Sunday, May 30, 2021

UK, USA face epidemics of depression

COVID-19 Depression – the real pandemic | The Conservative Woman - Kate Dunlop:

May 29, 2021 - "One of the worst outcomes of Covid-19 and the policies used by governments to ‘contain it’ has been the long-term damage inflicted on the public. Much more serious than the disease was the authoritarian intrusion into private lives, the unilateral removal of civil liberties, and the stench of ‘something gone horribly wrong’....   

"Long before Covid, a report from the World Health Organisation identified depression as the leading global cause of disability, affecting more than 300 million people. During enforced lockdowns, those people were cast adrift, often left to their own devices and viewed with casual indifference. They, together with the rest of us, have experienced unprecedented withdrawal of GP services, been denied access to hospital diagnostics and treatment, and been refused specialist support. For some, there may be no way back.   

"Recent [UK] Office for National Statistics (ONS) reports show that around one in five (21 per cent) of adults aged 16 and over experienced moderate to severe depressive symptoms in early 2021. Before Covid, mental health advocates described a 10 per cent rate as alarming. The same report shows that 29 per cent of those aged 16 to 39 were depressed in the same period, more than double the figure before the pandemic (11 per cent). Ten per cent of over-70s experienced some form of depression, also double the number before the pandemic....

"US experience is similarly catastrophic. A study published in September 2020 in the journal JAMA Network Open confirms that the prevalence of depression more than tripled during the pandemic. The statistics are staggering, with four in ten US adults reporting  symptoms of depression, up from one in ten in January to June 2019. The Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) Health Tracking Poll (July 2020) found that increasing numbers of adults ... say they have difficulty sleeping (36 per cent), with over-eating (32 per cent), increased dependence on drink or drugs (12 per cent), and worsening chronic conditions (12 per cent). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) predict that ongoing public health measures together with job losses will expose ever more people to situations that will inevitably lead to poorer mental health.

"Importantly, the mental health consequences of mass trauma are not evenly distributed. Experiences of sustained stress, low income, and less or no savings are strongly correlated with mental illness.... People who have lost their jobs because of Covid-19 public health restrictions, those who were already unemployed, or under-employed, and those in financially insecure work such as in the ‘gig economy’ are much less resilient.... In early 2021, 40 per cent of unemployed adults in the UK reported some form of depression compared with 19 per cent of those employed or self-employed.

"People with disabilities suffered badly during lockdowns, with 39 per cent describing themselves as having some form of depression.  Clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) people who were instructed to ‘shield’ were increasingly prone to anxiety and depression while essentially in enforced social isolation. 31 per cent of CEV adults reported depression, compared with 13 per cent of non-disabled people and 20 per cent of non-CEV adults....

"The ‘hidden costs’ of Covid and lockdown are hard to measure but include the end of any vestigial trust in politics, the mainstream media and public health elites; the rise of a more insular and fragmented society; an aversion to policemen acting as agents of the state; an NHS which has failed to provide full medical diagnoses and care; and widespread impoverishment and economic loss."

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Saturday, May 29, 2021

Kingston man ticketed for solitary lockdown protest

Ontario stay at home order needs to be amended to allow outdoor protests | National Post - Christine Van Geyn:

May 26, 2021  "The current stay-at-home order in Ontario needs to be amended to permit outdoor protests, which have been happening all across Ontario. The continued prohibition on public protests is undermining the rule of law through uneven enforcement, it violates our fundamental rights, disrupts the democratic process, is impractical, and is unscientific.

"Every weekend thousands of people gather at Queen’s Park and march through Toronto to protest the province-wide lockdown. And last week thousands of people across the greater Toronto area spent the week protesting in support of Palestinians. These protests are meaningful and are a part of our democratic process. It is how many people express their frustration at government policies and international conflicts. People who may feel otherwise powerless to impact change can protest together to show unity and grab the attention of political elites. Whatever your views on the reason for these protests, they are a Charter protected activity.

"But under the current stay-at-home order in effect in Ontario, people risk tickets when they exercise their right to assemble and express political views. The stay-at-home order requires everyone to remain in their residence unless they fall under a permitted exception that allows them to be out and about. Protesting is not one of those permitted reasons.

"The good news is that police in Toronto do not appear to be handing out tickets for these protests. But the bad news is that this is not the case for protestors in smaller communities across the province.

"Take for example, the case of Robert Bristol in Kingston. Bristol opposes the current lockdown. While supportive of some health measures, he believes that the current lockdown has gone too far and is in many ways irrational. It’s not an especially controversial view. Bristol decided to express his frustration by protesting in front of Kingston City Hall. He carried a 'no more lockdowns" sign and protested alone while wearing a mask. Despite this scenario creating literally zero risk of spreading COVID, Bristol was stopped by police and ticketed for violating the stay-at-home order. Police told Bristol that public protests are not a permitted purpose for being outside his home.

"This is bizarre and unjustifiable.... In the past, remote risk has never justified prohibiting public demonstrations. But if Bristol’s lone protest can be stopped on the basis of some hypothetical and frankly impossible danger, what will this mean for other protests in the future where such risk is actually less remote? It would be quite convenient for the government to prohibit citizens from protesting their policies on this basis. But this is not how governments ought to behave in liberal democracies.

"The practice of uneven ticketing undermines the rule of law, and the prohibition on demonstrations against government policies undermines our democracy. But the argument for allowing outdoor protests becomes even more compelling when one looks at the science.

The risk of transmitting COVID in outdoor settings is exceedingly low.... For example, a study of case numbers in Ireland found that just one in every thousand confirmed COVID cases was traced to outdoor transmission, meaning that 0.1 per cent of total cases was linked to outdoor transmission. Ontario’s own science advisory table never recommended that Premier Dour Ford close outdoor recreational amenities. Dr. Peter Jüni, who sits on the table, has said 'just as an estimate, that outdoor activities are probably roughly 20 times safer than indoor activities.'

"The government needs to amend the stay-at-home order to allow for public protests. And if [Ontario premier Doug] Ford won’t make that change voluntarily, there are organizations that are seeking to compel him to make the change. Bristol, the ticketed lone protestor, is working with the Canadian Constitution Foundation to challenge not only his ticket, but the stay-at-home order as well."

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Friday, May 28, 2021

UK getting ID cards by stealth, critics charge

Government accused of introducing ID cards ‘by stealth’ as ministers sign renewable vaccine passport contract | i - Poppy Wood:

May 27, 2021 - "MPs have accused the Government of introducing ID cards 'by stealth' after ministers signed a vaccine passport contract that may last several years, i can reveal.

"Speaking in the Commons today, Cabinet minister Michael Gove said the Government is still reviewing whether Covid-status certifications could be used ... at large-scale pubs and ... major events such as Premier League matches. Asked whether vaccine passports might be used to reopen the hospitality sector, Mr Gove added: 'It might be the case in venues like nightclubs you could see a role for it.... We don’t want to inhibit spontaneity, we just want to work with those who organise venues and activities which are so important to our life to make sure they are as safe as possible'.... He added that in his 'own view' any vaccine passport programme 'has to be rescinded at some point in the future'.

"However, i can reveal that the government has already signed several vaccine passport contracts, including one worth up to £21m that can be renewed each year. The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) earlier this month signed a contract with HH Associates, a subsidiary of outsourcing firm HH Global, to produce paper vaccine passports for people who do not have access to a smartphone or computer. The contract, worth up to £21m this year, will see the Surrey-based firm print and post vaccine passports to members of the public in England unable to access their vaccination status for free digitally. The agreement is due to expire in May 2022 but can be extended annually.

"It comes after the Government unveiled its much-anticipated vaccine passport programme last Monday ahead of the lifting of restrictions on international travel.  People in England who have received two doses of a Covid jab are now able to access their Covid vaccination status via the NHS app, or by printing off a PDF of their certificate for free from the NHS website. Those who do not have access to a smartphone or computer can call 119 to order a letter confirming that they have received both doses.... 

"The Government’s website states that the certificates are for those who wish to travel to countries which require proof of vaccination. But MPs and politicians have accused ministers of opening a backdoor to permanent ID cards without proper Parliamentary scrutiny.

"'This is the biggest shift in civil liberties in the history of the United Kingdom. Why is it OK for this to happen by stealth?' said Baroness Shami Chakrabarti, former director of advocacy group Liberty. She told i: 'This is a recipe for bullying and discrimination with no public consultation or Parliamentary consent. They promised us this was going to happen by consultation, and instead it’s happening by stealth. Liberal and libertarian Conservatives, like all UK citizens, must stand up.'

