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Ticks are everywhere this summer. Here’s what you need to know

THE BIG STORY | posted Monday, Jul 12th, 2021

In today’s Big Story podcast, if you spent time outdoors this weekend, we hope you did a thorough tick check when you got back inside. The creatures have been on the rise in Canada for years, and this summer is no exception. The increase is not just in numbers, but in wide swaths of habitat which used to be tick-free.

Why is this happening? How can you spot them? Where are you likely to encounter them? And most importantly, if you find one, how can you remove it safely, and what do you need to do after that?

GUEST: Justin Wood, founder of Geneticks

You can subscribe to The Big Story podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google and Spotify

You can also find it at thebigstorypodcast.ca.

‘We’re ready to go’: Calgary Stampede to kick off with enhanced safety measures

BILL GRAVELAND, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Friday, Jul 9th, 2021

CALGARY — The rides are up, the stuffed animals are displayed at the games tables and concession booths are loaded with supplies.

Forced by the pandemic to cancel last year for the first time in its history, the Calgary Stampede has returned.

The setup may look familiar but, due to COVID-19, there are some notable changes to the 10-day celebration of cowboy life.

The walkways are wider, there are markers showing proper spacing in lineups and fewer rides.

“We wanted to spread this out, create more social-distancing space, so we brought less rides to achieve that goal,” said Scooter (Greg) Korek, vice-president of client services for North American Midway Entertainment.

“The rides that we didn’t bring were maybe some of our less popular attractions. We brought all the fan favourites.”

Including the ones that cause some riders to throw up?

“Absolutely. That’s our core business.”

Korek grew up in Calgary and joined the midway more than 40 years ago. He said there’s been plenty of practice leading up to the Stampede.

“We’ve been at 45 fairs in the United States and all of our great guys are back and ready to go.”

New safety measures adopted by the Stampede include cutting daily attendance in half, sanitation stations for the public and enhanced cleaning throughout the grounds. Staff and volunteers are required to wear masks and get COVID-19 rapid tests.

The chuckwagon races aren’t being held and the parade to kick off the Stampede is confined to the grounds without the public in attendance.

“What I would say is people need to guide themselves with their own level of comfort. But certainly, we feel very confident that we have created an excellent environment here for people to come in and enjoy themselves,” said Stampede vice-president Jim Laurendeau.

Korek said Calgary is the first stop in Canada and the entire midway’s staff had to be quarantined for two weeks upon arrival. The midway brings with it a full cleaning crew and everyone knows how to keep things sanitized and safe, he said.

“We started in March (with) and our pandemic program, which is pretty extensive: social distancing, mask and gloves. We got really, really good at it.”

The next stop for North American Midway Entertainment is Tulsa, Okla.

Korek wants Stampede visitors to know that there is nothing to be nervous about.

“I’m going to tell you right now: I would put any one of my family members on any one of our rides, any day. We’re ready to go.”

Korek said he understands why the Stampede had to be shut down last year, but as a Calgarian, it was still hard to accept.

“It was really a tough moment when they called it off. It was a heartbreaker. That was really what it was.”

It’s all different this year.

“The eyes of the world are on us. This is a great way to celebrate … the end of this pandemic.”

The Stampede runs until July 18.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 9, 2021.

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

Quebec to impose COVID-19 ‘vaccine passport’ system in September

JACOB SEREBRIN, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Friday, Jul 9th, 2021

ONTREAL — Quebec will impose a vaccine-passport system in September in areas where COVID-19 outbreaks occur, requiring people to prove they are vaccinated to enter places such as gyms and bars, Health Minister Christian Dubé said Thursday.

The system will apply for specific periods of time in parts of Quebec where COVID-19 transmission is high, Dubé told reporters, adding that proof of vaccination will be required only to access non-essential services.

“The vaccination passport will be used if, and only if, the transmission or outbreaks justify it in a sector or in a territory,” he said. “To be clear, the vaccination passport will not be used for access to public or essential services.”

Dubé said the proposed health order will allow the government to avoid imposing fresh lockdowns if cases begin to rise in the colder months, and he said it would permit businesses to operate despite having COVID-19 outbreaks. “It’s an extra tool in our management of cases and contacts,” he said. “We found an alternative to a generalized lockdown.”

