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B.C. gets 1 million calls within 1st hour of opening phone lines to vaccine appointments for elderly

Call centres in British Columbia received a million calls in the first hour after they opened to receive COVID-19 vaccine appointments for some of the province’s oldest residents, according to the doctor in charge of the province’s rollout plan.

Dr. Penny Ballem, who is also chair of Vancouver Coastal Health, spoke on CBC’s The Early Edition just after 8 a.m. Monday morning and said while call agents were hit with a “massive onslaught” the minute the lines opened, it was not unexpected and should not worry eligible residents who have not yet secured an appointment.

“Everyone’s going to get their vaccine,” said Ballem, adding it’s a big job, but the province is prepared.

The call centres opened at 7 a.m. at the Fraser, Island, Interior, Northern and Vancouver Coastal health authorities to allow appointments for people 90 years and older and Indigenous people who are 65 and older or identify as elders.

In less than three hours after they opened, 1.7 million calls came in.

Karen Bloemink, vice-president of pandemic response with Interior Health, asks people not to phone the call centre ahead of their eligibility dates that are based on their birth years.

“Call volumes will be closely monitored and if there are some delays initially, we will be working in the background to adjust and respond quickly,” she said. “Once an individual becomes eligible to receive their vaccine, they can book their appointment at any time.”

Plenty of spots remain

Health Minister Adrian Dix says there are about 47,000 people in the province who are 90 and older and 35,000 who are Indigenous people over 65, so he urged anyone who is not calling on behalf of someone in those categories to hang up the phone.

“I very much appreciate the enthusiasm of everybody calling in. But I would ask that people allow those who are eligible this week to book appointments,” he said. “That is a massive number of phone calls. If that were to continue, obviously no phone system would respond to that.”

Dix says health authorities are booking thousands of appointments and plenty of time slots remain.

There are still five days left to book for people in those age groups, so if callers don’t get through today, he says there is still time.

“This is not first-come, first-serve,” said Dix. “There are going to be lots of opportunities.”

Dix says the phone lines are the focus right now because of the age of those who are eligible.

Fraser Health was the only authority to launch an online booking system on the first day. Web-based platforms across health regions will become a larger component of booking as younger age categories get their turn, Dix said.

Dix says the “enormous” response on Monday reflects the significant support for vaccination in the province. 

Caller frustration

Some residents calling on behalf of their elderly parents spent all morning trying to get through on the phone lines.

Elaine Husdon, whose father is 95, said she called the Fraser Health number when the line opened at 7 a.m., “exactly on the dot,” and received a busy signal.

She said she has been redialing constantly and can’t even get on hold — she either gets a busy signal or a recording that says there is a high call volume that instructs her to hang up and try again.

A nurse takes a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination dose at Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver, B.C. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Husdon said her father lives with her family and she decided to take a leave of absence from her job at a school because of the risk of contracting the virus and bringing it home to him.

Julie Tapley, whose 90-year-old father lives in the Vancouver Coastal Health region, also said she only received a busy signal every time she has called.

She said she spent two hours between 7:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. constantly pressing redial.

Tapley said she wishes that the health authority had set up an online booking system from the beginning, as Fraser Health did.

“I feel a bit frustrated because I know it’s very important to my dad to get (the vaccine),” she said, adding her parents have had a lonely year during the pandemic.

“I just want to get in the queue and start the process so that they can return to their normal lives,” said Tapley.

Who is eligible now

Seniors are being asked to phone during the following weeks, based on their age:

  • For the week of March 8: seniors born in 1931 or earlier (aged 90 and above) or Indigenous seniors born in 1956 or earlier (aged 65 and above).
  • For the week of March 15: seniors born in 1936 or earlier (aged 85 and above).
  • For the week of March 22: seniors born in 1941 or earlier (aged 80 and above).

Once someone becomes eligible, they are able to book at any time — meaning no one will miss their window for booking an appointment. 

The first appointments will be available on March 15. 

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CBC | Health News

Alberta’s Laura Walker beats Jennifer Jones, moves within 2 wins of Scotties title

Alberta’s Laura Walker advanced to the semifinal of the Canadian women’s curling championship with a 9-8 win over Manitoba’s Jennifer Jones in Sunday’s tiebreaker game in Calgary.

Walker faces defending champion Kerri Einarson in an afternoon semifinal with the winner taking on Ontario’s Rachel Homan for the championship in the evening.

  • Watch and engage with CBC Sports’ That Curling Show live every day of The Scotties at 7:30 p.m. ET on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube

Jones missed an attempted double takeout in the 10th end, which left Walker an open draw to score three for the win in the tiebreaker.

Manitoba and Alberta were tied for third at 9-3 after the championship round, which required a tiebreaker game to solve.

WATCH | Walker wins tiebreaker against 6-time Scotties champ:

Laura Walker and her team from Alberta eliminated Jennifer Jones of Manitoba 9-8 Sunday in the tiebreaker match at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Calgary. 0:52

Jones, a six-time champion at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, was chasing a record seventh title.

Einarson’s foursome out of Manitoba’s Gimli Curling Club beat Quebec’s Laurie St-Georges 7-4 on Saturday before suffering a 10-9 loss to Jones in the evening draw.

