China's medical products regulator said on Thursday that it had approved two more COVID-19 vaccines for public use, raising the number of domestically produced vaccines that can be used in China to four. The two newly cleared vaccines are made by CanSino Biologics Inc (CanSinoBIO) and Wuhan Institute of Biological Products, an affiliate of China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm). They join a vaccine from Sinovac Biotech approved earlier this month, and another from Sinopharm's Beijing unit approved last year.
NEW YORK — February is usually the peak of flu season, with doctors' offices and hospitals packed with suffering patients. But not this year. Flu has virtually disappeared from the U.S., with reports coming in at far lower levels than anything seen in decades. Experts say that measures put in place to fend off the coronavirus — mask wearing, social distancing and virtual schooling — were a big factor in preventing a “twindemic” of flu and COVID-19. A push to get more people vaccinated against flu probably helped, too, as did fewer people travelling, they say. Another possible explanation: The coronavirus has essentially muscled aside flu and other bugs that are more common in the fall and winter. Scientists don't fully understand the mechanism behind that, but it would be consistent with patterns seen when certain flu strains predominate over others, said Dr. Arnold Monto, a flu expert at the University of Michigan. Nationally, “this is the lowest flu season we’ve had on record,” according to a surveillance system that is about 25 years old, said Lynnette Brammer of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hospitals say the usual steady stream of flu-stricken patients never materialized. At Maine Medical Center in Portland, the state's largest hospital, "I have seen zero documented flu cases this winter,” said Dr. Nate Mick, the head of the emergency department. Ditto in Oregon's capital city, where the outpatient respiratory clinics affiliated with Salem Hospital have not seen any confirmed flu cases. “It's beautiful,” said the health system's Dr. Michelle Rasmussen. The numbers are astonishing considering flu has long been the nation's biggest infectious disease threat. In recent years, it has been blamed for 600,000 to 800,000 annual hospitalizations and 50,000 to 60,000 deaths. Across the globe, flu activity has been at very low levels in China, Europe and elsewhere in the Northern Hemisphere. And that follows reports of little flu in South Africa, Australia and other countries during the Southern Hemisphere’s winter months of May through August. The story of course has been different with coronavirus, which has killed more than 500,000 people in the United States. COVID-19 cases and deaths reached new heights in December and January, before beginning a recent decline. Flu-related hospitalizations, however, are a small fraction of where they would stand during even a very mild season, said Brammer, who oversees the CDC's tracking of the virus. Flu death data for the whole U.S. population is hard to compile quickly, but CDC officials keep a running count of deaths of children. One pediatric flu death has been reported so far this season, compared with 92 reported at the same point in last year’s flu season. “Many parents will tell you that this year their kids have been as healthy as they’ve ever been, because they’re not swimming in the germ pool at school or day care the same way they were in prior years,” Mick said. Some doctors say they have even stopped sending specimens for testing, because they don't think flu is present. Nevertheless, many labs are using a CDC-developed “multiplex test” that checks specimens for both the coronavirus and flu, Brammer said. More than 190 million flu vaccine doses were distributed this season, but the number of infections is so low that it’s difficult for CDC to do its annual calculation of how well the vaccine is working, Brammer said. There’s simply not enough data, she said. That also is challenging the planning of next season's flu vaccine. Such work usually starts with checking which flu strains are circulating around the world and predicting which of them will likely predominate in the year ahead. "But there's not a lot of (flu) viruses to look at," Brammer said. ___ 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. Mike Stobbe, The Associated Press
There’s a special recipe for “meat-counter economics” that’s simmering across grocery stores in Canada. The not-so-secret ingredient? COVID-19. Leading food economists believe spiralling pricing and consumption trends won’t just last during the course of the pandemic, but will likely result in sticker shocks for any kind of protein for many years to come. That includes plant-based products along with the “industry trifecta” of chicken, pork and beef, said Sylvain Charlebois, speaking to more than 700 nutritionists and food-sector professionals at a virtual conference Tuesday. Charlebois, a keynote speaker at the event hosted by the Canadian Nutrition Society and senior director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab, talked at length about the many ways in which the coronavirus has “rampaged” the trajectory of food-related commerce. “Before the crisis, vegetable proteins were truly rising and very much in fashion, plastics were the new threat and shopping online was seen by many as a far-fetched idea,” said the supply management professor, based at Dalhousie University in Halifax. “That hasn’t only changed now, but it’s impacted everyone — from restaurants, grocers, abattoirs, online services and those that are customers for them, down to the suppliers and manufacturers, and even delivery people.” Through studies and polls conducted last year, food experts have many reasons to believe meat prices will likely continue to rise. At the same time, pricing for plant-based products is expected to remain stagnant, with fewer competitors in the market. “I like to think of those two food categories as the different dimensions of proteins,” said Charlebois. “Right now, there’s no equilibrium between them. Prior to the pandemic, we were thinking that would happen very soon. And it seems that that peace might still come, it just won’t happen for a while.” According to polling from the Agri-Food Analytics Lab shared Tuesday, the Prairies rank