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India reports biggest daily jump in COVID-19 infections this year

India reported the year’s biggest daily increase in COVID-19 cases on Sunday, with 25,320 new infections, a day ahead of a lockdown in the western state of Maharashtra, the epicentre of the renewed surge.

The increase was the biggest since Dec. 16, according to federal health data. India is the third-most affected country globally with 11.36 million cases, behind the United States and Brazil.

India’s COVID-19 deaths rose by 161 to 158,607 over the last 24 hours, Sunday’s data show, compared to an average of about 100 since early February.

Nagpur district in Maharashtra will lock down on Monday for the first time since nationwide curbs were lifted in June. The state reported the highest number of infections with 2.3 million cases.

The capital New Delhi has reported a steady rise in infections over the last two weeks, with health authorities cautioning residents against any slackening of hygiene measures.

WATCH | Coronavirus surges in India to highest numbers in three months:

The CBC’s Salimah Shivji reports on the big spike in India’s COVID-19 cases and the difficulties of trying to encourage public health policies to curb the virus. 2:04

India’s caseload had been falling steadily since peaking in late September, but increased social gatherings and travel have caused a spike since early February, even as a nationwide vaccination campaign is underway.

The federal government aims to vaccinate a fifth of the country’s 1.3 billion people by August.

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Pandemic leads to biggest drop ever in global emissions, but trend not expected to last

A locked-down pandemic-struck world cut its carbon dioxide emissions this year by seven per cent, the biggest drop ever, new preliminary figures show.

The Global Carbon Project, an authoritative group of dozens of international scientists who track emissions, calculated that the world will have put 34 billion metric tonnes of carbon dioxide in the air in 2020. That’s down from 36.4 billion metric tonnes in 2019, according a study published Thursday in the journal Earth System Science Data.

Scientists say this drop is chiefly because people are staying home, travelling less by car and plane, and that emissions are expected to jump back up after the pandemic ends. Ground transportation makes up about one-fifth of emissions of carbon dioxide, the chief man-made heat-trapping gas.

“Of course, lockdown is absolutely not the way to tackle climate change,” said study co-author Corinne LeQuere, a climate scientist at the University of East Anglia.

The same group of scientists months ago predicted emission drops of four to seven per cent, depending on the progression of COVID-19. A second coronavirus wave and continued travel reductions pushed the decrease to seven per cent, LeQuere said.

I am optimistic that we have, as a society learned some lessons that may help decrease emissions in the future.– Chris Field, Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment

Emissions dropped 12 per cent in the United States and 11 per cent in Europe, but only 1.7 per cent in China. That’s because China had an earlier lockdown with less of a second wave. Also China’s emissions are more industrial based than other countries and its industry was less affected than transportation, LeQuere said.

Smoke and steam rise from a coal processing plant that produces carbon black, an ingredient in steel manufacturing, in Hejin in central China’s Shanxi Province in November 2019. (Sam McNeil/The Associated Press)

Canada’s emissions were not part of the study. 

The calculations — based on reports detailing energy use, industrial production and daily mobility counts — were praised as accurate by outside scientists.

Even with the drop in 2020, the world on average put 1,075 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide into the air every second.

Final figures for 2019 published in the same study show that from 2018 to 2019 emissions of the main man-made heat-trapping gas increased only 0.1 per cent, much smaller than annual jumps of around three per cent a decade or two ago. Even with emissions expected to rise after the pandemic, scientists are wondering if 2019 be the peak of carbon pollution, LeQuere said.

“We are certainly very close to an emissions peak, if we can keep the global community together,” said United Nations Development Director Achim Steiner.

Chris Field, director of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, thinks emissions will increase after the pandemic, but said “I am optimistic that we have, as a society learned some lessons that may help decrease emissions in the future.”

“For example,” he added, “as people get good at telecommuting a couple of days a week or realize they don’t need quite so many business trips, we might see behaviour-related future emissions decreases.”

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Biggest Navi: AMD Launches the Radeon RX 6900 XT, at $999

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AMD technically launched its Radeon RX 6900 XT today, though stocks of the GPU show every indication of being severely limited. Priced at $ 999, the new Radeon card is intended to be the crown jewel of the Navi stack, and to put AMD on a more competitive footing against Nvidia.

This is a major moment for AMD in several regards. It’s the first time the company has fielded a high-end GPU intended to compete at the top of the market since the launch of the Fury X back in 2015. 2017’s Vega 64 competed roughly against the GTX 1080 at a time when Nvidia already had the 1080 Ti in-market, while the RX 6900 XT is supposed to land in-between the RTX 3080 and the RTX 3090.

Specs on the 6900 XT compared to previous AMD launches. Image by Hot Hardware.

AMD definitely hits its price point — the $ 1,000 RX 6900 XT is $ 500 less expensive than the RTX 3090 — but it offers a relatively small number of features to customers who step up to the card. Because the 6900 XT is a fully-enabled 6800 XT, customers get the benefit of an additional 8 compute units, or a total of 512 compute cores (5120, versus 4608). It also has 1.1x additional ray accelerators and TMUs, but the same base and boost clocks, the same VRAM, and the same TDP. The price gap between the RTX 3090 and the RTX 3080 is much larger than between the 6900 XT and the 6800 XT, but the RTX 3090 adds features like a wider memory bus, a larger jump in the total number of shader cores, and more than double the VRAM. Of course, Nvidia also wants $ 1,500 for the GPU, so they rather obviously needed to give people a reason to pick it.

AMD versus Nvidia at 4K. Data by THG.

