Canada to demand negative COVID tests from people returning across U.S. land border

By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada will step up its fight against COVID-19 by obliging citizens returning home over land from the United States to show they do not have COVID-19, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Tuesday.

Everyone arriving by air already has to prove they tested negative within the previous 72 hours and this rule is being expanded to land crossings starting on Feb. 15, Trudeau said.

Although non-essential travel between the two nations is banned, hundreds of thousands of Canadians have second homes in the United States, and Ottawa is obliged to allow them to return if they wish. People who arrive without test results can be fined C$3,000 ($2,360).

The measure only affects around 5% of returning Canadians because the majority arrive by air.

“We’re using every tool in the toolbox to get us all through this crisis,” Trudeau told reporters. Essential workers such as truck drivers are exempt from the new rules.

Canada has recorded a total of 20,835 deaths and 808,120 cases of COVID-19. Many provinces reimposed restrictions to combat a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic and as a result the number of new daily cases over the last week fell to around 3,500 from 8,000 in early January.

“This is gratifying progress,” chief medical officer Theresa Tam told reporters.

Trudeau also promised the supply of vaccines from Pfizer Inc and Moderna Inc would ramp up next week.

His Liberal government has been attacked by critics over the slow pace of vaccinations, caused in part by a temporary reduction in supplies from Pfizer.

Separately, officials said Canada would allow a sixth dose to be taken from each vial of Pfizer’s vaccine rather than the originally intended five.

They told reporters that six doses could be extracted provided a special syringe was used, mirroring moves taken by the United States and some European nations.

($1=1.2704 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Mark Heinrich)

Canada’s Trudeau says scope for closer U.S.-Canada integration on EVs, critical mineral supply

By Steve Scherer

OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada and the United States can collaborate more closely on manufacturing electric vehicles and on supplying critical minerals needed to make batteries for cars and other clean technologies, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Thursday.

“The integration of our economies, of our supply chains … I think gives a real opportunity for us to really take some leaps forward,” Trudeau said in a telephone interview.

After noting that Canada has many of the rare earths minerals needed for car batteries and solar panels, Trudeau said it was important to have “a secure supply from a friend and an ally”.

China has been one of the main suppliers of critical minerals to the United States, and Biden is planning to mandate a review of critical U.S. supply chains with an eye to securing U.S. industrial supplies, Reuters reported earlier this week.

Canada’s mineral wealth “is part of why so many automakers are now looking at setting up their supply chains for zero emission vehicles in Canada,” Trudeau said.

General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co and Stellantis NV have all announced plans to manufacture electric vehicles in Canada in coming years.

“We’ve already seen something like $6 billion worth of investment by auto companies in Canada over the past couple of years into zero-emissions or low-emissions vehicles,” Trudeau said.

“There’s a lot of really great opportunities to be developing partnerships and production facilities not just for the North American market, but for the world,” he added.

(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

Canada considering drug decriminalization to fight overdose crisis

By Anna Mehler Paperny

TORONTO (Reuters) – Canada’s federal government is considering decriminalization of the possession of opioids and other illicit drugs in its efforts to tackle a spiraling overdose crisis, a government official said this week, even as data show the number of charges rising.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government is facing pressure to rein in drug overdoses, though it has previously downplayed decriminalization.

Vancouver has asked the federal government to exempt the city from part of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of drugs within city boundaries. A spokesman for Health Minister Patty Hajdu said on Wednesday that decriminalization was under consideration and that discussions with Vancouver were under way but would not comment further

That could subject people caught with small amounts of drugs to fines or mandatory treatment.

Canada’s opioid toxicity death rate for the first half of 2020, 14.6 per 100,000, was the highest since national data began to be collected in 2016, according to the federal government.

The number of people charged with drug possession of non-cocaine, non-heroin drugs in Canada more than tripled to 13,725 in the past decade to 2019, according to Statistics Canada. The number of people charged with heroin possession almost quintupled, to 1,043.

