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Changes to women’s tennis solve one problem but may create another

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Here’s what you need to know right now from the world of sports:

Women’s tennis announced big changes — but are they really?

The Women’s Tennis Association just launched a “comprehensive rebrand” of the WTA Tour that includes a new logo, new slogan and, more interestingly, new names for its tournament tiers. So goodbye to confusing designations like Premier Mandatory, Premier 5, Premier and International. Tournaments that fell into those first two tiers are being merged into the new WTA 1,000 category. The old Premier events are now WTA 500, and International is WTA 250.

At first glance, this is a good call. It’s easier for fans to understand numbers than to, say, decipher the difference in quality between a Premier 5 and just plain Premier event. But the new naming system isn’t as airtight as it might look, and it could lead to some unintended consequences for the WTA.

The main reason given for switching to the numbered tiers is that the men’s ATP Tour does it this way and it makes sense to align with them. Sounds good, but the reason an ATP 1,000 event is called that is because the winner earns 1,000 rankings points. Same idea for ATP 500 and ATP 250. But the women’s tour isn’t making corresponding changes to the points awarded at the newly-named events. They’ll stay the same as they are now. So, for example, the winner of the Miami Open (a Premier Mandatory under the old nomenclature) will still earn 1,000 points. And the winner of the Canada-hosted Rogers Cup (formerly a Premier 5) still gets 900. Even though they’re both WTA 1,000 events now. So much for eliminating confusion among fans.

Then there’s a thornier issue: prize money. Equal pay was the core issue for Billie Jean King and the other women who launched the precursor to the WTA Tour 50 years ago. And tennis loves to trumpet the equal purses awarded at several of its events, including all four Grand Slams. By pro-sports standards, that puts tennis on the vanguard of gender equality. So give it credit.

But what’s often ignored is how some other men’s and women’s events that are seemingly on equal footing don’t pay the same. A great example is the Rogers Cup. The men’s and women’s tournaments take place in different cities (alternating between Toronto and Montreal) but they’re played at the same time under the same name. And yet, the last time they were held, in 2019, Rafael Nadal earned $ 1.049 million US for winning the men’s tourney while Bianca Andreescu got only $ 521,530 — half as much — for winning the women’s.

This is where a lot of people say Yeah, but the men’s tournament brings in more revenue from sponsorships, TV rights, etc., than the women’s. This is true for the Rogers Cup and most other events that feature both a men’s and a women’s draw. But it’s not the justification tennis gave. Instead, the devil was in the details of the promise the sport made years ago to pay equal prize money for men’s and women’s tournaments held under the same name — if those tournaments are of equal importance.

That last part is the key. The men’s Rogers Cup is an ATP Tour Masters 1,000 event — so worth 1,000 rankings points to the winner. The women’s Rogers Cup was a WTA Premier 5 event — worth 900 points to the winner. Since it’s not as important in terms of rankings points, it’s OK for the women’s event to pay less than the men’s. This wouldn’t fly at the Grand Slams, which are worth 2,000 points to both the men’s and women’s winners. Nor at Indian Wells, Miami or Madrid, where the winners each get 1,000 points.

Which brings us back to the WTA tournament name changes. Just as the rankings points awarded in the old Premier 5 events aren’t being automatically levelled up to the old Premier Mandatory ones — even though they’re all called WTA 1,000 now — it’s the same with prize money.

This could cause the sport some headaches. Before, whether you agreed with the practice or not, at least tennis could lean on the differently named tiers of men’s and women’s events as an indication (if not a justification) of their varying quality and pay structures. But now that the tiers are named pretty much identically — WTA 1,000 and ATP 1,000 — it might become harder to explain to everyone why the women earn less.

Us trying to figure out the difference between Premier Mandatory and Premier 5. (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)


Canadian soccer coaches and media made the easiest call ever. They voted Alphonso Davies the winner of the men’s share of Canada Soccer’s Canadian Players of the Year Award. Davies, who turned 20 last month, had probably the best season ever by a member of the Canadian men’s national team, playing a key role in Bayern Munich’s Bundesliga and Champions League titles and winning the German league’s rookie of the year award for 2019-20. The women’s half of the Canadian Players of the Year Award will be announced tomorrow. Read more about Davies here.

Mikael Kingsbury is hurt. For years, we’ve wondered if anything could stop the greatest moguls skier of all time from continuing to pad his record World Cup victory totals. Turns out, a fractured spine. The Canadian revealed today that he cracked two vertebrae while training for this weekend’s season opener in Finland, which will result in his missing an event for the first time in his World Cup career. Kingsbury is expected to be out four to six weeks, which covers the first three events of the season. Read more about his injury here and watch the moguls opener live Saturday at 9 a.m. ET here.

The Rockets and Wizards swapped problems. John Wall and Russell Westbrook both have contracts that guarantee them $ 80 million US over the next two years, plus a player option of more than $ 45 million for the following year. In this economy? Those payouts would be hard enough to swallow if they were going to LeBron James or Kawhi Leonard. But Wall hasn’t played in nearly two years because of injuries and Westbrook still wants to be treated like an MVP even though he’s four years removed from winning one he probably didn’t deserve. Houston and Washington found a solution, though: swap ’em for each other. So Wall and a lottery-protected first-round pick are heading to the Rockets and Westbrook to the Wizards. Read more here about a deal that would have been a blockbuster three years ago but is now just kind of sad.

And finally…

Beth Harmon > Bobby Fischer?

