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U.S. expert says Canada is missing the chance to fight the P.1 COVID-19 variant –



A top U.S. health expert who was among the first to sound the alarm about the COVID-19 pandemic last year is now raising concerns about the spread of the P.1 variant in Canada, warning the country is acting too slowly.

Eric Feigl-Ding, an epidemiologist and adjunct senior fellow with the Federation of American Scientists, warned in January 2020 — two months before the World Health Organization declared a pandemic — that the novel coronavirus could become a “thermonuclear public health crisis.”

“It’s not good,” he said. “We’ve known for quite a while how bad this variant is. But there has been a reluctance to follow the science on this.”

For the past two weeks, his focus has been on Canadian provinces that are seeing outbreaks of P.1, a virus variant first identified in Brazil that is now spreading rapidly in British Columbia and growing roots in Alberta and Ontario.

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Read more:
P.1 variant is spreading in Canada. What do we know about it and vaccines?

Emerging non-peer reviewed Brazilian research spearheaded by the Observatório COVID-19 BR suggests the P.1 variant is up to 2.5 times more transmissible than the original COVID-19 strain. Another study out of Manaus, the Amazonian city hit hard by the variant, suggests that out of every 100 COVID-19 survivors, anywhere from 25 to 60 could become reinfected if exposed to P.1.

The number of cases of the P.1 variant reported in B.C. alone has exploded over the past few weeks, hitting 737 as of Monday — nearly double the number reported before the start of the Easter long weekend.

Monday saw B.C. hit a new all-time record for intensive care patients impacted by COVID-19, with 96 people currently receiving critical care.

That record was predicted in late March by Sally Otto, a University of British Columbia mathematical biologist who has done COVID-19 modelling. She said the ICU surge would likely be fuelled by multiple variants, include P.1.

Feigl-Ding was also sounding the alarm about the situation in B.C. around the same time. On March 26, he pointed out on CNN that the province was seeing more daily cases of the P.1 variant — between 20 and 30 — than the entire United States combined.

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Feigl-Ding also points to a BC Centre for Disease Control report from March 24 that identified 84 cases of P.1 that were not linked to returning travellers — strongly suggesting community spread.

“I can’t believe (B.C. public health officials) didn’t act then” and impose harsher restrictions, he told Global News. “And now here we have all this mess.”

Crisis in Brazil

The situation in B.C. still pales in comparison to the crisis the P.1 variant has sparked in Brazil.

The country is now seeing the worst wave of the pandemic yet, reporting an average of over 3,000 deaths per day.

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The World Health Organization on Thursday said Brazilian hospitals were in critical condition, with many intensive care units over 90 per cent full. National media and public health institutions have called the situation a “collapse” of the health-care system.

Yet Feigl-Ding says the fate of Brazil — whose president Jair Bolsonaro refuses to support masks and lockdowns — can be avoided in Canada by expanding contact tracing and toughening restrictions.

“Beyond banning indoor dining, there needs to be masking in schools,” Feigl-Ding said. “None of this ‘middle school or higher, only fourth grade or higher.’ No, every grade. Everyone down to the age of five, I think, is really, really key.”

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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has gone even further, saying anyone over the age of two should be wearing a mask.

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry imposed a ban on indoor dining in restaurants and bars on March 29.

That same day, she also expanded mask requirements in schools to cover students Grade 4 and above, along with all school staff. Before then, masks were only recommended for elementary students while mandatory for kids in middle and high school, and only when students were away from their desks.

Read more:
Will the more deadly COVID-19 variants ruin our summer? Here’s what experts are saying

Henry said further actions regarding schools won’t be revisited until April 19, which Feigl-Ding says is a “head-scratching” mistake.

“It’s one thing to say: ‘follow the science,’” he said. “You need to follow the fast-changing and updating science. As a public health leader, that’s part of your job.”

Feigl-Ding’s advice also extends to officials in other provinces like Ontario, where over 100 cases of P.1 have been confirmed, and Alberta, which has seen 15 cases to date.

Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Monday that the outbreak in that province, which she called “significant” over the weekend, appears to be linked to a large employer with multiple sites across Western Canada. She said it’s believed to have started with a traveller who returned to Alberta from out of province.

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Click to play video: 'Growing number of younger Canadians in hospital, infected with variants'

Growing number of younger Canadians in hospital, infected with variants

Growing number of younger Canadians in hospital, infected with variants

While Ontario tightened restrictions over the weekend, leaders in Alberta and other provinces have voiced opposition to further lockdowns or backtracking on their reopenings.

Last week, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said the “way through this (pandemic) is vaccines. The way through this is not to increase public-health measures.”

But Feigl-Ding says a mixture of both are needed until herd immunity is reached. And because P.1 is more transmissible and deadly than the original virus strain, that will require a higher percentage of the population to be vaccinated.

“And Canada is not even close to that point yet,” he said. “Even if you get there, it will only slow the ongoing virus outbreak. It won’t stop it in its tracks.

