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Feds drop trucker vaccine mandate, fourth dose questions : In The News for Jan. 13

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 Jan. 13 ... 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 Jan. 13 ...

What we are watching in Canada ...

Only days before Canadian truck drivers were required to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19 to get into the country or face quarantine, the federal government is backing away from the vaccine mandate.

The new rule will still take effect for American truckers starting this weekend, with drivers being turned away at the border unless they've been inoculated.

But a spokesperson for the Canada Border Services Agency told The Canadian Press late Wednesday that unvaccinated Canadian truck drivers, or those who have had only one dose, will not have to quarantine.

The head of the Canadian Trucking Alliance says about 10 per cent of the 120,000 Canadian big-riggers who traverse the border have not been fully vaccinated.

Meanwhile, as COVID-19 infections continue to surge across Canada, the premiers of Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta say they will not follow Quebec's plan to fine those who refuse to get vaccinated against the virus.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault said Tuesday that he plans to make the unvaccinated pay a "significant'' financial penalty since they occupy a disproportionate number of hospital beds.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday he needs more information before he can say whether he supports Quebec's anti-vaccination tax. Trudeau added the province has reassured the federal government that its plan won't violate the principles of the Canada Health Act, which regulates the country's provincially run universal health-care systems.


Also this ...

Many jurisdictions have extended fourth-dose boosters to their most vulnerable populations as Canada's third-dose COVID-19 vaccine rollout ramps up, leading some to wonder whether we'll all need another shot to protect against the virus in the near future.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday that the country will have enough third and fourth doses for all eligible Canadians — if or when they're needed — with contracts signed through 2024 with Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. 

Dr. Allison McGeer, a microbiologist and infectious disease consultant in Toronto, said Canada isn't at the point where fourth doses are necessary for the general population.

"We know with other vaccines that sometimes you need three doses or four doses to get a prolonged, stable effect," she said. "But really, the answer is we're just going to have to see how protection goes and decide on that basis whether there's value in extra doses."

Canada's National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) has already recommended that moderately or severely immunocompromised people receive a fourth dose at least six months after their third shot.

Many jurisdictions began offering fourth doses to the immunocompromised last month or early this month, including British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, while Ontario recently added long-term care home residents to that eligibility list. 

Newfoundland and Labrador's chief medical officer of health said Wednesday the province had also begun offering a fourth dose to immunocompromised people.

McGeer said the moves follow evidence that antibody levels tend to wane more quickly in older people, adding that long-term care residents also have the disadvantage of being in high-risk settings for spread.

"As you get older and frailer, you respond less well to vaccines. That's a general truth," McGeer said.

"So in that group of people, in the middle of Omicron, there's a good argument that says giving them a fourth dose to get their levels up to where other people are with a third dose will offer more protection."  


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

Distrust, misinformation and other factors have combined to produce what authorities say are alarmingly low COVID-19 vaccination rates in U.S. children ages five to 11. 

As of Tuesday, just over 17 per cent of these youngsters were fully vaccinated, more than two months after shots for them became available. While Vermont was at 48 per cent, California was just shy of 19 per cent and Mississippi was at only five per cent.

The low rates are “very disturbing,’’ said Dr. Robert Murphy, executive director for the Institute for Global Health at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. “It’s just amazing."

Parents who hesitate “are taking an enormous risk and continuing to fuel the pandemic,’’ Murphy said.

Hospitalizations of children under 18 with COVID-19 in the U.S. have climbed to their highest levels on record in the past few weeks. Many have other conditions made worse by COVID-19, though many aren't sick enough to require intensive care.

The low vaccination rates and rising hospitalizations are “a gut punch, especially when we’ve been working so hard to keep these kids well,’’ said Dr. Natasha Burgert, a pediatrician in Overland Park, Kansas.

The vaccines have proved highly safe and effective at reducing the risk of severe illness, hospitalization and death.

Overall, 63 per cent of Americans are fully vaccinated. Among children 12 to 17, the rate is 54 per cent.


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

LONDON (AP) — Prime Minister Boris Johnson has apologized for attending a garden party during Britain’s first coronavirus lockdown, but brushed aside demands that he resign for breaching the rules his own government had imposed.

The apology Wednesday stopped short of admitting wrongdoing. It was Johnson’s attempt to assuage a tide of anger from the public and politicians after repeated accusations he and his staff flouted pandemic restrictions by socializing when it was banned. 

The “partygate” scandal could become a tipping point for a leader who has weathered a series of other storms. Some members of Johnson’s governing Conservative Party are saying he must quit for breaking the rules.

Douglas Ross, the leader of the party's Scottish wing, said Johnson’s “position is no longer tenable,” and "I don’t think he can continue as leader of the Conservatives.”

Trying to calm the furor, Johnson acknowledged for the first time Wednesday that he went to a May 2020 garden party at his Downing Street office, though he said that he had considered it a work event to thank staff for their efforts during the pandemic.

“I want to apologize," Johnson told the House of Commons. “With hindsight, I should have sent everyone back inside.”

