THE HAGUE, Netherlands — A Dutch court ruled Thursday that a deeply religious father who kept some of his children isolated from the outside world for years in a remote farmhouse can't stand trial on charges including child sexual abuse because he has been incapacitated by a stroke. The decision came after prosecutors last month asked the court in the northern city of Assen to drop the case because the 68-year-old suspect wasn't fit to stand trial. It brings to an end a case that made headlines around the world after one of the man's sons raised the alarm and authorities discovered the father had been living for years with six of his children in the farmhouse in the eastern Netherlands. At a preliminary hearing in January last year, prosecutors portrayed the father, identified only as Gerrit Jan van D., as a deeply religious man who saw his family as “chosen by God” and did everything in his power — including physical beatings and other punishments — to keep them from succumbing to what he considered malign outside influences. The court ruled Thursday that a 2016 stroke had so badly affected the father's ability to communicate that continuing with the case would breach his fair trial rights. “He doesn't sufficiently understand what is happening in the courtroom,” court spokesman Marcel Wolters said in a video statement. The six children who were kept on the farm are now all young adults. Three older siblings had earlier left the family’s isolated life. Their mother died in 2004. The Associated Press
Insurance is notoriously complicated, and few people have the time or desire to pore over their policies. But some basic knowledge can go a long way — and that’s where an insurance agent can help, by clearing up some of the most common misconceptions they encounter. Here are five things agents say are helpful for customers to know. 1. INSURANCE DOESN’T COVER EVERYTHING When it comes to insurance, “Most people don’t understand the details,” says Andrew McGill, agent at The Insurance Shoppe in Collierville and Nashville, Tennessee. For instance, they often don’t realize that most homeowners policies won’t cover flood or earthquake damage. If your home is at risk for these disasters, you need separate coverage. Auto policies generally cover only personal use of your car, so if you’ve picked up a side gig delivering groceries or meals during the pandemic, you likely need additional coverage, says Keya Pratt, agent and CEO of Pratt Insurance LLC in Richmond, Virginia. Otherwise, accidents you have on the job may not be covered. Insurance policies of all types also generally exclude wear and tear, says Katherine Navarro Wong, a State Farm agent in Santa Rosa, California. She often gets calls from policyholders asking if their insurance will pay for things like broken dishwashers or aging gutters. The answer is no. Insurance is designed to cover sudden, accidental damage, not regular maintenance. “We’re not going to replace (an) old pipe,” Wong says, “but if the pipe accidentally burst and ruined the wall and the flooring,” that would be covered. 2. A GAP IN COVERAGE CAN BE COSTLY There are various reasons you might let your car insurance policy lapse, whether you’re having trouble paying your bills or you no longer own a vehicle. But this could cost you, Pratt says. “People tend to shop insurance after they’ve already cancelled their insurance, (but) unfortunately that’s a huge negative” when calculating your price. After a gap in coverage, insurers view customers as riskier and charge higher rates. You can avoid this by shopping for quotes before your policy expires, buying nonowner car insurance if you’re between vehicles and asking your carrier for leniency if you’re struggling to make payments. 3. YOU CAN’T GET COVERAGE FOR SOMETHING THAT’S ALREADY HAPPENED If you get into an accident and your car needs repairs, you might want a rental vehicle to help you get around. But by that point it would be too late to add that coverage, Wong says. Your auto policy would pay for this only if you had rental car coverage in place when the accident happened — not if you added it the day after. The same goes for other insurance. For example, say a storm leaves an inch of water in your basement, but you haven’t purchased flood insurance. You can still buy coverage for future disasters, but it won’t pay for damage your home has already sustained. 4. YOU SHOULDN’T SKIMP ON LIABILITY INSURANCE Many people focus on buying enough coverage for their belongings, but the liability insurance on your policy may be even more important. It pays for injuries or property damage that you’re at fault for. A lawsuit “is going to be more devastating than losing your laptop (or) ring,” Wong says. Including legal fees, the cost can total hundreds of thousands of dollars, especially if someone is seriously injured. To protect yourself financially, buy enough liability insurance on your auto and home insurance policies to cover your net worth. 5. YOUR AGENT IS THERE TO HELP Confused by your policy’s fine print? Don’t struggle through it on your own, says Jana Schellin Foster, agent at Nevada Insurance Agency Co. in Reno, Nevada. “We’re here to take care of you and walk you through this process.” Foster advises interviewing agents to make sure you trust them and they have the services you need. Once you’ve found an agent you’re comfortable with, Wong recommends touching base once a year or whenever there are changes in your life. This might include getting married, buying a new car or renovating your home, all of which could trigger updates to your insurance. The most important thing to have in your agent is trust, Foster says. “You get so busy with your kids and your job and whatever else you have going on; you shouldn’t have to think about what you need your insurance to do.” _______________________ This article was provided to The Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet. Sarah Schlichter is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: email@example.com. RELATED LINKS: NerdWallet: Flood Insurance: What It Costs and What It Covers https://www.nerdwallet.com/article/insurance/flood-insurance?utm_campaign=ct_prod&utm_source=ap&utm_medium=mpsyn Sarah Schlichter Of Nerdwallet, The Associated Press
MOSCOW — The European Medicines Agency said it has started a rolling review of Sputnik V, many months after the vaccine was first approved for use in Russia and after dozens of countries around the world have authorized it. In a statement Thursday, the European regulator said the review is based on results from lab studies and research in adults, which suggests the vaccine may help protect against coronavirus. Despite skepticism about Russia’s hasty introduction of the vaccine, which was rolled out before it had completed late-stage trials, the vaccine appears to be safe and effective. According to a study published in the journal Lancet, Sputnik V was about 91% effective in preventing people from becoming severely ill with COVID-19. The EMA has not set a date for when its expert group might meet to assess Sputnik V data to decide if it should be approved across the European Union, but the rolling review process is meant to expedite the authorization process, which can typically take several months. The Associated Press
The U.S. Senate voted on Thursday to take up President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus aid bill, but put off the start of a contentious debate until the full text of the 628-page bill was read aloud. The party-line vote of 51-50, with Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris breaking the tie, illustrated that Democrats who narrowly control the chamber can expect little, if any, Republican support. Republicans, who are expected to use procedural tricks to drag out the process, began by forcing Senate clerks to read the entire bill - a process that took nearly 11 hours.
