Orange, pink, red sunset sky over rural neighbourhood with power lines in silhouette
Orange, pink, red sunset sky over rural neighbourhood with power lines in silhouette
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday he and Russian President Vladimir Putin had discussed the possibility of involving other countries in efforts to maintain a ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan and Armenia signed a Russia-brokered ceasefire on Nov. 10 that halted six weeks of clashes in the mountain enclave, which is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but is mainly populated by ethnic Armenians. Russian peacekeepers have been deployed in the enclave under the ceasefire deal, which locked in Azeri advances.
WASHINGTON — Congress is bracing for President-elect Joe Biden to move beyond the Trump administration’s state-by-state approach to the COVID-19 crisis and build out a national strategy to fight the pandemic and distribute the eventual vaccine.The incoming administration’s approach reflects Democrats’ belief that a more comprehensive plan, some of it outlined in the House’s $2 trillion coronavirus aid bill, is needed to get the pandemic under control. Republicans have resisted big spending but agree additional funding is needed. With the nation on edge but a vaccine in sight, the complicated logistics of vaccinating hundreds of millions of Americans raise the stakes on the major undertaking.“We have an incredible challenge on our hands,” said Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state, which is approaching the anniversary of its first reported case of the virus last January.A vaccine can only go so far, Murray warned, without a distribution plan. "A vaccine can sit on a shelf. A vaccination is what we’re talking about,” she said.As Congress weighs a new round of COVID-19 relief, federal officials say doses of the vaccine could begin shipping within a day of Food and Drug Administration approval. Three pharmaceutical manufacturers — Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca — have announced early results. But the rollout faces a patchwork of state plans, a transitioning White House and potential backlash from vaccine skeptics, despite the rising U.S. death toll of nearly 260,000 people.Biden said Tuesday on NBC's “Nightly News with Lester Holt” that his team has started meeting with COVID-19 officials at the White House on how to “get from a vaccine being distributed to a person being able to get vaccinated.”Democrats have been sounding the alarm that the Trump administration’s delay in granting Biden’s team access to transition materials was wasting precious time.States submitted draft vaccination planning documents last month, but not all of them have made full plans public. Private Capitol Hill briefings by officials from Operation Warp Speed, the federal vaccine effort, left some lawmakers fuming last week over what they called a lack of co-ordination with Biden’s camp.Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Tuesday that his department “immediately” started working with Biden’s staff after the General Services Administration formally acknowledged the election results.Azar said he wanted to ensure Biden’s transition would be “in the spirit of looking out for the health and well-being of the American people and, in particular, saving lives through this COVID-19 pandemic.”From the start, the pandemic has challenged and reflected the two parties’ approaches to the public health crisis, with the Trump administration largely outsourcing many decisions to the states and Democrats pressing for a more nationalized approach.In Congress, Republicans largely rejected the $2 trillion-plus House bill from Democrats as excessive. They prefer their own $500 billion Senate effort, saying states and cities can tap funding from previous relief legislation. Senate Democrats blocked that bill twice as insufficient.Biden's campaign called for $25 billion for vaccines to “guarantee it gets to every American, cost-free.” That's similar to the amount included in both the House and the Senate bills, through different strategies, and Congress previously mandated that vaccines be free. With fresh legislation stalled, it’s uncertain if states will have the resources needed once the FDA approves the vaccines.During a conference call this week with governors, Azar and other health officials fielded a range of questions. Governors were seeking guidance on which populations they should prioritize for the vaccine and whether there was a list of pharmacies available to administer the two-dose regimens, according to a readout of the call provided by the office of Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington.Blaire Bryant, who oversees health care policy at the National Association of Counties, said a national strategy for communicating vaccine information to the public and the funding to make vaccinations equitable are vital.“We’re in uncharted territory,” she said. “The more information, the more guidance we can get from the federal level, the better.”She said states do have access to previously approved funding, but cash-strapped local governments have been reluctant to draw down the remaining dollars for vaccines. It’s robbing Peter to pay Paul, she said.As Congress debates funding, at least two Republican senators are participating in vaccine trials as a way to build confidence among Americans skeptical of the federal effort.Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said in a statement that he hoped his participation “will reassure people about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines.”Sen. Steve Daines of Montana, who is participating in the Pfizer trials, asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday to consider the “unique challenges” of distributing the vaccine to remote and rural communities like those in his state.Daines said in a letter to the CDC that it will also be “critical” to ensure access for frontline health care and essential workers, as well as older adults and people with medical conditions.Other lawmakers, though, have brushed off concerns. GOP Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said he expects vaccine distribution will be “well underway” by the time Biden takes office Jan. 20.Murray, as the top Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, grew concerned this summer as she said the Trump administration outsourced much of the vaccine distribution planning to the states.She drafted a 19-page paper calling for $25 billion to stand up a vaccination program with supply chains, hired personnel, drive-in clinics and other ways to provide no-cost vaccines. She warned of the Trump administration's “lack of centralized leadership” and “chaotic communication” with the states.Biden and Murray have since talked about her approach, which draws on input from health professionals on Biden’s team. Former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, a member of Biden's COVID-19 task force, briefed Senate Democrats the week after the election.Murray compared the vaccine effort to sending a man to the moon or fighting a world war. She said it will take all Americans joining to say, “This is a pandemic, and I'm going to do my part to get the country out of it.”___Associated Press writers Candice Choi in New York and Rachel La Corte in Olympia, Wash., contributed to this report.Lisa Mascaro, The Associated Press
