With vaccination programmes being rolled out across the continent, health authorities are keen to see them adopted by all communities. But against them are anti-vaxx campaigns.
With vaccination programmes being rolled out across the continent, health authorities are keen to see them adopted by all communities. But against them are anti-vaxx campaigns.
WASHINGTON — Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm won Senate confirmation Thursday to be energy secretary, joining President Joe Biden's Cabinet as a leader of Biden’s effort to build a green economy as the United States moves to slow climate change. The vote was 64-35, with all Democrats and 14 Republicans, including GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, voting yes. Granholm, 62, served two terms as governor in a state dominated by the auto industry and devastated by the 2008 recession. She has promoted emerging clean energy technologies, such as electric vehicles and battery manufacturing, as an answer for jobs that will be lost as the U.S. transitions away from oil, coal and other fossil fuels. Granholm, who was sworn in late Thursday, is just the second woman to serve as energy secretary. She tweeted her thanks to senators and said, "I’m obsessed with creating good-paying clean energy jobs in all corners of America in service of addressing our climate crisis. I’m impatient for results. Now let’s get to work!'' Sen. Joe Manchin, chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said Granholm has the leadership skills, vision and compassion needed at the Energy Department to “develop innovative solutions for the climate challenge'' while preserving jobs. Granholm is committed to working every day “to ensure that we don’t leave any workers behind as we move towards a cleaner energy future,'' said Manchin, D-W.Va. During her confirmation hearing last month, Granholm pushed her plans to embrace new wind and solar technologies. But her position caused tension with some Republicans who fear for the future of fossil fuels. “We can buy electric car batteries from Asia, or we can make them in America,” Granholm told senators. “We can install wind turbines from Denmark, or we can make them in America.'' Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, the top Republican on the Senate energy committee, said Biden “seems to want to pull the plug on American energy dominance. So I cannot in good conscience vote to approve his nominee for secretary of energy.'' Barrasso and other Republicans have complained that a freeze imposed by Biden on oil and gas leases on federal lands is taking a “sledgehammer” to Western states’ economies. The moratorium could cost tens of thousands of jobs unless rescinded, Barrasso said. He and other Republicans also bemoaned Biden’s rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast, saying thousands of jobs will be lost and a friendly source of oil left idle. Granholm assured lawmakers that creating jobs was her top priority — and Biden's. “We cannot leave our people behind. In West Virginia, and in other fossil fuel states, there is an opportunity for us to specialize in the technologies that reduce carbon emissions, to make those technologies here, to put people to work here, and to look at other ways to diversify,'' she said at her Jan. 27 hearing. During her introduction as Biden's nominee, Granholm described arriving in the U.S. at age 4, brought from Canada by a family “seeking opportunity.” She said her father found work as a bank teller and retired as head of the bank. “It’s because of my family’s journey and my experience in fighting for hardworking Michigan families that I have become obsessed ... with gaining good-paying jobs in America in a global economy,” she said. In other action Thursday on Biden's Cabinet nominees: SURGEON GENERAL Surgeon general nominee Dr. Vivek Murthy said Americans must not lose track of opioid addiction and other health emergencies amid the intense national focus on overcoming the coronavirus pandemic. He told senators at a hearing that “we cannot neglect the other public health crises that have been exacerbated by this pandemic, particularly the opioid epidemic, mental illness and racial and geographic health inequities.” After dipping slightly, opioid deaths have risen again, the result of street formulations laced with the powerful painkiller fentanyl. Murthy told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee that the overdose rescue drug naloxone should be even more widely available and that medication-assisted treatment must be expanded. Murthy, who was surgeon general in the Obama administration, has drawn opposition from gun rights groups because of his assessment that gun violence is a public health problem. But he tried to dispel notions that he would launch a crusade against guns. He told Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., that while he supports government studying the problem, “my focus is not on this issue, and if I’m confirmed it will be on COVID, on mental health and substance use disorder.” TRADE REPRESENTATIVE Biden’s pick for U.S. trade representative promised to work with America’s allies to combat China’s aggressive trade policies, indicating a break from the Trump administration’s go-it-alone approach. Katherine Tai told the Senate Finance Committee that rebuilding international alliances would be a priority, as well as "reengaging with international institutions? to present Beijing with “a united front of U.S. allies.? Tai did not address whether the Biden administration would drop former President Donald Trump’s tariffs on imported steel and aluminum or whether it would revive the Obama administration's Asia-Pacific trade deal, which Trump killed. BUDGET DIRECTOR Another key Republican lawmaker came out against Biden’s embattled pick to head the Office of Management and Budget, Neera Tanden, raising further questions about her viability. Iowa GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley told reporters he won't support her nomination. He and Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski were two Republicans seen as potentially gettable votes for the White House, as Grassley had previously said he’d had good conversations with Tanden. Murkowski has yet to say how she'd vote. With a handful of other key centrist Republicans coming out against her in recent days, Tanden’s path to confirmation hinges largely on Murkowski and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., neither of whom have made their positions known. The White House was forced to search for a Republican to support Tanden after West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin announced his opposition last week. Lawmakers have largely cited Tanden’s controversial and at times harshly critical tweets about members of both parties in explaining their opposition to her. ___ Associated Press writers Alexandra Jaffe, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Paul Wiseman contributed to this report. Matthew Daly, The Associated Press
