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U.S. President Biden, Canada’s Trudeau to meet virtually next week

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday will hold his first bilateral meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, an event the neighboring countries said would highlight their strong and deep ties.

The meeting, which will be virtual due to the coronavirus crisis, will aim to elevate collaboration on shared concerns at a time when the relationship between the close allies has been strained by Biden’s decision to block the Canada-backed Keystone XL pipeline.

In a statement on Saturday, the White House said Biden and his Cabinet will also meet virtually with Canadian ministers on a range of bilateral and global issues.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said it would be “an opportunity for the two leaders to review joint efforts in areas of mutual interest such as the COVID-19 response, climate change, and the economic ties that bind our countries, as well as the deep people-to-people bonds we share.

“The President will highlight the strong and deep partnership between the United States and Canada as neighbors, friends and NATO Allies,” she said.

Trudeau called the U.S.-Canada relationship “one of the strongest and deepest friendships between any two countries.”

“It is built on common values, strong ties between our people, and a shared geography … We will work together to end the COVID-19 pandemic and support people in both our countries,” he said in a statement.

Trudeau was the first world leader to congratulate Biden when he was declared the winner of the November U.S. election and his swift embrace illustrates the degree to which Canada, one of America’s closest allies, is looking forward to turning the page on the Donald Trump era.

Biden later tweeted that he looked forward “to renewing the strong friendship between the United States and Canada and working to tackle the shared challenges we face.”

While Biden has had at-times lengthy calls with several foreign leaders, next week’s meeting goes further by extending to lower-level meetings between Cabinet ministers, as have interactions with Mexico and several European allies.

Biden revoked a permit for the Keystone pipeline, which would transport 830,000 barrels a day of carbon-intensive heavy crude from Canada‘s Alberta to Nebraska, on his first day in office last month, as part of a flurry of executive orders aimed at curbing climate change.

Trudeau said last month Canada will seek exemptions to a U.S. effort to ensure federal agencies buy American-produced goods. The U.S. move could hurt Canada, given how tightly the two nations’ economies are integrated.

The two countries are in a shared standoff with China after Canada‘s detention of Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of China’s Huawei Technologies on a U.S. arrest warrant. Beijing detained and charged two Canadians with espionage after the detention of Meng, who remains under house arrest.

 

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani, Trevor Hunnicutt, Tim Ahmann and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

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'Good to go': Canadian pharmacies ready for next phase of vaccine rollout – CTV News

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OTTAWA —
Canada’s pharmacies say they’re primed and ready to start administering COVID-19 vaccines at their facilities across the country, as government officials prepare for the next phase of vaccine rollout.

Shoppers Drug Mart President Jeff Leger says he’s informed all levels of government that once given the green light, the company’s more than 1,300 locations and an additional 500 Loblaw pharmacies, would need just 48 to 72 hours to get their sites prepped for mass inoculations.

“Our stores have already been thinking about it, we’ve got the processes in place. We can move very quickly and we can move large volumes of people through our network,” Leger said in a phone interview with CTVNews.ca on Tuesday.

He said a smooth rollout is contingent on provinces using a framework similar to that used during flu season.

“As long as we’re adhering to the same principles that we’ve done for flu vaccination…we’re good to go,” said Leger. “At the height of flu season we did as many as half a million in one week, we think we could do much more than that – really the constraint was supply.”

He added that this network of pharmacies can manage the finicky ultra-cold storage requirements of the Pfizer vaccine. Leger says he’s also confident the company’s large roster of pharmacists will be able to draw the now-approved sixth dose from vaccine vials using low dead space syringes – though he said they’re still waiting on the shipments of those syringes from provincial governments.

“The supply of those syringes, our understanding [is that] they’ll be coming from the federal supplies and provincial supplies so as long as the supply of those low dead space syringes hold up then there shouldn’t be a problem for that,” he said.

This comes as Health Canada announced its highly-anticipated approval of AstraZeneca’s vaccine candidate on Friday, now the third vaccine given a formal stamp of approval in Canada. The federal government has secured 20 million doses of this vaccine, set to arrive between April and September, plus an additional 1.9 million doses before the end of June from the global vaccine sharing network COVAX.

The federal government also maintains the country is still on track to meet is six million dose target of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

While the details of how and when pharmacies will be incorporated into vaccine rollout plans differ by province, Joelle Walker, vice-president of public affairs at the Canadian Pharmacists Association, said all have signaled use of the facilities at some point to reach the broader public.

