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OPEC+ cuts can't last forever, Russia's energy minister says –



OPEC+ output cuts have stabilized the global oil market but can’t last forever, Russia said as uncertainty persists over the future of the agreement beyond March.

“Oil-production cuts can’t be eternal; we will gradually need to make a decision on exiting” the accord, Energy Minister Alexander Novak said in an interview with state television channel Rossiya24. As one of the architects of the OPEC+ deal, Russia’s view is key, though the nation’s oil producers have long pushed for a relaxation of output curbs.

Russia needs to defend its market share and let its oil companies develop new projects, Novak said. The minister didn’t specify when the country may decide to withdraw from the agreement, but said he expects to discuss the matter with his OPEC+ counterparts next year. Global oil demand may surge as soon as next summer, he said.

Russia, which helped to cement the original deal between the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and its partners back in 2016, has shown this year that it’s getting weary of limiting supply. The nation has consistently failed to comply with its quota, overshooting its target for eight months so far in 2019, according to Bloomberg calculations based on official statistics.

That trend has continued in December, with Russia pumping 11.252 million barrels a day so far this month, about 62,000 a day above target, according to official data seen by Bloomberg.

The country has come up with various explanations for its lack of compliance — from the limitations of a harsh climate to technical issues resulting from the Druzhba oil-contamination crisis. The nation’s largest oil producer, Rosneft PJSC, has criticized the OPEC+ deal, saying it serves the interests of Saudi Arabia — the de facto leader of OPEC — and the U.S.

In a revision to the deal in early December, Russia and its OPEC+ partners agreed to deepen their curbs in the first quarter of 2020 to 1.7 million barrels a day. Russia is set to enlarge its cuts by 70,000 barrels a day to about 300,000 a day.

Nevertheless, the nation requested that condensate be excluded from its target. Novak has denied that the change is a loophole allowing Russia to pump more oil and claim compliance. While Russia’s official statistics don’t provide a breakdown for crude and condensate, the Energy Ministry will regularly inform analysts, the media and OPEC about the composition of its output, Novak said.

OPEC+ will meet in early March to discuss options for future cooperation on supply.

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Air Canada Introduces COVID-19 Cover Following WestJet – Simple Flying




Continuing a widespread industry trend, Air Canada today announced that it is including complimentary COVID-19 insurance for eligible customers. This move by Canada’s largest airline follows carriers such as WestJet, Virgin Atlantic, Emirates, and more in offering COVID coverage to its passengers. 

Air Canada is heading back to Athens this month. Photo: Heathrow Media Hub

“At Air Canada, we know people have personal, family and business reasons to travel. To give them greater confidence as they do so, we have engaged Manulife to offer all Canadian residents complimentary COVID-19 emergency medical & quarantine insurance when they book round-trip flights for travel outside of Canada.” -Lucie Guillemette, Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer, Air Canada

Coverage details

This coverage provides “emergency medical and quarantine insurance designed to give customers added confidence when booking flights and traveling abroad.”

According to the airline, if customers traveling abroad test positive for COVID-19, the coverage provided will give eligible customers the following assurances:

  • Up to Can$200,000 per insured for COVID-19 treatment medical expenses.
  • Up to Can$150 per person for quarantine costs (meals + accommodation); Up to Can$300 per family per day up to a maximum of 14 days.
  • Up to Can$500 for expenses related to returning home if the advisory from the Canadian government goes from Level 3 to Level 4 while at the destination.
Air Canada, Toronto Airport, COVID-19 Tests
Canadians traveling internationally with Air Canada now have an added level of assurance should they contract the coronavirus. Photo: Air Canada

Air Canada calls this “the most extensive geographical coverage included by a Canadian airline for Canadian residents, covering every international destination Air Canada serves.”

Air Canada’s holiday division also recently announced that coverage was being offered to customers. In fact, those booking with Air Canada Vacations will have a “COVID-19 Coverage and Assistance Plan” provided at no additional cost. The Air Canada Vacations policy is available to all eligible customers who book a vacation package for travel by April 30th, 2021, to eligible destinations.

More conditions than other airlines

This coverage appears to be more restrictive and has more conditions than other airline offerings. The carrier’s COVID coverage is available only to new international round-trip bookings made in Canada from September 17th until October 31st, 2020. Coverage is for travel completed by April 12th, 2021. 


