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Tainted water, Canadian ISIS prisoners, money laundering: Global News investigates 2019 – Global News

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From a groundbreaking investigation into the safety of drinking water to Canadians held in ISIS detainee camps in Syria to exposing Canada’s money laundering problem, Global News took an in-depth look at a wide range of issues in 2019 that sparked public conversation and led to government action.

Tainted water

In November, Global News, along with universities and 10 media organizations, began publishing a series of stories that revealed hundreds of thousands of Canadians could be consuming tap water laced with high levels of lead leaching from aging infrastructure and plumbing.

READ MORE: Quebec to review how it tests drinking water following investigative report

Reporters collected test results that measured exposure to lead in 11 cities across Canada and found out of 12,000 tests since 2014, 33 per cent exceeded the national safety guideline of five parts per billion. The reporting also found the drinking in schools and daycares in several cities were exposed to dangerous lead levels.

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News outlets around the world picked up on the Tainted Water investigation and led to changes among municipal and provincial governments.

Return to Syria






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Canadian woman detained in Syria says she accepts she could face prosecution


Canadian woman detained in Syria says she accepts she could face prosecution

Amid the fall of the so-called Islamic State, Global News returned to Syria this year to continue its reporting on the issue of Canadian foreign fighters.

At the Al-Hawl camp, which houses more than 70,000 women and children captured during the final battles with ISIS, Global spoke with several Canadians who are asking for the government to bring them home to be tried under Canada’s justice system.

READ MORE: Kurdish forces struggle to contain world’s unwanted ISIS prisoners in Syria

Canada has so far not repatriated any of the roughly 40 Canadians held at ISIS detainee camps, according to Kurdish authorities.

Canada’s broken recycling industry

In a months-long investigation for a multi-part series, Global News spoke with dozens of communities, companies and industry leaders across the country about the mounting challenges faced by Canada’s recycling industry.

READ MORE: Is Canada’s recycling industry broken?

The result is dire: with few exceptions, more recycling is being sent to landfills, fewer items are being accepted in the blue bin and the financial toll of running these programs has become a burden for some municipalities.

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Reporters also explored how to fix the country’s recycling system by focusing on a system in B.C. that relies on private companies to carry out the province’s residential recycling program.

Following the money, again

On the heels of Global’s months-long investigation into Fentanyl trafficking in 2018, reporters continued to dig into the intersection of drugs and money laundering in B.C., which looked at a then-Liberal MP whose work at a law firm has been linked to financial transactions with an alleged Chinese organized crime figure.

In the series B.C. Casino Diaries, former casino employees who worked for Great Canadian Gaming in Richmond, B.C., revealed how organized crime first infiltrated the gaming industry.

READ MORE: Whistleblower warned B.C. casino in 2000 of alleged ‘co-operation with organized crime’

Global also revealed how Liberal MP Joe Peschisolido’s law firm helped facilitate a secretive B.C. real estate deal — known as a “bare trust” deal — that helped an alleged Chinese “drug boss” hide his ownership stake in a $7.8 million condo development.

And in a national look at the problem of money laundering, Global revealed how the provinces largely fail to prosecute these complex crimes with just 321 guilty verdicts in money-laundering cases over a 16-year period.

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Following media reports on the money laundering, B.C. announced it would launch a public inquiry that has distorted the province’s real estate market and fuelled the opioid crisis.

Justice denied

Global News compiled a database to track the number of criminal cases thrown out in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s R. v. Jordan decision in 2016, which set trial deadlines of 18 months for provincial court trials and 30 months in superior court.

We found nearly 800 criminal cases — ranging from manslaughter to drug trafficking and even murder — have been stayed because a judge found the defendant’s constitutional right to a timely trial had been violated.

