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Vaccine mandates have been blamed for some of Pearson airport's chaos. Is it time to drop them? – CBC.ca

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The waning effectiveness of vaccines to stop the spread of the highly infectious Omicron variant of COVID-19 could mean it’s time for federal policy makers to consider lifting vaccine mandates, some experts suggest.

“It’s hard to really justify our mandates anymore,” said Dr Zain Chagla, an infectious diseases physician at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton and an associate professor at McMaster University.

Toronto’s Pearson International Airport has recently been a scene of snarling air passenger traffic, causing long lineups and major delays. 

While government officials have blamed staffing shortages for problems, some industry groups and politicians are laying the blame on COVID-related border restrictions, including vaccine mandates that require travellers to prove their vaccine status using an app before entering Canada.

Prevent severe illness and death

Scientists stress that the vaccines do hold up against what matters — severe illness, hospitalization and death.

And Chagla said that when the Alpha and Delta variants of COVID-19 swept through, data showed that vaccination had a “profound effect” on stopping a significant amount of infections, and that people’s ability to transmit was reduced.

Travellers entering Canada must still upload proof of their vaccinations into the ArriveCan mobile app, above. (Government Of Canada)

But the vaccines’ abilities to prevent transmission of the virus changed with the Omicron variant, he says. 

Last month, in a editorial for the Globe and Mail, under the headline: “The logic behind vaccine mandates for travellers no longer holds,” Chagla wrote that with the Omicron variant, vaccine efficacy “wanes significantly” to help prevent transmission. He pointed to data from the UK Health Security Agency that he said showed the effectiveness of two or three doses of vaccine against spreading the Omicron-variant infection over time approaches zero.

“We live in a world now where a lot of people have either been vaccinated or got COVID, that maybe one to two per cent of people isn’t in that category,” he told CBC News. “Are we really working hard to make sure that they’re not able to access a flight?” he said.

“They’re not necessarily at an increased risk of transmission as compared to the fully vaccinated person against the next variant.”

WATCH | Long lines frustrate passengers at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport:

Frustrations mount over delays at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport

2 days ago

Duration 10:30

Extremely long wait times affecting arriving and departing passengers at Toronto’s Pearson airport are likely to continue until Labour Day, a former Air Canada executive says.

Proof-of-vaccine certificates to enter public places have been largely removed in all provinces Canada. The remaining proof-of-vaccination policy requirement applies to federally regulated employees and for travel, especially by air overseas and to enter Canada. 

However, the Public Health Agency of Canada recently announced that COVID-19 restrictions at the border will remain in place for at least another month. Those restrictions include vaccine mandates, which require travellers to use the ArriveCan mobile app to download proof of their vaccination before entering Canada.

Those who do not are subject to testing and quarantine.

Even as Omicron dominates, the vaccines are holding up against what matters — severe illness, hospitalization and death, experts say. (Ted Aljibe/AFP/Getty Images)

Conservative motion shot down

The Canadian Airports Council and the Canadian Travel and Tourism Roundtable, an industry group formed during the COVID-19 pandemic, are among the industry organizations calling for vaccine mandates to be dropped.

WestJet Airlines has also called for the removal of mandates. Meanwhile, a federal Conservative motion calling for the removal of pandemic-related restrictions, including vaccine mandates, was shot down last month.

But Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine, professor of community health and epidemiology at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, said that some research does indicate that vaccine booster doses do protect people from transmission of the virus.

“This last remaining vaccine policy should remain a little longer because the threat of COVID-19 and the harm it causes in terms of long COVID, deaths and hospitalization particularly in vulnerable people, elderly and in some cases in children hasn’t entirely disappeared,” he said.

Yet, Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease physician and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore, Md., questioned the value those mandates now serve in light of the Omicron variant and population immunity.

“I think that increasingly it’s become less valuable than it was in the earlier eras in the pandemic, because the vaccine in the face of Omicron isn’t very great at protecting against infection, he said.

