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Iran blames Israel for sabotage at Natanz site as U.S. begins talks to re-enter nuclear deal

Iran blamed Israel on Monday for a sabotage attack on its underground Natanz nuclear facility that damaged its centrifuges, an assault that imperils ongoing talks over its tattered nuclear deal and brings a shadow war between the two countries into the light.

Israel has not claimed responsibility for the attack. It rarely does for operations carried out by its secret military units or its Mossad intelligence agency. However, Israeli media widely reported that the country had orchestrated a devastating cyberattack that caused a blackout at the nuclear facility. Meanwhile, a former Iranian official said the attack set off a fire.

The attack further strains relations between the United States, which under President Joe Biden is now negotiating in Vienna to re-enter the nuclear accord, and Israel, whose Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to stop the deal at all costs. Netanyahu met Monday with U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, whose arrival in Israel coincided with the first word of the attack.

At a news conference at Israel’s Nevatim air base Monday, where he viewed Israeli air and missile defence systems and its F-35 combat aircraft, Austin declined to say whether the Natanz attack could impede the Biden administration’s efforts to re-engage with Iran in its nuclear program.

“Those efforts will continue,” Austin said. The previous American administration under Donald Trump had pulled out of the nuclear deal with world powers, leading Iran to begin abandoning its limits.

‘We will take revenge’

Details remained scarce about what happened early Sunday at the facility. The event was initially described only as a blackout in the electrical grid feeding its above-ground workshops and underground enrichment halls — but later Iranian officials began referring to it as an attack.

A former chief of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard said the attack had also set off a fire at the site and called for improvements in security. In a tweet, Gen. Mohsen Rezaei said that the second attack at Natanz in a year signalled “the seriousness of the infiltration phenomenon.” Rezaei did not say where he got his information.

This photo released Nov. 5, 2019, by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran shows centrifuge machines in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran/The Associated Press)

“The answer for Natanz is to take revenge against Israel,” Iran Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said. “Israel will receive its answer through its own path.” He did not elaborate.

Khatibzadeh acknowledged that IR-1 centrifuges, the first-generation workhorse of Iran’s uranium enrichment, had been damaged in the attack, but did not elaborate. State television has yet to show images from the facility. However, the facility seemed to be in such disarray that, following the attack, a prominent nuclear spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi walking above ground at the site fell seven metres through an open ventilation shaft covered by aluminum debris, breaking both his legs and hurting his head.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif warned Natanz would be reconstructed with more advanced machines. That would allow Iran to more quickly enrich uranium, complicating the nuclear talks.

“The Zionists wanted to take revenge against the Iranian people for their success on the path of lifting sanctions,” Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency quoted Zarif as saying. “But we do not allow (it), and we will take revenge for this action against the Zionists.”

Previous target of sabotage

Officials launched an effort Monday to provide emergency power to Natanz, said Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s civilian nuclear program. He said enrichment had not stopped there, without elaborating.

The IAEA, the United Nations body that monitors Tehran’s atomic program, earlier said it was aware of media reports about the blackout at Natanz and had spoken with Iranian officials about it. The agency did not elaborate.

Natanz has been targeted by sabotage in the past. The Stuxnet computer virus, discovered in 2010 and widely believed to be a joint U.S.-Israeli creation, once disrupted and destroyed Iranian centrifuges there during an earlier period of Western fears about Tehran’s program.

This photo released July 2, 2020, by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, shows a building after it was damaged by a fire at the Natanz facility. Authorities later described the mysterious explosion as sabotage. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran/The Associated Press)

In July, Natanz suffered a mysterious explosion at its advanced centrifuge assembly plant that authorities later described as sabotage. Iran now is rebuilding that facility deep inside a nearby mountain. Iran also blamed Israel for that, as well as the November killing of a scientist who began the country’s military nuclear program decades earlier.

Israel also has launched a series of airstrikes in neighbouring Syria targeting Iranian forces and their equipment. Israel also is suspected in an attack last week on an Iranian cargo ship that is said to serve as a floating base for Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard forces off the coast of Yemen.

Multiple Israeli media outlets reported Sunday that an Israeli cyberattack caused the blackout, but it remains unclear what actually happened there. Public broadcaster Kan said the Mossad was behind the attack. Channel 12 TV cited “experts” as estimating the attack shut down entire sections of the facility.

While the reports offered no sourcing for their information, Israeli media maintains a close relationship with the country’s military and intelligence agencies.

