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The desperate battle with Omicron and new pandemic aid: In The News for Dec. 17

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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 Dec. 17…

What we are watching in Canada …

UNDATED — The push for Canadians to get their vaccine booster shots is ramping up as the COVID-19 Omicron variant spreads across the country, triggering more pandemic restrictions in some provinces.

Starting Monday in Quebec, all bars, restaurants, retail stores and places of worship will be limited to 50 per cent capacity. Work parties will also be banned, as will dancing and karaoke inside bars, clubs and restaurants.

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Premier Francois Legault said yesterday that vaccinations aren’t enough to stop the transmission of Omicron as he also reversed a decision to ease indoor gathering limits — keeping the maximum at 10 people over the holidays.

In Ontario, Premier Doug Ford has reintroduced a 50 per cent crowd limit in venues with a capacity of more than 1,000.

The daily tally of new COVID cases in both Ontario and Quebec has soared well above 2,000, and the latest modelling in the two provinces indicates those numbers are poised to balloon further to historic levels unless urgent action is taken to slow Omicron’s spread.

And starting Monday, Saskatchewan is opening booster shots to eligible residents over the age of 18 and is reducing the time required between second and third doses to three months from five.

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As the grim toll of deaths from COVID 19 surpassed the sad milestone of 30,000 on Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged Canadians to be cautious over the holidays.

Also this …

OTTAWA — The Senate gave quick approval Thursday to a new round of pandemic aid after Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland made a pre-Christmas plea to rubber-stamp the help and promised that benefits would flow quickly to businesses and workers in need.

Bill C-2 would provide targeted aid to businesses that are ordered closed and to workers sent home, as part of a local lockdown, as well as wage and rent subsidies to those still recovering from previous pandemic restrictions.

Freeland told senators the government created the measures in case there was another wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, and argued they’re needed even more now with the rapidly spreading Omicron variant.

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Although she didn’t put a specific time frame on when benefits start to flow, she said the government plans to use existing systems for applications and payments in order to quickly dole out aid.

Just before Freeland’s appearance by video conference at the Senate, the House of Commons voted to fast-track the legislation to the upper chamber as one of its final acts before MPs agreed to leave the national capital for a winter break that will run until the end of January.

And this …

OTTAWA — Justin Trudeau shares his late father’s disdain for the constitutional “notwithstanding clause” and is not ruling out asking the Supreme Court to weigh in on Quebec’s pre-emptive use of it to trample the rights of religious minorities.

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In a year-end sit-down with the Ottawa bureau of The Canadian Press, the prime minister says the clause is “basically a loophole that allows a majority to override the fundamental rights of a minority.”

He says he agrees with his father, former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, that it is “not a great thing” to have the clause in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

His father reluctantly agreed to include the clause in the charter as the price for getting provincial premiers to agree to patriate Canada’s Constitution with a charter of rights back in 1982.

The Quebec government pre-emptively invoked the clause to thwart any charter challenges to its secularism law, which prohibits public sector workers from displaying or wearing religious symbols while at work.

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Controversy over the override clause has heated up recently with the news that a Muslim teacher was removed from her elementary school classroom in Chelsea, Quebec, because she wears a hijab — in violation of the two-year old secularism law.

What we are watching in the U.S. …

WASHINGTON — Despite months of being courted and cajoled, Sen. Joe Manchin is still not a yes on President Joe Biden’s big $2 trillion domestic package.

Even after being invited to Biden’s Delaware home for negotiations, the West Virginia Democrat is still a holdout. In an extraordinary display of power, one single senator is about to seriously set back an entire presidential agenda.

Democratic colleagues are “frustrated and disappointed,” and the Senate is not expected to meet its self-imposed Christmas deadline.

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Biden says he still believes “we will bridge our differences.”

Also this …

MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota police officer on trial in the shooting death of Daunte Wright was expected to take the stand Friday, hoping to persuade jurors to acquit her of manslaughter charges in what she has said was a gun-Taser mixup.