The fence outside of St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Elementary School is decorated with colourful cardboard signs bearing messages of support for the school, which is closed amid an outbreak of COVID-19. The Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board reported a new case of the virus at the west Mountain school on Wednesday, bringing the total number of cases at the school to 10 — six students and four staff. “Obviously, it has been a difficult time,” chair Pat Daly said. “Our staff have been working with the principal and our health and safety staff and others to make sure that everything is being done to ensure the health, safety and well-being of our students and staff.” An outbreak was declared at St. Teresa of Avila on Feb. 17 after five positive cases were found. The school is closed as a result of the outbreak — a first in the Catholic board. In-person learning is expected to resume on Monday. COVID-19 testing was offered to all staff and students at St. Teresa of Avila on Saturday. The HWCDSB said 60 tests were conducted — 23 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests among those self-isolating and 37 rapid tests for other staff and students. The HWCDSB said all 37 rapid tests came back negative. As of Feb. 24, the board was still waiting on the PCR test results. The HWCDSB is “thoroughly” investigating the outbreak, Daly said in a Feb. 19 interview with The Spectator. Daly said on Thursday there is “nothing confirmed” to explain how transmission at the school occurred. The Catholic board has two additional outbreaks: St. Ann Catholic Elementary School in central Hamilton and St. Eugene Catholic Elementary School in east Hamilton — each with three outbreak-related cases. There is also an outbreak at the public board’s A.M. Cunningham Elementary School, where two students are infected. As of Wednesday, there had been a total of 78 cases — 37 in the Catholic board and 41 in the public board — since students returned to school on Feb. 8. “We definitely expect to see cases occurring in the schools, and there are going to be instances where there is transmission that happens within a school,” Dr. Elizabeth Richardson, Hamilton’s medical officer of health, said at a media briefing on Tuesday. “The key piece is to keep these absolutely to a minimum as we go forward.” Kate McCullough, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator
WINNIPEG — The Manitoba government is looking at easing many of its COVID-19 restrictions as the province's pandemic indicators continue to improve. A set of proposed changes released Thursday includes doubling capacity limits in stores and restaurants, as well as for personal services, to 50 per cent. Seating at restaurant tables would still be limited to members of the same household. Indoor religious services could operate at 25 per cent capacity instead of the current 10 per cent. Indoor arcades and outdoor amusement parks could reopen with capacity limits. The few facilities that would have to remain closed include theatres, concert halls and casinos. The cap on outdoor gatherings would rise to 10 people from five. And instead of households being permitted to only designate two people as visitors, the province could allow two-household bubbles so entire families could get together. "Manitoba's case numbers, test positivity rate (and) health-care-system admission rates continue to trend in the right direction, which allows us to consider reopening more services cautiously and safely," said Dr. Brent Roussin, chief public health officer. The proposed changes could take effect as early as March 5 and are subject to public feedback before any final decisions are made, he said. Changes could also be phased in. Health officials reported 70 new COVID-19 cases and one death Thursday. Three cases from unspecified dates were removed due to data correction for a net increase of 67. The province's case count has dropped sharply since a severe spike in the fall when Manitoba led all the provinces in the per-capita rate of new infections. The strain on intensive care units has eased and the test positivity rate has dropped from 13 per cent to 4.3. The proposed changes could also mean big shifts for sports enthusiasts and players of video lottery terminals. VLTs would be allowed to operate again as long as they were two metres apart or separated by physical barriers. Indoor gyms and fitness facilities could offer group classes again, although with a 25 per cent capacity limit. Roussin said there is a risk in such indoor settings. "There is risk involved with all these things and we're weighing the benefit ... to having businesses open, the benefit for people (of) physical activity," he said. "It's very cautious and 25 per cent capacity, I think, gives us that ability to have people spaced out quite a bit." This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021 Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press
VICTORIA — British Columbia isn’t at the point where public health restrictions can be lifted with concerns about the potential for the rapid spread of COVID-19, the province’s top doctor says. Dr. Bonnie Henry said she understands the desire to see restrictions lifted on rules like the limit on social gatherings, but concerns over the province’s rising rolling seven-day average of cases means the indefinite restrictions put in place earlier this month will stay. “There’s potential for rapid growth if we’re not careful,” she told a news conference. B.C. reported 395 cases of COVID-19 and 10 new deaths on Thursday. Close to 240,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in B.C. so far, including more than 68,000 people who received their second shot. As B.C. works to identify the more than 120 cases of COVID-19 variants across the province, Henry said health authorities are ramping up the screening for them. Its aim is to test 100 per cent of all positive samples to see if they are likely variants that should be sent on for further testing. Ontario and Quebec already screen all positive cases for variants. Henry expressed confidence in limiting the spread of the variant cases, even though one-quarter of the variant cases diagnosed in B.C. have not yet been traced back to their origin. "The things we do to prevent transmission works against these variants as well, which is why we all have to continue doing what we're doing," she said. The majority of COVID-19 cases are spread through workplace interactions, Henry said, but part of limiting transmission includes staying close to home during the upcoming March break. Henry also spoke of the challenges she's faced during the pandemic, including new death threats and the impact they have had on her family and co-workers. "It's one of the things that have been incredibly challenging," she said. Health Minister Adrian Dix said the threats and personal attacks directed at Henry are "completely unacceptable." "I condemn them utterly," he said. "We all have to find ways to disagree without personal attack." This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021. The Canadian Press
Portland Thorns captain Christine Sinclair leads the list of 10 Canadians allocated to the NWSL in 2021. Allocated players have their salaries paid by Canada Soccer or the U.S. Soccer Federation. There are a total of 32 allocated players this year with the other 22 coming from the U.S. Chicago Red Stars defender Bianca St. Georges gets allocated status for the first time. Orlando Pride goalkeeper Erin McLeod and OL Reign midfielder Quinn, who goes by one name, return to allocation status for the first time since 2015 and 2018, respectively. Canadian defender Shelina Zadorsky, now with England's Tottenham, is no longer allocated. The 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup will kick off the league’s ninth season on April 9. The NWSL’s 10 teams start their 24-game regular season beginning May 15. Canada's 2021 NWSL Allocated Players List Chicago Red Stars: Bianca St. Georges. Houston Dash: Allysha Chapman, Nichelle Prince, Sophie Schmidt. Kansas City: Desiree Scott, Diana Matheson. Orlando Pride: Erin McLeod. OL Reign: Quinn. Portland Thorns FC: Christine Sinclair. Sky Blue FC: Kailen Sheridan. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb, 25, 2021 The Canadian Press
