OTTAWA – Canada’s chief public health officer warned Saturday that current health orders are not enough to stop rapid growth of COVID-19, as provinces push ahead with plans to reopen their economies.
Longer-range forecast models predict a resurgence of COVID-19 infections unless public health measures are enhanced and strictly followed, Dr. Theresa Tam said in a written statement.
“With increasing circulation of highly contagious variants, the threat of uncontrolled epidemic growth is significantly elevated,” she said.
Tam said public health orders across Canada need to be stronger, stricter and sustained long enough to control the rise of variants of concern.
High infection rates in the most populous provinces are driving up the country’s average daily case counts, she said.
Quebec reported more than 1,000 new infections on Saturday for the first time since mid-February, a day after the province reopened gyms and spas in red zones, including Montreal.
The province’s government-mandated public health institute also warned on Friday that more transmissible variants would represent the majority of infections in Quebec by the first week of April.
Premier Francois Legault told reporters he wasn’t ready to reverse decisions to reopen gyms or to allow places of worship to welcome up to 250 people.
In Ontario, new cases topped 2,400 for the first time since January.
The Registered Nurses Association of Ontario released a statement Saturday urging Premier Doug Ford to scale back reopening plans, including the scheduled reopening of personal care services, such as hair salons, on April 12 in regions of the province that are in “grey-lockdown” zones.
The province’s own modelling projections indicate highly contagious variants could see daily case counts balloon, while COVID-19 patients are already occupying Ontario’s intensive care beds at levels “well above the threshold at which hospitals say they can cope,” the statement said.
Gyms in Ontario will be allowed to offer outdoor fitness classes and personal training in the lockdown zones starting Monday. Earlier changes allowed outdoor restaurant dining to resume in those zones, including Toronto, and increased indoor capacity limits for restaurants in other regions.
British Columbia reported 908 new COVID-19 infections on Friday, among the highest daily totals in that province since the pandemic began.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced Thursday she would ease restrictions on visits to long-term care homes, where most staff and residents have been vaccinated.
Limited indoor religious services will also be allowed starting Sunday through May 13 to allow for the observation of holidays including Passover, Easter and Ramadan.
In Alberta, rising hospitalization rates and variant cases have delayed reopening plans that would have included relaxed restrictions on worship services, entertainment venues and adult team sports.
That province counted 668 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday, of which the chief medical officer of health said 207 were variants of concern.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 27, 2021.
Nigerian separatist leader Kanu denies terrorism charges in court hearing
Nigerian separatist leader Nnamdi Kanu pleaded not guilty to charges including terrorism in an Abuja court on Thursday, three months after his trial was delayed when authorities failed to produce him in court.
The charges against Kanu, a British citizen, also included calling for secession, knowingly broadcasting falsehoods about President Muhammadu Buhari, and membership of an outlawed group.
The military considers Kanu’s Indigenous People of Biafra(IPOB) a terrorist organization.
IPOB wants a swathe of the southeast, homeland of the Igbo ethnic group, to split from Nigeria. An attempt to secede in 1967 as the Republic of Biafra triggered a three-year civil war that killed more than 1 million people.
Security services barred journalists from entering the court and forcibly dispersed crowds of supporters who gathered nearby.
In selfies with his lawyer circulating in local media, Kanu looked healthy and in good spirits.
Kanu was first arrested in 2015, but disappeared while on bail in April 2017. His social media posts during his absence, and his Radio Biafra broadcasts, outraged the government, which they said encouraged attacks on security forces.
Security agents produced him in court in Abuja on June 29 after detaining him in an undisclosed country. His lawyer alleged he was detained and mistreated in Kenya, though Kenya has denied involvement.
Kanu has filed charges alleging that he was illegally taken from Kenya and asking that he be repatriated to Britain.
On Thursday, his lawyers also asked, unsuccessfully, for Kanu to be transferred to the Nigerian Correctional Centre instead of the state security custody for easier access to his lawyers.
