Tag Archives: rules

After back-and-forth week, Quebec signals willingness to play by new rules set by COVID variants

Just over one month ago, amid a lull in Quebec’s COVID-19 infection rates, the province’s leading public health official, Dr. Horacio Arruda, used a colourful metaphor to describe the threat posed by more contagious variants of the virus.

“We are right now in a period of calm seas,” he said. “But underneath there are sharks, and those sharks are the variants.”

Despite the warning, the government decided to authorize swimming in these shark-infested waters.

In the ensuing weeks, rules were relaxed across much of the province. The Quebec City area and the Outaouais were among the regions reclassified as orange zones. Restaurant dining rooms and gyms were reopened. There was hope in the air.

Even in Montreal — a perennial trouble spot — extracurricular school activities and large religious gatherings were permitted again. Older high-school students were told to go back to full-time, in-person classes.

But on Tuesday, Premier François Legault played the role of Chief Brody in the movie Jaws. Get out of the water, he told the province.


Quebec Director of Public Health Horacio Arruda responds to a question during Tuesday’s news conference in Montreal. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

At a news conference in Montreal, he announced he was cancelling the small freedoms recently granted to residents of the greater Montreal area: gyms will close, extracurriculars will stop, religious services will be capped at 25 people max.

Last week, he announced a series of harsher measures for the Quebec City area and the Outaouais, where cases have grown at exponential rates.

Controlling the variants

Epidemiologists and other health experts had warned the government in March it was making a high-odds bet by lifting measures even though the variants were clearly gaining ground.

The normally staid public health research institute the INSPQ said bluntly on March 26 that the provincial measures in place “were insufficient to control the variants.”

But Arruda, Legault and Health Minister Christian Dubé — le trio, as the francophone press calls them — insisted the moves were justified because hospitalizations were continuing to decrease at the same time as elderly Quebecers were being vaccinated.

In an interview with La Presse last week, Arruda spelled out, with surprising candour, the province’s strategy to a younger journalist.

“If I have 2,000 [new] cases [a day] in Quebec, but we don’t have significant hospitalizations or deaths, we can live with that,” he said.

“Because older people are protected, we will, of course, have people your age who will find themselves in intensive care and die, which is horrible. But is it better if you close everything, and people break the rules in secret?”   

Avoiding Ontario’s fate

At the moment, Quebec is averaging 1,200 cases per day, and so far, hospitalizations haven’t returned to the critical levels seen around Christmas.

Legault said Tuesday he hoped by taking action now, before hospitalizations rise quickly, he can avoid the situation facing Ontario, where intensive care units are hitting capacity and many schools are set to close to in-person learning again.

“It’s a matter of days, or at most, weeks,” he said, before Quebec’s hospital numbers begin to tick upward.

The new measures announced Tuesday, along with those introduced last week, bring more coherence to the government’s message. The added restrictions reflect the danger of a virus that has been turbo-charged by variants.

“It was the right thing to do. We needed to be more proactive,” said Dr. Cécile Tremblay, an infectious disease specialist at the Université de Montréal health centre, following Legault’s announcement.

“The models showed we risked having an exponential growth in cases if we kept the measures as they were before.”

WATCH | Quebec being ‘proactive’ with new measures, says infectious diseases specialist:

Dr. Cécile Tremblay says by tightening measures and offering up AstraZeneca to people 55 and up, the province is trying to keep the third wave under control. 3:10

But the abrupt pivot — from downplaying the dangers of the third wave to re-imposing lockdown measures — has exposed the government to criticism that its public health approach is haphazard. And there are signs its credibility has been damaged.

On the one hand, the government faced protests last week in several Montreal-area schools where students and parents wanted more, not fewer, public health measures in place.

On the other hand, its flip-flop caused whiplash, bitterness and confusion in and around Quebec City. Over the weekend, police there received more than double their usual number of calls about illegal gatherings.

The new rules

Legault wouldn’t admit he had made a mistake by lifting measures last month. “We won’t stop ourselves from providing freedom when we’re able to do so, or closing things again when it’s necessary,” he said.

Throughout the pandemic, the premier has made clear the government’s priority is protecting the health-care network, as opposed to eliminating the virus outright (which was the stated goal of the Atlantic provinces, for example).

Arruda’s comments to La Presse last week only made it apparent what the trade-offs are.

It is a bargain the public has found reasonable to date. Freedom was maximized for the least vulnerable — school-aged children — and progressively reduced for the most vulnerable, especially the elderly.

WATCH | Youth who toil in grocery stores, cafés and restaurants feel the strain:

As the stress of the pandemic wears on, Quebec’s young adults do the essential work that is often overlooked. 3:54

Some in long-term care homes were effectively confined to their rooms for months on end as the virus circulated widely in the community. In turn, they were first up when vaccines became available.

