Tag Archives: Hope

At U.S.-Mexico border, a new U.S. president spurs hope and a rush to enter

A few minutes drive from the U.S.-Mexico border, a bus station in Brownsville, Texas, has become an unlikely way station for Central American migrants fleeing their countries and risking all for a new life in the United States. Volunteers give out pizza, clothing and arrange transport while city officials conduct COVID-19 tests. 

Irela Mejia, 24, and her five-year-old son from Honduras were among those picked up by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers while crossing the Rio Grande river onto U.S. land on a raft with dozens of other migrants.

“I came for a better future for my child,” said Mejia, who is hoping to reunite with her brother in Houston and apply for asylum. She says she had already lost her job due to the COVID -19 pandemic, before two hurricanes in November devastated Honduras.

Her son turned five on the month-long trek from Honduras. They came alone, vulnerable and reliant on smugglers.

“I was very afraid,” she said, her eyes filling with tears.

But her eyes light up when asked about whether Joe Biden becoming U.S. president influenced her decision to come to the border: “Yes, after he put out that immigrants could come over, I felt it would be a better future, that they might give us documents to be legal in this country.” 

Irela Mejia, 24, fled Honduras a month ago with her son before arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border. She is among the tens of thousands hoping it will be easier to enter the U.S. under Biden’s administration. (Susan Ormiston/CBC)

Mejia is one of tens of thousands of migrants who have arrived at the U.S. border along Mexico in recent weeks in hopes of an easier passage into the country under Biden’s administration. They have been undeterred by the government’s public plea to asylum seekers: “Don’t come now.”

In February, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials detained just over 100,000 people crossing the border — a 28 per cent increase over January, though below the record high of 144,000 hit in February 2019. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has said the number of people attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in 2021 is on track to hit the highest level in the last 20 years. 

The surge of migrants is fast becoming an early and critical test for Biden to show he can be both firm and humane in dealing with immigration and set his administration apart from that of his predecessor, Donald Trump, whose policies restricted migrants from entering the U.S.

But the challenges are mounting. The Department of Homeland Security has acknowledged it is struggling to find space for more than 15,000 children under 18 travelling alone and picked up by U.S. border officials in the last several weeks.

Photos released Monday by Texas Rep. Henry Cueller, a Democrat, showed youth at a new, temporary processing centre in Donna, Texas, crowded together on sleeping mats and covered with emergency foil blankets. Reporters have not been allowed inside the facility. 

WATCH | Migrants flock to U.S. border in hope of easier entry:

Hundreds of migrants from Central America are streaming into Texas from Mexico every day, posing problems not only for the U.S. border patrol but for President Biden. 5:15

U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said on Sunday the Biden administration is expelling “family units and single adults” but would not “expel into the Mexican desert” young and vulnerable children. He said the government is working all hours to build up capacity to house them while they are processed. 

Migrants crowd a room with walls of plastic sheeting at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection temporary processing centre in Donna, Texas, in a recent photograph released Monday by Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar. (Office of Congressman Henry Cuellar/Reuters)

Critics attack Biden over immigration

Across the border from Brownsville, in Matamoros, the largest migrant camp on the southwest U.S. border was closed March 6 after Biden reversed Trump’s Migrant Protection Protocols, or “Remain in Mexico,” policy, in place since 2019.

That policy prevented asylum seekers from staying in the U.S. to pursue their claim and ordered them back to Mexico, where thousands subsequently camped along the border. Biden’s swift reversal of that policy allowed migrants with active asylum claims back into the U.S. to pursue their case. 

Critics, including Trump, accuse Biden of throwing open the border to migrants.

“We proudly handed the Biden Administration the most secure border in history,” the former Republican U.S. president said in a statement. They’ve “turned a national triumph into a national disaster.” 

Migrants crowd a room at the Donna processing facility in another photograph released this week by Cuellar. (Office of Congressman Henry Cuellar/Reuters)

Charlene D’Cruz, an immigration lawyer who works in Brownsville and Matamoros, says the topic is a source of “pressure on every single president.” 

“It is in no way the crisis or the situation some Republicans are making it out to be,” she said in Brownsville. “The way the previous president decided to take care of it is just to seal it [the border] until it’s reached a fever pitch; it’s like a tourniquet and when you let it go, of course there’s going to be [a big flow].”

Cruz, who has been working with migrants for 30 years, says there were surges in 2014, 2016 and 2019 and that the latest one started in spring last year with the pandemic and natural disasters adding to the existing threats of local violence in Central American countries.

A girl, with donated butterfly wings, and her mother wait at a Brownsville, Texas, bus station, part of a new surge of migrants trying to get asylum in the U.S. (Susan Ormiston/CBC)

Treated with respect and dignity 

Aura Cruz, a 67-year-old from Guatemala, is still stranded in Mexico. She fled with her great granddaughter, then an infant, and four other families in 2019 after the baby’s mother was murdered in Guatemala. Dulce is now 2 years old, unaware of her uncertain future.

“I’m worried about the girl,” said Cruz, sitting outside the empty Matamoros camp. “I [could] suddenly die, so I’m eager to keep fighting for asylum.” 

Migrants, mostly from Central America, wait in line to cross the border at the Gateway International Bridge from Matamoros, Mexico, to Brownsville, Texas, on March 15. Biden’s pledge of a more humane approach to immigration has sparked a new rush to the border. (Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty Images)

Global Response Management, a U.S. non-governmental organization that provides medical care and humanitarian relief, says migrants need to be given help to ensure they can seek asylum safely. 