"Steve Baker, deputy chair of the Covid Recovery Group (CRG) of Tory MPs, told i: 'The Government appears to have decided to introduce Covid-status certification — a two-tier checkpoint Britain — by stealth, without a vote in Parliament.' He called on the Prime Minister to 'pull the plug on that attempt' immediately and for Parliament’s spending watchdog to scrutinise the £21m annual cost for the paper certificates.... 

"HH Global ... has previously been awarded two other government contracts, including a £2.4m printing deal with DHSC, and a share of a £420m agreement to provide printing facilities to the Crown Commercial Service signed in January. HH Global declined to comment. A DHSC spokesperson said the ability to order a vaccine certification letter was an 'essential service' for many people who do not have access to a smartphone, tablet or computer."

Read more:

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Victoria, Australia locked down again

Australia locks down 2nd most populous state over ‘highly infectious’ COVID-19 outbreak | Global News - Renju Jose,  Reuters:

May 27, 2021 - "Australia’s second most populous state of Victoria will enter a one-week COVID-19 lockdown forcing its near seven million residents to remain home except for essential business.... 'We’re dealing with a highly infectious strain of the virus, a variant of concern, which is running faster than we have ever recorded,' Victoria state Acting Premier James Merlino told reporters in Melbourne.... Merlino said contact tracers have identified more than 10,000 primary and secondary contacts....

"The fresh cluster of infections in Melbourne detected early this week swelled to 26 on Thursday after 12 new cases overnight, while the number of virus-exposed sites rose above 150. Victoria state Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said he 'absolutely expects' more positive cases to emerge in the coming days as the variant, first detected in India, was likely to be more virulent than the original strains. The current strain can take one day to infect another person compared with earlier strains which can take about five or six days, Merlino said.

"Under the lockdown, from 11:59 pm local time (1359 GMT) on Thursday until June 3, people will only be allowed to leave their homes for essential work, healthcare, grocery shopping, exercise or to get a coronavirus vaccination....

"New Zealand on Thursday extended a pause in its quarantine-free travel arrangement with Victoria until June 4 citing the high-risk over the new cases, while Australian states and territories responded to the lockdown by placing tougher border rules for travelers from Victoria....The states of Western Australia and Tasmania on Thursday closed their borders to Victorian residents following South Australia’s move a day earlier. The Northern Territory and Queensland state will ask travelers to undergo a mandatory two-week hotel quarantine. New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state and which shares a border with Victoria, urged residents to defer non-urgent travel to Melbourne.

"The lockdown comes just days after authorities reinstated coronavirus curbs for state capital Melbourne, limiting gathering sizes and making masks mandatory in restaurants, hotels and other indoor locations until June 4."

"Officials have traced the latest cluster, the first in the state in more than three months, back to an overseas traveler infected with a variant first found in India, although the virus transmission path is still unclear. The unnamed Victoria man tested negative after finishing his quarantine in neighboring South Australia and flew to Melbourne this month but tested positive six days after he arrived.

"Victoria endured one of the world’s strictest and longest lockdowns last year to suppress a second wave of COVID-19 that killed more than 800 people in the state, amounting for 90% of Australia’s total deaths since the pandemic began."

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Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Pacific rim countries sliding towards lockdowns

 Asia slides back towards lockdown | THINK Economic and Financial Analysis - ING: 

May 17, 2021 - "One of the key takeaways from our recent "What went wrong in India?" note was that this could easily happen elsewhere in Asia. With Taiwan and Singapore increasing restriction measures, and Japan extending its regional states of emergency - this could be playing out as we had feared... To those viewing the situation from Europe or the US, the handful of new community cases in Taiwan and Singapore may seem like a weak basis for ramping up social distancing measures and movement restrictions. But Asia can't be viewed in quite the same light as countries in these other parts of the world. 

"Firstly, unlike the US, UK and increasingly Europe after its slow start, most countries in Asia have made little progress in vaccinating their populations. Singapore is in better shape than most, with about 55 vaccinations per 100 population. But it has focussed on fully vaccinating the more vulnerable groups, so its numbers represent a large proportion of fully vaccinated people and a smaller proportion of the population with at least one vaccination than comparable countries in Europe.  Taiwan, in contrast, has barely vaccinated anyone, for a variety of reasons, some of which relate to political tensions with Mainland China. Japan, which is also struggling with daily Covid-19 cases close to its previous daily highs, is also lagging well behind international norms in terms of vaccination. 

"Secondly, Asia has a very low political tolerance for Covid-19, compared to most places in the West. Where a few thousand daily cases in the UK may represent a cause for optimism and re-opening the economy, a far smaller proportionate number of daily cases in Asian countries will lead governments to clamp down harder on transmission. Look at the extended lockdowns in the Philippines for example. This may represent previous experience with diseases such as SARS. It may just reflect a different perspective. For Europe, the central objective seems to have been to prevent the health services from becoming overwhelmed. In some countries in Asia-Pacific, including Australia and New Zealand, a more ambitious objective seems to be being employed.  

"Thirdly, as we saw from India, the lead time taken to move from a relatively manageable number of daily cases to medical and economic catastrophe is about a month.... In short, if the numbers are going up, even if they are still low, you don't have much time to nip this in the bud before you could be dealing with an India-like situation.... 

"Malaysia was already operating under new Movement Control Orders (MCOs) amidst rising cases. Thailand also imposed new restrictions at the end of April to try to curb rising daily cases. And Indonesia is still operating under a partial lockdown, as is the Philippines.... Korea's impressive recovery so far this year is also at risk from rising cases and tighter movement control restrictions.... 

"Were China to show more community cases, then we would ... require broader downgrades... So far, that hasn't happened. But although China is making vaccine progress, with a population of 1.3bn, and some questions about the effectiveness of local vaccines compared with some of the others being rolled out globally, any sense of calm could be misplaced.

"In short, and subject to a big caveat about new more transmissible and more vaccine-resistant variants, while some parts of the world seem to be making good progress towards fully vaccinated populations and re-opened economies, Asia, lagging well behind [in] the vaccination race, may see its return to normality delayed."

Read more:

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

A disgruntled ex-employee with disturbing views

Dominic Cummings' flawed lockdown fundamentalism must be challenged | Daily Telegraph - Sherelle Jacobs:

May 24, 2021 - "To misquote the Lionel Shriver novel, we need to talk about Cummings. First came the almost adolescently vengeful Twitter rampage against No 10 over its early handling of Covid. Now the former aide allegedly aims to 'napalm' the Prime Minister when he gives evidence to the health and science select committee on Wednesday.... The more Mr Cummings briefs against his former boss, and pours social media scorn on lockdown-sceptic arguments, the more he comes across as a vindictive former employee, vainly obsessed with his reputation and appearing intellectual....

"Cummings’s criticisms lack power because they are already the consensus. This in itself is disturbing. To most of Westminster, along with swathes of the public, it is self-evident that we failed to lock down early enough. Old hat that the state’s early 'test and trace' surveillance plans and faith in the power of behavioural manipulation lacked ambition. Clear to the point of cliched that early interest in herd immunity was reckless and irresponsibl ....

"In this world view, the only question of importance is whether the Government should fall on its sword for these shameful errors or has redeemed itself with a world-beating jab rollout. The latter judgment still seems likely to prevail, despite Mr Cummings’s best efforts. Still, even if the former adviser is ancient history, his authoritarian take on lessons learned from the pandemic looks set to prevail, at least for now. It is very possible that in 18 months’ time, when the fallout of lockdowns is clear, Mr Cummings’s position will prove a lonely one. Yet in the short term, at least, he represents the political mainstream.

"This is problematic for two reasons. First, it is not clear that the Cummings consensus is borne out by the scientific evidence. Although the argument goes that 'hard' and 'fast' action, such as that taken by Taiwan, was the best way to stop people dying, it remains unclear whether lockdowns do more than buy time (and potentially push deaths into winter).... The Cummings argument that the tradeoff between lockdowns and the economy is a myth is also questionable. Despite attempts by lockdown advocates to 'settle the argument' by selective use of data, it is in truth too early to say if locking down hard and fast can save both lives and the economy.... 