But the more contagious variants of COVID-19 have upended the terms of the bargain. The old methods for containing transmission are no longer enough to prevent the virus from spreading like wildfire, and vaccines can’t be rolled out fast enough to prevent younger people from ending up in hospital.

With the measures announced over the last week, the Legault government signalled it is no longer just talking about these new realities of the pandemic — it has started to adjust to them as well.

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CBC | Health News

B.C.’s health minister says it’s time to ‘dig in’ to obey COVID-19 safety rules as cases mount

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.


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.


Some officials in tourist destinations in B.C. said over the weekend that they were noticing an influx of visitors.

“My feeling is that the province’s restrictions on indoor dining and the messaging about staying local are getting through certainly to a lot of people, not everybody,” said Tofino Mayor Dan Law.


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.”

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CBC | Health News

After industry outcry, Ottawa agrees to clarify cross-border travel rules for autoworkers

The federal government plans to clarify its pandemic travel rules for autoworkers after complaints from the industry, which says it’s being hurt by ambiguity at the border.

At issue is how border agents deal with autoworkers moving between facilities in Canada and the U.S. Industry officials have expressed frustration that Canadian guards don’t seem to have clear instructions, forcing some workers to quarantine when they re-enter Canada but not others, and that it risks doing economic damage.

On Tuesday, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair committed to performing a quick review of the policy during a virtual meeting with auto-sector representatives, said one meeting participant, Flavio Volpe.

That development came after CBC News and other media reported on mounting annoyance in the sector, with industry representatives fuming that they had tried and failed to reach Blair for months.

Volpe, who heads Canada’s Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association, said the minister opened Tuesday’s meeting by expressing a desire to work with the sector to clarify the rules.

He said the sides set up a group to work on changes — and that they planned to do it quickly.

“We expect that we’re going to see some substantive clarification in days, and that’s very helpful,” Volpe said in an interview Tuesday afternoon.

“I’m expecting specific clarification that’s going to make it easier for essential automotive people to do their job. And we have that commitment from Minister Blair and from the [Canada Border Services Agency]…. I think that we’ve broken through here.”

Critical moment in the auto sector

What had the companies complaining was the alleged lack of clarity on how the industry’s technical workers and executives should be treated while re-entering Canada after doing work at U.S. facilities.

They said the rules are applied inconsistently — even on the same day at the same border crossing — which has resulted in company employees being forced into quarantine.

They said this is putting Canadian auto companies at a competitive disadvantage against American rivals at a critical moment for the sector. 


Public Safety Minister Bill Blair met with Canadian auto industry representatives on Tuesday (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Companies are now competing for a wave of contracts related to a pair of developments: the ongoing emergence of electric vehicles and the new supply chains established under the updated NAFTA.

Volpe said that at the start of the meeting, the minister said essential travel for auto-parts employees and executives is not a significant new risk for public health, and that he wanted to find a solution.

Volpe said the sector is not pushing for a complete reopening of the border. “We’re talking about a clarification for essential business travel,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Blair, Mary-Liz Power, said the government will continue to enforce public-health protocols at the border but is open to making adjustments. 

“The government is listening to all sectors of the economy as it develops further protocols to identify and enforce restrictions for essential travellers, including technicians from the auto sector,” she said in an email.

“We have been clear that our response to the COVID-19 pandemic will adapt quickly to this rapidly evolving public health threat.”

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Hockey players returning from leagues overseas want exemption from Canada’s quarantine rules

Playing professional hockey in Switzerland is no holiday for Daniel Winnik.

That’s why Winnik, who plays for Genève-Servette HC of the Swiss National League, has signed a petition asking that Canadian professional hockey players returning home from overseas be placed on the COVID-19 essential travelers list and be exempt from a mandatory three-day hotel quarantine.

“I know there’s a bunch of ‘Snowbirds’ who go to Florida and southern places to get away from winter,” Winnik, a Toronto native who spent 11 seasons in the NHL, said from Geneva. “We’ve got guys that come over here to work. Obviously, all of us would love to be playing in North American in the NHL or AHL but the reality is we couldn’t get jobs there.

“We came overseas to be able to provide for our families. We’re not here on vacation. We’re making a living for our families.”

In February, the federal government introduced measures that call for most air passengers to take a COVID-19 test after landing in Canada and spend up to three days of their 14-day quarantine period in a designated hotel to await their test results. The hotel stay could cost up to $ 2,000.

Maxim Noreau, a Montreal native who plays defence for the ZSC Lions in Zurich, estimates the mandatory hotel quarantine will cost around $ 4,000 for him, his wife and two sons.

