Tag Archives: Efforts

As COVID-19 exposes long-term care crisis, efforts grow to keep more seniors at home

Lucy Fernandez volunteered in a long-term care home for 20 years.

Although she saw first-hand how much of an effort staff and her fellow volunteers made to keep the residents happy, she also saw many seniors languishing in their rooms.

“While she was still, you know, fairly cognizant, [she] expressed her desire of not wanting to go to a long-term care facility,” her daughter, Laura Fernandez, said.

Lucy, now 85, suffers from advanced Alzheimer’s disease, with limited ability to speak and move. Because she’s one of 850 people in Ontario’s High Intensity Supports at Home program, announced by the provincial government in December, personal support workers come in for several hours a day — in addition to others who work with her on cognitive development — allowing Laura Fernandez to keep her mother at home in Toronto.

“She is in her own environment, she’s happy,” Fernandez said. “Just knowing that I’m there, I know is giving her comfort.”

That’s the level and quality of home care that should be much more widely available to seniors, according to several health policy advocates, including the National Institute on Ageing and the Ontario Community Support Association.

In addition, they say, it would ultimately save governments money by keeping more seniors out of long-term care facilities, which are expensive both to build and run.  

COVID-19 put spotlight on home care

The benefit of increased home-care investment in Canada is getting long-overdue attention, now that COVID-19 has torn through long-term care homes, killing thousands of residents and exposing lethal weaknesses in the system, said Dr. Samir Sinha, head of geriatrics at Mount Sinai and University Health Network hospitals in Toronto.

“Long-term care is at a crossroads,” said Sinha, who is also the director of health policy research for the National Institute on Ageing.

“People are thinking about their futures more than ever before and saying, ‘When I age, you know, am I going to be able to age with independence? Will I have to go into one of these homes? You know, how do I actually stay in my home for as long as possible?'”

WATCH | Laura Fernandez’s mother volunteered in a long-term care home:

Laura Fernandez describes the difference it makes for her mother, who has advanced Alzheimer’s disease, to receive the care that allows her to stay at home. 1:15

Not only do most seniors want to live at home for as long as possible, more of them actually could, according to a report released by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) in August 2020.

After reviewing the health status of people admitted in long-term care facilities in several provinces over the course of a year, CIHI concluded that across Canada, about one in nine new admissions “could potentially have been cared for at home, provided they had access to ongoing home-care services and supports.”

In Ontario, where people admitted to long-term care facilities are often quite frail or suffer serious cognitive impairment, including dementia, CIHI estimated that one in 12 new admissions could still potentially have remained at home if sufficient care were provided.

“One of the greatest reasons why people end up in nursing homes in Canada is because we don’t have enough publicly funded home care and supports … available,” Sinha said.

Although the Ontario government (under both Liberal and Conservative leadership) has increased its investment in home care and community services over the last decade, those investments haven’t kept pace with the needs of an aging population, according to the Ontario Community Support Association, which represents more than 200 not-for-profit organizations that provide home care and community support.

While long-term care homes have been struggling during the pandemic, the home-care sector could have helped lessen their load if it were funded appropriately, said Deborah Simon, the association’s CEO.

Devastating COVID-19 outbreaks in nursing homes have exposed enormous weaknesses that the Ontario government has pledged to fix, but many seniors’ experts say expanded home care should be a cornerstone of the solution. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Home care has also proven to be a safer option during COVID-19, Simon said, because seniors could more easily isolate in their own homes than in the congregate living setting of a long-term care facility. In addition, home-care workers use “the full gamut” of personal protective equipment.

“Care can be safely provided to people in the community who have COVID, using those very, very stringent practices around infection control,” Simon said. 

Put home care first, advocates urge

The COVID-19 crisis prompted the Quebec government to announce an additional $ 100 million investment in home care on top of the $ 1.7 billion it had already budgeted for this year.

“Home care is what people want, and they want it even more because of the pandemic,” Health Minister Christian Dubé said at a news conference in Montreal in November.

In a statement, Ontario’s Ministry of Health said it provided about $ 2.88 billion in funding to home care in the 2019-20 fiscal year. No estimate was given for the 2020-21 fiscal year.

Both the National Institute on Ageing and the Ontario Community Support Association say government funding should be prioritized so that home care is the end goal, rather than just an interim solution until seniors get a space in long-term care. (David Donnelly/CBC)

On Tuesday evening, a ministry spokesperson told CBC News in an email that “the government continues to make investments in our home-care sector for 2021-22,” citing an “additional” $ 111 million for the High Intensity Supports at Home program to help people with high needs — including Lucy Fernandez — transition out of hospital to home.

The spokesperson also cited last October’s announcement of a $ 461 million “temporary wage increase” for personal support workers in both home-care and long-term care settings during COVID-19.

In a separate statement, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Long-Term Care said it was investing up to $ 20 million for a community paramedicine program to provide services to seniors in their homes while they wait for a bed in long-term care.

But both the National Institute on Ageing and the Ontario Community Support Association say government funding should be prioritized so that home care is the end goal, rather than just an interim solution until seniors get a space in long-term care.

The Ontario Community Support Association has submitted a pre-budget consultation report to the provincial government, advocating for an investment of $ 595 million in the 2021 budget to make that happen.

The National Institute on Ageing has also submitted a proposal, co-authored by Sinha, to prioritize home care.

