Tag Archives: deal

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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Jim Crow 2.0 or no big deal: Here’s what’s in that hotly debated Georgia voting law

It seems the one basic fact everyone can agree on with respect to Georgia’s controversial new voting law is that an outrageous injustice has been committed.

What that outrage is depends on who you talk to.

Opponents of the just-passed bill call it a modern-day version of racist old laws that enforced segregation in the U.S. for decades. “Jim Crow 2.0,” is how Park Cannon, a state lawmaker arrested while protesting the bill, described it to CBC News.

Its defenders call that a fact-free calumny not based on anything in the actual law. “It’s unfairly criticized,” says Gabriel Sterling, a Republican Georgia state official who made international news a few months ago for publicly reprimanding Donald Trump.

“What it definitely isn’t is Jim Crow 2.0.”

Georgia thus finds itself at the epicentre of a national battle over voting rights, with racial overtones. 

Republican lawmakers in dozens of states have rushed to introduce hundreds of bills with voting restrictions following last year’s election loss.

The early attention has gone to Georgia because it’s the first major state to pass such a law, it’s a swing state and it will host a key U.S. Senate race next year.

State lawmaker Park Cannon is seen here being arrested after trying to knock on the governor’s office door to protest the law last month. She calls it a throwback to the racist Jim Crow era. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

What the law does

Headlines have been dominated by reaction to Georgia’s law: President Joe Biden has called it “Jim Crow on steroids,” there was a corporate outcry, lawsuits, the removal of baseball’s all-star game, and now conservative boycotts against corporations criticizing it.

One academic who studies election administration has watched with incredulity as a cascade of negative attention crashes into his state.

In Trey Hood’s view, this criticism is way over the top. He blames the press for doing a poor job explaining the law, which in his view has allowed people to distort and exaggerate it.

“I don’t think this is going to impede anyone’s access to the ballot box,” said Hood, a University of Georgia researcher and contributor to MIT’s Election Lab network.

The law’s defenders include non-Trump-style Republicans, such as Gabriel Sterling, an official in the Georgia Secretary of State’s office seen here, and Sen. Mitt Romney. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

In its most controversial provision so far, the law makes it a crime to hand someone food or water in a voting line — punishable by a maximum $ 1,000 fine or year in prison. Local poll officials can provide water.

Democrats have focused on that part in fundraising messaging: “[That’s] one thing in particular that gets my blood boiling,” said Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms in a party fundraising message this week.

But defenders of the bill say this merely reinforces existing Georgia laws — which already made it illegal to give voters presents, or to campaign within 25 feet of a voting line. For example, Starbucks was forced to cancel a national promotion in 2008 where it offered voters coffee, after an uproar in Georgia and elsewhere.

Sterling said people have been using food and refreshments to approach voters in line and to campaign there, which he called illegal.  

Other provisions:

  • ID will be required for voting by mail. Previously, officials checked signatures against the one on file, and rejected ballots in the event of a mismatch. Now voters can use a driver’s licence — or other common state-issued ID, or a social-security number, or utility bill. Hood said this is hardly restrictive, and is in fact fairer than leaving it up to election workers to analyze signatures.
  • There will be fewer drop-box locations where absentee voters can deposit ballots. Before last year, these boxes were not used in Georgia but were temporarily allowed during the pandemic. The new law confirms drop-box locations can be used in the future — though at a reduced number per county compared to 2020.
  • Mobile voting centres are banned. Last year, thousands of people in Atlanta voted in polling stations on wheels. 
  • It will be harder to extend voting hours in polling locations that encounter service interruptions.
  • Absentee ballot applications can no longer be mass-mailed; if someone wants to vote by mail, they have to download their own application.
  • It guarantees between 17 and 19 days of early in-person voting. 
  • It gives the state legislature, controlled by Republicans, far more power in election administration. 

On that last point, some observers fear this is the true time bomb ticking in this bill — a threat to fair elections that risks detonating when American democracy is already vulnerable.

You might recall how Sterling’s boss, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, stood up to Trump in a tense phone call, defending his state’s certification of the 2020 election.

Raffensperger is now stripped of his role as chair of the state elections board. A majority of the board will now be appointed by the Republican-controlled legislature. 

In addition to that, the board has been given power to suspend local election officials if they violate election procedure. 

This raises the prospect of power struggles between Democratic officials in Atlanta and Republican state-level officials.

