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AGAR: It's politics, not science, driving many COVID-19 decisions – Toronto Sun

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What scientific metrics are governments around the country using to decide who gets to go back to some semblance of real life?

It doesn’t appear science is driving decision making so much as politics.

Politicians and health authorities have their hearts in the right place, but they are also the people with the least to lose as we stay closed, and they have not given us a scientific formula for their decision making.

The easiest thing for well-employed people with no personal skin in the game is to tell unemployed people and devastated business owners to wait a bit longer.

Until what? Does anyone know? Do the authorities know?

Is it a seat-of-the-pants sort of thing?

Authorities are very specific about such things as when and how businesses can reopen. For example quebec.ca reads, “Bars must stop selling alcoholic beverages at midnight instead of 3 a.m. and customers must also have left bars not later than 1 a.m.”

What is behind the midnight closing? Is it something to do with the Witching Hour or is it actual science?

Ontario lays out a plan for, “Determining when to ease public health measures” with such benchmarks as, “A consistent two–to-four week decrease in the number of new daily COVID‑19 cases.”

Ontario has achieved that benchmark, but Toronto and some other areas are not allowed to proceed to stage 3. Based on what?

Alberta’s relaunch strategy reads, “Health measures we are watching include percentage of tests that are positive.”

That’s great. What percentage will trigger what reaction?

I have never heard something like, “we go to stage three when we have one continuous seven-day period with new cases below 100.”

Or, “we will open up completely when we get two weeks of new daily case numbers under 25.”

I am just making those numbers up to give an example, and to make the point that I have never heard any metrics.

My point here is that if there are metrics – solid numbers – that are being used, I missed them. I have asked and been sent only generalities, such as listed in this column.

If we have solid, as scientific as they can be numbers, we can all see whether we are progressing, regressing or holding steady in relation to reopening.

Businesses can deal with facts a lot better than having to plan for the moment when politicians get it in their heads to spring an announcement on us.

Of course it would be difficult and less than perfect to give us hard numbers. I am sure no one really knows whether reopening when we are below 100 daily cases is the best thing or if it has to be 50 – or 150. But how can it possibly be worse than working off how authorities “feel” it is going today?

They either have the numbers that inform their decision or they don’t. Which is it?

Are decisions made on the number of new positive tests, on hospitalizations or deaths? Which one, or a combination, is most important and why?

“Best medical advice” and “best science available” are phrases we hear, but not that we see employed.

Are you comfortable having our economy continue to suffer based on a whim – a feeling?

What are the numbers and why are they reasonable? Is that too much to ask?

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Science and politics tied up in global race for a vaccine – battlefordsNOW

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“To be the first one out of the block with a coronavirus vaccine would be a real — pardon the pun — shot in the arm for the Kremlin,” said Timothy Frye, a political science professor at Columbia University who specializes in post-Soviet politics.

Russia is not alone in viewing a vaccine in this light. China, where the virus first emerged, has also raced to make progress on a vaccine. A state-owned Chinese company is boasting that its employees, including top executives, received experimental shots even before the government approved testing in people.

President Donald Trump, whose handling of the coronavirus pandemic has put his political fate in grave jeopardy, is hoping to get credit for his administration’s aggressive push for a vaccine, ideally one that arrives before Election Day in November.

It’s far from clear at this point whether Putin has beaten Trump to this medical milestone.

Putin said the Health Ministry gave its approval after the vaccine, named “Sputnik V,” underwent the necessary tests. He said one of his two adult daughters had been inoculated. “We should be grateful to those who have taken this first step, which is very important for our country and the whole world,” he said.

No proof was offered and scientists in Russia warned that more testing would be necessary to establish it is safe and effective. Nonetheless, officials said vaccination of doctors could start as early as this month and mass vaccination may begin as early as October.

Scientists around the world have been cautioning that even if vaccine candidates are proven to work, it will take even more time to tell how long the protection will last.

“It’s a too early stage to truly assess whether it’s going to be effective, whether it’s going to work or not,” said Dr. Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton.

