COVID-19: Animals May Be Vulnerable To The Virus Too

On Friday, I did a blog post offering some context on the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic and its relationship to the environmental challenges humanity is currently facing.

As was noted in the post, COVID-19 is part of the coronavirus family which exists in mammals and birds. If the right conditions are present, these viruses, along with many other viruses and bacteria that can cause serious illness, can transfer from animals to humans.

The official term for that zoonotic. Just as humans can fall ill from contact with infected animals, viruses that cause illness in humans can transfer to animals. And in recent days, we’ve seen indications that COVID-19 may be doing just that.

On Sunday, it was reported that a Malayan tiger at the New York Zoo had tested positive for the virus. Other tigers and lions at the zoo are also showing signs of illness.

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COVID-19: Evangelicals Put “Faith” Ahead Of Public Safety

Last Sunday, evangelical church leaders in several American states went ahead with services despite the potential threat of spreading the virus.

Back then, the Trump administration was still touting the fantasy of churches being full at Easter. The administration made an abrupt about face on Monday, when they were presented with stark projections that between 100,000 to 240,000 Americans could die from the virus in the next few months.

At that point, Trump extended the physical distancing guidelines to April 30. At the state level, though, some governors have undermined those efforts by exempting church services from the guidelines.

Generally, the governors that have done so head states where evangelical Christians are a major support base. And evangelicals have aggressively pushed back against any restrictions on their “freedom” to hold services.

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COVID-19: Canadian Snapshot

Last Saturday, Canada’s COVID-19 infection  total stood at 4,757. Seven days later, that number has increased to 12,537. So far, 214 fatalities have been recorded.

Quebec remains the case leader with 6,101 infections, with Ontario in second spot with 3,255 infections. Ontario received some stark news yesterday, with the provincial government releasing projections that COVID-19 could lead to between 3,000 and 15,000 fatalities in the next 18 to 24 months.

British Columbia (1,174 cases) and Alberta (1,075 cases) both had relatively high totals compared to other provinces. Of course, those four provinces are the most heavily populated, and also have major international airports where Canadians flying home from the United States and other locations were being directed once the outbreak began to escalate.

As for Saskatchewan, our case total currently sits at 220. You can find a province-by-province breakdown at this Government of Canada website.

COVID-19: Pandemics ‘R Us

With the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chinese government has been criticized for attempting in the early days of the Wuhan outbreak to downplay its significance. Some of the criticism is fair, but the root cause of the pandemic goes much deeper than that. And if we’re to safeguard ourselves from future pandemics we need to be aware of what the cause is. Here’s a quick overview.

The COVID-19 virus is part of a family of viruses known as coronaviruses. They typically reside in mammals and birds, and are zoonotic, which means they can transfer from animals to humans.

Coronaviruses aren’t the only viruses/bacteria that have that capability. Rabies and the plague are two historical examples of diseases that transfer from animals to humans. More recently, there’s been Lassa fever (1969), Ebola (1976 and 2014-16), HIV (c. 1980) and assorted avian and swine flus — most recently, H1N1 in 2009. Then within the coronavirus family, we had SARS in 2003 and MERS in 2012.

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COVID-19: Global Infection Total Approaching One Million

Some time today, it’s likely that the number of COVID-19 cases in the world will exceed one million. We have a global population of 7.8 billion, so the total, in and of itself, isn’t especially remarkable. But what is remarkable is how the number has grown by leaps and bounds in recent days. And that trend, unfortunately, will only gather steam in the days and weeks to come.

As of April 2, the top ten countries for infections are the United States, Italy, Spain, Germany, China, France, Iran, United Kingdom, Switzerland and Turkey.

Canada currently sits at #15 on the list of infections, but several spots lower when it comes to fatalities. The global top ten there are Italy, Spain, the United States, France, China, Iran, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Belgium and Germany.

Brazil and Portugal have been “climbing the charts”, so to speak, so they will likely start appearing in the top ten soon. You can find updated totals for infections, fatalities, new cases and per capita figures here.