“The idea that we’re kind of becoming more tolerant isn’t borne out by the data,” said Neil Boyd, director of the School of Criminology at Simon Fraser University.

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted illicit drug supply chains, making for a more toxic supply; it has also lessened supports and driven people to use alone, health advocates say.

Health Canada’s move to discuss decriminalization “comes at a time when the overdose crisis in our city has never been worse,” Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said in a statement Wednesday.

Many health experts argue decriminalization would encourage drug users to use in safer spaces where they can access medical care.

Trudeau dismissed decriminalization last year, telling the Canadian Broadcasting Corp it was not a “silver bullet.”

Portugal decriminalized illicit drug possession and consumption in 2001. In the 2020 election Oregon voted to decriminalize.

This week Montreal’s city council also voted to support decriminalization. The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police came out in support of the move last summer.

(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

Ontario declares emergency amid surging COVID-19 cases as Canada buys more vaccines

By Moira Warburton and David Ljunggren

TORONTO/OTTAWA (Reuters) – Ontario declared an emergency on Tuesday after latest modelling put Canada’s most populous province on track to have more than 20,000 new COVID-19 cases per day by the middle of February, a nearly ten-fold increase from the current count.

Ontario, which is battling a coronavirus surge that has swamped its hospitals and triggered a province-wide lockdown, could also see roughly 1,500 more deaths in its long-term care homes through mid-February under a worst-case scenario, according to modeling from experts advising the government.

New restrictions that take effect on Jan. 14 mandate that residents must stay at home except for essential activity, while outdoor gatherings will be limited to five people, and non-essential construction work will be restricted.

“I know the stay at home order is a drastic measure, one we don’t take lightly. Everyone must stay home to stay lives,” said Ontario Premier Doug Ford at a media briefing. “Enforcement and inspections will increase.”

Canada began targeted vaccinations in December, with current efforts focused on healthcare workers and residents of long-term care homes.

The federal government ordered an additional 20 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine from Pfizer Inc and BioNTech, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters on Tuesday. That would take the total number of doses to be delivered this year in Canada to 80 million.

Ontario, the country’s economic engine, has been under lockdown since Dec. 26, with non-essential businesses shuttered and schools closed for in-person learning.

Yet the daily number of COVID-19 cases has spiked above 3,500 on average over the past seven days, government data showed. On Tuesday, Ontario reported 2,903 new COVID-19 cases.

Under the worst-case scenario with 7% case growth, there would be 40,000 new cases daily by mid-February, while the best-case scenario with 1% growth would result in 5,000 new cases every day, Ontario’s data showed. Case growth has recently been over 7% on the worst days, the data showed.

In five of the hardest hit areas of Ontario – including the Toronto area, nearby Hamilton, and Windsor-Essex across the border from Detroit – schools will remain closed until at least Feb. 10. Childcare for children who are too young for school will remain open, along with emergency childcare for some school-age children.

“We will have to confront choices that no doctor ever wants to make and no family ever wants to hear,” Dr. Steini Brown, head of Ontario’s case modeling, said at a briefing on Tuesday. “People will die from the virus itself and from the overloaded health system that is unable to respond to their needs.”

Brown warned that the new COVID-19 variant from Britain was already in Ontario and could decrease the doubling time of cases – or how long it takes for case counts to double, currently 30 to 40 days – to 10 days.

Last week Quebec, Canada’s worst-affected province from COVID-19, became the first in the country to introduce a curfew to limit the spread.

(Reporting by Moira Warburton in Toronto and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Additional reporting by Allison Martell in Toronto; Editing by Denny Thomas, Paul Simao and Rosalba O’Brien)

Explainer: How Canada will vaccinate its population against COVID-19

OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada on Wednesday approved the first COVID-19 vaccine, jointly developed by Pfizer Inc and its German partner BioNTech SE, and is now preparing to distribute early doses to the most vulnerable groups.

Managing the nationwide rollout will be one of the most complex logistical undertakings in the country’s history, officials say.

WHEN CAN CANADIANS EXPECT TO BE VACCINATED?

