Despite being disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, many Black Canadians are hesitant to take a vaccine. Local governments have made commitments to build trust, but that work is just beginning.
Despite being disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, many Black Canadians are hesitant to take a vaccine. Local governments have made commitments to build trust, but that work is just beginning.
That change in the air isn't just the coming of spring: there's a shift happening in the political dynamic surrounding COVID-19 vaccinations. After weeks of the federal Liberal government taking heat for the slow arrival of vaccines in Canada, it's provincial premiers who must now answer to jittery, impatient voters hoping to be immunized as soon as possible. New Brunswick's Liberal opposition is now pushing Premier Blaine Higgs and his Progressive Conservative government for more details about the provincial vaccination plan — details they say other provinces have been providing to their citizens. "We're not trying to play politics with this, but there's certainly not a lot of information being given out to New Brunswickers, and New Brunswickers are asking questions to their MLAs," says Liberal Leader Roger Melanson. Opposition Liberal leader Roger Melanson (CBC News) In January, Higgs said many more New Brunswickers could be vaccinated each week, if only there were enough vaccine. Now those supplies are ramping up fast. New Brunswick received 11,760 doses last week and a similar number is expected this week. Melanson says those doses should be administered as quickly as they arrive. "We're seeing deliveries, much bigger deliveries than what we had been getting since January, so now the onus has shifted onto the provincial governments," says political scientist Stéphanie Chouinard of the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ont. Deputy minister of Health Gérald Richard told the legislature's public accounts committee Feb. 24 that New Brunswick would be ready for what he called "a flood" of vaccines, including those from AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson. "We are very confident that we have a good plan in New Brunswick," Richard said. "It was approved by the COVID cabinet and ratified by cabinet a few months ago." Department of Health deputy minister Gérald Richard, left(Jacques Poitras/CBC) But the only detail the province provided during Monday's vaccine update was that 2,400 more long-term care residents would be done this week, accounting for about a quarter of the doses expected to arrive. And officials have given varying estimates of how many people can be vaccinated per week. In January, when deliveries to the province were still a trickle, Premier Blaine Higgs said 45,000 could be done, if only the province had enough vaccine. On Thursday he told reporters the province could do 40,000, then added it might be possible to double that to 80,000. Last Saturday, Health Minister Dorothy Shephard told CBC's The House that New Brunswick could vaccinate "up to 4,000 people a day," which works out to a maximum of 28,000 per week — below Higgs's estimate. Meanwhile, other provinces are moving faster, or at least providing more detail, on their rollouts. This week, Nova Scotia announced its plan for 13,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, the third to be approved in Canada. A health worker holds up a dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine against COVID-19. (Cecilia Fabiano/LaPresse/The Associated Press) The doses arrive next week and Nova Scotia doctors and pharmacists will administer the doses to people aged 50-64 in 26 locations around the province starting March 15. New Brunswick has provided no such detail on what it will do with the approximately 10,000 doses it will receive. Higgs says that will be discussed by the all-party COVID cabinet committee next Tuesday and spokesperson Shawn Berry said the province will probably use it for some of the groups identified for early vaccination. Berry said 3,200 people were scheduled to be vaccinated this week but some clinics were delayed because of winter weather. He said doses listed as "available" by the province — more than 13,000 as of Thursday — are earmarked for clinics. "To prevent the risk of disruption of clinics, we don't plan to use them the same week they are scheduled to arrive in case there is a delay," he said. As an example, he said the province received more than 11,000 doses last week and a similar amount will be used at First Nations clinics that started this week. Berry also said Higgs's figure of 80,000 vaccinations per week being possible is correct. Higgs said last Friday one reason for the lack of detail is the uncertainty of supply that plagued the provinces for the first two months of the year. "When we schedule appointments, we will have a vaccine to put with it," he said during last week's CBC political panel on Information Morning Fredericton. "I would like to see a map out over the next two or three or four months of a fixed quantity so that we can plan well." Not when, but how Melanson said he's satisfied with the "who" and "when" so far but wants to know about the "how" — how people will contact, or hear from, the province to arrange their shots. At the Feb. 24 public accounts committee meeting, Liberal MLA Jean-Claude d'Amours also pointed to a Brunswick News report that the province was "urgently" calling for help in long-term care homes from anyone qualified to administer vaccines — another sign of lack of preparedness, he said. Whether New Brunswick's plan is really behind other provinces remains to be seen. The fluctuations in vaccine deliveries to Canada caused short-term alarm and a lot of political finger-pointing but in the end did not endanger the overall vaccine delivery target for the first three months of 2021. Still, Chouinard points out that even those temporary delays probably led to more illness and deaths. D'Amours noted at the public accounts committee that the percentage of COVID-19 doses the province was administering was slipping. Liberal health critic Jean-Claude d'Amours(CBC) The week before the hearing, 21 per cent of all doses received in New Brunswick hadn't been used. It rose to 25 per cent last week and 28 per cent this week. "Supply is not the issue right now," Melanson says. "The issue is capacity to roll it out." The province has been holding back a lot of vaccine for second doses. But with the recent announcement that second doses will be delayed to maximize first doses, those hold-back numbers should now diminish. On Thursday the Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island governments said the delay to second doses will allow everyone in those provinces who wants to be vaccinated to get their first dose by June. Higgs told reporters that's his target as well. He said more details on how delayed second doses and new vaccine approvals will change the province's rollout plan should be coming next week. Berry said 7,503 of 11,000 long-term care residents have received at least one dose of vaccine and first-dose clinics for all long-term care facilities will be finished over the next two weeks.
