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Ontario marks highest daily COVID-19 case count in 2 months as variants of concern take over new infections – CBC.ca

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Variants of concern now account for more than half of all COVID-19 cases in Ontario — and as people grow tired of more than a year of public health measures, officials are concerned about a dramatic rise in infections as they become the predominant strains of the novel coronavirus.

That was the message from Associate Medical Officer of Health Dr. Barbara Yaffe at a provincial news conference Thursday.

There are now 1,563 confirmed variant of concern cases in Ontario, the majority of which are the B117 variant first identified in the U.K. Another 51 are confirmed to be the variant first identified in South African and 54 are the variant first identified in Brazil.

Ontario’s current seven-day average per cent positivity rate is 4.2. However, when it comes to variants of concern specifically, that number skyrockets to 50.5 per cent — up from 43.8 per cent just one week ago. 

“Daily cases are increasing, hospitalizations are increasing and ICU admissions are increasing,” Yaffe told reporters. “As [variants] take over to be the predominant strains, the concern is that the infection rate will increase.”

Ontario reported another 2,380 cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, though the Ministry of Health said 280 of the cases are attributable to a “data catch-up process” in the province’s system.

Excluding those cases, it is still the highest daily count since Jan. 24, or about two months.

The ministry did not specify when or where those extra 280 cases are from, or why they were missed earlier. 

Today’s total includes 1,016 cases in Toronto, 294 in Peel Region, 244 in York Region and 152 in Ottawa.

Record day for vaccinations

They come as Ontario saw another record day for COVID-19 vaccinations. Public health units collectively administered 79, 446 doses yesterday. Some 304,386 people in the province have now had both shots of a vaccine. 

Ontario has now given out more than 98 per cent of the 1,780,135 doses of vaccines it has received thus far from the federal government. 

Meanwhile, labs completed 60,077 tests for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and logged a test positivity rate of 3.8 per cent.

The seven-day average of daily cases climbed to 1,794. It has been steadily rising for the last 10 days.

Critical Care Services Ontario (CCSO), a government agency that compiles a daily report for hospitals and health organizations, said the number of patients with COVID-19 requiring intensive care rose to 380. Admissions to ICUs peaked in mid-January at around 420, according to CCSO.

Intensive care physicians told CBC News that some hospitals in Ontario are increasingly transferring patients to other regions in an effort to make room for new admissions.

Moreover, doctors in the Greater Toronto Area have noted that, anecdotally, they are seeing more younger patients with severe forms of COVID-19.

They say their observations could be, in part, due to the prevelance of variants of concern in the province. 

As of yesterday, a total of 15,657 test samples that tested positive for COVID-19 had also screened positive for a telltale mutation that indicates the presence of a variant of concern. 

Ontario’s COVID-19 science advisory table, a group of experts that helps guide the province’s pandemic response, estimates that variants of concern now account for about 58 per cent of all new cases.

Public health units also recorded the deaths of 17 more people with the illness, bringing the official toll to 7,280. The seven-day average of daily deaths is currently just more than 10, considerably lower than its second-wave peak of more than 60 during mid-January.

Cost of COVID hospital stays

Data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) shows COVID-19-related hospitalizations in Canada cost $23,000 per stay — about four times as much as the average.

CIHI said the average length of stay for a COVID-related hospitalization in Canada was two weeks.

The agency examined data from from January to November 2020, but did not include Quebec.

In that time period, the estimated total cost of COVID-19-related hospitalizations in Canada was more than $317 million.

There were nearly 14,000 hospital stays for patients with a diagnosis of COVID-19 in Canada between last January and November, along with more than 85,400 emergency department visits for COVID-19.

Of the 13,906 COVID-related hospitalizations analyzed, CIHI found that 57.1 per cent were discharged home while 18.7 per cent, or 2,605, died in hospital.

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Cargill to build new Canadian canola plant

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WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) – Cargill Inc will build a $350-million canola plant in Regina, Saskatchewan, the U.S. agribusiness said on Thursday, in the latest project that aims to profit from booming demand for oilseeds.

Canola futures hit record highs this week and soybeans have hit multi-year tops as demand for canola to process into vegetable oil and animal feed exceeds supply.

Refiners are also planning to produce renewable diesel from canola and soybeans to comply with government mandates in Canada and several U.S. states to make cleaner-burning fuels.

