That "smile" is totally contagious. How cute is this dog?!
That "smile" is totally contagious. How cute is this dog?!
NEW YORK — In November, Paula Mont did something new: The 86-year-old, who hasn't left her New Jersey senior living community in nearly a year, went shopping — online. Mont used an iPad, equipped with a stylus to help her shaky hands, to buy a toy grand piano for her great-granddaughter. She picked it out from more than a dozen versions of the instrument on Amazon. “It is like a wow feeling. I found it!” Mont said. The internet has become a crucial link to the outside world during the pandemic, one that millions of people still don't have access to. Among older adults, the lack of internet has even impeded their ability to get vaccinated. But the pandemic has also motivated many who have been isolated at home or unable to leave their senior communities to learn something they may have resisted until now: how to buy groceries and more online. People 65 and older rang up nearly $187 per month online last year, up 60% from a year earlier, according to market research firm NPD Group's Checkout Tracking. They still spend less than the total population, who paid about $238 per month, but they are the fastest-growing group of online shoppers by age group. Shopping is one of a slew of activities that older Americans now have to do over the internet, like doctor’s appointments and socializing via digital video like FaceTime. Such behaviour was forced by necessity — older people face the biggest risk of infection, so it’s more dangerous for them to go out. The transition online hasn't always been easy, and children and senior living staff often have to help, an experience that can be both gratifying and difficult. Barbara Moran, director of social programs for Atria Senior Living where Mont lives, says one of the biggest challenges residents face with their devices is that they are used to pushing, not tapping, as if they’re using a touch-tone telephone. She has to repeat tips often. “I would lie if I didn’t say I was frustrated sometimes,” said Moran, who sits with Mont — masked and gloved — in the facility’s dining room for weekly shopping sessions. Internet retailers and delivery services hope people over 65 keep up the online shopping habit. Freshly, which delivers prepared meals, is adding smaller portions and low-sodium options aimed at seniors; grocery delivery service Instacart set up a phone support line; Target's delivery service, Shipt, is scrapping its $99-a-year fee for some low-income seniors. Diane Shein, 73, from Bonita Springs, Florida, turned to Instacart and Amazon-owned Whole Foods for groceries because of the pandemic. “I’m not sure how much it costs, but I don’t care,” Shein said. “It’s very easy and safe.” Instacart president Nilam Ganenthiran predicted that online groceries will be a “new normal” for older people even when the pandemic ends. Still, there are many barriers, from struggling to use new technology to high prices to access. People 65 and older are less likely than younger people to have home internet or a smartphone. Nearly 22 million, or 42% of Americans 65 and older, lack broadband at home, according to a 2021 study from non-profit Older Adults Technology Services. Low-income and Black and Latino older adults are more likely to be left out, the study says. “We are asking them to stay at home, and yet a lot of seniors are not connected,” said Lauren Cotter of the Community Tech Network, a San Francisco non-profit that trains low-income residents on technology and provides free tablets and hotspots. Those with devices and internet may wrestle with how to use an app or fear giving out personal information because they worry about fraudsters. Online shopping scams cost Americans $245.9 million last year, according to the Federal Trade Commission. And online grocery shopping, which includes tips and delivery charges, costs more than going to stores. The pandemic has also exposed the shortcomings of the internet, which often fails to accommodate people with disabilities or an aging population with visual and hearing issues. Iris Berman, 93, lives in an assisted living centre in San Francisco and used to buy her shoes online. As her eyesight worsened, her son Eric Berman, who works in technology, would help her by sharing her screen virtually. He took over her shopping completely during the pandemic because her vision loss was so severe. “None of these websites works well when they’re enlarged,” he said. Then there's the simple fact that older people did not grow up with the internet so things may not come as intuitively compared with those who have. Lynette White, 72, buys clothes and household items from Amazon and Target online on her iPhone. But she finds other apps, including the Safeway grocery one, too hard to navigate. When she tries to check out her shopping cart, she finds herself starting all over again. She says it’s frustrating that there are are too many steps. Still, she said she likes learning new skills and her grandchildren, who she sends Amazon gift cards as presents, approve. “They’re very impressed that at my age I am excited about technology,” White said. ______ Follow Anne D’Innocenzio: http://twitter.com/ADInnocenzio Anne D'Innocenzio, The Associated Press
MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his nation's top counterintelligence agency Wednesday to redouble its efforts to address what he described as Western attempts to destabilize Russia. Speaking at a meeting of top officials of the Federal Security Service, or FSB, the main KGB successor agency, Putin pointed at the “so-called policy of containment of Russia,” charging that it includes efforts to “derail our development, slow it down, create problems alongside our borders, provoke internal instability and undermine the values that unite the Russian society.” The Russian president added that those activities by foreign powers, which he didn't name, are aimed at “weakening Russia and putting it under outside control.” The United States and its NATO allies have rejected similar previous claims by the Kremlin that they were seeking to undermine Russia. Russia's relations with the West plummeted to post-Cold War lows following Moscow's 2014 annexation of Ukraine's Crimea and Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The recent arrest of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and a sweeping crackdown on protesters demanding his release has been another source of tension. Navalny, Putin's most prominent critic, was arrested on Jan. 17 upon returning from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from a nerve-agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin. Russian authorities have rejected the accusation and accused Navalny of co-operating with Western intelligence agencies — claims which he has ridiculed. Earlier this month, Navalny was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison for violating terms of his probation while convalescing in Germany. The sentence stems from a 2014 embezzlement conviction that Navalny has rejected as fabricated and the European ?ourt of Human Rights has ruled to be unlawful. Navalny's arrest has fueled a wave of protests that drew tens of thousands to the streets across Russia. The authorities have detained about 11,000 people, many of whom were fined or given jail terms ranging from seven to 15 days. In the wake of the demonstrations, the Kremlin-controlled parliament has toughened the punishment for disobeying police and introduced new fines for funding demonstrations. Putin on Wednesday signed those new bills into law. Without naming Navalny, Putin assailed those in Russia who allegedly serve foreign interests. “It's necessary to draw a line between natural political competition, competition between political parties, ideological platforms, various views on the country's development, and the activities that have nothing to do with democracy and are aimed at undermining stability and security of our state, at serving foreign interests,” he said. The Russian president emphasized the need for the FSB to shield the parliamentary election set for September from any "provocations." Putin hailed the agency for disrupting the activities of foreign spies, maintaining it unmasked 72 foreign intelligence officers and 423 of their informants. He ordered the FSB to tighten the protection of the country's latest military technologies, saying, “You all understand that we have a lot to safeguard.” Putin also commended the FSB for its efforts to combat terrorism. He said it prevented 72 terror attacks last year. He instructed the agency to “uncover contacts between terrorist groups and foreign special services.” “Unfortunately, anything goes, and they also use terrorists,” Putin said without elaborating. Vladimir Isachenkov, The Associated Press
By Jamie Mountain Local Journalism Initiative Reporter LATCHFORD – The Town of Latchford has thrown its hat into the ring to secure improved broadband internet for its residents. Mayor George Lefebvre told council in his report at their Thursday, February 18, meeting that he had received an email from Neal Hougham, a project manager with Bell Canada, advising him that the company has submitted an application on Latchford’s behalf to the Universal Broadband Fund. “They have requested a letter of endorsement for their effort and they need it by March 5,” said Lefebvre at the meeting. “I was confident enough of your support for this that I got (clerk-treasurer) Jaime (Allen) to work with me on preparing the requested letter of support and even have taken the liberty of emailing it out today. Jaime and I interpret the proposed service to be the long-awaited fibre optics, which will certainly meet the needs of all who desire it.” The Universal Broadband Fund is part of the Government of Canada's plan to connect all Canadians. The $1.75-billion fund is aimed at supporting high-speed internet projects across the country. It has been designed to fund broadband infrastructure projects that will bring high-speed internet at 50/10 Megabits per second (Mbps) to rural and remote communities. Allen noted that Latchford had also been asked by Nipissing-Timiskaming MP and the Honourable Speaker of the House Anthony Rota’s office to get a letter of support from Coleman Township to strengthen the town’s application. Jamie Mountain, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Temiskaming Speaker
PRINCE GEORGE, B.C. — The RCMP say a crash on Highway 16 west of Prince George has killed a Metro Vancouver man and injured a 20-year-old Alberta resident. An RCMP statement says the collision happened Monday as the Alberta man in a westbound pickup was overtaking an empty logging truck. The passing lane ended before the pickup had finished its manoeuvre and police say it collided with an oncoming car. Police say the driver of the car, who was in his 40s, died a short time later in hospital. Officers in Prince George are leading the investigation and want to speak with the logging truck driver, who stopped to assist but left before talking with police. Investigators are also appealing for dashcam video from anyone on Highway 16 between Fraser Lake and Vanderhoof at around 5:30 p.m. Monday. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 24, 2021. The Canadian Press