Bill critics say the context is part of what makes these bills dangerous. They fear a loss of non-partisan guardrails, after an election so many Republican voters tried to overturn, leading to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol seen here. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

“I think it’s important to remember the context here,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. 

“The Georgia legislation is built on a lie [that the election was stolen].… What we’re seeing here is, for politicians who didn’t like the outcome, they’re not changing their policies to win more votes; they’re changing the rules to exclude more voters.”

WATCH | Critics say Georgia’s new voting law targets voters of colour:

Critics say Georgia’s new voting law, put in place after former president Donald Trump’s false claims of voter fraud, is aimed at voters suppression. 2:02 

Could this law have changed the 2020 election?

Recall the post-election aftermath last year.

State officials came under sweltering pressure from angry Republican voters who demanded the results be overturned. Animated by a steady diet of conspiracy theories, these voters wanted Trump declared the winner.

There were even death threats against officials in control of state institutions.

It took individual acts from independent-minded officials to ensure the results got certified. And now some of these bills, including Georgia’s, take aim at such officials.

Georgia has some big races next year for the U.S. Senate and for state governor. Stacey Abrams, seen speaking at last year’s Democratic convention, is expected to run for governor after nearly winning in 2018. She is a leading critic of the new law. (Gabriela Bhaskar/Reuters)

Michigan is another example. A single Republican there bucked his own party to certify the results in a crucial county that encompasses Detroit, a Democratic stronghold where 78 per cent of the population is Black.

Now, the Republicans who control Michigan’s legislature are moving to make sure that can’t happen again. They want to make it harder for canvassing boards in larger counties — meaning Detroit — to certify an election unless multiple members of each party agree.

The change is in one of dozens of bills being proposed in that state alone, and, once any such bills are inevitably vetoed by the state’s Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer, Republicans hope to override her veto by collecting the required 340,000 signatures in a petition.

Arizona and Florida are other large states with bills in the works.

Andrea Young, the daughter of civil-rights leader and politician Andrew Young, said she can’t believe these battles are taking place now, 56 years after she and her family attended the bloody voting-rights march at Selma, Alabama in 1965.

“We’ve never seen anything like this. This sort of tsunami of bills,” said Young, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia.

The reason it’s happening now is obvious, she says: Voters of colour have new demographic power, and white conservatives want to halt that by changing the rules.

“These [efforts are an] attempt to prevent majority rule in Georgia,” she said at a recent press conference.

Atlanta’s history of corporate activism

The bill’s opponents don’t have the numbers to fight back in the legislature. So they’re turning to other avenues: economic pressure, and courtrooms.

Activists interviewed in recent weeks said they intended to pressure companies to speak out and said there’s a strong history of corporate activism in Atlanta.

Several mentioned the most famous example: when Martin Luther King won the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize and city leaders initially resisted holding a celebratory event for him.

King’s prize had been disparaged by former president Harry Truman, who called the civil-rights leader a troublemaker; one Alabama hotel even refused to serve guests from Norway, home of the Nobel Prize.

But the head of Coca-Cola, Paul Austin, had worked in apartheid South Africa and saw the damage that racism could do to a place’s reputation. He told local business leaders it would be an embarrassment for Coca-Cola to continue being headquartered in a city, Atlanta, that refused to honour a Nobel Prize winner.

Atlanta has a history of corporate activism, which opponents of this bill are aware of. Coca-Cola, headquartered in the city, demanded that local officials throw a celebration for Martin Luther King winning the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize. Here he receives the prize in Norway. (Getty Images)

The celebration dinner went ahead; tickets became a hot commodity.

In the modern-day struggle, a number of companies have spoken out against the law, including Atlanta-based Coca-Cola and Delta Air Lines; Major League Baseball has moved its all-star game to Colorado, which votes almost entirely by mail.

Now Trump and others are calling for boycotts of all those companies.

Quelling the Republican base

Ultimately, this struggle will likely play out in court. Several groups are suing, claiming the bill targets Black voters, including the NAACP, which says the voting methods under attack are disproportionately used by people of colour.

Sterling, for his part, dismisses some of the complaints as a political marketing slogan, being used by Georgia Democrats to raise money and galvanize voters.

So, he was asked: why was this bill necessary? If Sterling, and other officials, said the last election was fair, and the fraud concerns ill-founded, why make all these changes?

He cited a few reasons — the need to update old administrative procedures, and the need for permanent standards for mail-in voting which was previously rare in Georgia.

