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Revellers say hello to 2019, goodbye to an unsettling year | News

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Revellers around the globe are bidding a weary farewell on Monday to an unsettling year filled with challenges to many of the world’s most basic institutions, including politics, trade, alliances and religion.

Here’s a look at how people are ushering in the new year across Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas as the clock ticks past midnight.

Kiribati

The Pacific island nation of Kiribati was the first in the world to welcome the new year, greeting 2019 with muted celebrations after spending 2018 on the front line of the battle against climate change.

Kiribati is made up of low-lying atolls along the equator which intersect three time zones.

Much of the nation’s land mass, occupied by 110,000 people, is endangered by rising seas which have inundated coastal villages. The rising oceans have turned freshwater sources brackish, imperilling communities and raising doubts the nation will exist at the next New Year. Former President Anote Tong said the only future for Kiribati may be mass migration.

The new year was welcomed in the capital, Tarawa, with church services and mostly quiet private celebrations.

New Zealand

In Auckland, New Zealand‘s biggest city, tens of thousands gathered around Sky Tower as fireworks exploded from the top of the 328-metre structure.

Across the southern hemisphere nation, thousands took to beaches and streets, becoming the first major nation in the world to usher in 2019.

Fireworks boomed and crackled above city centres and harbours.

Australia

An estimated one million people crowded Sydney Harbor as Australia‘s largest city rang in the new year with a spectacular, soul-tinged fireworks celebration.

One of the most complex displays in Australia’s history included gold, purple and silver fireworks pulsating to the tune of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”, made famous by Aretha Franklin, who died in August. The show used 8.5 tonnes of fireworks and featured more than 100,000 pyrotechnic effects, the city’s biggest-ever fireworks display.

Earlier, a thunderstorm drenched tens of thousands of people as they gathered for the traditional display, creating a show of its own with dozens of lightning strikes.

More than one billion people around the world were expected to watch the fireworks on television.

In Melbourne, 14 tonnes of fireworks deployed on the ground and on roofs of 22 buildings produced special effects including flying dragons. In Brisbane, an estimated 85,000 people watched as fireworks exploded from five barges moored on the Brisbane River.

Philippines

Dozens of people have been injured by firecrackers ahead of New Year’s Eve when many across the Philippines set off powerful firecrackers in one of Asia’s most violent celebrations despite a government scare campaign and threats of arrests.

The Department of Health said it has recorded more than 50 firecracker-caused injuries in the last 10 days, which is expected to increase overnight when Filipinos usher in 2019 with a bang.

Although still a concern, the figure is significantly lower than a year ago, partly because fewer Filipinos have purchased firecrackers due to hard economic times.

Officials have urged centralised fireworks displays to discourage wild and sometimes fatal merry-making. The notorious tradition, worsened by celebratory gunfire that turned deadly, stems from a Chinese-influenced belief that noise drives away evil and misfortune.

North Korea

Leader Kim Jong Un will keep North Korea watchers busy on New Year’s Day when he is expected to give his annual address laying out the country’s priorities for the year ahead. The speech is often the best gauge of what the North Korean leadership is focused on and what tone it will take in its dealings with the outside world.

Kim’s speech will be parsed carefully for clues about his thinking on denuclearisation talks with Washington and a second summit with US President Donald Trump, relations with South Korea, and North Korea’s efforts to get out from under international sanctions as it tries to build its domestic economy.

In his New Year’s speech this past year, Kim proposed talks with South Korea to reduce tensions and said the North would be willing to participate in South Korea’s Winter Olympics, setting off a series of summits with the South and the United States.

South Korea

After an eventful year that saw three inter-Korean summits and the easing of tensions over North Korea’s nuclear programme, South Koreans enter 2019 with hopes that the hard-won detente will expand into a stable peace.

Thousands of South Koreans were expected to fill the streets of the capital, Seoul, for a traditional bell-tolling ceremony near City Hall to usher in the new year.

Dignitaries picked to ring the old Bosingak bell at midnight include famous surgeon Lee Guk-jong, who successfully operated on a North Korean soldier who escaped to South Korea in 2017 in a hail of bullets fired by his comrades.

Elsewhere, about 10,000 people were expected to attend the tolling of a “peace bell” at Imjingak, a pavilion near the border with North Korea.

