With the province on track to have up to 1,000 COVID-19 patients in hospital by the end of April, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announced a return to Step 1 restrictions Tuesday to try to slow the spread of highly contagious variants of coronavirus.
Facing a growing third wave of the pandemic that could be worse than the two that came before, the premier laid out some alarming projections of what could happen over the next few weeks.
“People who right now are contracting COVID today, about five per cent or more of them will show up in hospitals two weeks from now,” Kenney said.
“These are short-term projections and they show that we are on track to hit a weekly average of 2,000 daily cases by the end of this month, based only on transmission that has occurred to week. And we can expect to see up to 1,000 COVID patients in hospital at the end of this month.
“Even at the height of the second, of the wave, back in December, we topped out at just under 1,900 cases a day. Now we’re well on our way to exceeding that.”
Cases rise sharply
Kenney urged Albertans last week to follow the health measures already in place to stop the spread of the virus.
Yet cases continued to rise sharply over the past week, averaging almost 1,000 new cases each day over the long weekend. The surge in variants of concern has also accelerated.
Variant cases went from about 100 per day three weeks ago to 676 on Tuesday, Kenney said, and variants now make up more than 40 per cent of total active cases.
“In the race between variants and the virus, the variants are winning,” the premier said.
At his news conference, Kenney used a chart to illustrate the dangers posed by variants of concern.
The chart showed how one traveller who returned from B.C. spread the virus first through household encounters and social visits that eventually resulted in 35 illnesses, one death and two people admitted to ICU beds.
“Similar stories are playing out across the province,” he said. “These variants are a real enemy of public health and of lives, and tired though we may be, we cannot stop now. We must defeat these variants.”
Latest case numbers
On Tuesday there were 10,809 active cases of COVID-19 in Alberta, a 27 per cent increase in the last week.
The province reported 767 new variant cases and three more deaths, though two of those deaths happened in May and July 2020.
There are currently 328 patients being treated in Alberta hospitals for the illness, including 76 in UCU beds.
The province has worked to expand the capacity of the health-care system to cope with the pandemic, Kenney said, so that hospitals could now accommodate up to 2,400 COVID patients but “at a terrible cost” that would mean cancelling all non-urgent surgeries and many other medical procedures.
“We believe we could accommodate a little over 600 in ICU units,” he said.
“But we believe that based on the current trajectory, if we don’t slow down this curve, that we are set to hit the maximum capacity of our system in mid-May, a great tragedy given that it’s right around mid-May that we’ll begin to achieve effective coverage of vaccines.
“So most importantly, these trends would challenge the health of thousands of Albertans and lead to many, many more preventable deaths, just at the end of this thing.”
Kenney said his job is to make “tough choices” to protect lives and livelihoods.
“The only responsible choice to save lives and protect our health-care system is to take immediate action,” he said. “Alberta will be returning to effectively Step 1 of our four-step ‘path forward’ plan. These measures are designed to buy us time to get enough Albertans vaccinated so we can finally get through this thing.”
If unchecked, the premier said, the third wave would threaten the maximum capacity of the health-care system by May.
With the return to Step 1 restrictions, as of noon Friday, restaurants, pubs, bars, lounges and cafes can open for outdoor patio dining, takeout, curbside pickup and delivery only.
Patio seating must be limited to a maximum of six people per table, and those at the table must be from the same household or two close contacts for people living alone. Liquor service will end at 10 p.m. and patio dining must close by 11 p.m.
All other changes take place as of midnight Tuesday.
Retail stores must reduce from 25 per cent capacity to 15 per cent of fire code.
Team sports and group fitness will not be allowed. Places of worship are required to remain at 15 per cent of capacity.
Adult performance activities are not permitted, including dancing, singing, acting and playing musical instruments. Libraries must also close.
‘Best summer’ in history
“Last Thursday, I said that if we just stick to our guns for a few more weeks we’ll head into what I truly believe will be the best summer in Alberta’s history,” Kenney said. “If we just get through the next few weeks, that remains true.
Some Albertans will disagree with the government’s decision to reimpose restrictions, Kenney said.
“And that includes undoubtedly some people in my own caucus and party. I fully expect to hear some of those opinions in the coming days, and I welcome that. I’ve always welcomed a wide-ranging debate on how best to rise to the challenge of this pandemic. I just ask that the debate be informed by facts.”
The pandemic and responses to it have been a polarizing issue, he said.
“On the one hand we have some people who want what are called hard lockdowns and have wanted those on a long-term basis, others who believe that the threat is massively exaggerated and we should have few or no restrictions. But Alberta’s approach has been to find a sensible, safe, middle ground, a common ground that could unite most Albertans.”
Kenney said his government could not ignore the science or the case numbers.
“As premier, I cannot in good conscience ignore the evidence and opt for a policy that could result in hundreds of preventable deaths, of huge impact to our hospitals being flooded, and other critical health procedures being put at risk.
“I cannot and will not do that. Nobody wants to keep restrictions any longer than is absolutely necessary.”
‘Path back to normalcy’
Kenney announced a new committee of government MLAs will work with Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Alberta Health officials to plan what he called “a path back to normalcy” as soon as safely possible.
“Vaccines, of course, remain our best hope,” he said. “In the coming weeks, we’ll be able to say that almost one-quarter of Albertans have achieved immunity, either by the vaccine or natural immunity through infection.
“By the end of May, that will be almost half of our population, and by the end of June, it will be almost two-thirds with some level of protection. By mid-September, we project, if Albertans take us up on the vaccines, as I hope they will, that almost three-quarters of Albertans will have a good degree of immunity.
“This is the end of the tunnel, it is our path to recovery, it is our path to freedom.”
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said the challenge now is for Albertans to bend down the curve one more time.
“If we can stop this sharp increase we are seeing and break the chains of transmission, as well as continuing to get vaccinated when we are eligible, then we will save lives and get back to normal as quickly as possible,” she said.
“If we do not keep cases low now, then it will take longer for us to see the benefits of the vaccine, and we will be dealing with this pandemic into the summer months, which none of us want to see.
“This has been a challenging pandemic and we have one more hill to climb. I ask all Albertans to do their part and abide by the restrictions in place to avoid another surge of cases that will take months to get back under control.”
More people can queue for vaccines
More Albertans joined the queue for vaccinations Tuesday as provincial health officials grapple with surging cases of COVID-19 and highly contagious variants.
Albertans with eligible underlying health conditions who were born in or before 1973 became eligible to book appointments, either online through AHS or by calling Health Link, starting at 8 a.m.
Eligible people in the 2B group can also book appointments at participating pharmacies. A full list of participating pharmacies can be found on the Alberta Blue Cross website.
As of Tuesday morning, Albertans born between 1957 and 1966 are eligible to book appointments for the AstraZeneca shot.
Eligible Albertans in this phase can choose to wait to receive a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine when Phase 2D fully launches in May.
The online booking tool has been changed to allow up to four eligible family members to book at the same time at the same clinic, Alberta Health Services said in a statement Monday.
Bookings are being opened by birth year. The first eligible people in group 2B began booking appointments last week.
Additional years will be added as more doses arrive. If supplies hold up, the province aims to vaccinate every adult Albertan by the end of June.
