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Year in review: A look at news events in December 2020

Last Updated Dec 31, 2020 at 12:44 pm MST

A look at news events in December 2020:

01 – U.S. President Donald Trump’s science adviser announced he is leaving his post. Dr. Scott Atlas, who had no formal experience in public health or infectious diseases, gained infamy for his skepticism of measures to control the coronavirus outbreak. Atlas joined the White House in the summer, clashing with top government scientists as he resisted stronger efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.

01 – The end of November meant the official end of the record-setting 2020 Atlantic hurricane season. The season produced 30 named storms, including 13 that reached hurricane status.

02 – Johnson & Johnson began the process of applying for emergency approval of its COVID-19 vaccine from Health Canada and the European Medicines Agency. In what’s called a rolling submission, the drug maker sent regulators in Canada and the EU early testing data from its experimental one-dose vaccine.

02 – Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine was granted permission for emergency use in the United Kingdom. Pfizer said it would immediately begin shipping limited supplies to the U.K. The vaccine was given the green light after results of clinical trials showed it was 95 per cent effective overall. Trials also showed it offered significant protection for older people.

03 – The civil servant leading the most extensive renovations on Parliament Hill’s Centre Block in more than a century said the repairs would not erase the scars from an infamous attack. Rob Wright said a series of bullet holes in the Hall of Honour from a gunfight between security officers and Michael Zehaf-Bibeau would be left intact. Zehaf-Bibeau stormed Parliament Hill after fatally shooting Cpl. Nathan Cirillo in front of the National War Memorial in 2014. He was killed in the subsequent shootout.

04 – Quebec pianist and composer Andre Gagnon died at the age of 84. According to his record label, Gagnon died from Lewy body disease, a neurodegenerative disorder. His career spanned decades and embraced many styles, from baroque to classical to disco. He also won two Juno awards and a Felix from the Quebecois music industry, all in the instrumental category.

04 – The first COVID-19 vaccine doses arrived in Britain. Business Secretary Alok Sharma said the first shots of the Pfizer vaccine would be rolled out the following week.

04 – Bahrain said it would grant emergency-use authorization for the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, becoming the second country to do so.

04 – Canada recorded more than 400,000 cases of COVID-19, just 18 days after it hit the 300,000-mark. It took six months for the country to record its first 100-thousand cases of COVID-19, four months to reach 200-thousand and less than a month to hit 300-thousand.

06 – The Vancouver Canucks fired their anthem singer, Mark Donnelly after he sang “O Canada” at a rally to protest COVID-19 restrictions. Hundreds of people gathered for the event dubbed the ”Christmas Freedom Rally.” Donnelly told the crowd — most not wearing masks or physically distancing — that those who dispute public health orders have been marginalized and censored.

06 – The annual Screen Nova Scotia Awards handed its top prize to a low-budget feature film about a lonely, alcoholic woman. In “Murmur,” Shan MacDonald plays a convicted drunk driver ordered to perform community service at an animal shelter. “Conviction” — about women in prison — took the best documentary award. The award for best television series went to the second season of “Pure,” which follows a Mennonite pastor working undercover within an organized crime network.

07 – The national chief of the Assembly of First Nations said he would not seek re-election next summer. Perry Bellegarde has led the political advocacy organization that represents more than 600 First Nations since 2014. He noted that he has successfully advocated for laws protecting Indigenous children and languages, helped secure more than $27 billion in new funding and brought widespread attention to key issues.

07 – Chuck Yeager, the retired U.S. air force pilot who was the first aviator to break the sound barrier, died at 97. Yeager enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1941. He joined combat operations in the Second World War, returning stateside four years later after flying more than 60 aerial wartime missions. Yeager exceeded the speed of sound on Oct. 14, 1947, on a Bell X-1 rocket.

08 – Two British seniors proved you are never too old to make history. Margaret Keenan — just a week shy of her 91st birthday — and 81-year-old William Shakespeare got the first jabs on “V-Day” in Britain. They were the first to get a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech outside of a clinical trial.

08 – Partial results published in the medical journal Lancet suggested the COVID-19 vaccine candidate from Oxford University and AstraZeneca is safe and about 70 per cent effective. But it’s not clear how well it will help protect people in the 55-plus age bracket. Oxford’s Andrew Pollard said the team has no safety concerns about the vaccine, with results from all study locations consistently showing benefit.

