Atlanta lost Major League Baseball’s summer All-Star Game on Friday over the league’s objections to sweeping changes to Georgia voting laws that critics — including the CEOs of Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines and Coca-Cola — have condemned as being too restrictive.
The decision to pull the July 13 game from Atlanta’s Truist Park amounts to the first economic backlash against Georgia for the voting law that Republican Gov. Brian Kemp quickly signed into law March 25.
Kemp has insisted the law’s critics have mischaracterized what it does, yet GOP lawmakers adopted the changes largely in response to false claims of fraud in the 2020 elections by former President Donald Trump and his supporters. The law includes new restrictions on voting by mail and greater legislative control over how elections are run.
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred made the decision to move the All-Star events and the amateur draft from Atlanta after discussions with individual players and the Players Alliance, an organization of Black players formed after the death of George Floyd last year, the commissioner said in a statement. A new ballpark for the events wasn’t immediately revealed.
Manfred said he also spoke with the Major League Baseball Players Association, which at the time of the commissioner’s decision said it had still not taken a stance.
“I have decided that the best way to demonstrate our values as a sport is by relocating this year’s All-Star Game and MLB draft,” Manfred said. “Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box.”
The entire announcement from MLB about moving the all-star game out of ATL <a href=”https://t.co/qVmV3KrDCz”>pic.twitter.com/qVmV3KrDCz</a>
Kemp called it a “knee-jerk decision” that means “cancel culture and woke political activists are coming for every aspect of your life, sports included. If the left doesn’t agree with you, facts and the truth do not matter.”
“This attack on our state is the direct result of repeated lies from (President) Joe Biden and Stacey Abrams about a bill that expands access to the ballot box and ensures the integrity of our elections,” Kemp said in a statement, referring to the Democratic candidate whom he narrowly defeated in the 2018 election. “I will not back down. Georgians will not be bullied.”
Georgia state House Speaker David Ralston, a powerful Republican who backed the voting law changes, said the baseball league’s decision “robs Georgians of a special celebration of our national pastime free of politics.”
Like other Republicans in the state, Ralston vowed to stand behind the new law, which adds strict identification requirements for voting absentee by mail, limits the use of ballot drop boxes and makes it a crime to hand out food or water to voters waiting in line, among many other provisions.
Georgia Republicans say changes were needed to maintain voter confidence in the election system. Democrats and voting rights groups say the law will disproportionately affect communities of colour. On Wednesday, two of Georgia’s most prominent business leaders sided with the law’s opponents.
Delta CEO Ed Bastian labeled the law “unacceptable,” while Coca-Cola chief executive James Quincey called the legislation a “step backward.”
Atlanta team ‘disappointed by decision’
The Atlanta baseball team issued a statement Friday saying the team is disappointed by Manfred’s decision.
“We are saddened that fans will not be able to see this event in our city,” the team said. “The [Atlanta baseball] organization will continue to stress the importance of equal voting opportunities and we had hoped our city could use this event as a platform to enhance the discussion.”
The Braves statement regarding the moving of the MLB All-Star Game: <a href=”https://t.co/0Iapm3eIre”>pic.twitter.com/0Iapm3eIre</a>
Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, who is to guide the National League All-Star team, applauded MLB for moving the game from Georgia.
“I think in a world now where people want and need to be heard — and in this particular case, people of colour — for Major League Baseball to listen and do something about it, to be proactive, it sets a tone,” said Roberts, the son of a Black father and Japanese mother.
Abrams, who has championed voting rights since her loss to Kemp, blasted the new voting law. The Democrat is being closely watched to see if she seeks a rematch against Kemp in 2022.
“Georgia Republicans must renounce the terrible damage they have caused to our voting system and the harm they have inflicted on our economy,” Abrams said.
Heated political divide
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, a Democrat, said she supports MLB’s decision. Atlanta will no doubt share in the economic loss, though the Braves’ home stadium is now located outside the city, in suburban Cobb County.
“Unfortunately, the removal of the MLB All-Star Game from Georgia is likely the first of many dominoes to fall until the unnecessary barriers put in place to restrict access to the ballot box are removed,” Bottoms said in a statement.
Some Democrats from the Georgia county where the game was to be held said they oppose MLB’s move. Lisa Cupid, the Black chairwoman of the Cobb County Commission, said she urged the league to stay rather than harm hotels and other businesses still reeling from the coronavirus pandemic.
State Rep. Teri Anulewicz, a Democrat whose district includes the stadium, added: “I don’t know who Major League Baseball feels they are punishing. The governor, from his statement, has made clear he doesn’t feel he is being punished.”
MLB still plans on saluting Hank Aaron
The relocation of high-profile sports events from cities in response to social issues has a long history in the U.S.
The NFL originally awarded the 1993 Super Bowl to Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona, but decided in March 1991 to move it to Pasadena, California, after the state failed to make Martin Luther King Jr. Day an official holiday. Arizona became the last state to adopt an MLK Holiday when voters approved it in November 1992.
The NBA first scheduled its 2017 All-Star Game at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, then shifted it in July 2016 because of its objections to a North Carolina law that limited anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people. The law was partially repealed in 2017, and the 2019 All-Star Game was held in Charlotte.
NCAA officials decided in 2001 to ban awarding championship sites in advance to states that displayed the Confederate flag but did not alter events whose sites were determined by seeding or ranking. That was expanded last June to prevent any NCAA championship event from being played where the flag had a prominent presence. Mississippi’s governor signed a law less than two weeks later to retire the flag.
WATCH | Hank Aaron, home run king who fought racism, dies at 86:
Sports legend Hank Aaron has died at age 86. The baseball hall-of-famer, who broke Babe Ruth’s home run record, is being remembered for his skill and his perseverance in the face of hate. 2:10
Manfred said despite the change of venue, MLB still plans to use the All-Star Game this year to honour Hank Aaron, the Atlanta’s Hall of Famer and former career home run champion who died on Jan. 22 at age 86.
Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker, a former teammate of Aaron’s, applauded the move and said the late outfielder “always had the rights of the people in the forefront of his mind and in his heart.”
“This is what Hank would have liked, even if it was his town,” Baker told reporters.
A number of lessons have already been gleaned about the international and scientific response to the novel coronavirus, but understanding emerging variants remains a murky area, the expert who led the recent World Health Organization (WHO) mission to China says.
“We clearly have to invest much more in understanding how these viruses are emerging,” Peter Ben Embarek said in an interview on Rosemary Barton Live.
“We also have to improve our surveillance of these emerging diseases so people [identify them] before they jump into humans. And when they emerge like last year, we shouldn’t wait too long before starting to look at the origin of these viruses.”
Those investigations should be happening in tandem with initial responses such as identifying treatment options and positive cases, Ben Embarek told CBC Chief Political Correspondent Rosemary Barton.
