As the doors of the emergency department swish open, a man stumbles inside, gasping for breath.
A security guard and volunteer, who are stationed just steps inside the entrance of Laval’s Cité-de-la-Santé hospital north of Montreal, ask him if he’s having a heart attack.
Between wheezes, he shakes his head and manages to sputter out a no. Staff quickly assess his COVID-19 risk.
His temperature is taken, he’s given a new mask and, after a brief assessment, whisked into a waiting room — in his case, the yellow zone, which is an area set aside for patients with symptoms of the virus.
Minutes later, he’s wheeled into the ER treatment area and put into an isolation cubicle.
Precautions add to workload
Every patient, symptoms or not, is tested for the virus, but the cubicles keep COVID-positive patients and people suspected of having the virus completely sealed off.
Only designated staff can move in and out of the cubicles, and full personal protective gear is needed.
The precautions are necessary, but it adds to the workload.
“You have to dress appropriately. So it takes a lot more time. One, to go see the patient. Then to take care of the patient. These are patients who often require a lot more care,” said Mélanie Boudreault, who has worked as an ER nurse here for nearly a decade.
ER visits down
Fear of catching COVID-19 means emergency visits are down across the province, said Sébastien Rocheleau, assistant director of nursing operations for the CISSS de Laval, the local public health authority.
By the time some patients show up at the hospital, they are often more ill because they waited to go.
At Cité-de-la-Santé, the number of visits to the ER dropped — from 6,761 in the month of January 2020, to 4,903 in January 2021.
For the first time since the pandemic began, the hospital gave CBC Montreal exclusive access to the ER to see how it has adapted and what precautions it has put in place to keep everyone safe.
What they captured was the frontline of a year-long battle to keep the virus at bay while allowing the emergency medical system to continue to function.
And while the staff knows the latest case numbers are promising, they also know they’re not out of the woods yet.
November was the worst month for the pandemic in Alberta so far, with cases going from 6,002 active cases of COVID-19 Nov. 1 to 16,628 cases by Nov. 30, an increase of 10,626. The number of hospitalizations also tripled in that period, resulting in a total of 479 patents in hospital Nov. 30, including 97 in ICU beds.
Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, suggested that Albertans should plan for a different kind of holiday season.
“We have seen holiday gatherings leading to outbreaks,” she said at her daily briefing Tuesday, suggesting that people plan to get together remotely, or in small, well-distanced groups outdoors.
“This is not going to be the year for office parties. This is not going to be the year for open houses or large dinners with friends and extended families.”
What’s happening across Canada
As of 7:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday, Canada’s COVID-19 case count stood at 383,468, with 66,369 of those considered active cases. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC’s reporting stood at 12,211.
LISTEN | Prime Minister Justin Trudeau joins host Matt Galloway to talk about COVID-19, vaccines and the cost of fighting the pandemic:
The Current13:17Justin Trudeau on the cost of fighting the pandemic
After yesterday’s fiscal update, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau joins Matt Galloway to discuss the cost of fighting COVID-19, and how his government plans to roll out the vaccines that could finally subdue the pandemic. 13:17
Ontario reported 1,707 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday and seven new deaths due to the virus.
Health Minister Christine Elliott said 727 new cases are in Toronto, 373 in Peel Region, and 168 cases in York Region. The province said it has conducted 34,640 tests since the last daily report.
As of Tuesday, the province was reporting 645 COVID-19 hospitalizations, with 185 in intensive care. (For more detail about the latest numbers around COVID-19 in Ontario, click here.)
You can help prevent the spread of <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/COVID19?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#COVID19</a> this <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/holiday?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#holiday</a> season by avoiding large gatherings, crowded celebrations, and travel that may put you at an increased risk. More tips for the holidays: <a href=”https://t.co/fHtNWscAG4″>https://t.co/fHtNWscAG4</a> <a href=”https://t.co/gYDPU7vDw4″>pic.twitter.com/gYDPU7vDw4</a>
“We’ve had many exposure events, but they have very rarely resulted in transmission, particularly from children to anyone,” Dr. Bonnie Henry said in advance of the protest Monday.
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said Tuesday there is a chance larger gatherings will be allowed during the holidays.
Until Dec. 17, the number of people allowed in a household is limited to five. But Moe said if those restrictions start to bring down the number of COVID-19 cases in the province, they might be loosened over the holidays.
Manitoba premier Brian Pallister spoke today about how the vaccine would be distributed to Indigenous communities. He said it would help if Ottawa takes care of the who, what and when of vaccinations, while Manitoba could deal with the where and how.
WATCH | Pallister talks about vaccine distribution to Indigenous communities:
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says Ottawa needs to clarify who will administer a COVID-19 vaccine to the province’s Indigenous residents, who live both on and off reserves. 1:27
Across the North, only one new case was reported, in Nunavut. A mask mandate for indoor public spaces went into effect in Yukon on Tuesday.
What’s happening around the world
From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 4:45 p.m. ET
As of Tuesday evening, more than 63.7 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, with more than 40.7 million of those cases listed as recovered or resolved in a tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than 1.4 million.
The new COVID-19 cases were more than double the previous monthly record set in October, as large numbers of Americans still refuse to wear masks and continue to gather in holiday crowds, against the recommendation of experts.
