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Tam urges need to maintain individual COVID-19 precautions as variant cases mount – CTV News

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Public health officials have identified upwards of 700 cases of contagious COVID-19 variants across Canada, the nation’s top doctor said Saturday, a finding she said lends new urgency to her calls to maintain personal COVID-19 precautions.

Individual actions in conjunction with strong public health measures will be key to halting the spread of the highly infectious virus variants, Dr. Theresa Tam said.

“Strong collective action means each one of us doing our personal best by having the fewest interactions with the fewest people, for the shortest time, at the greatest distance possible, while wearing the best-fitting face-mask,” Tam tweeted Saturday.

Overall daily case counts continued to trend downwards, but Tam said the at least 704 cases of variants of concern could fuel a bigger third wave of the pandemic.

The vast majority of variants detected in Canada thus far are the B.1.1.7 strain that first emerged in the U.K., while there have been 39 cases of the variant first discovered in South Africa, and one of the strain that originated in Brazil.

Tam’s warning came as a suspected case of a coronavirus variant forced Quebec City officials to close an elementary school Saturday.

Regional public health director Dr. Andre Dontigny said the school would remain closed until public health authorities had more information, including confirmation that the case in question is in fact linked to a variant of concern. All staff and students were asked to get tested for COVID-19 over the weekend.

Quebec authorities said there had been 22 confirmed cases of variants of concern provincewide and an additional 286 cases under investigation.

Overall, the province reported 769 new cases of COVID-19 Saturday and 14 more deaths, including four within the past 24 hours. Hospitalizations declined by 23 to 700 and the number of patients in the ICU dropped by seven to 120.

Federal projections released Friday suggest COVID-19 variants could fuel 20,000 new cases per day by mid-March if public health restrictions are relaxed.

Tam noted a steady decline in overall COVID-19 infections, with 32,241 active cases across the country and a seven-day average of 2,905 new cases daily. There was an average of 59 deaths.

“Canadians are urged to remain vigilant and to continue following local public health advice as well as consistently maintaining individual practices that keep us and our families safer,” said Tam, stressing the need to stay home if symptoms emerge and to reduce non-essential activities and outings.

Ontario reported a slight increase in daily case counts Saturday as it prepared to ease restrictions in one of its long-standing hot spots.

The province announced 1,228 new instances of COVID-19, up from 1,150 new infections reported Friday. There were 28 new virus-related deaths reported on Saturday.

Health Minister Christine Elliott said Toronto and Peel Region logged 331 and 228 cases, respectively, while York Region saw132 new cases.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford touted a measured approach on Friday when he announced York Region could lift stay-home restrictions and return to a colour-coded pandemic response framework at the second-most restrictive red level. That change is set to take effect on Monday.

Toronto, Peel and the North Bay-Parry Sound health unit are to remain under a stay-at-home order for at least two more weeks.

Meanwhile, Newfoundland and Labrador reported 38 new confirmed cases and three presumptive cases of COVID-19, all in the eastern health region which includes St. John’s.

New Brunswick reported three new infections in the hard-hit Edmundston region. Nova Scotia, meanwhile, reported four new cases.

In Manitoba, 95 new cases and three deaths were linked to COVID-19. Two deaths were associated with an outbreak at Winnipeg’s Seven Oaks Hospital, and one was connected to a Winnipeg care facility.

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

— With files from Jacob Serebrin in Montreal

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Calgary Stampede to proceed with limited events

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The Calgary Stampede, an annual rodeo, exhibition and festival that is also Canada‘s biggest and booziest party, will go ahead this year after being pulled in 2020 due to the pandemic, though it will not look and feel the same, an event organizer told CBC Radio.

“It won’t be your typical Stampede … it’s not the experience that you had in years past,” Kristina Barnes, communications manager with the Calgary Stampede, told a CBC Radio programme on Friday.

She said organizers were still deciding whether to include rodeo or the grandstand show in this year’s version.

Known as “the greatest outdoor show on earth,” the Stampede draws tourists from around the world for its rodeo and chuckwagon races, but much of the action happens away from official venues at parties hosted by oil and gas companies.

“The Safest and Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth is what we’re going to call it this year,” Barnes said, adding the organizers are working directly with Alberta Health to ensure Stampede experiences stay “within the guidelines” that may be in effect in July.

The event is scheduled to take place between July 9-18, according to the Calgary Stampede website.

Last month, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney told reporters the Calgary Stampede can probably go ahead this year as Alberta’s coronavirus vaccination campaign accelerates.