NEW YORK — When will children be able to get COVID-19 vaccines? It depends on the child's age, but some teenagers could be rolling up their sleeves before too long. The Pfizer vaccine already is cleared for use starting at age 16. That means some high schoolers could get in line for those shots whenever they become eligible in their area, either because of a medical condition or once availability opens up. Pfizer and Moderna both have completed enrolment for studies of children ages 12 and older, and expect to release the data over the summer. If regulators clear the results, younger teens likewise could start getting vaccinated once supply allows. The Moderna vaccine is currently cleared for people 18 and older. Researchers started with older children because they tend to respond to vaccines most similarly to adults. Testing even younger groups is more complex, because they may require a different dose or have differing responses. “Children are not just small adults,” said pediatrician Dr. James Campbell of the University of Maryland School of Medicine. “The younger you get, the higher the odds are that things could be different.” Children develop serious illness or die from COVID-19 at much lower rates than adults, but can still spread the virus. “There’s no question: we do want to immunize children,” said Drexel University pediatrics professor Dr. Sarah Long. Pfizer and Moderna expect to start studies in children 11 and younger later this year. “It’s unlikely we could get community protection without immunizing children,” Long added. “This is the lynchpin to getting everything back to some kind of normalcy.” __ The AP is answering your questions about the coronavirus in this series. Submit them at: FactCheck@AP.org. Read previous Viral Questions: How would COVID-19 vaccine makers adapt to variants? How do we know the COVID-19 vaccines are safe? How are experts tracking variants of the coronavirus? Marion Renault, The Associated Press
Saskatchewan's COVID-19 vaccine clinics have lists of "alternate" recipients in the event extra doses are available after as many of the original priority targets as possible are immunized, according to the province's chief medical health officer. Dr. Saqib Shahab spoke about the little-known practice earlier this week during a news conference. He said it has helped keep Saskatchewan from wasting the limited Pfizer-BioNtech and Moderna vaccines offered so far. "Out of the 80,000 vaccines given away, our wastage rate has been very low," Shahab said, adding that the vaccines need to be used quickly once they are thawed. Under Phase 1 of Saskatchewan's COVID-19 vaccine program, residents and staff at long-term and personal care homes are among the few priority groups designated for early vaccination, ahead of the general public. Each care home in the province has to provide health officials with a list of residents and staff who have agreed to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. There's also an alternate list. Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchenwan's chief medical health officer, said the practice of alternate vaccine recipient lists helps prevent wastage. (CBC) "If, for some reason, the people who are [originally] booked were not able to get the vaccine, all vaccine providers have an alternate list that they can call, and they have been calling sometimes at short notice," Shahab said. Eden Care CEO received early vaccine That's what happened to Alan Stephen in early January. Stephen is the CEO of Eden Care Communities, which operates care homes in Regina, Saskatoon and Moose Jaw. He said direct-care providers — residents, nurses, continuing care aides, recreation workers, housekeeping staff and food service providers — at Regina Lutheran Home were given first dibs on doses on Jan. 13. The home was given 90 minutes notice of the clinic and not all staff on the priority list were able to make it to the home, Stephen said. Some elders and workers were not vaccinated because they were COVID-19 positive and, at that time, not eligible for the vaccine, he added. "We vaccinated the priority list and then once they realized there was additional shots in the vials, they started calling people on the other list so we wouldn't waste [doses]," he said. "Because of the time frames involved, you had [as little as] 15 minutes to come in. So they called and I said, yeah, I could come in." Regina Lutheran Home was in the middle of a COVID-19 outbreak at the time, as were other Eden Care facilities in Regina. Workers from other locations couldn't go to Regina Lutheran Home to get vaccinated due to "cohorting," the Saskatchewan Health Authority practice of limiting health workers to one home during the pandemic, Stephen said. Red Cross workers helping out at the home were also vaccinated, he said. Alan Stephen, the CEO of Eden Care Communities, says everyone was given the opportunity to receive a vaccine at Regina Lutheran Home. (Eden Care) The alternate list included administrators, human resource staffers, finance people and executives like Stephen, he said, adding that those people have helped with tasks such as screening and overseeing outside visits. "I don't think there are many of our team in home offices that did not work at one of the [care] homes during the pandemic. I don't mean just once. Over weekends, at nights. We all sorta chipped in to help out," Stephen said. Stephen said he normally visits Eden Care homes quite often, although not as much during the pandemic. He had been inside a home within a few days before the Jan. 13 clinic, he said. "It's leadership by wandering," he said. Stephen said he's aware of public sensitives around people who do not provide direct care receiving vaccines early. "I'm pretty sure I was near the end of [the list]," he said. Premier Scott Moe announced Tuesday that 91 per cent of long-term care home residents across the provide had received their first dose. The remaining nine per cent didn't receive vaccines either because they refused them, weren't available to take them or had "a change in health status." The ministry did not provide a breakdown of those categories. The health authority said it does not track its vaccine data to that level of detail.
Toronto frontline worker Tim MacFarlane talks about being among the hidden-homeless population and how the pandemic is exacerbating the situation for many.
RED DEER, Alta. — Some employees of a pork processing plant in central Alberta that shut down after a COVID-19 outbreak at the facility are afraid to go back to work, the union president says. Olymel's facility in Red Deer was shut down Feb. 15 because of the COVID-19 outbreak that claimed three lives and infected 515 workers. The company announced late Wednesday it had been given approval to gradually reopen by Alberta Health. Slaughter operations are scheduled to resume today and cutting room operations on Friday. The plant processes about 10,000 hogs per day. UFCW 401 president Thomas Hesse said he received no word from the company that the plant was reopening. "Obviously the bottom line for Olymel is they're just putting pigs ahead of people," Hesse in an interview Wednesday. "What you've got is a frightened workforce. There's this enormous amount of fear and anxiety, and now a layer of grief on top of that, and they expect employees to jump to attention and parade back to work." The union represents about 1,800 workers at the plant. Hesse said the union interviewed between 600 and 700 workers who indicated they were afraid to return to work. He said that wasn't done by Olymel, Alberta Health Services or Occupational Health and Safety. Hesse said he expects some workers will take advantage of their right to refuse unsafe work. "I have no confidence in the safety of the workplace," he said. Olymel said the reopening will come with a number of strict measures. Alberta Health experts will be on site when operations resume and will offer rapid testing. The company said 1,370 employees at the plant have been tested since Jan. 1. The company says it has added more space to the facility to enhance physical distancing. Additional staff have been assigned to monitor and enforce the updated measures, Olymel said. Employee groups have been recalled to take part in training sessions covering all implemented health measures, adjustments and the action plan developed for reopening. This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 4, 2021. — By Bill Graveland in Calgary The Canadian Press
As COVID-19 vaccine supplies ramp up across the country, most provinces and territories have released details of who can expect to receive a shot in the coming weeks. Here's a list of their plans to date: Newfoundland and Labrador The province says it is in Phase 1 of its vaccine rollout. Health-care workers on the front lines of the pandemic, staff at long-term care homes, people of "advanced age" and adults in remote or isolated Indigenous communities have priority. Newfoundland and Labrador announced Wednesday it was extending the interval between the first and second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to four months. Public health officials said the change will help them vaccinate 40,000 more people with a single dose by the end of March. Liberal Leader and incumbent Premier Andrew Furey said the decision is a game changer for the province's vaccination prospects. --- Nova Scotia Health officials in Nova Scotia announced Tuesday that vaccination rollout plans for the month included the province's first pharmacy clinics. Prototype pharmacy clinics will launch in Halifax and Shelburne on March 9, Port Hawkesbury on March 16 and Springhill on March 23. Nova Scotia plans to have vaccine available to at least 75 per cent of the population by the end of September 2021. Nova Scotia will get 13,000 doses of the newly approved Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine the week of March 8. Health officials said March 3 the upcoming shipment must be used by April 2 and therefore all 13,000 doses will be administered to residents across the province aged 50 to 64 years starting March 15. The vaccine will be given out at 26 locations in Nova Scotia on a first come, first served basis. --- Prince Edward Island Health officials in Prince Edward Island say they will shift their focus to getting a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine to all adults by July 1, even if it means delaying the second shot for some. Chief medical officer Heather Morrison has said people over the age of 80 will get a second dose based on their existing appointments. Going forward, she said, other