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‘This situation is very scary’: Coronavirus is disrupting Vladimir Putin’s Russia

In Yakutia, in Russia’s far north east — easily one of the most remote resource regions on the planet — isolation appears to be the least of concerns among its more than 10,000 oil field workers.

“We’re infected! Where’s the f—ing quarantine? Where are the f—ing masks?” employees shouted in an angry rant aimed at their company and local government posted on a Russian social media site earlier this week.

As many as 10,500 workers at the Chayanda oil field site have been tested for COVID-19, and though the results haven’t been released, the website Meduza quotes the regional governor as saying the number of positive cases is “very significant.” 

The availability — or rather scarcity — of protective gear at facilities and institutions closer to the country’s major population centres appears to be equally problematic.

“Here is the real truth about Reutov hospital [near Moscow] — there is no personal protective equipment in the coronavirus department!” one hospital worker wrote this week on a whistleblower Facebook page set up by frustrated Russian health-care workers.

“Staff wear [their] disposable protective equipment over and over again.”

Another video viewed by CBC News showed COVID-19 patients in a hospital in the city of Derbent, Republic of Dagestan, crammed into makeshift bunks in what appears to be storage room, coughing and hacking with IVs in their arms. They were being tended by a nurse who wasn’t wearing a mask or any other protective gear.


Social media video from Derbent, in the Russian republic of Dagestan, shows patients stacked in bunk beds to get treatment for coronavirus, with staff who aren’t wearing face masks or protective gear. (MoshebabaV/YouTube)

COVID-19 appeared to come late to Russia, compared with North America and Europe, but now it’s striking with a vengeance, the damage compounded by the lack of personal protective equipment for hospital workers.

There are almost daily reports across the vast country — from St. Petersburg to Siberia — of hospitals being quarantined because of coronavirus outbreaks among staff.

On Thursday, the state news agency RIA novesti reported that Prime Minister Mikhail Mishutsin tested positive for the coronavirus and is in self-isolation. He is so far the most senior member of government known to have contracted the virus. President Vladimir Putin has not been seen in public with Mishutsin in weeks, and the prime minister broke the news by video conference.

Doctors dying

Among health care workers, the toll has been so high over the past fortnight or so that colleagues have started compiling the names of the dead on an online memorial page — 74 names as of Tuesday night and growing.

Among them was Natalia Lebedeva, who headed up medical services at Russia’s cosmonaut training centre outside Moscow. She allegedly died after falling out a window — a fate that has become strikingly common over the years for those who either disapprove of or disappoint Russian authorities.

Independent Russian media reported Lebedeva may have committed suicide after being blamed for letting the coronavirus spread throughout the facility.

Another doctor from Siberia may also have tried to take her life by similarly jumping out of a fifth-storey window at her workplace in Siberia.

As in the cosmonaut hospital case, local media reported that Yelena Nepomnyashchay was blamed by authorities for an outbreak of the virus. She survived but is in critical condition.


A screenshot from the popular Russian Information program Vesti Nedeli, or News of the Week, shows doctors handling wards of COVID-19 patients in Moscow. (Russia 1 Television)

Putin’s plan

For the first time, Putin has acknowledged Russia is having trouble meeting the demands for enough personal protective equipment for its health-care workers.

In an address Tuesday, Putin admitted that “there is still a shortage of some technical items, equipment and disposable materials,” despite increasing production of masks 10-fold in April and making more than 100,000 protective suits every day.

“We have concentrated and mobilized all our industrial resources,” he said.


Protesters in Vladikavkaz, North Ossetia, stage a protest on April 20, urging the government to end the lockdown and allow them to return to work. (Youtube)

Russia is poised to surpass 100,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country, with approximately 900 reported deaths. Those are extremely low numbers compared with the experience of western Europe, where more than 20,000 people have died in each of the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Spain.

Many doctors — even those sympathetic to the government — have told CBC News part of the challenge is that Russia’s tests return an unusually large number of false negative results.

