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‘Right now, I’m scared,’ CDC head says as she warns of potential 4th pandemic surge in U.S.

This story is part of Watching Washington, a regular dispatch from CBC News correspondents reporting on U.S. politics and developments that affect Canadians. 

What’s new

U.S. officials issued what was intended to be a sobering warning Monday that the COVID-19 pandemic could still get a whole lot worse.

Their unusually emotional message carried obvious international implications, especially given that the U.S. has already vaccinated its citizens at a rate triple Canada’s.

The theme of a White House briefing Monday was that this is a terrible time for the country to let down its guard and reopen as some states are doing.

The head of the Centers for Disease Control, Rochelle Walensky, said she plans to speak with state governors Tuesday to encourage continued mask-wearing and physical distancing.

She said U.S. case loads had risen 10 per cent in a week, and hospitalizations and deaths are ticking up again. She said the country is on the same trajectory as some European countries were a few weeks ago before they hurtled into their latest wave.

“We are not powerless; we can change this trajectory of the pandemic,” she said. “But it will take all of us recommitting to following public health-prevention strategies.”

Walensky said she was pleading with Americans as a physician who had seen the death and human suffering caused by COVID-19, and as a wife, mother and daughter.

“I’m going to reflect on the recurring feeling I have of impending doom,” she said as she went off script.

“We have so much to look forward to … so much reason for hope, but right now, I’m scared.”

When later asked to elaborate on her reference to “impending doom,” Wilensky said:

“We know that travel is up, and I just worry that we will see the surges that we saw in the summer and the winter again.”

Cases are still way down in the U.S. since January. What has the CDC worried is a 10 per cent uptick last week, along with more hospitalizations. It sees the coming days as a race between vaccinations and a new pandemic wave. (U.S. Centers For Disease Control)

It’s an abrupt change in tone after weeks of growing confidence in the U.S. The country is expecting to have vaccines for 90 per cent of its adults by the end of April and for all adults in May.

Numerous states have already dropped restrictions.

Yet the federal government is telling states it’s too soon to do that: only 15 per cent of the country is fully vaccinated, while the virus continued to kill 1,000 Americans per day last week as case numbers rose to 63,000 a day. 

Why it matters to Canada

Any U.S. setback would hold a series of cross-border consequences. Starting with the obvious point involving public health: that the virus and its new variants are outpacing vaccinations.

It’s especially true in places with a slower vaccination rollout.

It could also have repercussions on the economic recovery and on cross-border travel. Businesses and politicians have been urging governments, without success so far, to define a plan for reopening the border. 

Some of the states experiencing the worst surges happen to be near the Canadian border, including New York, and Michigan, which has seen its case totals more than triple in a single month. 

The virus is still infecting, and killing, a far higher proportion of Americans than Canadians, although the gap had been narrowing in recent weeks with cases growing faster in Canada.   

Lots of states have eased restrictions. However, Miami subsequently imposed a local curfew, for public health reasons, during spring break festivities seen here earlier this month. (Marco Bello/Reuters)

Dr. Anthony Fauci, a chief medical adviser to U.S. President Joe Biden, said that if this recent spike turns into another wave, it’s because Americans let their guard down too soon. “We’re essentially pleading,” he said.

What’s the good news

At the same news conference, officials delivered encouraging details on a new CDC study showing vaccines performing extraordinarily well in limiting infection and transmission.  

This is atop clinical trials that, Fauci said, showed 100 per cent effectiveness in avoiding hospitalization and death from vaccines approved in the U.S., Canada and elsewhere.  

Another Biden adviser, Andy Slavitt, said Monday: “Hope is around the corner. But we’re not there yet… The worst thing we could do now would be to let up. We cannot get complacent. We cannot let our guard down.”

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CBC | World News

Vaccine nationalism an issue of ‘enlightened self-interest,’ UN Secretary General warns

Developed countries hoarding COVID-19 vaccines is not only unfair and unjust, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres says, it is also “a matter of enlightened self-interest.”

“I’m very concerned with this very unfair distribution of vaccines in the world,” Guterres said in an interview on Rosemary Barton Live.

“It’s in the interest of everybody to make sure that as soon as possible and in a fair way, everybody gets vaccinated everywhere and that vaccines are considered to be a truly global public good.”

Guterres criticized wealthy countries for buying into vaccine nationalism, in which nations secure shots for their own populations, limiting supply elsewhere. 

“We have been appealing to developed countries to share some of the vaccines that they have bought. And in many situations, they have bought more than what they need,” he said. 

The secretary general’s comments come as the European Union took steps this week to tighten export controls on COVID-19 vaccines outside the 27-nation bloc. 