It was also too soon to dismiss the Russian claim out of hand.

The country, though economically dependent on the export of natural resources, does have a history of achievement in science, medicine and aerospace — including becoming the first to put a person into space, in 1961.

“It is possible that they concentrated and could do this,” said Daniel Fried, a retired senior U.S. diplomat. “I’m not scoffing at it, but it doesn’t mean that the Russian economy is advanced.”

A vaccine would be the kind of significant achievement that would elevate Putin at home and in the international community.

“They would love to be able to claim credit because the first country to develop the vaccine will gain enormous prestige,” said Fried, a former assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs who is now a distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council.

It’s also possible Russia had help. The U.S., Britain and Canada l ast month accused hackers working for Russian intelligence of trying to steal information about a coronavirus vaccine from academic and pharmaceutical research institutions.

In any case, the public is eager for a vaccine as global deaths from the virus surpass 730,000. Some say they would even welcome one from Russia, provided it passes muster with the Food and Drug Administration, which approves vaccines used in the U.S., and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends who should receive them.

“I can’t take it anymore. I’m getting crazy,” said Fernanda Henderson, as she strapped her infant into a car seat at a park in the Maryland suburbs of Washington for a break from quarantining at home. “I don’t think the CDC or the FDA would approve something that is not going to work.”

But to Vesna Jezic, a 79-year-old native of Croatia and immunologist who was taking her grandchildren to the same park, the suspiciously fast progress on the vaccine announced by Putin was reason to be doubtful. “You can imagine we don’t trust anything that comes from Russia,” she said.

The Russian president may face similar doubts at home. Frye noted a 2018 Gallup Poll that showed the former Soviet countries have some of the highest rates of anti-vaccination sentiment in the world.

“If it turns out not to work, it would be a real black eye,” he said.

___

Associated Press writers Michael Kunzelman in Wheaton, Maryland, and Maria Cheng in London contributed to this report.

Ben Fox, The Associated Press

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Thai investor mood dips for first time in four months, politics weigh

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By Satawasin Staporncharnchai and Orathai Sriring

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Investor confidence in Thailand’s capital markets over the next three months dropped for the first time in four months, unsettled by recent anti-government protests, a capital market association said on Thursday.

The risk coming from political turbulence is adding to pressure on the government as policy makers struggle to revive an economy expected to shrink by a record amount as the coronavirus pandemic upends tourism and consumption.

The Federation of Thai Capital Market Organisations said its July survey showed the investor confidence index fell to 85.26 from 101.19 in the previous month.

“The main reason was politics. It’s the first time in months that political factors took the spotlight and played a role in investment,” the federation’s chairman, Paiboon Nalinthrangkurn, told a briefing.

Demonstrators have called for the removal of the government of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, amendments to the constitution and reforms of the monarchy.

The Thai stock index .SETI> has fallen by 15% so far this year, with foreign investors dumping 231 billion baht ($7.44 billion) of shares.

Investors remained concerned about the economy and the earnings of listed companies, but they hoped a new government economic team would help restore confidence, Paiboon said.

“From now on, it will depend on the new team and whether they will have policies to build market confidence,” he said.

In a cabinet shake-up, banking executive Predee Daochai was picked as finance minister and given the tough task of pulling Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy out of a deep slump.

The finance ministry expects the economy to shrink 8.5% this year, although the government has introduced stimulus measures, including a 1.9 trillion baht package, in a bid to mitigate the outbreak impact.

(Reporting by Satawasin Staporncharnchai and Orathai Sriring; Editing by Ed Davies)

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Blanchet will push for election if Trudeau, Morneau, Telford won’t resign

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Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet says he will try to trigger a fall election if the prime minister, his chief of staff and his finance minister don’t resign.

Blanchet said the government is not “worthy” of the public’s trust in the wake of the WE Charity controversy, which was sparked by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau failing to recuse themselves from cabinet talks involving the organization despite family ties to it.

