The Canadian Press
SAO PAULO — Brazil’s health regulator has halted clinical trials of the potential coronavirus vaccine CoronaVac, citing an “adverse, serious event.”Adversaries of President Jair Bolsonaro said on Tuesday they feared the decision — posted Monday night on Anvisa’s website — was motivated not by science but by the leader’s political hostility to the country and state involved in producing the vaccine candidate.The potential vaccine is being developed by Chinese biopharmaceutical firm Sinovac and in Brazil would be mostly produced by Sao Paulo’s state-run Butantan Institute. About 10,000 volunteers are taking part in the phase three tests in one of the nations hardest hit by COVID-19.Sao Paulo state health authorities said in a press conference on Tuesday that Anvisa sent a single email at 8:40 p.m. saying the tests should be halted. They also said the incident with one of the trial volunteers was unrelated to the trials.“Such news coming the way it did causes our surprise, insecurity and, in our case, indignation,” said Dimas Covas, the head of the Butantan Institute.He said it was “impossible” that the volunteer’s incident had any relation to the tests.Anvisa did not describe the Oct. 29 event that prompted the halt. Covas said on TV Cultura late Monday that a volunteer had died, but on Tuesday he said he had just been giving a hypothetical example and could not confirm details about the case for ethical reasons.Sinovac issued a short statement in China on Tuesday saying it was in touch with Brazilian authorities and insisted, “The clinical study in Brazil is strictly carried out in accordance with GCP requirements and we are confident in the safety of the vaccine,” referring to Good Clinical Practice, a set of international standards for ethics and data quality in clinical research.Temporary halts of drug and vaccine testing are relatively common. In research involving thousands of participants, some are likely to fall ill. Pausing a study allows researchers to investigate whether an illness is a side effect or a coincidence. Last month, two drugmakers resumed testing of their prospective coronavirus vaccines in the U.S. after they were halted earlier.Sao Paulo health authorities said they had a meeting with Anvisa leaders earlier on Tuesday, but received no feedback on when the tests will be allowed to continue.“This is unpleasant news; it worries all volunteers that enrolled to take the shot,” Covas said. “This might raise doubts among those that still planned to volunteer.”The CoronaVac shot has already stirred controversy in Brazil, where President Bolsonaro has cast doubt on its prospective effectiveness. He publicly rejected it last month, saying Brazilians would not be used as guinea pigs. The declaration followed news that his health minister, Eduardo Pazuello, had agreed to purchase CoronaVac doses produced locally by Butantan.Bolsonaro has often expressed mistrust of China, particularly on the campaign trail in 2018, although he has softened his rhetoric somewhat in office. And the governor of the state producing the vaccine, Sao Paulo’s. João Doria, is a political rival and an outspoken critic of the president’s pandemic response.Bolsonaro took another jab at the Sinovac shot on Tuesday.“Death, invalidity, anomaly. This is the vaccine that Doria wanted to force all in Sao Paulo to take,” he wrote on his Facebook page. “The president said the vaccine should never be mandatory. Another one that Jair Bolsonaro wins.”João Gabbardo, the executive-secretary of Sao Paulo’s COVID-19 committee and until months ago the No. 2 at Brazil’s Health Ministry, criticized Bolsonaro’s statement without mentioning him.“What shocks us is that while everyone is rushing, doing what is possible so we have this vaccine available to the population, some people are betting on the opposite, coincidentally on the same day that the Sao Paulo government announces the arrival of the first doses of the vaccine,” he said.“Some people celebrate the fact that a death appeared to create this mess and try to denigrate a vaccine that is being produced in this partnership with the Chinese lab. It is very sad that I have to answer in such way.”Former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, one of the leaders of Gov. Doria’s centre-right party, said Anvisa’s decision appeared to be unscientific.“What is happenning is regrettable; the politization of the vaccine that will rid us of the coronavirus…,” Cardoso said on Twitter. “Anvisa needs to explain. And quick.”CoronaVac is being tested in seven Brazilian states, plus the federal district where the capital Brasilia lies.Following the imbroglio last month surrounding the CoronaVac shot, Anvisa authorized the import from China of 6 million doses. The potential vaccine cannot be administered to Brazilians as it isn’t yet approved locally, the agency said at the time.Earlier Monday, Sao Paulo state’s health secretary, Jean Gorinchteyn, said the first 120,000 CoronaVac shots would arrive at Sao Paulo’s international airport Nov. 20, though he said, “They will only be taken to the public after a final authorization from Brazil’s health regulator.”The secretary added that nearly all of the volunteers who were given two doses of the vaccine produced antibodies thought to protect people from the virus.Sao Paulo is also importing raw material to produce40 million CoronaVac shots, which is due to start arriving Nov. 27.___Associated Press writer Huizhong Wu in Taipei, Taiwan, contributed to this story.Mauricio Savarese And David Biller, The Associated Press
Macklem says bond-buying program about lowering rates – BNN
OTTAWA – Canada’s top central banker gave MPs a detailed defence of the Bank of Canada’s buying spree of government debt Thursday, saying it is aimed at lowering borrowing costs across the country.
