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Coronavirus: What’s happening in Canada and around the world on Wednesday

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The latest:

As schools reopen across much of the country, some are voicing concern about the rising number of COVID-19 cases among students and worrying that not enough is being done to protect both children and teachers. 

As of 3 p.m. ET on Wednesday, Canada had 139,444 confirmed or presumptive coronavirus cases. Provinces and territories listed 122,180 of those as recovered or resolved. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC’s reporting stood at 9,233.

Ontario’s Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board has confirmed its first student case of COVID-19 at one of its schools, marking the region’s first reported infection in a school. 

Stella Maris Catholic Elementary School in Amherstburg, Ont., was first notified of the diagnosis Tuesday morning, board officials said, and classmates of the COVID-positive student were dismissed through the day and asked to self-isolate for two weeks.

WATCH | How the first day of school looks in a pandemic:

The National follows a Toronto family on their first day of school during the COVID-19 pandemic. 3:24

“As soon as we were made aware of the positive case we contacted the health unit,” said Melissa Farrand, the school board’s COVID-19 lead. She said the health unit then worked with the school principal to find those who had been in close contact.

Five positive cases of COVID-19 have also been recorded within the Saskatoon school and daycare systems since students began returning to class last week.

“Due to the block scheduling and safety protocols that are currently in place, the SHA has determined the risk to be very low for our school community and there is no evidence of community transmission,” said a letter shared with parents.

Meanwhile, in Hamilton, Ont., educators and their unions are becoming increasingly worried about what they say is a large number of students not wearing masks in local public schools.

A teacher looks out into the hallway at Hunter’s Glen Junior Public School in Toronto. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Jeff Sorensen, president of the Hamilton-Wentworth Elementary Teachers’ Local, told CBC News there are complaints coming from staff at schools, with one school apparently reporting 25 per cent of students not wearing masks.

Families can opt out of mandatory masking in Hamilton schools if their children have medical issues that would prevent them from using a face covering or mask or if they have difficulty breathing in one. But they don’t need to provide any proof.

“It’s alarming,” Sorensen said.

Internationally, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said closing schools again should be a “last resort” and only applied in places with high levels of transmission.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus touted the importance of keeping schools open, when possible, and warned that the more kids are out of school, the less likely they are to return in many places.

“Distance learning” should be available where possible, Tedros said. 

WATCH | Students ask: What do we do with masks at recess?

An infectious diseases specialist and epidemiologist answer questions about COVID-19 and back to school, including what to do with masks during recess and whether reusable lunch kits should be avoided. 7:13

In Canada, the transition to virtual schooling has not been a smooth one, with issues like parents feeling left in the dark, postponements, enrolment lists in flux and technical hiccups.

“I have zero faith that [schools are] organized… The feeling I get is that they don’t have a plan, they’re not prepared,” said Ashley St John, a Toronto mother of a blended family of five children between the ages of two months and 12 years.

Parents in Calgary are also decrying a lack of key information and details about the Calgary Board of Education’s Hub online learning program, which was slated to begin as early as Monday.

“We just don’t have any information as to what time we need to be home and in front of our computers to be able to let the kids connect with their teachers,” said Tamara Rose, who is working from home full time due to multiple autoimmune diseases. 


What’s happening around the rest of Canada

In Quebec, the wife of Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet said she is in self-isolation after testing positive for COVID-19.

In a tweet, Nancy Deziel said she was tested Monday after losing her sense of smell.

Deziel said she and those close to her will be in isolation until next Tuesday. She’s continuing to work remotely as a scientist and city councillor in Shawinigan, Que.

Blanchet himself, along with the Bloc Québécois caucus, was already in isolation as a precaution, after a member of his staff tested positive Monday.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, tested positive for COVID-19 early in the pandemic but has recovered.

Ontario will lower the limits on social gatherings in a bid to stem a recent increase in COVID-19 cases.

Premier Doug Ford’s office has confirmed the move but won’t say when the new health guidelines will be available. The current limit on social gatherings is 50 people indoors and 100 outdoors.

Provincial health officials have attributed the spike in cases largely to people not following public health guidelines at social gatherings.

Ford has promised to take actions in the regions where most of the cases have emerged — Toronto, Peel, and Ottawa. He has also not ruled out further lockdowns in those areas if virus case numbers aren’t brought under control.

