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Good evening, let’s start with today’s top coronavirus stories:

Discovery of new COVID-19 variant should serve as wake-up call about importance of genome sequencing, scientists say

The British scientists who uncovered a new variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 could be forgiven for feeling somewhat aggrieved at the reaction to their finding, European correspondent Paul Waldie writes. Instead of being hailed for alerting the world, Britain has been shunned, with more than 40 countries, including Canada, closing their borders to British travellers.

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Those involved in the discovery say their work should serve as a wake-up call about the importance of genome sequencing, the painstaking process of monitoring changes in the genetic coding of SARS-CoV-2. They argue it’s only because of Britain’s unique surveillance system that the variant was found and the world can prepare.

Meanwhile, German pharmaceutical company BioNTech is confident that its coronavirus vaccine, developed with U.S.-based Pfizer, works against the new British variant – but further studies are need to be completely sure, CEO Ugur Sahin says.

In Canada: Chief public health officer Theresa Tam said today the new variant has not yet been detected in Canada. Yesterday, however, the Public Agency of Health Canada the variant may already be here and awaiting identification among samples that have been gathered but not yet analyzed.

A day after Ontario announced a province-wide lockdown on Boxing Day amid much criticism, it again reported more than 2,000 daily new cases. Quebec is reporting a record number of new cases as infections top 2,000 for the fourth straight day.

A weekend anti-lockdown protest in Calgary ended with five people facing criminal charges and others getting tickets for violating public health orders as the city’s police force takes a more aggressive approach to the rallies.

In business: The Canada Revenue Agency has released the names of all companies that received the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, and urged employees to report any suspicious activities related to the pandemic-relief program, which has paid out more than $54-billion since April.

Read more:

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Ottawa rejects bid by China’s Shandong Gold for Canadian miner over security concerns

The federal government has rejected Chinese state-controlled Shandong Gold Mining’s planned takeover of junior Canadian gold miner TMAC Resources because of concerns the deal may pose national security risks. TMAC shareholders had voted overwhelmingly in favour of the deal in June and it received regulatory approval in China.

But the takeover generated a national debate about sovereignty in Canada’s Far North and whether China should be allowed to gain a meaningful economic foothold in the Arctic. TMAC’s Doris gold mine is situated in Hope Bay, Nunavut, near tidewater in the Northwest Passage – a highly strategic shipping route connecting the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific.

U.S. sues Walmart for alleged role in opioid crisis

The U.S. Justice Department has sued Walmart, accusing the retailer of fuelling the opioid crisis in the United States, ignoring warning signs from its pharmacists and filling thousands of invalid prescriptions.

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The civil lawsuit accuses Walmart of failing to take its gatekeeping duties as a pharmacy seriously. It alleges Walmart created a system that turned its 5,000 in-store pharmacies into a supplier of highly addictive painkillers, dating as early as June 2013.

Walmart rejected the allegations, and called the lawsuit a “transparent attempt to shift blame from the [Drug Enforcement Administration’s] well-documented failures in keeping bad doctors from prescribing opioids in the first place.”

ALSO ON OUR RADAR

NFB pulls Michelle Latimer doc: The National Film Board says it’s pulling Michelle Latimer’s documentary Inconvenient Indian from distribution and a coming screening at the Sundance Film Festival, after her Indigenous identity was called into question last week.

Officers charged in death of jailed Inuk man: Ten correctional officers have been charged with crimes ranging from manslaughter to criminal negligence causing death in connection with the 2019 death of an Inuk man in a St. John’s jail.

Britain, Canada strike short-term tariff deal: Canada and Britain said they struck a short-term deal today to ensure that free trade between the two after the latter’s exit from the European Union can continue until the Canadian parliament approves a new bilateral agreement.

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In case you missed the Great Conjunction: The evening sky over the Northern Hemisphere treated stargazers to a once-in-a-lifetime illusion yesterday as Jupiter and Saturn appeared to meet in a celestial alignment that astronomers call the “Great Conjunction.” See more images here.

Jupiter, left, and Saturn appear about one-tenth of a degree apart during an astronomical event known as the Great Conjunction, above Mt. Tamalpais in Larkspur, Calif.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

MARKET WATCH

Wall Street stocks were mixed today, with the S&P 500 losing ground at the end of a whipsaw session as concerns over a new variant of the coronavirus and disappointing economic data stole the thunder from Washington’s passage of a long-awaited pandemic relief bill. A 4.2-per-cent jump in technology stocks led Canada’s main stock index higher.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 200.94 points or 0.67 per cent to 30,015.51, the S&P 500 lost 7.66 points or 0.21 per cent to 3,687.26 and the Nasdaq Composite added 65.40 points or 0.51 per cent to end at 12,807.92.

The S&P/TSX composite index closed up 51.57 points or 0.29 per cent at 17,552.46.

Got a news tip that you’d like us to look into? E-mail us at tips@globeandmail.com. Need to share documents securely? Reach out via SecureDrop.

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TALKING POINTS

Two cold wars loom for Biden. He will need unity to fight them

“Rarely has there been a time when American supremacy has been challenged as it is now, in cold-war confrontations with both Russia and China. While the country has been preoccupied with the pandemic, the general election and Trumpian upheaval, relations with each authoritarian regime have spiralled downward.” - Lawrence Martin

How Canadians can put moral pressure on China, one Christmas card at a time

“Hopefully, the buildup of publicity of people sending Christmas cards to the imprisoned Canadians will put moral pressure on China, causing it to abandon the repugnant, uncivilized and inhuman practice of hostage diplomacy.” - Frank Ching, Hong Kong-based journalist

Related: Here’s how to get in contact with detained Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig

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LIVING BETTER

From the thousands of photos that ran in The Globe and Mail this year, our editors selected the images that meant the most to them in 2020. Consider it a time capsule of sorts – a marker of what we have lived through together.

Nurses and health-care workers don PPE in a change room as they prepare to start their day at a pop-up COVID-19 assessment centre in Scarborough's Milliken Park Community Recreation Centre, Nov. 4, 2020.

Cole Burston/The Globe and Mail

Related: So long, 2020: Ian Brown reflects on scenes from a calamitous year

TODAY’S LONG READ

The Zen of splitting wood, the Norwegian way

Some people bake bread. Others go for long walks. Still others play chess or Scrabble. For me, the best pandemic therapy is making firewood. Weekends this fall found me at a country cabin happily felling, bucking, splitting and stacking, with case counts and red zones the farthest thing from my mind.

I’m an unlikely lumberjack. A turtleneck-wearing, streetcar-riding, craft beer-sipping city boy, I can barely hammer a nail. For years we simply bought firewood on our way to the cabin, overlooking the wooden wealth all around us.

Then I tripped across a fascinating book. Norwegian Wood: Chopping, Stacking, and Drying Wood the Scandinavian Way is an extended essay on the art and science of turning forests into firewood. It was a surprise bestseller for novelist Lars Mytting when it came out in 2011. Mytting mixes practical advice about what kinds of wood burn best, what time of year to cut it and how to stack it properly with philosophical asides about the pleasures of this age-old form of labour. Read Marcus Gee’s full story here.

Evening Update is presented by S.R. Slobodian. If you’d like to receive this newsletter by e-mail every weekday evening, go here to sign up. If you have any feedback, send us a note.

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