This stands in stark contrast to what Etihad is offering, where all Etihad tickets, regardless of the date of the booking, traveling between September 7th and December 31st will include COVID-19 insurance. Furthermore, guests with existing bookings won’t need to do anything as they are automatically enrolled in the program.

WestJet 787
Air Canada’s coverage for medical expenses is twice the amount covered by WestJet. Photo: WestJet

The monetary coverage itself is less than other airlines as well. At Can$200,000 for treatment and medical expenses, it is much lower than Virgin Atlantic’s £500,000 cover and the 150,000 offered by Emirates and Etihad. At least Air Canada’s medical expense coverage is more than WestJet’s maximum of Can$100,000.

What do you think of Air Canada’s COVID-19 insurance coverage? Would it persuade you to travel? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.


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Want the government to go Dutch on your dinner tab? Restaurants pitch relief plan to help them survive –



With support from a swath of pandemic relief measures set to expire this fall, a national restaurant association wants the government to consider a new way to support its struggling industry.

Restaurants Canada, which represents 30,000 of the 97,000 restaurants, bars and caterers across the country, has asked the prime minister to look at subsidizing customer meals as a direct form of economic stimulus.

“Our sector has been hit harder than other sectors. So it’s probably time to do something that will be just for us,” said David Lefebvre, the group’s vice-president.

Restaurants Canada is floating the idea ahead of the upcoming throne speech, hoping Ottawa will use the pandemic purse to ratchet up dine-in revenues as patio season comes to an end. The concept came from a program called Eat Out to Help Out, which ran in the U.K. last month.

In August, the U.K. government offered a 50 per cent discount on meals for up to $17 Cdn (£10) per diner from Monday to Wednesday. Rishi Sunakyoung, charismatic finance minister, was himself the poster boy for the program, even posing as a waiter for its launch.

Restaurants Canada vice-president, shown at at Au Petit Extra in Montreal, said He the government should have support designed especially for the hard-hit food service sector. (Submitted by Restaurants Canada)

Brits gobbled it up, ordering more than 100 million meals. Restaurants applied the discount to their bills on the spot, submitting receipts to the government for reimbursement. Nearly 85,000 restaurants participated.

“We feel it is something that will definitely give a boost and incentivize more restaurants to stay open,” Lefebvre said.

But there are questions about whether the idea would pay off here — and whether it’s safe.

Costs and benefits

Across the pond, the program is being celebrated by the government and many in the restaurant industry, with one chain even claiming a 130 per cent spike in sales.

The British government says it helped protect 1.8 million jobs and kick-start a stalling sector. It cited a searchable database from reservation site OpenTable that says Monday to Wednesday reservations were up 53 per cent in August 2020 compared to 2019.

The cost of Eat Out to Help Out is still being calculated. Numbers released a few days before the program ended showed the government had already spent more than £520 million, or more than $890 million Cdn.

Lefebvre hopes some kind of government-funded discount could help failing restaurants over a few months — particularly January and February, which are traditionally slow as diners pay off holiday expenses.

Restaurants Canada estimates its industry lost 800,000 jobs when the pandemic struck. While many have returned, employment in food services is still down 20 per cent, or 260,000 jobs according to Statistics Canada.

The association also estimates 10 per cent of restaurants have already closed permanently, and without help, another 10 per cent will be gone by November. By next March, it says up to 40 per cent could close.

Chris Rempen, left, and his wife Nunu founded Nunu Ethiopian restaurant in Toronto during the 2008 recession. The pandemic has nearly put them under. They believe a government-sponsored discount could help them, but worry about the timing and a second wave of COVID-19. (James Dunne/CBC)

Restaurant owners say a discount deal could be good for business. A group of Ontario owners is even starting their own version of the concept in October.

Nunu Rampen, the owner and chef of Nunu Ethiopian restaurant in Toronto, says a government-sponsored discount could make a big difference.

“Absolutely, I really like it. It’s a really, really nice idea,” said Rampen. 

She and her husband Chris opened Nunu during the 2008 recession. Now, after 12 years of hard work, they say the pandemic has nearly put them out of business. They’re only serving customers on their city-licensed patio because of safety concerns.

They wonder what would be the right timing for a discount program.

“If you’re about to jump back into a lockdown situation, that’s money that’s not being used wisely,” Chris Rampen said.

