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Canadians' COVID-19 fears are rising again — and the U.S. might be to blame – CBC.ca

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As the number of new cases of COVID-19 being reported daily in Canada has declined over time, Canadians’ concerns about the spread of the disease have spiked.

The uncontrolled outbreak south of the border might be the reason why.

Since June 7, the daily tally of new cases in Canada has been 500 or less. It’s been well under 400 per day for over a week. Just over a month ago, however, health officials were reporting between 1,000 and 2,000 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 in this country almost every day.

The drop in cases doesn’t mean that Canada is out of the woods just yet — localized outbreaks are still popping up and hundreds of new cases are being reported daily. But the country is in a much better place than it was just a few months ago.

Nevertheless, Canadians are feeling more worried today, according to a recent poll.

The survey, conducted by Léger for the Association for Canadian Studies between July 3 and 5, found that 58 per cent of respondents were personally afraid of contracting COVID-19. That figure has increased seven percentage points in two weeks and is now the highest it has been in Léger’s weekly polling since mid-April.

It’s a notable shift in public opinion. Concern peaked in early April, when 64 per cent of Canadians reported being personally afraid of getting sick. At the time, Canada was reporting over 1,200 new cases every day.

From that peak, fears consistently decreased over the seven weeks that followed before falling to a low of 51 per cent. Concerns hovered around that level, with little variation from week to week, between late May and late June.

The epidemiology in Canada can’t explain this step backwards in public opinion over the last two weeks. On May 25, 1,011 new cases were reported in Canada. June 8 saw only 429 newly confirmed cases. Between July 3 and 5, when Léger was in the field, Canada was averaging 294 new cases per day.

So what explains this sudden flare-up in coronavirus fear?

Fear of an open border

While Canada’s COVID-19 trend line has been improving, the outbreak in the United States is getting worse.

At the low point in Léger’s polling on Canadians’ fears of contracting the disease, there were about 20,000 new cases being reported every day in the United States — fewer than during the peak point for Canadians’ COVID anxiety, when American health officials were reporting between 25,000 and 35,000 new cases daily.

But over the three days when Léger was last in the field, the U.S. hit new records for COVID-19, peaking at 57,000 new cases on July 3 alone. The caseload in most states is now rising.

The United States has seen a surge in new cases of COVID-19 in recent weeks. Polls suggest the vast majority of Canadians do not want the U.S. border re-opened soon. (Lynne Sladky / Associated Press)

It’s clear that Canadians are watching the cautionary tale south of the border. Searches on Google Trends for “COVID” and “U.S.A.” peaked at the end of March in Canada, but had dropped off to less than half of that by the first week of June. Since then, however, web searches related to the pandemic in America have nearly doubled, while searches related to the pandemic in Canada have held steady.

Polls suggest Canadians are worried about the situation in the U.S. A Nanos Research survey for the Globe and Mail found that 81 per cent of Canadians polled want the border with the United States to stay closed for the “foreseeable future.”

Léger finds that 86 per cent of Canadians reject the idea of re-opening the border at the end of July, as is currently planned (although the border closures have been renewed and extended repeatedly in the past). Remarkably, 71 per cent of Canadians “strongly disagreed” with a re-opening of the border, suggesting a firmly held opinion.

In mid-May, Léger reported that 21 per cent of Canadians wanted the border to open by the end of June or earlier. Now, just 11 per cent agree with opening the border by the end of July.

Renewed pessimism about the future

These darkening views on the pandemic can’t be tied entirely to COVID-19’s spread in the United States. The U.S. isn’t the only country with an uncontrolled outbreak. Both Brazil and India are reporting over 20,000 new cases per day and countries as far apart as Russia, Mexico, Pakistan and South Africa are also detecting thousands of new cases on a daily basis.

But the rising caseloads in the U.S. and elsewhere offer stark warnings about what could happen here if things go wrong. The periodic flare-ups on this side of the border also act as a reminder that the disease hasn’t gone anywhere. Even Prince Edward Island, which went months without a new case, has experienced a recent uptick.

Canadians are reporting more pessimism about the future, despite the apparently improving situation here. According to the Léger poll, 82 per cent of Canadians expect a second wave — that’s up six points from early June.

Just eight per cent of respondents want to see governments accelerate the pace of relaxing physical distancing and self-isolation measures, down five points since last month. The number who want to slow down the pace has increased by seven points to 28 per cent. The other 65 per cent want to maintain the current pace of re-opening.

Some restrictions have been lifted as the number of new cases in Canada drops, but polls suggest Canadians are pessimistic about the future evolution of the pandemic. (Graham Hughes / Canadian Press )

The poll suggests Canadians have lost some of their late-spring optimism. The number who reported thinking that the worst is behind us peaked at 42 per cent in mid-June. That has dropped by seven points to 35 per cent, while the number who think the worst is yet to come has increased nine points to 39 per cent — its highest level since the middle of April, when the first wave of the novel coronavirus was cresting in Canada.

Polls routinely show little resistance to the imposition of mandatory mask laws and significant apprehension about attending large gatherings or embarking on international travel any time soon.

