None of the federal government’s recently announced new travel measures — which include COVID-19 testing upon arrival — apply to the largest group of people regularly entering Canada: Commercial truck drivers.
Of the 10 million entries into Canada since March 21, 2020, close to half — 4.6 million — were made by commercial truck drivers crossing by land, according to the Canada Border Services Agency.
Because truck drivers deliver essential goods across the border during the pandemic, the government has exempted them from quarantine and all COVID-19 test requirements. Ottawa says it’s exploring tests for truckers at the border but has not yet presented concrete plans.
Meanwhile, some Canadian truck drivers want more protections now, as highly contagious COVID-19 variants spread rapidly in the United States.
“You hear how this thing is spreading like wildfire,” said long-haul trucker Luis Franco of Calgary, who transports goods to the U.S. four to five times a month.
“I’m very concerned about my family when I come back,” Franco said. “I don’t want to get them sick.”
Even though truck drivers are exempt from quarantine, they must follow other protective measures such as wearing masks, social distancing and answering health questions at the border.
Despite following all the rules, Franco said he still feels unsafe because he encounters many people at U.S. rest stops who don’t take precautions.
“A lot of the Americans like in the southern states, or in the western states, they don’t believe in COVID,” he said. “You walk into a truck stop or fuel up, or to do whatever you got to do and [it appears as though] 80 per cent of the people, they’re not wearing masks, they’re not social distancing.”
Watch: Truck driver Luis Franco talks about the dangers trucker face
As an added protection, Franco wants the government to test truckers for COVID-19 each time they cross into Canada.
“A lot of us could very well be asymptomatic,” he said.
Franco’s not alone. More than 100 Canadian science and health experts have signed a petition calling for the federal government to implement strict border measures, including COVID-19 tests for everyone entering Canada — including essential workers.
“Canada faces a very significant risk of an escalated new, variant driven COVID wave,” says the petition.
Ottawa explores testing truckers
On Jan. 29, eight days after the petition was launched publicly, the government announced it was toughening up its border measures.
Effective Feb.15, travellers entering Canada by land must show proof of a negative COVID-19 test at the border. And starting on Feb. 22, they will also be required to take another COVID-19 test on arrival, as well as one near the end of their 14-day quarantine.
However, truckers and other essential workers — who are already exempt from quarantine — are exempt from the new test requirements.
On Sunday, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said the government is also exploring the introduction of COVID-19 tests for essential workers crossing the border.
“We’re working very closely with the Public Health Agency of Canada and also with our provincial health authorities to [look] at implementing a system of regular testing to help protect those essential workers and truck drivers that are coming into the country and also to ensure that they’re not the source of any new infection,” Blair said in an interview on Rosemary Barton Live.
But infectious disease specialist, Dr. Jeff Kwong said the government needs to take action now.
“It only takes a handful of [truckers] to be infected when they’re coming back and then they’re seeding infections here in Canada,” said Kwong, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health.
Kwong recommends Ottawa immediately introduce COVID-19 rapid tests for essential workers crossing the land border. Rapid tests are known to be less sensitive than regular COVID-19 tests, but provide results within minutes.
“Just do a test at the border. If they’re positive, then don’t go home to your family,” Kwong said. “I’m not sure why it hasn’t been implemented.”
Following the swift spread of a new COVID-19 variant in the United Kingdom in December, several European countries began demanding that truck drivers entering from the U.K. provide proof of a negative COVID-19 rapid test.
What about vaccinating truckers?
Long-haul truck driver Leanne Steeves said she also feels unsafe when transporting goods to the U.S., which has the highest COVID-19 case count across the globe. Steeves is diabetic which puts her at a higher risk of developing complications from COVID-19.
“It’s scary,” said Steeves who lives in Woodbridge, Ont. “We have to go to the states, we have to go to California, we have to go to Florida, you know what I mean? We’re going through these bad [COVID-19] areas.”
Despite the risks, Steeves isn’t a fan of testing truckers because she believes it would create a logistical nightmare.
“The wait at the border would be insane,” she said.
Teamsters Canada — which represents more than 15,000 long-haul truck drivers — agrees with Steeves, which is why the union recommends the government instead test truckers at truck stops and rest areas. It also wants truck drivers given top proriority for COVID-19 vaccinations.
“More needs to be done to protect drivers as new and potentially more dangerous variants emerge,” said Teamsters spokesperson, Christopher Monette in an email.