OTTAWA — With a federal budget in the offing, premiers are stepping up the pressure on Ottawa to immediately boost health-care funding by at least $28 billion a year.They held a virtual news conference Thursday to reiterate their demand for a big increase in the unconditional transfer payment the federal government sends provinces and territories each year for health care.The federal government this year will transfer to the provinces nearly $42 billion for health care, under an arrangement that sees the amount rise by at least three per cent each year.But the premiers contend that amounts to only 22 per cent of the actual cost of delivering health care and doesn’t keep pace with yearly cost increases of about five per cent.Starting this year, they want Ottawa to increase its share to 35 per cent and maintain it at that level, which would mean an added $28 billion, rising by roughly another $4 billion in each subsequent year.During a virtual first ministers' meeting in December, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told premiers he recognizes the need for the federal government to eventually shoulder a bigger share of health-care costs. But he said that must wait until after the COVID-19 pandemic, which has sent the federal deficit on track to exceed an unprecedented $381 billion as Ottawa doles out emergency aid, including at least $1 billion for vaccines and $25 billion in direct funding to the provinces to, among other things, bolster their health systems.Quebec Premier Francois Legault, chair of the premiers' council, stressed Thursday that the pandemic-related expenses Ottawa has incurred are "non-recurring." He pointed to studies that suggest the federal government could quickly eliminate its deficit, and even return to surplus, once the pandemic is over while provinces would be mired in debt.The premiers argued they need stable, predictable, long-term funding for their health systems, which were already under strain before the pandemic hit and will be even more stressed once it's over and they must deal with the backlog of delayed surgeries, tests and other procedures.Manitoba's Brian Pallister said wait times have been a problem for decades and are destined to get worse as Canada's population ages. But he said the pandemic has made "a bad situation much, much worse.""The post-pandemic pileup is coming and it's real and its impact on Canadians and their families and their friends is real too," he warned. "The time is now to address this issue and to address it together."Pallister accused Trudeau of ignoring the problem of wait-times and the real life-threatening impact on people. Five years ago, he said he told Trudeau a true story about a woman with a lump in her breast who had waited for tests and referral to a specialist, only to be told in the end that it was "too bad we couldn't have caught this sooner.""He looked across the table at me and said, 'I'm not your banker,'" Pallister said."We don't need a banker. We need a partner."Trudeau has offered to give provinces immediate funding for long-term care homes, provided they agree to some national standards. Long-term care facilities have borne the brunt of deaths from COVID-19.But Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Ottawa's latest offer would provide just $2,500 per person in long-term care — a drop in the bucket compared to the $76,000 it costs his province each year for every long-term care resident."The math doesn't work," he said.Legault ruled out conditional transfers for long-term care altogether as an intrusion into provincial jurisdiction. He said each province and territory has its own health-care priorities and their "jurisdiction must absolutely be respected."When universal health care was adopted in Canada, British Columbia's John Horgan said the cost was originally shared 50-50 between Ottawa and the provinces. The steadily declining federal share has led to ever more challenges in delivering health care, exacerbated now by the pandemic."Our public health-care system is at risk," Horgan warned."COVID has brought (the challenge) into graphic light. It's stark, it's profound and we need to take action."Saskatchewan's Scott Moe said Canadians deserve a well-funded health system "that is supported by both levels, both orders of government in this nation, not one that is propped up by almost entirely by the provinces and territories."Trudeau's minority Liberal government is poised to table a budget this spring, which could theoretically result in the defeat of his government should opposition parties vote against the budget. Legault said premiers have already talked to opposition parties to solicit their support for their health funding demand. He said the Bloc Quebecois and NDP support the demand, while the Conservatives agree in principle with the need to increase the health transfer but have not specifically agreed to the $28-billion figure.This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 4, 2021. Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press
The deadline for community grants ended on March 1, and the Town is now considering those applications that were received. Community Grants assist organizations who provide beneficial, core ser-vices to the community that are not provided by the Town.Funds supplied will include requests for initial start-up funding, equipment, material, and supplies purchases, and to offset Town-established user fees. Applications are also taken in this category if a group is requesting a fee waiver to rent Town space, rent Town equipment or supplies (IE: tables and chairs) or use in-kind services. The maximum eligible grant amount is $2,000.The Community Events Grant as-sists organizations who deliver commu-nity celebrations, festivals, and special events that Council considers to be core services to the community. This does not include fundraising events, events which raise funds for an-other organization, or events hosted by the private sector or individuals. The maximum eligible grant in this category is $2,000.The Community Arts, Culture and Tourism Grants support organizations promoting opportunities in artistic expression and cultural endeavours for people of all ages through education and participation. It includes tourism and development activities as well as the operation of a significant cultural facilities providing core services to the community. The maximum eligible grant in this category is $25,000.Once grant applications are received, they are considered by the Grant Review committee in March and April of this year. The applications will go through a second review. Council will approve grant application recommendations during the first council meeting in May. Applicants are encouraged to read over the applications carefully to ensure eligibility and to make sure the applica-tion is submitted accurately. The Community Grant Program poli-cy will give preference to not-for-profit organizations that demonstrate community support, efficient use of resources, sound business practices and develop volunteer knowledge, skills, and self-reliance. The purpose of the Community Fund Program is in keeping with the Town’s strategic objective to preserve the heritage and promote the provision of a diversity of cultural activities, and active and passive recreational opportunities. Brian Lockhart, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, New Tecumseth Times
As Cowessess First Nation sits on the cusp of asserting its rights under C-92, An Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families, Mi’kmaw Nations in Nova Scotia are leaning toward asserting their rights for their children and families through their existing Treaty and Aboriginal rights. Cowessess Chief Cadmus Delorme and Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Nova Scotia/Newfoundland Regional Chief Paul Prosper explained their different journeys toward the same goal—taking control of the wellbeing of their nations’ children and families. They were speaking on March 2 at the third of five virtual gatherings hosted by the AFN on Child and Family Services and Self-Determination. “Our coordination agreement is draft-ready to sign,” said Delorme. Those signatures will come from Indigenous Services Canada Minister Marc Miller, Saskatchewan First Nations, Métis and Northern Affairs Minister Lori Carr, “and myself on behalf of Cowessess. It’s not signed as of this hour. We’re just working on some final technical stuff.” Whether it’s the federal or provincial government that has the financial obligation to the First Nation is “kind of grey in the act,” said Delorme, and that is the hold-up at this point. When the funding does come, it will be a one-year commitment to allow Cowessess to get a better understanding of its funding needs. “On April 1, in less than a month, Cowessess will have coast to coast to coast jurisdiction over our children and prevention for our families. It’s not reserve-based,” said Delorme. He explained that Cowessess First Nation was moving forward with asserting its jurisdiction with a single coordination agreement with its home province of Saskatchewan, although 126 children living in other provinces had been identified. “Cowessess is going to do this. We’re going to do it well. But if any province challenges us, we’re prepared to answer. We’re prepared to educate, but this is not a