The Queen’s Gambit is a massive hit for Netflix, and it’s inspiring a lot of people to take up chess. Sales of sets and books are way up since the show came out in late October. On a more anecdotal level, the president of the Calgary Chess Club told CBC’s Jackson Weaver that he hasn’t seen this much interest in the game since Fischer’s heyday in the ’70s.

The fact that the show’s protagonist (and most gifted chess player) is a young woman also seems to be broadening the game’s appeal — perhaps in a way even Fischer never did. But some of the sexism depicted in the 1950s-and-’60s-set story still exists in real life. Canadian chess champion Qiyu Zhou — a Harmonesque figure who’s only 20 and won a Finnish national title at age five — says she receives more criticism than her male counterparts during her popular chess streams on the Twitch platform. But she still sees the beauty and magnetism of a game she calls “an art, a science and a sport, all in one.” Read more here about how The Queen’s Gambit could change the male-dominated chess world here.

New on CBC Sports

Bring It In with Morgan Campbell: If you like to hear smart people with smart angles on the places where sports, culture, business, politics and race collide, check out this show. In the debut episode, Morgan talks with boxing commentator Corey Erdman about how last weekend’s Mike Tyson “comeback” fight was also an infomercial for a short-video app that’s hoping to unseat TikTok — and has links to the Trump administration. Then, basketball broadcaster Meghan McPeak and sports/politics commentator Dave Zirin discuss the value of novelty sporting events, Sarah Fuller’s historic college-football kickoff and more. Watch the show here:

In the pilot episode of Bring It In with Morgan Campbell, panelists Meghan McPeak and Dave Zirin discuss the history made by Sarah Fuller, debate the need for novelty events in sports and participate in a rapid game of In or Out on this week’s biggest stories. 34:24

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Rather than attack the real problem, sports organizers have only aimed to limit COVID-19 risk

This is a column by Morgan Campbell, who writes opinion for CBC Sports. For more information about CBC’s Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

Let’s start with two observations we can now consider truth about sports in the COVID-19 era.

First, half-measures don’t work. If you’re not screening participants daily, then quarantining them from the outside world, the way the NHL and NBA did with their respective bubbles, and the way big-time fight promoters have in Las Vegas and Abu Dhabi, you’re leaving openings the virus can, and will, exploit. That’s why COVID-19 didn’t permeate the NBA’s secure campus in Orlando, and why the virus forced the cancellation or postponement of more than a dozen NCAA football games last weekend alone.

Second, the sports world won’t return to whatever normal is going to be until a safe, effective vaccine reaches a broad cross-section of the population. Teams need to sell tickets to boost revenues, but you can’t build an NBA-style bubble around a sold-out stadium. If you want a standing-room-only crowd and the kind of full-throated cheering that accompanies high-stakes games, you have to be sure spectators who arrive healthy won’t leave with a potentially deadly virus.

That’s why recent news from big pharma should have sports fans excited in North America and beyond.

Late last week, drug maker Pfizer announced early data indicated that their COVID-19 vaccine was 90 per cent effective. On Monday, Moderna issued a news release saying their new vaccine prevented COVID-19 in 94.5 per cent of participants in a preliminary trial. News like that could make you envision a return to everything we’ve missed since the COVID-19 pandemic upended the sports industry last winter – full schedules, packed stadiums, in-person meet-and-greets with your favourite athletes.

But a pair of news releases from drug firms competing for market share aren’t enough to bring pro sports back to normal. And if you think we’re all just a needle away from packing Jurassic Park to watch the Raptors in the NBA playoffs, you should temper your optimism with patience.

Sports fandom should, after all, teach us the pitfalls of extrapolating from limited data. If my favourite baseball player goes 3-for-4 on Opening Day, I know better than to think he’ll hit .750 for the season.

WATCH | Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine tests show promising results:

 A COVID-19 vaccine from biotech company Moderna has shown promising early results, appearing to be 94.5 per cent effective, and the company says that it may apply for emergency use in the U.S. within weeks. 3:24

Experts better-positioned than I am will tell you that the early reports, while encouraging, don’t give definitive answers on how these two vaccines will stand up to further trials, or, assuming they’re broadly effective, how to store and distribute the drugs for maximum impact.

But if everything unfolds the way we hope, with regulatory approval pending and broader availability a few months into 2021, we might see something resembling a normal Olympic Games in Tokyo next summer. International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach certainly sees the promise in soon-to-hit-the-market COVID-19 vaccines, and says immunization will likely become a requirement for athletes and spectators in Tokyo next July.

“In order to protect the Japanese people and out of respect for the Japanese people, the IOC will undertake great effort so that as many [people] as possible — Olympic participants and visitors — will arrive here [with a] vaccine if by then a vaccine is available,” Bach told reporters in Japan this week. “This makes us all very confident that we can have spectators in the Olympics stadium.”

Of course, the road to a COVID-19-free Olympics, contested by the best in the world in every event, goes through the United States, a regular at the top of the medal table, and home to the IOC’s most lucrative broadcast rights deal — NBC signed a 28-year, $ 7.75 billion contract extension with the IOC in 2014.

But in the country that also leads the world in COVID-19 cases (11.3 million by Tuesday afternoon), and where more than a quarter million residents have already died of the disease, addressing the pandemic often has more to do with politics and ideology than public health.

Undermining severity of COVID-19

If we drew a Venn diagram charting people who don’t believe in vaccines and people who think face coverings rob citizens of their freedom, we might not need a second circle. And if we counted the ways lame-duck President Donald Trump and his political allies helped spread COVID-19, we’d run out of fingers and toes.

