After a walk on the trail, Tala always enjoys a dip in the ocean, a balmy 2 degrees in Birch Bay, NL.
After a walk on the trail, Tala always enjoys a dip in the ocean, a balmy 2 degrees in Birch Bay, NL.
WASHINGTON — Three new senators were sworn into office Wednesday after President Joe Biden's inauguration, securing the majority for Democrats in the Senate and across a unified government to tackle the new president's agenda at a time of unprecedented national challenges. In a first vote, the Senate confirmed Biden's nominee for Director of National Intelligence, Avril Haines. Senators worked into the evening and overcame some Republican opposition to approve his first Cabinet member, in what's traditionally a show of good faith on Inauguration Day to confirm at least some nominees for a new president's administration. Haines, a former CIA deputy director, will become a core member of Biden’s security team, overseeing the agencies that make up the nation’s intelligence community. She was confirmed 84-10. The new Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., urged colleagues to turn the spirit of the new president’s call for unity into action. “President Biden, we heard you loud and clear,” Schumer said in his first speech as majority leader. “We have a lengthy agenda. And we need to get it done together.” Vice-President Kamala Harris drew applause as she entered the chamber to deliver the oath of office to the new Democratic senators — Jon Ossoff, Raphael Warnock and Alex Padilla — just hours after taking her own oath at the Capitol alongside Biden. The three Democrats join a Senate narrowly split 50-50 between the parties, but giving Democrats the majority with Harris able to cast the tie-breaking vote. Ossoff, a former congressional aide and investigative journalist, and Warnock, a pastor from the late Martin Luther King Jr.'s church in Atlanta, won run-off elections in Georgia this month, defeating two Republicans. Padilla was tapped by California’s governor to finish the remainder of Harris’ term. “Today, America is turning over a new leaf. We are turning the page on the last four years, we’re going to reunite the country, defeat COVID-19, rush economic relief to the people,” Ossoff told reporters earlier at the Capitol. “That’s what they sent us here to do.” Taken together, their arrival gives Democrats for the first time in a decade control of the Senate, the House and the White House, as Biden faces the unparalleled challenges of the COVID-19 crisis and its economic fallout, and the nation's painful political divisions from the deadly Jan. 6 siege of the Capitol by a mob loyal to Donald Trump. Congress is being called on to consider Biden's proposed $1.9 trillion COVID recovery package, to distribute vaccines and shore up an economy as more than 400,000 Americans have died from the virus. At the same time, the Senate is about to launch an impeachment trial of Trump, charged by the House of inciting the insurrection at the Capitol as rioters tried to interrupt the Electoral College tally and overturn Biden’s election. The Senate will need to confirm other Biden Cabinet nominees. To “restore the soul” of the country, Biden said in his inaugural speech, requires “unity.” Yet as Washington looks to turn the page from Trump to the Biden administration, Republican leader Mitch McConnell is not relinquishing power without a fight. Haines' nomination was temporarily blocked by Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Okla., as he sought information about the CIA's enhanced interrogation program. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., is holding back the Homeland Security nominee Alejandro Mayorkas over Biden's proposed immigration changes. And McConnell is refusing to enter a power-sharing agreement with Senate Democrats unless they meet his demands, chiefly to preserve the Senate filibuster — the procedural tool often used by the minority party to block bills under rules that require 60 votes to advance legislation. McConnell, in his first speech as the minority party leader, said the election results with narrow Democratic control of the House and Senate showed that Americans “intentionally entrusted both political parties with significant power.” The Republican leader said he looked forward working with the new president “wherever possible.” At her first White House briefing, Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Biden’s desire to have his Cabinet confirmed and in place is “front and centre for the president,” and she said he was hoping to have his national security nominees in place Thursday or Friday. Psaki said the president will be “quite involved” in negotiations over the COVID relief package, but left the details of the upcoming impeachment trial to Congress. The Senate can “multitask,” she said. That’s a tall order for a Senate under normal circumstances, but even more so now in the post-Trump era, with Republicans badly split between their loyalties to the defeated president and wealthy donors who are distancing themselves from Republicans who back Trump. Speaker Nancy Pelosi is expected to soon transmit to the Senate the House-passed article of impeachment against Trump, charged with incitement of insurrection, a step that will launch the Senate impeachment trial. Meantime, the power-sharing talks between Schumer and McConnell have hit a stalemate. It’s an arcane fight McConnell has inserted into what has traditionally been a more routine organizing resolution over committee assignments and staffing resources, but a power play by the outgoing Republican leader grabbing at tools that can be used to block Biden’s agenda. Progressive and liberal Democrats are eager to do away with the filibuster to more quickly advance Biden’s priorities, but not all rank-and-file Senate Democrats are on board. Schumer has not agreed to any changes but McConnell is taking no chances. For now, it will take unanimous consent among senators to toggle between conducting votes on legislative business and serving as jurors in the impeachment trial. The House last week impeached Trump for having sent the mob to the Capitol to “fight like hell” during the tally of Electoral College votes to overturn Biden’s election. __ Associated Press writer Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report. Lisa Mascaro, The Associated Press
Thousands of fake Canadian government websites, emails and apps that take advantage of the pandemic to try to mine personal data or steal money have been taken down in the last few months, according to the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security. The centre leads the federal government's response to cyber-security events, defends Ottawa's cyber assets and provides advice to Canadian industries, businesses and citizens about how to protect themselves online. Evan Koronewski, a spokesperson for the centre, said in email the fraudulent websites are impersonating the government of Canada to "deliver fake COVID-19 exposure notification applications, designed to install malware on users devices." Koronewski said those programs were created to steal personal information or money. Since March 15, the centre has helped remove more than 4,000 such fraudulent sites or email addresses, he said. In some cases the sites were pretending to be the Public Health Agency of Canada or the Canada Revenue Agency. "This work continues each and every day as we identify and remove more of these fraudulent domains," said Koronewski. He couldn't say how many Canadians have been taken in by these particular scams. But the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, a separate federal organization, said between March 6, 2020, and Jan. 10, 2021, there were 8,583 Canadian victims of a wide range of COVID-19 fraud. Those included everything from people buying fake vaccines and COVID test kits, to identity theft and ransomware attacks. In total, COVID-19 fraud has cost Canadians $7 million, according to the anti-fraud centre's website. The government of Canada's actual COVID Alert app started to be rolled out in July in Ontario, and went online in Newfoundland and Labrador, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick later in the summer. Nova Scotia, P.E.I. and Quebec signed on in the fall. Alberta and British Columbia are the only provinces that haven't adopted the app. In Nova Scotia, for instance, the app allows users who test positive for COVID-19 to enter a code supplied by the Nova Scotia Health Authority. It then sends an alert to any phone with the app that has been in close contact with the person who tested positive. But no matter how fast the government works, scammers continue to pump out fake, malicious websites and COVID-19 apps. At the beginning of the pandemic many app stores contained these fake apps, said Florian Kerschbaum, an associate professor in the school of computer science and director of the University of Waterloo's cybersecurity and privacy institute. App store administrators like Apple and Google were quick to crack down and remove the offending apps. "Still, there are a lot of COVID apps which make false promises and basically