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Manitoba Human Rights Commission reports increased calls from mandatory mask opponents –



Manitoba’s attempt to cut rising COVID-19 numbers appears to be paying off, officials say, but it’s leading to some public anger and a sharp rise in complaints to the province’s human rights commission.

“I would say our office is dealing with anywhere between 50 to 100 calls per month on the mask issue, from individuals who are telling us that they’re being denied access to retail premises or being asked to wear a mask for some reason or other,” Karen Sharma, the commission’s acting executive director, said Wednesday.

Overall call volumes are running about 30 per cent above normal, Sharma said.

“We tell people that the province’s current mask mandate, from a human rights perspective, is generally not an issue unless … that person does have a disability-related need not to wear a mask, in which case they might require some form of accommodation.”

Manitoba has implemented a series of increasingly tough restrictions over the last two months as COVID-19 numbers have spiked. The most recent orders mandate mask use in all indoor public areas, require restaurants and bars to close except for takeout and delivery, and forbid people from having guests in their home with some exceptions.

The public health orders also require that when someone has come into close contact with a known COVID-19 case, that person must self-isolate, even from other members of his or her household.

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said nurses and others who call known contacts of COVID-19 cases often face abuse.

“We are again hearing reports from public health contact tracers … of very angry people on the other end of the telephone line when they’re advising them that they’re contacts or cases and need to self-isolate,” Roussin said.

“When someone is isolating … the whole purpose is that should you become a case, which a certain proportion do, you’re going to have zero contacts. There’s not anyone you could have passed (the virus) to.”

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Canadian provinces push back vaccination plans as Pfizer deliveries grind to a halt – Red Deer Advocate



Some provinces were forced to push back vaccination for health-care workers and vulnerable seniors on Monday as deliveries from a major manufacturer ground to a temporary halt.

Canada is not due to receive any Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines this week as the company revamps its operations, and deliveries are expected to be slow for the next few weeks.

Ontario announced Monday that it was pausing COVID-19 vaccinations of long-term care staff and essential caregivers so that it can focus on giving the shots to all nursing home residents.

Premier Doug Ford said the delay has taught the province that it can’t take vaccine shipments for granted.

“I want to be clear: we’re using every single vaccine we can to protect our most vulnerable,” Ford told a news conference. “But delivery delays are forcing us to be careful and cautious as we plan, to ensure we’re able to offer second doses.”

The news came as more cases of the more contagious U.K. variant of COVID-19 were detected across Ontario, including in at least one long-term care home.

Some provinces have used up nearly all their vaccine supply and have been forced to push back their vaccination schedules.

Saskatchewan announced Sunday that it had exhausted all the doses it received. However, even after technically running out, the province still managed to vaccinate another 304 people as it continued to draw extra doses from the vials it received. It had administered 102 per cent of its allotted doses by Monday, and it expected the remaining excess doses to be gone this week.

Quebec has used up more than 90 per cent of its supply. It confirmed that the delivery delay would force it to postpone its vaccination rollout in private seniors’ residences, which had been scheduled to start Monday.

“Let’s be realistic: our vaccination momentum will be reduced as of this week,” Marjaurie Cote-Boileau, press secretary to Health Minister Christian Dube, said in a text message.

“Given the important reduction of Pfizer doses we’ll receive in the next two weeks, we have had to review our vaccination calendar.”

Quebec finished giving first doses to long-term care residents last week and has vaccinated some 9,000 seniors in private homes by using leftover doses. The province gave less than 2,000 shots Sunday, compared to an average of more than 9,600 a day over the previous week.

In British Columbia, the provincial health officer said the government is extending the interval between the two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine. Dr. Bonnie Henry said further delays in the production and delivery of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine over the next two weeks caused the time period between the shots to be extended from 35 days to 42.

She said about about 60 per cent of more than 119,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine administered in the province so far have gone to protecting residents of long-term care homes.

The Manitoba government also said it may soon have to put off some second-dose vaccine appointments as a result of the disruptions to the supply of the Pfizer vaccine.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has stressed that the delay is only temporary and that Canada is expected to receive 4 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine by the end of March.

As Parliament resumed Monday, Trudeau faced a barrage of questions from MPs of all parties as they blasted the Liberal government for what they described as a botched approach to rolling out vaccines.

Both Trudeau and Procurement Minister Anita Anand repeated the government’s promise that by the end of September, all Canadians wishing to be vaccinated will have received their shots.

Trudeau added that the country is still receiving shipments of the Moderna vaccine.

Earlier Monday, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said there is “tremendous pressure” on the global supply chain for vaccines that the government has tried to mitigate.

