U.S border closed for another month as Canada braces for fall surge of COVID-19


OTTAWA –Canada and the U.S. will keep their border closed to non-essential traffic as Canadian public health authorities warn they expect a fall spike in COVID-19 cases that could still overwhelm the health-care system.

The federal government released new data projections Friday that suggested a “reasonable worst case scenario” could be an outbreak this autumn that exceeds the severity of COVID-19’s impact in Canada in the early spring. That’s when the virus peaked at nearly 2,800 new cases on one day in early May.

Health Canada forecasts “peaks and valleys” of outbreaks until January 2022, some of which could exceed the health system’s ability to cope.

Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam declined to call it a “second wave,” but she warned that COVID-19 could “collide” with influenza season and produce a perfect storm in hospital emergency rooms.

Tam sidestepped questions about how many infections could be expected during a fall peak, or to say which provinces are the most vulnerable.

But she flagged several worrying signs as schools, bars, restaurants, gyms and other areas of the economy reopen in staggered fashion:

  • The number of new cases reported daily across Canada has increased in recent weeks, including in B.C., which had seemed to stop the virus outbreak in its tracks but on Thursday reported 78 new cases — as many as it had at the height of the outbreak in that province.
  • Since early July, the highest incidence of COVID-19 has been reported among people aged 20 to 39.

  • Countries that had early success in getting the virus under control are now seeing resurgences.

Tam said while many Canadians are following public health advice to use masks, wash their hands and practice physical distancing, it’s vital that they remain vigilant.

“We are on that slow burn kind of trajectory but it doesn’t take much for things to escalate,” said Tam.

Also Friday, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair announced the Canada-U. S. border would remain closed for an additional 30 days — the fifth such extension since March, when the unprecedented shutdown first took effect.

A senior government official, speaking on background, said this week a majority of Canadians are satisfied with the deal that allows essential traffic in goods and services back and forth across the border, but bars travel for tourism or recreational purposes, and don’t want to see the border opened up anytime soon. The official refused to speculate when restrictions might lift but agreed it could continue for several more months.

Tam said the decision to lift restrictions on the border is being continually assessed, but that the situation is “quite clear” in the U.S., which has more than 5.4-million COVID-19 cases — a quarter of the global total.

“Every month when we do evaluate that situation again, we’ll take into account what’s going on both sides of the border,” Tam said. “But as we look at further planning out, we have to look at different options of how we can increase safely — as safely as possible — international travel …using different layers of measures to try and reduce the risk of importation and spread.”

The latest federal numbers show 121,234 Canadians have been diagnosed with COVID-19, with 4,666 cases still active. A total of 9,015 people have died.

Quebec and Ontario are still the hottest zones for both infections and number of deaths.

The new modelling shows that by Aug. 23, the number of infections could climb to 127,740 and the number of deaths could rise to 9,115.

Tam and Dr. Howard Njoo said federal authorities are advising provinces to “overplan” for the worst case scenario as schools reopen, cooler weather drives Canadians indoors and influenza season returns.

The virus could also evolve and pose new risks, Tam said.

“We don’t know the seasonality of this virus. It’s continued throughout summer, that’s for sure, but what if it demonstrates a certain type of acceleration under certain conditions?”

She said the potential remains for new outbreaks to overwhelm the system, despite efforts to buy new ventilators, medical supplies and personal protective equipment.

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Tam urged all Canadians, and especially young people, to download the COVID-19 Alert app, which notifies users if they’ve had contact with someone exposed to the virus and has already been downloaded by an estimated 1.9 million Canadians.

Asked if she foresees social distancing and working from home even if a COVID-19 vaccine is developed, Tam said the government is assessing the situation “two weeks at a time” and not making long-term predictions.

“It would be extremely unwise for me to tell you what 2022 looks like,” she said.





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New race-based data shows visible minorities in Canada disproportionately impacted by COVID recession


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But it will take months before we have a true picture of the real cost of the pandemic on different racialized groups, Macdonald believes, because there is still insufficient jobs-focused data by race.

“It is not new that visible minorities face higher unemployment rates and lower income, because we can already see that in the census data,” he said. “What’s new is that during this pandemic, we can now see who is hit harder.”

Armine Yalnizyan, an economist and Atkinson Fellow on the Future of Workers, pointed out that Canada’s story on race and jobs is much more nuanced than that of its southern neighbour.

