Tag Archives: struggle

Canadian politicians struggle to come to grips with the global vaccine race

The global scramble to vaccinate the human race against COVID-19 is bigger than Canadian politics. But every Canadian politician no doubt understands the political and human importance of this country seeming to do well in this multinational competition. 

The result this week is anxiety and a rush to assign blame that has failed to produce easy answers to the central question of what, if anything, Canadian officials could be doing to procure more of what’s arguably the most precious commodity on Earth.

But this consternation among Canadian politicians might be obscuring a bigger question for the world: Is this really the best way to go about vaccinating 7.6 billion people against a common threat? 

The latest spasm of concern about Canada’s vaccine supply can be traced to a production facility in Puurs, Belgium, where Pfizer has been manufacturing one of the two approved vaccines for use in Canada. Pfizer has decided to retool that facility so that it can increase production. In the short-term, that means fewer doses will be available.

In response to Pfizer’s change of plans, Ontario Premier Doug Ford quickly declared that, if he were prime minister, he’d be on the phone to Pfizer’s top executive demanding the previously scheduled shipments. “I’d be up that guy’s ying-yang so far with a firecracker he wouldn’t know what hit him,” Ford said.

WATCH | Ontario premier says Trudeau’s ‘No. 1 job’ is to get vaccines:

Ontario Premier Doug Ford says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau needs to fight to get the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to Canada and he suggests the alternative to the Belgian plant may be Pfizer’s Michigan facility. 0:55

It stands to reason that if getting a plentiful supply of the Pfizer vaccine was as easy as getting up Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla’s ying-yang with a firecracker, nearly every leader on the planet would be doing so. But Ford got a chance to test his theory — a day later he spoke with the president of Pfizer Canada. If a firecracker was lit during that conversation, it has so far failed to change Pfizer’s plans.

In Ottawa, the consternation has been only slightly less colourful, culminating in an “emergency debate” in the House of Commons on Tuesday. 

The Conservatives argue that an ill-fated partnership between the National Research Council and China’s CanSino Biologics distracted Justin Trudeau’s government from pursuing better options — but Public Services Minister Anita Anand told the Canadian Press in December that Canada was the fourth country in the world to sign a contract with Pfizer and the first to sign with Moderna, the other major supplier of an approved vaccine. 

The New Democrats argue that the federal government should have negotiated for the right to domestically produce the currently approved vaccines — but that presumably depends in large part on the willingness of companies like Moderna and Pfizer to do so. 

A real effort to ensure Canada had domestic capacity to produce a pandemic vaccine likely would have had to have been implemented years ago.

Little control over vaccine supply

Eventually, Tuesday night’s debate landed on questions of transparency. The government says it has a plan for vaccinating Canadians, but the opposition says that plan isn’t detailed enough.

The opposition insists the government should release the details of the contracts it has signed with manufacturers, but the government says those contracts are necessarily confidential. There are suggestions that Europe’s supply of the Pfizer vaccine might be smaller than the interruption to Canada’s supply, but it’s not clear why that might be the case.

The Liberals surely understand the gravity of the vaccine race, but they have never shown much interest in explaining themselves in detail. They insist that their agreements with seven potential manufacturers have put Canada in a decent position and that their medium-term and long-term targets for vaccinating Canadians over the course of this year will not be affected by the current shortfall.

WATCH | EU threatens to slow vaccine exports, increasing concerns about vaccine nationalism:

The European Union is threatening to slow exports of the Pfizer vaccine after Astra-Zeneca announced a delay in production. With vaccines in short supply, global health leaders are growing increasingly concerned about the rise of vaccine nationalism. 2:00

But Pfizer’s decision to retool the plant in Puurs underlines how little control the Liberal government can claim to have over the situation and how little sympathy they’ll receive if things don’t work out the way they said they would.

It was just over a month ago that the federal government was able to answer a previous panic with earlier-than-expected approvals and shipments of the new vaccine. If the Liberals were only too happy to bask in that good news, this interruption feels like the universe’s way of telling them to not get cocky.

Canada vs. other countries

In the meantime, even the definition of success will be up for debate.

On Monday, for instance, Conservative MP Pierre Paul-Hus complained that Canada was not doing as well as the Seychelles, which had delivered at least a first dose to 20.22 per cent of its population through January 25. By comparison, Canada’s rate of vaccination was 2.23 per cent.

But the tiny island nation has a population of 98,000 people (roughly the equivalent of Red Deer, Alta). In absolute terms, the number of people who had received a dose in the Seychelles was 19,889. Canada, meanwhile, had administered doses to 839,949 people.

WATCH | Ottawa offers assurances about COVID-19 vaccine supply:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is trying to reassure Canadians about the COVID-19 vaccine supply after the European Union raised the possibility of imposing export controls on vaccines leaving the EU. Canada’s Pfizer-BioNTech shots are made in Belgium. 1:44

On Tuesday, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland countered that Canada was ahead of Germany, France, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. But three of those countries — Japan, Australia and New Zealand — haven’t yet begun their vaccination programs. And in two of those countries — Australia and New Zealand — COVID-19 is almost non-existent. 

‘This is pure nonsense’

During the emergency debate on Tuesday night, the NDP’s Don Davies said Canada ranked 16th per capita in doses administered. He meant it as a complaint. But it could just as easily be framed as a compliment — if Canada ends up being the 16th fastest country to vaccinate its population, it will have finished ahead of 174 other countries. Among the 32 OECD countries who have begun vaccinations, Canada ranks 12th in doses administered per capita.

A few countries — the United States, United Kingdom and Israel — seem to be benefiting from their own unique circumstances. The U.S. and U.K., for instance, have access to domestic production of the available vaccines.