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the House of Commons on Wednesday that Canada would receive 30,000 doses next week and up to 249,000 by the end of the year.

Only a handful of provinces have so far detailed their immediate plans. Saskatchewan said it expected to receive Pfizer vaccine for 1,950 people by Tuesday, and would use it to inoculate healthcare workers caring directly for COVID-19 patients. Neighboring Manitoba said it expected enough Pfizer vaccine next week to immunize 900 healthcare workers.

General immunization for all 38 million Canadians will begin in April 2021 with a goal of 100% coverage by the end of the third quarter, Health Canada said in a document.

WHO WILL RECEIVE THE FIRST DOSES?

Officials say priority groups such as healthcare workers, employees in long-term care homes, vulnerable members of the elderly population and those living in remote Indigenous communities will receive vaccines first.

HOW WILL VACCINES BE TRANSPORTED AND TO WHERE?

Provincial orders for vaccines will be coordinated through a national operations center with help from the military.

Pfizer’s ultra-low temperature vaccine will be transported by the manufacturer directly to the 14 points of inoculation that Ottawa has set up across the country.

The federal government has contracted FedEx Corp and Innomar Strategies, a Canada-based division of AmerisourceBergen to provide logistical support on vaccine delivery.

Frozen vaccines, like Moderna’s, will be transported by federally contracted logistics service providers from where they are manufactured to set points of delivery.

Canada is now running distribution drills to ensure that critical capability gaps are filled, risks are mitigated, and contingencies are put in place.

WHICH OTHER VACCINES ARE IN THE APPROVAL PROCESS

Canadian officials say the next regulatory decision will be on Moderna Inc’s candidate vaccine. Canada also has agreements to purchase the potential vaccines of Novavax Inc, Johnson & Johnson, Sanofi SA with GlaxoSmithKline Plc, AstraZeneca Plc, and Medicago.

If all were to receive regulatory approval, Canada could buy enough doses to vaccinate the country more than five times over.

Canada expects the first 6 million doses from Pfizer and Moderna Inc to arrive in the first quarter of 2021, enough for 3 million of the 38 million population.

WHO WILL BE IN CHARGE OF ADMINISTERING VACCINES TO PEOPLE?

Health authorities in the provinces and territories are responsible for determining how vaccines will be deployed and on administering them to their populations. Inoculation will be free.

Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, has also set up a task force headed by Canada’s former Chief of the Defence Staff Rick Hillier.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren and Julie Gordon in Ottawa and Rod Nickel in Manitoba; Editing by Steve Scherer, Diane Craft and Denny Thomas)

Canada PM Trudeau indicates U.S. border restrictions to last a long time

OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada will not agree to lifting a ban on non-essential travel with the United States until the coronavirus outbreak is significantly under control around the world, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Tuesday.

Trudeau’s comments were a clear indication that the border restrictions will last well into 2021. The two neighbors agreed to the ban in March and have rolled it over on a monthly basis ever since.

The ban does not affect trade. The two countries have highly integrated economies and Canada sends 75% of its goods exports to the United States every month.

“Until the virus is significantly more under control everywhere around the world, we’re not going to be releasing the restrictions at the border,” Trudeau told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. when asked about the issue.

“We are incredibly lucky that trade in essential goods, in agricultural products, in pharmaceuticals is flowing back and forth as it always has. It’s just not people traveling, which I think is the important thing,” he said.

The restrictions are opposed by the travel industry, which says they are suffering as tourist flows dry up.

But the premiers of Canada’s major provinces have repeatedly said they have no interest in reopening the border as long as cases of COVID-19 continue to escalate in the United States.

A second wave is also sweeping across Canada, where authorities are starting to reimpose restrictions on businesses and limiting the size of gatherings.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

Canada’s biggest provinces seek clamp down on social gatherings as coronavirus wave spreads

By Mahad Arale and Allison Lampert

TORONTO/MONTREAL (Reuters) – Canada’s two most populous provinces on Friday moved to clamp down further on social gatherings in a bid to slow a second wave of coronavirus cases sweeping across much of the country.

