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Ontario sees 302 new COVID-19 cases over 2 days as contact tracing app delayed – CBC.ca

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The Ontario government announced $150 million in new funding to improve homeless shelters and long-term care housing as the province saw 302 cases of the novel coronavirus over the last two days.

The new money is meant to allow municipalities and Indigenous community partners to renovate shelters and new facilities to make physical distancing easier amid the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as pay for longer-term solutions around homelessness.

The $150 million brings the province’s Social Services Relief fund to $350 million and is part of a package for municipalities to cope with COVID-19. The City of Toronto alone expects to lose more than $1.5 billion due to the pandemic.

Ford also called for the federal government to loosen its restrictions on funding for the provinces when it comes to reopening.

“Cut us a cheque, give us the flexibility,” said Ford. “They don’t know where every single province needs the money… We’re not going to go hog-wild, we’ll work within the parameters.”

Meanwhile on the issue of migrant workers, Ford said he would not name the farm where over 175 workers tested positive this week, saying, “I won’t throw hard-working farmers under the bus.”

The premier also said he worries the fact that farms could face shut-downs will only dissuade farmers from wanting to cooperate with public health officials.

Contact tracing app delayed

Of the province’s 302 new cases, 149 pertained to Wednesday’s total and 153 made up Thursday’s total, the Ministry of Health says.

The province did not release any COVID-19 data on Canada Day, and thus today’s update includes figures from both days.

The newly confirmed cases bring the total in Ontario since the outbreak began to 35,370. Nearly 87 per cent of those are now resolved. An additional 386 were marked resolved over the two-day period covered in today’s report.

Further, 29 of Ontario’s 34 public health units reported five or fewer confirmed infections of the novel coronavirus today. Twenty-three of those reported no new cases at all, according to Minister of Health Christine Elliott. 

The province’s network of community, commercial and hospital labs processed about 50,000 COVID-19 test samples over the last two days. If testing levels stay where they are, Ontario could hit a cumulative total of 1.5 million tests completed by the end of the week.

Moreover, Ontario’s official COVID-19 death toll grew by eight, up to 2,680. A CBC News count based on data provided directly by public health units puts the real toll at 2,724.

Meanwhile, a new mobile app meant to help with contact tracing of COVID-19 cases won’t roll out across Ontario today as planned.

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Health says the province is still working with the federal government and the app is expected to launch soon.

The province will be the first to use the COVID Alert app, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said it should be ready for downloading in the rest of the country later this summer.

Premier Doug Ford says the app is meant to enhance the province’s contact tracing strategy.

He’s previously said it could play a key role in helping contain the spread of COVID-19 as more businesses reopen their doors.

The voluntary app will use anonymized Bluetooth signals between smartphones to keep track of a user’s contacts over two-week intervals. (Michael Charles Cole/CBC)

The Bluetooth-based app will be voluntary, and will notify users based on a number of criteria, including if they were within two metres of a person who tests positive for the virus and if that contact took place over an extended period of time.

The province didn’t give a new date for the app’s launch.

Leadership change at Public Health Ontario

Meanwhile, the one-time president and CEO of Public Health Ontario, Dr. Peter Donnelly, is stepping down from his role after five and a half years, the agency said this afternoon. 

Donnelly has been on medical leave since early April, as the COVID-19 outbreak was ramping up in the province. Public Health Ontario said he will not be returning to the position. 

“Having experienced cardiac symptoms over a number of weeks, it is now clear that it is important for me to return to the United Kingdom where all of my family are based,” Donnelly said in a news release.

“It has been a privilege to lead PHO over the last five and a half years. I am very grateful to have had that opportunity and I wish the organization and its hard-working and talented staff every success for the future.”

In the release, the PHO board said Donnelly played a critical part in the agency’s early response to the novel coronavirus.

Colleen Geiger, who has been serving as acting president and CEO since Donnelly left on medical leave, will continue in the role for the time being. 

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Mexican union was set to lose disputed GM workers’ vote

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General Motors Co workers in Mexico were on track to scrap the contract negotiated by one of the country’s biggest unions, according to a Mexican government report on a vote last month that led to a U.S. complaint under a new North American free trade deal.

On Wednesday, the Biden administration called for a probe into allegations that worker rights were denied at GM’s Silao pickup truck plant during the vote to ratify workers’ collective contract with the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM).

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Thursday said he accepted the U.S. recommendation to make sure there would be no fraud in union votes, noting that many “irregularities” had been detected in the union-led vote at GM.

The CTM, which represents 4.5 million workers, is one of several traditional unions accused by workers and activists of putting business interests over workers’ rights.

A ministry report into the vote, reviewed by Reuters, shows that 1,784 workers cast ballots against keeping the CTM contract, while 1,628 workers voted to maintain it.

Allegations of interference – including the ministry’s findings that some blank ballots in union possession were cut in half – have raised suspicions among some activists and experts that the CTM may have been headed for a deeper defeat.

A follow-up vote, which the Labor Ministry ordered to take place within 30 days, could result in a wider margin against keeping the current contract, especially if more workers who were apathetic or scared of voting turned out the second time, said Alfonso Bouzas, a labor scholar at Mexico’s National Autonomous University.

“This whole new opportunity is going to awaken conscience and interest,” Bouzas said.

CTM’s national spokesman, Patricio Flores, said the union supported the regional trade deal and would comply with the law and whatever “would not harm investment in Mexico.”

He did not dispute the vote tally in the labor ministry report, but called for an investigation into the disputed proceeding before a second vote.

“We should listen to the voice of these workers and not let pressure from unions in the United States and Canada have influence right now,” CTM said in a statement.

‘RULES ARE CHANGING’

The ministry document showed that just over half of the 6,494 workers eligible to vote did so in the first of two days of voting, before labor inspectors halted the process.