In the pandemic’s opening stages, Trump’s administration bid against individual states for personal protective equipment, raising prices and lowering supplies of gear sorely needed to keep frontline medical staff safe.

In October, a COVID-positive Trump may have exposed Secret Service members to the virus when he had them drive him around Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to wave at supporters who had gathered there.

And in September he lent his heft to a campaign to force the Big Ten conference to reverse its decision to postpone fall sports like football. When the league finally decided to play football this fall, Trump tried to take credit for the decision, hoping it would help him win battleground states like Wisconsin and Michigan.

Trump failed to win Michigan or Wisconsin in this month’s election, but the virus succeeded in infiltrating football programs across Big Ten country. Before the Wisconsin Badgers smashed the Michigan Wolverines 49-11 last Saturday, the team endured a rash of positive tests and a two-week shutdown. Last month, the Wolverines kept practising even as a surge in COVID cases locally prompted a stay-at-home order for students on campus. And an outbreak among Maryland’s football team forced them to cancel a game against Ohio State.

Wrestling COVID-19 into submission seems the most effective way to return to sold-out stadiums, and to protect the athletes those fans pay to see. But reaching that point, whether for mainstream American sports or the Olympics, means surviving two more months with an administration determined not to attack the problem.

Until then, some sports outfits will move forward with compromises aimed at limiting the risk. The NCAA has announced plans to hold the entire basketball tournament known as March Madness in Indianapolis, instead of spreading its 67 games among far-flung host cities.

But other operators are treating COVID-19 as a nuisance, and not a threat to public health. When the pandemic wiped out the Battle 4 Atlantis, an annual season-opening college basketball tournament in the Bahamas, the event relocated to South Dakota, the U.S. pandemic’s current epicentre, where more than 58 per cent of COVID-19 tests come back positive. Organizers are selling tickets, even though as of Nov. 16 the state’s seven-day rolling average of new cases was 1,424, in a population of less than 885,000. If Ontario logged new COVID-19 cases at that rate, we’d see more than 23,000 a day.

In sports terms, it’s like walking Rich Aurilia to pitch to peak P.E.D. Barry Bonds.

And in terms of restoring the sports world to whatever normal is going to be in 2021 it’s a big step backward, even with vaccines on the way.

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As terrorism trial unfolds in Paris, France confronts its problem with Islamist extremism

“This is our separatism.”

Separatism — a word that has weight in many countries, notably Canada.

Here the speaker was French, in fact it was French President Emmanuel Macron.

The separatism he was talking about, in a major and long-delayed speech on Oct. 2, was Islamist separatism in France, an effort by Muslim hardliners in the country to capitalize on the alienation many young Muslims feel to create a regiment of fighters for jihad, or holy war against France, the West and Jews.  

The result has been a series of fatal attacks in the last decade in France, as well as the presence of French Muslims fighting in extreme groups in the Middle East.

Macron’s timing was no accident. 

Police officers stand by a knife, seen on the ground, in Paris on Sept. 25, 2020. French terrorism authorities investigated a knife attack that wounded at least two people near the former offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, authorities said. (Soufian Fezzani Via AP)

His speech took place during the first major terrorism trial in Paris after the attacks against the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish grocery store in January 2015, the co-ordinated killings in cafés and the Bataclan theatre in November 2015, and finally the truck assault in Nice on Bastille Day, July 14, in 2016.

The combined death toll was more than 230.

Most of the attackers were French-born, but all saw themselves as Islamist jihad fighters. 

So important is the trial, expected to last for several more weeks, that judicial authorities have allowed video cameras to record it.

So important did Macron consider the speech that he made it in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, which consumes the attention of the country.

A glass box is seen in a courtroom where the trial over the deadly attacks on satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket in 2015 is taking place in Paris. (Michel Euler/The Associated Press)

The French president’s diagnosis was brutal. 

“We ourselves have constructed our own separatism,” he said, by creating ghettos in the suburbs of major cities, particularly Paris. 

In these ghettos live most of France’s Muslims. Their number is estimated at approximately 5,750,000 or around 8.5 per cent of the French population.

That number from Pew Research in 2017 is approximate because French law stipulates that the census cannot ask about the religion of any resident of the country.  

‘A concentration of misery and difficulties’

For many Muslims in France, the future looks like a locked door. 

Or, as Macron put it, “we built a concentration of misery and difficulties, we concentrated populations according to origin and social milieu. We created neighbourhoods where the promise of the republic was never kept and where these most radical forms [of Islamism] became sources of hope.”

It also created fertile ground for imams trained in the Middle East and North Africa to radicalize young men. 

Issa, who requested confidentiality because of a fear of reprisals, is a young man I talked to from a poor Paris suburb, populated largely by families of North African and African origin. 

“Liberty, equality, fraternity — those words have no value here,” he said. “They only have value in the centre of Paris. Liberty — you go out and the police stop you five or six times a day. Equality — when you try to find work, you don’t have the same chance as someone in a rich district of Paris. Fraternity — everyone fears the other, the foreigner — the Black or the North African.”

A man wearing a protective face mask as a precaution against the coronavirus looks at a painting by French street artist Christian Guemy, a.k.a. C215, in tribute to the members of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo attacked in January 2015. (Michel Euler/The Associated Press)

Other factors also contribute to a sense of alienation. 

In the Seine Saint-Denis suburb just north of the central district of Paris, which has a population largely of North African origin, the unemployment rate in late 2019 was 27 per cent. The national rate was less than nine per cent.

“Getting a job, no, just getting in the door, is much harder if your name is Mohammed,” one young man with a university degree once told me. 

