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The Remnants of Theia May Still Exist Deep Inside the Earth

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There are two enormous provinces of unusual rock that sit at the bottom of the mantle, just above the Earth’s core. One of them is located underneath Africa and one is under the Pacific Ocean. They’re called Large Low Shear Velocity Provinces (LLSVPs) and they may shape hotspot formation and volcanic activity across the globe.

The LLSVPs are areas where seismic shear waves propagate much more slowly. They extend laterally for thousands of miles (we think), and they may be up to 1,000km “tall.” Geologists have considered a variety of potential explanations for the origin of the LLSVPs, and now a team has put forth a new argument: The LLSVPs may represent the remains of Theia, the protoplanet thought to have smashed into the world some 4.5 billion years ago, creating the Moon. There are a number of hotspots around the world associated with the margins and boundaries of the LLSVPs:

Image by DR Davies et al, The Australian National University

The hotspots associated with the LLSVP sometimes create a type of lava known as ocean island basalts, which are often compared with mid-ocean ridge basalts. In some cases, ocean island basalts are found with isotopic ratios that are believed to reflect the primordial Earth, especially when they’re located above one of the LLSVPs.

This suggests that at least some of the material down at the mantle/core boundary has been there since the formation of the planet. Mid-ocean ridge basalts are more likely to contain magma drawn from the upper layers of the mantle. This material has typically melted, cooled, and then subducted and melted again more than once across billions of years. This cycling results in magma with different isotope ratios and characteristics compared with the magma welling up from the mantle/core boundary.

Qian Yuan, a Ph.D. student in geodynamics at Arizona State University (ASU), presented his hypothesis on the topic at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference. According to him, the Theia impactor could have formed the LLSVPs if Theia’s mantle material was 1.5 – 3.5 percent heavier than Earth’s. Under this model, some parts of Theia’s original mantle remained contiguous and never completely mixed with the Earth. This is not a problem; it is very difficult to create a Theia – Earth impact model that achieves uniform mixing, even if you assume a post-impact global magma ocean. Yuan’s work suggests Theia’s mantle material would form 3-15 percent of the mantle volume of the Earth, which lines up with the 3-9 percent of the mantle the LLSVPs are thought to occupy.

Image by Sanne Cottaar, CC BY-SA 4.0. Animated version available.

Alternate Explanations

The Theia impact hypothesis is not the only explanation for the LLSVPs. A number of causes have been proposed. They may be plumes of upwelling magma or represent differentiation that occurred entirely on Earth early in its history. They may be created by thermochemical convection or be comprised of ancient slabs of subducted ocean crust that fell to the bottom of the core/mantle boundary hundreds of millions to billions of years ago.

There’s even a chance that the LLSVPs don’t exist, at least not in their currently theorized size and shape. We track seismic waves as they propagate through the Earth to learn about its composition and structure, but it’s not the same as taking an X-ray. Some researchers have argued that the enormous size and unusual shape of the LLSVPs are due to resolution limits in our seismic data.

Image by Sanne Cottaar, CC BY-SA 3.0

The idea that we might find pieces of Theia inside the mantle is a solid one, even if the LLSVPs turned out to be something other than they’re currently theorized to be. There are other, smaller pockets of low seismic velocities inside the mantle. They’re often near also associated with the LLSVPs, but much smaller. These ultra-low-velocity zones are thought to be enriched with iron. They may represent core fragments of other planetesimals that struck Earth during its formation and became trapped in the mantle. The long-term sequestration of such primitive material would explain why we occasionally find lava that looks as if it came straight from the early solar system.

If the LLSVPs or ultra-low-velocity zones prove to be of extraterrestrial origin, it would mean the planetesimals that helped form the Earth have continued to shape its geology ever since. It’s one thing to know the Moon was created in an impact some 4.5 billion years ago, and another to imagine that some of the core of the planetesimal that shaped our entire Earthly existence might still exist itself, trapped below an ocean of liquid rock.

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Why guidelines for what Canadians can and can’t do after getting COVID-19 vaccines are still unclear

Canada has delayed second doses of COVID-19 vaccines by up to four months — the longest interval recommended by a country so far — but has yet to provide any new guidance to Canadians on what they can or can’t do while waiting for the second shot.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) changed its guidelines earlier this month on the recommended time between doses of COVID-19 vaccines from three weeks to four months.

NACI said it based its revised guidelines on emerging real world evidence and the reality of Canada’s limited supply of COVID-19 vaccines, although there is no research yet on the long-term effect the delay could have on immunity to the coronavirus disease.

The decision was also informed by findings from the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control that determined that one dose of the vaccine was actually more effective than clinical trials had initially shown. 

NACI said if second doses were stretched to four months across the country, close to 80 per cent of Canadians over 16 could get at least one shot by the end of June. 

But Canada’s chief science adviser, Mona Nemer, has said the decision to delay second doses amounted to a “population level experiment.”

The United Kingdom has delayed second doses by up to three months, but no other country is known to have delayed them by up to four months. Spokespeople from Pfizer and Moderna said they recommend sticking with intervals of three and four weeks for their respective vaccines as studied during clinical trials. 

What can Canadians do after being vaccinated?

Many Canadians are wondering what they can do after getting vaccinated and if they can safely see their families, other vaccinated people or generally feel less at risk from COVID-19 after a year under strict public health measures. 

But the recommendations still haven’t been updated weeks after the change was made — meaning Canadians could be tempted to make up their own rules in the interim.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidelines on March 8 for fully vaccinated individuals, saying they can safely meet indoors without masks or physically distancing with others who had received both shots.

The CDC also said those who have had both shots can visit with unvaccinated people from a single other household who are at “low risk for severe COVID-19,” as well as skipping quarantine and testing if exposed to COVID-19 without showing symptoms. 

But unlike Canada, the U.S. hasn’t delayed second doses by up to four months and answers to those questions have been harder to come by for Canadians weeks after guidelines changed and close to 5 million doses administered.

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said during a news conference Tuesday that the issue is being actively discussed with the provinces and territories and that while new guidance is coming, the country is in the “early days” of its vaccine coverage.