The popular “Reply All” podcast has been put on hiatus and is cancelling two remaining episodes of a series that explored allegations of structural racism and a problematic work culture at food magazine Bon Appetit. The reason? Former employees at Gimlet Media, the podcast’s publisher, charged that two people behind “Reply All” had exhibited behaviour similar to what they were investigating at Bon Appetit. Alex Goldman, one of the hosts of “Reply All,” said in an audio statement Thursday that “we should never have published this series as reported.” He apologized to current and former colleagues, listeners and sources for the series on Bon Appetit, called “The Test Kitchen.” “Former colleagues of ours at Gimlet publicly described multiple instances of troubling behaviour from Sruthi and P.J.," Goldman said, referring to senior reporter Sruthi Pinnamaneni, who narrated “The Test Kitchen,” and co-host P.J. Vogt. Both have left the podcast, he said. Spotify, which acquired Gimlet in 2019, said Pinnamaneni and Vogt are still at Gimlet. Neither Pinnamaneni nor Vogt responded to messages seeking comment. The editor of Bon Appetit, Adam Rapoport, resigned last year after an old photo of him and his wife dressed in stereotypical Puerto Rican costumes surfaced on social media. Upset employees, especially those who had been working on racial inequities at the food magazine and its popular YouTube videos, seized the moment to press for changes at the publication. Those events took place in mid-2020 during a reckoning in media and other industries that emerged following the death of George Floyd and protests against police brutality toward Black people. The “Reply All” series on Bon Appetit was reported over eight months. Two of four episodes have aired, telling the stories of current and former Black, Latino, Indian-American and Asian-American staffers at the magazine. After the second episode of “Test Kitchen” came out, Eric Eddings, a former Gimlet employee, tweeted that Vogt and Pinnamaneni had “contributed to a near identical toxic dynamic at Gimlet.” He said that Pinnamaneni tried to rally others against a 2019 unionization drive, while Vogt sent harassing messages to organizers and denigrated colleagues. In the second episode of the podcast, Pinnamaneni confessed to regrets about her own past behaviour and how she reacted to the union drive. “To the extent I talked about it, I talked about the way that their fight was stepping on my toes,” she said on the podcast. “It took eight months of reporting on Bon Appetit for me to see how wrong I was about all that, and if I’m honest, I’m still processing the anger that I feel toward myself.” She and Vogt apologized on social media last week for their behaviour during the unionization push at Gimlet. “Reply All” is one of Gimlet's biggest shows. Spotify started as a music streaming service but in recent years has made a big push into podcasting. It has an exclusive deal with Joe Rogan, one of the most popular podcasters, and announced this week that it had signed up former President Barack Obama and rocker Bruce Springsteen for an eight-episode podcast series. “These accounts prompted a reckoning on our team about the work culture at 'Reply All' and left us asking whether we could continue airing this story without interrogating ourselves and what has unfolded at Gimlet,” Goldman said Thursday. Staffers want to tell what happened and the podcast is paused as they try to understand what went wrong, he said. “We want to tell you as best as we can what happened,” he said. “You'll hear more from us soon.” Tali Arbel, The Associated Press
(Google Maps - image credit) A Taber teacher has been removed from any student involvement following an online petition citing allegations of inappropriate behaviour with underage students. A student from the town's W.R. Myers High School is championing the petition, which calls for the teacher to be fired for alleged wrongdoing. More than 580 people, including former and current students and family members, have signed the petition since it was launched two days ago. In a statement from the Horizon School Division, which is in charge of W.R. Myers, the school board said it cannot address specifics of the situation, but it is aware of the petition and the allegations are being investigated. "The instant we receive information that causes us concern for the safety of our students, we move immediately to review the circumstances and take steps to safeguard the safety of the students in our care," said Wilco Tymensen, superintendent of the Horizon School Division. "I can share that the individual is not in direct contact with students, pending the outcome of our complete review." None of the allegations made against the teacher have been proven in court. Tymensen said the school division's actions are guided by its commitment to student safety, its responsibility under the Education Act, respect for the legal process and the privacy of all individuals.
The harmless puppy just wanted to play around! How cute is that?
POUCE COUPE, B.C. — The mayor of a village in northeastern British Columbia says she is sorry for an online post that was not meant to be racist against Indigenous Peoples, but now she wants people to stop bullying her. Lorraine Michetti, who was first elected in Pouce Coupe in 2016, said through tears Thursday that she realizes people were hurt after seeing the post showing photos of garbage-strewn lawns with a caption that suggested those who want to protect their land from pipelines should clean up their own backyards. "I'm not sleeping. I'm upset that people think I'm racist," Michetti said in an interview. Michetti said she put the post on Facebook about two years ago and took it down about 10 minutes later but it was saved by someone and she believes it would resurface. Instead, the mayor said she reposted the original herself last week and that it was meant to draw attention to environmental issues though she now understands its contents were offensive to some people. She said she has issued apologies to local First Nations. "I realized that they're hurting but I never, ever, ever meant it to be racist," she said. Michetti said she is hoping to take cultural sensitivity courses, which would send a clear message to First Nations and her council that she is making efforts to come to terms with her actions, even as local residents continue criticizing her. "I'm trying. Let me prove myself. Why are people texting me and messaging me and degrading me and bullying me?" The post was taken out of context, she said. At a council meeting on Monday, the mayor also admitted she sent a Facebook post in which she suggested federal gun control laws make her feel like a Jew "waiting for my cattle car." As Coun. Ken Drover began asking her about likening herself to a Jew waiting to go to a gas chamber, Michetti cut him off. "Once they take our guns away, back when Hitler, that's what it was all about," she told council. "That is a terrible, terrible, comparison. How dare you compare yourself to a Jewish person? There is no comparison. That comparison is inexcusable," Drover said. "I realize that, Ken, but that again was taken out of context," Michetti responded. She also said she would not step down as mayor, adding: "I got emails coming out of my yingyang for me not to resign, from all over Canada." Drover resigned from his position on Wednesday. Municipal Affairs Minister Josie Osborne called Michetti's comments a serious issue. "I want to be clear that anti-Indigenous racism and anti-Semitism require us to all come together and challenge inequities and we have no space for these actions in our communities," she said at a news conference on infrastructure spending. "We expect all elected officials to act with integrity and with respect. They must explain their choices and be accountable to their community." Osborne said the province is working to update legislation regarding municipal politicians. Pouce Coupe introduced a code of conduct in 2018, and at an emergency meeting last weekend councillors accused Michetti of violating it. Chris Leggett, the village's chief administrative officer, said the code of conduct gives Michetti two weeks to explain her actions. However, he suggested that without any provincial legislation that includes consequences, he suspects the issue will result in a "stalemate" between the mayor and the three remaining councillors. "They have stated that they would like to see her resign. But at the end of the day, it looks like it's up to the mayor to resign." — By Camille Bains in Vancouver This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2020. The Canadian Press Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said there were four remaining councillors.