India, meanwhile, put a temporary hold on major exports of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine made by the Serum Institute of India — from which Canada is expecting to receive 1.5 million doses by the end of May — to meet domestic demand. 

Global vaccine sharing program affected

According to Reuters, India’s move will affect supplies to the COVAX vaccine-sharing facility, an initiative that ensures low and middle-income countries have access to coronavirus vaccines 

Under COVAX, wealthier countries pool their funds to buy vaccines for other nations — as well as themselves. 

Boxes of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, manufactured by the Serum Institute of India and provided through the global COVAX initiative, arrive at the airport in Mogadishu, Somalia, Monday, March 15, 2021. (Farah Abdi Warsameh/AP)

Canada is set to receive 1.9 million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine through the program by the end of June. The country has drawn criticism for that decision because it’s already signed deals with vaccine makers for millions of shots of its own. 

“We are having difficulties with COVAX in relation to the supply of vaccines because there has been a lot of hoarding of vaccines, there are limitations to exports,” Guterres said. “We are in a very difficult situation with COVAX itself, [which] is also not yet fully funded.”

The secretary general acknowledged Canada has the right to receive its share of vaccines from the initiative, but said the key problem is ensuring that developing countries also have their quotas respected. 

Vaccine passports could be ‘devastating’

On Monday, Guterres is set to virtually convene with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness to discuss the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

While he is focused on global economic recovery from the crisis, the secretary general said he is wary of introducing vaccine passports as a way to re-open international borders.

“It’s a very controversial question,” Guterres said, adding that nations must seriously discuss the international cooperation required to roll out such a strategy in an equitable way. 

Passengers wait to check in their luggage at Montreal–Trudeau International Airport in Montreal on Dec. 19, 2020. Showing proof of immunization against COVID-19 is being touted as one way to reopen cross-border travel. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

The World Health Organization says national authorities should not require proof of immunization for travel because it’s still unclear how well vaccines minimize transmission of the virus. 

Trudeau himself has expressed reluctance to introducing such measures because vaccine passports invoke questions of equity, fairness and justice. 

“The worst is for some countries to have it, for other countries not to have it,” Guterres said. “Especially it would be devastating if this would mean that people could move within the developed world, but not within the developing world.”

Crisis could last for years without global plan

Guterres said that as more transmissible variants of the virus take hold, nations around the world must ensure everyone is protected.

“It is not the best strategy to vaccinate everybody in one country before those most vulnerable … are not vaccinated in the global south,” the secretary general said. “It then becomes a danger even for the populations that have been vaccinated.”

To achieve that goal, Guterres said a global inoculation strategy is needed.

“We need a mechanism, an empowered mechanism by the G20, to have a global vaccination plan,” he said.

“It’s very clear that there is a growing consciousness of that need. If we leave…the world without enough vaccines, if we have several new variants coming…and vaccines become not so effective, then I believe we might have a problem for the next few years that would be extremely, extremely difficult to manage.” 

You can watch full episodes of Rosemary Barton Live on CBC Gem, the CBC’s streaming service.

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CBC | Health News

COVID-19 variants will drive resurgence without stronger health measures, modelling warns

New modelling released by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) warns that COVID-19 variants could drive a resurgence in coronavirus cases across the country without stronger public health measures to prevent their spread.

National data show the pandemic has been coming under control recently, with numerous key indicators such as case counts, deaths, hospitalizations and long-term care outbreaks declining over the past few weeks. But the modelling suggests the spread of more contagious virus variants could swiftly reverse that progress.

“With the emergence and spread of new variants of concern, we are cautioned that unless we maintain and abide by stringent public health measures, we may not be able to avert a re-acceleration of the epidemic in Canada,” said Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam during a virtual news conference on Friday.

“These variants have been smouldering in the background and now threaten to flare up.”

WATCH | Tam releases COVID-19 modelling with virus variants:

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam releases new modelling that includes the impact of COVID-19 variants. 1:54

The average number of daily cases reported over the past seven days is roughly 3,000 — down from a January peak of over 8,000 per day.

Tam said there are now fewer than 33,000 active cases in Canada — a 60 per cent drop compared to a month ago — and the number of people dying each day from the virus is also down by 58 per cent.

At the same time, over 700 cases have been linked to three variants of concern — the B117 variant first identified in the U.K., the B1351 variant first identified in South Africa, and the P1 variant first traced to travellers from Brazil. Variant cases have been detected in 10 provinces and there is evidence of community spread in at least five.

Scientists believe these variants could be up to 50 per cent more transmissible. Recent modelling from Quebec and Ontario suggests they could become the dominant strains in the coming weeks. 

Cases could rise to 20,000 per day if restrictions relaxed

Short- and long-term forecasts that exclude the spread of COVID-19 variants show infection rates flattening and declining in the coming weeks, even if people maintain their current numbers of daily contacts.