Albertans who became eligible on Tuesday include:
Those born in 1956 or before;
First Nations, Métis and Inuit people born in 1971 or before, and;
AMD and Nvidia often look for ways to differentiate themselves from the competition and one of those ways going forward, apparently, will be cryptocurrency mining. Unlike Nvidia, which opted to limit RTX 3060 mining performance before releasing a driver that obviated much of the goal, AMD told us it explicitly won’t be limiting any workload at all.
“The short answer is no,” said Nish Neelalojanan, a gaming product manager at AMD. “We will not be blocking any workload, not just mining.”
Nish went on to explain some specific factors weighing into AMD’s decision, including the fact that the company believes RDNA2 and its Infinity Cache are specifically tuned towards gaming rather than mining or compute workloads. There’s some evidence to support this, inasmuch as the high-end RDNA2 GPUs are not as good at mining as the RTX 3080 or RTX 3090.
But let’s be real about this: Right now, GPU prices are so broken, you can get an extra $ 50 for a houseplant so long as it supports HDMI. Anything that can mine cryptocurrency is being used to mine cryptocurrency, and if AMD’s GPUs can crank out profitable hash rates, no miner is going to care if AMD optimized for the workload. It’s also not clear how much leeway AMD has to block cryptocurrency workloads on Linux, given that AMD’s Linux GPU driver is entirely open source. Nvidia probably has more leeway here.
AMD’s new RTX 6700 XT. Open for business, if you can find one.
I’ve stated in several articles that I think Nvidia is doing the right thing by blocking cryptocurrency workloads. It’s not a position I like taking. The entire point of a PC, as opposed to a console, tablet, or smartphone, is the freedom the end-user has to create, modify, and run applications. It’s extremely difficult to create a programmable graphics processor only to turn around and try to prevent it from running very specific programs. It’s not clear that AMD could prevent mining the way Nvidia tried to do, even if it wanted to.
But if that’s true, it only speaks to how much the cryptocurrency industry is warping computing. When AMD decided to fully open-source its Linux driver, it wasn’t considering the impact that might have on GPU availability down the road. There wasn’t a reason to believe one topic had anything to do with the other.
Even if we assume the cryptocurrency market eventually cools off, this is cold comfort to anyone who wants a GPU. Long-term, we’re looking at a situation in which each new microarchitectural launch has a chance to spark a 9-18 month GPU shortage every 24-36 months. That’s not going to be good for the long-term survival of our hobby. Best-case is a massive buying cycle realignment, but that’s still going to burn everyone whose GPU dies during the 9-18 month period and who can’t find a card at MSRP.
These impacts aren’t theoretical. I’ve heard from a number of readers who are variously delaying purchases, saving additional funds to buy a complete system, or who wound up paying a lot more money than they intended. If they continue long enough, people who can’t afford to game on PC will game on something else or find a different hobby altogether.
I don’t know if there’s a way for Intel, AMD, and Nvidia to build a GPU that continues the industry’s historical trend of improving both game performance and performance per watt while absolutely sucking as a cryptocurrency miner, but the future of the gaming market may belong to the firm that figures out the best answer to this puzzle. At this point, the most optimistic predictions suggest the GPU semiconductor shortage might begin to ease by the end of Q2, with Q3 and Q4 floated as alternatives. No one is suggesting a widespread outage that drags on into Q1 2022 — yet.
If AMD’s reason for not limiting cryptographic mining is philosophical, not technical, I have to say I disagree with the decision under the current circumstances. Six months after Ampere debuted, GPUs of every stripe remain very difficult to find.
Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau says the federal government won’t rule out invoking the federal Emergencies Act to limit travel as parts of the country continue to experience high infection rates of COVID-19.
“We are looking at all potential actions to make sure that we can achieve our aims. The Emergencies Act is something you don’t consider lightly,” Garneau said in a Sunday interview on Rosemary Barton Live. “But we are first and foremost concerned about the health and safety of Canadians. And if we can do that in a way that we have the regulatory power to do it, we will do it.”
The Emergencies Act would give cabinet the power to regulate or prohibit travel “to, from or within any specified area, where necessary for the protection of the health or safety of individuals.”
On Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged Canadians to rethink all travel plans inside and outside Canada’s borders, particularly as March break approaches.
“People should not be planning non-essential travel or vacation travel outside of the country, particularly because, as I said a few days ago, we could be bringing in new measures that significantly impede your ability to return to Canada at any given moment without warning,” Trudeau cautioned.
“Last night I had a long conversation with the premiers about a number of different options that we could possibly exercise to further limit travel and to keep Canadians safe, and we will have more to say on those in the coming days.”
When asked by CBC’s Chief Political Correspondent Rosemary Barton when such plans would be announced, Garneau said the measures are “in very active discussion.”
“I’m not going to predict when or what, but I can tell you that we are very seized with it in our government.”
U.S. moves to strengthen land border measures
The minister also said Canada is looking at implementing COVID-19 testing along the Canada-U.S. land border as the United States moves to strengthen safety measures at land ports of entry.
“It would be easier to do … if we have quick tests that can be done because it’s a little bit more challenging to do testing at the border. But it’s something that we’re looking at very seriously,” Garneau said.
“As quick tests come along, that makes a big difference because there are challenges with respect to … certain land border points being very congested. And meanwhile, there’s a huge amount of traffic flow that has to keep going.”
According to an executive order within the U.S. government’s national pandemic response strategy, top officials have been ordered to “commence diplomatic outreach to the governments of Canada and Mexico regarding public health protocols for land ports of entry.”
Within 14 days of the date of the order, officials must submit a plan to President Joe Biden to put appropriate public health measures in place.
“We will engage in a very serious way with the U.S. administration on how best to deal with land borders,” Garneau said.
The Canada-U.S. border remains closed to non-essential travel until Feb. 21.
Biden open to Canadian input on ‘Buy American’ concerns
Aside from implementing a new approach to tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, an executive order is expected Monday on Biden’s “Buy American” plans, fulfilling his campaign promise to purchase, produce and develop made-in-America goods.
“Obviously, if we see that there can be cases where there is damage done to our trade because of Buy America policy, we will speak up,” Garneau said. “President Biden has indicated that he is open to hearing from us whenever we feel concerned.”
Trudeau has already expressed his disappointment in Biden’s decision to revoke the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, with many now turning to Buy American provisions as another potential obstacle in the bilateral relationship between the two countries.
“Less than an hour after the end of the inauguration ceremony, we were in touch with top-level advisers in the White House and discussed many things,” Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., Kirsten Hillman, told CBC Radio’s The House this week. “Among them was Buy America.”
Garneau also said that he plans to speak with Antony Blinken — Biden’s nominee for secretary of state and Garneau’s U.S. counterpart — very soon.
“I’m really looking forward to talking to Secretary Blinken and carrying on the messages … between our prime minister and the president,” he said.
With vaccinations against COVID-19 now underway, at least one prominent individual has said he won’t jump the queue to procure a dose for himself — the CEO of the giant pharmaceutical company and vaccine manufacturer, Pfizer.
