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Travellers who don’t declare cannabis at the border will soon face fines

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Starting Monday, travellers who fail to declare cannabis and cannabis products when crossing the border could face fines.

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Doug Ford apologizes for some missteps, pledges paid sick leave for Ontario workers affected by COVID-19

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Ontario Premier Doug Ford at the Seneca College mass vaccination site during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on April 6, 2021. Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press Ontario Premier Doug Ford apologized and said his government moved “too fast” in bringing in tougher police measures as he vowed to move on a provincial sick pay program after…

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Ontario Premier Doug Ford at the Seneca College mass vaccination site during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on April 6, 2021.

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

Ontario Premier Doug Ford apologized and said his government moved “too fast” in bringing in tougher police measures as he vowed to move on a provincial sick pay program after a year of resistance.

But the Premier brushed aside other calls from the medical community and the province’s scientific advisers to close more non-essential businesses where COVID-19 is spreading and to allow outdoor recreational activities, saying his government’s goal is to reduce mobility in the face of high case counts and rising hospitalizations.

In a press conference outside of his late mother’s home – where he is in isolation after coming into contact with a staff member who has COVID-19 – Mr. Ford said he knows people are angry and that his government’s recent enforcement measures went “too far.” The government backtracked over the weekend after issuing sweeping new powers that would have allowed police to stop anyone on the street or in cars under the provincial stay-at-home order. But other measures – such as further restricting workplaces where COVID-19 is spreading and banning outdoor recreational facilities – have not been changed.

“I know we got it wrong, I know we made a mistake. And for that, I’m sorry, and I sincerely apologize,” said Mr. Ford, who grew emotional as he spoke of the public’s frustration and sadness after seeing loved ones die.

“As Premier, as I said right from the beginning, the buck stops with me.”

Medical experts, including the province’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, have recommended narrowing the list of those that stay open to “only truly essential indoor workplaces,” in order to bring cases down and reopen safely as soon as possible. For now, some local public health units are stepping in. Toronto and Peel Region issued new orders this week to shut down workplaces with outbreaks – after a similar move in British Columbia.

Mr. Ford said recent modelling, showing cases could soon rise to 10,000 a day, led his government to institute measures to limit mobility such as increase police powers and closing playgrounds, since reversed after publicly outcry.

“I’m sorry we acted too quick on the measures,” he said.

NDP leader Andrea Horwath called on the government to do more immediately – including giving workers sick pay, closing non-essential businesses and sending more vaccines to hotspots.

“Every day he delays action, more lives will be lost, and more families and businesses will be devastated,” she said in a statement.

Mr. Ford, who has not been since publicly since Friday, said his government will be bringing in measures to close the “gaps” in the federal sick pay program, but did not give an exact timeline.

The Premier, who has called a provincial sick pay program “double-dipping,” acknowledged it takes too long for essential workers to get payments from the federal government. But he said he doesn’t want to put the burden on the backs of businesses who have suffered throughout the pandemic.

The Premier’s office confirmed in a statement later on Thursday that the program would be funded by government, not businesses.

“We’re going to come up with a very strong program to protect the workers,” he said.

The Premier has come under intense criticism in recent days, including calls from the opposition for his resignation.

Mr. Ford said he’s going to continue to lead the province. He blamed the federal Liberal government for not procuring enough vaccines.

Also Thursday, Ontario issued two new emergency orders that will help bring more health-care workers into hospitals overburdened by COVID-19.

One order allows workers to provide patient care outside their regular scope of practice, consistent with duties assigned by a hospital. The other allows out-of-province health care workers to practice in an Ontario hospital without registering with regulatory colleges in the province.

The government says the orders will allow staff from Ontario health facilities to be redeployed to hospitals and will also pave the way for out-of-province health workers to practice here.

Ontario reported 3,682 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and 40 more deaths linked to the virus. Health Minister Christine Elliott says there are 1,131 new cases in Toronto, 507 in Peel Region and 436 in York Region. She also says there are 279 new cases in Ottawa and 200 in Durham Region. Nearly 135,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Ontario since yesterday’s daily report.

– With a report from Tavia Grant in Toronto, and the Canadian Press

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Canada plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions by up to 45 per cent by 2030

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World leaders appear on screen during a virtual Climate Summit, seen from the East Room at the White House, April 22, 2021. TOM BRENNER/Reuters Canada plans to slash its greenhouse gas emissions faster than first promised as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the country will cut its emissions by 40 to 45 per cent below…

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World leaders appear on screen during a virtual Climate Summit, seen from the East Room at the White House, April 22, 2021.

TOM BRENNER/Reuters

Canada plans to slash its greenhouse gas emissions faster than first promised as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the country will cut its emissions by 40 to 45 per cent below 2005 levels within the decade.

Mr. Trudeau announced the new goal at a virtual summit with world leaders, hosted by U.S. President Joe Biden. The target is up to a third higher than the 30-per-cent reduction that Canada first signed on to under the Paris Agreement.

“We must take action now because there’s no vaccine against a polluted planet,” Mr. Trudeau told the gathering of 40 world leaders.