“In the U.S., their labour force survey has always tracked three big buckets — white, Hispanic and Black,” she said. “But what we can see here is that South Asians and Chinese Canadians have been most impacted in the last one year and the groups that are seeing the most continued increase in unemployment are South Asians, Arabs and Blacks — our situation does not mirror the U.S.”

Beyond race, July’s unemployment numbers were “somewhat of a good news story,” according to Brendon Bernard, an economist at Indeed Canada, a jobs site. 

“In the grand scheme of things, the reopening of the economy has brought a lot of people back to work, which is why we’re seeing a pretty solid pace in employment growth,” he said. “However, there were signs that further progress might not be as rapid, as a return to work among those temporarily laid off was the prime source of job gains.” 



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China suspends Hong Kong extradition treaties with UK, Canada, Australia – POLITICO


Beijing issues tit-for-tat response as relations with the West continue to sour.

By

Updated

China has suspended Hong Kong’s extradition treaties with the U.K., Canada and Australia as a response to the three countries’ decisions to do the same.

Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Office today announced the decision on state-controlled China Global Television Network, Reuters reported.

China’s move comes just over a week after Downing Street said it would suspend the U.K.’s extradition agreement with Hong Kong, in response to Beijing’s introduction of a new security law in Hong Kong despite widespread criticism.

The security law, unanimously passed by China’s National People’s Congress in June, was introduced after months of mass protests in semi-autonomous Hong Kong. The measure prohibits “acts of secession and subversion” and gives the government sweeping powers to punish protesters.

“The wrong action of Canada, Australia and the U.K. in politicizing judicial cooperation with Hong Kong has seriously hurt the basis of judicial cooperation,” Wang said.

Earlier on Tuesday, the government of New Zealand had also announced it would suspend its extradition treaty with Hong Kong.





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An aging Canada can’t afford to have women out of the labour force


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Tiff Macklem, the Bank of Canada governor, acknowledged this month that the “burden of this challenge falls disproportionately on women” not because it is the politically correct thing to say, but because an economy that doesn’t fully engage half of its population will generate significantly less economic output.

Counterintuitively, that would put upward pressure on interest rates because we’d be less able to create faster growth without stoking inflation, which is what guides the central bank’s decisions about where to set borrowing costs.

“It is imperative that this proves a short-term diversion,” Royal Bank’s Dawn Desjardins, Carrie Freestone and Naomi Powell said in their report, referring to the sudden gap between the involvement of men and women in the economy.

This gap was already too wide before the crisis, especially since an aging economy like Canada needs to maximize all the resources that it has.

Quebec has the right idea, with its subsidized daycare system. John Mahoney/The Gazette files

But at least we know what to do about it, thanks to Quebec’s policy of heavily subsidized daycare. The program, which has been in place since the late 1990s, had essentially closed the gap between the participation rates between men and women aged 25 to 54 at around 90 per cent ahead of the current recession.

No other province comes close, and no other province does anywhere near as much to lower the cost of child care, although British Columbia is headed in that direction.

“The challenge of child care, it’s a total nightmare,” said Vicki Saunders, the founder of SheEO, a Toronto-based venture that backs women-led startups. “It’s just so painful for women entrepreneurs who are at home, or women who are working from home, just that extra workload.”



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Leaky border: Tourists and quarantine cheats threaten Canada amid U.S. COVID-19 surge



FILE PHOTO: Trucks prepare to cross The Peace Bridge, which runs between Canada and the United States, over the Niagara River in Buffalo, New York, U.S. July 15, 2020. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

July 21, 2020

By Julie Gordon and Tessa Vikander

OTTAWA/VANCOUVER (Reuters) – For 67 days, tiny Prince Edward Island went without a single new case of COVID-19. That changed earlier this month when Canada’s smallest province, best known as the home of fiction’s Anne of Green Gables, announced a cluster of new cases linked to a foreign student who entered Canada from the United States.

The man, who did not immediately self-isolate upon arrival in Canada as required by law, infected at least one person, who then infected at least four more.

“With tens of thousands of people crossing the border every day, there’s no way to enforce that” they follow the rules, said Colin Furness, an epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto. “It’s a little bit scary.”

As Canada’s COVID-19 infections and deaths moderate, the explosion of new cases in the United States presents a challenge for Canadian authorities who must deal with both unwanted tourists slipping though the border and legitimate travelers who break the strict quarantine laws.

The problem is compounded by a recent jump in crossings. More than 187,000 truck drivers and individuals entered last week from the U.S., a 30% increase over the end of May. https://tmsnrt.rs/3fEiQZ5

“The ice beneath our feet is getting steadily thinner in terms of what we’re allowing and the risk that we’re taking,” Furness said.

