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No moving on from COVID-19 for Canada's exhausted health-care workers – CTV News

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MONTREAL —
COVID-19 cases continue to roll into the two Toronto-area hospitals where Eram Chhogala works as a trauma nurse. The numbers have dwindled to a stream instead of a wave, but each is a reminder of what the disease has done and could possibly still do.

“Previously, we had high numbers and waves where people came in heavy bottlenecks, and I’m just wondering if it’s going to be the same thing again,” Chhogala said in a phone interview this week. “You know, it’s the wonder of, ‘Is this going to happen again?'”

With mask mandates and other COVID-19 health restrictions lifting, many Canadians are finally able to envision a return to normal life. But, as they face burnout, staff shortages and daunting procedural backlogs, some health workers say it isn’t so easy to move on.

Chhogala says she understands people’s desire to return to a more normal life. But she also worries that health measures such as mask mandates are lifting too quickly, while there’s still so much to do to ensure the health system is ready for another wave.

“A lot of people are probably really excited that they can go back to normal again, but I just don’t think that we’re at that normal yet,” she says.

Chhogala, 36, says no health worker has emerged unscathed from the pandemic.

They have had to watch wave after wave of very sick people struggle and die, she said. Many fell ill themselves. Some of her colleagues burned out and left the profession or plan to take early retirement. Later in the pandemic, health workers were harassed by anti-mask and anti-vaccine protesters.

Perhaps most devastatingly, Chhogala’s own father died of COVID-19.

“It changed the way we think, feel and act,” she says of the pandemic.

Last week, the Canadian Medical Association and some 40 organizations representing health workers called for urgent government action to address issues facing the ailing system.

“While governments and Canadians are hoping to move past the pandemic, an exhausted, depleted health workforce is struggling to provide timely, necessary care to patients and make progress through a significant backlog of tests, surgeries and regular care,” CMA president Katharine Smart said in a statement following an emergency meeting.

Among the challenges the system faces is a backlog of delayed surgeries and procedures that could take years to clear.

A report by the Ontario Medical Association last month found that the backlog in that province alone was more than one million surgeries. Manitoba’s delay had grown to over 161,000 diagnostic and surgical procedures as of mid-February, according to Doctors Manitoba, a group representing the province’s doctors.

In Quebec, hospitals across the province had to reduce surgeries by about 50 per cent at the height of the Omicron wave. Dr. François Marquis, the chief of intensive care at Montreal’s Maisonneuve-Rosemont hospital, says it will take months for the hospital to bring surgical waiting lists to their already daunting pre-pandemic levels.

Now that the number of COVID-19 patients has declined, officials are shifting to a different set of challenges: rebuilding the team, reopening beds and catching up on surgeries.

“The hospital is not working full speed,” he said in a phone interview. “There are not enough surgeries, there are not enough patients being admitted. You still have rooms that are closed because we don’t have enough nurses and (respiratory therapists).”

Marquis says catching up is a challenge, given the number of nurses that have retired, left the field or transferred. But by working efficiently to streamline procedures, he’s happy to say that the hospital hasn’t cancelled a single surgery in recent weeks.

Despite rising COVID-19 cases in some parts of the world, Marquis says he isn’t worried about the spring or summer, when respiratory viruses typically subside. Fall could be “a challenge,” but he hopes that the public’s willingness to adopt masks and — hopefully — a vaccine that protects against both COVID-19 and the flu, could lessen the impact.

“I’m naturally optimistic,” he said. “I think you have to be to be a critical care specialist, because if you see everything on the dark side, you’re not going to survive very long in the field.”

Naveed Hussain, a nurse at Montreal’s McGill University Health Centre, says the last two years have left him feeling exhausted and frustrated that so little seems to have changed in how governments approach health care.

“We’ve seen a lot of reactionary measures, but we haven’t seen anything that’s been preventive, been put in place to be ready for the next wave or the next pandemic that might occur,” he said.

Hussain helped train the patient attendants hired by the Quebec government in 2020 to work in long-term care homes and says some of them have already left the field due to a lack of support.

He said the government desperately needs to invest in both health-care infrastructure and its workers, through better training, mental health support and improved working conditions.

Like most of the population, he was happy to see restrictions ease and normal activities resume. But with cases rising in China and Europe, he can’t help but worry about what lies ahead.

“You know that there’s something coming around the corner and, as health-care professionals, we know that’s the reality,” he said. “And we know that we’re going to have to be prepared again for the fight, because this thing isn’t over yet.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 18, 2022. 

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A report on wildfire in Lytton, B.C., says more community fireproofing needed

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VANCOUVER — A wildfire that destroyed the British Columbia village of Lytton couldn’t have been stopped, even with an area-wide emergency response, says a new report.

