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Nigerian separatist leader Kanu denies terrorism charges in court hearing

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Nigerian separatist leader  Nnamdi Kanu pleaded not guilty to charges including terrorism in an Abuja court on Thursday, three months after his trial was delayed when authorities failed to produce him in court.

The charges against Kanu, a British citizen, also included calling for secession, knowingly broadcasting falsehoods about President Muhammadu Buhari, and membership of an outlawed group.

The military considers Kanu’s Indigenous People of Biafra(IPOB) a terrorist organization.

IPOB wants a swathe of the southeast, homeland of the Igbo ethnic group, to split from Nigeria. An attempt to secede in 1967 as the Republic of Biafra triggered a three-year civil war that killed more than 1 million people.

Security services barred journalists from entering the court and forcibly dispersed crowds of supporters who gathered nearby.

In selfies with his lawyer circulating in local media, Kanu looked healthy and in good spirits.

Kanu was first arrested in 2015, but disappeared while on bail in April 2017. His social media posts during his absence, and his Radio Biafra broadcasts, outraged the government, which they said encouraged attacks on security forces.

Security agents produced him in court in Abuja on June 29 after detaining him in an undisclosed country. His lawyer alleged he was detained and mistreated in Kenya, though Kenya has denied involvement.

Kanu has filed charges alleging that he was illegally taken from Kenya and asking that he be repatriated to Britain.

On Thursday, his lawyers also asked, unsuccessfully, for Kanu to be transferred to the Nigerian Correctional Centre instead of the state security custody for easier access to his lawyers.

Kanu’s lawyer, Ifeanyi Ejiofor, said they have an application challenging the competence of the underlying charges, most of which reference Radio Biafra broadcasts made out of London.

“I can’t see how someone would make a statement in London and it becomes a triable offence in this country,” Ejiofor told reporters.

The trial was adjourned until Nov. 10.

 

(Additional reporting by Abraham Achirga and Afolabi Sotunde in Abuja, writing by Libby George, editing by Angus MacSwan)

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Former public servant moves to Mexico to avoid vaccine passport system – CBC.ca

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Some Canadians are going to great lengths to avoid mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations, including one former public servant from the Outaouais who moved her family to Mexico. 

“This fall I became very uncomfortable in my country. I no longer felt like I was an equal member of society,” said Amélie Gervais in a French interview with Radio-Canada. 

Gervais worked as a civilian member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police for 16 years before retiring on Oct. 2. 

“When the COVID-19 vaccine came out, I started to research and I decided to wait. I just wanted to wait, but I found it was quickly imposed,” she said. 

Once vaccine passports were introduced in Quebec, Gervais said she “started looking at where in the world it would be good to live, where people could live without [a passport].”

She considered several places, including Costa Rica, but scratched that option when that country began enforcing a similar passport system. 

In the end, Gervais, her husband and their three kids, ages four to nine, moved to Mexico on Oct. 26, just before the Oct. 30th cutoff, when the federal government began phasing in the need for a COVID-19 vaccine to travel by plane or train. 

Amélie Gervais with three children, ages four to nine, on a beach in Mexico. (Submitted by Amélie Gervais)

Gervais says she’s homeschooling her two oldest children, with study breaks spent on the beach. She says she doesn’t regret her decision and loves her new life. 

“I cried. I get emotional just thinking about it. That pressure is gone,” she said. 

Most public servants vaccinated

Gervais is the exception in the federal public service, however.

The latest numbers from the government estimate that while more than 10,000 civil servants are not fully vaccinated, that’s only around four per cent of all federal public servants.

The government says it does not yet know how many public servants are on unpaid leave because they won’t get vaccinated. A total of 3,400 workers have applied for an exemption on religious or medical grounds, and so far the majority of them are still waiting for a decision.

“We are in the process of evaluating these requests because it is not a process that is done with a yes or a no,” said Treasury Board president Mona Fortier.

The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada has questioned whether enough resources are being allocated to reviewing those requests.

“We are disappointed with the speed at which the government reacts to its own policies,” said Stéphane Aubry, the national vice-president of the union, in French. 

The vaccination policy is also being challenged in federal court by more than 200 public servants. 

“There is a lot of stress, and we don’t know if there is an expected return to work date,” said Michael Bergman, one of the two lawyers representing those employees.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization, meanwhile, has said the currently approved mRNA vaccines are “highly efficacious in the short term” against COVID-19.