the highest across Canada in terms of daily consumption for meat — with 72.58 per cent saying they consume meat daily, 17.74 per cent once or twice a week, and 4.84 per cent monthly. Although they’re about 20 points down for daily consumption in other provinces such as Quebec or British Columbia, those trends are fairly consistent across Canada. In Manitoba, data from Statistics Canada for beef prices alone shows that, stewing cuts jumped to $17.20 per kilogram from $13.50; sirloin cuts climbed to $24.04 from $17.84; and striploin cuts came to a staggering $31.57 from $18.15. But those are figures from the summer of 2020, and experts believe they will continue bumping up across the board for several years. For Charlebois, a lot of that has to do with “the many economic anomalies” created by the pandemic. “We’ve never seen our trifecta of meats on sale with rising prices at the same time really, never ever before,” he said. “The only way I see this changing though is if consumption itself changes, and there’s some inclinations to show it could happen.” Since the pandemic has caused meat prices to rise, Charlebois believes Canadians might eventually start buying more plant-based products not just due to dietary desires, but also because of comparatively cheaper costs. “Think about it this way,” he said. “You’re doing your groceries and about to buy some meat, but you’re sticker-shocked at the price. Wouldn’t you want the cheaper alternative, which in this case is the greener choice and probably even healthier for you?” At the end of Tuesday’s presentations, moderator Mary L’Abbé asked questions on behalf of the attendees, poring from more than 50 that came in. L’Abbé is a much-lauded nutritional science professor at the University of Toronto. Questions ranged from how to navigate post-pandemic markets to the language that could be used to create awareness for nutritional products which aren’t performing well in terms of sales. It all depends on how companies and store chains market their products, Charlebois said, and whether nutritionists can fulfil the “heavy task” of educating widely and readily. “We’ve seen that food literacy is a pretty big issue for Canadians through our polls across the year,” he said. “We’d expected people would become more aware because of the pandemic, but the reality is, they’re just not. It’s like they know it’s good to be vegan or vegetarian and they respect those who are, they just don’t know why they should be one themselves. “To combat many of these interesting consumption and economic issues, I think it may be time to realize the entire trajectory has changed. Maybe then we can find the solutions.” Temur Durrani, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press
Despite various changes in how the province releases information about COVID-19 cases in schools, parents still aren’t satisfied with the data being made public. Halfway through the academic year, families behind a new letter-writing campaign are calling for more detail about cases in both school and child-care settings, citing heightened concerns about the risk of new coronavirus variants. The group wants daily updates on exposures that include facility names, dates and total cases broken down into student and staff categories, historical data so the public can track trends, and information about variants identified. “In terms of what they’re publicly reporting on, it’s very, very limited. I think it undermines confidence in the statement that schools are safe and they aren’t seeing transmission,” said Susan Wingert, a mother of two K-12 students in Winnipeg. Wingert said reporting via an online dashboard, which launched earlier this month, falls short of providing all the information parents need to weigh decisions about sending children to school. The provincial dashboard shows cases among student and staff populations within the last 14 days, as well as totals dating back to Sept. 1. A map allows users to view recent cases in specific schools, including people who might not have been infectious in a classroom; there is no information on which — if any — cases were acquired at school. It’s a stark contrast to the first-ever alert, which detailed the grade, classroom and time frame at Churchill High School for a student who was asymptomatic but tested positive Sept. 8. Following pushback after that notice, the province began to publish a running list of less-specific notices, including exposure dates and letters sent to families until mid-December. That’s when letters disappeared online for more than a month while the province finalized its dashboard. Child-care centres are not included in the provided information. The most recent data shows there were 75 cases, involving 59 students and 16 staff members, during the incubation period prior to Feb. 21. Michelle Driedger, who researches health-risk communication at the University of Manitoba, questions the usefulness of that information if it isn’t contextualized. “There has to be a happy medium between full disclosure of absolutely everything and, ‘Here, we’re giving you some information, but in such an opaque environment that you can almost interpret what you want from it,’” said Driedger, a professor of community health sciences and parent of two K-12 students. Buy-in to COVID-19 protocols requires confidence in the system, she said, adding the province should be frank about how exactly it has come to the conclusion schools are safe. Education Minister Cliff Cullen was not made available for an interview Wednesday. In an email statement, he wrote the province is confident parents are receiving the “appropriate information” on the dashboard while noting letters are still being sent to parents when there is an outbreak. School-related cases represent approximately seven per cent of the number of confirmed cases in Manitoba, to date. On the subject of asymptomatic testing, Cullen said in the email the province is seeing its COVID-19 curve bend significantly. “Our government will continue to listen to our public health leaders and take action accordingly,” he wrote. Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press
A former employee at Rideau Hall tells CBC News that racial discrimination forced her to quit her job after she was reprimanded for speaking out against anti-Black racism following the killing of George Floyd.