Published this month by the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction, the report says scientists found the root cause was “easily ignitable structures and homes, and not just a wildfire problem.”

Even the best possible fire response would have been “overwhelmed” because at least 20 buildings were fully engulfed within 80 minutes and would have required at least 60 fire trucks to contain, it says.

Alan Westhaver, a wildland urban fire consultant and co-author of the report, said there was nothing the firefighters could have done to prevent the spread once it had started.

“It’s an overwhelming amount of fire in a very short span of time,” he said in an interview Tuesday.

“Firefighting is important. It’s going to be critical, but we have to change the conditions around our homes so that fewer homes ignite.”

Westhaver said there needs to be more co-ordination between governments, agencies, homeowners, corporate landowners and private businesses to help prevent future disasters.

“Everyone in the community needs to work together and do their share and deal with issues on their property because fire does not stop at property lines.”

The report includes 33 specific recommendations for ways to mitigate wildfire risk, while reducing exposure and vulnerabilities within so-called home ignition zones.

They include mandatory mowing of tall grass and weeds around residential areas and evacuation routes, and development changes like minimum distances between buildings. Itwould mean at least an eight-metre distance between one-storey structures and 13 metres for two-storey buildings.

The report also says flammable objects such as firewood should be separated from main buildings.

Wildfire embers are often responsible for starting small spot fires within communities, so making homes more resistant to fires should be a priority, Westhaver added.

Two people were killed in the Lytton fire and most of the village burned to the ground on June 30 last year in the middle of a heat wave that marked the hottest day ever recorded in Canada at 49.6 C in Lytton.

Westhaver said the report findings should also be used to help other communities prepare for wildfires.

“Lytton was an extreme event, but it wasn’t exceptional. The disaster followed a very familiar pattern that we see at virtually all other major wildland urban fire disasters,” he said.

“Wildland fires are inevitable, but wildland urban fire disasters are not.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 17, 2022.

———

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

 

Brieanna Charlebois, The Canadian Press

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Regular travel and public health measures can’t coexist: Canadian Airport Council

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OTTAWA — International arrivals at Canadian airports are so backed up that people are being kept on planes for over an hour after they land because there isn’t physically enough space to hold the lineups of travellers, says the Canadian Airports Council.

The council blames COVID-19 protocols and has called on the federal government to do away with random tests and public health questions at customs to ease the serious delays passengers face when they arrive in Canada.

The extra steps mean it takes four times longer to process people as they arrive than it did before the pandemic, said the council’s interim president Monette Pasher. That was fine when people weren’t travelling, but now it’s become a serious problem.

“We’re seeing that we clearly cannot have these public health requirements and testing at our borders as we get back to regular travel,” she said.

The situation is particularly bad at Canada’s largest airport, Toronto Pearson International, where passengers on 120 flights were held in their planes Sunday waiting for their turn to get in line for customs.

Sometimes the wait is 20 minutes, other times it’s over an hour, Pasher said.

Airports are simply not designed for customs to be such a lengthy process, she said, and the space is not available to accommodate people. The airport is also not the right place for COVID-19 tests, she said, especially since tests are rarely required in the community.

“Getting back to regular travel with these health protocols and testing in place, the two can’t coexist without a significant pressure and strain on our system,” Pasher said.

The government is aware of the frustrating lineups at airports, a statement from the transport minister’s office said.

“Current health measures in place are based on the advice of public health experts to protect Canadians. We will continue to base our measures and adjustments on their expert advice,” the statement read.

The ministry is working with the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority to post more screening officers at checkpoints, the minister’s office said, and the agency is working on hiring even more.

The government will not ask airlines to cut back their flight schedules, the statement noted.

Between May 1 and May 7, about 1.3 per cent of 1,920 travellers tested at airports were COVID-19 positive.

For comparison, 3.46 per cent were positive between April 1 and April 9, though significantly more tests were performed during that time.

Public health measures have scaled up and down over the course of the pandemic as waves of the virus have come and gone. Right now, they are the least restrictive they have been in months, with vaccinated travellers tested only on a random basis.

The requirements are out of step with peer countries, said Conservative transport critic Melissa Lantsman. She said she wants to know why the Canadian government is acting on advice that is different to that of other countries.

“We’re effectively taking the government at their word that they are receiving advice and that they are acting on it, but they haven’t shared any of that with the Canadian public,” she said.

The lengthy delays at the airports send a negative message to travellers and she worries about the impact it will have on Canadian tourism as the industry struggles to get on its feet this season after the pandemic lull.

“It tells you to go elsewhere, that we’re not open for business,” she said.