“For now, the key message is that everyone needs to keep up with their personal protective measures which are wearing a mask, handwashing, watching your distance and avoiding closed, crowded conditions,” she said. 

“I think as more and more people get vaccinated I would expect the advice to evolve as we go along, but it’s a little bit too early.” 

WATCH | ‘Too early’ to update guidelines for vaccinated Canadians: Tam

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam says guidance for Canadians who have been vaccinated will likely evolve as more people get vaccinated, but it’s too early in our roll out to update recommendations yet. 1:35

Tam said the spread of coronavirus variants across Canada amid already high levels of community transmission should factor into “local decisions” on what public health measures need to be put in place or lifted for vaccinated individuals.

She provided no timeframe for when Canadians can expect to see new guidance from the Public Health Agency of Canada on what they can and can’t do after being vaccinated. 

Guidelines for Canadians with only one dose even less clear 

And what about guidelines for Canadians who have only had one dose? 

“It’s maybe not clear to the general public, but it should be clear that you’re only fully vaccinated after two doses,” said Prof. Alyson Kelvin, an assistant professor at Dalhousie University and virologist at the Canadian Center for Vaccinology.

“I can completely sympathize that it’s been a long haul for everybody, but it’s really important that we continue with those public health measures until we have a low level of virus transmission within the community.” 

She says until Canada’s hardest-hit regions have significantly lowered their rates of community transmission, Canadians will have to continue practicing physical distancing, proper hand hygiene, avoiding crowds and wearing masks in public.

“You’re still at risk even though you’re fully vaccinated,” says Kelvin, who is also evaluating Canadian vaccines with the VIDO-InterVac lab in Saskatoon.

“Even with two doses, you can still be infected and transmit the virus — you just might not be as ill as somebody who wasn’t vaccinated.”

A team from Humber River Hospital administer first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to parishioners of St. Fidelis Parish church on March 17, 2021. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Until Canada has a large proportion of vaccinated people across the country who can help decrease overall COVID-19 levels, Kelvin says it makes sense for hard-hit regions to hold off on relaxing public health measures. 

Dr. Nathan Stall, a geriatrician at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, says communication from public health officials on what people can do after getting a COVID-19 vaccine has been lacking — especially for older Canadians. 

“I’ve had patients who have showed up at the vaccination clinic expecting to get their second shot and have been turned away, so they are devastated emotionally, I’ve had people who have found out immediately beforehand,” he said. 

“I think their questions are very reasonable, which [are]: ‘Do we have evidence to support this? Am I going to be at higher risk? How does this impact my behavior during the third wave now?'”

WATCH | The science behind delaying the 2nd dose of COVID-19 vaccines

Federal government scientists have put their support behind delayed second doses of COVID-19 vaccines — which several provinces were already doing — and ongoing research shows some of the benefits of the adapted strategy. 2:04

Stall, who is a member of NACI but does not speak on behalf of the committee, said it’s important for public health officials to be transparent about the emerging data on delaying second doses and that the guidelines will likely change.

“I think we need to do a much better job of messaging,” he said. “Because this population [of older seniors] has been living in terrible isolation for a year.” 

Dr. Lynora Saxinger, an infectious diseases physician and an associate professor at the University of Alberta, says updated guidelines will likely come in the near future as new data emerges.

She said it was important to note that the recommendations allowed for a maximum interval of up to four months, though the actual interval between doses could be shorter and the guidelines revised if new data showed certain groups were at higher risk. 

“So the main thing is to kind of stay light on your feet and make changes that make sense to try to protect everyone the best we can,” she said. 

Saxinger said the second dose delay made sense given Canada’s limited vaccine supply, because it allowed for an expanded vaccination rollout and offered protection to a greater number of vulnerable Canadians.

“It really will actually save a great many lives,” she said. 

“But if there’s populations where deferring the second dose will actually make them less likely to be immune in the longer term, then obviously that’s a place that has to be readdressed.”

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At least 30 dead, several million still without power in U.S. after days of extreme weather

Utility crews raced Wednesday to restore power to nearly 3.4 million customers around the U.S. who were still without electricity or heat in the aftermath of a deadly winter storm, and another blast of ice and snow threatened to sow more chaos.

The latest storm front was expected to bring more hardship, especially to states that are unaccustomed to such frigid weather — parts of Texas, Arkansas and the Lower Mississippi Valley.

“There’s really no letup to some of the misery people are feeling across that area,” said Bob Oravec, lead forecaster with the U.S. National Weather Service, referring to Texas.

The system was forecast to move into the Northeast on Thursday. More than 100 million people live in areas covered by some type of winter weather warning, watch or advisory, the weather service said.

At least 30 people have died in the extreme weather this week, some while struggling to find warmth inside their homes. In the Houston area, one family succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning from car exhaust in their garage. Another perished as they used a fireplace to keep warm.

Record low temperatures were reported in city after city. Scientists say the polar vortex, a weather pattern that usually keeps to the Arctic, is increasingly spilling into lower latitudes and staying there longer, and global warming is partly responsible.

Rolling blackouts

Utilities from Minnesota to Texas and Mississippi have implemented rolling blackouts to ease the burden on power grids straining to meet extreme demand for heat and electricity. In Mexico, rolling blackouts Tuesday covered more than one-third of the country after the storms in Texas cut the supply of imported natural gas.

WATCH | Millions without power as much of U.S. recovers from major winter storm:

There is a scramble in Texas to stay warm and restore power to millions after a major winter storm hit. Several other states are also cleaning up after flooding and a tornado. 1:59

The worst U.S. power outages by far have been in Texas, where three million homes and businesses remained without power as of midday Wednesday. The state’s power grid manager, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, said electricity had been restored to 600,000 homes and businesses by Tuesday night. Officials did not know when power would be restored, but council president Bill Magness said he hoped many customers would see at least partial service restored by later Wednesday or Thursday.

Magness also defended the decision to force outages “to prevent an event that would have been even more catastrophic than the terrible events we’ve seen this week.” 

Dashawn Walker, 33, was thrilled to find the power back on in his Dallas apartment Wednesday. He stayed at a suburban hotel Tuesday night after being without power since Sunday but said he was charged $ 474 US for one night.

