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Canada must continue investing in economy to exit pandemic more quickly: Duclos

Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos says one lesson learned from recessions and depressions past is to veer away from under-investing in the economy as a crisis comes to an end.

While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to grip much of the country — something Duclos himself didn’t expect to see more than one year on — it’s advice he’s backing as the federal government maps out its economic recovery from the global public health emergency. 

“There is unfortunately … a tendency to under react, to be under prepared and to be under reactive … to the challenges posed either by the health or economic crisis,” the former economics professor said in an interview on Rosemary Barton Live.

“That is a very unfortunate outcome because it means that we are then faced with higher unemployment, lower growth, lower living standards for Canadians and therefore lower taxes and greater deficits over the longer term.”

When the first federal budget in two years is presented later this month, it’s expected to include details of Ottawa’s three-year stimulus plan, which is valued between $ 70 billion and $ 100 billion and is intended to spark the country’s post-pandemic recovery. 

In a pre-budget outlook published last week, Canada’s Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux said the temporary package could provide a “significant boost” to Canada’s economy, but cautioned it could potentially result in “materially larger budget deficits.”

Feds will support Canadians for ‘as long as it takes’

The stimulus plan was not factored into the PBO’s overall report due to a lack of details about the package. The spending watchdog projected the government would run a $ 363.4 billion deficit in the 2020-21 fiscal year — lower than the $ 381 billion figure Ottawa predicted last fall. 

But the PBO noted the deficit should decrease in the years ahead — and projected employment would return to pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2021.

We are facing a third wave, which was both unexpected and certainly not the outcome we were hoping for…– Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos

When asked by CBC chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton whether pandemic support for Canadians should continue to be extended, Duclos said the government plans to stick around “for as long as it takes.”

“Obviously, we are facing a third wave, which was both unexpected and certainly not the outcome we were hoping for at this time of the year. I think we all look forward to seeing the budget on the 19th of April,” he said.

Variant-driven surge in cases

The PBO estimate was crafted with the assumption that a so-called “third wave” of COVID-19 cases and infections of coronavirus variants would not be severe, particularly as more Canadians get vaccinated. 

In recent days, parts of Quebec have shut down amid a rise in cases, while Ontario imposed an “emergency brake” Saturday to curb the rapid spread of the virus. British Columbia, meanwhile, implemented three weeks of its own sweeping restrictions as variants of concern drive transmission of COVID-19. 

The country surpassed one million confirmed cases of COVID-19 this weekend.


Ontario Premier Doug Ford announces an Ontario-wide ‘shutdown’ on April 1, as intensive care admissions in the province related to the coronavirus surpass those of the second wave of the pandemic. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

“I think we’re going to see a rapidly increasing number of cases because of the variants’ increased transmissibility,” Dr. Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick’s chief medical officer of health, said in a separate interview. “I think that’s very concerning.”

Russell cited “variants, vaccines and vigilance” as the three most critical factors that will determine how quickly Canada finds its way out of the pandemic.

“I would say go below the headlines and the sound bites to understand the numbers. The risks right now in every province is higher to get infected with COVID-19 and one of the variants,” she said. “That risk is higher than any kind of a problem that you could have with any of the vaccines at this point in time.”

WATCH | Critical time for vigilance, says Russell:

New Brunswick’s chief medical health officer, Dr. Jennifer Russell, says it’s a critical time for vigilance as the Atlantic provinces grapple with more cases involving new variants of concern. 8:43

Vaccinations alone not enough, Duclos says

Duclos also appealed to Canadians to be “mindful and focus on the work that each of us needs to do in the next few critical weeks.”

That includes refraining from any non-essential travel, regardless of someone’s vaccination status.

“It’s not the time to travel now and it’s not the time to consider opening up our borders with any country, including the United States,” Duclos said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control declared last week that people who are fully vaccinated can travel within the country without requiring a COVID-19 test or needing to quarantine.

“Even in the United States, where vaccination is more advanced … we’re currently speaking of a fourth wave,” Duclos said. “So that tells us that vaccination is not enough.” 

You can watch full episodes of Rosemary Barton Live on CBC Gem, the CBC’s streaming service.

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MSI Expects GPU Shipments to Continue Dropping, May Raise Prices in 2021

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Buying a video card has been an exercise in futility for the last year, and don’t hold your breath for it to get better anytime soon. During a recent investor call, MSI chairman Joseph Hsu said the company expects the supply of video cards and other in-demand gaming components will continue to drop. MSI points to dropping shipments from both Nvidia and AMD as the primary culprit, and as a result, GPU prices could increase even before they get to the resellers who are charging an arm and a leg. 

Currently, you’d be extremely lucky to find a GPU in stock at any reputable retailer. The listings available online are almost all resellers who have used bots and other sketchy methods to vacuum up the very limited supply. Then they’ll sell those cards for as much as double MSRP, and people will pay it. For example, if you wanted to pick up an RTX 3090 that should retail for around $ 700, you’ll probably have to pay about twice that. That’s if you can find one! Even scalpers are starting to come up dry. 

