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The latest news on COVID-19 developments in Canada for Wednesday, March 31 – The Battlefords News-Optimist



The latest news on COVID-19 developments in Canada (all times Eastern):

5:20 p.m.

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The Quebec government is moving three cities into lockdown effective Thursday following a sharp rise in COVID-19 infections.

Calling the situation alarming, Premier Francois Legault announced that schools and non-essential businesses will close and the curfew will be moved ahead to 8 p.m. in Quebec City, Levis and Gatineau. Legault says the lockdown will last for at least 10 days.

Legault is also announcing that four regions are moving from the “orange” to the “red” pandemic-alert level: the Quebec City region; Outaouais, by the border with Ontario; Chaudiere-Appalaches, south of the provincial capital; and Bas-St-Laurent, on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River, south of the Gaspe peninsula.

The new restrictions do not affect the Montreal area.

3:45 p.m.

There are 191 new cases of COVID-19 in Saskatchewan today for a total number of 1,955 active infections.

Two people — one in the 70-79 age group and the other in the 80-plus group — have died.

Some 166 people are in hospital with COVID-19 and 143 of them are receiving intensive care.

The seven-day average of daily new cases is 201, which is 16.4 new cases per 100,000 population.

The province notes that variants of concern, already established in Regina and area, are beginning to rise across southern Saskatchewan, particularly in the Moose Jaw area.

3:25 p.m.

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller says Indigenous people living on reserve must remain vigilant as a third wave of COVID-19 seems to be coming.

He says there were 860 COVID-19 active cases in First Nations communities as of yesterday, noting that this number is the lowest number of cases since last November.

Miller says a total of 24,768 positive cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed, 23,625 of them recovered.

He says a total of 246,675 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in 612 First Nation and territorial communities.

Miller says over 70 per cent of the population in the territories has already been vaccinated.

2:30 p.m.

Yukon students in grades 10 to 12 in Whitehorse will soon return to classrooms.

Chief medical officer of health Dr. Brendan Hanley says the territory is trying to strike that balance between COVID-19 prevention and recognition that the prevention has secondary effects, such as the impact on learning ability and mental health.

Hanley says officials have heard concerns from students about impacts to their mental health due to learning from home.

Yukon has one active case of COVID-19, bringing its total to 73.

2:15 p.m.

Canada’s top public health doctor says she expects the “crisis phase of the pandemic” will be over before the fall.

Dr. Theresa Tam says the next few weeks may be the most challenging yet, as the third resurgence of cases driven by unrelenting variants of concern means there is even less “room for errors” in our public health measures.

But she says with every week that passes, with every shipment of vaccines and with the onset of nicer weather that will allow us to do more outdoor activities safely, things are going to get easier.

By June, Tam says, every adult Canadian who wants a vaccine will get at least one dose.

And by the fall, she says, they will get their second.

2 p.m.

New Brunswick health officials are reporting 12 new cases of COVID-19 today.

Eleven of the cases are in the Edmundston region, where circuit-breaker restrictions were imposed last week, and they are contacts of previously confirmed cases.

The other new case is in the Fredericton region and is related to travel.

The province has seen a total of 1,613 cases and 30 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic, and there are now 135 active cases, with five patients in hospital, including two in intensive care.

1:50 p.m.

Manitoba health officials say there has been one death and 70 new cases of COVID-19 today.

Screening has also identified 17 additional cases that are variants of concern.

Manitoba’s Vaccine Implementation Task Force says the province’s current supply of vaccine will be used up in a week and there are some concerns long-term about delays in shipments.

The task force says a shipment of 28,000 Moderna vaccines has been delayed for at least a week.

The province is expecting 40,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine per week and 50,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine next week.

1:45 p.m.

Nova Scotia is reporting two new cases of COVID-19 related to travel outside Atlantic Canada.

Health officials are also saying that a previously reported case involves the U.K. variant of the virus.

The person infected with the variant had travelled outside Canada.

Nova Scotia has 23 active reported cases — and the number of mutations now stands at 18 U.K. variant cases and 10 South African variant cases.

1:25 p.m.

Newfoundland and Labrador is reporting one new case of COVID-19 today.

Health officials say the case involves a woman in her 40s.

The province is also reporting two more recoveries, bringing the number of active reported infections to three.

Newfoundland and Labrador has reported a total of 1,019 COVID-19 cases.

11:20 a.m.

Ontario’s premier says new public health measures might be announced tomorrow.