“We are working on this every single day, because we know how important vaccines are to Canadians, to first and foremost the lives of Canadians and also to our economy,” she told a news conference in Ottawa by video.

Despite the vaccine delay, some provinces continued to report encouraging drops in the number of new cases and hospitalizations. Ontario reported fewer than 2,000 cases, as well as fewer people in hospital. It was a similar story in Quebec, where hospitalizations dropped for a sixth straight day.

Newfoundland and Labrador also reported no new cases of COVID-19 for a third straight day.

Alberta reported only 362 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, compared with daily numbers peaking as high as 1,800 in mid-December. But the big concern for health officials was a case of the U.K. variant that could not be directly traced to international travel.

Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro said that while it is one case, the variant could quickly overwhelm hospitals if not checked.

“There’s no question that this kind of exponential growth would push our health-care system to the brink,” Shandro told a news conference. “It would significantly impact the health care and the services available to all Albertans.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 25, 2021.

— With files from Shawn Jeffords, Jordan Press, Dean Bennett and Stephanie Levitz.

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press


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B.C. could relax restrictions this summer if COVID cases curtailed: Dr. Henry –



British Columbians may be able to remove their masks and rejoin family and friends for outings this spring and summer if they can hold the line on COVID-19 cases until then, says Dr. Bonnie Henry.

In an interview with CHEK News on Monday, Henry said she’s hopeful that if people rally to lower B.C.’s daily case count, and the province does not see a large-scale outbreak of the U.K. or South African variant of the virus, that we can enjoy a summer with more freedoms than we saw last year.

“Once we get enough vaccine into people, we’re going to see a dramatic drop-off in the virus,” said Henry. “We also know it doesn’t seem to spread as easily in the spring and summer months. So we’ve got a lot of things on our side.

“If we can just get through this next few months and get to that place, we’ll be able to do a lot more this summer than we ever did last summer. And we’ll be able to get to that point where we can get back to not wearing masks again, where we can get back to being together in that way we all so want to.

“But we have to have that patience and resilience and determination to get us through these new few weeks.”

Not having to wear masks in certain situations is a possibility, she said.

“I absolutely think by summer we’re going to be in a very different situation. As long as we can hold our line right now. Because if we start to see things take off again it’s going to be that much longer before we can ease back on things again.”

But the path to get to the summer won’t be easy.

Henry on Monday called on British Columbians to buckle down, follow restrictions and try to reduce B.C.’s daily new COVID-19 case counts from current levels. She said the province is a critical point, especially with delays in vaccine supply from the federal government disrupting the planned vaccination schedule for long-term care homes. She also on Monday pushed back the length of time to get a second dose of vaccine to 42 days.

Of particular concern is the threat of variant versions of COVID-19, which are more contagious and easily transmissible. Vancouver Island saw three cases of the U.K. variant this month, but they were contained before spreading, said Henry.

“Probably a little more concerning is we’ve had three of what we call the South African variant, which is slightly different but also worrisome about it being more easily transmitted between people,” said Henry.

“And all three of these have been in the Lower Mainland but none of them we can find a travel connection. So that is concerning . . . we still haven’t figured out where these people got the virus.”

Vancouver Island has seen its daily new case count trend upwards in recent weeks, centered around the mid-Island. On Monday, there were 73 new cases announced.

“We have seen an uptick on the Island, but also across the province and it does reflect increased transmission in the community, people who have travelled and come back to Vancouver Island,” she said.

“Where we’re most concerned is central Island where we’ve had quite a bit of transmission, in Port Alberni, Nanaimo, Duncan. So absolutely the focus is on that area and trying to get it under control.”

She urged those residents to maintain their distance, cut down on interactions with others, washing their hands and going back to the fundamentals.

Henry also said she hopes some of our societal changes made during the pandemic might become permanent in the future.

The use of social restrictions and masks have reduced B.C.’s regular influenza spread – which often kills numerous seniors annually – to almost nothing this year. Hospitals, which are usually overflowing due to the flu at this time of year, have yet to reach max capacity.

Henry said the basics we have gotten used to in order to prevent COVID-19 would have a large benefit on our society if some of them continued. She cited diligent hand-washing, not attending work or school if sick, and covering your mouth when you cough as major societal changes she hopes are permanent.

But Henry wouldn’t go as far as saying distances in lineups, plexiglass at restaurants and mandatory masks in public should stay – noting people need a return to normalcy to feel part of a community.

“I think there’s a balancing here,” she said.

