Health experts say Ontario will likely continue to see community spread of the UK variant and it is predicted to be the dominant strain by March. Erica Vella has details from the province’s latest modelling figures.
Health experts say Ontario will likely continue to see community spread of the UK variant and it is predicted to be the dominant strain by March. Erica Vella has details from the province’s latest modelling figures.
Land acknowledgments will now be an official part of council proceedings in Lake of Bays. The township voted unanimously to read a verbal statement at the start of meetings taking place in council chambers on land “traditionally occupied by Indigenous peoples.” The acknowledgement goes on in part to say, “Their legacy and respectful stewardship for this land continues to shape Lake of Bays today and we want to show our respect.” The statement will also be read at events outside municipal hall where council or senior staff are invited to speak. Through a District-led committee that met on Wahta Mohawk Territory, it was determined the acknowledgement be left open to augmentation. “It is a living document,” Mayor Terry Glover said, recognizing the learning process and working relationship between the municipality and First Nations is ongoing. This includes specifically naming the nations on which Muskoka, as it is known, was built. Ultimately, Glover stressed the importance of getting something on the books that was created collectively, with respect and with sincerity. “There’s lots of time to get this right,” he said. “It’s important we understand each other’s viewpoints.” Some of the calls to action outlined in the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation report fall under education. Through consultation and sharing with local First Nations leaders, Glover said he learned a great deal about Indigenous history in Canada, information he did not receive through the Ontario school system. “How can I be my age and not know about this stuff?” he said. Land acknowledgments have been commonplace in other provinces for decades at government and community events. Ontario is a very conservative place, Glover noted — one that is “very financially driven” and as a result, “this kind of thing is put on the back burner,” he said, The mayor acknowledged the action is a delayed response comparatively. Glover pointed to the Black Lives Matter and racial justice movements happening worldwide as proof that there is work to do and part of it is incumbent on municipal leadership. “We have this problem here, too, and we’re not recognizing our diversity the way we should,” he said. At the time of this writing, Kristyn Anthony was a Local Journalism Initiative reporter, funded by the Government of Canada. Kristyn Anthony, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, muskokaregion.com
PARRY SOUND-MUSKOKA — Camp Ooch Muskoka isn’t your typical summer camp and this year isn’t your typical summer. Since COVID-19 arrived, it has dramatically changed the way people live, work and socialize. For the non-profit oncology camp that welcomes families affected by childhood cancer, the challenges have been no different. But, while many summer camps and programs have been cancelled this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, Camp Ooch and Camp Trillium has developed virtual programming to keep its community connected. “We want people to know that we’re still here and we’re still programming,” said Melanie Lovering, director of marketing and communications for Camp Ooch and Camp Trillium. To date, the camp has offered more than 2,000 virtual experiences for its campers and their families with content ranging from interactive games, songs and dance to entertainment from program specialists. “Families who have a child with cancer are, at the best of times, isolated,” Lovering explained. When deciding how to proceed this year with a camp for so many immune-compromised guests, she said cancelling just wasn’t an option. “We couldn’t do that to our families because they need us more than ever.” Ooch Muskoka, the last year has been one of growth as its location in Rosseau where Path to Play, a $35 million expansion is now primed for further construction to render the camp more accessible, building outdoor paths that can accommodate wheelchairs and accessible boating facilities. The goal, Lovering said, is to make Ooch Muskoka the kind of place where kids using assisted devices can navigate the campus fully independently. Ooch Muskoka is the only oncology camp in Canada that provides on-site IV chemotherapy and blood transfusions thanks to a team of pediatric oncologists and nurses on call 24 hours a day. “No matter the depth of their illness we’re there for them,” Lovering said. “They come to camp and they’re just like every other kid. There’s a lot of comfort and a lot of acceptance and a sense of community and a sense of belonging. It’s like a lifeline for them.” Many people think Ooch Muskoka is an overnight camp only, but Lovering points out the philosophy is more that of a social support system for families affected by childhood cancer across the province. “We really want the Muskoka community to know what we’re up to,” she said. The camp currently serves 1,900 kids from approximately 750 families. However, the goal is to reach 100 per cent of the more than 4,000 kids in Ontario currently experiencing cancer. The ripple effects of COVID however, have left Camp Ooch and Camp Trillium with “a major downturn in our revenues,” Lovering said so fundraising is particularly vital this year. To that end, Camp Ooch and Camp Trillium is hosting a virtual campfire chat June 25 at 12:30 p.m. to keep its supporters, donors and extended community, updated. “We’ve been so busy actually building this,” said Lovering, “we’ve had limited opportunity to tell our community what we’re doing.” To join the virtual chat RSVP to email@example.com. Guests will also be sent an outlook invitation with the following zoom details: Zoom online: https://ooch.zoom.us/j/8658057056 Zoom phone-in: 647-374-4685, enter meeting # 8658057056. This story was altered at 3:25 p.m. on June 23 to reflect the full name of the camp as Camp Ooch and Camp Trillium and to clarify $35 million of the construction is now complete and does not include the future modifications to make the camp accessible. Kristyn Anthony reports for Muskokaregion.com through the Local Journalism Initiative, a program funded by the Canadian government. Kristyn Anthony, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, muskokaregion.com
As the f rst ever cannabis store in Alliston, Green Grove Cannabis is very happy with the response they have received from the public since opening the doors on December 29. Managers Michael Spaziani and Catalina Duque Perez are both Alliston residents who take pride in the fact that they are local, as are all their staff, and that they are an independently owned store. The store interior was all built by local tradespeople as well. As a relatively new industry in Canada and one that is heavily regulated, getting into the cannabis business can be quite a challenge. The cannabis industry in the Province is regulated by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario and there are plenty of rules that have to be followed. “After you get your operating license, the next step is to get your retail store authorization,” Michael explained of what it takes to open a cannabis retail location. “You need to establish a lease and they come in and make sure everything is up to snuff.” There is a myriad of details that must be followed when you open a cannabis store.The retail outlet must be at least 150 metres from a school. The store must be built in such a fashion that kids can’t see into the store, and you aren’t allowed to have a traditional storefront window to display products. Green Grove has all the regulations in place to be both in compliance with the regulations and have a successful opera-tion. The store also has an