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Joe Biden scores first legislative win as House passes $1.9T COVID-19 relief package

U.S. President Joe Biden had his first legislative win as the House of Representatives passed his $ 1.9 trillion US coronavirus relief package early Saturday, though Democrats faced challenges to their hopes of using the bill to raise the minimum wage.

Democrats who control the chamber passed the sweeping measure by a mostly party-line vote of 219 to 212 and sent it on to the Senate, where Democrats planned a legislative manoeuvre to allow them to pass it without the support of Republicans.

The American Rescue Plan would pay for vaccines and medical supplies and send a new round of emergency financial aid to households, small businesses and state and local governments.

Democrats said the package was needed to fight a pandemic that has killed more than 500,000 Americans and thrown millions out of work.

“The American people need to know that their government is there for them,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in debate on the House floor.

Republicans, who have broadly backed previous COVID-19 spending, said much of the current package was not necessary, highlighting elements like a subway near Pelosi’s San Francisco district. Only nine per cent of the total would go directly toward fighting the virus, they said.

“It just throws out money without accountability,” House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy said.

The House vote amounted to a successful first test for Democrats, who hold a narrow 221-211 majority in the chamber. Progressives and moderates in the party who are often at odds will face tougher battles ahead on immigration and climate change initiatives that Biden wants to push.

The president has focused his first weeks in office on tackling the greatest U.S. public health crisis in a century, which has upended most aspects of American life.

Democrats aim to get the bill to him to sign into law before mid-March, when enhanced unemployment benefits and some other types of aid are due to expire.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, is seen during a news conference in Washington on Friday. ‘The American people need to know that their government is there for them,’ she said of the American Rescue Plan. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)

The bill’s big-ticket items include $ 1,400 direct payments to individuals, a $ 400-per-week federal unemployment benefit through Aug. 29, and help for those in difficulty paying rents and home mortgages during the pandemic.

The action now moves to the Senate, where Democratic Vice-President Kamala Harris may have to cast a tie-breaking vote in a chamber where Republicans control 50 seats and Democrats and their allies control the other 50.

Fate of minimum wage hike unclear

Democrats will have to sort out how to handle a proposed minimum-wage increase, which may have to be stripped from the bill due to the complicated rules that govern the Senate.

The House-passed bill would raise the national hourly minimum wage for the first time since 2009, to $ 15 from $ 7.25. The increase is a top priority for progressive Democrats.

However, the Senate’s rules expert said on Thursday that the wage hike did not qualify for special treatment that allows the rest of the bill to be passed with a simple majority, rather than the 60 votes needed to advance most legislation in the 100-seat chamber.

Pelosi predicted the relief bill will pass Congress with or without the increase, and said Democrats would not give up on the matter.

WATCH | Trudeau, Biden commit to collaboration on climate, rebuilding the economy:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Joe Biden held their first bilateral talks on Tuesday, committing to work together on climate change and building the economy back up after the pandemic. 2:36

It is not clear whether the minimum-wage hike would have survived the Senate even if it were to be kept in the bill. At least two Senate Democrats oppose it, along with most Republicans.

Some senators are floating a smaller increase, to the range of $ 10 to $ 12 per hour, while Democrats are considering a penalty for large corporations that do not voluntarily pay a $ 15 wage, according to a Democratic aide.

Efforts to craft a bipartisan coronavirus aid bill fizzled early on, shortly after Biden was sworn in as president on Jan. 20, following a series of bipartisan bills enacted in 2020.

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CBC | World News

Family first: Manitoba skip Tracy Fleury confidently passes the reins to Chelsea Carey

There really wasn’t any deliberation, or questioning or wondering, of what might be for Manitoba skip Tracy Fleury.

The decision was obvious — family first.

Fleury will not be skipping her No. 2-ranked Manitoba team inside the Calgary bubble at the Scotties. Her 7-month-old daughter’s health is the only thing that matters right now.

“She’s just a little sweetheart. She’s brought so much joy into our lives. I think especially since she became sick, it’s taught us even more to appreciate the small things,” Fleury told CBC Sports while holding back tears. “We’re just trying to enjoy every moment.”

Fleury’s daughter Nina, born this past July, has been diagnosed with a rare form of epilepsy, called infantile spasms. 

“She was having seizures in November and was hospitalized for eight days,” Fleury said. “Now she’s on a treatment plan and is doing well considering everything.”

But these last number of months have been harrowing for the first-time mother, barely thinking about curling.

“There’s still a lot of uncertainty at this point. We’re waiting on tests,” Fleury said. “It’s time to focus on family right now. Travelling right now wouldn’t be in Nina’s best interest. It was the decision that had to be made. My team has been so supportive.”

She knew her team still wanted to be at the Scotties.

Little Nina has been seizure-free since November but Fleury had to let her team know well in advance of the Scotties she wouldn’t be attending. So they reached out to two-time Scotties champion and Manitoba-born skip Chelsea Carey. 

“My heart hurts for Tracy. I can’t imagine what that’s like for her. She should be there. And that’s even more motivating for me,” Carey told CBC Sports from her home in Calgary. 

“I wish the circumstances were way different. I wish she could play. It’s her team. No one wants to come in, in that situation. I’m grateful for the opportunity to play and I’m being included in it.”

Fleury will be cheering on her Manitoba rink from home while watching the Scotties on TV. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Mutual respect

There is a mutual respect between Carey and Fleury that goes far beyond the ice. They know each other well, having battled so many times before. But there’s been nothing like this. 

