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New business ventures help Canadian snowbirds circumvent a closed U.S. land border – CBC.ca

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Despite the Canada-U.S. land border closure to non-essential traffic, Canadian snowbirds Bernard Loiselle and Sylvie Charbonneau are on their way to Florida — in their RV.

“Finally, we’re going,” said Loiselle, 57, from a road stop near Albany, N.Y. “The weather in Quebec was getting cold.”

The couple from Marieville, Que., southeast of Montreal, live in their RV year-round and spend the winter in Florida. This year, however, they faced a problem because they can’t drive their mobile home across the United States border during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

But that problem was solved when they learned of a new service offered by KMC Transport.

The Quebec company flies snowbirds on a chartered plane from an airport just outside Montreal to nearby Plattsburgh, N.Y. KMC employees also drive the snowbirds’ vehicles to the Plattsburgh airport so, after landing, the passengers can continue their journey down south. 

“It was great to — from the plane — see our RV down there, just waiting for us,” said Loiselle. 

Loiselle and Charbonneau on Thursday, just before they boarded their flight from Montreal Saint-Hubert Longueuil Airport to nearby Plattsburgh, N.Y., to begin their migration south. (submitted by Sylvie Charbonneau)

Despite soaring COVID-19 infection rates in the U.S. and Canada’s advisory not to travel abroad, many snowbirds are determined to head south this winter. 

Although Canadians can’t drive to the U.S. due to the land border closure, they can fly to the country. But that still creates a problem for snowbirds who want to take their vehicles down south. 

In response, several transport companies have come up with new ways to help snowbirds — and their cars — cross the border. 

KMC ships vehicles to the U.S. sunbelt for snowbirds. But the fee can be prohibitive to transport an RV — around $4,300.

So owner and president Michael Couturier devised a cheaper option: starting in late October, he arranged charter flights for snowbirds to Plattsburgh, plus transport service for their vehicles.

Customers pay $500 per seat on the plane and $1,000 for the vehicle transport. As a commercial transport company, KMC can bring vehicles into the U.S., despite the border restrictions, Couturier said.

“Every commercial transaction at the border is considered essential,” he said. “We’ve got to have all the paperwork, and then we are allowed to do it.”

U.S. Customs and Border Protection confirmed to CBC News that there are no restrictions on Canadians importing vehicles to the United States during the land border closure.

Warning to snowbirds

KMC flies to Plattsburgh twice each weekday. Couturier said the nine-seater plane is always full. 

The added business has been a big boost for the company, which normally focuses on transporting RVs to dealers.

That side of the business has slowed during the pandemic, said Couturier, but catering to snowbirds has allowed him to keep all his 35 workers employed.

“If it wasn’t for snowbirds, the company would be in trouble this year,” he said. “It’s a good opportunity for us.”

WATCH: Canada’s prime minister urges vigilance as cases spike:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau returned to the steps of Rideau Cottage where he made an impassioned plea to Canadians to slow the spread of the COVID virus. 2:25

Meanwhile, the federal government continues to warn Canadians to avoid international travel during the pandemic. 

“People are safest when they stay at home,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during a news conference on Tuesday. 

However, the message hasn’t deterred eager snowbirds. Some argue they will be safe, because they have COVID-19 medical insurance and plan to stick to their gated community at their destination. 

“[You] just do your groceries, you go back to your RV and you have your supper there and that’s it,” said Loiselle.

Helicopter rides for snowbirds

Jeremy Rood’s parents were still keen to go to Florida this winter, but wanted to take both their car and their Labrador, Abby. So the helicopter pilot came up with a solution that his employer, Great Lakes Helicopter in Cambridge, Ont., has turned into a business. 

The company picks up snowbirds at the Hamilton, Ont. airport and helicopters them just across the border to Buffalo, N.Y. Then, Rood’s friend — who runs a transport company — transports the passengers’ vehicles, typically on a flatbed truck, to the Buffalo airport. 

“My parents wanted to get to Florida for the winter and I said, ‘No problem, I’ll make sure you guys get down there,'” said Rood. “We put our heads together and ended up with this little thing that we’re doing here.”

Pilot Jeremy Rood flew his mother, Diane, his father and their dog from Hamilton to Buffalo. He also transported their car, so the snowbird couple could have their vehicle with them during their winter in Florida. (submitted by Jeremy Rood)

Since starting the service in late October, Great Lakes Helicopter has flown 30 passengers and has hundreds more bookings. The cost for a couple to fly in their own private helicopter and transport their car is $1,900. Pets are welcome onboard. 

Rood said he’s not surprised by the brisk business, despite the pandemic. 

“We have long, cold winters here,” he said. “You’re not able to get outside, stay fit, stay active.”

