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Top scientists propose moving pandemic warning system outside government

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A Globe and Mail investigation last year found that GPHIN’s capabilities had been allowed to erode over the past decade as priorities within the government changed.

Illustration by The Globe and Mail

A group of top scientists concerned about the decline of the federal pandemic early warning system in the years before COVID-19 emerged have proposed relocating the operation to a university where it can work independently of government.

The proposal is aimed at restoring the Global Public Health Intelligence Network to its former status as an internationally respected pandemic surveillance system. Documents outlining the plan were submitted to an independent panel in Ottawa that is reviewing the system’s future.

According to the documents, GPHIN would work with the World Health Organization and be based at the University of Ottawa’s Bruyère Research Institute. The university and the WHO back the idea, says the proposal, which was reviewed by The Globe and Mail.

“We propose the creation of a Canadian-based WHO collaborating centre for global health intelligence,” the proposal states. Such a move “would provide a new, stable and cost-effective environment for the future management of GPHIN.

“GPHIN must be guaranteed freedom from government influence or interference. To achieve independence of any future government influence, bias or interference, GPHIN must be situated outside of government.”

A Globe and Mail investigation last year found that GPHIN’s capabilities had been allowed to erode over the past decade as priorities within the government changed, and senior officials in the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) sought to deploy its resources elsewhere.

Some of the core functions of the system, which provided crucial intelligence before and during the 2003 SARS crisis and 2009 H1N1 outbreak, were silenced in 2018 and 2019. With no pandemic threats apparent, management in the department sought to shift resources to areas that didn’t involve outbreak surveillance.

The proposal to partner with the WHO is being led by Ron St. John, a former top federal epidemiologist who helped create GPHIN in the 1990s, and other current and former top federal scientists. If it succeeds, the operation would run as a non-profit, funded in part by the federal government, and also able to seek science and technology grants from other sources, which it currently cannot do.

That new funding would be used to rebuild GPHIN’s operations and expand the system’s technical capabilities, taking some of the financial burden off the government, the documents say. GPHIN’s annual budget is around $3-million, and federal documents show it lacked the resources needed to update or grow its surveillance capacity, particularly as the system was allowed to erode.

The proposal argues that the environment needed to properly run the pandemic early warning system no longer exists inside Public Health, due to a drain of scientific and medical expertise over the past decade.

“Meeting these principles and operational conditions is not possible within the current managerial environment that exists in PHAC,” the document states. “We cannot wait for these changes to happen, as waiting will result in irreversible degradation of GPHIN and further depriving users within the global public health surveillance community of an essential tool to detect and monitor public health threats.”

WHO collaborating centres around the world are a way for member countries to contribute resources to the WHO by offering skills or technology they have. The Bruyère Research Institute is already home to one such collaborating centre, which focuses on technology used to track global health equity.

At one time, GPHIN provided the WHO with as much as 20 per cent of its epidemiological intelligence, according to Ottawa’s records. The proposal documents say GPHIN would remain one of Canada’s key contributions to the WHO, with the government providing funding for the system’s analysts to work.

Health Minister Patty Hajdu ordered an independent review in September of how PHAC handled the system after a Globe investigation last summer detailed many of the problems.

A report by the Auditor-General of Canada issued two weeks ago also found that the federal government did not use the pandemic early warning system appropriately in the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak, and that GPHIN failed to issue alerts. This contributed a series of faulty risk assessments as the virus began to spread around the world.

The independent review is expected to issue its final report in May, and the government won’t comment on its progress.

This is not the first time the idea of a WHO collaborating centre has been proposed for GPHIN. The proposal documents say the WHO has supported the idea since the SARS crisis, and has held talks on the subject six times, but those negotiations never came to fruition.

In 2005, talks were put on hold amid management changes inside Public Health. In 2009, similar discussions were halted due to the H1N1 outbreak. In 2012, another proposal was frozen during the Harper government’s deficit reduction plan. Similarly, talks in 2013, 2017, and 2018 never progressed due to internal restructuring in the Public Health Agency that resulted in management changes, and no further steps were taken.

The push to rebuild GPHIN comes at a time when other countries have identified the need to build their own early warning systems to help the international community detect major threats early and better contain outbreaks. The U.K. government and the Biden administration in the United States have signalled plans to bolster such capacities in recent months. An independent review examining the WHO’s pandemic preparedness is also expected to highlight the importance of such systems in its final report, expected this spring.

