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Northern towns straddling Canada-U.S. border push to become a pandemic bubble – CBC.ca

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Stewart, B.C., and the neighbouring community of Hyder, Alaska, have always had close ties despite being divided by an international border for more than a century. COVID-19 travel restrictions enacted this spring, however, have left residents feeling disconnected for the first time, separating them from relatives, services and even schools. 

“It has been my home for 50 years and I never felt isolated until this year,” said Caroline Stewart, a resident of Hyder, a small community on the southern part of the Alaskan panhandle. 

The communities, which are about three kilometres apart, are surrounded by mountains and the rugged wilderness of northwestern B.C. and Alaska. For the dozens of residents who live in Hyder, daily life has a few unique freedoms — there are no local taxes or police department, but also no grocery store or gas station.

The current restrictions mean that Hyderites who frequently travelled to Stewart before the pandemic can no longer do so unless it is essential, and Canadians who visit Hyder have to quarantine for 14 days after returning. 

The towns lie hundreds of kilometres from the nearest city, so residents on both sides of the border are petitioning politicians in Canada and the U.S. to allow the area to form its own COVID-19 bubble, which would permit free movement in the region. 

Raven Simpson, left, who lives in Canada but has another home in Hyder, Alaska, meets her aunt Caroline Stewart to exchange mail and other necessities. (Briar Stewart/CBC News )

The rules have led to protests and gatherings at the border station parking lot, where residents meet to swap stories and bring each other groceries and other necessities. 

On an afternoon during the last week of September, Caroline Stewart, an American, met her Canadian niece who lives across the border to pick up a plastic bag of Tostitos and some feminine hygiene products.

She spoke to CBC News through tears, talking about how she can no longer go to Stewart to take communion at the church, or to spend time with her friends and family who live on the other side of the border.

“We are designed to be in a group,” she said. 

“We run in packs, and our pack has been cut off.”

Hyder resident describes how border restrictions have created  even more isolation for people in the area.  0:53

Grown out of gold rush

 The towns are sparsely populated, with about 400 people living in Stewart and just 63 across the border in Hyder. 

During the gold rush, it was a much more lively and often chaotic setting, as 10,000 settled here searching for fortune. But when the boom dried up, the communities were hollowed out. 

Today there are still mines in the area. Every day dozens of Canadian workers who are deemed essential cross the border, because the only way to reach one Canadian mine is take a road that goes through the U.S.

While workers can travel freely, everyone else faces restrictions.

A simple yellow gate and a faded sign that says “Welcome to Hyder” marks the divide, but there are no American border guards stationed here. Anyone can freely cross to the U.S. side, but there is nowhere to go once you arrive except to watch the grizzly bears who converge on a nearby stream filled with salmon.

 Hyder is mostly landlocked by Canada and residents say a ticket on a float plane out from the community can cost as much as $2,000 US.

Hyder, Alaska, is about three kilometres from Stewart, B.C. (CBC)

Hyderites depend on Stewart for their supplies, which is why under the COVID-19 rules one member from each household is allowed into the community once a week to run errands. They have to check in and out with the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers at the station on the Canadian side. 

For 61-year-old Dick Simpson, his outing includes a trip to the grocery store, gas station, the library and a laundromat where he fills up the machine with clothes and inserts loonies and toonies. With little to buy in Hyder, everyone carries Canadian currency. 

Simpson can’t make any social calls, which he says is the hardest part of the pandemic, considering most of his friends live in Stewart. 

He said while he follows the rules, he has heard about a few unauthorized border-crossers, whose actions have been fuelled by what he calls “desire.”

Hyder resident describes the impact COVID travel rules have had  on daily life along the border.  0:58

Unauthorized crossings

Simpson pointed up to a cut line in the trees on the mountain, which marks the dividing line between Canada and the U.S., and remarked that to get to the other side, it’s just about a kilometre hike away. 

“If someone feels that they need to see someone bad enough, they will find a way to get across there,” he said, adding that during prohibition more than one bottle of Canadian whisky ended up in Hyder. 

Simpson first moved up here in the 1970s with his parents, who he described as “survivalists.” He moved away to work in construction in Washington State and Oregon, but returned a decade ago. 

