Through decades, deaths and disasters, AC/DC keeps thundering on. Forty-seven years along, and with the closest thing possible to their original lineup, the rockers on Friday are releasing "Power Up," their first album in six years. (Nov. 12)
Through decades, deaths and disasters, AC/DC keeps thundering on. Forty-seven years along, and with the closest thing possible to their original lineup, the rockers on Friday are releasing "Power Up," their first album in six years. (Nov. 12)
Venezuela's government is encouraging private firms to sign import and export deals with companies in Asia and the Middle East as part of an effort to limit the impact of U.S. sanctions, according to four sources with knowledge of the matter. The plan expands on President Nicolas Maduro's existing commercial relationships with allies such as Turkey and Iran, which have already been providing the cash-strapped government with food and fuel in exchange for gold.
Health-care workers feel muzzled and alone: Study Colleen Romaniuk Health-care workers in Ontario are on the frontlines in the fight against COVID-19, but according to a new study, they are feeling “sacrificed” and “violated” by their employers and the provincial government. Researchers affiliated with the University of Windsor in collaboration with CUPE’s Ontario Council of Hospitals Union co-authored a report titled “Sacrificed: Ontario Healthcare Workers in the Time of COVID-19.” Health-care workers represent 20 per cent of all COVID-19 cases in the province, according to the study, a number that is much higher than the global rate of 14 per cent. Due to fear of reprisal, those on the frontlines are extremely hesitant to speak out – but those who participated in the study told a story of “dismal” working conditions and “unrelenting” stress. “Health-care workers in Ontario are suffering from much higher rates of COVID-19 infection than the general public,” said Dr. James Brophy, one of the lead authors of the new study. “While we are all facing COVID-fatigue and worry, health-care workers are suffering disproportionately from serious psychological distress. They are burning out from overwork, fear and anxiety.” Led by Dr. Brophy and Dr. Margaret Keith, the study examines in-depth, anonymous interviews conducted with 10 health-care workers who work in hospitals and long-term care facilities throughout Ontario. The respondents, who work in facilities that range from small northern-rural to large urban, were contacted by phone in April and May. Frontline workers, including PSWs, RNs, RPNs, and custodial and clerical staff, all reported feeling unprotected and unsupported in their place of work. “We have lost about 100 staff who have either taken a leave of absence because of fear or have taken a leave to go work other jobs. We have a few who have taken early retirement,” said a participant in the study. “When I leave this interview, I’m heading into work and I’m going to work 44 out of the next 60 hours. I’ve prepared enough food for six meals and they’re in two shopping bags right now. That’s what it’s doing to me.” Some interviewees reported going home to cry after their shifts, sleeping in separate bedrooms away from their spouses, and experiencing increased social isolation because they fear infecting their family and friends. “The words on the page cannot convey the level of emotion we heard in the voices of healthcare workers we interviewed,” said Brophy. “We did not expect to hear the degree of anger and desperation that came out. The stories they told us were tinged with anger, frustration and fear.” There are a number of factors that contribute to the distress of health-care workers in the province, including inadequate protection against the virus, government failings, and barriers to exercising their agency. The study suggests that the provincial government, for example, has not applied the “precautionary principle” identified by the SARS Commission in 2006 which stipulates that, when in doubt, policies should err on the side of caution. “An ongoing debate that has direct impact on health-care workers’ safety is whether or not the virus can be transmitted through airborne particles,” said the study. “The evidence has grown that SARS-CoV-2 can indeed become aerosolized through coughing, sneezing, or even just breathing.” These tiny, aerosolized particles can breach surgical masks, according to Brophy. Researchers have recommended the use of N95 masks or powered air-purifying respirators for more adequate protection. Surgical masks are still considered safe for use in a health-care setting under most circumstances, although the health-care workers that participated in the study expressed some skepticism. “I had an infected patient on one of my shifts. I had my own N95 mask and I had my own goggles, and I had my own hair cover and I made sure I double gloved,” said an interviewee. “I put the cheap level two mask over top of my N95.” The study suggests that the government’s policy was probably “supply-based rather than science-based.” Another contributing factor is the health-care workers’ lack of recourse when it comes to addressing these challenges. Employers generally don’t allow their workers to speak publicly about their experiences at work, and, according to reports, the Ministry of Labour has been unhelpful. “All the frontline workers fear reprisal. We are told, ‘You can’t talk to the media. You have to send your manager to talk to them. We have corporate relations. You can’t be outside holding signs',” said one individual. “It’s just a travesty and these issues need to be said and people need to know what’s really going on.” Another said that they were “disheartened” by the Ministry of Labour during the pandemic. “They’ve totally taken the employers’ side and not the workers. There is no consultation with any frontline worker,” they said. “The ministry is not showing up to calls. They’re doing a lot of phone calls, but it’s not how they should be working. They still need to be out there on the frontlines. They should use PPE and come out to the hospital if we’re saying it’s not safe.” Michael Hurley, the president of CUPE’s Ontario Council of Hospitals Union and co-author of the study, explained that health-care workers have a limited right to refuse unsafe work. “They can’t refuse if it would result in a danger to a patient or resident,” said Hurley. “The evidence shows that in every case when the Ministry of Labour was called in, they did not support the workers.” To address these issues, the study recommends increasing staffing levels, adequate PPE and protective administrative and engineering controls, increased mental health supports, and reinvestment into a “weakened public health-care system.” There also needs to be a chance in workplace culture so that health-care workers concerns will be heard, respected, and addressed. “Health-care workers' health and wellbeing is essentially being sacrificed. We all need to pay attention to their pleas during this frightening time,” said Dr. Margaret Keith. “Not only does their wellbeing matter, but we also need to realize if they are not being kept safe, they can’t properly care for their patients or residents.” The Local Journalism Initiative is made possible through funding from the federal government. firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @SudburyStar Colleen Romaniuk, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Sudbury Star
Record high water levels in the Northwest Territories led to record amounts of trace metals and hydrocarbons in watersheds over the summer, but the territory's environment department says that aren't expecting to see much of an impact on local wildlife.The findings were presented to a standing committee of MLAs on Thursday, during a presentation on transboundary water agreements.Deputy minister Dr. Erin Kelly delivered the presentation, saying turbidity reached historic highs in July, exceeding Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment guidelines for the protection of aquatic life.However, she said, the dissolved concentrations of those metals were much lower, and turbidity levels returned to regular levels starting in August. "The concentrations of metals in the Slave and Hay rivers this July should not have had any chemical-related impacts on aquatic organisms or fish," she said, adding that the dissolved concentrations of those metals were well below Health Canada guidelines for safe drinking water.The concentration of hydrocarbons in the water, which the government attributed partially to oil sands development downstream, were also much higher than usual in July, but dropped back to regular levels in subsequent months.Deh Cho MLA Ron Bonnetrouge, who chaired the meeting, questioned the long-term impacts of contaminants flowing downstream from oil sands development, saying that meeting guidelines now may not portend a sustainable future."I take it you guys are