MSI says that its 2020 sales rose by 30 to 50 percent compared with 2019. Although profits in the final quarter of the year were softer than expected, the company still saw its highest annual profits ever. The problem going forward is that 53 percent of MSI’s revenue comes from GPU sales. With shipments expected to continue dropping, MSI says it’ll probably have to charge more for each card. The situation is unlikely to improve in 2021. MSI has projected interest in GPUs, motherboards, and gaming notebooks will continue to rise at double-digit rates. 

The shortage is the result of numerous interconnected events, all conspiring to make gaming hardware obscenely expensive. There’s the pandemic, which has made gaming a more attractive way to pass the time. The global disruptions stemming from COVID-19 also affected supply chains, leading to semiconductor shortages. Technically, it exacerbated a problem that already existed, but the results are the same. 

At the same time, the increasing price of cryptocurrency has made GPU-based mining profitable again, prompting miners to scoop up many of the cards intended for gaming. Nvidia hopes its upcoming CMP cards will loosen demand a bit. These cards are specifically designed for crypto mining — they don’t even have video outputs. Nvidia also said CMP production would not further reduce its shipments of gaming cards, but it’s just not a great time to be a gamer.

Now read:

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In face of deadly pandemic, Ontario long-term care homes continue breaking COVID-19 safety rules

Ten months into the COVID-19 pandemic, inspectors were still catching Ontario long-term care homes violating crucial infection prevention and control measures.

A CBC News data investigation has found 1 in 12 long-term care facilities in the province were caught breaking COVID-specific government directives between June 2020 and January 2021. Many infractions occurred during or after outbreaks.

“To have egregious infractions in terms of not following standard operating procedure for things like infection prevention and control, these operators need to be held to account,” said Dr. Nathan Stall, a geriatrician at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto.

The COVID-19 death toll in Ontario’s long-term care homes was 3,743 residents as of Feb. 26, 2021, according to the province. Of those deaths, 1,848 occurred before Aug. 31, 2020, which means the second spike in long-term care homes was even deadlier than the first.

Improper screening was a frequent issue at homes. Many were cited for not asking staff members or visitors questions or taking their temperatures, and failing to ensure they were wearing masks as they entered or left the premises. 

Some of the reports from provincial inspectors also detail long lists of infection control issues. While other companies are reflected in the data, the number of Caressant Care-owned homes with inspection violations of COVID-19 directives is high relative to the number of homes owned by the company.

WATCH | Several Ontario nursing homes broke rules meant to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks:

A CBC News investigation has revealed that multiple Ontario long-term care homes didn’t follow infection prevention rules meant to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks with some breaking the rules during or after an outbreak. 2:50

At Caressant Care Listowel Nursing Home west of Toronto, where an outbreak infected nearly every resident of the home in January, an inspector found 12 major infection control violations during the outbreak. 

“That probably explains quite a bit about how [COVID-19] got through so quickly,” said Alycia Houchen, whose grandfather, Edwin Rutherford, was one of 13 residents who died in the home, which has room for 45 people.

In all, 43 residents and 26 staff were infected during the winter outbreak at the home.

The violations included staff not being aware of the correct personal protective equipment to wear and not cleaning their hands after taking care of residents; staff working with both COVID-19 positive and negative residents; and hand sanitizer not being available in all areas of the home. 

Houchen, herself a personal support worker at a different retirement home, says the inspection report findings are “disturbing and disgusting.”

“They have had plenty of time to prepare and to do whatever they needed to do, and they obviously didn’t do it.”

Caressant Care owns 15 homes in Ontario. Four of those facilities were caught breaking COVID-19 safety directives during inspections. Like the location in Listowel, two others were found to be in violation of the infection control rules during outbreaks in December or January.

The company declined to comment for this story.

Big operator accounts for more than 20% of violations

Extendicare, one of Ontario’s largest long-term care operators, which owns or manages 69 facilities in the province, was cited for the most violations of infection control and prevention directives.

Homes owned by the company accounted for 13 per cent of the provincial total of 60 violations. When homes the company manages are included, that increases to 22 per cent of the violations. 

Other big chains such as Sienna Senior Living and Revera accounted for three and five per cent, respectively.

Inspection citations against Ontario’s long-term care homes hardly ever come with any consequences. Homes are asked to fix the problem, but even if an inspector returns and finds the same issue, there are no fines or penalties. In very rare cases, homes are barred from accepting new residents. 

Extendicare says inspectors visited its owned and managed homes almost 200 times in the past six months. 

“While some inspections do report issues related to COVID directives that require attention, these represent a small minority of the visits,” Extendicare said in a statement to CBC News. “While our goal is to have no issues, it’s important to note that in 93 per cent of the inspections, there were no COVID-related compliance issues.”