Other health officials linked to opposition groups believe many deaths are also either deliberately or unintentionally misrepresented.

For example, the Russian business publication RBC quoted Moscow’s deputy mayor as saying cases of pneumonia increased more than 70 per cent in the past week, filling up urgent-care beds in the city. 

Since many coronavirus patients develop pneumonia, the head of a doctors advocacy group told CBC News in an earlier interview that it’s fair to assume most of those patients had COVID-19.

Economic disaster

Putin is also facing increasing pressure over the enormous economic cost of the coronavirus lockdown, now into its fifth week in the capital Moscow.


With Moscow and most other Russian cities locked down for a over month, up to six million jobs have disappeared. (Alexey Sergeev/CBC)

Russia’s labour ministry reported Tuesday that unemployment could soon reach six million people.

Many of those out of work would only be eligible to receive a meagre maximum payout of roughly $ 200 Cdn a month.

Others who are self-employed might not get anything.

“They can’t survive in this situation if the lockdown is prolonged,” said opposition politician Dmitry Gudkov.

Gudkov is among those calling on the Putin administration to release some of the money in Russia’s huge sovereign wealth fund, which holds more than $ 150 billion US.

When oil revenues were stronger, the money was set aside by the Putin administration to help ease the shock of any future economic sanctions that might be imposed by the West. But Gudkov says the money should be spent now, by making direct payments to people, as has been done in Canada and the United States.

“He doesn’t want to spend this reserve fund,” Gudkov told CBC News.

Frustration growing

“Putin needs the money to maintain the ‘Putin forever’ model,” a reference to the Russian leader’s attempts to change the constitution to allow him to serve two more terms as Russia’s president.

Gudkov says Putin has a long list of “legacy projects” he wants built, and spending money on direct payments to people will deplete the funds for that.

But frustration is growing, as jobs dry up and the Kremlin offers people little in return, Gudkov says.

“If there is a choice to die from hunger or the virus, it’s better to die from the virus.”


Russian opposition politician Dmitry Gudkov wants the Kremlin to offer a much bigger assistance package to those hurt by COVID-19. (Chris Brown/Skype)

In his remarks Tuesday, Putin indicated the government is preparing another round of economic assistance for individuals and businesses, but he didn’t offer any clues to what it might be.

He also suggested that some parts of Russia might be able to start easing their lockdown and returning to work after a holiday period that ends in mid-May. 

‘Very scary’ for Russian government

In an online discussion hosted by the Carnegie Centre in Moscow, liberal-leaning Russian economist Sergei Guriev, who is based in Paris, suggested COVID-19 represents the most difficult challenge Putin has faced in the 20 years he has sat atop Russia’s power structure.

Guriev says street protests against the lockdown may become more frequent, as Russians run out of money and face difficulties feeding their families.

“We are in very uncharted waters,” he said. “This situation is very scary for the Russian government.”

WATCH | Russians’ frustration with the COVID-19 lockdown is growing:

Millions of Russians have become impoverished during the COVID-19 pandemic and the Kremlin is offering little financial support even though it has billions in the coffers. 2:04

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CBC | World News

Hidden camera investigation reveals ‘scary’ and ‘misleading’ sales pitches to sell blue light lenses

It’s no secret that we’re spending more time in front of screens than ever before.

Canadians say they spend almost 11 hours a day in front of them — at their desks, on their laptops and especially on their smartphones.

But after a long day at work, our eyes often start to feel dry, tired and strained, and many people are desperate for a solution. 

Enter blue light filtering lenses. Optical chains say they protect our eyes from blue light emitted from digital screens, and consumers are buying in.  And it turns out it’s not just eye strain they want to warn us about.

A hidden camera investigation by CBC’s Marketplace found sales associates at some of Canada’s largest optical chains making “misleading” health claims about blue light from digital screens, but experts say there is no scientific evidence that blue light from computer monitors and screens is harmful.

