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Marketplace flagged over 800 social media posts with COVID-19 misinformation. Only a fraction were removed

The world’s social media giants promised to crack down on harmful COVID-19 misinformation that has proliferated since the pandemic began, but a CBC Marketplace investigation found that when problematic posts were flagged, most weren’t labelled or removed. 

Marketplace producers, between Feb. 3 and Feb. 16, combed through Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter — using the user tool to flag and report more than 800 posts that breach each company’s policies that cover, among other things, posting misinformation.

The result: 12 per cent of the posts were labelled with warnings or taken down entirely. That number jumped to 53 per cent per cent only after Marketplace journalists identified themselves and shared the findings directly with the companies.

WATCH | Full Marketplace report on COVID-19 misinformation:

Inside one of the world’s most dangerous Covid-19 conspiracy movements; Canada’s food labels fail to disclose added sugar content which makes some packaged foods appear healthier than they are. 22:30

“Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram have become the primary superspreaders of misinformation in our world,” said Imran Ahmed, founder of the Centre for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH), a non-profit based out of Washington, D.C., which Marketplace collaborated with on this project. “That is a shocking failure to act on misinformation that was handed to them on a silver platter.”

This post, presented as a study, claims ‘masks provide no benefit’ and ‘vaccines are inherently dangerous.’ It was one of the few posts that was taken down shortly after Marketplace reported it. (CBC)

Of the 832 posts Marketplace flagged, 391 came from Facebook, 166 from Instagram, 173 from Twitter and 102 from YouTube. The posts had a combined 1.5 million likes and 120,000 comments and covered a range of COVID-19-related topics, but generally circled back to a few central themes: vaccines are dangerous, COVID-19 isn’t and don’t trust authorities. 

Partly fuelled by social media, partly fuelled by the COVID-19 conspiracy movement’s effective persuasion tactics, misinformation has contributed to anti-lockdown sentiment, COVID-19 denial and vaccine hesitancy, said Ahmed.

Ahmed says companies such as Facebook are motivated to keep users sharing more content, not less. The more you scroll and the more users consume, the more these companies make from advertisements, which is where most of their revenue is generated, he said.

Imran Ahmed, the founder of the Centre for Countering Digital Hate, says social media companies have become the primary superspreaders of misinformation online. (Jason Burles/CBC)

‘Incredibly dangerous’

Marketplace was interested in seeing if the social media giants had made improvements since a 2020 CCDH study, which found the companies only acted on five per cent of misinformation it reported. The CCDH cross-referenced and analyzed CBC’s data to ensure problem posts did breach company policies for FacebookInstagram, YouTube and Twitter.

Facebook, which owns Instagram, took action on about 18 per cent of the posts flagged on both platforms. That number jumped to about 67 per cent after Marketplace shared its findings. 

One of the posts that is still up on Facebook weeks later shows a picture of Bill Gates with the headline: “New vaccine causes sterility in 97% of women!” There is no evidence that links coronavirus vaccines to sterility.

As of March 29, this post remains on Facebook, even though Marketplace reported it and subsequently shared the findings with the company. (CBC)

Another post shows a homeopathic product, which purportedly “enhanced immunity” against COVID-19 and promised “reduced frequency and shorter duration of symptoms.” It sells for $ 49.99 US.

There are no homeopathic remedies that can cure or alleviate COVID-19 symptoms.

“Completely ridiculous and a little bit infuriating,” Timothy Caulfield, a health law and policy expert at the University of Alberta, said after he was shown the post. “Homeopathic is an easy one because it’s completely scientifically implausible. That one is so clearly wrong and harmful it should be taken down immediately.”

This homeopathic remedy, which purports to prevent COVID-19 symptoms, was flagged but remains on Facebook. There are no homeopathic remedies that can cure COVID-19. (CBC)

Caulfield says self-reporting tools on social media must lead to action otherwise people will stop using them, but understands the difficulty of monitoring platforms that have billions of users.

“The numbers of messages that have to be evaluated are just huge so I think that is one of the great challenges of social media: how can you meaningfully monitor all of these posts, but we know we need to,” said Caulfield. “The challenge is there but the harm is real.”

Over the course of Marketplace‘s test, Facebook did take down a number of prominent accounts on its platforms, including Robert Kennedy Jr.’s Instagram account, which had close to a million followers — the result of a new policy in February that outright prohibited the posting of any anti-vaccination or COVID misinformation. RFK Jr.’s Facebook account, and the Facebook and Instagram accounts of his group, Children’s Health Defense — with a combined following of close to 700,000 — are still up.

The company disputed that some of the posts Marketplace flagged violated its protocols, and said in an emailed statement that it had “removed millions of pieces of content on Facebook and Instagram that violate our COVID-19 and vaccine misinformation policies — including two million since February alone.”

YouTube, Twitter performed worst

Of the four platforms Marketplace tested, Twitter and YouTube took the least action.

Twitter initially left up all but two of the 173 posts Marketplace reported — including one by a prominent anti-vaccination leader that called the COVID-19 vaccine a “military-grade, deadly bio-weapon.” The post yielded more than 2,100 likes and 1,400 retweets. 

This Twitter post claims the COVID-19 vaccine is a ‘military-grade, deadly bio-weapon.’ Marketplace reported it but it still remained online as of March 28. (CBC)

While Twitter has since removed 18 per cent of the posts Marketplace reported, the company would not say why it initially left up the majority of flagged posts and said it doesn’t “directly comment on third-party studies.” It pointed to its updated policies, which include a five-strike system for users that would lead to an account deletion.

YouTube didn’t take down any of the flagged videos until Marketplace shared its findings. After that, it took down 34 per cent of the reported videos.

But many still remain — including one from a known conspiracist telling his audience that people are sending him information “telling me causes of [COVID] death have been altered.” He said he is also receiving information about, “hospitals that are completely dead, nothing happening in there,” referencing a viral trend early in the pandemic where people would record videos of empty hospitals to try to back up their claims that COVID-19 wasn’t real.

The video has over 700,000 views.

This video showing a prominent conspiracist talking about COVID-19-related deaths being altered is still up online, despite Marketplace reporting the video. (CBC)

YouTube said in a statement that only some of the videos Marketplace reported violated its policies, and said that since February 2020, it had “removed more than 800,000 videos for violations of our COVID-19 misinformation policies.”