negotiation. We are already asserting,” said Delorme. In February 2020, Cowessess First Nation ratified the Miyo Pimatisowin Act (MPA), affirming its rights and jurisdiction to act in the best interest of the child. “If anyone ever challenged it from a colonial perspective, we didn’t go outside the goalpost of the (Bill C-)92, but the Miyo Pimatisowin Act is custom to Cowessess,” said Delorme. The MPA is only one part of the work Cowessess undertook. They created the Eagle Woman Tribunal Council, their own judicial system which will oversee the MPA; created Chief Red Bear Children’s Lodge, which will serve as their child and family services agency; opened Sacred Wolf Lodge, a 10-bedroom facility which began as a home for females aging out of the system and is now a prevention place for families; and formed a variety of committees to examine finance, interprovincial needs and data, and legal aspects. Before entering into coordination discussions with Ottawa and Saskatchewan, Cowessess began exploratory discussions with the two levels of government in June 2020. “We were very technical in that word ‘exploratory’ because we didn’t officially launch our coordination discussion. No rights holder in Canada at that moment were doing coordination agreement discussions,” said Delorme. Official coordination agreement discussions were launched in August 2020 and consisted of four months, with at least 10 hours dedicated weekly, to the topic with “minimal complications,” he said. “Cowessess never gave up jurisdiction. We were just colonized and now we’re asserting,” said Delorme. The Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaw is now in the second phase of a three-phase approach in their child welfare legal regime and are presently drafting their law. That process is being led by the Maw-Kleyu’kik Knijannaq (MKK), an initiative launched in 2018 prior to the federal government beginning to draft and discuss Bill C-92. MKK was formed to address gaps that impacted Mi’kmaw family, children, youth and communities in the 25 legislative amendments the province adopted to the Children and Family Services Act in 2017. The work of the MKK was both interim and long term, said Prosper. “The interim process was to work with the provincial legislation to seek as much gains as we can to that amendment process, but our larger, longer-term goal was to develop a Mi’kmaw law for Mi’kmaw children and families,” he said. That law will apply to Mi’kmaw children throughout Nova Scotia, both on and off reserve. MKK also began to consider the implications of C-92 when it was introduced. “(MKK) sought to build Mi’kmaw-specific child and family law which will depart from provincial and federal legislation. When you’re departing from legislation … it’s always an important consideration and it’s something certainly that we don’t take lightly. With it comes a huge responsibility,” said Prosper. MKK has undertaken a meticulous, lengthy process to both develop Mi’kmaw child welfare legislation as well as policies and protocols to support the implementation of that legislation. MKK is engaging and re-engaging with working groups, rewriting and revising as input requires, said Heather McNeill, legal advisor for MKK. “Once it’s all done, when we get to the third stage, and we think that we have a final product that everybody’s had a look at then we’re going to take it to the assembly to seek ratification, but only after the assembly and leadership review it and then we will have our Mi’kmaw laws developed under the legal regime,” said McNeil. She pointed out that they have a five-year funding agreement with Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) which began in 2018 when MKK started doing its work with the province. That five-year timeframe is still in place to undertake the work, she said. “My understanding is leadership … don’t want to forego any options with respect to which regime that they would fall under, whether it be the act itself or just to have full recognition outright on the basis of our existing Aboriginal and Treaty rights, so there’s two potential streams in that scenario,” said Prosper. “There is a process by which we are looking to enact our law and we’re mindful of timelines, but we’re also mindful of ensuring that our leadership and our communities are ready for this,” he added. AFN Manitoba Regional Chief Kevin Hart, who is also the social development portfolio holder, noted that in December 2020, ISC had received letters and documentation from 26 Indigenous groups representing more than 80 communities expressing their intent to assert their jurisdiction over child and family services. “This represents a significant step forward not only toward reducing the number of First Nation children and youth in care but toward increasing the over all well-being of our children, families and communities in our nations as we work toward reconciliation and self-governance and self-determination for First Nations,” said Hart. Windspeaker.com By Shari Narine, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Windspeaker.com, Windspeaker.com
Another step was taken in a roof replacement project as an engineering firm has been selected for the Ecole St. Mary High School roof plan at the Prince Albert Catholic School Division board of education meeting on Monday. The board selected Prakash Consulting of Prince Albert to oversee the engineering side of the replacement. Chief Financial Officer Greg McEwen outlined the steps in the process before the board unanimously chose the firm. “We are commencing planning for replacement of sections of the Ecole St. Mary High School roof. The first step in the process was to solicit submissions from qualified engineering firms to provide project management and engineering services for that project. As a result of that process we did receive three submissions and evaluated those submissions,” McEwen told the board during Monday's meeting. McEwen explained that the project was approved as part of the three year Preventative Maintenance and Renewal (PMR) plan under three separate parts. Division administration sent out a request for estimates from firms in Prince Albert for engineering and project management for the project. Three firms submitted for the roof replacement and after evaluating the submissions Prakash was selected by administration for engineering and project management. The evaluation was made after applying board policy regarding purchasing of goods and services. Michael Oleksyn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Prince Albert Daily Herald
Avalanche Canada, Parks Canada and Alberta Parks have issued a joint avalanche warning for a large portion of Alberta’s mountain parks. As Jackie Wilson reports, recent warm weather has created the dangerous conditions.
If you weren't born in 1941 or before you probably shouldn't be trying to book a spot for a COVID vaccine right now, but here's a guide for those who qualify or are helping a loved one. First, a disclaimer: This is perhaps the most complex period of the vaccine rollout, with health officials scrambling to get limited quantities of vaccine into the arms of those deemed at highest risk of getting seriously ill. This article is the best picture CBC Toronto can provide of vaccine distribution in the Greater Toronto Area as of Friday, with the caveat that the current landscape will almost certainly look different by this time next week (it's unclear, for example, how the newly-approved AstraZeneca vaccine will fit into the rollout). Here are the key takeaways everyone should know: You should only be vaccinated in the city you live in. Remember, the overarching goal is still to limit the potential spread of COVID-19, which means staying close to home as much as possible. One more note: this guide is intended for the general public, and doesn't capture those who will be vaccinated by specialized teams — for example, mobile teams distributing vaccines in homeless shelters or other congregate settings. Now that that's clear, here's where you should go to book a vaccination spot if you qualify. Toronto Toronto Public Health will eventually run mass vaccination sites across the city but isn't at this time due to a lack of vaccine, according to its website. You can try to pre-register at some Toronto hospitals, including North York General, Michael Garron and Sunnybrook, but expect a broader rollout of vaccination clinics in the coming weeks. Peel Peel Public Health is directing residents to vaccination clinics in Brampton and Mississauga. You can book at Brampton's William Osler Health System, or Mississauga's Trillium Health Partners. York York Region is running five appointment-only vaccination clinics and its website features a handy tool to help you find the closest one to you. Note: You must book online. Durham Durham's vaccine plan will launch on March 8 with two clinics set to operate at recreation centres in Clarington and Pickering. In addition to those aged 80-plus and health-care workers, the region will offer vaccines to all Indigenous adults and adults who rely on home care. Halton Halton is running appointment-only vaccination clinics in Oakville, Burlington, Georgetown and Milton. You can book online here. The public health unit is also offering free transportation to its clinics, though that travel must be booked 48 hours in advance.
