Tag Archives: backs

EU drug regulator backs AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine after safety investigation

The EU’s drug watchdog said on Thursday it is still convinced the benefits of the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine outweigh the risks following an investigation into reports of blood clotting disorders that prompted more than a dozen nations to suspend its use.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) director Emer Cooke said the watchdog could not definitively rule out a link between blood clot incidents and the vaccine in its investigation into 30 cases of a rare blood clotting condition.

But she said in a briefing that the “clear” conclusion of the review was that the vaccine’s benefits outweigh the possible risks.

“This is a safe and effective vaccine,” Cooke said.

‘I would be vaccinated tomorrow’

However, she said the agency will update its guidance for patients and health-care professionals to include an explanation about potential risks.

“If it were me, I would be vaccinated tomorrow,” Cooke said.

But the EMA wants “to raise awareness among people who have been vaccinated or are going to be vaccinated about things they should look out for,” she said.

The agency has been under growing pressure to clear up safety concerns after a small number of recent reports about bleeding, blood clots and low platelet counts in people who have received the shot.

The agency’s review covering five million people included 30 cases of unusual blood disorders in people in the European Economic Area (EEA), which links 30 European countries.

Cooke said the EMA is in touch with regulators around the world to keep tabs on possible side-effects of all COVID vaccines.

The EMA’s focus and primary concern has been on cases of blood clots in the brain, a rare, difficult to treat condition called cerebral venous thrombosis (CVT) or a subform known as cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST). 

Countries suspended shots

More than 45 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine have been administered across the EEA.

At least 13 European countries, including France, Germany and Italy, have stopped administering the shot pending the review, the latest blow to the bloc’s faltering inoculation campaign.


The vaccination centre at the Erfurt, Germany exhibition centre was deserted on Tuesday. After the suspension of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, thousands of appointments were cancelled. (Martin Schutt/dpa/The Associated Press)

Britain’s medicines regulator said on Thursday it was investigating five cases of CVST among people given AstraZeneca’s vaccine but it reaffirmed that the benefits of the shot far outweighed any possible risks.

The World Health Organization also this week reaffirmed its support for the shot.

AstraZeneca has said a review covering more than 17 million people who had received the shots in the EU and Britain had found no evidence of an increased risk of blood clots.

Many governments have said the decision to pause inoculations was made out of an abundance of caution, but experts have warned the political interference could undermine public confidence and hobble the bloc’s slow vaccination campaign as governments struggle to tame more infectious variants.

The bloc’s vaccine rollout has lagged behind campaigns by the United States and former EU member Britain.

WATCH | Inside the race to get COVID-19 vaccines to Canadians:

CBC’s David Cochrane goes inside the processes of vaccine delivery and distribution as well as the challenges to deliver on the promise of at least one shot for every Canadian who wants it by July 1. 4:08

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CBC | Health News

Scheer backs Liberals’ push to see Taiwan included in WHO pandemic talks

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer is backing the Liberal government’s efforts to include Taiwan in the World Health Organization’s discussions on COVID-19, a position that China opposes.

“Conservatives have long called for Taiwan to be allowed to participate in organizations like the WHO and the Civil Aviation Authority,” Scheer told reporters in Ottawa today.

Scheer said Canada enjoys a mutually beneficial trading relationship with Taiwan.

“These types of entities which provide guidance and services to focus on the health and safety of people all around the world should not be impacted by global politics and by the foreign policy positions of the [People’s Republic of China],” he said.  

“We would be very supportive of Taiwan’s participation in these types of organizations.”

Watch: Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s full news conference for Mon. May 11:

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer held a news conference and took reporter questions on Mon. May 11 in Ottawa. 25:04

China views Taiwan as a breakaway province, and while Canada does not recognize its sovereignty, the two nations do have trade and cultural relations.

Last week, Canada backed an international coalition that includes the United States, Japan, Australia and others seeking to allow Taiwan to obtain observer status at a major WHO meeting next week.

Taiwan had early success in controlling the outbreak of COVID-19. Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne has told The Canadian Press that Taiwan’s presence as a non-state observer in the World Health Assembly meeting next week would help the pandemic fight.

The move is also politically sensitive for Canada because it is in its own dispute with China over what it calls the “arbitrary” imprisonment of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.  

But Canada approved a verbal demarche to two senior WHO executives during a meeting last week that urged them to allow Taiwan to be admitted as an observer to an upcoming meeting because its input would be meaningful and important. 

The World Health Assembly meets next Monday in Geneva. 