just saying, 'well, it's dissolved into the water. It's dissipated somewhere.' I kind of have a hard time fathoming such a scenario," he said. "Because many times, you're also stating that they're within guidelines. Just saying that alone — within guidelines — does tell me that there is something in that water coming from the tar sands."In her response, Kelly said that they are tracking long-term trends related to hydrocarbons, and that dissolved metal concentrations are the indicators the department most concerns itself with, due to their direct impacts on bugs and fish. "From our perspective, we've looked at this and what we see is there's this one peak, and then it's gone down from there. And from a health perspective, we're not concerned for the bugs and fish, and we're not concerned with the levels in the water."Monitoring restored at 12 of 18 sitesKelly also said water monitoring activities had resumed at 12 of 18 priority sites in Alberta. Monitoring at the sites was suspended in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The suspension of monitoring activities — done without the territory's knowledge — led MLAs to question the effectiveness of the territory's transboundary water agreement with Alberta, which it has had since 2015."Water monitoring was suspended during the highest levels ever recorded, and the Alberta government didn't bother to inform us," Frame Lake MLA Kevin O'Reilly said. "What sort of lessons do we take away from this, and how do we improve the implementation of these agreements?"Shane Thompson, the minister of Environment and Natural Resources, said that while the government has learned lessons from the ordeal, the transboundary agreements the government has with southern provinces are "world class.""Unfortunately, we weren't informed. But as soon as we were informed, we reached out to both the provincial minister and federal minister to have these open and frank discussions ... we were on it right away," he said.Kelly said that the incident has led to the government changing how it communicates with Alberta. The province put an assistant deputy minister on the bilateral management committee, and is meeting with N.W.T. representatives quarterly.Testing underway for Great Slave Lake plumeThe environment department reported in its presentation that water levels in Great Slave Lake are the highest they've ever been, reaching record highs for every month beginning in July 2020. Though the government wasn't able to pinpoint the exact reason for the high levels, it attributed them to very high precipitation in watersheds that flow into the lake, starting in September 2019. Kelly said the analysis suggested the flooding of B.C.'s Bennett Dam, which took place this summer, did not have a significant impact on the levels.Territorial government officials are working with researchers from the federal, Alberta, and B.C. governments to further examine the factors contributing to the high levels, she said.Kelly said that the government also took samples of a larger than normal plume in Great Slave Lake after hearing concerns from residents, and that results from that sampling are expected to be available in the next few weeks.WATCH | Take an aerial look of the Great Slave Lake plume, as seen in August 2020:As for what's next, officials say they aren't sure at this point, and that rain and snowfall in northern B.C., Alberta, and Saskatchewan and the southern N.W.T. will be the biggest factors. "It's not just an average high water year," said Kelly. "It's unprecedented. It's very hard to predict what happens next when we have no data on what's happened previously."
LONDON — Britain’s announcement that it has become the first Western country to authorize the use of a COVID-19 vaccine has sparked debate about whether officials emphasized speed over safety. The U.K.’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency gave temporary authorization for people to receive a vaccine produced by U.S. drugmaker Pfizer and German company BioNTech. The agency made the decision under rules allowing regulators to sign off on medicines more quickly during public health emergencies. The move made the United Kingdom the world's first country to OK a rigorously tested COVID-19 vaccine. The British public is now seeking more information about the vaccine and the immunization timetable as authorities try to find an equitable way to distribute the limited number of doses that initially will be available. WHO WILL GET THE VACCINE FIRST - AND WHEN? Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said vaccinations would begin “within days.” The exact date the shots start will depend on how fast regulators can complete safety checks that must be done on each batch. A panel of independent experts that advises the British government, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization, has set out priorities for vaccinating the most vulnerable people first. The highest priority goes to older people living in nursing homes and their caregivers, but logistical difficulties in shipping smaller quantities of vaccine to reach a limited demographic group might cause a delay to this group. People over age 80 and healthcare workers have the second-highest priority. From there, priority access is based roughly in order of age until a vaccine has been offered to everyone over the age of 50, which is almost 40% of the U.K. population. Younger people with health conditions that put them at increased risk from COVID-19 also will take precedence. DID BREXIT HELP THE UK AUTHORIZE A VACCINE FIRST? Health secretary Hancock sparked controversy when he said Wednesday morning that British authorities couldn’t have moved so quickly if the U.K. were still a member of the European Union. That drew a rebuke from the EU, which pointed out that Britain is still governed by the bloc’s rules. While the U.K. formally left the EU on Jan. 31, it remains bound by European Union regulations until a transition period designed to cushion the shock of Brexit ends on Dec. 31. EU rules permit individual member countries to give temporary authorization for the national use of medicines during a public health emergency. But U.K. regulators may have been able to move faster than the 27-nation EU because they are no longer assessing products intended for the entire bloc, Stephen Evans, a professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said. “Consequently, the U.K. has almost undoubtedly had greater capacity to respond to a new application for authorization of a vaccine than any other country,” Evans said. However, any speed advantage the U.K. might have had is likely to disappear starting Jan. 1, when British regulators will become responsible for reviewing all applications for new drugs and vaccines to be authorized in the U.K. "It will have to do work that previously would have been shared among all the other ... member states,” Evans said. DID UK REGULATORS MOVE TOO FAST? Dr. June Raine, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency's, said people should be absolutely confident that “no corners have been cut.” British experts reviewed more than 1,000 pages of information, including raw data, on safety, quality and effectiveness before deciding to give temporary authorization for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine's use, she said. But that doesn't mean regulators take the same approach everywhere. American immunologist Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, told Fox News that British regulators didn’t review the data as carefully as their counterparts at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, potentially fueling concerns of individuals who are hesitant about getting the vaccine. “We have the gold standard of a regulatory approach with the FDA,'' Fauci said. “The U.K. did not do it as carefully. They got a couple of days ahead. I don’t think that makes much difference. We’ll be there very soon.'' Evans said there is only one major difference between the approach taken by British regulators and those in the U.S. The FDA often reanalyzes raw data to verify the findings of drugmakers. Virtually no other regulatory entity regularly does this, said Evans, who has worked with EU and U.K. regulators. “The processes carried out by the FDA and the MHRA are basically very similar,” he said. “We may well see differences in interpretation of the data between a regulator and a company, but this type of difference is regularly seen by all regulators, whether they reanalyze the data or not.” WHAT DOES THE EU SAY? The European Medicines Agency has said it expects to make a decision on the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine by Dec. 29. The regulator said it is taking more time because it is considering granting the vaccine a different type of green light, known as a conditional marketing authorization. The process requires more data, but will result in the vaccine being