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)
The COVID-19 baby dilemma: Why Canadians are rethinking parenthood in 2021 | Globalnews.ca – Global News
When Jessa Lira got married in 2017, she didn’t anticipate being ready to have children for at least a couple of years; she wanted to enjoy life as a newlywed for a while and travel.
She finally felt ready to start trying in early 2020, just as COVID-19 hit.
Lira and her husband, who both live in Toronto, immediately reassessed this plan as their concerns about trying to have a baby in a pandemic mounted: what would doctor’s appointments look like? Would she have to give birth alone? What were the health implications of contracting the virus while pregnant?
“We knew for a fact that it was not the safest time to have a baby in a time of a pandemic,” Lira told Global News. “So we decided to wait for a couple of months and to see how it goes.”
In deciding to put off having a baby due to COVID-19, Lira and her husband joined the ranks of a growing number of Canadian couples who are deciding to delay having children or to have fewer children than previously planned.
1 in 4 Canadians altering family plans
Almost a quarter (24 per cent) of Canadians aged 15 to 49 have changed their fertility plans because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a Statistics Canada paper released on Wednesday.
The study, conducted between April and June 2021, found almost one in five (19 per cent) of Canadians now wanted to have fewer children, while 14 per cent said they wanted to have a child later than they had originally planned. These answers were more common in people that didn’t have any children already, or people from minority groups.
Medical professionals agree with the findings, saying many of their clients’ plans to start or expand families were severely altered by the pandemic.
Economic pressures, uncertainty around jobs and living affordability were the main factors for those delaying having children.
Despite rumours of a lockdown-induced baby boom, according to StatsCan, just four per cent of respondents in the wellness survey said they now want more children or to have children sooner than previously planned.
Experts say this is likely due to inordinate periods of time spent at home reassessing their families and being unable to travel abroad.
Women give birth ‘late’ in Canada
Canada is already considered a “late” childbearing country. In 2020, the average age of mothers at the time of delivery was 31.3 years old.
The country’s fertility rate has also been steadily declining since 2008 — a trend seen in much of the rest of the Western world. France, England and the United States have also reported fewer babies born in 2020 compared with 2019.
Since the onset of the pandemic, that decrease has intensified: Canada’s fertility rate decreased from 1.47 children per woman in 2019 to a record low of 1.40 children per woman in 2020.
There were 13,434 fewer births in 2020 than in 2019, the greatest year-over-year decrease (3.6 per cent) since records began and the lowest number of births in any year since 2006.
Tali Bogler, chair of family medicine obstetrics at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, said this decline was exacerbated by the pandemic.
Many of her clients were either delaying starting a family or cancelling plans to expand their brood due to recent economic pressures.
“I’m seeing young couples who have gone through job insecurity and job loss and are delaying, maybe a year from now, two years from now,” she said.
“And then I’m also seeing couples that have one or two kids who might have thought about having a third kid, and are now asking for either a vasectomy for the partner and saying no, this is it.”
Affordability a factor in smaller families
Rising costs of living were an important factor in those choices, she said. It was especially pertinent to those living in the GTA, where house prices soared to an average of nearly $1.2 million in October.
“Affordability is a huge concern for families. It’s worsened during the pandemic, especially here in Toronto, and that might have further stress and further impact on desired family sizes and when people plan to have a child,” she said.
This notion is supported by the StatCan data, which showed that those living in one of the Atlantic provinces (16 per cent) or Quebec (13 per cent) were less likely to have made changes to their parenthood journeys, compared to those living in Ontario (22 per cent). The report authors pointed to housing affordability and COVID-related economic pressures as a possible factor, as well as Quebec’s low-fee childcare programme.
Cost of housing biggest crisis outside the pandemic: Singh
Affordability was a big factor in Samantha Tranter’s decision to stop after her second child, who was born in March 2021, after she also delayed getting pregnant due to the pandemic.
Tranter planned to get pregnant in February 2020, after her son’s first birthday. When COVID-19 hit, the Waterloo resident says she “gave up for a while,” as she and her fiance couldn’t find the time to try to conceive.
“My job went from being in the office full-time, to working from home and navigating that whole obstacle with an array of technology problems, while trying to take care of a newly one-year-old,” she said.
