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Ontario's finance minister resigns after returning from Caribbean vacation – CBC.ca

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Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips has resigned after returning from a controversial Caribbean vacation while the province is under strict lockdown measures that discourage non-essential travel, Premier Doug Ford announced Thursday.

Earlier Thursday morning, upon arrival at Toronto Pearson Airport, Phillips said he would like to keep his job but would respect Ford’s decision following what the premier said would be a “very tough conversation” between the two.

“Today, following my conversation with Rod Phillips, I have accepted his resignation as Ontario’s minister of finance,” Ford said in a statement.

“At a time when the people of Ontario have sacrificed so much, today’s resignation is a demonstration that our government takes seriously our obligation to hold ourselves to a higher standard.” 

Ford said he has asked Peter Bethlenfalvy to assume the role of minister of finance and deliver the government’s 2021 budget.

He said this appointment will “help ensure economic stability in the months ahead, as we support Ontario families, workers and businesses through the COVID-19 pandemic, and as we chart our path to long-term economic recovery.”

‘Dumb, dumb mistake,’ Phillips says

Phillips said he deeply apologizes for his decision to travel abroad during this time and that there is nobody to blame but himself. He called the trip a “dumb, dumb mistake.”

“Obviously, I made a significant error in judgment, and I will be accountable for that,” Phillips said from Pearson airport in Toronto on Thursday.

“I do not make any excuses for the fact that I travelled when we shouldn’t have travelled.”

Phillips has been in St. Barts since Dec.13 and will quarantine in Ajax, Ont., for 14 days starting today.

He said earlier this week he chose to go ahead with the trip not knowing the province would be placed under lockdown on Boxing Day.

“I understand that my actions have angered a lot of people, and I have to earn back that confidence.”

‘I’m very upset’: Premier Ford 

The premier had said Wednesday he wasn’t told about the trip ahead of time, but he did learn about it shortly after it began and should have demanded Phillips return immediately.

He said it’s “unacceptable” for any public official to ignore the province’s COVID-19 guidelines, which urge residents to avoid non-essential travel.

Phillips apologized Tuesday evening for leaving the country on Dec. 13 for a personal trip even as health officials pleaded with Ontarians to only venture outside of their homes for essential purposes.

News of Phillips’s holiday trip to the Caribbean — despite the COVID-19 pandemic and his own government’s advice to avoid non-essential travel — has left many questioning how it came about in the first place and sparked calls for his resignation.

On Wednesday, Phillips’s office also told CBC News that the minister had taken a trip to Switzerland in August.

Ford spoke publicly on the issue for the first time on Wednesday while he was at Trillium Health in Mississauga, Ont., where staff are preparing to distribute Moderna COVID-19 vaccines to Peel Public Health.

“There can’t be rules for elected people and non-elected people,” Ford told reporters.

“I can tell you I’m very upset. I’m very frustrated with the situation. I stand out here every single day and tell people to stay at home.”

On Dec. 24, Rod Phillips tweeted a video in which he’s seen sitting by a fireplace. In the video, he thanked people for what they are doing to protect the most vulnerable. (Rod Phillips/Twitter)

Home for the holidays?

Days after he had departed on his trip, Phillips’s office posted a series of tweets for the minister that could arguably give the impression he was home for the holidays. From a video of him sitting next to a fireplace, thanking Ontarians for protecting the most vulnerable, to a previously taken photo of him holding local maple syrup to celebrate National Maple Syrup Day. 

In response to this, Phillips said Thursday it is not out of the norm to schedule tweets ahead of time, especially for politicians like himself.

“Most politicians pre-program and pre-record a lot of their social media content. I did that to promote Ajax businesses, to promote the COVID-19 supports that we have for small businesses across the province and to wish my constituents a holiday greeting,” Phillips said.

“That said, I understand in the circumstances why it seemed insincere. I apologize for that.”

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Canada working with the U.S. to close travel 'loophole' – CTV News

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Canadian officials said Friday they are working with the Biden administration to close what they describe as a travel “loophole” and to get more symmetry with COVID-19 safety protocols between the two countries.

“A loophole, frankly, does exist because the Americans previously had not placed any restriction on international flights coming into the U.S.,” said Bill Blair, Canada’s public safety minister, during a news conference Friday.

“That concerns us because that restriction is at our land border but not at air travel,” he added.

While the Canada-U.S. border remains closed and all nonessential travel is prohibited until at least February 21, in the 10 months since the border restrictions were put in place, hundreds of thousands of travelers have made discretionary trips between both countries as air travel has not so far been subject to the same restrictions.

