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People are ‘fed up’: Quebec follows Ontario’s lead and loosens COVID-19 restrictions


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The Quebec government announced the loosening of some COVID-19 restrictions Tuesday, following the lead of Ontario and other provinces amid indications the Omicron surge may be peaking in some areas.

Quebec Premier François Legault said the province would adopt a go-slow approach, which will see gathering limits raised on Monday for private functions, as well as the reopening of restaurants at 50 per cent capacity and a resumption of some sports activities for those under 18. Other restrictions will be eased for religious, entertainment and sports venues on Feb. 7.

“We are all aware that a lot of Quebecers are fed up, they’re fed up with the restrictions,” Legault told a news conference in Montreal. But he added that any reopening has to be cautious and gradual. “We have to take it easy,” he said.

Last Thursday, the Ontario government confirmed it would start easing health protection orders by boosting the size of social gatherings and reopening businesses such as restaurants, gyms and cinemas with capacity limits — part of a plan to lift all constraints by mid-March.

Premier Doug Ford said the phased reopening was in response to public health indicators showing “that the worst is behind us.” The premier pointed to a reduced rate of hospital admissions and a declining percentage of positive COVID-19 tests.

The number of people with COVID-19 in Ontario hospitals, however, went up Tuesday to 4,008 from 3,861 on Monday. The number of people in intensive care also rose slightly to 626 from 615 — and the province reported 64 new deaths. Ford said Tuesday he doesn’t see the province’s mask mandates ending any time soon.

In Alberta, the health authority confirmed a patient died while waiting for care in an emergency ward.

Alberta Health Services spokesman Kerry Williamson said the patient had been triaged at the Red Deer Regional Hospital and reassessed by emergency staff Sunday, but died before receiving further care.

He said the death is being investigated and it’s not yet known whether it was the result of a long wait.

Alberta has a record 1,377 people in hospital with COVID-19.

B.C.’s provincial health officer lifted restrictions on youth sports tournaments, allowing them to resume on Feb. 1.

However, Dr. Bonnie Henry also extended the use of the proof-of-vaccine card until June 30, saying the card is an important tool to allow restaurants, fitness centres, and events to continue to operate.

In Quebec, health officials reported 85 more deaths linked to COVID-19, and the province’s Health Department reported that hospitalizations fell by 21, to 3,278. The number of people in intensive care remained unchanged at 263.

Meanwhile, GoFundMe has frozen the $4.2 million raised over the past 11 days by organizers of a truckers protest that is calling for an end to vaccine mandates for truck drivers who cross the Canada-U. S. border. GoFundMe has said the money will remain locked until it receives documentation about the distribution of the cash.

Tamara Lich, who is also secretary of the fledgling Western separatist Maverick Party, launched the campaign on Jan. 14, saying the money would be used to cover the cost of accommodation, food and fuel for those taking part in the “Freedom Convoy.”

The Ottawa-bound convoy set off from Vancouver on Sunday and passed through Regina late Monday with 1,200 rigs joining the procession, according to police.

The trucks later converged in nearby Balgonie, Sask., where a Calgary woman, who would only give her name as Delores, said the convoy was more than a protest against vaccine mandates. She said it’s also about an “us versus them” mentality that applies to the vaccinated and unvaccinated.

Under new rules, Canadian truckers must be fully vaccinated if they want to avoid a 14-day quarantine when they cross the border from the United States.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, students returned to school Tuesday after learning from home since Jan. 4, when the province’s COVID-19 case counts were still spiking. All students were required to take two rapid tests before classes began. Still, the province’s teachers association says its members feel it’s not yet safe to open schools.

The province reported a slight drop in COVID-19 hospitalizations Tuesday, with 20 receiving care, down one from the day before — but five of those patients remain in critical care.

In New Brunswick, three more people died from the disease and hospitalizations continued to rise. The province’s chief medical officer, however, said the hospitalization increase was below previous projections, which she attributed to people reducing their contacts.

Nova Scotia reported five COVID-19-related deaths Tuesday. In total, 136 people in the province have died after being infected with the novel coronavirus. As of Tuesday, there were 304 people in hospital who had tested positive for COVID-19, including 92 patients in a specialized care unit.

Health officials in P.E.I. confirmed Tuesday that another person had died as a result of COVID 19, bringing the province’s total to nine deaths since the pandemic began.

In Nunavut, the Baffin Island community of Igloolik remained under a strict lockdown as COVID-19 continued to spread among the 1,600 residents. Chief public health officer Dr. Michael Patterson said most of the calls to the territory’s COVID-19 hotline have been from Igloolik, where household exposures have risen dramatically.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 25, 2022.

— With files from Morgan Lowrie and Christopher Reynolds in Montreal and Mickey Djuric in Regina

Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press

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‘If there’d even been five minutes’ warning’: Woman questions storm alert system

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Bethany Armstrong watched as the sky turned a tint of green on Saturday afternoon.