Ontario ordered the closure of bars and restaurants from midnight to 5 a.m. except for takeout and delivery and said strip clubs would have to shut down from Saturday.

Premier Doug Ford, whose government has already slashed the size of permitted gatherings indoor and outdoors, repeated his concerns that the majority of new cases were in people under 40.

“I can tell you I don’t see seniors going into nightclubs too often,” he told a daily briefing.

Health officials in Canada have been making increasingly gloomy comments in recent days. Theresa Tam, the chief medical officer, said on Friday that some local authorities could be overwhelmed unless the wave was curbed.

In Quebec, Health Minister Christian Dube urged residents to cut down on social interactions.

“We’re asking you to make a special effort for the next 28 days,” he told a news conference, saying the government did not want to close bars because people might then attend private parties that are harder to control.

Ontario and Quebec together account for 79% of the 149,094 cases reported in Canada so far and 93% of the 9,249 deaths.

In Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada signed a deal with AstraZeneca PLC to buy up to 20 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine candidate. It is among the leading candidates in the global race for a vaccine.

Procurement Minister Anita Anand said in an interview that the first doses were due in early 2021, assuming public trials went well.

Canada has now signed deals for a total of around 300 million doses of vaccine candidates from a number of major pharmaceutical firms.

(Additional reporting by Allison Martell in Montreal, writing by David Ljunggren; Editing by Aurora Ellis and Alistair Bell)

COVID-19 cases rise in Canada, schools to put pressure on testing system

By Allison Martell and Moira Warburton

TORONTO/VANCOUVER (Reuters) – Canada’s three biggest provinces are seeing a pick-up in new COVID-19 cases, as officials do little to slow the virus beyond urging people to be more careful, and doctors warn school reopenings will boost demand for testing.

The country reported no deaths for one day on Friday, an echo of earlier success in controlling the virus that may already be slipping away, even before the impact of school reopenings is clear.

Demand for tests is already up in some Ontario hot spots, and will rise further as more children return to school. Students with symptoms will generally have to isolate at home until they are well and have a negative test, so any backlogs will trap families at home.

McMaster University infectious disease expert Dr Zain Chagla said assessment centers need to stop testing asymptomatic people who have no known exposure to the virus, before labs become overwhelmed.

Canada’s 5 million school children average about eight upper respiratory tract infections a year, said Chagla. Even if that falls to two this year, some 27,000 will need to be tested on any given day.

Last week, Canada averaged 47,807 tests per day.

“It’s not minor, the actual demands that are going to be put on the system as part of children going back to school,” he said. “It’s going to be paramount that the turnaround time be relatively quick.”

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said he discussed testing with Canada’s Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland on Monday morning.

“All provinces, not just Ontario, are going to start ramping up for more testing,” he said.

Federal officials have said they are aiming for a “slow burn” of infection.

Dr. Irfan Dhalla, vice president of physician quality at Unity Health, which operates two hospitals in Toronto, has argued that the country should instead try to come as close as possible to eliminating the virus, following New Zealand and Canada’s own Atlantic provinces, with testing, tracing, isolation and support.

“It’s only a matter of time before we start seeing hospitalizations increase, and before we start seeing more people dying again,” said Dhalla.

Infections in Ontario, the most populous province, charged through the 300 mark on Monday, after dropping to below 100 a day in early August with the government blaming the spread on private social gatherings like weddings.

British Columbia, which imposed fresh curbs on nightclubs last week, reported its highest-ever case count of 139 on Sept. 10. Cases are also rising in Quebec, where classes resumed first.

Quebec teachers’ union Fédération autonome de l’enseignement (FAE) filed a lawsuit on Monday, seeking more information about a promised plan to ensure teachers and students have access to accelerated testing, and on the number of COVID-19 cases in schools.

