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British PM’s Office Apologizes to Queen for Staff Parties Held the Night Before Husband’s Funeral

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Boris Johnson’s office on Friday apologized to the Royal Family for holding staff parties in Downing Street on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral last year — the latest in a string of allegedly lockdown-breaching gatherings that are threatening to topple the British prime minister.

Farewell parties for Johnson’s departing spin doctor and another staffer, complete with late-night drinking and dancing, took place on April 16, 2021, the night before Queen Elizabeth sat alone at her husband’s funeral because of social distancing rules in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Johnson spokesperson Jamie Davies acknowledged that news of the gatherings had caused “significant public anger.”

“It’s deeply regrettable that this took place at a time of national mourning and No. 10 has apologized to the palace,” he said, using a term for the prime minister’s 10 Downing Street office.

Johnson’s former communications director James Slack — who is now deputy editor-in-chief of tabloid newspaper The Sun — apologized “unreservedly” for the “anger and hurt” caused by his farewell party.

Johnson’s office said the prime minister wasn’t in Downing Street, where he both lives and works, on April 16, and had been unaware any gatherings were planned.

But each new revelation about social events inside the prime minister’s office during the pandemic has weakened his hold on power and strengthened calls for him to resign.

Police officers walk past Parliament in London on Friday. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/The Associated Press)

Earlier this week, Johnson apologized for going to a Downing Street garden party in May 2020, when the U.K. was under strict lockdown and people were banned by law from meeting more than one person outside their households. Millions were cut off from family and friends, and even barred from visiting dying relatives in hospitals.

Most indoor social gatherings were also banned in April 2021, and funerals were limited to 30 people.

The symbolism of the latest events’ timing that has appalled many in Britain.

The Daily Telegraph, which broke the news, said Downing Street staff drank, danced and socialized late into the night, and that at one point an employee was dispatched with a suitcase to a nearby supermarket to buy more booze.

The next day, the widowed Queen sat alone in a church at Windsor Castle to say goodbye to her husband of 73 years.

Photos of the monarch, clad in black and wearing a face mask, became a powerful image of the isolation and sacrifice endured by many during the pandemic.

Many Conservatives fear the “partygate” scandal could become a tipping point for a leader who has weathered a series of other storms over his expenses, and his moral judgment.

A scandal that began with a report of a December 2020 office Christmas party has grown to about a dozen alleged social events in 10 Downing Street and other government buildings. On Friday, the former head of the government’s COVID-19 task force, Kate Josephs, admitted holding a drinks gathering in her office in December 2020.

“I am truly sorry that I did this and for the anger that people will feel as a result,” said Josephs, who is now chief executive of Sheffield City Council.

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Source: cbc.ca

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At Least 17 Dead, Dozens Injured After Explosion in Western Ghana

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At least 17 people were killed and dozens more injured when a vehicle carrying mining explosives blew up after colliding with a motorcycle in western Ghana, officials said Friday.

The crash happened Thursday in Apiate, near Bogoso, a mining town in the Prestea-Huni Valley district, the district’s municipal chief executive Isaac Dsamani said. The vehicle was carrying explosives to the Chirano gold mine in the Western Region, he said.

“We have sent 57 casualties to nearby health centres,” Prosper Baah, acting regional head of the National Ambulance Service, said. Many people were injured as they tried to get to the scene of the accident and were caught in the explosion, he said.

The explosion caused massive damage to the village of Apiate, with a population of about 500, he said. “It is a very sad situation,” he said.

Residents stand in front of houses and other buildings that were destroyed when a vehicle carrying mining explosives detonated along a road in Apiate. (Francis Kokoroko/Reuters)

Video from the scene circulating on social media shows homes reduced to pieces of wood and a massive crater in the earth where the explosion took place.

“It is a truly sad, unfortunate and tragic incident,” Ghanian President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo said in a tweet, offering “deep condolences to the families of the deceased, and I wish the injured a speedy recovery.”

The National Disaster Management Organization is co-ordinating efforts to assist residents of the town, he said.

Initial reports suggested at least 17 people died as a result of the explosion, while dozens more were injured. (Francis Kokoroko/Reuters)

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Original Article: cbc.ca

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Peloton Stock Derails on Report That User Growth Has Hit the Brakes

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Peloton Interactive Inc.’s chief executive said on Thursday the company was reviewing the size of its workforce and “resetting” production levels, following a report earlier in the day that it was temporarily halting production of connected fitness bikes and treadmills after a significant drop in demand.

