A variant of the coronavirus that appears to be more contagious has been found in Southern California, where the state’s most populous county recorded more than 10,000 deaths, and authorities warned they will be patrolling streets to shut down large New Year’s Eve gatherings that could spread the infection.
Los Angeles County reached a “terrible milestone” with 274 additional deaths in 24 hours for a record toll of 10,056 deaths, Los Angeles County Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer announced Wednesday.
The COVID-19 daily death toll over 14 days has averaged about 150 people, or “about equal to the number of deaths from all other causes, which is about 170,” said Ferrer. “Most heartbreaking is that if we had done a better job reducing transmission of the virus, many of these deaths would not have happened.”
The county, which has had about 40 per cent of the state’s virus deaths, is one of nearly two dozen in Southern California and the agricultural San Joaquin Valley area where hospital intensive care units have technically run out of room, although ICU patients are being placed in other hospital areas under “surge” procedures.
Meanwhile, California became the second state after Colorado to report finding a new strain of the virus that was first confirmed in the United Kingdom.
The patient, who developed symptoms on Dec. 27, is a 30-year-old San Diego County man who didn’t have any history of travel, which could indicate that someone else already had brought the new strain into the state, officials said.
WATCH | U.S. COVID-19 vaccine delivery slower than planned:
It is common for viruses to undergo minor changes as they reproduce and move through a population. Scientists have found no evidence that the variant is more lethal or causes more severe illness, and they believe the vaccines now being dispensed will be effective against it. But the fear is that mutations at some point will become significant enough to defeat the vaccines.
Also, a faster-spreading virus could swamp hospitals with seriously ill patients.
In L.A. County, more than one in four COVID-19 patients sent to hospitals are winding up in ICUs, according to county figures. The struggle to find places for the most seriously ill means “it’s not just the virus that’s proving fatal, but also the nightmare scenario of Angelenos dying because they cannot get the appropriate care from overwhelmed ICUs,” Ferrer said.
The cases triggered a host of questions about how the version circulating in England arrived in the United States and whether it is too late to stop it now, with top experts saying it is probably already spreading elsewhere in the U.S.
Public health officials also began warning of stricter enforcement of stay-home orders that aim to reduce COVID-19 spread by keeping people from mingling outside of their households. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said hospitalizations and deaths linked to Christmas gatherings may show up in two or three weeks because of the infection’s lag time, and any New Year’s Eve gatherings could start to overwhelm hospitals later in January in a third virus surge.
“If you mix and mingle with people outside your household, it’s likely medical care will not be available when it’s needed in a few weeks,” Garcetti said. “We will feel it in our homes, in our ICU units and in our morgues.”
Garcetti said police will be out enforcing public health rules that prohibit large gatherings, and the city had disconnected utilities on Tuesday at a “chronic party house” in the Hollywood Hills.
The U.S. has seen more than 19.7 million cases of COVID-19 and more than 342,000 deaths, according to a tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University.
– From The Associated Press, last updated at 7 a.m. ET
What’s happening in Canada
WATCH | Hear what Ontario’s finance minister had to say after returning from Caribbean vacation:
Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips returned to Canada from his trip to St. Barts on Thursday and said he hoped to regain people’s confidence after facing significant criticism over his decision to travel despite calls to avoid non-essential trips.
“Obviously, I made a significant error in judgment, and I will be accountable for that,” Phillips said from Pearson airport in Toronto.
“I do not make any excuses for the fact that I travelled when we shouldn’t have travelled.”
Phillips said he will be speaking with Premier Doug Ford later in the day.
“I understand that my actions have angered a lot of people, and I have to earn back that confidence,” Phillips said.
The province reported yet another record high COVID-19 case number on Thursday, with 3,328 new infections. Health officials also reported 56 additional deaths, bringing the provincial death toll to 4,530.
Ontario is reporting 3,328 cases of <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/COVID19?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#COVID19</a> and nearly 63,900 tests completed. Locally, there are 888 new cases in Toronto, 431 in Peel, 418 in York Region, 257 in Windsor-Essex County and 194 in Ottawa.
Ford said Wednesday that he didn’t know about his finance minister’s travel plans in advance but did learn about them later after a phone call with Phillips.
“At that time, I should have said, ‘Get your backside back into Ontario,’ and I didn’t do that,” the premier said Wednesday as he took questions about the trip and what he knew about it.
“We’re going to have a very tough conversation when he gets back,” Ford said.
As of early Thursday, before Ontario’s update, Canada’s COVID-19 case count stood at 572,982, with 73,434 of those cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 15,471.