“It’s hard for me to believe it’s a coincidence,” Yoel Guzansky, a senior fellow at Tel Aviv’s Institute for National Security Studies, said of the blackout. “If it’s not a coincidence, and that’s a big if, someone is trying to send a message that ‘we can limit Iran’s advance and we have red lines.'”

It also sends a message that Iran’s most sensitive nuclear site is penetrable, he said.

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NASA Begins Assembling Spacecraft to Study Enormous Metallic Asteroid

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NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California got a package last week, and it’s much more important than the smattering of Amazon impulse purchases that show up on most of our doorsteps. JPL has taken delivery of the Psyche spacecraft from Maxar Technologies and is now starting final assembly. Next year, this piece of hardware will ride a SpaceX rocket into orbit, and then it’s off to the asteroid belt to study its namesake, the metal-rich asteroid 16 Psyche. 

JPL is shooting for an August 2022 launch for Psyche, which will start it on a nearly four-year journey to the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Along the way, it will pass within just 500 kilometers of Mars. Then, it’s on to 16 Psyche, the heaviest known M-type asteroid that all by itself has about 1 percent of the asteroid belt’s mass thanks to its mostly iron-nickel composition. Scientists believe that Psyche is the exposed core of a protoplanet that collided with another object in the distant past, stripping away its outer crust.

The chance to study a planetary core up close, even one that’s been exposed to space for billions of years, is something NASA couldn’t pass up. The agency chose Psyche as part of the Discovery program in 2017. Missions under the Discovery banner are cheaper than those in New Frontiers or Flagship programs, which can run into the billions of dollars. Psyche is expected to cost around $ 117 million, including launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket. 

Psyche is an average of 111 km (69 miles) in diameter with a maximum diameter of 277 km, making it larger than the states of Rhode Island and Delaware.

The newly arrived construct at JPL is what’s known as the Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP) Chassis. This large, boxy module accounts for more than 80 percent of the total spacecraft mass and includes fully integrated propulsion, navigation, thermal, and electrical systems. Now it’s up to JPL engineers to complete the spacecraft by integrating communication, scientific instruments, and other systems. Psyche will reach its destination with the help of an SPT-140 engine, a Hall-effect thruster that uses solar power to accelerate xenon ions to produce thrust. It’s not much thrust — the SPT-140’s thrust is measured in micro-newtons — but it can accelerate continuously for long periods. 

Psyche will use three instruments to study the asteroid: a multispectral imager to take photos of the surface, a gamma-ray spectrometer to analyze the asteroid’s elemental composition, and a magnetometer to measure its magnetic field. The image above is just an artist’s rendering, so we don’t know what the spacecraft will discover when reaching its eponymous asteroid. Regardless, this mission could change our understanding of planetary formation.

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Moderna begins COVID-19 vaccine trial in kids under age of 12

Moderna Inc. has begun dosing patients in a mid-to-late stage study of its COVID-19 vaccine, mRNA-1273, in children aged six months to less than 12 years, the company said on Tuesday.

The study will assess the safety and effectiveness of two doses of mRNA-1273 given 28 days apart, and intends to enrol about 6,750 children in Canada and the United States.

The vaccine was approved for use by Health Canada on Dec. 23 for Canadians aged 18 and older. Moderna is under contract to deliver two million vaccine doses to the country by the end of March.

The vaccine has also been authorized for emergency use in Americans who are aged 18 and older.

The Moderna vaccine is made from messenger RNA, or mRNA, a type of genetic material that is used by cells to translate instructions found in DNA to make proteins.

In this case, the instructions tell a human cell how to make a stabilized version of the spike protein for SARS-CoV2. That introduces the protein into the body so immune cells can learn to recognize it and produce antibodies against it.

In a separate study that began in December, Moderna is also testing mRNA-1273 in adolescents between 12 and 18 years old.

The latest study is being conducted in collaboration with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.

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CBC | Health News

Moderna begins testing on its new COVID-19 vaccine candidate

Moderna Inc. said on Monday it had dosed the first participant in an early-stage study of a new COVID-19 vaccine candidate that could potentially be stored and shipped in refrigerators instead of freezers.

The company said its new candidate could make it easier for distribution, especially in developing countries where supply chain issues could hamper vaccination drives.

The early-stage study will assess the safety and immunogenicity of the next-generation vaccine, designated as mRNA-1283, at three dose levels, and will be given to healthy adults either as a single dose, or in two doses 28 days apart, the company said.

Moderna also plans to evaluate the new vaccine, mRNA-1283, as a potential booster shot in future studies.

Last week, Moderna began dosing the first participants in a study testing COVID-19 booster vaccine candidates targeting the variant, known as B.1.351, that was first detected in South Africa.