With a limited supply of doses, government officials around the world have prioritized who gets the vaccine first. That means front-line health-care workers, people living and working in long-term care facilities and the elderly are generally first in line.
The initial scarcity of the vaccine has prompted concerns that those with wealth, power and celebrity may be able use their position to cut in line to get a dose. But the tight controls placed on the initial rollout could make queue-jumping challenging, say some experts.
“I don’t see a lot of room for queue-jumping early on, given the adoption of explicit prioritization criteria and the controls in place on who gets immunized,” Dr. David Naylor, co-chair of Canada’s COVID-19 Immunity Task Force, said in an email.
Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease physician and member of the Ontario government’s distribution task force, said that vaccines are purchased in bulk at the national level and then distributed to the provinces for distribution.
“So it is unlikely that there will be opportunities to jump ahead in line,” he said in an email. “Still, I’m sure in a population of close to 38 million there is always the possibility that it could happen, but it will likely be an infrequent event.”
‘Pretty tough to game that system’
In the United States, Dr. Eric Toner, a senior scientist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, said he believes it would still be difficult for the wealthy to get priority access, considering the registration process of getting the vaccine.
“Nothing’s impossible, but it’ll be pretty tough to game that system,” he said. “I suppose one could, and there are ways you could cheat.
“But I don’t think there are a lot of ways for a wealthy person to cheat any more effectively than somebody who wasn’t wealthy.”
The issue of queue-jumping was raised just last week following a report that the National Hockey League was looking into the private purchase of the COVID-19 vaccine.
That professional athletes might be able to receive the vaccine ahead of others sparked a social media backlash and prompted a clarification from the league that it would only consider purchasing any excess doses.
What????? Read the room. Everyone on the planet wants this vaccine. This will not be a good look for the nhl. Health care workers, emergency responders, the vulnerable…. and hockey players?? <a href=”https://t.co/FbtZa3yNbw”>https://t.co/FbtZa3yNbw</a>
Yet the hint that some with access to power might have a quicker path to the vaccine may have led U.S. President Donald Trump to announce a reversal of course after the New York Times reported that his administration was planning to rapidly distribute doses to its staff.
Meanwhile, National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell said on Monday that players and personnel would not be jumping the queue for vaccinations before Super Bowl LV, scheduled for Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla.
Currently, the ability to jump to the front of the line may also be made more challenging by the requirements of storing the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine — it must be kept frozen at between –80 C and –60 C.
“It’s possible that a wealthy organization like the Toronto Maple Leafs or the NHL could do a deal directly with Pfizer and procure the refrigeration units necessary to just store it,” said Dr. Joel Lexchin, an emergency physician and an associate professor of family and community medicine at the University of Toronto.
“For individuals, I don’t think that’s realistic.”
Pfizer says no private sales during pandemic
So far, however, Pfizer has been adamant that during the pandemic, it will not be making private sales.
“Our COVID-19 vaccine contract is only with the federal government, and we’ll be providing doses according to the designated vaccination locations,” Christina Antoniou, a spokesperson for Pfizer Canada, said in an email.
“During the pandemic, [we] are committed to bringing this vaccine to help meet the global public health need and only plan to sell the vaccine to the Government of Canada.”
Ben Osborn, Pfizer’s U.K. manager, made a similar commitment, telling the Financial Times that “there are no plans to supply the private sector for the foreseeable future — no chance at all.”
WATCH | Trudeau says vaccine rollout won’t be affected by private companies’ interests:
Following a report the NHL is interested in purchasing COVID-19 vaccinations for their players, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the media on Friday there is nothing any private company can do to “slow down the delivery of [free] vaccines to Canadians.” 0:56
Still, Lexchin, who co-authoured a piece about jumping the queue in The Conversation, which publishes articles from the academic and research community, said the opportunity to queue-jump could change when more vaccines are approved.
“I think it’s definitely a concern,” said Dr. Monika Dutt, a public health physician based in Sydney, N.S., and a board member of Canadian Doctors for Medicare.
“At any time, if there’s a company willing to sell something and someone willing to buy it, that is a risk.”
Arthur Caplan, a professor of bioethics at New York University, said that certainly in the U.S., the potential that celebrities or persons of wealth might jump the queue to get a vaccine is “very real.”
“It’s definitely the case that there are clinics, hospitals, concierge practices, private companies that can throw money and try to divert some amount of supply either to an individual or to a group,” he said.
He acknowledged that with the supply currently controlled by government, it would make it more difficult to divert vaccines.
“But nonetheless, if you send your supply to Hospital X and CEO is there and somebody calls him up and says, ‘We need to get this,’ that’s where you might see some diversion.”
Caplan said he doesn’t believe queue-jumping would result in a major shift in resources, but even a small degree of diversion undermines trust and support for the rules.
Essential worker debate
However, Toner, of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said what will likely be a bigger issue is the debate over who should be declared an essential worker in order to move ahead in line to get a shot.
“I’m already seeing lots of it here, that everybody, every group that has a national association, that national association is advocating for them to be a priority group.”
Naylor, of Canada’s immunity task force, suggested there could be some “gaming later on,” when the priority groups are larger and the delivery is highly decentralized.
“At that point, I doubt it will be only the wealthy and powerful.”
Public health officials are urging Canadians to dramatically limit their contacts with other people as the country continues on a “rapid growth trajectory” for COVID-19 cases and the holiday season begins.
This week’s approval of a COVID-19 vaccine has led to a groundswell of public optimism — but public health officials are warning the pandemic is a long way from over. Releasing new modelling from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) today, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said that if Canadians maintain their current contact levels, more than 12,000 new cases will be recorded daily by January.
If people increase their level of contacts, however, that number could surge to more than 30,000 cases daily by January, according to the modelling sheets.
PHAC modelling suggests combined efforts are “urgently needed” to bend the curve as outbreaks continue in long-term care facilities and First Nation communities, putting a strain on hospitals and regional health care systems.
Tam told a media briefing in Ottawa that only one per cent of Canadians have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, which means most Canadians remain vulnerable to infection.
3 weeks, 100K new cases
About 100,000 new cases have been reported across the country in just the last three weeks, with growth being driven primarily by the six provinces west of the Atlantic region. In recent weeks, each of these provinces has recorded its highest daily case count, and several also have seen their highest daily number of deaths to date.
“We have yet to see the kind of sustained decline in daily case counts that would indicate we are bringing the pandemic under control,” Tam said.
WATCH / Dr. Tam on impact of COVID-19 on health system
Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Tam, updates reporters with the rising number of COVID 19 cases in regions across the country and reveals modeling projections. 0:50
Health Minister Patty Hajdu said Canada is entering a tricky season, when people traditionally take a break from work to spend time with family. Despite the positive news on the vaccine front, she urged Canadians to be vigilant in practising public health guidelines because a “very clear danger” remains.
“We’re going to have to be very, very cautious over the next several weeks to protect those people who are counting on us to work together,” she said.
Hajdu urges collaboration
Asked if the government should impose more restrictive measures to stem the disastrous rise in cases, Hajdu said the best approach is for the federal government to collaborate with the provinces.
