First sunrise of the year in Saskatchewan, a train whistles in the distance.
First sunrise of the year in Saskatchewan, a train whistles in the distance.
President Donald Trump never hid how he felt. For more than four years, Trump, a Republican, cultivated a political base by sharing his thoughts and emotions - pride, happiness, indignation, rage - on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis, creating an omnipresence of sorts that completely dominated the news cycle. Like no U.S. president has done before, he made himself the center of attention, the star of a literal reality show that was his administration, always with an eye for the camera, a flair for the dramatic, an instinct for the outrageous.
MAMUJU, Indonesia — Aid was reaching the thousands of people left homeless and struggling after an earthquake that killed at least 84 people on an Indonesian island where rescuers intensified their work Monday to find those buried in the rubble. More rescuers and volunteers were deployed in the hardest-hit city of Mamuju and the neighbouring district of Majene on Sulawesi island, where the magnitude 6.2 quake struck early Friday, said Raditya Jati, the National Disaster Mitigation Agency’s spokesperson. He said nearly 20,000 survivors were moved to shelters and more than 900 people were injured, with nearly 300 of them still receiving treatment for serious injuries. A total of 73 people died in Mamuju and 11 in Majene, said Didi Hamzar, the disaster agency's director of preparedness. He said rescuers also managed to pull 18 people alive from the rubble of a collapsed houses and buildings. Mahatir, a relief co-ordinator for volunteer rescuers, said his team was trying to reach many people in six isolated villages in Majene district after the quake damaged roads and bridges. Aid and other logistic supplies can be distributed only by foot over the severe terrain, said Mahatir who goes by one name. In a virtual news conference, Hamzar said that three helicopters were taking aid supplies Monday to four cut-off villages in Majene. In other hard hit areas. water, which has been in short supply, as well as food and medical supplies were being distributed from trucks. The military said it sent five planes carrying rescue personnel, food, medicine, blankets, field tents and water tankers. Volunteers and rescue personnel erected more temporary shelters for those left homeless in Mamuju and Majene. Most were barely protected by makeshift shelters that were lashed by heavy monsoon downpours. Only a few were lucky to be protected by tarpaulin-covered tents. They said they were running low on food, blankets and other aid, as emergency supplies were rushed to the hard-hit region. Police and soldiers were deployed to guard vehicles carrying relief goods and grocery stores from looting that occurred in some areas, said Muhammad Helmi, who heads the West Sulawesi police’s operation unit. Jati said at least 1,150 houses in Majene were damaged and the agency was still collecting data on damaged houses and buildings in Mamuju. Mamuju, the provincial capital of nearly 300,000 people, was strewn with debris from collapsed buildings. The governor’s office building was almost flattened and a shopping mall was reduced to a crumpled hulk. The disaster agency said the evacuees are in dire need of basic necessities — blankets, mats, tents, baby food and medical services. The disaster agency’s chief, Doni Monardo, said authorities were trying to separate high- and lower-risk groups and provided tens of thousands of anti-coronavirus masks for those needing shelters. He said authorities would also set up health posts at the camps to test people for the virus. People being housed in temporary shelters were seen standing close together, many of them without masks, saying that they difficult to observe health protocols in this emergency situation. West Sulawesi province has recorded more than 2,500 cases of the coronavirus, including 58 deaths. Indonesia has confirmed nearly 908,000 cases and almost 26,000 fatalities. Many on Sulawesi island are still haunted by a magnitude 7.5 earthquake that devastated Palu city in 2018, setting of a tsunami and a phenomenon called liquefaction in which soil collapses into itself. More than 4,000 people were killed, including many who were buried when whole neighbourhoods were swallowed in the falling ground. Indonesia, home to more than 260 million people, is lined with seismic faults and is frequently hit by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis. A magnitude 9.1 earthquake off Sumatra in 2004 triggered a tsunami that killed 230,000 people in a dozen countries. ____ Karmini reported from Jakarta, Indonesia. Niniek Karmini And Yusuf Wahil, The Associated Press
Le ministère des Transports du Québec (MTQ) répondra aux questions des citoyens de Tadoussac en ce qui concerne le projet de réaménagement de la route 138 à l'approche de la traverse. Une séance d'information publique aura lieu le 20 janvier à 19 h via la plateforme virtuelle Teams. Les résidents de la municipalité intéressés à participer à la rencontre doivent s'inscrire par Internet via le lien suivant : https://forms.gle/j3JpTQfdz6cDDAcFA. Rappelons qu'avec l'arrivée des deux nouveaux traversiers à la traverse de Tadoussac-Baie-Sainte-Catherine, la Société des traversiers du Québec (STQ) a demandé au MTQ de revoir le réaménagement des voies de circulation à l'approche du quai à Tadoussac, sur la rue du Bateau-Passeur. « Ces nouveaux navires ayant une plus grande capacité de chargement, la STQ souhaite que le processus d'embarquement et de débarquement se déroule en respectant l'horaire actuel de 20 minutes par traversée », peut-on lire sur le site du MTQ. Ainsi, le réaménagement comprend une aire de préchargement sur la route 138 à l'approche du quai ainsi qu'une aire d'attente du côté sud de la route, à proximité du quai. Ce réaménagement permettra de rendre le secteur de la traverse sécuritaire pour tous les usagers de la route, d'assurer le maintien des infrastructures routières, ainsi que d'améliorer la circulation et la signalisation routière, entre autres. Pour plus d'infos sur le projet: https://bit.ly/3stpb0uJohannie Gaudreault, Initiative de journalisme local, Journal Haute-Côte-Nord
Budgeting is a pain. But what’s more painful is a bill you can’t easily pay, debt that costs a fortune or not having enough money to retire. Fortunately, you can have a useful, working budget without watching every penny. Automation, technology and a few simple guidelines can keep you on track. The following approach works best if you have reasonably steady income that comfortably exceeds your basic expenses. If your income isn’t steady or doesn’t cover much more than the basics, you may need to track your spending more closely. Also, no budget in the world can fix a true income shortfall, where there’s not enough coming in to cover your basic bills. If that’s the case, you need more income, fewer expenses or outside help. One place to start your search for aid is 211.org, which provides links to charitable and government resources in many communities. Otherwise, though, you can craft a spending plan with the following steps. START WITH YOUR MUST-HAVES Must-have costs include housing, utilities, food, transportation, insurance, minimum debt payments and child care that allows you to work. Using the 50/30/20 budget, these costs ideally would consume no more than 50% of your after-tax income. That leaves 30% for wants (entertainment, clothes, vacations, eating out and so on) and 20% for savings and extra debt payments. A budgeting app or your last few credit card and bank statements can help you determine your must-have costs. The more these expenses exceed that 50% mark, the harder you may find it to make ends meet. For now, you can compensate by reducing what you spend on wants. Eventually, you can look for ways to reduce some of those basic