Tag Archives: global

Is now the time to make global corporations pay their fair share?

As the procrastinators among us worry over our own tax forms, it may be a little galling to think about the shrinking share of taxes paid by some wealthy corporations.

This week the New Democratic Party is considering how to soak the rich to help pay for the less well off, but as the rich get richer and governments look for ways to pay for the pandemic, you don’t have to go to the NDP to find experts trying squeeze a bit more money out of the wealthy.

U.S. money manager Warren Buffett, the world’s fourth-richest person, has proposed a wealth tax. In the U.S., the state of New York is working on a plan to raise taxes on those earning more than a million dollars a year, joining New Jersey in an attempt to raise revenue from the richest.

And at this week’s gathering of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, world leaders, including U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, are going after the biggest pots of money of all. They want to raise more cash from global corporations.

Yellen on Monday urged the adoption of a minimum global corporate income tax to offset any issues stemming from U.S. President Joe Biden’s plan to raise the U.S. corporate tax rate to 28 per cent from 21 per cent.  

Contribution from corporations slide

It’s not a new idea. Back in 2014, a panel struck by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development thought they had it set with a plan to reverse the slide in government revenues from the world’s biggest companies. When I wrote about it at the time in Fighting the corporate tax tricks that lead to inequality, OECD tax director Pascal Saint-Amans was confident change was imminent, as a new agreement kicked in by 2016.

The OECD was convinced it had global buy-in and that made it easy: “Because it’s political,” Saint-Amans said confidently in 2014. “When you have political support you find the technical solutions.”

But by 2016, with the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president, that political consensus had collapsed and corporate tax revenue continued to slide. According to the upcoming book The World After, co-edited by Canadian scholar Jennifer Welsh, that window for change may have opened again.

Canada has been a supporter of the OECD plan and a spokesperson for Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland suggested Tuesday that Canada would support those proposing the minimum tax plan at this week’s meeting.

“At this moment where governments have already asked their populations to do things out of the ordinary in the name of public health, they’ve also had to extend that logic … into their post-pandemic recovery,” said Welsh, after Yellen’s statement on global minimum corporate tax rates.

There are two main barriers to raising taxes on global corporations. One is ideological. Some people are convinced that the best way to run an economy is to leave money in the hands of the rich and the big companies because they will use that money to make us all wealthier.

Critics of that idea point to the fact that as taxes on companies and the people who own them have shrunk in rich countries, so has the share of wealth going to the poor and middle class. During the years corporate tax rates have been falling, the rich have gotten richer compared to everyone else.

Heading offshore

But the second barrier to raising taxes on big corporations is the same one faced by states like New York trying to tax their own wealthy people. The threat of higher taxes makes people move away to places where taxes are lower. 

With a good tax accountant, you don’t even have to move. All you have to do is make sure the beneficial owner, a legal corporation, officially resides in that low tax regime. Ireland, for example, offers corporate tax rates as low as 12.5 per per cent for companies that do business there. In order to earn revenue, countries compete in a race for the bottom.

What Yellen has proposed and has garnered support for from countries like Germany and France and institutions like the IMF is to agree to binding laws that would set corporate taxes at a minimum rate. While official corporate tax rates have declined — currently ranging between about 12 to 35 per cent in major economies — the planned provision would also crack down on various laws and deductions that make them even lower. In 2014, by claiming it was actually earning its money under Irish tax law,  Apple paid a tax rate estimated at 0.0005 per cent.

Coping with COVID-19 has been expensive, and a sense of crisis may give governments the latitude to agree on new tax rules for large corporations. (Carlos Osorio/Reuters)

Some of those loopholes have been patched but Welsh says the current crisis may allow for wider reforms, shaming low-tax countries and the companies that benefit from them into doing their share. That doesn’t mean low tax regimes will give up their lucrative advantages without a struggle. Nor will lobbyists for large corporations necessarily cave in.

Canadian tax historian Shirley Tillotson and others told me last year that history has shown that times of crisis give governments more latitude to raise taxes. They said in a rich country like Canada there were plenty of  places to look for money, but once again political will and popular acceptance of change are crucial.

Welsh said The World After is a joint project between the University of Montreal and McGill University to present a series of ideas to exploit what they saw as a “sense of great possibility” that comes at a moment of crisis.

Yellen’s proposal scheduled to be discussed this week could be part of a generational shift that Welsh and people like Buffett have been hoping for. But Welsh warns that periods of crisis can also lead to a urge for stability, a demand for tinkering rather than radical reform.

“Not all crises lead to transformative change,” said Welsh. “It takes leadership. It takes the ability to have credible proposals that are dramatic, but could actually work.”

The plan for minimum corporate taxes may fit that bill.

