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The dominos begin to fall: Most Canadian pandemic strictures should be gone by spring – National Post

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Most provinces are actively questioning the utility of vaccine passports and other pandemic measures

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Within hours of one another on Tuesday, Saskatchewan, P.E.I. and Alberta announced an imminent end to pandemic strictures, marking the first dominos to fall in what is poised to be a nationwide lifting of COVID-19 mandates.

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As the Omicron wave subsides, most Canadians now live in a province whose health authorities are actively questioning the utility of vaccine passports and other pandemic measures.

Even in Quebec, authorities have dropped controversial plans for a tax on the unvaccinated, and are now announcing an end to “almost all” coronavirus restrictions by March 14 — although they will be hanging onto vaccine passports.

“We’re taking a calculated risk to learn to live with the virus,” Quebec Premier François Legault announced Tuesday.

Starting on Valentine’s Day, Saskatchewan is dropping all proof-of-vaccination requirements. In a statement, Premier Scott Moe said vaccine passports were an “effective policy, but its effectiveness has run its course.” He added, “The benefits no longer outweigh the costs.”

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Prince Edward Island outlined plans to end most restrictions early in April, with Premier Dennis King cautioning that the loosening is not a declaration of victory. “COVID is still with us, and it will be with us,” he said.

Ontario has no definitive plans to end vaccine passports, but Chief Medical Officer of Health Kieran Moore said last week the province should “reassess the value” of the measure.

Manitoba is marking a light drawdown of COVID restrictions this week, such as the expansion of private gatherings. But authorities have hinted that if current trends continue, the province would be completely stricture-free by the spring.

“Later this spring we hope to be in a position of relaxing nearly all restrictions and moving to recommendations,” said Premier Heather Stefanson.

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Canada looks to be repeating a trend that has already swept much of Europe.

In Spain, the U.K., Denmark and elsewhere, countries that were imposing harsh lockdowns just a few weeks ago are now openly declaring an end to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Before Christmas, Ireland was reacting to a spike in Omicron cases by imposing a slate of new pandemic lockdowns, including curfews on restaurants and bars. By the end of January, Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin was announcing the effective end of the pandemic in Ireland with the message “we need to see each other again, we need to see each other smile, we need to sing again.”

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Earlier this month, only weeks after it had been posting some of the world’s highest rates of COVID-19 infection, Denmark became the first country in Europe to universally lift COVID restrictions, crediting the country’s high vaccination rate with dramatically curbing the dangers of the virus. Notably, Danish Health Minister Magnus Heunicke has been an open critic of vaccine mandates.

“It’s a pharmaceutical intervention with possible side effects. You need as an authority to recognize that. I think if you push too much, you will have a reaction,” he recently told CNN.

It all marks an international shift towards recognizing COVID-19 as an “endemic” disease; a virus that is always somewhat present in a country’s population.

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For Canada, the classic example of an endemic disease is influenza, a virus that reliably hospitalizes several thousand Canadians each year. Aside from seasonal vaccination campaigns that are largely voluntary, however, the disease has minimal effects on civic life.

On Jan. 21, British Columbia became the first province to declare that it would soon be treating COVID-19 no different than the flu. The novel coronavirus would henceforth be managed “much like how we manage other respiratory illnesses — influenza … or enteroviruses that cause the common cold,” Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry told a public briefing.

Last week, Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam was sounding the same tune, saying in a press conference that Canada needed to address COVID-19 in a “more sustainable way” and not be “in crisis mode all the time.”

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“We do need to get back to some normalcy,” she said.

Canada’s abandonment of COVID restrictions is occurring against the background of nationwide blockades and protest convoys calling for the immediate end of COVID-19 restrictions. Since Jan. 29, large swaths of Ottawa have been shut down by a blockade of as many as 300 heavy vehicles refusing to leave until Canada has abandoned all masking, vaccination and quarantine mandates.

In dropping vaccine mandates, health authorities have been citing the fact that the measures no longer make sense in the face of the wildly infectious Omicron variant, which has proven to circulate among fully vaccinated people almost as well as among the unvaccinated (although the vaccines have been shown to protect against severe outcomes).

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“When we see a vaccine that doesn’t provide the sterile immunity like it did provide against Delta, we have to reassess whether we maintain a proof of vaccination certification process, given the decreased benefit against transmission,” Ontario’s top doctor said last week.

The sheer transmissibility of Omicron has also left millions of Canadians with a post-infection natural immunity to the virus. While scientists don’t yet know how long that natural immunity may last, or how effective it may be against re-infection, Canada also has a vaccination rate that is one of the highest in the world.

