It was a Friday in February and Canada’s COVID-19 situation seemed to be improving. The second wave had crested. Just over 3,000 cases were reported countrywide that day, Feb. 19, down from a peak of 8,766 six weeks earlier.
Dr. Theresa Tam, however, came to a virtual news conference with a warning. New variants of the novel coronavirus threatened the country’s progress.
“We’ve been saying all along that if we ease measures too soon, the epidemic will resurge even stronger. But with highly contagious variants in our midst, the threat of uncontrolled epidemic growth is significantly elevated,” Canada’s chief public health officer said.
“These variants have been smouldering in the background and now threaten to flare up.”
Tam released modelling that took variants into consideration for the first time. One graph showed cases growing exponentially. It said that the number of new cases could shoot up to 10,000 per day by late March if provinces kept the same restrictions in place, or increase even further and faster to 20,000 per day by mid-March if restrictions were relaxed even more.
WATCH | CBC News analysis finds ‘a tale of two curves’ as variants spread:
But some businesses shuttered during the second wave — including restaurants and bars in Alberta and retail stores in much of Ontario — had already reopened. And despite Tam’s warnings, those two provinces and Quebec loosened restrictions throughout March.
All were forced to quickly backtrack by late March or early April. One of the possibilities forecasted in Tam’s modelling had materialized: variants spread widely and cases skyrocketed.
Lockdowns and public opinion
This may have happened because politicians weigh the advice they get from scientists with public opinion, according to Mark Pickup, an associate professor of political science at Simon Fraser University who’s studied the politicization of COVID-19 in Canada and the U.S.
“Public opinion is not always going to be lined up with the best scientific advice. And so the politicians are trying to balance those things off,” Pickup told CBC News.
“And, of course, politicians are fallible. That’s known by everyone.”
Wherever there is ambiguity — like with mathematical models that forecast a range of different possibilities — there’s room for policy-makers to insert their own opinions and ideology, he added.
But epidemiologists say the situation was avoidable.
“The writing was on the wall,” said Kirsten Fiest, assistant professor and director of research and innovation at University of Calgary’s Department of Critical Care Medicine.
“It was almost inevitable that what we’re seeing now was going to happen. Warnings weren’t heeded early on and they haven’t been since, frankly.”
In a media interview in February, Fiest cautioned that a third wave was possible in Alberta if businesses were opened up too soon and the spread of new virus variants was not controlled.
“I did, didn’t I? And here we are.”
Ontario and Alberta are now the provinces hit hardest by third waves, with cases and hospitalizations coming close or surpassing peaks seen in December and January.
Canadian Armed Forces teams and out-of-province health-care workers have flown into Ontario to relieve pressure on hospitals. And Alberta health-care workers are being briefed on triage protocol in case they need to ration life-saving care.
While daily death counts haven’t come close to the highs seen in December and January, about 2,000 more Canadians have died since March 1.
Spokespeople for Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and Health Minister Tyler Shandro did not respond to questions sent by email.
A spokesperson for Ontario’s Ministry of Health said the government has “never hesitated” to take action to stop COVID-19.
“The third wave is driven by variants, which continue to enter the country and province through international travel and represent a significant threat to the health and wellbeing of Ontarians. Our government continues to request that the federal government take immediate action at Canada’s international borders,” Christian Hasse said by email.
Policy caused third wave: epidemiologist
Dr. Nitin Mohan, a physician-epidemiologist and assistant professor at Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, said policy decisions, “or lack thereof,” created Canada’s third wave.
Restrictions were lifted too early, Mohan said, and some provincial governments failed to bring in policies like paid sick leave that would suppress workplace outbreaks.
On March 1, Alberta announced that libraries could open and fitness studios could host low-intensity classes like tai-chi and yoga. A week later, restrictions were also eased on malls, retail stores and youth sports.
One gym in Quebec City went on to become the site of one of the largest superspreading events in Canada. More than 220 people were infected at the gym, another 356 cases were linked to the outbreak, and one member died.
Ontario lifted a stay-at-home order and opened retail stores in the hard-hit areas of Toronto and Peel on March 8. Premier Doug Ford’s government also upped restaurant capacity in red and orange zones, and allowed restaurants to serve on patios in Toronto and Peel.
Within weeks, doctors and experts were calling for urgent action.
Epidemiologists with Quebec’s public health agency said new rules were needed to control the spread of variants at a media briefing on March 26.
Ontario was “being led down a very dangerous path,” 153 intensive care unit (ICU) doctors wrote in a letter to Ford, his health minister and chief medical officer of health, on April 1.
An association of Edmonton-area health-care workers also wrote to their premier that day.