The scientist is a food safety and animal diseases expert who was part of a team investigating the origins of the virus in Wuhan, China, where the first cases of COVID-19 were discovered.
The four-week mission concluded earlier this month, with initial findings suggesting that the virus was introduced to humans through an “intermediary host species.”
There are also indications that there was no widespread transmission of the novel coronavirus before December 2019, though there is evidence there was “much wider transmission” during the second half of that month than previously thought, Ben Embarek said.
What’s the strategy for variants?
But one question that remains unanswered involves new, more transmissible variants of the coronavirus — and whether the world has done enough to control them.
“I think we are dealing with them with a lot of concern and attention, and we are increasingly able to detect them,” Ben Embarek said.
“The big question is, are we good enough at handling them, or are we handling them [as we did] the first one — the original one — and taking the same strategy to control them?”
Ben Embarek said more conversations are needed about those strategies to see whether the measures put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19 can also be applied to emerging variants.
“I think it’s a big question, and nobody has the answers, unfortunately,” he said.
“It’s also important for people to understand what this mission was and what it was not. It was not an investigation into any wrongdoing or … how the system in China operated from the start of this event,” Ben Embarek said.
“This was a joint study between Chinese counterparts and international counterparts trying to develop and conduct studies that would help us get a better understanding of what happened. And that’s what we did.”
The WHO is expected to present its preliminary report from the mission in the coming week.
There’s now early evidence showing Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine may elicit a strong immune response even through half doses, prompting hope that further research could back up the results and eventually allow countries like Canada to stretch out vaccine supplies.
The study looked at the mRNA vaccine’s “immunogenicity” — its ability to provoke an immune response — through both anti-virus, spike-binding antibody levels and neutralizing antibodies, which help to block reinfection.
Researchers determined within a two-dose regimen that both the current amount of vaccine dose and half that amount being given each time were capable of “significant” immune responses.
Those findings are welcome news, though not yet worth changing dosing approaches, said Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious disease specialist and associate professor at McMaster University in Hamilton.
“But it does bring up the urgent need to do a Phase 3-type clinical trial of full dose versus half dose and see what happens,” he said.
“The implications, obviously, are you all of a sudden double your vaccine supply overnight if this seems to work out.”
Immune response ‘increased substantially’
The Moderna vaccine is one of two options currently approved and being used in Canada to combat the spread of COVID-19, with more than 40 million doses ordered by the federal government.
Based on full clinical trial results, the current approach requires two doses of the vaccine, spaced 28 days apart.
The company’s recently released findings looked at both a full dose of 100 micrograms and a half dose of 50 micrograms, given as two doses in a randomized, observer-blind, placebo-controlled trial.
At eight different U.S. sites, a total of 600 participants were divided into age cohorts and randomly assigned at a 1:1:1 ratio to receive either the two full doses, two half doses, or two placebo doses.
By 28 days after the first shot, anti-virus spike-binding antibody levels and neutralizing antibodies were higher among people who’d been given the full dose compared to the half dose.
But that difference was “less apparent” after participants received both rounds, Moderna’s research team found.
Both binding antibodies and neutralizing antibodies “increased substantially” by the two-week mark after participants were fully vaccinated and remained elevated through day 57, the researchers wrote.
Questions over duration of protection, variants
Outside experts who spoke to CBC News all stressed the need for future research before changing Canada’s dosing approach, given the short two-month time period and small, homogeneous group studied by Moderna.
Chagla also said there’s a clear need to understand longer-term immunity and how other elements of the immune system — such as T-cells, which target specific bodily invaders — might be affected as well.
“The point nobody can answer for you is how long you will have protection,” said Horacio Bach, an adjunct professor in the division of infectious diseases at the University of British Columbia’s faculty of medicine.
“Nobody knows. Nobody can tell you. There are no studies; that’s the reason it’s a global emergency.”
Dr. Noni MacDonald, a researcher focused on vaccine safety who is also a professor at Dalhousie University’s department of pediatrics in Halifax, stressed that while Moderna’s study did show similar immunogenicity with two different concentrations of the vaccine, it was also based on “old data.”
The research was conducted between late May and early July 2020 — long before the clear rise of multiple virus variants, which may be more transmissible or capable of evading the body’s immune response.
If the findings hold up against emerging variants, it could mean countries like Canada could one day “stretch what we have” when it comes to Moderna shipments, MacDonald said in an email exchange with CBC News.
Immunologist and microbiologist Nikhil Thomas says it’s important to ‘suppress the spread of these variants,’ as the coronavirus variant first identified in the U.K. is replicating faster and transmitting ‘at a higher frequency.’ 4:17
U.S. officials discussed half-dosing
Despite limited data on the benefits of using half-doses, particularly against emerging variants, there has been discussion south of the border over taking that approach, with the U.S. government also helping fund Moderna’s most recently-published research.
In January, Moncef Slaoui, then-chief adviser of the former U.S. president Donald Trump administration’s vaccine effort — one dubbed Operation Warp Speed — said officials were considering giving half-doses of the Moderna vaccine to American adults under the age of 55.
The same month, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration released a statement shooting that idea down, saying any changes to dosing or schedules of approved vaccines would be “premature and not rooted solidly in the available evidence.”
On this side of the border, Health Canada officials told CBC News the agency has not received an application from Moderna to amend its vaccine authorization, but would “thoroughly review” one if it was submitted.
Canada has other vaccines in line for approval — how they compare to the ones already being rolled out and how COVID-19 variants are a complicating factor. 2:03
Dosing strategies have long-term impact
While Bach suspects full clinical trials might yield a similar result to Moderna’s Phase 2 trial, he said it isn’t clear if the manufacturer would even allow countries to stretch their supplies.
He also agreed keeping the current guidelines in place is the ideal approach for the time being, rather than risking lives by adopting a dosing strategy that needs more evidence.
“We don’t know where we are going,” Bach said. “You can put people in danger.”
Still, there’s some potential in Moderna’s early results, according to Chagla.
Knowing the adequate dosing strategy will matter down the line while developing those boosters for variants, he said. And the early evidence points to the potential for increasing vaccine supply to much of the developing world, where shots remain in short supply.
“The answer will have implicating effects for years, not just the vaccine roll-out over the next few months,” Chagla said.
(Credit: onurdongel/Getty Images)
New work in robotics research at MIT suggests that long-term bottlenecks in robot responsiveness could be alleviated through the use of dedicated hardware accelerators. The research team also suggests it’s possible to develop a general methodology for programming robot responsiveness to create specific templates, which would then be deployed into various robot models. The researchers envision a combined hardware-software approach to the problem of motion planning.
“A performance gap of an order of magnitude has emerged in motion planning and control: robot joint actuators react at kHz rates,” according to the research team, “but promising online techniques for complex robots e.g., manipulators, quadrupeds, and humanoids (Figure 1) are limited to 100s of Hz by state-of-the-art software.”
