The president of the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) is stepping down only 18 months into the job, leaving the federal agency tasked with coordinating the country’s COVID-19 response without a seasoned leader.
Tina Namiesniowski said she would be stepping aside immediately to make way for a new president.
A spokesperson for Health Minister Patty Hajdu said the government expects to have a replacement for Namiesniowski “in the coming days.”
In a letter to staff, Namiesniowski, a long-serving bureaucrat, said she needs to “take a break” and “step aside so someone else can step up” to lead the agency as caseloads spike and testing times creep up in some parts of the country.
“You really need someone who will have the energy and the stamina to take the agency and our response to the next level,” she said in internal correspondence announcing her departure, which was later released by PHAC.
“While responding to this crisis, we’ve done many things since then to add capacity, improve processes, take on new roles and really build up the competence that had diminished in recent years. All of this work has taken a personal toll on so many people … I put myself in that category.”
In a statement, Hajdu said Namiesniowski has shown an “unwavering commitment” and has given “incredible service” to Canada during her tenure as the head of PHAC.
“She has led a committed team of public servants who have been working flat out for months. I have seen first hand the countless hours that Tina has spent away from her family to protect Canadians,” she said.
“We are all grateful. Thank you for working so hard to keep all of us safe, and all the best in your next steps.”
Before her appointment to the top job at PHAC in May 2019, Namiesniowski held a number of senior postings within government. She served as the executive vice-president of the Canada Border Services Agency and was an assistant deputy minister at Agriculture Canada and Public Safety Canada.
The agency’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, has been the public face of PHAC’s efforts throughout this pandemic. Namiesniowski called her work “exceptional.”
“She is a rock and truly inspirational. I’ve felt privileged to work alongside of her,” she said.
PHAC has come in for criticism in recent months as Canada’s response to the COVID-19 crisis has been questioned by some critics. The pandemic has killed roughly 9,200 people in this country.
The federal government’s initial reluctance to close the border as the virus spread in Asia, its depleted national emergency stockpile of personal protective equipment (PPE) during the early months of this pandemic, confusing guidance on the wearing of masks and other perceived failures have been cited by opposition parties in Parliament and others as examples of Canada’s uneven response to COVID-19.
“We have all been working non-stop in a high pressure environment subjected to significant scrutiny and without a doubt, we’ve risen to the challenge,” Namiesniowski said.
On Namiesniowski’s watch, some scientists working for the Global Public Health Intelligence Network (GPHIN) complained that their early warnings about the threat of COVID-19 were ignored or inadequately addressed by senior staff at PHAC.
The network, a federal government-run monitoring and analysis unit, alerts senior officials to health risks around the globe by compiling media reports and other intelligence about outbreaks.
CBC News reported in April on concerns about the network’s alerts not being as widely disseminated as they had been during past health crises.
The Globe and Mail has also reported on internal concerns about the efficacy of the reporting system after changes made in 2018 and 2019 shifted the network’s focus away from monitoring global health trends to a more domestic role.
Health Minister Patty Hajdu has ordered a review of the network amid the complaints.
Canada-China spat heats up over ambassador's alleged threat – CTV News
The diplomatic spat between Canada and China grew more heated on Monday as Beijing denounced press criticism of its ambassador to Ottawa, only to have Canada’s deputy prime minister and opposition leader echo the criticism.
The exchange comes at a moment when ties between the countries are at their lowest point in years, largely due to China’ outrage over Canada’s detention of a top executive of Chinese telecoms giant Huawei and the subsequent arrest of two Canadians.
The new friction arose when China’s ambassador to Canada, Cong Peiwu, branded pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong as violent criminals and said if Canada grants them asylum it would amount to interference in China’s internal affairs.
“If the Canadian side really cares about the stability and the prosperity in Hong Kong, and really cares about the good health and safety of those 300,000 Canadian passport-holders in Hong Kong, and the large number of Canadian companies operating in Hong Kong SAR, you should support those efforts to fight violent crimes,” Cong said in a video news conference from the Chinese Embassy in Ottawa.
Asked if his remarks amounted to a threat, Cong replied, “That is your interpretation.”
Canada’s deputy prime minister, Chrystia Freeland said in Parliament on Monday that the ambassador’s comments “are not in any way in keeping with the spirit of appropriate diplomatic countries between two countries.”
Freeland said Canada will speak out for human rights in China and said Canada will support its citizens living in Hong Kong. “Let me also reassure the 300,000 Canadians in Hong Kong that a Canadian is a Canadian and we will stand with them.” Freeland said.