just try to abuse your information and do strange things," said Kerschbaum. The scammers who make the apps are looking to steal people's personal information and then sell it on the dark web, according to Arash Habibi Lashkari, an assistant professor and research co-ordinator at the University of New Brunswick's Canadian Institute for Cybersecurity. Information like a person's credit card number, full name and home address are valuable commodities, he said. That information could be used for a range of purposes including being sold to adware producers. It could also be used to steal someone's identity or put ransomware on their phone, encrypting it until the scammer is paid off. Lashkari said people need to carefully review the terms and conditions of an app before they install any app. People should avoid the app if the terms seem odd. And people should consider what systems an app wants permission access on their phone or computer, and determine if that matches up with what the app is supposed to do. If you download photo editing software, for instance, and it wants access to your telephone contact list, that should raise some red flags, he said. Even if people are vigilant, installing an app from a questionable publisher comes with risks. "There are, I don't know, thousands [of] methods that they can hide their abnormal activity from the user," said Lashkari. Anyone looking to download the government of Canada's COVID Alert app should only do it from trusted app stores, said Kerschbaum and Koronewski. Kerschbaum also said if people don't recognize the publisher of a COVID app then they shouldn't download it. Any Canadians who believe they may have received a fraudulent message via email or text is encouraged to report the activity to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, said Koronewski "Rely again on the recommendations by the app store and by the government and you will be safe. But don't install ... every COVID app that's out there," said Kerschbaum. MORE TOP STORIES
MULGRAVE – When the Town of Mulgrave prepared its budget for 2020/2021, several issues stood out; in particular, the rising cost of policing, housing and education. At that time, and in the intervening months, Mulgrave’s CAO Darlene Berthier Sampson has been in contact with the RCMP and the Department of Justice about the cost of policing in the town. In September, council was informed that a policing review was slated to begin that month. At Monday night’s regular council meeting (Jan. 18), Department of Justice liaison Donna Jewers met with council to discuss the policing issue. Mayor Ron Chisholm told The Journal that the meeting was very informative and that the town expected to receive further communications from Jewers on the matters discussed. In other business, Mulgrave continues to wait for acceptance of the CAO job offer that was made in December. Mayor Chisholm said they expect an answer in the coming week. The current CAO has completed her contract obligations and doesn’t wish to extend her time in the CAO’s chair. Technical difficulties and the pandemic have meant that recent council meetings have neither been open to the public nor live streamed. Mayor Chisholm said they plan to have one of these options available before the next council meeting in February. Lois Ann Dort, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal
Regina– Saskatchewan, and Canada as a whole, is seeing hiccups in what are still early days of the COVID-19 vaccination rollout. On Jan. 19, the federal government explained that it would not be receiving any of the Pfizer vaccine the following week, for instance. The New Democratic Party pointed out a Regina facility didn’t have enough vaccine for all its assisted-care clients in addition to its long-term care clients on Jan. 18. But eventually, the residents and staff of long-term care facilities, the provinces’ highest priority for the vaccine distribution, will be fully vaccinated. Will we see restrictions start to lift for those people, or will they have to wait six months? At the regular COVID-19 briefing on Jan. 19 in the Legislature, both Premier Scott Moe and chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab replied. Shahab said, “I think that’s really important.” “The main thing, right now we have been very cautious because the vaccination rate is coming up very slowly. And as you know, in the clinical trials the vaccines had 95 per cent effectiveness, but in the real world we do know that if you're elderly, have immune suppression, the vaccine may not be that effective and COVID is so highly transmissible that, even if you have a long term care facility where you, for example, have a 90 per cent uptake of the vaccine, and the vaccine is 90 per cent effective that still leaves you a significant proportion of the long-term care residents still susceptible to COVID. “So, I think at the present time, it is very important that as our vaccination picks up, we adhere to all public health measures. Once we have the vast majority of the population vaccinated, especially adults with that underlying risk factors, but also broadly all adults, I think then we can cautiously start looking at how we relax our public health measures over the summer, likely that will start happening. “And again, I think it remains important. Right now, Obviously, there's no vaccine amount, high demand especially for the most vulnerable. I think once we have a large amount of vaccine available in the summer, we need to make sure that those of us who, if COVID so even low in the summer, all of us think of getting vaccinated. Well, that is one way how we can you know come out of most of restrictionns that we currently face, by fall. Shahab added, “But I think, right now, we really have to, even after getting vaccinated, we do have to comply with all public health measures, because not everyone is fully protected by the vaccine, and we're understanding more about how the immunization affects not just clinical illness, which it does protect to a large extent, but also transmissibility. But as we get more data from Canada, from our own province, and from other countries, you know, we'll be updating guidelines that but that likely won't change. Then at least May, June, once we have the majority of the population, especially the most vulnerable fully immunized. Moe said it ties into hospitalizations, and it is still a couple months early for this discussion. “But the fact of the matter is, as we are able to access vaccines for the most vulnerable in our population, the elderly in our population, and start creeping those vaccines and the availability of those vaccines down through the age groups in society, it does beg the question on when will we be able to start to look at relaxing the measures that we have in place; the very, very significant measures that we have in place here in Saskatchewan.” He continued, “I would point back to the conversation we had about hospitalizations and as we start to hopefully, if you look at our hospitalizations, quite often the age of the of the folks in hospital are somewhat younger than what we might have in our long-term care facilities. And so, as we work our way through the age groups, and we start to see our hospitalizations decreasing in significant fashion, that would speak to the fact that we have many of those that are more vulnerable in our community receiving the vaccine and not contracting COVID-19, and not as a point, I think, when we could have a little more open conversation about what the future looks like for Saskatchewan. “So two things on that: that isn't in the in the next number of weeks, that will be the next number of months. And this speaks to the importance of us, as Canadians and us, looking to our Canadian government to do everything they can to procure as many vaccines as they can, and to do so in as the shortest timeframe as possible. “I think premier Ford and made some comments today about what he would urge the prime minister to do and that was to find, I believe, someone, if not the CEO of Pfizer, and maybe light a firecracker up his yin yang, I think was the words that I heard. And I, I would just say, that there would be a lineup of premiers behind that the prime minister was able to do that; there would be a lineup of premiers behind that would bring a lighter to that party.” Brian Zinchuk, Local Journalism Initiative reporter, Estevan Mercury
The United States swore in its 46th President on Jan. 20, 2021. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris attended their inauguration in Washington, D.C. with a slew of distinguished guests, but few onlookers as the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a need for social distancing.Several past presidents were in attendance, including Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and George Bush Jr., however the 45th President of the United States, Donald Trump, did not attend. Trump flew to his golf club in Florida earlier in the day. Outgoing Vice President Mike Pence did attend the ceremony with his wife.For all the latest on the U.S. inauguration, click this link for live updates.
