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Rural schools close as Alberta's COVID-19 vaccine passport system begins – Powell River Peak

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EDMONTON — Two schools in rural Alberta closed their classrooms Monday over the number of students not attending because of COVID-19 infections as Edmonton police introduced tough new vaccine requirements on the first day of the province’s new proof-of-vaccination program.

The Big Valley and Donalda schools, both in central Alberta’s Clearview Public School Division, announced that too many students are away from school to continue in-person classes.

“The percentage of students away continues to be over 10 per cent with reported cases of COVID-19,” the division said in a release.

The two schools are closed to in-person learning for students in Grades 1 through 9 until Oct. 1. Kindergarten and playschool classes will continue.

“Instruction and learning opportunities will be offered using a combination of online and paper-based materials,” the release said. “Classroom teachers will provide a detailed schedule so that students will have direct access to them at specified times during the day.”

Alberta Education spokeswoman Nicole Sparrow said the province received the request from the school division, which must be approved before a school can actually close.

“Approval from the Minister of Education is required for a short-term shift of one or more schools or an entire school authority to at-home/online learning,” she wrote in an email. 

“A decision for a school authority request will be based on the ability of a school to have staff available to operate in-school classes.” 

The Edmonton Police Service said it will give its members three choices on immunization: vaccinate, pay for their own rapid COVID-19 tests or stay home without pay until the situation changes or one of the first two conditions is met. 

“(Police) volunteers and contractors will also be required to either indicate they have been fully vaccinated or submit to rapid testing to engage in their duties,” the service said in a release. 

Police spokeswoman Chery Sheppard said more than 86 per cent of the service’s sworn and civilian employees have been fully vaccinated.  

Alberta averaged about 1,500 new cases daily over the weekend, recording 4,633 cases between Friday and Sunday. The province had 954 people with COVID-19 in hospital, 216 of them in intensive care.

The province recorded 22 deaths over the three days.

Earlier Monday, the government released more details about which businesses and institutions come under its restriction exemption plan, allowing eligible public organizations to function more normally. 

Retail stores, libraries, hotels and post-secondary institutions will not be required to take part in the program, nor will worshippers at a church, employees on a work site or students on a school trip.

Some restrictions will still apply. 

Stores must limit shoppers to one-third of normal capacity, for example, and people in indoor public spaces must still be masked. 

Entertainment facilities from restaurants to nightclubs to art galleries are all eligible to participate in the program, allowing them to operate with fewer restrictions as long as they require patrons to show proof of vaccination. 

Premier Jason Kenney announced the program last week. Retail stores and libraries were initially on the list of eligible organizations but were removed on the weekend.

Kenney had previously opposed a vaccine passport over what he said were privacy concerns. He switched to support for passports as Alberta’s hospitals faced the prospect of being overwhelmed in the pandemic’s fourth wave.

Starting Sunday, immunized Albertans could download proof-of-vaccination cards, but some pointed out they could be easily altered. 

A health ministry spokeswoman said work continues on a more secure QR code that would be available in the coming weeks. Starting Tuesday, Albertans will be able to request a free, printed version of their vaccination records from a registry agent.

Over the weekend, the province’s four largest health-care unions asked Kenney to request help from the military, the Red Cross and any other available medical resources able to assist hospitals caring for an increasing number of patients.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 20, 2021.

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

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India celebrates 1 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses with song and dance

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 India celebrated the milestone of administering one billion COVID-19 vaccine doses on Thursday, with the government promoting the achievement in song and video even as a recent drop in inoculations worries healthcare providers.

After a slow beginning in the middle of January, India’s immunisation campaign has covered three-quarters of its 944 million adults with at least one dose but only 31% with two. The government wants all adults to get vaccinated this year.

“India scripts history,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Twitter. “We are witnessing the triumph of Indian science, enterprise and collective spirit of (1.3 billion) Indians.”

Modi marked the occasion with a visit to a government hospital in New Delhi. The health ministry announced musical and other programmes across the country, and special illuminations of national monuments including a colonial-era jail.

Nearly 90% of the vaccines administered in India have come from the Serum Institute of India (SII), which produces a licensed version of the AstraZeneca drug. SII has more than tripled its capacity since April and can now produce 220 million vaccine doses a month.

SII has also slowly resumed exports for the first time since April, when the government stopped all overseas sales to meet domestic demand as infections rose dramatically.

The World Health Organization (WHO), which relies heavily on India for supplies to its global vaccine-sharing platform COVAX, congratulated the country for reaching the landmark.

“India’s progress must be viewed in the context of the country’s commendable commitment and efforts to ensure that these life-saving vaccines are accessible globally,” said Poonam Khetrapal Singh, regional director WHO South-East Asia.

