Canada’s COVID-19 vaccination requirement for domestic and outbound travelers, as well as federal bureaucrats and transportation workers, will be suspended starting next week, officials said Tuesday.
Masking, however, will still be required on planes and trains.
“I’m pleased to announce that on June 20 our government will suspend the requirement to be vaccinated in order to board a plane or train in Canada,” Transport Minister Omar Alghabra told a news conference.
He cited a high rate of inoculations and a falling number of Covid cases and hospitalizations across the country. The move also comes as most other pandemic restrictions have been lifted.
Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic Leblanc added that this will not, however, immediately ease a logjam at Canadian airports.
That problem, along with delays in the issuing of passports, sparked a public outcry in recent weeks, as more and more Canadians seek to take trips after more than two years of pandemic restrictions and lockdowns.
The mandatory vaccine policy for travelers was rolled out last October, and Alghabra warned it could be reimposed in the fall if Covid-19 cases jump back up.
“Our government will always continue to evaluate measures and will not hesitate to make additional adjustments based on the latest public health advice and science,” he said.
Travelers entering Canada, meanwhile, must continue to show proof of vaccination. Those departing the country will no longer need to do so.
Alghabra noted that the United States, a popular destination for Canadians, still requires proof of vaccination for those arriving from abroad.
In a statement, the Canadian government said it was maintaining the requirement for inbound travelers to be vaccinated because “vaccination rates and virus control in other countries varies significantly” and it will “serve as added protection against any future variant.”
More than 90 percent of Canadians have received two Covid vaccine doses, while about half have also received a booster, according to government figures.
Canada is suspending random COVID-19 tests at airports until the end of June in a bid to reduce chronic delays to travelers in recent weeks, the government said Friday.
The tests will be put on hold from Saturday and will resume “off site” on July 1, according to a government statement.
“We continue to work with airports, airlines, baggage handlers, and other partners to implement solutions to reduce delays as we approach the summer peak season,” it said.
Numerous aviation officials have spoken out against the tests in recent weeks, saying they have worsened wait times at airports, already hit by understaffing.
In Toronto, as in Montreal, it takes several hours for passengers to leave the airport. A nationwide labor shortage has worsened recently and is affecting all sectors.
Many passengers have taken to social media in recent days to complain about being stuck in their planes after landing before being allowed to disembark, but also about long queues when checking their baggage.
The country’s main airline, Air Canada, has admitted to being hit by these problems.
Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick told the media that “extended delays in security and customs,” had recently forced airlines to cancel some flights.
The government has promised to continue to hire screening officers at airports. The statement Friday said 865 people have joined the ranks of air transport security since April.
The United States on Friday announced that Covid-19 tests would no longer be demanded for international travelers arriving by air, a major step in the country’s gradual lifting of pandemic restrictions.
White House Assistant Press Secretary Kevin Munoz confirmed the news on Twitter, with US media saying the testing requirement would end this weekend after strong lobbying from the travel industry.
All passengers had needed to show a negative Covid viral test taken shortly before travel — or proof of having recovered from the virus in the past 90 days — before they boarded their flight.
Munoz said President Joe Biden’s work on vaccines and treatments had been “critical” to easing the travel restrictions, and added that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would continue to evaluate Covid data amid a recent rise in cases.
Last month, the United States crossed the threshold of one million Covid deaths, with Biden acknowledging the “unrelenting” pain of bereaved families, and urging Americans to remain vigilant.
America recorded its first Covid-19 death, on the West Coast, in early February 2020.
Many mask mandates have been lifted but the country has recently seen an uptick in the number of daily virus cases, largely due to new Omicron subvariants.
The Federal High Court in Lagos has struck out a suit seeking to set aside the conviction of popular Nollywood actress, Funke Akindele, her husband, Abdulrasheed Bello popularly known as JJC Skillz and 236 others, who were prosecuted for violating the state’s lockdown in 2020.
Justice Akintayo Aluko held that the suit disclosed no reasonable cause of action and was also incompetent.
Akindele and her husband were convicted on April 6, 2020, by the Lagos State Magistrates’ Court in Ogba, days after they held a crowded house birthday party contrary to Lagos State’s social distancing order.
But a Lagos-based lawyer, Olukoya Ogungbeje, approached the court, challenging the constitutionality of the Lagos State Infectious Diseases (Emergency Prevention) Regulations 2020 pursuant to which Akindele, her husband, and 236 other residents were convicted and sentenced.
Joint respondents in the suit are the Lagos State Government, Attorney-General of Lagos State, Commissioner of Police, Lagos State and the Inspector-General of Police.
Ogungbeje also sought, among others, an order compelling the Respondents jointly and severally to tender a public apology in three widely read newspaper publications to other persons/Nigerians arrested, arraigned, tried, convicted and sentenced.