“We’re definitely just focusing on ourselves and what we need to do,” Einarson said. “We’re in control of our own destiny.”

$ 100,000 to Scotties champion

Einarson is attempting to win the first back-to-back Hearts titles since Homan in 2013-14.

Sunday’s victor earns $ 100,000 in prize money and a return trip to the 2022 Tournament of Hearts in Thunder Bay, Ont., as Team Canada.

The runner-up earns $ 60,000 and $ 40,000 goes to the third-place team.

The winner doesn’t have a world championship, however, in which to wear the Maple Leaf.

The March 19-28 tournament in Schaffhausen, Switzerland was cancelled by the World Curling Federation because of the pandemic.

The 2020 world championship in Prince George, B.C., was called off for the same reason, so Einarson wasn’t able to represent Canada there.

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CBC | Sports News

Limiting travel within provinces is key to controlling COVID-19 spread, say experts

Given how rapidly the virus behind COVID-19 spread around the world, it’s easy to forget that it isn’t a globe-trotter on its own.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus moves with its hosts, who travel around by foot, by car, by plane, unwittingly helping this unwanted hitchhiker get around.

In Ontario, where multiple levels of government are trying to prevent infected travellers from bringing the virus in from abroad, experts warn regional movement remains a far greater driver of transmission. But it may also be trickier to curb — even as the presence of several highly transmissible new variants of the virus make it crucial to slow local spread. 

“The worst thing to do would be to let it spread throughout the country,” said Dr. Andrew Morris, an infectious diseases specialist at Toronto’s Sinai Health System.

“That would be a big mistake.”

Most cases spread within Ontario

Confirmed COVID-19 cases have been climbing across the province in recent weeks, with a seven-day average of roughly 3,400 new daily infections. 

In recent months, the bulk of them have been tied to either close contact with an infected person, spread in the community, or an unknown source.

Travel outside the province, on the other hand, was the confirmed infection source for just three per cent of the latest-available new daily cases from Jan. 7. 

Provincial and local data highlights how the vast majority of cases that are happening in Toronto, for instance, are happening from “people in Ontario spreading to somebody else in Ontario,” said Dr. Michael Gardam, an infectious disease specialist from Ontario who is currently based in P.E.I.

Still, the political focus remains on international travel, with no fresh lockdown restrictions announced in Ontario on Friday despite Premier Doug Ford suggesting the COVID-19 situation is at a crisis point.

Ford did suggest more extreme measures may be needed to combat a COVID-19 situation that’s “getting out of control,” but it’s not clear if those would include curbing local travel.

Instead, and while his government is facing blow-back for a mid-lockdown trip abroad by now-former finance minister Rod Phillips, Ford has focused on international visitors.

WATCH | New COVID-19 testing rules for travellers kicked in Thursday:

New rules requiring air travellers to test negative for COVID-19 before entering Canada will kick in on Jan. 7. Under the new rule, travellers must receive a negative result within 72 hours of boarding a flight to Canada. 3:21

“We need to do everything possible to stop this virus from coming into Canada,” Ford said Wednesday.

That day, Ontario announced the launch of a pilot program at the country’s busiest airport, Toronto Pearson, to offer free, voluntary testing for certain eligible international travellers.

A new federal policy also means anyone flying into Canada will need to provide proof of a recent negative test result for COVID-19. 

However, Morris stressed a more-transmissible form of the virus recently identified in the U.K. is already here, and could be spreading locally, with multiple cases already documented in Ontario.

“But we have no plans of controlling that whatsoever right now,” he said.

Preventing travel a ‘tall order’

In Toronto, officials stressed that tackling regional movement remains a conundrum for policy-makers.

“How do you find that very delicate balance between measures that actually limit the harms done by COVID-19 and, at the same time, mitigate the impact of restrictions on activity?” mused the city’s medical officer of health, Dr. Eileen de Villa, in response to a question from CBC News.

Mayor John Tory called it a “tall order.”

“I don’t know that there is any way in which you could prevent Torontonians, or any other people in the province, from moving around,” he said.

WATCH | Toronto’s mayor on regional travel:

At a recent press conference, Toronto Mayor John Tory discussed the difficulties of limiting travel within Ontario to curb the spread of COVID-19. 0:31

But Morris said policy-makers can simply take cues from other countries and regions.

In the early months of the pandemic, both Italy and France launched requirements for travel documents justifying the nature of residents’ trips, in hopes of limiting internal movement.

Australia’s current approach goes even further, with travel restrictions across much of the country and a permit system in place to travel between certain states.

For the country’s northern cluster of beaches, outside residents aren’t allowed to enter at all unless they’re just travelling through without leaving a vehicle, or if they meet strict criteria — such as attending a funeral, buying food, or using services not available elsewhere — according to a recent report from The Guardian.

And in Canada’s so-called Atlantic Bubble, curtailing movement into the region, and between the Atlantic provinces, has been a key feature of the region’s efforts to keep the virus at bay.

Nova Scotia, for instance, recently announced it was tightening border restrictions with New Brunswick following the outbreak of cases in that province — with anyone coming in from New Brunswick now required to self-isolate for 14 days, unless crossing the border due to essential reasons like work or a medical appointment.

The government also controls major highways, Morris noted, and can close off highways to make it inconvenient for drivers to travel out of town for leisure while allowing essential workers to use those narrowed roads.