For-profit long-term care homes received 70 per cent of the violation citations despite accounting for 56 per cent of the homes in the province. An additional eight per cent of the violations were found in non-profit homes managed by for-profit companies.


Tamara Daly, director of York University’s Centre for Aging Research and Education, says research suggests conditions are better at non-profit care facilities. (Submitted by Tamara Daly)

That for-profit operators are over-represented in the findings isn’t surprising to Tamara Daly, the director of York University’s Centre for Aging Research and Education. She has been studying the differences between for-profit and non-profit care for years.

“I think, at the end of the day, the working conditions and the caring conditions have been shown to be worse at for-profit facilities and the research data backs this up, both pre-pandemic and during the pandemic,” she said.

CBC News sent the Ontario Ministry of Long-Term Care its findings from the inspection reports. It responded with a statement that said inspectors monitor for the health, safety and quality of care of residents.

“Repeated non-compliance is a serious concern and can result in escalated measures and sanctions by the ministry,” the statement says.

However, past CBC News investigations have found many homes have been cited for repeated issues without any consequences.

Inspectors spot infection control issues during outbreaks

Of the infection control and prevention violations, 52 per cent occurred in homes either during or after an outbreak.

The fact that inspectors were finding repeated violations in the same home, or violations after an outbreak, is very concerning, said Daly.

“To get those reports indicating that there’s still improper use of PPE after an incident, that concerns me greatly, because where is the learning?”

Ten homes were cited for denying entry to essential caregivers. Short staffing in homes has been well documented, and restricting family access means residents often don’t get the care they need, said Daly.

It’s also a quality of life issue, she said.

“Being in long-term care is very different than being in a hospital bed,” she said. “You’re there to live. And I think what we essentially did is we removed that part of their care, the living part, the part that makes life worthwhile.”

Infection control important after vaccinations

Even as residents at Ontario nursing homes get vaccinated, the number of infection control violations is still concerning, said Stall, the geriatrician at Mount Sinai Hospital.

“Vaccine euphoria is a good thing. We should all be excited about this,” he said.

However, he said, we don’t know definitively that the vaccines prevent transmission.


Dr. Nathan Stall is a geriatrician at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto. He says operators not following the rules need to be held to account. (David Common/CBC News)

 

The vaccine supply didn’t make it in time to help at Caressant Care Listowel.

For Houchen, the tragedy was hard to watch from the outside. 

She didn’t get to say goodbye to her grandfather, and as a personal support worker, not being able to help him in his final days made it worse, she said.

“I followed it with my heart breaking,” she said. “Every time [the deaths] climbed up, my heart was just breaking more because there’s nothing you can do, there’s nothing you can do to help.”

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Despite another Scotties heartbreak, Homan and Miskew continue to amaze

This is an excerpt from The Buzzer, which is CBC Sports’ daily email newsletter. Stay up to speed on what’s happening in sports by subscribing here.

Kerri Einarson’s team joined elite company

The 33-year-old skip and her rink from Manitoba won their second consecutive Scotties Tournament of Hearts with a 9-7 victory over Rachel Homan’s Ontario team in last night’s final in Calgary.

Einarson, third Val Sweeting, second Shannon Birchard and lead Briane Meilleur are just the eighth team in the 61-year history of the Canadian women’s curling championship to go back-to-back — and the first since Homan and third Emma Miskew did it in 2013 and ’14 with a different front end than the one they play with now.

By beating Homan’s team in the final for the second straight year, Einarson’s rink also has to be considered the early favourite to win the Olympic trials later this year and represent Canada at the 2022 Games in Beijing.

A few other takeaways from the Scotties:

Homan and Miskew are an incredible duo.

Yes, they’ve now lost three consecutive Scotties finals. But they’ve also won three, and it easily could have been more. Their previous two defeats came in extra ends, and Homan was eight months pregnant for this one. In any case, just getting to the title game three times in a row is a pretty remarkable accomplishment. And there’s a very plausible alternate universe in which Homan and Miskew have reached five straight finals. After winning the Scotties in 2017, they opted to pull out of the ’18 event so they could focus on the Olympics, which started only a few days later.

So, to recap, Homan and Miskew have made it to the final of six of the last eight Scotties they’ve played in and won three of them. They also own a world title and they’ve won the Canadian Olympic trials — arguably the toughest event in the sport. That resumé is already among the greatest in curling history, and it’s probably going to get better. Miskew just turned 32 years old. Homan is still 31.

Einarson’s team might get to play for a world championship after all.

They were denied that opportunity last year when the pandemic hit, and this year’s worlds in Switzerland were also called off. But CBC Sports’ Devin Heroux reports that planning is underway to try to bring the women’s worlds to the Calgary bubble.