authorized for use in all 27 EU member nations, rather than a single country. The agency said its procedure is “the most appropriate regulatory mechanism for use in the current pandemic emergency.'' The debate comes at a particularly sensitive moment as Britain and the EU reach the final phase of talks over their post-Brexit relationship. More than four years after people in the U.K. voted to leave the bloc, negotiators have just days to reach a trade deal before the end of the transition period. One of Britain’s goals has always been to wrest control of its rules and regulations from EU bureaucrats. WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES IN DELIVERING THE VACCINE? First, the Pfizer/BioNTeach vaccine must be kept at minus 70 degrees Celsius (minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit) until a few hours before it is administered. Storage and shipment therefore requires specialized equipment that can maintain such ultra-cold temperatures. Also, the U.K.'s emergency use authorization sets out strict conditions to ensure vaccine supplies aren’t damaged or wasted. The vaccine is shipped in packages containing 975 doses. “You can't, at this point, distribute it to every individual GP surgery, as we normally would for many of the other vaccines available on the NHS,'' National Health Service CEO Simon Stevens said. More broadly, vaccinating a large percentage of the country’s population in a few months is an unprecedented challenge. Because of this, most vaccinations will take place at a relatively small number of sites that can handle large numbers of people. WHERE WILL THE VACCINATIONS TAKE PLACE? Vaccinations will start at 50 hospital hubs, which will offer vaccines to care home residents and people over 80. Those who are going to receive the vaccine will be notified by the hospital, so there is no need to schedule an appointment. As the National Health Service receives additional supplies of the vaccine, the shots will also be offered at about 1,000 community vaccination centres. Local GPs will invite their patients to be vaccinated in order of priority. ___ Follow AP's coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak. Danica Kirka, The Associated Press
Despite the Ford government’s recent attempts to increase standards of care in Ontario’s long-term care homes during the COVID-19 pandemic, a co-chair of Pioneer Manor’s Family Council said that while it’s nice, it’s too little too late. “The announcement about increasing personal care to four hours per day is great. But’s it’s all of the other details around it that make absolutely no sense,” said Terry Martyn, who also sits on Ontario’s Northeast Family Council Network. “Nothing will come into effect for another four to five years. That’s not good enough. Residents need more care right now.” On Nov. 2, Ford announced that the provincial government would provide additional funding in the 2020 budget to increase average daily direct care from 2.75 to 4 hours per resident by 2024-25 in a move that was met with both praise and criticism. “This is a bold step on a big issue,” said Lisa Levin, CEO of AdvantAge Ontario, a non-profit association that represents more than 36,000 long-term care residents and more than 8,000 seniors in housing units across the province. “Almost without exception, any report or study looking at the challenges in providing safe, quality care to seniors living in long-term care has pointed to the need for more staff. There is absolutely nothing that could have a more direct and positive impact on the quality and enjoyment of life for residents than more staff.” The Ontario Health Coalition (OHC), which has been advocating for increased standards of care for more than 20 years, would like to see something more substantial. “We are happy that the minimum care standard is finally, belatedly, adopted as policy but we cannot allow this to be the way that this government tries to shut down the legitimate criticism about their inadequate response,” said executive director Natalie Mehra. “We desperately need staff in the homes now. It is in this government’s power to do more. Why will they not do it?” The province has also announced it is launching a new recruitment program called the Ontario Workforce Reserve for Senior Support that would train and deploy resident support aides (RSA) to work in long-term care homes during the COVID-19 pandemic. The province is hoping that those who are unemployed or have been displaced from the retail and hospitality industries or administrative roles as well as students in education programs will take advantage of the opportunity. “COVID-19 has amplified persistent staffing challenges in the long-term care sector, highlighting the need for immediate action,” said Dr. Merrilee Fullerton, minister of Long-Term Care. “I encourage those who are looking for new opportunities or those who have been displaced during the pandemic to consider working in a long-term care home. This will not only be personally satisfying work, but it will also help out our frontline staff and greatly improve the quality of life for our seniors.” But while it seems that the provincial government has finally heard the voices calling for change, Martyn still isn’t impressed. “RSAs do not help get residents up in the morning, dressed, and bathed – that’s the direct care that we need and only PSWs do that,” he said. He doesn’t believe that the government’s actions address the real need for a concrete recruitment plan to hire more PSWs in Ontario – and he’s not alone. “The NDP, alongside families, frontline workers, and experts, have been fighting (to increase personal care standards) for literally years, including introducing the bill that would make it the law in Ontario four times since 2016,” said MPP Teresa Armstrong, the NDP critic of long-term care. “Prior to the pandemic, we all heard heartbreaking stories of seniors dehydrated, injured without explanation, left to develop bedsores, and not being given the time or the help to eat, dress themselves, bathe or even get to the bathroom. A revolving door of underpaid, part-time workers, like PSWs, have been run off their feet for years.” Since the pandemic started, conditions in long-term care facilities seem to have gotten worse,, critics say. The Service Employees International Union estimated that nearly 30 per cent or 7,500 of the nurses and PSWs they represent left their jobs since the start of the pandemic. Martyn added that adequate, full-time work as a PSW is difficult to come by – many PSWs work multiple part-time gigs at more than one long-term care home, something that increases the possibility of spreading COVID-19. Dot Klein, the co-chair of the Sudbury Health Coalition, said that almost 2,000 long-term care residents and staff died during the first wave of the virus this year. According to Ontario’s Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission, 55 per cent of the province’s long-term care facilities experienced an outbreak of the virus during the first wave, and about 75 per cent of all COVID-related deaths in Ontario were in long-term care. “Some common characteristics among the most impacted homes were: location in communities with high infection rates, insufficient leadership capacity, pre-existing and COVID-related staffing shortages, and a lack of strong infection prevention and control measures, including difficulty cohorting and isolating positive residents, often because of limitations of the physical environment,” said a letter written by the Commission on Oct. 23. The letter was addressed to Minister Fullerton, and it outlined five recommendations for the provincial government to follow to prepare for the second wave of COVID-19 this fall. The first item on that list is increasing the supply of PSWs and ensuring that recruitment efforts address the need for various staff to meet the increasingly complex needs of residents. “The issue with staffing shortages is the same everywhere in Ontario. Long-term care homes are funded by the Ontario government depending on how many residents they have and what kind of care they need,” said Martyn. “They are given a certain level of funding to hire PSWs, and that’s it. They cannot hire more PSWs above that number unless they have excess money or profits in the bank. It’s impossible to do that.” The Ontario government announced $405 million in funding for the province’s long-term care homes to help with operating pressures due to COVID-19 in late September. The funding can be used for infection prevention and containment measures, staffing supports, and purchasing additional supplies and PPE. The government also announced that it would extend the $3 per hour pay raise for PSWs until March 2021. “The bottom line is that the Ford government’s approach is piecemeal, does not include a robust recruitment strategy, and does not address the longstanding problems in working conditions,” said the OHC. “The Ford government’s approach is far less and far later than the program launched by the government of Quebec four months ago in which the province itself drove recruitment, hiring 10,000 PSWs (the Quebec equivalent), paying them for training and providing a wage of $26 per hour.” The Local Journalism Initiative is made possible through funding from the federal government. email@example.com Twitter: @SudburyStar Colleen Romaniuk, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Sudbury Star