08 – Politicians, lawyers and others paid tribute to a Vancouver lawyer described as one of the foremost champions of legal rights for all Canadians. The Arvay Finlay law firm said in a message posted to its website that Joseph Arvay died at the age of 71. B.C. Attorney General David Eby told the provincial legislature that Arvay would leave an indelible mark on Canada’s legal landscape. He noted that Arvay successfully argued cases in the Supreme Court of Canada for same-sex marriage benefits, LGBTQ rights, the right to assisted dying and censorship issues.

09 – British regulators warned people with a “significant history” of allergic reactions not to get the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine after two people had adverse reactions on day one of the inoculation program. Both recipients suffered from severe allergies and carried a device like an Epi-pen, which they used and are now doing well.

09 – Canada’s ambassador to China said two men who have been imprisoned in Beijing for two years are in good health. After months of COVID-19-related delays, Dominic Barton was allowed on-site, virtual consular access to Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. The Chinese government has charged Kovrig and Spavor with espionage. The Canadian government says their detention is arbitrary and has called for their release.

09 – Health Canada approved national use of Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine, clearing the way for the delivery of up to 249-thousand doses in December. Canada has purchased 20-million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which requires people to receive two doses each, and has the option to buy 56-million more. The announcement made Canada the third country in the world to approve the vaccine.

10 – Global Affairs said contrary to earlier reports, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor had not been put on trial in China. It said the confusion was caused by a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson who gave an inaccurate characterization of the process. That person had been quoted as saying the two Michaels had been “arrested, indicted and tried.” Canadian Embassy officials in Beijing spoke directly with Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials to clarify the media report.

10 – Korean supergroup BTS was named Time magazine’s Entertainer of the Year.

10 – The House of Commons passed a bill to expand access to medical assistance in dying, giving the Senate just a week to deal with it before a court-imposed deadline. Bill C-7 passed by a vote of 212-107, following four days of filibustering by the Conservatives.

11 – Drugmakers GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi said their potential COVID-19 vaccine won’t be ready until late next year. The companies said early-stage trials showed the vaccine produced an insufficient immune response in older adults. Canada has a deal in place to buy up to 72-million doses of GSK and Sanofi’s vaccine candidate, on the condition it’s approved by Health Canada.

11 – Time magazine chose U.S. president-elect Joe Biden and vice-president-elect Kamala Harris as its people of the year. Other candidates included front-line health-care workers and top U.S. infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci.

11 – More than two decades after he retired, Wayne Gretzky set another record. A mint condition 1979 O-Pee-Chee Gretzky rookie card became hockey’s first to cost more than US$1 million at auction, selling for a whopping $1,032,000.

11 – Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine was granted emergency use authorization by U.S. regulators.

12 – A trio of private citizens with a keen sense for puzzles said they had cracked the code and revealed a half-century-long mystery linked to the “Zodiac” killer. An American software developer, a Belgian programmer and an Australian mathematician brought their findings to the FBI. Although the chilling 340-character coded message doesn’t reveal the killer’s identity, it contains a secret taunt targeting police: “I am not afraid of the gas chamber because it will send me to paradise all the sooner.” The Zodiac terrorized Northern California communities, killing at least five people in 1968 and 69.

12 – Musician Charley Pride died at age 86 after getting COVID-19. Pride was the son of sharecroppers in Mississippi who became one of country music’s biggest stars and the first Black member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. Pride died in Dallas of complications from the virus.

13 – Italian researchers said they had discovered microplastics inside the human womb, a finding the team leader called “very, very, very, very” worrying. The study published in the peer-reviewed Environment Internal Journal examined six placenta from women with regular pregnancies. Scientists found a total of 12 fragments of microplastics, both on the outside of the placenta and on the fetus side. The next step will be to begin studying the health effects of microplastics on human fetuses.

13 – A former Liberal cabinet minister who played a key role in the sponsorship scandal of the early 2000s died. Alfonso Gagliano was 78. Gagliano represented the Montreal riding of Saint-Leonard in the House of Commons for 18 years. His fall from grace was triggered by the sponsorship scandal, which revolved around a system of kickbacks for government contracts.

13 – A spy turned novelist who became the pre-eminent writer of espionage fiction died at age 89. John le Carre’s literary agency said he died in Cornwall, southwest England after a short illness. His death was not related to COVID-19.

13 – Canada’s initial doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines arrived in the country. The prime minister made the announcement on Twitter, sharing a photo of the aircraft being unloaded at Mirabel International Airport in Montreal.

