COVID-19 Immigration Effects – April 2022 update

My latest monthly update.

April 2022 is the two-year first full month comparison. As a result, the changes are particularly dramatic given the full impact of travel restrictions such as the shut-down of citizenship, the virtual shutdown of visas and the impact on permanent resident arrivals and Temporary Foreign Workers.

The number of Permanent Residents admissions declined slightly in April, as did the number of TR2PR transitions, the latter continuing a trend since December 2021, suggesting that the “transition pool” may be drying up.

Temporary foreign workers, both IMP and the TFWP also increased, the former returning to pre-pandemic levels, the latter showing both the seasonal increase in agriculture workers as well an increase compared to pre-pandemic levels for workers with a LMIA, suggesting an impact of labour shortages.

The number of students continues to increase, well beyond pre-pandemic levels. Students from India comprise more than 40 percent of all study permits. This reflects in part that many of these students, particularly at private colleges, using study as an immigration pathway. Unfortunately, IRCC data for post-secondary studies is not broken down by type of institution.

While citizenship dipped in April compared to March, it is too soon to tell whether this is a blip or a sign of operational difficulties.

The number of Ukrainians arriving in Canada, mainly under the Canada-Ukraine authorization for emergency travel continued to increase, more than tripling from March to almost 68,000.

The U.S. Failed Miserably on COVID-19. Canada Shows It Didn’t Have to Be That Way

Not to be smug, as USA provides too easy a benchmark. Better comparison is with Europe, where we are slightly better in terms of infection and death rates. Hard to see how even an enquiry will address the deeply divided public opinion and Republican denialism of science, evidence and susceptibility to mis- and disinformation:

646,970 lives.

This is the number of Americans who would be alive today if the United States had the same per capita death rate from COVID-19 as our northern neighbor, Canada.

Reflect for a moment on the sheer magnitude of the lives lost. 646,970 is more than the entire population of Detroit. And it is more than the total number of American lives lost in World War I, World War II, and Vietnam combined.

No country is more similar to the U.S. than Canada, whose economy and culture are closely intertwined with our own. Yet faced with a life-threatening pandemic of historic proportions, Canada showed far greater success in protecting the lives of its people than the U.S. How are we to understand Canada’s superior performance and the disastrous performance of our own country, which has the highest per capita death rate (3023 per one million, compared to Canada’s 1071) of any wealthy democratic country?
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In comparing the two countries, the starting point must be the different response at the highest levels of government. In Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated in March 2020, “I’m going to make sure that we continue to follow all the recommendations of public health officers particularly around stay-at-home whenever possible and self-isolation and social distancing”. This message was reinforced by Dr. Teresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, who in March delivered a message urging solidarity, declaring “We need to act now, and act together.”

In the U.S., President Trump in striking contrast declared that he would not be wearing a mask, saying “I don’t think I will be doing it…I just don’t see it”. And instead of reinforcing the messages of Dr. Anthony Fauci and other leading public health officials, Trump actively undermined them, declaring in reference to stay-at-home orders in some states, “I think elements of what they’ve done are just too tough.” Not content with undercutting his top public health advisers, President Trump further undermined public confidence in science by suggesting “cures” for COVID-19, including at one point ingesting bleach and taking hydroxychloroquine, a drug that research confirmed had no efficacy as a COVD-19 treatment.

These divergent responses at the national level were to shape responses at the state and provincial level of the U.S. and Canada, respectively, as well as the response of the public. By the beginning of July 2020, the impact of these divergent responses was already visible, with Canada’s death rate just 60 percent of the American rate. As Canada’s more stringent public health measures—which included larger and stricter stay-at-home orders, closure of restaurants, gyms, and other businesses, curfews, and limits on public gatherings—took effect, the gap between the two countries widened even more. By October 2020, the per capita death rate in Canada had dropped to just 40 percent of the rate in the U.S.

It is tempting to blame America’s disastrous response to COVID-19 on Trump, and there is no question that he bungled the situation. But the pandemic revealed deep fault lines in America’s institutions and culture that would have made effective responses difficult no matter who was in the White House. Had Barack Obama, for example, been in office when COVID-19 arrived, he, too, would have faced the country without a national health care system, one with deep distrust of government, exceptionally high levels of poverty and inequality, sharp racial divisions, a polarized polity, and a culture with a powerful strand of libertarianism at odds with the individual sacrifices necessary for the collective good.