The demarche was issued jointly on Thursday by the Geneva-based ambassadors of Canada, Australia, France, Germany, New Zealand, Britain, Japan and the U.S. — with the envoys from Washington and Tokyo taking the lead. 

Taiwan and the WHO

Despite co-operation on health and trade since the pandemic’s outbreak, relations between Canada and China have been severely strained since the RCMP arrested Chinese high-tech scion Meng Wanzhou on an American extradition warrant in December 2018. 

China arrested Kovrig and Spavor nine days later in what is widely viewed as retaliation and has levelled accusations of spying against the men. 

Canada has marshalled a broad coalition of international support calling for their release an  that has angered Chinese leaders. 

But Canada has pushed forward at the WHO on the Taiwan issue because it takes comfort in the fact it is part of a coalition of countries making the argument, said a senior government official, who has briefed The Canadian Press on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation. 

The government believes that regardless of whatever dispute exists between countries, an organization such as the WHO is supposed to work for the greater good of all people around the world, the official said. 

Taiwan is also squarely in the centre of the Trump administration’s dispute with China and the WHO. The U.S. has temporarily halted funding to the organization over its allegedly inadequate assessment of COVID-19’s early threat when the novel coronavirus was breaking out in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

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Canada backs U.S.-led campaign for Taiwan to get observer status at WHO over China’s objections

Canada has backed an American-led effort to allow Taiwan to be granted observer status at the World Health Organization because of its early success in containing COVID-19.

The move is politically sensitive because China considers Taiwan a breakaway province and views any overture of support as meddling in its internal affairs, and because Canada is in its own dispute with China over what it calls the “arbitrary” imprisonment of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.

Taiwan is also squarely in the centre of the Trump administration’s dispute with China and the WHO. The U.S. has temporarily halted funding to the organization over its allegedly inadequate assessment of COVID-19’s early threat when the novel coronavirus was breaking out in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

An Australian newspaper, the Sydney Morning Herald, first mentioned Canada as a country involved in the pro-Taiwan coalition, and Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne confirmed that when asked.

“Canada continues to support Taiwan’s meaningful participation in international multilateral fora where its presence provides important contributions to the public good,” Champagne said in an email to The Canadian Press.

“We believe that Taiwan’s role as a non-state observer in the World Health Assembly meetings is in the interest of the international health community and is important to the global fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Canada encourages the WHO to engage with experts from Taiwan and to support Taiwan’s meaningful inclusion in global discussions on health.”

World Health Assembly meets in just over a week

Canada approved a verbal demarche to two senior WHO executives during a meeting Thursday that urged them to allow Taiwan to be admitted as an observer to an upcoming meeting because its input would be “meaningful and important.”

A senior government official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, said the demarche was issued jointly on Thursday by the Geneva-based ambassadors of Canada, Australia, France, Germany, New Zealand, Britain, Japan and the U.S. — with the envoys from Washington and Tokyo taking the lead.

The World Health Assembly meets on May 18 in Geneva.

WATCH | How Taiwan keeps kids safe at school amid COVID-19:

Inside Taiwan during the COVID-19 pandemic, kids are in school and parents are working. Watch how they can keep schools open and deal with the virus. 4:37

Canada has a “one China policy” that does not recognize Taiwan as a sovereign political entity, although Canada has a cultural and trade relationship with it. Ottawa has had to tread more carefully with Beijing since the RCMP arrested Chinese high-tech scion Meng Wanzhou on an American extradition warrant in December 2018.

Kovrig and Spavor were arrested nine days later in what is widely viewed as retaliation. China has levelled accusations of spying against the men, and Canada has marshalled a broad coalition of international support calling for their release that has angered Chinese leaders.

WHO intended to work toward greater good, official says

Canada believes that regardless of whatever dispute exists between countries, an organization such as the WHO is supposed to work for the greater good of all people around the world, the official said, and takes comfort that it is part of a coalition of countries making the argument.

Champagne has told his senior officials to carry that message forward and on Thursday it fell to Tamara Mawhinney, Canada’s deputy ambassador to the UN in Geneva, at the meeting with her counterparts, the official said.

The WHO sent Jane Ellison, its executive director for external relations, and Steven Soloman, its principal legal adviser, to the meeting, the official said.

WATCH | Trudeau questioned on China, Taiwan:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with reporters on Friday. 1:24

Another Geneva-based Canadian has been at the heart of the Taiwan-WHO issue: Dr. Bruce Aylward, the epidemiologist who led a team of WHO experts to China to study the COVID-19 outbreak in February.