If GM workers scrap their contract, either the CTM or a new union could negotiate new collective terms.

Many collective bargaining contracts in Mexico consist of deals between unions and companies without workers’ approval, which has helped keep Mexican hourly wages at a fraction of those in the United States.

The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which took effect last year and replaced the 1994 NAFTA, sought to strengthen worker rights in Mexico and slow migration of U.S. auto production south of the border.

GM has said it respects the rights of its employees to make decisions over collective bargaining, and that it was not involved in any alleged violations. It declined to comment on the Labor Ministry report.

GM has indicated that it is ready to shift away from the old system that had let companies in Mexico turn a blind eye to worker rights, said Jerry Dias, the head of Canada‘s largest private sector union, Unifor.

“The rules are changing and a company like GM is not going to get caught,” he said.

Dias said he hoped to personally monitor the follow-up vote at the Silao plant.

Contract ratification votes are required under Mexico’s 2019 labor reform, which underpins the renegotiated free trade pact, to ensure workers are not bound to contracts that were signed behind their backs.

 

(Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon; Editing by Christian Plumb, Richard Pullin, Paul Simao and David Gregorio)

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UK sanctions Myanmar Gems Enterprise in bid to cut off junta funding

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Britain announced sanctions against state-owned enterprise Myanmar Gems Enterprise (MGE) on Monday, saying the move would deprive the military junta there of a key source of funding.

The United States and Canada also announced further sanctions against Myanmar, which has been in crisis since the military seized power from Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government on Feb. 1.

“The designation against MGE will cut off a key source of funding for the military junta, which continues to subvert democracy and is responsible for the violent repression and serious human rights violations against the people of Myanmar, including the killing of children,” the foreign office said in a statement.

Myanmar is the world’s main source of jade, a sought-after stone in China, and a major source of rubies and other rare gems. The United States blacklisted MGE in April.

Britain has previously announced sanctions and asset freezes on other entities and individuals linked to the February coup.

“The military junta in Myanmar continues to crush democracy and attack its own people with brutal ferocity,” foreign minister Dominic Raab said in a statement.

“We are working with our allies to impose sanctions that hit the junta’s access to finance, and deliver a return to democracy.”

 

(Reporting by William James, editing by Andy Bruce)

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U.S. Supreme Court takes up major challenge to abortion rights

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The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday agreed to consider gutting the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide, taking up Mississippi’s bid to revive a Republican-backed state law that bans the procedure after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

By hearing the case in their next term, which starts in October and ends in June 2022, the justices will look at whether to overturn a central part of the landmark ruling, a longstanding goal of religious conservatives.

The ruling, expected next year, could allow states to ban the procedure before the fetus is viable outside the womb, upending decades of legal precedent.

In the Roe v. Wade decision, subsequently reaffirmed in 1992, the court said that states could not ban abortion before the viability of the fetus outside the womb, which is generally viewed by doctors as between 24 and 28 weeks. The Mississippi law would ban abortion much earlier than that. Other states have backed laws that would ban the procedure even earlier.

“Alarm bells are ringing loudly about the threat to reproductive rights. The Supreme Court just agreed to review an abortion ban that unquestionably violates nearly 50 years of Supreme Court precedent and is a test case to overturn Roe v. Wade,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is among those challenging the law.

The office of Mississippi’s attorney general did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Roe v. Wade ruling recognized that a constitutional right to personal privacy protects a woman’s ability to obtain an abortion. The court in its 1992 decision, coming in the case Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, reaffirmed the ruling and prohibited laws that place an “undue burden” on a woman’s ability to obtain an abortion.

A CONSERVATIVE MAJORITY

Abortion opponents are hopeful that the Supreme Court will narrow or overturn the Roe v. Wade decision. The court moved from a 5-4 to a 6-3 conservative majority following Senate confirmation last year of Republican former President Donald Trump’s third appointee, Justice Amy Coney Barrett.

The Supreme Court in a 5-4 June 2020 ruling struck down an abortion law in Louisiana that imposed restrictions on doctors who perform the procedure. The late liberal Justice Ruth Bader was still on the court at the time, and conservative Chief Justice John Roberts voted with the court’s liberal wing in the ruling. Roberts at the time, however, made it clear that he voted the way he did because he felt bound by the court’s 2016 ruling that struck down a similar law in Texas.

The 2018 Mississippi law, like others similar to it passed by Republican-led states, was enacted with full knowledge that was a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade.

After the only abortion clinic in Mississippi, Jackson Women’s Health Organization, sued to try to block the measure, a federal judge in 2018 ruled against the state. The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2019 reached the same conclusion, prompting the state to appeal to the Supreme Court.

“States may regulate abortion procedures prior to viability so long as they do not impose an undue burden on the woman’s right, but they may not ban abortions. The law at issue is a ban,” 5th Circuit Judge Patrick Higginbotham wrote.

Abortion remains a divisive issue in the United States, as in many countries. Christian conservatives are among those most opposed to it. Abortion rates in the United States have steadily declined since the early 1980s, reaching the lowest levels on record in recent years, according to the nonprofit Guttmacher Institute.

The June 2020 ruling in the Louisiana case marked the court’s first major abortion decision since Trump appointed Brett Kavanaugh in 2018 and Neil Gorsuch in 2017 as justices. Both voted in favor of Louisiana’s restrictions. If Barrett were to vote on similar lines, conservatives could have a majority to curb abortion rights regardless of how Roberts votes. Trump had promised during the 2016 presidential race to appoint justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade.

The Mississippi appeal had been pending at the court since June 2020 without the justices taking action on whether or not to hear it. During that time, Ginsburg died and was replaced by Barrett and Trump lost his re-election bid, to be replaced by Democratic President Joe Biden, who supports abortion rights.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

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