“It all relates to government commitment, to be honest with you, and how much we really care about reducing the number of cases,” he said.

Travellers and airline staff walk through a quiet Pearson airport, in Toronto, in December. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Residents find workarounds

Those kinds of bold approaches, however, can be derailed by public blowback. 

In December, Israel took the controversial step of mandating that all returning travellers would have to quarantine at hotels to prevent the spread of coronavirus variants, but wound up walking back the decision.

“The decision to repeal the requirement followed public criticism from a number of senior officials, and clashes between those who had been forced into the hotels and the authorities running them,” reported The Times of Israel.

Even during lockdowns, residents find workarounds, said Gardam, citing the Ontarians flocking to different cities in late 2020 depending on which ones were facing more stringent restrictions.

“I think we really saw it in the GTA, where as soon as you locked down one area, people just went to the next area,” he said. “And that was very, very, very predictable.”

That’s particularly dangerous for Ontario’s increasingly strained hospital system, which has now been tasked with transferring COVID-19 patients out of hard-hit hospitals and regions and pausing a number of non-essential procedures. 

“We’re trying to protect people who are most vulnerable from getting really sick from this, from acquiring the infection, and your community prevalence rate is the main driver of that for most people,” said Dr. Susy Hota, medical director for infection prevention and control at University Health Network in Toronto.

“We can try to preserve that as much as possible but if people are leaving their homes, there’s always that possibility.”

‘Public trust’ eroded by travel controversy

Any time there is a patchwork of policies, it creates a situation where people “have a reason to travel from an area of high transmission to an area of low transmission because it’s still open,” said Ashleigh Tuite, an infectious diseases epidemiologist and mathematical modeller with the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health.

The biggest challenge now facing policy makers on the travel front is communicating with the public after numerous headline-making international trips made by some of those decision-makers, she said.

After news broke that former Ontario finance minister Rod Phillips had vacationed in St. Barts and later gave up his post, CBC News later reported that Dr. Tom Stewart, a hospital CEO and former member of the province’s command table, was under fire for a trip to the Dominican Republic.

There’s also a growing number of politicians at all levels across Canada who are being outed for various visits abroad, even as public health messaging encourages people to stay home.

WATCH | Caribbean vacation costs Ontario’s finance minister his post:

Rod Phillips resigned as Ontario’s finance minister after the controversy over his Christmas vacation to St. Barts, despite the government urging people to stay at home. Meanwhile, Alberta’s minister of municipal affairs travelled to Hawaii. 1:54

After months of efforts from residents to limit their movement, Tuite said reports of people travelling for non-essential reasons has sparked outrage — and could stymie any future government efforts to curb just that.

“If you have the people who are leading this pandemic response who have decided the risk or the rules don’t apply to them, then you’re expecting other people to follow those rules, that’s an issue for public trust,” she said.

Despite the mixed messaging, surging cases mean Ford may soon be forced face tough decisions on the thorny issue of local travel.

Because, as Morris puts it, human movement is how the world “got into this mess in the first place.”

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CBC | Health News

Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine could ship to Canada within 24 hours of approval, exec says

Canada is well-positioned to approve Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine soon — and it could be delivered to the country very quickly after that, a BioNTech executive says.

“If I use the U.K. as an example, we got approval at 1:00 am in the morning. We approved [the] release of the vaccine and shipped it within 24 hours,” said Sean Marett, the chief business and chief commercial officer of Germany’s BioNTech, which partnered with the U.S.-based Pfizer to develop one of the world’s most promising COVID-19 vaccine candidates.

“Certainly from the discussions that we’ve had, Canada is in a good position to approve the vaccine shortly,” Marett told CBC Chief Political Correspondent Rosemary Barton on Sunday.

The Pfizer/BioNTech product — which was recently greenlit in the U.K. for emergency use —  could receive approval from Health Canada as soon as this coming week. Health regulators are currently reviewing three other vaccines produced by Moderna, AstraZeneca and Jannsen.

“Upon approval, we then release the vaccine and then it is shipped. We’ve already produced the vaccine and reserved doses for Canada,” Marett said on Rosemary Barton Live.

Regulatory approval is a key step before the finer details of the federal government’s rollout plan can be set in motion.

“We are negotiating for more precise delivery dates pending Health Canada approval,” Procurement Minister Anita Anand told CBC’s Vassy Kapelos earlier this week. “It’s for that reason that we’re putting the logistics systems in place so that there is no time lost between approval and then distribution to the provinces and territories.”

Rollout the ‘biological equivalent of a moon landing’

Marett called the distribution plan for the vaccine the “biological equivalent of a moon landing.”

“You’ve got to get everything exactly right, and that, of course, includes timings,” Marett said, when asked about exact delivery dates. “These things tend to … move around [for] a few days. But so far, from our experience with one country, the United Kingdom, we’ve seen things move pretty smoothly.”

WATCH | Welsh health minister talks lessons for Canada as U.K. prepares to vaccinate:

Welsh Minister of Health Vaughan Gething talks about lessons for Canada as Wales prepares to start COVID-19 vaccinations in 48 hours. 7:18

On Friday, Anand announced a contract with FedEx Express Canada to support the shipment of most vaccines across the country. 