READ MORE: Almost half of Edmonton criminal cases ultimately withdrawn

Global Edmonton followed the story with a look at charges being tossed in Alberta over a lack of prosecutors. Data obtained by Global News from Alberta Justice shows that all charges in 47 per cent of cases were withdrawn in the last fiscal year, and that number has been steadily rising since the 2015-2016 fiscal year

Immigration Refugee Board conduct

In 2019, Global reporters continued their in-depth coverage of Canada’s immigration system, exposing the ways in which Canada’s refugee determination system is failing some of the most vulnerable claimants.

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READ MORE: Refugee judge asks woman why her husband wouldn’t ‘just kill’ her

This included claims that refugee judges at the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) do not always adhere to the guidelines in cases involving allegations of sexual assault and domestic abuse.

Reporting also revealed problems with the board’s process for hiring new judges, including the re-appointment of a former adjudicator who publicly declared that nearly all refugee claimants are liars.

For the good of the force

In January, Global began publishing an ongoing series of stories exploring the RCMP’s “culture of dysfunction” and the way in which the famous force’s indelible image has shielded it from scandal.

READ MORE: Meet the Mounties who allege the RCMP used their disabilities to force them out

The initial four-part series combed through decades worth of public documents to estimate the cost of the force’s failure to reform at $220 million and counting, revisited the case of the first female Mountie to win a sexual harassment lawsuit against the force, and probed the probable impacts of the City of Surrey’s decision to ditch the Mounties.

Those stories paved the way for additional deep dives exploring racism in the ranks, the force’s alleged campaign to get rid of Mounties with disabilities and its second $100 million sexual harassment settlement.

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Broken series

Beginning in November, Global launched Broken, a series reflecting on how we must provide better, more consistent and nuanced coverage of any woman, trans or non-binary person who has experienced violence, abuse or harassment.

READ MORE: Shelters on the front lines help women flee violence — but they’re also in crisis

Reporters tackled a multitude of complicated societal issues that aren’t often explored at length. They probed everything from the rehabilitation of domestic abusers to women of colour’s unique experience of violence and the 30-year lag time for a mainstream conversation about feminism after the Ecole Polytechnique massacre.

These stories are just the beginning, having sparked many people to reach out with their own stories of harassment, abuse and injustice, which reporters are now beginning to investigate.

Inside Ontario’s rocky first year of legal weed 

Ontario has taken perhaps the clumsiest approach of any province to cannabis legalization; unfortunately, with 40 per cent of Canada’s population, that has an outsized effect on the national cannabis economy. The province still has only one store for more than half a million people and has Canada’s second-lowest per capita cannabis sales.

READ MORE: Ontario spent at least $10 million on cannabis stores that never opened

Through the use of freedom of information requests, Global exposed the province’s secret pot warehouse, discovering that the OCS was selling cannabis buyers’ postal code data despite its privacy policy, reporting on how much taxpayers spent to not open the public-sector cannabis stores that were originally planned — over $10 million — and explaining the bizarre outcomes of the province’s decision to assign store licenses by lottery. (One winning property was entered over 173 times.)

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‘Under the Influence’

In a four-part series, reporters looked at the pharmaceutical industry’s influence on Canada’s health-care system — swaying doctors’ opinions, funding medical schools and, ultimately, affecting the type of drugs we are prescribed.

READ MORE: Big pharma paid $151M to doctors, hospitals in 2017-18, but we don’t know who got paid or why

Global News spent months talking to doctors, opioid experts, pharma reps and Canadians whose lives were forever changed by prescription drugs. Reporters obtained and analyzed documents showing millions of dollars poured into health-care industries by Big Pharma.

Read Part 1Part 2Part 3 and Part 4

Questionable conduct in Ontario real-estate 






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Ajax property entrepreneur Tarekh Rana haunted by Bangladesh fugitive crime boss doppelganger


Ajax property entrepreneur Tarekh Rana haunted by Bangladesh fugitive crime boss doppelganger

An investigation between Global News and Bangladesh’s The Daily Star newspaper has found striking similarities between a Durham developer and an international fugitive accused of leading a criminal organization behind a series of extortions and murders.

READ MORE: Tarekh Rana is an acclaimed Ajax businessman. Is he also a fugitive crime boss?