Ontario reported another 315 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday — more than half of which are in people under 40.

With a sudden spike in cases prompting more people to get tested, Canadians are coping with hours-long lineups at COVID-19 testing centres across the country — and some medical experts are calling on Health Canada to approve new devices to deliver faster results.

WATCH | How Ford says Ontario is preparing for a second wave: 

Saying a second wave of COVID-19 may be even more complicated than the first one, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said his government has been working around the clock to prepare for it. 3:05

Concerned parents and their children faced four-hour waits at Ottawa’s primary testing facility on Monday. A similar scene greeted those looking for a test on Tuesday. At Toronto’s William Osler drive-thru testing centre, residents were kept waiting for more than three hours.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said Tuesday that one approach to the crush of people looking for tests could be the deployment of rapid-testing devices. Seven months into this pandemic, these devices still are not available for use in Canada because Health Canada regulators haven’t yet approved them.

“I totally agree with a number of comments from experts that we need to augment the portfolio of testing capabilities in Canada,” Tam told a news conference.

(CBC News)

Health officials in Ottawa are urging people who don’t have symptoms or have not been referred to stop clogging up test sites.

There have been what they’ve described as record-breaking lines at testing centres recently as the city’s positive tests surge to levels not seen since early May.

Officials say most people coming for testing don’t need to be there, which is causing a backlog. 

“Most simply [get tested] if you have symptoms or you’ve been referred by public health,” said Vera Etches, Ottawa’s medical officer of health, in a news conference Tuesday. 


What’s happening around the world

The new president of the United Nations General Assembly is warning that unilateralism will only strengthen the COVID-19 pandemic and is calling for a new commitment to global co-operation including on the fair and equitable distribution of vaccines.

Turkish diplomat and politician Volkan Bozkir, who took over the reins of the 193-member world body on Tuesday, announced that the General Assembly will hold a high-level special session on the COVID-19 pandemic in early November, though diplomats said the date may slip.

Bozkir told diplomats from UN member nations, seated at physically distanced spaces in the assembly chamber, that “no state can combat this pandemic alone,” and it is the members’ responsibility “to strengthen people’s faith in multilateral co-operation and international institutions, with the UN at their centre.”

A worker opens a COVID-19 test site in South London on Wednesday. The Department of Health has appealed to the U.K.’s biomedical sector for 400 further laboratory technicians as the nation’s return to school increases demand for tests. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Spain’s official death toll for the coronavirus surpassed 30,000. The total cases increased beyond 600,000, as Spain became the first European country to reach that threshold.

The Health Ministry added 9,400 new confirmed infections to the total and 156 deaths.

The country has been experiencing one of Europe’s steepest second curves of contagion, with new cases increasing since mid-July. With 1,273 patients in ICUs, Spain has as many beds devoted to treat grave patients of COVID-19 as France, the United Kingdom, Germany and Italy together. Officials say selective lockdowns could be back in place by next week. 

Amid growing anger over a bottleneck in the United Kingdom’s creaking coronavirus testing system, the government promised on Wednesday to do whatever it takes to boost laboratory capacity, which has left people across the land with no way to get a COVID-19 test.

In an attempt to slow one of the highest coronavirus death tolls in the West, Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised in May to create a “world-beating” system to test and trace people exposed to the virus.

A cleaner disinfects a street of Palma de Mallorca, Spain, in the early hours of Wednesday morning. (Jamie Reina/AFP/Getty Images)

But repeated attempts by Reuters reporters to get COVID-19 tests failed, while at a walk-in testing centre at Southend-on-Sea in eastern England, hundreds of people were queuing to get a test — some from as early as 5 a.m. GMT.

“Laboratory capacity has been an issue. We are working our way through that,” Justice Secretary Robert Buckland told Sky News.

WATCH | Respirologist describes ‘alarming’ wait times for COVID-19 testing:

Testing capacity for the coronavirus could be boosted with a rapid testing device, even if it’s not entirely accurate, says Dr. Samir Gupta, an associate professor at the University of Toronto. 5:48

The WHO regional director for Latin America is warning the region is reopening too soon.

During a virtual briefing, Carissa Etienne said coronavirus cases in Colombia’s border area with Venezuela have increased ten-fold in the last two weeks, and that death rates are climbing in parts of Mexico, with similar trends in Ecuador, Costa Rica, Bolivia and areas of Argentina. 