After 17 years on the job, former Timmins mayor Jamie Lim is looking forward to the spending more time with family life while keeping an optimistic eye on the future of the province’s forestry sector. On Monday it was announced that she will be retiring from her position as president and chief executive officer of the Ontario Forest Industries Association (OFIA) at the end of the calendar year. “In 2019, we had a little bit of a family health crisis, and it just sort of made me reassess everything, and I thought 2020 would be a nice time to retire,” she told The Daily Press. “I made the decision before COVID. I can tell you now when I made the decision in 2019, I thought 2020 was going to be a nice walk in the park, and regular work, and closing some files and stuff with the association. I had no idea that 2020 would have a global pandemic and a global economic crisis waiting for us.” Her final year at the helm has seemingly gone in a flash. “Since March, it’s just been a blur, because we’ve been so busy making sure that we can continue working during this global pandemic.” Lim said it is important to know when to pass the torch. “Seventeen years at a trade association is a really long tenure. I’m very, very proud that I’ve had 17 wonderful years to work with the forest sector. Some of my members have been running their mills in their family for six generations. Representing this sector, honestly, has been one of the greatest pleasures in my life. It really has.” Ian Dunn will step in as interim president and CEO effective Jan. 1. Dunn is currently the executive director of policy and operations, and has been with the organization for five years. “It’s really an honour and a privilege to lead an association like this,” he said. “I got into this because of a passion for Ontario’s forests, and that’s a real source of inspiration for me and OFIA staff, and I'm looking forward to Jan. 1.” Dunn believes the experience from his current role has prepared him to step into his new position smoothly, as it was policy focused. “Certainly, how it impacted the woodlands operations of our members of forest management type issues. It’s grown over time to include manufacturing-type issues such as carbon pricing, emissions standards, things like that, as well as market-related issues such as the softwood lumber trade dispute. “So in my current role, I’ve had a really good opportunity to get exposed to all facets of the business and I’m really looking forward to stepping into more of a leadership position.” Lim said that by both growing up in Timmins and living in the city as an adult, she knows how important the mining and forestry sectors are to the local and regional economies, and emphasized their roles as the economic engines of the area. She pointed to some big numbers from the OFIA. “We employ 147,000 people directly and indirectly, and we generate about $18 billion in revenue for the province every year.” Over the last two years, she said it has “been a pleasure” to work with a provincial government that recognizes the importance of the forestry sector to Ontario “and acknowledges the importance of having economic engines in Northern and rural Ontario that can create employment for our people.” She credited Premier Doug Ford, Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry John Yakabuski, Minister of Energy, Northern Development and Mines and Minister of Indigenous Affairs Greg Rickford, as well as Minister of Environment, Conservation, and Parks Jeff Yurek for their commitment to improving the forestry sector in Ontario. “All three ministers with the Premier have been instrumental in supporting the sector before the pandemic and during the pandemic,” said Lim. Ford and Yakabuski announced the provincial forest sector strategy in August. Lim stated that in her 17 years with the OFIA, she has never seen the province willing to put forward a formal strategy. “It couldn’t have come at a better time. The United Nations in 2018 had a study commissioned and it showed that global demand for wood products is expected to increase by 30 per cent by 2030.” Lim believes that everything points to continued strength for the forest products sector, and that with the right public policy, and right aspirations from government decision makers, forestry can become an even bigger economic powerhouse. “Respond to that global demand for wood products. I want to see them come from Ontario, and I want to see the jobs, and the economic growth in Northern and rural Ontario.” Dunn agrees. “I think we’re on a real solid foundation. The province’s forest sector strategy is an amazing opportunity to grow the sector. So I’m very optimistic about the future of forestry in Ontario,” he said. In a year like no other in history, the forestry sector being declared an essential service was absolutely critical for both the people who are employed in the sector, as well as the general public. Ontario was the first jurisdiction in Canada to make that declaration. “People realize in times of crisis like this how important forest products are, and if we can source them from a local jurisdiction like Ontario, that’s even better,” said Dunn. The forestry sector is essential to not only the province’s economic recovery, but also its response to the crisis. “I think this is a sector that can really contribute to the response to the current pandemic in a number of ways. The production of PPE (personal protective equipment) or lumber for infrastructure projects or even palettes for the movement of goods and medicines,” he said. Lim added, “We’ve kept people working, and to me, right now during this economic and health crisis, nothing could be more important. “I never thought I would see something like this in my entire life.” As she prepares to leave her position, Lim talked about the overall current state of forestry in Ontario. “In March, I didn’t know what to expect. I don’t think anyone knew what to expect, and it’s incredible that forestry doesn’t seem to have been impacted like other sectors.” The demand and sales numbers for wood products have been “exceptional,” according to Lim. “Who knew that people, because they were staying home, would start doing all these do-it-yourself projects, new decks and renovations — the amount of building that went on really allowed our sector to maintain its strength in the global marketplace.” Having been with the OFIA since 2004 and working through the 2008 recession, Lim sees the forestry sector as being in a better position this time around. “I think there are more opportunities than challenges.” She said that health and safety for everyone must be the top priority, but it does also present its own challenges. There are questions about how tree planting will be handled next spring, for example. However, the forestry sector is in big demand right now with PPEs, consumer lumber, and of course, toilet paper sales way up. “We’re the sector that is making sure that the supplies that people need right now are available,” said Lim. She said the OFIA has a very engaged and passionate team in place, and has full confidence in Dunn. “I am confident that the strong, effective advocacy that OFIA has been known for is going to continue without even a hiccup. We’re going to continue to make sure that forestry is top of mind with the provincial and federal governments, and that the measures we need to keep people working will be in place.” Dunn will be keeping a close eye on the numbers in the final weeks of 2020 before he moves into his new role. “I think Ontario is in a good position,” he said. “I think prices that we’re seeing for some commodity products, certainly dimensional lumber, which have increased pretty substantially over the last couple of months, it will be interesting to see how sustainable those prices are, or if they're more of a blip on the radar.” So what’s next for Lim? Well, for starters, she said she would like “a well-deserved rest” but also, more family time. “I want to exhale. My three children work in the medical sector and they’re all in hospitals, so I really haven't been able to spend any time with them over the last nine months. So my priority is going to be my family. “We’re a really close family and we’re used to being together all the time.” She is looking forward to the next chapter of her life. “People that work with me and know me well, know that I am so passionate about two things: That’s my family and Northern Ontario.” Andrew Autio, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Daily Press
