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Why Canada’s confusing COVID-19 vaccine guidelines could be leaving seniors at risk

This is an excerpt from Second Opinion, a weekly roundup of health and medical science news emailed to subscribers every Saturday morning. If you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do that by clicking here.

Canada’s reluctance to follow evolving real-world data has led to potentially confusing COVID-19 vaccination guidelines that some experts say leave vulnerable seniors at risk in the community and could fuel vaccine hesitancy.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommended last week that Canadians over 65 not receive an AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccination despite emerging evidence from countries around the world demonstrating its ability to prevent severe COVID-19 in older adults.

The recommendation led provinces to reorganize their vaccination plans for seniors. The result was people aged 60-64 could receive AstraZeneca-Oxford shots ahead of older age groups, who are at greater risk of hospitalization and death from COVID-19.

Quebec is the only province so far to ignore the national recommendations. Officials there said this week they would administer the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine to seniors in direct contrast to what the province considers outdated NACI advice.

Other countries such as France and Germany initially advised those 65 and older not to receive the shot, but overturned their decisions earlier this month after new evidence showed the vaccine significantly reduced hospitalizations in that age group.

One Shoppers Drug Mart location in Toronto’s east end started catering to walk-ins for AstraZeneca-Oxford shots for those aged 60 to 64, which prompted a long lineup near Danforth and Coxwell Avenues on Thursday.  (Michael Charles Cole/CBC Toronto)

But the NACI recommendations were based largely on AstraZeneca-Oxford’s clinical trial data and didn’t examine real-world evidence past Dec. 7 — months before the effectiveness of the vaccine was fully realized in other countries for older age groups.

“We are trying to do the best that we can with the data that we have,” NACI chair Dr. Caroline Quach told The National‘s Andrew Chang this week.

She said the volunteer national advisory committee isn’t able to pivot to emerging data quickly.

“We are not a committee that is able to make a recommendation on Monday to be published on the Tuesday.”

Quach confirmed to CBC News on Friday that NACI met this week to discuss revising the AstraZeneca guidelines for those over 65, and said they would likely be updated “in the next few days” as shots continue to roll out across the country for younger age groups.

‘Disconnect’ between COVID-19 vaccine guidelines

NACI’s decision to advise against AstraZeneca-Oxford shots for older Canadians in spite of emerging evidence is in direct contrast to another recent recommendation it made to delay second doses of COVID-19 vaccines by up to four months.

That decision was based on real-world data from Quebec, B.C., Israel, the U.K. and the U.S. that showed “good effectiveness” of between 70 and 80 per cent from a single dose of the vaccines in preventing severe illness “for up to two months in some studies.”

“People would see a bit of a disconnect,” said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases physician and member of Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine task force. “You’ve got to have the trust of the general public.”

WATCH | Benefits outweigh risks with AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine, experts say:

Despite some European countries temporarily halting use of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine after 30 cases of blood clots, experts maintain it is still safe to use in Canada. 2:01

Bogoch said NACI needs to be “very careful” with its messaging around vaccination recommendations in an “open, honest and transparent way” with Canadians, in order to avoid eroding trust in vaccines. 

“How we word things matters…. If you’re going to make those recommendations, you’ve got to stand up in front of the country and explain why,” he said.

“We’re already getting issues with people who are saying, ‘I’m not going to take the AstraZeneca vaccine, I’m going to wait.’ It’s going to be a challenge.”

Raywat Deonandan, a global health epidemiologist and an associate professor at the University of Ottawa, said the recommendation against the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine for seniors sends the “wrong message” to Canadians.

“I’ve got people telling me they don’t want AstraZeneca, so they’ll rather wait until they can get a Pfizer dose,” he said. “We need to get sufficient numbers of doses in the right people so that herd immunity happens and case numbers drop.” 

Alyson Kelvin, an assistant professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax and virologist at the Canadian Center for Vaccinology, says there are no safety concerns with AstraZeneca-Oxford for older individuals and that its effectiveness is on par with other vaccines such as Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.

Monique Prud’homme, one of the first Albertans to receive the Covishield/AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, on Thursday, told Alberta Health Services she is ‘so excited’ and looks forward to someday having her grandchildren stay over, hosting family meals at home, visiting friends and her father. (Alberta Health Services)

“If a vaccine is available to you, it’s really important that you’re taking it,” she said.

