Tag Archives: program

U.K. won’t take vaccines from COVAX program, says high commissioner

The United Kingdom won’t access its share of vaccine doses from the COVAX program, says British High Commissioner to Canada Susan le Jeune d’Allegeershecque.

In an interview with Power & Politics, d’Allegeershecque told host Vassy Kapelos that while the United Kingdom is one of the biggest contributors to COVAX, it still doesn’t see the need to access its share of the vaccine doses. 

“I don’t think there are any plans for us to access the doses, but we were in a slightly different position from Canada,” she said.

The federal government has faced criticism from charities and opposition parties over its decision to access Canada’s share of doses from COVAX — a global vaccine-sharing initiative jointly co-ordinated by the World Health Organization, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance.

In a media statement, Green Party leader Annamie Paul said she was “embarrassed” by Ottawa’s decision to access vaccines from a program primarily designed to help developing countries.

But the federal government defended its action, saying COVAX has always been part of the government’s efforts to procure vaccines.

“COVAX has two streams. It has the self-financing stream for countries like Canada to purchase vaccines through and then it has the advance market commitment for donations to be made for countries who can’t purchase them,” said International Development Minister Karina Gould in a Power & Politics interview. 

The high commissioner also noted that Britain’s vaccine rollout is more advanced that Canada’s program.

“We’ve already vaccinated 15 and a half million people, which is something like 23 per cent of the population,” said d’Allegeershecque. “So at the moment, we’re able to access the doses that we need without having to draw from the COVAX facility.” 

Britain also has the capacity to manufacture its own vaccines domestically.

As it stands, Canada could receive up to 1.1 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine through the COVAX program by the end of March.

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For homeless people trying to stay safe in pandemic, federal housing program is a lifeline, say advocates

In the past year, the word “stay” has been repeated over and over as Canadians have been urged — even ordered at times — by public health officials and governments to stay apart and stay home.

And yet that isn’t realistic for people who have nowhere to stay.

Homeless people have become particularly vulnerable this winter as they risk exposure to freezing temperatures — dipping into the –30s and –40s on the Prairies — as well as the novel coronavirus, with more limited access to shelter spaces due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“Keeping people housed is a key way to limit the spread of COVID-19 as people need to have a secure place to self-isolate,” according to the federal government.

Steven Ledoux, a 50-year-old former construction worker who lived on the streets of Regina for years, knows the daily grind of searching for food, booze and a bed.

Ledoux broke his neck in a construction job accident in 2012, then began drinking heavily. Soon, he was homeless, digging in dumpsters and couch surfing or passing out in parkades. He said he was often “drunk and disorderly, just staggering around the city” and would get arrested and spend the night in police cells or the brief-stay detox centre in Regina.

That all changed three years ago, when he was referred to the federally funded Housing First program in the city. A case worker helped him apply for disability benefits and found him a rental house in the north central area.

Lisa Beaudry, intensive case manager, left, and housing support worker Emily Huzil visit Ledoux at his home. He’s been in the Housing First program for three years. The federally funded program operates in several Canadian cities, including Edmonton, Vancouver, Hamilton and Fredericton. (Bonnie Allen/CBC)

So when the pandemic began early last year, Ledoux had no trouble following the public health recommendations.

“I mainly stay home, trying to stay away from downtown,” he said.

He said he has also managed to stay out of trouble with police and stay sober most of the time.

‘We can bring the supports to them’

Over the past decade, Housing First programs have become common in several Canadian cities, touted for their simple philosophy: provide people who are chronically homeless with permanent housing, without preconditions, and then work on other challenges.

In addition to Regina, other cities with the program include Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, Victoria, Hamilton and Fredericton. In Edmonton, for example, the city’s Housing First program has helped more than 12,000 people since it started in 2009. It currently serves 1,100 people.

“It doesn’t matter if people are sober, it doesn’t matter if they have bad records of tenancy — nothing matters as long as they are homeless and in need of supports,” said Kendra Giles, manager of innovative housing programs at Phoenix Residential Society in Regina.

“We put [housing] in place first, and then you can work on everything else after.”

Giles oversees the Housing First program in Regina, which began with six clients in 2016 and currently serves 30 clients on a budget of $ 800,000 a year. Her agency released statistics in 2018 that showed it was cheaper to support chronically homeless people in housing than to have them constantly cycle through police cells, jails, hospitals and detox centres.

She said she’s convinced the pandemic has revealed that Housing First has even more merit.

“You couldn’t get a more perfect setup,” she said. “Given that everyone has their own safe place to call home, people can actually be in a safe place to isolate, and we can bring the supports to them.”

Every day, housing support teams make the rounds in the city, checking in on clients to deliver medication, groceries and even alcohol.

Ali McCudden, a managed alcohol program support worker at Phoenix Residential Society in Regina, makes three deliveries a day to 10 Housing First clients. (Bonnie Allen/CBC)

Ali McCudden, a support worker with the managed alcohol program (MAP), opens the rear compartment of her grey minivan and grabs two tallboy beers before walking up the snow-covered sidewalk to a client’s house.