“We are all here overseas trying to earn income to supply for our families and coming back to Canada is a big stress for us, especially with my two little boys,” Noreau said in an email.


Maxim Noreau (56) won a bronze medal with Team Canada at the Pyeongchang Olympics in 2018. (Getty Images)

“Coming back to Canada is a safe haven for us and we 100 per cent want to quarantine in our own home for 14 days as we would expect everyone else to do the same without bias.”

The petition, on Change.org, says Canadians playing hockey overseas are there “for their livelihood” and “putting these individuals and their families into the same category as travellers/vacationers would be unfair.”

The petition’s goal is 10,000 signatures. So far over 7,800 people have signed.

The Public Health Agency of Canada said in an email it is aware of the hockey players’ petition, but said the border measures are in place to prevent the introduction of new COVID-19 cases.

The government has issued exemptions to the mandatory 14-day quarantine period under national interest grounds for professional athletes, staff and third-party personnel “to support safe return-to-play when robust measures are in place to mitigate the risk of importation and spread of COVID-19 in Canada.

“These exemptions are not intended for professional athletes returning to Canada,” the agency said.

WATCH | Ottawa to ease restrictions for Olympic athletes:

CBC Sports’ Jamie Strashin joined CBC Morning Live host Heather Hiscox to discuss the Canadian government’s plans to offer Canadian athletes exemptions from some quarantine-related travel restrictions in the lead-up to the Olympics. 4:57

No difference between vacation, working

Anita Ho, an associate professor in bioethics and health services research at the University of British Columbia, said COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate.

“I don’t really see the [argument of] vacationing versus work destination,” she said. “COVID spreads among people. So, if you are in close proximity, whether it is through work, whether it’s through playing hockey or playing and vacationing, it makes no difference.”

Ho acknowledged the mandated hotel stay can impose a financial hardship on some people.

“The government should make it as affordable as possible for people to do those three days,” she said.

Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault recently said the federal government has agreed to offer 750 Olympic and Paralympic athletes — along with members of their support staff — exemptions from some quarantine-related travel restrictions in the lead-up to the Olympics.

Ho understands the exemption for Olympic athletes who have lived in a bubble and have been routinely tested.

‘A lot of money’

“That’s why you can show their risk of being infected is very low,” she said.

Winnik was taken 265th overall in the 2004 NHL draft by the Phoenix Coyotes. A six-foot-two, 210-pound forward he would play 798 games — scoring 82 goals and 251 points — with eight teams, including the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Winnik has played the past two seasons with Genève-Servette, collecting 22 goals and 44 points in 49 games this year.

Winnik’s team is currently in the playoffs, but the season is over for many other Canadians who are looking to return home. The mandatory hotel stay adds another cost.

“It’s a lot of money,” Winnik said. “They’re asking people to pay to be able to return home to where they’re from.”

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In face of deadly pandemic, Ontario long-term care homes continue breaking COVID-19 safety rules

Ten months into the COVID-19 pandemic, inspectors were still catching Ontario long-term care homes violating crucial infection prevention and control measures.

A CBC News data investigation has found 1 in 12 long-term care facilities in the province were caught breaking COVID-specific government directives between June 2020 and January 2021. Many infractions occurred during or after outbreaks.

“To have egregious infractions in terms of not following standard operating procedure for things like infection prevention and control, these operators need to be held to account,” said Dr. Nathan Stall, a geriatrician at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto.

The COVID-19 death toll in Ontario’s long-term care homes was 3,743 residents as of Feb. 26, 2021, according to the province. Of those deaths, 1,848 occurred before Aug. 31, 2020, which means the second spike in long-term care homes was even deadlier than the first.

Improper screening was a frequent issue at homes. Many were cited for not asking staff members or visitors questions or taking their temperatures, and failing to ensure they were wearing masks as they entered or left the premises. 

Some of the reports from provincial inspectors also detail long lists of infection control issues. While other companies are reflected in the data, the number of Caressant Care-owned homes with inspection violations of COVID-19 directives is high relative to the number of homes owned by the company.

WATCH | Several Ontario nursing homes broke rules meant to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks:

A CBC News investigation has revealed that multiple Ontario long-term care homes didn’t follow infection prevention rules meant to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks with some breaking the rules during or after an outbreak. 2:50

At Caressant Care Listowel Nursing Home west of Toronto, where an outbreak infected nearly every resident of the home in January, an inspector found 12 major infection control violations during the outbreak. 

“That probably explains quite a bit about how [COVID-19] got through so quickly,” said Alycia Houchen, whose grandfather, Edwin Rutherford, was one of 13 residents who died in the home, which has room for 45 people.

In all, 43 residents and 26 staff were infected during the winter outbreak at the home.