WATCH | Doctor says most Canadians want to age at home for as long as possible:

Geriatrics specialist Dr. Samir Sinha says boosting the level of home care and sending fewer people to long-term care facilities is both cost-effective and the right thing to do. 0:33

Both reports estimate the cost of home care to be significantly less expensive than long-term care. They also point to the Ontario government’s own estimate that about 38,000 people are currently on the waiting list for a long-term care bed.

To address that, the Ontario government has pledged to build 15,000 new long-term care beds and update 15,000 more.

That will cost billions of dollars that could be better invested — at a lower cost — in building a robust home-care system, Sinha said.

“By finding that better balance with those future investments we’re looking to make, I think we’re actually going to allow more people to age in the places of their choice,  which frankly allows everybody — the taxpayers and individuals and governments — to win.”

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CBC | Health News

Could new virus variants derail COVID-19 vaccination efforts? Scientists hope not

After the virus behind COVID-19 spent 2020 wreaking havoc around the globe, this year started with a bit more hope — vaccination efforts were ramping up, after all — and a tinge of fear.

Multiple new coronavirus variants have been discovered across several continents, from Europe to Africa to South America. Confirmed cases keep popping up in dozens of countries, Canada included.

Scientists are now racing to understand these sets of mutations, all while concerns are growing over their ability to infect people more easily or, in some cases, potentially evade the army of antibodies we create after being infected or vaccinated.

And since widespread transmission means this virus has ample opportunities to mutate again and again and again, these variants won’t be the last. They’re just the ones we know about.

“The more opportunity we give to the virus to replicate, to make more viruses, the more opportunity there is to see that variant of concern — one that won’t be mitigated by our vaccines that we’ve developed,” warned Alyson Kelvin, a virologist at Dalhousie University and the IWK Health Centre in Halifax.

After months of work to develop safe, effective vaccines against SARS-CoV-2, the scientific community now faces a race against time to ward off that scenario.

There’s also a looming question: What happens if we don’t?

Variants could ‘very rapidly’ become prevalent

Kelvin, one of the many Canadian researchers involved in vaccine development, said preliminary data shows that the sets of mutations identified so far don’t yet seem to be an issue for current coronavirus vaccines.

That’s the good news. It’s the “yet” she finds troubling.

“We have to stay on top of this problem,” Kelvin said.

Alyson Kelvin, a virologist at Dalhousie University and the IWK Health Centre in Halifax, says preliminary data shows that the sets of mutations identified so far don’t yet seem to be an issue for current coronavirus vaccines. (Liam Richards/The Canadian Press)

But while new variants might throw a wrench in efforts to suppress transmission by popping up like a game of global whack-a-mole, those ongoing mutations were actually expected, not surprising.

That’s because each virus has a singular goal of replicating itself. With tens of millions of people helping move the coronavirus back and forth between hosts, that means countless replications. Some of those contain random, insignificant mistakes. And when the mistakes prove beneficial to the virus, helping it produce more copies, those errors can become a new normal of sorts — a variant.

It’s just evolution at work, said Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Georgetown University’s Center for Global Health Science and Security in Washington, D.C., and incoming research scientist at the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon.

“What concerns me the most is that the epidemiological data that goes along with some of these variants suggests they could very rapidly become very prevalent — effectively out-competing the other variants in a given area — in a short period of time,” she said.

WATCH | How countries can control emerging coronavirus variants:

Alongside the use of vaccines, virologist and researcher Angela Rasmussen says countries can strive to control emerging coronavirus variants by beefing up surveillance efforts and encouraging the usual public health measures, from mask-wearing to avoiding gatherings. 1:13

Could new variants decrease immune response?

Researchers speculate that may be what happened with B117. The variant was first discovered in the U.K. late last year and is now the country’s dominant strain of the coronavirus — with various officials suggesting it’s at least 50 per cent more transmissible. (Cases have been confirmed in several provinces in Canada as well, and testing is ongoing.)

In the short term, more transmission means more infections, hospitalizations and deaths, Rasmussen said, which offers an incentive for countries to slow case growth. Doing so would both save lives and cut off channels for the virus to spread and mutate.

“It’s also possible that variants may arise that decrease the effectiveness of our immune response to the virus,” said Matthew Miller, a member of the Institute for Infectious Disease Research at McMaster University and the McMaster Immunology Research Centre in Hamilton.

“But also, of course — and perhaps more worryingly — the immune responses elicited by the currently approved vaccines.”

WATCH | A new coronavirus variant spreads through Brazil:

Three COVID-19 variants are now worrying health officials. The ones first identified in Britain and South Africa are already here. The third is spreading fast in Brazil and beyond. It may be better at dodging the immune response, and even reinfecting survivors. 3:36

For scientists in Brazil, there’s already legitimate cause for alarm.

“We have detected a new variant circulating in December in Manaus, Amazonas state, north Brazil, where very high attack rates have been estimated previously,” read the preliminary findings posted online by a research team led by Imperial College London virologist Nuno Faria.

The new lineage, dubbed P1, contains a “unique constellation” of mutations in the crucial spike protein, which helps the virus penetrate human cells, the report continues. The variant was detected in 42 per cent of samples collected during a stretch in December, but not in samples collected in the months before.

Those new cases also appeared even though an estimated three-quarters of people living in Manaus, the largest city in the Amazon region, had already been infected.

Faria’s report stressed that could mean an increase in transmissibility — the same issue with B117 — or even an ability to reinfect people.