"The Cummings consensus is not simply factually spurious but potentially dangerous. The establishment of 'fast, hard' lockdowns as the policy gold standard could spell stay-at-home orders every time there is a variant scare. So, too, the institutionalisation of fallible modellers as a new breed of philosopher kings, thanks to the precautionary principle. The unconditional acceptance of lockdowns – and with this the demolition of the individual’s right to freedom – also risks leading us into ethical quagmires from which there is no obvious escape.

"Society seems to have accepted that locking down those who might be a public health threat is a necessary measure. If, in line with legal norms encapsulated by the European Convention on Human Rights, society also deems it unacceptable to withold freedoms from those who are no longer a public health threat (ie the innoculated), then it follows that the development of a vaccine demands the division of society into two tiers of citizens – the vaccinated whose movements can’t be legitimately restricted, and the unvaccinated, whose activities can....

"Just as dangerous is the consensus crystallising that our politicians must ... learn from 'democracy-friendly' bio-surveillance in the likes of Taiwan. True, ... Beijing busily uploading the vaccine information of its citizens onto its dystopian social credit system WeChat is not the same as the proliferation in Taiwain of apps designed by tech firms to help people avoid Covid hotspots and track the local facemask shortages – something we could perhaps learn from. Nevertheless we need to be careful....

"Already, some of the influential Silicon Valley types whom Cummings so admires are publicly dabbling in arguments that democracy may be obsolete in the new era of big tech and the Straussian view that espionage is necessary to build a just society. Dominic Cummings may be an oddball in Westminster and a figure of fun among the public at large, but the bio-authoritarianism that he embodies should be taken seriously."

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Monday, May 24, 2021

#ChristchurchCall wants online speech controlled

Prince Harry's First Amendment Aversion Is Funny; the Governments That Agree Are Scary | Reason - J.D. Tuccille: 

May 21, 2021 - "'Instead of thinking about content moderation through an individualistic lens typical of constitutional jurisprudence, platforms, regulators, and the public at large need to recognize that the First Amendment–inflected approach to online speech governance that dominated the early internet no longer holds,' writes Harvard Law School lecturer Evelyn Douek in an April 2021 Columbia Law Review article. 'Instead, platforms are now firmly in the business of balancing societal interests and choosing between error costs on a systemic basis.'

"The catalyst for this shift away from First Amendment-style speech protection by the tech giants was COVID-19, claims the Australian academic, who approves of the transformation. She sees lasting effects beyond social media.... Douek cites a pre-pandemic paper by Harvard Law School's Jonathan Zittrain who unintentionally anticipated the impact of COVID-19 when he observed that the treatment of speech is moving to a 'public health framework [that] is much more geared around risks and benefits than around individual rights.'

"Among the lawmakers treating speech as a health threat are French President Emmanuel Macron and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who have joined together with other political and tech leaders to demand tighter regulation of online speech. New Zealand's prime minister, in particular, wants digital media companies to implement 'ethical algorithms' to steer people away from material of which the authorities disapprove and toward content that they prefer. 'Let's have that conversation around the ethical use of algorithms, and how they can use be used in a positive way and for positive interventions,' Ardern last week told a conference of participants in Christchurch Call, which advocates for greater control over online content.

"Ardern faces opposition at home, where the libertarian ACT party, which won 10 of 120 seats in the October 2020 election, makes free speech a major part of its platform and its opposition to the governing Labour Party. That was already a demanding job in a country that has an official national censorship office, and hasn't become easier in a pandemic-shocked world grown accustomed to 'emergency' incursions into individual rights.

"But Christchurch Call, co-founded by the governments of France and New Zealand, wins a friendly reception elsewhere. The European Union has long been on-board with speech controls and had no objection to endorsing the effort. Over 50 governments and most of the big tech companies have also signed on. 'YouTube is committed to the #ChristchurchCall,' CEO Susan Wojcicki tweeted May 14. 'We continue to strengthen our policies, improve transparency, and restrict borderline content. We look forward to continuing to work with the Call community.'

"Also endorsing the Christchurch Call is the government of the United States.... 'The United States endorses the Christchurch Call to Action to Eliminate Terrorist and Violent Extremist Content Online, formally joining those working together under the rubric of the Call to prevent terrorists and violent extremists from exploiting the Internet,' the U.S. State Department announced on May 7. The statement went on to promise that 'the United States will not take steps that would violate the freedoms of speech and association protected by the First Amendment,' but that's going to be hard to square with a mandate for 'ethical algorithms' intended to nudge people away from ideas frowned on by officialdom."

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Sunday, May 23, 2021

Where did the SARS-Cov-2 virus originate? (2)

Origin of Covid — Following the Clues | Medium - Nicholas Wade:

May 2, 2021 - "Ever since virologists gained the tools for manipulating a virus’s genes, they have argued they could get ahead of a potential pandemic by exploring how close a given animal virus might be to making the jump to humans. And that justified lab experiments in enhancing the ability of dangerous animal viruses to infect people, virologists asserted.... These enhancements of viral capabilities are known blandly as gain-of-function [GOF] experiments.... 

"Virologists started studying bat coronaviruses in earnest after these turned out to be the source of both the SARS1 and MERS epidemics. In particular, researchers wanted to understand what changes needed to occur in a bat virus’s spike proteins before it could infect people. Researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, led by China’s leading expert on bat viruses, Dr. Shi Zheng-li or “Bat Lady”, ... teamed up with Ralph S. Baric, an eminent coronavirus researcher at the University of North Carolina. Their work focused on enhancing the ability of bat viruses to attack humans....In ... November 2015 they created a novel virus by taking the backbone of the SARS1 virus and replacing its spike protein with one from a bat virus (known as SHC014-CoV)....

"The SHC014-CoV/SARS1 virus is known as a chimera because its genome contains genetic material from two strains of virus. If the SARS2 virus were to have been cooked up in Dr. Shi’s lab, then its direct prototype would have been the SHC014-CoV/SARS1 chimera.... Dr. Baric had developed, and taught Dr. Shi, a general method for engineering bat coronaviruses to attack other species. The specific targets were human cells grown in cultures and humanized mice. These laboratory mice, a cheap and ethical stand-in for human subjects, are genetically engineered to carry the human version of a protein called ACE2 that studs the surface of cells that line the airways.... Dr. Shi returned to her lab at the Wuhan Institute of Virology and resumed the work she had started on genetically engineering coronaviruses to attack human cells.

"How can we be so sure? Because, by a strange twist in the story, her work was funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), a part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). And grant proposals that funded her work, which are a matter of public record, specify exactly what she planned to do with the money. The grants were assigned to the prime contractor, Dr. [Peter] Daszak of the EcoHealth Alliance, who subcontracted them to Dr. Shi.... The lab escape scenario for the origin of the SARS2 virus, as should by now be evident, is ... based on the specific project being funded there by the NIAID.... 

"There are four degrees of [biolab] safety, designated BSL1 to BSL4, with BSL4 being the most restrictive and designed for deadly pathogens like the Ebola virus. The Wuhan Institute of Virology had a new BSL4 lab, but its state of readiness considerably alarmed the State Department inspectors who visited it from the Beijing embassy in 2018.... Before 2020, the rules followed by virologists in China and elsewhere required that experiments with the SARS1 and MERS viruses be conducted in BSL3 conditions. But all other bat coronaviruses could be studied in BSL2.... Yet a [GOF] experiment conducted in BSL2 might produce an agent more infectious than either SARS1 or MERS. And if it did, then lab workers would stand a high chance of infection, especially if unvaccinated. Much of Dr. Shi’s work on [GOF] in coronaviruses was performed at the BSL2 safety level, as [she] stated ... in an interview with Science magazine.... 'The coronavirus research in our laboratory is conducted in BSL-2 or BSL-3 laboratories'....

"'It is clear that some or all of this work was being performed using a biosafety standard — biosafety level 2, the biosafety level of a standard US dentist’s office — that would pose an unacceptably high risk of infection of laboratory staff upon contact with a virus having the transmission properties of SARS-CoV-2,' says Dr. [biosafety expert Dr. Richard] Ebright [of Rutgers University]. 'It also is clear,' he adds, 'that this work never should have been funded and never should have been performed'.... 