And they both feel the weight of the situation. 

“She’s done a fantastic job so far,” Fleury said. She’s fitting in very well. We’re so grateful she’s stepping into the role and she’s just such a high-calibre skip.”

Carey has been doing everything she can to learn how the team plays and how she can fit in since she first got the call — that includes spending countless hours watching film from Team Fleury’s past games. 

It’s about all she can do with restrictions keeping her and many others off the ice. 

“I thought I’d be watching on TV. I had made my peace with that,” Carey said. “I love the Scotties. I grew up watching it. It’s the thing I dreamed about.”

She’s a fierce competitor who has won the title twice. Born and raised in Winnipeg, Carey attended the Scotties first for her home province of Manitoba.

But both of her Scotties wins came as the Alberta representative. She moved to Calgary six years ago and has been representing the wild rose province ever since. 

Interestingly, both times she won, it was in the first year with a new team. 

Carey is a two-time Scotties champion, including in 2016 and 2019. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Deep connections

After her team disbanded last season, she yet again finds herself with a new rink heading to a Scotties, and is hoping third time’s a charm.

“My track record with first year teams is pretty good. I don’t know what’s different about that. Maybe you’re in a honeymoon phase,” she said. “First year teams are one thing. You’ve already played 10 events by that point. This is something completely different.”

It will take a bit of adjusting but these players aren’t strangers to each other. Carey has personal connections with each Fleury team member. 

She’s played alongside Fleury third, Selena Njegovan, and lead, Kristin MacCuish, at a Continental Cup before. 

And second, Liz Fyfe, feels like family. 

Liz’s father, Vic Peters, and Carey’s father, Dan Carey, won a Brier together for Manitoba in 1992. Peters died of cancer on March 27, 2016 at the age of 61.

“They lived next to us growing up. We moved into our house in 1991. They moved in a couple years later. We grew up playing Barbies, playing together as kids.”

And now they’re together again. 

The team has done countless video calls to prepare the best they can — Fleury has been on as many of those calls as possible. 

“I feel their love and support,” Fleury said. 

“Right now it’s a good distraction for me following the team. I’m helping with some Scotties prep here and there. I’ll be cheering for them.”

It’s not the way Carey ever imagined getting back to a Scotties at this point of her curling career. But it’s right in front of her now, with the added pressure of playing for not only herself, but Fleury too. 

“I’m humbled by the idea that it’s not just about me. That’s always the case but this situation, being what it is, is a whole different feeling,” Carey asid. 

“I’m honoured they asked me and I’ll try to live up to that. I’m going to try and do them justice.”

The Scotties begins Friday, Feb. 19 and the championship game will be played on Sunday, Feb. 28. The event will be held inside the Markin McPhail Centre — the Calgary curling bubble for the next couple of months.

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CBC | Sports News

Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer passes Pat Summitt as winningest coach in women’s college basketball

Tara VanDerveer made history, and then took a moment to tell her Stanford players what they mean to her.

“The most important thing I can do as a coach is love you,” VanDerveer said. “I love the game of basketball and I want to help you be the best you can be. You’re the people that I care about. Thank you.”

Typical Tara, wanting to share the joy on a night when the spotlight shined brightly on her — and her alone.

VanDerveer became the winningest women’s college basketball coach Tuesday night, passing the late Pat Summitt with her 1,099th victory as No. 1 Stanford romped to a 104-61 victory over Pacific.

Dressed casually in all black, VanDerveer received the game ball after the final buzzer. Her dancing players chanted “Tara! Tara!” and gave her a new oversized pullover reading “T-DAWG” to celebrate the latest milestone for the Hall of Fame coach in her 35th season on The Farm and 42nd overall as a college head coach. The wearable blanket was forward Francesca Belibi’s idea.

“It’s really sweet,” VanDerveer said.

WATCH | Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer earns record 1,099th coaching win:

The longtime Stanford coach passed Tennessee’s Pat Summitt for the record-setting 1,099 win of her career. 0:36

The 67-year-old VanDerveer improved her career record to 1,099-253. The road to this historic night began with her first head coaching job at the University of Idaho from 1978-80, and then moved to Ohio State (1980-85) and Stanford, where she is 947-202. Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma is right behind at 1,093 wins.

“This is special because of the magnitude of that many wins,” VanDerveer said. “You never go into coaching, I never thought, ‘Well, I’m going to try to win 1,000 games’ or anything like that. This is special, currently having the No. 1 team, being undefeated, playing in a pandemic, I will never forget this, for sure.”

After the history-making win in a draped-off area upstairs that served as Stanford’s locker room, VanDerveer received a plaque containing a piece of the floor from Stanford’s home court at Maples Pavilion. A framed proclamation from Palo Alto Mayor Adrian Fine was another memento. White long-sleeved shirts commemorating the night were made for the players as well as hand-held confetti poppers and individual mini cakes with an attached sticker that read, “Tara at the top.” Silver balloons with the numbers 1,099 adorned the room.

Just as the humble VanDerveer prefers, she broke Summitt’s mark going largely under the radar and with little fanfare given the game took place in California’s Central Valley — about 80 miles from the Bay Area. No fans were allowed into Spanos Center, either.

“I really hope Pat Summitt is looking down and saying, `Good job Tara, keep it going,”‘ VanDerveer said. “I loved coaching against Pat, and we miss her.”

