With meteorologist Jessie Uppal.
With meteorologist Jessie Uppal.
It’s hard to say what is the more impressive feat — remotely landing a spacecraft on Mars, or a kid from Norfolk County landing a job at NASA. Christopher Heirwegh’s unlikely trajectory took him from a Simcoe Composite School physics class to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), where an instrument he helped design is scanning the surface of Mars for signs of ancient life. “It’s been a very exciting past couple of weeks, starting with the anticipation leading up to the landing, followed by the joy of knowing it made it successfully,” said Heirwegh, 39, a few days after watching the Mars rover Perseverance complete its 300 million-mile journey to the Red Planet on Feb. 18. As Perseverance floated down to the surface, Heirwegh was on the edge of his seat at his home in Pasadena, Calif. His wife, Meagan, and their six-year-old daughter, Harper, were by his side, with the rest of Heirwegh’s JPL team sharing in the suspense on a video call. “It hit me right at that moment before landing, around the parachute phase, that things are going to come in fast, and oh boy, if this doesn’t make it, where do we go from here?” Heirwegh said. “There was certainly some tension.” Perseverance’s thrusters soon kicked in to start its powered descent, and a sky crane took over to gently place the rover on Mars. While mission control filled with the cheers of relieved scientists, the Heirweghs tucked into celebratory shawarma and cake. Now that Perseverance is trundling around the Jezero crater, Heirwegh’s work has just begun. The physicist is keeping a close eye on PIXL, a high-tech X-ray machine that has been his sole professional focus since joining NASA in 2016. PIXL — the Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry — is one of two instruments mounted on the lander’s robotic arm that will help answer the mission’s central question — has there been life on Mars? About the size of a lunch box, PIXL’s job is to scan Martian rocks for trace elements that could point to the presence of ancient life, while taking what Heirwegh describes as “super close-up pictures of rock and soil textures” that could reveal microbial evidence smaller than a grain of salt. PIXL has an X-ray tube at its heart, similar to what dentists use when photographing teeth. The scanner shoots pinpoint-sized X-ray beams into the rock, a process not unlike how artwork investigators chemically analyze paintings to detect forgeries. “We’re looking at things that tell us what the rock is made of, where the rock might have come from, if it was exposed to water, and also if it might have potentially harboured very primitive forms of life at one time,” Heirwegh explained. PIXL is best at finding evidence of inorganic material — heavier elements like calcium, lead and strontium — while another instrument on the rover, called SHERLOC, looks for “the building blocks of life,” lighter organic molecules like carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. Together, they search for “biosignatures” suggestive of fossilized bacteria that may have called a Martian ocean home billions of years ago. “Our two instruments can each produce two-dimensional elemental maps,” Heirwegh said, likening each pinpoint of data collected to the pixels on a television that combine to form a clear picture. “We’re hoping we can eventually overlay the two maps so we can really get a good idea of what the rock is all about.” Reaching for the stars The grandson of tobacco farmers who immigrated to Norfolk County from Belgium, Heirwegh grew up enthralled by the stars in the night sky and the vastness of space. He never missed an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation — “mostly just the Rodenberry years,” he clarified — and pored over images of the solar system captured by the Voyager probes. “I found that pretty fascinating, and that kind of led me to what I do now,” he said. Mike and Laurie Heirwegh have followed their son’s career with pride. “Some of the stuff is way above what we understand. Christopher always keeps it as simple as possible for us,” Mike said with a laugh. Mike, a retired pharmacist and business owner, said his “studious” and “reserved” son excelled in a science-heavy course load at Simcoe Composite School. “Whitney, our daughter, said he had this microscope he got at Christmas and would project images up in his room and explain what was on the slides to her and her sister Danielle,” added Laurie, who owns a gift shop in Simcoe. Four years studying undergraduate science at McMaster University in Hamilton led to a master’s in medical physics at Mac, where Heirwegh first tried his hand at X-ray technology. He further studied X-ray fluorescence and radiation science while doing his PhD and post-doctoral fellowship in applied physics at the University of Guelph, which involved analyzing data collected by the Opportunity and Curiosity Mars rovers. That piqued NASA’s interest, creating a rare opportunity for a Canadian to join the Jet Propulsion Lab. “There were not too many people who were doing that,” Mike Heirwegh said. “To get a job like he’s doing in NASA, you have to be uniquely different than any American.” The family left their house in Guelph to make a new life in America, with Meagan Heirwegh, herself an accomplished academic, putting her career on hold so her husband could follow his dream. “She was extremely supportive of taking this step,” Heirwegh said. “That’s been a really key part of it, and something that helped me to have the courage to make such a drastic move.” While navigating the immigration process, Heirwegh got to work calibrating PIXL years ahead of its launch on Perseverance. Past Mars rovers have used X-ray fluorescence spectrometers, but PIXL is the first with an X-ray tube, a technological milestone Heirwegh finds “quite rewarding.” In the months ahead, Heirwegh and his fellow scientists will analyze the trove of scientific data Perseverance will transmit across space to the Jet Propulsion Lab, while making sure their high-tech scanner stays properly calibrated. To keep himself calibrated in what can be a high-pressure job, Heirwegh exercises every morning, and he and Meagan solve a Mensa puzzle together over breakfast. “It’s a nice way to jump-start the physical and mental gears,” he said. Heirwegh could not have known what the future held when he decided to leave Canada and boldly go to NASA to reach for the stars. But his parents say their son was destined to work on the Mars project. “I think the term ‘perseverance’ is very much like Christopher,” Mike said. “He persevered to get to where he is.” J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator
As COVID-19 vaccine supplies ramp up across the country, most provinces and territories have released details of who can expect to receive a shot in the coming weeks. Here's a list of their plans to date: Newfoundland and Labrador The province says it is in Phase 1 of its vaccine rollout. Health-care workers on the front lines of the pandemic, staff at long-term care homes, people of "advanced age" and adults in remote or isolated Indigenous communities have priority. Chief medical health officer Dr. Janice Fitzgerald has said Phase 2 will begin in April if vaccine supply remains steady. The second phase prioritizes adults over 60 years old, beginning with those over 80, as well as Indigenous adults, first responders, rotational workers and adults in marginalized populations, such as those experiencing homelessness. Adults between 16 and 59 years old will be vaccinated in the third phase of the rollout, and Fitzgerald has said she expects that to begin this summer. --- Nova Scotia Health officials in Nova Scotia announced Tuesday that vaccination rollout plans for the month included the province's first pharmacy clinics. Prototype pharmacy clinics will launch in Halifax and Shelburne on March 9, Port Hawkesbury on March 16 and Springhill on March 23. Nova Scotia plans to have vaccine available to at least 75 per cent of the population by the end of September 2021. --- Prince Edward Island Health officials in Prince Edward Island say they will shift their focus to getting a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine to all adults by July 1, even if it means delaying the second shot for some. Chief medical officer Heather Morrison has said people over the age of 80 will get a second dose based on their existing appointments. Going forward, she said, other residents will get a longer interval between their first and second doses, but she didn’t specific how long that will be. --- New Brunswick The province is also focusing on vaccinating those living in long-term care homes, health-care workers with direct patient contact, adults in First Nations communities and older New Brunswickers in the first phase, which lasts until at least March. The next phase is scheduled to begin in the spring and includes residents and staff of communal settings, other health-care workers including pharmacists, first responders and critical infrastructure employees. The government website says once the vaccine supply is continuous and in large enough quantities, the entire population will be offered the shots. --- Quebec Quebec started vaccinating older seniors Monday, after a first phase that focused largely on health-care workers, remote communities and long-term care. In Montreal, mass vaccine sites including the Olympic Stadium opened their doors to the public as the province began inoculating seniors who live in the hard-hit city. The government announced last week it would begin booking appointments for those aged 85 and up across the province, but that age limit has since dropped to 70 in some regions, including Montreal. Quebec announced Tuesday it had reached a deal with pharmacies that will allow them to start administering COVID-19 vaccines by mid-March. Health Minister Christian Dube said about 350 pharmacies in the Montreal area will start taking appointments by March 15 for people as young as 70. The program will eventually expand to more than 1,400 pharmacies across the province that will administer about two million doses. The Montreal region is being prioritized in part because of the presence of more contagious variants, such as the one first identified in the United Kingdom, Dube has said. --- Ontario The province began vaccinating people with the highest priority, including those in long-term care, high-risk retirement home residents, certain classes of health-care workers and people who live in congregate care settings. Several regions in Ontario moved ahead Monday with their plans to vaccinate the general public, while others used their own systems to allow residents