Les délais d’entrée au pays compliquent le recrutement de travailleurs étrangers. Le manque criant de main-d’œuvre qui frappait de plein fouet la région de Chaudière-Appalaches avant la pandémie hante de nouveau la région, où le taux de chômage a chuté à 4 % le mois dernier. Pour ajouter au casse-tête des employeurs, les délais d’immigrations freinent l’embauche à l’international. « On a actuellement une trentaine de travailleurs au Nicaragua qui attendent de venir ici », raconte en entrevue Louise Couture, conseillère en ressources humaines pour le fabricant de semi-remorques Manac. Leur usine de Saint-Georges, en Beauce, emploie déjà près de 80 personnes venant de l’étranger, sur un total de 700 employés. Cette trentaine d’ouvriers « partiellement embauchés » peine à entrer au pays en raison surtout des délais administratifs dans leur pays d’origine. La pandémie retarde l’obtention d’un examen médical, d’une photo d’identification et d’un relevé d’empreintes digitales, tous nécessaires pour entrer au Canada. « Les bureaux sont fermés ou partiellement ouverts, explique Mme Couture. [Les travailleurs] ne sont pas capables de franchir toutes les étapes nécessaires avant de rentrer dans l’avion. Ils ne sont pas capables de quitter le pays parce qu’il leur manque des documents. » Son entreprise sollicite ainsi le gouvernement fédéral pour autoriser les immigrants à fournir leurs données biométriques après leur arrivée au Canada. « Ce n’est pas un processus tellement long, ils pourraient faire ça quand ils arrivent ici », précise Louise Couture. Cette pratique existe déjà pour les travailleurs agricoles du Mexique et du Guatemala qui viennent travailler l’été dans les fermes québécoises, et qui sont considérés comme essentiels par Ottawa. Les retards actuels d’embauche de travailleurs étrangers touchent autant les petites, les moyennes que les grandes entreprises. « Tout le monde a de la misère avec leur personnel », déplore la directrice générale de la Chambre de commerce de Saint-Georges, Annie Gilbert. Pour répondre à ce « besoin criant », elle travaille actuellement à créer une foire de l’emploi virtuel. « 70 entreprises figurent déjà dans la liste, mais je vais faire quelques appels et je suis sûr que ça va ajouter un autre 20 kiosques. Ils ont tous le même problème », avance-t-elle. Or, l’embauche à l’étranger ne convient pas à tous les employeurs, nuance Mme Gilbert, qui dit privilégier l’embauche de citoyens canadiens. « Quand on se décide d’embaucher du côté de l’immigration, ça prend un an, un an et demi avant d’avoir quelqu’un. » En attendant ses nouveaux employés, l’entreprise Manac voit des contrats lui filer entre les doigts et accuse une perte de compétitivité. « Ce sont des heures supplémentaires qu’on est obligé de payer. Tant mieux pour les travailleurs, mais pour l’entreprise, c’est sûr que les profits sont moindres », indique Louise Couture. L’usine beauceronne de Manac est également aux prises avec un niveau d’absentéisme élevé en raison de la pandémie, ce qui plombe la chaîne de production. « C’est une grosse charge pour les contremaîtres. Ils doivent parfois conjuguer avec un quart de travail de soir où il peut y avoir trois employés de moins dans le département parce qu’il y en a un qui a été déclaré positif à la COVID-19 et qu’il habite avec les deux autres, relève Mme Couture. Toutes les semaines, il arrive quelque chose. » Chaudière-Appalaches n’est pas la seule région où le manque d’employés se fait sentir. Dans la Capitale-Nationale, selon un sondage publié le mois dernier par la Chambre de commerce et d’industrie de Québec, 80 % des entreprises comptent recruter dans la prochaine année. Et 60 % des gestionnaires de la région comptent embaucher du personnel issu de l’immigration, note l’enquête réalisée auprès de 500 d’entre eux. La pandémie a également freiné la croissance continue de délivrance de permis de travail. Pour l’ensemble du Québec, le Canada avait autorisé en 2019 près de 41 000 nouveaux immigrants à travailler. En 2020, ce chiffre a chuté à 31 265. Quant aux quelque 16 000 travailleurs étrangers attendus dans les champs québécois cet été, tous devraient pouvoir entrer au pays, selon Fernando Borja, de la Fondation des entreprises en recrutement de main-d’œuvre agricole étrangère (FERME). L’an dernier, environ 80 % des travailleurs temporaires prévus avaient réussi à franchir la frontière. Des vols nolisés et des tests de dépistage de la COVID-19 au préalable sont prêts pour satisfaire aux exigences du Canada, assure M. Borja « Le gouvernement du Mexique s’est mis aussi à la tâche pour que les travailleurs se préparent. » « Ceux qui rentrent au pays doivent faire trois jours à l’hôtel, mais les travailleurs pour le moment font leur quarantaine dans leur logement », ajoute Fernando Borja. « Mais, ça se peut que ça change. La COVID-19 nous a appris que la situation peut changer en une heure. Il faut qu’on soit prêt, mais on a une bonne expérience de l’année dernière. » Le gouvernement fédéral doit détailler le protocole sanitaire pour l’arrivée des travailleurs étrangers temporaires le 14 mars prochain. Jean-Louis Bordeleau, Initiative de journalisme local, Le Devoir
American forward Daryl Dike scored his first goal for Barnsley, in the 90th minute of a 2-0 win over Stoke on Wednesday night that extended its unbeaten streak to five in England's second tier League Championship. Dike, on loan from Orlando in Major League Soccer, put a low, right-footed shot from the edge of the 6-yard box past onrushing goalkeeper Angus Gunn at Oakwell. The 20-year-old debuted for Barnsley on Feb. 1 after he was obtained on a loan for the rest of the season. Callum Styles had put Barnsley ahead in the ninth minute. Barnsley is eighth with 48 points after 31 matches in the 46-game league season. It is one point behind Cardiff, which has played 32 games, for the final berth in the promotion playoffs. ___ More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports The Associated Press
