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NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Completes Last Asteroid Flyby Before Heading Home

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NASA’s ambitious Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security, Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) has been in orbit of the asteroid Bennu since 2018, but it’s getting ready to call it a day and head home. NASA reports that OSIRIS-REx has completed a last-minute addition to its mission profile: one final flyby of Bennu to see how its activities changed the surface of the object. 

OSIRIS-REx arrived at Bennu in late 2018, but NASA spent almost two years studying the space rock before OSIRIS-REx got down to business. The spacecraft’s Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM) allowed it to drift down and tap the asteroid, discharging a burst of compressed nitrogen. OSIRIS-REx did just that in late 2020, scooping up what could be more than two pounds of regolith. NASA would have considered the mission a success at just 2.1 ounces (60 grams). 

NASA says OSIRIS-REx will depart Bennu on May 10th. The long wait is mostly thanks to orbital mechanics — if the spacecraft waits until May to leave orbit, it will use less fuel to get back to Earth. This also gave the team time to plan the now-complete final tour, which happened early on April 7th. 

OSIRIS-REx spent almost six hours taking images of Bennu during the pre-programmed maneuver. It covered more than a full rotation of the asteroid, but the area around the “Nightingale” sample site will be the most interesting. “By surveying the distribution of the excavated material around the TAG site, we will learn more about the nature of the surface and subsurface materials along with the mechanical properties of the asteroid,” said Dr. Dante Lauretta, principal investigator for OSIRIS-REx at the University of Arizona. 

With the flyby done, all NASA has to do now is download the data. That’s easier said than done, though. At a distance of 185 million miles (297 million kilometers), the Deep Space Network can only manage a data rate of 412 kilobits per second. Plus, OSIRIS-REx has to share time on the network with NASA’s other space missions. With just a few hours of downloading per day, NASA expects it will take another week to get the multiple gigabytes of data OSIRIS-REx collected. 

After getting underway on May 10th, it will take OSIRIS-REx two years to return home. The sample container with pristine samples of an ancient asteroid should land in the Utah Test and Training Range on September 24, 2023.

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Tiger Woods was speeding before crashing SUV, sheriff says

Authorities say Tiger Woods was speeding when he crashed an SUV in Southern California less than two months ago, leaving him seriously injured.

The golf superstar was driving 84 to 87 miles per hour (135 to 140 km/h) on a downhill stretch of road outside Los Angeles that had a speed limit of 45 mph (72 km/h), Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said Wednesday.

The stretch of road is known for wrecks and drivers hitting speeds so high that there is an emergency exit for runaway vehicles just beyond where Woods crashed.

Villanueva blamed the Feb. 23 crash solely on excessive speed and Woods’ loss of control behind the wheel.

WATCH | Tiger Woods injured in car crash:

Golf superstar Tiger Woods needed surgery after a car crash in Los Angeles on Tuesday that left him with multiple leg injuries. Officials say he was conscious when pulled from the wrecked SUV and the injuries are not life threatening. 2:02

Detectives did not seek search warrants for the athlete’s blood samples, which could have been screened for drugs or alcohol. However, investigators did search the SUV’s data recorder, known as a black box, in the days after the crash.

Sheriff’s officials said Woods told deputies that he had not ingested medication or alcohol before the crash.

Woods struck median, crossed 2 traffic lanes

Originally from the Los Angeles area, Woods had been back home in February to host his PGA tournament, the Genesis Invitational, at Riviera Country Club.

He was driving an SUV loaned to him by the tournament through Rolling Hills Estates, just outside Los Angeles, when he struck a raised median. The SUV crossed through two oncoming lanes and uprooted a tree.

Villanueva had previously said detectives had determined the cause of the crash, but he would not release it, citing privacy concerns and a purported need for Woods’ permission to divulge information.

Documents show that Woods told deputies he did not know how the crash occurred and did not remember driving. At the time of the wreck, Woods was recovering from a fifth back surgery, which took place two months earlier.

The athlete is now in Florida recovering from multiple surgeries, including a lengthy procedure for shattered tibia and fibula bones in his lower right leg in multiple locations. Those were stabilized with a rod in his tibia. Additional injuries to the bones in his foot and ankle required screws and pins.

Woods, 45, has never gone an entire year without playing, dating back to his first PGA Tour event as a 16-year-old. He had hoped to play this year in the Masters tournament, which begins Thursday.

Rory McIlroy, a four-time major golf champion who lives near Woods in Florida, said he visited him on March 21.

“Spent a couple hours with him, which was nice. It was good to see him,” McIlroy said Tuesday from the Masters.

“It was good to see him in decent spirits. When you hear of these things and you look at the car and you see the crash, you think he’s going to be in a hospital bed for six months. But he was actually doing better than that.”

3rd vehicle-related investigation involving Woods

In the weeks after the crash, the sheriff called it “purely an accident” and said there was no evidence of impairment. Villanueva faced criticism for labelling the crash an accident before the investigation had concluded.

This is the third time Woods has been involved in a vehicle investigation.

The most notorious example was when his SUV ran over a fire hydrant and hit a tree early the morning after Thanksgiving in 2009.

That crash was the start of shocking revelations that he had been cheating on his wife with multiple women. Woods lost major corporate sponsorships, went to a rehabilitation clinic in Mississippi and did not return to golf for five months.

In May 2017, Florida police found him asleep behind the wheel of a car parked awkwardly on the side of the road. He was arrested on a DUI charge and said later he had an unexpected reaction to prescription medicine for his back pain. Woods pleaded guilty to reckless driving and checked into a clinic to get help with prescription medication and a sleep disorder.