extensive security system in place for both their product and for staff and customers. Rules do not allow for commercial advertising so word of mouth and social media is the way they spread the word that they are open for business. “We can’t do print advertisements, we can’t do radio or billboards or anything like that,” Michael said. “We can advertise on our social media platforms, our website and in our store, and that’s it. There’s a lot of red tape involved.” When you enter the store there is a menu of products available to choose from. The store sells around 300 different varieties of cannabis. “From a customer’s perspective you have the option of ordering ahead of time,” Michael explained. “You can pay by credit card on our website, and we set your product aside for you. Or you can just walk in our store and browse around our menu or some of the products on our shelves.” The staff have all been thoroughly trained through a government training course. “We all had to be trained,” Catalina ex-plained. “It’s similar to if you want to serve liquor in a bar – this is the equivalent. It’s a course you have to take and they teach all the rules in Ontario. They also teach you about the products you’re going to sell. It’s really in depth.” “You want to be responsible to your customers,” Michael added. The cannabis industry is a thriving enterprise in Canada with farms located across the country and more planning to open. Customers are allowed to buy 30 grams per visit – that is also the legal limit you can carry with you. After almost two months in business, both Michael and Catalina are pleased with the response they have received from customers, their business neighbors, and the town .“We’ve had no problems at all,” Michael said. “We went to the Town Hall to get their blessing and we wanted to talk to them. They seemed to be really on board and they helped us out a lot. And the community has been very receptive.” Brian Lockhart, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, New Tecumseth Times
To keep residents informed during the constantly changing COVID-19 situation, the Muskoka Lakes Association is holding a free webinar. “A Muskoka COVID Summer — a Conversation with your Mayors” will take place Thursday, June 18 at 6 p.m. Panellists include John Klinck, chair of the District Municipality of Muskoka; Mayor Phil Harding of Muskoka Lakes; Mayor Paul Kelly of Gravenhurst; Mayor Graydon Smith of Bracebridg; and Ann MacDiarmid, mayor of the Township of Seguin. The webinar will take an open discussion format with questions for each panellist and opportunities for responses from other participants, moderated by Deborah Martin-Downs, vice-president of MLA. The goal of the webinar is to shift the conversation from an “us versus them” narrative that was becoming apparent as a result of the coronavirus, said Lawton Osler, MLA president. “I think there is a certain amount of fear involved,” he told this newspaper. “COVID-19 brought everything to the fore.” Questions for panellists will be provided in advance of the event to ensure each has time to consider a response. This isn’t a debate, Osler said, but a respectful conversation that addresses the concerns of MLA members as well as year-round and seasonal Muskoka residents. To attend the webinar, viewers must register at: https://zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_lDDA2S3jQz6aTTtX2WuLsg. Kristyn Anthony reports for Muskokaregion.com through the Local Journalism Initiative, a program funded by the Canadian government. Kristyn Anthony, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, muskokaregion.com
LONDON — Britain announced further sanctions Thursday against members of Myanmar’s military for their part in the coup that ousted the country’s elected government. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said six more top generals face sanctions for serious human rights violations, in addition to 19 others previously listed by the U.K. The new round of sanctions targets Myanmar’s State Administration Council, which was set up following the coup to exercise state functions. The measures immediately ban the generals, including Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing, from travelling to Britain and will prevent U.K. businesses and institutions from dealing with their funds or economic resources in Britain. The British government added that it will ensure U.K. businesses do not trade with Myanmar’s military-owned companies. The government has said it was ending aid programs that sent money to the Myanmar government but that aid would still reach “the poorest and most vulnerable in Myanmar.” The U.K. is the ex-colonial ruler of Burma, as Myanmar was formerly known. The Myanmar military seized power on Feb. 1 and detained national leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other pro-democracy figures. The Associated Press
Residents in Bracebridge were walloped with a major storm Wednesday evening, June 10, leaving power outages and significant damage to property across town. Emilie Gairdner Shaw, who lives on Golden Beach Road, said the storm came so fast she and her family hardly had time to run for cover. The inside of her barn is now exposed after the storm demolished its upper half, and the windows in her home are broken, leaving shards of glass lying on the ground. “The destruction is overwhelming, to say the least,” Gairdner Shaw said, adding no one was injured. Residents posted to social media documenting downed trees and roadblocks caused by scattered branches. One person was even searching for a trampoline missing from their yard. “It was like a roller-coaster, that energy,” said Bracebridge resident Tim Bennett. “It was actually quite amazing.” Bennett, who lives on Covered Bridge Trail, said the storm rolled in around 8 p.m. He said the dark low-lying clouds, which he estimates were roughly 100 feet away, caught his attention. Bennett said he lost power to his home immediately. Just before hitting record on his iPhone, he looked to the horizon and saw what he thought was a tornado-like swirl. “It was insane,” he said. Heavy rainfall followed but only lasted about five minutes, he added. On his way to work Thursday morning, trees littered the street and one house was missing many of its shingles, Bennett said. “We didn’t experience any kind of damage at all, but the houses down the street certainly did.” Environment Canada reported winds as high as 102 kilometres per hour at one point Wednesday evening. At the time of this writing, Kristyn Anthony was a Local Journalism Initiative reporter, funded by the Government of Canada. Kristyn Anthony, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, muskokaregion.com
TEMAGAMI – A young Temagami boy is on his way to living a life without an abundance of limitations. Elliot Lacroix Belanger, seven, underwent tendon lengthening surgery on February 16 at Health Sciences North in Sudbury. “Elliot had to quarantine from the sixth of February until the 16th of February, he needed to do a five-hour pre-op and then a COVID swab, which he didn’t enjoy too much,” said Elliot’s parents, Dan and Miranda Lacroix Belanger, in an email message to The Speaker. They noted that prior to his surgery, Elliot was “very nervous and scared” and that he needed medication to calm himself down. “It was even harder that only one parent was allowed in the hospital with him,” the parents said. “We had to spend two nights at the hotel, because he was the first surgery of the day, and we have a family history of Malignant hyperthermia (where your blood boils under anaesthetic), so they wanted us to stay close by to make sure. We are 17 kilometres short for the Northern Health Travel Grant, so it does not cover the hotel room.” The couple noted that Elliot’s surgery was conducted by a surgeon from the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa who came to Health Sciences North in Sudbury to do the surgery because of COVID-19 precautions. Elliot’s health issues began early on