In every other country, there might be some version of the Canadian debate playing out; Trudeau said last week that he and German Chancellor Angela Merkel had commiserated about the similar criticism that they were each facing. 

WATCH | COVID’s one year anniversary in Canada:

One year after the first confirmed case of COVID-19, are we really all in it together? A PSW speaks about the reality of working the front lines in long-term care homes, and an artist questions life after CERB. PLUS, why first-world countries like Canada are being accused of hoarding vaccines. 45:36

But all of this might underline the questions of whether an every-country-for-itself scramble to acquire vaccines from a limited number of private manufacturers is the sensible way to go about vaccinating the human race.

“‘Could Canada have done more?’ The problem for me is that this is not the right question. What we’ve been seeing, for me, is a bit of a catastrophe,” said Marc-Andre Gagnon, a political science professor at Carleton University who focuses on pharmaceutical policy.

“You end up with a handful of companies that are developing their own vaccines, each by themselves, working in silos. So then you have a product with a patent, so monopoly rights on the product. And then you end up with this vaccine nationalism of all countries basically doing a free market negotiation in terms of who can jump the queue in order to get faster access to the vaccines. In terms of priorities of global public health, this is pure nonsense.”

A better approach, Gagnon suggests, would have focused on collaboration, data sharing and making use of all available manufacturing capacity around the world. 

Pfizer’s new deal with Sanofi, a rival producer, might at least be a step in that direction. But any serious rethinking of global vaccination policy might have to wait for the next pandemic.

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CBC | Health News

‘A toll on everyone’s soul:’ Inside 2 hospitals’ struggle to save lives from COVID-19

During the coronavirus pandemic, Canadians are being told to stay home to keep hospitals from being overwhelmed. Yet most of us have no idea about what’s happening inside our hospitals, specifically intensive care units. 

Jan. 25 marked the one-year anniversary of the first person in Canada to be hospitalized due to COVID-19.  

To mark the anniversary, staff at two of Canada’s largest hospitals — Sunnybrook Hospital and Toronto General Hospital — filmed a day in their lives on the job, highlighting how they deal with the stress and strain they’re up against day after day. 

Watch as they give an intimate, inside look at why they’re so emotionally exhausted — and what gives them the strength to keep fighting o care for “everyone’s loved ones.”
 

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CBC | Health News

Russian hospitals struggle to cope as COVID-19 cases pass 2 million

Russia’s official COVID-19 case tally passed the two million mark this week as the number of daily deaths and infections hit new highs, prompting government calls for more action to fight the pandemic.

“The situation with COVID is very tense,” a spokesperson for Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters Thursday. “This topic is now a priority for the president.”

Despite the surge in cases, which brought Russia’s caseload to 2,015,608 and the death toll to almost 35,000, some patients in one of Moscow’s recently opened pop-up COVID hospitals were surprised to find themselves there.

One patient, Ramil, who declined to give his last name, said he never expected to get the virus and be so ill. 

“I didn’t think something like this would happen,” the 37-year-old said, speaking from his hospital bed.


This temporary COVID-19 hospital, housed in a pavilion that dates back to the Stalin era, can hold up to 1,200 patients. (Maxim Shemetov/Reuters)

‘It’s been really hard’

There were 6,438 new cases in Moscow, the country’s worst-affected area, according to the coronavirus crisis response centre. Russia, which has a population of around 145 million, has the world’s fifth-largest number of cases after the United States, India, Brazil and France. 

It was Ramil’s fourth day labouring to breathe on the COVID ward at the recently transformed pavilion on the grounds of the All-Russia Exhibition Centre, also known as the Exhibition of Achievements of National Economy, or VDNKh. 

The historic exhibition site was built under Josef Stalin to glorify the economic and scientific achievements of the U.S.S.R. In mid-October, as the second wave of cases began to take off in the city, the 1,200-bed facility was opened. Two more temporary hospitals have since been created in the city to cope with the surge of cases.  

“I believed [COVID] was real, but I thought it would be easier to get over it. For me personally, it’s been really hard,”  Ramil told a CBC News crew who suited up from head to toe and went inside to look at conditions in the so-called red zone.

Unlike hospital workers — and visiting journalists — who are sealed up tight in protective gear, patients stand out as they are wearing street clothes. 


Members of the CBC Moscow bureau get suited up in protective gear before touring the hospital. (Dmitry Kozlov/CBC News )

    

Worst cases moved elsewhere

Most, including Ramil, spend their days in bed and move around as little as possible, although for those who are on the mend, there is a small communal area where they can watch movies. 

Those who take a turn for the worse are usually sent to a different facility with an intensive care ward and ventilators.  

Once a patient no longer tests positive for COVID, they can go home.   

And though many of the patients in the airport-hangar-like building have what would be considered mild to moderate symptoms, even those can pack a punch.

“I thought it was like the flu,” said Mikhail, another patient who declined to give his surname.

He was weak, struggling with a high fever and, like many others, needed oxygen to breathe.

“It was really bad. I think I got it on public transport,” he said.

WATCH  | CBC News tours temporary COVID-19 hospital in Moscow:

A well-equipped, high-tech COVID-19 ward set up inside a Moscow convention centre is a stark contrast to the overwhelmed hospitals elsewhere in Russia. CBC News got a first-hand look at the facility and found out what’s creating the disparity in health care. 6:34

Vaccine race

Russia’s government boasts it’s beating back the pandemic by investing in new health care technology and building temporary hospitals, such as the one CBC visited. It’s also conducting trials of three new coronavirus vaccines, including its much-hyped Sputnik V.