She makes three deliveries a day to 10 clients, bringing them “what they like — beer, vodka, whisky or wine.”

All are safer to drink than mouthwash or hand sanitizer, she says, and the home deliveries stop people from going to the bar or liquor store.

People who test positive can stay home

Phoenix received additional money from the federal Reaching Home program this past year to expand its managed alcohol program. The funding subsidizes the cost of alcohol, which usually costs too much for clients on provincial social assistance.

Support teams provide all kinds of services, including driving clients to medical appointments, teaching them how to cook and clean, providing addictions counselling and managing their finances.

A couple of Housing First clients in Regina have contracted the virus and self-isolated at home. Case workers called them several times a day and helped ensure they had everything they needed to stay home.

Rudy McCuaig, a 57-year-old army veteran, sits by his window, smoking a cigarette and waiting for the Phoenix team to arrive.

“They come check on me, make sure I’m doing OK,” he said. “They’re very protective.”

Rudy McCuaig waits for a visit from the Housing First team with Phoenix Residential Society. They deliver his medication and groceries and check in on him a couple of times a day. (Matt Duguid/CBC)

McCuaig, who got shot in the leg when he was serving in the army, shuffles into his kitchen with a walker. Before the pandemic, he slept in a tent in the bush near the Golden Mile Shopping Centre in Regina.

In a two-year period, he spent 246 nights in the brief-stay detox centre, which admits intoxicated people for one-night stays. He says a lot of those nights were in the winter, when temperatures turned freezing.

Homeless shelters have been forced to cut capacity

As the bitter cold hit Saskatchewan, people who are homeless have been desperately searching for spots in shelters or warming places — temporary indoor locations that allow people to briefly escape the cold.

There have been two freezing deaths in Saskatoon so far this year.

Agencies that help the province’s homeless and precariously housed populations have had to cut capacity to allow for physical distancing and — at times — even close temporarily due to outbreaks.

WATCH | Pandemic drives home importance of Housing First program:

Housing First programs allow homeless people to access housing regardless of addictions or employment and those involved say the pandemic has highlighted the importance of people having somewhere safe to stay. 4:12

Jason Mercredi is executive director of Saskatoon’s Prairie Harm Reduction, which offers services for vulnerable people and runs a supervised injection site. It’s one of the 12 designated warm-up spaces in the city but is allowing only nine people inside when it would normally have room for about 20.

“Pretty much every day where the temperature drops below –15, we have people begging us to let them in the building,” Mercredi said. “We’ve had people crying; we’ve had people quite upset.”

Mercredi said the city needs a 24/7 warm-up location.

Steven Ledoux said he doesn’t miss the life-or-death struggle of being homeless in the winter.

Now, his biggest challenge is boredom.

“The more you sit around, the more you want to drink,” he said.

Ledoux plays with his cat, Covid. A Housing First worker gave him the kitten before Christmas to help him get through the holidays at home alone. (Matt Duguid/CBC)

A Housing First social worker gave Ledoux a kitten before Christmas to keep him company over the holidays. Ledoux named the cat “Covid” and jokes that he hangs out with Covid instead of getting it.

He’s proud of himself, though. 

When public health officials urge people to stay home, it’s something he can finally do.

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North Korea’s Kim threatens to expand nuclear program, citing ‘hostile’ U.S. policy

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un threatened to expand his nuclear arsenal and develop more sophisticated atomic weapons systems, saying the fate of relations with the United States depends on whether it abandons its hostile policy, state media reported Saturday.

Kim’s comments made Friday during a key meeting of the ruling party were seen as an effort to apply pressure on the incoming government of U.S. president-elect Joe Biden, who has called Kim a “thug” and has criticized his nuclear summitry with President Donald Trump.

The Korean Central News Agency said Saturday that Kim says the “key to establishing new relations between [North Korea] and the United States is whether the United States withdraws its hostile policy” from North Korea.

Kim says he won’t use his nukes unless “hostile forces” intend to use their nuclear weapons against North Korea first. But he says North Korea must further strengthen its military and nuclear capability as the danger of a U.S. invasion of North Korea increases.

Kim ordered officials to develop missiles with multiple warheads, underwater-launched nuclear missiles, spy satellites and nuclear-powered submarines.

A North Korean navy truck carries the a submarine-launched ballistic missile during a military parade in Pyongyang in April 2017. (Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

He said North Korea must also advance the precision attack capability on targets in the 15,000 kilometre-striking range, an apparent reference to the U.S. mainland, and develop the technology to manufacture smaller, lighter nuclear warheads to be mounted on long-range missiles more easily.

“Nothing would be more foolish and dangerous than not strengthening our might tirelessly and having an easygoing attitude at a time when we clearly see the enemy’s state-of-the-art weapons are being increased more than ever,” Kim said. “The reality is that we can achieve peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula when we constantly build up our national defence and suppress U.S. military threats.”