Several international travellers arriving at Toronto's Pearson International Airport have refused to comply with a new rule requiring a three-day hotel quarantine, local police said Wednesday. Peel Region police said that while most cases were resolved after conversations with officers, some people refused to follow the rules that took effect this week and were fined $880 under Ontario regulations. Police said they will not detain anyone for breaking the hotel quarantine rule unless there are aggravating circumstances involved, such as a criminal offence. They added that the Public Health Agency of Canada would be responsible for any further potential fines for travellers under the Quarantine Act. The Quarantine Act states that anyone arriving in Canada must stay in an isolation hotel for three nights. They may only leave after a negative COVID-19 test, but are expected to self-isolate for a total of 14 days. Dr. Lawrence Loh, Peel Region's medical officer of health, said Wednesday that the quarantine measures are in place to protect the public. "It's unfortunate (...) that this might be occurring," said Loh. "Please remember that it's a disease that spreads from person to person and it takes all of us to do our part." Patrick Brown, the mayor of Brampton, Ont., just north of the airport, said that people who choose to ignore the regulations are being selfish. "By not being mindful that you can bring dangerous variants into the country, you're being selfish to your neighbours, to your city," said Brown. "I hope that people do abide by the new stricter guidelines." Staying in a government-approved isolation hotel costs up to $2,000 for the three-night stay. The hotel stays, which must be paid for by the travellers, are among a series of measures that came into effect on Monday to limit the spread of COVID-19 and more contagious variants of the virus. Most incoming air travellers will need to get tested for the virus upon arrival and again toward the end of their mandatory 14-day quarantine. Travellers arriving at land borders will be given self-swab kits, and testing will be provided on-site at five high-volume border crossings. The new rules are in addition to previous orders that require a negative test result within 72 hours of arrival. Travellers will need to complete a second test on Day 10 of their self-isolation period. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said the tighter border controls are meant to keep everyone safe. -- with files from Denise Paglinawan. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 24, 2021. John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press
FREDERICTON — New Brunswick's auditor general is warning of a crisis in the nursing home sector if the government doesn't address the shortage of spaces. Kim Adair-MacPherson says the number of seniors in the province is expected to double by 2036 and there are currently almost 800 seniors waiting for a nursing home placement. She says it's unclear how the province plans to address the demand. Social Development Minister Bruce Fitch says 600 new nursing home beds will be opened over the next five years. He says the procedure the government uses to request proposals for new nursing homes has been streamlined, which he says should speed things up. Cecile Cassista, executive director of the Coalition for Seniors and Nursing Home Residents Rights, says the government should concentrate on helping seniors remain in their own homes instead of putting them into nursing residences. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 24, 2021. The Canadian Press
ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — Preliminary numbers from Newfoundland and Labrador's elections authority suggest voter turnout in the provincial election could be a record low. An Elections NL spokeswoman says she estimates 120,000 people had requested mail-in ballots ahead of last Friday's deadline. Completed ballots must be postmarked by March 12. Adrienne Luther said in an email Tuesday another 68,000 people voted in advance polls or by special ballot before her office announced on Feb. 12 that all voting would be conducted by mail. If the mail-in ballot estimate doesn't change much, the province is on track for a voter turnout hovering around 51 per cent, which would be a historic low. Luther emphasizes that the estimate of 120,000 mail-in ballot requests is both rough and preliminary because many of the telephone and email requests were for multiple electors. British Columbia's pandemic election in October saw a historic low voter turnout, while Saskatchewan's September election saw its second-lowest turnout since 1986. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 24, 2021. The Canadian Press
Oshawa MPP Jennifer French is calling on the province for a public inquiry into two of Durham’s long-term care and retirement homes that saw significant COVID-19 outbreaks. In a recent letter to Premier Doug Ford, French asked for the province to support Durham Regional Council’s recent call for an investigation into Sunnycrest Nursing Home in Whitby and ThorntonView Long Term Care Home in Oshawa. An outbreak was declared at Sunnycrest Nursing Home on Nov. 23, 2020. In total, there were 195 COVID-19 cases in which 30 residents died. The outbreak at ThorntonView Long Term Care Home began on Nov. 28, 2020 and saw a total 152 cases in which 18 residents died. “The reality faced by loved ones in long term care, their caregivers and their families has been particularly distressing and often tragic,” she writes, adding she was proud to be able to work alongside surviving family members who have been grieving while advocating for change in the wake of the horrible loss of Orchard Villa Retirement Community in Pickering. Orchard Villa was the first long term care home in Durham to see a significant outbreak in the first wave of the pandemic in spring of 2020. The outbreak began on March 31, 2020 and lasted until June 11, 2020. In total, there were 306 cases and 71 deaths. “Unfortunately, as Ontarians have seen across their home communities, situations like Orchard Villa are unfolding every day,” she continues. “Families are being devastated every day. Vulnerable loved ones are suffering every day.” French says it is “beyond disappointing” that an inquiry was not called during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. “It has been very upsetting to see that lessons were not learned, supports were not put into place and our