On Wednesday, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova announced 600,000 doses of the still-in-trial Sputnik vaccine would be released to the public in November, along with another 2.2 million doses in December.

Russia has made boastful predictions about its vaccine before, however.  

While its developer, the Gamaleya Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology, claims early results demonstrate 92 per cent effectiveness in preventing coronavirus, it has not released data from Phase 3 trials, which are generally the final, large-scale testing phase for new experimental drugs before they can be approved for public use.

And Russia’s government hasn’t followed through on earlier promises to quickly start mass inoculation campaigns during the autumn. 


Russia is testing several vaccines and said it would start releasing doses of one of them, known as Sputnik, to the public this month. (Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

Russia has been registering between 20,000 and 23,000 new cases a day for the past 10 days or so and the government acknowledges the health care system is now pushed to the limit.

On Tuesday, Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said that in 53 of the country’s 85 regions around 90 per cent of hospital beds are in use with admissions still rising.

While Moscow has the heaviest case load, it also has more resources to cope with the situation than other cities and towns in the country.Russia’s vast hospital network has been under intense scrutiny all fall as horror story after horror story emerged on social media, depicting dirty, dilapidated facilities with overflowing morgues and a shortage of doctors to care for patients or do autopsies.

At a hospital in Chelyabinsk, a city in the Ural Mountains, a large oxygen tank meant to supply COVID patients blew up,  destroying the facility but miraculously leaving those inside unscathed.

Russia is officially reporting 34,850 COVID deaths although some demographers and statisticians estimate it may be as high as 102,000.


A visit to the COVID ward ends by getting sprayed off and disinfected. (Dmitry Kozlov/CBC News)

Authorities stress preparedness

In the Moscow hospital CBC News visited, the patients all appeared to be in good hands and getting quality care.  

The facilities were new and modern and while staff appeared busy, there were no obvious signs of exhaustion.

That is likely why Russian authorities brought journalists there — to push the narrative that the country is winning the fight against COVID.

“As of today, we are not racing to keep up,” said Svetlana Zeinalova, the doctor in charge. “The city is well equipped.

“Our medical staff get tired, but they work, and nobody complains. They save people’s lives so that we can stop this pandemic here in Russia.”


Medical specialists rest in the so-called red zone inside the hospital. ‘Our medical staff get tired, but they work, and nobody complains,’ says Svetlana Zeinalova, the doctor in charge at the hospital. (Maxim Shemetov/Reuters)

CBC News was also taken to a separate state-of-the-art diagnostic centre where a team of radiologists and other specialists were testing new equipment to study patients’ lung scans. 

They then upload the results along with their diagnoses so doctors on the hospital floor could scan patients’ health care data on a wrist band and immediately know their condition and treatment regime.

“We have full computer diagnostics and medicines and all the examinations that are required,”  Zeinalova said proudly.

Still, critics associated with Russia’s Western-leaning opposition are urging people to look past the staged hospital tours and see conditions beyond the capital for the mess they are.

WATCH | Hospitals in parts of Russia were already overwhelmed even before recent spike in cases:

Rural regions of Russia, already poorly resourced, are taking the brunt of the latest wave of COVID-19 cases. Many hospitals are running out of room and supplies for new patients, and morgues are overflowing. 1:59

Poor conditions in regions beyond Moscow

Dr. Anastasia Vasilyeva, who met up with our crew hours after returning from a tour of hospitals hundreds of kilometres to the north of Moscow, said other regions are very poor and don’t have proper resources.

“There’s a lack of medical workers, a lack of medicines and a lack of everything that is needed to treat coronavirus,” she said.

Vasilyeva heads up a doctor’s union that works closely with opposition figure Alexey Navalny, who remains in Germany after recovering from an assassination attempt involving the nerve gas Novichok.

“I think they try to show that in Russia everything is good, that Russia has no problems with coronavirus and medical staff,” she told CBC News. 


Dr. Anastasia Vasilyeva has been delivering donated medical supplies to hospitals struggling to cope with COVID-19 in rural areas. She says the conditions are terrible in many facilities. (Dmitry Kozlov/CBC News)

Vasilyeva said her team packed their vehicles full of personal protection gear purchased with donations and gave it away to hospitals where conditions are much more dire than in Moscow.

“The toilets, the bathrooms — they are really in terrible condition,” she said of one hospital in the town of Nyandoma, in Naydomsky District, about 800 km north of Moscow.

She said paint was peeling off the walls, toilet bowls and sinks were dirty and wretched and the entire ward looked more like something out of a prison than a hospital.

“How can patients be there? And how can you treat patients in such conditions?”

She said her team was also harassed by police, who she feels were acting on political instructions. On their way in between hospitals, she said, they were stopped and accused of drinking, forcing her team to pull over and postpone part of their trip.

“I think the chief doctors and some officials put money in their pockets because I don’t know why such a rich country has such awful, terrible hospitals and clinics,” said Vasilyeva.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said the heads of regions with a high incidence of infections should use their authority to improve the situation.


Medical staff get into an ambulance outside the VDNKh hospital. Patients who take a serious turn for the worse are transferred to a different facility with an intensive care ward and ventilators. (Maxim Shemetov/Reuters)

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CBC | World News

For some non-profits, COVID-19 isn’t just a struggle. It’s a do-or-die moment

While some of Canada’s most revered non-profit organizations are struggling to survive the COVID-19 pandemic, others have already been defeated and forced to close their doors permanently. 

Charitable providers of social services — daycare, community venues, support groups and more — have seen a catastrophic drop in revenue, with some forced to cancel fundraising events because of physical distancing requirements while others are simply unable to operate.