“There’s going to continue to be strong pull, we believe, into countries like China, from a food perspective,” Jeff Vassart, President of Cargill’s Canadian unit, said in an interview. “We do see increasing demand for renewable diesel too and we want to make sure that we’re positioned for it.”

The plant will have capacity to crush 1 million tonnes of canola annually.

Privately held Cargill expects the plant to start operating by early 2024, creating 50 full-time jobs.

Cargill said it would also modernize its two canola crush facilities in Camrose, Alberta, and Clavet, Saskatchewan to increase volume.

In March, rival Richardson International said it would double its canola-crushing capacity at Yorkton, Saskatchewan, making it Canada‘s largest such plant. Cargill also said last month it would expand its U.S. soybean-crushing capacity.

Vassart said the company is confident that Canada will produce enough canola to match demand, as farmers boost yields and, to a lesser extent, expand plantings. If production does not increase enough, Canada may export less canola seed, he said.

Canadian canola stocks are expected to dwindle to an eight-year low by midsummer, but Cargill expects to be able to continue crushing at a strong pace, Vassart said.

 

(Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg and Rithika Krishna in Bengaluru; editing by Grant McCool)

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U.S., other countries deepen climate goals at Earth Day summit

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By Jeff Mason and Valerie Volcovici

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States and other countries hiked their targets for slashing greenhouse gas emissions at a global climate summit hosted by President Joe Biden, an event meant to resurrect U.S. leadership in the fight against global warming.

Biden unveiled the goal to cut emissions by 50%-52% from 2005 levels at the start of a two-day climate summit kicked off on Earth Day and attended virtually by leaders of 40 countries including big emitters China, India and Russia.

The United States, the world’s second-leading emitter after China, seeks to reclaim global leadership in the fight against global warming after former President Donald Trump withdrew the country from international efforts to cut emissions.

“This is the decade we must make decisions that will avoid the worst consequences of the climate crisis,” Biden, a Democrat, said at the White House.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the new U.S. goal “game changing” as two other countries made new pledges.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who visited Biden at the White House this month, raised Japan’s target for cutting emissions to 46% by 2030, up from 26%. Environmentalists wanted a pledge of at least 50% while Japan’s powerful business lobby has pushed for national policies that favor coal.

Canada‘s Prime Minster Justin Trudeau, meanwhile, raised his country’s goal to a cut of 40%-45% by 2030 below 2005 levels, up from 30%.

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro announced his most ambitious environmental goal yet, saying the country would reach emissions neutrality by 2050, 10 years earlier than the previous goal.

Greenpeace UK’s head of climate, Kate Blagojevic, said the summit had more targets than an archery competition.

“Targets, on their own, won’t lead to emissions cuts,” she said. “That takes real policy and money. And that’s where the whole world is still way off course.”

PUTIN SAYS PROBLEMS GO WAY BACK

Most of the countries did not offer new emissions goals. Chinese President Xi Jinping said China expects its carbon emissions to peak before 2030 and the country will achieve net zero emissions by 2060.

Xi said China will gradually reduce its coal use from 2025 to 2030. China, a leader in producing technology for renewable energy like solar panels, burns large amounts of coal for electricity generation.

Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed giving preferential treatment for foreign investment in clean energy projects, but also made an apparent reference to the United States being historically the world’s top greenhouse gas polluter. “It is no secret that the conditions that facilitated global warming and associated problems go way back,” Putin said.

The U.S. climate goal marks a milestone in Biden’s broader plan to decarbonize the U.S. economy entirely by 2050 – an agenda he says can create millions of good-paying jobs but which many Republicans say will damage the economy.

The U.S. emissions cuts are expected to come from power plants, automobiles, and other sectors across the economy. Sector-specific goals will be laid out later this year.

The new U.S. target nearly doubles former President Barack Obama’s pledge of an emissions cut of 26%-28% below 2005 levels by 2025.

CEMENTING CREDIBILITY

How Washington intends to reach its climate goals will be crucial to cementing U.S. credibility on global warming, amid international concerns that America’s commitment to a clean energy economy can shift drastically from one administration to the next.

Biden’s recently introduced $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan contains numerous measures that could deliver some of the emissions cuts needed this decade, including a clean energy standard to achieve net zero emissions in the power sector by 2035 and moves to electrify the vehicle fleet.

But the measures need to be passed by Congress before becoming reality.