Aylward has repeatedly turned down invitations to testify via video before the House of Commons health committee. Last month, the committee issued a summons for Aylward to testify — after he twice snubbed it — but it is only enforceable if he returns to Canada.

Conservatives flag concerns about WHO

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has raised concerns about the accuracy of the WHO’s data on the pandemic, and China’s influence on the international body’s decisions.

Conservative committee member Matt Jeneroux, an Edmonton MP, has said he wants to be able to question Aylward about the effusive praise he has had for China’s virus-control efforts.

“In fact, the WHO has gone above and beyond to congratulate and thank China for their response which has been to mislead the world on the gravity of the virus,” Jeneroux told the committee last month.


Dr. Bruce Aylward, the epidemiologist who led a team of WHO experts to China to study the COVID-19 outbreak earlier this year, has turned down invitations to testify before the House of Commons health committee. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP)

Jeneroux said Taiwan has managed to “flatten the curve” of the virus but the WHO won’t acknowledge its accomplishments because it doesn’t want to anger China.

The Trudeau government has appeared reluctant to speak about Taiwan or wade into the U.S. dispute with the WHO and China. Champagne and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have said that finger-pointing and lessons-learned exercises can come later, after the pandemic has been controlled.

But Trudeau praised Taiwan by name during his Friday briefing after a report that it had donated 500,000 surgical masks to Canada.

“I’m happy to thank Taiwan for its generous donation,” Trudeau said. “It is important at this point that Canadians and all people around the world pull together to be there for each other because this is a global challenge that is going to face a global response.”

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Swimming Canada backs U.S. counterpart in pushing for Olympic postponement

Swimming Canada says it supports a call by USA Swimming to postpone this summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo.

In a letter sent Friday to Sarah Hirshland, chief executive officer of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, USA Swimming CEO Tim Hinchey said the outbreak of the coronavirus has caused “unimaginable disruptions” which calls into question the authenticity of a level playing field just months before the Olympics.

“It is with the burden of these serious concerns that we respectfully request that the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee advocate for the postponement of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 by one year,” Hinchey wrote.

Later Friday, Swimming Canada said it was “very much aligned” with the points Hinchey raised.

“Telling athletes to prepare for an Olympic Games during a global pandemic raises serious issues,” Swimming Canada CEO Ahmed El-Awadi said in a statement. “We hold the opinions of our brothers and sisters at USA Swimming in high regard and share many of the same concerns around health and safety. That includes the safety and well-being of our athletes — both physically and mentally — and the safety of the community at large.

“Each day that goes by without a decision creates more stress and anxiety for our athletes, who are worried not only about themselves but about their communities.”


Susanne Lyons, chair of the USOPC, agreed with the position of the International Olympic Committee that its too early for drastic decisions related to the Tokyo Games.

“We’d concur with them to say we need more expert advice than we have today,” Lyons said during a conference call. “And we don’t have to make a decision. The games are four months from now.”

The Canadian Olympic Committee also reiterated its support of the IOC’s decision to wait before making any decisions.

Eugene Liang, high-performance director for Triathlon Canada, said the current global situation has created “an environment of haves and have-nots” when it comes to athlete training.

“Sooner than later is probably the number one thing that everyone is trying to push for,” Liang said on the urgency to make a decision.


American Katie Ledecky competes in the TYR Pro Swim Series earlier on March. On Friday, USA Swimming pushed to postpone the Olympics, while the U.S. and Canadian national committees continued to back the IOC on the scheduled start date of July 24. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Nic Coward, the chairman of UK Athletics in Britain, told BBC Sport that leaving the Olympic starting date unchanged “is creating so much pressure in the system. It now has to be addressed.”

In theory, no national Olympic federation has more power to alter the shape of an Olympics than the USOPC, which brings 550 athletes and its billion-dollar broadcaster, NBC, to the show every two years. But after a long day of board meetings, the committee showed no appetite for using that leverage to push for more certainty, even as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to spike in the United States.

Lyons and CEO Sarah Hirshland said a lot of what has already been said from IOC president Thomas Bach, whose most recent interview in The New York Times reiterated that plans are going forward for a Tokyo Games, whether they start July 24 or some other time.

After the USA Swimming news, Hirshland and Lyons put out a joint statement, emphasizing the multiple moving parts that are influencing any decision from the IOC, and looking ahead to an important IOC meeting next week, at which leaders will receive feedback from countries.

“Rest assured we are making your concerns clearly known to them,” the statement said.

