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After the Harry and Meghan interview, how does the monarchy keep calm and carry on?

In a career spanning decades, Alastair Campbell has seen it all — politics, royalty, scandal and intrigue. 
As former British prime minister Tony Blair’s communications chief when Diana, Princess of Wales, died after a car crash in Paris in 1997, Campbell is used to managing controversy and tackling communications crises head on.
And yet, the explosive interview Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, did with Oprah Winfrey, watched by more than 60 million people worldwide still left him “fairly shocked.”
“Normally these things never quite live up to the hype, but it actually sort of did,” Campbell said. 

Millions of people around the world watched the interview. This photo illustration shows people in masks in Arlington, Va., watching on March 7. (Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images)

Revelations from the interview included allegations from the couple that an unnamed family member raised “concerns” about how dark their son Archie’s skin would be before his birth, as well as claims by the duchess that life in the palace was so difficult she had contemplated suicide, and had received no help when she reached out.

In the face of this latest controversy, the monarchy still seems likely to survive. But any changes to adapt to the times will be subtle and slow.

Echoes of another crisis

Campbell documented his insight into the Royal Family in detailed diary accounts after Diana’s death. He said listening to Meghan talk about her own struggles inside the palace brought back memories. 

“I was quite sad,” Campbell said. “I know Harry a bit. I knew Princess Diana, and I kind of heard echoes of Princess Diana, to be honest. When Meghan talked about not being supported when she was trying to get help and when Harry spoke about feeling that his father let him down, I could kind of hear those echoes.”

The former Princess of Wales Diana, seen here with her son Prince Harry, also criticized the way the Royal Family treated her. (John Redman/The Associated Press)

They are echoes of a similar time when Diana’s divorce from Prince Charles, the next in line to the throne, and later her death, rocked the monarchy to its core, forcing it to look inwards and examine its role in a changing society. 

Meghan’s interview with Winfrey also carried echoes of the 1995 interview Diana gave to BBC journalist Martin Bashir for the BBC’s Panorama program, which was kept secret from Buckingham Palace.  

Charles Anson, press secretary to Queen Elizabeth from 1990 to 1997, said the parallels between the two interviews were clear. 

“I had similar sorts of feelings both of interest and also concern about how much it would touch on family and private matters, which perhaps will be better discussed within a family circle,” Anson said. 

But is it simply a “family issue” to be resolved privately, or are there wider questions to be asked on just how damaging this is for the monarchy?

No impact on ‘the constitutional situation’

Robert Hardman, royal reporter for the Daily Mail and author of the book Queen of the World, said this is a serious situation for the Royal Family, but that ultimately, this too shall pass and the institution will survive — “as it always does.” 

“This is a fallout between members of the family. It doesn’t have a direct impact on the constitutional situation.

“I mean, clearly, there’s reputational damage here. But you know what? The Diana interview in 1995 was making more important points going right to the heart of the monarchy. The abdication crisis of 1936 was an existential crisis.”

Public opinion seems to support Hardman’s view. A recent YouGov poll of 1,672 people between March 8 and 9 found 63 per cent of respondents want to retain the monarchy. That’s down from 67 per cent in October 2020, but still a majority. 

Meanwhile, the interview didn’t bode so well for the royal couple. A YouGov poll on Friday found that 48 per cent of 1,664 respondents had a negative attitude of Harry compared to 45 per cent with a positive view. That’s the first time his net favourability rating has been negative. Fifty-eight per cent had a negative opinion of Meghan and only one-in-three had a positive view. 

Prince Harry and Meghan confirmed in February that they will not be returning to work as members of the Royal Family. (Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

“They’re relevant because they’re seen as relevant,” Campbell said. “There’s no other royal family in the world that gets this sort of attention for anything. None. I think it’s partly history, it’s partly tradition. It’s partly that they are an important part of our soft power.”

But is a stamp of public approval enough to keep the monarchy relevant moving forward? Royal observers say change is inevitable. The question is, how much change and how fast? 

“Any institution that refuses to move with the times is doomed. They know that,” Hardman said. “But they are not a brand of soap powder or something. They can’t rebrand. You can’t suddenly change the formula. You’re dealing with a human institution and it moves at a different pace.

“It moves outside the political cycle. Politicians have to worry about being re-elected every few years. Monarchy doesn’t work like that.”

Addressing racism

Experts generally agree that the monarchy is in no real danger of becoming obsolete. However, the issue that there are claims of racism within the family has resonated beyond palace walls in the U.K. and beyond.

On Thursday, while visiting a school, Prince William was asked by a reporter if the Royal Family were racist, to which he replied: “We’re very much not a racist family.” It was the first direct response from a senior royal after Meghan’s allegations. 

Royal commentators who have been following the royals for years said it’s extremely rare for any member of the Royal Family to respond to questions thrown at them by reporters. But Prince William clearly felt compelled to reply. 

The 61-word statement from Buckingham Palace in response to Harry and Meghan’s interview, issued almost 40 hours after it first aired, did little to douse the fire. 

“The issues raised, particularly that of race, are concerning. While some recollections may vary, they are taken very seriously and will be addressed by the family privately,” it said.

Lisa Bent, a British author of Jamaican descent, said the statement was not enough.  

The interview and its repercussions have been reported in British newspapers. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP Photo)

“This again shows that the monarchy doesn’t have the know-how of how to deal with such issues in today’s society. It’s a different world right now, and their traditional ways aren’t cutting it with what we need for today’s society.”

Priyamvada Gopal, a professor of postcolonial studies at the University of Cambridge, said wider discussions on race in British society are relatively recent compared with North America. 

“The defensive mode is normalized, whether it’s the monarchy, whether it’s the tabloids, whether it’s major British institutions, the mood is to hit back rather than say: ‘OK, let’s have a serious conversation.'”

Subtle changes

As for the monarchy, Campbell has theories about how we might see subtle changes to show that the royals are in tune with the times. 

“I’m just guessing now, but I think you’ll see things like possibly more Black people employed there. They’ll be starting from a pretty low base,” Campbell said. 

“I know the Queen’s not doing so many public events, but maybe if she’s at a public event and the military are there, they might just make sure that there’s a few soldiers of colour who are there. I think you’ll see that kind of thing.”

