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France expecting intensive care spike in quarantine blow as Glasgow KFC forced to shut


FRANCE are facing another blow in their bid to become Covid-safe as their intensive care units expect a spike in cases.

They have been on the UK’s quarantine list since last month, and this will not be happy news for British holidaymakers.

Meanwhile, Glasgow have had to shut a KFC branch in the Scottish city after six members of staff tested positive for coronavirus – with the store now closed for two weeks as employees self-isolate.

And, Leeds could have new lockdown measures introduced following a spike in cases throughout the city.

Councillors have warned people in the city must make a “collective effort” to avoid being plunged back into a local lockdown.

The UK death toll increased by 13 yesterday to a total 41,537, and cases hit 342,351.

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Winnipeg police, street groups see spike in drug use during pandemic


TORONTO —
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, another crisis continues to harm vulnerable community members, although it’s largely hidden from view.

Winnipeg’s drug epidemic appears to have flourished, according to some advocates and local police. 

Police have also reported a significant amount of seizures within the past two months caused by meth, fentanyl and cocaine. Officers told CTV News that since the start of lockdown measures, there hasn’t been a decrease in drug trafficking or use. 

Outreach groups, such as the St. Boniface Street Links, are advocating for more treatment options and recovery resources for addicts in the city. 

The advocacy group has also reported a surge in not only drugs, such as meth and fentanyl, but new users as well. 

A representative with the St. Boniface Street Links told CTV News that there isn’t enough space within the current treatment centres in the city for physical distancing. Even their own housing facility, the Moberg House, has added three extra detox beds, but claim it isn’t enough to support those in need during the pandemic. 

In Regina, reports also indicate that overdoses are on the rise. In the first weekend of May alone there were 29 overdoses, three of which were fatal. 

While in Vancouver, there is concern that the ongoing pandemic is not allowing addicts to find safe supervised injection sites. 

Dr. Jane Buxton, harm reduction lead at the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) said one of the reasons why few addicts search for help during the pandemic is because they are also practicing physical distancing. 

However, other advocates say the pandemic has given addicts and homeless residents a more stable environment. 

The Main Street Project in Winnipeg has been providing isolation housing for homeless COVID-19 patients or those who are showing symptoms of the virus. 

“To be honest in the sheltering the manner we have, we have seen a more controlled use of substance,” said executive director Rick Lees. 

While the pandemic continues, concern only grows as some advocates worry that the approaching warm weather will keep addicts on the street, rather than seek help at facilities. 



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Projections show spike in COVID-19 deaths in Montreal if confinement lifted


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“It’s not a free-for-all at all at this point,” she said.

Hankins said it was too soon to say whether schools and non-essential stores should reopen in Montreal on May 25.

“It’s prudent to watch and see what happens,” she said.

“I know it’s unsettling not to have firm dates, but on the other hand we want wisdom to prevail here,” she added.

On Thursday, Premier François Legault again delayed the reopening of schools, daycares and non-essential retail outlets in the Montreal region.

Sixty-three per cent of Quebec’s 2,928 deaths from COVID-19 have occurred on the island of Montreal, as have 51 per cent of diagnosed cases of the disease, according to the latest statistics unveiled by the Quebec government on Sunday.



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LILLEY: Ford government announces new measures as cases spike


As the province announced more than 150 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday, new social distancing measures are now in effect.

All social gatherings and events over five people are prohibited according to a press release issued Saturday evening.

Exceptions include private homes of five people or more, and authorized childcare facilities serving families of first reponders or front-line healthcare workers — provided it doesn’t exceed 50.

Funerals will also be permitted, but limited to 10 people.

Organized public events include parades, weddings, social gatherings and worship services.

This new order replaces a previous one limiting gatherings to no more than 50 people.

The new cases were reported by the province on Saturday, morning bringing the total to 1,144, including 8 cases deemed resolved and 18 more where the patient died.