A demonstrator at a national day of resistance during the COVID-19 pandemic in Los Angeles last August. The current crisis might be an opportunity to push through tax reforms some have long been advocating for. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

Follow Don Pittis on Twitter @don_pittis

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CBC | World News

Olympic champ Erica Wiebe hopes IOC-China vaccine deal aids global COVID-19 fight

A Canadian Olympic gold medallist is hopeful a vaccine deal between the International Olympic Committee and China can help the global fight against COVID-19 ahead of the Tokyo Games this summer.

Wrestler Erica Wiebe says it would be a great outcome if the partnership “can help athletes and citizens of countries with less robust vaccination plans than Canada.”

The IOC has entered into a partnership with the Chinese Olympic Committee to buy and provide vaccines for people taking part in the upcoming games in both Tokyo and Beijing. Vaccines are not mandatory for athletes to compete in the Tokyo Games. The deal comes as criticism of China continues ahead of the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing.

Wiebe says she’s optimistic Canadians can have one dose of an approved vaccine before Canada Day. The Tokyo Olympics are scheduled to begin July 23.

WATCH | Should Olympians cut in line for vaccine?

Some athletes say they want to wait their turn. 2:20

The 2016 Olympic champion says it appears the vaccines being offered in the IOC-China partnership are less effective than the current vaccines approved by Canada. None of the Chinese vaccines are approved for use in Canada.

The Canadian Olympic Committee did not immediately respond for comment.

WATCH | Olympian DeBues-Stafford talks importance of vaccines:

Jacqueline Doorey speaks with Canadian middle distance runner Gabriela DeBues-Stafford to discuss the COVID-19 vaccine, how it can affect the Olympics, and whether athletes deserve to cut the line. 5:51

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CBC | Sports News

Pope Francis meets father of drowned Syrian boy whose death sparked global outrage

Pope Francis has met with the father of Alan Kurdi, a three-year old Syrian boy who drowned crossing the Mediterranean Sea in 2015 and whose image drew global attention to the plight of refugees fleeing to Europe.

Following a Mass on Sunday in the Iraqi city of Erbil, Francis met with Abdullah Kurdi and spent a long time with him, the Vatican said.

Through an interpreter, the Pope listened to Kurdi’s story and expressed sympathy for the loss of his family. Abdullah thanked the pontiff for his words.

The Kurdi family, who hail from Kobane in Syria, took the route of many Syrian and other migrants by sea in a small boat from Turkey heading for Greece. When their boat capsized, Alan Kurdi, one of his brothers and his mother perished.  The image of Alan’s body, washed up on Turkish shores, came to symbolize the perilous journey to Europe and drew international condemnation. The father now runs a charity in Erbil.

The Canadian government came under fire after it emerged the family had been trying to come to Canada with the help of a relative, Tima Kurdi, who lives in British Columbia.

Pontiff visits Mosul

Pope Francis was also in the Iraqi city of Mosul on Sunday, where he listened to Christian and Muslim residents recount their lives under brutal ISIS rule. Fighters of ISIS, a Sunni militant group that tried to establish a caliphate across the region, ravaged northern Iraq from 2014 to 2017, killing Christians as well as Muslims who opposed them.

Francis flew into the northern city by helicopter to encourage the healing of sectarian wounds and to pray for the dead of any religion.

The 84-year-old Pope saw ruins of houses and churches in a square that was the old town’s thriving centre before Mosul was occupied by ISIS from 2014 to 2017. He sat surrounded by skeletons of buildings, dangling concrete staircases and cratered ancient churches, most too dangerous to enter.

The Pope attends a prayer service Sunday for victims of war with the Chaldean archbishop of Mosul, Najib Mikhael Moussa, left, at Hosh al-Bieaa Church Square in Mosul, Iraq. (Andrew Medichini/The Associated Press)

“Together we say no to fundamentalism. No to sectarianism and no to corruption,” the Chaldean archbishop of Mosul, Najib Mikhael Moussa, told the Pope.

Francis, who is on a historic first trip by a pope to Iraq, was visibly moved by the earthquake-like devastation around him. He prayed for all of Mosul’s dead.

“How cruel it is that this country, the cradle of civilization, should have been afflicted by so barbarous a blow, with ancient places of worship destroyed and many thousands of people — Muslims, Christians, Yazidis and others — forcibly displaced or killed,” he said.

The Pope arrives to hold a minute of silence at what’s left of the centuries-old Al-Tahera (Immaculate Conception) Church near Hosh al-Bieaa Church Square in Mosul on Sunday. (Yara Nardi/Reuters)

“Today, however, we reaffirm our conviction that fraternity is more durable than fratricide, that hope is more powerful than hatred, that peace more powerful than war.”