Vaccines ‘modifiable’ in face of new mutations

According to Rasmussen, antibodies seem to have a reduced capacity to neutralize this kind of virus variant based on the spike protein mutations. Echoing Kelvin and Miller’s concerns, she said that’s a key problem, “because if you acquire enough of those mutations, you may get to a point where you have a variant capable of evading vaccine-induced immunity completely.”

But again, it’s not all dire news. Just because antibodies are less effective doesn’t necessarily mean someone would have reduced immune protection, Rasmussen explained, since the body’s immune response is looking at the entire spike protein, not just certain areas that might have a set of mutations.

Miller also noted that while the spike protein tends to be most prone to changing in the face of immunological pressure, there are other vaccine candidates in development that are designed to elicit broader immune responses against a greater array of viral targets to stay one step ahead.

WATCH | Scientists still researching whether vaccine prevents COVID-19 transmission:

As COVID-19 vaccines are administered around the world, scientists continue conducting research to determine how effective the shots are at preventing transmission of the virus. 4:44

“Even in the worst-case scenario, that we see some of these variants spreading and we get a partial response, it’s probably going to mean that the health-care complications, the deaths, are still going to be greatly controlled by a mass vaccine campaign,” said Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious disease specialist at McMaster University.

And, thankfully, research teams can also pivot, redeveloping existing coronavirus vaccines to target any variants that may prove capable of evading the ones already rolling out globally.

The novel mRNA vaccines, including the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna options currently approved in Canada, are among those that can be more easily tweaked. Those vaccines provide instructions — messenger RNA — to cells, allowing them to make their own spike protein, which someone’s immune system can recognize and fight off in the future.

“That is their genius, that they’re completely and rapidly modifiable,” Chagla said. “The packaging is there, the delivery method is there, all you need to do is change the mRNA sequence.”

The sooner people get vaccinated, ‘the better’

But while the flexibility of vaccination development is reassuring for the long term, it doesn’t tackle the problem at hand: COVID-19 still has its grip on much of the world, the death toll keeps climbing and vaccination efforts remain a race against time as emerging variants keep throwing a wrench in efforts to curb transmission.

“The sooner that we can get a vaccine into people, the better,” Kelvin said.

To save lives and keep health-care systems from collapsing while vaccination programs scale up, she stressed that Canadians also need to ramp up the basic public health precautions that should now be routine.

Physical distancing, mask-wearing, hand-washing, staying away from crowds and enclosed spaces — it all matters, perhaps now more than ever, to slow transmission and give the virus fewer opportunities to spread and evolve.

That buys time for Canada to hit its tenuous goal for 2021: getting everyone vaccinated, without any variants getting in the way.

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CBC | Health News

1st in Europe to be devastated by COVID-19, Italy redoubled its efforts, and they’re now paying off

When engineering student Sara Del Giudice returned home to Naples in late August from a short vacation with her boyfriend, instead of embracing her siblings and parents, she shut herself in her room.

“We’re a close family that hugs and kisses all the time, but I had a slight headache, a cough and achiness, and I just thought, better safe than sorry,” said Del Giudice, 23.

Several days later, she and her boyfriend tested positive for COVID-19. Despite both having negative antibody tests before their holiday on the island of Ischia, in the Gulf of Naples, her boyfriend was coming from Sardinia, where clusters of partying young people spread the virus with alacrity.

“Even though I thought was being cautious. I was too casual,” she said. “I should have known better.”

While Del Giudice is one of thousands of young Europeans who caught the novel coronavirus this summer, Italy has been far more successful than its neighbours at keeping them from passing it on.

As daily infections have recently flared as high as 12,000 in Spain and 16,000 in France, those countries have had to renew restrictions and urban lockdowns.

WATCH | As cases rise, COVID-19 restrictions reimposed in Europe:

A surge in COVID-19 cases across Europe has prompted many countries to start cracking down again, with restrictions ranging from local lockdowns to limits on social gatherings. More are likely in the days ahead. 2:02

But Italy, the first European country to be devastated by COVID-19 with almost 35,875 deaths, now has among the lowest infection and death rates in Europe. An average of 1,700 people a day tested positive in the past week, up from low hundreds in July, though they’re much lower than in other countries.

Britain registered its biggest jump in daily infection rates on Tuesday, less than a week after Prime Minister Boris Johnson defended the soaring rates compared with those of Italy and Germany by saying people in his country find rules hard to follow because they love freedom more.

Italian President Sergio Mattarella responded, “We Italians also love freedom. But we know how to be serious, too.”

“Italy is doing well because we have implemented very strict rules, and we did so early,” said the country’s deputy health minister, Pierpaolo Sileri. “The situation today is a sum result of the quick and relatively long lockdown but also the gradual easing that allowed us to adjust protocols as we went along.”

Italians of all ages wear masks in the northern Italian city of Brescia, which was hit hard by COVID-19 in the early days of the pandemic. Italy was an early adopter of mask-wearing and continues to have one of the highest adherence rates in Europe. (Megan Williams/CBC)

Airport gets top marks for hygiene

Unlike many countries, which appear to be taken off guard by flare-ups or second waves, Italy — after the trauma of coffins carried away by military trucks and people dying in hospital without funerals in late winter — got prepared.

From March to mid-August, the country almost doubled the number of ICU beds in hospitals from 5,400 to 10,000, Sileri said. It also increased the number of infectious and respiratory beds by up to eightfold and hired some 20,000 new doctors and nurses.