While they press forward with plans, leaders in Italy, where the coronavirus has accounted for more than 3,400 fatalities, have pleaded with the IOC to change its stance.

Olympic committees in Latin America said athletes should be given the chance to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics right until the Games begin on July 24.

The presidents of Olympic committees in Argentina, Mexico and Paraguay told Reuters discussions with the IOC were ongoing about holding the qualifiers in May and June as well as using athletes’ previous competition results.

“The qualifiers are a concern and in that sense it was agreed to analyze other types of qualifiers, such as using the Pan American Games in Lima,” said Camilo Perez, president of the Paraguayan committee, referring to the 2019 tournament in Peru.

“And extending deadlines that would reach almost the date of the Games.”

Athletes also urging postponement

A growing number of athletes are calling for more decisive action from Olympic leaders: “The most infuriating part of this whole thing is it feels like the IOC is going to do what they want, regardless of what the athletes think,” U.S. Olympic silver-medal pole vaulter Sandi Morris tweeted late Thursday.

But there is also a contingent of less vocal athletes who are not speaking up as loudly on social media and “for whom this feels like their opportunity, their only opportunity,” Hirshland said.

“It adds to the complication factor” in making a decision, Hirshland said.

Han Xiao, the chair of the athletes’ advisory council, confirmed that and said it’s why his group has not made any definitive statements encouraging a postponement.

“We are specifically asking for more transparency around the decision-making process, more information about what measures and conditions are being discussed, and less public emphasis on training and `business as usual,’ which is putting athletes in a bad position,” Han said.

Many athletes’ training regimens have, in fact, disintegrated, as gyms and communal workout spaces around the country have been closed. The USOPC has closed its Olympic training centres to all but the 180 or so who live at them — and many in those groups have chosen to leave campus.

Hirshland said it needed to be clear to every elite and recreational athlete out there that “as Americans, the No. 1 priority needs to be health and safety,” and not training.

Qualification altered beyond recognition

The USOPC has increased availability of mental and emotional counselling, as anxiety builds over what comes next. Around 190 of 550 spots on the U.S. team are scheduled to be handed out at for gymnastics, swimming and track at Olympic trials in June — all of which are in jeopardy.

Both Bach and the USOPC leadership have acknowledged the realities of a qualification process that is being altered beyond recognition. Hirshland says the federation is working with individual sports, both at the national and international levels, to adapt in the event the Olympics take place without a traditional qualifying structure.

She also said that unless the IOC makes some announcement changing the July 24 start date, it has to keep pushing forward as safely as it can with operational and logistical plans to stage the games for its athletes.

“Our priority and our obligation is to the athletes we serve,” she said. “If the opportunity is available to them (to compete in the Olympics), we’re not going to be the reason they don’t have that opportunity. We will be there and we will be ready.”

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Olympic legend Carl Lewis backs equal pay for athletes, calls Trump ‘racist and misogynist’

Nine-time Olympic gold medalist Carl Lewis said Monday that female athletes deserve fair and equal pay and criticized President Donald Trump as a “racist and misogynist.”

Lewis spoke in the Peruvian capital of Lima, where he will present the 100-metre and long jump medals at the Pan American Games. He also said that he became an athlete thanks to his mother, who competed in the first Pan Am Games in Buenos Aires in 1951.

“If I didn’t have a strong woman in my life, I wouldn’t be sitting here today,” he said at a press conference with Leroy Burrell, a former world record-holder in the 100 metres. “My mother was a pioneer.”

The U.S. national team has long championed equal rights. Players collectively filed a lawsuit earlier this year that alleges discrimination by the U.S. Soccer Federation and are seeking pay equitable with that of the men’s national team.

“The reality is that there’s a lot of prejudice, and a lot of prejudice is fear,” he said. “We’re afraid to give the same opportunity because it gives us a leg up … the reality is that it’s no different than another athlete on another team. So, yes, I support that.”

‘Racist president’

Lewis also criticized Trump and said Americans have a huge challenge.

“There are a lot of issues going on,” he said. “We have a racist president, who is prejudiced, and misogynistic, who doesn’t value anyone outside of himself. … But that doesn’t mean we can’t fight for what is right for people, and look at others where they may have missed an opportunity or may have been marginalized in their lifetime.”

The U.S. has been reeling from mass shootings over the weekend in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, that killed 31 people.

Trump on Monday called the mass shootings “evil attacks” that are crimes “against all humanity” and said unity must replace hatred in society. But he has also used divisive language about immigrants and political opponents.

