Travel restrictions coming to Canada and Poland abortion ban: In The News for Jan. 29 News Staff

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 Jan. 29 …

What we are watching in Canada …

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to announce today new measures aimed at further restricting international travel as more infectious variants of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 spread around the globe.

Trudeau has been urging Canadians for weeks not to take any non-essential trips outside the country.

And he’s been warning that the federal government could impose at any time restrictions that it would make it harder for them to return.

He’s expected to follow up those warnings today with concrete action, in time to put a stop to an exodus of winter-weary Canadians taking advantage of the coming March break to vacation in warmer climes.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault has been urging Ottawa to require anyone returning from abroad to quarantine for two weeks in a hotel, at their own expense.

Trudeau, who has conspicuously left the door open to that option, is expected to adopt it today.

He is also expected to announce other measures to further discourage travel abroad.

Also this …

A series of commemorations marking the fourth anniversary of the Quebec City mosque shooting are taking place today and tomorrow.

Six Muslim men were killed and five others wounded shortly after finishing evening prayers at the Quebec City Islamic cultural centre on Jan. 29, 2017.

Virtual events organized by the mosque and affiliated groups will begin shortly before 11 a.m. today with a reading from the Qur’an, which will be streamed on platforms such as Facebook and Zoom.

A vigil is also scheduled to take place in the Montreal neighbourhood of Parc-Extension, which has a large Muslim population.

In a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, which was publicized Thursday, one of the co-founders of the Islamic cultural centre, Boufeldja Benabdallah, said the federal government hasn’t done enough to get handguns off the market. 

Also on Thursday, the federal government announced that it plans to make Jan. 29 the “National Day of Remembrance of the Quebec City Mosque Attack and Action Against Islamophobia.”

What we are watching in the U.S. …

A new coronavirus variant identified in South Africa has been found in the United States for the first time, with two cases diagnosed in South Carolina, state health officials said Thursday.

The arrival of this variant now surging in other countries “is an important reminder to all South Carolinians that the fight against this deadly virus is far from over,” Dr. Brannon Traxler, DHEC Interim Public Health Director, said in a statement. “While more COVID-19 vaccines are on the way, supplies are still limited. Every one of us must recommit to the fight by recognizing that we are all on the front lines now. We are all in this together.”

Viruses are constantly mutating, with coronavirus variants circulating around the globe, but scientists are primarily concerned with the emergence of three of them. Other variants first reported in the United Kingdom and Brazil were previously confirmed in the U.S. Researchers believe these three variants may spread more easily, and predicted it was only a matter of time before they appeared here.

Also, scientists last week reported preliminary but troubling signs that some of the recent mutations may modestly curb the effectiveness of two current vaccines, although they stressed that the shots still protect against the disease. And there are signs that some of the new mutations may undermine tests for the virus and reduce the effectiveness of certain treatments.

The coronavirus has already sickened millions and killed more than 400,000 people in the United States.

While some European countries do extensive genetic testing to detect these variants, the U.S. has done very little of this detective work. But scientists have been been quickly trying to do more, and they’re spotting these apparently more contagious variants as they do.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported at least 315 cases of the U.K.-discovered variant in the United States. Those reports have come from at least 28 states, and health officials believe it could become the dominant strain in the U.S. by March. That variant has been reported in at least 70 countries.

What we are watching in the rest of the world …

A near-total ban on abortion has taken effect in Poland and triggered a new round of nationwide protests three months after the constitutional court ruled that the abortion of congenitally damaged fetuses is unconstitutional.

Led by a women’s rights group, Women’s Strike, people poured onto the streets of Warsaw, where they demonstrated in front of the court, and in other cities and towns on Thursday for the second evening in a row.

In Warsaw the atmosphere was tense and police detained three people who they said “had invaded the territory of the constitutional Tribunal.” Women’s Strike insisted that a total five people had been detained and said one of them was Klementyna Suchanow, one of the leaders of the movement.

Protesters insisted that women should have the right to decide about their own bodies. One banner in Rzeszow stated that an “abortion ban is discrimination against the poorest,” because poorer women will not be able to travel abroad for abortions, as Polish women who can afford to already do.

“I wanted to have more children, you killed this desire,” read a banner held by one woman among the demonstrators in Warsaw. Some Polish women said that if they are denied the right to terminate pregnancies in cases of badly deformed fetuses, they would not try to have children at all.

Poland’s top human rights official denounced the further restriction of what was already one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe, calling it a tragedy for women.

“The state wants to further limit their rights, risk their lives, and condemn them to torture,” said Adam Bodnar, the human rights commissioner, or ombudsman, whose role is independent from the Polish government. “This offensive is opposed by civil society.”

On this day in 1996 …

Canadian country singer Shania Twain was named Best New Country Artist at the American Music Awards.

In business news …

Canadian banks and trading platforms continue to face questions from customers amid a flurry of stock market activity both locally and worldwide.

Toronto-listed BlackBerry shares dropped 40.3 per cent today on more than twice their average daily volume, as several stocks that became popular topics on social media this week gave back gains.

A tweet from Wealthsimple says the Canadian app is seeing delays in email notifications amid extremely high volumes.

The Toronto-based robo-advisor says it is not restricting trading on any securities, but that users might see their orders marked as pending or canceled because user protections kick in if a stock price changes more than five per cent between the time an order was placed and when it is set to be filled.

TD says it increased margin requirements for short selling and uncovered options of GameStop, Express Inc. and AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc. on the New York Stock Exchange.

The updates from Canadian institutions come after Robinhood, Charles Schwab, TD Ameritrade and other platforms restricted trading on certain securities in the U.S., causing outcry among users and drawing comments from politicians.

ICYMI …

Concordia University says it has modified information provided to students in an art history course after one student said he was surprised to discover the professor delivering the video lectures had died in 2019.

Aaron Ansuini, a student at the Montreal university, wrote in a series of recent posts on Twitter that he enjoyed the lectures by Francois-Marc Gagnon, who he assumed was the professor of his online art history class.

Ansuini wrote that he searched for Gagnon’s email address in order to ask the professor a question but instead found an obituary.

While Ansuini described the course as “great” and praised Gagnon’s lectures, he wrote that he was sad that he couldn’t thank the professor for making the material “engaging and accessible” or ask him questions. 

University spokeswoman Vannina Maestracci says that the course listing as well as communications with students made it clear that the course — which had been taught by Gagnon — now had a different instructor.

That instructor and two teaching assistants “are the ones interacting with students and grading assessments,” she wrote.

“We, of course, regret that this student felt they had not been clearly informed and have updated Dr. Gagnon’s biography in the course information provided to registered students,” she wrote in an email.

Maestracci says the video lectures are used as a “teaching tool,” comparing them to the textbooks used in other classes.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 29, 2021

The Canadian Press

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