In a news release Thursday, the Health Department didn’t provide a concrete list of places where the vaccine passport will be required, but it suggested it could be used at bars, gyms, restaurants, sporting events and festivals.

Should an outbreak at a gym occur, Dubé said as an example, “we’re not closing the gym, we’re saying that for a period, only the people that have a double dose can go to the gym. It’s a risk-management approach.”

The government is waiting until September to impose the passport system because everyone over 12 should have been able to receive two COVID-19 vaccine doses by then, Dubé said. They system will apply to Quebec residents and to visitors.

Details of how private businesses will be expected to verify proof of vaccination and how the state will manage an exemption system for people who can’t receive a COVID-19 vaccine for medical reasons still have to be worked out, Dubé said.

Vardit Ravitsky, a bioethicist who teaches at Université de Montréal and Harvard Medical School, said she thinks announcing the plan early was a good move and will encourage people to get vaccinated — something she said could prevent the passport’s use entirely.

It’s the right approach, she said in an interview Thursday, to require proof of vaccination for specific locations and to lift the health order when an outbreak is over.

“This is such a targeted, such a finely nuanced proposition that it really takes care of all the worries that we sometimes have about discrimination, because it’s not meant to punish those who are not vaccinated, it’s not meant to create barriers for anyone, it’s just meant to keep as much of society open and functional around eruptions of the virus,” she said.

“It’s meant to protect the health-care system while protecting our economy.”

She said it’s reasonable to prevent someone who chose not to get vaccinated from visiting a bar for a specific period of time. “The limitations that they will face will be so minor, that I think for the common good, it’s a very reasonable, proportional idea.”

Cara Zwibel, director of the fundamental freedoms program at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, said more detail is needed about how the passport system will work.

“When they say we’re not going to use this until it becomes necessary, I think we need to know in advance what necessary looks like,” she said in an interview Thursday. “We need a clear threshold that says this is when this is a measure that’s going to be appropriate.”

She said she also has concerns about how the private health data will be stored. “What happens to that information? Who holds it? And what kind of restrictions are put on its use and sharing? How secure is it?”

The Health Department said 113,084 doses of vaccine were administered Wednesday, and Quebec’s public health institute said 42.7 per cent of residents over 12 are considered adequately vaccinated.

Quebec reported 64 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday and 10 more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus, nine of which occurred before July 1. Health officials said COVID-19-related hospitalizations dropped by two, to 101, and 23 people were in intensive care, a drop of two. Montreal reported 25 new COVID-19 cases while no other region in the province had more than 19 new cases.

Canada not doomed to 4th wave of COVID-19, doctors day, despite U.K.’s experience

MIA RABSON, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Thursday, Jul 8th, 2021

A fourth wave of COVID-19 now surging across the United Kingdom doesn’t have to become a reality in Canada as long as people keep getting vaccinated as quickly as possible, some infectious disease experts say.

That optimistic prediction comes even with the dominance of the Delta variant, which is proving to be harder to stop with just one dose of vaccine.

Dr. David Naylor, co-chair of Canada’s COVID-19 immunity task force, said the U.K. has been a “useful bellwether” for Canada in the pandemic, often a few steps ahead as infections rise and fall.

With one of the world’s fastest vaccination campaigns and strict public health measures after Christmas, the U.K. was a beacon of hope for Canada. In mid-May, while much of Canada was still deep into third-wave lockdowns, the U.K. was opening restaurants and bars, having curbed infection rates so much it had days when not a single person died of COVID-19.

But in the weeks since, the Delta variant is proving its heft, pushing infections in the U.K. from below 2,000 a day in the third week of May to more than 26,000 a day over the last week.

“We may likewise find with multiple provinces opening up that the same thing happens here,” said Naylor. “But it’s also possible that Canada may chart a slightly smoother course with Delta in the next month or so.”

While the U.K. outpaced Canada early on vaccines — and still does on second doses — there are some differences between the two inoculation programs, said Naylor, including waiting to lift most restrictions until more people were vaccinated.

“That may help us mitigate the risks of a big Delta wave,” he said.