expenses, boost your income or both. “After tax,” by the way, means your income minus the taxes you pay. If other expenses are deducted from your paycheque, such as health insurance premiums or 401(k) contributions, add those amounts to your take-home pay to determine your after-tax income. If you don’t have a steady job or are self-employed, forecasting your after-tax income can be tougher. You can use a previous year’s tax return or make an educated guess about the minimum income you expect to make this year. A withholding calculator can help you determine what you’re likely to have left after taxes. AUTOMATE WHAT YOU CAN Automatic transfers can put many financial tasks on autopilot, reducing the effort needed to achieve goals. If you don’t automate anything else, automate your retirement savings to ensure you’re saving consistently. Also consider saving money in separate accounts — often called “savings buckets” — to cover big, non-monthly expenses such as insurance premiums, vacations and car repairs. Online banks typically allow you to set up multiple savings accounts without requiring minimum balances or charging fees. You can name these accounts for different goals, and automate transfers into those accounts so the money is ready when you need it. My family typically has eight to 12 of these savings accounts at our online bank. I figure out how much I want to have saved by a certain date, divide by the number of months until that date and send the resulting amount, via automated monthly transfers, from our checking account. MANAGING WHAT’S LEFT Return to your after-tax monthly income figure. Subtract your must-have expenses, your contributions to retirement and savings accounts, and any extra debt payments you plan to make consistently. What’s left is your spending money for the month. (Nothing left? Try winnowing some of those must-haves or set less ambitious savings or debt pay-down goals.) In the olden days, you might have put cash in an envelope and used it for your spending money. Once the envelope was empty, you were supposed to stop spending. Some people still do that, but in today’s digital, contactless world, you might prefer other approaches. The easiest would be to put all your spending on a single credit card that’s dedicated to this purpose and paid in full every month. (And since you’re paying in full, consider using a cash back or other rewards card to get some extra benefit from your spending.) Check your balance every few days or set up alerts to let you know when you’re approaching your spending limit for the month. To protect your credit score, you can make payments periodically throughout the month so your balance stays low compared to your credit limit. Alternatively, you could use more than one card, a debit card or a spending app that’s tied to your checking account, such as Venmo, PayPal or Zelle. A budget app or spreadsheet can help keep you on track. You also could consider setting up a separate checking account just for this spending. Again, many online banks offer checking accounts without minimum balance requirements or monthly fees. Your budget won’t be perfect and you’ll have to make adjustments as you go. But at least you, and your money, will be headed in the right direction. ____________________________________ This column was provided to The Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet. Liz Weston is a columnist at NerdWallet, a certified financial planner and author of “Your Credit Score.” Email: email@example.com. Twitter: @lizweston. RELATED LINK: NerdWallet: Budgeting 101: How to Budget Money http://bit.ly/nerdwallet-budgeting Liz Weston Of Nerdwallet, The Associated Press
Starting next week, Austria will introduce a similar rule nationwide.View on euronews
SUDBURY, Ont. — A class has been sent home from a Sudbury, Ont., elementary school following a confirmed case of COVID-19. Parents of a senior kindergarten/Grade 1 class at St. David's Catholic elementary school were told their children should stay home. Director of Education Joanne Benard says in a letter issued to parents on Sunday that the person with the confirmed case of the novel coronavirus is self-isolating. She says public health officials will notify the parents of anyone considered a close contact. Benard also says all students in the class should self-isolate until Jan. 29 and get tested for the virus as soon as possible. She says "it's understandable that this situation may make caregivers anxious" and says parents of children in other classes should notify the school if they choose to keep their youngsters at home. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 18, 2021. The Canadian Press
Moscow is ready for a quick deal with the incoming administration of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden to extend the last remaining arms control pact, which expires in just over two weeks, Russia's top diplomat said Monday. Months of talks between Russia and President Donald Trump's administration on the possible extension of the New START treaty have failed to narrow their differences. The pact is set to expire on Feb. 5. Biden has spoken in favour of the preservation of the New START treaty, which was negotiated during his tenure as U.S. vice-president, and Russia has said it’s open for its quick and unconditional extension Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at a news conference Monday that Moscow is ready to move quickly to keep the pact alive. “The most important priority is the absolutely abnormal situation in the sphere of arms control,” Lavrov said. “We have heard about the Biden administration’s intention to resume a dialogue on this issue and try to agree on the New START treaty's extension before it expires on Feb. 5. We are waiting for specific proposals, our stance is well-known and it remains valid." New START envisages the possibility of its extension for another five years, and Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that Moscow is ready to do so without any conditions. The Kremlin also has voiced readiness to prolong the pact for a shorter term as Trump's administration had pondered. The talks on the treaty's extension have been clouded by tensions between Russia and the United States that have been fueled by the Ukrainian crisis, Moscow's meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and other irritants. Sunday's arrest of Putin's leading critic Alexei Navalny in Moscow after his return from Germany where he was recovering from a nerve agent poisoning he blamed on the Kremlin would further cloud Russia-U.S. ties. Joe Biden’s pick for national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, called on Russian authorities to free Navalny. “Mr. Navalny should be immediately released, and the perpetrators of the outrageous attack on his life must be held accountable,” Sullivan said in a tweet. New START was signed in 2010 by U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. It limits each country to no more than 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads and 700 deployed missiles and bombers, and envisages sweeping on-site inspections to verify compliance. Arms control advocates have strongly called for its preservation, warning that its expiration would remove any checks on U.S. and Russian nuclear forces, striking a blow to global stability. Vladimir Isachenkov, The Associated Press
The emergency department at Kings County Memorial Hospital in eastern P.E.I. will open at 8 a.m. Monday as usual, after being forced to close on Sunday. Heavy rain and melting snow caused flooding in that area of the Montague hospital on Sunday, forcing its closure at midday. It was uncertain at the time when it would be able to open again. Health PEI confirmed Monday morning the department was ready to reopen. The emergency department at the hospital is open daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. More from CBC P.E.I.
