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Weekly round-up: Ottawa calls in military, countries end restrictions, Australia loses the plot

Updated: Feb 7, 2022

1/28 - 2/4 With so much happening around the world, here are some stories and developments you may have missed:

Biggest developments

Trucker convoy reaches Ottawa. Trudeau flees. Canadian provinces roll back restrictions in major win for freedom demonstrators

The “freedom convoy” organized by ​​Canada Unity, a group that opposes forced vaccination and extreme COVID restrictions, reached the Canadian capital of Ottawa on Friday, January 28. The movement, sparked by a forced vaccination mandate for truckers implemented by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, has gained worldwide attention. It has inspired similar movements in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Australia.

The movement has evolved to include Canadian citizens who oppose pandemic restrictions in general and those critical of Justin Trudeau. In the days following the arrival of the convoy, Ottawa police said that 8,000 protesters had been in downtown Ottawa on Saturday, January 29th, a fraction of the numbers reported by convoy participants and organizers.

Trudeau, who left the capital after allegedly testing positive for coronavirus, condemned the protests on Twitter saying, “I know this pandemic is frustrating. It’s frustrating that, after two years, we’re not done fighting COVID-19. But over the past few days, Canadians have been shocked – and, frankly, disgusted – by the behavior displayed by some people protesting in our nation’s capital.” He went on to dismiss the protestors as a “small fringe minority” and said they would not lead his government to reverse the vaccine mandate.

As support for the movement increases, truckers reaffirm their pledge to stay in Ottawa until their demands are met. One trucker spoke to the BBC saying, "the intent is actually to stay until all these mandates are dropped. Some people can stay one day, some people can stay five days but all the truck drivers are used to camping in their trucks all week long."

"We are staying here until we can go back to work", he said. Since the convoy was formed there have been positive and negative developments. The Canadian province of Nova Scotia made it illegal for people to gather along highways. The government issued a directive that prohibits protesters from “blockading Highway 104 near the Nova Scotia-New Brunswick border.”

On the other hand, some COVID-related mandates and proposals have been dropped around the country. Quebec has pulled an “unvax tax” that would have imposed a “significant” fee on unvaccinated citizens. The Premier of Saskatchewan said recently: “it's time to look at ending all remaining COVID measures and restrictions.” Alberta premier Jason Kenney says his government will begin rolling back COVID-19 health restrictions. He also said that his government will announce an end date to Alberta’s vaccine passport in the near future.

On February 3, Ottawa police suggested they may need the support of the military to end the Ottawa demonstration. The police chief referred to the protest as "intolerable" and "unprecedented.” He also noted that options to force the convoy to leave include requesting military aid, a court injunction or the forced removal of protesters.

The military, in short, said, "nope."

On February 4, GoFundMe announced it had removed the Freedom Convoy's campaign. In a statement, the platform said the convoy had become an "occupation" rather than a peaceful protest and this went against its terms of service. The statement added that the convoy organizers would no longer be directly distributed funds. Instead, GoFundMe will send the remaining funds ($9 million) to "credible and established charities verified by GoFundMe."

Ottawa police tweeted shortly after the announcement. They thanked GoFundMe for listening to their "concerns" and referred to the protest as "unlawful."

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky suggests U.S. is exaggerating Russian threat at border. U.S. claims Russia plans to create false flag to stage attack

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky criticized the Biden administration over its exaggeration of an “imminent attack” on Ukraine by Russia.

Russia has positioned thousands of troops on the Ukrainian border, leading the Biden admin to claim that conflict could happen at any moment. John J. Sullivan, U.S. ambassador to Russia, told journalists that “the threat is very real and it’s imminent… As President Biden has said, it could happen, given the buildup that we have seen, with very little notice.” During a news conference in Kyiv on Friday, President Zelensky harshly criticized the warning. One Zelensky aide commented that “there is a growing sentiment that the United States is exaggerating the threat for political reasons.” One of those reasons is potentially to force Ukraine to accept Russia’s demand that it be barred from joining NATO.

As of February 3, the United States claims to have acquired intelligence about a Russian plan to use a faked video as a pretext for an invasion of Ukraine. The video in question would “build on recent disinformation campaigns.”