residents will get a longer interval between their first and second doses, but she didn’t specific how long that will be. --- New Brunswick The province is also focusing on vaccinating those living in long-term care homes, health-care workers with direct patient contact, adults in First Nations communities and older New Brunswickers in the first phase, which lasts until at least March. The next phase is scheduled to begin in the spring and includes residents and staff of communal settings, other health-care workers including pharmacists, first responders and critical infrastructure employees. The government website says once the vaccine supply is continuous and in large enough quantities, the entire population will be offered the shots. --- Quebec Quebec started vaccinating older seniors Monday, after a first phase that focused largely on health-care workers, remote communities and long-term care. In Montreal, mass vaccine sites including the Olympic Stadium opened their doors to the public as the province began inoculating seniors who live in the hard-hit city. The government announced last week it would begin booking appointments for those aged 85 and up across the province, but that age limit has since dropped to 70 in some regions, including Montreal. Quebec announced Tuesday it had reached a deal with pharmacies that will allow them to start administering COVID-19 vaccines by mid-March. Health Minister Christian Dube said about 350 pharmacies in the Montreal area will start taking appointments by March 15 for people as young as 70. The program will eventually expand to more than 1,400 pharmacies across the province that will administer about two million doses. The Montreal region is being prioritized in part because of the presence of more contagious variants, such as the one first identified in the United Kingdom, Dube has said. --- Ontario Ontario has given its first vaccines to people in long-term care, high-risk retirement home residents, some health-care workers and people who live in congregate care settings. The provincial government has said it aims to begin vaccinating Ontarians aged 80 and older starting the week of March 15, the same day it plans to launch its vaccine booking system, which will include a service desk and online portal. It said the vaccine rollout will look different in each of its 34 public health units. Several regions in Ontario have moved ahead with their plans to vaccinate the general public using their own booking systems to allow residents aged 80 and older to schedule appointments. The province has also said it will extend the interval between doses of COVID-19 vaccines to up to four months. Toronto began vaccinating police force members who respond to emergency calls on Monday and has also started offering vaccines to people experiencing homelessness. Solicitor General Sylvia Jones has said the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine will go to residents between the ages of 60 and 64, but has not elaborated yet on how it will be distributed except to say it won't be through mass immunization sites. The province has said it will follow the advice of a national panel that has recommended against using the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot on people aged 65 and older. The health minister said the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot could be used in correctional facilities, but further details haven't been released. --- Manitoba Manitoba is starting to vaccinate people in the general population. Appointments are now available for most people aged 94 and up, or 74 and up for First Nations people. Until now, vaccines have been directed to certain groups such as health-care workers and people in personal care homes. Health officials plan to reduce the age minimum, bit by bit, over the coming months. Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead of the province's vaccine task force, has said inoculations could be open to all adults in the province by August if supplies are steady. Like British Columbia, Manitoba has already indicated it would opt for a four-month interval between doses. --- Saskatchewan The province is still in the first phase of its vaccination rollout, which reserves doses for long-term care residents and staff, health-care workers at elevated risk of COVID-19 exposure, seniors over the age of 70 and anyone 50 or older living in a remote area. In all, nearly 400,000 doses are required to finish this stage. The next phase will be focused on vaccinating the general population by age. It hopes to begin its mass vaccination campaign by April, but there if there isn’t enough supply that could be pushed back to June. Saskatchewan will begin immunizing the general population in 10-year increments, starting with those 60 to 69. Also included in this age group will be people living in emergency shelters, individuals with intellectual disabilities in care homes and people who are medically vulnerable. Police, corrections staff and teachers are among the front-line workers not prioritized for early access to shots. The government says supply is scarce. The province said this week that it may follow British Columbia's lead in delaying a second dose of COVID-19 vaccine to speed up immunizations. The government says it hopes a national committee that provides guidance on immunizations will support waiting up to four months to give people a second dose. If that happens, the province could speed up how soon residents get their first shot. --- Alberta Alberta is now offering vaccines to anyone born in 1946 or earlier, a group representing some 230,000 people. Appointments are being offered through an online portal and the 811 Health Link phone line. Shots are also being offered to this cohort at more than 100 pharmacies in Calgary, Red Deer and Edmonton starting in early March and the government has said there are also plans to include doctors’ offices. Health Minister Tyler Shandro has said all eligible seniors should have their first shots by the end of March. But he said Monday that the province will not give Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to anyone over the age of 65 after the National Advisory Committee on Immunization expressed concerned there is limited data on how well it will work in older populations. The province was also one of several Wednesday to say it would extend second doses of COVID-19 for up to four months, starting March 10. The first phase of the vaccine rollout also included anyone over 65 who lives in a First Nations or Metis community, various front-line health care workers, paramedics and emergency medical responders. Phase 2 of the rollout, to begin in April, is to start with those 65 and up, Indigenous people older than 50 and staff and residents of licensed supportive living seniors’ facilities not previously included. --- British Columbia British Columbia will extend the time between the first and second doses of COVID-19 vaccines to four months so all adults could get their initial shot by the end of July. Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says evidence from the province and around the world shows protection of at least 90 per cent from the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. The province launched the second phase of its immunization campaign Monday and health authorities will begin contacting residents and staff of independent living centres, those living in seniors' supportive housing as well as homecare support clients and staff. Seniors aged 90 and up can call to make their appointment starting next Monday, followed a week later by those aged 85 and over, and a week after that by those 80 and up. Henry says the approval of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine means some people will get their first shot sooner than planned. She says B.C. will focus its rollout of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine among essential workers, first responders and younger people with more social interactions who would have to wait longer to receive their first doses of the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines. It's now possible that all adults could get their first shot by July, Henry says. --- Nunavut The territory says it expects enough vaccines for 75 per cent of its population over the age of 18. After a COVID-19 vaccine is administered, patients will be tracked to ensure they are properly notified to receive their second dose. Nunavut's priority populations are being vaccinated first. They include residents of shelters, people ages 60 years and up, staff and inmates and correctional facilities, first responders and front-line health-care staff. --- Northwest Territories The Northwest Territories its priority groups — such as people over 60, front-line health workers and those living in remote communities — are being vaccinated The territory says it expects to vaccine the rest of its adult population starting this month. --- Yukon Yukon says it will receive enough vaccine to immunize 75 per cent of its adult population by the end of March. Priority for vaccinations has been given to residents and staff in long-term care homes, group homes and shelters, as well as health-care workers and personal support workers. People over the age of 80 who are not living in long-term care, and those living in rural and remote communities, including Indigenous Peoples, are also on the priority list for shots. --- This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 4, 2021. The Canadian Press