CLOSED BUT OPEN

While the border has been closed to non-essential travel since March 21, returning Canadians, essential workers and truckers, foreigners coming for family reunification, and even Americans driving to Alaska, are all allowed in.

The law dictates that all but essential workers and truckers must isolate for 14 days, but not everyone is.

Canada’s public health agency has so far contacted 175,723 foreigners to verify their compliance, while the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said police have performed physical verification checks on 1,492 “priority individuals.”

A Florida couple were fined in rural Ontario this week for breaking the quarantine law, while a Minnesota couple were fined last week, also in Ontario. Police have also fined numerous U.S. citizens for stopping to hike in picturesque Banff National Park while en route to Alaska.

Canadians, too, have faced scrutiny. Three Irving Shipbuilding executives were granted an exemption in June to travel to the U.S. and not quarantine on return. After public backlash, the local health authority backtracked and the men were isolated.

Public opinion in Canada is firmly in favor of border restrictions, with 81% of polled Canadians saying they want the border to stay closed. The U.S. reported a record 77,000 new COVID-19 infections on Thursday.

Despite the surge, the Canadian government is under pressure from a group of 29 U.S. lawmakers who want a phased plan for reopening, and from family reunification advocates who say it is unfair that married people can cross the border to join their spouses while fiances or non-cohabitating domestic partners of Canadians cannot.

“We are not asking for open borders, we are just asking to be together,” said David Poon, who runs a Facebook group advocating to reunify couples separated by the border closure.

TOURISM HURTING

Canada’s most iconic tourist towns are feeling the pinch. The unemployment rate in Banff, a resort town in Canada’s flagship national park, has risen to an alarming 80% as COVID-19 has crippled the hospitality sector, said Leslie Bruce, chief executive of Banff and Lake Louise Tourism.

Since the border restrictions were imposed, more than 10,000 U.S. citizens have been turned back because they wanted to enter for tourism, shopping or other non-essential reasons, according to the Canada Border Services Agency.

In Whistler, a British Columbian mountain resort where U.S. tourists typically account for 25% of all summer visitors, hotel occupancy dropped to “pretty much zero” from mid-March through the end of June, said Barrett Fisher, president and CEO of Tourism Whistler.

“The U.S. is an important tourism market for Whistler, but the safety of all of our communities is first and foremost,” she said.

(This story corrects name of company in the 11th paragraph to Irving Shipbuilding, not Irving Oil.)

(Reporting by Julie Gordon in Ottawa and Tessa Vikander in Vancouver; Editing by Leslie Adler)





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Canada Awaits Arrival of Hong Kongers With Canadian Passports


VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA – More than 300,000 Hong Kongers are believed to hold Canadian passports, and while Canada has yet to join Britain, Australia and Taiwan in making it easier for Hong Kong residents to immigrate or seek asylum because of a harsh new security law for the partly autonomous Chinese territory, Ottawa is waiting to see how many will show up.

The Canadian government has so far not proposed any changes to its immigration policies for Hong Kong residents, but it has joined other countries in their criticisms of the new security law. Ostensibly meant to combat terrorism, separatism and sedition, the new law could be used to criminalize almost all dissent in Hong Kong, its critics say.

The government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has also suspended an extradition treaty between Canada and Hong Kong, to the dismay of China’s embassy in Ottawa.

Tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents took advantage of favorable Canadian immigration laws in the mid-1990s, investing in property and starting businesses to secure citizenship as a hedge against an uncertain future after Britain returned its former colony to China in 1997. Both those programs have since been canceled, Canadian immigration attorney David Cohen said.

For younger people, the laws offered a chance to finish high school in Canada and continue a sought-after English-language education at a university in the West on a study visa, a lengthy route to citizenship. After becoming established in Canada, many returned to Hong Kong to pursue business opportunities and raise families of their own.

Many of those who remained settled in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, where large communities of Hong Kong expatriates are thriving. Even during the coronavirus pandemic, there have been multiple flights every week from Hong Kong to Vancouver and Toronto.

Although it has been just weeks since the new security law took effect on June 30, Richard Kurland, a Vancouver-based immigration lawyer and policy analyst, said some of those who acquired the right to live in Canada in the 1990s or earlier are beginning to look into selling property in Hong Kong to finance the immigration of their children to Canada.