But the Lagos State Government and the AG opposed the move through their counsel, a Deputy Director, Lagos State Ministry of Justice, Mr. Adebayo Haroun.
They filed a notice of preliminary objection against the suit on July 10, 2020.
According to them, Section 8 of the Quarantine Act, 2004 allows the governor to make the regulations where the President of Nigeria had not made such regulations.
They contended that the Regulation was made for public safety, public good, and protection which is larger and far greater than that of an individual such as the Applicant.
In his judgment delivered on June 2, 2022, a copy of which was obtained by Channels Television’s judiciary correspondent, Shola Soyele on Friday, the court agreed in part with the government.
Justice Aluko observed that the regulations disclosed in its preamble that the governor made the regulations by virtue of the powers conferred on him by the Lagos State Public Health Law of Lagos State, 2015 and in particular section 8 of the Quarantine Act and that Sections 8 provides that if regulations under section 4 of the Act was not made by the President, power to make such regulations may be exercised by the governor in respect of his state.
The judge held: “This means that the regulations made by the governor on the 27/3/2020 is valid within the context of section 8 of the Quarantine Act having been made at a time when the president had not made his own regulations. The Lagos State Infectious Disease (Emergency Prevention) Regulations, 2020 is therefore subsidiary legislation validly made pursuant to section 8 of the Quarantine Act.
“Contrary to the argument of the Applicant, section 17 of the Regulations actually created certain offences ranging from failure to comply with a restriction order, prohibition, or doing anything contrary to the provisions of the Regulations.
Section 17 (2) of the Regulations provides that any person who contravenes the provisions of the Regulations shall be liable under the Quarantine Act, Public Health Law of the State, and any other existing law to fine or imprisonment or both in accordance with the extant laws.
“It is of note that section 5 of the Quarantine Act provides for penalties or punishment against any person who contravenes provisions of the regulations made under the Act.”
While commending Ogungbeje for “seeking to protect citizens’ rights from violations”, the judge noted that the suit had “no support of the law.” Justice Aluko added: “In total, I hold that this suit has disclosed no reasonable cause of action against the Respondents.
“The instant suit is incompetent and the court lacks jurisdiction to adjudicate over same.
“Accordingly, this suit is hereby struck out for those reasons.”
US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer on Wednesday said it would sell its patented drugs on a not-for-profit basis to the world’s poorest countries, as part of a new initiative announced at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
“The time is now to begin closing this gap” between people with access to the latest treatments and those going without, chief executive Albert Bourla told attendees at the exclusive Swiss mountain resort gathering.
“An Accord for a Healthier World” focuses on five areas: infectious diseases, cancer, inflammation, rare diseases and women’s health — where Pfizer currently holds 23 patents, including the likes of Comirnaty and Paxlovid, its Covid vaccine and oral treatment.
“This transformational commitment will increase access to Pfizer-patented medicines and vaccines available in the United States and the European Union to nearly 1.2 billion people,” Angela Hwang, group president of the Pfizer Biopharmaceuticals Group, told AFP.
Five countries: Rwanda, Ghana, Malawi, Senegal and Uganda have committed to joining, with a further 40 countries — 27 low-income and 18 lower-middle-income — eligible to sign bilateral agreements to participate.
“Pfizer’s commitment sets a new standard, which we hope to see emulated by others,” Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame said.
But he added that “additional investments and strengthening of Africa’s health systems and pharmaceutical regulators” would also be needed.
– Seven years behind – Developing countries experience 70 percent of the world’s disease burden but receive only 15 percent of global health spending, leading to devastating outcomes.
Across sub-Saharan Africa, one child in 13 dies before their fifth birthday, compared to one in 199 in high-income countries.
Cancer-related mortality rates are also far higher in low and middle-income countries — causing more fatalities in Africa every year than malaria.
All this is set to a backdrop of limited access to the latest drugs.
Essential medicines and vaccines typically take four to seven years longer to reach the poorest countries, and supply chain issues and poorly resourced health systems make it difficult for patients to receive them once approved.
“The Covid-19 pandemic further highlighted the complexities of access to quality healthcare and the resulting inequities,” said Hwang.
“We know there are a number of hurdles that countries have to overcome to gain access to our medicines. That is why we have initially selected five pilot countries to identify and come up with operational solutions and then share those learnings with the remaining countries.”
– ‘Very good model’ – Specifically, the focus will be on overcoming regulatory and procurement challenges in the countries, while ensuring adequate levels of supply from Pfizer’s side.
The “not-for-profit” price tag takes into account the cost to manufacture and transport of each product to an agreed upon port of entry, with Pfizer charging only manufacturing and minimum distribution costs.
If a country already has access to a product at a lower price tier, for example vaccines supplied by GAVI, a public-private global partnership, that lower price will be maintained.