Nicole Gomes, left, and her sister Francine own Calgary’s Cluck N Cleaver restaurants. Francine believes a government-backed discount program to help bring in customers would help restaurants, but only for a short spell. (Daniela Ciuffa)

In Calgary, Francine Gomes feels her restaurants have weathered the pandemic better than some others because of their take-out service.

“These small businesses have operating expenses that are that they have to pay regardless of the customer sitting in the seat or not,” said Gomes, who owns a pair of chicken restaurants called Cluck N Cleaver with her sister Nicole. “So they definitely need some direct relief.”

Even so, her hunch is it would only provide a “quick boost” in revenue because of physical distancing and many diners’ fears of eating out.

Fears of virus spread

An analysis by a policy expert from Oxford University took a hard look at the Eat Out to Help Out program bears out that theory.

Findings published by Toby Phillips suggest the program created a sales spike but didn’t have a lasting impact on business.

Based on sales trends from July, Phillips believes the U.K.’s hospitality industry was on track for a comeback on its own, and that sales are now right where they would have been anyway.

An analysis of the Eat Out to Help Out program by Toby Phillips, a policy researcher at Oxford University, suggests it didn’t have lasting impact on business. It did, however, overlap with a rise in COVID-19 cases in the U.K. (Submitted by Oxford University)

And he has a bigger concern. “At the same time as the scheme was operating, the U.K. started to see an uptick in COVID-19 cases,” Phillips wrote in a piece for The Conversation.

He said it may not be possible to determine whether the program caused the spike in infections, but that a popular discount and encouraging outings on specific days of the week are potential problems.

“Any scheme that encourages a ‘back to normal’ mindset is risky, because it will make it harder in the future to deal with rolling outbreaks,” Phillips said in an email to CBC News.

He suggests a safer option would be a promotion on take-out meals, an idea Restaurants Canada also supports.

Critics of plan

In the U.K., some restaurants called the program tokenistic and others pulled out of it because of “hostility towards staff.”

Still, it was so popular there’s  a demand for it to be repeated, and some companies are continuing the promotion on their own.

Here, a new coalition of hospitality businesses led by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce is pushing the government to encourage Canadians to go back to going out.

Lefebvre recognizes the government only has a limited budget, but adds but many restaurants remain desperate. “They need something to happen.”

Both groups say there’s a need for a new rent relief program and for wage subsidies  to be extended into the new year. 

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of.


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Internal AstraZeneca safety report sheds light on neurological condition suffered by vaccine trial participant – CTV News



CNN has obtained an internal safety report by pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca that sheds light on the neurological condition suffered by one of the participants in its coronavirus vaccine clinical trial.

The report details how the study volunteer, a previously healthy 37-year-old woman, “experienced confirmed transverse myelitis” after receiving her second dose of the vaccine, and was hospitalized on September 5.

Four days later, AstraZeneca dismissed media reports about the participant having a confirmed case of the rare neurological condition, in which the spinal cord becomes inflamed.

The document, which is labeled an “initial report,” describes how the study participant had trouble walking, weakness and pain in her arms, and other symptoms.

The internal safety report is dated Sept. 10, and on Sept. 11 it was sent out to doctors who are running the study’s clinical trial sites.

Last week, AstraZeneca announced the study volunteer’s “unexplained illness,” and said it was voluntarily pausing the trial worldwide. On Saturday, the trial in the U.K. resumed. The trial has not resumed in the U.S.

As the world closely watches the development process of a number of vaccines, hoping for an end to a deadly pandemic, some scientists say AstraZeneca’s communications about the patient’s condition have not been fully transparent.

A company spokesperson says, as the trial sponsor, they “cannot disclose medical information.”

In a press release last week, the pharmaceutical giant stated that “we are committed to the safety of our participants and the highest standards of conduct in our trials.”


Fourteen days after receiving her second dose of the vaccine, the woman, who lives in the U.K., “experienced confirmed transverse myelitis,” with symptoms including trouble walking and pain and weakness, the safety report said. Researchers were sufficiently concerned that they filed a SUSAR, or Suspected or Unexpected Serious Adverse Reaction report.

This is the report CNN obtained.

After the patient’s condition was reviewed by safety experts, the trial resumed in the U.K. and Brazil.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN Tuesday that it is “just a matter of time” before the trial resumes in the United States.

