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Biden announces gun-control actions following spate of mass shootings in U.S.

U.S. President Joe Biden, in his first gun-control measures since taking office, announced a half-dozen executive actions Thursday aimed at addressing a proliferation of gun violence across the nation that he called an “epidemic and an international embarrassment.”

“It is actually a public health crisis,” Biden said during remarks at the White House, where he was joined by Vice-President Kamala Harris and Attorney General Merrick Garland. Greeting the families of gun-violence victims and activists, he assured them: “We’re absolutely determined to make change.”

Biden’s Thursday announcement delivers on a pledge he made last month to take what he termed immediate “common-sense steps” to address gun violence, after a series of mass shootings drew renewed attention to the issue.

His announcement came after yet another shooting, this one in South Carolina on Wednesday, where five people were killed.

But the announcement underscores the limitations of Biden’s executive power to act on guns. They include moves to tighten regulations on homemade guns and provide more resources for gun-violence prevention, but fall far short of the sweeping gun-control agenda Biden laid out on the campaign trail.

Indeed, the White House has repeatedly emphasized the need for legislative action to tackle the issue.

But while the House passed a background-check bill last month, gun-control measures face slim prospects in an evenly divided Senate, where Republicans remain near-unified against most proposals.

Stricter rules, more community funding

Biden is tightening regulations for buyers of “ghost guns” — homemade firearms usually are assembled from parts and milled with a metal-cutting machine, and often lack serial numbers used to trace them.

It’s legal to build a gun in a home or a workshop and there is no federal requirement for a background check. The goal is to “help stop the proliferation of these firearms,” according to the White House.

The Justice Department will issue a proposed rule aimed at reining in ghost guns within 30 days, though details weren’t immediately issued.

WATCH | Mass shooting in Colorado renews calls for assault-weapons ban:

A 21-year-old man has been arrested after 10 people, including a police officer, were killed in a mass shooting inside a Boulder, Colo., grocery store on Monday. Court documents say the suspect, Ahmad Alissa, bought an assault rifle six days before the shooting, renewing calls for an assault-weapons ban in the U.S. 2:56

A second proposed rule, expected within 60 days, will tighten regulations on pistol-stabilizing braces, like the one used in a mass shooting at a Boulder, Colo., grocery store last month that left 10 dead. The rule will designate pistols used with stabilizing braces as short-barrelled rifles, which require a federal licence to own and are subject to a more thorough application process and a $ 200 US tax.

The department also is publishing model legislation within 60 days that is intended to make it easier for states to adopt their own “red flag” laws that allow people to petition a court to let police confiscate weapons from a person deemed to be a danger to themselves or others.

The justice department also will begin to provide more data on firearms trafficking, starting with a new comprehensive report on the issue. The administration says that hasn’t been done in more than two decades.

The Biden administration will also make investments in community violence intervention programs, which are aimed at reducing gun violence in urban communities, across five federal agencies.

Officials said the executive actions were “initial steps” completed during Garland’s first weeks on the job and more may be coming.

Former agent to head ATF

Biden is also nominating David Chipman, a former federal agent and adviser at the gun-control group Giffords, to be director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The ATF is currently run by an acting director, Regina Lombardo. Gun-control advocates have emphasized the significance of this position in enforcing gun laws, and Chipman is certain to win praise from this group.

During his time as a senior policy adviser with Giffords, he spent considerable effort pushing for greater regulation and enforcement on ghost guns, changes to the background check system and measures to reduce the trafficking of illegal firearms.

Chipman spent 25 years as an agent at the ATF, where he worked on stopping a trafficking ring that sent illegal firearms from Virginia to New York, and served on the ATF’s SWAT team. Chipman is also a gun owner.

He is an explosives expert and was among the team involved in investigating the Oklahoma City bombing and the first World Trade Center bombing. He also was involved in investigating a series of church bombings in Alabama in the 1990s. He retired from the ATF in 2012.

The White House fact sheet said Chipman has worked “to advance common-sense gun safety laws.”

Biden was accompanied by Vice-President Kamala Harris and Attorney General Merrick Garland at the announcement. (Andrew Harnik/The Associated Press)

Advocates applaud moves

During his campaign, Biden promised to prioritize new gun-control measures as president, including enacting universal background check legislation, and banning online sales of firearms and the manufacture and sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

But gun-control advocates have said that while they were heartened by signs from the White House that they took the issue seriously, they’ve been disappointed by the lack of early action.

With the announcement of the new measures, however, advocates lauded Biden’s first moves to combat gun violence.

“Each of these executive actions will start to address the epidemic of gun violence that has raged throughout the pandemic, and begin to make good on President Biden’s promise to be the strongest gun-safety president in history,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety.

Feinblatt in particular praised the move to regulate ghost guns, which he said “will undoubtedly save countless lives,” and lauded Chipman as an “invaluable point person” in the fight against illegal gun trafficking.

He also said the group is looking forward to continuing to work with the Biden administration on further gun-control measures, but it’s unclear what next moves the White House, or lawmakers on Capitol Hill, will be able to take.