In late August, when young vacationers like Del Giudice were returning home infected from hot-spot areas such as Greece, Spain and Sardinia, screening was introduced at airports. (This month, Rome’s Fiumicino airport was the first airport in the world to receive a five-star top score by ranking site Skytrax as a result of hygiene and other preventative measures ranging from face-mask enforcement to enhanced terminal airflow and filtering.)

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte used emergency powers to shut down discos and made face masks mandatory, even outdoors, in places where people gather from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.

A man displaying artwork wears a face mask in Naples, Italy, last week after the southern Italian region of Campania made it mandatory to wear protective face coverings outdoors 24 hours a day, as part of efforts to contain the coronavirus. (Ciro De Luca/Reuters)

Last week, the larger-than-life president of the southern region of Campania, Vincenzo De Luca, went a step further and made masks obligatory outdoors at all times.

De Luca became a social media star for his cartoonish threats toward anyone breaking the rules, promising those planning illegal parties that he would “send in the police accompanied by flamethrowers.” While over the top, he was part of a strong, coherent message from government leaders.

Testing and tracing key to success

Especially important to Italy’s success, experts say, has been its testing and tracing system, where everyone within the social network of an infected person gets tested, whether or not they’ve been exposed, which has uncovered thousands of asymptomatic cases. Most of the testing is carried out through local community health centres with mobile units and home tests.

“Our experience in the first months of the epidemic [has taught us] to take people away from the hospitals for the diagnosis,” said Giuseppe Ippolito, scientific director of the Lazzaro Spallanzani Hospital in Rome. “We need to be vigilant to avoid a future increase.”

A hairdresser and her client wear masks in Rome. Italy, the first European country to be devastated by COVID-19, now has among the lowest infection and death rates in Europe. (Megan Williams/CBC)

He said such measures at schools as the widespread testing of teachers, daily temperature checks and mask-wearing by students while not at their desks are already showing signs of being effective.

And when backlogs and bureaucracy get in the way, creative solutions are often found.

When it became clear that single desks on wheels, ordered by the government, were not going to arrive in time for the start of the school year, teachers and students at the Alfonso Casanova Technical School in Naples pulled together in late summer and fashioned single desks out of the student tables.

WATCH | Students, teachers in Naples ready desks for school year amid COVID-19:

At Alfonso Casanova Technical School, students and teachers fashion new single desks out of tables to allow for physical distancing in the classroom. 0:48

There is still room for improvement in the country: Only six million of Italy’s almost 60 million inhabitants have downloaded its contact-tracing app Immuni, launched at the start of the summer.

“People were worried about privacy, which badly affected adherence,” Sileri said. “But if more Italians downloaded it, it would resolve our contact-tracing problem.”

He said test results need to be faster as winter approaches and colds and the flu season pick up. Right now, those who have been in close contact with an infected person must self-isolate for 14 days, but Sileri said he’d like that reduced to one week if they test negative.

Italy requires second negative test 

The government will also consider eliminating the now-required second negative test before infected people can leave quarantine, he said, although it will depend on the results of research.

Sara Del Giudice said she wishes she could have done without the required second negative result. She ended up having to spend more than 30 days in quarantine, the hardest experience of her life.

“I thought it would be like the first lockdown, but they were night and day,” she said. “The first lockdown with my family was fine, we almost enjoyed it. The second one on my own, where I couldn’t see or touch anyone for a month, was brutal.”

Yet Giuseppe Ippolito sees some of the changes brought by the coronavirus as positive.

Giuseppe Ippolito, scientific director of the Lazzaro Spallanzani Hospital in Rome, says keeping testing away from hospitals has been key in order to avoid spreading infection. (Megan Williams/CBC)

“We will have less respiratory infections this winter,” he said, as a result of Italy’s widespread adherence to mask-wearing and physical distancing. “We have a new appreciation for human relations. This is all a real added value for the future.”

Ippolito said the country’s experience with COVID-19 has also provided a pleasantly surprising re-evaluation of Italians’ reputation for being, shall we say, culturally challenged when it comes to following rules.

“We are world leaders in food and wine. We have a wonderful sea and historical sites,” he said, adding that with the country’s newly discovered ability to follow strict protocols, “we can add another star in our carnet.”

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CBC | World News

Canadian hospitals join fundraising efforts to close COVID-19 ‘gaps’

Canadian hospitals facing urgent COVID-19 needs are banding together to close funding “gaps” for their institutions and embattled health-care workers.

Dubbed The Frontline Fund, the national campaign seeks donations on behalf of more than 100 institutions across the country for supplies, staff support and research.

Organizers say the money would help hospitals source personal protective equipment and ventilators, fund drug trials and vaccine research and provide mental-health support to exhausted staff. Ten per cent of funds will also go toward the northern territories and Indigenous health.

Steering committee member Caroline Riseboro, also CEO of the Trillium Health Partners Foundation, said COVID-19 has raised unique needs that “wouldn’t necessarily be addressed through government funding.”

WATCH | Go behind the scenes in a hospital:

The National’s Adrienne Arsenault gets rare access inside a Toronto hospital during the global COVID-19 pandemic to see first-hand what staff are up against. Some of what our team saw and captured on camera may be difficult to watch. 9:56

Examples of how the money could be spent include extra scrubs so caregivers can change their clothes before going home or hotel rooms for front-line staff with immune-compromised relatives so they don’t have to fear bringing the virus home with them.

