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Canadian Blood Services to recommend end to ban on donations from men who have sex with men – CBC.ca

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An end to the ban on gay and bisexual men from donating blood — promised by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2015 — is set to be recommended within weeks in favour of new screening criteria based on sexual history and behaviour.

Canadian Blood Services is preparing to ask Health Canada to allow it to scrap questions about gender or sexuality, basing screening on higher-risk sexual behaviour instead. Potential donors could be asked if they have had multiple sexual partners, and about their sexual behaviour instead of their sexuality and gender.

“Sexual behaviour, not sexual orientation, determines risk of sexual transmission of HIV. Our proposed criteria will aim to precisely and reliably identify those who may have a transfusion-transmissible infection, especially in the window period, regardless of gender or sexual orientation,” said Catherine Lewis, a spokeswoman for Canadian Blood Services, who declined to comment on the specifics of the recommendation.

Currently, men volunteering to give blood are asked if they have had sex with a man in the last three months. Women wishing to donate are asked if in the last three months they have had sex with a man who in the last 12 months had sex with another man.

The blood service says it is preparing to cite evidence from countries that do not ask donors such questions, as well as research on risk of HIV transmission, in its submission to Health Canada within the next six weeks.

A study of research into HIV transmission between January 2001 and May 2012 by the Public Health Agency of Canada found that “all studies consistently reported that anal intercourse is a higher-risk act than vaginal intercourse, which in turn is a higher-risk act than oral intercourse.”

The way the screening is currently set up lacks nuance, and also doesn’t address people who are transgender, two-spirit or otherwise don’t confirm to binary genders, said Nathan Lachowsky, one of several researchers whose work will inform Canadian Blood Services’ application.

“There’s a way in which to create solutions that are gender-neutral, meaning it’s not about who you are in terms of your sex and gender,” said Lachowsky, an assistant professor in the School of Public Health and Social Policy at University of Victoria. “That simplifies the system and makes it more accessible to more Canadians.”

U.K. recently changed criteria

The U.K. criteria for blood donation, which Blood Services says it has been considering along with that from other countries, does not include questions about sexual orientation. It asks potential donors whether they have had multiple partners and engaged in anal sex.

Gay and bisexual men who have had the same partner for three months or more can give blood in the U.K. But anyone who has had anal sex with a new partner or multiple partners in the previous three months — regardless of their partner’s gender — must wait three months before donating.

As it stands now in Canada, a gay man who has had sex with one partner in the last three months cannot give blood, but a straight man can, no matter how many partners he has had sex with during the same time frame.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has come under pressure from MPs and the LGBTQ community to scrap questions for donors aimed at gay men. (CBC)

While Canadian Blood Services tests all of its donated blood products for a whole host of diseases, including HIV, the agency says no test is 100 per cent accurate.

That’s why eligibility screening is such an important part of limiting the risk to blood recipients, according to the agency’s website.

Lachowsky, who did not comment on the specific questions that will be included in the Canadian proposal, said a neutral approach makes much more sense than basing restrictions on gender and sexuality.

“That means that we’re increasing, in my mind, the safety of the blood system broadly,” he said.

Changes ‘long overdue,’ says NDP MP

Trudeau has come under pressure from MPs and the LGBTQ community to scrap questions for donors aimed at gay men. During the election in September, Trudeau promised a change was imminent.

Randall Garrison, the NDP spokesperson on LGBTQ affairs, said the change is “long overdue.” He said many countries, including Italy, have no such criteria, “without any problems.” The MP has been pressing ministers to end the gay and bisexual blood-donation ban for almost 10 years.

“I have been calling for a shift to risk-based criteria for a decade. I have argued there are two things wrong [with this policy]: restricting the blood supply and promoting homophobia,” he said.

Health Canada, which regulates the blood service, can only change the criteria if evidence is presented showing this will not increase risk.

Canadian Blood Services has been analyzing available research to find the safest way to make the change. This includes an MSM (men who have sex with men) research program and a 2020 For the Assessment of Individualised Risk (FAIR) report from the U.K. about blood donation and risk.