Biden himself expressed uncertainty late last month when asked if he had the political capital to pass new gun-control proposals, telling reporters, “I haven’t done any counting yet.”

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Experts question whether Canucks can finish season following COVID-19 outbreak

The NHL says it remains hopeful the Vancouver Canucks can complete a 56-game schedule even though 25 members of the team have tested positive for a variant form of COVID-19, but some experts question if that is possible.

The Canucks released a statement Wednesday saying 21 players, including three on the taxi squad, plus four staff members, “have tested positive and the source infection is confirmed a variant.” Which variant has not been confirmed.

On Tuesday, when the Canucks had 18 players on the COVID-19 protocol list, an NHL spokesman said “a 56-game season is still the focus,” but if necessary the league has some flexibility on scheduling the opening of the playoffs. Asked Wednesday if anything had changed following the Canucks’ announcement, the spokesman said, “my answer is the same as it was yesterday.”

An NHL agent said he had heard nothing about any plans to cancel games.

“So far it sounds like they will push forward based on what I’m hearing,” the agent said.

WATCH | Concerns intensify amid Canucks’ growing outbreak:

Twenty-five members of the Vancouver Canucks organization have tested positive for a COVID-19 variant and it has put the remainder of the team’s season in question. 1:55

Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious disease physician for St. Joseph’s Healthcare in Hamilton, said studies have shown people affected by the different variants “will recover on pace,” but depending on the severity of the virus — professional players may need extra time to regain their conditioning.

“They may be out of quarantine in 10 days, but a lot of players may not return after they are considered clear,” he said. “They may actually need a few weeks to get back to hockey normal.”

The Canucks’ situation is complicated because so many players have contracted the virus.

“If you have an outbreak of five or six [players] you can fill in the gaps, you can wait for some of your players to condition properly,” Chagla said. “At 21 players, that’s 21 different players that need to condition properly, that’s 21 players that need to get back into shape, get over their COVID and heal.”

Recovering from the virus is different from rehabbing after a sports injury.

“[A] lot of these guys, it sounds like, were in bed at home,” Chagla said. “You’re losing muscle mass; you’re losing that elite shape.”

WATCH | Vancouver Canucks sidelined by COVID-19:

The Vancouver Canucks have cancelled several upcoming games after a COVID-19 outbreak hit at least half the team’s roster. 1:59

When the first Canuck player tested positive last week, Vancouver’s next four games were postponed. The Canucks were scheduled to return to play Thursday in Calgary against the Flames. The Canucks’ website now says that game and another on Saturday in Calgary have been postponed.

The NHL season was originally scheduled to end May 8 but has already been extended to May 11 to allow for previously postponed games.

The Canucks have 19 regular season games remaining.

The cost of doing business

Corey Hirsch, a former NHL goaltender who is now a member of the Canucks’ radio broadcast team, worries about the physical strain forced on players if they are expected to play their remaining games in a condensed period of time after overcoming the virus.

“You are talking about the whole team,” he said. “You’re not only talking about one guy. My question would be if they are at risk of injury because of the physical shape they are in.”

Moshe Lander, a senior lecturer in the economics of sports, gaming and gambling at Concordia University in Montreal, said the Canucks’ situation is a result of the NHL “not bubbling up for a season.”

“The NHL has accepted this is the cost of doing business,” said Lander.

Delaying the start of the playoffs creates problems for teams in the other three divisions, Lander said. The league also won’t want the playoffs extending into late July because of the Tokyo Summer Games.

Last year’s playoffs, which included a play-in round, began Aug. 1 and ended Sept. 28.

Lander predicts Vancouver might only play 50 games, which will impact other teams in the NHL’s North Division.

“A whole bunch of Canuck games are going to be cancelled, not going to be made up,” he said. “You’re cancelling games against the Oilers, or the Canadiens, or [other teams] that are playoff-bound so their ranking system is going to be disrupted.

“The NHL has protocols in place to determine tiebreakers. I’m assuming it’s just going to be best winning percentage. Everybody has played enough games at this point that you have a reasonable enough sample size to know who [the playoff teams] are.”

Even before the virus struck, Vancouver faced an uphill battle to make the playoffs.

Heading into Wednesday night, the Canucks (16-18-3) trailed Montreal by eight points for the final playoff spot in the North Division.

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Toronto FC resumes camp after 17-day pause following COVID-19 outbreak

Toronto FC has resumed full training after an outbreak of COVID-19 that sent players and staff home to self-isolate.

The MLS club had nine positive cases, according to figures released by the city of Toronto. That prompted the team to shut down its north Toronto training centre.

Its last full training session was March 3. Players and staff were tested daily in the interim as TFC worked with Toronto Public Health officials.

Some players were allowed to resume individual workouts last Monday. A club spokesman confirmed Saturday that the squad resumed full training Friday.

But the outbreak prevented Canada Olympic coach Mauro Biello from summoning young TFC talent for the CONCACAF Men’s Olympic Qualifying Championship currently underway in Mexico.