For eight years, Waheeda Giga has struggled with an eating disorder that was triggered by the death of her father. She viewed food as an enemy that needed to be restricted, and if she failed, she’d throw herself into a punishing routine of vigorous exercise. “I use food and exercise to control and feel safe when I can’t deal with heavy emotions or grief,” she says of her ongoing battle with anorexia nervosa and compulsive exercise. Giga, a 37-year-old city of Toronto employee, is now a year into her recovery at the eating disorders outpatient program at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Hamilton, which she participates in virtually from home. It’s a journey that took place under the unusual backdrop of the global pandemic, for better and for worse. It’s also a journey that isn’t unique to Giga. Hospital data from the Greater Toronto Area points to an alarming rise in eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia during the pandemic, as people try to cope with widespread grief from losing loved ones, income, or even a sense of routine and normalcy. The pandemic has also disrupted the way eating-disorder care is provided, shedding light on cracks in the system and the continued need for access as more people struggle. Ontario’s public health officials nodded to the issue in their latest COVID-19 projections on Feb. 11, where they noted a substantial increase in eating-disorder-related hospitalizations and emergency department visits among young people aged three to 17. In July 2020, the hospitalization rate for youth was three per 100,000, higher than the average of around 1.8 per 100,000. The National Eating Disorder Information Centre helpline has seen a 70 per cent increase in calls and texts, said Alexa Giorgi, a spokesperson for the University Health Network, which runs the helpline. This includes an 87 per cent increase in chats from individuals 25 and younger. Experts and people with lived experience say it’s a problem that has affected adults too. Dr. Michele Laliberte, a clinical psychologist and lead of the eating disorders program at St. Joseph’s Hospital, which treats adults, said wait-times for the program have doubled from three months to five or six months since the pandemic began, partly due to COVID’s interruption of the admission process while the program was transitioning to virtual care. But a virtual outpatient program may stay for the long-term beyond the pandemic, Laliberte added, as it could improve access to an already-scarce type of eating-disorder care in the region. It’s been especially helpful for Giga, who was able to attend her recovery program from the comfort of her own home instead of commuting weekly to Hamilton — the closest city to Toronto that houses an outpatient eating disorder program covered by OHIP. “I was scared to start because I didn’t know what it would involve with getting accommodations from work, and I was anxious because of the commute,” said Giga, who began treatment a month before the pandemic after being on a five-month long wait-list. At that point, Giga’s Body Mass Index (BMI) reached a critical point of 17.5 — what is considered to be close to severely underweight. She had weighed about 102 lbs. at that time, and was told she would require more intensive treatment if her BMI slipped any further. “I think that was a wake-up call for me,” she said. Limiting barriers to care is now paramount with more people looking to access eating-disorder care as a result of the pandemic. Kyle Ganson, an associate professor at the University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, said COVID-19 has presented many triggers for eating disorders, all tied to how our lives have changed in the last year. “The major disruptions in routines for people is key,” Ganson said. We’ve been forced to stay home where opportunities for exercise are limited, which could trigger changes in eating habits for some who worry about maintaining “a healthy lifestyle.” Some anticipate they will gain weight as a result of these changes, Ganson added, which creates stress, anxiety and even feelings of stigma. “There’s also a lot of loss and a lot of trauma,” Ganson said. “Food is a way to control some of that.” Maria Estrada, a 25-year-old woman who struggled with an eating disorder at age 15, said some elements of the disorder have resurfaced during the pandemic, mainly due to isolation and feelings of losing control over her life. “Nobody’s supervising you, nobody’s seeing you, nobody’s gonna notice,” Estrada said. “You’re not seeing your friends. They’re not going to feed you, or ask to go out for lunch. I don’t have that anymore.” Ganson is careful to add that these issues affect both women and men, albeit in different ways. For men, eating disorders can sometimes manifest in the form of seeking masculinity or leanness through excessive exercise or the use of supplements. “In our culture, we are much more OK with these types of behaviours and we don’t necessarily shun them or acknowledge there might be a problem,” Ganson said. For youth in particular, the pandemic has meant more time spent on screens and social media as schools transitioned online. Research has shown that increased time spent consuming social media can lead to issues like body dissatisfaction, Ganson said. “We also know that kids with eating disorders are known to have what we call co-occurring mental health issues, specifically anxiety and depression,” said Christina Bartha, the executive director of the brain and mental health program at Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto. At Sick Kids, the number of admissions for eating disorders began to dramatically increase in late August of last year, said Dr. Debra Katzman, co-founder of the hospital’s eating disorders program. It’s a trend that continues to be observed well into 2021. “We’re seeing a 35 per cent increase in the number of kids we are admitting in the hospital, and they’re coming in primarily in the latter half of the year,” Katzman said. Since April of last year, Sick Kids admitted 175 children for eating-disorder-related issues, compared to 120 children in the same time-frame before the pandemic. The wait-times for the outpatient program at Sick Kids have also more than doubled as a result, Katzman said. “Our systems were not designed for this sort of level of necessary clinical intervention, so we’re trying to adjust to that,” she said. Eating disorders are hard to treat, Katzman added. It’s not a health issue that is treated with prescription medication, but rather one that requires intensive care with a multidisciplinary team of experts that can continue for weeks to months on end. “I think we are taxing the system right now given the number of kids that are presenting to care,” Katzman said. The Ontario government announced a few funding initiatives geared towards eating disorders last October, though none involve directly supporting existing services. One includes $3.7 million for a new eating disorders program for youth aged 25 and under, with four pilot sites to start. “At this time, the program is in development as it is brand new,” said Alexandra Hilkene, spokesperson for the Ministry of Health, in an email. Another $800,000 has been put forward to support the creation of Eating Disorders Ontario, a pilot program to train and deploy eating disorder prevention experts who will work with local communities and schools in the province. The program is also currently in development, Hilkene said. At St. Joseph’s Hospital’s eating disorders program, demand has quadrupled since 2010, Laliberte said. Despite that, staffing hasn’t increased in that time due to lack of resources. “Eating disorders are never at the table,” Laliberte said. But the pandemic hasn’t been all bad, especially for patients like Giga who have endured lengthy