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Ottawa launches $850,000 ad campaign advising Canadians to stay home during COVID-19 – CBC.ca

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The federal government has launched an $850,000 digital-based ad campaign warning Canadians about the perils of travelling abroad during the COVID-19 pandemic, which could include grounded flights or lax health rules at their destination.

The ads follow a CBC News report in late September that some snowbirds were planning to fly south this winter, despite the government’s advisory to avoid non-essential travel abroad. Since that time, a number of snowbirds have already left Canada.

Several of the new ads target snowbirds, including a video posted on Facebook and Twitter in which a forlorn older man lies in a hospital bed while sombre music plays in the background. A caption at the bottom of the screen warns that seniors are at a higher risk of developing complications from COVID-19.

The government launched the ad campaign in November “on various digital platforms” and travel websites “to reach multiple target audiences,” Global Affairs Canada spokesperson Jason Kung said in an email. The campaign will run until March 2021 during peak travel times, he said. 

Kung didn’t provide details about the individual ads. CBC News found three anti-travel videos the government posted on social media in December and ads targeting snowbirds in two magazines that launched in November and December respectively. 

‘Missed the boat’?

Some snowbirds who are already at their winter destination question the timing of the campaign blitz.

“I think they missed the boat with that one,” said Lorraine Douglas, 67, of Osoyoos, B.C. On Oct. 24, she and her husband, David, flew to San Jose del Cabo, Mexico, where they own a condo. She said the flight was full.

“Most people who come to this area of Baja [Mexico] are coming down in October,” she said.

Kung said that “elements of the campaign were released in November when older adults typically consider travelling down south.” He didn’t specify which elements.

Regarding the campaign’s anti-travel message, Douglas said it doesn’t phase her because COVID-19 safety regulations are strict in her area.

“You have to wear a mask, even if you’re walking on the street,” she said. “We’re outside in the sunshine…. So we actually feel safer here than we would at home.”

Lorraine Douglas and her husband, David, of Osoyoos, B.C., flew to San Jose del Cabo, Mexico, on Oct. 24, where they own a condo. (Submitted by Lorraine Douglas)

The federal government argues Canadians are safer at home, as COVID-19 cases continue to surge in many parts of the world.

But the government won’t stop Canadians from travelling abroad. Although the Canada-U.S. land border is closed to non-essential travel, Canadians can still fly to the Unites States, as well as to other countries with open borders, such as Mexico. They can also return to Canada, as long as they quarantine for 14 days.

Just over one million Canadian air passengers have entered Canada since March 21, according to the Canada Border Services Agency.

Canadian snowbirds typically head to U.S. Sunbelt states for the winter. According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 244,244 Canadians have flown to the United States since October. 

You can have fun at home

One of the government’s new video ads targets families pondering travelling abroad over the holidays. It reminds them that the pandemic isn’t over and they can entertain themselves at home with such activities as playing in the snow.

Some of the most serious messages are aimed at snowbirds, including a large ad posted in the latest edition of Ontario’s Fifty-Five Plus magazine.

It warns seniors that along with being more susceptible to complications from COVID-19, they also face potential pitfalls, such as inadequate medical coverage and less strict health measures at their destination compared to Canada.

Shelton Papple and his wife, Sandra, on the golf course in Fort Myers, Fla. The snowbirds travelled to Florida on Dec. 4, despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. (Submitted by Sandra Papple)

Shelton Papple, 66, of Brantford, Ont., said he didn’t see any of the government’s advertising before Dec. 4. That’s when he and his wife, Sandra, flew to Buffalo, N.Y., and shipped their car to the city so they could drive the rest of the way to Florida — despite a closed U.S. land border. 

Papple said that contrary to the ominous ads, he and his wife feel safe in in their neighbourhood in Fort Myers. They have invested in medical insurance that includes COVID-19 coverage and live in a gated community where people are taking COVID-19 precautions, he said.

“Everybody’s wearing a mask, everybody’s social distancing. When we play golf, everybody takes her own cart,” said Papple. “We’re doing no different than what we would do at home … except there’s more to do and it’s outside.”