It’s expected that there will be subtle changes made to show the monarchy is keeping up with the times. For example, there may be more coverage of events such as this 2018 meeting between the Queen and Governor-General of Barbados Dame Sandra Mason. (Steve Parsons/WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Campbell, along with most long-time royal observers, point out that any sign of modernizing the monarchy, or adapting to the times wouldn’t be in the form of grand gestures. 

The Queen is “like an enduring winner,” he said.

“They’ll get through this. They’ll adapt. They’ll change a little bit and you’ll probably notice a few subtle changes in the coming months and then they’ll just get on with it. They’re survivors.”

WATCH | The Sussexes divulge stories of racism in interview with Oprah Winfrey: 

Meghan Markle’s claims that she not only experienced racism from the U.K. tabloids, but also that a member of the Royal Family asked about the colour of Archie’s skin has sent shockwaves around the world, but the palace remains silent. 2:43

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CBC | World News

BioWare Axes Anthem Overhaul, Will Keep Game Running in Current State

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BioWare has announced it will not be overhauling Anthem as previously stated. The news is unlikely to sit well with the handful of people still playing the game and it indicates that the trend towards games that are “too big to fail” may be a little less entrenched than we previously thought.

Anthem is BioWare’s troubled third-person looter shooter / role-playing game that was roasted on release for repetitive play, poor design choices, and for what one reviewer called a “tediously repetitive grind.” Despite all of this, Anthem apparently sold well — back in 2019, the NPD Group reported it was the 5th best-selling game for 2019, though they don’t appear to have released the actual numbers. Estimates have ranged from 3-5 million copies moved, and that was several years ago. The game may not have met publisher expectations, but 3-5 million in sales certainly isn’t bad.

The idea that BioWare could turn Anthem around isn’t crazy. Titles like No Man’s Sky and Fallout 76 launched in rotten condition, but have received a steady stream of improvements and additional content. No Man’s Sky has gone from a title I wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole to a game I’ve bought and spent some time in. My significant other plays it more than I do, but I’ve watched it evolve from over her shoulder as well as covering it for ET. The game has been built out and expanded to the point where it’s a fundamentally different title than what Hello Games launched back in 2016. Fallout 76 hasn’t made as many changes as NMS, but it also wins credit for significant improvements since launch. Anthem was expected to be the next major title to win accolades for a wholesale post-launch revamp.

The writing may have been on the wall since Casey Hudson left BioWare last December. When Hudson launched the revamp in February 2020, he promised BioWare was “specifically working to reinvent the core gameplay loop with clear goals, motivating challenges, and progression with meaningful rewards—while preserving the fun of flying and fighting in a vast science-fantasy setting.” 10 months later, Hudson departed BioWare, along with Dragon Age 4’s executive producer, Mark Darrah.


Anthem won praise for its graphics, but the gameplay loop was lacking.

Jason Schreier of Bloomberg posted a story on Feb 8 declaring that Anthem’s future was under serious review by various EA executives. At the time, some 30 people were reportedly working on the game, with expectations that the staff would need to at least triple in order to finish Anthem Next in a reasonable period of time.

BioWare’s blog post is straightforward. “[W]e’ve made the difficult decision to stop our new development work on Anthem (aka Anthem NEXT). We will, however, continue to keep the Anthem live service running as it exists today.” The rest of the post mourns the situation that brought this decision about and declares BioWare will instead focus its efforts developing Mass Effect and Dragon Age titles, while also providing “quality updates” to Star Wars: The Old Republic.

BioWare’s pledge to keep Anthem running as-is may or may not be the kiss of death for the game. It’s not clear how large the active player base is, but anyone still playing n the hopes that Anthem Next would dramatically overhaul it for the better is likely to quit at this point. The phrase “as it exists today” implies there will be no future content releases or DLC for the title, since those plans had been put on hold back in 2019 to create what BioWare eventually called “Anthem Next.” BioWare’s blog post does not mention any plan to release the full DLCs that were originally planned and given that the game’s player base is thought to be low, there may not be a financial incentive to develop the content in the first place.

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Raptors to keep calling Tampa home for rest of season

The Toronto Raptors will play all their home games in Tampa, Fla., this season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The NBA team said Thursday the team will complete its home schedule at Amalie Arena after initially announcing in November it would play half its home games in Tampa before making a decision on the second half of the season.

The Raptors say the decision was made because of border restrictions and public safety measures in Canada.

The lone NBA team from outside the U.S., the Raptors have joined several Canadian counterparts in having to play south of the border during the pandemic.

Major League Baseball’s Toronto Blue Jays (Buffalo, N.Y.) and Major League Soccer’s Toronto FC (East Hartford, Conn.), CF Montreal (Harrison, N.J.) and Vancouver Whitecaps (Portland) relocated for partial or full seasons in 2020. Major League Rugby’s Toronto Arrows will start their 2021 season in Marietta, Ga.

A schedule release for the second half of the season is expected in the coming days.

City of champions

“Florida has been really welcoming to us and we’re so grateful for the hospitality we’ve found in Tampa and at Amalie — we’re living in a city of champions, and we intend to carry on the tradition of winning for our new friends and fans here,” Raptors president Masai Ujiri said in a statement.

“But home is where the heart is, and our hearts are in Toronto. We think often of our fans, of our Scotiabank Arena family, and all those we are missing back home, and we can’t wait until we can all be together again.”

The Raptors are 6-5 in their “home” building this season, which they’re sharing with the Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning. Tampa also has the reigning Super Bowl champion Buccaneers and the Rays played in the World Series last season.

There have been reports the Blue Jays are considering playing home games in nearby Dunedin, Fla., site of their spring-training complex, this season.

Logistical issue

The Raptors’ decision is hardly unexpected given the state of the pandemic in the U.S. and Canada. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Tuesday that starting next week any nonessential travellers arriving in Canada by land will need to show a negative PCR-based COVID-19 test or face a fine if they don’t have one.

That wouldn’t be an issue for NBA teams; travelling parties are tested daily, players multiple times a day.

The bigger issue is logistics. The land border already remains closed to nonessential travellers who are not Canadian citizens; Canada requires those entering the country to isolate for 14 days, which wouldn’t be feasible for NBA teams, and the Canadian government has also strongly discouraged nonessential travel for any reason.