The weather has improved, the patios are open and people can get a haircut again, so things have gotten brighter. But more and more Canadians appear to be coming to the realization that this is likely to be just a temporary reprieve — and not the new normal.

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Canada extends peacekeeping mission despite Security Council loss – CBC.ca

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Canada will provide a military transport plane to support United Nations peacekeeping missions for another year despite losing its bid for a temporary seat on the UN Security Council.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan’s office confirmed the continued deployment of a CC-130 Hercules in support of UN missions in Africa on Sunday, ending months of speculation about the fate of the mission.

“The Canadian Armed Forces are playing an important role in transporting critical supplies and personnel to support the UN in the region,” Sajjan said in a statement to The Canadian Press.

“We understand the importance of Canada working with our international allies and partners like the United Nations, which is why we have renewed Canadian Armed Forces support for an additional year.”

Trudeau’s promise of peacekeeping troops unfulfilled

The Hercules, which has been based out of Uganda five days per month since August 2019, was one of three signature promises that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made to the UN when Canada hosted a major peacekeeping summit in November 2017.

Trudeau also promised the UN that Canada would provide a helicopter detachment, which operated in Mali from June 2018 to September 2019. He also pledged a quick reaction force comprised of up to 200 troops, which has yet to be fulfilled.

Many saw the promises as an attempt by the Liberal government to bolster its bid for a two-year seat on the UN Security Council, and there had been questions about the CC-130 after Canada lost to Norway and Ireland on the first ballot in June.

Sajjan also said that the Hercules recently resumed flights to and from Uganda after a four-month suspension due to COVID-19.

“Following a temporary operational pause due to COVID-19, the tactical detachment in Uganda has recently completed a 10-day mission out of Entebbe,” he said. The plane moved about 42 tonnes worth of cargo and 400 passengers, he said.

Hercules deployment is ‘pioneering’: expert

Canadian Forces College professor Walter Dorn, one of Canada’s foremost experts on peacekeeping, welcomed the extension, which he described as “pioneering” since the plane isn’t assigned to one specific UN mission but helps many in Africa.

“It’s a pioneering service,” he said. “The first national contribution for multi-operation air service in UN history, with operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan already serviced and other missions to be added.”

Dorn nonetheless lamented that the Hercules is only available for five days a month, even as he noted that Canada’s overall contribution to peacekeeping remains at an all-time low with 34 police officers and military personnel around the world.

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Canada's new COVID app won't work on older iPhones, Android devices – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News

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The federal government’s COVID-19 contact tracing app is facing criticism for its download requirements, which restrict some Canadians from accessing and using the app.

The free “COVID Alert” app, which became available on Friday, is designed to track the location of phones relative to each other, without collecting personal data anywhere centrally.

Users are notified if their phones have recently been near the phone of a person who later volunteers that they have tested positive for COVID-19.

But the app requires users to have Apple or Android phones made in the last five years, and a relatively new operating system.

Christopher Parsons, a senior research associate at Citizen Lab, part of the Munk School of Global Affairs and Policy, says that makes the app inaccessible for older Canadians and other marginalized groups.

“The worst affected by (the pandemic) are Black, Indigenous, people of colour, people who often have a lower socio-economic bracket. Who’s not going to be able to install the application? That same group … that’s a problem,” he said.

Parsons says criticism should be directed at the federal government, not those who designed the app.

He believes the technical aspects of the application, such as its ease of use and its performance in both official languages, has been done well.

“On the technical end, the developers deserve to be congratulated,” he said. “This is a failure of policy. The government should have seen this, I hope someone has, they should have predicted it, I hope someone has, and they should have done something to try and start fixing it.”

The issue of needing an app that works with older smartphones was known from the start, he added.

For a contact tracing app to properly work, he said, it requires 65 to 80 per cent of all Canadians to use it. The current version of the app makes that impossible.

The Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat referred questions about the technical requirements of the app to Google and Apple, but noted the application is only one tool to slow the spread of COVID-19.

It did not address a question about a potential timeline for the issue to be fixed.

Ontario NDP legislator Marit Stiles took to Twitter to share her parents’ frustration in attempting to download the app.

Stiles’ parents, both in their 70s, tried to download the app on their older iPhones, but it didn’t work.

“They’re so frustrated that they can’t download the app, the app won’t work on their phone,” she said in an interview Sunday. “This kind of surprised me.”

Stiles said this raises some concerns about the accessibility for more vulnerable Canadians.

“I think everybody agrees the app isn’t a bad idea,” she said. “We know that elderly folks, seniors, new Canadians, racialized people are the most likely to contract or be affected by COVID-19 … then it might be a bit problematic that the app only works with the fanciest or priciest new phones.”

For now, the smart phone app is only linked to the Ontario health-care system, with the Atlantic provinces set to be the next provinces to link up.

Neither Apple nor Google returned requests for comment on the issue.

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COMMENTARY: Canada's coronavirus response has not been as great as we like to think – Global News

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Judging by some polls, Canadians are happy with the way their leaders managed Canada’s response to COVID-19 or with how Ottawa, in particular, has doled out several hundred billion dollars of aid. Or both.

