Engineers on Monday “partially refloated” the colossal container ship that remains wedged across the Suez Canal, a canal services firm said, without providing further details about when the vessel would be set free.
For nearly a week, the skyscraper-sized Ever Given hauling goods from Asia to Europe has blocked maritime traffic through the vital artery, holding up $ 9 billion each day in global trade and straining supply chains already burdened by the coronavirus pandemic. Over 300 vessels, carrying everything from crude oil to cattle, are waiting to pass through the canal, while dozens more are taking the alternate route around the Cape of Good Hope at Africa’s southern tip, adding some two weeks to journeys and threatening delivery delays.
The partial freeing of the vessel came after intensive efforts to push and pull the vessel with 10 tugboats when the full moon brought spring tide, raising the canal’s water level and hopes for a breakthrough. However, it was clear that challenges remained, as satellite data from MarineTraffic.com showed the ship in the same position, surrounded by a squadron of tugs with its bulbous bow stuck in the canal’s eastern bank.
A top pilot with the canal authority, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that the ship had been partially refloated and said that workers were still struggling to dislodge the bow.
Lt. Gen. Osama Rabei, the head of the Suez Canal Authority, said workers continued “pulling maneuvers” to refloat the vessel early Monday.
Overnight, several dredgers had toiled to vacuum up 27,000 cubic metres of sand and mud around the ship. Another powerful tugboat, Carlo Magno, was racing to the scene to join the efforts.
Although the vessel is vulnerable to damage in its current position, Shoei Kisen Kaisha Ltd., the company that owns the Ever Given, dismissed concerns on Monday, saying that the ship’s engine was functional and it could pursue its trip normally when freed.
Ship operators did not offer a timeline for the reopening of the crucial canal, which carries over 10 per cent of global trade, including 7 per cent of the world’s oil. The unprecedented shutdown could affect oil and gas shipments to Europe from the Middle East.
Canal authorities have desperately tried to free the vessel by relying on tugs and dredgers alone, even as analysts warned that 400-metre-long ship may be too heavy for such an operation. As a window for a breakthrough narrows with high tide receding this week, fears have grown that authorities would be forced to lighten the vessel by removing the ship’s 20,000 containers — an complex operation, requiring specialized equipment not found in Egypt, that could take days or weeks.
This story is part of Watching Washington, a regular dispatch from CBC News correspondents reporting on U.S. politics and developments that affect Canadians.
Here’s a glimpse of what life might look like in the next phase of mass-vaccination against COVID-19, a peek at a future where people are increasingly immune to the deadly virus.
Ahead of Canada in the sprint to vaccinate its citizens, the United States has just released its do’s and don’ts, recommendations for what its newly vaccinated residents should and shouldn’t change.
It’s a useful roadmap for what the coming months might look like.
There’s some good news, and less-good news, in the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control released Monday. The guidelines include numerous caveats, starting with a big one: these instructions apply only to people who have been fully vaccinated.
To meet that definition of being fully vaccinated, according to the CDC, means waiting two weeks after your final jab to allow the last dose to take effect.
Good news first
It should be fine to gather indoors, without a mask, in the presence of other vaccinated people, two weeks after your final vaccine, the CDC said.
It’s also okay to gather indoors without a mask with unvaccinated people from one other household, so long as none of those people live with someone at increased risk from pre-existing conditions.
Here’s the best news for grandparents: it means being able to see your unvaccinated grandkids, as long as they don’t have an underlying condition.
If you’ve been near someone with COVID-19, vaccination makes the response easier too. The CDC said there’s no need to isolate or get tested, unless you also show symptoms.
If you live in a group setting, like a nursing home, you should still isolate for 14 days and get tested if you’ve been near someone with COVID, the agency said.
The less-good news
The CDC said that in numerous circumstances you should still wear a mask, avoid crowds and poorly ventilated spaces, and remain at least six feet from others.
Those circumstances that require extra precautions include being in public, or around unvaccinated people from more than one household, or being around someone who lives with someone with increased risk.
Keep avoiding medium or large-sized gatherings, said the CDC.
As for travel: not so fast. The CDC urges people to delay domestic and international travel, and to follow guidelines if they must travel.
Why all those caveats?
The CDC said there’s still a lot we don’t know about the vaccines: like how effective they are against new variants of the virus, whether vaccinated people can transmit the virus, and how long immunity lasts.
Why it matters to Canada?
Canada’s public health agency has yet to release such vaccination guidelines.
The U.S. guidance offers an early look at the sorts of issues policy makers are grappling with, and into the sorts of instructions Canadians might see as vaccination rates increase.
If these new suggestions from the U.S. are any indication, the road to normalcy will be winding. Even as vaccinations ramp up, prepare for months of gradual, rather than instantaneous, easing.