With outgoing President Donald Trump’s coronavirus strategy relying heavily on a vaccine, a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) panel of outside advisers will meet on Dec. 10 to discuss whether to recommend the FDA authorize emergency use of a vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc.
A second candidate from Moderna Inc. could follow a week later, officials have said, raising hopes that Americans could start receiving inoculations before the end of the year, although widespread vaccinations could take months.
On Tuesday, the head of the FDA said after a meeting at the White House that federal officials would take the time needed to “get this right,” despite increasing pressure and growing frustration from Trump that vaccine approval is taking too long.
“No one at FDA is sitting on his or her hands. Everyone is working really hard to look at these applications and get this done,” Stephen Hahn, the head of the Food and Drug Administration, told ABC in an interview on Instagram live. “But we absolutely have to do this the right way.”
Trump has been livid with the FDA for not moving faster, blaming the fact that a vaccine was not developed ahead of the Nov. 3 election in part for his loss.
Meantime, Florida joined Texas and California in surpassing one million confirmed COVID-19 cases Tuesday. Gov. Ron DeSantis has vowed not to adopt any further restrictions or impose closures like those enacted in Florida in the spring and summer.
In Rhode Island, where case numbers have been on the rise, officials have opened two field hospitals with a combined 900 beds to deal with an expected increase of COVID-19 patients.
A health official says Alabama hospitals treating a record number of COVID-19 patients are bracing for a “tidal wave” of additional cases linked to holiday gatherings.
Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo of the University of Alabama at Birmingham says health care systems could be overwhelmed within two or three weeks. The Alabama Hospital Association says only 11 per cent of the state’s intensive care beds were available Monday.
Brazil reported 50,909 additional confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in the past 24 hours — the highest daily case number since early September — and 697 new deaths from COVID-19, the Health Ministry said on Tuesday.
In the Asia-Pacific region, Vietnam reported two more coronavirus cases on Tuesday linked to a rare domestic infection in its commercial hub Ho Chi Minh City, while the government urged public vigilance and tighter enforcement of health measures.
The Southeast Asian nation is back on high alert after confirming on Monday the country’s first community infection in 89 days, prompting the closure of several places in the densely populated southern city.
The latest cases have been traced back to a flight attendant, who had been kept inside a quarantine facility for five days before being released to self-isolate at home.
“The flight attendant contracted the virus inside the quarantine area then spread it to others during his home-quarantine time,” Health Minister Nguyen Thanh Long said in a government statement.
“It’s the first ever time such a thing happened. The flight attendant seriously violated quarantine regulations.”
With its usually strict quarantine and tracking measures, Vietnam has managed to quickly contain its coronavirus outbreaks, allowing it to resume its economic activities earlier than much of Asia.
Vietnam crushed its first wave of coronavirus infections in April and went nearly 100 days without local transmission until the virus re-emerged in the central tourist city of Danang in July and spread widely before being contained in a few weeks.
Late on Tuesday, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said Vietnam would suspend all inbound commercial flights following the new outbreak. Flights for some foreign experts who do business in Vietnam had been operating throughout the pandemic.
In Europe, nonessential shops in Belgium were reopening Tuesday in the wake of encouraging figures about declining daily coronavirus infection rates and hospital admissions.
The government is fearful, however, that the change might lead to massive gatherings in the nation’s most popular shopping centres and streets. Over the weekend, pre-Christmas light festivals already led to crowded scenes in several cities, prompting warnings from virologists about the dangers of reopening too soon.
Belgium, host to the headquarters of the 27-nation European Union, has been one of the hardest-hit countries in Europe during the pandemic. Belgium has reported more than 16,500 deaths linked to the virus during two surges in the spring and the fall.
Under the new rules, shopping has to be done alone or with a minor or a dependent person. Time in a shop is limited to half an hour. Restaurants and bars remain closed.
France, meanwhile, recorded 4,005 new COVID-19 infections on Monday, the smallest rise since August, even as hospitalizations remained high.
In the Middle East, Lebanon’s economy faces an “arduous and prolonged depression,” with real GDP projected to plunge by nearly 20 per cent because its politicians refuse to implement reforms that would speed up the country’s recovery, the World Bank said Tuesday.
It said Lebanon should quickly form a reform-minded government to urgently carry out changes. The crash of the local currency has already led to triple-digit inflation. The dire projections by the World Bank, including a 19.2 per cent drop in gross domestic product this year alone, come as Lebanon suffers its worst economic and financial crisis in its modern history, posing a threat to the country’s stability.
The crisis began a year ago and worsened with the spread of coronavirus and the massive blast at Beirut’s port, which destroyed the facility, killed more than 200 people and caused widespread destruction.
Iran remained the hardest hit country in the region, with more than 975,000 recorded cases of COVID-19 and more than 48,600 deaths.
In Africa, deaths from malaria due to disruptions during the pandemic to services designed to tackle the mosquito-borne disease will far exceed those from COVID-19 in sub-Saharan Africa, the World Health Organization warned. South Africa remained the hardest-hit country in Africa, with more than 790,000 recorded cases of COVID-19 and more than 21,500 deaths.