Shares in the exercise bike maker, once a pandemic darling, closed down 24 per cent at about $24, wiping off nearly $2.5 billion in market value. At its current price, Peloton is worth about the same as it was before it went public in 2019.

“We now need to evaluate our organization structure and size of our team,” CEO John Foley said in a statement after a report by U.S. financial news channel CNBC suggested the company was pausing production of new bikes. “We are still in the process of considering all options … to make our business more flexible,” he said

According to the CNBC report, Peloton, in a confidential presentation dated Jan. 10, said it had seen a “significant reduction” in demand and that it planned to pause bike production in February and March. It also won’t manufacture the Tread treadmill machine for six weeks, beginning next month.

“Rumours that we are halting all production of bikes and Treads are false,” Foley said.

Peloton earlier in the day said it was taking “significant corrective actions” to improve its profitability and estimated second-quarter revenue to be about $1.14 billion US, compared with its previous forecast of $1.1 billion to $1.2 billion.

The company has seen a slump in demand for its fitness classes and equipment as people venture out of their houses to hit gyms again following gradual easing of pandemic-related curbs.

“During the pandemic, there was too little supply to meet the growing demand. Unfortunately, the company took those cues to bulk up supply just as demand began to falter,” BMO Capital Markets analyst Simeon Siegel said.

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Original Source: cbc.ca

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Coronavirus: What’s Happening in Canada and Around the World on Friday

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The latest:

Ontario reports 4,114 patients in hospital with COVID-19, ICU number fell slightly

Using rapid tests? N.S. Health now recommends swabbing both throat and nose

Saskatchewan planning to redeploy government workers to help health-care system, looking for 500 volunteers

Quebec ‘can’t afford’ to ease public health measures, even as COVID-19 hospitalizations plateau, says premier

Ontario sewage tests indicate COVID-19 may have plateaued, but levels still high, experts say

Polarized debate over public health measures sees politicians facing angry protesters at their homes

Ireland is to scrap almost all its COVID-19 restrictions on Saturday after a major surge in infections did not lead to a significant increase in the numbers requiring intensive hospital care, a senior minister said.

Ireland had the second-highest incidence rate of COVID-19 in Europe just last week but also one of the continent’s highest uptake of booster vaccines, which has helped keep the number of seriously ill people well below the previous peak.

Following advice from public health officials, the government decided that bars and restaurants will no longer need to close at 8 p.m., a restriction put in place late last year when the Omicron wave struck, or to ask customers for proof of vaccination.

Capacity in indoor and outdoor venues is also set to return to full capacity, paving the way for full crowds for next month’s Six Nations rugby championship.

Some measures, such as the need to wear a mask on public transport and in shops, will remain in place for now.

“I am so pleased to be able to say that as of 6 a.m. tomorrow, the vast majority of restrictions that have been in place for almost two years now, on and off, will be lifted,” Justice Minister Helen McEntee said in a video posted on Instagram following a government meeting.

“I don’t think any of us thought we’d actually be getting to this point as quickly as we are now.”

Prime Minister Micheal Martin was due to make a televised address to announce the measures.

The changes would put Ireland back in line with Northern Ireland, which had less-severe restrictions over Christmas and agreed to scrap vaccine passes on Thursday and reopen nightclubs next week.

Ireland’s hospitality sector, which has been particularly hard hit by one of Europe’s toughest lockdown regimes, welcomed the decision.

Nightclubs opened their doors for the first time in 19 months in October only to be shut again six weeks later.

While the economy recovered rapidly last year, around a third of employers have chosen to defer tax payments and the wages of one in 12 workers are still being supported by a state subsidy scheme set to end in April.

-From Reuters, last update at 12:50 p.m. ET

What’s happening across Canada

WATCH | Ontario eyes gradual reopening as experts warn Omicron isn’t over yet:

Ontario eyes gradual reopening as experts warn Omicron isn’t over yet

15 hours ago

Duration 2:00

Ontario is among the provinces eyeing steps toward reopening as COVID-19 hospitalizations level off, but health officials and experts are warning there is plenty of pandemic still to come. 2:00

With lab-based testing capacity deeply strained and increasingly restricted, experts say true case counts are likely far higher than reported. Hospitalization data at the regional level is also evolving, with several provinces saying they will report figures that separate the number of people in hospital because of COVID-19 from those in hospital for another medical issue who also test positive for COVID-19.

For more information on what is happening in your community — including details on outbreaks, testing capacity and local restrictions — click through to the regional coverage below.

