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‘We’re coming to get you’: China’s critics facing threats, retaliation for activism in Canada – Global News

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In July 2019, Mehmet Tohti was just hours away from speaking publicly to politicians about the Chinese government’s horrific abuse of the Uyghur population in Xinjiang when he received a message on Twitter: 

“Your f—ing mother is dead,” it read.

Read more:
Trudeau says China must address world’s ‘significant’ concerns on Uyghur abuse

Tohti had lost contact with his mother in late 2016, three years earlier. He had started to become more vocal about the mass detention and abuse of the Uyghur population in Xinjiang, publicly calling it a genocide and alleging the existence of concentration camps.

“And then my mother and 37 family members, close relatives, disappeared,” Tohti said.

“Since October 23, 2016, no phone, no message…nothing.”

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He never heard from his mother again.

“I love her so much,” Tohti said softly.

Mehmet Tohti’s mother is seen in this photo, provided by Tohti.


Mehmet Tohti’s mother is seen in this photo, provided by Tohti.


(Mehmet Tohti)

His story is just one of many for activists who speak out against the Chinese government in Canada. Despite being separated by an ocean, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its supporters have methods of keeping activists in Canada under their thumb — and there’s very little that Canadian law enforcement can do about it.

Cherie Wong is painfully aware of this reality.


Click to play video: 'Cherie Wong describes threats she’s faced while advocating for Hong Kong, intimidation from Chinese government'



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Cherie Wong describes threats she’s faced while advocating for Hong Kong, intimidation from Chinese government


Cherie Wong describes threats she’s faced while advocating for Hong Kong, intimidation from Chinese government

She had already faced repeated death and rape threats. Knowing full well the kind of intimidation and threats that activists critical of the Chinese government face, Wong had a friend book her Vancouver hotel room under a different name. It was January of 2020, and she was in town to launch her organization, Alliance Canada Hong Kong, which fights for the autonomy of the region.

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Sitting in her hotel room, the phone began to ring.

When she answered, she says she was greeted by an intimidating voice. It kept repeating, “we’re coming to get you.”

“It was a very threatening tone on the phone, telling me that ‘we know where you are, this is your room number, and we’re coming to get you,’” Wong said.

She had no idea who it was, but they knew her name and hotel room number — despite the fact that she had taken precautions to shroud that information from anyone contacting the hotel.

“I sat in my room and just started shaking, realizing that I could be in very real danger and not knowing what to do,” she said.

She said she contacted the police, but they told her there was nothing they could do about it. This is a key part of the problem, Wong said: the intimidation activists face often falls into a legal grey area, where there’s very little Canada can do.


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Trudeau urges international community for coordinated sanctions on China for Uyghurs’ mistreatment


Trudeau urges international community for coordinated sanctions on China for Uyghurs’ mistreatment

Speaking to a parliamentary committee on March 11, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki said those feeling pressure from China can call the RCMP’s national security tip line. That line is open to any and all national security tips and Lucki acknowledged that they “tend to get a lot of tips that aren’t relative to national security or law enforcement.”

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“What dissidents face in Canada is often on the grey area of criminal harassment and just discomfort that you feel (in) daily life,” Wong said. 

“I can assure you most of the harassment that I personally have experienced, aside from the very extreme death and rape threats, are not criminal activities. But they equally create the same threat for me and my family, whether here in Canada or in Hong Kong.”

Read more:
China touts ties with Russia in new threats against West over Uyghur sanctions

For example, Wong said, activists who speak out can often expect their families to get a “tea visit” from government officials back home in China.

“They come and knock on your door and say, ‘we’re coming in to talk to you about your family,’” she explained.

As officials sit down and drink tea with your relatives in China, they offer a chilling warning, according to Wong: “Your family from Canada seem to be very active nowadays. Maybe you should tell them to stop.”

“How do you report that to the RCMP?” Wong asked.


Click to play video: 'Tibetan activist describes the incentives driving support for China'



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Tibetan activist describes the incentives driving support for China


Tibetan activist describes the incentives driving support for China

That’s exactly the fear that was front of mind as Tibetan-Canadian Chemi Lhamo welcomed Hong Kong students to her office when she served as student president of the University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus.

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She said other students often stood poised outside the door, snapping photos of the Hong Kong students who entered. 

“That means that their families back home would also be subjected to threats, so I had to meet them, actually, in secrecy,” Lhamo explained.