“I think about the times we have those social interactions in a restaurant with friends and music and that feeling of connectedness of community. We don’t want to lose those things. And having those barriers are hard. But those thoughts of making it okay not to go if we are not feeling well, making it okay to stay away if we’re feeling the least bit unwell, making it okay to wear a mask if we are not sure. I think we want to keep some of these things.”

Watch the full interview with Henry in the video below

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With COVID-19 cases trending down in Ontario, could small businesses see the light at the end of the lockdown tunnel? –



Ontario business owners are eagerly looking for the light at the end of the lockdown tunnel as COVID-19 cases steadily drop each day — but public health experts say we’ve got a long road ahead before the province can safely open its doors again.

COVID-19 cases in Ontario have been trending downward by the day — the province announced 1,958 new cases Monday, down from 2,417 on Sunday and 2,578 last Monday. The Monday before that, Jan. 11, the province reported 3,338 new cases.

But on Sunday, Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said it’s too soon to know whether this trend will continue.

“While community-based measures may be starting to take effect in some areas, it is too soon to be sure that current measures are strong enough and broad enough to maintain a steady downward trend across the country,” she said in a statement.

The threat of the new virus variants also looms; one disease forecasting company told the Star that the province could see nearly 4,000 cases a day by the end of March if the new U.K. variant takes hold and schools reopen as planned.

Peter Jüni, scientific director of the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, said the U.K. variant and South Africa variant are both quite worrying, and make it all the more important to stay in a strict lockdown until cases are under control.

“We may be over the hill, but we’re not out of the forest,” he said.

Epidemiologist and assistant professor at the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto Colin Furness said the downward case trend combined with mobility data show the lockdown restrictions are working. But past the short term, he’s less optimistic, especially if the new variants take hold.

“I worry that we’re going to be up to several thousand cases a day, many thousands … if a new variant really takes hold,” he said.

Furness is advocating for widespread testing as a way of loosening the lockdown restrictions.

“I think if businesses want to open, they need to start demanding rapid testing,” he said.

On Jan. 18, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health David Williams said the province’s daily case count needs to fall below 1,000 before the lockdown measures can be lifted. He added he’d like to see the number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care units drop below 150.

But Furness thinks the decision to lift the lockdown can’t be made based on a single number.

“It’s not the number, it’s the trajectory and the narrative,” he said.

Andrew Morris, an infectious disease specialist at Sinai Health and University Health Network, said while the downward trend is encouraging, he too would look for more than that before undoing the current restrictions.

Morris would prefer to wait until cases are “very, very low” and then begin reopening bit by bit, beginning with schools.

He agreed that the province should look at “a bunch of factors” before deciding to ease restrictions, not simply the daily case count — such as health care capacity, but not just in terms of beds and ventilators.

“I think what we also need to be thinking about is the effects on the workforce,” he said. “It’s not just the numbers.”

Ryan Mallough, the director of provincial affairs, Ontario at the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), said the organization is calling on the government to come up with a plan to reopen small businesses at a limited capacity — even by-appointment shopping would be better than nothing, said Mallough.



He added that business owners want to have some kind of certainty, some date or number to look forward to, instead of being surprised with a reopening and scrambling to prepare.

“It has been incredibly difficult for business owners to survive with no in-store customers. And the longer this goes, the more difficult recovery is going to be and, honestly, the more businesses will wind up losing,” said Mallough.

Mallough also noted the ongoing frustration over big-box stores still being allowed to sell non-essential items alongside groceries and essentials, something the CFIB has deemed unfair since the lockdown began.

“At bare minimum from a fairness perspective, if we’re going to continue with a lockdown, then those big box stores really should be limited,” said Mallough.

Jüni said the government should be making clear the difference between essential and non-essential, and agreed that the government could also be “more stringent” about that distinction to make the lockdown as effective and fair as possible.

“If feasible, if one is able to distinguish between essential and non-essential parts (of a big box store), this would make a difference,” he said.

The province recently launched the Small Business Support Grant, which provides up to $20,000 for eligible businesses struggling under lockdown restrictions.

For many businesses, this has been helpful, and easy to access, said Mallough.

But the CFIB is also asking the government to expand the grant, since there are some small businesses that aren’t eligible, he said, such as businesses deemed “essential” that are nevertheless seeing dramatic drops in revenue.

Emily Hogeveen, a spokesperson in the Minister of Finance’s office, said as of 7 a.m. Monday morning, the province has received around 51,000 applications for the Small Business Support Grant.

Hogeveen said the ministry is aware that many businesses are facing revenue shortfalls, and the government is reviewing the program to ensure that it best serves the businesses that need it most.

With files from Kenyon Wallace and The Canadian Press

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