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Only 500 new COVID cases in Alberta, but fewer tests conducted – Lethbridge News Now

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COVID-19. (Alberta Health Services)

By David Opinko

Dec 27, 2020 4:35 PM

LETHBRIDGE, AB – Alberta Health Services has released a “modified update” on COVID-19 for Sunday.

During the holiday break, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw notes that “fewer people were tested Dec. 25 so fewer tests were processed and reported on Dec. 26.”

In the numbers being reported today, 500 cases were confirmed across the province.

With 6,900 laboratory tests conducted during that period, that gives a positivity rate of approximately seven per cent.

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Bank of Canada holds rates, sees strong rebound after lockdowns – BNN

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The Bank of Canada is adopting a positive tone on the outlook for the nation’s economy, choosing to look past a weak start to 2021 as vaccine efforts accelerate.

In a decision Wednesday from Ottawa, policy makers led by Governor Tiff Macklem said the economy remains on a two-year timeline to fully repair damage from the pandemic and doesn’t currently need additional support, even amid a wave of new COVID-19 cases and lockdowns.

The language effectively quashes speculation, at least for now, that the Bank of Canada could cut already historically low borrowing costs even further. Instead, officials said the extraordinary amount of stimulus already in the economy is appropriate and even raised the possibility of pulling back some of it as the recovery takes hold.

“In sum, there is clear reason to be more optimistic about the direction of the economy over medium term,” Macklem told reporters after the decision. “But we are not there yet. The resurgence in COVID-19 cases weighs heavily on the near-term economic outlook.”

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The Canadian dollar extended gains following the decision, rising as much as 1 per cent to the highest since April 2018 against the U.S. dollar. It was up 0.7 per cent to $1.2651 at 1:41 p.m. in Toronto trading. The yield on government 10-year bonds rose 3 basis points to 0.84 per cent.

The bank held its overnight interest rate at 0.25 per cent, which is already a record low. Interest rates that commercial banks give to their prime customers are typically just over 2 percentage points above the policy rate. The bank reiterated Wednesday it will keep borrowing costs low until 2023.

In addition, the central bank has been purchasing financial assets, primarily Canadian government bonds, to suppress long-term interest rates. Officials on Wednesday said they will continue to do so at the current pace of at least C$4 billion a week.

But in perhaps the most significant addition to its policy statement, the central bank said it’s prepared to scale these purchases back as it becomes more confident the recovery has taken hold.

Macklem called the arrival of vaccines a “very promising development,” one that will support exports and business investment as progress is made toward broad immunity in Canada and abroad. Widespread vaccination would also prove a boon for household consumption.

One of the biggest changes to the bank’s key assumptions is the timeline for the vaccine. In October, the bank predicted the vaccine would be broadly available by mid-2022, but that has been moved forward to the end of 2021. As a result, the bank revised higher its growth estimate for next year to 4.8 per cent, from a 3.7 per cent projection in October. Growth in 2021 was revised down slightly to 4 per cent from an October estimate of 4.2 per cent, reflecting the weaker-than-expected start to the year.

“The bank’s more optimistic medium-term forecasts are the key takeaway,” Josh Nye, an economist at Royal Bank of Canada in Toronto, said in a report to investors.

At the same time, Macklem sought to ensure expectations don’t get too elevated.

A second wave of COVID-19 cases has forced officials to impose strict measures on businesses and social gatherings that the Bank of Canada is predicting will produce an economic contraction in the first quarter of this year. The nation’s recovery also risks being hampered by a strengthening currency and a pick-up in market interest rates.

At a press conference after the statement, Macklem said officials determined during the policy deliberations that it’s still too early to consider slowing the pace of asset purchases. He also highlighted how the bank’s forecasts come with a high degree of uncertainty and that the economy will continue to require extraordinary levels of stimulus for years to come. The bank does have options to add more stimulus if needed, Macklem said.

“In view of the near-term weakness and the protracted nature of the recovery, we concluded that the exceptional degree of monetary stimulus currently in place remains appropriate,” he said.

The tone in the statement was widely expected, though some analysts had been warning the central bank could be tempted to make a micro-rate-cut that would bring the policy rate closer to zero.

Macklem wouldn’t be drawn on whether Governing Council discussed such a cut at this week’s meeting, saying only a micro cut is one option available to the bank should it require additional stimulus.

“I never really bought into the mini-rate-cut idea as it doesn’t provide too much extra stimulus against the near-term headwinds the economy faces,” Simon Harvey, a foreign exchange market analyst at Monex Canada, said by email.

Policy makers also downplayed any worries that all this extraordinary stimulus could drive up inflation. In the statement, officials said economic slack is expected to weigh on price pressures.