This fall, Moderna released real-world data showing its vaccine was 96 per cent effective at preventing hospitalization — even amid the more transmissible delta variant — and 87 per cent effective at preventing infection.

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Canadians, other foreigners will need COVID-19 test a day before flights to U.S. – CBC.ca

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The United States is making it mandatory next week for Canadians and other foreign visitors who arrive by air to get a COVID-19 test within 24 hours of their departure, regardless of their vaccination status, as part of a pandemic battle plan for the winter months.

U.S. President Joe Biden announced his administration’s plan on Thursday during a visit to the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md.

The new travel rule on obtaining a negative COVID-19 test will take effect on Monday at 12:01 a.m. ET, sources briefed on the matter said.

Currently, international air travellers are required to get a test within 72 hours of leaving for the U.S. A senior White House official who spoke on condition of anonymity told CBC News that the new protocol will not apply to those crossing the Canada-U.S. land border.

“We’re pulling out all the stops to get people maximum protection from this pandemic,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told a briefing on Thursday in advance of Biden’s afternoon announcement.

Passengers arrive at John F. Kennedy International Airport In New York City on Nov. 8. By early next week, Canadians and all other foreign visitors who travel to the U.S. by air will need to get a COVID-19 test no later than 24 hours before their departure. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)

“Our view and belief, and the belief of our medical team, is that we have the tools to keep people safe. We’re executing on a robust plan that builds off of all the actions we’ve taken to date — we are not starting from scratch here.”

Fully vaccinated travellers entering the U.S. by land from Canada currently do not need to present a negative COVID-19 test, as long as they show proof of vaccination or attest to their vaccination status upon request by a border agent. That rule has been in place since the land border reopened to non-essential travel on Nov. 8.

In Canada, all those entering the country must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 molecular test result, taken within 72 hours of arrival by land or air.

However, since Nov. 30, the rule has been adjusted for Canadians who depart and re-enter Canada within 72 hours, meaning those taking trips of that duration or shorter no longer need proof of a negative COVID-19 test to return home.

WATCH | Travel Insurance, trip planning and the omicron variant: 

Travel Insurance, trip planning and the omicron variant

Travel insurance consultant Martin Firestone lays out what travellers should know about the latest travel restrictions. 4:48

Under the U.S. plan to combat the spread of COVID-19 over the winter months, the Transportation Security Administration is extending its mask mandates on transit through March 18. Passengers on domestic flights, trains and public transportation will be required to continue wearing face masks.

Other components of the 10-point U.S. strategy include:

  • A plan to expand access to booster shots, with a comprehensive outreach effort to convince nearly 100 million eligible Americans to get one.
  • New family vaccination clinics to provide a one-stop vaccination stop for entire households.
  • Accelerating the effort to safely vaccinate children under the age of five.
  • Expanding the availability of at-home test kits.
  • Rapid response teams to help with widespread omicron outbreaks.
  • Another 200 million COVID-19 vaccine doses donated internationally within the next 100 days.

Biden’s speech outlining the plan comes a day after the U.S. confirmed its first case of the omicron variant of the coronavirus in a traveller who arrived in San Francisco from South Africa on Nov. 22.

The new variant is “cause for concern but not panic,” Biden said.

More omicron cases reported

U.S. health officials confirmed a second case of the variant on Thursday in Minnesota. It involved a vaccinated man who had attended an anime convention just before Thanksgiving in New York City that drew an estimated 50,000 people. That would suggest the variant has begun to spread within the U.S.

In addition to the convention attendee, health officials in New York said tests showed five other people in the city recently infected with COVID-19 had the variant.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the geographic spread of the positive tests suggested the variant was undergoing “community spread” in the city and wasn’t linked to any one event.

Another U.S. case of the variant was reported Thursday in a Colorado woman who had recently travelled to southern Africa.

COVID-19 cases and deaths in the U.S. have dropped by about half since the delta variant peak in August and September, but at about 86,000 new infections per day, the numbers are still worrisomely high — especially heading into the holidays, when people travel and gather with family.

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U.S. to not reimburse private health insurers for covering at-home COVID test costs

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The U.S. government will not reimburse private health insurance companies for covering the cost of at-home COVID-19 tests, a White House official said on Thursday.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act require coverage of diagnostic testing for COVID-19 without any cost-sharing requirements during the public health emergency,” the White House official said.

“The Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and the Treasury will clarify that coverage of over-the-counter COVID-19 tests is generally subject to those provisions”, the official added.

 

(Reporting by Jeff Mason, writing by Kanishka Singh)

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