Chrystia Freeland seemed only too happy on Wednesday to mention some recent grumbling about the Liberal government's pandemic spending over last year. For most of 2020, the government was faced with questions about whether it was delivering financial supports fast enough and broadly enough. Now, some are wondering aloud whether the government spent too much. "I've been surprised to read some commentary suggesting that Canadians may be doing too well for their own good," the finance minister said. "Some have pointed to rising household disposable income in the first nine months of last year as evidence that our government acted too swiftly and too effectively to support Canadians." It will not surprise you to learn that Freeland disagrees with that take. And if Freeland is eager to note that criticism, surely it's because she and the government know how difficult it might be for any of their political opponents to campaign against any of the specific measures the Liberals took to support Canadian households over the past 12 months. But it remains to be seen how all that spending — and the historic deficit that resulted from it — will frame the political debate going forward. On Monday, Statistics Canada released estimates that suggest Canadian households ended up with more disposable income through the third quarter of 2020 because of the unprecedented sums the federal government transferred to individuals through various support programs. "Although households did experience notable declines both in wages and salaries and in self-employment income in the second quarter, the value of COVID-19 support measures provided by governments more than compensated for those losses," StatsCan said. The gains were highest in the second quarter and proportionally larger for those with the lowest amount of disposable income in 2019. Before April 2020 and June 2020, StatsCan estimates, the households that had less than $26,500 in disposable income for 2019 saw their disposable income increase by 33.6 per cent. For those households with more than $64,900 in disposable income in 2019, the increase in disposable income in the second quarter of 2020 is estimated at 7.1 per cent. A person walks through an almost deserted Yorkdale Shopping Centre as Toronto enters the first day of a renewed coronavirus lockdown on Nov. 23, 2020.(Carlos Osorio/Reuters) As of October 3, 2020, the federal government had paid out $81.6 billion through the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, which provided $2,000 per month to those who lost their jobs as a result of COVID-19 lockdowns. Beyond the CERB, the federal government also moved forward with a number of other supports, including a new student benefit (estimated to cost $3 billion) and a series of measures aimed at "vulnerable Canadians" (at an estimated cost of $14.9 billion). More analysis is needed to fully understand the distribution and impact of government spending last year, but the basic finding — that support exceeded income losses — has been put forward before. Tammy Schirle, a professor of economics at Wilfrid Laurier University, notes that some of those in the bottom quintile would not have been making money before the pandemic began — and so wouldn't have lost any income — but they still would have benefited from increases in the Canada Child Benefit and the GST credit, which could have helped with extra expenses. An 'acceptable compromise' Research conducted by Schirle and three co-authors also estimated that nearly half of the job losses that occurred between February and April 2020 were suffered by those in the lowest quarter of earners. "Generally, there was criticism at the time that some workers with the lowest earnings would have received more income than was lost," Schirle said in an email this week, referring to the CERB. "However, in the context that Canadians needed something rolled out quickly, and our current infrastructure for [employment insurance] would not suffice, this was an acceptable compromise in my view." In a global emergency, too much help is likely better than too little. But the federal government may have faced a choice between moving fast and moving with precision — between making sure that people who would need money got it quickly and making sure that people only got as much money as they absolutely needed. Social policy in a hurry "CERB payments were flat amounts because the government did not have the capacity [in information and technology] to income-test the benefit," said Jennifer Robson, a professor of political management at Carleton who has been consulted by the government on EI reform (full disclosure: Robson is a friend). "The choice was 'automatic' or 'income-tested.' But until and unless we build serious back-of-house capacity in our social programs, you can't have both for a crisis of this scale." Robson also suggested that if the CERB did end up overcompensating people, the question could be flipped around to ask whether that proves too many people in this country were being paid unreasonably low wages in the first place. The Liberal government has since transitioned away from the CERB and StatsCan's estimates show that the disposable income increases dropped off significantly in the third quarter. John Lester, a fellow at the University of Calgary's school of public policy and a former analyst at the Department of Finance, argued in December that the government should have been quicker to deal with the issue of "overcompensation." The threat of inflation In her fall economic statement, Freeland suggested that increased disposable income and savings could act as "preloaded stimulus" to spur economic growth once the Canadian economy reopens. Mikal Skuterud, a professor of economics at the University of Waterloo, said the risk is that excessive stimulus could trigger inflation, though he argues that the actual severity of that risk is a "million-dollar question that nobody knows the answer to." For now, the political criticism is muted. The Conservative Party has criticized the size of the deficit and Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole has noted that the Trudeau government spent more per capita than comparable countries. The Conservatives also have argued that the government should have moved faster to deliver a wage subsidy and have criticized the fact that some large, profitable companies were able to access the wage subsidy. But they do not seem eager to make the case that Canadians got more money than they deserved or truly needed — presumably because they know how well that would go over with those Canadians who received federal support. Ahead of a federal budget — and possibly a federal election — the larger question is how the spectre of a significant deficit will affect both fiscal policy and the political debate going forward. Canadians might be thankful for all the support that the federal government has provided, but will they come out of this pandemic with new worries about government debt? And if so, are Conservatives interested in trying to connect with that anxiety to build support for a much more fiscally restrained approach?
A Green MLA wants to know if government will reinstate a moratorium on student loan repayments in the province. Lynne Lund raised the issue during question period in the legislature Wednesday. The province put a hold on student loan repayments between March and September last year to help students manage the economic impacts of the pandemic. In February, the student union at UPEI called on the province to bring back its moratorium on student loan payments. The union wants the new moratorium on payments to run from April through September, which Lund said she supports. Lund said she raised the issue with government for the first time last November and is still waiting for an answer. Green MLA Lynne Lund also called on government to forgive $2.8 million in student debt in the upcoming budget. (Legislative Assembly of P.E.I.) "Students are still waiting for an answer from this government. This is a significant monthly expense of lots of recent graduates and they are asking for help," Lund said. "Does your government intend to reinstate the moratorium on student loan repayments, yes or no?" 'Identified as a priority' Lund told CBC News she has received several letters from recent graduates that say repaying their student debt has been a serious hardship. She said she tabled a petition in the legislature with nearly 300 signatures from students and former students calling on government to put a hold on loan repayments. Responding to Lund's question, Minister of Education and Lifelong Learning Natalie Jameson said there are a number of other financial supports available for students. She said government has invested in non-repayable loan options for students, including the George Coles bursary. Jameson said students don't have to make payments on their provincial loans while they remain full-time students and don't have to start repaying their loan for a year after they are no longer a full-time student. She said students also don't pay interest on their provincial loans. Minister of Education and Lifelong Learning Natalie Jameson did not say whether or not government would reinstate the moratorium on student loan payments but says government has received the request from the UPEI Student Union and is looking into it. (Legislative Assembly of P.E.I. ) Jameson did not say whether or not government would reinstate the moratorium. Jameson told CBC News that government has received a budget submission recommendation from the student union at UPEI that the moratorium be reinstated and government is considering the request. "It's one that we've discussed and identified as a priority," Jameson said. "We have a number of financial supports available but certainly we're always looking for innovative solutions to reduce financial burdens for students." Lund also called on government to forgive $2.8 million in student debt in the upcoming budget. Jameson said she can provide answers to questions around debt forgiveness once the budget is tabled. More P.E.I. news
The pending closure of a major grocery store in downtown Prince George, B.C., has sparked concerns that some of the city's poorest residents may not have easy access to affordable food. Save-On-Foods, owned by the Jim Pattison Group, has confirmed it is moving its downtown location to Pine Centre Mall, roughly three kilometres away. Though the distance may not make much of a difference to people who drive, it could have a major impact on those who walk or take transit to get their food, advocates say. "This is leaving a lot of people, I fear, with very little options," said Torie Beram, a nurse who works with vulnerable people in the city. "You are giving people no choice but to go hungry, utilize food banks or have to find a way to get to the grocery store." The issue of food deserts — urban areas without accessible, affordable food — is a growing concern across Canada. Research out of Winnipeg indicates areas without adequate grocery options tend to have higher rates of people with diabetes, with many surviving on convenience foods and canned goods. Beram worries Save-On's departure will create another such food desert in the heart of northern B.C.'s most populous city, particularly among residents of nearby neighbourhoods with higher concentrations of poverty. Many of her clients don't have vehicles, and even the cost of taking a taxi or having groceries delivered can be prohibitive. As a result, she said, they may be forced to take an hour round trip by foot or bus just to get supplies — a difficult task for single parents or elderly people, particularly during winter months. Seniors, students impacted The move also deals a blow to the city's downtown revitalization plans, which include the construction of student housing just a few blocks away from Save-On's current location. "Very often students come to Prince George, they may not have a vehicle, and having access to good healthy food is important to them," said Coun. Murry Krause, who chairs the city's poverty reduction committee. "It's very disappointing on so many fronts." Krause said the city's economic development wing will be reaching out to other major grocers in an attempt to entice them to take Save-On's place. City Councillor Murry Krause chairs Prince George's poverty reduction committee. He worries what the departure of Save-On will mean for the city's downtown revitalization efforts and how it will impact some of the community's most vulnerable people.