Intense security has surrounded his trip to Iraq. Military pickup trucks mounted with machine guns escorted his motorcade, and plainclothes security men mingled in Mosul with the handles of guns emerging from black backpacks worn on their chests.

In an apparent direct reference to ISIS, Francis said hope could never be “silenced by the blood spilled by those who pervert the name of God to pursue paths of destruction.”

He then read a prayer repeating one of the main themes of his trip, that it is always wrong to hate, kill or wage war in God’s name.

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CBC | World News

Bill Gates says innovation sparked by COVID-19 pandemic could help eradicate global diseases

The innovation sparked by the coronavirus will better prepare the world for the next pandemic and could help eradicate global diseases in lower-income countries, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates told CBC’s The Current.

“The pandemic is an incredible tragedy. We weren’t prepared for it. We bungled it once it came. But there’s some brilliant things going on,” said Gates in an interview broadcast Monday with The Current host Matt Galloway.

“We’ll be doing postmortems and we have to get this pandemic done and we have to invest so that the next time a pandemic comes we’ll get on top of it and the number of cases can be kept very small,” said Gates, who has written a new book titled How to Avoid a Climate Disaster.

Gates, who is co-chair the Bill & Melinda Foundation and has donated $ 1.75 billion to the fight against COVID-19, said lessons have been learned from the current pandemic, and that countries that have lost trillions of dollars are now willing to spend the money for innovation.

WATCH | Bill Gates on how the world ‘bungled’ the pandemic:

Gates says that while the world botched its response to COVID-19, ‘there’s some brilliant things going on.’ 0:33

He said the pandemic had led to great strides in global health and the development of vaccines, including mRNA vaccines, that could help end other deadly diseases found in lower-income countries.

“The amount of innovation which countries, because they’ve lost trillions, are now willing to fund … we’re going to make great progress in global health and that will help us not just be ready for the next pandemic,” he said. “It’ll help us with polio eradication, malaria, measles, all that area that causes so many deaths, mostly in poor countries.”

WATCH | Gates on innovation sparked by pandemic:

Microsoft co-founder explains why innovation as a result of the coronarvirus could better prepare the world for the next pandemic and help with other diseases. 1:05

For years, Gates had warned that the world was not prepared for a global pandemic. In 2015, his TED talk was titled: “The Next Outbreak? We’re not ready.”

“There were mistakes made when we didn’t get ready before the pandemic hit,” Gates said. “My 2015 talk was about the infrastructure we needed in place and even practising what I called germ games, which are like war games. But you’re simulating the disease.

“It would have been obvious that you have to deploy the commercial diagnostic sector as fast as possible, which the U.S bungled.”

Canadian COVAX controversy

Gates was asked about the Canadian government’s decision to receive COVID-19 vaccines from the global initiative known as COVAX, which was set up to distribute vaccines to lower-income countries. Canada has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in COVAX but has faced criticism for its plan to take vaccines from that pool.

“I think it’s predictable that when there’s a shortage of medical intervention like this, that the rich countries who funded the R&D and trials will be early in line,” Gates said.

Asked whether he would support companies turning over their intellectual property rights to vaccines, Gates said he might, if it would mean the creation of one additional vaccine. 

“But in fact, making vaccines is not about the the IP here, it’s about these factories being exactly right and passing strict regulatory review,” he said. “And IP is not the issue.”

Gates was asked about the issue of the so-called “Bill chill,” that some academics and organizations are reluctant to criticise his work.

“Any idea that somebody has on how we can do better on polio, malaria, pneumonia, diarrhea — the more critics we have, the better,” he said. “The main thing is people don’t care about that stuff. They don’t know about it.

“I wish there were 10 times as many experts saying: ‘You should have done this and you should have done that,’ because, hey, we’re just trying to have people live healthy lives.”

Target of conspiracy theories

Gates has also been the target of a series of conspiracy theories, including that he created COVID-19 in a lab and that he’s behind a plan to implant microchips in people to fight the virus. 

WATCH | Gates on conspiracy theories:

Gates addresses being the target of COVID-19-related conspiracy theories and how he hopes the media can get people more interested in the truth 1:27

“There’s like millions of messages saying those things,” he said. “I hope that we can make the truth more interesting than the conspiracy theory,” he said.

“The pandemic has people reaching for simple solutions to explain, ‘OK, why did this happen? And isn’t there some evil person behind the curtain there?’ “

Gates said he hopes mainstream or digital media can be more creative about how they get more people aware of the truth.

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CBC | Health News

Threat of vaccine nationalism reinforces global need for better pandemic planning

Protectionism has been a recurring theme throughout the COVID-19 pandemic as countries scrambled to secure valuable resources. With delays already impacting vaccine supply chains, experts warn that so-called vaccine nationalism will cause long-term harm in the global response to the pandemic.