“The government is currently giving the impression that it is improvising, while the virus doesn’t give second chances,” FAE president Sylvain Mallette said in a statement.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reiterated his message on Monday, asking people to remain vigilant: “The last thing anyone wants is to go into this fall and lock down, similar to this spring,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Mahad Arale in Toronto, Allison Lampert in Montreal and Steve Scherer in Ottawa; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

Amid cries of ‘traitor,’ Canada’s Trudeau set for ugly election

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau takes part in an interview with Maclean's journalist Paul Wells at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, September 17, 2018. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who swept to power on a wave of optimism in 2015, is set for an ugly reelection campaign this October, judging by exchanges with voters in public town halls this month where he was grilled on topics ranging from immigration to housing affordability.

Opinion polls show his center-left Liberals are barely ahead of their rivals, and party insiders privately admit they might lose their majority in the House of Commons, which would crimp the government’s ability to govern.

“The next election is going to be a referendum on Justin Trudeau…and whether or not people think he has performed,” said Ipsos Public Affairs pollster Darrell Bricker.

In contrast to more gentle exchanges in previous years, angry citizens slammed Trudeau for bungling the construction of pipelines, breaking promises to respect the right of indigenous groups, ignoring a pledge to balance the budget and allowing too many migrants into Canada.

Liberal insiders say as a result of the feedback from the town halls, where attendees can also jot down their concerns on paper, policy tweaks are already being considered.

Public unhappiness over illegal immigrants crossing the border from the United States is so great that the party will consider a promise to clamp down further, even though Ottawa considers the matter is under control, said one top Liberal.

Widespread complaints about the lack of affordable housing are likely to produce a commitment for more spending, said the Liberal, who declined to be identified given the sensitivity of the situation.

WE HANG TRAITORS FOR TREASON

The verdict from voters is definitely mixed, judging by Trudeau’s experiences as he traveled the country in January taking questions from all-comers, a practice he says helps him break out of what he calls the Ottawa bubble.

A woman at a town hall in the province of Saskatchewan in Canada’s west, a region where the Liberals are in trouble, accused Trudeau of “working for your globalist partners” to betray Canada.

“What do we do with traitors in Canada, Mr. Trudeau?  We used to hang them, hang them for treason,” the woman told the stunned prime minister after asking him about Moslem sharia law and Saudi Arabian oil imports.

In the Quebec town of Saint-Hyacinthe, a man dressed in a yellow vest swore loudly at Trudeau and accused him of selling out the country.

Liberals like the town halls on the grounds they demonstrate Trudeau is not afraid to take tough questions.

Yet they also admit the exchanges show voters have more urgent concerns than topics such as gender equality, climate change and the aboriginal rights that Trudeau has been pushing hard at home and abroad since he took power in 2015.

“We need to focus on things that are of interest to all Canadians and not just some of them,” conceded a second Liberal.

While Trudeau has emerged as one of the world’s leading progressive leaders, at home Canadians are concentrating more on their jobs and taxes, said Bricker.

Infrastructure Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne, present in the hall at Saint-Hyacinthe as abuse was leveled at Trudeau, conceded, “There is a level of anxiety out there and we need to allow for these discussions to happen.”

But insiders say regardless of the insults, Trudeau intends to stick to his policy of avoiding public arguments.

The Liberals won a surprise victory in 2015 by mounting a massive campaign to register young and aboriginal voters and concede a similar effort will be needed this time.

The Liberals have a majority of just 11 in the 338-seat House of Commons and polls show they are only slightly ahead of the main opposition Conservative Party, led by Andrew Scheer.

“It’s going to be tight…the message to the troops is, there is no magic commercial advert that is going to win this campaign. Don’t rely on the prime minister to belt one out of the park during the debates,” said a third Liberal.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Alistair Bell)

Almost half of Canadians want illegal border crossers deported

A man is confronted by a Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer as he prepares to cross the U.S.-Canada border leading into Hemmingford, Quebec.

By Rod Nickel and David Ljunggren

WINNIPEG, Manitoba/OTTAWA (Reuters) – Nearly half of Canadians want to deport people who are illegally crossing into Canada from the United States, and a similar number disapprove of how Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is handling the influx, according to a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll released on Monday.

