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Travel industry 'in tailspin' as federal government adopts new COVID-19 test rules – CTV News

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CALGARY —
The travel industry in Canada has been thrown into a “tailspin” by new federal rules requiring a COVID-19 test before Canadians are allowed back into the country from most international travel, says the Association of Canadian Independent Travel Advisors.

The timing of Transport Minister Marc Garneau’s announcement of the new protocol last Thursday — New Year’s Eve — could not have been worse because many agents had closed their offices for the holiday long weekend, the group said in a statement.

“The releasing of this new protocol in the afternoon of New Year’s Eve put most of our industry into a tailspin,” ACITA said.

“With no warning in place, people who had chosen to travel over the New Year were not given the opportunity to cancel or change their trips.”

ACITA is a new association started by independent travel agents last spring in part to lobby for government assistance for the industry due to challenges caused by the pandemic.

It says the testing move “seems to be having the opposite effect” from helping the industry recover.

The change in Ottawa’s policy left travel agents like Calgary’s Janez Law scrambling to get in touch with clients who are on trips or planning to take trips.

“People don’t like it very much but what can you do, you have no choice if you want to come home, right?” she said, adding it’s difficult to provide advice to her clients because of the lack of detail in Ottawa’s plan.

She said a Canadian client now in the Philippines said she will have to endure a six-hour-plus bus trip to the capital, Manila, to get the required test to ensure she is allowed back into Canada when she returns on Thursday.

Law said such tests are expensive in most of Asia, adding the test in Manila is expected to cost $150.

Her agency, Travel Far and Beyond, specializes in arranging trips to Asia but has experienced a 90 per cent decline in volume due to the pandemic.

Law added she personally supports the idea of more testing of travellers if it makes Canada safer.

The new rules will further discourage customers who are already wary of travelling to Africa during the pandemic because of its perceived quality of health care, said Pat Littlejohn, a co-owner of Toronto’s Wild Journeys Safaris in Africa.

“We sell trips to Africa. It actually might be very difficult to obtain one of these tests in Africa before returning to Canada. This just might be an impossibility,” she said.

“To put that requirement on just seems to just shut down travel, basically.”

Quick tests for COVID-19 at the airport would be a much better way to proceed, she said, adding many of her clients have put their plans “on hold” until the pandemic situation clears up.

The ACITA statement says most travel clients are willing to accept an additional cost related to travel during the pandemic but fear they could face “being gouged” to get the required testing.

“Our clients, those who have travel booked, are now looking to cancel their trips, not only due to the uncertainty that arises should they have difficulty getting a test within the allotted 72-hour time frame, but also due to the additional costs associated,” the group said in its statement.

It added that travel agents have been unable to tell passengers set to depart Canada this week whether testing locations they’ve identified will be included in Ottawa’s list of approved facilities since that list hadn’t been published.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 5, 2021.

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Canada to wait longer than Europe for Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine – The Globe and Mail

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A truck enters the Pfizer manufacturing plant in Puurs, Belgium, on Dec. 21, 2020.

Valentin Bianchi/The Associated Press

The European Union will have a much shorter interruption in deliveries of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine than Canada, despite commitments last week that countries would share equally in a temporary drop in doses.

On Friday, the federal government announced vaccine deliveries to Canada would be cut by half for a four-week period starting Jan. 25. The pharmaceutical giant said the slowdown was needed to allow the company to retool its Belgian plant in order to expand production.

Major-General Dany Fortin, who is leading Canada’s vaccine logistics, said the loss would be made up in the subsequent weeks, with the company still delivering all four million vaccine doses in the first quarter — as previously committed.

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Maj-Gen. Fortin also said that every country that has purchased Pfizer vaccines will be “affected equally.” But after first laying out a three- to four-week slowdown in shipments to European countries, the company later said shipments would resume their original schedule to European Union members the week of Jan. 25.

The vaccine is delayed in Canada as COVID-19 infections continue to rise and as pressure on hospitals remains high in many parts of the country. Ontario reported 3,422 new infections on Sunday, along with 69 deaths. The numbers were based on nearly 60,200 tests.

Procurement Minister Anita Anand said in an e-mailed statement Sunday that Ottawa has reiterated to Pfizer the importance of Canada returning to its regular delivery schedule of vaccines, but no explanation was provided for the discrepancy.

“I understand and share the concerns of Canadians regarding the temporary delivery delay of Pfizer doses,” Ms. Anand said. “We are once again in touch with representatives from Pfizer to reiterate firmly the importance for Canada to return to our regular delivery schedule as soon as possible.”

Canada was previously expecting to receive 208,650 doses in the last week of January and about 367,000 doses each week in February. Instead, about 655,000 of those doses will be delivered later.

Based on publicly released delivery numbers, the drop will translate to approximately 327,000 people getting their two-shot vaccine later than expected.

The slowdown means Ontario will increase the interval between the two shots needed to maximize the protection provided by the vaccine, from the company-recommended 21 days to up to 42 days. On Friday, British Columbia said it was also evaluating whether it would need to increase the interval between the shots.

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Ms. Anand said Pfizer assured the government it is deploying all efforts to return Canada to its original delivery schedule as soon as possible. “This is an evolving situation. As soon as updated information on the delivery of Pfizer doses for Canada is available, we will share it with Canadians,” she said.

Europe had initially been advised it would face a similar delay as Canada. Germany’s Health Ministry had said Friday that Pfizer informed the European Commission it would not be able to fulfill all of its promised deliveries in the next three to four weeks. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said she “immediately called the CEO of Pfizer.”

On Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at his press conference that the setback was “out of our hands” and that’s why Canada has contracts with several vaccine developers.