as he suffered a stroke at birth, causing Cerebral Palsy and a right Hemiplegia (limited use of his right side.) He had been undergoing Botox injections for the last four years, but unfortunately they were no longer working. Elliot’s foot brace also wouldn’t fit anymore because it was so tight around the leg. The orthopaedic and paediatric teams believed Elliot would benefit from serial casting to help stretch the muscles. FINANCIAL CONCERNS The Lacroix Belangers said that for seven years the family has been steadily going back and forth to medical appointments and making it work financially. However, the orthopaedic team mentioned to them that the serial casting procedure wouldn’t be covered by the Ontario Health Insurance Plan, but recommended that the family reach out to local organizations to see if they would help with covering the costs. The family was looking at three casts at $275 apiece for Elliott, along with the cost of travelling back and forth to North Bay to get the casts put on and taken off, which is a total of four trips. In order for all of the casting procedures to happen, a 50/50 draw fundraiser was set up on the Jamie’s Army Facebook page, raising a total of $1,050 for the family. “We weren’t expecting it to blow up as much as it did, but we are forever thankful,” the family said of the Jamie’s Army efforts. “We also got many people sending us donations privately, as far (away) as Ohio. There was so much generosity from the people in our community and abroad, we can’t thank everyone enough. When they say it takes a village to raise a child, we truly know what it means.” On January 20 the family travelled to North Bay to the Nipissing Orthopaedic Lab, where Elliot was supposed to be serial casted. Instead, they say he was fitted for a new ridged brace that he will need after the tendon lengthening surgery. “Karen of the Orthopaedic team decided it would be of our best interest not to do the serial casting, for a few reasons,” said Dan and Miranda. “If they were going to do the surgery, they didn’t want him casted beforehand, it’ll be too much on him. Secondly, if he needs to self-isolate, the dates wouldn’t work out, so they will be post-surgery.” MOVING FORWARD After undergoing the tendon lengthening surgery on February 16, the Lacroix Belanger family says Elliot will continue to have many follow-up appointments and they have “great hope” that he will be able to fit back into his brace, skates and boots, and be able to be a child without so many limitations. They also say the support keeps rolling in for the family from Jamie’s Army, the purchasing of the 50/50 tickets, various donations, sharing of posts and getting their story out there, offering to bring them coffee or whatever they need, offers of places to stay, simply reaching out, sending thoughts and prayers, bringing get-well gifts, and so much more. “We can’t begin to tell you how much it means,” stressed the parents. “There are so many people to thank and you are all amazing.” They also noted that even CBC Canada reached out to the family about Elliot’s health journey. Elliot now is scheduled to have a follow-up appointment on March 29 in hopes that he can take the cast off, see how the surgery went, and then he will be required to wear a ridged AFO brace. “Elliot is sore and it hurts to put pressure on his foot,” noted Dan and Miranda. “He’s finding it hard not being able to play outside, have a normal shower, go to hockey, or walk properly.” Along with follow-up appointments, the family says they also have out-of-town orthopaedic appointments and brace fittings, Botox injection appointments for Elliot’s right wrist, and an upcoming trip to Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto where they’re looking at five trips or more in the month of March alone. “As always, any and all appointments and updates get posted under #strengthforelliot on Facebook, so make sure to follow that to follow Elliot’s journey.” Jamie Mountain, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Temiskaming Speaker
(Submitted by The Front Yard Flower Co. - image credit) Flower vendors are worried B.C.'s COVID-19 rules for farmers' markets could lead to greenhouses full of blooms going to waste. Farmers' markets are considered an essential service and have been allowed to continue operating throughout the pandemic. However, non-food vendors like potters, jewelry and soap makers and flower sellers are excluded from in-person sales. This rule was lifted for a time last summer before being reinstated in December. Flower farmers plan months ahead, ordering seeds and growing plants throughout the winter, said Rachel Ryall, who owns River and Sea Flowers in Ladner. "We planted the current flowers that will be blooming over the next month back in September and October, assuming things would be alright to sell them again," Ryall said. "I can't stop them from flowering. They're coming." Rose Dykstra, owner of The Front Yard Flower Co. in Richmond, says it was never clear why non-food vendors were excluded from selling in farmers' markets. She has started a petition urging non-food vendors be allowed back. She has sold her flowers at the Vancouver Farmers Market for years and says the market has maintained strict rules throughout the pandemic to keep visitors and vendors safe. Spring flowers like tulips, narcissus, ranunculus and anemones will be ready soon and she's worried about lost sales and wasted blooms — she says she's not equipped for large-scale delivery across the Lower Mainland. "I feel like maybe we've been forgotten, because we're not vegetable farmers, we're kind of a smaller segment of vendors," Dykstra said. Rose Dykstra, owner of The Front Yard Flower Co. in Richmond, says it was never clear why non-food vendors were excluded from selling in farmers' markets. She has started a petition asking that non-food vendors be allowed back. Laura Smit, executive director of Vancouver Farmers Market, says although she is grateful the province has permitted markets to continue operating, it's never been made clear why non-food vendors aren't allowed. The farmers' market has been working since December to bring back non-food vendors, and she says if the rule is not overturned, it will have a big impact on the bottom line for flower vendors in particular. "Their product is absolutely seasonal," Smit said. "It's not something that is shelf-stable and can sit around to be sold later on in August. Literally the spring time is when these flower farmers are planning for, preparing for, and they don't understand why they can't come to market and we don't either." Spring flowers like tulips, narcissus, ranunculus and anemones will be ready soon and Rose Dykstra is worried about lost sales and wasted blooms if she can't bring them to the market. In an email to CBC News, the B.C. Ministry of Health said the rule is in an effort to keep the risk of COVID-19 transmission down, and added that non-food vendors can do online sales and pick-up orders. "The reason that food vendors are allowed is that farmers' markets are essential food and agriculture service providers," a spokesperson said. "The B.C. government will continue to listen to feedback from the community and stakeholders and adjust our response to support businesses as needed." Soap also not allowed — during a pandemic It's not just flower farmers who are concerned. Shea Hogan hopes he will be able to sell his natural bar soap at farmers' markets again this spring. The owner of PoCo Soap Co. says farmers' markets used to be a big part of his business and a way to build relationships with customers. He says it's ironic that, as a non-food vendor, he can't sell soap in a pandemic. He believes buying items from an outdoor farmers' market is among the safest ways to shop. "It was frustrating because other than being arbitrary and general, we're being told to wash our hands with soap and water," Hogan said. "And as a maker and seller of soap, to not be allowed to sell soap somewhere seems ... extra weird."