TFC is scheduled to depart Wednesday for Florida, where it will play out of Orlando due to pandemic-related border restrictions.

3 Canadian clubs to operate out of U.S.

Toronto is preparing for a round-of-16 tie with Mexico’s Club Leon in the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League, the region’s flagship club competition. The two-legged series opens April 7 in Mexico with the return leg to be played April 14 in the Orlando area.

Toronto kicks off the MLS regular season on April 17 against CF Montreal in Fort Lauderdale.

All three Canadian clubs will operate out of the U.S. until border restrictions ease. Montreal is playing out of Fort Lauderdale, home to Inter Miami, while the Vancouver Whitecaps have chosen Sandy, Utah, along with Real Salt Lake.

TFC also confirmed that young striker Ayo Akinola, who has been sidelined by an undisclosed medical issue, has resumed running. He has a medical consultation scheduled for next week with the team hoping he will be given the green light to resume training.

Akinola missed a January camp with Canada due to medical issues.

The 20-year-old had a breakout season in 2020 with nine goals in 15 games.

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London police commissioner rejects calls to resign following clashes at Sarah Everard vigil

London’s police commissioner on Sunday defended her officers’ actions and said she didn’t intend to resign, after coming under heavy criticism for the way police treated some protesters during a vigil for a woman whom one of the force’s own officers is accused of murdering.

Hundreds defied coronavirus restrictions to gather and protest violence against women, but the event ended with clashes between police and those attending and many questioned whether the police force was too heavy-handed.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said scenes from Saturday’s vigil in south London were “upsetting” and she is seeking a full report on what happened from the Metropolitan Police.

The capital’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, said the police response was “at times neither appropriate nor proportionate.”

Police were seen scuffling with some women at the event, and one woman was seen pinned to the ground by two officers. Video widely shared on social media showed a woman was pulled up from the ground by officers who then shoved her from the back. Several women were led away in handcuffs as other attendees chanted “Shame on you” at police. The force later said four people were arrested for violating public order and coronavirus regulations.

PHOTOS | Hundreds in the U.K. defy vigil ban to honour Sarah Everard:

On Sunday, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick, who is the first woman to head the force, said she was personally appalled by the attack on Everard and she was more determined than ever to lead the organization. She said she fully understood the strength of feeling in response to Everard’s case, but stressed that Saturday’s vigil was an unlawful gathering and officers had been put in a “very difficult position” trying to police a protest during a pandemic.

She said that as big crowds gathered, officers needed to act to counter the considerable risk to people’s health. She added that she welcomed a review into her force’s operations.

Many of those attending the vigil were already wary of police because a serving Metropolitan Police officer, Wayne Couzens, was charged with the kidnap and murder of Sarah Everard, a 33-year-old woman who vanished March 3 while walking home in London. Her body was found a week later.

The case has sparked a national outcry and a heated debate on women’s safety. Organizers had planned an official vigil at Clapham Common, a park near where Everard was last seen alive, but were forced to cancel the event because of COVID-19 restrictions. A huge crowd turned up Saturday nonetheless.

Khan, London’s mayor, said Sunday the police force had assured him the vigil would be “policed sensitively” but that this wasn’t the case. He added he is asking for a full and independent investigation into the force’s operation on Saturday as well as the actions of individual officers at the vigil.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, left, and Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick are seen in London in June 2017. (Isabel Infantes/AFP via Getty Images)

Jamie Klingler, who organized the cancelled “Reclaim These Streets” event, blamed police for denying women their right to have a silent vigil in the first place. The force got the angry reaction Saturday because they refused to facilitate a peaceful rally, she alleged.

“I think we were shocked and really, really sad and to see videos of policemen handling women at a vigil about violence against women by men … I think it was painful and pretty triggering to see,” Klingler said Sunday.

Patsy Stevenson, who was pictured pinned to the ground by two officers during Saturday’s clashes, said she was considering whether to challenge the 200-pound ($ 347 Cdn) fine she received.

Police detain a woman who was later identified in media reports and on social media as university student Patsy Stevenson. She said officers pinned her to the ground while arresting her at the memorial site on Saturday night. (Hannah McKay/Reuters)

“We were there to remember Sarah, we all felt deeply saddened and still do that it happened, so I brought a candle with me but unfortunately wasn’t even able to light it to put it down because the police turned up and barged their way through,” she told LBC radio.

Couzens, 48, appeared in court Saturday for the first time. He was remanded in custody and has another appearance scheduled Tuesday at London’s Central Criminal Court.

The Metropolitan Police has said it is “deeply disturbing” that one of its own is a suspect in the case. The force said Couzens joined its ranks in 2018 and most recently served in the parliamentary and diplomatic protection command, an armed unit responsible for guarding embassies in the capital and Parliament.

Everard was last seen walking home from a friend’s apartment in south London at about 10:30 p.m. on March 3. Her body was found hidden in an area of woodland in Kent, more than 50 miles southeast of London, on Wednesday. 