Truck drivers Franco and Steeves agree they should be vaccinated as soon as possible. However, neither of them are in the top priority group for their province, meaning they could wait months for their shots.
“If we can help protect ourselves a little bit more by having the vaccine [now], that’d be awesome,” said Steeves.
The Public Health Agency of Canada did not respond to a request for comment on prioritizing vaccinations for truckers.
U.S. approves Johnson & Johnson's single-dose COVID-19 vaccine – CBC.ca
The U.S. is getting a third vaccine to prevent COVID-19, as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Saturday cleared a Johnson & Johnson shot that works with just one dose instead of two.
Health experts are anxiously awaiting a one-and-done option to help speed vaccinations, as they race against a virus that already has killed more than 510,000 people in the U.S. and is mutating in increasingly worrisome ways.
The FDA said J&J’s vaccine offers strong protection against what matters most: serious illness, hospitalizations and death. One dose was 85 per cent protective against the most severe COVID-19 illness, in a massive study that spanned three continents — protection that remained strong even in countries such as South Africa, where the variants of most concern are spreading.
“This is really good news,” Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), told The Associated Press Saturday. “The most important thing we can do right now is to get as many shots in as many arms as we can.”
Shipments of a few million doses to be divided among states could begin as early as Monday. By the end of March, J&J has said it expects to deliver 20 million doses to the U.S., and 100 million by summer.
J&J also is seeking authorization for emergency use of its vaccine in Europe and from the World Health Organization. Worldwide, the company aims to produce about 1 billion doses globally by the end of the year. On Thursday, the island nation of Bahrain became the first to clear its use.
Health Canada is still reviewing the vaccine. Canada has ordered 10 million doses from Johnson & Johnson with options for up to 28 million more, if necessary. Most of those shots are expected to arrive by the end of September.
‘We’re champing at the bit to get more supply’
On Sunday, a U.S. advisory committee will meet to recommend how to prioritize use of the single-dose vaccine. And one big challenge is what the public wants to know: Which kind of vaccine is better?
“In this environment, whatever you can get — get,” said Dr. Arnold Monto of the University of Michigan, who chaired an FDA advisory panel that unanimously voted Friday that the vaccine’s benefits outweigh its risks.
Data is mixed on how well all the vaccines being used around the world work, prompting reports in some countries of people refusing one kind to wait for another.
WATCH | Will Canadians be able to choose which vaccine they get?:
In the U.S., the two-dose Pfizer and Moderna shots were 95 per cent protective against symptomatic COVID-19. J&J’s one-dose effectiveness of 85 per cent against severe COVID-19 dropped to 66 per cent when moderate cases were rolled in. But there’s no apples-to-apples comparison because of differences in when and where each company conducted its studies, with the Pfizer and Moderna research finished before concerning variants began spreading.
Collins said the evidence of effectiveness shows no reason to favour one vaccine over another.
“What people I think are mostly interested in is, is it going to keep me from getting really sick?” Collins said. “Will it keep me from dying from this terrible disease? The good news is all of these say yes to that.”
Also, J&J is testing two doses of its vaccine in a separate large study. Collins said if a second dose eventually is deemed better, people who got one earlier would be offered another.
The FDA cautioned that it’s too early to tell if someone who gets a mild or asymptomatic infection despite vaccination still could spread the virus.
There are clear advantages aside from the convenience of one shot. Local health officials are looking to use the J&J option in mobile vaccination clinics, homeless shelters, even with sailors who are spending months on fishing vessels — communities where it’s hard to be sure someone will come back in three to four weeks for a second vaccination.
WATCH | Canada’s procurement minister on Johnson & Johnson vaccine:
The J&J vaccine also is easier to handle, lasting three months in the refrigerator compared to the Pfizer and Moderna options, which must be frozen.
“We’re champing at the bit to get more supply. That’s the limiting factor for us right now,” said Dr. Matt Anderson of UW Health in Madison, Wisconsin, where staffers were readying electronic health records, staffing and vaccine storage in anticipation of offering J&J shots soon.
The FDA said studies detected no serious side effects. Like other COVID-19 vaccines, the main side effects of the J&J shot are pain at the injection site and flu-like fever, fatigue and headache.
The FDA said there is “a remote chance” that people may experience a severe allergic reaction to the shot, a rare risk seen with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
The vaccine has been authorized for emergency use in adults 18 and older for now. But like other vaccine makers, J&J is about to begin a study of its vaccine in teens before moving to younger children later in the year, and also plans a study in pregnant women.
