B.C. Minister of Health Adrian Dix has defended measures in place to limit the spread of COVID-19, even as his province set one-day case counts records on Friday and Saturday.
“Right now they’re strict measures and we need everyone to dig in,” Dix said in an interview Sunday. “This is the time to follow those measures.”
Dix along with Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry cancelled indoor dining, in-person worship and group fitness classes last week to curb an alarming growth in COVID-19 cases.
Other measures in place since November include restricting indoor gatherings to individual households only and to avoid travel to other health regions.
In early March, the province allowed for British Columbians to gather outside in groups of up to 10 people, following four months of restrictions on social gatherings.
Surge in young patients
Dix said on Sunday that B.C.’s latest COVID-19 measures were very strict, and did not say if other new measures could be coming in days ahead.
A record 2,090 new cases of COVID-19 for Friday and Saturday were announced in a release from the province on Saturday, but it did not include information about deaths, variants of concern or the number of active cases.
The 1,018 new cases on Friday and 1,072 new cases on Saturday were both single-day infection records.
The release said 90 patients were in critical care, which was up 11 from 79 on Thursday.
Dix said on Sunday that a higher proportion of younger people are becoming ill from the disease.
“I’m not one bit happy about where we are at now,” he said, adding that provincial measures are targeting indoor transmissions.
On Saturday, a tweet from Dr. Kevin McLeod of Lions Gate Hospital in North Vancouver said hospitals are seeing a surge in young patients needing serious medical intervention for illnesses caused by COVID-19.
BC we have a problem. The hospitals are much busier last 72 hours. Significant increase in COVID cases especially in younger people who are coming in around day 10 from initial disease onset. Presenting really sick. Needing 100% oxygen to stay alive teetering on intubation sick.
Dix said he saw the tweet and said its message was an important one.
“What it says to everybody is this is the time to take care,” he said. “Right now is the time to really follow public health orders whether you’re 25 or 75.”
The minister also said B.C. had delivered a record number of vaccinations this past week.
A total of 856,801 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in B.C. to date, including 87,455 second doses.
Vaccine appointments are currently open for seniors aged 72 and up, Indigenous people over the age of 18 and people that the province has deemed to be clinically extremely vulnerable.
People between the ages of 55 and 65 are also eligible for the AstraZeneca vaccine in the Lower Mainland while more communities are expected to be added by the end of next week.
No travel, says Dix
Dix has also pleaded with people to stay local this weekend, as he said unnecessary travel has contributed to the rise in infections.
Please – do not travel outside your community for vacation or recreation right now. We have seen too many cases of people travelling outside their health authority region and not using their layers of protection, leading to outbreaks and clusters in their home community.
In the Southern Interior, Osoyoos Mayor Sue McKortoff said it appears that more people are visiting her community this weekend than over the past two weeks, but not as much as a normal year.
She says people coming are doing so to play golf, visit wineries or be at properties they own and are playing it safe.
“We offer Canada’s warmest welcome, that’s our motto, and so it seems unusual. But I appreciate the fact that people are looking after themselves and looking after our businesses and looking after the community by obeying … the health regulations. I don’t see it being a problem.”
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Monday picked his fourth health minister since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, amid the worst throes of the disease in the country yet and after a series of errors decried by public health experts.
Marcelo Queiroga, the president of the Brazilian Society of Cardiology, will replace Eduardo Pazuello, an active-duty army general with expertise in logistics who landed the position last May despite having no prior health experience.
Earlier Monday, Pazuello acknowledged in a news conference that Bolsonaro aimed to replace him. The first candidate for the job, cardiologist Ludhmila Hajjar, rejected it.
Pazuello’s departure means ushering in Brazil’s fourth health minister during the pandemic, although he has presided over the ministry for the longest period of the three to date. The revolving door signals the challenges for the government of Latin America’s largest nation to implement effective measures to control the virus’ spread — or even agreeing which measures are necessary.
Pazuello’s two predecessors left the position amid disagreements with Bolsonaro, who criticized broad social distancing and supported the use of an unproven anti-malarial drug to treat the disease. He continues to hold those positions, despite health experts’ admonishments and studies showing the drug has no effect on COVID-19.
‘Aggressive’ virus fight
Pazuello proved more compliant. Immediately after taking the job his ministry backed use and distribution of the malaria pill. On several occasions, he said that his boss tells him what to do, and he obeys.
“The conversation [with Queiroga] was excellent. I already knew him from a few years back. He has everything it takes to do nice work, continuing what Pazuello has done up until today,” Bolsonaro told supporters at the entrance of the presidential residence in Brasilia, adding there will be a transition period of up to two weeks with the outgoing and the incoming minister.
“Pazuello’s work was well done in the management part. Now we are in a phase that is more aggressive in the fight against the virus,” Brazil’s president said.