That means a complete loss of user fees and other regular sources of income. Meanwhile, rent and salaries still need to be paid.

Although many charities qualify for the federal wage subsidy, that covers only part of the cost of staff.

Among the casualties so far:

  • The YMCA in Yarmouth, N.S. — a fixture on the city’s Main Street for 162 years, has closed for good; other Y locations are at risk. 
  • As many as 124 Royal Canadian Legion branches across the country either don’t have the resources to reopen, or say they won’t last longer than three months if they do.
  • The Boys and Girls Club of Canada location in Edson, Alta., has notified the community it won’t be able to reopen.
  • IMPACT Parkinson’s Centre, a small non-profit in New Westminster, B.C., closed its doors June 1, unable to “make it through to the other side,” according to a notice on its website.
  • The Old East Village Grocery in London, Ont., a social enterprise that supported disabled people dealing with food insecurity, had to shut down due to the cost of new sanitation protocols and a lack of staff.

The YMCA of Greater Vancouver makes a large portion of its revenue from membership fees, but the gyms are empty and fees have been suspended during the COVID-19 lockdown. (Ema Peter/YMCA)

Peter Dinsdale, the president and CEO of YMCA Canada, worries that its facility in Yarmouth may not be the only one to close forever.

“There could be some YMCAs that never open again, or have to merge with others in nearby communities in order to be able to open,” he said, noting that the YMCA is the biggest non-profit provider of child care in Canada.

‘Massive disruption’ in the sector

A survey conducted in April by Imagine Canada, an organization that works with charities, found that one in five of its member organizations had suspended or ceased operations. 

“The sector is not well constructed for this kind of massive disruption,” said Bruce MacDonald, Imagine Canada’s president and CEO.

He said the impact of COVID-19 has been worse than the global financial crisis of 2008-09.

“The pandemic has affected all revenue streams and all potential sources of support, so it’s way deeper and will be way more challenging to come back from.”

The organization has written to the prime minister to ask that a $ 3.75 billion grant program be established to help guarantee survival of what it calls “critical social infrastructure” across the country.

The group estimates the pandemic’s financial impact on registered charities alone to be between $ 9.5 and $ 15.7 billion, due to the loss of fundraising events, membership fees, donations and sales of goods and services.  

Although Imagine Canada said there is no data regarding the extent to which Canadians use non-profits and charities, it said the sector accounts for 8.5 percent of national GDP, and employs 2.4 million people who offer “vital services that communities rely on to thrive.”

A struggle even before the pandemic

The Boys and Girls Club of Canada, for example, is a non-profit organization that offers before and after school child-care programs at its 775 locations across the country, as well as summer camps.

The now-closed Edson location was struggling financially even before COVID-19 hit, according to president and CEO Owen Charters.

“The situation was exacerbated by the pandemic,” he said.


The Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada normally offer after school programs like this one at the Kingston and Area club. Closures due to COVID-19 mean a lack of child care. (Stevie Shipman/Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada)

Charters said mostly single working mothers across the country who are both the main caregiver and breadwinner of the family will be affected by the loss of the clubs’ child-care services. All of the locations are closed and unable to operate currently. 

“It’s going to be pretty tricky for families who thought they had support through the summer season and now they don’t,” said Charters.

Scrambling to innovate

Despite the myriad challenges, many non-profit groups continue to offer services one way or another. 

Cathy Taylor, executive director of the Ontario Nonprofit Network, says people in the field have scrambled to innovate.

“One of the things that has really struck me is the resilience of the sector,” said Taylor. “Their revenue is down tremendously, but they’re finding creative ways to service their communities.”

She said some have transformed their services “overnight,” noting how organizations that help immigrants quickly turned their English as a second language classes to virtual cafés, and food banks started shipping boxes instead of having volunteers on site to hand out groceries.

“There have been amazing stories of local mental health services and seniors’ programs going online,” she said.

Hundreds of Legion branches in trouble

The Royal Canadian Legion says it has continued to offer support to veterans during the pandemic.

“Throughout our closure every one of our 1,381 service officers across the country has maintained a virtual presence,” said executive director Steven Clark. “They were virtually accessible at all times.”

Legion volunteers have continued to make meals for seniors and deliver prescription medications, among other community supports, but weddings and other social events typically held in local Legion halls have been suspended.


Legion staff like bartender Kate Fitzmaurice, seen chatting with regular Ralph Moan at a Winnipeg branch, continue to provide service to veterans during COVID-19. (Mikaela MacKenzie/Winnipeg Free Press)

More alarming was the result of a survey of branches that the Legion conducted in June.

“We found that 124 branches are in immediate danger of not being able to reopen, or they will close within three months of reopening,” said Clark.

“We have 357 others that say when they do open, they will face significant financial hardship.”

Sector calls for more government help 

The federal government has already provided some support to the sector, in the form of the $ 350 million Emergency Community Support Fund.

The Red Cross, the United Way and the Community Foundations of Canada will disburse the funds to non-profits and charities that help “vulnerable populations who are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.”

But that won’t be enough, according to MacDonald of Imagine Canada.

“As reserves run out and the federal government stops the wage subsidy program, there are going to be many organizations under stress,” he said.

“We are already seeing examples of organizations that won’t be able to weather the storm.”

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CBC | Health News

Coming week a crucial period in COVID-19 struggle, says Canada’s chief public health officer

Canada’s top doctor says this coming week will be a crucial time during which public health officials will start to see if the aggressive physical distancing measures taken to prevent the spread of the coronavirus are working.

Dr. Theresa Tam said she is keeping a close eye on Ontario, Quebec and Alberta — provinces where the coronavirus is spreading within communities — to see if there will be a decrease in the rate of new confirmed cases, as British Columbia has seen.