Tennessee women’s basketball posted a photo of VanDerveer and Summitt on Twitter and a message that read: “1099. Pat would be proud. Congratulations, Coach VanDerveer!”

“We were friends and obviously competitors,” VanDerveer said. “She had great passion for the game and I think she sees that with me. She loves unselfish basketball which I think she would see with our team. More than anything she helped me get better as a coach because you had to work really hard to prepare. We lost more games than we won against Tennessee. She was a great mentor and a great friend. I think she would be proud of us.”

Stanford (5-0) couldn’t play a home game with the Tigers on Nov. 29 because of a positive coronavirus test in the Pacific program and then again Tuesday because of COVID-19 restrictions in Santa Clara County that sent the Cardinal on the road for three weeks. It spent much of that stretch in Las Vegas before travelling to Berkeley to play California in a Sunday night game, when VanDerveer tied Summitt’s record.

“I look at it as a blessing in disguise. We’re living in a hotel,” senior Kiana Williams said. “It’s not ideal but we have more time to spend together.”

Travelling from Berkeley on Tuesday, Stanford wound up getting caught in traffic due to an accident that delayed the Cardinal’s arrival at the arena by 30 minutes.

It hardly mattered.

Anna Wilson got Stanford off to a fast start with an opening four-point play.

“That’s why I came to Stanford, I wanted to be coached by a winner,” Wilson said. “Even in this challenge of being in the middle of quarantine and having to deal with all these adjustments, she’s done a really great job of being here for us and providing the very best that we can experience during this time.”

VanDerveer thanked her parents and family.

“Hi Mom! Don’t cry, Mom,” VanDerveer instructed mother Rita, who was watching on TV. “It’s happy.”

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CBC | Sports News

Massachusetts Passes Robust Automotive Right-to-Repair Law

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One positive outcome from the election this week has been the passage of a major right-to-repair law in Massachusetts. Question 1 requires that Massachusetts vehicle owners and repair facilities be granted “expanded access to mechanical data related to vehicle maintenance and repair.” Beginning in 2022, all manufacturers who wish to sell vehicles in MA must equip those vehicles with an open access data platform.

The new law stipulates that third parties must be able to retrieve information from the vehicle for the purposes of diagnosing problems, repair, and maintenance. Manufacturers are specifically barred from requiring that customers or independent vehicles first seek authorization to access this information unless the authorization process is both completely standardized and administered by someone other than the manufacturer. The law passed with supermajority (75 percent) support.

iFixit is, as you’d imagine, over the moon. Automakers fought the initiative tooth and claw, relying heavily on the idea of third parties chomping at the bit to steal personal information. While this is true in an absolute sense, it has nothing to do with whether your mechanic should be able to access information that the auto dealer would really prefer you had to access through them.

Massachusetts has been at the forefront of the right-to-repair movement before. In 2012 the state passed a law mandating that vehicle manufacturers share non-proprietary data with customers, which auto manufacturers fulfilled by sharing data across the ODB-II port. It is not yet clear how companies will bring themselves into compliance with the new law, but those rules and procedures will be hammered out now that the law itself is in place.

We’ve seen multiple examples this year of how important right-to-repair laws are. During the critical early phase of the pandemic, when ventilators were the hardest to find and most businesses were shut down, repair techs had to scramble to find ways to access manuals for fixing hospital equipment. Even the military has been negatively impacted by manufacturers’ refusing to share information. Allowing manufacturers to charge for data access has eroded the concept of ownership and cost citizens and businesses colossal amounts of money. The right to repair movement has spread across the country and introduced laws in 20 US states, and been touched on in situations as diverse as the repair of John Deere tractors and the long-term performance of Apple iPhones (not two topics we normally discuss in the same sentence).

There have been noted setbacks, but this achievement in MA should clear the way for broader support nationwide. Typically auto manufacturers have found it cheaper to create one type of vehicle that can be sold under every regulatory regime than to build separate cars for separate markets, and that’s likely to be the case here as well. This law only applies to model years sold in 2022 and after, however, and does not stipulate that vehicles manufactured before 2022 must be retrofitted with this type of system. Vehicles manufactured before this date may not gain the option to have their data pulled in the same fashion.

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Congress passes relief bill, McConnell suggests some states may be better off declaring bankruptcy

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday blasted U.S. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell for his comments suggesting bankruptcy would be a better route for some states rather than federal aid, as money is doled out to help buffer an economy ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic.

“I was really disappointed to see Sen. McConnell’s comments about letting the states go bankrupt,” Whitmer said in an interview with MSNBC. “I just think that it’s incredibly irresponsible.”

The topic flared up shortly before the House of Representatives passed a $ 484 billion bill to expand federal loans to small businesses affected by the coronavirus outbreak and hospitals overwhelmed by patients suffering from COVID-19. President Donald Trump said he will begin discussing more aid to state and local governments after he signs that bill into law. That bill does not include any funding for state and local governments.

McConnell, whose party controls the Senate, on Wednesday poured cold water on efforts by Democrats to tap federal coffers to provide assistance to state and local governments.

“I think this whole business of additional assistance for state and local governments needs to be thoroughly evaluated,” he said on Hugh Hewitt’s syndicated conservative talk radio show. “There’s not going to be any desire on the Republican side to bail out state pensions by borrowing money from future generations.”

Democrats push back

Later, in an interview with Louisville, Ky.-based radio station WHAS, McConnell said Congress “may well” approve further aid, but that he would want it tightly tied to coronavirus-related costs.

Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin pointed out the stakes, as many municipal and state employees are those who are on the front lines of the pandemic battle.

Whitmer, who expressed hope that Democrats and the Trump administration could overcome objections from Republicans in Congress to providing aid, told MSNBC her state was facing a $ 3-billion hit to its budget this fiscal year and possibly even a bigger impact next year.

“It will undermine everything from public health to education if we don’t get the kind of support we need out of Washington, D.C.,” she said.

Other Democratic governors on Wednesday slammed the idea.

“Almost hoping for bankruptcy of American states amid the biggest health-care crisis this country has faced is utterly irresponsible,” New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said at a press conference.

A spokesperson for Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said “every state is facing budget shortfalls and we need partners in Congress who will work with us on real solutions, instead of using this crisis to propose an ideological Hail Mary.”

New York Gov. Cuomo, ex-South Carolina governor Haley with differing opinions:

In a letter to Congressional leaders, the National Governors Association on Tuesday reiterated its call for an additional $ 500 billion to replace revenue lost by the states. The $ 2.3 trillion federal CARES Act allocated $ 150 billion to states and local governments exclusively to cover virus-related expenses.

Currently, states cannot file for bankruptcy, while cities and other local governments can use Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy to restructure their debt if allowed by their states. Puerto Rico, a U.S. commonwealth, commenced a form of municipal bankruptcy in 2017 after the U.S. Congress authorized it.

With social distancing and stay-at-home orders in place around the nation aimed at slowing the virus’s spread, non-essential businesses and services have shuttered, leading to skyrocketing unemployment — a further 4.4 million claims were registered in Thursday’s report — and lower consumer spending. As a result, cities and states are starting to project deep revenue losses, particularly for big money generators like income and sales taxes.

The IShares National Muni Bond Exchange Traded Fund traded lower after the news, but there was no immediate reaction in the $ 3.8-trillion U.S. municipal market, where states, cities and other issuers sell debt.

Municipal market analysts played down McConnell’s comments as political posturing. Matt Fabian, a partner at Municipal Market Analytics, said he doubted whether such a move was constitutionally or politically possible.

“The whole point is a red herring,” he said. “[McConnell’s] statement is more about how Republicans are going to require concessions from Democrats if Democrats want states to get additional aid.”

Hugh McGuirk, who oversees just under $ 30 billion in municipal bonds at T. Rowe Price, said bankruptcy should be an absolutely last resort for any government.

“I think, bankruptcy or not, that ultimately investors want a stable governmental entity providing the necessary services for its citizens,” he said.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Thursday her state was facing a $ 3-billion US hit to its budget this fiscal year and possibly even a bigger impact next year. (Al Goldis/The Associated Press)

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CBC | World News

U.S. Senate passes $2T coronavirus relief package

The Senate late Wednesday passed an unparalleled $ 2.2 trillion economic rescue package steering aid to businesses, workers and health care systems engulfed by the coronavirus pandemic.

The unanimous vote came despite misgivings on both sides about whether it goes too far or not far enough and capped days of difficult negotiations as Washington confronted a national challenge unlike it has ever faced.

The 880-page measure is the largest economic relief bill in U.S. history. Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell appeared sombre and exhausted as he announced the vote — and he released senators from Washington until April 20, though he promised to recall them if needed.

“The legislation now before us now is historic because it is meant to match a historic crisis,” said Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. “Our health care system is not prepared to care for the sick. Our workers are without work. Our businesses cannot do business. Our factories lie idle. The gears of the American economy have ground to a halt.”

WATCH | U.S. closer to passing aid package as Louisiana becomes potential hotspot:

American lawmakers are confident an aid package will be approved this week as officials identify Louisiana as a possible hotspot for COVID-19 cases. 1:59

The package is intended as relief for an economy spiralling into recession or worse and a nation facing a grim toll from an infection that’s killed nearly 20,000 people worldwide. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, asked how long the aid would keep the economy afloat, said: “We’ve anticipated three months. Hopefully, we won’t need this for three months.”

Underscoring the effort’s sheer magnitude, the bill finances a response with a price tag that equals half the size of the entire $ 4 trillion annual federal budget.

Insistently optimistic, President Donald Trump said of the greatest public-health emergency in anyone’s lifetime, “I don’t think its going to end up being such a rough patch” and anticipated the economy soaring “like a rocket ship” when it’s over.

The drive by leaders to speed the bill through the Senate was slowed as four conservative Republican senators from states who economies are dominated by low-wage jobs demanded changes, saying the legislation as written might give workers like store clerks incentives to stay on unemployment instead of returning return to their jobs since they may earn more money if they’re laid off than if they’re working. They settled for a failed vote to modify the provision.

Other objections floated in from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has become a prominent Democrat on the national scene as the country battles the pandemic. Cuomo, whose state has seen more deaths from the pandemic than any other, said, “I’m telling you, these numbers don’t work.”

Ardent liberals like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez were restless as well, but top Washington Democrats assured them that a additional coronavirus legislation will follow this spring and signalled that delaying the pending measure would be foolish.

The sprawling measure is the third coronavirus response bill produced by Congress and by far the largest. It builds on efforts focused on vaccines and emergency response, sick and family medical leave for workers, and food aid.

Provides direct payments

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., swung behind the bipartisan agreement, saying it “takes us a long way down the road in meeting the needs of the American people.”

