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Rising cases 'frightening,' PM Trudeau says, vows vaccine rollout will 'scale up' – CTV News

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OTTAWA —
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the state of the pandemic is “frightening,” and is vowing that the number of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines being delivered to Canada will “scale up,” in February.

In a national address on Friday, the prime minister said that 68 delivery sites across the country received thousands of Pfizer and Moderna doses this week. In light of provincial calls for more doses, he said quantities of both will continue to increase.

“Quantities of both the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccine will scale up in February. Remember that Canada has the most vaccines secured per capita in the world, which means that, by September, we will have enough vaccines for every Canadian who wants one,” he said during his national update on the COVID-19 response on Friday. 

As the rollout plan stands over the rest of January, Canada will receive 208,650 Pfizer doses per week. In February Canada will receive approximately 367,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine per week, before hitting a total of four million shots distributed by the end of March.

The next batch of Moderna doses—which are being delivered every three weeks—will arrive next week and include 171,000 doses, as will the first February shipment. Delivery amounts will then be increasing to up to 250,000 doses weekly in order to hit the planned two million Moderna doses distributed by the end of March.

“As our collective understanding of these new vaccines evolves and the manufacturer updates their product monographs and instructions, we are able to adapt, how and where we distribute and administer vaccines to Canadians,” said Fortin.

For example, he said Pfizer has updated its guidelines in the last week to administer doses in a thawed state and in smaller tray sizes, meaning the vaccines can be transported and administered to more sites across Canada.

Facing questions about the coming dose delivery schedule and whether larger shipments of these two vaccines is possible, Procurement Minister Anita Anand said she’s continuing talks with the manufacturers about accelerating shipments. 

Though, as the lead of Canada’s national rollout said, Canada’s vaccination strategy is deliberately phased. 

“This initial phase, or phase one, is characterized by limited and steady supply of vaccines for much of January, February, and March before we see a significant ramp up leading into April and the rest of the second quarter of the year,” said Maj. Gen. Dany Fortin on Friday. 

“A total of six million doses are expected to be distributed by end of March,” he said. 

In a statement, Conservative health critic Michelle Rempel Garner called on Trudeau to procure additional vaccines. 

“Canadian provinces are running out of vaccines and are pleading for the federal government to get more. Meanwhile, people in Israel are getting their vaccines ten times faster than Canadians. The United States is on track to vaccinate the equivalent of our population before most Canadians will get the chance. But Canada only has a federal Liberal government finger-pointing on who is responsible for a slow vaccine delivery rollout,” she said. 

“It doesn’t matter how many doses the federal Liberals supposedly ordered; the reality is that they’re not here now.” 

As for whether Canada could still hit the September target for all Canadians receiving the vaccine, Anand said Health Canada approval of an additional vaccine would be required to receive the total number of doses necessary to immunize the entire population, though the majority of vaccines given to Canadians will likely be one of the two shots currently approved.

The next two vaccines in line for potential Health Canada sign-off are the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson candidates. Health Canada Senior Medical Advisor Dr. Supriya Sharma said Friday that the agency is expecting additional clinical and manufacturing information from both studies in the coming weeks, but so far the reviews are progressing “well.” 

As Canada’s contracts with these pharmaceutical companies stand, Canada has secured access to up to 76 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine; up to 40 million doses of the Moderna vaccine; up to 20 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine candidate; and up to 38 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine candidate. 

On Thursday night Trudeau held a call with his provincial and territorial counterparts about the pace of the vaccine rollout. After calling for premiers to get on with it, provinces and their health care facilities have accelerated their administration of immunizations and are now calling for larger deliveries of doses from the federal government, more quickly.

Addressing the comments from some provincial officials—including those at Ontario’s University Health Network—who have said they are running out of vaccine doses with hundreds of health-care workers slated to receive shots in the coming days, Anand suggested they use the figures released on Friday to plan accordingly. 

“That schedule is in existence, it has been shared with the public, and the provinces, and the planning should take place on the basis of that schedule,” she said. 

“Our numbers are their numbers,” added Fortin. 

During Trudeau’s cross-Canada call with the premiers, the political leaders also discussed the continued rise in COVID-19 cases and increasing outbreaks in long-term care homes. 

COVID-19 INFECTION RATE ‘FRIGHTENING’ 

The prime minister’s latest update from Rideau Cottage comes as one of Ontario’s top public health officials is warning the pandemic curve is going “the wrong way.”

“Today’s numbers are to be frank, they are scary… It’s going the wrong way,” Ontario’s Associate Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Barbara Yaffe said Friday morning. “We have more and more people hospitalized, more and more people in ICU, more and more people on ventilators.”

