Here's the latest for Tuesday December 1st: Arizona & Wisconsin certify Biden win; Science adviser Scott Atlas leaving White House; Cuomo says coronavirus surge coming to New York state; Congress in Washington with coronavirus relief far from reach.
Here's the latest for Tuesday December 1st: Arizona & Wisconsin certify Biden win; Science adviser Scott Atlas leaving White House; Cuomo says coronavirus surge coming to New York state; Congress in Washington with coronavirus relief far from reach.
WASHINGTON — Joe Biden and Kamala Harris took their oaths of office on Wednesday using Bibles that are laden with personal meaning, writing new chapters in a long-running American tradition — and one that appears nowhere in the law. The Constitution does not require the use of a specific text for swearing-in ceremonies and specifies only the wording of the president’s oath. That wording does not include the phrase “so help me God,” but every modern president has appended it to their oaths and most have chosen symbolically significant Bibles for their inaugurations. That includes Biden, who used the same family Bible he has used twice when swearing in as vice-president and seven times as senator from Delaware. The book, several inches thick, and which his late son Beau also used when swearing in as Delaware attorney general, has been a “family heirloom” since 1893 and “every important date is in there,” Biden told late-night talk show host Stephen Colbert last month. “Why is your Bible bigger than mine? Do you have more Jesus than I do?” quipped Colbert, who like Biden is a practicing Catholic. Biden’s use of his family Bible underscores the prominent role his faith has played in his personal and professional lives — and will continue to do so as he becomes the second Catholic president in U.S. history. He follows in a tradition of many other presidents who used family-owned scriptures to take their oaths, including Ronald Reagan and Franklin D. Roosevelt, according to the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies. Some have had their Bibles opened to personally relevant passages during their ceremonies. Bill Clinton, for example, chose Isaiah 58:12 — which urges the devout to be a “repairer of the breach” — for his second inauguration after a first term marked by political schisms with conservatives. Others took their oaths on closed Bibles, like John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic president, who in 1961 used his family’s century-old tome with a large cross on the front, similar to Biden’s. The tradition of using a Bible dates as far back as the presidency itself, with the holy book used by George Washington later appearing on exhibit at the Smithsonian on loan from the Masonic lodge that provided it in 1789. Washington’s Bible was later used for the oaths by Warren G. Harding, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush. But not every president has used a Bible. Theodore Roosevelt took his 1901 oath without one after the death of William McKinley, while John Quincy Adams used a law book in 1825, according to his own account. Some have employed multiple Bibles during their ceremonies: Both Barack Obama and Donald Trump chose to use, along with others, the copy that Abraham Lincoln was sworn in on in 1861. Harris did the same for her vice-presidential oath, using a Bible owned by a close family friend and one that belonged to the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. Harris has spoken of her admiration of Marshall, a fellow Howard University graduate and trailblazer in government as the high court’s first African American justice. “When I raise my right hand and take the oath of office tomorrow, I carry with me two heroes who’d speak up for the voiceless and help those in need,” Harris tweeted Tuesday, referring to Marshall and friend Regina Shelton, whose Bible she swore on when becoming attorney general of California and later senator. Harris, who attended both Baptist and Hindu services as a child, worships in the Baptist faith as an adult. While U.S. lawmakers have typically used Bibles for their oaths, some have chosen alternatives that reflect their religious diversity. Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, the first Muslim elected to Congress, in 2007 used a Qur’an that belonged to Thomas Jefferson, prompting objections from some Christian conservatives. Jefferson’s Qur’an made a return in 2019 at the oath for Michigan Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib, one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., chose a Hebrew Bible in 2005 to reflect her Jewish faith. Newly elected Georgia Democratic Sen. Jon Ossoff, who is also Jewish and who swears in Wednesday, used Hebrew scripture belonging to Rabbi Jacob Rothschild, an ally of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in the civil rights movement. Former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, opted for the Bhagavad Gita in 2013 after becoming the first Hindu elected to Congress. And Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., the only member of the current Congress who identifies as “religiously unaffiliated,” took her oath on the Constitution in 2018. ___ Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through The Conversation U.S. The AP is solely responsible for this content. Elana Schor, The Associated Press
TORONTO — Pediatric and mental health experts say pandemic stress is driving a spike in eating disorders among adolescents and teens, pointing to school disruptions, social isolation and infection fears as destabilizing factors that could have long-term physical and mental health effects. Doctors at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children, Ottawa's pediatric hospital and research centre CHEO and the Alberta Children's Hospital in Calgary are among those noting a significant jump in admissions and demand for outpatient treatment. Dr. Ellie Vyver of the Alberta Children's Hospital says admissions more than doubled at her hospital between July and September last year and continue to rise. Colleagues across the country are reporting similar signs of despair. "What we have been seeing in Alberta and at SickKids is not unique. It's happening in B.C., it's happening in other centres in Ontario outside of SickKids, it's happening in Montreal. It's something that's happening across across the country," says Vyver, who said the illness tends to have the highest prevalence around age 14. At the same time, children who struggle are displaying more severe mental and physical problems, adds the director of CHEO's mental health program, who says his eastern Ontario hospital can only treat the "tip of the iceberg." "The supply and demand is so off-kilter right now that it is overwhelming the system," says David Murphy. The cutoff for admission to CHEO is a heart rate below 45 beats per minute. CHEO says there were 67 admissions between April 1 and Oct. 31 last year – a 63 per cent jump from the same period in 2019. Christina Bartha of the SickKids Centre for Community Mental Health points to increased isolation, school disruption, social media exposure and stress as fuelling unhealthy eating and exercise habits. Compared to last year, Bartha says yearly admissions at her Toronto hospital are expected to jump as much as 30 per cent to 170 (from 128), while the number of referred outpatients is heading towards a 50 to 60 per cent increase with 245 cases (versus last year's 154). The cases primarily involve restrictive eating, including anorexia nervosa and avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder, which is similar to anorexia but does not involve stress over body shape or size. Dr. Debra Katzman, senior associate scientist at SickKids and co-founder of its eating disorders program, also says children are in more acute physical and mental distress than past cases. That could be because of delayed assessments if some families feared contracting COVID-19 by visiting a hospital early in the pandemic, she says. Meanwhile, virtual care has made it more difficult for some recovering patients to maintain health goals. "We're seeing kids who are at significantly low weights, are extremely malnourished and have all kinds of medical and psychiatric comorbid complications," says