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Canada  

From lockdowns to spring break, provinces split on next steps in COVID-19 fight

Provinces split on next steps

Canada's pandemic hotspots are taking diverging approaches to handling the COVID-19 crisis, as Ontario prepares to trigger new lockdown measures in two public health units and Quebec enters a week of spring break.

Ontario passed the 300,000 case mark today, as the province prepares to hit a so-called 'emergency brake' in the Thunder Bay and Simcoe-Muskoka District health units on Monday in order interrupt transmission of COVID-19 at a time when new variants are gaining steam.

The province has also pushed back its spring break until April in an effort to limit community spread.

Prince Edward Island also implemented tighter health measures, barring indoor dining and halving retail and gym capacity as part of "circuit breaker" measures meant to stop a new outbreak in its tracks.

Quebec, meanwhile, has allowed movie theatres, pools and arenas to open with restrictions in place to give families something to do as the traditional winter break kicks off, even as most other health rules remain in place.

Premier Francois Legault has said he's worried about the week off and the threat posed by new more contagious variants, but says he's optimistic about the province's mass vaccination campaign which will begin inoculating older members of the general public on Monday.

Ontario reported 1,062 new infections linked to the pandemic today to push it over the 300,000 mark, while Quebec's health minister said the situation in the province is stable with 737 new cases and nine additional deaths.





On East Coast, exhausted COVID-19 'long haulers' hope specialized clinics will emerge

'Long haulers' seek answers

On evenings when Sean Hoskin collapses into bed, heart pounding and mind foggy from his yearlong battle with COVID-19, he wonders when a clinic to treat his symptoms might emerge in Atlantic Canada.

"My fear is that I'm going to be like this forever," the 50-year-old Halifax resident said in a recent interview.

The issue of a lack of timely treatment for the so-called "long haulers" — people who suffer symptoms such as shortness of breath and physical exhaustion months after their first bout of the illness — has been raised across the country by support groups.

Specialized clinics have opened in Western and Central Canada, in some instances offering access to occupational therapists, nutritionists, psychologists, nurses and referrals to specialists. In the United Kingdom, the National Health Service announced the formation of a network of 60 such clinics in December.

However, on Canada's East Coast, patients say they are still searching for a similar, one-stop site to treat symptoms that range from difficulty drawing a breath to tingling pain in their limbs.

"In Atlantic Canada, we're at the mercy of how well we've done containing the virus, leading to our low numbers of infected patients," Hoskin said. "It's had an impact on what we can expect to see from the provincial government in terms of specialized clinics."

International studies currently predict about 10 per cent of COVID-19 patients develop longer term symptoms. In Atlantic Canada, where about 4,100 cases have been officially documented, this suggests long haulers may eventually number in the hundreds, rather than the thousands expected in larger provinces.

But Hoskin argues the lower infection rates shouldn't mean he and others are left to rely solely on family doctors, who may be unaware of how to treat their symptoms, while they spend months awaiting appointments with cardiologists, neurologists and other specialists.

In New Brunswick, which is fighting a second wave of infections that emerged earlier in the year, Emily Bodechon says she has largely assembled her own treatment effort.

"While it's great that our COVID-19 case count is low, it's not been great as a patient to find out nobody knows how to treat you," she said in an interview last week.

Almost a year since her infection, the 45-year-old health worker still has respiratory issues, searing headaches and "brain fog" that makes it hard to process new information.

Bodechon sought online information from a post-COVID-19 clinic in New York and took part in video calls for patient information. "I went through a six-week program on my own, and it was the most helpful thing I had," she said.

She said she hopes provincial governments in the region collaborate to set up centralized clinics that employ telemedicine, so that she can actually speak to doctors with expertise.

In Halifax, a senior physician with Nova Scotia Health says doctors with the province's health authority are turning their attention to potential pilot projects.

Dr. Christy Bussey, the medical lead for COVID-19 in-patient care in the authority's central zone, said in an interview on Thursday that in the longer term, family doctors will need training on how to care for the lingering impacts of the illness.

But in the short term, she's advocating for a post-COVID-19 clinic, potentially attached to an existing clinic in Fall River, N.S., which already treats people with conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome.

She said she has noticed "a gap in the system for following patients who developed new or ongoing symptoms."

The physician added it's too early to know how much additional provincial or national funding is needed for an Atlantic post-COVID-19 clinic, as a formal proposal has yet to be completed, but she argues the need for added resources is evident.

"Some of these patients are nearly completely disabled by the symptoms they're having," she said.