With the United States not imposing any air travel restrictions from Canada, the loophole has allowed everything from Canadian snowbirds going to the warm climes of Florida and Arizona for winter to family members on both sides of the border setting up nonessential visits.

TRUDEAU TO CANADIANS: AVOID TRAVEL

On Friday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau underscored his plea to Canadians to stay home and avoid travel of any kind, including domestic and international travel.

Trudeau has acknowledged that constitutionally he cannot prevent Canadians from traveling, but he did warn that it might soon become much more difficult to return to Canada.

“We could be bringing in new measures that significantly impede your ability to return to Canada, at any given moment, without warning,” Trudeau said during a news conference Friday, adding, “The bottom line is this: This is not the time to travel either internationally or across the country.”

International air travelers who currently enter Canada must show proof of a negative test result for COVID-19 taken within 72 hours of departure and are also subject to a 14-day mandatory quarantine with violators facing stiff financial penalties. There are exceptions for essential workers.

LOOKING FOR MORE MEASURES

Canadian officials say they are looking for more measures that would discourage as much travel as possible, and they are hoping a new agreement with the United States will help.

“We are looking at a number of measures that can include further restrictions on international travel, additional tracing measures, additional quarantine measures and enforcement measures in order to de-incentivize and discourage people from making unnecessary trips,” Blair said Friday.

Officials also indicated that weeks of lockdowns throughout most of Canada are slowly starting to work with new daily cases of COVID-19 falling.

“This gives us hope that community based control measures are starting to take effect,” said Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer. “But it is still too soon to be sure that these measures are strong enough and broad enough to set us on a steady downward trend.”

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Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Saturday – CBC.ca

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The latest:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has urged Canadians to hold off on travelling abroad until mass vaccinations against COVID-19 can be administered.

“If you’ve got [a trip] planned, cancel it, and don’t book a trip for spring break. We need to hang on and hold tight for the next few months and get through to the spring in the best shape possible,” Trudeau said on Friday.

The federal government is mulling a mandatory 14-day quarantine in hotels for returning travellers, as well as other measures that could make it more difficult to re-enter the country, he said.

WATCH | The challenges of vaccinating the vulnerable in Canada’s North:

Some of the country’s most remote communities are getting access to the Moderna vaccine. Limited resources for these areas means it’s critical to get people vaccinated fast. Challenges on the ground though are not just logistical — there’s also the matter of convincing people vaccines are safe. 3:05

“We could be bringing in new measures that significantly impede your ability to return to Canada at any given moment without warning,” Trudeau warned.

Public Health Agency of Canada figures show 153 flights have arrived from outside Canada over the last two weeks on which at least one passenger later tested positive for COVID-19.

Transport Canada now requires people flying into the country to present a negative test result conducted within 72 hours of boarding a plane.

Health Minister Patty Hajdu on Friday said 50,000 tickets for international travel have been cancelled since the new rule was announced on Dec. 31.

Trudeau said these requirements are starting to convince Canadians to stay put.

WATCH | Biden implements COVID-19 travel restrictions on first full day in office:

On U.S. President Joe Biden’s first full day in office, he signed an executive order for new international travel restrictions, which will make it tougher for Canadians to cross the border. Biden is expected to lay out more details tomorrow, during his phone call with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. 2:38

The prime minister added that the next few weeks will be challenging for vaccine supply as Pfizer-BioNTech slows deliveries to Canada and other countries while the company retools its plant in Belgium. Trudeau said Pfizer-BioNTech has committed to ensuring Canada will receive four million vaccine doses by the end of March.

Provinces have reported that a total of 738,864 vaccine doses have been administered so far. That’s about 80 per cent of the available supply.

British Columbia’s oldest residents will be able to pre-register to receive a vaccine against COVID-19 starting in March after the most vulnerable groups have been immunized, according to a plan announced Friday.

WATCH | British Columbia lays out details of COVID-19 vaccine rollout:

British Columbia releases a detailed plan on how it hopes to vaccinate the province’s population. It involves four phases, more than seven million doses of COVID-19 vaccine and mobile units to reach remote areas. 2:04

April is when the vaccine becomes available for the general population in B.C., starting with the oldest residents and descending in five-year increments until age 18 by September. People who register for the plan will get a reminder to book appointments when eligible,

The province is currently administering the vaccine to people living in long-term care homes and those who look after them or their essential visitors, people waiting for long-term care, people in remote Indigenous communities and hospital workers caring for patients with COVID-19.