waits to receive adequate treatment. For example, the closure of gyms in Toronto heightened her anxiety as she tried to increase her food intake, a necessary and early component of her recovery plan. But gym closures also meant she had to increase her calorie-count knowing she wouldn’t be able to offset it by vigorous exercise — a feat that would have been harder to achieve with the temptation of open gyms and yoga studios. Being able to receive treatment in her own home, she added, meant she could receive treatment in a space she considered safe without the pressure of commuting. “My nutritionist at treatment called it a divine intervention,” Giga said. “Sometimes I feel like it honestly probably took a pandemic for me to recover.” Giga is now close to a fully-restored weight of 112 lbs. and a BMI of 20.3. It’s a small hopeful note in an otherwise difficult time for many. With a renewed focus on eating disorders, Laliberte and others hope the pandemic could be an opportunity to revamp what has been traditionally an inaccessible care system for the long term. Nadine Yousif is a Toronto-based reporter for the Star covering mental health. Her reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative. Follow her on Twitter: @nadineyousif_ Nadine Yousif, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Toronto Star
LOS ANGELES — The U.S. military on Wednesday began delivering shots at coronavirus vaccination centres in Texas and New York and announced that service members will start staffing four centres in Florida and one in Philadelphia next week. The expanded vaccination effort came as Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin met with military commanders overseeing the COVID-19 response effort. He also visited the vaccination centre in Los Angeles, the first staffed by the new active-duty military teams that are being developed. The Biden administration has said that delivering the vaccine to Americans is a top priority. The Pentagon is ramping up the deployment of what federal authorities say could be up to 100 vaccination teams around the country. The stepped-up efforts reflect the extent to which the coronavirus has devastated the United States, killing more than 500,000 Americans. While average daily deaths and new infections have been falling, some experts say too few Americans have been inoculated for the vaccine to be making enough of a difference. The decline instead is attributed to the passing of the holidays, more people staying indoors during the winter and better adherence to mask rules and social distancing. California has the highest coronavirus death toll in the nation, at more than 49,000. Austin is touring the federally run vaccination site that is set up on the campus of California State University of Los Angeles, which opened last week. The site, on the east side of LA, is staffed by a 222-member military team from Fort Carson, Colorado, and it highlights an effort by state leaders to make the vaccinations more available to communities hit hard by the pandemic. Watching the line of cars file slowly through the parking area on campus as people in their cars got shots, Austin spoke with troops who have been giving out vaccines. One soldier from the area told Austin how thrilled he was to be able to give his own mother a shot. “It almost brought me to tears,” Austin said later, recounting the story. Speaking to another group of service members working at the walk-up vaccination site, Austin said they need to take the leadership, co-ordination and compassionate skills they have learned doing this to their next mission. Austin told reporters later that the military is learning every day how to make the process more efficient. And he said one thing that has proved successful has been the mobile vaccination teams, and he intends to talk to agency leaders about expanding those. Despite the state's high death toll, the rates of new infections and hospitalizations continue to plummet across the state. Health officials said Sunday that the number of patients in California hospitals with COVID-19 has slipped below 7,000, a drop of more than a third over two weeks. Total cases are approaching 3.45 million. The positivity rate for people being tested has been falling for weeks, which means fewer people will end up in hospitals. In his first trip outside Washington as defence chief, Austin stopped in Colorado at U.S. Northern Command and met with its commander, Air Force Gen. Glen VanHerck, who also heads the North American Aerospace Defence Command. Military officials there told reporters travelling with Austin that service members are delivering 6,000 shots a day in Los Angeles and will build to that number at the centre in Houston, where the 222-member team started working Wednesday. Smaller, 139-member teams began operations in the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens, and in Dallas, which has two. They are expected to soon be delivering 3,000 shots a day. Austin has so far approved the deployment of 25 military vaccination teams, which come in two sizes, 222 members and 139 members, and total about 4,700 service members. So far, 11 have either started or will begin next week. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has asked for 100 such teams, which would put the Defence Department on pace to deploy as many as 19,000 troops if all are needed. The troop number is almost double what federal authorities initially thought would be needed. The five military teams moving into cities this week include 139-member units going to Miami, Tampa, Orlando and Jacksonville in Florida, and a 222-member team going to Philadelphia. The military has also sent three 25-member medical units to cities in New Jersey and is sending one to the U.S. Virgin Islands. Military officials said developing new sites will depend on how much vaccine becomes available and whether states request the aid and can provide proper locations. Separately, in a video message to the military force, Austin urged service members to get the vaccine. The shot is voluntary because the vaccines have not yet gotten final approval from the Food and Drug Administration. And while rates vary, military units around the world say 30 to 60% per cent of their troops who are offered the vaccine are declining. Military leaders said last week that they believe the overall declination rate is about 30%, but they say they do not have good data. Speaking to reporters in Los Angeles, Austin also acknowledged the reluctance in the Black community to the vaccine. As the first Black person to serve as defence chief, Austin said that he believes the vaccine is safe and that with enough information people will make the right decision. Lolita C. Baldor, The Associated Press