“I can understand both sides of the equation,” Simpson said.

“It would be nice to come and do the things that we used to do over here. On the other hand, I would feel horrible if Hyder introduced COVID into Stewart or if Stewart introduced COVID to Hyder.”

He said the fear of the virus is why some residents are reluctant to support the idea of a unified bubble.

A sign hangs on a house in Stewart, B.C., as part of a push to have these two communities merge into one bubble while COVID-19 travel restrictions remain in place. (Briar Stewart/ CBC News )

Vivian Culver, a Hyder resident, said she thinks it can work if everyone does their part. 

She is an American, and her husband is a Canadian. They own places in Stewart and in Hyder. He works on ships and can’t go to Hyder because he can’t miss two weeks of work to quarantine in Canada upon return.

Culver said she is frightened because she believes she already suffered through COVID-19 back in early March.

“I don’t think I would survive it again,” she said. 

So she is living on her own and trying to prepare for winter, and hopes the federal government will relax the rules and allow the community to merge into one bubble.

Vivian Culver stands in front of the entrance to the community of Hyder, Alaska. She and her husband have been living apart during the pandemic, and she feels stressed trying to prepare their Hyder home for the winter months. (Briar Stewart/CBC News)

While Alaska currently has more than 9,000 cases of COVID-19, Hyder’s only connection to the rest of the state is through a mail plane that is supposed to come a few times a week, but which frequently gets cancelled due to weather. Hyder also has its own quarantine policy which requires visitors and returning to residents to self-isolate for two weeks.

The NDP MP for the area, Taylor Bachrach, has been lobbying for the bubble idea. Bachrach met with the Minister for Public Safety last month and has also talked to officials in the U.S.

Bachrach said his fellow politicians seemed supportive of the bubble, but there has been no change as of yet and with winter coming, there is potential for even more isolation as the area can get several metres of snow a year. 

Separated from school

The hope is that a COVID bubble would allow people to cross the border freely, including a few children in Hyder who are currently not allowed to attend the elementary school in Stewart. 

Hilma Korpela was supposed to start Grade 5 this fall, and her younger sister Ellie, Grade 3. But they are now home-schooled because the only school in Hyder closed last May due to low attendance. 

They say they miss their Canadian friends. They had been meeting one of them for play dates in a marshy field adjacent to the Canadian border, where they would run barefoot through chilly tide pools and scamper across logs. However, they have recently been told by the CBSA that the area is off-limits because it straddles the border. 

So now in addition to being blocked from going to school, they can really only play with the two other children living in Hyder. 

 “I don’t think it is really fair. Like, how do we get COVID?,” Hilma said.

“We are at the end of the line.”

Hyder residents Hilma Korpela, left, and her younger sister Ellie, right, used to meet up near the Canadian border station for playdates with their friend Kalyn Carey, who is Canadian. (Briar Stewart/CBC News )

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Ginella Massa to join CBC News Network as primetime host – CBC.ca

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Journalist Ginella Massa will join CBC News Network as the host of a new primetime show, the Crown corporation announced Wednesday as part of programming changes over the next few months.

“She’s just got a spark and curiosity to her that is refreshing at a time when there’s so much to be interested in, and so much that is sort of unchartered in terms of the kind of journalism we do, the kind of stories we tell,” said Michael Gruzuk, CBC’s senior director of programming. 

Massa will also join CBC’s flagship news program The National as a special correspondent, as well as take part in “many of our CBC News specials,” according to an internal CBC memo.

A graduate of Seneca College and York University, Massa is currently a reporter for CityNews in Toronto. In 2019, she was part of the CityNews team that won a Canadian Screen Award for best live special for coverage of an Ontario leaders’ debate.

She has also worked with CTV, NewsTalk 1010 and Rogers TV, moving from behind the scenes as a news writer and producer to in front of the camera as a television journalist. 

Massa, a Seneca College and York University graduate, will work as a special correspondent for The National alongside hosting on News Network. (David Misener/CityNews)

In 2015, she became the first hijab-wearing TV reporter in Canada, and then the next year, the first to anchor a major newscast in the country.

Massa said she hopes to use her new CBC role to focus on stories from different perspectives — be it race, religion or class. 

