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'The clock is ticking': Ontario calls on federal government to provide clear timelines for COVID-19 vaccines – CTV Toronto

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TORONTO —
Ontario Premier Doug Ford is calling on the federal government to provide a clear timeline on when the province will receive the first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, saying that is “impossible” to plan distribution without that critical information.

The premier made the comments on Friday afternoon alongside Health Minister Christine Elliott and retired Gen. Rick Hillier, the new head of the province’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution task force.

“Make no mistake, this will be a monumental effort,” Ford told reporters. “When you look at a province the size of Ontario, with as many variables as we’re facing, without proper planning or the proper information, this can be a logistical nightmare.”

“That’s why, as we continue planning, we need certainty from the federal government. We need to know which kind of vaccines we’ll be getting, because each vaccine will come with unique requirements and potential challenges. And we also need to know how many vaccines we will receive each week. We need a clear line of sight into the timelines of the shipments.”

Ford said it is “impossible” to plan distribution of the vaccine, including staffing and storage of doses, without that timeline and “the clock is ticking.”

“I asked (the prime minister) three simple questions. You know, when are we getting it, what type of vaccine are we getting, and how much of that vaccine are we getting,” he said. “To have General Hillier make a proper plan. We need to know.”

Doug Ford, Rick Hillier

The comments come hours after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau refused to provide a clear timeline for when Canadians will have access to a vaccine, saying only that he hopes to have more than half of Canadians vaccinated by September 2021.

“We have continued to work with the provinces on vaccine delivery and logistics since last spring,” Trudeau said.

“I can understand the eagerness with which people want to know, ‘When is this going to be over? When are we going to get the vaccines?’ What we can say is, we are working extremely hard to deliver as quickly and as safely as possible… if all goes according to plan, we should be able to have the majority of Canadians vaccinated by next September,” Trudeau said.

Elliott has previously said the province is likely to roll out the first doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccine between January and March of 2021, followed by a second batch from March until “about” July.

But since then the government has rolled back their vaccine rhetoric, saying that it is not clear if those targets will be achieved.

The COVID-19 vaccines have not yet been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but they could receive the stamp of approval as early as two weeks from now.

Doug Ford and Rick Hillier

Hillier said that while questions remain, the COVID-19 vaccine distribution task force is working to be ready for the new year.

“Our mission is clear,” Hillier said while speaking publicly for the first time since being named head of the task force. “The team is being built. It is largely present and in place and they’re building on the work that’s been done.”

“I’m not an over-the-top optimist, I’m the pragmatic person, but we’re going to be ready on 31 December for what the people of Ontario will need from us.”

Ontario health officials reported a new single-day record of COVID-19 cases on Friday, logging 1,855 new infections and 20 more deaths.

The total number of lab-confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus now stands at 111,216, including deaths and recoveries.

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Canadians told to stay in their home province and cancel all travel plans – CTV Toronto

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TORONTO —
Canadians have been told to stay in the country due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but now the Prime Minister wants you to stay in your province too.

“No one should be taking a vacation right now. If you’ve got one planned, cancel it” Justin Trudeau said, adding that, “if you are thinking of traveling across the country for spring break – now is not the time.”

As the government urges Canadians to stay home to try and contain the spread of COVID-19, it is also urging anyone who has booked non-essential travel to cancel it.

Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu said “50,000 cancellations (for international travel) demonstrates that people are understanding that this is a delicate situation that Canada finds itself in at the moment.”

While a travel ban is not in effect, there are now so many rules when it comes to traveling that taking a trip would be extremely difficult.

U.S. President Joe Biden has also brought in new travel rules. Now, to enter the United States you need a negative COVID test result and must quarantine 14 days.

When you return to Canada you also need a negative test result and must also quarantine for 14 days. Martin Firestone with Travel Secure believes if it becomes increasingly difficult to travel, people will just stay home.

“They are putting all these layers in place for only one reason and that is to deter you or de-incentivize you from traveling,” Firestone said.

As the vaccine rolls out against the virus, having the shot won’t change the rules when it comes to travelling.

“From an insurance perspective they don’t care if you have had the vaccine. From a government perspective they don’t care if you have had the vaccine. All the rules are the same whether you have had it or not,” Firestone said.

Legally, the government cannot force Canadians not to travel, however the Prime Minister said stronger restrictions could be implemented if necessary.

Trudeau said the federal government is also considering a mandatory quarantine in hotels for returning travelers.

The government has secured hotel rooms around Canada’s largest airports and has already spent millions of dollars on hotel rooms for people who said they had nowhere else to quarantine.

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New cases of COVID-19 dropping in Canada as experts say lockdowns are working – CTV News

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TORONTO —
New cases of COVID-19 have steadily dropped over the last 12 days, a downward trend that experts say offers reason for hope even as the second wave pushes hospitals dangerously close to capacity.

Tracking by CTVNews.ca shows the country’s seven-day average has consistently fallen since Jan. 10, from 8,260 cases to 5,957 cases by Jan. 22.

Twelve days may seem brief, but infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch said the trajectory is a clear trend in the right direction.

“It looks like we have at least started to turn the corner, but we have a long road ahead,” Bogoch told CTVNews.ca on Friday.

The downward trend is particularly good news because respiratory viruses typically flourish during the winter, said infectious disease specialist Dr. Zain Chagla.

“Clearly it’s not just a few days’ numbers. There is a significant decrease, which is great,” Chagla said.

It may be tempting to point to vaccines as a potential reason for the drop, particularly as countries such as Israel have seen cases plummet amid their own aggressive vaccination plan. But both doctors rejected the idea that vaccines are responsible, since only two per cent of Canada’s population has received vaccines. In Israel, more than a quarter of the country has been vaccinated.