The investigation also revealed his business appears to be in disarray and revealed how Rana aligned himself with city council in Ajax, even making a sitting councillor a director of his company.

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In April, Global revealed that a company, 1PLUS12, is currently facing two lawsuits totaling $6.4 million that allege fraud or misrepresentation and is linked to an alleged $17-million mortgage fraud involving high-end real estate across Toronto.

One of their consultants, who recently changed his name, is also behind a B.C. company, that according to claims in court documents, lost investors and creditors almost $19 million.

Local investigations:

Nova Scotia

Construction industry safety

During the summer, Global News used unmarked vehicles to film several Halifax-area construction sites, capturing on tape what appeared to be a wide variety of health and safety concerns. Four independent sources with expertise in construction safety reviewed that footage and alleged it contained life-threatening risk to workers, as labourers toiled on balconies and rooftops with no fall protection, among other risks.

READ MORE: Sources identify ‘huge risk’ on Nova Scotia construction sites

When the Nova Scotia Department of Labour received a copy of the tape, it inspected more than 20 construction sites in the region, many of which were featured in Global News’ investigation. Three sites were issued warnings for not operating safely.

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CODE ZERO

In December, Global took an in-depth look at the rise in temporary emergency room closures as Nova Scotia deals with a shortage of doctors and nurses. Most are unscheduled and can come with as little as half a day’s notice.

Between 2014 and the first three months of 2018, just under half of the emergency rooms in the province — 18 of 37 — were forced to temporarily close, often as a result of a lack of doctors or nurses.

And the number of temporary closures is increasing dramatically, according to data collected from reports prepared by the Nova Scotia government.

Ontario

Abuse at Children’s Aid group homes






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Drugs, theft, alcohol and inappropriate relationships alleged at Children’s Aid group home


Drugs, theft, alcohol and inappropriate relationships alleged at Children’s Aid group home

In January, of this year, Global Kingston reported a story about a woman charged with sexual assaults of two minors and her employment at a Children’s Aid Society in Belleville at the time of the offences.

That story snowballed into an investigation that took six months and expanded into Prince Edward County.

READ MORE: Teen ‘sexual cult’ in Ontario foster home known to Children’s Aid Society, victim says

Three pieces came from that investigation, one about a Children’s Aid group home that might have led to the death of a young man, another about a foster home in Prince Edward County named by the children who lived there as a ‘sexual cult’ and a third about a victim who came forward about her abuse as a child in a foster home, only to be ignored.

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Soldiers aid commission

The Ontario Soldiers’ Aid Commission, the province’s emergency grant program for veterans, turns away veterans of recent conflicts while returning most of its budget unspent every year to the government, documents released under access-to-information laws show.

READ MORE: Ontario’s veterans’ fund turns younger vets away, returns money to government unspent

The provincial law it works under was last updated in 1970 and doesn’t let it give money to veterans of any conflict more recent than Korea. So while veterans of more recent wars often ask the volunteer board for help, they must be turned away. (The documents show that this happens, but the government won’t tell us how often.)

Lethbridge 

Blood Tribe opioid crisis

Amid Canada’s opioid crisis which has killed more than 14,000, Global Lethbridge took a deeper look at the effect the deadly painkiller were having in a southern Alberta community and

The Blood Tribe is the largest reserve in Canada, but carfentanil – a drug 100 times more potent than fentanyl – is killing people in record numbers and the community has made repeated, desperate calls for help that have gone unanswered.

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Manitoba






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Questionable spending at Sagkeeng FN


Questionable spending at Sagkeeng FN

Sagkeeng First Nation health care centre investigation

Global Winnipeg revealed in June that Employees at a Manitoba health centre received more than a million dollars in questionable payouts – including thousands in cash advances and extensive entertainment costs – over the course of 18 months.