“For the last decade of my career in journalism, both behind the scenes and on air, I have often been the only one who looks like me in the room,” Massa said. 

“I do try to bring those perspectives to the newsroom … bring the stories that people around me are talking about, which aren’t always the stories that get the most attention.”

Beginning in the new year, Massa’s hour-long show will air weeknights at 8 p.m. ET on CBC News Network.

New programs

Her hiring comes alongside a number of other changes on the cable network. 

On Nov. 1, it will launch Rosemary Barton Live, a two-hour Sunday program focused on federal politics, followed by the premiere of CBC News Live with Vassy Kapelos, a weekday “fast-paced roundup of breaking political and Canadian stories” on Nov. 2, the internal memo said.

Kapelos will continue to host Power and Politics, which moves to a new time slot of 6 p.m.-8 p.m. ET on weekdays.  

CBC journalist Carole MacNeil will host a new weekday afternoon show on News Network, which will be “more programmed” rather than focusing on breaking news that just happened, Gruzuk said.  

The changes come weeks after Barbara Williams, CBC’s executive vice-president of English services, announced 130 job cuts across the country. That included 58 news, current affairs and local positions, with most of them in Toronto.

The company cited higher costs and lower revenues as the reason for the cuts, precipitated by a $21-million budget deficit. That shortfall was, in particular, “due to declines in advertising and subscription revenues linked to our traditional television business,” Williams wrote in a letter to staff.

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Canada's top doctor calls for 'structural change' to address COVID-19 inequities – CTV News

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OTTAWA —
Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam is calling for “structural change” across health, social, and economic sectors in the wake of COVID-19, in a new report highlighting the successes and shortfalls in the country’s pandemic response to date.

“I do see COVID-19 as a catalyst for collaboration between health, social, and economic sectors, and I have observed at the federal level, but also from local levels, and provincial levels,” she told reporters during a press conference discussing the report.

Tam said that while there are examples of decisions taken that begin to address some of these shortcomings—such as increasing affordable housing availability and financial supports for low-income and precarious workers—these policies should be extended past the emergency phase of the pandemic.

“What I’m really, really keen to see is that this continues… The report is calling for this to be a more sustained approach,” she said. “Why can’t we have those governance structures beyond the crisis and into recovery?”

In the Public Health Agency’s annual report made public on Wednesday, Tam offers new insights and statistics related to Canada’s battle against the novel coronavirus over the last several months and the “serious threat” the virus continues to pose. 

For example, in Canada:

  • 80 per cent of COVID-19-related deaths have been residents of long-term care facilities;
  • 19 per cent of national cases are among health-care workers; and
  • 92 per cent of hospitalized COVID-19 patients had at least one underlying health condition.

The annual report is entitled “From Risk to Resilience: An Equity Approach to COVID-19,” and it gives an overview of COVID-19’s consequences so far, such as the disproportionate health impacts experienced by workers who provide essential services, racialized populations, people living with disabilities or mental illnesses, and women. 

It also includes recommendations on how to improve the country’s pandemic preparedness, response, and recovery. 

The report says the “structural change” should include improving employment conditions and conditions inside long-term care homes, increasing access to housing, as well as enhancing Canadians’ ability to access social and health services both in-person and online. 

Tam said she hopes that in future pandemic planning, “it can’t just be health and public health making it known that all other departments and different sectors, and different aspects of societies need to be part of the response. We need to sort of build it in explicitly so that, you know, future pandemics and health crises have those other supports come into play immediately.”

As Tam argues, Canadians’ health depends on their social and economic well-being and the severity of COVID-19 illness may be influenced by their access to these kinds of supports. 

“No one is protected until everyone is protected,” says Tam in the report. 

Tam’s overall recommendations are distilled into three calls:

  • Sustaining governance at all levels for “structural change” in health, social, and economic sectors. The report notes that the health of people in Canada was not equal before COVID-19, but that the pandemic has exposed and exacerbated existing shortcomings. Tam suggests that more data needs to be collected and used to inform policy decisions to eliminate inequities and mitigate some potential long-term pandemic impacts;
  • Harnessing “the power of social cohesion” to control and minimize the virus’ spread. She suggests this can be done by leaders sharing evidence and information to provide Canadians with confidence in taking public health precautions such as mask-wearing; and
  • Strengthening public health capacity. Tam says that more work is needed to ensure Canada’s public health system is able to handle case surges while having the capacity to deal with non-COVID-19 health issues, including re-evaluating “what sustained investments and the future of public health would look like.”