Ahmed says CBC’s results suggest YouTube, Twitter and Facebook may not be paying as close attention to misinformation until news organizations or legislators put them under the microscope. 

“What’s really great about this study is that this tells us what they’re doing when they think no one is watching.”

  • Watch full episodes of Marketplace on CBC Gem, the CBC’s streaming service.

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CBC | Health News

Casual social contacts can help combat loneliness and improve well-being during pandemic, psychologists say

Jennie Aitken, 33, began noticing it weeks into the pandemic.

The Victoria woman has a family and was frequently checking in with good friends, but since her management job with a local health authority required her to work from home, she could go days without seeing other people.

“I realized how lonely I felt,” said Aitken.

With the second wave of the pandemic pushing more people into the isolation of their own homes, a second public health crisis with potentially deadly consequences has emerged: loneliness.  

Even though we need to be physically distant from others, it’s good to make an effort to be socially close to people, psychologists say. (Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images)

Not just an uncomfortable emotion, loneliness is a leading risk factor for death. Social isolation exceeds the health risks associated with obesity, inactivity, excessive drinking, air pollution and smoking over 15 cigarettes a day, according to a 2010 review of 148 studies by psychology professor Julianne Holt-Lunstad of Brigham Young University in Utah.

That’s bad news in a worsening pandemic where increasingly tighter restrictions are forcing many of us to be apart from family and friends.  

Yet there’s a surprising antidote that can tide us through the holiday season and beyond: informal, casual interactions with acquaintances and strangers, such as neighbours, baristas, delivery drivers, dog walkers and others we may encounter in the course of an average day.

Called “weak ties,” these interactions can be just as effective in restoring our sense of well-being and belonging as connecting with our stronger ties to family and close friends.

“It just takes a handful of interactions – like going to the grocery store – and suddenly, I felt OK again,” Aitken said of her own experience.  

Even superficial interactions can improve well-being

When the pandemic hit, Jolanda Jetton, a professor at the University of Queensland, about 915 kilometres north of Sydney, and a few of her social psychology colleagues wrote the book Together Apart, in which they argued that the very social connections being discouraged are actually key to maintaining health during COVID-19.  

We can physically distance without socially distancing, Jetton and her co-authors said. 

While we must adhere to public health guidelines, we also need social contact beyond our immediate families, says Susan Pinker, psychologist and author of the book The Village Effect

When comparing social isolation against other health risks, Pinker said, it’s not just close relationships but social integration – how much you interact with people as you move through the day – that can be  predictors of how long you will live.  

Despite having to be in individual bubbles, it’s still possible to find ways to connect with others. (Carlos Osorio/Reuters)

“We really have to be creative in finding ways to see each other,” she said.

As we’ve cancelled big family dinners and nights out with our friends, one way to boost our well-being is to interact with the people standing right in front of you.  

Gillian Sandstrom, a professor at the University of Essex, about 110 kilometres northeast of London, found that while the number of interactions with strong ties (such as family and friends) improved people’s sense of well-being and belonging, “the same was true of the weak tie interactions” – relationships involving less-frequent contact, low emotional intensity and limited intimacy (such as greeting a neighbour on the street).

Sandstrom, who completed her PhD at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, studied the issue on the campus. 

Part of her study looked at a group of 58 undergraduate students and an older group of 52 community members and counted the number of weak and strong tie interactions they had as they went through their days. 

Participants reported greater subjective well-being and sense of belonging on days when they had more weak-tie interactions.  

Psychologists say that speaking to people you encounter throughout the day can help stave off loneliness. (Carlos Osorio/Reuters)

In another part of her study, she measured how many interactions 242 undergraduate students had with classmates. Those who had the most interactions, regardless of whether they had any friends in the class, reported greater subjective feelings of happiness and belonging.

“Weak ties are so important, and yet, it feels like we underestimate them,” she said.

“We have so many more of them than we have strong ties, and they’re so much easier to build. And they can do a good job in filling in gaps.”

Effect of small interactions adds up

Such interactions can help people compensate for some of the deeper connections they’ve lost in the pandemic, Sandstorm said.

Victoria’s Aitken agreed.

“These interactions feel so superfluous that you don’t really seek them out in the same way,” Aitken said. “So for me, I’ve had to make a real point of scheduling in casual interactions, like going to CrossFit, where I largely just stand around and talk to people behind a mask four metres away. It’s honestly been a major thing to keep me well.”

Even chatting with a stranger at a coffee shop leads to a greater sense of belonging and happiness, another of Sandstorm’s studies suggested.  

WATCH | The challenge of solo living during the pandemic:

As public health officials urge residents to limit in-person social interaction to their own households, adherence is especially daunting for people who live alone. 1:52

Sandstrom instructed one-half of the 60 participants to smile, make eye contact and have a brief conversation with the barista at Starbucks and the other to be as efficient as possible. Those who made an effort to talk to the barista experienced more positive emotion and felt more of a sense of belonging after leaving.

This echoes the work of Elizabeth Dunn, a psychology professor at UBC in Vancouver, whose study of 78 people found that participants reported feeling greater well-being than expected when interacting with a stranger, equivalent to the mood boost they experienced when interacting with their romantic partner.   

However, Sandstrom said, we often don’t take advantage of these potential boosts in mood when we cross paths with each other.  

“I think people are so focused on efficiency that they’re losing out on these moments of connection and maybe not even realizing they are doing it,” Sandstrom said.  

Even casual connections with people can help foster a sense of belonging and community, psychologists say. (Carlos Osorio/Reuters)

“Each individual conversation with a stranger or weak tie isn’t necessarily anything special, but they add up to something which is even more important — a sense of trust and community.”

Sandstorm’s latest, yet-to-be-published study suggests that talking to strangers not only alleviates loneliness, but also increases feelings of trust and benevolence toward others. 

During the pandemic, she paired 64 strangers with each other and had them connect virtually for a conversation. Not only did people feel less lonely and isolated; she also found their general sense of trust in others and perceptions of others’ benevolence were higher after having a conversation with a stranger.

“Now, I go out of my way to talk to strangers,” said Sandstrom. “Even though I’m still an introvert.”

Community ties help — even at a distance

As jurisdictions around the world move to tighten restrictions in response to rising numbers of COVID-19 cases, these weak ties that we previously took for granted are threatened. Physical distancing has pushed most of us away from in-person interactions in favour of communicating by email or text, using self-checkouts, or doing our shopping online.

University of Queensland’s Jetton said it’s important to be aware of interactions.