Her statements came hours after Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told reporters that his government had complained to Canada over press criticism of Cong’s remarks. He said Canadian leaders “did not verify, but also condoned the anti-China comments spreading across the nation and made groundless accusations against China.”
He didn’t specify the media criticism, but the Toronto Sun on Saturday published an editorial calling on Cong to apologize, adding. “If he won’t apologize and retract his threats, boot him back to Beijing.”
Meanwhile, Erin O’Toole, the leader of Canada’s main opposition Conservative party, said Monday that Cong had threatened Canadians in Hong Kong and called on the envoy to either apologize or leave.
Cherie Wong, the executive director of Alliance Canada Hong Kong, a group that advocates for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, called Cong’s comment a “direct threat” to all Canadians.
“It should not be lost on Canadians living in Hong Kong or China, they could be next. Ambassador Cong suggested so himself,” Wong said.
Protests against the Hong Kong and mainland Chinese governments swelled last year, and Beijing clamped down on expressions of anti-government sentiment in the city with a new national security law that took effect June 30.
The law outlaws subversive, secessionist and terrorist activity, as well as collusion with foreign powers to interfere in the city’s internal affairs. The U.S., Britain and Canada accuse China of infringing on the city’s freedoms.
Cong also rejected Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s assertion that China is engaging in coercive diplomacy by imprisoning two Canadian men in retaliation for the arrest of a Chinese Huawei executive on an American extradition warrant. The executive, Meng Wanzhou, is living under house arrest in Vancouver while her case wends through a British Columbia court.
In December 2018, China imprisoned two Canadian men, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, and charged them with undermining China’s national security. Convicted Canadian drug smuggler Robert Schellenberg was also sentenced to death in a sudden retrial shortly after Meng’s arrest.
COVID-19 cases in Canada surpass 200000 – CTV News
The second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic pushed Canada’s total case count past the 200,000 mark on Monday as tougher health restrictions took effect in some regions facing a surge in infections.
The latest numbers from Saskatchewan lifted the national tally over the bleak milestone as the province reported 66 new cases of the novel coronavirus, though other provinces reported significantly more new cases.
The development came just over four months after Canada reached the 100,000-case threshold.
The bulk of the country’s case load has been concentrated in Ontario and Quebec, though numbers have been surging in much of the country in recent weeks.
The 200,000-case milestone isn’t all that significant in and of itself but it does provide an opportunity to examine how the country is doing in grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic, said Barry Pakes, a public health and preventatine medicine physician with the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health.
Canada saw its first confirmed case of COVID-19 in late January and marked 100,000 cases in mid-June, about five months later.
That it took almost as long to double the caseload to 200,000 suggests public health measures slowed the virus’s spread to some degree in that time, Pakes said.
“That’s not how infectious diseases work – they double, and they go straight up on an exponential line, and when we put in proper public health measures we’re able to dull that somewhat, so I think that’s a testament to what we’ve been doing so far,” he said.
At the same time, it’s crucial to remember that Canada is in the midst of a second wave of the pandemic, and milestones such as this one can sometimes serve as a reminder not to let our guard down, he said.
“The problem arises when we rest on our laurels and I think we shouldn’t do that, but I think we can be sort of hopeful that we won’t see some of the numbers and some of the really big societal effects that have been seen in the U.S. or Europe,” he said.
“But it does remain to be seen.”
Quebec continued to lead in new daily cases, reporting 1,038 cases and six more deaths Monday – the fourth consecutive day it has seen more than 1,000 new infections.
Ontario, meanwhile, reported 704 new cases and four new deaths.
The province has reinstated stricter health measures in four regions – Toronto, Peel Region, York Region and Ottawa – and Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s top doctor, recommended against traditional Halloween activities in those areas.
The tighter rules, which include closing gyms and movie theaters and barring indoor dining in restaurants or bars, kicked in for York Region on Monday but took effect earlier this month in the other three hot spots.
Williams said that when daily case counts began to rise again in September, the province predicted it would see new infections double every 10 to 12 days, which would have led to daily numbers in the 1,200 to 1,400 range by now. He noted that at the time, the City of Toronto also predicted seeing its cases double every six days if no additional steps were taken.
“Neither of us, fortunately, have seen that. Measures have been taken, they’ve dropped that down,” he said Monday.
The daily case numbers were slow to come down in the first wave but they did drop over time, “and I think we can do that again,” he said.