When the U.K. moved to stage three of its reopening on May 17, allowing indoor dining and visits to movie theatres and museums, about half of British residents had their first jab and 30 per cent had both. Canada, which is now in a similar place to the U.K. was then in terms of both infection rates and public health restrictions lifting, has given at least one dose to 69 per cent of Canadians and 38 per cent are fully vaccinated.

But those numbers, don’t tell the entire story.

Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious diseases doctor at St. Joseph’s Healthcare in Hamilton, said another difference between the two countries is the age of the people who are vaccinated.

In both countries, infection rates are highest among people under 30. Canada opened up vaccines to people as young as 12 by the end of May. The U.K. only began booking people as young as 18 in mid-June and still hasn’t started vaccinating teenagers.

When the U.K. moved to stage three reopening in May, less than 17 per cent of people under 40 had even one dose of vaccine, and seven per cent had two. As of June 26, Canada had given at least one dose to about two-thirds of people between 12 and 39 years old, and two doses to about 12 per cent.

“I think we have a little bit of an advantage here in Canada,” said Chagla.

Studies have shown one dose of vaccine isn’t as good as two at preventing symptomatic COVID-19 infections. One dose is very good at keeping people out of hospital. Multiple countries where the Delta variant is spreading now report the fastest infection rates in unvaccinated people.

Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Research Organization at the University of Saskatchewan, said new variants are going to keep coming because viruses mutate as they spread, and sometimes those mutations make the virus stronger.

But Rasmussen said the mutations aren’t so big that the vaccines won’t affect them at all.

“The vast majority of people who’ve had two shots are not going to be severely ill, even if they do get a breakthrough infection,” Rasmussen said.

She said they’re also likely to be less infectious to others.

Rasmussen said people should remember this when the next variant inevitably emerges, and still trust the vaccines will help.

“The answer to variants is not ‘Oh my God, the vaccines don’t work,’ because some people are occasionally getting infected,” she said.

“We should be saying let’s all get vaccinated, so that we can reduce the likelihood that variants that are even more capable of getting around our defences will emerge.”

Lytton, B.C. is Canada’s face-to-face encounter with the future of climate

THE BIG STORY | posted Thursday, Jul 8th, 2021

In today’s Big Story podcast, two people are dead, a town is all but destroyed and more than a thousand people have essentially become climate refugees. And that is the toll of just one of the hundreds of forest fires raging in British Columbia at the moment.

But it’s in the future of Lytton that we can get a glimpse of what Canada must grapple with. Do you rebuild a town in the hottest place in Canada, at a time when fire season is getting longer and more intense every year? Or do you simply expect people, many of whom belong to the Lytton First Nation, to pick up the pieces and head elsewhere—until “elsewhere” is threatened, too?

GUEST: Monika Gul, News 1130, CityNews, Vancouver

You can subscribe to The Big Story podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google and Spotify

You can also find it at thebigstorypodcast.ca.

B.C. man guilty of killing Abbotsford teen to find out parole eligibility

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Wednesday, Jul 7th, 2021

NEW WESTMINSTER, B.C. — The man who killed a 13-year-old girl and injured her friend at a high school in Abbotsford, B.C., is expected to find out how long he will be in prison before he’s eligible for parole.

Gabriel Klein will serve a life sentence for the second-degree murder of Letisha Reimer and the aggravated assault of her friend in November 2016.

B.C. Supreme Court Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes is expected to release her decision today on how long it will be before Klein is eligible to apply for parole.

The Crown argued at the sentencing hearing last month that Klein should serve at least 18 years before he can apply for release, while his lawyer says parole eligibility should be set at 12 years.

Klein was diagnosed with schizophrenia in the months after he stabbed the girls multiple times but was rejected for a defence of not criminally responsible because of a mental disorder.

Reimer’s father, who spoke at the sentencing hearing, expressed doubts that Klein would receive a fit sentence for the damage caused to his family by his daughter’s death.

Klein will also be given the chance to address the victims’ friends and family at today’s hearing.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 7, 2021.

The Canadian Press

What’s the fight over returning to the office really about?