“We have all these devices that measure our steps…. Maybe we need to start measuring the social connections that people have and help them make plans on how to expand their social network,” Jetton said.

Speaking to strangers, even in a lineup, can help boost your spirits. (Cole Burston/The Canadian Press)

While it might be hard to have casual social interactions in person, Jetton’s research suggests that merely belonging to a group can be one way to reap some of the benefits of weak social ties. Her studies suggest that belonging to a group, regardless of the strength of individual ties within the group or physical proximity, improves well-being.

We can still feel like a community member, even when the connection is impeded by something like a lockdown. Coming together for virtual church services, or art classes, or to sing, or cheer and bang pots and pans from apartment balconies are all ways we’ve adapted to stay connected, even when our immediate friends and family are physically distanced.

So while the provinces are tightening restrictions, limiting our chances for holiday gatherings, connecting with weak ties — from chatting with strangers on the street to singing as a group on Skype — can help substitute for some of the deeper connections that are physically out of reach right now.

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Alberta bans all outdoor and indoor social gatherings in bid to curb soaring COVID-19 infection rates

The Alberta government ordered the closure of all casinos and gyms, banned dine-in service at restaurants and bars, and imposed a mandatory provincewide mask requirement on Tuesday under new restrictions aimed at curbing the province’s soaring COVID-19 infection rates.

The province also banned all outdoor and indoor social gatherings, and imposed mandatory work-from-home measures.

Premier Jason Kenney says he recognizes the measures will change how Albertans celebrate Christmas.

But they are necessary to slow the growth in cases, hospitalizations and deaths, he said, citing at-home social gatherings as the biggest single source of viral transmissions.

“If we relax the public health measures to permit large family gatherings in just three weeks’ time, we will, without a shadow of a doubt, see a large increase in hospitalizations and fatalities,” Kenney said at a news conference Tuesday.

“We simply cannot let this Christmas turn into a tragedy for many families.” 

Both the masking mandate and the ban on social gatherings take effect immediately. The work-from-home measures — and other new restrictions — will go into effect at midnight on Sunday. Farms are excluded from the mask mandate.

Indoor and outdoor social close contact will be limited to those in the same household, while people who live alone may still have up to two non-household close contacts.

The ban on gatherings includes those in indoor workplaces, for example in lunchrooms. Workplace meetings will still be allowed but in-person attendance, under the restrictions, will be limited to the extent possible and physical distancing should be followed.

Rising numbers

On Tuesday, the province reported 1,727 new cases of the illness and set another record with 20,388 active cases. Across the province, 654 people were being treated in hospitals for COVID-19, including 112 in intensive care units.

Another nine deaths were added to the toll on Tuesday, bringing the total to 640 since March.

The hospitalization numbers have grown by 600 per cent since the last week of October, Kenney said.

“I also understand that to many people these policies, these restrictions, seem unjust,” he said. “I’ve made no secret of the fact that Alberta’s government has been reluctant to use extraordinary powers to damage or destroy livelihoods in this way.”

Kenney said his government sees the latest restrictions as the only way to try to bend the infection curve.

‘Devastating’ measures

“I know how devastating today’s announcement and these measures are for tens of thousands of small business owners who have been coping through an impossibly difficult year, for hundreds of thousands of their employees and so many others who have found themselves without work,” Kenney said.

“But we are now at a place where viral transmission is so widespread in the community that it does not any longer matter how careful business operators are. Because community transmission means that staff and clients, the general public, represent a risk of transmission.”

The mandatory restrictions will be in place for at least four weeks. The restrictions do not apply to service visits from caregivers, health- or child-care providers, or co-parenting arrangements.

Retail businesses, as of Sunday, will be allowed to remain open but must reduce capacity to 15 per cent of the occupancy allowed under the fire code. Places of worship will face the same restriction. 

The closures taking effect at midnight Sunday include all:

  • Restaurants, pubs, bars, lounges and cafes to in-person service. Only takeout, curbside pickup and delivery services will be permitted.
  • Casinos, bingo halls, gaming entertainment centres, racing entertainment centres, horse tracks, raceways, bowling alleys, pool halls, legions and private clubs.
  • Recreational facilities such as fitness centres, recreation centres, pools, spas, gyms, studios, camps, indoor rinks and arenas.
  • Libraries, science centres, interpretive centres, museums, galleries, amusement parks and water parks.
  • Businesses offering personal and wellness services such as hair salons, nail salons, tattoo parlours and massage businesses.

Funerals and wedding ceremonies will be limited to 10 people.

Regulated health services such as physiotherapy, social or protective services, shelters for vulnerable persons, emergency services and soup kitchens can remain open for in-person attendance.

Hotels may remain open but must follow all relevant restrictions. Outdoor recreation is permitted but facilities with indoor space will be closed except for the washrooms.

New support for small business

At Tuesday’s news conference, Doug Schweitzer, the minister of jobs, economy and innovation, said the government will expand the Small and Medium Enterprise Relaunch Grant, with a new lower threshold and increased grant amounts.

“We have reports saying that 40 per cent of these small businesses may not be able to turn the lights back on if we don’t provide them with supports,” Schweitzer said. “That’s the extent of what we’re facing here in our province — 40 per cent may not come back, unless we step in and provide them with supports now.

“So that’s why the premier, our cabinet, last night met as a team to try to figure out how we could support them to get them through to the other side.”

Businesses will be eligible to apply for a second payment through the program, for a total of up to $ 20,000 in potential funding each, up from the original $ 5,000.

Up to 15,000 more businesses may be eligible for government funding, the province said in a news release.

The program will also expand to include businesses that have experienced revenue losses of at least 30 per cent due to the pandemic, lowering the threshold from the former requirement of 40 per cent revenue losses.

Pandemic hit hospitals hard

The spread of the virus and the surge in cases has hit hospitals hard. Edmonton alone has 357 patients being treated for COVID-19, including 66 in ICU beds, said Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province’s chief medical officer of health.

The Royal Alexandra Hospital is currently caring for 102 COVID-19 patients, she said, and with 13 units on “outbreak” or “watch” status the entire hospital has been placed on “watch.” .=

“This is a precautionary measure which brings enhanced measures to every unit not on an outbreak,” she said. “Our hospitals, including the Royal Alex, continue to be safe places to receive care, but I know that staff and physicians are working under incredible stress.