A woman from Georgia says her family's reunion was saved by a man from British Columbia who drove them to the Alaskan border after they got stranded in a snowstorm and appealed for help. Lynn Marchessault began her trip with her two children, two dogs and a cat on Nov. 10 from Georgia to the Alaska border to join her husband, who serves in the U.S. military. "I had never driven in the snow," she said in an interview on Monday. "It was like a whiteout kind of snowstorm. I wasn't really familiar with that, or even knew what it was called until this day." The family's pickup truck was pulling a U-Haul and did not have the appropriate winter tires to get through the winding, mountainous roads when they stopped at a highway lodge for temporary workers in Pink Mountain, B.C., on Nov. 17. She began looking for someone passing through the area who could drive them when Gary Bath, a Canadian ranger and military veteran, stepped up to the wheel. Marchessault said she and her husband talked to Bath and his family on the phone before they embarked on the rest of their trip. "I felt good about it from the beginning, like I knew these were good people and that it was a good choice to make," she said. Marchessault said her trip was supposed to have taken place about two months ago but it got delayed by COVID-19, adding that she was "naive" about the road conditions. Bath, who lives in Fort St. John, said he wanted to help the family be together for Christmas, and he was doing something nice for fellow service members. "A little bit like Santa Claus in this case," he said with a chuckle. Marchessault said the 1,700-kilometre drive to the Alaskan border near Beaver Creek, Yukon, is "not a road for the faint of heart." "Oh my goodness, beautiful views, amazing views, but some of those parts of the road were a little bit scary for me," she said laughing. "I mean, Gary's just over there driving like a champ, you know, been doing it his whole life. But for me, I was like 'Oh my goodness.' Sometimes I would tell him I have enough anxiety and sweaty palms over here in this seat for the both of us and then he would just kind of chuckle." Bath said the two-day trip was "quite windy and really bumpy" but "not too bad." The two families hope to meet up soon. "I'm so glad that the whole thing was over, but it was so hard to say goodbye to Gary and leave him," Marchessault said. "We really bonded. I think we've become good friends. He's a great and grand guy and his wife is pretty awesome." This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 24, 2020. The Canadian Press
Fred Sasakamoose, one of the first Indigenous players in the NHL, has died after battling a presumed case of COVID-19. Sasakamoose died Tuesday in Prince Albert, Sask. He was 86. Fred's son, Neil, announced his death in a video posted on Facebook.Neil Sasakamoose said last week that his father had been hospitalized in Saskatchewan for a presumed case of COVID-19 after experiencing wheezing and chest pains."We weren’t allowed to go sit with one of the most famous Indigenous people in our time," he told The Canadian Press in a phone interview Tuesday. “We weren’t able to comfort him. My mother was not able to see her husband. They’ve been married 65 years.”Sasakamoose said he learned early on Tuesday his dad's oxygen levels were depleting, but didn't want to go into intensive care. He told me, ‘I walked in here. If I can’t walk out of here then I’m going to go."He said the last conversation he had with his father was at around 1 p.m. “He was talking, ‘I’m going to fight this Neil, my son, I’m going to fight,'" Sasakamoose said. "I said, ‘Are you tired? Your body’s getting tired.' He said, 'I’m getting tired.'"Sasakamoose said in their Plains Cree culture they believe people come to get a person when it's their time to die. “I told him, ‘Look it, Dad, if someone’s there and if you’re tired, you just take their hand and you go.’"He was at peace.”He wants people to remember his father as a man who was "rooted right into the people."“We were happy to have him as a father, but he’s always belonged to everyone else.”“First Nations people, Metis people, non-Indigenous people."Sasakamoose says his family has164 people, including his nine siblings and parents' grand-children and great-grandchildren. He implored people to follow public-health advice around COVID-19 to prevent more deaths from happening. “Look at my situation. I can’t plan a funeral for one of the greatest Indigenous athletes in Canada."Sasakamoose played 11 NHL games with the Blackhawks in 1953-54, becoming one of the first Indigenous players in the then-six-team league. During his time in Chicago, he faced off against greats like Maurice Richard and Gordie Howe. He also had a storied junior career, playing several seasons with the Moose Jaw Canucks of the Western Canadian Junior Hockey League. “We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Fred Sasakamoose," Hockey Canada said in a tweet. "Fred holds a special place in the history of our great game and it is important to honour his perseverance and character in becoming the first Indigenous Canadian to play in the NHL." Sasakamoose was one of 11 children, though only five survived childhood. He was forcibly taken from his community in central Saskatchewan to a residential school as a child and told a Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearing in 2012 that he had been sexually abused by other students there. He also recalled being whipped and having coal oil poured over his head. While at the school he encountered a reverend, who was convinced he could make Sasakamoose into a big-time hockey player. "He said to me, 'Freddie, I'm going to make you a champion,'" Sasakamoose recalled in a video released by Hockey Canada in 2017. Being someone young Indigenous people could look up to was important to Sasakamoose. "To pave the way for Indian kids and the Metis, they look at you as a role model and they say 'Wow.' They look at my rings and my pictures. This is what I gain in life. This is what brought me to where I am," he said in the video. "It's for you now to follow in the footsteps — maybe be better.""RIP to my buddy, Freddy Sasakamoose," Canadian women's hockey player Brigette Lacquette, who is Indigenous, posted on Twitter. "He was a trailblazer, a leader and a survivor. "He paved the way for so many Indigenous hockey players. My thoughts and prayers to the family. Rest easy, legend."When his playing career came to an end, Sasakamoose returned to the Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation north of Saskatoon. He became a band councillor and chief, and worked to develop minor hockey and other sports programs across Saskatchewan. "On a personal note, I will always treasure meeting Fred at the 2019 Heritage Classic in his native Saskatchewan, getting to spend some precious time getting to know him and the gift he gave me that day -- a statue depicting his NHL rookie card," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. "The National Hockey League mourns the passing of this special man and sends its condolences to his family and the countless young men and women of the First Nations community whose lives he touched." Sasakamoose was named to the Order of Canada in 2017, and given an honorary doctorate of law by the University of Saskatchewan earlier this year. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the convocation ceremony was virtual so Sasakamoose recorded a video message. "I had a hard time of life," he said. "You want to be somebody, then it takes, you know, a little more effort."Still, the Indigenous hockey pioneer wanted his story to be heard. His book, "Call Me Indian," is set to come out in April. "Time will come when I am no longer here," Sasakamoose said in his convocation message. "But my voice you will always use."This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 24, 2020.The Canadian Press
EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, his province bending precariously under the weight of record COVID-19 cases, imposed new sweeping public health restrictions Tuesday that include a ban on gatherings in people’s homes. Kenney also announced changes to schools, churches, restaurants and retailers, and banned sports teams from playing and sharply curtailed attendance at weddings and funerals. He said the goal is to slash the rate of infections and keep people alive while preventing the loss of jobs and livelihoods that threaten to make an already dire situation even worse. “This whole thing is just incredibly tough for everyone,” Kenney said Tuesday. “I just never imagined I’d be in this place in public life where I was telling people who could come visit them at home. “We really just felt we had no option given that 40 per cent of traceable cases connect back to private social activity.” Indoor gatherings are banned immediately, but people who live alone can have two personal contacts they are allowed to meet up with. Outdoor social gatherings are limited to 10 people, as are funerals and weddings. Kenney said the government is still working out how officers will enforce the gathering ban, but said there will be not be a “snitch line” for people to report on their neighbours. “(Officers) will be able to write tickets for fines of up to $1,000 per individual who is violating these rules against indoor social activities." He added that police and peace officers will have latitude on enforcement "They will be able to see if there are obvious signs of a large gathering, a lot of cars parked outside somebody’s house, for example," Kenney said. Starting Friday, businesses will remain open at reduced capacity or by appointment only. Places of worship must operate at one-third capacity. Banquet halls, conference centres and concert venues must also close. And children in grades 7 through 12 will move to at-home learning at the end of the month and other students will follow after Dec. 18. The orders will be reviewed in three weeks. Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, reported 1,115 new cases on Tuesday — the sixth consecutive day with numbers above the 1,100 mark. There were 348 patients in hospital, 66 of them in intensive care. Sixteen more people died, bringing that total to 492. A day earlier, Hinshaw compared the COVID-19 situation in Alberta to a snowball rolling down a hill, growing in size and speed. Lives and livelihoods have been the crux of the debate in Alberta. Kenney has maintained that the best approach is targeted health restrictions to keep COVID-19 from overrunning the health-care system while keeping the economy from collapsing. Others, including many physicians, infectious disease specialists and the Opposition NDP, have called for sharp, short economic lockdowns, arguing that if the COVID-19 wave isn't stopped, there won’t be an economy left to save. Kenney’s decisions were made after Hinshaw made new undisclosed recommendations Monday to the cabinet subcommittee directing COVID-19 decisions. NDP Leader Rachel Notley called the new restrictions “half-measures” and said they were likely the result of political bargaining instead of advice from public health officials. “We cannot know, unfortunately, exactly what Dr. Hinshaw recommended to this UCP cabinet. But I do not for one second believe it was this,” she said. Mike Parker, head of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta, a union representing paramedics and other health professionals, said Kenney tried to find the middle ground and failed. “The measures announced today are inadequate,” Parker said. “(Kenney) continues to put business interests ahead of the well-being of Albertans.” Jason Schilling, head of the Alberta Teachers’ Association, said the groups supports the move "to move to a combination of in-school and at-home learning that will allow schooling to continue in a safer environment." This is the second time Kenney's government has imposed sweeping rules to combat COVID-19. The province shut down many retail businesses, restaurants, recreation centres and schools during the first wave in March. Most were allowed to reopen in May and June with restrictions. Schools opened again in the fall. In recent weeks, the province has limited public gatherings in areas including Edmonton and Calgary and forced bars and restaurants to stop serving booze by 10 p.m. and to close by 11 p.m. Indoor group fitness and team sports, along with group singing and arts performances, are also banned in several large cities. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 24, 2020. Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California's system for paying unemployment benefits is so dysfunctional that the state approved more than $140 million for at least 20,000 prisoners, local and federal prosecutors said Tuesday, detailing a scheme that resulted in claims filed in the names of well-known convicted murderers like Scott Peterson and Cary Stayner. From March to August, more than 35,000 inmates were named in claims filed with the California Employment Development Department, with more than 20,000 being paid, according to Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert. At least 158 claims were filed for 133 death-row inmates, resulting in more than $420,000 in benefits paid “It involves rapists and child molesters, human traffickers and other violent criminals in our state prisons,” Schubert said. The list includes Peterson, who was sentenced to death after being convicted of killing his pregnant wife following a trial that riveted the nation. The California Supreme Court recently overturned Peterson’s death sentence and has ordered a lower court to review his murder conviction. Schubert confirmed there was a claim made in the name of Scott Peterson, but declined to provide further details. Peterson's attorney, Pat Harris, said while Peterson's name surfaced during the investigation, there is no evidence Peterson received unemployment aid from the state. “This investigation, when it's completed, will show that he had not a thing to do with any kind of scheme to get fraudulent benefits,” Harris said. Schubert listed a number of inmates there who had claims filed in their names, including Stayner, convicted of killing four people in or near Yosemite National Park in 1999; Susan Eubanks, a San Diego woman convicted of shooting her four sons to death in 1997; Isauro Aguirre, who was sentenced to death for the 2013 murder of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez in Los Angeles; and Wesley Shermantine, part of the duo dubbed the “Speed Freak Killers” for their meth-induced killing rampage in the 1980s and ’90s. Prosecutors said they learned of the scheme from listening in on recorded prison phone calls, where inmates would talk about how easy it was for everyone to get paid. They said the scheme always involved someone on the outside — usually friends or family members of the inmates, who would then receive the benefits. In Kern County, home to five state prisons, one address was used to receive benefits for 16 inmates. “In my nearly four decades as a prosecutor in this state, I have never seen fraud of this magnitude,” Kern County District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer said. In some cases, inmates used their real names. In others, they used fake names and even fake Social Security numbers. In one instance, an inmate used the name: “poopy britches," Schubert said. “Quite frankly, the inmates are mocking us,” Schubert said. So far, 22 people have been charged in San Mateo County, including six people who were not in prison. Prosecutors said dozens of other investigations across the state are continuing. Prosecutors blamed the Employment Development Department, which has been overwhelmed by more than 16.4 million benefit claims since the pandemic began in March, resulting in a backlog that at one time totalled more than 1.6 million people. But prosecutors said in its haste to approve benefits, the department did not check unemployment claims against a list of prisoners, as many other states do. San Mateo District Attorney Stephen Wagstaffe said that when he notified the department about inmates fraudulently receiving benefits, they told him they could not cut off the payments until they were formally charged with a crime. The problem was so bad that on Monday, nine county district attorneys sent a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom asking for him to intervene. “We face a manifest problem that requires action, not talk,” said McGregor Scott, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California. Employment Development Department spokeswoman Loree Levy said the agency has been working with the Department of Labor's Office of Inspector General on cross-checking claims with inmates, saying they are “pursuing how to integrate such cross-matches moving forward as part of enhanced prevention efforts during this unprecedented time of pandemic-related unemployment fraud across the country.” In an email to the AP, Newsom called the fraud “absolutely unacceptable.” He said he first learned of the fraud earlier this year, which prompted him to order the department to “review its practices and take immediate actions to prevent fraud and to hold people accountable.” Newsom said he has ordered the Office of Emergency Services to set up a task force to assist prosecutors with their investigation. “While we have made improvements, we need to do more,” Newsom said. ___ This story has been corrected to say that Cary Stayner killed four people in or near Yosemite National Park; to show 20,000 of 35,000 claims were paid; and to accurately spell the last name of convicted killer Wesley Shermantine. Adam Beam, The Associated Press
