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One year of the pandemic and a possible CFL partnership: In The News for March 11


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 March 11 ...

What we are watching in Canada ...

OTTAWA — Canada will mark the one-year anniversary today of the World Health Organization declaring COVID-19 a global pandemic.

Earlier this week Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is to deliver a statement in the House of Commons this morning, designated March 11 a national day of observance to commemorate those who have died.

The government has asked Canadians to think about those whose lives were claimed by the novel coronavirus, as well as the health-care and other essential workers who have been on the front lines.

Other politicians, including NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Quebec Premier Francois Legault, are also expected to speak today about the devastating effect the virus has had on Canadians.

Since the pandemic began, 2.5 million people around the world have died due to COVID-19, with more than 22,000 of them in Canada. 

Health Canada has approved four COVID-19 vaccines so far and 1.5 per cent of the population has been fully vaccinated.


Also this ...

OTTAWA — Provisional estimates from Statistics Canada suggest nearly 14,000 more deaths than expected took place last year, even accounting for the pandemic and an aging population.

The early numbers attempt to measure so-called “excess mortality,” which occurs when there are more deaths during a period of time than would be expected.

The report estimates 296,373 deaths from January to mid-December 2020, including 13,798 more deaths than expected, or a five per cent increase.

It's about seven per cent more than the 277,276 deaths seen in 2019.

StatCan cautions that Wednesday’s figures are considered "provisional estimates," noting data was incomplete due to reporting delays and do not include the Yukon. They will be revised as more information comes in, and may not match local reports.

StatCan also notes that excess mortality numbers may actually include COVID-19-related deaths that were missed, especially at the start of the pandemic when some people may have died before getting tested.

Despite the limitations, the study does offer an early attempt to quantify the true toll of COVID-19 and its myriad impacts, as access to health services became restricted and mental-health crises increased. 

The early data already suggests that deaths due to heart disease, for instance, rose last spring in Ontario.

Based on data received to date, StatCan found 4,345 heart disease deaths from March to June in that province — up from 4,125 in the spring of 2019 and higher than in the spring of any of the previous five years. 

The estimates also echo reports of more overdose deaths in 2020, following an apparent decline in 2019 from highs in 2017 and 2018.

The study says Alberta reported 220 overdose deaths from March to June 2020, up from 170 deaths the previous year.

StatCan notes Alberta Health Services reported more opioid-related emergencies and deaths but also a drop in the number of substance use treatment programs on offer, and a drop in the number of people using those programs.

A similar update last August looked at spring data and noted that excess mortality may also be due to other causes not directly linked to the pandemic.

As an example, excess deaths recorded in Nova Scotia in April were partly driven by a mass shooting April 18 and 19. 


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

ALBANY, N.Y. -- An aide to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he groped her in the governor’s residence, a newspaper reported Wednesday, in the most serious allegation made yet by a series of women against the embattled Democrat. 

The Times Union of Albany reported that the woman, who it did not name, was alone with Cuomo late last year when he closed the door, reached under her shirt and fondled her. 

The newspaper's reporting is based on an unidentified source with direct knowledge of the woman's accusation. The governor had summoned her to the Executive Mansion in Albany, saying he needed help with his cellphone, the newspaper reported.  

"I have never done anything like this,” Cuomo said through a spokesperson Wednesday evening.  "The details of this report are gut-wrenching,” Cuomo said, adding that he would not speak to the specifics of this or any other allegation, given an ongoing investigation overseen by the state attorney general.  

Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan said in a statement Wednesday night that no criminal complaint had been filed by the alleged victim to the Albany Police Department.  

The three-term governor faces harassment allegations from several other women and increasingly urgent calls for his resignation or impeachment from at least some fellow Democrats. Cuomo has repeatedly said he won’t resign. 

Prior to Wednesday’s report, the allegations against Cuomo include a combination of claims that he made the workplace an uncomfortable place for young women, ranging from flirtatious comments to a nonconsensual kiss.  

At least five accusers — Charlotte Bennett, Lindsey Boylan, Ana Liss, Karen Hinton and the latest accuser — worked for the governor in Albany or during his time in President Bill Clinton’s cabinet. Another, Anna Ruch, told The New York Times that she met Cuomo at a friend’s wedding.