On Monday, several industry groups, including the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, pleaded their case for fewer COVID-19 restrictions at the House of Commons transport committee.

“These are costing our economy deeply and are hurting our international reputation as a top destination for tourism, international conferences and sporting events,” Robin Guy, the chamber’s senior director for transportation policy, told the committee.

The witnesses urged the government to review their COVID-19 regulations at the border and do away with those that are no longer necessary.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 17, 2022.

 

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press

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Prince Charles and Camilla kick off Canadian tour – CTV News

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St. JOHN’S –

Prince Charles and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, arrived Tuesday in St. John’s, N.L., to begin a three-day Canadian tour that will largely focus on reconciliation with Indigenous people.

Under partly cloudy skies, the couple landed at St. John’s International Airport aboard a Canadian government jet. They then headed by motorcade to a welcome ceremony at the provincial legislature with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Gov. Gen. Mary Simon.

The couple were met by an honour guard and various dignitaries before shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries with people in the crowd. On the steps leading to the legislature, about 100 schoolchildren waved small Canadian and provincial flags.

Grade 6 student Anna Jeans said she was thrilled at the possibility she might get a high-five from Charles or Camilla. “I’m very excited,” she said, bouncing on her toes. “It’s a big opportunity for me.”

Nearby, Tara Kelly — wearing a homemade fascinator with a tall plume of green feathers — said she’s long been a fan of the Royal Family. “It’s a fantasy,” she said.

Inside the Confederation Building’s purple-lit foyer, the prince and the duchess looked on as Innu elder Elizabeth Penashue offered a blessing and Inuk soprano Deantha Edmunds sang.

The event began with a land acknowledgment honouring the province’s five Indigenous groups as well as the Beothuk people, who were among the first inhabitants of Newfoundland, their history stretching back 9,000 years.

Simon welcomed Charles and Camilla to Canada in Inuktitut. She asked Charles and Camilla to listen to the Indigenous groups they will meet in Canada and to learn their stories.

“I encourage you to learn the truth of our history — the good and the bad,” she said. “In this way, we will promote healing, understanding and respect. And in this way, we will also promote reconciliation.”

The prince started his speech by noting that the land that became Canada has been cared for by Indigenous people — First Nations, Metis and Inuit — for thousands of years.

“We must find new ways to come to terms with the darker and more difficult aspects of the past, acknowledging, reconciling and striving to do better,” he said. “It is a process that starts with listening.”

The prince said he had spoken with the Governor General about the “vital process” of reconciliation.

“(It’s) not a one-off act, of course, but an ongoing commitment to healing, respect and understanding,” he said. “I know that our visit this week comes at an important moment with Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples across Canada, committing to reflect honestly and openly on the past.”

Charles and Camilla then moved on to Government House, the official residence of Lt.-Gov. Judy Foote, the Queen’s representative in the province.

Outside the residence, they will take part in a reconciliation prayer with Indigenous leaders at the Heart Garden, which was built to honour Indigenous children who attended the province’s residential schools.

Earlier in the day, Trudeau said reconciliation will form part of the discussions Charles and Camilla engage in during their visit. But the prime minister avoided answering when asked if he thinks the Queen should apologize for the legacy of residential schools.

“Reconciliation has been a fundamental priority for this government ever since we got elected, and there are many, many things that we all have to work on together,” he said. “But we know it’s not just about government and Indigenous people. It’s about everyone doing their part, and that’s certainly a reflection that everyone’s going to be having.”

Metis National Council President Cassidy Caron has said she intends to make a request for an apology to the prince and duchess during a reception Wednesday at Rideau Hall in Ottawa.

Caron has said residential school survivors have told her an apology from the Queen is important as she is Canada’s head of state and the leader of the Anglican Church. “The Royals have a moral responsibility to participate and contribute and advance reconciliation,” Caron said in Ottawa on Monday.

Earlier this year, Pope Francis apologized for the Catholic Church’s role in residential schools when Indigenous leaders and residential school survivors visited the Vatican. He will travel to Canada to deliver the apology this summer.

Leaders from four of Newfoundland and Labrador’s Indigenous groups were expected to attend the prayer ceremony at the lieutenant-governor’s residence in St. John’s. Elders and residential school survivors were also invited to take part in a smudging ceremony, musical performances, a land acknowledgment and a moment of silence.

Charles and Camilla will then tour Quidi Vidi, a former fishing community in the east end of St. John’s.

The couple are expected to arrive in Ottawa tonight. Their tour will also take them to the Northwest Territories.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 17, 2022.

— With files from Michael MacDonald in Halifax and Kelly Geraldine Malone in Winnipeg

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