"According to a fact sheet issued by the State Department on January 15,2021, 'The U.S. government has reason to believe that several researchers inside the WIV became sick in autumn 2019, before the first identified case of the outbreak, with symptoms consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illnesses.'. David Asher, a ... former consultant to the State Department, provided more detail.... Three people working at a BSL3 lab at the institute fell sick within a week of each other with severe symptoms that required hospitalization. This was 'the first known cluster that we’re aware of, of victims of what we believe to be COVID-19.' Influenza could not completely be ruled out but seemed unlikely in the circumstances, [Asher] said....

"[Section revised 18 May 2021] From June 2014 to May 2019 Dr. Daszak’s EcoHealth Alliance had a grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, to do [GOF] research with coronaviruses at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Whether or not SARS2 is the product of that research, it seems a questionable policy to farm out high-risk research to foreign labs using minimal safety precautions. And if the SARS2 virus did indeed escape from the Wuhan institute, then the NIH will find itself in the terrible position of having funded a disastrous experiment that led to the death of more than 3 million worldwide, including more than half a million of its own citizens."

Read more:

Also read: Where did the SARS-Cov-2 virus originate? (1)

Note: These two excerpts from Nicholas Wade's article only scratch the surface: he goes into scrupulous detail to support claims and examine arguments, most of which I cut for the sake of brevity. And these excerpts do not even deal with the most fascinating part of his article, "Comparing the Rival Scenarios of SARS2 Origin," which weighs the alternative origin theories on a balance of probabilities. I urge everyone interested in reading more about the subject to begin with the original version of his article on Medium (link above). - gd.  

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Where did the SARS-Cov-2 virus originate? (1)

Origin of Covid — Following the Clues | Medium - Nicholas Wade:

May 2, 2021 - "The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted lives the world over for more than a year. Its death toll will soon reach three million people. Yet the origin of pandemic remains uncertain.... As many people know, there are two main theories ... that it jumped naturally from wildlife to people ... [and] that the virus was under study in a lab, from which it escaped. It matters a great deal which is the case if we hope to prevent a second such occurrence.... It’s important to note that so far there is no direct evidence for either theory. Each depends on a set of reasonable conjectures but so far lacks proof....

"From early on, public and media perceptions were shaped in favor of the natural emergence scenario by strong statements from two scientific groups. 'We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin,' a group of virologists and others wrote in the Lancet on February 19, 2020, when it was really far too soon for anyone to be sure what had happened. Scientists 'overwhelmingly conclude that this coronavirus originated in wildlife,' they said.... 

"It later turned out that the Lancet letter had been organized and drafted by Peter Daszak, president of the EcoHealth Alliance of New York. Dr. Daszak’s organization funded coronavirus research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. If the SARS2 virus had indeed escaped from research he funded, Dr. Daszak would be potentially culpable. This acute conflict of interest was not declared to the Lancet’s readers. To the contrary, the letter concluded, 'We declare no competing interests.'

"A second statement which had enormous influence in shaping public attitudes was a letter (in other words an opinion piece, not a scientific article) published on 17 March 2020 in the journal Nature Medicine. Its authors were [five] virologists led by Kristian G. Andersen of the Scripps Research Institute. 'Our analyses clearly show that SARS-CoV-2 is not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated virus,' the five virologists declared in the second paragraph of their letter. Unfortunately this was another case of poor science.... If a virus has been manipulated, whether with a seamless method or by serial passage, there is no way of knowing that this is the case. Dr. Andersen and his colleagues were assuring their readers of something they could not know....

"The Daszak and Andersen letters were really political, not scientific statements, yet were amazingly effective. Articles in the mainstream press repeatedly stated that a consensus of experts had ruled lab escape out of the question or extremely unlikely. Their authors relied for the most part on the Daszak and Andersen letters, failing to understand the yawning gaps in their arguments. Mainstream newspapers all have science journalists on their staff, as do the major networks, and these specialist reporters are supposed to be able to question scientists and check their assertions. But the Daszak and Andersen assertions went largely unchallenged.... 

"Natural emergence was the media’s preferred theory until around February 2021 and the visit by a World Health Organization commission to China. The commission’s composition and access were heavily controlled by the Chinese authorities. Its members, who included the ubiquitous Dr. Daszak, kept asserting before, during and after their visit that lab escape was extremely unlikely. But this was not quite the propaganda victory the Chinese authorities may have been hoping for. What became clear was that the Chinese had no evidence to offer the commission in support of the natural emergence theory.... 

"This was surprising.... The intermediary host species of SARS1 was identified within four months of the epidemic’s outbreak, and the host of MERS within nine months. Yet some 15 months after the SARS2 pandemic began, and a presumably intensive search, Chinese researchers had failed to find either the original bat population, or the intermediate species to which SARS2 might have jumped, or any serological evidence that any Chinese population, including that of Wuhan, had ever been exposed to the virus prior to December 2019. Natural emergence remained a conjecture which, however plausible to begin with, had gained not a shred of supporting evidence in over a year.

"And as long as that remains the case, it’s logical to pay serious attention to the alternative conjecture, that SARS2 escaped from a lab."

Read more:

Also see: Where did the SARS-Cov-2 virus originate? (2)

Friday, May 21, 2021

Nobel winner claims vaccination causing variants

Bombshell: Nobel Prize Winner Reveals - Covid Vaccine is 'Creating Variants' | RAIR Foundation - Renee Nal:  

May 18, 2021 - "While it is understood that viruses mutate, causing variants, French Virologist and Nobel Prize Winner Luc Montagnier contends that 'it is the vaccination that is creating the variants.' The 2008 Nobel Laureate [in Physiology or Medicine - gd] made the explosive comments as part of a larger interview with Pierre Barnérias of Hold-Up Media earlier this month. The clip was exclusively translated for RAIR Foundation USA....

"As reported at RAIR in April of last year, Prof. Montagnier presented a powerful case that the coronavirus was created in a lab. His comments at the time offended the left-wing establishment so much that they aggressively attempted to discredit his statement. Now, the media is backpedaling on the origin of the coronavirus after prominent scientists called for further scrutiny.

"Prof. Montagnier referred to the vaccine program for the coronavirus as an 'unacceptable mistake'. Mass vaccinations are a 'scientific error as well as a medical error,' he said. 'It is an unacceptable mistake. The history books will show that, because it is the vaccination that is creating the variants' ... Montagnier continued. The prominent virologist explained that 'there are antibodies, created by the vaccine,' forcing the virus to 'find another solution' or die. This is where the variants are created. It is the variants that 'are a production and result from the vaccination.'

"Prof. Montagnier said that epidemiologists know but are 'silent' about the phenomenon, known as 'Antibody-Dependent Enhancement' (ADE). In the articles [online] that mention ADE, the concerns expressed by Prof. Montagnier are dismissed. 'Scientists say that ADE is pretty much a non-issue with COVID-19 vaccines,' an article at Medpage Today reported in March....

"The Nobel Laureate’s point is emphasized by information revealed in an open letter from a long list of medical doctors to the European Medicines Agency. The letter stated in part that 'there have been numerous media reports from around the world of care homes being struck by COVID-19 within days of vaccination of residents.' Earlier this month, RAIR reported on a statement by French Virologist Christine Rouzioux: '…the rise in new cases is occurring in vaccinated patients in nursing homes in Montpellier, in the Sarte, in Rheims, in the Moselle'…

"Montagnier continued to say that he is doing his own experiments with those who become infected with the coronavirus after getting the vaccine. 'I will show you that they are creating the variants that are resistant to the vaccine,' he said."

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Thursday, May 20, 2021

First homegrown Covid drug approved in India

Why All Eyes Are On 2-DG, The New Drug That India's Launched Against Covid-19 | News 18 India - Kenneth Mohanty:

May 20, 2021 - " A surge in serious cases during the devastating second wave of Covid-19 in India has been accompanied by desperate efforts ... to seek out every last lead on promising treatments and medications that can save the lives of their loved ones. Amid the despair and confusion comes 2-DG, the indigenously developed Covid-19 drug launched in collaboration with a defence lab....

"2-DG, short for 2-deoxy-D-Glucose, was developed by the Institute of Nuclear Medicine and Allied Sciences (INMAS) — a lab that is part of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) — in collaboration with Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories, Hyderabad. The drug is a result of laboratory experiments launched in April 2020 that found this molecule was effective against SARS-CoV-2 virus and inhibited viral growth. 2-DG comes in powder form in a sachet and is to be taken orally after dissolving it in water.