Provincial police demonstrated life-saving measures when falling through ice at Lower Reach Park in Smiths Falls last week, on Friday, Feb. 18. After a hole was cut into the ice, Ontario Provincial Police Constable Sean McCaffrey jumped into the Rideau River waters to exhibit how to survive such an incident. The 1-10-1 rule was used as a helpful reminder for best course of action. The first 1 is for one minute, when a person is to likely gasp with shock. Breathing calmly is important in this first minute. The 10 is for the first 10 minutes, which is how long effective use of fingers, arms and legs will likely last. Because of this, it is in the first 10 minutes that self-rescue is at its most critical. The second 1 is for one hour, which is the time before hypothermia could potentially set in. Self-rescue is still recommended past the 10-minute mark, but police note it is important to be calling for help and continuing to focus on breathing. Other tips recommended by PC McCaffrey include ensuring anyone venturing out onto ice carries ice picks, wears appropriate clothing and never goes alone or at night. Assisting PC McCaffrey with the demonstration was the Ontario Provincial Police's East Region Snowmobile, ATV, and Vessel Enforcement (SAVE) Unit, Smiths Falls police and other emergency services. More safety tips can be found online at www.redcross.ca/. Marshall Healey, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brockville Recorder and Times
OTTAWA — Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan says Admiral Art McDonald has voluntarily stepped down as chief of the defence staff as he is investigated on unspecific allegations. Sajjan said in a release late Wednesday that the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service is doing the investigation. Sajjan said he takes all allegations of misconduct seriously and continues to take strong action on any allegation of misconduct that is brought forward "no matter the rank, no matter the position." Sajjan said as of Wednesday he has appointed Lt.-Gen. Wayne Eyre as acting chief of the defence staff. He said he will have no further comment at this time due to the ongoing investigation. Military investigators are probing allegations of sexual misconduct against McDonald's and Eyre's predecessor, Gen. Jonathan Vance. Global News has reported that Vance allegedly had an ongoing relationship with a woman he significantly outranked, and that he made a sexual comment to a second, much younger soldier in 2012, before he was appointed chief of the defence staff. Vance has denied the allegations raised by Global and The Canadian Press has not verified them independently. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 24, 2021. The Canadian Press
MONTREAL — Nathan Todd had two goals and an assist as the Manitoba Moose downed the Laval Rocket 4-2 on Wednesday in American Hockey League action.Mikhail Berdin stopped 29-of-31 shots and Tyler Graovac had three helpers to lead Manitoba to its fourth win in a row.Kristian Reichel and Nicholas Jones also scored for the Moose (4-2-0), AHL affiliate of the Winnipeg Jets.Brandon Baddock and Jesse Ylonen supplied the scoring for the Rocket (3-2-1), the Montreal Canadiens' AHL club.Charlie Lindgren turned aside 12-of-15 shots for Laval.---This report by The Canadian Press was first published February 24, 2021. The Canadian Press
(Jeremy Cohn/CBC - image credit) One person is dead and one person is in custody after a homicide in a Richmond Hill, Ont. home on Wednesday night, York Regional Police say. Police were called to the residence in the area of King Road and Yonge Street just before 7:45 p.m. for a report of unknown trouble. The incident is now being investigated as a homicide, police said. One person was pronounced dead on the scene, according to York Region Paramedic Services. The other was taken to a local hospital with undisclosed injuries. According to police, there is no public safety concern and the incident was contained to the home. Police are remaining at the scene as the investigation continues.
President Joe Biden on Wednesday formally revoked a series of presidential orders and memorandum signed by Donald Trump, including one that sought to cut funding from several cities the 45th president deemed “anarchist” havens and another mandating that federal buildings should be designed in a classical esthetic. Since taking office last month, Biden has revoked dozens of Trump orders and issued dozens more of his own as he’s sought to target foundational aspects of Trump's legacy and promote aspect of his own agenda without going through Congress. The latest slate of revocations targeted a grab-bag of issues, including a few that Trump signed in his last months in office. Trump issued a memorandum in September that sought to identify municipal governments that permit “anarchy, violence and destruction in American cities.” The memorandum followed riots during anti-police and anti-racism protests over George Floyd’s killing by Minneapolis police. The Justice Department identified New York City, Portland, Oregon, and Seattle as three cities that could have federal funding slashed. Those cities in turn filed a lawsuit to invalidate the designation and fight off the Trump administration’s efforts to withhold federal dollars. Seattle city attorney Pete Holmes welcomed the Biden revocation, saying he was “glad to have this nonsense cleared from the decks." Trump in his “Promoting Beautiful Federal Civic Architecture” intoned that America’s forefathers “wanted public buildings to inspire the American people and encourage civic virtue." The memorandum added that architects should look to “America’s beloved landmark buildings” such as the White House, the U.S. Capitol, the Supreme Court, the Department of the Treasury and the Lincoln Memorial for inspiration. Another order halted was one Trump issued in the final days of his presidency dubbed the “Ensuring Democratic Accountability in Agency Rulemaking." It called for limiting the ability of federal agency employees in making regulatory decisions. Biden also revoked a 2018 order that called for agency heads across the government to review welfare programs — such as food stamps, Medicaid and housing aid — and strengthening work requirements for certain recipients. ___ Associated Press writer Gene Johnson in Seattle contributed to this report. Aamer Madhani, The Associated Press