Only thing is, the place is pretty booked. The Brier starts Friday and runs through March 14, followed by the Canadian mixed doubles championship March 18-25, the men’s world championship April 2-11, and back-to-back Grand Slam of Curling events that run from April 14-25. So, if they can pull it off, it seems like the women’s worlds would have to start at the tail end of April or early May.

The bubble worked.

Sure, the atmosphere was a little eerie with no fans in attendance (those cardboard cutouts were awfully quiet), but from a health standpoint the entire tournament went off with only one minor hitch. A Draw 3 game between Einarson’s team and the Northwest Territories was postponed after a Northwest Territories player came down with food poisoning. But coronavirus tests for everyone on the team came back negative, and the game was made up two days later.

The Brier is only four days away.

Brad Gushue’s Team Canada begins defence of its national men’s title on Friday night in the Calgary bubble vs. John Epping’s Ontario rink. More good news for curling fans: by popular demand, That Curling Show with Devin Heroux and six-time Scotties champ Colleen Jones will return Friday and run every night of the Brier on the CBC Olympics Twitter, Facebook and YouTube pages.

WATCH | That Curling Show:

1998 Scott champion Cathy King recalls playing against the great Sandra Schmirler and the time she played five games in 27 hours. 53:00

Quickly…

Jamaican sprinter Yohan Blake says he’d rather miss the Tokyo Olympics than get a COVID-19 vaccination. Sounds bold, but it’s probably a moot point because the IOC has already said it won’t require athletes to get vaccinated. Blake, 31, is eyeing a third consecutive Olympic appearance. He took silver in both the 100 and 200 metres at the 2012 Games and was part of the Usain Bolt-anchored teams that won back-to-back 4×100 golds in 2012 and ’16. Blake also won the 100 and 4×100 world titles in 2011 — the year Bolt was disqualified for a false start in the individual final. “I’d rather miss the Olympics than take the vaccine,” Blake told a Jamaican newspaper. He added: “Follow your mind, don’t follow the crowd.” Read more about his anti-vax stance here.

Tiger Woods received a nice tribute. Several golfers wore his signature red shirt and black pants for the final round of a World Golf Championships event in Florida yesterday. Woods is still recovering at a hospital in Los Angeles after suffering major injuries to his right leg, ankle and foot in a car accident last week. He’s already undergone additional procedures on top of the initial surgery performed by orthopedic trauma specialists shortly after the crash, and his golf future remains uncertain. But Sunday’s gesture seemed to raise his spirits. “It is hard to explain how touching today was when I turned on the TV and saw all the red shirts,” a tweet from Tiger’s account read. “To every golfer and every fan, you are truly helping me get through this tough time.” Read more about the Tiger tribute here.

Hockey history was made last night. For the first time ever, New York’s iconic Madison Square Garden hosted a women’s pro hockey game. It was the second game in the second season of the Dream Gap Tour, a series of barnstorming events put on by the Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association. That’s the group that includes basically the entire Canadian and U.S national team rosters and is refusing to play in the NWHL or any other women’s pro league until a stronger one that offers better pay and benefits is created. The next Dream Gap Tour stop is in Chicago this weekend, and you can watch Sunday’s game live at 11:30 a.m. ET on CBC Gem, CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app.

And finally…

Lest you think NBA Top Shot is the only overheated market for basketball collectibles, a Luka Doncic card sold for $ 4.6 million US. That’s the highest price ever paid for a basketball card, destroying the $ 1.857M someone dropped on a Giannis Antetokounmpo in September. Like that one, the Doncic is a rookie card, it’s autographed and, most importantly, only one was made. The record for a card in any sport still belongs to the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle that went for $ 5.2 million in January. And if you’re still wondering what NBA Top Shot is about, read our explainer.

Coming up from CBC Sports

Snowboard alpine world championships: Watch the men’s and women’s parallel slalom events live at 8:45 a.m. ET on CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app.

CBC Sports U: Anyone pursuing a career in sports media might want to check out this free, interactive virtual summit on Wednesday. CBC Sports is bringing together some well-known sports-media personalities to give students an inside look at their experiences and an opportunity to ask questions. Get more details and sign up here.

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Raptors president Masai Ujiri says fight for equality to continue outside of courts

Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri says he will continue to fight for equality outside the courts now that a lawsuit against him has been dropped.

Ujiri issued a statement Monday in which he thanked Raptors players, staff, ownership and fans for standing with him throughout the timeline of the lawsuit, which stemmed from an altercation with a California law enforcement officer at the 2019 NBA Finals in Oakland, Calif.


The lawsuit, filed by Alameda County sheriff’s deputy Alan Strickland and his wife, Kelly, was dropped on Wednesday, as was a countersuit filed by Ujiri.

“I have decided my fight isn’t a legal one,” Ujiri said in the statement.

“Now the challenge is this: What can we do to stop another man or woman from finding themselves in front of a judge or behind bars because they committed no crime other than being Black? That is the work that each one of us must commit to, every day.”