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

GENEVA -- When the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a pandemic one year ago Thursday, it did so only after weeks of resisting the term and maintaining that the highly infectious virus could still be stopped. 

A year later, the UN agency is still struggling to keep on top of the evolving science of COVID-19, to persuade countries to abandon their nationalistic tendencies and help get vaccines where they’re needed most.  

The agency made some costly missteps along the way: It advised people against wearing masks for months and asserted that COVID-19 wasn’t widely spread in the air. It also declined to publicly call out countries — particularly China — for mistakes that senior WHO officials grumbled about privately.  

That created some tricky politics that challenged WHO’s credibility and wedged it between two world powers, setting off vociferous Trump administration criticism that the agency is only now emerging from.  

U.S. President Joe Biden’s support for WHO may provide some much-needed breathing space, but the organization still faces a monumental task ahead as it tries to project some moral authority amid a universal scramble for vaccines that is leaving billions of people unprotected.  

“WHO has been a bit behind, being cautious rather than precautionary,” said Gian Luca Burci, a former WHO legal counsel now at Geneva’s Graduate Institute. “At times of panic, of a crisis and so on, maybe being more out on a limb — taking a risk — would have been better.”


On this day in 1888 ...

A blizzard swept most of the U.S. eastern seaboard, claiming 400 lives. In New York City, snowdrifts were six metres high. Thousands of people were marooned in their homes, the stock exchange shut down, telegraph communications were halted and rail travel ground to a standstill.


In sports ...

TORONTO — Twenty-six years after being released by the Calgary Stampeders, Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson is looking at re-establishing his CFL ties.

Both the CFL and XFL revealed Wednesday they're poised to begin serious discussions about a potential partnership. Neither side would say who initiated talks first, only that they've agreed to collaborating on ways to grow football.

Johnson, an actor and former pro wrestler, is a co-owner of the American-based XFL.

"It's an exciting moment for us to really start talking about how do we collaborate," CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie said. "That's a great word and it's at the heart of this.

"Where that leads we don't know, but it's going to be exciting. Sometimes we over-use the phrase world class but they are world-class people."

In a statement Wednesday, the XFL put its plans to return in the spring of 2022 on hold, "pending the outcome of our conversations with the CFL."

The timing of the talks is curious, given the CFL has a bigger, more immediate challenge before it — resuming play in 2021 after being forced to cancel the '20 campaign due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Look, we're full speed ahead on our return-to-play plan for the 2021 CFL season," Ambrosie said. "All of this is about what will happen in the future.

"So 2021 is our absolute focus and then you use this conversation we're kicking off to talk about the future beyond 2021."

It's a fact not lost upon Hamilton Tiger-Cats owner Bob Young, whose city is scheduled to host this year's Grey Cup.

"While there was some interesting news (Wednesday) from the Canadian Football League office, rest assured that our singular focus now is getting back on the field in 2021 and putting on the best Grey Cup in CFL history," he said in a statement. "Our commitment to our fans is that we will accomplish both."



Uber Technologies Inc. wants provinces to force the tech giant and other app-based companies to offer gig workers some benefits through a new proposal.

But an advocacy group says the plan will still leave them paid less than minimum wage and with no job security.

Uber's pitch was unveiled Wednesday and is called Flexible Work+. It asks provinces to require app-based gig employers to accrue self-directed benefit funds that can be dispersed to drivers for prescriptions, dental and vision care and provide safety training and tools like reflective vests.

Uber workers are currently classified as independent contractors who are not required to be given benefits or minimum wage like employees would be under provincial laws.

Gig workers and employment lawyers say Uber's new proposal allows the company to continue to avoid treating its couriers and drivers fairly and to keep them in a state of precarity.

But senior vice-president of global rides,  Andrew MacDonald, says Uber is pursuing the model because an October survey of more than 600 Uber couriers and drivers in Canada showed 65 per cent favoured Flexible Work+. Roughly 16 per cent still like the current independent contractor model and 18 per cent wanted to be classified as employees with benefits.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published March. 11, 2021

The Canadian Press

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