And that’s especially true for people over 60, she said.

“This group of individuals makes up about 97 per cent of our COVID-related deaths in Canada, and to keep a vaccine from them … hurts my heart.”

Bogoch said that each of the four vaccines approved in Canada will significantly reduce the risk of hospitalization and death for older Canadians, so it’s important to keep that in context when considering national recommendations.

“We’re in the middle of a public health crisis,” he said. “So the strategy should be to vaccinate as many people over the age of 60 with any of the available vaccines in as short a time frame as possible.”

‘No indication’ AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine tied to blood clots

Adding to the confusion around the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine this week were reports of an undisclosed number of blood clot cases after vaccinations in Europe, which ultimately led Denmark, Norway and Iceland to stop using the vaccine out of an abundance of caution.

Health Canada released a statement Thursday night, more than eight hours after CBC News requested comment, saying “there is no indication that the vaccine caused these events” and the “benefits of the vaccine continue to outweigh its risks.”

The U.K.’s drug regulatory agency said that of the 11 million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine that have been administered, reports of blood clots were no greater than expected in the general public.

WATCH | ‘No cause for alarm’ after Denmark pauses AstraZeneca vaccinations, says doctor:

There’s no reason to be overly worried after Denmark said it was temporarily stopping inoculations with the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to investigate a small number of blood clots, says infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch. 2:16

Bogoch told CBC News that while it’s important to watch the situation carefully in order to instill confidence in the vaccine’s safety, Canadians have to keep it in context. 

“This vaccine has been given to millions and millions of other people globally, including in the United Kingdom,” he said.

“We have not yet heard of any signal amongst the noise for blood clots in any other jurisdiction and there have been other places that have been giving this vaccine for … months.”

Age ‘greatest risk’ factor for COVID-19

Experts say the confusion around vaccine safety recommendations this week is unfortunate, especially given the number of seniors in Canada at risk of severe COVID-19 complications who have yet to be vaccinated. 

While long-term care home residents were prioritized in Canada’s vaccine rollout after the first shipments arrived in mid-December, seniors living in the community have only recently been offered a vaccine across much of the country. 

“When you actually look at the data about who’s the greatest risk from getting seriously ill and dying from COVID-19, the No. 1 factor is age,” said Dr. Samir Sinha, director of geriatrics for the Sinai Health System and the University Health Network in Toronto. 

Carmelo Bolpe, 67, gets his first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Caboto Terrace in Toronto on Thursday. Nurses from Humber River Hospital were on site as part of an initiative to vaccinate seniors in congregate living settings. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Sinha says Canada should have better prioritized community-dwelling seniors in its initial rollout, especially given the significant drop in hospitalizations and deaths among long-term care residents after vaccination.

More than 14,000 long-term care residents have died of COVID-19 in Canada since the pandemic began. Sinha says about 4,000 of those residents were in Ontario, while another 2,000 of the province’s deaths were seniors living in the community. 

“We have to remember that, yes, 70 per cent of our deaths in Ontario have been amongst those living in our long-term care retirement homes,” he said. “But another 26 per cent have been among community-dwelling seniors.” 

Deonandan says he was “shocked” that age wasn’t more of a priority for initial COVID-19 vaccine rollouts across the country given that it is the single biggest risk factor by far.

“It comes down to, what is the goal that we’re trying to achieve here?” he said. 

“The goal should be twofold: to keep the health-care system up and running, and to make the crisis go away, and you get that by focusing on age.”

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CBC | Health News

Prince Harry gets fresh about leaving royal duties, living in California

Prince Harry said he didn’t walk away from his royal duties, in an appearance on The Late, Late Show with James Corden that aired early Friday.

Harry and his wife, Meghan Markle, stepped away from full-time royal life in early 2020. Buckingham Palace confirmed last Friday they will not be returning to royal duties, and Harry will give up his honorary military titles.

Harry told Corden he decided to step away from his work as a front-line member of the royal family to protect his wife and son, as well as his own mental health.

“It was stepping back rather than stepping down,” he said. “It was a really difficult environment, which I think a lot of people saw, so I did what any father or husband would do and thought, how do I get my family out of here? But we never walked away, and as far as I’m concerned, whatever decisions are made on that side, I will never walk away.”