GUYSBOROUGH – It has been three months since the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society hearing regarding charges against Adam Rodgers, former partner in the Port Hawkesbury law firm Boudrot Rodgers, concluded. The charges sought to define the potential level of knowledge and complicity Rodgers shared with his former law firm partner, Jason Boudrot, in the latter’s defrauding of clients’ trust funds. The hearing panel, in a decision released Tuesday, Jan. 12, found Rodgers had engaged in professional misconduct and had been reckless in regard to his professional responsibility – but had not misappropriated funds or assisted Boudrot in doing so. “The Panel has concluded that the Society (Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society) has satisfied its burden of establishing on the balance of probabilities that Adam Rodgers has engaged in professional misconduct by being reckless in regard to his professional responsibilities regarding trust funds,” stated the Notice of Decision issued by the Hearing Panel of the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society on Jan. 12. In October of 2018, managing partner Boudrot contacted the Nova Scotia Barrister’s Society (NSBS) to report that he had “some issues with his trust accounts,” stated a NSBS hearing committee document in 2019. That led to a suspension of Boudrot’s practicing certificate, a declaration of bankruptcy and, in 2019, the disbarment of Boudrot. Last August, the NSBS published a notice stating that the society would hold a hearing respecting charges of professional misconduct and professional incompetence against Rodgers. The hearing, which took place at the beginning of last October, convened to hear submissions and consider evidence regarding the fraudulent dealings with clients’ trust monies managed by Boudrot Rodgers, to determine Rodgers’ role in the matter. The panel heard and was supplied evidence – in the form of an agreed upon joint book of exhibits – related to three charges of professional misconduct by encouraging or knowingly assisting with fraudulent or dishonest dealings with clients' trust monies and/or professional incompetence. The panels’ findings state, “We, as a Panel are satisfied that the Society has demonstrated it is more probable than not that Adam Rodgers, allowed Jason Boudrot to misappropriate clients’ trust funds, through his willful blindness and recklessness and thereby failed in his professional obligations. “The Panel is satisfied by clear and convincing evidence that Mr. Rodgers was “deliberately ignorant” of the activities of Mr. Boudrot. The Panel is satisfied that Mr. Rodgers did not deliberately nor actively misappropriate funds nor assist Mr. Boudrot in doing so. The Panel is satisfied the Society has demonstrated that it is more probable than not that Adam Rodgers aided Jason Boudrot through his willful blindness and recklessness and thereby failed to preserve and protect clients’ property.” The conclusion of its 50-page decision states, “In reaching this conclusion the Panel has imputed to Mr. Rodgers’ knowledge of the illegal activities of Mr. Boudrot and that he should have done something about it. The Panel findings are not based on a criminal standard that he aided and abetted Mr. Boudrot, but rather that a lawyer has a very high obligation of trust, as set out in the code of professional conduct and the regulations to properly deal and protect trust funds and Mr. Rodgers breached that obligation.” Rodgers, who has been vocal in his defense against the charges brought by NSBS, shared his response to the decision with The Journal via email Jan. 13. He wrote, “I am pleased to be exonerated on the main charges that I was somehow a participant in the large-scale theft and misappropriation schemes of my former law partner. It was not easy to fight the powerful Bar Society all on my own, but it was the right thing to do, and most of the Bar Society allegations against me were found by the Panel to be without merit, as I had predicted. “My conscience was always clear, but it was still satisfying to see it confirmed by the Panel that I did not take anything from anybody, that I did good work as a lawyer for my clients, and that I handled the crisis brought on my former partner in an appropriate manner,” he stated. Speaking to the finding of misconduct, Rodgers stated, “Where the Panel did make a finding of misconduct, it was to do with relatively minor billing matters, distinct from the main allegations. The Panel agreed that these instances did not result in any client of mine or other third party experiencing any losses and characterized my actions as willful blindness. “While I disagree with this unusual characterization, I take the matter seriously, and have learned some important lessons from the experience. I also wish to move on from this entire matter and focus my energy on the clients and other people I serve, both as a lawyer and community volunteer. I recognize and accept that lawyers are held to a higher standard and, throughout this difficult time, I have tried my best to act and communicate publicly in ways that would reinforce respect for our justice system and preserve the integrity of the legal profession in Nova Scotia.” As for the future, Rodgers wrote, “I look forward now to putting this entire ordeal behind me and see what I can do next for the people of my area, and throughout Nova Scotia. I continue to prepare for the next phase of the Desmond Inquiry, which resumes hearings next month, and [I] am considering several potential opportunities after that.” The panel has 60 days from the time of the decision’s release to determine what sanctions may be applied to Rodgers regarding the findings of the hearing. Lois Ann Dort, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal
WASHINGTON — Joe Biden and Kamala Harris took their oaths of office on Wednesday using Bibles that are laden with personal meaning, writing new chapters in a long-running American tradition — and one that appears nowhere in the law. The Constitution does not require the use of a specific text for swearing-in ceremonies and specifies only the wording of the president’s oath. That wording does not include the phrase “so help me God,” but every modern president has appended it to their oaths and most have chosen symbolically significant Bibles for their inaugurations. That includes Biden, who used the same family Bible he has used twice when swearing in as vice-president and seven times as senator from Delaware. The book, several inches thick, and which his late son Beau also used when swearing in as Delaware attorney general, has been a “family heirloom” since 1893 and “every important date is in there,” Biden told late-night talk show host Stephen Colbert last month. “Why is your Bible bigger than mine? Do you have more Jesus than I do?” quipped Colbert, who like Biden is a practicing Catholic. Biden’s use of his family Bible underscores the prominent role his faith has played in his personal and professional lives — and will continue to do so as he becomes the second Catholic president in U.S. history. He follows in a tradition of many other presidents who used family-owned scriptures to take their oaths, including Ronald Reagan and Franklin D. Roosevelt, according to the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies. Some have had their Bibles opened to personally relevant passages during their ceremonies. Bill Clinton, for example, chose Isaiah 58:12 — which urges the devout to be a “repairer of the breach” — for his second inauguration after a first term marked by political schisms with conservatives. Others took their oaths on closed Bibles, like John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic president, who in 1961 used his family’s century-old tome with a large cross on the front, similar to Biden’s. The tradition of using a Bible dates as far back as the presidency itself, with the holy book used by George Washington later appearing on exhibit at the Smithsonian on loan from the Masonic lodge that provided it in 1789. Washington’s Bible was later used for the oaths by Warren G. Harding, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush. But not every president has used a Bible. Theodore Roosevelt took his 1901 oath without one after the death of William McKinley, while John Quincy Adams used a law book in 1825, according to his own account. Some have employed multiple Bibles during their ceremonies: Both Barack Obama and Donald Trump chose to use, along with others, the copy that Abraham Lincoln was sworn in on in 1861. Harris did the same for her vice-presidential oath, using a Bible owned by a close family friend and one that belonged to the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. Harris has spoken of her admiration of Marshall, a fellow Howard University graduate and trailblazer in government as the high court’s first African American justice. “When I raise my right hand and take the oath of office tomorrow, I carry with me two heroes who’d speak up for the voiceless and help those in need,” Harris tweeted Tuesday, referring to Marshall and friend Regina Shelton, whose Bible she swore on when becoming attorney general of California and later senator. Harris, who attended both Baptist and Hindu services as a child, worships in the Baptist faith as an adult. While U.S. lawmakers have typically used Bibles for their oaths, some have chosen alternatives that reflect their religious diversity. Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, the first Muslim elected to Congress, in 2007 used a Qur’an that belonged to Thomas Jefferson, prompting objections from some Christian conservatives. Jefferson’s Qur’an made a return in 2019 at the oath for Michigan Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib, one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., chose a Hebrew Bible in 2005 to reflect her Jewish faith. Newly elected Georgia Democratic Sen. Jon Ossoff, who is also Jewish and who swears in Wednesday, used Hebrew scripture belonging to Rabbi Jacob Rothschild, an ally of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in the civil rights movement. Former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, opted for the Bhagavad Gita in 2013 after becoming the first Hindu elected to Congress. And Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., the only member of the current Congress who identifies as “religiously unaffiliated,” took her oath on the Constitution in 2018. ___ Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through The Conversation U.S. The AP is solely responsible for this content. Elana Schor, The Associated Press
BANGKOK — Thai officials on Wednesday filed criminal charges against a popular former politician, accusing him of defaming the monarchy by broadcasting criticism of government efforts to secure supplies of coronavirus vaccines. The action against Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit came just a day after Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha told reporters that that his government will prosecute anyone who shares false information about coronavirus vaccines. Thanathorn, former leader of the dissolved Future Forward Party, accused the government of acting too slowly in procuring the vaccines. He also pointed out that the government’s main contract for vaccine supply was made with a Thai company owned by the royal palace. The government and the company deny any wrongdoing. “What Thanathorn said is not true at all. The monarchy has nothing to do with the vaccines and they are not in the position to respond to him in the public,” said Thosaphol Pengsom, a vice minister attached to the prime minister’s office. Vice Minister of Digital Economy and Society Newin Chochaiyathip said at a news conference that anyone who shares Thanathorn’s broadcast or distorted information about vaccines and monarchy judged to be distorted would be prosecuted. Thanathorn’s office said he had no immediate comment. The government has increasingly used the law against defaming the monarchy to crack down on critics. The law, widely know as Article 112, makes insulting King Maha Vajiralongkorn or his family punishable by three to 15 years’ imprisonment. Thanathorn has long been a thorn in the side of Prayuth’s government. His party, critical of the army, a pillar of the country’s establishment, made a strong third-place showing in the 2019 general election, but he was forced out of Parliament when a court ruled that he had broken an election law. His party was later dissolved on a similar technicality. He has faced a number of legal cases which supporters charge are politically motivated. Also Wednesday, six activists from Thailand’s pro-democracy movement reported to police to acknowledge Article 112 charges against them. Their appearance at a central Bangkok police station was the latest skirmish between Thailand’s royalist establishment and the youth-led protest movement that caught fire last year with a series of well-attended rallies around the country calling for major political reforms, including of the country’s influential monarchy. The six protesters were charged by police with insulting or expressing malice toward the king in connection with a December protest at a Bangkok shopping mall. The charge sheet offers no details. According to a member of Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, who asked for anonymity because she was not authorized to release information, police explained that the charges were related to wearing short cropped T-shirts at their protest to make fun of the king and his queen. Two minors were not accused of wearing inappropriate attire but of having signs or making hand gestures supporting the protest. Photographs of the king casually wearing cropped T-shirts have circulated widely on social media and have been published overseas, but not in Thai mass media, which does not publish undignified photos of the royal family. The monarchy is revered by many Thais and until recently was almost universally treated as an untouchable institution. But the protest movement charges that monarchy is unaccountable and wields too much power is what is supposed to a democratic constitutional monarchy. From November to January this year, about 50 people have been charged with lese majeste — though none has yet gone to trial. Most if not all cases were based on statements made at public rallies or posted on the internet. Critics says the law can easily be abused because anyone — not just royals or authorities — can lodge a complaint. After Vajralongkorn took the throne in 2016, he informed the government that he did not wish to see the law used. But the escalating criticism of the king late last year prompted Prayuth to declare that the protesters had gone too far and could now expect to be prosecuted for their actions. ——- Associated Press video journalist Tassanee Vejpongsa contributed to this report. Grant Peck And Chalida Ekvitthayavechnukul, The Associated Press
BEIJING — China’s capital, Beijing, recorded seven more coronavirus cases on Wednesday amid a lingering outbreak in the country’s north. Another 46 were recorded in Jilin province, 16 in Heilongjiang on the border with Russia, and 19 in Hebei, the province surrounding Beijing. China has now recorded a total of 88,557 cases since the virus was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019, with 4,635 deaths. China is hoping to vaccinate 50 million people against the virus by mid-February and is also releasing schools early and telling citizens to stay put during the Lunar New Year travel rush that begins in coming days. A panel of experts commissioned by the World Health Organization criticized China and other countries this week for not moving to stem the initial outbreak of the coronavirus earlier, prompting Beijing to concede it could have done better but also to defend its response. “As the first country to sound the global alarm against the epidemic, China made immediate and decisive decisions and insisted on timely detection, reporting, isolation, and treatment despite incomprehensive information at the time. We have gained time to fight the epidemic and reduce infections and deaths,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told reporters on Tuesday. “We are firmly opposed to politicizing issues related to virus tracing, as this will not help the international community to unite and co-operate in the fight against the pandemic,” Hua said. A team of experts from WHO are quarantined in Wuhan ahead of beginning field visits aiming to shed light on the origins of the virus that is thought to have jumped to humans from animals, possibly bats. Other developments in the Asia-Pacific region: — India has began supplying coronavirus vaccines to its neighbouring countries, as the world’s largest vaccine making nation strikes a balance between maintaining enough doses to inoculate its own people and helping developing countries without the capacity to produce their own shots. India’s Foreign Ministry said the country will send 150,000 doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford University vaccine, manufactured locally by Serum Institute of India, to Bhutan and 100,000 to the Maldives on Wednesday. Vaccines will also be sent to Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar and the Seychelles in coming weeks, the ministry said, without specifying an exact timeline. Ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava said the government will ensure that domestic vaccine makers have adequate stocks to meet domestic needs as they supply partner countries in the coming months. Of the more than 12 billion coronavirus vaccine doses expected to be produced this year, rich countries have already bought about 9 billion, and many have options to buy even more. This means that Serum Institute, which has been contracted by AstraZeneca to make a billion doses, is likely to make most of the vaccine that will be used by developing nations. The Associated Press