Katzman. Although SickKids is still collecting and analyzing its data, she and Bartha expressed little doubt that pandemic-fuelled turmoil has played a key role in driving up youth anxiety. "These young people are so used to having a routine that they engage in every day – waking up, going to school, coming home, et cetera – and now they have no routine. And they're quite disconnected from their peers. That's a huge thing, especially during adolescence," says Katzman. "(And) they're not with their teachers or their coaches who are able to identify these very life-threatening disorders quite early." Sterling Renzoni of Orangeville, Ont., believes social media, isolation and disrupted care were key factors in a "mini-relapse" he says he experienced during the lockdown last spring. The 18-year-old says he was discharged early from a southern Ontario residential treatment program for anorexia in the early days of the pandemic. No longer forced to follow a strict daily routine, under less supervision and unable to see his friends, Renzoni says he began fixating on exercise. "It was challenging to figure out how I was going to keep myself busy," admits Renzoni, who says he stopped obsessing with the help of virtual care and by redirecting focus to his long-term goal of attending university in the fall. "I had more time to just be on social media (and) it was still filled with a lot of unhelpful accounts, unhelpful information and unhelpful people that I was following... but I realized that after already having a mini-relapse." Now a Trent University freshman, Renzoni says if it hadn't been for the pandemic, he likely would have stayed in residential care for three months instead of one, and would have been more physically and mentally able to withstand pandemic restrictions when discharged. Aryel Maharaj, outreach and education co-ordinator with the National Eating Disorder Information Centre, says social media has played a large role in driving fat-phobic messages around the so-called "Quarantine 19" in recent months, while repeated lockdowns ignited grocery sprees and encouraged food hoarding. These all make it difficult for anyone struggling with food issues, he said. "It just makes it a lot harder if food is your primary means of coping and now you're surrounded by it and you're stressed out," says Maharaj. Maharaj says NEDIC's anonymous helpline has seen a 43 per cent overall increase in calls, and more than double the number of calls from those aged 11 to 19. The head of the Adolescent Medicine Program at the Janeway Children’s Health and Rehabilitation Centre in St. John's, N.L., says admissions are up there, too. Dr. Anna Dominic says the wait-list for assessments of medically stable patients is now seven months, when it's typically two to three months. Over at CHEO, Murphy says the hospital would not turn away anyone approaching its 45 bpm threshold, but he says the very fact they require such a stark cutoff – introduced before the pandemic – speaks to how dire the situation is. Demand is so high, CHEO also denies 73 per cent of referrals — up from 49 per cent from the year before. Murphy admits that means many very sick and starving youngsters are forced to look elsewhere for help, and risk deteriorating further while seeking care. He knows of at least two community-based services with 18-month wait-lists. Maharaj says eating disorders thrive in isolation and so it's important for struggling youngsters to know they are not alone and can turn to a growing number of remote resources. He says hospitals, community groups, therapists, dietitians and others have embraced online options to reach more people. "It's so easy to fall into this pit of despair, of hopelessness, if you think that it's never going to change and there's nothing out there for you," says Maharaj. "There are virtual ways that we can try to connect and provide some kind of support so you're not just sitting there spiralling on your own." Murphy says the issue has always been under-resourced, and the pandemic has highlighted that problem. "When we talk about mental health, we think of depression, suicide, schizophrenia. It's all of those acute mental illnesses, but then there's this thing called eating disorders," he says. "And the eating disorder population requires a specific level of training and expertise to be able to deal with, and we just simply do not have the capacity, the resources and the training to be able to deal with it as a community at large." This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 20, 2021. Cassandra Szklarski, The Canadian Press
BANGKOK — Thai officials on Wednesday filed criminal charges against a popular former politician, accusing him of defaming the monarchy by broadcasting criticism of government efforts to secure supplies of coronavirus vaccines. The action against Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit came just a day after Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha told reporters that that his government will prosecute anyone who shares false information about coronavirus vaccines. Thanathorn, former leader of the dissolved Future Forward Party, accused the government of acting too slowly in procuring the vaccines. He also pointed out that the government’s main contract for vaccine supply was made with a Thai company owned by the royal palace. The government and the company deny any wrongdoing. “What Thanathorn said is not true at all. The monarchy has nothing to do with the vaccines and they are not in the position to respond to him in the public,” said Thosaphol Pengsom, a vice minister attached to the prime minister’s office. Vice Minister of Digital Economy and Society Newin Chochaiyathip said at a news conference that anyone who shares Thanathorn’s broadcast or distorted information about vaccines and monarchy judged to be distorted would be prosecuted. Thanathorn’s office said he had no immediate comment. The government has increasingly used the law against defaming the monarchy to crack down on critics. The law, widely know as Article 112, makes insulting King Maha Vajiralongkorn or his family punishable by three to 15 years’ imprisonment. Thanathorn has long been a thorn in the side of Prayuth’s government. His party, critical of the army, a pillar of the country’s establishment, made a strong third-place showing in the 2019 general election, but he was forced out of Parliament when a court ruled that he had broken an election law. His party was later dissolved on a similar technicality. He has faced a number of legal cases which supporters charge are politically motivated. Also Wednesday, six activists from Thailand’s pro-democracy movement reported to police to acknowledge Article 112 charges against them. Their appearance at a central Bangkok police station was the latest skirmish between Thailand’s royalist establishment and the youth-led protest movement that caught fire last year with a series of well-attended rallies around the country calling for major political reforms, including of the country’s influential monarchy. The six protesters were charged by police with insulting or expressing malice toward the king in connection with a December protest at a Bangkok shopping mall. The charge sheet offers no details. According to a member of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, who asked for anonymity because she was not authorized to release information, police explained that the charges were related to wearing short cropped T-shirts at their protest to make fun of the king and his queen. Two minors were not accused of wearing inappropriate attire but of having signs or making hand gestures supporting the protest. Photographs of the king casually wearing cropped T-shirts have circulated widely on social media and have been published overseas, but not in Thai mass media, which does not publish undignified photos of the royal family. The monarchy is revered by many Thais and until recently was almost universally treated as an untouchable institution. But the protest movement charges that monarchy is unaccountable and wields too much power is what is supposed to a democratic constitutional monarchy. From November to January this year, about 50 people have been charged with lese majeste — though none has yet gone to trial. Most if not all cases were based on statements made at public rallies or posted on the internet. Critics says the law can easily be abused because anyone — not just royals or authorities — can lodge a complaint. After Vajralongkorn took the throne in 2016, he informed the government that he did not wish to see the law used. But the escalating criticism of the king late last year prompted Prayuth to declare that the protesters had gone too far and could now expect to be prosecuted for their actions. ——- Associated Press video journalist Tassanee Vejpongsa contributed to this report. Grant Peck And Chalida Ekvitthayavechnukul, The Associated Press
