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Health officials urge Canadians to get coronavirus information from credible sources

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Even before Canada’s first coronavirus case was announced in Toronto over the weekend, Canada’s medical community was on alert — and not just for the disease.

Public health officials said they were keeping an eye on social media because misinformation has become a threat against illness prevention and they were cognizant of the impact it could have on addressing the respiratory illness that has sickened at least 2,000 people and killed dozens of others.

“In health care, in general right now, we are struggling a little bit to combat misinformation about health care from social media and from all fronts and I don’t suspect this will be any different,” said Dr. Sohail Gandhi, president of the Ontario Medical Association.

“We have a media staff that are actively monitoring different emerging trends … If they feel there is too much misinformation particularly on one matter, we will speak out against that.”

The information monitoring by the OMA and other organizations during an outbreak is a relatively recent development. After all, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat were still years away from being founded when in 2002, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) rattled southern China, infected more than 8,000 people and killed nearly 800, including 44 Canadians.

In the age of coronavirus, however, there is a plethora of places for Canadians to get their news — and not all are credible or being vetted by medical experts. A tweet or snap can easily convince someone to disregard proper hygiene or even create fearmongering about the risk of contracting an illness.

“People may actually take the wrong course of action and engage in what they believe are protective measures that are in fact not warranted and in some cases may be harmful,” said Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s medical officer of health.

Coronavirus misinformation, she said, is especially important to watch out for because our understanding of the illness is only just developing.

Doctors and researchers are still looking into the coronavirus’s origins, how it reached humans, is transferred and what can be done to eradicate it.

“Those are the kinds of areas where there’s some uncertainty and I think when there is some uncertainty, there is often fear and anxiety associated with that,” she said. “That’s where you see some misinformation.”

To combat the spread of misinformation, the federal government is keeping in touch with ethnic media and trying to be as transparent as possible with updates on the illness, said federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu at an Ottawa news conference on Sunday, where she revealed more coronavirus cases are expected in Canada, but cautioned the risk to the public is low.

“Misinformation is difficult to combat online,” she said. “It’s unfortunate that misinformation is creating a perception for Canadians that belies the reality that the risk remains low.”

Meanwhile, Toronto Public Health had set up a coronavirus webpage with information on symptoms, risk level updates, treatment information and federal and provincial resources.

De Villa said that adds to the organization’s constant practice of watching for health misinformation on social media.

“Fundamentally as public health officials, this is our purpose and our goal,” she said. “It is our objective to ensure the people we ensure are given evidence-based, credible information, so they know what is happening and what to do in order to protect their own health.”

De Villa and Gandhi urged Canadians trying to verify what they may see online about coronavirus to pay attention to official health sources, including Toronto Public Health, the World Health Organization, the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Ontario Ministry of Health.

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Trudeau says he discussed border with Biden, but no deal

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Sunday he has spoken with U.S. President Joe Biden about how to lift pandemic-related border restrictions between the two countries but made clear no breakthrough has been achieved.

U.S. and Canadian business leaders have voiced increasing concern about the ban on non-essential travel in light of COVID-19 that was first imposed in March 2020 and renewed on a monthly basis since then. The border measures do not affect trade flows.

The border restrictions have choked off tourism between the two countries. Canadian businesses, especially airlines and those that depend on tourism, have been lobbying the Liberal government to relax the restrictions.

Canada last week took a cautious first step, saying it was prepared to relax quarantine protocols for fully vaccinated citizens returning home starting in early July.

Trudeau, speaking after a Group of Seven summit in Britain, said he had talked to Biden “about coordinating measures at our borders as both our countries move ahead with mass vaccination.” Canada is resisting calls for the border measures to be relaxed, citing the need for more people to be vaccinated.

The United States is ahead of Canada in terms of vaccination totals.

“We will continue to work closely together on moving forward in the right way but each of us always will put at the forefront the interests and the safety of our own citizens,” Trudeau told a televised news conference when asked the Biden conversation.

“Many countries, like Canada, continue to say that now is not the time to travel,” Trudeau added, though he said it is important to get back to normalcy as quickly as possible.

 

(Reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Will Dunham)

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Man with 39 wive dies in India

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A 76-year-old man who had 39 wives and 94 children and was said to be the head of the world’s largest family has died in north east India, the chief minister of his home state said.

Ziona Chana, the head of a local Christian sect that allows polygamy, died on Sunday, Zoramthanga, the chief minister of Mizoram and who goes by one name, said in a tweet.

With a total of 167 members, the family is the world’s largest, according to local media, although this depends on whether you count the grandchildren, of whom Ziona has 33.

Winston Blackmore, the head of a polygamous Mormon sect in Canada, has around 150 children from 27 wives – 178 people in total.

Ziona lived with his family in a vast, four-story pink structure with around 100 rooms in Baktawng, a remote village in Mizoram that became a tourist attraction as a result, according to Zoramthanga.

The sect, named “Chana”, was founded by Ziona’s father in 1942 and has a membership of hundreds of families. Ziona married his first wife when he was 17, and claimed he once married ten wives in a single year.

They shared a dormitory near his private bedroom, and locals said he liked to have seven or eight of them by his side at all times.

Despite his family’s huge size, Ziona told Reuters in a 2011 interview he wanted to grow it even further.

“I am ready to expand my family and willing to go to any extent to marry,” he said.

“I have so many people to care for and look after, and I consider myself a lucky man.”

 

(Reporting by Alasdair Pal and Adnan Abidi in New Delhi; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

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Huawei CFO seeks publication ban on HSBC documents in U.S. extradition case

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Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou on Monday will seek to bar publication of documents her legal team received from HSBC, a request opposed by Canadian prosecutors in her U.S. extradition case who say it violates the principles of open court.

Meng’s legal team will present arguments in support of the ban in the British Columbia Supreme Court.

Meng, 49, was arrested at Vancouver International Airport in December 2018 on a warrant from the United States, where she faces charges of bank fraud for allegedly misleading HSBC about Huawei Technologies Co Ltd’s business dealings in Iran and potentially causing the bank to break U.S. sanctions on business in Iran.

She has been under house arrest in Vancouver for more than two years and fighting her extradition to the United States. Meng has said she is innocent.

Lawyers for Huawei and HSBC in Hong Kong agreed to a release of the documents in April to Meng’s legal team on the condition that they “use reasonable effort” to keep confidential information concealed from the public, according to submissions filed by the defense on Friday.

Prosecutors representing the Canadian government argued against the ban, saying in submissions filed the same day that “to be consistent with the open court principle, a ban must be tailored” and details should be selectively redacted from the public, rather than the whole documents.

A consortium of media outlets, including Reuters News, also opposes the ban.

The open court principle requires that court proceedings be open and accessible to the public and to the media.

It is unclear what documents Huawei obtained from HSBC, but defense lawyers argue they are relevant to Meng’s case.

Meng’s hearing was initially set to wrap up in May but Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes granted an extension to allow the defense to read through the new documents.

Hearings in the extradition case are scheduled to finish in late August.

 

(Reporting by Moira Warburton in Vancouver; Editing by Howard Goller)

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