“It was difficult to just find time to spend together. By the end of the workday, we were both just so exhausted that the mere thought of being intimate was exhausting.”
Tranter and her fiance also cancelled the wedding they had planned for June 2020.
But as Ontario began to tentatively reopen a few months later, Tranter and her now-husband decided to move forward with their nuptials and ended up getting married in the backyard of a bed-and-breakfast with 20 guests.
They decided to extend their family soon after. Tranter’s second child was born in March 2020.
The couple don’t plan on having more, mostly due to the housing crisis and rising inflation, which rose to 4.7 per cent in October — the largest year-over-year gain since 2003.
“In 25 years when my kids are in the same position I am, they’re probably going to still be living with me because they can’t afford to leave,” Tranter said.
‘We barely bring him outside’
For Lira, the pandemic-related baby delay was also short-lived. As the months dragged on, she felt they weren’t “getting any younger” and the pandemic did not seem to be abating.
So the couple decided to try, and found out they were pregnant in November 2020. But Lira, who works in the medical field, recounts the experience of being pregnant in a pandemic as “terrifying.”
“Going to work every single day and dealing with doctors, patients and other colleagues, not knowing if they were exposed, or might have the virus [was difficult],” she said.
In the end, however, the couple were able to attend in-person appointments, ultrasounds and had a healthy baby in July 2021. However, the anxiety around being pregnant in the pandemic has boiled over to having a young child in a pandemic.
“Right now, we barely bring him outside — only for a doctor’s appointment or for a walk at the park maybe once a week. I know we can do better but the anxiety that COVID is giving us, it’s just so scary. As much as we want him to enjoy the world, we also want to protect him the best way we can.”
The experience has not altered her plans of having three children in total, however. But she hopes the pandemic is over before she tries for her second child.
For Tiffany Ermine, from Prince Albert, Sask., having a baby in the pandemic was enough to put her off ever having another. Ermine gave birth to her second child in June 2020, and the experience “terrified” her. That, coupled with unaffordable living costs mean her dream of having four or five kids will likely never become a reality.
“It devastates me, but I’d rather live comfortably and be able to give my kids the things they want and need,” she said.
Fertility clinics in high demand
But what about those who can’t conceive naturally? Anecdotally, things appear to be going in the opposite direction, with fertility specialists in high demand.
Dr. Sony Sierra, deputy medical director and partner at Trio Fertility, said she was seeing a rise in new clients wanting fertility assessments, to either understand where they were at with their fertility or to begin fertility treatment. For those wanting to conceive, this was largely due to long periods of time spent at home and international travel being off the table, Sierra said.
Trio, like many other clinics across the country, was forced to close for three months as Canada grappled with the pandemic. When the clinic reopened in May 2020, people were rushing to get appointments.
“When our fertility clinics were closed, that was very stressful for people who wanted to start their families or move forward with their families. So when we reopened, there was this huge surge of people who wanted to get in quickly before something like that was to happen again,” Sierra said.
“We had a very long lockdown in Ontario, and we were forced to be in our homes, thinking about your family and what that looks like. And so people were wanting to sort of get started sooner rather than later.”
Canada ‘may never catch up’
However, the clinic also had clients who did not return when they reopened, after reassessing their outlook on children or wanting to delay fertility treatment. This was due to economic pressures, people losing jobs, people relocating across the country and people “choosing to spend their money differently,” Sierra said.
Sierra said 2020 was a tough year for a lot of reasons, and not just the pandemic. “Socially, culturally, there were a lot of things that were going on that made people sort of stop and say, ‘Is this the right time to bring a baby into the world’?”
But this delay in fertility treatments was also likely to have contributed to the lower birth rate in 2020.
While Bogler and Sierra said women should not be concerned over delaying pregnancies for a year or two, those waiting too long past what’s considered a woman’s fertile window, generally between 20 and 25 years of age, risked not being able to have the family sizes they planned for.
Bogler said the pandemic would also likely impact Canada’s declining birth rate for years to come.
“Historically, what we’ve seen is the longer you delay, families might not be able to catch up. And so as a country, we might not ever catch up to the number of deliveries that we might have seen if the pandemic hadn’t happened,” Bogler said.