It’s unclear if North Korea is capable of developing such modern weapons systems. It is one of the world’s most cloistered countries, and estimates on the exact status of its nuclear and missile programs vary widely.

Kim’s comments came during the North’s ruling party congress that was convened for the first time in five years.

In this photo provided by the North Korean government, a ruling party congress is held in Pyongyang on Tuesday. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

It’s the Workers Party’s top decision-making body, and it is being held as Kim faces what appears to be the toughest moment of his nine-year rule due to the so-called triple blow to his already-fragile economy — pandemic-related border closings that have sharply reduced the North’s external trade, a spate of natural disasters last summer and U.S.-led sanctions.

During his opening-day speech at the congress, Kim called these difficulties the “worst-ever” and “unprecedented.” He also admitted his previous economic plans had failed and vowed to adopt a new five-year development plan.

Fractured diplomacy with Trump

Kim’s high-stakes nuclear diplomacy with President Donald Trump has remained stalled for nearly two years because of disputes over U.S.-led sanctions on the North.

When Kim abruptly entered talks with the U.S., he expressed his intent to negotiate not advancing nuclear arsenals in return for economic and political benefits. But as long as the diplomatic impasse prolongs, he’s openly pledged to expand the nuclear program that he calls a “powerful treasured sword” that can cope with U.S. hostility.

Some foreign experts say Kim from the beginning hadn’t any intention of fully relinquishing his bomb program and only attempted to use diplomacy with Trump as a way to weaken the sanctions and buy time to perfect his nuclear program.

WATCH | Biden says Trump’s approach to Kim like having a ‘good relationship with Hitler’:

The Democratic candidate criticized the president’s foreign policy approach to Kim Jong-un. 0:32

Months before his diplomacy with Trump began, Kim claimed to have acquired the ability to attack the American mainland with nuclear missiles following a torrid run of weapons tests in 2016-17.

But that run invited new rounds of crippling U.S.-led sanctions that impose a ban on key exports such as coal, seafood and textiles and a significant curtailing of oil imports. Kim’s state media have said those sanctions are “strangling and stifling our country” and are proof of U.S. hostility.

South Korea’s spy agency said Kim is worried about Biden who is unlikely to hold any direct meetings with him unless North Korea takes serious steps toward denuclearization.

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Trump administration restores DACA immigration program following court order

The Trump administration has fully restored the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program for immigrants brought to the U.S. as youth, complying with a federal judge’s order.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security posted on its website Monday that it is accepting new applications, petitions for two-year renewals as well as requests for permission to temporarily leave the U.S.

The department said it “may seek relief for the order,” signaling that its concession to the court order may be short-lived if its legal effort succeeds.

The announcement is still a major victory for young people who have been unable to apply since Trump ended DACA in September 2017. His administration has long argued that DACA is unconstitutional.

After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that Trump had violated federal law in how he ended the program, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it would only accept renewal applications for one-year permits instead of the original two years. DACA currently shields about 650,000 people from deportation and makes them eligible for work permits.

Administration plans appeal

U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis in the Eastern District of New York on Friday ordered DHS to post a public notice within three days — by Monday — that it would accept applications under the original terms of the program. Garaufis has ruled that Chad Wolf, the acting secretary of homeland security, was unlawfully serving in his position.

On Friday, the judge said that finding meant Wolf’s memo restricting DACA applications was invalid. DHS spokesperson Chase Jennings said Saturday that the department “wholly disagrees with this decision by yet another activist judge,” but added that it “will abide by this decision” while working on an appeal.

DACA was started in 2012 during the Obama administration. It allows certain immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children to work and be generally exempt from deportation, though the program does not confer legal status on recipients. People approved for the program must pass background checks and remain eligible in order to renew.

President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to reinstate DACA when he takes office in January. Advocates have called for congressional action to legalize people eligible for DACA as well as others among the 11 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally.

Maria Garcia, 18, an aerospace engineering student at Arizona State University in Tempe, said she will apply for the program as soon as she can. She and her parents and two brothers arrived in Phoenix in 2006 from Aguascalientes, Mexico. Her older brother, now 23, is already a DACA recipient and has a job. Her younger brother, now 16, is in high school and plans to eventually seek DACA protection as well.

Garcia said the court’s decision last week “was wonderful news.”

“There are a lot of other students who are undocumented who don’t qualify for DACA. They have to find a permanent solution,” she said.

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1976 U.S. swine flu vaccination program may offer lessons for COVID-19 pandemic

For Pascal Imperato, a communicable disease epidemiologist who in 1976 was in charge of immunizing New York City against a potential swine flu epidemic, the effort to vaccinate the population against COVID-19 feels like a familiar challenge.

“We were going to vaccinate six million people in six weeks,” he said in a phone interview. “And we were absolutely certain we could pull it off. And we would have.”

Would have, because, ultimately, the largest national immunization program that had ever been undertaken in the U.S. was cut short as the epidemic never materialized, and public skepticism about the program began to mount.