“We know more migrants are on their way, more are crossing every day,” said Mark McDonald, a paramedic and assistant project director with GRM.  “They deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.”

WATCH | U.S. border officials detain migrants crossing border:

U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents unload migrants picked up in the fields between the border wall near Abram, Texas, and the Rio Grande River, which separates the U.S. and Mexico. After criminal and document checks, some will be released and allowed to pursue their asylum cases; others will be sent back across the border. 0:51

Getting to the root of the problem

For those who’ve cared for migrants for decades along the border, the surge has been predictable.

Sister Norma Pimentel manages a group of shelters in the Rio Grande Valley, including one in McAllen, Texas. 

An advocate for migrants, she says restrictive policies only exacerbate the misery of migrants without stopping them from trying to cross the border. 

“The reason why people come has never been addressed. The focus has been in militarizing the border, but the problem is not the border,” said Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley. “The problem is back home, the root causes of why these families migrate in the first place.”

Aura Cruz, 67, fled Guatemala with her infant great-granddaughter after the girl’s mother was killed. She lived in a tent for a year and half in Matamoros, Mexico, in the largest migrant camp on the U.S.-Mexico border. (Susan Ormiston/CBC)

Dalila Moran de Asencio, 33-year-old teacher, and Edgardo Antonio Asencio, a 33-year-old public servant, and their two children fled gangs and violence in El Salvador 15 months ago. They crossed into the U.S. but were sent back under Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy. They’ve been living with 30 other migrants for over a year in a house managed by a Catholic charity in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. 

“It wasn’t easy, but our lives were in danger,” said Edgardo. “I never could imagine that a crime situation would force us to take such drastic decisions.” 

Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley in McAllen, Texas. A longtime advocate of migrants on the U.S.-Mexico border, she was nominated as one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people of 2020. (Sylvia Thomson/CBC)

Doctors without Borders provides mental health counselling for people stuck in limbo.

“They show symptoms relating to acute stress that’s associated with anxiety and depression,” said psychologist Catalina Urrego Echeverri, the group’s medical team co-ordinator in the area. 

Dalila, whose dad died when she was 12, says her journey has been a difficult one.

“Sometimes I feel stressed and sad because I don’t come from a family with a great economic situation but with a lot of sacrifices, I finished university,” she said. “And I feel sad because I fought so hard and had graduated soon before I had to leave. From one day to the next we had to leave the country.”

She says the change in the U.S. presidency is the first hopeful sign in over a year. 

“We’ve seen on the news that a lot of families have already been granted access to the U.S., to seek asylum inside,” she said. “We hope and trust that’s our case as well.”

Dalila Moran de Asencio, 33, and Edgardo Antonio Asencio, 33, and fled El Salvador in Dec. 2019 with their children to escape gang violence but were sent back to Mexico after reaching the U.S. (Susan Ormiston/CBC)

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CBC | World News

The UAE Probe ‘Hope’ Has Successfully Reached Mars

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The United Arab Emirates has joined the ranks of just a handful of countries to successfully send a mission to the Red Planet. The UAE probe Hope successfully entered orbit on Tuesday after a 27-minute rocket burn slowed the craft enough for Mars’ gravity to capture it.

Hope is a satellite designed to study Martian weather over the short and long term, including measurements of dust storms and the ongoing loss of the Martian atmosphere to space. The spacecraft is powered by a pair of 900W solar panels and it includes a digital camera, infrared spectrometer, and an ultraviolet spectrometer to measure the upper atmosphere.

Hope will be the first satellite devoted to the study of the Martian atmosphere, and the first to track its climate over the long Martian seasons. Mars has a reputation for being a barren, cold hunk of rock because that’s what it is — but unlike, say, the Moon, Mars has a genuine climate and seasons that change over the course of a Martian year. While other probes have taken measures of Mars’ atmosphere, Hope is the first vehicle dedicated specifically to that task.

The data Hope gathers may help us understand how Mars transformed from a world where liquid water flowed across its surface into the dry and barren place it is today. There is substantial evidence that the Martian atmosphere was once much thicker and capable of warming the planet via a substantial greenhouse effect. There is evidence for substantial erosion and weathering across Mars in planetary features that date to the Noachian period (4.1B – 3.7B years ago) but by the beginning of the Hesperian period, 3.7B years ago, Mars was cooling down. By 3B years ago, Mars largely resembled its current state, though there’s still evidence of local or regional flooding in specific areas after this date.

What ancient Mars might have looked like. Image by Ittiz, CC BY-SA 3.0

We know that the collapse of the Martian magnetic field helped the sun blow its atmosphere away and that the planet’s lower mass made it more difficult for the planet to retain an atmosphere long-term. It’s thought that periodic huge impacts could have played a role in keeping Mars warm, but the total amount of energy available on Mars has always been a fraction of that on Earth, due to its smaller size, lower percentages of radioactive materials, and the lower amount of energy Mars receives from the sun. Understanding the existing weather patterns on Mars and the interaction between the solar wind and the upper Martian atmosphere will help us better understand why Mars is still losing its hydrogen and oxygen into space.

Any serious effort to colonize Mars will require an understanding of prevailing weather patterns. Martian dust storms can become powerful enough to cloak the entire planet, making solar power useless. We’ll need to be able to predict Martian weather, at least to some extent, if we ever hope to settle there.

Feature image by MBRSC

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ExtremeTechExtreme – ExtremeTech

Could new virus variants derail COVID-19 vaccination efforts? Scientists hope not

After the virus behind COVID-19 spent 2020 wreaking havoc around the globe, this year started with a bit more hope — vaccination efforts were ramping up, after all — and a tinge of fear.