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Vaccination efforts key to economic recovery, Bank of Canada says as it keeps rate on hold – CTV News

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OTTAWA —
The economy will go in reverse for the first quarter of 2021, the Bank of Canada said Wednesday as it kept its key interest rate on hold, warning the hardest-hit workers will be hammered again on a path to a recovery that rests on the rollout of vaccines.

Workers in high-contact service industries will carry the burden of a new round of lockdowns, which the central bank warned will exacerbate the pandemic’s uneven effects on the labour market.

The longer restrictions remain in place, the more difficult it may be for these workers to find new jobs since the majority move to a new job but in the same industry.

Bank of Canada Governor Tiff Macklem said in his opening remarks at a late-morning news conference that the first-quarter decline could be worse than expected if restrictions are tightened or extended.

The central bank kept its key rate on hold at 0.25 per cent on Wednesday, citing near-term weakness and the “protracted nature of the recovery” in its reasoning.

The short-term pain is expected to give way to a brighter outlook for the medium-term with vaccines rolling out sooner than the central bank expected.

Still, the bank said in its updated economic outlook, a full recovery from COVID-19 will take some time. Nor does the Bank of Canada see inflation returning to its two per cent target until 2023, one year longer than previously forecast, and the bank’s key rate is likely to stay low until then.

Overall, there is reason to be more optimistic about the economy in the medium-term, but it will still need extraordinary help from governments and the central bank to get there, Macklem said.

The bank’s latest monetary policy report, which lays out its expectations for economic growth and inflation, forecast that COVID-19 caused the economy to contract by 5.5 per cent last year.

Despite an upswing over the summer and fall that may have spared the country from a worst-case economic scenario, the drive to a recovery will hit a pothole over the first three months of 2021.

The bank forecasts real gross domestic product to contract at an annual pace of 2.5 per cent in the first quarter of 2021, before improving thereafter if severe restrictions start easing in February.

The bank expects growth of four per cent overall for 2021, then 4.8 per cent next year, and 2.5 per cent in 2023.

Trevin Stratton, chief economist at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, was more dour on lockdowns, saying the group doesn’t expect them to ease until well into March.

“During this period, we need to provide the right kind of support to individual Canadians and to businesses to get them through the lockdowns, recognizing that neither group is in the same financial position as it was in March 2020,” he said in a statement.

For the central bank, that help could come through ramping up its bond-buying to force down interest rates, or a small cut to its key policy rate among options Macklem mentioned Wednesday.

Keeping the door open to such a “micro” rate change is a shift in tone, as Macklem has previously said the current 0.25 rate is as low as it would go.

The bank said the path for the economy will be like riding a roller-coaster as resurgence in COVID-19, or new, more virulent strains, weigh down a recovery in one quarter before leading to strong upswing in the next.

Inflation may be equally rocky.

Gasoline prices, which have weighed down the consumer price index during the pandemic, will by March be “well above their lows of a year earlier,” the bank’s report said. That should significantly bump inflation, the report said, possibly to two per cent in the second quarter.

The bump will even out over the rest of the year. The bank forecasts inflation for 2021 at 1.6 per cent, then 1.7 per cent in 2022 and 2.1 per cent in 2023.

Statistics Canada reported Wednesday the annual pace of inflation cooled in December to 0.7 per cent compared with 1.0 per cent in November.

The agency also reported that the average last month of Canada’s three measures for core inflation, which are considered better gauges of underlying price pressures and closely tracked by the Bank of Canada, was 1.57 per cent.

The central bank’s lookahead rests on efforts to vaccinate Canadians by the end of the year without any hiccups in that timeline, which would mean broad immunity six months sooner than the bank previously assumed.

“It’s going to be very important that Canada get the vaccines, we get them distributed to Canadians and that Canadians take the vaccine,” Macklem said.

A shorter timeline for vaccinations should mean less scarring overall for the economy in the form of fewer bankruptcies and fewer workers out of jobs for long stretches, which makes it more difficult for them to get back into the labour force.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 20, 2021.

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Ontario premier to update province's coronavirus vaccination plan in the face of Pfizer supply cutbacks – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News

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The provincial government is expecting no shipments of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine next week amid a delay in deliveries due to production issues.

Retired Gen. Rick Hillier, chair of Ontario’s COVID-19 task force, said today that the federal government confirmed Ontario will receive zero shipments of the vaccine next week as Pfizer is dealing with delays in shipments due to production issues in Belgium.

“What Pfizer and I believe the federal government have said to us is that yes we have had some short-term shortages, some short-term disruptions to the allocations but we will make up in late Februrary/March what we missed. And therefore, in the first quarter- our Phase one- we will have the same number of vaccines allocated to us that we expected all along and that we’ve been planning to use,” Hillier said during a press conference on Tuesday afternoon.