most vulnerable have not been protected.” Speaking with The Oshawa Express, French says families of loved ones are desperate for answers. “Families and communities are distraught that things were not put in place, supports were not put in place, staffing levels were not improved – all the recommendations from the first wave that could have been implemented as we headed into this unfortunate next chapter,” she says. “People are dying, people are suffering, and families are beside themselves.” French says the province relied too much on the vaccine as the “strategy” when it came to protecting seniors. While she says it’s important to ensure the vaccine continues to be distributed and administered, she notes that can’t be the only plan. “The calls for more staffing, the calls for investment in training, in disease protocols… we haven’t been doing that.” She notes families are “terrified,” especially with the more quickly-spreading variants that are starting to circulate. “We don’t know what we’re headed into, but we do need to be prepared. We need to be ready,” says French. “You don’t want to lose anyone you love, but if you have to lose them, you don’t want to lose them in a way that people are dying in this pandemic. It is not a nice way to die – isolated, alone and in pain and with all the other pieces of desperation, or starvation, or dehydration. It is unthinkable what we are subjecting our loved ones to.” Courtney Bachar, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Oshawa Express
WASHINGTON — Several witnesses have been subpoenaed to appear before a federal grand jury considering charges against former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who is already facing state murder charges in the death of George Floyd, a person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press on Wednesday. The Justice Department’s federal civil rights investigation has been focused on Chauvin and some of the witnesses, including other officers who worked with Chauvin, according to the person, who could not publicly discuss the non-public proceedings and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity. The New York Times first reported that a grand jury was hearing testimony against Chauvin. The Justice Department declined to comment. Jury selection begins in Chavin's state case on March 8 — he faces second-degree murder and manslaughter charges — with opening statements scheduled for March 29. Floyd, a Black man, died May 25 after Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck while he was handcuffed and saying he couldn’t breathe. Floyd’s death sparked protests in Minneapolis and beyond and led to a nationwide reckoning on race. Three other officers — Thomas Lane, J. Kueng and Tou Thao — are charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter and are scheduled to face trial in August. Like Chauvin, all three were fired soon after Floyd’s death. The increased federal grand jury activity in connection with Floyd’s death comes as the Justice Department, under President Joe Biden, is expected to focus more on civil rights issues, criminal justice overhauls and policing policies in the wake of nationwide protests over the death of Black Americans at the hands of law enforcement. At his confirmation hearing this week, Judge Merrick Garland, Biden’s nominee for attorney general, emphasized his commitment to combating racial discrimination in policing, telling the Senate Judiciary Committee that America doesn’t “yet have equal justice.” Former Attorney General William Barr had previously said that, as is standard department policy, the Justice Department was first going to allow a state prosecution to move forward before the federal investigation would be resolved. It’s unclear what specifically prompted the increased grand jury activity in the last few weeks, though most federal grand juries are discharged after about 18 months. Chauvin was prepared to plead guilty to a state charge of third-degree murder in Floyd’s death before Barr personally blocked the plea deal last year, two law enforcement officials with direct knowledge of the talks told the AP. Barr rejected the deal in part because he felt it was too soon as the investigation into Floyd’s death was still in its relative infancy, the officials said. The officials spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the talks. ___ Associated Press writer Doug Glass contributed from Minneapolis. Michael Balsamo, The Associated Press
“Kill Shot: A Shadow Industry, a Deadly Disease,” by Jason Dearen (Avery) Lower back pain. Spinal stenosis. Cataracts. All those conditions are treated with drugs manufactured by compounding pharmacies. And those drugs can blind or kill you, due in large part to an almost total absence of regulatory oversight. In his terrific but unnerving new book, “Kill Shot,” Associated Press investigative reporter Jason Dearen explores the shadow industry of compounding pharmacies and various unsuccessful efforts to rein it in. The story centres on the New England Compounding Center, which in 2012 produced mould-infested batches of an injectable steroid that killed more than 100 people and sickened nearly 800 others across 20 states. Eventually, the lab in Framingham, Massachusetts, half an hour west of Boston, was shut down, and 13 people, including co-owner Barry Cadden and supervising pharmacist Glenn Chin, were convicted of federal crimes. But as Dearen makes clear in his gripping, tautly written narrative, the problems posed by pharmacy compounding — which accounts for at least 10% of the country’s drug supply — are far from over. Relying on transcripts, interviews, FDA inspection reports and other sources, he reconstructs this slow-moving tragedy in scenes of almost cinematic intensity. We meet the sympathetic victims, many of them elderly people living with chronic pain, who, after receiving the injections, died slow, horrible deaths from fungal meningitis