A significant minority, four out of 10 respondents, said the border crossers could make Canada “less safe,” underlining the potential political risk for Trudeau’s Liberal government.

The increasing flow of hundreds of asylum-seekers of African and Middle Eastern origin from the United States in recent months has become a contentious issue in Canada.

There has been broad bipartisan support for high levels of legal immigration for decades in Canada. But Trudeau has come under pressure over the flow of the illegal migrants. He is questioned about it every time he appears in parliament, from opponents on the left, who want more asylum-seekers to be allowed in, and critics on the right, who say the migrants pose a potential security risk.

Canadians appeared to be just as concerned about illegal immigration as their American neighbors, according to the poll, which was conducted between March 8-9. Some 48 percent of Canadians said they supported “increasing the deportation of people living in Canada illegally.”

When asked specifically about the recent border crossings from the United States, the same number – 48 percent – said Canada should “send these migrants back to the U.S.” Another 36 percent said Canada should “accept these migrants” and let them seek refugee status.

In the United States, where President Donald Trump was elected partly on his promise to boost deportations, 50 percent of adults supported “increasing the deportation of illegal immigrants,” according to a separate Reuters/Ipsos poll that was conducted during the same week in the United States.

Illegal migrants interviewed by Reuters in Canada said they had been living legally in the United States and had applied for asylum there. But they had fled to Canada for fear of being caught up in Trump’s immigration crackdown.

WARMING WEATHER POSES RISK

In the poll, support for deporting the border crossers was strongest among men, adults who do not have a college degree, people who are older and those with higher levels of income.

“There are so many people in the world who want to come in and go through the right channels,” said Greg Janzen, elected leader of a Manitoba border municipality that has seen hundreds of border crossers. “That’s what’s pissing most people off. These guys are jumping the border,” he said.

Forty-six percent of Canadians feel the influx would have no effect on safety, while 41 percent said it would make Canada less safe, according to the poll.

“Refugees are much more welcomed when we have gone and selected them ourselves as a country, as opposed to refugees who have chosen us,” said Janet Dench, executive director of Canadian Council for Refugees.

Of those polled, 46 percent disagreed with how Trudeau was handling the situation, 37 percent agreed, while 17 percent did not know. In January, a separate Ipsos poll found that 59 percent of Canadians approved of Trudeau, while 41 percent disapproved.

Trudeau faces no immediate threat, since the next elections are not until 2019. Trudeau’s office declined to comment on the poll, as did the opposition Conservative Party.

Brian Lee Crowley, head of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute public policy think-tank, said the number of illegal migrants could spike as the weather warms, and “if people become convinced there’s a large uncontrolled flow of illegal immigrants, I think that will be a very serious political issue for the government.”

Canadian authorities dismiss the idea they are being lax.

Dan Brien, a spokesman for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, said “trying to slip across the border in an irregular manner is not a ‘free’ ticket to Canada,” noting that all asylum-seekers were detained.

“If they are found to be inadmissible without a valid claim, deportation procedures are begun,” he said by email when asked about the poll.

According to a separate Ipsos poll in Canada, 23 percent of Canadians listed immigration control as among the top national issues in March, up from 17 percent in December. It ranks behind healthcare, taxes, unemployment and poverty as top concerns.

The Canadian government set an immigration target of 300,000 for 2017, or just under 1 percent of the population, the same level as 2016. It reduced the 2017 target for resettled refugees to 25,000 from 44,800 in 2016, a year when it welcomed 25,000 refugees from Syria.

The Reuters/Ipsos poll was conducted online in English and French throughout Canada. It included responses from 1,001 people who were at least 18 years old. Individual responses were weighted according to the latest population estimates in Canada, so that the results reflect the entire population.

The poll has a credibility interval, a measure of accuracy, of 4 percentage points.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren, Rod Nickel and Chris Kahn, additional reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny, editing by Amran Abocar and Ross Colvin)