14 – Eswatini Prime Minister Ambrose Dlamini, who had tested positive for COVID-19, died at 52. He had been prime minister of the tiny African country, formerly known as Swaziland, since 2018.

14 –  A long-term care resident in Quebec and a nursing home worker in Ontario got Canada’s first COVID-19 vaccinations, beginning the largest immunization campaign in the country’s history.

14 – Britain notified the World Health Organization about a new variant of COVID-19 and locked down London and surrounding areas. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said infections were rising rapidly in the capital and a new variant of the virus could be to blame.

14 – The U.S. Electoral College formally validated Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election.

15 – U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell ended weeks of silence on President Donald Trump’s November election defeat, delivering a speech on the Senate floor congratulating Joe Biden and calling him the president-elect. Russian President Vladimir Putin also acknowledged Biden’s win, becoming one of the last world leaders to do so.

15 – Authorities in the U.S. said Canadian fashion mogul Peter Nygard has been indicted on nine charges including racketeering and sex trafficking, and they want him extradited from Winnipeg. U.S. authorities allege that over a 25-year period, Nygard recruited and used women and girls for his sexual gratification as well as others. He denies everything.

15 – Quebec provincial police arrested 58-year-old Parti Quebecois legislator Harold LeBel on allegations of sexual assault. PQ Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon said LeBel has been removed from caucus while police investigate.

15 – Former entertainment mogul Gilbert Rozon, founder of the Canadian Just for Laughs festival, was found not guilty on charges of rape and indecent assault. The woman who accused Rozon alleged the incident happened in 1980 in St-Sauveur, Que., when Rozon was 25 and she was 20.

16 – Prison sentences ranging from four years to life were handed down in the terrorism trial of 14 people linked to the January 2015 attacks in Paris against the satirical Charlie Hebdo newspaper and a kosher supermarket. All three attackers died in police raids, and the widow of one of the gunman and two men who spirited her out of France to Syria were tried in absentia. Seventeen people were killed in the attacks.

16 – Canada announced it would join the U.S. on the first crewed trip to the moon since the Apollo missions. Industry Minister Navdeep Bains unveiled the new Gateway Treaty between Ottawa and Washington, which formalizes Canada’s involvement in the effort to build a new international space station known as the Lunar Gateway. The treaty includes a commitment to having a Canadian on board a manned flyby of the moon in 2023 and for Canada to contribute a new robotic arm to help with construction of the station.

17 – Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau said the government had approved changes to the Boeing 737 Max jet, but had not yet cleared it to fly in Canadian skies. The planes were grounded worldwide in March of 2019 after two crashes, including one that killed 18 Canadians.

17 – The federal government said it would provide temporary debt relief to Newfoundland and Labrador so the province wouldn’t have to come up with $844 million for its Muskrat Falls loan payments. The Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project was expected to cost $7.4 billion when it was first approved eight years ago, but is now projected to cost more than $13.1 billion.

17 – The Court of Arbitration for Sport banned Russia from using its name, flag and anthem at the next two Olympics, or at any world championships for the next two years. It also ruled that Russia can’t submit bids to host major sporting events for two years. The punishments are not as severe as the four-year ban the World Anti-Doping Agency had recommended.

17 – French President Emmanuel Macron began self-isolating after testing positive for COVID-19. The 42-year-old cancelled a planned trip to Lebanon but pledged to continue working from home.

18 – The original actor behind the mask of a fictional, spacefaring bounty hunter died. Jeremy Bulloch, who played fan-favourite Boba Fett in the original “Star Wars” films, passed away at the age of 75. Over the years, the character of Boba Fett garnered a cult following, and Bulloch continued to meet with fans on the convention circuit.

18 – Vice-President Mike Pence became the highest-ranking U.S. government official to get a COVID-19 vaccine, receiving a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech drug in front of cameras at the White House. The event was intended to promote the safety of the vaccine and convince Americans to get vaccinated.

19 – Canada surpassed 500,000 cases of COVID-19 as infections continued to surge in several provinces. The latest 100,000 cases racked up in just 15 days, marking the shortest growth period since the pandemic was declared in March. It took six months for Canada to register its first 100,000 cases of the virus.

20 – Ottawa began restricting travel from the United Kingdom in a bid to keep a contagious mutation of the virus that causes COVID-19 from reaching Canada. 

20 – Nunavut reported its first two deaths from COVID-19.

21 – The European Medicines Agency approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for use in the European Union’s 27 member countries. The European regulator had been under pressure since the U.K., Canada and the U.S. granted approval for use of the vaccine.