The differences between the U.S. and Canada became even more starkly visible on the issue of vaccines. The U.S., which had purchased a massive supply of vaccines in advance, was initially far ahead, with 21 percent of Americans and only 2 percent of Canadians vaccinated by April 1, 2021. The U.S. was still ahead in July, but by October 1, 74 percent of Canadians were fully vaccinated, compared to just 58 percent of Americans. Part of the difference no doubt resides in the superior access provided by Canada’s system of universal, publicly funded healthcare. But equally, if not more important, is the far greater trust Canadians have in their national government: 73 percent versus 50 percent in the U.S. Coupled with greater vaccine resistance in the U.S., the net result is a vast gap in the proportion of the population that is not fully vaccinated: 32 percent in the U.S., but 13 percent in Canada.

Also implicated in the far higher COVID-19 death rate in the U.S. is the simple fact that Americans are less healthy than Canadians. Lacking a system of universal healthcare and plagued by unusually high levels of class and racial inequality, Americans are more likely to have pre-existing medical conditions associated with death from COVID. Americans have an obesity rate of 42 percent versus 27 percent for Canadians and a diabetes rate of 9.4 percent versus 7.3 percent for Canadians. Overall, the health of Canadians is superior and they live longer lives, with an average life expectancy of 82.2 years compared to 78.3 years in the U.S.

Exacerbating these differences in health are the deep cultural differences between the two countries. More than three decades ago, the sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset noted in Continental Divide that the ideologies of anti-statism and individualism were far more resonant in the U.S. than in Canada. For the many Americans influenced by the powerful libertarian strand in American culture and by its elaborate right-wing media apparatus, masks were a violation of freedom and vaccines a form of tyranny. Canada, which produced a trucker convoy that shut down the nation’s capital, is not immune to such sentiments. But they were far more pervasive in the U.S. and led to a degree of non-compliance with the government and public health officials that had no parallel in Canada; to take but one example, the percent of Canadians wearing masks in January 2022 when the Omicron variant was at its height was 80 percent compared to just 50 percent in the U.S.

Following a national disaster of this magnitude, there must be a serious inquiry into what happened and how it might be prevented or mitigated in the future. This is what the nation did after the attack on September 11, forming a Commission that issued a major report within two years of its formation. Surely a pandemic that has taken the lives of more than one million Americans warrants a report of at least equal seriousness. But in the current atmosphere of intense political partisanship, it might be better if such an investigation were conducted by a nongovernmental entity composed of distinguished citizens and experts, or by a non-political body such as the National Academy of Sciences. But whatever form such a commission might take, it must address a pressing question: why so many countries, including Canada, proved so much more effective in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. We could—and should—learn from their experiences, so that the U.S. does better when the next pandemic arrives.

Source: The U.S. Failed Miserably on COVID-19. Canada Shows It Didn’t Have to Be That Way

COVID-19 Immigration Effects – March 2022 update

My latest monthly update.

March 2022 marks two-years since the COVID measures and lockdowns began. As a result, the two-year comparisons become more striking.

The government’s not wishing the “crisis to go to waste” by increasing immigration levels by about one-third compared to pre-pandemic 2019 continues, with just over 40,000 admissions in March, across all categories. However, there is a declining trend of temporary residents transitioning to permanent residents, suggesting an “inventory” decline.

The planting season can be seen in the increase of Temporary Foreign Workers in the agriculture sector, both in terms of the regular seasonal patterns as well as the COVID disruption in March 2020.

The citizenship program continues to increase the number of new citizens and thus starting to reduce backlogs or at least move to restoring normal processing times.

The introduction of streams for Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion is seen in the dramatic jump in visas issued to Ukrainians, mainly under the Canada-Ukraine authorization for emergency travel, from a pre-pandemic average of 648 per month in 2019 to 21,465 March 2022. 