(Andrew Kurjata/CBC) Some private citizens are doing the same. Kathleen Hebb said she is personally reaching out to retailers including Safeway and Sobey's in an attempt to get them to open up downtown. She said she is motivated by her own background being raised by a single parent on social assistance. "To say, 'Just get a taxi, get on a bus, go that extra distance' ... is really putting up more barriers and also taking away a bit of money every week." Darrin Rigo said he has a similar background — and similar concerns. "I had a single mom who didn't have a car ... so we walked to the grocery store as a family, 20 minutes round trip each way," he said. Rigo mapped out what Save-On's move might mean for some of the people who live nearby and was concerned by what he found. "It's a 40-minute-plus walk that requires crossing a highway and following a lot of busy arteries," he said. "I think back to my mom who was working two jobs at the time and probably just barely fitting all of this together — if that walk suddenly doubled in length ... I don't think she would have had many options." The move is also a concern to seniors and young families who live in the nearby Millar Addition and Crescents neighbourhoods. While they might be able to afford a car, many chose to live near downtown so they could access services by foot. Save-On-Foods says it is closing its location in the downtown Parkwood Place mall and moving to another location in the city. The grocery giant did not provide a reason for the move.(Andrew Kurjata/CBC) Jeremy Morris, 30, said he just bought his first house in the Crescents in part because he would be able to walk to get groceries, and is disappointed that will soon change. Barbara Robin, 78, is a retired real estate agent who moved close to downtown so she would be able to "walk everywhere" without having to cross any highways. She said the neighbourhoods close to downtown are popular among older people looking to downsize and have easier access to medical services, but the lack of a grocery store could be a barrier. "We want to encourage growth downtown ... so I think it's only right we should have a grocery store in that area." Brian Quarmby co-owns Birch and Boar, a downtown Prince George grocer specializing in locally-produced foods.(Andrew Kurjata/CBC) In the meantime, some smaller retailers are adjusting to the pending departure of Save-On. Birch and Boar, a small grocer specializing in locally-produced food, is expanding its hours to better serve people who need to pick up some items after work or on weekends. Co-owner Brian Quarmby said the shop is also talking to local farmers about expanding their produce options. But, he said, he recognizes a specialty shop can't replace the role of a large grocery store and he would welcome the arrival of another chain in the neighbourhood. "Especially with the seniors and that [vulnerable] community, they need something downtown." To hear more about the impact of Save-On leaving downtown Prince George, tap the audio below: Subscribe to Daybreak North on CBC Listen or your favourite podcast app, and connect with CBC Northern British Columbia on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
The U.S. government has been slow to approve licenses for American companies like Lam Research Corp and Applied Materials Inc to sell chipmaking equipment to China semiconductor giant SMIC, sources said, as the impact of a global chip shortage spreads. Many licenses for U.S. suppliers to ship an estimated $5 billion dollars' worth of equipment and materials have not come through, according to more than half a dozen industry sources, though numerous companies submitted applications soon after the Chinese company was blacklisted in December.
The painstaking detective work of contact tracing usually starts with an infected person and works forward, asking who has that person seen since they became potentially contagious with COVID-19. But that mainstay of public health has a less high-profile cousin that's become instrumental in spotting superspreader events quickly — working in reverse. "Instead of asking who did that person potentially give the virus to, you're asking where did that person get the virus?" said Dr. Trevor Arnason, associate medical officer of health with Ottawa Public Health. "It makes you become better at finding people who have COVID-19 who you might not have known about." COVID-19 tends to spread explosively in situations where the virus can infect a bunch of people all at once, public health experts say, which is where what's known as backward tracing comes in handy. Ottawa Public Health cottoned on to the benefits of backward tracing when emerging evidence from Japan showed how focusing on where a person got COVID-19 and going back to that location helped to find many more who were infected. "We started more systematically asking everybody, 'Where do you think you got it? Or who do you think you got this from? And then we started working back from those places. You start to notice these patterns, which we've put together in infographics that we've shared with the public," Arnason said. Infographics tracing how many were affected from one indoor wedding allowed the public to see how seemingly disparate locations tied together, resulting in 22 people from eight households being affected in two weeks. "Backward contact tracing is used to find the superspreading events. That's the main goal." Ashleigh Tuite, an infectious diseases epidemiologist in Toronto, said most people who are infected don't pass it to others. But the instances where an individual goes on to transmit to many others likely reflect how coronavirus transmission clusters at a particular location or environment. An indoor gym where those working out are unmasked, breathing heavily in what may not be the best ventilated conditions is one example. "It's clear that telling people to wear masks when they move around a gym, but not when they're exercising, which I think has been the protocol in a lot of places, wasn't enough," Tuite said. WATCH | Day in the life of COVID-19 contact tracers [May 2020]: Suppressing variants Backward contact tracing is a lot of work for public-health staff facing down outbreaks, said Tuite, but also potentially high yield. It can be particularly helpful at the early stages an epidemic — which is long-gone for normal coronavirus, but the introduction of more-transmissible variants of concern is like a do-over, said Tuite, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto's Dalla Lana School of Public Health. "It's an effective way of suppressing the growth of the variants of concern amongst this larger epidemic that's happening," she said. "Overall, we have declining case counts and so if we can control sparks that are happening with the variants of concern, there is the potential to really keep it under control and at least keep case counts declining." This May 13, 2020, photo taken with a fisheye lens shows a list of the confirmed COVID-19 cases in Salt Lake County. The white board remains in the office as a reminder of how quickly the coronavirus spread. (Rick Bowmer/Associated Press) Declining case counts mean hospital and health-care capacity can accommodate more surgeries and preventative care and allow the economy underpinning society to recover, too. For now, Tuite said case counts will only decline if people restrict their interactions. For Dr. Susy Hota, an infectious diseases specialist at Toronto's University Health Network, keeping the variants of concern at bay is another goal of vaccinating as many people as quickly as possible. "If we continue to allow transmission to occur, [the variants] will take over a larger and larger proportion of the market, so to speak," said Hota, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Toronto. Stopping spread fast Regardless of variants, forward contact tracing to identify high-risk contacts and possible cases as aggressively as possible so they know to isolate quickly will always be a key public health tool. For instance, a Manitoba spokesperson said they routinely collect information on where a COVID-positive case may have been exposed. But the focus is on forward contact tracing to stop spread as quickly as possible. WATCH | Workplace physical distancing innovation: Hota cautioned there are even more recall challenges with backward contact tracing than forward, using herself as an example. "Do you think you were more than two metres away when you talked to that person? I think so. But I didn't have a yardstick with me. And how long do you think you were talking? Oh, I'm terrible at that. I'll tell you, like, five minutes. I have no idea." The recall problem gets amplified because to do backward contact tracing effectively means going back the full 14-day incubation period of the coronavirus. Hota does see a role for backward contact tracing in trying to pin down if there's a single source of multiple cases, say at a meat-packing plant. "The truth often doesn't emerge until the epidemic is over," Hota said. (Tim Kindrachuk/CBC)
The United Nations' human rights chief asked Ethiopia on Thursday to allow monitors into Tigray to investigate reports of killings and sexual violence that may amount to war crimes in the northern region since late 2020. "Victims and survivors of these violations must not be denied their rights to the truth and to justice," Michelle Bachelet said in a statement, expressing her fear that violations could continue without outside scrutiny. Fighting between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's federal troops and forces of the region's former ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), has killed thousands of people, forced hundreds of thousands from their homes and hit infrastructure badly.