According to Tom’s Hardware, the 6900 XT falls behind the RTX 3090 in 4K, with an average of 85fps in 13 games compared with the 3090 at 93.6fps. That makes the RTX 3090 just 1.1x faster than the 6900 XT, for 1.5x more money.

Of course, this chart also shows that the 6900 XT is only 1.06x faster than the RX 6800 XT, while costing 1.53x more money (based on MSRPs, lol). Altogether, the RTX 3090 is 1.18x faster than the 6800 XT, but costs 2.2x more. That’s the kind of price/performance ratio you’re buying into, if you choose to buy at the tip-top of the market.

THG writes that the RX 6900 XT “is slightly faster than the RTX 3080, and it can beat the 3090 in a few cases.” Ray tracing performance between AMD and Nvidia is currently very difficult to analyze. The games already on-market (with extensive Nvidia GPU optimizations and limited AMD optimization, if any) favor Nvidia, a lot. The couple of tests AMD distributed before launch of the 6900 XT favor AMD. With so few tests and such a lopsided optimization situation, it’s difficult to tell how things shake out.

The expectation that I’ve seen, which still seems true, is that Big Navi’s ray tracing performance is better than Turing, but not as good as Ampere. AMD’s newest GPUs seem to hit ~2080 Ti ray tracing levels and they offer the performance at <2080 Ti pricing, but they’re strongest against Nvidia in rasterized workloads so far. This could change with future optimizations and patches.

Hot Hardware and THG reach somewhat different conclusions regarding the overall performance of the card. THG notes: “Overall, however, the RX 6900 XT fails to impress relative to the RX 6800 XT. It’s such an incremental bump in performance that it hardly seems worth the trouble.” While it’s fast, it lags in ray tracing workloads and the $ 1500 RTX 3090 is viewed as offering more features.

Hot Hardware, in contrast, writes: “The AMD Radeon RX 6900 XT rocks. Is it the fastest card across the board? No. But it is an immensely powerful and capable GPU, with a beefy 16GB of memory, a leading-edge feature set, and obvious synergy with current-gen game console architectures, which should bode well for game development and optimizations moving forward.”

My own take (I’ve reviewed the 6800 XT but not the 69000 XT) is that the 6900 XT is AMD’s way of signaling it intends to compete in the high-end of the graphics market once more, but that the company is still playing catch-up in some regards. This is not automatically a bad thing. If we look back to 2015, we see AMD nearly-match the GTX 980 Ti, only to fall short of the mark with the Vega 64 in 2017. From 2016 – 2019, AMD’s most-competitive positioning was between $ 100 – $ 300. In mid-2019, Navi debuted at higher prices with the 5700 and 500 XT, and demonstrated that AMD was still capable of competing with Turing. With Big Navi in 2020, AMD has demonstrated that it can compete with Nvidia in the upper market once again — but Biggest Navi is still a bit of a reach.

Part of the reason for this, it should be said, is because AMD chose to emphasize high VRAM loadouts and relatively high clocks for its lower-end cards. AMD chose to weaken the RX 6900 XT’s positioning by improving the RX 6800 and RX 6800 XT, and while that makes their top-end solution a little bit of an underwhelming step up, it looks this way for the best possible reason.

Most Radeon gamers will, I suspect, be best-served by either the 6800 or the 6800 XT. Nevertheless, the 6900 XT sends a message to investors and enthusiasts that AMD intends to compete robustly in GPUs as well.

When you’ll actually be able to buy one of these cards is anyone’s guess. A recent PR from Swiss retailer Digitec revealed that the company had received just 35 cards for launch, implying that this GPU is going to be extremely difficult to find. In that sense, the entire discussion is academic, since you won’t really be able to buy a card until 2021 unless you want to pay 1.5x – 2.5x over list price. There are RTX 3090’s going on eBay for $ 2,000 to $ 2,500, and some that list for even more, so the chances you can buy a new RDNA2 GPU before Christmas are small, no matter what.

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The biggest wildcard in U.S. politics now: Trump fans in Georgia

They drove for hours to see Donald Trump last weekend then lined up for hours more, wearing Trump caps and T-shirts, chanting Trump chants, jeering various Trump’s nemeses, and seething over an election they will eternally insist was stolen from Trump.

The decisions made by this same group of Georgia voters over the next few weeks could shape the course of American politics for the next few years. 

A pair of Jan. 5 elections in this state will determine which party controls the U.S. Senate, with registration closing Monday and advance voting beginning next week.

To hold the chamber, Republicans must win one of these two races; the outcome will affect future president Joe Biden’s ability to confirm judges, appoint cabinet members, and sign legislation.

The concern for Republicans: Will these voters show up?

The party’s fortunes depend on turnout from what might be described as ‘Trump First’ voters, those diehard supporters currently fuming at anybody they see as insufficiently loyal to the president.

What has party brass concerned: the possibility these voters might stay home after the presidential election, disillusioned by Republican officials’ refusal to help Trump overturn the result.

Pete Toole dislikes most politicians except Trump. He still intends to vote in the Senate runoffs. (Alexander Panetta/CBC)

The weekend rally in Georgia allowed for a timely temperature-taking of this powerful slice of the electorate.

Very few people had signs for Republican senators Kelly Loeffler or David Perdue at the event, even though their re-election campaign was ostensibly the reason Trump flew in for an airport runway rally.

When Loeffler and Perdue spoke, rally-goers drowned them out with chants about the president like, “Stop the steal!,” and, “Fight for Trump,” a chorus of thousands of people making clear what truly stirs the political passions.