In the Edmonton zone, to make room for COVID-19 patients, hospitals will begin postponing up to 60 per cent of non-urgent scheduled surgeries that require hospital stays, Hinshaw said. Diagnostic imaging or other clinical support services could be reduced by as much as 40 per cent.

A regional breakdown of active cases was:

  • Edmonton zone: 9,383 cases.
  • Calgary zone: 7,529 cases.
  • Central zone: 1,526 cases.
  • North zone: 1,212 cases.
  • South zone: 646 cases.
  • Unknown: 92 cases.

Two weeks ago, the province imposed a 10-person limit on outdoor private social gatherings. Such gatherings will be banned under the new restrictions.

“Now, obviously people in a family household cohort can enjoy the outdoors together,” Kenney said. “And I don’t think any bylaw officer is going to ticket you if you say hi to your friends in passing as you pass them on the sidewalk or in the park, on the ski hill, or on an outdoor skating rink.

“But if you call up 20 of our closest personal friends and say let’s … have some beers around the firepit, that is definitely a social gathering. So we ask people to apply a common-sense definition to what constitutes a social gathering. It’s not incidentally crossing friends, family or acquaintances while outdoors.”

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United Arab Emirates banks on social reform to help pull itself out of economic slump

Recent reforms in the United Arab Emirates affecting everything from women’s rights to alcohol sales are a sign the majority-expat country sees liberalization as key to its economic prosperity. 

The move to reform a series of laws governing individual freedoms and social mores comes as the country of nearly 10 million people and a $ 524-billion economy struggles with a plunge in oil prices and the coronavirus pandemic. 

“I think they are very pragmatic reforms that have to do with economics and … the need to socially liberalize in order to economically thrive,” said Bernard Haykel, a professor of near eastern studies at Princeton University. 

U.A.E., a federation of seven emirates, is reporting more than 165,250 cases of COVID-19 and about 567 deaths. 

Nearly 90 per cent of the population of the young Gulf state, which is just shy of 50 years old, are foreigners, many of them migrant workers in construction, domestic or service jobs. 

The expatriate population includes roughly 40,000 Canadians, who are mainly concentrated in the international business and tourist hubs of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the capital. 

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, prime minister and vice-president of the United Arab Emirates and ruler of Dubai, has been introducing a range of social changes this year. (Christopher Pike/Reuters)

Relaxation of Islamic laws

The changes, which came into effect on Nov. 7, include introducing tougher laws against the harassment of women, an overhaul of how divorce and separation proceedings are decided, changes to the division of assets and the decriminalization of alcohol consumption. 

In the eyes of the state, the aim of the reforms is to boost the country’s economic and social standing and “consolidate the U.A.E’s principles of tolerance,” the state-run Emirates News Agency, or WAM, reported. 

It’s a position that could also put the country, which has branded itself as an international destination for work and travel, in good stead as it prepares to attract at least 25 million visitors to the World Expo, to be held for the first time in the Middle East in October 2021. 

A cyclist rides along a road in Dubai as the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest skyscraper, is seen in the skyline behind. The U.A.E.’s oil-dependent economy was forecast to shrink by as much as six per cent, or $ 31 billion, this year as the country suffered from slumping oil prices and the impact of the pandemic on industry, shipping and travel. (Giuseppe Cacace/AFP/Getty Images)

The sweeping changes mean that individuals no longer have to buy a special licence to purchase or consume alcohol as long as they are 21. In the past, Muslims were banned from obtaining such licences, which is no longer the case.

Under updated inheritance laws, assets and estates of non-Emirati citizens will no longer be divided under Islamic law, known as Sharia, but according to the laws of their country of citizenship — regardless of religion. 

The moves are in line with new divorce proceedings, which allow non-Emirati couples who divorce in the U.A.E. to have the law of the country where the marriage took place enforced. Previously, non-Muslim expats had to petition for the application of their home country laws. 

A shift in attitudes on mental health

Under the new rules, there are stronger penalties for those who subject women to harassment, and lenient sentences have been abolished for so-called honour crimes committed by men against female relatives under the guise of protecting the honour of the family. 

The country has been making a number of social changes in recent years. Last December, the charge of sexual harassment was added to the penal code and allowed men to be recognized as victims of harassment.

Like the rest of the United Arab Emirates, Dubai has branded itself as an international destination for tourists and business. The roughly 40,000 Canadians who live and work in U.A.E. are mainly concentrated in that city and the capital, Abu Dhabi.  (Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters)

The reforms also usher in some changes aimed at addressing mental health issues that have been exacerbated during the pandemic. Under the new rules, those who attempt suicide will no longer face potential prosecution by the courts. In addition, in May, the U.A.E. National Programme for Happiness and Well-being set up a mental health helpline for those dealing with stress and anxiety. 

Monica Salloum, 22, who moved from U.A.E. to Toronto to study in 2017, hopes the reforms will lead to more access to mental health support. Such help was not easily available when she was attending high school in U.A.E.  

“It was definitely a stressful time for me, and I struggled to make long-term decisions,” she said. “I could tell a lot of my friends were dealing with emotional distress, too, so I hope the changes help people overcome those barriers and get access to mental health wellness.” 

Though some of the laws, such as the prosecution of suicide attempts, were rarely invoked, the reforms offer legal assurances that they won’t ever be.

Unmarried couples now free to share a home

The reforms include lifting the ban on unmarried couples living together, which was a source of stress for people such as Jean Paul Khlat, a 46-year-old Canadian citizen who’s been working as a management consultant for the U.A.E. for the past 15 years. 

“The landlord gave us a lot of problems,” Khlat said of living with an ex-partner. “He didn’t have a problem with us specifically, but he was afraid of getting in trouble with the law. It was too much pressure on us, both on the legal side and socially.”

The reforms reflect a series of secular-leaning concessions for the oil-dependent Gulf state and a shift in cultural attitudes, which some observers say could help the country’s financial situation. 

A couple watches the sunset in Dubai this August. The recent reforms include the lifting of a ban on unmarried couples living together. (Giuseppe Cacace/AFP/Getty Images)

The economy was forecast to shrink by as much as six per cent, or $ 31 billion, this year, according to the most recent World Bank update in October. 

An estimated 900,000 jobs, affecting about 10 per cent of the population, were lost in the U.A.E. according to an Oxford Economics report in May. The report pointed to an expat exodus across the Gulf region due to layoffs during the pandemic and workers without citizenship or permanent residency having to return home. 