According to The New York Times, the plan involves “staging and filming a fabricated attack by the Ukrainian military either on Russian territory or against Russian-speaking people in eastern Ukraine.”

U.S. government officials claim that Russia would use the video as justification to attack or “have separatist leaders in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine invite a Russian intervention.”

This information comes out as we learn that Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping are meeting in Beijing, China for face-to-face talks.

On Wednesday, February 2, the Biden administration announced they would be sending 3,000 troops to assist European allies in the first major movement of U.S troops. Approximately 2,000 of these troops will be sent from Fort Bragg, N.C., to Poland and Germany. 1,000 troops will be moved to Romania. In addition, the Pentagon expects to make other moves in Europe and has more troops on standby.

Pop Culture

Los Angeles Mayor caught without a mask, claims he was “holding his breath”

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcett, along with Gov Gavin Newsom and San Francisco Mayor London Breed, was caught without a mask at a Lakers game over the weekend.

In photos posted on Instagram by Magic Johnson, Garcetti can be seen maskless and smiling. Masks are required in Los Angeles County for all indoor public settings and outdoor “mega events.” Stadium policy also requires anyone not “actively eating or drinking” to wear face coverings.

“When people ask for a photograph, I hold my breath… There is a zero percent chance of infection from that.”

Joe Rogan addresses Spotify controversy after artists pull content from streaming service

Joe Rogan, host of the popular podcast “The Joe Rogan Experience”, became the center of controversy last week after Neil Young demanded his music be removed from the platform in order to stop the spread of “COVID misinformation”. According to Young, the platform is spreading fake information” about vaccines — potentially causing death to those who believe this disinformation spread by them.

"They can have Rogan or Young. Not both," he said.

Fellow artists and former bandmates David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash followed suit in solidarity and announced they would also be taking their music off of the streaming platform. In addition, other figures such as India Arie and Mary Trump pulled their content in hopes that it will be “part of a growing avalanche”.

Joe Rogan responded to the controversy on Sunday in a video posted to his Instagram saying that he was "not trying to promote misinformation" and that he never "tried to do anything with this podcast other than just talk to people and have interesting conversations."

In response to the controversy Spotify rolled out new restrictions on content that the platform deems "dangerous," "deceptive," sensitive," and "illegal”. Spotify CEO Daniel Ek explained the new rules in a blog post saying "it is important to me that we don’t take on the position of being content censor while also making sure that there are rules in place and consequences for those who violate them.”

In May 2020, Rogan reportedly signed a $100 million deal with Spotify that gave the streaming service exclusive distribution rights of his podcast, but not ownership. Joe Rogan’s Podcast is estimated to have around 11 million listeners per episode and is consistently No. 1 on Spotify's Podcast charts.

As of February 3, Barbara Streisand has threatened to remove her music from Spotify if it doesn't deplatform Joe Rogan immediately, while Jon Stewart has expressed his support, stating that “this overreaction [to Rogan] is a mistake.”

CNN President Jeff Zucker resigns amid undisclosed relationship with co-worker

Jeff Zucker resigned Wednesday after acknowledging his relationship with longtime network executive Allison Gollust. The relationship came to light during the Cuomo investigation in which the former anchor was revealed to have aided his brother, then New-York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, during a sexual harassment scandal.

In a memo written to staffers, Zucker said, “... I was asked about a consensual relationship with my closest colleague, someone I have worked with for more than 20 years. I acknowledged the relationship evolved in recent years. I was required to disclose it when it began but I didn’t. I was wrong. As a result, I am resigning today."

In her own statement, Allison Gollust announced that she will stay at the network and continue her work.


Hospitals refuse to carry out transplants on unvaccinated patients

A North Carolina hospital, Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist, has informed a dialysis patient that he and whoever donates a kidney must be fully vaccinated to proceed with the transplant. Chad Carswell is a double amputee and has had previous heart surgeries. His kidney is operating at 4 percent capacity, requiring a transplant. Atrium Health Fake Forest Baptist Hospital said “its policy follows health standards implemented across the U.S. and was put into practice to protect its patients.”