Staff at four leading chains cautioned buyers that digital screens could damage their retinas and could lead to serious eye diseases such as macular degeneration and cataracts. Two opticians at Hudson’s Bay Optical suggested a link to cancer based on an in-store pamphlet provided by lens manufacturer VisionEase, while Vogue Optical’s website suggests blue light may increase the risk of “certain types of cancers.”

Hudson’s Bay Optical’s Glasses Gallery later told Marketplace the pamphlet is “incorrect” and will be pulled from Hudson’s Bay Optical stores. 


Marketplace visited four major optical chains in Ontario and heard from salespeople who cautioned that digital screens could damage retinas and even lead to serious eye diseases such as macular degeneration. (CBC)

But experts in the fields of optometry and ophthalmology say there’s no evidence that blue light from digital screens is harmful. 

Dr. Rahul Khurana, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, said the idea of blue-light blocking is “flawed on so many levels.”

“Blue light fear, paranoia, is really out there,” said Khurana. “But there’s no evidence to show it’s truly dangerous and blocking it has not ever [been] shown to [have] any benefits.”

Going undercover

Marketplace producers went undercover and visited multiple Hakim Optical, Vogue Optical, Hudson’s Bay Optical’s Glasses Gallery and LensCrafters locations in southern Ontario to see how the companies market the lenses to consumers. 

Several dispensing opticians and salespeople told the producers that blue light from digital screens can lead to fatigue and headaches.

One optician said blue light has “very sharp rays, penetrating at the back of the eyes,” while another salesperson said “it tears the eyes right out of you.”

Watch Marketplace go undercover at optional retailers:

We went undercover at multiple Ontario locations of these retailers to see how salespeople and opticians are marketing blue light filtering lenses to consumers. 0:59

But more “serious” and even “scary-sounding” to ophthalmologist and macular specialist Dr. Sunir Garg were claims that blue light from digital devices might lead to retinal damage, age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and possibly cancer. 

Buying blue light filtering lenses, it was suggested, might eliminate these risks.

“They’re introducing this technology that blocks [the digital blue light] out,” said one student optician.

  • Watch “Why you don’t need blue light lenses” on Marketplace on CBC-TV on Friday at 8 p.m.

“So we are not going to be seeing things like cataracts or macular degeneration, damage to your retina, things like that.” 

Many of these claims are also found on Vogue Optical, Hakim, and LensCrafters websites and promotional material.


Dr. Sunir Garg, an ophthalmologist at the Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia, reviewed Marketplace’s hidden camera footage and is concerned that optical chains are using scare tactics to sell blue light filtering lenses. (Jeannie Stiglic/CBC)

Marketplace asked Garg, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology and an ophthalmologist at the Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia, to review the hidden camera footage. 

He was concerned about how salespeople and opticians were “misleading” customers with claims about how the light from screens can damage eyes. Retinal damage and macular degeneration are “serious” claims, Garg said, “but the blue lights from your screen is not the cause of that stuff.” 

“I think a lot of this is just to create fear and confusion and when people have fear and are confused, they end up spending money on things they don’t need to spend money on,” said Garg. 

Garg’s research has led him to conclude that far from benefiting customers, these lenses are mostly benefiting the companies that are selling them.

“Maybe those [blue light filtering lenses] are decisions made in different boardrooms across the country and around the world,” Garg said, “but from a science perspective, I don’t think people need to worry about this at all.” 

‘Not based on scientific data’

He doesn’t blame the staff at these chains for spreading these claims, however. 

“I can’t fault them [because] I’m sure they’re getting a little info sheet that says here’s three talking points about blue light-blocking lenses, but it’s not based on scientific data,” Garg said. 

“People will quote that blue light can hurt retinal cells,” Garg said, “but what they’re not telling you is that it’s not been shown in any group of people who are using their screens.” 