But when the more contagious variants are included, projections show a dramatic spike in cases to 10,000 per day by the end of March if current restrictions are maintained. 

The modelling shows the epidemic curve taking an almost vertical path to 20,000 cases per day by mid-March if public health restrictions are relaxed even further.

“Further lifting of the public health measures would cause the epidemic to re-surge rapidly and strongly,” Tam said. “And current community-based public health measures will be insufficient to control rapid growth and resurgence as forecast.”

(Public Health Agency of Canada)

The dire prediction comes even as some provinces plan to reopen their economies in response to declining case counts. Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and Manitoba have all decided to relax restrictions in recent days, allowing many non-essential businesses such as restaurants and gyms to reopen.

Newfoundland and Labrador, meanwhile, went into a snap lockdown last week in response to an outbreak driven by the B.1.1.7 variant.

Tam said that kind of swift response is necessary.

“A rapid, decisive public health response by the province is what is needed to stop a variant of concern in its tracks,” said Tam.

Provinces that consider reopening should do so carefully and slowly, and make sure that proper surveillance testing is in place so that public health authorities can monitor the spread and respond accordingly, Tam said.

“Why would you ease your measures? Only if you’ve got the sequencing in place, you’ve got your testing to a good level, you know that when you’ve got a case you can contact their contacts,” Tam said. “If those things are not well in place, one shouldn’t be easing those measures.”

Tam said Canada has not yet vaccinated enough people to provide widespread protection, adding that even countries that have vaccinated more people have had to maintain strict rules to keep variants under control.

WATCH | Tam says COVID-19 resurgence likely if people ease off public health measures:

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam warns that a resurgence of COVID-19 is likely if people ease off public health measures. 2:18

At a press conference today, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged provincial and territorial leaders not to relax public health measures too quickly.

“We need to make sure that — even as provinces look at loosening up certain restrictions — that other restrictions are kept in, and there is an ability to both respond quickly when variants appear and also an ability to use rapid tests as a way of screening the population much more regularly,” he said.

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CBC | Health News

Rich countries will suffer too if poor ones don’t get enough vaccines, OECD warns

As the Trudeau government is forced to explain delays rolling out COVID-19 vaccines, some of the world’s economic and health leaders are warning of catastrophic financial consequences if poorer countries are shortchanged on vaccinations.

At a video meeting convened by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) on Monday, Secretary-General Angel Gurria predicted that rich countries would see their economies shrink by trillions of dollars if they don’t do more to help poor countries receive vaccines.

The leaders of the World Health Organization and others also bemoaned the long-term damage of continued “vaccine nationalism” if current trends continue — rich countries getting a pandemic cure at a much higher rate than poorer ones.

It was a message that could provide some political cover for the Liberals, who have been widely criticized for shortfalls in deliveries of vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna while also facing international criticism for pre-buying enough doses of vaccines to cover Canada’s population several times over.

Some international anti-poverty groups have also criticized Canada for planning to take delivery of 1.9 million doses from the COVAX Facility, a new international vaccine-sharing program that is primarily designed to help poor countries afford unaffordable vaccines, but also allows rich donor countries — including Canada — to receive vaccines.

Trudeau and his cabinet ministers on the vaccine file have repeatedly said that the pandemic can’t be stamped out for good if it isn’t defeated everywhere.

They say Canada is a trading nation that depends on the welfare of others for its economic prosperity — especially with the emergence of new variants of the virus in South Africa and Britain.

But their protestations are usually drowned out in the domestic clamour that tends to highlight unfavourable comparisons of Canada’s vaccine rollout with the United States, Britain or other countries.

On Monday, Gurria — the veteran Mexican politician who has led the OECD for 15 years — brought the full force of his political gravitas by offering up a pocketbook argument that eschewed any pretence of altruism.

“It’s a smart thing to do. It is ethically and morally right. But it is also economically right,” said Gurria.

“The global economy stands to lose as much as $ 9.2 trillion, which is close to half the size of the U.S. economy, just to put it in context, as much as half of which would fall on advanced economies, so they would lose around $ 5 trillion.”

COVAX needs another $ 5 billion at least

The OECD is an international forum of more than three dozen mainly democratic and developed countries, including Canada, that aims to help foster economic growth and trade. It also conducts comprehensive economic research and issues the world’s most authoritative annual report on what rich countries spend on foreign aid.

Canada’s former finance minister Bill Morneau, who resigned last summer during the WE funding scandal, had said he was leaving politics because he long wanted to pursue the OECD leadership when Gurria departs later this year. In January, Morneau abandoned that ambition, saying he didn’t have enough support among member countries.

