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Health Canada has approved Pfizer’s oral antiviral treatment, known as Paxlovid, for COVID-19.

“This is welcome news we hope will save lives, reduce illness and lessen the burden on our health care systems and health care workers,” Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said at a news conference, describing the treatment as an additional clinical tool for treating COVID-19.

Health Canada has authorized the treatment for adults who test positive for COVID-19 on a molecular or a rapid test, who have mild or moderate symptoms, and are at high risk of becoming severely ill.

However, Mr. Duclos said no drug is a substitute for vaccination and public-health measures.

The minister confirmed the first delivery of the drug arrived over the weekend, ahead of regulatory approval today. The prescription drug can be used at home, he said.

Public Services and Procurement Minister Filomena Tassi, at the same news conference, said 30,000 treatment courses are now in Canada, with another 120,000 coming by the end of March. She said Canada has procured a million doses, with an option for 500,000 more.

Limited supplies of Paxlovid have prompted the Public Health Agency of Canada to ask provinces and territories to prioritize the treatment for people at most risk of serious illness, including severely immune-compromised patients and some unvaccinated people over the age of 60.

There’s a story here on Health Canada’s briefing, earlier today, on Paxlovid.

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TODAY’S HEADLINES

O’TOOLE PRESSED TO REVIVE COMMITTEE – Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole is facing pressure from a growing number of MPs who want him to reverse course and revive a special parliamentary committee that probed Canada-China relations. Story here.

INCREASED FEDERAL SPENDING ON OUTSOURCING CONTRACTS – Federal government spending on outsourcing contracts has increased by more than 40 per cent since the Liberals took power, a trend at odds with the party’s 2015 campaign promise to cut back on the use of consultants. Story here.

RESEARCHERS OFFER ADVICE FOR FIXING SPORTS ABUSE – As Ottawa reviews how national sport organizations deal with abuse within their own ranks, University of Toronto researchers are laying out a possible path for the government to fix a system rife with potential conflicts of interest. Story here.

DOUBTS ON AIRPORT COVID-19 TESTING UPON ARRIVAL – Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer cast some doubt on the continued value of the government’s mandatory on-arrival COVID-19 testing policy for international air travellers. At the same time, business groups called for the policy to end. Story here.

TRUCKING COMPANIES FEEL IMPACT OF VACCINATION REQUIREMENT – Trucking companies are already feeling the impact of the federal government’s border vaccination requirement, with a sizable number of drivers leaving the business ahead of the new rule that came into force over the weekend. Story here.

LIBERAL MP SUPPORTS TAX FOR UNVACCINATED – A Liberal MP who works as a medical doctor says he’s in favour of making unvaccinated Canadians pay some kind of a special tax – and he believes others in his party agree. Marcus Powlowski outlined the view in a panel discussion with fellow MPs that aired on Saturday on CBC’s The House. Story here from CBC.

ANTI-VAXX TAX BILL IN FEBRUARY Quebec Premier François Legault says his government will table its anti-vax tax bill early next month. “The goal is to do everything to insist that people get vaccinated,” said of the legislation during a Sunday evening appearance on the Radio-Canada show Tout le monde en parle. Story here from The Montreal Gazette. Meanwhile, The Hill Times newspaper report that some pollsters say taxing anti-vaxxers is controversial, but could help Mr. Legault’s bid for re-election in October.

PREMIER ON THE ROAD – Ontario Premier Doug Ford was out on the roads of Toronto today, driving around in his 4x4 pickup helping other drivers caught in the snowstorm that hit the region. Story here from CTV.

THIS AND THAT

The House of Commons has adjourned until Jan. 31 at 11 a.m. ET.

JOLY VISITING UKRAINE – Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly is taking a trip to a country her department is urging Canadians to avoid. Ms. Joly departed Sunday for a trip to Europe that includes a stop in Ukraine, now facing the possibility of invasion by Russia. On Saturday, Global Affairs Canada updated a travel advisory, available here, warning against non-essential travel to Ukraine “due to ongoing Russian aggression.” In Kyiv, Ms. Joly will meet with the Ukrainian Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister as well as Canadian troops working on training efforts in support of the Security Forces of Ukraine. The minister is also travelling to Paris and Brussels for meetings with officials including NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. She returns to Canada on Jan. 22.

PHILLIPS REPLACED – Ontario Premier Doug Ford has appointed Paul Calandra to replace Rod Phillips as Long-Term Care Minister. Mr. Phillips announced his departure from the post and politics last week to return to the private sector. There’s a story here on that development. Mr. Calandra will add the new cabinet post to his existing responsibilities as Minister of Legislative Affairs and Government House Leader, said a statement from the Premier’s office. Of, Mr. Phillips, the Premier said, “I have no doubt there are great things for Rod ahead.”