Harry and Meghan moved from England to California last year.

Britain’s Prince Harry, seen with wife Meghan Markle, was interviewed by Late, Late Show host James Corden. (Matt Dunham/The Associated Press)

The appearance on Corden’s show marked Harry’s first interview since his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth, stripped the prince and his wife of their remaining royal duties. Corden’s segment trumped Oprah Winfrey, whose interview with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex is scheduled to air March 7.

During the segment, Harry and Corden tour southern California in an open-top bus, at one point arriving outside the mansion where the 1990s sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was filmed.

“If it was good enough for the Fresh Prince, it’s good enough for a real prince,” Corden said.

The two then proceed to sing the show’s iconic theme song.

Views on The Crown

At one point, Corden asks Harry what he thinks of the Netflix series The Crown, which delves into the personal lives and public actions of the Royal Family. At times, the show has been criticized for its depictions of real people.

“Of course it’s not strictly accurate,” Harry said, “but loosely … it gives you a rough idea about what that lifestyle, what the pressures of putting duty and service above family and everyone else, what can come from that.”

But he noted, “I’m way more comfortable with The Crown than I am seeing the [media] stories written about my family or my wife or myself.”

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CBC | World News

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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Anyone leaving New York must self-isolate or risk spreading COVID-19, health officials say

With around half of the country’s infections, New York state is the epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States, prompting a special warning from public health authorities Tuesday.

There were more than 25,000 positive cases in New York state and at least 210 deaths, according to state figures. Most of the cases and deaths have been in New York City.

Dr. Deborah Birx, from the White House’s coronavirus task force, said at a briefing Tuesday that about 56 per cent of all cases in the U.S. are coming out of New York City and the New York metropolitan area, and about 31 per cent of patients are succumbing to the disease. 

That’s why it was “critical” that anyone who has left New York in the past few days to quarantine themselves for 14 days when they reached their destination.

WATCH | Officials warn all people leaving New York must self-isolate or risk spreading COVID-19:

“You may have been exposed before you left New York City” 1:43

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, said about one per 1,000 people leaving New York are infected — about eight to 10 times more than in other areas. And that posed a danger of infected people “seeding” the rest of the country wherever they went. 

He said pointedly at the briefing: “No one is going to want to tone down anything when you see what is going on in a place like New York City,” referring to President Donald Trump’s call to loosen COVID-19 restrictions, like social distancing, and get people back to work and everyday activities soon — possibly in a few weeks.

“I would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter,” Trump said from the Rose Garden earlier Tuesday. Easter falls on April 12 this year.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo balked at the president’s suggestion and said the American people would choose public health over the economy.

WATCH / Cuomo angry at Trump’s call to ease COVID-19 restrictions:

‘No American is going to say accelerate the economy at the cost of human life,’ says Cuomo, whose state is hardest-hit 1:53

“No American is going to say accelerate the economy at the cost of human life,” he said.

“My mother is not expendable. Your mother is not expendable,” he added on Twitter. “We can have a public health strategy that is consistent with an economic one.”

Cuomo has also called on the administration to nationalize the medical supply chain and use the Defense Production Act to force private companies to produce needed supplies.

Earlier in the day he sounded his most dire warning yet about the coronavirus pandemic, saying the infection rate in his state is accelerating and the state could be as close as two weeks away from a crisis that sees 40,000 people in intensive care.

The rate of new infections, Cuomo said, is doubling about every three days. While officials once projected the peak in New York would come in early May, they now say it could come in two to three weeks.

“We are not slowing it. And it is accelerating on its own,” he said, during a briefing at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. “One of the forecasters said to me we were looking at a freight train coming across the country. We’re now looking at a bullet train.”

Such a surge would overwhelm hospitals, which now have just 3,000 intensive care unit beds statewide.

New York officials have been racing to essentially double their hospital capacity to up to 110,000 beds. Cuomo now said there could be a peak need of 140,000 beds.

Cages of ventilators, part of a shipment of 400, arrived Tuesday at the New York City Emergency Management Warehouse. (Mark Lennihan/The Associated Press)

‘Nowhere near’ enough beds

New York officials are planning to add at least 1,000 temporary hospital beds at the Javits Center for non-COVID-19 patients and thousands of beds elsewhere. But Cuomo said “they’re nowhere near” the number that will be needed. The state also faces shortages of ventilators and protective equipment for medical workers.

