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No immediate changes to physical distancing guidelines for Canadian schools, despite CDC shift – CTV News

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OTTAWA —
The Public Health Agency of Canada won’t be following in the footsteps of U.S. health officials and changing the recommended distance between students in classrooms until potentially “early summer 2021,” when the agency expects to update its COVID-19 guidance for kindergarten to Grade 12 based on the latest transmission and epidemiology data.

PHAC told CTVNews.ca that while it continues to communicate with international partners, “the epidemiology of COVID-19 is different in each jurisdiction” and for that reason, narrowing the distance between students wearing masks from at least six feet to at least three feet, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended last Friday, won’t be applied to Canada at this time.

The CDC said the new guidance was based on data from schools in Utah, Missouri and Florida that suggests transmission of COVID-19 in schools is relatively low when precautions such as mask-wearing are employed, including in cases where students do not maintain six feet of distance.

“I want to emphasize that today’s recommendations are specific to students in classrooms with universal mask wearing. These updates provide the evidence-based roadmap to help schools reopen safely, and remain open, for in-person instruction,” CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky tweeted on Friday following the announcement.

PHAC currently advises that, when possible, students remain at least two metres apart while masked. Some individual provinces have taken their own approach, including B.C., where the province’s health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said in September that one metre of distance was acceptable in controlled environments.

“Given the circulation of variants of concern across Canada, some of which are more transmissible, it is important individuals continue to practise physical distancing along with multiple other personal preventive practices in a layered approach,” reads the statement from PHAC.

CTV News’ Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Abdu Sharkawy said he believes maintaining the current guidance regarding physical distancing in schools is prudent.

“We are not in a position to follow the CDC’s lead on this right now,” he said in an email to CTVNews.ca. “We are very much in the throes of a third wave that is still gaining momentum. There are simply too many outbreaks in schools, communal work environments and nowhere near enough Canadians vaccinated.”

Sharkawy added that shrinking physical distancing guidelines in schools adds risk without any tangible benefits.

“It’s not the right time,” he said. “Maybe when we’re well beyond a third wave, herd immunity is on the horizon and fully attended classrooms can be maintained safely, but that’s not happening anytime soon.”

Sharkawy also argued that investing in improved ventilation systems and prioritizing teachers and essential workers for vaccines are more important issues to consider.

With files from CTVNews.ca Writer Ben Cousins and a file from Reuters

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Canada’s manufacturers ask for federal help as Montreal dockworkers stage partial-strike

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MONTREAL (Reuters) – Canada‘s manufacturers on Monday asked the federal government to curb a brewing labor dispute after dockworkers at the country’s second largest port said they will work less this week.

Unionized dockworkers, who are in talks for a new contract since 2018, will hold a partial strike starting Tuesday, by refusing all overtime outside of their normal day shifts, along with weekend work, they said in a statement on Monday.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Quebec’s 1,125 longshore workers at the Port of Montreal rejected a March offer from the Maritime Employers Association.

The uncertainty caused by the labour dispute has led to an 11% drop in March container volume at the Montreal port on an annual basis, even as other eastern ports in North America made gains, the Maritime Employers Association said.

The move will cause delays in a 24-hour industry, the association said.

“Some manufacturers have had to redirect their containers to the Port of Halifax, incurring millions in additional costs every week,” said Dennis Darby, chief executive of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters (CME).

While the government strongly believes a negotiated agreement is the best option for all parties, “we are actively examining all options as the situation evolves,” a spokesman for Federal Labor Minister Filomena Tassi said.

Last summer’s stoppage of work cost wholesalers C$600 million ($478 million) in sales over a two-month period, Statistics Canada estimates.

($1 = 1.2563 Canadian dollars)

 

(Reporting By Allison Lampert in Montreal. Additional reporting by Julie Gordon in Ottawa; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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Canada scraps export permits for drone technology to Turkey, complains to Ankara

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OTTAWA (Reuters) –Canada on Monday scrapped export permits for drone technology to Turkey after concluding that the equipment had been used by Azeri forces fighting Armenia in the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, Foreign Minister Marc Garneau said.

Turkey, which like Canada is a member of NATO, is a key ally of Azerbaijan, whose forces gained territory in the enclave after six weeks of fighting.

“This use was not consistent with Canadian foreign policy, nor end-use assurances given by Turkey,” Garneau said in a statement, adding he had raised his concerns with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu earlier in the day.

Ottawa suspended the permits last October so it could review allegations that Azeri drones used in the conflict had been equipped with imaging and targeting systems made by L3Harris Wescam, the Canada-based unit of L3Harris Technologies Inc.

In a statement, the Turkish Embassy in Ottawa said: “We expect our NATO allies to avoid unconstructive steps that will negatively affect our bilateral relations and undermine alliance solidarity.”

Earlier on Monday, Turkey said Cavusoglu had urged Canada to review the defense industry restrictions.

The parts under embargo include camera systems for Baykar armed drones. Export licenses were suspended in 2019 during Turkish military activities in Syria. Restrictions were then eased, but reimposed during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Turkey’s military exports to Azerbaijan jumped sixfold last year. Sales of drones and other military equipment rose to $77 million in September alone before fighting broke out in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, data showed.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa and Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Gareth Jones and Peter Cooney)

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Investigation finds Suncor’s Colorado refinery meets environmental permits

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By Liz Hampton

DENVER (Reuters) – A Colorado refinery owned by Canadian firm Suncor Energy Inc meets required environmental permits and is adequately funded, according to an investigation released on Monday into a series of emissions violations at the facility between 2017 and 2019.

The 98,000 barrel-per-day (bpd) refinery in the Denver suburb of Commerce City, Colorado, reached a $9-million settlement with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) March 2020 to resolve air pollution violations that occurred since 2017. That settlement also addressed an incident in December 2019 that released refinery materials onto a nearby school.

As part of the settlement, Suncor was required to use a third party to conduct an independent investigation into the violations and spend up to $5 million to implement recommendations from the investigation.

Consulting firm Kearney’s investigation found the facility met environmental permit requirements, but also pinpointed areas for improvement, including personnel training and systems upgrades, some of which was already underway.

“We need to improve our performance and improve the trust people have in us,” Donald Austin, vice president of the Commerce City refinery said in an interview, adding that the refinery had already undertaken some of the recommendations from the investigation.

In mid-April, Suncor will begin a turnaround at the facility that includes an upgrade to a gasoline-producing fluid catalytic cracking unit (FCCU) at Plant 1 of the facility. That turnaround is anticipated to be complete in June 2021.

Suncor last year completed a similar upgrade of an automatic shutdown system for the FCCU at the refinery’s Plant 2.

By 2023, the company will also install an additional control unit, upgraded instrumentation, automated shutdown valves and new hydraulic pressure units in Plant 2.

Together, those upgrades will cost approximately $12 million, of which roughly $10 million is dedicated to Plant 2 upgrades, Suncor said on Monday.

 

(Reporting by Liz Hampton; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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