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NHL expresses concern over Canucks’ COVID-19 protocol situation

The NHL’s deputy commissioner says the Vancouver Canucks’ COVID-19 outbreak is a concern, but he remains confident the team will be able to complete its schedule.

In an email to The Canadian Press on Monday, Bill Daly says the team’s numbers are “concerning from a health and safety standpoint, not necessarily from a scheduling standpoint.”

Daly said the league believes the Canucks will return and conclude their 56-game schedule.

He also said the league will not change its COVID-19 protocols in the aftermath of the Canucks’ situation.

After forward Adam Gaudette’s positive test came back last Tuesday, practice continued without him, and then last Wednesday morning’s skate went ahead.

Left-winger Nils Hoglander was added to the NHL’s protocol list on Monday. Seventeen of the 22 players on the Canucks’ active roster are now on the protocol list.

WATCH | Canucks sidelined by COVID-19:

The Vancouver Canucks have cancelled several upcoming games after a COVID-19 outbreak hit at least half the team’s roster. 1:59

A player on the list has not necessarily tested positive — the list, for example, also has players who must self-isolate for being in close contact with someone who has COVID-19 or for travel reasons. A player who tests positive must self-isolate for 10 days.

The list is updated every day at 5 p.m. ET.

The team has had four games officially postponed because of the virus, and it appears it will be sidelined longer. The Canucks are next scheduled to face the Calgary Flames on Thursday and Saturday, but the NHL announced Calgary will face the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday instead. The league also moved Friday’s match between the Oilers and Ottawa to Thursday.

P1 variant suspected

Multiple reports have said the P1 variant first identified in Brazil is suspected to be involved in the Canucks’ outbreak, but the Canucks and NHL have not commented publicly on results of tests since the Vancouver organization confirmed Gaudette had tested positive last week.

A Canadian infectious disease specialist says more information is needed on the Canucks before deeper analysis is possible.

“I think it’s a bit early to speculate about what’s happening with the Canucks. I mean I suspect that the outbreak there is likely going to turn out to be related to P1, but we don’t know yet whether anyone’s going to have severe infections,” said Dr. Ilan Schwartz, an infectious disease expert with the University of Alberta.

“Certainly any of the variants, including what we call the wild type or the original variant, are able to cause symptomatic disease in young people; it’s just the degree of symptomatology that is variable. And so it’s difficult to draw conclusions just from one small group, but certainly this should put Canadians on notice.”

The Vancouver Canucks have had four games officially postponed because of the virus, and it appears the team will be sidelined longer. It’s next scheduled to face the Calgary Flames on Thursday and Saturday, but the NHL announced Calgary will face the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday instead. (The Canadian Press)

The biggest previous COVID-19 outbreaks in the NHL were all in the United States.

The Dallas Stars had their first four games of the season postponed after 17 players tested positive — most of whom were asymptomatic.

The New Jersey Devils had 19 players on the COVID-19 protocol list and seven games postponed earlier this season, while the Buffalo Sabres had nine players on the list and six games postponed.

Schwartz said it’s not surprising to see an outbreak on a team, even though there is regular testing.

“I think it was just a matter of time, and it’s sort of similar to what we saw unfold with the White House and the outbreaks that occurred there,” he said.

“Basically we know that testing is not intervention in and of itself. It’s able, perhaps, to identify people who are infected earlier than if we were just waiting for the development of symptoms alone, but if it’s not also implemented with other safeguards and restrictions, it’s basically like relying on a pregnancy test to prevent an unwanted pregnancy. So I think it’s probably expecting too much for the testing alone to be able to prevent the infection.”

The Canucks’ outbreak comes with the vaccine rollout going slower in Canada than in many states in the U.S.

“There’s two different countries, different rules, different situations,” Calgary Flames centre Mikael Backlund said. “There’s nothing we can do about it really. We’ve just got to wait for our turn.”

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CBC | Sports News

Canucks’ COVID-19 situation sends chill through NHL’s North Division

The Vancouver Canucks being brought to a standstill by the COVID-19 virus makes players and coaches elsewhere in the all-Canadian North Division uneasy for that team and their own.

Sixteen of the 22 players on the Canucks’ active roster were officially on the NHL’s protocol list with Sunday’s addition of forward Marc Michaelis and defenceman Jalen Chatfield. A member of the coaching staff had also been affected.

The Canucks are off the ice at least until Tuesday and have had four games postponed because of the virus.

“It’s something that we’ve talked about all season long, is keeping it [COVID] out,” Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid said Sunday. “It’s a huge part of the season, unfortunately.

“What’s happening in Vancouver is a lot more than hockey. We’re obviously hoping everyone is doing all right and families and everyone are OK, and they get healthy as quickly as possible.”

A player on the COVID-19 protocol list has not necessarily tested positive. The league requires individuals with positive tests to self-isolate for 10 days, and for close contacts to self-isolate for two weeks.

“On behalf of our entire team, I want to thank fans everywhere for their support this past week,” Canucks general manager Jim Benning said in a statement released Sunday. “Our players, coaches and their families are grateful for the messages and we all hope for a return to full health as soon as possible.”

Vancouver’s situation brings home for the rest of Canada’s NHL clubs the pitfalls of operating in a pandemic.

“It just reinforces you’ve got to do things right,” Oilers head coach Dave Tippett said.

“Try to give yourself the best chance to keep it out as you can. I think all the players are trying to do a good job, but sometimes that virus, it finds its way.

“You feel for those guys out there. Hopefully they can get through it, but it’s certainly concerning.”

The Montreal Canadiens had four games postponed, including three against the Oilers, when a pair of forwards were subject to pandemic protocols in March.

“It wasn’t our team, but it affected us a lot,” McDavid said. “It was kind of a reminder, and obviously with what’s happening with Vancouver just to how important it is to keep this thing out.”

WATCH | Rob Pizzo recaps week 11 in the NHL’s North Division:

In our weekly segment, Rob Pizzo catches you up on the week that was in the all-Canadian division in the NHL. 3:54

Habs forward Tyler Toffoli, who spent the back end of last season with the Canucks, says he’s reached out to former teammates in Vancouver.