OTTAWA — As new cases of COVID-19 surge across Canada, the federal government and the provinces have been imposing stricter measures to try to limit the illness's spread. The Canadian Press interviewed three leading Canadian experts in disease control and epidemiology, asking their thoughts on Canada's handling of the pandemic, the new restrictions on activities — and what else can be done. Here's what they had to say. John Brownstein, Montreal-born Harvard University epidemiologist and chief innovation officer at Boston Children's Hospital Having a national testing strategy in Canada that uses rapid tests people could do at home would limit the spread of the virus, Brownstein says. "That would enable us to get insight on infection and actually have people isolate," he says. No such tests have been approved in Canada yet. "We've been saying this all along, so it's not just a purely Canadian issue, but having a strategy that implements that kind of information would go a long way to drive infections down in communities while we wait for the vaccine." Brownstein says curfews have unintended consequences because they force people to get together over a shorter period of time during the day. "We haven't seen a lot of evidence that curfews have driven down infection." He says a mix of testing and quarantine is the best way to make sure international travellers don't cause outbreaks when they return from the pandemic hot spots. Testing alone is not enough, he says, because tests can come back negative during the novel coronavirus's incubation period; people should be careful about relying on test results that could give a false sense of security. Brownstein says pandemic fatigue is real and the governments' support for people suffering in the crisis should continue. He says promoting low-risk activities, including walking and exercising outdoors, is also important. "Whatever we can do to allow for people to spend more time outside, probably the better." David Juncker, professor of medicine and chair of the department of biomedical engineering at McGill University Canada needs a national strategy for how to use rapid tests for the virus that causes COVID-19, says Juncker. Juncker is an adviser for Rapid Test and Trace, an organization advocating for a mass rapid-testing system across Canada. "Initially the Canadian government (spoke) against (rapid tests) and then they pivoted sometime in October or September," he says. The federal government then bought thousands of rapid tests and sent them to the provinces, where they've mostly sat unused. "Every province is trying to come up with their own way of trying them — running their own individual pilots. There's a lack of exchange of information and lack of guidelines in terms of how to best deploy them," he says. Juncker says the testing regime based on swabs collected in central testing sites was working in the summer but it collapsed in the fall. He says medical professionals prefer those tests because they are more accurate and can detect low levels of the virus, which is important for diagnoses, but rapid tests can be useful for public health through sheer volume, if they're used properly. A federal advisory panel's report released Friday, laying out the best uses for different kinds of tests, is a step in the right direction, he says. "I'm happy to see we're slowly shifting from the point of view of 'Should we use rapid tests?' to a point of view (of) 'How can we best use them?'" More recent research suggests that rapid tests are more accurate than was previously thought, he says. "We still don't have enough capacity to test everyone so we'd have to use them in a strategic way." Juncker says the lockdowns in Ontario and Quebec should have happened earlier in the fall, when cases started to rise. He says the late lockdowns in Canada won't be as effective as those in countries such as Australia, New Zealand and South Korea, where early lockdowns effectively stopped the disease from spreading. "Countries that were most aggressive early on, are the ones that have, I think, the best outcome." He says countries where health decisions are fragmented across the country, including Canada, have added challenges. "If you live in Ottawa-Gatineau, you have one province (that) allows one thing, the other province allows another thing, so this creates confusion among the citizens," he said. Donald Sheppard, chair of the department of microbiology and immunology in the faculty of medicine at McGill University and member of Canada's COVID-19 therapeutics task force: Canada's federal-provincial sharing of power over health care is highly inefficient and has led to major problems, says Sheppard. "There's a lot breakdown in communication, a lot of territorialism. It's greatly impacted the efficiency of the response," he says. The problems in long-term care homes are examples. "Quebec is screaming they want money but they're refusing to sign on to the minimum standards of long term care," he says. "I think it's heinous." He says highly centralized authority and decision-making has had a stifling effect on innovation. "It puts up roadblocks, and has led to the Canadian health-care system having lost any attempt to be innovative and nimble," he says. Sheppard says he doesn't think there will be mass vaccinations for Canadians this summer and the September timetable that the federal government is talking about for vaccinating everybody is optimistic. "Remember that we don't have vaccines that are approved in under-11-year-olds," he says. "There will still be opportunities for the virus to circulate in children, particularly children are in school settings." He suggested that the current immunization campaign's goal is not herd immunity, eliminating transmission of the virus and rendering is extinct. "The goal here is to create an iron wall of immunity around the 'susceptibles' in our population, such that this becomes a virus of the same public health importance as influenza." This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 18, 2020 ——— This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship. Maan Alhmidi, The Canadian Press
For the last four years, the Dr. Hugh Twomey Health Care Centre in Botwood has been without 24-hour emergency services. Just prior to the 2019 provincial election, then-premier Dwight Ball pledged to bring those services back to the hospital in the fall of 2020 once a protective care unit was finished. According to Exploits MHA Pleaman Forsey, the time has come for the Liberal government to come through on its promises. “We are left with a commitment from the Liberal minister of health to review the service after the long-term care facility was finished in Botwood,” Forsey said in a prepared statement this week. “That’s not good enough.” The provincial government stripped the hospital of the service in 2016 in a move by Central Health to reduce its operating budget. An analysis completed by the Department of Health in 2018 indicated patient data supported the decision. Forsey recently sent an email to Central Health about the issue and was told the new health unit is expected to be in use by the end of this month. “This creates added stress to the residents of the Exploits district,” Forsey said of not having 24-hour emergency services. The provincial government's department of health and community services said in a statement the work on the protective unit was nearing completion and the matter of returning to 24-hour service will be looked at when it is done. "Following the completion of construction, the demand and the staffing will be examined to see whether or not there is a need to change the way emergency services are provided to the people in Botwood," wrote a spokesperson for the department. On several occasions since Ball pledged the return of 24-hour emergency services, the Botwood council has written to Gander MHA John Haggie, the minister of health and community services, regarding the status of emergency services at the hospital. Botwood Mayor Scott Sceviour said responses the town has received have not indicated if or when any announcement will be made about the return of regular emergency services. At the time, the town was caught off guard by the decision to alter the emergency services at the hospital. It was expected to help save money, but the mayor says little money has been saved by the decision. “There was no justification for it,” he said. “It was a surprise to all of us.” Now that the area MHA has brought the issue to the forefront again, Sceviour said the town will write to Premier Andrew Furey about the commitments of his predecessor and bring him up to speed on the situation. Botwood is scheduled to have a council meeting this week, where the issue will be on the agenda. “We are going to hold this government to the promise,” said Sceviour. Nicholas Mercer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Central Voice