Optimizing existing models and the code for specific robot designs has not closed the performance gap. The researchers write that some compute-bound kernels, such as calculating the gradient of rigid body dynamics, take 30 to 90 percent of the available runtime processing power in emerging nonlinear Model Predictive Control (MPC) systems.
The specific field of motion planning has received relatively little focus compared with collision detection, perception, and localization (the ability to orient itself in three-space relative to its environment). In order for a robot to function effectively in a 3D environment, it has to first perceive its surroundings, map them, localize itself within the map, and then plan the route it needs to take to accomplish a given task. Collision detection is a subset of motion planning.
The long-term goal of this research isn’t just to find a way to perform motion-planning more effectively, but it’s also to create a template for hardware and software that can be generalized to many different types of robots, speeding both development and deployment times. The two key claims of the paper are that per-robot software optimization techniques can be implemented in hardware through the use of specialized accelerators, and that these techniques can be used to create a design methodology for building said accelerators. This allows for the creation of a new field of robot-optimized hardware that they dub “robomorphic computing.”
The team’s methodology relies on creating a template that implements an existing control algorithm once, exposing both parallelism and matrix sparsity. The specific template parameters are then programmed with values that correspond with the capabilities of the underlying robot. 0-values contained within the matrices correspond with motions that a given robot is incapable of performing. For example, a humanoid bipedal robot would store non-zero values in areas of the matrices that governed the proper motion of its arms and legs. A robot with a reversible elbow joint that can bend freely in either direction would be programmed with different values than a robot with a more human-like elbow. Because these specific models are derived from a common movement-planning template, the evaluation code for all conditions could be implemented in a specialized hardware accelerator.
The researchers report that implementing their proposed structure in an FPGA as opposed to a CPU or GPU reduces latency by 8x to 86x and improves response rates by an overall 1.9x – 2.9x when the FPGA is deployed as a co-processor. Improving robot reaction times could allow them to operate effectively in emergency situations where quick responses are required.
A key trait of robots and androids in science fiction is their faster-than-human reflexes. Right now, the kind of speed displayed by an android such as Data is impossible. But part of the reason why is that we can’t currently push the limits of our own actuators. Improve how quickly the machine can “think,” and we will improve how quickly it can move.
Have a question about COVID-19? Send your questions to COVID@cbc.ca.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Monday a new national lockdown for England until at least mid-February to combat a fast-spreading new variant of the coronavirus, even as Britain ramped up its vaccination program by becoming the first nation to start using the shot developed by Oxford University and drugmaker AstraZeneca.
Johnson said people must stay at home again, as they were ordered to do so in the first wave of the pandemic in March, this time because the new virus variant was spreading in a “frustrating and alarming” way.
“As I speak to you tonight, our hospitals are under more pressure from COVID than at any time since the start of the pandemic,” he said.
Under the new rules, which are set to come into effect as soon as possible, primary and secondary schools and colleges will be closed for face-to-face learning except for the children of key workers. University students will not be returning until at least mid-February.
WATCH | Johnson announces new lockdown for England:
Measures enacted due to an alarming spike in COVID-19 cases across Britain, aided by the new, rapidly spreading variant of the virus. 2:22
All non-essential shops and personal-care services such as hairdressers will be closed, and restaurants can only operate takeout services.
As of Monday, there were 26,626 COVID-19 patients in hospitals in England, an increase of more than 30 per cent from a week ago. That is 40 per cent above the highest level of the first wave in the spring.
Large areas of England were already under tight restrictions as officials try to control an alarming surge in coronavirus cases in recent weeks, blamed on a new variant of COVID-19 that is more contagious than existing variants. Authorities have recorded more than 50,000 new infections daily since passing that milestone for the first time on Dec. 29. On Monday, they reported 407 virus-related deaths to push the confirmed death toll total to 75,431, one of the worst in Europe.
The U.K.’s chief medical officers warned that without further action, “there is a material risk of the National Health Service in several areas being overwhelmed over the next 21 days.”
Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon also said that starting Tuesday, people in Scotland are legally required to stay at home except for essential reasons to curb a renewed surge of coronavirus infections. She told lawmakers on Monday that Scotland will be placed in lockdown for at least the whole of January to help ease the pressure on hospitals and intensive care units.
Meanwhile, Ireland’shospitals chief said Monday that the country’s facilitiescannot manage the current trajectory of its fast-growing COVID-19 outbreak and will cancel most non-urgent procedures this week to create as much spare critical-care space as possible.
What’s happening across Canada
As of 6:30 p.m. ET Monday, Canada’s COVID-19 case count stood at 611,423, with 77,465 of those cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 16,074.
In Alberta, Premier Jason Kenney said Monday he has accepted the resignations of Grande Prairie MLA Tracy Allard as minister of municipal affairs and of Jamie Huckabay, his chief of staff. In a Facebook post on Monday, Kenney said he has also demoted five other United Conservative Party MLAs who travelled internationally over the holidays.
Alberta on Monday reported more than 5,100 new cases of COVID-19 over the past five days as it resumed reporting Monday. The province also announced 96 deaths related to COVID-19 since Dec. 29, including its first death of a health-care worker.
In Saskatchewan, Premier Scott Moe accepted Joe Hargrave’s resignation from his positions as minister of highways and minister responsible for the water security agency after it emerged he travelled to Palm Springs, Calif., over the holidays. Hargrave will remain a provincial representative.
Ontario reported 3,270 new COVID-19 cases and 29 new deaths on Monday. With the new cases, the province’s seven-day average of daily cases is approaching 3,000 for the first time, and the number of patients hospitalized jumped considerably to 1,190. Of those, 333 are being treated in intensive care, while 194 require the use of a ventilator.
Just before noon, the first person to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in the province — personal support worker Anita Quidangen — received her second dose at Toronto’s University Health Network, 21 days after the first dose.
Premier Doug Ford was on hand to witness the event and said Ontario is going “full steam forward” with its vaccination efforts. More than 42,000 vaccine doses had been administered in Ontario as of Sunday, according to provincial data. A provincewide lockdown remains in effect as elementary school students returned to school online Monday.
WATCH | Ford says Ontario ramping up vaccine rollout:
Ontario Premier Doug Ford promised a ‘significant difference’ in the speed of Ontario’s vaccine rollout, as health-care workers began receiving their second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. 0:34
Marit Stiles, the NDP’s education critic, said in an interview with CBC Toronto that the Ontario government doesn’t know how many students in publicly funded schools are asymptomatic across the province and that a “comprehensive testing strategy” is needed.
In an open letter to parents released on the weekend, Education Minister Stephen Lecce said that “schools are not a source of rising community transmission,” according to medical experts.