In Alberta, Premier Jason Kenney has directly tied his province’s relaxation of COVID strictures to the ever-lightening burden on the province’s healthcare system. On Tuesday, he promised an end to “damaging restrictions” so long as “pressure on our hospitals continues to decline.”

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Sports leaders top list of new Order of Canada appointees – CBC News

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Canadian sports icons including Stacey Allaster, Donovan Bailey and Angela James are among the 85 new appointees to the Order of Canada this year.

This year’s list of appointees also includes Canada’s first Indigenous female MP, the first MP for Nunavut, and a number of contributors to the arts, including Emmy nominated actress Sandra Oh.

Considered one of Canada’s highest civilian honours, the Order of Canada is meant to recognize people who make “extraordinary contributions to the nation,” according to the Governor General of Canada website.

Stacey Allaster was named the first female tournament director in U.S. Open history in 2020. (Michael Noble Jr./The Associated Press)

Allaster was named as a companion, the highest of the honour’s three levels, which also include the level of officer and member. There can be no more than 165 living companions at any time.

Born in Windsor, Ont., and raised in Welland, Ont., Allaster was an executive with the Women’s Tennis Association from 2006 to 2015, first serving as president before being promoted to chair and CEO in 2009.

During her tenure, she was instrumental in securing equal prize money for women at six WTA tournaments and all four Grand Slams. She also played a key role in streamlining the WTA calendar and securing a landmark international media agreement. In 2020, she was named as the first female tournament director of the U.S. open.

Allaster said she’s grateful for her time playing tennis in Canada and getting her first opportunity to work in the sport with Tennis Canada. “It’s very difficult to put into words how fortunate I am and now to be recognized by my country for everything that it’s giving to me is very humbling,” she said.

Allaster also said “it’s a dream come true” to see Canada develop some top tennis talent in the world throughout her career, including Bianca Andreescu and Leylah Fernandez.

Donovan Bailey won two gold medals and broke a world record at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. (Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images/File)

Former Olympic and world champion sprinter Donovan Bailey will be invested as an officer of the order. The former world record holder won Olympic gold in 1996 in the men’s 100-metre race and in the men’s 4×100-metre relay.

“It’s incredible,” Bailey said of the appointment to the order. “I’m very blessed, I’m extremely humbled to have shared incredible moments with Canadians.”

Bailey said being invested with the Order of Canada is an official recognition of what he has been hearing from fans for the past few decades.

“Getting the officer of the Order of Canada is a tremendous honour, but I’m telling you that I’ve been validated for 27 years; I’ve been validated every single day by the incredible fans,” he said.

Angela James won four world championships and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2010. (CBC)

Angela James is a pioneer in women’s hockey, first as a player and now as the general manager and part-owner of the Toronto Six women’s pro hockey team.

The winner of four world championships, including the first in 1990 where she scored 11 goals in five games and was a tournament all-star, she said being invested in the order encapsulates all her achievements on and off the ice.

“I think it encompasses everything that I’ve pretty much done in my life, and to think that my life matters to Canadians is pretty special,” she said.

A star on the Canadian team before women’s hockey became an Olympic sport, James was one of the first two women inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2010 and said she hopes to continue to see women’s hockey grow.

“As long as we get together and work together as one then I think there is no stopping the women’s game,” she said.

Indigenous leaders

Among the appointees to the order are a number of Indigenous leaders, including Canada’s first Indigenous woman elected as a member of Parliament.

Ethel Blondin-Andrew was first elected as the MP for the Northwest Territories in 1988, and would go on to become the minister of state for northern development in the cabinet of past prime minister Paul Martin.

She has continued to be an advocate for Indigenous women in politics, and recently took part in a United Nations panel in Geneva to discuss that topic.

Ethel Blondin-Andrew was first elected as the MP for the Northwest Territories in 1988. (CBC)

Joining Blondin-Andrew in the order is former Nunavut MP Nancy Karetak-Lindell.

Karetak-Lindell was first elected as the MP for Nunavut in 1997, and became the territory’s first MP after it was recognized 1999.

“I’ve tried very hard to be the voice for people who might not have had a chance,” Karetak-Lindell said.

Nancy Uqquujuq Karetak-Lindell, former Member of Parliament for Nunavut, is seen wearing a traditional beaded tuilik made by her mother, Rhoda Karetak. (HO-Hinaani Design/The Canadian Press)

After stepping away from federal politics in 2008, she would later become the president of the Inuit Circumpolar Council in 2016, serving for a two-year term.

Although she said she feels honoured to receive the Order of Canada, she said “the biggest reward will always be in that maybe I made someone look to the future with more hope.”

Blondin-Andrew will be invested as an officer of the order, while Karetak-Lindell is being invested as a member.