Senate passage delivered the legislation to the Democratic-controlled House, which will most likely pass it Friday. House members are scattered around the country and the timetable for votes in that chamber was unclear.

House Democratic and Republican leaders have hoped to clear the measure for Trump’s signature by a voice vote without having to call lawmakers back to Washington.

The package would give direct payments to most Americans, expand unemployment benefits and provide a $ 367 billion program for small businesses to keep making payroll while workers are forced to stay home.

It includes a controversial, heavily negotiated $ 500 billion program for guaranteed, subsidized loans to larger industries, including airlines. Hospitals would get significant help as well.

Six days of arduous talks produced the bill, creating tensions among Congress’ top leaders, who each took care to tend to party politics as they maneuvered and battled over crafting the legislation. But failure is not an option, nor is starting over, which permitted both sides to include their priorities.

“That Washington drama does not matter any more,” McConnell said. “The Senate is going to stand together, act together, and pass this historic relief package today.”

U.S. Capitol Police officers stand atop of the U.S. Senate stairway, ahead of a vote on the coronavirus relief bill, on Capitol Hill in Washington Wednesday. (Tom Brenner/Reuters)

The bill would provide one-time direct payments to Americans of $ 1,200 per adult making up to $ 75,000 a year, and $ 2,400 to a married couple making up to $ 150,000, with $ 500 payments per child.

A huge cash infusion for hospitals expecting a flood of COVID-19 patients grew during the talks to an estimated $ 130 billion. Another $ 45 billion would fund additional relief through the Federal Emergency Management Agency for local response efforts and community services.

Democrats said the package would help replace the salaries of furloughed workers for four months, rather than the three months first proposed. Furloughed workers would get whatever amount a state usually provides for unemployment, plus a $ 600 per week add-on, with gig workers like Uber drivers covered for the first time.

Republicans won inclusion of an “employee retention” tax credit that’s estimated to provide $ 50 billion to companies that retain employees on payroll and cover 50 per cent of workers’ paycheque up to $ 10,000. Companies would also be able to defer payment of the 6.2 per cent Social Security payroll tax.

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Coronavirus: Italy passes 10,000 infections as clusters spur worry in U.S.

The latest:

Expanding clusters of the new coronavirus were eyed warily Wednesday as the outbreak upended daily life and reshaped everything from the presidential race in the United States to Pope Francis’s travel.

In the U.S., the caseload passed 1,000, and outbreaks on both sides of the country were stirring alarm, while in Europe, an increasingly locked-down Italy counted more than 10,000 infections and recorded soaring deaths among its aging population.

“Right now, the epicentre — the new China — is Europe,” said Robert Redfield, the head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Rome’s usual boisterous hum was reduced to a whisper as Italy’s 62 million people were told to mostly stay home. Though shops, cafes and restaurants remained open, police around the country were enforcing rules that customers stay one metre apart and certain businesses shutter by 6 p.m.

Authorities said 631 people have died of COVID-19 in Italy, with an increase of 168 fatalities recorded Tuesday. The health crisis was dealing a serious blow to the country’s economy — the third-largest of the 19 countries using the euro — and threatened instability worldwide.

Markets across Asia dropped Wednesday despite Wall Street’s gains a day earlier. Investors seemed encouraged by promises by U.S. President Donald Trump of a relief package to cushion economic pain from the outbreak. Governments around Asia and elsewhere have also announced billions of dollars in stimulus funds, including packages revealed in Japan on Tuesday and Australia on Wednesday.

“Investors are still worried that those fiscal stimulus packages may not be able to contain the virus outbreak as well as to mitigate the impact on the economy,” said Louis Wong of Philip Capital Management.

For most, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But for a few, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illnesses, including pneumonia. More than 119,000 people have been infected worldwide and over 4,200 have died.

The virus has disrupted travel, closed schools and halted manufacturing in places around the globe. Here’s a look at what’s happening in Canada, the U.S. and some of the hard-hit regions around the world.

Here’s what’s happening in Canada

British Columbia reported seven new cases of COVID-19 and two are linked to community transmission, while neighbouring Washington state continues to see a rapid spread of coronavirus. 1:49

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to offer details around a planned federal support package for people and businesses facing “immediate pressures” from the coronavirus and the disruption it’s causing in the economy.

The Public Agency of Canada, which has been continually assessing the risk from the outbreak, says that the risk to the general population in Canada is low, but notes “this could change rapidly.”

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, notes that some people face an increased risk.

As of early Wednesday morning, Canada has reported 97 cases of COVID-19, including:

Here’s what’s happening in the U.S.

In the U.S., dozens of cases were being tied to a conference in Boston, and leaders in multiple states were announcing curbs on large events. Colleges around the country emptied their classrooms as they moved to online instruction and uncertainty surrounded the upcoming opening of the Major League Baseball season and college basketball’s championships. Even the famed buffets of Las Vegas were affected, with some of the Strip’s biggest being closed in a precautionary measure.

“It’s terrifying,” said Silvana Gomez, a student at Harvard University, where undergraduates were told to leave campus by Sunday. “I’m definitely very scared right now about what the next couple days, the next couple weeks look like.”

New York’s governor said National Guard troops would scrub public places and deliver food to a suburb where infections have spiked. In Washington state, where a Seattle-area nursing home was the centre of an outbreak, officials said the virus had spread to at least 10 other long-term care facilities. In California, thousands of restless passengers remained stuck aboard a cruise ship, waiting for their turn to disembark to begin quarantines.