Several studies in the last three years, notably by the sociologist Marie-Anne Valfort, back him up, concluding it’s at least 50 per cent harder for young Muslims to get job interviews than for non-Muslims.

‘All the time, every day’

Muslims are often the target of open racism from police. The most recent charge came from a police whistleblower, Brig. Amar Benmohammed. In July 2020, he detailed hundreds of incidents of racist language over two years in the police cells at Paris’s main court house.

“Racist language, it’s all the time, every day,” a police officer talking about fellow officers told the French national radio, France Info, this summer. 

“They call them bastards, rats, members of dirty races,” said another police officer, of North African origin working in the Paris region. The racist comments, the officers believe, reflect a poisonous mindset widespread in the police.

“French Muslims are fed up with the hateful invective and racist comments emanating from individuals and groups around the country,” said Mohammed Moussaoui, president of the Union of French Mosques. 

That is the unsettling background to the trial in Paris. 

Thousands of people gather at Republique Square in Paris on Jan. 11, 2015, eight days after the attack against Charlie Hebdo. (Peter Dejong/The Associated Press)

Ten of the 11 defendants accused of helping the three killers prepare the attacks had been in prison — for drug dealing, assault, even kidnapping and murder. It was in prison that several met the killers — the Kouachi brothers and Amedy Coulibaly — or their friends.

The three killers had been mentored by hardline Islamists at a mosque in northern Paris. Two had been arrested and imprisoned for terrorist offences, including trying to join the jihad in Iraq. There, among fellow Muslims, they preached the virtues of religious war, according to police.

In French prisons, Muslims form an outsize minority. Using the imperfect measure of requests for Ramadan meals, the French Ministry of Justice in 2017 calculated Muslims represent 26 per cent of the country’s prison population. 

Once back in the ghetto suburbs, the perpetrators of the Charlie Hebdo killings were able to outwit the French security services with ease. 

Obtained arms without police knowing

One police investigator, chief inspector Nicolas Guidoux, said at the trial that one of the attack leaders, Chérif Kouachi, “had simply played with the security and intelligence services.”

The proof was that the attackers were able to obtain arms, detonators, bullet-proof vests, a large car and several safe houses — all without the police knowing.

One of the accused, Willy Prevost, isn’t Muslim but had run up a huge drug debt with one of the killers. He was told to obtain Tasers and bullet-proof vests.

“You don’t go to the police in the suburbs. If you do, thugs come after your family,” he said. 

Three of the key accused aren’t even in court. They escaped to Syria around the time of the attacks. Two are believed dead, but the wife of one of the killers has reportedly been seen alive there. The French anti-terrorist police have taken the sighting seriously enough to open a criminal inquiry.

In the face of this, Macron’s suggested remedy seems thin.  

He said France will stop allowing foreign imams to come to indoctrinate French Muslims and a new law will outlaw home schooling. All children will have to go to state schools and learn about the ideals and principles of the French republic. (At the moment, authorities believe a worrying minority of Muslim children go to secret Islamist schools.)

It almost certainly won’t be enough. The French interior minister said as the trial opened that the police had, on average, broken up one terrorist plot every month for the past three years.

One they didn’t break up took place outside the former offices of Charlie Hebdo two weeks after the trial opened. A man wielding a large knife wounded two people seriously.

France’s problems with Islamist extremism are far from over.

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The Moon Has More Radiation Than We Thought, a New Problem for Astronauts

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No one expects spacetravel to be risk-free, but we’re just beginning to learn how harsh the universe can be outside our little bubble of atmosphere. A new analysis of conditions on the moon much higher levels of radiation than expected. The Chinese-German team claims the lunar surface is so unsafe that humans will be unable to spend long periods of time there. That could certainly complicate NASA’s plans for a long-term lunar presence. 

NASA took radiation measurements on the moon back in the 1960s and 1970s during the Apollo missions. Those readings proved that astronauts could spend a few days on the surface, which is all NASA needed back then. However, it did not take daily readings to determine the maximum time someone could remain on the moon. The new study does that with the help of an experiment carried out by China’s Chang’E 4 lander in 2019.

Astronauts on the moon will encounter radiation between two and three times more intense than experienced on the International Space Station (ISS) and 200 times more intense than levels on Earth. Study co-author Robert Wimmer-Schweingruber from the University of Kiel notes that you could only hang out on the moon for two months. That takes into account the radiation you’d encounter on the week-long trip to and from the moon as well. 

The Chang’e-4 lander.

The study calls out several sources of radiation, including high-energy cosmic rays and solar particle events. Astronauts may also be bombarded by neutrons and gamma rays produced by interactions between the lunar soil and other forms of radiation. It all adds up to a much less hospitable environment than we’d hoped. By comparison, humans can live on the ISS with minimal risk for more than a year because the station is still partially protected by Earth’s magnetic field. 

Currently, NASA hopes to have humans back on the moon in 2024, and the goal is to move toward a long-term presence after that. The agency is even laying the groundwork for a space station that would remain in lunar orbit to provide crews easy access to the surface. However, extended forays to the moon will apparently require new shielding technologies. Wimmer-Schweingruber says the easiest way to make the surface safe is to build habitats with lunar soil. You’d need about 30-inches (80 cm) of soil to lower radiation levels. NASA might want to get started on that lunar sand castle technology. 

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Deadly DRM: Right to Repair a Life-or-Death Problem During the Coronavirus Pandemic

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Up until now, so-called ‘right to repair’ legislation was a topic that touched on important questions, like whether or not farmers could repair their own tractors, or if end-users were allowed to repair their own electronics goods, but wasn’t viewed as a literal life-or-death issue. Now, however, the question of whether or not people and companies are allowed to fix hardware they’ve purchased has a real chance of becoming one.

