The Canadian Press
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka has reopened to tourists after more than nine months.The Indian Ocean island nation closed to tourists in March, amid the first wave of the coronavirus. Authorities also closed the two main international airports.The government says a pilot program to attract tourists is now being implemented. The first tourists arrived on a special flight from Ukraine on Monday. The 186 tourists are expected to stay in Sri Lanka for 10 days.Under the pilot program, which will run to Jan. 24, 2,580 tourists are expected to arrive in Sri Lanka, mostly from CIS countries.COVID-19 has dealt a severe blow to tourism, a vital economic sector for Sri Lanka, accounting for about 5% of its GDP and employing 250,000 people directly and up to 2 million indirectly.Previously, the government announced that the country would reopen to tourists on Aug. 1, but the date was pushed back after new clusters of COVID-19 patients emerged.Sri Lanka has confirmed 41,602 cases, including 194 deaths.___THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:— Bill Trump signed into law combines $900 billion in COVID-19 aid with $1.4 trillion in spending and reams of other unfinished legislation— House voted overwhelmingly to increase COVID-19 relief checks to $2,000, meeting Trump’s demand, but Senate outcome uncertain— ‘Surge on top of a surge’ filling hospitals in California, where virus restrictions likely to be extended— 5th candidate reaches final-stage testing in US, a crucial step to getting enough vaccines to protect world— Mexico might allow private firms to buy, distribute vaccines after questions raised about centralized control— Follow AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak___HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:TEL AVIV, Israel — Israel’s Health Ministry says the country has vaccinated more people in nine days than have been infected with the coronavirus since the pandemic began.The ministry said Tuesday that nearly 500,000 people, or about 5% of Israel’s population of 9 million, have already received the vaccine since the country began its inoculation drive last week. More than 407,000 people have caught the virus in Israel, and over 3,200 have died.Israel is hoping a mass vaccination campaign will help bring its current outbreak under control and ultimately wipe out the virus entirely. This week the country entered its third national lockdown, with much of the economy shut down to help bring down surging infection numbers.Israel is among the world’s leading countries for coronavirus vaccinations per capita.___SEOUL, South Korea — The United States has started vaccinating its troops based in South Korea, as its Asian ally reported its highest daily number of COVID-19 fatalities amid surging cases in the country.The United States Forces Korea says it started inoculating military and civilian healthcare workers, first responders and the USFK command team with the Moderna vaccine on Tuesday.The USFK says the vaccine is 100% voluntary and not mandatory for the 28,500 American troops in South Korea.The Moderna vaccine arrived in South Korea on Dec. 25.The government said Tuesday it will have vaccine doses for 56 million people, an amount seemingly enough for the country’s 51 million people. Officials say they plan to begin inoculating the public in February.South Korea also said Tuesday that 40 more virus patients had died in the past 24 hours, the country’s highest daily death toll. South Korea logged 1,046 new cases, raising the total caseload to 58,725, including 859 deaths.___NEW DELHI — India has found six people who returned from the United Kingdom in recent weeks infected with a new variant of the coronavirus.The health ministry in a statement on Tuesday said that all the six patients were isolated and their fellow travellers were tracked down. Close contacts of the infected patients were also put under quarantine.India previously suspended flights from and to the UK until the end of the year, noting the new variant is “spreading and growing rapidly.”India on Tuesday reported 16,432 new cases of the virus overall, taking its total to 10.22 million infections and 148,153 deaths. India is expected to start a vaccination drive for some 300 million people early next month.___ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s civil aviation authority has extended its ban on passenger flights from the U.K for a week in an effort to avoid the spread of a new variant of the coronavirus.The ban was imposed last week after European and other countries halted air travel from Britain due to a new and seemingly more contagious variant of the coronavirus in England.In a statement, Civil Aviation Authority said the ban on passenger flights from U.K. will remain in place until Jan. 4.Under a government order, Pakistani nationals who travelled to Britain are being allowed to return home provided their COVID-19 tests are negative.On Tuesday, Pakistan reported 1,776 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases and 63 deaths in the past 24 hours.There have been 9,992 deaths among 475,085 COVID-19 cases since February, when the first infection was detected in the country.___SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea says 40 more coronavirus patients have died in the past 24 hours, the highest daily number since the pandemic began.Officials also reported 1,046 new confirmed coronavirus infections Tuesday, taking the total caseload to 58,725, with 859 deaths.South Korea’s previous daily high for COVID-19 deaths was 24, reported on both Dec. 21 and Dec. 22.Some observers say surging fatalities reflect an increase in cluster infections at nursing homes and long-term care centres where elderly people with underlying health problems stay.