New York has 7,000 ventilators. Cuomo called for a national push to send ventilators to New York now, saying the city alone needs 20,000 of them in a matter of weeks. He said the equipment could then be redeployed to different areas once the peak passes in New York.

A view of a nearly empty Times Square, which is usually very crowded on a weekday morning, on Monday. (Mark Lennihan/The Associated Press)

“I will take personal responsibility for transporting the 20,000 ventilators anywhere in this country that they want, once we are passed our apex,” Cuomo said. “But don’t leave them sitting in a stockpile.”

Cuomo was referring to the Strategic National Stockpile — a repository of billions of dollars worth of medical supplies overseen by the federal government, to assist states in the event of a mass public health emergency. The Trump administration has been doling out some supplies, but states including New York have complained the shipments have fallen far short of the need.

Peter Pitts, a former associate commissioner at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and president of the New York-based Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, said that ventilators — about the size of two old VCR machines — are certainly portable. But he said there would need to be a regional or national co-ordinator of medical products “to make sure that the goods needed are where they need to be.”

The U.S. national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that more than 44,000 Americans have the virus, according to figures as of late Tuesday afternoon, with 544 deaths.

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CBC | World News

Tom Brady, 6-time Super Bowl champion, leaving New England Patriots

Tom Brady, the centrepiece of the New England Patriots’ championship dynasty over the past two decades, appears poised to leave the only football home he has ever had.

The 42-year-old six-time Super Bowl winner posted Tuesday on social media “my football journey will take place elsewhere.”

The comments were the first to indicate the most-decorated player in NFL history would leave New England.

In a two-part message, Brady thanked the Patriots and the fans and said “FOREVER A PATRIOT.”

“I don’t know what my football future holds, but it is time for me to open a new stage for my life and my career,” he wrote. “Although my football journey will take place elsewhere, I appreciate everything that we have achieved and am grateful for out incredible TEAM experiences.”

The one-year contract Brad y signed before last season expires Wednesday afternoon, and his agent could negotiate a deal with another team on Tuesday, though it can’t be official yet. He actually could still work out a new deal with New England, but his Instagram post suggests that won’t happen.

Comments by Patriots owner Robert Kraft to ESPN make that clear, too. Kraft told ESPN that Brady reached out to him Monday night and went to the owner’s house.

“We had a positive, respectful discussion.” Kraft said. “It’s not the way I want it to end, but I want him to do what is in his best personal interest. After 20 years with us, he has earned that right. I love him like a son.

“Unfortunately, the two sides were unable to reach an agreement to allow that dream to become a reality. While sad today, the overwhelming feeling I have is appreciation for his countless contributions to our team and community.”

Brady and Patriots owner Robert Kraft embrace after winning the 2018 AFC championship. (The Associated Press)

A four-time Super Bowl Most Valuable Player and three-time league MVP, Brady has been the enduring face of the Patriots during a run that added another layer to Boston’s already rich sports history. Only Bill Russell, who won 11 NBA championship rings in the 1950s and 60s with the Celtics, has won more titles as a member of one of New England’s four major professional sports teams.

Will be 43 when season starts

Brady would be the oldest starting quarterback in the league at 43 at the beginning of next season. He is also arguably coming off his worst non-injury season. He threw for 4,057 yards and 24 touchdowns in 2019, with eight interceptions. But he completed fewer than 56 per cent of his passes six times in the final eight games of the year, including a season-ending loss to Miami that cost the Patriots a first-round playoff bye.

They lost at home to the Titans in the wild-card round, Brady’s earliest post-season exit in a decade — and likely his last game in a Patriots uniform.

Brady had a one-year contract for 2019 that paid him $ 23 million, placing him 10th among starting quarterbacks. It was the latest renegotiation by Brady to help give the Patriots salary cap flexibility to fill out the roster.

The chief decision maker in player personnel decisions, Patriots coach Bill Belichick hasn’t been shy about moving on from players he felt were past their prime or seeking contracts that exceeded value in relation to their age. Belichick has severed ties with players much younger than Brady during his time in New England.

“Nothing about the end of Tom’s Patriots career changes how unfathomably spectacular it was,” said Belichick, whose current quarterback is untested second-year player Jarrett Stidham. “With his relentless competitiveness and longevity, he earned everyone’s adoration and will be celebrated forever. It has been a privilege to coach Tom Brady for 20 years.”