“People would actually come in wearing their masks…like a full head on, sometimes clown masks and sometimes V for Vendetta-type masks, to enter my office to be able to talk to me. And so because of that, whether it was self-censorship or the intimidation tactics, either way, it really came in the way of me being able to actually help them.”

Lhamo understands why these people might want to hide their identities. When she was first elected student president, her stance in favour of Tibet’s liberation garnered the attention of supporters of the Chinese government — and a campaign of harassment ensued.


Click to play video: 'Hong Kong activists tell parliamentary committee why Canada should care about Hong Kong'



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Hong Kong activists tell parliamentary committee why Canada should care about Hong Kong


Hong Kong activists tell parliamentary committee why Canada should care about Hong Kong – Aug 11, 2020

Tibet has been under China’s occupation since the 1950s. China’s military invaded and took over the land, brutally cracking down on any pushback from the Tibetans and forcing their leader, the Dalai Lama, to flee to India. In the years since, Tibetan culture has been eroded and any pursuit of Tibetan liberation has been met with prison time, violence and repression.

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China, meanwhile, insists the Tibetans are happy and prosperous — but they won’t allow Western journalists or politicians to enter the area and make that determination for themselves.

Read more:
Canada hits Chinese officials with sanctions over ‘gross’ human rights violations in Xinjiang

Lhamo’s grandparents walked on foot over the Himalayas to give her parents a better life in India, where she was born. As she rose to prominence in the University of Toronto’s student government, pro-China supporters flooded her social media with threats.

“I was attacked by these thousands and thousands, I would say over 10,000 messages and comments, which were not just hate speech. I had death threats, rape threats, and they were against me, but also targeting my family members,” Lhamo said.

One comment was similar to a threat Tohti had faced. A comment posted on her Instagram: “your mom is dead.”

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She said she immediately called her mother, checking in during the middle of her mom’s workday to see whether she was alright. She was fine, although Lhamo said she was a bit confused about why her daughter was asking.

“Those were the moments where… I realized how much of a threat the Chinese government can still be,” Lhamo said.

“That’s just a peek into the life that I had to live because of the Chinese state influence, despite being born in India and raised in Toronto.”


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China’s Xi doesn’t have a ‘democratic bone’ in his body: Biden


China’s Xi doesn’t have a ‘democratic bone’ in his body: Biden – Mar 25, 2021

But Canadian law enforcement agencies still struggle to help address constant disruptions in the lives of activists like Lhamo, Tohti and Wong. Speaking on March 11, Lucki explained the RCMP receives 120 tips daily on its national security tip line — but that many of the tips can’t be addressed.

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“People might feel, for example, a threat. If it doesn’t meet the threshold of a criminal offence, then we normally can’t deal with it, in that sense,” Lucki explained.

She said that sometimes, if the tip doesn’t quite meet the threshold of a national security threat, the RCMP will pass off the case to local police services — but only if there’s a Criminal Code violation involved, such as uttering threats.

Callers can also sometimes find their tip passed along to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). But while there’s multiple national security agencies available to help, Wong said very few can actually do anything to stop the intimidation.

This is because Canada doesn’t have laws against “clandestine foreign influence,” according to Stephanie Carvin, a Carleton University professor and former CSIS analyst.

Clandestine foreign influence refers to secretive efforts by a foreign government to influence policy or action abroad — in layman’s terms, spy missions.

“There’s laws against targeted harassment. There’s laws against intimidating people and uttering threats. But by and large, this becomes very, very hard to prosecute,” Carvin said.

“Sometimes CSIS will interview these individuals just to get a better picture of what’s happening. But at the end of the day, there really isn’t a lot we can do unless we know that these activities are specifically linked to individuals who may be at a consulate or embassy.”

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Click to play video: 'China’s treatment of Uyghur minority is ‘totally unacceptable’: Garneau'



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China’s treatment of Uyghur minority is ‘totally unacceptable’: Garneau


China’s treatment of Uyghur minority is ‘totally unacceptable’: Garneau

It’s a reality that’s familiar to Wong.

“Many members of our community, including myself, have spoken with members of local police…some of us have been in touch with CSIS agents. But the general consensus from all of these law enforcement and intelligence agencies is ‘there’s nothing we can do to help you individually,’” Wong said.