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CBC | Sports News

Olympic swimmer Brent Hayden taking ‘wait and see’ approach to vaccines before Games

If he qualifies for this summer’s Olympic Games, Canadian swimmer Brent Hayden would prefer to receive a COVID-19 vaccination before arriving in Tokyo.

That doesn’t mean he wouldn’t go without getting his jab. He also isn’t sure if he would use the vaccine being offered to Olympic athletes as part of a recent partnership announced by the International Olympic Committee and China.

“I think that would be something I have to talk to my coach about, to figure out what we think is going to be the best decision,” said Hayden, who won a bronze medal in the 100-metre freestyle at the 2012 London Olympics.

“I do want to be vaccinated, I want to be covered at the Olympics. I don’t want to catch it and spread it. Now whether or not that’s the China one … I’m just going to have to wait to see what my coach or what Swimming Canada recommends.”

In the recently announced agreement, the IOC entered into a partnership with the Chinese Olympic committee to buy and provide vaccines for people participating in the Tokyo Games and next year’s Winter Olympics in Beijing.

None of the Chinese vaccines are approved for use in Canada.

In a statement, the Canadian Olympic Committee said it would prefer Canadian athletes use Health Canada approved vaccines.

“Our strong preference is that any vaccine a Canadian athlete receives has been approved by Health Canada,” COC boss David Shoemaker said in a statement.

“The COC will continue to follow Health Canada guidelines and the recommendations of our chief medical officer and the return to sport task force for all matters relating to the health and safety of Team Canada.”

WATCH | Should Olympians cut in line for vaccine?:

Some athletes say they want to wait their turn. 2:20

A Swimming Canada spokesman said they are encouraging athletes to follow the COC guidelines.

At least one Olympic expert said he isn’t surprised the by the IOC’s decision to buy vaccines or that they are being purchased from China.

Michael Naraine, an assistant professor with Brock University’s department of sport, said IOC president Thomas Bach has pushed for the Tokyo Games to go ahead, even though concerns remain about COVID-19.

“They weren’t going to force athletes to take the vaccine, but they wanted to do everything they could to ensure health and safety,” said Naraine, who studies major games and the Olympic movement.

“It’s not surprising that China would be the place where they were able to procure them. The supply chains are really tight now when you’re thinking about all the different countries that are trying to procure. When you think about scale in the supply chain, China’s clearly the top dog.”

WATCH | Why a COVID-19 vaccine isn’t the key to a fair Olympics:

Jacqueline Doorey speaks with Canadian middle distance runner Gabriela DeBues-Stafford to discuss the COVID-19 vaccine, how it can affect the Olympics, and whether athletes deserve to cut the line. 5:51

The IOC is also “very bullish on China” considering it’s hosting next year’s Winter Games and some of the major sponsors that comes with that, he said.

While athletes in some countries may be hesitant over the IOC’s offer, for others it might be their best chance to access the vaccine.

“If I’m an athlete in a country which has a very heavy strain on health care and the public health system, you’re looking at this as jumping the global queue as far as vaccination and inoculation is concerned,” said Naraine.

Wrestler Erica Weibe, a gold medallist at the 2016 Rio Games, supports more athletes having access to the vaccine.

It would be great if the IOC’s partnership “can help athletes and citizens of countries with less robust vaccination plans than Canada,” the Stittsville, Ont., native told The Canadian Press last week.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has promised that every Canadian adult who wants a vaccine will be able to receive a shot by the end of September.

In B.C., where Hayden lives, his age group is scheduled to receive their first round of the vaccine in May or June.

The Tokyo Games, which have been delayed a year due to COVID-19, are scheduled to open July 23.

Hayden, who retired after the London Games but decided to make a comeback for Tokyo, said not being vaccinated won’t stop him from competing.

“My goal is to go to the Olympics,” he said. “If I’m vaccinated or not vaccinated, I’m planning on going until they tell me I can’t go.”

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CBC | Sports News

Why it might be best to avoid painkillers as a precaution before your COVID-19 vaccine

Billions of people worldwide will receive vaccines to protect against COVID-19 and some will temporarily feel a sore arm, fever or muscle aches. But reaching for some common painkillers could blunt the effect of the vaccine, experts say.

Mahyar Etminan, an associate professor of of ophthalmology, pharmacology and medicine at the University of British Columbia, looked at data on taking medications like acetaminophen (Tylenol) and anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) before or close to the time of vaccination.

“Given that a lot of people would probably resort to using these drugs once they’re vaccinated, if they still have aches and pains, I thought to put the data into perspective,” said Etminan, who has a background in pharmacy, pharmacology and epidemiology. 

The jury is out on what happens to a person’s immune system after a COVID-19 vaccine if the person has taken those medications. But based on research on other vaccines like for the flu, there may be a blunting effect on immune response from the pills.

“If you tell people not to take them and they don’t like the side-effects they’re experiencing, that may lead to non-compliance with the second dose,” Etminan said. “I think it is an important sort of question to look at scientifically and also to tell patients.”

Why might fever-reducing meds interfere with our immune response after vaccination?

It has to do with what’s happening when our temperature rises to fight off an infection.