Over the last two years, Katherine Scott has been putting down roots in Toronto and was planning to study in the city while continuing her work as a manager at a coffee shop in Liberty Village. Scott, who is from Australia, always wanted to live in Canada But, instead, she's packing her belongings to go live with her parents in the United Kingdom. Her work permit expired before she was able to apply for her permanent residency and now she has to leave the country. "I feel a little bit deflated," she said. "I never wanted to leave Canada." Scott has been waiting for paperwork from Australia since October, which are necessary for the application process. She says receiving the documents should have taken just a few days, but COVID-19 delayed the process. "I was hoping that everything would line up in time," she said. But, it didn't. Now, she's missed the opportunity to get a bridging permit, which would allow her to continue working while her application was being looked at. "All these things come back to COVID and it's super frustrating," Scott told CBC Toronto. In a statement, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) said as the pandemic unfolded, it encouraged temporary residents living in Canada to renew their status or permits. The ministry also extended the length of time a temporary resident has to do so. But, Scott's type of work permit can only be extended under "very specific situations," according to the IRCC's website. Scott says once she realized the paperwork she needed wouldn't arrive on time, she couldn't find a way to stay in Canada and hiring a lawyer wasn't financially feasible. Scott says she's likely just a few months shy of being able to apply for her permanent residency and is hopeful she'll be accepted while she waits in the U.K. 'I'm very worried and stressed' Others, like live-in caregiver June Reyes, are worried about being in the same situation. Reyes, who is from the Philippines and lives in Creemore, Ont., hasn't been able to complete a language test because the pandemic forced testing centres to close. She needs to complete the exam to apply for her permanent residency. "There's a lot of questions, like where am I going to live? Am I going to survive Canada? she said. "I'm very worried and stressed," added Reyes, who is a single mother and supports six children who live in the Philippines. "We came here to Canada to really give our kids a brighter future," she said of herself and other migrant workers. Her work permit expires in October and Reyes says she's hopeful the timing will work out before then. Syed Hussan, the executive director of an organization called Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, says workers face multiple challenges if securing their status is delayed. "If you don't have your work permit, you can't get your work experience and then you can't get your permanent residency. Also, you can't get health coverage." He also says the pandemic is preventing many immigrants from getting the high-wage work and positions necessary to apply for permanent residency. "As a result, former students, care workers, other work permit holders are not able to qualify for permanent residency through no fault of their own," Hussan said. Innovation needed to fuel immigration post-pandemic: lawyer Toronto immigration lawyer Mario Bellissimo says Scott's situation isn't unique; there are thousands who are forced to leave Canada while waiting to secure their status, who not able to enter the country even though they have it, or others who are in limbo. "That's happening on a daily basis," he said. "We've had to come up with a lot of innovative solutions for clients to try to either keep them in status or restore their status." "You're dealing with people that have to deliver critical work, heartbreaking family reunification issues. It's a challenge," he said. Bellissimo says the federal government has taken a lot of steps to help with the flow of migration during the pandemic, but there is still a challenge when it comes to modernizing health services linked to immigration. He mentions being able to have digital health documents on a phone, as an example. "Until they can really sync the two, there's ongoing challenges," he said. Ottawa hoping to boost immigration after pandemic drop Bellissimo says a drop in immigration due to the pandemic will likely result in supply chain issues and gaps in the workforce, which could take a couple years to get back on track. "Immigration fuels every sector of our society," he said. "It's really a dramatic impact." IRCC didn't say how many immigrants Canada admitted in 2020, but in October the government said it was on track to meet just half of its target of 341,000 by the end of the year. In the third quarter of last year, Canada accepted 40,069 permanent residents, which is a 61 per cent decrease compared to the same time frame in 2019, according to Statistics Canada. To make up for the shortfall, Canada aims to admit 401,000 new permanent residents in 2021, 411,000 in 2022 and 421,000 in 2023. IRCC is 'adapting, innovating and evolving,' ministry says IRCC's website says it's still accepting most permanent resident applications, but its ability to review and process them is affected by COVID-19, and it can't estimate how long it will take. In a statement to CBC Toronto, IRCC said it's taken quick action and "come a long way" since the beginning of the pandemic by providing additional resources, streamlining its processes and ramping systems back up. "In the face of great challenges, IRCC is rapidly adapting, innovating and evolving to best serve Canadians and those who wish to come here," the statement reads. IRCC says it's processing applications for priority cases, including vulnerable people, family members seeking to reunite and those in essential services. "We are processing those as quickly as possible. We are also making great strides in processing more applications virtually, while emphasizing safety and security."
TIRANA, Albania — Albania’s Defence Ministry on Wednesday reported the death of a soldier in Afghanistan, the second from the tiny Western Balkan country to die during the international peacekeeping mission. The soldier, identified only by the initials Xh. J., died Tuesday night at 1810 GMT (1:10 p.m. EST), the ministry said in a statement. It didn't specify the location or give any details about the circumstances. The ministry said that the Albanian military was assisting an investigation by the command of the Resolute Support Mission operation in Afghanistan, made up of around 16,000 troops from 38 countries. Albania, a NATO member since 2009, has been part of the international mission since 2010. The country currently has 99 troops in Afghanistan, located at two bases in Herat and Kabul. The ministry expressed condolences to the family and “assure the personnel in the mission and their families of continuous support in the successful accomplishment of their mission.” The Associated Press
The UK has historically had a special relationship with the US, but will British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s friendship with Donald Trump undermine his relationship with the new president? And what role will the UK's divorce from the EU play in transatlantic relations?View on euronews
WASHINGTON — Troops in riot gear lined the sidewalks, but there were no crowds. Armored vehicles and concrete barriers blocked empty streets. Miles of fencing cordoned off many of the nation's most familiar landmarks. Joe Biden was safely sworn in as president in a Washington on edge, two weeks after rioters loyal to former President Donald Trump besieged the Capitol. Law enforcement officials contended not only with the potential for outside threats but also with rising concerns about an insider attack. Officials monitored members of far-right extremist and militia groups, increasingly concerned about the risk they could stream into Washington and spark violent confrontations, a law enforcement official said. There were a few scattered arrests but no major protests or serious disruptions in the city during Biden's inauguration ceremony. As Biden put it in his address: “Here we stand just days after a riotous mob thought they could use violence to silence the will of the people, to stop the work of our democracy, to drive us from this sacred ground. It did not happen. It will never happen, not today, not tomorrow, not ever. Not ever.” After the deadly attack that killed five on Jan. 6, the Secret Service stepped up security for the inauguration early, essentially locking down the nation's capital. More than 25,000 troops and police were called to duty. The National Mall was closed. Checkpoints were set up at intersections. In the hours before the event, federal agents monitored “concerning online chatter,” which included an array of threats against elected officials and discussions about ways to infiltrate the inauguration, the official said. In right-wing online chat groups, believers in the QAnon conspiracy theory expressed disappointment that top Democrats were not arrested for sex trafficking and that Trump did not seize a second term. Twelve National Guard members were removed from the security operation a day earlier after vetting by the FBI, including two who had made extremist statements in posts or texts about Wednesday's event. Pentagon officials would not give details on the statements. The FBI vetted all 25,000 