Concerns over countries limiting the export of vaccines in the name of keeping inoculations for themselves were renewed on Friday when the European Union said it would use emergency Brexit measures to restrict exports of COVID-19 vaccines from crossing the Irish border into the United Kingdom. The EU reversed course later that night following outcry in Northern Ireland, London and Dublin — but the situation raised fears of vaccine delays in Canada.

“What we’re seeing is not surprising,” said Steven Hoffman, professor of global health law and political science at York University in Toronto and director of the Global Strategy Lab. 

“This is just the latest example of [export controls] being used in a way that is not helpful for solving the global dimensions of this pandemic that we all face,” Hoffman said, citing former U.S. president Donald Trump’s attempt to prevent 3M from honouring its Canadian deals for N95 masks in April.

World Health Organization director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Friday that vaccine nationalism could exacerbate inequalities lower-income countries already face in terms of acquiring doses.

“Vaccine nationalism might serve short-term political goals. But it’s ultimately short-sighted and self-defeating,” Tedros said. “We will not end the pandemic anywhere until we end it everywhere.”

On Saturday, Canadian International Trade Minister Mary Ng received assurances from European Commission executive vice-president and commissioner for trade Valdis Dombrovskis that Canada would not be impacted by proposed export controls on vaccines.

“In their regulation, there is absolutely consideration for advance purchase agreements that have been made, like that of Canada, with the vaccine makers, and our expectation is that there is no disruption or delay,” Ng said in a Sunday interview on Rosemary Barton Live. “I was given assurances that Canada’s vaccines should not be affected.”

WATCH | Minister told EU vaccine export controls won’t affect Canada:

International Trade Minister Mary Ng said in an interview with Rosemary Barton Live that she’s received assurances from her European Union counterpart that the EU’s proposed export transparency mechanism will not affect Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine shipments. 7:25

For Hoffman, vaccine nationalism is another example of how unprepared the world was to confront a pandemic that people in the public health community considered inevitable — and not likely to be the last one.

“We need to figure out and have a global agreement about how we do these things before a pandemic strikes, before a vaccine is developed and ready for deployment, because after the fact, it’s too late,” he said.

Hoffman referred to an article he wrote in the Global Challenges journal following the Ebola outbreak in 2014 entitled “How Many People Must Die From Pandemics Before the World Learns?” to reiterate the need for collaborative action going forward.

“I hope that this ends up being that shock that will bring us the kind of global governance system that we need in order to address 21st-century threats,” he said. “Now that we see how bad it can be, the hope is that we’ll be able to change our structures in the future so that we’re better prepared next time.”

WATCH | How COVID-19 exposed Canada’s innovation weak spot:

Dan Breznitz, co-director of the University of Toronto’s Innovation Policy Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, warns that Canada cannot rely on its allies and that the national security risks from losing manufacturing should be a wake-up call. 7:04

‘Co-operative solution’ best course, lawyer says

Mark Warner, an American and Canadian trade lawyer, said the situation with the EU and the U.K. is messy to unpack, particularly with regards to the AstraZeneca vaccine. He likened COVID-19 vaccine production to car manufacturing in North America, where parts can cross borders multiple times before the product is finished.

“Despite the bark from the European Union, they don’t have really an effective remedy, it seems to me, other than moral suasion,” said Warner, principal counsel at MAAW Law in Toronto. He said what the EU did was a message to vaccine developers to “be very careful in what other contracts you’re filling before you fill ours.”

“We’re all going to be better off if we choose a co-operative solution,” he said.

Warner, who has experience helping a pharmaceutical company send its antiretroviral drugs around the world during the AIDS epidemic, said the notion that the rollout would proceed without issue was misguided.

“I think there was a period because of the pandemic and its effect on people and everybody wanted hope,” he said, adding that people were looking for a “happy science story.”

“The rest of the world has seemed to catch up to what I think people like me have unfortunately thought was going to happen, which is supply chains and competition and trade issues, and that’s where we are.”

Domestic production a complicated prospect, experts say

Despite assurances from Canadian officials, the notion of manufacturing COVID-19 vaccines domestically has emerged as a way around potential dilemmas. Both Warner and Hoffman agree that it’s not a cut-and-dried solution.

“I think the reflexive reaction on the part of a lot of Canadians is ‘let’s do it here,’ which makes sense,” Warner said. “But even the Germans with BioNTech — Germany is a pretty big country — they couldn’t do it. They had to go and find Pfizer, one of the biggest pharmacy companies in the world, to commercialize it.