But there are many Canadians, including snowbirds, who have opted not to travel abroad this winter. They include Roy Graham, 65, of Toronto.

Roy Graham of Toronto normally spends the winters in Rotonda West, Fla. But he’s not going this year due to fears of being infected with COVID-19 while abroad. (Submitted by Roy Graham)

The snowbird and his adult daughter normally spend the winter in Rotonda West, Fla. But this year, Graham believes the stakes are too high for himself and his daughter, who has health issues.

“The uncertainty of what’s happening down south, with COVID running rampant in different states, you just don’t know what to expect.”

Graham viewed the government’s video ad targeting snowbirds at the request of CBC News and said the message it sends reinforces his decision not to travel this winter.

“It touches a nerve,” he said. “You don’t want to be a statistic.”

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Trudeau spoke with Pfizer CEO amid concerns of vaccine delays – CTV News

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TORONTO —
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with the CEO of Pfizer Global on Thursday and was assured that, despite an ongoing delay in vaccine deliveries, the company will follow through on millions of vaccine shipments due in March.

News of Trudeau’s conversation with CEO Dr. Albert Bourla comes as officials overseeing the vaccine rollout release new projections as they work to assure Canadians that the current shipment slowdown won’t hamper the country’s long-term schedule.

“Today, I spoke with the CEO of Pfizer Global, Dr. Bourla, about the timely delivery of COVID-19 vaccines to Canada,” Trudeau tweeted Thursday. “He assured me that we’ll receive 4 million doses by the end of March. We’ll keep working together to ensure Canadians can get a vaccine as soon as possible.”

Officials overseeing the vaccine rollout say Canada remains on schedule, although the country will see a short-term drop in supply in the coming weeks.

Projections released Thursday by federal health officials suggest that Canada will be able to vaccinate 3 million people by the end of March, accounting for eight per cent of the entire population. Even if Canada doesn’t approve any more vaccines by the fall, estimates suggest that doses from Pfizer and Moderna will cover 13 million Canadians, or 34 per cent, by June and 36 million, or 95 per cent, by September 30.

While the long-term plan remains on track, Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, who is leading Canada’s logistical rollout, said Canada is only getting about one-third of the expected deliveries between this week and Feb. 7. Canada is set to receive no new deliveries of doses next week and 79,000 Pfizer doses in the first week of February.

This delay will impact Canada’s short-term vaccine supply, but Fortin said future shipments are expected to make up for the shortage.

“To that end, we expect a rapid scale-up of deliveries in the upcoming weeks following this current supply disruption,” Fortin said at a press conference.

Pfizer advised Canada last week that upgrades to its plant in Belgium would temporarily slow production and reduce doses delivered to every country except the United States, which has its own production facility. Canada can expect to see its deliveries cut in half over four weeks, the company initially said, with the factory returning to full production on Feb. 15.

The next shipment of Moderna vaccines is due in the first week of February and will include an estimated 230,400 doses. Overall, Canada expects to receive 6 million doses of both vaccines by the end of March.

Canada’s vaccine rollout could happen faster if more vaccines are approved. The projections suggest that, based on all vaccines Canada has procured but have yet to be approved, as many as 23 million Canadians could be vaccinated between April and June, accounting for 61 per cent of the population. Canada could have enough doses for up to 73 million people between July on September. In such a scenario, there would be more than enough vaccines for everyone who wants one.

Fortin described those estimates as “planning data” meant to give provinces and territories an idea of what to expect if everything goes better than expected.

“The last thing we want to do is put jurisdictions in a place where we have additional doses coming and we hadn’t factored that in early to our planning,” he said.

Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada’s deputy chief public health officer, said that, while the government’s overall timeline for vaccines hasn’t changed, there is always the possibility of unexpected supply issues or new vaccine approvals.

In the meantime, the best thing Canadians can do while they wait for the vaccine is to follow public health guidelines, Dr. Njoo said.

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Federal government settles lawsuit with Canada's former ambassador to Israel – CBC.ca

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A lawsuit launched against the Trudeau government by the former ambassador to Israel has reached a settlement — but neither party is willing to divulge the details. 