Still, while the COVID-19 pandemic is very real, and the population is much larger, the vaccination program of 1976 may offer some lessons as governments around the world prepare to inoculate the public at large.

“If the program is well organized, mobilizing all of the resources that are capable of administering this vaccine, there [shouldn’t] be any problem whatsoever,” Imperato said. 

In March 1976, the administration of then president Gerald Ford launched a $ 137 million US nation-wide vaccination program to immunize every American citizen by the end of the year.

The diagnosis of swine flu on a New Jersey army base had led to panic among top U.S. scientists and officials who feared the disease could spread and potentially precipitate a health crisis similar to the deadly Spanish flu outbreak of 1918.

Even though it was cut short, by December 1976 more than 40 million Americans — about one-fifth of the population — had been vaccinated, and about 650,000 in New York City.

Utilizing volunteers, setting up sites

Imperato said that on any given day they had about 900 people who were involved in getting the vaccine out to the general public. That included 500 to 600 volunteers who were recruited each day through the city’s chapter of the American Red Cross.

University graduates, sanitary inspectors and public health nursing assistants were also hired and trained to use automatic jet injectors and to give cardiopulmonary resuscitation. 

Sixty vaccination sites were established in places that included schools and police precincts.

“Anywhere we could,” said Imperato, who is the founding dean and distinguished service professor at SUNY Downstate Medical Center School of Public Health.

Mary O’Brien, 77, resident of the St. Augustine Home, Chicago, winces as she is inoculated against the swine flu in 1976. (Bettmann Archive/Getty Images)

As well, 15 mobile teams were created to vaccinate over 40,000 people in more than 200 nursing homes and about 100,000 people in 150 senior citizen centres.

“This required military organization, if you will, and we were able to put together a team and put into place the people that we needed to bring this about,” he said.

A great deal of administrative and clerical support goes into a program of this kind, he said.

“We have to have people register. We had to have as much information about them as possible, because we needed to know who we were vaccinating and if any of them had any reaction. We had to have teams of people checking on adverse events.”

Local capacity can be the ‘weak link’

Nationwide, however, there  were some logistical problems, said Harvey Fineberg, a physician who was tasked with co-authoring a review into the 1976 Swine flu vaccine program.

The actual immunizations were quite erratic in their frequency in different communities, he said.

“So a lesson that’s still relevant today, whether in different provinces in Canada or different states and counties and the U.S., is the local capacity,” he said.

“That last mile, getting the immunization into the arms of the recipients, that’s the weak link in the chain.”

What made the difference  was the degree of organization and capacity of the public health departments in each community to plan and administer the vaccine, Fineberg said.

“So it wasn’t that it was only cities or only rural, rich or poor. It boiled down to ability to deliver.”

WATCH | Experts discuss strategies for Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout 

As Canada prepares to distribute millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccines in January, Chair of the National Advisory Committee on Immunization Dr. Caroline Quach-Thanh and David Levine, who managed the H1N1 vaccine rollout for Montreal, say this vaccination campaign won’t be without challenges. 3:56

Dealing with ‘coincident events’

But one of the more significant problems of the program was the poor job officials did in communicating to the public when headlines emerged linking potential adverse effects to the vaccine, experts say.

“There are definitely — and this is going to be true this coming year — there will be coincident events,” Fineberg said.

“Preparing the public for expected coincidences simply because stuff happens every day, that’s really, really key,” he said.

During the 1976 vaccination program, three elderly people in Pittsburgh had heart attacks after receiving their vaccine. The publicity and headlines it generated led to a handful of states suspending their vaccination programs while they investigated a potential association, said George Dehner, an associate professor of history at Witchita State University and author of Influenza: A Century of Science and Public Health.

While no link to the vaccination was found, polls at the time showed a significant decrease in the number of people who said they would get the vaccine because they feared some adverse effect, Dehner said.

A patient takes part in Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial in May. On Sunday, a U.S. health official said the country’s first immunizations could begin on Dec. 12. (University of Maryland School of Medicine/File/The Associated Press)

There will be a certain expected death rate of people of a certain age on any given day, Pascal said. And what one has to look at is the death rate above the expected rate when running an immunization program.

“And so the CDC in this particular case did not do a good job of anticipating that and explaining that,” Dehner said.

But the vaccination rollout also saw dozens of people come down with the rare neurological disorder Guillain-Barre syndrome at a much higher rate than would be expected. Unlike the heart attacks, where no link was found, a scientific review has found there was an increased risk of Guillain-Barre syndrome after the swine flu vaccinations, according to the CDC. The exact reason for this link remains unknown.

In a 2009 interview with the The Bulletin, the health journal of the World Health Organization, Fineberg said those cases wouldn’t have been “a blip on the screen had there been a pandemic but, in the absence of any swine flu disease, these rare events were sufficient to end the programme.” 

Focus on science, not politics

When Guillain-Barre syndrome increased, some members of the public “became very skeptical and saw the whole thing as politically based, and not science-based,” said Richard Wenzel, emeritus chairman and professor of the Department of Internal Medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University.