Other Indigenous leaders among the appointees include Elders David and Imelda Perley of New Brunswick for contributions to education around Wabanaki culture.

Elders Reg and Rosemary Crowshoe of Alberta are similarly being recognized for their preservation of Blackfoot culture.

Contributors to the arts

A number of Canada’s top contributors to the arts have also been appointed to the order, including actress Sandra Oh, who will be invested as an officer.

The Emmy Award nominated actress is best known for the hit TV series including Killing Eve and Grey’s Anatomy. She has also lent her talents to the big screen in movies such as Turning Red and Under the Tuscan Sun.

Sandra Oh arrives at the 76th annual Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Sunday in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Jordan Strauss/Invision/The Associated Press)

Donald Mowat is also being recognized for his contributions to the big screen, having been the head of makeup and design on such films as The Fighter, 8 Mile, Sicario, Nightcrawler, Prisoners, Nocturnal Animals, Stronger, Blade Runner 2049.

Mowat was recently nominated for the Oscar for best makeup and hairstyle for Denis Villeneuve’s Dune.

On the music front, founder of the independent record label Attic Records Alexander Mair is being appointed as a member of the order.

Attic represented a number of Canadian artists and groups including Anvil, Irish Rovers, Triumph and Teenage Head.

The Order of Canada

Gov. Gen. Mary Simon has appointed the following people, who were recommended for appointment by the Advisory Council of the Order of Canada:

Companions of the Order of Canada

  • Stacey Allaster.
  • Frank Hayden (This is a promotion within the order).
  • Peter Russell (This is a promotion within the order).
  • Donald Savoie (This is a promotion within the order).

Officers of the Order of Canada

  • Naomi Azrieli.
  • Donovan Bailey.
  • The Honourable Ethel Blondin-Andrew.
  • Robert Davidson (This is a promotion within the order).
  • Paul Dubord.
  • Donald Enarson (deceased).
  • François Girard.
  • Ian Hodkinson.
  • Angela James.
  • David Lynch.
  • Sandra Oh.
  • Alberto Pérez-Gómez.
  • David Waltner-Toews.

Members of the Order of Canada

  • Frances Abele.
  • Ajay Agrawal.
  • Louis-Philippe Albert.
  • R. Jamie Anderson.
  • Suzanne Aubry.
  • Hereditary Chief Stephen Augustine.
  • Granger Avery.
  • Michel Beaulac.
  • André Blanchet.
  • Marilyn Bodogh.
  • Jacques Bourgault.
  • Bernard Brault.
  • Marilyn Brooks.
  • Marion Buller.
  • James Byrnes.
  • Geneviève Cadieux.
  • James Cassels.
  • Euclide Chiasson.
  • William Clark.
  • Zane Cohen.
  • Ethel Côté.
  • Elder Reg Crowshoe.
  • Elder Rosemary Crowshoe.
  • Sheldon Currie.
  • Reginald Davidson.
  • Dorothy Dobbie.
  • Eliahu Fathi.
  • Madeleine Féquière.
  • Staff Sgt. Gary Goulet, (Retired).
  • Michael Harris.
  • Paul Heinbecker.
  • Deborra Hope.
  • Sister Margaret Hughes.
  • Moira Hutchinson.
  • Gérard Jean.
  • Adam Kahane.
  • Nancy Karetak-Lindell.
  • Eva-Marie Kröller.
  • Gary Levy.
  • Alexander Mair.
  • Guy Matte.
  • Milton McClaren.
  • Roderick McKay.
  • Ben Mink.
  • Donald Mowat.
  • Robert Munro.
  • Sister Bernadette Mary O’Reilly.
  • Donna Ouchterlony.
  • Fred Pellerin.
  • Elder David Perley.
  • Elder Imelda Perley.
  • G. Ross Peters.
  • Sandra Pitblado.
  • Guy Pratte.
  • Parminder Raina.
  • Joel Reitman.
  • David Rush.
  • The Honourable Anne Russell.
  • Suzanne Sauvage.
  • Martin Schechter.
  • Jacques Shore.
  • Ronald Tremblay.
  • Guylaine Tremblay.
  • Michelle Valberg.
  • Germaine Warkentin.
  • James West.
  • Michael West.
  • Margie Wolfe.
  • Lorraine M. Wright.
  • Robert Wyatt.
  • Jan Zwicky.

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Canada travel restrictions: Entry rules to remain until at least Sept. 30 – CTV News

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The federal government announced Wednesday all existing border restrictions to enter Canada will remain in place until at least Sept. 30.

That means foreign travellers will still need to provide proof of being fully vaccinated to enter the country and unvaccinated Canadians or permanent residents will need to provide a molecular COVID-19 test taken prior to entering and quarantine for 14 days upon arrival.

