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Former USC athletic official pleads guilty ahead of U.S. college scam trial

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A former senior associate athletic director at the University of Southern California pleaded guilty on Friday to participating in a vast fraud and bribery scheme that allowed wealthy parents’ children to gain admission to colleges as fake sports recruits.

Donna Heinel, 60, had been set to go before a federal jury in Boston later this month in the second trial to arise from the U.S. college admissions scandal. She instead pleaded guilty to committing honest services wire fraud.

Heinel admitted she submitted information to a USC admissions committee from the scheme’s mastermind, college admissions consultant William “Rick” Singer, about students that misled it into believing their applications came from coaches.

She did so from 2015 to 2019 in exchange for payments from Singer’s clients to USC accounts she professionally benefited from.

Heinel agreed not to appeal any prison sentence of 46 months or less. She is slated to be sentenced March 11.

Heinel is among 57 people charged in the “Operation Varsity Blues” investigation, which ensnared business executives and celebrities and exposed inequalities in U.S. higher education.

Singer pleaded guilty in 2019 to facilitating cheating on college entrance exams and helping bribe coaches and university athletic officials to secure the admission of children as phony athletes.

Forty-eight people have agreed to plead guilty, including actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman.

Heinel’s plea came after two fathers, former casino executive Gamal Aziz and private equity firm founder John Wilson, were convicted in October in the first trial in the scandal of buying their children’s way into USC.

Prosecutors alleged Singer’s clients made more than $1.3 million in payments to USC accounts that Heinel designated.

Prosecutors called the payments bribes, a characterization U.S. District Judge Indira Talwani on Friday questioned since Heinel did not personally pocket the funds.

But she ultimately accepted the plea after defense lawyer Nina Marino said the money helped Heinel improperly fulfill her duties to raise money for USC.

 

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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COVID-19 antiviral drug molnupiravir to be manufactured in Canada – CTV News

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TORONTO —
Merck Canada announced on Monday that it is partnering with Thermo Fisher Scientific to manufacture its COVID-19 antiviral drug in Canada for global distribution in a deal Ottawa hopes will help jump-start the country’s position as a biomanufacturing centre and better secure its supply chain for future public health emergencies.

The existing Thermo Fisher facility in Whitby, Ont. will produce doses of molnupiravir, an investigational drug developed in collaboration with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, for distribution in Canada, the U.K., the European Union, Asia Pacific, and Latin America, pending approvals in those respective regions. The drug is awaiting approval by Health Canada.

The facility was chosen because of the capacity, capability, and speed with which it is able to produce the drug, Merck Canada’s new president Marwan Akar said during a press conference.

The Whitby location is one of three facilities in the world that will produce this pill, which would be the first drug treatment for COVID-19 patients can take at home.

“We are marking a very key milestone, and rebuilding Canada’s biomanufacturing capability,” Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry Francois-Philippe Champagne said during the news conference.

“We’ll be producing COVID medications for Canadians and indeed for the world… so to me this is a very big step in how we intend to rebuild our biomanufacturing sector in Canada.”

Earlier in the pandemic, Canada came under criticism for its inability to manufacture COVID-19 vaccines domestically, leaving Ottawa reliant on U.S. and European manufacturers to produce and provide doses. To ensure Canadians had access to vaccines as they became available, the federal government ordered hundreds of millions of doses of vaccine candidates from more than half a dozen companies.

Minister Champagne said the latest announcement is part of the government’s efforts to ensure Canada is better prepared and that “we redesign the supply chain so whatever may come next, we would be ready.”

The new manufacturing deal will also help Ontario’s economic recovery with a $19 million capital investment supporting more than 50 high-paying jobs in the region, according to Victor Fedeli, Ontario Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade.

ANTIVIRAL LESS EFFECTIVE THAN FIRST THOUGHT

Last week, the federal government signed a deal with Merck to purchase 500,000 molnupiravir pills, with an option for another half million, pending approval. Request for approval of the drug was submitted in August.

The company says its oral pill reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by about 30 per cent for at-risk, non-hospitalized adult patients with mild or moderate infection. This was sharply lower than the 50 per cent reported in the initial data.