and its complications. We also meet the callous lab owners, who set out to enrich themselves by cutting corners, hiring unqualified staff, running a filthy operation and relying on payoffs to drum up business. And while some NECC employees were eventually held accountable, they had a host of enablers. These included the lobbying group Alliance for Pharmacy Compounding; members of Congress, who accepted their campaign contributions and killed meaningful reform; and the U.S. Supreme Court, which in 2002 struck down a section of a law designed to give the FDA more oversight. Thankfully, there were good guys as well: mostly, the dedicated doctors and scientists in hospitals, state health labs and federal agencies, including the FDA and CDC, who tracked the mysterious outbreak of deadly infections in real time and limited its scope by alerting the public. “Kill Shot” is coming out in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has exposed the overall fragility of the U.S. health care system. By calling attention to just one facet of it, Dearen has performed a tremendous public service. He includes a handy checklist of questions to ask prescribers about compounded drugs, but his takeaway is inescapable. Consumers would do well to educate themselves about treatment options and press for tougher regulations. Their lives — and those of their loved ones — may depend on it. — Ann Levin worked for The Associated Press for 20 years, including as national news editor at AP headquarters in New York. Since 2009 she’s worked as a freelance writer and editor. Ann Levin, The Associated Press
MONTREAL — Veteran defender Laurent Ciman has returned to Montreal, where he started his MLS playing career, this time as an assistant coach. The 35-year-old Belgian spent three seasons in Montreal before an unwanted trade to expansion Los Angeles FC in December 2017. After one season as LAFC captain, he joined Toronto FC in December 2018 after a brief stint in France with Ligue 1's Dijon. Ciman, named MLS Defender of the Year in his first season in Montreal, became a free agent after his TFC contract expired at the end of last season. For Ciman, retirement as a player means a return home. He retained his house in Montreal and wife Diana and their two kids remained there while he played in Toronto. After a successful career in Belgium, Ciman opted to come to Canada in 2015 because of the support available here for daughter Nina, who has autism spectrum disorder. "I'm very happy to be back home," Ciman said in a statement Wednesday. "It's been my wish for a long time, and this is a great opportunity for myself and my family. I just want to contribute to the club’s growth." Ciman, who won 20 caps for his country, played in the Belgian top flight from 2004 to 2015 with Charleroi Sporting Club, Club Brugge, KV Kortrijk and Standard de Liège. He played six seasons in MLS, appearing in 136 regular-season games including 126 starts. He also played in nine playoffs games, nine Canadian Championship games and eight CONCACAF Champions League matches. "We are very happy that Laurent is joining the coaching staff and that he is back with the club," said Montreal sporting director Olivier Renard. "It is a logical and beneficial association, especially knowing the attachment Laurent has always had for this club and this city. We can now count on his experience after a fruitful career in Europe, in MLS, and on the international stage." Ciman who played 515 pro matches during his career, saw limited action with Toronto but provided key backup for the injured Omar Gonzalez in the 2019 playoffs. He was a popular member of the Toronto squad. "He's got an incredible personality … a very playful personality that I think is infectious in our group," then coach Greg Vanney said during Ciman's time in Toronto. "It's something that our group needs at times, just to be able to banter, have fun, make something sometimes that is challenging or difficult into some kind of a game within the game." Ciman was a member of the Belgian squad that reached the quarterfinals of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and saw action in Euro 2016. He missed out on the 2018 World Cup, one of Belgium's final cuts. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 24, 2021 The Canadian Press
SDG – Council made few changes to the draft 2021 budget during two days of deliberations held last week. The modified budget will result in a lower county tax bill for some SDG residents this year. The draft $69.6 million budget, which staff presented February 16th, proposed a 0.85 per cent tax rate decrease was on the table. The following day, council had settled on a 0.74 per cent decrease while opting to support additonal community funding requests. While some residents will see a lower tax bill, property value assessments increased by 0.53 per cent, which may negate the savings for others. In comparison the 2020 budget had a 2.75 per cent tax increase which included a 2.1 per cent assessment increase. While tax rates declined, spending at the county has not. Council supported $1,134,440 in outside donations. This includes $500,000 each for Dundas Manor and Maxville Manor that was committed to in 2020. Funding for the mental health nurse pilot program with the OPP was extended, most of which was carried over from 2020. The Eastern Ontario Agri-Food Network will receive $25,000, the St. Lawrence River Institute $10,000, and $9,000 was earmarked for county fairs this year. Council approved adding two projects to the requests for donations. The Chesterville and District Historical Society will see $1,000 towards its updated history book project, and the Royal Canadian Legion will receive $940. Transportation spending makes up more than half of the budget for SDG Counties. Two major road reconstruction projects in South Dundas will move forward this year. A holdover from 2020, the long-awaited $4.1 million roundabout and