Serving snowbirds due to popular demand

On the West Coast, the winters may not be as cold, but many snowbirds there still want to head south — and take their cars. 

That created an opportunity for Bidbuy Importers based in Blaine, Wash. The company traditionally imports vehicles to private buyers and dealers.

But this year it has branched out to also transport snowbirds’ vehicles from the Vancouver area to U.S. sunbelt states or to closer destinations, such as the Seattle airport. 

Jayde McElroy, vice-president of marketing and sales with Bidbuy Importers, is also helping snowbirds on the West Coast travel south. The service costs from $500 to upwards of $3,000. (submitted by Jayde McElroy)

Jayde McElroy, Bidbuy’s vice-president of marketing and sales, said the company took on snowbird clients due to popular demand.

“When the border shut down, we received so many inquiries from snowbirds that were wondering if we could help them out,” he said. “At first, we didn’t know because it is not something we’ve done.”

So far, Bidbuy has transported 40 cars. The company has about 100 more booked over the next couple of months. Costs range from around $500 to upwards of $3,000, depending on the type of vehicle and the distance it’s travelling. 

When asked about helping snowbirds go south during the pandemic, McElroy said he’s happy to help them escape winter. 

“You never know how long this is gonna go on for. You got to enjoy your life.” 

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'The clock is ticking': Ontario calls on federal government to provide clear timelines for COVID-19 vaccines – CTV Toronto

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TORONTO —
Ontario Premier Doug Ford is calling on the federal government to provide a clear timeline on when the province will receive the first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, saying that is “impossible” to plan distribution without that critical information.

The premier made the comments on Friday afternoon alongside Health Minister Christine Elliott and retired Gen. Rick Hillier, the new head of the province’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution task force.

“Make no mistake, this will be a monumental effort,” Ford told reporters. “When you look at a province the size of Ontario, with as many variables as we’re facing, without proper planning or the proper information, this can be a logistical nightmare.”

“That’s why, as we continue planning, we need certainty from the federal government. We need to know which kind of vaccines we’ll be getting, because each vaccine will come with unique requirements and potential challenges. And we also need to know how many vaccines we will receive each week. We need a clear line of sight into the timelines of the shipments.”

Ford said it is “impossible” to plan distribution of the vaccine, including staffing and storage of doses, without that timeline and “the clock is ticking.”

“I asked (the prime minister) three simple questions. You know, when are we getting it, what type of vaccine are we getting, and how much of that vaccine are we getting,” he said. “To have General Hillier make a proper plan. We need to know.”

Doug Ford, Rick Hillier

The comments come hours after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau refused to provide a clear timeline for when Canadians will have access to a vaccine, saying only that he hopes to have more than half of Canadians vaccinated by September 2021.

“We have continued to work with the provinces on vaccine delivery and logistics since last spring,” Trudeau said.

“I can understand the eagerness with which people want to know, ‘When is this going to be over? When are we going to get the vaccines?’ What we can say is, we are working extremely hard to deliver as quickly and as safely as possible… if all goes according to plan, we should be able to have the majority of Canadians vaccinated by next September,” Trudeau said.

Elliott has previously said the province is likely to roll out the first doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccine between January and March of 2021, followed by a second batch from March until “about” July.

But since then the government has rolled back their vaccine rhetoric, saying that it is not clear if those targets will be achieved.

The COVID-19 vaccines have not yet been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but they could receive the stamp of approval as early as two weeks from now.

Doug Ford and Rick Hillier

Hillier said that while questions remain, the COVID-19 vaccine distribution task force is working to be ready for the new year.

“Our mission is clear,” Hillier said while speaking publicly for the first time since being named head of the task force. “The team is being built. It is largely present and in place and they’re building on the work that’s been done.”

“I’m not an over-the-top optimist, I’m the pragmatic person, but we’re going to be ready on 31 December for what the people of Ontario will need from us.”

Ontario health officials reported a new single-day record of COVID-19 cases on Friday, logging 1,855 new infections and 20 more deaths.

The total number of lab-confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus now stands at 111,216, including deaths and recoveries.

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Top general to lead vaccine rollout, aims to immunize majority by September: PM – CTV News

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Canada has tapped former NATO commander Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin to lead the national vaccine distribution effort, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced his target of immunizing more than half of all Canadians by September, 2021.

“Canadians can expect that if all goes well, to have more than half of us vaccinated by next September,” said the prime minister, adding this “significant positive news” comes straight from Canada’s federal health experts.

“I can understand the eagerness with which people want to know, ‘When is this going to be over? When are we going to get the vaccines?’ What we can say is, we are working extremely hard to deliver as quickly and as safely as possible… if all goes according to plan, we should be able to have the majority of Canadians vaccinated by next September,” Trudeau said.