Dr. Alexis Goth, a lead physician at the Fall River clinic, said the first long haulers are starting to trickle into her clinic. She is hopeful resources can be added to pay for a larger numbers of patients by early summer.

She said one model for COVID patients may be an adapted version of an eight-week, Zoom-based treatment the clinic uses for fibromyalgia, an illness that can cause muscle pain, fatigue and sleep issues. She said the online treatment could be combined with one-on-one therapy, making use of the occupational therapist, nurses and other experts at the clinic.

Susie Goulding, the leader of a national long-haulers support group, cautions that as new clinics and research projects emerge, they should be open to the many patients who didn't receive a formal diagnosis of COVID-19, often due to a lack of testing in the early months.

“Most people don’t have a positive test,” she said in a recent interview. “They should still be included."

Meanwhile, Hoskin said he's continuing to search for placement in a research study that includes treatment, finding he still feels like collapsing after a brief trip to buy groceries.

"At 50 years old, my heart rate is often at 110 (beats per minute) when I stand up, and I still can't smell and taste other than very basic odours," he said. "We really need to find out what is causing this."



Maritime provinces are beefing up measures to stop spread of COVID-19

Beefing up restrictions

Prince Edward Island is ushering in "circuit breaker measures" to interrupt the chain of transmission in the province as it reports six new cases of COVID-19.

The province's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Heather Morrison, says gatherings must be limited to the immediate household, plus a circle of 10 contacts.

Organized gatherings will be limited to 50 people, and wedding and funeral receptions are prohibited.

Sports games and tournaments must be cancelled, and in-person dining is barred.

 

Four new cases of COVID-19 are being reported in Nova Scotia as stricter rules are ushered in to stop the spread of the virus there as well. 

Provincial health officials say three of the cases are in the Halifax region and are all close contacts of previously identified patients, while the fourth case in eastern Nova Scotia is related to travel outside Atlantic Canada.

The latest cases come as new measures to control the virus take effect in Halifax and some neighbouring municipalities.

Nova Scotia's chief medical officer Dr. Robert Strang says while the number of new cases is low, he remains concerned that some recent infections do not have an obvious origin.

And New Brunswick is reporting two new confirmed cases.

Health officials say the new infections are both in the Edmundston region and both patients are between the ages of 70 and 79.

New Brunswick currently has 41 active cases of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, with one patient hospitalized in intensive care.

All areas of the province remain at the orange level of New Brunswick's pandemic response plan, which seeks to prevent the resurgence of transmission through a number of restrictions.





More than 2,000 new COVID cases from Ontario and Quebec

Ontario nears 300k cases

Ontario's COVID-19 case count is nearing the 300,000 mark.

The province reported 1,185 new infections today for a total of 299,754 since the onset of the pandemic.

Ontario also reported 16 new virus-related deaths over the past 24 hours.

Health Minister Christine Elliott says Toronto saw 331 new cases in the past 24 hours, nearby Peel Region recorded 220 and York Region logged 119.

Hospitalizations in the province declined by three to 680, with 276 patients in intensive care and 182 on a ventilator.

Meanwhile, Quebec is reporting 858 new COVID-19 cases and 13 deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus, including five deaths in the past 24 hours.

The Health Department reported 599 hospitalizations today, a drop of 21 patients. There are also seven fewer people requiring intensive care, bringing the total to 112.

Quebec administered 15,902 doses of COVID-19 vaccine on Friday for a total of 418,399.

The latest numbers come one year after the first case of COVID-19 was declared in Quebec.

The province has reported 287,003 confirmed infections and 10,385 deaths since the pandemic began.



Desmond inquiry: psychiatrist says former soldier's suspicions were almost delusional

Suspicions almost delusional

An inquiry investigating why a former soldier killed his family and himself in 2017 heard Friday from a psychiatrist who said there was an aspect of Lionel Desmond's life he could not figure out.

Anthony Njoku was working at the Operational Stress Injury Clinic in Fredericton in August 2015 when he first met the former corporal, who had been released from the military because of his ongoing struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Njoku testified that Desmond was irritable, distracted, distressed and preoccupied by intrusive thoughts that forced him to relive traumatic experiences he had endured as a combat soldier in Afghanistan in 2007.

"I thought he needed a lot of help," Njoku said, adding that Desmond's PTSD was complex and severe.

The psychiatrist, however, said the former rifleman was actually more worried about his wife, Shanna, whom he suspected of wasting money and plotting against him — thoughts the psychiatrist described as bordering on delusions.

He said he couldn't determine whether Desmond's anger toward his wife was the result of PTSD or the byproduct of a relationship breaking down. "I was never able to distinctly make that call," he said. "It was something I was struggling with."