WATCH | Virologist discusses why Canada should start making its own COVID-19 vaccines:

Virologist Dr. Earl Brown says the government should support local drug-makers to retool infrastructure as vaccine nationalism abroad could have consequences for Canada. 6:59

“Oxford University develops their vaccine [and] they had to join up with AstraZeneca, a British and Swedish multinational pharmaceutical, to go for it.”

Hoffman said there isn’t enough incentive for any country to build manufacturing capacity that wouldn’t be used in a non-pandemic scenario. “Maybe the question is why would Canadians expect there to be large-scale vaccine manufacturing in our country when nearly every country doesn’t have it?” he said.

Instead, Hoffman said there should have been a global effort to pool resources to build a facility that could serve an international demand for vaccines and act as an insurance policy.

“But as a world, we decided not to do that. It’s an expensive insurance policy,” he said. “We might now regret that decision, realizing that the costs without that insurance policy are even greater than the costs if we had pursued it.”

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CBC | Health News

Johnson & Johnson single-shot COVID-19 vaccine appears 66% effective overall in global trial

Johnson & Johnson’s long-awaited vaccine appears to protect against COVID-19 with just one shot — it’s not as strong as some of its two-shot rivals but still potentially helpful for a world in dire need of more doses.

J&J said Friday that in the U.S. and seven other countries where their trial has been conducted, the single-shot vaccine was 66 per cent effective overall at preventing moderate to severe illness, and much more protective — 85 per cent — against the most serious symptoms.

There was some geographic variation. The vaccine worked better in the U.S. — 72 per cent effective against moderate to severe COVID-19 — compared to 57 per cent in South Africa, where it was up against an easier-to-spread mutated virus.

Dr. Matthew Oughton, an infectious disease specialist at Jewish General Hospital in Montreal, told CBC News the trial data “certainly looks promising for a single dose, which of course will certainly ease a lot of the logistics we’ve been dealing with so far with the current vaccines that have been granted approval.”

He said by examining mixed populations across continents, the J&J trial is not only “looking at differences in how different groups of people respond, that also means that they capture different viral variants, so they have a good sense of the real-world efficacy of this vaccine.”

With vaccinations off to a rocky start globally, experts have been counting on a one-dose vaccine that would stretch scarce supplies and avoid the logistics nightmare of getting people to return for boosters.

Greater protection vs. more shots

But with some competing vaccines shown to be 95 per cent effective after two doses, the question is whether somewhat less protection is an acceptable tradeoff for getting more shots in arms quickly.

Matthew Miller, an associate professor at the Institute for Infectious Disease Research at McMaster University, told CBC News by email that the decision will depend on multiple factors, including “the procurement timelines for specific vaccines in each country” and how prevalent the newly circulating variants become.

“Some high-risk populations may need vaccines that confer higher degrees of protection, while less efficacious vaccines might be appropriate for lower-risk populations,” he said.

The Canadian government signed an agreement with Johnson & Johnson for up to 38 million doses of their vaccine, though as of earlier this month, officials said a vaccine schedule had not been finalized.

J&J said that within a week, it will file an application for emergency use in the U.S., and then abroad. It expects to supply 100 million doses to the U.S. by June, and expects to have some ready to ship as soon as authorities give the green light.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has set a 50 per cent threshold for any COVID-19 vaccine to be considered for emergency use authorization.

The J&J data comes from preliminary findings from a study of 44,000 volunteers that isn’t completed yet. Researchers tracked illnesses starting 28 days after vaccination — about the time when people getting a two-dose vaccine would have needed another shot.

After day 28, no one who got vaccinated needed hospitalization or died, regardless of whether they were exposed to “regular COVID or these particularly nasty variants,” Dr. Mathai Mammen, global research chief for J&J’s Janssen Pharmaceutical unit, told The Associated Press. When the vaccinated did become infected, they had a milder illness.

Defeating the scourge that has killed more than two million people worldwide will require vaccinating billions, and the shots currently being rolled out in different countries require two doses a few weeks apart for full protection. Early data is mixed on exactly how well all the different kinds work, but shots made by Pfizer and Moderna appear to be about 95 per cent protective after the second dose.

But amid shortages, some countries have advised delaying the second dose of certain vaccines with little data on how that would affect protection.

Company also testing 2-shot vaccine

All COVID-19 vaccines train the body to recognize the new coronavirus, usually by spotting the spike protein that coats it. But they’re made in very different ways.

WATCH l Canada’s Providence Therapeutics hopes to get a homegrown vaccine into the pipeline:

A made-in-Canada vaccine to protect against COVID-19 is now in human clinical trials in Toronto. Providence Therapeutics CEO Brad Sorenson says they’ve purchased a site in Calgary to mass produce the vaccine. He spoke with Rob Brown about the project on CBC Calgary News at 6. 7:55

J&J’s shot uses a cold virus like a Trojan horse to carry the spike gene into the body, where cells make harmless copies of the protein to prime the immune system in case the real virus comes along.