aged 80 and older to schedule appointments. Toronto also began vaccinating members of its police force Monday after the province identified front-line officers as a priority group. Constables and sergeants who respond to emergency calls where medical assistance may be required are now included in the ongoing first phase of Ontario's vaccine rollout, a spokeswoman for the force said. A day earlier, Toronto said the province expanded the first phase of its vaccination drive to include residents experiencing homelessness. The provincial government has said it aims to begin vaccinating Ontarians aged 80 and older starting the week of March 15, the same day it plans to launch its vaccine booking system, which will offer a service desk and online portal. It has said the vaccine rollout will look different in each of its 34 public health units. When asked about the lack of provincewide cohesion, Health Minister Christine Elliott said that public health units know their regions best and that's why they have been given responsibility to set the pace locally. She also says the province will soon share an updated vaccine plan that factors in expected shipments of the newly approved Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. The province will do that after getting guidance from the federal government on potentially extending the time between first and second doses, like B.C. is doing, of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines to four months, Elliott says She also says Ontario seniors won't receive the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine since there's limited data on its effectiveness in older populations. --- Manitoba Manitoba is starting to vaccinate people in the general population. Appointments are now available for most people aged 94 and up, or 74 and up for First Nations people. Until now, vaccines have been directed to certain groups such as health-care workers and people in personal care homes. Health officials plan to reduce the age minimum, bit by bit, over the coming months. Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead of the province's vaccine task force, has said inoculations could be open to all adults in the province by August if supplies are steady. --- Saskatchewan The province is still in the first phase of its vaccination rollout, which reserves doses for long-term care residents and staff, health-care workers at elevated risk of COVID-19 exposure, seniors over the age of 70 and anyone 50 or older living in a remote area. In all, nearly 400,000 doses are required to finish this stage. The next phase will be focused on vaccinating the general population by age. It hopes to begin its mass vaccination campaign by April, but there if there isn’t enough supply that could be pushed back to June. Saskatchewan will begin immunizing the general population in 10-year increments, starting with those 60 to 69. Also included in this age group will be people living in emergency shelters, individuals with intellectual disabilities in care homes and people who are medically vulnerable. Police, corrections staff and teachers are among the front-line workers not prioritized for early access to shots. The government says supply is scarce. The province said this week that it may follow British Columbia's lead in delaying a second dose of COVID-19 vaccine to speed up immunizations. The government says it hopes a national committee that provides guidance on immunizations will support waiting up to four months to give people a second dose. If that happens, the province could speed up how soon residents get their first shot. --- Alberta Alberta is now offering vaccines to anyone born in 1946 or earlier, a group representing some 230,000 people. Appointments are being offered through an online portal and the 811 Health Link phone line. Shots are also being offered to this cohort at more than 100 pharmacies in Calgary, Red Deer and Edmonton starting in early March and the government has said there are also plans to include doctors’ offices. Health Minister Tyler Shandro has said all eligible seniors should have their first shots by the end of March. But he said Monday that the province will not give Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to anyone over the age of 65 after the National Advisory Committee on Immunization expressed concerned there is limited data on how well it will work in older populations. The first phase of the vaccine rollout also included anyone over 65 who lives in a First Nations or Metis community, various front-line health care workers, paramedics and emergency medical responders. Phase 2 of the rollout, to begin in April, is to start with those 65 and up, Indigenous people older than 50 and staff and residents of licensed supportive living seniors’ facilities not previously included. --- British Columbia British Columbia will extend the time between the first and second doses of COVID-19 vaccines to four months so all adults could get their initial shot by the end of July. Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says evidence from the province and around the world shows protection of at least 90 per cent from the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. The province launched the second phase of its immunization campaign Monday and health authorities will begin contacting residents and staff of independent living centres, those living in seniors' supportive housing as well as homecare support clients and staff. Seniors aged 90 and up can call to make their appointment starting next Monday, followed a week later by those aged 85 and over, and a week after that by those 80 and up. Henry says the approval of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine means some people will get their first shot sooner than planned. She says B.C. will focus its rollout of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine among essential workers, first responders and younger people with more social interactions who would have to wait longer to receive their first doses of the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines. It's now possible that all adults could get their first shot by July, Henry says. --- Nunavut The territory says it expects enough vaccines for 75 per cent of its population over the age of 18. After a COVID-19 vaccine is administered, patients will be tracked to ensure they are properly notified to receive their second dose. Nunavut's priority populations are being vaccinated first. They include residents of shelters, people ages 60 years and up, staff and inmates and correctional facilities, first responders and front-line health-care staff. --- Northwest Territories The Northwest Territories its priority groups — such as people over 60, front-line health workers and those living in remote communities — are being vaccinated The territory says it expects to vaccine the rest of its adult population starting this month. --- Yukon Yukon says it will receive enough vaccine to immunize 75 per cent of its adult population by the end of March. Priority for vaccinations has been given to residents and staff in long-term care homes, group homes and shelters, as well as health-care workers and personal support workers. People over the age of 80 who are not living in long-term care, and those living in rural and remote communities, including Indigenous Peoples, are also on the priority list for shots. --- This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 3, 2021. The Canadian Press
WASHINGTON — Last year's confluence of COVID-19 and Donald Trump exposed the urgent need to reinvent North America, experts across the continent agreed Tuesday as they explored how best to fortify its trilateral ties. The Washington-based Wilson Center convened a virtual gathering of 13 different academics, ambassadors and diplomats from all three countries to flesh out the idea of renewing the North American relationship. The prospect has been much discussed in recent days, thanks to a flurry of high-profile political meetings between American leaders and their Canadian or Mexican counterparts aimed at signalling U.S. President Joe Biden's post-Trump commitment to multilateral diplomacy. But there's a risk that the movement never rises beyond the level of well-crafted political rhetoric, said Alan Bersin, former chief diplomatic officer of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. To work, he said, the endeavour will need buy-in at the grassroots level in all three countries, as well as from the business community. Trump "did create an impetus for business, for the first time, to recognize that they better defend the shared production platform that has arisen in the last 25 years in North America," Bersin said. "We can do it much better together than we can do it alone." That will be more easily said than done, he added — noting the fact that each of the three countries has a different name for the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which replaced NAFTA last year. Each country puts its own name first. "We've got to actually start to create an atmosphere and an understanding broadly that it's better for us to face the world together in the next generation than to concentrate on our separate paths." Perhaps the starkest illustration of the fragility of North American supply chains, even in the age of the USMCA, came last April when Trump ordered Minnesota-based 3M to stop exporting American-made N95 respirators outside the country. The company itself, which pushed back on humanitarian grounds, eventually defused the crisis by promising to meet demand in the U.S. by importing masks from its overseas facilities. Trump's protectionist instincts have lingered, however: the Biden administration has so far shown no interest in reversing the former president's insistence that U.S.-made vaccines be reserved for American arms. Canada needs to take stock now about how to inoculate itself from similar problems before the next pandemic hits, said Michael Grant, assistant deputy minister for the Americas with Global Affairs Canada. "We need to be prepared for something like this happening again," said Grant, calling for a "Fortress North America" approach that would prioritize supply lines within the continent itself. "There are some fragilities there that I think we need to work on." For 20 years, businesses and ordinary citizens alike have embraced the idea of North America as a single, unified region, said Bill Crosbie, formerly director general of the North America Bureau, which oversees Canadian embassies and consulates across the continent. Only at the political level have relations between the three seen ups and downs, he said. "The government, top-down side of things, it waxes and wanes, and it has waned over the past few years," Crosbie said. "But if we can bring back to the table ... the areas where we have joined up, where we've been successful — either as governments or as the private sector or as civil societies — we can build on those successes to demonstrate that this collaboration is delivering real benefits for people in all three countries. Tuesday's virtual conference kicked off the Wilson Center's "North America 2.0" project aimed at floating policy recommendations for a more unified trilateral relationship. But it also followed nearly a solid week of earnest bilateral conversations between high-level leaders in all three countries, beginning with Biden's virtual meeting Feb. 23 with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The centrepiece of that meeting — a "Road Map for a Renewed U.S.-Canada Partnership" — detailed a "whole-of-government" effort to co-operate in a number of areas of mutual interest. Those included beating back COVID-19 and resurrecting the pandemic-battered North American economy, a united front against climate change, addressing income inequality and social injustice on both sides of the border and restoring global faith in multilateral institutions like the World Trade Organization. This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 2, 2021. James McCarten, The Canadian Press