Part of his confusion stemmed from the fact Desmond's descriptions of his wife were at odds with what the psychiatrist saw during a meeting in January 2016, when Desmond showed up with her and his nine-year-old daughter, Aaliyah.

"It was reassuring," Njoku said of Desmond's wife. "She genuinely cared for him."

He said she was interested in her husband's well-being and wanted to know more about his treatment. "His daughter was there. The interactions seemed entirely appropriate between him and the daughter. It was entirely loving."

At that point in his testimony, Njoku paused and started sobbing. The commissioner leading the fatality inquiry, provincial court Judge Warren Zimmer, called for a 20-minute recess.

The inquiry heard that Desmond and Njoku were supposed to meet every three weeks, but that plan fell apart.

Though he lived in nearby Oromocto, N.B., which is close to Canadian Forces Base Gagetown, Desmond had plans to move back home to Nova Scotia, where he planned to re-establish his relationship with his family. As a result, the former infantryman spent a great deal of time travelling between the two provinces, which interfered with his treatment in New Brunswick.

On Thursday, psychologist Mathieu Murgatroyd said his attempts at getting Desmond to take part in prolonged exposure therapy went nowhere.

As well, Njoku said he was worried Desmond's use of medical marijuana may have exacerbated his PTSD symptoms, particularly when it came to paranoia.

At times, Desmond's mental health seemed to improve, but any progress was often erased within days.

Njoku and Murgatroyd decided that regular talk therapy wasn't going to work for Desmond until his mental state stabilized. They asked him to take part in an intensive in-patient program for veterans at Ste. Anne's Hospital in Montreal.

By May 2016, Desmond was ready to go, but he was in rough shape. He had stopped taking his medications and he worried constantly about the poor state of his finances. He also lost weight because of a meagre diet.

Still, he spent two-and-a-half months at Ste. Anne's. But that was less than half the recommended six-month stay. And in August 2016, he returned to his home in Upper Big Tracadie, N.S.

The inquiry has heard that for the next four months, Desmond received no therapeutic treatment. As Veterans Affairs Canada was making arrangements for him to receive treatment in Nova Scotia, he sought help from the hospital in nearby Antigonish, N.S.

On Jan. 3, 2017, Desmond used a semi-automatic rifle to kill his 31-year-old wife, their 10-year-old daughter and his 52-year-old mother, Brenda, inside the family's rural home in eastern Nova Scotia.



'We need this:' Getting COVID-19 vaccine to remote and urban Indigenous populations

Vaccine for remote town

Chief Chris Moonias looked into a web camera as he prepared to get a COVID-19 vaccine just after precious doses arrived in his northern Ontario community.

“I’m coming to you live from Neskantaga First Nation community centre where our vaccines will be administered,” a jovial Moonias, wearing a blue disposable mask, said during a Facebook live video at the start of February.

Moonias was first to get the vaccine in the fly-in Oji-Cree First Nation on the shores of Attawapiskat Lake north of Thunder Bay.

The vaccine had arrived by plane earlier in the day after weeks of planning, and the chief's video was part of a campaign to get community members on board.

Moonias said in an interview that he had done his own research, had spoken with medical professionals and wasn’t concerned about getting the shot.

About 88 per cent of eligible on-reserve members have since received a first dose of the Moderna vaccine. Second doses are to arrive Monday.

However, earlier this week, the reserve declared a state of emergency due to a COVID-19 outbreak, with some cases linked to the Thunder Bay District Jail.

Moonias said four off-reserve members in Thunder Bay, all under the age of 40 — including his nephew — have died. And he's worried about the 200 other members who live off the reserve — almost the same number as those on the reserve — and when they'll get inoculated.

“I even thought about flying my people up... to get the vaccine,” said Moonias, who added it's unlikely to be an option because of cost.

Canada is in the midst of the largest vaccine rollout in its history. The second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic has hit Indigenous populations much harder and Ottawa says they are a priority for vaccinations.

The actual distribution remains complex and varied across the country.

Neskantaga is one of 31 fly-in First Nations included in Operation Remote Immunity, part of the first phase of Ontario’s vaccination rollout. The operation was developed with Nishnawbe Aski Nation and Ornge, the province's air ambulance service. The goal is to provide mass vaccinations by April 30 and it is having early successes.

There are challenges getting the vaccine to remote First Nations and questions about distribution for urban Indigenous populations.

