COVID kibosh on New Year’s Eve parties and Biden vs Putin: In The News for Dec. 31


Published December 31, 2021 at 4:30 am

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. 31 …

What we are watching in Canada …

Canada’s major cities are set to ring in the New Year with more of a gentle chime than a resounding clang, with many official celebrations cancelled or moved online for the second year in a row due to COVID-19. 

Across the country, residents are being encouraged to tune in to livestreams for fireworks displays and performances or trade parties for outdoor activities.

New Year’s Eve is coinciding with a wave of record-setting daily COVID-19 cases driven by the fast-moving Omicron variant. 

Canada’s largest city is trading its tradition of crowding Nathan Phillips Square for an online event. The livestream will feature pre-recorded performances from iconic Toronto music venues and other locations leading up to fireworks.

The neighbouring City of Mississauga is going even further with its safety precautions, cancelling all organized events at Celebration Square for the evening, including fireworks. 

In British Columbia, a provincial health order prohibits all organized New Year’s Eve parties, while limiting personal gatherings to a household plus 10 visitors or one other household. Everyone 12 and up must be vaccinated to gather indoors. 

Even before the new rules were announced, the Vancouver New Year’s Eve Celebration Society postponed the Concord fireworks display until next year. 

Calgary is going forward with a fireworks display over the Calgary Tower set to a synchronized music soundtrack broadcast by radio. 

Quebec is marking New Year’s Eve with a new nighttime curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., which will continue for an indefinite period of time. And there will be no celebration at the Old Port of Montreal, nor fireworks. 

Also this …

With the relentless surge of the Omicron variant now pushing COVID-19 case numbers to new highs almost daily, governments across Canada are fighting back with tougher pandemic restrictions.

Quebec Premier François Legault has announced the reimposition of a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew that begins tonight, New Year’s Eve, and will remain in effect indefinitely. In addition, restaurants in the province must close their dining rooms starting today and serve takeout only, while indoor private gatherings are being banned.

Quebec reported a record 14,188 new COVID infections Thursday. Ontario also confirmed a record count with 13,807 new cases, as did British, Columbia, Alberta and Prince Edward Island with 4,383, 4,000 and 169 cases respectively.

The fast rising tide of COVID cases has prompted some provinces to alter their back-to-school plans by extending the holiday break. In Ontario the resumption of in-person-classes is being delayed until Wednesday, in Alberta until Jan. 10, and in Quebec until at least Jan. 17.

Nova Scotia has announced that beginning Monday those aged 30 and up will be eligible for booster shots, while in Ontario publicly funded PCR testing is being restricted to only high-risk individuals who are symptomatic or at risk of severe illness.

Meanwhile, a new study from Public Health Ontario suggests that those infected with the highly transmissible Omicron variant are significantly less likely to face hospitalization or death compared to those with Delta. Still, an average of 1,892 people with COVID-19 were being treated in Canadian hospitals each day this week, which is 23 per cent more than last week.

What we are watching in the U.S. …

WILMINGTON, Del. — Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin spoke frankly by phone for nearly an hour late Thursday about the Russian troop buildup near Ukraine. 

It was a new round of leader-to-leader talks as the Kremlin has stepped up its calls for security guarantees and test fired hypersonic missiles to underscore its demands. 

Putin’s foreign affairs adviser said Biden reaffirmed the U.S. threat of new sanctions against Russia in case of an escalation or invasion, to which Putin responded with a warning of his own — that such a U.S. move could lead to a complete rupture of ties. 

“It would be a colossal mistake that would entail grave consequences,” said Yuri Ushakov. He added that Putin told Biden that Russia would act as the U.S. would if offensive weapons were deployed near American borders.

The Russians have moved an estimated 100,000 troops toward Ukraine, and Putin has stepped up his demands for guarantees precluding NATO from expanding to Ukraine. 

White House officials said the leaders agreed there are areas where the two sides could make meaningful progress but also that there are differences that might be impossible to resolve.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that Biden “urged Russia to de-escalate tensions with Ukraine” and “made clear that the United States and its allies and partners will respond decisively if Russia further invades Ukraine.”

Putin requested the call, the second between the leaders this month, ahead of scheduled talks between senior U.S. and Russian officials Jan. 9 and 10 in Geneva. 

Also this …

DENVER — An estimated 580 homes, a hotel and a shopping center burned and tens of thousands of people were evacuated as wind-fueled wildfires raged outside of Denver. 

At least one first responder and six others have been injured, though Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle acknowledged there could be more injuries and deaths could be possible due to the intensity of fires that quickly swept across the region. 