BERLIN — Jadon Sancho scored to send Borussia Dortmund into the semifinals of the German Cup with a 1-0 win at Borussia Mönchengladbach on Tuesday. The game's buildup had been overshadowed by Gladbach coach Marco Rose’s move to Dortmund next season, but it was the 20-year-old Sancho who emerged as the main figure in a cagey quarterfinal. Sancho made the breakthrough in the 66th on a counterattack after a Gladbach corner. Nico Schulz intercepted a Florian Neuhaus pass and played the ball forward through Erling Haaland and Marco Reus, who sent Sancho on his way. The England forward fired in off the left post. Dortmund midfielder Mahmoud Dahoud, one of several players facing their former team, was sent off in injury time with his second yellow card for a dangerous lunge at Ramy Bensebaini, who was booked for his reaction. Dahoud will miss the semifinal. Reus, the Dortmund captain, also previously played for Gladbach, as did substitutes Schulz and Thorgan Hazard, while Gladbach’s Matthias Ginter and Jonas Hofmann previously played for their opponents. It was Gladbach’s fourth straight defeat across all competitions and it stretched to its winless run to six games – Rose’s worst stretch as a coach. Both sides missed good chances to score. Marcus Thuram should have scored early for Gladbach before Reus replied with another wasted opportunity at the other end. Dortmund suffered a blow in between with Raphaël Guerreiro going off injured. The Portuguese wing-back was lying down with his left shin-guard off after just three minutes played. The next big chance fell to Haaland, but Nico Elvedi got back and somehow did enough to just put the young star off in the 36th. Thuram had a goal ruled out for offside before the break, and Haaland had another ruled out through VAR after it. Replays showed the Norwegian caught Bensebaini, causing him to fall, before he swept in Reus’ cross. More chances went untaken after Sancho scored. Defender Stefan Lainer came closest for Gladbach when he fired just over with the final kick of the game. ___ More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports ___ Ciarán Fahey on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cfaheyAP CiaráN Fahey, The Associated Press
VANCOUVER — The federal government has provided nearly $3.5 million in funding for five vending machines that will dispense medical-grade opioids in British Columbia, Ontario and Nova Scotia, in order to prevent overdoses. Darren Fisher, parliamentary secretary to Health Minister Patty Hajdu, says two machines are located in Vancouver, one is in Victoria and one each are in London, Ont., and Dartmouth, N.S. The machines, called MySafe, are similar to ATMs and allow drug users at risk of overdose to get hydromorphone pills dispensed to them after their palm has been scanned. Fisher says MySafe allows participants to access a safer drug without fear, shame and stigma, and without contact with anyone, which is all the more essential during the pandemic. Overdose deaths have spiked during pandemic with many people using alone and a more toxic illicit drug supply. Drug users are assessed by a doctor and a baseline urine sample is collected before they can access safer drugs through the MySafe machines, which are bolted to the floor. This is a corrected story. A previous version said $5.6 million in funding. This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 2, 2021. The Canadian Press
EDMONTON — Asmaa Ali says slurs about her hijab and the colour of her skin have become so frequent she doesn't report them to police anymore. Whether she's running errands or on her way to work as a nurse at an Edmonton hospital, the 23-year-old Somali-Canadian says she's always looking over her shoulder. She and several other Black and Muslim women in her life are feeling more frightened in public, she says, because of an increasing number of assaults. Five Somali-Canadian women, all wearing hijabs, have been attacked or threatened in Edmonton in the last 10 weeks. "I've always been hyper-vigilant in public spaces because of my identity. But hearing about these attacks has made me more anxious and aware of my surroundings." Ali says she also has been assaulted in the past, but is too traumatized to reveal details. Avoiding public transit, not running errands alone and self-defence classes are all things she says she and her female friends and family are considering. Edmonton's Al-Rashid Mosque began offering Muslim women self-defence lessons following the recent attacks. The classes are full. Ali says the number of hate crimes reported to Alberta's police forces are not reflective of the increasing number of people approaching her with their stories of assaults. "It makes me enraged," she says. "Most of my visibly Muslim friends and family members have a story of some kind of Islamophobia. The general public hears about this through the media, while our reality is that these are our sisters and our mothers." Trent Daley is a member of Edmonton's Anti-Racism Advisory Committee. He says someone approaches him or his network on a weekly basis about an assault. Most victims are Black and Muslim women. "There's been a notable marked increase (in assaults) following the pandemic. It's so pervasive right now," Daley says. "It's full of racial epithets, full of disgusting language targeting them based off the scarf that they wear and the identity they presumed that this person has. It's dehumanizing." Calgary police say they received 80 hate crime complaints between January and November 2020. Cheryl Voordenhout with the Edmonton Police Service says it received 60 reports of hate crimes last year. So far in 2021, three of seven hate-crime-related investigations have involved Somali-Muslim women. On Dec. 8, a mother and daughter were violently attacked in the Southgate mall parking lot. A week later, near the same mall, another woman was subject to racial slurs as someone tried to hit her head with a shopping bag. In February, a man made racial comments and became aggressive toward a woman at the University of Alberta transit centre. The same day, a man came up behind a woman walking in a popular neighbourhood, pushed her to the ground and made threats to kill her and tear off her burqa. The latest attack happened Feb. 17. The National Council of Canadian Muslims said a man approached a Black Muslim woman wearing a hijab at the Century Park transit station, swore at her and threatened to kill her. Political leaders, including Premier Jason Kenney, have spoken out against the attacks. But the CEO of the national Muslims council says condemnation is not enough and government leaders at the local and provincial level need to take action. "Anti-Black racism is a real problem in Alberta," said Mustafa Farooq. "Black-Muslim women tend to face greater challenges than almost anyone else, because racism and gendered Islamophobia are real problems. "We can look, for example, at street harassment bylaws. We can look at ways in which anti-racism initiatives are being funded. We can look at hate crime units and their advocacy in dealing with these challenges," Farooq says. "So much can be done immediately, but it's not happening." Daley adds that recent rallies and marches in Edmonton and Calgary in opposition to COVID-19 measures are examples of how the pandemic has exacerbated racism in Alberta. Some participants were seen carrying tiki torches, which many say are a symbol used by white supremacists. Edmonton police Chief Dale McFee said the police service is doubling down in its effort to work with the Somali community to address racially motivated assaults. "We've got to listen to what they need and then we've got to figure out how we can ... actually get some of the changes that they need," he said at a news conference Tuesday. McFee also alluded to the suspects in the assaults possibly having mental-health issues. Ali says the Muslim community needs support from leaders and neighbours. "It's widely researched that repeatedly experiencing racism ... causes worse health outcomes for communities of colour. In a pandemic that's brought so many of our inequalities to the forefront, these (attacks) are only making it worse," she says. "Every single time we hear that yet another woman has been attacked, we hold our breath and call our family and friends." This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 2, 2021 ___ This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship. Fakiha Baig, The Canadian Press