The violations included staff not being aware of the correct personal protective equipment to wear and not cleaning their hands after taking care of residents; staff working with both COVID-19 positive and negative residents; and hand sanitizer not being available in all areas of the home. 

Houchen, herself a personal support worker at a different retirement home, says the inspection report findings are “disturbing and disgusting.”

“They have had plenty of time to prepare and to do whatever they needed to do, and they obviously didn’t do it.”

Caressant Care owns 15 homes in Ontario. Four of those facilities were caught breaking COVID-19 safety directives during inspections. Like the location in Listowel, two others were found to be in violation of the infection control rules during outbreaks in December or January.

The company declined to comment for this story.

Big operator accounts for more than 20% of violations

Extendicare, one of Ontario’s largest long-term care operators, which owns or manages 69 facilities in the province, was cited for the most violations of infection control and prevention directives.

Homes owned by the company accounted for 13 per cent of the provincial total of 60 violations. When homes the company manages are included, that increases to 22 per cent of the violations. 

Other big chains such as Sienna Senior Living and Revera accounted for three and five per cent, respectively.

Inspection citations against Ontario’s long-term care homes hardly ever come with any consequences. Homes are asked to fix the problem, but even if an inspector returns and finds the same issue, there are no fines or penalties. In very rare cases, homes are barred from accepting new residents. 

Extendicare says inspectors visited its owned and managed homes almost 200 times in the past six months. 

“While some inspections do report issues related to COVID directives that require attention, these represent a small minority of the visits,” Extendicare said in a statement to CBC News. “While our goal is to have no issues, it’s important to note that in 93 per cent of the inspections, there were no COVID-related compliance issues.”

For-profit long-term care homes received 70 per cent of the violation citations despite accounting for 56 per cent of the homes in the province. An additional eight per cent of the violations were found in non-profit homes managed by for-profit companies.


Tamara Daly, director of York University’s Centre for Aging Research and Education, says research suggests conditions are better at non-profit care facilities. (Submitted by Tamara Daly)

That for-profit operators are over-represented in the findings isn’t surprising to Tamara Daly, the director of York University’s Centre for Aging Research and Education. She has been studying the differences between for-profit and non-profit care for years.

“I think, at the end of the day, the working conditions and the caring conditions have been shown to be worse at for-profit facilities and the research data backs this up, both pre-pandemic and during the pandemic,” she said.

CBC News sent the Ontario Ministry of Long-Term Care its findings from the inspection reports. It responded with a statement that said inspectors monitor for the health, safety and quality of care of residents.

“Repeated non-compliance is a serious concern and can result in escalated measures and sanctions by the ministry,” the statement says.

However, past CBC News investigations have found many homes have been cited for repeated issues without any consequences.

Inspectors spot infection control issues during outbreaks

Of the infection control and prevention violations, 52 per cent occurred in homes either during or after an outbreak.

The fact that inspectors were finding repeated violations in the same home, or violations after an outbreak, is very concerning, said Daly.

“To get those reports indicating that there’s still improper use of PPE after an incident, that concerns me greatly, because where is the learning?”

Ten homes were cited for denying entry to essential caregivers. Short staffing in homes has been well documented, and restricting family access means residents often don’t get the care they need, said Daly.

It’s also a quality of life issue, she said.

“Being in long-term care is very different than being in a hospital bed,” she said. “You’re there to live. And I think what we essentially did is we removed that part of their care, the living part, the part that makes life worthwhile.”

Infection control important after vaccinations

Even as residents at Ontario nursing homes get vaccinated, the number of infection control violations is still concerning, said Stall, the geriatrician at Mount Sinai Hospital.

“Vaccine euphoria is a good thing. We should all be excited about this,” he said.

However, he said, we don’t know definitively that the vaccines prevent transmission.


Dr. Nathan Stall is a geriatrician at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto. He says operators not following the rules need to be held to account. (David Common/CBC News)

 

The vaccine supply didn’t make it in time to help at Caressant Care Listowel.

For Houchen, the tragedy was hard to watch from the outside. 

She didn’t get to say goodbye to her grandfather, and as a personal support worker, not being able to help him in his final days made it worse, she said.

“I followed it with my heart breaking,” she said. “Every time [the deaths] climbed up, my heart was just breaking more because there’s nothing you can do, there’s nothing you can do to help.”

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Britain’s top court rules Uber drivers entitled to minimum wage

Uber drivers in Britain should be classed as “workers” and not self-employed, the U.K. Supreme Court ruled Friday, in a decision that threatens the company’s business model and holds broader implications for the gig economy.

The ruling paves the way for Uber drivers to get benefits such as paid holidays and the minimum wage, handing defeat to the ride-hailing giant in the culmination of a long-running legal battle. 