___BEIJING — China has reported seven new cases of coronavirus infection in Beijing, where authorities have ordered the testing of hundreds of thousands of residents.Cases have been clustered largely in villages on Beijing’s northeastern edge, but authorities are wary of any spread in the capital that could hurt claims it has all-but contained local spread of the virus.City authorities have already urged residents not to leave the city during the upcoming Lunar New Year holidays. China has cancelled big gatherings such as sports events and temple fairs. Cinemas, libraries and museums operate at 75% capacity. The government is also discouraging business trips.___LOS ANGELES — California officials say hospitalizations for COVID-19 have stabilized in parts of the state but still overwhelm hospitals elsewhere, and Gov. Gavin Newsom is warning of a new surge in coronavirus cases following heavy holiday travel in defiance of recommendations to avoid gatherings.ICU units in Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley have no capacity remaining. Newsom says the state has prepared for a new surge in cases by setting up hospital beds in arenas, schools and tents, though it is struggling to staff them.California has been regularly breaking records for case counts, hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19, while officials say models used for planning predict hospitalizations more than doubling in the next month from about 20,000 to more than 50,000.___FRANKFORT, Ky. — Kentucky’s governor says the state hopes to begin the next phase of its coronavirus vaccination program at the start of February and will target emergency responders, educators and people 70 and older.Gov. Andy Beshear said Monday that more than 26,000 vaccine doses have been administered in Kentucky so far.Health care workers along with residents and staff at long-term care facilities are at the top of the list for receiving vaccinations in the first phase. The next designated groups are those 70 and older, school personnel and first responders such as police and firefighters.The governor says the target date for the second phase is around Feb. 1, though it could be “plus or minus a week.” He says officials expect it will take most of February to vaccinate those groups.___ATLANTA — Georgia has more than 4,000 people hospitalized with COVID-19, and officials say hospital admissions are increasing at a pace that raises questions about the health system’s ability to handle demand.The numbers rose again Monday as Gov. Brian Kemp highlighted the launch of vaccinations of nursing home employees, starting at a Gainesville nursing home.The state has moved into the top 20 for most new cases per capita in the last 14 days as infection rates have declined in the Midwest and risen in the South.Northeast Georgia Health System is a four-hospital system based in Gainesville that continues to see increasing numbers of COVID-19 patients. It has put beds in a gym to care for people with milder cases, but Dr. John Delzell says they “are essentially at capacity” and surgeries are being delayed.___KIRKLAND, Wash. — The residents and staff members at a Seattle-area nursing home that had the first deadly COVID-19 outbreak in the United States began receiving vaccines on Monday.The first death associated with the Life Care Center of Kirkland, Washington, was reported in late February, and more than 40 people connected to the facility later died of coronavirus. The Seattle Times reports that Monday was the first day long-term care facilities can receive vaccines under a federal partnership with CVS and Walgreens, which is handling shots for the bulk of the state’s approximately 4,000 long-term care facilities.Along with health-care workers, Washington state has recommended that nursing home residents receive the vaccine first, followed by residents of assisted-living facilities, adult family homes and other care sites.___LOS ANGELES — Cruise ships without passengers will be visiting the Port of Los Angeles in coming weeks in a step toward a future resumption of service by the industry, which has been shut down by the coronavirus pandemic.The port says the visits for fuel, supplies and services are part of operations to reestablish the ships in U.S. waters as a prerequisite to meet federal regulations in order to resume cruising in the future.Ships from Princess Cruises, Holland America and Norwegian Cruise Line will periodically dock at the Los Angeles Cruise Terminal starting this week and through 2021.Cruises have been suspended since March.The Port of Los Angeles had 93 cruise cancellations, amounting to more than 70% of total cruises, this year.The Associated Press
Biden’s pick for director of national intelligence says ‘no place’ for politics in agency – Global News
President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the intelligence community, Avril Haines, promised Tuesday to “speak truth to power” and keep politics out of intelligence agencies to ensure their work is trusted.
“When it comes to intelligence, there is simply no place for politics — ever,” she told the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Haines, a former CIA deputy director and former deputy national security adviser in the Obama administration, would enter the job as director of national intelligence, or DNI, following a Trump administration that saw repeated pressure on intelligence officials to shape intelligence to the Republican president’s liking.