But there are things the Canadian government can do to help, she said. They could provide resources to the victims of this harassment in languages like Cantonese, she suggested, as not all members of diaspora communities speak French or English.

Both Wong and Tohti also called on the government to create a registry for foreign agents working in Canada.

It would “bring to light that there are foreign actors active here in Canada, whether Chinese or otherwise, carrying out state sanctioned operations,” Wong said.”

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Read more:
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But while they wait for the government to take action, the threats against critics of the Chinese regime continue. 

Tohti said he’s had cars parked outside of his house for weeks on end — ones that no neighbours recognize. Individuals have come to his front door in Ottawa asking questions about his activities.

Wong said her internet often fails when she gets on the line with members of Parliament to discuss the plight of Hong Kongers.

Chinese officials continue to visit family members back home in China for ‘tea.’ They often do so after individuals like Wong speak to the media, she said.

And to this day, Tohti still doesn’t know what happened to his mother.


Click to play video: 'China ‘firmly opposes’ gathering of diplomats supporting Michael Kovrig as closed-door trial underway'



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China ‘firmly opposes’ gathering of diplomats supporting Michael Kovrig as closed-door trial underway


China ‘firmly opposes’ gathering of diplomats supporting Michael Kovrig as closed-door trial underway – Mar 22, 2021

“And I don’t think the Canadian government understands, truly understands the struggles that Chinese dissidents have been struggling with, not only in the past year, but in the past few decades.”

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But, she said, she won’t stop speaking out.

“I’m willing to risk my own safety and my own security if it means that Hong Kong and Canada can feel a little safer.”

Tohti, who has had his entire extended family detained in Xinjiang as he spoke out about the abuses, also stood firm in his convictions.

“There’s nothing in my hand to change the fate of my relatives. Even (if) I stopped today. It wouldn’t change anything. Probably, the Chinese government would increase the pressure, by thinking that the pressure works here. So let’s double up,” he explained. 

“It is tough. It is tough.”

But, he said, it’s the right thing to do.

“Despite the risk, despite the danger, you put yourself and you put your family members (in), you have only one choice,” Tohti said.

“To do what is right, and stand on the right side of history.”

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

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What the rise of the PPC says about Canada in 2021 – CTV News

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TORONTO —
While the People’s Party of Canada did not manage to gain any seats this federal election, its accruing of the popular vote has experts saying the rise of the far-right populist party cannot be ignored.

Maxime Bernier, who failed to win his own riding of Beauce, Que., said Monday that he will remain as party leader despite the defeat, telling CTV News’ Genevieve Beauchemin at his Saskatoon rally that he views the election outcome as “a huge victory.”

The PPC won over 820,000 votes and more than five per cent of the popular vote this time around, a marked increase from the 1.6 per cent of the vote it got in 2019.

POPULISM FINDS A HOME

The party that ran on an anti-immigration, anti-lockdown platform that has been endorsed by white nationalists, Neo-Nazis and other far-right groups has become a home for anti-vaxxers, anti-government protesters and gun rights activists, showing that populism on the left or right may be more about a movement than a traditional political party, said University of Guelph professor of political science Tamara Small.

“I think the only leader who is ecstatic about last night’s results is Bernier,” said Small in a telephone interview with CTVNews.ca after the election. “I don’t think they’re going anywhere… it seems that he’s taken that populism and attached it to far-right politics.”

The idea of Canadian exceptionalism from far-right and populist movements needs to be dispelled, Small said.

“The idea used to be that Canada was immune to sort of far-right populism…this idea that Canadians were sort of going to be free from the populism that we saw in Europe, like Nigel Farage is to the U.K.,” Small said. “But I think lots of people are wondering, if he’s [Bernier] just going to say ‘I’m not here to form government…I’m more here to challenge the system’” as a way of gaining support.

Barbara Perry, director of the Centre on Hate, Bias and Extremism at Ontario Tech University, said it makes sense to call the PPC a populist party, and that the party takes “an extremist position on things like immigration and diversity.”

“They’re extreme in terms of their anti-Trudeau or anti-state positioning. They’re extreme in terms of their anti-lockdown and anti-tax standpoints as well. So, yeah, I think they absolutely might be considered extremists,” Perry said in a telephone interview with CTVNews.ca.

“As is calling them a populist group or populist party, because that’s really what he’s done so effectively is absorbed some of those broad concerns around COVID-19 and freedom and even the more mainstream concerns about economic anxieties, loss of jobs, loss of businesses… and managed to roll them all up.”