“There was a concern that maybe politics was driving some public health responses,” he said.

“One of the things that I would say we’re still trying to learn is: policy should be scientifically based…. whoever gives the message has to say, ‘Here’s what we know; here’s what we don’t know; and here are the assumptions we’re making currently that guide our policy.’

“That sounds simple, but it’s rarely done, even today.”

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Iranian scientist tied to nuclear program has been killed, state TV says

An Iranian scientist who Israel alleged led the Islamic Republic’s military nuclear program until its disbanding in the early 2000s was killed in a targeted attack that saw gunmen use explosives and machine gun fire Friday, state television said.

Iran’s foreign minister alleged the killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh bore “serious indications” of an Israeli role, but did not elaborate. Israel declined to immediately comment, though Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu once called out Fakhrizadeh in a news conference saying: “Remember that name.”

Israel has long been suspected of carrying out a series of targeted killings of Iranian nuclear scientists nearly a decade ago.

The killing risked further raising tensions across the Mideast, as just a year ago Iran and the U.S. stood on the brink of war. It comes just as U.S. president-elect Joe Biden stands poised to be inaugurated in January and likely complicates his efforts to return America to the Iran nuclear deal aimed at ensuring the country does not have enough highly enriched uranium to make a nuclear weapon.

That deal, which saw Iran limit its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions, has entirely unraveled after U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the accord in 2018.

Prominent Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh is seen an undated photo. (WANA/reuters)

A U.S. official confirmed earlier this month to Reuters that Trump had asked military aides for a plan for a possible strike on Iran. Trump decided against it at the time because of the risk that it could provoke a wider Middle East conflict.

On Friday, Trump retweeted a posting from Israeli journalist Yossi Melman, an expert on the Israeli Mossad intelligence service, about the killing. Melman’s tweet called the killing a “major psychological and professional blow for Iran.”

State TV said Fakhrizadeh was attacked by “armed terrorist elements.” He died at a local hospital after doctors and paramedics tried and failed to revive him.

The semi-official Fars News Agency, believed to be close to the country’s Revolutionary Guard, said the attack happened in Absard, a small city just east of the capital, Tehran. It said witnesses heard the sound of an explosion and then machine-gun fire. The attack targeted a car that Fakhrizadeh was in, the agency said.

Those wounded, including Fakhrizadeh’s bodyguards, were later taken to a local hospital, the agency said.

State television on its website later published a photograph of security forces blocking off the road. Photos and video shared online showed a Nissan sedan with bullet holes through the windshield and blood pooled on the road.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. However, Iranian media all noted the interest that Netanyahu had previously shown in Fakhrizadeh.

Hossein Salami, chief commander of the paramilitary Guard, appeared to acknowledge the attack on Fakhrizadeh.

“Assassinating nuclear scientists is the most violent confrontation to prevent us from reaching modern science,” Salami tweeted.

This photo released by the semi-official Fars News Agency shows another look at the scene where Fakhrizadeh was killed in Absard Friday. (Fars New Agency/The Associated Press)

Hossein Dehghan, an adviser to Iran’s supreme leader and a presidential candidate in Iran’s 2021 election, issued a warning on Twitter.

“In the last days of their gambling ally’s political life, the Zionists seek to intensify and increase pressure on Iran to wage a full-blown war,” Dehghan wrote, appearing to refer to Trump. “We will descend like lightning on the killers of this oppressed martyr and we will make them regret their actions!”

There was silence from foreign capitals; Israel declined to comment, as did the White House, the Pentagon, the U.S. State Department and CIA. Biden’s transition team also declined to comment.

Not the first targeted killing this year

Fakhrizadeh led Iran’s so-called “Amad,” or “Hope” program. Israel and the West have alleged it was a military operation looking at the feasibility of building a nuclear weapon in Iran. Tehran long has maintained its nuclear program is peaceful.

The International Atomic Energy Agency says that the “Amad” program ended in the early 2000s. IAEA inspectors now monitor Iranian nuclear sites as part of Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

The head of the UN atomic watchdog agency earlier this month confirmed reports that Iran has begun operating centrifuges installed underground at its Natanz facility. Iran has also been continuing to enrich uranium since Trump’s decision to pull America out of the multilateral deal, called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

This photo released Nov. 5, 2019, by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, shows centrifuge machines in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran/The Associated Press)

The killing comes just days before the 10-year anniversary of the killing of Iranian nuclear scientist Majid Shahriari, which Tehran also blamed on Israel. Those targeted killings came alongside the so-called Stuxnet virus, believed to be an Israeli and American creation, that destroyed Iranian centrifuges

It is also not the first targeted killing connected to Iran this year. Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, al-Qaeda’s second-in-command, accused of helping to mastermind the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa, was killed in Iran in August by Israeli operatives acting at the behest of the United States, the New York Times reported earlier this month, citing intelligence officials.

It was unclear what, if any, role the United States had in the killing of the Egyptian-born militant, the Times said. U.S. authorities had been tracking Abdullah and other al-Qaeda operatives in Iran for years, the newspaper said.