COVID-19: Conservative Governments Push Agendas While People Suffer

If I’d done a blog post last April 1 on all the gnarly stuff that is going on right now, it probably wouldn’t have passed the sniff-test for a moment before people dismissed it as an outrageously overblown April Fool’s Day prank.

I wish the same could be said about this April Fool’s Day post about how two reckless and irresponsible governments are using the pandemic as cover to further gnarly agendas that, in both instances, are major contributors to crisis we currently find ourselves in. Unfortunately, it’s all too real. Here’s a breakdown.

In a March 27 post, I noted how the Trump administration had taken the unprecedented step of waiving the need for U.S. corporations to observe Environmental Protection Agency regulations governing pollution. Yesterday, Trump and his Republican supporters doubled-down on their disdain for the environment by rolling-back fuel economy standards brought in by the Obama administration to help the country meet its Paris climate targets and reduce air pollution.

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COVID-19: Federal Relief Program Update For Workers And Businesses

When our blog coverage of this pandemic got going on March 20 it was noted that government responses were coming fast and furious. That’s remained true to this day.

On the federal front, the government is close to rolling out its promised programs to help workers and businesses cope with the economic fallout from the virus control measures that have been put in place.

Canada Emergency Response Benefit

This broad-brush program applies to anyone who has been laid off, is sick and is in quarantine, is at home caring for children and self-employed people who find themselves unable to earn income during the crisis.

To apply, you have to be over 15 and have earned $5000 plus in 2019 or the last calendar year (ie. March 2019 to March 2020). People who are currently on Employment Insurance are not eligible to apply, and if you’ve recently applied for EI your application will be folded into CERB.

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COVID-19: This Pandemic Is Exposing The Folly Of Magical Thinking

When I was growing up, one saying I remember hearing is “Opinions are like assholes, everyone has one.” The takeaway for me was that opinions were… whatever. What really mattered in deciding a question was real evidence, expert insight and logical conclusions.

What a difference two decades of alt-right and social media makes. Now, in the minds of some people anyway, a person’s “opinion” should carry equal and even greater weight than actual evidence collected, analyzed and vetted by well-educated scientists using state of the art instruments.

“I’m entitled to my opinion,” is how that sentiment is typically expressed. For a group that usually rages against “entitlement”, it’s especially ironic.

If we still lived as we did… oh, in Biblical times, or even the early 1950s, it maybe wouldn’t be a problem —at least, as big a problem as it is now. But we don’t live in Biblical times. Or the early 1950s. We live in 2020. And in our fast-paced technological world, we simply can’t afford to ignore what the scientific evidence  is telling us about our current reality on Earth.

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COVID-19: Self-Isolation and Physical Distancing

With all sorts of restrictions in place to promote self-isolation and physical distancing to reduce the spread of COVID-19, people are having to brainstorm new ways of passing time and engaging with family, friends and the broader community.

Cut off from touring, for example, Canadian musicians have been live-streaming performances to entertain fans. Likewise, galleries and museums have been inviting people to take virtual tours of their collections.

Various artists have been reaching out too, both to express solidarity with people going through tough times and to share their talent with the world. Patrick Stewart (a.k.a. Captain Picard from Star Trek: The Next Generation), for instance, has been doing online readings of Shakespeare’s sonnets. The choice is particularly appropriate given that in the year the sonnets were first published, 1609, London was in the grip of bubonic plague and theatres were closed.

One home-based activity I’d like highlight with this post is tied to citizen science. I did an article on it back in November 2015 and the important role ordinary citizens can play in helping professionally trained scientists to collect and analyze data to advance research projects.

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COVID-19: Canada In A Global Context [Updated]

As of this morning, the global number of COVID-19 infections has exceeded 620,000. With the virus just beginning to make inroads into heavily populated countries in Africa, Central and South America, and south-east Asia that number is expected to soar in the days to come.

The total number of cases in Canada currently sits at 4757, which puts us at #16 on the global list for infections. A major wild card for Canada is the border we share with the United States, which has surpassed China and Italy in recent days to become the world leader in infections. With tens of thousands of Canadians having recently rushed home from winter getaways in Arizona, Florida and other “snowbird” locations, and the virus having a 14 day incubation period, our numbers will surely jump.