“Just making sure they’re OK,” Toffoli said Saturday. “It’s definitely a scary situation and hopefully it doesn’t get any worse than what it is.”

Each team in the NHL is scheduled to play 56 regular-season games. The start of the 2020-21 season was delayed until January and shortened because of the pandemic.

Vancouver’s postponed game against Winnipeg on Tuesday will be the 45th pushed back by COVID-19, with the first 37 in the NHL’s three divisions in the United States.

Former teammates show concern

Winnipeg forward Adam Lowry says he’s checked up on former Jets teammate Tyler Myers, who is one of the Canucks on that team’s protocol list.

“First and foremost, we’re worried about their safety, their health and wellness,” Lowry said. “That’s the thing at the forefront. Hockey is second.

“We were all hopeful and tried to do our best to limit the possibility of this becoming a thing or this running through a team like this.

“Obviously it was a risk. Seeing how contagious the virus is and things like that, we’re just hoping that they’re near the end of the positive tests and everyone that’s kind of contracted the virus, and their family members and things like that, they make a full recovery.”

Former Canucks forward Tyler Toffoli, right, said he recently reached out to his old teammates. Vancouver defenceman Jalen Chatfield, left, was added to the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list on Sunday. (Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

Chris Tanev, who played 10 seasons in Vancouver before signing with the Calgary Flames in the off-season, says he’s also been in touch with former teammates.

“You hope everyone is OK and no one has any serious side effects or anything from testing positive or catching COVID,” Tanev said Sunday.

The Canucks were scheduled to be in Calgary on both Thursday and Saturday, but those games are in question given the scale of Vancouver’s situation.

“The league’s going to make the calls on all that, how long they shut down and if we’re going to play make up games,” Tanev said. “I think everyone is still waiting to see what happens with that.

“Thus far, the Canadian division had been pretty good. Obviously Montreal two weeks ago had their positives and now Vancouver. The restrictions are there and are in place for a reason.”

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CBC | Sports News

Dutch join teams speaking out on human rights situation in Qatar ahead of World Cup

The Netherlands national team wore T-shirts on Saturday emblazoned with the words “Football supports change,” in an apparent statement about human rights in World Cup host Qatar, ahead of its Group G qualifier against Latvia.

Defender Matthijs de Ligt had said ahead of the match that the Dutch team wanted to make a statement about the human rights situation in Qatar, saying “it’s a very difficult situation with workers’ rights there.”

The Dutch action before the game at the Johan Cruyff Arena followed expressions of support for human rights by Norway and Germany players ahead of their first World Cup qualifying matches on Wednesday and Thursday.

The German team lined up in black shirts, each with one white letter to spell out “HUMAN RIGHTS,” ahead of the 3-0 win against Iceland in Group J. Midfielder Leon Goretzka said the German players had followed Norway’s lead and that they wanted to make a statement about the 2022 World Cup.

Norway players wore shirts stating: “HUMAN RIGHTS” and “Respect on and off the pitch” before their game against Gibraltar in Group G on Wednesday.

FIFA’s disciplinary code states players and federations can face disciplinary action in cases of “using a sports event for demonstrations of a non-sporting nature.”

FIFA has not opened a case against Norway or Germany for their actions.

The Norwegian national team made a point about human rights again ahead of its game against Turkey in Malaga, Spain. Its players took off jackets for the national anthem to reveal white T-shirts with the message “HUMAN RIGHTS On and off the pitch”, but this time calling on more teams to join forces with them. The shirts also bore the names of Norway and Germany with ticks beside them and the question “Next?”

Qatar, which won the World Cup hosting vote a decade ago, has been under scrutiny over laws and conditions for migrant workers helping to build infrastructure for the tournament.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino said last week Qatar has made social progress because of becoming the World Cup host.

England manager Gareth Southgate said the English Football Association and Amnesty International have been in talks. Amnesty International wrote to the FA last year urging them to put pressure on FIFA to ensure the rights of migrant workers in Qatar are properly protected.

Southgate said talks between the two organizations remain ongoing and that Amnesty are not looking for the tournament to be called off.

“I think in terms of the situation in Qatar, the FA are working closely with Amnesty International and will be talking with Qatar as well,” he said. “My understanding is Amnesty don’t want the tournament postponed or moved. They want to work and highlight issues that maybe could be improved. So, it’s important we work with organizations like that.”

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CBC | Soccer News

Czech Republic provides cautionary tale as once-promising COVID-19 situation spirals out of control

From best to worst in just one year.

Put another way, winning the opening battle is no guarantee of winning the war.

This is the story of the Czech Republic and COVID-19. This was a country seemingly well prepared — a member of the European Union since 2004 after overthrowing its communist government in 1989, modestly rich and boasting a solid health-care system.

As the virus crept into Europe in early 2020, the Czech government acted. Starting in March of last year, the country of 10.6 million people went into almost total lockdown and stayed locked down for five weeks. Shops, schools, even the borders were shut. Masks had to be worn outside.

The Czech Republic became the poster child of Europe with the lowest number of cases as a percentage of population in the European Union.

But by March 2021, the situation was catastrophic. According to World Health Organization statistics, the Czech Republic now leads the world in new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population — 1,597 as of Saturday.

That’s a multiple of the rate in neighbouring countries and more than 10 times the rate in Germany next door, where the rate is 138 per 100,000 over the latest two-week period. More than 21,500 Czechs have died from the virus.

Medical workers move a COVID-19 patient into an ambulance at a hospital overrun by the disease in Cheb, Czech Republic, on Feb. 12. The small city near the German border has a death rate six times the national average. (Petr David Josek/The Associated Press)

Cheb, a small city of 32,000 near the German border, is nothing short of a disaster zone. With a death rate six times the national average, ambulances parked in the street with COVID-19 sufferers because there are no hospital beds and patients sent to other regions, now the city itself is sealed off from the Czech Republic itself.