JERUSALEM — The Israeli government on Thursday urged its citizens to avoid travel to the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, citing threats of Iranian attacks.Iran has been threatening to attack Israeli targets since its chief nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, was assassinated last Friday near Tehran. It accuses Israel, which has been suspected in previous killings of Iranian nuclear scientists, of being behind the shooting.Israel has not commented on the killing. But Fakhrizadeh has long been on Israel's radar screen, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying at a 2018 news conference about Iran's nuclear program: “Remember that name.” Israel accuses Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons — a charge Iran denies.In recent months, Israel has signed agreements establishing diplomatic relations with Gulf Arab states of the UAE and Bahrain — its first normalization deals with Arab countries in a quarter century.The agreements, brokered by the Trump administration, have generated widespread excitement in Israel, and thousands of Israeli tourists are scheduled to travel to the UAE for the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah this month.That may change following Thursday's warning.“In light of the threats heard recently by Iranian officials and in light of the involvement in the past of Iranian officials in terror attacks in various countries, there is a concern that Iran will try to act in this way against Israeli targets,” said a statement issued by the prime minister’s National Security Council.It also advised against travel to Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, the Kurdish area of Iraq and Africa.Israel's military is well prepared to deal with the threats of Iranian troops and their proxies in neighbouring Syria, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip. Israeli media say the government also has beefed up security at embassies around the world.But protecting Israeli travellers, conspicuous and spread out at countless hotels, restaurants and tourist sites, represents a different type of challenge.“This is going to be a nightmare, and I really hope that both governments, UAE and Israel, are co-ordinating and doing the best they can to safeguard those Israelis,” said Yoel Guzansky, a former Israeli counterterrorism official who is now a senior fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.“I’m really worried that that something might happen, and especially now because of the context of Fakhrizadeh, because Iran is really looking for revenge,” he added. He spoke before the travel advisory was issued.The Israel Airports Authority estimates that about 25,000 Israelis will fly to the UAE this month on the five airlines now plying the route between Tel Aviv and the Gulf state’s airports in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Celebrities, entrepreneurs and tourists already have been flocking to Dubai.With the coronavirus appearing to be under control in the UAE, it is one of the few quarantine-free travel options for Israelis during the coming Hanukkah holiday vacation, adding to its appeal. At a time when few people are travelling, Israeli visitors speaking Hebrew could be extra conspicuous.Israel this week also signed a tourism agreement with Bahrain.Amsalem Tours, an Israeli travel agency, said that there was “very serious” demand for travel packages to Dubai but did not provide specific figures.Iran and its proxies have targeted Israeli tourists and Jewish communities in the past. Agents of the Lebanese militant Hezbollah group bombed a bus carrying Israeli tourists in Burgas, Bulgaria, in 2012, killing six and wounding dozens. That year, Israel also accused Iran of being behind attacks targeting Israeli diplomats in Thailand and India. Iran and Hezbollah also bombed the Israeli Embassy and Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires in 1992 and 1994, claiming the lives of scores of civilians.Concerns for the safety of Israelis in Dubai also is not without precedent. In 2000, an Israeli ex-colonel was kidnapped by Iranian proxy Hezbollah and held captive in Lebanon until he was released in a prisoner exchange in 2004.Today, Dubai, famous for its glittering shopping malls, ultra-modern skyscrapers and nightlife, is a crossroads for travellers from around the world, including many nations that do not have relations with Israel. Iran maintains a major presence in Dubai, due to historical and current trade ties, and Dubai is believed to be a major station for Iranian intelligence services. The family of a California-based member of an Iranian militant opposition group in exile says he was abducted by Iran while staying in Dubai just a few months ago.In a possible sign of Emirati security concerns, travel agencies in countries across the Middle East and Africa say the UAE has temporarily halted issuing new visas to their citizens. With tens of thousands of Iranians working or doing business in the UAE, Iran is also among the countries facing the visa restrictions.Israel had already had a travel warning in place advising citizens against nonessential travel to the UAE. Similar “basic concrete threat” advisories are in place for visiting other Arab states with which Israel has peace treaties. But the language of Thursday's warning was especially tough.The UAE, for its part, is known for its strict security. Dubai, home to 3.3 million people in 2019, with just over 3 million of them foreigners, has published major crime statistics that are among some of the lowest in the world.Before Israelis began arriving, Dubai held a highly publicized drill of a police SWAT team storming a replica metro car in October and suggested facial-recognition technology could be implemented at stations along its driverless track. Experts already believe the UAE has one of the highest per capita concentrations of surveillance cameras in the world, a system that’s only grown amid the coronavirus pandemic.And despite the recent tensions, Iran may be hesitant to strike on Emirati soil, wanting to maintain its economic interests there. The UAE meanwhile has gone out of its way to say it wants to de-escalate tensions in the region despite its own suspicions over Iranian behaviour. It called the killing of Fakhrizadeh a “heinous assassination.”In an interview before Thursday's advisory was issued, Pavel Israelsky, co-founder of Salam Dubai, said the boom in his UAE-based Israeli tour operator’s bookings was “significant” ahead of the Hanukkah holiday. While a handful of Israeli clients cancelled over security concerns, he said, “I can say that the UAE is one of the most secure places in the world in terms of the resources they invest in security.”“I don’t think there’s cause for worry,” Israelsky said. “Today, no place is really safe.”___Associated Press writers Josef Federman in Jerusalem and Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed reporting.Ilan Ben Zion, The Associated Press
The number of active COVID-19 cases in Public Health Sudbury & Districts decreased on Thursday as no new cases were reported, and one case was declared resolved. There are now seven active cases of COVID-19 in the region. According to the health unit’s weekly summary, five new cases of COVID-19 were reported in the last seven days and 11 were resolved. Of the new cases, two were close contacts of a confirmed case and two were travel related. The investigation into the exposure category of the 5th case remains ongoing. All five cases were in Greater Sudbury. Public Health's territory also takes in Espanola, Manitoulin Island and the District of Sudbury. “By end of day on December 2, contact tracing information was available for all 5 of the new cases," Public Health said in its weekly report. "Through our investigation, we identified 30 people who had high-risk close contacts with these cases. That is an average of 6 high-risk close contacts per case, which is consistent with last week. “Public Health follows up directly and regularly with every high-risk close contact to monitor them for symptoms, ensure they are self-isolating, and make recommendations for testing according to provincial guidance.” The seven-day incidence rate was 2.5 per 100,000 compared to 9.1 in the previous week. The percent positivity was 0.3 per cent compared to 0.5 per cent last week. Public Health Sudbury and Districts remains in the Yellow-Protect category of the provincial COVID-19 response framework. While Sudbury didn't report any new cases, the same can't be said for the rest of Ontario. Ontario reported 1,824 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, and 14 new deaths due to the virus. In her message to the community, Medical Officer of Health Dr. Penny Sutcliffe reminded the public about staying safe as the holiday season approaches, and to treat everyone with kindness. “For some of us, the upcoming winter holidays are a time to celebrate and connect with friends and loved ones. For many, the holidays also can be stressful – and this year, especially so. Remember, you are not alone. Reach out to friends, loved ones, or connect with local agencies and resources,” she said. “Treat yourself with kindness and respect and offer the same to others who may need support. This pandemic is not a forever-thing, but the lives we touch can be. Share a smile (behind the mask), practice patience, and lend a hand when it is least expected.” The Local Journalism Initiative is made possible through funding from the federal government. firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @SudburyStar Colleen Romaniuk, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Sudbury Star
