Manitoba Hydro is reducing the number of workers at the Keeyask Generating Station construction site after at least five staff tested positive for COVID-19.
The utility company said the worker reduction is part of a measured strategy to contain the cases, which were found by the ongoing testing of the project’s entire workforce.
“We’ve taken this deliberate step to protect the health and safety of the workers on the project and the neighbouring communities,” said Jay Grewal, Manitoba Hydro’s President and CEO, in a press release.
“With the increasing number of COVID cases we’re seeing in Manitoba and the escalation of levels in the #RestartMB Pandemic Response System announced Friday, we feel that this decision — informed by the latest guidance from public health officials — is absolutely the right course of action to take,” she said.
Manitoba Hydro said all 764 workers at the site have been tested using a private lab.
As of Saturday, five workers were confirmed as positive. An additional 12 received a not clear test result and will be tested again by Cadham Provincial Lab.
Manitoba Hydro said contact tracing and isolation continues for all staff noted as not clear and their identified close contacts.
The company said plans for the temporary staff reduction are under development. No new workers are travelling to the site except for staff required to maintain critical project operations.
“We’re taking this proactive precautionary measure to stop the spread of the virus,” said Grewal, in the press release. “We’ll continue to work with our partner communities to support their individual pandemic response plans.”
Manitoba Hydro hasn’t created a timeline of when regular work rotations will resume following the reduction and is following guidance from public health officials.
After much debate, the OPEC+ group has finally reached an agreement on oil production for next year. Or at least for January.
OPEC+ will, as a group, add in 500,000 barrels per day in January to its oil production quotas, which currently calls for a production cut of 7.7 million bpd. The total production cut in January will now just 7.2 million bpd.
Future assigned quotas could rise or fall, and to determine those levels of oil production beyond January, OPEC+ ministers will hold additional meetings—one each month.
The agreement is being touted as a win for all parties, although behind closed doors, it is unlikely that all ministers feel that way, as some ministers were vocally opposed prior to the meeting to adding in any production out of fear that oil demand would not be able to sustain any added production.
In addition to the agreement for adding 500,000 bpd of production back in, OPEC+ members that are laggards in sticking to their production quotas will have to make up the difference between now and March, one delegate said.
Additional things we know:
Russia’s share of the 500,000 bpd additional January production is 125,000 bpd.
Countries can either use their part of the 500,000 bpd increase by increasing production outright or—for the laggards—they can “use” their share of the additional allowance to offset any additional compensatory cuts they must make.
The fact that the agreement only covers January could mean that there were some heavy concessions that had to be made to reach a consensus. But the January-only deal is being sold as a flexibilie that will allow the group to react to demand swings.
The January-only agreement should have a considerable effect on oil price volatility in the months to come. With fresh OPEC announcements every month, the market will hang on every word, and oil prices will respond in kind, regardless of their actual effect on oil prices.
In a presser following the meeting, OPEC chairman HRH Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud chastised the media for their “imaginative” star wars they have been perpetuating in recent weeks, referring to reports that the UAE and Saudi Arabia were spatting over the way forward.
The Canadian dollar hit its highest point in more than two years on Thursday as the U.K. announced it had approved a coronavirus vaccine for emergency use and oil prices were buoyed by an apparent deal among OPEC nations to extend their current production cuts past January.
The loonie at one point touched 77.61 cents US, its highest level since October 2018.
One catalyst for the loonie’s uptick was word that members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and Russia are reportedly nearing a deal to extend production cuts of more than seven million barrels a day past January.
Some in the oil cartel have pushed for a three month extension to May to the cuts, but given the recent run up in oil prices, the cartel has settled on a compromise of maintaining the cuts into February.
“This is roughly what was expected to come from these talks which will be why oil prices continue to trade around the highs,” said Craig Erlam, an analyst with foreign exchange company OANDA.
A barrel of West Texas Intermediate oil was trading above $45 US on Thursday, a level it has not reached and stayed above since early March when the pandemic walloped demand for energy around the world.
Currencies benefit from hope world economy will recover
The loonie is riding the wave of higher oil prices, but is also benefiting from a general weakness in the U.S. dollar.
The Australian dollar, the euro and the Korean won also hit two-year highs against the U.S. dollar on Thursday, as the flight for the perceived safety of America’s currency seems to be coming to an end.
“The big talk seems to be all about the U.K. getting ready to do the vaccine next week — faster than a lot of people expected and it’s having an effect on pretty much everything,” said Michael Currie, vice-president and investment adviser at TD Wealth.
Counterintuitively, that’s bad news for the U.S. dollar, which has seen its value increase by about 13 per cent during the pandemic because it is a perceived store of value. If things are indeed getting better, there’s less need to keep cash stashed in something safe like a U.S. dollar.
Loonie could be headed higher: analyst
Shaun Osborne, chief foreign exchange strategist with Bank of Nova Scotia says the loonie has appreciated by about 10 cents since bottoming out in April, and he thinks a case can be made that the loonie could be headed higher still in the medium term.
“The U.S. economy is likely to perform on par with the rest of the world [and] may underperform Canada,” he said in an interview.