Governments have undercounted the COVID-19 death toll by millions, the WHO says

Similar analysis to that of The Economist. Biggest surprise to me is the inclusion of the USA in the top 10 – but perhaps I shouldn’t be:

The COVID-19 pandemic directly or indirectly caused 14.9 million deaths in 2020 and 2021, the World Health Organization said on Thursday, in its newest attempt to quantify the outbreak’s terrible toll.

That’s around 2.7 times more than the 5.42 million COVID-19 deaths the WHO says were previously reported through official channels in the same 2-year period.

Here’s a rundown of four main points in WHO’s report:

Overall, deaths are far higher than those in official reports

In its tally, WHO aims to quantify “excess mortality,” accounting for people who lost their lives either directly, because of contracting COVID-19, or indirectly, because they weren’t able to get treatment or preventive care for other health conditions. The figure also takes into account the deaths that analysts say were prevented because of the pandemic’s wide-ranging effects, such as curtailing traffic and travel.

The pandemic’s current reported death toll is 6.2 million, according to Johns Hopkins University’s COVID-19 tracker.

India is seen suffering a much deeper loss than reported — a finding that India disputes

In some cases, WHO’s figures depict a shockingly wide gulf between official figures and its experts’ findings. That’s particularly true for India, where WHO says millions more people died because of the pandemic than has been officially reported.

India reported 481,000 COVID-19 deaths in 2020 and 2021. But William Msemburi, technical officer for WHO’s department of data and analytics, said on Thursday that the toll is vastly higher, with 4.74 million deaths either directly or indirectly attributable to the pandemic — although Msemburi said that figure has a wide “uncertainty interval,” ranging from as low as 3.3 million to as high as 6.5 million.

The data behind the staggering figures promise to expand the understanding of the pandemic’s true effects. But the findings are also a flashpoint in debates over how to account for unreported coronavirus deaths. India, for instance, is rejecting WHO’s findings.

India “strongly objects to use of mathematical models for projecting excess mortality estimates,” the country’s health ministry said on Thursday, insisting that WHO should instead rely on “authentic data” it has provided.

10 countries accounted for a large share of deaths

Deaths were not evenly distributed around the world. The WHO says about 84% of the excess deaths were concentrated in three regions: Southeast Asia, Europe and the Americas.

And about 68% of the excess deaths were identified in just 10 countries. WHO listed them in alphabetical order: Brazil, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, Turkey and the United States.

Overall, WHO found the number of excess deaths was much closer to reported COVID-19 deaths in high-income countries than in lower income countries.

Many countries still lack reliable health statistics

The WHO says it relied on statistical models to derive its estimates, looking to fill in gaps in official data.

“Prior to the pandemic, we estimate that 6 out of every 10 deaths were unregistered” worldwide, said Stephen MacFeely, director of WHO’s department of data and analytics. “In fact, more than 70 countries do not produce any cause of death statistics. In the 21st century, this is a shocking statistic.”

By creating its report on excess mortality, WHO is pursuing several goals, such as urging governments to improve their health-care interventions for vulnerable populations and to adopt more rigorous and transparent reporting standards.

“Knowing how many people died due to the pandemic will help us to be better prepared for the next,” said Samira Asma, WHO’s assistant director-general for data and analytics.

Source: Governments have undercounted the COVID-19 death toll by millions, the WHO says

#COVID-19: Comparing provinces with other countries 4 May Update and end of this series

As this note from the Globe notes:

“Due to changes in the prevalence of testing, case counts alone are no longer a reliable indicator of the spread of COVID-19. In part due to this, recovery data is no longer available from all provinces and territories. Some provinces have also shifted to weekly or irregular updates, which impacts the timeliness of data shown below.With some provinces and countries no longer reporting on the number of infections, comparisons between provinces and countries on the omicron variant are imprecise.”

In addition, the data from many of the countries surveyed has remained largely static over the past month, with some revisions downwards. This data has served its purpose in in helping me analyze the effect of COVID on immigration (see my How the government used the pandemic to sharply increase immigration).

One other note, visiting Switzerland, Holland and Germany to visit friends and family, it was striking the differences in COVID restrictions, with Holland the most relaxed (no required masking on planes and transit) and Germany the most strict. Nice to have a sense of normality but disconcerting at the same time (we wore our masks).