Pandemic impact 

The spread of the coronavirus forced the U.A.E. in April and May to issue lockdown orders and impose travel restrictions and curfews. Restrictions on movement, which have since eased, drastically impacted industrial, shipping and transportation activity.

Dubai, the most populous city, has spent $ 2.42 billion so far this year to help prop up the local economy. 

A man at Al Bateen Executive Airport in Abu Dhabi wears a mask to protect himself against the coronavirus as he stands before a reflection of the plane carrying U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last week. The pandemic has impacted U.A.E.’s economy and claimed almost 600 lives. (Patrick Semansky/AFP/Getty Images)

“The core challenge of a country like the U.A.E. is their almost exclusive dependence on oil revenue for their economy and their livelihood,” Princeton’s Haykel said.

“For them to become less dependent on oil, they have to manufacture and produce things or provide services that generate wealth. To do that, they have to become places that are attractive to their own people and to outsiders.” 

While the social reforms are being praised among some residents, a UN analysis published in September said the pandemic put the status of residence and work permits for migrant workers in flux, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation. 

Unlike in neighbouring Saudi Arabia, which earlier this year loosened restrictions on 10 million workers, allowing them to change jobs and leave the country without their employer’s permission, the U.A.E. still leaves workers’ legal status in the hands of employers, who act as their sponsors.

A health worker checks the body temperature of a migrant worker who has recovered from COVID-19 in the Warsan neighbourhood of Dubai, where people infected or suspected of being infected by the coronavirus are quarantined. The pandemic caused layoffs across the Gulf region as migrant workers without citizenship or permanent residency had to return to their home countries. (Karim/Sahib/AFP/Getty Images)

Trade unions are illegal in the country, and workers who unionize or strike can be deported. Advocacy groups such as the London-based International Campaign for Freedom in the United Arab Emirates have in recent years highlighted the plight of migrant construction workers, many of whom work in exploitative and hazardous conditions.

While U.A.E. wants to frame the recent reforms as in line with its image as a “liberal beacon in the Middle East,” it remains to be seen whether they will address the concerns of the more vulnerable members of the expat population, said Bessma Momani, senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo, Ont.

“They want to be seen as this model place of pluralism and openness and tolerance, but there’s a dark side to the Emirates when you look at how they treat foreign workers,” Momani said.

“The Western expats, in many ways, are part of the elite. Yes, it sounds great to them, but they’re not the most vulnerable of foreign workers.”

WATCH  | Changes in U.A.E. this year included normalization of diplomatic relations with Israel:  

A historic Middle East agreement has been signed at the White House, after U.S. President Donald Trump helped broker a deal for Israel to normalize relations with both Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. 1:58

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Tyson-Jones Jr. bout a car wreck designed to attract social media rubberneckers

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.

This past May, a video went viral of former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson in what looked like heavy training at age 53. 

Sporting bulging quads, biceps the size of softballs and a white beard, Tyson fired off combinations with speed and rib-rattling power. His trainer wore thick body armour but still withered under the assault. There isn’t a foam pad dense enough to keep you safe when Tyson punches with what he famously called “Bad Intentions.”

To the casual sports fan Tyson, who has since turned 54, looked as sharp as the 20-year-old phenom who won the heavyweight title in 1986, and possibly ready to challenge a current heavyweight champ such as Anthony Joshua or Tyson Fury.

But close followers of boxing remember Tyson peaked in 1988, and is about as likely to beat Joshua as Ben Johnson is outrun Christian Coleman for Olympic gold next summer. Staying ripped and blazing fast at 54 is an achievement; it doesn’t make fighting at 54 sensible.

But aging champs don’t unretire to pursue good ideas. They do it to chase paydays and attention, and the illusion that a new diet or trainer or workout regimen can erase years – or decades in Tyson’s case – of decline and help them perform like the fighter they used to be.

Roy Jones Jr. knows.

In July, the 51-year-old ex-champion and light-heavyweight legend emerged as Tyson’s opponent in the main event of a pay-per-view card slated for Nov. 28 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Organizers are selling it as an overdue clash between Hall-of-Fame fighters, but any bout in which the participants’ combined age totals 105 isn’t a sporting event. It’s a spectacle. And Tyson-Jones Jr. is less a fight than an infomercial wrapped in a boxing match, perched precariously atop a pair of potential health catastrophes.

If the main event between Tyson and Jones doesn’t tell you this fight card’s target audience doesn’t include hardcore boxing fans, the co-feature between YouTube star Jake Paul and retired NBAer Nate Robinson makes it clear. Tyson has won 50 of his 56 career bouts, but the important number here is his 17.9 million combined Instagram and Twitter followers.

Paul, meanwhile, is 1-0 as a pro, his lone official fight a win over fellow YouTube celeb AnEsonGib. And if you don’t know who those guys are, the 20.1 million people who subscribe to Paul’s YouTube channel do.

The goal here is less to determine the best fighter than to harvest the participants’ vast social media followings.

For what?

For pay-per-view buys, of course, but also to funnel Tyson and Paul’s existing fans to Triller, a new mobile app and social media platform and a partner in the fight card. It’s not just that Tyson already has a Triller account and nearly 133,000 followers. The video-heavy social platform is producing a 10-part documentary series leading up to the fight as well as streaming the card to pay-per-view customers, all to help turn the start-up into the next TikTok.

Except TikTok already is TikTok, and the intersection of sports and social media is littered with the wreckage of allegedly better versions of existing platforms.

Remember Shots? It was “the next” Instagram, funded and promoted by Justin Beiber and Floyd Mayweather. In 2013 and 2014 Mayweather would use the app to announce his upcoming fights.

Still don’t remember Shots?


Or what about Tsu? It was “the next” Twitter, a status-update heavy platform that wrapped posts in ads and shared revenue with users. Used correctly, it was supposed to help U.S. college athletes monetize their fame without breaking NCAA rules.

Still don’t remember Tsu? That’s fine. Most of us don’t.

Roy Jones Jr. is seen above during a weigh-in prior to a match for the television series Knockout in 2015. (Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

If novelty fights were a reliable marketing tool – as opposed to just a recurring one –Paul’s bout with AnEsonGib would have triggered a flood of subscriptions to DAZN, the sports streaming service that broadcast them. DAZN reported 8 million subscribers worldwide as of last December, but the company’s offerings run deeper than Paul’s fight..