The epidemiologists behind the proposal say they want to restore Canada’s leadership in pandemic early warning and detection.

“GPHIN has achieved world-wide recognition as a rapid provider of accurate information regarding a variety of global events of public health importance,” the proposal says. “Future versions of GPHIN must build on and maintain this pre-eminent position. It’s Canadian origin and Canadian support during its lifetime is recognized and should be retained.”

 

 

Source:- The Globe and Mail

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Canada inflation hits 18-year-high with election just days away – Reuters

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Sales on clothing and shoes are advertised at the entrance to a Forever 21 fashion retail store in downtown Toronto, Ontario, Canada September 30, 2019. REUTERS/Chris Helgren

OTTAWA, Sept 15 (Reuters) – Canada’s annual inflation rate accelerated to an 18-year-high in August, driven by broad upward price pressures, data showed on Wednesday, just days before a hotly contested federal election that could see Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals ousted.

The rate rose to 4.1% in August, its fastest clip since March 2003, Statistics Canada said, beating analyst estimates and prompting Trudeau’s main rival to pounce over the rising cost of living.

“The numbers released today make it clear that under Justin Trudeau, Canadians are experiencing an affordability crisis,” said Erin O’Toole, leader of the main opposition Conservatives, in a statement.

The Conservatives have a narrow lead over Trudeau’s Liberals at 31.2% to 30.5% just days before the Sept. 20 vote, according to a new Nanos Research poll. The left-leaning New Democrats are in third at 21.4%.

Countries around the world are grappling with hot inflation amid supply chain hurdles and labor shortages as restrictions are eased and tightened with each new wave of the virus, leading to choppy demand and supply bottlenecks.

The Bank of Canada has said it expects headline inflation to remain above its 1%-3% control range this year, before easing back to the 2% target in 2022.

“This doesn’t mean anything short-term for the Bank of Canada. They’ve been very insistent that the inflation shock is transitory,” said Andrew Kelvin, chief Canada strategist at TD Securities.

In Canada, the hot inflation print was driven by high gasoline prices, rising housing costs and a surge in the prices of goods like furniture, appliances and vehicles, along with high travel-related costs as restrictions eased.

That was the opposite of the United States, where a harsh fourth wave has put a damper on travel.

“It is really the mirror opposite of what we saw in the U.S. yesterday, where we had the travel components showing signs of cooling. Here, they are showing signs of heating up,” said Jimmy Jean, chief economist at Desjardins Group.

“It is still part of the reopening effect. In August we were still getting back to normal,” Jean added.

Analysts polled by Reuters had expected the annual inflation rate to rise to 3.9% in August. At 4.1%, it was the highest since the 4.2% recorded in March 2003.

The three measures of core inflation all posted gains. CPI common, which the Bank of Canada calls the best gauge of the economy’s underperformance, edged up to 1.8% from 1.7% in July.

The Canadian dollar was trading 0.2% higher at 1.2663 to the greenback, or 78.97 U.S. cents.

Additional reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa and Fergal Smith and Nichola Saminather in Toronto;
Editing by Andrew Heavens, Paul Simao and Andrea Ricci

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Oil Prices Rise Further On Large Crude Inventory Draw – OilPrice.com

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Oil Prices Rise Further On Large Crude Inventory Draw | OilPrice.com


Irina Slav

Irina Slav

Irina is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing on the oil and gas industry.

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Crude oil prices went up today on bullish news from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, which reported a 6.4-million-barrel draw in crude oil inventories and another draw in fuel inventories.

A week earlier, the EIA had estimated a modest 1.3-million-barrel decline in crude oil inventories but a sizeable draw in gasoline pushed prices higher, signaling that strong demand has not wavered amid the latest surge in Covid-19 infections.

For the week to September 10, the EIA reported another draw in gasoline inventories, at 1.9 million. This compared to a draw of 7.2 million barrels a week earlier.

Production of gasoline last week averaged 9.3 million bpd, which compared with 10.1 million bpd a week earlier.

Middle distillate inventories shed 1.7 million barrels in the week to September 10, which compared with a draw of 3.1 million barrels for the previous week.