En entrevue au journal Haute-Côte-Nord, le médecin spécialiste en santé publique et médecine préventive au CISSS de la Côte-Nord, Richard Fachehoun, a confirmé que la situation était inquiétante en Haute-Côte-Nord en raison de l'augmentation du nombre de cas de COVID-19, dont ceux dans les écoles primaires. « Les cas sont beaucoup plus élevés qu'on s'attendait dans la MRC de la Haute-Côte-Nord », indique Dr Fachehoun. Selon ce dernier, la hausse du nombre des infections à la COVID-19 dans une petite communauté augmente les risques que les personnes vulnérables soient malades et que des complications surviennent. « Les personnes vulnérables sont celles qui vivent le plus de complications quand elles sont atteintes de la COVID-19. Si elles sont infectées, elles risquent de se retrouver hospitalisées, ce que nous ne souhaitons pas », déclare-t-il. En ce qui concerne les deux cas enregistrés dans deux écoles de la Haute-Côte-Nord au cours des derniers jours, le médecin spécialiste en santé publique affirme que la collaboration se déroule très bien. « Les classes touchées ont été placées en isolement préventif, les parents ont été informés par une lettre et la santé publique a également communiqué avec eux pour les aviser des consignes à suivre », soutient Dr Fachehoun précisant que la santé publique fera un suivi de la situation durant les deux prochaines semaines. Même si la situation peut paraître inquiétante, le médecin-conseil assure aux parents que les milieux scolaires sont sécuritaires. Il insiste toutefois pour que les enfants qui présentent des symptômes, « aussi légers soient-ils », se fassent dépister rapidement. « Il ne faut pas attendre, surtout qu'il n'y a pas de cas de grippe présentement. » Milieux de travail Quant aux 5 cas enregistrés en Haute-Côte-Nord le 14 janvier, un seul concerne le milieu scolaire. « Les quatre autres sont reliés entre eux et concernent une éclosion dans un milieu de travail », assure Dr Richard Fachehoun. D'ailleurs, le médecin spécialiste demande aux gestionnaires de la MRC de privilégier le télétravail lorsque possible. « Il faut renforcer les mesures mises en place comme la surveillance des symptômes, le lavage des mains, le port du couvre-visage et le respect du 2 mètres de distanciation entre les employés », rappelle-t-il. Le nombre de tests de dépistage effectué demeure stable depuis les deux dernières semaines. Toutefois, Dr Fachehoun croit qu'il sera en augmentation en raison des éclosions qui sont survenues au cours des derniers jours. « La collaboration de la population est importante pour protéger la région et notre système de santé », de conclure le médecin spécialiste en santé publique.Johannie Gaudreault, Initiative de journalisme local, Journal Haute-Côte-Nord
Indian opposition parties called on Monday for an investigation into chat messages from a top TV anchor that they said showed prior knowledge of air strikes carried out by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government against Pakistan in 2019. Arnab Goswami, editor-in-chief of Republic TV network, told the head of a TV ratings agency that India would launch a "bigger than a normal strike" on its arch-rival - three days before Indian combat jets struck alleged militant targets on Pakistani soil. "On Pakistan, the government is confident of striking in a way that people will be elated," a transcript of the messages sent by Goswami said.
Saskatchewan's premier is calling reports of U.S. president-elect Joe Biden scrapping the Keystone XL pipeline expansion "disappointing." Biden is set to take office Wednesday, and transition documents show the Keystone cancellation will be a priority for his administration. In a statement Sunday night, Premier Scott Moe said the project is "critical to North American energy security" and will have a "tremendous employment impact" in both countries. Moe also noted the project has "garnered significant Indigenous support" and is expected to be fully powered by renewable energy by 2030. "While I am urging the Prime Minister to leverage his relationship with Mr. Biden, Saskatchewan will continue exercising our contacts in Washington D.C. to advocate for the continuation of this project that clearly benefits both of our nations," Moe wrote. Moe's comments come after much criticism from other politicians across the country — including Alberta's premier, Jason Kenney. On Sunday, Kenney said in a statement posted to social media that he's deeply concerned that Biden may repeal the pipeline's presidential permit. "Doing so would kill jobs on both sides of the border, weaken the critically important Canada-U.S. relationship and undermine U.S. national security by making the United States more dependent on OPEC oil imports in the future," Kenney said. TC Energy, the primary owner of the Keystone XL pipeline, has plans to have the project up and running by 2023. If completed, the 1,897-kilometre pipeline would carry 830,000 barrels of crude oil a day from the oilsands in Hardisty, Alta. to Nebraska, connecting to the original Keystone pipeline that runs to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries.
MANILA, Philippines — Coronavirus infections in the Philippines have surged past 500,000 in a new bleak milestone with the government facing criticism for failing to immediately launch a vaccination program amid a global scramble for COVID-19 vaccines. The Department of Health reported 1,895 new infections Sunday, bringing confirmed coronavirus cases in the country to 500,577, the second highest in Southeast Asia. There have been at least 9,895 deaths. The Philippines has been negotiating with seven Western and Chinese companies to secure 148 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine but the effort has been fraught with uncertainties and confusion. About 50,000 doses from China-based Sinovac Biotech Ltd. may arrive later next month followed by much larger shipments, according to the government, but concerns have been raised over its efficacy. President Rodrigo Duterte says securing the vaccines has been difficult because wealthy nations have secured massive doses for their citizens first. Duterte’s elite guards have acknowledged they have been inoculated with a still-unauthorized COVID-19 vaccine partly to ensure that they would not infect the 75-year-old president. Duterte’s spokesman and other officials have denied the president himself was vaccinated. A flurry of criticism has followed the illegal vaccinations, but few details have been released, including which vaccine was used and how the guards obtained it. Some senators moved to investigate, but Duterte ordered his guards not to appear before the Senate. In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region: — Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga vowed Monday to get the pandemic under control and hold the already postponed Olympics this summer with ample coronavirus protection. In a speech opening a new parliament session, Suga said his government will revise laws to make anti-virus measures enforceable with penalties and compensation. Early in the pandemic, Japan was able to keep its virus caseload manageable with non-binding requests for businesses to close or operate with social