“We must be clear that opening up too early gives this virus more room to spread and puts our populations at greater risk. Look no further than Europe,” she said.

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Mexico City School Owner Convicted in 2017 Collapse | World News

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MEXICO CITY (AP) — The owner and director of an elementary school that collapsed in Mexico City during the 2017 earthquake has been found guilty of charges equivalent to manslaughter.

The school collapse killed 26 people in the devastating magnitude 7.1 earthquake in September 2017.

The Mexico City prosecutor’s office said late Thursday it has requested a sentence of 57 years in prison for Mónica García Villegas. Sentencing will be held next week.

The collapse of the Enrique Rebsamen school killed 19 children and seven adults and came to symbolize the corruption and impunity that plague Mexican construction.

Officials have said García Villegas’ decision to build an apartment atop the school contributed to the collapse.

As in other cases, authorities apparently failed to enforce building and operation regulations prior to the quake, which killed 228 people in the capital and 141 others in nearby states.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Today’s coronavirus news: Tory calls alarming jump of 130 new cases in Toronto ‘troubling’; Ontario surpasses 400 infections for first time since June; Canada/U.S. border closure extended to Oct. 21

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KEY FACTS

  • 11:35 a.m.: Canada/U.S. border closure extended to Oct. 21

  • 11 a.m.: Tory calls alarming jump in Toronto ‘troubling’

  • 10:23 a.m.: Ontario surpasses 400 infections for first time since June

  • 9:05 a.m.: EMA recommending steroid for treatment

The latest coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Friday. This file will be updated throughout the day. Web links to longer stories if available.

12:53 p.m. Voters in the Toronto ridings of York Centre and Toronto Centre will vote in federal byelections on Monday, Oct. 26. Both vacancies are in seats that were held by the governing Liberals.

12:21 p.m.: The British Columbia Teachers Federation is asking the Labour Relations Board to address its concerns about health and safety measures during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Documents filed with the board say the federation has heard from many of its members about “inconsistent and inadequate” health and safety precautions in schools.

The complaint says the protections do not meet what was promised by the provincial government over the summer about reopening schools.

The teachers have filed the submission under a section of the Labour Relations Code that allows the board to make settlement recommendations if disputes arise while a collective agreement is in force.

The federation urges the labour board to act on an “expedited basis” to resolve concerns that may cause teachers to “refuse to perform unsafe work” or file a “tsunami of grievances” about how school districts have implemented Ministry of Education policies.

The ministry did not immediately respond with a comment.

The B.C. government announced in July that most students would go back to school full time in September. The ministry said Thursday that 85 per cent of kindergarten to Grade 12 students have returned.

12:19 p.m.: The federal minister overseeing key aid programs for workers during the pandemic says there could still be changes to a proposed package of income-support benefits as the country faces renewed pressure from COVID-19.

That includes caregiver payments for anyone who can’t go to work because their child’s school or daycare is closed, or they have to keep them home for COVID-19 reasons.

To get the help after the fact, workers would have to show they could not work at least 60 per cent of their usual hours, or about three days out of a five-day workweek.

Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough says she’s heard that eligibility criteria might be too restrictive for parents who have to take off a day or two to wait in hours-long lines for a COVID-19 test.

She says the proposed package and eligibility rules are a baseline and that the government wants them to be flexible to take into consideration that some people may only need one or two days.

The alternative would be to start from scratch on benefits, which Qualtrough says the Liberals want to avoid.

12:16 p.m.: As the six-month freeze on federal student loan payments nears its end, students are calling for an extension of the measure they say offered relief from the financial pressures of the pandemic.

Bryn de Chastelain, chair of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, says his group wants Ottawa to extend the moratorium.

He says the job market is still reeling from COVID-19, creating stress among students and recent grads juggling loans, high tuition costs and other bills.

Ottawa suspended repayments for approximately one million borrowers in repayment from March 30 to Sept. 30, saying no interest would accrue on students loans during the same period.

12:15 p.m.: Several provinces are imposing tougher measures in a bid to tackle a rapid increase in new COVID-19 cases.

Quebec has announced a blitz to enforce public health rules, saying they’ll send officers to 1,000 bars across the province over the weekend.

The province, which has been the hardest hit by the novel coronavirus, announced 297 new cases on Friday.