(AHS - image credit) More than 100,000 newly eligible Alberta seniors had scheduled COVID-19 vaccinations by early Thursday afternoon and several thousand had received their first doses, according to the province, with many saying they looked forward to being able to safely visit family and friends someday soon. Meanwhile, Alberta Health Services promised it had fixed the issues that caused its system to crash repeatedly the previous day while tens of thousands tried for hours to book vaccinations — while at least one expert said it never needed to happen. The province said earlier in the week that about 230,000 Albertans would be newly eligible when the system opened at 8 a.m. Wednesday to all those born in 1946 or earlier. Seniors who are residents of public long-term care and designated supportive-living facilities had already received the vaccine. With 100,000 appointments already booked, that means more than 40 per cent of those newly eligible had booked their shots by calling 811 or through the online booking tool by 2 p.m. on Thursday — less than 30 hours after the system opened up to them. Allan Pasutto, 86, of Penhold was among the 2,000 or so seniors who had received their first dose by the end of day Wednesday. "I'm very fortunate to be Canadian," Pasutto told AHS staff as he received his first dose of the vaccine in Red Deer. "I'm looking forward to my retirement and enjoying life. I'm very happy to be alive." As more seniors received the vaccine on Thursday, AHS staff shared quotes and photos from behind the scenes. Arlene Jones, who got the COVID-19 vaccine in Rocky Mountain House, was one of several thousand Albertans born in 1946 or earlier who have been vaccinated so far after bookings opened up Wednesday to everyone in that age range. 'I haven’t seen my nine grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren since September,' she told AHS. Arlene Jones, who was getting her first shot in Rocky Mountain House, said she can't wait to be with family again, especially since she has a new grandchild coming soon. "I haven't seen my nine grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren since September," she said. 'I’m excited to finally get my vaccine,' Richard Wright, 75, told AHS staff. He received his first dose of the vaccine Wednesday in Grande Prairie. 'I’m hoping to be able to safely visit friends and family this summer.' Richard Wright, 75, who received his first dose in Grande Prairie on Wednesday, said he was excited to finally get it. "I'm hoping to be able to safely visit friends and family this summer." 'I think it’s important so we can stop the spread of COVID,' Elizabeth Findlay, 75, told AHS after getting her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in Lethbridge. 'It’s good for myself and it’s good for everyone I know.' Elizabeth Findlay, 75, who got her first dose in Lethbridge, said she thinks it's important. "It's good for myself and it's good for everyone I know." Barry McCaughey, 76, told AHS he has spent most of the past year hibernating. 'I very seldom go out.' He received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine Wednesday and looks forward to camping one day soon. Barry McCaughey, 76, who got his first dose Wednesday, said he has spent most of the past year hibernating but looks forward to hopefully camping one day soon. AHS says online booking tool fixed, phone line improved On Wednesday, many people who called Health Link at 811 reported not being able to get through on the lines at all, or being disconnected — often repeatedly — after making it part way through the booking process, while the AHS website repeatedly went down or booted people out mid-registration as they tried for hours to book an appointment. By noon Wednesday, a trio of Edmonton brothers had figured out the problem on the website and posted a solution on Twitter to help others sidestep the now-fixed glitch. By evening, the website had started to show a message letting people know how many were ahead of them in line and how long the wait would be. At about 7 p.m., users were being told they faced waits of an hour or more with about 10,000 people ahead of them in the queue. By end of day, Alberta Health Services said 43,000 people had managed to book but many others had not. Thousands of people trying to log on to Alberta Health's website to register for COVID-19 vaccinations on Wednesday, when it opened to people born in 1946 and older, faced long waits. As of 7 p.m., users were getting a message saying that they faced a wait of at least an hour with about 10,000 people ahead of them in the queue. On Thursday, AHS promised it had fixed its online system. "The online booking tool has stabilized since launch on Wednesday morning. We very much appreciate everyone's patience, and we understand the frustration," AHS tweeted. AHS also said improvements were made to its 811 phone line to give callers a choice to route their calls to book a COVID-19 immunization appointment or reach a registered nurse for medical concerns. As of about 10 a.m. Thursday, the bookings for the first dose of the vaccine were being scheduled for the second week of March and some people reported waiting no more than 10 to 15 minutes before being able to book online. Still, AHS urged patience, saying it continued to anticipate a wait time to get through on the online booking tool or Health Link in the days ahead. The province also pointed out eligible Albertans can book a COVID-19 immunization through some local pharmacies listed online by Alberta Blue Cross. Some Albertans frustrated by additional issues Though many ran into issues with online booking tools, other Albertans said technical glitches weren't the only headaches along the way. Janet Wees finally got through to book a COVID-19 vaccine online, but discovered the only available appointment was in Canmore — posing a problem, as Wees is from Calgary. "It's confusing, and I don't think it's because we're seniors," Wees said. "I think anybody of any age would be frustrated and confused." And while some felt panicked to accept an appointment located far away not knowing if they would miss out, others were frustrated they couldn't register as spouses. Stephanie Pollock's mother-in-law secured a vaccine appointment. However, the 81-year-old was turned away at the appointment and told she needed a doctor's note to get the vaccine because of medicine she takes that suppresses her immune system. "To have that lack of clarity and lack of readiness to handle some of these things is what frustrated me," she said. AHS said in some areas, travel may be required to get the shot, and that it is still working through some additional issues. Vaccine booking system was preventible, expert says Tom Keenan, an adjunct professor of computing science at the University of Calgary, told the Calgary Eyeopener on Thursday that the province could have easily and inexpensively prevented the website from becoming overwhelmed by installing queue management software. He said Denmark-based Queue-it — which sells systems to cope with website traffic congestion by directing visitors to a queue where they can wait until bottlenecks clear — could have provided AHS with a solution for $30,000 to $100,000. And it would have taken about 20 minutes to install the fix, Keenan said. Keenan said that after making a few inquiries with Queue-it regarding how AHS could have used its services, a company official seemed to confirm the province had now contracted with the firm. "An hour ago, I got an email from the co-founder of Queue-it in Denmark and — breaking news, breaking news — she said, 'this is/will be a Queue-it customer,'" he said Thursday morning.