Trudeau also spoke more about the government’s vaccine strategy of procuring up to 414 million doses from seven different pharmaceutical companies — enough to vaccinate every person in this country more than a few times over. Because COVID-19 is a new disease and there are different approaches to tackling it, Canada wanted to keep its options open, he said.

“Some are going to work better than others, and some are going to be speed bumps along the way that cause extra challenges, and we knew that creating an array of opportunities for Canadians was one of the best ways of making sure that we would get through this the best possible way,” Trudeau said.

Asked what the biggest question on his mind is ahead of administering the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to a Canadian, Trudeau said it’s concerning safety.

“I think the question we all have is: is it going to be safe? Is it going to be effective? That’s what our scientists are looking at very, very carefully right now… There are jurisdictions and countries around the world that have banked everything on one or maybe two different vaccines… Whatever vaccines end up being the right ones to get through this pandemic, Canadians have a very good chance of having access to millions of doses of those,” Trudeau said.

Health Canada will need to evaluate each candidate before it can be administered to Canadians, and on Thursday that agency’s chief medical adviser said that the first COVID-19 vaccine approval could happen before Christmas, in line with expected approvals in the U.S. and Europe.

“We are expecting to make a final decision on the vaccines around the same time,” Dr. Supriya Sharma told reporters Thursday, during the first of what will be weekly public briefings on the status of procurement and rollout plans.

This means Canada could see first approvals in December, initial prioritized groups vaccinated between January and March, and expanding out to more Canadians over the following months.

“And then we’re going to have to figure out all of those shipments,” she said.

That’s when the military is expected to play a role.

TOP MILITARY GENERAL TAKES LEAD

As first reported by CTV News ahead of Trudeau’s Rideau Cottage address on Friday, Fortin will be in charge of overseeing what is set to be a massive logistics-heavy operation of delivering the vaccine.

Trudeau called it the “greatest mobilization effort Canada has seen since the Second World War.”

There are already Canadian Armed Forces military logistics teams working with the Public Health Agency of Canada on planning for the rollout of vaccines to millions of Canadians in the coming months. This work has quietly been underway for months but with positive vaccine trial news coming out in recent weeks, the country’s attention has been largely seized with assessing where Canada stands.

According to the military, there are currently 27 staff working out of the national public health agency, including operational planners, pharmacists, health-care administrators, engineers, and IT experts, with more expected to follow.

Known as the National Operations Centre, Fortin will head up the logistics and operations within the centre. He is being named Vice President Logistics and Operations at PHAC, and will be assisted by Brig.-Gen. Simon Bernard and Brig.-Gen. Krista Brodie with logistical planning and co-ordination.

“This will be the biggest immunization in the history of the country,” Trudeau said. “We must reach everyone who wants a vaccine, no matter where they live.”

Fortin most recently served as the Chief of Staff for the Canadian Joint Operations Command, but has also served as the commander of NATO’s Iraq mission between 2018-19. He graduated from the Royal Military College Saint-Jean in 1991, and has also spent time working for the U.S. Army and with the United Nations in Bosnia.

“The Canadian Armed Forces will assist on planning, including to meet challenges like cold storage requirements, data-sharing, and reaching Indigenous and rural communities,” Trudeau said.

[embedded content]

Further complicating the tall task of distributing millions of vials across the country, a number of the vaccine candidates being tested—including the Pfizer vaccine— require two doses and must be stored at very cold temperatures.

The government has begun procuring freezers that are able to stay cold enough to keep the vaccine supply stable, and the procurement process is underway for a contract tender to ship, fly, and drive doses to all regions of the country.

The military says it is helping “synchronize” vaccine deliveries, put in place “risk-mitigation tools” and conduct “a series of exercises” ahead of vaccines being administered.

Right now the military isn’t set to play a role in actually administering needles to the public, but Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said if the provinces indicate they need assistance, it could be considered.

The prime minister spoke with provinces again Thursday evening about the COVID-19 response and said the federal government is offering the latest information it can, after frustration and confusion about timelines and plans bubbled over this week.

“We have continued to work with the provinces on vaccine delivery logistics, since last spring. We’ve been engaged, understanding that a vaccine was the way we were going to get through this pandemic,” Trudeau said.

‘TOUGHEST DAYS OF THIS PANDEMIC’

Noting that Ontario hit a new record for the highest number of COVID-19 cases reported in a single day on Friday, and Canadians from coast to coast are adjusting to new levels of restrictions in the face of the second wave, Trudeau said that Canada is in “some of the toughest days of this pandemic.” Trudeau restated that as the country waits for vaccines, the standard public health measures still need to be taken.

As Tam reported on Friday, Canada is now averaging 5,300 new daily cases a day, with continued “rapid growth,” in many parts of the country. She said Canada is on track to double the new daily case counts within a week or two if Canadians don’t limit their outings and interactions to those that are essential.