Quebec and Ontario, the two hardest-hit provinces in the country, both posted record-high, single-day COVID-19 numbers on Wednesday, with 2,923 cases in Ontario and 2,511 cases in Quebec.
The federal government, meanwhile, said Wednesday it plans to require air travellers to test negative for COVID-19 before landing in Canada, in response to concerns that people vacationing abroad could bring the novel coronavirus home with them.
Cabinet ministers met Wednesday morning following criticism from the premiers of Canada’s two largest provinces that federal efforts at the border were too loose and allowing new cases and strains of the virus to enter the country.
Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc said all passengers on flights entering Canada will soon be required to have a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test three days before their arrival. PCR tests are designed to detect minute amounts of the virus that causes COVID-19, usually through a swab up the nose or in the mouth. A 14-day quarantine for incoming travellers will still be required.
It wasn’t immediately clear when the new requirement will be put in place, with LeBlanc saying more information would follow in the coming days. It does not appear to apply to anyone crossing by car into Canada through a border point with the U.S.
Here’s a look at some of what’s happening with COVID-19 across Canada:
– From The Canadian Press and CBC News, last updated at 8:55 a.m. ET
What’s happening around the world
As of early Thursday morning, more than 82.8 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, with more than 46.8 million considered recovered or resolved, according to Johns Hopkins. The global death toll stood at more than 1.8 million.
A four-day lockdown is set to begin in Turkey at 9 p.m. local time on Thursday in a bid to stem the spread of COVID-19 over the New Year’s holiday. Istanbul’s governor said some 34,000 law enforcement personnel will be on duty to enforce the rules in Turkey’s most populous city.
The Interior Ministry said more than 208,000 officers will be working across the country and have set up thousands of control points. Tourists, who have been exempt from lockdowns, will not be allowed to go to symbolic squares and avenues.
Turkey has reported nearly 2.2 million cases and has seen more than 20,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins.
“The entire eyes of the world were on this cruise ship, watching this outbreak unfold, watching more and more people getting sick.” Today, looking back on a year of COVID-19 with <a href=”https://twitter.com/adamsmiller?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@adamsmiller</a>: <a href=”https://t.co/xoEvhEtq66″>https://t.co/xoEvhEtq66</a> <a href=”https://t.co/IsbyXkdjo8″>pic.twitter.com/IsbyXkdjo8</a>
In the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates has shattered its single-day record of new coronavirus infections for the second consecutive day, with 1,730 cases recorded ahead of New Year’s Eve celebrations expected to draw tens of thousands of revellers to Dubai from around the world.
In the Asia-Pacific region, Tokyo is seeing a record surge in coronavirus cases as the governor of the Japanese capital implored people to stay home.
“The coronavirus knows no year end or New Year’s holidays,” Gov. Yuriko Koike told reporters.
She asked people to skip countdown ceremonies and expressed concern people were out shopping in crowded stores.
“Please spend a quiet New Year’s with your family and stay home,” she said, switching to English for “stay home.”
In Europe, the Czech Republic headed for the New Year with a record surge in coronavirus infections. The Health Ministry said the daily increase in new infections hit a record for the second straight day on Wednesday, with 16,939 confirmed cases. It’s over 500 more than the previous record set on Tuesday.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered millions more people to live under the strictest COVID-19 restrictions from Thursday to counter a new variant of the virus that is spreading at a “sheer pace” across the country.
In the Americas, the COVID-19 vaccine developed jointly by AstraZeneca and Oxford University was approved for use in El Salvador.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, meanwhile, said officials were investigating a case of suspected abuse of power by a family to obtain shots of COVID-19 vaccine.
In Africa, Zimbabwe has postponed the reopening of schools planned for next week due to a surge in coronavirus infections and a tropical storm sweeping through the region.
– From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 7:40 a.m. ET
Trudeau first foreign leader to speak with Biden – CTV News
Joe Biden’s White House has a lot in common cause with Canada, Justin Trudeau said Friday as he urged people to look past the new U.S. president’s decision to kill off the Keystone XL pipeline project.
The two countries have great partnership potential in the Biden era, particularly when it comes to a shared vision of tackling climate change while fuelling economic growth, the prime minister said.
“It’s not always going to be perfect alignment with the United States; that’s the case with any given president,” he told a news conference outside his Rideau Cottage residence.
“In a situation where we are much more aligned — on values, on focus, on the work that needs to be done to give opportunities for everyone while we build a better future — I’m very much looking forward to working with President Biden.”
The two leaders spoke for about 30 minutes late Friday — Biden’s first phone call with a foreign leader since taking office.