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Queen says she’s saddened by Harry and Meghan’s experiences following explosive interview

Queen Elizabeth and her family said on Tuesday that they were saddened to learn of the experiences of Prince Harry and his wife Meghan, saying they would address issues around race that were raised by the couple in an interview with Oprah Winfrey.

“The whole family is saddened to learn the full extent of how challenging the last few years have been for Harry and Meghan,” Buckingham Palace said in a statement.

“The issues raised, particularly that of race, are concerning. Whilst some recollections may vary, they are taken very seriously and will be addressed by the family privately.

“Harry, Meghan and Archie will always be much loved family members.”

The interview — in which Harry and Meghan accused a family member of making a racist remark about their son and courtiers of ignoring her pleas for help when she was suicidal — has dragged the royals into their biggest crisis since the death of Harry’s mother Diana in 1997, when the family, led by Queen Elizabeth, was widely criticized for being too slow to respond.

In the two-hour show, originally aired on CBS on Sunday, Harry also said his father, heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles, had let him down.

Monarchy ‘needs to adapt again’

Before Buckingham Palace released its statement, Charles was asked by a reporter what he thought of the interview while he was visiting a COVID-19 vaccine pop-up clinic in London. He stopped and looked up before turning and walking off without comment.

British media has said the interview — watched by 12.4 million viewers in Britain and 17.1 million in the United States — had triggered a crisis and the monarchy needed to adapt to survive, however difficult a response might be.

In their interview with Oprah Winfrey, Meghan said a member of the Royal Family had expressed ‘concerns’ to Harry about the colour of her unborn child’s skin. (Harpo Productions/Joe Pugliese/Reuters)

“It could hardly be more damaging to the Royal Family, not least because there is little it can do to defend itself,” the Times said in a lead article under the title “Royal Attack.”

“The key to the monarchy’s survival over the centuries has been its ability to adapt to the needs of the times. It needs to adapt again,” the Times said.

Rocky relationship with press

Nearly three years since her star-studded wedding in Windsor Castle, Meghan gained sympathy in the United States by casting some unidentified members of the Royal Family as uncaring, mendacious or guilty of racist remarks.

Meghan and Harry have also had a torrid relationship with the British press, successfully taking papers to court on occasions, and have repeatedly questioned what they say is reporting tainted by racist overtones.

Harry said in the interview he did not know where to turn when faced with such troubling media coverage and felt hurt when his family failed to call out racist reporting.

He said the Royal Family had an unhealthy silent agreement with the British tabloids and that the family was paranoid about the media turning on them.

“There is a level of control by fear that has existed for generations and generations,” Harry said.

Johnson watched interview

For the monarchy, which traces its history through 1,000 years of British and English history to William the Conqueror, Meghan’s bombshell has been compared to the crises over the death of Diana and the 1936 abdication of Edward VIII.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson watched the interview, his spokesperson said on Tuesday, but would not be making any further comment on it.

Johnson said on Monday he had the highest admiration for the Queen but that he did not want to speak about the interview.

WATCH | What are the consequences of Meghan and Harry’s interview?

Royal commentator Roya Nikkhah and women’s rights activist Shola Mos-Shogbamimu talk to Adrienne Arsenault about the revelations in Prince Harry and Meghan’s interview with Oprah Winfrey, the media reaction in the U.S. and U.K. and what, if any, changes might come out of it. 6:56

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said her nation was unlikely to stop having the Queen as head of state soon.

Opponents of the monarchy said the allegations made by Meghan and Harry showed how rotten the institution was — and that the palace’s public relations machine had created a distorted image of the royals.

“Now people are getting a much clearer picture of what the monarchy is really like. And it doesn’t look good,” said Graham Smith, head of Republic, a campaign group that seeks to abolish the monarchy.

“With the Queen likely to be replaced by King Charles during this decade, the position of the monarchy has rarely looked weaker,” Smith said.

Markle’s father comments

Some royal supporters cast Meghan, 39, an American former actor, as a publicity seeker with an eye on Hollywood stardom.

But the gravity of the claims has raised uncomfortable questions about how the British monarchy, which survived centuries of revolution that toppled their cousins across Europe, could function in a meritocratic world.

A family gathers around the television in Liverpool, northwest England, to watch Harry and Meghan’s interview on Monday. The interview was watched by 12.4 million viewers in Britain. (Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images)

Meghan, whose mother is Black and father is white, said her son Archie, who turns two in May, had been denied the title of prince because there were concerns within the Royal Family “about how dark his skin might be when he’s born.”

She declined to say who had voiced such concerns, as did Harry. Winfrey later told CBS that Harry had said it was not the Queen or her 99-year-old husband Prince Philip, who has been in hospital for three weeks while the crisis unfolds.

Meghan’s estranged father Thomas Markle, whom she has not spoken to since her wedding, said on Tuesday he did not think the Royal Family was racist, and hoped an alleged remark from a family member about the colour of the skin of Meghan’s son was a “dumb question.”