“Yes, it is a tragedy, I completely agree with you, that cases are rising,” she said. “They are rising globally. There are very few countries that are not seeing growth right now. But I will tell you this — I believe it’s that effort of partnership, that we-will-do-whatever-it-takes attitude, that will get our country through this.”
Short-term projections suggest there could be up to 577,000 cases and 14,920 deaths by Dec. 25.
As of Friday morning, Canadian public health officials were reporting a total of 443,922 cases and 13,154 deaths.
Today’s projections are particularly grim for First Nations, where the number of active cases has doubled in the last month. The current number of active cases is more than 20 times higher than the peak number during the first wave of the pandemic for First Nations on reserve.
This is a column by Morgan Campbell, who writes opinion for CBC Sports. For more information about CBC’s Opinion section, please see the FAQ.
Let’s start with two observations we can now consider truth about sports in the COVID-19 era.
First, half-measures don’t work. If you’re not screening participants daily, then quarantining them from the outside world, the way the NHL and NBA did with their respective bubbles, and the way big-time fight promoters have in Las Vegas and Abu Dhabi, you’re leaving openings the virus can, and will, exploit. That’s why COVID-19 didn’t permeate the NBA’s secure campus in Orlando, and why the virus forced the cancellation or postponement of more than a dozen NCAA football games last weekend alone.
Second, the sports world won’t return to whatever normal is going to be until a safe, effective vaccine reaches a broad cross-section of the population. Teams need to sell tickets to boost revenues, but you can’t build an NBA-style bubble around a sold-out stadium. If you want a standing-room-only crowd and the kind of full-throated cheering that accompanies high-stakes games, you have to be sure spectators who arrive healthy won’t leave with a potentially deadly virus.
That’s why recent news from big pharma should have sports fans excited in North America and beyond.
Late last week, drug maker Pfizer announced early data indicated that their COVID-19 vaccine was 90 per cent effective. On Monday, Moderna issued a news release saying their new vaccine prevented COVID-19 in 94.5 per cent of participants in a preliminary trial. News like that could make you envision a return to everything we’ve missed since the COVID-19 pandemic upended the sports industry last winter – full schedules, packed stadiums, in-person meet-and-greets with your favourite athletes.
But a pair of news releases from drug firms competing for market share aren’t enough to bring pro sports back to normal. And if you think we’re all just a needle away from packing Jurassic Park to watch the Raptors in the NBA playoffs, you should temper your optimism with patience.
Sports fandom should, after all, teach us the pitfalls of extrapolating from limited data. If my favourite baseball player goes 3-for-4 on Opening Day, I know better than to think he’ll hit .750 for the season.
WATCH | Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine tests show promising results:
A COVID-19 vaccine from biotech company Moderna has shown promising early results, appearing to be 94.5 per cent effective, and the company says that it may apply for emergency use in the U.S. within weeks. 3:24
Experts better-positioned than I am will tell you that the early reports, while encouraging, don’t give definitive answers on how these two vaccines will stand up to further trials, or, assuming they’re broadly effective, how to store and distribute the drugs for maximum impact.
But if everything unfolds the way we hope, with regulatory approval pending and broader availability a few months into 2021, we might see something resembling a normal Olympic Games in Tokyo next summer. International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach certainly sees the promise in soon-to-hit-the-market COVID-19 vaccines, and says immunization will likely become a requirement for athletes and spectators in Tokyo next July.
“In order to protect the Japanese people and out of respect for the Japanese people, the IOC will undertake great effort so that as many [people] as possible — Olympic participants and visitors — will arrive here [with a] vaccine if by then a vaccine is available,” Bach told reporters in Japan this week. “This makes us all very confident that we can have spectators in the Olympics stadium.”
But in the country that also leads the world in COVID-19 cases (11.3 million by Tuesday afternoon), and where more than a quarter million residents have already died of the disease, addressing the pandemic often has more to do with politics and ideology than public health.
Undermining severity of COVID-19
If we drew a Venn diagram charting people who don’t believe in vaccines and people who think face coverings rob citizens of their freedom, we might not need a second circle. And if we counted the ways lame-duck President Donald Trump and his political allies helped spread COVID-19, we’d run out of fingers and toes.
In the pandemic’s opening stages, Trump’s administration bid against individual states for personal protective equipment, raising prices and lowering supplies of gear sorely needed to keep frontline medical staff safe.
In October, a COVID-positive Trump may have exposed Secret Service members to the virus when he had them drive him around Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to wave at supporters who had gathered there.
And in September he lent his heft to a campaign to force the Big Ten conference to reverse its decision to postpone fall sports like football. When the league finally decided to play football this fall, Trump tried to take credit for the decision, hoping it would help him win battleground states like Wisconsin and Michigan.
Trump failed to win Michigan or Wisconsin in this month’s election, but the virus succeeded in infiltrating football programs across Big Ten country. Before the Wisconsin Badgers smashed the Michigan Wolverines 49-11 last Saturday, the team endured a rash of positive tests and a two-week shutdown. Last month, the Wolverines kept practising even as a surge in COVID cases locally prompted a stay-at-home order for students on campus. And an outbreak among Maryland’s football team forced them to cancel a game against Ohio State.
Wrestling COVID-19 into submission seems the most effective way to return to sold-out stadiums, and to protect the athletes those fans pay to see. But reaching that point, whether for mainstream American sports or the Olympics, means surviving two more months with an administration determined not to attack the problem.
Until then, some sports outfits will move forward with compromises aimed at limiting the risk. The NCAA has announced plans to hold the entire basketball tournament known as March Madness in Indianapolis, instead of spreading its 67 games among far-flung host cities.
But other operators are treating COVID-19 as a nuisance, and not a threat to public health. When the pandemic wiped out the Battle 4 Atlantis, an annual season-opening college basketball tournament in the Bahamas, the event relocated to South Dakota, the U.S. pandemic’s current epicentre, where more than 58 per cent of COVID-19 tests come back positive. Organizers are selling tickets, even though as of Nov. 16 the state’s seven-day rolling average of new cases was 1,424, in a population of less than 885,000. If Ontario logged new COVID-19 cases at that rate, we’d see more than 23,000 a day.
Ontario reported another 583 cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, while the number of resolved infections outpaced new daily cases for the first time in months.
Some 707 cases were marked resolved in today’s update, according to Minister of Health Christine Elliott. The seven-day average of new daily cases, however, remains at more than 600.
The newly confirmed cases were once again mainly concentrated in just four public health units:
York Region: 75
Peel Region: 70
Other areas with double-digit increases include:
Simcoe Muskoka: 23
Waterloo Region: 17
Halton Region: 15
Durham Region: 12
About 60 per cent of new cases are people under 40 years old, Elliott added, including 69 students. Another 15 are school staff.
At a news conference Wednesday afternoon, Premier Doug Ford told Ontarians that they should only spend the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday with people in their own household.
People who live alone may pair up with one other household, Ford said.
“I know it’s tough on everyone,” he said. “We’re all going to make sacrifices to stop the spread of COVID-19.”
However, Toronto Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa said at her own press conference Wednesday that Torontonians should “spend Thanksgiving this year with just the people you live with.” People who live alone should connect virtually, she said.