“(Canada’s vaccines) have been rolled out primarily to long-term care and health-care workers. That enough is not enough to drive down the case counts,” Chagla said.

Instead, both Chagla and Bogoch point to stricter public health measures in Quebec and Ontario, where lockdowns have shuttered non-essential businesses and social gatherings have been banned for weeks.

“So really it does come to the lockdowns,” Chagla said.

The downward trend comes at a time when some experts had predicted the country would still be experiencing the worst of a post-holiday surge in cases. While that’s not happening right now, Bogoch pointed out that Canada still experienced a sharp rise in cases following the holidays, with Canada’s seven-day average hitting its peak on Jan. 8 with 8,310 cases.

“It was pretty bad. I honestly think if we didn’t have those measures to blunt it, it would’ve been significantly worse,” he said.

Even as new cases fall, Canadian hospitals continue to struggle to keep up with hospitalizations, according to David Fisman, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Toronto.

“Unfortunately critical illness lags, so we still have ICU admissions at high levels that reflect the holiday surge,” he said.

Canada’s case count may hold promising news, including the possibility of providing more breathing room for hospitals, but Bogoch said it’s far too soon to pat ourselves on the back.

“I still think we’ve got to be careful here. While the trend is going down, we can’t let out guard down,” Bogoch said.

“We cannot plateau. We have to continue that downward trend.”​

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Trudeau first foreign leader to speak with Biden – CTV News

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WASHINGTON —
Joe Biden’s White House has a lot in common cause with Canada, Justin Trudeau said Friday as he urged people to look past the new U.S. president’s decision to kill off the Keystone XL pipeline project.

The two countries have great partnership potential in the Biden era, particularly when it comes to a shared vision of tackling climate change while fuelling economic growth, the prime minister said.

“It’s not always going to be perfect alignment with the United States; that’s the case with any given president,” he told a news conference outside his Rideau Cottage residence.

“In a situation where we are much more aligned — on values, on focus, on the work that needs to be done to give opportunities for everyone while we build a better future — I’m very much looking forward to working with President Biden.”

The two leaders spoke for about 30 minutes late Friday — Biden’s first phone call with a foreign leader since taking office.

Trudeau expressed Canada’s “disappointment” with the Keystone decision, and Biden acknowledged the difficulties it has caused, said a federal official familiar with what was discussed.

“The Prime Minister underscored the important economic and energy security benefits of our bilateral energy relationship as well as his support for energy workers,” says the readout of their conversation released by the Office of the Prime Minister.

“The Prime Minister and President reiterated the urgent need for ambitious action on climate change, reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris Agreement, and agreed to work together on net-zero emissions, zero-emissions vehicles, cross-border clean electricity transmission, and the Arctic.”

By and large, the tone of the call was “overwhelmingly positive,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss details of the call.

Trudeau also expressed concern about Biden’s Buy American plan to ensure U.S. workers and manufacturers are the primary beneficiaries of his economic recovery strategy.

The leaders agreed to continue to discuss Canada’s concerns about an issue that the two sides have been discussing for months, and will continue to talk about as the administration finds its feet, the source suggested.

Biden and Trudeau also agreed to meet next month, although it’s not clear given the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic what form that meeting would take.

Earlier Friday, Trudeau said the federal government would be there to support oilpatch workers in Alberta and Saskatchewan who have been hurt by Biden’s decision.

But there’s little doubt the fight is far from over, particularly if Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has anything to say about it.

“The United States is setting a deeply disturbing precedent for any future projects and collaboration between our two nations,” Kenney wrote in a letter to Trudeau he released Friday on Twitter.

“The fact that it was a campaign promise makes it no less offensive. Our country has never surrendered our vital economic interests because a foreign government campaigned against them.”

Biden believes a brisk economic recovery doesn’t have to come at the expense of the environment, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday.

Biden opposed the Keystone XL expansion as vice-president under Barack Obama, who blocked the project in 2015, and as president he still does, Psaki said.

Kenney and other champions of the project, including Kirsten Hillman, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., argue it has changed significantly since the Obama administration cancelled it five years ago.

As word emerged this week of the project’s imminent demise, Calgary-based owner TC Energy revealed plans to spend US$1.7 billion on a solar, wind and battery-powered operating system for the pipeline to ensure it achieves net-zero emissions by 2030.

Kenney wrote Wednesday’s decision came “without taking the time to discuss it with their longest-standing ally,” although Hillman insists she has been in near-constant discussions with the Biden team ever since May, when they promised to cancel the project.

He called the decision a violation of the investor-protection provisions of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement and called on Trudeau to press the U.S. for compensation on behalf of TC Energy and the Alberta government.

“I strongly urge you to ensure that there are proportionate economic consequences in response to these unfair U.S. actions,” Kenney wrote.

“If the U.S. is unwilling to listen, then we must demonstrate that Canada will stand up for Canadian workers and the Canadian economy.”

Biden’s decision has critics among U.S. conservatives as well: Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the Republican House minority leader, called it a job-killing “virtue signal” to climate crusaders.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz accused Biden of erasing 11,000 potential jobs in the U.S. “with the stroke of a pen … by presidential edict.” Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan said the president was “pandering to fringe activists.”

Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, said the move does little besides kill jobs, “disappoint our strong ally, Canada, and reverse some of our progress toward energy security.”

And Idaho senators Jim Risch and Mike Crapo both signed on to co-sponsor a Republican bill aimed at allowing construction on the project to continue, despite Biden’s decision to rescind the permit.

“The Keystone project is the linchpin of America’s energy independence and job creation strategy,” Risch said in a statement.

“Shutting it down leaves us dependent on the likes of OPEC and Russia to help power the country and undermines the pact we made with our northern ally, Canada, which remains supportive of the project.”

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