“It’s crazy,” Walker said. “I mean why would y’all go up on the hotels in the middle of a crisis?”

Widespread power loss

More than 200,000 additional customers were in the dark in four Appalachian states, and nearly that many in the Pacific Northwest, according to poweroutage.us, which tracks utility outage reports.

Oklahoma’s largest electric utility reported no outages Wednesday, a day after rolling blackouts in and around Oklahoma City stopped electric-powered space heaters, furnaces and lights in –8 C weather. But Oklahoma Gas & Electric warned customers of the potential for more short-term service interruptions due to the extreme cold and high demand for natural gas.

People wait in line to fill propane tanks Wednesday in Houston. Customers had to wait over an hour in the freezing rain to fill their tanks. Millions in Texas still had no power after a historic snowfall and single-digit temperatures created a surge of demand for electricity to warm up homes unaccustomed to such extreme lows, buckling the state’s power grid and causing widespread blackouts. (David J. Phillip/The Associated Press)

Nebraska also avoided another round of rolling power outages as subzero temperatures started to ease.

Entergy imposed rolling blackouts Tuesday night in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Southeast Texas at the direction of its grid manager, the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, according to a statement from the New Orleans-based utility.

The Southwest Power Pool, a group of utilities covering 14 states, said the blackouts were “a last resort to preserve the reliability of the electric system as a whole.”

The weather also caused major disruptions to water systems in several southern U.S. cities, including in Shreveport, Louisiana, where city fire trucks delivered water to several hospitals, and bottled water was being brought in for patients and staff, Shreveport television station KSLA reported.

Carbon monoxide poisoning incidents

In Austin, Houston and other cities, residents were asked to stop letting water drip from pipes, a practice to prevent freezing, because of a major drop in water pressure. Houston residents also were told to boil their water — if they had power — because the pressure drop was allowing bacteria to seep into the pipes.

In the southwest Louisiana city of Lake Charles, Mayor Nic Hunter said Wednesday that water reserves remained low even after power was restored, and that local hospitals were faced with the possibility they might have to transfer patients to other areas because of low water pressure.

Ehsan M. rides a snowboard behind a friend’s SUV in a parking lot in Texas after a heavy snow on Monday. (Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman/The Associated Press)

Travel remains ill-advised in much of the United States, with roadways treacherous and thousands of flights cancelled. Many school systems delayed or cancelled face-to-face classes.

But even staying home can be hazardous in places without power.

Authorities said a fire that killed three young children and their grandmother in the Houston area likely was caused by the fireplace they were using to keep warm. In Oregon, authorities confirmed Tuesday that four people died in the Portland area of carbon monoxide poisoning.

At least 13 children were treated for carbon monoxide poisoning at Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth and one parent died of the toxic fumes, hospital officials said.

Fears of more snow

Stories of kindness emerged from the crisis.

In Clinton, Mississippi, Army veteran Evelyn Fletcher has been cooking and delivering meals to sidelined truck drivers, travelers and people staying at hotels after losing power at home.

“They’re stranded, they’re isolated — people are in need of support right now,” Fletcher said.

Lia Ubidia, right, and her son, Andrew Velarde, carry groceries as they walk home through the snow Monday, Feb. 15, 2021, in Houston. (David J. Phillip/The Associated Press)

On Monday, Fletcher made 85 meals. On Tuesday, she made 30 plates, while a local restaurant, T’Beaux’s Crawfish and Catering, cooked 75 plates of shrimp and gumbo that she and other volunteers delivered. And on Wednesday, Fletcher was cooking a pot of turkey noodle soup, hoping to deliver another 70 meals.

“People are worried about more snow,” she said. “We are going to keep people fed and keep them feeling hopeful.”

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NASA Still Undecided on New SLS Rocket Test After Early Shutdown

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NASA attempted an important ground test of the Space Launch System (SLS) last weekend, aiming to fire the vessel’s main engines for eight minutes to simulate a real launch. Unfortunately, the test ended after barely a minute. NASA has now analyzed the test and says there’s no physical problem with the rocket. It may even re-run the test, which is one of the final pieces of the puzzle before NASA begins assembling the first flight-ready SLS stack. 

The SLS has been in development for more than a decade with a total bill of more than $ 17 billion so far. NASA will eventually use the SLS to return to the moon for the Artemis program, as well as to launch large payloads into the outer solar system. The core stage sports a quartet of RS-25 engines, the same model used on the Space Shuttle. Last weekend’s test called for the core stage to be locked to a B-2 test stand while the engines ran for the full duration of a launch. The flight control team announced a “major component failure” after 67 seconds, which is when the SLS automatically shut down. 

NASA set to work investigating the cause of the error — if the SLS core had a physical defect, that could mean months of costly redesigns. Luckily, NASA now says the hardware is in “excellent condition.” The shutdown was apparently a result of the conservative abort threshold for hydraulics in place for the test. The team believes the rocket would have performed perfectly with a more permissive test protocol. 

The question remains, should NASA make absolutely certain the rocket would have passed the test? NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine is on the way out as the Biden administration takes over the government, but before his departure, he told reporters NASA was undecided about re-running the test. “We might be able to take the rocket down to Kennedy and get it ready for launch,” Bridenstine said.

If NASA reruns, the team can simply change the thrust vector control to prevent another shutdown. That would allow engineers to gather even more data on the rocket’s performance, but former administrator Bridenstine said the team got a wealth of data even from the shortened test. Boeing, the primary contractor for SLS, apparently wanted at least 250 seconds of data. The final decision will probably depend on what the Biden administration plans for NASA. The previous administration was firm that it wanted humans on the moon by 2024, but the timeline might be less pressing now.

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Under house arrest after contested election, Uganda’s Bobi Wine still hopes to inspire country’s youth

Uganda’s Bobi Wine is a pied piper of a figure who dared raise the hopes of the country’s youth, only to be beaten in an election with the odds tipped against him by a man who has had his hands on the levers of power for 35 years. 

So what now for the self-styled “ghetto president”?

Two days after Uganda’s electoral commission announced that President Yoweri Museveni had decisively won last week’s ballot, Wine and his wife, Barbara, remained under house arrest at their home in Magere, just north of the capital, Kampala.