Toronto made the move south last fall, knowing Thursday’s decision was a real possibility.

The Raptors tried to simulate the comforts the team has at home in Toronto, at least as much as possible. “We The North” — the team motto — signage is everywhere in the hotel that the Raptors are using as a practice facility in Tampa, from the elevator doors to the ballroom wall behind one of the baskets. The court that the Raptors use for games was shipped down from Toronto. And there’s a 2019 world championship banner swaying from the rafters, alongside the Lightning’s retired jerseys for Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis, at the same end of the court as the Raptors’ bench.

“They did a great job,” Raptors guard Fred VanVleet said earlier this season.

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CBC | Sports News

As COVID-19 exposes long-term care crisis, efforts grow to keep more seniors at home

Lucy Fernandez volunteered in a long-term care home for 20 years.

Although she saw first-hand how much of an effort staff and her fellow volunteers made to keep the residents happy, she also saw many seniors languishing in their rooms.

“While she was still, you know, fairly cognizant, [she] expressed her desire of not wanting to go to a long-term care facility,” her daughter, Laura Fernandez, said.

Lucy, now 85, suffers from advanced Alzheimer’s disease, with limited ability to speak and move. Because she’s one of 850 people in Ontario’s High Intensity Supports at Home program, announced by the provincial government in December, personal support workers come in for several hours a day — in addition to others who work with her on cognitive development — allowing Laura Fernandez to keep her mother at home in Toronto.

“She is in her own environment, she’s happy,” Fernandez said. “Just knowing that I’m there, I know is giving her comfort.”

That’s the level and quality of home care that should be much more widely available to seniors, according to several health policy advocates, including the National Institute on Ageing and the Ontario Community Support Association.

In addition, they say, it would ultimately save governments money by keeping more seniors out of long-term care facilities, which are expensive both to build and run.  

COVID-19 put spotlight on home care

The benefit of increased home-care investment in Canada is getting long-overdue attention, now that COVID-19 has torn through long-term care homes, killing thousands of residents and exposing lethal weaknesses in the system, said Dr. Samir Sinha, head of geriatrics at Mount Sinai and University Health Network hospitals in Toronto.

“Long-term care is at a crossroads,” said Sinha, who is also the director of health policy research for the National Institute on Ageing.

“People are thinking about their futures more than ever before and saying, ‘When I age, you know, am I going to be able to age with independence? Will I have to go into one of these homes? You know, how do I actually stay in my home for as long as possible?'”

WATCH | Laura Fernandez’s mother volunteered in a long-term care home:

Laura Fernandez describes the difference it makes for her mother, who has advanced Alzheimer’s disease, to receive the care that allows her to stay at home. 1:15

Not only do most seniors want to live at home for as long as possible, more of them actually could, according to a report released by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) in August 2020.

After reviewing the health status of people admitted in long-term care facilities in several provinces over the course of a year, CIHI concluded that across Canada, about one in nine new admissions “could potentially have been cared for at home, provided they had access to ongoing home-care services and supports.”

In Ontario, where people admitted to long-term care facilities are often quite frail or suffer serious cognitive impairment, including dementia, CIHI estimated that one in 12 new admissions could still potentially have remained at home if sufficient care were provided.

“One of the greatest reasons why people end up in nursing homes in Canada is because we don’t have enough publicly funded home care and supports … available,” Sinha said.

Although the Ontario government (under both Liberal and Conservative leadership) has increased its investment in home care and community services over the last decade, those investments haven’t kept pace with the needs of an aging population, according to the Ontario Community Support Association, which represents more than 200 not-for-profit organizations that provide home care and community support.

While long-term care homes have been struggling during the pandemic, the home-care sector could have helped lessen their load if it were funded appropriately, said Deborah Simon, the association’s CEO.

Devastating COVID-19 outbreaks in nursing homes have exposed enormous weaknesses that the Ontario government has pledged to fix, but many seniors’ experts say expanded home care should be a cornerstone of the solution. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Home care has also proven to be a safer option during COVID-19, Simon said, because seniors could more easily isolate in their own homes than in the congregate living setting of a long-term care facility. In addition, home-care workers use “the full gamut” of personal protective equipment.

“Care can be safely provided to people in the community who have COVID, using those very, very stringent practices around infection control,” Simon said. 

Put home care first, advocates urge

The COVID-19 crisis prompted the Quebec government to announce an additional $ 100 million investment in home care on top of the $ 1.7 billion it had already budgeted for this year.

“Home care is what people want, and they want it even more because of the pandemic,” Health Minister Christian Dubé said at a news conference in Montreal in November.

In a statement, Ontario’s Ministry of Health said it provided about $ 2.88 billion in funding to home care in the 2019-20 fiscal year. No estimate was given for the 2020-21 fiscal year.

Both the National Institute on Ageing and the Ontario Community Support Association say government funding should be prioritized so that home care is the end goal, rather than just an interim solution until seniors get a space in long-term care. (David Donnelly/CBC)

On Tuesday evening, a ministry spokesperson told CBC News in an email that “the government continues to make investments in our home-care sector for 2021-22,” citing an “additional” $ 111 million for the High Intensity Supports at Home program to help people with high needs — including Lucy Fernandez — transition out of hospital to home.

The spokesperson also cited last October’s announcement of a $ 461 million “temporary wage increase” for personal support workers in both home-care and long-term care settings during COVID-19.

In a separate statement, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Long-Term Care said it was investing up to $ 20 million for a community paramedicine program to provide services to seniors in their homes while they wait for a bed in long-term care.

But both the National Institute on Ageing and the Ontario Community Support Association say government funding should be prioritized so that home care is the end goal, rather than just an interim solution until seniors get a space in long-term care.

The Ontario Community Support Association has submitted a pre-budget consultation report to the provincial government, advocating for an investment of $ 595 million in the 2021 budget to make that happen.

The National Institute on Ageing has also submitted a proposal, co-authored by Sinha, to prioritize home care.