Texas on Tuesday became the biggest state to lift its mask rule, joining a rapidly growing movement by governors and other leaders across the U.S. to loosen COVID-19 restrictions despite pleas from health officials not to let down their guard yet. The state will also do away with limits on the number of diners who can be served indoors, said Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who made the announcement at a restaurant in Lubbock. The governors of Michigan and Louisiana likewise eased up on bars, restaurants and other businesses Tuesday, as did the mayor of San Francisco. “Removing statewide mandates does not end personal responsibility,” said Abbott, speaking from a crowded dining room where many of those surrounding him were not wearing masks. “It’s just that now state mandates are no longer needed." A year into the outbreak, politicians and ordinary Americans alike have grown tired of rules meant to stem the spread of the coronavirus, which has killed over a half-million people in the United States. Some places are lifting infection control measures; in other places, people are ignoring them. Top health officials, including the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have responded by begging people repeatedly not to risk another deadly wave of contagion just when the nation is making progress in vaccinating people and victory over the pandemic is in sight. U.S. cases have plunged more than 70% over the past two months from an average of nearly 250,000 new infections a day, while average deaths per day have plummeted about 40% since mid-January. But the two curves have levelled off abruptly in the past several days and have even risen slightly, and the numbers are still running at alarmingly high levels, with an average of about 2,000 deaths and 68,000 cases per day. Health officials are increasingly worried about virus mutations. “We stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained,” CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky warned on Monday. Even so, many states are allowing restaurants to resume indoor dining, reopening movie theatres and expanding mass gatherings, while Americans are eager to socialize again. An Indianapolis-area bar was filled with maskless patrons over the weekend. In Southern California, people waited in lines that snaked through a parking lot on a recent weekday afternoon for the chance to shop and eat at Downtown Disney, part of the Disneyland. (The theme park's rides remain closed.) And Florida is getting ready to welcome students on spring break. “People want to stay safe, but at the same time, the fatigue has hit,” said Ryan Luke, who is organizing a weekend rally in Eagle, Idaho, to encourage people to patronize businesses that don’t require masks. "We just want to live a quasi-normal life.” Miichael Junge argued against a mask mandate when officials in the Missouri tourist town of Branson passed one and said he hasn’t enforced it in his Lost Boys Barber Company. He said he is sick of it. “I think the whole thing is a joke honestly,” he said. “They originally said that this was going to go for a month and they have pushed it out to indefinitely. ... It should have been done a long time ago.” In San Francisco, and upbeat Mayor London Breed announced that California gave the green light to indoor dining and the reopening of of movie theatres and gyms. Florida is getting ready for spring break travellers to flock to its sunny beaches. The state is considered to be in an “active outbreak,” along with Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and South Carolina, according to the data-tracking website CovidActNow. Florida Gov. Rick DeSantis made it clear during his annual State of the State speech Tuesday that he welcomes more visitors to Florida in his drive to keep the state’s economy thriving. Municipalities can impose their own mask rules and curfews, restrict beach access and place some limits on bars and restaurants, but some have virtually no such measures in place ahead of the season. Miami Beach will require masks both indoors and out and will restrict the number of people allowed on the beach as well as in bars and restaurants. “If you want to party without restrictions, then go somewhere else. Go to Vegas,” Miami Beach City Manager Raul Aguila said during a recent virtual meeting. “We will be taking a zero-tolerance attitude towards that behaviour.” In Michigan, a group called All Business Is Essential has resisted Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s virus policies, and many people are abandoning mask requirements and other measures, said group leader Erik Kiilunen. “At some point you’ve got to look yourself in the mirror and say, ‘Do I want a zero-risk life?’” he said. “It’s become a farce, really. People have quit living for a year, at what price?” “I think everybody wants things to get back the way they were,” said Aubrey D. Jenkins, the fire chief in Columbia, South Carolina, whose department issues dozens of $100 citations every weekend to bar-goers who refuse to wear masks or keep their distance. “But we still have to be real cautious.” ___ Webber reported from Fenton, Michigan. Associated Press writers Brendan Farrington in Tallahasee, Florida; Anila Yoganathan in Tucker, Georgia; John Flesher in Traverse City, Michigan; Heather Hollingsworth in Mission, Kansas; Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar in Washington; Melinda Deslatte in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Paul J. Webber in Austin, Texas; Janie Har in San Francisco; and David Eggert in Lansing, Michigan, contributed to this story. The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Nearly a decade ago, the United States was touting Myanmar as an American success story. The Obama administration reveled in the restoration of civilian rule in the longtime U.S. pariah as a top foreign policy achievement and a potential model for engaging with other adversaries, such as Iran and Cuba. But today, Myanmar is once again an international outcast, facing a new wave of U.S. sanctions. A coup has returned the military to power and pro-democracy activists, reform advocates and journalists have been attacked and detained in a brutal crackdown. The collapse is not America’s fault, to be sure, but it follows inconsistent efforts to nudge the Southeast Asian nation further toward democracy, enthusiasm for which was diminished by a systematic campaign of repression against Muslim minorities in the country's north. After years of robust diplomacy with Myanmar under President Barack Obama focused mainly on then-opposition leader and now jailed State Councilor Aung San Suu Kyi, the Trump administration adopted a largely hands-off policy. It focused primarily on Myanmar’s strategic importance in the competition between the United States and China for influence in the region. Myanmar has become a reminder that, for all the hopefulness and anticipation of Obama administration officials – many of whom now serve in the Biden administration – there are limits to America’s ability to shape developments in another nation, particularly one so reclusive and far away. The restoration of civilian rule after six decades of dictatorship was at least partially the fruit of one of the Obama administration’s earliest attempts to reach out to a country long denounced by the U.S. Overtures to Iran and Cuba would come later, buoyed in part by what appeared to be success in Myanmar. Sanctions were eased, diplomatic representation bolstered and aid was increased. Obama made two trips to Myanmar, also known as Burma, as president and his two secretaries of state, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, each visited the country twice themselves. Clinton’s visit in 2011 was the first by a U.S. secretary of state since 1955.. She met with Suu Kyi at the lakeside home where the opposition leader had been held under house arrest for years, Just six years earlier, President George W. Bush's Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had branded Myanmar as one of six “outposts of tyranny” for the military’s refusal to brook dissent and rejection of democratic elections. And, in 2007, as world leaders gathered at the annual United Nations General Assembly, a crackdown on Buddhist monk-led protests, the so-called “Saffron Revolution,” attracted widespread concern and international condemnation, including high-profile repudiations from Rice and then-first lady Laura Bush. Thus, the opening initiated by Obama and Clinton in 2010 augured what many hoped would be a new beginning for Myanmar, whose military leaders were then ostensibly concerned about being overly reliant on China for trade and security. There was initial enthusiasm over the thaw, over Nobel peace laureate Suu Kyi’s elevation to a leadership role despite being barred from running for office, and over Myanmar’s steady but hesitant opening of its once cloistered country. But that soon faded, most notably over the government’s treatment of Rohingya Muslims, who became the target of a ruthless campaign of repression and abuse. Repeated entreaties to Suu Kyi, who was appointed State Councilor after her National League for Democracy won 60% of the vote, and others on behalf of the Rohingya and other minorities went unheeded. Still, the Obama administration continued to have faith in her. “Proud of my friend Aung San Suu Kyi and the people of Burma for never giving up in the long struggle to bring change to their country,” Clinton said in 2015, after having devoted an entire chapter of her 2014 memoir “Hard Choices” to the Obama administration’s policies toward the nation. Despite Kerry’s two trips to Myanmar, the administration became rapidly consumed with the Iran nuclear deal and normalization of ties with Cuba. At the same time, it was pursuing an ill-fated effort to forge an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. So Myanmar’s halting and imperfect democratization was left largely untended by officials in Washington. When President Donald Trump took office in 2017, his administration made no secret of the fact that it was focused less on bilateral ties than in concentrating on a broader effort to blunt China’s growing regional influence. In November 2017, Trump’s first Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, made that administration’s only high-level visit to the country and on his return declared that the military-backed violence against the Rohingya in northern Rakhine state amounted to “ethnic cleansing.” Sanctions on the country’s top military leaders followed the next month. But since then, U.S. attention to Myanmar has been sporadic, dominated primarily by public expressions of disappointment in Suu Kyi, who defended the military crackdown in Rakhine and opposed efforts to initiate and international investigation into it. Stirrings of the Feb. 1 coup, coming as those elected in November 2020 elections won by Suu Kyi’s party were to take their seats in parliament, did not appear to be a priority in Washington, where officials were preoccupied by domestic political problems of their own. In its final weeks in office, the Trump administration made no public comments about growing civilian-military tensions in Myanmar despite speaking out about democracy concerns in Venezuela, Tanzania, Uganda, Cuba, Iran and Russia. After taking over on Jan. 20, the Biden administration was similarly silent until Jan. 29 when the U.S. Embassy in Yangon signed onto a joint statement with several other embassies to support democracy in the country and to oppose “any attempt to alter the outcome of the elections or impede Myanmar’s democratic transition.” The warning went unheeded by the military. “There was a risk that the Burmese generals were playing us,” Clinton wrote about the 2010-11 rapprochement with Myanmar in “Hard Choices.” That fear may have been prescient. Matthew Lee, The Associated Press
