COVID labor crunch and Jagmeet Singh's baby girl: In The News for Jan. 7

·9 min read

In The News is a roundup of stories from The Canadian Press designed to kickstart your day. Here is what's on the radar of our editors for the morning of Jan. 7 ...

What we are watching in Canada ...

With COVID-19's latest wave showing few signs of abating concerns are deepening as more and more workers in vital sectors are sidelined by the pandemic.

In Ontario where the number of COVID patients in hospital has ballooned by a factor of five in just two weeks to 2,279, numerous hospitals are reporting massive staff absences due to COVID-19 diagnoses.

Outbreaks in the province's long-term care homes have lead to staff absences of 20 to 30 per cent in some areas as COVID's highly infectious Omicron variant drives up case counts. Anthony Dale, president of the Ontario Hospital Association, is calling it a dire situation.

In Quebec the government says about 20,000 health-care workers are off the job after testing positive or being exposed to the virus. And four federal prisons in the province say they are now "very close" to experiencing staff shortages for the same reason.

Hospitals in New Brunswick say they too are struggling with staffing issues due to coronavirus infections.

In addition to the health-care sector, police forces in Edmonton, Calgary and Winnipeg are facing similar staffing problems, as is Winnipeg Transit and the fire department in Prince Rupert in northwestern British Columbia.

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Also this ...

Troy Weppler says he turned away from a post office employee in Saskatoon as he shoved a box of COVID-19 rapid tests into an envelope to send to family in British Columbia.

"Why do I feel so guilty about doing this? Am I breaking any laws or is it just an ethical thing?" Weppler said as he recalled the moment during the holiday season when he felt like an outlaw.

"Everywhere I go I'm getting tests thrown at me, so why can't I throw a couple in an envelope and mail them out to family?"

Weppler is not the only person in Saskatchewan fielding family requests from across the country for the much sought-after tests. Walk into libraries, firehalls andsome grocery stores and a smiling worker is likely to offer a kit with five tests.

Weppler was given his first box weeks ago when he went to cash in a lottery ticket. The employee told him he’d won $20 and a free play, then handed him the kit.

It's puzzling for most people elsewhere in Canada where the demand for tests vastly outweighs supply. Federal Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole compared the situation to the 'Hunger Games' movies earlier this week.

Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos has said that 140 million tests are to be distributed to provinces and territories on a per-capita basis this month. He said that would allow every Canadian to have one test per week in January.

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And this ...

OTTAWA— Statistics Canada will release its latest jobs report this morning.

The labour force survey for December is expected to provide a picture of how the economy was faring just before COVID-19 infections began spiking due to the Omicron variant.

The Canadian economy added 153,700 jobs in November, dropping the unemployment rate to six per cent.

Economists at CIBC expect the December jobs report to show a gain of 15,000 jobs and an unemployment rate of 6.1 per cent to close out the year.

However, the rise in COVID-19 cases and the associated public health restrictions are expected to take their toll on the economy for January.

The highly transmissible Omicron variant has fuelled record breaking COVID-19 case numbers and prompted the return of more restrictive rules across the country.

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What we are watching in the U.S. ...

WASHINGTON — U.S. President Joe Biden is forcefully accusing Donald Trump and his supporters of holding a “dagger at the throat of democracy” with his election lies that sparked last year’s deadly assault on the U.S. Capitol.

Biden used the anniversary of the attack Thursday to warn that America’s system of government remains under urgent threat.

The day's ceremonies were widely attended by Democrats but not by Republicans — a display of the grip that Trump and his views still hold on the party. The nation's divisions remained clear on a day that many hoped would be one of reconciliation.

“For the first time in our history, a president not just lost an election, he tried to prevent the peaceful transfer of power as a violent mob breached the Capitol,” Biden said. “You can’t love your country only when you win.”

Biden’s criticism of the defeated president was rife with condemnation for the assault that has fundamentally changed Congress and the nation, and has raised global concerns about the future of American democracy.

Until the anniversary, Biden had mentioned the attack only sparingly but he aggressively weighed in Thursday and coupled his message with a call for voting rights legislation that Democrats have long been urging.

Even as the president spoke, the vanquished Trump gave no signs of letting go, a show of the division in the country emphasized by the silence and absence of most Republicans to join Biden at the Capitol.