Last week, we rounded up the best storage mediums of all time. This week, we’re doing the worst. A few notes before we get started: The history of writing and symbolic communication is a fascinating and rich topic — but not a simple one. Different groups of people have developed a wide range of communication methods depending on where and how they lived. Furthermore, it’s not exactly fair to judge prehistoric art against a modern SSD in terms of information density. For this reason, we’ve looked for mediums that were objectively bad at doing what they did — not to insult the people who invented them, but to illustrate that ancient peoples left these approaches behind for a reason.
Cave Paintings and Petroglyphs
I feel a little bad picking on cave painting or petroglyphs. They’re the oldest known forms of symbolic communication after all, and everybody has to start somewhere. The problem with cave paintings and petroglyphs as a storage medium is twofold:
A petroglyph of bighorn sheep from the American Southwest. Photo by Jim Bouldin, CC BY-SA 3.0
1). They contain little information modern scholars can use to place them in a historical or cultural context. 2). They’re not exactly portable.
It’s obvious that petroglyphs and cave art had meaning to the people who created them. Not many people are interested in exploring pitch-black caves with primitive torches to find the best place to paint ibex in just the right shade of ochre. The problem is that, in many cases, we have no idea what those meanings really were.
As writing evolved, we gained the ability to record contextualizing information directly into the narrative, with images serving as illustrations of described events rather than containing the entirety of the event within themselves. We also figured out how to use less durable media. Advantage? Written communication becomes possible without hauling a 20-ton slab of granite around with you. Disadvantage? Keep reading.
Scrolls (Particularly in the Mediterranean)
Think about the characteristics of a good storage medium. It should be physically tough, able to suffer an indignity or two without immediately collapsing. It ought to be efficient and allow for maximum use of the supplied material. It should withstand the ambient effects of the climate on its own long-term storage. It should facilitate easy copying and searching of its own contents.
Scrolls utterly fail at accomplishing most of these things, particularly outside Egypt and the Middle East. Confined to hot, dry, desert conditions, scrolls can last for thousands of years, which is why we have artifacts like the Dead Sea Scrolls and Egyptian papyrus dating back to the reign of Khufu some 4,600 years ago. It’s also why we don’t have anything comparable from the time of the Romans or Greeks, who lived thousands of years closer to our own era.
Scrolls are fragile. They can only be written on a single side and were typically read vertically, not horizontally. A single scroll could be up to 10 meters (33 feet) long, and because they were rolled up, a scribe couldn’t hold the text and take notes or make copies simultaneously. They made no use of indents or page breaks, making them impossible to bookmark. Finally, they rot over time due to ambient exposure to the humidity of Mediterranean climates. If you’re going to invent a storage medium that’s difficult to copy, it’s best to invent one that doesn’t require regular copying to maintain the information within.
The only surviving library in all of antiquity to make it to the modern era was found at Herculaneum, after being buried by a volcanic eruption in 79 AD. The scrolls — which now resemble carbonized dog turds — were first burned, thrown away, and destroyed until someone recognized a scrap of writing. We have recovered 1,826 papyri in total, of which ~340 are “almost complete,” 970 are “decayed and partly decipherable,” and more than 500 are merely charred fragments. There may yet be further buried papyri on the site.
The Herculaneum papyri look like this, when they’re still intact at all.
Think about that for a moment. We have less than 1 percent of the writings of antiquity, and one of the major reasons we lack so much is because, prior to finding the Villa of the Papyri, we had no surviving scrolls from this time period at all.
Humans moved on to codices (covered in the previous story) almost immediately after they were invented, because books — or even primitive, book-like objects — are so much better than scrolls.
Just to be clear: Paper, papyrus, and the like are one of the all-time best storage mediums of all time, but not when stored as scrolls. We had to find a different method of collating information and binding it together before we could make full use of this remarkable invention. Thus, paper is amazing, but scrolls — at least in the climate of the Mediterranean — aren’t.
It’s common, in these sorts of articles, to recall the BetaMax-versus-VHS format war of the 1980s and declare that VHS “won” by sucking more and costing less, thereby making it the both the more successful format and objectively the worse one.
Let’s talk about the Avco Cartrivision, which sucked in ways VHS could only dream about.
Did it have a separate machine you could purchase and hook to a TV? Nope. The only units commercially available included an integrated television and the cheapest cost $ 1350 in 1972 ($ 8,537 today). Cartrivision used a “skip field” system in which only one field (half a frame) of data was recorded to save space. This field was then repeated 3x. The end result of this system was blurry, jumpy video… and you could only watch each movie once.
Remember, this is 1972. There is no home video market. There are no tapes for sale. Avco partnered with retailers to deliver films from a 200-movie catalog. Once you got the movie, you could watch it once. Avco consumer players, you see, lacked a rewind function. The movie could only be rewound by a special machine owned by the retailers.
You have to give Avco some credit, here. The company basically invented DIVX and Netflix while it was busy attempting to invent the VCR. Unfortunately, the entire experience cost nearly $ 10K in today’s money and customers weren’t wild about the idea of only being able to watch a film once. The endeavor lasted 13 months before going out of business. After this, it was found that storing Cartrivision films in ambient humidity can lead them to decay and rot to uselessness in a matter of months.