The booster vaccine candidates, designated mRNA-1273.351, will be tested in a trial of both a variant-specific shot and a multivalent shot, according to the company’s announcement.

Moderna’s first vaccine (mRNA-1273) was approved for use by Health Canada on Dec. 23.

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CBC | Health News

Brier in the bubble: Gushue begins title defence with opening draw win over Epping

Brad Gushue picked up where he left off at the Canadian men’s curling championship on Friday night.

In his first game with the full foursome of Mark Nichols, Brett Gallant and Geoff Walker since winning the Tim Hortons Brier a year ago, the defending champs showed few signs of rust in a clinical 6-2 win over Ontario’s John Epping.

  • Watch and engage with CBC Sports’ That Curling Show live every day of The Brier at 7:30 p.m. ET on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, as well as streamed live on CBC Gem and CBCSports.ca

Canada shot 91 per cent as a team while Gushue threw a perfect 100 per cent, numbers he felt may have been a little too kind.

“To use a golf expression, there’s no pictures on the scorecard,” Gushue said with a smile. “There were some throws out there that were pretty gross. But we got a lot out of every shot.

“I think we only had one shot [that] we didn’t get anything out of. That was a goal that we had coming into this game and I thought we executed that very well.”

THAT CURLING SHOW | Setting the table for a stacked 2021 Brier:

Hosts Colleen Jones and Devin Heroux break down the 2021 Brier field with guests Colin Hodgson, Brendan Bottcher and Glenn Howard. 54:13

It was the long-awaited return of top-flight domestic men’s curling after a season limited to just a few bonspiels due to the pandemic.

The opening draw at the Markin MacPhail Centre came on the heels of a successful Canadian women’s curling championship, the first of seven events to be played in a so-called bubble setting at Canada Olympic Park.

In other Draw 1 games, Saskatchewan’s Matt Dunstone dumped Nunavut’s Peter Mackey 10-2, Wild Card Two’s Kevin Koe beat Nova Scotia’s Scott McDonald 7-4 and Quebec’s Michael Fournier edged Greg Smith of Newfoundland and Labrador 7-6.

Gushue’s team played in a couple events last fall in Halifax with substitute players as the Alberta-based Walker remained out west.

WATCH | Gushue kicks off Brier defence with win over Epping:

Team Canada’s Brad Gushue makes a nice shot in the 6th end to set him up for 2 points, goes on to defeat Ontario’s John Epping 6-2 in Draw 1 of the 2021 Brier. 0:51

The teams blanked the first three ends as they got a feel for playing on arena ice again.

Gallant made a brilliant triple takeout early on and jokingly waved to the cardboard cutouts stationed throughout the spectator-free arena.

Epping was heavy on a hit-and-roll attempt in the fourth end that set up a Gushue draw for two.

Ontario settled for a single in the fifth before a Gushue hit and roll set up another deuce in the sixth end. The teams shook hands after a Canada single in the ninth end.

“That was fun,” Nichols said. “The leadup to this has been tough in terms of the isolation and stuff like that. So to get out there and play a competitive game — it felt exactly how I thought it would.

“There was no easing into it or anything. We were just right back to it so it felt really good.”

THAT CURLING SHOW | Colin Hodgson discusses importance of maintaining mental health:

The Team McEwen lead says he doesn’t play to win gold medals and hopes to use his curling platform to encourage young people to be themselves on social media. 2:22

Ontario finished at 82 per cent overall and Epping was at 72 per cent.

For most teams, it was their first competitive game action in several months.

Some provincial and territorial teams were able to play down in recent weeks, but most rinks were invited by their respective associations when championships were cancelled due to the pandemic.

Two more wild-card entries were added this year, boosting the field to 18 teams. Gushue’s team had an automatic entry as returning champions.

“The first game — we were trying not to fall down and hurt ourselves,” Gushue said with a smile. “The nervous legs and everything that we had. I felt pretty shaky from the combination of nerves and not practising as much as we normally do coming in. So my focus was just on that.”

Players are staying in a hotel across the road from the WinSport Arena and are being tested for COVID-19 on a regular basis. Coaches and team alternates wore masks on the end benches.

Electronic hog-line sensors on the stone handles were not used for the second straight event due to equipment delays as a result of the pandemic. The honour system was in effect.

Three draws were scheduled for Saturday. Preliminary-round play continues through Thursday night.

The top four teams in each pool will advance to the two-day championship pool starting March 12. The top three teams will move on to the playoffs on March 14.