Alberta is below the threshold of hospitalizations to move forward with step two of the provincial plans to lift COVID-19-related restrictions, but no decisions will be made until March 1 at the earliest. Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer, noted on Feb. 22 that cases of COVID-19 increased in the couple days prior. With that in mind, the province is taking the full three weeks to assess data and come up with the best way forward. “We are being cautious, as it is too early to say if this recent increase is significant or but a temporary pause in the strong downward trend we have seen over the past several months,” Hinshaw said. Step two requires fewer hospitalizations than 450 with declining cases and would allow the potential reopening of retail, banquet halls, community halls, conference centres, hotels, and further easing of indoor fitness and children’s sport and performance. There were 326 people in hospital due to COVID-19, including 51 in intensive care on Feb. 23, and 4,516 active cases remaining in the province. The province stated earlier in January that it would give businesses a heads up on when they may be able to reopen, which may not be the case as the province considers step two. “While the decision will be made at the earliest on March 1, I’m not able to say with certainty exactly when that would be implemented. It could be as early as that same day or it could be that a decision is made with some lag time for businesses to prepare for opening,” Hinshaw said on Feb. 23. Metrics based on cases and growth, including COVID-19 variants, are being monitored and will be used to guide any decisions around the restrictions, including easing, pausing, or increasing them. Alberta implemented the four-step plan to ease public health restrictions based on hospitalization benchmarks in January. Once hospitalizations are within range of the benchmark, decisions to move to the next step are considered. Moving between steps will happen at least three weeks apart to assess the impact on case rates. Health measures such as hand-washing, wearing a mask in public, keeping two-metres apart, staying home, and getting tested when sick will remain in place throughout each step. There has been a sharp decline in cases among residents in long term facilities, totalling 92 per cent from early January until now. Designated living facilities also saw a decline of 88 per cent since December. Within schools, the province has noted a 63 per cent decrease in cases since schools reopened in January. And there has also been a steady decline in fatalities in recent months. Hinshaw noted that while these are positive trends, cases are starting to plateau instead of dropping with steady numbers of new variant cases. The Town of Hinton stated that they are continuing to provide services to citizens safely and allowing one-on-one appointments when necessary, following the provincial health guidelines. With ice being removed from one rink at the Dr. Duncan Murray Recreation Centre, the Town is working at introducing additional activity options based on the provincial health guidelines. Activities will soon be announced via the Town of Hinton’s Facebook and website, including opening the Steve Hotchkiss Arena, the court area, and the pool for private use by appointment, stated Faiaz Mir, Hinton’s communications coordinator. The Steve Hotchkiss Arena ice surface will stay in till the end of spring break. On Friday, Feb. 18, Health Minister Tyler Shandro spoke to Albertans about improvements regarding contact tracing. He said there are more than 2,300 contact tracers working to investigate every positive case. “Since Jan. 9, we’ve been contacting and investigating all COVID-19 cases that we receive each day,” Shandro said. Within 24 hours of results, the contact tracers have been able to contact and investigate about 1,500 cases per day. They work with businesses, schools, and operators to collect contact information. As of Feb. 23, there were 301 variant cases identified in Alberta, which has a dedicated investigation team working to isolate each case. Masha Scheele, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hinton Voice
MAPLETON – Mapleton council have endorsed the County of Wellington’s application to the province for an official regional training centre for firefighters. This comes after the province announced the closure of the Ontario Fire College (OFC) in Gravenhurst while expanding to 20 regional training centres. At a Wednesday meeting, Mapleton fire chief Rick Richardson explained there is an existing training centre, called the Wellington County Training Academy in Fergus. At this site, firefighters from departments across the county can train closer to home than at the college. The County of Wellington is applying for the Fergus training centre to become a provincially recognized regional training centre. As of now, the site is open only to the seven member municipalities in the county but Richardson said this designation would open it up to the whole province but county members would still get the first chance to apply. Although far from Wellington County, Richardson said there were some benefits to the college such as the subsidized cost of $65 for training, food and accommodation. Council questioned if the province will step in with funding for these centres to make up for this difference. Richardson said chiefs around the province have been considering what the province will do with the money they used to subsidize training and if they sell the OFC property. “Those things have not come up anywhere that we’ve heard from the chiefs’ point of view, so we hope to hear from that soon,” Richardson said. “You would think the very inexpensive price the OFC was charging that there would be some kind of provincial funding to help the regional centres out at some point in time,” said mayor Gregg Davidson. Councillor Michael Martin questioned if there would be any advantage if theoretically the province did not pull through with any funding. “Is that going to come at a cost? It sounds like there’s some unknowns attached to it,” Martin said. “Being designated that way, are we going to lose some of the advantages we have currently?” Richardson said costs would rise if they had to send firefighters out to other regional training centres but acknowledged there is still a lot for the province to sort out around this situation. Davidson questioned if it was possible the province would shut down more localized training centres if they aren’t designated. Richardson replied the important takeaway is to get this application in early before there are too many other applicants. “If people start applying left right and centre and there’s 25 (applications), they only accept 20, we could be one of the five out of the loop,” Richardson said. “That makes it key we get an application in.” Mapleton council approved the endorsing the application with the mayor adding he’s fairly positive the province will pull through with funding. Keegan Kozolanka, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, GuelphToday.com
ATHENS, Greece — Greece's prime minister on Thursday promised sweeping changes to the country's laws and labour regulations to combat sexual abuse and misconduct in the wake of an assault allegation made by Olympic sailing champion Sofia Bekatorou that has prompted more cases and triggered a nationwide debate. Speaking in parliament, conservative Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the government will introduce tougher sentencing guidelines, propose changes to statute-of-limitation rules for cases involving minors, and create a dedicated government agency to deal with abuse claims in workplaces and organized youth activities. Multiple cases of alleged sexual misconduct and abuse have been made public since former Olympian Bekatorou alleged she was sexually assaulted by a national sailing federation official in 1998. The people coming forward with accusations include other athletes, current and former university students, and stage actors. Mitsotakis said reports that unaccompanied minors were vulnerable to abuse at migrant camps on Greek islands also motivated him to take action. “There were children at the camps...and in Greek cities that were being exploited for sex for 5 and 10 euros ($6-12),” the prime minister told lawmakers. He noted that children and teenagers travelling alone no longer live at the island camps or are held in police cells for protection but have supervised, separate living quarters. The reports include a 51-page document from the Francois-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University in 2017 that said, citing camp informants, there were serious indications of child abuse at Greek migrant camps. Separately Thursday, a former director of Greece’s National Theatre appeared before a public prosecutor to respond to child abuse allegations. The 56-year-old suspect, who denies any wrongdoing, was arrested Saturday and remains in police custody. Opposition parties have demanded that Mitsotakis replace his culture minister over the alleged scandal. A government official told the AP Thursday that new sentencing guidelines and details of the proposed legal changes would be announced “in the coming days.” ___ Follow Gatopoulos at https://twitter.com/dgatopoulos Derek Gatopoulos, The Associated Press