Mark Nichols is taking mandatory Curling Canada isolation in stride ahead of the Brier. He's lapping it up, actually. On his second day of quarantine, he walked 5K in his Calgary hotel room. "12 steps from wall to door," he counted. "That's a lot of laps." It took the Olympian an hour, pacing past his bed, through the room's seating area, and back —something to keep moving while Team Gushue looks to win its fourth Brier in five years. "It's tough at times," Nichols said when asked how isolation will affect his mental game, adding he feels ready. "We've been preparing for this for a long time, whether it's visualization or meditation or anything like that," he said. "This team has done a lot to kind of get to this place. We're ready for it." 'We're ready for it' The Brier takes place from March 5 to March 14, but Team Gushue — the defending champions, playing as Team Canada — plans to bunker down for the curling season. There's mixed doubles, two grand slam events, and the world championships for whoever wins the Brier. Team Newfoundland and Labrador skip Brad Gushue, left to right, third Mark Nichols, second Brett Gallant and lead Geoff Walker hold the Brier Tankard trophy after defeating Team Alberta in the 2020 Brier curling final.(Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press) "It could be 55 days in this hotel and out on Day 56 if everything goes as planned." Nichols said, adding that with the required safety protocols, if the team were to win worlds, it wouldn't make sense to leave the hotel between tournaments. Curling Canada mandates two weeks of relative isolation for curlers and coaches in their home province before flying out to an event. For the last three days, people aren't allowed to leave their homes or have contact with their families. Teams have to test negative for COVID-19 four times: before arriving in the host city, upon arrival, the following day and, again, either two or three days after that. Participants have a check-in every day to disclose any symptoms. They're restricted to their individual hotel rooms and they're not allowed visitors. Teams each have a car. They're only permitted to drive to the rink and back. It's a minute-long drive and stopping anywhere other than the arena isn't allowed. Keeping up the 5K But once they're on the ice, Nichols said, the game will feel much the same. They're used to downtime between matches and hanging out in hotel rooms. This season will just be an extreme version of that, with more time spent doing hotel room laps. "If that's the worst thing that happens here, I have to walk 5K back and forth, and we're still winning, then that's a good thing to do," Nichols said. "If it distracts me from what's going on around, then that's a good thing." Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador
Ninety-year-old Warisó:se Myrtle Bush was the first elder living at home in Kahnawake, Que., to receive a shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine as the Kanien'kehá:ka (Mohawk) community began its mass vaccination campaign this week. "If they're worried about it and are afraid it's going to hurt or anything, well, you can tell them it's not going to hurt at all," Bush told CBC News. "It's better for us. I wasn't feeling bad, but I'm feeling even better now that I got it. I think we should all get it so that we don't make anyone else sick." The vaccination site, which is located at the Mohawk Bingo hall, is being run by the Kateri Memorial Hospital Centre and Kahnawake's COVID-19 task force. It's only open to Kahnawake residents and members. Both Bush and her daughter Jenny Kjono said the process went smoothly. "I think it's great. She's setting an example and she's very positive about it. She's been very positive throughout this whole pandemic," said Kjono. Lisa Westaway, executive director of the hospital, said 102 elders and immunocompromised members were vaccinated Thursday, with 150 more scheduled to receive shots on Friday and Saturday. "It really hit me today when we were speaking with some of the elders of the fact that they haven't left their homes in a year," she said. "It's kind of anxiety-provoking to leave their homes and go into such a public place where there are going to be many people, so we also wanted to create an environment where, even though it's safe for everybody, we wanted to give them an opportunity to feel even safer." Residents in long-term care and at the Turtle Bay Elders Lodge received their shots earlier this year, as did the majority of health-care workers in the community. A hundred and two elders and immunocompromised community members received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on March 4 in Kahnawake, Que.(Submitted by Jenny Kjono) Kahnawake is expecting a shipment of around 3,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine on Monday and will resume vaccinating community members 70 years and older on Tuesday, followed by the rest of the community within the next three weeks. "This is the best I've felt in about a year," said Lloyd Phillips, commissioner of public safety at the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake and member of the community's COVID-19 task force. "It's an exciting time and a major turning point in the community. This is what we need to get done, to vaccinate our entire community to start looking toward returning back to a normal life."
WASHINGTON — Worried about continuing threats, the acting chief of the U.S. Capitol Police appealed to congressional leaders Thursday to use their influence to keep National Guard troops at the Capitol, two months after the law enforcement breakdowns of the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection. Yogananda Pittman told the leaders in a letter obtained by The Associated Press that the board that oversees her department has so far declined to extend an emergency declaration required by the Pentagon to keep Guardsmen who have assisted Capitol officers since the riot. Pittman said she needed the leaders' assistance with the three-member Capitol Police Board, which reports to them. She said the board has sent her a list of actions it wants her to implement, though she said it was unclear whether the points were orders or just recommendations. The letter underscored the confusion over how best to secure the Capitol after a dismal lack of protection in January and biting criticism for law enforcement's handling of the invasion. And it came came as authorities spent the day on high alert, primed for a “possible plot” by a militia group to storm the building again, two months after Trump supporters smashed through windows and doors in an insurrection meant to halt the certification of Joe Biden’s presidential victory. The list in the letter to lawmakers included a partial removal of the imposing fence encircling the Capitol grounds starting Monday and a drawdown of the Guard to 900 troops from the current 5,200 remaining in Washington. Police want to keep the fence indefinitely. In her letter, Pittman said she would ask for a drawdown of the deployment “based on the threat environment and physical and operational security capabilities.” Earlier Thursday, The Associated Press reported the Pentagon was reviewing a Capitol Police request to keep up to 2,200 Guardsmen at the Capitol another 60 days. A statement from the police said Pittman had formally made the recommendation to the Pentagon. A similar dispute had erupted between the Capitol Police and its board before Jan. 6 and even as rioters were storming the building. The Capitol Police Board, comprised of the House and Senate sergeants at arms and the architect of the Capitol, is charged with oversight of the police force. Steven Sund, the now-former Capitol Police chief, has testified to Congress that he wanted to request the Guard two days before the invasion following reports that white supremacist and far-right groups would target the building to disrupt the certification of Biden's election victory over outgoing President Donald Trump. Paul Irving, who served on the Capitol Police Board as House sergeant-at-arms, denied that Sund asked him to call the Guard. Sund has testified that he asked repeatedly for the Guard to be called as rioters stormed the building, breaking police lines and running over officers unequipped to hold them off. He ultimately called the commanding general of the D.C. National Guard just before 2 p.m., who in turn testified that the request for help was delayed by the Defence Department. The request was not approved until after 5 p.m., as hundreds of rioters marauded through the