Multiple new coronavirus variants have been discovered across several continents, from Europe to Africa to South America. Confirmed cases keep popping up in dozens of countries, Canada included.

Scientists are now racing to understand these sets of mutations, all while concerns are growing over their ability to infect people more easily or, in some cases, potentially evade the army of antibodies we create after being infected or vaccinated.

And since widespread transmission means this virus has ample opportunities to mutate again and again and again, these variants won’t be the last. They’re just the ones we know about.

“The more opportunity we give to the virus to replicate, to make more viruses, the more opportunity there is to see that variant of concern — one that won’t be mitigated by our vaccines that we’ve developed,” warned Alyson Kelvin, a virologist at Dalhousie University and the IWK Health Centre in Halifax.

After months of work to develop safe, effective vaccines against SARS-CoV-2, the scientific community now faces a race against time to ward off that scenario.

There’s also a looming question: What happens if we don’t?

Variants could ‘very rapidly’ become prevalent

Kelvin, one of the many Canadian researchers involved in vaccine development, said preliminary data shows that the sets of mutations identified so far don’t yet seem to be an issue for current coronavirus vaccines.

That’s the good news. It’s the “yet” she finds troubling.

“We have to stay on top of this problem,” Kelvin said.

Alyson Kelvin, a virologist at Dalhousie University and the IWK Health Centre in Halifax, says preliminary data shows that the sets of mutations identified so far don’t yet seem to be an issue for current coronavirus vaccines. (Liam Richards/The Canadian Press)

But while new variants might throw a wrench in efforts to suppress transmission by popping up like a game of global whack-a-mole, those ongoing mutations were actually expected, not surprising.

That’s because each virus has a singular goal of replicating itself. With tens of millions of people helping move the coronavirus back and forth between hosts, that means countless replications. Some of those contain random, insignificant mistakes. And when the mistakes prove beneficial to the virus, helping it produce more copies, those errors can become a new normal of sorts — a variant.

It’s just evolution at work, said Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Georgetown University’s Center for Global Health Science and Security in Washington, D.C., and incoming research scientist at the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon.

“What concerns me the most is that the epidemiological data that goes along with some of these variants suggests they could very rapidly become very prevalent — effectively out-competing the other variants in a given area — in a short period of time,” she said.

WATCH | How countries can control emerging coronavirus variants:

Alongside the use of vaccines, virologist and researcher Angela Rasmussen says countries can strive to control emerging coronavirus variants by beefing up surveillance efforts and encouraging the usual public health measures, from mask-wearing to avoiding gatherings. 1:13

Could new variants decrease immune response?

Researchers speculate that may be what happened with B117. The variant was first discovered in the U.K. late last year and is now the country’s dominant strain of the coronavirus — with various officials suggesting it’s at least 50 per cent more transmissible. (Cases have been confirmed in several provinces in Canada as well, and testing is ongoing.)

In the short term, more transmission means more infections, hospitalizations and deaths, Rasmussen said, which offers an incentive for countries to slow case growth. Doing so would both save lives and cut off channels for the virus to spread and mutate.

“It’s also possible that variants may arise that decrease the effectiveness of our immune response to the virus,” said Matthew Miller, a member of the Institute for Infectious Disease Research at McMaster University and the McMaster Immunology Research Centre in Hamilton.

“But also, of course — and perhaps more worryingly — the immune responses elicited by the currently approved vaccines.”

WATCH | A new coronavirus variant spreads through Brazil:

Three COVID-19 variants are now worrying health officials. The ones first identified in Britain and South Africa are already here. The third is spreading fast in Brazil and beyond. It may be better at dodging the immune response, and even reinfecting survivors. 3:36

For scientists in Brazil, there’s already legitimate cause for alarm.

“We have detected a new variant circulating in December in Manaus, Amazonas state, north Brazil, where very high attack rates have been estimated previously,” read the preliminary findings posted online by a research team led by Imperial College London virologist Nuno Faria.

The new lineage, dubbed P1, contains a “unique constellation” of mutations in the crucial spike protein, which helps the virus penetrate human cells, the report continues. The variant was detected in 42 per cent of samples collected during a stretch in December, but not in samples collected in the months before.

Those new cases also appeared even though an estimated three-quarters of people living in Manaus, the largest city in the Amazon region, had already been infected.

Faria’s report stressed that could mean an increase in transmissibility — the same issue with B117 — or even an ability to reinfect people.

Vaccines ‘modifiable’ in face of new mutations

According to Rasmussen, antibodies seem to have a reduced capacity to neutralize this kind of virus variant based on the spike protein mutations. Echoing Kelvin and Miller’s concerns, she said that’s a key problem, “because if you acquire enough of those mutations, you may get to a point where you have a variant capable of evading vaccine-induced immunity completely.”

But again, it’s not all dire news. Just because antibodies are less effective doesn’t necessarily mean someone would have reduced immune protection, Rasmussen explained, since the body’s immune response is looking at the entire spike protein, not just certain areas that might have a set of mutations.

Miller also noted that while the spike protein tends to be most prone to changing in the face of immunological pressure, there are other vaccine candidates in development that are designed to elicit broader immune responses against a greater array of viral targets to stay one step ahead.

WATCH | Scientists still researching whether vaccine prevents COVID-19 transmission:

As COVID-19 vaccines are administered around the world, scientists continue conducting research to determine how effective the shots are at preventing transmission of the virus. 4:44

“Even in the worst-case scenario, that we see some of these variants spreading and we get a partial response, it’s probably going to mean that the health-care complications, the deaths, are still going to be greatly controlled by a mass vaccine campaign,” said Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious disease specialist at McMaster University.