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Facing protests, Trump backs off Special Olympics cuts

U.S. President Donald Trump says he is backing off his budget request to eliminate funding for the Special Olympics, reversing course on a proposal that was unlikely to be approved by Congress after days of bipartisan criticism.

Speaking to reporters Thursday as he left the White House for a rally in Michigan, Trump said he had authorized funding for the organization. “I heard about it this morning. I have overridden my people. We’re funding the Special Olympics.”

Trump’s announcement came after Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spent days defending the proposal, which drew widespread condemnation from lawmakers, as well as advocates and celebrities. The president’s sudden reversal reflected a political desire to move away from a plan that was not expected to pass Congress, but also underscored Trump’s comfort with undercutting top officials.

Said Trump: “I’ve been to the Special Olympics. I think it’s incredible.”

DeVos, walking back her defence of the cuts proposal, issued a statement, saying: “I am pleased and grateful the President and I see eye to eye on this issue and that he has decided to fund our Special Olympics grant. This is funding I have fought for behind the scenes over the last several years.”

The remarks were a sharp contrast from her comments to Senate Democrats in a budget hearing earlier in the day. DeVos said her department had to make “tough choices” on the budget and insisted the Special Olympics should be supported through private donations.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos faced questions from Democrats about everything from Special Olympics funding to for-profit colleges. (Andrew Harnik/Associated Press)

In a heated exchange with Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, DeVos said she “wasn’t personally involved” in pushing for elimination of the funding, but she defended it as her agency seeks to cut $ 7 billion for the 2020 budget. “Let’s not use disabled children in a twisted way for your political narrative,” she said.

The president’s shift Thursday was not the first time he has undermined a top aide. He repeatedly berated former Attorney General Jeff Sessions in public and private and clashed openly with former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, ultimately firing him in a tweet.

The Trump administration’s education budget proposal called for the elimination of $ 17.6 million in funding for the Special Olympics, amounting to roughly 10 per cent of the group’s overall revenue. Most of its funding comes from individual and corporate contributions and other fundraising efforts.

The Special Olympics is the largest sports organization in the world for people with intellectual disabilities, with over 5 million athletes from 174 countries participating in competitions while spreading a global message of inclusion and empowerment. The organization celebrated its 50th anniversary last year.

Trump officials previously called for the elimination of Special Olympics funding in their budget proposal for 2019, but Congress rejected the idea. Lawmakers from both parties said they would reject it again for 2020.

Durbin told DeVos on Thursday that it would be shameful to pull support for the Special Olympics, saying “someone has to accept responsibility for a bad decision.”

Asked Thursday whether he supports the proposed cut, House Minority Leader Kevin, McCarthy, a Republican from California, told reporters, “No. I fully support Special Olympics.”

Before Trump’s announcement his campaign sought to use the funding conflict as an attack against Democrats over abortion. Deputy Communications Director Matt Wolking tweeted Thursday: “I’m sure Democrats who see abortion as the cure for Down syndrome and other disabilities are sincerely concerned about kids having the chance to be in the Special Olympics.”

Questions about for-profit colleges

DeVos faced questioning on a range of topics Thursday, including her proposed rewrite of rules around campus sexual assault and her handling of for-profit colleges.

Murray said the Education Department has been too slow to process more than 100,000 applications for loan forgiveness from students who say they were cheated by for-profit colleges. DeVos previously delayed an Obama-era rule allowing such forgiveness, but a federal judge said the delay was unlawful.

Asked on Thursday how many applications had been approved since the judge’s order was issued, DeVos she didn’t know but that officials are “reviewing them regularly.”

Others criticized DeVos’ department for being unresponsive to congressional requests for information. Blunt, chairman of the Senate subcommittee over the education budget, said he shared that concern.

“There are two or three departments we’re just not getting responses back from as quickly as we should,” Blunt told DeVos. “We’re your funding source and have an oversight responsibility in addition to that.”

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'They're not candy': Father of dead teen backs coroner's call for tighter rules for drinks like FCKD UP

A Quebec coroner has concluded teenager Athéna Gervais drowned in February 2018 behind her Laval high school after drinking large quantities of a high-alcohol sugary drink.

The 14-year-old's death led some companies to pull such drinks from store shelves and governments to tighten the rules around their manufacturing and sales.

"Athéna Gervais consumed a large quantity of alcohol in a very short period of time," Coroner Martin Larocque said in his report, released Wednesday morning.

He said Gervais and some friends shared three 568-ml cans of the drink FCKD UP, which has an alcohol content of 11.9 per cent, although he noted Gervais alone consumed most of the drinks.