But the Pfizer/BioNTech candidate will be delivered by the pharmaceutical company directly because the product needs to be kept at approximately -70 C to remain stable. Ottawa says it’s already secured enough freezers to store up to 33.5 million units of the vaccine.

Marett said transporting and housing products in sub-zero temperatures is a process that’s been “well mapped out.”

“Together with Pfizer, we’ve designed a storage box … in which the vaccine arrives. You can use that as a -70 freezer. You can open the box twice a day and take vaccine out as long as you re-ice it for up to 15 days,” he explained.

Distribution dry runs expected in provinces Monday

Canada has signed a deal with Pfizer and BioNTech to pre-order 20 million doses of the vaccine, with an option to buy 56 million more in the months ahead. Pfizer says the shots are 95 per cent effective based on Phase 3 clinical trial results.

Marett said his company was “completely stunned” by those findings, considering the vaccine was developed in a matter of months as opposed to years. 

“Ninety-five per cent efficacy, as defined by do you get [COVID-19] symptoms or not … is, in our view, a startling result,” he said.

Public health officials say that if all goes well, six million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are slated to arrive in Canada within the first three months of 2021. Both vaccines must be administered twice, meaning three million Canadians will be among the first to get a jab.

WATCH | Canadian officials rehearsing for vaccine distribution:

Maj. Gen. Dany Fortin briefed reporters Thursday. 1:55

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, the former NATO commander now leading vaccine logistics and operations for the Public Health Agency of Canada, said Friday that every province has now identified specific sites where shots will be received.

Fortin said that dry runs are expected to be carried out in each province on Monday to ensure that those involved in the rollout process are prepared to handle the “very unique requirements” of an ultra-cold vaccine.

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CBC | Health News

U.K. to begin rollout of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine within days

Britain is preparing to become the first country to roll out the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine this week, initially making the shot available at hospitals before distributing stocks to doctors’ clinics, the government said on Sunday.

The first doses are set to be administered on Tuesday, with the National Health Service (NHS) giving top priority to vaccinating the over-80s, frontline health-care workers and care home staff and residents.

Britain gave emergency use approval for the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech last week — jumping ahead in the global race to begin the most crucial mass inoculation program in history.

In total, Britain has ordered 40 million doses. As each person requires two doses, that is enough to vaccinate 20 million people in the country of 67 million.

About 800,000 doses are expected to be available within the first week.

WATCH | Britain approves Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for use:

The U.K. is the first Western country to approve a COVID-19 vaccine. The government insists it hasn’t cut corners with Pfizer’s vaccine. But being first comes with its own challenges. 2:00

Initial doses that have arrived from Belgium are being stored in secure locations across the country, where they will be quality checked, the health ministry said.

The rollout coincides with a crucial and perilous moment in negotiations between Britain and the European Union on a post-Brexit trade agreement.

A status quo transition period will end on Dec. 31 and a no-deal scenario would lead to major disruptions in the movement of goods between Britain and EU countries such as Belgium.

The Observer newspaper reported on Sunday that, under U.K. government contingency plans, tens of millions of vaccine doses could be flown to Britain by military aircraft to avoid delays at ports caused by Brexit.

The head of the medicines regulatory agency that approved the vaccine, June Raine, was asked whether she was concerned that a no-deal risked disrupting the rollout.

“We’ve practised, we are ready, we are fully prepared for any possible outcome,” Raine said in an interview on BBC television.

Administered in 50 hospitals

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has onerous storage requirements. It needs to be kept at -70 C and only lasts five days in a regular fridge.

For that reason, the health ministry said the vaccine would first be administered in 50 hospitals. It said it would take a few hours to defrost each vaccine and prepare it for use.

NHS England has written to general practitioners, telling them to get ready to start giving vaccinations through local doctors’ services from Dec. 14.

Rather than run clinics in individual surgeries, groups of local doctors will operate more than 1,000 vaccination centres across the country, the government said.

Boxes of the vaccine contain five packs of 975 doses, but special regulatory approval is needed to split them up. A senior medical official has said that while he was hopeful it would be possible to split the packs and deliver straight to care homes, it was not guaranteed.

Queen to get vaccine

Britain is among the first nations to roll out vaccinations outside the context of a clinic trial, raising hopes that the tide could soon turn against a virus that has killed nearly 1.5 million people globally and hammered the world economy.

With high levels of vaccine skepticism worrying public health experts, the Times and Mail on Sunday newspapers reported that Queen Elizabeth, 94, and her husband Prince Philip, 99, would “let it be known” when they had received the jab.

The Queen is highly admired in British society, and her public backing for the vaccine would be a powerful message to counter anti-vaccination misinformation circulating online.

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CBC | World News

Alberta meat-processing plant tied to Canada’s largest COVID-19 outbreak to reopen within days

An Alberta meat-packing plant hit by the largest single-site outbreak of COVID-19 in Canada plans to reopen within days, after shutting down for two weeks when hundreds of workers fell ill with the virus and one woman died.

Cargill announced Wednesday that its meat-packing plant near High River, Alta., will reopen with one shift beginning May 4 — a move the union representing the workers says is “incredibly concerning.”

As of Wednesday afternoon, the facility had been linked with more than 1,200 COVID-19 cases, 821 of whom are workers. One worker in her 60s died, and her husband was hospitalized with the illness.