“The recent rapid increase in active COVID cases in Alberta represents the predicted third wave which will dwarf what we saw in December if urgent and competent action is not taken,” the letter said.
It was happening because of the more transmissible B117 virus variant, because individuals weren’t following rules, and because of the government’s “premature relaxation of existing COVID-19 precautions which has encouraged super-spreader events,” the doctors said.
It wouldn’t be long before loosened restrictions were tightened again.
Quebec put three regions into strict lockdowns April 1 and strengthened rules in Montreal and other red zones April 6. Gyms in Montreal were only open for 12 days before being forced to shut their doors again.
Also on April 1, Premier Kenney acknowledged that the third wave had started in Alberta, saying that in the race between variants and vaccines, “variants are winning.”
Five days later, he said that Alberta would move back to step one of its reopening plan. And on Thursday, Kenney announced even more measures, like the closing of junior and senior high schools in some communities, as cases hit a new high.
In Ontario, the story was the same. The whole province moved back into lockdown April 3.
Even British Columbia, which had allowed indoor dining since May 2020 and hadn’t tightened any restrictions since November, had to change course. The province announced a three-week lockdown on March 29, which the government now says will last until May 25.
Mohan said he believes provincial leaders either don’t understand the information they’re given or willfully disregard scientists’ warnings.
“It’s one of those two scenarios,” he told CBC.
“We knew what was coming here. There’s no surprise. So we know what is going to help us prevent a fourth wave. And that is almost entirely related to the public health measures.”
Ontario reports 653 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday – CBC.ca
Ontario reported another 653 cases of COVID-19 on Sunday. The majority of the new cases, 499, have occurred in individuals who have either not been fully vaccinated or whose vaccination status is unclear.
Here are some other key pandemic indicators and figures from the Ministry of Health’s daily provincial update:
Tests completed: 31,063
Provincewide test positivity rate: two per cent
Active cases: 5,591
Patients in ICU with COVID-related illnesses: 177; 127 needed a ventilator to breathe
Deaths: Six, pushing the official toll to 9,704
Vaccinations: 21,651,850 doses have been administered to date. Nearly 86 per cent of Ontarians aged 12 or older have now received a first dose, while slightly more than 80 per cent have received two doses.
The 2 Michaels are home. But what about the 115 Canadians still detained in China? – Global News
Heartwarming images and video surfaced of the two reuniting with their families. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday called their homecoming “good news for all of us,” noting that they had both gone through an “unbelievably difficult ordeal.”
But as of Sunday at least 115 Canadians remain in custody in Chinese prisons, Global Affairs Canada said in an emailed statement to Global News. Not all Canadians imprisoned in China are in arbitrary detainment, but the agency said at least four of those jailed are on death row.
“Canada opposes the death penalty in all cases, everywhere,” Global Affairs Canada said.
“We have raised our firm opposition to the death penalty with China and continue to call on China to grant clemency for all Canadians sentenced to death.”
“Two Michaels” and Meng Wanzhou return home
The agency said it reviews each detention on a case-by-case basis, as consular officials often require a “tailored approach” that can adapt to different local contexts and circumstances.
Here’s a look at the four Canadians currently on death row.
Michael Kovrig, Michael Spavor arrive in Canada after almost 3 years in Chinese prison
Of those sentenced to death, the most recent is Canadian Robert Schellenberg of Abbotsford, British Columbia. The Liaoning High Court upheld his death sentence on Aug. 10 following an appeal made over the summer.
Schellenberg was detained on drug charges in China in 2014 and was formally charged with drug smuggling in January 2015. Initially, a Chinese court had sentenced him to 15 years in prison. But four years later, his verdict was overturned following a retrial and he was sentenced to death.
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau said in August that Canada “strongly” condemned the court’s decision to uphold the death penalty for Schellenberg.
“We have repeatedly expressed to China our firm opposition to this cruel and inhumane punishment and will continue to engage with Chinese officials at the highest levels to grant clemency to Mr. Schellenberg,” he said, shortly after the ruling was delivered.
“We oppose the death penalty in all cases, and condemn the arbitrary nature of Mr. Schellenberg’s sentence.”
In an emailed statement to Global News, Global Affairs Canada reiterated that the federal government remains “strongly opposed” to the decision to arbitrarily impose and uphold the death penalty for Schellenberg.
The agency added it “will continue to engage with Chinese officials at the highest levels to seek clemency for Mr. Schellenberg.”
Chinese court upholds death sentence against B.C. man
Canadian Xu Weihong was sentenced to death by the Guangzhou Municipal Intermediate Court over drug manufacturing charges on Aug. 6, 2020. They also handed down a life sentence to Wen Guanxiong, whom they claim helped Xu make ketamine.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin justified Xu’s death sentence during a briefing last year, saying that death penalties would help “deter and prevent” similar crimes in the future.
