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Chinese Canadians plead for third Canadian rescue flight from Wuhan

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Chinese Canadians whose family members remain in Hubei province, the epicentre of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, are urging the federal government to send a third evacuation plane to bring home Canadians and permanent residents.

Wuhan and other cities across Hubei province went into lockdown on Jan. 23 as the Chinese government tried to contain the spread of the COVID-19, leaving citizens to have “close to zero” chance of leaving the city.

An open letter calling for a third rescue flight

Residents across the Lower Mainland who are originally from Hubei province, set up a WeChat group last week and sent an open letter to Global Affairs Canada on Saturday, hoping to reunite with their loved ones who are still trapped in Hubei.

Simon Zheng, a small business owner who works in Richmond and is also part of the WeChat group, told the Richmond News that at least 50 families are still stuck in Hubei, and each family has at least one Canadian citizen in it.

According to the letter, these families failed to board either of the previous chartered flights due to poor communication and misinformation, language barriers, isolation and mass panic.

“We estimate that the real number of Canadian families still confined in the province of Hubei is in reality much higher than what we have accumulated over the last three days… The longer this ordeal carries on, and the longer the lockdown continues for these unfortunate individuals, the more danger it will impose on the Canadians stuck there,” the letter reads.

“We cannot bear the thought of losing our family members if something were to happen in the next few weeks.”

People in Wuhan have been through a war without smoke: resident 

Melanie Huang, a former Richmond resident, is concerned about both of her dad’s and grandfather’s situation in Wuhan as the coronavirus has claimed more than 2,600 lives so far.

Huang said her dad flew to China on Jan. 13 to celebrate Chinese New Year with her 89-year-old grandfather, but now he can’t return to Canada since all train stations and airports have shut down.

“The virus has spread quickly over the past few weeks, and hospitals only accept coronavirus-related patients. If seniors slip at home or hurt themselves, they won’t get treatment in time,” said Huang.

There is also some confusion regarding who is qualified to board the Canadian evacuation flight, according to Huang.

“I contacted the Canadian embassy to check if my dad, who is a permanent resident of Canada, is allowed to leave on the fight, but the answer was ‘no.’ We were told that permanent residents who hold Chinese passports aren’t allowed to leave Wuhan.”

However, Huang later came across news from English media outlets saying that Chinese nationals who are family members of foreign citizens could board flights from Wuhan.

Huang said dozens of WeChat group members now count on the Canadian government to arrange the third flight.

“As family members, we are willing to chip in some money for the flight. The risk our loved ones currently face is very high. Basically, they have been through a war without smoke.”

Newly married couple face forced separation 

Meanwhile, Canadian citizen Zheng couldn’t celebrate the first Valentine’s Day with his wife after getting married late last year.

Zheng’s wife, who is in the process of getting permanent residency, went back to Wuhan to visit family members. Now, she is trapped there because the city has been locked down.

Zheng said they didn’t consider trying to board one of the first two chartered flights because they thought people who hold Canadian passports should be given priority to leave Wuhan. However, Zheng’s desire to reunite with his wife grows stronger as it’s uncertain how long the crisis will last.

“My wife has been self-isolating herself at home for the past few weeks. She is trying her best to stay safe, but long-time isolation might result in negative emotions,” said Zheng. “If there is another flight leaving Wuhan, I hope to see my wife on that plane.”

A spokesperson from Global Affairs Canada said they remain in regular contact with Canadians in China and are continuing to assist those in need.

In a written statement, the spokesperson added that Canadian citizens who require emergency consular assistance should contact the Embassy of Canada in Beijing at 86 (10) 5139-4000. Canadians can also call the department’s 24/7 Emergency Watch and Response Centre in Ottawa at +1 613-996-8885 (collect calls are accepted where available) or email sos@international.gc.ca.

However, Global Affairs Canada has not commented on whether it will send a third plane into Hubei to bring back the remaining Canadians there.

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Courts block two Biden administration COVID vaccine mandates

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The Biden administration was blocked on Tuesday from enforcing two mandates requiring millions of American workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19, a key part of its strategy for controlling the spread of the coronavirus.

U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty in Monroe, Louisiana, temporarily blocked the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) from enforcing its vaccine mandate for healthcare workers until the court can resolve legal challenges.

Doughty’s ruling applied nationwide, except in 10 states where the CMS was already prevented from enforcing the rule due to a prior order from a federal judge in St. Louis.

Doughty said the CMS lacked the authority to issue a vaccine mandate that would require more than 2 million unvaccinated healthcare workers to get a coronavirus shot.

“There is no question that mandating a vaccine to 10.3 million healthcare workers is something that should be done by Congress, not a government agency,” wrote Doughty.

Separately, U.S. District Judge Gregory Van Tatenhove in Frankfort, Kentucky, blocked the administration from enforcing a regulation that new government contracts must include clauses requiring that contractors’ employees get vaccinated.

The contractor ruling applied in the three states that had filed the lawsuit, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee, one of at least 13 legal challenges nationwide against the regulation. It appears to be the first ruling against the contractor vaccine mandate.

The White House declined to comment.

The legal setbacks for President Joe Biden’s vaccine policy come as concerns that the Omicron coronavirus variant could trigger a new wave of infections and curtail travel and economic activity across the globe.

Biden unveiled regulations in September to increase the U.S. adult vaccination rate beyond the current 71% as a way of fighting the pandemic, which has killed more than 750,000 Americans and weighed on the economy.

Republican state attorneys general, conservative groups and trade organizations have sued to stop the regulations.