All COVID-19 vaccines train the body to recognize the new coronavirus, usually by spotting the spike protein that coats it. But they’re made in very different ways.
WATCH | Provinces offer different timelines for COVID-19 vaccine rollout:
J&J’s shot uses a cold virus like a Trojan horse to carry the spike gene into the body, where cells make harmless copies of the protein to prime the immune system in case the real virus comes along. It’s the same technology the company used in making an Ebola vaccine, and similar to COVID-19 vaccines made by AstraZeneca and China’s CanSino Biologics.
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are made with a different technology, a piece of genetic code called messenger RNA that spurs cells to make those harmless spike copies.
The AstraZeneca vaccine — which was approved for use in Canada on Friday and is already in use in numerous other countries — is finishing a large U.S. study needed for FDA clearance. Also in the pipeline, Novavax uses a still different technology, made with lab-grown copies of the spike protein, and has reported preliminary findings from a British study suggesting strong protection.
Still other countries are using “inactivated vaccines,” made with killed coronavirus by Chinese companies Sinovac and Sinopharm.
Canada will not be pressured to release Meng Wanzhou, Trudeau says – Global News
Trudeau’s remarks were according to a transcript of a wide-ranging interview with NBC’s Chuck Todd and Meet the Press, which was provided to Global News. The interview is set to air on Sunday.
The two Canadian men — Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig — were arrested in China in 2018 on espionage charges, shortly after Meng was arrested by authorities in British Columbia on an extradition charge from the U.S.
During the interview, the prime minister said the men were detained on “national security trumped-up charges” and have been detained for nearly 800 days “in an attempt to try and pressure us to release the executive.”
“We, of course, are a country of the rule of law,” he said. “We will not do that. We live by our treaties and live by the rule of law.
But it is extremely difficult for Canada to be going through this, when we know it’s fundamentally unfair of China to have arbitrarily detained our citizens.”
Biden calls on China to release Michael Kovrig, Michael Spavor
Trudeau’s comments come just days after he and newly sworn-in U.S. President Joe Biden shared their first bilateral meeting.
Shortly after the leaders met virtually, Biden vowed to work with Canada to secure the safe release of Spavor and Kovrig, saying “humans are not bartering chips.”
Trudeau told Meet the Press his conversation with Biden regarding the two men was “very positive,” adding that they have agreed to work together to try to resolve the situation and “hold China to account.”
During the interview, Trudeau was also asked about the Keystone XL pipeline expansion project, which has been a point of contention between the two countries since Biden became president.
Hours after he was sworn into office, Biden signed an executive order to revoke a presidential permit signed by his predecessor, Donald Trump, that would have allowed the cross-border Keystone XL pipeline expansion project to continue.
The democrat had long-promised to revoke the permit in an effort to honour one of his campaign promises to shift the U.S. from fossil fuels towards clean energy.
However, the move dealt an especially hard blow to Alberta and Saskatchewan, whose energy sectors were counting on the US$8-billion project.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney called the move a “gut punch” and urged the federal government to consider sanctions if the Biden administration refused to discuss the project further.
However, Trudeau said, “it’s fairly clear that the U.S. administration has made its decision on that.”
“And we’re much more interested in ensuring that we’re moving forward in ways that are good for both of our countries,” he said.
Trudeau said the government does have “concerns” about the Line 5 initiative.
Trudeau questioned on cancellation of Keystone XL project, impacts of calls to shut down Enbridge’s Line 5
“We want to make sure we’re continuing to sell hydro-electricity into the United States, and that the two of us are partnering in ways that are going to create good jobs and compete successfully against the world for cleaner products and cleaner solutions,” he said.
Ultimately, Trudeau said there is “so much” Canada and the U.S. can do together that he doesn’t “spend too much time worrying about the tension points.”
“It’ll always come up in our relationship, but we’ll work through them, particularly given the alignment on so many things that we’re able to bring with this new administration,” he said.
Trudeau said the decision around the Keystone XL pipeline expansion project “was a disappointment,” though.
“But when you talk about clean energy and hydro-electricity from Canada, when we talk about what we can do around smarter grids, what we can do around electric vehicles and transportation, there is so much we’re going to continue to do together.”
Canada’s vaccine rollout
Trudeau was also asked about Canada’s vaccine rollout plan, which has been repeatedly hampered by delays from manufacturers.
He conceded that the rollout has not been “going as fast as everyone would want,” but said “we are going to have everyone vaccinated probably by the end of the summer.”
“And that is something that we’re very positive and excited about,” Trudeau said.