“People are making plans to dispose of some property assets that were acquired 30, 40 years years ago, which today are worth a lot more, as capital to bring the child or children to Canada,” he said. “The feeling now is with the introduction of Beijing’s new security law, that the future is brighter in Canada in terms of lifestyle, and long-term goals for the Hong Kongers who do not want to live in an all-China Hong Kong.”

But Kurland said he does not expect to see a massive influx from Hong Kong unless the current situation there deteriorates. However, in the short term, he sees more students coming to Canada to study, unless the coronavirus pandemic makes that impossible.

Wenran Jiang is an adviser for the Asian Program at the Institute for Peace and Diplomacy in Toronto. Speaking from his Alberta Province home in Edmonton, he said that if the purpose of the new security law is simply to reduce foreign influence in Hong Kong, the flow of immigration across the Pacific may not change much.

Jiang said that immigration from Hong Kong, and more recently from mainland China, has given Canada an economic boost, particularly in the Vancouver and Toronto real estate markets.

“The immigration from Hong Kong and (in more) recent years from the Chinese mainland have contributed significantly … to both the growth of Vancouver and Toronto real estate markets, among other cities, and the economic contributions are significant,” Jiang said. “But at the same time, we also know after 1997, many of the immigrants from Hong Kong, although they are having the Canadian passports, they do not really invest here or even live here. They go back to Hong Kong.”

But now, he said, many of those may come back to Canada to stay if the new security law results in a significant shake-up in Hong Kong, which reverted to Chinese control in 1997 after 156 years of British rule.

One of the early immigrants from Hong Kong was Vancouver talk show host Ken Tung, who came to Canada with his wife in 1980. Since then, Tung said he has seen Hong Kong residents follow him across the Pacific for a host of reasons, most importantly the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989 and the handover to China in 1997.

A frequent critic of the Chinese government and its new security law for Hong Kong, Tung says Canada should speed up the process of granting asylum to those claiming to be hurt by the law.

The “government of Canada should open the heart, open the arms to have the background check,” Tung said. “And (it) should accept them as a resident of Canada rather than waiting one and a half years to go through the board, go through our process. I think if this (is for) young people, (there’s) a good chance that they will become a contributing Canadian, too.”



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Canada still working with China on COVID-19 vaccine despite delay: Trudeau


TORONTO —
The federal government is still in talks with China over moving forward with clinical trials of a potential COVID-19 vaccine, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters on Thursday, despite a delay in shipping the drug to Canada.

Trials for Ad5-nCoV, developed by biopharmaceutical company CanSino Biologics along with Chinese government scientists, was supposed to be underway after Health Canada approved it for human testing in May, but progress came to a standstill after Canadian authorities said the Chinese government had yet to sign-off on shipping the drug to Canada.

“We’re obviously continuing to work with the Chinese government to ensure that this work can continue in an uninterrupted fashion,” Trudeau told reporters at a press conference on Thursday.

“This particular approach is one that has worked well in the past. This partnership actually created significant measures against Ebola a number of years ago. And as we’re looking at developing a vaccine, we’re investing in many different approaches to try and figure out where that vaccine will come from.”

Trudeau said some of the world’s top researchers were working in Canada and in collaboration with partners around the world to develop a vaccine that can end the global pandemic.

“We’re trying to follow all the different paths we can to ensure that when a vaccine is developed, Canada will be part of it, or will have access to it,” he said, adding that the need for global co-operation would be balanced with ensuring Canadian intellectual property is protected.

Cyber security agencies in Canada, the United States and the U.K. alleged on Thursday that Russia has tried to steal information and intellectual property from researchers working on a vaccine for COVID-19.

Human trials of the Ad5-nCoV vaccine candidate are already underway in China, with results promising enough that the Chinese government has approved it for use in its military. Normally, testing can take five to seven years, but the anticipated Canadian clinical trials, which would be carried out by the Canadian Center for Vaccinology (CCV) at Dalhousie University in Halifax, was expected to move along much faster due to the urgency of the pandemic.

With files from Ryan Flanagan and Rachel Aiello



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Bank of Canada looks to long term, aiding recovery with rate near zero for two years – or longer


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Interest rates are very low and they are going to be there for a long time

Bank of Canada governor Tiff Macklem

“Interest rates are very low and they are going to be there for a long time,” Macklem told reporters on a conference call. “Canadians and Canadian businesses are facing an unusual amount of uncertainty, so we have been unusually clear about the future path for interest rates.”

In a separate nod to clarity, the Bank of Canada offered its first estimates of future economic growth since the crisis began, predicting that gross domestic product could contract 6.8 per cent this year, before rebounding by 4.9 per cent in 2021 and 3.2 per cent in 2022.