Vaccinations: Ongoing minor shifts and convergence among provinces and countries with plateauing of overall vaccination rates. Canadians fully vaccinated 81.8 percent, compared to Japan 80.2 percent, UK 73.2 percent and USA 66.6 percent.

Immigration source countries: China fully vaccinated 88.3 percent, India 61.8 percent, Nigeria 6.5 percent, Pakistan 55 percent, Philippines 61.7 percent.

Trendline Charts:

Infections: As noted, variations in reporting make comparisons difficult. Steep increase in Atlantic Canada may reflect more consistent reporting.

Deaths: No relative changes.

Vaccinations: Minor changes. All provinces have stalled in vaccinations, Saskatchewan reporting gaps account for Prairie fluctuations.

Weekly

Infections: Italy ahead of New York, Australia ahead of California, Atlantic Canada ahead of Canada less Quebec, China ahead of Nigeria. 

Deaths: No relative change.

#COVID-19: Comparing provinces with other countries 6 April Update

With some provinces and countries no longer reporting on the number of infections, comparisons between provinces and countries on the omicron variant are imprecise.

Vaccinations: Some minor shifts but convergence among provinces and countries but minimal increases to overall vaccination rates. Canadians fully vaccinated 83 percent, compared to Japan 79.8 percent, UK 74 percent and USA 66.4 percent.

Immigration source countries: China fully vaccinated 88.9 percent, India 61 percent, Nigeria 4.8 percent, Pakistan 53.5 percent (significant jump), Philippines 61.4 percent.

Trendline Charts:

Infections: As noted, variations in reporting make comparisons difficult. Steep increase in Atlantic Canada may reflect more consistent reporting.

Deaths: No relative changes.

Vaccinations: Minor changes. All provinces have stalled in vaccinations, as have most countries.

Weekly

Infections: Germany ahead of New York, British Columbia ahead of Atlantic Canada.

Deaths: No relative change.

Cuts in Britain Could Cause a Covid Data Drought

Unfortunately, many governments are short sighted.

Canada did the same when it disbanded the Global Public Health Intelligence Network (GPHIN) the year before the pandemic, many provinces are no longer carrying out regular testing and reducing the frequency of reporting etc.

Interesting example of South Africa and how it is able to maintain monitoring at a reasonable cost:

The British government on Friday shut down or scaled back a number of its Covid surveillance programs, curtailing the collection of data that the United States and many other countries had come to rely on to understand the threat posed by emerging variants and the effectiveness of vaccines. Denmark, too, renowned for insights from its comprehensive tests, has drastically cut back on its virus tracking efforts in recent months.

As more countries loosen their policies toward living with Covid rather than snuffing it out, health experts worry that monitoring systems will become weaker, making it more difficult to predict new surges and to make sense of emerging variants.

“Things are going to get harder now,” Samuel Scarpino, a managing director at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Pandemic Prevention Institute, said. “And right as things get hard, we’re dialing back the data systems.”

Since the Alpha variant emerged in the fall of 2020, Britain has served as a bellwether, tracking that variant as well as Delta and Omicron before they arrived in the United States. After a slow start, American genomic surveillance efforts have steadily improved with a modest increase in funding.

“This might actually put the U.S. in more of a leadership position,” said Kristian Andersen, a virologist at Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif.

At the start of the pandemic, Britain was especially well prepared to set up a world-class virus tracking program. The country was already home to many experts on virus evolution, it had large labs ready to sequence viral genes, and it could link that sequencing to electronic records from its National Health Service.

In March 2020, British researchers created a consortium to sequence as many viral genomes as they could lay hands on. Some samples came from tests that people took when they felt ill, others came from hospitals, and still others came from national surveys.

That last category was especially important, experts said. By testing hundreds of thousands of people at random each month, the researchers could detect new variants and outbreaks among people who didn’t even know they were sick, rather than waiting for tests to come from clinics or hospitals.

“The community testing has been the most rapid indicator of changes to the epidemic, and it’s also been the most rapid indicator of the appearance of new variants,” said Christophe Fraser, an epidemiologist at the University of Oxford. “It’s really the key tool.”

By late 2020, Britain was performing genomic sequencing on thousands of virus samples a week from surveys and tests, supplying online databases with more than half of the world’s coronavirus genomes. That December, this data allowed researchers to identify Alpha, the first coronavirus variant, in an outbreak in southeastern England.