Toronto also announced new measures to publish details on COVID-19 in workplaces. Businesses will need to “immediately notify” Toronto Public Health as soon as they become aware of two or more employees with COVID-19 and designate a contact person.
In Atlantic Canada, New Brunswick reported 17 new cases on Monday, while Newfoundland and Labrador reported one new case, breaking a five-day streak without any new infections.
WATCH | Educators find innovative ways to teach outside the classroom:
The pandemic has forced educators across Canada to find innovative new ways to teach from a distance. 2:06
Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia did not report any new cases on Sunday.
Some Halifax-area restaurants were scrambling over the weekend to prepare for reopening after the province announced on New Year’s Eve that restaurants and bars would be allowed to offer dine-in service again starting on Monday.
Quebec reported 2,546 new cases of COVID-19 and 32 more deaths on Monday. There were 1,294 people in hospital with the illness, including 188 in intensive care.
More than 30,000 people in the province had received the first dose of the two-dose COVID-19 vaccine as of Sunday.
The provincial government has given the green light for the Vancouver Canucks to play home games in the province during the upcoming 2021 NHL season.
WATCH | Infectious diseases specialist on essential workers and the risk of COVID-19:
Air travel is a concern but not the main driver of higher COVID-19 numbers in Ontario, says infectious disease specialist Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti. He says cases are still rising in parts of the province because lockdowns do not address the problems of essential workers getting the virus at work and bringing it home. 2:50
In the North, Nunavut reported no new active cases on Monday, leaving it with zero. However, a resident who travelled to Winnipeg to give birth died Sunday. She contracted COVID-19 after having a caesarean section. She had been on breathing support for more than a month.
Yukon also did not report any new cases on Sunday, while the N.W.T. did not provide updated figures over the weekend.
Here’s a look at what’s happening with COVID-19 across the country:
WATCH | B.C. gives green light for in-province NHL games:
B.C is now the second province to approve the NHL’s COVID-19 safety plans to host games in the province once the season begins on Jan. 13. With three more provinces still to decide, a doctor weighs in about those plans. 1:33
What’s happening around the world
As of Monday afternoon, more than 85.5 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide with more than 47.9 million cases considered recovered or resolved, according to Johns Hopkins University’s tracking tool. The global death toll stood at more than 1.8 million.
Meanwhile, France’s cautious approach to its vaccine rollout appears to have backfired, leaving just a few hundred people vaccinated after the first week and rekindling anger over the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
President Emmanuel Macron was scheduled to hold a special meeting with top government officials on Monday afternoon to address the vaccine strategy and other virus developments.
In France, a country of 67 million people, just 516 people were vaccinated in the first six days, while Germany’s first-week total surpassed 200,000 and Italy’s was over 100,000.
In Asia-Pacific, Sri Lankan authorities on Monday announced that schools will partially reopen starting next week, after being closed for nearly three months due to a COVID-19 surge. The Education Ministry has decided to keep schools closed in the capital Colombo and surrounding suburbs.
Mask-wearing has become mandatory is some circumstances in Australia’s largest city due to the pandemic risk. People risk a 200 Australian dollar ($ 196 Cdn) fine in Sydney if they don’t wear masks in shopping malls, on public transport and in various indoor areas.
Thailand has registered 745 new coronavirus cases, with a new death reported in Bangkok, where a semi-lockdown went into effect. The government has ordered all schools closed from Monday but has not yet closed down shopping malls or stores, while restaurants are still allowed to operate but cannot serve alcoholic beverages.
In the Americas, Brazil confirmed on Monday its first cases of the coronavirus variant first discovered in the United Kingdom. Two cases were reported in Sao Paulo state.
The U.S. health and human services secretary is shooting down the idea of expanding the number of Americans getting a COVID-19 vaccine by giving them only one dose instead of the two being administered now.
Some health experts have suggested that, with vaccine supplies short, people might get partial protection from a single dose and that should be considered as a way to reach far more people faster. But Alex Azar said “the data just isn’t there to support that and we’re not going to do that.”
Azar said the U.S. has reported 1.5 million vaccinations in the last 72 hours, a “very rapid uptick” that he predicts will continue.
Colombia’s capital, Bogota, will implement strict two-week quarantines in three neighbourhoods beginning on Tuesday to try to control a second wave of coronavirus.
In the Middle East, Jordan has struck a deal with Pfizer and partner BioNTech to buy one million doses of their COVID-19 vaccine and another two million doses from the World Health Organization’s s COVAX program.
In Africa, South Africa is aiming to get COVID-19 vaccines by next month but is still in talks with pharmaceutical companies and no deals have yet been signed.
The country remains the hardest hit on the continent, with more than 1.1 million cases and more than 29,000 deaths reported since the start of the pandemic.
Canada joined several European nations by halting flights from the U.K. on Sunday in an effort to prevent a new, potentially more contagious strain of the coronavirus from spreading to this country.
CBC News obtained a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) issued by Transport Canada stating that all commercial, private and charter flights transporting passengers from the U.K. will be suspended as of midnight tonight. The restriction doesn’t apply to cargo flights, aircraft landing for safety reasons or flights that land for technical stops where no passengers disembark.
The notice said Transport Minister Marc Garneau “is of the opinion it is necessary for aviation safety and the protection of the public, to prohibit the [operations] of commercial air … from the United Kingdom for the transport of passengers on an inbound [flight] to Canada.”
Data from the flight tracking website Flight Aware show that at least 10 nonstop flights departing from London airports arrived in Toronto, four in Montreal, and two in Vancouver over the past week. Some of those flights continued on to other destinations, including Calgary and Edmonton.
Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair tweeted that the restrictions “will be initially in place for 72 hours after which time they could be extended or enhanced.”
The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) said in a statement passengers who arrived in Canada Sunday from the U.K. are now subject to enhanced screening measures, including stronger scrutiny of their quarantine plans. Passengers who arrived in previous days from the U.K. will receive direction from the Canadian government, the statement said.
Enhanced screening measures are in place for passengers and crew on those flights that have already departed the UK and are expected to enter Canada before the closure takes effect. For more information on these measures, please follow this link: <a href=”https://t.co/XTVTSHAd4E”>https://t.co/XTVTSHAd4E</a>
Air Canada said it would temporarily suspend all flights between Canada and London’s Heathrow Airport as of Monday. Two final flights will depart from Toronto and Vancouver and fly to London Sunday evening, the airline said.
“We regret the impact of the government directive to immediately suspend flights on our customers’ travel plans in the middle of the holiday season and will continue to monitor this dynamic situation closely and adjust the schedule as appropriate,” the statement said.
The decision to restrict U.K. flights followed an afternoon meeting of the Incident Response Group (IRG), a group of cabinet members and senior government officials.
Garneau, Blair, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Health Minister Patty Hajdu, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne and Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc all attended the meeting.