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Boris Johnson, royal watchers react following revealing Harry and Meghan interview

Britain and its Royal Family absorbed the tremors Monday from a sensational television interview with Prince Harry and Meghan, in which the couple said they encountered racist attitudes and a lack of support that drove the duchess to thoughts of suicide.

In a two-hour soul-baring interview by Oprah Winfrey, the couple painted a deeply unflattering picture of life inside the royal household, depicting a cold, uncaring institution that they had to flee to save their lives.

Meghan told Winfrey that at one point “I just didn’t want to be alive anymore.” She said she sought help through the palace’s human resources department but was told there was nothing it could do.

Meghan, 39, admitted that she was naive at the start of her relationship with Harry and unprepared for the strictures of royal life.

The former television star, who is biracial, said that when she was pregnant with son Archie, there were “concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he’s born.”

Harry confirmed the conversation, saying: “I was a bit shocked.” He said he would not reveal who made the comment, though Winfrey said he told her it was not either of his grandparents, Queen Elizabeth or her husband, Prince Philip.

Politicians weigh in

Asked about the interview at a coronavirus news conference, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson steadfastly refused to comment on the explosive allegations of racism and dysfunction inside the Royal Family.

Johnson said he had “always had the highest admiration for the Queen and the unifying role that she plays in our country and across the Commonwealth.”

But he said that “when it comes to matters to do with the Royal Family, the right thing for a prime minister to say is nothing.”

In contrast, Keir Starmer, leader of the main opposition Labour Party, says the palace has to take the allegations seriously.

“The issues that Meghan has raised of racism and mental health are really serious issues,” he said. “It is a reminder that too many people experience racism in 21st-century Britain.”

In the U.S., where Harry and Meghan now live, White House spokesperson Jen Psaki was asked whether President Joe Biden and his wife Jill had any reaction to the interview.

Psaki said Meghan’s decision to speak about her struggles with mental health “takes courage” and “that’s certainly something the president believes in.”

But she said she wouldn’t offer additional comment on the situation “given these are private citizens, sharing their own story and their own struggles.”

Harry slams ‘toxic’ British tabloid press

Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, announced they were quitting royal duties last year, citing what they said were the unbearable intrusions and racist attitudes of the British media, and they moved to California, where Meghan was born and raised.

That split became official this year, and the interview was widely seen as their first opportunity to explain their decision.

In a clip released Monday that was not broadcast the night before, Harry reiterated that racism was “a large part” of the reason the couple left Britain — and he blamed the “toxic” British tabloid press.

“The U.K. is not bigoted,” he said. “The U.K. press is bigoted, specifically the tabloids.”

The younger royals have campaigned for support and awareness around mental health, but Harry says the Royal Family was unable to offer that support to its own members. (Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images)

The implications for the interview — which was broadcast Sunday night in the United States and will air in Britain on Monday night — are only beginning to be understood. Emily Nash, royal editor at Hello! magazine, said the revelations had left her and many other viewers “shell-shocked.”

“I don’t see how the palace can ignore these allegations; they’re incredibly serious,” she said. “You have the racism allegations. Then you also have the claim that Meghan was not supported, and she sought help even from the HR team within the household and was told that she couldn’t seek help.”

‘This rotten institution needs to go’

Anti-monarchy group Republic said the interview gave a clearer picture of what the Royal Family is like — and it’s not pretty.

“Whether for the sake of Britain or for the sake of the younger royals, this rotten institution needs to go,” Graham Smith of the campaign group said.

Harry, born a royal prince, described how his wife’s experience had helped him realize how he and the rest of the family were stuck in an oppressive institution.

“I was trapped, but I didn’t know I was trapped,” Harry said. “My father and my brother, they are trapped.”

Meghan, he said, “saved me.”

WATCH | Meghan says Royal Family failed to protect her and Prince Harry:

The Duchess of Sussex told Oprah Winfrey that things started to worsen with the Royal Family after she and Harry were married. 0:23

The younger royals — including Harry, Meghan, Harry’s brother, Prince William, and William’s wife, Catherine — have made campaigning for support and awareness around mental health one of their priorities. But Harry said the Royal Family was completely unable to offer that support to its own members.

“For the family, they very much have this mentality of ‘This is just how it is, this is how it’s meant to be, you can’t change it, we’ve all been through it,'” Harry said.

Criticism, sympathy for the couple

The couple had faced severe criticism in the United Kingdom before the interview. Prince Philip, 99, is in a London hospital after recovering from a heart procedure, and critics saw the decision to go forward as being a burden on the Queen — even though CBS, rather than Harry and Meghan, dictated the timing of the broadcast.

In the United States, sympathy for the couple poured in after the interview. Britain could be less forgiving, since some see the pair as putting personal happiness ahead of public duty.

Tennis star Serena Williams, a friend who attended Harry and Meghan’s wedding, said on Twitter that the duchess’s words “illustrate the pain and cruelty she’s experienced.”

“The mental health consequences of systemic oppression and victimization are devastating, isolating and all too often lethal,” Williams added.

Other well-known figures also reacted on social media, including filmmaker Ava DuVernay — who referenced the BBC’s bombshell interview with Harry’s mother, Princess Diana, in 1995 — tennis star Billie Jean King and U.S. inauguration poet Amanda Gorman.