Uber drivers are currently treated as self-employed, meaning that by law they are only afforded minimal protections, a status the Silicon Valley-based company sought to maintain in a long-running legal tussle.

The Supreme Court’s seven judges unanimously rejected Uber’s appeal against an employment tribunal ruling, which found that two Uber drivers were “workers” under British law.


The U.K.’s Supreme Court’s seven judges unanimously rejected Uber’s appeal against an employment tribunal ruling, which had found that two Uber drivers —including Yaseen Islam, president of the App Drivers & Couriers Union, seen here — were ‘workers’ under British law. (Frank Augstein/The Associated Press)

Legislation intended to protect vulnerable workers

The British judges cited a number of factors in their decision: Uber sets fares and contract terms and limits drivers’ choice in whether to reject or cancel rides. It also uses passenger ratings to control drivers and minimizes communications between drivers and passengers, which results in the service being “very tightly defined and controlled by Uber.”

“Drivers are in a position of subordination and dependency to Uber,” with little ability to improve their economic position and the only way to increase their earnings is by “working longer hours while constantly meeting Uber’s measures of performance,” said judge George Leggatt, as he read out a summary of the ruling on a court live stream.

Uber said some features cited in the ruling no longer exist, noting that since 2017 drivers face no repercussion for rejecting multiple consecutive trips.

Yaseen Aslam and James Farrar, the two drivers in the case, cheered the outcome.

“This ruling will fundamentally re-order the gig economy and bring an end to rife exploitation of workers by means of algorithmic and contract trickery,” Farrar said by email. The pair took Uber to the tribunal in 2016, which ruled in their favour. That decision was upheld in two rounds of appeals before it arrived at the Supreme Court.


Uber has 65,000 active drivers in the U.K. and argues they are independent contractors. (Phil Noble/Reuters)

Uber, which has 65,000 active drivers in the U.K., had argued that Aslam and Farrar were independent contractors. The company said it respected the court’s decision, which it argued focused on a small number of drivers who used the Uber app in 2016.

“Since then we have made some significant changes to our business, guided by drivers every step of the way,” Jamie Heywood, Uber’s regional general manager for Northern and Eastern Europe, said in a statement. “These include giving even more control over how they earn and providing new protections like free insurance in case of sickness or injury.”

The ruling also clarified that drivers are considered to be on the job when they are logged in to the Uber app and ready and willing to accept rides, which can be used to calculate minimum wage and holiday pay. Uber had argued that drivers were only working when they were making a journey with a paying passenger.

Ramifications for gig economy workers

The gig economy, where people tend to work for one or more companies on a job-by-job basis, has faced criticism from trade unions who say it is exploitative, while businesses say many of those working in it enjoy the flexibility.

It could still take several months for the details of Friday’s decision to be worked at a further employment tribunal hearing to sort through practicalities over sums owed to drivers, according to lawyers.

Law firm Leigh Day says eligible drivers may be entitled to an average of 12,000 pounds (about $ 21,000 Cdn) in compensation. It represents more than 2,000 potential claimants.


Uber driver Jose Luis Guevara, a member of the Mobile Workers Alliance, pauses for a picture outside Los Angeles City Hall on Jan. 12. Drivers for app-based ride-hailing and delivery services are suing to overturn a California ballot initiative that makes them independent contractors instead of employees eligible for benefits and job protections. (Damian Dovarganes/The Associated Press)

Uber faced similar case in California

Uber has faced opposition from unions and challenges to its business model in several countries as it disrupts the taxi market.

Last year, Uber and other app-based ride-hailing services avoided a similar attempt in California to classify drivers as employees eligible for benefits and job protections. The companies bankrolled Proposition 22, a ballot measure exempting them from the state’s gig-economy laws by keeping drivers classified as independent contractors able to set their own hours. Voters approved it in November.

The decision comes as Uber faces drastic changes to its operating environment amid the coronavirus pandemic. The company slashed more than 6,000 jobs last year as the virus decimated demand for trips while boosting demand for its Uber Eats food delivery service. The ruling doesn’t affect Uber Eats couriers.

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Patients receiving treatment abroad exempt from testing, quarantine rules

Patients who need medical treatment in another country will not have to follow new COVID-19 testing and quarantine rules required for those entering Canada.

Official regulations posted on the federal government website confirm that people receiving “essential medical services” in a foreign country will not have to undergo tests and mandatory quarantines if they have a written statement from a licensed health care practitioner in Canada — and from a practitioner in the country where they are receiving the treatment — affirming that the treatment is essential.

Proof of a negative polymerase chain reaction test — also known as a PCR test — is now required for non-essential travellers crossing into Canada via the land border. 

The test result must be obtained within 72 hours of arriving at the border but essential workers — such as truckers, emergency service providers and those in cross-border communities — are exempt.