WATCH | Doctor says most Canadians want to age at home for as long as possible:

Geriatrics specialist Dr. Samir Sinha says boosting the level of home care and sending fewer people to long-term care facilities is both cost-effective and the right thing to do. 0:33

Both reports estimate the cost of home care to be significantly less expensive than long-term care. They also point to the Ontario government’s own estimate that about 38,000 people are currently on the waiting list for a long-term care bed.

To address that, the Ontario government has pledged to build 15,000 new long-term care beds and update 15,000 more.

That will cost billions of dollars that could be better invested — at a lower cost — in building a robust home-care system, Sinha said.

“By finding that better balance with those future investments we’re looking to make, I think we’re actually going to allow more people to age in the places of their choice,  which frankly allows everybody — the taxpayers and individuals and governments — to win.”

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Canada is on the hunt for coronavirus variants — but may not be able to keep up with outbreaks

This is an excerpt from Second Opinion, a weekly roundup of health and medical science news emailed to subscribers every Saturday morning. If you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do that by clicking here.

Canada is on the hunt for highly contagious strains of the coronavirus, but experts say they could already be spreading across the country and we may not be able to keep up with surveillance as more outbreaks occur.

Only five per cent of virus samples in Canada are tested for coronavirus variants, including those first identified in South Africa, Brazil and the U.K. — with the latter estimated to be at least 56 per cent more transmissible than the main coronavirus and potentially more deadly as well.

There have been at least 34 cases of variants confirmed in Canada in recent weeks, but several have no known link to travel and have prompted concerns the variants could be already driving outbreaks undetected.

“To ensure that virus variants that can spread more easily do not take hold, there is even greater urgency to suppress COVID-19 activity in Canada,” Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said Wednesday.

First variant outbreak in Canada a ‘wake-up call’

Canada’s first outbreak due to a coronavirus variant was identified this week at the Roberta Place long-term care home in Barrie, Ont., where at least 81 staff and almost all 130 residents have been infected with COVID-19 since the outbreak was declared on Jan. 8, including 27 who have died.

Local public health officials suspected the outbreak was caused by the variant first identified in the U.K., also known as B117and sent samples to public health laboratories for further testing earlier this week.

Six preliminary samples have since tested positive for a variant, but it will take days to determine whether the outbreak was caused by B117 or a different strain. 

“Barrie has become ground zero for what is likely a [coronavirus] variant of concern, which has spread rapidly throughout Roberta Place and we are concerned that it will spread into our community and into other long-term and retirement homes,” said Dr. Charles Gardner, Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit’s medical officer of health.

“This is a race against time and we need to use the COVID-19 vaccine as our most effective means to protect these residents. We have to do what we can to prevent other outbreaks.”

Local public health officials said Friday night they were accelerating the vaccine rollout in light of the outbreak and will begin vaccinating residents and staff at the long-term care home this weekend.

The Roberta Place long-term care home in Barrie, Ont., is facing Canada’s first outbreak where a coronavirus variant was detected. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Prof. Robyn Lee, a genomic epidemiologist at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, said the situation at Roberta Place should be “another wake-up call that we really need to be doing something to stop transmission in the community and to test people to make sure that this doesn’t come into long-term care facilities.” 

Lee is awaiting the full results from the Public Health Ontario laboratory to see which variant specifically was spreading at Roberta Place, but says it’s likely we’ll see more outbreaks across Canada in the near future. 

“These variants appear to be more transmissible, which means we’re going to see more cases — especially if they do kind of kick off,” she said.

Lee says Canada needs to “very seriously crack down” with public health measures and speed up vaccination rollouts across the country in response to the threat posed by variants.

A visitor talks to a resident through a window of the Roberta Place long-term care home on Monday. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

“What we’re seeing in Roberta Place is what happens when these get in and how aggressive they can be,” said Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious diseases physician at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton and an associate professor at McMaster University.

“The whole concern about this variant is it getting into care facilities and places with vulnerable people — and it did exactly that.” 

Chagla said the Roberta Place outbreak has also raised concerns that variants could be the driving factor behind other recent COVID-19 outbreaks in Canada with unusually high numbers of cases in a short period of time. 

“There certainly is a worry that some of those were actually related to coronavirus variants,” he said.

“There’s probably a bigger burden out there.”

‘Detective work’ identifying variants is slow

Testing for the variants is done through a time-consuming process called genomic sequencing, which requires highly specialized staff and equipment and takes days to return results — precious time when variants could spread more widely. 

“We need to increase our surveillance of the virus in Canada,” said Art Poon, an associate professor in the department of pathology and laboratory medicine at Western University in London, Ont.

“We need the resources to do more sequencing so that we have better capability of tracking the spread of not only variants of concern, but other variants that may be arising in Canada.” 

Catalina Lopez-Correa, executive director of the Canadian COVID Genomics Network (CanCOGen), which was formed in April 2020 to track variants and co-ordinate viral genome sequencing across Canada, said that while the number of samples tested in Canada is low, the testing efforts are focused on very specific samples. 

“It’s not about the numbers, it’s about the strategy,” she said. “It’s about prioritizing the right samples and co-ordinating efforts.” 

Lopez-Correa said CanCOGen’s strategy for testing for variants in Canada includes targeting fast-spreading outbreaks; geographic regions with an unusually high growth in cases; younger patients with very severe disease; reinfections; and those infected after being vaccinated.

There are currently eight labs across Canada testing virus samples for the variants, including the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg and seven other provincial labs. 

“Some people are calling us genomic detectives and that’s exactly what we are,” said Lopez-Correa. “It’s detective work trying to figure out where those variants are and how to trace them.” 

But although scientists are working around the clock to test the samples, they can only move as fast as the results will allow — meaning scaling up surveillance in the face of faster spreading variants isn’t easy. 

WATCH | Coronavirus variant first detected in U.K. may have higher death risk: Boris Johnson

While saying the variant of the coronavirus first detected in the U.K. may be associated with a higher degree of mortality, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it’s also putting additional pressure on the nation’s health-care system. 1:42

“If you have a contained outbreak in a specific geographical region, you don’t need to sequence everybody that’s infected in that outbreak, because most of them will have the same variant of the virus,” Lopez-Correa said. “But, of course, it’s a challenge to increase the amount of samples we’re doing.” 