Dr. Dakotah Lane, a member of the Lummi Nation, right, raises his arms in a traditional motion of thanks after receiving a COVID-19 vaccination from registered nurse Alyssa Lane on Dec. 17, 2020, on the Lummi Reservation, near Bellingham, Wash. Arm pain after vaccinations may be uncomfortable but is generally mild, doctors say. (Elaine Thompson/Associated Press)

Dr. Sharon Evans, a professor of oncology at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in Buffalo, N.Y., works on training the immune system to attack cancer. She became interested in fever because it is such a common response across animals that walk or fly, even cold-blooded ones.

Before the pandemic, Evans and her colleagues wrote a review on how fever generally helps to reduce the severity and length of illness.

Evans called fever “incredible” for its ability to boost all the components needed for a protective immune response.

Fever “literally mobilizes the cells, it moves them in the body into the right place at the right time,” Evans said.

There’s also good evidence that inflammation, even without fever, can boost immune responses, she said.

Fever pills generally not recommended before vaccines

In a preprint to be published in the journal CHEST, Etimanan and his colleagues noted that a randomized trial looking at infants given acetaminophen immediately following vaccination showed lowered antibody levels compared with other infants who had not been given acetaminophen.

Another study in adults did not find their antibody levels fell after being vaccinated and taking acetaminophen. Immune responses can differ between children and adults.

Mahyar Etminan wants people to know about recommendations on avoiding painkillers around the time of COVID-19 vaccination. (Submitted by Mahyar Etminan)

Evans said the ability to mount a strong immune response also tends to go down as we age.

“What’s the difference between different age groups, different types of anti-inflammatory or antipyretics?” Evans said. “They’re all likely to be important and we just don’t know the answer.”

In the absence of those answers, authorities such as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization say the use of antipyretics or fever-reducing medications is not recommended before or at the time of vaccination. They are approved in the days after vaccination.

For COVID-19 vaccines, Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) gives similar advice.

“NACI recommends that prophylactic oral analgesics or antipyretics (e.g., acetaminophen or ibuprofen) should not be routinely used before or at the time of vaccination, but their use is not a contraindication to vaccination,” according to the Government of Canada’s website. “Oral analgesics or antipyretics may be considered for the management of adverse events (e.g., pain or fever, respectively), if they occur after vaccination.”

The side-effects of vaccination such as a sore arm at the site of injection or wider effects like headache, fatigue, fever, muscle and joint soreness, while uncomfortable, are generally mild.

Bright side of mild vaccine side-effects

“All those side-effects are like a bell ringer telling you that your body is ramping up immune response,” Evans said. “It’s what you want. It’s sometimes disappointing if you didn’t get that response.”

If you do spike a fever after receiving the COVID-19 vaccination, Evans said the best advice is to stay home and ride it out.

If the temperature reaches 39.4 C or 103 F, redness or tenderness in the arm increases after a day or if side-effects don’t go away after a few days, the CDC says call your doctor.

WATCH | How Canada’s other vaccine candidates for COVID-19 stack up:

Canada has other vaccines in line for approval — how they compare to the ones already being rolled out and how COVID-19 variants are a complicating factor. 2:03

Likewise, if you’re regularly taking anti-inflammatory or pain and fever-relieving medications for a chronic condition, Evans suggests contacting your doctor about what to do about taking the medications around the time of COVID-19 vaccinations.

The CDC suggests holding a cool, wet washcloth over the area of the shot and exercising that arm. For fever, drink lots of fluids and dress lightly.

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CBC | Health News

Asylum seekers housed at British army barracks warned of crowding before COVID-19 outbreak

The British government has started transferring dozens of asylum seekers to hotels to self-isolate after reports that more than 100 people housed at former army barracks in southeast England have tested positive for COVID-19.

An open letter from the asylum seekers shared by the humanitarian organization Choose Love said 120 of the roughly 400 men being housed at the Napier barracks had tested positive for the virus by the third week of January. 

Britain’s Home Office — the department charged with overseeing care of the asylum seekers — would not confirm the number.

The outbreak came as no surprise to those staying at Napier Barracks in Folkestone, Kent, who’d been saying for months that the conditions in the barracks did not allow for physical distancing and proper adherence to public health guidelines and could contribute to the fast spread of the coronavirus if it made its way to the camp. 

“Since I arrived here, I have been complaining,” one asylum seeker told CBC News.

“They always say the same things. They [say] everything is good enough.”

He arrived last October, shortly after the British government started using Napier Barracks as a temporary housing solution. CBC has agreed to withhold his name because he fears speaking out could hurt his immigration case.

Sleeping quarters divided by curtains at the Napier Barracks. Some asylum seekers said it’s difficult to follow COVID-19 social distancing guidelines inside the camp. (Name withheld)

He is in his 20s and said he had a fever, cough and body aches and was waiting to be tested for COVID-19 when he spoke to CBC news this week. He did not want to reveal his country of origin but the camp houses migrants from several countries, including Syria, Iraq and Iran. 

The man said he was waiting to be tested and would not be surprised if he has the virus after “staying with infected people in the same room.” 

He and others at the camp experiencing COVID-19 symptoms were “worried and frightened,” he said.

Some with negative tests moved off-site

Some immigration advocates say the number of positive COVID cases at Napier could be higher. 

“From our partners and sources, we understand that it’s closer to 200 people out of 400,” said Josie Naughton, the founder of Choose Love.

“It’s been quite shocking really. We’re just pushing hard to get as many people [as possible] taken out from these places, the barracks, and to have them shut down.”

Asylum seekers at the Napier Barracks who have tested negative for the virus were being temporarily moved off-site “in order to allow others at Napier to self-isolate more easily,” a Home Office spokesperson told CBC. 