“A stronger global economy and higher demand for commodities … that is something I would expect to be positive for the Canadian dollar [but] I think we need to get through the next two or three months just to see just how much this move can extend,” Osborne said.
Federal officials today explained how they plan to roll out millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses in the coming weeks as Ottawa launches its mass inoculation campaign.
The initial supply of the doses will be limited — just three million Canadians are expected to get a shot in the first three months of 2021. Millions more doses are expected to arrive as the supply chain stabilizes.
One of the principal challenges facing the immunization effort is the distribution of vaccines that must be kept at very low temperatures – well below those that a standard commercial refrigerator can offer.
The Pfizer product, which is expected to get the green light from Health Canada as early as this month, needs to be kept at approximately -80 degrees Celsius to remain stable. The Moderna product, another vaccine that uses groundbreaking messenger RNA (mRNA) technology, must be kept at -20 degrees Celsius.
Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, a former NATO commander in Iraq, is leading vaccination logistics and operations at a new national operations centre in the Public Health Agency of Canada. While the country is facing unprecedented “logistical complexities,” he said, the military and its partners will be ready to deploy vaccines as soon as they are approved in Canada.
He said the national operations centre isn’t waiting for Health Canada’s sign-off to begin preparations. The Pfizer product will be delivered by that company directly to provincial and territorial distribution points as early as the end of the month.
The federal government already has secured the cold storage required for this product. All of the provinces have indicated where the Pfizer-specific fridges should be placed and 14 distribution points nationwide will be ready to receive the vaccine starting on Dec. 14, Fortin said.
Eventually, there will be 205 “points of issue” locations across the country where health care professionals can administer the vaccine, the general said. It will be up to the provinces and territories to specify where and when individual Canadians will be inoculated.
Fortin said at least one “dry run” has been executed so far, with more planned in the days ahead, to ensure things run smoothly once this vaccine hits our shores from manufacturing hubs in the U.S. and abroad. These practice runs will ensure officials are comfortable with what Fortin called the “very unique requirements” of this vaccine.
Fortin said he’s actively planning for multiple worst-case scenarios, such as bad weather, cyber attacks and fires at distribution hubs.
“We’re very much executing a whole-of-nation approach. The size and scope and scale of this problem is unprecedented and there’s a number of factors at play,” he said. “I like the idea of being ready before the Christmas timeframe, so we are certain to be ready when it comes in January.”
The general said his team is in daily contact with Pfizer and the company is “comfortable” with the plan that Canada has crafted. Pfizer has said it won’t ship product to a country that isn’t ready to receive a vaccine that is so temperature-sensitive.
Dr. Supriya Sharma, the chief medical adviser at Health Canada, said Thursday that the regulatory review of Pfizer’s vaccine is “progressing really well” and her department has the “majority of information” it needs from the company to certify that it’s safe and effective.
In an interview with CBC’s Power & Politics, Sharma said the final approval could come in the next 7 to 10 days. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is set to meet on Dec. 10 to decide on an emergency use authorization (EUA) for that shot and Sharma said Canada is following a similar timeline.
Canada has placed orders with Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech for 20 million doses of the two-dose vaccine, with options for millions more in the months to follow.
The company has reported its vaccine was 95 per cent effective in preventing COVID-19 among clinical trial participants who had no evidence of prior infection.
Preparing for the worst
The Moderna vaccine, which is expected to secure regulatory approvals after the Pfizer product, will be imported into Canada by the federal government, largely through private shipping companies. Ottawa will in turn divide up the product for the provinces and territories.
The government is now finalizing “end mile” contracts with logistics firms — the companies that will transport the Moderna vaccines to centres where Canadians can go for a shot.
On Monday, the Massachusetts-based company applied to the FDA for its EUA for the American marketplace.
Data from the company’s final clinical trial are encouraging, demonstrating the vaccine is 94.1 per cent effective at preventing COVID-19 and 100 per cent effective at preventing severe cases of the disease.
Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada’s deputy chief public health officer, said the federal government is now refining who is best suited to get an early dose of a vaccine — early guidance from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) suggests seniors in long-term care homes and frontline health care workers will be among the first to get a shot.
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole and his party’s health critic Michelle Rempel Garner held a news conference this morning to discuss an opposition day motion that will call on the government to release its plan by Dec. 16.
O’Toole accused the government of failing to provide Canadians with a plan and a timeframe for vaccine distribution.
“Without a concrete timeline for vaccines, businesses won’t have the confidence to reinvest in their operations and rehire Canadians who have been laid off during the pandemic,” he said.
“Without a reliable timeline, or details, provinces have the impossible task of establishing complex supply chains with no lead time.”
The motion calls for a status update on:
How each type of vaccine will be safely delivered, stored and distributed to Canadians.
The date on which each vaccine type will be first deployed in Canada and the rate of vaccinations anticipated by month.
Any planned federal guidance with respect to the deployment of the vaccine by priority group, such as front-line health workers and seniors.
The plan to distribute the vaccine to Indigenous communities, members of the Canadian Armed Forces and veterans.
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