L'Agence spatiale canadienne et la NASA travaillent déjà sur les missions Artemis qui visent un retour sur la Lune d'ici 2024. Un premier pas vers une exploration plus profonde de l'espace grâce à une nouvelle station internationale. Mais avant de rêver de marcher sur Mars, il faut régler un problème majeur: comment fournir assez de nourriture aux astronautes pour des missions devant durer plusieurs années? Dans l’espoir de solliciter des milliers de cerveaux à travers le monde pour cogiter sur ce casse-tête, les agences spatiales canadienne (ASC) et américaine (NASA) ont lancé en début d’année un grand concours appelé «Défi de l'alimentation dans l'espace lointain» (Deep Space Food Challenge). Mardi midi, des experts des deux agences ainsi que des astronautes, dont le Canadien Jeremy Hansen, ont participé à une discussion virtuelle au cours de laquelle on a abordé divers aspects de l’alimentation dans l’espace. Il a notamment été question de l’importance de fournir des aliments appétissants et savoureux pour que les astronautes aient envie de manger. Un enjeu crucial pour qu’ils ne réduisent pas leur consommation de nourriture et qu’ils maintiennent une bonne santé. En bref, le principal problème demeure que si l’on part en mission d’exploration spatiale, il faut tout apporter avec soi depuis la Terre. Actuellement, il est facile d’approvisionner la Station spatiale internationale (SSI), puisqu’elle se trouve en orbite autour de la Terre, à quelques heures de vol. Dans le cas d’une mission vers Mars, par exemple, il faudrait prévoir des quantités de nourriture suffisantes pour plusieurs années. De plus, il faut tenir compte qu’il n’y a pas de réfrigérateur dans les navettes en raison du coût énergétique nécessaire au fonctionnement de tels appareils. Actuellement, on utilise des aliments déshydratés qui sont hydratés à nouveau par les astronautes dans l’espace. On utilise aussi des aliments préparés mis en conserve ou en sachets, mais leur durée de conservation poserait problème selon les experts de la NASA. Voilà pourquoi on recherche de nouvelles méthodes permettant de fournir des aliments sains et savoureux aux astronautes. On aimerait, par ailleurs, développer des moyens de produire des aliments dans un environnement hostile, comme sur la Lune ou sur Mars. Des techniques qui seraient également applicables sur Terre, comme l’a souligné l’astronaute Jeremy Hansen en parlant du concours. «C'est une opportunité incroyable pour l'humanité! D'abord pour nous donner la chance d'explorer l'espace. Ensuite, parce que c'est essentiel pour nourrir les populations en régions isolées. La sécurité alimentaire est un enjeu majeur au Canada et le transport d'aliment demeure difficile et très coûteux dans le Grand Nord notamment», a-t-il fait valoir. Il faut donc tenir compte du fait que les astronautes sont confinés à un espace limité, avec des ressources limitées et des contraintes liées à l’énergie ou au poids des équipements. Des aliments frais et variés Le principal défi que cherchent à relever les agences spatiales consiste à trouver un moyen de fournir des aliments frais aux astronautes. Comme le mentionne la scientifique en chef du programme de technologie alimentaire de la NASA, Grace Douglas, ce sont les produits frais qui sont les plus appétissants et les plus réconfortants pour les astronautes. Car au-delà de fournir uniquement des nutriments aux membres de l’équipage, il faut leur offrir des plats savoureux et variés qui leur donnent envie de s’alimenter convenablement. Chaque aliment contient une multitude de micronutriments qui sont essentiels au corps humain. «Pour être nutritif, un aliment doit être consommé!», a résumé simplement son collègue Scott M. Smith, chercheur principal au laboratoire de biochimie du Centre spatial Johnson de la NASA. Celui-ci ajoute que les données prouvent qu’une bonne alimentation limite la perte de poids des astronautes et favorise la récupération au retour sur Terre. Tous s’entendent sur le fait que le principal reproche formulé par les astronautes est le manque de variété dans le choix des aliments. En ce qui concerne l’expérience gustative, l’ex-astronaute américain Donald Thomas, qui a passé plus de 1000 heures dans l’espace en quatre missions, a déclaré que ce n’était pas si mal, mais qu’il ne mangerait jamais dans un restaurant où l’on sert ce genre de plats! Pour renchérir, Jeremy Hansen, qui attend toujours sa première assignation, a rappelé que l’absence de gravité a pour effet de faire enfler légèrement la tête et de boucher les sinus. Les aliments deviennent donc plus fades. «Il faut prévoir des mets épicés ou bien assaisonnés», a-t-il conseillé aux éventuels participants du concours. Le défi est ouvert à tous les résidants du Canada. Les entreprises, organismes à but non lucratif ou les institutions d’enseignement sont aussi admissibles. Le volet canadien du concours est coordonné par l’Agence spatiale canadienne, située à Longueuil. Des bourses sont offertes en prix à chacune des trois étapes du concours. Les équipes intéressées doivent déposer leur candidature avant le 30 juillet. Ugo Giguère, Initiative de journalisme local, La Presse Canadienne
Trois-Rivières – Quatre jeunes entrepreneurs de la Mauricie et du Centre-du-Québec font partie des 75 qui ont été sélectionnés par le gouvernement du Québec pour recevoir une bourse d'honneur de 25 000$. Cette bourse est remise à des personnes de 18 à 35 ans issus de 16 régions du Québec pour favoriser le développement de leur entreprise. Chaque récipiendaire bénéficiera également d'un accompagnement gratuit d'un an, offert par le Réseau Mentorat. En Mauricie, Florence Bélanger de la Coopérative La Charrette et Luc Lévesque de l'entreprise Le Maltraiteur ont été choisis. La Coopérative La Charrette produit des légumes biologiques vitaminés et colorés sous forme de paniers bio pour les restaurants et épiceries ainsi que pour des kiosques libre-service. L’entreprise d’économie sociale vise à créer des emplois de qualité en région et à tisser des liens durables avec ses clients. Quant au Maltraiteur, il s'agit d'une compagnie de malterie qui élabore une gamme de malts traditionnels provenant de producteurs locaux de céréales certifiées Agrinature pour créer des saveurs d’ici et répondre aux besoins des microbrasseurs et microdistilleurs du Québec. Au Centre-du-Québec, le choix s'est arrêté sur Mathieu Gauthier du restaurant Le Rachel et sur Rose Guillemette de Kear's Workshop. Le Rachel est un restaurant gastronomique drummondvillois qui se spécialise dans la mise en valeur des produits locaux et saisonniers, les vins d’importation privée biologiques, les cocktails originaux et les bières de microbrasserie. Des menus dégustation de trois ou cinq services à l’aveugle sont offerts tous les soirs et le restaurant offre des cours de cuisine, de mixologie et de sommellerie aux clients intéressés. Pour ce qui est de Kear's Workshop, cette boutique en ligne vend des vêtements de mode fabriqués uniquement à partir de matières recyclées : sandales, casquettes, manteaux, t-shirts et maillots de bain. Avec sa diversité de produits, de modèles et de couleurs autant pour les hommes que pour les femmes, Kear’s Workshop veut pousser les gens à changer leur manière d’agir et de penser. Ses maillots de bain sont conçus à partir de bouteilles d’eau en plastique ainsi que de filets à pêche. « Les enjeux et les défis économiques auxquels nous sommes confrontés sont nombreux. La pandémie a frappé le Québec de plein fouet, et le gouvernement s'affaire à le remettre en marche. Soutenir et accompagner de jeunes entrepreneurs permet de poser un jalon important dans le passage vers une économie transformée, renouvelée et tournée vers l'avenir. Bravo aux récipiendaires! », exprime MarieChantal Chassé, adjointe parlementaire du ministre de l'Économie et de l'Innovation pour les volets Innovation et entrepreneuriat. «Je félicite les gagnants des 75 bourses d'honneur pour l'année 2020. Le Québec a besoin de jeunes entrepreneurs en vue d'assurer sa vitalité économique et cette initiative est une belle façon de stimuler la création d'entreprise. Je tiens à souligner la grande mobilisation des différents intervenants régionaux et la concertation entre eux. Plus il y aura d'entreprises en croissance, plus nous générerons de la richesse partout au Québec. Nous comptons sur l'énergie, la créativité et l'audace de leurs dirigeants pour faire croître et prospérer les régions», souligne pour sa part Marie-Eve Proulx, ministre déléguée au Développement économique régional et ministre des régions de Chaudière-Appalaches et du Bas-Saint-Laurent. La cérémonie de reconnaissance aura lieu le 18 mars prochain, au cours de l'événement virtuel Expo Entrepreneurs 2021. Ce sont 410 projets qui ont été évalués selon, notamment, leur originalité, leur caractère novateur, leur plan marketing et leur analyse de marché. Ces candidatures ont été évaluées par le ministère de l'Économie et de l'Innovation, conjointement avec le Carrefour d'entrepreneuriat et d'innovation-Desjardins de l'Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières, les espaces régionaux d'accélération et de croissance, les tables d'action en entrepreneuriat de chacune des régions et plusieurs entrepreneurs. En 2018 et en 2019, 195 bourses d'honneur de 25 000 $ ont été attribuées, dont 50 à des entrepreneurs de la diversité de tous âges et 145 à des entrepreneurs de 18 à 35 ans. Marc-André Pelletier, Initiative de journalisme local, Le Nouvelliste