CanCOGen was created with initial federal funding of $ 40 million, half of which was allocated specifically for sequencing the virus, but Lopez-Correa said Canada could divert more money to staff and resources to test for the variants faster.

Lee said even with increased funding there is only a certain amount of surveillance Canada can reasonably do, given that the labs work on samples for all kinds of different viruses across the country. 

“Ideally, we would be sequencing more, and I know there are efforts to do this, but there are some limitations,” she said, including the time it takes to collect samples, transport them to specific labs, sequence them and analyze the results. 

“That involves a lot of different people and a lot of different resources. So, while it would be great to keep scaling up, there are going to be limits on what can be done.” 

Canada ‘way behind’ on sharing data on variants

The World Health Organization called on countries around the world to increase their capacity to test for variants earlier this month, but also underscored the need to share the data internationally. 

Poon said Canada is “way behind” in sharing data on variants around the world, partly because our public health system is understaffed and doesn’t currently have the resources to keep up with genomic surveillance.

“We are conservative about data sharing … I think that concerns about privacy have overridden calls to share data with other countries,” he said.

“Since this is a global pandemic, getting a clear picture of what’s going on requires open sharing of data between countries. But that’s not something that’s been happening with Canada.” 

Lopez-Correa said Canada could improve its capacity to share data across the country and internationally. She said data is first shared domestically before being sent overseas.

“We could do better, but we’re submitting the data,” she said. “If you look at regions like Africa, Latin America, they’re not generating that data. They don’t have the capacity.” 

Without effective international sharing of data, Canada could continue to see new variants arise in the future that are only identified after they’ve spread around the world. 

WATCH | Vaccinations a race against coronavirus variants: 

New coronavirus variants are increasing the pressure to get more people vaccinated before the variants derail those efforts and vaccines need to be retooled. 2:01

In the meantime, Lee said, the emergence of variants in Canada further underscores the need to vaccinate those most at risk of severe illness and death as soon as possible.

“Vaccination is going to play a critical role in this. We need to get everyone vaccinated who is in those long-term care facilities and all of the staff as well as their primary caregivers,” she said.

“I think that has to be the No. 1 priority at the moment.” 

To read the entire Second Opinion newsletter every Saturday morning, subscribe by clicking here.

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CBC | Health News

What it will take to keep nursing home residents safe from COVID-19

To counter some of the drivers of coronavirus transmission among essential workers, governments across Canada should prioritize safety, say experts who’ve looked closely at avoiding outbreaks among the most vulnerable.

Canada’s worst outbreaks continue to hit residents of long-term care homes, where short staffing can make it difficult to care for vulnerable people sick with COVID-19. To keep them safe will require addressing long-standing staffing shortages on top of stockpiling personal protective equipment and changing how the long-term care sector is led.

Farinaz Havaei, an assistant professor in the school of nursing at the University of British Columbia, says she found a combination of good planning, strong leadership and a focus on safety contributed to how a large B.C. long-term care facility successfully kept COVID-19 at bay at the start of the pandemic.

“Their [leadership] decisions were essentially driven by prioritization of safety rather than being driven by budget and finances, which was really important,” Havaei said. She and her team analyzed surveys and reviewed administrative data and interviewed leaders, workers and family members for the research.

In contrast to the horrors reported by the military at some devastated long-term care facilities in Quebec and Ontario in the spring, Havaei said staff at the B.C. facility went above and beyond in caring for residents.

The workers spent quality time with those under their care, reading them books, painting their nails and facilitating virtual connections with family members.

WATCH | A daughter’s devotion to helping her mom recover from COVID-19:

When her 98-year-old mother was diagnosed with COVID-19, Mary Sardelis moved into the retirement home to save her life. She said what she saw was ‘no man’s land.’ 7:52

Havaei is now planning a provincewide study of B.C.’s single-site employment policy for long-term care workers, which requires staff to work in only one high-risk site.

To Havaei, more flexible paid sick leave policies and ensuring adequate 24/7 staffing in long-term care homes go hand-in-hand with keep residents safe.

“My personal opinion is that staffing is the cause, or is probably one of the root causes, of this whole situation,” of having to call in the military to deal with outbreaks in long-term care homes during the first wave, she said. 

She says several factors exacerbate the challenges staff face in long-term care homes:

  • Crowding of residents.
  • Residents may lack the cognitive ability needed to follow handwashing and other infection prevention measures.
  • On top of their regular workload, staff became the eyes and ears of family members who weren’t allowed to visit or provide care.

Havaei points to a body of research, including her own, that’s established a link between burnout of nurses and higher likelihood of adverse events for patients or residents.

“They are more likely to make some sort of a patient-adverse event, like making a medication error, having their patient fall, violating infection prevention control guidelines that potentially result in urinary tract infection and so on,” she said. 

During the second, worsening wave of COVID-19 across much of Canada, nurses and personal support workers at long-term care homes face those everyday challenges on top of the coronavirus. About 40 per cent of all long-term care homes in Ontario alone are dealing with an active COVID-19 outbreak.

Havaei wonders whether stretching staff too thin in such a high-risk environment contributes to lapses in infection control that can allow the virus to take hold.

In B.C., health-care workers top the list of workers’ compensation claims followed by long-term care, a much smaller industry proportionately.

Staffing is probably one of the root causes of devastating outbreaks of COVID-19 in long-term care homes across Canada, says Farinaz Havaei. (Submitted by Farinaz Havaei)

Work both improves health and can sicken

Victoria Arrandale, an assistant professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, studies how to reduce exposure to hazards in the workplace, including COVID-19. It’s a field she was drawn to after suffering an ankle injury at a pulp mill in her home province of British Columbia, plunging her into the world of filing a workers’ compensation claim.

“I just got hooked on thinking about how work does impact people’s health,” Arrandale recalled. “It improves people’s health because it provides stable income, hopefully, but it can also make people sick.”

Arrandale said paid sick leave is an important policy because it can help prevent the introduction of the coronavirus into the workplace.

From a population-level perspective, Arrandale would like to see more detailed collection of workplace data during contact tracing, as in Ontario’s Peel Region and Hamilton, and as Toronto is moving toward.