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
ArriveCAN: Canadians ordered to quarantine after short trips to US – CTV News
CANMORE, ALTA. —
Several fully vaccinated Canadians have been forced to quarantine for two weeks after returning from day trips to the U.S. and failing to pre-register on the ArriveCAN app, a requirement for re-entry.
Last month, the federal government adjusted pandemic-era travel rules to allow fully vaccinated Canadians to re-enter the country within 72 hours without providing a negative PCR test, a decision widely celebrated by those who live near the U.S. border.
However, travellers are still required to submit mandatory information, including proof of vaccination, date of travel, and quarantine plan in the ArriveCAN app before returning to the Canadian border – leading to confusion for many returning from day trips.
“It feels like I’m being punished for not being able to navigate the ArriveCAN app,” Surrey, B.C. resident Martin Turo told CTV Vancouver Friday.
On Thursday, Turo crossed the border to pick up a package in Blaine, Wash. Although he registered his trip on the ArriveCAN app, the 70-year-old, who admits he is not tech-savvy, could not figure out how to upload his vaccine details.
“I brought that vaccine passport with me and (the border guard) didn’t even want to look at it,” said Turo.
Turo is now under a 14-day quarantine order, despite having two COVID-19 vaccinations plus a booster shot, and only spending 30 minutes south of the border.
Similarly, Rick Minchin and his wife spent four hours in Blaine on Tuesday, before heading back to New Westminster, B.C., through the Pacific Highway border crossing. Unaware of the ArriveCAN app requirements, the couple were mandated to quarantine by the border official they spoke with.
“We tried to discuss with him: ‘Can we turn around? Is there anything else we can do?’ He basically said ‘no,’” explained Minchin.
Toronto-area woman Laurie Fonseca was also slapped with a quarantine order after spending just seven hours shopping across the border in Buffalo, N.Y.
“It was like being kicked in the gut,” Fonseca told CTV News Toronto on Thursday. “I’m basically bound in my house for 14 days and I’m a Canadian citizen, fully vaccinated — this makes absolutely no sense to me.”
Fonseca says she asked the CBSA officer whether she could park her car and fill out the registration then but was denied.
According to the Canada Border Services Agency, many Canadians have failed to register their trips on the app since the new rules came into effect on Nov. 30. Yet, while some travellers CTV News spoke to have been permitted to turn around, download the app and return to the border, not everyone has been given that opportunity.
“Subjectivity is the hallmark of arriving at the Canadian border,” Ryan Neely, a Vancouver-based immigration lawyer, told CTV Vancouver. “It’s more an officer’s decision if they want to send you away and give you time to fill out that app.”
Use of the app has drawn criticism from those who worry seniors and Canadians with disabilities may not be able to navigate the app.
The federal government notes that if you have accessibility needs or a compatible smartphone, you can submit your information through the browser version of ArriveCAN on any computer.
According to the ArriveCAN website, the government is working to make the mobile app accessible, adding, “if you aren’t able to use ArriveCAN due to accessibility needs, you won’t be denied boarding or entry into Canada.”
However, the website also notes that travellers who do not check in using the ArriveCAN feature may face delays due to additional questioning and potentially “be subject to enforcement action.”
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE YOU TRAVEL
The ArriveCAN app is available on the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store. The ArriveCAN iPhone app is compatible with any iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad running iOS 12.0 or later. On Android, the app requires Android version 6.0 or newer.
Once you’ve logged in, you’ll be asked to submit mandatory information including proof of vaccination, date of travel, and quarantine plan. This must be done before you arrive at the border to re-enter Canada.
Upon arrival, a Canadian Border Services officer will ask to see your ArriveCAN receipt. If you’re not carrying a smartphone or other device, be sure to have a printout of your ArriveCAN receipt ready.
Additional information about the ArriveCAN app can be found here.
– With files from Adam Frisk, Tom Yun, CTV Vancouver and CTV Toronto
Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Friday – CBC.ca
The World Health Organization’s (WHO) chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan told Reuters on Friday that while the new coronavirus variant omicron appeared to be very transmissible, the right response was to be prepared, cautious and not panic.
WHO has urged countries to boost health-care capacity and vaccinate their people to fight a surge in COVID-19 cases driven by the omicron variant, saying travel curbs could buy time, but were not the only answer.