Brazil has recorded almost 280,000 deaths from the virus, almost all of which were on his watch. The toll has been worsening lately, with the nation currently averaging more than 1,800 deaths each day. Health-care systems of major cities are at the brink of collapse, and lawmakers allied with Bolsonaro have proposed suitable replacements for Pazuello, while threatening to step up pressure for an investigation into his handling of the crisis.
The country’s top court is also investigating Pazuello for alleged neglect that contributed to the collapse of the health-care system in Amazonas state earlier this year. That probe will now be sent to a low court judge.
Weeks later, in a particularly embarrassing episode, his ministry accidentally dispatched a shipment of vaccines intended for Amazonas state to neighbouring Amapa state, and vice versa, after confusing the abbreviations for each state.
Finally, Pazuello has faced intense criticism for Brazil’s slow vaccine rollout. According to Our World in Data, an online research site that compares official government statistics, only 5.4 per cent of Brazilians have been vaccinated. Almost all were shots from Chinese biopharmaceutical firm Sinovac, which Bolsonaro repeatedly cast doubt upon.
Pazuello’s health ministry also delayed its decision to purchase the vaccine from Sao Paulo state’s government until it was left with no other option to start immunization in January.
The only vaccine deal Pazuello had signed at the time, for 100 million doses of the AstraZeneca jab, has brought few shots to the arms of Brazilians so far. His ministry has since scrambled to cobble together agreements with other suppliers, recently concluding deals to acquire the Pfizer and Sputnik V shots.
Pazuello said in the news conference that he would not resign, and insisted there will be continuity with whomever assumes his position.
Cardiologist Hajjar had already revealed that Bolsonaro interviewed her to replace Pazuello. She told television channel Globo News that science has already ruled against treatments Bolsonaro and his legions of supporters continue to champion, like drugs to fight malaria and parasites, and that the country needs to adopt more restrictive measures on activity. She said she declined the position.
“He needs to choose someone he trusts, who is aligned with him, his ideas, his vision, and with the government’s desire. And I’m certainly not that person,” she said.
Hajjar forecast between 500,000 and 600,000 total deaths, not to mention long-term consequences, unless Brazil changes course.
Queiroga has already called Bolsonaro “a great Brazilian.” His social media channels have not made any criticism of the president’s handling of the pandemic and pushed for a quick vaccine rollout.
Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand said today that Canada is ready to deploy a new COVID vaccine from Johnson & Johnson’s pharmaceutical division, Janssen, once it receives regulatory approval from Health Canada — but she couldn’t say how many shots will be available in the coming weeks.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s vaccines and related biological products advisory committee will meet Friday to review the clinical trial data for this vaccine. A final U.S. decision on issuing emergency use authorization (EUA) could follow as early as this weekend.
The same FDA committee met in early December to review Pfizer’s vaccine and, a day later, the EUA was issued. Later that month, the FDA committee met to review the Moderna vaccine and an EUA was granted the next day.
Health Canada could make the same decision in a matter of days. The U.S. and Canada have been in synch on past COVID-19 vaccine approvals.
A spokesperson for the department said Health Canada “intends to be as aligned as possible with the decisions of our key regulatory partners, once all of the data required to make a decision has been received and reviewed.”
“Health Canada continues to receive data from Janssen,” the spokesperson told CBC News.
WATCH: Anand provides an update on Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine
The CBC’s Tom Parry asks Procurement Minister Anita Anand how many doses of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine Canada will receive after it’s approved by Health Canada. 4:56
Canada has ordered 10 million doses from Johnson & Johnson with options for up to 28 million more, if necessary. Most of those shots are expected to arrive by the end of September.
Anand said she had a conversation with executives from Johnson & Johnson last week “to ensure we are on target in terms of those deliveries and to press them on when precisely those deliveries would be arriving in Canada.”
Drug makers ‘reluctant’ to set deadlines without approvals: Anand
Asked if she knows how many doses will be delivered in the second quarter of this year — when Canada’s vaccination campaign is expected to ramp up — Anand said “that is a negotiation that we are currently engaged in and I will provide information relating to the details of those deliveries as soon as I have them.”
Anand said it’s “too early” to say how many doses, if any, Canada will receive in the April through June period.
She said vaccine manufacturers are “reluctant” to provide firm delivery dates with a regulatory review process still pending, but she has assured Johnson & Johnson that “Canada is ready for the deployment and distribution of vaccines” and that those shots will be put to use right away.
Last month, the company confirmed with U.S. officials that it was on track to deliver 100 million doses to the American marketplace by the end of June. “We’re very confident and on track to meet all of our commitments,” the company’s CFO, Joseph Wolk, told CNBC.