They will be followed in February and March by seniors over 80, Indigenous seniors over 65, Indigenous elders, more health-care workers, vulnerable populations and nursing home staff.


What’s happening across Canada

As of 10 a.m. ET on Saturday, Canada had reported 739,766 cases of COVID-19, with 65,032 cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 18,880.

In Atlantic Canada, New Brunswick reported 30 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday. The Edmundston region in the northwest will go into lockdown on Saturday at midnight amid climbing case numbers and a series of outbreaks.

Nova Scotia reported four new cases — and Premier Stephen McNeil said the province also detected two variants of the virus in cases previously reported in December. Newfoundland and Labrador reported one new case on Friday; there is currently one person hospitalized due to COVID-19 in the province.

Quebec reported 1,631 new cases and 88 additional deaths on Friday, 18 of which occurred in the last 24 hours.

There were 1,426 people hospitalized due to COVID-19, with 212 in intensive care. Premier François Legault said on Thursday that there were still too many COVID-19 patients in hospital to consider lifting the provincewide curfew.

Ontario reported 2,359 new COVID-19 cases and 52 more deaths on Saturday. That’s down from 2,662 new COVID-19 cases and 87 more deaths reported on Friday.

While epidemiologists told CBC News that public health measures seem to be working as Ontario nears four complete weeks under “lockdown” conditions, they cautioned that the province is still far from ready for a return to normalcy.

WATCH | Research into coronavirus variants still early, epidemiologist says: 

Dr. Christopher Labos says research on mutated strains of the virus is too preliminary to draw firm conclusions. 1:38

Meanwhile, local public health officials are expressing concern about a yet-to-be identified variant of COVID-19 at a Barrie, Ont., long-term care home.

The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit said the unusually rapid spread of the virus at Roberta Place Long Term Care earlier this month, with 55 people at the nursing home becoming ill within 48 hours of the first COVID-19 case being identified, prompted officials to start testing for a variant strain.

The variant was identified in six cases, and further results are expected in the coming days, the unit said.

At least 122 of 130 residents at Roberta Place have tested positive for COVID-19, the home said in a statement to CBC Toronto on Thursday. Since the outbreak, 19 residents have died and 69 staff are infected.

WATCH | Ontario criticized for delaying vaccine rollout for long-term care homes:

An Ontario panel says the province failed residents of long-term care homes by not prioritizing them for COVID-19 vaccinations and the decision cost hundreds of lives. 1:58

Manitoba reported 173 new COVID-19 cases and two more deaths on Friday. The province also announced it will immediately halt bookings of new appointments at its immunization supersites in Winnipeg and Brandon after the federal government advised of another reduction in shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

Saskatchewan reported 312 new cases and eight deaths on Friday, while Alberta reported 643 new cases and 12 deaths.

British Columbia reported 508 new cases of COVID-19 and nine more deaths on Friday.

In the North, Nunavut reported one new case of COVID-19 on Friday, the territory’s first case since Dec. 28.

The positive result is in Arviat and was part of followup surveillance testing in response to the earlier outbreak, said Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut’s chief public health officer.

Here’s a look at what’s happening across the country:


What’s happening around the world

As of Saturday morning, more than 98.2 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, with more than 54.2 million of the cases considered resolved or recovered, according to the coronavirus tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than 2.1 million.

In Asia, thousands of Hong Kong residents were locked down in their homes on Saturday in an unprecedented move to contain a worsening coronavirus outbreak.

Government workers wearing personal protective equipment prepare to conduct COVID-19 testing in an area under lockdown in the Jordan district of Hong Kong on Saturday. (Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)

Authorities said 16 buildings in the city’s Yau Tsim Mong district would be locked down until all residents were tested. Residents would not be allowed to leave their homes until they received test results.

The restrictions, which were announced at 4 a.m. in Hong Kong, were expected to end within 48 hours, the government said.

Hong Kong has been grappling to contain a fresh wave of the coronavirus since November. More than 4,300 cases have been recorded in the last two months, making up nearly 40 per cent of the city’s total.

WATCH | CBC goes inside unique inoculation site in U.K:

CBC News gains access to a unique inoculation site in the U.K., where vulnerable groups are being prioritized. 1:51

In Europe, French doctors have new advice to slow the spread of the virus: stop talking on public transport.