WELLINGTON COUNTY – County of Wellington councillors had some thoughts on the possibility of losing the School Resource Officer (SRO) program in light of a soon-to-be completed review by the Upper Grand District School Board (UGDSB). The UGDSB has been undergoing a review of its police presence through a task force since last year, after receiving questions and concern from the community over treatment of BIPOC students. During Thursday’s county council meeting, Coun. David Anderson said while giving a report on the Police Services Board meeting that Robin Ross, board trustee and task force member, mentioned to him the Wellington County OPP had been very forthcoming with information relating to this program compared to other police departments. Anderson thanked Wellington County OPP detachment commander Insp. Paul Richardson for giving this information and his support for the program. “It’s amazing what these officers are doing for our kids and keeping in touch,” Anderson said. “They’re really helping a lot of kids who need help in our school system.” Minto mayor George Bridge asked how far along this review is because he’s concerned about not having police officers in school. Richardson said this question was timely as he was recently sharing data with UGDSB members to help with their recommendations expected soon. “We certainly value our relationship with the students and the schools and we want to be part of the lives of youth in this community,” Richardson said. “We’re hoping those recommendations support that.” Mapleton mayor Gregg Davidson, also formerly a Halton Region police officer, said in his experience SROs are a necessity. “I remember when this program started...when I was policing and it certainly made a difference,” Davidson said. “It made a difference in the crime in the schools and the lives of the students themselves.” Coun. Doug Breen said as a high school football coach in Guelph, he has seen this program benefit students going down a bad path but acknowledged there is room for improvement. “I absolutely understand concerns with the program and I’m sure if we dig deep enough we’d find some horror stories," he said. “I hope there are things we can do to keep making it better but to knee-jerk throw it out for political reasons I think is a very bad idea.” Coun. Diane Ballantyne, a teacher at Centre Wellington District High School, countered some comments made at the meeting. She said other people’s experiences with police are not the same as those on council. “Questions about the SRO program are not just about 'politics,'” Ballantyne said. “They are about the lived experiences of racialized communities which, again, is not reflected around this particular horseshoe or is our lived experience. I trust the board is gathering input and insight from a variety of diverse voices and they will come to the conclusion that is going to best serve the students in the UGDSB.” The task force is expected to bring forward a recommendation to the UGDSB by the end of March. Keegan Kozolanka, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, GuelphToday.com
The Ontario government has issued new guidelines for commercial businesses currently in the red zone. As of Feb. 22, non-essential retail business, such as Markham’s CF Markville, has been able to resume activities while complying with existing restrictions on the number of customers admitted to commercial enterprises. Besides food court vendors, restaurants within the mall are now able to operate indoors where physical distancing measures can be met. Capacity limits for indoor dining are restricted to 10 people inside, with a limit of four people seated together at once. “We welcomed back our community of shoppers and retailers on Monday while complying with new restrictions,” said Kelly Vieira, general manager of CF Markville. For instance, active screening is now required by all visitors prior to entering the building. This means that all guests, including retailers and employees, will be required to answer screening questions like: Do you have any symptoms? Have you travelled outside Canada in the past 14 days? Has a public health unit identified you as a close contact of someone who currently has COVID-19? To support this effort, CF Markville has limited access to the centre and has staff stationed at the loading docks and at entrances #1, #2, #7 and #10, safely distanced and behind a barrier, to ask screening questions in person before permitting guests who meet the criteria for entry. Only when people answer “no” to all five questions can they get a green sign saying “You can go,” and then they can enter the mall. “You can complete the COVID screening form via our website in advance, or answer them on-site, or download the QR code posted at our four open entrances to get access to the online screening tool,” Vieira explained in an email response. Markville Shopping Centre anticipates that the new restrictions may result in additional lineups inside and outside of the property, and they advise guests to prepare for their visits accordingly. To address capacity concerns, the mall also developed a real-time capacity indicator tool on their website to encourage shoppers to visit during off-peak hours. “Our customers, employees and clients are our first priority and, knowing that health and safety is top of mind for everyone, we’ve enhanced safety measures,” Vieira emphasized. “Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have implemented physical distancing guidance, including traffic flow management, use of PPE and increased cleaning of high touch point surfaces.” For more information on the safety protocols and to access the COVID-19 screening form, please visit www.cfshops.com/markville.html. Scarlett Liu, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Economist & Sun
TORONTO — More infectious COVID-19 variants will likely make up 40 per cent of new cases in Ontario by mid-March, an expert group said Thursday, calling it a "minefield" the province will need to navigate very carefully. The science group, which advises the province on the pandemic, said the next few weeks will be critical to both controlling and understanding more infectious variants of concern that are continuing to spread quickly. Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of the group, compared the weeks ahead to a "minefield" and urged continued vigilance when it comes to public health measures. "There is no easy path through minefield. Just care and caution at each step," Brown said. "The next few weeks will give us a map through the minefield but we cannot afford to rush through the minefield without that map." The data show that declines in cases and hospitalizations that followed strict lockdown measures have begun to slow. The numbers also show cases and test positivity rates starting to trend upwards across the province, including in hot spots Toronto, Peel Region and York Region. The science group's projections show hospitalizations will likely rise as variants spread and intensive care capacity will be strained over the next month. Even in the group's best-case scenario, intensive care bed occupancy will likely remain at, or far above, the threshold at which quality of care is impacted. Case growth will depend on how well the variants are controlled, according to the modelling. Those variants do not appear to have spread as quickly as anticipated, Brown said, but in the most likely scenario, the province will see around 2,000 new cases per day by the end of March. In the worst-case scenario, it would be closer to 4,000 cases per day, similar to the growth seen in other jurisdictions like the United Kingdom where virus variants have taken hold. "If we let up, we will with little doubt lose the gains that we’ve worked so hard for," Brown said. The group said vaccinating high-risk communities and older people will drive down hospitalizations and deaths. The new numbers showed that vaccinations in long-term care, combined with lockdowns, have resulted in a rapid drop in infections and deaths. The group noted that the province will need to react quickly with strong public health measures when flare-ups happen. That recommendation comes as the government ponders whether to impose stronger public health restrictions on regions with rising COVID-19 case numbers. Cabinet will decide tomorrow whether to move the Thunder Bay area into lockdown after rising infection numbers have forced several school closures and other outbreaks among vulnerable populations over the last several weeks. Dr. David Williams, the province's top doctor, said Thursday that he's recommended a potential lockdown for the region, which is a travel hub for northern Indigenous communities with few resources to support case surges. "We want to keep it at bay out of there and make sure we protect those remote communities," Williams said. Brown noted in his presentation the need to limit travel between regions, which has potential to bring infectious variants into areas with low levels of infection and less protections in place. Williams said the travel issue is being discussed with Simcoe Muskoka, where the region's top doctor has said tighter restrictions are needed to limit travel into and throughout his area, which has dealt with several outbreaks driven by variants. He also commented on the "dynamic" situation in the Greater Toronto Area, where two hot spots -- Peel and Toronto -- are under an extended stay-at-home order, while neighbouring York Region with similar high case rates has moved to the "red" zone of the province's pandemic framework, allowing more businesses to open. "We'll continue to have discussions with the medical officers in around the (Greater Toronto Area) during this tenuous time," Williams said. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021. Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press
The Highland Storm returned to the ice Feb. 19 to begin a second session after withstanding another pandemic-induced lockdown. The Storm announced an eight-week session Feb. 17, running until April 17. It will use a similar format to the one done in the fall, with enforced health protocols and teams only made up of local players, with no travel. Storm president, Jason Morissette, said more than 90 per cent of players and families from the first session were willing to play again. “It’s a good opportunity to get out and be able to do something they’ve been away from for a while during the lockdown,” Morissette said. “Outlet for the kids to be able to go exercise and do something that’s fun.” The continuation is possible due to the district being an “orange” zone, midway within the province’s COVID-19 response framework. With that comes a new protocol that only one person may accompany a player to watch, though people can still help their children get dressed before leaving for the duration of the game or practice. People from outside the district’s health unit also cannot enter the arena. “We’re going to follow all of the safety measures we did in the first session, which went well,” Morissette said. Still, the remainder of the season is in a precarious position. If cases spike and the district get moved to a “red” zone or back into lockdown, hockey would be disallowed. Morissette said that will probably mean the end to the season, even if restrictions were lifted afterwards. “The logistics of it would be very challenging,” Morissette said. At coaches’ request, Morissette said the organization will do more four-on-four play as well where possible, instead of only three-on-three. “Allow more kids to be on the ice each shift, rather than kids waiting on the bench,” he said. “It represents a little bit more of a challenge to the players that are sort of higher skillsets.” The Ontario Minor Hockey Association recognized the efforts of its volunteers to keep the game going in the pandemic as part of its Thank A Volunteer Week running Feb. 22-28. “Volunteers all over the province have found new and creative ways to offer some form of hockey,” executive director, Ian Taylor, said. “It speaks to the love they have for our game and the benefits it provides our children.” Morrissette said it is worthwhile to help youth mental health, which the pandemic has taken its toll on. He urged the community to follow protocols to minimize risks and keep the season going. “We’re excited kids do get the chance to get back onto the ice,” he said. “The number one priority is trying to keep everybody healthy and safe.” Joseph Quigley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Highlander
CAMEROON, Cameroon — Linda Thomas-Greenfield presented her credentials as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday, officially taking on one of the most challenging jobs for the Biden administration of helping to restore the United States as a top multilateral player on the global stage after former President Donald Trump’s unilateral “America First” policy. The longtime career diplomat thanked President Joe Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris, who swore her in on Wednesday, for choosing her for the “distinguished position” and said she was “thrilled” to be at the United Nations. “The United Nations is the world’s most important forum for bringing people and countries together,” Thomas-Greenfield told reporters immediately afterward. “This administration knows that when America is at the table and acting in accordance with our values, the United States is an indispensable institution for the advancement of peace, security and collective well-being.” She said the Biden administration is “clear-eyed about the difficult work that needs to be done, from elevating human rights to reforming the U.N. itself to addressing conflicts old and new around the world.” Thomas-Greenfield reiterated what she said when she was nominated for the U.N. post: “Multilateralism is back and diplomacy is back and America is back and we’re ready to get to work.” The United States takes over the rotating presidency of the powerful U.N. Security Council on Monday and the new ambassador, who only arrived in New York on Thursday morning, said with a smile, “I not only had to hit the ground running, I’m actually hitting the ground sprinting.” Thomas-Greenfield, who rose to be U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs before retiring after more that 35 years during the Trump administration, will be the third African-American, and the second African-American woman, to hold the U.N. post. Her confirmation on Tuesday was hailed by Democrats and advocates of the United Nations who had lamented “America