The coroner found that Athéna Gervais drank almost three full cans of FCKD UP sugary alcohol beverage in under 30 minutes — the equivalent of 12 glasses of wine. (Charles Contant/CBC)

The amount of alcohol was equivalent to around 12 glasses of wine, and the coroner said it was consumed in less than 30 minutes.

Gervais's body was found in a stream behind École Poly-Jeunesse in northwest Laval on March 1, 2018, three days after she went missing.

"In my opinion, Athéna Gervais found herself disoriented and accidentally fell into a creek. Her cognitive state was so disrupted because of her drinking that she died," Larocque said.

"We must take away from the death of Athéna Gervais that it's imperative that a set of measures be adopted to prevent the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption, both with minor children and young adults."

Federal government should go further, says coroner

Larocque recommends such beverages — often found in colourful cans -— should be required to have neutral packaging like cigarettes.

Athéna Gervais's close friends attended her funeral in Saint-Félicien, in the Saguenay region of Quebec, in March 2018. Gervais's friends and family campaigned to have high-alcohol, sugary drinks banned after her death. (Priscilla Plamondon Lalancette/Radio-Canada)

He also recommended that the federal government limit the alcohol content in the drinks to the equivalent of one serving per can. This goes further than the draft legislation introduced by the Trudeau government after Gervais's death, which allows for one and a half servings per can.

Larocque also recommended rules that limit how such drinks can be advertised on radio and TV be extended to social media and the internet.

Drinks marketed like 'candy': Athéna's father

Alain Gervais, Athéna's father, attended the news conference where Larocque released his report Wednesday.

Alain Gervais, Athéna's father, said Wednesday that sugary alcoholic drinks are still far too accessible to young people at convenience stores. (Radio-Canada)

He said it's still far too easy for young people to access these types of drinks at convenience stores.  

"The advertising is too strong for these products; the attractive colours make it seem like they're candy," said Gervais.

"They're not candy. They're dangerous."

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FIFA study backs 48-team World Cup in 2022

A FIFA feasibility study has concluded the 2022 World Cup can expand to 48 teams by using at least one of Qatar's neighbors as an additional host, and says there is a low legal risk to changing the format and an additional $ 400 million in revenue could be generated.

The Associated Press obtained a copy of the 83-page report on Monday which assesses the political, logistical and legal issues surrounding adding 16 teams — a significant change to the format more than eight years after Qatar won the hosting rights. The report was prepared by the governing body so its FIFA Council can agree in principle on expanding the tournament at a meeting in Miami on Friday. A final decision would come in June.

The study identified stadiums in Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that could be used but said Qatar would have to approve who it partnered with.

Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE severed economic, diplomatic and travel ties with Qatar in 2017, which prevents flights between the countries. The study says FIFA accepts that the ongoing political spat prevents their involvement in the tournament.

"As it currently stands, the nature of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE's relations with Qatar is such that it would be challenging to organize a co-hosted tournament between Qatar and one or more of these countries," the feasibility study states.

"Candidate co-hosts would need to be regarded as sufficiently cooperative," the study adds. "Such co-hosts would not sanction or boycott economically or otherwise any other potential co-host country, including the main host, Qatar."

With logistics already challenged by the existing plan to play 64 games in eight stadiums spread over a 30-mile radius in Qatar, FIFA said two-to-four additional venues are required in the region "with one or more" nation.

FIFA stipulates that any additional hosts would have to supply government assurances, including on its human rights requirements.

"The involvement of additional neighboring host countries would require certain conditions to be met, in particular the consent of the relevant authorities in the main host country, Qatar," the FIFA report states. "Therefore, FIFA cannot conclusively stipulate which host countries would be part of a co-hosting arrangement with FIFA and Qatar at this moment."

Venues highlighted

The study highlights that venues with at least 40,000 seats — for games up to the quarter-finals — were demanded of 2026 World Cup bidders but doesn't come to a conclusion on minimum capacities for 2022. While eight potential additional stadiums are identified in the region in the FIFA study, only two in the UAE, one in Saudi Arabia and one in Kuwait meet the 2026 requirements.

"Whilst a 10-stadium tournament could be considered in the event that up to six matches are played per day during the group stage and matches are held in the same venue on consecutive days, 12 stadiums would still be preferable," the study says.

Since the vote in 2010, FIFA has already had to change the schedule, taking the 2022 tournament away from its usual June-July slot because of Qatar's searing summer heat. But the FIFA study found that, despite adding 16 games, the enlarged tournament could still be played in a 28-day window from Nov. 21-Dec. 18.

