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Asian markets a reluctant spectator to U.S. political theater

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SYDNEY (Reuters) – Asian stocks were subdued on Monday as investors fretted that political instability in the United States was leaving the country rudderless at a time when the global economy was showing signs of faltering.

Pedestrians are reflected in a window in front of a board displaying stock prices at the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX) in Sydney, Australia, February 9, 2018. REUTERS/David Gray

Moves were limited by a holiday in Japan while many bourses are set to close early for Christmas. MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS lost 0.5 percent to its lowest in seven weeks.

Yet Chinese blue chips .CSI300 managed to edge up 0.2 percent, while E-Mini futures for the S&P 500 ESc1 recouped early losses to rise 0.4 percent.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s budget director and chief of staff on Sunday said the partial U.S. government shutdown could continue into January, when the new Congress convenes and Democrats take over the House of Representatives.

Trump on Sunday said he was replacing Defense Secretary Jim Mattis two months early, a move officials said was driven by the president’s anger at Mattis’ resignation letter and its rebuke of his foreign policy.

Sources also told Reuters Trump has privately discussed the possibility of firing Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, a move that would likely roil financial markets.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin felt it necessary to personally call the heads of the six largest U.S. banks to calm nerves and made plans to convene a group of officials known as the “Plunge Protection Team.”

“It provides more than enough fodder for perceptions of chaos and instability in the White House,” said Ray Attrill, head of FX strategy at NAB.

“At the same time, the government shutdown offers a true foretaste of what lies ahead once the new Congress in sworn in on January 3.”

GLOBAL SLOWDOWN

The political uncertainty has only added to the air of risk aversion, punishing equities to the benefit of bonds.

The Nasdaq .IXIC has fallen nearly 22 percent from its Aug. 29 high and into bear territory, while the S&P 500 .SPX was on track for its worst December since the Great Depression.

At the same time 10-year Treasury yields were near their lowest since August at 2.79 percent US10YT=TWEB, having fallen over 40 basis points in just six weeks.

The gap between two- and 10-year yields has shrunk to only 14 basis points, a flattening of the curve that has sometimes heralded economic turning points in the past.

“Many of the financial and economic indicators that turn first around business cycle peaks are now flashing red in advanced economies,” warned Simon MacAdam, global economist as Capital Economics.

“This is consistent with our view that the recent loss of momentum in the world economy will develop into a more severe slowdown in 2019.”

The flight to safe havens was again boosting the Japanese yen, with the dollar near a three-month trough at 111.02 yen JPY= on Monday.

It fared better on the euro, which was undermined by a run of poor data out of Europe. The single currency hovered at $1.1376 EUR=, after being as high as $1.1485 last week.

Against a basket of currencies, the dollar index was a shade softer at 96.835 .DXY.

In commodity markets, gold held near its recent six-month peak as the dollar eased and the threat of higher U.S. interest rates waned. Spot gold XAU= stood at $1,261.05 per ounce.

Oil prices were near their lowest since the third quarter of 2017, having shed no less than 11 percent last week. [O/R]

U.S. crude was last unchanged at $45.59 a barrel, while Brent LCOc1 dipped 12 cents to $53.70.

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Ottawa education workers still teaching special-ed students at schools want safety checks

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Some Ottawa educators say they are concerned about the safety of classrooms that remain open in schools for special-education students.

Ontario elementary and secondary students have been sent home to study virtually because of the dangers posed by rising rates of COVID-19. However, special-education classes are still operating at many bricks-and-mortar schools.

The special-education classes include students with physical and developmental disabilities, autism and behaviour problems. Some don’t wear masks and require close physical care.

Two unions representing teachers and educational assistants at the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board have sent letters to Ottawa Public Health expressing their concerns.

It’s urgent that public health officials inspect classrooms to assess the safety of the special-ed classes, said a letter from the Ottawa branch of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, which also represents the educational assistants who work with special-needs children.

“In the absence of reasons based on medical evidence to keep specialized systems classes open, we are unsure as to the safety of staff and students in these programs,” said the letter signed by president Stephanie Kirkey and other union executives.

The letter said staff agreed that students in specialized classes had difficulty with remote education and benefited most from in-person instruction.

“Our members care deeply about the students they work with and are not only concerned about their own health and safety, but also about that of their students, as they are often unable to abide by COVID safety protocols that include masking, physical distancing and hand hygiene, thus making it more likely that they could transmit the virus to one another,” the letter said.

