Ontario announced Friday afternoon that it is activating an “emergency brake” in Thunder Bay and Simcoe-Muskoka, sending the regions back into lockdown to “immediately interrupt transmission and contain community spread.”
The two regions will move into the grey lockdown level of Ontario’s COVID-19 restriction plan effective 12:01 a.m. Monday, March 1.
“This is due to a rapid worsening in key public health indicators, as well as a high presence of variants in the Simcoe-Muskoka District Health Unit that continue to increase — the highest in the province. As of February 23, 2021, there has been a total of 170 confirmed cases of a variant of concern in this region,” the province said in a news release.
Seven other regions will also be moving into new levels at the same time. They include:
- Red-control: Niagara Region Public Health.
- Orange-restrict: Chatham-Kent Public Health; Middlesex-London Health Unit; and Southwestern Public Health.
- Yellow-protect: Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit; and Huron Perth Public Health.
- Green-prevent: Grey Bruce Health Unit.
Toronto, Peel and North Bay Parry Sound will remain under a stay-at-home order until at least Monday, March 8.
All other regions will remain in their current level for now, the province said.
1,258 new cases — the most in nearly 2 weeks
Ontario reported another 1,258 cases of COVID-19 on Friday — the most on a single day in nearly two weeks — as officials hailed Health Canada’s approval of the AstraZeneca vaccine as a “huge deal” for the province’s immunization effort.
The new cases include 362 in Toronto, 274 in Peel Region and 104 in York Region.
York Region announced Friday it is ready to vaccinate residents 80 years of age and older by appointment. Eligible residents can book appointments online beginning Monday, March 1 at 8 a.m.
The region will administer vaccines at Cortellucci Vaughan Hospital in Vaughan, Cornell Community Centre in Markham and Ray Twinney Recreation Complex in Newmarket.
“This is a very positive step forward. We are moving aggressively to vaccinate as many as possible within the province’s identified priority populations as vaccine supply becomes available,” said Dr. Karim Kurji, York Region’s medical officer of health.
“We are being as nimble as we can using different delivery models depending on the supplies of vaccines and the groups we need to immunize.”
Other public health units that saw double-digit increases include:
- Waterloo Region: 69
- Hamilton: 64
- Ottawa: 52
- Durham Region: 42
- Thunder Bay: 42
- Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph: 35
- Halton Region: 32
- Windsor-Essex: 31
- Simcoe Muskoka: 25
- Niagara Region: 19
- Brant County: 17
- Eastern Ontario: 11
- Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge: 10
- Renfrew County: 10
(Note: All of the figures used in this story are found on the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 dashboard or in its Daily Epidemiologic Summary. The number of cases for any region may differ from what is reported by the local public health unit on a given day, because local units report figures at different times.)
Ontario’s lab network completed 64,049 tests for SARS-Cov-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and logged a test positivity rate of 2.3 per cent.
The seven-day average of daily cases climbed to 1,114, marking a sixth straight day of increases.
The Ministry of Education also reported 101 school-related cases: 89 students and 12 staff members. There are currently 18 schools closed due to the illness, about 0.4 per cent of those in the province.
According to the Ministry of Health, there has been a total of 477 cases caused by a virus variant first identified in the United Kingdom, 28 more than in yesterday’s update. Another 14 cases have been linked to a variant first found in South Africa, up three from yesterday, and two total cases have screened positive for the variant identified in Brazil.
Variants of concern continue to spread quickly in Ontario, updated modelling presented yesterday shows, and are projected to likely make up 40 per cent of the province’s cases by the second week of March.
Ontario’s COVID-19 science table said the next few weeks will be “critical” for understanding the impact of these variants, and that there “is a period of remaining risk” before the pandemic likely hits a lull in the summer months.
Meanwhile, public health units recorded the deaths of 28 more people with the illness, bringing Ontario’s official toll to 6,944.
AstraZeneca approval could accelerate vaccines rollout
The news comes as Health Canada gave a green light for use of a third COVID-19 vaccine.
“Basically it means we can accelerate our vaccine programs from coast to coast. It also means we have a much more versatile vaccine,” said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease physician based in Toronto.