At present, Quebec has the most infections at 2021 2498 — which is over twice as many as Ontario which currently has 993.

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COVID-19: U.S.A. Now Leads The World With Most Infections

It’s probably not the “America First” that Donald Trump had in mind when he was on the campaign trail in 2016 — or maybe it was, at this point, who really knows?

As had been forecast for weeks, the United States has now surpassed China and Italy as the global hotspot for COVID-19 infections. When comparing the performance of different countries in combating the pandemic, as was noted in an earlier blog post, different geographic and cultural factors do come into play.

Regardless of where a country falls on the spectrum between personal freedom and collective responsibility, though, there has to be a balance. And that’s where the U.S. fails grievously in comparison with the rest of the developed world. Instead of providing a decent social safety net with proper health, education and material supports for its citizens, it’s this weird hybrid of a First World/Third World country.

And with COVID-19 in full-swing there, the nation’s inadequacies are on full (and shameful) display.

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COVID-19: Changes To Government Response Plans [Updated}

A few days ago we did a post about different actions governments have taken to grapple with the challenge of coping with the chaos caused by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Some of those measures, such as the GST and Canada Child Benefit top-ups,  the Indigenous Community Support Fund, income and property tax deferrals at the federal and municipal level, and a 10 per cent wage subsidy for businesses to keep people on the payroll*, are still in place. But some other measures have been updated.

Federal Government

On March 25, the federal government, with all party support, passed a revised $107 billion emergency package to provide relief to Canadian workers and business owners whose lives have been disrupted by the outbreak.

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COVID-19: Cold Calculation

In addition to the toll the virus has taken on peoples’ physical and mental health, it’s exacted a huge economic toll. Around the world, stock markets have cratered and business has ground to a halt: putting many millions of people (small business owners and workers alike) at risk.

To provide short-term relief for Canadians, the federal Liberal government has stepped up with a $82 billion package to support business owners, families and workers who have had their employment impacted by the slowdown.

South of the border, U.S. Congress agreed Tuesday night to a $2 trillion stimulus bill after several days of political wrangling. The Democrats were concerned the bill focused too much on corporate interests and didn’t do enough to help ordinary Americans and provide support for much needed healthcare services.

The bill gives a one-time payment of $1200 to every American earning less than $75,000, and $500 per child. There is also $367 billion in support for small businesses to help make payroll, and $130 billion for hospitals.

The primary area of contention between the Democrats and Republicans was a $500 billion subsidized loan package for big business. As originally proposed by the Republicans, the hotels and golf resorts owned by U.S. president Trump would have been eligible for assistance. But the Democrats won a concession that businesses controlled by members of Congress and top administration officials — including Trump and his family — would not be eligible.

Naked self-interest aside, politics are also in play with this stimulus package. With November’s election looming, Trump is desperate to kick-start the economy to boost his re-election bid.

How desperate?

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COVID-19: Global Snapshot

COVID-19 first appeared in China in December. Since then, it’s spread relentlessly around the world. On March 11, the World Health Organization officially declared the virus a global pandemic.

When looking at the success each country is having (or not having) in dealing with the outbreak different factors obviously come into play.

Remote island nations may be facing significant hardship in years to come from rising sea levels due to climate change, but with COVID-19 they’re better off than countries that share borders with multiple other countries — especially where population densities are high.

Countries with underdeveloped medical systems might not have the capacity to accurately gauge how many COVID-19 cases they have. And getting honest stats from countries with authoritarian regimes –cough, Russia, cough — is problematic too.

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COVID-19: Duelling Governments [Updated]

On Friday, both the Saskatchewan government and City of Regina declared states of emergency to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak. Some of the municipal regulations mirrored those enacted by the province. But whereas the province’s regulations prohibited gatherings of over 25 people, Regina city council restricted gatherings to five people or less. The city regulations, which were to take effect today and last for a week, also included closure of non-essential retail outlets such as clothing, toy, furniture and shoe stores.

Saskatoon activated its Emergency Operations Centre, but did not pass any additional restrictions on businesses and public gatherings as Regina had done. But on Sunday, the Saskatchewan government announced that it would be rescinding Regina’s restrictions. The Saskatchewan Party government justified the move by saying it wanted to ensure regulations were consistent across the province.