India has so far reported 34.1 million COVID-19 cases and more than 452,000 deaths, most during a second wave of infections of the Delta variant that surged through the country between April and May.

A “sizeable number https://www.reuters.com/article/health-coronavirus-india/many-indians-skipping-second-covid-shot-despite-record-vaccine-stocks-idUSL4N2RF2G3” of people in India have not taken their second dose by the due date despite adequate supplies, the health ministry said on Tuesday, as new infections fell to their lowest since early March.

Daily shots have averaged 5 million this month, a fifth of September’s peak, though states are sitting on record stocks of more than 100 million as domestic output of the AstraZeneca vaccine soars.

Despite the current low number of infections, ministry officials have been urging people to get vaccinated fast, especially as the ongoing festival season means family gatherings and mass shopping, raising the risk of a new wave of infections.

(Reporting by Krishna N. Das; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

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U.S. coronavirus vaccine donations reach 200 million doses

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The United States, under pressure to share its  coronavirus vaccine supply with the rest of the world, has now donated 200 million doses to more than 100 countries, the White House announced on Thursday.

President Joe Biden has faced some criticism from other world leaders for offering vaccine booster shots in the United States at a time when many people around the world have not received their first shot.

In recent weeks, the United States has stepped up its donations. Biden told Kenya PresidentUhuru Kenyatta last week https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/us-donates-17-million-jj-doses-african-union-2021-10-14 that the United States will make a one-time donation of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to the African Union.

“As of today, the United States has successfully donated and delivered 200 million COVID-19 vaccines to more than 100 countries around the world,” the White House said in a statement to mark the milestone.

The statement said the United States and the international COVAX vaccine-sharing programme would follow through over the next year on commitments to donate more than 1 billion doses to needy countries.

“These vaccines will help save lives, protect livelihoods, and heal economies currently battered by this pandemic,” the White House said.

 

(Reporting By Steve Holland; Editing by Karishma Singh)

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More needed to prevent deaths from climate-change driven heat waves, fires: report – The Reminder

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OTTAWA — A new report examining the health impacts of climate change says more Canadians than ever are facing serious health risks from heat waves and wildfires, prompting warnings from doctors that we need to do more to adapt to the reality of a warmer planet.

The annual Lancet Countdown study looks at more than three dozen markers for human health impacts of climate change globally.

“This year we saw people suffering intense heat waves, deadly floods and wildfires,” said lead author Marina Romanello, a biochemist at London’s Institute for Global Health.

“These are grim warnings that for every day that we delay our response to climate change, the situation gets more critical.”

In Canada, the authors note, the heat dome that descended on British Columbia and parts of the Prairies in June and July “would have been almost impossible without human-caused climate change.”

That heat wave lasted several weeks and saw the town of Lytton, B.C., destroyed by a fire a day after it recorded a temperature of 49.6 C, the highest temperature ever seen in Canada.

The Lancet study says that heat wave was responsible for at least 570 deaths in Canada, and hundreds more in the United States.

Across Canada, the risk of death from extreme heat for Canada’s seniors rose more than 50 per cent in the last four years, compared with the years 2000 to 2004. Exposures to wildfires grew almost 20 per cent in that time, but not uniformly, with Indigenous Peoples at much higher risk.

First Nations people living on a reserve are 33 times more likely to be forced to evacuate due to a forest fire than people living off reserve, the Lancet report said.

The authors also said that in 2020, heat caused the loss of more than 22 million hours of potential labour in Canada, harming human health and productivity at the same time.

Globally, climate change left almost one-fifth of the world’s land surface in extreme drought in 2020. Between 1950 and 1999, that value never exceeded 13 per cent. The resulting impact on crops saw a decrease in production of rice, soybeans, wheat and maize of between two and six per cent.

Dr. Courtney Howard, an emergency room physician in Yellowknife and past president of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, helped write the Canadian briefing note out of the Lancet Countdown’s global findings.

She said this year the focus was more heavily on the need for adapting to the fact that climate change isn’t just real, it’s already hurting us.

“So how are we going to get each other through these heat waves and these wildfire episodes in a way that’s as healthy as possible?”

The Canadian briefing note lays out several policy requests, including more green space in urban areas to offset the impact of heat waves, and a national strategy for adaptation to climate change that takes into account the serious harm to human health.

The authors are also highly critical of the federal government for allowing itself to be heavily influenced by lobbying from the oil and gas industry. They said in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, fossil fuel industries and associations met with federal officials 1,224 times, an average of 4.5 meetings every day.

Comparatively, they say environment groups met with federal officials 303 times.

“Energy transition policy must be developed without such excessive industry pressure,” the report said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 20, 2021.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

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