The 3.5-inch floppy was wildly successful through the 80s and 90s, and many attempts were made to replace the format. The Floptical, HiFD, SuperDisk, and the UHD144 were all high-capacity diskettes in roughly the same form factor as the 3.5-inch floppy, but Iomega’s Zip disk was by far the most well-known competitor.
The initial run of Zip disks could store roughly 100MB of data — nearly 70x the capacity of the standard 1.44MB floppy disk. That was nothing to sneeze at in the mid-90s, but at $ 20 per disk, the cost-per-megabyte just wasn’t small enough to gain proper traction across the entire tech industry.
Earlier “Zip-100” drives were incompatible with larger capacity disks, and the performance of older disks was spotty on newer hardware. Even worse, Zip drives weren’t even compatible with 3.5-inch disks, so compatibility issues ended up bogging down the format for its entire existence. Regardless of competition from other mediums, the market fragmentation within the format itself made Zip disks a hard sell to consumers.
Zip drives did have the benefit of relatively fast (roughly 1MB/s) transfer rate, but the falling price of hard drives and writeable CDs in the late 1990s made the “superfloppy” format war obsolete. On top of that, Iomega was slapped with a class-action lawsuit in 1998 in response to widespread failures — the dreaded “click of death,” signaling that the drive’s read/write actuator could no longer read disks and would repeatedly return to its initial position to try again. Iomega eventually tried to revive the brand by releasing Zip-branded CD drives, but the company never fully recovered.
Most Sony Proprietary Standards
Sony has historically built a number of proprietary standards besides Betamax, most of which have existed for the sole purpose of generating more revenue for Sony rather than contributing to any useful technological progress. Sony Memory Stick, for example, debuted in 1998 and may have been industry-leading at announcement — I am not certain on this point — but just a few years later, CompactFlash and later SD Cards were doing everything that Memory Sticks could do.
For years, Sony wouldn’t budge. Devices like the PlayStation Portable and PlayStation Vita both used expensive media formats that raised the price of owning these products for no reason. Sony Memory Stick’s primary purpose was to capture more profits for Sony, which is why the company continued to use it in lieu of cheaper, consumer-friendly standards. The format had no particular reason to exist and offered no benefit over other formats like SD Card. Sony’s proprietary format insistence isn’t *the* reason that the Vita failed in-market, but it didn’t do the company any favors, either.
Dishonorable Mention: LaserDisc
LaserDiscs have earned themselves a qualified mention here. What distinguishes LD from other standards on the list is that it was often the best way to view a film in the years before DVD, despite the drawbacks. It also introduced a number of features that VHS players lacked. With a horizontal resolution of 425 lines compared with 240 lines for VHS, LaserDisc players delivered nearly DVD quality nearly 20 years before DVDs were widely available. They could store multiple audio tracks and handled both digital and analog formats, and unlike VHS, LDs wouldn’t degrade with use and offered instant rewind and fast forward, similar to CDs. The Wikipedia entry for LaserDisc notes that it took DVDs several years to actually exceed LD quality, despite being better on paper from the start.
The reason LaserDisc is on this list at all is because of all the other sacrifices that had to be made to support cutting-edge image quality circa 1978. The discs themselves were the size of 33 RPM records (12 inches / ~300mm). They spun at 1800 RPM, which made playback slightly noiser than your typical record. Discs weighed over a half-pound each and only held, at most, 64 minutes of recording per side. Some players could flip discs automatically, but for years budget-priced models didn’t and some movies shipped on multiple discs anyway, necessitating a mid-play shift regardless.
What saves LaserDisc from being a straightforwardly “worst” technology is that if you were willing to pony up money for the player and the media, you really did get a better experience than you could have anywhere else outside a movie theater. My family didn’t own a LaserDisc player, but a longtime family friend did, and I was lucky enough to catch a few movies that way in the late 1990s. The quality, even on an average TV set of the era, was vastly better than VHS.
LaserDisc was less a horrible format than a deliberate choice some videophiles made, accepting inconvenience for a better quality at-home film than you could get through any other method at the time.
Feature image by KMJ, published under the GNU Free Documentation License.
Britain is on track to record one of the worst coronavirus death tolls in Europe, after data published on Tuesday showed fatalities topped 24,000 nine days ago.
A day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke of success in dealing with the outbreak, the new figures showed the week ending April 17 was Britain’s deadliest since comparable records began in 1993.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said 21,284 people had died in England by April 17 with mentions of COVID-19 on their death certificate. Together with figures from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the total United Kingdom death toll was at least 24,000 as of April 19.
“The United Kingdom is going to be right up there among the worst-hit nations in the initial surge,” said Bill Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
“With the most optimistic views of the amount of immunity that might be being generated, it would be still not be close to having enough to be able to return to normal,” he told Reuters.
Unlike the hospital death tolls announced daily by the government, the fresh figures include deaths in community settings, such as care homes where overall fatalities have tripled in a few weeks.
Overall, Tuesday’s figures for COVID-19 deaths in England and Wales up to April 17 were more than 50 per cent higher than the daily toll for deaths in hospitals initially announced by the government.
The figures underline the scale of the challenge facing Johnson as he returns to work after himself recovering from COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, and the dangers of relaxing Britain’s lockdown too soon.
He warned on Monday that it was still too dangerous to relax stringent measures wreaking havoc on the economy, for fear of a deadly second outbreak.