Under Canada’s antiquated constitution, provinces have exclusive jurisdiction over cities via s.92 of the BNA Act. So the province certainly has the power to rescind Regina’s regulations. But whether it should or not is another matter.

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City Council Warp Up: Parking Copromise (A Pun, Not A Typo, I Swear), Wastewater Wassup?, Skate Park Naming

October’s council meeting was a comparatively quick affair. The one big controversial item on the agenda attracted only two delegations — they disagreed with each other but were completely civil about it.

The nerve! How am I supposed to write dramatic histrionics about city hall if everybody is playing nice and trying to reach reasonable compromise?

Think of what you’re doing to journalism, people!

Anyway, if you’re interested in getting a blow by blow of all the action, my live tweeting is collected below.

But if you just want the key bullet points here they are:

  • Regina Police asked for an eight year extension on their employee parking lot zoning. Heritage Community Association said the surface parking was a bother and eight years more if is too much. Council knocked the eight year extension down to five.
  • Council still hopes to sell its wastewater to Western Potash Corp. But WPC’s mine is still in limbo. The two struck a deal that allows the city to sell wastewater to other interested parties while still giving WPC access down the road.
  • The city’s reserves are still looking good. Though, the General Fund Reserve is heading toward zero. Plans are in the works to fix that.
  • The city named the Rochdale Blvd skate park after late councillor Terry Hincks.

And that’s it for this month. If you want to follow the action live in November but don’t want to attend the meeting or watch it on TV, consider following my live-tweetery account @PDCityHall.

City Council Warp Up: One Small Step For Cab Drivers, One Giant Stumble Backward For Sanctuary Cities

On the last day of July in the Year of Our Glorb 2017, council debated the already-much-debated Taxi Bylaw. They also debated a motion to declare the City of Regina a City In Which One With Precarious Immigration Status Shalt Not Endure Fear Of Deportation When They Access City Services.

And, oh, how they debated. They debated until it was nigh unto August in the Year of Our Glorb 2017.

And were it not for Robert’s Rules Of Order, they may have been debating still.

But eventually the debating ceased and many taxi cab drivers departed Henry Baker Hall feeling generally okay with the outcome while many taxi cab company owners departed feeling fairly peeved. And as for those who came to council hoping the Access Without Fear motion would pass unhindered? Oh, they were most unhappy. Most unhappy, indeed.

So gather around and allow me recount in painful detail all the long hours of council’s July 31 meeting, measured out in digestible 140 letter chunks.

You can follow my council live-tweeting on the last Monday of every month (plus or minus a Monday or Tuesday) at @PDCityHall

DA: Meow

Daily AggregationGood morning! Happy summer! Here’s a few links.

1. AND THEN THERE WERE 12? There’s going to be a provincial byelection, but are the media and government counting the NDP’s Saskatoon-Fairview chickens before they hatch?

2. GOING SLOW Regina police made virtually no progress on workplace diversity fro  2015 to 2017.

3. THE SCENE FROM CANADA’S BIGGEST PRIDE EVENT No police floats and Black Lives Matter didn’t stop the parade.

4. RECENTLY IN TRUMPLAND The U.S. Supreme Court says it will hear arguments for President Trump’s Muslim travel ban in the fall, if necessary. In the meantime, the conservative-dominated court ruled parts of the ban can stand. Read the Washington Post story here. Also, the conservative-dominated U.S. Supreme Court ruled that taxpayer-funded playgrounds can NOT be denied to religious schools. Time for the Church Of Satan to get into the education business!

AND NOW I NEED A PET CHEETAH Where is my pet cheetah? I demand a cheetah!

DA: The Man Who Planted Trees

Daily AggregationGood afternoon! It’s 13°C just before 2:00 on a chilly, rainy yet likable Wednesday afternoon. As we near solstice, we’ve got 16 hours and (almost) 25 minutes of daylight. Sunset tonight is 9:11, sunrise was the usual 4:46 a.m. Here’s some news.

CHILD SETS OTHER CHILDREN ON FIRE IN LARONGE Horrible.