Meanwhile, Trudeau said last week that Canada remains committed to helping poor countries cope with COVID-19 through its $ 220-million pledge to COVAX, and its $ 865-million commitment to the ACT Accelerator, which tries to ensure low- and middle-income countries have equitable access to medical treatments during the pandemic.

But Jorge Moreira da Silva, the OECD’s development co-operation director, said COVAX is underfunded by $ 5 billion, while the World Health Organization is predicting at US$ 27-billion shortfall for the ACT Accelerator.

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO director-general, said 75 per cent of vaccine doses are being administered in 10 wealthy countries.

“It’s understandable that governments want to prioritize vaccinating their own health workers and older people first. But it’s not right to vaccinate young, healthy adults in rich countries before health workers and older people in low-income nations,” Tedros told the OECD forum.

“We must ensure that vaccines, diagnostics and life-saving therapies reach those most at risk and on the front lines in all countries. This is not just a moral imperative. It’s also an economic imperative.”

Trudeau has repeatedly said that all Canadians who want a vaccine will get one by the end of September but that it is too soon to say how the government will eventually decide to share its excess doses globally.

At Monday’s forum, a spokesman for the pharmaceutical industry said the bumps and grinds of vaccine delivery to poor countries would be transformed into “a huge success” in the coming months.

“I think it’s dangerous to talk about, you know, this is a huge moral injustice already now because … you will have significant rollout to developing countries,” said Thomas Cueni, the director-general of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations.

“I haven’t seen a single industrialized country, maybe with the exception of Israel, where young and healthy people are vaccinated.”

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Ottawa warns provinces to expect further disruptions to Moderna vaccine shipments this month

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) is warning provinces that there will be yet more disruptions to the supply of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine shots later this month, according to a document obtained by CBC News.

The Massachusetts-based company told Canadian officials last week that the shipments for the week of Feb. 1 would be reduced by 20-25 per cent, and now it appears this month’s second shipment is also likely to be lower than expected.

“Moderna reduced shipment quantities for the week of 1-7 Feb. (from 230,400 to 180,000 doses). The week of 22 Feb. will also be impacted, but Moderna cannot confirm allocations for that week yet,” the document reads.

The document was prepared by PHAC on Jan. 29, and signed by Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, the military commander leading vaccine logistics.

Fortin said last week that Moderna was on track to send 249,000 doses the week of Feb. 22. If there is a delivery reduction similar to what has been reported this week, then as many as 62,250 doses could be punted to a later date.

The Health Canada website that forecasts just how many Moderna shots will be delivered to the provinces and territories each week has been scrubbed of any data related to that Feb. 22 shipment.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was repeatedly asked in question period Wednesday whether Moderna would send the doses it promised at the end of the month.

Trudeau refused to answer but maintained the government is still expecting to have six million doses of both the Pfizer and Moderna products on hand by the end of March.

WATCH: Trudeau is questioned about possible Moderna delays

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is questioned by Conservative health critic Michelle Rempel Garner on Wednesday. 2:35

While Trudeau has made that promise for months, the PHAC document sent to the provinces includes no information about how many shots will be delivered by Moderna in March.

“All quantities to be determined pending direction from the manufacturer,” the document reads.

To meet the prime minister’s target, more than 3.5 million doses of the two products will have to be delivered in the month of March alone — or roughly 885,000 doses a week.

Pfizer to ramp up deliveries

Trudeau said last week that while Moderna deliveries would be reduced this week, they would then revert to higher quantities at month’s end — an assertion that is now in question given the PHAC’s communications with the provinces.

“We are of course watching closely on that supply chain, but the announcement Moderna has made on a reduction of about 20 per cent across the board on deliveries for this coming week is only for this shipment and should be returned to normal on the next shipment,” Trudeau told reporters Friday.

In addition to the Moderna delays, Pfizer is sending nearly 80 per cent fewer doses than expected this week and next. However, the U.S. pharmaceutical giant expects to ship as many as 335,000 doses the week of Feb. 15 and 395,000 doses the week of Feb. 22.

A spokesperson for Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In a statement, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole called news of more Moderna disruptions a “devastating” development.

“Canada’s daily vaccination rate is the lowest in the G7 – and we have no domestic manufacturing capacity. Now, we’ve learned that there are no confirmed shipments of Moderna vaccines after this week,” O’Toole said.

“We need the government to succeed in securing vaccines for the sake of all Canadians – but Justin Trudeau is letting us down. Every cancelled delivery of vaccines, every delay of vaccines, means Canada has to wait longer to turn the corner in this pandemic,” he said.