21 – The Ontario government announced that the whole province would go into lockdown on Boxing Day, meaning all non-essential businesses would have to close. Premier Doug Ford asked everyone to stay home unless absolutely necessary, saying the lockdown was needed to save lives and prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed.

21 – U.S. president-elect Joe Biden received his first dose of the coronavirus vaccine on live television. The Democrat took a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at a hospital not far from his Delaware home, hours after his wife, Jill Biden, did the same.

22 – The European Union recommended all 27 member countries discourage non-essential travel to and from the United Kingdom until further notice, following the emergence of a new coronavirus variant. But authorities said people in the U.K. and Europe should not be barred from returning to their homes.

22 – Canada and the United Kingdom announced a last-minute trade deal to avoid tariffs on Canadian goods when Britain leaves the European Union. Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland announced the deal, saying it will ensure Canadian goods such as maple syrup, lobster, beef and car parts aren’t penalized.

23 – Britain’s health secretary said another new variant of the novel coronavirus had been identified in two people who had been in contact with recent arrivals from South Africa. Matt Hancock said preliminary evidence suggested the new strain had “mutated further” than the one that prompted the British government to tighten restrictions across large parts of England.

23 – Health Canada approved a second COVID-19 vaccine for use in Canada. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said deliveries of the drug developed by U.S. biotech firm Moderna could begin within 48 hours of approval.

23 – Royal Canadian Navy commander Vice-Admiral Art McDonald was named as the successor to General Jonathan Vance as chief of the defence staff. McDonald’s appointment spoke to a looming challenge for the military and Liberal government — the ongoing effort to build a fleet of new warships for the Navy.

23 – U.S. President Donald Trump issued pardons and sentence commutations for 29 people, including former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Charles Kushner, the father of the president’s son-in-law.

24 – California became the first U.S. state to record 2 million cases of COVID-19.

25 – A recreational vehicle parked in the deserted streets of downtown Nashville exploded, causing widespread communications outages. Authorities said the blast was intentional, and two law enforcement officials told The Associated Press that human remains were found in the vicinity. Metro Nashville Police Chief John Drake said police were responding to a report of shots fired when they encountered an RV blaring a recording that said a bomb would detonate in 15 minutes.

26 – Ontario confirmed the two first Canadian cases of a more contagious variant of COVID-19 first identified in Britain. The province’s associate chief medical officer of health said the cases are a couple from Durham Region, just east of Toronto. The two had no known travel history, exposure or high-risk contacts.

28 – The more contagious new strain of COVID-19 was identified in Ottawa and on Vancouver Island. All of the Canadian cases were traced to the United Kingdom. The Public Health Agency of Canada said early data suggests there is no evidence the new strain causes more severe symptoms or that it won’t respond to the two vaccines being rolled out across the country.

28 – Canada’s countrywide death toll from COVID-19 surpassed 15,000. 

28 – A huge study of the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine candidate got underway in the U.S. The drug is the fifth to reach final-stage testing south of the border.

29 – Independent Sen. Elaine McCoy, who was appointed to the chamber in 2005 after a career in Alberta politics, died at the age of 74. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney paid tribute to McCoy, calling her a persuasive and unapologetic advocate for the province’s workers and energy sector.

30 – No timeline was announced, but Iran said it would pay families $150,000 compensation for each person killed in the shooting down of a Ukrainian Airlines jet in January. The crash killed 176 people, including 55 Canadian citizens, 30 permanent residents and many others with ties to Canadian universities. 

30 – Britain approved use of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, but Health Canada said it would need more information before it could complete its review.

30 – The school principal who inspired the 1989 movie “Lean on Me” died at his home in Florida. Joe Louis Clark was 82. 

30 – Dawn Wells, who played the wholesome Mary Ann on the 1960s sitcom “Gilligan’s Island,” died. Her publicist said Wells died in Los Angeles of causes related to COVID-19. She was 82. “

30 – The federal government announced that all incoming travellers to Canada will soon be required to test negative for COVID-19 three days before arriving. 

31 – China gave conditional approval to a COVID-19 vaccine developed by state-owned Sinopharm. The vaccine is the first one approved for general use in China.

31 – Ontario MPP Rod Phillips stepped down from his role as provincial finance minister in the wake of a Caribbean holiday that went against pandemic guidelines. Phillips returned to Canada earlier in the day after spending more than two weeks in St. Barts. 

The Canadian Press