On Friday, the Czech government officially asked Germany, Poland and Switzerland to take some COVID patients because it couldn’t care for them.

Medical experts blame government

A slew of Czech experts — doctors, epidemiologists, virologists — point their finger at whom they see as the culprit: their own government.

“The situation is desperate,” Dagmar Dzurova, a professor of demographics at Charles University in Prague, said in an interview with the magazine Respekt.

Patients wait in the COVID-19 admissions room at the Regional Hospital Mlada Boleslav, in Mlada Boleslav, Czech Republic, on Friday. More than 21,000 Czechs have died from the disease. (David Cerny/Reuters)

“They committed three fatal mistakes: relaxing the rules, first in September before regional elections, then before Christmas in December, when restrictions were again lifted prematurely. And in January, we didn’t react in time to the new mutations, when we knew the [strain first found in the U.K.] was already in Europe.”

Others are even harsher.

“This is a government run by a businessman,” Dr. Frantisek Duska, associate dean of medicine at Charles University and head of the ICU unit of University Hospital Vinohrady in Prague, said in an interview with Denik-N, a Czech news site. “And he’s a trickster and a liar.”

The businessman is Andrej Babis, a billionaire, owner of a giant agricultural conglomerate and prime minister of the Czech Republic. He’s now a very worried man.

“These will be hellish days,” Babis told his fellow citizens in late February as he announced severe new restrictions.

“We have to do it to prevent a total collapse of our hospitals. If we don’t, the whole world will watch Bergamo in the Czech Republic,” he said, referring to the Italian province of one million where, officially, 3,300 people with COVID-19 died in 2020.

Andrej Babis, prime minister of the Czech Republic, is shown last September in Poland. In late February, he announced severe new restrictions, including compulsory mask-wearing and limiting movement to a person’s local district. Most shops, with the exception of food stores, are closed. (Omar Marques/Getty Images)

Those restrictions, to last three weeks from March 1, include the compulsory mask-wearing and limiting movement to a person’s local district. Most shops, with the exception of food stores, are closed.

Like neighbouring Slovakia — a country of more than five million with the highest death toll per million people in the world in the last seven days, according to German data company Statista — the Czech government is ordering vaccines from China and wants the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, despite the fact that the European Union has approved neither so far.

But Dzurova of Charles University and 40 other scientists and doctors published an open letter to the government at the end of February saying these measures were now not enough. They called for a complete shutdown of the country for 40 days.

“Sooner or later, the government will hear us,” Dzurova said. “The test and trace system hasn’t worked. There is no other way to lower the incidence of the virus in the population.”

Mixed signals from officials

What is seen as government ineptitude, along with growing distrust of their leaders among voters, hasn’t helped.

Dropping the insistence on wearing masks outside while keeping schools closed until last summer, when stores were reopening in the spring, deepened confusion and dissatisfaction, according to intensive care physician Duska.

Restricting compensation to 60 per cent of salary for people under quarantine only increased dissatisfaction.

Thousands of demonstrators take part in a protest against the government’s restrictive measures to curb the spread of COVID-19, in the capital of Prague on Jan. 10. (Petr David Josek/The Associated Press)

The cavalier disregard displayed by the government’s health minister for restrictions he himself had announced only made things worse.

In late October, the country’s biggest tabloid newspaper, Blesk, had a front-page photo of Dr. Roman Prymula leaving a restaurant without a mask. The restaurant was open illegally. He had eaten illegally and put his mask aside.

Prymula was fired.

But one result, among others, is that a number of underground taverns have opened for business, as people argue that they have the same rights as their ministers.

Political manoeuvring at the top of the state has deepened public distrust. The country’s president, Milos Zeman, is a populist and an admirer of both Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. His position is largely ceremonial, but that didn’t stop him from negotiating to have the Russians deliver some of their Sputnik V vaccine.

WATCH | Recognition grows for Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine:

Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine has been a political and medical victory for the country, with many nations now scrambling to get doses. But others, particularly former Soviet states, remain suspicious of the vaccines, and of Russia’s intentions in promoting it. 3:45

Zeman hadn’t consulted Health Minister Jan Blatny, who was reportedly furious.

Zeman then decided a new health minister was needed, and he announced in a television interview on Feb. 27 that Blatny was suffering from burnout. “He’s very, very tired.”

But Babis, the prime minister, disagrees and says Blatny won’t leave, at least not until the end of March. The public is hardly reassured.

A man receives a shot of the COVID-19 vaccine during a trial run of a mass vaccination centre, located inside a gym in the town of Ricany, near Prague, on Feb. 25. (David Cerny/Reuters)

Another populist is ex-president Vaclav Klaus, 79, who served until 2013. He’s a COVID skeptic and has appeared in public frequently without a mask. He has railed against vaccinations and even attended an anti-mask demonstration in Prague in January.

Klaus, who now has COVID-19, has stopped demonstrating.

But he has contributed to the public’s distrust and disbelief about new restrictions. As has the conviction, held by Duska and others, that the state’s response to the crisis has been disjointed and disorganized. For instance, masks — at first compulsory and then not — are now compulsory again.

Government faces reckoning

In the midst of this, Babis manoeuvres to save lives and save his government. National elections are to be held in September.

As his country has gone from first to last in the virus tables, his ANO party has seen its support slip from more than 30 per cent to 26 per cent in the polls as of March 2, according to Politico Europe’s poll of polls. The opposition Pirate Party has climbed steadily and is now at 25 per cent, neck and neck with ANO.

Police officers near Breitenau, Germany, check vehicles at the border with the Czech Republic on Feb. 15, following the introduction of restrictions by Germany due to the coronavirus pandemic. (David Cerny/Reuters)

Babis, too, could be a casualty of COVID-19.

All of this is happening on the 100th anniversary of the publication of The Good Soldier Svejk. This most famous Czech fictional character stumbled through the First World War unscathed as he blindly obeyed every mad order he was given, always with a smile.