Across the country, with many focused on the vaccine administration figures, the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths are climbing following the holiday season, despite varying degrees of lockdowns across Canada.

“We’re in a desperate situation,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Friday of the situation in his province. “This is the most serious situation we’ve ever been in… since the beginning of this pandemic.” 

There are more than 80,000 active cases across the country, and there have been a total of 639,3833 confirmed COVID-19 infections since the start of the pandemic. More than 16,500 people have died.

“Frankly, it’s frightening to see cases rise at home and around the world, day after day,” Trudeau said.

Acknowledging the state of the pandemic, the prime minister said he knows things are “tough” right now, imploring people to take the necessary public health measures and committing to keep up federal aid from economic supports to the deployment of the military to assist in communities facing outbreaks. 

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Canadians told to stay in their home province and cancel all travel plans – CTV Toronto

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TORONTO —
Canadians have been told to stay in the country due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but now the Prime Minister wants you to stay in your province too.

“No one should be taking a vacation right now. If you’ve got one planned, cancel it” Justin Trudeau said, adding that, “if you are thinking of traveling across the country for spring break – now is not the time.”

As the government urges Canadians to stay home to try and contain the spread of COVID-19, it is also urging anyone who has booked non-essential travel to cancel it.

Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu said “50,000 cancellations (for international travel) demonstrates that people are understanding that this is a delicate situation that Canada finds itself in at the moment.”

While a travel ban is not in effect, there are now so many rules when it comes to traveling that taking a trip would be extremely difficult.

U.S. President Joe Biden has also brought in new travel rules. Now, to enter the United States you need a negative COVID test result and must quarantine 14 days.

When you return to Canada you also need a negative test result and must also quarantine for 14 days. Martin Firestone with Travel Secure believes if it becomes increasingly difficult to travel, people will just stay home.

“They are putting all these layers in place for only one reason and that is to deter you or de-incentivize you from traveling,” Firestone said.

As the vaccine rolls out against the virus, having the shot won’t change the rules when it comes to travelling.

“From an insurance perspective they don’t care if you have had the vaccine. From a government perspective they don’t care if you have had the vaccine. All the rules are the same whether you have had it or not,” Firestone said.

Legally, the government cannot force Canadians not to travel, however the Prime Minister said stronger restrictions could be implemented if necessary.

Trudeau said the federal government is also considering a mandatory quarantine in hotels for returning travelers.

The government has secured hotel rooms around Canada’s largest airports and has already spent millions of dollars on hotel rooms for people who said they had nowhere else to quarantine.

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New cases of COVID-19 dropping in Canada as experts say lockdowns are working – CTV News

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TORONTO —
New cases of COVID-19 have steadily dropped over the last 12 days, a downward trend that experts say offers reason for hope even as the second wave pushes hospitals dangerously close to capacity.

Tracking by CTVNews.ca shows the country’s seven-day average has consistently fallen since Jan. 10, from 8,260 cases to 5,957 cases by Jan. 22.

Twelve days may seem brief, but infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch said the trajectory is a clear trend in the right direction.

“It looks like we have at least started to turn the corner, but we have a long road ahead,” Bogoch told CTVNews.ca on Friday.

The downward trend is particularly good news because respiratory viruses typically flourish during the winter, said infectious disease specialist Dr. Zain Chagla.

“Clearly it’s not just a few days’ numbers. There is a significant decrease, which is great,” Chagla said.

It may be tempting to point to vaccines as a potential reason for the drop, particularly as countries such as Israel have seen cases plummet amid their own aggressive vaccination plan. But both doctors rejected the idea that vaccines are responsible, since only two per cent of Canada’s population has received vaccines. In Israel, more than a quarter of the country has been vaccinated.

“(Canada’s vaccines) have been rolled out primarily to long-term care and health-care workers. That enough is not enough to drive down the case counts,” Chagla said.

Instead, both Chagla and Bogoch point to stricter public health measures in Quebec and Ontario, where lockdowns have shuttered non-essential businesses and social gatherings have been banned for weeks.

“So really it does come to the lockdowns,” Chagla said.

The downward trend comes at a time when some experts had predicted the country would still be experiencing the worst of a post-holiday surge in cases. While that’s not happening right now, Bogoch pointed out that Canada still experienced a sharp rise in cases following the holidays, with Canada’s seven-day average hitting its peak on Jan. 8 with 8,310 cases.

“It was pretty bad. I honestly think if we didn’t have those measures to blunt it, it would’ve been significantly worse,” he said.

Even as new cases fall, Canadian hospitals continue to struggle to keep up with hospitalizations, according to David Fisman, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Toronto.

“Unfortunately critical illness lags, so we still have ICU admissions at high levels that reflect the holiday surge,” he said.