THAT CURLING SHOW | Jamie Korab remembers Walter Gretzky:

2006 Olympic gold medallist curler Jamie Korab tells That Curling Show about the time he met The Great One’s dad and how it felt like visiting an old friend. 1:59

The second- and third-place teams will meet in an afternoon semifinal with the winner to play the first-place team for the championship.

The Brier winner will earn $ 100,000 of the $ 300,000 total purse, return as Team Canada at the 2022 Brier in Lethbridge, Alta., and earn a berth in the Olympic Trials in November at Saskatoon.

The champions will also represent Canada at the April 2-11 world men’s curling championship in the Calgary bubble.

Kerri Einarson won the Scotties Tournament of Hearts last weekend. She’ll represent Canada at the April 30-May 9 women’s world curling championship, which was added to the bubble calendar Friday.

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Moderna begins studying potential COVID-19 vaccine booster targetting variant first detected in South Africa

Drug manufacturer Moderna says it will begin testing a variant-specific version of its COVID-19 vaccine that would target the B1351 variant first detected in South Africa.  

The company has previously reported that its original two-dose vaccine — already approved for use in Canada — appears to provide protection against the B117 variant first detected in the U.K., as well as the B1351 variant, though its own research suggests it may be less effective against the latter

The company says it will study the B1351 variant-specific vaccine both as a potential booster to the original COVID-19 vaccine and as a standalone for people who have not yet received a vaccine at all. 

It will study the outcomes of three different scenarios:

  • A single shot of the B1351 variant-specific vaccine. 
  • A shot combining both the original vaccine and the B1351 variant-specific booster. 
  • A booster of the original vaccine, added to the original two-dose version. 

The B1351-specific vaccine will undergo clinical trials at the National Institutes for Health in the U.S.

“As we seek to defeat COVID-19, we must be vigilant and proactive as new variants of SARS-CoV-2 emerge,” said Stéphane Bancel, CEO of Moderna in a statement. 

“Leveraging the flexibility of our mRNA platform, we are moving quickly to test updates to the vaccines that address emerging variants of the virus in the clinic.”

Moderna reported last month that its vaccine was essentially as effective against the B117 variant as it was to prior variants.

But it found there was a reduction in its neutralizing ability against the B1351 variant. 

Neutralizing antibodies are one of the body’s immune responses to control viral infections.

South Africa paused its rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine after data from a small trial suggested the vaccine did not protect against mild to moderate illness from the B1351 variant now dominant in the country.

Johnson & Johnson, Oxford-AstraZeneca and Novavax have all looked at how their vaccines perform against the B1351 variant.

WATCH | Doctor calls for aggressive action to target COVID-19 variants:

In an interview on Rosemary Barton Live, Dr. Brooks Fallis speaks out against reopening plans in several provinces as officials study potential implications of the spread of new COVID-19 variants. 8:46

Variants confirmed around the world

The B1351 variant has been detected in at least 40 countries while the B117, first detected in the U.K., has now been identified in 80. Both have been found in Canada. 

Health Canada would need to approve any booster or new vaccine against the B1351 variant before it could be administered here.

The prime minister confirmed Wednesday that Moderna will deliver the two million doses of COVID-19 vaccine it is contracted to provide Canada by the end of March. 

Justin Trudeau said Canada expects to receive 460,000 doses the week of March 8 and 840,000 doses beginning  March 22.

That’s in addition to the 518,000 Moderna shots that have been administered in this country already and the 168,000 doses that are set to arrive this week.

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CBC | Health News

The pros and cons of online booking portals for COVID-19 vaccines once mass immunization begins

Most provinces and territories will be using online portals to sign Canadians up for COVID-19 vaccinations as they become more widely available next month, according to a survey by CBC News.

Every province that has shared their plans will use some online sign-up, as will Yukon and the Northwest Territories. The option to book by phone will be available across Canada, and Nunavut is scheduling vaccination appointments strictly by phone.

While vaccinations started back in December 2020, what’s soon changing is the pace and distribution list — from targetted high-risk groups like seniors in long-term care, to the general population, starting with the oldest first in many jurisdictions.

“That is absolutely what we need to be doing,” said epidemiologist Kirsten Fiest, the Director of Research & Innovation in Critical Care Medicine and an assistant professor at the University of Calgary. 

“I think the efficiency piece is really the most critical.”

But, while health officials and independent experts agree online appointment booking sites will be essential to managing a mass vaccination campaign, they’ve also raised problematic questions of equity in parts of the U.S.