In January, prominent Revolutionary Guard general Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander of Iran-backed militias in Iraq known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, were among seven killed in a drone strike in Baghdad.

The UN’s human rights expert issued a report calling the drone strike a “watershed” event in the use of drones and amounted to a violation of international law.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo slammed that report, stating the operation was in “response to an escalating series of armed attacks in preceding months by the Islamic Republic of Iran and militias it supports on U.S. forces and interests in the Middle East region.”

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Nathan Chen bursts out to resounding lead at Skate America after short program

Looking like a world champion even this early in the figure skating season, Nathan Chen easily won the short program at Skate America on Friday night with a personal best score.

Performing to Flamenco music in a spicy routine, the two-time world gold medallist and four-time national champion looked very much at home even without any fans at Orleans Arena. He hit a quadruple toe loop-triple toe loop combination, a superb quad flip and showed off masterful footwork. His 111.17 points beat his short program high of 110.38 in last year’s Grand Prix final.

Kicking off an already truncated figure skating season in the first event of the Grand Prix series, Chen was unchallenged.

“I felt great out there,” Chen said. “I am happy where I am at.”

WATCH | Chen eases to big lead in Las Vegas:

American Nathan Chen leads the men’s program at Skate America by nearly 12 points after his short program score of 111.17. 5:32

Chen is unbeaten since finishing fifth at the Pyeonchang Olympics in 2018. He’s already showing where his focus is long before the 2022 Beijing Games.

“Of course, Beijing and any Olympics are a huge motivator for me,” Chen said. “I think since I was a kid my family had raised me to be better, even if by a millimetre.”

Instead, he’s getting better by leaps and bounds, and he might not have another chance to show it until the U.S. championships in late January.

“As an athlete, we are really fortunate to have the opportunity to do this,” he said.

Vincent Zhou, bronze medallist at the 2019 worlds, was second heading into Saturday’s free skate, while Canada’s Keegan Messing sat third with 92.40 points. Messing lives and trains in Alaska.

WATCH | Messing 3rd after short program:

Sherwood Park, Alta., native Keegan Messing sits third overall at Skate America after his short program on Friday night. 5:50

Skate America is one of only four series events for 2020-21, with two others in Canada and France cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Grand Prix Final in Beijing also is cancelled.

Earlier, as expected, Mariah Bell and Bradie Tennell finished on top of the women’s short program.

Bell was smooth and solid in a program choreographed by 2018 Olympian Adam Rippon. Her 76.48 points were more than enough to beat Tennell, who had 73.29 and was marked down for under-rotation on her triple lutz-triple toe loop combination.

Bell, whose sensational free skate at the national championships in January earned her a silver medal behind two-time champion Alysa Liu — who is too young to compete in senior internationals — was grateful for the opportunity to display her routine.

“It was very interesting to not have a crowd here,” Bell said. “We are so fortunate to have this event. I really enjoyed getting to skate today.”

WATCH | Bell’s career-best skate vaults her into lead:

Mariah Bell leads the women’s program at Skate America after receiving a career-best short program score of 76.48. 5:41

Bell nailed her triple flip-triple toe loop combination and had a perfect triple lutz, making everything look easy — particularly for the first major competition of the season, even if Skate America is limited to Americans and foreigners training in this country.

“I kind of had to revert to what it feels like to practice at home,” she said, “and have to emphasize that and to put a little pressure on myself. I heard some [taped] clapping, and the stands are empty.”

Tennell, the 2018 U.S. champion, has changed coaches and now works with the renowned Tom Zakrajsek in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

“We’ve tried to keep a lot of the things pretty much the same,” she said, “because I know it works for me.”

Audrey Shin was third heading into Saturday’s free skate. Karen Chen, the 2017 U.S. champ, was fourth.

WATCH | Full men’s short program:

Watch coverage of the ISU Grand Prix 2020 Skate America from Las Vegas, Nevada. 1:38:34

WATCH | Full women’s short program:

Watch coverage of the ISU Grand Prix 2020 Skate America from Las Vegas, Nevada. 1:39:59

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Ottawa comes out in favour of injectable opioid therapy, urging Alberta not to shutter program

Canada’s health minister is calling on the Alberta government to reconsider the closure of its injectable opioid agonist treatment program, which Premier Jason Kenney says will end in the spring when the province stops funding it.

The service provides patients with severe opioid use disorder, a recognized condition, with injections of pharmaceutical-grade heroin, known as diacetylmorphine, or hydromorphone.

“We are disappointed by this decision from the Alberta government, and we urge them to reconsider,” a spokesperson for Patty Hajdu said.

The health minister’s call comes one week after a group of patients benefiting from Alberta’s injectable opioid agonist treatment (iOAT) pilot program filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction to stop Alberta’s provincial government from ending it.

If the three Alberta clinics that offer the treatment close, few people east of British Columbia would have access to the program, which is a cornerstone of the federal government’s latest strategy to combat the opioid crisis. 