The Bank of Canada has launched an unprecedented bond-buying program that effectively lowers borrowing costs for the federal government as its racks up a historic deficit.
It now holds just under one-third of federal debt, with the bank believing it can scale up those purchases before throwing a wrench into credit markets.
But the purchases have put Bank of Canada governor Tiff Macklem in a political hot seat, with Conservatives on Parliament Hill warning the central bank about appearing too cosy with the governing Liberals.
During an appearance at the House of Commons finance committee Thursday, Macklem said the bank isn’t financing the federal government, but is reducing the cost to borrow for households and businesses.
He said the central bank will stop buying government bonds once the recovery is well underway, which is likely to happen before inflation gets back to the Bank of Canada’s two per cent comfort zone.
“Our actions by lowering interest rates and by buying government bonds are lowering the cost of financing the government. In fact, they’re lowering the cost of borrowing for everybody,” Macklem said.
“We’re not financing the government.”
The bond-buying program is the central bank’s first foray into what’s known as quantitative easing, which is a way for central banks to pump more money into the economy.
The central bank started the program as it dropped its trendsetting policy rate to 0.25 per cent to drive down interest rates. The purchasing program was designed to drive down rates even more on things like mortgages.
What the bank has done is buy up government bonds to spur demand and time lower interest rates, particularly for borrowers using terms of between three and 10 years like homeowners, homebuyers and businesses.
The bank’s balance sheet has swelled since March and now holds about $344 billion in government debt, or roughly 30 per cent of federal debt, after purchasing about $163 billion in bonds.
Macklem said central banks generally can hold between 50 and 70 per cent of debt before it begins to impair credit markets.
The bank has taken its foot off the gas recently for its purchasing program as the market conditions have improved, allowing it to reduce its total minimum weekly purchases to $4 billion.
Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre argued the purchases were inflating financial assets, and enriching the mostly affluent people who own them to push up inflation.
“Inflationary costs are borne disproportionately by the poor and the disadvantaged,” Poilievre said. “So you’re effectively transferring an enormous sum of wealth to those who have financial assets, while diluting the wages of working-class people.”
Pressed by Conservatives on the committee for a date when the buying will come to end, Macklem said the uncertain path of the pandemic prevents him from being able to circle a day on the calendar.
COVID-19 cases will strain Ontario hospitals in December no matter what happens: model – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News
The number of COVID-19 cases in intensive care at Ontario hospitals will break the 200 bed threshold sometime in early December, severely hampering the healthcare system’s ability to follow through with all scheduled surgical procedures, new provincial modelling data suggests.
Even with slower case growth than what has been observed in recent weeks, Ontario government epidemiologists said Thursday the ICU bed occupancy due to COVID-19 will hit 200 somewhere in the first week of December, and could near 300 in the worst case scenario by the end of that month.
ICU bed occupancy of more than 150 in Ontario challenges the healthcare system’s ability to keep with scheduled surgeries and makes it difficult to complete additional surgeries already delayed once during the first wave of the pandemic.
At that level, hospitals are facing significant capacity challenges – they are facing significant threats to the sustainability of their health human resource workforce and they are making decisions to cancel, delay or postpone treatments that are necessary,” Dr. Adalsteinn Brown of the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health told reporters on Thursday.
The modellers give three scenarios for new case growth going into December.
In one scenario, with one per cent average case growth, Ontario could see more than 2,000 cases per day by the end of December.
At three per cent average case growth, the province could see more than 4,000 cases per day by the end of next month.
At five per cent average case growth, Ontario could see 9,000 cases per day by the end of December.
Ontario’s case growth has been 0.45 per cent per day on average over the past two weeks.
The modellers say “key indicators” of the pandemic have been “flattening” in some regions, but progress is not consistent across the province.
“It’s best described as a fragile or precarious situation where we would like to see cases continue to flatten or decline before we can say that we are making strong progress,” Brown said.
The doctors who delivered the model said that while the situation remains “precarious,” it is no longer worsening.
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams said the situation is at the point where there is no discussion about placing new regions into lockdown.
“We’re not recommending any new ones go into lockdown at this stage,” he said.