A few other countries stood out for their efforts to track the virus’s evolution. Denmark set up an ambitious system for sequencing most of its positive coronavirus tests. Israel combined viral tracking with aggressive vaccination, quickly producing evidence last summer that the vaccines were becoming less effective — data that other countries leaned on in their decision to approve boosters.

But Britain remained the exemplar in not only sequencing viral genomes, but combining that information with medical records and epidemiology to make sense of the variants.

“The U.K. really set itself up to give information to the whole world,” said Jeffrey Barrett, the former director of the Covid-19 Genomics Initiative at the Wellcome Sanger Institute in Britain.

Even in the past few weeks, Britain’s surveillance systems were giving the world crucial information about the BA.2 subvariant of Omicron. British researchers established that the variant does not pose a greater risk of hospitalization than other forms of Omicron but is more transmissible.

On Friday, two of the country’s routine virus surveys were shut down and a third was scaled back, baffling Dr. Fraser and many other researchers, particularly when those surveys now show that Britain’s Covid infection rates are estimated to have reached a record high: one in 13 people. The government also stopped paying for free tests, and either canceled or paused contact-tracing apps and sewage sampling programs.

“I don’t understand what the strategy is, to put together these very large instruments and then dismantle them,” Dr. Fraser said.

The cuts have come as Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called for Britain to “learn to live with this virus.” When the government released its plans in February, it pointed to the success of the country’s vaccination program and the high costs of various virus programs. Although it would be scaling back surveillance, it said, “the government will continue to monitor cases, in hospital settings in particular, including using genomic sequencing, which will allow some insights into the evolution of the virus.”

It’s true that life with Covid is different now than it was back in the spring of 2020. Vaccines drastically reduce the risk of hospitalization and death — at least in countries that have vaccinated enough people. Antiviral pills and other treatments can further blunt Covid’s devastation, although they’re still in short supply in much of the world.

Supplying free tests and running large-scale surveys is expensive, Dr. Barrett acknowledged, and after two years, it made sense that countries would look for ways to curb spending. “I do understand it’s a tricky position for governments,” he said.

But he expressed worry that cutting back too far on genomic surveillance would leave Britain unprepared for a new variant. “You don’t want to be blind on that,” he said

With a reduction in testing, Steven Paterson, a geneticist at the University of Liverpool, pointed out that Britain will have fewer viruses to sequence. He estimated the sequencing output could drop by 80 percent.

“Whichever way you look at it, it’s going to lead very much to a degradation of the insight that we can have, either into the numbers of infections, or our ability to spot new variants as they come through,” Dr. Paterson said.

Experts warned that it will be difficult to restart surveillance programs of the coronavirus, known formally as SARS-CoV-2, when a new variant emerges.

“If there’s one thing we know about SARS-CoV-2, it’s that it always surprises us,” said Paul Elliott, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London and a lead investigator on one of the community surveys being cut. “Things can change really, really quickly.”

Other countries are also applying a live-with-Covid philosophy to their surveillance. Denmark’s testing rate has dropped nearly 90 percent from its January peak. The Danish government announced on March 10 that tests would be required only for certain medical reasons, such as pregnancy.

Astrid Iversen, an Oxford virologist who has consulted for the Danish government, expressed worry that the country was trying to convince itself the pandemic was over. “The virus hasn’t gotten the email,” she said.

With the drop in testing, she said, the daily case count in Denmark doesn’t reflect the true state of the pandemic as well as before. But the country is ramping up widespread testing of wastewater, which might work well enough to monitor new variants. If the wastewater revealed an alarming spike, the country could start its testing again.

“I feel confident that Denmark will be able to scale up,” she said.

Israel has also seen a drastic drop in testing, but Ran Balicer, the director of the Clalit Research Institute, said the country’s health care systems will continue to track variants and monitor the effectiveness of vaccines. “For us, living with Covid does not mean ignoring Covid,” he said.

While Britain and Denmark have been cutting back on surveillance, one country offers a model of robust-yet-affordable virus monitoring: South Africa.

South Africa rose to prominence in November, when researchers there first discovered Omicron. The feat was all the more impressive given that the country sequences only a few hundred virus genomes a week.