The AstraZeneca vaccine only requires conventional refrigeration and is relatively stable, Bogoch added, meaning it could be a prime candidate for immunization efforts by primary care providers and mobile clinics.
“Of course there’s still a lot of questions about who will have access to it, when we’re going to get it, through which route we’ll get it. But at the end of the day, we have access to more vaccine than we thought,” Bogoch told CBC’s News Network.
WATCH | Task force member on how AstraZeneca vaccine could be used:
Ontario’s immunization strategy has been the focus of scrutiny this week, after the task force announced that an online portal for booking appointments wouldn’t be operational until mid-March — weeks after several other provinces. Furthermore, the co-chair of the task force, retired general Rick Hillier, wouldn’t offer specifics on when people under 60 years old (who are not essential workers) might expect to get their first dose of a vaccine.
Some jurisdictions, notably France, have restricted the AstraZeneca vaccine to people under the age of 65 despite the World Health Organization’s insistence that the product is safe and effective for all age groups.
Health Canada approved the AstraZeneca vaccine for Canadians aged 18 and older, and said it has an efficacy rate of about 62.1 per cent.
While the efficacy rate is important, Bogoch said, more crucial is the vaccine’s ability to significantly reduce the probability of a severe COVID-19 infection and hospitalization in those who receive it.
Record-high shots given out yesterday
Speaking to CBC Radio’s Metro Morning today, Hillier called the approval “wonderful news” but cautioned that provincial officials will need to wait for more instructions from Health Canada before they can say definitely how it will change Ontario’s rollout plan.
“It’s a third weapon in the fight against COVID-19,” Hillier said, alluding to the two other vaccines — manufactured by Pfizer and Moderna — currently being administered in Canada.
The federal government has secured access to 20 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
The province said it administered 21,805 doses of vaccines yesterday, a new single-day high. A total of 258,014 people have received both doses of a vaccine.
Prioritize vaccine rollout by age and neighbourhood, experts say
The science advisory table says that prioritizing COVID-19 vaccinations on both age and neighbourhood could prevent thousands of cases and reduce the number of deaths linked to the illness moving forward.
The group detailed its advice in a new report released today.
The table said the pandemic has taken a disproportionate toll on older adults and residents of lower income and racialized neighbourhoods, mainly in urban centres.
Targeting those residents for vaccination first could minimize deaths, illness and hospitalizations across Ontario, the report suggested.
Implementing the strategy would not interfere with the ongoing vaccine rollout, but could instead help guide the upcoming mass distribution of shots to the general population, it continued.
Barrick Gold profit beats expectations as copper, gold prices surge
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) -Barrick Gold Corp reported a 78% jump in first-quarter profit on Wednesday, beating analyst expectations thanks to rising gold and copper prices, and said it was on track to meet annual forecasts.
Production in the second half is expected to be higher than the first, the gold miner said, thanks in part to the ramp-up of underground mining at the Bulyanhulu mine in Tanzania and higher expected grades at Lumwana in Zambia.
Barrick’s first-quarter gold production fell to 1.10 million from 1.25 million ounces due partly to lower grades at its Pueblo Viejo mine in Dominican Republic.
Adjusted profit surged 78% to $507 million in the quarter ended March 31, from $285 million a year earlier, and Barrick announced a 9 cent per share quarterly dividend.
Stronger prices helped boost Barrick’s revenue from its copper mines in Chile, Saudi Arabia and Zambia by 31% from the fourth quarter. Overall earnings per share were $0.29, ahead of analysts’ estimate of $0.27.
“We expect a positive stock reaction to the earnings beat and strong cash flow,” said Credit Suisse analysts.
POTENTIAL FOR SOUTH AFRICA MERGER
Barrick CEO Mark Bristow, who has championed mergers across the gold industry, said he backed the idea of South Africa-listed miners Goldfields and AngloGold Ashanti combining.
Speculation has been swirling around the two companies and Sibanye-Stillwater, whose CEO Neal Froneman floated the idea of a three-way merger in March.
“I’m a South African, and this country has such a great mining history and it would be great to see a real gold business come out of the many failed discussions that we’ve seen,” said Bristow.