The committee’s lead Republican, Marco Rubio of Florida, and its ranking Democrat, Mark Warner of Virginia, both indicated they expect Haines to win confirmation. Her hearing kicked off a series of Senate confirmation hearings Tuesday, including those for Biden’s picks to lead the State Department, the Pentagon, and the departments of Homeland Security and Treasury. While most of those nominees are unlikely to be confirmed by the time Biden takes the oath of office at noon Wednesday, some could be in place within days.
A former director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, who served in the Trump administration, introduced Haines with an emphasis on her commitment to de-politicizing the job. He called her an “exceptional choice” for the position.
Also testifying Tuesday at his confirmation hearing was Alejandro Mayorkas, Biden’s nominee for secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. He would be the first Latino and first immigrant to lead the agency.
In opening remarks, Mayorkas addressed the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. He said in prepared remarks released ahead of the hearing that the Jan. 6 pro-Trump riot is “horrifying” and the authorities still have much to learn about what happened that day and what led to the insurrection.
Inauguration of U.S. president-elect Joe Biden on Wednesday
The Senate typically confirms some nominees, particularly the secretaries of defence, on Inauguration Day, though raw feelings about President Donald Trump four years ago led to Democratic-caused delays, except for James Mattis at the Pentagon. This year, the tension is heightened by Trump’s impeachment and an extraordinary military presence in Washington because of fears of extremist violence.
Putting his national security team in place quickly is a high priority for Biden, not only because of his hopes for reversing or modifying Trump administration policy shifts but also because of diplomatic, military and intelligence problems around the world that may create challenges early in his tenure.
The most controversial of the group may be Lloyd Austin, the recently retired Army general whom Biden selected to lead the Pentagon. Austin will need not only a favourable confirmation vote in the Senate but also a waiver by both the House and the Senate because he has been out of uniform only four years.
The last time a new president did not have his secretary of defence confirmed by Inauguration Day was in 1989. President George H.W. Bush’s nominee, John Tower, had run into opposition and ended up rejected by the Senate several weeks later.
Also facing confirmation hearings were Biden confidant Antony Blinken to lead the State Department, and Janet Yellen as treasury secretary, another first for a woman.
In prepared remarks, Blinken said he is ready to confront challenges posed by China, Iran, North Korea and Russia and is committed to rebuilding the State Department after four years of atrophy under the Trump administration.
Ahead of the Blinken hearing, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, said he expects the committee to vote on the nomination on Monday.
Blinken will tell the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday that he sees a world of rising nationalism and receding democracy. In remarks prepared for his confirmation hearing, Blinken will say that mounting threats from authoritarian states are reshaping all aspects of human lives, particularly in cyberspace. He’ll say that American global leadership still matters and without it rivals will either step in to fill the vacuum or there will be chaos _ and neither is a palatable choice.
‘Let’s get to work’: Harris thanks supporters ahead of inauguration
Blinken also promises to bring Congress in as a full foreign policy partner, a subtle jab at the Trump administration and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who routinely ignored or bypassed lawmakers in policy-making. He called the Jan. 6 insurrection on Capitol Hill “senseless and searing” and pledged to work with Congress.
Austin was testifying later Tuesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee, but the panel will not be in position to vote until he gets the waiver. Republicans are expected to broadly support the Austin nomination, as are Democrats.
Biden’s emerging Cabinet marks a return to a more traditional approach to governing, relying on veteran policymakers with deep expertise and strong relationships in Washington and global capitals. Austin is something of an exception in that only twice in history has a recently retired general served as defence secretary — most recently Mattis.
Austin, who would be the first Black secretary of defence, retired from the military as a four-star general in 2016. The law requires a minimum seven-year waiting period.
Doubts about the wisdom of having a recently retired officer running the Pentagon are rooted in an American tradition of protecting against excessive military influence by ensuring that civilians are in control. When he announced Austin as his pick in December, Biden insisted he is “uniquely suited” for the job.
Lindsay P. Cohn, an expert on civil-military relations and an associate professor at the U.S. Naval War College, said at a Senate hearing on the subject last week that an Austin waiver raises worrying risks.
“Choosing a recently retired general officer and arguing that he is uniquely qualified for the current challenges furthers the narrative that military officers are better at things and more reliable or trustworthy than civil servants or other civilians,” she said. “This is hugely problematic at a time when one of the biggest challenges facing the country is the need to restore trust and faith in the political system. Implying that only a military officer can do this job at this time is counterproductive to that goal.”