“There’s no easy way to say this, but we have to be vigilant until vaccinations have reached a high threshold, and only then can we slightly let up on the gas. You have to do it at a slow, low level, not in the middle of a wildfire.”

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— with files from Global’s Rachael D’Amore and Reuters

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Citigroup lawyer says another bank made bigger payment error than Revlon



NEW YORK (Reuters) – A lawyer for Citigroup Inc told a U.S. judge on Friday he was aware of another large bank that recently made a bigger payment error than Citigroup made last August when it sent $894 million of its own money to Revlon Inc lenders.

Neal Katyal, the lawyer, made the disclosure at a hearing in Manhattan federal court, where Citigroup urged U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman to extend a freeze on $504 million that it has been unable to recoup from the Revlon lenders.

Katyal did not identify the bank, the size of the payment error, or whether the error was fixed.

Citigroup is appealing Furman’s Feb. 16 decision that 10 asset managers, whose clients include Revlon lenders, could keep its mistaken payments.

Furman accepted the asset managers’ argument that Citigroup, as Revlon’s loan agent, paid what they were owed, and they had no reason to think a sophisticated bank would blunder so badly.

Citigroup has said the lenders received a “windfall,” and Furman’s decision could steer banks away from doing wire transfers in a “finders, keepers” marketplace.

Katyal is a partner at Hogan Lovells and former Acting U.S. Solicitor General. Citigroup hired him for its appeal.


(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Diane Craft)

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Canada aims to raise safety along notorious “Highway of Tears” with cell phone service



By Moira Warburton

VANCOUVER (Reuters) – Canadian authorities will help fund mobile phone service to increase safety along a remote stretch of highway in British Columbia known as the “Highway of Tears” for the number of women who have gone missing on the route, most of them indigenous.

Indigenous groups recommended the move in 2006 in a report on disappearances and murders of women along the highway between the cities of Prince Rupert and Prince George, roughly 800 km (500 miles) north of Vancouver.

The recommendation was endorsed by a provincial government-mandated commission several years later.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police are investigating 13 cases of murdered women and five who disappeared on or near the Highway of Tears, although no new cases have been added since 2007. Advocates believe the number of homicides and missing is significantly higher.

Lisa Beare, British Columbia’s minister of citizens’ services, called the project “a critical milestone in helping prevent future tragedies along this route.”

Cell phone plans in Canada are among the most expensive in the world, according to government data, and the cost and lack of coverage in rural areas was a top issue in the last election.

The provincial and federal governments will contribute C$4.5 million towards the C$11.6 million ($9.24 million) cost for Rogers Communications to install 12 cell phone towers, the British Columbia government said on Wednesday.

Lorraine Whitman, president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, applauded the plan but said it was only one step in making the area safer for indigenous women.

“This truly is a blessing for the women,” she said. “But not all women have a phone. These towers are being put up, but it makes no use to the person that has no cell phone.”

($1 = 1.2558 Canadian dollars)


(Reporting by Moira Warburton in Vancouver; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

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Canadian fertilizer producer Nutrien to cut greenhouse gas emissions 30% by 2030



By Rod Nickel and Rithika Krishna

(Reuters) –Canada‘s Nutrien Ltd, the world’s largest fertilizer producer by capacity, said on Thursday it aimed to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 30% by 2030, in a plan costing the company up to $700 million.

Agricultural companies, including Mosaic and Corteva, have set carbon emissions targets as climate-conscious investors push firms to become more environmentally friendly.

Nutrien plans to spend $500 million to $700 million to meet the carbon emissions target, which includes cutting emissions from nitrogen production by 1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent annually by the end of 2023.

“We’re in a really unique spot to address two big societal challenges – food security, and in a way that reduces our environmental footprint,” said Mark Thompson, Nutrien’s chief corporate development and strategy officer, in an interview.

Synthetic fertilizers account for 12% of global emissions from agriculture, according to a 2016 United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization report.

Nutrien’s target includes Scope 1 and 2 emissions, which reflect direct operations and electricity use. Nutrien is addressing Scope 3 emissions – those related to on-farm activity – with a program that encourages growers to adopt sustainable practices that generate monetary credits.

The Saskatoon, Saskatchewan-based company plans to deploy wind and solar energy at four potash plants by the end of 2025, replacing electricity generated by coal and natural gas.

It also plans to expand its sequestration of carbon emissions from nitrogen fertilizer production and to invest in technology to capture nitrous oxide gas from its facilities.

Nutrien estimates that its carbon credit program could directly amount to $10 to $20 per acre for farmers, and it expects to benefit financially itself as well.

“If we can provide agronomic value and the value of the carbon credit over time, we’ll have customer loyalty – we anticipate that we’ll be a preferred supplier,” Thompson said.

(Reporting by Rithika Krishna in Bengaluru and Rod Nickel in Winnipeg; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila and Steve Orlofsky)

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