Kanu’s lawyer, Ifeanyi Ejiofor, said they have an application challenging the competence of the underlying charges, most of which reference Radio Biafra broadcasts made out of London.
“I can’t see how someone would make a statement in London and it becomes a triable offence in this country,” Ejiofor told reporters.
The trial was adjourned until Nov. 10.
(Additional reporting by Abraham Achirga and Afolabi Sotunde in Abuja, writing by Libby George, editing by Angus MacSwan)
U.S. FAA seeks new minimum rest periods for flight attendants between shifts
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is proposing to require flight attendants receive at least 10 hours of rest time between shifts after Congress had directed the action in 2018, according to a document released on Thursday.
Airlines for America, a trade group representing major carriers including American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and others, had previously estimated the rule would cost its members $786 million over 10 years for the 66% of U.S. flight attendants its members employ, resulting from things like unpaid idle time away from home and schedule disruptions.
Aviation unions told the FAA the majority of U.S. flight attendants typically do receive 10 hours of rest from airlines but urged the rule’s quick adoption for safety and security reasons.
Under existing rules, flight attendants get at least 9 hours of rest time but it can be as little as 8 hours in certain circumstances.
“Flight attendants serve hundreds of millions of passengers on close to 10 million flights annually in the United States,” the FAA said, adding that they “perform safety and security functions while on duty in addition to serving customers.”
It cited reports about the “potential for fatigue to be associated with poor performance of safety and security related tasks,” including in 2017, when a flight attendant reported almost causing the gate agent to deploy an emergency exit slide, which was attributed to fatigue and other issues.
The FAA estimated the regulation could prompt the industry to hire another 1,042 flight attendants and cost $118 million annually. If hiring assumptions were cut in half, it said, that would cut estimated costs by over 30%.
After the FAA published an advance notice of the planned rules in 2019, Delta announce it would mandate the 10-hour rest requirement by February 2020.
FAA Administrator Steve Dickson is testifying at a U.S. House Transportation subcommittee hearing on Thursday.
House Transportation Committee chairman Peter DeFazio said on Wednesday that it was “unacceptable” to delay the FAA adopting the flight attendant rest rule and mandating secondary flight deck barriers to better protect the cockpits on all newly manufactured airliners.
Attorneys at the FAA “need a little poke” to move faster on rules when ordered by Congress, DeFazio said on Thursday at the hearing. “Do not screw around with it for three years… you just do it.”
Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants representing 50,000 workers at 17 airlines, said the rule was critical.
“Flight attendant fatigue is real. COVID has only exacerbated the safety gap with long duty days, short night, and combative conditions on planes,” she said. “Congress mandated 10 hours irreducible rest in October 2018, but the prior administration put the rule on a process to kill it.”
During the pandemic, flight attendants have dealt with records numbers of disruptive, occasionally violent passenger incidents, with the FAA citing 4,837 unruly passenger reports, including 3,511 for refusing to wear a mask since Jan. 1.
The FAA proposes to make the new flight attendant rest rules final 30 days after it publishes its final rules.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Jason Neely and Bill Berkrot)
Canada government, provinces agree COVID-19 vaccine travel passport – officials
Canada’s federal government and the 10 provinces have agreed on a standard COVID-19 electronic vaccination passport allowing domestic and foreign travel, government officials told reporters on Thursday.
The deal prevents possible confusion that could be caused if each of the provinces – which have primary responsibility for health care – issued their own unique certificates. The officials spoke on the condition they not be identified.
The document will have a federal Canadian identifying mark and meets major international smart health card standards.
“Many (countries) have said they want to see a digital … verifiable proof of vaccination, which is what we’re delivering,” said one official.
In addition, federal officials are talking to nations that are popular with Canadian travelers to brief them about the document.
The Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced earlier this month that from Oct 30, people wishing to travel domestically by plane, train or ship would have to show proof of full vaccination.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Alistair Bell)
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