Rival AstraZeneca makes a similar cold virus vaccine that requires two doses. Both the AstraZeneca and J&J vaccines can be stored in a refrigerator, making them easier to ship and use in developing countries than the frozen kind made by Pfizer and Moderna.

It’s not clear exactly how well the AstraZeneca version, being used in Britain and several other countries, works. Tests in Britain, South Africa and Brazil suggested two doses are about 70 per cent effective, although there are questions about how much protection older adults get. An ongoing U.S. study may provide more information.

J&J said its vaccine works consistently in a broad range of people: A third of participants were over age 60, and more than 40 per cent had other illnesses putting them at risk of severe COVID-19, including obesity, diabetes and HIV.

J&J said the vaccine is safe, with reactions similar to other COVID-19 shots, such as fever, that occur when the immune system is revved up.

“Gambling on one dose was certainly worthwhile,” said Mammen.

While it released few details, the company said there were no serious allergic reactions. But occasionally other COVID-19 vaccines trigger such reactions, which can be reversed if promptly treated — and authorities have warned people to be on the lookout regardless of which type of vaccine is used.

J&J has hedged its bets with a study of a two-dose version of its vaccine, which is still underway.

Friday’s interim results come on the heels of another vaccine in final testing. Novavax reported this week that its vaccine appears 89 per cent effective in a U.K. study, and that it also seems to work — though not as well — against new mutated versions of the virus circulating in Britain and South Africa. A larger study in the U.S. and Mexico is still enrolling volunteers.

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CBC | World News

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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Olympics can be ‘symbol of global solidarity’ says Japan’s PM despite surge in COVID-19 infections

New Year’s Day is the biggest holiday on Japan’s calendar, but this year’s festivities have been subdued due to a recent surge in COVID-19 infections and by stay-at-home calls from the government.

Despite the gloom, Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga released a written statement on Friday expressing confidence that the “Olympic Games will be held this summer.”

Even as Tokyo, in recent days, reported for the first time over 1,000 daily COVID-19 cases, Suga expressed hope that, by going ahead, the Games could serve as a “symbol of global solidarity.”

Japan is currently responding to the discovery of a new variant of COVID-19, which has prompted a ban on non-residential arrivals. 

While Japan has fared better than most – with approximately 230,000 cases and just under 3,400 deaths – the Olympics are a half year or so away, with the opening ceremony scheduled for July 23, followed by the Paralympics on Aug. 24.

The Island nation is also battling rising Olympic-related costs stemming from the pandemic. The $ 7.3 billion US that organizers first cited when Tokyo won the bid in 2013 is all but fantasy now. Some experts believe the costs are much higher, with a recent University of Oxford study pegging them closer to $ 25 billion. 

Despite the optimism of organizers and IOC officials, the public remains skeptical about hosting a mega, multi-sport event featuring more than 11,000 athletes from around the world.  

According to polling in December, by the public broadcaster NHK, 63 per cent of respondents said the Games should be postponed again or cancelled. Just 27 per cent said they should take place.

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Global COVID-19 cases surpass 70 million

The latest:

Global cases of the novel coronavirus surpassed 70 million on Friday, according to a tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, Canadian public health officials urged people to dramatically limit their contacts amid rising cases across the country.

Canada is still experiencing high COVID-19 infection rates and the country remains in a “rapid growth” trajectory for cases, Dr. Theresa Tam, the country’s chief public health officer, said as she and other health officials unveiled new modelling data.

“We need to rapidly reduce the strain on hospitals and our public health systems so that our health workers can keep the pandemic under manageable control” while they also implement a complex vaccination campaign, Tam said.

Meanwhile, Ontario announced that two more regions in are moving into lockdown; as of 12:01 a.m. ET on Monday, York Region and Windsor-Essex will join Toronto and Peel Region in lockdown in order to slow the spread of COVID-19.

WATCH | Tam talks about updated COVID-19 modelling:

Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Tam, updates reporters with the rising number of COVID 19 cases in regions across the country and reveals modeling projections. 0:50

The provincial government also said Middlesex-London, Simcoe Muskoka and Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph will move into the red “control” zone. Ontario reported 1,848 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday along with 45 additional deaths.

“Over the last week, public health indicators in the York and Windsor regions have continued to trend in the wrong direction and it is evident additional measures are needed to help limit the spread of the virus,” Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, said in a statement.

What’s happening across Canada

As of 6:05 p.m. ET on Friday, Canada’s COVID-19 case count stood at 448,841, with 73,297 of those cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC’s reporting stood at 13,251.