Trudeau expressed Canada’s “disappointment” with the Keystone decision, and Biden acknowledged the difficulties it has caused, said a federal official familiar with what was discussed.
“The Prime Minister underscored the important economic and energy security benefits of our bilateral energy relationship as well as his support for energy workers,” says the readout of their conversation released by the Office of the Prime Minister.
“The Prime Minister and President reiterated the urgent need for ambitious action on climate change, reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris Agreement, and agreed to work together on net-zero emissions, zero-emissions vehicles, cross-border clean electricity transmission, and the Arctic.”
By and large, the tone of the call was “overwhelmingly positive,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss details of the call.
Trudeau also expressed concern about Biden’s Buy American plan to ensure U.S. workers and manufacturers are the primary beneficiaries of his economic recovery strategy.
The leaders agreed to continue to discuss Canada’s concerns about an issue that the two sides have been discussing for months, and will continue to talk about as the administration finds its feet, the source suggested.
Biden and Trudeau also agreed to meet next month, although it’s not clear given the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic what form that meeting would take.
Earlier Friday, Trudeau said the federal government would be there to support oilpatch workers in Alberta and Saskatchewan who have been hurt by Biden’s decision.
But there’s little doubt the fight is far from over, particularly if Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has anything to say about it.
“The United States is setting a deeply disturbing precedent for any future projects and collaboration between our two nations,” Kenney wrote in a letter to Trudeau he released Friday on Twitter.
“The fact that it was a campaign promise makes it no less offensive. Our country has never surrendered our vital economic interests because a foreign government campaigned against them.”
Biden believes a brisk economic recovery doesn’t have to come at the expense of the environment, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday.
Biden opposed the Keystone XL expansion as vice-president under Barack Obama, who blocked the project in 2015, and as president he still does, Psaki said.
Kenney and other champions of the project, including Kirsten Hillman, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., argue it has changed significantly since the Obama administration cancelled it five years ago.
As word emerged this week of the project’s imminent demise, Calgary-based owner TC Energy revealed plans to spend US$1.7 billion on a solar, wind and battery-powered operating system for the pipeline to ensure it achieves net-zero emissions by 2030.
Kenney wrote Wednesday’s decision came “without taking the time to discuss it with their longest-standing ally,” although Hillman insists she has been in near-constant discussions with the Biden team ever since May, when they promised to cancel the project.
He called the decision a violation of the investor-protection provisions of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement and called on Trudeau to press the U.S. for compensation on behalf of TC Energy and the Alberta government.
“I strongly urge you to ensure that there are proportionate economic consequences in response to these unfair U.S. actions,” Kenney wrote.
“If the U.S. is unwilling to listen, then we must demonstrate that Canada will stand up for Canadian workers and the Canadian economy.”
Biden’s decision has critics among U.S. conservatives as well: Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the Republican House minority leader, called it a job-killing “virtue signal” to climate crusaders.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz accused Biden of erasing 11,000 potential jobs in the U.S. “with the stroke of a pen … by presidential edict.” Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan said the president was “pandering to fringe activists.”
Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, said the move does little besides kill jobs, “disappoint our strong ally, Canada, and reverse some of our progress toward energy security.”
And Idaho senators Jim Risch and Mike Crapo both signed on to co-sponsor a Republican bill aimed at allowing construction on the project to continue, despite Biden’s decision to rescind the permit.
“The Keystone project is the linchpin of America’s energy independence and job creation strategy,” Risch said in a statement.
“Shutting it down leaves us dependent on the likes of OPEC and Russia to help power the country and undermines the pact we made with our northern ally, Canada, which remains supportive of the project.”
Even without Keystone XL, U.S. set for record Canadian oil imports
By Nia Williams and Devika Krishna Kumar
CALGARY/NEW YORK (Reuters) – The Keystone XL pipeline project may be dead, but the United States is still poised to pull in record imports of Canadian oil in coming years through other pipelines that are in the midst of expanding.
U.S. President Joe Biden canceled Keystone XL’s permit on his first day in office Wednesday, dealing a death blow to a long-gestating project that would have carried 830,000 barrels per day of heavy oil sands crude from Alberta to Nebraska.
Environmental activists and indigenous communities hailed the move, but traders and analysts said U.S.-Canada pipelines will have more than enough capacity to handle increasing volumes of crude out of Canada, the primary foreign supplier of oil to the United States.
Currently, Canada exports about 3.8 million bpd to the United States, according to U.S. Energy Department data. Analysts expect that to rise to between 4.2 million and 4.4 million bpd over the next few years. Pipeline expansions currently in progress will add more than 950,000 bpd of export capacity for Canadian producers before 2025, according to Rystad Energy.
