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The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for Oct. 14 –



People point towards a dugong, a type of sea cow, at Sea Life Sydney Aquarium on Thursday in Sydney, New South Wales. After 109 days closed, the aquarium at the Australian city’s iconic Darling Harbour reopened along with other businesses and attractions as COVID-19 restrictions eased across the state. (Mark Evans/Getty Images)

As U.S. prepares to reopen border, some urge Canada to relax testing requirement

Members of the U.S. Congress are expected to send letters to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and members of Parliament asking Canada to drop the testing requirement for vaccinated travellers.

The hassle of getting tested will discourage people from taking advantage of the restored right to cross-border travel, said one member of Congress.

New York Rep. Brian Higgins, a Democrat, said proof of vaccination should be enough.

“Testing is redundant,” he said Wednesday, one day after the U.S. confirmed it will reopen the border early next month.

These calls for ending test requirements have one key goal: attracting more Canadian travellers. Same-day trips represent a huge percentage of Canadian travel to the United States.

According to data from Statistics Canada, day trips comprised nearly half of all Canadian travel to the U.S. in 2019 — and two-thirds of trips taken by car.

The current Canadian testing requirements make that difficult. To enter Canada, recreational travellers need to provide evidence of a COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of entry. It can’t be a rapid antigen test, but rather must be a molecular test.

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair noted on Wednesday that the federal government accepts negative PCR tests that are up to 72 hours old for incoming travellers. That rule means that Canadians making day trips to the U.S. can take their COVID-19 test before leaving and use it when they re-enter, rather than relying on a private test in the U.S.

“If [Canadians] want to go over and do some shopping, it will be relatively straightforward for them to return to Canada,” Blair told CBC’s Power & Politics.

Meanwhile, many Canadians received different doses in their two-shot regimen, unlike Americans. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) currently doesn’t recognize mixed COVID-19 vaccines — such as one dose of AstraZeneca, and one dose of Pfizer or Moderna — and hasn’t yet said if fully vaccinated Canadian travellers with two different doses will be blocked from entry when the vaccine requirement kicks in.

“CDC will release additional guidance and information as the travel requirements are finalized later this month,” spokesperson Jade Fulce said in an email on Wednesday.

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Sask. minister says health-care system has enough staff to handle current COVID patient load 

Saskatchewan Health Minister Paul Merriman says the province is not asking the federal government for nurses because Saskatchewan’s health-care system has enough workers to handle its load of patients with and without COVID-19.

Merriman took questions from reporters Thursday after receiving his seasonal flu shot at a pharmacy in Regina.

Merriman’s remark came only a day after Scott Livingstone, the CEO of the Saskatchewan Health Authority, said the system was still under “significant pressures” because of the flood of COVID-19 patients into Saskatchewan hospitals.

Saskatchewan’s per capita rate of 375 active cases for every 100,000 people is second in Canada right now, only surpassed by the much more sparsely populated Northwest Territories.

Saskatchewan has talked to Ontario about potentially moving some ICU patients out of province because of those pressures. One of the factors that will be used to trigger such a decision is staff burnout, Livingstone said.

Merriman said Thursday that wasn’t occurring just yet and that he was encouraged by recent, lower daily increases in new COVID-19 cases as well as a pace of about 2,000 to 2,500 vaccinations per day.

When pressed by a reporter on Saskatchewan’s lower rate of vaccination relative to most other Canadian jurisdictions, Merriman stressed that from a global and North American perspective, the province has had significant uptake. CBC tracking shows 76 per cent of the eligible population in Saskatchewan is fully vaccinated, with 85.3 per cent having receiving one dose.

On July 6, five days before all public health measures were dropped in Saskatchewan, the province had recorded a cumulative 569 COVID-19 deaths where the location was confirmed. That pandemic total is now 764, with the biggest tolls in the interim span seen in Saskatoon (35 deaths), Regina (23) and the northwest region, which includes La Loche, Beauval and Meadow Lake (22).

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World roundup: COVID-19 developments in Russia, Africa and the U.S.

Russia on Thursday recorded the highest daily numbers of coronavirus infections and deaths since the start of the pandemic, a rapidly surging toll that has severely strained the nation’s health care system.

The government’s coronavirus task force reported 31,299 new confirmed coronavirus cases and 986 deaths in the last 24 hours.

The country has repeatedly marked record daily death tolls over the past few weeks as infections surged amid a slow vaccination rate and lax enforcement of measures to protect against the coronavirus.

Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said Tuesday that just 29 per cent of the country’s nearly 146 million people, were fully vaccinated.

In Africa, only one in seven COVID-19 infections is being detected, meaning the continent’s estimated infection level may be 59 million people, according to a new study by the World Health Organization.

“With limited testing, we’re still flying blind in far too many communities in Africa,” said Matshidiso Moeti, regional director for the WHO in Africa in a media briefing Thursday.

To get more accurate numbers of infections and to better curb transmission, the United Nations plans to increase rapid diagnostic testing in eight African countries, with the goal of testing seven million people in the next year.

The initiative will be based on what is called a ring strategy that has been used to eradicate smallpox and was implemented during Ebola outbreaks. It is called a ring method because it will target people living within a 100-metre radius around new confirmed cases.

The UN is warning that with Africa having millions of undetected cases, it is urgent to speed up the continent’s access to vaccines, which have been to slow to arrive. Africa’s vaccination rates are low. Only 30 per cent of the continent’s 54 countries having fully vaccinated 10 per cent of their populations, a rate that badly lags countries in the Americas, Europe and Asia.