The science into the harms from blue light is mostly done with retinal cells in a petri dish, he said, “or taking a poor mouse and and shining a blue light ray intensely into their eyeball for hours on end.”

No evidence lenses are needed

Both Khurana and Garg told Marketplace there’s no research that suggests blue light filtering lenses are necessary. 

Phillip Yuhas, an assistant professor of optometry at Ohio State University, agrees. He said studies have shown people blink far less during computer use and that blue light filters have not shown any improved “visual comfort” for digital eye strain. 

Khurana said if the problem people are having is from digital eyestrain, then blue light filters are doing nothing to address the core issue and “could be doing more harm than good.”


Dr. John O’Hagan, an optical radiation expert who works for Public Health England, conducted a study into blue light and found that light levels from digital devices are ‘not harmful’ and ‘considerably below the levels that we experience outside, even in winter.’ (Pascal LeBlond/CBC)

 But that hasn’t stopped eyeglass retailers from promoting them. One optician told Marketplace  the blue filter lens is like an “extra shield on top of your eyes to protect your eyes from harmful rays.” 

The lenses can be purchased with or without a prescription and range in price from $ 20 to more than $ 100.    

Global sales of the lenses reached $ 18 million US in 2019, according to Marketwatch.com, and are projected to exceed $ 27 million US by 2024.   

Free and simple solution

Staring at screens for a long time can make eyes feel dry, tired and strained, but blue light is not the culprit, said Garg, and purchasing special lenses won’t fix the issue.

“What’s bothering [people] isn’t the blue light. It’s the fact that when they’re staring at their screen a lot they’re not blinking as often.

“That causes the eye to dry out, [and] when your eyes become dry, they become irritated and scratchy and tired.” 

To deal with that, he recommends a simple fix. It’s called  “the 20-20-20 rule.”  Look at least 20 feet (six metres) away from your screen for 20 seconds every 20 minutes. 

Blue light does wake us up and make us more alert, so too much late at night can make it hard to get to sleep. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends turning off devices or turning on blue light filters, a couple of hours before going to bed. 

Claims not allowed in U.K. 

In the United Kingdom, claims like the ones heard in Canada by Marketplace producers aren’t allowed.

Opticians and eyeglass retailers risk being fined if they make unproven claims about blue light from digital devices.

In 2015, Boots Opticians were reprimanded and fined 400,000 pounds for making “misleading” claims that blue light causes retinal damage.  

Dr. John O’Hagan, an optical radiation expert who works for Public Health England’s (PHE) centre for radiation, chemical and environmental hazards, conducted a study on blue light from digital devices on behalf of the organization. 


Global sales of blue light filtering lenses reached $ 18 million US in 2019, according to Marketwatch.com, and are projected to exceed $ 27 million US by 2024. But experts say that digital blue light isn’t harmful and we don’t need the lenses at all. (Shutterstock)

He analyzed the amount of blue light coming from various sources including the sky, lightbulbs, mobile phones and computer screens. 

“Blue light in our normal environment is not dangerous at all,” O’Hagan told Marketplace

“The main source of blue light for us is from the sky and a nice sunny day.”

‘Not significant’ 

The PHE study found that for smartphones, laptops and digital devices, the amount of blue light emitted was less than one per cent of the safe exposure level, even if stared at all day. 

O’Hagan said that the light levels from a smartphone, tablet or laptop are “considerably below the levels that we experience outside, even in winter.” We get about 30 times more blue light just by being outside, he said. 

“You could stare at your phone all day long, right above the face, and the amount of blue light is not significant,” O’Hagan said. 

“There is no evidence that blue light from your mobile or other devices is harmful.” 

Marketplace reached out to the four eyeglass retailers visited by producers. 

Hudson’s Bay Optical/Glasses Gallery said Marketplace was given wrong information when it comes to cancer and macular degeneration from digital blue light, and says it will be pulling all Vision Ease pamphlets and marketing materials immediately from all stores. It says all staff will be retrained in the coming weeks and it is “committed to providing the very best experience for our customers.”