The French Academy of Doctors issued guidance on Friday saying people should “avoid talking or making phone calls” in subways, buses or anywhere in public where physical distancing isn’t possible. Masks have been required since May, but travellers often loosen or remove them to talk on the phone.

A nurse administers a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre in Le Cannet, southern France, on Thursday. (Daniel Cole/The Associated Press)

Infections in France are gradually rising this month, at more than 20,000 per day. France currently has the longest virus curfew in Europe, from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., and restaurants and tourist sites have been closed since October.

France has seen 72,647 virus-related deaths.

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Canada adds 206 new COVID-19 deaths while officials consider mandatory hotel quarantine – Global News

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Another 5,957 cases of COVID-19 were reported by Canada on Friday as government officials considered a mandatory hotel quarantine for all incoming travelers.

The announcement comes amid news of at least one passenger aboard one of the 153 flights that arrived in the country over the last weeks testing positive for the novel coronavirus, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Read more:
Coronavirus tracker: how many new cases of COVID-19 in Canada today?

Current health protocols require people flying into the country to present a negative COVID-19 test conducted within 72 hours of boarding a plane bound for Canada as well as a mandatory two-week quarantine on arrival, but the government is still considering further options to make it harder to return from trips abroad in light of the pandemic.

News of Canada considering further restrictions on incoming travelers comes as the country’s top doctor warned that easing the country’s virus restrictions could rapidly cause new case of the virus to increase again.

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“Every day we are one step closer and better times are ahead. But there is no fast track. We must stick with public health measures and individual practices that we know are effective for controlling spread. Unless and until infection rates are low enough to allow public health authorities to test, trace and isolate effectively, easing of restrictions risks even stronger resurgence,” said Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam in a statement Friday.


Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Dr. Bonnie outlines B.C.’s mass immunization plan'



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Coronavirus: Dr. Bonnie outlines B.C.’s mass immunization plan


Coronavirus: Dr. Bonnie outlines B.C.’s mass immunization plan

“This is why we must all continue to do our part to slow the spread: that means postponing vacation travel to a better time in the future.”

[ Sign up for our Health IQ newsletter for the latest coronavirus updates ]

Canada’s total COVID-19 caseload now stands at 737,407 following the release of Friday’s case data. Another 206 deaths linked to the virus were also announced on Friday, with Canada’s COVID-19 death toll now standing at 18,828.

At least 651,000 patients have since recovered from COVID-19 however, while more than 21,041,000 tests have been administered to date. A total of 769,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have also been administered across the country so far.

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Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Tam reports 31 cases of U.K. variant, 3 cases of South Africa variant of COVID-19 in Canada'



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Coronavirus: Tam reports 31 cases of U.K. variant, 3 cases of South Africa variant of COVID-19 in Canada


Coronavirus: Tam reports 31 cases of U.K. variant, 3 cases of South Africa variant of COVID-19 in Canada

Ontario reported another 2,662 cases of COVID-19 Friday, as well as another 87 deaths. While daily case numbers in the province have decreased slightly in comparison to last week, Ontario is still on track to surpass Quebec as the province with the highest number of confirmed cases this weekend.

Quebec, which has been under a province-wide curfew for almost two weeks, reported another 1,631 infections and 88 deaths on Friday.

B.C. added another 508 cases on Friday, as well as another nine deaths linked to the virus. The coastal province’s total caseload now stands at 63,484, of which 565 are considered “epi-linked” — patients who were in close proximity to confirmed infections and display symptoms, but were never formally tested.

Read more:
Couple faces charges after flying to Yukon and receiving coronavirus vaccine

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Alberta announced another 643 cases of COVID-19 on Friday, as well as 12 additional deaths from the virus. A total of 691 Albertans are also currently in hospital with COVID-19, of which 115 are in ICU.

Manitoba added another 171 cases on Friday, as well as two more deaths. In Saskatchewan, eight more deaths were recorded, as well as another 305 confirmed infections.

Several Atlantic provinces reported new cases Friday as well, with Nova Scotia adding another four COVID-19 infections, New Brunswick reporting another 30 and Newfoundland and Labrador reporting just one.

Nunavut reported a single case on Friday as well, its first infections since Dec. 28. Both the Yukon and the Northwest Territories as well as P.E.I. reported new COVID-19 cases on Friday.

Worldwide, cases of the novel coronavirus continue to increase with a total of 98,112,625 patients having been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to Johns Hopkins University. Over 2,104,000 people have since died, with the U.S., India and Brazil leading in both cases and deaths.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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