And, thankfully, research teams can also pivot, redeveloping existing coronavirus vaccines to target any variants that may prove capable of evading the ones already rolling out globally.

The novel mRNA vaccines, including the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna options currently approved in Canada, are among those that can be more easily tweaked. Those vaccines provide instructions — messenger RNA — to cells, allowing them to make their own spike protein, which someone’s immune system can recognize and fight off in the future.

“That is their genius, that they’re completely and rapidly modifiable,” Chagla said. “The packaging is there, the delivery method is there, all you need to do is change the mRNA sequence.”

The sooner people get vaccinated, ‘the better’

But while the flexibility of vaccination development is reassuring for the long term, it doesn’t tackle the problem at hand: COVID-19 still has its grip on much of the world, the death toll keeps climbing and vaccination efforts remain a race against time as emerging variants keep throwing a wrench in efforts to curb transmission.

“The sooner that we can get a vaccine into people, the better,” Kelvin said.

To save lives and keep health-care systems from collapsing while vaccination programs scale up, she stressed that Canadians also need to ramp up the basic public health precautions that should now be routine.

Physical distancing, mask-wearing, hand-washing, staying away from crowds and enclosed spaces — it all matters, perhaps now more than ever, to slow transmission and give the virus fewer opportunities to spread and evolve.

That buys time for Canada to hit its tenuous goal for 2021: getting everyone vaccinated, without any variants getting in the way.

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Queen Elizabeth’s Christmas message focuses on hope at close of pandemic-stricken year

Queen Elizabeth’s annual Christmas message looks back on a year in which the coronavirus pandemic cast a pall over the world but brought out the “indomitable” spirit of those who rose to the challenges.

In her address broadcast Friday, the 94-year-old monarch acknowledged the “difficult and unpredictable times.”

“For many, this time of year will be tinged with sadness — some mourning the loss of those dear to them, and others missing friends and family members, distanced for safety, when all they really want for Christmas is a simple hug or a squeeze of the hand,” she said. 

“If you are among them, you are not alone, and let me assure you of my thoughts and prayers.”

With infection rates soaring in recent weeks and many hospitals nearing their capacities, the British government on Dec. 19 cancelled Christmas gatherings and festive shopping for millions in a bid to control the spread of the virus. The United Kingdom has reported well over two million cases of the coronavirus since the pandemic began and topped 70,000 deaths on Friday for the second-highest death toll in Europe behind Italy.

Worldwide, the number of reported cases was nearing 80 million, with more than 1.7 million deaths.

Praise for front-line workers 

While acknowledging the hardship experienced by many, the Queen devoted much of her address to celebrating the actions of those who have stepped up to provide help.

“Remarkably, a year that has necessarily kept people apart has in many ways brought us closer. Across the Commonwealth, my family and I have been inspired by stories of people volunteering in their communities helping those in need,” she said.

“In the United Kingdom and around the world, people have risen magnificently to the challenges of the year, and I’m so proud and moved by this quiet, indomitable spirit.”

WATCH | Queen’s Christmas message one of hope, gratitude:

The Queen’s annual Christmas message was one of hope for a world torn apart by the pandemic, but also of gratitude for the sacrifices so many have made. 1:59

The Queen in particular highlighted the contributions of front-line workers and young people, evoking the parable of the Good Samaritan, as well as the Unknown Warrior, an unidentified British soldier from the First World War whose tomb is at London’s Westminster Abbey.

The monarch ended her message on a note of hope.

“The Bible tells how a star appeared in the sky, its light guiding the shepherds and wise men to the scene of Jesus’s birth. Let the light of Christmas, the spirit of selflessness, love and, above all, hope guide us in the times ahead,” she said.

Like many others, the Royal Family has had to adapt to the realities of the pandemic this holiday season. The Queen recorded her Christmas address at Windsor Castle in Berkshire, where she has been living in near isolation with Prince Philip for much of the pandemic.

Buckingham Palace has said that the couple is spending Christmas “quietly” at Windsor this year, instead of hosting their traditional large family gathering at Sandringham House in Norfolk.

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CBC | World News

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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CBC | World News

Women’s hockey players hope to bring attention to pro game on Battle of the Blades

With the future of professional women’s hockey in flux, a trio of Canadians are set to strap on their skates to compete in CBC’s Battle of the Blades.

Meghan Agosta, Jennifer Botterill and Jessica Campbell will make their figure skating debuts next Thursday when the sixth season of the show premieres.

While toe picks and twirls have proven challenging in training, the women’s hockey troika hopes swapping hockey skates for figures skates brings attention to their primary sport.

“We want to get to that [point] where we are playing the game that we love, which is hockey, and we’re getting paid financially to support ourselves and our families,” Agosta, 33, said in an interview with CBC Sports’ Andi Petrillo.

Agosta played in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League before it discontinued operations in May 2019. The National Women’s Hockey League now stands as the lone pro organization.

WATCH | Agosta, Botterill, Campbell aim to highlight women’s game on BOTDB:

Jennifer Botterill, Jessica Campbell, and Meghan Agosta speak to the future of professional women’s hockey, and what a platform like Battle of The Blades can do for the sport. 6:49

After the CWHL folded, over 200 players formed the Professional Women’s Hockey Player’s Association with a goal of creating a financially sustainable league that provides regular ice time, health insurance and other supports.

As such, those players opted out of the NWHL, instead playing in an exhibition showcase series they titled The Dream Gap Tour.