Manufacturer Vision-Ease said they “stand by their marketing materials” and say the science around blue light is “conflicting” and “ambiguous” and more studies are needed. 


Canadians say they spend nearly 11 hours each day in front of screens. (Shutterstock/Sjale)

LensCrafters said “while we train our associates on all products, including blue light and blue IQ lenses, some inconsistencies are possible in how individual associates articulate this topic across our stores. We plan to reinforce our in-store training as the awareness around the potential risks of blue light grows.”

Vogue Optical said “optical science evolves very quickly” and “there is a high volume of ongoing studies on blue light, some of which point to damaging effects on the eye.” They also said they are putting considerable effort into educating staff to help educate consumers about what’s available on the market and help them make the best choices.  

Hakim Optical says there is evidence that blue light is damaging, and they “will continue to respect and support the licensed optician’s obligation to protect and educate the public with all available information and options related to their eye health care.” They also said “there is no evidence of harm from the blue-light filter upgrade.” 

Health Canada to follow up

Health Canada says prescription lenses are regulated through the Medical Devices Regulations and the Food and Drugs Act.  

As the Food and Drugs Act “prohibits false, misleading or deceptive advertising of a medical device, such as the promotion of claims without safety and effectiveness data,” Health Canada said it will follow up with the optical chains to determine whether medical devices are being advertised or sold in Canada with unsupported health claims.

The Ontario Opticians Association told Marketplace “there is an overwhelming number of clients who have expressed satisfaction with their blue light filters, in that they reduced or eliminated headaches, fatigue, eyestrain and the like.”

For people who are concerned about good eye health, Garg has some other suggestions — and they don’t include lenses to block blue light. 

“Do things like take a break periodically, start quieting down before nighttime, eat a good diet, exercise and not smoke … all those things will help eyes way more than spending money on these blue blocking lenses.” 


  1. Sit about 63 centimetres (arm’s length) from the computer screen. Position the screen so you are gazing slightly downward.

  2. Reduce screen glare by using a matte screen filter if needed.

  3. Take regular breaks using the “20-20-20” rule: every 20 minutes, shift your eyes to look at an object at least 20 feet (six metres) away for at least 20 seconds.

  4. When your eyes feel dry, use artificial tears to refresh them.

  5. Adjust room lighting and try increasing the screen contrast to reduce eye strain.

  6. If you wear contact lenses, give your eyes a break by wearing glasses.

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CBC | Health News

Queen Elizabeth’s Granddaughter Zara Tindall Takes Scary Fall Off Horse

Queen Elizabeth’s Granddaughter Zara Tindall Takes Scary Fall Off Horse | Entertainment Tonight

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‘He’s a scary person’: Alleged Epstein victims ask judge to reject house arrest

Two Jeffrey Epstein accusers urged a judge Monday to keep the wealthy financier behind bars until he goes on trial on federal charges that he sexually abused underage girls.

The women stood just feet from where Epstein was seated in his blue jail outfit as they asked a federal judge to reject a request by Epstein’s lawyers that he remain under house arrest in his $ 77 million US Manhattan mansion until trial on conspiracy and sex trafficking charges.

Courtney Wild, one of the unnamed victims in the 2008 lawsuit against the Department of Justice for the secret plea deal that allowed Epstein to avoid similar charges, spoke for the first time in court with a fellow accuser.

Wild said she was sexually abused by Epstein in Palm Beach, Fla., when she was 14.

“He’s a scary person,” she said.

Annie Farmer said she was 16 when she met Epstein in New York.

“He was inappropriate with me,” she said, adding that she didn’t want to share more details.

The Associated Press doesn’t name alleged victims of sexual abuse without their consent. Through their lawyers, both Farmer and Wild said they were willing to be publicly identified.