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CBC | Sports News

Daniel Lissing Has No Regrets Leaving ‘When Calls the Heart’ Because of THIS Heartwarming Reason (Exclusive)

Daniel Lissing Has No Regrets Leaving ‘When Calls the Heart’ Because of THIS Heartwarming Reason (Exclusive) | Entertainment Tonight

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Johnson keeps focus on election win and Brexit, not on regions opposed to leaving EU

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is heading to northern England on Saturday to meet newly elected Conservative Party legislators in the working class heartland that turned its back on the opposition Labour Party in this week’s election and helped give him an 80-seat majority.

In a victory speech outside 10 Downing Street on Friday, Johnson called for an end to the acrimony that has festered throughout the country since the divisive 2016 Brexit referendum, and urged Britain to “let the healing begin.”

Johnson’s campaign mantra to “get Brexit done” and widespread unease with the leadership style and socialist policies of opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn combined to give the ruling Conservatives 365 seats in the House of Commons, its best performance since party icon Margaret Thatcher’s last victory in 1987. Labour slumped to 203 seats, its worst showing since 1935.

While Johnson was on a victory lap Saturday, Corbyn — who has pledged to stand down early next year — was under fire from within his own party.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson fought the election under the slogan of ‘Get Brexit Done,’ promising to end the deadlock and spend more on health, education and policing. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Former legislator Helen Goodman, one of many Labour legislators to lose their seat in northern England, told BBC radio that “the biggest factor was obviously the unpopularity of Jeremy Corbyn as the leader.”

Armed with his hefty new majority, Johnson is set to start the process next week of pushing Brexit legislation through Parliament to ensure Britain leaves the EU by the Jan. 31 deadline. Once he’s passed that hurdle — breaking three years of parliamentary deadlock — he has to seal a trade deal with the bloc by the end of 2020.

Concern over immigration

Johnson owes his success, in part, to traditionally Labour-voting working class constituencies in northern England that backed the Conservatives because of the party’s promise to deliver Brexit.  Traditional Labour voters in the north and central parts of England deserted the party in droves.  During the 2016 referendum, many of those communities voted to leave the EU because of concerns that immigrants were taking their jobs and perceived neglect by the central government in London.

Early in the campaign, pundits said the election would turn on these voters, who were dubbed the “Workington man” after the one-time steel-making community in northwestern England. The Conservatives won Workington on Thursday by more than 4,000 votes. The constituency had supported Labour candidates since 1918, with only one short interruption in the 1970s.

“I think that people have lost hope in Labour,” said Nicki Lawal, 24, who lives in London’s Brixton neighbourhood.

PM won by leaning left and right

Mathew Goodwin, a professor of politics at the University of Kent, said Johnson matched a bit of leaning to the left on the economy with a similar lean to the right on Brexit, migration and crime.

Watch | What Boris Johnson’s win means for the U.K. and its allies:

Boris Johnson’s landslide election victory will push Brexit forward, which will have ripple effects on the increasingly fractured United Kingdom and for Britain’s allies. 6:55

Johnson “appears to have grasped one of the new unwritten laws in politics: It is easier for the right to move left on economics than it is for the left to move right on identity and culture,” he wrote on his blog.

The question now is whether the Conservatives can address the economic and social concerns of these voters and hold on to their support in future elections.

Conversely, some traditionally Conservative-supporting communities in southeastern England flipped to Labour as the pro-EU sentiments of middle class voters outweighed other issues.

Scotland the next flashpoint

Johnson’s election win comes after a 3½-year political deadlock over Brexit, that has effectively paralyzed business in the U.K. Parliament. Johnson is asking the British people to put anger behind them. But with about half of Britain wanting to remain in the European Union, and nationalist sentiment rising in Scotland and Ireland, unity will not be easy.

Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party lost large swaths of its traditional territory in the Dec. 12 vote, which left the Conservatives with the largest majority since Margaret Thatcher’s third-term victory in 1987. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

The next flashpoint for U.K. politics may be Scotland, where the Scottish National Party won 48 of the 59 seats that were up for grabs on Thursday.

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon delivered the landslide victory with a campaign focused on demands for a second referendum on Scottish independence. Johnson has flatly rebuffed the idea of another vote, saying Scotland already rejected independence in 2014.