Agosta, of Windsor, Ont., participated at the 2020 NHL all-star game and skills competition, where she said Gary Bettman indicated he wanted one sustainable women’s league.

“It is only a matter of time and deep down I know truly that when they do give us that opportunity it’s going to be a successful thing and we’re going to showcase what women’s hockey is all about,” Agosta said.

For Botterill, sponsors, marketing and media are all part of the puzzle.

“I think they see this happening. It just may not happen with the snap of a finger,” Botterill, 41, said.

Ottawa’s Botterill was part of the creation of the CWHL in 2007. With the league now defunct, the NWHL added its first Canadian team with an expansion in Toronto.

“I see both sides of the story. I see the NWHL coming in to set the Toronto team and expanding to Canada which, we have people with a good vision and wanting to grow, but you also have the player’s association with most of the players believing there might need to be some adjustments for this long-term plan.”

WATCH | Kendall Coyne Schofield makes history at 2019 NHL skills competition:

Less than a month after setting the world on fire with her speed at the NHL Skills Competition, Coyne Schofield was back at it again as she took home the NWHL’s fastest skater crown with a time of 13.90 seconds. 1:16

Campbell, 28, played for the Calgary Inferno of the CWHL and made her national team debut in 2014.

The Moosomin, Sask., native said anyone who’s seen women’s hockey at the highest level knows it deserves to be treated as a legitimate pro sport.

“I think from the player’s perspective, they need to continue to show up and they need to pioneer and break down those barriers and be patient. And I know that it’s really hard but I know that they’re doing the right thing,” Campbell said.

‘You want to be them’

For Campbell, just putting women on the Battle of the Blades platform is a step in the right direction.

“It’s the Natalie Spooners, it’s the Tessa Bonhommes. You remember their face because you make that connection with them. You see their personality. You want to be them. You want to live their story and walk their path,” Campbell said. 

“I know for a fact that, to Jennifer and Meghan and I, we’re all on the same page and we’re doing this for our charities and our love for skating in such a fun way, but we’re trying to connect with our viewers and with the youth that are aspiring to walk our paths.”

Campbell is paired with ice dancer Asher Hill for the show, where she’ll be skating on behalf of Do It For Daron, which supports education, awareness and research initiatives that encourage young people to talk openly about mental illness.

Botterill will skate with two-time world champion pairs skater Eric Radford. Both are competing to win money for The Canadian Cancer Society.

Finally, Agosta will team up with three-time Canadian ice dance champion Andrew Poje and compete on behalf of the BC Children’s Hospital.

The sixth season of Battle of the Blades premieres next Thursday at 8 p.m. ET on CBC and CBC Gem.

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As COVID-19 cases climb in long-term care homes, experts hope to avoid locking down residents

As the number of people infected with COVID-19 continues to climb, the virus has crept back into long-term care and retirement homes across the country. 

After spreading like wildfire through hundreds of facilities in the spring, killing thousands of seniors, health officials were able to bring it under control during the summer, said Dr. Samir Sinha, director of geriatrics at Sinai Health in Toronto.

But after Labour Day, as COVID-19 cases sharply rose among the general public, so too did the number of outbreaks in long-term care. 

“It really reminds us that the outbreaks that we see in our nursing homes and our retirement homes across the country are really the product of community transmission,” Sinha told Dr. Brian Goldman, host of the CBC podcast The Dose.

LISTEN | What have we learned about COVID-19 to keep my elderly loved one safe in long-term care this time around?

The Dose23:15What have we learned about COVID-19 to keep my elderly loved one safe in long-term care this time around?

“What really worries me now going into the second wave is that as we’re seeing the community transmission ramp up, we’re seeing more and more homes get into outbreak,” Sinha said.

“It’s only going to be a matter of time before that translates into more deaths … deaths that unfortunately, I think, many of us feel are just utterly preventable.” 

Based on data provided by provincial health ministries, CBC News estimates that as of Tuesday evening, there were active COVID-19 outbreaks in more than 120 long-term care homes in Canada’s hardest-hit provinces alone: Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia.  

On top of the LTC count, there are close to 100 outbreaks in retirement homes in those provinces, primarily in Ontario and Quebec.  

“Outbreaks” are defined differently in various provinces. In Ontario, only one case — either a resident or a staff member — triggers outbreak protocols. Other provinces count two or more cases as an outbreak. 

‘I think we’re going to do a better job this round … about making sure we’re not shutting families out’ from their loved ones in long-term care, says Dr. Samir Sinha, director of geriatrics at Sinai Health in Toronto. (Taylor Simmons/CBC)

Given how deadly COVID-19 has been among elderly Canadians, any resurgence of cases in long-term care facilities is concerning, experts say — but not surprising. 

“It’s very similar to the schools, in the sense that what we see in long-term care homes is going to reflect what we’re seeing in the community,” said Ashleigh Tuite, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health.

“So as we see community transmission increase, we expect to start seeing increases in long-term care homes and retirement homes because they’re not sealed off from the rest of our community.”

Staff who work in long-term care and retirement homes live in the community, Sinha said, so in places where there is a lot of coronavirus circulating — such as hot spots like Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal — it’s much more likely they “are inadvertently getting COVID and then inadvertently bringing it into [care] homes.”

Although it’s “early days,” Sinha sees some hope in the fact that the majority of outbreaks this fall appear to be much smaller than they were during COVID-19’s first assault on long-term care homes last spring.

“Perhaps we have better systems in place that we can identify it early, isolate quickly and not let small outbreaks become massive outbreaks,” Sinha said. 