Nav Canada warns air traffic controllers that job cuts are coming as pandemic crushes revenue – CBC.ca
Air traffic controllers are being warned that layoffs are coming as Nav Canada pursues a “full restructuring” in response to a revenue slump caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, CBC News has learned.
CBC News has obtained a confidential memo sent internally to air traffic controllers on Thursday. In it, Ben Girard, Nav Canada’s vice-president and chief of operations, told staff that the company has seen a $518 million drop in revenue compared to its budget.
He said he’s been pushing the federal government for help, but — unlike some other countries — Canada has not released an industry-specific bailout package yet.
“We anticipate that until air traffic returns to higher levels, which will not occur until the end of this fiscal year, we will continue to operate in a daily cash negative position and this will be made worse as funding from the [Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy] program is ratcheted back,” Girard wrote.
Girard did not say in the memo how many air traffic controllers will lose their jobs or which locations will be affected. The memo said it’s looking to reduce the number of “IFR controllers.” These controllers are higher on the pay scale and work at area control centres in Gander, N.L., Moncton, N.B., Montreal, Winnipeg, Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver.
The workers are responsible for controlling large amounts of airspace between airports using radar. Their job is to make sure planes keep proper distance from one another.
“I know this is very difficult news to hear. It is also very difficult news to deliver,” Girard wrote. “This is a decision that has been made at my level based on what needs to be done to ensure Nav Canada’s financial sustainability.”
Nav Canada manages millions of kilometres of airspace over Canada and used to provide air navigation services for more than three million flights a year. It’s funded through service fees paid by air carriers.
The Canadian Air Traffic Control Association said it is very concerned with the memo.
“It is the opinion of this union that safety is not being taken into consideration in making sound decisions,” president Doug Best and executive vice-president Scott Loder wrote in a letter to members.
“Safety is the number one priority for Nav Canada and it has somehow taken a backseat to cost containment as the number one and only priority.”
‘We’re facing years of a downturn in air traffic’
In November, Canadian air traffic was down 54 per cent compared with the same time period in 2019, according to the memo.
“Over the summer and fall months, the outlook for the aviation industry has deteriorated significantly and it has become increasingly clear that we’re facing years of a downturn in air traffic that is much larger and broader in scope than we all initially believed, and will be much deeper and longer than any downturn in the history of the industry,” Girard wrote.
Nav Canada says it is conducting studies of air traffic control towers in Whitehorse, Regina, Fort McMurray in Alberta, Prince George in B.C., and Sault Ste. Marie and Windsor in Ontario that “will result in workforce adjustments.” The company is also looking into closing a control tower in St. Jean, Que.
Government ‘pressed’ for help
The company has been focused on securing liquidity and tapped into the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) to pay up to 75 per cent of employees’ wages, he wrote. Girard added that these payments are being reduced and will run through December, but Nav Canada isn’t sure if it can continue receiving that wage support.
“While an extension for the CEWS program through June 2021 was recently announced, NAV CANADA’s eligibility is uncertain,” he wrote.
Girard said the federal government has so far failed to come up with a bailout package for the airline sector, despite “significant lobbying.”
Last month, the Globe and Mail reported that the federal cabinet is working on a package for the airline sector that would include low-interest loans.
Since Sept. 22, Girard wrote, the company has cut more than 700 managers and employees — 14 per cent of its workforce. It also let go of 159 students earlier in the pandemic, he added, and in November cut even more, “leaving just a few in the system.”
Along with the cuts, seven air traffic control towers are being considered for a downgraded level of service, and another 25 sites that are already Flight Service Stations — which provide only advisory services — could face more cuts.
Nav Canada’s board of directors has cut its fees by 20 per cent, and executives and managers have dropped their salaries by up to 10 per cent, Girard wrote.
These cost reductions, as well as access to government support through the wage subsidy program, have saved the company $200 million since March 1, he added.
“However, that number still pales in comparison to the $518 million reduction in revenues as compared to budget,” Girard wrote.
“Despite these cost-containment efforts, we find ourselves in a situation where we expect our revenues to continue falling far short of our costs for several years, and we continue to require further cost-containment measures and indeed, a full restructuring of our business.
“In an environment where 30 per cent of costs are associated with ‘things’ and 70 per cent of costs are associated with ‘people,’ when all possible cuts with ‘things’ have been done, any further cuts will directly affect people.”
Girard added that he hopes the company can bring back some of the laid-off staff once the pandemic passes.
The Canadian Air Traffic Control Association said it will continue to challenge Nav Canada. The union hopes there will be “enough interest” in departure incentives for older controllers to offer them a package to retire.
“The views of Nav Canada at this point are violating the vision, mission and overarching objectives of this company,” Best and Loder said in their letter to members.
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