“Pharmacies are very conveniently located. Most Canadians live within five kilometres of a pharmacy which makes them very accessible to people who can’t travel to major centres to get vaccinated,” she said during a phone interview with CTVNews.ca on Friday. “Most Canadians see their pharmacists more than any other provider and so it just makes them an obvious choice.”

Some provinces, including Alberta, have already laid out plans detailing how pharmacies will assist in administering vaccines. Forty-one Shoppers Drug Mart stores and Real Canadian Superstore locations in Calgary, Edmonton and Red Deer will be offering in-store shots to Albertans 75 and older as early as next week.

“This is a step that just makes sense. As anyone who has gotten a flu shot knows, pharmacists have a lot of experience in delivering vaccines. They have played an important role in our seasonal flu program for many, many years and they have the skills, they have the experience and they have the infrastructure in place to be an important part of our immunization program,” said Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro on Wednesday.

Many other provinces list pharmacies as designated vaccination sites in phase two, which for most is expected to begin in April.

Walker said she’s encouraged the federal government to work more closely with provinces to establish some level of national consistency on pharmacy involvement.

“It [would] make it easier for pharmacists to communicate that information to patients. Many people are saying ‘oh you know, in Alberta it’s over 75’ and not necessarily knowing that will be different in other provinces,” said Walker.

“That kind of consistency of information would really help bring that confidence to Canadians that there’s a process in place.”

As for tracking the second dose of any of the three approved vaccines, Walker said pharmacies are particularly well-equipped with this function as they remind Canadians daily to refill their prescriptions.

“The refill system in pharmacies is designed to do exactly that, to make sure their patients come back when they’re supposed to to pick up their refills.”

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Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Friday – CBC.ca

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The latest:

Canada’s top doctor said nationally there are 964 reported cases of the coronavirus variant first detected in the U.K., up from 429 reported two weeks ago. There were also 44 cases of the variant first discovered in South Africa, and two cases of the version first found in Brazil.

“The risk of rapid re-acceleration remains,” Tam said. “At the same time new variants continue to emerge … and can become predominant.”

Tam added that daily COVID-19 case counts are nearly 75 per cent higher than they were last spring, and that the average daily case counts in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia have increased between eight and 14 per cent over the previous week.

While Tam warned that variants can spread more quickly and easily become dominant, progress on the vaccine front is a source of optimism, she noted.

“To date, over 1.7 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered across Canada. And there are early indications of high vaccine efficacy.”

On Friday, Health Canada regulators approved the COVID-19 vaccine from Oxford University-AstraZeneca for use in Canada — clearing the way for millions more inoculations in the months ahead.

The department’s regulators concluded the shot has an efficacy rate of 62 per cent and have authorized it for use in all adults 18 and older.

While it’s less effective than the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines at preventing infection, the shot is 100 per cent effective in preventing the severe outcomes of COVID-19 — including serious illness, hospitalizations and death — the regulators said.


What’s happening across Canada

As of 6 p.m. ET on Thursday, Canada had reported 860,888 cases of COVID-19, with 30,343 cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 21,908.

Alberta announced 356 new COVID-19 cases and three more deaths on Friday.

Saskatchewan registered 153 new cases but no new deaths.

Manitoba confirmed 64 new cases and one death. The province’s test positivity rate is now at 3.9 per cent, its lowest point in more than four months.

WATCH | Manitoba government considers relaxing COVID-19 rules:

Provincial officials give update on COVID-19 outbreak: Thursday, February 25, 2021. 28:23

Ontario reported 1,258 new cases on Friday, its highest daily case count since Feb. 13, as well as 28 new deaths. The seven-day average of daily cases climbed to 1,114, marking a sixth straight day of increases.

The province also announced it is activating an “emergency brake” in Thunder Bay and Simcoe-Muskoka, sending the regions back into lockdown to “immediately interrupt transmission and contain community spread.”

The two regions will move into the grey lockdown level of Ontario’s COVID-19 restriction plan effective 12:01 a.m. ET Monday, March 1. 

Workers with face masks are seen in Toronto on Friday. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Quebec reported 815 new cases and 11 new deaths on Friday, a day after long-awaited vaccinations of the general population got underway.

Gisèle Fortaich, 86, was among those to receive the vaccine at Laval’s mass vaccination centre Thursday, telling reporters she wanted to be sure to get the vaccine after a harrowing experience at the hospital with COVID-19 some months ago.