Two men vying to take on Trump in the U.S. presidential election abruptly cancelled rallies Tuesday and left open the possibility that future campaign events could be impacted, too. Trump’s campaign insisted it would proceed as normal, though Vice-President Mike Pence conceded future rallies would be evaluated “on a day to day basis.”

Here’s what’s happening in Italy and Europe

Italy’s lockdown measures to try to beat the coronavirus are reducing its economic output by around 10 per cent to 15 per cent, Lorenzo Codogno, a former Italian Treasury chief economist, said on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte unexpectedly expanded the so-called red zone to the entire country on Monday night, introducing the most severe controls on a Western nation since the Second World War and raising fears for the future, especially among small businesses.

As of Tuesday, France, Spain and Germany have more than 1,000 cases each. 

Here’s what’s happening in Iran and the Middle East

Iran’s death toll jumped on Tuesday to 291 and infections rose to more than 8,000. The UN called on Iran to free all prisoners temporarily, a day after Iran’s judiciary chief said it had temporarily freed about 70,000.

A civil defence worker wearing a protective suit sprays disinfectant in Baghdad’s main market as a precaution against the novel coronavirus on Tuesday. (Hadi Mizban/The Associated Press)

Bahrain’s health ministry said on Wednesday 77 new coronavirus cases had been recorded among citizens evacuated from Iran by plane on Tuesday. The new cases brought the total number of coronavirus cases recorded by Bahraini health authorities to date to 189, 30 of whom have recovered. No deaths have been recorded.

All Gulf Arab states have recorded infections but no deaths.

Here’s what’s happening in China

In China, where the novel virus first cropped up, officials said they’d counted only 24 new cases on Wednesday. In a reversal of positions, China is seeing new cases brought in from overseas.

In Beijing, the capital, all the new cases of COVID-19 reported on Wednesday came from outside the country, five from Italy and one from the United States. “The epidemic situation is at a low level and the prevention and control are continuously going well,” said Mi Feng, spokesperson for the National Health Commission.

Here’s what’s happening in South Korea and Japan

The other major outbreak site in Asia, South Korea, continued to report improving numbers, too, with 242 new cases announced Wednesday. Still, a cluster of infections connected to a call centre in one of the busiest areas of that country’s capital was raising alarms.

More than half of South Korea’s 51 million people live in the Seoul metropolitan area.

So far, 93 people have tested positive among the call centre’s employees and their families, Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon said Wednesday in a briefing broadcast over YouTube. The number could grow as tests are being done on more than 550 co-workers who worked on other floors of the Korea Building in Seoul’s Guro district.

Health workers in white protective suits scrambled to sanitize the nearby Sindorim subway station, which is used by more than 404,000 commuters per day, according to Seoul Metro.

While most of the infected workers live in Seoul, some of them commute from nearby cities such as Incheon and Bucheon, raising concern about a broader spread through public transit.

Call centre workers may be vulnerable because they work long hours in crowded and confined spaces, said Yoon Tae-ho, an official from South Korea’s health ministry.

Jung Eun-kyeong, director of South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said it would be difficult to track infections if they spread to buses and subways. She said it’s “most critical” that public transit operators vigorously sanitize handles, bars and anything passengers frequently touch with the threat of local transmissions growing.

Park said Seoul is investigating the working conditions of more than 400 call centres in the city and will push employers to allow more employees to work from home. The mayor said authorities were responding actively to prevent the cluster from intensifying like South Korea’s earlier clusters around the southeastern city of Daegu.

Here’s a look at what’s happening in some other areas as COVID-19 spreads

  • India ramped up travel restrictions and closed a border with neighbouring Myanmar to counter the coronavirus outbreak, as countries across South Asia reported a rise in cases on Wednesday.

  • In Afghanistan, the number of confirmed cases rose to seven from four, the country’s health ministry said.

  • Democratic Republic of Congo confirmed its first case of coronavirus on Tuesday, bringing the number of countries in sub-Saharan Africa hit by the epidemic to seven.

  • Indonesia says a foreigner has become its first fatality from COVID-19. Achmad Yurianto, the government spokesperson on efforts to contain the coronavirus, said Wednesday the 53-year-old woman had diabetes and lung disease and had contracted the virus abroad.

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Number of coronavirus cases in China passes 75,000

The latest:

  • Health commission in China reports 75,465 confirmed cases on mainland, with 2,236 deaths.
  • China has changed how it counts confirmed cases, raising questions about data.
  • South Korea has 156 confirmed cases, including 1 death.
  • Daegu mayor tells residents to stay inside after dozens of new cases confirmed in city.
  • 2 Japanese passengers of Diamond Princess cruise ship have died.
  • Canadian passengers on cruise ship who tested negative for COVID-19 on flight to CFB Trenton.

Mainland China had 889 new, confirmed cases of the coronavirus on Thursday, China’s National Health Commission said, up from 394 cases a day earlier.

That brings its total number of confirmed cases to 75,465.

The death toll from the outbreak in mainland China reached 2,236 as of the end of Thursday, up by 118 from the previous day.

The central province of Hubei, the epicentre of the outbreak, reported 115 new deaths, while in the provincial capital of Wuhan, 99 people died.

Earlier on Thursday, the World Health Organization (WHO) had said an overall decline in the number of new cases in China in recent days was encouraging, but warned it was too early to know if the trend would continue.

