Politics

Omicron takes hold, BC cleans up after last month’s flooding: In The News for Dec. 16

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In The News is a roundup of stories from The Canadian Press designed to kickstart your day. Here is what’s on the radar of our editors for the morning of Dec. 16 …

What we are watching in Canada …

Public health responses to protect against the Omicron variant vary across Canada, even as COVID-19 cases continue to rise in the country’s two most populous provinces.

As Ontario reported 1,808 new cases Wednesday, Premier Doug Ford announced that starting Monday, all adults will be eligible for booster shots, provided it has been at least three months since their second dose.

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Quebec Premier Francois Legault said his government may reconsider easing indoor gathering limits next Thursday to 20 people from 10 because of rising COVID-19 cases, as another 2,386 infections were reported in his province.

Omicron has now reached all four Atlantic provinces, as Newfoundland and Labrador confirmed its first case of the highly contagious variant. Early data suggests Omicron is more transmissible than the currently dominant Delta variant, with a doubling time of about two days.

In Alberta, more than 500,000 rapid antigen test kits will be made available for free at select health-care sites and pharmacies starting Friday, while anyone 50 and older and all health-care workers who had their second COVID-19 shot six months ago or more can immediately book a booster. However, Premier Jason Kenney also announced restrictions on private gatherings are being loosened to allow vaccinated and unvaccinated visitors from multiple households to socialize together indoors.

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British Columbia Health Minister Adrian Dix said the provincial government is considering further public health orders on public and private gatherings, with an announcement expected next week. But he said there are no plans at this time to immediately expand booster eligibility.

Both Saskatchewan and Manitoba said they plan maintain current public health restrictions.

Hours after the federal government reinstated a travel advisory against non-essential travel outside the country, Defence Minister Anita Anand tweeted she postponed a trip to Washington, D.C. after one of her staff has tested positive for COVID 19 after using a rapid antigen test.

Also this …

Unprecedented flooding in southwestern British Columbia has left hard-hit communities dealing with the disposal of everything from drywall and insulation to silt-soaked mattresses.

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Lia Bergen of Abbotsford says she was forced out of her home for nearly two weeks and return to damaged furniture, freezers, two cars and her husband’s heavy-duty work tools.

But sentimental items like letters from her grandmother and a crib her father made for her now 29-year son were also ruined.

Mayor Henry Braun says the city is working to set up a second waste transfer system for the mountain of garbage that will be picked up from outside homes.

He says ditches along 190 kilometres of roads in the Sumas Prairie area of the city are also filled with logs, bales of hay and items like propane tanks and vegetables stands, which were ripped from their foundation.

He says the costly recovery will take years.

What we are watching in the U.S. …

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MINNEAPOLIS — Prosecutors were expected to wrap up their case Thursday against the Minnesota police officer charged in Daunte Wright ‘s death, setting the stage for a defence that at some point will have Kim Potter directly addressing the jury.

Potter, 49, has said she meant to use her Taser when she shot and killed Wright on April 11, as he had pulled away from officers at a traffic stop and was trying to drive away. Body-camera video captured her shouting “I’ll tase you!” and “Taser, Taser, Taser!” before firing once.

Her attorneys have also argued that Potter would have been within her rights to use deadly force because a fellow officer was endangered by Wright’s attempt to flee.

The death of Wright, who was Black, set off angry demonstrations for several days in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center just as a white former officer, Derek Chauvin, was on trial in nearby Minneapolis for the killing of George Floyd. Potter, who is white, resigned two days after the shooting. She’s charged with manslaughter.

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It wasn’t clear when Potter would take the stand. Her attorneys also plan to call several character witnesses on her behalf, though the judge ruled Wednesday that they would be limited to three.

During Wednesday’s testimony, use-of-force expert Seth Stoughton testified for the prosecution that Potter acted unreasonably in shooting Wright.

“The use of deadly force was not appropriate and the evidence suggests a reasonable officer in Officer Potter’s position could not have believed it was proportional to the threat at the time,” said Stoughton, a professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law who also testified for the prosecution at Chauvin’s trial.