street-scape project in Morrisburg will go out to tender tentatively this April. Meanwhile a $600K rebuild of a 1.1 kilometre section of County Roads 8 and 18 north of Froatburn will be completed by fall. County councillors representing South Dundas have been advocating for that road to be repaired for the past two budget cycles. The transportation department will move forward on 14 resurfacing projects including two portions of County Road 18 in South Dundas, one section through Dundela, the other on the western limits of Williamsburg. More than $600K in equipment replacement purchases will take place in 2021 in the transportation department alone. These include buying one tandem snowplow, a new loader for the Finch salt storage station, two three-quarter tonne trucks, and replacement of GPS monitoring equipment in the snowplow fleet. The snowplow replacement is part of a long-term equipment replacement plan to purchase one new plow each year to keep the average age of the road clearing equipment low and reduce overall maintenance expenses. The county will replace its two-way radio system including a new tower at its Newington tower site, and resurface asphalt in the county patrol yards. Those two projects will cost $390,000, but use some money that was set aside in 2020 but was unspent. The county’s IT department has budgeted an increase of $88K to its department, most of that increase will go towards the hiring of a service desk technician. SDG provides technical support and IT services to five of the six lower-tier municipalities in the county. The department provides data services, remote backup and web hosting services to municipalities. Total spending across all departments, including wages, is budgeted at $69,563,155. Eighty per cent of that is funded by taxation, the remainder through other means such as provincial grants, court fees, and user fees. Barring last-minute changes, council will approve the budget at its March 15th regular meeting. Phillip Blancher, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Leader
Despite rising COVID-19 cases, especially in Metro Vancouver, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry didn’t announce new measures to curb the spread of the virus in a briefing today. Henry urged British Columbians to continue to stay home when sick, wear a mask in public spaces and not socialize outside their households — public health orders that have been in place for nearly five months. “It is concerning that we’re seeing an increase in our per-cent positivity and in our weekly average, particularly in the Lower Mainland,” she said. “We know what to do to manage.” The province need only stay the course to lower transmission as it continues to roll out vaccines to the most vulnerable to serious illness, she said. But recent data shows the number of people infected is beginning to climb again after a slow decline. Earlier this month, the province was reporting about 450 new COVID-19 cases each day. On Thursday, the province reported 617 new cases. Today, Henry said 559 new cases had been identified. And the rolling seven-day average of new daily cases has surpassed 500 for the first time since early January. Recent polling also suggests British Columbians are less likely to consistently follow COVID-19 guidelines than people in other provinces. Concerns have also increased after seven schools reported students and staff had been exposed to COVID-19 variants that are believed to be more easily transmitted and potentially more likely to cause serious illness. Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside acknowledged the issue in a briefing Monday. “I can appreciate the anxiety,” she said. But she added that testing has shown the variants are not being spread within schools. Henry said the province is testing all positive cases for evidence of a variant, and genomic sequencing has been ramped up to confirm the extent of variants in the community. “We are paying extra attention, so we better understand how and where these are spreading,” she said. “We’re learning about the impacts of these variants of concern,” Henry said. “But we know what we have to do to manage it.” Henry said there are signs the province’s vaccination effort has saved lives, particularly in long-term care. More than 220,000 people have been vaccinated, and at least 55,057 of those have had two doses. The province reported one death due to COVID-19 today, an individual in assisted living. There have been no new cases or deaths in long-term care in the last 24 hours, and 92 per cent of residents have had their first dose of the vaccine, Henry said. Outbreaks in long-term care have also dropped from almost 60 in December to 12. There are five outbreaks in assisted living facilities. On Monday the province will announce the plan for vaccinating seniors over 80 living in the community, Henry said, which will begin shortly. “We are in a period of vaccine hope and pandemic reality,” she said. Moira Wyton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Tyee
ATHENS, Greece — The former director of Greece’s National Theatre appeared Wednesday before a public prosecutor to respond to child abuse allegations in a case that has triggered a major political dispute and a debate on reforms needed to prosecute sex crimes. The 56-year-old suspect was taken into police custody on Saturday and resigned his position as the theatre's artistic director earlier this month. Defence lawyer Alexis Kougias denied the charges on behalf of his client and formally requested that the case be dismissed. He said the court granted a 24-hour extension to present a defence. Under Greek law, suspects are not named before trial unless exceptions are made to serve the public interest or they voluntarily identify themselves to assist their defence. Kougias has identified his client as prominent Greek actor-director Dimitris Lignadis, who was escorted in handcuffs by police to the court building and made no remarks to reporters outside Wednesday. Opposition parties argue that the culture minister in Greece’s centre-right government responded too slowly to the allegations and should be removed. Multiple cases of alleged sexual misconduct and abuse have been made public since Greek Olympic sailing champion Sofia Bekatorou alleged that she had been sexually assaulted by a sailing federation official in 1998. Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has promised to outline proposed legal changes in parliament on Thursday to make it easier for victims of sexual assault to report the crimes. The Associated Press