He added that he considered the participant’s illness a “one-off” at this point, and that “it would be unusual to completely stop a trial on the basis of one single adverse event.”

He said doctors leading the trial sites in the U.S. will be told to look out for similar symptoms.

“You have to be extra special careful and watch out to see if it happens again, and then if it does, it becomes an entirely different situation,” he said.

The “case narrative” contained in AstraZeneca’s report says the patient had the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine in early June and was fine. She received her second dose in late August.

On Sept. 2, while running, the study participant “had a trip (not fall) with a jolt.” The report notes that she did not have any obvious injury to her cervical spine.

The next day, the report says, she had symptoms including difficulty walking, pain and weakness in her arms, pain and reduced sensation in her torso, a headache and reduced ability to use her hands.

The woman was hospitalized on Sept. 5.

The AstraZeneca report mentions twice that the woman was diagnosed with “confirmed” transverse myelitis. It also says that a neurologist who consulted on her case “suggested the symptoms were consistent with the diagnosis of transverse myelitis.”

The report was sent to physicians who are leading study sites for the AstraZeneca vaccine. The cover sheet on the report, sent by a contractor hired by AstraZeneca, described her illness as “confirmed” transverse myelitis. The contractor requested that doctors, if required, submit the report to their Institutional Review Board or local ethics committee.

The report notes that the woman saw a neurologist, who stated the patient reported no past history of neurological symptoms or significant illnesses. At another point in the narrative, it said there was “limited information concerning the subject’s relevant medical history.”

No other similar cases had been diagnosed among other study volunteers, according to the report.

The neurologist noted that the study volunteer started to feel better.

“The resolution of her symptoms is quite rapid considering her illness started only four days ago,” according to the report. “Her symptoms were improving. Her strength and dexterity in her hands was getting better.”

On Sept. 8, The New York Times quoted a source saying a trial volunteer had transverse myelitis, and the next day, Stat News reported that the company’s CEO, Pascal Soriot, told investors in a conference call that the trial was stopped because a woman volunteering in the trial had symptoms consistent with transverse myelitis.

Later that day, AstraZeneca addressed media reports.

“Reports claiming to be based on comments made earlier today by our CEO stating that we have confirmed that a participant in our clinical trial suffered from transverse myelitis are incorrect. He stated that there is no final diagnosis and that there will not be one until more tests are carried out. Those tests will be delivered to an independent safety committee that will review the event and establish a final diagnosis,” a spokesperson for the pharmaceutical giant said in a statement emailed to CNN on Sept. 9.

The woman was enrolled in the UK arm of the trial, which is run by the University of Oxford. When asked about her situation, AstraZeneca pointed CNN to a participant information sheet, updated on Sept. 11, on Oxford’s website.

That sheet refers to volunteers in the trial who “developed unexplained neurological symptoms including changed sensation or limb weakness.”

The document goes on to say that “after independent review, these illnesses were either considered unlikely to be associated with the vaccine or there was insufficient evidence to say for certain that the illnesses were or were not related to the vaccine.”

The sheet adds that “close monitoring of the affected individuals and other participants will be continued.”

It’s unclear why the Oxford patient safety sheet refers to “unexplained neurological symptoms” and does not mention transverse myelitis. It does not say whether the volunteer’s diagnosis was later changed.

When asked about this participant, a University of Oxford spokesperson wrote in an email to CNN that “we cannot disclose medical information about the illness for reasons of patient confidentiality.”

In a press release, a university spokesperson said, “we are committed to the safety of our participants and the highest standards of conduct in our studies and will continue to monitor safety closely.”

Oxford said in a statement that an “independent review process has concluded and following the recommendations of both the independent safety review committee and the U.K. regulator, the [Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency], the trials will recommence in the U.K.”

In an email to CNN, an AstraZeneca spokesperson said, “the Company will continue to work with health authorities across the world, including the FDA in the U.S., and be guided as to when other clinical trials can resume.”

Last week, AstraZeneca’s Soriot said: “At AstraZeneca we put science, safety and the interests of society at the heart of our work. This temporary pause is living proof that we follow those principles while a single event at one of our trial sites is assessed by a committee of independent experts. We will be guided by this committee as to when the trials could restart, so that we can continue our work at the earliest opportunity to provide this vaccine broadly, equitably and at no profit during this pandemic.”

