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

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The latest:

The U.S. is on pace to have about 200 million at-home COVID-19 rapid tests available per month beginning in December, about four times more than earlier this year.

The White House says the supply boost is the result of a new $1 billion US federal investment, on top of the $2 billion committed to increasing the availability of the convenient diagnostic tests in September. It’s also due to the Food and Drug Administration’s authorization of a new test from ACON Labs this week.

More than 18 months into the pandemic, the U.S. trails other nations in supplies of at-home tests, which are widely used overseas as part of regular testing programs to catch asymptomatic infections. While less accurate than PCR tests, at-home kits are cheaper and faster, allowing for serial screening of schoolchildren, long-term care residents and office workers.

The White House says it is also working to double the number of local pharmacies offering free coronavirus testing to 20,000 in the coming weeks to improve access to testing.

WATCH | Ontario allows asymptomatic COVID-19 rapid testing in schools:

Ontario allows asymptomatic COVID-19 rapid testing in schools

18 hours ago

Ontario will now allow rapid testing of asymptomatic students for COVID-19 — but only under certain conditions. Quebec is expanding rapid testing to more schools while other provinces announce their own protocols. 2:01

Meantime, COVID-19 test-kit maker Ellume is recalling some at-home tests after learning that they were reporting a higher-than-expected rate of false positive results, indicating someone has the virus when they do not.

The Australian company has said the tests were shipped to U.S. retailers and other distributors from April through August. It published a list on its website of the lot numbers on test packages affected by the recall.


What’s happening across Canada

WATCH | Alberta reintroduces contact tracing and isolation protocols for schools:

Alberta brings back contact tracing schools as COVID-19 cases continue to surge

17 hours ago

Alberta reintroduces contact tracing and isolation protocols for schools, and introduces more testing, as COVID-19 continues to rip through the province, including unvaccinated children. 1:49


What’s happening around the world

As of Wednesday afternoon, more than 236 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus-tracking tool. The reported global death toll stood at more than 4.8 million.

The World Health Organization says the number of newly reported coronavirus cases fell in the last week, continuing a declining global trend that first began in August. 

In its latest assessment of the pandemic, the UN health agency reported Tuesday that there were 3.1 million new COVID-19 cases — a nine per cent drop — and about 54,000 deaths in the last week, roughly similar to the week before. WHO said there were declines in case numbers in all world regions except for Europe, where the number was about the same as the previous week.

In the U.S., surging demand for COVID-19 tests from employers has exacerbated a nationwide shortage of rapid tests in recent weeks and is driving up costs for state and local testing programs, according to industry executives and state officials.

WATCH | Infectious diseases specialist explains potential impact of AstraZeneca’s new COVID-19 antibody therapy:

AstraZeneca seeks emergency U.S. approval of new drug to prevent COVID-19

6 hours ago

Infectious diseases specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch explains the potential impact of AstraZeneca’s new COVID-19 antibody therapy. He’s waiting to see if recent favourable data stands up over time. 1:09

In Europe, Russia’s daily coronavirus death toll surpassed 900 on Wednesday for the first time in the pandemic, a record that comes amid the country’s low vaccination rate and the government’s reluctance to impose tough restrictions to control new cases. 

Romania hit a record of 328 coronavirus deaths on Wednesday, a day after reaching more than 15,000 confirmed cases. Romania is the second-least vaccinated country in the EU with just 35 per cent of adults fully vaccinated. Government data indicates that more than 90 per cent of the 328 who died were unvaccinated against COVID-19.

Scandinavian authorities on Wednesday suspended or discouraged the use of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine in young people because of an increased risk of heart inflammation, a very rare side effect associated with the shot.

Sweden suspended the use of Moderna for those recipients under 30, Denmark said those under 18 won’t be offered the Swiss-made vaccine, and Norway urged those under 30 to get the Pfizer vaccine instead.

A view of vials of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is shown on Aug. 15, 2021. Scandinavian countries are limiting the use of the vaccine due to an increased risk of heart inflammation, a very rare side effect associated with the shot. (Hassene Dridi/Reuters)

In Asia, Singapore’s health ministry reported 3,486 new cases, the highest since the beginning of the pandemic.