Ontario, meanwhile, hiked fines for those caught congregating in overlarge groups to $10,000, and cut down the maximum size of gatherings in three hotspot regions.

In Toronto, Ottawa and Peel region, only 10 people will be allowed to gather indoors — down from the current limit of 25 — while the number for outdoor gatherings will drop to 25 from 100.

Ontario reported 401 new cases on Friday — a daily increase not seen since June.

But soaring case numbers are not limited to the two provinces that have been hardest hit by the virus.

British Columbia, for instance, reported 165 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday — an all-time daily high for the province where cases started soaring in August in spite of a previously flattened curve.

12:13 p.m.: Deputy public health officer Dr. Howard Njoo declines to say generally there’s a second wave across Canada.

The seven-day average of new daily cases is now 849, he said at his daily media briefing.

“It’s too early to declare a second wave, but the increase is the trend that’s concerning us.”

11:50 a.m.: Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet has tested positive for COVID-19, the party says.

His wife said earlier this week she had tested positive.

Blanchet was already in self-isolation after a staff member contracted the illness.

In a statement, Blanchet says he feels healthy.

11:35 a.m. (updated): Public Safety Minister Bill Blair says the partial closure of the border with the United States is being extended another month, to Oct. 21.

Crossings of the border have been largely restricted to trade goods, essential workers and citizens returning home since March, in an attempt to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Blair and his American counterpart, acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, each tweeted the latest one-month extension of the closure agreement this morning.

The pandemic has raged in the United States throughout the spring and summer, and cases in Canada have recently started rising again as well.

At the same time, leaders in border communities have asked federal authorities to loosen restrictions slightly to allow people with links on both sides to live more normally.

The Conservatives also called Friday for Blair to allow more compassionate exemptions to the closure, such as for people who are engaged to be married or where loved ones are seriously ill.

11:10 a.m.: New Democrat Leader Jagmeet Singh is accusing his Liberal and Conservative counterparts of doing the bidding of big business during the pandemic.

Singh takes the swipe at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole in a speech today that lays out the NDP’s priorities ahead of next week’s throne speech.

Singh is calling on the Liberals to do more to help working people cope with the economic hardship of the COVID-19 crisis.

That includes extending benefits for unemployed Canadians that he says the Liberals are planning to curtail.

He’s also calling on the government to do more to help seniors, and address the crises in climate change and affordable housing.

But Singh is differentiating himself from Trudeau and O’Toole by telling his supporters his two main political rivals are essentially in the back pocket of big business and the “super-rich,” who he says have profited massively during the pandemic at the expense of working people.

11 a.m.: In light of an alarming jump Friday in new COVID-19 infections in Toronto, Mayor John Tory says the city is looking hard at new restrictions.

Calling the increase of 130 cases for Toronto reported by the provincial governmen “troubling,” Tory said rules could include applying the new smaller gathering limits to banquet halls and other businesses.

Toronto had asked Premier Doug Ford to apply the new limits — 10 people indoors, 25 people outdoors — to businesses that host wedding.

But the new rules announced this week for Toronto, Peel and Ottawa apply only to private events and not Ones hosted by businesses.

The mayor said city officials will over the weekend what other steps Toronto can take on its own.

Tory said he learned Friday of a fifth Toronto wedding where infections occurred.

Toronto is also expected next week to introduce new mandatory mask rules applying to workplaces.

The Star’s David Rider and Jennifer Pagliaro has the story.

10:23 a.m. (updated): Ontario is reporting 401 new cases of COVID-19 today, a daily increase not seen since early June.

Health Minister Christine Elliott says Toronto is reporting 130 new cases, with 82 in Peel Region and 61 in Ottawa.

She says nearly 70 per cent of the new cases are in people under the age of 40.

The total number of cases in Ontario now stands at 46,077, which includes 2,825 deaths and 40,600 cases classified as resolved.

There were also 176 cases newly marked as resolved over the past 24 hours.

The province says it processed 35,826 tests over the previous day.

The Star’s Rob Ferguson has the story.

10:15 a.m.: Hamilton has its first confirmed case of COVID connected to a school.

A late-Thursday release from Hamilton public health says a staff member at the Umbrella Family and Child Centres of Hamilton’s before- and after-school program at Templemead Elementary School tested positive for COVID-19. Templemead is located on the east Mountain and is part of the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board.