“Many people are struggling with substance use, and in too many communities, the COVID-19 pandemic is compounding this ongoing public health crisis,” the minister’s statement said.

From January 2016 to March of this year 16,364 Canadians died from opioid overdoses according to figures from the federal government. The numbers have shown an increasing trajectory, with 3,799 deaths last year, and over 1,000 in the first three months of 2020.

The federal government began opening the door to community-based iOAT treatments in 2018 and has provided funding for pilot projects.

The move followed decades of research — first in Europe, then in British Columbia. Multiple studies suggested that providing daily access to pharmaceutical grade injectable opioids allowed long-term chronic users to stabilize their lives, find homes and stop engaging in criminal activity many relied on to support their addictions. Most stuck with the program long term, and some were able to stop using injection drugs altogether.

Alberta’s previous NDP government launched the pilot program in late 2017. Premier Jason Kenney is giving the 60 patients currently enrolled one year to transition to other programs that do not involve injecting opioids. He has called the federal government’s approach “facilitating addiction.”

“Handing out free narcotics to addicts is not compassion,” the premier said in response to questions from CBC News in September.

Patients file lawsuit to keep Alberta program operating

Patients enrolled in the program have have filed 11 affidavits in a lawsuit that is attempting to put a human face on the treatment. People who had focused their entire lives on the pursuit of drugs described awakening to a new world free of the stress and danger on the streets. 

Taylor Maxey receives injectable opioid agonist treatments at a clinic in Calgary. He fears a return to the streets when the program is ended. (Taylor Maxey)

Among them a once nationally ranked swimmer. Taylor Maxey began taking opioids following an injury in his late teens. He was soon homeless, panhandling on the streets and committing petty crimes. 

Maxey’s drug habit was costing $ 900 a day. He watched friends die around him. He attempted suicide. He tried and failed multiple treatment programs. 

Today, at the age of 32, he says in an affidavit that he has stable housing, a new network of supportive friends, and hopes of becoming an outreach worker. Instead of hustling for street drugs, he is injected with opioids at the Calgary clinic slated to close in the spring.

Maxey is terrified of what will happen. 

“My life would be shorter and much harsher if I returned to the streets and were denied access to iOAT,” he says in an affidavit. “I would be subject to the violence of the streets and the unsafe and precarious world of opioid use. I would be exposed to unsafe supplies of opioids.” 

Patients of Edmonton’s injectable opioid agonist treatment program meet outside the office of lawyer Avnish Nanda on October 8, as they announce legal action to block the program’s closure. (Sam Martin CBC News)

The Alberta government has not filed a statement of defence in the case. The injunction application will be heard in November.

What the research shows

Beyond personal testimonials, iOAT is supported by a range of clinical research that began in Switzerland in the 1990s. on what was then known as heroin assisted treatment, or HAT. A  two-year study of 1,000 people across several centres in Switzerland found “substantial improvements for illicit heroin use, health status and crime among HAT patients,” according to a published review of the evidence. It also found a positive cost-benefit ratio because those provided with drugs had fewer medical issues and committed less crime.

A groundbreaking study published in 2009 in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded heroin-assisted treatment was safe and effective. Researchers followed 251 people in Vancouver and Montreal over 12 to 15 months. They found 88 per cent of patients receiving heroin stayed with the program, and among them, there was a 67 per cent decrease in criminal behaviour.

Overdoses and seizures were the most common adverse events recorded, though the study noted that since the patients were under close medical supervision, the overdoses were treated and the patients recovered.

As fentanyl and carfentanil have increasingly tainted the illicit drug supply, creating an overdose crisis, the provision of pharmaceutical heroin has increasingly been seen as a potential solution. 

In 2019, the federal government formalized regulations, and the Canadian Research Initiative on Substance Misuse added clinical practice guidelines. At the time, Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said expanding the availability of pharmaceutical-grade heroin “will save lives.”

Availability limited as overdose deaths increase

But in spite of expectations the therapy would expand across Canada, it remains limited to a handful of sites in B.C., mostly in Vancouver. If the Alberta program shuts down, the only other places in Canada offering it will be Ottawa’s Managed Opioid Program, which treats a maximum of 25 people in a residential setting, and a newly opened program in Fredericton, which currently serves seven patients.

Rob Boyd, the program director of another Ottawa treatment centre, would like to offer iOAT but says he can’t, because the drugs are not adequately covered by Ontario’s health plan.

“Lots of places want to do it,” he said. “We would fill up right away.”

As overdose deaths increase — there have been more than 1,000 in British Columbia alone this year — Canada’s health minister is urging provinces and regulatory bodies to adopt the treatment. 

“Do all you can to help provide people who use drugs a full spectrum of options for accessing medication,” she wrote in a letter to her provincial counterparts and regulatory bodies on Aug. 24.

“We need immediate action from all levels of government and health care practitioners to prevent further deaths from the contaminated illegal drug supply and COVID-19.”