VICTORIA — British Columbia health officials are reporting a dramatic spike in COVID-19 cases, while they order a pause indoor physical activities. B.C. recorded 941 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday and 10 deaths.There are 7,732 active COVID-19 cases in B.C., and 284 people are in hospital. Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix say in a joint statement that residents need to support B.C.'s health-care workers by slowing the spread of COVID-19. The latest peak in numbers comes as health officials ordered dance studios, yoga studios and other indoor physical activity spaces to suspend operations as new guidance is developed.Henry and Dix urged the public to think of COVID-19 patients and the effect the virus is having on their family members.Earlier Tuesday, the Fraser Health Authority announced that 55 patients and 40 staff at Burnaby General Hospital had tested positive for COVID-19 and most patient admissions to the hospital would be suspended.The health authority also announced five deaths due to the virus.Patients in the intensive care unit, maternity, and community palliative care will still be admitted.The health authority says a fire in the hospital's emergency room last week contributed to the outbreak, as patients were moved to areas of the hospital they normally would not be.Also on Tuesday, Solicitor General Mike Farnworth extended the province's state of emergency until Dec. 8 and laid out enforcement measures for wearing masks in B.C.People 12 years and older are required to wear masks in indoor settings, ranging from malls to public transportation, and failure to do so can result in a $230 fine.People who cannot wear a mask, or who cannot put on or remove a mask without the assistance of others, are exempt from the new order.The detailed guidelines come as the union representing British Columbia teachers called on parents to support a "culture" of wearing masks as it continues to push for a mandatory mask policy in schools.Teri Mooring, the head of the BC Teachers' Federation, said in an open letter to parents that the union is looking for help in implementing and following mask-wearing protocols.The federation has repeatedly called on provincial health officials to make masks mandatory in schools.Mooring said some schools have already taken the step to make mask wearing normal and expected and it helps everyone to make schools feel safer. Henry has said that schools have specific COVID-19 safety plans and are exempt from the new mandatory mask requirements set out last week. Henry told a news conference Monday that students are in schools with a group of people they see day-to-day, unlike businesses where people interact with others they don't know, necessitating wearing a mask.She said she supports mask wearing in common areas and among adults at schools.This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 24, 2020.The Canadian Press
An accountant for a hotel in downtown Nelson, B.C., had a heart attack and collapsed shortly after being spat upon by an angry customer refusing to wear a mask, according to the hotel manager.The Nelson Police Department confirms it is investigating last Friday's incident, in which the customer allegedly yelled at a barista who offered him a face covering at the Empire Coffee shop in the Adventure Hotel.According to hotel manager Rob Little, the suspect "was screaming profanities at the top of their lungs to the point that they [the staff of Empire Coffee] had to say, 'Just get out!' "Little said that after receiving a call from the coffee shop manager, he sent his accountant — a woman in her 50s — to see what was going on."It was at that point that the person was trying to enter again," Little said."And she said, 'Listen! You're not going to talk to our people this way, and this is the law.' And he proceeded to spit on her."Little says police arrived and removed the suspect and took a statement from the accountant. After arriving back at the office about an hour and a half later, Little said the accountant, who was distraught from the experience, reported feeling ill and fell to the ground. She was airlifted to a hospital in Kelowna where it was determined she'd had a heart attack."She's stable right now, but she's not out of the woods by any stretch," he said. Aggressive behaviour around mask mandateAt least one other business in the city of over 10,000 people said they've experienced an increase in aggressive behaviour targeting customer service representatives, after Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced last Thursday that face coverings are now mandatory in all retail spaces.This week, Kootenay Co-op — a grocery store near the hotel — hired a security guard for the first time in its 45 years to head off rude behaviour among some shoppers who are resisting the mask mandate.The grocery store's manager said while most customers have followed the new regulations, about 10 to 20 per cent are refusing to wear a mask and become confrontational when asked to do so. "We all live here because of the quality of people that are here," Little said. "To see this kind of polarizing views on things and people going to such extremes is just disappointing."Police investigating spitting incidentStaff Sgt. Brian Weber with the Nelson Police Department says police are looking at the relationship between the woman's heart attack and the spitting incident with the customer. "There have been … some investigations that have made those causal links in the past," he said."[But] it's far too early and I know far too little about the exact file to make that kind of jump right now."The suspect is facing an assault charge.Tap the link below to listen to Bob Keating's conversation with Rob Little and Staff Sgt. Brian Weber on Daybreak South:
Health officials at the Maimonides Geriatric Centre in Cote-Saint-Luc refute a nurse's assertion that staff are made to travel between hot and cold zones, as the number of positive COVID-19 cases has climbed to 45 at the residence. They say they have added several precautions since the first wave, including employees whose sole purpose is to make sure protocols are being followed and personal protective equipment is worn and discarded properly. "Staff stay in the same unit," said Jennifer Clarke, site coordinator at Maimonides."It could be that a staff member was asked to move to a hot zone because maybe we need extra support there, but then they do not return to the regular care unit."Monday, a nurse at Maimonides told CBC a colleague had been forced to work in one of the regular units after having worked in the centre's hot zone on the seventh floor. The nurse, whom CBC agreed not to name, said the home is short-staffed and workers are questioning the quality of the personal protective equipment (PPE) they are provided, as seven staff members tested positive on one floor. "The morale is low. We are burned out. We are tired. At night, there is one nurse and one patient attendant for 70 patients," she said. Clarke agreed staff are tired, but that there are no serious staff shortages at the centre. She said the Quebec government program to train thousands of patient attendants benefited the centre, as 70 new patient attendants were sent to work there."The staff are feeling the burden of the pandemic. In the first wave, we were running on adrenaline. But heading into the second wave, you can feel it — they're feeling discouraged."Four Maimonides residents have died since the outbreak began more than a week ago at the centre. Clarke said the outbreak has been traced to a resident who was infected by their caregiver. The centre holds a testing clinic three days a week from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., where staff and caregivers are encouraged to regularly get tested. Clarke says the centre cannot legally force them to be tested, but that testing becomes mandatory once an outbreak is declared. The centre considers one positive case sufficient to declare an outbreak "because we know that once we have one case, it can very easily spread," she said.Dr. Lawrence Rosenberg, the president of the health board overseeing Maimonides, CIUSSS West Central Montreal, issued a statement Tuesday afternoon, reassuring residents and their families that staff were not transferred from hot to cold zones. "To those who are ill and to their loved ones, I would like to express my deepest concern, as well as my assurances that everything possible is being done to support the residents' recovery," Rosenberg wrote. "It is also worth noting that representatives of the Public Health Department visited Maimonides on Friday. Although their official report has not been released yet, they have already spoken to us and given their approval for the measures we have put in place."