Health Canada declined to comment on the U.S. guidelines Monday, and said there’s still too little data on key issues like how long immunity lasts, and whether vaccinated people can still transmit COVID-19.
Also, travellers beware. Being vaccinated doesn’t mean easier entry into Canada.
Although difficult months remain ahead — especially for poorer countries lacking the resources to buy vaccines — the end of the coronavirus pandemic in the developed world is now in sight.
Virus variants remain an unpredictable element but trendlines suggest that the great majority of deaths anticipated in developed countries due to the COVID-19 pandemic have occurred already.
The range of impacts on different countries can be seen in the statistics as the first full year of the pandemic draws to a close.
These statistics compare how Canada has fared to the experiences of five other Western countries: the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France and Italy.
When historians look back on this pandemic, the first yardstick they’ll apply to measure its severity is, of course, the number of people it killed.
How bad did it get?
The United States is now coming down from its third wave of COVID infections. Canada has only had two so far. The peak came at different times in different places — but each of the six countries in this comparison experienced one week that was worse than any other.
In France and Italy, the pandemic peaked in November 2020, but in North America and the U.K. the first two weeks of 2021 were the worst.
On January 8, Canada reported a single-day record of 9,214 new cases. The following day, the U.S. reported a single-day record of 315,106 new cases.
The peak of intensity is measured here by the highest recorded daily caseload, per capita. At the pandemic’s height in the U.K., U.S. and France, COVID-19 was infecting almost one person in a thousand every day. In Canada, that number never reached one in 4,000.
Canada had the least intense pandemic of the six.
Immunizations vs infections
Vaccinations are the magic bullet that will end this pandemic. Some countries have done far better than others in administering them.
The U.K.’s vaccination effort started strong and stayed that way. Germany and the U.S. showed steady increases week over week. France was slow to start but soon caught up. Italy and Canada faltered and lost ground.
But vaccinations don’t tell the whole story. Vaccines entered the picture as much of the western world was racing to get ahead of a new wave of infections.
Canada placed last among this group of nations in terms of doses per capita. But it also has posted the lowest per capita caseloads through 2021.
The U.K. was the undisputed winner of the vaccine race but posted the worst per capita caseloads and death rates of the six. And the nation with the second-best record on vaccinations — the U.S. — had the second-worst caseloads.
Given this strange inversion, how should we measure each nation’s overall performance?
The next graph attempts to do that by dividing each nation’s total number of vaccines administered, week over week, by the number of new cases it recorded in the same week, to give an overall score — call it the “O Factor” — that may offer a clearer picture of how much progress each country has made so far in 2021.
The O Factor penalizes countries for failing to control infections in the present, but gives credit for the future caseload reductions they can expect to achieve by getting needles in arms now.
The damage to economies
Historians will one day study the pandemic’s social and economic effects. Some of those effects aren’t clear yet.
By killing a vast number of European peasants, the Black Death transformed the labour market, allowing workers to demand more for their work and ultimately helping to free them from feudalism. Perhaps this (far less apocalyptic) pandemic will free workers from the bondage of commuting and cubicles.
Whatever changes it leaves in its wake, it’s clear the economic blow of the pandemic has not fallen evenly on all nations.
The six countries we’re comparing here have taken different approaches to pandemic-related shutdowns and layoffs. Some (such as Canada) went big on public spending, while others held back. And some countries will struggle more than others with the debts they have accumulated.
All six of the nations measured here saw nearly unprecedented spikes in the number of unemployment claims as the pandemic took hold.
But some were hit harder than others and some bounced back faster than others.
The graphs shown here only offer snapshots of a pandemic that isn’t over yet. Although immunization appears to offer a path out of this global disaster, new mutations and new variants have the potential to delay that.
Unless Canada can improve its vaccination performance, other countries probably will be quicker to bend their rates of death and hospitalizations downward, closing a gap that currently favours Canada.
But the numbers suggest that one thing won’t change: when compared with its peers in Europe and North America, Canada’s pandemic experience has been less intense — and less deadly.
Alberta’s chief medical officer of health says the province chose not to shut down a slaughterhouse that is the site of a growing COVID-19 outbreak that claimed the life of one worker because for months the company had been successfully keeping transmission down.
On Monday, the company — Quebec-based Olymel — announced it would voluntarily close its Red Deer, Alta., pork processing plant, saying that due to the growing outbreak it could no longer operate in a safe and efficient manner.The announcement marked an abrupt change of position hours after a company spokesperson told CBC News the plant would remain open.
Alberta Health Services (AHS) and Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) were not involved in that decision. Both had approved the plant to continue operating.
As of Tuesday, there were 343 cases of COVID-19 linked to the current outbreak, 200 of which were active.
On Jan. 28 — more than two weeks ago — Darwin Doloque, a 35-year-old employee at the plant, died of COVID-19. His death was linked to the workplace outbreak.