Sturgeon argues that the U.K.’s decision to leave the EU against the wishes of the Scottish people has materially changed the landscape. Some 62 per cent of Scottish voters backed remaining in the EU during the 2016 referendum on membership.

Scottish leader drawing up transfer of power plan 

“It is the right of the people of Scotland. And you, as the leader of a defeated party in Scotland, have no right to stand in the way,” she said. She plans to publish a detailed case next week for a transfer of power from London that would clear the way for a second Scottish independence vote. Scots voted in 2014 to stay in the UK.

However, Johnson told Sturgeon by phone on Friday he opposed another referendum, prompting Sturgeon to say her political mandate must be respected, “just as he expects his mandate to be respected.”

In Northern Ireland, supporters of a united Ireland won more seats than those in the province who want to remain part of the United Kingdom for the first time since the 1921 partition which divided the British north from the Irish Republic in the south.

Buying more time with EU

Several hundred noisy protesters marched through central London on Friday evening to protest against the election result, disrupting traffic and chanting “Boris Johnson: Not My Prime Minister” and “Boris, Boris, Boris: Out, Out, Out.”

Johnson’s sweeping success will give him room to manoeuvre on such issues, particularly involving the fraught details of Brexit. Jim O’Neill, chair of the Chatham House think-tank , said the size of the Conservative Party victory gives it a clear mandate to execute the first stage of departing the EU by passing the withdrawal bill.

It also allows the government to “explore its future trade relationship with the EU with more time” and extends the transition period, he said. “Even more importantly, in principle, this majority gives the prime minister the leeway to be bold and reveal his true desires for both domestic and global Britain.”

‘Impossible’ for PM to meet promise of EU talks

After Jan. 31, Britain will enter a transition period when it will negotiate a new relationship with the remaining 27 EU states. The outcome of those talks will shape the future of its $ 3.5-trillion economy.

Scottish National Party, under leader Nicola Sturgeon, is the third most powerful bloc in the U.K. Parliament, behind Labour and the Conservatives. On election night, she said Johnson does not have a mandate to take Scotland out of the EU. (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

The transition period can run until the end of December 2022 under the current rules, but the Conservatives made an election promise not to extend it beyond the end of 2020.

It will be “absolutely impossible” to negotiate terms of an exit in only one year, said Scotland’s Brexit Secretary Michael Russell. He told CBC News on Saturday that the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Europe and Canada took seven years to hammer out.

Russell said holding a referendum on Scottish independence is a “sensible step forward” because Brexit will be financially damaging.

Watch | Michael Russell advocates for a Scottish referendum on independence:

Michael Russell, Scotland’s Brexit secretary, says it’s imperative that Scotland hold a referendum on independence 0:40

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said many within the EU were relieved that Britain would now have a Parliament with a clear majority, highlighting the frustration that European leaders have felt during three years of political logjam in London.

But she said it would be “very complicated” to complete the talks on a new relationship by December 2020.

French President Emmanuel Macron warned Britain on Friday that the more it chose to deregulate its economy after Brexit, the more it would lose access to the EU’s single market.

U.S. President Donald Trump congratulated Johnson and said a U.S. trade deal could be more lucrative than any with the EU, the world’s biggest trading bloc. “Celebrate Boris!” Trump said on Twitter.

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High cost of internet access leaving low-income families behind, report finds

The high cost of internet access in Canada is leaving low-income families behind, says a national organization that is calling on the federal government to act.

ACORN Canada, a charitable organization that advocates for low- to moderate-income families, is set to release a report on Tuesday that says “digital equity” must become a federal priority.

In the report, Barriers to Digital Equity in Canada, ACORN Canada says Canadians need online access to apply for jobs, complete school work, download government forms, pay bills and connect with family and friends, and it argues that internet access has become a basic human right.

The high cost of internet in Canada is a well-documented problem that disproportionately impacts low- and moderate-income households, the report says.

Given that people now need to get online to navigate daily life, the report says the government is obligated to ensure affordable, fast and reliable internet access for all Canadians.

“We see a need for affordable internet for all,” Alejandra Ruiz Vargas, chair for the East York chapter of ACORN Canada, said in an interview with CBC Toronto.

“If you don’t have the internet, you are at a disadvantage. Before, internet was a luxury, but right now, it is a necessity. The internet opens doors for people.”

