New COVID restrictions, legal battle over coal hearing costs: In The News for Dec. 22

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Published December 22, 2021 at 4:15 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. 22 …

What we are watching in Canada …

The rapid spread of the Omicron COVID-19 variant is prompting more provinces to reinstate and tighten public health restrictions, with new regulations taking effect this week.

Quebec reported a record number of cases for the third day in a row, with the Omicron variant accounting for nearly 80 per cent of the 5,043 new infections.

Public Security Minister Genevieve Guilbault says she has asked Ottawa for military help to accelerate the province’s mass vaccination campaign.

Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair says the rising case counts in Quebec and across Canada are deeply concerning and the federal government will work with the province.

Ontario is investigating complaints of businesses or individuals reselling rapid antigen COVID-19 tests, with anyone caught doing so facing steep fines, and several hospitals have introduced stricter visitor policies.

Just before midnight tonight, bars, nightclubs, gyms, fitness centres, and dance studios in B.C. must close.

Starting Friday, Alberta is limiting venues that seat more than 1,000 people, including arenas, to half capacity.

Prince Edward Island has joined Newfoundland and Labrador in requiring visitors to isolate upon arrival to the province.

Despite projects that Omicron-driven cases and hospitalizations will increase dramatically by the end of the month without stronger interventions, Saskatchewan is not planning to tighten public health measures for the holidays

Also this …

The battle over a coal mine in Alberta’s southern Rocky Mountains continues to rage six months after the Grassy Mountain project was denied.

The company and its opponents are still wrangling over costs for the hearing that turned the proposal down.

The Alberta Energy Regulator is pondering applications for one-point-three million dollars in intervener funding from groups that opposed Benga Mining’s project.

But the coal mining company wants the regulator to drastically trim the requests, saying many of the groups are well-funded and didn’t produce much that was useful to the hearing.

Environmental groups say their costs finance essential public debate.

They say Benga’s aggressive response will make it harder for citizens to examine the claims of resource companies in the future.  

The groups have been waiting more than 250 days for a decision, well past the 90-day guideline.

A spokeswoman for the regulator says the issue is complex and there’s no firm date to release a decision. 

What we are watching in the U.S. …

WASHINGTON — U.S. President Joe Biden has announced plans to deliver 500 million free COVID-19 tests to Americans, increase support for hospitals and expand the availability of vaccines to confront a winter surge of coronavirus cases driven by the fast-spreading Omicron variant. 

In a speech to the nation on Tuesday, Biden said it’s Americans’ “patriotic duty,” as well as a wise medical step, to get vaccinated. 

“It’s the only responsible thing to do,” he said. “Omicron is serious and potentially deadly business for unvaccinated people.”

The world is facing a second straight holiday season with COVID-19.

The outbreak from this latest strain of the coronavirus has required the federal government to get more aggressive in addressing the wave of infections, but Biden promised a weary nation that there would not be a mass lockdown of schools or businesses.

“I know you’re tired, and I know you’re frustrated. We all want this to be over. But we’re still in it,” Biden said. “We also have more tools than we had before. We’re ready, we’ll get through this.”

A cornerstone of the administration’s plan is for the government to purchase 500 million coronavirus rapid tests for free shipment to Americans starting in January. It marks a major shift for Biden, who earlier had called for many Americans to purchase the hard-to-find tests on their own and then seek reimbursement from health insurance.

Experts had criticized Biden’s initial buy-first, get-paid-later approach as unwieldy and warned that the U.S. would face another round of testing problems at a critical time. Testing advocates point to nations including the U.K. and Germany, which have distributed billions of tests to the public and recommend people test themselves twice a week.

What we are watching in the rest of the world …

ATHENS, Greece _ Greece’s coast guard says dozens of migrants are believed to be missing after a boat sank off the coast of the island of Folegandros.

A large search and rescue operation was launched early Wednesday after the boat sank some 180 kilometres southeast of Athens. The coast guard said 12 people, all believed to be from Iraq, had been rescued and transported to the nearby island of Santorini.

Survivors said there were originally 32 people on the boat, but one told authorities there were about 50.

The coast guard said four coast guard vessels, two helicopters from the navy and air force, a military transport plane, five passing ships and three private vessels were participating in the search and rescue operation.

“The survivors made it onto a dinghy that was tethered to the boat. Only two of them were wearing life jackets,” Coast Guard spokesman Nikos Kokkalas told state-run ERT television.

The coast guard said the operation began Tuesday night after it received information that a vessel carrying migrants had suffered engine failure and later began taking on water south of Folegandros.

Greece is one of the most popular routes into the European Union for people fleeing conflict and poverty in Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Most attempt to cross in dinghies from the Turkish shore to the nearby eastern Aegean Greek islands.

But with increased patrols and allegations of summary deportations back to Turkey for those who arrive, many have been attempting lengthier routes on larger vessels. Folegandros, one of the southern islands in the Cyclades, is not along a usual route for migrant smugglers.

On this day in 1969 …

Mary Mills was ordained the first woman deacon in the Anglican Church of Canada in London, Ont. Seven years later, Mills became one of the church’s first six women priests.

In entertainment …

Five Canadian short films have advanced to the latest round in the Academy Awards race, accounting for four of the 15 films that were shortlisted for the Oscar for best animated short film on Tuesday.

Among the animated shorts vying for a nomination are “Angakusajaujuq: The Shaman’s Apprentice,” an adaptation of a traditional Inuit story directed by Zacharias Kunuk. Also in the running are three National Film Board of Canada co-productions: “Affairs of the Art” by Joanna Quinn and Les Mills, “Bad Seeds” by Claude Cloutier, and “Flowing Home” by Sandra Desmazières.

In live-action shorts, Quebec director Annie St-Pierre’s “Les Grandes Claques” was among 15 films shortlisted in the category. However, Canada’s official submission for best international film, “Drunken Birds,” didn’t make the cut.

Meanwhile, documentaries about Julia Child, “Black Woodstock,” the pandemic and The Velvet Underground, as well as acclaimed international films like Japan’s “Drive My Car,” Iran’s “A Hero” and Norway’s “The Worst Person in the World” are also a little closer to scoring Oscar nominations. 

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences unveiled its shortlists for several categories on Tuesday, including documentary feature, international feature, original song, original score, visual effects and makeup and hairstyling.

Nominations for all categories for the 94th Oscars will be announced on Feb. 8.

ICYMI …

CALGARY _ Mayor Jyoti Gondek says it appears the Calgary Flames intend to pull out of the multi-million dollar Event Centre arena complex project.

In a series of tweets, the mayor said that Murray Edwards, chairman of Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation, informed her Tuesday that the Flames intended to “pull the plug on the deal.”

“We have come to the conclusion where the Event Centre deal is not moving forward,” Gondek said at a news conference.

“There was additional funding that had to be taken on by Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation. It appears that they are unable to make that financial commitment, following the approval of their development permit, so it would appear that they are ending the deal.”

Tuesday’s news comes after several stop-and-start years around the project. The city and the Calgary Flames originally agreed to terms in 2019 on the Event Centre that would replace the Scotiabank Saddledome, the Flames’ home since 1983.

The original estimate of $550 million to build the 19,000-seat arena was to be split between the city and the corporation, which owns the Flames, the Western Hockey League’s Hitmen, Canadian Football League’s Stampeders and National Lacrosse League’s Roughnecks.

Gondek said she is disappointed that “on a project worth over $650m, to have one party walk away for 1.5 per cent of the value of the deal is staggering.”

The Flames did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Canadian Press.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 22, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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