Housing at the Napier Barracks is divided into blocks, with every block consisting of two dorm rooms and shared access to toilet and shower facilities. Typically, as many as 14 people share dorm rooms. Asylum seekers say they had feared the tight quarters could contribute to the spread of COVID-19. (Name withheld)

The spokesperson said the Home Office made that decision in line with advice from Public Health England as a coronavirus lockdown continues to be enforced across the country.

The U.K has been experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases and on Tuesday, surpassed 100,000 deaths.

The recent outbreak at Napier comes after months of warnings from asylum seekers, immigration advocates and health experts that the conditions there and at Penally Training Camp in Wales — another military facility housing asylum seekers — posed health risks because of insufficient access to health care and a lack of compliance with coronavirus regulations.

The Napier Barracks and the Penally former army base have been used as a temporary housing solution for asylum seekers since late September. The goal is to move people out of the camps to more suitable housing as soon as possible. 

Impossible to follow distancing guidelines

The man who spoke to CBC from the camp said he was one those who repeatedly warned the Home Office and Clearsprings Ready Homes, the short-term housing company tasked with managing accommodations at the camp, that he was concerned about catching COVID because of the cramped conditions there.

Sharing a dorm room with as many as 13 other men, with only curtains separating individual sleeping quarters, the asylum seeker said he and others had warned that it was impossible to follow social distancing guidelines at the camp, where common spaces and washrooms are also shared.

Even as coronavirus cases were identified at the camp, with one of the man’s dorm mates testing positive and others displaying symptoms, the asylum seeker said his pleas for the Home Office to take action continued to be ignored until this past weekend. 

As the Home Office began transferring asylum seekers out of the camp Saturday, the asylum seeker was moved to a separate room at Napier after starting to show symptoms. 

“I had known one person had tested positive … and he was very close to my private space, but there were several people who had continuous coughing,” he said. 

On Thursday, he was told that he would be moved off-site.

Inspector investigating

Naughton said she was “heartbroken … but not surprised” by the situation at Napier. 

“People were warning that this was going to happen, and now, it has happened,” she said.

In the wake of the outbreak, the U.K.’s independent chief inspector of borders and immigration (ICIBI) has launched an investigation into the use of hotels and barracks as “contingency asylum accommodation” since the start of 2020.

Josie Naughton, the founder of London-based charity Choose Love, says she is heartbroken but ‘not surprised’ by the coronavirus outbreak at the Napier Barracks. (Choose Love)

On Monday, the ICIBI issued a call for evidence, asking anyone with “relevant knowledge or experience” to come forward.

“This inspection … will focus on the roles and responsibilities of the Home Office and the accommodation service providers, and of other parties,” ICIBI said in a press release.

‘Everyone feels afraid’ 

Asylum seekers at the Penally camp say the coronavirus outbreak at Napier appears to have been something of a wake-up call for staff with Clearsprings, which also oversees accommodations at that site.

“The camp management [has taken] it very seriously now,” one asylum seeker, who also spoke on the condition of confidentiality, told the CBC. “They distributed sanitizers to every room and did some other things to prevent any possible spread.”

The dining area at the Penally Training Camp in Wales, where asylum seekers say they fear an outbreak like the one in Napier. (Name withheld)

Workers have started wearing face masks at all times and have begun distributing food and cutlery to residents in the dining room, rather than having residents collect them. 

However, asylum seekers at the camp are still sharing dorm rooms, with anywhere from two to six people per room while in common areas, including the dining area and TV room, asylum seekers say no social distancing rules appear to be enforced. 

“It gets very crowded from time to time,” the asylum seeker said. 

Another man living at the Penally camp told CBC he and others at the camp fear an out break like the one at Napier.

“Everyone feels afraid, never [being] able to social distance here,” he said. “We fear our camp will be like Kent.”

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District of trepidation: Fear of violence upends U.S. capital before inauguration

In a moment of nation-splintering turmoil, an incoming American president, Abraham Lincoln, travelled by train to his inauguration in Washington, D.C., in a nerve-racking ride cloaked in disguise as he faced threats to his life.

Now, 160 years later, an incoming president has cancelled plans for a train ride to Washington.

It was supposed to be a symbolic journey highlighting Joe Biden’s decades-long habit of riding the rails to D.C. each day from his family home in Delaware.

Instead, it has taken on a sad new symbolism, of an American capital clenched shut in fear of political violence at Wednesday’s inauguration.

The question nagging at residents here, and at security analysts, is whether the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol was the worst of a passing storm, a one-off, or the start of a dark era of political violence.

What’s already clear is this will be no normal inauguration. The American capital has transformed into a heavily armed and tightly barricaded fortress.

“Clearly, we are in uncharted waters,” Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser told a news conference last week, urging tourists to stay away from her city during the inauguration.

Fences are now up around Washington’s downtown. Thousands of soldiers are patrolling the streets, bridges are blocked, parking garages are shut, bicycle-sharing services are suspended, Airbnb reservations are cancelled, and residents are being urged on neighbourhood chat groups against renting rooms to tourists.

U.S. president-elect Joe Biden, seen here riding an Amtrak train in 2011, had planned to ride to his inauguration on the same train route between Delaware and D.C. that he rode daily for decades. That plan is reportedly cancelled amid security concerns. (Larry Downing/Reuters)

Suspicion strikes Capitol Hill neighbourhood

Security concerns are most acute in the neighbourhood near the Capitol.