In a narrow vote last week, a panel of expert advisers to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommended the drug be authorized for treatment of COVID-19, but expressed concerns over whether it could cause the virus to mutate and its potential to cause birth defects. Studies in rats showed the drug caused toxicity and birth defects at very high doses.

While Merck has yet to conduct specific research on the medication’s effectiveness against the Omicron variant, the company appeared confident that it should have some potency based on its effectiveness against other variants. Final authorization for emergency use by the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is pending.

Antiviral drug treatments are considered another tool in the fight against COVID-19, experts say, after personal protective equipment, testing, and vaccines.

With files from The Associated Press 

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

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The latest:

Italy is making life more uncomfortable for unvaccinated people as the holidays draw near, excluding them from indoor restaurants, theatres and museums to reduce the spread of coronavirus and encourage vaccine skeptics to get their shots.

Starting Monday through Jan. 15, Italian police can check whether diners in restaurants or bars have a “super” green health pass certifying that they are either vaccinated or have recently recovered from the virus. Smartphone applications that check people’s health pass status will be updated and those who have merely tested negative in recent days for COVID-19 will no longer be allowed into concerts, movies or performances.

The number of new COVID-19 infections in Italy has been on a gradual rise for the past six weeks, even before concerns arose about the new omicron variant. That’s a worrying trend as Italians plan holiday parties and getaways to spend time with friends and family. Christmas travel and holiday gatherings were strictly limited last year due to a steeper rise in contagion.

While both Germany and Austria are moving toward making vaccines obligatory, Italy is instead tightening restrictions on the unvaccinated at the most convivial time of the year — while allowing those who are vaccinated to go about life more or less as usual.

People walk along the Via Condotti luxury shopping street in central Rome on Sunday as the city brought in a regulation requiring people to wear masks outdoors in the city centre and in other busy shopping areas until Dec. 31. (Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images)

Italy’s vaccination rate is higher than many of its neighbours, at 85 per cent of the eligible population aged 12 and older and 77 per cent of the total population. But people in their 30s, 40s and 50s have proved the most reluctant to get vaccinated, with nearly 3.5 million still not having received their first doses.

They are also the same age group that is now being hardest hit by the virus, according to Silvio Brusaferro, head of Italy’s National Health Institute.

Also starting Monday, people must have a health pass to access local public transportation and stay in hotels — that can be acquired also with a negative recent test. In Milan, the prefect said health passes will be checked before people are allowed onto the subway or buses.

With the holiday shopping season heating up, many cities including Rome and Milan have ordered mask mandates even outdoors.

Public health officials say vaccinations, along with prudent public behaviour including wearing masks in crowds, are key to reducing infection levels as winter weather pushes more activities indoors. They credit Italy’s relatively high level of immunization as one reason that the infection curve is not as steep as last winter, when broad restrictions were imposed with the spread of the delta variant.

“It is clear that after two years of the pandemic, we cannot easily close schools to physical classes and shut down economic activity,” said Gianni Rezza, the health ministry’s director of prevention.

“Therefore, you can try to keep the virus spread down with measures that are sustainable, and with proper use of the health pass. Then the big bet is on the vaccinations.”

-From The Associated Press, last updated at 7:30 a.m. ET


What’s happening across Canada

What’s happening around the world

People who just received a COVID-19 shot wait for their vaccine card to be processed at the Orange Farm, South Africa, multipurpose centre on Friday. South Africa has accelerated its vaccination campaign a week after the discovery of the omicron variant of the coronavirus. (Jerome Delay/The Associated Press)

As of early Monday morning, more than 265.9 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to a case-tracking database maintained by U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University. The reported global death toll stood at more than 5.2 million.

In Africa, South Africa is preparing its hospitals for more admissions, as the omicron variant pushes the country into a fourth wave of COVID-19 infections, President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Monday. Ramaphosa said in a weekly newsletter that omicron appeared to be dominating new infections in most provinces and urged more people to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

“We will soon be convening a meeting of the National Coronavirus Command Council to review the state of the pandemic. This will enable us to take whatever further measures are needed to keep people safe and healthy,” he said.

Meanwhile, Senegal recorded its first case of the omicron variant in a tourist who attended a demonstration in Dakar last month with about 300 people of varying nationalities, a testing lab said on Sunday.