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CBC | Health News

U.S. warns of heightened domestic terrorism threat after election, Capitol riot

The United States could face a heightened threat of domestic extremist violence for weeks from people angry at Donald Trump’s election defeat and inspired by the deadly storming of the U.S. Capitol, the Department of Homeland Security warned on Wednesday.

The advisory — which said there was no specific and credible threat at this time — comes as Washington remains on high alert after hundreds of Trump supporters charged into the Capitol on Jan. 6 as Congress was formally certifying President Joe Biden’s election victory. Five died in the violence.

“Information suggests that some ideologically motivated violent extremists with objections to the exercise of governmental authority and the presidential transition, as well as other perceived grievances fuelled by false narratives, could continue to mobilize to incite or commit violence,” the department said in a national terrorism advisory.

Biden’s inauguration last week occurred under heavy security, with more than 20,000 National Guard troops on duty. Officials have said about 5,000 troops will remain in Washington for the next few weeks, when Trump will face his second impeachment trial in the Senate on a charge of inciting insurrection.

Trump spent two months peddling the false narrative that his defeat in November’s presidential election was the result of widespread voter fraud. He urged a crowd of thousands of his followers to “fight” in a fiery speech before the Jan. 6 violence.

The DHS advisory said so-called domestic violent extremists were motivated by issues including anger over COVID-19 restrictions, the 2020 election results and police use of force.

It also cited “long-standing racial and ethnic tension — including opposition to immigration” as drivers of domestic violence attacks.

White supremacist groups have posed “the most persistent and lethal threat” of violent extremism in the United States in recent years, Trump’s acting Homeland Security secretary Chad Wolf told a congressional hearing in September.

‘Wildly overdue’

DHS warned that the attack on the Capitol could inspire domestic extremists to attack other elected officials or government buildings.

“This step is wildly overdue, and I applaud the Biden administration for taking it,” Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told Reuters.

DHS typically issues only one or two advisory bulletins in a year. The bulletins have mostly warned of threats from foreign terrorist groups.

The last one, issued by the Trump administration in January 2020, declared Iran a state sponsor of terrorism and designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization.

Biden last week directed his administration to conduct a full assessment of the risk of domestic terrorism. The assessment will be carried out by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in co-ordination with the FBI and DHS, White House spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters.

“The Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol and the tragic deaths and destruction that occurred underscored what we have long known: the rise of domestic violent extremism is a serious and growing national security threat. The Biden administration will confront this threat with the necessary resources and resolve,” Psaki said.

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Homeland Security boss resigns as FBI warns of possible armed protests across U.S. before Biden inauguration

As security forces in the United States brace for the possibility of armed protests across the country around president-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, the acting secretary of homeland security is stepping down.

Chad Wolf, who criticized President Donald Trump over last week’s deadly siege at the U.S. Capitol, said in a message to staff that he would step down as of Monday night. He said Pete Gaynor, who ran the Federal Emergency Management Agency, would become the acting homeland security secretary. 

Wolf had earlier indicated he planned to remain in the job. Last week, Wolf asked Trump and all elected officials to “strongly condemn the violence” that took place at the Capitol. Five people died, including a police officer.

Wolf said he has condemned violence on both sides of the political aisle, specifically directed at law enforcement. He tweeted “we now see some supporters of the President using violence as a means to achieve political ends” and called that unacceptable.

Meanwhile, the FBI is warning of plans for armed protests at all 50 state capitals and in Washington in the days leading up to Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20.

An internal FBI bulletin warned that the nationwide protests may start later this week and extend through Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration, according to two law enforcement officials who read details of the memo to The Associated Press. Investigators believe some of the people are members of some extremist groups, the officials said. The bulletin was first reported by ABC.

“Armed protests are being planned at all 50 state capitols from 16 January through at least 20 January, and at the U.S. Capitol from 17 January through 20 January,” the bulletin said, according to one official. The officials were not authorized to speak publicly and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.

Army Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, told reporters on Monday that the Guard is also looking at any issues that may arise across the country.

“We’re keeping a look across the entire country to make sure that we’re monitoring, and that our Guards in every state are in close co-ordination with their local law enforcement agencies to provide any support requested.”

Security forces bolster plans

The head of the National Guard says at least 10,000 troops will be deployed in Washington, D.C., by Saturday, and an additional 5,000 could be requested from other states as officials brace for more, possibly violent protests surrounding president-elect Biden’s inauguration.

The U.S. National Park Service announced Monday it would shut down public access to Washington monument until Jan. 24, citing threats surrounding the inauguration.

The U.S. Secret Service will also begin carrying out its special security arrangements for the Jan. 20 presidential inauguration on Wednesday, almost a week earlier than originally planned. 

Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser on Sunday sent a letter to Wolf saying she is “extremely concerned” about the upcoming inauguration in light of the “unprecedented terrorist attacks on the U.S. Capitol.”