Canada’s Energy Regulator says there is enough capacity currently to export more than 4 million bpd to the United States.
Biden’s administration has set a goal of moving towards decarbonization and reducing the country’s reliance on oil and gas and cutting harmful air pollutants. Most of the nation’s energy still comes from fossil fuels.
“Whatever limited benefit that Keystone was projected to provide now has to be obviously reconsidered with the economy of today,” said Gina McCarthy, Biden’s leading domestic climate policy coordinator at the White House.
Even without Keystone, however, the United States now relies on Canada for more than half of its imported oil. Several of the lines carrying that crude are in the midst of expansions.
For a graphic on U.S. imports of Canadian oil surge:
Enbridge Inc’s Line 3 replacement project is in the process of doubling its capacity, which will allow it to deliver about 760,000 bpd of crude from Alberta to Superior, Wisconsin, by the end of this year.
Canada’s government is also expanding the state-owned Trans Mountain line by 590,000 bpd to 890,000 bpd. That line terminates at the Port of Vancouver, where it should be able to deliver barrels via tankers to the United States.
Meanwhile, TC Energy received U.S. approval last year to expand its existing Keystone 590,000-bpd line – located far from the proposed Keystone XL – which would add an additional 170,000 bpd into the U.S. Midwest and Gulf Coast.
“We will be over-piped assuming the other pipelines go ahead on schedule,” said Wood Mackenzie research director Mark Oberstoetter. “If you add them all up, you can make the argument KXL was not needed.”
Construction underway on Trans Mountain and Line 3 could still be held up by environmental protests, but unlike Keystone XL, both pipelines have cleared legal and regulatory hurdles.
Oil production in western Canada will rise in 2021 to a new record of 4.45 million bpd, RBN Energy estimates, up from 3.9 million bpd in 2020, most of which will be exported to the United States.
Canada is the world’s fourth-biggest crude producer, but has been grappling for years with congestion on pipelines. That caused a glut of oil in storage tanks in Alberta, driving prices down, and spurring the province to impose production curtailments to drain record inventories.
Those curtailments were lifted in November, and production has been rising ever since. Even as production is rising again, pipeline companies have boosted efficiency on existing pipelines through the use of drag-reducing agents.
“While the politics around KXL will continue to reverberate for some time, the reality is that western Canada – for the first time in recent memory – may soon reach a juncture at which it has excess oil export capacity,” Rystad Energy’s vice president for North American shale Thomas Liles said in a note.
(Reporting by Devika Krishna Kumar in New York and Nia Williams in Calgary; Additional reporting by Trevor Hunnicut in Washington DC; Editing by Andrea Ricci)
Jailed Kremlin critic Navalny’s supporters to rally for his release despite warnings
By Tom Balmforth
MOSCOW (Reuters) – Supporters of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny were set to confront Russian authorities on Saturday at nationwide rallies that the police have declared illegal and vowed to break up.
The gatherings will be the first protests by Navalny’s supporters since he returned dramatically to Moscow and was immediately arrested last weekend after recovering in Germany from a nerve agent poisoning in Russia.
He accuses President Vladimir Putin of ordering his murder, which the Kremlin denies.
The stubborn ex-lawyer who has campaigned against Putin for years despite what he describes as an unrelenting state effort to stifle his activity could now face years in jail over legal cases that he calls trumped up.
His supporters are betting on a high-risk strategy to produce a show of anti-Kremlin street support during winter and a pandemic to pressure the authorities into freeing him.
The gamble puts the Kremlin in a quandary as to how it responds, nine months before parliamentary elections.
The West has told Moscow to let him go, sparking new tensions in already strained Russia ties as U.S. President Joe Biden launches his administration.
In a push to galvanise support, Navalny’s team released a video about an opulent palace on the Black Sea they alleged belonged to Putin, something the Kremlin denied. The clip had been viewed more than 60 million times as of late Friday.
Police have cracked down in the run-up to the rallies, rounding up several of his allies they accused of calling for illegal protests and jailing at least two of them, including Navalny’s spokeswoman, for more than a week each.
Authorities also announced a criminal investigation against Navalny supporters over calls urging minors to attend illegal rallies that it said were made on various social networks.
Navalny’s allies hope to tap into what polls say are pent-up public frustrations over years of falling wages and economic fallout from the pandemic. But Putin’s grip on power looks unassailable and the 68-year-old regularly records an approval rating of over 60%, many times higher than that of Navalny.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; Editing by William Maclean)
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