The Cargill plant and a JBS plant in Brooks, Alta., which has 276 cases among its workers, supply more than two-thirds of Canada’s beef. 

All employees who are eligible to return to work in the harvest department are asked to report to work, Cargill said.

Cargill is one of the two primary beef suppliers for McDonald’s Canada, and normally processes about 4,500 cattle per day at this time of year. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

The company said returning employees must be healthy, and must not have had contact with anyone who has COVID-19 for 14 days.

“We look forward to welcoming our employees back and are focused on our ongoing commitment to safety,” Jon Nash, Cargill Protein’s North American lead, said in a release. 

“We know being an essential worker is challenging and we thank our team for working so hard to deliver food for local families, access to markets for ranchers and products for our customers’ shelves.”

The company said new safety measures have been introduced since the facility shut down.

Some employees at the plant previously accused the company of ignoring physical distancing protocols and trying to lure them back to work from self-isolation. 

After the COVID-19 pandemic was declared, no preventative inspection was done. A live video inspection by Alberta Occupational Health and Safety, conducted after dozens at the plant were already sick, concluded the work site was safe to remain open.

Days later, the outbreak had grown to hundreds and the plant was shut down after the woman’s death.

Union pursuing legal action

UFCW local 401 spokesperson Michael Hughes said the union was not informed ahead of time that the facility was set to reopen.

“We’ve learned this at the same time everyone else has,” Hughes said.

“It’s incredibly concerning that Cargill would be even thinking of reopening in a matter of days while presiding over the biggest outbreak in [Canada] and while half of its employees are sick with COVID-19.”

Hughes said Cargill has not adopted safety initiatives suggested by the union. He said the union will now work with its legal counsel to pursue action to try to keep the plant from opening.

The union is concerned Cargill has been “emboldened” by U.S. President Donald Trump’s executive order Tuesday to compel meat plants to continue operating, he said.

“If COVID-19 is a fire, they’re throwing us into it.”

A sign outside JBS meat-processing plant in Brooks, Alta., thanks workers for continuing to show up during the pandemic. Hundreds of workers at the plant have now contracted COVID-19. (CBC)

New measures

During the shutdown, Cargill said it would reduce the likelihood of carpooling by providing buses with protective barriers between the seats to transport workers. Those employees who live in the same household will not be required to follow the carpooling restrictions, the company said.

The company says it has worked with OHS through virtual and in-person tours, and has added additional barriers in the washrooms and reassigned lockers to allow for more spacing.

Protective barriers have also been installed on the production floor to allow for more spacing between employees, the company said, and face shields have been introduced in places where protective barriers are not possible.

Earlier today, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wouldn’t say whether Canada would follow the Trump administration’s lead in compelling meat-processing plants to remain open, stressing worker safety as a priority.

Cargill, Smithfield Foods Inc., JBS USA and Tyson — the world’s biggest meat companies — have paused operations at around 20 slaughterhouses and processing plants in North America.

As of Wednesday’s provincial update, 276 employees have tested positive at the JBS meat-packing plant in Brooks, about 180 kilometres southeast of Calgary.

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CBC | Health News

Senators confirm 4 new cases of COVID-19 within organization, raising total to 6

The Ottawa Senators say four additional members of the organization have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total to six.

The team announced Wednesday that the people in question travelled with the team to California before the NHL suspended its season March 12 because of the novel coronavirus outbreak.

The Senators revealed last month that two players had also tested positive. The three-paragraph statement issued Wednesday said, “All test results have now been received, and all those who tested positive have recovered.”

The additional cases were confirmed as three players and one staff member. Senators radio colour commentator Gord Wilson also announced Friday he had tested positive.

Two members of the Colorado Avalanche also tested positive for COVID-19.

NHL players have been advised by the league to self-quarantine since March 13. That directive was subsequently first pushed back to March 27 and then extended to April 15 on Tuesday.

The Senators met the Sharks in San Jose, Calif., on March 7 despite a recommendation from officials in Santa Clara County against holding large public gatherings. The Avalanche played at SAP Center the following night.

WATCH | What could playoffs look like if NHL returns?

While the NHL is on pause because of Covid-19, Rob Pizzo looks at what could happen if the league starts back up again this season.  3:20

Ottawa had two days off in California following their game in San Jose before meeting the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings. Ottawa’s game at the Staples Center on March 11 came 24 hours after the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets — who had four players test positive — played at the same arena against the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Avalanche faced off against the Kings at Staples Center on March 9.

Senators winger Brady Tkachuk said on an NHL-run video conference call Monday that the first two Ottawa players to test positive were “doing well.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has killed thousands of people across the globe, devastated economies and brought about an era of social distancing and self-isolation.

Most people diagnosed with COVID-19 experience mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, and the vast majority of those who contract the virus recover. Some may have few, if any symptoms, or may not know they’re infected because symptoms of the novel coronavirus are similar to a cold or flu.

But for some, including Canadians aged 65 and over, those with compromised immune systems and those with pre-existing conditions, the illness can be much more severe.

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CBC | Sports News

Can the team-first culture within Canada Basketball convince its WNBA stars to keep coming back?

It is cliché for athletes to say the logo on the front of their jerseys is more meaningful than the name on the back.