Tuesday’s rulings add to a string of court losses for the Biden administration over its COVID-19 policies.

The most sweeping regulation, a workplace vaccine-or-testing mandate for businesses with at least 100 employees, was temporarily blocked by a federal appeals court in early November.

In August, the U.S. Supreme Court ended the administration’s pandemic-related federal moratorium on residential evictions.

(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Additional reporting by Nandita Bose in Washington; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney)

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Putin hits back as NATO warns Moscow against attacking Ukraine

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Russia would pay a high price for any new military aggression against Ukraine, NATO and the United States warned on Tuesday as the Western military alliance met to discuss Moscow’s possible motives for massing troops near the Ukrainian border.

President Vladimir Putin countered that Russia would be forced to act if U.S.-led NATO placed missiles in Ukraine that could strike Moscow within minutes.

Ukraine, a former Soviet republic that now aspires to join the European Union and NATO, has become the main flashpoint between Russia and the West as relations have soured to their worst level in the three decades since the Cold War ended.

“There will be a high price to pay for Russia if they once again use force against the independence of the nation Ukraine,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken echoed Stoltenberg, saying: “Any escalatory actions by Russia would be a great concern to the United States…, and any renewed aggression would trigger serious consequences.”

Tensions have been rising for weeks, with Russia, Ukraine and NATO all staging military exercises amid mutual recriminations over which side is the aggressor.

Putin went further than previously in spelling out Russia’s “red lines” on Ukraine, saying it would have to respond if NATO deployed advanced missile systems on its neighbour’s soil.

“If some kind of strike systems appear on the territory of Ukraine, the flight time to Moscow will be 7-10 minutes, and five minutes in the case of a hypersonic weapon being deployed. Just imagine,” the Kremlin leader said.

“What are we to do in such a scenario? We will have to then create something similar in relation to those who threaten us in that way. And we can do that now,” he said, pointing to Russia’s recent testing of a hypersonic weapon he said could fly at nine times the speed of sound.

EU and other Western leaders are involved in a geopolitical tug-of-war with Russia for influence in Ukraine and two other ex-Soviet republics, Moldova and Georgia, through trade, cooperation and protection arrangements.

U.S. BRIEFING

NATO foreign ministers began two days of talks in the Latvian capital Riga to debate what they say is the growing Russian threat, with Blinken due to brief his 29 alliance counterparts on Washington’s intelligence assessment.

Blinken, speaking at a news conference with his Latvian counterpart, said he will have more to say on Wednesday on how to respond to Russia after holding talks with NATO allies.

“We will be consulting closely with…allies and partners in the days ahead…about whether there are other steps that we should take as an alliance to strengthen our defences, strengthen our resilience, strengthen our capacity,” he said.

Ukraine Prime Minister Denys Shmygal accused Russia https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/exclusive-ukraine-pm-says-russia-absolutely-behind-coup-attempt-2021-11-30 of trying to topple the elected government in Kyiv, which the Kremlin denies, after Ukraine’s president last week unveiled what he said was a coup attempt.

Shmygal also said Ukraine would seek more weapons from the United States – precisely the course of action that Putin has warned against.

The Kremlin annexed the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and then backed rebels fighting government troops in the east of the country. That conflict has killed 14,000 people, according to Kyiv, and is still simmering.

In May, Russian troops on Ukraine’s borders numbered 100,000, the most since its Crimea takeover, Western officials say. Ukraine says there are more than 90,000 there now.

Moscow has dismissed as inflammatory Ukrainian suggestions that it is preparing for an attack, said it does not threaten anyone and defended its right to deploy troops on its own territory as it wishes.

Britain and Germany echoed the NATO warnings.

“We will stand with our fellow democracies against Russia’s malign activity,” said British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said: “NATO’s support for Ukraine is unbroken…Russia would have to pay a high price for any sort of aggression.”

 

(Additional reporting by John Chalmers in Brussels; writing by Gabriela Baczynska, Robin Emmott and Mark Trevelyan; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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Jazz singer Josephine Baker first Black woman honoured at France’s Pantheon

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Josephine Baker, the famed French American singer and dancer, was inducted on Tuesday into the Pantheon mausoleum in Paris – one of France’s highest honours – at a ceremony attended by French President Emmanuel Macron.

Baker, who also served in the French Resistance during World War Two and was a prominent civic rights activist after the war, is the first Black woman and sixth woman to enter the Pantheon, a Paris landmark dominating the city’s Latin Quarter.

She was “a Black person who stood up for Black people, but foremost, she was a woman who defended humankind,” Macron said during a speech.

He spoke shortly after Baker’s most famous song, “J’ai deux amours, mon pays et Paris” (“I have two loves, my country and Paris”), was played at the ceremony.

Baker was born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1906 but went on to find much of her fame after arriving in Paris in the 1920s, as many Black Americans stayed on in the French capital after World War One and brought over with them American jazz culture.

Baker, who became a French citizen in 1937, died in 1975 and is buried in Monaco.

In accordance with her family’s wishes, Baker’s remains have not been moved to the Pantheon. To represent her presence there, a symbolic coffin was carried into the mausoleum by six pallbearers containing handfuls of earth from four locations: St. Louis, Paris, Monaco and Milandes, in the Dordogne department of France, where Baker owned a castle.

Baker’s empty coffin will lie alongside other French national icons in the mausoleum such as authors Emile Zola and Victor Hugo, the philosopher Voltaire and politician Simone Veil.

 

(Reporting by Benoit Van Overstraeten; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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