Barnes and the office of the Alberta premier were not available for immediate comment.

The cancellation of the event last year was a crushing disappointment for Canada‘s oil capital.

The news comes as Alberta has been dealing with a punishing third wave of the pandemic, with the province having among the highest rate per capita of COVID-19 cases in the country. Data released on Friday showed the province had 1,433 new cases, compared with the seven-day average of 1,644.

 

(Reporting by Denny Thomas; Editing by Chris Reese)

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U.S. trade chief pressured to lift duties on Canadian lumber

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 As U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai prepares to meet her Canadian and Mexican counterparts on Monday to review progress in the new North American trade agreement, she is under pressure from home builders and lawmakers to cut U.S. tariffs on Canadian lumber.

Shortages of softwood lumber amid soaring U.S. housing demand and mill production curtailed by the COVID-19 pandemic have caused prices to triple in the past year, adding $36,000 to the average cost of a new single-family home, according to estimates by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).

Republican lawmakers have taken up the builders’ cause, asking Tai during hearings in Congress last week to eliminate the 9% tariff on Canadian softwood lumber imports. Senator John Thune told Tai that high lumber costs were “having a tremendous impact on the ground” in his home state of South Dakota and putting homes out of reach for some working families.

The Trump administration initially imposed 20% duties in 2018 after the collapse of talks on a new quota arrangement, but reduced the level in December 2020.

“The Biden administration must address these unprecedented lumber and steel costs and broader supply-chain woes or risk undermining the economic recovery,” said Stephen Sandherr, chief executive officer of the Associated General Contractors of America. “Without tariff relief and other measures, vital construction projects will fall behind schedule or be canceled.”

On Friday, White House economic adviser Cecilia Rouse said the Biden administration was weighing concerns about commodity shortages and inflation as it reviews trade policy.

The tariffs are allowed under the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement on trade, which permits duties to combat price dumping and unfair subsidies.

The U.S. Commerce Department has ruled that lumber from most Canadian provinces is unfairly subsidized because it is largely grown on public lands with cheap harvesting fees set by Ottawa. U.S. timber is mainly harvested from privately-owned land.

Tai said she would bring up the lumber issue with Canadian Trade Minister Mary Ng at the first meeting of the USMCA Free Trade Council, a minister-level body that oversees the trade deal.

WILLING PARTNER

But Tai told U.S. senators that despite higher prices, the fundamental dispute remains and there have been no talks on a new lumber quota arrangement.

“In order to have an agreement and in order to have a negotiation, you need to have a partner. And thus far, the Canadians have not expressed interest in engaging,” Tai said.

Youmy Han, a spokeswoman for Canada‘s trade ministry, said the U.S. duties were “unjustified,” and that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has raised the issue with U.S. President Joe Biden.

“Our government believes a negotiated agreement is possible and in the best interests of both countries,” Han said in an emailed statement to Reuters.

But builders are growing frustrated with a lack of high-level engagement with high-level Biden administration officials on the issue as they watch lumber prices rise.

“They are clearly still gathering facts, which is even more frustrating given that this issue has been going on since before the election, before the inaugural,” said James Tobin, a vice president and top lobbyist at the NAHB.

 

(Reporting by David Lawder and Jarrett Renshaw in Washington and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Writing by David Lawder; Editing by Paul Simao)

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Centerra to fight Kyrgyzstan takeover of its gold mine

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Centerra Gold said on Sunday it has initiated binding arbitration against Kyrgyzstan government, after the parliament passed a law allowing the state to temporarily take over the country’s biggest industrial enterprise, the Kumtor gold mine operated by Centerra.

Recently, a Kyrgyzstan court also imposed $3.1 billion fine on Kumtor Gold Company (KGC), which operates the gold mine, after ruling that the firm had violated environmental laws.

The gold miner said that it intends to hold the government accountable in the arbitration for “any and all losses and damage” due to its recent actions against KGC and the Kumtor mine if no resolution is reached.

“The Government’s actions have left Centerra no choice but to exercise our legal rights, through the pursuit of arbitration and otherwise, to protect the interests of KGC, Centerra and our shareholders,” Centerra’s Chief Executive Officer Scott Perry said in a press release.

Kyrgyzstan has a long history of disputes with Centerra Gold over how to share profits from the former Soviet republic’s biggest industrial enterprise.

 

(Reporting by Maria Ponnezhath in Bengaluru; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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