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COVID crisis in remote communities and a historic agreement: In The News for Jan. 3

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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. 3…

What we are watching in Canada …

The latest wave of COVID-19 is bringing health-care resources in some remote communities in Canada to the breaking point as case numbers explode.

Record-breaking cases have been documented across much of southern Canada in recent days, and while many hospitals are reporting smaller numbers of critically ill patients than in previous waves, they are struggling with a higher absentee rate because health workers are getting sick in much higher numbers.

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Those strains are exacerbated in remote communities where access to health care is already quite limited.

Bearskin Lake First Nation, a fly-in community in northern Ontario, declared a state of emergency on Dec. 30 when 43 residents tested positive for the virus. By Sunday, 169 people had confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19, more than 40 per cent of the total population.

“That’s a crisis,” Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Derek Fox said in an interview.

He said about a dozen of the 49 communities in the Nishnawbe Aski Nation have confirmed COVID-19 cases right now.

A federal rapid response team with three primary care nurses, a paramedic and two environmental health officers landed in Bearskin Lake on Dec. 30.

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Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu spoke with Fox by phone Sunday and said Ottawa is there to help.

Outbreaks in remote communities are also affecting Nunavut, northern Quebec and Labrador.

Newfoundland and Labrador was one of several provinces recording drastic spikes in COVID-19 case counts on Sunday, logging 466 new infections and toppling a single-day record set just 24 hours earlier.

Nova Scotia also marked a new one-day peak on Sunday, recording 1,184 cases.

Ontario’s daily tally fell short of Saturday’s record high, but still came in at 16,714, while Quebec logged 15,845 new infections on Sunday.

Meanwhile, effective today, people in Alberta with at least two doses of vaccine who test positive for COVID-19 will only need to isolate for five days instead of 10.

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Ontario, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick and British Columbia have also reduced the self-isolation period to five days.

Also this …

OTTAWA — An agreement in principle that will see Ottawa pay billions in compensation to First Nations children harmed by an underfunded child welfare system is set to be announced in Ottawa this week.

Sources confirmed to The Canadian Press that negotiations reached final stages on New Year’s Eve, resulting in an agreement that may finally bring an end to a human rights challenge launched 14 years ago.

None of the parties to the negotiations would discuss the matter publicly on Sunday.

The case has been a gaping wound in reconciliation efforts with Indigenous Peoples in Canada, as both the former and current federal governments spent millions fighting it in court.

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The battle began in 2007 when the First Nations Children and Family Caring Society and the Assembly of First Nations filed a human rights complaint arguing chronic underfunding of child welfare services on reserve was discriminatory when compared to services provided by provincial governments to kids off reserve.

Following unsuccessful court challenges and appeals by the former Conservative government, the complaint was heard by the Canadian Human Rights Commission in 2013 and 2014. In 2016, the tribunal ruled the federal government had discriminated against First Nations children.

The Liberal government appealed that ruling, asking a court to quash it. The court declined.

In 2019, the tribunal ordered the federal government to pay $40,000 in compensation to every child who was needlessly removed from their families since Jan. 1, 2006, and also to parents or grandparents whose children were taken away.

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The Assembly of First Nations estimated in 2019 that more than 50,000 kids could be eligible.

What we are watching in the U.S. …

A winter storm is expected to bring 10 to 20 centimetres of snow to the District of Columbia, northern Virginia and central Maryland through this afternoon.

The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm warning for the area from 1 a.m. to 4 p.m. EST today.

Wind gusts of up to 60 kph are forecast and travel is expected to be very difficult because of the hazardous conditions.

Snow began falling Sunday night in parts of Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky.

In Washington, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management announced that federal offices in the area will be closed today.

Also this …

Wintry weather combined with the pandemic to frustrate air travelers whose return flights home from the holidays were canceled or delayed in the first days of the new year.

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The tracking service FlightAware said more than 2,600 U.S. flights and more than 4,400 worldwide were grounded Sunday.

That followed Saturday’s mass cancellations of more than 2,700 U.S. flights, and more than 4,700 worldwide.

Saturday’s single-day U.S. toll of grounded flights was the highest since just before Christmas, when airlines began blaming staffing shortages on increasing COVID-19 infections among crews.