distancing and for people to stay home. But recent weeks have seen several highs in new cases per day, in part blamed on eased attitudes toward the anti-virus measures, and doubts are growing as more-contagious variants spread while people wait for vaccines and the Olympics draw closer. The health ministry also reported Monday that three people who have no record of recent overseas travel had tested positive for the new, more easily transmitted coronavirus variant first reported in Britain, suggesting that it is making its way in Japan. Suga said his government aims to start vaccinations as early as late February. Japan has confirmed more than 330,000 infections and 4,500 deaths from COVID-19, numbers that have surged recently though they are still far smaller than many other countries of its size. — A Chinese province grappling with a spike in coronavirus cases is reinstating tight restrictions on weddings, funerals and other family gatherings, threatening violators with criminal charges. The notice from the high court in Hebei province did not give specifics, but said all types of social gatherings were now being regulated to prevent further spread of the virus. Hebei has had one of China’s most serious outbreaks in months that comes amid measures to curb the further spread during February’s Lunar New Year holiday. Authorities have called on citizens not to travel, ordered schools closed a week early and conducted testing on a massive scale. Hebei recorded another 54 cases over the previous 24 hours, the National Health Commission said on Monday, while the northern province of Jilin reported 30 cases and Heilongjiang further north reported seven. Beijing had two new cases and most buildings and housing compounds now require proof of a negative coronavirus test for entry. — Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin has unveiled a new 15 billion ringgit ($3.7 billion) stimulus to bolster consumption, with the economy expected to reel from a second coronavirus lockdown and an emergency declaration. Muhyiddin obtained royal consent last week to declare a coronavirus emergency, slammed by critics as a desperate bid to cling to power amid defections from his ruling coalition. The emergency, expected to last until Aug. 1, doesn’t involve any curfew or military intervention but suspends Parliament, halts any election and gives Muhyiddin’s government absolute power, including in introducing new laws. It came at the same time as millions in Kuala Lumpur and several high-risk states were placed under a two-week lockdown to halt a surge in coronavirus cases. Muhyiddin on Monday acknowledged concerns over the emergency but repeated that it was only aimed at curbing the coronavirus. He said the economic impact from the lockdown will be manageable because more activities are being allowed this time. He said the stimulus will provide more funds to battle the pandemic and support livelihoods and businesses. A businessman has filed a lawsuit challenging the emergency declaration and the opposition plans to appeal to the king to rescind his support. Malaysia has recorded more than 158,000 coronavirus cases, including 601 deaths. — Nepal’s health ministry says the country's first cases of the new, more infectious coronavirus variant first found in the United Kingdom have been confirmed in three people who arrived from the U.K. The ministry said Monday that samples from six people who arrived in Nepal last week were sent to a laboratory in Hong Kong with the help of the World Health Organization. Three of the people — two men and a woman — tested positive for the new variant, it said. Two have recovered and one is still sick, the ministry said. Nepal has recorded 267,322 coronavirus cases, including 1,959 deaths. The Associated Press
Sherbrooke — Tout le monde a le pouvoir d’économiser sur son épicerie, peu importe le temps qu’on a à y consacrer, croit la couponneuse aguerrie, mère et courtière immobilière Vicky Armstrong Béliveau. Même si ses années de couponnage intensif sont derrière elle, la Sherbrookoise croit que ce moment de crise est parfaitement choisi pour partager ses meilleures astuces d’épargne et redonner au prochain. La jeune femme, qu’on a même vue dans l’émission à succès Un souper presque parfait sous le surnom de la « couponneuse perfectionniste », en 2017, utilise toujours plusieurs de ses trucs, même si sa situation financière est plus confortable qu’à ses débuts il y a sept ans. « Je m’étais lancé un défi personnel d’apprendre le couponnage parce que je suis tombée enceinte de ma petite puce, et je suivais des cours de courtage le soir. La nuit, quand j’allaitais toutes les deux heures, j’étais sur des sites de couponnage pour voir ce qu’on allait faire. » Depuis quelques années, elle prend maintenant soin de faire don de plusieurs de ses trouvailles à Moisson Estrie. En trois ans, c’est plus de 100 kg de produits qu’elle estime avoir retirés de ses grandes étagères pour en faire bénéficier les moins nantis. « Je réussis à obtenir plein de produits gratuits ou presque; c’est certain que mon cœur en arrache. J’ai habité en Afrique, et j’ai vu comme c’est difficile de boire un simple verre d’eau là-bas. Alors chaque année, j’essaie de donner le plus possible », confie celle qui en profite déjà pour sensibiliser sa fille en l’impliquant dans le processus de dons. « Couponner » en 4 étapes À l’image de cette ère numérique, la méthode en quatre astuces qu’utilise Mme Armstrong Béliveau repose en grande partie sur l’utilisation d’applications mobiles. Premièrement : les rabais de la semaine en épicerie. Mais pas besoin de circulaire papier : « Ce qui est génial, ce sont les applications Flipp ou Reebee, qui regroupent toutes les circulaires de tous les magasins au même endroit. Avec Reebee, on peut même voir les rabais de la semaine prochaine. On peut faire une liste d’achats dans l’application qui sera ensuite divisée par magasin. » En répertoriant les rabais de différents commerces, celle-ci mise ensuite sur les « imbattables », des politiques appliquées chez Maxi et Walmart qui consistent à égaler les prix de la concurrence à la caisse. La deuxième étape, c’est de rassembler divers coupons qu’elle trouve en ligne. Celle-ci propose notamment des sites comme save.ca, websaver.ca et utilisource.ca. « En jumelant les imbattables et les coupons, je n’ai jamais payé de dentifrice ni de brosse à dents. Je suis encore à écouler mes stocks d’il y a quatre ans », se réjouit Mme Armstrong Béliveau. Son troisième truc : l’application Checkout 51, qui propose chaque semaine des remises en argent lorsqu’on achète certains produits. « Je regarde à l’avance quels produits offrent des remises. Ensuite, au retour de l’épicerie, ils demandent que je prenne ma facture en photo dans l’application pour démontrer que j’ai acheté le produit. Ils mettent l’argent dans mon compte et je reçois un chèque dès que j’atteins 20 $ de remises. J’ai déjà fait de l’argent avec ça, parce que j’avais eu quelque chose gratuitement à cause de mes imbattables et de mes coupons. » Finalement, comme quatrième source d’économies, l’experte recommande vivement l’utilisation de programmes de récompenses, comme PC Optimum (dans les magasins Provigo, Maxi et Pharmaprix), qui permettent aussi d’accumuler des remises en argent et d’utiliser le montant sur son épicerie dès qu’on atteint 10 $. Organisé et assumé « Rien n’oblige à utiliser les quatre trucs. Les gens peuvent y aller à leur rythme. Moi, j’étais une passionnée maniaque! Mais avec la COVID-19, tout ce qui se passe et les gens qui perdent leur emploi, ça peut être tellement intéressant de prendre 10 ou 15 heures dans la semaine. », mentionne-t-elle, encourageant les gens à surmonter leur orgueil et les préjugés de file d’attente. Somme toute, l’organisation et le respect demeurent primordiaux. « Il y a des gens qui attendent derrière. On peut les avertir ou le mentionner à la caissière pour qu’elle ferme à l’avance. Je mets mes imbattables dans le haut de mon panier pour les passer en dernier et j’apporte les bons coupons dans une enveloppe. À l’époque, j’avais monté un gros cartable avec mes coupons classés par date. » Si on prévoit faire de grandes économies, il est aussi préférable de prévoir l’espace de rangement nécessaire, et être prêt à changer de marque selon les différents spéciaux.Jasmine Rondeau, Initiative de journalisme local, La Tribune