He appeared to acknowledge, however, that it was partly about the internal politics of the Republican Party, and about quelling a backlash from the base if something hadn’t been done.

“There would have been millions of Georgians screaming their ever-loving heads off, ‘Y’all didn’t do anything when we told you you had to do something,'” Sterling told CBC News.

“So when a lot of these representatives get … hundreds and thousands of phone calls and emails and stuff, guess what? They tend to respond to that, whether it comes off of the basis of reality or not.”

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COC voices ‘strong preference’ for Canadian-approved vaccines after IOC announces deal with China

The Canadian Olympic Committee says its “strong preference” is for athletes competing in the Tokyo Games this summer to receive a COVID-19 vaccine approved by Health Canada.

David Shoemaker, CEO and secretary general of the COC, delivered his thoughts in a statement after the International Olympic Committee and China announced details of a vaccine partnership on Thursday.

The deal will have the Chinese Olympic Committee buying and providing vaccines for people taking part in the upcoming Games in both Tokyo and Beijing.

However, none of the Chinese vaccines are approved for use in Canada.

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

Vaccines are not mandatory for athletes to compete in the Tokyo Games.

Federal officials said Wednesday that Canada is expected to have received one dose for each Canadian by the end of June. The Tokyo Olympics are scheduled to begin July 23.

The partnership comes as criticism of China continues ahead of the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing.

Meanwhile, a pair of Canadian Olympic gold medallists and a Toronto-based infection disease specialist are hopeful the IOC-China vaccine deal can help other countries in the fight against COVID-19.

If a vaccine isn’t approved in Canada, you wouldn’t recommend a Canadian athlete get that vaccine. It’s as simple as that.– Dr. Isaac Bogoch, infection disease expert 

Wrestler Erica Wiebe says it would be a great outcome if the partnership “can help athletes and citizens of countries with less robust vaccination plans than Canada.”

Wiebe, who captured gold in 2016 in Rio, says she’s optimistic Canadians can have one dose of an approved vaccine before Canada Day.

Two-time trampoline champion Rosie MacLennan hopes she and every Canadian in her age category has access to a Canadian-approved vaccine by July.

“I’m hopeful this is possible given the increasing numbers of available doses coming to Canada in the next few weeks and months,” the 32-year-old said.

“Generally speaking, the more athletes who are vaccinated, the better. It would allow not only greater protection for athletes, but also for Japan and our respective countries as we return home.”

Canadian Olympic wrestling champion Erica wiebe hopes that the IOC’s vaccine deal with China can help the global fight against COVID-19 ahead of the Tokyo Games this Summer. (Toru Hanai/Reuters)

Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease expert at the University of Toronto, says the vaccine deal is a sign that the Olympics will be held.

“It’s a total equity issue,” said Bogoch, who is on Ontario’s vaccine task force.

“Some individuals in some countries just won’t have access because their country is not as fortunate as Canada or the United States or the European Union countries. Doesn’t mean they don’t have world-class athletes that should have every opportunity to compete. And this will enable that.”

Bogoch thinks Canadian athletes should stick to vaccines with a green light in Canada.

“I think from a Canadian perspective, if a vaccine isn’t approved in Canada, you wouldn’t recommend a Canadian athlete get that vaccine. It’s as simple as that. You would want a Canadian athlete to have a vaccine that’s approved in Canada,” he said.

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Olympic champ Erica Wiebe hopes IOC-China vaccine deal aids global COVID-19 fight

A Canadian Olympic gold medallist is hopeful a vaccine deal between the International Olympic Committee and China can help the global fight against COVID-19 ahead of the Tokyo Games this summer.

Wrestler Erica Wiebe says it would be a great outcome if the partnership “can help athletes and citizens of countries with less robust vaccination plans than Canada.”

The IOC has entered into a partnership with the Chinese Olympic Committee to buy and provide vaccines for people taking part in the upcoming games in both Tokyo and Beijing. Vaccines are not mandatory for athletes to compete in the Tokyo Games. The deal comes as criticism of China continues ahead of the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing.

Wiebe says she’s optimistic Canadians can have one dose of an approved vaccine before Canada Day. The Tokyo Olympics are scheduled to begin July 23.

WATCH | Should Olympians cut in line for vaccine?

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

The 2016 Olympic champion says it appears the vaccines being offered in the IOC-China partnership are less effective than the current vaccines approved by Canada. None of the Chinese vaccines are approved for use in Canada.

