Queuing for COVID boosters and deadly ferry fire: In The News for Dec. 24

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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. 24 ...

What we are watching in Canada ...

UNDATED — On the eve of the Christmas holiday, COVID-19 booster shots and rapid test kits are topping the wish lists of many Canadians as case numbers rocket to record highs across much of the nation.

Fuelled by the explosive growth of the Omicron variant, Quebec reported 9,397 cases Thursday and Ontario 5,790, while coronavirus cases in British Columbia topped 2,000 for the first time.

In Montreal, a top health official, Dr. Mylène Drouin, confirmed that one of every five tests for the virus was coming back positive, that 60 per cent of positive cases were among people aged 18 to 44, and that 90 per cent of new infections involved the Omicron variant.

COVID case records were also broken in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.

Most provinces, except Saskatchewan, have responded by reinstating stricter public health measures, including in some cases caps on social gatherings, capacity limits for many venues, and closures of some businesses.

People have been lining up, often for hours, to get highly sought after vaccine booster shots as well as rapid test kits to try to ensure that holiday gatherings are as safe as possible.

Canada's chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, says the Omicron variant is now the dominant mutation of COVID-19 in several provinces and that urgent action is needed to curb its spread.

Meanwhile, on a potentially positive note, the latest preliminary findings from the U.K. Health Security Agency add to emerging evidence that Omicron produces significantly milder illness than other variants, such as Delta, though it spreads much faster and better evades vaccines.

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Also this ...

UNDATED — It's beginning to look a lot like ... last year.

Rising COVID-19 cases and the highly-transmissible Omicron variant are prompting some Canadians to forgo their holiday plans, yet again.

But others are relying on vaccinations or weighing the risk of contracting the virus as they forge ahead with festive fun.

Toronto-based doctor Naheed Dosani says it's "part of his duty" as a frontline worker to give up another year of in-person celebrations with extended family and friends to protect community health.

He says the risk is too great as the Omicron variant could overwhelm health-care systems that are already resource-limited.

But Quebec resident Patricia MacDowell says she isn't worried about the mutation, as preliminary data shows it is less likely to result in serious illness.

She's hosting a Christmas Eve feast with three other family members, which is in line with Quebec's indoor gathering limits of 10 people.

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

NEW YORK — Officials in the United States have loosened rules that call on health care workers to stay out of work for 10 days if they test positive for COVID-19, fearing that a new wave could overwhelm understaffed hospitals.

Those workers now will be allowed to come back to work after seven days if they test negative and don't have symptoms. Isolation time can be cut if there are severe staffing shortages, according to the new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance.

“As the health care community prepares for an anticipated surge in patients due to omicron, CDC is updating our recommendations to reflect what we know about infection and exposure in the context of vaccination and booster doses," CDC director Rochelle Walensky said in a statement.

Isolation is designed to keep infected people away from uninfected people, to prevent further spread of the virus.

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Also this ...

MINNEAPOLIS — The former suburban Minneapolis police officer who said she confused her handgun for her Taser when she shot and killed Daunte Wright will be sentenced in February after a jury convicted her Thursday on two counts of manslaughter.

The most serious charge against Kim Potter — first-degree manslaughter — carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison. But sentencing guidelines call for around seven.

Prosecutors are going to seek a sentence that's above the guidelines, saying there are aggravating factors in the case, while the defence has indicated it will seek no prison time.

Potter was taken into custody pending sentencing.

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

DHAKA — Bangladesh fire services say at least 37 passengers have been killed and many others injured in a massive fire that swept through a ferry on the southern Sugandha River.

The blaze broke out around 3 a.m. Friday on the ferry packed with 800 passengers.

A fire officer says rescuers have so far recovered 37 bodies and rescued 72 injured. He says the rescue mission is ongoing and the casualties are likely to go up.

There was no word on what caused the fire.

Ferries are a leading means of transportation, especially in the southern and northeastern regions. In April, 25 people died after a ferry collided with another vessel and capsized outside Bangladesh’s capital.

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Also this ...

HONG KONG — A monument at a Hong Kong university that was the best-known public remembrance of the Tiananmen Square massacre on Chinese soil was removed Thursday, wiping out the city’s last place of public commemoration of the bloody 1989 crackdown.

For some at the University of Hong Kong, the move reflected the erosion of the relative freedoms they have enjoyed compared to mainland China.

The eight-metre-tall Pillar of Shame, which depicts 50 torn and twisted bodies piled on top of each other, was made by Danish sculptor Jens Galschioet to symbolize the lives lost during the military crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.

”They are sending a signal to the students that it is over with the (Hong Kong) democracy movement and that it is over with free speech in Hong Kong,” Galschioet said of the monument's removal.

The university said it asked that the sculpture, which had been standing on its campus for more than two decades, be put in storage because it could pose “legal risks."

Each year on June 4, members of the now-defunct student union would wash the statue to commemorate the massacre. The city, together with Macao, were the only places on Chinese soil where commemorations of the crackdown were allowed.

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On this day in 1964 ...

The Queen gave the final approval for Canada's Maple Leaf flag. Parliament had approved the new design on Dec. 18th to replace the Red Ensign and Union Jack.

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In entertainment ...

NEW YORK — Revellers will still ring in the new year in New York’s Times Square next week, there just won’t be as many as usual under new COVID-19 restrictions.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday that viewing areas that normally accommodate about 58,000 people will be limited to about 15,000 to allow for more distancing.

The added precautions for New Year's Eve in Times Square were spurred by the rapid spread of the Omicron variant in the Big Apple, where lines for testing have snaked around blocks in recent days.

The new wave of cases has led to the cancellation of concerts, sporting events and Broadway shows, but de Blasio has shown a strong preference for having the annual Times Square ball drop go on as planned.

On Tuesday, the Fox network gave its verdict, pulling the plug on a planned live broadcast from the New Year's Eve event. Other networks plan to air the festivities, including Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve on ABC, the stalwart now hosted by Ryan Seacrest.

On New Year's Eve last year, Times Square was mostly empty, with Jennifer Lopez and other artists performing behind police barricades.

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ICYMI ...

A sixth-grader from Muskogee, Oklahoma, has been honored by law enforcement and school officials for his heroic actions not just once, but twice in the same day.

The Muskogee Phoenix newspaper reports Davyon Johnson used the Heimlich maneuver on a classmate who was choking on a bottle cap. Later that same day, he helped a woman escape from a burning house.

Davyon was named an honorary member of the police and sheriff’s departments at the Muskogee Board of Education meeting last week. Principal Latricia Dawkins said Davyon "is just a kind soul and well-liked by his peers and staff alike.”

Davyon’s mother, LaToya Johnson, said she’s not surprised he behaved the way he did. She said her brother, Wendell Johnson, is an emergency medical technician.

“I’m just a proud mom,” she said.

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Also this ...

LIWA — Tens of thousands of camels from across the region have descended on the desert of the United Arab Emirates to compete for the title of most beautiful.

The annual camel beauty pageant in southwestern UAE drew thousands of breeders this week, despite the coronavirus pandemic dampening typical festivities.

The festival celebrates and seeks to preserve the Emirates' Bedouin heritage. But traces of modern life are ubiquitous — from banned Botox injections to enhance the camels' features to Instagram livestreams to drum up enthusiasm.

The contest remains a holdover of the past for a society upended by oil wealth and international business that's home to futuristic, skyscraper-studded Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 24, 2021

The Canadian Press

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