The federal government is refusing even to disclose the date the settlement was reached.

Vivian Bercovici was named ambassador to Israel by Stephen Harper before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau replaced her with Deborah Lyons in 2016.

In 2018, Bercovici launched a lawsuit against the federal government alleging, among other things, that the Trudeau government acted in bad faith when it terminated her mandate and that she had not been properly compensated for her pension benefits.

The following year, the former ambassador succeeded in adding to her lawsuit the name of Katie Telford, chief of staff to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, accusing her of intentional infliction of mental suffering.

A mysterious letter

Bercovici made an offer to halt her lawsuit against the Government of Canada and Katie Telford in a letter she wrote to Alan Bender, a Toronto businessman and Liberal supporter, on Nov. 5, 2019.

Radio-Canada spoke with Bender, who said Bercovici told him she wanted to do something to thank him after he had saved her life. Bender said he suggested dropping the lawsuit and Bercovici followed up with the offer in writing on Nov. 5.

The former ambassador wrote in the letter: “I would be prepared to end my lawsuit against the Government of Canada and Katie Telford, with no terms or conditions, at the earliest opportunity … This is the clearest and most emphatic expression of appreciation I can make for your compassion and recent tremendous help that has saved my life.”

A copy of the letter was sent by an anonymous source to many journalists and media. Radio-Canada was able to confirm that it was written by Bercovici.

Bender, a Kuwaiti-born Toronto businessman who works in the field of international mediation, told Radio-Canada that he mainly works for the ruling families of the Arab states in the Persian Gulf. 

He said he was asked by important political figures, including one from Israel, to intervene to help Bercovici, who lives in Tel Aviv. He said he saved Bercovici’s life along with her professional and personal reputation.

Bender said he doesn’t want to give any more details about how he saved Bercovici’s life and reputation without her permission; she does not wish to comment.

Bender told Radio-Canada he is an active member of the Liberal Party and that he acted on his own when he suggested that Bercovici drop the lawsuit. He said Telford and the government only learned of his involvement when he gave Telford Bercovici’s letter.

Bender made international headlines when Saudi Arabia’s authorities had him testify against a Saudi businessman, Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, who was detained following the so-called anti-corruption drive launched by the Crown Prince and leader of Saudi Arabia Mohammed Bin Salman in 2017.

Lawsuit remained active

According to court documents, Bercovici’s lawsuit remained active after the letter was given to Bender.

In December 2019, the month after the letter was sent, lawyers representing the Government of Canada were back in Ontario Superior Court seeking to have Telford’s name removed from the lawsuit.

In his January 2020 decision, the judge sided with the government on its request that Telford be removed from the lawsuit, and Bercovici was ordered to pay court fees incurred by the government.

After this date, nothing else appears on the court register in relation to Bercovici’s lawsuit against the Government of Canada.

Silence from the PMO

Sources first told Radio-Canada that there had been a settlement in the lawsuit. For three days, Radio-Canada tried to get information about the settlement and a comment from the government about the letter.

The Prime Minister’s Office and the Department of Justice referred those requests to Global Affairs Canada.

After directly contacting the department a few times and reaching out to the Foreign Affairs minister’s office, a spokesperson for Global Affairs sent this short response on Wednesday night:

“A settlement has been reached. We cannot comment on the details.”

It is still not known who leaked the letter to the media and why, or whether there is a link between the settlement and the letter. The email address the letter was sent from no longer exists.

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Canada's COVID-19 case numbers show early positive signs – CBC.ca

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Cases of COVID-19 are declining in many parts of Canada, but experts say those early positive signs are dependent on widespread restrictions. 

Quebec, now under a province-wide curfew, has seen new cases declineOntario has showed 10 consecutive declines in its seven-day average, a metric that helps to spot long-term trends compared to daily numbers that can spike up and down.

Caroline Colijn, an infectious disease modeller at Simon Fraser University, said most of the provinces seem to be declining.

