Sooner or later, governments across Canada will have to decide whether to ease lockdowns caused by the novel coronavirus.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau managed expectations Wednesday, saying that it will be “weeks more” before any relaxation is possible and warning that doing it too early could lead to dangerous new outbreaks.
But it’s clear that, at some point, a new balance will have to be struck between protecting Canadians’ livelihoods and protecting their lives. On Wednesday, Denmark reopened schools across the country for children 11 and under, for example.
When that moment happens, how will we know that it was the right decision, and how would we get early warning if it turned out to be the wrong one?
Regular testing of sewage for the virus could tell us quickly if there were danger signs, an expert says.
No country started testing sewage for the novel coronavirus more than a few months ago, and so far, the science isn’t able to say what a given community’s infection rate is based on traces of the virus in sewage.
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What it can do, however, is show if levels of the virus are rising in relation to previous tests.
“One of the biggest, most powerful observations in this is the ability to look for change,” says Bernadette Conant of the Canadian Water Network, a non-profit. “It’s the fact that there’s a change that sort of makes you stand up and say, ‘Hm, I wonder why that’s happening?’”
“My own view on managing this is, is there an issue that we’ve missed the boat? My answer is no because I think the biggest power for this is really for the long term.”
(A recent study from Harvard warned that we may be seeing the novel coronavirus come and go until 2022.)
What would the starting point be? Oddly, Statistics Canada keeps a sort of sewage library, with samples from five provinces, to which scientists could refer.
The agency started collecting sewage samples from Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto, Montreal and Halifax in early 2018 to test them for recreational drugs and has been gathering more ever since, Statistics Canada’s Audra Nagasawa wrote in an email.
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On the second Monday of every month, people in all five cities take samples of sewage from treatment plants, taken over seven consecutive days to keep things consistent. All the samples are stored in a freezer in a Health Canada lab.
“There is no firm plan” to test the samples for the novel coronavirus, Nagasawa wrote, but it’s a possibility.
“Leveraging the Canadian Wastewater Survey is an option that may be considered given the existing infrastructure with respect to sampling, but [we] need to co-ordinate with scientists and labs with expertise to do this work to make sure that our results are comparable across Canada, and internationally,” Nagasawa wrote.
“To our knowledge, there are already a number of initiatives in place … but nothing is co-ordinated at a national level yet.”
For one thing, it’s not clear how much of the virus ends up being shed into someone’s waste if they are infected, though it’s obvious some does.
“It appears it could be an interesting way to track levels over time (are they going up or down)?” Nagasawa wrote.
Communities wouldn’t have to wait long for results.
“Based on our understanding, the turnaround time could be relatively short. Our sense is that samples could be gathered and analyzed within a week or two, which could allow for provision of short-term warnings and/or emerging problems.”
“At this time, the Public Health Agency of Canada is not aware of any Canadian studies collecting sewage samples for the detection and identification of COVID-19,” spokesperson Marie-Pier Burelle wrote in an email.
Federal grants are funding 99 coronavirus research projects across Canada, but none concern wastewater testing.
Federal health minister Patty Hadju’s office did not respond to questions about whether the federal government had plans for sewage surveillance, or why none of the funded research related to it.
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Scientists in the United States, the Netherlands and Australia are all turning to their countries’ sewers to try to learn more about the spread of the novel coronavirus. The Dutch study, perhaps the most successful so far, found the novel coronavirus in sewage more or less in lockstep with positive tests on people on the surface. (The novel coronavirus was detected in sewage at Schiphol airport just four days after the first known Dutch case was reported.)
Canada has studied sewage in the past.
In the early 2000s, a study of sewage from 14 Canadian communities found traces of various pharmaceutical products, including ibuprofen and two chemotherapy drugs. The results differed in some ways from similar studies in Europe.
Last year, Statistics Canada looked for traces of recreational drugs in sewage from Toronto, Montreal, Edmonton and Vancouver.
The sewage appeared to show higher rates of cannabis use in Halifax and Montreal and more methamphetamine use in Edmonton and Vancouver.
The study was part of a larger international project, which found that cocaine was the predominant drug in Europe and South America, while Australian and North American cities showed more methamphetamines.
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
Bouncing back? Canada added 290,000 jobs in May – CBC.ca
After losing more than three million jobs in March and April, Canada’s economy added 290,000 jobs in May, Statistics Canada reported Friday.
The data agency reported that 290,000 more people had paid employment in May than in April. The surge means May was the best one-month gain for jobs in Canada in 45 years, although it happened from an admittedly low bar. It also means the labour market has bounced back by about 10 per cent of the hit it took from COVID-19.
Despite the job gains, Canada’s official unemployment rate rose to 13.7 per cent, as 491,000 more people were looking for work in the job market, notably students, whose search for summer work isn’t normally recorded in the months before May.
In February, Canada’s jobless rate was 5.6 per cent. It increased to 7.8 per cent in March and 13 per cent in April. The number of unemployed Canadians has more than doubled since February.
Blows away negative expectations
The job gains came as a pleasant surprise to economists, most of whom were expecting more job losses for the month.
The average expectation for the job numbers from economists polled by Bloomberg was for a loss of about 500,000 more jobs. But not all of them thought the number would plunge again.