building and left without being arrested. Five people died in the riot, including a Capitol Police officer and a Trump supporter shot by police. On Thursday, despite the warnings of new trouble, there were no signs of disturbance at the heavily secured building. Nor was there evidence of any large group heading to Washington. The most recent threat appeared to be connected to a far-right conspiracy theory, mainly promoted by supporters of QAnon, that former Trump would rise again to power on March 4 and that thousands would come to Washington to try to remove Democrats from office. March 4 was the original presidential inauguration day until 1933, when it was moved to Jan. 20. But Trump was miles away in Florida. In Washington, on one of the warmest days in weeks, the National Mall was almost deserted, save for joggers, journalists, and a handful of tourists trying to take photos of the Capitol dome through the fencing. Online chatter identified by authorities included discussions among members of the Three Percenters, an anti-government militia group, concerning possible plots against the Capitol on Thursday, according to two law enforcement officials who were not authorized to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. Members of the Three Percenters were among the extremists who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6. But federal agents found no significant increases in the number of hotel rooms being rented in Washington, or in flights to the area, car rental reservations or buses being chartered. Online chatter about the day on extremist sites was declining. U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, was briefed by law enforcement about the possible threat and said lawmakers were braced for whatever might come. “We have the razor wire, we have the National Guard. We didn’t have that January 6. So I feel very confident in the security,” he said. But those measures aren't permanent. Some states have threatened to pull their Guardsmen amid reports that some troops had been made to take rest breaks in parking garages or served spoiled food. Other Guardsmen have said they have been given good meals with accommodations for those on vegan or halal diets. In Michigan, which sent 1,000 troops, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said she did “not have any intention of agreeing to an extension of this deployment.” Meanwhile, Trump continues to promote lies that the election was stolen from him through mass voter fraud, even though such claims have been rejected by judges and Trump's former attorney general. He repeatedly told those lies on social media and in a charged speech on Jan. 6 in which he implored thousands of supporters to “fight like hell.” Many of those supporters eventually walked to the Capitol grounds and overran officers to breach the building. Trump was impeached by the House on a c harge of incitement of insurrection but was acquitted by the Senate. So far, about 300 people have been charged with federal crimes for their roles in the riot. Trump's election rhetoric continues to be echoed by many national and local Republicans posting online messages about voter fraud and questioning the legitimacy of Biden's victory. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki cited “a years-long trend of false narratives fueling violence.” “On the specifics of today’s threats, the FBI and DHS have warned that the threat of domestic violent extremism, particularly racially motivated and anti-government extremists, did not begin or end on January 6 and we have been vigilant day in and day out,” she said Thursday. ___ Associated Press writers Michael Balsamo, Alan Fram, Mary Clare Jalonick, Colleen Long, and Lisa Mascaro in Washington, and Amanda Seitz in Chicago contributed to this report. Lolita C. Baldor, Lisa Mascaro And Nomaan Merchant, The Associated Press
China will increase its annual research and development spending by more than 7% every year over the next five years, the government wrote on Friday in its work report from the Fourth Session of the 13th National People's Congress. The government will increase expenditure on basic research by 10.6% in 2021, the report added. The ramp-up highlights the country's commitment to advancing in the tech sector, as the country increasingly clashes with the United States and other countries over technology policy.
EDMONTON — Alberta’s health minister says 437,000 people can soon begin booking appointments for the next round of COVID-19 vaccinations and the province hopes to hit a major milestone before July. “We now expect to offer all Albertans aged 18 and over a first dose of vaccine by the end of June,” Tyler Shandro said Thursday. But he noted that this goal depends on vaccine shipments from the federal government arriving on time. Earlier shipments this year did not come as expected. "We will keep pushing the federal government to actually deliver the vaccines that they have promised, and we’ll keep expanding our roll out to get doses into arms as fast as possible,” Shandro said. So far, Alberta has delivered 266,000 doses of vaccine. About 176,000 Albertans have been vaccinated, including 90,000 fully immunized with the recommended two doses. Shandro said residents aged 65 to 74, and First Nations, Inuit and Metis aged 50-plus, can begin booking March 15. The province had originally not expected to begin this stage of vaccination until April. Shandro said Alberta can now begin to accelerate the shots for two reasons: a new vaccine and a change in the vaccine regimen. Last week Health Canada approved a third vaccine, from Oxford-AstraZeneca. Shandro said the first 58,000 doses will be available starting March 10, but there is a caveat. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization, or NACI, has said while AstraZeneca is just as effective as the other vaccines, due to incomplete data it recommends it not be given to those over 64. Shandro said for that reason, the AstraZeneca vaccine will for now be offered to adults aged 50 to 64 who don’t have a severe chronic illness. The vaccination ramp-up is also due to a recommendation this week by the NACI that the wait for a second dose can be safely extended from the original six-week time limit to as long as four months. The NACI says evidence shows a first dose is 80 per cent effective for months. British Columbia, Quebec, Manitoba, Alberta, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Saskatchewan will implement the delay in order to get more people inoculated quicker. Canada has already been using vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. Alberta’s economy has been on a modified lockdown since cases spiked dangerously high in December. Retail shops and faith services are open at 15 per cent capacity, but indoor gatherings are banned, and outdoor get-togethers are capped at 10 people. From a high of 900-plus people in hospital with COVID two months ago, there were 245 as of Thursday, including 47 in intensive care. There have been 1,911 deaths. Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, reported 331 new cases for a total active caseload of 4,613. Alberta has recorded 541 cases of variant COVID strains, which can spread far faster and have the potential to swamp a health system if left unchecked. This week, the province reported a variant case at Churchill Manor, a south Edmonton seniors centre. The facility saw one case spread to 27 cases within days. The daughter of one of the Churchill Manor residents, at a news conference with the Opposition NDP, said she fears for the safety of her 94-year-old father. Rose Zinnick said her father got his COVID-19 inoculation Monday, the same day he was told he tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Zinnick said Churchill Manor recently began allowing visitors and gatherings. She said her father told her people were sitting four to a table in the dining hall. “Now it’s two weeks later and there’s an outbreak, and many residents, including my dad, have COVID. I’m so angry and frustrated and disappointed,” said Zinnick. The Manor did not return a request for comment. Alberta Health Services, in an email, said the manor is an independent residence not contracted to AHS, but that it is now involved to ensure residents and staff are protected. The NDP also showed pictures depicting a mouse infestation in the facility. AHS confirmed the infestation and said it is ensuring pest control is brought in. This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 4, 2021. Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press