“We’ve got good information on health care, but having it for every [sector] would allow us to better understand where the workplace burden of COVID is arising,” Arrandale said. “There may be groups of people who we’re not recognizing that could be more precariously employed or racialized groups, women.”

Having a more complete picture could improve understanding of where and why workplace outbreaks occur to better target prevention measures, such as staggering shifts and breaks, providing alternative lunch spaces or splitting up people who are all working in a row while still achieving workplace goals, she said.

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First Nations man starts weight loss journey to keep up with his sons

After the birth of this third son, Dallas Pelly was worried about being able to physically keep up with his boys. He decided to make a lifestyle change and committed to eating a better diet and getting fit.

“These guys are my inspiration,” said Pelly, the proud father of three boys aged five, two and three months.

“I want to set a good example for them to live mino-pimatisiwin, a good life. I think that’s holistic, not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually.”

Pelly, 31, is Saulteaux from Cote First Nation, Sask., and lives in Saskatoon. 

When his youngest son was born in September, Pelly weighed 450 pounds. He talked to his doctor about weight loss surgery and was told that he was being put on a long wait list. 

Since starting his journey in November, Pelly has lost over 30 pounds. But more importantly, he feels better. (Shalisse Pelly)

“Basically [the doctors’] outlook is that if things don’t change, I literally won’t live as long,” he said.

“So, you know, things like hypertension, cardiovascular heart disease, diabetes runs in my family.”

Pelly said the pandemic was also starting to take a toll on his health. He wasn’t eating well, was eating too much, and a lot of his diet consisted of takeout.

“I’ve got three young kids at home and it was just unhealthy,” said Pelly. 

In November he decided to commit to exercising and a better diet.

“I remember the first workout I did, I felt like I was going to throw up,” said Pelly.

With the help and support of his wife Shalisse, together they started with simple home exercises that included aerobics and body strengthening routines. He said he has noticed improvements in a short amount of time. 

“I’m surprised at what my body can do,” said Pelly.

“There’s things that I’m doing right now that I’m like… I was stretching and I could touch my toes and I can’t remember a time when I could do that. So, yeah, it’s pretty crazy. I’m feeling just a lot, lot better about my body.” 

Another priority for Pelly’s progress is getting out for evening walks with his family.

As a way to keep himself accountable, Pelly started an Instagram account, Pellygetsfit, and has been documenting his journey.

He has received hundreds of messages from across the country from people who are not only encouraging him to keep going, but also people inspired to make on their own health and wellness changes.

“I want to be a role model for other Indigenous men and boys who are looking to start their own journey,” he said.

Community support

Alyssa Cross is Kanien’kehá:ka, from Kahnawake, Que., and in January 2019 she became a mom for the first time. Five months later, she made a promise to herself and to her daughter that she would become more active.

Alyssa Cross says making the choice to pursue a healthy lifestyle is the best decision that she has made. (Angel Horn Photography)

After having her daughter, she weighed 450 pounds and said it had taken a toll on her mental health. She started doing home workouts watching YouTube tutorials and started making minor changes to her eating habits.

She said the biggest surprise from her journey has been the support that she has received.

“My family, since Day 1, they were there for me,” said Cross. 

“I have my community riding with me. It’s actually an amazing feeling. It gets me a little shook because I honestly didn’t think that my community would have supported me as much as they do.”

Alyssa Cross made lifestyle changes in May 2019 after her daughter was born. She says people in her community have been her biggest supports. (Alyssa Cross)

Today, she has lost over 135 pounds and has noticed significant changes in her mood.

“My mental health really took a turn when I started accepting myself as I am and not trying to be something that I wasn’t,” said Cross.

Cross and Pelly both say their journeys are not about setting a goal weight, but rather making lifestyle changes and feeling good about themselves.

“My main goal in life is to be healthy,” said Cross.

“It’s to be healthy mentally and physically, to be strong in both aspects. You know, weight-wise it doesn’t really matter the number I want.”

For Pelly, his goal is to physically get to a point where he can hit the powwow trail as a traditional style dancer.

Barriers to wellness

“I think with a lot of Indigenous people, there’s a lot of fat shaming and a lot of people saying ‘You just gotta make the right decision,'” said Pelly.

However, he said there are a lot of barriers when it comes to First Nations health. He said communities often lack affordable healthy food options, or even grocery stores, and that many reserves don’t have recreation facilities where people can exercise.

“It’s not just a simple thing to say ‘move around a little bit and you’ll be healthier,’ I think there’s a lot more to that,” said Pelly.

Joanna Thich, the Diabetes Integration Project dietitian for the First Nations Health and Social Secretariat of Manitoba, said western medicine often looks at health through the lens of the individual, rather than how colonialism and systems have played a role in the health of Indigenous people.

When it comes to getting healthy, Thich said that could mean different things for different people and that people need to figure out what works best for them.

“I think we need to find routines that work for that individual,” said Thich. 

“I know there are lots of fad diets out there like generic meal plans, but it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach.”

She recommends that when people take on things like exercise routines or changes to diet, that it’s more of a behavioural change and sustainable in the long term.

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Italy’s oldest bell-making shop turns to online overseas sales to keep ancient craft alive

It’s difficult to imagine an Italian town or city without a skyline of turreted church towers or an hourly clamour of bells peeling and chiming in the air.

With the Vatican nestled in the heart of the country, the large bronze instruments have made Christianity literally resonate throughout Italy for centuries

But just as the multitudes called to daily mass by the belfry tolling have all but dried up, the ancient knowledge used to produce the giant bronzes is at risk of vanishing.

And that makes the survival of Italy’s oldest bell foundry — located in the small town of Agnone in the country’s hilly, desolate southern region of Molise — a near miracle.

“This is a complex trade that involves precise understanding of mathematics, physics, geometry and music,” said master bell maker Antonio Delli Quadri, 83, whose customers include the United Nations in New York and the Vatican.

“From the rigour of numbers to the harmony of sound.”

No machines, no mass-produced moulds

Delli Quadri began helping forge bells when he was just 15, starting with “the most humble tasks” inside the light-dappled bustling workshop run by the Marinelli family since at least 1339. Up until the 1950s, some two dozen bell foundries, all family-run, were operating throughout Italy.