Judge Richard M. Berman said he’ll rule Thursday whether Epstein can be freed with a strict bail package, but he noted at the outset of two-hour hearing there was a presumption in cases involving sexual abuse of children that a defendant will remain locked up.


Jeffrey Epstein appears in a photograph taken for the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services’s sex offender registry in 2017. Prosecutors have argued he’s a flight risk, while a defence attorney countered that the businessman hasn’t been in trouble since his plea deal a decade ago in Florida. (N.Y. State Division of Criminal Justice Services via Reuters)

Assistant U.S. Attorney Alex Rossmiller said the government’s case is “getting stronger every single day” since Epstein was arrested July 6 as he arrived at a New Jersey airport from Paris on his private plane.

During a raid at Epstein’s Manhattan mansion following his arrest, Rossmiller said, investigators found “piles of cash,” “dozens of diamonds” and an expired passport with Epstein’s picture and a fake name in a locked safe.

“How many safes are there in so many other locations like these?” Rossmiller asked.

He labelled the well-connected Epstein, 66, a flight risk and danger to the community, saying he should remain incarcerated until he is tried on charges that he recruited and abused dozens of underage girls in New York and Florida in the early 2000s.

Has stayed out of trouble: defence lawyer

Epstein’s lawyer, Martin Weinberg, said that his client has not committed crimes since pleading guilty to soliciting a minor for prostitution charges in Florida in 2008 and that the federal government is reneging on a 12-year-old plea deal not to prosecute him.

Epstein had demonstrated that he “disciplined himself,” Weinberg said, by not engaging in any crimes since the Florida deal, in which he agreed to submit himself to sex offender registration procedures in multiple states.

The “14-year gap is an elegant rebuttal” to expectations that he would re-offend, Weinberg said.

But the judge later noted he had read literature related to sex offenders that indicated the chance of a sex offender committing a new crime grew over time.

U.S. Labour Secretary Alexander Acosta on Friday resigned after earlier in the week defending the way he handled a decade-old sex abuse case against wealthy businessman Jeffrey Epstein while Acosta was a federal prosecutor. 2:57

In addition to the charges in the indictment, prosecutors are also reviewing dozens of electronic files seized during the raid on Epstein’s New York residence, finding even more photos than the trove of pictures of nude and semi-nude young women and girls they had reported prior to a court hearing a week ago.

Prior to the hearing, prosecutors said in court papers that additional women in multiple jurisdictions had identified themselves to the government since Epstein’s arrest, saying they were abused as minors. Also, dozens of individuals have called the government to report information about Epstein and the charges he faces, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors said they believe Epstein might have tried to influence witnesses after discovering that he had paid a total of $ 350,000 to two individuals, including a former employee, in the last year. That came after the Miami Herald reported the circumstances of his state court conviction in 2008, which led to a 13-month jail term and his deal to avoid federal prosecution.

Labour Secretary Alexander Acosta resigned last week following renewed criticism over the 2008 plea deal with Epstein he oversaw as the U.S. attorney in Miami.

Epstein’s lawyers said the accusations against him are “outside the margins of federal criminal law” and don’t constitute sex trafficking since there were no allegations that he “trafficked anybody for commercial profit; that he forced, coerced, defrauded, or enslaved anybody.”

Writer Molly Jong-Fast thinks the allegations of sex trafficking against wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein point to a wider problem of power and corruption in society. “This has been a sort of panoply of different powerful men covering for each other,” she said. 19:20

But prosecutors said efforts by defence lawyers to characterize Epstein’s crimes as “simple prostitution” were “not only offensive but also utterly irrelevant given that federal law does not recognize the concept of a child prostitute — there are only trafficking victims — because a child cannot legally consent to being exploited.”

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Drake Explains Scary Reason for Sudden Concert Cancellations in Miami

Drake announced an unplanned break from his tour this weekend, but for a scary reason. 

The rapper was forced to reschedule two shows in Miami on his Aubrey and The Three Migos tour after becoming suddenly sick with an unspecified illness.