Lawyer Matt Scarlato already has an overnight bag packed in case unrest spills into his neighbourhood and he’s forced to flee the city with his family.

He lives near one of the new security barriers near Capitol Hill, where police are forcing residents on some streets to show ID if they want to access their home.

Scarlato was working from home the day of the riot in the Capitol building, when unexploded bombs were found near political party offices. 

On Jan. 6, Matt Scarlato, who lives near the Capitol, scrambled to pick up his child from daycare and threw a baseball bat into his car out of fear the violence would escalate. (Matt Scarlato)

He received a message from his son’s daycare urging parents to immediately come pick up their children.

Scarlato grabbed a baseball bat and tossed it in the car for the ride to the daycare.

“It was a minute-by-minute escalation,” Scarlato said. “We were all just sitting in the house saying, ‘What the hell is going on?'” 

A longtime resident of the area, he compared the recent panic to a smaller-scale version of what he witnessed during the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

On the day of the Capitol riot, he was concerned by the sight of an unfamiliar RV on his street given the reports of bombs in Washington and the recent explosion in Nashville.

For her part, Monica Ingram, a retired health-care administrator, was rattled yesterday morning by the sound of helicopters hovering over the same Capitol Hill neighbourhood. 

Monica Ingram says the inauguration must go ahead in public to send a message. But she hopes Biden throws a real inauguration party a year from now to make up for the muted festivities. (Monica Ingram)

Around that same time, the congressional precinct was ordered evacuated. The panic was the result of an explosion and fire nearby, caused by a propane tank in a homeless encampment.

Ingram said people now look at each other differently, warily. Ingram saw a man taking pictures of streets near the Capitol the other day and she worried whether he was up to something nefarious.

“We’re suspicious of each other now. It’s sad,” she said. “It’s very disheartening, upsetting. It’s like I don’t even know this country anymore.”

WATCH | Staff and media scramble as a blast goes off during inauguration rehearsal:

Security is tight and tensions are high in Washington, as the U.S. prepares to swear in Joe Biden on Wednesday. Thousands of National Guard troops brought in to protect against possible attacks are being vetted by the FBI for possible inside threats. 2:00

Some call for indoor inauguration 

She’s among the many people with mixed feelings about whether this inauguration should even be happening in public. 

Ultimately, she prefers it going forward, as opposed to moving to a makeshift indoor location, in order to deliver a message: that this country won’t buckle in fear.

There is, however, a part of her that hopes Biden might throw another inaugural party, a year from now, a real festive party, after this pandemic, and this panic.

The National Mall awash in U.S. flags. Most Americans will be watching Biden take the oath of office on their screens at home. ( Patrick Semansky/Reuters)

Biden should have a “redo” inauguration, she said. 

“It’s so sad that president-elect Biden has to be sworn in like this. It should be a day of joy for this country.” 

There’s no guarantee this place will feel safer in a year.

Mark Hertling, a retired lieutenant-general who led U.S. soldiers in Europe, said he worries about whether the United States is now entering an era of political insurgency. 

And he’s not alone. 

One-time riot or preview of insurgency?

Some analysts who study domestic political violence have warned for years (in thesis papers and books and government reports) that the conditions existed for an American insurgency on the right.

Those conditions include a proliferation of guns, a surge in ex-military joining militia groups, two increasingly hostile political parties, and a split along racial and cultural lines in a rapidly diversifying country.

A 2018 book, Alt-America, charts how membership in armed militia groups skyrocketed after the election of a first Black president, Barack Obama, in 2008, and these fringe groups began showing up at political protests.

Armed militia protests have become increasingly common in government buildings, such as this one at the state capitol in Lansing, Mich., last April. In October of last year, several people (not pictured) with links to a Michigan militia group were charged in connection with an alleged plot to kidnap the governor. (Seth Herald/Reuters)

Alleged members of such militias are now accused of participating in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, where numerous people were dressed in paramilitary-themed clothing and several could be heard in the crowd warning they’d be back with weapons.

“Welcome to the reality of other countries,” said Greg Ehrie, who led FBI domestic terrorism units and is now vice-president of law enforcement and analysis at the Anti-Defamation League.

“There is sort of an underlying belief that if we can get through Wednesday, this stops and then it moves on. And that’s just not true.… This is going to be something we’re going to be living with for several years — this heightened sense of security.” 

Details released since the siege of the Capitol suggest things could have been worse.

National Guard soldiers from different states will be helping secure Washington, D.C., during the inauguration. Here, members of the Idaho National Guard are seen in Boise departing for the capital on Jan. 15. (U.S. National Guard/Reuters)

Jan. 6 could have been worse

One man arrested that day allegedly had two guns and enough materials to make 11 Molotov cocktails, and another allegedly had a loaded gun, spare bullets and a gas mask.

A federal prosecutor said one air force veteran who carried plastic handcuffs intended to take hostages.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York City said in a YouTube video she believed she was going to die during the riot in the Capitol and that she experienced a traumatic event she declined to discuss: “Many, many, many members of Congress were almost murdered,” she said in the video. “We were very lucky [to escape].”

One police officer died as a result of injuries sustained during the riot. Another said he narrowly survived the angry mob and described how he was Tasered while some wanted to take his gun and kill him with it.

Joseph Young, a professor at American University in D.C. who studies the factors that drive political violence, usually in other countries, said he is bothered by the trends he sees.