Doug Ford says residents shouldn’t gather over the Easter weekend as the third wave of infections sends more people to Ontario hospitals.

Data from Critical Care Services Ontario says there are more critically ill COVID-19 patients in intensive care units than at any point in the pandemic.

A daily report counted 421 patients as of midnight.

11:15 a.m.

Quebec is reporting 1,025 new cases of COVID-19 today and nine more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus.

Health officials say hospitalizations dropped by two, to 485, and 120 people were in intensive care, a drop of six.

The province says over 42,000 vaccine doses were administered in the past 24 hours, for a total of 1,349,326.

11:10 a.m.

Pfizer Canada says it will be asking Health Canada to amend the authorization for its COVID-19 vaccine to extend to children between 12 and 15 years old.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has already been approved for people as young as 16.

The initial clinical trials didn’t include younger adolescents, but a follow-up trial in 2,260 kids 12 to 15 in the U.S. has been running since the fall.

The company released preliminary data from that trial Wednesday, saying none of the kids who got the vaccine developed a COVID-19 infection, compared to 18 infections among the kids who were given a placebo.

10:40 a.m.

Ontario is reporting 2,333 new cases of COVID-19 and 15 more deaths linked to the virus.

Health Minister Christine Elliott says there are 785 new cases in Toronto, 433 in Peel Region, and 222 in York Region.

She also says there are 153 new cases in Hamilton, 124 in Ottawa and 120 in Durham Region.

Nearly 90,000 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine were administered in Ontario since Tuesday’s report.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 31, 2021.

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Biden, Suga to send signal to assertive China at U.S.-Japan summit



By Linda Sieg and David Brunnstrom

TOKYO/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and U.S. President Joe Biden will highlight Tokyo’s central role in Washington’s strategy to counter the challenge of an increasingly assertive China at a summit on Friday.

While that emphasis on Japan’s key status will be welcome in Tokyo, where some politicians are pushing for a tougher stance towards Beijing, it also raises questions about how far Tokyo can go to meet demands on regional defence and human rights.

“This will be the precursor to a series of meetings among like-minded countries to send the right signal to Beijing,” Kunihiko Miyake, an adviser to Suga, told Reuters.

Suga took over as premier last September, inheriting a China policy that sought to balance security concerns with deep economic ties.

But striking that balance has become harder as China increases maritime activities in the East and South China Seas and near Taiwan, which Beijing considers a wayward province.

Rights concerns have deepened over the treatment of Muslim Uighurs in China’s Xinjiang region. China denies abuses, but Washington says Beijing is perpetrating a genocide.

Suga will be the first foreign leader to meet Biden in person since the president took office, something that could give Suga a boost ahead of a general election this year.

“Asking Suga to meet the president first means a lot – that China competition is critical and who is the best partner? Japan,” said Toshihiro Nakayama of Japan’s Keio University.

“That also means that Japan has to do more.”

Suga told reporters before leaving for Washington he hoped to strengthen the alliance based on the shared values of freedom, democracy, human rights and rule of law, show the two countries’ leadership in creating a “free and open Indo-Pacific” and build a relationship of trust with Biden.

Besides regional security, the two are also expected to discuss climate change, supply chain resilience, a global semiconductor shortage and COVID-19.

Marc Knapper, the senior official for Japan and Korea at the U.S. State Department, said issues that would be “front and centre” in the discussions included “China’s unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the East China Sea, South China Sea; what’s happening within China, and…around China, Taiwan, Hong Kong.”

He told an event at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies there would also be discussion of North Korea’s nuclear missile program, which threatens both Japan and the United States, and ways to address “existential issues of our time, climate change, clean energy, COVID-19.”

Japan is grappling with rising coronavirus infections with fewer than 100 days from the planned start of the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.


In a statement after a March meeting of U.S.-Japan defence and foreign ministers, the two sides “underscored the importance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait” and shared “serious concerns” about human rights in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.

The United States, the European Union, Britain and Canada have imposed sanctions on Chinese officials for alleged abuses in Xinjiang and some Japanese lawmakers think Tokyo should adopt its own law allowing it to do the same, while Japanese executives worry about a backlash.

Japanese officials were divided over whether Suga should endorse a strong statement on Taiwan, despite U.S. urging, or Xinjiang, two Japanese ruling party lawmakers familiar with the discussions said.

A Japanese foreign ministry official said it was not decided whether there would be a joint statement after the summit.

Asked to comment, a senior U.S. official said: “We would not want Japan to make any statements that they do not fully support.”