WATCH | Deadly COVID-19 outbreak closes Alberta slaughterhouse:
The Olymel meat processing plant in Red Deer, Alta., is closed after a deadly COVID-19 outbreak raced through it and there are concerns about why it took so long for it to close. 2:08
“It’s important to remember this particular plant has had sporadic cases, one or two at a time, for several months, and the processes that had been put in place at the plant site had been very successful in reducing spread,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, said Tuesday.
The outbreak had originally been declared in mid-November. OHS said it had inspected the plant 14 times since then.
However, a rapid growth in cases over the past few weeks had drawn a warning from AHS, which on Thursday sent a letter to the company cautioning the outbreak “has become a concern for public health.”
In the letter, which was obtained by CBC News, AHS said around one in five workers was believed to be infected and spreading the virus. The plant has a workforce of close to 1,850, and about 60 per cent of the staff hold at least one other job outside the slaughterhouse.
Thomas Hesse, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union said he’s disappointed by Hinshaw’s earlier comments suggesting the transmission of the virus may have occurred elsewhere, outside the plant.
“The fact of the matter is almost 2,000 people go to this workplace and this is a workplace illness and an occupational hazard,” Hesse said.
“If we saw a wedding on TV with 2,000 or 1,800 people in attendance we’d freak out.”
Hesse said a protest rally is planned for Wednesday outside the Olymel Processing Plant in Red Deer. “We can’t allow unsafe work places to continue to operate and the problem is the Alberta government is not shutting these places down and not treating these workplaces as a place of transmission,” he said.
Employees said they felt unsafe at work
But Hinshaw instead pointed to the fact that for “some time,” there had been no new cases and said there had been some talk of declaring the outbreak closed.
“Unfortunately, I think there were a concurrence of a number of events that were not limited to events directly on that plant site, and therefore we did see an increase in cases,” she said.
Workers had shared stories with CBC over the weekend, saying they felt unsafe in the workplace and were begging the government for a temporary shut down.
WATCH | Union responds to slaughterhouse shutdown:
Thomas Hesse, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, talks about the Olymel meat processing plant temporarily shutting down. 6:40
Hinshaw said she’s been in contact with local public health colleagues who have been working to ensure workers at the plant are offered any culturally appropriate supports they need for isolation and testing, to reduce the risk of community spread.
The president of the Alberta Federation of Labour demanded a meeting with the premier and provincial labour minister to ensure workplaces with COVID-19 outbreaks are closed down before workers die or infections spread.
“I’m going to remind them that their job is to protect the public, not to protect the profits of corporations at the expense of workers or the public,” Gil McGowan said in a statement Tuesday.
“I’m going to demand that they do their damn jobs.”
The potential discovery of phosphine in Venus’s atmosphere last year made headlines around the world. On Earth, phosphine is produced by living things. Any detection of it inside another planet’s atmosphere would be a strong potential indicator of life. One reason folks got excited about the possibility is that Venus’s upper atmosphere is a much friendlier place for life to exist than its lower cloud layers or the lead-melting temperatures on the ground. The conditions approximately 50km above the planet’s surface are reportedly the most Earthlike in the solar system, with a pressure of approximately 1 atm and temperatures ranging from 0 to 50C. Could life have evolved within those cloud layers, or even migrated from the surface to the atmosphere as Venus’s climate changed? The detection of phosphine suggested that it might have.
A new analysis of the initial data, however, finds that the Cardiff researchers who first reported the detection of phosphine may have mistakenly been picking up sulfur dioxide instead. The authors of this new paper, to be published in Nature, note that the original paper claimed 20ppb (parts per billion) of PH3 were detected in the Martian atmosphere. After some reassessment of their initial findings, the original Cardiff team asserted that the phosphine signal still remained, but at a much lower concentration of 1ppb, not 20pbb. Even one part per billion would still be interesting because phosphine is not thought to persist for any length of time in Venus’ atmosphere under any conditions, but it’s obviously a much weaker signal than initially thought.
The surface of Venus captured by a Soviet Venera probe.
Now, however, a further examination of the data argues that even that 1ppb is a measurement error.
“Instead of phosphine in the clouds of Venus, the data are consistent with an alternative hypothesis: They were detecting sulfur dioxide,” said co-author Victoria Meadows, a UW professor of astronomy. “Sulfur dioxide is the third-most-common chemical compound in Venus’s atmosphere, and it is not considered a sign of life.”
Meadows, lead author Andrew Lincowski, and the other researchers affiliated with this project created a radiative transfer model of the planet’s atmosphere and re-examined the data. Their paper suggests that the initial report erred by attempting to use ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter Array) to estimate the amount of SO2 in Venus’s atmosphere. The telescope may have missed as much as 90-95 percent of the sulfur dioxide actually present, greatly increasing the chance that the specific signal attributed to phosphine at 266.94GHz is actually being caused by sulfur dioxide instead. The initial findings were attributed to phosphine because the amount of sulfur dioxide in the atmospheric layer where the phosphine was detected was thought to be low.
