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Why Canada's first suspected coronavirus case is 'a world of difference' from SARS – CBC.ca

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News that Toronto has its first suspected case of coronavirus may come as a shock to Canadians, but health officials have been preparing for this exact scenario for weeks. 

“We knew that there was going to be a case in Canada. We knew that there was probably going to be a case in Toronto,” Dr. Allison McGeer, an infectious diseases specialist at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, told CBC News. 

“It was just a question of time.” 

The unidentified patient is a man in his 50s who was taken to Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre with symptoms after travelling from the Chinese city of Wuhan to Guangzhou and then to Toronto on Wednesday. 

Officials said he had limited external contact with people in Toronto when he arrived at his residence, before being taken by paramedics to hospital in stable condition.

“No one would be surprised if this is a positive case,” said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease physician at Toronto General Hospital. 

“It appears that this may have arrived on our doorstep and we’re ready.” 

How concerned should the general public be? 

McGeer, who contracted SARS in 2003 while working as a physician on the front lines of the epidemic, says she believes the risk to the public with this case is low. 

“I’m not concerned about transmission from this case at all in Toronto,” she said, adding that Toronto Public Health officials have already begun the process of contacting people who may have come in contact with the patient.  

“There are mechanisms for making sure that we can get in touch with all of those people and as long as they’re followed up, the rest of us who live in the city are not at any risk at all.” 

McGeer said there’s still no indication that this coronavirus can be transmitted to anyone but people who have come in close contact with infected individuals, but officials will take precautions. 

There are two types of transmission with a coronavirus like this: limited and sustained.

Limited human-to-human transmission occurs when there is close contact between those who have the virus and those who don’t, particularly with family members, but is usually contained to a small number of people before running its course.  

Health officials announce Canada’s first “presumptive” positive case of coronavirus is being treated in Toronto on Saturday. (THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Sustained transmission is characterized by the World Health Organization as an illness that can transmit easily from one person to others in the population.

“It is now clear from the latest information that there is at least some human-to-human transmission,” the World Health Organization in China said in a statement Monday. 

“In addition, information about newly reported infections suggests there may now be sustained human-to-human transmission. However, we still need more analysis of the epidemiological data to understand the full extent of human-to-human transmission.”

Ontario’s associate chief medical officer of health Dr. Barbara Yaffe said at a news conference Saturday that officials would be looking to identify passengers on the flight the patient took to Toronto who were within three rows for potential risk. 

Bogoch said that while the suspected case is not unexpected, by no means does it indicate that there is a wider outbreak in Toronto. 

“I think that people should just go about their lives as they normally do,” he said. “But also be aware of the news and follow the situation closely as things change.” 

How are health officials handling the situation?

Canada has already ruled out several suspected cases of the coronavirus in Quebec and Bogoch said that is an indication that the systems in place are working. 

“Thankfully, those weren’t cases, but at least it demonstrated that people knew what to do and where to go if they had symptoms suggestive of infection with this coronavirus,” he said. “It almost was a bit of a test of the system.” 

Dr. Jerome Leis, medical director for infection prevention control at Sunnybrook Hospital, said the patient was immediately isolated for further investigation, placed in a negative pressure room with protective equipment and was in stable condition. 

Bogoch said the work is not just being done inside the hospital, but preventing further transmission in the community and beyond. 

“This is one case, this is still an evolving situation and of course we might get additional cases as well,” he said. 

“But we are prepared and the system appears to be working.” 

How does this compare to SARS? 

We still don’t know how dangerous the new virus is or how it compares to SARS, which had a case fatality rate around 10 per cent, or MERS, with an estimated fatality rate as high as 30 per cent.

“We are in a very, very different place than when we were responding to SARS,” said Dr. Peter Donnelly, president of Public Health Ontario.

“One of the things that is very different is that we know what the virus is. We have a fast, reliable test and that really is a game changer.”

More than 400 Canadians were diagnosed with SARS and 44 died as a result of the epidemic that killed almost 800 people worldwide in 2003. 

Compared with the 2003 SARS outbreak, the flow of information worldwide and speed at which diagnostic tests have been developed has improved dramatically. 

“The speed with which people identified SARS was amazing for 17 years ago, but it still took weeks,” McGeer said. “Here, the problem was recognized the last week of December, tests were available around the world 10 days later.” 

A patient at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto is being treated in isolation for what Canadian health officials call the first “presumptive” confirmed case of coronavirus. (Carlos Osorio/Reuters)

Information was hard to come by in the early days of the SARS epidemic, too, and health officials in Canada were caught off guard when the virus was confirmed to have landed in Toronto in March 2003.

McGeer said health-care workers were “unprepared to take precautions” during the SARS epidemic due to a lack of diagnostic tests and experience with outbreaks.

“If you had told people before SARS that a new disease would emerge in China and cause outbreaks in Toronto, they would have laughed you out of the room,” she said.