GLOBAL COMPARISONS 

The report also goes over the timeline from the first confirmed case in Canada and when community transmission began, to the various rolling restrictions and travel advisories imposed. 

From a global perspective, according to the report, Canada ranked 79th out of 210 countries with respect to total cases per million inhabitants, and 26th for total deaths per million, as of Aug. 22. The outbreaks in Canadian long-term care homes are cited as a driving factor in why Canada is so high on the list of countries when it comes to deaths. 

“Pandemic preparedness did not extend into these settings leaving residents vulnerable to the introduction, spread and impact of a novel virus,” the report states. 

In an interview on CTV’s Power Play, Tam was asked whether she thinks enough lessons from the first wave have been learned to prevent the same high rate of deaths in long-term care homes. She said that so far the scale of the outbreaks inside these homes is not as large, and efforts have been taken to improve infection control, but the virus is “very sneaky” and preventing more seniors’ deaths still depends on the actions all Canadians take.

“Right now the second resurgence, a lot of the cases are in the younger adult population, but what we’re seeing is that it’s beginning to permeate through other age groups including the elderly,” Tam said.  

Further, analysis of international travel-related cases between January and March found that 35 per cent of cases entered Canada from the United States, 10 per cent from the U.K. and France, and 1.4 per cent from China. Once travel restrictions were imposed, 91 per cent of reported cases by August originated in Canada.

COMMUNICATION STRUGGLES 

The report notes that in the absence of an effective treatment or vaccine, individual and collective public health measures need to be taken to control the pandemic. However, “accurate, timely and clear communication” has been a challenge. 

Tam notes that there have been “a number” of issues on this front, such as Canadians being exposed to a vast amount and varying quality of information and the confusion spawning from the frequently-moving goal posts when it comes to public health advice due to the evolving science. 

“Information needs to be tailored and locally contextualized, while at the same time balanced with consistent key messaging being shared across the country,” the report states. 

Tam is advising that as long as the virus is uncontrolled, public health officials and governments need to be transparent and provide regular updates on COVID-19 and up-to-date guidance. 

It’s a part of Tam’s mandate to provide Health Minister Patty Hajdu with a report on the state of public health in Canada annually, which then is tabled in Parliament.

The report is based on Canadian data available from January to the end of August, and notes that because the virus and evidence around it continues to rapidly evolve, “the report was written with the knowledge that the story of this pandemic is continuing to change every day.”

TIMELINE OF KEY MILESTONES

  • December 31, 2019: PHAC was notified of a pneumonia-like illness of unknown cause originating in Wuhan, China.
  • January 22, 2020: Canada implements novel coronavirus screening requirements for travellers returning from China. Residents are asked additional screening questions to determine if they have visited the city of Wuhan, China.
  • January 25, 2020: First presumptive confirmed case of 2019-nCoV related to travel to Wuhan, China confirmed in Ontario.
  • February 20, 2020: First COVID-19 case in Canada from travel outside mainland China, from Iran, reported in British Columbia.
  • February 23, 2020: First recorded COVID-19 case in Canada linked to community transmission.
  • February 24, 2020: Alberta records first COVID-19 case in Canada linked to travel to the U.S.
  • March 7, 2020: First COVID-19 outbreak at a long-term care home in Vancouver, British Columbia involving 79 cases.
  • March 11, 2020: Canada surpasses 100 reported COVID-19 cases.
  • March 12-22, 2020: Physical distancing measures are implemented across the country. All provinces and territories declare a state of emergency and/or public health emergency. Non-essential businesses close or have significantly reduced capacity; gatherings are restricted; schools close; advisory issued for those who can, to work from home.
  • March 13, 2020: The Government of Canada recommends avoiding non-essential travel outside of Canada,
  • March 16, 2020: Government of Canada advises all travellers entering Canada to self-isolate for 14 days.
  • March 18–19, 2020: Additional international travel advisories and border restrictions are implemented: Entry to Canada by air is prohibited to all foreign nationals (except those from the United States); Canada and the United States agree to temporarily restrict non-essential travel across the Canada-US border; International flights are redirected to only 4 airports.
  • March 28, 2020: First reported outbreak among temporary foreign workers in an agricultural setting, involving 23 people.
  • April 7, 2020: Council of Chief Medical Officers of Health issue a statement supportive of wearing non-medical masks as an additional layer of protection for other people in close proximity.
  • April 14, 2020: Largest known COVID-19 outbreak reported at homeless shelter in Toronto, Ontario, involving 164 cases.
  • April 15, 2020: Lockdown in response to largest known outbreak at a correctional facility in Laval, Quebec involving 162 cases.
  • April 17, 2020: First reported COVID-19 outbreak in an isolated northern community in Saskatchewan, affecting 117 residents.
  • April 24, 2020: New Brunswick is the first province to ease physical distancing restrictions.
  • May 6, 2020: Alberta reports a COVID-19 outbreak at a meat processing plant, which becomes the largest outbreak at a single location in Canada (by the end of August) with 1,560 people confirmed.
  • June 17, 2020: First COVID-19 outbreak in a religious-cultural community declared in Saskatchewan, involving 285 people.   