WATCH | Some say online vaccine portals could shut out most vulnerable:

As vaccinations ramp up in Canada, many provinces are talking about using online portals to help organize and register people for their shots. But some people worry that the Canadians who are most vulnerable and have the greatest need for the vaccine could end up getting lower priority. 2:01

Stories in the Los Angeles Times, New York Times and Washington Post have documented how online booking has prevented senior citizens, racialized individuals and poor people from getting fair access to vaccination. In some cases activists have stepped in to book shots for those who lack tech savviness, struggle with communication or cannot afford the devices, data plans or internet service.     

The problems seen south of the border concern Fiest.

“You have to worry that something similar could happen here.”  

Kirsten Fiest, an epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Calgary believes online portals to sign up for COVID-19 vaccination will be an essential part of the mass immunization effort, because they’re efficient — but not without problems. (Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary)


Cross-country picture for online portals  

While neither Newfoundland and Labrador nor New Brunswick would confirm plans for online booking options, slots for coronavirus immunizations can already be reserved through web sites in PEI, and the Northwest Territories.   

Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta told CBC News they intend to offer web-based sign ups, without providing a timeline.

Quebec, Ontario, and B.C all say they’ll launch online sites for booking vaccination relatively soon.  

Quebec said its site could be online before the end of the month. 

Ontario said it has successfully tested a scheduling site it developed with three American companies in January, but the province’s Ministry of Health would only say it expected to launch it “in the coming weeks.”   

B.C. said its booking site will be launched to the public in March, and has released sample images of the COVID-19 immunization record card citizens will receive.  

British Columbia says it will have an online portal open in March for COVID-19 vaccinations for the general population. People will have the option to receive a paper record of their vaccination, like the one above, and a digital record. (Government of B.C.)

Online booking portals currently running in Yukon and Nova Scotia were built by CANImmunize, the Ottawa based tech firm co-founded by Dr. Kumanan Wilson, an internal medicine physician and senior scientist at Ottawa Hospital.

CANImmunize started out as an app for tracking vaccine records a decade ago, and was supported by the Public Health Agency of Canada.

The company has expanded its scope offering more services to help fight the pandemic because “this will be the largest mass healthcare intervention in our lifetime,” said Wilson, “and probably the most important.” 

Wilson says CANImmunize is in talks with other provinces interested in its tech, but declined to name them.

Dr. Kumanan Wilson, an internal medicine physician at Ottawa Hospital is also co-Founder of CANImmunize, the company that created online vaccine sign-up portals for Nova Scotia and Yukon. Wilson says vaccinating people for COVID-19 ‘will be the largest mass healthcare intervention in our lifetime.’ (Kim Barnhadt/CANImmunize)


Perpetuating the ‘digital divide’  

With millions of Canadians clamouring for COVID-19 vaccines, using technology to help facilitate booking shots will make the process more convenient for many Canadians and more efficient for health departments.  

“I think that we have a mass vaccination strategy that will work for a lot of people,” said Dr. Kwame McKenzie, a physician and the CEO of the Wellesley Institute, a non-profit group in Toronto that works in research and policy issues to improve health equity.  

“The problem is that there are some people who are at highest risk that it won’t work for at all.”

Dr. Kwame McKenzie, a psychiatrist and CEO of the Wellesley Institute, a Toronto-based think-tank that advises on policy for more equitable health care in urban communities. He’s concerned the process to sign-up for vaccines might make existing inequities worse. (Richard Agecoutay/CBC)


McKenzie is concerned the mass vaccination campaigns across Canada built on the power of online booking portals will perpetuate the country’s “digital divide.”  

He says the seniors, racialized groups, low income groups, and people with disabilities who have been at higher risk of getting COVID-19, are exactly the same groups who are less likely to have computers, broadband, and be “digitally savvy.”

Having call centres for phone bookings isn’t a fix-all, he said, if people using pay-as-you-go credits end up on hold for hours.  

“That could be all your credits for a week,” he said, “and the most likely scenario is that you’d use your credits before you got through. And that’s your opportunity gone.”

He also points to Statistics Canada data that shows about 20 per cent of Canadians have a mother tongue other than English or French. 

Bookings in Canada’s official languages, said McKenzie, could present challenges not just for younger  people new to Canada from places like South Asia or Africa, but also for some older Canadians from places like Italy, Portugal or Ukraine, who still function primarily in their first languages. 

Alternatives for access

McKenzie wants to see vaccination slots proactively held back for those who will struggle to book online or by phone. 

He believes community outreach for at-risk groups should be coupled with no-appointment-necessary walk-up vaccination sites in targeted areas.

In Canada, we say diversity is our strength … that means that we need a diverse vaccine roll out strategy to meet the needs of that diverse population.– Dr. Kwame McKenzie, CEO The Wellesley Institute

He also said on-the-job immunization clinics for essential workers should be part of vaccine access.        

