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Better COVID tracking, calls for national gun-control plan : In The News for April 21

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 21 ... What we are watching in Canada ...
A man displays his COVID-19 rapid test kit after receiving it at a pharmacy in Montreal, Monday, December 20, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

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 21 ...

What we are watching in Canada ...

Experts say Canada needs to look at developing a robust system for tracking COVID-19 infections to better inform the public about the prevalence of the virus in their communities in the absence of wide-scale PCR testing.

Dr. Caroline Colijn, a mathematician and epidemiologist at Simon Fraser University, says there are currently too many infections in Canada to expand access to PCR tests to everyone.

And while wastewater data is an important tool that can be used to estimate COVID-19 cases, she says it has a margin of error.  

Colijn anticipates an integrated system that would incorporate wastewater data and results from PCR and rapid antigen tests to paint a more accurate picture of how much COVID-19 is in a population.

Meanwhile, the scientific director of the panel advising Ontario on COVID-19 says a detection system is needed that can use a random sample in a population to try to understand what's happening and which can be ramped up if needed.

Dr. Peter Juni says this would help give people enough situational awareness of how much COVID-19 is around them. 


Also this ...

Prominent firearm-control advocates are urging the Liberal government to abandon plans to allow provinces to ban handguns, saying regional measures will lead to a disastrous patchwork across Canada.

In a new letter to Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino, several high-profile groups call instead for countrywide measures to phase out the private ownership of handguns.

The groups say off-loading the responsibility to ban handguns to provinces would be a disaster — politically, legally, and most importantly, in terms of public safety.

The plea follows a pledge this week by Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca to ban handguns across the province should he become premier following the election slated for June.

The April 20 letter was signed by representatives of organizations including the Coalition for Gun Control, PolySeSouvient, the National Association of Women and the Law, Danforth Families for Safe Communities, the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians, and the Quebec City mosque where six people were killed.

Overall, the signatories call for legislation that will move measures to a point where it will be extremely difficult, if not politically impossible, to turn back in the opposite direction.

Mendicino's office had no immediate comment on the letter.


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

WASHINGTON _ Many Americans still question whether President Joe Biden is showing enough strength in response to Russia's war against Ukraine, even as most approve of steps the U.S. is already taking and few want U.S. troops to get involved in the conflict.

A poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows 54 per cent of Americans think Biden has been "not tough enough'' in his response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Thirty-six per cent think his approach has been about right, while eight per cent say he's been too tough.

But as the war has dragged on, Americans' desire to get involved has waned somewhat. Thirty-two per cent of Americans say the U.S. should have a major role in the conflict. That's ticked back down from 40 per cent last month, though that remains slightly higher than the 26 per cent who said so in February. An additional 49 per cent say the U.S. should have a minor role.

The results underscore the conundrum for the White House. As images of Russian attacks on civilians and hospitals are shared around the world, there's pressure to stop Russian President Vladimir Putin and help millions of Ukrainians under attack in their home country or fleeing for safety. But Biden must also manage the threat of escalation with Putin, who has raised the alert level on using Russia's nuclear weapons, and prevent the U.S. from getting involved in a much larger conflict.

"Given the potential desperation of President Putin and the Russian leadership, given the setbacks that they've faced so far militarily, none of us can take lightly the threat posed by a potential resort to tactical nuclear weapons or low-yield nuclear weapons,'' CIA Director William Burns said in a recent speech at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

The White House has authorized more than $2 billion in weapons and led Western sanctions that have crushed the Russian economy. Biden has ruled out sending U.S. troops _ a decision supported by a majority of Americans.

The U.S. has also held back some weapons and defensive systems sought by Ukraine and placed early limits on intelligence sharing that have been loosened throughout the conflict.

The poll and followup interviews with respondents indicate many Americans, responding to images of Ukrainians being killed and Russian forces allegedly committing war crimes, want to see more action to stop Putin. A majority _ 57 per cent _ say they believe Putin has directed his troops to commit war crimes. Just six per cent say he has not, while 36 per cent say they aren't sure.


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

KYIV, Ukraine _ Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his forces not to storm the last remaining Ukrainian stronghold in the besieged port city of Mariupol but to block it "so that not even a fly comes through.''

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told Putin on Thursday that the sprawling Azovstal steel plant where Ukrainian forces were holed up was "securely blocked.'' He said the rest of the city was "liberated'' and Putin hailed that as a "success.''