Video of the 2019 incident had started to circulate online last August. Footage of Ujiri speaking about the incident that month was posted to the Raptors’ Twitter feed Monday.

“When I look at this I ask: Who are we as people?” Ujiri said in the video. “Who are we as human beings?

“It comes down to human decency.”

Countersuit alleged unauthorized use of force

Strickland was seeking $ 75,000 US in general damages as well as other compensation.

He alleged he suffered injuries in an altercation when Ujiri tried to make his way onto the court following the Raptors’ championship-clinching victory over the Golden State Warriors on June 13, 2019, at Oakland’s Oracle Arena.

Ujiri’s countersuit alleged unauthorized use of force by Strickland.

The altercation between the men was captured in a widely circulated fan video, which appeared to show Strickland shove Ujiri twice before the Raptors president responded.

Strickland, who alleged Ujiri did not have the necessary credentials to access the court, filed his civil suit after prosecutors decided in October not to press criminal charges against Ujiri.

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Rescuers recover body after Norway landslide, continue search for 9 others

Rescuers found one body on Friday, two days after a landslide in southern Norway swept away at least nine buildings, police said, with nine people still missing.

Another 10 people were injured after Wednesday’s landslide in the residential area in the Gjerdrum municipality, about 30 kilometres northeast of the capital, Oslo.

“One person has been found. Unfortunately this person is confirmed dead,” the head of the police operation at the site, Roy Alkvist, told reporters, declining to give any details about the person.

Emergency workers are continuing their search in what Bjoern Nuland, head of the health team at the site, said was still a rescue operation. A search-and-rescue team from neighbouring Sweden was assisting.

Some 1,000 people have so far been relocated from Gjerdrum, including 46 people from an area two kilometres away from the landslide, after cracks were observed in the ground.


Emergency services work during a rescue operation in Ask on Friday. (Terje Bendiksby/NTB/Reuters)

The landslide and the rescue effort have gripped the Nordic nation of 5.4 million.

King Harald, 83, said at the start of his traditional New Year’s Eve speech on Thursday that the “tragic event leaves a deep impression on us all.”

“I feel with you who go in the New Year with grief and uncertainty,” he said.

“With you who have lost your homes, and who are right now despairing and do not see the way forward.”

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Truckers hope to leave U.K. after European commission says ‘cargo flows need to continue’

Stranded Europe-bound truckers hoped Tuesday to receive the green light to get out of Britain soon, after some of the most dramatic travel restrictions of the pandemic were imposed on the country following the discovery of a potentially more contagious variant of the coronavirus.

More than 1,500 trucks snaked along a major highway in southeast England near the country’s vital Channel ports or crowded into a disused airport, illustrating the scale of Britain’s isolation after countries from Canada to India banned flights from the U.K. and France barred the entry of its trucks for 48 hours beginning Sunday night.

For a country of islands that relies heavily on its commercial links with France, that’s potentially very serious — and raised concerns of food shortages if the restrictions weren’t lifted by Wednesday.

Hopes increased over Tuesday that the stranded drivers may soon be able to get on the road again as the European Union’s executive arm pushed for a co-ordinated response to the travel restrictions on the U.K.

The European Commission said people returning to their home countries or main places of residence should be able to do so provided they test negative for the virus or quarantine.


Although Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said EU countries should work together to “discourage non-essential travel” between the bloc and Britain, he said “blanket travel bans should not prevent thousands of EU and U.K. citizens from returning to their homes.”

The commission added that “cargo flows need to continue uninterrupted.”

‘Speaking constantly’ with France

Home Secretary Priti Patel told BBC radio that the British government is “speaking constantly” with France to get freight moving again. France has said it wants to lift the ban as soon as possible and is looking at ways of testing drivers on their arrival.

While the French ban does not prevent trucks from entering Britain, many vehicles that carry cargo from the country to the continent return laden with goods. The fear is that will fall off — reducing deliveries to Britain at a time of year when the U.K. produces very little of its food and relies heavily on produce brought from Europe by truck.

Also, some drivers or their employers might decide against entering Britain for fear they won’t be able to get back home.

The restrictions were creating a feeling of isolation in Britain akin to what the residents of Hubei province in China at the start of the year or those in northern Italy must have experienced a few months later.

Given that around 10,000 trucks pass through Dover every day, accounting for about 20 per cent of the country’s trade in goods, retailers are getting increasingly concerned if there is no resolution soon.


Turkish long-haul truck drivers sit down to breakfast at a truck stop off the M20 motorway, which leads to the Port of Dover, on Tuesday. (Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images)

Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, warned of potential shortages of food like lettuce, vegetables and fresh fruit after Christmas if the borders are not “running pretty much freely” from Wednesday.

The problem, he said, is the empty trucks sitting in England can’t pick up new deliveries for Britain.