“And the situation now is very different. We know what these risks are. We know how they’re going to come at us and what you’ve seen is the perfect example of that working.” 

McGeer said the patient clearly received information that he needed to contact authorities when he had symptoms arise, which he did, and the sample was identified by officials within a day. 

“Everybody took the right precautions,” she said. “It’s a world of difference.”

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Brazil’s Vale says output begins at Reid Brook nickel deposit in Canada

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Vale’s Voisey’s Bay nickel mine in Northern Labrador has started the production at its Reid Brook deposit, the Brazilian miner said in a securities filing on Tuesday.

Vale said the Canadian Reid Brook and Eastern Deeps mines are likely to produce 40,000 tonnes of nickel by 2025.

 

(Reporting by Carolina Mandl; editing by Jason Neely)

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EU, U.S. agree to talk on carbon border tariff

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The United States and European Union agreed on Tuesday to hold talks on the bloc’s planned carbon border tariff, possibly at the World Trade Organisation, EU chief executive Ursula von der Leyen said.

U.S. President Joe Biden met European Commission President von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel on Tuesday for a summit tackling issues from trade to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The leaders also discussed climate change policy, including the EU’s plan to impose carbon emissions costs on imports of goods, including steel and cement, which the Commission will propose next month.

“I explained the logic of our carbon border adjustment mechanism,” von der Leyen told a news conference after the summit.

“We discussed that we will exchange on it. And that WTO might facilitate this,” she said.

Brussels and Washington are keen to revitalise transatlantic cooperation on climate change, after four fractious years under former president Donald Trump.

On Tuesday, they outlined plans for a transatlantic alliance to develop green technologies and said they will coordinate diplomatic efforts to convince other big emitters to cut CO2 faster.

But the EU border levy could still cause friction. A draft of the proposal said it would apply to some U.S. goods sold into the EU, including steel, aluminium and fertilisers.

Brussels says the policy is needed to put EU firms on an equal footing with competitors in countries with weaker climate policies, and that countries with sufficiently ambitious emissions-cutting policies could be exempted from the fee.

The United States and EU are the world’s second- and third- biggest emitters of CO2, respectively, after China.

A draft of the EU-U.S. summit statement, seen by Reuters, repeated commitments the leaders made at the G7 summit at the weekend to “scale up efforts” to meet an overdue spending pledge of $100 billion a year by rich countries to help poorer countries cut carbon emissions and cope with global warming.

It did not include firm promises of cash. Canada and Germany both pledged billions in new climate finance on Sunday, and campaigners had called on Brussels and Washington to do the same.

The draft statement also stopped short of setting a date for the United States and EU to stop burning coal, the most polluting fossil fuel and the single biggest of greenhouse gas emissions.

Brussels and Washington said they will largely eliminate their CO2 emissions from electricity production by the 2030s.

 

(Reporting by Kate Abnett, additional reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Marguerita Choy, Andrew Heavens and Barbara Lewis)

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U.S. fine Air Canada $25.5 milliom over delayed refunds

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The U.S. Transportation Department said on Tuesday it was seeking a $25.5 million fine from Air Canada over the carrier’s failure to provide timely refunds requested by thousands of customers for flights to or from the United States.

The department said it filed a formal complaint with a U.S. administrative law judge over flights Air Canada canceled or significantly changed. The penalty is “intended to deter Air Canada and other carriers from committing similar violations in the future,” the department said, adding Air Canada continued its no-refund policy in violation of U.S. law for more than a year.

Air Canada said it believes the U.S. government’s position “has no merit.” It said it “will vigorously challenge the proceedings.”

Air Canada obtained a financial aid package this spring that gave the carrier access to up to C$5.9 billion ($4.84 billion) in funds through a loan program.

The carrier said it has been refunding nonrefundable tickets as part of the Canadian government’s financial package. Since April 13 eligible customers have been able to obtain refunds for previously issued nonrefundable tickets, it said.

The Transportation Department disclosed it is also “actively investigating the refund practices of other U.S. and foreign carriers flying to and from the United States” and said it will take “enforcement action” as appropriate.

The administration said the Air Canada penalty sought was over “extreme delays in providing the required refunds.”

Refund requests spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since March 2020, the Transportation Department has received over 6,000 complaints against Air Canada from consumers who said they were denied refunds for flights canceled or significantly changed. The department said the airline committed a minimum of 5,110 violations and passengers waited anywhere from five to 13 months to receive refunds.

Last month, a trade group told U.S. lawmakers that 11 U.S. airlines issued $12.84 billion in cash refunds to customers in 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic upended the travel industry.

In May, Democratic Senators Edward Markey and Richard Blumenthal called on carriers to issue cash refunds whether flights were canceled by the airline or traveler.

($1 = 1.2195 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by David Shepardson in WashingtonAdditional reporting by Allison Lampert in MontrealEditing by Matthew Lewis)

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