Christina Antoniou, a spokesperson for Pfizer, said in an e-mailed statement Sunday that because of the improvements the company is undertaking to scale up capacity, vaccine shipments will be temporarily affected in late January and early February, but it will allow for a significant increase in late February and March.

“The principle of equity is used when considering allocation of doses worldwide and we expect to have more information in the coming days,” Ms. Antoniou said.

Conservative health critic Michelle Rempel Garner said in an e-mailed statement that it is up to the Prime Minister to explain to Canadians why they will not be able to get vaccinated for months after people in other countries, such as the United States.

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“It’s up to him to explain why, based on Friday’s news about vaccine delivery delays, we might be looking at many more months of lockdown – with the lost jobs, time with families, and mental health challenges that accompany them – while vaccines are being delivered to countries like the United States. It’s also up to him to find better path forward; if his Plan A has failed, what’s Plan B?” asked Ms. Rempel Garner.

With a report from the Associated Press

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Ontario to expand big-box retail blitz amid widespread rule violations, labour minister says – Global News

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TORONTO — An enforcement blitz that uncovered numerous violations of COVID-19 prevention protocols across big-box retailers in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton areas will broaden its scope to include the rest of the province in the weeks ahead, the province’s labour minister said Sunday.

Monty McNaughton said the initial wave of inspectors combing retailers for those eschewing masks and ignoring physical distancing guidelines found only 70 per cent of sites they visited were adhering to the public health measures intended to curb the spread of the virus. He called the results disappointing, pledging to expand the enforcement efforts to other parts of the province as well as additional industries at risk from COVID-19 outbreaks.

“We’ll be expanding that in the days and weeks to come across the whole province,” McNaughton said in a telephone interview. “We’re going to continue targeting bad actors and we’ll continue issuing fines and close them down if we have to.”

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Read more:
Coronavirus: Latest developments in the Greater Toronto Area on Jan. 17

The initial blitz involved 50 inspectors fanning out across Toronto, Hamilton and surrounding municipalities to observe the scene at multiple big-box retailers, which are among the businesses allowed to keep their doors open under Ontario’s current stay-at-home order.

McNaughton said big-box stores would remain a key target during the provincewide expansion. The ministry issued a document late last week saying inspections would also involve workplaces which reported COVID-19 outbreaks and businesses focused on manufacturing, warehousing, distribution centres and food processing.

Word of the expansion comes amid growing pressure to quell soaring COVID-19 case counts across Ontario, which showed little sign of abating over the weekend.

The province reported 3,422 new cases of COVID-19 and another 69 deaths on Sunday, up more than 10 per cent from levels recorded the day before.


Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Critically ill patients flown to other regions due to ICU bed shortage'



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Coronavirus: Critically ill patients flown to other regions due to ICU bed shortage


Coronavirus: Critically ill patients flown to other regions due to ICU bed shortage

The bulk of the most recent diagnoses remain in Toronto and nearby Peel Region, where 1,035 and 585 new infections were identified in the past 24 hours.

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Windsor-Essex County, York Region and Niagara logged another 254, 246 and 186 cases respectively.

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McNaughton was hopeful the weekend blitz would help reign in those numbers.

Read more:
Ontario reports more than 3,400 new coronavirus cases, 69 deaths

The inspectors visited 110 retailers on Saturday alone and found 31 violations of COVID-19 protocols, he said, noting that amounts to a compliance rate of just over 70 per cent.

They issued 11 formal warnings and 11 tickets, he added.

McNaughton said he’d hoped the compliance rate would be much higher.

“Every business, every supervisor and every worker out there has to do more today than at any point during this pandemic to keep people safe and to be vigilant,” he said.


Click to play video 'What’s driving the COVID-19 surge in Windsor, Ontario?'



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What’s driving the COVID-19 surge in Windsor, Ontario?


What’s driving the COVID-19 surge in Windsor, Ontario?

The blitz, which continued Sunday, is part of an array of measures the province unveiled in recent days to toughen its approach to COVID-19.

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Ontario recently ordered people to only leave their homes for groceries, medical appointments, exercise and work that can’t be completed remotely.

Stores selling non-essential goods have been forced to temporarily close and operate solely through e-commerce and curbside pickups.

The most common violations inspectors found big box stores contravening were linked to screening of customers and staff, masking protocols and physical distancing problems, McNaughton said.


Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Vaughan closes outdoor skating, tobogganing'



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Coronavirus: Vaughan closes outdoor skating, tobogganing


Coronavirus: Vaughan closes outdoor skating, tobogganing

The Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development says it has conducted more than 34,000 COVID-19 related workplace inspections and halted unsafe work 55 times throughout the pandemic.

It is in the process of hiring an additional 100 health and safety inspectors and doubling the number of phone lines at the provincial Health and Safety Contact Centre, where violations can be reported.

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Individuals found violating the Occupational Health and Safety Act can be fined up to $100,000 and imprisoned for as long as a year, while corporations can be fined up to $1.5 million per charge.

© 2021 The Canadian Press

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How long will rural doctors have to wait for the vaccine? – CBC News

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  1. How long will rural doctors have to wait for the vaccine?  CBC News
  2. Quebec Is Getting Nearly 90,000 Fewer Pfizer Vaccine Doses Than Expected By Next Month  MTL Blog
  3. COVID-19: Provinces work on revised plans as Pfizer-BioNTech shipments to slow down  Medicine Hat News
  4. LILLEY: Time for Trudeau to deliver badly-needed vaccines  Toronto Sun
  5. Lebanon signs with Pfizer for 2.1 million vaccine doses  The Times of Israel
  6. View Full coverage on Google News



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