“They need to get back to places like Spain to pick up the next consignment of raspberries and strawberries, and they need to get back within the next day or so, otherwise we will see disruption,” he said.

Strict lockdown around London

Over the weekend, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed strict lockdown measures in London and neighbouring areas amid mounting concerns over the new variant to the virus, which early indications show might be significantly more transmissible.

As a result, Johnson scrapped a planned relaxation of rules over Christmastime for millions of people and banned indoor mixing of households. Only essential travel will be permitted.

Amid questions about whether vaccines being rolled out now would work against the new strain, the chief executive of BioNTech — the German pharmaceutical company behind one of those shots — said he was confident it would be effective, but further studies are needed to be completely sure.

Ugur Sahin said Tuesday that “we don’t know at the moment if our vaccine is also able to provide protection against this new variant” but because the proteins on the variant are 99 per cent the same as the prevailing strains, BioNTech has “scientific confidence” in the vaccine.

There are mounting concerns that the whole of the U.K. will be put into a national lockdown after Christmas as new infections soar, including in Wales where 90 soldiers from the British Army will be reenlisted to drive vehicles from Wednesday to support health teams responding to emergency calls.

The British government’s chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance, warned Monday that measures “may need to be increased in some places, in due course, not reduced.” For many, that was code for another national lockdown.

While the new variant is being assessed, countries were trying to limit contact with Britain, even though there is evidence of the strain elsewhere already.

In Switzerland, for example, authorities are trying to track an estimated 10,000 people who have arrived by plane from Britain since Dec. 14 — and has ordered them to quarantine for 10 days.


Lorry driver Miroslav Gabris from Slovakia adjusts a satellite dish for viewing television on the front of his lorry while he waits at Ashford International Truck Stop in Britain on Tuesday. (Simon Dawson/Reuters)

Switzerland was one of the 40-odd countries to ban flights from the U.K. over concerns about the new variant.

The quarantine order is likely to affect thousands of Britons who may have already headed to Swiss ski resorts. Unlike many of its neighbors, Switzerland has left most of its slopes open, attracting enthusiasts from around Europe.

The virus is blamed for 1.7 million deaths worldwide, including about 68,000 in Britain, the second-highest death toll in Europe, behind Italy’s 69,000.

The chaos at the border comes at a time of huge uncertainty for Britain, less than two weeks before it completes its exit from the EU and frees itself from the bloc’s rules. Talks on a post-Brexit trade relationship between the two sides are deadlocked.

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Post-Brexit trade talks to continue with 2 sides still ‘far apart,’ U.K. leader says

Throwing overboard Sunday’s self-imposed deadline, the European Union and Britain said they will “go the extra mile” to clinch a post-Brexit trade agreement that would avert New Year’s chaos and cost for cross-border commerce.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had set Sunday as the deadline for a breakthrough or breakdown in negotiations. But they stepped back from the brink because there was too much at stake not to make an ultimate push.

“Despite the exhaustion after almost a year of negotiations and despite the fact that deadlines have been missed over and over, we both think it is responsible at this point in time to go the extra mile,” von der Leyen said.

The negotiators were continuing to talk in Brussels at EU headquarters.

“I’m afraid we’re still very far apart on some key things, but where there is life, there’s hope, we’re going to keep talking to see what we can do. The U.K. certainly won’t be walking away from the talks,” Johnson told reporters.

EU won’t reach deal ‘at any price’

European Council President Charles Michel immediately welcomed the development and said “we should do everything to make a deal possible,” but warned there could be a deal “at any price, no. What we want is a good deal, a deal that respects these principles of economic fair play and, also, these principles of governance.”

With less than three weeks until the U.K.’s final split from the EU, key aspects of the future relationship between the 27-nation bloc and its former member remain unresolved.

Progress came after months of tense and often testy negotiations that gradually whittled differences down to three key issues: fair-competition rules, mechanisms for resolving future disputes and fishing rights.

It has been four and a half years since Britons voted by 52 per cent to 48 per cent to leave the EU and — in the words of the Brexiteers’ slogan — “take back control” of the U.K.’s borders and laws.

It took more than three years of wrangling before Britain left the bloc’s political structures on Jan. 31. Disentangling economies that have become closely entwined as part of the EU’s single market for goods and services took even longer.

New year will bring changes

The U.K. has remained part of the single market and customs union during an 11-month post-Brexit transition period. That means so far, many people will have noticed little impact from Brexit.

On Jan. 1, it will feel real. New Year’s Day will bring huge changes, even with a deal. No longer will goods and people be able to move between the U.K. and its continental neighbours.


Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney on Sunday said he believed a post-Brexit trade deal could be reached and that both sides wanted one, but that negotiations really needed to be finalized in the next few days. (Virginia Mayo/The Associated Press)

Exporters and importers face customs declarations, goods checks and other obstacles. EU nationals will no longer be able to live and work in Britain without a visa — though that doesn’t apply to the more than 3 million already there — and Britons can no longer automatically work or retire in the EU.