The current death toll includes 2 cases awaiting official laboratory confirmation from a nursing home in Bobcaygeon, Ontario where three other residents have tested positive and 35 have shown symptoms.

The province remains on a mostly upward trajectory — there have been 453 new cases since Thursday.

Against the backdrop of an increasing number of cases and strain on hospitals, the province announced they were taking control of purchasing all key medical supplies needed in the COVID-19 fight.

Items such as ventilators, masks and swabs will now go through central purchasing and distribution to ensure adequate supplies arrive where and when they are needed.

“COVID-19 is impacting supply chains across Canada, and around the world,” said Lisa Thompson, Minister of Government and Consumer Services.

“That’s why we are proclaiming the Supply Chain Management Act to make sure we can deploy critical supplies, equipment and services to where they are needed most.”

Ford also announced the province would take aim at those attempting to make extreme profits off the crisis.

“I have zero tolerance for this kind of nonsense,” Ford said of the province’s new anti price gouging legislation.

“It’s un-Canadian, it’s wrong.

“If you’re selling face masks, protective gloves, cold medicine, hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes and you’re hiking the price five times, ten times what it should be — you’re done, you’re gone because we’re coming after you.”

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Fines range from $750 for an individual to $500,000 for a company director, while corporations could face penalties of up to $10 million.

Jail time is also possible.

The premier encouraged anyone who spots price gouging to report it through the provincial hotline at 1-800-889-9768.

The premier said that the government understands the difference between a convenience store charging a couple more dollars for a product than large retailers, and said they would listen to all sides during investigations — including finding out if wholesalers are the ones responsible for gouging retailers.

Ford also ripped into a young woman facing charges for faking a COVID-19 diagnosis to get out of her shift at a Hamilton McDonalds.

After presenting her manager a forged doctor’s note, the restaurant sent all its employees home to self-isolate and engaged in an extensive and expensive cleaning.

“It’s disgusting,” Ford said.

“What human being would do stuff like this? We’re in a crisis and they’re going out there and lying and putting people in jeopardy.”

The 18 year-old woman now faces fraud, forgery and mischief charges.



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Ontario sees dramatic spike in number of parents seeking government compensation during teacher strikes


The province has seen a huge spike in applications from parents for child-care compensation in the wake of escalating teacher strike action, with payouts requested for almost half a million children.

In one day alone — from Tuesday to Wednesday — more than 100,000 applications were received, signalling a 34 per cent jump and making it the greatest increase in a single day since Education Minister Stephen Lecce launched the compensation program in mid-January.

On Wednesday — the same day the province blamed a computer glitch for an overpayment to some parents — the government had received applications on behalf of 458,466 children, a dramatic surge from Tuesday’s figures of 342,856. The initiative pays up to $60 per day per child. According to the ministry, 1.45 million children are eligible.

“The uptake in applications for our Support for Parents Initiative can be attributed to the increasing amount of frustration that families across the province face as they scramble for child care as a result of union-led escalation,” said the minister’s press secretary Alexandra Adamo on Thursday.

Adamo’s comments came on the same day Ontario’s public elementary schools were closed because of a provincewide strike by all 83,000 members of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO), which has been running rotating strikes affecting different boards each day.

Job action by ETFO, which represents elementary teachers, early childhood educators and other educators, has left some parents having to find child care because of the teacher strikes, now in their third week. In Toronto, for instance, public elementary schools have been closed twice, and students will miss another day of classes Friday. Next week, the city’s public grade schools will be closed on Feb. 11 — part of a provincewide strike by ETFO — as well as the following day because the Toronto public board, along with several others, will be impacted.

In a media statement this week, ETFO president Sam Hammond said fair contract talks with the province must include appropriate funding for special education, a strategy to address classroom violence and fair hiring practices. All four of the province’s teachers unions are engaged in contract negotiations with the province and have launched work-to-rule campaigns. Unions representing Catholic elementary and secondary teachers in English schools (Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association), and public high school teachers (Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation), have also held walkouts, but have not scheduled future dates.