But you’ll never hear that from a woman on the Canadian national basketball team. They don’t require clichés to explain the importance of playing for their country.

Former team member Lizanne Murphy was there to lay the foundation of this culture in her 2005 debut season as Canada began rebuilding itself to its current status as a legitimate Olympic threat.

“I felt a role as I got older to really pass that on the importance of the selflessness that comes in playing for Canada and that everybody can be great individually but Canada has found such improvement, such an amazing jump in the world rankings,” Murphy said.

“And a lot of that came through our commitment to the team and that importance of team first.”

Murphy retired in 2017, having helped lift the national program from 24th to fifth worldwide. It now boasts its highest-ever ranking at No. 4.

On the court, that team-first attitude is evident. In the NBA and WNBA, one superstar can lift a team to a title. In international basketball, where the physicality ramps up, coaching scheme and passing are more likely keys to success than one ball-dominant force.

“Canada’s not the biggest country — we never were. We’re not the richest country in terms of budget and ability to train and we’re starting to get unbelievable superstars internationally, but we didn’t always have those and so we knew the only way to get to be among the best in the world is to be the best team in the world,” Murphy said.

WATCH | Kia Nurse is proud to wear the maple leaf:

New York Liberty point guard and WNBA all-star Kia Nurse of Hamilton, Ont., discusses Canada’s opening Olympic qualifying game on Thursday in Ostend, Belgium. 1:51

WATCH | Kayla Alexander aiming to ‘take care of business’:

After returning from a knee injury, the WNBA Chicago Sky centre from Milton, Ont., is happy to be playing for Canada at the FIBA Olympic qualifying tournament in Ostend, Belgium. 1:27

For that to happen, players must be committed to wearing the maple leaf. Right now, that means heading to Belgium to compete in this weekend’s Olympic qualifier.

Canada is grouped with host Belgium (No. 9), Japan (No. 10) and Sweden (No. 22). With the Olympics in Tokyo, the Japanese side has an automatic bid.

In Belgium, each team will play the other once, and the top two squads outside of Japan will book berths for the Tokyo Games.

CBC Sports will carry live coverage for all of Canada’s games, beginning on Thursday at 2:30 p.m. ET against Belgium.

Money small factor for women

Over the summer, the men’s team watched as its NBA players chose not to compete at the World Cup in China, with various players dealing with off-season trades or free-agency decisions or simply resting lingering injuries.

There is no direct financial benefit of playing for Canada. There’s lots of money on the line in the NBA, and with one more Olympic qualifier remaining, many Canadian men did not view the World Cup as all that important.

CBC Sports will also carry live coverage of that men’s tournament in Victoria, beginning June 23.

Of course, the WNBA is not a money-making machine like its men’s counterpart.

Most players also ply their trade overseas in the off-season. Kia Nurse, selected as a WNBA all-star starter in just her second season, also plays in Australia alongside fellow Canuck Bridget Carleton. Three of the five starters on Russia’s WBC Dynamo Novosibirsk pro team are Canadians. There are other players dotted throughout Europe and Asia.

In November, nearly all of them flew back to Edmonton for the Olympic pre-qualifying tournament in Edmonton — including Nurse and Carleton from Australia.

Canadian Kayla Alexander competes for the Adelaide Lightning in the Australian league grand final in Feb. 2019. (Tracey Nearmy/Getty Images)

Kayla Alexander, a Canadian forward for the WNBA’s Chicago Sky, has also played in Russia, Korea, France and Australia.

The 29-year-old Milton, Ont., native was also in Edmonton, but required just the relatively short flight from Toronto. Alexander did not play in that tournament because of a knee injury suffered in the FIBA Americup over the summer, and has spent the WNBA off-season rehabbing near home.

Alexander made her national team debut in 2018 after three failed tryouts — two where she was cut and one where she was injured. Still, she already recognizes the binds that tie together players from around the professional world.

“One thing about our team is we’re all competitive so in practice we will be going at each other no mercy, but at the same time we can still crack jokes with each other and you’re laughing and having a good time,” Alexander said.

WATCH | How Canada can qualify for Tokyo:

Canada is set to play in a tournament starting on Thursday, Feb. 6 that can get them into the Olympics. What do they need to do to get in? 1:09

In January, the WNBA and its players union agreed to a historic collective bargaining agreement that allows players to earn nearly $ 500,000 US, while also raising the salary floor for rookies and veterans. Fully paid maternity leave was another key aspect of the agreement, along with childcare benefits and enhanced travel standards, along with other health and wellness benefits.

Murphy said she was just one of two national team members, along with Tamara Tatham, who played overseas as recently as 2007, though neither played in the WNBA. She credits that experience, and the increasing popularity of that choice, as a big reason for Canada’s ascent.

Still, an off-season overseas is not the most ideal situation, and the rising popularity of women’s basketball means many players can stay home and make money in other ways or alternately affect some difference in their communities.

The new CBA, then, introduces the concept of choice.

“This is at least gonna give them something to say ‘OK, maybe I don’t have to do that, maybe I don’t have to play basketball 12 months out of the year, travel all over the world, live out of a suitcase, never see my family,'” Murphy said.

That may only wind up true for the league’s top players — many will still not command salaries which allow that decision. But it will be interesting to see how commitment to country evolves as the WNBA continues its rise.