No cases of new strain identified yet in Canada
Hajdu and Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, updated the group about the genetic variant of the virus that causes COVID-19, “including its reportedly higher transmissibility,” according to a readout of the call from the prime minister’s office. Dr. Tam and Hajdu updated the group on the variant’s properties, including its reportedly higher transmissibility.
Several ministers told the group the additional measures would give the government time “to gather further evidence and conduct additional research on the new variant to keep Canadians safe,” the statement said.
PHAC said no cases of the new strain have been identified in Canada, although public health officials and researchers are working to determine whether the strain is already present.
“Genetic variation of viruses such as the one that causes COVID-19 is to be expected and have been previously observed in parts of the world this year,” PHAC said in a statement. “While early data suggest that the United Kingdom variant may be more transmissible, to date there is no evidence that the mutations have any impact on symptom severity, antibody response, or vaccine efficacy.”
The IRG meeting was convened as several European nations restricted travel from the U.K. after Prime Minister Boris Johnson revealed on Saturday that a new variant of the coronavirus that is more than 70 per cent more transmissible than existing strains is driving a rapid rise in the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 in the U.K.
Ireland, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria and Italy all blocked flights from the U.K. — some for 48 hours and others for longer. Germany called a special crisis meeting of EU countries scheduled for Monday to co-ordinate the response to the virus news among the bloc’s 27 member states. Champagne told the IRG about the measures other countries took in response to the new variant, according to the statement.
WATCH | Canada, EU countries block travel from U.K. over new coronavirus variant:
Canada joined several countries in the European Union in suspending air and train travel from the U.K., hoping to prevent the new strain of the coronavirus currently spreading in southern England from taking hold elsewhere. 5:08
Canada has severely restricted travel into the country since March. Broadly, only Canadian citizens, permanent residents and specialized foreign workers — most of whom travel from the U.S. — are granted entry. There are some exceptions, including for close family members of Canadian citizens and permanent residents to Canada.
Travellers who are granted entry to Canada are required to quarantine or self-isolate for 14 days upon entering Canada.
The prime minister’s office said the new measures provide an additional layer of protection.
“These new measures complement the robust travel restrictions and border measures that have been in place since March 2020, notably mandatory quarantine measures that require travellers to quarantine or isolate for 14 days immediately upon entry to Canada,” the prime minister’s office added in a statement.
Opposition politicians press for action
Prior to Trudeau gathering with his cabinet ministers, Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-François Blanchet called on the government to follow Europe’s lead and impose a travel ban on the U.K. to prevent the strain from reaching Canada.
“It will be several months before the pandemic is contained, especially with the number of [vaccine] doses available remains far too small,” Blanchet said in a statement released in French.
“If a variant of COVID-19 were to spread with increased speed among vulnerable people, the effects could be devastating on people’s health as well as on the health-care system and staff already under tremendous pressure.”
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh echoed that call in a Twitter post, saying that while more information is needed, flights from the U.K. should be suspended in the meantime.
“With vaccines still very rare, if this new strain gets loose here in vulnerable populations, it will be a disaster,” his post read.
Conservative health critic Michelle Rempel Garner called on the Liberal government to provide more information about the new genetic variant and to explain any decision to restrict flights.
“Canadians are looking for accurate information about the new variant of COVID-19 that has been identified in the United Kingdom,” Garner said in an emailed statement.
“The ties between our two countries are extremely close, with many Canadians’ families overseas … if the Trudeau government is considering a similar travel ban, they need to clearly communicate this to Canadians and their rationale for doing so as soon as possible.”
On the morning of June 4, a team of Alberta civil servants gathered — as it had nearly every day since the COVID-19 pandemic began — to co-ordinate the province’s response to the crisis.
A few minutes into the meeting in a boardroom in downtown Edmonton, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw weighed in.
The cabinet committee, to which she and the group reported, was pressuring her to broadly expand serology testing, which is used to detect the presence of COVID-19 antibodies in the blood.
The problem was that the tests had limited large-scale clinical value and Hinshaw believed it would overestimate the virus’s presence in the population.
“Honestly, after the battle that we had about molecular testing, I don’t have a lot of fight left in me,” Hinshaw said during that meeting. The province had introduced rapid molecular testing kits at the start of the pandemic to help testing in rural and remote communities. The recordings reveal some tensions about that decision.
“I think we need to draw on our experience from the molecular testing battle that we ultimately lost, after a bloody and excruciating campaign, and think about, how do we limit the worst possible implications of this without wearing ourselves down?,” Hinshaw said.
A few weeks later, Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Hinshaw announced the province would pour $ 10 million into targeted serology testing, the first in Canada to do so.
The level of political direction — and, at times, interference — in Alberta’s pandemic response is revealed in 20 audio recordings of the daily planning meetings of the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) obtained by CBC News, as well as in meeting minutes and interviews with staff directly involved in pandemic planning.
Taken together, they reveal how Premier Jason Kenney, Shandro and other cabinet ministers often micromanaged the actions of already overwhelmed civil servants; sometimes overruled their expert advice; and pushed an early relaunch strategy that seemed more focused on the economy and avoiding the appearance of curtailing Albertans’ freedoms than enforcing compliance to safeguard public health.
“What is there suggests to me that the pandemic response is in tatters,” said Ubaka Ogbogu, an associate law professor at the University of Alberta who specializes in public health law and policy.
“The story tells me that the chief medical officer of health doesn’t have control of the pandemic response [and] tells me that decisions are being made by persons who shouldn’t be making decisions,” said Ogbogu, who was given access by CBC News to transcripts of specific incidents from the recordings.
“It tells me that the atmosphere in which decisions are being made is combative, it is not collaborative and that they are not working towards a common goal — they are working at cross-purposes.”
Ogbogu has been a staunch critic of the UCP government. In July, he publicly resigned from the Health Quality Council of Alberta, citing the potential for political interference in its work due to amendments to the Health Statutes Amendment Act.
Shandro did not respond to an interview request.
In a brief emailed statement that did not address specific issues raised by CBC News, a spokesperson for Kenney said it is the job of elected officials to make these sorts of decisions and he said there was no political interference.
Hinshaw also did not respond to an interview request.
But at the daily pandemic briefing Wednesday, as the province announced its 500th death, Hinshaw reiterated her belief that her job is to provide “a range of policy options to government officials outlining what I believe is the recommended approach and the strengths and weaknesses of any alternatives.
“The final decisions are made by the cabinet,” she said, adding that she has “always felt respected and listened to and that my recommendations have been respectfully considered by policy makers while making their decisions.”
Secret recordings reveal tension
The recordings provide a rare window into the relationship between the non-partisan civil servants working for the Emergency Operation Centre and political officials.