This new research also claims that the signal was detected far higher in the Martian atmosphere than previously thought. Venus has a thick, dense atmosphere, dense enough to prevent smaller meteors from reaching the ground. If the phosphine signal was coming from the troposphere, there was a chance the upper layers of the atmosphere were shielding whatever life forms might be present. According to this team, however, the signal was actually being picked up in the mesosphere. Venus is much closer to the sun than Earth is, and the increased solar radiation at the top of its clouds would tear phosphine molecules apart almost as quickly as they could form. The chance of detecting phosphine in the upper levels of the atmosphere is very small, even if it’s produced by living things below.
The authors do not claim to have disproven the initial phosphine report and they call for other research teams to continue investigating Venus for any hint of phosphine. Even if the signal turns out to be a false positive, this process of claims and counter-claims is almost certainly how scientists will eventually prove we have discovered life on a different planet. Any fossil or purported living creature found within the sands of Mars or beneath the ice sheets of Europe will undergo extensive analysis to prove that it’s extraterrestrial in origin and not evidence of sample contamination from an Earth-based source.
The Indonesian navy has determined the co-ordinates of a Sriwijaya Air plane carrying 62 people that went missing Saturday after taking off from the capital of Jakarta, navy official Abdul Rasyid said.
“The co-ordinates have been found and have been given to all Navy vessels in the area,” he told reporters.
The passenger jet lost contact with air traffic controllers just minutes after taking off from Indonesia’s capital on a domestic flight, the transportation minister said.
Budi Karya Sumadi said Flight SJ182 was delayed for an hour before it took off at 2:36 p.m. The Boeing 737-500 disappeared from radar four minutes later, after the pilot contacted air traffic control to ascend to an altitude of 29,000 feet (8,839 meters), he said.
56 passengers, 6 crew members
Boeing released a two-line statement saying it was aware of media reports from Jakarta and was gathering more information.
A statement released by the airline said the plane was on an estimated 90-minute flight from Jakarta to Pontianak, the capital of West Kalimantan province on Indonesia’s Borneo island. There were 56 passengers and six crew members onboard.
Irawati said in a statement that a search and rescue operation was underway in co-ordination with the National Search and Rescue Agency and the National Transportation Safety Committee.
Local media reports said fishermen spotted metal objects believed to be parts of a plane on Saturday afternoon in the Thousand Islands, a chain of islands north of Jakarta.
Television footage showed relatives and friends of people aboard the plane weeping, praying and hugging each other as they waited at Jakarta’s airport and Pontianak’s airport.
Indonesia, the world’s largest archipelago nation, with more than 260 million people, has been plagued by transportation accidents on land, sea and air because of overcrowding on ferries, aging infrastructure and poorly enforced safety standards.
In October 2018, a Boeing 737 MAX 8 jet operated by Lion Air plunged into the Java Sea just minutes after taking off from Jakarta, killing all 189 people on board. It was the worst airline disaster in Indonesia since 1997, when 234 people were killed on a Garuda flight near Medan on Sumatra island. In December 2014, an AirAsia flight from Surabaya to Singapore plunged into the sea, killing 162 people.
Sriwijaya Air is one of Indonesia’s discount carriers, flying to dozens of domestic and international destinations.
A variant of the coronavirus that appears to be more contagious has been found in Southern California, where the state’s most populous county recorded more than 10,000 deaths, and authorities warned they will be patrolling streets to shut down large New Year’s Eve gatherings that could spread the infection.
Los Angeles County reached a “terrible milestone” with 274 additional deaths in 24 hours for a record toll of 10,056 deaths, Los Angeles County Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer announced Wednesday.
The COVID-19 daily death toll over 14 days has averaged about 150 people, or “about equal to the number of deaths from all other causes, which is about 170,” said Ferrer. “Most heartbreaking is that if we had done a better job reducing transmission of the virus, many of these deaths would not have happened.”
The county, which has had about 40 per cent of the state’s virus deaths, is one of nearly two dozen in Southern California and the agricultural San Joaquin Valley area where hospital intensive care units have technically run out of room, although ICU patients are being placed in other hospital areas under “surge” procedures.
Meanwhile, California became the second state after Colorado to report finding a new strain of the virus that was first confirmed in the United Kingdom.
The patient, who developed symptoms on Dec. 27, is a 30-year-old San Diego County man who didn’t have any history of travel, which could indicate that someone else already had brought the new strain into the state, officials said.