The three main ways relief will be distributed are:

  • Supplies: From personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks, disinfectants and disposable clothing to life-saving ventilators and testing equipment to the digital infrastructure needed to enable virtual patient care, front-line health-care workers need more tools. 
  • Supports: Being directly involved in patient care in a pandemic takes a huge toll. Gift cards and peer-to-peer mental health support will also help health-care workers protect their families, get much-needed rest and prepare themselves for the effort ahead. 
  • Research: Hospitals need funding to conduct vital research like clinical drug trials to discover therapeutic breakthroughs and intense vaccine development efforts.

Organizers say $ 8.5 million has already been promised by lead corporate partners. That includes $ 5 million from the Canadian Medical Association Foundation, $ 2.5 million from Maple Leaf Foods and $ 1 million from TD Bank Group.

‘Unprecedented crisis’

The goal is to raise $ 50 million. Canadians can donate at www.frontlinefund.ca.

“All of our hospitals in Canada are just facing an unprecedented crisis here,” Riseboro said.

“We know that there’s the desire out there by Canadians to help, but Canadians are unsure of who to support so we created this national initiative. It is historic in nature. Never have all of these hospitals across the country come together to fundraise in concert for what is probably one of the most significant health crises facing us in a generation.”

Money will stay within the province in which it is donated and be allocated according to the number of beds at each institution. Each hospital foundation will decide how to spend the funds on its unique needs, said Riseboro.

A health-care worker is seen outside the emergency department of the Vancouver General Hospital on March 30. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

“This initiative is really meant to close some gaps on the response to COVID, particularly when it comes to our front-line health-care workers.”

The CMA Foundation said its $ 5-million contribution to the Frontline Fund is part of a broader $ 20-million commitment to the medical system.

It’s also setting up a $ 5-million fund to benefit community hospitals and giving another $ 5 million to a COVID-19 grant program by the Foundation for Advancing Family Medicine.

Another $ 5 million will help medical students and residents with financial hardships, and $ 250,000 will go to Doctors without Borders’ COVID-19 crisis fund.

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CBC | Health News

Pitbull Releases New Empowerment Song With Proceeds Going to Coronavirus Relief Efforts

Pitbull Releases New Empowerment Song With Proceeds Going to Coronavirus Relief Efforts | Entertainment Tonight

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Own the Podium funding remains intact for Canadian Olympic, Paralympic efforts

National sports federations recalculating their budgets after the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics can count on a continued level of funding from Own the Podium.

The news was delivered to the high performance directors of both summer and winter Olympic and Paralympic sport federations last week, soon after the International Olympic Committee and Japanese organizers announced a one-year postponement due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“People breathed a sigh of relief knowing that the funding recommendations that were identified for summer sports are intact, nothing is going to change,” Anne Merklinger, OTP’s chief executive officer, said Tuesday.

OTP had committed just over $ 40.5 million to summer Olympic and Paralympic sports for 2019-20.

The IOC announced on Monday the Tokyo Olympics will now open July 23, 2021, followed by the Paralympics on Aug. 24. That leaves a tight window before the Feb. 4 opening of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

Merklinger doesn’t see OTP funding being impacted for winter athletes in the fiscal year spanning April 1, 2020 to March 31, 2021.

“We’re in the mindset right now of doing annual reviews for winter sports and that funding will be confirmed over the next six to seven weeks,” she said. “The funding envelope that we had previously believed would be available from the funding partners is 100 per cent available. There’s been no change whatsoever to the financial landscape.”

Looking down the road, OTP is sailing into unchartered waters. The Tokyo summer Games, and Beijing Winter Games fall in the same fiscal year. They are then followed by the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics, slated to start July 26 with the Paralympics Aug. 11.

“That is indeed very challenging for everyone,” said Merklinger. “The situation is challenging for Canada and Canadians and every country in the world.”

WATCH | Mandy Bujold funding her way to Tokyo Games:

Boxer Mandy Bujold of Cobourg, Ont., has a young daughter, but now the push to 2021 will mean waiting for a second child. 5:22

About 90 per cent of OTP funding comes from the federal government. The Canadian Olympic Committee and the Canadian Paralympic Committee also contribute.

Over the last several weeks the federal government has announced billions of dollars in aid packages to help individuals and companies impacted by COVID-19. How that affects government spending in the future remains to be seen.

Companies that help sponsor individual sports federations may also be reviewing their budgets.

Merklinger believes how Canadian athletes perform on the international stage “will continue to be important for the government of Canada.”

“I’m a firm believer that sport has a critical role to play in how we as a nation recover from what we’re going through,” she said. “The timing of the Tokyo Games and the Beijing Games has the opportunity to continue to have a dramatic impact on Canadians.

“We’ve had very positive messages from the funding partners. There’s nothing cast in stone, there’s no guarantees at this point.”

Merklinger said she a had positive meeting with Adam van Koeverden, the former Olympic rowing champion who is now the parliamentary secretary for sport.

“He certainly is supportive and recognizes the value of sport for Canadians,” she said. “Our commitment to national sport organizations is to have some clarity from the funding partners by the fall of 2020.”

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CBC | Sports News

‘Saturday Night Live’ Mocks Government’s Coronavirus Efforts and Democratic Candidates in Jam-Packed Cold Open

‘Saturday Night Live’ Mocks Government’s Coronavirus Efforts and Democratic Candidates in Jam-Packed Cold Open | Entertainment Tonight

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Rescue efforts underway after rains from Typhoon Hagibis flood Japan

Helicopters plucked people from their flooded homes on Sunday as rescue efforts went into full force in wide areas of Japan after a powerful typhoon unleashed heavy rainfall on Tokyo and surrounding areas, leaving at least seven dead and 15 missing.