Any comments by Suga on either Taiwan or human rights will be closely watched by China, which has warned Tokyo against “being misled” by countries biased against Beijing.

Taiwan is China’s most sensitive territorial issue and a source of major friction with Washington, which is required by U.S. law to provide the island with the means to defend itself.

While Tokyo has no official diplomatic relations with Taipei, non-governmental engagement has flourished. Some Japanese lawmakers want even closer ties.

The last time U.S and Japanese leaders referred to Taiwan in a joint statement was in 1969, when Japan’s prime minister said maintenance of peace and security in the “Taiwan area” was important for its own security. That was before Tokyo normalised ties with Beijing.

Japan hosts over 50,000 U.S. military personnel and, experts say, would be unlikely to stand idly by in any Taiwan crisis, although many ordinary citizens would probably be wary of entanglement.


(Reporting by Linda Sieg in Tokyo and David Brunnstrom and Steve Holland In Washington; Additional reporting by Yoshifumi Takemoto, Kiyoshi Takenaka and Elaine Lies; Editing by David Dolan, Michael Perry and Chizu Nomiyama)

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After Air Canada lifeline, small carriers seek aid as virus looms ahead of summer travel



By Allison Lampert and Steve Scherer

MONTREAL (Reuters) –Canada is facing industry calls to extend financial aid to smaller airlines, after offering a C$5.9 billion ($4.71 billion)life-line to Air Canada, as new COVID-19 variants loom ahead of the vital summer travel season.

The timing of Monday’s deal, which saw the Canadian government take a 6% equity stake in Air Canada, was partly designed to secure “access to air travel when it returns,” as the country’s vaccine rollout ramps up this summer, a source familiar with the discussions said.

But with the spread of new variants threatening to overtake the pace of vaccination, early hopes for a relaxation of Canada‘s strict travel requirements ahead of summer are fading.

Fears of a delayed recovery, along with the Air Canada deal, has upset the “level playing field” for air service, with smaller carriers asking for financial support.

“We want everyone to have access to the same programs,” said John McKenna, chief executive of the Air Transport Association of Canada (ATAC), which represents smaller carriers.

On Wednesday, Air Canada joined rival WestJet Airlines in extending a three-month suspension of sun-destination flights to the Caribbean and Mexico originally slated to end on April 30, reflecting the government’s current warnings against international travel. [L1N2M71SG]

The planned April reopening of a bubble in Atlantic Canada, which would allow travel among the region’s four provinces without the need to self-isolate, was postponed this week until at least May 3 over COVID-19 concerns.

WestJet said its previously-planned schedule for Atlantic Canada remains unchanged.

Canada‘s vaccine roll out has been slow, but it is ramping up now. By the end of June, some 44 million doses are expected, and everyone who wants to be fully inoculated will be by the end of September, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised.

Trudeau said in a radio interview this week that he supports Canadian provinces which choose to close their borders to help curb the spread of COVID-19.

Canada‘s Liberal government, which will deliver its first budget in two years next week, has said talks with carriers like Onex Corp-owned WestJet are ongoing.

“We hope that the other agreements come as soon as possible,” the source familiar with the talks said, adding that “different airlines have different needs”.

WestJet spokeswoman Morgan Bell said the airline is optimistic that a successful vaccine roll-out will support summer travel and expects “government policy will transition” with mounting jabs.

Canada, with some of the world’s toughest travel rules, has a mandate that its citizens and residents arriving from abroad self-isolate for 14 days.

Health Canada advised Canadians in a statement to avoid traveling outside the country “for the foreseeable future.”

Calgary-based WestJet has asked the government to end an order requiring international arrivals to quarantine for up to three days in a hotel in favor of COVID-19 testing.

The government must decide whether to renew the controversial hotel order, which expires on April 21.

McKenna also urged the government to relax restrictions on travel with neighboring United States.

“The government can come up with all the financial help they want,” ATAC’s McKenna said. “But until those things are relaxed we can’t do anything.”

($1 = 1.2515 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting By Allison Lampert in Montreal and Steve Scherer in Ottawa. Additional reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa; editing by Diane Craft)

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U.S. seeks to polish tarnished reputation with new climate change pledges



By Valerie Volcovici and Kate Abnett

WASHINGTON/BRUSSELS (Reuters) -The United States hopes to restore its shattered credibility when it hosts a climate change summit next week by pledging to cut its greenhouse emissions by at least half and securing agreements from allies for faster reductions, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

A 50% reduction from 2005 levels by 2030 is a minimum level urged by environmental groups, hundreds of corporations and European Union lawmakers. It would be the first upgrade of the U.S. climate target since 2015, when former President Barack Obama pledged a 26%-28% reduction by 2025.

