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Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Friday – CBC.ca

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The latest:

Coronavirus infections may be about to hit a plateau in the United States based on recent seven-day averages, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, though the top U.S. infectious disease expert cautioned the country was still in a “very serious situation” with the virus.

At a White House briefing Thursday, Fauci also said that if 70 to 80 per cent of Americans are vaccinated by the end of summer, the country could experience “a degree of normality” by the fall.

The pandemic has killed 410,000 people and infected more than 24.6 million in the United States, the highest numbers anywhere in the world, according to Johns Hopkins University data. 

Fauci said coronavirus vaccines can be modified to account for new variants of the virus, and that while the variant first identified in South Africa is concerning, it does not appear to be in the United States.

People are processed at the entrance to an empty department store being used as a COVID-19 vaccination centre in Chula Vista, Calif., on Thursday. (Mike Blake/Reuters)

Another highly transmissible variant of the virus first discovered in the United Kingdom has spread to at least 20 U.S. states, Fauci said.

Fauci said he expects current vaccines will be effective against the recently discovered virus mutations.

“Bottom line: We’re paying very close attention to it for our alternative plans if we have to ever modify the vaccine,” he said. “But right now, from the reports we have … it appears that the vaccines will still be effective against them.”

The United States still has a limited ability to track the presence of new variants in its population, he noted.

Biden sets COVID-19 plan into motion

Fauci praised U.S. President Joe Biden’s willingness to “let the science speak” in contrast to the previous Trump administration, standing by his side earlier Thursday as Biden unveiled sweeping measures to battle COVID-19 on his first full day in office.

“This is a wartime undertaking,” the Democratic president said at a White House event where he signed executive orders to establish a COVID-19 testing board to ramp up testing, address supply shortfalls, establish protocols for international travellers and direct resources to hard-hit minority communities.

WATCH | Biden implements COVID-19 travel restrictions:

On U.S. President Joe Biden’s first full day in office, he signed an executive order for new international travel restrictions, which will make it tougher for Canadians to cross the border. Biden is expected to lay out more details tomorrow, during his phone call with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. 2:38

Biden also made a personal plea to all Americans to wear masks over the next 99 days to stop the spread of the virus. “The experts say, by wearing a mask from now until April, we’d save more than 50,000 lives,” he said.

Among other actions signed by Biden on Thursday was an order requiring mask-wearing in airports and on certain public transportation, including many trains, airplanes and intercity buses.

The administration will expand vaccine manufacturing and its power to purchase more vaccines by “fully leveraging contract authorities, including the Defence Production Act,” according to the plan.

The Trump administration had invoked the law, which grants the president broad authority to “expedite and expand the supply of resources from the U.S. industrial base” for protective gear, but never enacted it for testing or vaccine production.

Members of the West Virginia National Guard monitor statewide efforts to distribute COVID-19 vaccines at the National Guard Joint Forces headquarters in Charleston, W.Va., on Jan. 14. West Virginia has used 72 per cent of the doses it has received to date, a relative success amid a sluggish vaccine rollout in the U.S. (John Raby/The Associated Press)

The president has pledged to provide 100 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine during his first 100 days in office. His plan aims to increase vaccinations by opening up eligibility for more people such as teachers and grocery clerks.

As of Thursday morning, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it had administered 17.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine out of some 38 million distributed.

Biden has also rescinded Trump’s planned withdrawal from the World Health Organization.

The new president has put fighting the disease at the top of a daunting list of challenges, including rebuilding a ravaged economy and addressing racial injustice, and has proposed a $1.9-trillion US COVID-19 package that would enhance jobless benefits and provide direct cash payments to households to alleviate the financial pain from the coronavirus.

The House of Representatives is planning to bring the bill to a vote the first week of February, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Thursday.

– From Reuters, last updated at 7 a.m. ET


What’s happening across Canada

As of 7 a.m. ET on Friday, Canada had reported 725,495 cases of COVID-19, with 68,413 cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 18,462.

In Ontario, the seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases continues to fall as the province reported 2,632 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, along with 46 more deaths.

While epidemiologists told CBC News that public health measures seem to be working as Ontario nears four complete weeks under “lockdown” conditions, they cautioned that the province is still far from ready for a return to normalcy.

WATCH | Research into coronavirus variants still early, epidemiologist says: 

Dr. Christopher Labos says research on mutated strains of the virus is too preliminary to draw firm conclusions. 1:38

Meanwhile, local public health officials are expressing concern about a yet-to-be identified variant of COVID-19 at a Barrie, Ont., long-term care home.