Canada’s case count may hold promising news, including the possibility of providing more breathing room for hospitals, but Bogoch said it’s far too soon to pat ourselves on the back.

“I still think we’ve got to be careful here. While the trend is going down, we can’t let out guard down,” Bogoch said.

“We cannot plateau. We have to continue that downward trend.”​

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Trudeau first foreign leader to speak with Biden – CTV News

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WASHINGTON —
Joe Biden’s White House has a lot in common cause with Canada, Justin Trudeau said Friday as he urged people to look past the new U.S. president’s decision to kill off the Keystone XL pipeline project.

The two countries have great partnership potential in the Biden era, particularly when it comes to a shared vision of tackling climate change while fuelling economic growth, the prime minister said.

“It’s not always going to be perfect alignment with the United States; that’s the case with any given president,” he told a news conference outside his Rideau Cottage residence.

“In a situation where we are much more aligned — on values, on focus, on the work that needs to be done to give opportunities for everyone while we build a better future — I’m very much looking forward to working with President Biden.”

The two leaders spoke for about 30 minutes late Friday — Biden’s first phone call with a foreign leader since taking office.

Trudeau expressed Canada’s “disappointment” with the Keystone decision, and Biden acknowledged the difficulties it has caused, said a federal official familiar with what was discussed.

“The Prime Minister underscored the important economic and energy security benefits of our bilateral energy relationship as well as his support for energy workers,” says the readout of their conversation released by the Office of the Prime Minister.

“The Prime Minister and President reiterated the urgent need for ambitious action on climate change, reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris Agreement, and agreed to work together on net-zero emissions, zero-emissions vehicles, cross-border clean electricity transmission, and the Arctic.”

By and large, the tone of the call was “overwhelmingly positive,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss details of the call.

Trudeau also expressed concern about Biden’s Buy American plan to ensure U.S. workers and manufacturers are the primary beneficiaries of his economic recovery strategy.

The leaders agreed to continue to discuss Canada’s concerns about an issue that the two sides have been discussing for months, and will continue to talk about as the administration finds its feet, the source suggested.

Biden and Trudeau also agreed to meet next month, although it’s not clear given the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic what form that meeting would take.

Earlier Friday, Trudeau said the federal government would be there to support oilpatch workers in Alberta and Saskatchewan who have been hurt by Biden’s decision.

But there’s little doubt the fight is far from over, particularly if Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has anything to say about it.

“The United States is setting a deeply disturbing precedent for any future projects and collaboration between our two nations,” Kenney wrote in a letter to Trudeau he released Friday on Twitter.

“The fact that it was a campaign promise makes it no less offensive. Our country has never surrendered our vital economic interests because a foreign government campaigned against them.”

Biden believes a brisk economic recovery doesn’t have to come at the expense of the environment, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday.

Biden opposed the Keystone XL expansion as vice-president under Barack Obama, who blocked the project in 2015, and as president he still does, Psaki said.

Kenney and other champions of the project, including Kirsten Hillman, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., argue it has changed significantly since the Obama administration cancelled it five years ago.

As word emerged this week of the project’s imminent demise, Calgary-based owner TC Energy revealed plans to spend US$1.7 billion on a solar, wind and battery-powered operating system for the pipeline to ensure it achieves net-zero emissions by 2030.

Kenney wrote Wednesday’s decision came “without taking the time to discuss it with their longest-standing ally,” although Hillman insists she has been in near-constant discussions with the Biden team ever since May, when they promised to cancel the project.

He called the decision a violation of the investor-protection provisions of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement and called on Trudeau to press the U.S. for compensation on behalf of TC Energy and the Alberta government.

“I strongly urge you to ensure that there are proportionate economic consequences in response to these unfair U.S. actions,” Kenney wrote.

“If the U.S. is unwilling to listen, then we must demonstrate that Canada will stand up for Canadian workers and the Canadian economy.”

Biden’s decision has critics among U.S. conservatives as well: Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the Republican House minority leader, called it a job-killing “virtue signal” to climate crusaders.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz accused Biden of erasing 11,000 potential jobs in the U.S. “with the stroke of a pen … by presidential edict.” Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan said the president was “pandering to fringe activists.”

Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, said the move does little besides kill jobs, “disappoint our strong ally, Canada, and reverse some of our progress toward energy security.”

And Idaho senators Jim Risch and Mike Crapo both signed on to co-sponsor a Republican bill aimed at allowing construction on the project to continue, despite Biden’s decision to rescind the permit.

“The Keystone project is the linchpin of America’s energy independence and job creation strategy,” Risch said in a statement.

“Shutting it down leaves us dependent on the likes of OPEC and Russia to help power the country and undermines the pact we made with our northern ally, Canada, which remains supportive of the project.”

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