Just when you thought it was safe – the Ontario gov-ernment and the Simcoe-Muskoka Health Unit has issued another lock-down to the region that became effective on Monday, March 1. Calling it an “emergency brake,” the lockdown was imposed locally as well as in the Thunder Bay District Health Unit. The decisions were made “in consultation with the local medical officers of health and are based on the trends in public health indicators and local context and conditions,” according to a state-ment issued by the Province. “While we continue to see the number of cases and other public health indicators lowering in many re-gions across the province, the recent modelling shows us that we must be nimble and put in place additional measures to protect Ontarians and stop the spread of COVID-19,” said Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health. “With COVID-19 variants continu-ing to spread in our communities, it is critically important that everyone continues strictly adhering to all public health and workplace safety measures to help contain the virus and maintain the prog-ress we have made to date.” The statement went on to say “variants of concern continuing to spread, the number of patients requiring hospitalization and intensive care may rise once again if public health measures are not relaxed carefully and gradually. The actions of everyone over the coming weeks will be critical to maintaining the progress communities have made across the province to date.” Local medical officers of health continue to have the ability to issue Section 22 orders under the Health Protection and Promotion Act, and municipalities may enact by-laws to target spe-cific transmission risks in the community. “Quickly implementing stronger measures to inter-rupt transmission of CO-VID-19 is a key component of the government’s plan to safely and gradually return public health regions to the Framework,” said Dr. David Williams, Chief Medical Officer of Health. “Due to data and local context and conditions in the Simcoe-Muskoka and Thunder Bay Districts, it was necessary to tighten public health measures in these regions to ensure the health and safety of the region at large and stop the spread of the virus.” To help stop the spread of COVID-19 and safeguard health system capacity, ev-eryone is strongly urged to continue staying at home and limit trips outside their household and between other regions for essential reasons only Brian Lockhart, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, New Tecumseth Times
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California will begin sending 40% of all vaccine doses to the most vulnerable neighbourhoods in the state to try to inoculate people most at risk from the coronavirus and get the state’s economy open more quickly, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Thursday in the latest shake-up to the state's rules. The doses will be spread among 400 ZIP codes where there are about 8 million people eligible for shots, said Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state's health and human services secretary. Many of the neighbourhoods are in Los Angeles County and the central valley, which have had among the highest rates of infection. The areas are considered most vulnerable based on metrics such as household income, education level and access to health care. Newsom said that not only is this the right thing to do, it's critical to opening up more of the state's economy. “It is a race against the variants. It's a race against exhaustion. It's a race to safely, thoughtfully open our economy, mindful that it has to be an economy that doesn't leave people behind, that is truly inclusive,” Newsom, a Democrat, said at a news conference. He also encouraged people to wear two masks. The announcement is the latest change in an evolving approach to getting nearly 40 million residents vaccinated, adding to ongoing confusion among people clamouring for shots. The move to ease reopening also comes days after several Republican-led states lifted COVID-19 restrictions as the U.S. now has three vaccines available. Tying reopening to vaccination equity metrics was cheered by representatives of the legislative Black and Latino caucuses, as well as social justice and equity groups. Latinos make up roughly half of cases and deaths in California even though they are 39% of the population. Dr. Sergio Aguilar-Gaxiola, director of the UC Davis Center for Reducing Health Disparities, said the dedicated vaccine hasn't come soon enough given the disparate numbers of deaths and the lack of access to vaccines in the hardest hit communities. “They are living day-to-day, so they have to go and work in order to survive and they don’t have the luxury to take half a day to go where the vaccine sites are,” he said. The current standards for who can get a vaccine won't change. Right now that's people 65 and over, farmworkers and grocery clerks, educators and emergency service workers. Transit workers, flight attendants and hardware store clerks are among those clamouring to be added to the priority access list. “I wouldn’t say it’s not fair, but it should be thought out a little bit more," said Lee Snyder, assistant manager at Brownies Ace Hardware in San Francisco. Setting aside 40% of vaccine supply essentially means that hard-hit ZIP codes will be administering double what they are currently, Ghaly said. Data show that of shots given, only about 17% were administered in vulnerable communities that have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Double that amount was going to those in the top quarter of what California deems the healthiest communities, Ghaly said. Newsom has called equity the state’s “North Star.” Yet community health clinics that serve low-income and vulnerable Californians say they haven’t been getting enough doses and are hopeful that will change. Ghaly said Thursday that the administration will work with communities to make sure the vaccine gets to those patients, not to day-trippers from wealthier ZIP codes who have the time and tech savvy to schedule appointments online. Newsom said addressing the problem is like playing “whack-a-mole.” The health centres want to protect appointments for patients and others from underserved communities “to ensure those people we are targeting are coming, not the vaccine seekers" from wealthier neighbourhoods, said Andie Martinez Patterson, vice-president of government affairs at the California Primary Care Association. She said a recent South Los Angeles clinic recently found its appointments had been booked by people from Beverly Hills. Ghaly said that people with certain disabilities or underlying health conditions who will be eligible in mid-March will not be left out, as many live in some of the disadvantaged areas. He said he expects all communities to receive at least as many doses of vaccine as they're receiving now. As more doses are administered in the targeted neighbourhoods, the state will make it easier for counties to move through tiers that dictate business and school reopenings. Right now, counties can move from the most restrictive purple tier to the lower red tier based on metrics including the number of new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people per day over a period of several weeks. The strict standard for that rate will be lowered, allowing businesses such as restaurants and gyms to reopen indoors at limited capacity. While race and ethnicity are not explicit factors in designating vaccinations, the 400 vulnerable ZIP codes overlap heavily with neighbourhoods with higher populations of Blacks, Latinos and Asian and Pacific Islanders, officials said. ___ Har reported from San Francisco. ___ Associated Press writer Amy Taxin in Orange County contributed to the story. Janie Har And Kathleen Ronayne, The Associated Press
MONTREAL — A Universite de Montreal education professor has been charged with a sexual offence involving an 11-year-old child. Police in Longueuil, Que., south of Montreal, said Thierry Karsenti, 52, was arrested Feb. 23. He faces a single charge of sexual interference and is due in court on Friday. Karsenti, who is also the Canada Research Chair on information and communication technologies in education, allegedly committed the offence in 2015, according to a release issued by police. Police said Karsenti also goes by the name "Thomas." They said there could be other victims from a period between 2015 and 2017 and want people who may have information to come forward. Karsenti has been suspended indefinitely from his role at the university, according to Universite de Montreal spokeswoman Genevieve O'Mera. This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 4, 2021. ——— This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship. The Canadian Press