Wright’s father, Arbuey Wright, was called by prosecutors to provide “spark of life” testimony, which Minnesota courts allow to humanize a victim. He described his son as a typical big brother who joked a lot with his two younger sisters, and he said the family got together every Sunday. He was moved to tears when prosecutors showed jurors photos of him and his son with their arms around each other and one of Daunte Wright with his own son.

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What we are watching in the rest of the world …

MANILA, Philippines — Tens of thousands of people were being evacuated to emergency shelters in the southern and central Philippines on Thursday as a powerful typhoon approached.

Crowding in evacuation centres was complicating efforts to keep people safely distanced after authorities detected the country’s first infections caused by the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Forecasters said they last tracked Typhoon Rai, with sustained winds of 185 kilometres per hour and gusts of up to 230 kph, about 175 kilometres east of southern

Surigao del Norte province. It was moving northwestward at 25 kph. The typhoon, locally called Odette, was expected to hit the Dinagat Islands in the southeast later in the day, forecasters said.

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Several southern and central provinces were on typhoon alerts. Residents were warned to stay away from coastal and low-lying villages and other high-risk areas due to possible flash floods, landslides and tidal surges in or near the typhoon’s path.

Disaster response officials said about 10,000 villages lie in the projected path of the typhoon, which has a 400-kilometre-wide rain band and is one of the strongest to hit the country this year.

The Philippine coast guard said it has prohibited sea voyages in high-risk regions, stranding nearly 4,000 passengers and ferry and cargo ship workers in dozens of southern and central ports. Coast guard personnel and boats were on stand-by, it said. Dozens of mostly domestic flights have been cancelled.

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The Philippines is among the hardest hit countries in Southeast Asia by the pandemic, with confirmed infections of more than 2.8 million and more than 50,000 deaths. Quarantine restrictions have been eased and more businesses have been allowed to reopen in recent weeks after an intensified vaccination campaign helped reduce daily new infections to a few hundred from more than 26,000 in September.

The detection of the Omicron cases this week, however, has set off new alarms and the government renewed calls for people to avoid crowds and get vaccinated immediately.

On this day in 1991 …

The Canadian government agreed to create a third territory in the North called Nunavut. (It officially became a territory on April 1, 1999.)

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In entertainment …

TORONTO — Anne Murray wonders if it’s about time she stopped looking back on her illustrious singing career after so often replaying the past in recent years.

More than a decade into her retirement, the four-time Grammy winner has mostly stayed out of the limelight. But she’s also released a revealing autobiography and numerous album reissues. Now, the feature-length documentary “Anne Murray: Full Circle” debuts Friday on CBC and CBC Gem.

“I’m ready to stop going down memory lane,” the 76-year-old said in a recent phone interview from her Nova Scotia home.

Murray was never much for looking back, so when a Canadian production company approached her about retracing her legacy for a movie, she wasn’t initially sold on the idea.

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Past experiences with reflection haven’t always been pleasant, but Murray saw a feature-length documentary as both an “honour” and an opportunity. Aside from simply revisiting her accomplishments, she could dispel the myths of celebrity by sharing her own tales of hard work and personal sacrifice.

“People don’t see that,” Murray said of fame’s less glamorous side.

“Back then I had to work my bloody ass off. I had to promote everything. I did interviews morning, noon and night, and did television shows to promote other television shows to promote records.”

Leaving the modern-day Murray almost unseen, the documentary blends new audio interviews with the singer alongside never-before-seen footage pulled from her personal video archives.

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ICYMI …

OTTAWA – Conservative MPs will be free to travel internationally over the holidays while their Liberal and NDP counterparts have been told to stay home.

Politicians jet-setting to different vacation destinations drew much attention last year as federal and provincial governments told Canadians to forgo their travel and gathering plans to combat rising COVID-19 caseloads.

The federal Liberal government issued a new advisory Wednesday urging Canadians to avoid non-essential international travel because of the threat posed by the Omicron variant.

A Liberal official says the governing party’s MPs have been informed that they are to abide by the public health advice and avoid non-essential international travel.

Liberal House Leader Mark Holland says he has already cancelled a planned international trip to celebrate a family member’s 70th birthday in January, and is cutting back on plans to have a Christmas gathering with more than 20 people.

NDP whip Rachel Blaney says her caucus has also been advised to avoid non-essential international travel, adding that “Canadians expect elected officials to lead by example by following the rules.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 16, 2021

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