The latest numbers on COVID-19 vaccinations in Canada as of 4 a.m. ET on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. In Canada, the provinces are reporting 36,473 new vaccinations administered for a total of 651,139 doses given. The provinces have administered doses at a rate of 1,718.078 per 100,000. There were 39,975 new vaccines delivered to the provinces and territories for a total of 888,540 doses delivered so far. The provinces and territories have used 73.28 per cent of their available vaccine supply. Please note that Newfoundland, P.E.I., Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and the territories typically do not report on a daily basis. Newfoundland is reporting 1,531 new vaccinations administered over the past seven days for a total of 5,291 doses given. The province has administered doses at a rate of 10.104 per 1,000. There were zero new vaccines delivered to Newfoundland for a total of 11,175 doses delivered so far. The province has received enough of the vaccine to give 2.1 per cent of its population a single dose. The province has used 47.35 per cent of its available vaccine supply. P.E.I. is reporting 1,684 new vaccinations administered over the past seven days for a total of 5,910 doses given. The province has administered doses at a rate of 37.257 per 1,000. There were zero new vaccines delivered to P.E.I. for a total of 8,250 doses delivered so far. The province has received enough of the vaccine to give 5.2 per cent of its population a single dose. The province has used 71.64 per cent of its available vaccine supply. Nova Scotia is reporting 4,689 new vaccinations administered over the past seven days for a total of 8,520 doses given. The province has administered doses at a rate of 8.73 per 1,000. There were zero new vaccines delivered to Nova Scotia for a total of 23,000 doses delivered so far. The province has received enough of the vaccine to give 2.4 per cent of its population a single dose. The province has used 37.04 per cent of its available vaccine supply. New Brunswick is reporting 2,704 new vaccinations administered over the past seven days for a total of 10,436 doses given. The province has administered doses at a rate of 13.379 per 1,000. There were zero new vaccines delivered to New Brunswick for a total of 17,775 doses delivered so far. The province has received enough of the vaccine to give 2.3 per cent of its population a single dose. The province has used 58.71 per cent of its available vaccine supply. Quebec is reporting 10,514 new vaccinations administered for a total of 164,053 doses given. The province has administered doses at a rate of 19.173 per 1,000. There were 24,375 new vaccines delivered to Quebec for a total of 220,550 doses delivered so far. The province has received enough of the vaccine to give 2.6 per cent of its population a single dose. The province has used 74.38 per cent of its available vaccine supply. Ontario is reporting 14,346 new vaccinations administered for a total of 224,134 doses given. The province has administered doses at a rate of 15.259 per 1,000. There were zero new vaccines delivered to Ontario for a total of 277,050 doses delivered so far. The province has received enough of the vaccine to give 1.9 per cent of its population a single dose. The province has used 80.9 per cent of its available vaccine supply. Manitoba is reporting zero new vaccinations administered for a total of 17,751 doses given. The province has administered doses at a rate of 12.891 per 1,000. There were zero new vaccines delivered to Manitoba for a total of 46,290 doses delivered so far. The province has received enough of the vaccine to give 3.4 per cent of its population a single dose. The province has used 38.35 per cent of its available vaccine supply. Saskatchewan is reporting 1,957 new vaccinations administered for a total of 24,575 doses given. The province has administered doses at a rate of 20.841 per 1,000. There were zero new vaccines delivered to Saskatchewan for a total of 29,300 doses delivered so far. The province has received enough of the vaccine to give 2.5 per cent of its population a single dose. The province has used 83.87 per cent of its available vaccine supply. Alberta is reporting 2,501 new vaccinations administered for a total of 92,315 doses given. The province has administered doses at a rate of 20.971 per 1,000. There were zero new vaccines delivered to Alberta for a total of 101,275 doses delivered so far. The province has received enough of the vaccine to give 2.3 per cent of its population a single dose. The province has used 91.15 per cent of its available vaccine supply. British Columbia is reporting 5,023 new vaccinations administered for a total of 92,369 doses given. The province has administered doses at a rate of 18.00 per 1,000. There were 15,600 new vaccines delivered to British Columbia for a total of 133,475 doses delivered so far. The province has received enough of the vaccine to give 2.6 per cent of its population a single dose. The province has used 69.2 per cent of its available vaccine supply. Yukon is reporting zero new vaccinations administered for a total of 1,347 doses given. The territory has administered doses at a rate of 32.278 per 1,000. There were zero new vaccines delivered to Yukon for a total of 7,200 doses delivered so far. The territory has received enough of the vaccine to give 17 per cent of its population a single dose. The territory has used 18.71 per cent of its available vaccine supply. The Northwest Territories are reporting zero new vaccinations administered for a total of 1,893 doses given. The territory has administered doses at a rate of 41.956 per 1,000. There were zero new vaccines delivered to the Northwest Territories for a total of 7,200 doses delivered so far. The territory has received enough of the vaccine to give 16 per cent of its population a single dose. The territory has used 26.29 per cent of its available vaccine supply. Nunavut is reporting 404 new vaccinations administered for a total of 2,545 doses given. The territory has administered doses at a rate of 65.718 per 1,000. There were zero new vaccines delivered to Nunavut for a total of 6,000 doses delivered so far. The territory has received enough of the vaccine to give 15 per cent of its population a single dose. The territory has used 42.42 per cent of its available vaccine supply. *Notes on data: The figures are compiled by the COVID-19 Open Data Working Group based on the latest publicly available data and are subject to change. Note that some provinces report weekly, while others report same-day or figures from the previous day. Vaccine doses administered is not equivalent to the number of people inoculated as the approved vaccines require two doses per person. The vaccines are currently not being administered to children under 18 and those with certain health conditions. This report was automatically generated by The Canadian Press Digital Data Desk and was first published Jan. 20, 2021. The Canadian Press
Alphabet Inc's Google is investigating a member of its ethical AI team and has locked the corporate account linked to that person after finding that thousands of files were retrieved from its server and shared with external accounts, the company said on Wednesday. Axios, which first reported the latest investigation around a member of Google's AI team, said Margaret Mitchell had been using automated scripts to look through her messages to find examples showing discriminatory treatment of Timnit Gebru, a former employee in the AI team who was fired. Gebru, who is Black, was a top AI ethics researcher at Google and was fired in December.