Production of middle distillates averaged 4.2 million bpd last week, compared with 4.2 million bpd during the previous week.

A day before the EIA reported inventory moves, the American Petroleum Institute had estimated crude oil stocks had shed close to 4 million barrels, pushing prices higher. Since the start of the year, according to API numbers, U.S. crude oil stocks have declined by 70 million barrels.

Meanwhile, production is set to rise as the inventory of drilled but uncompleted wells in the U.S. shale patch declines. This, however, should not be a problem for prices since demand is strengthening, too.

[embedded content]

In its latest monthly oil report, the International Energy Agency forecast a 1.6-million-bpd rebound in global oil demand next month as the Delta variant of the coronavirus releases its grip on economies. It would then continue to grow through the rest of the year, the agency said, before beginning to slow down next year.

“The market should shift closer to balance starting from October if OPEC+ continues to unwind production cuts. Even so, it is only by early 2022 that supply will be high enough to allow oil stocks to be replenished,” the IEA said in its report.

This would provide stable support for prices over the next few months, and it is support that will be needed as U.S. shale drillers ramp up along with OPEC+ to offset depletion from legacy wells.

By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com

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Canada's inflation explained: How the surge affects you and what you can do about changing prices – The Globe and Mail

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A man shops at a halal grocery store in Toronto this past May. Rising inflation has had varied effects on the price of consumer goods across Canada.

Christopher Katsarov/The Globe and Mail

What is driving inflation?

Probably the biggest factor in this year’s inflation surge is simply the reality that consumer prices fell to unusual lows last year, and it’s against these low prices that we are measuring the current price environment. This is what economists are talking about when they refer to “base effects.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, huge swaths of the global economy were shut down and consumers were told to stay home; demand for many goods and services plunged and prices slumped. Since inflation is typically calculated as a year-over-year change, it’s against these lows that we have been comparing the current prices, which have increased substantially as pandemic restrictions have eased. The pronounced weakness of the year-earlier comparisons have magnified the price gains in the annual inflation rate.

But there’s more to it than just a statistical quirk. The rapid reopening of many sectors of the economy has unleashed a flood of demand from consumers, which has been exacerbated by the unusually large stockpiles of household savings that built up during the pandemic.

Around the world, manufacturers, transporters and retailers have had tremendous trouble keeping up with demand. In addition, the pandemic has shifted consumer preferences to different products – home office equipment, bicycles, bigger houses in the suburbs, just to name a few – and suppliers haven’t been able to keep pace with these rapid shifts. The result has been supply shortages in numerous consumer goods as well as the raw materials to make them – driving up prices.

How does the current Canadian inflation rate compare historically?

The August consumer price index (CPI) inflation rate is 4.1 per cent, up from 3.7 per cent in July. The last time the rate was higher was in March, 2003 (4.2 per cent), during a temporary surge that was another case of base effects – namely, a slump in year-earlier gasoline prices.

But from a broader historical perspective, 4.1 per cent is, comparatively, nothing. Inflation was north of 10 per cent in the mid-1970s and again in the early 1980s. In the early 1990s, when the Bank of Canada formally adopted maintaining low and steady inflation as its primary monetary policy objective, inflation still hovered around 5 per cent. But since the central bank set its inflation target at 2 per cent in 1995 – using interest rates to help steer inflation toward that rate – inflation has averaged very close to that target.

What types of products or services are most affected by inflation?

Main upward contributors to the 12-month change in the consumer price index

Aug. 2020 to Aug. 2021

Homeowners’ replacement cost index

+14.3%

Gasoline

+32.5%

Food purchased

from restaurants

+3.2%

Other owned accommodation expenses

+14.3%

Purchase of passenger vehicles

+7.2%

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL,

SOURCE: STATISTICS CANADA

Main upward contributors to the 12-month change in the consumer price index

Aug. 2020 to Aug. 2021

Homeowners’ replacement cost index

+14.3%

Gasoline

+32.5%

Food purchased

from restaurants

+3.2%

Other owned accommodation expenses

+14.3%

Purchase of passenger vehicles

+7.2%

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL,

SOURCE: STATISTICS CANADA

Main upward contributors to the 12-month change in the consumer price index

Aug. 2020 to Aug. 2021

Homeowners’ replacement cost index

+14.3%

Gasoline

+32.5%

Purchase of

passenger vehicles

+7.2%

Other owned accommodation expenses

+14.3%

Food purchased

from restaurants

+3.2%

MURAT YÜKSELIR /

THE GLOBE AND MAIL,

SOURCE: STATISTICS CANADA

The August CPI data from Statistics Canada show that goods (up 5.8 per cent year over year) have seen much higher inflation than services (up 2.7 per cent). The big contributor has been gasoline, up more than 32.5 per cent from a year earlier, when prices were severely depressed by pandemic shutdowns. Home replacement costs were up almost 14.3 per cent, reflecting the surge in prices for homes in the past year.