Trump himself is skipping Biden’s inauguration, a decision Biden said was a “good thing,” though Vice-President Mike Pence and his wife plan to attend.

Biden’s team hopes the event will help bring a fractured country back together. The theme will be “America United” — an issue that’s long been a central focus for Biden, but one that’s taken on added weight in the wake of the violence in the Capitol.

WATCH l Assessing the pros and cons of invoking the 25th Amendment:

The CBC’s Carole MacNeil speaks to Thomas Balcerski, associate professor of history at Eastern Connecticut State University, on whether the 25th Amendment could be invoked against U.S. President Donald Trump. 6:59

The presidential inaugural committee said that the theme “reflects the beginning of a new national journey that restores the soul of America, brings the country together and creates a path to a brighter future.”

It will be one of Biden’s first acts as president and a show of bipartisanship at a time when the national divide is on stark display.

The focus on unity has characterized Biden’s presidential run from the start, and he’s said repeatedly since winning the White House he sees unifying the country as one of his top priorities as president. But the scope — and urgency — of the challenge Biden faces became even clearer after Trump inspired a riot at the Capitol last Wednesday, spurred by his repeated attempts to delegitimize Biden’s win.

U.S. president-elect Joe Biden plans to focus on bringing the country together once he’s sworn in on Jan. 20. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

There are already signs of increased tension outside of Washington, D.C., as state lawmakers return to work. 

In Olympia, Wash., members of the National Guard defended security fencing outside of the capitol building as the 2021 legislative session got underway. There were concerns armed groups might try to occupy the building. Last Wednesday, hours after the siege in Washington, D.C., people broke a gate outside the governor’s mansion in the state of Washington and made it to the porch and front yard.

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CBC | World News

NHL players will likely have to pay for lost revenues, commissioner Bettman warns

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman warned players Wednesday they are likely going to have to pay one way or another to make up for the league’s projected lost revenue whenever the 2020-21 season gets underway.

Speaking on a Sports Business Journal panel, Bettman stressed the NHL is not attempting to reopen the collective bargaining agreement some five months after it was extended. Instead, he said, the fiscal realities amid the pandemic mean the 50-50 revenue-sharing split between owners and players will be affected for at least the near future.

And that means players will have to bear the brunt of any shortfall to owners.

The question then becomes, Bettman said, whether it’s in their best interest to pay the money back in the short-term — by deferring a higher percentage of their salaries as the NHL has raised in discussions — or face the potential of having the salary cap stay flat over the remainder of the six-year deal.

“If we have to pay out lots of cash, two-thirds of which is going to come back to us, that may cause some stress,” Bettman said. “And by the same token, if the players owe us more money than anybody imagined, the salary cap could well be flat or close to flat for the next five or six years, and players into the future will be repaying what we’re owed.”

When it comes to a flat cap, which would have the potential of restricting future pay increases for players, Bettman said: “[Players] have to ask themselves, ‘Does this make sense?'”

The NHL’s new CBA currently calls for players to defer 10 per cent of their salary for the upcoming season and it puts a cap on how much money will be kept in escrow over the length of the deal.

Without calling it a formal proposal, the league has raised the possibility of having players increase salary deferrals to 20 per cent or 26 per cent and increasing the escrow caps, according to a person with knowledge of the discussions who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because neither side is publicly announcing details of negotiations.

The National Hockey League Players’ Association did not respond to a message seeking comment.

Players, agents unhappy with state of talks

Players and several agents have privately grumbled at the developments, and accused the league of attempting to renege on the deal reached in July that led to the resumption of play and the completion of last season.

Bettman refuted the criticism, calling it “unfortunate” and “inaccurate,” and said the agreement at the time was based on collective assumptions that are no longer applicable. The NHL now has to factor in a shortfall in gate revenue because fans aren’t expected to be allowed to attend games, at least initially.

Another issue is the likelihood of a one-time realignment due to cross-border travel restrictions, which will likely result in Canada’s seven teams competing in one division. U.S.-based teams might be required to play in hub cities, as opposed to their own arenas.

WATCH | I was in net for… The Easter Epic:

In episode 6 of our new series, Rob Pizzo speaks to former Washington Capitals goalie Bob Mason about the longest Game 7 in NHL history, and the Pat LaFontaine goal that finally ended it.  5:39

The league is also expected to play a shortened season, which could feature as few as 48 games, such as what happened in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign.

In an email to The Associated Press, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said “as of right now,” the NHL is still targeting Jan. 1 to start the season, before adding: “That is obviously subject to change.”

It’s becoming increasingly unlikely the NHL will meet that target date. Players have not yet been asked to travel to their home cities. When they do, they will be potentially required to spend up to two weeks in self-quarantine before teams can even be allowed to open training camp.