In Africa, Libyan health authorities have started vaccinating migrants in the country, in co-operation with the UN migration agency. The vaccination campaign kicked off in Tripoli, with migrants receiving the first shot of the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine at the National Center for Disease Control.

Zimbabwe is allowing bars to reopen for the first time in more than a year, but only fully vaccinated people will be allowed to take a swig from inside the premises.

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U.N. plane aborts landing as air strike hits Ethiopia’s Tigray

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An Ethiopian government air strike on the capital of the northern Tigray region on Friday forced a U.N. aid flight to abort a landing there, the United Nations said.

In neighboring Amhara region, people were fleeing intensified fighting.

Humanitarian sources and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which controls the area, said a university in the regional capital Mekelle was hit by the air strike.

Government spokesman Legesse Tulu said a former military base occupied by TPLF fighters was targeted, and he denied the university was hit.

Reuters was not able to independently confirm either account. TPLF-controlled Tigrai TV reported that 11 civilians were wounded in the air strike. It was at least the fourth day this week that Mekelle had been attacked.

The United Nations suspended all flights to Mekelle after a U.N. plane with 11 passengers had to abort landing on Friday.

The flight from Addis Ababa had been cleared by federal authorities but was told by the Mekelle airport control tower to abort the landing, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said

“This is the first time that we had a flight turn around, at least to my knowledge, in the recent past in Ethiopia because of air strikes on the ground,” senior U.N. aid official Gemma Connell, who heads U.N. humanitarian operations in southern and eastern Africa, told reporters in New York on Friday.

The passengers were aid workers traveling to a region where some 7 million people, including 5 million in Tigray, need humanitarian help, she said.

The flight safely returned to the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, Dujarric said.

‘THE WHOLE CITY IS PANICKING’

The two sides have been fighting for almost a year in a conflict that has killed thousands of people and displaced more than two million amid a power struggle between the TPLF and the central government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in Addis Ababa.

The TPLF dominated the Horn of Africa country’s ruling party for decades before Abiy, who is not a Tigrayan, took office in 2018.

The government has stepped up air strikes on the Tigray capital as fighting has escalated in Amhara, a neighbouring region where the TPLF has seized territory that the government and allied armed Amhara armed groups are trying to recover.

Residents in Dessie, a city in Amhara, told Reuters people were fleeing, a day after a TPLF spokesperson said its forces were within artillery range of the town.

“The whole city is panicking,” a resident said, adding that people who could were leaving. He said he could hear the sound of heavy gunfire on Thursday night and into the morning, and that the bus fare to Addis Ababa, about 385 km (240 miles) to the south, had increased more than six-fold.

There are now more than 500,000 displaced people in the Amhara region, the National Disaster Risk Management Commission told Reuters.

Seid Assefa, a local official working at a coordination centre for displaced people in Dessie, said 250 people had fled there this week from fighting in the Girana area to the north.

“We now have a total of 900 (displaced people) here and we finished our food stocks three days ago.”

Leul Mesfin, medical director of Dessie Hospital, told Reuters two girls and an adult had died this week at his facility of wounds from artillery fire in the town of Wuchale, which both the government and the TPLF have described as the scene of heavy fighting over the past week.

(Reporting by Addis Ababa newsroomAdditional reporting and writing by Maggie Fick and Ayenat Mersie in Nairobi, additional reporting by Michelle Nichols in New York; Editing by John Stonestreet, Peter Graff, Alex Richardson, William Maclean)

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Nigerian state to shut camps for people displaced by insurgency

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Nigeria‘s Borno state, the epicentre of an ongoing Islamist insurgency, will shut all camps that are holding thousands of internally displaced persons by the end of the year, its governor said on Friday, citing improved security in the state.

The conflict between the insurgents and Nigerian’s armed forces has also spread to Chad and Cameroon and has left about 300,000 dead and millions dependent on aid, according to the United Nations.