MADRID — Spain's Supreme Court has revoked a less restrictive prison status awarded to nine Catalan political figures previously sentenced to jail for their part in a secession attempt in Catalonia. The status would have allowed them almost daily release.The court said Friday that such a measure was “premature” given that none of the nine had served half their sentence and most not even a quarter of it. The sentences ranged between nine and 13 years.The nine were convicted in 2019 of sedition and misuse of public funds following the failed independence bid two years earlier. After they were transferred to prisons in the northeastern region, the pro-independence Catalan regional government granted them third-grade status last July. meaning they could leave prison during the day to carry out certain activities.The July measure was quickly suspended following appeals by prosecutors.The new court ruling comes as the leftist Spanish government is considering possible pardons and a reform of the sedition law that would favour the nine.The nine include the former vice-president of Catalonia, Oriol Junqueras, and five ex-regional cabinet members.Former regional president Carles Puigdemont fled to Belgium and is still sought by Spanish authorities.Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the secession push in Catalonia was Spain’s most serious crisis in decades. Polls have long shown the wealthy region’s 7.5 million inhabitants are roughly evenly divided over independence. Spain’s constitution says the country is indivisible.The Associated Press
TORONTO — Ontario's police watchdog is investigating after police shot and injured a man in the west end of Toronto. The Special Investigations Unit says the shooting happened Thursday afternoon after 4 p.m. A news release says witnesses had reported a screaming man holding a sharp object in Etobicoke. Toronto police officers arrived at the scene and the agency says one of them shot the man. The 30-year-old was taken to a hospital with serious injuries. Four investigators and two forensic investigators are assigned to the case and the watchdog has identified one subject officer and one witness officer. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 4, 2020. The Canadian Press
Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Heather Morrison has confirmed that all COVID-19 test results have come back negative for the close contacts of a positive case at Charlottetown Rural High School. The number of men in jobs on P.E.I. in November was virtually the same as it was in January, but working women have made no progress in returning to pre-pandemic levels since the summer.An annual free Christmas dinner in Souris has received the green light from public health to do a takeout version Dec. 25. Island comedian Sandy Gillis shared how keeping people laughing has been keeping up his own spirits during the pandemic. P.E.I. will not rejoin the Atlantic bubble until at least Dec. 21.Several P.E.I. appliance stores are dealing with a shortage of products to sell because COVID-19 is affecting the manufacturers of fridges, stoves, washers and dryers.One additional COVID-19 case was confirmed in P.E.I. Thursday, a man in his 20s who is a rotational worker and recently travelled to the Island from outside the Atlantic region. P.E.I. currently has five active cases, and there have been 73 positive cases since the onset of the pandemic, with no deaths and no hospitalizations.Nova Scotia reported 15 new cases of COVID-19 Friday. The province currently has 117 active cases. New Brunswick reported eight new cases Friday and is dealing with 111 active cases.Also in the newsFurther resourcesMore from CBC P.E.I.
A Calgary police officer has been promoted just weeks after he was ordered to a disciplinary hearing for his role in the shooting death of an unarmed man inside a hotel room. On Nov. 18, Lon Brewster was promoted from sergeant to staff sergeant, six weeks after Chief Mark Neufeld released a decision sending the officer and three others to a Police Act hearing for offences which include unlawful or unnecessary exercise of authority and neglecting duties as police officers.Anthony Heffernan, 27, was fatally shot inside a northeast hotel room in 2015, after police were called for a wellness check.The latest move by CPS is another gut punch to Heffernan's parents, Pat and Irene. "It's totally unreasonable," said Pat in reaction to news of the promotion.Irene called the promotion "unconscionable." "I guess they don't really consider taking someone's life to be very important."72 secondsHeffernan had relapsed and was taking drugs at the time he was shot.Five officers busted in his hotel room, justifying it because they said they were concerned for his safety.Just 72 seconds later, he'd been shot four times, including three in the head and neck.Brewster was not the shooter or the one who made the call to enter the hotel room but was the highest ranking officer at the scene. According to CPS, Brewster has never faced disciplinary action before or since the hotel incident and has "demonstrated a strong commitment to policing and the community over his 14-year career.""We consider factors like when the incident occurred, what their role was in the incident, whether there is a pattern of misconduct or incompetence, and whether they have demonstrated a commitment to our values over their career," said the service in a written statement provided to CBC News.Losing hopeBut the Heffernans say they are losing hope for accountability."When a person is killed when they're on a health and wellness check, this is extremely serious, this isn't just some minor thing where someone said he misspoke to them or treated them poorly … and yet the police are sloughing it off," said Pat Heffernan."The message it sends to us is that they don't want to be held accountable."On the afternoon of March 16, 2015, officers were called to the hotel after Heffernan stayed past his check-out time. It was determined that Heffernan was likely doing drugs inside the room and officers requested and received permission from an acting staff sergeant to break in. Of the five officers who entered the room, Brewster was the only one who did not walk in with his gun or Taser drawn.Anthony's death an 'inconvenience' to CPS, says familyOnce inside, the officers reported Heffernan was holding a syringe and wasn't responding to their commands. A Taser was deployed but hit Heffernan's shirt. He tried to remove the probes and moved toward the officers in a motion Brewster described as a "lunge."That's when Const. Maurice McLoughlin opened fire, shooting Heffernan four times.The syringe officers had spotted in Heffernan's hand was ultimately found without a needle."Anthony's death to them is an inconvenience but it's not anything they're going to look at to make changes so this does not happen again," said Pat Heffernan.Officer who shot Heffernan resignsThe salary range for a sergeant is $126,922 to $130,728 per year, while the compensation increases to $137,322 to $141,461 for a staff sergeant.McLoughlin, the officer who shot Heffernan, resigned from the force prior to the decision by the police chief and will avoid any hearings or penalties as a result — a move the Heffernan family has previously called "cowardly."Following an investigation, the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT) recommended he be charged. The Crown prosecution service did not pursue charges. Alberta is one of the few, if not the only, jurisdictions in the country where police officers can resign in the face of discipline and maintain a clean record.The disciplinary hearing is likely to take place in late 2021.