Another issue are local health regulations. The NFL’s San Francisco 49ers, for example, relocated to Arizona this week after Santa Clara County banned contact sports teams from holding games and practices for at least the next three weeks.

The San Jose Sharks are based in the same county.

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Ottawa’s COVID-19 support is not ‘infinite,’ PM warns premiers

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today he has warned the premiers that “impossible” choices will have to be made if they don’t lower their COVID-19 caseloads soon.

His comments follow a Thursday evening call between the prime minister and the premiers.

“One of the things that I did highlight is that our resources are not infinite at the federal government, whether it comes to support on contact tracing, extra support on [personal protective equipment], support through the military or the Red Cross. We are there to support the provinces as they handle this pandemic,” Trudeau told his regular pandemic media briefing earlier today in Ottawa.

“But there is a threshold beyond which when the cases spike too much, we might have to make really difficult choices about where to deploy the limited resources we have.”

Trudeau insisted the federal government is not at the point of making those “difficult choices” yet.

“Controlling the virus now reduces the impossible decisions and choices we might have to make down the road,” he said.

Trudeau said his government has approved a request from Manitoba to provide support in the province’s long-term care facilities until Jan. 15, 2021.

WATCH: Trudeau warns the premiers about rising COVID caseloads:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says that in his discussion with the Premiers he highlighted that difficult choices might have to be made if they move beyond the limits of the federal government. 1:15

“Hospitals start to get overwhelmed in various parts of the country as resources start to grow thin, as people are giving up on contact tracing,” he said. “The federal government can add more but not an unlimited amount.

“That’s why we all have to make sure we do not get to the kinds of spikes that are being projected, that with the approach of winter we all realize we’ve got to get this back under control and everyone needs to do their part.”

Friday’s warning follows Trudeau’s sobering comments on Tuesday, when he urged the provinces and territories to “do the right thing” and impose restrictions to counter the recent rise in COVID-19 cases.

That warning didn’t play well with all the premiers.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said it was “extremely unhelpful” for the prime minister to frame the issue as a “false choice” between protecting Canadians’ health and protecting the economy.

In an interview airing Saturday on CBC Radio’s The House, Dr. Michael Gardam, an infectious diseases physician at Toronto’s Women’s College Hospital, said many governments around the world are coping what he described as a “false dichotomy” between fighting the pandemic and saving the economy.

“Places like the [International Monetary Fund] have chimed in on this and said if you don’t control COVID, your businesses are going to be in serious trouble,” he said. “This is kind of a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t scenario. But overall, controlling COVID is better than not controlling COVID. 

“So it’s an awful time to be a premier in this country. It’s an awful time to be a leader. Yet that’s the reality we have… Pretending that we can have both, we can … deal with massive increases in COVID while saving our businesses is just wrong.”

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, told today’s briefing that new modelling suggests the country is on track to record 10,000 new cases per day by early December.

Saving Christmas

“We are obviously working hard at vaccine preparations but that’s going to take time, so we need everybody to make an effort,” Tam said.  

“From where I’m sitting, anywhere outside of the Atlantic bubble, the Atlantic jurisdictions and the territories, fires are burning in so many different areas. Right now is the time to get those under control.”

Tam added that unless measures are taken now and the curve is flattened, the pandemic will affect Christmas gatherings.

“Right now, it’s not looking good. People have to like, really take everything seriously,” Tam said, singling out the Prairie provinces as a region that has a lot of work to do.

Gardam said that the current spike in COVID cases is a direct result of Canada taking its “foot off the brake over the summer months.” 

The exponential growth in new COVID cases, Gardam said, will continue in the coming weeks — and Canadians shouldn’t assume that Canada had done a good job in fighting the virus.

“If you look at us in comparison to many other countries, we don’t stand out as one of the better places,” he said. “We stand out as one of the places that has really struggled with controlling this.

“I think it’s time for us to have a little bit of a reality check and perhaps quit patting ourselves on the back here. We haven’t done as great a job as I think we think we have.”

Watch: Trudeau discusses how families should plan for the Christmas holidays:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with reporters during the Friday pandemic briefing in Ottawa. 3:08

Trudeau also announced today that the federal government will offer $ 1.5 billion in job training support to the provinces and territories to help Canadians in hard-hit industries.

Trudeau said the funding will help laid-off workers in sectors like construction, transportation and hospitality re-enter the workforce by improving access to skills training and employment services.

The money comes as a new survey from Statistics Canada reports that nearly one third of businesses do not know how long they can keep going under the current conditions of the second wave.