The Assembly of First Nations says most Indigenous communities haven’t received sufficient supply to extend doses to their off-reserve members. The National Association of Friendship Centres says there is no national vaccination plan for urban Indigenous people.

There's also concern there is no national plan to tackle decades of mistrust created by systemic racism and experimentation on Indigenous people.

There are many examples throughout Canadian history of scientists sponsored by the federal government or the government itself doing medical experiments on Indigenous people, including children, who were the subject of a tuberculosis vaccine trial in Saskatchewan that began in the 1930s.

Ontario New Democrat Sol Mamakwa, who represents the electoral district of Kiiwetinoong, said some constituents tell him they are scared to take the vaccine. They don’t trust it.

He has been travelling to communities to help promote it and received his first dose alongside members of Muskrat Dam Lake First Nation.

Community engagement has been key in vaccine uptake, Mamakwa said. Promotion begins weeks before vaccine teams arrive and includes radio campaigns, social media posts and live online question-and-answer sessions.

It’s about giving people information, he said.

“One of the only ways out of this pandemic is the vaccine,” said Wade Durham, Ornge’s chief operating officer, who added it's key to have Indigenous people involved in vaccine planning.

Each First Nation in Operation Remote Immunity has a community member responsible for answering questions and setting up a vaccination site. Immunization teams are required to take cultural training and, when possible, include Indigenous medical professionals and language speakers.

Indigenous Services Canada said it is aware that a history of colonization and systemic racism has caused mistrust, so campaigns are being developed specifically for First Nations, Inuit and Metis communities.

Michelle Driedger, a Metis professor of community health sciences at the University of Manitoba, said experience has shown that stakes are high when it comes to Indigenous communities.

During the H1N1 pandemic in 2009, the Public Health Agency of Canada prioritized vaccines by geography. A main lesson learned was to increase Indigenous representation at decision-making tables, she said.

At the time, Indigenous people were over-represented in hospitalizations and intensive care stays, as well as in deaths. Those living in remote and isolated communities experienced worse outcomes.

Driedger said the vaccine response is better now, but there is “rational skepticism.” There needs to be a transparent vaccination plan for Indigenous communities — no matter where they are, she said.

The Matawa First Nations tribal council said its four communities reachable by road are not getting the same vaccine access as its five fly-in ones, and more needs to be done.

Provincial officials have said that remote First Nations received priority for the vaccine rollout because of less access to on-site health care and increased health risks. Chief Rick Allen from Constance Lake First Nation has said the vaccine needs to go where the outbreaks are.

Back in Neskantaga, Moonias said he'll do anything he can to protect anyone he can.

He continues to give updates about his vaccination. In another Facebook video posted soon after he received his shot, the chief gave a thumbs-up and said he had no pain or discomfort.

“We need this. We need to beat this virus.”



Quebec river granted legal rights as part of global 'personhood' movement

River granted legal rights

With its kilometres of rapids and deep blue waters winding through Quebec's Cote-Nord region, the Magpie river has long been a culturally significant spot for the Innu of Ekuanitshit.

Now the river, a majestic, world-renowned whitewater rafting destination, has been granted legal personhood status in a bid to protect it from future threats, such as hydro development. Its new status means the body of water could theoretically sue the government.

On Feb. 16, the regional municipality of Minganie and the Innu Council of Ekuanitshit adopted separate but similar resolutions granting the river nine legal rights, including the right to flow, to maintain its biodiversity and the right to take legal action.

One of the resolutions says the river can be represented by "guardians" appointed by the regional municipality and the Innu, with "the duty to act on behalf of the rights and interests of the river and ensure the protection of its fundamental rights." It notes the river's biodiversity, importance to the Innu and potential as a tourism destination as reasons why the body of water needs special protection.

Pier-Olivier Boudreault, with the Quebec branch of the environmental charity Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, says the move is rooted in the belief that the river is a living entity that deserves rights. "The idea is that the river is living, that it has an existence that doesn’t depend on humans," he said in a recent interview.

"It's not a simple resource for humans; it becomes an entity that has a right to live, to evolve naturally, to have its natural cycles."

Boudreault says the new designation for the Magpie is the first time a river has been granted legal status in Canada. Similar efforts have been successful in countries like New Zealand, India and Ecuador.

David Boyd, an environmental lawyer and United Nations special rapporteur on human rights and the environment, says the idea of granting rights to a river isn't as far-fetched as it seems. "In our legal system, we declare lots of things to have legal personhood, like municipalities and corporations," he said.

He said the "environmental personhood" movement is a response to the belief that successive governments around the world have failed to adequately protect the environment, as well as to the growing recognition of Indigenous Peoples' rights and their legal concepts.