READ MORE: Internal audit finds $1.3 million in questionable spending at Sagkeeng First Nation health centre

An internal audit, which reporters obtained exclusively, found that

Between Apr. 1, 2016 through Oct. 31, 2017, employees at the Fort Alexander Health Centre received more than $1.3 million above their salaries. The audit also revealed instances of $1,000 cash advances, extensive travel entertainment costs (including escape rooms, movie theatres and toy stores), and tens of thousands of dollars in “finders fees” for writing grant proposals.

Edmonton 

Calcium chloride in water

Through Freedom of Information requests, Global News uncovered documents regarding Edmonton’s calcium chloride program that were previously undisclosed to city councillors.​ The documents revealed that the anti-icing agent was more detrimental to concrete and asphalt than sodium chloride and was classified as a hazardous waste after a test from the water utility.

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READ MORE: Test reveals calcium chloride exceeds Edmonton bylaws; councillors not briefed

The stories prompted hours of debate as councillors discussed the new information and the future of the anti-icing program. Ultimately, the city paused the program for one year to assess other snow-clearing options.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Toronto cancels outdoor events through July including Canada Day celebrations because of coronavirus

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TORONTO (Reuters) – Canada‘s largest city Toronto is cancelling all large in-person, city-permitted outdoor events through July as the country seeks to stave off a third wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

The city of Toronto announced Wednesday it is extending an existing cancellation of outdoor events, including the annual Pride Parade, which will be a virtual event, and July 1 Canada Day celebrations, which tend to cap off mid-summer festivities.

The announcement does not include professional sporting events, which need permission from provincial and federal governments in addition to Toronto Public Health.

“I want to thank all of these organizations for understanding the need to avoid large in-person gatherings in the coming months and thank you to those who have worked to offer virtual events to keep the spirit of these celebrations,” Mayor John Tory said in a statement.

Many Canadian provinces are gradually reopening businesses and cultural activities after a powerful second wave of the coronavirus forced authorities to issue stay-at-home orders.

 

(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny; Editing by Grant McCool)

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Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Wednesday – CBC.ca

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The latest:

The first big real-world study of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to be independently reviewed shows the shot is highly effective at preventing COVID-19, in a potentially landmark moment for countries desperate to end lockdowns and reopen economies.

Up until now, most data on the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines has come under controlled conditions in clinical trials, leaving an element of uncertainty over how results would translate into the real world with its unpredictable variables.

The research in Israel — two months into one of the world’s fastest rollouts, providing a rich source of data — showed two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot cut symptomatic COVID-19 cases by 94 per cent across all age groups, and severe illnesses by nearly as much.

The study of about 1.2 million people also showed a single shot was 57 per cent effective in protecting against symptomatic infections after two weeks, according to the data published and peer-reviewed in the New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday.

This latest study comes as Ontarians aged 80 and older are set to start receiving COVID-19 vaccines in the third week of March as the province expands its immunization campaign.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault watches a man get his COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium on Tuesday. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Retired general Rick Hillier, the head of the province’s vaccine task force, announced a specific timeline for distributing the shots on Wednesday, noting the schedule depends on vaccine supply.

Hillier’s announcement comes as members of the general public in both Alberta and Quebec will be able to start booking appointments this week. Ontario has been running behind the schedule it initially set out. 

Hillier said the delay in launching Ontario’s version is because the focus until that point will be on populations that don’t require an appointment, such as patient-facing health-care workers and essential caregivers for long-term care residents.

“I would have liked to have it earlier, quite frankly,” Hillier told reporters, adding that health authorities are working “furiously” to test the system.

Ontario then aims to vaccinate adults aged 75 and older starting April 15. Shots will go to those 70 and older beginning May 1, he said.

WATCH | Confusion remains around vaccine rollout in Ontario, family doctor says:

The Ontario government needs family physicians to play a larger role in the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines because they can help find and innoculate patients who may not be able to make it to mass vaccination centres, says Dr. Nadia Alam. 8:02

People aged 65 and older will be vaccinated starting June 1 and those 60 and older the following month.

Vaccinations for populations considered high-risk, including Indigenous adults, will be ongoing as the province targets those age groups.