The FAIR report highlighted anal sex and “chem sex,” or sexualized drug use, as a risk factor, but also warned that questions about anal sex could deter new donors.

“The safety of Canada’s blood supply will always be paramount for us. We have more evidence than ever before, stemming from the MSM Research Program, international data and Canada-specific risk modelling, that indicates sexual behaviour-based screening will not introduce risk to the blood supply,” Lewis said.

Canada introduced a lifetime ban for gay men in 1992. In 2013, it allowed blood to be accepted from a man who abstained from sex with another man for at least five years.

The waiting period then dropped to one year, and became three months in 2019.

Once Canadian Blood Services submits its application to change the screening requirements, it will be up to Health Canada to approve it. The process could take several months to a year before the changes take effect.

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Putin says Russia will follow up fast after Ukraine call with Biden

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Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that Russia would send ideas to Washington within a week to follow up his talks with U.S. President Joe Biden on the Ukraine crisis.

Neither side spoke of a breakthrough after the two-hour video call but they agreed to keep talking about what the Kremlin called “this complex confrontational situation”.

“We agreed we will continue this discussion and we’ll do it in a substantive way. We will exchange our ideas in the very near future. Russia will draw up its ideas literally in the coming days, within a week we will give this to the U.S. side to consider,” Putin told reporters.

The two leaders used Tuesday’s call to set out their opposing positions on Ukraine, which says it is braced for a possible invasion by tens of thousands of Russian troops close to its border.

Biden warned Putin that the West would impose “strong economic and other measures” on Moscow if it invaded, while Putin demanded guarantees that NATO would not expand eastward.

In his first public comments since the conversation, Putin said it was “provocative” to pose the question of whether Russia planned to attack Ukraine, and once again accused Kyiv and NATO of threatening Russia’s security.

“We cannot fail to be concerned about the prospect of Ukraine’s possible admission to NATO, because this will undoubtedly be followed by the deployment there of military contingents, bases and weapons that threaten us,” he said.

It would be “criminal inaction” on Russia’s part not to respond, he said.

“We are working on the assumption that our concerns, at least this time, will be heard.”

FIGHTER JETS

Russia, Ukraine and NATO have all stepped up military exercises as tensions have mounted in the past month.

Russian military aircraft were scrambled on Wednesday to escort French Rafale and Mirage fighter jets flying over the Black Sea, RIA news agency quoted the defence ministry as saying.

Russia’s foreign ministry said it had handed a note of protest to the U.S. embassy over “dangerous” flights of U.S. and NATO military planes near Russia’s borders.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy welcomed Biden’s “personal role” in trying to attain peace in eastern Ukraine, where Ukraine says more than 14,000 people have been killed in seven years of fighting with Russian-backed separatists.

Zelenskiy said he hoped Ukraine and Russia could agree a new ceasefire and prisoner exchanges when their representatives held talks on the conflict in Ukraine’s easterly Donbass region on Wednesday.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told Reuters the talks between Biden and Putin had served the purpose of “deterrence and de-escalation”.

A Russian foreign ministry official was quoted as saying the United States might be included for the first time in a group of countries working to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

RIA quoted the official, Oleg Krasnitsky, as saying there was no reason why the United States should not join the so-called Normandy grouping – comprising Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany – that has tried but so far failed to end the war.

“A lot depends on the position of Washington in settling the Ukrainian conflict. In principle, if the U.S. is really ready to make a contribution, we’ve always been open to America exercising its influence on Kyiv,” he was quoted as saying.

The remarks appeared to indicate that Moscow was open to an offer by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken last week for Washington to facilitate talks on the fighting.

In eastern Ukraine, some residents were sceptical that the Biden-Putin call would make any difference.

“We have been living in war for many years. And it is terrible that we got used to it. I don’t know what will happen next. We’ll see,” said a 55-year-old teacher who gave his name as Vladislav.

Alexander Pipchenko, 52, said: “It was pointless. It’s been going on for eight years already. In my opinion, it will not bear any fruit.”

