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The U.S. secretary of state's 'visit' and wayward seals: In The News for Feb. 26

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 Feb. 26 ... What we are watching in Canada ...

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 Feb. 26 ...

What we are watching in Canada ...

OTTAWA — The pandemic diplomacy at work between the United States and Canada is continuing, this time with the secretary of state. 

Antony Blinken will visit virtually with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau as part of the Biden administration's post-Trump fence-mending campaign. 

Blinken's "virtual trips" to Canada and Mexico mark the secretary's first bilateral video conferences since taking office. 

The visit follows up on Trudeau's own virtual summit this week with the U.S. president, which produced a "road map" for collaboration on issues like climate change, the economy and COVID-19. 

With travel still ill-advised, Trudeau and Garneau will dial in from Ottawa, with Blinken at the State Department's headquarters in Foggy Bottom. 

Spokesperson Ned Price says the agenda includes North American defence, security and human rights in the West and around the world.

That means the conversations will likely include the plight of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, two Canadians who have spent the last two years in custody in China. 


Also this ...

Experts say the number of people who would have died from a COVID-19 infection is likely much higher than recorded because death certificates don't always list the virus as the ultimate cause of a fatality.

A geriatrician at Sinai Health in Toronto says deaths that have been recorded as a result of COVID-19 only reflect those who were tested for it.

Dr. Nathan Stall says there are people who could have died from COVID-19, but they wouldn't be counted because people are rarely tested after death.

The underlying cause of death in 92 per cent of 9,500 fatalities was recorded on medical certificates as COVID-19 in a November study by Statistics Canada. 

In the remaining eight per cent of cases, cancer, dementia, Alzheimer's disease or other chronic conditions were most commonly found to be the underlying cause of death. 

Stall says there needs to be better education and a bit more quality control in how deaths are recorded.

Dr. Roger Wong, a clinical professor of geriatric medicine at the University of British Columbia, says an incomplete or inaccurate record of mortality data can have public health implications.

He says scientists and researchers will get a better understanding of COVID-19 in people with long-standing health conditions by recording as many details as possible in death certificates.


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

An Iraqi militia official says a U.S. airstrike in Syria has killed one militiaman and wounded a number of others with a powerful Iranian-backed Iraqi group. 

The official told The Associated Press that the strikes against facilities belong to the Kataeb Hezbollah militia, or Hezbollah Brigades, struck a site on the Syrian side of the border with Iraq. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak of the attack. 

The Pentagon said the strikes were retaliation for a rocket attack in Iraq earlier this month that killed one civilian contractor and wounded a U.S. service member and other coalition troops.

The airstrike was the first military action undertaken by the Biden administration, which in its first weeks has emphasized its intent to put more focus on the challenges posed by China, even as Mideast threats persist. 

Biden's decision to attack in Syria did not appear to signal an intention to widen U.S. military involvement in the region but rather to demonstrate a will to defend U.S. troops in Iraq. The U.S. has in the past targeted facilities in Syria belonging to Kataeb Hezbollah, which it has blamed for numerous attacks targeting U.S. personnel and interests in Iraq. The Iraqi Kataeb is separate from the Lebanese Hezbollah movement.


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

TEL AVIV — Governments say getting vaccinated and having proper documentation will smooth the way to travel, entertainment and other social gatherings in a post-pandemic world. 

But it also raises the prospect of further dividing the world along the lines of wealth and vaccine access, creating ethical and logistical issues that have alarmed decision-makers around the world.  

Other governments are watching Israel churn through the world's fastest vaccination program and grapple with the ethics of using the shots as diplomatic currency and power.  

Inside Israel, green passports or badges obtained through an app is the coin of the realm. The country recently reached agreements with Greece and Cyprus to recognize each other's green badges, and more such tourism-boosting accords are expected.  

Anyone unwilling or unable to get the jabs that confer immunity will be “left behind,” said Health Minister Yuli Edelstein.  

The vaccine is not available to everyone in the world, whether due to supply or cost. And some people don't want it, for religious or other reasons. In Israel, a country of 9.3 million people, only about half the adult population has received the required two doses.  

There is new pressure from the government to encourage vaccinations. Israeli lawmakers on Wednesday passed a law allowing the Health Ministry to disclose information on people who have yet to be vaccinated. Under the policy, names can be released to the ministries of education, labour, social affairs and social services, as well as local governments, "with the purpose of allowing these bodies to encourage people to get vaccinated."  


On this day in 1942 ...

The federal government used the War Measures Act to order the removal of all Japanese-Canadians within 160 kilometres of the Pacific coast. About 22,000 people were stripped of all their non-portable possessions, interned and then deported to the B.C. Interior, Alberta and Manitoba.


In entertainment ...

Oscar-nominated screenwriter Sarah Polley is bringing her storytelling talents to books.

The Canadian, who's also a director and actor, will make her publishing debut in March 2022 with the release of her first book, a collection of essays called "Run Towards the Danger." 

"Run Towards the Danger" is the first of two books by Polley that was acquired by Hamish Hamilton Canada, an imprint of Penguin Random House. 

The first book features five personal essays, the publisher said in a release, adding there were no details to share about the second book.

Toronto-born Polley made her feature length directorial debut with the drama film "Away from Her" in 2006, receiving an Oscar nomination for the screenplay, which she adapted from the Alice Munro story "The Bear Came Over the Mountain." 

She won the New York and L.A. critics prize as well as the National Board of Review prize for best documentary in 2012 for "Stories We Tell," a documentary she wrote and directed that explored her family’s secrets. 

Her other film projects include "Take This Waltz" (2011), starring Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen, which she wrote and directed. She also wrote the TV screenplays for Alias Grace, based on the Margaret Atwood novel, to critical acclaim in 2017.



For the second time in a week, police in Prince Edward Island were called to the scene of a wandering seal, and animal specialists say it may not be the last.

RCMP Sgt. Craig Eveleigh said officers picked up a seal Tuesday, which managed to cross a highway and waddle deep into a farmer's field near Fairview, about 20 kilometres south of Charlottetown.

Officers used a snowmobile to track the animal as a drone kept watch from overhead, Eveleigh said. When they found the seal, it was zipped into a hockey bag and an official from the federal Fisheries Department took it back out to the water.

On Sunday, Charlottetown Police had returned a seal to the water after it was found roaming through a residential neighbourhood. Eveleigh said both animals were young grey seals, no more than six weeks old.

"It's a little weird," he said when asked about the frequency of seal rescues. He said there may be more seals wandering the Island because there's little ice this year on the Northumberland Strait, which separates Prince Edward Island from the mainland in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Danielle Pinder of the Marine Animal Response Society agreed that a lack of ice explains the behaviour.

 Seals spend a lot of time on the ice, she said: it's where they rest, moult and have their pups. Without any ice this year, they're doing it on land, "which means we're encountering them more on our beaches around the Maritimes," she said.

Pinder said her organization is fielding far more calls about stray seals than it usually does at this time of year, and the calls are coming from all over the region. 


This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 26, 2021

The Canadian Press