The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for June 16
- Coronavirus tracker: Follow the pace of COVID-19 cases, vaccinations in Canada.
- Vaccines are flowing in Ontario, but signs of inequality in dosage still seen in Toronto.
- New Brunswick spent less on pandemic relief than others, but there are good reasons for that, officials say.
- 'Inflation in Canada is hot now': Breaking down the latest Statistics Canada report.
- Read more: Doctors fear a rise in undetected cancers when focus shifts away from COVID-19; CBC's Front Burner podcast digs into the mysterious case of 2 Chinese-born virologists fired from Canada's National Microbiology Lab.
B.C.-based couple sentenced for sneaking into Yukon to get vaccinated
It was a story that transcended Canada's borders and received international media attention. A couple chartered a flight from British Columbia and flew to remote Beaver Creek in Yukon to receive a dose of the Moderna vaccine.
On Wednesday, Rod and Ekaterina Baker of Vancouver entered guilty pleas in a video hearing in Yukon Territorial Court to a charge each of failing to adhere to an entry declaration form and failing to self-isolate.
Each charge came with a maximum penalty of a $500 fine plus a $75 victim surcharge, six months in jail, or both. Judge Michael Cozens slapped the couple with fines totalling $2,300, but spared them time behind bars.
According to an agreed statement of facts, the Bakers arrived in Whitehorse on Jan. 19 and signed a mandatory declaration form stating that they would be isolating in the city. The Bakers — who said the purpose for their visit to Yukon was tourism and education — spent just two days in Whitehorse, instead of the mandated 14-day isolation period, before taking a private charter to Beaver Creek.
Beaver Creek is about 450 kilometres northwest of Whitehorse near the Alaska border. It's home to about 100 people, many of whom are citizens of White River First Nation.
Yukon had prioritized Beaver Creek, along with other remote communities, for vaccination because of its vulnerability to COVID-19.
Soon after the incident, an official told CBC News that there are Yukon residents who still hold out-of-territory health cards, so people without them wouldn't necessarily be turned away from a vaccine clinic.
Rod Baker at the time was the president and CEO of the Great Canadian Gaming Corporation, which owns more than 20 casinos across the country, but he resigned shortly after the uproar caused by his actions. His wife is an actress.
From The National
Ontario tops 200,000 COVID-19 vaccines in 24 hours
Ontario's latest vaccine thrust, emphasizing hot spot regions, has seen its share of criticisms on social media so far this week.
In contrast to a previous hot spot scheme two months ago, which focused on specific postal codes, this time around there have been complaints of what's been called a Hunger Games scenario where people in large population centres like Toronto and Peel Region have waited online in vain to find there are no slots available or slots that would require driving 90 minutes to two hours away.
The state of affairs reflects great demand for the shots. On Wednesday, it was reported that Ontario's public health units administered 202,984 shots the day before, breaking a record set just last week.
A total of 2,750,172 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered so far in Toronto, the city said Wednesday. In response to unprecedented demand for second shots, the city has added 30,000 appointments at its clinics for the period June 22 to 27.
Mayor John Tory said the split of shots is nearing a 50-50 mark, having been just over a week ago a state of affairs where two-thirds of shots were the first dose.
"We expect that strong shift to second doses to continue," Tory said.
Amid all the good news, there are signs of inequality with respect to the city's vaccination effort.
According to Ontario's Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES), neighbourhoods with a higher average income are seeing the greatest proportion of fully vaccinated people. ICES lists the most fully vaccinated neighbourhood in Toronto as Forest Hill at 17.6 per cent, while the Jane and Finch neighbourhood registered at five per cent and Rexdale at 4.6 per cent.
Tory said the city would be "sparing no expense" to see that all areas of the city are sufficiently vaccinated, but both he and Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa said part of the gap is explained by the need to respect the vaccine interval between doses. Because those areas lagged on the first shot, they said, it will be reflected somewhat in the pace of second shots.
N.B. spent far less than other provinces on COVID recovery, but economy is booming anyway
New Brunswick spending on pandemic relief and stimulus efforts has been more than $1 billion below the average of other provinces, according to a new analysis, but the province's economy has been performing better than most despite that.
"The better relative performance from the health perspective in the province, allowed the government not to have to respond as strongly as other governments," said RBC senior economist Robert Hogue, who monitors provincial economies for Royal Bank. "Kudos to not just the provincial government, but to all New Brunswickers to have been able to skate through this period and relatively successfully."