 

(Additional reporting by Dmitry Antonov, Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber, Natalia Zinets, Matthias Williams, Sergei Kirichenko and Margaryta Chornokondratenko; writing by Mark Trevelyan; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

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Politics & Mardi Gras — together again – Daily Advertiser

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The campaign trail that leads to the Governor’s Mansion has many pitstops, including but not limited to the annual Washington Mardi Gras celebration. 

Candidates have long sported tights alongside other parading Krewe members and navigated the packed confines of the 65th Parish bar. They often bring their teams as well to help spread the word, whether that means hanging branded beads from hotel doorknobs or simply ensuring the right people — like donors — get the right tickets to the right events.

Next month, however, the tradition will be slightly altered. With new COVID-19 rules being enforced by the Mystick Krewe of Louisianians and families and businesses back home still rebuilding after two years of hurricanes, some of the potential candidates for governor are either skipping the expensive shindig or adjusting their plans.

The decision-making process of each of the potential candidates offers us an early preview of who these politicos are, how they think and, most importantly, what their campaigns might look like. No one has officially announced for the big 2023 contest, but that will change sooner rather than later.

Attorney General Jeff Landry, who has yet to meet a vaccine rule he likes, has no plans to attend Washington Mardi Gras right now. That’s going to be an adjustment for some diehard conservatives who look forward to attending Landry’s annual fundraisers at the Trump Hotel.

Landry’s decision mirrors that of Congressman Clay Higgins, who said he opposes the “oppressive mandates” and new vaccine and testing protocols approved by the Mystick Krewe. Higgins, who is not expected to be a candidate for governor, said the event’s leadership “has apparently determined that free Americans are unable to be trusted with their own medical decisions.”

Over the years, newspapers have been critical of Washington Mardi Gras, since the event jams special interests, lavish spending and elected officials underneath one roof for what now seems like an entire week, rather than a weekend. In other words, some good government folks question the ethics involved in such a swanky party. Higgins’ decision to boycott, though, had The Advocate’s editorial team singing another tune. In an “Our Views” editorial, the paper suggested Higgins’ snub was ”unhinged from reality” and “we dare to say that the party will be a lot more fun without him.”

Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser is also skipping Washington Mardi Gras next month. “I gave up my box and decided not to attend after Hurricane Ida,” said Nungesser. “I can’t go up there for that while we’re still trying to rebuild across the coast. I’m working with groups that are still serving meals right now.”

Nungesser added, “My job is to promote Louisiana and to get people to come here, and everyone at Washington Mardi Gras is already from here. Now, I did go to New York last week for our float in the Thanksgiving parade to promote Louisiana. That was different. That was work.”

State Sen. Rick Ward of Maringouin and state Rep. Richard Nelson of Mandeville, who are also considering a run in 2023, said in interviews they plan to be in Washington for the January event, but will probably skip the posh events organized by the Krewe. They both described it as a personal choice, not a political one. 

Then there’s Treasurer John Schroder, whose own passion for Mardi Gras is rivaled only by the likes of Krewe legends like late U.S. Sen. Russel Long. He’s a longtime member of Endymion and set a goal for himself — even before elected office — to eventually ride with every parading krewe in Louisiana. So it comes as no surprise that Schroder is planning to attend. “For now,” he added.

He’s not the only one. According to Senior Krewe Lieutenant Tyron Picard, tickets for the various functions and rooms at the Washington Hilton are sold out. The annual gathering kicks off Jan. 27 at the Washington Hilton.

[Full disclosure: If you’re planning to attend, I will see you there.]

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‘Good politics, not too great epidemiology’: Ottawa’s new COVID-19 travel rules are a mess, experts say – Toronto Star

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OTTAWA—As COVID-19 cases tick upward around the globe and evidence mounts of the Omicron variant’s rapid spread, frustration is rising over the federal government’s attempts to keep the virus outside Canada’s borders.

Since Ottawa imposed its most recent travel ban — along with new testing and quarantine rules — confusion has plagued passengers in airports at home and abroad.