Fuming at Trump’s loss

Seated in the crowd, Pete Toole said he dislikes most politicians — that includes all Democrats, and most Republicans.

The one Republican he truly adores is Trump. And what matters to him, right now, is getting the Supreme Court to overturn the presidential election result.

He’s not sure how, or on the basis of what legal arguments or evidence any of that could happen, but the retired grocer from the small town of Uvalda, Ga. just can’t believe his man truly lost.

He thinks other Republicans should be doing more to help Trump stay in office and his disdain extends to the two Republican Senate candidates who were on that stage.

“I’m not a Republican or a Democrat. I’m for Trump,” Toole said. “I don’t like [Republican senators Kelly] Loeffler or [David] Perdue.”

Loeffler and Perdue are seeking re-election against Raphael Warnock, the pastor in Martin Luther King’s old church, and Jon Ossoff, a former congressional staffer.

Toole sees his party’s candidates as weak and mealy-mouthed and said they need to be tough like Trump. When asked how, specifically, they should model their behaviour on the president’s, he replied: “On everything. They should have his personality. Speak their mind.”

WATCH | Could Trump’s fraud claims could keep Georgia voters home for runoff?:

U.S. President Donald Trump spent some of the weekend trying to rally support for Republican Senate candidates in Georgia, but there are concerns his continued denouncement of the electoral system could convince voters to stay home. 2:03

So what’s the bottom line — will he turn out for the Senate runoffs or not? “I’m going to vote probably for Loeffler and Perdue.”

The reason: to stop the left from gaining power.

And that was the main takeaway from the vast majority of the many rally-goers interviewed by CBC News and other media during the weekend event.

Most of whom said that even if the presidential race mattered most to them, and even if they’re unenthused by most Republicans, they would still turn out and cast ballots to help their party keep the Senate.

The Senate candidates in Georgia. Top from left: Republican incumbents David Perdue, and Kelly Loeffler. Bottom, from left: Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff. (CBC)

There were exceptions.

Lauren Voyles, who made a five-hour drive from north of Atlanta for the event, said she has lost faith in the electoral system. She thinks the vote was rigged against the president, despite the lack of evidence of electoral fraud.

She fumed at the so-called “crooks,” and the “fake-news media,” and what she sees as the weak-kneed Republican establishment not fighting hard enough to keep Trump in the White House.

When asked if she’ll vote in the Senate race she said: “Not in the current system — why would I?”

That dismissive attitude was echoed by angry Republicans who at a recent event shouted down the party chair, and by pro-Trump lawyers who urged a boycott of Senate races as a protest against a party establishment they deride as disloyal to the president.

Stakes high for Democrats too

Such talk is sweet music to Democrats’ ears.

One Democrat who lives several hours north raised her hands in pretend prayer when asked if she expected rifts on the right to depress Republican turnout.

Latresha Jackson, a volunteer with the Democratic Party near Atlanta, said her party badly wants those two seats, which would result in a 50-50 Senate tie and allow vice-president-elect Kamala Harris to cast tie-breaking votes.

“Democrats understand what’s on the line,” Jackson said, speaking at her home in Forsyth County.

The head of the Democratic Party in that same county, Melissa Clink, noted that the party that retains the Senate doesn’t just win more votes — its leadership controls the chamber agenda and decides which bills come up for a vote.

Melissa Clink, the chair of a Democratic county branch near Atlanta, says these races will determine what gets discussed in the Senate. (Alexander Panetta)

All of which holds potential consequences on issues like health care, climate change, infrastructure, and immigration policy.

“Two years of gridlock,” is how Clink described a McConnell-led Senate. “Right now [McConnell is] the gatekeeper of what we even speak about on the floor.”

Her county branch began dropping off promotional flyers last weekend for the Jan. 5 vote, and progressive groups have mailed out applications for absentee ballots.

Democrats, however, have a taller hill to climb.

While some recent polling gives Democrats an edge in what will likely be two close races, history and math are on the Republican side.

For starters, Republicans only need to win one race to retain the advantage; Democrats need both. In addition, Republicans have a history of stronger turnout in runoff elections like these ones, which in Georgia are held after a general election when there are multiple candidates and nobody surpasses 50 per cent.

In the last such runoff, in 2018, the Republican candidate for secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, expanded his wafer-thin general-election lead by more than 3 percentage points in the runoff.

That’s the same Brad Raffensperger who is now receiving death threats because he’s in charge of running Georgia’s elections and he’s refusing to help Trump overturn the result.

Republican strategy: keep Trump in the conversation

Which brings us to the president’s rally.

After the weekend event, it’s now crystal-clear what the Republican strategy is in its effort to ensure turnout from Trump-loving voters.

They’re keeping Trump in the conversation.

Several speakers at the weekend rally cast this Senate vote as a chance to cement the president’s legacy and protect it from Democrats who would undo his tax, energy, climate, and other policies.

“Don’t let them take [that legacy] away,” said Sonny Perdue, a former Georgia governor, current Trump cabinet member, and cousin to one Republican candidate, Sen. David Perdue.

The current Senate breakdown is 50 Republican votes and 48 votes from Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents. If Democrats win both in Georgia, the parties would be tied and future VP Kamala Harris would be the tie-breaking vote. (CBC News)

Trump, for his part, delivered a long speech with three basic themes.

First, he encouraged Republicans to turn out. He called this vote the most important congressional runoff in history, and lauded the two Senate candidates.

Second, he trashed other Georgia Republicans. The bulk of Trump’s speech consisted of grievances about the election, and complaints about the governor, who has refused to help him overturn the result.

