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COVID staffing shortages, Omicron could boost waning immunity: In The News for Jan. 6

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. 6 ... 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 Dec. 6 ...

What we are watching in Canada ...

Surging cases of COVID-19 driven by the rapidly transmissible Omicron variant are pushing the health-care system to the brink and putting pressure on some police and transit services.

With 170 personnel booked off on leave related to COVID-19, the Winnipeg Police Service declared a state of emergency Wednesday and the Edmonton and Calgary police services warned of staffing challenges after a growing number of members tested positive or were in isolation.

Ontario's GO Transit says a temporary reduction in train and bus service in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton regions is set to begin within days due to staffing shortages caused by the Omicron variant. 

Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos announced Ottawa will distribute 140 million rapid tests across the country this month, four times the number delivered in December. 

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said the restrictions on molecular lab tests mean there is no way to be sure of just how many COVID-19 cases there truly are in Canada.

According to the latest figures from Health Canada, the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has fuelled 344,140 active cases across the country.


Also this ...

Tests on donated blood have found that immunity against COVID-19 among vaccinated Canadians and those who have already contracted the virus has been waning throughout the population.

Tests on around 9,000 donated blood samples show that antibodies in the blood which fight the virus declined in October in all age groups, with experts saying the waning immunity is likely to have continued in November and December. 

But the head of the government’s COVID-19 Immunity Taskforce says that the highly contagious Omicron variant may offer an “immune dividend” giving a boost against future infection. 

Scientists on the taskforce are now studying the extent of immunity offered to people infected with Omicron, as well as immunity in vaccinated people's cells which can kick in to fight future COVID-19 infections. 

Their findings are likely to influence when and how many booster shots people may have in future.  


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

WASHINGTON — A year after the Jan. 6 insurrection, some of the lawmakers who were trapped in the upper house balcony that day are still recovering from lingering trauma. 

Those lawmakers were the last group to be evacuated, after the rest of their colleagues had been ushered out from the floor below. The roughly three dozen lawmakers were evacuated safely, along with reporters and staff who were trapped with them. 

“When I looked up, I had this realization that we were trapped,” said Rep. Jason Crow, a Democrat from Colorado and a former army ranger who served three tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The lawmakers remember the loud, hornetlike buzz of their gas masks. The explosive crack of tear gas in the hallways outside. The screams of officers telling them to stay down. The knobs rattling ominously on the locked doors just a few feet behind them.

And most indelibly, the loud clap of a gunshot, reverberating across the cavernous chamber. The shot was fired by Officer Michael Byrd and killed Ashli Babbitt, a Trump supporter from California who was trying to crawl through the broken window of a door that leads to the house chamber. 

“I think all of us, myself included, had images of a mass-shooting event,” said Rep. Peter Welch, a Democrat from Vermont who posted video updates on Twitter as the chaos unfolded. “It was terrifying in the moment.”

Attorney General Merrick Garland vowed Wednesday to hold accountable anyone who was responsible for the insurrection, whether they were physically there or not.

The investigation into the attack on the Capitol is the largest in the Justice Department's history. So far, more than 700 people have been arrested and 350 others are still being sought by the FBI, including 250 of whom are accused of assaulting police officers.


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

MOSCOW _ A police official in Kazakhstan's largest city said Thursday that dozens of people were killed in attacks on government buildings, including 12 police officers, one of whom was found beheaded.

State news channel Khabar-24 cited the Almaty city commandant's office as saying Thursday that another 353 law-enforcement officers were injured.

Earlier, police officials said that dozens of protesters were killed during attacks on government buildings. 

The reported attempts to storm the buildings came after widespread unrest in the city on Wednesday, including seizure of the mayor's building, which was set on fire.

Kazakhstan is experiencing the worst street protests the country has seen since gaining independence three decades ago. Government buildings have been set ablaze and at least eight law enforcement officers also have been killed.

A Russia-led military alliance, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, said early Thursday that it would send peacekeeper troops to Kazakhstan at the request of President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. 

Kazakhstan has been rocked by intensifying protests that began on Sunday over a sharp rise in prices for liquefied petroleum gas fuel. The protests began in the country's west but spread to Almaty and the capital Nur-Sultan.


On this day in 1936 ...

Barbara Hanley became Canada's first woman mayor when she was elected in the northern Ontario town of Webbwood.


In entertainment ...

TORONTO — A decade after release, Michael Bublé's perennial favourite "Christmas" has marked a new milestone by becoming the only album to reach No. 1 in five different calendar years on the Billboard Canadian Albums chart.

"Christmas" knocked Adele's "30" out of the top spot for the week that ended last Thursday. Chart position tabulator MRC Data says it's the ninth non-consecutive week the album has reached peak position on that chart.

The crooner from Burnaby, B.C., was helped by various deluxe editions of "Christmas" released to mark the 10th anniversary, each of them packaged with two new tracks, "The Christmas Sweater" and "Let It Snow."

Bublé's record label Warner Music Canada celebrated the season with a new vinyl box set packed with an array of goodies, including both a CD and LP of "Christmas." The set also featured an extra seven-track CD of bonus songs, a Christmas ornament and a book.

On streaming services, the anniversary edition of "Christmas" included 25 tracks, with each play helping it rank on the album chart through a metric called streaming equivalent albums, which counts accumulated streams as one album sale.

Warner says "Christmas" has sold more than 16 million albums and racked up four billion streams in its life span, including 72 million streams in Canada this year alone. In total, the album has spent 69 weeks on the Canadian albums chart.



WINNIPEG _ A settlement has been reached in a class-action lawsuit against the Royal Winnipeg Ballet over allegations a former teacher and photographer took intimate photos of students and released them without their consent.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs say in a release that the dance company has agreed to pay $10 million on behalf of itself and Bruce Monk in exchange for a dismissal of claims against the two.

A court hearing for the approval is to take place on Feb. 11 by video conference.

The class action was brought forth on behalf of students who attended the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School between 1984 and 2015 and were alleged to have been photographed by Monk in a private setting.

The lawsuit alleged that Monk took nude, semi-nude and intimate photographs of students, some of which he published, sold and disseminated online.

The Royal Winnipeg Ballet confirmed in a statement that a proposed settlement has been reached, but would not comment further until it has been approved.

Andre Lewis, artistic director and chief executive officer, said in a statement that Monk was fired shortly after an investigation began.

The settlement is to include a one-time payment of $1,000 for health services to any eligible students and a total payment of up to $2,500 for family members who have been affected by a student's trauma, the statement says. The balance is to be paid to the students based upon the severity of harm done.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 6, 2022

The Canadian Press