WATCH | U.S. COVID-19 vaccine delivery slower than planned:
Delivery of the COVID-19 vaccine has been slower than planned across the U.S. — only two million doses given of the 20 million that had been projected by the end of the year — but demand has been high with some waiting hours in line to get a jab. 2:02
It is common for viruses to undergo minor changes as they reproduce and move through a population. Scientists have found no evidence that the variant is more lethal or causes more severe illness, and they believe the vaccines now being dispensed will be effective against it. But the fear is that mutations at some point will become significant enough to defeat the vaccines.
Also, a faster-spreading virus could swamp hospitals with seriously ill patients.
In L.A. County, more than one in four COVID-19 patients sent to hospitals are winding up in ICUs, according to county figures. The struggle to find places for the most seriously ill means “it’s not just the virus that’s proving fatal, but also the nightmare scenario of Angelenos dying because they cannot get the appropriate care from overwhelmed ICUs,” Ferrer said.
The cases triggered a host of questions about how the version circulating in England arrived in the United States and whether it is too late to stop it now, with top experts saying it is probably already spreading elsewhere in the U.S.
Public health officials also began warning of stricter enforcement of stay-home orders that aim to reduce COVID-19 spread by keeping people from mingling outside of their households. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said hospitalizations and deaths linked to Christmas gatherings may show up in two or three weeks because of the infection’s lag time, and any New Year’s Eve gatherings could start to overwhelm hospitals later in January in a third virus surge.
“If you mix and mingle with people outside your household, it’s likely medical care will not be available when it’s needed in a few weeks,” Garcetti said. “We will feel it in our homes, in our ICU units and in our morgues.”
Garcetti said police will be out enforcing public health rules that prohibit large gatherings, and the city had disconnected utilities on Tuesday at a “chronic party house” in the Hollywood Hills.
The U.S. has seen more than 19.7 million cases of COVID-19 and more than 342,000 deaths, according to a tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University.
– From The Associated Press, last updated at 7 a.m. ET
What’s happening in Canada
WATCH | Hear what Ontario’s finance minister had to say after returning from Caribbean vacation:
Rod Phillips arrived at Toronto’s Pearson airport Thursday and expressed regret for vacationing in St. Barts while Ontario was under a COVID-19 lockdown. ters 4:46
Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips returned to Canada from his trip to St. Barts on Thursday and said he hoped to regain people’s confidence after facing significant criticism over his decision to travel despite calls to avoid non-essential trips.
“Obviously, I made a significant error in judgment, and I will be accountable for that,” Phillips said from Pearson airport in Toronto.
“I do not make any excuses for the fact that I travelled when we shouldn’t have travelled.”
Phillips said he will be speaking with Premier Doug Ford later in the day.
“I understand that my actions have angered a lot of people, and I have to earn back that confidence,” Phillips said.
The province reported yet another record high COVID-19 case number on Thursday, with 3,328 new infections. Health officials also reported 56 additional deaths, bringing the provincial death toll to 4,530.
Ontario is reporting 3,328 cases of <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/COVID19?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#COVID19</a> and nearly 63,900 tests completed. Locally, there are 888 new cases in Toronto, 431 in Peel, 418 in York Region, 257 in Windsor-Essex County and 194 in Ottawa.
Ford said Wednesday that he didn’t know about his finance minister’s travel plans in advance but did learn about them later after a phone call with Phillips.
“At that time, I should have said, ‘Get your backside back into Ontario,’ and I didn’t do that,” the premier said Wednesday as he took questions about the trip and what he knew about it.
“We’re going to have a very tough conversation when he gets back,” Ford said.
As of 10:35 a.m. ET on Thursday, Canada’s COVID-19 case count stood at 576,310 with 73,987 of those cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 15,527.
The federal government, meanwhile, said Wednesday it plans to require air travellers to test negative for COVID-19 before landing in Canada, in response to concerns that people vacationing abroad could bring the novel coronavirus home with them.
WATCH | Will COVID-19 tests for passengers arriving in Canada help reduce coronavirus spread?
Testing passengers for the coronavirus before arriving in Canada is ‘not a big answer’ to the problem of community spread, says infectious disease specialist Dr. Michael Gardam, but he says it might be more useful when widespread travel resumes. 5:27
Cabinet ministers met Wednesday morning following criticism from the premiers of Canada’s two largest provinces that federal efforts at the border were too loose and allowing new cases and strains of the virus to enter the country.
Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc said all passengers on flights entering Canada will soon be required to have a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test three days before their arrival. PCR tests are designed to detect minute amounts of the virus that causes COVID-19, usually through a swab up the nose or in the mouth. A 14-day quarantine for incoming travellers will still be required.
It wasn’t immediately clear when the new requirement will be put in place, with LeBlanc saying more information would follow in the coming days. It does not appear to apply to anyone crossing by car into Canada through a border point with the U.S.