Some 17.1 million Americans — tuning in for one of the biggest TV events in the past year — watched the interview, broadcaster CBS said on Monday.

CBS said the interview was the most watched TV special outside the annual National Football League Super Bowl in a year.

While clips of the interview have been shared online, and the British press covered the major points, much of Britain won’t see the full interview until Monday night — and many will want to know how the palace addresses this saga. The palace has not responded to the interview.

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SpaceX Starship Prototype Explodes Following Perfect Landing

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SpaceX is running through Starship prototypes like they’re growing on trees. Just a few weeks after its last rocket exploded following a hard landing, the company succeeded in landing a Starship rocket after its test flight. Sadly, the vessel exploded several minutes later. SpaceX hasn’t talked about the cause of the incident, but it does seem to consider the SN10 flight an overall success despite what transpired after. 

All of SpaceX’s current launch operations are based on the Falcon 9, which is certified to carry even astronauts into space. It’s also the basis for the company’s Falcon Heavy launch platform. Elon Musk’s future plans require something a bit more powerful, which is the Starship. This megarocket will have enough power to send large payloads to Mars, an essential tool in Musk’s plan to colonize the red planet. 

First, the Starship has to show it can lift off and land like the Falcon 9. This is essential to SpaceX’s plans for reusability. The latest test features SN10, the tenth piece of Starship prototype hardware. The goal was to reach an altitude of about six miles (10 kilometers) before dropping back down for a soft (non-explosive) landing. 

At first, everything went perfectly. The Rocket completed its “flip sequence” when the rocket ignites its engines and rotates to point them downward. In the last test, the rocket overcompensated and crashed into the ground. This time, the maneuver went off without a hitch. There’s even an amazing telephoto shot of the vessel from below as it swung around (see above).

It was several minutes later when the vessel suddenly detonated. The source of the blast appeared to be from the bottom of the rocket where the three Raptor engines are. The force launched SN10 back into the air briefly, but there didn’t look to be a secondary explosion when the craft fell back to Earth. So, SpaceX engineers might still be able to learn something from the wreckage. 

While SpaceX would no doubt have preferred SN10 didn’t blow up, its Starship testing is still moving in the right direction. Each one does a little better, and the company says that SN11 is already under construction. After working out the kinks in the Starship, SpaceX still has to get the Heavy Lift first stage operational. This will be necessary for long-range missions like going to Mars and the Moon.

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COVID-19 vaccine deliveries back on track following weeks of delay, says Public Health Agency

Deliveries of COVID-19 vaccine doses from two approved vaccine makers — Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna — are back on track following weeks of reduced shipments, officials from the Public Health Agency of Canada said today.

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, the military commander leading Canada’s vaccine logistics, said 403,650 doses of the Pfizer vaccine arrived in Canada this week. That’s the largest single delivery since shipments began in December.

Fortin said that both companies are on track to meet their targets by delivering a total of six million doses — four million from Pfizer and two million from Moderna — by the end of March.

And an updated delivery timeline released by PHAC says Canada should receive millions more doses than originally anticipated between now and September.

“We’re now coming out of this period of limited supplies. It’s an abundance of supplies for spring and summer, where we can have a significant scaling-up of immunization plans in provinces,” Fortin said.

Pressure on government

The federal government has come under intense pressure from opposition politicians and other critics in recent weeks as the country’s vaccine rollout slowed. Pfizer began reducing shipments in January as it retooled its plant in Puurs, Belgium, so that it could expand its manufacturing capacity. Moderna also has cut its shipments in recent weeks.

The delays have caused Canada to fall behind dozens of other countries in measurements of doses administered by population, according to a global vaccine tracking database maintained by University of Oxford researchers.

As of last Saturday, only 2.7 per cent of Canadians had received one shot of a vaccine and less than one per cent had received both doses.

WATCH | Fortin says increased COVID-19 vaccine supply expected in spring

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin provides details on the increased supply of COVID-19 vaccines expected to arrive in Canada this spring. 1:48

Pfizer has locked in a delivery schedule for the next six weeks to meet the end-of-March deadline. The company plans to ship 475,000 doses next week and then 444,600 per week next month, according to the federal government’s vaccine distribution tracker.

Moderna, which has delivered 500,000 doses so far, will deliver a reduced shipment of 168,000 doses next week. Negotiations are still underway with Moderna on specific delivery dates for the remaining 1.3 million doses it’s committed to delivering by the end of March, but they are expected to arrive in two shipments, Fortin said.

The territories — which already have administered vaccines to 32.9 per cent of their adult populations — will have enough doses from Moderna’s next two deliveries to vaccinate 75 per cent of adults by the end of March, Fortin said. 

Accelerated rollout schedule

The updated timeline provided by PHAC shows millions more doses arriving between now and September than previous projections anticipated.