The Arecibo Observatory was featured in Hollywood films including "Contact" in 1997 and the James Bond film "Goldeneye" in 1995.View on euronews
THE LATEST: * Health officials announced 711 new cases Friday, as well as 11 more deaths. * There are now 9,050 active cases of COVID-19 across B.C. * 338 patients are in hospital, with 76 in intensive care. * 492 people in B.C. have died of the disease since the pandemic began. * There are two new health-care facility outbreaks.As British Columbians head into a weekend that would typically see the beginning of holiday parties, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry is urging everyone to "stay small and stay local" to slow the spread of COVID-19."We can still be festive, we can still have fun, but let's ensure it is only with our immediate household," Henry said.On Friday, she announced 711 new cases of COVID-19 and 11 more deaths. There are 338 patients in hospital with the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, 76 of whom are in intensive care.Two new health-care facility outbreaks were announced, one at Peace Arch Hospital Foundation Lodge in White Rock, the other at Richmond Hospital. The outbreak at Youville Residence is over.Snowboarder finedOn Friday, a snowboarder who broke Canada's quarantine rules early to try to go to Whistler, B.C., was fined $1,150 under the Quarantine Act , according to police.West Vancouver police said the man was caught driving north on the Sea-to-Sky Highway Monday. An officer on patrol noticed his Audi had California plates with expired tags. The officer called public health officials and the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and confirmed the man still had two days left on his 14-day quarantine.Party hosts ticketedMeanwhile, five different Burnaby, B.C., party hosts were slapped with tickets for violating the COVID-19 Related Measures Act during the month of November, according to police, including one with 58 people in their apartment and another who was ticketed for a second time.And new data released Friday shows families with children and adults aged 18-29 reported being hardest hit by the socioeconomic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.While seniors aged 70 and older experienced the most severe health effects, younger adults and parents of young children reported the pandemic taking a higher economic, mental and emotional toll, according to the provincewide COVID-19 Survey on Population, Experience, Action and Knowledge conducted in the spring and funded by the BCCDC Foundation for Public Health.Adults aged 18-29 were nearly twice as likely to be out of work due to the pandemic, with 27 per cent of respondents of this age group affected, compared to16 per cent for the province overall.READ MORE:What's happening elsewhere in CanadaAs of 3 p.m. on Friday, Canada's COVID-19 case count stood at 401,859, with 70,008 of those cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC's reporting stood at 12,485.Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada's chief public health officer, also warned Friday that daily new cases could top 10,000 by January. Alberta announced Friday its positivity rate for COVID-19 is now 10.5 per cent, which the province's chief medical health officer called a "grim milestone."Meanwhile, federal officials are making plans for how to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine once it becomes available.Eventually, there will be 205 "points of issue" locations across the country where health-care professionals can administer it.What are the symptoms of COVID-19?Common symptoms include: * Fever. * Cough. * Tiredness. * Shortness of breath. * Loss of taste or smell. * Headache.But more serious symptoms can develop, including difficulty breathing and pneumonia.What should I do if I feel sick?Use the B.C. Centre for Disease Control's COVID-19 self-assessment tool. Testing is recommended for anyone with symptoms of cold or flu, even if they're mild. People with severe difficulty breathing, severe chest pain, difficulty waking up or other extreme symptoms should call 911.What can I do to protect myself? * Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly. Keep them clean. * Keep your distance from people who are sick. * Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. * Wear a mask in indoor public spaces.More detailed information on the outbreak is available on the federal government's website.
Clearwater Seafoods is dropping Marine Stewardship Council certification for its Canadian offshore lobster fishery, calling it "a voluntary decision driven by business considerations."The blue MSC eco-label tells consumers the seafood they are buying is sustainably caught and has been a point of pride for North America's biggest shellfish producer.Clearwater's offshore lobster fishery off southern Nova Scotia was the first fishery on the Eastern Seaboard to receive MSC certification in 2010.The current five-year certification expires at the end of the month."Clearwater is confident in the ability of this fishery to meet the MSC standard today, but has chosen not to initiate recertification at this time given the internal resources required to support recertification," Clearwater vice-president Christine Penney said in an email statement to CBC News.Maintaining certification has become more onerous recently for the fishery.Two years ago, Clearwater was convicted of a gross violation when it was caught illegally storing thousands of lobster traps on the ocean floor even after it had been repeatedly warned by Canadian authorities to stop the practice because it was a conservation risk. The traps were left on the bottom with escape hatches open, but continued to catch and kill lobsters.The conviction triggered a Marine Stewardship Council audit and new conditions were imposed to demonstrate compliance."The question comes to mind whether they're unable to show that evidence and therefore they wouldn't pass the certification," said Shannon Arnold, an environmentalist with the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax."And so by just walking away from it, they're not forced to show that to the consumers that they're actually fishing within the law."Clearwater defends lobster fisheryClearwater said the fishery was always and remains sustainable."While Clearwater has chosen not to enter into recertification of the offshore fishery MSC program at the end of 2020, the sustainability measures that were in place for 10 years of successful certification continue to be in effect," said Penney."The offshore lobster fishery remains sustainable. The fishery has not been suspended or failed, and it maintains its current certificate until December 2020."The Marine Stewardship Council declined to directly comment on Clearwater's decision to drop its lobster certification."Clearwater is a long-standing partner of the MSC, and its other MSC-certified fisheries in Canada and globally remain in our voluntary program," spokesperson Vianna Murday said in a statement.Other core Canadian species are staying with the council.They include offshore scallops, snow crab, arctic surf clam, cold water shrimp and lobster harvested in the Maritimes by an inshore fleet independent of the company.Clearwater said an internal tracing system will allow it to separate lobster it buys from the inshore and the 720 tonnes it harvests under its offshore licences."This fishery accounts for a small portion of Clearwater lobster volumes, and the use of the eco-label is very limited on products from this fishery," Penney said.Partnership buying companyClearwater is in the process of being sold. If approved by shareholders, the new owner of the company will be a partnership between Premium Brands of British Columbia and a coalition of Mi'kmaw First Nations led in part by the Membertou band in Cape Breton.Membertou had previously bought two of the eight offshore licences held by Clearwater. No one from the band was available for comment.Clearwater management and the company lobster boat, the Randell Dominaux based in Shelburne, N.S., will continue to run the coveted offshore lobster fishery.Offshore lobster fisheryClearwater has enjoyed exclusive rights to Lobster Fishing Area 41, which starts 80 kilometres from shore and runs to the 200-mile limit, extending from Georges Bank to the Laurentian Channel between Cape Breton and Newfoundland.The company fishes entirely off southern Nova Scotia. Unlike every other lobster fishery, there is no season and Clearwater has been awarded a quota of 720 tonnes, which it has said represents about 15 per cent of all lobster it sells.For environmentalists like Arnold, the loss of Marine Stewardship Council certification is a blow."That transparency from the MSC process, that extra layer, is what really allowed us to dig in and see what was happening with this fishery in the offshore and how they were fishing outside the legal boundaries," she said. "So we're concerned that we're losing that level of oversight."MORE TOP STORIES