Dr. Richard Nettles, vice-president of medical affairs at Janssen, told the U.S. congressional energy and commerce subcommittee today that 4 million doses will shipped to points in the U.S. immediately after it secures an EUA. At least 20 million more will be delivered by end of March, Nettles said.
The company’s Canadian division has not yet offered similar assurances.
“It is premature to address the supply specifics of our vaccine candidate,” a spokesperson for the company said in an email to CBC News.
“Janssen is continuing to work with Health Canada to complete the rolling submission process,” the spokesperson said.
The Johnson & Johnson product, which requires only one shot instead of two like the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, would be much easier for public health officials to administer as it remains stable in a standard refrigerator for months.
Unlike those two shots, which are based on mRNA technlogy, the Johnson & Johnson product uses a more conventional viral vector load vaccine technology. Millions of people could develop some sort of antibody protection against COVID-19 with just a single dose.
In U.S. clinical trials, the product was found to be 72 per cent effective in preventing moderate-to-severe cases of COVID-19.
Importantly, the product also demonstrated complete protection against COVID-19-related hospitalization and death, 28 days post-vaccination.
The company has said the single-shot vaccine has “the potential to significantly reduce the burden of severe disease.”
For the last 10 months, Noel Harrison’s tour bus has sat mostly idle. The pandemic put a stop to the vacations that used to keep him busy shuttling tourists around the sun-soaked resort town of Montego Bay.
In the last few months, he was hoping Jamaica had turned a corner. Hotels were reopening and tourists were starting to trickle back. But then came another blow in a year filled with adversity: Canada cancelled all flights to the Caribbean.
“That was a shocker to us, because we get a lot of business from Canada,” said the 54-year old Harrison who has worked in tourism for almost 20 years. “That was a big blow to us. We just don’t know when a disaster will strike.”
The decision to cancel all flights to the Caribbean until April 30, announced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last week, caught many in Jamaica’s tourism industry off-guard. Jamaica’s government, along with industry and private partners, had just completed a mad rush to provide a new testing and quarantine system to accommodate North American requirements that visitors return with negative COVID-19 results.
In an interview with CBC News, Jamaican Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett said he was surprised by the extent of the measures Canada took, though he recognized that countries must do what they can to manage the pandemic domestically.
“Yes, it is painful. Yes, it is difficult and it is causing us some unintended consequences, because I know that Canada has no real intention of hurting Jamaica,” Bartlett said.
He estimates Canada’s decision to cancel flights to the region will cost his country $ 350 million US ($ 449 million Cdn). That estimate is based on what the country would see during a regular peak winter season, when Jamaica welcomes between 175,000 – 200,000 Canadians.
“What we are doing here is to hope and pray that Canada will get through this very quickly so that we can return to the normal course of our trade relations,” said Bartlett.
Jamaica’s tourism industry lost $ 76 billion US last year because of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tourism and related industries contribute to 34 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product and employ 20 per cent of its workforce.
Workers trying to cope
Harrison is one of the 100,000 Jamaican tourism workers who lost their jobs when travel ground to a halt during the pandemic. He’s lucky that his wife is still working, but he knows lots of others who aren’t as fortunate.
“I got a lot of calls everyday from friends who are having serious problems. They don’t know how they’re going to cope, or where the next meal is coming from, so it’s tough, tough stuff.”
Harrison saw hope in December, when travel to the island started to pick up. From January to November last year, just over 13,000 Canadians visited Jamaica, but in December, that number jumped to 10,802.
Now, with the flight ban from Canada, hotel operators like Jason Henzell who runs Jake’s Hotel in Treasure Beach, estimates his occupancy, which stands at around 22 per cent, will only decline in the coming months.
“In my heart, I know it’s going to get worse before it gets better. At least we know there’s a vaccine now, so we know that things are going to turn,” said Henzell.
Trickle down effect
Henzell has tried to keep as many of his 150 employees working as possible during the pandemic. After shutting down for four months last year, he brought back his entire staff on shortened work weeks. A GoFundMe page launched by former guests also raised more than $ 50,000 US to help the staff.
Festival and concert promoter Scott Dunn said the effect of losing Canadian tourists will be felt across the Island.
“Hoteliers are going to feel it, restaurant owners are going to feel it and the trickle down to all their suppliers of people in agriculture are going to feel that that’s what we’re seeing in Jamaica right now,” said Dunn, managing director of event promotion company Dream Entertainment.
Dunn, who promotes the Dream Festival, one of the largest festivals on the island, said Jamaica has done a good job of containing the virus; he questions why Canada took a blanket approach to Caribbean travel.
He notes the loss of festivals like his add up to a $ 60-million US hit to the local economy.
“You could feed a lot of people with $ 60 million US dollars and right now those people are starving.”