"The Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI), which is the national drug regulator, approved its emergency use on May 1, the Ministry of Defence said earlier this month. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan released the first batch of the drug on May 17. According to the defence ministry, clinical trials have shown that the drug helps in faster recovery of hospitalised patients and reduces supplemental oxygen dependence.

"It works by accumulating in the virus-infected cells of patients and prevents virus growth by stopping viral synthesis and energy production. The ministry said that 'its selective accumulation in virally infected cells makes this drug unique'. It added that a higher proportion of patients treated with 2-DG were found to display 'RT-PCR negative conversion' and that the 'drug will be of immense benefit' to Covid-19 patients.... It is to be used as an adjunct therapy, which means it can supplement the primary line of treatment for such patients....

"Dr Reddy’s Laboratories said on May 19 that commercial launch of 2-DG and its supply to government and private hospitals will begin some time in mid-June. It added that the price per sachet will be fixed with a view to making it affordable for as many patients as possible and warned against attempts to pass off fake and illegal products as the 2-DG drug. The defence ministry had said that 2-DG is derived from a generic molecule that is an analogue of glucose and, hence, 'can be easily produced and made available in plenty in the country'.

"Phase-II trials conducted on 110 patients between May and October, 2020 showed that the drug was safe and led to significant improvement in the recovery of Covid-19 patients. The defence ministry said that patients administered 2-DG 'showed faster symptomatic cure than Standard of Care (SoC) on various endpoints' and that there was a median difference of 2.5 days in achieving normalisation of specific parameters as compared with the standard care protocol.

"The Phase-III clinical trial, which was held for 220 patients between December last year and March 2021, reported that a significantly higher proportion of patients (42% vs 31%) improved and could be taken off supplemental oxygen by Day 3 compared with those who received standard care. A similar trend was seen in 65+ year patients....

"While 2-DG has been explored in cancer therapy, its use for Covid-19 treatment needs to be studied further, The Indian Express cited experts as saying. Doctors have also pointed to the small sample sizes of 2-DG’s clinical trials while suggesting that more data should be awaited before the drug can be confidently said to check the course of Covid-19 infection in patients."

Read more:

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Third pastor arrested in Alberta

Calgary pastor arrested after breaking pandemic gathering rules for months | CBC News - Sarah Reiger: 

May 16, 2021 - "The pastor of Fairview Baptist Church in southeast Calgary has been arrested after months of encouraging congregants to break COVID-19-related public health rules. Pastor Tim Stephens is just one of a number of people arrested and/or charged in the past few weeks in Alberta after the United Conservative government brought in new protocols in early May to increase enforcement against COVID rule-breakers.... The heightened enforcement comes 14 months into the pandemic and after weeks of Alberta having the highest number of active cases per capita in Canada. 

"Police said Stephens was arrested for organizing a church service on Sunday at Fairview Baptist Church, in violation of a Court of Queen's Bench Order that requires organizers of events to comply with public health restrictions. Stephens was proactively served last week with a copy of the court order, which was obtained by Alberta Health Services.

"Police said AHS had been attempting for weeks to work with the church to address the ongoing public health concerns at the site.... Stephens has previously been fined and ticketed for defying public health regulations by holding over-capacity gatherings and not enforcing mask use. Churches are currently limited to a maximum occupancy of 15 people, in order to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Alberta.... There have been multiple outbreaks at churches around the province during the COVID-19 pandemic, but only one church outbreak is currently active.

"'Restricting the church to 15 people — which essentially restricts the church from gathering — is against the will of Christ and against the conscience of many who desire to worship the Lord of glory according to his word,' Stephens wrote in a blog post following the updated restrictions earlier this month, add[ing] that he planned to continue to flout public safety laws.

"Since Alberta has seen increased enforcement against COVID-19 rule-breakers this month, those arrested and/or charged include:

  • [Pastor] Artur and Dawid Pawlowski, two organizers of a Calgary church service who have been defying public health restrictions throughout the pandemic.
  • Kevin J. Johnston, a Calgary mayoral candidate who's under a restraining order after threatening to arm himself and go to the homes of health workers.
  • Chris Scott, the owner of the Whistle Stop Café in Mirror, and some of his supporters, who continued to defy public health orders.
  • Ty and Gail Northcott, the organizers of a rodeo held to protest COVID-19 restrictions near Bowden.

"As well, Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church in the Edmonton-area has been on trial in May after officials said he repeatedly held in-person church services that ignored measures on capacity limits, physical distancing and masking."

Read more:

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Lockdowns take toll on Canadians' mental health

Losing sight of the COVID-19 finish line: How more lockdowns, cases blur hope | Global News: Rachael D'Amore:

April 24, 2021 - "After more than a year of isolation, distance and uncertainty, Canadians are maxed out. Vaccines are getting into arms ... but for some, that 'light at the end of the tunnel' touted by politicians and public health officials has dimmed recently....  After [Ontario] Premier Doug Ford’s announcement on April 16 ushering in further closures of amenities and activities, including some outdoors, Ontarians reacted online in a wave of sadness and anger. Some people pointed out that, this time, the 'rage and despair' felt more like a collective emotion than ever before.

"Roger McIntyre, a psychiatrist and professor at the University of Toronto, said the collective feeling comes down to one thing: unpredictability. 'Chronic unpredictable stress,' to be exact. 'When you and I are told that the finish line is there, while we’re under chronic stress, it’s difficult but we try to accommodate it. But when you aren’t confident about where the finish line is, that, by definition, is unpredictable,' he said.... 'It’s the unpredictability that’s becoming the straw breaking the camel’s back for many people'....

"Since last year, Canadians have been told to stay apart to stop the spread of the virus, but the ability to be outdoors has generally provided safer alternatives for exercise, recreation and dining, among other things. Those options dwindled in the winter. As the second wave bore down, cold weather and renewed lockdowns forced people to stay at home. Even with summer on the horizon, those options are once again shrinking.

"The second wave of the pandemic intensified feelings of stress and anxiety, causing alarming levels of despair and hopelessness among Canadians, the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) found in December 2020. That trajectory isn’t likely to improve as the country endures the third wave, according to Michael Anhorn, the CEO of the CMHA’s Toronto branch. 'Research has shown a fairly steady decline in mental health since the beginning of the pandemic. The longer it goes on, the more our wellness suffers,' he said.

"During the second wave, 40 per cent of Canadians who participated in a CMHA survey said their mental health has worsened — up from 38 per cent in the first wave. A separate report by HR company Morneau Shepell showed Canadians’ psychological health has steadily declined, hitting a negative score for a 12th consecutive month. That same report said the feeling of isolation is worse now than at any prior point in the pandemic.... Of the Canadians feeling the negative mental health impacts, 45 per cent are women, compared to 34 per cent of men, according to CMHA....

"Canada has maintained it will meet its goal of vaccinating all willing Canadians by September. There has been brighter news in recent days — more doses of Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine are coming, eligibility is gradually opening up to all adults in hot-spot areas in Ontario and Canada could see extra shots come from its neighbour the U.S. But recent announcements like Ontario’s — which took away considerably safer activities like camping, tennis and golf — make people think 'the goalposts keep changing,” said McIntyre.... 

"The ultimate goalpost is ending the pandemic. For many Canadians, it’s personal now, McIntyre said, like something as simple as having a normal summer....

"'You have people who will do just fine, they’ll flourish. Then you’ll have this large swath of society who don’t have a mental illness, but they’re not well, they’re tired, fatigued, apathetic. For many of this group, these feelings may be time-limited once our lives get back to normal,' he said. 'But we also know that for a lot of people, this is the first step of going into a depression and that this type of experience can often be a [portent]. We don’t want to catastrophize this because not everyone does, but we also can’t trivialize it.'"

Read more:

Monday, May 17, 2021

Lockdown protests banned in Nova Scotia

Premier says he's not backing down on lockdown rules — even if they limit individual rights | CBC News - Chris Hall:

May 15, 2021 - "Nova Scotia's Premier Iain Rankin says he'll continue to use every legal means available to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the province — even if the effort ends up limiting individual rights. The province obtained a court injunction Friday to halt a protest against its lockdown measures — which include keeping the border closed to non-essential travel and people attempting to move to the province, along with hefty fines for anyone caught travelling outside the zone in which they live.