In Canada, DAZN owns the rights to English Premier League Soccer and streams NFL Sunday Ticket. It also has committed more than $ 1.3 billion US to boxing, including an 11-bout, $ 365-million deal with four-division champ Saul “Canelo” Alvarez.

Tyson will also use this fight card to launch his Legends Only League, which hopes to stage a series of live events pitting retired athletes against each other. Anyone who has ever sent a text message will recognize the self-sabotage that comes with the LOL acronym, but the stakes are serious in any boxing match between two men in their 50s.

Sports can’t outrun pandemic

Boxing in the U.S. paused for COVID-19 – live events stopped in March, then resumed in June when Top Rank began staging events at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. But pro sports can’t outrun the pandemic. Monday morning we learned that at least 14 players and staffers with the Miami Marlins tested positive for COVID-19, forcing the team to cancel its home opener and the league to scramble for backup plans if this outbreak hits other clubs.

The Tyson-Jones bout is scheduled for California, a coronavirus hotspot where more than 8,100 people have already died from COVID-19, and where the caseload is growing by nearly 10,000 people daily.

And the event can’t transcend medical science, which confirms that the middle-aged brain is especially vulnerable to the trauma boxing inflicts.

Doctors understand that reality through study, and Jones knows from experience. Through the early 2000s Jones was an untouchable light-heavyweight champ with lightning reflexes and even faster hands, the author of highlight-reel knockouts. He cracked Virgil Hill’s ribs with a single right hand in their 1998 bout. Four years later he hid his hands behind his back, then cracked Glen Kelly across the temple with a roundhouse right, ending that fight.

But as Jones slowed with age he became the victim of a string of terrifying knockouts, most recently in 2015 against England’s Enzo Macarinelli.

Five years later, we can’t guarantee he’s better equipped to withstand a Mike Tyson uppercut, but Tyson is vulnerable, too. He looked unbeatable in the gym but we haven’t seen him absorb punches since 2005, when he quit on his stool against Kevin McBride.

Twenty years ago, when Tyson-Jones Jr. was discussed as a fantasy catch-weight matchup, the bout would have made compelling sport. But in 2020 it’s a gamble that pay-per-view buyers will turn into Triller users, and that two fighters in their 50s can escape an eight-round exhibition without serious injuries.

Tyson and Jones might attract an audience with their names alone, but nothing here is promised except danger.   

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Paralympian Brittany Hudak helping others through social work during pandemic

Brittany Hudak woke up with jangled nerves and gold in her sights on the first day of the 2020 World Para-Nordic Ski Championships.

Then came the knock at her hotel room door that changed everything.

In the middle of the night, organizers had cancelled the event. The Canadian team needed to fly home immediately due to the rising threat of COVID-19 in Europe.

“I thought it was a joke,” says Hudak, a bronze medallist in biathlon at the 2018 Winter Paralympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. “I was super excited and felt so confident in my fitness. We train all season long to be at our best on that day in March. I couldn’t believe that it came to such a disappointing end.”

On the flight home, a despondent Hudak took stock and pledged to find her own silver lining in the midst of the pandemic.

One year earlier, she had finished her degree in social work at the University of Regina, but dedicated herself to competing instead of working in her chosen field.

So she dusted off her resume and set out to find work as a helper.

Helping others triumph

These days, she splits her time between training at the winter paradise that is the Canmore Nordic Centre and her job at a Calgary-area residential group home for teenagers.

Some of the clients are battling addictions. Some are in trouble with the law. Some are dealing with crippling financial insecurity.

“I knew social work was not going to be easy,” she says. “You see a lot in a day, and you hear a lot in a day.

“It’s about meeting the individual where they’re at and understanding their situation. I really love learning about people’s struggles and trying to help them triumph over those adversities.”

WATCH | Hudak wins bronze at the 2018 Winter Paralympics:

24-year-old Prince Albert, Saskatchewan native Brittany Hudak won bronze, her first-career Paralympic medal, in the women’s biathlon 12.5 km standing race. 6:28

Hudak, 27, understands what it’s like to struggle.

“Growing up missing part of my arm, I always knew I was in a minority group,” she says. “I know certain groups in society are oppressed and have things go against them. My background with a disability I think really helps me in social work.”

The Prince Albert, Sask., product discovered biathlon at age 18 thanks to a chance encounter with Colette Bourgonje, a 10-time Paralympic medallist.

Hudak was working at a Canadian Tire store in Prince Albert, and Bourgonje struck up a conversation, urging her to try out cross-country skiing.

“We have Colette to thank for finding Brittany,” says Robin McKeever, head coach of the Canadian para-Nordic team. “Our focus is on Beijing in 2022 and I’m hoping for Brittany to repeat the medal she won in Pyeongchang or go for a couple more medals. We have a great team around her, and she’s getting to the perfect age as a skier and an endurance sport athlete.”

Brittany Hudak waves after winning bronze in biathlon at the 2018 Winter Paralympics in Pyeongchang. (Submitted by Brittany Hudak)

Like most elite winter athletes, Hudak has no idea when she’ll race again on the World Cup circuit. She hopes the Beijing Olympics will happen, but realizes there’s no guarantee given the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19.

“It would be so easy to spend a lot of focus and energy wondering what is going to happen,” she says. “I’m trying to reserve my energy and focus on what’s in my control.”

To that end, she is building her fitness to be in the best shape of her life for 2022.

And, at the same time, she’s trying to help a group of teenagers in crisis find their way through their own personal storms.

“I think it’s really important to have balance,” she says. “If I didn’t ski as well as I would have liked to in an interval session, it can seem like such a big deal when I’m only focused on sports.

“When I leave and go to work, sometimes it’s a refreshing thing for me to have the mental switch. I realize a bad day for someone else is 1,000 times worse than a bad day for me on skis.”

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Toronto FC’s Jozy Altidore details anguish of balancing soccer and social justice

While no fan of sharing with the media, Jozy Altidore’s voice has been loud and clear in recent months.

The Toronto FC striker has used social media to call out FIFA and UEFA on racism, lambasted Donald Trump, talked up younger teammates and cheered on the NWSL’s return to action.

He has been away from his son — who turns six later this month — as Toronto is forced to play home games in East Hartford because of pandemic-prompted border restrictions.

“It’s hard. I’m learning on the go,” he said in a rare virtual meeting with reporters on Friday. “I’m for the most part a single dad, in terms of I have full custody of my son. Going through long stretches and he’s not seeing me around, I think that’s really difficult for him and difficult for me.