Unions say they are opposed to the province’s plan to introduce two mandatory online courses for secondary students and to boost high school class size averages, which will lead to fewer teachers jobs and courses. But Lecce insists the main sticking point is salary, with the province offering a one per cent increase, while unions want cost of living increases, or about two per cent.

The Progressive Conservative government announced the compensation program on Jan. 15, offering to pay parents for each day a school or school-based child-care centre is closed because of teacher strikes. The initiative was harshly criticized by some, including Hammond, who called it an attempt to “bribe” parents for support. Since mid-January, the number of applications has steadily risen, with jumps along the way whenever unions announced they were escalating job action. Some parents have said they applied for the funds and intend to donate them to schools or teachers unions.

This week’s dramatic one-day spike coincided with a Star story in Wednesday’s newspaper about the previous day’s application figures, which amounted to less than a quarter of those eligible for reimbursement. That meant millions of dollars were still on the table — the money for parents comes from unpaid teachers’ salaries on strike days. The story also noted that ETFO was ramping up job action for a fourth week.

Also on Wednesday, parents were on social media sharing stories of overpayment by the government, some saying they had been paid three or four times more than they should have been and assuming they were paid in advance for strike days that hadn’t yet occurred. It turned out that a systems problem resulted in school closures being miscalculated — the glitch has since been fixed — and led to some parents being overpaid, which the Star reported in Thursday’s newspaper. Figures for the number of parents who signed up for compensation on Thursday were not yet available at time of publication.

There is no cap on how many days parents will be paid for — so long as strike action continues, parents will be compensated. The province will pay $60 per day for children in a school-based child-care centre, and $40 a day for those in kindergarten, $25 for those in grades 1 to 7 and $40 for those with special needs up to Grade 12. Funds are paid per child and available to all families, regardless of financial hardship.

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The ministry says an additional 42,000 children not yet enrolled in school, may be eligible for the payout if their school-based child-care centre is closed.

In 1997, when teachers across Ontario hit the picket lines for two weeks to protest the education reforms of Bill 160, despite not being in a legal strike position, the Progressive Conservative government of Premier Mike Harris also provided funds to parents. Families with children under age 13, regardless of how many kids they had, were paid $40 a day, if a parent or guardian couldn’t stay home to care for them. Claims for the 10-day strike could not exceed $400 per family.

With files from Star archives

Isabel Teotonio





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5-year border bans: Whistleblower speaks out amid spike


VANCOUVER —
A whistleblower has written a damning email about a recent U.S. crackdown at the border. The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officer, who works on the front lines, wishes to remain anonymous for fear of being fired.

In the email sent to immigration lawyer Len Saunders, he wrote that recent immigration policy in the Seattle field office is “not in line with the INA (Immigration and Nationality Act) or past government practice.”

The insider explained what, he says, is behind the recent increase in the number of “expedited removals” – five-year bans from entering the United States – being issued at the border between British Columbia and Washington state.

The email comes two weeks after CTV News Vancouver learned through data obtained via a Freedom of information request that expedited removals at borders reporting to the Seattle Field office had tripled from 91 in 2018 to 309 in 2019.

The whistleblower says upper management is behind “the ER crusade” that has created a “hammer them all policy” rather than allowing travellers to withdraw their application to enter the United States. Instead of turning people around at the border who don’t have the proper documents, this whistleblower said CBP officers have been directed to ban travellers for five years.

“These are unjustified,” said Saunders, who has a record number of clients who were given five-year bans at B.C. borders since this summer. “It’s a change in their policies and that basically is management, upper management, that’s decided to do this change.”

A spokesperson for U.S. Customs and Border Protection has told CTV News in the past that there has been no policy change, though they have acknowledged the increase in expedited removals. When questioned again Friday, the spokesperson responded that they stand by their previous statements.