“Nobody is allowed in, nobody is allowed out. We are stuck,” Wine said in a telephone interview with CBC News on Monday morning, adding that government security forces had not only surrounded his house but “jumped over the fence and taken control of my compound.” 

“We demand that they release me and they release all the political prisoners so we can be able to assemble freely, like is provided for by the law, and discuss the way forward.”

Wine said it was clear Museveni was trying to prevent him from speaking to his supporters.

“[The government is] worried I will make a statement that will make the people go active. We’ve been telling the people of Uganda and we continue to tell them that they must be non-violent, but that they must be assertive.”  

Wine said his National Unity Platform (NUP) plans to launch a legal challenge to the results, which accorded him 35 per cent of the vote, and to present proof of electoral tampering once internet access is restored to the country.

Museveni ‘looking beyond this election’

The government shut internet providers down just a day before the vote on Jan. 14 and one day after military tanks and security forces paraded through opposition neighbourhoods in Kampala, in a show critics say was intended to intimidate opposition supporters already hurting from weeks of violence and arrests by government security forces.  

Few analysts thought Wine stood a chance of winning the elections, given Museveni’s determination to hold on to power and the tools available to him. But they say Wine nonetheless remains a threat to Museveni’s hold on power, and that it’s clear Museveni sees him as such.  

Although not necessarily from the ballot box.

“People are right to say Mr. Museveni is looking beyond this election,” said Fred Muhumuza, a lecturer in economics at the University of Makerere in Kampala. 

Yoweri Museveni has been Uganda’s president for more than three decades and still enjoys support among older and rural voters. (Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

“His biggest worry is the ideology that has started, this thinking that is beginning to come. We’ve seen it in the Arab Spring: Once citizens feel they are not being well provided for by services that have been given by government, it becomes very hard to govern them. So I think there are concerns about the governability of the country going forward.”  

In a speech on Saturday, Museveni claimed the election to be the fairest in Uganda’s history.

His support and that of his party, the National Resistance Movement (NRM), comes in large part from rural voters and those old enough to remember the stability he brought to the country after the bloody legacies of Idi Amin and Milton Obote in the 1970s and ’80s.  

“For the older generation, the Museveni [appeal] has to do with security,” said Muhumuza. “There are people who think [support for Wine] might have to do with other governments or foreign interests trying to take advantage of the youth and cause some kind of insecurity in the country.”  

Wine appeals to younger Ugandans

But two-thirds of Uganda’s population is under the age of 30, offering up a powerful constituency for Wine in a country where jobs are scarce and many voters will have known no other president than Museveni. 

“They need to get opportunities to work and for the first time they have a younger person representing them who is in their age bracket,” said Muhumuza. 

Now 38, Wine grew up in a Kampala slum, which earned him the moniker of the “ghetto president.” He grew first to be a successful musician, changing his name from Robert Kyyagulanyi to Bobi Wine and writing songs about social injustice. In 2017, he stood for the national parliament and won.

Bobi Wine is seen taking an injured supporter into a medical centre on Dec. 1, 2020 in Jinja, Uganda. This election season was marred by violence. (Getty Images)

“He’s been a public commentator. Every time in Uganda we had a very sensitive issue, Bobi Wine had a song, [and was] making an intervention. The music that made him a star was music about HIV/AIDS,” said Yusuf Serunkuma, a social researcher at Makerere University.

Serunkuma also thinks Museveni is worried about Wine’s ability to mobilize the street. The 2018 protests in nearby Sudan, which led to the ousting of president Omar al-Bashir after 30 years in power, offer a fresh reminder of what public demonstrations can do.  

Serunkuma also said opposition activists understand that it’s almost impossible to win an election in a dictatorship that disguises itself as a democracy. 

“So what happens is that you mobilize the constituents that make it difficult for [the government] to continue. And I think that this is what Bobi Wine is doing.” 

Serunkuma said it’s that possibility that Museveni has been preparing for, rather than the election.

Election observers kept away 

The president’s supporters say he has every right to order security forces onto the streets to prevent what they say could be a potential insurrection.  

Andrew Mwenda, a journalist with close ties to Museveni and his inner circle, said he knows Bobi Wine “very well.”

“I don’t have a problem with him, even though I think he is intellectually handicapped to understand the complexities of government,” said Mwenda, the founder and managing editor of a newsmagazine called the Independent.

He dismisses Wine’s supporters as thugs and hooligans. “They are incapable of tolerating dissent. It’s not in their DNA. They make Trump’s supporters look like the most liberal democrats the world has ever seen.”

On the other hand, Mwenda describes Museveni as a “very tolerant man” — even though the editor almost boasts that he himself was once jailed by Museveni, presumably for criticizing the government. 

He said recent attacks by security forces against reporters covering the Bobi Wine campaign — or trying to — were “regrettable,” but not a “reflection of the freedom that exists” in Uganda.

WATCH | CBC news crew deported from Uganda ahead of election:

A CBC News crew was deported from Uganda despite having media credentials, as a contentious election approaches. It has already been marred by violent crackdowns on protesters. 2:31

Canada joined several European Union countries, the United Kingdom and the United States in expressing concern over the harassment of journalists and media freedom ahead of the election.  

Election observers from the U.S. were refused permission to monitor the vote while the European Union pulled out its own team late last year, citing Uganda’s failure to implement previous recommendations on electoral reform.

A coalition of civil society groups making up Africa Elections Watch issued a statement saying their observers found that the vote did not “meet the threshold of a democratic, free, fair and transparent credible electoral process.”  

Wine happy to ‘inspire young people’

Wine’s challenge to Museveni is the story of this election and is potentially a defining moment for the country. But it makes it no easier to predict his future.

On the phone on Monday, Wine was endlessly gracious, but the fatigue in his voice came through. 

Serunkuma has described Wine’s popularity as contagious. He acknowledged that Wine has “really been successful, but I’m not sure whether what he’s done is sustainable. Ugandans do not take to the streets.” 

Wine, centre, is escorted by a police officer in 2020 as he is arrested on charges of unlawful assembly before his first public meeting ahead of the 2021 election season. (Stringer/AFP via Getty Images)

When they did in November, it came with a heavy price — at least 54 people were killed by security forces when protests erupted after one of Wine’s arrests, allegedly for breaking COVID-19 restrictions. 