The Canadian Olympic Committee did not immediately respond for comment.

WATCH | Olympian DeBues-Stafford talks importance of vaccines:

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

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IOC, China make vaccine deal for Tokyo, Beijing Olympians

The International Olympic Committee and China have teamed up to offer vaccines to athletes and teams preparing for the upcoming games in both Tokyo and Beijing.

The collaboration with Chinese Olympic officials was announced Thursday during an online IOC meeting.

“We are grateful for this offer, which is in the true Olympic spirit of solidarity,” IOC president Thomas Bach said.

Bach said the IOC would “pay for extra doses” for Olympic and Paralympic participants.

Japan’s vaccination rollout has been relatively slow despite the upcoming Tokyo Games. It was launched in February, months after other major countries.

The Tokyo Olympics are set to open on July 23, and the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing are scheduled for February.

Heading off concerns that athletes might jump the line to get vaccinated, Bach said extra doses for the general public will be given to countries taking part in the program.

“The IOC will pay for two doses more, which can be made available for the population in the respective country according to their needs,” Bach said.

Distribution will be through international agencies or existing vaccine agreements countries have with China, Bach said.

China, where the COVID-19 outbreak emerged in late 2019, has actively engaged in vaccine diplomacy, using doses developed by Sinovac and Sinopharm.

Research by The Associated Press this month showed China has pledged about a half billion doses of its vaccines to more than 45 countries.

Bach said the agreement with China would help fulfil promises to Olympic organizers and competitors that the games will be staged safely.

He said the project was “our demonstration of solidarity with the Japanese people for whom we have such high respect and whom we hold in such high regard.”

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Facebook to restore Australian news pages after deal reached to amend proposed law

Facebook said on Tuesday it will lift its ban on Australians sharing news after it struck a deal with Australia’s government on legislation that would make digital giants pay for journalism.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Facebook confirmed that they have agreed on amendments to proposed legislation to require the social network and Google to pay for Australian news that they feature.

Facebook’s co-operation is a major victory in Australian efforts to make the two gateways to the internet pay for the journalism that they use.

Facebook blocked Australian users from accessing and sharing news last week after the House of Representatives passed the draft law late Wednesday.

Initially, the Facebook news blockade cut access — at least temporarily — to government pandemic, public health and emergency services, sparking public outrage.

The Senate will debate amended legislation on Tuesday.

Frydenberg described the agreed upon amendments as “clarifications” of the government’s intent. He said his negotiations with Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg were “difficult.”

Australia in ‘proxy’ battle, says official

“There is no doubt that Australia has been a proxy battle for the world,” Frydenberg said.

“Facebook and Google have not hidden the fact that they know that the eyes of the world are on Australia and that is why they have sought to get a code here that is workable,” he added, referring to the country’s News Media Bargaining Code legislation.

The code would undermine the bargaining dominance of Facebook and Google in their negotiations with Australian news providers by requiring a negotiation safety net in the form of an arbitration panel. The digital giants would not be able to abuse their overwhelming negotiating positions by making take-it-or-leave-it payment offers to news businesses for their journalism. In case of a standoff, the panel would make a binding decision on a winning offer.

WATCH | Facebook blocks Australian users from accessing and sharing news:

Facebook feeds in Australia were stripped of news posts during a fight over government plans to make technology giants pay for sharing news content and there are concerns something similar could happen in Canada. 2:02

Swinburne University senior lecturer on media Belinda Barnet said the proposed amendments guarantee Facebook time to strike deals before the arbitration panel decides on a price for news.

Peter Lewis, director of the Australia Institute’s Center for Responsible Technology, a think tank, said in a statement that the “amendments keep the integrity of the media code intact.”

Google also had threatened to remove its search functions from Australia because it said the proposed law was unworkable. But that threat has faded.

Google has been signing up Australia’s largest media companies in content licensing deals through its News Showcase model.

The platform said it has deals with more than 50 Australian titles through Showcase and more than 500 publishers globally using the model which was launched in October.

Facebook said it will now negotiate deals with Australian publishers under its own model, Facebook News.

“We are satisfied that the Australian government has agreed to a number of changes and guarantees that address our core concerns about allowing commercial deals that recognize the value our platform provides to publishers relative to the value we receive from them,” Facebook regional managing director William Easton said.

“As a result of these changes, we can now work to further our investment in public interest journalism and restore news on Facebook for Australians in the coming days, ” Easton added.

