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No immediate changes to physical distancing guidelines for Canadian schools, despite CDC shift – CTV News

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OTTAWA —
The Public Health Agency of Canada won’t be following in the footsteps of U.S. health officials and changing the recommended distance between students in classrooms until potentially “early summer 2021,” when the agency expects to update its COVID-19 guidance for kindergarten to Grade 12 based on the latest transmission and epidemiology data.

PHAC told CTVNews.ca that while it continues to communicate with international partners, “the epidemiology of COVID-19 is different in each jurisdiction” and for that reason, narrowing the distance between students wearing masks from at least six feet to at least three feet, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended last Friday, won’t be applied to Canada at this time.

The CDC said the new guidance was based on data from schools in Utah, Missouri and Florida that suggests transmission of COVID-19 in schools is relatively low when precautions such as mask-wearing are employed, including in cases where students do not maintain six feet of distance.

“I want to emphasize that today’s recommendations are specific to students in classrooms with universal mask wearing. These updates provide the evidence-based roadmap to help schools reopen safely, and remain open, for in-person instruction,” CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky tweeted on Friday following the announcement.

PHAC currently advises that, when possible, students remain at least two metres apart while masked. Some individual provinces have taken their own approach, including B.C., where the province’s health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said in September that one metre of distance was acceptable in controlled environments.

“Given the circulation of variants of concern across Canada, some of which are more transmissible, it is important individuals continue to practise physical distancing along with multiple other personal preventive practices in a layered approach,” reads the statement from PHAC.

CTV News’ Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Abdu Sharkawy said he believes maintaining the current guidance regarding physical distancing in schools is prudent.

“We are not in a position to follow the CDC’s lead on this right now,” he said in an email to CTVNews.ca. “We are very much in the throes of a third wave that is still gaining momentum. There are simply too many outbreaks in schools, communal work environments and nowhere near enough Canadians vaccinated.”

Sharkawy added that shrinking physical distancing guidelines in schools adds risk without any tangible benefits.

“It’s not the right time,” he said. “Maybe when we’re well beyond a third wave, herd immunity is on the horizon and fully attended classrooms can be maintained safely, but that’s not happening anytime soon.”

Sharkawy also argued that investing in improved ventilation systems and prioritizing teachers and essential workers for vaccines are more important issues to consider.

With files from CTVNews.ca Writer Ben Cousins and a file from Reuters

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GM, LG Energy Solution to build 2nd U.S. battery plant in Tennessee

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By Ben Klayman

DETROIT (Reuters) -General Motors Co and South Korean joint-venture partner LG Energy Solution on Friday said they will build a second U.S. battery cell manufacturing plant, revealing plans for a $2.3 billion factory in Spring Hill, Tennessee.

The planned 2.8 million-square-foot plant, scheduled to open in late 2023, will employ 1,300 people and will have production capacity of about 35 gigawatt-hours, similar to the companies’ Ultium Cells joint-venture plant in Lordstown, Ohio, as they move to respond to the growing demand in the electric vehicle market. The plant’s capacity would enable it to supply battery packs for more than 500,000 electric vehicles a year.

“The addition of our second all-new Ultium battery cell plant in the U.S. with our joint venture partner LG Energy Solution is another major step in our transition to an all-electric future,” GM Chief Executive Mary Barra said.

The United Auto Workers on Friday called on GM to ensure the new plant is staffed with union-represented workers, which GM officials have said would be determined by the employees.

LG Chem said in a regulatory filing that its LG Energy Solution unit will invest $933.5 million in the plant between this year and 2023.

GM and LG Energy Solution will use a different, less-expensive battery chemistry in Tennessee than the one to be used in the Lordstown plant that opens next year, sources previously told Reuters.

Sources have said the No. 1 U.S. automaker will need more battery plants beyond Tennessee to meet aggressive EV targets, including projected sales of more than 1 million EVs globally in 2025. GM’s longer-range target includes halting sales of light-duty gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles by 2035.