“I don’t think anything is going to happen because the president has done so much to prepare for the moment after the election,” said Serunkuma. “It started way, way back.”

Muhuzuma said “there are people who think the election will simply be an event in a long process of what will eventually remove Mr. Museveni.”

The question is, will his regime crack down even harder on civil liberties or will some of those in power be rattled enough to try and change something from within?

“A lot of [Museveni’s] supporters have, I think, picked up that signal, to say we can’t just keep growth that is not inclusive, that is not creating opportunities for youth,” said Muhuzuma.

For his part, Wine said he is determined to see Uganda through to a new chapter. If that means merely serving as an inspiration for real change, it will be enough.

“I came in not saying that I am the alpha and the omega, but I wanted to spark the mind that would change the world, to influence and inspire young people, and I am very glad to see that happening,” he said.  

Wine also said he continues to fear for his safety and that of his wife.  

“We hope the world continues to put the focus on Uganda and to hold General Museveni accountable for our lives.”

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Pope says women can read at mass but still can’t be priests

Pope Francis changed church law Monday to explicitly allow women to do more things during mass while continuing to affirm that they cannot be priests.

Francis amended the law to formalize and institutionalize what is common practice in many parts of the world: Women can be installed as lectors, to read Scripture and serve on the altar as eucharistic ministers. Previously, such roles were officially reserved for men, even though exceptions were made.

Francis said he was making the change to increase recognition of the “precious contribution” women make in the church, while emphasizing that all baptized Catholics have a role to play in the church’s mission.

But he also noted that doing so further makes a distinction between “ordained” ministries, such as the priesthood and diaconate, and ministries open to qualified laity. The Vatican reserves the priesthood for men.

The change comes as Francis remains under pressure to allow women to be deacons — ministers who perform many of the same functions as priests, such as presiding at weddings, baptisms and funerals. Currently, the ministry is reserved for men even though historians say the ministry was performed by women in the early church.

Experts to study whether women could be deacons

Francis has created a second commission of experts to study whether women could be deacons, after a first one failed to reach a consensus.

Advocates for expanding the diaconate to include women say doing so would give women greater say in the ministry and governance of the church, while also helping address priest shortages in several parts of the world.

Opponents say allowing it would become a slippery slope toward ordaining women to the priesthood.

Phyllis Zagano, who was a member of the Pope’s first study commission, called the changes important given they represent the first time the Vatican has explicitly and through canon law allowed women access to the altar. She said it was a necessary first step to let women be lectors and perform other ministries on the altar before any official consideration of the diaconate for women.

“This is the first movement to allow women inside the sanctuary,” said Zagano. “That’s a very big deal.”

Noting that bishops have long called for such a move, she said it opens the door to further progress. “You can’t be ordained as deacons unless you’re installed as lectors or acolytes,” said Zagano, a professor of religion at Hofstra University.

Lucetta Scaraffia, the former editor of the Vatican’s women’s magazine, however, called the new changes a “double trap.” She said they merely formalize what is current practice, including at papal masses, while also making clear that the diaconate is an “ordained” ministry reserved for men.

“This closes the door on the diaconate for women,” she said in a phone interview, calling the change “a step backward” for women.

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Harvard Astronomer Still Believes Interstellar Object Was Alien Technology

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An eminent Harvard astronomer is still spending a lot of his time thinking about our first alien encounter in 2017. That’s when a mysterious object known as ‘Oumuamua passed through the solar system. Scientists have classified ‘Oumuamua variously as an asteroid or a comet, but Avi Loeb, the chair of Harvard’s Department of Astronomy, believes it was really alien — a piece of alien technology we mistook for a naturally occurring space rock. 

Astronomers detected ‘Oumuamua in late 2017 as it glided through the solar system. Its speed and trajectory showed incontrovertibly that it came from outside the solar system, but what was it? It didn’t have a coma or “tail” like a comet, but scientists eventually detected a small force nudging ‘Oumuamua away from the sun. We chalked this up to the release of gas from what was probably a very old comet. But was it? According to Loeb, who works as chair of astronomy at Harvard, ‘Oumuamua had too many bizarre properties to be natural. Be believes ‘Oumuamua is truly alien, and we need to take this possibility seriously if we’re going to get a proper look at the next one. 

Loeb is set to release a book called Extraterrestrial in the coming weeks that lays out his hypothesis, which does include some compelling arguments. ‘Oumuamua remained undetected until it was already on its way out of the solar system. So, there was no way to intercept or capture high-resolution photographs of the object. However, we know it’s not a typical space rock. Our best estimates say ‘Oumuamua is cigar-shaped and about 100 meters long. As Loeb points out, we’ve never seen a natural object that looks like that. ‘Oumuamua is also highly reflective — about 10 times more so than typical asteroids or comets. That could mean its surface is composed of shiny metal. 

‘Oumuamua’s path through the solar system in 2017.

What Loeb finds most convincing is the aforementioned force pushing ‘Oumuamua away from the sun. He contends that the out-gassing theory doesn’t sufficiently explain the facts; any jet of evaporating material powerful enough to move ‘Oumuamua should have been visible from Earth. Because we didn’t see ‘Oumuamua until so late in its transit of the solar system, it’s possible we could be wrong about the shape, too. Loeb theorizes ‘Oumuamua could be a disk less than a millimeter thick. Loeb thinks it’s possible ‘Oumuamua was, in fact, some sort of solar sail device that accelerated because of its proximity to the sun. 

It’s a fascinating idea, but we’ll probably never know if Loeb is right. ‘Oumuamua is already on its way out of the solar system, and we have no way to catch up. Instead, Loeb wants to encourage scientists to take the possibility seriously and keep an eye out for similar objects so we can gather more data. Astronomers spotted one more alien object after ‘Oumuamua, a comet known as 2I/Borisov. There’s no uncertainty about Borisov’s natural origins, which makes ‘Oumuamua seem that much weirder.