Professional women’s hockey is in flux. The NHL refused to attend the last Winter Olympics. NBA players, for the most part, choose to participate in the Olympics, but the top players sit out all the preliminary action — as evidenced by the Americans’ seventh-place finish at August’s World Cup.

The WNBA maintains an Olympic break built into the schedule. Attendance has never been an issue. Players like Murphy have instilled that team-first culture within her country’s national program.

Alexander, entering her eighth WNBA season, seems a lock to play for Canada should it qualify for Tokyo, barring any more health issues. She led the Americup in rebounding and led Canada in points per game.

“You’re always a cut or injury away from not being able to play so I say soak it up and take advantage of every opportunity you get to represent your country.”

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Canada women’s soccer moves within one win of Olympic berth after defeating Mexico

Captain Christine Sinclair scored career goal No. 186 to help Canada beat Mexico 2-0 Tuesday and move within one win of qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics.

The eighth-ranked Canadians (3-0-0) finished atop Group B at the CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Championship and will face Group A runner-up Costa Rica (2-1-0, ranked No. 37) on Friday in a semifinal doubleheader at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, Calif. The top-ranked Americans (3-0-0) play No. 26 Mexico (2-1-0) in the other game.

The semifinal winners will represent CONCACAF, which covers North and Central America and the Caribbean, at the Tokyo Games this summer. Canada has finished runner-up to the U.S. at the last three CONCACAF Olympic qualifiers and is coming off back-to-back bronze medals at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.

Canada, which is 13-0-0 all-time against Costa Rica, outscored its opposition 22-0 in the three round-robin games.

Shelina Zadorsky also scored for Canada at H-E-B Park.

Sinclair, wearing her bespoke Nike Phantom VNM boots for the first time in a game, returned to the lineup after sitting out Saturday’s 9-0 win over No. 51 Jamaica. The 36-year-old from Burnaby, B.C., became the world’s all-time leading goal-scorer when she scored goals No. 184 and 185 in Canada’s 11-0 tournament-opening win over No. 127 St Kitts and Nevis.

WATCH | Sinclair, Zadorsky put Canada on brink of Olympic qualification:

Canada is 1 win away from clinching an Olympic spot after a 2-nil victory over Mexico. 1:25

After having its way with St. Kitts and Jamaica, Canada found Mexico a tougher nut to crack but was always in charge. The Mexicans took no prisoners at times and Rebecca Bernal was lucky to escape with just a yellow card after a scissors tackle on Jessie Fleming in the 21st minute.

Canada went ahead in the 26th minute when an unmarked Sinclair knocked in 19-year-old Jade Riviere’s laser-like low cross, capping off a slick 12-pass sequence. A run by Fleming drew a defender away from the Canadian skipper on the play.

It was Sinclair’s fourth goal in her last three games — and her 17th all-time against Mexico.

Janine Beckie hammered a shot off the crossbar from distance in the 42nd minute. Then Zadorsky, from a setup by centre-back partner Kadeisha Buchanan off a Beckie corner, made it 2-0 in stoppage time with a shot through traffic. It was the second goal in 62 internationals for the centre back.

Canada had 63 per cent of the possession in the first half, outshooting Mexico 5-2 (2-1 in shots on target).

Mexico’s first real chance came in the 53rd minute when substitute Kiana Palacios’ shot was palmed wide by Stephanie Labbe.

Sinclair gave way to Jordyn Huitema in the 66th minute. The 18-year-old Huitema scored five goals against Jamaica and one against St. Kitts.

Labbe had to make another save in the 76th on a deflected shot by Daniela Espinosa. At the other end, substitute Rebecca Quinn and Nichelle Prince both shot high.

Mexican goalkeeper Emily Alvarado made back-to-back stops on Huitema and Prince in stoppage time.

Fleming, Prince and Gabby Carle also moved into the Canadian starting 11. Star midfielder Ashley Lawrence, who limped off the field in the Jamaica game, came on as a sub to start the second half.

Canada extended its unbeaten streak against Mexico to 14 games (12-0-2) while improving its career record against the Mexicans to 22-1-2.

The one loss in the series was costly. Mexico’s 2-1 win in 2004 prevented Canada from going to the Athens Games.

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Investigators knew ‘within hours’ missile had downed PS752

Ukrainian investigators believe the flight crew of the Ukrainian jet was killed instantly when a missile exploded next to their cockpit, penetrating the aircraft with shrapnel and sending it hurtling to the ground on fire.

In an interview at the presidential offices in Kyiv, Oleksiy Danilov, the head of Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council, provided CBC News with an in-depth look at the progress of investigation into Flight PS752, which went down near Tehran on Jan. 8.

“You can only imagine what happened there [the cockpit],” said Danilov. “We understand now that the death was instant, unfortunately.”

Photos released by Ukraine’s presidential office show parts of the aircraft’s cockpit, blackened and pierced by small holes, which investigators say came from the missile as it exploded.

They say they believe they know what type of missile was fired at the plane, but have not released those details publicly.

When the three-year-old Boeing 737-800 crashed less than three minutes after takeoff, 176 people were killed.

Fifty-seven Canadians were among the victims and a total of 138 of the passengers were destined for Canada, intending to transit through the Ukrainian capital.