“I still think it’s a little too early to tell because we are only at the end of March, but next week will be very important in terms of looking at those trends,” said Tam at her daily update on Sunday.

Canada currently has over 6,200 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus, and just over 60 Canadians have died from it. Thousands more people are awaiting test results.

The number of confirmed cases has increased rapidly since the beginning of the month as testing ramped up and travellers were called home from abroad.

Provincial and municipal governments began taking steps in earnest to reduce the spread of COVID-19 about two weeks ago — closing schools and businesses, restricting mass gatherings and encouraging people to work from home.

But because of the incubation period of the virus, which can survive in the human body for up to 14 days, measures taken over the course of the past two weeks won’t start showing up in the data tracking the rate of spread until this week, Tam said.

Cautious optimism in B.C.

On Friday, the B.C. government released a report showing that physical distancing measures had helped to cut the province’s rate of growth in new cases to 12 per cent per day. Without physical distancing measures, the report said that number would be closer to 24 per cent.

B.C.’s chief public health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the data offered a “glimmer of hope,” but that the province needed to stay the course.

“I’m trying not to over-call it, but I do believe we’ve seen a flattening, a falling-off of that curve,” said Henry on Friday.

Watch | Dr. Bonnie Henry says B.C. is starting to see ‘glimmers of hope’:

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says B.C. modelling shows that while the spread of COVID-19 appears to be slowing, the next two weeks are critical. 1:20

One development that could put upward pressure on Canada’s caseload is the return of travellers, including snowbirds and families returning from March Break vacations.

More than a million Canadian citizens and permanent residents returned home from other countries between March 14 and March 20, the Canada Border Services Agency said last week.

Global Affairs Canada has been co-ordinating a series of repatriation flights for Canadians from a number of countries. Two flights from Spain and Kuwait arrived in Canada on Saturday, while additional flights from Ecuador, Guatemala and Spain are expected to bring people back today.  

More Canadians are set to return from Haiti, Honduras, El Salvador, Sudan, Senegal, Congo and Ghana in the coming days.

Tam said she’ll be paying close attention to whether returning travellers brought the virus with them.

“With the influx of any groups of persons, whether it’s from a cruise ship or from returning travellers like the snowbirds, we have to be really, really vigilant and do the sort of rapid case identification, contact tracing,” said Tam.

“If someone is actually staying in the home for that 14 days where the incubation period occurs, that is the fundamental public health measure.”

Hospitals preparing for surge in sick patients

At the same time as trying to reduce the rate of the spread, governments and health-care providers are preparing for a surge of hospitalizations. 

Tam said hospitals are seeking to clear hospital beds and reduce occupancy in intensive care units to make room for COVID-19 patients. They are also trying to reduce what Tam calls the “burn rate” of protective masks and other equipment as the federal government seeks to obtain more.

She said these measures make sense to ensure masks and other needed resources are not wasted before more can be obtained.

“Responding to a pandemic is also about handling and prioritizing your most critical and scarce resources,” said Tam. “So is the effort to preserve them as much as possible while we’re still getting some more as well.”

There have been reports in recent days of Canadian hospitals rationing masks and other protective gear as they wait for fresh supplies to arrive amid what has become a global shortage of such equipment.

The Chinese Embassy in Ottawa tweeted Saturday that China was sending to Canada 30,000 medical masks along with gowns, gloves and goggles to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, prompting a message of thanks from Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne.

Canada had previously shipped about 16 tonnes of personal protective equipment to China in February, when that country was the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak.


At his daily update on Sunday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said federal health authorities will not cut any corners when it comes to ensuring masks provided by China meet the necessary standards for protecting Canadian health-care workers from COVID-19.

The comment follows reports the Dutch government is recalling around 600,000 defective masks that were recently shipped from China and had been distributed to various hospitals in the Netherlands.

“Health Canada has very strong procedures for evaluating, for ensuring that what we get is up to the necessary standards,” said Trudeau. “There will be no corners cut on this one, we need to make sure that the equipment that our health-care workers rely on to keep them safe, as they keep us safe, is of a quality that is going to actually do the job.”

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CBC | Health News

Brexit talks face uphill struggle as Oct. 31 deadline looms

The United Kingdom and the EU said Monday that Brexit talks were making progress — but not yet enough to ensure a deal by the end of the month — as the government tried to look beyond the country’s stalled EU exit with a policy platform read by the Queen in Parliament.

In terms of historical importance, the painstaking paragraph-by-paragraph talks at the EU’s glass-and-steel Berlaymont headquarters outweighed the regal ritual in which an ermine-bedecked monarch delivered a speech on the priorities of a Conservative government that could last as little as weeks or months.

But the spectacle, complete with horse-drawn coaches, lords in scarlet robes and a diamond-studded crown, at least provided a diversion from the long Brexit grind.

The United Kingdom is scheduled to leave the EU on Oct. 31, and an EU summit on Thursday or Friday is considered one of the last possible chances to approve a divorce agreement. Prime Minister Boris Johnson insists the country will leave at the end of the month with or without a deal.

Technical teams from Britain and the EU worked through the weekend to secure a last-minute deal, although both sides said significant gaps remain between their positions.

Johnson’s spokesperson, James Slack, said “the talks remain constructive but there is still a lot of work to do.”

Discussions centred on the difficult issue of the future border arrangements between EU member Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K. Britain has put forward a complex proposal to eliminate the need for customs checks, but EU officials say more work is needed.

An EU diplomat familiar with the talks said there would likely need to be a three-month extension to Brexit to turn the proposals into a legally binding deal.