Finally, he also gave what sounded like a valedictory address. Trump concluded the speech by listing things his presidency achieved, from tax cuts, to building a U.S. embassy in Jerusalem.

Trump urged Georgians to cement that legacy by turning out for the Perdue and Loeffler: “These seats are the last line of defence to save America and protect all that we have accomplished.”

Not that Trump will ever admit defeat.

Heated rhetoric

Nor will his supporters. They aren’t just grumbling about an election loss; a large number appear to deeply believe he was robbed, based on a litany of unproven or disputed allegations now repeatedly dismissed in court.

They’re livid at the media for reporting he lost. A few screamed at a Fox News crew, while several shouted epithets at the media bus leaving the rally.

Bob Kunst, who drove up from Miami for what he said was his 201st Trump-related event, said Republicans plan to unseat, in future primaries, anyone who fails to help Trump hold onto power.

Some of the rhetoric, he said, is getting even more heated.

“This is like civil-war time,” he said. “I am the most mild-mannered person. But I am way angry. … I’ve had people here tell me they’re armed to the teeth.”

At a rally in Valdosta, Ga., Trump mostly talked about his own achievements and grievances, but also urged Georgians to vote. (Alexander Panetta)

Yet he still cares about the Senate and wants Republicans to win. “They have to,” Kunst said.

One conservative radio host who’s been lukewarm on Trump — initially opposing him, then backing him, and often criticizing him — says he expects the party to unite for the Senate races.

Erick Erickson, a Georgia-based talk-show host, said a number of Republicans do care first and foremost about Trump.

But he said there’s also been a swift backlash to the talk about a boycott, and he expects Republicans will show up. He said history has also shown Georgia Republicans do turn out in non-presidential races, as they did in the 2018 midterm year.

“I think the GOP goes two for two [in the Senate races],” Erickson said in an interview outside his Atlanta studio.

“But it’s gonna be a slugfest. Those of us in TV and radio — we’re gonna come out the winners in this. … It’s going to be close. Maybe closer than it should be.”

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Xbox Series X Launch Is Microsoft’s Biggest Ever, Causes ISP Traffic Spike

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In the run-up to the Microsoft Series X launch, Microsoft made it clear that it would not be outmaneuvered two launches in a row. The Xbox Series X’s overall specs are better than the PlayStation 5 in several particulars, and it offers features like universal backward compatibility that the PlayStation 5 doesn’t have to the same degree. Microsoft also targeted a wider spread of price points than Sony did — while both companies offer a pair of consoles, Sony chose to target $ 400 and $ 500, while Microsoft went for $ 300 and $ 500. The difference between the two is that the PlayStation 5 Digital Edition ($ 400) lacks only a Blu-ray drive, while the Xbox Series S is meaningfully less powerful than the Xbox Series X and explicitly targets 1080p gaming.

Clearly, the company’s targeting paid off. Microsoft has announced its largest launch in history, with more consoles sold (no numbers yet) than in any previous generation. The Xbox Series S, in particular, seems to have drawn new gamers into the Xbox fold. Microsoft notes that more new gamers joined on this platform than in any previous launch. A total of 3,594 different games were played across 24 hours, indicating that the player base definitely took advantage of backward compatibility. The company is also touting high conversion numbers — 70 percent of Xbox Series S|X consoles are attached to new or existing Game Pass members.

Microsoft, of course, is scarcely going to tout numbers that don’t back up its argument, but there’s some independent confirmation that the launch was huge. According to UK ISP Virgin Media, it experienced record-breaking traffic on the day of launch, as gamers set up consoles, downloaded updates, and got to playing. The company served 108PB of data on Tuesday, November 10, or an average of 20GB per customer: “At the peak of recorded traffic, the equivalent of 48 Assassin’s Creed Valhalla games were being downloaded every second.”

The sizeable traffic was driven by the 60GB + 8GB update/release of Assassin Creed: Valhalla, a 30-65GB Call of Duty: Modern Warfare update, an 85-130GB preload for Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, and a 65GB Destiny 2: Blue Light update. What this works out to, in aggregate, is an awful lot of data to download. Other UK ISPs like TalkTalk and OpenReach either set records or nearly set them. The upcoming launch of the Sony PlayStation 5 is also expected to set records.

The Xbox Series S has some drawbacks, but it drew more new gamers into the Xbox ecosystem than any previous launch, according to Microsoft.

The question of which console will sell better over the long run is an interesting one. Going into this generation, Sony is clearly the odds-on favorite. The PS2 utterly dominated its generation, and while the PS3 was badly hampered by its rocky start, it eventually out-shipped the Xbox 360. The PS4, of course, has decisively out-shipped the Xbox One by a more than 2:1 margin.

There are a number of early “Which is better” articles, but they mostly come down to the margins of both ecosystems. Xbox has Game Pass and Quick Resume, while Sony has a larger catalog of exclusive titles, but also less backward compatibility. It also has a better haptic controller, though we don’t know how much use players will get out of the feature long-term. Xbox Series X is faster than the PS5 on paper, but the current game available on both platforms gives the XSX a lead in only some modes. For whatever reason, the PS5, not the Xbox Series X, actually leads in the highest-performing game mode. In other modes, the XSX’s lead is 8 percent or less.

This is a pretty good result for gamers because there are no bad choices on the market right now. The XSX and PlayStation 5 are both powerful, they’re both fast, and they both have a back catalog of games you can play Day 1. We should expect both companies to report exceptional launch figures. The pandemic has driven greater interest in gaming throughout the entire year, and that’s scarcely going to end now that new platforms have debuted. With COVID-19 infections booming across the United States, indoor entertainment is at a premium relative to everything else.