“I don’t really know how to deal with those situations, having not dealt with them like this before. We all have kids, we all have families and it’s difficult to try to explain these things when they don’t really get the concept of time. That part makes it all the more difficult because they’re innocent — the kids don’t really know what’s going on.”

“To be honest, I’m just navigating it like everybody else,” he added. “Just trying to find the best way forward. To be honest I just can’t wait ’til it’s all over, just to be with the families and regroup. Hopefully next year things can move in a more positive way for the league and just in general.”

WATCH | Players protest before MLS is Back Tournament:

Before the MLS is Back Tournament got underway, members of the Black Players for Change took to the field in a joint protest to send a powerful message about social injustice. 6:13

Balancing playing soccer and the fight for justice off the field has been “mentally and emotionally … absolutely draining,” he said.

“To have to deal with everything going on and wanting to obviously play a part in it and help out, but then obviously the emotional and physical side of playing in these games, it’s been very very difficult.”

“Sometimes game day will arrive and emotionally you’re exhausted,” he added.

The football field is usually a refuge or escape for players like Altidore. Not so this year, with stands empty and pressing matters to be taken care off away from soccer.

“Now that kind of sense of reality still follows you even on the field,” he said. “Playing in the empty stadiums, there is no atmosphere … It’s not really that much of an escape any more.”

His experience with racism

The fight against systemic racism hits close to home for Altidore, who has seen the best and worst the world has to offer.

Now 30, he has played club soccer in England, the Netherlands, Spain and Turkey as well as North America. With 115 caps, he has travelled the world with the U.S.

He can’t put a number on the times he has been a part of racial abuse, saying it is in the “easily hundreds.” He’s heard monkey chants in the Netherlands and the N-word in Mexico.

Asked if he believes progress being made, Altidore said he sees people talking about wanting change and trying to help — “but it lasts a week or two and then it goes away.

“And when I say that, I mean more so white people. I think a lot of white people will say yeah they want to help, but it lasts for a week or two, it’s a couple of social media posts and then it’s gone.”

He urged people to continue having “these tough conversations” and actively move forward — “not just on social media and when it’s convenient.”

World events have put soccer “second or third” in the rear-view mirror when normally it would be first, he said.

After the Milwaukee Bucks refused to play Aug 26 to protest the shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Altidore elected not to take part in Toronto’s game at Montreal two days later.

At the time the club said it was for personal reasons. Altidore was shown watching from the stands at Saputo Stadium. It seemed clear soccer was not on his mind.

Altidore said Friday he wanted to “stand in solidarity with players” who opted not to play in the wake of the shooting.

As for the political situation south of the border, Altidore said neither candidate “is exactly what everybody has hoped for or wanted.”

“Everybody individually has to do what they can to vote in away that’s obviously for the reform, for the things they care about … Everybody has different things that matter to them.”

He said he found this week’s presidential debate tough to watch.

“I thought it was embarrassing … It seemed a bit more like toddlers fighting than it did a couple of grown men taking about the issues that are important to a lot of people.”

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Kate Middleton Reveals the Major Social Distancing Rule Prince Louis Always Wants to Break

Kate Middleton Reveals the Major Social Distancing Rule Prince Louis Always Wants to Break | Entertainment Tonight

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Amid ‘2 pandemics,’ Minnesota Lynx lead WNBA players’ fight for social justice

With “two pandemics” ongoing, many professional athletes have chosen to sit out their respective sports’ return.

Perhaps no league has seen more dropouts than the WNBA, whether due to concerns over coronavirus or the desire to promote social justice, or both.

Canadian Kayla Alexander, a Minnesota Lynx forward, is not among those dropouts. But she says the decision wasn’t easy.

“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t torn,” Alexander said. “There’s a lot going on that is pushing me to consider really everything, but the league is trying to create a way that we can have a season that is safe and that we can use our platform for social justice.”

Players are set to receive 100 per cent of their salaries despite an abbreviated 22-game schedule, and those that sit out over health concerns are also entitled to that money.

Meanwhile, the league’s return-to-play agreement includes a commitment to working with players to promote their social reform initiatives. The WNBA is the only league that’s seen players cite social justice as the reason for their dropout thus far, including Minnesota’s Maya Moore and Washington’s Natasha Cloud.

Alexander, the 29-year-old Milton, Ont., native, says she’s using her platform as a WNBA player and Canadian national team member to promote social justice through education and donation, while also using her voice to share her experiences.

“The issues that are taking place in the world affect us. Whether we’re athletes or not, at the end of the day we’re all human. And when I’m going out into the world, people don’t see ‘Kayla, the athlete,’ they just see ‘Kayla, a Black woman,'” Alexander said.

She’s set to spend her first season with the Lynx, a team she says has always been outspoken and involved in the community.

Moore helps free Missouri man

Moore won four championships with Minnesota over her 2011-2018 WNBA career. But the 2013 Finals MVP and 2014 league MVP has since stepped away in order to work toward freeing a wrongfully convicted prisoner in Missouri.

Moore was there to greet that man, Jonathan Irons, when he walked out of jail on Wednesday.

Irons had been serving a 50-year prison sentence stemming from the non-fatal shooting of a homeowner in the St. Louis area when he was 16. But a judge threw out his convictions in March, citing a series of problems with the case, including a fingerprint report that had not been turned over to Irons’ defence team, according to The New York Times.

Moore says she still plans on sitting out the upcoming season to spend time with her family.

Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve said it was like Moore got to celebrate another championship.

“For the last few years we watched as [Moore] gracefully committed herself to Jonathan’s case, and as she has done so often on the basketball court, put the Irons team on her back. I am overcome with joy that Maya and all involved were able to reach their goal of Jonathan’s exoneration,” Reeve said.

For Alexander, it’s not surprising to see that type of activism come out of her league because of its mainly Black demographic.

“I think it’s so great all these athletes are using their platforms because it affects us as well. There are a lot of things in the world that need to change so I’m just glad that we’re bringing awareness and people are talking about it,” Alexander said.

Nneka Ogwumike, president of the WNBA players’ union, said this is a major opportunity for the league to use its platform for good.

“We have always been at the forefront of initiatives with strong support of #BlackLivesMatter, #SayHerName, the LGBTQ+ community, gun control, voting rights, #MeToo, mental health and the list goes on,” Ogwumike said after the return-to-play agreement was signed.