THERE ARE SO MANY GUN NUTS IN AMERICA EVEN REPUBLICAN POLITICIANS GET SHOT SOMETIMES A gunman wounded four Republicans in Alexandria, Virginia at a bipartisan charity event. The shooter, predictably, is now dead. Given that the suspect was a Bernie Sanders campaign volunteer, this appears to be a rare case of left leaning would-be killer. Assholes with guns are usually libertarian sociopaths or profoundly unwell young men. Well, now everyone’s deranged. Great. Oh and hey, I hear there’s also there’s a been a mass shooting in San Francisco.

CHANGING PRIDE POLITICS ARE ROOTED IN SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC INEQUALITY That’s what I took away from this excellent article, which talks about ongoing tensions in the LGBTQ* movement over issues like police participation in Pride parades. It focuses on Toronto but these conversations and debates are ongoing everywhere.

FLINT, MICHIGAN WATER CRISIS: HEALTH BOSS CHARGED WITH INVOLUNTARY MANSLAUGHTER Story here, and more here. Makes me wonder if someday we’ll see Canadian politicians and public servants charged for First Nations’ chronically shitty drinking water.

MEET YOUR NEW AMALGAMATED HEALTH BOARD Now let’s all Google these individuals and see if there’s any sketchy ideology going on. Also, having just one health board for the whole province is probably a terrible idea.

FROMAGE FIGHT Canada and the EU are arguing over cheese. As a cheese-eater with only moderate concern for Canadian producers whose research is limited to reading this story, I think Europeans have a point.

NAZI BLOGS FUCK OFF An Edmonton keyboard creep has been charged with willful promotion of hatred. Meanwhile,  Alberta’s education minister filed a police complaint over anti-LGTBTQ* flyers. Alberta’s conservative base sure has some winners, doesn’t it? By the way, Saskatchewan did fairly well on that hate crimes report that came out the other day. Sometimes this place is all right. Then again, considering I know someone who suffered a brain injury in a gay bashing, have met people who think “Hitler was right about a lot of things” and have seen a lot of crap on Facebook written by Saskies, it’s pretty clear there’s still a lot of hate and fear here.

HAPPY 30TH, BETTER LATE THAN NEVER Last month was the 30th anniversary of one of my favourite animated films, which incidentally was produced by Radio Canada (suck it, CBC haters). Frederic Back’s adaptation of Jean Giono’s novel L’homme qui plantait des arbres won the 1988 Oscar for Best Animated Short Film. I’m shocked I couldn’t find an anniversary tribute online—arts journalism has really beaten beaten to hell in this country, hasn’t it? Regardless, The Man Who Planted Trees is gentle and lovely, and spring is a wonderful time to watch it — especially in this ominous era of unchecked climate change and rising fascism.

DA: Everybody Swoon For Wotherspoon

Daily AggregationJust a quick one today, let’s go go go

1. EX-INTERIM The NDP’s Trent Wotherspoon has stepped down to contemplate a run for the party’s leadership. Wotherspoon, a teacher in his civilian days, would join a leadership contest that so far includes popular-with-millennials Saskatoon doctor Ryan Meili. More candidates are rumoured to declare in the coming months. Murmur murmur!

2. HATE CRIMES AGAINST MUSLIMS RISE IN 2015 There were 159 police reports of hate crimes against Muslims in 2015, up from 99 the year before. Jews remain the leading target of religious hate crimes, with 178 incidents. Read more here. And yes, Alberta had the biggest increase in hate crimes, unsurprisingly.

3. SESSIONS IS IN SESSION U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee to answer (and not answer) questions about President Trump firing the FBI director. Hard to believe Trump hasn’t even been in office for five months and he’s already got his own Watergate going.

4. POULTRY WORKERS TORTURE CHICKENS Unacceptable.

5. TWIN SHOOTS TWIN IN SNAKE CRUELTY MISADVENTURE Two 14 year-old boys in Texas… Texas? Do I even need to continue? Just read the stupid thing here. And next time, Texas, maybe don’t raise your kids to be cruel to harmless (or close-to-harmless) animals.