Health officials in British Columbia reported on Friday reported 737 new cases of COVID-19 and 11 more deaths. Friday’s report comes a day after B.C. reported 28 COVID-19 deaths — a single-day high for the province that Dr. Bonnie Henry described as “one of the most tragic days we have had yet.”

Alberta reported 1,738 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, along with 18 deaths. Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said on Thursday that new restrictions brought in this week should serve as a warning to Albertans about how serious the pandemic has become.

The health system “is in trouble and we need to work together to save it,” Hinshaw said.

Public health officials in Saskatchewan announced 246 new cases on Friday. The total of known active COVID-19 cases in the province has now dropped to 4,547, after public health officials deemed another 387 cases as recovered.

The province said the number of known active cases could be inflated due to a backlog of data review.

In Quebec, health officials reported 1,713 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday and 53 additional deaths, bringing the provincial death toll to 7,435. COVID-19 hospitalizations increased to 871, with 123 people in intensive care, according to a provincial dashboard.

The province faced scrutiny Thursday for how its long-term care system handled the first wave of the pandemic. An ombudsperson’s report said Quebec’s long-term care system failed to ensure the safety and dignity of residents as the virus first spread last winter and spring.

In the report, Marie Rinfret said the system was disorganized and unprepared for the surge, with many homes lacking in personal protective equipment and some unable to provide basic care and services.

WATCH | Military arrives in Shamattawa First Nation amid COVID-19 crisis:

A military team has arrived to help deal with the escalating COVID-19 crisis in Shamattawa First Nation in northern Manitoba, where some 300 people have tested positive in a community of about a thousand people. 1:39

In Manitoba, health officials reported 293 new cases of COVID-19 and 13 additional deaths, bringing the provincial death toll to 451.

Dr. Brent Roussin, the province’s chief provincial public health officer, again urged people to follow the rules and not gather for the holidays — saying that case numbers will spike again if people ignore the restrictions.

Tam said Friday that health officials are “beginning to see” the impact of the public health measures put in place in Manitoba.

In Atlantic Canada, Nova Scotia reported nine new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, while Newfoundland and Labrador reported one new case. There were no new cases reported in Prince Edward Island on Friday.

New Brunswick reported eight new cases on Friday, along with one more death. Dr. Jennifer Russell, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said the Edmundston region is being moved into the more restrictive “orange” level of restrictions at midnight due to a growing outbreak.

Across the North, Nunavut reported 16 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday. All are in the community of Arviat, bringing the total number of active cases there to 56.

Dr. Kami Kandola, chief public health officer of the Northwest Territories, said in a news release late Thursday five travel-related cases had been reported in Yellowknife.

Yukon reported no new cases on Thursday and had not yet provided an update on Friday.

What’s happening around the world

From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 8:30 p.m. ET

As of Friday evening, more than 70 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, with more than 45 million of those considered recovered or resolved, according to a tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than 1.5 million.

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said nearly a billion doses of vaccines had been secured for the COVAX program to provide shots for poor- and middle-income countries, with 189 countries participating. But several WHO officials noted that it would still take time to manufacture enough doses of vaccines to meet demand.

WATCH | WHO needs $ 4.3 billion to buy vaccines for poor countries:

The World Health Organization is urging countries to help fill a funding gap of $ 4.3 billion to help buy COVID-19 vaccines for poor- and middle-income countries. 1:06

AstraZeneca intends to start clinical trials to test a combination of its experimental COVID-19 vaccine with Russia’s Sputnik V shot to see if this can boost the efficacy of the British drugmaker’s vaccine, Russia’s sovereign wealth fund said on Friday. Trials will start by the end of the year and Russia wants to produce the new vaccine jointly if it is proven to be effective, said the RDIF wealth fund, which has funded Sputnik V.

The move is likely to be seen in Moscow as a long-awaited vote of confidence by a Western manufacturer in Sputnik V, which the Russian defence ministry alleged on Friday was the target of a foreign-backed smear campaign. Sputnik’s Russian developers say clinical trials, still under way, have shown it has an efficacy rate of over 90 per cent, higher than that of AstraZeneca’s own vaccine and similar to those of rivals Pfizer and Moderna.

In the Americas, Mexico’s medical safety commission has approved the emergency use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Assistant health secretary Hugo Lopez-Gatell said Friday that Mexico is the fourth country to do so, behind Britain, Canada and Bahrain.

Mexico is set to receive 250,000 doses, enough for 125,000 people.

Lopez-Gatel has said that front-line health workers will get the shots first. Vaccinations are expected to begin as soon as next week. Lopez-Gatel says the approval “is of course a reason for hope,” though the initial rounds of shots are not nearly enough for Mexico’s health-care workforce.