BERLIN — The head of the German Bishops' Conference said Thursday that the country's Roman Catholic church is suffering from a “scandalous image” amid mounting anger over the Cologne archbishop's handling of a report on past sexual abuse by clergy, but he defended its overall record in addressing the issue. The Cologne archbishop, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, faces discontent after keeping under wraps for months a study he commissioned on how local church officials reacted when priests were accused of sexual abuse. Woelki has cited legal concerns about publishing the study conducted by a law firm. He has commissioned a new report, which is supposed to be published March 18. There has been criticism within the German church of Woelki. The head of the German Bishops' Conference, Limburg Bishop Georg Baetzing, has described the crisis management in Cologne as a “disaster” but said earlier this week that the conference has no “sovereignty” to intervene. After a regular meeting of the country's bishops, Baetzing said Thursday that they take the effects on the church “very seriously.” A Cologne court this month announced that it was raising the number of appointments available for people seeking to formally leave the church to 1,500 from 1,000 starting in March, amid strong demand. “Every person who leaves the church hurts, and we perceive it as a reaction to a scandalous image of the church that we are currently delivering,” Baetzing said at a news conference. “Certainly, there are things in the Cologne archdiocese that need to be cleared up,” he said. “But focusing solely on the archbishop of Cologne would be short-sighted.” Baetzing said he can say “with a good conscience” that Germany's bishops stand by their pledge to get to the bottom of sexual abuse of minors by clergy. “A lot of good things have already happened,” he said, with successful investigation efforts taking place “in the shadow of Cologne.” Revelations about past sexual abuse have dogged the church in Germany and elsewhere for years. In 2018, a church-commissioned report concluded that at least 3,677 people were abused by clergy in Germany between 1946 and 2014. More than half of the victims were 13 or younger when the abuse took place, and nearly a third of them were altar boys. In January, a new system drawn up by the church to compensate abuse survivors took effect. It provides for payments of up to about 50,000 euros ($60,760) to each victim. Under a previous system in place since 2011, payments averaged about 5,000 euros ($6111.) The Associated Press
(Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit) Ontario's public health measures have decreased COVID-19 transmission and have slowed the spread of variants of concern, according to modelling released by the province's advisory group on Thursday. But that good news comes with a caveat. According to the science table, variants of concern like B117 are continuing to spread and cases, hospitalizations and ICU admissions will likely increase soon. Still, the province's latest projections come with a less dire tone than in recent weeks, with a smattering of positive news among warnings to remain vigilant. The full document appears at the bottom of this story. For one, the data suggests that lockdowns and focused vaccination in long-term care homes have rapidly reduced infections and deaths in those facilities. Doctors also predict the pandemic will likely recede again in the summer. But there are troubling statistics too. Ontario's overall test positivity rate was at 3.1 per cent on Feb. 20, but Peel Region was much higher at 7.1 per cent, as was Toronto at 5.6 per cent and York Region at 5.3 per cent. Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of Ontario's science advisory group, said "care" and "caution" are particularly critical in the next several weeks to help curb the rapid spread of variants of concern. "The next few months are really key to maintaining our gains and to achieving a declining pandemic in the summer," Brown said. "A better summer is in sight if we work for it now." Variants of concern continue to spread quickly in Ontario, the data shows, and are projected to likely make up 40 per cent of the province's cases by the second week of March. The science table says the next few weeks will be "critical" for understanding the impact of these variants, and that there "is a period of remaining risk" before the pandemic likely hits a lull in the summer months. The modelling also noted a new milestone, with more than 1,886 deaths reported in the second wave, surpassing the 1,848 deaths in the first. Number of active infections rises Ontario reported another 1,138 cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, as the number of active infections provincewide increased for the first time in more than six weeks. Brown said the new increase in the large public health units shows a trend in the wrong direction. The upward climb was small — in total, there were just 21 more active cases Wednesday than on Tuesday (10,071 compared to 10,050) — but could be notable given that, until now, infections marked as resolved have outpaced newly confirmed cases every day since Jan. 12. The new cases in Thursday's update include 339 in Toronto, 204 in Peel Region and 106 in York Region. Thunder Bay also saw another 44 cases. The local medical officer of health there told CBC News that residents should prepare to go back into the grey "lockdown" phase of the province's colour-coded COVID-19 restrictions. Thunder Bay is currently in the third-strictest red "control" phase. Other public health units that logged double-digit increases were: Ottawa: 64. Waterloo Region: 56. Simcoe Muskoka: 44. Halton Region: 40. Hamilton: 37. Windsor-Essex: 33. Durham Region: 28. Eastern Ontario: 20. Brant County: 19. Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph: 18. Niagara Region: 12. Southwestern: 11. (Note: All of the figures used in this story are found on the Ministry of Health's COVID-19 dashboard or in its Daily Epidemiologic Summary. The number of cases for any region may differ from what is reported by the local public health unit on a given day, because local units report figures at different times.) The seven-day average of new daily cases increased for a fifth straight day to 1,099. Ontario's lab network completed 66,351 tests for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and reported a test positivity rate of two per cent. According to the province, there have been a total of 449 cases involving the coronavirus variant of concern first identified in the United Kingdom. That is 54 more than in yesterday's update. There have also been 11 cases of the variant first found in South Africa, and two linked to the variant identified in Brazil. Researchers from the University of Guelph and University of Waterloo independently ran modelling simulations based on Ontario's most recent reopening plan, with stay-at-home orders possibly lifted in Toronto, Peel and North Bay-Parry Sound on March 8. The results suggest that the spread of the variant, which has been shown to be more contagious, could have profound effects on case numbers in latter half of March. School-related cases The Ministry of Education also reported another 83 school-related cases: 70 students, 12 staff members and one person who was not categorized. There are currently 18 schools closed due to the illness, about 0.4 per cent of those in the province. In a news release issued late Wednesday, Toronto Public Health said that there are eight schools within the health unit where at least one case is, or is most likely, due to a variant of concern. "The affected individuals and cohorts have been dismissed from school with guidance based on their level of risk. TPH has followed up with close contacts in affected class cohorts and has recommended testing," the release said. Public health units also recorded the deaths of 23 more people with COVID-19, pushing Ontario's official toll to 6,916. Meanwhile, the province said it administered 19,112 doses of vaccines yesterday, the second-most on a single day so far. As of 8 p.m. ET Wednesday, 255,449 people had received both shots of a vaccine. WATCH | Ontario's vaccine rollout likely to be accelerated:
MUSKOKA LAKES — Norah Fountain is used to wearing many hats as the executive director of the Muskoka Lakes Chamber of Commerce. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has presented new challenges and longer workdays for Fountain, as local business owners have turned to the chamber for guidance in an uncertain time. Advocacy quickly became a focus for the chamber in the early days of lockdown, Fountain explained, because, “we knew right away there would be businesses who would fall through the cracks.” The chamber helped to get the Muskoka Business Recovery Fund off the ground, which has received $750,000 from the District of Muskoka and an additional $2.1 million from the federal government. Still, the chamber has its own business to operate and this year will be different. The Township of Muskoka Lakes has pulled back on its financial support for the chamber, to the tune of $20,000, “to keep their budget in line,” Fountain said. As a result, the Port Carling Visitor Information Centre will not open this summer. The chamber will receive $27,000 from the Township to maintain its operations, which this month include a virtual job fair as well as outreach to attract Canadian travellers. “We are their front line tourism arm,” Fountain said, of the chamber’s 24-year relationship with the Township. “We put the money right back into the local economy.” COVID-related questions meant the chamber was “inundated with phone calls,” according to Fountain who has worked on developing resources like a set of COVID guidelines businesses can use as they reopen. As well, the chamber has provided hiring assistance for seasonal workers and helped local businesses move into e-commerce. The chamber also began a Facebook group, Muskoka Lakes Resiliency to connect businesses and extend their reach, posting the menus of local restaurants to encourage takeout business. Fountain also raised the idea of assembling a Muskoka Recovery Task Force to help aid businesses now dealing with coming back to a COVID economy after also suffering losses in the 2019 floods. Some of the chamber’s 312 members fast-tracked their annual renewals to help provide stability for the chamber, as revenue-generating events have been cancelled. And, new members like CrossFit Muskoka have joined, “because they’re seeing our advocacy work,” Fountain said. Not everyone has been able to make it through COVID-19, said Fountain, who called it “heartbreaking” that Clevelands House Resort will not be offering accommodations this summer. It is the impact this year will have on local business owners that Fountain is thinking of as she looks further ahead. “We’re actually concerned about what 2021 will look like.” Kristyn Anthony reports for Muskokaregion.com through the Local Journalism Initiative, a program funded by the Canadian government. Kristyn Anthony, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, muskokaregion.com
Learn how to cook lentils in the Crock-Pot Express - it couldn’t be easier! Enjoy!
Calls for family violence continue to rise in Hinton after Hinton’s RCMP responded to 234 calls of family violence in 2020, a five-year record high. Hinton Staff Sgt Chris Murphy told council during the standing committee meeting on Feb. 2 that the RCMP is concerned about the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on people who are stuck at home without outlets and resources to help them. Family violence calls shot up drastically at the end of the summer, following three or four months of surprisingly low numbers, said Murphy. He noted that the RCMP responded to 183 calls of family violence in 2016, 176 calls in 2017, 196 calls in 2018, and 172 calls in 2019. The definition of family violence is fairly broad, Murphy explained. The call can include arguments, threats, assault, and even siblings fighting. The majority of these calls come from within the family unit. “As we respond, they’re not translating to more criminal charges thankfully, but it does show us the need of working together with other community groups,” Murphy said. The RCMP is part of a domestic violence committee, through which they work with other local agencies to provide support to struggling families. Murphy anticipates that family violence calls will continue to climb as the restrictions continue to lock down the community. Usually there are underlying factors that come into play with these types of calls, Murphy explained, such as addictions, mental health, or unemployment. “My preference is of course that the individuals receive the support and guidance and help that they need so hopefully it doesn’t escalate to a point where we are coming in, arresting somebody, and putting them in jail and before the courts,” Murphy said. During his report to council, Murphy also touched on several other crime trends and statistics, including missing persons and the mental health act. In 2020, the Hinton RCMP recorded 26 investigations for missing persons, all of which were located. The RCMP responded to 138 mental health calls in 2020, but Murphy anticipates an increase of this number further into the pandemic. Based on input from the community last year, the RCMP focused on crime reduction and community consultation. In 2019, Hinton saw a record high break and enters, which was followed by a 61 per cent decrease in 2020. That translates to 76 fewer break and enter incidents. The clearance rate of break and enters, which means solving the crimes, was at 35 per cent in 2020. Compared to 2019, there was an overall reduction in crime in 2020. These reductions include a one per cent decrease in person crimes, a 35 per cent decrease in property crime, a 31 per cent decrease in other criminal code offences, a 47 per cent decrease in motor vehicle theft, and a 46 per cent decrease in theft under $5000. The RCMP also managed to record a five-year low in traffic collisions within Hinton last year. It investigated a total of 187 traffic collisions in 2020, compared to 358 collisions in 2016, 326 in 2017, 286 in 2018, and 281 in 2019. Community consultation was challenging for the detachment throughout the pandemic, but they adapted and came up with different ways to interact and engage with the community, Murphy noted. They held two RCMP Town halls, one in-person town hall prior to the pandemic and one virtual town hall in the fall. The next town hall is planned for March 4. Murphy reported that two repeat offenders stopped committing offences after going through the habitual offender management program, while two others either moved away or are continuing with their lifestyle. The two successful individuals haven’t committed a new offence in the last year, and Murphy added that these are people who had been committing offences on a monthly basis. In addition, the RCMP has continued their aggressive prolific offender management program. This includes conducting bail release, probation checks, apprehending people on warrants, and holding people accountable. Hotpots is another initiative that the RCMP continues to update based on crime data. Strategically sending resources to certain areas in town has resulted in far more foot patrols, bike patrols, and interactions between police and the community, Murphy said. A traffic safety committee was created in 2020, partnered with numerous agencies including Hinton Peace Officers, Commercial Vehicles, Fish and Wildlife, and Parks. The traffic safety group conducted numerous joint force operations, usually over long weekends. Murphy briefly addressed the COVID-19 pandemic and explained how this changed the way RCMP respond to calls for service. “It’s not lost on all of us that we still have a very important job to do. It just may look a little bit differently and how we go about doing that,” Murphy said. A few RCMP members were recently trained for search management and will be doing training hazards and assessments in the area, Murphy said. He noted that all three municipal positions at the Hinton detachment are full, as well as all 19 regular member positions. He anticipates several transfers in 2021 and identified some replacements in March and in the summer. Murphy is also moving on to a new position in the Western Alberta District this year. The next RCMP town hall is planned for March 4 at 7pm, where Hinton and Yellowhead County residents will have an opportunity to share comments and suggestions regarding policing priorities in 2021/2022. RCMP welcomes residents to send their questions in advance to firstname.lastname@example.org. Questions and comments will also be monitored through the YouTube live chat during the livestream. For more information, visit hinton.ca/RCMPTownHall. Masha Scheele, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hinton Voice
The company has built a pipeline of Korean original content including sci-fi thriller "The Silent Sea", reality series Baik's Spirit and sitcom "So Not Worth It", Netflix said in a blog post. Netflix, which had 3.8 million paid subscribers in the country at the end of 2020, has already invested nearly $700 million, feeding off the global popularity of the pop culture machine of South Korea. It has created more than 70 Korean-made shows, including the hit zombie thriller "Kingdom" and documentary series "Black Pink: Light Up the Sky" about the highest charted female K-Pop act.