“More and more, my work has been applicable to the United States,” he said in an interview. “[And that’s] troubling.”

A word of historical caution

He said it’s wrong, however, to conclude this is a more violent political era than the 1960s and 1970s. The U.S. experienced hundreds of terrorist attacks back then, from white-supremacist church bombings to political assassinations to the activities of the left-wing group Weather Underground, which bombed the Capitol, the State Department and other government buildings.

But he’s still worried about the current U.S. situation. As are the authorities preparing for inauguration day. 

National Guard members exit a newly erected barricade near the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 13. Fences and barricades have been erected in the city centre ahead of Wednesday’s event. (Brandon Bell/Reuters)

The Pentagon has authorized the Washington, D.C., National Guard to carry weapons on domestic soil amid ongoing worries about the possible use of explosives.

National Guard members are being screened themselves for any extremist affiliations. A Secret Service member was reportedly under investigation over political comments related to the Capitol riot posted on Facebook.

Jared Holt, an expert who monitors extremist chatter online, said it has gotten quieter lately.

Several kilometres of Washington, D.C., will be off-limits to vehicles or people, as checkpoints and barricades have already gone up around the city. (U.S. Secret Service)

He said he was extremely worried before Jan. 6 about the heated and violent rhetoric he saw in online platforms. 

People were posting tips for smuggling guns into Washington and maps of the underground tunnels connecting the Capitol to lawmakers’ offices.

Those same forums erupted in joy after the attack.

“It was initially jubilation,” said Holt, of the Digital Forensic Research Lab at the Washington-based Atlantic Council think-tank. “They were thrilled. They felt incredibly accomplished. [Now], the cohesion between groups has eroded.”

It became clear within hours of the riot that it might backfire — against those involved and against Donald Trump.

It failed to stop the vote to certify Biden’s election win. Then it led to Trump’s swift impeachment in the House.

WATCH | Preparations underway to fortify U.S. capital ahead of inauguration day:

With the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris fast approaching, U.S. authorities have gone to great lengths to ensure a safe transfer of power and to prevent violent riots similar to what happened on Jan. 6. Tens of thousands of National Guard troops have fortified Washington, D.C., and imposed tough restrictions on movement that give the U.S. capital an air of occupation. 2:45

Has the threat already receded?

Some rioters in the Capitol who posted triumphant images of themselves on social media have been arrested or fired from their jobs, with their posts used as evidence against them.

Social media platforms are either limiting extremist rhetoric and shutting out Trump, are offline altogether (Parler), or are unusually slow (Gab).   

Holt now worries that violent rhetoric is moving to tighter channels that are harder to monitor publicly, such as Telegram and other private messaging apps.

So residents of Washington, D.C., and the country as a whole, enter this historic transition week in a fog of uncertainty, about whether they’ve just witnessed a dark passing moment in the life of the American republic or a sombre omen.

Washington area resident Emilie Frank isn’t sure if the increased security is an overreaction but says she prefers erring on the safe side. (CBC News)

“It looks like a police state down here. We’ve never seen it like this,” Emilie Frank, a communications professional, said in an interview a few days ago, referring to the imposing concrete-and-metal labyrinth being erected downtown.

“It would normally be bustling, everybody’s excited [for the inauguration]. But it’s silent, blocked off, police cars everywhere.”

She doesn’t know if any of this will be necessary. But she’d rather have this than the under-preparation by authorities that the city witnessed on Jan. 6, she said.

“So, even if it’s just [for] show, it’s better than nothing, I guess,” she said. “If some people will be convinced they should stay away after seeing all this stuff in place, then that’s good.”

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Homeland Security boss resigns as FBI warns of possible armed protests across U.S. before Biden inauguration

As security forces in the United States brace for the possibility of armed protests across the country around president-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, the acting secretary of homeland security is stepping down.

Chad Wolf, who criticized President Donald Trump over last week’s deadly siege at the U.S. Capitol, said in a message to staff that he would step down as of Monday night. He said Pete Gaynor, who ran the Federal Emergency Management Agency, would become the acting homeland security secretary. 

Wolf had earlier indicated he planned to remain in the job. Last week, Wolf asked Trump and all elected officials to “strongly condemn the violence” that took place at the Capitol. Five people died, including a police officer.

Wolf said he has condemned violence on both sides of the political aisle, specifically directed at law enforcement. He tweeted “we now see some supporters of the President using violence as a means to achieve political ends” and called that unacceptable.

Meanwhile, the FBI is warning of plans for armed protests at all 50 state capitals and in Washington in the days leading up to Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20.

An internal FBI bulletin warned that the nationwide protests may start later this week and extend through Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration, according to two law enforcement officials who read details of the memo to The Associated Press. Investigators believe some of the people are members of some extremist groups, the officials said. The bulletin was first reported by ABC.

“Armed protests are being planned at all 50 state capitols from 16 January through at least 20 January, and at the U.S. Capitol from 17 January through 20 January,” the bulletin said, according to one official. The officials were not authorized to speak publicly and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.

Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, told reporters on Monday that the Guard is also looking at any issues that may arise across the country.

“We’re keeping a look across the entire country to make sure that we’re monitoring, and that our Guards in every state are in close co-ordination with their local law enforcement agencies to provide any support requested.”

Security forces bolster plans

The head of the National Guard says at least 10,000 troops will be deployed in Washington, D.C., by Saturday, and an additional 5,000 could be requested from other states as officials brace for more, possibly violent protests surrounding president-elect Biden’s inauguration.