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Big Bounce or Big Bang? Scientists Still Grappling With Origin of Universe

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Humans have wrestled with the nature of the universe since time immemorial, but we’ve had science to guide us in recent generations. Most experts on physics and cosmology accept the inflation model, a straight line from the Big Bang to our infinitely expanding universe. However, some scientists hold onto the possibility of a “Big Bounce” instead of a bang, and they’re still actively searching for evidence that could upend the conventional wisdom. 

Throughout the 20th century, scientists learned a great deal about the early universe. Most of what we learned supports the idea of an inflationary universe, one that has enough mass to continue expanding forever after the Big Bang. Several major discoveries about the universe have strengthened support for this idea. For example, the universe is flat and uniform in every direction, which is what you’d expect from a rapid expansion. Measurements of the cosmic microwave background radiation (a remnant of the Big Bang) show some spots in the universe are colder than others, which again, is what the inflation model predicts. Inflation also accurately predicted the mass density of the universe. 

The inflation model doesn’t explain everything, though. Most researchers agree it’s still incomplete, but others feel it will never explain what we see as well as the Big Bounce. Neil Turok, director of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, is one of those scientists. He’s a proponent of the Bounce, which holds that inflation is only one phase. Eventually, the universe collapses into a singularity and “bounces” to begin growing again. 

According to bouncers, inflation is too specialized at a fundamental level. To support inflation as it’s currently understood, the early universe would have needed very specific and unlikely conditions. Inflation also implies the existence of an infinite number of pocket universes. The current model says inflation continues forever, stopping only in some regions of space. Meanwhile, the universe continues expanding in other regions faster than the speed of light. These bubbles would be closed off from each other, possibly with incompatible laws of physics. Turok claims this is unfalsifiable and unscientific. 

An all-sky map of the cosmic microwave background radiation, from when the universe was just a few hundred thousand years old

An all-sky map of the cosmic microwave background radiation, from when the universe was just a few hundred thousand years old. The heat fluctuations eventually turned into galaxies.

The Big Bounce isn’t a silver bullet, though. There are several potential versions of the bounce — some cyclical and others that only bounce once. They all require new physics to explain, but Turok and his colleagues say they’ve built a simple model that uses quantum tunneling to explain how a singularity could collapse and then emerge from the quantum realm as an expanding universe. Meanwhile, Paul Steinhardt and Anna Ijjas of Princeton University have a version of the bounce model that doesn’t call on quantum gravity. In this version, negative energy prevents the universe from becoming a true singularity, allowing it to re-expand in normal space after the bounce. This could even explain some things that have been taken as evidence for the Big Bang, for example, the uniform flatness of the universe. 

We don’t have all the answers yet, but bouncers will have to make a lot of progress to shift the consensus. Inflation has passed a lot of predictive tests, and the physics backing the Big Bounce are unproven. Maybe one day we’ll crack the theory of quantum gravity, and the Bounce will suddenly look like the only plausible solution. For now? Not so much. 

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Once someone is vaccinated, do they still have to wear a mask? Your COVID-19 vaccine questions answered

We’re answering your questions about the pandemic. Send yours to COVID@cbc.ca, and we’ll answer as many as we can. We publish a selection of answers online and also put some questions to the experts during The National and on CBC News Network. So far, we’ve received more than 59,000 emails from all corners of the country.

Now that a COVID-19 vaccine has been approved in Canada and the first shots are set to be given, lots of you have questions about vaccines: If I’ve previously tested positive for COVID-19, should I still get vaccinated? Is the vaccine safe for pregnant women, children and people who are immunocompromised? Where can I find the ingredients list? Can I choose which vaccine to get? We talked to the experts to get you some answers.

Once someone is vaccinated, do they still have to wear a mask and physically distance?

Dr. Zain Chagla, an associate professor of medicine at McMaster University and an infectious disease physician in Hamilton, Ont., said yes, in the short-term, for two reasons.

The first is, during such a large immunization, not everyone will get vaccinated at the same time. Some will be vaccinated while others are still waiting and need to be protected by wearing masks, physical distancing, frequent hand-washing and other safety measures. 

“Plus, it takes time for the immune response to actually build up and kick in,” Chagla said. 

WATCH | How we’ll learn more about the effectiveness of the vaccine over time:

Health Canada chief medical adviser Dr. Supriya Sharma spoke with the CBC’s Tom Parry during a briefing on Wednesday. 2:06

Given that the vaccines will be rolled out in a step-wise fashion starting with the most vulnerable populations, the health-care workers who serve them and then scaling up to the general public, Dr. Tasleem Nimjee, an emergency department physician in Toronto, suspects that we’ll see a parallel drawing back on public health measures such as wearing masks and staying apart.

“It’s not going to be a sort of, ‘Now we can all take off our masks,'” Nimjee said on The National’s virtual town hall, Confronting COVID. 

Instead, shedding masks will likely be more gradual.

Can you still carry and spread the virus if you’ve been vaccinated?

That’s not something most of the clinical trials were designed to test, said Dr. Michael Gardam, a Toronto infectious disease physician who is currently the senior medical adviser for Health PEI.

In the recently published study on the clinical trial results for the AstraZeneca vaccine, the efficacy against asymptomatic infection was just 27 per cent — suggesting those vaccinated generally can still transmit the disease — but the number of cases was quite small to draw conclusions.

WATCH | Why vigilance and patience will still be required in 2021: 

As vaccinations get underway, the World Health Organization’s technical lead, Maria Van Kerkhove, makes an impassioned appeal for people to protect themselves and loved ones from COVID-19 in 2021. 1:48

Moderna says it does plan to check if its vaccine prevents more than just symptomatic infection.

Gardam said because it’s something that still needs to be figured out, “for now, getting vaccinated does not automatically mean that you couldn’t potentially pass COVID-19 on to someone else.”

That’s another reason he expects we’ll be wearing masks for a while, he said.

Will those who have tested positive for COVID get the vaccine or will they be deemed to have immunity? Is there any danger if they do get the vaccine?

There’s not enough information yet to answer the first question, said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease doctor in Toronto and a member of Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution task force.

“But my inkling,” he said, “is that they should be vaccinated.”