For Grade 12 teacher Jason Stein, instructing during the COVID-19 pandemic is "like having the Sword of Damocles [impending doom or disaster] always over top of your head; you don't necessarily always consciously think about it all the time." "When I'm in school and teaching and interacting with students, it's not there. Then you see something and you're like, 'Oh yeah, what if?'" Something like a student missing from class: Are they sick? Did they expose the entire class? Stein teaches a variety of subjects at Turtleford Community School, in the small community about 85 kilometres northwest of North Battleford, Sask. When Stein spoke with CBC in the middle of January, his class was at level two of the province's Safe School Plan, which meant students were in class, cohorting and wearing masks. He said if a student were to test positive for COVID-19, his class would transition to level four of the plan, which means every student would immediately move to online learning. That's what happened to Stein's wife, who teaches younger students at the same school. She was called four days before the winter break with a head's up about just that. "It happens very quickly and there's not a lot of recourse or time to sort of reorient yourself," Stein said. Teachers' reflect on a year in flux Teachers have been on the frontlines of COVID-19 from the beginning, working essential jobs that have changed forms multiple times since the first cases hit Saskatchewan in March 2020. Schools closed early for the 2019-2020 school year, a measure the provincial government took to reduce the spread of COVID-19. In June, the government announced schools would reopen for the new year in the fall. But exactly what that looks like has been in near-constant flux. While organizations like the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation have been vocal about the pandemic's impact on teachers and what they'd like to see done to help them, little has been heard publicly from those leading the classrooms themselves. Nearly two dozen teachers from around Saskatchewan responded to a questionnaire CBC Saskatchewan has available online for people to share their pandemic experience. They wrote about lacking the resources they felt they need to handle the added pressures, from the steep learning curve associated with teaching virtually to sanitizing their classrooms. Worries were expressed by and for those who are immunocompromised and how COVID-19 could impact them, and some called for additional measures from the government to protect teachers in classrooms. Some were concerned about the impacts online teaching would have on relationship-building — an essential part of their job — and their mental health and that of their students. And many shared their love of teaching and how they were trying to make the best of a very difficult situation. WATCH | Two teachers, one working at school and one from home, walk us through a typical day for them: Stein said two of the biggest things he's noticed as a result of the pandemic are resource gaps and a shift in the social construction of his school. Getting in-class tech issues resolved takes longer, he said — a symptom of greater stress on those with that knowledge, created by the addition of online learning. Stein said someone might be unable to help with a fix for a week, "whereas pre-pandemic, it was maybe a day." "That changes the quality of in-class instruction as well and so we're just not in an optimal situation right now." Jason Stein, a teacher from Turtleford, described working under COVID-19 and the possibility of suddenly shifting to an online learning environment as similar to working with the Sword of Damocles over his head.(Submitted by Jason Stein) For the time being, he said the Turtleford Community School has restricted access to some areas for certain age groups, essentially creating an elementary, intermediate and high school situation in what is normally a kindergarten to Grade 12 environment. Stein said students are used to being encouraged to interact with those in different age groups and frequently participate in activities with those younger and older, but this year was different in the sense that there isn't a sense of community that there normally is. That extends to the staff he said, who are now eating their lunches alone in classrooms while educational assistants are relegated to the staff room to ensure physical distancing. "One of the things that I've started to do is at least once a week I make a concerted effort after school to go and visit the other wings of the school, just to remind myself that, yeah, you have other colleagues that are here," Stein said. The little interactions, like the staff room discussions or the face-to-face time with their peers were essential to ensuring there was cohesion in kids' learning, he said. Staff are still participating in group meetings and discussions, albeit via video-conferencing. But working to find ways to encourage a cohesive learning environment in the age of COVID-19, he said, creates extra work for educators. "That working to find ways to replace the old things is that added level of stress that teachers are feeling," Stein said. 'I wish I could just reach through my computer and help them' Not being able to be there in person for her students, has stood out as a particular challenge for Miranda Hammett. "I know when I'm having kids who are struggling, I've always said that I wish I could just reach through my computer and help them," the Grade 3 and 4 teacher with the Regina Catholic School System said. "Sometimes it's really hard to problem solve when I'm in one room and they're somewhere across the city in another." In a typical classroom setting, she would be able to pull those students who aren't engaging as much aside and have face-to-face conversations with them, where that isn't as likely to happen now. Some choose not to turn their cameras on. Online instruction wasn't as foreign to Hammett as it may have been for other teachers. Miranda Hammett, a first-year teacher, started her career in an unexpected manner when she signed an online education contract with the Regina Catholic School Division at the start of the 2020-2021 school year.(Bryan Eneas/CBC) She completed her education program online with the University of Regina last spring due to the pandemic. Hammett said those experiences, paired with a week-long crash course in online education before the school year started, prepared her, in a way, for this year. "I was a little bit nervous to take my contract on, especially with it being an online contract, but overall it's been a super positive and super great experience," she said. One advantage the pandemic provided, she said, was the absence of developing a classroom space — something she said first-year teachers would have to balance alongside creating content and developing education plans. She said it allowed her to focus more on what she's teaching and how she's teaching. But relationship building, an important aspect of teaching and something Hammett learned how to do in-person through her education, was a concern. Before she told the students what they were going to be learning for the year, she prioritized getting to know who they are as people — their likes and dislikes and other information they were willing to share with her. Being online has made me love my career and made me so happy with what I've chosen to do with my life. - Miranda Hammett For students between the ages of eight and 10, Hammett said her students have become surprisingly adept at the technology they're required to use. In some cases, she said students were teaching her how to use various aspects of the programming. Hammett, who is teaching from her basement in Regina, says when her Grade 3 and 4 students experience tech problems it makes her wish she could reach through the screen to help them.(Bryan Eneas/CBC) When tech-related frustrations do come up, Hammett said it's time for a "brain break." "We take our mind off what's frustrating us and then we get back into it and I'm going to re-explain it, I'm going to re-show it to them and hopefully the second time around we're walking in with a clearer head." Teacher not worried about kids' overall educational outcomes Stein said the teachers he knows would much rather be educating entirely in the classroom and where possible, it's being done. But all of the little things, like losing face-to-face conversations or interactions with students, kids losing out on extracurricular activities, tech issues and resource strains, are contributing overall to a decline in the quality of the education, Stein said. Still, he feels that in the grand scheme of things, the COVID-19 pandemic probably won't have a negative impact on most students' educational outcomes overall, as students will always be able to find a job they want to do and take the appropriate steps to be able to reach that goal. "In that sense, I don't think that educationally, the students' are going to lose out," he said. Hammett said although the pandemic impacted her personal mental health — there are plenty of up-and-down days — teaching online through COVID-19 has taught her to appreciate in class learning, whenever that happens. "Being online has made me love my career and made me so happy with what I've chosen to do with my life. But it's definitely going to be easier to make relationships and to teach and everything else [in-person]," she said. (CBC News Graphics) This article was produced thanks to submissions to CBC Saskatchewan's COVID-19 questionnaire. We want to hear how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted you. Share your story here.