It projects that Canada should have enough doses from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna to fully vaccinate 14.5 million people by the end of June, and 42 million by the end of September. If the companies follow through with deliveries on schedule, that means Canada would have more than enough doses to fully vaccinate the country’s entire population by September.

Part of that increase is due to Health Canada acknowledging that each vial of the Pfizer vaccine carries six doses, not five. That change means more shots can be squeezed out of each vial — and the company can ship fewer vials and still meet its contractual obligations to send a certain number of doses to its customers.

But the updated number also reflects recent deals Ottawa negotiated with Pfizer and Moderna to accelerate deliveries. 

Arianne Reza, assistant deputy minister at Public Services and Procurement Canada, said today that negotiations led the companies to commit to moving up the delivery of 5.1 million doses — scheduled originally to arrive in the third and fourth quarters of this year — to the second quarter between April and June.

The timeline shows that Canada could have enough doses to vaccinate even more people — 24.5 million — by the end of June. But that calculation is based on an optimistic scenario where three other vaccines currently under review — from AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and Novavax — are approved by Health Canada and delivered on time.

Vaccine effectiveness in LTC

Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Howard Njoo said preliminary data from provincial and territorial health authorities show that vaccinations in long-term care homes are starting to have a positive effect at preventing disease. He cautioned, however, that more robust data is needed as the vaccine rollout ramps up.

“The early indications are it’s starting to have an impact. The rates of infection and … subsequently the hospitalizations and deaths as a result of COVID-19 exposure and having the disease are starting to go down,” said Njoo.

He also said that federal and provincial health experts are looking at evidence that one shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against COVID-19 might be almost as effective as two. Njoo said data presented by two Canadian doctors in the New England Journal of Medicine this week are compelling.

Two Canadian doctors who analyzed vaccine efficacy data from the U.S. wrote in the New England Medical Journal this week that one shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine may be almost as good as giving two. (Andrew Vaughan-Pool/The Canadian Press)

Dr. Danuta Skowronski from the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control and Dr. Gaston De Serres from the Institut national de sante publique du Quebec say data in the U.S. suggest the Pfizer vaccine was 92 per cent effective against COVID-19 two weeks after just one dose.

Original data suggested one dose gave about 52 per cent protection and two doses gave 94.5 per cent protection — but the doctors say those estimates failed to allow two weeks for vaccine recipients’ immune systems to respond.

The doctors suggest that with vaccine doses in scarce supply, more of the most vulnerable could be protected by delaying second doses for now.

Njoo said the doctors recently presented their evidence to a committee of federal and provincial public health officers. He added that PHAC officials are actively discussing the issue with the provinces and territories and with members of the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, which makes recommendations on how vaccinations should be prioritized.

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CBC | Health News

Myanmar lawmakers say they’re confined and under guard following military coup

Hundreds of members of Myanmar’s Parliament remained confined inside their government housing in the country’s capital on Tuesday, a day after the military staged a coup and detained senior politicians including Nobel laureate and de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party, meanwhile, released a statement calling for the military to honour the results of last November’s election and release of all of those detained.

“The commander-in-chief seizing the power of the nation is against the constitution and it also neglects the sovereign power of people,” the party said in a statement on one of its Facebook pages.

One of the lawmakers said he and 400-some parliament members were able to speak with one another inside the compound and communicate with their constituencies by phone, but were not allowed to leave the housing complex in Naypyitaw. He said police were inside the complex and soldiers were outside it.

The lawmaker said the politicians, comprised of members of Suu Kyi’s NLD party and various smaller parties, spent a sleepless night worried that they might be taken away but were otherwise OK.

“We had to stay awake and be alert,” said the lawmaker, who spoke on condition of anonymity out of concern for his safety.

A man looks at newspapers displayed at a newspaper stall in Yangon, Myanmar, Tuesday. Hundreds of members of Myanmar’s parliament remained confined inside their government housing in the country’s capital. (Thein Zaw/The Associated Press)

The takeover came the morning lawmakers from all of the country had gathered in the capital for the opening of the new parliamentary session and follows days of worry that a coup was coming.

The military said the seizure was necessary because the government had not acted on the military’s claims of fraud in November’s elections — in which Suu Kyi’s ruling party won a majority of the parliamentary seats up for grabs — and because it allowed the election to go ahead despite the coronavirus pandemic.

Setback for democracy

An announcement read on military-owned Myawaddy TV on Monday said Commander-in-Chief Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing would be in charge of the country for one year. Late Monday, the office of the commander-in-chief announced the names of new Cabinet ministers. The 11-member Cabinet is composed of military generals, former military generals and former advisers to a previous government headed by former general Thein Sein.

A portrait of detained leader Aung San Su Kyi attached on a tourism building in Yangon, the country’s biggest city, on Tuesday. Yangon streets were quieter than usual but taxis and buses were still running and there were no outward signs of heavy security. (Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The coup is a dramatic backslide for Myanmar, which was emerging from decades of strict military rule and international isolation that began in 1962. It now presents a test for the international community, which had ostracized Myanmar while it was under military rule and then enthusiastically embraced Suu Kyi’s government as a sign the country was finally on the path to democracy. U.S. President Joe Biden threatened new sanctions, which the country had previously faced.