"'I'll do whatever I have to do that's within the confines of the law and the public health emergency that we have in place to keep Nova Scotians safe,' Rankin told CBC's The House in an interview airing Saturday. 'I recognize that people really value their freedom, freedom of expression. And I believe in all those things. But you can't take away the freedom for individuals to be able to live in a society where they're not fearful of contracting COVID.'

"The injunction prevents a group called Freedom Nova Scotia from staging a planned protest rally today. The court order also authorizes police to use reasonable force in arresting anyone who takes part in one of these protests....

"The Canadian Civil Liberties Association wrote the premier this week to say that closing the border to the rest of the country violates mobility rights guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. 'The Charter requires that when governments restrict rights, they do so in a manner that is minimally intrusive,' wrote association director Cara Faith Zwibel. 'In the current circumstance, self-isolation can be effectively paired with testing requirements to mitigate risk. Completely excluding Canadians from the province is neither necessary nor appropriate.'

"Rankin isn't backing down. He said it's clear that some people were ignoring the mandatory 14-day quarantine for visitors entering the province.... 

"As of Friday, the province had more than 1,530 active cases of COVID-19 and 21 patients in intensive care. Nova Scotia has one of the lowest vaccination rates among the provinces; only about 30 per cent of Nova Scotians have received their first doses. That pace has picked up in recent days and everyone in the province aged 35 and older is now eligible to be vaccinated."

Read more: 

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Unofficial science growing in grassroots

Anti-Maskers “Practice a Form of Data Literacy in Spades”, Says MIT Study | Lockdown Sceptics - Cephas Alain:

15 May 2021 - "An unexpected side effect of the [COVID19] pandemic was the rapid and sustained development of a new set of grassroots checks and balances counterbalancing official scientific health narratives.... This may prove be one of the enduring legacies of the pandemic as its potential is much wider than a single area of concern. Apart from anecdotal evidence of this development there is now some research evidence ... in a preprint paper by Lee, Yang et al. of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) entitled 'Viral Visualisations: How Coronavirus Skeptics Use Orthodox Data Practices to Promote Unorthodox Science Online'....

"The Lee, Yang et al. paper 'investigates how pandemic visualisations [of data] circulated on social media, and shows that people who mistrust the scientific establishment often deploy the same rhetorics of data-driven decision making used by experts, but to advocate for radical policy changes'. It refers to the opponents of lockdowns, social-distancing and face masks as 'anti-maskers', which is rather unflattering shorthand, but ... clearly shows that a mix of traditionally educated scientists and researchers, along with data specialists and interested members of the general public, have begun to work together systematically.... 

"The study provides good evidence to believe that, at least in some cases, a new collegiate form of narrative is emerging ... which is neither non-scientific nor pseudo-scientific but simply an alternative scientific narrative. Alternative, that is, to the one provided by official government-scientific and mainstream media sources.... There is room for alternative viewpoints because 

'data ... is not a neutral substrate.... Quantitative data is culturally and historically situated.... [T]here is no such thing as dispassionate or objective data analysis. Instead, there are stories: stories shaped by cultural logics, animated by personal experience, and entrenched by collective action.... 

"Furthermore, Lee, Yang et al. observe: 'Most fundamentally, the groups we studied believe that science is a process, and not an institution.' That is precisely the point and nature of the scientific method. They add:

'While academic science is traditionally a system for producing knowledge within a laboratory, validating it through peer review, and sharing results within subsidiary communities, anti-maskers reject this hierarchical social model. They espouse a vision of science that is radically egalitarian and individualist. This study forces us to see that coronavirus sceptics champion science as a personal practice that prizes rationality and autonomy; for them, it is not a body of knowledge certified by an institution of experts.

'Having said this, we might submit that the study has also discovered characteristics which suggest that, whilst the more developed groups are egalitarian, they also mimic "institutional type" checks and balances on their members’ output. One might go so far as to say that they actually are a new form of "collective peer review" ... so far as they are providing critiques which are supported by the data. That is both internally, within the way this type of group operates, and as an "external examiner" of the work of others outside the group. This should naturally be differentiated from less considered groups which pluck ideas out of nowhere and generate mere propaganda. Some trained scientists and traditional institutions are more open to debate and other engagement than others. It is plausible to suggest that those who choose to engage, in an informal or more structured way, with the more developed groups might find it a positive process rather than a distraction to be avoided.'

"In the most scientifically/data literate groups, the following characteristics were observed by Lee, Yang et al. which, while linked to visualisations, have much wider application:

  • There is a commitment to quality: 'we find that anti-mask groups on Twitter often create polished counter-visualisations that would not be out of place in scientific papers, health department reports, and publications like the Financial Times'....
  • There is a commitment to openness: 'Among other initiatives, these groups argue for open access to government data (claiming that CDC and local health departments are not releasing enough data for citizens to make informed decisions), and they use the language of data-driven decision-making to show that social distancing mandates are both ill-advised and unnecessary'....
  • There is an emphasis on ‘Critically assessing data sources’. 'Even as these users learn from each other to collect more data, they remain critical about the circumstances under which the data are collected and distributed. Many of the users believe that the most important metrics are missing from government-released data'....
  • There is a recognition of context: 'Even when local governments do provide data, however, these users also contend that the data requires context in order for any interpretation to be meaningful.... Ultimately, anti-mask users emphasise that they need to apply this data to real-world situations'....
  • There is an attempt to identify bias and politics in data: '[Anti-maskers] are… mindful to note that these analyses only represent partial perspectives that are subject to individual context and interpretation.... One of the things which the pandemic has revived interest in is the broad subject area of research bias which includes issues around reporting (or not reporting) and the nexus with the media'....     [gd emphasis]

"Overall, while still at a relatively early stage of development, this points to a new shape for the mounting of ever more credible challenges to the ‘new orthodoxy’ of lockdowns, social distancing, mask mandates in schools, business closures, and so on. It is a form of inquiry that is not predisposed to cover-ups and will not be restricted by the terms of the promised official public inquiry, or the one after that. It is science as dissent."

Read more:

Read study here:

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Ontario care home report shows gov't failure

Ontario’s LTC report exposes the real COVID story — systemic government failure | Financial Post - Terence Corcoran:

May 05, 2021 - "One of the most influential concepts in modern economics is 'market failure.' Here’s a standard textbook definition: Market failure is a 'situation in which a market left on its own fails to allocate resources efficiently.' The concept is used to justify competition laws, trade restrictions, regulations, bureaucratic oversight, even government takeovers. Health care is one of the areas where private sector market failure is said to be endemic; government must fix the failure.

"As COVID-19 rips through the global economy, evidence of market failure is non-existent. What we have instead is ... [s]tate bungling, inefficiency, ineptitude, confusion, bad planning or no planning, ... on display in every COVID-stricken nation. The existence and scale of these failures has yet to be fully documented, but a new report from a local commission set up to investigate the province of Ontario’s long-term care (LTC) fiasco opens a small window on a global phenomenon: systemic government failure.

"What happens when a government is left to its own devices is far worse than mere lost efficiency. In the year between March 2020 and April 2021, almost 4,000 elderly residents of Ontario’s long-term care facilities died from COVID-19, the result of decades of government neglect and policy failure — a tragic story documented in brilliant clarity in the final report of the province’s Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission. Chaired by former Superior Court Justice Frank Marrocco, the commission has delivered a scathing indictment of the province’s decades-long failure to heed provincial, national and international warnings that a COVID-like pandemic was inevitable.... 

"When COVID struck in early 2020 Ontario had no pandemic plan in place, nor did Ottawa. Over the years, through the 2003 SARS viral outbreak, the H1N1 events in 2009 and the Ebola threat of 2014-16, numerous reports and studies warned of the need to prepare for a serious killer pandemic. Nothing happened. By 2017, Ontario’s auditor general warned that the province was 'vulnerable to a large-scale emergency.' In 2019, a WHO-sponsored agency called on nations to prepare for the worst: 'A rapidly spreading, lethal respiratory pathogen pandemic'....

"At the same time, the province had earlier ordered its stockpile of emergency health supplies — amassed after the SARS 2003 outbreak — to be destroyed after it was discovered the supplies had expired. By 2019, millions of masks and other protective gear had not been replaced, leaving Ontario without essential protection equipment....

"The LTC commission also hints at the long-neglected cost-benefit problem. 'The economic cost of the pandemic has been significant, dwarfing the cost of proper pandemic preparation. Ontario’s gross domestic product declined by approximately $45-billion as a result of the pandemic. In addition, the province anticipates approximately $25-billion in additional expenses'.....