THE BIG STORY | posted Wednesday, Jul 7th, 2021

In today’s Big Story podcast, the heated discussion over a full return to business as usual versus an embrace of remote, flexible work is often couched in language of productivity, creativity and efficiency. But as more and more corporations announce their post-pandemic plans, it’s becoming clear that there’s a bigger, deeper issue at stake: Control.

What makes companies feel like in-person office work is essential? Why are workers so reluctant to give up their new flexibility, even when working from home can be fraught with problems? Are we entering a new era that could end the monoculture of the office… or just one more push from labour to be beaten back by The Man?

GUEST: Charlie Warzel, journalist, Galaxy Brain

You can subscribe to The Big Story podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google and Spotify

You can also find it at thebigstorypodcast.ca.

Vaccine FAQ: mixing and matching, kids under 12 and are we slowing down?

THE BIG STORY | posted Tuesday, Jul 6th, 2021

In today’s Big Story podcast, now that vaccines are widely available to almost any Canadian who wants one, the focus turns to convincing people who haven’t had one yet to get their needle. It’s easier said than done, for more reasons than just hesitancy. And if our inbox is any indication, after months of mixed messaging, Canadians have a lot of questions.

What does the science say about mixing mRNA vaccines? When will we have data and shots for kids under 12? How do various brands of vaccines cope with the Delta variant? And why does the threshold for herd immunity keep changing?

GUEST: Sabina Vohra-Miller, clinical pharmacologist

You can subscribe to The Big Story podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google and Spotify

You can also find it at thebigstorypodcast.ca.

Remains of Canadian found at site of collapsed condo in Florida

NEWS STAFF, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | posted Tuesday, Jul 6th, 2021

The remains of a Canadian have been pulled from the rubble of a collapsed condo building in South Florida.

Global Affairs Canada confirmed Tuesday morning that a Canadian citizen was among the 28 dead at the site in Surfside.

Another three Canadians remain unaccounted for and three different families have been affected by the collapse.

Statement from Global Affairs Canada:

“Canada sends its deepest condolences to the family and friends who lost a loved one in the building collapse in Surfside, Florida. Global Affairs Canada can confirm that the remains of one Canadian citizen were found at the site. At least three other Canadian citizens remain unaccounted for. Three different families have been affected by this tragedy.

Global Affairs says Canadian officials in Miami have been providing support to the family of the deceased and the families of the missing individuals.

“We stand ready to provide consular assistance to Canadian citizens as necessary,” reads the statement. “We will also continue to liaise with local authorities in case they have any updates to provide on these Canadians and the situation more broadly.”

A ramped-up rescue effort at the collapsed condo building faced new threats from the weather as Tropical Storm Elsa began lashing Florida, on a path that would mostly spare South Florida.

Bands of heavy rain were expected in Surfside as Elsa strengthened on Tuesday, possibly becoming a hurricane again before making landfall somewhere between Tampa Bay and Florida’s Big Bend and crossing northern Florida. The search crews can work through rain, but lightning from unrelated thunderstorms have forced them to pause at times, and a garage area in the rubble has filled with water, officials said.

The delays frustrated rescue crews, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said.

“Truly they live to save lives, and they’ve pushed ahead no matter what is thrown in their way,” she said at an evening news conference.

Still, crews got a big boost when the unstable remaining portion of the Champlain Towers South building came down Sunday. The demolition — prompted by fears that the structure could fall — allowed rescuers into previously inaccessible places, including bedrooms where people were believed to be sleeping at the time of the disaster, officials said.

Four more victims were discovered, raising the death toll to 28 people. Another 117 people remained unaccounted for.

“The site is busier and more active now than I’ve seen it since we began, now that the damaged building is down,” Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said, adding that heavy equipment was now able to move freely around the site.

Rescuers hoped to get a clearer picture of voids that may exist in the rubble as they search for anyone still trapped under the fallen wing of the building, but they found very few voids, Miami-Dade Assistant Fire Chief Raide Jadallah told family members late Monday.

No one has been rescued alive since the first hours after the collapse, but rescuers were still holding out hope of reuniting loved ones.

“We continue to remain focused on our primary mission, and that is to leave no stone unturned and to find as many people as we can and to help bring either some answers to family and loved ones or to bring some closure to them,” City of Miami Fire Rescue Capt. Ignatius Carroll said.

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