In a reminder that much is still unknown about the novel coronavirus, health secretary Matt Hancock said some children with no underlying health conditions had died from a rare inflammatory syndrome which researchers believe to be linked to COVID-19.
The ONS bases its figures on mentions of COVID-19 in death certificates, including suspected cases rather than those who actually tested positive.
Scotland last week reported 1,616 deaths that mentioned COVID-19 on the death certificate as of April 19. Northern Ireland posted 276 as of April 17. Another 1,016 had died in Wales.
A UK death toll of more than 24,000 puts it among the worst-hit in Europe, exceeding France — which also counts deaths in care homes — by about 5,000 at that time.
Britain’s true toll may be closer to Spain or even Italy, Europe’s worst-affected countries, although their reporting of deaths outside hospital is patchy so exact comparisons are difficult.
The latest daily figures released by Britain’s health ministry for COVID-19 deaths in hospitals hit 21,092 on Monday.
Including all causes of death, 22,351 people died in England and Wales in the 16th week of 2020, the biggest total since comparable records began in 1993, the ONS said.
This was 11,854 more than average for the week. Given that only 8,758 cases mentioned COVID-19 in death certificates, it is possible that even the comprehensive ONS data are undercounting the true toll.
Last week, a Financial Times analysis based on the gap between the significant increase in all deaths and those that mentioned coronavirus put Britain’s true death toll at over 40,000.
Beaten down by the coronavirus outbreak, the world economy in 2020 will suffer its worst year since the Great Depression of the 1930s, the International Monetary Fund says in its latest forecast.
The IMF said Tuesday that it expects the global economy to shrink three per cent this year — far worse than its 0.1 per cent dip in the Great Recession year of 2009 — before rebounding in 2021 with 5.8 per cent growth. It acknowledges, though, that prospects for a rebound next year are clouded by uncertainty.
The outlook for Canada calls for a contraction of 6.2 per cent this year followed by growth of 4.2 per cent in 2021.
The bleak assessment represents a breathtaking downgrade by the IMF. In its previous forecast in January, before COVID-19 emerged as a grave threat to public health and economic growth worldwide, the international lending organization had forecast moderate global growth of 3.3 per cent this year. But far-reaching measures to contain the pandemic — lockdowns, business shutdowns, social distancing and travel restrictions — have suddenly brought economic activity to a near-standstill across much of the world.
“The world has been put in a great lockdown,” the IMF’s chief economist, Gita Gopinath, told reporters. “This is a crisis like no other.”
Watch Gopinath speaking to reporters in the video below:
‘This is a crisis like no other,’ says Gita Gopinath, noting that there is a huge amount of uncertainty about where economies are headed. 1:08
Gopinath said the cumulative loss to the global gross domestic product, the broadest gauge of economic output, could amount to $ 9 trillion — more than the economies of Germany and Japan combined.
IMF predicts downturns worldwide
The IMF’s twice-yearly World Economic Outlook was prepared for this week’s spring meetings of the 189-nation IMF and its sister lending organization, the World Bank. Those meetings, along with a gathering of finance ministers and central bankers of the world’s 20 biggest economies, are being held virtually for the first time in light of the coronavirus outbreak.
In its latest outlook, the IMF expects economic contractions this year of:
5.9 per cent in the United States.
7.5 per cent in the 19 European countries that share the euro currency.
5.2 per cent in Japan.
6.5 per cent in the United Kingdom.
China, where the pandemic originated, is expected to eke out 1.2 per cent growth this year. The world’s second-biggest economy, which had gone into lockdown, has begun to open up well before other countries.
Worldwide trade will plummet 11 per cent this year, the IMF predicts, and then grow 8.4 per cent in 2021.
Last week, the IMF’s managing director, Kristalina Georgieva, warned that the world was facing “the worst economic fallout since the Great Depression.”
She said that emerging markets and low-income nations across Africa, Latin America and much of Asia were at especially high risk. And on Monday, the IMF approved $ 500 million to cancel six months of debt payments for 25 impoverished countries so they can help confront the pandemic.
Just three months ago, the IMF had forecast that more than 160 countries would register income growth on a per-capita basis. Now, it expects negative per-capita income growth this year in 170 countries.
The IMF cautioned Tuesday that its latest forecast is shrouded by unknowns. They include the path that the virus will take; the effectiveness of policies meant to contain the outbreak and minimize the economic damage; and uncertainty over whether, even many months from now, people will continue to isolate themselves and depress spending as a precaution against a potential resurgence of the virus.
On a hopeful note, the IMF noted that economic policy-makers in many countries have engineered what it calls a “swift and sizable” response to the economic crisis. The United States, for instance, has enacted three separate rescue measures, including a $ 2.2 trillion aid package — the largest in history — that is meant to sustain households and businesses until the outbreak recedes and economic life begins to return to normal.
That package includes direct payments to individuals, business loans, grants to companies that agree not to lay off workers and expanded unemployment benefits. And the U.S. Congress is moving toward approving a possible fourth economic aid measure.
Meghan Clem, chief executive officer of the wedding and party-planning company Intertwined Events, says she is hoping that some government loans come through so she can continue to pay her staff. The next two to three months will likely be the worst of the crisis for Intertwined Events.