“HWDSB is working with public health officials to facilitate case and contact tracing,” the release states.

No information was provided on when the person tested positive, nor what their role with the program is or when they last worked.

“It is vital that personal health information and identifiers are not released, and the privacy of everyone involved is respected,” the release states.

10:10 a.m. Two Canadian film and television organizations say hundreds of productions and thousands of jobs are on hold because the government has yet to intervene and help them get COVID-19 insurance.

The Canadian Media Producers Association and the Association québécoise de la production médiatique say $1 billion in production volume is at risk because of the lack of insurance options.

They have identified 214 camera-ready film and TV projects that cannot move forward because they can’t find insurance and say those productions would generate 19,560 jobs.

The organizations pitched a federal government-backed insurance program in June, but say politicians have yet to act on the proposal.

The groups say the lack of government help now means that the entertainment industry is facing an even more dire situation and they hope intervention will come soon.

Several Canadian productions were halted when COVID-19 started spreading across the country in March, but many are slowly returning with added precautions, including mandatory distancing and mask policies.

9:05 a.m.: The European Medicines Agency is recommending an inexpensive steroid be licensed for the treatment of people with severe coronavirus who need oxygen support.

The EMA says it is endorsing the use of dexamethasone in adults and adolescents age 12 or older who need either supplemental oxygen or a ventilator to help them breathe. The drug can be taken orally or via an infusion.

In June, British researchers published research showing dexamethasone can reduce deaths by up to one third in patients hospitalized with severe coronavirus. Shortly afterward, the U.K. government immediately authorized its use in hospitals across the country for seriously ill coronavirus patients.

Steroid drugs like dexamethasone are typically used to reduce inflammation, which sometimes develops in COVID-19 patients as their immune system kicks into overdrive to fight the virus.

9:02 a.m.: Statistics Canada says retail sales rose 0.6 per cent in July to $52.9 billion, helped by higher sales at motor vehicle and parts dealers and gasoline stations.

Economists had expected an increase of 1.0 per cent for the month, according to financial markets data firm Refinitiv.

Statistics Canada says sales were up in six of 11 subsectors in July with the motor vehicle and parts dealers subsector contributing the most to the increase with a 3.3 per cent increase. Sales at gasoline stations rose 6.1 per cent.

However, the agency said core retail sales, which exclude those two subsectors, fell 1.2 per cent.

Sales at building material and garden equipment and supplies dealers fell 11.6 per cent, while sales at food and beverage stores dropped 2.1 per cent.

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Retail sales in volume terms were up 0.4 per cent in July.

8:07 a.m.: Young people are reporting higher levels of stress and anxiety due to the COVID-19 pandemic compared to those over age 60 despite their significantly lower risk of dying from the virus itself, a new study has revealed.

Levels of generalized anxiety disorder and major depressive disorder are proving to be the highest and more prevalent among those under 25, while those over age 60 reported the lowest levels for both disorders.

These numbers are revealed in new research published in early September by Dr. Izunwanne Nwachuchwu from the University of Calgary, alongside researchers from the University of Alberta and Alberta Health Services. The study shows that 96 per cent of people under age 25 said they’ve experienced moderate or high levels of stress as a result of the pandemic, compared to 68 per cent of people over the age of 60.

Read the full story by the Star’s Nadina Yousif

7:31 a.m.: Canada’s top curling teams are trying to cobble together a competitive fall season despite the COVID-19 pandemic decimating the calendar.

The Grand Slam of Curling was whittled from six events this winter to just two scheduled for next April and November’s Canada Cup of Curling was cancelled, creating a competitive void for the country’s elite curlers.

A slew of September and October bonspiels across Canada have been called off, but some remain on the calendar.

Curling Canada’s return-to-play guidelines provide a template for events to go ahead with several modifications on and off the ice to prevent the spread of the virus.

“We want to play as much as we can under whatever guidelines are set and get some competition in,” said skip Brad Jacobs of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

“That’s about all we can hope for. It’s not about going out and trying to win prize money and points. None of that stuff really matters.

6 a.m.: British Health Secretary Matt Hancock has hinted that fresh restrictions on social gatherings in England could be announced soon as part of efforts to suppress a sharp spike in confirmed coronavirus cases.

Following reports that the government was considering fresh curbs on the hospitality sector, such as pubs and restaurants, Hancock said this is a “big moment for the country.”