Canada’s decision to suspend travel couldn’t have come at a worse time, Jamaican tourism officials said. The Ministry of Tourism and Resorts had just completed setting up onsite testing and arranged for quarantine sites to comply with new entry protocols announced by the U.S. and Canada. The industry even got Canada to delay implementing the new rules to allow more time to comply, officials said.
That the government and industry went to such lengths to accommodate tourists, including providing mobile testing sites within the resilient corridors, testing that’s still not easily available to everyday Jamaicans, has been a point of controversy domestically.
“I applaud the government for this testing, but it’s one of the ironies of Jamaica and how important or how much more the government values tourism and tourists than their own people,” said Dream Entertainment’s Dunn who has been pressing the government to allow domestically produced events like his move forward.
‘Better days are ahead’
Tourism Minister Bartlett acknowledges tough decisions had to be made but put a positive spin on the effort, saying it means the infrastructure is in place when travel restrictions are eventually eased.
He welcomes vaccination efforts in North America, which many in Jamaica view as key to rebuilding confidence in the travel industry. But he warns that recovery is still months away, with a turnaround not expected until winter 2021-22 and a full recovery potentially two or three years away.
Hotel operators like Henzell are preparing for yet another rough year, where unexpected developments will continue to challenge their business.
WATCH | Canada’s Caribbean travel ban to cost Jamaica $ 350M US:
The pandemic had already taken a big toll on Jamaica’s economy and Canada’s decision to cancel flights to the Caribbean is expected to cost the country more than $ 350 million in lost tourism. 2:02
“This thing has ups and downs and knocks you sideways and,there’s just no one to blame. Governments have to take the right decision at that time.”
For Noel Harrison, the tour bus driver said it’s the faith and resilience of the Jamaican people that will carry them through these dark times.
“We know that better days are ahead. We’ll get back on our feet, we are praying to the Lord because he will help us through this.”
Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce is expected to announce on Wednesday afternoon when schools in 16 public health regions in the southern half of the province will reopen for in-person learning.
Lecce indicated on Monday that he would provide parents with “certainty” about reopening dates. The government says he will speak at 4 p.m. ET before taking questions from reporters. CBC News will carry that news confrerence live in this story.
“We want all students in all regions back to class,” Lecce said in a tweet.
Dr. David Willams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, has confirmed to Premier Doug Ford that he would finalize his advice on Wednesday about how schools still closed can reopen safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.
All elementary and secondary school students began January with online learning as part of a provincial lockdown. Since then, the provincial government has taken a staggered approach to reopening physical classrooms.
Investments needed to make schools safe, NDP says
NDP education critic Marit Stiles, MPP for Davenport, said on Tuesday that the reopening must be accompanied by public health measures to ensure the schools can remain open. She said parents, education workers and students are eagerly awaiting the announcement.
“What I’m looking for, though, is not just clarity about when kids are going to be returning to school,” Stiles told CBC News.
“What I want is the government to spend the dollars that they have been hoarding on action. Small class sizes, paid sick leave, in school testing — anything less is a recipe for future school closures.”
Stiles said the province has not spent the full $ 381 million of COVID-19 relief funds recently received from the federal government.
She said investments are needed to keep schools safe because of high daily case counts and new COVID-19 variants in circulation. Ventilation in schools should be improved and education workers should be vaccinated as front-line workers, she added.
“The success of the announcement really is going to depend on what investment and action this government is willing to take to ensure that our schools are safe when they reopen,” she added. “Anything less than that will be a failure.”
Province has said it will expand testing
On Monday, Lecce said the province plans to expand COVID-19 testing for students and that it will allow school boards to bring in student teachers to fill supply roles as more schools reopen amid the second wave of the pandemic.
Officials said the targeted testing will be available in all public health units where students have returned to class. They said they expect that Ontario can complete up to 25,000 laboratory-processed and 25,000 on-site, rapid antigen tests per week but offered no timeline on how long it could take to get to that level.
Expansion of the testing program accompanies the injection of another $ 381 million Ottawa recently released as part of Phase 2 of the Federal Safe Return to Class Fund. A previous $ 381 million in federal funds for school reopenings came last August.
On Jan. 11, students resumed in-person learning in all northern Ontario public health units. On Jan. 25, students in some areas of southern Ontario went back to in-person class.
On Feb. 1, students in four public health units — Eastern Ontario, Middlesex-London, Ottawa and Southwestern — were able to resume in-person learning.
A total of 520,000 students were able to learn in person in Ontario as of Monday, according to the ministry.
Wednesday’s decision will affect schools in the following public health units:
Brant County Health Unit.
Chatham-Kent Public Health.
City of Hamilton Public Health Services.
Durham Region Health Department.
Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit.
Halton Region Public Health.
Huron Perth Public Health.
Lambton Public Health.
Niagara Region Public Health.
Peel Region Public Health.