After passing through the land border, travellers have to take another test upon arrival and a third test near the end of their 14-day quarantine periods.

That additional layer of testing comes into effect on Feb. 22 — the same day air passengers landing in Canada will be subjected to a new rule requiring them to quarantine in a hotel at their own expense for up to 72 hours while they wait for PCR test results.

The cost of those hotel stays is estimated at about $ 2,000, but it depends on where the traveller is isolating. Passengers will need to book a hotel in the city in which they first arrive: Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto or Montreal. 

Quarantine presents financial burden

Vancouver resident Kimberly Muise, who travels to Los Angeles every month to take part in an immunotherapy clinical trial to treat Stage 4 cervical cancer, told CBC Chief Political Correspondent Rosemary Barton on Sunday that a mandatory quarantine at the traveller’s expense would be a financial burden.

Reacting to confirmation of the exemptions in a government order-in-council (OIC), Muise said Tuesday she’s glad the government listened to Canadians’ concerns.

“This will make a huge difference in my life and the life of my family as I continue my battle with cancer,” she said in an email to CBC.

“I know that the inclusion of essential medical services and treatment in this OIC will also improve the lives of so many Canadians who require medical treatment outside of Canada and were similarly facing almost unbearable stress in dealing with their essential travel during the pandemic.” 

In an interview Sunday, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair had told Barton that there will be some leeway in determining what constitutes essential travel and that the government will deal appropriately with “compelling and compassionate cases,” such as people receiving medical treatment abroad.

Blair said Muise’s case had been brought to his attention already by her local member of Parliament and he was talking to the Public Health Agency of Canada and British Columbia’s health authority about her situation.

“We want to make sure that that woman can receive her treatment and put in measures that can protect her, protect her family and protect her community, but also deal with the exceptional circumstances that that woman is experiencing in an appropriate way,” he said.

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None of Ottawa’s new travel rules apply to the largest group of people entering Canada — truckers

None of the federal government’s recently announced new travel measures — which include COVID-19 testing upon arrival — apply to the largest group of people regularly entering Canada: Commercial truck drivers.

Of the 10 million entries into Canada since March 21, 2020, close to half — 4.6 million — were made by commercial truck drivers crossing by land, according to the Canada Border Services Agency.

Because truck drivers deliver essential goods across the border during the pandemic, the government has exempted them from quarantine and all COVID-19 test requirements. Ottawa says it’s exploring tests for truckers at the border but has not yet presented concrete plans.

Meanwhile, some Canadian truck drivers want more protections now, as highly contagious COVID-19 variants spread rapidly in the United States

“You hear how this thing is spreading like wildfire,” said long-haul trucker Luis Franco of Calgary, who transports goods to the U.S. four to five times a month. 

“I’m very concerned about my family when I come back,” Franco said. “I don’t want to get them sick.”


Close to half the entries into Canada since March 21 have been made by truck drivers crossing by land, according to the Canada Border Services Agency. (Rob Gurdebeke/The Canadian Press)

Even though truck drivers are exempt from quarantine, they must follow other protective measures such as wearing masks, social distancing and answering health questions at the border. 

Despite following all the rules, Franco said he still feels unsafe because he encounters many people at U.S. rest stops who don’t take precautions.

“A lot of the Americans like in the southern states, or in the western states, they don’t believe in COVID,” he said. “You walk into a truck stop or fuel up, or to do whatever you got to do and [it appears as though] 80 per cent of the people, they’re not wearing masks, they’re not social distancing.”

Watch: Truck driver Luis Franco talks about the dangers trucker face

Calgary-based Luis Franco says the essential worker exemptions for border crossing truck drivers like himself are dangerous. He makes four to five trips into the U.S. every month, where he says too many people aren’t taking COVID-19 seriously. He worries he could be infected and bring the virus — or one of the highly-contagious new variants — into Canada, and into his own home. He wants to see the federal government take action, to either enforce rapid testing at the border or to give truckers priority for the COVID vaccine. 2:02

As an added protection, Franco wants the government to test truckers for COVID-19 each time they cross into Canada. 

“A lot of us could very well be asymptomatic,” he said.

Franco’s not alone. More than 100 Canadian science and health experts have signed a petition calling for the federal government to implement strict border measures, including COVID-19 tests for everyone entering Canada — including essential workers. 

“Canada faces a very significant risk of an escalated new, variant driven COVID wave,” says the petition. 

Ottawa explores testing truckers

On Jan. 29, eight days after the petition was launched publicly, the government announced it was toughening up its border measures.

Effective Feb.15, travellers entering Canada by land must show proof of a negative COVID-19 test at the border. And starting on Feb. 22, they will also be required to take another COVID-19 test on arrival, as well as one near the end of their 14-day quarantine.