Public broadcaster NHK gave a higher toll than the government of 10 dead and 16 missing plus 128 injured as more details were coming in the from field, a day after Typhoon Hagibis made landfall south of Tokyo and moved northward.

“The major typhoon has caused immense damage far and wide in eastern Japan,” government spokesperson Yoshihide Suga told reporters, adding that 27,000 military troops and other rescue crews were deployed for the operation.

News footage showed a rescue helicopter hovering in a flooded area in Nagano prefecture where an embankment of the Chikuma River broke, and streams of water were continuing to spread over residential areas. The chopper plucked those stranded on the second floor of a home submerged in muddy waters.

Aerial footage showed tractors at work trying to control the flooding. Meanwhile, rows of Japan’s prized bullet trains, parked in a facility, were sitting in a pool of water.

A stretch of Fukushima, in the city of Date, was also flooded with only rooftops of residential homes visible in some areas. Parts of nearby Miyagi prefecture were also under water.

A Japan Self-Defence Force helicopter hovers above submerged residential area in Nagano, central Japan, on Sunday. (Yohei Kanasashi/Kyodo News via AP)

The Tama River, which runs by Tokyo, overflowed its banks.

Authorities warned of a risk of mudslides. Among the reported deaths were those whose homes were buried in landslides. Other fatalities included people who got swept away by raging rivers.

Suga said that damage to housing from the flooding was extensive but promised recovery was on its way. Some 376,000 homes were without electricity, and 14,000 homes lacked running water, he said.

A residential area is seen submerged in muddy waters after an embankment of the Chikuma River broke, in Nagano, central Japan, on Sunday. (Yohei Kanasashi/Kyodo News via AP)

Boats as well as helicopters were sent to the flooded areas, while rescue crew dug through dirt in other areas to try to get people out from homes buried by landslides.

Several train service in the Tokyo area resumed early morning, although others were undergoing safety checks and were expected to restart later Sunday.

Ruling party politician Fumio Kishida said the government will do its utmost in rescue operations, including making sure that those who moved to shelters were taken care of.

People clean the flooded compound of their residential area hit by Typhoon Hagibi in Tokyo on Sunday. (Kyodo News via AP)

He acknowledged Japan’s power grids need to be strengthened so people in disaster areas can rely on timely information.

“So many risks remain, and it is a reality we must stay on guard,” Kishida said on an NHK TV news talk show. “We must do our utmost. In these times, a disaster can hit anytime.”

As the typhoon bore down on Saturday with heavy rains and strong winds, the usually crowded train stations and streets of Tokyo were deserted with people advised to stay indoors. But life was quickly returning to normal under crisp clear skies Sunday.

People look at a house damaged by a landslide in Sagamihara, near Tokyo, on Sunday. (Kyodo News via AP)

Evacuation centres had been set up in coastal towns with tens of thousands seeking shelter. Kyodo News service said evacuation warnings had been issued to more than 6 million people.

The typhoon disrupted a three-day weekend in Japan that includes Sports Day on Monday. Qualifying for a Formula One auto race in Suzuka was pushed from Saturday to Sunday.

The authorities had repeatedly warned Hagibis was on par with a typhoon that hit the Tokyo region in 1958. But the safety infrastructure that Japan’s modernization had brought was apparent. The typhoon six decades ago had left more than 1,200 people dead and half a million houses flooded.

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Democrats subpoena White House for documents on Trump’s efforts with Ukraine

The impeachment investigation into U.S. President Donald Trump widened on Friday into a constitutional battle between the executive branch and Congress, as Democrats subpoenaed White House officials and the president signalled his administration would not co-operate.

Trump said he would formally object to the impeachment investigation, even as he acknowledged that House Democrats “have the votes” to proceed.

Democrats warned that Trump is “on a path of defiance, obstruction and coverup” and said defying their subpoena would be considered “evidence of obstruction,” potentially an impeachable offence.

The White House was expected to send a letter to House speaker Nancy Pelosi arguing that Congress could not mount its impeachment inquiry without first having a vote to authorize it. The letter was expected to say the administration wouldn’t co-operate with the probe without that vote.

Trump said the resolution would likely pass the House, but he predicted it would backfire on Democrats.

“I really believe that they’re going to pay a tremendous price at the polls,” he said.

Three Democratic chairs — Reps. Elijah Cummings, Adam Schiff and Eliot Engel — warned Trump in a letter accompanying their subpoena. 

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, shown speaking in Florida on Thursday, sent a letter to the Republican House leader saying House committees have ‘full authority’ to conduct impeachment investigations. (Brynn Anderson/The Associated Press)

“Speaker Pelosi has confirmed that an impeachment inquiry is underway, and it is not for the White House to say otherwise,” the letter said.

Trump’s comments came shortly before Democrats sent an extensive request for documents to Vice-President Mike Pence about his contacts with Ukraine.

The West Wing was set to allow the similar request for documents from the president’s staff to go unfulfilled Friday, likely forcing Democrats to make good on their threat to issue a subpoena for the records.

Pence spokesperson Katie Waldman dismissed the new demand for documents, saying that given its wide scope, “it does not appear to be a serious request.”

Democrats have made Trump’s request that Ukraine investigate former vice-president Joe Biden the centrepiece of the impeachment probe.