Rick Holmstrom, "See That Light” (LuEllie Records) Mask up, plug in and rock out to a stripped-down sound. That's the recipe for success on “See That Light,” the new solo album by Rick Holmstrom, who has been Mavis Staples’ guitarist and bandleader for the past 13 years. When the pandemic wiped out Staples' 2020 tour schedule, Holmstrom regrouped — so to speak — and assembled a power trio in a studio near his home in Venice, California. The happy result is a 12-song set built on garage band basics that showcases Holmstrom's enormous guitar vocabulary. Not that he's a showboat — his solos aren't so much high-flying as rooted, specifically in the blues and Chuck Berry, with lots of vibrato, twang and reverb. Some of Holmstrom's most impressive, inventive playing is as a rhythm guitarist in support of his singing. Equally appealing is the work of Steve Mugalian on drums and Gregory Boaz on bass. There's considerable variety to Holmstrom's original material. “Waiting Too Long” chugs like the El Camino he sings about, while “Look Me In the Eye” rides a sock hop beat, and the swinging “Come Along” is bracketed by a slow, sweet melody. Holmstrom sings about dysfunction in dyspeptic, dystopian times before an inquisitive child inspires the uplifting finale, “Joyful Eye.” After it ends in feedback, listeners can provide their own: great stuff. Steven Wine, The Associated Press
(Connell Smith/CBC - image credit) Sean Casey, whose Saint John council seat was declared vacant this week after he missed four meetings, says he had to get away from the city because he was suffering from depression. Casey said he's been travelling in Mexico since early January, and he made the trip for his mental health. His social isolation, autism and depression had become too much, Casey said as he answered questions from CBC News over Facebook Messenger. He's said he's spoken to psychiatrists and gone to mental health services, but this was not enough. "I haven't found anything that's helped, and I didn't expect to find anything that would." Didn't get permission Council declared Casey's Ward 2 seat vacant on Monday night after he missed four meetings in a row without permission. Mayor Don Darling said councillors had no other choice but to declare the vacancy because the rules are set under the provincial Local Governance Act In Saint John, Casey lived with his father, Larry Casey, who is worried about him. "He's been going to a counsellor to try to get help because he's depressed and in a bad way," the father said. Casey said his son ran for council in hopes of connecting with people, because his autism makes it hard to communicate. "I thought this would be good for him, being in a position like that, where a person that can't make friends, can't communicate, just stuck in the house all day, if he could get out and this would help them open up," he said. "I think it's all getting to him, coming to a head, with having no friends, nobody to hang with, it's just getting to him." But serving on city council did help, the father said. Reminded of travel warnings Darling said that when Casey sent council an email saying he'll be gone from Jan. 3 to Feb. 13, he replied urging Casey to heed the travel warnings. "I certainly wanted to be on the record that, you know, first of all, if you're travelling in the midst of all of this, that's not advisable and that you will be responsible for any of the implications," Darling said. "The councillor acknowledged that he understood that." If he had come back on Feb. 13, Casey would have missed only three meetings. But because he is still in Mexico he missed the fourth on Feb. 22. Darling said getting the email from Sean Casey that he would be away was surprising. "This is … certainly not normal circumstances to have somebody, you know, get up and leave." Darling said Casey did not indicate he's been ill and did not ask for permission to miss the council meeting. Saint John Mayor Don Darling says he asked Sean Casey to heed the government's recommendation to avoid non-essential travel. The Public Health Agency of Canada has been urging people to avoid all non-essential travel outside Canada because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the government has not outright banned international travel. Despite the federal caution, Casey said he feels virus measures in airports have been adequate to protect him. "I'm not very social, so I don't go out and party every night so that has probably helped," he said. "The COVID precautions have worked for me." Casey said he's gone to Bogota in Colombia, and Tijuana, Mexico City and Cancun in Mexico. "The trip hasn't gone to plan," he said. "I was not planning on going to that many places." He didn't say when he plans to come back to Canada, but he doesn't plan to run for council in the May municipal elections.
Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller says allocating COVID-19 vaccine doses for Indigenous people in urban areas through the provinces is faster and more effective than delivery directed from Ottawa. He says he will be working with provinces and territories to ensure they prioritize Indigenous people in their immunization efforts, even as the National Association of Friendship Centres and other advocates call for more direct federal involvement.