First” unilateral approach to international affairs and rejoiced at Biden’s return to multilateralism. At the Senate hearing on her nomination, Thomas-Greenfield described China as “a strategic adversary” that threatens the world, and called a speech she gave in 2019 that praised China’s initiatives in Africa but made no mention of its human rights abuses a mistake. The Senate voted 78-20 to confirm her with Republican opponents saying she was soft on China and would not stand up for U.S. principles at the U.N. Thomas-Greenfield told reporters Wednesday that representing the United States as a diplomat around the world, “I found that diplomacy is about showing compassion, it’s about managing points of differentiation and it’s about bringing people together.” When she presented her credentials to secretary-general Guterres, she said coming to the United Nations “was made all the more wonderful because I knew you were here.” Guterres served as the U.N.’s refugee chief before his election to the U.N. post and Thomas-Greenfield recalled working with him in the past on refugee issues. “So I’m looking forward very anxiously to getting to work and working on many of the key issues that we know are before the United Nations and we know that people around the globe are looking to us for,” he said. Guterres warmly welcomed Thomas-Greenfield, calling the United States “a fundamental pillar of the United Nations and of international co-operation" and telling her, “you are not only a very distinguished diplomat, but a very passionate citizen of the world," with a strong commitment to refugees. He then invited her for private talks. Russia’s deputy U.N. ambassador Dmitry Polyansky told a group of reporters Wednesday that “the red carpet” will be rolled out for Thomas-Greenfield and Moscow is ready to work with President Joe Biden’s administration -- but “it takes two to tango.” “We are looking forward to interactions with her,” he told a group of reporters Wednesday. “You can count on our most favourable attitudes and positive emotions towards her as a member of our Security Council family.” But he said America’s view that Russia is “an enemy” and a “threat” hasn’t changed under Biden, so “it’s very difficult to imagine how the interaction with us might change with such starting points of the positions of the new administration.” Nonetheless, Polyansky said the U.S. and Russia can work together but “it takes two to tango, and really we’re ready to dance." “But we need a good and reliable partner who knows all the moves and who respects us” as a country with certain positions, “doesn’t view us as a threat” and sees “our obvious national interests in many issues,” he said. Thomas-Greenfield said at her Senate hearing that Washington will be working not only with allies “but to see where we can find common ground with the Russians and the Chinese to put more pressure on the Iranians to push them back into strict compliance” with the 2015 agreement to rein in their nuclear program. Trump pulled the U.S. out of the agreement in 2018 and Biden has indicated the U.S. will rejoin it, though how that might happen remains a major question. Polyansky said Russia welcomes the “positive developments” on the Iran nuclear deal and the U.S. agreement to extend the START nuclear agreement, adding that Moscow is ready for serious and meaningful discussions “first and foremost in the area of strategic stability.” Edith M. Lederer, The Associated Press
NEW YORK — Another mutated version of the coronavirus has popped up in New York City, and experts reacted to the the news with a mixture of caution and concern. The new variant first appeared in the New York area in late November, and has since cropped up in neighbouring states, according to researchers at the California Institute of Technology, one of two teams to share their work this week. But how problematic the variant may be isn’t known yet. Viruses are constantly mutating — or making typos in their genetic code — as they spread and make copies of themselves. “Most are not of particular concern,” said Francois Balloux, director of the University College London’s Genetics Institute. However, he added, “Noticing them early, flagging them, raising concern is useful." That's because some genetic tweaks can be worrisome, especially if they help the virus spread more easily, make it more deadly or curb the effectiveness of vaccines. Scientists use genome sequencing and other research to figure out which are a potential problem. New York City health officials and Mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday sought to tamp down worries about the new variant, emphasizing that the new research is preliminary and little is known about the variant. “Some variants are just that, they’re variants.” said Dr. Jay Varma, senior health adviser to the mayor. WHAT DID THEY FIND IN NEW YORK? Two research groups — at Caltech and Columbia University in New York — released papers this week describing their findings about the new variant. Neither paper has been published or reviewed by other scientists. The Caltech researchers found that the new variant showed up in about a quarter of the 1,200 virus sequences they looked at this month. The variant has also shown up in New Jersey and Connecticut and has made “isolated appearances across the country,” said CalTech's Anthony West, a co-author of the paper. On Thursday, Columbia University researchers released their research that scrutinized about 1,100 virus samples from patients treated at the university's medical centre, dating back to November. During the second week of February, the new variant was identified in 12% of the samples, they reported. They also found patients infected with the mutated virus were more likely to be older and have been hospitalized. Both groups noted that the new variant has a mutation that could potentially weaken the effectiveness of vaccines — a mutation seen in other worrisome variants. “There is clearly something to keep an eye on,” Balloux said. HOW MANY OTHER VARIANTS ARE THERE? New variants have been showing up throughout the pandemic, but three are considered the most worrisome — they've been designated “variants of concern." They were first detected in Britain, South Africa and Brazil but have spread to other countries. The one identified in the U.K. late last year has since been found in 45 U.S. states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The strain is concerning because it has so many mutations, nearly two dozen. Some are on the spiky protein that the virus uses to attach to and infect cells — and that current vaccines and antibody drugs target. One of the spike protein mutations is seen in the variants discovered early on in Brazil and South Africa, and, now, the new variant in New York. A variant that has been spreading in California is also getting attention. It's been found in 40% to 50% of samples examined by the Los Angeles Count Department of Public Health, according to Director Barbara Ferrer. But there isn't enough rigorous research to determine what, if any, effect its mutations might have. WHAT'S NEXT? After what many described as a slow start, the federal government in recent weeks has ramped up its genetic sequencing to look for and study virus variants to figure out which ones might be a problem. In the meantime, Ana S. Gonzalez Reiche, a virologist at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine, urged caution. “Without evidence, we don’t need to alarm ourselves about every variant detected,” she said. Studies are raising concern that first-generation COVID-19 vaccines don’t work as well against a variant that first emerged in South Africa as they do against other versions. In response, drug companies are already figuring out how to modify their vaccines. Experts say that in the meantime, public health measures like social distancing and masks will reduce opportunities for the coronavirus to continue mutating and run rampant. “Emerging of variants will occur," Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, told NBC on Thursday. "The trick is when they do occur, to prevent them from spreading.” ___ 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. Marion Renault, The Associated Press