The RBC report projects that in New Brunswick's case, economic output this year will reach $40.8 billion. Adjusted for inflation and other factors, that would be a 1.3 per cent increase in real economic growth since 2019, fourth-best among provinces during the two years of the COVID-19 ordeal.
New Brunswick Finance Minister Ernie Steeves credits more than $3 billion in direct pandemic spending by Ottawa in the province for cushioning the worst of the economic effects and insists low infection rates reduced the need for much supplemental spending beyond that.
"Part of our good fortune relies on the money the feds handed out to a lot of people," Steeves said in an interview Monday.
At the time of his comments, New Brunswick had recorded a total of 2,299 cases of COVID-19, the third-lowest case rate per 100,000 people of all the provinces.
The low case rate and the pace of vaccinations could mean that New Brunswick moves to Phase 2 of its reopening plan sooner than originally scheduled.
Canada's inflation rate rises to 3.6%
Economists had been expecting Canada's inflation number for May to be strong, with a consensus of those polled by Bloomberg expecting the rate to come it at around 3.5 per cent.
The inflation rate in Wednesday's report from Statistics Canada landed at 3.6 per cent, which suggests Canada's economy is, indeed, starting to kick into high gear after stalling out during COVID-19.
"We're past the heating up stage now," TD Bank economist James Marple said. "Inflation in Canada is hot."
Economist Avery Shenfeld with CIBC said that while the annual price increases are eye-popping, it's important to remember that May's numbers are being compared to the situation in May 2020, when just about every facet of the economy was in the doldrums.
"We really haven't had that much inflation if you measured prices relative to where they were in the spring of 2019," Shenfeld said.
If high inflation persists, the Bank of Canada may need to step in to cool things down with higher rates, but for now Shenfeld isn't worried about the current bout of inflation causing any permanent damage.
"Canadians are going to find a few things a little denting to their pocketbook, but we've also come off a year where we weren't spending that much of our income, so there's a lot of purchasing power out there in the hands of the average Canadian," he said.
As with every report, there were variations depending on category. The cost of shelter increased by 4.2 per cent in the year up to May, and the cost of filling a home with furniture and appliances also went up, by 4.4 per cent, as furniture prices on their own saw a rise of 9.8 per cent.
In the U.S., the Federal Reserve signalled Wednesday that it may act sooner than previously planned to start dialing back the low interest rate policies that have helped fuel a swift rebound from the pandemic recession but have also coincided with rising inflation.
The Fed's policymakers forecast that they would raise their benchmark short-term rate, which influences many consumer and business loans, twice by late 2023. That outlook reflects Fed chair Jerome Powell's view that the current inflation spikes stem mainly from supply shortages and other temporary effects of the economy's swift reopening from the pandemic.
Read more on this topic at cbc.ca/news/.
Let there be laughs, Vancouver comedians say
British Columbia entered Step 2 of its reopening plan this week, loosening some restrictions on travel, fitness and outdoor gatherings.
Those dependent on indoor gatherings hope the province's progress in its battle with COVID-19 continues. Even though the coronavirus has taken a huge toll on their industry, with Vancouver's Kino Cafe and Yuk Yuk's outpost shutting their doors this spring, comedians like Sam Tonning are hopeful the comedy scene will bounce back post-pandemic because people are craving live entertainment.
"Standup comedy, specifically, is so much about that interaction between the performer and the audience and I think people are going to be starved to have that interpersonal connection with a stranger again," he said.
Suzy Rawsome, a comedian who's produced shows in Vancouver, said it's been tough for the industry to adapt to the changing public health orders which allowed for live shows last summer, but stopped again in the fall due to rising COVID-19 cases.
"The 'off and on' definitely made it hard to fully adapt to online."
Rawsome said normally comedy clubs charge around $12 to $20 per person for a live show. But with the switch to online viewing, she said entire households are tuning in and people aren't willing to pay more than $10 to watch a show.
Rawsome hopes that with all they've been through for over a year, Vancouverites will want some laughter medicine.
"People are so hungry for comedy and they're so hungry for entertainment," she said. "They want to get out of the house, and they want to get back to normal life."
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With files from The Associated Press and The Canadian Press