Essential workers will likely begin getting their shots in May if supply allows, Hillier said.

Some private-sector companies with large operations have offered to vaccinate their essential workers, their families and communities when the time comes, and Hillier said the province intends to take them up on the offer.

“We will take advantage of all of it,” Hillier said.

Shots will be administered at pharmacies, mass vaccination sites, mobile units and smaller sites depending on the public health unit.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Ontario Institute for Cancer Research Genomics Director Trevor Pugh discuss COVID-19 research in Toronto on Tuesday. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

The transition to vaccinate the broader population will ramp up as the province completes its high-priority vaccinations over the next week — staff, residents and essential caregivers in long-term care homes, Hillier said. Second doses have also begun in some fly-in First Nations communities.

Separately, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed Wednesday that Moderna will meet its contractual obligation to deliver two million COVID-19 vaccine doses by the end of March.

Trudeau said that the Massachusetts-based firm will send 460,000 doses during the week of March 8 and 840,000 doses starting on March 22 — 1.3 million doses.

In announcing the new Moderna numbers, Trudeau said Canada will receive “even more than promised in the first quarter.” But the government has always maintained that two million shots will arrive in the period of January through March. 

Pfizer, Canada’s other current supplier of vaccines, has confirmed already it is on target to ship four million shots by the end of March.

WATCH | Geriatricians take questions about the COVID-19 vaccine, seniors and safety:

Two geriatricians answer viewer questions about the COVID-19 vaccine and seniors including improving access to doses and the safety of the vaccines. 7:02

Canada trails much of the Western world in the number of doses deployed so far.

The United States expects to roll out three to four million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine next week, pending authorization from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the White House COVID-19 response co-ordinator said Wednesday.

A Johnson & Johnson executive on Tuesday said the company expected to ship nearly four million doses of the vaccine once it gained authorization.

The additional vaccine will help President Joe Biden’s administration in its goal of ramping up vaccination across the country as it seeks to control the pandemic that has cost more than 500,000 lives in the U.S. and pummeled the economy.

The U.S. FDA said Wednesday the Johnson & Johnson one-dose vaccine appeared safe and effective in trials, paving the way for its approval for emergency use as soon as this week.

The company has a contract to deliver 100 million doses to the United States by the end of June. 


What’s happening across Canada

WATCH | Ontario sets timelines for COVID-19 vaccination priority groups:

Ontarians aged 80 and over will be able to get their COVID-19 vaccinations in the third week of March, said retired general Rick Hillier, the head of Ontario’s vaccine task force as he outlined a series of dates for the vaccine rollout. 1:07

As of 5:00 p.m. ET on Wednesday, Canada had reported 855,132 cases of COVID-19, with 30,407 cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 21,805.

Ontario on Wednesday reported 1,054 new cases of COVID-19 and nine additional deaths. Hospitalizations in the province stood at  675, with 287 COVID-19 patients in intensive care units.

The update came as the head of the province’s vaccination task force, retired general Rick Hillier, gave an update on Ontario’s vaccine rollout. He offered timing around when people in different age groups — beginning with people over 80 in late March — will be able to access vaccines.

In Quebec, health officials reported 806 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and 17 additional deaths. Hospitalizations stood at 655, with 130 COVID-19 patients in intensive care units.

In Atlantic Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador reported eight new cases of COVID-19 and one additional death on Wednesday. The province had 345 active cases, and six COVID-19 patients in hospital.

Nova Scotia reported three new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday. 

P.E.I. confirmed two new cases of COVID-19 and one public exposure site — a Toys R Us store in Charlottetown.

New Brunswick reported two new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, affecting two zones of the province.

In the Prairie provinces, Manitoba reported its lowest daily jump in new COVID-19 cases since mid-October on Wednesday, with 45 new infections. More than half the new cases — 23 — are in the Winnipeg health region, the province said.  All Manitobans 95 and older and First Nations people 75 and over can now book appointments for the COVID-19 vaccine.

