Canada

Today’s coronavirus news: More Canadians turn to virtual health care; South Korea extends COVID restrictions by two weeks; Manitoba MP loses cabinet positions after trip to Greece

KEY FACTS

  • 7 a.m.: More Canadians are accessing virtual care services like Telus Health, raising alarm bells among some doctors

  • 9 p.m. (Friday): Federal MP Niki Ashton the latest Canadian politician in hot water for travelling abroad

The latest coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Saturday. This file will be updated throughout the day. Web links to longer stories if available.

7 a.m.: As the global economy crumbled, and automotive sales around the world plunged during the COVID-19 pandemic, Guelph-based auto parts maker Linamar was feeling flush with cash.

So much so that at the end the third quarter, it announced it was doubling its dividend, from six cents per share, to 12 cents. That move meant Linamar would now be paying its shareholders almost $8 million every three months.

Boosting the dividend after seeing earnings rise at the same time sales fell would ordinarily seem like a reasonable manoeuvre. But the increased dividend comes at a time when Linamar has also been collecting a federal wage subsidy. Through the first three quarters of the year, Linamar has collected $108.1 million in the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS), while paying out a total of $15.7 million in dividends.

Moving taxpayer money into shareholders’ pockets is not what CEWS was meant to accomplish. But, say economists and accounting experts, that’s exactly what has happened, both with Linamar and a host of other Canadian corporations.

Read the full story here from Josh rubin and Amir Barnea.

7 a.m.: Amber Goss wanted to be the first in line when a primary-care clinic in her city started accepting new patients.

At 8 a.m., Goss was ready. The website wasn’t. By 8:01 a.m., it had crashed. It stayed down all day.

“I had a kind of ‘Oh well, that’s 2020’ moment,” she said. “I was surprised at how long the website was down. But when I thought about it I thought, ‘This is a clinic website, this is not a site that’s designed for high traffic.’”

The incident underscored a reality across Canada today: Five million Canadians, like Goss, don’t have a family doctor — but that doesn’t mean they’re being left out in the cold.

Those patients, and others, are increasingly willing to meet their doctors and other care providers online, the way they have been interacting with their banks and travel-booking services for more than a decade.

While individual doctors and clinics catch up on how to provide virtual visits for the first time, one of Canada’s largest telecommunications companies has moved to fill the gap, working with a U.K. tech company with the lofty goal of using technology to make health care accessible to everyone.

Read the full story from Alex McKeen here.

7 a.m.: Love knows no boundaries — even during a global pandemic. At least it didn’t for Frederick Paul and Florence Harvey.

The high school sweethearts first met seven decades ago in Wandsworth, Newfoundland, when Frederick, as a young man, would flicker his porch light before going to bed every night.

Both “downhomers” went on to marry other people and build families over five-plus decades.

Frederick, 84, lost his first wife, Helen, to multiple health challenges that ended with dementia in 2019. Florence, 81, lost her first husband, Len, to cancer in 2017.

But time passed and hearts were healing.

In February, Valentine’s Day, to be exact, Florence reached out by telephone to Frederick to extend her support, having heard the news of his wife’s death.

Read the full story from Sean Durack here.

7 a.m.: A lot happened in the business world while we were all under lockdown this year. How closely did you pay attention?

Take David Olive’s business quiz here.

6:45 a.m.: South Korea will extend stringent distancing rules for two more weeks to suppress a viral resurgence, as it confirmed its first cases of an apparently more contagious variant of COVID-19.

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Health Minister Kwon Deok-cheol said Saturday the second highest level of distancing rules, called “Tier-2.5,” will remain in place in the greater Seoul region until Jan. 17. He says the third highest level of restrictions will be maintained in other areas until then.

South Korea reported 824 new cases, raising the national tally to 62,593 with 942 deaths. It’s the first time for the country’s daily tally has fallen below 800 since Dec. 28.

6:45 a.m.: Australia’s leading medical group says the New South Wales state government has put the rest of the country at risk by its decision not to go “hard and early” in its response to the COVID-19 outbreak on Sydney’s northern beaches, which is suspected to have also caused new cases in neighbouring Victoria state.

On Saturday, Victoria recorded 10 new local cases, bringing active cases in the state to 29. Trace testing has linked the new Melbourne coronavirus cluster to the New South Wales outbreak.

Australian Medical Association Vice-President Chris Moy said the New South Wales government was “playing the odds” by relying heavily on its contact tracing system instead of imposing a quick lockdown to stop the spread across Sydney.

“They have put themselves and put the rest of the country at risk,” Moy told Fairfax Media. “I can completely understand why Victoria has reacted (by) closing the border very quickly, because they are very worried about this.”

6:30 a.m.: The Dutch government announced Saturday that it will begin vaccinating thousands of front-line health care workers as soon as possible to ease pressure on hospitals hit by coronavirus-related staffing shortages.

The announcement marked an abrupt change to a policy of beginning vaccinations on Jan. 8 that had drawn criticism for leaving the Netherlands lagging behind other countries that have already begun.

“The worrying situation in acute care is in part due to the illness of care workers, often corona-related,” the government said in a statement. “Acute care staff will, therefore, be part of the first group that is eligible for vaccination.”

The Netherlands is in the midst of a five-week tough lockdown imposed when infection rates were spiking across the country. In recent days, infection rates have been edging lower; on Friday, 8,215 people tested positive for COVID-19.

Friday 9 p.m.: A prominent member of the federal New Democrats has lost her cabinet critic positions after travelling to Greece in spite of widespread travel restrictions meant to curb the spread of COVID-19.

The party released a statement saying Manitoba member of Parliament Niki Ashton travelled to Greece recently to visit a family member who was seriously ill.

Ashton is one of a growing list of Canadian politicians in hot water this week for travelling abroad during the pandemic.

  • Rod Phillips resigned as Ontario’s finance minister Thursday after returning from a Caribbean vacation.
  • Tracy Allard, Alberta’s municipal affairs minister, went on vacation to Hawaii with her husband and daughter.
  • In Saskatchewan, Highways Minister Joe Hargrave apologized for travelling with his wife to Palm Springs, Calif., to complete the sale of a home.
  • In Quebec, Liberal assembly member Pierre Arcand was criticized for a trip with his wife to Barbados.

Click here to read more coverage from Friday.




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