In the Americas, Argentina has detected its first case of the omicron coronavirus variant in a person who had travelled from South Africa, the South American country’s Health Ministry said late on Sunday. Argentina joined Brazil, Mexico and Chile on the list of Latin American countries where cases of the new variant have been detected.

Students wash their hands before classes at Ricardo P. Cruz elementary school in Taguig city, suburban Manila, on Monday after authorities loosened restrictions to allow limited in-person classes in the capital city. (Ted Aljibe/AFP/Getty Images)

In the Asia-Pacific region, some children in the Philippines’ capital Manila returned to school on Monday after a near two-year suspension.

Meanwhile, health officials in Thailand and Nepal reported finding first cases of the omicron variant. In both countries, the cases were detected in foreign nationals, health officials said.

In the Middle East, a Jordanian court sentenced five senior health officials to three years in jail for causing the death of 10 COVID-19 patients following an oxygen outage in a major state hospital, state media said.

In Europe, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said his government would present a new package of pandemic restrictions this week in response to the new variant and was considering how to handle the approaching Christmas holidays.

“The situation is indeed not looking good…. We have many deaths,” Morawiecki told a news conference.

-From The Associated Press, Reuters and CBC News, last updated at 9:35 a.m. ET

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As omicron variant spreads, Manitoba couple feel 'criminalized' after return from South Africa – CBC.ca

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A Brandon, Man., couple who are quarantining in a Toronto hotel after a recent trip to South Africa say they feel “criminalized” as travellers after the federal government placed restrictions on 10 African countries due to the presence of a new coronavirus variant of concern.

A day after Lennard and Charlotte Skead left for South Africa, where they’re both originally from, the World Health Organization released information about a new coronavirus variant of concern called omicron, or the B.1.1.529 variant, which was discovered in the country.

The couple, who were in South Africa to access medical care, made several attempts shortly after their arrival to find an airline to bring them back to Canada.

“We were extremely frustrated in not being able to find much [airline tickets] because of course there were hundreds of people, hundreds of Canadians there wanting to get back. Calls to the airlines took hours on hold; it was total chaos,” Lennard Skead said.

On their trip back to Canada, they had to take six COVID-19 tests, which all came back negative, before being allowed to re-enter the country.

The Skeads underwent COVID-19 testing at the Frankfurt airport on their way to Toronto, where they’re quarantining in a hotel. Lennard Skead says they were tested six times on their journey. (Submitted by Lennard Skead)

Skead says he just feels grateful they made it back.

“We were just lucky,” he said, although it cost them a lot of money to return — a total of almost $23,500 so far for flights, COVID-19 tests and hotels.

In addition, their bags were lost and the food they’ve been served in the hotel consistently contains allergens, which the couple has brought to the attention of staff.

Restrictions meant to protect Canadians

Health Canada announced on Nov. 26 that foreign nationals who had travelled through any of the seven affected countries — including South Africa — in the last 14 days will not be permitted entry to Canada, in order to slow the spread of the omicron variant in Canada.

Canadian citizens and permanent residents will be allowed to return home, but they must quarantine and be tested for COVID-19.

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos says the travel restrictions are another way the federal government is working to protect the health and safety of Canadians. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Four days later, three other nations were added to the list of countries with travel restrictions, which went into effect on Wednesday.

Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos told a news conference on Friday that Canada has had strong border measures throughout the pandemic to protect the health and safety of Canadians.

“I believe, and that’s what we hear from public health officials, that what we’ve announced last week on Friday [Nov. 26] and on Tuesday is currently the best set of measures, given the necessity and capability with which we are facing when we’re dealing with these issues,” he said.

Duclos said travellers from the 10 countries should expect to be tested for COVID-19 when they arrive in Canada and be ready to isolate.

“It will take a few days before we are able to test all targeted travellers, but we’re ramping up our capacity quickly and testing more and more travellers every day,” he said.

Meanwhile, Skead, who is three days into his quarantine, believes travellers like himself and his wife are being treated poorly.

He says he wishes there was a grace period for travellers who were already abroad when restrictions were announced.

“My experience from landing in Toronto Pearson [International Airport] right up into the hotel has made us feel criminalized,” Skead said.

“It has made us feel as though we are not welcome in our own country and that we are carrying some kind of terrible disease that’s going to be the end of the world, despite our six negative COVID-19 tests.”

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