‘Much less value’ for travel

Because the vaccines hold up against severe illness, hospitalization and death, Adalja said there is still great value for employers to insist their workforce be vaccinated from a work-safety standpoint.

As for vaccine mandates for travel, “I think it has much less value,” he said. “I don’t think the ArriveCan [app] serves the same value that it once did.”

Appearing before a House of Commons health committee earlier this week, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said the mandates were first implemented when there was a strong resurgence of the Delta variant and two doses of vaccines were very effective.

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam said the mandates were first implemented when there was a strong resurgence of the Delta variant and two doses of vaccines were very effective. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

But Omicron was the “game changer,” she said. 

“Given the reduced vaccine effectiveness, even with three doses against the Omicron variant, vaccines cannot prevent all transmissions alone,” she said. 

So, a layered approach has to be considered, including layering mask wearing, for instance. But these are the things that the relevant ministers need to consider.”

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'Every dollar counts': Ontario's gas and fuel tax cut goes into effect – CBC.ca

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Ontario drivers experienced some relief from record-setting prices at the pump on Friday as the province’s gas tax cut came into effect.

The Ontario government cut the gas tax by 5.7 cents per litre until the end of the year, though Premier Doug Ford said he would consider an extension if inflation remains high.

Drivers noticed the impact Friday at gas stations in the Toronto-area, where prices dropped around 11 cents overnight to $1.93 — only partly attributable to the tax cut.

“Every dollar counts,” said Matthew Johnston as he filled up a cargo van at a downtown Toronto gas station. “This will actually help a bit.”

Gas prices in Toronto are up nearly 40 per cent since the start of the year, reaching a record high $2.15 per litre in early June before ending the month around $2.00 per litre.

Cut also applies to diesel

Johnston, who runs an upstart catering business and works at a winery, says the soaring price of gas paired with inflation has forced him to cut back on spending.

“I haven’t been able to go out or do anything anymore. It’s honestly just all gone to gas, rent — you know, just the cost of living,” he said.

He usually puts $60 in the tank to make his near-daily commute to the Niagara area. On Friday, he opted to try a $40-fill-up. 

The tax cut is expected to cost the province $645 million while it’s in effect. Analysts note Ford may face a tough decision in December when the measure expires and with prices likely to rise again before Christmas.

The legislation passed this spring will also cut fuel tax, which covers diesel, by 5.3 cents per litre until Dec. 31.

Hermain Kazmi called the tax cut a move in the right direction as he pumped gas into his car. He said high gas prices recently pushed him to use more public transit, but he expected to return to his previous driving habits if prices came down.

Kazmi was “100 per cent” in support of the government extending the tax cut into 2023, even expressing the hope it could lead to more financial relief.

“I don’t think a 10 cent drop would make a huge impact. It’s a good change but I think it needs to come down lower depending on how much inflation is and how salaries have not matched how inflation has gone up,” he said.

Price tied to increased demand, invasion of Ukraine

The soaring price of gas, a key driver of inflation, is tied to an increased demand for oil as the economy reopens after the COVID-19 pandemic. The situation has also been exacerbated by a global supply crunch caused in part by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Ali Avali stopped to fill up his SUV on the way to a park outside Toronto, with his dog, an Alaskan Malamute, perched in the backseat.

“The only reason I drive is because of this guy. I take him out to do a bit of running in the country,” he said.

Once the loan is paid off on the SUV, Alavi said he plans to switch to an electric vehicle. He said he opposed a gas tax cut, suggesting that if prices continued to go up, more people may also be inclined to make the switch. 

“When I see gas prices going up, it doesn’t really piss me off,” he said. 

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LILLEY: Trudeau government tries to deny responsibility for Canada's air travel delays – Toronto Sun

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Our airports are a disaster and somehow the Trudeau government and their supporters think they can just say, “but it’s bad in other places too!”

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Is that really a good enough answer for Canadians?

It shouldn’t be.

The truth of the matter is that our delays have been going on since the end of March. Airports like Charles de Gaulle in Paris are experiencing problems now due to a strike.