A man in his 60s has contracted Prince Edward Island's latest case of COVID-19. He is a close contact of a previously announced case and had previously tested negative, but then developed symptoms and tested positive. P.E.I. moved out of the red-level lockdown that was imposed in response to a COVID-19 outbreak that led to mass testing, and restaurants could reopen dining areas. Infectious disease specialist Dr. Michael Gardam explained why P.E.I. is extending the time between COVID-19 vaccine doses, in an interview with CBC News: Compass Thursday. Watch it here. Liberal MLA Heath MacDonald pressed the government for details in the legislature Thursday for its plan to support the Island's tourism industry during the upcoming season. The pandemic meant a tough year for P.E.I.'s Easter Seals Society, which raised only a third of what it usually does. Easter Seals Ambassador for P.E.I. Vaeda Matheson has had her time as ambassador extended to three years instead of one, because of the pandemic. (Shane Hennessey/CBC) During a debate to recognize the contributions of young people during the pandemic, Social Development Minister Brad Trivers found himself under attack for comments about people in precarious employment. Here are the current public health restrictions. Here is what parents, students need to know as P.E.I. public schools open up again. Dr. Heather Morrison says she is glad to have another weapon in her COVID-19 arsenal now that the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine has been approved for use in people under 65. P.E.I. has 23 active cases, its most ever, out of 138 diagnosed since the pandemic first hit the Island nearly a year ago. There have been no deaths or hospitalizations. Also in the news Further resources Reminder about symptoms The symptoms of COVID-19 can include: Fever. Cough or worsening of a previous cough. Possible loss of taste and/or smell. Sore throat. New or worsening fatigue. Headache. Shortness of breath. Runny nose. More from CBC P.E.I.
Victoria Ryczak remembers being lonely as a 12-year-old in 1950. She lived near Amsterdam, Sask., about 322 kilometres east of Saskatoon, on an isolated farm. Then one day, her father brought home an issue of the Winnipeg Free Press that had an ad from an Alberta girl looking for a pen pal. Ryczak decided to give it a try. The two corresponded for a while, until the Alberta girl saw an ad for a pen pal she thought would be a better fit for Ryczak. She connected Ryczak with Kathleen Wallace, who lived in Ontario. Ryczak and Wallace shared a special connection. "We were born on June 2, 1938, the same day, the same age," said Ryczak, 82. "That's why I say we're twins. So maybe that had a lot to do with the way we connected." After 70 years of correspondence, Ryczak lost her friend last month. She hopes their story might inspire others to write letters across borders, as a way of combatting loneliness during the COVID-19 pandemic. Kathleen, she was like a confidante. We talk about the trials and tribulations. - Victoria Ryczak When Ryczak started writing with Wallace, she couldn't believe how much the two had in common. They were both left-handed, lived on farms, and had the same ideas, family values and positive attitudes. They wrote about school and anything else that came to mind. "Kathleen, she was like a confidante. We talk about the trials and tribulations," Ryczak said. "What a wonderful person she was and how much she gave of herself to everybody." The letters became few and far between as the two grew older, were married and started their families, but they never lost touch. In 1967, Ryczak had the chance to take some local students to the Montreal Expo and stopped by Ottawa to meet Wallace in person. Ryczak holds a photograph of when she, pictured left, and Wallace first met in 1967, 17 years after their friendship started. (Heidi Atter/CBC) The years went by with the two calling and writing from their own homes. Ryczak's husband died and she started working as a caterer. Wallace's family continued to grow. At age 65, they decided it was time to see each other again. Wallace invited Ryczak to her daughter's wedding. "I jumped at the chance," Ryczak said. "I hadn't seen them for a long time. So I'm walking around the airport and I thought, 'Gee, will I be able to find them?' But then I heard Kathleen speak and I recognized her voice and I turned around. Here she was." Ryczak, left, and Wallace were so close that Wallace invited Ryczak to her daughter's wedding. The two are shown at the reception. (Submitted by Victoria Ryczak) Ryczak stayed for an entire month. She then went back again for Wallace's 50th wedding anniversary. Soon after that celebration, Wallace's husband had a stroke and died. Throughout the years, the two friends tried to arrange a visit to Saskatchewan for Wallace, but with her husband gone and a farm full of animals to tend to, it wasn't possible. "She always said she was going to come and visit me. That's my only regret, that she never came to see Saskatchewan," Ryczak said. 2021 starts off with difficult news During the pandemic, the friends talked more often than before. Then something changed in January. After not hearing from Wallace for 10 days, Ryczak got a call from Wallace's daughter. Wallace had suffered a stroke and was in palliative care. "I was really shocked. I couldn't stop crying. And that's one thing, I never cry," Ryczak said. "But when she got that stroke I couldn't stop crying." Over the years, Ryczak had a few opportunities to see Wallace in person, but Wallace never made it to Saskatchewan to visit.(Heidi Atter/CBC) Wallace died on Feb. 22, 2021. Ryczak said Wallace phoned her the Friday before that. "She said, 'I'm dying and I love you, Victoria.' I couldn't believe she said that, and I said, 'No, you're not. You still need to come to visit me.'" Ryczak said. "I really thought that she was going to get better." Ryczak said the past year has been tough. She lost other friends as well, but Wallace's death was incredibly difficult. "To me, it's going to be devastating," she said. "Every so often you pick up the phone and talk and there won't be anybody to talk to anymore." Ryczak, left, and Wallace at age 65. (Submitted by Victoria Ryczak) How letters can connect us Ryczak said that in these days of pandemic and isolation, more people should consider writing or talking to others, especially across provincial borders. "When you contact somebody, you should be yourself," Ryczak said. "You should be positive and you should understand other people's feelings, not only your own." Erica Dyck, a University of Saskatchewan history professor that has studied historic letter writing, said letters can be effective in combating isolation. "Letter writing requires a kind of attention. It's a bit formal, but it's also quite an intimate process," she said. Two of the six Canada Post postcard designs being sent out to Canadians across the country, which can be mailed for free.(Canada Post) Dyck said a recent Canada Post initiative to deliver Canadians 13 million postcards that can then be mailed for free is a wonderful opportunity to connect with others. Dyck said people should write about mundane details that they may not think are interested but might actually help others feel connected. "The more we can break down those barriers of isolation and remind people that we're thinking of them and connecting with them even when we can't physically be together, I think these are really important social coping mechanisms that will help us proceed beyond COVID." Ryczak said she can't believe where the time went with Wallace. What started as two 12-year-old girls wanting pen pals bloomed into a lifelong friendship. "Hopefully she's in peace," Ryczak said. "It was a privilege to be her friend." Wallace with two of her grandchildren. She died on Feb. 22, 2021. (Submitted by Victoria Ryczak)
Honda Motor Co Ltd on Thursday unveiled a partially self-driving Legend sedan in Japan, becoming the world's first carmaker to sell a vehicle equipped with new, certified level 3 automation technology. The launch gives Japan's No.2 automaker bragging rights for being the first to market, but lease sales of the level 3 flagship Legend would be limited to a batch of 100 in Japan, at a retail price of 11 million yen ($102,000). Still, the new automation technology is a big step towards eliminating human error-induced accidents, chief engineer Yoichi Sugimoto told reporters.