Tulio de Oliveira, the director of South Africa’s Centre for Epidemic Response & Innovation, credited the design of the survey for its success. He and his colleagues randomly pick out test results from every province across the country to sequence. That method ensures that a bias in their survey doesn’t lead them to miss something important.

It also means that they run much leaner operations than those of richer countries. Since its start in early 2020, the survey has cost just $2.1 million. “It’s much more sustainable,” Dr. de Oliveira said.

In contrast, many countries in Africa and Asia have yet to start any substantial sequencing. “We are blind to many parts of the world,” said Elodie Ghedin, a viral genomics expert at the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

The United States has traveled a course of its own. In early 2021, when the Alpha variant swept across the country, American researchers were sequencing only a tiny fraction of positive Covid tests. “We were far behind Britain,” Dr. Ghedin said.

Since then, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has helped state and local public health departments start doing their own sequencing of virus genomes. While countries like Britain and Denmark pull back on surveillance, the United States is still ramping up its efforts. Last month, the C.D.C. announced a $185 million initiative to support sequencing centers at universities.

Still, budget fights in Washington are bringing uncertainty to the country’s long-term surveillance. And the United States faces obstacles that other wealthy countries don’t.

Without a national health care system, the country cannot link each virus sample with a person’s medical records. And the United States has not set up a regularly updated national survey of the sort that has served the United Kingdom and South Africa so well.

“All scientists would love it if we had something like that,” Dr. Ghedin said. “But we have to work with the confines of our system.”

Source: Cuts in Britain Could Cause a Covid Data Drought

#COVID-19: Comparing provinces with other countries 30 March Update

Numbers from China continue to climb. New omicron variant showing up in increased infections in G7 countries and in some provinces (uneven testing hides some of the change).

Vaccinations: Some minor shifts but convergence among provinces and countries but minimal increases to overall vaccination rates. Canadians fully vaccinated 82.9 percent, compared to Japan 79.7 percent, UK 73.9 percent and USA 66.3 percent.

Immigration source countries: China fully vaccinated 88.8 percent, India 60.6 percent, Nigeria 4.8 percent, Pakistan 47 percent, Philippines 609 percent.

Trendline Charts:

Infections: Increased number of infections due to omicron variant in G7 countries with most Canadian provinces having lower rates of increase save for Atlantic Canada.

Deaths: No relative changes.

Vaccinations: China ahead (again) of Atlantic Canada, Japan ahead of Prairies.

Weekly

Infections: Germany ahead of California.

Deaths: No relative change.

Should it stay or go? Ottawa weighs the vaccine mandate for the public service

Will be interesting to see what government decides and whether it is applied consistently across departments and organizations:

The timing and pace of return-to-office plans for Canada’s public servants will hinge on what the federal government decides to do with its vaccine mandate for employees.

The federal Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer is leading a review into the six-month-old mandate, seeking input from unions and other stakeholders, but a decision will be based on the advice of public-health officials. The results of the review will be given to Treasury Board President Mona Fortier.

While the review had to start by the six-month anniversary on April 6, it is not a deadline for a decision.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said public-health officials are at a “very important juncture” in reviewing COVID-19 policies such as mandates, which are shifting from “an emphasis on requirements to recommendations.”

But Opposition MPs repeatedly pressed Tam and Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos at the Commons health committee this week on when mandates for travellers and public servants will be lifted. Tam said the situation is unstable because of surges caused by the latest Omicron variant. She said Canada is taking a phased approach with the lifting of mandates that must be closely watched.

“I think this is just waiting to see what happens with that situation, ensuring the provinces are still able to cope as they release measures. They are just doing that at the moment and (with) that observation, the federal government makes a decision,” Tam told the committee.

Dany Richard, co-chair of the National Joint Council, a joint union and management committee, said the review is a political “hot potato” for the government. The factors to consider are many, including the risk of lifting the mandate too soon or appearing to be capitulating to the pressure of the February convoy protests.

“They might play it by ear, extend for three months, but if they remove it, we’ll have people saying ‘Hey, I don’t feel comfortable returning to work’ knowing they’ll be working with someone who is not vaccinated,” said Richard.