A Burk’s Falls man is hoping to help those who may be feeling isolated during the second provincial lockdown by bringing back good old-fashioned letter writing. Ryan Baptiste, 32, began the project shortly after the success of the letters to Santa Claus initiative he began before the holidays upon hearing the whisperings of another impending lockdown due to rising COVID-19 numbers. “We can see the emotional effects that lockdown can have on individuals,” said Baptiste, who graduated as an addictions and mental health counsellor in 2011. “We started this as a means to keep people connected and hopefully let them know that there are people out there that care about their well-being.” For the pen pals project, people can drop off a letter and Baptiste — along with two other volunteers, Nicole Byng who lives in Toronto, and Debbie Hope who lives in Almaguin — will reply. While counselling isn’t a full-time job for Baptiste, he said he cares deeply, and the effects of COVID-19 can be felt heavily across the profession. “More intake, referrals and virtual sessions with those who are struggling with the isolation is creating larger backlogs,” he said, adding that lockdowns, isolation and social distancing exacerbate pre-existing mental health conditions or addictions. After seeing the success of Baptiste’s Santa mailbox, Penny Brandt, who runs a centre for healing arts at 195 Ontario St. in Burk’s Falls, reached out to him to offer him a spot in front of her office. Brandt shares office space with Yolande’s Hair Salon. “I loved what I saw Ryan do at Christmastime with the letters to Santa, and that really hits the heartstrings because of the children and how important it is,” said Brandt. “He has a councillor background, (but) he’s also understanding that there are some awfully lonely people out there that have nobody and sometimes people want to remain anonymous as well.” “So, when I saw that he was looking for a spot to put the mailbox on the main street it was like hey, and I checked with Yolande and she was fine with it, and I thought, this can only help,” she said, mentioning that everyone is suffering mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually and financially in some way due to COVID-19. “The other thing, for me, is remembering that empathy is a starting point for actually creating a community and taking action like Ryan has just done,” Brandt said. “It is the start of change.” The COVID-19 pen pals mailbox can be found at 195 Ontario St. in front of I Am Centre for Healing Arts and Yolande’s Hair Salon or for those who don’t want to venture outside, they can email firstname.lastname@example.org. Sarah Cooke’s reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative. Sarah Cooke, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, muskokaregion.com
Le tiers des déplacements des Lavallois (34 %) dans une journée les amène ailleurs qu’à Laval, ce qui en fait les résidents les plus mobiles du Grand Montréal. Voilà ce qui ressort de la dernière enquête Origine-Destination, l’une des plus importantes études de transport au Québec. Les Longueillois arrivent deuxième à ce chapitre alors que 29 % de leurs déplacements quotidiens les conduisent au-delà des limites de la 5e plus grande ville du Québec, suivis des résidents des couronnes sud (27 %) et nord (20 %). Sans surprise, les Montréalais ferment la marche, eux dont 89 % des déplacements se limitent à leur île. Menée à l’automne 2018, cette enquête quinquennale ventile les motifs des déplacements des résidents sortants sur une période donnée de 24 heures. C’est ainsi qu’on apprend que 6 Lavallois sur 10 (59,4 %) sortent de l’île Jésus pour aller travailler. Pour un peu moins de 2 personnes sur 10 (15,4 %), ce sont les études qui en sont la cause. Enfin, 10,5 % de ce groupe dit sortir de Laval aux fins de loisirs et 4,1 % pour magasiner. L’île de Montréal exerce de loin le plus grand pouvoir d’attraction auprès de ces Lavallois qui s’y rendent dans une proportion de 66 %. La Couronne nord que constituent les régions des Laurentides et Lanaudière accueille 30 % de cette clientèle alors que moins de 4 % privilégie la Couronne sud. Cette vaste étude effectuée auprès de quelque 6000 ménages lavallois établit également la part modale des déplacements motorisés des résidents sortants de Laval, et ce, sur une période de 24 heures. Près de 3 personnes sur quatre (72,5 %) disent se déplacer exclusivement en automobile ou au guidon d’une moto contre 18,3 % des gens interrogés qui utilisent seulement les transports en commun, à savoir l’autobus, le métro, le train et/ou le taxi collectif. Le bimode est la réalité de 7,7 % des répondants, eux qui prennent l’automobile ou la moto pour accéder au transport en commun. Quant aux autres modes collectifs que représentent les transports adapté et scolaire, le taxi et l’autobus longue distance, ils comptent pour 1 % de la part modale des déplacements motorisés des Lavallois. En comparaison à 2013, le recours exclusif à l’automobile est en baisse d’un point de pourcentage à Laval. À l’inverse, l’usage exclusif du transport en commun a crû de 1,5 point en 2018 pendant que le bimode perdait la moitié d’un point de pourcentage. Cela dit, en pareille matière, les Lavallois ont encore beaucoup à faire s’ils veulent un jour rejoindre les Longueillois, qui utilisent nettement plus fréquemment les transports collectifs. Selon l’enquête Origine-Destination 2018, les résidents de cette municipalité de quelque 250 000 âmes, également desservie par le métro, recourent exclusivement aux modes de transport en commun dans 29,1 % de leurs déplacements motorisés. C’est tout près de 11 points de pourcentage de plus qu’à Laval. En d’autres termes, cette façon de se déplacer est 60 % plus élevée à Longueuil qu’à Laval. «La part modale est directement liée à la densité d’activités (domicile, emplois, études, commerces) des lieux d’origine et destination», explique le porte-parole de l’Autorité régionale de transport métropolitain (ARTM), Simon Charbonneau, tout en soulignant que cette densité d’activités est «légèrement supérieure à Longueuil». En matière d’emplois, par exemple, Longueuil compte 900 emplois au kilomètre carré contre 800 à Laval. «Le nombre de déplacements de Longueuil vers le centre-ville (secteur à très haute densité d’activités) est également plus élevé, ce qui favorise aussi une part modale plus élevée actuellement», analyse-t-il. Source d’information fiable et complète sur les déplacements des personnes à pied, à vélo, en bus, en métro, en train ou en auto dans la région métropolitaine de Montréal, l’enquête Origine-Destination a permis d’établir à quelque 800 000 le nombre de déplacements par les résidents de Laval pour un jour moyen de semaine. En matière de modes de transport actif, cette mesure prise à l’automne 2018 ne tient compte que des déplacements vers une destination précise, mentionne Daniel Bergeron, directeur exécutif Planification des transports et mobilité à l’Autorité régionale du transport métropolitain (ARTM). Incidemment, cette enquête contribue activement à une meilleure planification des réseaux de transport collectif et routier et à l’amélioration des plans de développement urbain du Grand Montréal (voir autre texte). À lire également: On veut hausser l’offre de service de 60 % en 10 ans Stéphane St-Amour, Initiative de journalisme local, Courrier Laval