Bogoch said there have been reports of people getting reinfected with COVID-19 as soon as four months after recovering from their previous infection, and those are probably the tip of the iceberg. He said he expects most people who have recovered from COVID-19 will be eligible for vaccination.

As to whether getting the vaccine poses a risk to those who have been previously infected, Gardam said no, there is no danger.

He said vaccines are routinely given to people without testing if they have been exposed to the disease, because it’s logistically easier to just vaccinate everyone. 

What if only half the population is vaccinated? How much of the population has to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity?

Herd immunity is the point at which the virus can’t find enough people to infect in order to continue the chain of infection. 

Vaccinating half the population probably won’t be enough.

The percentage required to achieve herd immunity depends on how many people a single infected person spreads the disease to on average. For COVID-19, this is thought to be between two and three, so about 60 to 70 per cent of the population will need to be immune in order to achieve herd immunity.

WATCH | What to expect with the vaccine rollout:

Infectious diseases specialist Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti says Health Canada’s approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is a ‘historic moment’ that will trigger the first wave of a countrywide immunization campaign.  6:00

In other words, if a vaccine is 100 per cent effective, then 60 to 70 per cent of the population would need to be vaccinated.

However, the COVID-19 vaccines have been less than 100 per cent effective in clinical trials, and may be even less so in the real world, said Dr. Zain Chagla of McMaster University. That’s because the trials didn’t include people with certain medical conditions, such as cancer, or transplant recipients, to name a couple examples.

So, how effective are the vaccines when they’re given to all kinds of people?

“That’s really what’s going to determine how long it takes to get to true herd immunity,” Chagla said. 

Will the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines work for people on chemo or suffering from autoimmune diseases or taking an immunosuppressant drug? Will they be able to take these vaccines?

Bogoch said those conditions are all different, and it’s important for anyone who has them to talk to their doctor about their unique situation.

“But, in general, it’s very likely that those with an immunocompromised state will be eligible for this vaccine,” he said.

It’s possible that they won’t generate the same level of immunity as a healthy person, he said, “but some protection is better than nothing.”

Gardam said there may be concerns about giving a vaccine containing live viruses to an immunocompromised patient, but the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines contain only genetic material.

“There’s nothing live in that. So, typically, people who are immunocompromised can get vaccines like that.”

Could a person get a shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for their first dose and the Moderna vaccine for their second?

Right now, you can’t take shots of two different vaccines, Bogoch told CBC News Network.

“If you start with Moderna, you end with Moderna,” he said. “I doubt anything would happen if you mixed and matched, but it’s not going to happen. You shouldn’t be doing that.”

That’s because different vaccines haven’t been tested together yet. However, tests of combinations of different types of COVID-19 vaccines have been proposed for next year, so that could change in the future.

Can I choose one vaccine over another? 

“I suspect we won’t have the luxury of doing that, at least in the early stages,” said Dr. Susy Hota, an infectious disease specialist at the University Health Network and an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Toronto.

Quantities of the vaccine will be limited for now.

“We’ll probably have to get whatever’s available at that time,” she said.

WATCH | COVID-19 vaccinations off to a quick start in the U.K.: 

Thousands of people across the U.K. received the first doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday, but officials are warning there is still a long way to go before the end of the pandemic. 3:10

Where can I find a list of ingredients for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine?

The ingredients are listed on Page 23 of the vaccine’s product monograph. A detailed article about them was recently published in the MIT Technology Review.

In general, you can find the ingredients list for vaccines in the Canadian Immunization Guide or the vaccine’s product monograph available through Health Canada’s Drug Product Database.

Do I still need to take the flu shot if I get the COVID-19 vaccine? 

Absolutely, Chagla says.

The reason is, the flu and COVID-19 are caused by different viruses and need different vaccines.

“The time is probably now to get your flu shot in,” Chagla said. 

Will we need to take this vaccine yearly like the flu shot? 

Dr. Lynora Saxinger, an infectious disease physician at the University of Alberta, said we don’t have an answer yet because immune responses to the vaccines haven’t been studied long enough to know.

We’ll get a better sense of whether the coronavirus vaccines prevent people from transmitting and shedding the virus as they roll out to millions of people worldwide, doctors say. (Bryan Woolston/Reuters)

Gardam said there’s been a lot of discussion about whether vaccines to protect against COVID-19 will be needed each year.  

“The only way we’re going to know that is by following people along over the next nine months to a year to see if they still have good immunity or not,” Gardam said. 

I suffer from severe trypanophobia. Is there an oral or nasal COVID-19 vaccine in the works?

Trypanophobia is fear of medical procedures involving injections or needles. Those who suffer from it will be happy to know that a number of oral and nasal COVID-19 vaccines are in development. In fact, there are research groups in Canada working to develop both those kinds of vaccines, and the oral vaccine from Symvivo has begun clinical trials. There is also a nasal spray from Beijing Wantai Biological Pharmacy and Xiamen University that is in Phase 2 clinical trials, according to the World Health Organization’s tracker.

What constitutes a ‘history of serious allergic reactions?’ Once?

Anaphylaxis is a serious allergic response by the body to a substance in a food, medicine or vaccine. 

Chagla said people with anaphylaxis can get very short of breath and their blood pressure can drop.

The experience of a single episode that required epinephrine, such as from an EpiPen or other auto-injector, constitutes a “history of serious allergic reaction.”

WATCH | Investigating adverse events after vaccinations:

British regulators say people who have a ‘significant history’ of allergic reactions shouldn’t receive the new Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine. Two adverse reactions occurred on the first day of the country’s mass vaccination program.  4:45

Dr. Zainab Abdurrahman of McMaster University’s clinical immunology and allergy department said the U.K. regulators temporarily paused delivery of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine to people with a history of anaphylaxis after two adverse events occurred among health-care workers with such a history who carried auto-injectors.

Both received the vaccine and then experienced reactions that doctors and regulators call adverse events until any cause-and-effect relationships are sorted out. The two people were treated immediately and recovered without needing to be hospitalized. 

“There’s a lot of different kinds of reactions and we need to clarify exactly what happened,” such as what components of the vaccine might be responsible, Abdurrahman said.  

The adverse events could be coincidences that weren’t caused by the vaccinations. The events are under investigation and further guidance could come from regulators, Chagla said.