More practically, consoles typically always sell well at launch. Nintendo’s Wii U is the poster child for this effect — the company launched the device on November 12, 2012, and had sold 3.06M of them worldwide by December 31, which wasn’t too shabby. Thereafter, sales fell off a cliff. Nintendo didn’t break the 6 million mark until March 2014.

Given the pandemic and the potential for limited consumer availability, it’ll be some months before we have any idea which platform is proving more popular, long-term. Both Microsoft and Sony are likely to sell every console they can ship, turning the entire affair into more of a pandemic supply chain benchmark than a referendum on console ecosystems.

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Selena Gomez’s Rare Beauty Postpones Photo Shoot Over Coronavirus Fears: The Biggest Cancellations So Far

Selena Gomez’s Rare Beauty Postpones Photo Shoot Over Coronavirus Fears: The Biggest Cancellations So Far | Entertainment Tonight

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Oil prices take biggest plunge in decades amid coronavirus uncertainty, price-war fears

Oil prices dramatically dropped on Monday, down more than 30 per cent after a 10 per cent drop on Friday.

West Texas Intermediate crude fell $ 11.80 US to $ 29.48 and international benchmark Brent fell $ 12 to $ 33.20.

It was the largest single-day drop since the beginning of the Gulf War in 1991.

Prices are falling as Saudi Arabia, Russia and other oil-producing countries argue about how much to cut production in order to prop up prices.

Demand for energy is falling as people cut back on travel around the world. The worry is that the coronavirus outbreak will slow economies sharply, meaning even less demand.

OPEC and key ally Russia failed to agree Friday on a cut to oil production that would have contained the plunge, and on Saturday, Saudi Arabia’s state oil giant Aramco slashed export prices.

“We’re seeing the outcome of a one-two punch in terms of a demand shock from the coronavirus … and on top of that this weekend’s news of a price war started after the breakdown of OPEC plus Russia arrangements,” said Blake Shaffer, an assistant professor of economics and public policy at University of Calgary.

Shaffer said the demand-side drop was expected but the more recent development of a price war is a supply-side issue that’s hammering the market.

A ‘nuclear-sized event’

The oil market has seen arguments like this before. In 2014, OPEC held off production cuts in order to hold onto market share in the face of a resurgent U.S. oil industry. That led oil to tumble from over $ 100 US a barrel to below $ 40 by 2015.

But experts say this drop is much more dramatic.

“This is a really big move. I was an energy trader for 15 years. I don’t have all the daily moves in my head, but this would definitely be one of the biggest ones I’ve seen,” Shaffer said.

Martin Pelletier, a portfolio manager with Trivest Wealth Council in Calgary, said this is a “nuclear-sized event” for an already-hurting Alberta, and if not contained, the economic malaise could spread to the rest of the country.

“This could be the knock-out punch for Alberta, unfortunately,” Pelletier said, adding that some companies might not survive the hit.

“We’re going to really need to see some leadership coming out of Ottawa, and I mean both the Bank of Canada and [Prime Minister Justin] Trudeau and the government … This is a crisis; this is a very serious event.”

Pelletier said he’d like to see both a large fiscal spending program tailored to impacted provinces and an emergency rate cut.

The Alberta government’s recent spring budget forecasts WTI will average $ 58 US a barrel in the coming year, and Shaffer said this is bad news both for the economy as a whole and for the province’s royalty revenues.

“Roughly every dollar [per barrel] is about $ 350 million to the government … We’re talking about a $ 7 billion decline in revenue expectations,” he said, adding that about $ 2 billion is made up from the improved differential and the Canadian dollar, so the net hit would be about $ 5 billion.

Some experts are predicting even lower numbers could be on the way.

Ali Khedery, a former Exxon adviser and now CEO of strategy firm Dragoman Ventures, tweeted “$ 20 oil in 2020 is coming” after news broke of Saudi Arabia’s plans to hike production.

Shaffer said seeing such a wide difference in price forecasts after the province’s budget dropped just weeks ago makes a strong case for the government to change how royalty revenues are budgeted and push for further economic diversification.

“If this is prolonged, you’ll see continued job layoffs and effects on families. One of the really important things I’ll stress is having an economy that isn’t dependent on the outcome of a price war between the Saudis and the Russians … I hope it’s yet another wake-up call in terms of the efforts to diversify our economy,” he said.

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Curling icon Sandra Schmirler delivered in the biggest moments

It’s been exactly 20 years since Canada lost one of the greatest curlers ever to play the game.

Sandra Schmirler’s death on March 2, 2000 sent a shockwave not only across this country, but around the world – she was down to earth, extremely relatable and humble to a fault.

And she won everything there was to win in the sport.

Born in Biggar, Sask., “Schmirler the Curler” was larger than life.

She was also a remarkable curler, leading her Saskatchewan foursome to three Tournament of Hearts titles, three world championships and an Olympic gold medal in 1998.

Two decades later, Schmirler’s legacy is felt at every major curling event and in rinks across Canada.

Here are some of her most memorable curling moments.

1st Hearts win

Schmirler, Jan Betker, Marcia Gudereit and Joan McCusker joined forces in 1991 and quickly made their mark on the curling world.

With the Tournament of Hearts being held in Brandon, Man., in 1993, the Saskatchewan rink made it to the final. There, they faced the hometown favourites — Maureen Bonar’s Manitoba squad — in somewhat hostile territory.

Schmirler and company silenced the crowd, capturing Saskatchewan’s first national championship in 13 years.