That’s the big question, Tuite said, that will determine whether COVID-19 will be less catastrophic this time around. 

“What do those outbreaks look like?” she said. “Are we able to nip them in the bud and, you know, basically find infected staff before they transmit to residents?”

Infectious disease epidemiologist Ashleigh Tuite hopes long-term care homes now have the tools they need to nip COVID-19 outbreaks in the bud before they spread from staff to residents. (Nick Iwanyshyn/University of Toronto)

Whether that happens will reveal if the changes governments and long-term care homes have pledged since the spring are enough to combat this round of COVID-19, said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist at Toronto’s University Health Network. 

“What is disappointing is how much of it we’re seeing this early in the fall, knowing there’s a long fall and winter ahead,” Bogoch said. 

“It’s not like we don’t know what we’re doing now,” he said. “We have a very good idea of how this virus spreads, who’s vulnerable, and we saw the tremendous vulnerabilities of our long-term facilities during the first wave.”

Some vital policy changes were promised as a result, he said, including fixing the problem of underpaid care workers moving between homes, ensuring access to personal protective equipment and integrating infection prevention and control measures in long-term care homes. 

“This has theoretically been done, but has it actually been implemented to an extent that will protect the long-term care facilities throughout the course of the fall and the winter? The answer remains to be seen.”

Long-term care lockdowns ‘last resort’

In addition to protecting seniors from COVID-19 infection, Sinha emphasized the importance of protecting them from re-living the lockdown of long-term care and retirement homes that happened in the spring. 

The thought of going through that fear, loneliness and isolation again is traumatizing, he said. 

“I can’t imagine the emotions that people are feeling right now,” Sinha said. “[But] I think we’re going to do a better job this round … about making sure we’re not shutting families out completely.”

Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist at the University Health Network, says we know much more about how COVID-19 spreads and how to stop it than we did when the virus ravaged long-term care homes last spring. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

Even as COVID-19 cases rise, some provinces, including Ontario, have recognized that and aren’t locking long-term care homes down completely, allowing residents to have at least one designated “family caregiver.”

That caregiver not only provides much-needed emotional support, but also helps understaffed homes with tasks such as feeding and bathing their elderly family member, Sinha said. 

In addition, it’s important for people to consider their loved one’s wishes when weighing the risks and benefits of seeing them in long-term care, he said. Many of his patients tell him the value of family visits overrides their worries about getting COVID-19. 

The way to visit as safely as possible, he said, is to make sure that you’re following public health guidelines in all other aspects of your life, including avoiding crowds, physically distancing, wearing a mask and handwashing. 

“If you know that you’re doing the right things yourself personally to protect yourself against COVID and then you’re following all the protocols and precautions [at the long-term care home],” then it’s likely pretty safe, Sinha said. 

Tuite agrees that access to family visits should be maintained during this next phase of COVID-19.

“I think lockdowns should be a measure of last resort,” she said.

“At this point we know enough about the virus, we have enough tools that we can control it,” Tuite said. 

“The fact that there’s COVID circulating doesn’t mean that we need to lock these homes down. It means that we need to have really strong infection prevention and control measures in place. It means that people who are going into the homes need to be screened.”

And, Tuite  said, it means flattening the COVID-19 curve once again. 

“The best way to protect people living in long-term care homes is to keep community transmission low,”  she said. 

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Leylah Annie Fernandez is Canada’s last hope at the French Open

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.

Here’s what you need to know right now from the world of sports:

Canada is down to its last singles player at the French Open

Genie Bouchard lost her third-round match today to Iga Swiatek. The rising Polish teenager was simply on another level, dominating Bouchard 6-3, 6-2 to reach the round of 16 for the second time in three Grand Slams this year. Swiatek has yet to lose a set at this year’s French Open and could be a tough out for top seed Simona Halep in the next round.

Bouchard, who’s ranked 168th in the world, got a wild-card invitation to Paris, where she benefited from a favourable draw. She knocked off the 788th and 108th-ranked players in the world before meeting her first truly tough opponent in the 54th-ranked Swiatek. Bouchard also faced a pretty easy slate during her recent trip to a final in Istanbul. She beat 33rd-ranked Svetlana Kuznetsova, who’s 35 years old, but didn’t have to face anyone else who’s currently higher than 59th.

Still, this is an encouraging run for Bouchard, who climbed as high as No. 5 in the world in 2014 but had fallen all the way to 224th at the end of last year. She reached the third round of a Slam for the first time in three years and is now up to 140th in the “live” rankings.

The only Canadian left in the French Open singles draws is the youngest one: 18-year-old Leylah Annie Fernandez. Her French Open debut is already a success. Ranked 100th in the world (and climbing), Fernandez has beaten 36th-ranked Magda Linette and 47th-ranked Polona Hercog for her second and third career Slam wins.

But she’s stepping up in class now to face No. 7 seed Petra Kvitova. The 30-year-old Czech was ranked second in the world as recently as January 2019, owns a pair of Wimbledon titles and has banked more than $ 32 million US in prize money in her career. Clay isn’t her best surface, though: she’s made it to the fourth round of the French Open only once in her last six tries. The Kvitova-Fernandez match is Saturday.

Canada also has two players remaining in the doubles draws. Gabriela Dabrowski and her Latvian teammate Jelena Ostapenko reached the women’s third round today, while Vasek Pospisil and American Jack Sock are into the men’s second round.