On Tuesday in Yangon, the country’s biggest city, the streets were quieter than usual but taxis and buses were still running and there were no outward signs of heavy security.

The English-language Myanmar Times headlined the state of emergency, while other state-owned newspapers showed front-page photographs of Monday’s National Defence and Security Council meeting, which the newly appointed Acting President Myint Swe and Min Aung Hlaing attended with other military officials.

The military has maintained that its actions are legally justified — citing a section of the constitution it drafted that allows it to take control in times of national emergency — though Suu Kyi’s party spokesman as well as many international observers have said it amounts to a coup.

Soldiers stand guard on a blockaded road to Myanmar’s parliament in Naypyidaw on Monday after the military detained the country’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the country’s president in a coup. (Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)

The takeover marks a shocking fall from power for Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace laureate who had lived under house arrest for years as she tried to push her country toward democracy and then became its de facto leader after her party won elections in 2015.

Suu Kyi had been a fierce critic of the army during her years in detention. But after her shift from democracy icon to politician, she needed to work with the generals, who despite allowing elections had never fully given up power.

While the 75-year-old has remained popular at home, Suu Kyi’s deference to the generals — going so far as to defend their crackdown on Rohingya Muslims that the United States and others have labelled genocide — has left her reputation tarnished abroad.

UN and U.S. condemn coup

The coup was met with international condemnation and many countries called for the release of the detained leaders.

Biden called the military’s actions “a direct assault on the country’s transition to democracy and the rule of law” and said Washington would not hesitate to restore sanctions.

“The United States will stand up for democracy wherever it is under attack,” he said in a statement.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called the developments a “serious blow to democratic reforms,” according to his spokesman. The Security Council will hold an emergency meeting on the military’s actions — probably on Tuesday, according to Britain, which currently holds the council presidency.

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Canada-U.S. scrimmage called off following COVID-19 scare

A COVID-19 scare caused Canada’s planned scrimmage with the U.S. to be called off Saturday in Bradenton, Fla.

The Canadian men had been scheduled to play two 70-minute soccer scrimmages against the Americans. Both teams are in camp, in separate bubbles, at the IMG Center.

But four inconclusive tests from players/staff in the Canadian camp Friday caused the teams to cancel the match as a precaution. With both camps coming to an end on the weekend, there was no opportunity to reschedule.

“This is part of the learning we were hoping to be exposed to when we’re down here, to understand how to adapt on the fly to a new COVID reality,” Canada coach John Herdman said in an interview. “And, again, right at the core of everyone’s decision are the health and safety of players. It’s difficult times but we have to experience it to know how to adapt and then come out of it stronger.”

The inconclusive Canadian tests eventually came back negative and the Canadians played an intrasquad game instead.

The match was billed as Red versus White with more veteran players at the core of the Red team. The youngsters won 1-0, however, with Vancouver Whitecaps defender Derek Cornelius knocking in a rebound.

Tough tests ahead

“It’s unfortunate the timing,” Herdman said of the cancelled U.S. scrimmage. “But at the end of the day we got out of today what we hoped, which was another opportunity to assess all the players and get a sense of how our young players are tracking for the men’s national team or the Olympic squad. And there were some real good learnings today.”

World Cup and CONCACAF Olympic qualifying are scheduled to begin in March. The Gold Cup follows in July.

Herdman called the replacement intrasquad contest “an intense match.”

“These players when they compete against each other they tend to ramp it up another level,” he said.

“It was a close game and a tough match for both teams,” he added.

Growing the squad

The youngsters also won the first intrasquad scrimmage last Sunday, with Whitecaps forward Theo Bair scoring the lone goal after Toronto FC winger Jacob Shaffelburg was taken down by CF Montreal defender Kama Miller. Vancouver ‘keeper Maxime Crepeau saved Pacific FC’s Marco Bustos’ penalty but Bair headed the rebound in.

The Canada camp did not fall in a FIFA international window so top players like Alphonso Davies (Bayern Munich). Jonathan David (Lille), Scott Arfield (Rangers), Junior Hoilett (Cardiff City), Milan Borjan (Red Star Belgrade) and Atba Hutchinson and Cyle Larin (both Besiktas) were not called in.

But Herdman likes what he saw from those on hand, knowing depth could be crucial in a busy 2021. Because of COVID, a sore throat or case of the sniffles carry different implications and consequences these days, he noted.

“We’re going to have to take bigger squads into our environments,” Herdman said. “That’s going to create a lot more opportunities.

“And I think a lot of these young players, particularly the guys that have broken through in MLS [last] year — Tajon Buchanan [New England], Alistair Johnston [Nashville SC], Ralph Priso [Toronto FC], Derek Cornelius [Vancouver]— there was a lot of the younger core players that showed that they could potentially push into that MNT [men’s national team] environment.”

Herdman said with the uncertainty over the start of the 2021 MLS season, he may try for another camp for the North American players in advance of March.

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CBC | Soccer News