By Jeffrey Heller
JERUSALEM (Reuters) –Israel observed a day of mourning on Sunday for 45 people crushed to death at a Jewish religious festival, with flags lowered to half-staff and questions raised about accountability for one of the country’s worst civilian disasters.
In accordance with Jewish tradition, funerals were held with as little delay as possible. More than 20 of the victims of Friday’s disaster on Mount Meron were buried overnight after official identification was completed.
Witnesses described a stampede and a pyramid of bodies, including several children, in a slippery metal-floored passageway at the annual pilgrimage of ultra-Orthodox faithful to the tomb of a second-century Jewish mystic, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, in northern Israel.
“We’re all heartbroken, saddened, shattered into a million pieces. There are no words to describe the feeling of the entire country,” Rabbi Velvel Brevda, 66, said on Sunday on Mount Meron, where prayer vigils were being held.
Israeli media estimated that some 100,000 people attended the event on Friday, numbers that underscored a relaxing of coronavirus restrictions in a country that had sped ahead of others in its vaccination rollout.
Questions were being raised as to whether the government and police had been reluctant to limit the crowd size at the site – labelled hazardous years ago by state inspectors – so as not to anger influential ultra-Orthodox rabbis and politicians.
“A thorough inquiry is required,” Culture Minister Hili Tropper told Kan public radio. “This terrible disaster will help everyone understand … that there should be no place where the state does not set the rules.”
The Justice Ministry said investigators would look into whether there had been any police misconduct. But police commissioner Yaakov Shabtai, in a message to the police force, said that police should not be singled out.
“We are working to discover the truth and produce educated and balanced lessons for all organisations involved in this complex event,” he said.
FOREIGNERS AMONG VICTIMS
In his noon address in St Peter’s Square in the Vatican, Pope Francis said he would remember the victims and their families in prayer.
“With sadness, I express my closeness to the people of Israel for the incident last Friday on Mount Meron that caused the death of 45 people and numerous injuries,” Francis said.
Police and regional government officials said the Mount Meron site was administered by four separate private religious groups, making oversight difficult.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised an investigation. His presidential mandate to form a new government, after an inconclusive March 23 election, expires on Wednesday, but public calls to determine responsibility for the tragedy seemed certain to hound any incoming administration.
Six U.S. citizens were among the dead, according to the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. Two Canadians, a British citizen and an Argentinian were also killed.
Avigdor Chayut, who was injured in the crush, buried his 13-year-old son Yedidya overnight in a cemetery in Bnei Brak, a largely religious town near Tel Aviv.
He told Kan public radio he and Yedidya had become separated in the passageway. But a younger son, Shmuel, was at the father’s side as people fell on top of them. Shmuel survived with a sprained limb.
“Dad, I am about to die. Let’s say ‘Shema Yisrael’ (Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one),” he heard 10-year-old Shmuel say – a prayer traditionally spoken by Jews facing imminent death.
(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Alex Richardson)
Canadians seeking vaccines rely on web-savvy volunteers
By Anna Mehler Paperny, Moira Warburton and Harry Miller
TORONTO (Reuters) – Canadians want vaccines. Many can’t figure out how to get them.
The country’s vaccine rollout, ramping up after a slow start, has been plagued by confusion and mixed messages, becoming so convoluted that Canadians are turning to a Twitter account and Discord channel run by a team of savvy volunteers to steer them to a shot.
Like a giant national game of Pokemon Go, the accounts post details of vaccine clinic locations, eligibility, how many shots are available and, sometimes, how long the lines are.
Unlike the game, the payoff for @VaxHuntersCan users is a chance to get inoculated against the coronavirus.
“Very short line at the Newtonbrook Mobile Clinic (155 Hilda Ave). M3H just added so goooooooooooo!!!!!” a recent tweet said, referring to the Toronto postal code whose residents had become eligible for vaccinations.
Vaccine Hunters Canada, a six-week-old group, has 66 volunteers running its Facebook page, Discord chat and Twitter account, which has more than 240,000 followers.
“The craziest thing is keeping up with the information,” said Josh Kalpin, one of the group’s four founding members.
Kalpin, a software developer by day, got involved when another co-founder helped him schedule vaccine appointments for several of his family members. “I just wanted to help as many friends and family as I could,” he told Reuters.
He works 16-hour days, trying to keep on top of an ever-changing landscape.
Much of the activity happens in the evening. Information comes in via email, direct messages and texts about upcoming clinics and available doses. The group also has a designated portal on its website (http://vaccinehunters.ca/)for pharmacists.
Volunteers collect information on vaccine availability and eligibility and, once they verify it, post it on their channels.
They also field thousands of queries daily from people who need help booking a vaccine or who have questions about the shot. Volunteers from the health sector assist, though they do not provide medical advice.
Kaitlyn Gonsalves is among them. The 27-year-old master’s degree student got involved with Vaccine Hunters just as the coronavirus was wreaking a lethal impact on her own family, with the death of a close cousin. It renewed her conviction in what she was doing.