“I would like to stress that China’s judicial authorities handle the relevant case independently in strict accordance with Chinese law and legal procedures,” Wang had said.
He added that “this case should not inflict any impact on China-Canada relations.”
China defends death sentence for Canadian convicted of making illegal drugs
Ye Jianhui is the fourth Canadian to receive the death penalty in China.
His sentence was handed down in August of last year over charges to manufacture and transport drugs by the Foshan Municipal Intermediate Court, just one day after Xu’s.
Ye and co-defendant Lu Hanchang conspired with others to manufacture and transport drugs between May 2015 and January 2016, the Associated Press reported last year.
Asked last year if the sentencing of the Canadian drug offenders was linked to Meng’s case, Wang said China’s judicial organs “handle cases independently,” while also adding that “the Canadian side knows the root cause” of difficulties in China-Canadian relations.
Fan Wei was given the death penalty on April 30, 2019 along with 11 others over his involvement in an international methamphetamine operation.
Speaking to Global News the day of his sentencing, Global Affairs Canada said officials attended the sentencing and reading of the verdict. They called on China to grant clemency, adding the decision to apply the “cruel and inhumane” death penalty to Fan’s case was of “extreme concern” to their government.
“Obtaining clemency for Xu Weihong, Ye Jianhui and Fan Wei is also of primary importance given China’s decision to impose the death penalty in these cases,” Global Affairs Canada said, in an emailed statement to Global News on Sunday.
“Canada will continue to provide consular services to Robert Schellenberg, Xu Weihong, Ye Jianhui and Fan Wei, as well as to their families.”
— With files from Global News’ Saba Aziz and Aaron D’Andrea, as well as the Canadian Press, Associated Press and Reuters.
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor have finally landed in Canada – CTV News
Two Canadians who’ve been imprisoned in China for more than 1,000 days have arrived safely in Canada.
Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, detained on espionage charges since Dec. 10, 2018, arrived at the Calgary International Airport early Saturday morning, following an overnight fuel stop in Alaska.
Footage from CTV News on the tarmac shows several passengers greeted by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with a hug, though everyone in the footage is wearing a mask.
A spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s Office told CTV News’ Bill Fortier at the airport that the passengers are indeed the two Michaels. The spokesperson added that it is very emotional moment for both of them and they would not be taking questions.
Later in the day, a smiling Kovrig landed at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, where he was met by his sister and wife. Kovrig briefly spoke to media, where he issued his thanks for the support and said he would have more to say in due time.
“It’s wonderfully fantastic to be back home in Canada,” he told reporters. “I’m so grateful for everybody who worked so hard to bring both of us back home.”
Trudeau announced the two would be returning to Canada in a late-night press conference on Friday, only once the two had left Chinese airspace.
“Welcome home, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor,” Trudeau wrote in a tweet on Saturday. “You’ve shown incredible strength, resilience, and perseverance. Know that Canadians across the country will continue to be here for you, just as they have been.”
News of their release has garnered celebration from across Canada, including from Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, as well as from people who knew the two Canadians.
“It’s hard to describe but I’m just so thrilled for him and his family more than anybody else,” Praveen Madhiraju, a colleague of Kovrig’s, told CTV News Channel on Saturday. “This has been a long time coming and we’re just thrilled for this next chapter.”
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said the two Michaels showed “incredible strength” during their detention.
“Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor are now home — they, as well as their families, have shown incredible strength, bravery and resilience,” she tweeted on Saturday. “The Canadian government has worked hard to secure their release. We thank everyone involved who helped make it possible.”
The Michaels arrived in Canada just one day after a British Columbia court dropped the extradition case against Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou over fraud and conspiracy charges related to American sanctions against Iran.
Meng had earlier Friday pleaded not guilty to all charges in a virtual appearance in New York court, where the judge signed off on a deferred prosecution agreement.
The two Michaels were both convicted of spying in closed Chinese courts earlier this year. Spavor was sentenced to 11 years in Chinese prison, while Kovrig had yet to be sentenced.
The detainment of the two Canadians has largely been seen as retaliation for Meng’s arrest, though China has repeatedly denied any connection between the Michaels and Meng.
Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat, told CTV News Channel on Saturday that the swift release of the two Michaels shows that their detainment was in fact retaliatory.
“Obviously this is the acknowledgment that this was really a retaliatory hostage taking for Meng Wanzhou,”
“I think (this is) a triumph for quiet diplomacy, because this was kept very much to wraps. Nobody knew what was going on. I was as surprised as the rest of Canada.”
With files from The Canadian Press
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