WATCH | Genie Bouchard swept out of Franch Open in 3rd round:

Wild-card entry Eugenie Bouchard of Westmount, Que., fell to 19-year-old Iga Swiatek of Poland 6-3, 6-2 in the third round of the French Open. 2:14


The WNBA Finals tip off tonight. The best-of-five series is a matchup between the top team from the shortened regular season — the Las Vegas Aces — and the second-place squad — the Seattle Storm. Both finished with 18-4 records, but Vegas won their two head-to-head meetings. There’s plenty of star power. The Aces are led by freshly crowned league MVP A’Ja Wilson, while the Storm have 2018 regular-season and Finals MVP Breanna Stewart and 11-time all-star Sue Bird, who turns 40 in a couple of weeks. There are no Canadian players in the series, but Seattle has a guard named Jordin Canada. She averaged 7.9 points this season. Read more about the Finals matchup here.

Kia Nurse is taking a break. Like many WNBA players, the Canadian guard usually heads overseas to keep playing (and making money) during the off-season. Nurse was the MVP of the Australian women’s league a year ago. But this year, she’s decided to take some time off after a trying WNBA season. Nurse hurt her ankle in the first game, then saw her star New York Liberty teammate Sabrina Ionescu lost for the season with her own ankle injury two games later. Forced to carry a weak squad, Nurse shot just 27 per cent and the Liberty finished dead last with a 2-20 record. There was also the frustration of seeing a Kentucky grand jury decline to bring charges against the police who killed Breonna Taylor (WNBA players have centred their protests against police brutality and racial injustice around that case). So instead of Australia, Nurse is working out of her Hamilton, Ont., home as a WNBA and NBA analyst for TSN. Read more about how Nurse is moving on from her toughest season in this piece by CBC Sports’ Myles Dichter.

The second round of the American League playoffs is set. It’s top-seeded Tampa Bay vs. the No. 5 New York Yankees, and No. 2 Oakland vs. No. 6 Houston. Those five-game series will take place in neutral-site bubbles in, respectively, San Diego and Los Angeles’ Dodger Stadium. But first, the National League’s first round needs to wrap up. The top-seeded Dodgers and No. 2 Atlanta are already through. Miami can sweep the Chicago Cubs today, while St. Louis and San Diego play their deciding game tonight. The NL’s second round will be played in Houston and Arlington, Tex.

Doc Rivers wasn’t unemployed long. Just a few days after mutually (if you believe that) parting ways with the Los Angeles Clippers, the big-name head coach was hired by the Philadelphia 76ers. Rivers goes from one underachieving team to another. The Clippers were supposed to be title contenders after landing stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George last summer, but they lost in the second round to Denver after no-showing Game 7. Rivers took the fall for that. Now he takes over a 76ers team that has failed to get out of the second round despite having two (supposed) superstars in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Read more about Doc’s new gig here.

The Canadian women’s soccer team still doesn’t have a head coach. It’s been without one since Kenneth Heiner-Møller officially left at the end of August. Even though the Olympics are (hopefully) less than 10 months away, the vacancy isn’t as problematic as it may sound. Canada has already qualified, international friendlies are on hold indefinitely because of the pandemic, and most Canadian players are staying sharp with their pro clubs in different parts of the world. So there’s no real rush. But a decision will have to be made soon on who will guide Canada’s quest for a third consecutive Olympic medal. Read about the top candidates in this piece by CBC Sports’ Signa Butler.

And finally…

As you may have heard, an important person tested positive for COVID-19. We’re talking, of course, about Tennessee Titans rookie cornerback Kristian Fulton. He was a key member of the LSU team that won the college football national championship last season, and he’s helped the Titans to a 3-0 start with a sack and a 44-yard interception return. Tennessee placed Fulton on its reserve/COVID-19 list as it copes with an outbreak that has now resulted in 13 team members testing positive — including seven players. This Sunday’s game against Pittsburgh was postponed, and the NFL announced day that it’ll be played on Oct. 25 instead. There’s also concern that next Sunday’s game vs. Buffalo could be in jeopardy if the virus continues to spread. Read more about the latest on the Titans’ outbreak here.

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Genie Bouchard (surprise) might be Canada’s best French Open hope

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.

Here’s what you need to know right now from the world of sports:

2 Canadians are left in the French Open — just not the ones we figured

Canada had six singles players in the Grand Slam event, and the strength appeared to be on the men’s side. Even with Milos Raonic opting out, Canada was still pretty loaded with No. 9 seed Denis Shapovalov and No. 19 Felix Auger-Aliassime, along with unseeded Vasek Pospisil (ranked 76th in the world) and Steven Diez (181st). The only women’s entries were 100th-ranked teenager Leylah Annie Fernandez, who had one career Slam match win to her credit, and 168th Genie Bouchard, who hadn’t won one since early 2019.

But — surprise! — Bouchard and Fernandez are the only two still alive. Bouchard reached the third round yesterday, and Fernandez joined her today with a three-set victory over 47th-ranked Polona Hercog. Meanwhile, Shapovalov, who was the last Canadian man left, dropped a five-set, five-hour marathon to 101st-ranked Roberto Carballes Baena. Read more about today’s results here.

Bouchard’s next match is Friday at 5 a.m. ET. Her opponent is Polish teenager Iga Swiatek, who’s ranked 54th in the world and has reached at least the third round in all three Grand Slams this year.

If Bouchard wins, it’ll be her first trip to the fourth round of a Slam since the 2015 U.S. Open. She had to withdraw from that match after slipping in the locker room and hitting her head. Bouchard sued the tournament organizers, and a settlement was reached before the trial was completed.