Federal Liberal government staffers were worried that a donation of medical-grade masks for Korean War veterans in Canada would send the wrong message as the country grappled with shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) at the outset of the pandemic. The Republic of Korea, commonly known as South Korea, shipped more than one million face masks to veterans around the world last May as a "token of appreciation" for those who fought in the 1950-53 conflict on the Korean peninsula. Some 35,000 KF94 masks, the Korean equivalent of the gold standard N95 respirator, were shipped to Canada to be distributed to the 5,900 surviving veterans of the war. The South Korean government said it wanted to help these elderly Canadian Armed Forces veterans — their average age is 88 years old — at a time when masks were scarce in Canada and the novel coronavirus was claiming the lives of hundreds of seniors in Canada's long-term care homes. "We know how difficult it is to obtain this personal protective gear in Canada at this moment," Ambassador Yun Je Lee, the consul general of the Republic of Korea in Montreal, told CBC News at the time. "This can never match the warm hands you extended to us, but we hope this will help you overcome the current crisis." Behind the scenes, however, federal political staffers worried that helping to facilitate the donation might lead to awkward comparisons with the plight of Canadian health care personnel struggling to acquire PPE to protect themselves at work. The federal government's PPE procurement efforts at the time were beset by problems with shaky supply chains in China and a protectionist push in the U.S. to reduce shipments to other countries. Jake McDonald holds up a package of masks sent to him by the Republic of Korea. McDonald served in the Korean War at the age of 17.(Dave Laughlin/CBC) According to documents tabled at the House of Commons health committee last week, the government staffers urged Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC) to downplay the South Korean announcement and relegate news of the donation to a social media post to avoid media inquiries. One staffer floated the idea of redeploying the masks to meet other needs. While procurement agents previously had ignored warnings about shortages in the National Emergency Strategic Stockpile (NESS) and rebuffed an offer from U.S. industrial giant Honeywell to supply Canada with N95 masks, by May it was abundantly clear that the country did not have enough PPE on hand for doctors and nurses working on the front lines. Supplies were stretched so thin that some health care workers were sanitizing their masks in microwaves. "I worry about the optics around the government of Canada facilitating the distribution of N95s in settings where they are not recommended for use when doctors are pulling all the stops to stretch the existing supply that they have," wrote Sabrina Kim, then the issues advisor to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, in a May 20 email. "I submit for your consideration that some low key social media expressing Canada's thanks (rather than a news release) would invite fewer questions about N95 mask distribution, testing & healthcare priorities. Just my 0.02$!" she added. Kathleen Davis, a senior foreign policy adviser in the Prime Minister's Office, agreed with Kim that a plan to issue a news release thanking the South Korean government should be scrapped to avoid generating what she called "unnecessary controversy." "Agree with this, for what it's worth," she wrote. Andrew MacKendrick, a communications planning staffer in the Prime Minister's Office, asked if Health Canada or the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) raised any red flags about this donation to a relatively small subset of the Canadian population at a time when there were supply demands elsewhere. "Are there any issues with Health/PHAC that these donations are going to specific places vs. to PHAC and then area of greatest need?" Andrew MacKendrick, a communications staffer in the Prime Minister's Office, asked John Embury, the director of communications to Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay. Travis Gordon, a senior policy adviser in Health Minister Patty Hajdu's office, said the federal government couldn't easily intercept the donation to make up for shortfalls elsewhere. "Given that it's a donation, I suppose we can't redirect them to where they are sorely needed (hospitals)," Gordon wrote. "We will just try to avoid this spinning into a story about how some vets in some LTC homes will get N95s while doctors in hospital are limited to one per day," he added. "Please let us know if any interesting media Qs come your way on mask grade/distribution." In total, 35,000 face masks were sent out in bags like this one to Korean War veterans across Canada.(Eddy Kennedy/CBC) John Brassard, the Conservative critic for veterans affairs, said it's "egregious" that the government was even considering "confiscating" masks destined for elderly war veterans. "It tells me just how miserably unprepared the Canadian government was in terms of PPE and providing PPE to front line health care workers, including doctors," Brassard told CBC News. "It was a gift. A gift from the South Korean government to elderly Canadian war veterans who served in the Korean conflict. The fact they were even thinking about confiscating this gift, it's disturbing." After pushback from his colleagues, Embury ultimately dropped plans to release a statement to the media celebrating the donation and the diplomatic gesture. "No problem, we will pull the plug," he wrote on May 20. He also said he would ask the South Korean embassy to hold off on publicizing the donation until after the prime minister's scheduled press conference on May 21 so that Trudeau could avoid questions from the media. "Asked them to delay releasing their NR until after the PM's news conference, but no guarantee on that," he said. "Great thanks," Kim said in response. On May 21, the prime minister announced support for off-reserve Indigenous communities in the morning. A ceremony commemorating the face mask donation was later held at the South Korean embassy in Ottawa. MacAulay did not attend that ceremony but the department's deputy minister, Walt Natynczyk, was on hand. "They were clearly embarrassed by the PPE situation. They were trying to tamp down this news release, and hold off. They didn't want the prime minister to be asked about it because they didn't want him to be embarrassed," Brassard said. Reached by phone, Embury said VAC had planned to send out a news release but the South Korean embassy "jumped out ahead of us" and released one of its own, "and we just rolled with the punches." He said a press release was "only one possible channel" to acknowledge the donation, and MacAulay later had a private Zoom call with the South Korean ambassador to thank him for the donation. "We didn't have any reluctance to publicize the gift of masks," Embury said. The donation ultimately received scant coverage in the mainstream press until CBC News in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador profiled some grateful Korean War veterans at the end of June, nearly a month after the masks had first arrived in Canada. "I feel very proud that they remembered some of the guys that were over there. A lot of the guys never came back," one recipient, Jake McDonald, said of the South Korean donation.