"The report is particularly relevant as insight into the limits within Canada’s health-care system. One of the important causes of Ontario’s high LTC death rate was the attempt to maneuver around a chronic problem, lack of hospital beds.... 'The number of acute care hospital beds in Ontario has stayed effectively the same for 20 years, at around 20,000 while the province’s population has grown by three million people. Ontario now has fewer acute care hospital beds per capita than any other province: 1.4 beds for every 1,000 people. That’s on par with Mexico, and half the number in the U.S. To accommodate the influx of COVID cases, the province decided to move hospitalized patients to long-term care facilities.....

"The COVID crisis, first and foremost, has revealed the failings of a government controlled health-care system. The long wait times and lack of hospital beds date back to the 1990s, when hospitals were consolidated in a move to cut costs."

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Friday, May 14, 2021

NYC mayor offers free fries with vaccine

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio tempts New Yorkers with free fries: "Mmm, vaccinations" | CBS News - Allison Elyse Gualeieri:

May 13, 2021 - "Want some fries with that shot? New York Mayor Bill de Blasio downed some Shake Shack fries during a virtual press conference Thursday, touting a new partnership to encourage New Yorkers to get vaccinated.

"'Free fries when you get vaccinated? I got vaccinated. You're saying I could get these delicious fries? Wait a minute, that there's also a burger element to this?' he said, snacking on fries and waving a half-wrapped burger during his daily COVID-19 update. 'I want you to look at this and think about — again, some people love hamburgers, some don't, and we want to respect all ways of life — but if this is appealing to you, just think of this when you think of vaccinations,' he said. 'Mmm, vaccinations. Mmm. I'm getting a very good feeling about vaccinations right at this moment.'

"The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 12-15 Wednesday.... President Biden said earlier this month his goal is to have 160 million American adults fully vaccinated and 70% at least partially vaccinated by July Fourth. The CDC released updated guidelines Thursday on what fully vaccinated people can do, including not wearing a mask in many indoor situations....

"The partnership between New York City and Shake Shack will give people who are vaccinated at one of the city's mobile clinics a voucher for a free burger or sandwich or allow those who show proof of vaccination at one of the chain's New York City locations to get free fries when they buy a burger or sandwich through June 12.....

"The freebie touted in de Blasio's viral moment isn't the only one aimed at increasing inoculations. Unvaccinated New Yorkers headed to a Yankees or Mets game who get a Johnson & Johnson shot at the game will get free tickets. States, cities and businesses around the country are offering rewards ranging from beer and doughnuts to museum tickets and even possibly a $100 savings bond — and in Ohio, five lucky vaccinated residents will win $1 million in special weekly drawings."

Read more:

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Democrats' PRO Act could take down Uber

The Democrats Just Reintroduced a Labor Law that Would Destroy Uber — And It Could Actually Pass This Time | Foundation for Economic Education - Brad Polumbo: 

February 8, 2021 - "With control of Congress and the White House, Democrats are making labor policy one of their first priorities. Ironically enough, that’s actually bad news for independent contractors and gig economy workers across the country.

"The legislation at the core of their agenda is the PRO [Protecting the Right to Organize] Act, which Democrats ... re-introduced with sponsors including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer. Among many other things, the bill would severely restrict the legal definition of independent contractors..... It’s modeled after a similar but highly controversial California bill, AB 5, that likewise forced the reclassification of independent contractors. 

"President Biden supported AB 5 at the time, and is on the record supporting the PRO Act, too. And now that Democrats control Congress, it could pass the House and find support from the White House. The only question would be whether it could make it through the closely-divided Senate.... 

"The PRO Act ... would make illegal any independent contractor arrangement where the worker provides services within 'the usual course of the business of the employer,' meaning jobs like Uber drivers, Doordash drivers, Instacart grocery deliverers, and more could not exist as we know them. There are roughly 10.6 million independent contractors in the US, accounting for 6.9 percent of all employment. Some of these workers might not be affected by the law and some others may get hired on as full-time as a result. But there’s little doubt that millions more would find themselves unemployed.

"For example, Uber alone employs more than 1 million drivers in the US. It’s nearly certain they would all lose their jobs under the PRO Act, because Uber already runs a loss, not a profit, and adding an independent contractor as a full staff member counts roughly $3,625 per driver. Basic math tells you that most of these workers would end up being let go; Uber could even go under. After all, the California legislation nearly forced Uber and Lyft to shut down operations in the Golden State altogether until a last-minute ballot referendum modified the law. 

"Uber is just one company and one example. But freelance workers such as journalists, photographers, florists, musicians and more all lost work in California under legislation similar to the PRO Act. 

"The authors of AB 5 and the PRO Act likely earnestly believed they were going to help workers.... But the ugly results of their policy naivete will leave many like them unemployed instead.... The Democrats’ latest labor proposal is a case study in unintended consequences, which inevitably plague big-government interventions into a vast and diverse economy.

"'Economic policies need to be analyzed in terms of the incentives they create, rather than the hopes that inspired them,' ... free-market economist Thomas Sowell once wrote. 'The programs that are being labeled for the poor, for the needy, almost always have effects exactly the opposite of those which their well-intentioned sponsors hope them to have'.... 

"Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer clearly haven’t thought this through. If the PRO Act becomes law, it won’t help independent workers—it will eliminate their jobs or strip them of the flexibility that attracted them to the gig economy in the first place."

Read more:

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Turks losing patience with lockdowns

A sweeping coronavirus lockdown in Turkey sets off arguments and economic anxiety | Washington Post - Kareem Fahim:

May 12, 2021 - "Shopkeepers pulled their steel shutters down last week in a warren of tool shops near the Bosporus, to comply with a nationwide lockdown. But every third shutter or so was left open a crack, to allow the furtive flow of continued commerce. Hardly anyone in Turkey these days can afford to be locked down. Not small-business owners, who were aching from the flailing economy and rocketing inflation even before coronavirus restrictions were imposed last month. And not even the government, which permitted a glaring exception when it said foreign tourists, a critical source of foreign currency, would be allowed to travel the country freely, while telling Turkish citizens to stay home.

"In the 13 days since the lockdown began, the restrictions have set off soaring economic anxiety, arguments and public irritation. With infections and deaths surging to new highs, few disputed the measures were necessary. Rather, complaints have centered on the way they were imposed, with official edicts, viewed as capricious or baffling, that critics say have failed to insulate the country from further economic harm.

"Gurcan Hanoglu, the 43-year-old owner of a shop that sells steel cables, said his earnings would plummet this month by about 70 percent. The only aid the government was offering was a mix of loans and paltry grants. As Hanoglu spoke, a customer called to ask if he could delay paying a bill, a sign of the spreading hardship....

"The lockdown has undermined repeated official assurances that Turkey was faring better than many countries in the world. And the rules, from the well-intentioned to the bizarre, have landed on a public that is in no mood for more restrictions, especially this late in the pandemic. One source of outrage is the latitude given to tourists, shown sunning themselves on beaches while Turks remain sequestered in their homes. Another is an alcohol ban, imposed for vague 'health' reasons, without any official elaboration.

"A government circular issued after the lockdown began prohibited the purchase of 'nonessential' goods commonly sold in supermarkets such as electronics. It appeared to be aimed at preventing crowding in shops. Social media channels filled with photographs of supermarket shelves with items such as menstrual pads and children’s books sealed off from purchase with tape or plastic wrap, showing the confusion the ban had spurred. Behind the anger that such images generated was a sense of deepening economic insecurity. Twenty-seven percent of respondents to a survey released Sunday by MetroPOLL said they 'cannot meet' basic needs....

"The lockdown, which is scheduled to last nearly three weeks, is Turkey’s most sweeping yet. It was imposed after new cases soared to more than 60,000 per day. New virus variants were partly to blame, health officials said, as was an earlier lifting of restrictions that included restaurants being allowed to seat customers indoors.... Halfway through the lockdown, the restrictions appear to be working, as infections have plummeted, according to Health Ministry figures. But the death toll, of between 200 and 300 people a day, has remained stubbornly high....

"Even the country’s speedy vaccination campaign has stumbled. A Chinese company that was contracted to send 100 million coronavirus vaccine doses failed to deliver most of them. Another order, placed with Pfizer for its vaccine with BioNTech, is not expected to arrive until June. Turkey’s foreign minister said this month that people who come into contact with tourists would be vaccinated, a pledge that grated on those waiting their turn. 'If you don’t vaccinate me, I’ll bite tourists,' one tweeted."