CALGARY — Pembina Pipeline Corp. is reporting a $1.2 billion net fourth-quarter loss thanks mainly to $1.6 billion in non-cash after-tax impairment charges on its proposals to build an Alberta petrochemical plant and Oregon LNG export facility. The Calgary-based company said in December it and joint venture partner Petrochemical Industries Co. of Kuwait had decided to halt work on an integrated propane dehydration plant and polypropylene upgrading facility near Edmonton. Pembina has a 50 per cent interest in the project designed to turn propane into plastic pellets, similar to the nearby $4 billion Heartland Petrochemical Complex under construction by rival Inter Pipeline Ltd. It says it is also taking a charge against its proposed Jordan Cove LNG Project at Coos Bay, Ore., and a related natural gas supply pipeline in light of "regulatory and political uncertainty." The project received tentative Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approval last year but hasn't been able to secure a required clean water permit from the state. Pembina says it thinks both projects are sound but it is taking the impairment charges because it can't reasonably forecast when they will be built. "We believe the time for these projects may come; however, we can sadly no longer predict with certainty when that time will be and hence were compelled to reflect their impairments in our 2020 financial statements through a non-cash charge," it said in a news release. It says its fourth-quarter earnings would have been $338 million excluding the impairments and the associated deferred tax recovery. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021. Companies in this story: (TSX:PPL) The Canadian Press
A year into the COVID-19 pandemic and long-haul truckers are still among the very few people allowed to cross North American borders. While many industries have faced stops and starts with lockdowns, transport has kept on trucking – with some changes. Preeti Gill has been a long-haul trucker for three years. Free Press reporter Max Martin spoke with her during a quick stop at the Woodstock ONroute as she returned from Texas. Perhaps the biggest challenge truckers face is finding a place to stop and rest. "Because of the pandemic, so many rest areas are also closed," Gill said. "That is the major problem we are facing nowadays." Sites that are open often have reduced hours, she said, "because of no business and nobody travelling." At overnight truck stops, Gill said some have closed showers or are no longer giving out towels. Gill spends five or six days a week on the road in the U.S., leaving off from a truckyard in Brampton. The 37-year-old admits trucking is already a solitary profession, but she said that's made it easier to adjust to pandemic-induced isolation. "Truck drivers, before the pandemic were isolated also, so I found there are no more changes," she said. While her hauls have gone off as normal – with fewer people involved in the process – Gill said the most noticeable change in her daily routine is, like in many industries, enhanced cleaning. "The biggest thing now, I have too many bottles of Lysol," she said. "Now I have to do door cleaning, it's more work to do." On her day off, she spends her time at home in St. Catharines with her father and sister. Gill just completed a route through Texas. Next, she's set to take a route to Orlando, Fla. – both states among those reporting the highest number of COVID-19 cases across the United States. But from what Gill has seen, she said there's a noticeable difference between Canadian and American attitudes toward COVID-19 safety protocols. "In the States, a little bit different ... people are stubborn there," she said. "They just say they don't want to wear the mask ... they don't follow the rules." Nowadays, it's taking Gill longer to cross the border. Although she said border officers have reduced the frequency of random checks to avoid unnecessary interactions, there's additional paperwork and checks and balances to be done. Working commercial drivers are required to submit contact information, travel details and a personal health assessment, the Canadian Border Services Agency said. Gill must also check-in when she arrives back in Canada through a mobile app. "Whenever we enter, that's extra work we have to do," she said. "It's just more time-consuming." In 2016, Canadian Census data showed there were only 5,880 female tractor-trailer drivers in the country, compared to 175,450 men. "In the U.S., one guy told me, 'Oh, you are a woman, why are you driving?'" Gill recalled. "I said, 'Why, who told you only the men can drive the truck?'" She said some companies initially hesitated to hire her as a trucker, fearing she'd struggle to load the truck – but Gill said she's just as capable. "I've found on the road, women are safer than the men," as drivers, she said. "We try to help fill the shelves," Gill said. "Due to trucking ... food supply and other essentials, like medication, sanitization is supplied." Despite loving her trucking job, she's also studying online to become a nurse, all while on the road. While she plans to go from one essential service to another, Gill said people underestimate the importance of trucking – especially during the pandemic. Max Martin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press
