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COVID hits the young; U.S. weighs Beijing Olympics boycott: In The News for April 7

In The News is a roundup of stories from The Canadian Press designed to kickstart your day. Here is what's on the radar of our editors for the morning of April 7 ... What we are watching in Canada ...

In The News is a roundup of stories from The Canadian Press designed to kickstart your day. Here is what's on the radar of our editors for the morning of April 7 ...

What we are watching in Canada ...

Provincial governments are grappling with how to bring the third wave of COVID-19 under control, as the more virulent variants of the virus begin to dominate and younger, healthier people are getting very sick, very quickly.

From Ontario and Quebec to British Columbia and Alberta, fear of the variants is growing as swiftly as the caseloads, particularly for young people who might still think the virus won't hit them that hard.

Alberta and Toronto have brought back restrictions to combat the spread.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says widespread rule-breaking has forced his government to bring back tougher public-health restrictions and that failing to do so would cause variant COVID-19 cases to swamp the health-care system by next month.

Kenney acknowledged decisions to shut down indoor dining, curb indoor fitness and reduce retail capacity will meet resistance, even within his own United Conservative Party and caucus.

"But the government cannot ignore the science. We cannot dismiss the medical advice and we cannot ignore the numbers," he said Tuesday.

Restaurants, bars, lounges and cafes are to close to indoor service starting Friday at noon, but curbside pickup, takeout and patio dining are allowed.

Retail stores currently have 25 per cent customer capacity, but that will be lowered to 15 per cent starting Wednesday, and low-intensity group fitness activities will once again be banned.

Indoor social gatherings remain banned and outdoor get-togethers can have no more than 10 people.

Meanwhile, Toronto is the latest COVID-19 hot spot in Ontario to order schools closed while the provincial government maintains that classrooms are safe for in-person learning.

Chief medical officer of health Dr. Eileen de Villa issued the order on Tuesday, following similar moves by her counterparts in Peel Region and Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph. Classes are to move online Wednesday in Toronto, with the closure to be reassessed on April 18 when the scheduled spring break ends.

The health unit said schools should be the last places to close but new variants have increased the risk of serious illness and death from COVID-19 and strong measures are necessary.


Also this ...

Stephanie Laurin slept next to a colossal, simmering pot every night over the last week, supervising the production cycle of pea soup at Chalet des Erables sugar shack, north of Montreal.

Laurin hasn't welcomed a single diner into her business since 2019 because of the pandemic, and yet she spent hours cooking and shipping hundreds of Easter packages across the region, filled with pea soup, meat pies, baked beans, omelettes, maple syrup and a recipe for maple taffy.

Chalet des Erables and more than 70 other sugar shacks across Quebec are taking advantage of an online platform created by their industry association to keep a beloved tradition alive and their businesses afloat during difficult times.

“We will soon reach more than 2,000,000 visits on our platform,” said Laurin, who is also the chair of the association that represents the province's sugar shacks, called Association des salles de reception et erablieres du Quebec.

“It’s unbelievable," she said in a recent interview, "considering the fact that we are eight million people in Quebec and that the website didn’t exist a few weeks ago.”

The website, called Ma Cabane a la Maison (my sugar shack at home), was launched Feb. 22 as a way to reinvent the sugar shack experience and prevent more businesses from closing. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to the closure of one-quarter of Quebec's 200 sugar shacks.


What we are watching in the U.S. ...

The State Department said Tuesday the Biden administration is consulting with allies about a joint approach to China and its human rights record, including how to handle the upcoming Beijing Winter Olympics.

The department initially suggested that an Olympic boycott to protest China’s rights abuses was among the possibilities but a senior official said later that a boycott has not yet been discussed.

The official said the U.S. position on the 2022 Games had not changed but that the administration is in frequent contact with allies and partners about their common concerns about China. Department spokesman Ned Price said earlier the consultations were being held in order to present a united front.

“Part of our review of those Olympics and our thinking will involve close consultations with partners and allies around the world," Price told reporters.

Human rights groups are protesting China’s hosting of the Games, which are set to start in February 2022. They have urged a diplomatic or straight-up boycott of the event to call attention to alleged Chinese abuses against Uyghurs, Tibetans, and residents of Hong Kong.

Price declined to say when a decision pm the Olympics might be made, but noted there is still almost a year until the Games are set to begin.

“These Games remain some time away. I wouldn’t want to put a timeframe on it, but these discussions are underway,” he said. “It is something that we certainly wish to discuss and it is certainly something that we understand that a co-ordinated approach will be not only in our interest, but also in the interest of our allies and partners. So this is one of the issues that is on the agenda, both now and going forward."

The Beijing Winter Olympics open on Feb. 4, 2022 and China has denied all charges of human rights abuses. It says "political motives” underlie the boycott effort.


Also this...

Minneapolis police are taught to restrain combative suspects with a knee on their back or shoulders if necessary but are told to “stay away from the neck when possible,” a department use-of-force instructor testified Tuesday at former Officer Derek Chauvin’s murder trial.