“Ontario’s kind of uncertain, Saskatchewan’s growing still or again, but the rest are kind of flat or declining,” said Colijn, who also holds a Canada Research Chair in mathematics for evolution, infection and public health.

“That’s the first decline we’ve seen in Quebec and Ontario for quite a while,” she said. “In our models, it looks like a genuine decline.”

More tools needed

In B.C., for example, Colijn said the epidemic is stabilizing with strict measures such as telling people not to socialize outside their household.

But Colijn fears Ontario’s stay-at-home order, Quebec’s curfew and restrictions in other provinces aren’t solutions that people can sustain for months.

If people don’t limit their number of contacts with others then cases will start to climb again until vaccinations reach the general population. 

“Unless we want to do this for six months, we do need to be thinking about throwing other tools that we have available at this problem.”

WATCH | Researchers test new tools for COVID-19 surveillance:

Researchers at Dalhousie University in Halifax are working on a 3D-printed ball that can collect a building’s sewage and test the water for coronavirus. They say the tool could be used to trace outbreaks and to test the effectiveness of vaccines. 4:05

Colijn said widespread restrictions, symptomatic testing and contact tracing remain cornerstone tools. But those tools should be supplemented with wider rapid testing technologies coming to the fore, which Colijn believes could support re-opening the economy.

Federal and provincial scientists are validating rapid tests, currently used at remote mines as well as the film and airline industries, for more widespread use. 

Sask. heading in the wrong direction

Nazeem Muhajarine, an epidemiologist at the University of Saskatchewan, divides the country’s into three main groups based on per-capita case counts:

  • The top: Atlantic Canada, which has the fewest cases.
  • The middle: Manitoba, Alberta and B.C., which have showed month-long improvements in COVID-19 activity following lockdowns. If trends in Ontario and Quebec continue, then they could be added to the middle group. 
  • The bottom: Saskatchewan, which Muhajarine said isn’t even heading in the right direction, with an average of 300 new cases daily.

Muhajarine is concerned about the steep climb in COVID-19 deaths in the Prairie province.

“On Dec. 1, we had 51 deaths and by Jan. 1 it tripled to 155,” he noted.

In the first 21 days of the month, another 84 people have died in Saskatchewan.

“We really need to reverse course,” Muhajarine said. “To do that, we need very strict measures with a stay-at-home order and enforcement of orders. When we see the case numbers reverse course, we have to get our testing, tracing and isolation regime back up.”

Restrictions on retail stores, restaurants and bars could help bring cases, hospitalizations and deaths down given how Saskatchewan is “stretched to the limit,” he said.

Even places with early signs of decline, like Ontario, will see hospitalizations and deaths continue to climb for a period because of the lag time from new infections in December, health experts say. 

Essential workplaces key for Ontario

Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti, an infectious disease physician with Trillium Health Partners in Mississauga, Ont., said the province’s seven-day averages are encouraging.

A worker at the Gateway Postal facility, in Mississauga, Ont., on Wednesday. Canada Post confirms a major outbreak of COVID-19 at the plant — the largest mail facility in the country that reflects how cases continue to occur among essential workers. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

“We’re now more than two weeks past what would be the New Year’s surge,” Chakrabarti said, referencing people socializing over the holidays despite advice from public health officials and politicians to stay at home. 

Now that the holiday peak in new cases is over, regular winter transmission of the virus is happening in the population, he said.

Chakrabarti recalls how during the province’s first wave in the spring, cases came down and then were stuck at a plateau for months, which he said could happen again.

Driving case counts down further would ease pressure on health-care systems and protect vulnerable residents of long-term care homes.

The key, he says, is to tackle where transmission is still happening: essential workplaces.

“We were seeing people getting infected at work and then bringing it home to their family, where it was being amplified,” he said of the first wave. “That’s still happening and something a lockdown doesn’t address.”

It’s why Chakrabarti and others advocate for:

“Yes, there are some people who are breaking the rules,” Chakrabarti said. “But we also need to look at the very different industrial setups because these factors are huge, right? This is one of the reasons why things haven’t ever really turned quickly in Ontario.”

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