Most battery manufacturing is currently concentrated in China and Korea, while Tesla and Japanese partner Panasonic largely control most U.S. battery production.

When it opens, the new GM-LG battery plant will supply batteries for the Cadillac Lyriq crossover EV that GM is slated to start building at its nearby Spring Hill assembly plant next year. LG is expected to supply the batteries from Korea until then.

Supplier sources said a second Cadillac electric crossover, called Symboliq, is expected to join the Lyriq in production at Spring Hill in 2024, along with two new electric crossovers for Honda and its premium Acura brand.

GM said in October it would invest $2 billion in Spring Hill to build EVs. The Detroit automaker said last year it was investing $27 billion in electric and autonomous vehicles over the next five years.

GM is expected to build EVs in five North American plants by 2025 – two in Michigan, and one each in Tennessee, Ontario, Canada, and Mexico, according to research firm AutoForecast Solutions.

LG Energy Solution said last month it planned to invest more than $4.5 billion in U.S. battery production over the next four years, including plans to build at least two new plants.

(Additional reporting by Paul Lienert; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Dan Grebler)

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U.S. imposes sanctions on Russia over election interference, hacking; Moscow vows retaliation

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By Trevor Hunnicutt, Arshad Mohammed and Andrew Osborn

WASHINGTON/MOSCOW (Reuters) -The United States on Thursday imposed a broad array of sanctions on Russia, including curbs to its sovereign debt market, to punish it for interfering in last year’s U.S. election, cyber hacking, bullying Ukraine and other alleged malign actions.

The U.S. government blacklisted Russian companies, expelled Russian diplomats and barred U.S. banks from buying sovereign bonds from Russia’s central bank, national wealth fund and Finance Ministry. The United States warned Russia that more penalties were possible but said it did not want to escalate.

The Russian Foreign Ministry reacted angrily, summoning the U.S. ambassador for a diplomatic dressing-down to tell him “a series of retaliatory measures will follow soon.” A ministry spokeswoman also said a possible summit could be imperiled.

Russia denies meddling in U.S. elections, orchestrating a cyber hack that used U.S. tech company SolarWinds Corp to penetrate U.S. government networks and using a nerve agent to poison Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.

U.S. President Joe Biden spoke on Tuesday to Russian President Vladimir Putin to raise concerns about those issues and the buildup of Russian forces in Crimea and along the border with Ukraine, although a top U.S. general saw only a “low-to-medium” risk of a Russian invasion in the next few weeks.

Biden, who also proposed a U.S.-Russian summit, is trying to strike a balance between deterring what Washington sees as hostile Russian behavior, while avoiding a deeper deterioration in U.S.-Russian ties and preserving some room for cooperation.

“My bottom line is this: There is an interest in the United States to work with Russia. We should and we will,” Biden said in remarks to the press.

But “when Russia seeks to violate the interests of the United States, we will respond,” he said. “I was clear with President Putin that we could have gone further, but I chose not to do so. I chose to be proportionate.”

Russia said Washington’s actions contradicted a stated U.S. desire to normalize relations with Moscow. The sanctions are hostile steps that heighten the countries’ confrontation, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said.

Among his moves, Biden signed an executive order authorizing the U.S. government to impose sanctions on any area of the Russian economy and used it to restrict Russia’s ability to issue sovereign debt to punish Moscow for interfering in the 2020 U.S. election.

Biden barred U.S. financial institutions from taking part in the primary market for rouble-denominated Russian sovereign bonds from June 14. U.S. banks have been barred from taking part in the primary market for non-rouble sovereign bonds since 2019.

He did not prohibit them, however, from buying such debt in the secondary market, a step likely to have a far more dramatic effect on the Russian bond and currency markets, which fell as news of the sanctions seeped out before recovering some losses.

The Treasury also blacklisted 32 entities and individuals that it said had carried out Russian government-directed attempts to influence the 2020 presidential election and other “acts of disinformation and interference.”