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Canada inks deal to produce millions of COVID-19 shots domestically

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced today a plan to produce millions of COVID-19 shots at a plant in Montreal starting this summer, securing a domestic supply of vaccines as the global market contends with delivery delays and protectionist measures.

The National Research Council-owned Royalmount facility will churn out tens of millions of doses of the product developed by Maryland-based Novavax, Trudeau said. That company submitted its vaccine to Health Canada for regulatory approval last Friday.

“This is a major step forward to get vaccines made in Canada, for Canadians…. We need as much domestic capacity for vaccine production as possible,” Trudeau said. “We won’t rest until every Canadian who wants a vaccine has received one.”

Novavax has said its protein-based COVID-19 vaccine product produced an efficacy rate of 89.3 per cent in late stage clinical trials, with strong protection against the strain of the virus first reported in the U.K., which has shown to be more resistant to other vaccine candidates.

Canada agreed to purchase shots from Novavax — a biotechnology company that has been at the forefront of developing new vaccines against influenza — last August. The government has since upped that purchase agreement with a commitment to buy at least 52 million doses of the two-dose product.

Last summer, Trudeau announced more than $ 125 million to upgrade the National Research Council (NRC) facility to produce vaccines domestically and avoid the global scramble for shots.

At the time, Trudeau said the factory could produce hundreds of thousands of shots starting in November. But the project ran into problems when it was determined the facility didn’t meet exacting good manufacturing practices (GMP) required for such a site.

The work on upgrading the NRC facility has continued and it’s now expected to be ready to produce COVID-19 shots sometime this summer, the prime minister said, with a production capacity of approximately 4,000 litres per month, which is equivalent to approximately two million doses of a vaccine.

When complete, the facility will be able to make viral vector, protein subunit, virus-like particle based vaccine doses, but not mRNA shots like those developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. The Novavax product is of the protein subunit variety.

The announcement comes at a time that Canada’s inoculation campaign is facing a series of delays and disruptions. The two primary suppliers, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, have been beset with manufacturing issues that have resulted in lower shipments to Canada.

The European Union has also introduced new export controls that could result in some shipments being delayed or cancelled altogether because Canada’s current supply of shots comes from plants in Europe.

The protectionist push threatens to derail deliveries in the short term, although International Trade Minister Mary Ng has said she has received verbal assurances from European leaders that Canada’s supply will not be affected.

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Several European countries deal with impact of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine disruption

Pfizer has slashed in half the volume of COVID-19 vaccines it will deliver to some EU countries this week, government officials said on Thursday, as frustration grows over the U.S. drugmaker’s unexpected cut in supplies.

Romania will get 50 per cent of its planned volume this week and supplies will only improve gradually, with deliveries not returning to normal until the end of March, Deputy Health Minister Andrei Baciu told Reuters.

It was a similar situation in Poland, which on Monday received 176,000 doses, a drop of around 50 per cent from what was expected, authorities said.

The Czech government was bracing for the disruption to last for weeks, slowing its vaccination campaign just as the second dose of vaccinations get underway.

“We have to expect that there will be a reduction in the number of open vaccination appointments in the following three weeks,” Health Minister Jan Blatny told reporters on Thursday, with Pfizer deliveries falling by about 15 per cent this week and as much as 30 per cent for the following two weeks.

Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech have declined to comment on the cuts beyond their statement last week, which announced cuts to deliveries as they ramp up manufacturing in Europe.

Some countries reckon they can handle it. Norway has an emergency stockpile and will continue administering doses as planned, the government’s public health body said.

The U.S. drugmaker has told Bulgaria and Poland it will replace missing doses, top officials said.

But Denmark’s Serum Institute said its 50 per cent loss of shots this week would lead to a 10 per cent shortfall for the first quarter.

Italy reacts angrily

With governments across the region still reeling from the surprise cuts, officials say the reductions are undermining their efforts to inoculate their citizens and tame the pandemic, which has killed more than two million people.

On Wednesday, Italy threatened legal action against Pfizer, after the company said it was was cutting its deliveries by 29 per cent to the Mediterranean country.

Pfizer’s move was having a serious impact on vaccination plans drawn up by local authorities, the governor of the northern Emilia Romagna region said.

“Due to the reduction in doses, many regions have been forced to slow down or even suspend new vaccinations to ensure administration of the second dose to those who had already received the first,” Stefano Bonaccini told Reuters in an email.