You can also read more from the Public Health Agency of Canada, which provides a detailed look at every region including seven-day average test positivity rates in its daily epidemiological updates.

In Central Canada, the provincial COVID-19 dashboard in Ontario on Friday showed 4,114 hospitalizations — up by 53 from a day earlier — and 590 people in intensive care units. The province also reported a total of 64 additional deaths and 7,165 additional lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19.

The update comes after Premier Doug Ford announced plans on Thursday to begin a gradual easing of COVID-19 restrictions over a period of months, with the first step to begin at the end of January.

Quebec cannot begin loosening COVID-19 restrictions because the situation in the province’s hospitals remains too fragile, Premier Fran?ois Legault said Thursday.

“The situation will continue to be difficult for the next few weeks. I understand that we are all tired, but lives are at stake,” Legault said. “We are currently at the limit in our hospitals.”

The province on Friday reported 3,351 hospitalizations, down 60 from a day earlier. Quebec’s daily COVID-19 situation report showed 265 people in intensive care. The province also reported an additional 59 deaths and 5,995 new lab-confirmed cases.

WATCH | Montreal hospital launches virtual pilot project to treat COVID-19 patients at home:

Montreal hospital launches virtual pilot project to treat COVID-19 patients at home

19 hours ago

Duration 5:11

Dr. Lawrence Rosenberg, head of CIUSSS du Centre-Ouest-de-l’?le-de-Montr?al, discusses new pilot project which will offer COVID-19 patients virtual care at home. 5:11

In Atlantic Canada, New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs said Friday that the province has likely still not seen the peak of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

“But our ability to manage the situation is improving, thanks to the dedication of multiple teams,” he said, noting that the province is seeing some positive signs, including a return of some health workers from isolation and a reduction in contacts.

The province, which is currently under tight COVID-19 restrictions, recently put out an urgent call for volunteers and workers to help with the pandemic response. The province saw a “huge” response, Higgs said, and work is underway to match offers to help to areas where assistance is needed.

New Brunswick health officials on Thursday said total hospitalizations had increased to 124, including 12 people in intensive care units. The province also reported an additional three deaths and 488 additional lab-confirmed cases.

Newfoundland and Labrador students will be back in classrooms next week, officials said Thursday at a COVID-19 briefing. Students will have to take two rapid tests before returning to school. One of the tests is to occur 72 hours before they return and the other on Tuesday morning, before classes begin.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, who reported two additional deaths and a total of 20 COVID-19 hospitalizations, said Thursday that at this time, “the benefits of being in school for children outweigh the risks of COVID-19.” The province also reported an additional 360 lab-confirmed cases.

In Nova Scotia, health officials reported three additional deaths on Thursday. In an update posted online, the province said there were 85 people in hospital who were admitted because of COVID-19 and receiving specialized care, including 12 people in ICU. The province also reported an additional 696 lab-confirmed cases.

In Prince Edward Island, health officials on Thursday said in a statement there were 10 people in hospital being treated for COVID-19, including two in intensive care. Three other people were in hospital who were positive for COVID-19.

The province, which has now seen a total of three recorded COVID-19 related deaths, also reported an additional 249 cases.

In the Prairie provinces, Manitoba health officials on Thursday said a total of 665 people were in hospital with COVID-19, including 50 in intensive care units. The province also reported seven additional deaths and 851 new lab-confirmed cases.

Saskatchewan on Thursday reported 215 hospitalizations, with 23 people in intensive care units. According to the province’s COVID-19 dashboard, there were no additional deaths and 1,158 additional lab-confirmed cases.

Six of Saskatchewan’s largest unions representing 113,000 front-line workers are demanding more safety measures to blunt the rise of hospitalizations.

In Alberta, health officials on Thursday said there were 1,131 people in hospital with COVID-19 — the highest level the province has seen during the pandemic — with 108 in intensive care units. The province also reported eight additional deaths and 3,527 additional lab-confirmed cases.

To prepare for a swell of hospitalizations, the government said it is building additional bed capacity, maximizing the workforce with nursing students and opening COVID-19 community clinics.

Alberta Health Services CEO Dr. Verna Yiu said the number of patients receiving care for COVID-19 has increased by about 40 per cent over the last week. Admissions to intensive care have jumped by about 18 per cent.

There are also more health-care staff having to isolate than in previous waves, she said. About five per cent of AHS staff are off sick at any given time and between 18 and 20 per cent of shifts are being missed daily due to challenges related to the pandemic.

“It has been a long two years, but now is not the time to let your guard down,” said Yiu.