ANALYST: RUSSIA TO CONTINUE TESTING U.S.

In concert with the European Union, Britain, Australia and Canada, the Treasury also put sanctions on eight individuals associated with Moscow’s occupation of Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

The White House said it was expelling 10 Russian diplomats in Washington, including representatives of the Russian intelligence services, and for the first time, formally named the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) as the perpetrator of the SolarWinds hack. The agency said the allegations were “nonsense” and “windbaggery.”

The U.S. government plans a new executive order to strengthen its cybersecurity, a U.S. official told reporters, suggesting it could include such elements as encryption and multifactor authentication.

The White House also said it would respond to reports Russia had offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants to kill U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. U.S. intelligence agencies have “low-to-moderate” confidence in their assessment of those reports, in part because they rely on sometimes undependable testimony from detainees, it said.

Russia has long brushed off allegations of putting bounties on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.

Andrew Weiss, a Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think tank analyst, was skeptical the U.S. sanctions would change a “largely competitive and adversarial relationship” in the short term or deter Russia in the long term.

“I’d be surprised if today’s very calibrated announcements by the Biden administration materially shift the relationship in either direction,” he said, saying Russia was willing to cooperate on some issues but there was unlikely ever to be a meeting of the minds on Ukraine or election interference.

“I don’t think it’s realistic to expect the new sanctions will shift Russia’s risk calculus in a fundamental fashion,” he added. “It’s to be expected that the Russians will keep probing and testing our resolve.”

(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt, Tim Ahmann, Doina Chiacu Jeff Mason and Patricia Zengerle in Washington, Arshad Mohammed in St. Paul, Minn., and Andrew Osborn, Andrey Ostroukh and Tom Balmforth in Moscow; Writing by Arshad Mohammed and Cynthia Osterman; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Peter Cooney)

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Canada’s main opposition party switches climate change policy, backs carbon pricing

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By Nia Williams

CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) – Canada‘s opposition Conservative Party on Thursday dropped its resistance to carbon pricing and adopted the fee on emissions and fuels as part of its own climate plan, a move that could put it at odds with some of its staunchest supporters.

Climate change has proved a thorny issue for the Conservative Party under leader Erin O’Toole. Most Conservative delegates voted against recognizing climate change as a real threat at a policy convention last month.

“We will scrap (Liberal Prime Minister) Justin Trudeau’s carbon tax on working Canadians,” O’Toole said at that convention, noting however that the party “fought and lost two elections against a carbon tax.”

O’Toole said his own plan was better than the Liberal one. Carbon pricing imposes fees on the use of carbon-based fuels such as oil either through charges for emissions or by adding to the price of gasoline and other fuels.

Trudeau’s national carbon price is due to ramp up to C$170 a ton by 2030, though 90% is returned to Canadian taxpayers through rebates. The Conservatives would cap prices at C$50 a ton for taxpayers, who would pay the levy into a government savings account and be able to use the money to make “green” purchases like bicycles.

A number of provinces – including the energy heartland and Conservative Party bastion of Alberta – oppose carbon pricing, and challenged the government’s scheme in the Supreme Court. Last month, the court upheld Trudeau’s plan.

“Any new climate plan…must minimize the costs on Albertans and on our trade-exposed industries while at the same time, continuing to responsibly reduce emissions from Alberta,” Alberta Environment Minister Jason Nixon said.

O’Toole said a Conservative government would meet Canada‘s international pledge to cut emissions 30% below 2005 levels by 2030, and match greenhouse gas reductions promised in the Liberal climate plan.

“It’s outrageous that O’Toole is now planning to hammer Canadians with higher fuel bills through his very own carbon tax,” said Franco Terrazzano, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation’s Alberta director.

Many Liberal insiders expect Trudeau to seek an election later this year. Trudeau’s Liberals lead O’Toole’s Conservatives 37% to 29%, according an Abacus Data poll published on Thursday.

 

(Additional reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa, editing by Steve Scherer, Marguerita Choy and Cynthia Osterman)

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