“It wasn’t easy to stay at the hospital that long,” Fortaich said. “What I went through, I’m telling myself it’s over now and I’m looking to the future.”

WATCH | Quebec plans for COVID-19 ‘immunity passports’:

Quebec plans to introduce ‘immunity passports’ at some point, which will allow people to prove they’ve been vaccinated and make it simpler to travel and perhaps even open some sectors of the economy. The concept is controversial, however, with some leaders calling it divisive and discriminatory. 4:41

New Brunswick is just over a week away from rolling into the less-restrictive yellow phase, says the province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell.

Newfoundland and Labrador‘s active caseload dropped again as the province reported 52 new recoveries — a single-day record — and four new cases.

Nova Scotia is introducing new restrictions as it tries to stem an increase in COVID-19 cases. The province reported 10 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday after reporting eight the day before.

Beginning Saturday, restaurants and bars in the Halifax area must stop serving food and drink by 9 p.m. and must close by 10 p.m. Restrictions are also being placed on sports, arts and culture events.

WATCH | Nova Scotia imposes new COVID-19 restrictions:

Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health, announced new COVID-19 restrictions on Friday, in hopes of limiting the spread of the virus. 4:10

In Prince Edward Island, all young people in Summerside age 14 to 29 are being urged to get tested immediately, whether or not they have any symptoms, after Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Heather Morrison announced a cluster of new cases there.

In Nunavut, authorities have identified another case in the hamlet of Arviat, a community of about 3,000 people where 312 cases have been confirmed since November. Active cases there are now at 26.

In the Northwest Territories, a Gahcho Kué mine worker who contracted COVID-19 is in critical condition, health authorities confirmed Friday. The territory has seen four people total hospitalized for complications related to COVID-19, with three connected to the Gahcho Kué mine. All but one have recovered.

What’s happening around the world

As of Friday, more than 113.2 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, with 63.8 million of them listed as recovered on a tracking site maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than 2.5 million, according to the U.S.-based university.

In Asia, South Korea administered its first available shots of COVID-19 vaccines to people at long-term care facilities, launching a mass immunization campaign that health authorities hope will restore some level of normalcy by the end of the year.

A nurse administers a dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in Goyang, South Korea, on Friday. (Lee Jin-man/The Associated Press)

In Europe, French authorities have ordered a local weekend lockdown starting on Friday evening in the French Riviera city of Nice and the surrounding coastal area to try to curb the spread of the virus.

In the Americas, the U.S. House of Representatives is set to pass a $1.9 trillion US COVID-19 relief package on Friday.

In Africa, Ivory Coast has become the second country in the world, after Ghana, to receive a shipment of COVID-19 vaccines from the global COVAX initiative. It has received 504,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine made by the Serum Institute of India.

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COVID-19 warning: BC called 'the Florida of Canada' by epidemiologist – CTV News Vancouver

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VANCOUVER —
A Harvard-educated epidemiologist with a massive social media following is getting a fresh wave of attention for calling B.C. “the Florida of Canada.”

Dr. Eric Feigl-Ding made the comparison in a tweet Wednesday about mask mandates for elementary school students. He’s in favour of them.

B.C. health officials are not, despite several recent exposures to the B.1.1.7 variant of the coronavirus that originated in the U.K. in Lower Mainland schools.

Feigl-Ding was one of the first to warn about COVID-19 and its potential to become a global pandemic. His “Holy Mother of God” tweet in January 2020 was seen as alarmism by many, but he says it was intended as a call for vigilance.

He says his “Florida of Canada” tweet is meant to serve a similar purpose.

“I’m trying to warn people to be vigilant, not trying to mock any location,” Feigl-Ding told CTV News Vancouver in a Zoom interview.

“I want people to be recognizing that there is a concern of rising cases,” he said.

B.C.’s provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry dismissed the comparison during her news conference on the coronavirus Thursday.

“I think in some ways we’re the Florida of Canada in that we have milder winters, but I don’t think in terms of the pandemic that we have many comparisons,” Henry said.

The reaction to the tweet has mostly followed that humorous tone, something Feigl-Ding said he enjoys.

The epidemiologist said he doesn’t regret making the comparison, but is frustrated by what he sees as the misinterpretation of his warning.

“The implication is, how aggressively are we moving?” Feigl-Ding said.

With files from CTV News Vancouver’s Bhinder Sajan 

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