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Premier Jason Kenney addresses weeks-long absence during 4th wave of pandemic – CBC.ca

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Alberta Premier Jason Kenney reappeared after a weeks-long absence on Wednesday with a Facebook livestream where he answered selected questions from Albertans and teased an upcoming incentive to encourage people to get vaccinated.

Kenney’s last public appearance was 23 days ago, on Aug. 9, when he announced an expansion to the Labatt’s brewing plant in Edmonton.

Since then, there have been frequent public calls from doctors and the Opposition for the premier to step in and communicate a plan to combat the surging, delta-driven fourth wave of the pandemic.

During that time, active cases and ICU hospitalizations have quadrupled; there are currently 12,290 active cases and 465 people in hospital, 107 in ICU.

In response to a viewer question about his absence, the premier said with a laugh, “I’m right here, in the McDougall Centre [the site of the premier’s Calgary office], where I’ve been working this week.” 

The premier said he has been on a summer holiday — the first lengthy vacation he’s taken since 2015. He said earlier in the day, he had attended a briefing with Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw, who also has not been seen in public since Aug. 13. 

Kenney also dispelled the rumour that Hinshaw has resigned, saying she’s still hard at work and not to believe everything you see on social media.

“It’s important that a person in my position doesn’t burn out,” Kenney said, adding that during his vacation he was on his phone each day receiving regular government briefings. “I don’t think people taking a bit of personal time should be a political football.”

Kenney said he usually only holds news conferences when he has a significant announcement to make, often about funding, which he said could be seen as inappropriate interference during the federal election campaign.

He added that the government will hold a news conference later this week about the rapidly rising numbers of COVID-19 cases in the province.

‘Hiding in plain view’

He also addressed concerns that he chose to make his first appearance after his absence on Facebook, rather than hosting a news conference that would allow reporters to freely ask questions on any topic, and follow-ups. 

“I’m hiding in plain view,” Kenney joked. “Normally we get tens of thousands of viewers … I think that’s public accountability right there.”

Some of the questions the premier chose to answer included queries about whether the government plans to bring back a mask mandate or take further public health measures.  Kenney replied the government will monitor the situation. He was also asked how the province will encourage more people to get vaccinated.

The premier said there will be an announcement soon on a new and different incentive to encourage more people to get vaccinated. 

“We may have to take other measures to encourage people, the unvaccinated, to ensure they are not putting themselves in a position where they’re transmitting,” Kenney said.

Kenney said he continues to look at public health restrictions as a last resort. 

“Indeed, if we do see this wave jeopardizing the health-care system we may have to take some very targeted actions but nothing like lockdowns,” he said.

Alberta is currently home to 38 per cent of the country’s active COVID-19 cases, even though it makes up less than 12 per cent of Canada’s population.

About 66 per cent of all Albertans have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, considerably lower than the national average of 73.3 per cent. 

Earlier in the day, Friends of Medicare, a public health non-profit group, issued a release calling on the premier, health minister or chief medical officer to provide a plan to mitigate the “current health crisis.”

“Instead of proactive measures to contain the fourth wave, we’ve seen bed closures, cancellations of elective surgeries, serious staff shortages,” said Sandra Azocar, the executive director of the group.

Kenney said the pandemic has been fraught with difficult decisions. 

“When this is all said and done we’re going to be able to look back in the cold light of day with objectivity.”

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

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The latest:

U.S. President Joe Biden received his COVID-19 booster shot on Monday, days after federal regulators recommended a third dose of the Pfizer vaccine for Americans aged 65 or older and approved them for others with pre-existing medical conditions and high-risk work environments.

“The most important thing we need to do is get more people vaccinated,” Biden said before getting the booster. He said he didn’t have side-effects after his first or second shots.

Biden, 78, got his first shot on Dec. 21 and his second dose three weeks later, on Jan. 11, along with his wife, Jill Biden.

Speaking on Friday after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration authorized the Pfizer booster, Biden told reporters, “I’ll be getting my booster shot. It’s hard to acknowledge I’m over 65, but I’ll be getting my booster shot. “

Biden emerged as a champion of booster doses this summer, as the U.S. experienced a sharp rise in coronavirus cases from the more transmissible delta variant. While the vast majority of cases continue to occur among unvaccinated people, regulators pointed to evidence from Israel and early studies in the U.S. showing that protection against so-called breakthrough cases was vastly improved by a third dose of the Pfizer shot.

Pushback from WHO on boosters

But the aggressive American push for boosters — before many poorer countries have been able to provide even a modicum of protection for their most vulnerable populations — has drawn the ire of the World Health Organization and some aid groups, which have called on the U.S. to pause third shots to free up supply for the global vaccination effort.