members in an extraordinary security effort in part over the presence of some ex-military in the riot. Two other U.S. officials told The Associated Press that all 12 were found to have ties with right-wing militia groups or to have posted extremist views online. The officials, a senior intelligence official and an Army official briefed on the matter, did not say which fringe groups the Guard members belonged to or what unit they served in. The officials told the AP they had all been removed because of “security liabilities.” The officials were not authorized to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, confirmed that Guard members had been removed and sent home, but said only two cases were related to inappropriate comments or texts related to the inauguration. He said the other 10 cases were for issues that may involve previous criminal behaviour or activities but were not directly related to the inaugural event. The FBI also warned law enforcement officials about the possibility that members of right-wing fringe groups could pose as National Guard troops, according to two law enforcement officials familiar with the matter. Investigators in Washington were particularly worried that members of right-wing extremist groups and militias, like the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters, would descend on Washington to spark violence, the law enforcement officials said. Some of the groups are known to recruit former military personnel, to train extensively and to have frequented anti-government and political protests. In addition to the thousands of National Guard troops, hundreds of law enforcement officers from agencies around the country were also brought into Washington. The increased security is likely to remain in the nation's capital for at least a few more days. ___ Associated Press writers Lolita Baldor in Washington and James LaPorta in Delray Beach, Florida, contributed to this report. Ben Fox, Colleen Long And Michael Balsamo, The Associated Press
Family doctors in Alberta want to help give COVID-19 vaccinations but say the province has yet to tap them for help. "Family doctors have largely been left out of the conversation about the distribution and administration of vaccines in the province," said Dr. James Makokis, a family physician with practices in Edmonton, Kehewin Cree Nation who also works with an addictions and mental health practice in Toronto. Makokis said family doctors are in a good position to help because they know which patients meet the criteria for vaccinations and could help identify them. He said family doctors have their patients' trust and can answer questions they might have about the vaccine. While there are challenges that would make it difficult to store the vaccines in most family clinics, he said, many of the other roughly 5,200 family doctors in the province would be willing to attend AHS vaccination sites to help with injections. "If there was opportunity for, you know, late night shifts or weekend shifts when people can be vaccinated, many physicians would make themselves available to meet the needs of that," he said. Makokis said the province needs to engage with doctors, and wonders if the series of recent clashes between the provincial government and physicians has become a barrier. "My sense is their ego has gotten in the way to reach out for help," he said. Alberta Health spokesperson Tom McMillan said family doctors have yet to be tapped simply because of limited supply of the vaccine, and the province recognizes the important role doctors and others could play when there is more vaccine to go around. On Tuesday, Premier Jason Kenney said Alberta was on track to use up its current supply by the end of that day or early Wednesday. "Right now, we have a very limited amount of vaccine available," McMillan said in a statement. "This is why we are currently focusing on the priority groups in Phase 1, which can most effectively be immunized directly through AHS personnel. As the available supply of vaccines increases, we will expand our approach." He said the province will continue to work with pharmacists, physicians and other health professionals on options for rolling out vaccines on a broader scale, and an update will be provided to the public in the coming weeks — including information about how different providers will be compensated for giving vaccine. Dr. Craig Hodgson, the family medicine section president of the Alberta Medical Association, said discussions have been held over the course of the pandemic about different ways family doctors could be involved in the vaccine rollout, but so far there hasn't been much interest. "Largely, we … certainly haven't received much in the way of a response in terms of wanting us to be involved," Hodgson said. In his own practice in Whitecourt, he said, patients have asked questions about the vaccine, and the relationship people have with family practitioners can be a way to address hesitancy concerns. Dr. Vishal Bhela, president of the Alberta College of Family Physicians, said the college has also been involved in a number of conversations, and while they recognize the issues of limited supply and ensuring that specific high-risk groups get shots first, they still hope to see family doctors looped in as the program expands. "We're hopeful that there will be a recommendation about the important role that family physicians can play in a successful COVID-19 campaign," he said. "Patients trust us, they have long-standing relationships with us, they approach us with questions and already have been," he said.
NEW DELHI — India began supplying coronavirus vaccines to its neighbouring countries on Wednesday, as the world’s largest vaccine making nation strikes a balance between maintaining enough doses to inoculate its own people and helping developing countries without the capacity to produce their own shots. India's Foreign Ministry said the country would send 150,000 shots of the AstraZeneca/Oxford University vaccine, manufactured locally by Serum Institute of India, to Bhutan and 100,000 shots to the Maldives on Wednesday. Vaccines will also be sent to Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar and the Seychelles in coming weeks, the ministry said, without specifying an exact timeline. It added in its a statement late Tuesday that regulatory clearances were still awaited from Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Mauritius. Foreign Ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava said India would ensure that domestic vaccine makers have adequate stocks to meet India's domestic needs as it supplies partner countries in the coming months. “India will continue to supply countries all over the world with vaccines. This will be calibrated against domestic requirements and international demand and obligations,” he said. Indian regulators gave the nod for emergency use to two vaccines earlier this month: the AstraZeneca vaccine and another one by Indian vaccine maker Bharat Biotech. India kicked off its own massive vaccination drive on Jan. 17, with a goal of inoculating 300 million of its nearly 1.4 billion people. These vaccines being sent to neighbouring countries are being sent as grants and India’s Foreign Ministry said the vaccines were not part of COVAX, the U.N.-backed global effort aimed at helping lower income countries obtain the shots. With nations making their own plans and not waiting for COVAX, some experts fear that India’s gesture of goodwill may inadvertently undermine the struggling initiative, which has yet to deliver any of the promised 2 billion vaccines to poor countries. Although COVAX has announced new deals to secure vaccines in recent weeks, it has only signed legally binding deals for a fraction of the needed shots. WHO said earlier this week it hopes vaccines bought by another global initiative started by the Gates Foundation, GAVI, might start being delivered to poor countries later this month or next. The U.N. health agency’s Africa chief, however, estimated that the first COVID-19 vaccines from that initiative might only arrive in March and that a larger roll-out would only begin in June. Of the more than 12 billion coronavirus vaccine doses being produced this year, rich countries have already bought about 9 billion, and many have options to buy even more. This means that Serum Institute, which has been contracted by AstraZeneca to make a billion doses, is likely to make most of the shots that’ll be used by developing nations. ___ Associated Press journalists Ashok Sharma in New Delhi and Maria Cheng in London contributed to this report. ___ The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content. Aniruddha Ghosal, The Associated Press
Swedish telecom operators are planning to cover almost the entire country with 5G in the next two to three years after a spectrum auction by the country's telecom regulator PTS. The auction between four bidders, which had been delayed for a security review and by a lawsuit filed by Chinese telecoms equipment maker Huawei, finally took place on Tuesday. Bidders were units or joint ventures of telecom operators Telia, Tele2, Telenor and Tre.