While this is new in Canada, he said the resolution "could have quite a bit of strength" because of the constitutional protection of Indigenous rights. "In theory, you could have a lawsuit brought on behalf of the river to prevent a hydroelectric project from taking place," he said.

Uapukun Mestokosho, a member of the Innu community who has been involved in the Magpie river conservation effort, said the river is an important part of the traditional territory of the Innu of Ekuanitshit.

For some, spending time on the river is a way to reconnect to traditional land-based practices that were partially abandoned because of the trauma suffered by Indigenous people from colonial violence, including the residential school system.

"People are suffering a lot, with intergenerational traumas linked to the past," said Mestokosho, who described occupying the territory as "a form of healing." Mestokosho said her ancestors have always protected the Magpie, known as the Muteshekau-shipu, and that the recognition of the river's rights will allow them to protect it for future generations.

She and Boudreault agree the biggest threat to the Magpie is likely to come from the province's hydro utility, which has raised the possibility of damming the fast-flowing river.

Hydro-Quebec insists it has no plans for the Magpie in the "short or even medium term" and that no plans are "even foreseeable" in the next decade. "But in the long term, we do not know what Quebec’s future energy needs will be," spokesman Francis Labbe wrote in an email.

"Right now, we do not consider it responsible, in terms of Quebec’s energy security, to permanently renounce to the potential of this river." Any future project would have to meet several criteria, including social acceptability, he noted.



From science to syringe: COVID-19 vaccines are miracles of science and supply chains

Miracles of science

A single dose of Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine is barely enough to cover the average pinky nail but is made up of more than 280 components and requires at least three manufacturing plants to produce.

By the time that dose is injected, it has travelled to at least six different cities in four countries, across the Atlantic Ocean twice, and monitored by a 24-hour watchtower in Iceland every step of the way.

A marvel of both science and supply-chain heroics takes the vaccine from the factory floor to the arms of grateful patients all over the world.

"It's really very complex," said Germain Morin, Pfizer's vice-president in charge of global supply chains for the company's rare-disease medications and vaccines.

The messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) vaccines being made by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, as well as Moderna, are a novel technology that before COVID-19 had never been approved for widespread use in humans.

While DNA is the large and complex molecule that stores all of genetic coding that makes us who we are, RNA carries individual pieces of that code out into the body with the instructions on how to carry out the body's work.

In the case of mRNA vaccines, they are carrying the genetic code for part of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which teaches our bodies to mount a defence against the virus.

A year ago, the materials for these vaccines were being made for research purposes only, enough for maybe a few hundred doses at a time. Now Pfizer expects to pump out two billion doses by the end of this year.

It has made scaling up the manufacturing process a herculean feat, said Morin. There are 25 different suppliers involved, spanning 19 different countries. Some of them, said Morin, were making milligrams of liquid at the start. Then they were asked to make kilograms of it, and finally hundreds of kilograms.

The 475,000 doses Canada received last week began their lives before Christmas. Morin said it used to take four months to make a single dose of the vaccine, which is officially called BNT162b2. Morin said the process has recently been streamlined to half that time.

Every dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is born in a Pfizer lab in Chesterfield, Mo., a suburb of St. Louis. That's where small DNA molecules called plasmids are made with the beginnings of the code for the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein.

It takes about two weeks, followed by a quality assurance process. Every step of production has quality checks and rechecks, from the bags and boxes used to store and transport the vaccine components to the temperature in the lab and the protective clothing worn by any workers.

Then comes the first major chill, as the plasmids are put in bags and frozen to that famous ultralow temperature Pfizer's product needs: -80C.

From Missouri, the plasmids are shipped to two labs, one a Pfizer facility in Andover, Mass., and another a BioNTech facility in Germany, where they are used to make the mRNA.

A single batch of mRNA takes about four days to make, in a high-tech process with numerous enzymes and chemicals. The mRNA is then frozen again and shipped off for finishing.

In the U.S. that happens in Kalamazoo, Mich., and for Canada's doses, currently made in Europe, they go to Puurs, Belgium, Pfizer's biggest plant in the world.

Messenger RNA is not a very stable product and will disintegrate quickly if not protected, so every bit of mRNA is encased in a tiny amount of fat called a lipid nanoparticle.

"Imagine a very, very small egg, so a very small eggshell of lipids that would protect the mRNA," said Morin. "This is part of the magic of making this vaccine as well."