The province’s press conference took place at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, where Ford announced the province would be spending $ 176 million to mental health services.
This would go toward fixing the province’s “fragmented” mental health system, as well as expand existing programs, Ford said.
The number of people in Ontario hospitals with confirmed cases of COVID-19 continued its steady rise and now sits at 195, three more than yesterday. Forty-three of those patients are being treated in intensive care, while 28 are on ventilators. Both figures increased by two since the province’s last report.
The number of outbreaks in the province’s long-term care homes is also slowly but steadily increasing, with active cases in 53 facilities. Some 154 new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in residents yesterday.
Testing backlog still over 55,000
Meanwhile, the province’s network of labs processed more than 43,000 test samples for the novel coronavirus yesterday. Another 55,413 are in the backlog waiting to be completed.
Ontario recently announced it would end testing for asymptomatic people at its 153 COVID-19 assessment centres, instead moving to an appointment-only model for those with symptoms of the disease. The decision was made, in part, to help labs clear the backlog of test samples, which at its highest grew to more than 92,000.
Ontario has now seen a total of 55,945 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the outbreak began in late January. Of those, about 85 per cent are considered resolved.
There are currently 5,344 confirmed, active cases of the illness provincewide, with about 74 per cent in the Greater Toronto Area.
Ford also spoke Wednesday about his assertion that “only a few bad actors” in the restaurant and bar sector are contributing to outbreaks in those industries. The premier was specifically asked if he had seen data to back up that statement.
“Myself, I have not seen it personally. But I will sit down and ask to see it,” Ford said.
The premier again said he is reluctant to shut down those industries, even in hotspots like Toronto and Ottawa.
“We can’t paint them all with a broad brush, and we can’t just shut down people’s livelihoods with a broad brush,” Ford said.
Province to explore making takeout booze permanent
The provincial government says it wants to explore options to permanently allow licensed restaurants and bars to sell alcohol with orders of takeout and delivery food, which they are currently allowed to do under Ontario’s COVID-19 emergency measures.
The change is set to be included in new legislation that the government says it plans to introduce to help small businesses survive the economic fallout precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The legislation would also allow for 24/7 deliveries to some businesses, such as retailers, restaurants and distribution centres.
The province is also offering small businesses with two to nine employees in the retail, food and accommodations sectors a one-time grant of $ 1,000 to purchase personal protective equipment.
As global reported coronavirus case numbers pass one million — including 12,549 known cases in Canada — governments are scrambling to secure critical supplies, implement tough public health measures and deal with growing job losses.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with the country’s premiers on Thursday about a range of issues, including the shortage of protective gear for health-care workers, an issue that emerged again Friday amid concern over whether Canada was getting the equipment it needs from abroad, including from the United States.
Asked about the U.S. blocking shipments of 3M’s N95 masks to Canada, Justin Trudeau says it would be a ‘mistake’ for either country to limit trade access. He says Canada is working closely with the U.S. and will be following up about equipment shipping ‘concerns.’
Speaking outside Rideau Cottage on Friday, Trudeau said his government is “confident” Canada will receive the necessary equipment. He said the government would do everything it can to ensure no part of Canada goes without the supplies it needs during the pandemic.
Trudeau said his government has been working “very closely” with the Americans to make clear that essential supplies, products and services flow both ways between Canada and the United States every day, highlighting the example of nurses from Windsor, Ont., who travel to Detroit to work.
“These are things that Americans rely on and it would be a mistake to create blockages or reduce the amount of back-and-forth trade of essential goods and services, including medical goods, across our border.”
WATCH | Trudeau talks about controversy around cross-border flow of critical supplies:
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reacts to the news that the Trump administration has ordered a major manufacturer 3M to stop exporting N95 masks to Canada. 1:43
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said Friday that the Canadian-American relationship is very important. She said during a pandemic, “all relationships” face challenges and the cross-border one is no exception.
Canada continues to work with 3M and its U.S. partners, Freeland said, adding that the government is working with a range of suppliers around the world.
“We are totally seized of this issue,” Freeland said when asked about the need to get medical workers critical supplies.
WATCH | Freeland reacts to Trump administration’s 3M order:
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland says the government will “pull out all the stops” in response to the Trump administration’s decision to order 3M to stop exporting N95 masks to Canada. 3:03
When asked about the U.S. blocking medical exports, Freeland said the Canadian government is prepared to do “whatever it takes” to defend the national interest.
The prime minister said the government has signed a deal with Amazon Canada to use its distribution network to send medical supplies to meet provincial needs.
Ontario releases coronavirus projections
Faced with rising case numbers and tighter restrictions, there have been some calls for more information from governments about what is expected and what information is driving decisions.
Trudeau has said that such national modelling is coming “soon,” but that the federal government requires more data from provincial and territorial governments — a subject he discussed with premiers during his more than two-hour first ministers’ conference call.
WATCH | Public Health Ontario head projects between 3,000 and 15,000 deaths over pandemic’s full course:
The best case scenario for the number of COVID-19 related deaths in Ontario is 3,000-15,000 over the full course of the pandemic, says Dr. Peter Donnelly, the CEO of Public Health Ontario. 2:56
The modelling projects the coronavirus crisis could last 18 months to two years and kill 3,000 to 15,000 people, even with public health measures in place.
“Had we done nothing, Ontario may have suffered 100,000 deaths,” said Public Health Ontario CEO Peter Donnelly, referencing the province’s physical distancing and other measures. “Thankfully, that is not the position we are in.”
Donnelly said he understands these figures may seem “scary, intimidating” and to many, “unlikely.”
But, he said, every year about 1,350 people die from normal seasonal flu. In a bad year, 1,500 people die.
“When you think that the mortality of this disease is up to 10 times higher, and you remember we have no vaccine, and we have no specific treatment … then suddenly the figure of 15,000 becomes entirely logical and comprehensible.”
Everyone has paid a price: Ford
On Friday, Ford implored Ontarians to do their part to help ease the burden on the province’s hospitals and announced more shutdowns — including some construction projects. Given the projections released today, it was the right thing to do, he said.
“Everyone has had to pay a price in this war,” he said. “Daily life has ground to a halt.”
Speaking ahead of the release of the Ontario figures, Trudeau said again that “how we get through this depends on you,” and that Canadians are “looking to do the right thing.” Trudeau has reiterated daily the need to practise physical distancing, stay at home whenever possible and practise proper hand hygiene.
Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said people should remember that these figures are not real data but projections for planning purposes.
When asked about the death toll projections from Ontario, Tam said that it’s important to look at the evolution and growth rate of the outbreak as it is actually happening in an area, as well as the projections.
She encouraged people to focus on the “here and now” and do everything they can to flatten the curve.
The prime minister also announced $ 100 million on Friday to meet the “urgent” needs of food banks, and said that an increase in the Canada child benefit that was scheduled for May will be sent out a month earlier. The government will also be delivering additional aid to low-income people through the GST credit sooner than expected.
Trudeau also said Friday that the Canadian Armed Forces will assist in northern Quebec to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in isolated communities, at the provincial government’s request. The Rangers, which are part of the Canadian Armed Forces Reserve and provide a Canadian Armed Forces presence in northern and isolated communities, will help set up tents and other medical equipment, as required by the communities.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But for others, especially older adults and people with health problems, it can cause severe symptoms like pneumonia. The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) says the situation is evolving daily but that the risk to Canadians from COVID-19 is “considered high.”