The EOC team, comprised of civil servants from Alberta Health and some seconded from other ministries, has been responsible for planning logistics and producing guidelines and recommendations for every aspect of Alberta’s pandemic response.
The recordings also provide context for the recent public debate about the extent of Hinshaw’s authority to act independent of government.
Even if Hinshaw had the authority to make unilateral decisions, the recordings confirm what she has repeatedly stated publicly: she believes her role is to advise, provide recommendations and implement decisions made by the politicians.
At the group’s meeting on June 8, the day before Kenney publicly announced Alberta’s move to Stage 2 of its economic relaunch plan, Hinshaw relayed the direction she was receiving from the Emergency Management Cabinet Committee (EMCC). That committee included Kenney, Shandro and nine other cabinet ministers.
“What the EMCC has been moving towards, I feel, is to say, ‘We need to be leading Albertans where they want to go, not forcing them where they don’t want to go,'” Hinshaw told the group.
Hinshaw said she didn’t know if the approach would work, but they were being asked to move away from punitive measures to simply telling people how to stay safe.
More of a “permissive model?” someone asked. Hinshaw agreed.
“I feel like we are starting to lose social licence for the restrictive model, and I think we are being asked to then move into the permissive model,” she said. “And worst-case scenario, we will need to come back and [be] restrictive.”
Soaring COVID-19 rates in Alberta
As a second wave of COVID-19 pummels the province, an increasing number of public-health experts say Alberta long ago reached that worst-case scenario.
The province has passed the grim milestone of more than 1,500 new cases reported in a day. To date, 500people have died. Intensive care units across Alberta are overwhelmed, with COVID-19 patients spilling into other units as beds grow scarce.
On Tuesday, after weeks of pleading from doctors, academics and members of the public for a province-wide lockdown, Kenney declared another state of public health emergency.
However, he pointedly refused to impose a lockdown, saying his government wouldn’t bow to “ideological pressure” that he said would cripple the economy. Instead, he announced targeted restrictions, including a ban on indoor social gatherings.
WATCH | Premier Jason Kenney announces new pandemic restrictions:
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney bypassed a renewed lockdown as part of new COVID-19 restrictions, despite having more COVID-19 cases per capita than Ontario. Restaurants and retail can stay open with reduced capacity, though indoor private gatherings are banned and the school year has been altered again. 2:36
Kenney repeated many of the comments he made on Nov. 6.
Even as Alberta’s case count grew so high that the province could not sustain its contact tracing system, Kenney rejected calls for more stringent measures and downplayed the deaths related to COVID-19.
“What you describe as a lockdown, first of all, constitutes a massive invasion of the exercise of people’s fundamental rights and a massive impact on not only their personal liberties but their ability to put food on the table to sustain themselves financially,” Kenney said.
Kenney said it was projected, back in April, that COVID-19 would be the 11th-most common cause of death in the province.
“And so currently, this represents a tiny proportion of the deaths in our province.”
High evidence threshold for restrictions
A source with direct knowledge of the daily planning meetings said the premier wants evidence-based thresholds for mandatory restrictions that are effectively impossible to meet, especially in an ever-changing pandemic.
As of Wednesday, no thresholds have been designated publicly.
The source said Kenney’s attitude was that he wasn’t going to close down anything that affected the economy unless he was provided with specific evidence about how it would curtail the spread of COVID-19.
“This is like nothing we have ever seen before. So [it is] very, very difficult to get specific evidence to implement specific restrictions,” said the source who, like the others interviewed by CBC News, spoke on condition of confidentiality for fear of losing their job.
Another planning meeting source said “there is kind of an understanding that we put our best public health advice forward and that Kenney is really more concerned about the economy and he doesn’t want it shut down again.”
CBC News also interviewed a source close to Hinshaw who said she has indicated that, eight months into the pandemic, politicians are still often demanding a level of evidence that is effectively impossible to provide before they will act on restrictive recommendations.
The source said Hinshaw suggested politicians “have tended to basically go with the minimal acceptable recommendation from public health, because I actually think if they went below — if they pushed too far — that she probably would step down.”
Ogbogu said it is clear politicians, who are not experts in pandemic response, are not focusing on what matters most to public health.
“The focus needs to be on the disease, on how you stop it,” he said. “Not the economy. Nothing is more important.”
‘I may have gotten in trouble with the minister’s office’: Hinshaw
The government has often used Hinshaw as a shield to deflect criticism of its pandemic strategy, suggesting she is directing the response. The government has at times appeared to recast any criticism of the strategy as a personal attack on her.
At her public COVID-19 updates, Hinshaw has refused to stray from government talking points or offer anything more than a hint of where her opinions may diverge.
Behind the scenes, however, there were clearly times when Hinshaw disagreed with the political direction — although it was also evident the politicians had the final say.
In April, for instance, the government introduced asymptomatic testing in some parts of the province, and later expanded it.
Hinshaw told a May 22 meeting she had unintentionally started a conversation with Kenney in which she expressed concern about the value of large-scale asymptomatic testing as opposed to strategic testing.
Kenney in turn asked for a slide presentation that would detail the pros and cons of each approach.
“I didn’t intend to have that conversation, so I may have gotten in trouble with the [health] minister’s office today about that,” Hinshaw said at that meeting.
The presentation, she said, would include “how expensive it is to test people when we don’t actually get a lot of value, to go forward with a testing strategy that we can stand behind. So we will see if the minister’s office will allow us to put that [presentation] forward,” Hinshaw said.
The premier, she said, had asked for the presentation for June 2.
But she cautioned the team, “Not to get all of our hopes up or anything.”
A week later, Hinshaw publicly announced the province had opened up asymptomatic testing to any Albertan who wanted it. At a news conference, she said that given the impending Stage 2 relaunch, it was an “opportune time” to expand testing.
‘They don’t want us to enforce anything’
The recordings suggest a desire by Health Minister Shandro to exert control over enforcement of public health orders.
Alberta Health Services (AHS), the province’s health authority, is responsible for enforcing public health orders. It is supposed to operate at arm’s length from government.
On June 9, the same day Kenney announced the Stage 2 economic relaunch, Hinshaw told the EOC meeting Shandro’s office wanted to be informed how AHS would consult with “us” before taking any action on COVID-19 public orders.
Alberta Health lawyers, working with the EOC, were responsible for writing the Stage 2 relaunch order that would outline restrictions on businesses and the public.
Hinshaw said she needed to verify with Shandro’s office, but she thought “they don’t want us to enforce anything. [They] just want us to educate, and no enforcement.”
But the group’s chief legal advisor was adamant.
“Under no circumstance will AHS check with the political minister’s office before undertaking an enforcement action under the Public Health Act,” he said
Hinshaw said Shandro’s office wanted AHS to check with her first, so she could report back to his office.