“I just wanted to say how sorry I am about these two Miami shows. I got so ill so fast and I had never experienced anything like that in my life,” the “In My Feelings” singer explained on his Instagram Story. “Unlike other show cancellations or date adjustments due to production issues this one fell on me and I just want to apologize because I hate letting down anyone who come to share these moments with us.”

He concluded the post, writing, “Thank you god for allowing me to recover and continue. On we go.”


Instagram

The canceled shows are rescheduled for November 13 and 14.

Meanwhile, Drake’s feud with Kanye West continues, as West went on several lengthy rants on his Instagram on Thursday. For more on the drama, watch the video below.

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Robert Wickens sustains pulmonary contusion in scary crash at IndyCar Pocono race

Canadian IndyCar driver Robert Wickens was airlifted to a hospital and was being treated for injuries to his lower extremities, right arm and spine following an accident early in a race in Pennsylvania Sunday.

IndyCar said Wickens, 29, sustained a pulmonary contusion and will undergo an MRI and probable surgery at Lehigh Valley Hospital Cedar Crest in Allentown.

The driver from Guelph, Ont., was attempting to pass Ryan Hunter-Reay during the ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond when the two cars slightly touched. That caused Hunter-Reay's car to careen into the wall, and Wickens's car was pulled along for the ride.

Watch the crash here:

Guelph, Ontario's Robert Wickens was taken to hospital after a violent crash at the IndyCar ABC Supply 500. Teammate and fellow Canadian James Hinchcliffe was also involved in the crash. 1:35

Wickens launched over Hunter-Reay's car and sailed into the catchfence, where the tub of his IndyCar spun several times before crashing back onto the track.

Medical workers at the Pocono Raceway calmly attended to Wickens, who was taken to an ambulance before he was transported to a helicopter. The impact of the wreck tore out a large section of fencing.

Curt Cavin, the vice-president of communications for IndyCar, said on the TV broadcast that Wickens was "awake and alert" as he was being transported.


Canadian James Hinchcliffe and Takuma Sato were among the other drivers involved in the wreck.

'That's the worst thing you can see'

Hinchcliffe, of Oakville, Ont., seemed to be in pain, grabbing his wrists as he slowly left his car. Hinchcliffe was cleared and released from the medical centre.

"I took my hands off the wheel when I went backward, and I think some piece of debris came in as I was holding [my hands] in, kind of just smacked the top of them, so I took a bit of a beating, but nothing is broken, just some swelling and some cuts. We'll rest it up and be fine," said Hinchcliffe.

"Obviously, I'm just hoping Robbie's alright. Never good to see a car go up like that, but I know he is in good hands. Hopefully, we'll see him back in the car soon."

Driver Sebastien Bourdais echoed Hinchcliffe's sentiments.

"That's the worst thing you can see. He's hurt. He's awake and alert and at least he's alive," he said.

The race was delayed nearly two hours and only eight laps in the 500-mile (about 805-kilometre) race had been completed because of Wickens's crash and another accident right before the start.



Pocono Raceway president Ben May said about 24 metres of fence and a few posts were damaged in the wreck.

The Pocono staff needed about two hours to repair the track and make it safe for the rest of the race.

Hinchcliffe is a teammate of Wickens on the all-Canadian team. The two raced each other as youngsters in Toronto and Hinchcliffe, runner-up on ABC's Dancing With The Stars in 2017, helped lure Wickens to IndyCar this season after a successful career in Europe.

Grim reminder

The crash was a grim reminder how drivers in open-wheel racing put their lives on the line.

Hinchcliffe survived his own life-threatening injury when a broken part from his car pierced an artery during a 2015 crash at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Hinchcliffe would have bled to death if not for the medical team holding the artery together as it raced him from the track directly to a hospital.

A year earlier, Hinchcliffe suffered a concussion when he was hit in the helmet by a piece of debris on the road course at Indianapolis.