“A genius or an idiot?” was the headline of an article marking the anniversary of the satirical novel. In the case of the Czech government, both descriptions could apply, within just one year.

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CBC | World News

TFC leaves for Florida with concerns over COVID-19 situation that awaits

Toronto FC heads to Florida with some unease given recent positive tests there by FC Dallas players and the rising numbers of COVID-19 cases state-wide.

“There’s concern, no doubt,” said head coach Greg Vanney. “Because it’s showing that the [MLS] bubble is not impenetrable and there are some issues that are going on. The question is how quickly can the protocols that are in place down there get things under control so it doesn’t start to spread inside of the bubble.

“That remains to be seen.” 

Vanney says if he could, he would delay his team’s departure to the MLS is Back Tournament at Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex in the Orlando area.

“I don’t know where it’s going to go,” he said of the departure date.

Vanney said given the team feels comfortable and safe in Toronto and the situation is less stable in Florida, “it just makes sense… that we don’t go barrelling down right now until they know that have everything under control.

“Maybe they do.”

The TFC delegation is scheduled to leave Friday, the latest allowed by Major League Soccer which has mandated teams have to arrive at least a week before their first game. Toronto opens July 10 against D.C. United.

The seven-day requirement is presumably to allow players time to be isolated if they test positive in Florida.

Not everything has been smooth in the leadup to leaving. Vanney said training had to be scrapped Wednesday because of a delay in getting COVID test results back.

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Still, Vanney says his players wants to take part in the tournament and are motivated to go deep into the World-Cup style event.

“At the same time, obviously they’re not oblivious to what’s happening,” he told a media conference call Thursday.

Asked if staging a tournament during the pandemic was worth it, Vanney replied: “it’s a tough one.”

“I don’t know. For me, if it’s my call, there’s a lot of things at play here,” added the father of four. “I have my concerns for our guys and for our team and our families and all that kind of stuff. But we’re doing it. And if we’re going to go do it, we’re going to go do it with the intent to be successful.”

‘The bubble’

Still, what is going on south of the border is worrying.

“The challenge that we all have on the human side of the group [is] we see what’s going on down in the U.S.,” Vanney said. “People are not taking things serious and it’s completely, in a lot of ways, out of control. And with very little leadership going on down there, outside of the bubble that is whatever MLS is trying to create.

“The problem is the bubble is only as good as what gets into the bubble. And that’s obviously becoming an issue, which is concerning for all of us. Our guys are very aware of it. Are they concerned? Yes. Are they right to be concerned? Yes, I guess.”

The league said Wednesday that two FC Dallas players tested positive upon arrival Saturday at the league’s host hotel in Florida. Another four tested positive within the last few days.

The entire Dallas party went into isolation pending additional testing. While teams are staying in the same hotel, they are supposed to be isolated from other squads.

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The Columbus Dispatch, citing a source, reported Thursday that a Columbus player had also tested positive in Florida. The Crew arrived Sunday.

Vanney says his team wants to “the best of our ability” create its own bubble with the MLS bubble.

“What we can control is what we do,” he said. “That’s the first and foremost thing that we’ve got to try to do.”

Vanney says all MLS players coming into the bubble bear a responsibility to do the right thing leading into entering the controlled environment.

“I think some players have failed in some ways of keeping themselves quarantined and away from what’s going on around them and not bringing it into the bubble … The problem is we all rely on each other. That’s the way this works.”

‘A lot better control of the situation’

Florida reported a record 10,109 new cases Thursday, more than all the cases reported to date in Norway (8,865) according to the world Health Organization.

Toronto is bringing 29 players — all of its first-team players with the exception of rookie forward Ifunanyachi Achara, who is out for the season after an injury.

The 22-year-old from Nigeria tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in training Friday at BMO Field when he became tangled with defender Omar Gonzalez, who has seven inches and 45 pounds on him, while both attempted to get to a cross.

“It was one of the last plays of the day, unfortunately,” said Toronto coach Greg Vanney.

Achara is scheduled to undergo surgery next Tuesday. He will miss the rest of the season, whatever that is after the MLS is Back Tournament which runs July 8 to Aug. 11 in Florida.

Star striker Jozy Altidore, who has been training on his own while fulfilling his mandated quarantine after returning from his home in Florida, is due to rejoin the full team Friday for practice.

Vanney said they will be careful with his return, saying it would be asking a lot to be ready for the first game.

The Vancouver Whitecaps were slated to leave Wednesday. But their departure was postponed after two inclusive tests that later turned out to be negative. The Whitecaps were undergoing additional tests Thursday.

The Montreal Impact, who open July 9 against the New England Revolution, were slated to leave Thursday.

While the Canadian MLS teams head south to the COVID hot spot of Florida, NHL teams reportedly will be coming the other way to play.

Canada, Vanney said, seems to have “a lot better control of the situation.”

“To be able to go into that environment as a team would be a lot more comfortable than going down to what has essentially become the epicentre of the virus,” he said. “So for sure, that [coming to Canada] is a smart move.”

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CBC | Soccer News

‘This situation is very scary’: Coronavirus is disrupting Vladimir Putin’s Russia

In Yakutia, in Russia’s far north east — easily one of the most remote resource regions on the planet — isolation appears to be the least of concerns among its more than 10,000 oil field workers.

“We’re infected! Where’s the f—ing quarantine? Where are the f—ing masks?” employees shouted in an angry rant aimed at their company and local government posted on a Russian social media site earlier this week.

As many as 10,500 workers at the Chayanda oil field site have been tested for COVID-19, and though the results haven’t been released, the website Meduza quotes the regional governor as saying the number of positive cases is “very significant.” 

The availability — or rather scarcity — of protective gear at facilities and institutions closer to the country’s major population centres appears to be equally problematic.

“Here is the real truth about Reutov hospital [near Moscow] — there is no personal protective equipment in the coronavirus department!” one hospital worker wrote this week on a whistleblower Facebook page set up by frustrated Russian health-care workers.