Here’s a look at some of what’s happening with COVID-19 across Canada:
– From The Canadian Press and CBC News, last updated at 10:40 a.m. ET
What’s happening around the world
As of early Thursday morning, more than 82.8 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, with more than 46.8 million considered recovered or resolved, according to Johns Hopkins. The global death toll stood at more than 1.8 million.
A four-day lockdown is set to begin in Turkey at 9 p.m. local time on Thursday in a bid to stem the spread of COVID-19 over the New Year’s holiday. Istanbul’s governor said some 34,000 law enforcement personnel will be on duty to enforce the rules in Turkey’s most populous city.
The Interior Ministry said more than 208,000 officers will be working across the country and have set up thousands of control points. Tourists, who have been exempt from lockdowns, will not be allowed to go to symbolic squares and avenues.
Turkey has reported nearly 2.2 million cases and has seen more than 20,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins.
“The entire eyes of the world were on this cruise ship, watching this outbreak unfold, watching more and more people getting sick.” Today, looking back on a year of COVID-19 with <a href=”https://twitter.com/adamsmiller?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@adamsmiller</a>: <a href=”https://t.co/xoEvhEtq66″>https://t.co/xoEvhEtq66</a> <a href=”https://t.co/IsbyXkdjo8″>pic.twitter.com/IsbyXkdjo8</a>
In the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates has shattered its single-day record of new coronavirus infections for the second consecutive day, with 1,730 cases recorded ahead of New Year’s Eve celebrations expected to draw tens of thousands of revellers to Dubai from around the world.
In the Asia-Pacific region, Tokyo is seeing a record surge in coronavirus cases as the governor of the Japanese capital implored people to stay home.
“The coronavirus knows no year end or New Year’s holidays,” Gov. Yuriko Koike told reporters.
She asked people to skip countdown ceremonies and expressed concern people were out shopping in crowded stores.
“Please spend a quiet New Year’s with your family and stay home,” she said, switching to English for “stay home.”
In Europe, the Czech Republic headed for the New Year with a record surge in coronavirus infections. The Health Ministry said the daily increase in new infections hit a record for the second straight day on Wednesday, with 16,939 confirmed cases. It’s over 500 more than the previous record set on Tuesday.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered millions more people to live under the strictest COVID-19 restrictions from Thursday to counter a new variant of the virus that is spreading at a “sheer pace” across the country.
In the Americas, the COVID-19 vaccine developed jointly by AstraZeneca and Oxford University was approved for use in El Salvador.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, meanwhile, said officials were investigating a case of suspected abuse of power by a family to obtain shots of COVID-19 vaccine.
In Africa, Zimbabwe has postponed the reopening of schools planned for next week due to a surge in coronavirus infections and a tropical storm sweeping through the region.
– From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 7:40 a.m. ET
An explosion shook the largely deserted streets of downtown Nashville early Christmas morning, shattering windows, damaging buildings and wounding three people. Authorities said they believed the blast was intentional. The FBI is leading the investigation.
Metropolitan Nashville Police Department spokesperson Don Aaron said police responded to a call of shots fired just before 6 a.m. local time but found no immediate signs of a shooting, although officers noticed a suspicious vehicle and called for a hazardous unit. While they waited, the vehicle exploded.
Aaron said three people were taken to area hospitals for treatment, although none were in critical condition. He said some people were taken to the department’s central precinct for questioning but declined to give more details.
The FBI will be taking the lead in the investigation, said spokesperson Joel Siskovic. The FBI is the primary law enforcement agency responsible for investigating federal crimes, such as explosives violations and acts of terrorism. Federal investigators from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were also on the scene.
Black smoke and flames were seen early Friday billowing from the area, which is packed with bars, restaurants and other retail establishments and is known as the heart of downtown Nashville’s tourist scene.
Buildings shook in the immediate area and beyond after a loud boom was heard.
‘It felt like a bomb’
Buck McCoy, who lives near the area, posted videos on Facebook that show water pouring down the ceiling of his home. Alarms blare in the background and cries of people in great distress ring out. A fire is visible in the street outside. McCoy said he heard gunfire 15 minutes before the explosion rocked his building. The windows of his home were entirely blown out, he said.
WATCH: The CBC’s Derek Stoffel reports on the Nashville blast
The CBC’s Derek Stoffel reports on the latest developments on the explosion that shook the largely deserted streets of downtown Nashville early Christmas morning. 1:31
“All my windows, every single one of them, got blown into the next room. If I had been standing there, it would have been horrible,” he told The Associated Press. “It felt like a bomb. It was that big.”
“There were about four cars on fire. I don’t know if it was so hot they just caught on fire, and the trees were all blown apart.”