There are still unanswered questions about huge areas, including security co-operation between the U.K. and the bloc and access to the EU market for Britain’s huge financial services sector.

WTO terms would apply without a deal

Without a deal the U.K. will trade with the bloc on World Trade Organization terms, with all the tariffs and barriers that would bring.

The U.K. government has acknowledged a chaotic exit is likely to bring gridlock at Britain’s ports, temporary shortages of some goods and price increases for staple foodstuff. Tariffs will be applied to many U.K. goods, including 10 per cent on cars and more than 40 per cent on lamb.

Still, Johnson says the U.K. will “prosper mightily” on those terms.

To jumpstart the flagging talks, negotiators have imposed several deadlines, but none have brought the sides closer together on the issues of fair trading standards, legal oversight of any deal and the rights of EU fishermen to go into U.K. waters.

WATCH | Johnson lays out negotiating position ahead of EU trade talks earlier this year:

Prime Minister Boris Johnson lays out negotiating position ahead of EU trade talks 1:21

While both sides want a deal on the terms of a new relationship, they have fundamentally different views of what it entails. The EU fears Britain will slash social and environmental standards and pump state money into U.K. industries, becoming a low-regulation economic rival on the bloc’s doorstep, so is demanding strict “level playing field” guarantees in exchange for access to its markets.

The U.K. government claims the EU is trying to bind Britain to the bloc’s rules and regulations indefinitely, rather than treating it as an independent nation.

Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya said a no-deal Brexit would be a “double whammy” for economies already battered by the coronavirus pandemic.

“It is clear when you do a trade deal that you are a sovereign nation; they are made to manage interdependence,” she told Sky News. “The U.K. and the European Union are interdependent so let’s do a deal which reflects the need to manage this interdependence.”

Speculation about patrolling U.K. waters

Britain’s belligerent tabloid press urged Johnson to stand firm, and floated the prospect of Royal Navy vessels patrolling U.K. waters against intruding European vessels.

But others, in Britain and across the EU, urged the two sides to keep talking.

Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin, whose economy is more entwined with Britain’s than any other EU state, said he “fervently” hoped the talks wouldn’t end Sunday.

“It is absolutely imperative that both sides continue to engage and both sides continue to negotiate to avoid a no-deal,” Martin told the BBC. “A no-deal would be very bad for all of us.

“Even at the 11th hour, the capacity in my view exists for the United Kingdom and the European Union to conclude a deal that is in all our interests.”

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Indian farmers continue protest against new laws as police allow them into capital

Thousands of angry Indian farmers protesting against new agricultural laws were allowed to enter the national capital late Friday after they clashed with police who had blocked them at the outskirts of the city.

The farmers, who fear the new laws will reduce their earnings and give more power to corporations, will be escorted to a protest site in New Delhi, police in a statement. It was not immediately clear where the protests would be held.

For the last two months, farmer unions unwilling to accept the laws, which were passed in September, have camped on highways in Punjab and Haryana states.

They say the laws could cause the government to stop buying grain at guaranteed prices and result in their being exploited by corporations that would buy their crops at cheap prices.

The government has said the laws are aimed at reforming agriculture by giving farmers the freedom to market their produce and boosting production through private investment.

The farmers began their march to the capital on Thursday to mount pressure on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to abolish the laws, but were stopped by large numbers of security personnel in riot gear on the boundary between New Delhi and Haryana state.

They resumed their march early Friday, unfazed by overnight rain and chilly winter temperatures.

Clashes with police outside New Delhi

Heading toward New Delhi on tractors and cars, the farmers were again blocked by police at the capital’s fringes. This led to clashes between the farmers and police, who used tear gas, water cannons and baton charges to push them back.

In response, farmers used tractors to clear walls of concrete, shipping containers and parked trucks set up by police on roads leading to the capital.

Some protesters also threw stones at the police and waved the flags of farmer unions. There were no immediate reports of injuries.


Police use water cannons to disperse protesting farmers on Friday. (Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters)

“We are fighting for our rights. We won’t rest until we reach the capital and force the government to abolish these black laws,” said Majhinder Singh Dhaliwal, a leader.

Earlier, in a bid to stop the protesters from riding commuter trains into the capital, the Delhi Metro suspended some services. Traffic slowed to a crawl as vehicles were checked along state boundaries, leading to huge jams on some highways.

Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh urged the federal government to initiate talks with leaders of the farmers. Many of the protesting farmers are from Punjab, one of the largest agricultural states in India.

“The voice of farmers cannot be muzzled indefinitely,” Singh wrote on Twitter.


The protesting farmers said the new laws, passed in September, could cause the government to stop buying grain at guaranteed prices and result in their being exploited by corporations. (Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters)

Negotiations between the leaders of farmer unions and the government to defuse the standoff have been unsuccessful. Farmers say they will continue to protest until the government rolls back the laws; opposition parties and some Modi allies have called the laws anti-farmer and pro-corporation.