Today, the Marinelli foundry is among five survivors and is the official provider of bells for the Vatican.

“You could say by sticking to these centuries-old ways, we’re now avant-garde,” said Pasquale, 50, the younger of the two Marinelli brothers now running the foundry.

“We haven’t introduced machines. We’ve stayed in the same traditional workshop instead of moving into a bigger factory. We refuse to work with soulless, mass-produced moulds.”

Artisan Ettore Marinelli, 28, is a member of the latest generation of Marinellis to keep his family’s ancient bell foundry. Marinelli Pontifical Foundry is the oldest bell foundry in Italy and one of only a handful remaining in the country. (Chris Ward-Jones)

Indeed, the materials scattered throughout the workshop — clay, wood, wax, bricks and bronze — are the very same as those the medieval artisans used. The Marinellis also employ the same techniques to design and forge the bells, including a geometric formula involving the height, diameter of the base and distance from the base to the top of the bell, with the thickest part of the bell always a 14th of the diameter.

While bells are an integral part of Catholic churches in Italy and elsewhere, the bronze instruments have played an essential role in community life that pre-dates the time in the Middle Ages when they gradually stopped being hung above town doors and began ringing on church towers.

World’s ‘first mass media’

Paola Patriarca, a foundry artisan who curates the small bell museum above the Marinelli workshop, where more than 1,000 bells are on display, calls bells the world’s “first mass media.”

“The sound of bells are now seen as nostalgic, but remember, just 50 years ago, not everyone had a watch,” said Patriarca. “Bells served [as] essential services, like warning when it was going to rain, or one hour to sunset, which had a particular importance for workers far afield or in the woods under heavy canopy cover.

“Even for those out fishing, when the sky was clouded over, the sound was a message to head back to shore. Bells kept people safe.”

Intricate decorations for the bells are carved in wax. (Chris Warde-Jones)

Bells are booming online

While the world’s original mass medium may be fading in Italy, the advent of new, digital means of communication have kept the Marinelli foundry going.

Online orders from expanding churches in Africa, Asia and South America, not to mention from Buddhist temples and musicians, have helped offset the drop in orders from Catholic churches in Italy and Europe.

Still, the Catholic influence is as deeply embedded in the bells as the gold rings believers once tossed into the boiling bronze – both in their nomenclature and production.

Bells blessed by priest

The Marinellis refer to bells as “sacred bronzes” and describe them not as formed but “born,” with the initial wooden and brick structure that gives shape to the inside called the “anima,” or soul. To this day, a priest is called to the foundry to bless the bell, emitting a flurry of Hail Marys at the moment of fusion, when the bronze liquid is poured into the mould.

‘I saw that bell born,’ Delli Quadri says of the Jubilee Bell at the Vatican. (Chris Warde-Jones)

“Bells contained parts of the community they tolled above,” said older Marinelli brother Armando. “As an act of faith, people would throw their gold bands or necklaces into the bronze as it began setting. So, in a very material way, many bells contain bits of our past. And when bells ring, people hear the older generations ringing in them.”

Producing the desired ring remains a challenge. One small mistake can result in having to go back to the beginning of a process that can take up to three months. With large bells, some weighing up to 600 kilograms and costing in the tens of thousands of dollars, precision is imperative.

Delli Quadri said any bell maker who boasts they have never erred is lying. He said his own missteps were thankfully on smaller, less important bells.

Hope for the tradition to continue

Delli Quadri, who has spent a lifetime inside the foundry and perilously perched on belfries to mount the giant bronzes, prefers recalling his triumphs — his biggest, he says, being the Jubilee Bell for the Vatican in 2000.

“I saw that bell born,” he recalled with pride, “and followed it through to completion. From the first brick here in the workshop to mounting the bronze on a structure that I built myself in the Vatican gardens.”

He said he’s hopeful that with the next generation of Marinellis committed to keeping the foundry going, the centuries-old secrets will stay alive, at least for the near future.

“These are intergenerational businesses,” said Delli Quadri. “And if you don’t have a next generation willing to take on bell making, that’s the end.”

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Inside Manitoba’s busiest ICU: The beds are full and COVID-19 patients keep coming

‘What we don’t have is staff’

It’s nine in the morning and hospital beds are as coveted as they have been for months.

As part of the pandemic response, health officials meet virtually every morning to discuss the management of an overflowing hospital.

In a meeting room, charts and graphs are beamed onto a white wall for people on the call, like a scene out of a science-fiction movie.

Some rows are coloured in red, which represents an overcapacity unit.

They can tell the number of suspected COVID-19 positives across the HSC site, broken down by unit.

“Right now on our children’s unit, we have three suspect positives,” Jennifer Cumpsty, acting chief nursing officer for HSC, told a visitor later in the morning.

Jennifer Cumpsty, acting chief nursing officer for HSC, describes the purpose of the hospital command centre where they strategize the movement of patients every morning. (Mikaela MacKenzie/Winnipeg Free Press/Canadian Press)
Jennifer Cumpsty, acting chief nursing officer for HSC, describes the purpose of the hospital command centre where they strategize the movement of patients every morning. (Mikaela MacKenzie/Winnipeg Free Press/Canadian Press)

The problem, says Cumpsty, isn’t space in the hospital; they can keep finding rooms to put more beds and more COVID-19 patients.

“What we don’t have is staff,” she said. “That is our limiting factor.”

To address that, teams of specialists led by critical-care nurses have formed to care for patients befallen by the virus.

These teams include staff who would otherwise not work in critical-care units, such as the nurses in the GD-2 unit — an orthopedic surgical ward before the pandemic, said Anna Marie Papiz, the unit’s manager of patient care.

“Staff, if you were to speak to them and ask them, have they had experiences with patients who have passed away … many of them would say very rarely, and now that’s become commonplace here,” she said.

In December alone, 212 Manitobans have died of COVID-19 so far — that’s 40 per cent of the 523 people who’ve lost their lives from their virus.

“The number of patients that we’re sending up to MICU [medical intensive care unit], the number of deaths that we are encountering, is far greater than we’ve experienced as surgical nurses.”