Season on horizon

The season is set to start in July with a 22-game schedule as opposed to the usual 36 at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. Players are to report to their teams in Florida by Monday, though the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the state has reportedly caused some alarm.

Alexander says she is doing her best to creatively use resources around her to stay fit until she rejoins her team and can start playing five-on-five again. Canada Basketball and the Lynx have both sent her workout programs.

The WNBA is hopeful for a July 24 start — the same day the Tokyo Olympics were supposed to begin. Alexander likely would have been competing on a Canadian team looking for the country’s first basketball medal since 1936.

Alexander says she wasn’t aware of the International Olympic Committee’s ban on protests in the field of play, but adds it would be smart to look into amending the rule.

“We have the opportunity to go out there and compete in a sport we enjoy but at the end of the day when we go back, we’re not playing our sports,” Alexander said. “We’re still living in the world that is dealing with these issues so it’s nothing that we can just escape from. 

“Not all of us have that privilege, unfortunately.”

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What social science says about convincing people to wear masks during the COVID-19 pandemic

Mandating, not just recommending, the use of non-medical masks will help convince more Canadians to wear them as the economy reopens, just as wearing seatbelts is now the norm, some social scientists and physicians say.

In Canada’s largest city, wearing non-medical masks is now mandatory for people riding with the Toronto Transit Commission, with certain exemptions, to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. A bylaw extending the rule to indoor public spaces goes into effect on July 7. Similarly, mayors in Peel Region, which includes Mississauga and Brampton, west of Toronto, and York Region to the north also plan to introduce such bylaws.

In Quebec, Premier François Legault announced that public transit users in the province will be required to wear masks starting on July 13.

Governments are passing laws that require the wearing of masks, but they’re difficult to enforce. That’s why behavioural scientists say it’s so important for the public to get on board with many health authorities who now consider face coverings a necessity.

Kim Lavoie, a professor of psychology in behavioural medicine at the University of Quebec at Montreal, is among the experts calling for governments in Canada to consult social scientists on preventive measures like wearing masks as lockdowns lift in the absence of vaccines or effective treatments for COVID-19.

“Wearing a mask is something we control. Washing our hands, staying home, skipping that party are all things we control,” Lavoie said.

“People forget that the virus isn’t more powerful than our collective will to get rid of it, and there are things we can do. But right now, they’re behavioural.”

Many aspects of the pandemic are beyond our control. Wearing a mask isn’t one of them, experts say. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Dr. David Fisman, an epidemiologist at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, said masks could help more people get back to business and “regular life.”

“We think it’s sort of low-hanging fruit and a no-brainer,” Fisman said.

Why? Layering on masks on top of hand hygiene, avoiding touching your face and physical distancing helps reduce transmission in small case reports, observational studies and a preliminary model.

“Me wearing a mask protects you. If I have COVID, you wearing a mask also protects you from breathing in my virus,” Fisman said.

While Fisman called Canada “a country of rule followers,” there are people who oppose mandating masks, saying it impinges on individual rights and freedoms.

But with COVID-19, one person’s behaviour affects the next person — the basis for secondhand smoke laws.

“It’s no more [an infringement] than asking you to wear a seatbelt,” Lavoie said. “You’re not free to drink yourself under the table and then get behind the wheel. If you don’t have a PCR test at your house to test yourself negative, then you have to consider the possibility that you might be infected and not know it and be putting us all at risk.”

Protecting yourself a major motivator

Lavoie is one of the researchers behind a large study called iCARE (International assessment of COVID-19-related attitudes, concerns, responses and impacts). Together with collaborators from Johns Hopkins University’s project on cases and Oxford’s policy tracker, they’re regularly surveying Canadians and people around the world on how they feel about and adhere to policies.

The goal of the research is to disentangle what motivates people of different ages and socioeconomic backgrounds to change their behaviour to inform health-care policy and messaging.

Awareness, motivation and confidence are important to changing behaviour, says Kim Lavoie, a professor of psychology in behavioural medicine at the University of Quebec at Montreal. (Submitted by Kim Lavoie)

Based on 50,000 responses since the end of March, Lavoie said the findings to this point suggest that concern about getting infected with the virus is a major motivator.

“One thing people don’t realize is how contagious it is,” she said.

Most people recover at home, but people of all ages have also been severely sickened, some for months, says the Public Health Agency of Canada. Patients say long-term symptoms and consequences such as heart damage are coming to the fore.

An urgent need

While making mask wearing the norm would help prevent transmission, Fisman said mixed messaging and “dithering” by Ontario’s government have hindered mask use from becoming commonplace.

“Once the signal comes from our public health leaders that this is the expectation and this is how we’re going to move forward, I think people will fall in line pretty fast,” he said.

A woman wears a protective face mask as she waits to enter a bank in downtown Vancouver on June 2. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

Wearing masks could be considered a behaviour that needs to be adopted urgently and collectively, Lavoie said.

She pointed to how behavioural change boils down to three factors:

  • Awareness of the need to wear masks.
  • Motivation, such as protecting yourself, loved ones or neighbours who may be vulnerable to serious complications.
  • Confidence in the ability to execute the behaviour.

Cost can be a barrier. That’s why Alberta’s government is distributing 20 million non-medical masks at drive-thru restaurants.

Shift from self-consciousness to the norm

Mitsutoshi Horii, a professor of sociology at Chaucer College in Canterbury, England, studied the uptake of masks in Japan during the 1918 flu pandemic. The practice continues in Japan during flu and hay fever season, as well as during COVID-19.

Horii said when the 1918 flu pandemic hit, the Japanese government prohibited traditional folk rituals around health as part of its efforts to promote modernization and to avoid colonization.

“Then the mask came in and that gave people a sense of direction. When you’re facing uncertainty, you want to do something. By doing something, we establish a sense of control,” he said.

WATCH | Canada’s patchwork of mask measures:

Federal government and health officials are reluctant to make wearing a mask mandatory in Canada, citing a focus on education and issues with enforcement. 1:58

Horii contrasts that with his experience in the U.K. now, where wearing masks is not common.

“Personally, I still feel embarrassed to wear a mask” in the U.K., Horii said, even though they’re now compulsory on public transit in England and will soon be required in stores in Scotland.

He said he thinks changing the rules would encourage him and others to overcome self-consciousness.

“At the same time, I bought some masks and we’re ready to wear [them] at any time. We just need a bit of a push to do it.”

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