Neighbouring Saskatchewan reported its lowest new daily case number since November on Wednesday, with 56 new cases.  

As of Wednesday, anyone born in 1946 and earlier in Alberta was supposed to be able to book an appointment for a COVID-19 vaccine, but the booking system quickly became overwhelmed. Alberta reported 430 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and 13 more deaths.

In British Columbia, health officials reported 559 new cases of COVID-19 and one more death on Tuesday. The province is expected to start informing people over age 80 about their vaccinations for COVID-19 starting next week as the province prepares to open mass clinics while doing more in-depth testing for variants.

Across the North, there were no new cases reported in Nunavut or Yukon on Tuesday. Health officials in the Northwest Territories reported two more cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, saying one was an “out-of-territory worker related to the Gahcho Kué Mine outbreak” and the other was an “out-of-territory seasonal worker in Yellowknife.”

The N.W.T.’s chief public health officer said she expects the territory to have full herd immunity — meaning, 75 per cent of the eligible adult population having received two doses of the Moderna vaccine — by the end of the April.

Here’s a look at what’s happening across Canada:

-From The Canadian Press and CBC News, last updated at 12:45 p.m. ET


What’s happening around the world

WATCH | The benefits of bringing families together during COVID-19 treatment:

COVID-19 restrictions are keeping many patients apart from loved ones in the hospital, but doctors, patients and families are speaking out about the benefits of bringing families physically together during treatment. 3:32

As of early Wednesday afternoon, more than 112.2 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, with more than 63.3 million cases listed as recovered on a tracking site maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at nearly 2.5 million.

In the Americas, the presidents of Mexico and Argentina pressed the United Nations and the world’s richest countries to improve poorer nations’ access to vaccines.

Brazil has fully approved the Pfizer-BioNTech SE vaccine, though a dispute over a supply deal means it has none to start an immunization program with.

Colombia has approved the emergency use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine.

In Africa, South Africa’s government advisers had organized vaccines into three groups and those considered for “immediate use” were the Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Moderna shots.

People line up to get tested at a COVID-19 clinic on Wednesday in Montreal. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Ghana has become the first country in the world to receive vaccines acquired through the United Nations-backed COVAX initiative with a delivery of 600,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine made by the Serum Institute of India. The vaccines, delivered by UNICEF, arrived at Accra’s international airport early Wednesday and are part of the first wave of COVID-19 vaccines being sent by COVAX, an international co-operative program formed to make sure low- and middle-income countries have fair access to COVID-19 vaccines.

In the Asia-Pacific region, South Korea’s top infectious disease experts warned that vaccines will not bring the disease to a quick end and called for continued vigilance in physical distancing and mask wearing as the country prepares to give its first shots on Friday.

Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency, said Wednesday it would take a “considerably long time” before the mass vaccination campaign brings the virus under control.

The country aims to vaccinate more than 70 per cent of the population by November. But a safe return to a life without masks is highly unlikely this year, considering various factors including the growing spread of virus variants, said Choi Won Suk, an infectious disease professor at the Korea University Ansan Hospital.

“We are concerned that people might drop their guard as vaccination begins, triggering another massive wave of the virus,” Jeong said.

Jeong spoke as South Korea began transporting the first vaccines rolled off a production line in the southern city of Andong, where local pharmaceutical company SK Bioscience is manufacturing the shots developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford.

The country will kick off the vaccination on Friday starting with residents and employees at long-term care facilities.

Separately, some 55,000 doctors, nurses and other health professionals treating COVID-19 patients will begin receiving the shots developed by Pfizer and BioNTech on Saturday.

Thailand, meanwhile, received its first batch of vaccines, with inoculations set to begin in a few days.

RN Suzette MacLeod, right, administers the COVID-19 vaccine shot to Patsy Paul-Martin at the first Mi’kmaw COVID-19 clinic at Millbrook First Nation in Truro, N.S., on Wednesday. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

India will start inoculating people above 60, and those with underlying health problems above age 45 in the second phase of its massive vaccination drive from March 1.