On the other hand, prices for some things have declined significantly in the past year. Mortgage interest costs were down 9.3 per cent in August from a year earlier, reflecting deep rate cuts that the Bank of Canada made last spring to aid the economy in the face of the pandemic. The price of telephone services was down 14.2 per cent. Travel tours are down 20.8 per cent year over year.

Main downward contributors to the 12-month change in the consumer price index

Aug. 2020 to Aug. 2021

Passenger

vehicle

insurance

premiums

Mortgage

interest

cost

Travel

tours

Telephone

services

Fresh

vegetables

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: STATISTICS CANADA

Main downward contributors to the 12-month change in the consumer price index

Aug. 2020 to Aug. 2021

Passenger

vehicle

insurance

premiums

Mortgage

interest

cost

Travel

tours

Telephone

services

Fresh

vegetables

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: STATISTICS CANADA

Main downward contributors to the 12-month change in the consumer price index

Aug. 2020 to Aug. 2021

Passenger

vehicle insurance

premiums

Travel

tours

Telephone

services

Mortgage

interest cost

Fresh

vegetables

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: STATISTICS CANADA

How can I adjust my spending to avoid the worst of inflation?

If you’re spending, be inflation-aware. Consider planning your renovation for next year or 2023 in hopes prices for building materials ease back. Lumber prices have come back down, but other costs may still be elevated. Prices for new and used cars have been on the rise as people resume driving farther than the local grocery store. Where possible, keep your existing ride for another year or so until the post-pandemic vehicle-buying rush dies down. Grocery inflation is expected to continue through the rest of the year. If you’re able to buy in bulk, you may be able to dodge some future price increases.

Is there a ‘winner’ in inflation?

There are some investments that have performed well in past periods of inflation. Gold is one example, while others are commodities like oil and metals. Real estate is also considered a good hedge against inflation. You can get exposure to real estate by investing in real estate investment trusts.

What will bring inflation down?

Time – at least for a significant portion of the increase. Over the next few months, the year-over-year price comparisons will become less stark, as the price recovery from the earlier COVID-19 shutdowns increasingly works its way into the year-earlier numbers. For example, the average national price of gasoline in August, 2020, was $1.06.6 a litre; by mid-February of 2021, it was $1.20. In addition, we can expect unusual price pressures caused by the sudden reopening of many sectors of the economy to ease, as the initial rush of demand moderates and activity returns to normal.

Many economists believe that the high prices themselves will help solve the inflation situation, as it adds incentive to producers to increase their capacity. This will take time, but as supply catches up with demand, price pressures will dissipate.

From a policy standpoint, the biggest weapon lies with the Bank of Canada. If inflation remains persistently high, the central bank will eventually step in and raise its key interest rate from the current record low of 0.25 per cent. The bank has already taken other actions to reduce the amount of stimulus that its monetary policy is injecting into the economy – specifically, it has gradually reduced the amount of government bonds that it has been buying on the open market since the COVID-19 crisis began.

Interest rates are considered the bigger weapon to slow inflation; but the bank has said that it doesn’t want to turn to rate hikes until the economy has returned to full capacity. Based on the bank’s latest projections, that is unlikely before the second half of next year. In the meantime, the central bank is willing to tolerate inflation in the 3-per-cent range – which actually represents the top end of its tolerance band around its target of 1-to-3 per cent, designed to give it some flexibility when inflation gyrates. But if inflation stays above that band for uncomfortably long, the bank may start leaning toward acting sooner rather than later.

A key question is how much of this is temporary, and how much may be permanent. While economists are generally confident that a substantial portion of the recent inflation surge will pass as things return to something approaching normal in the coming months, it’s clear that at least some of these price pressures may be longer lasting.

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