However, truckers and other essential workers — who are already exempt from quarantine — are exempt from the new test requirements.

On Sunday, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said the government is also exploring the introduction of COVID-19 tests for essential workers crossing the border.

“We’re working very closely with the Public Health Agency of Canada and also with our provincial health authorities to [look] at implementing a system of regular testing to help protect those essential workers and truck drivers that are coming into the country and also to ensure that they’re not the source of any new infection,” Blair said in an interview on Rosemary Barton Live.

But infectious disease specialist, Dr. Jeff Kwong said the government needs to take action now.

“It only takes a handful of [truckers] to be infected when they’re coming back and then they’re seeding infections here in Canada,” said Kwong, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health. 


Infectious disease specialist, Dr. Jeff Kwong said the government needs to take immediate action to start testing truckers at the Canadian land border. (CBC)

Kwong recommends Ottawa immediately introduce COVID-19 rapid tests for essential workers crossing the land border. Rapid tests are known to be less sensitive than regular COVID-19 tests, but provide results within minutes.

“Just do a test at the border. If they’re positive, then don’t go home to your family,” Kwong said. “I’m not sure why it hasn’t been implemented.”

Following the swift spread of a new COVID-19 variant in the United Kingdom in December, several European countries began demanding that truck drivers entering from the U.K. provide proof of a negative COVID-19 rapid test.

What about vaccinating truckers?

Long-haul truck driver Leanne Steeves said she also feels unsafe when transporting goods to the U.S., which has the highest COVID-19 case count across the globe. Steeves is diabetic which puts her at a higher risk of developing complications from COVID-19.

“It’s scary,” said Steeves who lives in Woodbridge, Ont. “We have to go to the states, we have to go to California, we have to go to Florida, you know what I mean? We’re going through these bad [COVID-19] areas.”

Despite the risks, Steeves isn’t a fan of testing truckers because she believes it would create a logistical nightmare. 

“The wait at the border would be insane,” she said. 


Leanne Steeves and her husband Gerald are both long-haul truck drivers who make frequent trips to the U.S. during the pandemic. Steeves said she would like truck drivers to get top priority for the COVID-19 vaccine. (Submitted by Leanne Steeves)

Teamsters Canada — which represents more than 15,000 long-haul truck drivers — agrees with Steeves, which is why the union recommends the government instead test truckers at truck stops and rest areas. It also wants truck drivers given top proriority for COVID-19 vaccinations. 

“More needs to be done to protect drivers as new and potentially more dangerous variants emerge,” said Teamsters spokesperson, Christopher Monette in an email. 

Truck drivers Franco and Steeves agree they should be vaccinated as soon as possible. However, neither of them are in the top priority group for their province, meaning they could wait months for their shots.

“If we can help protect ourselves a little bit more by having the vaccine [now], that’d be awesome,” said Steeves. 

The Public Health Agency of Canada did not respond to a request for comment on prioritizing vaccinations for truckers. 

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New COVID-19 testing rules for air travellers will start Jan. 7

New rules requiring air travellers to test negative for COVID-19 before entering Canada will kick in on Jan. 7, Transport Minister Marc Garneau said today.

The new requirement, announced Wednesday, covers all air passengers five years of age or older.

Under the new rule, travellers must receive a negative result on a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test — the standard nose swab test for detecting active COVID-19 infections — within 72 hours of boarding a flight to Canada.

There are two possible outcomes for passengers who fail to obtain PCR tests prior to departure, Garneau said.

“One is, if they haven’t got the test result and there are clinics available, they will have to reschedule their departure because they won’t be allowed on board,” he said. “If, on the other hand, they can demonstrate … that there was no facility, then they can be admitted onboard.”

Travellers who can prove that they were unable to get a test abroad will have to quarantine at a federally-approved facility upon their return for 14 days.

Documentation of a negative test result must be presented to the airline prior to boarding a flight to Canada, Garneau said in a media statement.

The minister said the timing of the new policy will give foreign and domestic airlines “adequate” time to comply with the new requirements.

Mike McNaney is president and CEO of the National Airlines Council of Canada, which represents the country’s largest carriers. He said a week isn’t enough time.

“Our primary concerns are the timeframe, the extremely tight timeframe, and the lack of information and guidance as to what we are going to be obligated to do,” he told CBC News.

“Implementation of a broad policy like this is a very complex activity. You obviously have to have communication to your own front line employees around the world. You have to work with regulators and other jurisdictions.

“We do not know what will be deemed to be properly certified testing labs to provide results. We do not know the acceptable format for passengers to provide the information and be in compliance with the government policy. We do not have regulation and we do not have guidance material at all.”

It’s frustrating, said McNaney, because the airline industry has been pushing for more testing. 