What we are watching in the rest of the world …

HONG KONG — Hong Kong has welcomed a new batch of pro-Beijing lawmakers in its Legislative Council who were chosen in an election held without opposition candidates.

The new lawmakers took their seats after a Hong Kong online news site said it will cease operations because of deteriorating media freedoms.

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Citizen News says it will stop publishing on Tuesday.

Authorities have moved to silence dissent in the semi-autonomous city, once known as a hub for vibrant media outlets, after Beijing implemented a sweeping National Security Law following massive pro-democracy protests in 2019.

In entertainment …

TORONTO — Stage actress Barbara Chilcott, a driving force in Canada’s theatre scene for more than half a century, has died. She was 99.

Chilcott began her career in 1943 as a member of the Canadian Auxiliary Services Entertainment Unit during the Second World War and toured Europe entertaining troops.

Acclaimed director William Scoular says Chilcott was the first Canadian star to perform on the West End and that she took her final bow on stage nearly 60-years later at the age of 89.

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Her family has confirmed she died of natural causes in her Toronto home on New Year’s Day.

Also this …

HALIFAX — A Nova Scotia publishing company has released a Gaelic translation of “Anne of Green Gables,” the beloved novel written by Lucy Maud Montgomery.

It’s the first time the century-old story has been translated into the Scottish language, despite Gaelic being the language with the “closest cultural and historical connections to L.M. Montgomery and Prince Edward Island after English,” according to Halifax-based publishing company Bradan Press, which is behind the most recent version of the book.

The Gaelic translation titled “Anna Ruadh” or red-haired Anne, was added to the heritage collection last month at the Green Gables Heritage Place in Cavendish, P.E.I., the setting of the novel.

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Emily McEwan, founder of Bradan Press and editor of “Anna Ruadh,” said in a recent interview the translation into Gaelic taps into a large part of the Island’s Scottish history, adding that Montgomery has Gaelic-speaking ancestors on both sides of her family.

“When you read the Gaelic translation, that humour feels so natural … just as funny as it is in English,” McEwan said

“Anne of Green Gables” tells the story of an orphan girl named Anne Shirley who comes to live on the Island after being adopted by a pair of siblings. It has emerged as a Canadian classic since its publication in 1908 and has since been translated into more than 30 languages.

ICYMI …

SEATTLE — Brian “Red” Hamilton was in the middle of moving equipment on the Vancouver Canucks’ bench in between periods on Oct. 23 in Seattle when he noticed a woman behind the bench pressing her phone against the plexiglass.

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The message on her phone caught the attention of Hamilton, the assistant equipment manager for the Canucks. The message expressed Nadia Popovici’s concern that she believed a mole on the back of Hamilton’s neck was cancerous and that he needed to get it checked.

It turned out she was right.

“I felt bad at the moment because I’m walking off the bench and she put her phone up to the glass and on the phone it said the mole on the back of your neck is cancer. And it threw me off,” Hamilton recalled on Saturday before the Canucks played their second game of the season in Seattle. “So I kind of just shrugged and kept going. My initial response when I found out was I felt bad because I felt like I didn’t really give her the time of day. I’m excited that she knows because she needs to know.”

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The Canucks posted a letter from Hamilton on Saturday retelling the story of how all this played out and expressing his thanks and desire to meet the woman in question. Within barely an hour, both the Canucks and Seattle Kraken said the 22-year-old Popovici, who intends to attend medical school next year, had been contacted after spending New Year’s Eve working at a crisis hotline. The pair were able to meet about 90 minutes before the Kraken and Canucks played on Saturday night.

The game in Seattle in October was the final stop on the Canucks’ opening road trip. Within a couple days of being back in Vancouver, Hamilton had team doctors look at the mole in question. When they expressed concern, Hamilton had it removed a few days later and sent off to be biopsied.

The biopsy results came back showing there were cancerous cells in the mole. A larger area of skin around the mole was then removed to be examined and Hamilton said that came back negative.

Hamilton was told by his doctors the cancer in the mole could have become life-threatening in a few years if it had not been addressed.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 3, 2022

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