WATCH | Provinces complain, but powerless amid Pfizer situation:

Pfizer told Canadian officials there would be delays in deliveries of its vaccine, but the delays now mean Canada will receive zero Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines next week. It’s left provinces scrambling to manage the doses they have left. 2:42

In Hungary, where the authorities gave the go ahead for the use of Britain’s AstraZeneca and Russia’s Sputnik V vaccines ahead of the EU drug regulator, a senior official called on Brussels to try and ensure that deliveries from Pfizer and other vaccine makers would stick to schedule.

“We would be happy if the [European] Commission could take steps as soon as possible to ensure that Pfizer and other manufacturers would change deliveries,” Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s chief of staff Gergely Gulyas said.

The problem has spread to countries outside the trading bloc, too – Canada is facing delays, as is Switzerland, where the mountain canton of Grisons got only 1,000 shots from Pfizer this week, far short of the 3,000 it had been anticipating.

The EU has approved the Moderna vaccines, but the authorization came a few weeks after similar action in Canada, the United States, Britain and Israel, with the first deliveries made only a week or so ago.

Moderna has committed to delivering 10 million doses by the end of March and 35 million each in the second and third quarter, reflecting a process that will take time to ramp up. Another 80 million doses are also to be delivered this year but without a clear timetable yet.

Meanwhile, at a meeting of EU health ministers last week, Belgium said bottlenecks in the supply of the so-called Low Dead Space syringes were likely when Pfizer begins to deliver bigger volumes of its shots.

A Belgian diplomat said the country had urged the EU executive commission to speed up joint procurement for syringes to avoid “unnecessary delays.”

While there is no immediate shortage of the syringes — which are designed to ensure the maximum amount of vaccine is extracted from vials —  there are not enough syringes for mass vaccination, a spokeswoman for the Lithuanian health ministry told Reuters on Thursday, saying the Baltic country had joined the EU procurement scheme.

“What is now not a problem, can easily become a very big problem tomorrow,” she said.

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Microsoft Denies Cutting Secret Deal With Duracell Over Xbox Controllers

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Last week, a report surfaced claiming that Microsoft and Duracell have a secret agreement between them in which Microsoft agrees to keep AA batteries as the default power standard for its Xbox controllers. Microsoft denied the rumors, which began when Duracell UK’s marketing manager, Luke Anderson, referred to a deal between the two companies:

There’s always been this partnership with Duracell and Xbox… It’s a constant agreement that Duracell and Microsoft have in place… [The deal is] for OEM to supply the battery product for the Xbox consoles and also the controllers’ battery.

This has been broadly read across the internet to mean that Microsoft and Duracell have some kind of agreement in which Microsoft agrees to keep traditional AA batteries as the default solution for its controllers so that Duracell will… cut it a good deal on a couple of AA batteries + some console parts?

This objectively makes no sense, and Microsoft is far from the only company to ship Duracell batteries in its hardware. Since Microsoft doesn’t manufacture batteries, it needs to partner with a company if it wants to ship hardware with prepacked AAs. The company doesn’t send purchasing agents to Wal-Mart to grab whatever AA’s are the cheapest; it has a pre-existing agreement with Duracell to provide those products.

The Xbox Elite Wireless Controller and Controller Series 2 have built-in batteries.

When contacted, a Microsoft spokesperson released the following statement:

We intentionally offer consumers choice in their battery solutions for our standard Xbox Wireless Controllers. This includes the use of AA batteries from any brand, the Xbox Rechargeable Battery, charging solutions from our partners, or a USB-C cable, which can power the controller when plugged in to the console or PC.

Companies competing in the same market often use design choices to differentiate themselves. Microsoft emphasizes the flexibility of offering AA support. Sony’s DualShock 4 copy notes that you can charge its internal battery while playing. We’ve seen this kind of behavior in the PC market as well. When Nvidia emphasized 3-D gaming, AMD focused on its own Eyefinity displays. A few years later, when AMD was talking up DirectX 12, Nvidia was putting a much heavier emphasis on VR. In this case, Microsoft and Sony maintain a slight feature difference in what they offer and how they offer it.

As far as Microsoft’s controller is concerned, I can testify that the battery life from regular AAs isn’t great, and it gets a lot worse if you have rumble enabled in a rumble-heavy title. If you don’t play much, regular AAs are fine, but if you intend to game on a regular basis you’ll want to invest in some rechargeable batteries for the Xbox controller. They’ll pay for themselves in fairly short order.

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