CANBERRA, Australia — Australia’s laws forcing Google and Facebook to pay for news are ready to take effect, though the laws' architect said it will take time for the digital giants to strike media deals. The Parliament on Thursday passed the final amendments to the so-called News Media Bargaining Code agreed between Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg on Tuesday. In return for the changes, Facebook agreed to lift a ban on Australians accessing and sharing news. Rod Sims, the competition regulator who drafted the code, said he was happy that the amended legislation would address the market imbalance between Australian news publishers and the two gateways to the internet. “All signs are good,” Sims told Australian Broadcasting Corp. “The purpose of the code is to address the market power that clearly Google and Facebook have. Google and Facebook need media, but they don’t need any particular media company, and that meant media companies couldn’t do commercial deals,” the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chair added. The rest of the laws had passed in Parliament earlier, so they can now be implemented. Google has already struck deals with major Australian news businesses in recent weeks including News Corp. and Seven West Media. Frydenberg said he was pleased to see progress by Google and more recently Facebook in reaching commercial deals with Australian news businesses. But Country Press Australia, which represents 161 regional newspapers across the country, has raised concerns that tiny publications outside large cities might miss out. Sims said he was not surprised that the platforms would strike deals with the large city businesses first. “I don’t see any reason why anybody should doubt that all journalism will benefit,” Sims said. “There things take time. Google and Facebook don’t have unlimited resources to go around talking to everybody. I think this has got a long way to play out,” he added. Chris Moos, a lecturer at Oxford University’s Business School, said the latest amendments amounted to a “small victory” for Zuckerberg. Moos said the legislation would likely result in small payouts for most Australian news publishers. But Facebook could again block Australian news if negotiations broke down. The legislation was designed to curb the outsized bargaining power of Facebook and Google in their negotiations with Australian news providers. The digital giants would not be able to abuse their positions by making take-it-or-leave-it payment offers to news businesses for their journalism. Instead, in the case of a standoff, an arbitration panel would make a binding decision on a winning offer. Frydenberg and Facebook confirmed that the two sides agreed to amendments to the proposed legislation. The changes would give digital platforms one month’s notice before they are formally designated under the code. That would give those involved more time to broker agreements before they are forced to enter binding arbitration arrangements. A statement Tuesday by Campbell Brown, Facebook’s vice-president for news partnerships, added that the deal allows the company to choose which publishers it will support, including small and local ones. Frydenberg said his department will review the code within a year to “ensure it is delivering outcomes that are consistent with government's policy intent.” Rod McGuirk, The Associated Press
The government dropped drunken driving and reckless driving charges against Bruce Springsteen on Wednesday stemming from an incident in November, admitting that the rocker's blood-alcohol level was so low that it didn't warrant the charges. Springsteen pleaded guilty to a third charge, consuming alcohol in a closed area, the Gateway National Recreation Area. Better known as Sandy Hook, it is an Atlantic Ocean peninsula with views of the New York City skyline. Facing a judge and more than 100 onlookers in a video conference, Springsteen sat next to lawyer Mitchell Ansell and admitted he was aware it was illegal to consume alcohol at the park. “I had two small shots of tequila,” Springsteen said in response to questions from an assistant U.S. attorney. The case was heard in federal court because the park is considered federal land. U.S. Magistrate Anthony Mautone fined Springsteen $500 for the offence, plus $40 in court fees. “I think I can pay that immediately, your honour," Springsteen told Mautone. In an emailed statement, Ansell wrote that Springsteen “is pleased with the outcome" of the court hearing. According to a probable cause document written by park police at the time of the incident, Springsteen told a park officer he had done two shots in the previous 20 minutes but wouldn’t take a preliminary breath test before he was arrested. Mautone said Wednesday that the preliminary test is not required, and is not admissible in court. When he took a breath test at the park’s ranger station, Springsteen's blood-alcohol came back .02, a quarter of the legal limit in New Jersey, prosecutors said Wednesday. The officer wrote that he saw Springsteen take a shot of tequila and then get on his motorcycle. The officer wrote that the rocker “smelt strongly of alcohol” Nov. 14 and “had glassy eyes” and that there was a bottle of Patron tequila that was “completely empty.” The report described Springsteen as “visibly swaying back and forth” during a field sobriety test and said he declined to provide a sample on an initial breath test. After news of the arrest, Jeep put on pause an ad that ran during the Super Bowl featuring Springsteen in Kansas urging people to find common ground. Jeep said in a statement Wednesday it was unpausing the ad now “that the matter has been resolved.” “As we stated previously, we paused the commercial until the facts were established," Jeep said. Springsteen performed Jan. 20 as part of President Joe Biden’s inauguration, singing “Land of Hope and Dreams” in front of the Lincoln Memorial. ___ Follow Porter on Twitter at http://twitter.com/DavidPorter_AP David Porter, The Associated Press
CAMEROON, Cameroon — Russian supermodel and philanthropist Natalia Vodianova became a United Nations goodwill ambassador on Wednesday, pledging to promote the sexual and reproductive rights of women and girls and tackle stigmas surrounding their bodies. She will be a campaigner for the U.N. Population Fund, which now calls itself the U.N.’s sexual and reproductive health agency, known as UNFPA. UNFPA Executive Director Natalia Kanem, who announced her appointment, called Vodianova “above all a passionate, longtime advocate for the rights and the needs of women and girls and in particular people living with disabilities.” Working with UNFPA for the last three years, Kanem said, Vodianova has focused on “breaking harmful taboos and tackling the stigmas that surround women’s bodies and health, including menstrual health even during humanitarian crises, and all forms of gender-based violence.” Vodianova, who will celebrate her 39th birthday on Sunday, said she was honoured by her new role and told a U.N. press conference by video link: “I look forward to continuing my work to tackle the myths and taboos that billions of women, girls and vulnerable young people have to live with and raise the standards of women’s health and dignity.” Vodianova was raised in poverty by a single mother with a half-sister who has cerebral palsy and autism. She signed with Viva Model Management at the age of 17 and has worked for fashion companies including Calvin Klein, Balmain, Stella McCartney and Louis Vuitton and appeared on many