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Ontario announcing plans to 'rapidly accelerate' its vaccine rollout – CBC.ca

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Ontario expects to give all adults 60 and older a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine by early June, officials said Friday, as they detailed who will qualify for a shot during Phase 2 of the province’s immunization campaign.

That’s at least a month sooner than originally planned. Ontario’s rollout strategy was recently revised amid a wave of vaccine-related news, including the approvals of a third and fourth vaccine for use in Canada and the option to space out shots of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines by up to four months.

Notably, however, the updated rollout plan presented by officials was put together before some significant announcements today. This morning, Health Canada gave a green light to the one-shot Johnson&Johnson vaccine, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada should expect up to 1.5 million more doses of the Pfizer vaccine in March than expected.

At a news conference, provincial officials said those developments could speed-up implementation of the rollout, especially during Phase 2, which is set to run between now and the end of July.

Officials said they expect to begin immunizing Canadians with some underlying health conditions, caregivers in congregate settings and adults in some COVID-19 hotspots by the start of April.

A list of eligible health conditions and COVID-19 hotspots can be found in the province’s slideshow embedded at the bottom of this story.

At a news conference Friday afternoon, Premier Doug Ford said the province is “making incredible progress” in its vaccination plan.

“The light at the end of the tunnel gets brighter, so let’s keep working together to beat this,” Ford said.

Retired Gen. Rick Hillier, who is running the province’s vaccination plan, called this a “seismic shift,” adding that officials are “gaining confidence” about a steady flow of vaccines, and those numbers growing each week.

Another category of residents, defined as those who cannot work from home, could start getting first doses at the beginning of June. That includes educators and school staff, first responders and workers in sectors like manufacturing and food processing.

Choices about vaccines?

Members of the vaccine task force said they expect 133 mass vaccination clinics to begin operating in 26 of 34 health units by the end of March.

About 80 per cent of all vaccine doses administered during phases two and three will be done through these clinics, officials said.

They stressed, though, that what vaccine someone receives will depend on where they live and how they choose to get it.

Because each of the four vaccines approved in Canada have different characteristics, some people will be limited in terms of choice.

AstraZeneca will be administered mostly through pharmacies and primary care clinics, for example, because it can be stored safely in a regular fridge.

Ontario anticipates 194,500 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to arrive the week of March 8. They will be used to give first doses to adults aged 60-64.

Stay-at-home orders lifted

Meanwhile, stay-at-home orders in Toronto, Peel and North Bay Parry Sound are being lifted, the province announced Friday, with those regions transitioning back into Ontario’s previous COVID-19 framework effective Monday, March 8.

North Bay Parry Sound will be returning to the framework at the red-control level, the province said in a news release, while Toronto and Peel will enter at the Grey-Lockdown level.

“Our government is taking a safe and cautious approach to returning to the framework and due to our progress, all regions of the province will soon be out of the provincewide shutdown,” Minister of Health Christine Elliott said in a statement. 

“Despite this positive step forward, a return to the Framework is not a return to normal. As we continue vaccinating more Ontarians, it remains critical for everyone to continue to follow public health measures and stay home as much as possible to protect themselves, their loved ones and their communities.”

You can read the province’s breakdown of each tier of the framework here.

Several recent developments forced members of the vaccine task force to revise Ontario’s immunization strategy. 

AstraZeneca’s vaccine was approved for use by Health Canada late last week, while this morning, the agency gave a green light for use of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The federal government has ordered 10 million doses of the vaccine — the fourth to be approved in Canada — with an option for 28 million more.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) subsequently recommended that the AstraZeneca vaccine only be used for people under the age of 65. As more real-time evidence on the efficacy of the vaccine has become available, however, pressure has mounted for NACI to change course.

Ontario Solicitor General Sylvia Jones suggested this week that, at least for now, Ontario will use the AstraZeneca vaccine for adults between 60 and 64.

Both France and Germany had originally implemented similar guidance for the vaccine, but have since reversed those decisions, citing evidence from countries such as the United Kingdom and Israel, where the AstraZeneca vaccine is already being administered to adults 65 and over.

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a site in Toronto earlier this year. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

And earlier this week, NACI said that provinces can safely extend the time between shots of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines up to four months. 

The move followed an announcement by health officials in British Columbia, who said just days earlier they would implement a 16-week interval to ensure that more people got a first dose of vaccine earlier.

Both vaccines have been shown to be more than 90 per cent effective at preventing severe illness and death from COVID-19 after a single dose.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, the Ontario Ministry of Health said it welcomed the new recommendations from NACI. 

“This will allow Ontario to rapidly accelerate its vaccine rollout and get as many vaccines into arms as quickly as possible, and in doing so, provide more protection to more people,” a ministry spokesperson said in an email.

Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott has said repeatedly that an updated rollout plan would be released by the government imminently.

According to the ministry, health units administered 35,886 doses of vaccines yesterday, a third straight record high day in the province. A total of 269,063 people in Ontario have now been given both shots of a vaccine.

Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams said on Thursday that he remains concerned about the presence of “variants of concern.”

“These are not insignificant numbers,” he told reporters. “We want to be cautious at this time.” 

Most new cases in a week

Meanwhile, public health units reported another 1,250 cases of COVID-19 this morning, the most on a single day in a week.

The new cases include 337 in Toronto, 167 in Peel Region and 129 in York Region.

They come as Ontario’s lab network completed 64,748 test samples for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and logged a test positivity rate of 2.3 per cent. 

Labs also confirmed 155 more cases linked to the virus variant first identified in the United Kingdom, bringing the total thus far to 799.

On Wednesday, 1,002 test samples province-wide were screened for the tell-tale spike gene that suggests the presence of a variant of concern. The spike was detected in 308, or nearly 31 per cent, of those samples. Those samples are then sent for whole genomic sequencing to determine the specific variant of concern.