Some Democrats have already said they will oppose a waiver. They argue that granting it for two administrations in a row makes the exception more like a rule. Even so, a favourable vote seems likely.
The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., on Friday introduced waiver legislation for Austin.
Associated Press writers Ben Fox, Eric Tucker and Martin Crutsinger contributed to this report.
© 2021 The Canadian Press
How President Trump's Rhetoric Has Affected U.S. Politics – NPR
'Very mesmerizing': Canadians eye Biden inauguration with relief, anxiety – Toronto Star
Katie Thompson noticed a pattern emerging with appointments made at her chiropractic clinic for Wednesday afternoon that’s usually typical of big sporting events: patients wanted to schedule sessions around the U.S. presidential inauguration.
“We have never experienced this before,” said Thompson, who co-owns the Barrie, Ont., clinic with her husband. “It’s clear that as Canadians, we are paying greater attention to the political climate of the United States now more than ever.”
The clinic has decided it will livestream the Washington, D.C., ceremony so patients and staff can “watch history be made” as president-elect Joe Biden and vice-president-elect Kamala Harris take office.
The move felt natural for Thompson after months of speaking with patients about their thoughts and fears in the build-up to the November election that saw Democrat Biden win the presidency over Republican President Donald Trump.
“It would be a shame to miss this transition take place,” she said.
Canadians have found themselves especially glued to American politics over the last four years since Trump was elected president of the United States.
Trump embraced a combative, populist leadership style and cast doubt on the legitimacy of his own government with frequent scandals that saw him impeached by Congress an unprecedented two times.
Earlier this month, his consistent disputing of the election results culminated with his supporters storming the U.S. Capitol in a deadly riot aimed at blocking the transition of power.
Images from the barricaded streets of Washington this week, showing hordes of fatigue-clad National Guard members taking up position ahead of inauguration day, have raised the stakes of Wednesday’s ceremony, stoking anxiety for Americans and concerned observers around the world about potential violence.
Simon Cumming of Surrey, B.C., said he hopes the transition to a Biden presidency brings more stability to the politically divided nation, where he has friends on both sides of the political spectrum.
He’ll be watching on Wednesday with “a combination of relief and a little bit of anxiety,” especially after the violence of the last few weeks.
“I think that the country is so fractured right now and it’s so polarized that you never know what’s going to happen, so there’s a bit of trepidation,” Cumming said by phone this week.
He plans to tune in while working from home.
“I’ll have one eye on the TV and one eye on my computer screen,” he said. “I’ll just turn it on and watch and keep my fingers crossed that nothing bad happens.“
Retired realtor Louise Zieffle was also planning a quiet, pandemic-friendly viewing of the Wednesday ceremony.
She’s taken a closer interest in U.S. politics during Trump’s presidency, which she said has laid bare how the political system works – and how it doesn’t.
“It was very mesmerizing, really,” she said by phone from her Calgary home.
“I’ve been watching American politics, not my whole life, but certainly the last few years because there’s such an influence in our country, and especially in our province.”
She’s observed populism creep into provincial politics in Alberta since Trump took office, especially with the election of United Conservative Premier Jason Kenney in 2019, a leader for whom conflict is also signature part of his brand.
Zieffle said she’s hopeful the U.S. administration change-over can have an impact on politics north of the border.
“I’m very hopeful that will have influence on how Canadian politicians do business,” she said.
Political science and history student Keegan Gingrich, who’s studying at Wilfred Laurier University from his home in Waterloo, Ont., also expressed hope that political watchers in Canada can relax once Biden takes office, after years of waking up with anxiety about the international ripple effects from Trump’s latest tweets.
“It might just be boring politics again, which would be kind of nice at this point,” Gingrich said.
Gingrich plans to watch a Twitch livestream of the inauguration hosted by U.S.-based gamer Hutch, an online figure who’s become more politically engaged in the last few years of Trump’s presidency, streaming live commentary of Trump’s impeachment hearings and the presidential debates.
Gingrich said watching the livestreams and comments from viewers, some of them without much evidence backing up their claims, gives him a sense of the debates and divisions that have defined American politics over the last four years.
“It’s kind of fun to watch,“ he said. ”But at the same time it’s terrifying.“
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 19, 2020.
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