Over the course of three or four more days the mRNA gets its lipid coating, and is filled into vials containing enough vaccine for six doses. The vials are then packed into boxes, and immediately put into "those famous freezers" which turn the lipid-coated mRNA molecules into mini blocks of ultracold ice.

"This was, by the way, one of the challenges," said Morin. "You can imagine that those freezers are not very common in the world. Laboratories buying them would typically buy them one or two at a time. We went to the suppliers and the first time we've asked for 650 of them in one shot, and then we went for more after that."



Ontario ticket holder wins $70 million Lotto Max jackpot, $1 million ticket sold in BC

Somebody won $1 million

A ticket holder somewhere in Ontario won Friday night's whopping $70 million Lotto Max jackpot.

Nine of the draw's Maxmillions prizes of $1 million each were also won, with one of those prizes being split between two lottery players.

Winning Maxmillion tickets were sold in Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and the Prairies.

The jackpot for the next Lotto Max draw on Mar. 2 will be approximately $24 million.



WE Charity had multiple 'opening' ceremonies for Kenya school: former donor

WE 'opened' school twice

A man who helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for WE Charity says he believes two different groups of donors were told they had raised the money for a school in Kenya.

Reed Cowan testified before a parliamentary committee today where he said he discovered a plaque that had once borne his late son's name had been replaced with the name of another donor.

Cowan says he then found a video online that showed an opening ceremony for the school building, almost identical to one he participated in, that took place with a different group of donors two weeks before the one held for his group.

Cowan, who was a member of the advisory board to a WE-affiliated group in the United States, says he began raising money after his son Wesley died in an accident at age four and that helping children in Kenya helped him deal with the loss.

In an email, WE Charity says there was only one opening ceremony for the school and Cowan misunderstood what was happening in the video.

WE says it inadvertently failed to notify Cowan about the removal of the plaque and that it has now been returned.



U.S. pandemic diplomacy continues as Blinken meets virtually with Trudeau, Garneau

Pandemic diplomacy at work

The pandemic diplomacy at work between the United States and Canada is continuing, this time with the secretary of state.

Antony Blinken is visiting virtually with Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau as part of the Biden administration's post-Trump fence-mending campaign.

Blinken's "virtual trip" to Canada, which also includes a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, marks the secretary's first bilateral video conferences since taking office.

He says the good news is there's no jet lag, but the bad news is the lack of frequent-flyer miles.

Garneau and Blinken were expected to discuss the plight of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, two Canadians who have spent the last two years in custody in China.

Trudeau says securing their release remains a top priority for the federal government and that the U.S. will play what he calls a "significant role."

"These are processes that are ongoing," Trudeau said Friday, refusing to elaborate on the details of what is likely to be a delicate diplomatic exercise.

"The United States is taking their role in this very seriously and we look forward to working with them on bringing the two Michaels home as soon as possible.”

Friday's visit follows up on Trudeau's own virtual summit this week with the U.S. president, which produced a "road map" for collaboration on issues like climate change, the economy and COVID-19.

"It's hard to think of two countries whose destinies are more connected, more intertwined than ours," Blinken told Garneau as their meeting got underway.

"We know that every single day, the work that we're doing, and more importantly the deep ties between our people — in virtually every aspect of our societies — are benefiting both countries."

Garneau returned the compliment, adding that Canada can be more to the U.S. than just a friendly ally.

"I want you to know that you can count on Canada to be by your side," he said.

"And I think that you'll find that we can be surprisingly helpful to you, while advancing our own objectives."

Spavor and Kovrig — known in Canada simply as the "two Michaels" — were swept up after the RCMP's arrest in December 2018 of Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Chinese tech giant Huawei.

On Tuesday, Biden vowed to work with Canada to secure their release, but offered no clues as to what specifically the U.S. is prepared to do.

Garneau, speaking French, made a point of thanking Blinken on Friday for the U.S. speaking out on their behalf.

Meng is due back in court Monday in Vancouver for an extradition hearing to determine whether she should be sent stateside to face fraud charges.

Earlier this month, Canada, the U.S. and a coalition of 57 other countries collectively denounced the state-sponsored arbitrary detention of foreign nationals for political purposes.

Julie Chung, the acting assistant secretary for State's Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, said the U.S. supports that measure and backs Canada's demand for the release of Spavor and Kovrig.

"Human beings should not be used as pawns," she said Thursday. "We stand by Canada, our strong friend and partner, in the issues of arbitrary detention and for the release of the two Canadian citizens."

Earlier Friday, Blinken met with Mexico's foreign secretary and secretary of the economy during a "visit" to a port of entry facility along the southern U.S. border.