OAKVILLE, Ont. — A driver has been charged in the death of a woman who was struck while walking her dog in Oakville, Ont. Halton Regional Police say the fatal collision happened Thursday afternoon. The 51-year-old and her dog were pronounced dead at the scene. Investigators determined the victim was walking her dog on a path when they were hit by the vehicle that had left the roadway. After hitting the pedestrian and her pet, police say the driver struck a stone post before the vehicle came to rest in the road. The driver, a man in his 50s from Oakville, has been arrested for impaired operation and dangerous driving causing death. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 4, 2020. The Canadian Press
Unseasonably warm temperatures so far this month are causing Northwest Territories residents some problems.In Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., Chuck Gruben's truck wasn't having it."I started to back out of the driveway and I started going sideways," he told Wanda McLeod on CBC's Northwind.The thermostat hit zero degrees in the hamlet on Thursday, balmy for this time of year, when the average high is around -20 C. But Tuktoyaktuk's temperatures were frigid compared with other communities in the territory.Norman Wells hit a tropical 11.1 C — smashing its previous record-high for December of 5.7 C, set in 1985. Wrigley also hit 11 degrees Thursday, while Fort Simpson, Sambaa K'e and the South Slave region all saw temperatures above zero. "It's not normal," said Gruben, commenting on the heavy rain he was seeing in Tuktoyaktuk. He said conditions were slippery and many people stayed home."Even to get down your steps, it's pretty scary," he said. "My wife, she went out to her work truck this morning. She had to sit on the steps and go down each step on her bum." The unusually warm weather may be even harder on the animals."For any animals or birds that forage out there, it's going to be hard to dig for food once it freezes," said Gruben.While temperatures in Tuktoyaktuk are forecasted to descend into the minus-teens and twenties over the weekend, these recent days of rain and warmth might not be forgotten by the caribou. "These are the kind of winters that we dread for the caribou," said Gruben, especially considering how animal numbers are declining. "This just contributes to make it worse for them," he said. "Going to see a lot of skinny caribou."
When Bob Murphy began his search for an affordable housing unit in Toronto, he said the process felt something like blindly throwing darts at a map.As a person with a disability on a fixed income, Murphy's options for an affordable unit within the Toronto Community Housing system were even further limited."You're just basically looking at an address on a map and just picking five choices you would possibly want," he said of the process.Three years later, he says there's been no movement on his application, and a total lack of communication about the status of his search.Murphy says he's now resigned to quietly languishing on Toronto's massive waiting list for affordable housing, which numbers 79,768 according to the city's latest count."I call it the never, ever housing list," said Murphy, who also volunteers with the advocacy group ACORN Canada. "I don't plan on anything ever developing from this list."Frustrating experiences like Murphy's are now driving a push to transform the city's outdated affordable housing application system, which has been described as an inconvenient relic from a pre-digital age."It's a barrier to entry," said Mark Richardson, an affordable housing activist behind the grassroots organization HousingNowTO. He's critical of the current system's reliance on physical documentation and the need for applicants to frequently update their files."I think it's a cumbersome system for people who are looking for housing," said Toronto Deputy Mayor Ana Bailão, who is also the chair of the city's planning and housing committee.All eyes on NYCImprovements to Toronto's affordable housing application process could make the system easier to access, more responsive, and ultimately more capable of matching applicants with suitable housing, say those calling for change.Those advocates can now point to New York City, which in June rolled out a similarly ambitious makeover of its affordable housing application system to early positive reviews.Prospective tenants in New York can now access and update their applications on a smartphone, and the streamlined system is said to be more effective at matching tenants to possible homes."I think it would make a major difference and possibly create a little bit more hope," said Murphy of New York's revamped system.Richardson said a more sophisticated and intuitive system could also remove a burden on applicants to apply for various lotteries when new units become available. Rather than applying for a handful of buildings like Murphy has done, an improved system could match tenants with any building with an availability."You're not waiting to see some sign up on the side of the building, or the sign in a lobby of a building saying some units are becoming available," Richardson said.Change coming early next year, city saysBailão calls the updated system in New York "a great example" and said Toronto's social housing application process will take cues from it for its next update."It is an excellent system and that's what I'm hoping we're going to be able to roll out in Toronto," she said.She said that could happen as soon as the first quarter of 2021 for subsidized units in the Toronto Community Housing network. The same system would later be used for other forms of affordable housing, including below-market-rate units, Bailão said.A recent pilot project that tested an enhanced application system created the equivalent of 200 new units by more efficiently matching tenants to homes, she added.Despite possible improvements to the application process, Toronto will still have to grapple with a demand for affordable housing that still vastly exceeds the current supply of units.The city's HousingTO plan has a target of 40,000 new affordable housing units by 2030, which covers about half the applicants currently on the city's waiting list.
Both the mayor of Charlottetown and the president of the Federation of Prince Edward Island Municipalities want time to consult their constituents about the possibility of lowering the provincial voting age.Green MLA Karla Bernard introduced a private member's bill to the P.E.I. Legislature last month to lower the voting age from 18 to 16. Mayor Philip Brown said the city should be consulted. "The changes will not only affect the Election Act for the province, but also the Municipal Government Act," Brown said."There is a duty to consult here, and I think that has to be taken into account."The bill had its second reading in the legislature on Nov. 26 and has gone to committee. Brown expressed concern with the part of the bill stating that even if the voting age is lowered to 16, the age when someone could run as a candidate would still be 18. "If we're trying to encourage young people or the youth to be involved, well, you know what? If you can vote, you can also run as a candidate," said Brown. "It's like getting your car licence at 16, but you're not going to be allowed to drive until you're 18." On Monday, Charlottetown council passed a motion to send the proposed voting age amendments to the Federation of P.E.I. Municipalities to gauge its feedback. Federation wants discussion "Before anything like this happens, I believe the federation should be consulted, and we haven't been so far," said Bruce MacDougall, the organization's president and a Summerside councillor."It's a very important topic and I believe all our municipalities should have a say in it."MacDougall said he could reach out to each of the 59 municipalities in the federation to ask for opinions on the issue, but he would rather bring it up at the federation's AGM, which he said is "not for a while now." "I think there should be some real good discussion around this and I believe our AGM is our best option."In the meantime, MacDougall said the federation will be sending a letter to the leaders of the provincial Progressive Conservative, Green and Liberal parties to let them know where the organization stands on the issue. More from CBC P.E.I.