“How worried should we be? We need to be prepared and cautious, not panic, because we’re in a different situation to a year ago,” Swaminathan said during an interview at the Reuters Next conference.
While the emergence of the new variant was unwelcome, she said the world was much better prepared than it was at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, given the development of vaccines.
Much remains unknown about omicron, which was first detected in southern Africa last month and has been spotted in at least two dozen countries. Parts of Europe were already grappling with a wave of infections of the delta variant before omicron emerged.
“We need to wait, let’s hope it’s milder … but it’s too early to conclude about the variant as a whole,” Swaminathan said of the new variant.
“Delta accounts for 99 per cent of infections around the world. This variant would have to be more transmissible to out-compete and become dominant worldwide. It is possible, but it’s not possible to predict.”
WHO’s top scientist said the omicron variant seemed to be causing three times more infections than experienced previously in South Africa, meaning “it does seem to be able to overcome some of the natural immunity from previous infection.”
Vaccines did appear to be having some effect.
“The fact that they’re not getting sick … that means the vaccines are still providing protection and we would hope that they would continue to provide protection,” Swaminathan said.
She said the health organization is “preparing for all scenarios,” which could include an additional booster dose, particularly among some age groups or vulnerable sections of the population, or a modified vaccine.
Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s emergency program, said later Friday that information about the variant will soon be flowing in as scientists learn more. He urged people to “stay centred” and not “go to the extremes of any analysis.”
“There was a time when scientists would look at all this data and nobody in the public would know, and eventually, a month later … there would be a result,” he said during a question and answer session about omicron. “That’s not how the world works anymore — everything is happening in real time.”
Ryan said that shift offers some real benefits around transparency and community empowerment, but it can also be “unsettling” to people because firm answers aren’t available right away.
“We’ve got to get used to living in that world where getting the real evidence and answers is slightly behind getting all the data and all this kind of unlinked information,” he said.
“We all live with that uncertainty.”
–From Reuters and CBC News, last updated at 2:02 p.m. ET
What’s happening across Canada
What’s happening around the world
As of late Friday morning, more than 264.4 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus tracker. The reported global death toll stood at more than 5.2 million.
In Ireland, the government on Friday announced strict new limits on the hospitality sector and home visits after officials warned the new omicron variant was likely to add to pressure on the health service.
In Africa, the health ministry in South Africa on Thursday reported 11,535 new cases of COVID-19 and 44 additional deaths, up from 8,561 new cases and 28 deaths a day earlier. The country, which raised the alarm about the new variant now named omicron, has seen a surge in cases.
In Europe, more regions of Russia have made COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for those 60 and over as the country tries to control infections and keep the omicron variant at bay.
Authorities in the northern region of Komi said Friday people in that age group are required to get fully vaccinated by Feb. 1. The Omsk region in Siberia introduced a more stringent timeline Thursday that obligates those 60 and older to get their first dose by Dec. 24 and their second by Jan. 15.
Russia has struggled to get cases down amid low vaccination rates and poor compliance with public health measures. Only about 40 per cent of Russia’s population have been fully vaccinated.
Meanwhile, the prevalence of COVID-19 infections in England rose to around one in 60 people in the week ending Nov. 27, Britain’s Office for National Statistics said Friday, noting the increase was attributed to the dominant delta variant rather than newly identified omicron. The prevalence was up from 1 in 65 reported the previous week, the ONS said.
In the Americas, the Biden administration announced more measures meant to curb the spread of the new variant. Starting Monday, international air travellers arriving in the United States must provide a negative COVID-19 test within a day of travel.
“We’re going to fight this variant with science and speed, not chaos and confusion,” said President Joe Biden. Around 60 per cent of the U.S. population have been fully vaccinated, one of the lowest rates among wealthy nations.
In the Middle East, OPEC and its allies agreed to stick to their existing policy of monthly oil output increases despite fears that a U.S. release from crude reserves and the new omicron coronavirus variant would lead to a fresh oil price rout.
In the Asia-Pacific region, India reported its first omicron cases but the government said it had no immediate plan to authorize booster vaccine shots despite demands from legislators.
-From The Associated Press, Reuters and CBC News, last updated at 2:02 p.m. ET
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