But the insider who wrote the damning email said “this is not why I joined Customs,” adding that the entire process has “gotten way out of hand”.

He went on to say officers were directed to interrogate Iran-born travellers in early January. This includes American citizens, he said, “solely based on their national origin.” He went on to say that he himself interrogated some for up to ten hours in a full anti-terror investigation.

At the time, Negah Hekmati, who holds both American and Canadian passports, told reporters she and her family were held by U.S. authorities for five hours at the Peace Arch border crossing. She and her family were just some of the dozens who reported being held for hours.

When questioned, U.S. Customs and Border protection said reports of a top-down directive were false, and while it acknowledged “an enhanced posture” to safeguard national security, a spokesperson wrote, “CBP does not discriminate based on religion, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation.” When asked again Friday, a spokesperson said they stand by their previous statements.

Saunders told CTV News he was at the Peace Arch border crossing when this happened, and “saw it with my own eyes.” He said one of his clients – who had just gotten her American citizenship in October – was stopped for about five hours.

“It’s profiling,” Saunders said. “And from my point of view, it’s unconstitutional.”

According to U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s civil rights office is investigating. In a tweet on Jan. 8, she called the investigation “an important step forward.”

Saunders said Thursday Jayapal’s office called him about the whistleblower that reached out, saying they too had an officer call them with concerns.

He wants to see a complete investigation into the Seattle field office, and a change in management.

“This can’t continue,” he said. “The laws haven’t changed. They’ve remained the same. The only thing which has changed is management at the Seattle Field Office.”



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Pentagon concerns spike in pro-Russian sentiment among U.S. troops – Defence Blog


The U.S. military officials have concerned the spike in pro-Russian sentiment among the households of military members.

More than 1,000 U.S. adults responded between Oct. 24 and Oct. 30, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points to the second annual national defense survey conducted by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute. Almost 46% of the households of military members viewed Russia as an ally even considering the increase in tension between the two countries.

The Voice of America has reported that while a majority, 71% of all Americans and 53% of military households, still views Russia as an enemy, the spike in pro-Russian sentiment has defense officials concerned.

“There is an effort, on the part of Russia, to flood the media with disinformation to sow doubt and confusion,” Defense Department spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Carla Gleason told VOA.

“This is not only through discordant and inflammatory dialogue but through false narratives designed to elicit sympathetic views,” she said, adding, “we are actively working to expose and counter Russian disinformation whenever possible.”

The Deutsche Welle reported that in order to manipulate public discussions, especially in times of elections or referendums, information providers controlled by the Kremlin have purposefully disseminated disinformation, extremely hyperpartisan news and populist narratives. This is not an extension of pluralism of opinion through balanced and objective information that is acceptable in the sense of a free public sphere, but rather illegitimate interference.

These novel disinformation campaigns exploit the increased information overload experienced by people in the digital world. They flood the information space with a multitude of lies, half-truths or absurd news.

A report prepared for the Senate that provides the most sweeping analysis yet of Russia’s disinformation campaign around the 2016 election found the Russian propaganda uses every major social media platform to deliver words, images and videos tailored to users’ interests to influence they.

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Record number of people register to vote on deadline day after huge last-minute spike



A record number of people registered to vote on the final day applications were open, with a huge last-minute spike taking the number of people who registered on Tuesday to 659,666.

Before the final deadline at midnight on 26 November, there had been well over 3 million applications to register since the general election was called in October. 

The figure is around 40 per cent higher than the 2.3 million applications to register in a similar period in the 2017 election, and the Electoral Reform Society said on Tuesday that of the applications made since October, 67 per cent were made by people aged 34 or under – a figure which is generally seen to be beneficial to Labour.

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Social media is an increasingly important battle ground in elections – and home to many questionable claims pumped out by all sides. If social media sites won’t investigate the truth of divisive advertising, we will. Please send any political Facebook advertising you receive to [email protected], and we will catalogue and investigate it. Read more here.



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