On Thursday, Air Canada was the most delayed airline in the world with 74% of flights not leaving or arriving on time, according to Flight Aware. WestJet was the third most delayed airline globally with 59% of flights delayed.

The discount brand for both carriers, Jazz and WestJet Encore, weren’t far behind them on the list.

Is this due to problems globally or here at home?

You know the answer, but let me give you some more statistics. Canada had three airports in the list of the 20 most delayed airports in the world for departing flights on Thursday – Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa. We had five of the top 20 most delayed airports for arriving flights because Vancouver and Calgary made the list along with the other three.

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We don’t have the busiest airports in the world, just the most delayed, but somehow we’re expected to believe that government policies don’t have anything to do with this.

Not a single American airport is in the top 20 for having the most delays, but five Canadian airports are. Chinese airports like Shenzhen, Shanghai and Hangzhou dominate the list in large part because of that’s country’s COVID Zero policies.

“Our policies are so powerful that they’re impacting the entire world,” a senior Liberal messaged me after a recent column on how the Trudeau government’s policies are part of the problem.

They sent links to stories of airport delays in Amsterdam, England and elsewhere.

It’s all true that air travel is a problem elsewhere and staffing issues, including for airlines, is part of that problem, but so are government policies. And to deny that, or minimize it, is to ignore the problem.

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“On our end, we have done everything we can,” Transportation Minister Omar Alghabra said earlier this week.

He said the problems at airports are due to airlines scheduling, staffing issues, etc. Yet people are still needing to show up for their flights hours ahead of time to ensure they make it through security on time. Passengers are still being delayed and held back on planes once they land because the customs area is too busy and can’t hold any more people.

Those are issues the government is directly responsible for, not the airlines or airports.

The Trudeau government just extended a number of COVID travel measures until Sept. 30, including mandatory use of the ArriveCan app. According to customs officers, the app has increased the time it takes to process passengers by 400%.

Yet Alghabra wants you to think they have done all they can to alleviate the situation.

Other countries and other airports outside of Canada are experiencing problems but none as long or persistent as what we have been dealing with here in Canada. Instead of blaming passengers or airlines as Alghabra has done, he needs to work with all parties to find a solution.

That includes the government fixing the problematic areas they are responsible for at Canada’s airports.

blilley@postmedia.com

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95,000 GM vehicles unfinished in storage due to chip shortage – CBC News

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The global shortage of computer chips and other parts has forced General Motors to build 95,000 vehicles without certain components during the second quarter.

The Detroit automaker said in a regulatory filing Friday that most of the incomplete vehicles were built in June, and it expects most of them to be finished and sold to dealers before the end of the year.

The unsold vehicles amounted to 16 per cent of GM’s total sales from April through June. The company said Friday it sold more than 582,000 vehicles during the quarter, down more than 15 per cent from a year ago.

In a statement to CBC News, a spokesperson said only a small percentage of those vehicles, to be completed at a later date, were reserved for Canadian dealers.

The company reaffirmed its full-year net income guidance of $9.6 billion US to $11.2 billion with pretax earnings of $13 billion to $15 billion. For the first time, the company predicted it would make $2.3 billion to $2.6 billion before taxes in the second quarter. That fell short of analyst estimates of $3.97 billion, according to FactSet.

The chip shortage has vexed automakers around the globe since 2020, forcing many automakers to temporarily close factories and trim production. The shortage has limited the supply of new vehicles on dealer lots in the U.S. to around 1 million, when in normal years it’s about 4 million at any given time.

That has pushed prices to record levels and limited vehicle selection, but it’s also led to strong profits for most automakers.

In a prepared statement, GM said its North American production has been relatively stable since the third quarter of last year, but short-term parts disruptions are continuing.

“We are actively working with our suppliers to resolve issues as they arise to meet pent-up customer demand for our vehicles,” the statement said.

Most automakers have predicted minor improvement in the chip shortage during the first half of the year, with far better supplies from July through December.

GM shares fell slightly to $31.69 in Friday morning trading, after the filing was made public.

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