Here’s a look at what’s happening in Canada, the U.S. and around the world Friday.
Here’s a look at what’s happening in the provinces and territories
As of 8:45 p.m. ET Friday, Canada had 12,549 confirmed and presumptive cases, with 219 deaths. The provinces and territories that list information about recovered cases have reported 2,296 cases as resolved or recovered. There have also been two reported COVID-19-related deaths of Canadians abroad — one in Japan and one in Brazil.
Public health officials caution that reported case numbers don’t provide a complete picture of the scale of the outbreak as that data doesn’t capture people who haven’t been tested and cases that are still under investigation. Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, has urged people nationwide to practise physical distancing and behave as though there is COVID-19 in their community, even if there is no known case.
BC Ferries announced that service reductions will go into effect beginning Saturday on major ferry routes for 60 days, including the Horseshoe Bay-Departure Bay route between West Vancouver and Nanaimo, B.C.
Alberta has declared coronavirus outbreaks at nine seniors’ facilities. Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said there are now 74 confirmed COVID-19 cases in continuing-care facilities “and I expect that more will be confirmed in the coming days.” The province reported five more people have died. That brings the death toll to 18, and the total number of cases to 1,075. Read more about what’s happening in Alberta.
WATCH | COVID-19: Are we doing a 180 on whether masks are beneficial?
Doctors answer your questions about the coronavirus, including whether or not the advice on masks has changed. 3:03
Ontario reported 462 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday. The province now has a total of 3,255 reported cases, of which 1,023 are listed as resolved. The province’s case tally puts the COVID-19 death toll at 67. But based on our own reporting and after gathering data from local public health units, CBC News has counted 97 deaths in the province.
Quebec’s premier said health-care workers who are in contact with COVID-19 cases will get an increase in pay. “I don’t think there is a group that has ever been more deserving of a pay raise,” said Premier François Legault, who also announced a smaller raise for health workers not in direct contact with the virus, as well as a raise for workers in long-term care facilities. Read more about what’s happening across Quebec, and get the details of the planned pay hikes.
“If we ramped it up we could be within like a week of running out of test supplies,” said New Brunswick Premier <a href=”https://twitter.com/BlaineHiggs?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@BlaineHiggs</a>. He said the province is about 3-4 weeks away from running out of protective equipment — but they have orders pending that they hope will arrive. <a href=”https://t.co/Q91i0RWQOm”>pic.twitter.com/Q91i0RWQOm</a>
From Reuters and The Associated Press, updated at 6:15 p.m. ET
The American Medical Association (AMA) is urging all U.S. governors to impose stay-at-home orders to fight the spread of COVID-19.
“It is vital that states keep residents at home to avoid overwhelming our health-care systems and depleting the equipment, resources and manpower needed to care for the influx of critically ill patients,” the AMA said in a letter to the governors signed by the group’s CEO, Dr. James Madara.
The AMA also wants governors to enact emergency orders to close non-essential businesses, limit non-essential activities and prohibit gatherings.
Physical distancing is the only effective mechanism to stop the spread of the virus, the group said.
Meanwhile, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Friday that the state had recorded its highest single-day increase in deaths and hospitalizations due to COVID-19. The death toll climbed to 2,935, an increase of 562 people, while 1,427 new hospitalizations pushed that overall total to nearly 15,000 statewide.
Cuomo has warned that New York could run out of breathing machines in less than a week. He has consistently expressed concern that states are competing against each other for protective gear and breathing machines with private suppliers, or are being outbid by the federal government.
“People are going to die in the near term because they walk into a hospital and there are no ventilators,” he said on Friday.
WATCH | Trump says CDC advising the use of cloth face covering but it’s voluntary:
U.S. president lists face mask recommendations from the CDC today, but stresses they are voluntary. 2:17
The latest guidance suggests that Americans use makeshift coverings, such as T-shirts, scarves or bandanas to cover their noses and mouths. Medical-grade masks, especially N95 masks, are to be reserved for those on the front lines of trying to contain the pandemic.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease official, said Friday physical distancing is still the best practice where possible to mitigate the spread of coronavirus. The mayor of Los Angeles has already recommended its citizens there wear masks or cover their faces when out in public.
Here’s a look at what’s happening in hard-hit Italy, Spain and parts of Europe
From The Associated Press and Reuters, updated at 5:30 p.m. ET
Europe’s three worst-hit countries — Italy, Spain and France — surpassed 30,000 dead, or over half of the global toll.
Spain is closing Friday a black week, with its death toll for the new coronavirus nearing 11,000. More than half of those occurred during the past seven days. There are also more infections than any other country in Europe.
The bottleneck in Spanish labs conducting the tests has led to relatively low levels of testing in Spain compared to other European countries, authorities have acknowledged.
But even with statistics that are believed to be conservative in showing the extent of the epidemic, Spain on Friday neared 118,000 cases, second only to the United States. Official Health Ministry data showed that 7,472 of those infections had been in the past 24 hours. Spain also registered 932 new deaths, 18 less than its daily record of 950 the day before.
In Italy’s hard-hit Lombardy region, hospitals are beginning to lighten up a little, says the region’s health commissioner. Giulio Gallera says that the number of arrivals at Lombardy’s emergency rooms and hospital admissions were decreasing. He attributes the encouraging numbers to citizens heeding the strict rules of a national stay-at-home decree and even tighter regional rules, but is urging people to continue following the rules.
The head of Germany’s disease control agency says the number of people who die of COVID-19 is likely being undercounted. Lothar Wieler of the Robert Koch Institute said Friday that he believes “we have more dead than are officially being reported.”
It wasn’t immediately clear whether Wieler was suggesting that deaths are being undercounted only in Germany, or worldwide, and reporters were unable to ask follow-up questions during his online news conference. Germany’s low death rate from coronavirus has drawn international attention. Experts say the difference compared to other countries is partly due to mass testing and well-equipped hospitals, but they caution that the number of deaths is likely to rise.
The United Kingdom’s death toll from the coronavirus rose by 684 to 3,605 as of Thursday afternoon, up 23 per cent from the previous day. A total of 173,784 people have been tested, with 38,688 testing positive as of Friday. A new hospital was opened in London on Friday, erected to provide thousands of extra beds for patients with the coronavirus and built in just nine days. The Nightingale Hospital, which will initially provide up to 500 beds equipped with ventilators and oxygen, will eventually be able to treat about 4,000 patients.
With help from the military, it is the first of six new temporary hospitals to be set up across the country to cope with the outbreak. Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Twitter on Friday he was remaining in isolation with mild symptoms of the coronavirus, including a high temperature. Buckingham Palace said Queen Elizabeth will give an address about the coronavirus on Sunday at 8 p.m. local time.
France’s death count has jumped to more than 6,500 — up by more than 1,000 — as authorities are now including victims in homes for the aged. The chief of the country’s national health agency, Jérôme Salomon, says reports from 3,000 establishments for the aged — still far from the total — show 1,416 residents died in the facilities from COVID-19.
