 1 I have nowhere to live … I took the Dec. 5 flight, but the problem with that is I’m now going to have five days of hotel bills and food bills.”
Although Wardley understands airlines are doing it tough during the COVID-19 pandemic, he says customer service should still be top priority.
“I don’t know why they can’t just have the staff. They know this is going to happen. WestJet is not a small organization. They’re one of only two main carriers in this country and they’ve got a lot of support from people over the years … all we want, especially people my age, we just want somebody to talk to.”
WestJet has laid off more than half of its 14,000-strong workforce since the beginning of COVID-19 pandemic.
Public relations advisor Morgan Bell told Castanet they are “fully staffed,” and working hard to take care of guests as quickly as possible.
“We continue to experience very high volumes for our phone, email and social media support channels and apologize for any delays our guests are facing while trying to reach out.
“The COVID-19 crisis has hit WestJet and the global aviation industry with devastating force and we continue to monitor frequently-evolving advisories, travel restrictions and guidance carefully to ensure we are managing our airline responsibly. We are adjusting our schedule more frequently than normal to meet the needs of our guests, our employees, as well as our airline and unfortunately changes can significantly impact our contact centre wait times.
“We appreciate and thank our guests for their patience and understanding during this time.”
For more information on WestJet’s travel policies, visit the website.
NDP calls on Ford gov't to expand asymptomatic COVID-19 testing to all schools in hard-hit neighbourhoods – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News
NDP MPPs are calling on the Ford government to conduct widespread COVID-19 testing at all schools in the province’s hardest hit neighbourhoods after asymptomatic testing at an East York elementary school unearthed 19 previously undetected infections.
Members of the official opposition are urging the provincial government to immediately deploy resources to facilitate voluntary testing centres inside schools in Ontario neighbourhoods with high COVID-19 positivity rates.
“Doug Ford is trying to save a buck by underserving the hardest hit areas,” NDP Deputy Leader and Brampton Centre MPP Sara Singh said in a news release issued Monday.
“He has been refusing to send extra help to hot spots, because he wants to do things on the cheap. That’s resulting in longer, deeper lockdowns and more devastating illness. We need help to end this nightmare, and stop the virus from hurting our loved ones.”
On Sunday, it was revealed that asymptomatic testing at one Thorncliffe Park elementary school resulted in 18 students and one staff member testing positive for the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
In a letter sent to parents yesterday, the principal of Thorncliffe Park Public School said Toronto Public Health detected the cases after 433 tests were processed on Thursday and Friday.
Thorncliffe Park is one of the neighbourhoods in the GTA that has been hardest hit by the pandemic.
Speaking at a news conference on Monday afternoon, Education Minister Stephen Lecce said that the data indicate that community transmission in Thorncliffe Park is substantially worse than the transmission happening within the school.
“I think it should be noted that the principal within this school has communicated that the positivity rate compared from the community to the school is quite vast. In the community, it is roughly 16 per cent positivity whereas in the school it is roughly four per cent,” he said.
“There is a four time increase of transmission happening in the community notwithstanding that those schools are right at the heart of those neighbourhoods.”
He said the disparity indicates that there is “something right happening” when it comes to the “layers of prevention” occurring in the public school system.
“The fact that hundreds of students and staff have gotten tested in this school in conjunction with the local public health unit, I think underscores that the plan in place is working hard to mitigate any further spread,” Lecce said.
“This morning, including the data points from Thorncliffe, 99.9 per cent of Ontario students are COVID-free and that continues to underscore the importance of following public health advice and it really I think demonstrates the importance of keeping schools open, which is our plan for 2021.”
Roughly 14 per cent of the province’s 4,828 publicly funded schools have at least one reported case of COVID-19 and at least four schools are currently closed as a result of outbreaks of the disease.
Province changed testing guidelines last week
Just last week, the province adjusted its COVID-19 testing guidance for school staff and students in Toronto, York Region, Peel Region and Ottawa to allow voluntary asymptomatic testing.
The province also offered school boards in the regions an additional $35 million to strengthen public health measures.
The testing pilot, which is in place for four weeks, was implemented to better track how the virus is spreading in and around schools.
Since late September, Ontario’s assessment centres would not test asymptomatic people unless they were linked to a known case.
The NDP called the funding and four-week testing program a “half-measure.”
“Some students in some regions may be able to get tests. According to the government, the location and method for testing will vary between regions and cities, regions will have to develop their own plan,” the NDP said in a news release last week.
“Ford’s still trying to cheap out on testing students, teachers and staff, and that’s not good enough.”
Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario’s associate chief medical officer of health, said the cases at Thorncliffe Park Public School are “concerning but not surprising.”
“Those numbers are obviously concerning. We know that that is one of the neighborhoods in the city of Toronto that has high rates of COVID-19 transmission,” she said at a news conference on Monday afternoon.
“That is one of the schools that was chosen for this testing initiative and when we have a lot of COVID-19 in the community, by its nature it spills into the schools.”
She said the province is continuing to work with Toronto Public Health to identify measures that will help prevent further spread of the virus in the city’s schools.
Infectious diseases specialist Dr. Abdu Sharkawy called the discovery at Thorncliffe Park Public School an “important” one.
“We know that children tend to be minimally, if not symptomatic at all, but they appear to be quite good at spreading this,” he told CP24 on Monday.
“So we need to be quite aware of whether or not there is any asymptomatic signal within our younger children to prevent that from spreading to others in a multi-generational household or others who are certainly going to be at a higher risk if they acquire COVID-19 and become a lot sicker.”
Sharkawy said he hopes the province continues to expand asymptomatic testing in schools.