Wickens had reeled off five straight top-five finishes and matched a career-best second in the last race at Mid-Ohio.

Briton Justin Wilson died from a head injury in 2015 when a piece of debris from a crashed car bounced off the track at Pocono Raceway and hit his helmet.

Alexander Rossi won Monday's race, but his thoughts were with Wickens.
 
"It's tough to really celebrate after what happened," Rossi told reporters.

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Coming out can still be scary for Olympic athletes

In Olympic sport, athletes are all too often singularly defined by a moment, a trait or an obstacle. 

Intentional or not, it’s a by-product of a spotlight that realistically only shines once every four years. In those moments, an athlete may become the face of fair play, dedication or excellence.  But for LBGTQ athletes, there remains an additional consideration that demonstrates sport still has ground to cover before it can truly be considered inclusive. In many sports, coming out publicly still becomes a large part of that athlete’s narrative.

“I didn’t come out for publicity, it was in light of the anti-LGBTQ laws in Russia,” shared retired Olympic speed skater Anastasia Bucsis, who felt compelled to come out in advance of the 2014 Sochi Olympics. 

Jullian Svensson

“I didn’t want to be the ‘gay speed skater’ but at the same time, I was a gay speed skater in a sport that traditionally doesn’t have many gay athletes,” said Bucsis, who now works for CBC Sports. “It is part of my identity but it doesn’t define me. I am very happy and very proud of who I am.”  

For Bucsis, coming out was a scary process. Depressed, lonely and paralyzed by a self-described feeling of not being authentic, Bucsis knew she needed to speak up. Her mental health was suffering and she felt robbed of the joy her sport had brought her. Finally comfortable in her own skin, she competed as one of the few openly gay athletes in Sochi and achieved personal satisfaction that her ranking didn’t do justice. 

But despite her positive Olympic feelings, the heightened attention on LGBTQ athletes because of the spotlight on Russia’s human rights violations also took its toll.

“I didn’t speak to the media at all in Sochi, I just couldn’t,” she said. “I wanted the focus to be on my sport but at the same time if I did speak to them, I knew I’d be asked about being a gay athlete competing in Russia. On some level though, by not speaking I felt like I was letting both sides [the sport and the LBGT community] down.”

Compelled to speak out

Curler John Epping didn’t think he’d ever feel compelled to speak publically about being gay.

“I didn’t ever think I would come out to the media. I didn’t see the need; it served me no purpose to do it. My team and the sport have always been fantastic and I’m proud to say that competitively, it has always been a complete non-issue. Plus, curling is a team sport and I didn’t want to individually put attention on our team,” Epping said.

“But I started acting as an ambassador for You Can Play and I realized that by sharing I could have an impact. It’s an honour and a privilege to be at this place in my sport and I owe it to the LBGTQ community, the sport and You Can Play to act as a role model and help educate people.”

Like Bucsis, Epping doesn’t want to be remembered as a “gay curler” but instead as a great curler that was also gay. They both understand that despite being a non-issue within their respective support systems and sports, there remain some milestones to cross before being gay in sport truly becomes normalized. 

“I’m proud of the progress we’ve made in Canada,” said Olympic swimming champion Mark Tewksbury. “I hope with the attention, tangibles things continue to be done. I’ve witnesses the changes made by the Canadian Olympic Committee Charter to ensure LGBTQ athletes are guaranteed freedom from discrimination, the creation of the both You Can Play and the COC’s One Team and real discussion at the board level about issues of inclusion. But we aren’t there yet, we still need to be vigilant and keep talking.”

Changing a narrative doesn’t happen with silence. It takes more conversation and more athletes to publically engage in sharing their stories before being gay can truly become so normal that frankly, it just isn’t interesting or different. A day where it seems just as silly to write about Anastasia Bucsis the speed skater who is gay as it does Deidra Dionne, the skier who is straight.

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CBC | Sports News