The legal advisor challenged that, saying AHS was supposed to check with Hinshaw and a colleague “with respect to prosecutions, not enforcement generally.
“So what is going on?” he asked.
Shandro’s office was “mad that AHS has enforced things like no shaving in barber shops,” Hinshaw responded.
Hinshaw said all local medical officers of health and environmental health officers were already expected to tell her and the team about any impending orders or prosecutions.
But a week later, a senior health official told the meeting AHS was “struggling about what they should be doing” regarding enforcement.
The official said AHS had been told: “Don’t turn a blind eye but don’t issue any orders.
“And then come to us, and if push comes to shove, I think it will be up to the ministry to figure out if we are going to do something.”
In mid-September, CBC News reported that AHS had received more than 29,000 complaints about COVID-19 public health order violations since the beginning of April.
A total of 62 enforcement orders, including closure orders, were issued in that period. As recently as last week, AHS has said that “every effort” is made to work with the public before issuing an enforcement order.
In private conversations as recently as this month, Hinshaw has characterized her interactions with Kenney and cabinet as difficult, said a source close to her.
“I would say that she has used the phrase ‘uphill battle,'” they said.
The source said Hinshaw has been understanding of the reasons for the difficulty, “which I think we both see as being rooted in a completely different weighting of the risks of the disease and the risks of, for example, public-health restrictions.”
Hinshaw, however, “did allude to some of the meetings as being very distressing.”
But the source said Hinshaw worries about what could happen if she leaves her role.
“She sees her position, optimally, as trying to do the best she can from inside. And that if she wasn’t there, there would be a risk that things would be worse in terms of who else might end up taking that position and what their viewpoint was on the best direction.”
Ogbogu, the health law expert, said that while Hinshaw may be well-meaning, her willingness to allow politicians to subvert her authority is ultimately undermining the fight against COVID-19.
If the government is not following scientific advice, if it is not interested in measures that will effectively control a pandemic that is killing Albertans, then Hinshaw “owes us the responsibility of coming out and saying, ‘They are not letting me do my job,'” Ogbogu said.
“And if that comes at a risk of her job, that is the nature of public service.”
At the planning meeting on June 4, a civil servant told the team there was concern the province wasn’t giving businesses much time to adjust to shifting COVID-19 guidance.
“I’ve been advocating everywhere I can to move it up, and they moved it back,” Hinshaw replied.
“So you can see I have a lot of influence,” she said sarcastically. “But I will keep trying.”
If you have information about this story, or for another story, please contact us in confidence at email@example.com.
COVID-19 levels are surging across Canada at rates never before seen in the pandemic and showing no signs of slowing down.
The coronavirus continues to spread like wildfire both in areas that were hit hard in the first wave and those that were practically untouched previously, and the reaction from the federal government has taken a desperate tone.
“I’m imploring the premiers and our mayors to please do the right thing,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said this week. “Act now to protect public health.”
We’re now averaging 4,000 coronavirus cases per week and 50 deaths per day, with more than 45,000 active cases across the country.
A record of nearly 5,000 cases and 83 deaths were also reported in a single day in Canada this week, and we’re on track to record over 10,000 cases a day by early next month.
But with a second wave of the pandemic that’s worsening by the day, experts say the federal government may need to do more to stop the spread of COVID-19.
‘Never too late’ to turn around dire situation
Ontario is now projecting 6,500 new COVID-19 cases per day by mid-December if no further action is taken to address the worsening situation in the province.
In the face of that ominous prediction and a Toronto Star investigation that found major discrepancies between guidance from experts and thresholds for increased regulations, Ontario changed its guidelines and imposed severe restrictions on five major cities and regions on Friday.
Across the country, the situation is no less dire.
But is that enough to curb the worsening second wave?
Experts are divided on what Canada should do next to address the unprecedented surge of COVID-19, but one thing is becoming clear — what we’re doing may not be working.
Raywat Deonandan, a global health epidemiologist and associate professor at the University of Ottawa, says he feels “stupid and naive” for thinking Canada had adequately prepared for a second wave when cases were low in the summer.
“We opened up our economy perhaps a bit too early [and then] the numbers were out of control. We were testing non-strategically. We squandered our testing capacity,” he said. “But is it too late? It’s never too late.”
Deonandan estimates that while we’re still at least 12 months from the widespread rollout of a safe and effective vaccine in Canada, how we use that time is still up in the air.
“How do you spend that year? Do you spend it rolling the dice and letting people die?” he said. “Or do you spend it paying some hard economic costs now, so that you spend most of this year in relatively good economic standing?”
Could a national response help control Canada’s 2nd wave?
One approach that has been put forth by public health experts is the use of emergency federal powers to co-ordinate our response to the pandemic across the country.
That can be done either by using the Emergencies Act or through the inherent power the federal government has in times of emergency under the Constitution Act.
The Emergencies Act is far-reaching in that it allows the federal government to extend its power over provinces and their health-care systems to deal with the pandemic.
WATCH | How Canada could regain control of COVID-19:
COVID-19 cases are soaring and lockdowns are returning. After eight months of the pandemic, epidemiologists have a decent playbook. Where did Canada go wrong? And how does it get back on track? 2:01
“It authorizes the federal government to essentially take control over a situation,” said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease physician at Toronto General Hospital and associate professor of medicine at the University of Toronto.
“That’s the nuclear bomb approach.”
Bogoch said that strategy would be unrealistic to take in the current situation, as the federal government would then be responsible for countless health-care decisions at the provincial level.
“Canada doesn’t have the capability of micromanaging a health-care system,” he said. “They don’t have the manpower. They don’t have the skill set. They can’t do it.”
The less extreme option is to use the emergency powers in the Constitution Act to enact stricter measures across the country to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
“There’s no real requirement for using it except that the government says there’s an emergency,” said Amir Attaran, a professor in the Faculties of Law and School of Epidemiology and Public Health at the University of Ottawa. “That’s it. That’s all they have to do.”
People are interested in the federal government maybe doing a COVID emergency law, but seem to think it’s too hard. ACTUALLY IT’S EASY. As a law prof who argued this stuff in the Supreme Court recently, let me explain how. (thread)
Attaran favours that approach because he feels the premiers have failed to effectively control the pandemic, save for the success of the four provinces in the Atlantic bubble.
“The court could be called on to judge whether that’s the case or not,” he said, referring to a potential court challenge of the emergency power. “But find for me a court in this country that’s going to say there’s no emergency.”
“Anyone who says, ‘that would be an illegal overreach,’ doesn’t know, because whether it’s illegal or not comes to a decision that’s in the courts, and I have no doubt whatsoever that the judges of this country would realize, yes, we’re in quite a mess.”
Measures enacted using Constitution Act
Under this approach, the federal government would not take over provincial health-care decisions but instead could enact measures like national mask mandates, countrywide gathering limits and even cordon off hot zones and restrict travel between regions.