FIFA said there would be "no major concessions to the sporting quality of the tournament" with expansion. While there were a maximum of four matches per day in the closing stages of the 2018 World Cup in Russia, FIFA said the 2022 tournament could feature six separate kickoff slots early in the tournament to cope with the additional teams.

"Implementing this format under the reduced tournament duration of 28 days would require some adjustments to aspects of the match schedule, such as the number of rest days for teams and venues," the FIFA study states. "However, these adjustments are consistent with the principles observed at confederation competitions or in the top leagues around the world. Furthermore, based on its analysis, FIFA believes that the challenges can be sufficiently mitigated, including by increasing the number of venues and matches per day."

The FIFA Congress has already agreed to expand to a 48-team tournament from the 2026 World Cup in the United States, Mexico and Canada. The same format is proposed, starting with a group stage consisting of 16 groups of three teams, followed by a round of 32. That would ensure, despite adding 16 matches overall, a team would only play a maximum of seven matches like in the 32-team format.

But changing the hosting guidelines would alter the decision of the FIFA executive committee in December 2010, when Qatar surprisingly won the right to stage the Middle East's first World Cup by beating opposition from the United States, South Korea, Japan and Australia.

FIFA said while it cannot rule out legal action from losing bidders by changing the format, the study said it "concluded that the risk was low."

"With regard to the previously administered bidding process, the process did not exclude joint bids and the possibility of co-hosting was an option for all bidders from the outset," the study states. "Therefore, there is little risk arising from bidders (or even other member associations) claiming that they could have bid for the hosting rights had they known that FIFA would contemplate co-hosting scenarios.

"Moreover, based on FIFA's analysis and previous legal analysis, there is little risk of claims by bidders due to the change in format."

The study also breaks down how FIFA can earn an additional $ 400.1 million by adding more games.

It says $ 121.8 million could be generated from broadcasters, based on the unsold rights for the tournaments. It also forecasts an additional $ 158.4 million from sponsors, $ 89.9 million more from ticket sales, $ 20 million from hospitality packages and $ 10 million from licensing agreements.

FIFA wants its council to agree to the conclusion of the report that "expanding the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 to 48 teams is feasible provided that neighboring countries host some games."

FIFA and Qatar would then submit a final proposal to the FIFA Council and FIFA Congress in June to make a final decision on expansion, stressing that Qatar is the "main host country."

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U.S. intensifies anti-Maduro push as Russia backs Venezuelan ally

Washington on Friday intensified its push to drive Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro from power, as U.S. diplomats left the embassy in Caracas and Russia vowed to back its socialist South American ally.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday will urge members of the United Nations Security Council to recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela's legitimate head of state.

On Wednesday, Guaido invoked an article in Venezuela's constitution that allows the head of the National Assembly to assume power for 30 days if the presidency is vacant — which Guaido and his supporters believe is the case, arguing that Maduro's presidency is invalid because he stole the election. Canada, the U.S., Brazil, Germany and other countries have recognized Guaido as Venezuela's president.  

Pompeo also appointed neoconservative former diplomat Elliot Abrams, who was convicted for his role in the Iran-Contra scandal, to lead U.S. efforts on Venezuela. 

Washington requested the meeting of the 15-member council after a string of countries threw their weight behind Guaido, who heads Venezuela's congress, and urged Maduro to step down.

Russia opposes the request and has accused Washington of backing a coup attempt, placing Venezuela at the heart of a growing geopolitical duel. Moscow will insist on compliance with international law, Russia's RIA news agency cited Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying on Friday.

Private military contractors who carry out secret missions for Russia have flown into Venezuela in the past few days to beef up security for Maduro, sources said.

Maduro welcomes UN debate

Maduro said he welcomed a debate over Venezuela's situation and thanked Pompeo for making the UN request, in a jocular response during a Friday news conference.

"I was about to say to the foreign minister 'ask for a security council debate,' [but] Mike Pompeo got ahead of me," Maduro said.

"Thanks, Mike… We're going to tell the truth about the articles of the constitution, about the coup."

Earlier, American diplomats left the U.S. embassy in Caracas in a convoy of vehicles with a police escort en route to the airport, according to a Reuters witness. Maduro, in a fiery speech on Wednesday, broke off diplomatic relations with Washington and ordered the U.S. personnel out within 72 hours.

The State Department on Thursday told some U.S. government workers to leave Venezuela and said U.S. citizens in the country should consider leaving. It did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the movement of embassy personnel on Friday.