“There are big problems remaining to counter smuggling and fraud because the British outlines are still that vague,” said the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks are ongoing. “There is momentum but there is still little movement.”

Arriving for a meeting of EU ministers in Luxembourg, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said “the less we say now, the better.”

Despite his reticence, Coveney said “a deal is possible, and it is possible this month. May be possible this week. But we are not there yet.”

Coveney insisted it was essential to give the negotiators time to iron out the remaining difficulties.

“There is still a lot of work to do.”

In London, Queen Elizabeth delivered a speech outlining an ambitious — and critics say undeliverable — legislative program for Johnson’s government.

The 10-minute speech, read by the 93-year-old monarch from a gilded throne in the House of Lords but written by the government, included more than 20 bills, including a law to implement an EU withdrawal agreement, should one be reached.


Johnson, right, and opposition Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn, left, walk through the Commons Members Lobby on Monday. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press)

It also contained plans for post-Brexit reforms to agriculture, fishing and immigration — ending the automatic right of EU citizens to live and work in the U.K. in 2021. The speech also included a long list of domestic policies, from longer sentences for violent criminals to no-fault divorce, tougher air pollution rules and new building-safety rules.

The government’s critics called Monday’s speech a stunt, because Johnson’s Conservative administration lacks a majority in Parliament and an election looks likely within the next few months, whether or not Britain leaves the EU as scheduled on Oct. 31.

The speech was part of the State Opening of Parliament, a ceremony steeped in centuries-old symbolism of the power struggle between Parliament and the British monarchy. Lawmakers are summoned to listen to the Queen by a security official named Black Rod — but only complied after slamming the House of Commons door in their face to symbolize their independence.

The state opening is usually an annual event, but amid the country’s Brexit chaos there has been no queen’s speech for more than two years — the longest gap for more than three centuries.

EU leaders, including Johnson, are due to meet in Brussels Thursday and Friday to see whether a Brexit deal is possible before Oct. 31.

The challenge of maintaining an invisible border on the island of Ireland — something that underpinned both the local economy and the region’s peace deal — has dominated Brexit discussions for three years since U.K. voters chose in 2016 to leave the EU.

Negotiations intensified last week after Johnson and Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said they could see a “pathway” to a divorce agreement that avoids a no-deal Brexit, something economists say would hurt both the U.K. and EU economies.

If a Brexit deal is reached, it still needs to be approved by both the British and European parliaments. Many British lawmakers — on both pro-Brexit and pro-EU sides of the debate — remain unconvinced.

Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said Sunday his party was unlikely to support any deal agreed upon by Johnson.


Members of the Queen’s bodyguard, known as Gentlemen at Arms, await the arrival of the Queen for opening of Parliament in London on Monday. (Richard Pohle/pool, Reuters)

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Sleep congress shines light on women’s struggle with insomnia

Frustration: that’s the word Vancouverite Jacqueline Sinclair uses most often to describe her insomnia. 

There’s the frustration of lying in bed, awake in the middle of the night, knowing how crappy she’ll feel the next day. The frustration of struggling to relax as she lies awake. And the frustration of failing at what should be a basic life skill. 

“Knowing that the rest of the world is able to do something as simple as sleep … it’s frustrating,” said Sinclair, 50, who works from home doing administration for the family’s construction business.

Sleep has eluded Sinclair for the past 10 years. As remedies, she has cut out caffeine, sugar and gluten. She has tried herbal teas, homeopathy and vitamins. CBD oil and prescription sleeping pills have been helpful, but they each had worrisome side effects. 

“I’m not sure what’s next,” she said. “I hope I go to bed tonight and sleep for six hours straight. Wouldn’t that be fantastic?”


Jacqueline Sinclair has struggled with insomnia for 10 years. She says she has tried several remedies, but none has worked effectively. (jacqueline sinclair)

Dr. Ram Randhawa, a psychiatrist at the University of British Columbia’s Sleep Disorders Program, says about 30 per cent of Canadians struggle with getting to or staying sleep at any given time. The prevalence of insomnia does seem to be higher among women, he said.

For most people, sleep issues are a temporary problem brought on by stress or worry. For some, they can be a debilitating, life-long problem. 

Increasingly, doctors and sleep experts recognize that insomnia and other sleep disorders affect women and men differently. At the World Sleep Congress in Vancouver this week, women and sleep is one of a handful of key topics. 

Dr. Ghada Bourjeily, a professor of medicine at Brown University in Rhode Island and chair of the course on sleep health for women at the conference, says women have historically been underrepresented in medical research, including research on sleep disorders.


Jacqueline Sinclair says she tried CBD oil as a remedy for her insomnia, but she found that it made her sluggish and brought down her mood. (Jennifer Lett/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via The Associated Press)

Women face unique biological circumstances that can disrupt sleep at different times in their lives, Bourjeily says — beginning when they get their periods, to when they become pregnant and eventually go through menopause. 

“There’s a lot that we seem to be learning about these things,” she said.

Deeper understanding

Randhawa, with UBC’s Sleep Disorders Program, will also be presenting at the conference. 

He says UBC’s sleep clinic has a long wait list of people eager to get help, and many of them are women who have trouble falling or staying asleep. 

He agrees that sleep issues manifest differently in men and women. While sleep apnea is more likely to affect men, for example, women are more prone to conditions that can affect sleep like restless leg syndrome, anxiety and depression.


Most sleep experts recommend that anyone who struggles to sleep keep electronic devices out of their bedrooms.

Randhawa says it’s important for doctors to develop a well-rounded profile of a patient’s circumstances and the problems they face, including family pressures like child-rearing and housework. 

“If I can develop a better understanding of that particular person’s issue of what it is that they are struggling with, and how that has affected them, that will allow me to help them better,” he said.