The U.S. National Park Service announced Monday it would shut down public access to Washington monument until Jan. 24, citing threats surrounding the inauguration.

The U.S. Secret Service will also begin carrying out its special security arrangements for the Jan. 20 presidential inauguration on Wednesday, almost a week earlier than originally planned. 

Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser on Sunday sent a letter to Wolf saying she is “extremely concerned” about the upcoming inauguration in light of the “unprecedented terrorist attacks on the U.S. Capitol.”

Trump himself is skipping Biden’s inauguration, a decision Biden said was a “good thing,” though Vice-President Mike Pence and his wife plan to attend.

Biden’s team hopes the event will help bring a fractured country back together. The theme will be “America United” — an issue that’s long been a central focus for Biden, but one that’s taken on added weight in the wake of the violence in the Capitol.

WATCH l Assessing the pros and cons of invoking the 25th Amendment:

The CBC’s Carole MacNeil speaks to Thomas Balcerski, associate professor of history at Eastern Connecticut State University, on whether the 25th Amendment could be invoked against U.S. President Donald Trump. 6:59

The presidential inaugural committee said that the theme “reflects the beginning of a new national journey that restores the soul of America, brings the country together and creates a path to a brighter future.”

It will be one of Biden’s first acts as president and a show of bipartisanship at a time when the national divide is on stark display.

The focus on unity has characterized Biden’s presidential run from the start, and he’s said repeatedly since winning the White House he sees unifying the country as one of his top priorities as president. But the scope — and urgency — of the challenge Biden faces became even clearer after Trump inspired a riot at the Capitol last Wednesday, spurred by his repeated attempts to delegitimize Biden’s win.

U.S. president-elect Joe Biden plans to focus on bringing the country together once he’s sworn in on Jan. 20. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

There are already signs of increased tension outside of Washington, D.C., as state lawmakers return to work. 

In Olympia, Wash., members of the National Guard defended security fencing outside of the capitol building as the 2021 legislative session got underway. There were concerns armed groups might try to occupy the building. Last Wednesday, hours after the siege in Washington, D.C., people broke a gate outside the governor’s mansion in the state of Washington and made it to the porch and front yard.

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Health Canada waiting on more data before making a decision on AstraZeneca vaccine

Health Canada says it still needs more information before it can make a decision on the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine — news that came after the United Kingdom became the first country to authorize the vaccine.

In a statement released Wednesday, Canada’s independent regulator said it’s been reviewing the manufacturer’s vaccine information since Oct. 1 and as new data roll in.

“There is still information and data to be provided by AstraZeneca for review,” says the statement.

“Health Canada cannot provide a definite timeline for the completion of the review at this time.”

Earlier Wednesday, the U.K. announced the vaccine’s approval, with the health secretary saying rollout will start Jan. 4 in that country.

The AstraZeneca vaccine has been praised for its low cost and ease of use. Unlike other vaccines, it can be stored in refrigerators rather than ultra-cold storage units.

Canada, which has signed agreements to procure a range of vaccine candidates, has a deal with AstraZeneca for 20 million doses.

“Health Canada is working hard to give Canadians access to COVID-19 vaccines as quickly as possible without compromising its safety, efficacy and quality standards,” said the Health Canada statement.

“Protecting the health and safety of Canadians is a top priority.”

Health Canada has authorized two vaccines — the messenger RNA vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna Inc.

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Air travellers entering Canada must have a negative COVID-19 test before arrival, Ottawa says

Air passengers entering Canada will soon need to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test before arriving in the country, the federal government announced today.

Under the new protocol, travellers must receive a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test within a 72-hour period prior to boarding a plane. Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc said he expects the new rule will be in force within a week.

The measure does not replace the federal government’s mandatory 14-day quarantine period, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair warned.

“This is not an alternative to quarantine. It’s an additional layer,” Blair said during a public health briefing.

He said Ottawa is discussing implementing more testing protocols at land points of entry with a number of provincial health authorities, but added that effort involves “issues of some complexity” the government is still working through. 

The federal government hasn’t fully explained how the pre-boarding testing will be administered to incoming travellers, though Transport Minister Marc Garneau — who is in talks with airlines and officials in his department — is expected to share more details Thursday.

WATCH | Public Safety Minister Bill Blair on new COVID-19 measures for air travel:

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair outlines enhanced COVID-19 measures for travellers returning to Canada, including plans to reinforce public health messaging in airports and new requirements for a negative COVID-19 test before re-entry into the country. 1:58

Lack of information ‘causing panic,’ Conservatives say

Conservative health critic Michelle Rempel Garner criticized the Liberal government over the timing of the announcement and said the lack of policy specifics will lead to anxiety and confusion for Canadians abroad.

“I’m glad to hear that the Trudeau Liberals are finally taking our advice and looking at implementing testing protocols for international travellers returning to Canada,” she said in a media statement.

“However, the lack of details around this announcement is causing panic among Canadians currently abroad. The government has had months to implement a system and today put forward a haphazard announcement that is a response to headlines rather than an actual thoughtful and transparent plan.”

A spokesperson for Ontario Premier Doug Ford, meanwhile, said the provincial government is pleased the federal government responded to Ford’s “ongoing calls for the federal government to take action at our borders.”

“This is welcome news,” said Ivana Yelich. “We look forward to seeing further progress by the federal government when it comes to getting pre-departure testing in place at Toronto Pearson International Airport.”