U.S. President Donald Trump has been briefed, according to White House spokesperson Judd Deere, who said that Trump, who is spending the holidays in Florida, will continue to receive regular updates. The U.S. Justice Department said acting Attorney General Jeff Rosen was also briefed and directed all department resources be made available to help with the investigation.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee said on Twitter that the state would provide the resources necessary “to determine what happened and who was responsible. Please join @MariaLeeTN and me in praying for those who were injured and we thank all of our first responders who acted so quickly this morning.”
Nashville Mayor John Cooper said the city was lucky that the number of injuries was limited.
Now that Health Canada has approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, the largest vaccine mobilization in Canada’s history will begin.
CBC explains what will happen next:
When will Canadians start to be vaccinated?
It’s possible that by mid-week next week, some Canadians could be receiving the first COVID-19 vaccinations, officials say.
How many people will be vaccinated initially?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on Dec. 7 that up to 249,000 doses of the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will be ready before the end of the year following approval from Health Canada. That means about 125,000 people will be vaccinated. However, over the first few months during the first stage of the rollout, officials estimate that about three million Canadians could be inoculated.
The vaccines will be distributed to jurisdictions on a per-capita basis, so each province will receive vaccine doses in numbers proportionate to their share of the population.
Where will the vaccine be sent?
Pfizer-BioNTech will begin sending the vaccine to 14 distribution centres in large urban areas across the country that have been chosen by the provinces. They should receive the doses by next week.
WATCH | Trudeau says first vaccines expected to arrive by year’s end:
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that almost 250,000 doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine should arrive in Canada by the end of December. The doses will be distributed by the provinces, with most earmarked for long-term care home residents and staff. 3:52
These centres will be equipped with an ultra-low temperature freezer, as the vaccine must be kept frozen between –80 C and –60 C. The company has developed special thermal shipping boxes that can carry the doses, packed on dry ice, for up to 10 days.
There are two delivery sites in each of Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta, and one in each of the other six provinces. Because of logistical challenges, none of the early shipments are headed for the territories because they don’t have the capacity to safely store the Pfizer vaccine.
They have indicated a preference for the Moderna vaccine, when approved, because the cold storage requirements aren’t as onerous as those for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, with a freezer temperature of –20 C.
Although few details about the vaccine distribution sites have been provided, Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, who is heading up vaccine logistics and operations, said the sites were chosen based on conditions laid out by Pfizer and that some of the sites will be in hospitals.
“We’re also taking into account that there will be enough competent medical professionals to carry out everything that needs to be done — from the moment the vaccine is received in the thermal box, the handling of the doses, up to the administration of the vaccine,” he said at a recent news conference.
Meanwhile, the provinces have chosen additional distribution sites that will be activated over the coming days and weeks, Fortin said.
This Friday, arehearsal with more than 100 participants from federal, provincial, territorial governments, indigenous and industry partners and key stakeholders will be conducted so each organization and entity can understand their role in the vaccine distribution process, he said.
What’s the timeline between distribution and vaccination?
Fortin said it will be very quick, about one or two days between defrosting the vaccination and preparing it
“Once you receive the product, you have to unpack, thaw, decant, mix. So that is a relatively fast process for the health professionals,” he said.
Who will be the first people to be vaccinated?
Provincial governments decide who gets the vaccine, but they’re expected to follow the recommendations put forth by the National Advisory Committee on Immunization.
It has said priority should be given to at-risk populations, including residents and workers in long-term care homes, front-line health workers, people over the age of 80 and adults living in Indigenous communities.
Where will they get vaccinated?
Pfizer is recommending that the vaccine be administered at the first vaccination points during the initial stages of vaccination. That means, in Canada’s case, that the shots would be given at the 14 distribution sites. Health officials have been told by Pfizer that too much movement of the vaccine can lead to deterioration.
This would also mean that most residents of long-term care facilities may not be able to get the initial doses and that personal care workers, health-care workers and essential visitors might get the vaccinations instead.
WATCH | Maj.-Gen. Fortin says simulation tests will be held at vaccine distribution sites:
Major Gen. Dany Fortin outlines the dry run process during a public health news conference. The first dry run began on Dec. 7. 1:23
“Moving forward as we learn more about the vaccine and ability to transport it, frozen, unfrozen and so on, we’ll be able to explore other options, and more points of use will be added,” Fortin said.
Will people be monitored after receiving the vaccine?
Yes. Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, said the provinces or local administrators of the vaccine must record who gets vaccinated and also ensure a way of recalling them for the second dose. She said there will also be monitoring of any potential side effects or adverse reactions to the vaccine.
Are other vaccines in the works?
Yes. Health Canada is currently reviewing applications from other companies, including Massachusetts-based Moderna, which is expected to be the next in line to have its vaccine approved in Canada. With supply expected to ramp up, Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada’s deputy chief public health officer, has said he believes most Canadians could be vaccinated against COVID-19 by the end of next year.