From Florida, Trump revived his unfounded attack on the elections. He accepted no responsibility for sending the thousands of supporters to the Capitol that day when he told them to “fight like hell." By Thursday evening, he was sending out a fundraising appeal.

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What we are watching in the rest of the world ...

GENEVA — The World Health Organization says a record 9.5 million COVID-19 cases were tallied over the last week as the Omicron variant of the new coronavirus swept the planet, a 71 per cent increase from the previous seven-day period that the United Nations health agency likened to a “tsunami.”

But there was a decrease in the number of new deaths recorded.

“Last week, the highest number of COVID-19 cases were reported so far in the pandemic,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Thursday.

He said the WHO was certain that was an underestimate because of a backlog in testing around the year-end holidays. The agency, in its weekly report on the pandemic, said the weekly count amounted to 9,520,488 new cases — with 41,178 deaths recorded last week compared to 44 680 in the week before that.

WHO officials have long cited a lag between case counts and deaths, with changes in the death counts often trailing about two weeks behind the evolution of case counts. But they have also noted that for several reasons — including rising vaccination rates in some places, and signs that Omicron affects the nose and throat more than the lungs — omicron has not appeared as deadly as the Delta variant that preceded it.

While Omicron seems less severe than delta, especially among people who have been vaccinated, the WHO chief cautioned: “It does not mean it should be categorized as mild. Just like previous variants, omicron is hospitalizing people, and it’s killing people.”

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On this day in 1867 ...

Private Timothy O'Hea was awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery. In June 1866, he protected the lives of 800 immigrants on a Grand Trunk Railway train from a fire in a boxcar carrying explosives at Danville, Que. It was the only VC awarded for a brave deed not done in the face of the enemy.

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In entertainment ...

TORONTO — A new industry roundup says a renewed popularity in vinyl records softened the decline of Canadian music sales last year.

Sales tracker MRC Data reports 1.1 million vinyl records were sold in Canada last year, an increase of 21.7 per cent over 2020 when sales dipped amid COVID-19 and supply issues. The latest numbers topped the record of 1.03 million units sold in 2019.

The resurgence of the LP helped slow the continuing downturn of record sales across the country, which when accounting for both physical and digital sales, dropped 12.1 per cent to 6.1 million units last year.

MRC's annual roundup of the music industry highlights trends, streaming growth and overall album sales.

One of the bright points was a slight uptick in physical sales of 0.1 per cent to nearly 3.8 million units when factoring in vinyl, cassettes and compact discs.

But CDs continued to fall out of favour with listeners as sales dipped another 6.9 per cent to 2.7 million copies last year.

Canadian digital album sales were also weaker, falling 26.9 per cent to 2.3 million units while sales of single digital tracks dropped 25 per cent to 18.3 million.

Much of the slowdown can be attributed to an ongoing movement of listeners to streaming formats.

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Also this ...

Tributes to Peter Bogdanovich are pouring in following the death of the filmmaker, writer, critic and film historian.

Bogdanovich, whose films included “The Last Picture Show” and “Paper Moon,” died Thursday at the age of 82.

Among those who paid their respects were Francis Ford Coppola, Tatum O'Neal and Guillermo del Toro.

O'Neal, who starred in “Paper Moon” and won an Oscar for the film, called Bogdanovich “my heaven and earth.”

Del Toro called him “a champion of cinema.” Coppola said he was “devastated.”

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ICYMI ...

OTTAWA — NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has become a father for the first time, to a baby daughter.

Singh announced Thursday that he and his wife Gurkiran Kaur welcomed a baby girl into the world on Monday.

"Our powerful little baby girl is basically my birthday present for life," Singh wrote on Twitter.

"Momma bear and baby are healthy and our hearts are filled with gratitude."

Singh celebrated his 43rd birthday the day before his daughter's birth.

The NDP leader's daughter will not be named immediately. In Sikh tradition, a newborn is named around two weeks after their birth in a ceremony called Naam Karan.

Singh has previously expressed his excitement about becoming a father.

He and his wife, a fashion designer, were married in February 2018 in a traditional Sikh wedding. They honeymooned in Mexico.

The NDP leader, who has campaigned in the past for better paternity and maternity benefits for new parents, is planning to take some paternity leave.

Parliament has not yet returned after the winter holiday break.

"He's planning to take some time off to spend time with his wife and new baby," said an NDP spokesperson.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 7, 2022

The Canadian Press

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