Health-care workers are dealing with long hours and juggling many patients at once in their fight against the contagious coronavirus. (Mikaela MacKenzie/Winnipeg Free Press/Canadian Press)
Health-care workers are dealing with long hours and juggling many patients at once in their fight against the contagious coronavirus. (Mikaela MacKenzie/Winnipeg Free Press/Canadian Press)

Papiz said that staff are working through their fears, putting in long hours and overtime. They’re skipping their breaks to tend to the patients entrusted to their care.

Surgical nurse Aaron Turner said his colleagues are brushing up on skills they haven’t practised since university.

“There was a lot of anxiety from staff, pushing ourselves well out of our comfort zone,” he said.

One of his new duties, he said, is connecting dying patients by phone with their loved ones, who are barred from entering the hospital.

“It’s not something we’ve had to do before,” Turner said. “It becomes part of business, I suppose, but you can never get used to that.”

Despite these new duties, health officials put up for interviews exude a confidence that the employees they have in place — reassigned and otherwise — can handle the influx of COVID-positive cases.

Hospital resources were stretched so thin in early November, the province imposed a near-lockdown to try to slow admissions.

But officials do openly question whether the health-care system can handle the numbers they’re seeing much longer.

“They are working overtime,” Cumpsty said of the staff. “They are stretched beyond right now.”

WATCH | ‘Every spare space’ turned into a COVID-19 unit:

That stretching has included a change, from one-to-one nursing care before the pandemic, to a “team-based” staffing approach, where one nurse cares for multiple patients, with support ranging from respiratory therapists to physiotherapists.

Not everybody on the front lines believes the new care model, announced in November, is tenable.

“Patients will almost surely die in this environment,” a group of nurses at HSC’s medical ICU wrote in an email to officials. “Patients are already suffering from neglect.”

The emails surfaced this week, after they were obtained by the Opposition Manitoba NDP.

In another message, staff said they cannot be expected to monitor several isolated patients at once.

They questioned the unimaginable decision that may arise if a nurse is left alone with multiple patients when a colleague goes on break.

“What room should they prioritize to go first if both alarms require their immediate attention for it’s a matter of life and death?” the email asks.

“Please don’t place these tough decisions on their shoulders.”

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Phys-ed teachers get creative to keep students in shape amid COVID-19 restrictions

Just five per cent of Canadian children met basic physical activity guidelines early on in the pandemic, which is why school phys-ed programs are now looking for alternatives to get students to work up a sweat in a safe fashion.

As a result of physical distancing measures and increased remote learning, children have had more sedentary time during the pandemic, and that has had implications for schools planning physical education.

The Toronto District School Board, for instance, has asked gym teachers to cancel fall fitness training after phys-ed instructors reported that students’ physical activity levels have been alarming so far.

“They’ve noticed that kids are out of breath immediately, so the lack of physical activity that’s taken place over the last seven months is showing,” said George Kourtis, who heads the TDSB’s phys-ed program.

Even so, educators say it’s imperative that kids get a workout of some sort. But that comes with challenges in a remote learning environment.

WATCH | Schools adjust as kids lacked exercise during lockdown:

At one point in the pandemic, only five per cent of Canadian children were meeting the minimum requirements for physical activity. Now, school phys-ed programs face new challenges in keeping kids moving without most team sports because of distancing requirements. 4:10

Jennifer Bell, a Grade 11 phys-ed teacher with TDSB’s virtual school, recently demonstrated lunges to a class by doing the movements toward her laptop screen. But the students had their cameras turned off, which makes the learning more difficult.

“How do we teach sports skills while you’re standing in your living room?” Bell said. “You don’t necessarily have another opponent or a partner to play a sport with. That’s where we’re trying to get creative.”

Physically distanced football

Getting creative includes activities like juggling to practise movement skills and having students regularly type in their 15-second heart rate measurements to show that their heart rate is increasing from the participation, Bell said.

Maryam Sabir, 14, is taking Grade 9 phys-ed in person in Toronto. Maryam said physical distancing rules put a new twist on learning to play football.

Sagier Abdul takes part in a football lesson at her Toronto high school earlier this month. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

“You had to stay six feet apart,” both horizontally and vertically, Maryam said. “You can’t really communicate with other people. It becomes harder to play in the game.”

Maryam said she enjoys being physically active. When the phys-ed class ends next month, she plans to continue to get a workout by playing basketball or soccer with friends.

Importance of movement

National health guidelines recommend that children and youth (aged 5-17 years) have high levels of physical activity, low levels of sedentary behaviour and sufficient sleep each day, including: 

  • An accumulation of at least 60 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous physical activity (such as walking quickly enough to still be able to talk but not sing).
  • Nine to 11 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night for those aged five to 13 and eight to 10 hours per night for those aged 14 to 17, with consistent bed and wake-up times.
  • No more than two hours per day of recreational screen time.

Mark Tremblay, a senior scientist in obesity at the CHEO Research Institute in Ottawa, was part of a team that surveyed more than 1,400 parents of children and youth online nationally in April, about a month after the COVID-19 pandemic was declared in Canada.

Prior to the pandemic, about 15 per cent of kids met Canada’s 24-hour guidelines for physical activity, sedentary time and sleep, said Tremblay.

Kids do a workout in the park in Coronado, Calif., in March. Public health messaging about staying home is important, but it doesn’t mean you have to stay inside, said one obesity researcher. (Gregory Bull/Associated Press)

He found that movement levels had plunged as low as three per cent during the early days of the restrictions.

“Almost no Canadian kids were practising the healthy living behaviours that are associated with health, and that puts them at increased risk, of course, of physical and mental health issues going forward,” Tremblay said, which “is not what public health officials want.”

The study, published this summer in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, suggested that the pandemic wasn’t entirely to blame. But certain factors could increase the likelihood of healthy movement behaviours outside of school, including:

  • Parental encouragement and support.
  • Parents playing actively with their children.
  • Dog ownership.

The lack of physical activity was also influenced by children’s living arrangements. Kids who spent more time active outdoors were more likely to live in a house as opposed to a 40-story apartment building downtown where families may not feel safe playing outside, Tremblay said.

Tremblay said the public health messaging about staying home is important, “but it doesn’t mean stay inside.”

The scientists plan to repeat their survey on kids’ physical activity levels in early November.

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