Quebec's COVID Count Rises and a Liberal MP gets Censured: In The News for Dec. 23

·7 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 Dec. 23 ...

What we are watching in Canada ...

Quebec Premier Francois Legault announced Wednesday evening that his province had recorded about 9,000 new COVID-19 cases during the day, and he said the "exponential" rise in infections over the past week will necessitate new restrictions.

As of Boxing Day, he said, private gatherings in the province will be limited to six people or two-family bubbles. Restaurants, which are already operating at half capacity and have to close at 10 p.m., will also have to limit groups at tables to six people or two families.

Quebec has already requested military help to accelerate the province's mass vaccination campaign.

Meantime, Canada's chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, says Omicron is now the dominant variant in several provinces.

"There were over 11,300 new cases yesterday alone," Tam said Wednesday. That was up from an average of just 5,000 cases per day last week. She added, "modelling shows that by the beginning of January we could have very high number of cases, which underscores the need to act urgently now to reduce the acceleration."

To avoid a sudden rush on the health-care system, Tam urged all Canadians to do what they can to lessen the spread of the virus.---

Also this ...

A Liberal MP has found himself in hot water after defying advice not to travel out of the country unless the trip is essential.

Chief government whip Steven MacKinnon issued a statement Wednesday saying he is "profoundly disappointed" that Liberal MP Yves Robillard travelled outside Canada, in contravention of party instructions. Robillard has been censured.

The whip says Liberal MPs were told to avoid non-essential international travel as the COVID-19 Omicron variant increases its grip -- mirroring the government advice to members of the public.

MacKinnon said although Robillard is fully vaccinated, the MP's trip during Parliament's holiday break was not considered essential, and he will be removed from his duties as a member of the standing committee on national defence as a result.

MacKinnon, who did not mention Robillard's destination or reasons for travel, intends to talk to the MP about his decision to leave Canada when Parliament returns. Robillard did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden’s message to the American people on confronting the Omicron coronavirus variant comes with a heavy dose of cajoling as some other countries are issuing decrees to their citizens.

America's ideologically-polarized reaction to vaccines and masks, and its federal system in which states have broad authority over health matters, limits some of the options Biden can exercise — at least without stoking political flareups that could distract from his urgent public health message.

Jen Kates, director of global health for the non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation, says one of the major lessons the U.S. has learned from the pandemic is that “politics matters.”

“We are a big country, we are a complex country, and on every issue, partisans are divided,” she said. “That, coupled with local control, and we end up with a disjointed response.”

France has banned public concerts and fireworks displays at New Year’s celebrations while calling on people to avoid large gatherings and limit the number of family members coming together for Christmas. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and state governors agreed on restrictions to take effect before the new year, including limiting private gatherings to 10 people, closing nightclubs and holding large events like soccer matches without in-person audiences.

In the U.S., Biden has not issued fresh travel warnings nor urged the cancellation of public events.

On Tuesday, the president seemed to be taking pains to try to connect with viewers on TV. He avoided a catchphrase that he and other members of his administration have often used — “pandemic of the unvaccinated” — and instead tried to appeal to vaccine refusers as fellow Americans.

“I, honest to God, believe it’s your patriotic duty,” Biden said, urging the unvaccinated to get their shots.

He even invoked his Republican predecessor. “Just the other day, former president (Donald) Trump announced he had gotten his booster shot,” Biden said. “It may be one of the few things he and I agree on.”

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

BEIJING — China has ordered the lockdown of as many as 13 million people in neighbourhoods and workplaces in the northern city of Xi’an following a spike in COVID-19 cases, setting off panic buying just weeks before the country hosts the Winter Olympics.

State media say city officials ordered all residents to stay home unless they have a pressing reason to go out and suspended all transport to and from the city apart from special cases. One person from each household will be permitted out every two days to buy household necessities.

Xi’an on Wednesday reported 52 new locally transmitted cases of the coronavirus over the previous 24 hours.

China has adopted strict pandemic control measures under its zero-transmission program, leading to frequent lockdowns, universal masking and mass testing.

Those measures have been stepped up in recent days ahead of the start of the Beijing Winter Olympic Games on Feb. 4.

The Xi'an restrictions are some of the harshest since China in 2020 imposed a strict lockdown on more than 11 million people in and around the central city of Wuhan after COVID-19 was first detected there in late 2019.

Social media posts recorded panic buying of groceries and household products, with the government saying new supplies would be brought in on Thursday.

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On this day in 1983 ...

Jeanne Sauvé was appointed Canada's first female governor general. The former broadcaster and federal cabinet minister had also been the first woman Speaker of the House of Commons.

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In entertainment ...

MINNEAPOLIS — Court officials are edging closer to dividing up pop superstar Prince’s estate.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported Wednesday that November tax filings show the Internal Revenue Service and Comerica Bank & Trust, the estate administrator, have reached an agreement in November on the total value of Prince’s assets.

The specific number hasn’t been disclosed but it could be more than $100 million. The IRS last year determined Prince's assets were worth $163.2 million. Comerica put the number at $82.3 million. IRS officials felt Comerica's total was so low they imposed a $6.4 million accuracy penalty on the estate.

The Carver County probate court still must approve the agreement. The court is set to begin discussions in February on how to divide up the assets.

The estate likely will be divided between New York music company Primary Wave and Prince's three oldest heirs or their families. Primary Wave bought out all or most of the interests of Prince's three youngest siblings.

Prince died of a fentanyl overdose at his Paisley Park home in Carver County in April 2016. He didn't have a will.

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ICYMI ...

A University of Calgary paleontologist says she has seen well-preserved dinosaur egg fossils before, but nothing like this.

The fossil, the subject of a new paper published Wednesday, is so detailed it's revealing even more about the deep relationships between dinosaurs and birds, their modern-day descendants.

Darla Zelenitsky says the find is of a 65-million-year-old type of theropod dinosaur called an oviraptorid, a species already on an avian evolutionary path.

First discovered in China about 20 years ago, the specimen is so completely preserved it reveals the posture of the soon-to-be theropod inside its shell. With its back curled up against the broad end of the shell and its head tucked in between its arms and legs, it looks much like an unhatched chicken.

Zelenitsky says "The skeleton is curled up in a birdlike embryonic pose." She adds "birds were thought to have a unique posture within the egg before hatching. It's evident from this fossil that some of these postures seem to have first evolved in their dinosaur ancestors."

It's the first time scientists have been able to see how dinosaur embryos were positioned inside their eggs. Previous egg fossils have been too fragmented. Zelenitsky says "this reinforces the link between those theropod dinosaurs and birds." That link is growing stronger as more evidence comes in.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 23, 2021

The Canadian Press

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