The advocacy group US Public Interest Research Group has released a report detailing the results of interviews it conducted with 222 biomedical repair professionals. It writes: “Nearly half reported they had been denied access to ‘critical repair information, parts or service keys’ since March.”

Manufacturers claim these lockouts and other hoops are in place to protect patient safety, but such claims fly in the face of an FDA report, written in 2018, which found no evidence that third-party repair carries any risk whatsoever after reviewing 2.1 million medical device failure reports submitted over the past decade. Manufacturers are already supposed to provide “schematics, wiring diagrams, mechanical layouts, and other pertinent data for the appliance,” as well as, “preventative and corrective maintenance, inspection, and repair procedures.” According to US-PIRG, these standards are not being upheld.


Some of the survey quests asked by US-PIRG

According to multiple biomedical repair professionals, repairs in the time of coronavirus require a heavy reliance on online forums, because manufacturers will not distribute training and repair manuals adequately. In one case, the head of a biomedical college engineering program deliberately requires students to attempt to obtain repair manuals as part of their training in order to illustrate how difficult it is and how much begging they may have to do in order to get the documentation. US-PIRG also details how manufacturers have attempted to use copyright claims and legal threats to force websites to remove repair manuals. Steris, a company that manufacturers sterilizers, has requested iFixit remove manuals from its website.

Manufacturers, of course, want to handle these repairs themselves. The problem is, in some cases, quarantine protocol prevents hospitals from allowing random service technicians from entering the buildings. In others, manufacturers are no longer sending technicians out due to the pandemic. Both situations cause the same problem: Broken equipment no company-certified technician is going to be fixing any time soon.

In at least one case, a manufacturer booby-trapped an ultrasound machine to require software calibration if anyone removed the outside cover. This was not disclosed to the hospital, who attempted to troubleshoot the piece of equipment and found themselves locked out of it as a result. GE has only recently begun waiving the requirement that technicians complete an in-person, four-day training course to receive any documentation on its ventilators. Siemens refuses to allow already-trained colleagues to train co-workers under any circumstances.

According to one biomedical technician, an unnamed manufacturer charges $ 28,000 to train one technician in how to repair one device. The actual cost of the device? $ 35,000. Another manufacturer initially attempted to de-certify all of a hospital’s technicians due to their failure to complete a bi-annual recertification requirement during the pandemic, when the manufacturer was offering no recertification courses of any kind.

According to the survey results, 30.4 percent of technicians had equipment in their facilities they could not use, due to limited access to parts or training manuals, while 91.8 percent stated they had been denied service information for life-saving, critical equipment. 88.7 percent reported that manufacturers have refused to sell spare parts (4.5 percent “Most of the time,” 36.2 percent “Somewhat frequently,” and 48 percent reporting “Sometimes, but infrequently.”)

In the COVID-19 epidemic, you’d expect manufacturers to be prioritizing ventilator repairs above all else. You’d also be wrong. 69.5 percent of the 222 engineers and repair people surveyed are responsible for ventilator repair. Of that group, 29.2 percent report they have ventilators they cannot use due to a lack of either spare parts or servicing information. 24.2 percent of technicians have been denied access to information since March. 51.9 percent of technicians have ventilators on-site they cannot service or repair if they break.

A month ago, it might have been tempting to think such issues were receding behind us and would not need to be dealt with in the future. The current state of the pandemic in the United States belies such pleasant dreams. Technicians need permission to repair life-saving medical equipment the instant it breaks. They need to be able to purchase repair parts as soon as possible. If the pandemic continues to worsen, and America’s stockpiles of emergency medical equipment are stretched nationwide, these sorts of failures could start leading to deaths.

However much revenue device manufacturers might lose off repairs, we suspect they’ll lose more if people start dying because local, qualified technicians weren’t allowed to read a frickin’ manual.

DRM is a lot of things. It’s not supposed to be a death sentence. If it starts becoming one, device manufacturers will have bigger problems than just their profit margins to consider. iFixit has published a database of medical device repair information, if you are looking for manuals.

Feature image shows a NASA/JPL-designed ventilator, whose design is specifically intended to be easy to maintain, cheap, and repairable in the field. 

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COVID-19 in Ontario is now primarily a Toronto-area problem, figures show

Toronto and its surrounding regions account for a disproportionately high number of Ontario’s new cases of COVID-19, according to a CBC News analysis of provincial data on novel coronavirus infections.  

More than three-quarters of the active cases of COVID-19 currently listed in the province’s database are found in the five public health units of Toronto, Peel, York, Durham and Halton regions, an area that accounts for less than half of the province’s population.

This is a clear shift from the first month of the pandemic, when cases were more evenly distributed around the province, and that shift is prompting some experts to recommend that the province relax the lockdown in some regions, while clamping down in areas where cases are rising.

In early April, when Ontario hit 5,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, Toronto and its four surrounding regions accounted for 52 per cent, according to the province’s daily epidemiology reports. However, Toronto and the regions account for 76 per cent of the roughly 6,600 infections that have happened in May.     

The new data lend further heft to arguments that the provincial government needs to consider a regional approach to the fight against COVID-19 in Ontario, something that Premier Doug Ford has resisted until now. 

“To treat the province as one unit doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Dr. Michael Warner, medical director of critical care at Michael Garron Hospital in Toronto, said in an interview on CBC Radio’s The Current.