He said that another national lockdown is the “last line of defence” and that most transmissions of the virus are taking place in social settings.

Hancock says the government’s strategy over the coming weeks is to contain the virus as much as possible “whilst protecting education and the economy.”

The government has come under sustained criticism in the past week following serious issues with its virus testing program.

5:45 a.m.: Confirmed cases of the coronavirus have topped 30 million worldwide, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally.

The worldwide count of known COVID-19 infections climbed past 30 million on Thursday, with more than half of them from just three countries: the U.S., India and Brazil, according to the tally kept by Johns Hopkins researchers.

The number increased by 10 million in just over a month; global cases passed 20 million on August 12.

5:31 a.m.: Joe Biden on Thursday went after President Donald Trump again and again over his handling of COVID-19, calling Trump’s downplaying of the pandemic “criminal” and his administration “totally irresponsible.”

“You’ve got to level with the American people — shoot from the shoulder. There’s not been a time they’ve not been able to step up. The president should step down,” the Democratic presidential nominee said to applause from a CNN drive-in town hall crowd in Moosic, outside his hometown of Scranton.

Speaking about Trump’s admission that he publicly played down the impact of the virus while aware of its severity, Biden declared: “He knew it and did nothing. It’s close to criminal.”

Later, Biden decried Americans’ loss of basic “freedoms” as the U.S. has struggled to contain the pandemic, like the ability to go to a ball game or walk around their neighbourhoods. “I never, ever thought I would see just such a thoroughly, totally irresponsible administration,” he said.

5:21 a.m.: China says imported coronavirus cases climbed to 32 over the previous 24 hours.

Thirteen of the cases reported Friday were in the northern province of Shaanxi, whose capital Xi’an is a major industrial centre. The eastern financial and business hub of Shanghai reported 12.

China has gone more than a month without reporting any cases of locally transmitted coronavirus cases within its borders.

5:18 a.m.: U.N. World Food Program chief David Beasley is warning that 270 million people are “marching toward the brink of starvation” because of the toxic combination of conflict, climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Beasley on Thursday urged donor nations and billionaires to contribute $4.9 billion to feed the 30 million he said will die without U.N. assistance.

He reminded the U.N. Security Council of his warning five months ago that “the world stood on the brink of a hunger pandemic,” and welcomed the response, which averted famine and led countries to fight back against the coronavirus.

Beasley said the U.N. food agency is keeping people alive “and avoiding a humanitarian catastrophe” but he said “the fight is far, far, far from over.”

5:14 a.m.: India’s coronavirus cases have jumped by another 96,424 infections in the past 24 hours, showing little signs of slowing down.

The Health Ministry on Friday raised the nation’s confirmed total since the pandemic began to more than 5.21 million. It said 1,174 more people died in the past 24 hours, for a total of 84,372.

India is expected within weeks to surpass the reported infections seen in the United States, where more than 6.67 million people have been reported infected, the most in the world.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday made a fresh appeal to people to use face masks and maintain social distance as his government chalked out plans to handle big congregations expected during a major Hindu festival season beginning next month.

5:10 a.m.: The Australian government on Friday announced a 5 million Australian dollars ($3.7 million) grant to the national news agency as part of pandemic-related assistance to regional journalism.

Australian Associated Press is critical to media diversity and has consistently demonstrated its commitment to accurate, fact-based and independent journalism over its 85-year history, including a strong contribution to regional news, Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said in a statement.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered unprecedented challenges for Australia’s regional media sector, with severe declines in advertising revenue threatening the sustainability of many news outlets,” Fetcher said.

AAP provides services to more than 250 regional news mastheads across Australia, covering public interest content on national, state and regional news. This allows regional mastheads to concentrate on local news stories important for their communities, he said.

AAP Chair Jonty Low and Chief Executive Emma Cowdroy welcomed the funding as an “endorsement of the role that AAP plays in providing a key piece of Australia’s democratic Infrastructure.”

5 a.m.: Israel is set to go back into a full lockdown later Friday to try to contain a coronavirus outbreak that has steadily worsened for months as its government has been plagued by indecision and infighting.

The three-week lockdown beginning at 2 p.m. (1100 GMT) will include the closure of many businesses and strict limits on public gatherings, and will largely confine people to their homes. The closures coincide with the Jewish High Holidays, when people typically visit their families and gather for large prayer services.