Back-to-back Tournament of Hearts championships

Schmirler returned to the Tournament of Hearts in 1994 as Team Canada, looking to defend the title.

After cruising through the round robin with 10 wins and just one loss, Schmirler earned a direct entry into the championship game.

Down 3-2 to Manitoba’s Connie Laliberte in the final end, Schmirler found some magic and scored three in the 10th to capture her second-straight national title.

3-time Hearts Champion

Schmirler would win her third and final Tournament of Hearts championship in Vancouver in 1997.

She took on Ontario’s Alison Goring in the championship game – Schmirler took an early 3-0 lead after stealing two in the second end and would cruise to victory.

Schmirler ran Ontario out of stones in the 10th end to win the women’s Canadian championship for a third time in five years.

The Shot

In late November, 1997 after winning the Tournament of Hearts and World Championship, Schmirler took aim at earning the right to represent Canada at the 1998 Olympics.

She’d make it all the way to the championship game against Shannon Kleibrink.

The pressure was immense and it was a back and forth battle throughout the draw.

In trouble, down 4-3 in the seventh end, Schmirler made one of the more memorable shots in curling. She played an in-off, ricocheting her rock off her own yellow stone at the top of the twelve-foot, careening it toward the button, and taking out Kleibrink’s rock to score three.

Schmirler scored three more in the ninth end to secure a 9-6 victory and represent Canada at Nagano 1998.

WATCH | ‘The Shot’:

1998 Olympics 1:36

Olympic Gold

Schmirler and her Saskatchewan foursome were the heavy favourites heading into the 1998 Olympics having won three world championships in the past five years.

And it was a relatively easy round robin for the team, going 8-1 through the nine games. But their gold medal journey nearly came to a screeching halt in the semifinal against Great Britain.

With hammer in the extra end, all Schmirler needed to do was draw her rock into the full eight-foot, but it looked heavy.

The team and fans watched as the rock kept sliding. It stopped just in time for victory. Schmirler was overrun with emotion and relief and now poised for a gold medal matchup.

WATCH | Schmirler comes up clutch against Great Britain:

1998 Olympics 2:45

The gold medal game lacked drama as Schmirler scored three in the first end against Denmark and never looked back. They’d win 7-5 and claim Canada’s first Olympic gold medal.

WATCH | Schmirler wins Canada’s 1st Olympic gold medal:

1998 Olympics 2:40

When they returned to Regina, more than 1,500 people packed the airport to welcome the team home.

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Coronavirus Takes Down Geneva, 2020’s Biggest Auto Show

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The 2020 Geneva Motor Show got the hook early Friday in the wake of the Swiss government’s concerns about coronavirus and a ban on gatherings of more than 1,000 people. The show’s first events were scheduled for Sunday, with media days beginning Monday, and public days from March 5-15. As of Thursday, show organizers had been reassuring exhibitors, the media, and the public that the show was definitely going ahead.

Geneva draws about 600,000 to its annual, early March dates. While other major shows draw a million visitors, Geneva has been important because it’s not seen as the host country’s show, the way Frankfurt, Tokyo, and Detroit are seen highlighting German, Japanese, and American cars.

The immediate issue is keeping the public safe, dealing with coronavirus (also called COVID-19 and SARS-CoV-2), and its implications. Current research suggests coronavirus is fatal in 2 percent of cases while influenza is fatal in about 0.1 percent of cases – 20 per thousand infected versus 1 per thousand. What’s not known is what percentage of the population might be afflicted; with the flu, it’s about 8 percent, but can vary depending on the strain that season.

New Car Intros We Now Won’t See in Geneva

Among the major Geneva show introductions that now will have to be handled in some other way include:

  • Audi A3 Sportback (wagonlike), and possibly a sportier, longer-range e-tron S EV.
  • BMW i4 EV, as well as plug-in hybrids on the 3 Series and X2 crossover. Tesla scoffs at plug-ins, but they’ve got at least a decade of life where they can provide many of the benefits of EVs, but without the range anxiety.
  • Fisker Ocean, an electric SUV that was teased at CES.
  • Honda Civic refresh, plus EVs that won’t come to the US (Jazz, Honda E).
  • Hyundai was to reveal a new electric-drive platform with the Prophecy concept.
  • Jeep was to provide more details on its plug-in hybrids that were shown at CES.
  • Kia Sorento SUV, fourth generation.
  • Mercedes-Benz, E-Class midlife refresh, and the Mercedes-AMG GLA 45, claimed to have the most powerful inline-four-cylinder engine ever.
  • Toyota crossover based on the subcompact Yaris sedan.
  • Volkswagen Golf GTI and (for Europe if not the US) and the sport Golf GTD, where D is for diesel.

Concerns for the Health of Auto Shows

The cancellation of the Geneva show will amplify the discussion about the financial health of auto shows in general. The last traditional Detroit show (NAIAS) was in January 2018, with soft attendance and the absence of many high-end, international automakers tired of spending millions to market cars Michiganders aren’t likely to buy when they have friends-and-family discounts for Fords, Chevys, and Ram pickups. And with the Detroit show in January, more high-profile introductions shifted to CES in Las Vegas. So that’s the reason for problems in Michigan. Detroit hopes for a reset with the re-emerging as a celebration of spring with more outdoor events, running June 9-20.

A worse sign for auto shows is the absence at the New York International Auto Show (NYIAS), which begins with press days the Wednesday before Good Friday, then has public days through April 19. The three biggest German automakers are gone this year: Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz. Porsche will exhibit. Audi issued a statement that it will “continue to evaluate auto shows on a case-by-case basis moving forward to determine if they are the best platform for US and world premieres of our upcoming models.” For every luxury automaker, metro New York is typically their biggest market, and if not it’s in the top three along with Los Angeles and Miami.