“All events have been cancelled or postponed to the fourth quarter, so we are seeing a full stop of revenue for May, June and likely July,” said Clem, whose company is based in Irvine, Calif.
IMF asks for international co-operation
Some countries can’t afford sufficiently aggressive rescue plans, the IMF said, and “may require external support.” Georgieva has said that the IMF is prepared to commit its $ 1 trillion in lending capacity to support nations that need help in dealing with the pandemic.
The IMF is also calling on countries to work co-operatively to fight the pandemic.
“Countries urgently need to work together to slow the spread of the virus and to develop a vaccine and therapies to counter the disease,” the lending agency said.
This is an excerpt from Second Opinion, a weekly roundup of eclectic and under-the-radar health and medical science news emailed to subscribers every Saturday morning. If you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do that by clicking here.
Stay home. Do nothing. Save lives.
That might well end up being the story of how Canada conquered the terrible pandemic of 2020.
While Italy and other countries waited to act until cases were flooding hospitals, Canada has a chance to get out ahead of the COVID-19 crisis, according to the researchers who have been watching the coronavirus wreak deadly havoc around the world.
“We can’t afford to wait until we see how bad it is,” said Dr. David Fisman, a University of Toronto epidemiologist. “That just means that you’ve missed the boat.”
But social distancing is one of the most challenging things many Canadians have ever been asked to do.
Up close, it’s messy. As schools close and events are cancelled, it looks like a society in retreat.
But in fact, it’s a society taking control of a situation — a country pulling together in a collective effort to head off disaster.
One Toronto critical care physician published an open letter Thursday warning that this is Canada’s one brief chance to change the course of this epidemic.
Thanks for posting. I hope other <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/physicians?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#physicians</a> have sent something similar. This is no time for incrementalism. Politicians are inching us towards the degree of <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/SocialDistancing?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#SocialDistancing</a> required. To slow down the progress of <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/COVID19?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#COVID19</a> we all need to <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/ShutItDown?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#ShutItDown</a> now. <a href=”https://t.co/9qoyXCQvt4″>https://t.co/9qoyXCQvt4</a>
“I simply want you to know that the COVID-19 situation is dire and may soon be completely out of control,” wrote Dr. Michael Warner, the head of the ICU at the Michael Garron Hospital in Toronto.
He wrote a cri de coeur and sent it to 200 colleagues and his Twitter followers with the hope that it might reach people in time to make a difference.
“We have some time before the surge in patients hits Canada,” he said. “At least one week or longer.”
Warner said he wrote it while he still had the time.
“Two weeks from now I’m going to be too busy to do anything but work.”
His message is blunt:
Avoid all close contact with people unless necessary.
Never shake hands.
Cancel/avoid all travel.
“The only hope to slow the virus is based on community behaviour — that’s you, your neighbour, your family…everyone,” he wrote.
“The current risk to the individual remains low, but the risk to society is immeasurable. I implore you to follow these recommendations to slow the spread of the virus.
“Begin social distancing NOW — do not wait for a politician to tell you it is necessary.”
‘We have to shut this down’
Fisman, of U of T’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, said he almost shed tears of relief when he heard that Ontario announced Thursday it was closing its schools for three weeks.
He got the news while visiting some colleagues in an ICU, dreading the impending crisis and the risks that his friends could soon be facing.
“I feel a great sense of relief that we’re starting to get it,” he said, adding that Canada might just be learning from the mistakes made by other countries. “If you wait until things are bad, you’ve waited too long.”
“We have to really shut this down in order not to have our health care system collapse in the way we’re seeing in other countries. The time to do this is now.”
Fisman has been following the outbreak since early January, when the world first heard about a new coronavirus circulating in China. He calculates that the time to act is before critically ill patients start flooding hospitals.
He calculates the disease progression this way: It takes about five days (on average) from infection to first symptoms, and about seven more days for the infected person to get sick enough to see a doctor.
Add another three days at least before patients become critically ill and end up in the ICU.
Italy learned the hard way, waiting for those first ICU cases before testing for the coronavirus and then shutting down the country. Now horrific stories about overwhelmed hospitals are shocking Canadians into action.
Warner said the stories coming out of Italy prompted his letter.
“Patients are dying. Resources are being rationed. Non-COVID patients with treatable disease are not getting treated,” he said. “I’m not scared of disease and getting sick. I’m scared of not being able to help people.”
‘Hell demon of a virus’
Other lessons Canada still has time to learn: the coronavirus loves a crowd. Church groups, cruises, large medical conferences — all have seeded outbreaks.
“That’s how this hell demon of a virus operates,” said Fisman. “I think we have time because we’re not in the soup yet.”
Canada’s cases are growing, but so far hospitals are not yet reporting large numbers of critically ill patients.
That’s why the country is in the midst of a surreal and unprecedented experience of watching major sporting events cancelled, jury trials postponed, theatres postponing performances and social events disappearing from the calendar one by one.
“None of us has lived through a time like this,” said Fisman, who said the closest comparison is probably the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. And studies of that experience can also guide behaviour now.
One 2007 study comparing Spanish flu in two U.S. cities is suddenly getting wide circulation.