In an address late Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that even stricter measures may be needed to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed. There are currently more than 46,000 active cases, with at least 577 hospitalized in serious condition.

“It could be that we will have no choice but to make the directives more stringent,” Netanyahu said. “I will not impose a lockdown on the citizens of Israel for no reason, and I will not hesitate to add further restrictions if it is necessary.”

Under the new lockdown, nearly all businesses open to the public will be closed. People must remain within 1 kilometre (0.6 miles) of home, but there are several exceptions, including shopping for food or medicine, going to work in a business that’s closed to the public, attending protests and even seeking essential pet care.

4:05 a.m.: Four conservative-minded premiers are to issue today their wish list for next week’s throne speech on which the fate of Justin Trudeau’s minority Liberal government could hinge.

Quebec’s François Legault, Ontario’s Doug Ford, Alberta’s Jason Kenney and Manitoba’s Brian Pallister plan to hold a news conference in Ottawa to spell out what they hope to see in the speech.

Billions more for health care is likely to top their list.

Ford and Legault last week called on Ottawa to significantly increase the annual federal transfer payments to provinces and territories for health care.

The transfer this year will amount to almost $42 billion under an arrangement that sees it increase by at least three per cent each year.

On top of that, the federal government is giving provinces and territories $19 billion to help them cope with the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, including some $10 billion for health care.

4 a.m.: A new survey finds that young people have been vaping less frequently since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

The survey, conducted by the Lung Association of Nova Scotia and Smoke-Free Nova Scotia, finds that respondents decreased vaping to five days per week from six, on average.

They also cut back to an average of 19 vaping episodes per day, down from 30.

The survey funded by Heart & Stroke also found the decrease in vaping frequency is most notable in British Columbia and Ontario.

The researchers say it may be related to warnings of potential complications from COVID-19 for e-cigarette users.

The survey heard from more than 1,800 respondents between 16 and 24 years old, and found most begin vaping at around the age of 15.

Thursday 8.18 p.m. B.C. has once again topped its previous daily record for new COVID-19 cases, the Richmond Sentinel reports.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced 165 new cases since Wednesday. That raises the total number of cases since the pandemic began to 7,663. There are 1,705 active cases, an increase of 91 from yesterday, and of nearly 300 from a week ago, the Sentinel reports.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said it’s important to put the high case count in context; yesterday, there were 7,674 tests conducted across B.C., the highest number in a single day since the pandemic began.

Click here for more of Thursday’s COVID-19 coverage.



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France seeks EU sanctions on Turkey over energy tensions | World News

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NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — France on Friday backed Cyprus’ calls for the European Union to consider imposing tougher sanctions on Turkey if the Turkish government won’t suspend its search for energy reserves in eastern Mediterranean waters where Cyprus and Greece claim exclusive economic rights.

French Minister for European Affairs Clement Beaune said sanctions should be among the options the 27-member bloc considers employing if Turkey continues to “endanger the security and sovereignty of a member state.”

“We believe that the European Union must be ready to activate…all available tools and certainly to resort to sanctions, if developments don’t proceed in a positive direction,” Beaune said after talks with Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides in Nicosia.

EU leaders are set to hold a summit in a few days to discuss how to respond to Turkey’s refusal to recall a warship-escorted research vessel it dispatched to a part of the eastern Mediterranean that Greece maintains is over its continental shelf. The dispute has ratcheted up military tensions between the two NATO allies.

The tensions appeared to ease in the last week, with Greek and Turkish officials having contact after Turkey temporarily pulled back the research vessel. But Ankara extended its gas search in waters southeast of Cyprus until mid-October.

Turkey doesn’t recognize ethnically divided Cyprus as a state and insists it have every right to prospect for hydrocarbons in the eastern Mediterranean. It has vowed vowed do defend its rightful claims to the region’s energy reserves, as well as those of breakaway Turkish Cypriots.

Cypriot officials insist the EU shouldn’t set a “double standard” by imposing sanctions against Belarus for alleged voter fraud and police brutality while avoiding doing so when Turkey carries on its exploration at the expense of EU members.

Beaune said the EU cannot accept Turkish actions and that France has “committed” to resolving the issue while making its military presence felt in the eastern Mediterranean in support of its EU partners.

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This version corrects the spelling of the French minister’s surname to Beaune. not Baume.

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