The winter holiday season has arrived just as Ontario is dealing with a new variant of the novel coronavirus and a rise in new infections.
But unlike this time last year, when COVID-19 cases were soaring and vaccine coverage was near zero, politicians and public health officials are not discouraging travel and holiday gatherings this time around.
Still, while there may not be cause cancel your plans just yet, infectious disease experts say continued community spread and uncertainty around the emergence of the omicron strain mean people should exercise caution.
“People are going to have different risk tolerances and … there’s a lot of different things that we can do to mitigate risk,” said Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti, an infectious diseases physician at Trillium Health Partners in Mississauga.
“Vaccination, of course, is the biggest one. There’s also … masking, distancing, being outdoors, improving ventilation.”
Better shape than last year
While Ontario is seeing a rise in cases — the seven-day average jumped 20 per cent this week compared to last — and new cases of the omicron variant are being identified daily, the province is in much better shape than last year because 77 per cent of the population is now fully vaccinated.
The number of people in hospital due to COVID-19 is much lower than it was in 2020 mainly because of vaccination, experts say, meaning the health-care system has some available capacity.
“The risk has become so much smaller of severe disease,” said Chakrabarti.
“If you’re vaccinated, the chance of you being hospitalized is extremely small at this point.”
In Ontario, the capacity limit for private gatherings, such as a holiday party inside a home, is 25 people. That’s also the limit for indoor public events.
Private outdoor gatherings can have up to 100 people and events in venues where people have to show proof of vaccination have no limits. Places of worship have the option to check proof of immunization documents and shed capacity and physical distancing rules.
But Dr. Anna Banerji, an infectious disease specialist with the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, said just because Ontarians are allowed to gather with that many people, that doesn’t mean they should.
“If you are going to have a gathering, try to make it a small, reasonable number of people,” said Banerji.
“Just a small group of intimate friends or immediate family because we want to see those grandparents next year and the year after — we don’t want anyone who’s vulnerable to get sick.”
Banerji said it’s safer to gather with smaller groups of vaccinated people. To improve ventilation in indoor spaces, she said hosts should consider purchasing a HEPA air filtration device or, weather permitting, open windows to improve air flow.
She added that anyone who is eligible for a third dose of vaccine should get one as soon as they can.
Travel rules in flux
Experts say people travelling within Canada are much more likely to experience a smooth trip than if they’re heading to international destinations. That’s because travel restrictions and testing requirements have been in flux ever since news of the omicron variant emerged.
“If you haven’t booked any [international] trips yet, it might be better to do things locally,” Banerji said.
Following a previous announcement banning foreign travellers from some southern African countries, the federal government announced last week new testing requirements for those entering the country from outside Canada and the United States.
Air travellers will now be swabbed upon arrival and required to quarantine until they receive a negative result. That’s in addition to the existing pre-departure requirement of a negative PCR test within 72 hours of arrival in Canada.
The new measures caused confusion and frustration, with some Canadians — including Canada’s junior women’s field hockey team and others trying to get home for the holidays — speaking out about the clashing restrictions they said made it effectively impossible to return home.
Over the weekend, the government tweaked travel rules for Canadians trying to return from South Africa, but criticism of the wider travel ban continues.
The U.S. government has also announced that Canadians and other foreign visitors must now provide a negative COVID-19 test taken within 24 hours of departure, regardless of vaccination status, to enter the country as of Monday.
Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious diseases specialist at St. Joseph’s Healthcare in Hamilton, said travel within Canada is reasonable if people take the same precautions they would at home.
He said anyone planning to leave the country should keep in mind that they could be affected by new restrictions.
“Buyer beware: if you are planning on travelling internationally, leave a lot of time at the back end in case you get put in quarantine or have extra testing requirements or acquire COVID-19 while travelling,” Chagla said in an interview on CBC News Network.
“It’s such a dynamic situation that you have to be prepared that your trip may not go as planned both leaving Canada or coming back to it.”
Canada’s First Quantum agrees to higher payments at Panama copper mine
The Panamanian unit of Canadian miner First Quantum Minerals has agreed with Panama’s government to increase royalty payments at its flagship copper mine, the company and the government said on Monday.
Minera Panama, which is majority owned by First Quantum Minerals, has agreed to pay $375 million a year to state coffers from the Cobre Panama mine, which it says is one of world’s largest copper producers.
“We accept the proposal of the national Government, while requesting that the necessary protections be provided in order to safeguard the continuity of the operation,” Minera Panama said in a statement.
The company did not immediately respond to a question about the size of the increase in royalty payments
Panama‘s government said President Laurentino Cortizo would give details of the agreement on Tuesday.
The company began negotiating a new contract with officials in September, after Cortizo promised to seek a fairer deal with better public benefits.
Toronto-based First Quantum began commercial operations at Cobre Panama, about 120 km (75 miles) west of Panama City, in 2019.
The mine contributes 3.5% of the country’s gross domestic product, according to government figures, and at full capacity can produce more than 300,000 tonnes of copper per year.
(Reporting by Elida Moreno, writing by Daina Beth Solomon, editing by Richard Pullin)
U.N. chief urges business to help poor nations in ‘hour of need’
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed to business leaders on Monday to support developing countries “in their hour of need” with access to COVID-19 vaccines, help to combat the climate crisis and reform of the global financial system.
Speaking virtually to the World Economic Forum, Guterres said: “Across all three of these areas, we need the support, the ideas, the financing and the voice of the global business community.”
He said there has been a “global inability to support developing countries in their hour of need” and warned that without immediate action inequalities and poverty would deepen, fueling more social unrest and more violence.
“We cannot afford this kind of instability,” said Guterres, who began a second five-year term as U.N. chief on Jan. 1.