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Ontario faces ‘runaway train’ of COVID-19 cases if families don’t scrap Thanksgiving gatherings, doctor warns

Ontario could be “on the brink of disaster,” a Toronto epidemiologist said Wednesday, as officials continued to urge families to scrap Thanksgiving gatherings amid soaring COVID-19 cases.

This week, the province — and public health officials in the hot zones of Toronto and Ottawa — stressed the safest way to celebrate is with only members of your own household.

Should Ontarians not heed those warnings, some weekend gatherings could become superspreading events once infected attendees return to their homes, schools and workplaces, said Dr. Jeff Kwong, a professor of family medicine and public health at the University of Toronto.

“It’s not just about this one transmission event; it’s the onward transmission,” he said. “Ten people gathering, say four or five get infected, then they go on to their social circles and infect another five or 10, and so on.”

The result could be like a “runaway train” given the millions of residents potentially congregating indoors with extended family members from different households, he said.

Dr. Jeff Kwong, a professor of family medicine and public health at the University of Toronto, says Thanksgiving celebrations could become COVID-19 “super-spreading” events. (CBC)

Ontario is experiencing a seven-day average of more than 600 cases per day, up sharply from a seven-day average of fewer than 100 cases per day at the start of August.

The province has also been struggling to tackle high demand for testing and an existing backlog of more than 55,000 tests. Most contact tracing efforts in Toronto have been suspended because of the dramatic rise in infections.

Against that backdrop, Ontario officials are now encouraging household-only celebrations for Thanksgiving while saying people who live alone can pair up with one other household.

Activities now ‘much higher risk’

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Premier Doug Ford said residents let their guard down on previous holidays, such as Labour Day weekend, which led to increased cases.

But there are several stark differences between those earlier festivities and Thanksgiving, Kwong said. 

Unlike the long weekend holidays of spring and summer, Thanksgiving is traditionally celebrated indoors given the colder weather. Also, it often marks the first time college and university students return home from campus, and it now falls against a backdrop of already-rising cases.

“Things are a little bit out of control already,” he said. “It’s not like cases are going down steadily like they were earlier in the summer.”

Dr. Irfan Dhalla, vice-president of physician quality at Unity Health, which includes St. Michael’s and St. Joseph’s hospitals in Toronto, agreed the climate has changed.

“The same activities that we could do with relatively low risk at 50-70 cases per day are now much higher risk at 500-700 cases per day,” he said.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said residents let their guard down on previous holidays, such as Labour Day weekend, which led to increased cases. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

One park gathering, 27 cases

According to Dr. Vera Etches, medical officer of health for Ottawa, even outdoor dinners aren’t advised for Thanksgiving, given the risks tied to close contact in settings like a park.

One outdoor gathering in that city already wound up becoming a superspreading event, she said.

It was a barbecue in a park, Etches revealed last month, with 40 attendees, including two who went on to develop COVID-19 symptoms. Those infections led to outbreaks in their households, a workplace and a daycare — causing dozens of exposures and at least 27 cases. 

The messaging throughout the pandemic has long been “outdoors is better than indoors,” said University of Toronto epidemiologist Ashleigh Tuite, but she stressed that only goes so far.

“I think the concern is still, you’re eating a meal together, it’s hard to keep a distance,” she explained. “You’re sharing food. You’re passing dishes.”

Thanksgiving a ‘potent accelerator’ 

Experts say there are ways to avoid those risks while still celebrating the spirit of the occasion. 

Tuite said a family hike, if physical distancing is maintained, is one option. Kwong said he’s carving up a turkey, offering curbside pickup for family and gathering online for the meal. 

The challenge, both agree, is people trying to gather together like usual and slipping up once food and drinks start flowing.

With that in mind, Kwong issued a public plea for Ontarians, and particularly those in Toronto, Ottawa and Peel region, to cancel any planned gatherings.

“We are on the brink of disaster,” he said in a tweet on Wednesday.

WATCH | Canadians confused by advice on Thanksgiving celebrations 

Canadians are trying to decipher confusing advice from public health officials about what kind of gathering, if any, is appropriate and safe for Thanksgiving. 1:57

Toronto warns of spring peak

In Toronto, where medical officer of health Dr. Eileen de Villa is also calling on residents to celebrate Thanksgiving with only their own household, there’s growing concern about rising case counts beyond just the holiday.

The city’s latest modelling shows without further public health interventions — like month-long restaurant and gym closures de Villa is requesting from the province — the spread of COVID-19 throughout October could exceed the April peak. 

“If the virus is left unchecked, heading into November, things can get much worse,” she said. “Infections continue to rise week over week, peaking between early March and early May 2021.”

When asked when the city will know if Thanksgiving gatherings caused even more infections, de Villa’s answer was blunt: “I hope we don’t get there.”

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