Randhawa says women who attend his clinic can also request one of three female psychiatrists who work there, if they prefer someone they think might be more understanding of their situation.

Validating patients’ concerns

Lianne Tomfohr-Madsen, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Calgary who will present her research on insomnia and pregnancy at the congress, says some doctors can be dismissive of women’s sleep issues.

Tomfohr-Madsen is working to help doctors differentiate between normal sleep disturbances during pregnancy, like physical discomfort and frequent nighttime urination, from more serious issues. 

“We often aren’t differentiating what those normal changes look like from what’s actually really clinically significant and bothersome to women,” she said


Many sleep experts also recommend reducing stress as an important remedy for insomnia.

Some pregnant women feel disregarded when they discuss their sleep issues with their doctor, Tomfohr-Madsen says, and that may lead them to seek remedies through alternative medicine or over-the-counter medication that could be harmful to their unborn child. 

Tomfohr-Madsen advises doctors to not dismiss their patient’s concerns and focus on finding solutions, of which she says there are many.

“People often know that their sleep is a problem,” she said. “We want to validate that this isn’t something normal, and it’s a problem, and that it’s something that we can work on.” 

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Rebuilding a struggle on Bahamas island smashed by hurricane

The streets are filled with smashed cars, snapped power cables, shattered trees and deep silence.

At the airport and dock, hundreds of people clamour for seats on airplanes and berths on ships arriving with aid and departing with people who lost their homes when deadly Hurricane Dorian struck the Bahamas.

Nearly a week after disaster roared in from the sea, the rest of Marsh Harbour on Abaco Island felt empty Saturday. A hot wind whistled through stands of decapitated pine trees and homes that collapsed during the most powerful hurricane in the northwestern Bahamas’ recorded history. 

Rescue teams were still trying to reach some Bahamian communities isolated by floodwaters and debris after the disaster that killed at least 44 people. 

The U.S. Coast Guard said it has rescued a total of 290 people in the northern Bahamas following the hurricane. Six MH-60 Jayhawk helicopters and nine cutters are helping in the aid effort, while the government of the Bahamas says more than 900 members of the Bahamian police and military are on Abaco and Grand Bahama islands to help with hurricane relief.


Military personnel drive past damage in the wake of Hurricane Dorian in Marsh Harbour. (Loren Elliot/Reuters)

The government also says 120 Jamaican security personnel arrived in the Bahamas on Saturday evening, and 100 troops from Trinidad and Tobago are to arrive Sunday as part of the aid effort in the wake of Hurricane Dorian.

Due to the considerable air traffic, Bahamaian officials banned non-aid flights over the Abaco and Grand Bahama islands. The National Emergency Management agency also threatened to revoke flight permission from any pilots charging fees to fly people from the islands.

The struggle to stay 

No official figures were available, but much of the population of Marsh Harbour, home to most of the roughly 20,000 residents of Abaco, seemed to have already left. Many were staying with relatives in the capital, Nassau, others with family in Florida and other parts of the United States. 

In Marsh Harbour’s Murphy Town neighbourhood, on a hill overlooking the azure sea, Jackson Blatch and his son-in-law were already rebuilding. In a blazing midday sun they stripped damaged shingles from Blatch’s roofs and tossed them into his truck, parked below the eaves of a home he built by hand.  

Like a few other Abaco residents, Blatch is staying on an island pulverized by nature.  

“Everybody says, ‘Leave.’ Leave and go where?” Blatch asked. “My plan is to rebuild this island. I have a lot to offer.” 


Jackson Blatch starts repairs on the roof of his home in Marsh Harbour. Many in his neighbourhood have been forced to leave. (Fernando Llano/The Associated Press)

Blatch has power from a generator, drinking water, food and the help of his son-in-law, 25-year-old Moses Monestine. 

“I don’t have a mortgage. I don’t want to go to Nassau,” he said. “I don’t want to go to the United States. I don’t want to depend on anyone.” 

Though Blatch is determined to stay, many others have chosen to leave, catching rescue flights to Nassau. A week after the hurricane plowed into the archipelago nation of 400,000 people, the capital city faced a wave of thousands of evacuees fleeing such hard-hit areas as Marsh Harbour, where some 90 per cent of the infrastructure is damaged or destroyed.


Abaco resident Bernard Forbes evacuates the island with the help of Global Support and Development personnel. (Loren Elliott/Reuters)

There are roughly 70,000 people in need of food and shelter, according to the United Nations World Food Program’s estimate. Interviews with evacuees this week shone light on the extent of Dorian’s destruction. Survivors avoided death, but have lost homes, jobs and hospitals.

“Home is more than four walls and a roof — it’s the neighbourhood where people live, their friends and neighbours, their livelihoods, comfort, and security for the future. Losing  all these things at once is heartbreaking,” said Jenelle Eli, a spokeswoman for the American Red Cross, which is helping with the relief. 

“People are concerned about their next step, but also how they’ll earn an income and what their lives will look like in the future.”

Bahamian officials acknowledged on Saturday that Nassau will strain to house all the people that need shelter.

More aid needed

The Red Cross said it had committed an initial $ 2.6 million to help, and Norwegian energy company Equinor said on Sunday it will clean up an onshore oil spill discovered this week at its Bahamas storage terminal.

Meanwhile, the United Nations said eight tonnes of food supplies were on the way by ship. Some 14,700 ready-to-eat meals as well as logistical and telecommunications equipment are being delivered, said Herve Verhoosel, spokesman for the World Food Programme.

“The needs remain enormous,” Verhoosel said. 