The seven-day average of daily cases stands at 1,063.

The Ministry of Education also reported another 96 school-related cases: 82 students, 13 staff members and one person who was not identified. Twenty-nine schools are currently closed due to the illness. That’s about 0.6 per cent of Ontario’s 4,828 publicly funded schools.

Public health units recorded the deaths of 22 more people with the illness, pushing Ontario’s official toll to 7,046.

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Iran indicts 10 over Ukraine plane crash, prosecutor says; Canada demands justice

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DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran has indicted 10 officials over the shooting-down of a Ukrainian passenger plane in January 2020 that killed all 176 people on board, a military prosecutor said on Tuesday.

In a report published last month, Iran’s civil aviation body blamed the crash on a misaligned radar and an error by an air defence operator. Ukraine and Canada, home to many of those who died, criticised the report as insufficient.

“Indictments have been issued for 10 officials involved in the crash of the Ukrainian plane…and necessary decisions will be taken in court,” Gholam Abbas Torki, the outgoing military prosecutor for Tehran province, was quoted as saying by the semi-official news agency ISNA. He did not elaborate.

In Ottawa, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was “tremendously concerned about the lack of accountability” from Iran about the disaster.

Canada, along with its partners, will continue to press Tehran to deliver justice and compensation for families of the victims, he told a briefing when asked about the indictments.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards shot down the Ukraine International Airlines flight on Jan. 8, 2020, shortly after it took off from Tehran Airport.

The Iranian government later said the shooting-down was a “disastrous mistake” by its forces at a time when they were on high alert in a regional confrontation with the United States.

Iran was on edge about possible attacks after it fired missiles at Iraqi bases housing U.S. forces in retaliation for the killing days before of its most powerful military commander, Qassem Soleimani, in a U.S. missile strike at Baghdad airport.

 

(Reporting by Dubai newsroom and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Gareth Jones and Mark Heinrich)

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Canadian oil producers CNRL, Cenovus plan new emissions targets, no pivot to renewables

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CNRL

By Rod Nickel and Nia Williams

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) -Canadian Natural Resources Ltd (CNRL) and Cenovus Energy Inc, two of Canada‘s biggest oil producers, said on Tuesday they would set new goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but not pivot away from their core businesses.

Oil sands producers, which extract some of the world’s most carbon-intense crude, face investor pressure to reduce their environmental impact. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau plans to raise Canada‘s carbon price steeply over time to position the country for carbon-neutral status by 2050.

CNRL’s corporate emissions-cutting goal will be announced in the second quarter, President Tim McKay said at the Scotiabank CAPP Energy Symposium, which is being held remotely.

The company cut carbon intensity per barrel by 18% between 2016 and 2020 and sees carbon capture as a way to further reduce its environmental toll, McKay said.

It does not plan major investments in renewable energy as European oil majors have done.

“The preference is to stick with what we know and what we’re good at,” McKay said. “There’s going to be a need for oil long-term.”

Cenovus is also planning new emissions-cutting targets and might invest in renewable power partnerships.

“Where we’re likely to remain is focused on oil and gas production,” Cenovus Chief Executive Officer Alex Pourbaix told the symposium. “But don’t look for us to become a late-entrant renewable-power developer.”

Suncor Energy Inc is on track to achieve its goal of cutting the emissions intensity of production by 30% versus 2014 levels by 2030, said Chief Financial Officer Alister Cowan, and is now talking about updating its target beyond 2030.

Imperial Oil Ltd could adopt technologies of parent company Exxon Mobil Corp like carbon capture and biofuel blending, Senior Vice President of Finance Dan Lyons said.

“When it comes to wind farms and solar farms, that’s not really in our wheelhouse.”

Sticking to fossil fuels will jeopardize the businesses long-term, said Keith Stewart, senior energy strategist at Greenpeace Canada.

“They will go the way of Blockbuster Video once Netflix arrived,” Stewart said.

Canada‘s transition to a low-carbon economy could displace up to 450,000 oil and gas workers over the next three decades, TD Economics said.

(Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg and Nia Williams in Calgary; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Peter Cooney)

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Saskatchewan sees bigger, C$2.6-billion deficit to fight pandemic

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By Rod Nickel

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) – The Canadian province of Saskatchewan forecast on Tuesday a C$2.6-billion ($2.07 billion)deficit in the current 2021-22 fiscal year, up from last year’s C$1.9 billion, as the pandemic drives up costs.

The province, whose economy relies on farming, oil production and mining, is running a larger deficit so it can effectively respond to the COVID-19 crisis, Finance Minister Donna Harpauer said.

Canadian provincial governments, like the national government, have run bigger deficits since the pandemic began, trying to slow its spread and buttress economies that lockdowns have hit hard.

With government debt rising, credit rating agencies are watching closely for provincial strategies to tame deficits, TD Economics said in a report last month.

Saskatchewan expects to continue running deficits until balancing the books in 2026-27, the provincial government said while introducing its new budget.

The Saskatchewan Party government, led by Premier Scott Moe, forecast spending to increase by 7% to C$17.1 billion from last year, including costs such as vaccinations, tests for infection and purchases of protective equipment.

It forecast provincial revenues for the 2021-22 fiscal year at C$14.5 billion, up nearly 3% from last year.

Saskatchewan’s real gross domestic product looks to grow 3.4% in 2021 after contracting 4.2% last year, the government said.

The budget assumes an average North American oil futures price of $54.33 per barrel during its fiscal year, generating C$505.1 million in royalties.

Neighboring Alberta estimated in February that its 2021-22 budget deficit would shrink to C$18.2 billion, as its economy starts to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

 

 

(Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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