Some who support the PPC bristle at the implication that the party is a hotbed of far-right rhetoric or white nationalist supporters, with many online saying they simply support a party that is dedicated to their freedoms.

In an email to CTVNews.ca, PPC candidate for the riding Parkdale-High Park Ont., Wilfried Danzinger, denied that the party is aligned with extremist values, writing that “love was the guiding principle of his campaign,” and that his supporters come from all “different sexual preferences, all ages and religions.”

When CTVNews.ca emailed the PPC for comment on this story, party spokesperson Martin Masse sent back a one-line response: “I don’t respond to requests from leftist activists masquerading as journalists. Get lost.”

COVID-19 WAS A ‘GIFT’ TO THE PPC

The rise of the PPC in the polls can be attributed partially to the “gift” of the COVID-19 pandemic, said Evan Balgord, executive director of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network.

Balgord said that “the COVID-19 pandemic was a gift to the far-right” in general as it allowed them to infiltrate conspiracy theory spaces and begin attracting new followers.

“The rise of the party kind of fit into this because these people didn’t really have a political party. If they voted for any party, they would vote Conservative,” he said. “But they weren’t particularly happy about voting Conservative either because they’re the most fringe. So when the PCC started as a party in 2019, Bernier, right from day one was using their language, their talking points, and the words of the far-right in several spaces. We saw them actually say ‘Bernier is dog whistling to us.’”

But Small questioned whether the end of the COVID-19 pandemic would stop the drip of followers to the PPC and spell a marked decline in the party.

“My sense is that a lot of this anger and concern is tied up in a particular type of anger about lockdowns and vaccine mandates and overreach of the state,” Small said. “I’m not too sure whether or not once the pandemic is done, to what extent the party still exists.”

It is a sentiment echoed by extremism researcher and assistant professor at Queen’s University, Amarnath Amarasingam.

“In early 2020, with COVID-19, the kind of conspiratorial thinking and angst around the pandemic went through the roof, and a lot of these movements coalesced around similar ideas,” Amarasingam said in a telephone interview with CTVNews.ca, noting that traditionally conspiracy movements generally operate separately from each other.

Amarasingam said the COVID-19 pandemic “gave them all a common cause and they all were playing in the same playground.”

Amarasingam said the question now surrounding the PPC is whether its rise is solely due to the “catch-all” the party provided surrounding anger around lockdowns, quarantine and the pandemic, “or whether it’s a sign of something bubbling beneath the surface that a lot of everyday Canadians actually held secretly anti-immigrant views, anti-refugee groups, all the things that are part of the PPC platform.”

“If that’s the case, I mean, it’s going to be a longer concern of ours,” he continued. “So that’s kind of the big question is whether this is just a blip because of the pandemic or whether it kind of speaks to something else going on that we should be concerned about.”

HATE WAS ON THE BALLOT

Bernier has always denied ties or affiliations to any of the far-right, white supremacist and Neo-Nazi rhetoric he is accused of platforming with his stance on things like reduced immigration and scrapping the Multiculturalism Act.

However, Balgord said known Neo-Nazis and white supremacist groups endorse the party, and that the party is populated with a litany of candidates, insiders and supporters who have been documented by the Canadian Anti-Hate Network as members of far-right groups.

“There’s so many examples,” he said. “This isn’t a few isolated incidents, this is a pattern. This is what the PPC is.”

Balgord referenced more than 10 incidents of PPC candidates or people associated with the party who have engaged in far-right rhetoric or have been exposed by work done by the Canadian Anti-Hate Network as being part of white nationalist groups.

“One of his very first riding executives was a guy [who] ran a USA Neo-Nazi organization and actually did time in the United States for organizing racially motivated assaults,” he said.

Balgord noted that the man charged with throwing gravel at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau while he was campaigning as the Liberal leader was a riding director for the PPC, and that his organization had previously exposed him for “posting white power music on social media accounts with lyrics about killing immigrants.”

Another example listed by Balgord was the PPC candidate for the Ontario riding of Vaughn-Woodbridge who was exposed by Press Progress this month for allegedly having touted and created a video game where users can re-enact the 1999 Columbine shooting massacre and partake in their own shooting of caricatures of minorities and LGBTQ2S+ people.