Farmers have long been seen as integral to India, where agriculture supports more than half of the country’s 1.3 billion people. But they have also seen their economic clout diminish over the last three decades. Once accounting for a third of India’s gross domestic product, they now produce only 15 per cent of the country’s $ 2.9 trillion US economy.

Farmers often complain of being ignored and hold frequent protests to demand better crop prices, more loan waivers and irrigation systems to guarantee water during dry spells.

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Bayern Munich, Real Madrid continue in opposite directions at Champions League

Real Madrid couldn’t halt its losing streak in the Champions League, and no one seems able to stop Bayern Munich’s winning run.

Madrid’s 3-2 loss to a depleted Shakhtar Donetsk team was the most surprising result of Wednesday’s opening group games — while Bayern delivered the most impressive performance with a 4-0 win over Atletico Madrid.

It was a third straight loss in the competition for Real Madrid — its worst run in 34 years. For defending champion Bayern, it was a 12th straight Champions League victory.

Wins for Liverpool and Manchester City capped a good round for English clubs, and Atalanta again showed its free-scoring style to win 4-0 at overmatched newcomer Midtjylland.

Real Madrid has been unconvincing, especially at home, in the Champions League since lifting a record-extending 13th European title three seasons ago.

Yet Shakhtar was missing several starters after a COVID-19 outbreak at the club. The Ukrainian champion still led 3-0 at halftime, exposing a Madrid defence missing injured captain Sergio Ramos.

“It’s my job to find solutions because these kind of games can’t happen,” said coach Zinedine Zidane, who left veterans Toni Kroos and Karim Benzema on the bench ahead of playing Barcelona on Saturday.

Few fans attended the eight games, because of the spiking coronavirus infections across Europe, and there were none at Olympiakos to see a stoppage-time goal earn a 1-0 win over Marseille.

Only 1,000 were at San Siro to see Romelu Lukaku score in his ninth straight European game, including a 90th minute equalizer, to help Inter Milan draw 2-2 with Borussia M├╢nchengladbach.

Fading power

Since Real Madrid’s last Champions League title in 2018, the club and president Florentino Perez have been linked with plans to create more elitist competitions that would avoid facing so many lower-ranked teams from countries like Ukraine.

Shakhtar is a group-stage regular, and moved on to the Europa League semifinals in August, though was missing several of its Brazilian contingent against Madrid.

Goals from Tete and Manor Solomon either side of an own goal by Madrid defender Raphael Varane came in a 13-minute spell before halftime.

Madrid hit back with Luka Modric’s long-range shot in the 54th and minutes later substitute Vinicius Junior, who entered and ran direct from the touchline to steal possession and score.

Madrid has now won just one of its last seven home games in the Champions League, including a 2-1 first-leg loss to Manchester City in the round of 16 in February.

This one was played at Madrid’s empty training ground while the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium is renovated.

Also in Group B, an Inter team also affected by a virus outbreak, drew 2-2 with Monchengladbach.

After a goalless first half, Lukaku scored early and late in the second for last season’s Europa League runner-up. Monchengladbach had taken a 2-1 lead when Jonas Hoffman’s goal in the 84th was confirmed after a video review lasting several minutes.

Bayern surges

The champion in Lisbon two months ago, Bayern carried over its dominant European form in a 4-0 dismantling of Atletico. Kingsley Coman, scorer of the title-winning goal against Paris Saint-Germain, netted twice.

The game went ahead after a further round of testing of Bayern players on Wednesday, one day after forward Serge Gnabry’s COVID-19 infection was revealed.

Also in Group A, Salzburg was held 2-2 at home by Lokomotiv Moscow.

English wins

Man City started a competition it was originally banned from by UEFA with a 3-1 win at home Porto.

City trailed early, then levelled from Sergio Aguero’s penalty kick awarded for a foul against Porto’s veteran captain Pepe. Ilkay Gundogan and Ferran Torres secured the win midway through the second half.

Liverpool and Ajax have a combined 10 European titles yet had not faced each other in Amsterdam since 1966.

A 1-0 win for Liverpool was decided by Sadio Mane’s shot in the 35th forcing an own goal from defender Nicolas Tagliafico.

The English champion handled the absence of injured Dutch defender Virgil van Dijk, and some anxious moments with back-up goalkeeper Adrian.

Liverpool moved midfielder Fabinho into central defence and he made a spectacular goal-line clearance to deny Dusan Tadic.

Few fans

A fresh wave of the pandemic across Europe meant storied clubs Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Ajax, Manchester City and Olympiakos could not let fans in their stadiums.

Midtjylland recorded an attendance of 132 for its Champions League group-stage debut.

Salzburg had 3,000 fans in attendance and Inter had just 1,000 to abide by event limits in Italy.

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