A small Nova Scotia First Nation is poised to start collecting property taxes in April from non-Indigenous businesses located on land it purchased for commercial development in the Annapolis Valley. Chief Sidney Peters of the Glooscap First Nation says it's about self-reliance. "It's just another way of trying to bring in a few extra dollars of revenue to help the community out," Peters said. The 400-member band currently pays a little over $20,000 a year in property taxes to the Municipality of the County of Kings for Glooscap Landing, which is home to a gas station and Tim Hortons on 11 hectares it owns on Highway 101 near Hantsport. Passed motion last month To get its hands on that money, Glooscap band council passed a motion last month to create its own taxing authority under the First Nations Fiscal Management Act. The band says initially it is likely to charge the same tax rate as the neighbouring municipality. Peters said the "biggest thing" is to have the money come back to the band. The band is also pressing the federal government to designate the 11 hectares part of its reserve, the other key step that will enable it to exercise taxing authority. Peters said he expects to have the reserve addition in time for April. This will not impact federal or provincial taxes. Band members won't be charged property taxes because they are exempt. Millbrook pioneered band tax collection in N.S. Glooscap is not the first to go down this road in Nova Scotia. The Millbrook band pioneered property tax collection under late Chief Lawrence Paul. It has been levying property taxes at its Power Centre outside Truro for years. According to financial records, taxation generated $711,000 in revenue for Millbrook in 2019. Eskasoni, in Cape Breton, also collects property tax, according to data from the First Nations Tax Commission that helps bands across Canada set up tax regimes. Paqtnkek, near Antigonish, is also looking at creating its own property tax regime. Taxing across Canada The First Nations Tax Commission says 152 First Nations collected $96 million in property tax across the country in 2020. About $1.25 million was collected by bands in Atlantic Canada. "Communities are looking for more ways to become more independent of government and to exercise their own self-governance through their own institutions. And taxation is a fundamental governmental power," said Manny Jewels, chief commissioner of the First Nations Tax Commission. About 80 per cent of First Nation tax regimes in place across Canada are under the authority of the First Nations Fiscal Management Act, which came into force in 2006. The remainder are under the Indian Act. 'Legislation is working' In addition to strengthening First Nations' property taxing power, it also created the First Nations Financial Authority, a non-profit corporation used by bands to raise money. It bankrolled the blockbuster $250-million loan to the Membertou band to pay for its share of the purchase of Clearwater Seafoods. "It tells you very clearly that the legislation is working," said Jewels. "It's the most successful legislation for First Nations in Canadian history. We were working, quite frankly, with over 50 per cent of the communities right across the country." MORE TOP STORIES
WASHINGTON — In the 11 weeks since Election Day, the collision of crises confronting President-elect Joe Biden have gone from staggering to almost unimaginable. More than 170,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 during that stretch alone, sending total U.S. deaths soaring past 400,000. The deep partisan divisions roiling the nation boiled over into violence during the insurrection on the U.S. Capitol, threatening America's long history of peaceful transitions of power and resulting in the second impeachment of the outgoing president. The economy has steadily weakened, with employers cutting 140,000 jobs just in the month of December. It falls now to Biden, as he is sworn in on Wednesday, to both level with Americans about the deep trouble facing the nation and cast ahead to a brighter future. He will do so knowing that millions of Americans wrongly believe his election was illegitimate, fueled by the lie perpetuated by President Donald Trump. Trump himself won't be there to witness Biden's swearing in, having decided to defy tradition and leave Washington Wednesday morning ahead of the inauguration. Taken together, it's as grim a moment as many Americans can remember and far from the celebration Biden, 78, likely imagined over the decades he has pined for the presidency. There will be no cheering crowd spread out before him on the National Mall when he takes the oath of office as a consequence of the pandemic, but there will be 25,000 National Guard troops securing the streets of Washington in response to the Capitol siege. Historians have put the challenges Biden faces on par with, or even beyond, what confronted Abraham Lincoln when he was inaugurated in 1861 to lead a nation splintering into civil war or Franklin Delano Roosevelt as he was sworn in during the depths of the Great Depression in 1933. But Lincoln and Roosevelt's presidencies are also a blueprint for the the ways American leaders have turned crises into opportunities, pulling people past the partisan divisions or ideological forces that can halt progress. “Crises present unique opportunities for large scale change in a way that an average moment might not,” said Lindsay Chervinsky, a presidential historian and author of “The Cabinet: George Washington and the Creation of an American Institution.” “The more intense the crisis, the more likely the country is to get behind someone to try to fix that — the concept of uniting in war or uniting against a common threat." But by some measures, Roosevelt and Lincoln had advantages Biden does not. Roosevelt's Democratic Party had solid majorities in Congress, helping him power through his expansive agenda. Lincoln's Republican majorities were added by the secessionist push that dwindled his opponents' ranks in Congress. Biden, meanwhile, will have the narrowest of Democratic majorities in Congress; in the 50-50 Senate, it will fall to soon-to-be Vice-President Kamala Harris to break any ties. The Republican Party faces an existential crisis of its own making after the Trump era, and it's deeply uncertain how much co-operating with the new Democratic president fits into its leaders' plans for their future. Still, Biden has signalled he will press Congress aggressively in his opening weeks, challenging lawmakers to pass a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package to address the public health and economic crisis — all but daring Republicans to block him at a moment when cases and deaths across the U.S. are soaring. Biden's ability to get that legislation passed will significantly shape both his administration's ability to tackle the pandemic and his overall standing in Washington. He's staked much of the promise of his presidency on his ability to court lawmakers from across the aisle, touting his long working relationship Republican senators and the reputation he cultivated as a dealmaker while serving as President Barack Obama's No. 2. But Washington has changed rapidly since then, a reality Biden's advisers insist he is clear-eyed about. Unlike Obama, he will quickly flex his executive powers on his first day in office, both to roll back Trump administration policies and to take action on the pandemic, including issuing a mask mandate on federal property. He's also pledged that his administration will vaccinate 100 million people against the coronavirus within his first 100 days in office, laying down a clear marker to judge his success or failure. Linda Belmonte, the dean of the Virginia Tech College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences and a professor of history, said that while Biden would be “naive” to think Washington is the same as it was when he was a senator or even when he left it as vice-president, the experience he brings to the job will be invaluable in this moment. “We don't have time for a learning curve,” Belmonte said. “I cannot think of a modern president that has faced a more daunting landscape." On the eve of his inauguration, Biden took stock not only of the challenges ahead but the path the nation has taken to get to this moment. As the sun set on the National Mall, he stood before the imposing memorial to Lincoln and called on the nation to remember the 400,000 Americans who have died from the coronavirus. “To heal we must remember," he said. “That’s how we heal. It’s important to do that as a nation.” ___ Editor's Note — Julie Pace has covered the White House and politics for The Associated Press since 2007. Follow her at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC Julie Pace, The Associated Press