Bernier himself has been featured on what Balgord describes as an “anti-Semitic blog collective,” which endorses a book full of terrorist Nazi ideologies. 

The PPC platform itself is also chock-full of “dog whistles” to the far-right, Balgord, Amarasingam and Perry said, referencing the sections on refugees, immigration and “Canadian identity.”

“I think the Canadian identity is tied to the anti-immigration, anti-refugee stuff,” Amarasingam said. “But I know when someone says Canadian identity, especially with all the other things that are at play in the platform, what that likely means for the PPC, is basically kind of ‘The Great Replacement,’ but around Canadian values.”

The Great Replacement theory is a conspiracy prevalent in white nationalist and far-right groups that posits that a shadowy cabal is behind demographic changes in a country or area, and that “white identity” or “Western values” are in decline because of it.

Balgord said it is known to have spurred terrorist attacks like the Christchurch mosque shooting of 2019.

“When we talk about the PPC, it’s necessary to talk about their ties to white supremacy and white nationalism and how dangerous the thing is, they’re not just another political party, right?” Balgord said. “They’re the white nationalist and the hate movement in Canada. It’s their way of trying to get a foothold into mainstream Canadian politics.”

Perry noted the language Bernier has used in his campaigns, in tweets and even in his speech on election night, in particular his word choices of “government overreach, tyrannies and authoritarian government.”

“Look at some of the language. It’s drawn from groups like three percenters…in particular in the militia movement,” Perry said. “So, yeah, there’s a very direct line. It’s not a dotted line. It’s a direct line.”

But when asked about the PPC and Bernier’s denial of allegations of extremist views, Balgord was unimpressed.

“The PPC is the party of plausible deniability,” he said. “But when you really scratch the surface, you find that it’s a party for white nationalists.”

WHERE DOES CANADA GO FROM HERE?

For the single-issue voters who chose to vote for Bernier’s party because of their views on lockdowns or COVID-19 vaccine mandates, the end of lockdowns and pandemic restrictions may tempt them away from the party, but Amarasingam says they cannot deny that their vote is still an endorsement of what the PPC represents.

“I think if you’re a single-issue voter on the vaccine, and you can find common cause with the PPC that doesn’t necessarily make you far-right, that just means that you’re unfortunately willing to sell a whole host of Canadian communities down the river to hold up this one value,” he said.

Amarasingam said that education on extremism may be what people need to make informed choices moving forward.

“I think everyone basically has to become an extremism watcher now that it’s no longer just some of us who live in these bizarre online communities paying attention to things, because as things become mainstream, people need to understand extremism and how these dynamics work and how these movements work,” he said.

As for the PPC’s presence in mainstream politics, Perry and Small said it’s a fine line to walk between exposing and identifying extremist views and providing too much of a platform for them to gain more followers.

“I think people feel very differently. I think there’s a lot of people who would say you should just ignore these people and never give them any platform,” Small said. “But I’m of the belief that not being aware in some ways is like throwing a match into a forest and then just not worrying about it.”

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

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The latest:

Alaska, which led most U.S. states in coronavirus vaccinations months ago, took the drastic step on Wednesday of imposing crisis-care standards for its entire hospital system, declaring that a crushing surge in COVID-19 patients has forced rationing of strained medical resources.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy and health officials announced the move as the tally of newly confirmed cases statewide reached another single-day record of 1,224 patients amid a wave of infections driven by the spread of the highly contagious delta variant among the unvaccinated.

The delta variant is “crippling our health-care system. It’s impacting everything from heart attacks to strokes to our children if they get in a bike accident,” Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer, said at a news conference with Dunleavy.

Alaska’s health and social services commissioner, Adam Crum, announced that he signed an emergency addendum extending to the whole state standards of crisis care announced last week at the state’s largest hospital, Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage. The new document limits liability faced by providers for crisis-level medical care in all Alaska hospitals.

Moreover, it acknowledges the realities of rationed care statewide, with scarce medical supplies and staff prioritized in a way that denies normal levels of care to some patients for the sake of others, depending on how sick they are and their chances for recovery.

To cope with the COVID-19 influx, Alaska has signed an $87 million US contract to enlist hundreds of health-care workers from out of state, officials said.

About one-fifth of Alaska hospital patients are infected with COVID-19, according to state data. But that figure understates the burden placed on the system as a whole as it “squeezes out” capacity to treat victims of car accidents, strokes, heart attacks and other ailments, Dunleavy said.