TORONTO — Major stock indexes in Canada and the U.S. closed lower Thursday as inflation fears swirled and the Canadian loonie rose over 80 cents US before falling back to earth. Rising bond yields triggered a broad sell-off on Wall Street that erased the market's gains for the week and handed the Nasdaq composite its biggest loss in nearly four months. In Toronto, the S&P/TSX composite index closed down 260.99 points at 18,223.54 as nine of 11 sectors wound up in the red. "There's a general risk-off trade on today where profits are being taken and it relates back to the spike we saw this morning in bond yields," said Scott Guitard, senior vice-president and portfolio manager at Fiduciary Trust Canada, in an interview Thursday afternoon. "I think it caught a lot of people off guard. It was a fairly significant move." The 10-year U.S. Treasury bond yield moved higher than the dividend yield for some of the major indexes in the United States, he said, adding the much-watched measure is a trigger for some investors to rotate out of stocks and into bonds. In New York, the Dow Jones industrial average was down 559.85 points at 31,402.01. The S&P 500 index was down 96.09 points at 3,829.34, while the Nasdaq composite was down 478.54 points at 13,119.43. Bond yields have been rising this month, reflecting growing confidence among investors that the economy is on the path to recovery, but also concern that inflation is headed higher. And every tick up in bond yields recently has corresponded with a tick down in stock prices. The Canadian dollar rose to 79.81 cents US, compared with 79.69 cents US on Wednesday, after touching on a three-year high just over 80 cents US earlier Thursday. The dollar's strength comes indirectly from inflation fears as higher prices for oil are a symptom of higher inflation, leading to speculation that the Bank of Canada might move to raise interest rates ahead of the United States, Guitard said. The April crude oil contract rose 31 cents to US$63.53 per barrel on Thursday and the April natural gas contract was down two cents at US$2.78 per mmBTU. A rout in technology companies delivered a 3.5 per cent slide for the Nasdaq on Thursday, the biggest loss for the tech-heavy index since last October, while the information technology sector in Toronto fell 2.09 per cent, led by Sierra Wireless with a seven per cent drop. After huge gains last year as more people worked from home because of the COVID-19 lockdowns, technology is losing popularity with the rollout of vaccines and prospects for a return to a more normal work environment, Guitard said. "I also think there's some of that 'good news is bad news' going on in the market where we did see strong data in the U.S., both jobless claims and durable good orders, were good numbers versus expectations, but then that rolls into higher yields again, putting downward pressure on stocks," he said. After a strong showing on markets earlier this week, Guitard said some of Thursday's weakness could be from profit-taking. The financial sector was down 1.29 per cent, for instance, despite all of the big Canadian banks reporting better-than-expected fourth-quarter earnings results — only CIBC, with a minuscule 0.14 per cent gain, came out ahead on Thursday. The April gold contract was down US$22.50 at US$1,775.40 an ounce and the May copper contract was down four cents at US$4.26 a pound. — with files from The Associated Press This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021. Companies in this story: (TSX:GSPTSE, TSX:CADUSD=X, TSX:SW, TSX:CM) Dan Healing, The Canadian Press
Capitol Police leadership had plenty of intelligence warning that armed extremists were planning to target the Capitol over President Donald Trump’s election loss, according to new testimony Thursday. But their rank-and-file officers were still left exposed against armed rioters who came within steps of lawmakers. In an appearance before a House subcommittee, acting Chief Yogananda Pittman said none of the warnings forecast the mass attack that actually took place. Both Democrats and Republicans took issue with that, saying the intelligence sounded both specific and credible. “I cannot get past a glaring discrepancy between intelligence received and preparation,” Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., said during Thursday's hearing before the House Appropriations Committee. Pittman became acting chief when her predecessor, Steven Sund, resigned in the wake of the insurrection. At the time of the attack, she was serving as assistant chief for protective and intelligence services. Here’s some of what was learned from Pittman’s testimony: WHAT INTELLIGENCE DID POLICE HAVE BEFORE THE JAN. 6 ATTACK? Three days before the attack, the Capitol Police department's own security assessment warned that militia members, white supremacists, and other extremists were planning to come to Washington and target Congress in what they saw as a “last stand” to support Trump. Pittman says the details of that assessment were shared throughout the department, with sergeants and lieutenants told to spread the word to rank-and-file officers. It's not clear how effective that messaging was, however. Four officers interviewed by The Associated Press last month say they had little or no warning of what would happen and felt they were left unprepared for the attack. Pittman also faced questions about an FBI memo, received the night before the attack, that warned extremists planned to wage “war” to prevent Joe Biden's election victory from being certified. She said that memo never reached her, but that it would not have changed the department's preparations anyway. SO POLICE KNEW VIOLENCE WAS LIKELY. WHAT DID THEY DO TO PREVENT IT? Pittman said the force took appropriate measures to protect the building and the lawmakers who were inside. She said they stationed armed officers at the homes of congressional leaders, intercepted radio frequencies used by the invaders, and deployed counterintelligence officers to the Ellipse rally where Trump was sending his supporters marching to the Capitol to “fight like hell.” But the mob made it through the police line and smashed their way into the Capitol, fighting past officers who were outnumbered and overwhelmed. Many officers didn’t know if they could use force and lacked guidance on how to stop the rioters, leaving some to improvise. WHY DIDN'T THE DEPARTMENT DO MORE TO PREPARE? Pittman argued that the intelligence from Jan. 3 was not specific or credible enough to predict the kind of insurrection that actually took place. The same goes for the FBI memo, she said. She said that even if department leaders had seen that warning, they wouldn't have changed their plans because it was considered “raw” intelligence and not something that the department could act on. “No credible threat indicated that tens of thousands would attack the U.S. Capitol, nor did the intelligence received from the FBI or any other law enforcement partner indicate such a threat,” Pittman said. Questioned later in the hearing, Pittman acknowledged that police estimate around 10,000 people were demonstrating outside and around 800 people broke inside. Lawmakers seized on her claim that the warnings didn't lay out the actual threat. Clark, the congresswoman from Massachusetts, described the Jan. 3 assessment as a listing of “who, what, when, why.” WHAT HAPPENS NOW? Pittman noted that she had taken “corrective measures” to better share intelligence in the future. But there are still several investigations going on into the law enforcement response. Speaking after the hearing, Rep. Tim Ryan, the House subcommittee’s chairman, stopped short of saying Pittman should be fired. But he said there are “a lot of concerns” on the committee about her leadership and noted the lack of trust among the rank and file. The Capitol Police union issued a vote of no confidence last week against Pittman. “I think there’s some real questions about the decision making that was made, and I’m going to leave it at that,” he said. ___ Associated Press writers Michael Balsamo and Mary Clare Jalonick in Washington contributed to this report. Nomaan Merchant, The Associated Press
The Manitoba government is lookig at loosening many of its public health orders as its COVID-19 numbers improve. The province is seeking public feedback on a series of changes.