Last October, the government introduced a vaccination policy requiring all public servants and RCMP employees to prove they’re fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or face unpaid leave. Today, more than 98 per cent of public servants are fully vaccinated. Vaccine mandates are also imposed on employees of federally regulated industries.

Benjamin Piper, an employment lawyer at Goldblatt Partners, said keeping the mandate has become more difficult as provinces drop COVID-19 restrictions with recent declines in serious illness and death.

“There’s no doubt that the law would say that at some point, if the situation has improved sufficiently, this will no longer be justifiable. The question is when you reach that point,” Piper said.

Health officials say the two-dose vaccine mandates that initially proved effective in increasing vaccine uptake and limiting spread aren’t offering much protection in reducing transmission of Omicron.

“We know is that, with the Omicron variant, having two doses – the protection against infection and further transmission goes really low,” Tam said during a recent news conference. “You really need a third dose to provide augmentation against transmission. All that should be taken into account as the federal government looks at the policies going forward.”

But Tam suggested expanding the mandates to three doses isn’t in the cards now. It would difficult because eligibility for a booster varies by age. Also, people who have Omicron infection are asked to wait up to three months before getting the third dose.

The mandate review also comes as the more contagious COVID Omicron variant called BA.2 is on the rise and expected to create another surge in cases. The BA.2 sub-variant is on its way to becoming dominant in Ontario and across Canada. Although more transmissible than the original Omicron, it does not appear to be as severe.

All these factors are converging as the government tries to ease the workforce it sent home to work during the pandemic back to the workplace after two years.

The government is moving to a hybrid workforce, a mix of working at home and remotely. Departments are returning at their own pace and the progress is slow. Many don’t expect a major return until the fall but a new variant could change all that.

Many argue scrapping the vaccine mandate could derail imminent return-to-office plans. Many public servants want to continue working from home. Employees could resist returning to the workplace without a vaccination policy or assurance the employee next them is vaccinated.

Richard said unions would press for workers to work from home if safety fears rise. They are particularly concerned about departments that issued blanket orders for all employees to return to the office two or three days a week.

It is an open question whether the government can justify imposing the mandate and proof of vaccination on remote workers who don’t come to the office. Since the pandemic started, the government has hired hundreds of remote workers who don’t have an office to go to.

Meredith Thatcher, co-founder and workplace strategist at Agile Work Evolutions, argues keeping the mandate for now, along with social distancing and other precautions will help get people back to the office sooner.

“I think having a mandate in place will make people feel more comfortable. If I am told I have to return to the office three days a week and there’s no vaccine mandate, I may say, ‘I’m sorry; I have an immunocompromised person in my house. I’m not coming.’”

Lifting the mandate could also fuel a wave of internal churn as employees pick up and move to departments that will allow them to work remotely.

“I’m telling you there’s going to be a kind of Darwinian natural selection. My members have mobility. They can go work where they want and if telework is a big deal for them, they’ll go and work somewhere else,” said Richard.

Whether the mandate stays or goes, unions argue it’s time to stop punishing the unvaccinated and let them go back to work.

Greg Phillips, president of the Canadian Association of Professional Employees (CAPE), argued the 702 unvaccinated employees should be provided with accommodations such as remote work or daily testing and personal protective equipment if they have to go to the workplace.

“We feel that those that remain unvaccinated should be allowed to start working again and start earning a living again, and that if people are going into the office, they should probably be vaccinated,” Phillips said.

Phillips said the mandate was introduced as a temporary measure and the 98-per-cent vaccination rate shows it was a success. If extended, CAPE wants a plan that explains the rationale and outlines milestones.

“We want to know the game plan for when they see an end to the policy,” said Phillips. “Every sporting event has a time limit or a score limit. You always know when the game is going to be over.”

Source: Should it stay or go? Ottawa weighs the vaccine mandate for the public service

#COVID-19 Immigration Effects: January 2022 Update

This presentation provides the latest operational data on permanent and temporary immigration to Canada, broken down by major programs and countries, along with citizenship and visitor visas.

The government’s focus remains largely on Permanent Residents and “feeder groups” such as international students and other temporary residents.

While minimal progress has been made on reducing backlogs, operational levels have largely recovered to pre-pandemic levels.