WASHINGTON — Three new senators were sworn into office Wednesday after President Joe Biden's inauguration, securing the majority for Democrats in the Senate and across a unified government to tackle the new president's agenda at a time of unprecedented national challenges. In a first vote, the Senate confirmed Biden's nominee for Director of National Intelligence, Avril Haines. Senators worked into the evening and overcame some Republican opposition to approve his first Cabinet member, in what's traditionally a show of good faith on Inauguration Day to confirm at least some nominees for a new president's administration. Haines, a former CIA deputy director, will become a core member of Biden’s security team, overseeing the agencies that make up the nation’s intelligence community. She was confirmed 84-10. The new Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., urged colleagues to turn the spirit of the new president’s call for unity into action. “President Biden, we heard you loud and clear,” Schumer said in his first speech as majority leader. “We have a lengthy agenda. And we need to get it done together.” Vice-President Kamala Harris drew applause as she entered the chamber to deliver the oath of office to the new Democratic senators — Jon Ossoff, Raphael Warnock and Alex Padilla — just hours after taking her own oath at the Capitol alongside Biden. The three Democrats join a Senate narrowly split 50-50 between the parties, but giving Democrats the majority with Harris able to cast the tie-breaking vote. Ossoff, a former congressional aide and investigative journalist, and Warnock, a pastor from the late Martin Luther King Jr.'s church in Atlanta, won run-off elections in Georgia this month, defeating two Republicans. Padilla was tapped by California’s governor to finish the remainder of Harris’ term. “Today, America is turning over a new leaf. We are turning the page on the last four years, we’re going to reunite the country, defeat COVID-19, rush economic relief to the people,” Ossoff told reporters earlier at the Capitol. “That’s what they sent us here to do.” Taken together, their arrival gives Democrats for the first time in a decade control of the Senate, the House and the White House, as Biden faces the unparalleled challenges of the COVID-19 crisis and its economic fallout, and the nation's painful political divisions from the deadly Jan. 6 siege of the Capitol by a mob loyal to Donald Trump. Congress is being called on to consider Biden's proposed $1.9 trillion COVID recovery package, to distribute vaccines and shore up an economy as more than 400,000 Americans have died from the virus. At the same time, the Senate is about to launch an impeachment trial of Trump, charged by the House of inciting the insurrection at the Capitol as rioters tried to interrupt the Electoral College tally and overturn Biden’s election. The Senate will need to confirm other Biden Cabinet nominees. To “restore the soul” of the country, Biden said in his inaugural speech, requires “unity.” Yet as Washington looks to turn the page from Trump to the Biden administration, Republican leader Mitch McConnell is not relinquishing power without a fight. Haines' nomination was temporarily blocked by Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Okla., as he sought information about the CIA's enhanced interrogation program. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., is holding back the Homeland Security nominee Alejandro Mayorkas over Biden's proposed immigration changes. And McConnell is refusing to enter a power-sharing agreement with Senate Democrats unless they meet his demands, chiefly to preserve the Senate filibuster — the procedural tool often used by the minority party to block bills under rules that require 60 votes to advance legislation. McConnell, in his first speech as the minority party leader, said the election results with narrow Democratic control of the House and Senate showed that Americans “intentionally entrusted both political parties with significant power.” The Republican leader said he looked forward working with the new president “wherever possible.” At her first White House briefing, Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Biden’s desire to have his Cabinet confirmed and in place is “front and centre for the president,” and she said he was hoping to have his national security nominees in place Thursday or Friday. Psaki said the president will be “quite involved” in negotiations over the COVID relief package, but left the details of the upcoming impeachment trial to Congress. The Senate can “multitask,” she said. That’s a tall order for a Senate under normal circumstances, but even more so now in the post-Trump era, with Republicans badly split between their loyalties to the defeated president and wealthy donors who are distancing themselves from Republicans who back Trump. Speaker Nancy Pelosi is expected to soon transmit to the Senate the House-passed article of impeachment against Trump, charged with incitement of insurrection, a step that will launch the Senate impeachment trial. Meantime, the power-sharing talks between Schumer and McConnell have hit a stalemate. It’s an arcane fight McConnell has inserted into what has traditionally been a more routine organizing resolution over committee assignments and staffing resources, but a power play by the outgoing Republican leader grabbing at tools that can be used to block Biden’s agenda. Progressive and liberal Democrats are eager to do away with the filibuster to more quickly advance Biden’s priorities, but not all rank-and-file Senate Democrats are on board. Schumer has not agreed to any changes but McConnell is taking no chances. For now, it will take unanimous consent among senators to toggle between conducting votes on legislative business and serving as jurors in the impeachment trial. The House last week impeached Trump for having sent the mob to the Capitol to “fight like hell” during the tally of Electoral College votes to overturn Biden’s election. __ Associated Press writer Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report. Lisa Mascaro, The Associated Press
Recent developments: Students in Ottawa will not return to the classroom Monday as planned. Five more people have died of COVID-19 in western Quebec. What's the latest? Ottawa is reporting 67 more COVID-19 cases Wednesday and two more deaths. During a virtual news conference Wednesday, Ottawa's Medical Office of Health Dr. Vera Etches told reporters there are several positive signs indicating Ottawa has turned a corner, including a decline in the city's test positivity rate. But Etches reminded residents to continue following public health advice to keep it that way. Also on Wednesday, Ontario released a list of public health regions where in-person learning can resume for both elementary and secondary students, starting Monday. Ottawa isn't on the list, but four public health units in eastern Ontario were given the green light: Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington; Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District; the Renfrew County and District; and Hastings Prince Edward. How many cases are there? As of Wednesday, 12,494 Ottawa residents have tested positive for COVID-19. There are 1,057 known active cases, 11,028 resolved cases and 409 deaths from COVID-19. Public health officials have reported more than 22,400 COVID-19 cases across eastern Ontario and western Quebec, including more than 19,700 resolved cases. One hundred and seven people have died of COVID-19 elsewhere in eastern Ontario and 147 people have died in western Quebec. CBC Ottawa is profiling those who've died of COVID-19. If you'd like to share your loved one's story, please get in touch. What can I do? Ontario says people must only leave home when it's essential to avoid more COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Places such as Kingston have started to take patients from other regions struggling with hospital capacity. People who leave home for non-essential reasons can now be fined, though police won't be stopping people just for being outside. Travel within Ontario is not recommended. Residents who leave the province should isolate for 14 days upon returning. Private indoor gatherings are not allowed, while outdoor gatherings are capped at five. It's strongly recommended people stick to their own households and socializing is not considered essential. People who live alone are still allowed to interact with one other household. Outdoor recreation venues remain open. In-person shopping is limited to essential businesses. Others can offer pickup and delivery. Child-care centres remain open. The lockdown rules are in place until at least Feb. 11. In western Quebec, residents are also being asked to stay home unless it's essential and not see anyone they don't live with to ease the "very critical" load on hospitals and avoid more delayed surgeries. An exception for people living alone allows them to exclusively visit one other home. Quebec's 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew is now in effect, with fines of up to $6,000 for breaking the rules. The province has shut down non-essential businesses, but has brought students back to classrooms. Like in Ontario, travel from one region of Quebec to another is discouraged. Those rules are in place until Feb. 8. Distancing and isolating The novel coronavirus primarily spreads through droplets when an infected person speaks, coughs, sneezes, or breathes onto someone or something. These droplets can hang in the air. People can be contagious without symptoms. This means it's important to take precautions like staying home while symptomatic, keeping hands and frequently touched surfaces clean and maintaining distance from anyone you don't live with — even with a mask on. Masks, preferably with three layers, are mandatory in indoor public settings in Ontario and Quebec. OPH says residents should also wear masks outside their