“There’s a great level of frustration within the industry in terms of how we are now proceeding in this very rushed fashion,” he said. 

John Gradek, a former Air Canada executive and lecturer at McGill University’s global aviation leadership program, said the swift introduction of a new testing policy is likely adding pressure to an already strained relationship between the federal government and the airline industry — which has been pleading for a pandemic bailout.

“While [the government hasn’t] said it’s forbidden by law, they strongly recommend people not travel. And industry is basically saying, come on down, the flights are open, weather’s nice, it’s nice and warm in the sunny Caribbean,” he said.

“Christmas is a very, very important time of year for carriers to be able to fill their airplanes and make some money and that’s what they’re doing.”


Minister of Transport Marc Garneau is expected to reveal more details about the testing changes today. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Gradek said more communication with the airlines could have helped to smooth things over.

“You’re seeing a lot of angst and … a lot of potential distrust between the carriers and Transport Canada and that’s got to stop,” he said.

“We’ve got to really make sure that we’re looking at doing this thing as an industry, as a regulator, and making sure we’re both looking at the same issue and talking on the same sides of our mouth when we talk about policy. We can’t keep going with this … tussle going on between Transport Canada and the aviation industry.”

Bloc pushes for more tests

Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc said Wednesday that it will be up to travellers to arrange for PCR tests themselves, given that those embarking on non-essential trips overseas have chosen already to flout public health guidelines.

“The government of Canada obviously is not in a position to set up in hotels or all-inclusive resorts or Canadian consulates,” he told CBC News.

The new rule does not replace Canada’s mandatory 14-day quarantine period for international travellers, which remains in force.

Garneau also said Thursday the government will be boosting its surveillance efforts to make sure travellers are following the rules. The penalties for breaking the Quarantine Act can include six months in prison or $ 750,000 in fines.

Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet said Thursday that the testing requirement should apply to all travellers, not just those arriving by air.

In a media statement, he also said the government should reimburse those who have had to cancel vacations due to the pandemic. 

The federal change came a day before Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips resigned after returning from a controversial Caribbean vacation while the province is under strict lockdown measures that discourage non-essential travel.

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Inspector saw Hamilton hospital staff breaking COVID-19 rules

An inspector from Ontario’s Ministry of Labour warned staff at Hamilton General Hospital about not following COVID-19 protocols after they didn’t physically distance in the hospital cafeteria and were in “close, face-to-face contact,” according to a staff memo obtained by CBC News.

The ministry confirmed it also issued Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS), the organization which runs the hospital, an order and is currently investigating.

It would not reveal why it issued the order. But the hospital network says the order is unrelated to staff breaching COVID-19 rules and is instead “related to mask labelling and communication with joint health and safety committees at our site. Something already resolved.”

Veronica Magee, an HHS spokesperson, confirmed via email on Friday that the inspector “observed some of our staff who were sitting too closely together.”

“The inspector addressed the group [and] said they could be subjected to fines in the future if the behaviour was seen again, and that HHS had communicated the need to abide by masking/distancing rules on many occasions.”

‘Staffing crises’

The staff memo says non-compliance is mainly occurring among staff, physicians and residents, with people socializing, sitting too close together and not wearing masks properly.

HHS also said in its communication to employees that, in many cases, their lack of masking and distancing is causing “staffing crises” among critical teams.

Magee confirmed the memo, saying “we do believe that in some cases, that non-compliance has resulted in staffing issues on some units.”

Despite the concerns, part of the internal memo says most staff are following the rules.


Rob MacIsaac, CEO and president of Hamilton Health Sciences, said staff are following rules and not getting each other sick during a COVID-19 media briefing on Friday. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

“Because distancing and masking rules were followed, there was no impact on coworkers or on the specific departments’ ability to keep functioning,” Magee wrote.

HHS president and CEO Rob MacIsaac also emphasized, during a Friday media briefing, that “staff are not putting each other at risk because they’re following the rules.”

74 staff in self-isolation

Magee also confirmed 74 staff members and physicians are in self-isolation due to a “combination of reasons.”

“Not all of them have COVID-19 but are isolating in accordance with public health requirements,” she wrote.

This comes as HHS deals with a pair of outbreaks in its Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre. Three patients and two staff members have been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus. More test results are pending.

In total, HHS has 29 COVID-19 patients in hospital, five of whom are in intensive care, MacIsaac says.

In the Friday media briefing, he said the hospital network won’t be able to manage a significant second wave of COVID-19 without scaling back services.

“We are preparing for some policy changes … we’ll be increasing testing for our patients starting Monday, people who are going to have procedures or surgeries. We’re also introducing some additional restrictions to visiting,” he said.

“Our health-care system is facing some very difficult choices.”

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