UN human rights boss Michelle Bachelet called on Friday for an investigation into alleged excessive use of force by Venezuelan security forces against protesters, adding that she was "extremely concerned" that the situation could rapidly spiral out of control.

Government supporters hold a life-size image of Venezuela's late president Hugo Chavez during a rally in La Guaira, Venezuela, on Friday. (Rodrigo Abd/Associated Press)

'No fake dialogue'

Guaido, who has galvanized Venezuela's opposition, proclaimed himself interim president on Wednesday during a march of hundreds of thousands in Caracas. He is considering making a request for funds from international institutions including the International Monetary Fund, two people familiar with the talks said on Friday.

However, he still has no control over the Venezuelan state and the military, which has so far remained loyal to Maduro despite a deep economic and political crisis that has sparked mass emigration, with inflation forecast to rise to 10 million per cent this year. Guaido has promised future amnesties to military members if they disavow Maduro.

On Friday, Guaido repeated his offer to the armed forces around Venezuela, asking soldiers "to put themselves on the side of the constitution."

Opposition leader Juan Guaido speaks to supporters at a public plaza in Caracas, Venezuela on Friday. Guaido declared himself interim president on Wednesday. (Fernando Llano/Associated Press)

Most Latin American nations have joined the United States in supporting Guaido's claim on the presidency, although Mexico's new leftist government has said it would not take sides. Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Friday his administration would be willing to mediate.

Guaido said he would reject any negotiations that did not include Maduro's exit, the setting up of a transition government, and free elections to pick a new president.

"No one wants fake dialogue… the only thing we want to negotiate is the end of the usurpation," he told a crowd clustered in a plaza in Caracas' Chacao district, an opposition stronghold.

To ratchet up pressure on Maduro, who began a second term on Jan. 10 following an election last year widely considered to be a fraud, the United States is seeking to cut off funds for his government, U.S. officials said on Thursday.

Guaido is also readying a new board to run state-run oil firm PDVSA's U.S. unit Citgo Petroleum, people familiar with the discussions said.

Maduro warned off any attempt to take control of Citgo, the country's primary offshore asset. "It is the property of the Venezuelan people, and we will defend it," he said.

The Maduro-appointed board of Citgo is preparing a legal strategy to defend itself, sources close to the talks said.

Oil prices edged higher on Friday as the political turmoil threatened to tighten the global supply of crude. Washington has signaled that it could impose new sanctions on OPEC member Venezuela's vital oil sector.

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Juventus breaks silence, publicly backs Cristiano Ronaldo after rape accusation

Pressure built on Cristiano Ronaldo from his sponsors Thursday after Nike joined EA Sports in expressing its deep concern with the rape allegation facing the soccer star.

The five-time world player of the year has denied the claim. Late Thursday night, he received public backing from his Italian club, Juventus, shortly after Nike issued its statement to The Associated Press.



Nike has had a contract with the 33-year-old Ronaldo, one of the wealthiest and most famous soccer players in the world, since 2003. The latest terms signed in 2016 are worth a reported $ 1 billion US and Ronaldo has suggested that it was a deal "for life."

But the Beaverton, Ore.-based apparel maker is troubled by the details emerging in a lawsuit filed last week in a Nevada state court by a woman who alleges she was raped by Ronaldo in Las Vegas in 2009.

"We are deeply concerned by the disturbing allegations and will continue to closely monitor the situation," Nike said in an emailed statement to the AP.

Ronaldo wears Nike boots and appears in its advertising.

The Portugal captain is also the face of the EA Sports FIFA video game franchise, appearing on the cover of the 2019 game that was released worldwide last week.

"We have seen the concerning report that details allegations against Cristiano Ronaldo," EA Sports told the AP. "We are closely monitoring the situation, as we expect cover athletes and ambassadors to conduct themselves in a manner that is consistent with EA's values."

Whereas other players might be winding down their careers at 33, Ronaldo is still in demand by leading clubs around the world. Ronaldo made the third big transfer of this career in July, leaving Real Madrid after nine years for Juventus, a move that cost the Italian club 112 million euros (then $ 132 million).

Breaking its silence on the alleged assault, Juventus strongly backed its most expensive star in a Twitter statement. "Cristiano Ronaldo has shown in recent months his great professionalism and dedication, which is appreciated by everyone at Juventus," the Italian league champions said. "The events allegedly dating back to almost 10 years ago do not change this opinion, which is shared by anyone who has come into contact with this great champion."

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