Many in Marsh Harbour echo that claim, and complain aid has been too slow in arriving.

“They haven’t done a thing to help us down here,” shouted Tepeto Davis, a 37-year-old tile contractor who slammed on the brakes of his pickup truck and backed up to talk to reporters. 


Boxes of Meals-Ready-to-Eat (MRE) are seen at an airport in Treasure Cay, Bahamas. Roughly 14,700 are being sent by the World Food Program. (Marco Bello/Reuters)

“We are suffering out here and no one cares about us. We’ve had to funnel gasoline out of destroyed cars to get injured people back and forth. There’s no gas, there’s no food, no medicine, and no water.”

And those who were receiving aid in Nassau worried that they were still a long way from being able to rebuild their lives.

“The government says everyone’s being fed, and that’s good,” said Anthony Morley, 61, who fled Marsh Harbour and was staying at Breezes, a Nassau resort where local volunteers have subsidized rooms for survivors. “But for food I can fish. What I need is a house. I don’t have a bed, a refrigerator. I don’t even have a Bible.”

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‘The Two Popes’: Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce Recreate Two Pontiffs’ Struggle

‘The Two Popes’: Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce Recreate Two Pontiffs’ Struggle | Entertainment Tonight

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Power struggle ensues over who will replace Puerto Rico’s governor

The resignation of Puerto Rico’s governor after mass protests has sparked a succession battle, and a Washington corporate lawyer not directly linked to the current, scandal-plagued administration could emerge as the winner.

Gov. Ricardo Rossello said on Wednesday he would step down on Aug. 2 in the face of public anger over the release of profane chat messages and embezzlement charges against two former administration officials.

Three people appear to be in the strongest positions to succeed Rossello: Pedro Pierluisi, a former Puerto Rico representative in the U.S. Congress and now an attorney with Washington law firm O’Neill & Borges; Senate president Thomas Rivera Schatz and Jenniffer Gonzalez, Puerto Rico’s current delegate to the U.S. Congress.

What happens in the next week before Rossello steps down is crucial. As of Friday, Secretary of Justice Wanda Vazquez is next in line to succeed him because the U.S. territory has no secretary of state, with the resignation of Luis Rivera Marin from that post in the wake of the chat scandal.

The U.S. territory’s constitution stipulates that whoever holds that post is first in line to succeed the governor.

But protesters who forced Rossello from office have vowed to oppose Vazquez, saying she is too close to the disgraced governor.


Pedro Pierluisi, an attorney and former Puerto Rico representative in the U.S. Congress, is being considered to replace Rossello, sources say. (The Associated Press)

Their ire has prompted leaders of Rossello’s pro-statehood New Progressive Party (PNP) to consider Pierluisi as a possible successor, according to four sources familiar with the matter, who asked not to be named so they could discuss it.

He could become the next governor if nominated and confirmed as secretary of state before Aug. 2.

Pierluisi, who represented the island in Washington from 2009 to 2017, has made it clear to party leaders he would accept the job, according to one of these people. He ran against Rossello in the gubernatorial election in 2016, losing in a primary.

Eyes on 2020

Foremost in the minds of party leaders is whether Rossello’s successor can help them retain the governorship when it comes up for grabs in November 2020.

Before the implosion of his administration, Rivera Schatz and Gonzalez were seen as potential PNP candidates to challenge Rosello in a 2020 primary. Before the resignation, two sources told Reuters that Gonzalez and Rivera Schatz were conducting private opinion polling to see which would stand a better chance with voters.

It is not entirely clear how Rossello’s early departure may have influenced their ambitions. But Rivera Schatz is seen by some members of his party as too close to Rossello to be a viable candidate.

A representative for Vazquez declined to comment on speculation about her future, while Gonzalez’s office did not respond to a request for comment. Rivera Schatz’s office could not immediately be reached.

Pierluisi, a former Puerto Rico secretary of justice, is favoured by some Puerto Rico advocates in Washington for his familiarity with federal politics, according to one of the sources. Another source said Pierluisi has stressed to party leaders that he would not seek re-election in 2020, keeping the door open for Rivera Schatz, Gonzalez or another candidate.


A child wearing a Puerto Rican flag attends a rally celebrating Rossello’s resignation in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Thursday. (Marco Bello/Reuters)

But there is a potential roadblock. Pierluisi’s law firm currently advises Puerto Rico’s oversight board, a role that may constitute a conflict of interest that would dissuade the legislature from approving him.

A 2016 New York Times report also accused him of possible conflicts of interest between legislation he had introduced and financial consulting work by his wife, allegations they both denied.

Even so, Pierluisi had a track record of gaining increased federal funding for Puerto Rico’s 3.2 million people while serving in Congress.

Puerto Ricans want a leader to steer them out of crisis and economic recession after back-to-back 2017 hurricanes that killed around 3,000 people just months after the U.S. territory filed for bankruptcy.

That said, Puerto Rico Rep. Luis Vega Ramos, a member of the Opposition Popular Democratic Party, said in an interview on Friday that he saw Gonzalez as a strong candidate to be appointed governor.

Earlier this week, Gonzalez proposed that U.S. President Donald Trump name a special co-ordinator to oversee federal funding to Puerto Rico. While the idea of federal oversight is anathema to most Puerto Ricans resentful of the island’s colonial roots, the idea could satisfy the Trump administration’s concerns about island leadership.

Her alliance with Trump may give her party its best chance at salvaging victory in 2020, Vega Ramos said, and “she would be in a better position to campaign for 2020 as an incumbent.”

Rivera Schatz is seen as the main hurdle to Gonzalez’s appointment. As Senate president, he could make it difficult for Gonzalez to be confirmed.

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