India’s Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar says the vaccinations will be done in 10,000 public and 20,000 private hospitals. Javadekar told reporters on Wednesday that vaccine shots in government hospitals will be free, but did not say how much it will cost in private hospitals.

India started inoculating health workers beginning on Jan. 16. The country is home to the world’s largest vaccine makers. The government has authorized emergency use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, manufactured by Serum Institute of India, and a homegrown vaccine developed by Bharat Biotech.

Elsie Saint-Louis receives her first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine at a pop-up community vaccination centre at the Gateway World Christian Center in Valley Stream, New York, on Feb. 23. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Cases of COVID-19 are increasing in some parts of India after months of a steady nationwide decline. In many cities, markets are bustling, roads are crowded and restaurants are nearly full. The country is reporting about 11,000 to 13,000 new cases a day, compared to a peak of nearly 100,000. in September.

In the Middle East, the World Bank threatened to suspend its multimillion-dollar financing for Lebanon’s vaccinations over politicians jumping the line.

In Israel, an open-air concert in Tel Aviv on Wednesday was one of the first in a program to restart cultural events by restricting attendance to people who have been vaccinated or those with immunity after contracting the disease. Attendees were required to show a “Green Pass,” a government-validated certificate showing they had received both doses of the vaccine more than a week prior to the event or that they had recovered from COVID-19 and were presumed immune.

Ghana received the first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines from COVAX, a global scheme to procure and distribute inoculations, as the world races to contain the pandemic. (Nipah Dennis/AFP/Getty Images)

In Europe, the Czech prime minister said the pandemic situation in his country, one of the hardest-hit in the European Union, is “extremely serious” and his government will have to impose more restrictions to slow down the spread of the coronavirus. Prime Minister Andrej Babis said the measures are needed to prevent “a total catastrophe” in hospitals that have been coming close to their limits.

The government will decide those measures later Wednesday. Babis says they will be similar to those in place last spring, when the borders and schools were completely closed. He also mentioned possible restrictions to limit the movement of people.

Sweden is preparing new measures to try to curb a resurgence in cases.

European Union government leaders will agree to maintain curbs on non-essential travel within the EU despite the bloc’s executive asking six countries to ease border restrictions.

-From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 9 a.m. ET

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Ontario reveals more details on COVID-19 vaccination plan, but most won't get a reservation for months – CBC.ca

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An online portal for booking appointments for COVID-19 vaccines in Ontario is set to launch on March 15, the head of the province’s immunization task force said Wednesday, but it will likely be months longer before many people are able to get a reservation.

The announcement from retired general Rick Hillier comes as members of the general public in both Alberta and Quebec will be able to start booking appointments this week.

Hillier said the delay in launching Ontario’s version is because the focus until that point will be on populations that don’t require an appointment, such as patient-facing health-care workers and essential caregivers for long-term care residents.

“I would have liked to have it earlier, quite frankly,” Hillier told reporters, adding that health authorities are working “furiously” to test the system.

When the online portal, along with a telephone booking system, launch in March, Ontarians aged 80 and over will be the next priority. Hillier cautioned that anyone who is not in that age group, or who is not trying to make a reservation for a person in the 80-plus age group, will not be able to book an appointment in the weeks that follow.

Officials expect to begin vaccinating people 80 years and over by the third week of March. 

The proposed schedule in the following weeks, Hillier said, will look something like this as long as supplies of vaccine stay steady:

  • April 15: vaccinations begin for people 75 years old and over.
  • May 1: vaccinations begin for people 70 years old and over.
  • June 1: vaccinations begin for people 65 years and over.
  • July 1: vaccinations begin for people 60 years and over.

Essential workers, meanwhile, should begin getting their shots the first week in May, Hillier said, with the final decision about who qualifies in that category still to come from cabinet. The task force has already submitted its recommendations, he added.

Hillier wouldn’t say when those 60 years old and under who are not essential workers should expect to start getting shots. 