The locker-room fall coincided with Bouchard’s fall from grace. She had finished the 2014 season ranked fifth in the world after a magical run that saw her reach the Wimbledon final, the semifinals of the Australian and French Opens and the fourth round of the U.S. Open. By the end of 2015, she was down to 48th. She closed the 2019 season 224th.

Bouchard, who’s now 26, has clawed back up to 168th (and climbing) with some solid clay-court play over the last few weeks. Before the French Open, she made the final of a low-stakes tournament in Istanbul, where she benefited from the world’s best players either being busy at the U.S. Open or sitting out.

Fernandez, 18, is hoping to trace her fellow Quebecer’s steps up the world rankings. This is her first season as a full-fledged pro. She qualified for her first Slam at the Australian Open in January, and picked up her first Slam win at the U.S. Open last month. In order to reach the fourth round in her French Open debut, she’ll have to beat No. 7 seed Petra Kvitova. The 30-year-old Czech was ranked second in the world as recently as January 2019. She’s won Wimbledon twice and has banked more than $ 32 million US in prize money. Their match is Saturday.

WATCH | Leylah Annie Fernandez’s French Open journey continues:

The 18-year-old from Laval, Que., beat world No. 47 Polona Hercog of Slovenia 6-4, 3-6, 6-1 to advance to the third round of the French Open. 3:10

Well, that didn’t last long

The Toronto Blue Jays’ surprising return to the post-season ended yesterday after just two games. Ace Hyun-Jin Ryu got roughed up in an 8-2 loss that gave the top-seeded Tampa Bay Rays a sweep of the best-of-three first-round series.

The ending was definitely a bummer, but this was a fun season for Jays fans. The team kept its chin up after getting kicked to a minor-league park in Buffalo, and took advantage of a shortened season and a generous new playoff structure to earn a surprising playoff berth — its first in four years.

Despite yesterday’s struggles, Ryu looks like a legit ace and rookie pitcher Nate Pearson showed flashes of brilliance (when he was healthy). Young shortstop Bo Bichette seems like the real deal (at least at the plate). Vladimir Guerrero Jr., still hasn’t broken out, but his power numbers improved a bit from his rookie year and he finished the regular season strong. So maybe he can solve those ground-ball woes for next year. And Toronto’s two best hitters this year — outfielders Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and Teoscar Hernandez — are still early in their primes and under team control for next season. Hernandez is arbitration-eligible (good timing by him) but Gurriel is signed for three more years at team-friendly salaries.

So there’s a lot to look forward to, especially if baseball decides to keep its expanded playoff format. And, hey, just be glad you’re not a Twins fan. Minnesota got swept by Houston yesterday and has now lost an incredible 18 (!) consecutive playoff games.


The NFL postponed the Titans-Steelers game for this week. After several members of Tennessee’s team tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this week, the NFL initially planned to just push back Sunday’s showdown between the 3-0 clubs to Monday or Tuesday. But two more positive tests today brought the Titans’ total to 11, including five players, prompting the league to call off the game. It’ll be played later this season. Week 7 looks like the best option because the Titans are scheduled for a bye while both the Steelers and their opponent that week, Baltimore, have byes the following week. Read more about the Titans’ outbreak and the postponed game here.

The Miami Heat are in trouble. When you’re as big an underdog as Miami is in its NBA Finals matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers, you need pretty much everything to go right to pull off the upset. But pretty much everything went wrong last night. The Heat got blown out 116-98 in the series opener, and that score (lopsided as it is) even flatters them thanks to some garbage-time scoring. L.A.’s two-star system worked to perfection. Anthony Davis dominated on both ends of the floor and finished with a game-high 34 points along with nine rebounds and five assists, while LeBron James (25/13/9) nearly put up a triple-double. Their gravity created a lot of open looks for the supporting cast, which knocked down its share of shots. Oh, and it (somehow) gets worse for the Heat. Two of their best players, Goran Dragic and Bam Adebayo, both left the game with injuries and are looking doubtful for Game 2. Another Miami star, Jimmy Butler, was slowed by an apparent ankle injury. Not to overreact to one game, but this is shaping up to be a short series. Read more about the Heat’s devastating Game 1 loss here.

Canada Artistic Swimming closed its national-team training centre in Montreal after athletes complained of abuse and harassment. Artistic swimming is the new name for synchronized swimming. Radio-Canada reported that the training centre is closed as an external firm investigates allegations made in a series of emails. According to the report, some athletes complained they heard offensive comments made by a coach about Black, Muslim and LGBTQ people. Another coach who is part of the organization told Radio Canada that wasn’t the only incident, and that there’s a “culture of fear and compliance” at Canada Artistic Swimming. Read more here.

And finally…

15 for fighting. That’s what the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League will start penalizing players who drop the gloves under new rules passed yesterday. Anyone involved in a fight gets hit with the standard five-minute major, plus a 10-minute misconduct. Instigators get an extra two minutes. Frequent fighters will also be targeted. A player’s third fight of the season lands him an automatic three-game suspension, and he’ll get another game for every additional scrap after that. The new rules go into effect when the regular season starts tonight.

Isabelle Charest, who’s the minister for sports in Quebec, had called for the QMJHL to ban fighting. Meanwhile, the league is asking for a $ 20-million government bailout to help it through the pandemic. But commissioner Gilles Courteau insisted the new rules weren’t a condition for receiving money from the government. Read more about the QMJHL’s crackdown on fighting here.

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Kristian Alfonso Is Leaving ‘Days Of Our Lives’ After Playing Hope for 37 Years

Kristian Alfonso Is Leaving ‘Days Of Our Lives’ After Playing Hope for 37 Years | Entertainment Tonight

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