“In Canada, we say diversity is our strength. And that’s something I believe, but that means that we need a diverse vaccine roll out strategy to meet the needs of that diverse population.”  

Several provinces have announced plans for mobile vaccination clinics, “focused immunizations teams” and community clinics set up by local public health units to reach vulnerable groups. 

Fiest believes provinces will have to be careful that “whatever system is going to be rolled out is not making health inequities worse.”  

A long process and public patience running low  

A number of questions have poured into the CBC News COVID@cbc.ca email address in recent days from Canadians anxious for specifics about when and how they can sign up for vaccination. 

Linda O’Neil of Barrie, Ont., is one of them. 

Linda O’Neil of Barrie, Ont., is concerned about when and how she’ll be able to get a COVID-19 vaccination booking for her mother, who is in her late 80s. (Submitted by Linda O’Neil)


She’s worried about getting a booking for her mother, who’s in her late 80s. 

“It’s just really frustrating, because my feeling is they’ve had quite a few weeks to be able to prepare this plan,” said O’Neil. 

“So I’m just looking to have it publicized now that the vaccine is starting to come in.”

While O’Neil and millions more wait for details from their provinces, Wilson sees a silver lining in COVID-19 accelerating what he sees as overdue technological change in Canada’s medical system. He acknowledges that older Canadians and others may need help figuring out how online registration works.

“In my mind for immunization, an individual, the health care provider, and the government would have the same immunization information in real time,” he said “that’s probably true for immunization, but also for all of our health care.” 


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Trump’s defence begins making the case for acquittal on inciting U.S. Capitol riot

Donald Trump’s defence lawyers will make their case on Friday why the former U.S. president is not guilty of inciting last month’s deadly riot at the Capitol, as the Senate races toward a final vote in his second impeachment trial as soon as Saturday.

Trump’s lawyer, David Schoen, said the defence team would take “three to four hours” on Friday to lay out its arguments against convicting Trump of inciting the Jan. 6 riot, which sent lawmakers scrambling for safety and resulted in the deaths of five people, including a police officer.

Schoen did not discuss the defence strategy, but Trump’s lawyers have argued his rhetoric was protected by the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech and that prosecutors had not directly connected the actions of the rioters to Trump.

Democratic prosecutors on Thursday wrapped up two days of arguments for Trump’s conviction, saying the Republican knew what would happen when he exhorted supporters to march on the Capitol as Congress gathered to certify Democrat Joe Biden’s election win, and that he should be held accountable.

WATCH | House prosecutors wrap up impeachment case:

House prosecutors wrapped up their impeachment case against Donald Trump on Thursday insisting the Capitol invaders believed they were acting on ‘the president’s orders’ to stop Joe Biden’s election and warning that he would do it again if not convicted. 2:44

“If he gets back into office and it happens again, we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves,” lead impeachment manager Rep. Jamie Raskin told senators.

Senate conviction unlikely

The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives charged Trump on Jan. 13 with inciting the insurrection, but Democrats are unlikely to gain a Senate conviction and bar Trump from running for office again.

Conviction requires a two-thirds majority in the 100-member Senate, which means at least 17 Republicans would have to defy Trump despite his continued popularity among Republican voters.

On Tuesday, the Senate voted largely along party lines to move ahead with the impeachment trial even though Trump’s term ended on Jan. 20. Six of 50 Republican senators broke with their caucus to side with Democrats.

In their arguments, the Democratic prosecutors provided numerous examples of Trump’s actions prior to the rampage to illustrate what he intended when he told supporters to go to the Capitol and “fight like hell” as lawmakers convened for the election certification.

Trump falsely claimed his Nov. 3 election loss was the result of widespread fraud.

“He knew that egged on by his tweets, his lies and his promise of a ‘wild’ time in Washington to guarantee his grip on power, his most extreme followers would show up bright and early, ready to attack, ready to engage in violence, ready to ‘fight like hell’ for their hero,” Raskin said.

WATCH | Several Republicans criticized Trump in immediate riot aftermath:

House manager Joe Neguse used Republicans’ video statements about Trump’s involvement in encouraging the riot to further the Democrats’ argument that he incited violence. 2:08 

Several Republican senators praised the presentation of the Democratic House prosecutors, although they questioned whether it had changed any minds.

“There was a lot of useful information presented today and the Democrats certainly presented an emotionally jarring and powerful argument, but it doesn’t change my opinion that removing a former president from an office he no longer holds is unconstitutional,” Republican Sen. Mike Braun tweeted.