The Canadian government announced on Tuesday morning that the country is not going to get any shipments of Pfizer vaccines next week.

Canada’s coordinator of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, Maj. Gen. Dany Fortin, said Canada’s shipments of the vaccine will be cut by nearly one-fifth this week and drop to zero next week during a press conference.

On Friday, the Canadian government said that nearly half of the doses expected by Pfizer-BioNTech are delayed and will arrive in the next month.

Pfizer’s facility is undergoing modifications in the coming weeks to increase the number of doses it can ship, according to Pfizer Canada.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has insisted that most Canadians will still be vaccinated by the fall if they want the vaccine.

Before the federal government’s announcement on Tuesday, provincial health officials said the province was only expecting an 80% cut in next week’s shipment, which would result in 15 trays of the Pfizer vaccine compared to a promised 83 trays.

Each tray contains approximately 975 doses.

The provincial government already faced a five per cent cut in vaccines from 83 to 80 trays this week due to the delay.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said today that he’s “angry at the situation” that other countries seem to be getting more shipments of the vaccine compared to Canada. 

“We got to be on these guys [Pfizer] like a blanket. I’d be outside that guy’s house. Every time he moved I’d be saying where’s our vaccines? Other people are getting them, the European Union’s getting them, why not Canada? That’s my question to Pfizer. We need your support,” Ford said during the press conference.

Pfizer said many countries will be affected by the delay but did not say which ones. Europe’s shipments are expected to be cut back this week but its dose deliveries are set to return to normal next week.

Ahead of inauguration day tomorrow in the U.S., Ford went on to ask President-elect Joe Biden for help securing more vaccines from a Pfizer plant in Michigan.

“I can’t help but ask the president, we’re the third largest trading partner in the world, Ontario just alone… The least thing you could do in Kalamazoo where the Pfizer plant is- great relationship building- give us a million vaccines. You have 100 million down there, give your great neighbour that stand shoulder-to-shouler with you a million vaccines to keep us going,” Ford said.

In the first two weeks of February, provincial health officials said they are expecting a 55 per cent cut and 45 per cent cut in doses during the weeks of Feb. 1 and Feb.8, respectively.

The government said the allocation of doses remains the same with the priority to inoculate long-term care and high-risk retirement homes and northern, fly-in First Nation communities first.

Health officials added that the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine will be reallocated during this delay to more areas to reserve Pfizer for sites that need to provide second doses.

Pfizer and Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines are the only shots that have been approved by Health Canada so far. Two doses of the same vaccine are required for full immunization.

Last week, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams updated the guidance on the interval between the two doses.

Those who received the Pfizer vaccine inside long-term care and high-risk retirement homes will receive the second dose in 21 to 27 days. Meanwhile, all other people who have received the first dose will now receive their second dose between 21 and 42 days later. This approach aligns with guidance from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization and the World Health Organization.

People who received the Moderna vaccine will receive their second dose after 28 days.

As a result of the Pfizer delay, a pilot COVID-19 vaccination clinic that opened up on Monday at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre will have to pause vaccinations on Friday.

The proof-of-concept clinic is supposed to serve as a guideline for how shots should be administered in non-medical settings starting this spring.

The site had been expected to run for at least six weeks with an initial target of 250 doses per day.

Today provincial health officials said the clinic will resume vaccinations once more doses arrive possibly by mid- February or March.

First round of vaccinations complete at LTC homes in hot spots

Provincial health officials also announced today that the first round of vaccinations has been completed at all long-term care homes in the hot spots of Toronto, Peel Region, York Region and Windsor-Essex ahead of the Jan. 21 target.

All long-term care homes in Ottawa, Durham Region and Simcoe Muskoka have also received the first dose.

Last week, the government said that they hope to administer at least one dose of the vaccine to all residents and staff in all long-term care homes across the province by Feb. 15.

Health officials said the vaccine shortage will not affect this target.

The government also said there have been very few reports of serious events related to the vaccine, and that most have been because patients were allergic.

Meanwhile, the Office of the Chief Coroner said it is investigating after a resident of a Windsor retirement home died after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. It is unknown if there is any link between the death and the vaccine.

More than 224,000 doses administered

As of 8 p.m. on Monday, more than 224,000 doses of vaccines have been administered across the province since the first doses were administered in mid-December.

According to public health officials, more than 83,000 of those doses were administered to long-term care home residents and staff, over 25,000 to retirement home residents and staff and more than 99,000 to health-care workers in other sectors.

To date, more than 25,000 Ontarians have been fully vaccinated after receiving both doses of the vaccine.

-With files from The Canadian Press

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