Goldfields declined to comment. In a statement, AngloGold Ashanti said it was focused on delivering on its growth plan to unlock value from its portfolio of gold assets.
Bristow also said he had met with the Democratic Republic of Congo’s new mines minister and other officials and was continuing to work on getting $900 million belonging to its Kibali mine joint venture out of the country.
“We have a solution, it just needs to be sanctioned by the appropriate authorities which haven’t been around for a while,” he said, referring to a recent government overhaul by President Felix Tshisekedi.
(Reporting by Helen Reid in Johannesburg and Arundhati Sarkar in Bengaluru; editing by Shounak Dasgupta and Bernadette Baum)
Loblaw gets quarterly sales, profit boost from online demand surge
Retailer Loblaw Cos Ltd beat market estimates for quarterly revenue and profit on Wednesday, as its online sales more than doubled on soaring demand from homebound buyers for groceries and other essentials during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lockdowns and other virus-related restrictions in Canada, including reduced store capacity, during the first three months of the year pushed consumers to stockpile groceries and other essential items.
Loblaw, one of the biggest retailers in Canada, said that the momentum from the first quarter has continued into the current quarter, adding that it expects to exceed its own full-year profit expectations.
However, the company has warned that its food retail unit, which saw a surge last year at the peak of stockpiling, would not be as robust in the current quarter. In the first month of the ongoing quarter, food same-store sales have declined slightly, Loblaw said.
For the second quarter, the company expects to incur pandemic-related costs of about $65 million to $75 million, compared with $282 million a year earlier.
Net earnings available to its common shareholders rose to C$313 million, or 90 Canadian cents per share, in the quarter ended March 27 from C$240 million, or 66 Canadian cents per share, a year earlier.
Excluding one-time items, the retailer earned C$1.13 per share, beating the average analysts’ estimate of 87 Canadian cents per share.
Its revenue rose to C$11.87 billion ($9.67 billion) in the first quarter from C$11.80 billion a year earlier, surpassing analysts’ estimate of C$11.72 billion, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.
($1 = 1.2277 Canadian dollars)
(Reporting by Mehr Bedi in Bengaluru; editing by Uttaresh.V)
Bombardier in talks to amend bondholders’ agreement after breach claim on asset sales
(Reuters) – Bombardier on Monday contested a bondholder’s claims that its recent sales of non-core assets breach the terms of certain notes, and said it would seek bondholders’ consent to amend terms on eight bond issues.
Bombardier has emerged as a pure play business jet maker after divesting assets including the sale of its transportation business to Alstom, which it completed in January, to pay down debt and boost earnings.
The company said it launched consent solicitations with respect to outstanding senior notes or debentures, following the claims by the unnamed bondholder that the asset sales constitute a breach of certain covenants under the indenture governing the 2034 notes.
Bombardier said in a statement these claims are without merit and it has not breached any covenant, adding that after evaluating various options it had determined requesting bondholders to amend the terms of the bonds was the most “expedient and efficient path” to maintain value and protect itself and its stakeholders.
If the amendments are approved, Bombardier will make a consent payment of $1.25 per $1,000 principal amount for applicable series of notes, and C$1.25 per C$1,000 principal of Canadian dollar-denominated 7.35% debentures due 2026, the statement said.
Bombardier also flagged early first-quarter revenue that would beat analysts’ estimates, as rising vaccinations encourage wealthy travelers to return to flying.
Bombardier reports earnings on Thursday.
The jet maker said it expects first-quarter adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) from continuing operations of $123 million, above analysts’ average estimate of $89 million, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.
The company expects business jet revenue to rise by 18% to $1.3 billion in the first quarter, from a year ago, beating Wall Street’s estimate of $1.18 billion.
Bombardier stock closed up 3.3%.
While deliveries are roughly the same, Bombardier’s product composition is shifting toward its flagship Global 7500 jets, a revenue driver.
Bombardier said it remains on track to deliver between 110-120 business aircraft in 2021. The company’s full-year deliveries fell 20% to 114 jets in 2020.
(Reporting by Ankit Ajmera in Bengaluru and Allison Lampert in Montreal; Editing by Shailesh Kuber and Karishma Singh)
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