“We’re in this together, and the more we work as a team, the better we’ll all do,” said the prime minister on Friday.

With files from CTV News’ Michel Boyer and Solarina Ho

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Ontario reports record-high 1,855 new COVID-19 cases – CBC.ca

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Ontario reported a record-high 1,855 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, with officials saying it will be at least two weeks before lockdowns imposed in Toronto and Peel Region have any tangible effect on the province’s case numbers.

“There’s been a lot of celebrations over the past couple of weeks,” Premier Doug Ford said, a message echoed by Health Minister Christine Elliott, who said a rise in cases was expected at this point.

Speaking to reporters Friday, Ford also called on the federal government to provide more clarity around when Ontario can expect to receive vaccines — something he said will be key for retired general Rick Hillier, who is leading the provincial vaccine rollout taskforce.

“It was my duty to agree to the premier’s request to lead the task force in this war to defeat COVID-19,” Hillier said. “We will be ready as of December 31, 2020 to receive the vaccine, no matter when it arrives, and to ensure the people of Ontario are vaccinated. 

Hillier also acknowledged that while there will be bumps in the vaccine’s rollout, he believes those most at-risk should receive it first.

Ford calls out anti-lockdown demonstrators

During his news conference, Ford also addressed Kingston-area MPP Randy Hillier’s anti-lockdown demonstration outside Queen’s Park Thursday.

“I think MPP Randy Hillier is being totally irresponsible,” Ford said.

He said it’s the province’s responsibility to protect Ontarians, even if they are against vaccines or are anti-maskers.

The premier went on to call out those protesting outside his home on a near-daily basis, saying his neighbours have been intimidated and threatened.

“You don’t go after people’s neighbours and their families,” Ford said. “Stop acting like a bunch of buffoons.”

Also Friday, Ontario processed more than 58,000 tests, also a record.

New cases in the province include 517 in Peel Region, 494 in Toronto, 189 in York Region and 130 in Halton Region. 

They pushed the seven-day average of daily cases to 1,489, the highest the number has been since the first confirmed infection was reported in Ontario in late January. 

Other public health units that saw double-digit increases were:

  • Hamilton: 82
  • Waterloo Region: 74
  • Durham Region: 65
  • Ottawa: 55
  • Windsor-Essex: 52
  • Simcoe Muskoka: 38
  • Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph: 27
  • Niagara: 20
  • Brant County: 16
  • Huron Perth: 14
  • Grey Bruce: 11
  • Middlesex-London: 10
  • Haldimand-Norfolk: 10

There are also 122 school-related infections, of which 99 are students and 23 are staff members. There are 671 publicly funded schools in Ontario, or about 14 per cent, with at least one reported instance of COVID-19. Six schools are closed because of outbreaks.

(Note: All of the figures used in this story are found on the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 dashboard or in its daily epidemiologic summary. The number of cases for any region may differ from what is reported by the local public health unit, because local units report figures at different times.)

5 regions moving into more restrictive zones

The province also announced that five more regions will move into more restrictive zones starting at 12:01 a.m. Monday:

  • Red-Control
    • Windsor-Essex County Health Unit
  • Orange-Restrict
    • Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit
  • Yellow-Protect
    • Hastings Prince Edward Public Health
    • Lambton Public Health
    • Northwestern Health Unit

There are currently 13,255 confirmed, active cases of the illness provincewide, the most there have been in Ontario since the pandemic began.

The 58,037 test samples processed between 2 p.m. Wednesday and 2 p.m. Thursday is nearly 10,000 more than the previous high, which came on Oct. 8. The province’s network of community, commercial and hospital labs reported a test positivity rate of 3.7 per cent. Public health officials have previously said they hope to build capacity for 100,000 tests daily by mid-December.

Meanwhile, the number of people with COVID-19 in Ontario hospitals fell by 15 to 541. Those patients being treated in intensive care stayed steady at 151, while patients being ventilated decreased slightly by four, to 101.

The province also recorded 20 more deaths linked to the illness, pushing the official death toll to 3,595. So far this month, 450 people with COVID-19 have died in Ontario. 


Looking for more information about the COVID-19 situation in Ontario? These CBC News stories can help:

What does the latest modelling suggest?

Ontario health officials warn the province remains in a “precarious situation” but has a chance of keeping the daily case rate around the 1,500 mark. 

What is the province recommending for the holiday season?

Celebrate only with those in your household, is the guidance coming from the government.

What about for daily life?

In Toronto, where a lockdown is in place, Dr. Eileen de Villa, the city’s medical officer of health, warned residents that COVID-19 is now hitting nearly every neighbourhood hard.

WATCH | All of Toronto at risk, city’s top health official says:

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa said “the easier we make it” for COVID-19 to spread, “the worse it gets for people.” 1:20

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