Auto shows serve multiple purposes. New cars are introduced at the show. Automakers can sometimes milk the same car for as many as three go-rounds: world premiere, North American premiere, and on the off chance a car was introduced in Canada or Mexico first, the US premiere. Add the debut of the concept car, sometimes early concept and late concept, and you’ve got five. All this gives the media something to write about, and gets the public thinking about buying cars. But splashy events can become expensive. An off-site event with special effects and transportation of guests easily tops a million dollars.

The public days give potential buyers a chance to see cars. That’s when the automaker staffs are for the most part departed, leaving the regional dealer associations to staff the booths. There’s an open question about how effective shows are now at luring serious prospects when they can learn so much online. If automakers skip the shows, the dealer groups wind up shouldering more of the cost of the booth space.

Finally, there’s the interaction of automakers, media, analysts, and academics. The LA Auto Show, Nov. 20-29 this year, again has a conference and showcase focusing on green cars and the environment, called Automobility LA, that has been well received. Detroit countered with Automobili-D but it didn’t get quite the response. It’s also a time for automakers and suppliers to talk on background about future plans, and for job-seekers to pass around business cards.

The cancellation hit so quickly that Geneva’s media page was still offering credential information Friday morning.

All through the week, show organizers had said game on, but they urged automakers and media to be screened if they had concerns about being infected. At the same time, automakers had been pulling top executives from the show, which meant canceled briefings for analysts and media. And some organized media trips supported by automakers had been canceled as well. For small companies and individuals who bought non-refundable airline tickets and reserved hotels, that money is lost.

By midday European time Friday, the Geneva International Motor Show (GIMS) landing page carried a brief note:

The 90th edition of the GIMS, which was supposed to welcome the media from next Monday and the general public from 5 to 15 March 2020, will now finally not take place. This is an injunction decision of the Federal Council of 28 February 2020 that no events with more than 1,000 people are allowed to take place until 15 March 2020.

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Some of Ontario’s biggest hospitals are filled beyond capacity nearly every day, new data reveals

Overcrowding has become so common in Ontario hospitals that patient beds are now placed in hallways and conference rooms not only at times of peak demand, but routinely day after day, research by CBC News reveals. 

New data obtained through a freedom of information request show the widespread extent of the province’s “hallway medicine” problem, something that Premier Doug Ford has promised to end.

An exclusive analysis of the data by CBC News shows that hospital gridlock — a phenomenon that used to be restricted to surges in patients during flu season — is the new normal. 

Some of Ontario’s biggest hospitals were filled beyond 100 per cent occupancy nearly every day in the first half of last year. 

Five hospitals in the Greater Toronto Area, as well as the main hospital in Hamilton, Sudbury, Peterborough and Niagara Falls all spent more than 160 days over their funded capacity during the 181-day period from January through June 2019.

CBC News analyzed data for all 169 acute care hospital sites in the province during this six-month time frame. Some of the key findings: 

  • 83 hospitals were beyond 100 per cent capacity for more than 30 days.
  • 39 hospitals hit 120 per cent capacity or higher for at least one day.
  • 40 hospitals averaged 100 per cent capacity or higher.

An expert on hospital administration calls the figures “astonishing” and says they demonstrate that overcrowding is now a widespread phenomenon around Ontario.

“These are really big numbers,” said Donald Redelmeier, a professor of medicine at University of Toronto. He said the data show the hallway medicine problem is neither occasional nor restricted to a few hospitals.

Redelmeier said such chronic overcapacity makes the hospital experience extremely dissatisfying for patients, it means non-emergency surgeries get postponed, and it means when there’s a surge of new patients, there’s nowhere to relieve the congestion. 

“You ought not to be striving for 100 per cent capacity because it doesn’t leave you any reserve for when things get tough,” said Redelmeier, who is also an internal medicine specialist at Sunnybrook Hospital.  

“We’ve got warning signs going off all over the province and the situation just isn’t viable,” said Anthony Dale, chief executive of the Ontario Hospital Association. 

WATCH: Overcrowding affects patients from the moment they enter ER

New data obtained by CBC News shows that hallway medicine is becoming the norm at many Ontario hospitals because of overcrowding. 2:14

“All across the province you have hospitals at extremely high levels of occupancy,” said Dale in an interview with CBC News. “What we’re seeing is that it’s no longer just during the flu season but it’s all year round.”

The chronic nature of the overcrowding “is simply not sustainable, not for patients, not for people who work in hospitals,” Dale said 

The acute care hospital site that was the most frequently filled beyond capacity was Mackenzie Health’s 333-bed Richmond Hill Hospital. Its acute care wards were overcapacity on all but two days in this six-month period.   

A tour of its emergency room in the early afternoon of a recent weekday — typically a time of lower ER volumes as compared to evenings and weekends — revealed around a dozen patients on stretchers in the corridors or placed alongside the nursing station desk. The situation has become so entrenched that signs are posted assigning hallway spots an official bed number.

The acute care wards of Richmond Hill Hospital were above 100 per cent capacity on all but two days in the first six months of the 2019, making it Ontario’s most overcrowded hospital, according to data analyzed by CBC News. (Mike Crawley/CBC)

“For our staff who work in this environment, they would describe it as constantly working under crisis,” said Mary-Agnes Wilson, executive vice-president and chief operating officer of Mackenzie Health, which runs Richmond Hill Hospital. 