Ukrainian authorities say the plane had been inspected just two days earlier and was in excellent working condition.

Early Saturday morning, Iran made the surprise announcement that one of its elite Republican Guard anti-aircraft batteries had mistakenly fired a missile at the aircraft shortly after it took off.

Watch an ‘outraged’ Prime Minister Justin Trudeau react to Iran’s admission

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reacts to Iran’s admission that it unintentionally shot down passenger jet PS752, says all Canadians are shocked and appalled at this senseless loss of life. 1:01

On Friday, Canada, the United States and Great Britain said, based on intelligence reports, they believed Iran shot the plane down by mistake. Iranian authorities had vehemently denied it until Saturday morning’s dramatic about-face.

Nonetheless, Ukrainian investigators said that they concluded within a few hours of arriving in Tehran that a missile was likely responsible for causing the destruction of the Ukraine International Airlines jet. 

“It happened within three to three and half hours after our experts started working in Iran,” said Danilov. “We became more certain it was a missile.”

Iran ‘a difficult country’ for investigators, Ukrainian official says

But for the next 24 hours, until Iran made its stunning admission, his team had to keep the information to itself, he said.

“We couldn’t make statements right away, because it’s hard for our experts to work — it’s a difficult country.”

Ukraine has 45 investigators on the ground in Tehran.

In a televised address Saturday night, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said the team now in Iran is made up of seasoned air accident investigators, members of the ministry of defence and the foreign ministry as well as Ukraine International Airlines.

Danilov said they have been working on only two or three hours of sleep and have been sending detailed photographs of their findings back to a second investigative team in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv.

“We were getting visuals in real time and were watching everything going on there,” he said.

Holes are seen in the wreckage of Flight PS752 in this photo released by Ukrainian investigators looking into the crash. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via Reuters)

In the middle of the interview with CBC News, a secure phone in the interview room rang and Danilov excused himself to take a call from Zelensky himself.

The topic was the status of Canadian air crash investigators.

Only a few of the expected dozen or so Canadian team members have so far been granted Iranian visas, whereas Iran expedited the arrival of the Ukrainian investigators.

Defining the type of mistake is at centre of investigation

Danilov confirmed that parts of the aircraft recovered from the crash site have been taken to a nearby aircraft hangar where the destroyed plane is being recreated.

Outside investigators have raised concerns that by moving the debris so quickly, valuable clues might have been missed, but Danilov says he doesn’t believe that’s the case.

Although Iran says the plane was shot down by mistake, Danilov says the question of how they could mistake a commercial aircraft for a threat now looms over the inquiry.

When asked about it in Ottawa on Friday,  Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suggested more answers are still required.

“That question is a key part of the investigation,” said Danilov. “Why did they make such a decision? Was this a technical mistake, a human mistake or something else.”

Oleksiy Danilov, the head of Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council, provided CBC News with an in-depth look at the progress of investigation into Flight PS752. (Pascal Dumont/CBC News)

In a news conference in Tehran on Saturday,  representatives of Iran’s Republican Guard suggested the decision to fire the missile was made in a split-second by a lone operator.    

The IRGC says that person has already been interviewed, but it’s not clear if the Ukrainian investigators have been given those details.

Earlier on Saturday, top management with Ukraine International Airlines said they were relieved that the Iranian admission will spare the families — and the company — the agony of a confrontational investigative process.

“In our era of information, it is stupid to even try to cover something up,” said UIA vice-president Ihor Sosnovskiy.

The company confirmed that PS752 had taken off on the same flight route many times in the past, and says there was no deviation toward any sensitive military installations, as Iran’s military had initially suggested.

Indeed, Sosnovskiy says, not only did several other airlines — including Qatar Airlines — take off safely from Tehran that night, airport operations even continued briefly after the crash.

“There were even a few flights that took off after us. The airport kept working, as if nothing had happened,” he said.

Delay didn’t factor into crash

While investigators have yet to see or hear the contents of the aircraft’s two black boxes, Sosnovskiy says they have been able to listen to the pilots’ final conversations with the tower and nothing was amiss.

“In an absolute calm voice, they said they had liftoff,” he said. “They received the next permission to continue with the flight and strictly followed the instructions of air traffic control.”

The doomed Ukrainian jet was an hour late leaving Tehran, however.

UIA says the holdup was a baggage-related delay, as the pilot was concerned the aircraft was overweight.

Photos of the Ukrainian crew members of Flight PS752 are seen at a memorial at Boryspil Airport in Kyiv. (Corinne Seminoff/CBC News)

Danilov says out of an abundance of safety, the pilot ordered an unusually large number of suitcases — 80 in total — to be taken off the plane.

But he says he believes the flight delay didn’t have anything to do with the crash nor would have put the aircraft in a compromised situation.

“It happened because the citizens that were on the aircraft had a lot of baggage,” Danilov said.

He said those 80 bags remain in a customs area at Tehran’s airport.

In his televised address Saturday, Ukraine’s president said he hoped the investigation would now be able to move at a faster pace and the bodies of the victims might soon be returned to their loved ones, possibly by Jan. 19.

“I will return all the deceased to their close ones and relatives. They will able to say goodbye … in a human way and we will honour them,” Zelensky said.

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