Former patients of a maximum-security psychiatric facility who were subject to a series of “horrific” experimental treatments are appearing in a Toronto court via video feeds from across the country to testify at a three-week long damages hearing. Last June, Justice Edward Morgan of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice found two former psychiatrists who worked at the Oak Ridge Division of the Penetanguishene Mental Health Centre, along with the provincial government, liable for what their lawyers call unethical and degrading human experimentation between 1966 and 1983. Dr. Elliott T. Barker and Dr. Gary J. Maier gave patients high doses of hallucinogens and mind-altering drugs, including LSD and alcohol as the cornerstone of one of the programs. They confined naked men together for days on end at the facility along Georgian Bay’s Asylum Point, now known as Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care. Eight of those 28 patients have died since the lawsuit was launched 20 years ago. The first hearing revealed "varying degrees of harm” perpetrated by the two doctors in which the judge found the Crown also liable and in breach of their fiduciary duties “by perpetrating assault and battery." The current hearing is meant to quantify the damages by establishing the income patients lost as a result of their treatment in Penetanguishene and other related impacts. While the lawyers for the former patients haven’t yet attached a dollar figure to their claim, it is expected to be in the millions. Rod Joanisse told a court Monday that his brother, Danny, could have had a career with the family’s successful printing business in St. Catharines, possibly as a partner, were he not plagued by the effects of his time at Oak Ridge. As a 16-year-old, Danny was repeatedly cuffed to a convicted pedophile murderer, deemed, like many others at Oak Ridge, to be not criminally responsible for his crimes. The judge earlier found the teen “was humiliated, degraded, and deprived of any sense of security.” Danny, who died last year after testifying at the original hearing, had cut off two of his own fingers, but that didn’t stop him from doing tasks around the printing plant, his brother testified. But recurring nightmares prevented him from sleeping, increasingly interrupting his work schedule, he added. “He was more than capable,” the surviving Joanisse told the court this week. Allen McMann, now 61, told the hearing he spent five years on welfare after his release. And a letter from the welfare office finally prompted him to find some direction for his life and he signed up for a janitorial training program with Goodwill Industries. “I basically froze; I had a lot of shame,” McMann said, adding that he didn’t know what to do up until that point. That course eventually led him to a career of window cleaning, which he said suited him because it meant not having to deal with people, something he said is difficult as a result of his post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). McMann was considered to have a behavioural problem, was a bully in school and had stolen a car when he was sent to Oak Ridge in 1975 at age 16. There, he was deemed difficult to manage and remained at the facility until 1978. As part of the experimental treatments, he was coerced or forced to participate in humiliating programs he didn’t know were experimental, according to court documents. He was placed in a “capsule” with groups of naked men and locked in an isolation cell for group encounters where he spent his 17th birthday. That included being coupled with “a prison-hardened, seasoned killer who was several decades older than him.” The damages hearing is expected to continue for three weeks over the next four-week period and is to culminate with closing statements by lawyers for the former patients, the doctors and the provincial government in mid-December.Marg. Bruineman, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, barrietoday.com
OTTAWA — One of Canada's most controversial ex-ambassadors to China says he repeatedly tried to improve the living conditions of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor after their imprisonment in the People's Republic almost two years ago.John McCallum also said Tuesday he regrets speaking about the October 2019 Canadian election in a meeting with Chinese officials in the months leading up to it.McCallum, the former Liberal cabinet minister who was fired as Canada's envoy to China in January 2019, was testifying at the special House of Commons committee on Canada-China relations.Prime Minister Justin Trudeau fired McCallum after he made a series of public comments that broke with the government's line following the arrests of Kovrig and Spavor, nine days after Canada's arrest of Chinese high-tech scion Meng Wanzhou in December 2018 on a U.S. extradition warrant.McCallum said that's when everything changed in Canada's relations with China, and that he has no doubt Kovrig and Spavor would be free right now had Meng not been arrested."From that moment onwards, the top priority of the government and of myself as ambassador was to secure the release of the two Michaels," said McCallum, noting that he has been one of the few people to visit them in prison."On more than one occasion, I tried to convince the Chinese that if they were unable to release Kovrig and Spavor they should at least improve their living conditions. Sadly, as you all know, Canadian efforts in this area have so far been unsuccessful."The committee has been examining Canada's relations with China, which have plummeted to an all-time low since December 2018. That will likely include making recommendations about dealing with Chinese security agents who intimidate Canadians of Chinese descent on Canadian soil.McCallum appeared relaxed over a video link and displayed no ill will to the government that ended his decades-long career as a politician and then a high-level political appointee. MPs from all parties gave McCallum warm respectful greetings, with the Conservative MP Michael Chong telling him he liked an old book he had written.Trudeau appointed his former immigration minister – McCallum was the political architect of the campaign to bring tens of thousands of Syrian refugees to Canada in 2016 – to Beijing as a gesture of how he valued Canada's relations with China."I think I've done some useful things in my career," he said, citing the Syrian refugee effort, serving as Jean Chretien's defence minister when "we said no" to the United States' request to enter the Iraq war in 2003 and helping bestow honorary Canadian citizenship on South Africa's Nelson Mandela. "But I've never claimed to have led an error-free career."McCallum said he had regrets about his part of his meeting with Chinese officials in the summer of 2019, after he lost his ambassadorship. He said he used the opportunity to lobby for the release of Kovrig and Spavor, or at least improve their living conditions."I painted a dark picture of plummeting support for China among Canadians. And I also mentioned as part of this darkness an impending election. Now, in hindsight, I regret having spoken of the election. I don't think it was appropriate,” McCallum recalled.It likely didn’t make any difference, he said, "because at the end of the day, the Chinese refused to release or even improve the living conditions of our two detainees."In July 2019, McCallum told the South China Morning Post that he had warned China's foreign ministry that more harmful actions against Canada would only help what he said was the less-China-friendly Conservative party get elected.Conservative MPs wrote to Canadian Security Intelligence Service director David Vigneault, calling the comments "very disturbing." Then foreign affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said they were "highly inappropriate." McCallum also said that as ambassador, he rejected an unspecified number of Chinese visa applications on the advice of Canadian security agencies but noted at the time that Australia had a bigger problem with Chinese meddling than Canada. That has changed, he said."What happens to Australia today is a guide for what might happen to Canada down the road." Earlier Tuesday, Chong urged Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne to adopt a more consistent approach to getting tough with China.The Conservative foreign affairs critic told Champagne in a separate Commons committee meeting that the government needs to show Canadians how it will deal with growing Chinese intimidation of Canadians within Canada.Champagne replied that Canada has taken a smart and firm approach with China lately that includes speaking out against its ill treatment of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong and of ethnic Muslim Uighurs.This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 24, 2020.Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press
MEXICO CITY — Mexico’s former treasury and foreign relations secretary, Luis Videgaray, angrily denied accusations Tuesday by a lawyer for another former Cabinet secretary who claimed he used embezzled government money to help finance election campaigns.The accusations by a lawyer for ex-social development secretary Rosario Robles mark the second time that former top officials have lodged such accusations against Videgaray. A former head of the state-owned oil company, Emilio Lozoya, made similar accusations earlier this year.All three — Robles, Videgaray and Lozoya — worked in the 2012-2018 administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto.Videgaray, currently a faculty member at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management, is considered the political figure closest to Peña Nieto.He called the accusations “completely false.”“The mechanism of ‘I will save myself by blaming Videgaray’ has a limit, and that limit is truth and justice,” Videgaray wrote in a statement.Both Lozoya and Robles have reportedly offered to turn state's evidence and implicate Videgaray in return for favourable treatment for themselves.Robles wrote in her Twitter account Tuesday that “statements have been made that have not been agreed on with me. I have instructed my lawyers to limit themselves to the legal proceedings,” but she did confirm she had decided to be a co-operating witness.Videgaray wrote that strategy “is immoral and wrong, and does nothing to contribute to the fight against corruption led by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.”López Obrador made the crusade against corruption the centerpiece of his administration upon taking office in December 2018. He has, however, said he is not personally eager to go after former presidents and has proposed submitting the question to voters in a referendum.In 2019, a judge ordered Robles to be held in jail pending trial on corruption charges. She is accused of “wrongful exercise of public service” related to the alleged diversion of up to $260 million in public funds.Robles held multiple posts in Peña Nieto’s administration. The accusations against Videgaray date to June 2014 when Robles was social development secretary. Prosecutors say she was aware of the diversion of funds but never denounced it.Robles has denied wrongdoing.Lozoya was extradited from Spain earlier this year to face money laundering charges and immediately began co-operating with authorities. Videgaray previously denied accusations by Lozoya that he engaged in bribery or illegal campaign financing.Lozoya accused Peña Nieto and Videgaray of using bribes from the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht to help win the presidency and then to pass the energy sector overhaul that could greatly benefit that company and others. To that end, some opposition lawmakers were bribed for their votes, he alleges.In a statement in August, Videgaray called the accusations false, adding that "moreover, they are absurd, inconsistent and reckless.”The accusations Tuesday involved elections in 2012, 2015 and 2018. Peña Nieto's Institutional Revolutionary Party denied there had been any illicit financing in those races and said mandatory electoral audits had confirmed that.The Associated Press
Sajjad Fazel, a public health researcher at the University of Calgary, said people should look at what the 'overwhelming body of science and evidence says' when it comes to information about the pandemic.