An invitation to “bring your own booze” to a “socially distanced drinks” gathering was emailed to about 100 government staff by a senior prime ministerial aide — though Johnson's office says he did not receive it.

Opponents and allies alike have been demanding Johnson come clean about the party, held when Britons were banned by law from meeting more than one person outside their households to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. 


On this day in 1992 ...

Mass immunization programs against meningitis were announced by the Ontario and Quebec governments after an unusually severe outbreak of the disease in some regions. They were aimed mostly at children and teenagers in Ottawa, several regions in Quebec and all of Prince Edward Island. It was the largest mass inoculation in Canadian history since the 1950s when millions of children got polio shots.


In entertainment ...

NEW YORK — Two Canadians have secured nominations in the 28th Screen Actors Guild Awards with Martin Short picking up a nod in the category of male actor in a comedy series for "Only Murders in the Building" and Sandra Oh for female actor in a comedy series for "The Chair."

Will Smith, Lady Gaga and Ben Affleck also landed individual nominations on Wednesday, while the casts of “Belfast” and “CODA” were among those nominated for the guild's top award, best ensemble. 

Joining Kenneth Branagh’s semi-autobiographical “Belfast” and the coming-of-age drama “CODA” for best ensemble were the casts for Ridley Scott's true-tale, high-camp “House of Gucci,” Adam McKay's apocalypse comedy “Don't Look Up" and the family tennis drama “King Richard.” 

The SAG Awards have more of the spotlight this year since the Golden Globes — usually the kickoff party to final Oscar stretch — made barely a peep. The Globes were unceremoniously announced Sunday on Twitter in a private ceremony due to Hollywood's boycott of the beleaguered Hollywood Foreign Press Association over diversity and ethical issues. The Omicron surge also prompted the Critics Choice Awards to postpone its Jan. 9 in-person gala. For the second straight year, Oscar season has gone virtual — and struggled to make much noise. 

But the SAG nominations suggest that plenty of famous faces are in the hunt this year. Along with Will Smith ("King Richard") and Cumberbatch, the nominees for best male lead actor are: Denzel Washington ("The Tragedy of Macbeth"), Andrew Garfield ("Tick, Tick ... Boom!") and Javier Bardem ("Being the Ricardos"). 

Up for best female lead are: Lady Gaga ("House of Gucci"), Jessica Chastain ("The Eyes of Tammy Faye"), Olivia Colman ("The Lost Daughter"), Nicole Kidman ("Being the Ricardos") and Jennifer Hudson ("Respect"). 

Joining Dunst and DeBose in the best female supporting category are Caitriona Balfe ("Belfast"), Cate Blanchett ("Nightmare Alley”) and Ruth Negga ("Passing"). The best male supporting nominees are: Affleck ("The Tender Bar"), Bradley Cooper ("Licorice Pizza”), Troy Kotsur ("CODA"), Jared Leto (“House of Gucci”) and Smit-McPhee.

The awards are to be held Feb. 27 and will be broadcast on TNT and TBS.



GIGLIO, Italy _ Italy is marking the 10th anniversary of the Costa Concordia cruise ship disaster with a daylong commemoration that will end with a candlelit vigil marking the moment the ship slammed into a reef and then capsized off the Tuscan island of Giglio.

A noon Mass in Giglio's church is honouring the 32 people who died in the Jan. 13, 2012, shipwreck, while survivors and relatives of the dead will place a wreath in the water where the hulking liner finally came to rest on its side off Giglio's coast.

The anniversary is also recalling how the residents of Giglio gave shelter that night to the 4,200 passengers and crew, and then lived with the Concordia's wrecked carcass for another two years until it was righted and hauled away for scrap.

The anniversary comes as the cruise ship industry, shut down in much of the world for months because of the coronavirus pandemic, is once again in the spotlight because of COVID-19 outbreaks that threaten passenger safety. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control last month warned people across-the-board not to go on cruises, regardless of their vaccination status, because of the risks of infection.

For Concordia survivors, the COVID-19 infections on cruise ships are just the latest evidence that passenger safety still isn't a top priority for the industry. Passengers aboard the Concordia were largely left on their own to find life-jackets and a functioning lifeboat after the captain steered the ship too close to shore in a stunt. He then delayed an evacuation order until it was too late, with lifeboats unable to lower to the water because the ship was listing too heavily.

Prosecutors blamed the delayed evacuation order and conflicting instructions given by crew for the chaos that ensued as passengers scrambled to get off the listing ship. The captain, Francesco Schettino, is serving a 16-year prison sentence for manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning a ship before all the passengers and crew had evacuated.

Cruise Lines International Association, the world's largest cruise industry trade association, stressed in a statement that passenger and crew safety was the industry's top priority, and that cruising remains one of the safest vacation experiences available.

"Our thoughts continue to be with the victims of the Concordia tragedy and their families on this sad anniversary,'' CLIA said. It said it has worked over the past 10 years with the International Maritime Organization and the maritime industry to ``drive a safety culture that is based on continuous improvement.''


This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 13, 2022.

The Canadian Press