Biden said last week that the U.S. was purchasing another 500 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine — for a total of one billion over the coming year — to donate to less well-off countries.

Vice-President Kamala Harris, 56, received the Moderna vaccine, for which federal regulators have not yet authorized boosters — but they are expected to in the coming weeks. Regulators are also expecting data about the safety and efficacy of a booster for the single-dose Johnson & Johnson shot soon.

At least 2.66 million Americans have received booster doses of the Pfizer vaccine since mid-August, according to the CDC. About 100 million Americans have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 through the Pfizer shot. U.S. regulators recommend getting the boosters at least six months after the second shot of the initial two-dose series.

On Capitol Hill, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, 79, a polio survivor, encouraged Americans to get vaccinated and revealed he had also received a booster dose Monday.

“Like I’ve been saying for months, these safe and effective vaccines are the way to defend ourselves and our families from this terrible virus,” he said.

— From The Associated Press, last updated at 4:30 p.m. ET


What’s happening across Canada

WATCH | Alberta, Sask. hospitals strain under 4th wave: 

Health-care systems in Alberta, Saskatchewan ‘broken’ by COVID surge, doctors say

8 hours ago

Dr. Aisha Mirza, an ER physician in Edmonton, and Dr. Hassan Masri, an ICU and critical care physician in Saskatoon, share how the provinces’ hospitals and medical professionals are struggling amid a fourth wave of COVID-19. 16:41

The pressure on Alberta and Saskatchewan’s health-care systems continues to grow amid COVID-19 surges, with both provinces hitting new records on Monday.

In Alberta, health officials reported an unprecedented 312 patients in intensive care units (ICUs), the vast majority of whom have COVID-19. Doctors have warned that triage protocols would be activated in a worst-case scenario, and some say patient care is already being affected.

“It’s not just unvaccinated patients who are suffering; it’s vaccinated patients who are suffering, it’s everybody,” Dr. Aisha Mirza, an ER doctor in Edmonton, told CBC News.

Meanwhile, Saskatchewan reported 289 people with COVID-19 in hospital on Monday, breaking a record set the day before. Of those, 63 are in intensive care, tying the record first reported on Saturday.

Premier Scott Moe said his government has not asked the federal government for military or health-care workers to support the COVID-19 battle in hospitals, but has discussed other areas of potential assistance.

Ottawa is assisting in Alberta after it made a formal request. It will help with air-lifting patients to other provinces, and by sending ICU-registered nurses and respiratory therapists.

— From CBC News, last updated at 8:30 p.m. ET


What’s happening around the world

A girl receives a dose of COVID-19 vaccine at a public school in Concon, Chile, on Monday. Chile is lifting its state of emergency following a sharp decrease in cases. (Rodrigo Garrido/Reuters)

As of Monday evening, more than 232.2 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University. The reported global death toll stood at more than 4.7 million.

In the Middle East, Jordan’s royal palace says Crown Prince Al Hussein bin Abdullah II has tested positive for COVID-19 and is displaying “mild symptoms.” The palace said in a statement that King Abdullah II and Queen Rania, the 27-year-old crown prince’s parents, have both tested negative but will self-quarantine for five days. All three members of the royal family have been vaccinated.

In Europe, President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday said France would give 120 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries, doubling an earlier pledge, French news agency AFP reported.

In the Americas, Chilean authorities announced the end of a state of emergency in force since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, following a sharp decrease in cases. The state of emergency had allowed the government to impose nighttime curfews and forced quarantines on hard-hit districts amid the worst of the outbreak.

Cuba has begun commercial exports of its homegrown COVID-19 vaccines, sending shipments of the three-dose Abdala vaccine to Vietnam and Venezuela. Cuban scientists have said the vaccines are more than 90 per cent effective against illness, though — like all vaccines — less so against mere infection.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Japan plans to lift its COVID-19 state of emergency, which covers 19 prefectures, in all of the regions at the end of September, broadcaster NHK reported on Monday. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said he discussed easing measures with relevant ministers on Monday and would seek the views of a government panel of advisers on Tuesday.

A mother comforts her child being inoculated with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at a hospital in Bangkok last week. (Sakchai Lalit/The Associated Press)

Thailand’s COVID-19 task force approved a plan to procure a combined 3.35 million doses of the AstraZeneca and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, a spokesperson said. The country will also waive its mandatory quarantine requirement in Bangkok and nine regions beginning Nov. 1 to vaccinated arrivals, according to authorities.

In Africa, Tunisia will entirely lift its nightly curfew against COVID-19 beginning Saturday, the presidency said, after about a year in force.