LEGISLATIVE AGENDA IN ALBERTA – Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says the spring session of the Alberta legislature will begin with a Speech from the Throne on Feb. 22, and Finance Minister Travis Toews will deliver the 2022 budget on Feb. 24.

NEW HILL TIMES REPORTER - Kevin Philipupillai is joining The Hill Times newspaper after completing a master’s degree in journalism at Carleton University in Ottawa. Mr. Philipupillai previously earned a bachelor’s journalism degree from King’s College in Halifax and spent five years working as a producer at Accessible Media.

TRIBUTE

Alexa McDonough: The leader of the federal New Democratic Party from 1995 to 2002 died on Saturday at 77 after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. There is an obituary here.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau remembered Ms. McDonough as “a trailblazer for women in politics and an inclusive voice for progressive change in Canadian politics.” NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh noted that Ms. McDonough “dedicated her life to social justice, championed women in politics, and never backed down from a challenge.” Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole praised the former NDP leader for her “trailblazing work” as a member of the Nova Scotia legislature and an MP.

In a Q&A here, Ms. McDonough’s biographer, Stephen Kimber, talks about her inspiring tenacity.

THE DECIBEL – On today’s edition of The Globe and Mail podcast, telecom reporter Alexandra Posadzki and Report on Business reporter Joe Castaldo talk about the story of Gerald Cotten , who founded Quadriga, one of the first cryptocurrency exchanges. His death in 2018, at the age of 30, coincided with growing concerns about the legitimacy of Quadriga. Jennifer Kathleen Margaret Roberston was Mr. Cotten’s wife, and was there when he died. And despite being at the centre of a huge scandal, she’s never spoken publicly about her husband’s fraud or death – or the suspicion it cast on her – until being interviewed by Ms. Posadzki and Mr. Castaldo. The Decibel is here.

PRIME MINISTER’S DAY

Private meetings. The Prime Minister is scheduled tonight to participate in a virtual celebration of Thai Pongal, featuring front-line workers to highlight the contributions of Tamil Canadians during the pandemic. Toronto Mayor John Tory will be in attendance.

LEADERS

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole was scheduled to hold a media availability.

No schedules provided for other party leaders.

PUBLIC OPINION

Ontario Premier Doug Ford is down six more points in polling approval amid frustration in Ontario over his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to research by the Angus Reid Institute that also finds four premiers are receiving majority approval this quarter. The four are Nova Scotia’s Tim Houston, Quebec’s François Legault, John Horgan in British Columbia and Andrew Furey in Newfoundland and Labrador. Story here.

OPINION

Campbell Clark (The Globe and Mail) on a vaccine promise by Justin Trudeau that wasn’t intended to be kept: ”Justin Trudeau’s Liberals made an election promise to pass a law to protect employers from being sued when they fire unvaccinated workers, and they didn’t do it. Now those lawsuits are piling up. There’s no sign the Liberal government plans to fulfill the promise. Mr. Trudeau didn’t even put it in a mandate letter to any of his ministers. What’s worse is that it’s a promise that Mr. Trudeau was probably never really serious about keeping. Certainly, the Liberals never seemed to know how to do it. There was, after all, a not-insignificant question about whether Ottawa has the authority. Now employers are facing the lawsuits without the promised protections, with workers claiming they are owed cash payouts because non-vaccination is not a valid cause for dismissal.”

Philippe Lagassé (Contributed to The Globe and Mail) on why parliamentarians can be trusted with sensitive security information: ”Parliament needs its own standing committee that can safely handle classified information and review national-security matters. Canada’s existing committee, the National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians, or NSICOP, has MPs and senators as members but is part of the executive, meaning it first reports to the Prime Minister, who then tables a redacted version in Parliament. NSICOP must be rethought. While this hybrid model worked when the government controlled the House of Commons, NSICOP was never going to cut it when we had a minority Parliament. To reconcile the government’s legitimate concerns about protecting classified information and Parliament’s constitutional power to compel the production of documents, we need a security-cleared national-security committee of Parliament.”

Tasha Kheiriddin (The National Post) on how she dared write about vaccinations, and paid dearly for it: “This episode has laid bare several things. First, that civil discourse is dead. The internet, which I alternately love and loathe, has emboldened millions of us to hurl insults into cyberspace under the cover of distance and anonymity. Comments once yelled at the TV in the privacy of our homes are now spewed out for all to read. My editor referred to it as “a firehose of bile.” I already knew this from Twitter, which is hip-deep in the stuff, but this served as an intensely personal confirmation.”

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