The Peterborough, Ont., woman was out camping with friends in Lakehurst, Ont., at the time, so she checked a weather app on her phone and noticed a thunderstorm warning.

That was the only indication she said she had that a vicious storm was about to hit.

Armstrong said she never received the emergency alert that many Ontario residents got on their cellphones, warning them to seek shelter ahead of severe weather that ultimately killed 11 people.

One of those who died was a close friend of Armstrong’s family – Armstrong says that friend didn’t get the alert either.

“If there’d even been five minutes’ warning … she would have gotten inside,” Armstrong said of the woman she likened to her second mom.

Joanne Labelle, 64, of Cornwall, Ont., was among those killed as a result of the storm. She had been staying in a trailer on Armstrong’s parents’ property in the Peterborough area when the intense winds and rains hit.

Labelle’s husband and Armstrong’s father found Labelle struck by a tree – Armstrong said the family thinks Labelle had been trying to get from the trailer to a house on the property when she was hit.

Armstrong said her family and Labelle’s husband later checked Labelle’s cellphone, which was with her during the storm, but found no evidence of an alert.

“I just think like, ‘Wow, you know, if she had got the alert, we wouldn’t maybe be in this situation,'” Armstrong said, describing Labelle as a “smart” woman who loved the outdoors and would have taken a severe weather warning seriously.

Emergency alerts are issued in Canada through the Alert Ready system, which delivers critical alerts to Canadians through television, radio and LTE-connected and compatible wireless devices.

The system was developed with many partners, including federal, provincial and territorial emergency management officials, Environment and Climate Change Canada, weather information company Pelmorex Corp., the broadcasting industry and wireless service providers.

Cecelia Parsons, a spokesperson for Environment Canada, said “broadcast immediate” alerts are sent through the Alert Ready system for tornado warnings and severe thunderstorm warnings involving wind gusts of 130 kilometres per hour or greater and hail that is at least seven centimetres in diameter. Saturday’s storm was the first time such an alert for a thunderstorm was sent through the system, she said.

However, some residents may not have received an emergency alert on their smartphones for a number of reasons, including their phones not being “compatible,” Parsons said.

“This may occur for a variety of reasons: the phone is turned off or in silent or airplane mode; the phone is not physically in the specific area targeted for the alert; device compatibility, connection to an LTE network, cell tower coverage and device software and settings,” she said.

Martin Belanger, director of public alerting for Pelmorex, said smartphones need to be in the area where an emergency alert has been issued in order to receive an alert and also need to be connected to an LTE or 5G network — a requirement established by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

As of April 2019, the CRTC requires that new phones sold by Canada’s wireless carriers be compatible with the emergency alerting system, Parsons added.

Belanger said Environment Canada was responsible for issuing the emergency alerts on Saturday and Pelmorex received those alerts and made them available to broadcasters and wireless service providers.

He added that Pelmorex received “some” reports from the public about not getting an emergency alert during Saturday’s storm. When the company receives such reports, it shares that information with its partners, he said.

Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair said that with 11 people dead, the early warning system didn’t work as well as it could have to protect residents from last weekend’s storm.

“I think there needs to be improvement,” Blair said on Friday from Indonesia, where he was attending international meetings on disaster risk and mitigation.

“When (there’s) information that Canadians need to take the steps in order to be safe, we need to make sure that they get that information.”

Blair said public education is also needed so Canadians know what to do when they receive such an alert. He also said the country’s public alerting system, controlled by provinces and territories, is applied “inconsistently.”

“The tragic loss of life and the damage that occurred in Ontario and Quebec over the past several days demonstrate to us that there is still more work to do, and we’re committed to doing that,” he said.

Armstrong, who made it through the storm last weekend by taking shelter in a nearby home, said she would like to see the Alert Ready system improved.

“I just hope that things can improve for the future and that they can get either a better system in place or adjust the criteria that has to be met,” she said as she remembered Labelle as a beloved matriarch and a mainstay at the pharmacy where she worked. “So we can try and help save other people.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 27, 2022.

– with files from Stephanie Taylor in Ottawa.


This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Noushin Ziafati, The Canadian Press

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Federal government posts $95.6 billion deficit for 2021-2022 fiscal year

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OTTAWA — The federal government posted a deficit of $95.6 billion for its 2021-22 fiscal year.

In its monthly fiscal monitor report, the Finance Department says the tally for the April 2021 to March 2022 period compared with a deficit of $314.0 billion a year earlier.

Program expenses, excluding net actuarial losses, totalled $457.3 billion, down from $577.6 billion a year earlier due in large part to lower transfers to businesses, individuals, and other levels of government.

Public debt charges rose to $24.8 billion compared with $20.5 billion a year earlier.

Revenue for the fiscal year totalled $396.8 billion, up from $299.5 billion, due to higher tax and other revenues.

Net actuarial losses were $10.3 billion, down from $15.4 billion.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 27, 2022.

The Canadian Press

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