“Helping people work through that made me feel I was doing something more than just grieving,” she told Reuters.
Gonsalves gets questions like – “Am I eligible?” “Where can I get a vaccine?” – on Twitter and via Discord, as well as in her community work in Scarborough, on the street or at the grocery store.
“The people who need [help] most are the people who are not on Twitter, who are not on Instagram, who don’t have internet access, who live in multi-generational homes, who live in encampments, who live in their cars,” she said.
Toronto, Canada’s largest city, has agreed to partner with the group and give it information on available vaccine spots.
“While I think it is great that the Vaccine Hunters group is filling that need and has been really instrumental in vaccinating a lot of Canadians, I do think it is an inequitable approach and the message doesn’t reach all Canadians equally,” Dr. Amanpreet Brar, who has been working with grassroots groups to get vaccines to high-risk populations, told Reuters.
Actress Roanna Cochrane was able to get a shot for herself only by following Vaccine Hunters Canada on Twitter, after struggling to navigate government websites. Cochrane’s husband got a shot after they wrote their names on Post-It notes for a draw for a clinic’s spare appointments.
“The fact that we needed a Twitter handle account in order to give us the information feels very disappointing,” she said.
(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny in Toronto and Moira Warburton in Vancouver; Editing by Dan Grebler)
Alberta drops vaccine age to 12 as COVID-19 cases surge
CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) -Alberta will become the first Canadian province to offer COVID-19 vaccines to everyone aged 12 and over from May 10, Premier Jason Kenney said on Wednesday, a day after he introduced tighter public health measures to combat a raging third wave of the pandemic.
United Conservative Party premier Kenney has come under fire for mixed public health messaging as the crest of Canada‘s third wave of the pandemic shifts from Ontario to Alberta.
Oil-rich Alberta has the highest rate per capita of COVID-19 in the country, with nearly 24,000 active cases and 146 people in intensive care. (Graphic on global cases and deaths) https://tmsnrt.rs/34pvUyi
“We must act to bend the curve down one last time,” Kenney told a news conference.
Based on current trends, Alberta’s healthcare system will be overwhelmed within a month, he added.
On Wednesday, Alberta reported 2,271 new cases, exploding from less than 200 in early February.
Canada has authorized the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for use in children from 12 to 15, the first shot to be allowed for people that young.
Under Alberta’s new restrictions, schools will be confined to online learning for two weeks, while other measures including restaurant patios being closed will last for three weeks.
Opposition NDP leader Rachel Notley said the timelines announced by Kenney were unrealistic.
“We are concerned that he is continuing his pattern of over-promising and under-delivering,” Notley told a news conference on Tuesday evening.
On Wednesday, the province reported its first death of a patient from a rare blood clot condition after receiving the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.
(Reporting by Nia Williams; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Bill Berkrot)
Canada sends medical supplies to India as COVID-19 overwhelms country’s health care – Global News
The federal government will send up to 350 much-needed ventilators from its national emergency stockpile and up to 25,000 vials of antiviral remdesivir to help, Global Affairs Canada (GAC) said in a release on Wednesday.
Remdesivir, which is also known as Veklury, is a medication used to help treat patients with severe symptoms of COVID-19. According to GAC, 25,000 vials of remdesivir can be used for at least 4,000 courses of treatment.
In an emailed statement to Global News, the Canadian Armed Forces said the members of the Royal Canadian Air Force left from Trenton, Ont., early Wednesday morning, and are set to arrive in India on Saturday.
“After identifying the needs and requirements on the ground and how best Canada can assist, these requested medical supplies have been made available to help bring some relief to those affected by COVID-19 in India,” said Canadian Health Minister Patty Hajdu.
India is undergoing a catastrophic second wave that has left the country in critically short supply of oxygen, ventilators and hospital beds, leaving patients dying waiting for help and suffocating to death in ICUs.
On Wednesday, the country reported 382,315 new confirmed cases and 3,780 reported deaths within the last 24 hours, in what is widely believed to be an undercount.
COVID-19 patients in India can’t find hospital beds
In collaboration with its international partners, Canada is also providing 1,450 oxygen concentrators. GAC said that the funding for the concentrators comes from the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, which was announced in December 2020.
“The supplies identified for this donation will not compromise continued efforts of the COVID-19 response at home in Canada,” the statement read.
Last week, the federal government also pledged $10 million to the Indian Red Cross, which is helping India procure medical supplies and medicine.
Countries are racing to provide India’s population of 1.4 billion people with medical supplies, but some experts worry they may not be enough.
“Ten million and a few ventilators is a drop in the bucket,” Rajshri Jayaraman, an associate economics professor at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy, previously said of one of Canada’s efforts.
“For a country that size, and where daily case counties have reached over 300,000 — which is probably a massive underestimation — $10 million is just not going to get you very far.”
Ashish Shah, senior director for philanthropy and community engagement at Indiaspora, a global network of people of Indian origin who work for social change, called the situation in India “desperate.”
“We need to get the funds and deploy them because after a month, it’ll be too late,” he said.
— With files from the Canadian Press and the Associated Press
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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