Republican senators met with defence lawyers

Three Republican senators who are sitting as jurors at the trial — Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham and Mike Lee — met with the Trump defence team on Thursday night to discuss its legal approach, a source familiar with the meeting said.

“We were discussing their strategy for tomorrow and we were sharing our thoughts in terms of where the argument was and where it should go,” Cruz told reporters.

Republican Senator Bill Cassidy told reporters he wanted to hear the defence respond to the timeline laid out by House prosecutors detailing Trump’s inaction as the riot developed and his call to a senator even as lawmakers were being evacuated.

“Now, presumably since we were at that point being evacuated I think … there was some awareness of the events,” Cassidy said. “And so what I hope the defence does is explain that.”

Neither side has so far announced an intention to call witnesses, leaving senators on track for final arguments and a vote as soon as Saturday.

Trump is the first U.S. president to be impeached twice and the first to face trial after leaving office. His first impeachment trial, which stemmed from his efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate Biden, ended in an acquittal a year ago in what was then a Republican-controlled Senate.

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Trump’s 2nd impeachment trial begins with dramatic video of the Jan. 6 Capitol attack

Donald Trump’s historic second impeachment trial opened Tuesday in the Senate with graphic video of the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Congress and the defeated former president whipping up a rally crowd — saying “We’re going to walk down to the Capitol!” — as he encouraged a futile fight over his presidency.

The lead House prosecutor told senators the case would present “cold, hard facts” against Trump, who is charged with inciting the siege of the Capitol to overturn the presidential election he lost to Democrat Joe Biden. Senators sitting as jurors, many who themselves fled for safety that day, watched the jarring video of the chaotic scene, which included rioters pushing past police to storm the halls and Trump flags waving.

“That’s a high crime and misdemeanor,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, in opening remarks. “If that’s not an impeachable offence, then there’s no such thing.”

Trump is the first president to face impeachment charges after leaving office and the first to be twice impeached . The Capitol siege stunned the world as rioters ransacked the building to try to stop the certification of Biden’s victory, a domestic attack on the nation’s seat of government unlike any in its history. Five people died.

A Donald Trump flag is seen as a mob climbs through a window they broke at the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

Figure of speech, say Trump lawyers

Each side has two hours to make its case on Tuesday, after which the Senate is expected to vote and reject the Republican efforts to dismiss the trial.

Trump’s lawyers insist that he is not guilty on the sole charge of “incitement of insurrection,” his fiery words just a figure of speech, even as he encouraged a rally crowd to “fight like hell” for his presidency. Five people died as a result of the ensuing siege of the Capitol.

Front Burner21:38Trump’s impeachment: Will history repeat itself?

Donald Trump is facing an historic second Senate impeachment trial. Will the former U.S. president avoid conviction once again? Politico reporter Andrew Desiderio explains why all signs point to an acquittal. 21:38

While acquittal is likely, the trial will test the nation’s attitude toward his brand of presidential power, the Democrats’ resolve in pursuing him, and the loyalty of Trump’s Republican allies defending him.

“In trying to make sense of a second Trump trial, the public should keep in mind that Donald Trump was the first president ever to refuse to accept his defeat,” said Timothy Naftali, a clinical associate professor at New York University and an expert on Richard Nixon’s impeachment saga, which ended with Nixon’s resignation rather than his impeachment.

“This trial is one way of having that difficult national conversation about the difference between dissent and insurrection,” Naftali said.

Security remained extremely tight at the Capitol, a changed place after the attack, fenced off with razor wire and armed National Guard troops on patrol. The nine House managers walked across the shuttered building to prosecute the case before the Senate.

Constitutional arguments up first

In filings, lawyers for the former president lobbed a wide-ranging attack against the House case, dismissing the trial as “political theatre” on the same Senate floor invaded by the mob.

Trump’s defenders are preparing to challenge both the constitutionality of the trial and any suggestion that he was to blame for the insurrection. They suggest that Trump was simply exercising his First Amendment rights when he encouraged his supporters to protest at the Capitol, and they argue the Senate is not entitled to try Trump now that he has left office.

WATCH | Amherst College law professor Lawrence Douglas on Trump’s 2nd trial:

The second impeachment trial of former U.S. president Donald Trump is not without precedent, says law professor Lawrence Douglas, nor is it likely to result in a conviction. 4:04

Witnesses unlikely to be called

But the House prosecutors argued there is no “January exception” for a president on his way out the door. Rep. Joe Neguse, referred to the corruption case of William Belknap, a war secretary in the Grant administration, who was impeached, tried and ultimately acquitted by the Senate after leaving office.

