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Retailers call on Ontario to open non-essential stores, say restrictions aren't working – CBC.ca

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A group of about 50 retailers called on the Ontario government on Tuesday to open all stores across the province — including those in lockdown regions, where they suggest imposing a 25 per cent capacity limit on “non-essential” stores.

“We respect the extraordinary efforts you and your administration are making to safeguard the public interest during this extremely challenging time,” the retailers said in a letter to Premier Doug Ford and Health Minister Christine Elliott. “The problem is that Ontario’s policy of segregating ‘non-essential’ retailers from those deemed essential might actually be making things worse.”

The letter was signed by executives from several major retailers, including Hudson’s Bay Company, Canadian Tire, Ikea Canada, Roots and Staples Canada. It argues that the lockdowns in Toronto and Peel Region haven’t reduced the number of people shopping.

“Instead, it has funnelled those shoppers and the corresponding health risk into fewer, increasingly crowded stores within Toronto and Peel, as well as adjacent communities, such as we saw in Vaughan and Markham over the weekend,” the letter stated.

“At the same time, as the current policy pushes more Canadian consumers to a handful of big box retailers and discount stores, thousands of small, independent and local stores sit shuttered, with their hands tied, even though many sell the very same goods.”

According to the retailers, limited capacity in some cases — in combination with safety measures such as mandatory masks, physical distancing and hand sanitization — “can further reduce the potential for community spread while enabling more businesses to stay open across all regions during a make-or-break season for retail businesses.”

The letter notes that other provinces have taken similar steps in conjunction with public health officials and that these steps “will put fewer people in more stores, increasing safety for all. The current policy does the opposite.”

‘Difficult but necessary’ 

The province responded by noting the restrictions are aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19 to protect the health and well-being of Ontarians.

Alexandra Hilkene, a spokesperson for Elliott, said the government must limit opportunities for individuals to have close contact with others to help stop the spread of the virus. This includes allowing box stores to operate at half capacity.

“These necessary measures are being taken to limit community transmission of COVID-19 in order to keep schools open, safeguard health system capacity, and protect the province’s most vulnerable populations,” Hilkene wrote in an email to The Canadian Press.

“To be clear, moving regions into a lockdown is not a measure this government takes lightly. However, as we have seen around the world, lockdowns are a difficult but necessary step to stop the spread, safeguard the key services we rely on and protect our health system capacity.”

She noted that the Ontario government is providing $600 million in relief to support eligible businesses required to close or significantly restrict services due to enhanced public health measures.

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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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