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China joins WHO-backed vaccine program COVAX rejected by Trump

China announced on Friday it has joined a global scheme for the distribution of COVID-19 vaccine backed by the World Health Organization (WHO), giving a major boost to an initiative shunned by U.S. President Donald Trump.

Beijing’s latest bid to join the global fight against the coronavirus follows criticism over its handling of the pandemic, which has contributed to a growing unfavourable view of China in advanced nations, a recent survey showed.

“We are taking this concrete step to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines, especially to developing countries, and hope more capable countries will also join and support COVAX,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in a statement.

The statement did not detail the support Beijing will provide to the COVAX program, which aims to deliver at least two billion doses of vaccine by the end of 2021.

In May, President Xi Jinping pledged $ 2 billion US over the next two years to tackle the pandemic, which has killed more than one million people.

China, where the virus was first reported late last year, is also in talks with the WHO to have its domestically made vaccines assessed for international use.

WATCH | How vaccine nationalism could hinder progress against pandemic:

Vaccine nationalism, when rich countries buy up vaccines making them unavailable for other countries, could hinder the global fight to end the COVID-19 pandemic and a program to have vaccines available everywhere is still not fully funded. 4:12

As many as 171 nations have joined the program to back equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for rich and poor countries alike. Participants include about 76 wealthy, self-financing ones, but neither the U.S. nor Russia.

Goal to prevent hoarding

COVAX is co-led by the GAVI vaccines alliance, the WHO and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI).

It is designed to discourage national governments from hoarding COVID-19 vaccines and to focus on first vaccinating the most high-risk people in every country.

But its prospects of success had been dim until recently, as some rich nations, including the United States, chose to sign their own supply deals.

“Vaccine deals are underway and we are fast approaching our initial fundraising target to jump-start support for lower-income countries,” GAVI’s chief executive, Dr. Seth Berkley, told Reuters in a statement.

“What seemed like an impossible challenge just a few months ago — ensuring every country, rich or poor, gets equitable, rapid access to COVID-19 vaccines — is now becoming a reality.”

The move also means China “will be procuring vaccines through the facility for a proportion of their own population, just as with other countries,” a GAVI spokesman said.

China has ample capability to make COVID-19 vaccine and will prioritize supplies to developing countries when they are ready, the foreign ministry added.

China has at least four experimental vaccines in final stages of clinical trials.

Two are being developed by state-backed China National Biotec Group (CNBG) and two by Sinovac Biotech and CanSino Biologics.

It has also inoculated hundreds of thousands of essential workers and other high-risk groups, though incomplete clinical trials have provoked safety concerns among experts.

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U.S. caps refugees at 15,000 for 2021, a record low since modern resettlement program began in 1980

U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has announced plans to allow only 15,000 refugees to resettle in the country in the 2021 fiscal year that began on Thursday, setting another record low in the history of the modern refugee program.

The U.S. State Department said late on Wednesday that the ceiling reflects the Trump administration’s prioritizing of the “safety and well-being of Americans, especially in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.”

Trump, seeking re-election on Nov. 3, has taken a hard line toward legal and illegal immigration during his presidency, including slashing refugee admissions every year since taking office in January 2017.

The Trump administration has said that refugees from war-torn regions should be resettled closer to their home 
countries and that the United States extends asylum to thousands of people through a separate process.

Critics have said that the U.S. under Trump has abandoned its long-standing role as a safe haven for persecuted people and that cutting refugee admissions undermines other foreign policy goals.
The refugee cap was cut to 18,000 in the 2020 fiscal year that ended on Wednesday, but only 11,814 refugees were resettled, according to the latest government figures, as increased vetting and the coronavirus pandemic slowed arrivals.

A complete abdication of our moral duty and all that we stand for as a nation.–  Krish Vignarajah , president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service

The 2021 plan lays out specific allocations, including 5,000 slots for refugees who suffered or fear persecution on the basis of religion; 4,000 for refugees from Iraq who helped the U.S.; and 1,000 for refugees from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. That leaves 5,000 for all others.
Even though 4,000 spots were allocated for Iraqis affiliated with the U.S. during the 2020 fiscal year, only 123 had been resettled as of Sept. 25, according to government figures.
A law called the Refugee Act of 1980 created the modern U.S. refugee resettlement program. The cap set for refugees in the subsequent four decades has never been as low as the one planned for 2021. Before president Barack Obama left office, he set the cap for fiscal year 2017 at 110,000 refugees, but Trump slashed that in half soon after becoming president.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has pledged to raise refugee admissions to 125,000 a year if he defeats Trump in next month’s election. Advocates have said the refugee program could take years to recover after Trump-era reductions.

Tens of thousands of refugees are in the pipeline awaiting arrival to the U.S., many with applications far along in the approval and vetting process.

Krish Vignarajah, president and CEO of the Baltimore-based Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, which helps resettle recently arrived refugees, wrote on Twitter that the administration’s cuts represent “a complete abdication of our moral duty and all that we stand for as a nation.”

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