China

New Year’s Eve isn’t celebrated that widely in mainland China, where the Lunar New Year in February is a more important holiday, but countdown events were being held in major cities and some of the faithful headed to Buddhist temples for bell-ringing and prayers.

The city of Beijing was holding a gala with VIP guests at the main site of the 2008 Summer Olympics. The event looked ahead to the 2022 Winter Games, which also will be held in the Chinese capital.

Additional police were deployed in parts of Shanghai, where a New Year’s Eve stampede in 2014 killed 36 people. In Beijing, outdoor revelers had to brave temperatures well below freezing.

President Xi Jinping, in a message broadcast at the top of the evening news, outlined the country’s achievements over the past year and said that by hosting a series of multinational meetings in 2018, “we have put forward China’s proposals and sent out China’s voice.”

In Hong Kong, festive lights on the city’s iconic skyscrapers provided the backdrop for a fireworks, music and light show over Victoria Harbor on a chilly evening. About 300,000 people were expected to line the waterfront.

Thailand

While many celebrate New Year’s Eve with fireworks, hundreds of Thais travelled to Takien Temple in a suburb of Bangkok to lie inside coffins for traditional funeral rituals. Participants believe the ceremony – symbolising death and rebirth – helps rid them of bad luck and allows them to be born again for a fresh start in the new year.

Participants held flowers and incense in their hands as monks covered them with pink sheets and chanted prayers for the dead.

“It wasn’t scary or anything. It is our belief that it will help us get rid of bad luck and bring good fortune to our life,” said Busaba Yookong, who came to the temple with her family.

Bangkok is filled with modern glitzy malls and high-rise buildings, but superstitious beliefs still hold sway in many aspects of Thai society.

United States

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued a bleak New Year’s message that called climate change an existential threat and warned that “it’s time to seize our last best chance.”

He noted growing intolerance, geopolitical divisions and inequality, resulting in people “questioning a world in which a handful of people hold the same wealth as half of humanity.”

“But there are also reasons for hope,” he said. “As we begin this New Year, let’s resolve to confront threats, defend human dignity and build a better future together”.

New York City

Snoop Dogg, Sting and Christina Aguilera will welcome 2019 in a packed Times Square along with revellers from around the world who come to see the traditional crystal ball drop.

Spectators are expected to start assembling early in the afternoon for the made-for-TV extravaganza.

The celebration will take place under tight security, with partygoers checked for weapons and then herded into pens, ringed by metal barricades, where they wait for the stroke of midnight.

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Ottawa transit commission hopes to prioritize COVID-19 vaccines for OC Transpo workers

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Ottawa’s transit commission is pushing local and provincial health officials to recognize the role OC Transpo operators have played in keeping the city running during the COVID-19 pandemic, hoping to bump train and bus drivers in the vaccination queue amid a recent surge in coronavirus infections affecting transit workers.

More than 100 OC Transpo staff across the entire organization have tested positive for the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, according to an update at Wednesday morning’s transit commission meeting.

Of those cases, 26 employees are currently recovering from the disease in self-isolation.

OC Transpo has seen a recent jump in COVID-19 cases, with Ottawa city council receiving reports of eight operators testing positive for the virus over a recent eight-day period.

Transit commissioner Sarah Wright-Gilbert attempted to find out how many of the total cases are traced to workplace transmission, but OC Transpo boss John Manconi said he’s been advised by medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches that he can’t share that information for privacy reasons.

Transit operators are listed in the second priority group of essential workers as part of Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine sequencing plans, but several commissioners speaking Wednesday wanted to get the city’s bus and train drivers bumped higher in the order.

Councillors Riley Brockington and Glen Gower both put forward motions looking to get front-line OC Transpo employees prioritization in vaccine sequencing, but others pointed out that the much-debated public health topic of who gets the vaccine and when is well beyond the scope of the transit commission.

“We are not in a position in transit commission to be decreeing, or making an edict, about what group of essential workers is more at risk than others and should be prioritized. That should be left up to public health experts,” Wright-Gilbert said.

Knoxdale-Merivale Coun. Keith Egli, who also chairs the Ottawa Board of Health, reflected on the board’s four-plus-hour meeting on Monday evening, during which vaccine sequencing and prioritizing essential workers dominated the conversation.

“Vaccine sequencing is obviously a very difficult maze to get through,” he said.