A whistleblower complaint said that Trump sought to use military assistance for Ukraine to push President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Biden, who is currently running to be the Democratic Party’s 2020 presidential candidate. 

No clear-cut procedure for impeachment inquiry

When Pelosi recently announced that the House was initiating the inquiry, she didn’t seek the consent of the full chamber, as was done for impeachment investigations into former presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.

But it is underway, and at a rapidly escalating pace.

Late Thursday, House investigators released a cache of text messages that showed top U.S. diplomats encouraging Ukraine’s newly elected president to conduct an investigation linked to Biden’s family in return for granting a high-profile visit with Trump in Washington.

The release followed a 10-hour interview with one of the diplomats, Kurt Volker, who stepped down as special envoy to Ukraine after the impeachment inquiry had begun.

A whistleblower complaint said that Trump sought to use military assistance for Ukraine to the country’s president to investigate former vice-president Joe Biden, who is currently running to be the Democratic Party’s 2020 presidential candidate. (John Locher/The Associated Press)

Trump repeated on Friday that he was pressing Ukraine to investigate corruption, not trying to undermine Biden, who could be his 2020 presidential election opponent. He made a related request of China — specifying Biden and his son Hunter — on Thursday.

As Republicans search for a response to the investigation, the absence of a procedural vote to begin the probe has been a main attack line against Democrats.

Pelosi swatted the need for such a vote back as unnecessary, saying the House is well within its rules to pursue the inquiry without it.

“The existing rules of the House provide House committees with full authority to conduct investigations for all matters under their jurisdiction, including impeachment investigations,” Pelosi wrote Thursday in a letter to House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy after he, too, pressed for a floor vote.

Watch: Why supporting impeachment could be risky

Support for Donald Trump’s impeachment is growing, but there is strong division in the swing states where Democrats who back the inquiry are taking a political risk heading into the 2020 election. 2:10

Pelosi has sought to avoid a vote on the impeachment probe for the same reason she resisted — for months — liberal calls to try to remove the president: It would force moderate House Democrats to make a politically risky vote.

The White House, meanwhile, is trying to force the question on Democrats, as it seeks to raise the political cost for their impeachment investigation and to animate the president’s supporters ahead of the 2020 election.

Trump allies have suggested that without a formal vote, the House is merely conducting standard oversight, entitling lawmakers to a lesser level of disclosure from the administration. The Justice Department raised similar arguments last month, though that was before Pelosi announced the impeachment investigation.

Two days after telling reporters, “Well, I always co-operate,” Trump struck a different note on co-operating with the House probe.

“I don’t know,” he said. “That’s up to the lawyers.”

Democrats have warned that the Trump administration’s obstruction of the investigation is itself a potentially impeachable office. The administration was expected to miss various deadlines Friday to comply with House investigators’ requests for documents.

There’s no clear-cut procedure in the U.S. Constitution for initiating an impeachment inquiry, leaving many questions about possible presidential obstruction untested in court, said Allan Lichtman, a history professor at American University.

“There’s no specification in the Constitution in what does and does not constitute a more formal impeachment inquiry or investigation,” he said.

Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney, dismissed the entire premise of the impeachment inquiry.

“The president was not tasking Ukraine to investigate a political opponent,” Giuliani told The Associated Press on Thursday. “He wanted an investigation into a seriously conflicted former vice-president of the United States who damaged the reputation of the United States in Ukraine.”

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Relief efforts ramped up for Bahamas where ‘staggering’ Dorian death toll feared

Charities, government agencies and even cruise ships loaded with supplies and volunteers rushed emergency aid to the storm-ravaged Bahamas on Saturday amid fears of a “staggering” death toll in the wake of Hurricane Dorian.

Bahamian leaders believe hundreds and perhaps thousands remained missing in the archipelago nation of about 400,000 people, even as the official death toll rose only to 43 as of late on Friday.

The centre of Hurricane Dorian, the most powerful hurricane on record to hit the Bahamas, remained parked over part of the archipelago for almost two days earlier this week, pummelling it with Category 5 winds.

The storm levelled some neighbourhoods, swallowed others with storm surges and caused what one official described as a “staggering” number of deaths.

Dorian also devastated parts of the Outer Banks Islands in North Carolina on Friday and it continued to push northward along the U.S. Atlantic coast toward Atlantic Canada. It strengthened to a Category 2 storm on Saturday afternoon as it approached the Maritimes.

A woman carries her baby prior to boarding a ferry to Nassau at the port in Marsh Harbor, Abaco Island, Bahamas, on Saturday. The Bahamian health ministry said helicopters and boats are on the way to help people in hurricane-affected areas, though officials warned of delays because of severe flooding and limited access. (Fernando Llano/The Associated Press)

The storm brought tropical-storm force winds to southeastern Massachusetts and Nantucket Island and Martha’s Vineyard on Saturday morning, according to an advisory from the Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC).

“Dorian’s rain is just grazing New England,” said Alex Lamers, a forecaster with the National Weather Service.

The storm was about about 500 kilometres southwest of Nova Scotia early on Saturday morning, the NHC said.

It is expected to make landfall in Nova Scotia on Saturday evening with hurricane-strength winds of about 160 km/h and leave up to 175 millimetres of rain before pushing further east as a weakened post-tropical storm by Sunday, the NHC said.

The Bahamas had only a slight, 10 per cent, chance of rain Saturday that was not expected to hamper relief efforts as Bahamas Health Minister Duane Sands spoke of “a tremendous loss of life.”