In the U.S., a panel of outside advisers to the Food and Drug Administration will meet on Nov. 30 to discuss whether to authorize Merck & Co.’s experimental COVID-19 antiviral drug, it was learned Thursday.

Merck has touted trial results for its molnupiravir pill, for the treatment of mild-to-moderate COVID-19 in adults who have tested positive and are at high risk for progression to severe illness.

The FDA typically follows the advice of its experts but is not bound to do so.

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China condemns U.S., Canada for sending warships through Taiwan Strait



The  Chinese military on Sunday condemned the United States and Canada for each sending a warship through the Taiwan Strait last week, saying they were threatening peace and stability in the region.

China claims democratically-ruled Taiwan as its own territory, and has mounted repeated air force missions into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone (ADIZ) over the past year, provoking anger in Taipei.

China sent around 150 aircraft into the zone over a four-day period beginning on Oct. 1 in a further heightening of tension between Beijing and Taipei that has sparked concern internationally.

The U.S. military said the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Dewey sailed through the narrow waterway that separates Taiwan from its giant neighbour China along with the Canadian frigate HMCS Winnipeg on Thursday and Friday.

“Dewey’s and Winnipeg’s transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the commitment of the United States and our allies and partners to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” it added.

China’s People’s Liberation Army’s Eastern Theatre Command said its forces monitored the ships and “stood guard” throughout their passage.

“The United States and Canada colluded to provoke and stir up trouble… seriously jeopardising peace and stability of the Taiwan Strait,” it said.

“Taiwan is part of Chinese territory. Theatre forces always maintain a high level of alert and resolutely counter all threats and provocations.”

U.S. Navy Ships have been transiting the strait roughly monthly, to the anger of Beijing, which has accused Washington of stoking regional tensions. U.S. allies occasionally also send ships through the strait, including Britain month.

While tensions across the Taiwan Strait have risen, there has been no shooting and Chinese aircraft have not entered Taiwanese air space, concentrating their activity in the southwestern part of the ADIZ.

While including Taiwanese territorial air space, the ADIZ encompasses a broader area that Taiwan monitors and patrols that acts to give it more time to respond to any threats.

Taiwan’s defence ministry said on Sunday that three Chinese aircraft – two J-16 fighters and an anti-submarine aircraft – flew into the ADIZ again.

(Reporting by Ryan Woo in Beijing, Ben Blanchard in Taipei and Idrees Ali in Washington; Editing by Pravin Char and John

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No end in sight to volcanic eruption on Spain’s La Palma – Canaries president



There’s no immediate end in sight to the  volcanic eruption that has caused chaos on the Spanish isle of La Palma since it began about a month ago, the president of the Canary Islands said on Sunday.

There were 42 seismic movements on the island on Sunday, the largest of which measured 4.3, according to the Spanish National Geographical Institute.

“There are no signs that an end of the eruption is imminent even though this is the greatest desire of everyone,” President Angel Víctor Torres said at a Socialist party conference in Valencia, citing the view of scientists.

Streams of lava have laid waste to more than 742 hectares (1833 acres) of land and destroyed almost 2,000 buildings on La Palma since the volcano started erupting on Sept. 19.

About 7,000 people have been evacuated from their homes on the island, which has about 83,000 inhabitants and forms part of the Canary Islands archipelago off northwestern Africa.

Airline Binter said it had cancelled all its flights to La Palma on Sunday because of ash from the volcano.

“Due to the current situation of the ash cloud, operations with La Palma will continue to be paralyzed throughout today. We continue to evaluate the situation,” the airline tweeted.

Almost half – 22 out of 38 – of all flights to the island on Sunday have been cancelled, state airport operator Aena said, but the airport there remains open.

(Reporting by Graham Keeley; Editing by Pravin Char)

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Son of ex-Somali political aide held over UK lawmaker stabbing



Ali Harbi Ali, the son of an ex-media adviser to a former prime minister of Somalia, has been arrested by British police under  anti-terrorism laws following the killing of lawmaker David Amess, a source close to the investigation and British media said.

Amess, 69, from Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party, was knifed repeatedly as he met constituency voters in a church on Friday in Leigh-on-Sea, east of London.

The killing took place five years after the murder of Jo Cox, a lawmaker from the opposition Labour Party, and has prompted a review of politicians’ security.

Police said they had arrested a 25-year-old British man at the scene on suspicion of murder and have said it is believed he acted alone. They have not named the suspect but used additional powers under anti-terrorism laws to detain him until Oct. 22.

A British source close to the investigation named Ali Harbi Ali, a British citizen, as the detained suspect.

Harbi Ali Kullane, the father of Ali Harbi Ali, told The Sunday Times that his son had been arrested in connection with the murder.

“At this particular moment we are going through (an)unprecedented and horrific situation,” Harbi Ali Kullane, a former adviser to Hassan Ali Khaire, a former Somali prime minister, told Reuters in an email when asked about this.

“Due to the ongoing early investigation I am obliged and commanded not to talk about it,” said Harbi Ali Kullane, who is a former director of the Somali government’s media and communication department.

British police were on Sunday searching an address in north London linked to Ali Harbi Ali, Reuters reporters said.

Interior Minister Priti Patel said on Sunday Britain is considering a number of options to boost the security of lawmakers.

(Reporting by Nazanine Moshiri in Nairobi and Guy Faulconbridge in LondonAdditional reporting by Costas PitasEditing by Alex Richardson and Frances Kerry)

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