ACORN Canada wants the federal government to expand the scope of its Connecting Families program, which was launched in 2017-18 to deal with digital inequality in Canada. The program targets families who receive the maximum Canada Child Benefit.  (Manan Vatsyayana/AFP/Getty Images)

Telecom companies need to do their part, report says

ACORN Canada wants the government to expand the scope of its Connecting Families program, which was launched in 2017-18 to deal with digital inequality in Canada. The program is targeted at families who receive the maximum Canada Child Benefit. 

Seniors and single people should be included, Vargas said. “It needs to be for everyone who is low income,” she said.

The government has budgeted $ 13.2 million over five years to help eligible low-income Canadian families get home internet services for $ 10 per month through the program, which is conducted with the help of participating service providers.

ACORN Canada said it believes the program should be mandatory for the big telecommunications companies.

According to the report, telecommunications providers should set up programs to provide affordable, high-speed home broadband for low- and moderate-income Canadians.

And it says all levels of government should support digital literacy education.

‘The high cost of internet in Canada is a well-documented problem that disproportionally impacts low and moderate income households,’ the report says. (Shutterstock)

“As essential services become increasingly digitized, it is vital that low and moderate income citizens are not left behind,” the report reads.

“A clear digital divide exists along income lines. Telecommunications companies and the government must take action to address the disparity in access that is significantly disadvantaging low-income Canadians and other marginalized [people].”

Cost is ‘ridiculous,’ says Toronto single mom

For Tomeko Martin, a Toronto single mother of a nine-year-old boy, internet access is essential but expensive. Martin, who is visually impaired, pays about $ 170 a month to Bell Canada for a bundled package of services that includes internet access. She receives a cheque from Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) for $ 1,049 a month.

Martin uses the internet every day to do online banking, shopping, research, reading and to stream music, while her son uses it to do homework and watch YouTube videos.

“I think it’s ridiculous to be honest with you,” Martin said Monday.

More government regulation is needed to curb the rising cost of internet access, she added.

“I don’t think it’s fair that they make millions and billions of dollar a year but they can’t afford to offer low-cost internet to low-income families. The point is, there are people out there who need lower-cost internet. The internet, let’s face it, is becoming a huge part of everybody’s lives. Pretty soon, everything is going to be online.”

Jan Belgrave, a Toronto resident who suffers from fibromyalgia, arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome and high blood pressure, agrees.

She uses the internet “all the time” to research medical problems, find out what resources are available, check information about Wheel-Trans, pay bills and communicate with friends and family. She can’t work full-time.

Jan Belgrave, a Toronto resident, says she uses the internet constantly, but struggles to pay her $ 80 monthly bill. (Joanne Crosthwaite)

‘Eighty dollars is awfully high for internet’

Belgrave pays about $ 80 a month for internet and, like Martin, receives an ODSP cheque for $ 1,100 a month. Not all of her medications are covered by the Ontario Health Insurance Plan.

“That’s a lot of money off my cheque that I need for food and household things,” she said. “Eighty dollars is awfully high for internet. Sometimes I will not be able to pay for my medications and have to pay my bills instead.”

Belgrave said the big telecommunications companies, given their profit margins, should be able to offer a lower rate for low-income people.

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CBC | Health News

Tyler Cameron Spotted Leaving ‘Bachelorette’ Hannah Brown’s L.A. Home — See the Pics!

Tyler Cameron Spotted Leaving ‘Bachelorette’ Hannah Brown’s L.A. Home — See the Pics! | Entertainment Tonight

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White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders is leaving her job

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday that White House press secretary Sarah Sanders will leave her job at the end of the month.

“She is a very special person with extraordinary talents, who has done an incredible job! I hope she decides to run for Governor of Arkansas – she would be fantastic,” Trump said on Twitter announcing her departure.

The president did not immediately name a successor.

Sanders is one of the president’s closest and most trusted White House aides and one of the few remaining who worked on his 2016 presidential campaign.

Her tenure was marked by a breakdown in regular White House press briefings and questions about the administration’s credibility.

Special counsel Robert Mueller revealed that Sanders admitted to investigators that she had made an unfounded claim that “countless” FBI agents had reached out to express support for Trump’s decision to fire former FBI director James Comey in May 2017.

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CBC | World News