Thursday was the first day Londoners 80 and older living in the community could get the COVID-19 vaccine. The shots — coming nearly one year since Ontario first announced COVID-19 lockdowns — mark a milestone in the battle against the pandemic. Here’s what some Londoners had to say after getting their first dose: “I feel secure,” he said after the jab. “I was most concerned about my wife,” who got her first dose just hours before. While it’s good news, Loubert knows life won’t be back to normal soon. “My biggest thing is following the health rules . . . Until everyone is vaccinated, we’re not safe.” “I’m relieved . . . I’d been trying for two days to get through” to book an appointment, she said. “I’m glad to get the process started. They’re doing a fantastic job.” “We’ve spent three mornings trying to book,” Maureen said, with the couple finally booking last-minute slots Thursday morning. “We’re really, really pleased. We need it.” As for Gary, how he's feeling was summed up in one word: “good.” “I’m glad. I’m so glad. And to get it so early.” “I was lucky. I saw a couple of blanks this morning (in the booking) and jumped in.” As for after the shot, Friesen said he was "feeling OK." But it's still a mystery what life will look like once he's fully vaccinated. “I don’t know what’s going to happen. We’ll have to see what they say.” “I’m relieved. It was a long time coming,” she said. She doesn't expect life to change too much, even after she gets the second dose. “I’ll still keep my mask on and follow the rules.” “I’m delighted, relieved, excited,” he said. Henderson is eagerly awaiting the rest of the world to get inoculated so he can return to one of his favourite pastimes: travel. Max Martin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press
JUNEAU, Alaska — An Alaska state senator sought an apology Thursday from Gov. Mike Dunleavy for a scathing letter in which he accused her of misrepresenting the state's COVID-19 response and said his administration would no longer participate in hearings she leads. Sen. Lora Reinbold during a news conference called the reaction by Dunleavy, a fellow Republican, “outlandish” and said the Feb. 18 letter was an “attempt to intimidate those who question him and his administration and to silence those with opposing views.” Jeff Turner, a Dunleavy spokesperson, listened to the news conference, held in a Capitol corridor. In an email later, he said Dunleavy “will not be retracting his letter” to Reinbold. Dunleavy has been working from home while recovering from COVID-19. Several bills that are key parts of Dunleavy's legislative agenda, including proposed constitutional amendments and a proposed change to the yearly oil-wealth check residents receive, are in the Senate Judiciary Committee, which Reinbold chairs. The committee also has been designated to hold a confirmation hearing for Dunleavy's attorney general nominee, Treg Taylor. Reinbold did not say whether she might seek to compel testimony from the administration. But she said she will not meet with Dunleavy "until he withdraws the letter and issues a formal apology. That is my first step, and that is what I'm hoping for.” Senate President Peter Micciche, who leads a majority Republican caucus, said he hopes Reinbold and Dunleavy resolve the dispute. “We’re all grown-ups here and the public expects us to be professional and get our work done on time,” he said in a statement, adding later: "However this works out between those two individuals, the Senate’s business is going to get done in a legal and timely manner – including hearings on the governor’s appointees.” Micciche has said he expects Senate committees to take a balanced approach. Reinbold, who has held hearings highlighting views of those who question the usefulness of masks and criticize the effects of government emergency orders, said Thursday she has brought a “diversity of thought” to the committee that has gone against the Dunleavy administration's “fear-mongering” COVID-19 message. Reinbold and other lawmakers saw Dunleavy as overstepping in issuing pandemic-related disaster declarations when the Legislature was not in session. But she also has taken aim at health restrictions imposed by local governments and the Legislature, such as mask requirements, and raised concerns with COVID-19 vaccines. She was appointed in November, when Dunleavy used the state's emergency alert network to warn of rising case counts, ask Alaskans to consider celebrating the holidays differently and said he would require masks at state work sites. He also urged groups to meet remotely and encouraged people to use online ordering or curbside pickup. Dunleavy at the time said hospitalizations and sick health care workers were reaching “untenable levels.” In a social media post, Reinbold said Dunleavy “wants us to dramatically change our lives, in other words, basically to help frontline workers, that have supposedly been gearing up to take care of patients all year. Things aren’t adding up.” She said Thursday some of the information she had requested from the administration included data on hospital capacity. The state health department has long posted online data on available hospital beds and hospitalizations related to COVID-19. The department last fall, including around Thanksgiving, was reporting weekly highs in hospitalizations. “The bottom line is, we as Alaskans want to know why the disaster was extended over the Thanksgiving" holiday, she said, adding that seeing the data on hospital capacity that played a role in a disaster declaration around that time was important. “We need to be able to ask the tough questions.” Dunleavy, in his letter, said Reinbold had made “many superfluous inquiries" and that her “baseless, deleterious, and self-serving demands on government resources amounts to an abuse of public services and will no longer be endured.” The state's last disaster declaration expired in mid-February. Becky Bohrer, The Associated Press
A Crown lawyer urged the judge overseeing Meng Wanzhou's extradition proceedings to "leave the politics to the politicians" Thursday by rejecting the Huawei executive's bid to toss the case over comments by former U.S. President Donald Trump. Robert Frater told B.C. Supreme Court Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes the defence team's allegations of political interference were based on the "thinnest of evidence" and that there was no indication Trump's words had affected the fairness of the hearing. "Everyone in this courtroom knows that the elephant in the room in this case has always been the geopolitical winds that swirl around it," Frater said. "Yesterday, my friends tried to bring the elephant into this room. With respect we urge you to focus on the facts and the law." Operating under an oppressive 'cloud' Frater was delivering the Crown's response to the defence's bid to stay extradition proceedings against Meng because of alleged abuse of process. Meng, Huawei's chief financial officer, is charged with fraud and conspiracy in New York in relation to allegations she lied to an HSBC banker about her company's control of a subsidiary accused of violating U.S. economic sanctions against Iran. In this courtroom sketch, Crown lawyer Robert Frater urges Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes not to toss the extradition proceedings against Meng Wanzhou. Frater said the judge should leave politics to politicians. (Felicity Don) Prosecutors claim that by relying on Meng's reassurances, the bank risked loss and prosecution for breaching the same set of sanctions. This week's proceedings are part of a series of hearings spread over the next two-and-a-half months, culminating in arguments on the U.S. extradition request itself. On Wednesday, defence lawyer Richard Peck accused Trump of using Meng as a bargaining chip and reducing the 49-year-old from a human being to "chattel" in December 2018, when he told a reporter he would "certainly intervene" in the case to get a better trade deal with China. The defence team contends the former U.S. president's words amount to an individual threat to Meng and a general threat to the integrity of the Canadian justice system, as Meng tries to defend herself under an oppressive "cloud." Decision best left to minister of justice Frater said Trump's words were "anodyne" and "vague" and any power he had over the case has ended, along with his term in office. He also said any arguments the defence had to make about allegations of political interference should be made to Canada's minister of justice — if and when a decision to commit Meng for trial in the United States is made. Lawyers for Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou claim that former U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to use their client as a bargaining chip in the U.S. trade war with China.