The wildfires engulfed parts of the area in smoky, orangish skies on Thursday. 

The city of Louisville, which has a population of about 21,000, was ordered to evacuate after residents in Superior, which has 13,000 residents, were told to leave. 

The neighboring towns are roughly 35 kilometres northwest of Denver.

What we are watching in the rest of the world …

SIBIU, Romania — Officials and experts in low-vaccinated eastern Europe are anticipating a post-holiday explosion of COVID-19 cases. 

Many countries in eastern Europe only recently emerged from infection waves that put a catastrophic strain on their health-care systems. Now, as the fast-spreading coronavirus variant Omicron rages through western Europe, public health officials are predicting that Romania, the Balkans and other countries to the east will see a sharp virus surge in the coming weeks. 

The director of Romania’s National Center for Surveillance and Control of Communicable Diseases has warned that the European Union’s second-least vaccinated member nation country could see 25,000 new cases a day during the expected next wave. 

Neighboring Bulgaria is the EU’s least-vaccinated member, with just 32 per cent of adults having received a full vaccine. It, too, suffered a deadly fall outbreak, but its vaccine rollout has continued at a sluggish pace. Government data shows that only 255,000 booster jabs have been administered in the country of seven million people.

In the Balkans region of Europe, Bosnia, Slovenia, Serbia, and Croatia have all confirmed Omicron cases but so far not tightened restrictions to control the variant’s spread.

On this day in 1857 …

Ottawa was chosen as the capital of Canada by Queen Victoria. She was asked to settle rival claims of Quebec, Montreal, Toronto and Kingston, each of which had been temporary capitals. Legend has it that Victoria simply put her finger on the map midway between Montreal and Toronto. In fact, her choice was mainly dictated by military considerations, Ottawa being far removed from the threat of U.S. invasion.

In entertainment …

ROME — The Catholic Church and the northern Italian city of Ferrara are making their peace with Antonio Vivaldi nearly 300 years after the city’s archbishop effectively canceled the staging of one of his operas. 

Ferrara Archbishop Giancarlo Perego attended the opening of Vivaldi’s “Il Farnace” at the city’s public theatre, which its artistic director hailed as a “marvelous gesture.” 

According to historians, when the archbishop of Ferrara banned Vivaldi from the city, it effectively meant the cancellation of a scheduled 1739 production of his opera. The reason? Vivaldi, an ordained Catholic priest, had stopped celebrating mass and was said to be in a relationship with one of his singers. 

In reality, Vivaldi didn’t celebrate mass because he had long suffered from respiratory problems, and his relationship with Giro was like that of any of a composer with his lead singer, while Giro also served as something of a nursemaid to the sickly composer.

The cancellation proved financially disastrous for Vivaldi, the theatre’s artistic director Marcello Corvino said, since he had paid for the production himself ahead of time and was already experiencing a period of decline as his instrumental works had fallen out of favor.

Vivaldi went into debt and died in 1741 in Vienna. Only after his manuscripts were rediscovered did he earn posthumous fame for “The Four Seasons” and other concertos.

Federico Maria Sardelli, a Vivaldi expert who is conducting the opera, said that after Cardinal Tommaso Ruffo prohibited the Venetian composer from entering Ferrara, Vivaldi initially tried to score the production from afar. He wrote down explicit stage directions as well as expressive and interpretative notations that he normally would have given his singers in person.

Those notations remain in the manuscript prepared for the Ferrara production, which was never staged. Those notations provided guidance for the opera opening Thursday for a two-night run, Sardelli said.

At a conference Thursday at the theater before the premiere, Sardelli gave the current Ferrara archbishop, Perego, a bound copy of the score.

“With this gesture, we want to heal a fracture that needed to be healed,” Sardelli said


TORONTO — Mirvish Productions is permanently closing its musical “Come From Away” in Toronto, describing the costs of reopening amid tightened pandemic restrictions “prohibitively high and risky.”

The Gander, N.L.-set show had reopened after a 21-month pandemic hiatus on Dec. 15, but ended its run Dec. 22 amid a COVID-19 outbreak among crew.

The cases cancelled four December shows but the Tony Award-winning musical had planned to return Tuesday to the Royal Alexandra Theatre.

However, David Mirvish said Monday it’s become “bluntly apparent that it would be impossible to continue when this incredibly contagious variant has sent case numbers soaring.”

Mirvish Productions said ticket-holders can request a refund.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 31, 2021

The Canadian Press

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