Climate activists piled up giant cardboard delivery boxes outside the finance ministry in Paris on Friday, protesting against Amazon's expansion in France as the online retailer launched a delayed "Black Friday" sales drive. Gathered in the ministry's cobbled courtyard, the protesters from three groups - ANV-COP 21, Attac and Amis de la Terre - rolled out a banner on the building's facade bearing the slogan "change of owner" and featuring the faces of Amazon boss Jeff Bezos and French President Emmanuel Macron.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Paula and Anthony Hunter spun off their catering service into a restaurant serving Italian food with a “touch of soul” right before the coronavirus hit. Soon, both Louisville businesses slammed to a halt, and the couple relied on federal relief to help stay afloat.They improvised to keep income flowing in, navigating a maze of food delivery mobile apps and prepping boxed lunches for health care workers toiling long hours at local hospitals.Now, hit with a recent statewide order closing restaurants to indoor dining until mid-December, the couple is hoping for another round of federal aid to hang on until a vaccine arrives.“Just a few more months, you know, get us through this,” said Paula Hunter, who owns the Black Italian restaurant along with her husband.Kentucky's senior senator, Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, is at the centre of congressional negotiations on another relief package. Kentucky voters didn’t punish McConnell for the long-stalemated talks, awarding him a lopsided victory as he secured a seventh term in last month’s election. He spent the campaign boasting about the money he delivered for the Bluegrass State in the massive federal relief package passed early in the pandemic.While reports of hardship are growing in Kentucky, much of the political pressure there is focused not on McConnell but on the state’s Democratic governor, Andy Beshear.Beshear is under fire from business owners and state GOP leaders who think the virus-related restrictions he’s imposed on daily life in Kentucky have gone too far. Emboldened by gains they made in the November elections, GOP legislative leaders are expected to push to rein in Beshear’s authority to take emergency measures when the legislature convenes next year.Beshear says he's focused on saving lives but Congress must do its part and pass more aid.“We need people to not be Democrats or Republicans but to be human beings and do the right thing," the governor said in an interview. “People out there are dying, People out there are hurting. This is the time to invest in our people and in their safety.”With COVID-19 surging across the country, a group of Senate centrists has offered a $908 billion federal relief package aimed at breaking the monthslong logjam. McConnell hasn’t budged so far from a $550 billion plan that failed twice this fall but said Thursday that “compromise is within reach” as bipartisan talks gained momentum in the Senate.“There is no reason why we should not deliver another major pandemic relief package to help the American people through what seems poised to be the last chapters of this battle,” McConnell said in a Senate speech this week.In his home state, anxiety is rising along with deaths, infections and hospitalizations.In a region already reeling from the decline of coal mining, eastern Kentucky pastor Chris Bartley has heard an unprecedented chorus of pleas for help from people whose lives have been shattered by the economic turmoil caused by COVID-19.“You hear the desperation in the phone calls: ‘I have to pay my rent today. I’ve done everything I can do. I’ve offered to rake leaves or mow grass or anything I can do.’ They’ve lost their job or the stimulus has run out,” said Bartley, associate pastor at a Methodist church in Pikeville, Kentucky.Along with prayers for divine guidance, Bartley hopes to see more relief from Congress.Beshear, meanwhile, delivers daily doses of grim news of the state's virus cases and deaths and presses for another economic lifeline for struggling businesses, the unemployed, and state and local governments.“We saw the first round of CARES Act funding really flow through our economy in a positive manner," he said. “People needed the dollars. They spent the dollars. We saw businesses lifted up by those dollars. We were able to use funds to help people stay in their homes with an eviction-relief fund. Pay their utility bills so they didn’t end up in debt."Beshear has carefully avoided calling out McConnell or President Donald Trump as the impasse drags on. Republicans dominated federal and state elections last month in Kentucky.The governor has fought his own battles as his restrictions on businesses, gatherings and schools have drawn opposition from GOP lawmakers, business operators and the state's Republican attorney general.Kentucky's Supreme Court last month upheld the governor’s authority to issue coronavirus-related mandates, but Beshear is now embroiled in another legal fight over his recent virus-related suspension of in-person classes at religious schools.Some restaurant operators vow to reopen their dining rooms to 50% capacity later this month, regardless of whether Beshear chooses to extend his current order closing restaurants and bars to indoor dining until Dec. 13. Beshear said Wednesday he doesn't expect to extend the order. The governor set aside $40 million in federal aid to help bars and restaurants reeling from the restrictions, but many say it will cover only a small portion of the revenue they're losing.Publicly, Beshear shrugs off the pushback from his detractors.“I’m willing to take whatever blame some people want to heap out there," he said. “If it means that their relatives are still around for Christmas this year and Christmas next year, I’ll take it.”Meanwhile, Beshear this week announced the release of an additional $50 million in federal relief funding to reimburse hard-hit city and county governments for coronavirus-related expenses.Pike County Judge-Executive Ray Jones welcomed the influx of money but warned that without another federal relief package, the hardships will intensify for city and county governments faced with increasing demands from constituents amid shrinking tax revenues.He's hoping any new federal package includes another round of Paycheck Protection Program subsidies for struggling businesses and an extension of supplemental federal unemployment programs.“There’s no question if there’s not an extension of the unemployment benefits and another round of PPP funding, it will have a catastrophic impact on local revenues,” Jones said.Bartley sees the damage being inflicted on families firsthand.“I'm dealing with more mental health issues than I ever have in 20 years," he said.At his church's food pantry, demand fell after Congress passed the massive aid bill months ago, but now more and more people are showing up for bags of groceries.“It’s almost as much as we can do to keep up again," Bartley said.Congress, he added, needs to “get past all of the politics” and provide more aid to those in need.“I don’t know a whole lot about the political scheme of all this, but it seems like we’ve got to do something for the betterment of our country," Bartley said. “I don’t know how or what that could be. But it feels like something has to happen, or it’s like the dam is going to break.”___Hudspeth Blackburn is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a non-profit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.___Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/virus-outbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.Bruce Schreiner And Piper Hudspeth Blackburn, The Associated Press