homes whenever possible. Anyone with COVID-19 symptoms should self-isolate, as should those who've been ordered to do so by their public health unit. The length varies in Ontario and Quebec. Health Canada recommends older adults and people with underlying medical conditions and/or weakened immune systems stay home as much as possible and get friends and family to help with errands. Anyone returning to Canada must go straight home and stay there for 14 days. Air travellers have to show recent proof of a negative COVID-19 test. Symptoms and vaccines COVID-19 can range from a cold-like illness to a severe lung infection, with common symptoms including fever, a cough, vomiting and loss of taste or smell. Children can develop a rash. If you have severe symptoms, call 911. Mental health can also be affected by the pandemic, and resources are available to help. COVID-19 vaccines have been given to health-care workers and long-term care residents in most of the region. Renfrew County expects its first doses in early February. Local health units have said they've given more than 29,200 doses, including about 22,000 in Ottawa and more than 6,700 in western Quebec. Ontario wants every long-term care resident and worker to have at least one shot by Feb. 15. That's already happened in Ottawa. That, and Pfizer temporarily slowing its vaccine production to expand its factory, means some areas can't guarantee people will get a second dose three weeks after the first. It may take four to six weeks. WATCH | The effects of Pfizer's factory work: Ontario's campaign is still expected to expand to priority groups such as older adults and essential workers in March or April, with vaccines widely available to the public in August. Ottawa believes it can have nearly 700,000 residents vaccinated by August. Quebec is also giving a single dose to as many people as possible, starting with people in care homes and health-care workers, then remote communities, then older adults and essential workers and finally the general public. It said before Pfizer's announcement people will get their second dose within 90 days. WATCH | Scientists racing to understand new COVID-19 variants: Where to get tested In eastern Ontario: Anyone seeking a test should book an appointment. Ontario recommends only getting tested if you have symptoms, if you've been told to by your health unit or the province, or if you fit certain other criteria. People without symptoms but part of the province's targeted testing strategy can make an appointment at select pharmacies. Travellers who need a test have very few local options to pay for one. Ottawa has 10 permanent test sites, with mobile sites wherever demand is particularly high. The Eastern Ontario Health Unit has sites in Cornwall, Hawkesbury, Rockland and Winchester. Its Alexandria and Casselman sites will reopen next week. People can arrange a test in Picton over the phone or Bancroft, Belleville and Trenton, where online booking is preferred. The Leeds, Grenville and Lanark health unit has permanent sites in Almonte, Brockville, Kemptville and Smiths Falls and a mobile clinic. Kingston's main test site is at the Beechgrove Complex, another is in Napanee. Renfrew County test clinic locations are posted weekly. Residents can also call their family doctor or 1-844-727-6404 with health questions. In western Quebec: Tests are strongly recommended for people with symptoms and their contacts. Outaouais residents can make an appointment in Gatineau at 135 blvd. Saint-Raymond or 617 ave. Buckingham. They can check the wait time for the Saint-Raymond site. There are recurring clinics by appointment in communities such as Maniwaki, Fort-Coulonge and Petite-Nation. Call 1-877-644-4545 with questions, including if walk-in testing is available nearby. First Nations, Inuit and Métis: Akwesasne has had more than 130 residents test positive on the Canadian side of the border and five deaths. More than 240 people have tested positive across the community. Its curfew from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. is back and it has a COVID-19 test site by appointment only. Anyone returning to the community on the Canadian side of the international border who's been farther than 160 kilometres away — or visited Montreal — for non-essential reasons is asked to self-isolate for 14 days. Kitigan Zibi logged its first case in mid-December and has had a total of 18. The Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte had its only confirmed case in November. People in Pikwakanagan can book a COVID-19 test by calling 613-625-2259. Anyone in Tyendinaga who's interested in a test can call 613-967-3603. Inuit in Ottawa can call the Akausivik Inuit Family Health Team at 613-740-0999 for service, including testing, in Inuktitut or English on weekdays. For more information
Jessica Henwick may be known to fantasy and sci-fi nerds, but she's about to breakout onto the mainstream.
More than 100 British musicians, from Ed Sheeran, Sting and Pink Floyd's Roger Waters to classical stars like conductor Simon Rattle, have said tours of Europe by British artists are in danger because of Brexit. In a letter to The Times newspaper published on Wednesday, the musicians said the government had "shamefully" broken a promise to negotiate a deal allowing musicians to perform in the European Union without the need for visas or work permits. "The deal done with the EU has a gaping hole where the promised free movement for musicians should be: everyone on a European music tour will now need costly work permits and a mountain of paperwork for their equipment," they wrote.
As people seek new ways to enjoy themselves while stuck at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, some local sex shops are reporting a serious bump in sales. "It's always exciting managing a sex shop, but it's really been fascinating to watch," said Julia Bueneman, floor manager of Venus Envy Ottawa. The Centretown shop says sales have been on the rise since the pandemic began, with online sales tripling compared to the previous year. "That [rise in sales] has really continued during the pandemic, but it seems that every time there's a lockdown, there's a slightly higher bump," Bueneman said. In addition to returning customers seeking to replace exhausted toys or add to their collection, Bueneman said she's also noticed a jump in the number of first-time buyers. "A lot of folks are looking for new things and new forms of pleasure." Over at the Sensations Plus sex shop on boulevard Greber in Gatineau, owner Daniel Beaulé told Radio-Canada that at its peak, his store reached 200 online orders a day during the pandemic. On a national level, online retailer PinkCherry Canada is reporting a year-over-year growth of 81 per cent from 2019 to 2020. Auto-shutoff a popular feature So which sex toys are proving the most popular during the pandemic? According to Bueneman, parents whose kids are now home all the time prefer toys that automatically turn off when they're not in action. "If there's any sort of door opening or 'Oh no!' situation, you can just throw it to the side and it stops doing its thing," she said. Bueneman said she's also seeing a lot of interest in app-enabled toys that can be operated remotely, especially among couples separated by distance. Regardless of the toy, Bueneman has this advice for anyone entering the world of sex toys. "I always recommend exploring it by yourself first to really get comfortable with it." While sex toys can certainly help individuals and couples achieve pleasure, Gatineau sex therapist Martine Poirier warns the satisfaction may be superficial and short-lived. "Sexual pleasure is a very healthy thing," said Poirier. "The problem is, we also need to look at how we feel, because if it becomes a way of escaping our emotions and not dealing with our emotions, then it can harm us."
REGINA — A former truck driver who caused the deadly Humboldt Broncos bus crash has submitted paperwork with reasons why he should not be sent back to India when he gets out of prison. Jaskirat Singh Sidhu is now waiting for the Canada Border Services Agency to write a report that will recommend whether he be allowed to stay in his adopted country or be deported. A grieving father of one of the hockey players killed will be waiting, too. Scott Thomas said he aches everyday for his 18-year-old son, Evan, but submitted a letter in support of Sidhu. “I know for a fact that he’ll never drive a semi again. I know for a fact that if he could take back what happened that day he would in a heartbeat. He would trade places with any one of those boys," said Thomas. Sidhu was sentenced almost two years ago to eight years after pleading guilty to dangerous driving causing death and bodily harm in the April 2018 collision that killed 16 people and injured 13. Court was told that Sidhu, a newly married permanent resident, had missed a stop sign at a rural Saskatchewan intersection and driven into the path of the Broncos bus carrying players and staff to a junior hockey league playoff game. The lawyer for the then-30-year-old Sidhu noted during sentencing arguments that jail time would mean the commerce graduate wouldn't be allowed to stay in Canada, where he has lived since following his partner who had come over in 2013. A criminal conviction that carries a sentence of more than six months makes a permanent resident ineligible to remain in the country. An immigration lawyer says Sidhu's bid has the makings of other cases where deportation was avoided. “It’s very difficult to say how it’s going to go, but I do think this is one of those types of cases where (border services) could choose to exercise their discretion … given the exceptional circumstances," said Erica Olmstead, a Vancouver-based immigration lawyer, who's not representing Sidhu. Lawyer Michael Greene, who is working with Sidhu, said last year his client has no prior criminal history, is well-educated, fluent in English and extremely remorseful. He acknowledged