COVID-19 travel-related cases rise and U.S. terrorism alert: In The News for Jan. 28

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. 28 ...

What we are watching in Canada ...

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Julie Payette's resignation as governor general was prompted by a scathing review of the work environment she presided over at Rideau Hall, described by dozens of people as hostile, toxic, or poisoned.

The government released the findings of the independent review conducted by Quintet Consulting Corp. on Wednesday evening.

The report is heavily redacted, primarily to protect participants' privacy, and whole pages of details are blacked out or removed.

Still, the report says Quintet heard allegations of "yelling, screaming, aggressive conduct, demeaning comments and public humiliation" — behaviour that was "repeated and persistent."

Representative descriptions of the work environment at Rideau Hall included phrases such as "the definition of a poisoned work environment," "humiliation," "disrespect" and "condescension," the report says.

If the alleged conduct occurred as described, the report says "by any objective standard," it would "lead to a toxic workplace."

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Also this ...

As the federal government prepares to slap new restrictions on international travel, Health Canada data suggest a worrying uptick of infections directly connected to foreign arrivals.

While travel exposures account for less than two per cent of all Canada's COVID-19 cases, the number of cases in recent travellers, and people they came into close contact with after arriving, shows continual growth in recent months.

In December, 486 cases of COVID-19 were diagnosed in recent travellers, the most since March and up from 312 in November and 204 in October. Despite mandatory two-week quarantines for international travellers, there were 1,258 COVID-19 cases confirmed in people who had close contact with a recent traveller in December, up from 744 in November and 704 in October.

In the first three weeks of January, 384 travel cases and 607 traveller-contact cases were confirmed.

The figures also correspond with a recent rise in the number of people travelling, at least by air. Land-border arrivals are typically fewer in the winter because of the weather in much of the country, but more people arrived from the U.S. by air in December than any month since March. Arrivals from other international locations were higher in December than any month except August.

Reports of notable Canadians ignoring pleas not to travel during the pandemic in favour of sun-kissed days on foreign beaches angered much of the country in the weeks after Christmas, and led to several high-profile provincial and federal politicians and health officials being fired, demoted or reprimanded.

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

The Department of Homeland Security issued a national terrorism bulletin warning of the lingering potential for violence from people motivated by antigovernment sentiment after President Joe Biden's election, suggesting the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol may embolden extremists and set the stage for additional attacks.

The department did not cite any specific plots, but pointed to "a heightened threat environment across the United States" that it believes "will persist" for weeks after Biden's Jan. 20 inauguration.

It is not uncommon for the federal government to warn local law enforcement through bulletins about the prospect for violence tied to a particular event or date, such as July 4.

But this particular bulletin, issued through the department’s National Terrorism Advisory System, is notable because it effectively places the Biden administration into the politically charged debate over how to describe or characterize acts motivated by political ideology, and suggests it regards violence like the kind that overwhelmed the Capitol as akin to terrorism.

The bulletin is an indication that national security officials see a connective thread between different episodes of violence in the last year motivated by anti-government grievances, including over COVID-19 restrictions, the 2020 election results and police use of force. The document singles out crimes motivated by racial or ethnic hatred, such as the 2019 rampage targeting Hispanics in El Paso, Texas, as well as the threat posed by extremists motivated by foreign terror groups.

A DHS statement that accompanied the bulletin noted the potential for violence from "a broad range of ideologically-motivated actors."

"Information suggests that some ideologically-motivated violent extremists with objections to the exercise of governmental authority and the presidential transition, as well as other perceived grievances fueled by false narratives, could continue to mobilize to incite or commit violence," the bulletin said.

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

The European Union and drugmaker AstraZeneca sparred over a delay in coronavirus vaccine deliveries amid a deepening dispute that raises concerns about international competition for limited supplies of the shots needed to end the pandemic.

AstraZeneca Chief Executive Pascal Soriot addressed the dispute for the first time, rejecting the EU’s assertion that the company was failing to honour its commitments. Soriot said vaccine delivery figures in AstraZeneca’s contract with the 27-nation bloc were targets, not firm commitments, and the company was unable to meet them because of problems in rapidly expanding production capacity.