Region of Waterloo Public Health and Emergency Services.
A Brazilian variant of the coronavirus is significant enough to justify stopping flights from South America as a precaution, British Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said on Friday, as a leading scientist said it had been detected in Britain.
Britain will ban arrivals from South American countries and Portugal because of concerns over the new Brazilian variant.
The Brazilian variant shares some characteristics with those found in Britain and South Africa, which are believed by scientists to be more transmissible but not to cause more severe disease.
“As with the variant that we saw in Kent [southern England] or the one in South Africa, it’s significantly enough of interest to us just to take this precautionary approach of stopping all those flights from Brazil [and] South America,” Shapps told Sky News.
“Our scientists aren’t saying that the vaccine won’t work against it … [but] we do not want to be tripping up at this last moment [of vaccine rollout], which is why I took the decision as an extra precaution to ban those flights.”
Shapps later said scientists believed vaccines would work on the Brazilian variant, going further than the government’s chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance.
Variant to be traced ‘very carefully,’ scientist says
Vallance on Wednesday said there wasn’t evidence vaccines wouldn’t work but said the Brazilian variant was more of a risk and “we don’t know” if it would affect the immune response.
A leading British virologist said the Brazilian variant had been traced in Britain.
“There are two different types of Brazilian variants and one of them has been detected [in the U.K.] and one of them has not,” Wendy Barclay, virologist at Imperial College London, told journalists, adding it was “early days” in the understanding of the variants.
Along with U.K. and South African variants, the Brazilian variant is “of concern” and would be “traced very carefully,” she said.
Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller confirmed today that the Liberal government will not meet its commitment to lift all long-term drinking water advisories in First Nations by March 2021.
At a press conference in Ottawa, Miller took full responsibility for the broken promise and pledged to spend more than $ 1.5 billion to finish the work.
“This was an ambitious deadline from the get-go,” Miller said. “While there have been many reasons for the delay, I want to state as clearly as possible that, ultimately, I bear the responsibility for this and I have the … duty to get this done.”
It was the first major promise on the Indigenous reconciliation file, which became one of the central goals of the Liberals’ governing agenda. At the time, the Trudeau government said it would meet the target by March 2021.
“What communities want is not an Ottawa-imposed deadline. It’s a long-term commitment for access to clean water,” Miller said.
WATCH | ‘We didn’t appreciate the state of decay of some of the public infrastructure,’ minister says
Indigenous Services Minister assures reporters the federal government has a stronger grasp on the water system needs of Indigenous communities now than in 2015. 2:16
More than a dozen First Nations said their projects would not be completed by the promised deadline. Five communities said a permanent fix would take years.
The Trudeau government has helped lift 97 long-term drinking water advisories in First Nations since 2015, according to Indigenous Services Canada. Currently, 59 advisories are still in place in 41 communities.
Miller said another 20 advisories could be lifted by the end of December and that by spring 2021, the number of advisories remaining could shrink to 12.
Since forming government, the Liberals have spent more than $ 1.65 billion of the $ 2.19 billion they set aside to build and repair water and wastewater infrastructure, and to manage and maintain existing systems on reserves.
The $ 1.5 billion proposed in Monday’s fiscal update is in addition to that $ 2.19 billion.
“Today, we are providing sustained funding in the spirit of partnership,” said Miller. “We’re listening to communities and we want to let them know that our government is going to be there for the long run.”
WATCH | Singh asks why the federal government has failed Neskantaga First Nation on clean drinking water
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh presses Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on why the federal government has not yet provided clean drinking water to the Neskantaga First Nation and other Indigenous communities. 1:26
Funding for repairs, training and ongoing maintenance
The new money is aimed at helping First Nations in three key areas.
The first area is ongoing support for daily operations and maintenance of water infrastructure on reserves, to help keep that infrastructure in good condition even after long-term drinking water advisories are lifted. The money earmarked for this — $ 616.3 million over six years, with $ 114.1 million per year ongoing — will also fund training for water treatment plant operators and help communities better retain qualified workers.
The second is continued funding for water and wastewater infrastructure on reserves: $ 553.4 million to prevent future drinking water advisories.
And finally, $ 309.8 million of the total will pay for work halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic and other project delays. The pandemic caused some First Nation communities to close their borders to contractors and temporarily stop work on improving their water systems.
National Chief Perry Bellegarde of the Assembly of First Nations called the proposed new funding a move in the right direction, but warned more resources may be required in future budgets to lift all water advisories.
“Access to clean drinking water is a fundamental human right,” Bellegarde said.
“It’s not right that in a rich country like Canada, you still can’t turn on the taps for potable water.”
NDP MP Charlie Angus said the new commitment is a recognition that the government initially low-balled the amount of money it would take to address water advisories on reserves.