Sidhu's crime had catastrophic consequences, but added his actions were not malicious. Thomas said he's more concerned about regulations that allowed the inexperienced truck driver, three weeks on the job, to get behind the wheel. “We just always felt that the deportation part of it shouldn’t necessarily apply. He’s a broken man. He’s broken psychologically and spiritually, and to deport him now would just add to the suffering to him and his family." Thomas forgave Sidhu in court and has since kept in touch with his wife, who has shared their emails with her husband. Thomas said he knows Sidhu's desire to remain in Canada is divisive. “There’ll be a lot of families that would never support this and there are going to be some that do, too.” Olmstead said the deportation policy is there to protect Canada's security, but she has seen orders avoided when someone is guilty of a single offence as in Sidhu's case. "But on the other hand, you’ve got this terrible tragedy where there were so many victims." She explained that a border officer considers community connections and someone's chance of reoffending when writing a report, which could take months, and decides whether there are "exceptional circumstances" that would allow a person to remain in Canada. "It’s quite rare for people to not then still get referred for a removal order.” The Immigration and Refugee Board then holds a hearing to consider the report and is responsible for issuing any deportation order. A permanent resident can appeal the board's decision on humanitarian and compassionate grounds, but not if a sentence, like Sidhu's, is longer than six months. “This is the end of the road for him," Olmstead said. Sidhu could seek a review before a Federal Court, but would first need to be granted leave to do so, she said. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 20, 2021 Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press
WASHINGTON — Troops in riot gear lined the sidewalks, but there were no crowds. Armored vehicles and concrete barriers blocked empty streets. Miles of fencing cordoned off many of the nation's most familiar landmarks. Joe Biden was safely sworn in as president in a Washington on edge, two weeks after rioters loyal to former President Donald Trump besieged the Capitol. Law enforcement officials contended not only with the potential for outside threats but also with rising concerns about an insider attack. Officials monitored members of far-right extremist and militia groups, increasingly concerned about the risk they could stream into Washington and spark violent confrontations, a law enforcement official said. There were a few scattered arrests but no major protests or serious disruptions in the city during Biden's inauguration ceremony. As Biden put it in his address: “Here we stand just days after a riotous mob thought they could use violence to silence the will of the people, to stop the work of our democracy, to drive us from this sacred ground. It did not happen. It will never happen, not today, not tomorrow, not ever. Not ever.” After the deadly attack that killed five on Jan. 6, the Secret Service stepped up security for the inauguration early, essentially locking down the nation's capital. More than 25,000 troops and police were called to duty. The National Mall was closed. Checkpoints were set up at intersections. In the hours before the event, federal agents monitored “concerning online chatter,” which included an array of threats against elected officials and discussions about ways to infiltrate the inauguration, the official said. In right-wing online chat groups, believers in the QAnon conspiracy theory expressed disappointment that top Democrats were not arrested for sex trafficking and that Trump did not seize a second term. Twelve National Guard members were removed from the security operation a day earlier after vetting by the FBI, including two who had made extremist statements in posts or texts about Wednesday's event. Pentagon officials would not give details on the statements. The FBI vetted all 25,000 members in an extraordinary security effort in part over the presence of some ex-military in the riot. Two other U.S. officials told The Associated Press that all 12 were found to have ties with right-wing militia groups or to have posted extremist views online. The officials, a senior intelligence official and an Army official briefed on the matter, did not say which fringe groups the Guard members belonged to or what unit they served in. The officials told the AP they had all been removed because of “security liabilities.” The officials were not authorized to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, confirmed that Guard members had been removed and sent home, but said only two cases were related to inappropriate comments or texts related to the inauguration. He said the other 10 cases were for issues that may involve previous criminal behaviour or activities but were not directly related to the inaugural event. The FBI also warned law enforcement officials about the possibility that members of right-wing fringe groups could pose as National Guard troops, according to two law enforcement officials familiar with the matter. Investigators in Washington were particularly worried that members of right-wing extremist groups and militias, like the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters, would descend on Washington to spark violence, the law enforcement officials said. Some of the groups are known to recruit former military personnel, to train extensively and to have frequented anti-government and political protests. In addition to the thousands of National Guard troops, hundreds of law enforcement officers from agencies around the country were also brought into Washington. The increased security is likely to remain in the nation's capital for at least a few more days. ___ Associated Press writers Lolita Baldor in Washington and James LaPorta in Delray Beach, Florida, contributed to this report. Ben Fox, Colleen Long And Michael Balsamo, The Associated Press
GENEVA — A panel of experts commissioned by the World Health Organization has criticized China and other countries for not moving to stem the initial outbreak of the coronavirus earlier and questioned whether the U.N. health agency should have labeled it a pandemic sooner. In a report issued to the media Monday, the panel led by former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said there were “lost opportunities" to adopt basic public health measures as early as possible. “What is clear to the panel is that public health measures could have been applied more forcefully by local and national health authorities in China in January,” it said. China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying disputed whether China had reacted too slowly. “As the first country to sound the global alarm against the epidemic, China made immediate and decisive decisions,” she said, pointing out that Wuhan — where the first human cases were identified — was locked down within three weeks of the outbreak starting. “All countries, not only China, but also the U.S., the U.K., Japan or any other countries, should all try to do better,” Hua said. An Associated Press investigation in June found WHO repeatedly lauded China in public while officials privately complained that Chinese officials stalled on sharing critical epidemic information with them, including the new virus' genetic sequence. The story noted that WHO didn't have any enforcement powers. At a press briefing on Tuesday, Johnson Sirleaf said it was up to countries whether they wanted to overhaul WHO to accord it more authority to stamp out outbreaks, saying the organization was also constrained by its lack of funding. “The bottom line is WHO has no powers to enforce anything," she said. “All it can do is ask to be invited in." Last week, an international team of WHO-led scientists arrived in Wuhan to research the animal origins of the pandemic after months of political wrangling to secure China's approval for the probe. The panel also cited evidence of COVID-19 cases in other countries in late January, saying public health containment measures should have been put in place immediately in any country with a likely case, adding: “They were not.” The experts also wondered why WHO did not declare a global public health emergency — its highest warning for outbreaks — sooner. The U.N. health agency convened its emergency committee on Jan. 22, but did not characterize the emerging pandemic as an international emergency until a week later. “One more question is whether it would have helped if WHO used the word pandemic earlier than it did,” the panel said. WHO did not describe the COVID-19 outbreak as a pandemic until March 11, weeks after the virus had begun causing explosive outbreaks in numerous continents, meeting WHO’s own definition for a flu pandemic. As the coronavirus began spreading across the globe, WHO's top experts disputed how infectious the virus was, saying it was not as contagious as flu and that people without symptoms only rarely spread the virus. Scientists have since concluded that COVID-19 transmits even quicker than the flu and that a significant proportion of spread is from people who don't appear to be sick. Over the past year, WHO has come under heavy criticism for its handling of the response to COVID-19. U.S. President Donald Trump slammed the U.N. health agency for “colluding” with China to cover up the extent of the initial outbreak before halting U.S. funding for WHO and pulling the country out of the organization. The U.N. health agency bowed to the international pressure at the annual assembly of its member states last spring by creating the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response. The WHO chief appointed Johnson Sirleaf and Clark — who both have previous ties to the U.N. agency — to lead the team, whose work is funded by WHO. Although the panel concluded that “many countries took minimal action to prevent the spread (of COVID-19) internally and internationally,” it did not name specific countries. It also declined to call out WHO for its failure to more sharply criticize countries for their missteps instead of commending countries for their response efforts. Last month, the author of a withdrawn WHO report into Italy’s pandemic response said he warned his bosses in May that people could die and the agency could suffer “catastrophic” reputational damage if it allowed political concerns to suppress the document, according to emails obtained by the AP. To date, the pandemic has killed more than 2 million people worldwide. ___ AP Medical Writer Maria Cheng reported from Toronto. Ken Moritsugu in Beijing contributed to this report. ___ Follow all of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak Maria Cheng And Jamey Keaten, The Associated Press