The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit said the unusually rapid spread of the virus at Roberta Place earlier this month, with 55 people at the nursing home becoming ill within 48 hours of the first COVID-19 case being identified, prompted officials to start testing for a variant strain.

The variant was identified in six cases and further results are expected in the coming days, the unit said.

At least 122 of 130 residents at Roberta Place Long-Term Care Home have tested positive for COVID-19, the home said in a statement to CBC Toronto on Thursday. Since the outbreak, 19 residents have died and 69 staff are infected.

WATCH | Ontario criticized for delaying vaccine rollout for long-term care homes:

An Ontario panel says the province failed residents of long-term care homes by not prioritizing them for COVID-19 vaccinations and the decision cost hundreds of lives. 1:58

Alberta, like Ontario, has seen its long-term care homes particularly hit hard during the pandemic.

To date, 988 of the province’s 1,500 COVID-19 deaths have been in long-term care and designated supportive living facilities, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, said Thursday.

CapitalCare Lynnwood in west Edmonton is the site of Alberta’s deadliest COVID-19 outbreak, with 55 lives lost. A total of 262 cases have been linked to the outbreak, Alberta Health said in a statement to CBC News.

WATCH | Other COVID-19 vaccines awaiting approval could mean more choice:

The federal government is still evaluating other COVID-19 vaccines, including from AstraZeneca and Johnson and Johnson, which could be approved within weeks. The vaccines in the pipeline work differently and some Canadians hope that might give them a choice about which vaccine to get. 2:05

New Brunswick continues to see a spike in COVID-19 infections, reporting 32 new cases on Thursday as officials declared an outbreak at another Edmundston care home.

At a COVID-19 briefing, the province’s chief medical officer of health said the situation in the Edmundston region remains “gravely concerning.”

There are now 113 cases in that area, “the largest number of any zone in the province,” said Dr. Jennifer Russell.

Premier Blaine Higgs said that a complete lockdown of the Edmundston region has been discussed and looks “likely” to happen in the days ahead.

Here’s a look at what’s happening across the country:

– From CBC News, last updated at 9:45 a.m. ET


What’s happening around the world

As of early Friday morning, more than 97.5 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, with more than 53.8 million of the cases considered resolved or recovered, according to a tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than two million.

In the Asia-Pacific region, South Korea reported 346 new cases on Friday, its smallest daily increase in coronavirus infections in two months as officials express cautious hope that the country is beginning to emerge from its worst wave of the pandemic.

Health authorities have clamped down on private social gatherings since late December, including setting fines for restaurants if they accept groups of five or more people. The 1,241 infections reported on Christmas Day were the country’s largest 24-hour jump of the pandemic.

Bottles of hand sanitizer are displayed for use at a park in Goyang, South Korea, on Friday. Daily infections have slowed in the country after tougher rules were imposed in December to slow a virus surge that erased months of hard-won gains. (Ahn Young-joon/The Associated Press)

In Africa, Mali plans to buy more than 8.4 million doses of coronavirus vaccine and expects to start a vaccination campaign in April, the council of ministers said in a statement on Thursday.

The sprawling country of about 20 million has recorded just over 7,900 COVID-19 cases and 320 deaths since the pandemic began, according to Johns Hopkins.

In the Middle East, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that China had approved delivery of a second consignment of the CoronaVac vaccine and 10 million doses could arrive in Turkey by this weekend.

A woman receives a shot of Sinovac’s CoronaVac COVID-19 vaccine at a nursing home in Ankara, Turkey, on Tuesday. (Umit Bektas/Reuters)

Turkey has already received an initial consignment of three million doses of the vaccine, produced by Sinovac Biotech, and has so far vaccinated more than 1.1 million people, mostly health workers and elderly people.

In the Americas, Mexico has posted new one-day highs for the pandemic, with 22,339 newly confirmed coronavirus infections and 1,803 deaths related to COVID-19.

Mexico has recorded over 1.71 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 146,000 test-confirmed deaths related to COVID-19 since the pandemic began. However, official estimates suggest the real death toll is closer to 195,000.

Officials also said Thursday that hospitals remained at 89 per cent capacity in Mexico City, which is the current centre of the pandemic in Mexico.

A man walks through a disinfection chamber while pulling oxygen tanks for his relatives infected with COVID-19, as part of a city government free refill program, at the municipality of Iztapalapa in Mexico City on Monday. (Toya Sarno Jordan/Reuters)

In Europe, the number of people testing positive for the coronavirus in England decreased slightly in the latest week but prevalence overall remained high, the U.K.’s Office for National Statistics said on Friday.