Washington was also close to clinching deals with the governments of Japan, South Korea and Canada to accelerate their targets to decarbonize, the two sources said. It was not immediately clear if those nations would make announcements at the event, and representatives of those countries have not commented on the discussions.

The stakes for the meeting are high. Leaders from roughly 40 countries including China, India, Brazil and Russia have been invited, with hopes they will double down on past pledges to reduce climate warming emissions. So far, international pledges to decarbonize would shave only 1% off global emissions by 2030 compared with 2010 levels, a fraction of what scientists say is needed to avert the worst impacts of climate change.

The virtual summit on April 22-23, kicking off on Earth Day, will be an opportunity for Democratic President Joe Biden to reclaim U.S. leadership in global climate efforts, after four years during which his predecessor, Republican Donald Trump, downplayed the issue to support the oil and coal industries.

Biden’s climate envoy, John Kerry, has spent the last few months on countless Zoom appearances and on a globe-hopping tour, concluding this week in China and South Korea, to persuade countries to use next week’s summit to hike their commitments to protect the planet.

The Biden administration has been laying the groundwork for its new target, unveiling a $2 trillion infrastructure package to expand clean energy and transport.

The European Union last year agreed to reduce its net emissions at least 55% by 2030 from 1990 levels – currently the most ambitious among big emitters.

“All eyes are on the Biden summit next week as a key moment for John Kerry’s diplomatic skills to be put to work in aligning all countries with a halving of emissions in this decade, as science demands,” said Christiana Figueres, former executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.


Next week’s U.S. summit is the first in a string of meetings of world leaders – including the G7 and G20 – ahead of the United Nations climate summit in November, known as COP26. That serves as the deadline for nearly 200 countries to update their climate pledges under the Paris Agreement, an international accord set in 2015 to combat global warming.

But as global powers tussle over percentage points, in countries already facing the impacts of a warming world, patience is wearing thin.

Developing countries – many of which are vulnerable to rising seas, heatwaves and rainfall made more severe by climate change – are expected to offer their own goals at the summit, said Pablo Vieira, director of the NDC Partnership, which has been helping developing nations craft their climate targets.

They will also repeat their demand that rich nations offer more money to help them cut emissions and adapt to the impacts it is already unleashing in countries like Bangladesh, South Sudan and the Marshall Islands.


U.S. talks with Japan, South Korea and Canada have focused on trying to get each country to commit to cut emissions at least 50% by 2030, according to the two sources familiar with the U.S. negotiations.

Japan and South Korea both rely on coal for power generation and winding that dependence down and their finance of coal plants abroad could yield significant emissions cuts in the next 10 years, the sources said.

Canada may have a tougher challenge.

“We don’t have quite that luxury here because coal is a much smaller part of our grid,” Canada‘s Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said. But he added: “We are working to stretch as far as we can.”

Canada, which has a large oil industry, currently has a target to cut emissions 30% below 2005 levels by 2030.

Other major emitters appear less keen to take the plunge, including India, China, Brazil and Russia.

India, the third-largest emitting country behind China and the United States, is resisting because it expects more developed nations to take on the bulk of global reductions.

“What we are suffering today is caused a 100 years ago,” said Prakash Javadekar, India’s Minister of Environment, Forest & Climate Change, pointing to emissions from the United States and Europe. “Historical responsibility is a very important aspect. We cannot just forget it.”

China’s special climate envoy, Xie Zhenhua, was meeting with Kerry in Shanghai this week to discuss climate change, the foreign ministry said. China promised last year that its greenhouse gas output would peak by 2030, a target environmental groups say is insufficient.

U.S. and Brazilian officials, meanwhile, have been working since February on a billion-dollar deal to fund Brazil’s protection of the Amazon rainforest, but diplomatic sources said a deal is unlikely by April 22.

Russia, another big emitter, has not yet confirmed if President Vladimir Putin will participate in the summit. With Moscow’s ties with the West at a post-Cold War low, the U.S. summit has generated little buzz in Russia.

(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici in Washington and Kate Abnett in Brussells; Additional reporting by Neha Arora and Sanjeev Miglani in New Delhi, Thomas Balmforth in Moscow, Tony Munroe in Beijing, Jake Spring in Brasilia and David Ljunggren in OttawaEditing by Richard Valdmanis, Katy Daigle and Lisa Shumaker)

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