Almost every hospital in New Brunswick is either over its target occupancy rate for the orange level of COVID-19 recovery, or very close to it, figures from the two regional health authorities show. This is with only one COVID-19 patient in the province hospitalized, as of Tuesday. Horizon Health Network and Vitalité Health Network did not respond to a request from CBC News for red-level occupancy rate targets, but five of the 15 hospitals are operating at overcapacity for any phase, with one as high as 150 per cent. The Moncton region, Zone 1, Saint John region, Zone 2, and Fredericton region, Zone 3, have all been bumped back to the more restrictive red level from orange, as of midnight Tuesday. Premier Blaine Higgs announced the decision Tuesday afternoon, after one more death and 31 new cases of the respiratory disease were confirmed in New Brunswick, pushing the total active cases to 316. "We're simply not making enough progress with the current measures that are in place," Higgs said during the COVID-19 news briefing. "We know there are more cases in these zones that exist but have not yet tested positive. And we cannot take the risk of potentially overwhelming our hospitals." "We don't want to be too late in reacting and look back and say, 'Only if.'" Even a small number of new admissions can have a ripple effect throughout our health-care system. - Geri Geldart, Horizon Health Network The Horizon hospitals in the three largest cities in these zones all have inpatient occupancy rates hovering around the orange-level target of between 85 per cent and 90 per cent. The Moncton Hospital is at 87 per cent capacity, the Saint John Regional Hospital, 96 per cent, and the Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital in Fredericton, 92 per cent. "Even a small number of new admissions can have a ripple effect throughout our health-care system, as we continue to balance high inpatient occupancy rates with limitations on staffing resources," Geri Geldart, vice-president clinical, said in an emailed statement prior to the announcement to move the three zones to red. "Our priority is to ensure as many surgeries as possible can continue while also preserving ICU and other beds in the event of a COVID-related surge." Horizon closely monitors its inpatient occupancy rates daily and makes decisions surrounding patient discharge on a case-by-case basis to ensure it has capacity in each hospital to admit any COVID-positive patients, she said. Vitalité's Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont Hospital Centre in Moncton is operating at nearly 94 per cent capacity, as of Monday afternoon. Its orange-level target is 80 per cent. Vitalité president and CEO Dr. France Desrosiers was unavailable Tuesday for an interview. The Edmundston region, Zone 4, has been at the red level since midnight Sunday. One of its hospitals is over its orange-level target occupancy, while the other two are close behind, according to figures provided by Vitalité on Monday. The Grand Falls General Hospital is at 90 per cent capacity. The target for the 20-bed hospital is 85 per cent. Edmundston Regional Hospital, which has 169 beds, is operating at 69 per cent, just below its 70 per cent target. Hôtel-Dieu Saint-Joseph de Saint-Quentin is not far from reaching its 85 per cent target either. The six-bed facility is currently operating at 83 per cent. That's down from 100 per cent on Friday. Vitalité spokesperson Thomas Lizotte did not respond to a request for comment about what might explain the high occupancy rates, given the sole hospitalized COVID-19 patient in the province, who is in a Horizon hospital, whether the rates are unusual, or what steps are being taken to ensure the hospitals will be able to admit future COVID patients. Daily discussions 'around the risks' Public Health is having daily discussions with both regional health authorities "around their capacity, around the risks," Dr. Jennifer Russell, the province's chief medical officer of health, told CBC News. The health-care system's ability to respond to COVID-19 patients is one of the triggers considered for moving to another phase of recovery. "We are looking at the ages of the people that are diagnosed with COVID-19 every day and projecting, you know, whether or not they would need hospitalization," Russell said. If the government hadn't acted "swiftly and decisively" to roll Zones 1, 2 and 3 back to red on Tuesday, Russell predicted the province would "soon see dozens, perhaps even hundreds of new cases every day." "We would see a flood of gravely ill patients that would inundate our hospitals and overwhelm our doctors, nurses and paramedics. We would see more deaths and disruptions and sorrow," Russell said. "We need to continue to protect our health-care system and our health-care workers, not only to provide care in the health-care system, but to be there to vaccinate our population. We need to continue to protect our most vulnerable and we need to protect our social determinants of health." Russell said a combined total of 76 health-care workers are off work from Horizon and Vitalité either because they tested positive for COVID-19 or they're isolating as a precaution. This has also had an impact on some services, she said. The Vitalité Health Network said more than 100 of its surgeries were cancelled between Jan. 4 and Jan. 14, including 55 in the Moncton region, two in the Edmundston region, 35 in the Campbellton region and 14 in the Bathurst region. The Horizon Health Network had 37 surgeries cancelled last week alone. Those include 26 in the Moncton region, eight in the Saint John region, two in the Fredericton region, and one in the Miramichi region. 5 over 100 per cent Of Vitalité's other hospitals, Stella-Maris-de-Kent Hospital in Sainte-Anne-de-Kent, in Zone 1, has the highest occupancy rate at 150 per cent. Its orange target is 85 per cent. The three other overcapacity hospitals are all in the Bathurst region, Zone 6. They include: Hôpital de l'Enfant-Jésus RHSJT in Caraquet: 133.3 per cent capacity, target orange-level occupancy 85 per cent. Lamèque Hospital, 116.7 per cent capacity, target orange-level occupancy 85 per cent. Tracadie Hospital,101.7 per cent capacity, target orange-level occupancy 85 per cent. Horizon also had an overcapacity hospital: Upper River Valley Hospital in Waterville, Zone 3, 102 per cent capacity, target orange-level occupancy 85 to 90 per cent The overall hospital occupancy rate for Vitalité is 82.5 per cent, said Lizotte. "We're aiming [for] 80 per cent," he said in an email. The other Vitalité hospitals include: Campbellton Regional Hospital, Zone 5, 74.6 per cent capacity, target orange-level occupancy 60 per cent. Chaleur Regional Hospital, Zone 6, 62.1 per cent capacity, target orange-level occupancy 70 per cent. The remaining Horizon hospital is: Miramichi Regional Hospital, Zone 7, 87 per cent capacity, target orange-level occupancy 85 to 90 per cent. "During the very early stages of the pandemic, Horizon was able to successfully discharge a number of alternate level of care (ALC) patients to more appropriate care settings — such as a nursing home or adult residential facility — to build additional capacity within our hospitals," said Geldart. Compared to other jurisdictions, New Brunswick has also been "relatively successful in limiting the spread of COVID-19," she said. Because of this, Horizon hospitals have not had to care for large numbers of COVID positive patients at a single time. "It's important to note, however, this situation can change at any time, and because of this we remain on high alert," Geldart said.
A Saskatoon woman says she's honouring her sister's dying wish. Regina mom Cheryl Kay was admitted to a Regina hospital in December following a series of seizures related to low electrolytes. She was eventually placed on life support, and died Christmas Eve. In the days before she fell into the coma, she asked her sister Rachel Smith to care for her children if she didn't survive. Kay's youngest child is now with their birth father. Smith has welcomed the other six into her Saskatoon home. They joined Smith, her husband and their own five kids. Smith said the first priority was to let the kids know they are loved, and that they have a home. Then she called all her friends and family, who came together to buy Christmas presents for the children. Smith, a graduate of Nutana Collegiate who's worked at both the University of Saskatchewan and the Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies, is also busy running her own take-out restaurant, Bannock Express. Smith said she never considered turning the kids away. "I didn't think twice. Being the way I grew up, I was a ward of the government since I was 13 years old. I grew up in residential schools, group homes, foster homes. I just couldn't let this happen to the children. They've been through so much already," she said. An online fundraising campaign has been set up for Kay's funeral expenses and for the children. Smith said they need everything from diapers to laptop computers for school work. The campaign has raised nearly $5,000. "Basically, everyone rallying and coming together has meant so much to my family in the memory of my sister. I feel her spirit is strong right now," Smith said. She and her husband are planning to home-school the kids until the end of this year to minimize the chance of bringing COVID-19 into their expanded household. She's in the process of applying for permanent guardianship.