The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board has 1,286 elementary and secondary students in special-education classes attending in person at 87 schools, said spokesperson Darcy Knoll.

While final numbers were not available, Knoll said the board believed a large number of the special-education students were back in class on Friday at schools.

In-person classes for other elementary and secondary students are scheduled to resume Jan. 25.

The school boards provide PPE for educators in special-education classes as required, including surgical masks, face shields, gloves and gowns.

Several educators interviewed said they don’t understand why it has been deemed unsafe for students in mainstream classes to attend class, but not special-ed students.

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Ottawa sets record of 210 new COVID-19 cases following lag in data reporting

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Ottawa has now broken its daily record for new COVID-19 cases twice in 2021, with 210 new cases added on Friday amid a lag in data reports from earlier in the week.

The nation’s capital has now seen 10,960 cases of the novel coronavirus.

Ottawa Public Health’s COVID-19 dashboard reports 977 active cases of the virus in Ottawa, a jump of more than 100 over Thursday’s figures.

One additional person has died in relation to COVID-19 in Ottawa, raising the city’s death toll in the pandemic to 395.

The record-setting case count comes a day after Ottawa reported a relatively low increase of 68 cases. Ontario’s COVID-19 system had meanwhile reported 164 new cases on Thursday.

OPH said Thursday that due to a large number of case reports coming in late Wednesday, the local system did not account for a large portion of cases. The health unit said it expects the discrepancy to be filled in the subsequent days.

Taken together, Thursday and Friday’s reports add 278 cases to Ottawa’s total, a daily average of 139 cases.

The new single-day record surpasses a benchmark set this past Sunday, when the city recorded 184 new cases.

Ontario also reported a new record of 4,249 cases on Friday, with roughly 450 of those cases added due to a lag in reporting in Toronto.

The number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 also continues to climb in Ottawa. OPH’s dashboard shows there are currently 24 people in hospital with COVID-19, seven of whom are in the intensive care unit.

Three new coronavirus outbreaks were added to OPH’s dashboard on Friday. One outbreak affects a local shelter where one resident has tested positive for the virus, while the other two are traced to workplaces and private settings in the community.

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Ottawa family dealing with mould issue in apartment grateful for support

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OTTAWA — An Ottawa family, who has been dealing with mould in their south Ottawa apartment, is grateful for the support they have received from the community.

“I would like to say big very mighty, big thank you to everyone,” says Nofisat Adeniyi.

Adeniyi lives with her three sons in a South Keys apartment. Her son Desmond turned to social media on Sunday to seek help for the family, saying they’ve been dealing with mould in their unit and it has taken too long to fix.

“I see my mom go through a struggle everyday; with three kids, it’s not easy,” says 16-year-old Desmond Adeniyi.

He setup a GoFundMe page to help the family raise money to move out. After gaining online attention and the story, which originally aired CTV News Ottawa on Tuesday, they have been able to raise over $30,000.

“Yes! I was surprised, a big surprise!” says Nofisat Adeniyi, “We are free from the mess that we’ve been going through.”

The family was so touched, they decided to pay it forward and donated $5,000 to another family in need, “A lady my son told me about,” says Nofisat Adeniyi.

The recipient wants to remain anonymous, but when she found out from Adeniyi, “She was crying, she has three kids; I remember when I was, I can feel what she’s feeling – because I was once in those shoes.”

CTV News Ottawa did reach out to the property management company for an update on the mould. In a statement on Wednesday, a spokesperson for COGIR Realty wrote:

“We respect the privacy of our residents and are unable to disclose any specific information regarding any of our residents. We can, however, let you know that we are working with the residents and are making every effort to resolve this matter as soon as possible,” said Cogir Real Estate

The giving did not stop at just cash donations. “When I saw the segment, the thing that struck me the most was how easily the situation can be resolved,” says mould removal expert Charlie Leduc with Mold Busters in Ottawa.

Leduc is not involved in the case, but appeared in the original story, and after seeing the mould on TV wanted to help.

“This isn’t something that we typically do, but given the circumstance and given the fact that this has gone on way too long, our company is willing to go in and do this work for free,” said Leduc.

The Adeniyi family may now have some options, and are grateful to the community for the support.

“Yes, It’s great news — you can see me smiling,” says Nofisat.

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