The American Petroleum Institute, the top U.S. oil and gas lobbying group, cautiously welcomed Biden’s pledge but said it must come with policies including a price on carbon, which is a tough sell among some lawmakers.

‘THE U.S. IS BACK’

The summit is the first in a string of meetings of world leaders – including the G7 and G20 – ahead of annual UN climate talks in November in Scotland. That serves as the deadline for nearly 200 countries to update their climate pledges under the Paris agreement, an international accord set in 2015.

Leaders of small island nations vulnerable to rising seas, like Antigua and Barbuda and the Marshall Islands, also spoke at the summit.

World leaders aim to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, a threshold scientists say can prevent the worst impacts of climate change.

A Biden administration official said with the new U.S. target, enhanced commitments from Japan and Canada, and prior targets from the European Union and Britain, countries accounting for more than half the world’s economy were now committed to reductions to achieve the 1.5 degrees Celsius goal.

European leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen expressed delight that the United States was back in the climate fight.

“The importance of this day in my judgment is the world came together,” Biden’s climate envoy John Kerry told reporters at the White House.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Valerie Volcivici; additional reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow; Elaine Lies and Aaron Sheldrick in Tokyo, David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Jake Spring and Lisandra Paraguassu in Brasilia, David Stanway in Shanghai, writing by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Lisa Shumaker)

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Ontario third wave, blame piled on Doug Ford

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By Steve Scherer

OTTAWA (Reuters) – Ontario Premier Doug Ford, facing backlash over his government’s handling of the pandemic, resisted calls to resign on Thursday as Canada‘s most populous province grappled with a third wave of COVID-19 infections that critics said could have been prevented.

With pressure building on hospitals, Ottawa is sending federal healthcare workers to help. Ontario had 3,682 new infections on Thursday and 40 deaths, the highest of any province.

#Dougfordmustresign has trended on Twitter this week, while newspaper editorials and provincial opposition leaders also called on Ford, 56, to step down.

Some 46% of Ontario residents have a negative view of Ford, up nine percentage points from a week earlier, according to an Abacus Data poll on Wednesday. Ford’s Progressive Conservatives(PC) trailed the opposition provincial Liberals by one point in the same poll, ahead of a June 2022 provincial election.

“Mr. Ford’s real mistake has been repeatedly ignoring the deep bench of scientists who are there to advise him, impulsively imposing himself as the province’s Fearless Decider,” an editorial in the national Globe and Mail newspaper said this week.

The premier ruled out resigning on Thursday, almost a week after issuing unpopular orders to close playgrounds and allow police to randomly stop people, both of which were abandoned within 48 hours.

Multiple police departments refused to enforce Ford’s orders while Toronto-area health units unilaterally ordered businesses that experience outbreaks to close.

“I’m not one to walk away from anything,” an emotional Ford told reporters on Thursday. “I know we got it wrong and we made a mistake, and for that I’m sorry.”

Ford said he was apologizing for acting “too quick”. Critics said the problem was that he opened the economy up too fast after the second wave, and then moved too slowly when it was obvious that cases were spiking.

Had Ontario kept stay-at-home measures in place longer in February, the case-count “would not have been nearly as bad as what we’re seeing now,” said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases specialist at Toronto General Hospital.

“We saw case numbers rising for a month … and they were never really acted on,” said Bogoch, who is a member of the Ontario government’s vaccination task force.

Ford extended stay-at-home measures until mid-May last week and on Thursday said his government would provide paid sick leave to workers who need to isolate, a measure many say would have helped prevent the third wave.

On Thursday, Ford said 40% of the province would have at least one vaccine shot by the end of the month.

But the political damage could be lasting.

“It’s going to be a pretty hard hole to climb out of,” said Frank Graves, president of polling company EKOS Research.

Ford, the brother of Toronto’s late mayor Rob Ford who once admitted to smoking crack, has been in power since 2018, sweeping to an unlikely victory after the PC’s former leader was forced to resign in the midst of the election campaign.

During the 2019 federal election campaign, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau capitalized on Ford’s unpopular cost cuts, attacking him repeatedly while touring Ontario, a crucial battleground province that is home to almost 40% of Canada‘s population.

“This does remind me of 2019 where absolutely the best asset in Ontario for the federal Liberal Party was Doug Ford,” a well-placed Liberal source said.

 

(Reporting by Steve Scherer; additional reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Diane Craft)

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