In response to Wednesday’s news, the National Airlines Council of Canada said the country’s aviation industry has been calling for a more coordinated testing approach “to avoid a rushed and disjointed rollout” of testing requirements.

“Today’s announcement occurred without prior coordination with industry, and with many major operational and communication details still to be determined,” council president Mike McNaney said in a media statement.

“At a broader level, the announcement only addresses one element of the path forward — the utilization of testing to help further protect public health. We strongly believe it must also be utilized in conjunction with measures to reduce quarantine levels, as is being done in countries all around the world.”

An industry source — who spoke to CBC News on the condition of confidentiality — said the airlines were “totally blindsided by the announcement.”

“Airlines were not consulted,” said the source. “It was clear to them that the government had not studied whether or not PCR tests are even available and what the rules would be around who should be denied boarding.”

Blair underlined that the point of the new requirement is not to shorten quarantine times and said it’s “important not to conflate the two issues.”

Travellers unable to get tested won’t be left behind

In an interview with CBC News, LeBlanc said it will be up to travellers to arrange for PCR tests themselves, given that those embarking on non-essential trips overseas have chosen already to flout public health guidelines.

“The Government of Canada obviously is not in a position to set up in hotels or all-inclusive resorts or Canadian consulates,” he said.

Travellers who are unable to procure tests before their flights home won’t be stranded abroad, LeBlanc said. Immediately upon their return to Canada, he said, those passengers will be required to isolate at federally-approved sites until they obtain negative test results and meet other quarantine commitments.

The minister said it would be “irresponsible” for any Canadian traveller to sidestep the testing requirements.

He added that pre-boarding testing would not affect Alberta’s ongoing pilot project for international travellers, which allows people to leave quarantine if they receive a negative test after returning to Canada.

Border agency boosts airport presence

The additional measure comes as Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips is under fire over news that he had travelled to the Caribbean island of St. Barts for a personal vacation earlier this month. Phillips is on his way back to Canada after Ontario Premier Doug Ford demanded his return.

Quebec Liberal MNA Pierre Arcand has also received criticism for visiting Barbados during the holidays, a trip Arcand now says he regrets.

Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair says border officers are beefing up their presence in Canadian airports to reinforce public health messaging as the federal government moves to implement negative COVID-19 test requirements for incoming travellers. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) will also be beefing up its presence at airports across Canada to ensure travellers are adhering to public health guidelines, Blair said.

“Additional border officers will be present at various positions to reinforce compliance messaging,” the minister said, adding that teams already have been sent to customs and baggage areas and inspection lines to speak to travellers about their obligations — and the consequences of failing to follow the rules.

The federal government has advised against non-essential travel outside Canada since the start of the pandemic, though officials noted Wednesday that about two per cent of COVID-19 cases have been brought into the country from overseas.

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Quebec wants travellers returning from holidays abroad to test negative for COVID-19 before boarding planes

Travellers planning to return home to Quebec after holidaying abroad should face strict measures, including being tested for COVID-19 before hopping on a flight home and once again upon their arrival, the provincial health minister announced today.

This comes after Quebec recorded 2,381 new cases on Tuesday, along with 64 new deaths.

Saying the situation in Quebec hospitals is “critical,” particularly in the Montreal area, Christian Dubé announced he is asking the federal government for a series of measures to prevent travellers from spreading COVID-19 after returning to Quebec. They inlcude:

  • People returning to Quebec should be tested for COVID-19 before boarding their flight and not be allowed on a plane if they test positive for the virus.

  • Travellers should be subjected to rapid testing upon their arrival at international airports, such as Jean Lesage in Quebec City and Pierre Elliott Trudeau in Montreal. 

  • Dubé has also asked the federal government to tighten the enforcement of quarantine measures for travellers who have returned.

Dubé said Quebec and Ottawa “agree on these measures,” but that they are in negotiation about a timeline for implementing them. 

“If it was up to me, we would do it as of tomorrow morning,” the health minister said. “But we are in discussion with the federal government and we will continue those discussions over the next few hours.”

WATCH | Why Quebec’s health minister wants Ottawa to apply stricter rules for travellers:

Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé is asking the federal government to ramp up measures for travelers returning to Canada. 1:21

Dubé said the new rules are necessary to avoid the surge in cases that occurred last spring in Quebec, where spring-break travellers brought the coronavirus home from abroad and Quebec experienced the worst caseloads in the country.

“The images we’ve seen of travellers down south are shocking for everybody, especially for those following the rules and the health-care workers,” Dubé said. “We have to remember what’s happening here.”

Dubé was referring to photos on social media of maskless Quebecers dining out, dancing and drinking in close proximity to other people at resorts.

Last Thursday, the Institut national d’excellence en santé et services sociaux (INESSS) published projections about hospital needs, indicating that Quebec hospitals could run out of beds by mid-January.

 “We will go beyond our capacity and half of the designated beds are already taken up,” Dubé said. “We have to remember why we are making these sacrifices.” 

The risks of travel

Dubé warned the costs of contracting COVID-19 while abroad — or of breaking rules here — could be very steep.

He said Quebecers who test positive for COVID-19 at a foreign airport will have to find hotels to stay in and pay the cost themselves before they can return home.

He also said Quebec has no intention of going beyond standard reimbursement for health care abroad, and that travellers will have to hope their private travel insurance covers any hospitalization or medical care because RAMQ coverage is “minimal.”

The health minister also reminded Quebecers that the fines for disobeying quarantine rules once back in Canada range from $ 800 to $ 750,000.

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