Efforts to fortify Canada-U. S. ties have continued, albeit virtually, along other departmental fronts all week.

Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson spoke Wednesday with John Kerry, Biden's special envoy on climate, to shore up plans for more stringent emissions-reduction targets in advance of a climate summit in April.

And Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Transport Minister Omar Alghabra have committed to tougher vehicle pollution standards, and collaborating on new standards for aircraft and ships.



Who have provinces pegged to receive COVID-19 vaccines in the coming weeks?

Who is getting the shot?

As COVID-19 vaccine supplies gradually ramp up across the country, most provinces and territories have released details of who can expect to receive a shot in the coming weeks. Here's a list of their plans to date:

 

Newfoundland and Labrador

The province says it is in Phase 1 of its vaccine rollout. Health-care workers on the front lines of the pandemic, staff at long-term care homes, people of "advanced age" and adults in remote or isolated Indigenous communities have priority.

Chief medical health officer Dr. Janice Fitzgerald has said Phase 2 will begin in April if vaccine supply remains steady. The second phase prioritizes adults over 60 years old, beginning with those over 80, as well as Indigenous adults, first responders, rotational workers and adults in marginalized populations, such as those experiencing homelessness.

Adults between 16 and 59 years old will be vaccinated in the third phase of the rollout, and Fitzgerald has said she expects that to begin this summer.

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Nova Scotia

Health officials began expanding access to COVID-19 vaccines on Feb. 22, opening community clinics for people aged 80 years and older. Dr. Robert Strang, chief medical officer of health, has said the province's plan is to open another 10 clinics in March for 48,000 people who will be mailed a letter informing them how to book an appointment.

Strang said the vaccination program will then expand to the next age group in descending order until everyone in the province is offered the chance to be immunized. The age groups will proceed in five-year blocks.

Future community clinics are to be held March 8 in Halifax, New Minas, Sydney and Truro; March 15 in Antigonish, Halifax and Yarmouth; and March 22 in Amherst, Bridgewater and Dartmouth.

The province began its vaccination campaign with residents of long-term care homes, those who work directly with patients, those who are 80 and older, and those who are at risk for other reasons including First Nations and African Nova Scotian communities.

Nova Scotia plans to have vaccine available to at least 75 per cent of the population by the end of September 2021.

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Prince Edward Island

The province says the first phase of its vaccination drive, currently slated to last until March, targets residents and staff of long-term and community care, as well as health-care workers with direct patient contact at higher risk of COVID-19 exposure.

Those 80 and older, adults in Indigenous communities, and truck drivers and other rotational workers are also included.

The next phase, which is scheduled to begin in April, will target those above 70 and essential workers.

The province intends to make the vaccine available to everyone in late summer and fall.

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New Brunswick

The province is also focusing on vaccinating those living in long-term care homes, health-care workers with direct patient contact, adults in First Nations communities and older New Brunswickers in the first phase, which lasts until at least March.

The next phase is scheduled to begin in the spring and includes residents and staff of communal settings, other health-care workers including pharmacists, first responders and critical infrastructure employees.

The government website says once the vaccine supply is continuous and in large enough quantities, the entire population will be offered the shots.

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Quebec

The province's proposed order of priority for vaccination according to its website is those in residential and long-term care centres, workers in the health and social services network, followed by those in isolated and remote communities, people 80 years or older, and then the general population in 10-year increments.

Health officials launched an online and telephone system for vaccine registrations on Feb. 25 and will begin vaccinating people aged 85 years and older in Montreal on March 1. Officials said that while residents across the province aged 85 and older can register for a vaccine, priority will be given to people in the greater Montreal area, which has the highest active COVID-19 case count in Quebec.

On Feb. 26, officials opened registration for Montrealers as young as 80 years old. It has not yet been announced when the next age group can begin to register for vaccines.

The province says the vaccination of children and pregnant women will be determined based on future studies of vaccine safety and efficacy in those populations.

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Ontario

The province has mapped out a three-phase approach to its rollout. Phase 1, which is still ongoing, reserves shots for those in long-term care, high-risk retirement home residents, certain classes of health-care workers, and people who live in congregate care settings.

All Indigenous adults, people aged 80 and older and adults receiving chronic home care will be next in line. The province says it will begin vaccinations among the 80 and older age cohort starting the third week of March.

Vaccinations will begin for people 75 and older starting April 15. The province will then move to offer shots to those 70 and older starting May 1; 65 and older starting June 1; and 60 and older the first week of July.

Indigenous adults and patient-facing health-care workers will receive vaccinations as the province works through those age groups. The government is still finalizing the list of essential workers who will receive vaccinations in May if supply is available.