Moncef Slaoui, chief adviser to Operation Warp Speed, the U.S. government’s effort to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, said Tuesday: “Upon reviewing the U.K. event, the U.S. trial will resume when the independent Data and Safety Monitoring Board overseeing the trial and the U.S. FDA determine that it is safe to proceed.”


With tens of thousands of participants, it’s inevitable that during the course of a trial, some participants will fall ill with anything from a cold to cancer to heart attacks.

It’s not always clear whether an illness is connected to a vaccine.

How AstraZeneca communicated about this patient’s condition, and the condition of another who experienced symptoms during the trial, has caused some scientists to worry that the pharmaceutical company is not being fully transparent about the course of its coronavirus vaccine trial.

On Monday, Kaiser Health News reported that an official from the National Institutes of Health expressed worry about the AstraZeneca vaccine process.

AstraZeneca “need[s] to be more forthcoming with a potential complication of a vaccine which will eventually be given to millions of people,” said Dr. Avindra Nath, intramural clinical director and a leader of viral research at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, an NIH division “We would like to see how we can help, but the lack of information makes it difficult to do so.

“The highest levels of NIH are very concerned,” Nath told KHN. “Everyone’s hopes are on a vaccine, and if you have a major complication the whole thing could get derailed.”

In a tweet last week, Dr. Eric Topol asked pharmaceutical companies running coronavirus vaccine clinical trials to be more open about their work.

“The [COVID-19] vaccine companies haven’t been transparent; the stakes are big,” wrote Topol, executive vice president of Scripps Research in California.

Transparency and public trust are key to ending the pandemic and getting back to normal. If people don’t trust the vaccine, they might decide not to take it.

“People won’t get a vaccine if they don’t trust the science,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, a vaccinologist at Baylor College of Medicine and a CNN medical analyst.

Polls indicate there’s already a great deal of mistrust, including a CNN poll last month showing 40% of Americans won’t get a coronavirus vaccine when it comes out, even if it’s free and easy to get.

Hotez said AstraZeneca has shown a lack of transparency on several issues.

“It’s really unfortunate what they’re doing,” said Hotez, who is also developing a vaccine against COVID-19. “There needs to be transparency. This is just not acceptable.”

Hotez’s vaccine is not yet in human trials and has not received funding from Operation Warp Speed.


Several factors have made some scientists question AstraZeneca’s transparency.

This current pause isn’t the first one for the AstraZeneca trial. Last week, while addressing the current pause, the company revealed there was a “brief pause” in July, when another study participant became ill.

The company said that first participant was found to have had an “undiagnosed case of multiple sclerosis,” which was deemed to be unrelated to the vaccine. It did not explain how that conclusion was reached or why it waited more than a month to mention it publicly.

When asked why the U.K. arm of the trial was allowed to continue despite the woman’s recent illness, company spokespeople pointed CNN to the University of Oxford participant information sheet, which states independent reviewers recommended that vaccinations should continue.

In the U.K., clinical trials are regulated by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency.

“We have now reviewed the data provided by the researchers and, after seeking independent expert advice from the Commission for Human Medicines (CHM), we agreed with the recommendation of the Data and Safety Monitoring Board that vaccination can restart,” according to a statement sent to CNN by Siu Ping Lam, director of licensing for the agency.

Hotez said Operation Warp Speed, which is giving AstraZeneca $1.2 billion to test and manufacture its coronavirus vaccine, should be communicating more with the public about safety issues, such as the two participants’ illnesses.

COVID-19 vaccines are a matter of “national security,” Hotez said.

“These are very sensitive issues, and Operation Warp Speed is ceding or delegating critically important communications that are vital to the national security interests of the nation,” Hotez said.

In response, Operation Warp Speed’s Slaoui told CNN on Tuesday that “questions regarding details and data on trial participants and trial pauses must be referred to the trial regulatory sponsors coordinating this process.”

Hotez added that incomplete communication about the trials, including participants who become ill, could have a dire effect not just on the AstraZeneca vaccine, but also on other coronavirus vaccines that have received federal funding.

“If they botch the communications on this, Americans will refuse to accept their vaccine, and this will have a spillover effect on the other Operation Warp Speed vaccines,” he said.

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