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Pandemic shutdowns and Canada bans U.K. travellers: In The News for Dec. 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 Dec. 21 ...

What we are watching in Canada ...

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc across the country, causing the first deaths in Nunavut and, according to media reports, pushing Ontario towards a provincewide lockdown.

The Ontario government is reportedly poised to announce a sweeping shutdown of non-essential services today.

The province held emergency talks over the weekend to discuss additional pandemic measures in the wake of several consecutive days with case counts exceeding 2,000. 

Meanwhile, Nunavut reported its first two deaths related to the novel coronavirus on Sunday as case counts remained high in several provinces.

The territory had no cases of COVID-19 until November, and has since recorded 259.

The news comes a day after Canada surpassed 500,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19.


Also this ...

OTTAWA - The federal government is restricting travel from the U.K. for 72 hours in an effort to keep a contagious new strain of the virus that causes COVID-19 out of Canada. 

The travel ban went into effect first thing this morning.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the announcement on Twitter after an hours-long meeting yesterday with members of the Incident Response Group

He added that passengers who arrived in Canada from the U.K. on Sunday would be subject to secondary screening and "enhanced measures."

While the early science suggests the new variant is more transmissible than other strains, Health Canada said there's nothing at this point suggesting the mutations have any effect on symptom severity, antibody response or vaccine efficacy. It added that there have been no recorded cases of the new strain in Canada. 

The travel ban doesn't apply to cargo flights or stops where passengers do not disembark. 

Several European countries announced earlier that they would close their borders to the U.K. as British officials struggle to contain the new strain. 



Fear of contracting COVID-19 in hospitals or doctors' offices has prompted some moms-to-be to choose to take on midwives and have their babies at home, midwifery groups say.

A recent survey and reports from midwifery practices indicate that a pronounced uptick in women interested in home births began as the pandemic took hold in the spring. 

One of them was Madeleine Shaw, of Victoria, who was 34 weeks pregnant in March and on track to have her baby in hospital with a doctor assisting. However, the prospect of contracting COVID-19 prompted a relatively last-minute switch to a home birth.

"Birth and certainly your first time is already something riddled with unknowns and anxieties for lots of people, and to put a pandemic on top of it was the icing on the cake," Shaw said. "It's scary now but it was really frightening then, because we knew so little at the time."

Shaw, it appears, was not alone in her concerns.

In a survey of its members last month, the Midwives Association of B.C. found 89 per cent of those responding reported more women asking about the home birth option between March and November compared to inquiries made before that period. 

Almost 40 per cent described the increased interest in homebirths as moderate or large.

In Ontario, a similar pattern emerged, said Jasmin Tecson, president of the Ontario Association of Midwives. 


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

WASHINGTON - Congressional leaders have hashed out a massive, year-end catchall bill that combines $900 billion in COVID-19 aid with a $1.4 trillion omnibus spending bill and reams of other unfinished legislation on taxes, energy, education and health care.

The huge, still-unreleased bill is slated for votes today — with lawmakers having only a few hours to read it before casting their votes.

Meanwhile, President-elect Joe Biden will receive his first dose of the coronavirus vaccine on live television as part of a growing effort to convince the American public the inoculations are safe. 

Today's event will come the same day that a second vaccine, produced by Moderna, joins Pfizer’s in the nation’s arsenal.

Top government leaders including Vice-President Mike Pence, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell were given doses Friday. 

But missing from the action has been President Donald Trump, who has not said when he intends to get the shot.


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

BERLIN - A growing list of European Union nations and Canada have barred flights from the U.K. and others are considering similar action. 

The moves were made Sunday to try to block a new highly contagious strain of coronavirus sweeping across southern England from spreading to the continent. 

France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland and Bulgaria all announced restrictions on U.K. travel. 

It came hours after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that Christmas shopping and gatherings in southern England must be cancelled due to the rapidly spreading virus.

Meanwhile, the European Medicines Agency is meeting today to consider approving the coronavirus vaccine developed by BioNTech and Pfizer that would be the first to be authorized for use in the European Union. 

The closed-doors meeting comes weeks after the shot was granted permission under emergency provisions by regulators in Canada, Britain and the United States.  

If EMA scientists conclude that the vaccine is safe, officials at the Amsterdam-based agency are expected to give conditional approval for it to be used across the 27-nation bloc.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 21, 2020

The Canadian Press

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