The province has not detailed when people younger than 60 can expect to be vaccinated.

Appointment bookings can be made online and by phone starting March 15 for those in eligible age cohorts.

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Manitoba

Manitoba is starting to vaccinate people in the general population. Appointments are now available for most people aged 95 and up, or 75 and up for First Nations people. Until now, vaccines have been directed to certain groups such as health-care workers and people in personal care homes. Health officials plan to reduce the age minimum, bit by bit, over the coming months. They say most people over 80, and First Nations individuals over 60, could be eligible in early March.

The province plans to have all personal care home residents vaccinated with two doses by the end of February, and has started sending team to other congregate living settings such as group homes and shelters.

Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead of the province's vaccine task force, say inoculations could be open to all adults in the province by August if new vaccines are approved and supplies are steady.

The plan does not include a separate category for essential workers — something that Reimer says will be considered as vaccine supplies increase.

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Saskatchewan

The province is still in the first phase of its vaccination rollout, which reserves doses for long-term care residents and staff, health-care workers at elevated risk of COVID-19 exposure, seniors over the age of 70 and anyone 50 or older living in a remote area. In all, nearly 400,000 doses are required to finish this stage.

The next phase will be focused on vaccinating the general population by age.

It hopes to begin its mass vaccination campaign by April, but there if there isn’t enough supply that could be pushed back to June. Saskatchewan will begin immunizing the general population in 10-year increments, starting with those 60 to 69. Also included in this age group will be people living in emergency shelters, individuals with intellectual disabilities in care homes and people who are medically vulnerable.

Police, corrections staff and teachers are among the front-line workers not prioritized for early access to shots. The government says supply is scarce.

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Alberta

Some 230,000 people born in 1946 or earlier are now eligible to be immunized at 58 sites across the province. Appointments are being offered through an online portal and the 811 Health Link phone line.

Health Minister Tyler Shandro said Wednesday the website was temporarily overwhelmed when more than 150,000 people tried to get access to it. By mid-afternoon, 25,000 appointments had been booked.

He said all eligible seniors should have their first shots by the end of March.

The government’s website says the province will be offering second shots of the COVID-19 vaccine within 42 days after initial doses are administered.

Initial immunization efforts have focused on long-term care residents and certain health-care professionals, with plans to expand vaccine offerings by the end of the month.

Provincial officials have said February will see seniors over 75, First Nations, Métis and people 65 and older living in a First Nations community start to receive their vaccines.

Work is underway to identify target populations for future phases of the provincial rollout.

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British Columbia

The first phase of B.C.'s immunization campaign launched in December and focused on health-care workers in hospitals, paramedics, residents and staff at long-term care homes, and remote Indigenous communities.

The second phase set to wrap up in March includes people aged 80 and above, Indigenous elders 65 and up, Indigenous communities that didn't receive vaccine in the first phase, as well as more health-care workers and vulnerable populations living and working in certain congregate settings.

The third phase of B.C.'s immunization campaign is set to start in April and last until June, reaching people between the ages of 60 and 79, along with those who are highly clinically vulnerable, such as cancer patients.

B.C.'s plan for the general population is based on age, with the oldest residents first in line.

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Nunavut

Nunavut's vaccination rollout is underway, with vaccine clinics for the general population scheduled or completed in all 25 communities.

In Iqaluit, Nunavut's capital, a general vaccination clinic is underway for priority populations, including staff and residents of shelters, people ages 60 years and up, staff and inmates and correctional facilities, first responders and front-line health-care staff.

Starting March 1, the vaccine clinic will be extended to all adults in Iqaluit ages 45 and up.

Nunavut still expects enough vaccines to immunize 75 per cent of its residents over the age of 18 by the end of March.

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Northwest Territories

The Northwest Territories says it has vaccinated 42 per cent of its adult population since its vaccine rollout began in early January.

Vaccine clinics are either completed or underway in all 33 of the territory's communities. In Yellowknife, residents and staff in long-term care homes are being prioritized for the vaccine. Vaccination of Yellowknife's general population will begin in late March.

The N.W.T. still expects to receive enough vaccines to inoculate 75 per cent of its adult population by the end of March.

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Yukon

Yukon says it will receive enough vaccine to immunize 75 per cent of its adult population by the end of March.

Priority for vaccinations has been given to residents and staff in long-term care homes, group homes and shelters, as well as health-care workers and personal support workers. People over the age of 80 who are not living in long-term care, and those living in rural and remote communities, including Indigenous Peoples, are also on the priority list for shots.



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