The federal government has not yet revealed the policies that will ensure Canada reaches that target but Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said the policies his government has introduced to date already ensure Canada cuts its emissions by 36 per cent.

The U.S. President, Mr. Trudeau, and other world leaders warned of the approaching catastrophe of climate change and described the urgent need to act immediately to limit the planet’s warming. But Canada set a new target that the NDP and Green Party dismissed as not strong enough and that falls short of what international allies are planning.

“This will be the ‘make or break’ decade for our climate,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said as she highlighted her bloc’s pledge to cut emissions by 55 per cent below 1990 levels by 2030. “Science tells us it is not too late yet, but we must hurry up,” she added.

Models show the world is on track to blow past the commitment set out in the Paris Agreement to limit warming to as close to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels as possible, with a ceiling of 2 degrees of warming.

The world is “racing toward the threshold of catastrophe” United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said, as he noted that global temperatures have already risen 1.2 degrees.

“We see ever rising sea-levels, scorching temperatures, devastating tropical cyclones and epic wildfires,” he said.

On Thursday, the U.S. committed to cutting its emissions in half from 2005 levels within the decade. Despite Canada’s lower bar, John Kerry, the president’s special envoy on climate congratulated Canada on “a bold step that puts them on track to net zero.” The trajectory of Canada’s emissions and the rapid expansion of Canada’s oil and gas sector since 2005 means that Canada will need to implement tougher policies to meet its targets than what will be required in the U.S. to meet its higher target.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole rejected the new targets and said his party will only commit to those previously agreed to in 2015. “It’s the 30 per cent target,” he said after first dodging multiple questions on the issue.

Green Party Leader Annamie Paul said Canada should set a target to cut emissions by 60 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said Canada’s target should be a 50-per-cent cut.

Historically, Canada’s problem hasn’t been setting ambitious targets to slow climate change but rather following through on them. For the first time ever last year, the federal government released a climate-change plan that had strong enough policies to meet its previous goal of cutting emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels. The budget released this week announced policies that the government said will make enough of an impact on emissions to set Canada’s new floor of emissions cuts at 36 per cent by 2030, below 2005 levels.

Mr. Trudeau’s government must now lay out the policies that close the new gap created with the target to cut emissions by up to 45 per cent.

The federal government has already said that it will increase the carbon tax to $170 per tonne by 2030, Mr. Wilkinson said Thursday the government will not raise that price further before 2030. The government plans to make the deeper cuts in emissions in part by strengthening fuel economy regulations for vehicles and putting more limits on methane emissions.

Mr. Wilkinson said the climate policies and programs already in place in Canada – including the price on carbon, methane reduction measures and clean fuel standards emissions – get the country “the bulk of the way to our target.”

“If you go out and you look at climate plans around the world, that is more than virtually everybody else has done in terms of the details of a plan,” he told media Thursday.

Canada is also in conversations with the Biden Administration about aligning policies on vehicle efficiency standards and methane reduction measures, he said.

And while Canada’s goal doesn’t reach the United States plan to slash its emissions in half by 2030, Mr. Wilkinson insisted the 40-to-45-per-cent reduction cited by Mr. Trudeau is, “based on the structure of the economy, more ambitious than what the Americans are talking about.”

Asked why his government doesn’t aim higher and meet the bold numbers being proposed by other countries, Mr. Wilkinson said he’s “not interested in putting targets out there that we don’t think we can meet.”

“I think that does a disservice to Canadians, I think it does a disservice to politics,” he said.

But when it comes to oil, which is primarily used as a transportation fuel, the future is less clear.

Mr. Wilkinson said the first part of the equation there is reducing emissions in the oil sands, but the second goal is to accelerate the deployment of zero-emission vehicles, “which will have an impact on demand for oil.”

“We just need to work through this. It’s going to be a transition. Everybody recognizes that, and we need to get to the point where we’re not combusting carbon. That’s what net-zero means,” he said.

Chinese President Xi Jinping said the international community must work together and comply with goals set out under the Paris Accord. He also said the developed world needs to ramp up its climate ambitions and action, “and make concrete efforts to help developing countries accelerate the transition to green and low-carbon development.”

“China looks forward to working with the international community – including the United States – to jointly advance global environmental governance,” he said.

China specifically will strive to peak its carbon dioxide emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060, he said, and will “strictly control coal-fired generation projects” and limit the increase in coal consumption.

Unlike the United States, Canada has already significantly decarbonized its electricity sector; that’s one of the reasons why reaching its emissions targets will require tougher policies than those south of the border, said Andrew Leach an associate professor at the University of Alberta. The expansion of the emissions-intensive oil and gas sector since 2005 makes Canada’s path to reaching its targets even more difficult, he said.

“If you pick any target, we’re going to need substantially more stringent policies than the U.S. to meet that target,” he said.

For example, he said the White House would come close to reaching a 30-per-cent drop in emissions below 2005 levels by 2030 with a $50-per-tonne carbon price, while Canada needs a $170-per-tonne carbon price to do the same.

Kathryn Harrison, a professor of political science at the University of British Columbia, said there are “limits to how much sympathy we can expect from other countries” for that.