"Our contract is not a contractual commitment, it’s a best effort,’’ Soriot said in an interview with the Italian newspaper La Repubblica. "Basically, we said we’re going to try our best, but we can’t guarantee we’re going to succeed. In fact, getting there, we are a little bit delayed."

AstraZeneca said last week that it planned to cut initial deliveries in the EU to 31 million doses from 80 million due to reduced yields from its manufacturing plants in Europe. The EU claimed Wednesday that it will receive even less than that — just one quarter of the doses that member states were supposed to get during January-March 2021.

The EU says it expects the company to deliver the full amount on time, and on Monday threatened to put export controls on all vaccines made in its territory.

Stella Kyriakides, the European Commissioner for health and food safety, rejected Soriot’s explanation for the delays, saying that "not being able to ensure manufacturing capacity is against the letter and spirit of our agreement."

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On this day in 1986 ...

The space shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after liftoff from Cape Canaveral, Fla., killing all seven crew members

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In entertainment ...

Chris Murphy, a member of Canadian rock band Sloan, says he's been diagnosed with Bell's palsy, a form of facial paralysis.

The musician shared the news with followers of his Instagram account alongside a photo of himself that compared the two sides of his face.

Murphy says went to the emergency room on Jan. 11 after he noticed that his mouth "seemed imbalanced."

He says one side of his face is paralyzed, but that he remains optimistic his muscles will reanimate with time, though it's not guaranteed and it could take months.

On the bright side, he adds, it's happened during the pandemic when he's at home and can wear a mask outside.

Sloan is one of Canada's most prominent rock acts of the 1990s and early aughts, having scored numerous hits including "Money City Maniacs" and "The Rest of My Life."

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Also this...

Bernie Sanders went from becoming a hit meme to a nearly $20,000-crochet doll in less than a week.

After the Vermont senator went viral on social media for his simple Inauguration Day fashion choices of quirky brown mittens and over-sized olive green coat, Tobey King in Texas got to crocheting. She turned the sensational image that trended for days into a crochet doll.

It sold for $20,300. Yes, you read that right.

"It’s mind-blowing because I knew Bernie was trending because of that picture, and I already had a Bernie pattern and a Bernie doll. So I just went and got that, and I modified that super quick," King said.

But recreating Sanders' exact look that captured people's eyes, and laughs, took King about seven hours of crocheting, in addition to the time she had invested in the design a year ago. And her attention to detail is obvious, nailing the iconic mittens that stole the show on Inauguration Day.

"The mittens are not that hard it’s just some colour changing, a special stitch," King said.

King, 46, initially posted photos of the 9-inch doll on her Instagram account, and they garnered thousands of likes and comments. On Saturday, she posted the doll on eBay and later auctioned it for $20,300, which she said will be donated to Meals on Wheels America. Her donation was inspired by Sanders, whose campaign created sweatshirts with the image on them and donated all the proceeds to Meals on Wheel in Vermont.

"This could be my purpose; this is my new path," King said. "This is a new way of helping people in a way that I’ve never been able to do before."

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ICYMI ...

There's a new language option on Microsoft's translation software, one spoken primarily by people in the largest territory in Canada.

Inuktitut, a dialect of Inuktut used by over 40,000 people across Nunavut and Northern Canada, is now one of 70 language options available through Microsoft's translator.

The translation service uses Inuktitut syllabics and is also available on Microsoft Office and Microsoft Bing Translator. It can also be used with Microsoft's speech-to-text translation services.

Microsoft says that the Government of Nunavut led the initiative to add Inuktitut to the company's software and helped provide the data to include it.

Statistics Canada says the use of Inuit languages, including Inuktitut in Nunavut, declined between 2001 and 2016. Between those years, the number of Nunavut Inuit who spoke an Inuit language as their mother tongue dropped to 65 per cent from 72 per cent.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 28, 2021

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