Hwang acknowledged that even an at-cost approach could be challenging for the most cash-strapped countries, and “this is why we have reached out to financial institutions to brief them on the Accord and ask them to help support country level financing.”
Pfizer will also reach out to other stakeholders — including governments, multilateral organizations, NGOs and even other pharmaceuticals — to ask them to join the Accord.
It is also using funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to advance work on a vaccine against Group B Streptococcus (GBS), the leading cause of stillbirth and newborn mortality in low-income countries.
“This type of accord is a very good model, it’s going to help get medicines out,” Gates told the Davos conference, adding that “partnerships with companies like Pfizer have been key to the progress we have made” on efforts like vaccines.
Rwanda has scrapped a requirement for face masks in public, easing its strict coronavirus restrictions.
Rwanda’s vaccine rollout has been among the fastest in Africa, and around a third of its 13 million people have got booster shots.
“Wearing face masks is no longer mandatory. However, people are encouraged to wear masks indoors,” the prime minister’s office said late Friday.
“Citizens and Rwanda residents must be fully vaccinated in order to access public places (including public transport). Fully vaccinated means having two doses and a booster when eligible,” the statement said.
The authorities also announced that visitors will no longer have to take PCR tests, but can take antigen tests instead before travel and after arriving in the country.
Rwanda has implemented a rigorous regime of testing and contact-tracing, recording 1,459 Covid-19 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
A COVID-19 testing firm in Shanghai is being investigated by city officials after reports that residents were given false-positive results that landed them in harsh state quarantine.
The city has been under lockdown for weeks as China enforces a zero-Covid policy through shutdowns, mass testing and tight restrictions on movement — with everyone who tests positive being sent to a government isolation centre, even those without symptoms.
Numerous Shanghai residents wrote on the Twitter-like Weibo platform this week that they received false-positive results from Zhongke Runda, which operates three testing centres in the financial hub of 25 million.
The group’s parent company, Shanghai Runda Medical Technology, said in a stock filing Wednesday that reports about false positives have “casts doubt on the accuracy of Zhongke Runda’s lab nucleic acid testing data” and an investigation is being held.
The group’s shares have slid since the reports first started on Monday.
Shanghai health authorities said they had declared an investigation into an unspecified “third-party testing organisation” in response to online comments about test results.
One woman said her daughter got a positive result after a Runda test and was sent to a quarantine facility with bad conditions.
“On May 7, my exam-prepping daughter who has barely left the house tested false positive,” the Weibo user wrote.
Her whole family were “thrown into a scary-looking quarantine centre” where the lights were on 24 hours a day and there was no medical care, she said.
Residents who test positive face extended stays in crowded facilities. In some cases, entire buildings are sent into quarantine if one resident tests positive.
Another resident, who initially received a false-positive test from Runda, said they later tested positive after spending four days in quarantine.
As fears mount a lockdown may be imposed in the capital, Beijing officials on Monday said that they were investigating issues with an unspecified number of testing institutions, including inaccuracies.
At least 15 major cities across China now require residents to get Covid-19 tests every two to seven days, according to research firm Soochow Securities.
Nomura economists estimate that regular mass testing could cost as much as 1.8 per cent of China’s GDP.
The bells at Washington National Cathedral rang out 1,000 times Monday, with each toll representing 1,000 deaths from Covid-19, as the United States closed in on the grim milestone of almost one million Covid dead.
The United States has suffered the most Covid deaths of any country in the world, ahead of Brazil, India and Russia.
As of Monday, it had racked up more than 995,000 deaths from the virus, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University.
Bells tolled at around 6:00 pm (2200 GMT) during a tribute broadcast live on YouTube, with each ring representing 1,000 people’s deaths from the disease.
The cathedral’s funeral bell had previously rung when the United States passed other symbolic milestones in the pandemic, such as in September 2020, when the country marked 200,000 deaths.
“Today, we reached a tragic milestone in our nation, one million Americans have died as a result of Covid-19,” said the cathedral’s dean, Randolph Marshall Hollerith, before the bells rang out.
The United States has seen an uptick in the number of daily cases for the past few weeks, as mask mandates have been lifted and the wearing of face coverings has been now simply recommended indoors for a majority of the country’s inhabitants.
The number of deaths linked to the epidemic has however slowed in recent months.
The threshold of 900,000 deaths was passed in February, three months ago, while the 800,000 mark was passed in December, an equivalent leap reached after just a month and a half.
When the milestone of half a million dead was crossed in February 2021, US President Joe Biden noted that it was a heavier toll than “World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War combined.”
In total, the Covid-19 pandemic has caused between 13 and 17 million deaths worldwide between January 1, 2020 and December 31, 2021, according to recent estimates from the World Health Organization (WHO).