Another senior in the town of Grand Bank has tested positive for COVID-19. That makes five people over the age of 70 who have been infected with the coronavirus in the past week, three of them tenants at a seniors' complex called Blue Crest Cottages. The new case, a woman, is not one of the tenants. In total, seven people in the community have tested positive, including a rotational worker. Newfoundland and Labrador registered another case on Tuesday, a woman in her 60s who is a close contact of a previous case unrelated to the Grand Bank cluster. With one new recovery from the disease, there are now a total of 24 active cases in the province. No one is in hospital. There are no new cases in Deer Lake, where a cluster of six positive cases, including an elementary student, has caused the school and much of the community to shut down as a precaution. Meanwhile, the Department of Health advised Tuesday that rotational workers who have returned from the LNG Canada project site in Kitimat, B.C., in the last 14 days will have to self-isolate for 14 days and stay physically distant from household members because of an outbreak there. They should also call 811 to arrange a COVID-19 test. Normally, rotational workers returning from within Canada can get tested on Day 7 and leave isolation if it’s negative, with some provisos. They are not allowed to enter long-term or personal care homes. The province is suspending its participation in the Atlantic bubble as of today at noon. That means anyone arriving in the province from the Maritimes must complete a full 14-day isolation, although a travel exemption is not required as it is for other parts of Canada. The province has strongly advised against non-essential travel due to a growing second wave of COVID-19 across the country. Peter Jackson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Telegram
In his first high-level meeting with Beijing, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said stable ties with China were important, as his country pursues a balancing act with its neighbour. On Wednesday, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi met Suga at the end of his two-day trip in Japan, marking the first high-level visit since Suga was elected as new leader in September. "A stable relationship between the two countries is important not only for Japan and China but also for the region and the international community," Suga told Wang in a meeting that lasted about 20 minutes.
As COVID-19 cases continue to grow, Premier Andrew Furey has decided to pull the plug on the Atlantic bubble — at least for now. Beginning Wednesday at 12:01 p.m., anyone arriving in the province from the Maritimes must isolate for 14 days. However, travellers within Atlantic Canada will still not have to apply for an exemption. The resumption of quarantine rules will also now apply to southern Labrador border communities, and those who live on the Quebec side but work in Labrador will have to apply for an exemption. Furey described the move as a “circuit break” and said it will be re-evaluated in two weeks. “This is not an easy situation,” he told reporters Monday to a live video briefing. “We must be responsive now and address the situation today,” he said, adding that the aim is to protect the school population and vulnerable citizens. “None of us want another full lockdown like the one we’ve just been through.” Furey said he talked to the other Atlantic premiers over the weekend and all are on board with the decision. P.E.I. Premier Dennis King announced Monday that province will also pause its participation in the bubble, starting Tuesday. “We’re enjoying this level of freedom,” Furey said. “We want to keep it that way.” But he dismissed the notion that leaving the bubble may affect some businesses in the province. “This is an effort to protect the economy.” Furey said the number of cases in other Atlantic provinces was not the only factor in the decision. Public Health also took into account that non-residents from the rest of Canada are still allowed to travel to those provinces without the need of an exemption. The province added another two cases to its tally Monday, including the first case of a child in school. It’s a girl in elementary school in Deer Lake, where a cluster of cases has caused much of the town to shut down as a precaution. Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said the child’s cohort — which in this case means the rest of her class — will now have to self-isolate while awaiting a test. “While this is not welcome news today, it is certainly not unexpected,” Fitzgerald said. “We knew we would eventually see cases in schools.” She added that procedures are being followed, and that the source of all cases in Deer Lake has been established and there’s no evidence of community spread. Fitzgerald said she’s tweaking the rules for rotational workers, but won’t backtrack on the shortened seven-day quarantine period implemented in September to relieve the burden of constant isolation while home. However, workers returning from sites elsewhere in Canada will have to wait till Day 7 to get a test, rather than being able to arrange one on Day 5. That may mean some workers may have to wait an extra day for results. That rule goes into effect Wednesday as well. Fitzgerald said waiting two extra days will provide an extra layer of protection. Workers returning from work outside Canada or returning from sites with an identified outbreak still have to isolate for the full 14 days. As well, Fitzgerald said families of rotational workers should avoid large gatherings during the isolation period, should wear a mask when in contact with anyone outside their bubble, and should avoid entering personal and long-term care homes. However, she admitted that is a recommendation and not a rule. Rotational workers, however, are now required to stay out of care facilities. “We continue to carefully consider the balance of risks and benefits as COVID rages on outside our borders,” she said. The province now has 23 active cases, but no longer has anyone in hospital. In Grand Bank — where seven people tested positive, including five seniors over the age of 70 — all contacts have been traced and are in quarantine, Fitzgerald said. In Deer Lake, however, contact tracing continues. Peter Jackson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Telegram