The seemingly more transmissible variants of the coronavirus first discovered in Britain, South Africa and Brazil are called "variants of concern" by the World Health Organization. Viruses mutate or change all the time to try to gain a selective advantage over other variants or versions of the virus. What sets the variants of concern apart from run-of-the-mill mutations is they could help the virus to infect human cells more easily or transmit person to person. If so, the variant gains a competitive advantage to wrestle aside other versions of the virus. So far, there are no signs of the variants worsening severe outcomes from the disease directly. But the fear is they will lead to more hospitalizations and deaths by spreading much more easily to more people. Here's a look at what's driving the concern and calls for more precautions in Canada. Where are the variants found in Canada? Canada's national microbiology lab has to date reported 23 cases of the B117 virus variant first identified in the U.K. and two cases of the variant first reported in South Africa. Most provinces aren't testing all samples for the variants. Only Saskatchewan says all of its COVID-19 tests will detect the B117 variant. Health officials say when greater transmission results in more people testing positive, then more hospitalizations, intensive care admissions and eventually deaths will follow. And the more that a virus circulates — either worldwide or in a particular community — the more opportunities it has to mutate. How quickly and to what extent are the variants spreading? Virus and infectious disease experts say that to get a handle on how quickly the variants are spreading in Canada requires more surveillance. But genome sequencing is a research tool that is costly and time consuming to use clinically. That's why labs across the country are working to develop faster assays for variants of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario's associate chief medical officer of health, noted Monday that some of the province's cases of variants don't have a travel history. "We do expect more cases to be identified in the weeks to follow, as there is evidence now of community transmission," Yaffe said. Last week, Yaffe called community transmission "a very serious concern that the vaccine will not be able to address quickly enough." Public health officials are on the lookout for variants showing community transmission because it means the source of an outbreak can no longer be traced back to travel abroad. At that point, an outbreak can quickly spiral, so time is of the essence. If the B117 variant spreads in the community, the doubling time for cases could drop to 10 days in March from every 35 to 40 days now, Ontario health officials estimated. What would experts like to see next? Art Poon, an associate professor in the department of pathology and laboratory medicine at Western University in London, Ont., develops computer methods to study the evolution of viruses, such as an app called CoVizu that's listed by the GISAID Initiative — an international non-profit project to share genome data on viruses. Poon said that the variants of concern show more mutations than scientists would expect. WATCH | New coronavirus variant emerges in Brazil: "I think, sadly, we're going to see increasing frequency of this particular [B117] variant and disproportionate growth of this in other countries," he said of what's been seen so far in Britain. Dr. Lynora Saxinger, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, is also looking for more surveillance of variants, as well as other precautions. Saxinger said she would like to see tighter controls at Canada's border with the United States, both by land and air. This includes checks to ensure international travellers obey requirements in the Quarantine Act and aren't carrying the infection unknowingly and spreading it, as well as possibly an interprovincial travel ban, which has been proposed by B.C. Premier John Horgan. "We don't want there to be multiple importations of these difficult mutations before we have an opportunity to detect and control them," Saxinger said. "We should probably try to keep a tight lid on things until we sort out what's what, if this is a big deal, where it's a big deal and how it might be controlled." Limiting importations of the variants means less fuel for the fire. "If you're not having that many potential sparks hitting your tinder, you have a much better chance of being able to control it," she said. Saxinger is one of the signatories to a petition released Tuesday calling on the federal government to immediately act to reduce opportunities for variant entry by restricting international travel to essential travel, as well as other precautions.
The United States swore in its 46th President on Jan. 20, 2021. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris attended their inauguration in Washington, D.C. with a slew of distinguished guests, but few onlookers as the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a need for social distancing.Several past presidents were in attendance, including Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and George Bush Jr., however the 45th President of the United States, Donald Trump, did not attend. Trump flew to his golf club in Florida earlier in the day. Outgoing Vice President Mike Pence did attend the ceremony with his wife.For all the latest on the U.S. inauguration, click this link for live updates.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson resisted calls for an inquiry into his government's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic on Wednesday as the country's death toll neared 100,000 and his chief scientist said hospitals were looking like war zones. There have been calls for a public inquiry from some doctors and bereaved families into the management of the crisis. As hospital admissions soared, the government's chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance, said there was enormous pressure on the National Health Service with doctors and nurses battling to give people sufficient care.
NEW DELHI — India began supplying coronavirus vaccines to its neighbouring countries on Wednesday, as the world’s largest vaccine making nation strikes a balance between maintaining enough doses to inoculate its own people and helping developing countries without the capacity to produce their own shots. India's Foreign Ministry said the country would send 150,000 shots of the AstraZeneca/Oxford University vaccine, manufactured locally by Serum Institute of India, to Bhutan and 100,000 shots to the Maldives on Wednesday. Vaccines will also be sent to Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar and the Seychelles in coming weeks, the ministry said, without specifying an exact timeline. It added in its a statement late Tuesday that regulatory clearances were still awaited from Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Mauritius. Foreign Ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava said India would ensure that domestic vaccine makers have adequate stocks to meet India's domestic needs as it supplies partner countries in the coming months. “India will continue to supply countries all over the world with vaccines. This will be calibrated against domestic requirements and international demand and obligations,” he said. Indian regulators gave the nod for emergency use to two vaccines earlier this month: the AstraZeneca vaccine and another one by Indian vaccine maker Bharat Biotech. India kicked off its own massive vaccination drive on Jan. 17, with a goal of inoculating 300 million of its nearly 1.4 billion people. These vaccines being sent to neighbouring countries are being sent as grants and India’s Foreign Ministry said the vaccines were not part of COVAX, the U.N.-backed global effort aimed at helping lower income countries obtain the shots. With nations making their own plans and not waiting for COVAX, some experts fear that India’s gesture of goodwill may inadvertently undermine the struggling initiative, which has yet to deliver any of the promised 2 billion vaccines to poor countries. Although COVAX has announced new deals to secure vaccines in recent weeks, it has only signed legally binding deals for a fraction of the needed shots. WHO said earlier this week it hopes vaccines bought by another global initiative started by the Gates Foundation, GAVI, might start being delivered to poor countries later this month or next. The U.N. health agency’s Africa chief, however, estimated that the first COVID-19 vaccines from that initiative might only arrive in March and that a larger roll-out would only begin in June. Of the more than 12 billion coronavirus vaccine doses being produced this year, rich countries have already bought about 9 billion, and many have options to buy even more. This means that Serum Institute, which has been contracted by AstraZeneca to make a billion doses, is likely to make most of the shots that’ll be used by developing nations. ___ Associated Press journalists Ashok Sharma in New Delhi and Maria Cheng in London contributed to this report. ___ The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content. Aniruddha Ghosal, The Associated Press