“The number of COVID-positive cases is increasing, but I think the more important question is within the province of Ontario: ‘Where are those cases actually located?'” 

Ontario’s total daily number of new cases headed on an upward trend from May 10. A closer look at the data shows a disproportionate share of those new cases is found in the five Greater Toronto Area public health units. 

Of the 3,931 infections that have happened in Ontario since May 10, the GTA’s public health units account for 3,054, or roughly 78 per cent. 

WATCH | Nearly all new cases of the novel coronavirus in Ontario are in the GTA:

The COVID-19 pandemic in Ontario is now almost exclusively a problem in the province’s big urban areas. Data analyzed by CBC News show nearly all new infections are happening in the GTA, Ottawa and Windsor. 2:04

The growth in new cases in Ontario since early May “is primarily a Toronto problem,” Dr. Alon Vaisman, infectious disease physician at the University Health Network, said in an interview with CBC News.

“Other parts of southern Ontario, and especially northern Ontario, haven’t seen rising numbers. Mostly, it’s been a decline.” 

Premier Doug Ford speaks during his daily COVID-19 update at Queen’s Park in Toronto on May 25. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Vaisman is urging provincial officials to look far more closely at the specifics of the data to craft the best pandemic response. 

“If you go more deeply and you see a rise of cases in a certain demographic, either old or young, or certain regions, or certain professions — then you could really just tailor your approach to that problem,” he said.

“If all you know is that it’s a lot of cases in Toronto, it doesn’t make much sense that in Kingston they should be shutting down parks.”   

The province’s database on Tuesday showed 4,110 infections as “not resolved,” meaning that the person is still considered infectious. The GTA’s public health units account for 3,171 of those active cases, or roughly 77 per cent. 

Outside the Greater Toronto area, only a few urban areas continue to see a significant number of new cases. The Ottawa, Hamilton and Windsor-Essex public health units together with the GTA account for roughly 90 per cent of the province’s new infections since May 10. 

That’s why a range of experts is suggesting Ontario’s public health leadership focus its response more tightly on hot spots, and consider allowing parts of the province that are largely unaffected to resume their economic activity more quickly. 

That’s the kind of approach being taken by Premiers François Legault in Quebec and Jason Kenney of Alberta. They are keeping restrictions in place longer in the hardest hit parts of their provinces. In Quebec, that’s the Montreal area, while in Alberta, it’s the cities of Calgary and Brooks. 

“Ontario is very diverse, so it doesn’t make sense to have a policy that applies to the entire province if the entire province is not being affected,” Dr. Jeff Kwong, an epidemiologist at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, said in an interview with CBC News.

“The policies that you bring into place in areas like the GTA could be different from, let’s say, Sault Ste. Marie or Sudbury.”   

Lockdowns could look different from region to region, or reopening could occur at different stages in different regions, said Dr. Lauren Lapointe-Shaw, an epidemiologist with the University Health Network.

People waiting in a long line outside a bank in Sudbury’s south end stand apart from each other to prevent the spread of COVID-19. (Erik White/CBC)

But that’s not the approach favoured by Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health. 

“Let’s say hairstyling in one [public health unit] is open and the others not. So then everybody in this one just drives over, gets their hairstyle in that one, and so you bring all those infections over there,” Williams said Tuesday during his daily news briefing.  

Despite acknowledging the existence of COVID-19 “hot spots” in parts of the province, Ford has rejected anything other than a pan-Ontario formula for imposing and easing the province’s semi-lockdown. 

Some urban areas of Ontario are “lighting up like a Christmas tree,” Ford said Monday during his daily COVID-19 briefing.

“We’re going to get people out where the hot spots are and get them tested,” he said, but did not elaborate on the plan.

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A 2-month wait to fix his 2 front teeth: The problem with the Ontario seniors dental program

A 73-year-old Windsorite is worried he might lose some of his teeth while he waits to be seen by a government-funded dentist.

The Ontario Seniors Dental Care Program (OSDCP) allows low-income seniors to visit a dentist for free, but the paperwork and few approved dentists mean there’s a lengthy wait. The program was announced in June 2019 but only launched the application system at the end of November.

For Rogers Villeford, he’s already spent six months with bleeding gums — and just last week another filling fell out. 

“I’ve had this for about six months … every day I bleed,” said Villeford. “I take mouthwash and keep it in there awhile and swish it … every morning I spit out blood.” 

Villeford’s income is about $ 18,000 a year. He was accepted into the OSDCP, but the appointment he was given is nearly two months away. 

“What good are [the dentists] if you have to wait?” said Villeford.

Locally the OSDCP is run by the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit. According to the director of health promotion, dentists under the program started seeing patients two weeks ago. 

“Our first senior seen under the program was January 6,” said Nicole Dupuis. 

Dupuis said so far the program has seen about 15 patients, with another 46 appointments already booked. Appointment bookings are as far away as March.

Nicole Dupuis, director of health promotion with the Windsor Essex County Health Unit says so far the program has seen about 15 patients, with another 46 appointments already booked. (Amy Dodge/CBC)

According to Dupuis it takes about one month between filling out the application to receiving a card that gives you access to the program. After the card comes in, seniors can book an appointment — but the first appointment is typically just a consultation. 

“We’ll have more appointment times going forward,” said Dupuis. “We have had a wait list in our clinics … a month is actually not too bad. We hope it won’t get too much longer beyond that time frame.”

Villeford decided he can’t wait that long, so he made an appointment with a dentist — but he’ll have to pay out of pocket for his treatment. 