The ONS estimated that around one in 55 people had COVID-19 within the community population in England in the week ending Jan. 16, a lower prevalence than the estimate of one in 50 people in the last full infection survey published two weeks ago.

– From The Associated Press, last updated at 8:45 a.m. ET

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Best Buy cuts 5000 jobs, including 750 in Canada – CTV News

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NEW YORK —
Best Buy said Thursday that it laid off 5,000 full-time store workers earlier this month, even as the company’s sales soared during the pandemic as homebound people bought laptops, TVs and other gadgets.

The company said it cut the jobs because more shoppers are choosing to buy online instead of coming inside its stores. Best Buy said it will replace the 5,000 full-time employees with 2,000 part-time workers.

The company said 750 positions were impacted in Canada, of which 660 were part-time.

Best Buy’s workforce has shrunk in the last year after having to furlough workers when it closed stores during the pandemic. It currently has more than 100,000 workers, down by 21,000, or 17%, from the year before.

The company is retraining workers to help with online orders. And more space in stores is being used to ship orders or to get them ready for curbside pickup, where shoppers buy online and fetch their orders in the parking lot.

A group of workers has posted an online petition calling for Best Buy to compensate employees for lost wages related to cuts. The petition said the company had begun drastically reducing the hours of employees at 150 stores on Jan. 10. About 792 of the nearly 4,000 signatures were from Best Buy workers, said Shannon Fulfs, the petition organizer who works at a Best Buy in the Omaha, Nebraska area.

Fulfs said workers struggled with the sudden loss of income of up to 40% and uncertainty about what to do because they were not told whether the reductions would be permanent. On Thursday, she learned she had been laid off.

“It’s just overall been pretty stressful and I don’t think they have been making it easier with the lack of information,” Fulfs said.

Best Buy said it was “not realistic to pay employees for hours they didn’t work, which is what a small number are asking for in this petition.”

“We told the petitioners that we disagree with their claim, but fully support their right to make it,” the company said in a statement sent to The Associated Press. “Like any retailer, our business model has always allowed us to adjust staffing to meet customer demand.”

The company’s online sales soared 89% from November to the end of January, compared with the same months a year ago, Best Buy said Thursday.

Revenue during that quarter grew 11% to $16.9 billion. Its profit rose nearly 10% to $816 million. Its adjusted earnings per share came to $3.48 per share, beating Wall Street expectations.

Sales online and at established stores, a key metric of a retailer’s health, rose 12.6% in the last quarter and increased 9.7% last year. It expects that number to rise 20% in the current quarter, but growth is expected to slow this year to fall 2% or rise as much as 1%.

Best Buy shares fell nearly 6% to $107.05 in morning trading Thursday.

——–

AP Business Writer Alexandra Olson in New York contributed to this report.

With files from CTV News

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Canada Post urging Canadians to reach out to loved ones – TheChronicleHerald.ca

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SYDNEY, N.S. —

Canada Post is urging Canadians to reach out to loved ones with a free, postage-paid postcard that will soon be arriving in mailboxes across the country.

Some 13.5 million postcards are expected to start arriving March 1, which can be used to send a special message to anyone, anywhere in Canada.

Every household across the country will receive one of six specially designed postcards that can be used.

“Meaningful connection is vital for our emotional health, sense of community and overall well-being,” said Doug Ettinger, president and CEO of Canada Post, in a news release.

“Canada Post wants everyone to stay safe, but also stay in touch with the people who matter to them.”

The postcards are part of the “Write Here Write Now” program that was launched in September 2020 to encourage Canadians to use letter writing to connect in a heartfelt way.

Messages on the cards include “I miss you,” “I’ve been meaning to write,” Wishing I were there,” and “Sending hugs.”

Those who send the cards are encouraged to share photos and video of sending and receiving their postcards using #WriteHereWriteNow.

For more details on the program visit: canadapost.ca/writenow.

The campaign is similar to one announced by Engage Nova Scotia, “From Me to You.” That campaign urges provincial residents to send a cheery note to strangers and friends alike.

It is hoped the notes will be used by multiple sectors from businesses to individuals as a way to reach out to others in a time of a global pandemic. Public health restrictions across the country have now been in place for nearly a year in a bid to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Such restrictions include limitations on the number of people gathering both indoors and outdoors and have also curtailed travelling between provinces with the exception of essential workers.

Both programs are hoped to provide a measure of comfort for those having reduced contact with family and friends.

To learn more, visit https://engagenovascotia.ca/from-me-to-you.

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Australia's standoff with Facebook has lessons for Canada, publisher says – CBC.ca

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Canada should move quickly on legislation to make Facebook and Google pay for news content, because it was only when Australia began taking action that the digital giants responded with deals, says the head of the association representing the Canadian news media industry.