“The government has recognized that they can’t keep doing this as a publicity exercise,” Angus said. “So that money will go a long way.”
In 2017, the parliamentary budget officer found the federal government was spending only 70 per cent of what was needed to eliminate boil water advisories in First Nations.
Conservative Indigenous services critic Gary Vidal said it’s clear “there is no intent to meet the 2021 target.
“We know this is going to be an ongoing challenge.”
Miller told CBC’s Power and Politics he wants to see target dates for lifting long-term drinking water advisories in individual communities.
He also told CBC the government is moving to give First Nations more control over solving their water problems through self-determination.
Most long-term on-reserve drinking water advisories are in Ontario. RoseAnne Archibald, the Assembly of First Nations regional chief for the province, said she has asked Miller to work with her team in the coming months to address the problem.
“Why do we have so many boil water advisories?” Archibald asked. “What barriers exist in Ontario that don’t seem to exist anywhere else that we need to fix?”
As he continues a European tour, Canada’s top diplomat has met in Lithuania with the exiled opposition leader of Belarus.
Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne met today with Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who fled her home country after an August election that Champagne has called “fraudulent.”
The U.S. and the European Union have denounced the election as neither free nor fair, and introduced sanctions against the officials they say are responsible for vote-rigging and a subsequent crackdown on protests.
Top European leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have also met with Tsikhanouskaya.
This was the first visit to Lithuania by a Canadian foreign minister in 24 years.
Following the meeting in the capital, Vilnius, Champagne told the exiled opposition leader that “Canada will always be on your side.”
Following a sharp increase in deaths and hospitalizations, Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé is calling on all Quebecers to stay home, regardless of the alert level in their region.
Quebec broke another record Tuesday, reporting 1,364 new cases — the highest single-day total ever reported in the province. It was the fifth consecutive day with more than 1,000 cases recorded.
More than 200 of those new cases were in Quebec City while the Montérégie had 223 and Montreal 442.
Dubé said that, contrary to the first wave of the pandemic, which was concentrated in Montreal, the entire province is feeling the impact this time, and more regions could be dubbed “red zones” — the highest alert level — later this week.
“Today’s numbers and tomorrow’s numbers are the results of the last 10 days,” Dubé said.
“It’s important to understand that. So if they’re even worse tomorrow and even worse the day after that, it’s because of what we saw at Tam-Tams a few days back.”
Dubé was referring to the popular weekly Sunday gathering at the foot of Mount Royal in Montreal as an example, but he said gatherings across the province have been an issue, and that’s another factor that makes this wave even harder to control than the first.
The increase in deaths and hospitalizations is stemming largely from community transmission, he said, as opposed to the first wave, where most cases were associated with long-term care homes.
“This time is totally different, totally different,” said Dubé. “It is very difficult to say where you got it.”
While some experts have argued the province should have acted sooner in imposing restrictions, Dubé said the government did all it could to prepare for a second wave. He blamed the increase in cases on people not taking public health regulations seriously.
“Please don’t take the risk, please don’t test the hospital system,” he said. “The nurses, the doctors, what they are asking you — what they are asking Quebecers — is to please stay home.”
On Monday, the province introduced further restrictions in red zones, including banning organized sports and leisure activities as well as making masks mandatory in the classroom for high school students.
WATCH | Quebec health minister says it’s harder to identify how virus is spreading:
Health Minister Christian Dubé says community transmission makes it difficult to identify exactly where people are catching COVID-19. 1:39
Quebec City struggles to keep up with contact tracing
Over the past month, Quebec City went from having about 100 cases per week to having more than 1,000.
Now, health officials in the region are asking the public to help curb the spread, and not just by following hygiene guidelines such as handwashing, physical distancing and mask-wearing.
“This spread, which is largely community-based, is making each public health investigation more difficult,” said Dr. André Dontigny, public health director for the Quebec City area.
He said contact tracing teams have been working at maximum capacity, conducting about 200 investigations per day. But that’s not enough, and some people aren’t being reached in a timely manner, he said.
In a newly revamped website, health officials in the region have compiled information on contact tracing and how it works. They have also put out a call for applicants to help with contact tracing efforts and testing.
Officials are also asking those who have COVID-19 to reach out to to those with whom they came in contact themselves.
Quebec hospitals ‘bracing for impact,’ specialist says
Quebec’s hospital network has space for new patients now, but it is “bracing for impact,” said Dr. Matthew Oughton, a specialist in infectious diseases at Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital.
“The more cases we have spreading in the community, the more likely it is that you’re going to see spillover into vulnerable groups,” Oughton said.
“And then all of a sudden, in one region, you are going to have a huge surge in people who are sick and need hospitalization.”
About six per cent of the province’s daily tests are coming back positive, he said, and generally, anything above five per cent indicates the situation is getting out of control.