“We are encouraged by this trend but this is no time for complacency,” the WHO’s director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, told a briefing in Geneva on Thursday morning.

WATCH | Empty streets in Wuhan:

Video taken on the streets of Wuhan shows a city of 11 million people that appears almost deserted. 1:31

In China, officials have been pointing to evidence that new cases were declining as proof they are succeeding in keeping the virus largely contained to Hubei province and its capital Wuhan, where the virus initially emerged.

But revisions to their methodology have raised doubts about the data. Prior to Thursday night’s tally, under the latest methodology, which excludes chest X-rays, China had reported fewer than 400 new cases the day before.  

Only last week, another change in Chinese methodology created an overnight spike of nearly 15,000 new cases, reversing a trend of falling numbers that Chinese officials had previously touted as evidence their disease-fighting strategy was working.

Scientists in China who studied nose and throat swabs from 18 patients infected with the virus said it behaves much more like influenza than other closely related viruses, suggesting it may spread even more easily than previously believed.

In at least one case, the virus was present even though the patient had no symptoms, suggesting symptom-free patients could spread the disease, they wrote in preliminary findings published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

“If confirmed, this is very important,” said Dr. Gregory Poland, a vaccine researcher with the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., who was not involved with the study. China has imposed severe controls in Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, to halt the spread of the virus, and has taken urgent steps to keep the overall economy from crashing.

Spike in South Korea

South Korean officials have designated two cities as “special care zones” while its military confined troops to their bases in a desperate effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus after a recent spike in cases.

South Korea reported 52 new confirmed cases, taking the national total to 156, the majority in Daegu, the country’s fourth-largest city with a population of 2.5 million.

Malls, restaurants and streets in city were largely empty as the mayor called the outbreak an “unprecedented crisis.”

Workers wearing protective gears move a patient suspected of contracting coronavirus from an ambulance to the Kyungpook National University Hospital in Daegu, South Korea. (Yonhap/Associated Press)

Of the national tally, 111 patients are from Daegu or nearby. Most have been traced to an infected 61-year-old woman known as “Patient 31” who attended a church, a scenario that health authorities described as a “super-spreading event.”

As of Friday local time, more than 400 members of the church were showing symptoms of the disease, though tests were still ongoing, Daegu Mayor Kwon Young-jin said at a briefing.

He said the city would ban any kind of mass gathering and repeated a request for residents to stay at home.

The coronavirus has created alarm because there are a still many important unknowns surrounding it. It can cause pneumonia, which has been deadly in some cases.

Many of South Korea’s initial patients have recovered, though it reported the first death from the virus on Thursday.

The government will designate Daegu and neighbouring Cheongdo County as “special care zones,” Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said at a meeting of senior government officials in Seoul on Friday.

“It is urgent to find those who were in contact with the infected and treat the diagnosed people as soon as possible,” Chung said. “We will proactively provide necessary assistance including sickbeds, personnel and equipment.”

The government also plans to send military medical staff, and provide temporary isolation facilities, he said.

In the capital of Seoul, city officials said they would not allow any of the large protests and demonstrations that are often held on the weekends, Yonhap news agency reported.

After several military members tested positive for the virus on Thursday, Defence Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo decided to ban all soldiers from taking leave, leaving their barracks and receiving guests.

Some exceptions would be made for family emergencies or for soldiers at the end of their military service, the ministry said.

2 Diamond Princess passengers die

Japan reported the deaths of two elderly passengers from the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship anchored off Yokohama. They appear to be the first people to have died from the disease from aboard the ship, the biggest cluster of infection outside mainland China, with more than 630 cases.

“Our hearts go out to the families, friends and all who are impacted by these losses,” said a statement sent by the cruise line to CBC News on Thursday afternoon. “All of us at Princess Cruises, as well as the crew of the Diamond Princess, offer our sincere condolences.”

Japan has begun allowing passengers who test negative to disembark from the ship. Canadian passengers who had tested negative for coronavirus were taken to a charter plane at Tokyo’s international airport, which took off Thursday. It is expected to arrive at CFB Trenton in Ontario early Friday morning. The passengers will then be taken to the NAV Canada Training Institute in Cornwall, Ont., where they will be placed in quarantine for up to 14 days. 

WATCH | Canadian passengers get ready to leave Japan:

More than 200 Canadian passengers leave quarantined Diamond Princess ship and head home to Canada. 1:29

The ship was carrying about 3,700 people when quarantined on Feb. 3, about half of them from Japan. Japanese passengers were permitted to go home once cleared to leave; other countries are flying passengers home and keeping them isolated on arrival.

Japan, which is due to host the Summer Olympics in July, had faced criticism over its strategy of quarantining people on board the ship. Its National Institute of Infectious Diseases published data that it said supported its strategy, showing that the onset of symptoms from confirmed cases had peaked on Feb. 7 and tailed off to zero by Feb. 15.

The NIID report was “very reassuring,” said Kentaro Iwata, an infectious disease specialist from Kobe University Hospital who had been one of the harshest critics of the quarantine.

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U.S. House passes new North American trade pact to replace NAFTA

The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a new North American trade deal on Thursday that includes tougher labour and automotive content rules but leaves $ 1.2 trillion US in annual Canada-U.S.-Mexico trade flows largely unchanged.

The House passed legislation to implement the Canada-U.S.-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA) on trade 385-41, with 38 Democrats, two Republicans and one independent member voting no.