Higher number of dead feared

The medical chief of staff at Princess Margaret Hospital in Nassau said two refrigerated, 40-foot trucks would be needed to hold the “staggering” number of bodies likely to be found.

“We’ve ordered lots of body bags,” said Dr. Caroline Burnett-Garraway.

Sisters Schemelda, left, and Sheila Saintilien stand outside the Bible Truth Hall church Friday on Great Abaco Island on Friday. The sisters and their family are living in the church after they lost their home in the hurricane and plan to leave the island. (Jose Jimenez/Getty Images)

The United Nations estimated 70,000 people were in “immediate need of life-saving assistance” such as food, water and shelter. The UN World Food Program was airlifting storage units, generators, prefab offices, and satellite equipment as well as eight tonnes of ready-to-eat meals.

The American Red Cross said it had committed an initial $ 2 million US to help the Bahamas recover from the hurricane, with food, water and shelter and other necessities.

“Our relief operation is growing, but we are also facing serious challenges in terms of delivering aid,” Red Cross spokesperson Jennifer Eli said. “Even search-and-rescue choppers haven’t been able to reach some people because there’s no place to land. These challenges are affecting everyone.”

Near an area called The Mudd in Marsh Harbour on Abaco Island, a witness reported most houses levelled, the body of a man lying near a main street and dead dogs floating in water. Some residents were leaving the area with meagre possessions, while others were determined to remain.

Reports of looting

“There was an eery silence as we walked through a section of Marsh Harbour, one of the hardest-hit areas,” CBC’s Steven D’Souza said on Saturday. “And the people we encountered almost seemed as if they were in a daze, still shell-shocked.

“We talked to some of them about some of the issues they’re facing — safety issues. There are reports of looting, of people just trying to survive, to get anything they can,” he said.

A police officer stands guard at the Marsh Harbour Government Port during an evacuation operation on Friday. (Marco Bello/Reuters)

An Ottawa man who owns property in Freeport told CBC that police and defence forces are “overwhelmed” by reports of “serious looting” and break-ins.

“The offices downtown are now all getting broke into,” Vonny Malbasha wrote in an email, citing friends living in the Bahamas.

More Canadian assistance

A Canadian Hercules aircraft arrived in Nassau on Friday and then continued to Kingston, Jamaica, to help the Jamaican Defence Force’s Disaster Assistance Response Team, which is taking part in an airlift operation.

A Canadian Disaster Assistance Team (CDAT) has been sent to Nassau to assess the needs on the ground.

Two women look through the remains of a house in the Mudd area of Great Abaco Island on Sept. 5 in the aftermath to Hurricane Dorian. (Jose Jimenez/Getty Images)

The assistance is in addition to the $ 500,000 Canada pledged last Wednesday to help the Canadian Red Cross build emergency shelters and provide other relief.

The runway at the airport on Grand Bahama island has been cleared and is ready for flights, Security Minister Marvin Dames said. Authorities also said all ports have been reopened on that island and Abaco.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration requested airlift and logistical support from the U.S. Defence Department on Friday to support relief efforts for the Bahamas, the Miami Herald and other media reported.

The U.S. Coast Guard and other agencies have already provided help, with U.S. Northern Command chief General Terrence O’Shaughnessy arriving in Nassau on Friday.

The Coast Guard said Saturday it had rescued a total of 290 people in the Bahamas following the storm. Six MH-60 Jayhawk helicopters are carrying out search-and-rescue missions and providing logistical support. It says nine Coast Guard cutters are also helping in the Bahamas.

Cruise ship ferrying supplies

Relief groups were focusing on getting doctors, nurses and medical supplies into the hardest-hit areas and helping survivors get food and safe drinking water.

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. committed $ 1 million US for hurricane relief and its ship Norwegian Breakaway left Miami on Thursday with supplies donated by the company and its employees, in addition to items collected by the City of Miami and various charities.

More than 1,100 Bahamians have also arrived in Palm Beach, Fla., after being carried out by cruise ship.

The Grand Celebration cruise ship returned to its home port after setting sail Thursday for Freeport, Grand Bahama, to deliver more than 100 tonnes of supplies and transport dozens of health workers and emergency crews.

“I feel lost between a rock and a weary line but I guess I will make it through,” said Thomas Stubbs, soon after he got off the ship.

The 42-year-old owner of an air-conditioning and refrigeration business in Freeport said he will gather building supplies and return to that city in the next few days to help repair the homes of about 50 family and friends.

“I have a lot, a lot, a lot of stuff lost ,but I will be back,” he said.

A passenger is transported by emergency workers in Riviera Beach, Fla., after disembarking the Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line ship, Grand Celebration, on Saturday. (Joe Skipper/Reuters)

Celebrity chef Jose Andres and members of his nonprofit, World Central Kitchen, were on the ground in the Bahamas to aid hurricane survivors by preparing thousands of meals.

The risk of outbreaks of diarrhea and waterborne diseases is high as drinking water may be tainted with sewage, according to the Pan American Health Organization, which described the situation for some people on Abaco as “desperate.”

Claudin Loriston, 39, a Haitian carpenter, said he and his three young children were among the “lucky ones” to get on a plane out of Abaco. He said he had no documents with him, but would try to get a job to support his family.

“There are too many dead bodies there. The government needs to remove everyone from the island, the smell is everywhere, it’s in the water.”

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