Thousands stage protest against Canada’s vaccine mandates

Supporters of the Freedom Convoy protest COVID-19 vaccine mandates and restrictions on Jan 29, 2022 in Ottawa, Canada. Hundreds of truckers drove their giant rigs into the Canadian capital Ottawa on Saturday as part of a self-titled "Freedom Convoy" to protest vaccine mandates required to cross the US border. (DAVE CHAN / AFP)

LONDON / LISBON / KIEV / OTTAWA – Thousands held a loud but peaceful protest in Canada's capital Ottawa on Saturday against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's COVID-19 vaccine mandates, on the streets and snow-covered lawn in front of parliament.

The so-called "Freedom Convoy" started out as a rally of truckers against a vaccine requirement for cross-border drivers, but turned into a demonstration against government overreach during the pandemic with a strong anti-vaccination streak.

The so-called "Freedom Convoy" started out as a rally of truckers against a vaccine requirement for cross-border drivers, but turned into a demonstration against government overreach during the pandemic with a strong anti-vaccination streak

"I'm not able to work no more because I can't cross the border," said Csava Vizi, a trucker from Windsor who noted he was the family's sole breadwinner.

"I refuse the vaccine," he said, calling it dangerous. He spoke from inside his truck in front of parliament.

"It's not just about the vaccines. It's about stopping the public health mandates altogether," said Daniel Bazinet, owner of Valley Flatbed & Transportation in Nova Scotia on the Atlantic coast. Bazinet is unvaccinated, but operates domestically and so is not affected by the cross-border mandate.

"Myself and a lot of other people are here because we're just sick of the vaccine mandates and the lockdowns," said Brendon from Ottawa, who declined to give his last name. He was carrying a sign reading: "Justin Trudeau makes me ashamed to be a Canadian".

The rally started early and built through the afternoon. Some handed out bag lunches to the truckers, who convoyed to Ottawa from the east and west coasts and places in between.

Few wore masks, but many were in balaclavas as the temperature with windchill was minus 21 Celsius. A downtown mall closed because demonstrators refused to wear masks inside, CTV reported.

The violent rhetoric used by some of the promoters on social media in the run-up to the protest had worried police, who were out in force, but mostly the protest felt like a very cold street party, punctuated by blaring truck horns.

Due to security concerns, Trudeau and his family left their downtown Ottawa home due to security concerns, the CBC reported. His office said it does not comment on security matters.

Earlier this week Trudeau said the convoy represented a "small fringe minority" who do not represent the views of Canadians. About 90 percent of Canada's cross-border truckers and 77 percent of the population have had two COVID vaccination shots.

Trudeau announced a vaccine mandate for federal workers on the eve of the October election, then last month Canada and the United States imposed one for cross-border truckers.

Conservative leader Erin O'Toole opposes vaccine mandates and expressed support for the protest after holding talks with some of the truckers on Friday.

"I support their right to be heard, and I call on Justin Trudeau to meet with these hard-working Canadians to hear their concerns," O'Toole said after the meeting.

The Canadian Trucking Alliance, which represents some 4,500 carriers, owner-operators and industry suppliers, has opposed the demonstration.

"We ask the Canadian public to be aware that many of the people you see and hear in media reports do not have a connection to the trucking industry," the CTA said on Saturday.

The CTA urged the truckers who participated to do so peacefully and then leave Ottawa. The protest organizers had said they would stay in Ottawa until the government abandons the mandates. Downtown streets could be clogged for days.

"If I have to stay here two months, I'm going be here," said Vizi.

Portugal

Portuguese election organizers were taking extra safety precautions on Saturday after the government decided to allow voters who are infected with the coronavirus to leave isolation and cast ballots in person along with everyone else.

With around a tenth of Portugal's 10 million-strong population now thought to be isolating due to COVID-19, the government decided last week to lift restrictions for Sunday's vote.

Portuguese incumbent Prime Minister and leader of the Socialist party (PS) Antonio Costa gestures during a campaign street rally ahead of Portugal's general elections, in Lisbon, on January 28, 2022. (PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA / AFP)

In a press conference on Saturday, the electoral commission said "all conditions have been met for the vote to take place in absolute safety".

Like many European countries, Portugal is experiencing record-setting infections, although widespread vaccination has kept deaths and hospitalizations lower than in earlier waves.

Authorities have asked those with COVID to vote between 6:00 and 7:00 pm, but the time recommendation is not mandatory. There will be no designated areas for infected voters. read more

Staff setting up a polling station at an auto repair shop in the Lisbon parish of Santo Antonio were placing stickers on the floor on Saturday to encourage social distancing. Voters will receive a face mask before they enter.

Parish President Vasco Morgado said he was concerned some non-infected voters might be afraid to show up.

"The people working at the polling station are also putting themselves at risk for the sake of democracy," he said.

Sofia Mantua, 27, is taking all precautions to vote on Sunday, including taking her own pen. It would have been better if those infected voted on a different day, she said.

"It's always hard to manage… I think it should have been planned (ahead of time) because we knew we were still in a pandemic," Mantua said.

The election is wide open as the ruling Socialists continue to lose their lead in opinion polls to the main opposition party, the centre-right Social Democrats. 

UK

Britain will this week begin offering vaccinations to children aged between five and 11 who are most at risk from coronavirus, the state-run National Health Service said on Sunday.

Britain has been slower than some other countries in offering the shots to 5-11 year olds, and is not planning to vaccinate the age group more broadly unlike countries such as the United States and Israel.

Britain has been slower than some other countries in offering the shots to 5-11 year olds, and is not planning to vaccinate the age group more broadly unlike countries such as the United States and Israel

NHS England said children in the cohort who were in a clinical risk group or who live with someone who is immunosuppressed would be able to get a first COVID-19 shot, in line with advice issued last month by the Joint Committee on Vaccine and Immunisation (JCVI). read more

"I would like parents and guardians to be reassured that no new vaccine for children would have been approved unless the expected standards of safety, quality and effectiveness had been met," UK vaccines minister Maggie Throup said.

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"I encourage as many as possible to make sure they get their child the jab when contacted."

Children will be offered two 10 microgram doses of the Pfizer-BioNTec, shot, which is a third of an adult dose.

Infections are currently high among school children in England, with the Office for National Statistics estimating that nearly 12 percent of younger school pupils had coronavirus in the week ending January 22.

In this file photo taken on July 19, 2021 Commuters with facemasks travel on the London Underground in London. (TOLGA AKMEN / AFP)

Ukraine

A total of 4,017,961 COVID-19 cases and 100,031 deaths were registered in Ukraine as of Saturday, while 3,615,257 patients have recovered, the country's health ministry reported.

In the past 24 hours, 37,351 people tested positive for the virus and 7,163 patients recovered from the disease, the ministry added.

Ukraine has been hit by a new outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. The fatalities and hospitalizations caused by COVID-19 have been growing in the country in the last two weeks.

According to the ministry, 15.3 million people have been vaccinated since the start of the vaccination campaign.

Ukraine has recently started offering a third COVID-19 vaccine booster shot for those who received their second shot at least six months ago.