“Staff wear [their] disposable protective equipment over and over again.”

Another video viewed by CBC News showed COVID-19 patients in a hospital in the city of Derbent, Republic of Dagestan, crammed into makeshift bunks in what appears to be storage room, coughing and hacking with IVs in their arms. They were being tended by a nurse who wasn’t wearing a mask or any other protective gear.

Social media video from Derbent, in the Russian republic of Dagestan, shows patients stacked in bunk beds to get treatment for coronavirus, with staff who aren’t wearing face masks or protective gear. (MoshebabaV/YouTube)

COVID-19 appeared to come late to Russia, compared with North America and Europe, but now it’s striking with a vengeance, the damage compounded by the lack of personal protective equipment for hospital workers.

There are almost daily reports across the vast country — from St. Petersburg to Siberia — of hospitals being quarantined because of coronavirus outbreaks among staff.

On Thursday, the state news agency RIA novesti reported that Prime Minister Mikhail Mishutsin tested positive for the coronavirus and is in self-isolation. He is so far the most senior member of government known to have contracted the virus. President Vladimir Putin has not been seen in public with Mishutsin in weeks, and the prime minister broke the news by video conference.

Doctors dying

Among health care workers, the toll has been so high over the past fortnight or so that colleagues have started compiling the names of the dead on an online memorial page — 74 names as of Tuesday night and growing.

Among them was Natalia Lebedeva, who headed up medical services at Russia’s cosmonaut training centre outside Moscow. She allegedly died after falling out a window — a fate that has become strikingly common over the years for those who either disapprove of or disappoint Russian authorities.

Independent Russian media reported Lebedeva may have committed suicide after being blamed for letting the coronavirus spread throughout the facility.

Another doctor from Siberia may also have tried to take her life by similarly jumping out of a fifth-storey window at her workplace in Siberia.

As in the cosmonaut hospital case, local media reported that Yelena Nepomnyashchay was blamed by authorities for an outbreak of the virus. She survived but is in critical condition.

A screenshot from the popular Russian Information program Vesti Nedeli, or News of the Week, shows doctors handling wards of COVID-19 patients in Moscow. (Russia 1 Television)

Putin’s plan

For the first time, Putin has acknowledged Russia is having trouble meeting the demands for enough personal protective equipment for its health-care workers.

In an address Tuesday, Putin admitted that “there is still a shortage of some technical items, equipment and disposable materials,” despite increasing production of masks 10-fold in April and making more than 100,000 protective suits every day.

“We have concentrated and mobilized all our industrial resources,” he said.

Protesters in Vladikavkaz, North Ossetia, stage a protest on April 20, urging the government to end the lockdown and allow them to return to work. (Youtube)

Russia is poised to surpass 100,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country, with approximately 900 reported deaths. Those are extremely low numbers compared with the experience of western Europe, where more than 20,000 people have died in each of the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Spain.

Many doctors — even those sympathetic to the government — have told CBC News part of the challenge is that Russia’s tests return an unusually large number of false negative results.

Other health officials linked to opposition groups believe many deaths are also either deliberately or unintentionally misrepresented.

For example, the Russian business publication RBC quoted Moscow’s deputy mayor as saying cases of pneumonia increased more than 70 per cent in the past week, filling up urgent-care beds in the city. 

Since many coronavirus patients develop pneumonia, the head of a doctors advocacy group told CBC News in an earlier interview that it’s fair to assume most of those patients had COVID-19.

Economic disaster

Putin is also facing increasing pressure over the enormous economic cost of the coronavirus lockdown, now into its fifth week in the capital Moscow.

With Moscow and most other Russian cities locked down for a over month, up to six million jobs have disappeared. (Alexey Sergeev/CBC)

Russia’s labour ministry reported Tuesday that unemployment could soon reach six million people.

Many of those out of work would only be eligible to receive a meagre maximum payout of roughly $ 200 Cdn a month.

Others who are self-employed might not get anything.

“They can’t survive in this situation if the lockdown is prolonged,” said opposition politician Dmitry Gudkov.

Gudkov is among those calling on the Putin administration to release some of the money in Russia’s huge sovereign wealth fund, which holds more than $ 150 billion US.

When oil revenues were stronger, the money was set aside by the Putin administration to help ease the shock of any future economic sanctions that might be imposed by the West. But Gudkov says the money should be spent now, by making direct payments to people, as has been done in Canada and the United States.

“He doesn’t want to spend this reserve fund,” Gudkov told CBC News.

Frustration growing

“Putin needs the money to maintain the ‘Putin forever’ model,” a reference to the Russian leader’s attempts to change the constitution to allow him to serve two more terms as Russia’s president.

Gudkov says Putin has a long list of “legacy projects” he wants built, and spending money on direct payments to people will deplete the funds for that.

But frustration is growing, as jobs dry up and the Kremlin offers people little in return, Gudkov says.

“If there is a choice to die from hunger or the virus, it’s better to die from the virus.”

Russian opposition politician Dmitry Gudkov wants the Kremlin to offer a much bigger assistance package to those hurt by COVID-19. (Chris Brown/Skype)

In his remarks Tuesday, Putin indicated the government is preparing another round of economic assistance for individuals and businesses, but he didn’t offer any clues to what it might be.

He also suggested that some parts of Russia might be able to start easing their lockdown and returning to work after a holiday period that ends in mid-May. 

‘Very scary’ for Russian government

In an online discussion hosted by the Carnegie Centre in Moscow, liberal-leaning Russian economist Sergei Guriev, who is based in Paris, suggested COVID-19 represents the most difficult challenge Putin has faced in the 20 years he has sat atop Russia’s power structure.

Guriev says street protests against the lockdown may become more frequent, as Russians run out of money and face difficulties feeding their families.

“We are in very uncharted waters,” he said. “This situation is very scary for the Russian government.”