Timeline source: Public Health Agency of Canada. 

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Bank of Canada plans to keep interest rate near zero until 2023 – CBC.ca

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The Bank of Canada says it has no plans to change its benchmark interest rate until inflation gets back to two per cent and stays there, something it says isn’t likely to happen until 2023.

The central bank said Wednesday it has decided to keep its benchmark interest rate steady at 0.25 per cent. The news was expected by economists, as although the economy is showing signs of recovering from the impact of COVID-19, things are still a long way from normal, so cheap lending will be needed for a long while yet.

The bank outlined a fairly bleak assessment of the worst case scenario when it laid out its last Monetary Report in July. But the roughly eight months since COVID-19 began in Canada have given the bank a clearer picture of how things are shaking out, even if the picture isn’t always rosy.

“With more than six months since the onset of the pandemic, the Bank has gained a better understanding of how containment measures and support programs affect the Canadian and global economies,” the bank said.

“This, along with more information on medical developments related to COVID-19, allows the bank to now make a reasonable set of assumptions to underpin a base-case forecast.”

Rocked by COVID-19, the central bank says it expects Canada’s economy will shrink by 5.7 per cent this year, but grow by 4.2 per cent next year, and 3.7 per cent in 2022. Inflation, meanwhile, is expected to be 0.6 per cent this year,
1.0 per cent next year, and 1.7 per cent in 2022.

Bank of Canada Senior Deputy Governor Carolyn Wilkins and Governor Tiff Macklem spoke to reporters in Ottawa today. 2:35

Those growth and inflation projections, however, are based on two leaps of faith: that there won’t be a second — or third — widespread lockdown in Canada, and that a vaccine or some sort of effective treatment will be widely available by the middle of 2022 at the latest.

“The breadth and intensity of re-imposed containment measures, including impacts on schools and the availability of child care, could lead to setbacks,” the bank said in the quarterly Monetary Policy Report that accompanied the rate decision.

Impact on mortgages

The bank’s outlook and rate decisions have real world impact on Canadian borrowers and savers. Fixed-rate mortgages are priced based on what’s happening in the bond market, but the central bank’s rate has a direct impact on variable rate mortgages.

So telegraphing that rates are going to stay low for long presents something of a conundrums for borrowers, says James Laird, Co-founder of Ratehub.ca and president of mortgage brokerage CanWise Financial.

“There is no wrong answer right now,” Laird said. 

“Canadians who derive value from certainty should choose a fixed rate. For Canadians who are open to a little more risk, considering a variable rate is certainly appropriate, since the Bank is committed to keeping rates where they are for at least another two years.”

Economist Sri Thanabalasingam with TD Bank says the bank made it clear on Wednesday that the road to a full recovery will be slow. 

“There’s a long way to go for the Canadian economy to emerge out of this crisis, ” Thanabalasingam said.

“The path forward is filled with uncertainty, most of which could set the recovery back a step or two, [so] the bank is set to continue to provide monetary support for many years to come.”

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