Borno, which shares a border with Niger, Cameroon and Chad has for more than a decade been the foremost outpost of an insurgency led by Islamist group Boko Haram and later its offshoot Islamic State for West Africa Province (ISWAP).

Speaking after a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari in Abuja, Borno governor Babgana Zulum said security had improved in the state so much that those living in camps in the state capital Maiduguri could return home.

“So far so good, Borno State government has started well and arrangements have been concluded to ensure the closure of all internally displaced persons camps that are inside Maiduguri metropolis on or before 31st December, 2021,” Zulum said.

But humanitarian groups say most families are unwilling to return to their ancestral lands especially in the northern parts of Borno, which they deem unsafe.

Buhari has in the past months claimed his government was gaining ground on the insurgents. Last week the country’s top general said ISWAP leader Abu Musab al-Barnawi was dead, without giving details.

Zulum said Borno state authorities would continue to repatriate Nigerian refugees from a camp in Cameroon.

Boko Haram’s leader Abubakar Shekau died in May and Nigeria says hundreds of fighters loyal to the Islamist group have been surrendering to the government since then.

 

(Reporting by Maiduguri newsroom, Writing by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by David Gregorio)

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Exclusive-U.S. hopes to soon relocate Afghan pilots who fled to Tajikistan, official says

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The United States hopes to soon relocate around 150 U.S.-trained  Afghan Air Force pilots and other personnel detained in Tajikistan for more than two months after they flew there at the end of the Afghan war, a U.S. official said.

The State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, declined to offer a timeline for the transfer but said the United States wanted to move all of those held at the same time. The details of the U.S. plan have not been previously reported.

Reuters exclusively reported first-person accounts from 143 U.S.-trained Afghan personnel being held at a sanatorium in a mountainous, rural area outside of the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, waiting for a U.S. flight out to a third country and eventual U.S. resettlement.

Speaking on smuggled cell phones kept hidden from guards, they say they have had their phones and identity documents confiscated.

There are also 13 Afghan personnel in Dushanbe, enjoying much more relaxed conditions, who told Reuters they are also awaiting a U.S. transfer. They flew into the country separately.

The Afghan personnel in Tajikistan represent the last major group of U.S.-trained pilots still believed to be in limbo after dozens of advanced military aircraft were flown across the Afghan border to Tajikistan and to Uzbekistan in August during the final moments of the war with the Taliban.

In September, a U.S.-brokered deal allowed a larger group of Afghan pilots and other military personnel to be flown out of Uzbekistan to the United Arab Emirates.

Two detained Afghan pilots in Tajikistan said their hopes were lifted in recent days after visits by officials from the U.S. embassy in Dushanbe.

Although they said they had not yet been given a date for their departure, the pilots said U.S. officials obtained the biometric data needed to complete the process of identifying the Afghans. That was the last step before departure for the Afghan pilots in Uzbekistan.

PREGNANT AFGHAN PILOT

U.S. lawmakers and military veterans who have advocated for the pilots have expressed deep frustration over the time it has taken for President Joe Biden’s administration to evacuate Afghan personnel.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was pressed on the matter in Congress last month, expressing concern at a hearing for the pilots and other personnel.

Reuters had previously reported U.S. difficulties gaining Tajik access to all of the Afghans, which include an Afghan Air Force pilot who is eight months pregnant.

In an interview with Reuters, the 29-year-old pilot had voiced her concerns to Reuters about the risks to her and her child at the remote sanatorium. She was subsequently moved to a maternity hospital.

“We are like prisoners here. Not even like refugees, not even like immigrants. We have no legal documents or way to buy something for ourselves,” she said.

The pregnant pilot would be included in the relocation from Tajikistan, the U.S. State Department official said.

Even before the Taliban’s takeover, the U.S.-trained, English-speaking pilots had become prime targets of the Taliban because of the damage they inflicted during the war. The Taliban tracked down the pilots and assassinated them off-base.

Afghanistan’s new rulers have said they will invite former military personnel to join the revamped security forces and that they will come to no harm.

Afghan pilots who spoke with Reuters say they believe they will be killed if they return to Afghanistan.

 

(Reporting by Phil Stewart; editing by Grant McCool)

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