“One of the reasons it’s more costly is that we allowed emissions to increase, virtually unchecked, from the oil and gas industry and profited accordingly,” she said.

The Prime Minister told the summit that his government “will make it law to respect our new 2030 target, and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.” But that proposed legislation has not yet moved to second reading vote in the House of Commons, despite being introduced in November. Last week, the Conservatives reversed course on the bill and tried to kill it in protest of the makeup of a new panel that will advise the government on reaching net-zero emissions.

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India records world’s highest daily tally of over 300,000 COVID-19 cases amid crumbling health care

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A man reads a holy book before cremating his relative who died of COVID-19, in New Delhi, on April 19, 2021. Manish Swarup/The Associated Press India recorded the world’s highest daily tally of 314,835 COVID-19 infections on Thursday as a second wave of the pandemic raised new fears about the ability of crumbling health services…

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A man reads a holy book before cremating his relative who died of COVID-19, in New Delhi, on April 19, 2021.

Manish Swarup/The Associated Press

India recorded the world’s highest daily tally of 314,835 COVID-19 infections on Thursday as a second wave of the pandemic raised new fears about the ability of crumbling health services to cope.

Health officials across northern and western India, including the capital, New Delhi, said they were in crisis, with most hospitals full and running out of oxygen.

Some doctors advised patients to stay at home, while a crematorium in the eastern city of Muzaffarpur said it was being overwhelmed with bodies, and grieving families had to wait their turn. A crematorium east of Delhi built funeral pyres in its parking lot.

“Right now there are no beds, no oxygen. Everything else is secondary,” said Shahid Jameel, a virologist and director of the Trivedi School of Biosciences at Ashoka University.

“The infrastructure is crumbling.”

India marked a grim milestone in the COVID-19 pandemic on Thursday, reporting 314,835 new daily cases, the highest one-day tally anywhere, as its second wave and similar surges elsewhere raised new fears about the ability of health services to cope. Olivia Chan reports. Reuters

Six hospitals in New Delhi had run out of oxygen, according to a tally shared by the city government, and the city’s deputy chief minister said neighbouring states were holding back supplies for their own needs.

“It might become difficult for hospitals here to save lives,” Manish Sisodia said in a televised address.

Another 2,104 people died in the space of a day, taking India’s cumulative toll to 184,657, according to the health ministry data. The previous record rise in cases was in the United States, which had 297,430 new cases on one day in January, though its infection rate has since fallen sharply.

‘INDIA WEEPS’ Television showed images of people with empty oxygen cylinders crowding refilling facilities, hoping to save relatives in hospital.

In the western city of Ahmedabad, a man strapped to an oxygen cylinder lay in the back of a car outside a hospital as he waited for a bed.

“Helplessness,” tweeted former foreign secretary Nirupama Menon Rao. “India weeps.”

“We never thought a second wave would hit us so hard,” Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, executive chairman of the health care firm Biocon, wrote in the Economic Times.

“Complacency led to unanticipated shortages of medicines, medical supplies and hospital beds.”

Delhi Health Minister Satyendar Jain said the city needed about 5,000 more intensive care beds.

Similar surges of infections, notably in South America, are threatening to overwhelm other health services.

China said it was willing to help India, although it was not immediately clear what this might consist of.

Only a tiny fraction of the Indian population has received a vaccination.

Authorities have announced vaccines will be available to anyone over 18 from May 1, but experts say there will not be enough for the 600 million people who will become eligible.

Health experts say India let its guard down during the winter, when daily cases were about 10,000 and seemed to be under control, and lifted restrictions to allow big gatherings.

MORE INFECTIOUS VARIANTS New, more infectious variants of the virus, in particular a “double mutant” variant that originated in India, have helped accelerate the surge, but many also blame the politicians.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government ordered an extensive lockdown in the early stages of the pandemic but has been wary of the economic costs of more tough restrictions.

In recent weeks, the government has been criticized for holding packed political rallies for local elections and allowing a Hindu festival at which millions gathered.

“The second wave is a consequence of complacency and mixing and mass gatherings. You don’t need a variant to explain the second wave,” said Ramanan Laxminarayan of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy in New Delhi.

This week, Modi urged state governments to use lockdowns as a last resort. He asked people to stay indoors and said the government was working to expand oxygen and vaccine supplies.

He cancelled a visit to West Bengal scheduled for Friday.

A YouTube stream showed a hundred or more supporters attended Interior Minister Amit Shah’s election rally in Harirampur on Thursday.

Most donned saffron-coloured face-masks – in sharp contrast to the thousands seen at similar gatherings this month – but were still seated close together.

“We are dying here, and they are holding rallies there,” one woman in the northern city of Lucknow said on television.

Madhukar Pai, professor of epidemiology at McGill University in Canada, said India was a cautionary tale for the world.

“If we declare success too soon, open up everything, give up on public health, and not vaccinate rapidly, the new variants can be devastating,” he tweeted.

Indian authorities scrambled to shore up supplies of medical oxygen to hospitals in the capital, Delhi, on Wednesday as a fast-spreading second wave of coronavirus stretched medical infrastructure to breaking point, officials and doctors said. Reuters

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