Last August, Christine Mickeloff’s mother left her retirement home in Jarvis with her walker. Before anyone knew it, she was wandering down the highway. Fortunately, an off-duty worker from the home was driving nearby when she recognized the Leisure Living resident who has dementia. She alerted the home and staff walked her back to safety. Mickeloff says the incident shows how people with dementia — especially those living in retirement homes that are not equipped to offer the same level of care as a long-term-care facility — are falling through the cracks. “There are people like my mom who are ... stuck in a facility that is not meant to look after (them),” says the Caledonia resident. Her mother, who Mickeloff didn’t want to name, was already showing signs of dementia when she moved into Leisure Living three years ago. A year later, she was diagnosed and the disease continued to progress. Though she was on the wait list for long-term care, delays from the pandemic meant she wasn’t getting a bed any time soon. “Mom was forgotten,” Mickeloff said of the wait. The home says staff tried their best to care for her mother, but were caught in the middle of the resident’s worsening dementia and an absence of supports. When Leisure Living restricted access during the pandemic, Mickeloff mother’s symptoms worsened. Mickeloff couldn’t visit and there were no group activities to keep her mother engaged. She began to wander more and woke up in the middle of the night to look for her husband. After the “dangerous” and “scary” highway incident, Kristina Kasza, the home’s director of care, said she immediately contacted Mickeloff and members of the resident’s care team. “Multiple times, we were told to admit her (to hospital),” said Kasza, but the hospital “kept sending her back.” “We were put in a rock and a hard place,” she said. Jane Meadus, staff lawyer at the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly, says the government has left more and more people relying on retirement homes to provide health care in the pandemic. “They are treating retirement homes almost as quasi-long-term-care homes and as a way for seniors to get care without the government having to pay anything,” she said. Unlike long-term care, a retirement home doesn’t fall under the health-care sector. Instead, residents pay rent to stay in a home and can purchase care options on top. Mickeloff looked into hiring private care, but says at $37 per hour for 12 hours a day, it was too costly. “You can’t say to somebody, ‘Well, yeah, you could go to long-term care but there’s no bed, so you’re going to have to pay privately,’ because we have a publicly funded health-care system,” Meadus added, noting that even before COVID-19, hospitals often pressured patients to go to a retirement home instead of waiting for long-term care in order to clear up beds. While home care can help supplement care in a retirement home, Meadus says it can be “spotty” because there aren’t enough workers. That means people who can’t afford private care, like Mickeloff’s mother, are left with inadequate care while waiting for a long-term-care bed. Kasza says the LHIN requested more care for Mickeloff’s mother, but didn’t have enough staff to provide it since COVID-19 prevented workers from going into multiple homes. “It was just a hot mess,” she said. Kasza noted the whole home rallied to care for Mickeloff’s mother by alerting staff when they spotted her wandering or helping redirect her. “Everybody took care of her to the best of their abilities,” she said. By September, Mickeloff’s mother was on the crisis list, which prioritizes patients for long-term care. But COVID-19 outbreaks and precautions continued to cause delays. On top of that, she was competing with hospital patients also waiting in line. By January, she was accepted for a bed. She got a COVID-19 test before her move, but days later, the long-term-care home declared an outbreak, postponing her entry for two weeks. Another COVID-19 case was later suspected in the home, again delaying her move. In February, Mickeloff’s mother finally moved into long-term care, and her daughter says she seems happier. She has access to 24-7 care and staff to keep her stimulated. Mickeloff says more needs to be done for others in her mother’s shoes, especially with dementia increasing. “The government’s just not moving fast enough,” she says. “(My mom) got left behind and wasted away while she was waiting.” Maria Iqbal, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator
Geotechnical engineers will begin drilling boreholes in the Drumheller Valley to help determine possible future berm alignments for ongoing flood mitigation efforts. Approximately 20 boreholes were drilled on publicly accessible land in fall 2020 to help engineers fill in gaps in historic records, and to provide initial information for proposals. “When designing dikes and berms, we need to get an idea of the foundation soil condition and soil type-whether it is silt, sand, or clay,” said Mark Brotherton, geotechnical engineer with Red Deer firm Parkland Geotechnical Consulting Ltd. Brotherton is one of the main consultants on the project, with 40 years experience as a geotechnical engineer, and the company is very familiar with the Red Deer River. He explained the boreholes will typically be drilled down to bedrock, which can range from only a few metres to 20 metres throughout the Drumheller Valley. The procedure will help provide data on the types of soils throughout the valley and determine whether a dike would be feasible based on whether the soil in the proposed alignment area will support the berm structure. The data will also help with completing detailed berm designs, such as determining stable side slope angles. Parkland Geotechnical is not the only company involved in this phase of the project, with most planning to conduct drilling beginning in March; drilling is anticipated to take place over the next three to four weeks. Some of the drilling may need to be conducted on privately owned land, and Scott Land and Lease will be in consultation with landowners to arrange for drilling on private properties. The berm designs will help protect residents from overland flooding. However, Brotherton notes seepage is a topic which often comes up when discussing flood mitigation efforts. While overland flooding can have worse impacts, seepage is still a cause for concern as responsibility falls onto the homeowner. Brotherton notes a good weeping tile system is the “first line of defence” against seepage in the basements of houses. “The purpose of dikes is to stop the overland flow,” he said. “We know, for the short flood period, the water rises on the river side of the dikes. If the berms are on permeable material (such as gravel or sand) it will likely have an impact on seepage in the protected area behind the dike.” He adds building berms on less permeable soils, such as clays, silt clay, and bedrock can reduce the impact of floods on the local groundwater table and seepage. Lacie Nairn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Drumheller Mail
LINCOLN, Neb. — The Biden administration's plan to funnel more coronavirus aid into states with greater unemployment has irked governors with lower jobless rates, even though many have economies that weren't hit as hard by the pandemic. The $1.9 trillion relief bill working its way through Congress allocates extra money to larger, mostly Democratic-run states with higher unemployment rates, while rural Midwestern and Southern states that tend to have Republican governors and better jobless numbers would benefit less. “You're penalizing people who have done the right thing," said Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, a Republican whose state has reported the nation's lowest unemployment rate over the last several months. “That's not the way you want to approach any sort of government program.” Ricketts was one of 22 governors — 21 Republicans and one Democrat — who have criticized the change in the pandemic relief proposal. Under previous coronavirus packages signed by former President Donald Trump, aid was distributed by population. If the new funding formula is approved, states including California, New York and New Jersey would each see a boost of more than $2 billion, while Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska and Ohio would all see aid reductions greater than $500 million. Georgia and Florida would see losses of more than $1.2 billion. Many of the Republican-led states have taken a more hands-off approach to the pandemic to try to keep businesses open, while Democratic states argued that tighter mandates were necessary to save lives and help their economies over the long term. The White House defended President Joe Biden's distribution plan, saying it targets money to areas where it will have the biggest impact. “President Biden's rescue plan is focused on quickly getting help to the people and communities that need it most,” said Michael Gwin, director of White House rapid response. Iowa State University economist David Swenson said the White House's approach makes some sense because the states with the highest unemployment rates are generally the ones that relied more on industries battered by the pandemic, such as tourism. “If proportionally more people are unemployed in Las Vegas and California and other places that are entertainment destinations, then it would make sense to send money to those places instead of Iowa and Nebraska,” Swenson said. Critics argued that many of the hardest-hit states had higher jobless rates even before the pandemic began. “Some states just have naturally lower unemployment rates,” said Ernie Goss, an economist at Creighton University in Omaha. “That's one of the problems with doing it that way.” Goss said it might make more sense to distribute aid to states that saw the biggest increases in unemployment during the pandemic. But he cautioned that the unemployment rate is still an incomplete measure of any state's economy, because it doesn't count people who have stopped looking for work. Ohio Republican Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said his state's jobless rate is likely unreliable because of massive unemployment fraud. He said Ohio has made multiple efforts to return people to work safely, but the new funding formula would cost his state about $800 million in federal aid. “Doing things that put people back to work actually are going to cost us relief dollars that the people who aren't back to work actually need,” Husted said Monday. “We don't feel that is a fair way to do this.” Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, said the funding formula “punishes states that took a measured approach to the pandemic and entered the crisis with healthy state budgets and strong economies.” Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican who vice chairs the National Governors Association, last month raised concerns about using unemployment when he and other governors met with Biden. “That’s really a disincentive for economic growth and people working,” Hutchinson told The Associated Press after the meeting. ___ Contributing are Associated Press reporters Andrew Welsh-Huggins in Columbus, Ohio; Andrew DeMillo in Little Rock, Arkansas; Sean Murphy in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Josh Boak in Baltimore; and Brendan Farrington in Tallahassee, Florida. ___ Follow Grant Schulte on Twitter: https://twitter.com/GrantSchulte Grant Schulte, The Associated Press
On Wednesday, the verdict in Toronto’s van attack trial will be revealed. Alek Minassian has pleaded not guilty to 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder. Erica Vella reports.