“It’s not running anything. These are orders of what must and must not happen,” Attaran said of the approach. “Operationalizing it remains in the hands of the provinces.”
The benefit of this approach is that it would co-ordinate Canada’s response nationally and overrule provinces that may be hesitant to enact stricter measures in the face of a growing number of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
The drawback is that it would likely bring the ire of premiers who feel they’re handling the situation well and don’t want to be micromanaged.
“That just wouldn’t fly,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford said this week in response to questions about the possibility of increased federal intervention in the pandemic response.
“That’s not their jurisdiction. We don’t need the nanny state telling us what to do. We understand our provinces, and I’ll tell you, he’d have a kickback like he’d never seen from not just me, from every single premier.”
Deonandan said the two main reasons why a national strategy hasn’t been deployed is because of a lack of political will and the complexity of our country’s political makeup.
“How does a Liberal federal government compel a Conservative government in Alberta to do something that is maybe philosophically problematic to find consensus on?” he said.
The federal carbon tax was a perfect example of this challenge, he said.
“If you can’t find a philosophical consensus, how do you, with a heavy hand, enact homogeneity of policy across the country?”
Despite this, Attaran said the federal health minister has the power to invoke the Constitution Act to address surging COVID-19 numbers immediately — even without consulting cabinet.
“The great thing about the federal emergencies power is it comes with no substantive requirements,” Attaran said. “The only requirement legally is that an emergency measure be temporary.”
Trudeau said this week the federal government “doesn’t decide who closes down where and how fast.” But if its emergency powers were enacted, it could ensure thresholds to stop the spread of the virus are being met across the board.
But Ottawa might also risk alienating provincial leaders — and the Canadian public.
“Once you take control, provinces can do anything. They can stay engaged. They can take a step back,” Bogoch said.
Broad shutdowns will start in Winnipeg and surrounding areas on Monday as Manitoba moves its capital area to the red, or critical, level — the highest stage of its pandemic response scale — following days of record-shattering COVID-19 case announcements.
Movie theatres, concert halls, sports facilities and restaurant dining rooms in the region will be ordered to close starting Monday, as officials struggle to control a rising tide of cases.
Elective and non-urgent surgeries and diagnostic procedures in the region will be suspended to preserve capacity in a strained health-care system, said Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin on Friday.
“You can just see these numbers in the last week, the strain on our health-care system … we were left with no choice,” said Roussin. “We have to deal with this virus and the transmission now.”
The rest of Manitoba will move up to the orange, or restricted, level starting Monday, Roussin said. The order will limit gathering sizes to five and reduce capacity in public-facing businesses.
The new measures will be in place for at least two weeks, Roussin said Friday.
A total of 104 people are in hospital due to COVID-19, including 79 in Winnipeg, as of Friday. Nineteen patients are in intensive care, and Manitoba’s ICU capacity is at 96 per cent, said Lanette Siragusa, chief nursing officer for Shared Health.
“The numbers today will strike fear in many Manitobans,” Siragusa said.
“I speak to our [health-care] staff, as much as I speak to the public, when I say that I know that you are scared.”
Closures in the Winnipeg region will also extend to museums, libraries and galleries. Restaurants may still offer take-out and delivery services. Fitness facilities will be reduced to 25 per cent capacity and masks are mandatory, even while exercising.
WATCH | ‘No choice’ but to tighten restrictions, chief public health officer says:
While widespread closures and capacity restrictions have significant impacts on people, Manitoba’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin says a concerning trend of rising COVID-19 cases and strain on the healthcare system in recent days forced the province to introduce the latest round of rules meant to slow the spread of the illness. 0:42
Visitation at hospitals in the area will be suspended, with case-by-case exceptions for patients receiving end-of-life care, in labour and pediatric patients.
No changes will be made to schools in the Winnipeg area, which are already at the restricted orange level, the province said. Retail stores in the region must limit capacity to 25 per cent or five people, whichever is higher.
“We are at a turning point right now,” Roussin said. “If we don’t make a dramatic change, we’re going to see our health-care system significantly strained.”
‘Today is a hard day’
Across Manitoba, outside of Winnipeg, the orange-level restrictions will reduce capacity at restaurants, bars, retail stores, museums, galleries and libraries to 50 per cent.
The province is encouraging Manitobans to limit the number of people from each household who go shopping.
A variety of establishments outside the city area — including movie theatres, concert halls, libraries and more — must collect and keep contact information for people who enter. Casinos in those regions must close.
Health officials have plans to expand health-care system capacity, including converting beds and creating new ones outside of hospitals for the least-sick, non-COVID-19 patients, in order to make room for COVID-19 cases, Siragusa said.
“Today is a hard day,” she said. “It’s really difficult to give the messages and I’m sure it’s difficult to hear them.”
Canada’s chief public health officer says discrimination against Hutterites will not help build trust as some colonies across the Prairies experience outbreaks of COVID-19.
“The surrounding communities or the rest of the population should not stigmatize these communities,” Dr. Theresa Tam said Tuesday. “It does not help with any of the response.”
There are outbreaks in Hutterite colonies in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Some have been linked to a funeral in southern Alberta for three teens who drowned last month. It drew mourners from all three provinces.
Nearly two dozen new cases were identified on Hutterite colonies in Saskatchewan on Monday.
Premier Scott Moe described the outbreak as severe. But he pointed out that the increasing numbers show Hutterites are taking the right steps and getting tested. He also warned against stigmatizing colony members.
Hutterites are communal, Anabaptist communities. There are about 50,000 members in more than 520 colonies in Canada and the United States.
The Hutterite way of life can make colonies vulnerable to spread of the novel coronavirus since members eat, worship and do many other activities together.
Many colonies have rapidly responded to COVID-19 outbreaks to keep themselves and neighbouring communities safe by mass producing masks or restricting travel in and out.
However, there have been increasing reports of Hutterites facing discrimination when they leave the colony. Members in all three provinces have shared stories of being denied service and turned away from stores.
‘COVID-19 does not discriminate’
Paul Waldner from the CanAm Hutterite Colony in southwest Manitoba sent a letter to Premier Brian Pallister and Health Minister Cameron Friesen last week that said identifying colonies where there are COVID-19 cases has led to cultural and religious profiling. Waldner said he will file a human rights complaint if the practice continues.
Manitoba is no longer identifying colonies where members have tested positive.
Outbreaks in Hutterite communities are complex, Tam said. The federal government is providing epidemiological support and is prepared to help with increased testing and rapid response teams if needed.
Tam said one of the most important aspects of the pandemic response is having public support of health measures. She acknowledged that more work needs to be done in certain communities.
“COVID-19 does not discriminate,” she said. “This virus can affect any one of us.
“So it’s systems and society that discriminate and not the virus itself.”