WATCH | Russians’ frustration with the COVID-19 lockdown is growing:

Millions of Russians have become impoverished during the COVID-19 pandemic and the Kremlin is offering little financial support even though it has billions in the coffers. 2:04

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Why quarantining a cruise ship during a coronavirus outbreak made a bad situation worse

The decision to quarantine some 3,700 people on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan amid an outbreak of coronavirus is unprecedented. But experts say it’s also likely doing more harm than good.

“It would be extremely difficult to end up containing it on a cruise ship, which is sort of like the most obvious place to house people where disease spreads,” said Dr. Michael Mina, an epidemiologist and assistant professor at Harvard’s School of Public Health. 

“It was really a bad idea from the start.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has recorded hundreds of viral outbreaks on international cruises over the past 25 years, with norovirus being the most common with more than 250 cases.

“There’s always going to be a risk of transmission of a disease when you’ve got thousands and thousands of people on board from different backgrounds with different medical conditions,” said Dr. Robert Quigley, of International SOS, a security and medical travel risk firm.

“They congregate in public areas and they’re in close proximity, because there’s only so much cubic space on these cruise ships.” 

Every country in the world has ‘inherent police powers’ that allow for the quarantine of certain individuals in extenuating circumstances, one expert says. (Kyodo/Reuters)

Quigley says because the illness caused by the coronavirus, now known as COVID-19, is extremely contagious, it’s no surprise the Diamond Princess saw case numbers rise since the quarantine began on Feb. 4.

There have been 218 passengers with confirmed cases on the ship, 12 of whom are Canadian, and pressure has mounted to allow them to leave as quarantine efforts failed to contain the outbreak. 

“Some of them are not in quarters that even have windows, let alone balconies, and so it becomes a challenge,” he said. “There’s so many ways that these people could be further exposed, regardless of the efforts that are being made to keep them in their quarters.” 

One key factor with ongoing infections may be the ship’s crew, who have been tasked with delivering food and supplies to passengers amid the outbreak.

At least 10 staff members have already been infected, which Mina says was a “turning point” for him in assessing the effectiveness of the quarantine.

“Clearly the quarantine is no longer working,” he said. “You’re just asking for continued transmission and now that we really know that transmission is occurring on the ship, it really drives the whole question of, what’s even the point of this quarantine?”

Does Japan have the right to quarantine the ship?

Every country in the world has “inherent police powers” that allow for the quarantine of certain individuals in extenuating circumstances, said maritime lawyer Jack Hickey. 

“Generally, these kinds of laws are going to be loosely worded to give the authority to the government to do what it needs to do depending upon the circumstances,” he said. “But Japan has the right to quarantine a ship.”

Hickey said there is also no international standard set out in a treaty that states a specific burden of evidence needs to be met in order to quarantine an entire ship — something not seen since the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. 

Nurses care for victims of the Spanish influenza outdoors amidst canvas tents in Lawrence, Mass., in this undated photo from 1918. (Getty Images)

Under Japanese law, quarantine efforts can be put in place to “prevent infectious disease-causing pathogens that are not native to Japan from entering the country via marine vessels.”

But there is an obligation on both the Japanese government and Princess Cruises to provide food, supplies and medication to passengers as needed. 

“They have to actively, on a daily basis, take care of the folks,” Hickey said. “They have an obligation to treat the passengers reasonably under the circumstances.” 

Passengers may also have waived their right to any legal action as a result of the quarantine, as tickets often contain a prohibition on class-action lawsuits. 

“That has been attempted before, but I can’t see why it would be enforceable,” he said, adding that even if there were a death on the ship, it would still be difficult to hold the company accountable.

“You’d have to look closely at the circumstances and whether Princess Cruises did anything to cause that.” 

What other options are there for passengers? 

Japan had limited options for containing the outbreak of coronavirus on the Diamond Princess and government officials had to act quickly.

“The logistics of finding appropriate accommodations for 3,700 people on very short notice would be extraordinarily challenging,” said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist at Toronto’s University Health Network. 

“So while everyone kept saying, ‘Get them off the boat,’ and while that’s completely reasonable to say, I think we also have to appreciate what some of the logistics of that actually mean.” 

Japan had limited options for containing the outbreak of coronavirus on the Diamond Princess and government officials had to act quickly. (The Associated Press/Jae C. Hong)

Aside from commandeering hotel buildings or military facilities for the purposes of housing passengers on land, one other option would be for passengers to leave the ship, self-isolate at home and report any symptoms to health officials.

But that concept isn’t “politically palatable,” said Dr. Michael Gardam, an infectious disease specialist and chief of staff at Humber River Hospital in Toronto.

“What’s been done is the individuals on that ship have been sacrificed for the greater good,” he said. “Whenever we quarantine people, it’s never good for the person or quarantine — it’s good for the rest of us.” 

What can we learn from the Diamond Princess outbreak?

While it remains to be seen if a study of the outbreak will be published with more specific details of how the coronavirus spread, one thing we may be able to learn about it as a result of this mass quarantine is how sick it makes people.

“The only good thing to come out of this ship is this is the only time thus far that we have a natural experiment where we’re getting a sense of what the spectrum of disease is,” said Gardam. 

“Then we can start to tentatively apply some of those numbers to what’s going on in the world and start to be a little bit more accurate in what we’re talking about.” 

Under Japanese law, quarantine efforts can be put in place to ‘prevent infectious disease-causing pathogens that are not native to Japan from entering the country via marine vessels.’ (Jae C. Hong/Associated Press)

In terms of how transmissible the disease is from person to person, Mina thinks any results taken from the ship would be too skewed to glean from.

“I don’t really think we’re going to learn too much. We already know that this virus clearly transmits well,” he said. “So the fact that it’s transmitting on a cruise ship, where everyone’s in tight quarters, is what really anyone would expect.” 

Bogoch agrees that the “artificial environment” on the ship isn’t something that can necessarily be applied to the real-world spread of the coronavirus. But depending on the spread from passenger to passenger, we could learn more about its incubation period, he suggests.

There could also be a chance to learn more about the coronavirus itself, Mina says, if there are passengers on the ship who are found to have built up a natural immunity to it. 