Philadelphia allowed a large parade to happen even though the city already had cases of the Spanish flu. St Louis imposed social distancing within three days of the first cases, dramatically reducing the city’s death rate.
Is it all an over-reaction? That’s something that will only be decided in hindsight.
“I think only retrospectively will we know if it was the right time, but I think we have to use science to guide us,” said Warner. “We have enough science from China and Italy to inform us of what appropriate decisions to make.”
If the social distancing experiment works, and Canada slows the viral spread, the experts say the skeptics might have the last laugh after all.
Fisman hopes the people who call this an over-reaction will be able to gloat in six months.
Because that will mean Canada successfully dodged the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020.
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People collapsing in the streets of Wuhan, coverups of unreported deaths and travellers “escaping” quarantine in China at risk of spreading the coronavirus.
If you’ve been following the outbreak on social media, you may have seen some, or more, of these types of claims.
But the truth is, they’re completely unverified – and in most cases, flat out untrue.
Social media has completely changed the way in which information about a disease outbreak travels around the world and experts say it’s not for the better.
“When there’s a lack of information and there’s fear, rumours come in to fill that gap,” said Alfred Hermida, professor and director of the journalism program at the University of British Columbia.
“The reason people are sharing this is because they’re trying to make sense of what is a really complicated situation and also something that is potentially worrying. The danger is that it spins out of control, because fear then takes over.”
Hermida began tracking the rate at which information about the coronavirus has been shared on Twitter since coverage of the outbreak began late last month.
Hermida’s data showed about 25,000 tweets on Monday in the U.S., followed by over 80,000 Tuesday, close to 200,000 Wednesday, more than 350,000 Thursday and almost half a million on Friday alone.
“Fear is a very powerful motivator here,” he said. “It’s very easy to weaponize and for most people, it’s very hard to figure out if something you see on social media is true or not.
“It plays to our worst fears.”
‘Please quarantine him’
One incident occurred Thursday morning, with the story of a traveller who reportedly “escaped” Wuhan and was heading to Toronto. The traveller was flagged to Toronto Pearson International Airport on Twitter as someone who should be quarantined.
“This guy who escaped from Wuhan yesterday will be arrived at Toronto from Guangzhou today,” one Twitter user wrote. “Please quarantine him.”
The official account for the airport responded publicly, adding legitimacy to the claim and raising important privacy concerns. The information was also reportedly shared with border officials.
“Thank you for letting us know!!” the response read. “We will share this information with Canada Immigration.”
For York University sociology professor Fuyuki Kurasawa, the tweet from an official source like the airport was troubling.
“I haven’t seen anything like that and it seems to me to be a violation of that traveller’s privacy, basic human rights and their right to be considered for fair treatment upon arriving at the Canadian border,” he said.
“I don’t know if the person who was responsible for the Twitter account at Pearson Airport was aware of the potential violation of that person’s human rights or civil liberties, but it certainly seems to be a case that’s highly problematic.”
In a statement to CBC News, a spokesperson for the Greater Toronto Airports Authority said that it’s not uncommon for the airport to receive information that needs to be reviewed to maintain passenger and employee safety.
“The information had been shared widely on social media and blogging platforms before being sent to our account,” Robin Smith said of the tweet.
“The safety of passengers and employees is our top priority, and a response was posted to maintain transparency with concerned members of the public.”
The responses from other Twitter users were indeed concerning.
“For God’s sake keep him away from us!!!!” one Twitter user wrote.
“We need to quarantine everyone on that flight!!” another wrote.
But amid the panic, there was a clear lack of understanding of the nature of this coronavirus and the measures in place to prevent the spread of the illness.
Symptoms may also not present initially and, if this person did in fact leave Wuhan, they would have presumably done so before the quarantine of the city or after a comprehensive exit screening at the airport there.
Fear driving misinformation online
Other outlandish claims include reports that China’s 5G wireless network could help spread the illness, or that nicotine could cure it.
“Anything that’s health-related, the challenge online is that it’s so emotional,” said Ramona Pringle, director of the Creative Innovation Studio at Ryerson University.
“It speaks to our primal instincts about survival that people panic, people have an emotional reaction to it.”
Officials are reminding people to get information about coronavirus from credible sources after large amounts of misinformation about the illness was spread on social media. 2:09
Pringle said a pattern with misinformation that goes viral is that the verified and accurate information never gets the same traction online.
“It doesn’t have the stuff that makes people want to share it. It doesn’t have that shock and strong emotion,” she said.
“Maybe people end up seeing it, but if they see it, they’re not sharing it. They’re not spreading it, unfortunately.”
False alarm in the Philippines
An example of this was a tweet that had huge engagement on Monday.
“WHY IS NO ONE TALKING ABOUT THE #CORONAVIRUS AND HOW IT HAS ALREADY CLAIMED 4 LIVES,” a Twitter user wrote.
“AND THERE’s THIS CHINESE KID IN CEBU WHO HAS THE VIRUS AND HOW THE VIRUS IS CONTAGIOUS BETWEEN HUMANS.”
Cebu, a province in the Philippines, has not had any cases of the illness to date.
Hours later, the same user clarified that the illness may not be the same as the coronavirus outbreak that originated in China, but that tweet was only retweeted five times.