This story is similar to that reported on January 26th. A hospital in Boston, MA denied a 31-year-old a heart transplant. He did not qualify for a transplant under the hospital’s policy, which requires patients to be vaccinated. DJ Ferguson voiced concerns that the vaccine could exacerbate his already swollen heart saying, “We have had many conversations with the doctors, who confirmed that his heart COULD swell and go into severe crisis but they can’t guarantee anything and it’s a choice we will have to make if he wants to be listed.”

Western Australia threatens $50,000 fine and jail time for people who argue with workers over vax passports

Any person who “threatens,” “intimidates” or is “offensive” to employees who ask for proof of vaccination are looking at a fine of up to $50,000 or up to a year in jail.

According to The West Australian, the new penalties are the result of rules around the country that stop unvaccinated people 16 and over from entering public spaces, including hospitals. Businesses that resist the state’s vaccine card system could be fined up to $250,000.

US Army will discharge soldiers who reject COVID-19 vaccination

The US army announced Wednesday it will discharge soldiers who refuse to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Under a directive issued by Secretary of the Army, Christine Wormuth, commanders are instructed to “initiate involuntary administrative separation proceedings against any Soldier who has refused the COVID-19 vaccination order and does not have an approved or pending exemption request.”

In a statement Wormuth said, “unvaccinated Soldiers present risk to the force and jeopardize readiness. We will begin involuntary separation proceedings for Soldiers who refuse the vaccine order and are not pending a final decision on an exemption.”

Biden Admin kills at least 10 women and children in Syrian air raid

President Biden on Thursday detailed how the US special forces conducted an air raid overnight in Atmeh Syria that “took the leader of the Islamic State off the battlefield."

Biden said that he had directed the Department of Defense to attempt to minimize civilian casualties.

Local reports claim at least 10 women and children were killed in the strike. They also suggest that the ISIS leader, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, used a suicide vest to kill himself before he was apprehended. Other reports suggest that a US military helicopter was downed during the operation.


COVID mandates and restrictions axed around the globe

The list of countries removing COVID restrictions continues to grow.

While every nation is relieving different aspects of their restrictions, the countries axing mandates and regulations include (but are not limited to) France, Ireland, Denmark, Finland, Sweden and Serbia - mandatory masking in public spaces is the most common restriction on the chopping block.

Last week, England ended almost all domestic restrictions: masks aren't required in public and vaccine passes are no longer needed to access events or other public venues. While self-isolation is still required for those who test positive for COVID-19, the majority of restrictions have been removed.

On Tuesday, Norway lifted a number of restrictions as well - sporting events will return to pre-pandemic norms, travelers arriving at the border will not have to take a COVID test and private gathering caps have been removed. Norwegian Health Minister Ingvild Kjerkol said Tuesday, "Now it's time for us to take back our everyday life… Tonight, we scrap most measures so we: can be closer to living a normal life."

While some countries are returning to normal, others are heading in the opposite direction. Austria has imposed a vaccine mandate that takes effect this month. Greece has ordered fines for people 60 and over who refuse to get vaccinated. Additionally, German politicians are debating on whether to impose a national vaccination mandate. Italy is also tightening restrictions as the Omicron variant spreads. As of Monday Italy is requiring a negative test within the last 48 hours to enter banks and post offices, and anyone over 50 who has not been vaccinated risks a one-time 100-euro ($112 USD) fine.

Japanese company says ivermectin shows “antiviral effect” against COVID-19

Japanese pharmaceuticals company, Kowa Co LTD, reported that the drug ivermectin showed an "antiviral effect" against Omicron and other coronavirus variants in joint non-clinical research. In conjunction with Kitasato University in Tokyo, Kowa Co has been testing the drug as a treatment for COVID.

Despite winning a nobel prize and successfully treating a plethora of other illnesses, ivermectin is still not approved to treat COVID-19 in Japan, in addition to the US FDA, WHO and EU drug regulators warning against its use due to a “lack of scientific evidence that it has a therapeutic effect.”

According to Reuters, the drug is also being investigated as a potential treatment for COVID in a UK trial at the University of Oxford.

Many of these stories are still developing. Stay tuned for more information.

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