Last week, the Finance Department, using the average of about a dozen private forecasts, also said GDP will likely shrink 6.8 per cent in 2020, followed by growth of 5.5 per cent in 2021.



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Bank of Canada to make interest rate announcement amid coronavirus pandemic – National


The Bank of Canada will make its latest interest rate announcement Wednesday and update its outlook for the economy.

The central bank’s key interest rate has been at 0.25 per cent since March when it was dropped in response to the economic fallout from COVID-19.

Read more:
Bank of Canada tracking supply, consumer demand for next economic outlook

Governor Tiff Macklem has seemingly ruled out any further drops, adding that the central bank doesn’t plan to raise the rate until well into an economic recovery.

In his first speech as governor late last month, Macklem said the central bank expects to see growth in the third quarter of this year as restrictions ease, but warned of a “prolonged and bumpy” course to recovery.

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The bank will outline what Macklem described as a “central planning scenario” for the economy and inflation, as well as related risks — such as local, but not national, lockdowns.






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The Bank of Canada said in April that it expected inflation to be close to zero in the second quarter.

The federal government’s economic “snapshot” last week pegged inflation at 0.5 per cent for this year, then rising back to two per cent in 2021.

The reading was based on the average of forecasts from 13 private sector economists.

Statistics Canada data showed the consumer price index posted a year-over-year decline of 0.2 per cent in April followed by a drop of 0.4 per cent in May as lockdowns put a damper on consumer spending.


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© 2020 The Canadian Press






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Police notified of 21,422 cases where travellers to Canada may have broken quarantine rules


OTTAWA —
Police have been notified for follow-up in more than 21,000 cases where travellers arriving in Canada either couldn’t be reached or showed “indication of non-compliance” with the mandatory 14-day quarantine rules.

Of the 21,422 referrals from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) to the RCMP, nearly 1,500 were identified as “priority cases” for physical check-ups.

The RCMP and PHAC both confirmed the figures to CTV News — though few punishments have been doled out to any suspected rule-breakers.

“To date, 9 tickets have been reported to PHAC as being issued under the Contraventions Act for offences under the Quarantine Act, four of which were issued following a request made by PHAC for a physical verification (2 fines were issued by RCMP and 2 by the Ontario Provincial Police),” PHAC spokesperson Geoffroy Legault-Thivierge confirmed in an emailed statement sent to CTVNews.ca Tuesday evening. “As of July 9, 2020, no arrests have stemmed from PHAC-requested physical verification checks.”

In addition to these latest figures, Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) confirmed to CTVNews.ca that some travellers indicated a desire not to comply with Canada’s rules as early as the moment they travelled across the border.

“As of July 3, 2020, the CBSA has referred information to both PHAC and the RCMP on 237 travellers who the CBSA believes may not have respected the requirement to quarantine or isolate and/or those who have signalled an unwillingness to comply,” said CBSA spokesperson Rebecca Purdy in another emailed statement on Tuesday.

Canada shut its borders to foreigners in mid-March, initially exempting U.S. residents from the new rules. But within days the Canada-U.S. border had also shuttered to all non-essential travel, an agreement that sources told CTV News on Tuesday would be extended to August 21.

As Canada shut its borders to all non-essential foreign travel, it also imposed a mandatory 14-day quarantine rule on March 21 for any travellers who do squeeze past the tightened ports of entry.

According to Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Howard Njoo, most travellers are happy to play by the rules.

“Most people from what I’ve seen, in terms of the data that’s come in, have been very good in terms of what we call compliance. They accept the calls, they recognize that we’re doing it not to badger or hound them, but really as a gentle reminder to continue doing what’s, I think, in their best interests in terms of their health, but also to protect others,” Njoo said in a Tuesday press conference.

The news of thousands of suspected rule-breakers emerges as COVID-19 cases explode on the other side of the world’s longest international border.

At the end of June, the U.S. became home to the world’s highest number of reported infections: more than 2.2 million. That number has since soared to more than 3.4 million, according to the New York Times, with more than 136,000 deaths.

Njoo had a message for anyone who is travelling to Canada and is considering flouting quarantine rules.

“If you are coming from outside of Canada, please understand all of the efforts that Canadians have done inside of Canada to flatten the curve and to make sure that the transmission of the virus is as low as possible,” Njoo said.

“Please do your part.”

With files from CTV National News’ Annie Bergeron-Oliver



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