While his preference is to see the trio step down, Blanchet said he’s prepared to table a motion of non-confidence in the government if they remain in their jobs.

If that motion passed with the support of other parties, it would lead to an election campaign in the midst of a pandemic.

“Which is more dangerous — the mismanagement of a crisis, or taking the time to change the people who are managing the crisis?” Blanchet said during a news conference in Ottawa on Wednesday.

The BQ leader said he has not had any formal discussions with the NDP or the Conservatives on his plan. He said Elections Canada is preparing to hold a safe election in the event it is held during the pandemic.

Elections Canada preparing

Elections Canada has created an internal working group to do “readiness planning” in the event of an election during the pandemic. The group is looking at issues such as:

  • Possible physical distancing measures for polling stations and Elections Canada offices.
  • The capacity of the existing vote-by-mail system.
  • How to recruit, train and keep election workers safe.
  • Identifying alternative options for polling station locations that may become unavailable due to COVID-19.

“The working group will consider potential legal, administrative and operational changes in order to deliver an accessible and safe election,” according to Elections Canada’s website.

Normally, a fixed election date means an election is held every four years, but with a minority government, an election could occur at any time the House loses confidence in the government.

Put government ‘out of its misery’: O’Toole

Conservative MP and leadership candidate Erin O’Toole on Wednesday called the Liberal government “tired, scandal-plagued and ethically challenged” and said it needs “to be put out of its misery.”

“Once I’m leader I’ll be working with all the parties to see what we can do to get Canada back on track, and to show a lack of confidence. But I’m going to wait until the end of my race and take time to consult with my caucus before I do anything,” he said during media scrums on Parliament Hill.

 

Conservative MP and leadership candidate Erin O’Toole on Wednesday says the Liberal minority government needs ‘to be put out of its misery.’ (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

 

Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said the Liberals will always be ready for an election when the time comes, but said health and safety is the top concern for Canadians right now.

“I’m not concerned about threats,” he said.

NDP MP Charlie Angus accused Blanchet of throwing a “hissy fit” and said Canadians want the opposition parties to press the government to do what’s best for Canadians.

“I want to get accountability from these guys. That’s our focus right now,” he said.

 

NDP MP Charlie Angus said Canadians want the opposition parties to press the government to do what’s best for Canadians. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

 

Blanchet’s remarks come as the House of Commons holds a rare summer sitting to debate the government’s response to COVID-19.

The finance committee on Wednesday continued its probe into the government’s selection of WE Charity to manage a $900-million student volunteer grant program. Trudeau and others have maintained the public service had deemed the organization the only one qualified to run the large-scale initiative.

Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough and Small Business Minister Mary Ng both appeared at the committee on Wednesday, and said they were not clear on the details of the parties named in the WE contract.

 

Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough, left, and Small Business Minister Mary Ng, right, both told the House finance committee on Wednesday they were unaware the federal government’s agreement was with a separate charitable entity within the WE organization, the WE Charity Foundation, when cabinet approved the contract. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

 

That agreement was with a separate charitable entity within the WE organization, the WE Charity Foundation, which has no assets. The WE organization said this was done “to protect the pre-existing charitable assets of WE Charity from liabilities.”

Qualtrough and Ng both said they were unaware of this fact when cabinet approved the contract.

“I, for example, know the contribution agreement was signed, I think it was June 23, did not know at that time who the actual legal entity that we were entering into an agreement for,” Qualtrough said. “But I wouldn’t. It wasn’t my file.”

Ng offered a similar answer.

“We had approved the recommendation put forward to cabinet and by my colleague-minister, and understood it would be WE Charity that would deliver this program,” she said.

On Tuesday, Qualtrough testified at the House ethics committee, which is also studying the WE Charity issue, and conceded the government had “dropped the ball.” She said she offered “no excuse or justification” for Trudeau and Morneau’s roles in the resulting controversy.

Trudeau on Tuesday issued a statement saying he has full confidence in Morneau, saying any reports to the contrary are false. The statement was released amid speculation that the finance minister could depart the post.

Source: – CBC.ca

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