Canadians may regard their country’s response to the lethal virus as good, but the national death toll has surpassed 8,900. And there is statistical evidence aplenty to suggest that when compared with other countries, Canada’s performance is not exceptional. At best, it has been fair to middling.

However, as with so much else, Canada’s habitual fascination with the U.S. and its fixation on events there, seems to be all many Canadians care about.

READ MORE: How Canada’s first long-term coronavirus pandemic projections hold up today

To gain a broader perspective, it might be helpful if Canadians were to crunch some of the numbers published daily on the beautifully presented, somewhat U.S.-centric dashboard run by the medical school at Johns Hopkins University or the dowdier, more internationally-oriented Worldometers website, which is published out of Delaware.

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Canada ranks 23 in deaths and 63 in infections per capita among the 215 places tracked by Worldometers as of Aug. 1. That fares better than the U.K. (3 in deaths; 43 in infections) and the U.S. (10 for both), but also shows Canada has had less success than places such as Germany (40 in deaths; 74 in infections), Finland (62; 93), Poland (73; 97), Ukraine (79; 86), Japan (126; 157), Australia (127; 120), South Korea (137; 155), Malaysia (154; 156), New Zealand (158; 151), Thailand (178; 199), Taiwan (184; 205) and Vietnam (189; 212).

By every statistical measure, Canada has certainly done much better controlling the virus than the U.S. That has apparently been good enough for most Canadians who, according to public opinion surveys, think that their governments have been doing well and are optimistic about the recovery.

Many Canadians are aware that on a per capita basis, about 90 per cent more Americans have died than Canadians.

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Putting aside flattering comparisons with the U.S., Canada has got a lot wrong in its fight against the coronavirus.

Canada’s elder-care facilities are clearly far inferior to the often austere but rigorously clean and well-staffed homes for the aged in countries such as Finland and Norway. Official oversight of many of these institutions in Canada is much less robust.

READ MORE: Young people are causing COVID-19 spikes. But are they solely to blame?

Canada’s response to the pandemic has often been sluggish and confused. For several months, the federal government did not follow through on promises the prime minister had made that travellers would face serious questions about their health at our borders. Ottawa was also very slow to close those borders, made a hash of ensuring sufficient emergency supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face masks were available for essential workers and went back and forth for weeks about whether it was prudent for Canadians to wear masks when in public.

The federal and provincial governments did little at first to check whether Canadians returning from abroad were adhering to strict quarantine regulations. Compared with most Asian countries, it has had a woeful record in creating contact-tracing teams and contract-tracing apps.

While Canada’s death rate of 237 deaths per 1 million residents is lower than the U.K. (679/1M) or the U.S. (473/1M), it’s pretty high relative to Germany (110/1M), Australia and Japan (8/1M each), to name a few. (This data is also from worldometers.info as of Aug. 1.)

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The same goes for infection rates. Canada has had 3,080 cases per 1 million residents, and while that’s lower than the U.K. (4,464/1M) or the U.S. (14,215/1M), our rate surpasses that of Germany (2,514/1M), Australia (677/1M) and Japan (272/1M).






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Coronavirus infecting more young Canadians


Coronavirus infecting more young Canadians

As for testing for the virus, like the U.S. and European countries especially hard-hit by the deadly virus such as Italy, Spain, France, Belgium and the U.K., Canada got off to a feeble and confused start. On the positive side, much more testing has finally been done recently.

There is almost no information available to reliably measure the efficacy of the treasury-backed remedies being tried by the world’s advanced economies to mitigate the staggering financial cost of the pandemic. A scan of news reports from the U.S. and overseas reveal massive amounts of state aid is being forked out, but comparisons are complicated because the formulas and criteria to qualify for these funds vary widely.

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Some European countries, such as Germany, funnel the money through companies, which are then not allowed to lay their workers off. The Canadian approach has often been to hand money directly, with few questions asked, to people who’ve lost their jobs or are students.

Regarding Canada’s economic prospects this year, the International Monetary Fund published a forecast on June 25 that the country’s GDP would contract by 8.4 per cent in 2020, which is slightly worse than the 8.0 decrease that is expected for the U.S., and also the 8.0 per cent average contraction that is expected across all advanced economies.

That the IMF’s gloomy economic prognosis is worse for Canada than for the U.S. is unlikely to draw the same kind of attention that the higher American infection and death rates do. This may be because of the propensity of some Canadians to feel schadenfreude when the U.S. is on the ropes or because casting a much wider net would interfere with the dominant narrative that Ottawa has done a better job meeting the coronavirus challenge than Washington.

Those Canadians giving themselves a slap on the back for how their country has managed the COVID-19 calamity so far should instead be giving their heads a shake.

The much lower infection and death rates reported by many countries overseas and the informed guesses about the global economy in 2020 that have been made by the IMF are a stark reminder that Canadians should not compare themselves so much with their American neighbours.

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Matthew Fisher is an international affairs columnist and foreign correspondent who has worked abroad for 35 years. You can follow him on Twitter at @mfisheroverseas.

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