Across the North, Nunavut on Friday reported 20 new additional lab-confirmed cases, with no additional deaths. Health officials in the Northwest Territories and Yukon had not yet provided updated information for the day.

In British Columbia, a COVID-19 update posted by provincial officials on Thursday showed 891 people were hospitalized, including 119 people in ICUs. The province also reported 15 additional deaths, as well as 2,150 additional lab-confirmed cases.

-From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 12:45 p.m. ET

What’s happening around the world

WATCH | Europe loosening COVID-19 restrictions despite high case numbers:

Europe loosening COVID-19 restrictions despite high case numbers

16 hours ago

Duration 2:02

European countries are starting to loosen their COVID-19 restrictions with Britain at the front of the pack despite the presence of some staggeringly high case numbers and concern from experts that it’s too soon. 2:02

As of early Friday morning, more than 343.3 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus tracker. The reported global death toll stood at more than 5.5 million.

In Europe, health ministers in the European Union will try to find a common line on Friday over a potential fourth dose of COVID-19 vaccines, amid a surge in cases sparked by the Omicron variant.

Meanwhile, daily new coronavirus infections in Russia reached an all-time high Friday and authorities blamed the highly contagious Omicron variant.

Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova on Friday noted “intensive spread of the Omicron variant” and said the authorities “expect it to become the dominating” variant driving the outbreak. The state coronavirus task force Golikova heads reported 49,513 new infections on Friday.

Record numbers of new cases were reported respectively in Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city. In light of the surge, health officials in St. Petersburg on Friday limited elective outpatient care.

Golikova on Friday urged Russians who received their vaccinations or recovered from the virus more than six months ago to “head to a vaccination point again in order to protect yourself from the virus” with a booster.

Also Friday, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin ordered cabinet members to hold meetings online and have their staff work remotely “where possible.”

Just about half of Russia’s 146 million people have been fully vaccinated, despite the fact that Russia was among the first in the world to approve and roll out a COVID-19 vaccine. In Russia, everyone who received their primary vaccination more than six months ago has been eligible for a booster shot since July.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Bangladesh closed all schools and colleges for two weeks to counter an “alarming” rise in infections, just four months after ending a lengthy year school closure imposed due to coronavirus.

Japan acted to contain a record surge in cases with a return to curbs that have, however, shown diminishing results, while a laggard vaccine booster program leaves many people vulnerable to breakthrough infections.

A girl receives a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at her school in Kathmandu last week. Classrooms are being closed in the face of rising Omicron cases. (Niranjan Shrestha/The Associated Press)

Nepal’s capital shut schools, ordered citizens to carry vaccination cards in public, banned religious festivals and instructed hotel guests to be tested every three days as it battles its biggest COVID-19 outbreak.

The chief government administrator of Kathmandu issued a notice on Friday saying all people must carry their vaccination cards when they are in public areas or stores.

Nepal, however, has only fully vaccinated just over 40 per cent of its population, according to the Johns Hopkins University coronavirus tracker. The notice did not say how unvaccinated people will be able to do tasks such as shop for groceries.

The government says it has enough vaccines in stock, but a new wave of COVID-19 cases propelled by the Omicron variant has created long lines at vaccination centres, with many people unable to receive shots.

People walk through Shinjuku area on Friday in Tokyo, Japan. As Japan sees a surge in COVID-19 infections due to the more transmissible Omicron variant, the government has implemented measures such as reduced hours for bars eateries in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus. (Yuichi Yamakazi/Getty Images)

In Africa, the World Bank has approved a loan of $750 million US to South Africa linked to COVID-19, aiming to help protect the poor and support economic recovery from the pandemic. South Africa’s health ministry on Thursday reported 3,962 additional cases of COVID-19 and 139 additional deaths, though officials noted a data cleanup was contributing to the increased death figures.

In the Middle East, Israel will ditch mandatory quarantine for children exposed to COVID-19 carriers, the government said on Thursday, citing a need to relieve parents and schools as case numbers spiral due to the fast-spreading but low-morbidity Omicron variant.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that as of Jan. 27, children will instead be required to take twice-weekly home antigen tests for the virus and, if they prove positive or feel unwell, absent themselves from school until they recover. The home kits will be supplied free of charge, he said.

In the Americas, President Joe Biden will urge U.S. mayors to use more of their state and local COVID-19 aid funds to expand their workforces, a White House official said, an effort partly aimed at easing economic bottlenecks and inflation.

-From Reuters, The Associated Press and CBC News, last updated at 12:45 p.m. ET

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