(Canadian Press photos) Both the Crown and the defence cited a 2001 decision in which the Supreme Court of Canada upheld a judge's decision not to extradite four men to the U.S. because of comments a U.S. prosecutor made to the CBC's Fifth Estate. An assistant U.S. attorney told a reporter one of the accused would "be the boyfriend of a very bad man" if he waited out his extradition hearing and ended up in jail after a trial. In that case, "the requesting state was reaching into the Canadian extradition hearing and threatening someone with harsh punishment if they availed themselves of their legal right to contest extradition," Frater said. "What you have to decide are whether [Trump's] comments either individually or cumulatively amount to a threat." 3-part test for stay Holmes' decision will come down to a three-part test established by Canada's highest court in a 2014 decision that emerged from a trial involving two Quebec men charged with firearms and other offences related to an investigation of drug trafficking involving the Hells Angels. The pair claimed they were victims of police misconduct and that prosecutors tried to force them to forego a trial by threatening additional charges if they didn't plead guilty. Vancouver police officers wait outside the downtown B.C. Supreme Court building where Meng Wanzhou's extradition proceedings are being held. (Ben Nelms/CBC) A lower court stayed the proceedings, but the Supreme Court of Canada overruled that decision, because societal interest in having a trial outweighed the Crown wrongdoing. The top court said judges ruling on applications like Meng's should determine: if the right to a fair trial or the integrity of the justice system is threatened, if an alternative remedy exists and if the interests of the accused outweigh the interests of society in having the case heard. It's a test Holmes will have to apply several more times in the coming weeks, as Meng's lawyers have scheduled three more hearings for alleged abuses of process. The defence team claims Meng's constitutional rights were violated on the day of her arrest, when CBSA officers interviewed her for three hours without a lawyer, before RCMP told her she was wanted for extradition. They also claim the U.S. misled Canada about the strength of the case against Meng. And they claim the charges themselves reach beyond U.S. jurisdiction. Towards the end of his arguments, Frater said he believed the choice facing Holmes is clear. "Having these charges heard on their merits would be a triumph for the rule of law," he said. "If she goes to trial and whether she's acquitted or convicted — justice is served." The extradition proceedings will continue on March 15.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California lawmakers on Thursday approved a $6.6 billion plan aimed at pressuring school districts to return students to the classroom before the end of the school year. The bill does not order school districts to resume in-person instruction and it does not say parents must send their kids back to the classroom if they don’t want to. Instead, the state will dangle $2 billion before cash-strapped school boards, offering them a share of that money only if they offer in-person instruction by the end of the month. School districts have until May 15 to decide. Districts that resume in-person learning after that date won’t get any of that money. “We need to get the schools reopen. And I know it’s hard, but today we are providing powerful tools for schools to move in this direction,” said state Sen. Scott Wiener, a Democrat from San Francisco who pleaded with his school district to accept the money and offer in-person instruction. Most of California's 6.1 million students throughout 1,037 public school districts have been learning from home since last March because of the pandemic. Frustrated parents and politicians have been clamouring for schools to return students to the classroom for months. But many school boards have been reluctant, facing opposition from teachers unions worried about coronavirus safety protocols and citing surveys from parents saying they are not comfortable sending their kids back to class in-person. “As a former math teacher for 13 years, we know that that’s the place we need our kids to be, but we’re afraid because you’re asking to put our own lives at risk and to put our families' lives at risk,” said Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, a Democrat from Bell Gardens in Los Angeles County. Nearly every lawmaker voted for the bill on Thursday, but many did so reluctantly, arguing it's too weak. The bill does not say how much time students should spend in the classroom, prompting fears some districts might have students return for just one day a week and still be eligible to get the money. And while the bill requires most elementary school grades to return to the classroom to get the money, it does not require all middle and high school grades to return this year. Republicans in the state Senate tried to amend the bill to say schools must offer at least three days per week of in-person learning, but Democrats in the majority rejected it. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, has said he plans to sign the bill into law on Friday. Newsom faces a potential recall election later this year, fueled by anger over his handling of the fallout from the pandemic. He has travelled the state in recent weeks touting his efforts at reopening the economy, including a visit to an elementary school where he read to students as they sat behind plexiglass barriers on their desks. Scott Wilk, the Republican leader in the state Senate, said the bill was simply an effort by Democrats to give Newsom political cover so he can “get parents to believe he’s doing everything he possibly can for them.” “The truth is (this bill) doesn’t do anything to reopen our schools. ,” said Wilk, who voted for the bill along with most other Republicans. The bill has two sets of rules districts must follow to get the money. The first set applies to school districts in counties where the coronavirus is widespread. The second set of rules applies to districts in counties where the virus is not as widespread. To get the money, districts governed by the first set of rules must offer in-person learning through at least second grade by the end of March. Districts governed by the second set of rules must offer in-person learning to all elementary grades, plus at least one grade in middle and high school. However, the Newsom administration late Wednesday changed the standards that dictate which counties must follow which rules. The new standards mean most counties will have to follow the second set of rules requiring districts to offer in-person instruction for more grades. Democratic Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez criticized that decision as “a little dishonest.” Jeff Freitas, president of the California Federation of Teachers, went further, saying he was “deeply concerned to see the goalposts already moving on this reopening plan just days after its unveiling.” “This change risks the unintended consequences of delaying return to classrooms and further eroding Californians' trust,” he said. The bill also includes $4.6 billion aimed at helping students catch up after a year of learning from home. Districts could use the money to extend the school year into the summer or they could spend it on counselling and tutoring. All districts would get this money, regardless of whether they offer in-person instruction. But the bill stated that districts must use at least 85% of that money for expenses related to in-person instruction. Adam Beam, The Associated Press
Inside, Kazuyoshi Sasaki carefully dials his late wife Miwako's cellphone number, bending his large frame and cradling the handset. He explains how he searched for her for days after the devastating earthquake and tsunami a decade ago, visiting evacuation centres and makeshift morgues, returning at night to the rubble of their home. Sasaki's wife was one of nearly 20,000 people in northeastern Japan killed by the disaster that struck on March 11, 2011.