Lt. Johnny Mercil became the latest member of the Minneapolis force to take the stand as part of an effort by prosecutors to dismantle the argument that Chauvin was doing what he was trained to do when he put his knee on George Floyd’s neck last May.

Several experienced officers, including the police chief himself, have testified that Floyd should not have been kept pinned to the pavement for close to 9 1/2 minutes by prosecutors’ reckoning as the Black man lay face-down, his hands cuffed behind his back.

According to testimony and records submitted Tuesday, Chauvin took a 40-hour course in 2016 on how to recognize people in crisis — including those suffering mental problems or the effects of drug use — and how to use de-escalation techniques to calm them down.

Sgt. Ker Yang, the Minneapolis police official in charge of crisis-intervention training, said officers are taught to “slow things down and re-evaluate and reassess.”

Records show Chauvin also underwent training in the use of force in 2018. Mercil said those who attended were taught that the sanctity of life is a cornerstone of departmental policy and that officers must use the least amount of force required to get a suspect to comply.

Under cross-examination by Chauvin attorney Eric Nelson, Mercil testified that officers are trained in some situations to use their knee across a suspect’s back or shoulder and employ their body weight to maintain control.

But Mercil added: “We tell officers to stay away from the neck when possible.”


What we are watching in the rest of the world ...

Officials from five world powers began a new effort Tuesday to try to bring the United States back into the foundering 2015 nuclear deal they signed with Iran, a delicate diplomatic dance that needs to balance the concerns and interests of both Washington and Tehran.

The meeting in Vienna of envoys from Russia, China, Germany, France, Britain and Iran came as the U.S. was due to start its own indirect talks with Iran. It would be one of the first signs of tangible progress in efforts to return both nations to the accord, which restricted Iran’s nuclear program in return for relief from U.S. and international sanctions.

Following the closed meetings of the signatories to the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Russia's delegate, Mikhail Ulyanov, tweeted that the initial talks were “successful.”

“The restoration of JCPOA will not happen immediately. It will take some time. How long? Nobody knows,” he wrote. “The most important thing after today's meeting of the Joint Commission is that practical work towards achieving this goal has started.”

In 2018, then-President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. unilaterally out of the accord, opting for what he called a maximum-pressure campaign involving restored and additional American sanctions.

Since then, Iran has been steadily violating restrictions in the deal, like the amount of enriched uranium that it can stockpile and the purity to which it can be enriched. Tehran’s moves have been calculated to pressure the other nations in the deal to do more to offset crippling U.S. sanctions reimposed under Trump.

U.S. President Joe Biden, who was vice-president under Barack Obama when the original deal was negotiated, has said he wants to bring the U.S. back into the JCPOA but that Iran must reverse its violations.

Iran argues that the U.S. violated the deal first with its withdrawal, so Washington has to take the first step by lifting sanctions.


On this day in 1977 ...

The Toronto Blue Jays played their inaugural regular season game. After a pre-game snowstorm at Exhibition Stadium, the Blue Jays got two home runs from first baseman Doug Ault in beating the visiting Chicago White Sox 9-5.


In entertainment ...

Ontario concert venue owners are demanding more transparency from the provincial government after the latest round of COVID-19 restrictions outlawed live streaming shows with little advance notice.

For the second time this year, club owners say they've been left frustrated and confused as the province told them to sideline virtual shows while other industries operate with less strict precautions.

"The government is picking winners and losers without any logic," said Jeff Cohen, owner of the Horseshoe Tavern, a downtown Toronto venue that packed in crowds before the pandemic but turned to live streams over the past year to stay in business.

"The moment we try to do something proactive... we're just getting hit on the head with a rubber mallet."

Doug Ford's "emergency brake" plan, introduced on Thursday, prohibits virtual shows in empty concert halls for the next four weeks. That's left some in the live music industry frustrated, pointing out shoppers are still permitted to wander malls while TV and movie productions continue rolling in film studios.

Since last year, Cohen has been chasing ways to keep the lights on at the Horseshoe while supporting Canadian musicians.

Last August, he launched the Horseshoe Hootenanny, a live streaming concert series that went dark when Ontario's leaders unveiled stricter health guidelines late last year, which made it against the rules to keep the series running.



Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi won't be running in the municipal election in the fall.

Nenshi, the first Muslim mayor of a big Canadian city when he was elected in October 2010, made the announcement Tuesday on social media.

The 49-year-old, who has a master's degree from Harvard University, has served as mayor of Calgary for three terms.

He said leading the city has been the honour of his life.

"It was a tough decision to make but, ultimately, I think the right decision for me and I really hope the right decision for Calgary," Nenshi said on a Facebook livestream.

He added that he's not going anywhere and his family is fine, but it's time to make room in the job for someone else.

Nenshi said he sought a lot of advice on the matter. But the hardest conversation he had was with himself.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 7, 2021

The Canadian Press