“President Trump was not impeached for run of the mill corruption, misconduct. He was impeached for inciting a violent insurrection – an insurrection where people died, in this building,” Neguse said.”If Congress stands by, it would invite future presidents to use their power without any fear of accountability.”

It appears unlikely that the House prosecutors will call witnesses, in part because the senators were witnesses themselves. At his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, Trump has declined a request to testify.

Trump’s defence team has said it plans to counter with its own cache of videos of Democratic politicians making fiery speeches. “We have some videos up our sleeve,” senior Trump adviser Jason Miller said on a podcast Monday.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday that Biden would not be watching the trial of his predecessor.

“Joe Biden is the president, he’s not a pundit,” she said. “He’s not going to opine on back and forth arguments.”

WATCH | Trump’s First Amendment rights could rest on intent:

The events, the words and the context leading up to the Capitol Hill riots will be the key evidence used in former U.S. president Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial in the Senate. 6:39

Typically senators sit at their desks for such occasions, but the COVID-19 crisis has upended even this tradition. Instead, senators will be allowed to spread out, in the “marble room” just off the Senate floor, where proceedings will be shown on TV, and in the public galleries above the chamber, to accommodate social distancing, according to a person familiar with the discussions.

Trump’s second impeachment trial is expected to diverge from the lengthy, complicated affair of a year ago. In that case, Trump was charged with having privately pressured Ukraine to dig up dirt on Biden, then a Democratic rival for the presidency.

This time, Trump’s “stop the steal” rally rhetoric and the storming of the Capitol played out for the world to see, as well the preceding two months in which he claimed without merit on Twitter and in appearances that he was legitimate winner of the election.

The Current20:13What Donald Trump’s impeachment trial means for U.S. political institutions

As former U.S. president Donald Trump’s impeachment trial gets underway this week for his role in inciting the U.S. Capitol attack, some say the country’s political institutions are at stake. To unpack the issue, Matt Galloway speaks with Ken Mack, the Lawrence D. Biele professor of law and affiliate professor of history at Harvard University, and Karen Tumulty, a political columnist for the Washington Post. 20:13

The Democratic-led House impeached the president swiftly, one week after the most violent attack on Congress in more than 200 years. 

A conviction in a Senate trial requires two-thirds — or 67 senators — to vote in favour.

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NASA Begins Planning Mars Sample Return Mission

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NASA has sent numerous robotic explorers to Mars over the years, examining samples and surveying the fascinating geology of the red planet. Still, we could learn much more with Mars samples to examine in detail here on Earth. The recently launched Perseverance rover will lay the groundwork by collecting samples for return to our planet. NASA has now announced it will work with the European Space Agency (ESA) to get those samples back to Earth, but it won’t be cheap. 

Perseverance, previously known as Mars 2020, borrows heavily from the Curiosity rover’s wildly successful design. When it lands on Mars early next year, Perseverance will begin scouring the planet for evidence of life. Along the way, it will scoop up bits of the planet and store them in 43 sample tubes inside the belly of the rover. The rover has a 2-meter robotic arm that will be important in much of its work, but there’s a smaller 0.5-meter arm underneath Perseverance that will assist with collecting core samples in the tubes.

The rover won’t do any analysis of these samples on the ground — it will check the volume and take a photo of each tube, and then it’ll wait on the Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission. NASA has announced the MSR has entered Phase A development during which NASA and the ESA will decide on specific features of the mission. 

NASA techs loading the sample return tubes into Perseverance.

The current plan calls for NASA to contribute a lander and rover, and the ESA will build an orbiter. Following the projected launch in 2026, the lander would touch down near the Perseverance landing site in Jezero Crater. Its task will be to rendezvous with the older rover on the surface (a first of robot Mars exploration). Depending on the state of the Mars 2020 mission, Perseverance might even be able to meet the MSR rover half-way. 

Perhaps the biggest challenge of the MSR mission will be getting the samples off the surface of Mars. The rover will have a small rocket onboard that can break free of Mars’ weak gravity and meet up with the ESA orbiter. While independent reviews support NASA’s decision to move forward with the mission, some worry the high cost could harm other programs. NASA projects it will cost $ 2.9-3.3 billion to get those 43 sample tubes back to Earth. The independent review board says it’ll be closer to $ 3.8-4.4 billion. NASA expects to complete the latest planetary science decadal survey in 2022, and that report will no doubt make suggestions on exploration priorities for the next decade. NASA might not be able to act on all the suggestions if MSR has gobbled up its budget.

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