An Iranian scientist who Israel alleged led the Islamic Republic’s military nuclear program until its disbanding in the early 2000s was killed in a targeted attack that saw gunmen use explosives and machine gun fire Friday, state television said.
Iran’s foreign minister alleged the killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh bore “serious indications” of an Israeli role, but did not elaborate. Israel declined to immediately comment, though Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu once called out Fakhrizadeh in a news conference saying: “Remember that name.”
Israel has long been suspected of carrying out a series of targeted killings of Iranian nuclear scientists nearly a decade ago.
The killing risked further raising tensions across the Mideast, as just a year ago Iran and the U.S. stood on the brink of war. It comes just as U.S. president-elect Joe Biden stands poised to be inaugurated in January and likely complicates his efforts to return America to the Iran nuclear deal aimed at ensuring the country does not have enough highly enriched uranium to make a nuclear weapon.
That deal, which saw Iran limit its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions, has entirely unraveled after U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the accord in 2018.
A U.S. official confirmed earlier this month to Reuters that Trump had asked military aides for a plan for a possible strike on Iran. Trump decided against it at the time because of the risk that it could provoke a wider Middle East conflict.
On Friday, Trump retweeted a posting from Israeli journalist Yossi Melman, an expert on the Israeli Mossad intelligence service, about the killing. Melman’s tweet called the killing a “major psychological and professional blow for Iran.”
State TV said Fakhrizadeh was attacked by “armed terrorist elements.” He died at a local hospital after doctors and paramedics tried and failed to revive him.
The semi-official Fars News Agency, believed to be close to the country’s Revolutionary Guard, said the attack happened in Absard, a small city just east of the capital, Tehran. It said witnesses heard the sound of an explosion and then machine-gun fire. The attack targeted a car that Fakhrizadeh was in, the agency said.
Those wounded, including Fakhrizadeh’s bodyguards, were later taken to a local hospital, the agency said.
State television on its website later published a photograph of security forces blocking off the road. Photos and video shared online showed a Nissan sedan with bullet holes through the windshield and blood pooled on the road.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. However, Iranian media all noted the interest that Netanyahu had previously shown in Fakhrizadeh.
Hossein Salami, chief commander of the paramilitary Guard, appeared to acknowledge the attack on Fakhrizadeh.
“Assassinating nuclear scientists is the most violent confrontation to prevent us from reaching modern science,” Salami tweeted.
Hossein Dehghan, an adviser to Iran’s supreme leader and a presidential candidate in Iran’s 2021 election, issued a warning on Twitter.
“In the last days of their gambling ally’s political life, the Zionists seek to intensify and increase pressure on Iran to wage a full-blown war,” Dehghan wrote, appearing to refer to Trump. “We will descend like lightning on the killers of this oppressed martyr and we will make them regret their actions!”
There was silence from foreign capitals; Israel declined to comment, as did the White House, the Pentagon, the U.S. State Department and CIA. Biden’s transition team also declined to comment.
Not the first targeted killing this year
Fakhrizadeh led Iran’s so-called “Amad,” or “Hope” program. Israel and the West have alleged it was a military operation looking at the feasibility of building a nuclear weapon in Iran. Tehran long has maintained its nuclear program is peaceful.
The International Atomic Energy Agency says that the “Amad” program ended in the early 2000s. IAEA inspectors now monitor Iranian nuclear sites as part of Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
The head of the UN atomic watchdog agency earlier this month confirmed reports that Iran has begun operating centrifuges installed underground at its Natanz facility. Iran has also been continuing to enrich uranium since Trump’s decision to pull America out of the multilateral deal, called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
The killing comes just days before the 10-year anniversary of the killing of Iranian nuclear scientist Majid Shahriari, which Tehran also blamed on Israel. Those targeted killings came alongside the so-called Stuxnet virus, believed to be an Israeli and American creation, that destroyed Iranian centrifuges
It is also not the first targeted killing connected to Iran this year. Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, al-Qaeda’s second-in-command, accused of helping to mastermind the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa, was killed in Iran in August by Israeli operatives acting at the behest of the United States, the New York Times reported earlier this month, citing intelligence officials.
It was unclear what, if any, role the United States had in the killing of the Egyptian-born militant, the Times said. U.S. authorities had been tracking Abdullah and other al-Qaeda operatives in Iran for years, the newspaper said.
In January, prominent Revolutionary Guard general Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander of Iran-backed militias in Iraq known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, were among seven killed in a drone strike in Baghdad.
The UN’s human rights expert issued a report calling the drone strike a “watershed” event in the use of drones and amounted to a violation of international law.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo slammed that report, stating the operation was in “response to an escalating series of armed attacks in preceding months by the Islamic Republic of Iran and militias it supports on U.S. forces and interests in the Middle East region.”