Read more:

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

More Americans opting out of school system

Kindergartners Abandoning Public School in Fall 2021, Too | Reason - Matt Welch:

April 9, 2021 - "'We're proud to show the nation what is possible in terms of safely educating our one million students,' New York City Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter tweeted Wednesday.... Porter may need to refresh her math. The nation's largest school district announced Thursday that kindergarten applications for fall 2021 were down a whopping 12 percent over last year, after having dropped 9 percent the year before.... [I]t's clear that the pandemic enrollment hit — which this school year cut overall K-12 participation down 4 percent, to 960,000 — will not be a one-year phenomenon. Early learners are abandoning public schools, and not just in New York....

"We already knew that the 2020–21 year was a wipeout for public school kindergarten enrollment nationwide—down 16 percent, according to an NPR survey of 100 districts last October. Hard numbers are devilishly hard to pin down, varying from state to state (as do kindergarten attendance requirements), but the rough estimate is that about one-third of overall K-12 decline this year (which itself has been estimated at between 2 percent and 5 percent) is attributable to kindergarten alone.

"Where have all the 5-year-olds gone? Not Catholic schools, which despite being much more likely to be open five days a week saw their biggest single-year drop (6.4 percent) in a half-century, concentrated most heavily at the pre-K and kindergarten levels. Overall private school numbers, however, appear to be slightly higher.

"About the only unambiguous growth categories in the entire field of minor education are learning 'pods' (ad hoc groups of parents pooling their efforts either full or part time, to fill in the gaps left by school closures), and homeschooling. That latter category is absolutely exploding — up from 3.3 percent before the pandemic, to 5.4 percent in the spring of 2020, to 11.1 percent last fall, according to the Census Bureau's Household Pulse Survey, which takes care to distinguish between genuine D.I.Y. education and remote-learning hell.

"The tantalizing question raised by New York City's fall application numbers against the backdrop of the homeschooling spike is: Has the pandemic fundamentally altered the public's appetite for public education? Bruno V. Manno, senior adviser for the Walton Family Foundation's K-12 Education Program, thinks so.

"'The result of the Covid-19 shock dynamic in K-12 is a more pluralistic education system, one that's being redefined to include more options from more providers for more families and students,' Manno wrote for Education Next last month. 'Some significant number of parents and students will return to some version of the "old normal." But some won't. Some have exited, permanently. So the long-term effect is a question of magnitude.'

"The shift is already having a direct impact on per-student-based school budgets and staffing, even as the Biden administration hurriedly shovels the better half of $200 billion in federal bailout money out the door. Gilbert Public Schools in Arizona laid off 152 employees last month. Hillsborough County, Florida, the country's eighth largest school district, will soon ax 1,000 more employees after already losing 2,000 during the pandemic.... [E]ven with the record levels of federal funding, the basic math of K-12 funding is that with declining enrollment comes a declining number of jobs....

"After 13 months of the pandemic, public school K-12 enrollment is down all over the country, private school enrollment is flat or slightly up, and homeschooling has shot through the roof. This spring is the first time millions of parents will have truly been able to make a premeditated, non-panicky decision about the best schooling options for their kids. If such deliberation continues to produce measurable exit from government-run institutions, the basic structure of American education will change in profound ways."

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Monday, May 10, 2021

U.S federal judge strikes down CDC eviction ban

 Federal Judge Strikes Down Moratorium on Evicting Renters | New York Times - Glenn Thrush:

May 5, 2021 - "A federal judge on Wednesday struck down the nationwide moratorium on evictions imposed by the Trump administration last year and extended by President Biden until June 30.... The decision, by Judge Dabney Friedrich of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, is the most significant federal ruling on the moratorium yet, and follows three similar federal court decisions.

"The Justice Department immediately filed an appeal, and requested an emergency stay on the order pending a decision by the higher court. Late Wednesday night, Judge Friedrich agreed to put her ruling on hold until May 12 ... while making clear that the move was not a reflection of the 'merits' of the government’s request. It remains unclear how wide an impact the decision will have on renters. It does not necessarily bind state housing court judges, who rule on eviction orders, and two other federal courts have upheld the moratorium, adding to the confusion about its fate....

"The moratorium was enacted under the Public Health Service Act of 1944, which gives the federal government the power to impose quarantines and other measures to deal with health emergencies. In a 20-page decision, Judge Friedrich, who was appointed by President Donald J. Trump, ruled that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had exceeded its authority under that law when it carried out Mr. Trump’s order last summer to impose the moratorium.

"'The question for the court is a narrow one: Does the Public Health Service Act grant the C.D.C. the legal authority to impose a nationwide eviction moratorium?' wrote Judge Friedrich. 'It does not.'

"The case was brought in November by the Alabama Association of Realtors and a group of real estate agents in Georgia who claimed the moratorium shifted the burden for rent payments from the tenants to landlords at a time when many owners have been struggling to meet their own expenses. The moratorium has had a substantial effect. Despite the sharp economic downturn created by the pandemic, eviction filings declined 65 percent in 2020 over the usual annual rate, according to an analysis of court data by the nonprofit group Eviction Lab.

"Housing analysts warned that Wednesday’s ruling could embolden more landlords to begin eviction proceedings against tenants before the federal government can disburse $45 billion in emergency housing assistance appropriated by Congress.... Four months after Congress approved its first tens of billions of dollars in emergency rental aid, only a small portion has reached landlords and tenants, and in many places it is impossible even to file an application....  "Owners of residential apartment buildings have long argued that the moratorium is based on legally shaky ground, and questioned the constitutionality of tethering a major intervention in the nation’s housing market to a federal statute intended to stop the transmission of disease....

"If the moratorium has been polarizing in the courts, it was one of the few pandemic policies that united Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump. The CARES Act, passed in March 2020 with Mr. Trump’s support, included a 120-day moratorium on evictions from rental properties participating in federal assistance programs or underwritten by federal loans. On Aug. 8, 2020, Mr. Trump extended and broadened the moratorium through an executive order, leading to the C.D.C.’s action. Shortly after taking office, Mr. Biden extended the moratorium.... On Wednesday, Jen Psaki, Mr. Biden’s spokeswoman, told reporters the administration would fight to uphold the moratorium....

"Most states have enacted their own eviction freezes beyond the action taken by Washington. On Monday, New York State lawmakers passed legislation that would extend a statewide moratorium on residential and commercial evictions through Aug. 31."

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Sunday, May 9, 2021

Second Alberta pastor arrested

Notley applauds police arrests as two leading COVID protesters ‘cuffed and hauled away | Western Standard - Dave Naylor:

May 8, 2021 - "Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley is praising police in the province who arrested two of the biggest organizers of COVID-19 lockdown protests. 

"In Calgary, Pastor Art Pawlowski was stopped in the middle of 17 Ave. S.E., handcuffed as he knelt on the street and dragged away, when he refused to stand. His son, Dawid, received the same treatment [see video].

[This is the second arrest of a pastor in Alberta. Edmonton pastot James Coates was arrested in February and jailed for over 30 days. - gd]

"In Mirror, 50 km east of Red Deer, the owner of the Whistle Stop Cafe, Chris Scott, was arrested and taken away by the RCMP at the end of a day’s protest. Scott was one of the first restaurant owners in Alberta to ignore the COVID-19 closure orders. This week, the RCMP raided his store and seized all his booze. Two days later, the RCMP arrived at dawn and padlocked his establishment. On Saturday, 1,500 people held a peaceful demonstration at the Whistle Stop to protest lockdowns. Scott was arrested after things wrapped up for the day.

“'Finally, some enforcement of the public health laws…#ableg #abhealth Why did it take so long?' Notley tweeted....

"But across the country, Maxime Bernier, leader of the Peoples Party of Canada, blasted the police actions. 'I can’t believe this is happening. Pastor Pawlowski lived under the communist regime in Poland in his youth. Today he is being arrested by a sanitary fascist regime in Canada and Alberta for holding a service. SHAME!' he tweeted.

"Bernier was in Regina at an anti-lockdown rally and had a police visit of his own. 'The Regina police gave us $,2800 tickets for speaking at the Freedom Rally this afternoon. Of course we’re going to fight these unconstitutional tickets in court!' he tweeted after the event."

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