How many vaccines can our bodies tolerate?

Dr. Noni MacDonald, a professor of pediatrics at Dalhousie University who specializes in vaccine safety and communication, said she’s been getting this question for at least 25 years. Vaccines contain antigens — generally viruses, bacteria or parts of them — that trigger an immune response similar to those triggered by the microbes themselves.

Dr. Noni MacDonald says your immune system is designed to deal with significant amounts of antigens that trigger an immune response. (Dalhousie University)

“I think what people don’t know is how much we are bombarded by antigens … every day,” MacDonald said. Those include the microbes in your gut, in your food, in the air you breathe. “The amount of antigens that are in these vaccines is extraordinarily limited.”

And such small amounts are not going to overwhelm your immune system, she said.

And as Chagla points out, our bodies are programmed to deal with multiple pathogens and immune triggers at the same time.

“In everyday life, it’s not like every bacteria and virus takes a break because one other bacteria and virus has affected you. You can get a cold and then eat something that gives you food poisoning.”

In fact, infants receive a number of vaccines in a single product.

“We’re able to take multiple vaccines,” Chagla said.

Have a question? 

Send your questions to COVID@cbc.ca

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Post-Brexit trade talks to continue with 2 sides still ‘far apart,’ U.K. leader says

Throwing overboard Sunday’s self-imposed deadline, the European Union and Britain said they will “go the extra mile” to clinch a post-Brexit trade agreement that would avert New Year’s chaos and cost for cross-border commerce.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had set Sunday as the deadline for a breakthrough or breakdown in negotiations. But they stepped back from the brink because there was too much at stake not to make an ultimate push.

“Despite the exhaustion after almost a year of negotiations and despite the fact that deadlines have been missed over and over, we both think it is responsible at this point in time to go the extra mile,” von der Leyen said.

The negotiators were continuing to talk in Brussels at EU headquarters.

“I’m afraid we’re still very far apart on some key things, but where there is life, there’s hope, we’re going to keep talking to see what we can do. The U.K. certainly won’t be walking away from the talks,” Johnson told reporters.

EU won’t reach deal ‘at any price’

European Council President Charles Michel immediately welcomed the development and said “we should do everything to make a deal possible,” but warned there could be a deal “at any price, no. What we want is a good deal, a deal that respects these principles of economic fair play and, also, these principles of governance.”

With less than three weeks until the U.K.’s final split from the EU, key aspects of the future relationship between the 27-nation bloc and its former member remain unresolved.

Progress came after months of tense and often testy negotiations that gradually whittled differences down to three key issues: fair-competition rules, mechanisms for resolving future disputes and fishing rights.

It has been four and a half years since Britons voted by 52 per cent to 48 per cent to leave the EU and — in the words of the Brexiteers’ slogan — “take back control” of the U.K.’s borders and laws.

It took more than three years of wrangling before Britain left the bloc’s political structures on Jan. 31. Disentangling economies that have become closely entwined as part of the EU’s single market for goods and services took even longer.

New year will bring changes

The U.K. has remained part of the single market and customs union during an 11-month post-Brexit transition period. That means so far, many people will have noticed little impact from Brexit.

On Jan. 1, it will feel real. New Year’s Day will bring huge changes, even with a deal. No longer will goods and people be able to move between the U.K. and its continental neighbours.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney on Sunday said he believed a post-Brexit trade deal could be reached and that both sides wanted one, but that negotiations really needed to be finalized in the next few days. (Virginia Mayo/The Associated Press)

Exporters and importers face customs declarations, goods checks and other obstacles. EU nationals will no longer be able to live and work in Britain without a visa — though that doesn’t apply to the more than 3 million already there — and Britons can no longer automatically work or retire in the EU.

There are still unanswered questions about huge areas, including security co-operation between the U.K. and the bloc and access to the EU market for Britain’s huge financial services sector.

WTO terms would apply without a deal

Without a deal the U.K. will trade with the bloc on World Trade Organization terms, with all the tariffs and barriers that would bring.

The U.K. government has acknowledged a chaotic exit is likely to bring gridlock at Britain’s ports, temporary shortages of some goods and price increases for staple foodstuff. Tariffs will be applied to many U.K. goods, including 10 per cent on cars and more than 40 per cent on lamb.

Still, Johnson says the U.K. will “prosper mightily” on those terms.

To jumpstart the flagging talks, negotiators have imposed several deadlines, but none have brought the sides closer together on the issues of fair trading standards, legal oversight of any deal and the rights of EU fishermen to go into U.K. waters.

WATCH | Johnson lays out negotiating position ahead of EU trade talks earlier this year:

Prime Minister Boris Johnson lays out negotiating position ahead of EU trade talks 1:21

While both sides want a deal on the terms of a new relationship, they have fundamentally different views of what it entails. The EU fears Britain will slash social and environmental standards and pump state money into U.K. industries, becoming a low-regulation economic rival on the bloc’s doorstep, so is demanding strict “level playing field” guarantees in exchange for access to its markets.

The U.K. government claims the EU is trying to bind Britain to the bloc’s rules and regulations indefinitely, rather than treating it as an independent nation.

Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya said a no-deal Brexit would be a “double whammy” for economies already battered by the coronavirus pandemic.

“It is clear when you do a trade deal that you are a sovereign nation; they are made to manage interdependence,” she told Sky News. “The U.K. and the European Union are interdependent so let’s do a deal which reflects the need to manage this interdependence.”

Speculation about patrolling U.K. waters

Britain’s belligerent tabloid press urged Johnson to stand firm, and floated the prospect of Royal Navy vessels patrolling U.K. waters against intruding European vessels.

But others, in Britain and across the EU, urged the two sides to keep talking.

Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin, whose economy is more entwined with Britain’s than any other EU state, said he “fervently” hoped the talks wouldn’t end Sunday.

“It is absolutely imperative that both sides continue to engage and both sides continue to negotiate to avoid a no-deal,” Martin told the BBC. “A no-deal would be very bad for all of us.

“Even at the 11th hour, the capacity in my view exists for the United Kingdom and the European Union to conclude a deal that is in all our interests.”

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