Travellers stuck overseas and those about to depart have descended on Facebook groups, begging for clarity over which rules they’re required to follow, amid questions about why tough new restrictions have been imposed on some countries but not others.

On Twitter, airlines have repeatedly deferred to the federal government when faced with flustered customers looking for help.

The federal government, in turn, keeps pointing to its website, which contains incomplete information.

Even cabinet ministers couldn’t seem to nail down their message: on Monday, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino told reporters Canada was trying to “buy” itself more time to learn about Omicron, while Transport Minister Omar Alghabra told CBC Radio the following morning that the country was working quickly on its approach.

The scramble has an echo of the early days of the pandemic — something experts say could have worrisome consequences nearly two years into the crisis.

“We’re at this point where people are already fed up and fatigued. Even some of the basic measures that we’ve asked for people to do — like masking in indoor settings, trying to reduce social contacts — it’s very hard to keep that up at this point,” said Dr. Susy Hota, medical director for infection prevention and control at Toronto’s University Health Network.

“If you lose people’s attention because one issue becomes really confusing, and the communications aren’t clear … we lose those same people for other things that are important to communicate during the emergence of a new variant.”

Much of the confusion began last week, when Ottawa banned foreign nationals who had recently travelled through 10 African countries from entering Canada.

The decision to bar some travellers but not others makes little sense given the rapid nature of Omicron’s spread, said Steven Hoffman, director of the Global Strategy Lab and a former project manager with the World Health Organization.

“Border closures are also great politics, because it puts the emphasis that this threat is from outside of the country and puts the blame on others, as opposed to putting blame on a country’s public health response to the challenge,” Hoffman told the Star.

His assessment of the strategy? “Good politics, not too great epidemiology.”

Canadians trying to leave those 10 countries were suddenly required to have a negative result from a molecular test for COVID-19 — and to have the test done in a third country — before they arrived back at home.

“That doesn’t seem to be a reasonable policy. Why can’t they have a PCR test where they’re at?” said Dr. Anna Banerji, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health.

“If they’re coming here and if they’re coming from a country with a lot of Omicron, then they could be tested here.”

(Travellers departing from South Africa got a slight reprieve on Saturday, with a temporary exemption that allows them to get tested there instead of in a third country. Health Canada told the Star that the exemption will be extended or revoked based on domestic and international epidemiology.)

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Alghabra rationalized the move as creating a “cushion” between travellers’ departures and their arrivals in Canada, to ensure a more accurate test result.

But even for travellers entering Canada from countries that aren’t on the banned list (aside from the United States), the rules can still be nebulous.

The Public Health Agency of Canada’s arrival plans for vaccinated and unvaccinated travellers — which include an arrival test, differing periods of quarantine, and followup tests — are not yet fully operational.

“The government is steadily increasing the number of fully vaccinated travellers being tested to reach fully 100 per cent operational capacity in the coming weeks,” Health Canada noted in an emailed statement.

Travellers are still not fully clear on where they obtain tests, how many must be completed and how long they are meant to quarantine, which all depends on where they’re coming from and their vaccination status.

What’s more, the government of Canada’s travel webpage notes that anyone who can show proof of a positive result from a COVID-19 test conducted between 14 and 180 days prior to departure is exempt from any arrival testing. But Health Canada contradicted that in its statement to the Star, saying that travellers arriving from the banned countries must undergo the testing — even if they’ve previously tested positive.

“We’re seeing some early evidence that out of South Africa that reinfections can occur more frequently with Omicron — two to three times more frequently than we’ve seen with other variants,” Hota said.

“Just because you’ve had a prior infection doesn’t mean that you are completely immune to an Omicron infection,” she said, adding that at the very least, those passengers should be asked to isolate given that testing recovered people can sometimes yield unreliable results.

Banerji says governments have been dealt a tricky task in coming up with new rules — and having to implement them.

“I think it’s challenging for any government to make policies with so much uncertainty and a lot of unknowns. I would say that it’s really important … to stick to the evidence and the science rather than an emotional response.”

RP

Raisa Patel is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @R_SPatel

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