“A great question, we don’t need to answer it right now. Early summer is when we might be able to discuss that issue,” Hillier said.

WATCH | Retired general Rick Hillier on Ontario’s vaccine rollout timeline:

Ontarians aged 80 and over will be able to get their COVID-19 vaccinations in the third week of March, said retired general Rick Hillier, the head of Ontario’s vaccine task force as he outlined a series of dates for the vaccine rollout. 1:07

He also did not provide even a rough timeline for when people under 60 with underlying medical conditions or those living in higher-risk neighbourhoods might expect to be given a first dose of vaccine.

Hillier did say, however, that where Ontarians can expect to get a shot will be based on their postal code. They will be delivered through a combination of mass vaccination clinics, community centre programs pharmacies.

Asked why Ontario’s platform wasn’t launched sooner considering Alberta and Quebec residents will be booking vaccines imminently, Ford said at a news conference Wednesday that he respectfully disagrees the province is lagging behind.

Ford pointed to Alberta’s system crashing Wednesday on its first day of operations and said Quebec hasn’t administered a single second dose of the vaccine thus far.  

In a series of tweets, Dr. Isaach Bogoch, an infectious disease physician and member of the task force, said that primary care providers will help staff vaccination sites and will eventually be able to offer shots at their own clinics once additional vaccines are approved for use by Health Canada.

Several options on the horizon are more stable than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines currently available, Bogoch said. Approval of further vaccines could “significantly speed up” the rough timeline offered by Hillier.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford watches a health-care worker prepare a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Each public health unit will eventually be expected to give out up to 10,000 doses per day, though some larger health units should be doing considerably more, Bogoch said. For example, Toronto Public Health expects to have capacity for up to 400,000 shots per week, with most administered at nine mass vaccination sites, he added. 

As of Feb.14, all residents of long-term care and high-risk retirement homes — generally defined as those that provide memory care — who wanted a vaccine had been given their first shot.

So far the province has administered a total of 602,848 doses of COVID-19 vaccine, and 251,590 people have gotten both doses.

At a news conference Wednesday, Ford also announced Ontario will spend $115 million to provide tuition-free training to 6,000 prospective personal support workers. The programs, which are set to be up and running in April, will consist of paid placements with students completing in six months, rather than eight.

The government will also provide approximately $2,000 in financial assistance to some 2,200 students already completing studies in the PSW fields. 

Asked if the province will move to institute paid sick days for PSWs, Dr. Merrilee Fullerton, Ontario’s minister of long-term care, didn’t answer directly. 

1,054 new cases of COVID-19

The news comes as Ontario reported another 1,054 cases of COVID-19 and nine more deaths of people with the illness Wednesday morning. 

The additional cases include 363 in Toronto, 186 in Peel Region and 94 in York Region. 

Other public health units that saw double-digit increases were:

  • Simcoe Muskoka: 53
  • Windsor-Essex: 50
  • Thunder Bay: 45
  • Waterloo Region: 44
  • Ottawa: 40
  • Hamilton: 38
  • Durham Region: 35
  • Halton Region: 26
  • Niagara Region: 13
  • Middlesex-London: 10

(Note: All of the figures used in this story are found on the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 dashboard or in its Daily Epidemiologic Summary. The number of cases for any region may differ from what is reported by the local public health unit, because local units report figures at different times.)

The Ministry of Education also reported 112 school-related cases: 89 students, 18 staff members and five people who were not identified. As of yesterday, 16 of Ontario’s 4,828 publicly-funded schools were closed due to COVID-19.

Ontario’s lab network completed 54,852 tests for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and logged a test positivity rate of 2.4 per cent. 

The seven-day average of new daily cases rose to 1,084. A steep drop in the seven-day average that began on Jan. 12 has levelled out.

According to the Ministry of Health, there were 675 people in Ontario hospitals with COVID-19 as of yesterday. Of those, 287 were being treated in intensive care and 182 needed a ventilator.

The nine deaths reported today bring Ontario’s official toll to 6,893. 

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