The rising figures were announced as 160,000 police officers were deployed to ensure France’s strict confinement measures are respected at what normally would be the start of spring vacation.
Greece has quarantined a migrant camp after 20 asylum seekers tested positive, the country’s first such facility hit since the outbreak. Police in Greece say they have issued 17,358 fines for people breaking the new restrictions on leaving home since a lockdown began on March 23.
The Netherlands is not in a full lockdown, but bars, restaurants, museums, schools and universities are closed and the government is urging people to stay home and practise social distancing. Amsterdam is banning boats from its central canals beginning Sunday as authorities fear warm spring weather will lead to overcrowding on the famed waterways. The country’s public health institute on Friday reported 148 new deaths in the outbreak, bringing the Dutch death toll to 1,487.
Here’s a look at China, South Korea and some other areas of concern around the world
From The Associated Press and Reuters, updated at 5:45 a.m. ET
The South Korean capital of Seoul says it will ask more than 8,500 theatregoers to self-monitor at home after Canadian and American cast members of The Phantom of the Opera were found to have the coronavirus.
Seoul City official Na Baek-ju said Friday the musical’s international tour was halted following the positive test of an unidentified Canadian actress, who began experiencing throat pain and dry coughs days after she began performing at the city’s Blue Square theatre on March 14. She last appeared on stage on Monday, a day before her test.
Officials have since tested 138 of her contacts, including colleagues and guests at the downtown Somerset Palace hotel, and confirmed the infection of an American actor on Thursday. Na said officials were still awaiting test results for 48 people while the other 89 tested negative. He said the hotel was ordered to prevent guests from leaving the property and stop taking new customers.
South Korea earlier on Friday reported 86 new cases of the coronavirus, bringing its nationwide total to 10,062.
WATCH | Debunking COVID-19 myths about lemons, masks and holding your breath:
China on Friday reported 31 new confirmed virus cases, 29 of them from overseas, and four new deaths. China now has recorded a total of 81,620 cases and 3,322 deaths, although those figures are generally considered too low because of a lack of testing and a reluctance to report the scale of the original outbreak.
More than 3,000 health-care workers contracted COVID-19 and the government says 14 died of the disease. Among them was Dr. Li Wenliang, who was threatened with punishment by police after publicizing news of the outbreak but has since been listed among the national “martyrs.” His family was issued a “solemn apology” and two police officers were issued “disciplinary punishments” for their handling of the matter.
Singapore will close schools and most workplaces for a month as it moves to curb the increase of COVID-19 transmissions in the country. Most workplaces, except for essential services and key economic sectors, will be closed from next Tuesday, and schools will be closed from Wednesday. Essential services such as food establishments, markets and supermarkets, clinics, hospitals, utilities, transport and banking services will remain open.
“Looking at the trend, I am worried that unless we take further steps, things will gradually get worse, or another big cluster may push things over the edge,” said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Lee urged residents to stay home and only leave to buy essential items.
The country has seen a spike in COVID-19 cases over the last two weeks, and has routinely reported more than 50 new cases daily. As of Thursday, Singapore had 1,049 cases and five deaths. Singapore has also reversed its recommendations that people should wear masks only if they are feeling unwell.
“We will no longer discourage people from masks. Wearing a mask may help to protect others in case you have the virus but don’t know it,” said Lee, adding that the government will distribute reusable masks to all households as of Sunday.
Indonesia’s coronavirus death toll rose to 170, passing South Korea as the country with the highest number of recorded fatalities in Asia after China.
More than half of Africa’s 54 countries have closed their land, air and sea borders, while fears rise that the coronavirus-related restrictions are delaying access to critical aid. Humanitarian organizations are now in the extraordinary situation of negotiating humanitarian corridors in peaceful regions. And in Kenya, travel restrictions have delayed the delivery of pesticides needed to fight the most devastating locust outbreak some East African countries have seen in 70 years. A World Food Program official says lockdowns and other restrictions “may affect us very, very much” on a continent where millions of poor people must now stay at home.
India will pull out of a three-week lockdown in phases, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said as officials battle to contain the country’s biggest cluster of infections in New Delhi.
Cuban officials say a shipment of coronavirus aid has been blocked by the six-decade U.S. embargo on the island.
Cuba was one of 24 countries in the region meant to receive the donations announced March 21 by a foundation started by China’s richest person, Jack Ma, but officials say the cargo carrier of Colombia-based Avianca Airlines declined to fly the aid to Cuba because its major shareholder is a U.S.-based company subject to the trade embargo on Cuba.
The embargo has exceptions for food and medical aid, but companies are often afraid to carry out related financing or transportation due to the risk of fines or prosecution.
Human-rights groups have been calling for the U.S. to lift sanctions on Venezuela, Cuba and Iran during the pandemic in order to permit the flow of more aid. The Trump administration has argued only the countries’ governments would benefit from the sanctions relief.
The Middle East has confirmed over 85,000 cases of the virus and over 3,700 deaths, most of them in Iran. Iran state TV reported Friday the virus killed another 134 people, pushing the country’s death toll to nearly 3,300 amid more than 53,000 confirmed cases. Iran’s parliament speaker is among those who have contracted the disease.
Pakistan, with 2,450 confirmed cases and 35 deaths, has been sharply criticized for moving too slow to curb large gatherings, including a gathering of tens of thousands of Muslims from several Islamic countries in March. A gathering of Tableeghi Jamaat missionaries in India is blamed for several outbreaks of the new virus elsewhere in the world. The first confirmed cases that emerged in Gaza were traced to the gathering.
Turkey is preparing to treat COVID-19 patients with blood donated from people who have survived the disease. Kerem Kinik, the head of the Turkish Red Crescent organization, late Thursday called on “heroes who have come out victorious from the ‘Corona War”‘ to donate blood for the treatment, which uses plasma from people who have recovered to help seriously ill patients. Meanwhile, the Health Ministry sent a circular to the country’s 81 provinces setting out guidelines for the volunteer blood plasma donations, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported.
Australian officials closed internal borders on Friday and warned people to stay home over the upcoming Easter holiday as the country seeks to capitalize on a further fall in the rate of new coronavirus cases.
WATCH | How Canadian cities are enforcing physical distancing:
As more jurisdictions in the country adopt new rules against gatherings to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Canadian law enforcement is tasked with enforcing them. 1:52
The coronvarius took aim at a broadening swath of the globe Monday, with officials in Europe and the Middle East scrambling to limit the spread of an outbreak that showed signs of stabilizing at its Chinese epicentre but posed new threats far beyond.
In Italy, authorities set up roadblocks, called off soccer matches and shuttered sites including the famed La Scala opera house. In Iran, the government said 12 people had died nationwide, while five neighbouring countries — Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and Afghanistan — reported their first cases of the virus, with all those infected having links to Iran.
Across the world, stock markets and futures tumbled on fears of a global economic slowdown due to the expanding spread of the virus. The Dow Jones Industrial Average sank more than 1,000 points, its biggest decline in two years.
The number of people sickened by COVID-19 topped 79,000 globally, and wherever it sprung up, officials rushed to try to contain it.