The bipartisan vote contrasted sharply with Wednesday night’s Democrat-only vote to impeach U.S. President Donald Trump.

The House vote sends the measure to the Senate, but it is unclear when the Republican-controlled chamber will take it up. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has said that consideration of the measure would likely follow an impeachment trial in the Senate, expected in January.

The CUSMA trade pact, first agreed upon in September 2018, will replace the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Trump vowed for years to quit or renegotiate NAFTA, which he blames for the loss of millions of U.S. factory jobs to low-wage Mexico.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gave CUSMA a green light last week after striking a deal with the Trump administration, Canada and Mexico to strengthen labour enforcement provisions and eliminate some drug patent protections.

Pelosi said she was not concerned about Democrats handing Trump a political victory on CUSMA as they are trying to remove him from office.

“It would be a collateral benefit if we can come together to support America’s working families, and if the president wants to take credit, so be it,” Pelosi said during House floor debate before the vote.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Twitter that the CUSMA was a “historic milestone” in Trump’s effort to modernize trade relations.

The changes negotiated by Democrats, which include tighter environmental rules, will also set up a mechanism to quickly investigate labour rights abuses at Mexican factories. They have earned the support of several U.S. labour unions that have opposed NAFTA for decades.

U.S. trade representative Robert Lighthizer made a concession by dropping a requirement for 10 years of data exclusivity for biologic drugs, a provision that Democrats feared would keep drug prices high and that they called a “giveaway” to big drugmakers.

Some of the most ardent trade skeptics in Congress have voiced support of the deal, including Rep. Debbie Dingell, who represents an autoworker-heavy district in southeastern Michigan. Dingell said in television interviews that she backed the bill, even though she was skeptical it would bring auto jobs back to Michigan. Rep. Ron Kind, a pro-trade Democrat from Wisconsin, one of the top dairy-producing states, praised new access to Canada’s closed dairy market under CUSMA.

“A no vote is a return to the failed policy of the old NAFTA, the status quo, rather than this more modernized version,” Kind said in floor debate.

Democrats and U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration have for months been negotiating over the finer details of CUSMA. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The agreement modernizes NAFTA, adding language that preserves the U.S. model for internet, digital services and e-commerce development, industries that did not exist when NAFTA was negotiated in the early 1990s. It eliminates some food safety barriers to U.S. farm products and contains language prohibiting currency manipulation for the first time in a trade agreement.

But the biggest changes require increased North American content in cars and trucks built in the region, to 75 from 62.5 per cent in NAFTA, with new mandates to use North American steel and aluminum.

In addition, 40 to 45 per cent of vehicle content must come from high-wage areas paying more than $ 16 an hour — namely the United States and Canada. Some vehicles assembled in Mexico mainly with components from Mexico and outside the region may not qualify for U.S. tariff-free access.

The U.S. Congressional Budget Office estimated earlier this week that automakers will pay nearly $ 3 billion more in tariffs over the next decade for cars and parts that will not meet the higher regional content rules.

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Ebola survivor in Congo passes college exam taken in isolation

A young Ebola patient who took his college entrance exam while being treated in isolation has passed the demanding test, to the joy of many in Congo where his story is now well-known.

Claude Mabowa is among the nearly 3,000 people who have been confirmed to have Ebola in what has become the second-deadliest outbreak of the virus in history.

Now the celebrated Ebola survivor says he hopes he can realize his dreams and show other Ebola patients there is hope.

“I was very happy and joyful when I saw the Ministry of Education text message on my phone reassuring me that I have just passed … despite the precarious conditions,” he told The Associated Press. “Being sick in an Ebola centre, most people do not come back but also many people lose hope of living.”

Mabowa’s mother had died of Ebola, and he told the AP in July that her greatest hope was that he would attend college. That requires passing the secondary school baccalaureate, or “bac.”

“I was afraid that I was sick and that I was going to miss the exams, but fortunately the Ebola treatment centre officials had appealed for me to take the exams,” he said. “I had already lost six members of our family, including my mother, who asked me to continue with studies because that is the key to life.”

On July 20, Claude Mabowa Sasi, who had lost his mother, a brother and a sister to Ebola, took his college-entry exam in an isolation room at an Ebola treatment center in Beni, Congo. It had been his mother’s greatest hope that he would go to college. (Al-Hadji Kudra Maliro/Associated Press)

The 21-year-old was able to take the exam after staffers at the treatment centre run by the Alliance for International Medical Action, or ALIMA, in the eastern city of Beni came up with a solution.

They found a school official willing to proctor the exam as Mabowa took it safely behind a window. The papers were passed to him without touching him. After finishing, he held the pages up one by one to the window so they could be photographed with a smartphone and then emailed to officials for scoring.

Then his work and his pencil were incinerated. 

This week Mabowa, who was released from the centre in July, celebrated with friends by throwing powder on each other’s heads, a local tradition when passing the exam.

His Latin teacher, Muhindo Bukangali Loboto, said he prayed for him every day.

“Claude was among the best-educated who loved his studies and he has shown us what he is capable of,” he said.

With nearly 2,000 confirmed deaths in eastern Congo, the Ebola outbreak is far from over. Health workers have been challenged by community mistrust and insecurity caused by years of rebel attacks. 

Mabowa is a glimmer of hope.

He says now that he has survived Ebola and passed his exam, the next hurtle is going to a university. He said he hopes to study political science at the University of Kisangani, and he appealed for support.

“After Ebola there is life,” he said.

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