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COVID-19: Ottawa police announce end of 24-7 presence at Ontario-Quebec border

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Less than two days after the Ontario government’s latest COVID-19 restrictions came into effect, calling for non-essential traffic to be stopped at the province’s borders with Quebec and Manitoba, the Ottawa Police Service has announced it is stopping its 24-hour checkpoints.

According to a statement issued by the service Tuesday evening, the around-the-clock border checkpoints were set to end as of 8 p.m. on Tuesday in favour of rotating checkpoints across the city throughout the day until Ontario’s temporary regulations end.

“Since the onset of the border operations, the OPS has been working closely with Ottawa Public Health (OPH) along with local stakeholders and interprovincial stakeholders (the City of Ottawa, the City of Gatineau, the Ontario Provincial Police etc.) to assess any local public health, traffic and safety impacts. The assessment resulted in today’s operational changes,” the statement said.

“The operational changes announced today are designed to better ensure the health and safety of all, to minimize delays and/or hazards for travellers and to ensure essential workers can get to their places of employment on time.”

The statement also said the police service, while working to comply with the provincial order, was focused on education and enforcement actions that “support improved public health outcomes and respect the concerns of our most marginalized and racialized communities”

Officers said they will be conducting daily assessments on border crossings and that there could be further changes.

In a statement to Global News, a spokesperson for Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said that the border closures are ultimately subject to the discretion of local police enforcing the regulations.

“Local police services are best positioned to determine the operational deployments necessary to ensure the continued safety of their communities,” the spokesperson said, noting that the order’s regulations still apply to individuals entering the province.

The temporary order restricts Quebec residents from entering Ontario. If prompted, individuals must stop when directed by an enforcement officials and provide their reason for entering the province.

The main exemptions to the restrictions include if the person’s main home is in the province, if they work in Ontario, if they’re transporting goods, if they’re exercising Indigenous or treaty rights, if they need health care or if there’s a basis on compassionate grounds.

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COVID-19 vaccines in Ottawa: Nearly half of all residents in their 60s have at least one dose

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OTTAWA — Ottawa Public Health’s latest COVID-19 vaccination update shows that nearly half of all residents 60 to 69 years old have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, a figure that has all but doubled in the past week.

OPH’s COVID-19 vaccination dashboard shows 58,000 residents 60 to 69 have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, accounting for 49.3 per cent of that age group’s population in Ottawa. Last Wednesday, OPH reported 30,000 residents 60 to 69 had had at least one dose, which was 25.4 per cent.

As age demographics get younger, the population grows larger and the coverage by percentage may appear to grow more slowly, even if clinics are vaccinating greater numbers of people. For example, the latest figures show that 83 per cent of people aged 70 to 79 have had at least one dose. By raw population that’s 60,000 people, only slightly higher than half of all people in their 60s.

Vaccinations are open through the Ontario portal to anyone 60 and older and, this week, the AstraZeneca vaccine was approved for administration at pharmacies and primary care clinics to anyone in Ontario 40 and older.

OPH reported a new shipment this week of 25,740 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. To date, Ottawa has received 305,130 doses of COVID-19 vaccines from the provincial government.

The number of eligible residents (i.e. 16 and older) with at least one dose of a vaccine is now up to 28 per cent.

Tuesday was Ottawa’s second-busiest day for vaccinations overall, with the OPH reporting 9,729 shots administered. Last Friday saw 9,887 shots administered in a single day.

QUICK STATS

  • Ottawa residents with at least one dose: 248,668
  • Ottawa residents with two doses: 26,722
  • Percent of eligible population (residents 16 and older) with at least one dose: 28 per cent
  • Percent of eligible population (residents 16 and older) with two doses: 3 per cent
  • Percent of total population with at least one dose: 24 per cent
  • Percent of total population with two doses: 3 per cent

VACCINATION COVERAGE BY AGE FOR OTTAWA RESIDENTS WITH AT LEAST ONE DOSE

  • 10-19: 1.6 per cent (1,804 people)
  • 20-29: 8.3 per cent (13,452 people)
  • 30-39: 9.5 per cent (14,999 people)
  • 40-49: 12.9 per cent (17,350 people)
  • 50-59: 28.8 per cent (40,320 people)
  • 60-69: 49.3 per cent (58,627 people)
  • 70-79: 82.9 per cent (62,808 people)
  • 80-89: 87.5 per cent (29,358 people)
  • 90+: 89.2 per cent (7,893 people)
  • Unknown age: 2,057 people 

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