Nine months into the pandemic, hospitals in Quebec are better equipped and staff more knowledgeable about the coronavirus, but health-care workers are still recovering from the first wave, he said.
“I think we have a lot of battle fatigue,” Oughton said. “I am pretty sure the system is increasingly fragile.”
As the number of patients increase, there may be burnouts and staff heading home to isolate, Oughton said, and that could, in turn, bring other hospital services to a standstill once again.
The best way to prevent the health network from being overwhelmed, he said, is for people to do their part by following the health restrictions and for the province to crack down even more.
“It’s very simple: The more face-to-face, close contacts you have, the more chances there are for transmission of this virus, the longer it is going to transmit and the harder it is going to be to get it under control,” Oughton said.
On June 24, 2016, a white South African-born surgeon tied a noose and then taped it to the door of an operating room in the Queen Elizabeth II Hospital in Grande Prairie, Alta.
He told another doctor the noose was for a Black Nigerian-born surgical assistant.
The incident was reported minutes after it occurred. Several more times over the next four years, at least three doctors reported it — to the hospital’s administration, Alberta Health Services, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta (CPSA) and Health Minister Tyler Shandro.
Several of those who reported the incident said as far as they know, nothing was done.
On Thursday afternoon, days after CBC News asked Shandro for an interview, the minister said he is ordering a third-party, independent investigation into the incident.
“This investigation will include looking into whether the incident was reported to local Alberta Health Services (AHS) administrators in 2016, and if so, how it was handled,” Shandro said in a statement.
Sources say the surgeon, Dr. Wynand Wessels, was to their knowledge never suspended and faced no formal discipline. He continues to hold several leadership positions within the hospital and AHS.
In a statement, Alberta Health Services CEO Dr. Verna Yiu said the health authority took appropriate action, but did not mention any formal discipline or reprimand Wessels received at the time.
Wessels declined an interview request from CBC News. In a statement, he said: “Some years ago, as a foolish joke, I made what I considered to be a lasso and hung it in an operating room door. In no way was it intended to be a racist gesture.
“It was very quickly drawn to my attention by staff members that this was unacceptable,” Wessels said. “I subsequently brought the matter to the attention of AHS and apologized both verbally and in writing to my colleagues.
“At the time, I did not appreciate the heinous symbolism behind the knot I created. I did undertake some self-study and I now have great insight into the symbolism here and I am terribly sorry and embarrassed about this incident.”
CBC News, however, has obtained a letter of apology written by Wessels in 2016 in which he refers to the “small rope noose” he tied.
The colleague who was the target of the noose did not respond to repeated interview requests. His Grande Prairie colleagues have been in contact with him recently and say he fears losing his job. CBC News has chosen not to name him.
Dr. Carrie Kollias, a former member of the CPSA’s council, which sets direction and policy for the college, filed several complaints about the incident, including to Shandro in August 2019.
Former NDP health minister Sarah Hoffman told CBC News she was not informed of the incident.
Kollias, who now lives in Australia, said AHS and others effectively tolerated the egregious behaviour.
“The fact the incident occurred — yes, that was atrocious,” Kollias said in an interview. “But the lack of action, I think, is equally atrocious.
“What does that say to any other physician, health-care worker, hospital housekeeper, porter in the province of Alberta? It says that if you are a victim of an equal or lesser injustice, then don’t bother reporting because nothing is going to happen.”
Those interviewed by CBC News say what they view as the failure by the CPSA, AHS and the health minister to act on an incident involving a noose directed at a Black man stands in sharp contrast to several other similar cases in North America where offenders were immediately fired. In March, Boeing fired an employee weeks after after a noose was found hanging in its Charleston, S.C., plant.
Grande Prairie orthopedic surgeon Dr. Scott Wiens told CBC News he witnessed Wessels tying the noose in a hospital hallway.
“I was walking close to the door, he took a piece of tape and taped the rope onto the window” of an operating room, Wiens said, adding he did not immediately identify the object as a noose.
“And I looked at him and said, ‘What’s that for?’ And he said, ‘It’s for your assistant,’ and he walked away.”
Wiens’s Black surgical assistant trained as a surgeon in Nigeria but is not accredited in Canada. He is a contractor with Alberta Health Services.
Wiens said he took photos of the noose and later spoke to Dr. Alika Lafontaine, an anesthesiologist. Wiens said he and Lafontaine, who is Indigenous, removed the noose and took it to hospital administration.
Another doctor who worked in the same department, Dr. Tosin Akinbiyi, who is Black and also Nigerian-born, said he called the hospital’s medical legal director and told her it was unacceptable.
The director agreed, Akinbiyi said, and told him the hospital would be looking into it.
Akinbiyi said he also exchanged texts with Dr. Richard Beekman, the hospital’s deputy director. The response was markedly different.