magazine covers, including Vogue. She made the Forbes top models list in 2012 and is nicknamed Supernova. Vodianova founded the Naked Heart Foundation to help children with special needs and their families in 2004 and is a member of the Special Olympics International board of directors. She told reporters that one focus of her work as a goodwill ambassador will be on the taboo and stigma surrounding menstruation, a monthly challenge for girls and women. On any given day, UNFPA said more than 800 million girls and women between ages 15 and 49 are menstruating, and may face exclusion from public life, barriers to opportunities, lack of proper sanitation and health, and neglect. “These stigmas and taboos are deeply rooted in our cultures and held there with such an overwhelming power,” Vodianova said. “And it doesn’t matter where you’re born ... you will face these issues growing up in one way or another.” She said a good example is that “period products, something that is a right for women, not just something nice to have” are still not widely publicly available in many countries. “It is now our responsibility to culturally redefine what is normal,” Vodianova said. “As UNFPA goodwill ambassador, I want to work to build a world where we no longer need to explain this.” Edith M. Lederer, The Associated Press
(Don Pablo/Shutterstock - image credit) Vancouver city council has approved a temporary parklet in the Downtown Eastside to be used as a COVID-safe drinking place for people enrolled in a program for severe alcohol use disorder. The parklet will be installed in front of the Drinker's Lounge at 111 Princess Ave. as part of the Portland Hotel Society's Community Managed Alcohol Program, which provides beer and wine to people who might otherwise consumer dangerous substances like hand sanitizers and mouthwash. "Providing safe, low-barrier spaces for people to consume alcohol in the Downtown Eastside will help those most at risk in this community to socialize and look out for each other's safety," Dr. Patricia Daly, chief medical health officer for Vancouver Coastal Health, said in a news release. "Managed consumption sites also provide opportunities to link people to much needed support services, which is critical as part of our response to both public health crises — the overdose emergency and the COVID-19 pandemic." The parklet is set to be installed from March 1 to July 31. According to a press release from the city, the idea was developed in response to concerns from people and businesses in the area, who reported an increase in people drinking the street after COVID-19 restrictions were put in place. That raised the possibility that both community members and drinkers could be injured by falling or being hit by vehicles. City staff are also looking into creating more washroom facilities in the area, the press release says. The parklet pilot project follows last summer's temporary program allowing people to drink at four public plazas in the city. This spring, city staff expect to report back to council about how that worked out and make recommendations about whether to repeat it this year.
Thousands of delegates from across the country will gather in Beijing next week for the annual meeting of parliament, where China will announce goals for 2021 as well as its next five-year plan for economic development. The annual meetings of the National People's Congress (NPC), China's rubber-stamp parliament, and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), are known as the "two sessions." The events typically draw a combined 5,000 delegates and will be held under strict COVID-19 controls.
MIAMI — Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat are continuing to claw their way back from a brutal start to the season. Butler scored 27 points, 14 of them in the final quarter, and the Heat won their fourth consecutive game by topping the Toronto Raptors 116-108 on Wednesday night. Butler also had 10 assists and eight rebounds for the Heat, plus a season-high three 3-pointers — two of them in the final minutes. Bam Adebayo had 19 points and 12 rebounds for Miami, Duncan Robinson added 17 points and Goran Dragic scored 15 in his return from an ankle injury. It was the eighth win in the last 11 games for the Heat, who started the season 7-14. Kyle Lowry, returning from a thumb injury, scored 24 for Toronto. Fred VanVleet also had 24 for the Raptors, Norman Powell scored 17 and OG Anunoby had 14 for Toronto. Powell made a 3-pointer as the shot clock was expiring to get Toronto within 100-98 before Butler had the game’s next three plays of any significance — a 3-pointer, a steal on the ensuing possession and a layup to push Miami’s lead back to seven. Another 3-pointer by Butler with 3:23 left restored the seven-point edge, and Miami kept the lead the rest of the way. Lowry scored 12 of Toronto’s first 20 points in the opening 6 1/2 minutes, and he made a 31-footer over Miami’s zone midway through the second quarter to tie it at 48. The next 2:51 belonged to Miami. The Heat went on a 17-2 spurt in that time, six players scoring during the run, to open a 15-point lead and wound up taking a 66-56 lead into the locker room for halftime. Toronto scored the first 10 points of the second half, erasing that entire deficit, but a 17-6 answer by the Heat helped them take a 92-85 lead into the fourth. TIP-INS Raptors: Pascal Siakam got his fourth foul with 1:18 left in the half, after Miami successfully used its challenge to overturn a blocking call that became a charge. It was the second time in his career that he had four fouls by halftime, the other coming Dec. 18, 2016, at Orlando. ... Toronto fell to 1-5 on the second night of a back-to-back this season. Heat: Tyler Herro (hip) remained sidelined. ... Capacity was increased for this game, and the Heat had about 3,000 fans in the arena including some in the upper deck for the first time this season. ... Andre Iguodala was 4 for 5 on 3-pointers for Miami. ... It was the 10th time in the last 14 meetings between the clubs that the final margin was less than 10 points. SPO KNOWS Heat coach Erik Spoelstra now has 667 wins, including playoffs, with Miami. That ties Red Holzman of the New York Knicks for the fifth-most by any coach with one franchise. The only others with more: Gregg Popovich with San Antonio, Jerry Sloan with Utah, Red Auerbach with Boston and Phil Jackson with the Los Angeles Lakers. SEE YOU The Heat won the season series over Toronto, 2-1. Miami has also finished its regular-season series against Washington, Oklahoma City, Sacramento and the Los Angeles Clippers. Toronto has also finished its season series with Milwaukee, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Sacramento and Minnesota. UP NEXT Raptors: Host Houston on Friday. Heat: Host Utah on Friday. ___ More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports Tim Reynolds, The Associated Press