EDMONTON — Finance Minister Travis Toews says COVID-19 will affect Alberta’s economy for the next couple of years and perhaps beyond, but projections are encouraging.“COVID-19 has created an environment of uncertainty, not just here in Alberta but around the world,” Toews said Tuesday as he announced updated numbers for his current budget.“I can’t say whether the worst days are behind us in this pandemic. (But) I’m hopeful when I see signs of economic recovery out there. We’re doing all we can to position Alberta for recovery.”Toews said the revised budget deficit this year will be $21.3 billion. That’s $2.8 billion less than projected at the first update in August, but still exponentially larger than the $6.8-billion deficit announced when Toews first presented the budget in February.Since then, Toews said Alberta’s economy has been hit by the “triple black swan”: the COVID-19 pandemic, the drop in oil prices due to an international price war, and a global economic contraction.But he said the updated revenue forecast for the current budget is $41.4 billion, almost $3 billion higher than last quarter due to improved forecasts for resource and gaming revenues, investment income and federal transfers.Expenses are pegged at $62.7 billion, up $5.4 billion due to compensation and health-care initiatives responding to the COVID-19 crisis.Taxpayer-supported debt is pegged to hit $97.4 billion by the spring and $125 billion by 2023.Total spending to fight COVID-19 and for pandemic recovery efforts is forecast to be $4.8 billion this year and an estimated $1.8 billion for the two years after that.Revenue from non-renewable resources is forecast at $1.7 billion, down $3.4 billion.Toews said there are encouraging signs, but it will be a long path to full recovery. Real GDP, a measure of a jurisdictions’ total economic output, is expected to fall to 8.1 per cent rather than the expected 8.8 per cent this year and won’t recover to 2014 levels until 2023.Real GDP is expected to grow 4.4 per cent in 2021.Elsewhere, the province reported that the agriculture sector is reaping the rewards of strong crop conditions overall and the forestry sector is seeing higher prices for lumber.Refined petroleum exports are rising. The food manufacturing sector has seen sales rise 5.5 per cent through September. In the labour sector, employment has gained back 72 per cent of the 360,900 jobs lost earlier this year during the first COVID wave. However, employment is still expected to shrink by seven per cent in 2020 and won’t get back to 2019 levels until 2022.Toews said recalibrating Alberta’s finances in the long term will be tied to three “anchors”: keeping spending under control and comparable to other provinces, keeping the net-debt-to-GDP ratio to no more than 30 per cent, and devising a post-pandemic timeline to get the budget out of the red.“Economic recovery and efficient delivery of government services are both critically important for fiscal recovery,” said Toews. “As we continue to face the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic, we will continue to do everything we can to protect Albertans while also managing our finances responsibly.”Opposition NDP finance critic Shannon Phillips dismissed Toews’ update as an overly optimistic forecast given the province is still dealing with a renewed wave of COVID-19.“Simply put, the UCP can’t be trusted to manage the province’s finances or the economy,” said Phillips.“The first wave of COVID-19 was on our doorstep, but the UCP acted like everything was fine."Now in the midst of a second wave, we see the outcome of this government’s poor planning. We have an out-of-control pandemic, an absent premier and one of the slowest economic recoveries in Canada.”This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 24, 2020.Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press
EDMONTON — The Alberta government announced Tuesday new restrictions to battle record-high rates of COVID-19 infections in the province. In addition to declaring a public health emergency, the government ordered the following for the next three weeks:— No indoor social gatherings. Funerals and weddings are limited to 10 people, as are outdoor gatherings. Churches are restricted to one-third normal attendance.— Restaurants and bars can remain open. But a maximum of six people from the same household can sit at a table and there must be no movement between tables. People who live alone can meet with two people.\-- Retail stores can remain open at 25 per cent capacity. — At-home learning for students in Grades 7 through 12 starting Monday. Other students are to do their schooling from home starting Dec. 18 before winter break. All students are to resume at-home learning after the break and can return to school Jan . 11.\-- Casinos can remain open at 25 per cent capacity with slot machines only.— The closure of banquet halls, conference centres, trade shows, concert venues, community centres, and indoor play places.— A halt on all levels of sport, although exemptions may be considered.— Mandatory masks for indoor workplaces in Edmonton, Calgary and surroundings areas.This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 23, 2020.The Canadian Press
Care home operators in B.C. say having a daily rapid COVID-19 test for their workers could help stem outbreaks and alleviate anxiety about brining the virus to elderly people under their care.The comments follow B.C. Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie's call for the province to provide rapid tests for workers in care homes.The majority of COVID-19 deaths in the province have occurred in long-term care. On Tuesday the province said there were currently 55 active outbreaks in long-term care and assisted living centres."If we had rapid testing we might catch some of those people who actually are shedding the virus but they're not showing any symptoms," said Mackenzie about workers who inadvertently bring the disease into a care home where it can easily spread with devastating results.Rapid tests for coronavirus, known as rapid antigen tests, have been developed to give results in 15 to 30 minutes, much quicker than conventional tests.Most often health workers use what's called "reverse-transcriptase polymerase chain reaction" (RT-PCR) testing to confirm cases of COVID-19. The tests evaluate a cell sample taken with a swab at the back of the nose and throat for trace amounts of the coronavirus's RNA.These test are more accurate than rapid tests, but it can take days to receive the results.'A huge difference'Dan Levitt is the executive director of Tabor Village an independent and assisted living home in Abbotsford where 122 staff and residents have positive tests during its current coronavirus outbreak. There have been 16 deaths from the disease in November.He said rapid tests could be one more tool, along with temperature checks, mask use and cleaning, to push back the rate of outbreaks at care homes. "It's really the asymptomatic staff members, so if we could test them every day when they come in, we would wait for 15, 30 minutes until we get the results back and then if they're clear then they'll be able to come in," he said."If we could do that, it would make a huge difference."Debra Hauptman, the CEO of the Langley Care Society, which operates Langley Lodge agrees."We would welcome it, we think it's a very positive move to undertake everything that we can," she said. "One more measure that would give us all confidence."The lodge has had three outbreaks, one of which put the care home into lockdown for more than 60 days starting in mid-May and resulted in 51 cases and 26 deaths.Hauptman said the anxiety workers face over potentially bringing the disease to residents is difficult to cope with and a rapid test could mitigate that."Let us try it," she said. "We're not asking for perfection, we're asking for support."'Not a panacea'Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said on Monday there aren't enough tests in the province to apply them widely. She was also lukewarm about their efficacy."It is not a panacea," she said. "It is not what is going to solve our issue, because the tests have faults and limitations."She said testing all workers each and every day is not currently possible. "We don't yet have that type of a test that we could easily do every day," she said.Still long-term care providers like Hauptman said they would be willing to help fund the tests if the province was willing to try and implement them.The B.C. Care Providers Association has also asked for the tests to be used at long-term care centres.