Calling an emergency responder. Accessing an affordable housing unit. Children learning inside school buildings, not portables. Patients receiving care in a hospital room, not a hallway. The services delivered in cities are the heartbeat of safe and comfortable communities, ones that attract residents, jobs, and investment opportunities for municipal and regional development. Municipalities own 60 percent of Canada’s infrastructure, according to StatsCan, and bear the corresponding duty to maintain its state of good repair with limited resources. Peel’s cities rely on funding from higher levels of government to provide key services to residents, including local children’s aid societies, healthcare, schools, and social services. A tacit feature of funding to Peel is – no matter the party colours at Queen’s Park or Parliament Hill – the hyper-growth region is not getting its “fair share” of public dollars, despite the equal contribution of local income taxpayers. During the pandemic, the latest examples from Ottawa and Queen’s Park include the federal government’s initial decision to give Toronto $14 million for COVID-19 isolation centres and none to Peel, before local efforts to point out the higher infection rates in the region forced the feds to allocate $6.5 million to Peel. Queen’s Park, meanwhile, despite socio-economic conditions that drove higher case counts in Peel, gave Toronto 17 provincial testing centres, but funded only 4 in Peel, which advocates said was one of the reasons the viral spread was not properly contained in the hard hit region. “What the pandemic has done is put more of a spotlight on how we’re chronically underfunded,” said Regional Councillor Martin Medeiros, of Brampton. “The leader of any political party needs the 905 to win a majority, and we’ve delivered…But when it comes to getting love, we don’t get the love. Why is that?” Local leaders have struggled to glean an answer to this for more than three decades. But what was once a booming battle cry to put pressure on upper levels of government – most recently via a campaign called the Peel Fair Share Task Force – has been reduced like a diminuendo to a restless hum. Nine months shy of the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, in June 2019, Brampton councillors began making some noise through demands for increased funding to address its healthcare emergency. They highlighted the dangerous lack of hospital beds in the city, which has less than half the per capita number of Ontario overall. The city receives $1,000 less in funding for healthcare, per person, about half the provincial average. These inequities have been magnified during the pandemic. The region has had the highest infection rates in the province, and residents were put at increased risk because of the chronic failure of healthcare funding, which has left local hospitals particularly vulnerable to capacity issues. Prior to the pandemic, the three full-service hospitals in Mississauga and Brampton were already among the worst in Ontario for performance, with average wait times to be admitted between two-and-a-half and three times higher than the provincial target of 8 hours. As part of its 2020 budget asks, the City launched a “Fair Deal for Brampton” campaign for immediate funding to expand Peel Memorial hospital’s urgent care capabilities, fund the second phase of its build, and create a third healthcare facility. A city of about 650,000 residents, Brampton currently has only one full-service hospital, Brampton Civic, operated by the William Osler Health System. More than one-third of Brampton’s population has at least one chronic condition, and the City says it is projected to have the highest rate of dementia between 2015 and 2025. According to a 2014 study by researchers at St. Michael’s Hospital in collaboration with Peel Public Health, the region was headed for a rate of one in six people having diabetes by 2025, largely due to the significant South Asian-Canadian population, which suffers much higher rates of the disease than the general population. At the time, it was one in ten, as reported by Peel’s former medical officer of health in 2018. According to the City’s pre-pandemic data, the emergency department at Brampton Civic was equipped for 90,000 visits a year, but received about 130,000, while Peel Memorial is funded for 10,000 visits a year and received 75,000. Patient-loads have skyrocketed over the course of the pandemic. As of January 15, Osler’s system was treating 109 COVID-19 patients, where about nine weeks ago, patient transfers were triggered around the time when it was treating just 64 people. In October, Premier Doug Ford announced funding to support the addition of 766 beds for 32 hospitals in the province, including 46 at Etobicoke General Hospital, which is also in the Osler system, and 41 beds in Brampton, which has about 60 percent more residents than Etobicoke. The smaller community was also given two testing facilities through Osler during the first half of the pandemic, among the total of 17 in Toronto, while Brampton only had one. The apparent differential treatment between funding the two hospitals under Osler’s management is a snapshot of the issues facing Brampton as it seeks its fair share from the province, Councillor Medeiros said. “They gave [funding] to Etobicoke without any ties. Notwithstanding, it’s the Premier’s riding,” Medeiros said. “Yet, when the City of Brampton is looking for more investment in healthcare, and we're looking to complete the second phase of Peel Memorial Hospital, they say that there’s provincial legislation requirements that we give 20 to 30 percent as a contribution.” A lack of commensurate allocation by the Province and federal governments has also affected Peel’s $1-billion Housing Master Plan, which has not yet been fully funded. The plan seeks to create 280 emergency shelter beds and another 5,300 affordable housing units by 2034. As previously reported by The Pointer, the federal government’s commitment of $276.5 million is on top of the Region’s $333.5 million, which has been criticized by Peel social services staff as being “significantly and disproportionately high.” Regional Councillor Annette Groves, of Caledon, said that local taxes and development charges are not sufficient to support the wealth of services offered by Peel. “I don't think it has anything to do with the current government. I think that it’s been such a long, outstanding battle,” Groves told The Pointer. “The Province has given us some funding to help with the pandemic, and so has the federal government, but again, it’s still not enough because we’re so far behind in terms of, for example, affordable housing.” Both Queen’s Park and Ottawa are guilty of a form of hypocrisy. The federal government sets immigration targets for the whole country, 401,000 for 2021 and growing to 421,000 in 2023. But it does not establish a funding formula for those municipalities that willingly accommodate newcomers. Brampton, over the past two decades, has welcomed more immigrants per capita than any other large city in Canada, but the federal government does little to provide adequate services and infrastructure for the hyper-growth community that openly supports the country’s immigration policies through its growth planning. Queen’s Park, meanwhile, relies desperately on Peel to accommodate the province’s largest share of population growth, but continues to ignore the funding needs it creates through provincial growth legislation, known as the Places To Grow Act. While Mississauga and Brampton rapidly expand, schools, for example, are not brought on line fast enough by the Province, forcing the use of portables, which have become a common feature in Peel’s education landscape. GO services are also glaringly under-funded, as more and more commuters move into the region without proper transportation infrastructure. The list of inadequate funding commitments for Peel grows every year. On top of education and healthcare, affordable housing, transportation, public health, settlement support, legal aid, children’s aid and almost every other funding area are all under-funded in Peel. For example, despite skyrocketing demand, Mississauga’s legal aid clinic receives far less funding per capita than Toronto. In 2019 the co-executive director of the city’s legal aid clinic, Douglas Kwan, said it receives the second lowest funding per capita of all legal aid clinics in Ontario: the lowest – Brampton. Led