YEREVAN, Armenia — Armenia's prime minister accused top military officers on Thursday of attempting a coup after they demanded he step down, adding fuel to months of protests calling for his resignation following the country's defeat in a conflict with Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has faced opposition calls to step down ever since he signed a Nov. 10 peace deal that saw Azerbaijan reclaim control over large parts of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding areas that had been held by Armenian forces for more than a quarter-century. The opposition protests gathered pace this week, and the feud with his top military commanders has weakened Pashinyan's position, raising concerns about stability in the strategic South Caucasus region, where shipments of Azerbaijan’s Caspian crude oil pass through on their way to Western markets. The immediate trigger for the latest tensions was Pashinyan’s decision earlier this week to oust the first deputy chief of the military's General Staff that includes the armed forces' top officers. In response, the General Staff called for Pashinyan's resignation, but he doubled down and ordered that the chief of the General Staff be dismissed. After denouncing the military’s statement as a “coup attempt,” Pashinyan led his supporters at a rally in the capital, and he addressed them in a dramatic speech in which he said he had considered — but rejected — calls to resign. “I became the prime minister not on my own will, but because people decided so,” he shouted to the crowd of more than 20,000 people in Republic Square. “Let people demand my resignation or shoot me in the square.” He warned that the latest developments have led to an “explosive situation, which is fraught with unpredictable consequences.” In nearby Freedom Square, over 20,000 opposition supporters held a parallel rally, and some vowed to stay there until Pashinyan stepped down. Demonstrators paralyzed traffic all around Yerevan, chanting “Nikol, you traitor!” and “Nikol, resign!” There were sporadic scuffles in the streets between the sides, but the rival demonstrations led by Pashinyan and his foes later in the day went on in different parts of the capital. As the evening fell, some opposition supporters built barricades on the central avenue to step up pressure on Pashinyan. The crisis has its roots in Armenia's humiliating defeat in heavy fighting with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh that erupted in late September and lasted 44 days. A Russia-brokered agreement ended the conflict in which the Azerbaijani army routed Armenian forces — but only after more than 6,000 people died on both sides. Pashinyan has defended the peace deal as a painful but necessary move to prevent Azerbaijan from overrunning the entire Nagorno-Karabakh region, which lies within Azerbaijan but was under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since a separatist war there ended in 1994. Despite the simmering public anger over the military defeat, Pashinyan has manoeuvred to shore up his rule and the protests died down during winter. But the opposition demonstrations resumed with new vigour this week — and then came the spat with the military brass. Pashinyan fired the deputy chief of the General Staff, Lt. Gen. Tiran Khachatryan, earlier this week after he derided the prime minister's claim that only 10% of Russia-supplied Iskander missiles that Armenia used in the conflict exploded on impact. The General Staff responded Thursday with a statement demanding Pashinyan's resignation and warned the government against trying to use force against the opposition demonstrators. Immediately after the statement, Pashinyan dismissed the General Staff chief, Col. Gen. Onik Gasparyan. The order is subject to approval by the nation's largely ceremonial president, Armen Sarkissian, who hasn't endorsed it yet, prompting an angry outburst from Pashinyan. “If he doesn't sign my proposal to dismiss Gasparyan, does it mean that he joins the coup?” Pashinyan asked at the rally of his supporters. He urged the chief of the General Staff to resign voluntarily, adding that “I won’t let him lead the army against the people.” Facing the top military officers' demand to step down, Pashinyan relied on his defence minister, a loyal ally. The Defence Ministry warned against any attempt to draw the military into political infighting. Amid the spiraling tensions, the chief prosecutor's office denied claims it had received instructions to arrest the top military officers. The prime minister warned that authorities now will move more forcefully to disperse the opposition protests and arrest its participants. He bluntly rejected their demand for early parliamentary elections. The political crisis is being watched closely, particularly in Russia and Turkey, which have been competing for influence in the South Caucasus region. Russia, worried about its ally plunging deeper into turmoil, voiced concern about the tensions and emphasized that Armenia must sort out its problems itself. “We are calling for calm and believe that the situation should remain in the constitutional field,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. Armenia has relied on Moscow's financial and military support and hosts a Russian military base — ties that will keep the two nations closely allied regardless of the outcome of the political infighting. And even though the peace deal is widely reviled in Armenia with many calling it a betrayal, it's unlikely to be revised — no matter who is in charge — following the fighting that demonstrated Azerbaijan's overwhelming military edge. Turkey, which backed its ally Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, would relish instability that would further weaken Armenia. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said his country strongly condemns the coup attempt in Armenia and stands against all coup attempts anywhere in the world. —- Associated Press writers Vladimir Isachenkov and Daria Litvinova in Moscow and Zeynep Bilginsoy in Istanbul, Turkey, contributed. Avet Demourian, The Associated Press
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — “Better Call Saul,” the prequel spinoff to the hugely successful series “Breaking Bad,” will begin production in New Mexico on its sixth and final season beginning in March. White Turtle Casting officials told the Albuquerque Journal that production will begin in the second week of March and the agency is looking for stand-ins for the series. Pre-production is currently underway, and the crew is being quarantined and tested for the upcoming start, the Journal reported Wednesday. Production originally was set for March 2020, but it was moved because of the pandemic. There will be 13 episodes in the final season, although no air date has been confirmed. “Better Call Saul” has been shot in New Mexico since 2015. The production has given nearly $178,000 to the state’s film programs. The Associated Press