BRUSSELS — The European Union’s top officials breathed a sigh of relief on Wednesday that Joe Biden will be taking over as president of the United States, but they warned that the world has changed after four years of Donald Trump and that trans-Atlantic ties will be different in the future. “This new dawn in America is the moment we’ve been awaiting for so long,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said, hailing Biden’s arrival as “resounding proof that, once again after four long years, Europe has a friend in the White House.” “The United States are back, and Europe stands ready to reconnect with an old and trusted partner to breathe new life into our cherished alliance,” she told EU lawmakers, hours before Biden was to be sworn in at his inauguration ceremony in Washington. European Council President Charles Michel, who chairs summits between the EU’s 27 heads of state and government, said that trans-Atlantic relations have “greatly suffered in the last four years. In these years, the world has grown more complex, less stable and less predictable.” “We have our differences and they will not magically disappear. America seems to have changed, and how it’s perceived in Europe and the rest of the world has also changed,” said Michel, whose open criticism of the Trump era contrasted starkly with the silence that mostly reigned in Europe while the Republican leader was in the White House. This change, Michel said, means “that we Europeans (must) take our fate firmly into our own hands, to defend our interests and promote our values,” and he underlined that “the EU chooses its course and does not wait for permission to take its own decisions.” The Europeans have invited Biden to a summit, quite probably in Brussels, in parallel with a top-level NATO meeting as soon as he’s ready. Michel said the EU’s priority is to tackle the coronavirus pandemic and climate change, rebuild the global economy and boost security ties with America. The Associated Press
Regina– Saskatchewan, and Canada as a whole, is seeing hiccups in what are still early days of the COVID-19 vaccination rollout. On Jan. 19, the federal government explained that it would not be receiving any of the Pfizer vaccine the following week, for instance. The New Democratic Party pointed out a Regina facility didn’t have enough vaccine for all its assisted-care clients in addition to its long-term care clients on Jan. 18. But eventually, the residents and staff of long-term care facilities, the provinces’ highest priority for the vaccine distribution, will be fully vaccinated. Will we see restrictions start to lift for those people, or will they have to wait six months? At the regular COVID-19 briefing on Jan. 19 in the Legislature, both Premier Scott Moe and chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab replied. Shahab said, “I think that’s really important.” “The main thing, right now we have been very cautious because the vaccination rate is coming up very slowly. And as you know, in the clinical trials the vaccines had 95 per cent effectiveness, but in the real world we do know that if you're elderly, have immune suppression, the vaccine may not be that effective and COVID is so highly transmissible that, even if you have a long term care facility where you, for example, have a 90 per cent uptake of the vaccine, and the vaccine is 90 per cent effective that still leaves you a significant proportion of the long-term care residents still susceptible to COVID. “So, I think at the present time, it is very important that as our vaccination picks up, we adhere to all public health measures. Once we have the vast majority of the population vaccinated, especially adults with that underlying risk factors, but also broadly all adults, I think then we can cautiously start looking at how we relax our public health measures over the summer, likely that will start happening. “And again, I think it remains important. Right now, Obviously, there's no vaccine amount, high demand especially for the most vulnerable. I think once we have a large amount of vaccine available in the summer, we need to make sure that those of us who, if COVID so even low in the summer, all of us think of getting vaccinated. Well, that is one way how we can you know come out of most of restrictionns that we currently face, by fall. Shahab added, “But I think, right now, we really have to, even after getting vaccinated, we do have to comply with all public health measures, because not everyone is fully protected by the vaccine, and we're understanding more about how the immunization affects not just clinical illness, which it does protect to a large extent, but also transmissibility. But as we get more data from Canada, from our own province, and from other countries, you know, we'll be updating guidelines that but that likely won't change. Then at least May, June, once we have the majority of the population, especially the most vulnerable fully immunized. Moe said it ties into hospitalizations, and it is still a couple months early for this discussion. “But the fact of the matter is, as we are able to access vaccines for the most vulnerable in our population, the elderly in our population, and start creeping those vaccines and the availability of those vaccines down through the age groups in society, it does beg the question on when will we be able to start to look at relaxing the measures that we have in place; the very, very significant measures that we have in place here in Saskatchewan.” He continued, “I would point back to the conversation we had about hospitalizations and as we start to hopefully, if you look at our hospitalizations, quite often the age of the of the folks in hospital are somewhat younger than what we might have in our long-term care facilities. And so, as we work our way through the age groups, and we start to see our hospitalizations decreasing in significant fashion, that would speak to the fact that we have many of those that are more vulnerable in our community receiving the vaccine and not contracting COVID-19, and not as a point, I think, when we could have a little more open conversation about what the future looks like for Saskatchewan. “So two things on that: that isn't in the in the next number of weeks, that will be the next number of months. And this speaks to the importance of us, as Canadians and us, looking to our Canadian government to do everything they can to procure as many vaccines as they can, and to do so in as the shortest timeframe as possible. “I think premier Ford and made some comments today about what he would urge the prime minister to do and that was to find, I believe, someone, if not the CEO of Pfizer, and maybe light a firecracker up his yin yang, I think was the words that I heard. And I, I would just say, that there would be a lineup of premiers behind that the prime minister was able to do that; there would be a lineup of premiers behind that would bring a lighter to that party.” Brian Zinchuk, Local Journalism Initiative reporter, Estevan Mercury
Long wait times are still affecting hundreds of immigrants applying to renew their visas here in New Brunswick. Rayanne Ribas says she and her family have prepared for a months-long wait to have their visas renewed. The Ribas family came to New Brunswick in 2019 and will make their third visa application under the Atlantic Pilot Program while they wait for permanent residency. The Ribas had to reapply for the visa last year, and have to do it again this year. By April of 2021, all of their visas will have expired. But according to Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada, it could take 6 months to process the application. "I'm kind of shocked, to be honest, that I have to extend one more time," said Ribas, "and spend that much money one more time and be at the same situation like one more time." IRCC says the pandemic has complicated processes and led to the delays. In a statement, a spokesperson said IRCC has prioritized vulnerable people, family members seeking to reunite, and essential workers. It said it is also working to process more applications virtually. But Rayanne Ribas worries that because of the delays, she won't have her visa renewed before her current one expires and she or her husband will fall into "implied status" again. Under "implied status", people waiting for new visas lose their legal status in the country, said Ginette Gautreau, interim executive director for the New Brunswick Multicultural Association, making it harder to find employment, rent housing, and make any purchases requiring credit checks. It can also impact Medicare coverage. Last year, Ribas' husband Amauri had to have surgery while he was in implied status and didn't have coverage. The provincial government agreed to cover that bill. "The delays at IRCC and the impacts that it has on implied status and access to Medicare are continuing," said Gautreau. "They're looking at addressing those and hopefully trying to catch up. But there hasn't been -- I would say -- any significant progress from (last) year." The New Brunswick Multicultural Council estimated in October that there could be between 3,500 and 4,000 people living under implied status in the province. Gautreau said those numbers haven't changed much. She also said there's not much that can be done to help people in that situation. "But if there are emergency cases where people's lives are at risk or excessive costs related to access to medical support, we try to support where we can in terms of escalating those requests up," she said. Ribas said the provincial government is working to provide some medical coverage to people who fall under implied status, but CBC has been unable to confirm that. Ribas applied for permanent residency in 2019, but hasn't heard anything about her application since April 2020.