Manitoba reported 80 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, nearly two thirds of them in Winnipeg, as new restrictions on gatherings and businesses took effect in that city. The new rules limit gatherings to five people and force casinos and bars to close, and will be reviewed in two weeks.
Meanwhile, the federal government announced Monday that limits on travel between Canada and the United States will remain in place until Nov. 21.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 19, 2020.
The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for Oct. 19 – CBC.ca
Canada-U.S. border closure extended but Trump, Trudeau far apart on next steps
Although Canada and the U.S. have agreed to close their shared land border to non-essential travel, they don’t appear to agree on several related issues — including what to do next. More than seven months after the border closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Donald Trump have offered up contradictory messages about the border’s future.
The Canada-U.S. border closure agreement was set to expire on Oct. 21, but the Canadian government announced on Monday that the closure will be extended until at least Nov. 21. In an interview last Wednesday on Winnipeg podcast The Start, Trudeau said Canada plans to keep the border closed as long as COVID-19 case counts in the U.S. remain high. “We keep extending the border closures because the United States is not in a place where we would feel comfortable reopening those borders,” he said.
Four weeks prior, Trump offered a different prognosis for the Canada-U.S. border closure. “We’re looking at the border with Canada — Canada would like it open,” he said at the White House on Sept. 18. “So we’re gonna be opening the borders pretty soon…. We want to get back to normal business.”
Foreign affairs expert Edward Alden said the disconnect between the two leaders suggests there are currently no joint discussions about an eventual reopening plan. Alden said he understands why the border is closed for now, but that it’s important to start laying the groundwork for a reopening plan. “The problem of not having those negotiations is, when do we possibly have a sense of when it will be safe to reopen the border?”
Even though many Canadians support the border closure, which took effect in late March, it has devastated the tourism industry, separated loved ones and hurt border communities in both Canada and the U.S.
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Ontario recommends against trick-or-treating in COVID-19 hot zones
The provincial government is recommending that kids not go out trick-or-treating in those parts of Ontario that have been hardest hit by a resurgence in COVID-19 cases. “Given the high transmission of COVID-19 in the modified Stage 2 public health unit regions of Ottawa, Peel, Toronto and York Region, traditional door-to-door trick-or-treating is not recommended and people should consider alternative ways to celebrate,” provincial Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams said in a statement.
The province says trick-or-treating is permissible outside of those regions, but with numerous safeguards in place, including only going out with members of your household, wearing a face covering other than a costume, and not leaving treats in buckets.
Some health professionals objected on Twitter to the ban. Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist and researcher based at Toronto General Hospital, said the “goal should be to find ways to do things safely rather than cancel. Halloween shouldn’t be too tough to do safely: Outside, wearing masks, restricted to family units, distant from others … is about as low-risk as it gets.” Dr. Andrew Morris, a professor in the department of medicine at the University of Toronto who studies infectious diseases, asked why kids are allowed in classrooms, and outdoor unmasked dining is permitted in these regions, but trick-or-treating is not.
At his daily news conference Monday, Ford said these measures are necessary to “protect Christmas and the holiday season. “We’re trying to make it as safe and as simple as possible,” Ford said. “My friends, we all know this isn’t going to be a regular Halloween. We just can’t have hundreds of kids showing up at your door if you live in a hotspot.” Both Ford and Williams were asked about what specific benchmarks the province would need to see to allow for relaxed restrictions around the Christmas season. Neither provided specific answers, citing uncertainty around the world when it comes to the virus.
Commons installs plexiglass to protect pages as MPs accused of ignoring physical distancing rules
The House of Commons is installing new plexiglass barriers by Monday because pages are reporting that MPs have been flouting COVID-19 pandemic public health rules, CBC News has learned. According to an internal Commons administration email, some pages have expressed concerns about their health and their families’ safety because some MPs and staffers are not physically distancing from others while their face masks are off in the lobbies — the lounges on Parliament Hill where MPs can hold meetings or grab food while monitoring events inside the Commons chamber next door.
“Specifically, some members and staff who are not wearing masks are sometimes in close proximity to you when you are posted in the lobbies,” Alexandre Jacques, procedural clerk and page program co-ordinator, wrote in an Oct. 1 email to House of Commons pages. “This is something that supervisors and I have noticed in the past few days and are concerned about this.”
MPs and staff do not have to wear masks while sitting in the House of Commons chamber or in the government or opposition lobbies — but they are supposed to physically distance themselves, according to rules from the governing body of the Commons. A House of Commons source told CBC News that the pages’ complaints are aimed at behaviour observed in the opposition lobby shared by the Conservatives, NDP and Bloc Québécois. Some MPs and staff from all three of those opposition parties have been seen breaking the rules, the source said.