There could be a chance to learn more about the coronavirus itself if there are passengers on the ship who are found to have built up a natural immunity to it, experts suggest. (Yuta Omori/Kyodo News/Associated Press)

If a group of people who remained healthy after being exposed to the coronavirus on the Diamond Princess are tested for natural antibodies, that information could allow scientists the opportunity to understand more about how it spreads and how to fight it. 

“This gives us a discrete pool of people that we can pull from,” said Mina. “And so we could learn a lot from that type of study, to really understand how widely this is transmitting without symptoms.” 

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Hong Kong leader says Chinese military could step in if situation ‘becomes so bad’

Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam warned on Tuesday the Chinese military could step in if an uprising for democratic reforms in the region gets bad, but reiterated her government still hopes to resolve the crisis on its own.

Lam urged foreign critics to accept the reality that the four months of protests marked by a sharp escalation in violence was no longer “a peaceful movement for democracy.”

After invoking emergency powers to ban people from wearing masks at rallies, Lam wouldn’t rule out other measures including calling for Chinese intervention.

Lam said Tuesday: “I still strongly feel that we should find the solutions ourselves … but if the situation becomes so bad, then no options could be ruled out if we want Hong Kong to at least have another chance.”

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Mike ‘The Situation’ Sorrentino Gets Birthday Wishes From ‘Jersey Shore’ Cast While In Prison

Mike ‘The Situation’ Sorrentino Gets Birthday Wishes From ‘Jersey Shore’ Cast While In Prison | Entertainment Tonight

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Ebola death toll passes 1,000 as officials warn of ‘volatile situation’

The National Today newsletter takes a closer look at what’s happening around some of the day’s most notable stories. Sign up here and it will be delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.


  • The Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo is worsening, the WHO says, as escalating violence in the region hampers efforts to contain the spread of the virus.
  • How do you cope when violence follows you even into the safe places? Adrienne Arsenault speaks to a remarkable survivor of a mass shooting.
  • Fans of Sports Illustrated magazine’s swimsuit edition have known what to expect since the first one in 1964, but this year the magazine’s team came up with something completely different — and it’s got people talking.
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here.

A grim Ebola milestone

The Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo claimed its 1,000th victim today, and officials warn that increasing violence in the region has become a “major impediment” to their efforts to halt the spread of the disease.

As of May 1, there had been 1,510 confirmed Ebola cases and 994 deaths since the outbreak began in the DRC’s North Kivu and Ituri provinces last August.

New casualty figures released this afternoon put the official toll at 1,008.

“We are anticipating a scenario of continued intense transmission,” Dr. Michael Ryan, the executive director of the World Health Organization’s Emergencies Programme, told a morning news briefing in Geneva.

Michael Ryan, executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, gives an update on Ebola operations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, on Friday. (Martial Trezzini/Keystone/Associated Press)

The current Congo outbreak already ranks as the second-deadliest in history, behind the 2014-16 West African epidemic that killed more than 11,000 people.

But the disease is picking up steam in the DRC, with the most deaths in a single day — 26 — recorded on Tuesday.

That was amidst a week with the most new infections at 126, and a month with the most cases so far, 406.

The biggest challenge at present is the escalating attacks. There have been 119 separate incidents since January aimed at health care workers, clinics and hospitals, which have slowed efforts to properly dispose of the dead, treat those who have fallen ill, and vaccinate affected communities.

“We’re dealing with a difficult and volatile situation,” said Ryan. “Fundamentally, every time we have managed to regain control over the virus and contain its spread we’ve suffered major, major security events.”

On April 19, for example, a group of gunmen stormed a hospital in the city of Butembo, the epicentre of the outbreak, shooting and killing  Dr. Richard Valery Mouzoko Kiboung, a WHO epidemiologist. The attack appears to have been motivated by the erroneous belief that foreign medical workers are somehow responsible for the spread of the virus.

The father of four is to be buried in his native Cameroon tomorrow.

Doctors and health workers march in the Eastern Congo town of Butembo on April 24, after attackers shot and killed an epidemiologist from Cameroon who was working for the World Health Organization. (Al-hadji Kudra Maliro/Associated Press)

Yesterday saw yet another raid on a treatment centre in the city, but it was thwarted before anyone was injured, and the attackers were arrested.

Misinformation and rumours about Ebola are rife in the region.

A survey of residents of Beni and Butembo, published in the Lancet in March, found that 25 per cent of respondents thought that the outbreak was made up. The report added that more than 85 per cent of people had heard talk that the disease was a plot to destabilize the area.

A December decision by then-president Joseph Kabila to delay election voting in the region, in order to prevent people from spreading the disease, helped fuel a belief that the government was exaggerating the threat to prevent opposition gains.

And there is considerable anger and suspicion about all the foreigners and money flooding in to fight one illness while chronic conditions like tuberculosis or cholera are mostly overlooked.

Whatever the underlying reasons, there are more than 100 militias and rebel groups battling for government control in the region, and the mistrust and violence now risks spreading the outbreak across international borders.

A medical assistant uses a non-contact thermometer to check the temperature of people at the Ebola screening point bordering with Congo in Mpondwe, western Uganda. Border checkpoints are trying to identifying people infected with Ebola to stop it being carried to neighbouring regions. (Isaac Kasamani/AFP/Getty Images)

Over the past month, more than 60,000 people have fled their homes  and crossed into neighbouring Uganda, many illegally via lakes and forest paths that allow them to evade infection control measures that have been put in place at the official crossings.

The WHO has so far stopped short of declaring the Congo outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern” — a term used to denote a crisis with potentially global ramifications — but that decision may come soon.

Inoculation efforts are being expanded with the introduction of a second experimental Ebola vaccine, and new efforts to work around the most dangerous areas by encouraging people to travel to safer zones for their shots.

But money remains a big issue.

The WHO today said that it has already spent $ 88 million US trying to contain the outbreak — $ 31 million more than it had budgeted — as security and staff costs mount and other aid groups scale back or suspend their operations due to the danger.