Concerns over racial profiling
Kurasawa, at York University in Toronto, says social media can amplify the fear that people have during an outbreak and decrease their ability to filter inaccurate information.
That can lead to a type of “vigilantism,” where people share personal information online, like in the case of the tweet the airport responded to, or confront them in the real world.
“So you can imagine quickly that there would be targeting of people from specific ethnic or racial groups as a result of this, as potential carriers of a particular in this case of coronavirus,” he said. “And that’s very worrisome.”
Kurasawa said he lived in Toronto during the 2003 SARS epidemic, and saw this type of racial profiling firsthand.
“I was with a friend of mine who is Korean-Canadian and she happened to have a cold. She was coughing, and we were on the subway,” he said.
“And we literally had people who jumped out of their seats, got angry at her for being on the subway, said something and then jumped right out of the subway car as soon as it got to the next stop.”
This irrational fear and racist behaviour is nothing recent, but Kurasawa said it could easily happen again with the current outbreak.
“The debate is going to be whether the message of ‘let’s remember the lessons of SARS’ is going to win over the message of fear and panic, where people justified racist behavior because of their concern about their own health,” he said.
“That’s the concern I think that a lot of people are having.”
Exhausted after a nearly 16-hour flight from the opposite side of the world, Canadian wildfire specialists were cheered by Australians on arrival at Sydney’s airport.
They’re the latest to join the growing Canadian presence supporting the battle against Australia’s destructive wildfires, in a season of record-shattering temperatures.
“It’s something we really have to wrap our heads around,” says Alberta’s Morgan Kehr, senior representative of the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre. “We have seen extreme fire behaviour in Canada. But not over the geographic area we are dealing with here. Or with the frequency.”
The added Canadians arrived as the Australian state of New South Wales recorded a stunning milestone: the amount of area burned is now 20 times larger than an average year, consuming homes, farms and neighbourhoods.
They are not front-line firefighters, but specialists in aviation, logistics and fire behaviour prediction, to understand how the fires will grow, where they’ll move and how they might be contained.
Australia can use the help.
Firefighting force nearly all volunteers
The pace of this fire season, which started weeks earlier than usual, and has been sustained by tinder-dry conditions from three years of drought and unrelenting heat waves, is testing the Rural Fire Service, an almost-entirely volunteer force.
“It’s the largest voluntary fire service in the world,” group captain Will Lee says as he dispatches firefighters to douse a scorched forest where the insides of trees are still burning, and threaten to ignite a new bushfire.
“A fire came through here the other day, fairly ferociously, and it was stopped by a ton of heroes.”
The firies, as they’re known in Australia, form the largest volunteer fire organization in the world. Some have decades of experience with the service, but not all can take time away from their regular jobs as Australia fights its worst fires in years.
WATCH: Canadian volunteers extinguish spot fires in Australia
Canadian wildfire specialists arrived in Sydney, joining the growing Canadian presence supporting the battle against Australia’s destructive wildfires, in a season of record-shattering temperatures. 0:25
As firefighter Rosemary Seberry uncoiled a hose to provide slack to her colleagues snaking through the forest, she pointed to the others on the firefighting team: three teachers (herself included), an arborist and an Uber driver.
“Today’s job is to prevent the fire from jumping across the road,” she hurriedly told a CBC crew.
To do that, the crew, ranging in age from their teens to well into their 60s, are using water and foam to cool still-burning trees, after the main front of the fire has moved through.
Australian law allows each volunteer 10 days away from their jobs to respond to fires. But many have gone well beyond that, some stretching their service into months.
For those who can, it’s meant another set of hands to confront flames that can sometimes tower over 40 metres, fires so hot that they’ve boiled the water in fire engine tanks, the resulting steam popping hoses off their mounts.
Some of the hottest fires have melted the aluminum and magnesium used in cars, leaving rivers of molten metal running from the burned husk of a vehicle.
Conditions about to get worse
All those suffering from the smoke and flames got a small respite this week as temperatures cooled into the 20s, and small amounts of rain were recorded along the eastern and southern coasts of the country.
It was not enough to extinguish the flames but, in some cases, did put the fires advance into neutral. But the explosion is coming.
By Friday, temperatures will soar once again into the 30s and winds will pick up, enough that seemingly-dormant or slow-moving fires will once again reach monster proportions.
Extra firefighters are being called in for the weekend, as 3,000 Australian military reservists join the front lines of the battle.
An enormous navy ship, HMAS Adelaide, is preparing to take in those expected to flee for safety toward the water. It has set up hundreds of cots on board, and has landing craft ready to ferry evacuees from beaches to the safety of the open water.
And the new batch of Canadians will be at work, just as the worst of it resumes.
“I have been in the rural fire service for over 20 years and have never seen it to this magnitude,” Insp. Ben Shepherd explains from the RSF’s operations centre in Sydney.
Because it is summer during Canada’s winter, the two countries have long shared resources when the other doesn’t need them. But as the fires worsen, fire seasons have lengthened.
“Where traditionally we would have seen a quiet time of the year, we don’t have that anymore,” says Shepherd.
Some of the Canadians will be leaving Australia soon, in part to prepare for Canada’s annual forest fires and the mitigation work that happens in the spring, hoping to avoid catastrophes like the kind Australia is now experiencing.