In Europe, Denmark will expand lockdown measures announced earlier this week to more cities.

Switzerland has ordered restaurants, bars and shops to close from 7 p.m. across much of the nation.

Meanwhile, calls were growing Friday for tougher lockdown measures in Germany as officials report record daily increases in both coronavirus cases and deaths.

Kim Young Sun, CFO of Korea Superfreeze, sprays water inside an ultra-cold storage facility at the Korea Superfreeze company in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, in preparation for vaccines. (Heo Ran/Reuters)

The Robert Koch Institute said the country’s 16 states reported 29,875 new cases of COVID-19, breaking the previous daily record of 23,679 cases reported the day before. The number of deaths from the virus rose by 598, to a total of 20,970. The previous daily record of deaths was 590, set on Wednesday.

In Africa, Nigeria may be on the verge of a second wave of COVID-19 infections, the health minister warned, as another official said the country expects to roll out a vaccine by April next year.

In the Middle East, Bahrain will provide the vaccine for free for all citizens and residents, state news agency BNA reported.

In the Asia-Pacific region, the ability of developing countries in Asia to fight the pandemic got a boost after the Asian Development Bank said it has launched a $ 9 billion US facility to help nations access and deliver COVID-19 vaccines.

South Korean health officials reported another 689 new coronavirus cases on Friday.

Worker Jan Loested cleans out a shed that housed mink at the Semper Avanti mink farm in Moldrup, Denmark. The Danish government ordered a mink cull after hundreds of farms suffered outbreaks of coronavirus. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

The country is expanding the use of rapid tests and deploying hundreds of police officers and soldiers to help with contact tracing as it deals with its worst surge of coronavirus cases since the early days of the pandemic.

Senior Health Ministry official Yoon Taeho said Friday that rapid antigen tests at emergency rooms, intensive-care units and remote-area hospitals will be covered by national health insurance starting Monday.

In Japan, Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said he wanted to see the government avoid issuing another state of emergency over the coronavirus.

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Pandemic leads to biggest drop ever in global emissions, but trend not expected to last

A locked-down pandemic-struck world cut its carbon dioxide emissions this year by seven per cent, the biggest drop ever, new preliminary figures show.

The Global Carbon Project, an authoritative group of dozens of international scientists who track emissions, calculated that the world will have put 34 billion metric tonnes of carbon dioxide in the air in 2020. That’s down from 36.4 billion metric tonnes in 2019, according a study published Thursday in the journal Earth System Science Data.

Scientists say this drop is chiefly because people are staying home, travelling less by car and plane, and that emissions are expected to jump back up after the pandemic ends. Ground transportation makes up about one-fifth of emissions of carbon dioxide, the chief man-made heat-trapping gas.

“Of course, lockdown is absolutely not the way to tackle climate change,” said study co-author Corinne LeQuere, a climate scientist at the University of East Anglia.

The same group of scientists months ago predicted emission drops of four to seven per cent, depending on the progression of COVID-19. A second coronavirus wave and continued travel reductions pushed the decrease to seven per cent, LeQuere said.

I am optimistic that we have, as a society learned some lessons that may help decrease emissions in the future.– Chris Field, Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment

Emissions dropped 12 per cent in the United States and 11 per cent in Europe, but only 1.7 per cent in China. That’s because China had an earlier lockdown with less of a second wave. Also China’s emissions are more industrial based than other countries and its industry was less affected than transportation, LeQuere said.

Smoke and steam rise from a coal processing plant that produces carbon black, an ingredient in steel manufacturing, in Hejin in central China’s Shanxi Province in November 2019. (Sam McNeil/The Associated Press)

Canada’s emissions were not part of the study. 

The calculations — based on reports detailing energy use, industrial production and daily mobility counts — were praised as accurate by outside scientists.

Even with the drop in 2020, the world on average put 1,075 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide into the air every second.

Final figures for 2019 published in the same study show that from 2018 to 2019 emissions of the main man-made heat-trapping gas increased only 0.1 per cent, much smaller than annual jumps of around three per cent a decade or two ago. Even with emissions expected to rise after the pandemic, scientists are wondering if 2019 be the peak of carbon pollution, LeQuere said.

“We are certainly very close to an emissions peak, if we can keep the global community together,” said United Nations Development Director Achim Steiner.

Chris Field, director of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, thinks emissions will increase after the pandemic, but said “I am optimistic that we have, as a society learned some lessons that may help decrease emissions in the future.”

“For example,” he added, “as people get good at telecommuting a couple of days a week or realize they don’t need quite so many business trips, we might see behaviour-related future emissions decreases.”

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