“I don’t want to lose my two front teeth,” said Villeford, who expects to spend about $ 500 on the visit. “It’s a sham.”

Similar to the Healthy Smiles Ontario program, there is an emergency service that might be available for people who need immediate treatment. To get emergency dental care, seniors would have to fill out a form signed by their medical provider that states they need treatment right away. 

Villeford said the WECHU gave him an emergency appointment for Tuesday, but it won’t include any work like fillings. Instead it will be to address what the health unit might consider are more serious problems.

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Kim and Kourtney Kardashian Take a Massive Family Photo But There’s One Big Problem

Kim and Kourtney Kardashian Take a Massive Family Photo But There’s One Big Problem | Entertainment Tonight

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As U.K. election poll predicts Conservative majority, Labour can’t shake its most vexing problem: its leader

With two weeks until the Dec. 12 U.K. election, a new poll is predicting the biggest Conservative majority since the Thatcher era.

Boris Johnson’s party is expected to win 42 more seats than in 2017 while Labour will lose 51, according to the poll by YouGov, the polling agency that used the same model to accurately predict the results of the 2017 vote.

Labour’s chances of unseating Johnson are growing bleaker by the day and are not helped by the one factor that has dogged the party throughout not just this election but the entire Brexit crisis: the unpopularity of its own leader.

Jeremy Corbyn lags far behind Johnson when it comes to likeability, with 21 per cent of eligible voters having a positive view of the Labour leader compared to 35 per cent for Johnson

And while he has enthusiastic grassroots support from people yearning for drastic change, he is struggling to hold on to mainstream Labour voters — and even some of his own MPs.

“That does seem to be a problem for the Labour Party,” said John Curtice, a well-known polling expert and politics professor at the Glasgow-based University of Strathclyde.

The party’s “very radical” position on health care, nationalizing utilities and employee rights are “quite popular,” Curtice said. But when people are asked who can best run the country, “you end up discovering that people think Boris Johnson is better at running the country than the Labour leader,” he said.

Polling expert John Curtice says recent polling suggests Jeremy Corbyn is an unpopular leader. (CBC)

Despite 30 years as a socialist MP on the back benches of his party, Corbyn was seen as a long shot to win the Labour leadership when he entered the 2015 race. But he brought a number of new — and young — voters to the party, and ended up winning handily.

‘Stop Boris’

Corbyn still went into the 2017 election with high levels of unpopularity, but was able to turn it around in the end. While he didn’t win, he secured enough support to force the Conservatives into a minority government.

Curtice said he expects that’s probably the best case scenario for the 70-year-old this time around, too. 

“Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t have to win this election to become prime minister; he has to stop Boris Johnson from winning.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn are shown ahead of the opening of Parliament on Oct. 14. (Jack Hill/Reuters)

If Corbyn can do that, he is in a good position to rally together other opposition parties who want a second Brexit referendum and potentially move into 10 Downing Street, Curtice said.

“I think the Labour Party — under the trajectory it’s currently on — is not going to win a general election in a very long time,” said former Labour MP Mike Gapes, who sat with the party for 27 years, before breaking away in February 2019.

Corbyn was the central problem for Gapes, who is seeking re-election this time around as an Independent.

In his home in Ilford on the outskirts of London, a framed letter hangs on the wall, given to him by the party whip for failing to fall in line with the party vote to start the Brexit process. 

“It’s a badge of honour as far as I am concerned,” said Gapes.

British MP Mike Gapes left the Labour Party last February. (Simon Dawson/Reuters)

Gapes has a list of issues with Corbyn, including what he sees as a lack of action on anti-Semitism in the party, a weak stance against authoritarian leaders, and an inability to take a clear stand on Brexit.

The longtime Labour member has known Corbyn since the early 80s; back then, he says Corbyn was a maverick who lived on the far left of the party with little power.

While Corbyn has struggled to gain the support of his own MPs, Gapes acknowledges there is a growing group of far-left “true believers” within the party’s membership.

“I think it’s a bit like the Bernie Sanders phenomenon in the United States: They decided they wanted somebody who was an outsider and Corbyn fits that bill.”

Momentum movement

That’s also exactly how Corbyn supporter Holly Rigby sees the Labour leader.

A secondary school teacher in an impoverished area of east London by day, Rigby spends her evenings combining her teaching skills and her love of Labour to train party newcomers about how to best get the message out when canvassing in their communities.

It’s all about the ground game, she said. “So we’re going to teach them how to talk about the policies and the big ideas so that we can win.”

In the lead-up to the 2015 leadership race, Corbyn brought the Labour Party many new members. He continues to have grassroots support, but also faces mainstream criticism that he’s moving the party too far left. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

Rigby joined the party because of Corbyn, and while the media and Parliament may be stuck on Brexit, she said the rest of the country has needs that aren’t currently being addressed.

“We’ve never needed a more transformative government, [and] given the climate crisis, the housing crisis and nine years of austerity, I’m absolutely convinced we’re going to win this election,” said Rigby, as she waited in a church rec room in North London for volunteers to arrive. The event was organized by a group of Corbynites called Momentum.

Rigby feels the media has not been giving the Labour leader a fair shake.

“They have to give a more balanced view,” she said. “Then you start to see what Jeremy stands for: His policies and his politics, which I think are hugely popular with lots of the public.”

Holly Rigby trains volunteers for the Labour Party in Harrow, a suburb of London. (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC)

Speaking to a crowd of supporters at the party’s launch in late October, Corbyn was clear about his take on the Labour campaign: “This isn’t about me.” Instead, he argued, it’s about a vote to drastically change the trajectory of Britain. 