He has long been pushing for more global action to address COVID-19 vaccine inequity and climate change and for reform of the global financial system.
“We need a global financial system that is fit-for-purpose. This means urgent debt restructuring and reforms of the long-term debt architecture,” Guterres said.
The World Health Organization last year set targets for 40% of people in all countries to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by the end of 2021 and 70 per cent by the middle of this year.
“We are nowhere near these targets. Vaccination rates in high-income countries are — shamefully — seven times higher than in African countries. We need vaccine equity, now,” Guterres said.
He also warned of a lopsided recovery from the pandemic with low-income countries at a huge disadvantage.
“They’re experiencing their slowest growth in a generation,” Guterres said. “The burdens of record inflation, shrinking fiscal space, high interest rates and soaring energy and food prices are hitting every corner of the world and blocking recovery — especially in low- and some middle-income countries.”
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols, Editing by Franklin Paul)
'I'm out of gas:' Leadership burnout on the rise as pandemic takes mental health toll – CTV News
Workers turn to them for support, clients rely on them for answers, companies lean on them in times of crisis.
Yet as the pandemic stretches inexorably on, experts say the never-ending demands on business leaders are pushing some to the brink of burnout.
Stress, uncertainty and long hours are causing malaise among many managers. It’s a condition that — if left unchecked long enough — can manifest as exhaustion, disengagement, depression and burnout, they say.
“Leaders are under tremendous strain,” says Paula Allen, global leader and senior vice-president of research and total well-being at LifeWorks.
“When the pandemic first started, we saw the adrenalin kick in, decisions were made fast and work got done,” she says. “But it’s been relentless. Leaders are exhausted.”
It’s not just people in charge hitting a wall 22 months, five waves and multiple variants into the COVID-19 pandemic.
New research has found an extreme level of exhaustion among many Canadian workers from the bottom to the top. Many say they’re more stressed now than during initial lockdowns.
Essential front-line workers from nurses to grocery store clerks have faced innumerable risks of infection. Others face precarious employment without sick days or benefits. Some have lost their jobs altogether and struggle to pay rent and buy food.
In comparison to these hardships, some might be quick to dismiss the challenges of leaders.
Yet many have reported an increase in exhaustion and mental health concerns since the start of the pandemic.
Supervisors, low-level managers, small business owners and senior executives are grappling with increasing demands and surging work volumes.
Many are putting in extra hours to keep things running while also providing support and encouragement to workers.
“Business leaders are supposed to be cheerleaders,” says Mike Johnston, president and CEO of Halifax software company Redspace.
“But we’ve been trying to hustle and pivot and get through this for so long now. I’m out of gas.”
For some managers, the inability to offer more certainty and support to workers is what keeps them up at night.
“When you’re the leader of a group of people you want to have all the answers,” says Barry Taylor, director of operations for The Ballroom, a large entertainment venue in downtown Toronto.
“But you don’t and you just feel helpless and burnt out.”
Experts say late-stage pandemic fatigue is taking a toll on many managers, with some veering towards burnout.
The symptoms can include emotional exhaustion, detachment, loss of motivation and reduced efficiency — all of which can have a ripple effect throughout an entire workplace, they say.
“It’s exhausted leaders leading exhausted teams,” says Jennifer Moss, a Waterloo, Ont.-based workplace consultant and author of The Burnout Epidemic: The Rise of Chronic Stress and How We Can Fix It.
“Managers are trying to be stoic and demonstrate strength and certainty for their employees when many don’t feel that themselves.”
Pandemic burnout isn’t unique to leaders, but she says there are particular stressors facing those in charge.
“It can be more isolating at the top,” Moss says. “Senior leaders and managers can sometimes feel very alone.”
There’s also a perception that because people in management positions “earn the big bucks” they should be prepared to cope with the additional responsibility and stress, she says.
“We sometimes forget there’s a human behind that role and regardless of how much they’re being paid, how much they earn, it doesn’t fix the grief and the pain and the stress that they’re dealing with,” Moss says.
The perception that managers should demonstrate unwavering leadership and steadfast support of their workers can increase fears of seeking help, experts say.
“There’s a definite stigma,” says Chantal Hervieux, associate professor of strategy at Saint Mary’s University’s Sobey School of Business and director of the school’s MBA program and Centre for Leadership Excellence.
“There’s less acceptance for leaders to talk about mental health issues.”
Leaders are expected to be in control, have the answers and be supportive of their team members, she says.
Despite the near constant uncertainty and upheaval of the pandemic, those expectations have remained the same — or increased, Hervieux says.
“Canadian business leaders are working hard to keep things going but some are suffering,” she says. “They’re paying a mental health price and we need to talk about it.”
The challenge of trying to lead during the pandemic is backed up by research.
A survey by LifeWorks and Deloitte Canada released last summer found 82 per cent of senior leaders reported feeling exhausted.
The poll found the top two stressors were an increase in work volume compared to pre-pandemic levels, and the desire to provide adequate support for the well-being of staff.
More than half of those polled said they were considering leaving their roles.
“I’ve been chatting with other CEOs and there seems to be a shift,” Johnston with Redspace says. “There’s a number of founders looking to get out, to exit. The fun of the chase isn’t balanced against the stress of it.”
Still, despite some of the unique pressures facing leaders, burnout appears to be impacting all workers.
A new Bromwich+Smith poll conducted by Angus Reid found more than 70 per cent of people surveyed are worried about their physical and mental health, including sleep issues, fear of COVID-19 and burnout.
Another study by Canada Life found a high level of burnout among Canadian workers. The survey conducted by Mental Health Research Canada found more than a third of all working Canadians are feeling burned out.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 17, 2022.
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