Richmond Hill provides an example of how the ripple effect of overcapacity in acute care wards is felt in the emergency department.

Even after being admitted, a patient typically spends hours stuck in the ER waiting for a ward bed to open up. Over the past year, the average patient admitted to an Ontario hospital spent more than 16 hours in the ER before getting a ward bed, according to provincial data.  

At the Greater Niagara General Hospital in Niagara Falls, the average admitted patient waited 46 hours in the ER before getting a bed on a ward in November, the most recent month for which statistics are available.

This space at Southlake Regional Health Centre in Newmarket, Ont. used to be an exercise gym to help patients with physical rehab. Now it is permanently set up as an overflow patient ward, with a makeshift nursing station and beds separated by screens. (Aizick Grimman/CBC)

Although the occupancy data analyzed by CBC News comes from the first half of 2019, there’s little if any indication the situation has improved since then.

Niagara Health says the overcapacity problem across its three acute care hospital sites did not improve in the second half of 2019, averaging 104 per cent during both six-month periods last year. 

At Southlake Regional Health Centre, a 500-bed facility in Newmarket, occupancy averaged 110 per cent in the first six months of 2019, according to the data. In the second half of the year, occupancy averaged 113 per cent, says the hospital’s CEO, Arden Krystal. 

Unconventional spaces

Hospitals’ chief method of coping with the demand is to place beds in makeshift locations, now officially enshrined as “unconventional spaces” in the Ontario health care bureaucracy. At Richmond Hill, a former meeting room now houses 10 patients separated by cubicle dividers. At Southlake Regional Health Centre, overflow spaces include former exercise rooms and a kitchenette. 

“We try to fill every nook and cranny because the risk of having 40 or 50 admitted patients standing in our emergency department is even greater than filling those spaces,” said Krystal. “When emergency gets backed up, they start to get worried that they can’t assess people quickly enough to make sure that they can stay safe.” 

Mary-Agnes Wilson is executive vice-president and chief operating officer of Mackenzie Health. She stands in the emergency department of Richmond Hill Hospital, where patients are routinely cared for in beds in hallways. (Mike Crawley/CBC)

Figures provided by the Ministry of Health suggest a five to six per cent drop in the use of unconventional spaces province-wide over the past year.  

“It was increasing steadily year over year but we have managed to halt that,” said Health Minister Christine Elliott. 

  • Have you experienced hallway medicine in Ontario? Email us and tell us your story.

That still means nearly 1,000 Ontario patients are being housed in hallways, lunch rooms and auditoriums every day. Elliott admitted it will take “several years” to achieve Ford’s promise of ending hallway health care.  

“This isn’t a problem that grew up overnight, it has been building up over a number of years,” Elliott said in an interview Tuesday. “There’s no simple solution to change it, there’s a lot of action that needs to be taken and we are doing that.” 

Root causes

The number of acute care hospital beds in Ontario has stayed effectively the same for 20 years, at around 20,000 while the province’s population has grown by three million people. Ontario now has fewer acute care hospital beds per capita than any other province: 1.4 beds for every 1,000 people. That’s on par with Mexico, and half the number in the U.S.

WATCH | Anthony Dale of the Ontario Hospital Association says hospital overcrowding is putting a strain on health-care providers

‘We’re asking for health-care providers to do increasingly demanding things,’ says Anthony Dale.   0:58

But shortages of care available outside the hospital system are also crucial factors in the overcrowding.

On any day, one out of six hospital beds is occupied by a patient who doesn’t need to be in hospital, but cannot be safely discharged home. This is a long-running phenomenon in health systems across Canada known as “alternate level of care” (ALC). Lengthy waits for long-term care spaces are the chief cause, but a lack of available home care and other forms of continuing care also contributes. 

While the number of ALC patients in Ontario hospitals hovered between 3,500 and 4,000 for the first half of the 2010s, it grew over the past five years, exceeding 5,300 in September 2019, according to figures from the Ontario Hospital Association. 

This means creating new hospital beds is not necessarily a better solution than freeing up the beds occupied by patients who ought to be elsewhere. 

Ford became premier in June 2018, and his Progressive Conservative government by no means created the hallway medicine trend. The previous Liberal government froze hospitals’ annual base funding for four years running. 

Nor is hospital overcrowding restricted to Ontario. Recent reports of overflowing patients come from MontrealSaskatoon,  Moncton, N.B. and Kentville, N.S.

Southlake Regional Health Centre, in Newmarket, Ont., is on the long list of hospitals in the province coping with the issue of hallway healthcare. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Solutions to hallway medicine

Some of the most obvious solutions to the problem won’t happen quickly or without a major outlay of public money. One  top priority is expanding the number of long-term care facilities to meet the demands of a senior population that is growing in number and in the complexity of its needs.

The Ford government is embarking on a long-term reform of the health system that includes reorganizing how funding is provided. The aim is to shift those hospital patients who don’t need to be there into care elsewhere. 

The reform is centred on teams that bring together hospitals, home-care agencies and long-term care facilities in geographic areas. Each team will receive a combined pot of funding to provide the range of health services its population needs.  

Hospitals are taking their own steps to try to reduce patient demand.

For people with chronic conditions such as congestive heart failure, Niagara Health has focused on developing programs to support the patients at home after discharge. “This has already shown great reductions in emergency department visits, hospital readmissions and days spent in hospital,” said Derek McNally, Niagara Health’s executive vice-president of clinical services and chief nursing executive.

“We know that there’s a lot more work that we need to do,” said Elliott. “It’s like taking an ocean liner and turning it around. it doesn’t happen on a dime.”

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