But the problem is not everyone can handle the same level of change. Former Labour prime minister Tony Blair said this week that what Corbyn is offering is a revolution — before offering a warning. 

“The problem with revolutions is never how they begin, but how they end.”

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Why E. coli linked to romaine lettuce remains ‘an extremely difficult problem’

The fourth E. coli outbreak in two years linked to romaine lettuce affecting Canadian consumers demonstrates how difficult it is to definitively identify the source of contamination, but there are ways to improve food safety, experts say. 

As of Nov.  22, the Public Health Agency of Canada said there is one person sickened with an illness with a “similar genetic fingerprint” to the illnesses related to a current U.S. outbreak. The individual in Manitoba became ill in mid-October.

While there is no outbreak of E. coli in Canada, U.S. public health officials report multiple illnesses in several states linked to lettuce grown in Salinas, Calif.

Consumers in both countries are advised not to eat, and retailers not to sell or serve, any romaine lettuce harvested from Salinas. If you don’t know if the lettuce is romaine or whether a salad mix contains romaine, don’t eat it or serve it. Throw it away, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control advised.

One of the contributors to the problem lies in how romaine is usually grown in irrigated fields.  

Timothy Lytton, a professor of law at Georgia State University and author of the new book Outbreak: Foodborne Illness and the Struggle for Food Safety, said the problem is that E. coli is endemic in irrigation sources. That is especially true where the sources are above ground, as in the California valley and in Arizona, which supply most leafy greens grown in the U.S.

Most varieties of E. coli are harmless to us, but the E. coli O157:H7 bacteria that sicken people also live in cattle without making them ill.  

Leafy greens such as lettuce can become contaminated in the field by soil, water, animals or improperly composted manure or during handling, storing and transport.  

A farmer works with lettuce at a hydroponic farm using specialized irrigation methods in Havana, Cuba, in 2011. Growing fresh produce in greenhouses reduces, but does not eliminate, the risk of bacterial contamination. (Javier Galeano/The Associated Press)

“It’s an extremely difficult problem due to in part the proximity of cattle-feeding operations, which are a major industry in those areas, and the growing [of] leafy greens,” Lytton said. 

Since the 2006 outbreak of E. coli strain O157:H7 from baby spinach, the produce industry has made strides in figuring out the pathways of contamination, he said.

Food scientists say the goal is to trace the E. coli organism using sophisticated microbiological “fingerprinting” techniques, to make a link between the ill patient, the contaminated food and the source of the bacteria: the cattle.

“But the industry has been less successful in figuring out just how clean the irrigation water needs to be to reduce the danger of microbial contamination to an acceptable level,” Lytton said. Irrigating with tap water would probably reduce the danger, but it would be extraordinarily expensive and not practical.

“We’re not sure what the acceptable level of risk is, and the government has basically taken its cues from industry,” Lytton said.

A short-lived smoking gun

While industry often employs top talent from universities in food safety, Lytton expects that the problems with leafy greens will be with us for some time.

“I think nobody is more eager to reduce the problem … than the leafy greens industry because this is threatening to completely destroy their business model.”

Irrigation water treatment and source labelling for romaine lettuce should be mandatory, said Lawrence Goodridge, a professor of food safety at the University of Guelph. (Submitted by Lawrence Goodridge)

A lot of the outbreak tracing spans the Canada-U.S. border, Lytton said, and regulators from both countries learn from each other. 

For Lawrence Goodridge, a professor of food safety at the University of Guelph, irrigation water is also suspected. But it’s hard to come up with definitive proof. 

The strain of E. coli O157:H7 identified as the cause of this latest outbreak has been linked using DNA methods to other outbreaks involving romaine, which suggests the source of the contamination is likely the same, Goodridge said. 

The problem is, the contamination can be short-lived and the testing frequency and volumes are often small, Goodridge said. 

Goodridge pointed to three measures to improve the safety of romaine:

  • Treat irrigation water.
  • Label where the lettuce comes from, so only lettuce from the contaminated area needs to be recalled.
  • Separate livestock production from vegetable production.

“Irrigation water treatment and labelling as to the source, I’d like to see those become mandatory within the industry,”  Goodridge said.

Meat is usually cooked but fresh vegetables, particularly lettuce, aren’t, which reduces one of the steps to kill disease-causing bacteria like E. coli O157:H7.

Epidemiologist Tim Sly, a professor emeritus at Ryerson University’s School of Public Health in Toronto, said produce grown close to the soil and eaten raw is always vulnerable. Romaine lettuce is the top-selling variety of lettuce in North America, with iceberg a close second, Sly said.  

“But romaine grows with open leaves — open to dust and blowing soil — while iceberg grows in a ‘protective’ closed-leaf formation,” Sly said in an email. 

The E. coli O157:H7 bacteria that sicken people live in cattle without making them ill. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

More fresh produce is being grown in greenhouses, which decreases the risk, Goodridge said. 

The CDC said people get sick from Shiga toxin-producing E. coli three to four days after swallowing the germ. Most people get diarrhea — often bloody — severe stomach cramps, and vomiting. 

Most people recover within a week, but some illnesses can last longer and be more severe.

“It’s important to understand that while an E. coli infection of this type causes gastroenteritis, much as many other food-borne diseases, it can, in 11 to 15 per cent of cases (especially in children) cause more serious complications involving the kidneys,” Sly said. 

There is no real treatment for E. coli infections other than monitoring the illness, providing comfort, and preventing dehydration through proper hydration and nutrition, the Public Health Agency of Canada said on its website.


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