Administrative staff presented Kneehill County council members with a draft policy to reduce council remunerations to aid the county in saving money amid financial hardships, which came as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, during the Tuesday, February 23 regular Kneehill County council meeting. Discussion first began in December 2020 and was brought back to council during the Tuesday, January 26 council meeting where council voted in favour of administration drafting a new remuneration policy. “I like how it’s all brought back into one policy, especially Schedule A showing a decrease of 15 per cent roughly,” said Councillor Debbie Penner. According to council expense reports, each council member receives an annual base pay remuneration of $27,958; the Reeve and Deputy Reeve receive base pay of $36,468 and $31,605 respectively. Attendance at regular council meetings is included in the base salary rates, and council also receive per diem for attendance at other board and committee meetings, mileage allowance for travel--which is already at the minimum mandatory rate set by the Canada Revenue Agency, and a communications allowance--which has been beneficial throughout the COVID-19 pandemic when attendance at regular council and committee meetings may not have been feasible. Council remuneration fell under numerous policies, including overnight and conference attendance. The drafted Council Compensation and Expense Reimbursement Policy will combine the 13 current policies into a singular, overarching policy. The draft policy will reduce council base pay by 15 per cent and includes compensation for attendance at various social functions as representatives of Kneehill County, including various ceremonies, parades, and photo ops. Councillor Kenneth King thanked his fellow council members for the work done to review the policies. He moved for the new Council Compensation and Expense Reimbursement Policy to be brought back for ratification at the Tuesday, March 9 council meeting. Lacie Nairn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Drumheller Mail
NICOSIA, Cyprus — The Orthodox Church of Cyprus on Tuesday called for the withdrawal of the country’s controversial entry into this year’s Eurovision song contest titled “El Diablo,” charging that the song makes an international mockery of country’s moral foundations by advocating “our surrender to the devil and promoting his worship.” The Holy Synod, the Church’s highest decision-making body, said in a statement that the song “essentially praises the fatalistic submission of humans to the devil’s authority” and urged the state broadcaster to replace it with one that “expresses our history, culture, traditions and our claims.” With the Church now having officially weighed in, the controversy has taken on a new dimension after the song and its lyrics — “I gave my heart to el diablo ... because he tells me I’m his angel” — caused a stir among some in the east Mediterranean island nation, who consider it to be fraught with Satanic connotations. The Church’s official stance came a few days after a man was charged with uttering threats and causing a disturbance when he barged onto the grounds of the public broadcaster to protest what he condemned as a “blasphemous” song that was an affront to Christianity. Police said witnesses to Saturday’s incident told investigators the man verbally accosted employees outside the Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation’s news department. Amateur video of the man confronting CyBC staff showed him screaming at a number of employees in the yard, asking how they could justify supporting such a song. Vocal critics included a senior cleric, an organization representing theologians who teach in high schools, a far-right party and many ordinary Cypriots who took to social media to heap scorn and “disgust” at the song. However, many others defended the tune in social media posts as a simple ditty about a “scorching love affair” gone bad or to label its detractors as religious zealots. CyBC Board Chairman Andreas Frangos insisted that the song won’t be withdrawn and that it wasn’t the broadcaster’s intention to insult anyone’s religious sentiments. Speaking on the broadcaster’s midday news show, Frangos conceded that the broadcaster should’ve done a better job explaining the core message of the tune, which describes an abusive relationship between two lovers. But the Cyprus Church rejected the broadcaster’s “metaphorical interpretation” of the tune, which it said “in no way reflects the lyrics’ provocative and unacceptable content which doesn’t cease to represent a terrible subculture that is completely at odds with our people’s values and goes against their Greek and Orthodox traditions.” The Church said it has received a “deluge of reactions from thousands” of people who express their “justified disappointment” over the song, including many “respected musicians.” “From whatever angle you chose to look it and whichever explanations are given about the lyrics of the song, they don’t send the most ideal messages which must be sent from a semi-occupied homeland that struggles for freedom and to prevent its complete subjugation,” the Holy Synod’s statement said. Cyprus has been divided along ethnic lines since 1974 when Turkey invaded following a coup by supporters of union with Greece. For centuries, the Church had been considered as the guardian of Greek Cypriots’ faith and ethnic identity. Cyprus’ best-ever showing in the popular music competition was as runner-up in 2018 with the song “El Fuego” by singer Eleni Foureira. The annual Eurovision contest is a beloved European institution watched by millions that often involves songs that are controversial, in questionable taste or just plain bad. The Associated Press
Decisions about what constitutes "safe" indoor fitness activities will be left to gym owners and their clients, Alberta's health minister says. Under Step 2 of the province's relaunch plan, announced on Monday, gyms and fitness centres were allowed to reopen for "low-intensity" activities. Health Minister Tyler Shandro said Tuesday there was some confusion about which activities would be allowed and tried to clear that up. "If you operate a gym, you can be open," he said. "That is perfectly within the rules." Shandro said "low-intensity" activities are those that don't significantly raise a person's breathing rate, and said gyms and clients will be allowed to make such decisions for themselves. "We're relying on owners and clients to use judgment, to show good faith," Shandro said at a news conference. Alberta reported two more deaths and 257 news cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday. Hospitals were treating 261 patients for the illness, including 54 in ICU beds. The province identified another 35 cases of more-contagious variants of the coronavirus over the past 24 hours. Testing has now confirmed 484 cases of a variant first identified in the United Kingdom and eight of a variant first identified in South Africa. B.C. model successful Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, said physical activity and fitness play an importance role in overall physical and mental health, which is why the province wanted to find ways to safely reopen gyms and fitness centres for "lower-risk" individual activities. She said the province believe operators are committed to providing safe environments to prevent COVID-19 spread. "We also heard from some stakeholders that the B.C. model that uses a differentiation between high- and low-intensity exercise had been successful in that province," she said. "We know that COVID-19 spreads in droplets, and when we are engaged in high-intensity activities, defined … as activities where our breathing rate gets faster, we know that we produce more droplets, and increase the risk of virus spread." WATCH | Health minister explains province's approach to indoor fitness restrictions B.C. took a similar approach, she said, and COVID-19 numbers there been relatively stable. "With this in mind, we looked for ways to open up facilities for Albertans that would allow for low-intensity activities in gyms, and we chose to implement an approach similar to B.C.," she said. "This empowers operators to tailor their programs for clients to calibrate their services to the activities that will improve fitness while minimizing COVID-19 risk." No caps on attendance Rather than using caps on attendance, such as those put in place for restaurants and retails shops, gyms will limit their capacity by using physical-distancing protocols that require a minimum of three metres between clients, Hinshaw said. "This approach still limits the capacity of facilities for safety, but is more flexible and responsive to the spacing of individual workout areas, rather than a specific number," she said. "I know that finding ways to stay active when gyms are closed can be more difficult in the cold winter months. Fortunately the days are getting warmer and longer, so that provides more opportunities for everyone to get outside for exercise and fresh air. Current health measures allow for outdoor physical activity in groups of up to 10, Hinshaw said, so long as people are at least two metres apart. Alberta Health Services will work closely with gyms and fitness centres to provide education and support, she said. "Penalties would only be used when there are intentional and repeated violations of safety rules." Relaunch moving ahead Alberta eased some public health restrictions on Monday, marking the beginning of Step 2 of the province's relaunch plan. Libraries are now allowed to reopen with 15 per cent of fire-code capacity, and fitness centres can resume low-intensity individual and group workouts for adults. Alberta implemented into Step 1 of its relaunch on Feb. 8, when restaurants and bars were permitted to reopen for indoor service.
TORONTO — Ontarians should be encouraged to see friends and relatives outdoors in the coming months, some health experts said Tuesday in stressing the need for realistic pandemic guidance following a winter of isolation. Now that most of the province has emerged from the stay-at-home order imposed in January, it's crucial to give residents safer options to socialize to help prevent another spike in COVID-19 infections, particularly in light of new, more contagious variants of the virus, some experts said. "It's really important now that we find realistic solutions for people, and what we know is that we by all means should avoid ... that people now congregate inside," said Dr. Peter Juni, an epidemiologist and director of the province's COVID-19 science advisory table. "People are social animals. We need something to balance ourselves mentally, socially, and psychologically, and so we will need to find a good way forward." A simple message – that outdoor, distanced gatherings are safer, while any indoor gatherings with people from other households should be avoided – should help people make decisions based on common sense, he said. Juni said he felt the need to bring the issue to the science table after seeing photos of large crowds and lineups inside malls and big box stores over the weekend, which he said gave him "goosebumps." The group will discuss possible recommendations to the province regarding messaging related to gatherings over the next few weeks, he said. While being outdoors doesn't mean there is zero risk of infection, that risk becomes "minimal" if people also follow distancing and masking guidelines, he said. By comparison, congregating indoors is "playing with fire," he said. Dr. Nitin Mohan, an epidemiologist and assistant professor at Western University, said switching the messaging to promote outdoor activities makes sense from a harm reduction standpoint. "Folks have been indoors for quite some time. We know the mental health and other psychological issues that are going to be a result ... of our lockdown and quarantine measures," he said. "So if folks can get outdoors and it's safe to do so, I think it should be encouraged." There is a risk people may get used to seeing their loved ones when the weather is nice, and then break the rules when it's too cold or snowy to meet outdoors, Mohan said. "Are you comfortable saying, 'hey we probably can't see each other today, let's wait until it gets warmer,' or does it become sort of a lack of compliance where 'hey, we've already seen each other outside, it's no big deal to come inside for a quick cup of coffee,'" he said. "And that's where it becomes problematic." People also have to be reasonable in terms of the kinds of gatherings they're having, Mohan said, noting it won't be safe to have "500 people in a backyard barbecue." Timothy Sly, an epidemiologist and professor at Ryerson University, echoed that warning. "In very general terms, 'outdoors' presents a huge reduction in risk, all other factors being unchanged. BUT this is NOT the time for throwing the masks away and getting into yelling at sports arenas or close-up BBQ parties," he said in an email. "Those will be super-spreader events for sure, especially with the new variants." Most of Ontario has returned to the government's colour-coded system of pandemic restrictions after weeks under an order that required residents to stay home except for essential activities. The government still advises all residents to limit close contact to those in their household. Restrictions regarding gatherings vary between the colour-coded zones, with the more stringent grey or lockdown zone prohibiting indoor gatherings and allowing outdoor ones of up to 10 people with distancing measures in place. Regions in the green, or least restrictive, zone permit private gatherings of up to 10 people indoors and 25 outdoors, along with events of up to 50 people indoors and up to 100 outdoors, all with distancing measures in place. Three regions -- Toronto, Peel, and North Bay-Parry Sound -- remain under the stay-at-home order that's set to last until March 8. A spokeswoman for Health Minister Christine Elliott did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the possibility of updating the guidelines on outdoor gatherings. Health officials in Toronto, meanwhile, said their guidance on socializing remains the same. "Our advice at this time is still to try to maintain as much distance and to not interact with people with whom you don't live," the city's top public health doctor, Dr. Eileen de Villa, said earlier this week. "And if you have to be outside, to really keep your distance and to ensure that you're wearing your mask as much as possible." - with files from Denise Paglinawan This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 2, 2021. Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press