A compressed defense case for Kim Potter appeared likely to wrap up after just two days, with jurors also expected to hear from an expert on how such errors can occur.

Kim Potter’s police chief at the time she shot and killed Daunte Wright testified Thursday at her manslaughter trial.

Tim Gannon called Potter “a fine officer” and said he “saw no violation” of policy in Potter’s actions at the scene.

What we are watching in the rest of the world …

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TOKYO — Twenty-seven people are feared dead after a fire broke out in a building in Osaka in western Japan, fire department officials say, and police are investigating arson as a possible cause.

The fire started on the fourth floor of an eight-story building in a shopping and entertainment area on Friday, the Osaka city fire department said.

Twenty-eight people were affected, 27 of whom were found in a state of cardiac arrest, officials said.

All of them have since been taken to nearby hospitals.

The cause of the fire and other details were not immediately known.

Also this …

MANILA — At least three people have been killed in the Philippines after a strong typhoon engulfed villages in floods, trapping people on roofs.

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Officials say the storm toppled trees and knocked out power in southern and central island provinces, where more than 300,000 villagers had fled to safety before the onslaught.

Typhoon Rai slightly weakened Friday a day after blowing ashore on the country’s southeastern coast but remained destructive with sustained winds of 155 kilometers per hour and gusts of up to 215 as it barreled westward toward western Palawan province before exiting into the South China Sea.

It was one of the strongest typhoons to hit the country in years.

On this day in 1903 …

Orville and Wilbur Wright flew their first airplane at Kitty Hawk, N.C. The brothers used their Dayton, Ohio, bicycle shop to construct their early aircraft. The “Wright Flyer,” a biplane with two propellers chain-driven by a gasoline motor, flew 35 metres in 12 seconds — enough to convince the brothers that sustained flights were possible.

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In Sports …

MONTREAL — No cheers rained down from the stands on Jonathan Drouin when he scored the shootout winner on home ice Thursday night.

Drouin was the lone scorer in the shootout as the Montreal Canadiens edged the Philadelphia Flyers 3-2 in an empty Bell Centre, hours after Quebec public health officials asked the Habs to play without any fans in their arena in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The Canadiens agreed to the provincial government’s request, making the game the first at Bell Centre without spectators since Game 4 of the North Division semifinal against the Toronto Maple Leafs on May 25.

There is no word yet on whether Bell Centre will welcome fans Saturday as the rival Boston Bruins make their first visit to Montreal since Nov. 26, 2019. The Bruins had seven players on COVID-19 protocol before their 3-0 loss to the New York Islanders on Thursday.

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In Entertainment …

LOS ANGELES — “Sex and the City” actor Chris Noth has been accused of sexually assaulting two women, who shared their accounts with the trade publication The Hollywood Reporter.

Noth denies the allegations, saying his interactions with the women in 2004 and 2015 were “consensual.”

The actor isn’t under criminal investigation over the allegations.

Noth questioned the timing of the allegations, which come days after he reprised his Mr. Big character in the “Sex and the City” sequel “And Just Like That…”

One of the women said the new show prompted her to go public.

Also this …

Authorities on Thursday issued a search warrant for Alec Baldwin’s cell phone, saying it could hold evidence that might be helpful as they investigate a deadly shooting on a New Mexico film set that killed a cinematographer and wounded the director.

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Baldwin was holding a revolver during rehearsal when it fired.

He has maintained that it was cinematographer Halyna Hutchins herself who asked him to point the gun just off camera and toward her armpit before it went off.

Director Joel Souza also was wounded in the shooting on the Bonanza Creek Ranch film set near Santa Fe.

ICYMI …

NEW YORK — Live theatre only recently returned to the stage after months of closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but now the Omicron variant is forcing the lights to go dark once again.

On Broadway, “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” “Tina,” “Hamilton” and “Freestyle Love Supreme” have all cancelled performances as a result of COVID outbreaks backstage.

London’s West End has also cancelled shows due to surging COVID cases, including “Come From Away,” “Matilda the Musical,” and a revival of “Cabaret” starring Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 17, 2021.

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