“The past few weeks has demonstrated just how quickly a new virus can spread around the world and cause widespread fear and disruption,” said the head of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
“Does this virus have pandemic potential? Absolutely, yes,” Tedros said, but “for the moment we’re not witnessing the uncontained global spread of this virus.”
“I have spoken consistently about the need for facts not fear. Using the word ‘pandemic’ now does not fit the facts but it may certainly cause fear,” Tedros said, speaking in Geneva.
He said a WHO expert team currently in China believes the virus plateaued there between Jan. 23 and Feb. 2 and has declined since. The team also said the fatality rate in China was between two and four per cent in Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak, and 0.7 per cent outside of Wuhan.
Clusters of the virus continued to emerge outside China, including in Qom, an Iranian city where the country’s semiofficial ILNA news agency cited a lawmaker as reporting a staggering 50 people had died of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. The country’s Health Ministry rejected that, insisting the death toll remained at 12, with total infections numbering 61.
The conflicting reports raised questions about the Iranian government’s transparency concerning the scale of the outbreak. But even with the lower toll of 12, the number of deaths compared to the number of confirmed infections from the virus is higher in Iran than in any other country, including China and South Korea, where the outbreak is far more widespread.
Asked about the spike in cases in Iran, WHO’s emergencies program director, Michael Ryan, cautioned that in the first wave of infections reported from a country, only the deaths may be being picked up and therefore be over-represented. “The virus may have been there for longer than we had previously suspected,” he said.
Ryan said a WHO team would be arriving in Iran on Tuesday and in Italy on Monday.
“What we don’t understand yet in COVID-19 are the absolute transmission dynamics,” Ryan said, noting that in China there’s been a significant drop in cases. “That goes against the logic of pandemic.”
Authorities in Iran closed schools across much of the country for a second day Monday. Movie theatres and other venues were shuttered through at least Friday, and daily sanitizing of public buses and the Tehran metro, which is used by some three million people, was begun.
Recognition grew that the virus was no longer stemming only from contact with infected people in China.
“Many different countries around the world may be sources of COVID-19 infections,” said Mark Woolhouse, a professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh. “This makes it much harder for any one country to detect and contain.”
China still has the vast majority of cases, but as it records lower levels of new infections, attention has shifted to new fronts in the outbreak. Chief among them is South Korea, where President Moon Jae-in placed the country under a red alert, the highest level, allowing for “unprecedented, powerful steps” to stem the crisis.
Beyond expanding a delay to the start of the school year from the hardest-hit area of Daegu nationwide, though, it remains to be seen how far the government will go. A Chinese-style lockdown of Daegu — a city of 2.5 million people that is the country’s fourth largest — appeared unlikely, even as signs of the response to a broadening problem could be seen nearly everywhere in the nation.
More than 600 police officers in Daegu fanned out in search of hundreds of members of a church that has been identified as a source for hundreds of infections. The country’s National Assembly was temporarily closed Monday as workers sterilized its halls. At shops and food stalls in the capital of Seoul, a misty fog surrounded crews in protective suits who sprayed disinfectants.
“The changes have been dramatic,” said Daegu resident Nah Young-jo, who described an increasingly empty city of few passersby and closed restaurants.
South Korean officials recommended that courts consider postponing trials of cases not deemed urgent, while Mayor Park Won-soon of Seoul threatened tough penalties for those who defy a ban on rallies in major downtown areas. Work schedules for city employees in Seoul were staggered to reduce crowding on subways, where packed cars could become petri dishes if an infected passenger were aboard.
“If we fail to effectively prevent the spread of the virus into the local communities, there would be a large possibility [that the illness] spreads nationwide,” warned Kim Gang-lip, South Korea’s vice-minister of health.
Health workers said they planned to test every citizen in Daegu who showed cold-like symptoms, estimating around 28,000 people would be targeted.
In Italy, where 229 people have tested positive for the virus and seven have died, police manned checkpoints around a dozen quarantined northern towns as worries grew across the continent.
Austria temporarily halted rail traffic across its border with Italy. Slovenia and Croatia, popular getaways for Italians, were holding crisis meetings. Schools were closed, theatre performances were cancelled and even Carnival celebrations in Venice were called off.
It was a sign of how quickly circumstances could change in the widening COVID-19 scare. Italy had imposed more stringent measures than other European countries after the outbreak began, barring flights beginning Jan. 31 to and from China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau.
Until last week, Italy had reported just three cases of infection.
“These rapid developments over the weekend have shown how quickly this situation can change,” the health commissioner for the European Union, Stella Kyriakides, said in Brussels. “We need to take this situation of course very seriously, but we must not give in to panic, and, even more importantly, to disinformation.”
Mainland China reported 508 new cases of the illness on Tuesday, raising its total to 77,658. It also announced 71 new deaths for a total of 2,663.
Dr. Bruce Aylward, a Canadian expert who was part of the initial team deployed to China, is scheduled to provide more detail about the team’s finding during a news conference Tuesday.
WATCH: Infectious disease expert talks about efforts to contain coronavirus
Infectious disease expert Dr. Peter Daszak says coronavirus is ‘more or less’ a pandemic right now. 9:30
The future of driving is not driving; at least that’s what companies like Tesla think. Elon Musk’s electric car company has focused on aggressively deploying self-driving technology in its cars, but as we’ve seen before, Autopilot isn’t perfect. A team of security researchers from McAfee has managed to trick Tesla vehicles into speeding up by 50 miles per hour with a little bit of electrical tape.
With Autopilot, Tesla vehicles can stay in a lane, change lanes, and adjust its speed. With the “enhanced” Autopilot mode, vehicles can dynamically move through traffic and (eventually) navigate surface streets to handle the entire driving experience. Teslas can even read speed limit signs using technology from Intel subsidiary Mobileye. It turns out this system is very easy to fool.
The Mobileye EyeQ3 camera detects speed limit signs, reads the number, and passes that data off to the Autopilot. The team used a 35 MPH sign for testing. As expected, the car has no trouble detecting that and sticking to the speed limit. However, a few strips of tape to extend the middle line on the three (see above) changed how the system recognized the characters. Suddenly, the car thought the speed limit was 85 miles per hour, a decidedly unsafe speed on any road marked as 35 MPH.
The researchers tested this hack first with a 2016 Tesla Model X. The vehicle set the cruise control to 85 MPH as soon as it saw the sign. As you can see in the video below, the driver put on the brakes around 50 MPH for safety reasons. Of course, they knew the car was going to do this. A driver faced with a modified speed limit sign might not know anything was wrong until the car was moving at a dangerous speed. The team confirmed this was not a problem with the specific Model X by testing again with a Model S.
McAfee disclosed its research to both Tesla and Mobileye last year, but neither company seemed overly concerned. Mobileye notes that even a human driver might be fooled by the modified sign. Tesla has stopped using Mobileye cameras on its newest cars, but it doesn’t see any way to address the issue in existing vehicles.
This isn’t the first time Tesla’s self-driving tech has proven easy to fool. Last year, researchers from Keen Security Lab showed that it took just three small reflective stickers to confuse the car’s lane-keeping system and send it into oncoming traffic.