Paradoxically, back in April, Alaska had ranked among the top states getting COVID-19 vaccines into the arms of residents, helped in large part by efforts of the state’s pandemic-conscious Indigenous population.

Alaska has since slipped below the national average, with just 58 per cent of residents aged 12 and older fully vaccinated, according to the state database. The vaccination slump coincided with significant political resistance to public health requirements.

-From Reuters, last updated at 6:45 a.m. ET


What’s happening across Canada

WATCH | Record number of COVID-19 cases further strain Saskatchewan’s hospitals: 

Growing calls for lockdown as COVID-19 strains Sask. hospitals

13 hours ago

There are growing calls for tighter restrictions in Saskatchewan, including a lockdown, as the record number of COVID-19 cases further strain the province’s hospitals. 2:20

Saskatchewan’s only children’s hospital is opening its pediatric intensive care unit to younger adults with COVID-19.

Those under the age of 40 are getting admitted to the Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital in Saskatoon. The Saskatchewan Health Authority said Wednesday that so far two adults are in the pediatrics ICU, and space is being made for more.

Dr. Susan Shaw, the health authority’s chief medical officer, said critical care capacity is under strain.

The province has recently been reporting record numbers of COVID-19 hospitalizations — mostly unvaccinated patients.

-From The Canadian Press, last updated at 6:40 a.m. ET


What’s happening around the world

A health worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a private school in Quito, Ecuador, earlier this month. (Rodrigo Buendia/AFP/Getty Images)

As of early Thursday morning, more than 230.1 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s case tracking tool. The reported global death toll stood at more than 4.7 million.

In the Americas, the Pan American Health Organization has warned that countries in the region could continue to face localized COVID-19 outbreaks well into 2022, even while deaths have fallen from their peak in January.

In the Middle East, Syria is facing a new surge in infections in both government-held areas and territory outside state control that could overwhelm the war-ravaged country’s fragile health system.

In Africa, Uganda’s president has eased restrictions, allowing the resumption of education for universities and other post-secondary institutions, citing a decline in infections.

Police patrol along St. Kilda Beach in Melbourne on Thursday. The city has seen recent protests from construction workers and others against COVID-19 regulations. (William West/AFP/Getty Images)

In the Asia-Pacific region, police in the Australian city of Melbourne prepared for a fourth day of anti-lockdown protests on Thursday while a vaccination hub closed after protesters abused staff, the operator said, while COVID-19 cases across the state of Victoria hit a daily record. Hundreds of protesters have taken to the streets in the city of five million since officials this week ordered a two-week closure of building sites and made vaccines mandatory for construction workers to limit the spread of the virus.

Japan plans to give other countries 60 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said, doubling the target from the previous pledge of 30 million doses.

Thailand pushed back plans to reopen Bangkok and some other major cities to foreign arrivals until November.

In Europe, Italy plans to give other countries 45 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines before the end of the year, three times its original pledge, Prime Minister Mario Draghi said.

-From Reuters and The Associated Press, last updated at 6:35 a.m. ET


Have questions about this story? We’re answering as many as we can in the comments. 

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New Zealand’s Ardern says lockdowns can end with high vaccine uptake

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New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Thursday the country should aim for a 90%-plus rate of inoculation, and could drop strict coronavirus lockdown measures once enough people were vaccinated.

New Zealand eliminated COVID-19 last year and remained largely virus-free until an outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant in August led to a nationwide lockdown.

With its biggest city Auckland still in lockdown and new cases being reported every day, Ardern said vaccinations will replace lockdowns as the main tool against the virus, allowing authorities to isolate only those who are infected.

“If that rate (of vaccinations) is high enough then we will be able to move away from lockdowns as a tool,” she said.

The highest possible vaccine rates will give the most freedoms, Ardern said, adding that the country should be aiming for a 90% plus rate of vaccination.

After a sluggish start to its vaccination campaign, some 40% of adult New Zealanders are fully vaccinated and about 75% have had at least one dose.

Authorities reported 15 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, all in Auckland, taking the total number of cases in the current outbreak to 1,123.

The Director General of Health, Ashley Bloomfield warned earlier this week that New Zealand may not get to zero COVID cases again.

 

(Reporting by Praveen Menon; editing by Richard Pullin)

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