However, Canada has fallen considerably behind even its closest allies when it comes to vaccine rollout.
As of Saturday afternoon, only 1,816,797 doses had been administered across Canada, amounting to approximately 2.43 per cent of the country’s population.
Asked if he regrets not investing in a company in Canada to develop a vaccine at home, Trudeau said the country didn’t have the domestic pharmaceutical capacity to do so.
Health Canada green lights the AstraZeneca vaccine
“We had had it in decades past. But off-shoring and globalization meant that we no longer have the capacity,” he said. “We had from the very beginning of this pandemic started re-investing in Canadian pharmaceutical capacity which will be online in the coming year, not quick enough for this wave. But certainly moving forward, we have rebuilt and are rebuilding our scientific and domestic capacity so that we can be ready.”
“That’s what international supply chains are for,” he said. “And that’s why we’re pleased that we were able to sign so many contracts in order to be able to say we’re going to get all Canadians vaccinated in the coming months.”
Trudeau has repeatedly said Canada remains “on track” to deliver vaccines to all Canadians who want one by the end of September, despite the delays.
On Friday, Health Canada announced it had approved the COVID-19 vaccine from Oxford University-AstraZeneca for use in the country.
To date, three vaccines have been approved for use in Canada.
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
The latest news on COVID-19 developments in Canada – Richmond News
The latest news on COVID-19 developments in Canada (all times Eastern):
Prince Edward Island is ushering in “circuit breaker measures” to interrupt the chain of transmission in the province as it reports six new cases of COVID-19.
The province’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Heather Morrison, says gatherings must be limited to the immediate household, plus a circle of 10 contacts.
Organized gatherings will be limited to 50 people, and wedding and funeral receptions are prohibited.
Sports games and tournaments must be cancelled, and in-person dining is barred.
Saskatchewan is reporting five new COVID-19-related deaths today and 162 new cases.
All of the people who died were in their 80s or older, according to the province’s daily pandemic update, and were in the Regina, Saskatoon and South East health zones.
The update says 1,548 cases are considered active in Saskatchewan, with 151 people in hospital.
It says 5,211 COVID-19 vaccine doses were administered in the province on Friday, for a total of 75,501 since immunizations began.
Manitoba is reporting 88 new COVID-19 infections as of this morning, as well as four new virus-related deaths.
Officials say two of those who died were in their 80s and two were in their 90s.
All were from the Winnipeg health region.
The government says there are 1,208 active COVID-19 cases in Manitoba, with 189 people in hospital.
Manitoba has recorded 893 COVID-19 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.
Four new cases of COVID-19 are being reported in Nova Scotia today as stricter rules are ushered in to stop the spread of the virus.
Provincial health officials say three of the cases are in the Halifax region and are all close contacts of previously identified patients, while the fourth case in eastern Nova Scotia is related to travel outside Atlantic Canada.
The latest cases come as new measures to control the virus take effect in Halifax and some neighbouring municipalities.
Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer Dr. Robert Strang says while the number of new cases is low, he remains concerned that some recent infections do not have an obvious origin.
New Brunswick is reporting two new confirmed cases of COVID-19 today.
Health officials say the new infections are both in the Edmundston region and both patients are between the ages of 70 and 79.
New Brunswick currently has 41 active cases of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, with one patient hospitalized in intensive care.
All areas of the province remain at the orange level of New Brunswick’s pandemic response plan, which seeks to prevent the resurgence of transmission through a number of restrictions.
Quebec is reporting 858 new COVID-19 cases and 13 deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus, including five deaths in the past 24 hours.
The Health Department reported 599 hospitalizations today, a drop of 21 patients. There are also seven fewer people requiring intensive care, bringing the total to 112.
Quebec administered 15,902 doses of COVID-19 vaccine on Friday for a total of 418,399.
The latest numbers come one year after the first case of COVID-19 was declared in Quebec.
The province has reported 287,003 confirmed infections and 10,385 deaths since the pandemic began.
Ontario’s COVID-19 case count is nearing the 300,000 mark.
The province reported 1,185 new infections today for a total of 299,754 since the onset of the pandemic.
Ontario also reported 16 new virus-related deaths over the past 24 hours.
Health Minister Christine Elliott says Toronto saw 331 new cases in the past 24 hours, nearby Peel Region recorded 220 and York Region logged 119.
Hospitalizations in the province declined by three to 680, with 276 patients in intensive care and 182 on a ventilator.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 27, 2021
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