“There are a lot of asymptomatic people out there who are infected with this virus and unfortunately until we ramp up our testing capacity and ideally target areas that appear to be harder hit, we won’t really know the extent of the disease that’s out there,” he said.
“I think that this was actually an important finding. I don’t think it is one that should create too much alarm amongst people sending their children to school but I hope it is a pilot program that will catch on, especially in other areas that are hard hit.”
Canadian consumer debt tops $2 trillion: Equifax Canada – BNN
Consumer debt in Canada topped $2 trillion this fall, driven largely by increased demand for mortgages and car loans, according to Equifax Canada.
In its latest quarterly report, Equifax found total consumer debt rose 3.8 per cent to $2.041 trillion in the third-quarter of 2020 compared to the same period last year.
“Homebuyers are largely the reason why we’ve crossed over the $2 trillion threshold,” Rebecca Oakes, assistant vice president of advanced analytics at Equifax Canada, said in a release Monday.
“Car sales have also rebounded in the last few months. With manufacturer and auction house shutdowns there has been a temporary shortage of vehicle availability in some areas.”
Mortgage balances rose 6.6 per cent year-over-year, while new car loans increased 11.7 per cent compared to the same period last year. Meanwhile, average credit card spending returned close to pre-pandemic levels, according to Equifax.
While the 90-day delinquency rate for non-mortgage debt fell to 0.98 per cent, the lowest level since 2014, Equifax noted some worrying signs.
“The low delinquency rates we’re currently seeing are likely being masked by deferral programs,” Oakes said, adding deferral programs saw uptake from over three million consumers since the start of the pandemic.
“There are some warning signs in early-stage delinquency on credit cards where consumers have missed one or two payments that we’re closely monitoring.”
According to Equifax, 12 per cent of new credit products in the third-quarter were opened by consumers who took advantage of a deferral program.
Moderna designed its coronavirus vaccine in 2 days — here’s how – Global News
After less than a year in the making, Moderna announced promising results for its coronavirus vaccine on Monday, saying it plans to apply for emergency use authorization in the United States and Europe.
In early January, when the novel coronavirus was still a mysterious disease in China, the U.S. biotech company started chasing a potential vaccine.
Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said he read an article about the coronavirus in Wuhan, which was quickly spreading throughout the region at the time.
Bancel said he immediately reached out to the Vaccine Research Center at the U.S.’ National Institutes of Health (NIH), according to Boston Magazine. He wanted to start looking into a vaccine using messenger RNA (mRNA) technology — an approach that had never been licensed before.
Moderna and the NIH had previously been working on mRNA technology, a new way to make vaccines without using weakened or dead pieces of a virus.
Traditional vaccines are made from a weakened or a dead virus, which prompts the body to fight off the invader and build immunity. These vaccines take time to develop as scientists have to grow and inactivate an entire germ or its proteins.
But Moderna’s mRNA technology used synthetic genes, which can be generated and manufactured in weeks and produced at scale more rapidly than conventional vaccines.
Coronavirus: Canadians moving away from idea of mandatory vaccine says Ipsos poll
The mRNA technology meant Moderna only needed the coronavirus’s genetic sequence to make a vaccine and did not have to grow a live virus in a lab.
And on Jan. 11, Chinese health authorities released the genetic sequence of the novel coronavirus.
That’s all Moderna needed to get started.
Two days later, the company and the NIH designed the sequence for its coronavirus vaccine, called the mRNA-1273.
“Two days is very possible because from the moment when the sequence of virus was published by China scientists, it became public … Any person can take this information and do whatever he or she wants,” Levon Abrahamyan, a virologist at the University of Montreal, explained.
“In this case, Moderna wanted to design a platform to use a vaccine … They wanted to know what is the sequence for the spike protein in the virus.”
After Moderna successfully designed the sequence for the vaccine, the company moved its candidate from a lab to human trials within two months.
On March 4, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved clinical trials for Moderna’s vaccine, and on March 16, the first participant in the Phase 1 trial was vaccinated.
The mRNA technology is what put Moderna ahead in the race for a COVID-19 vaccine, Abrahamyan said.
“Moderna had been developing mRNA vaccines before this. None of them had been approved yet, but now this was a pathway to develop these future vaccines,” he said.
“Moderna was risky in using this new technology. Most pharma companies prefer to use old-fashioned technologies.”
He said the risk seemed to have paid off, as the Phase 3 results Moderna released Monday looked “very promising,” and could possibly change the way we produce vaccines in the future
Abrahamyan added that although the vaccine was developed in less than a year — vaccines normally take up to 10 years to make — it does not mean safety was compromised. It’s just that the mRNA technology allows scientists to produce vaccines at a quicker speed.
“The mRNA approach allows you to skip many steps of the traditional vaccine production pipeline because you don’t have to choose the viral strain or grow the virus in a lab, which is very time-consuming,” he said.
Instead, the mRNA technology skips this step, and scientists are able to produce a synthetic version by using a computer.
Moderna has been manufacturing its mRNA-1273 vaccine for several months and says approximately 20 million doses will be available by the end of the year.
The company also remains on track to manufacture 500 million to one billion doses globally in 2021, it said.
Canada inks deals to secure millions of coronavirus vaccine doses
Canada signed a deal in September for 20 million doses to be delivered at the beginning of 2021, with the option of increasing the supply to 56 million doses.
Health Canada has been conducting a rolling review of vaccine data as it becomes available, and last week said it has “similar timelines” to the U.S. and Europe for approval of some vaccine candidates.
Last week officials said Canada could get its first batch of vaccines — including Moderna’s — in January or February of 2021, with a goal of vaccinating the “majority” of Canadians who want one by September.
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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