— From The Associated Press, Reuters and CBC News, last updated at 6:15 p.m. ET

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Huge homecoming parties result in arrests, fines across Canadian college towns – CTV News

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HALIFAX —
On several big Canadian campuses Monday, the morning chatter wasn’t about classwork or assignments. Instead, students traded gossip about some of the huge parties that took place over the weekend.

Thousands of post-secondary students packed the streets in Guelph, Ont., London, Ont. and Halifax on Saturday, breaking liquor laws, COVID-19 restrictions and in some cases, property.

But some students got more than a homecoming hangover for their efforts, as police in Halifax issued tickets and arrested 10 people for public drunkenness. Police in London arrested one person and issued a number of fines. Partygoers in Guelph were limited to tickets and fines.

College town rowdiness may not be new, but it seems public patience has evaporated during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Enjoy the fines & upcoming academic discipline hearings you rightly deserve,” Guelph mayor Cam Guthrie tweeted Saturday.

Halifax city councillor Waye Mason blamed the high number of first-year students as a result of the number of high-school graduates who deferred post-secondary studies amid the pandemic.

“You have twice the population of students who have no kind of grounding in adult behaviour in public,” he told CTV National News.

In a news release, Dalhousie University admonished those who attended what it called an “unsanctioned” and “illegal” event, urging them to get tested for COVID-19 and “not to attend classes or general on-campus activities for one week.”

Dalhousie’s student union fired back, insisting the incident was predictable and preventable while criticizing school administration.

“Dalhousie currently has an on-campus dry policy. You’re also not allowed to have visitors in residence,” Madeleine H. Stinson, president of the student union, told CTV National News. “We know students were going to party and Dalhousie created it so that they couldn’t do so on campus.”

Meanwhile, Halifax police are investigating the events of the weekend and said it could result in charges. Dalhousie has also threatened to fine or even to expel students who participated in the party. 

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Canada seeks to attract U.S. frequent flyers with perks on Air Canada

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Canada is trying to use the lure of travel perks to convince America’s frequent-flying elite to fly north on Air Canada, as the country steps up efforts to revive crucial traffic from the United States, a Canadian official said.

COVID-19 has battered travel from Canada‘s largest tourism market. During the first half of 2021, Canada had only about 178,000 overnight arrivals from the United States, compared with 6.8 million during the same period in 2019, according to government data.

To help reverse that decline, government tourism body Destination Canada on Monday rolled out its first campaign targeting U.S. frequent flyers, in partnership with the country’s largest carrier.

It is part of broader, C$14 million ($11.2 million) efforts by the tourism commission to boost traffic after Canada recently opened its borders to vaccinated travellers. It is not clear how much the specific frequent flyer campaign will cost.

“This is super-focused in terms of our ability to reach frequent flyers,” Gloria Loree, Destination Canada‘s chief marketing officer told Reuters, ahead of the launch.

Under the plan, up to 20,000 U.S. frequent flyers with carriers like American Airlines, Southwest Airlines Co and Delta Air Lines could get matching status when flying Air Canada north of the border.

Delta declined to comment and American Airlines did not immediately respond.

Southwest, which does not serve Canada directly, said by email that the government arm’s support contributes to the industry’s collective efforts “to restart substantive air travel.”

Frequent-flyer status gives travelers perks like priority boarding that would normally cost a premium fare or a fee.

While status-matching is common among airlines, Destination Canada said this is the first time a tourism organization has used the practice to attract tourists to their country.

“This is the push to get them coming to Canada,” Loree said.

Eligible U.S. frequent flyers who book and travel north on AC before Jan. 15, 2022, will keep their status with the carrier for all of 2022, she said.

It comes as countries ease restrictions on international travel, with the United States set to reopen in November to vaccinated air travelers from 33 countries.

Loree said funding frequent-flyer status matching is no different from other incentives paid for by Destination Canada, such as a separate campaign this year with Air Canada‘s rival, WestJet Airlines.

Loree said the goal is to restore routes from the United States, while trying to attract travelers who will return to Canada.

In April, hard-hit Air Canada received an estimated C$5.9 billion ($4.7 billion) government aid package with the country gaining a stake of roughly 6% in the carrier.

While Canada‘s high vaccination rate could reassure tourists, the cost of the country’s COVID-19 PCR test requirements for arrivals could dissuade some travelers, said Frederic Dimanche, director of the Ted Rogers School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Ryerson University.

Loree said targeting U.S. frequent flyers is a plus because they are largely accustomed to those requirements.

“They’ve figured out how to travel,” Loree said. “So we want them to consider Canada as their next trip.”

Air Canada shares closed up 3.48% in Toronto trade.

($1 = 1.2652 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by Allison Lampert in Montreal. Additional reporting by Rajesh Kumar Singh in ChicagoEditing by Denny Thomas, Lisa Shumaker and Matthew Lewis)

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