OTTAWA — A House of Commons committee is unanimously urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to promise he won't call a federal election while the COVID-19 pandemic rages across Canada.In a report by the procedure and House affairs committee, even Liberal members supported a recommendation calling for a commitment that there will be no election during the pandemic, unless Trudeau's minority Liberal government is defeated on a confidence vote.The committee makes no similar call for opposition parties to promise not to trigger an election during the pandemic by voting non-confidence in the government.However, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has vowed his party won't vote to bring the government down as long as the country is in the grip of COVID-19.That should be enough to ensure the survival of the minority Liberal government for the foreseeable future, unless Trudeau decides to trigger an election himself.Trudeau has repeatedly insisted he has no interest in forcing an election but opposition parties remain suspicious."Unfortunately, the Liberal government has already indicated their desire to recklessly send Canadians to the polls at whatever time they deem to be the most advantageous for the prime minister," the Conservatives say in a supplementary report to the committee's report.Indeed, the Conservatives assert, without explanation, that Trudeau has already tried to orchestrate his government's defeat.They thank Liberal committee members for taking "a stand against the whims of the prime minister, who has been eagerly pressing towards an election for the last few months."At the same time, Conservatives have been pursuing a strategy that could give Trudeau justification for calling an election: They've been systematically blocking the government's legislative agenda, including repeatedly delaying a bill authorizing billions in pandemic-related aid.They have also blocked debate on a bill that would give Elections Canada special powers to conduct an election safely, if need be, during the pandemic.Bill C-19 is the government's response to chief electoral officer Stephane Perrault, who has said special measures are urgent given that a minority government is inherently unstable and could theoretically fall at any time. However, some opposition MPs view the legislation as proof that the Liberals are planning to trigger an election.In their own supplementary report, New Democrats argue that an election in the midst of the pandemic "has the potential to undermine the health of our democracy." They point to the current delay in Newfoundland and Labrador's election due to a COVID outbreak as an example of the "delays, confusion and unforeseen barriers in voting" that could undermine Canadians' confidence in the outcome of a federal election."This raises the spectre of a government whose political legitimacy is openly challenged," the NDP committee members say, adding that could lead to the kind of crisis that provoked a riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 by supporters of former president Donald Trump.The Capitol riot, sparked by Trump's unfounded claims that mail-in ballots were fraudulent, appears to have been on the minds of opposition committee members when it comes to other recommendations for how to safely conduct an election, if necessary, during the pandemic.Anticipating a massive increase in mail-in ballots, the chief electoral officer has, among other things, suggested that mail-in ballots received one day after the close of in-person polls should still be counted.The Conservatives say the procedure and House affairs committee should have rejected that proposal, arguing that "the election should end on Election Day and Canadians deserve to know the results without delay."Bloc Quebecois committee members, in their supplementary report, similarly argue that extending the deadline for receipt of mail-in ballots "would delay the election results, which would fuel voter suspicion and undermine confidence in the electoral system, which is obviously undesirable."This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 2, 2021. Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said Tuesday that the U.S. expects to take delivery of enough coronavirus vaccines for all adult Americans by the end of May, two months earlier than anticipated, as his administration announced that drugmaker Merck & Co. will help produce rival Johnson & Johnson’s newly approved shot. With the bolstered supply, Biden also announced he would be using the powers of the federal government to direct all states to prioritize vaccinating teachers, and said the federal government would provide the doses directly through its pharmacy program. He challenged states to administer at least one dose of the vaccine to all teachers by the end of March as part of his administration's efforts to reopen more schools across the nation. "We’re now on track to have enough vaccine supply for every adult in America by the end of May,” said Biden, who likened the partnership between the two drug companies to the spirit of national co-operation during World War II. The announcement comes as the White House looks to speed the production of the single-dose J&J vaccine and accelerate the nation’s plans to reach “herd immunity” in the U.S. and begin restoring normalcy after the pandemic. Biden noted that vaccine supply was only one bottleneck toward that goal, and that the new challenge will be injecting doses into arms as swiftly as possible. To that end, the Biden administration told governors Tuesday to prepare for their supplies of vaccine to continue to climb over the coming weeks. Additional doses are also heading toward a federally backed program to administer doses in more accessible retail pharmacies. Those pharmacies will be key in getting the vaccines into the arms of teachers, which will help reopen schools to better educate students who have been at risk at falling behind during the pandemic. "Let’s treat in-person learning as the essential service that it is," Biden said. Biden had originally suggested that the supply would be enough to vaccinate every adult American by the end of July. But despite the good news, he was leery of predicting when the nation would return to normal. He said, “My hope is by this time next year we’re going to be back to normal," adding that he maybe it could come sooner. Officials have said J&J faced unexpected production issues with its vaccine and produced only 3.9 million doses ahead of its receiving emergency use authorization on Saturday. The company has promised to deliver 100 million doses by the end of June. White House press secretary Jen Psaki also announced Tuesday that the federal government was increasing supply of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines to states next week to 15.2 million doses per week, up from 14.5 million previously. States will also receive 2.8 million doses of the J&J shot this week. On a call with governors Tuesday, White House coronavirus co-ordinator Jeff Zients said states should prepare for administering 16-17 million total weekly doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines by the end of March, climbing to 17-18 million weekly by early April. The supply of J&J doses to states, expected to dip after the initial shipment this week, will climb to 4-6 million weekly doses by the end of March and 5-6 million doses weekly through the end of April. More than 800,000 doses of the J&J vaccine will also be distributed this week to pharmacies to administer in a separate federally-run program that also includes 2.4 million doses of the other two shots. Both figures are expected to steadily increase, as the White House increasingly looks to the capacity of pharmacy chains like CVS and Walgreens to help speed the nation's mass vaccination campaign. Facing questions about the company's slipping delivery schedule, J&J Vice-President Richard Nettles told lawmakers on Capitol Hill last week that the company had faced “significant challenges” because of its “highly complex” manufacturing process. The assistance from Merck was expected to help J&J meet its production commitments and expand supply even further, but the administration did not immediately provide specifics. Psaki said that an "across the administration effort” was required to get the two historic rivals to work together on the vaccines, even though conversations between the two companies have been going on for months. “There’s a difference between conversations and it moving forward,” she said. President Joe Biden is set to highlight the development in a speech Tuesday afternoon, as his administration now expects to have enough supply of the three approved vaccines to inoculate all eligible American adults by June — though actually delivering the injections could take longer. It was not immediately clear when the effect of Merck's assistance would be reflected in supply. Previously, federal officials have cautioned that setting up the highly specialized manufacturing lines to produce vaccines would take months. The White House said Merck would devote two plants to the production process. One would make the vaccine and the other would handle inserting the vaccine into vials and ensuring strict quality controls. Psaki said the Biden administration was using its powers under the Defence Production Act to help Merck retool to work on the production. The news was first reported by The Washington Post. Compared to the two-dose versions produced by Moderna and Pfizer, the J&J vaccine is less resource intensive to distribute and administer, making it a critical piece to U.S. plans to spread vaccinations around the world — but only once Americans are inoculated. The J&J vaccine can be stored for months at refrigerated temperatures, rather than frozen, and doesn’t require patients to return for a second dose three or four weeks later. J&J has set up a global production network that includes brewing bulk vaccine at its Janssen facility in the Netherlands, and with a company in the U.S., Emergent BioSolutions, and another in India, Biological E. Ltd. Other contract manufacturers are lined up to help with later steps, including putting the vaccine into vials, in the U.S., Italy, Spain and South Africa. In the scramble to create COVID-19 vaccines, the three Western drug makers who’ve dominated the vaccine industry for decades — Merck & Co., Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline — surprisingly all fell short. Merck halted its own plans to develop a coronavirus vaccine earlier this year, finding that their candidates were generating an inferior immune system response compared with other vaccines. It said it would instead focus its work on developing treatments for COVID-19. Now, amid the global clamour for more vaccine doses, those heavyweights are helping manufacture doses for less-experienced rivals whose vaccines won the first emergency authorizations from regulators. Merck has since said it was in talks to help other drug companies with vaccine production, but wouldn’t say Tuesday whether other deals are imminent. “Merck remains steadfast in our commitment to contribute to the global response to the pandemic and to preparing to address future pandemics,” the Kenilworth, New Jersey-based company said in a statement. Sanofi Pasteur, named for pioneering French biologist Louis Pasteur, produces more than 1 billion vaccine doses a year and is a leader in pediatric, influenza and polio vaccines. It, too, has had delays with its COVID-19 vaccine candidates. While it tries to resolve those problems, Sanofi has agreed to bottle and package about 125 million doses of the vaccine from Pfizer and German partner BioNTech, as well as roughly 12 million doses per month of J&J's vaccine. GlaxoSmithKline, which makes vaccines against shingles, hepatitis, meningitis and many childhood illnesses, has focused its COVID-19 efforts on combining its adjuvant technology with rival companies’ vaccines. Adjuvants boost immune system response to vaccines, meaning smaller doses could be used and supply could be stretched. ___ Johnson reported from Fairless Hills, PA. Lemire reported from New York. Lauran Neergaard in Washington contributed to this report. Zeke Miller, Linda A. Johnson And Jonathan Lemire, The Associated Press