Divine intervention is what Lynnette Fritshaw says about a Dawson Creek fire on 89 Avenue earlier in February. Fritshaw, a firefighter by trade, was off duty when the blaze struck and she happened to leaving her house for a day of skiing. “Right place, right time. Higher powers. Whatever the case, lives were changed forever that morning,” said Fritshaw. “Ours included. We are beyond thankful for the outcome, and truly honoured to have been able to be there when needed.” Fritshaw sprung into action as soon as she smoke billowing nearby, instantly recognizing it as a sign of a structure fire. Her husband Wade accompanied her to the burning home after they alerted the fire department. The pair banged on the door to see who was home. A mother and her two young daughters answered the door. The family was unharmed. “We didn’t know if anyone was home, and were just about to kick the door in when the light came on and faces appeared at the top of the stairs,” said Fritshaw. Fritshaw helped the mother get winter gear on the kids, got them all outside, and removed the family’s vehicle from the burning home. As they exited, the roof burst into flames, and a fire truck pulled up, says Fritshaw. Firefighters were soon on scene using a pair of engines to put out the fire, as well as use of the ladder truck and rescue truck. email@example.com Tom Summer, Local Journalism Initiative, Alaska Highway News
OTTAWA — Most homeowners who sought deferrals for mortgages last year have seen their deferral periods end, but the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. says the risk of these borrowers falling into arrears could re-emerge.The federal housing agency says in a report that more than 25 million homeowners with mortgages insured by CMHC sought payment deferrals between last March and September, but by the end of that period almost 65 per cent of the deferrals had ended.CMHC says slightly more than 67 per cent of the deferrals ended on time, while almost 33 per cent finished early. The data shows about 85 per cent of the mortgage deferrals still active after Sept. 30 were scheduled to expire in October and almost 10 per cent were due to end by the start of 2021.Only six per cent of mortgage deferrals sought between last March and September were due to finish in 2021.CMHC says as deferral options expire, the risk of these mortgages entering arrears could emerge again, but the report did not quantify that risk.This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 24, 2021. The Canadian Press
CALGARY — The CEO of Crescent Point Energy Corp. says the company is poised to benefit from rising oil prices after two years of transformation through selling assets, cutting debt and reducing costs. The Calgary-based company's move last week to buy producing light oil shale assets in Alberta for $900 million from Royal Dutch Shell reflects that confidence, Craig Bryksa said. "We have built an asset portfolio that is well-positioned to benefit from a rising price environment given our light oil weighting and high netbacks," he said on a Wednesday conference call with analysts to discuss the company's fourth-quarter results. "We expect to generate $375 (million) to $600 million of excess cash flow this year at US$50 to US$60 WTI (West Texas Intermediate) prices." The company plans to devote most of that cash flow to paying down debt, he said, adding that it will evaluate increasing returns to shareholders over time. Shell is to receive $700 million in cash and 50 million Crescent Point shares under the deal and will wind up owning an 8.6 per cent stake in Crescent Point if it closes as expected in April. The companies say the assets are producing around 30,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day from more than 270 wells. About 57 per cent of production is condensate, highly valued as a diluent blended with oilsands bitumen to allow it to flow in a pipeline. Analysts said the company beat their fourth-quarter estimates on production and average selling prices although both measures fell compared with the same period in 2019. "CPG closed the chapter on a highly successful year in its business transformation toward becoming a more sustainable producer generating significant free cash flow, which should be complemented by the upcoming (Shell) acquisition," Desjardins analyst Chris MacCulloch wrote in a report. Crescent Point reported producing 111,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day, about 90 per cent crude oil and petroleum liquids, in the fourth quarter, down from 145,000 boe/d in the fourth quarter of 2019. It attributed the drop to capital spending cuts enacted early in 2020 as oil prices fell. It's average realized fourth-quarter oil price was $49.40 per barrel, down from $65.27 in the year-earlier period. It reported a fourth-quarter net loss of $51 million or 10 cents per share, compared with a loss of $932 million or $1.73 per share in the same period of 2019. On Wednesday, it confirmed 2021 production guidance released with the Shell announcement last week of about 134,000 boe/d, as well as a 2021 capital budget of about $600 million (both assuming the deal is closed). That's up from Crescent Point's average output of 121,600 boe/d during 2020 and down from actual 2020 capital spending of $655 million. The company reported net debt of about $2.1 billion at year-end, paid down by over $615 million during the year. It said it also removed about $60 million in budgeted operating expenses in 2020. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 24, 2021. Companies in this story: (TSX:CPG) Dan Healing, The Canadian Press