Leaving the plant in Ukrainian hands, however, robs the Russians of the ability to declare complete victory in Mariupol. The city's capture has both strategic and symbolic importance.

Only four buses with civilians managed to escape from Mariupol after several unsuccessful attempts, Ukrainian officials said Thursday. Another attempt to evacuate civilians from Mariupol will be made Thursday, Ukraine's Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.

In Kyiv, Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Denmark's Mette Frederiksen became the latest European leaders to show support with a visit to the capital. They were due to meet with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who warned in a video address overnight that the Russians were not "abandoning their attempts to score at least some victory by launching a new, large-scale offensive.''

As fears grew for the fate of civilians in Mariupol, the Kyiv regional police said Thursday that two mass graves with nine bodies were discovered in the city of Borodyanka, northwest of the capital. The findings added to thousands of civilians reported killed by Russian forces, who have been accused of wholesale abuses of Ukrainians.

Head of the Kyiv regional police, Andriy Nebytov, said two women and a teenager were among the "civilians killed by the Russian occupiers.''

"I want to stress that these people are civilians. The Russian military deliberately shot civilians that didn't put up any resistance and didn't pose any threat,'' Nebytov said, adding that some of the victims were apparently tortured.


On this day in 1918 ...

German air ace Baron Manfred von Richthofen -- better known as the ``Red Baron'' -- was shot down and killed over the Western Front during a First World War dogfight with Capt. Roy Brown of Carleton Place, Ont., a flight leader in the 209th Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps.


In entertainment ...

LOS ANGELES _ Former star of "The Real Housewives of Atlanta'' NeNe Leakes sued the companies behind the show on Wednesday, alleging that they fostered and tolerated a hostile and racist work environment.

The lawsuit filed in federal court in Atlanta says Leakes, who is Black, complained to executives about years of racist remarks from fellow housewife Kim Zolciak-Biermann, who is white, but that only Leakes suffered consequences.

It names as defendants NBCUniversal, Bravo, production companies True Entertainment and Truly Original, executives from the companies and "Housewives'' executive producer Andy Cohen, but not Zolciak-Biermann.

Leakes, 54, a TV personality and actor whose legal name is Linnethia Monique Leakes, spent seven seasons as one of the central stars of "The Real Housewives of Atlanta'' between 2008 and 2020.

It alleges that during the first season, which aired in 2008, the cast was planning to attend a barbecue, and housewife Kim Zolciak-Biermann, responded to the idea with "words to the effect of: "I don't want to sit around with NeNe and eat chicken.''' The suit says the statement "perpetuated an offensive stereotype about African-Americans.''

The suit says in 2012 during the fifth season, Zolciak-Biermann made "racially offensive and stereotypical'' comments about the new home of housewife Kandi Burruss, calling her neighbourhood a "ghetto'' and perpetuating a racial stereotype in an offensive comment about whether Burruss needed a swimming pool.

That same year, the suit says, Zolciak-Biermann used the N-word to refer to Leakes and other of the housewives after a dispute with them, the suit alleges. It also alleges Zolciak-Biermann falsely implied that Leakes used drugs and called her home a "roach nest.''

The suit says after Leakes' complaints to the executives overseeing the show, they "did not terminate their relationship with Zolciak-Biermann, nor take any other meaningful action to put an end to her racially-offensive behaviour,'' and if anything rewarded her by giving her her own spinoff show.


Did you see this?

TORONTO _ A drug considered the "single greatest innovation in the history of cystic fibrosis'' has been approved in Canada for children aged six to 11.

Cystic Fibrosis Canada says in a news release that Health Canada has approved Trikafta for kids with at least one CF gene mutation.

The charity organization says the "life-changing'' drug can treat up to 90 per cent of Canadians with cystic fibrosis and addresses the underlying causes of the disease instead of just managing the symptoms.

Dr. John Wallenburg, the group's chief scientific officer, says that because cystic fibrosis is a progressive disease, children can accumulate irreversible lung damage between the ages of six and 20.

The medication was approved for those 12 and older last year and the group is calling on provinces, territories and private insurers to fund Trikafta for those aged six and up.

In 2020, before the drug was approved for use in Canada, it could cost patients in the United States as much as US$300,000 a year.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 21, 2022.

The Canadian Press