“His initial statement was, you know, ‘Is it really that big a deal?'” Akinbiyi said. “And then we discussed it further and he said he would be seeking further guidance on this issue from higher-ups.”
Letter of apology
Wiens said he gave a statement to an AHS official in Grande Prairie. About six weeks later, he said, Beekman told him in an email that the matter was closed and would not be discussed again.
Beekman did not respond to interview requests on Thursday.
In early August 2016, Wessels wrote an apology letter, copies of which were provided to Wiens and Akinbiyi but not to the target of the noose, they said.
“I had no ill intentions with attaching the small rope noose to the [operating room] door,” Wessels wrote in the letter. “The context was not explained and I can understand that this was interpreted as a rude attack on specific persons. I can assure you that this was not the case.
“I have never had, and will never use symbolic gestures to convey any message,” he said. “I prefer to use open communication.
“I have reviewed the use of specific symbols in North America for my education,” Wessels continued, adding it would never happen again.
Wessels’s letter did not explain what he meant by the noose, or the apparent difference between how it is viewed in South Africa versus the obvious racist, violent implications the symbol holds in North America.
Jack Shuler, an associate professor of English at Denison University in Ohio and author of The Thirteenth Turn: A History of the Noose, declined to comment on the Grande Prairie incident but said the noose as a symbol “is intended to intimidate.”
“I would argue that that noose, the hangman’s knot, in the 21st century is like the new burning cross,” Shuler said.
Reported to college
Kollias said she heard about the incident in the fall of 2017 when she was an orthopedic surgeon in Lethbridge and was serving on the CPSA council.
She reported it to the college’s complaints director, Dr. Michael Caffaro, after a board meeting on Dec. 1, 2017.
Caffaro appeared “extremely troubled” by the photos and report, Kollias said.
“And I felt at that time that, based on that, there would be some action taken or at least an investigation properly done, and hopefully sanctions,” she said. “But this hasn’t occurred to my knowledge.”
Another doctor reported it to Caffaro in 2018. They exchanged emails for months. Caffaro said an investigative file had been opened but the doctor heard nothing more.
Kollias raised the incident again with Caffaro in October 2018. She heard nothing further.
Wiens said the Black surgical assistant provided a six-page letter about the incident to Caffaro in October 2019.
A CPSA spokesperson told CBC News that by law, the organization cannot discuss the details of specific cases, or even confirm if a complaint has been received or an investigation is underway.
AHS said it investigated incident fully
In a statement Thursday, Yiu said Alberta Health Services investigated and acted upon the “disturbing and unconscionable racist act.”
“The organization acted to ensure the individual involved accepted responsibility, and that the victims were supported,” Yiu said. “Formal apologies were sent to the affected physicians and additional education and professional development took place in 2016.
Yiu said AHS is awaiting the completion of an investigation by the College of Physicians and Surgeons, and will “take all necessary actions upon completion of this review.”
Health minister told about incident in 2019
In August 2019, shortly after the provincial government announced an external review of Alberta Health Services, Kollias wrote a long letter to Shandro in which she referenced the incident.
“I am distressed to see that no tangible or confirmed sanctions have been taken on the part of any medical authority, neither AHS nor CPSA,” Kollias wrote.
Kollias said apart from a generic reply that Shandro’s office had received her email, she never heard anything more.
In a statement to CBC News Thursday, Shandro’s office confirmed the minister received Kollias’s letter in August 2019.
“Minister Shandro, recognizing the serious nature of the reported incident, raised the issue with senior departmental officials,” press secretary Steve Buick said. “The issue was then elevated to AHS and the College of Physicians and Surgeons (CPSA), the independent regulatory body responsible for physician discipline.
“Minister Shandro received assurances from departmental officials throughout 2019 that the matter was being dealt with using long-standing investigative and disciplinary channels available to AHS through their medical staff bylaws, and separately by the CPSA.”
The statement said several weeks ago, another member of the public contacted Shandro’s office, “calling into question the status of the investigation.”
Shandro contacted AHS and the College of Physicians and Surgeons and “was informed that work being undertaken by the CPSA is ongoing,” the statement said.
Anger and frustration
“It appears that AHS’ medical staff bylaws, which have not been updated in over a decade, may be hindering an effective response – including potential disciplinary action,” Shandro’s statement said. “For that reason, I am directing AHS to bring forward suggested bylaw updates within 60 days.”
For Kollias and the others interviewed by CBC News, there is anger, frustration, and also a sense of disillusionment with Alberta’s health-care system.
“You have a view that if something really bad happens, if the right people know about it, that action will be taken,” Kollias said.
“And to see, to know that that did not occur is a hard reality, especially within the profession of medicine where we are aspiring to the highest ideals of caring for other humans.”
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