by Mississauga Councillor Carolyn Parrish, Peel revived efforts in its Fair Share for Peel coalition about four years ago to address its municipalities receiving less than half of the per capita rate of others in Ontario. In the fall of 2017, the Region organized a $90,000 conference with neighbouring municipalities, called the Summit 4 Fair Funding, to encourage a dialogue surrounding funding needs ahead of the 2018 provincial election. According to the Brampton Guardian, the summit was later cancelled after staff were not able to obtain transparent formulas as to how funding transfers were calculated from the provincial and federal governments. The effort followed years of pressure, culminating in an earlier effort in 2011 to assess underfunding and service delivery obstacles including those for seniors, people with disabilities, and victims of violence and abuse. As Peel braces for what February brings during the pandemic, the Region’s Governance Committee continues to advocate for government dollars. After almost a year of neglect, which contributed to Peel’s designation as a COVID-19 hot spot, and its placement in the current lockdown on November 23, the Ontario Ministry of Health recently agreed to a one-time funding disbursement of $14-million to Peel Public Health, to “support extraordinary costs associated with monitoring, detecting, and containing COVID-19 in the province.” Email: email@example.com Twitter: @LaVjosa COVID-19 is impacting all Canadians. At a time when vital public information is needed by everyone, The Pointer has taken down our paywall on all stories relating to the pandemic and those of public interest to ensure every resident of Brampton and Mississauga has access to the facts. For those who are able, we encourage you to consider a subscription. This will help us report on important public interest issues the community needs to know about now more than ever. You can register for a 30-day free trial HERE. Thereafter, The Pointer will charge $10 a month and you can cancel any time right on the website. Thank you. Vjosa Isai, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Pointer
BEIJING — Chinese state media say 12 out of 22 workers trapped for a week by an explosion in a gold mine are alive, as hundreds of rescuers seek to bring them to safety. The Xinhua News Agency said Monday a note passed through a rescue shaft Sunday night reported the fate of the other 10 remains unknown. The handwritten note said four of the workers were injured and that the condition of others was deteriorating because of a lack of fresh air and an influx of water. Managers of the operation were detained after they failed to report the accident for more than a day. The mine in Qixia, a jurisdiction under the city of Yantai in Shandong province, had been under construction at the time of the blast, which occurred Jan. 10. More than 300 workers are seeking to clear obstructions while drilling a new shaft to reach the chambers where the workers were trapped and expel dangerous fumes. “Keep on with the rescue efforts. We have hope, thank you," read the note, written in pencil on notebook paper and posted on Xinhua's official website. China's mining industry has a reputation for skirting safety requirements amid massive demand for coal and precious minerals, although increased supervision has reduced the frequency of accidents that used to claim an average of 5,000 miners per year. Two accidents in the southwestern megacity of Chongqing last year killed 39 miners, prompting the central government to order another safety overhaul. The Associated Press
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Saudi Arabia, for years one of the world's most prolific executioners, dramatically reduced the number of people put to death last year, following changes halting executions for non-violent drug-related crimes, according to the government’s tally and independent observers. The Saudi government’s Human Rights Commission said Monday it documented 27 executions in 2020. That's compared to an all-time high of 184 executions the year before as documented by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. The change represents an 85% reduction in the number of people put to death last year, compared to 2019. "The sharp decrease was brought about in part by a moratorium on death penalties for drug-related offences,” the Saudi rights commission said. When asked by The Associated Press, the commission said the new law ordering a stop to such executions came into effect sometime last year. The new directive for judges does not appear to have been published publicly and it was not immediately clear whether the law was changed by royal decree, as is typically the case. The AP previously reported that Saudi Arabia last year also ordered an end to the death penalty for crimes committed by minors and ordered judges to end the controversial practice of public flogging, replacing it with jail time, fines or community service. The force behind these changes is 34-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has the backing of his father, King Salman. In an effort to modernize the country, attract foreign investment and revamp the economy, the prince has spearheaded a range of reforms curtailing the power of ultraconservative Wahhabis, who adhere to a strict interpretation of Islam that many Saudis still practice. For years, the kingdom's high rate of executions was in large part due to the number of people executed for non-lethal offences, which judges had wide discretion to rule on, particularly for drug-related crimes. Amnesty International ranked Saudi Arabia third in the world for the highest number of executions in 2019, after China where the number of executions is believed to be in the thousands, and Iran. Among those put to death that year by Saudi Arabia were 32 minority Shiites convicted on terrorism charges related to their participation in anti-government protests and clashes with police. While some crimes, such as premeditated murder, can carry fixed punishments under the Saudi interpretation of Islamic law, or Shariah, drug-related offences are considered “ta’zir,” meaning neither the crime nor the punishment is defined in Islam. Discretionary judgments for “ta’zir” crimes led to arbitrary rulings with contentious outcomes. The kingdom has long been criticized by independent rights groups for applying the death sentence for non-violent crimes related to drug trafficking. Many of those executed for such crimes were often poor Yemenis or low-level drug smugglers of South Asia descent, with the latter having little to no knowledge of Arabic and unable to understand or read the charges against them in court. Saudi Arabia carries out executions mainly by beheading and sometimes in public. The kingdom had argued that public executions and those of drug traffickers serve as a deterrent to combat crime. “The moratorium on drug-related offences means the kingdom is giving more non-violent criminals a second chance," the president of the government's Human Rights Commission, Awwad Alawwad, said. In a statement obtained by the AP, he said the change represents a sign the Saudi justice system is focusing more on rehabilitation and prevention rather than solely on punishment. According to Human Rights Watch, there were just five executions for drug-related crimes last year in Saudi Arabia, all in January 2020. Human Rights Watch Deputy Middle East Director Adam Coogle said the decrease in executions is a positive sign, but that the Saudi authorities must also address “the country’s horribly unfair and biased criminal justice system that hands down these sentences.” “As authorities announce reforms, Saudi prosecutors are still seeking the death penalty for high-profile detainees for nothing more than their peaceful ideas and political affiliations,” he said. “Saudi Arabia must immediately end all executions and death sentences for non-violent crimes.” ___ Follow Aya Batrawy on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ayaelb Aya Batrawy, The Associated Press