Former Green Party leader Elizabeth May told CBC News she’s personally witnessed MPs in the opposition lobby ignoring physical distancing guidelines on multiple occasions. She said she’s seen both Conservatives and New Democrat MPs breaking the rules but thinks the Bloc caucus has been more careful. She said she has found the Liberal lobby to be “pretty well empty” lately. Independent MP Jody Wilson-Raybould said mask use indoors should be made mandatory for MPs throughout the House of Commons. “All MPs should wear masks when indoors, just as rules are set for all other indoor spaces in Ontario,” she said.
Companies wary of hiring and expanding because of COVID uncertainty, Bank of Canada survey finds
The Bank of Canada says companies are hedging hiring plans and wage growth expectations in the coming months over heightened uncertainty from the COVID-19 pandemic, The Canadian Press reports. The central bank’s business outlook survey finds hiring intentions remain below their historical averages, suggesting modest hiring plans even as the overall outlook on employment edges up.
Almost one-third of businesses told the bank they expect their workforce numbers to remain below pre-pandemic levels for at least the next 12 months, or to never fully recover. The survey also finds that wage growth is widely expected to slow over the next year, mostly a result of the pandemic and ongoing uncertainty, with some firms reporting a wage freeze.
The bank also says that nearly half of firms surveyed used the federal wage subsidy program to avoid layoffs or quickly refill positions. About 100 firms took part in the bank’s regular survey out this morning, but did so between late August and mid-September when COVID-19 case counts were still low.
Stay informed with the latest COVID-19 data from Canada and around the world.
One-size-fits-all COVID-19 messaging falls flat, project suggests
Behavioural medicine suggests that moving away from a one-size-fits-all message for pandemic messaging to a more personalized approach would work better at motivating people to make important sacrifices.
Prof. Kim Lavoie, who holds the Canada Research Chair in behavioural medicine at the University of Quebec at Montreal, and Prof. Simon Bacon of Concordia University, have been surveying people throughout the pandemic about what motivates them as part of the iCARE (International COVID-19 Awareness and Responses Evaluation Study) project.
The findings suggest that younger people might be more motivated by the socio-economic fallout of reimposing restrictions rather than risk to their individual health from COVID-19, compared with people over the age of 65. “Show how long it’s going to take us to pay down the debt, this is how long it’s going to take, the longer we remain in this,” Lavoie said.
Individual goals matter, too. A common message from public health officials is: “We’re all going to get through this.” But to Lavoie, that doesn’t go far enough. Her version is: “We are going to get out of this only together. This is how and this is why, and this is what’s in store for us the quicker we achieve that,” she said. “We’re all going to benefit. Some of you will benefit by protecting your health. Some of you will benefit by protecting your business. Some of you will benefit by being able to have your dream wedding.”
NHL could be forced to play next season in modified bubble
If the NHL hopes to start a new season in January, there probably won’t be any fans in the buildings and games could be played in some sort of modified bubble format, say some experts. The NHL and the NHL Players’ Association will begin meetings in the coming weeks to discuss a return to play, although there’s already been some dialogue between the two sides. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has said the league hopes to begin Jan. 1 and wants to play a full 82-game season with fans in arenas.
But whatever plans are in place when the season opens could change over time. “It would be premature to speculate on what next season might look like at this point,” Gary Meagher, the NHL’s executive vice-president of communications, told CBC Sports in an email. “The league and the NHLPA are focused on what makes the most sense from a scheduling standpoint. We are going to be flexible and adaptable, but we also understand that important considerations like the status of the Canada-U.S. border and the state of COVID in the next few months are simply guesswork at this point.”
Earl Brown, a professor emeritus in biochemistry, microbiology and immunology at the University of Ottawa, said even if a vaccine were developed for COVID-19 in the next couple of months, it’s unlikely enough people would be immune by the beginning of the new year. “So given the way it is now, I would not put my money on [the] NHL [having fans] at the beginning of next year,” he said.
Moshe Lander, a senior lecturer in the economics of sports, gaming and gambling at Concordia University, also questioned the league’s suggested timetable. “I cannot see that all of the boxes are going to be checked for the NHL,” said Lander. “They’re not going to be able to start on Jan. 1 with fans [and] with free movement of teams. Something’s going to have to be sacrificed there.”
Find out more about COVID-19
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