“If these companies will only act once legislation is imminent, then we’d like to see legislation sooner rather than later,” said Bob Cox, chair of News Media Canada and publisher of the Winnipeg Free Press.

Australia’s Parliament on Thursday passed the final amendments to the so-called News Media Bargaining Code that forces Google and Facebook to pay for news. Last week, Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault said Canada would introduce its own rules in the coming months.

How Canada proceeds will likely have a major impact on the future of news in the country. Cox said Google and Facebook have so much power in the marketplace that it makes it impossible for small players to to compete. And they’re so big — Google parent Alphabet had about $180 billion US in revenue last year — that almost everyone is a small player.

In Australia, the digital giants won’t be able to make take-it-or-leave-it payment offers to news businesses for their journalism. Instead, in the case of a standoff, an arbitration panel would make a binding decision on a winning offer. A last-minute amendment gave digital platforms one month’s notice before they are formally designated under the code, giving the parties more time to broker agreements before they are forced to enter binding arbitration arrangements.

In return for the changes, Facebook agreed to lift a ban on Australians accessing and sharing news on their platform. Google had already struck deals with major Australian news businesses in recent weeks, including News Corp.

Canada’s news media industry has come out hard against Facebook and asked the government for more regulation of tech companies to allow the industry to recoup financial losses it has suffered in the years that Facebook and Google have been steadily gaining greater market shares of advertising.

‘They basically forced Facebook’

Cox said Facebook and Google had been reluctant to make any deals with publishers until Australia “forcefully” pushed forward, and it worked.

“They basically forced Facebook and Google to work with that legislation,” he said. “Now Facebook managed to get some changes to the legislation, but basically they’ll still be required to negotiate deals with publishers and that’s the end goal.”

WATCH | Newspaper publisher on making tech giants pay for news:

Bob Cox, publisher of the Winnipeg Free Press, says local news could be in trouble if the government doesn’t take bold action. 6:09

Cox said he gives credit to Google and Facebook for programs they’ve enacted to support journalism, including training, grants and tools. Facebook announced on Wednesday that it would raise its funding of news publishers to $1 billion over three years, and the company estimates that the traffic it sends to news websites contributes hundreds of millions of dollars to the Canadian news industry.

“What they haven’t done, though, is pay for content, and that’s what we’ve been trying to get them to do,” he said.

Google recently announced a willingness to pay for content through its Google News Showcase licensing model, but it hasn’t begun to operate yet, Cox said. In a statement, Meg Sinclair, head of communications for Facebook Canada, said the company is “exploring” investments in news licensing and programs to support sustainability of journalism in Canada, but isn’t in any discussions about specific licensing agreements. 

Chris Moos, a lecturer at Oxford University’s Business School, said the last-minute amendments in Australia’s legislation amounted to a “small victory” for Facebook.

Moos said the legislation would likely result in small payouts for most Australian news publishers. But Facebook could again block Australian news if negotiations broke down.

Andrea Carson, an associate professor in the department of communication and media at La Trobe University in Melbourne, agreed, but also said the government had gotten what it wanted.

What Canada can learn

As for what can be learned from Australia’s situation, Carson said Canada should consider whether Australia took the right approach.

“There are other mechanisms for doing this, such as putting a tax on digital advertising,” she said. “Maybe other countries might consider that rather than looking through competition law, which is what Australia’s done.”

Carson also suggested countries should make certain the money is used to fund public-interest journalism, a guarantee that doesn’t exist under the Australian system.

“It goes into the larger pool of News Corp.,” she said.

WATCH | Facebook and Australia are in a standoff. Is Canada next?

Facebook blocked news posts for Australian users as the government plans to make technology companies pay for sharing news content. There are concerns something similar could happen to Canadians. 7:37

Guilbeault, who could not be reached for comment on Thursday, has promised a “made-in-Canada” approach. 

“We need to find a solution that is sustainable for news publishers, small and large, digital platforms, and for the health of our democracy,” he said on Tuesday.

There have been concerns in Australia that smaller publications might miss out while the tech giants focus on big players, a “real danger” that Cox said should be dealt with in any legislation.

“The main reason why we’ve always argued that government action is necessary [is] so that it helps the entire industry and helps support local news across the country, as opposed to simply the bigger publishers who have had access to Facebook and Google for a long time anyway,” he said.

Disclosure: CBC/Radio-Canada has business partnerships with Facebook for content distribution and with Google for services that encompass mobile distribution, data storage and communication tools.

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