The UN body has only collected $ 34 million from donor nations so far, leaving a $ 54 million funding gapeven as more resources are needed in the region.

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Trailed by trauma

How do you cope when violence follows you even into the safe places? The National’s co-host Adrienne Arsenault speaks to a remarkable survivor.

There are some stories, some faces, some names, some moments that stay seared in journalists’ minds. I have a whole bunch of them rattling around in mine, all sometimes vying for the attention, time and space to remember and reflect on them. Many are from the days when I worked in the Jerusalem bureau.

CBC News producer Ian Kalushner was there during those acute years too, and in a blink he can still recall dates and faces and names. That’s why, when reading about last month’s shooting at the Poway California Synagogue, he stopped cold.

Ian saw a name we both knew from an intense and dangerous day in July of 2006: Shimon Abitbul.

Veteran Israeli medic Shimon Abitbul survived the synagogue shooting in Poway, Calif., in April. (CBC)

Back in 2006, Abitbul was a medical director with Magen David Adom in Kiryat Shmona, in northern Israel. That’s the ambulance and paramedic service that, in those weeks, was responding to well over 1,000 rocket attacks on the small city.

This was the time of Israel’s war with Hezbollah, and Kiryat Shmona was in Hezbollah’s sights. It was violent and frightening for the people there, and over the course of a long, tense day we watched Abitbul race from one terrifying moment to the next, always calm and kind and professional.

But to see his name referenced as someone who happened to be in the Poway synagogue at the moment of the recent shooting was so odd. What was he doing there?

So, Ian did and as Ian does, and he found Abitbul.

We connected on Skype and he talked so proudly of his three grandchildren, two of whom were with him in the synagogue at the time of the shooting. He talked of hearing the shots and immediately dropping to the ground, covering his two-year-old grandson with his body and holding the boy’s mouth closed as the frightened little guy was trying to scream. Then, he went to work trying to save a life.

Abitbul was there on vacation, in a place he called “heaven.” Our conversation led to discussing what it’s like when you spend your working life with your guard up, only to drop it while at rest — and then the unthinkable happens.

How do you cope when trauma trails you?

That’s the story we are working on for this Sunday’s The National. Please tune in, he’s a pretty amazing man.

Israeli medic Shimon Abitbul knows war and terror, but when he went on vacation to the U.S. he thought he was leaving that trauma behind – until it found him in a synagogue in Poway, Calif. 0:46

– Adrienne Arsenault

  • WATCH: The National’s feature about how places of worship are increasing their security in the wake of recent attacks, tonight on CBC Television and streamed online

Pop Panel

Fans of Sports Illustrated magazine’s swimsuit edition have known what to expect year after year since the first one in 1964: a sexy, often blonde woman in a skimpy bikini posing on a beach. Maybe it was getting a little predictable, so this year the magazine’s team came up with something completely different  and it’s got people talking, producer Tarannum Kamlani writes.

Close your eyes and imagine a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition model. Chances are she looks like this or this or maybe this.

You’re probably not expecting this:

The image of a hijab-sporting, burkini-wearing Halima Aden is probably not what you first thought of.

Somali-American Aden, 21, was born in a refugee camp in Kenya and emigrated to the U.S. as a seven-year-old. She made history in 2016, wearing a hijab as a contestant in the Miss Minnesota USA beauty pageant and reaching the semi-finals.

She’s also the first hijabi model to land the covers of major magazines in Britain and the U.S.

The Sports Illustrated cover, Aden says, is a dream come true.

“I never really felt represented, because I never could flip through a magazine and see a girl who was wearing a hijab,” Aden says in a behind-the-scenes video for her photoshoot.

The hijab has been mainstream here for some time now, of course, and the garments are supposed to show modesty. The burkini, meanwhile, has become such a lightning rod that some cities and towns in France have attempted to ban it.

So how have they turned up in the pages of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, of all things?

The juxtaposition has been jarring for some, a cause for celebration for others. And there those who proclaim it’s the latest sign that Shariah Law is upon us.

Tonight on the Pop Panel we unpack what that range of responses is all about. Joining Andrew Chang in The National‘s studio are Toronto writer Stephen Marche, Ishani Nath, senior editor at Flare.com, and guest panelist, tech entrepreneur and writer Huda Idrees.

– Tarannum Kamlani

A few words on … 

What to get Ian for Christmas.

Quote of the moment

“Paying a fine or even civil litigation is inadequate if we want to deter corporations from killing people in their pursuit of profit.”

– Andrew Kolodny, an opioid policy researcher at Brandeis University, applauds a Massachusetts jury’s guilty verdict for drug company executives who bribed doctors to get them to prescribe a highly addictive fentanyl spray.

Andrew Kolodny. (Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Fe)

What The National is reading

  • Cyclone Fani slams Indian coast (CBC)
  • Persecution of Christians “coming close to genocide” in Middle East: report (Guardian)
  • Coaches, players, parents angry after Nova Scotia cancels high school rugby (CBC)
  • Myanmar army kills six unarmed prisoners (BBC)
  • Bullets, tear gas and love: Romance blooms in midst of Sudan protests (NYTimes)
  • Romania’s witches harness the powers of the web (Reuters)
  • Feathers fly in Europe’s battle with Ukrainian chicken boss (PoliticoEU)
  • Mandela prison drawing sells for $ 112,575 in New York (Agence France Presse)

Today in history

May 3, 1964: Tattoos — not just for sailors anymore

True, Doc” Forbes Hendry’s tattoo parlour in Victoria, B.C., wasn’t that far from the Canadian naval base in Esquimalt, and swabbies still made up the bulk of his clientele. But then there were customers like “Joan,” a mother of four who was there to get her eighth design, completing the pair of love birds on her chest. “It’s something no one can take away from me,” she explained, “and it’s really a beautiful piece of art when it’s finished.”

A client at ‘Doc’ Forbes Hendry’s shop tells reporter Harry Mannis about her tattoos. 1:38

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