The government is also still requiring all travellers, regardless of citizenship, to upload their vaccine information and travel documents to the ArriveCan app.

The restrictions were last extended on May 31.

The announcement by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) indicates a prolonged pause of random testing at all airports until mid-July for the fully vaccinated.

That pause was implemented on June 11 as Ottawa’s attempt to mitigate congestion and delays at airports caused by heightened travel demand and staffing shortages.

Their stated intention is to move COVID-19 testing for air travellers outside of airports to “select test provider stores” such as pharmacies or by virtual appointment.

“Moving testing outside of airports will allow Canada to adjust to increased traveller volumes while still being able to monitor and quickly respond to new variants of concern, or changes to the epidemiological situation,” the PHAC statement reads.

On June 11, the government also announced it was dropping the vaccine mandate for domestic and outbound international travellers effective June 20.

Many industry organizations and opposition MPs have long called on the government to drop various border measures, namely duplicative processes that slow down travel, arguing they have the potential to stifle Canada’s already depleted tourism sector.

In response, Canada’s ministers of health and tourism continue to reinforce that while the epidemiological situation in Canada has improved, the pandemic still exists.

“As we move into the next phase of our COVID-19 response, it is important to remember that the pandemic is not over. We must continue to do all that we can to keep ourselves and others safe from the virus,” Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said in the Wednesday statement.

He added that Canada’s border measures remain “flexible” and “guided by science and prudence.”

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Air Canada to make 'meaningful reductions' to summer flight schedule – CBC News

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Air Canada will cut dozens of daily flights this summer as the airline grapples with a series of challenges amid soaring demand for travel.

“Regrettably, things are not business as usual in our industry globally, and this is affecting our operations and our ability to serve you with our normal standards of care,” Michael Rousseau, the airline’s president and CEO, said in a statement released Wednesday.

“The COVID‑19 pandemic brought the world air transport system to a halt in early 2020. Now, after more than two years, global travel is resurgent, and people are returning to flying at a rate never seen in our industry.”

Rousseau said those factors are causing “unprecedented and unforeseen strains on all aspects of the global aviation system,” leading to flight delays and crowded airport spaces.

And it’s also spurring the airline to make “meaningful reductions” to its summer schedule “in order to reduce passenger volumes and flows to a level we believe the air transport system can accommodate,” he said.

Dozens of fewer round trips each day

Peter Fitzpatrick, an airline spokesperson, told CBC News that the changes would see Air Canada reduce its schedule by 77 round trips — or 154 flights — on average, each day during the months of July and August.

A lineup at the Pearson airport customer service desk after many cancellations.
A photo taken Sunday at the customer service desk at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport gives a glimpse of some of the long lineups air travellers have been facing lately. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

Prior to these reductions, the airline was operating about 1,000 flights per day.

“Three routes will be temporarily suspended between Montreal and Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Kelowna and one from Toronto to Fort McMurray,” Fitzpatrick said.

Fitzpatrick said “most” flights affected by the changes are out of its Toronto and Montreal hubs.

“These will be mostly frequency reductions, affecting primarily evening and late-night flights by smaller aircraft, on transborder and domestic routes,” he said.

But he said “international flights are unaffected, with a few timing changes to reduce flying at peak times and even out the customer flow.”

‘Not an easy decision’

Rousseau, the airline president, said Air Canada did what it could to prepare for these challenges, but it has to adjust its operations to the current circumstances.

“This was not an easy decision, as it will result in additional flight cancellations that will have a negative impact on some customers,” Rousseau said.

“But doing this in advance allows affected customers to take time to make other arrangements in an orderly manner, rather than have their travel disrupted shortly before or during their journey, with few alternatives available.”

Rousseau offered his “sincere apologies” to customers for any delays they have faced or will face.

“I also assure you that we very clearly see the challenges at hand, that we are taking action, and that we are confident we have the strategy to address them,” he said. “This is our company’s chief focus at every level.” 

A majority of domestic flights have been delayed at some of the country’s busiest airports in recent days, according to the analytics firm Data Wazo.

Data Wazo says 54 per cent of flights to six large airports — Montreal, Calgary, Toronto’s Pearson and Billy Bishop airports, Ottawa and Halifax — were bumped off schedule in the seven days between June 22 and 28.

Some 38 per cent of the flights were delayed while 16 per cent were scrapped altogether.

Airlines and the federal government have been scrambling to respond to scenes of endless lines, flight disruptions and daily turmoil at airports — particularly at Pearson — a problem the aviation industry has blamed on a shortage of federal security and customs officers.

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