Economist Benoit Durocher at Desjardins was one of just two to forecast the adding of jobs — 400,000 to be precise.
That was his call before the numbers came out, and his optimism proved prescient.
His reasoning was simple: as many Canadian provinces cautiously reopened in May, some of those people who were laid off temporarily in March and April would trickle back to work and show up in May’s employment numbers.
“Employment should rebound and return to positive territory in May, but the extent of the rebound remains unclear,” Durocher said ahead of the numbers coming out. “Under these circumstances, the unemployment rate should begin trending downwards. However, the return to pre-COVID-19 levels could be fairly slow.”
Should everyone be tested for COVID-19? Most Canadians think so, poll shows – CTV News
Experts say widespread testing for COVID-19 is one of the most effective defences against a second wave of infections, a measure most Canadians support according to a recent poll.
More than three in five Canadians say they are in favour of testing every Canadian for the novel coronavirus, according to a Nanos Research poll commissioned by CTV News.
The random survey of 1,009 Canadians, which took place between May 26 and 28, revealed that 28 per cent of respondents support and 33 per cent somewhat support widespread testing measures, while more than one in three opposed the idea.
Polling data shows that residents of Atlantic Canada and Ontario have a higher intensity of support for universal testing than residents in Western Canada.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, provinces are working to expand their testing criteria to include people with very mild or even abnormal COVID-19 symptoms, an effort Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam says will help spot possible community cases that would otherwise go undetected.
Officials are also working to roll out the country’s first antibody test as rapidly as possible to help determine how much of the population may have been infected.
But some provinces, including Ontario and Quebec, have routinely fallen behind their diagnostic targets. The criteria for who can get tested also ranges widely between each province.
Nanos polling also shows that Canadians are more likely to say they are confident that there will be a vaccine available to fight COVID-19 within the next 12 months. However, four in ten respondents are not confident in that timeline.
Tam has noted that officials are working to understand how administering an eventual vaccine would be prioritized to certain segments of the population while considering “the maximum number of Canadians who may wish to be vaccinated.”
MOST CANADIANS HAPPY WITH PROVINCIAL RESPONSE
According to the poll, more than three in five Canadians are confident that their public health authorities have an accurate count of the number of COVID-19 cases in their province.
However, Ontario residents were less confident in the province’s data, with the majority of respondents doubting the official case count.
Ontario, one of the hardest hit provinces, has had several instances of reporting errors since the beginning of the outbreak.
On Thursday, the province recorded a spike in the number of deaths due to COVID-19 after days of relatively lower numbers. However, officials said the increase may have been due to a lag in reporting from local public health units. This comes just days after officials revealed nearly 500 COVID-19 patients were not flagged to local public health agencies for contact tracing due to a reporting error.
When it comes to the economic ramifications of the outbreak, nearly eight in ten Canadians say the opening up of the economy in their province is being done in a safe (33 per cent) or somewhat safe (46 per cent) way.
Residents in B.C. and Atlantic Canada were the most confident in the safety measures being taken to reopen the economy.
However, when asked which approach Canada should take to opening its border with the U.S., 40 per cent of Canadians say Canada should keep the border closed to non-essential traffic until the end of the summer. Thirty-one per cent say Canada should keep the border closed until there is a vaccine.
Twenty per cent of Canadians say the border should open to non-essential traffic once businesses are allowed to open, even if social distancing is still in place, with residents of the Prairies the most likely to be in favour of reopening.
Nanos conducted an RDD dual frame (land- and cell-lines) hybrid telephone and online random survey of 1,009 Canadians, 18 years of age or older, between May 26 and April 28, 2020. Participants were randomly recruited by telephone using live agents and administered a survey online.
The margin of error this survey is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
The research was commissioned by CTV News and was conducted by Nanos Research.
Canadians living in China watch developments in Meng case closely – CTV News
Canadian teacher Christopher Maclure remembers the first time he felt afraid living in China.
Almost all the newspapers there carried stories about how angry Chinese officials were when Huawei’s chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou was detained by Canadian authorities in Vancouver at the behest of the United States.
But it wasn’t until a few days later when the two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, were arrested by China that Maclure felt fear.
“That’s when I got really scared,” he said in a phone interview from China where he has lived for more than two decades. “It was the top news story in China.”
Meng has been held in Canada since December 2018. She’s out on bail while fighting extradition to the United States on fraud charges. Last week, her lawyers’ first round of arguments was thrown out by a B.C. judge, meaning the case continues.
Nine days after Meng’s arrest, Chinese authorities sent Kovrig, an ex-diplomat working for the International Crisis Group, and Spavor, an entrepreneur who did business in North Korea, to prison. They are accused of violating China’s national security interests, but Canadian argues the men have been “arbitrarily detained.”
Maclure said his family was quite worried while these events played out and their fears were renewed when the B.C. court ruled against Meng last week.
But Maclure said he has felt safer in China than in any country in the West, he said.
“Everything is on camera here. It provides me with a sense of security,” he said. “And I speak Chinese quite well.”
Maclure said he censors what he says on WeChat, a Chinese social media site.
“Being a teacher … I’m sometimes a little paranoid that I’d be a person to detain,” he said. “We have a saying in China that when it’s all the same the tallest tree gets the most wind. It means the more you express your opinion, the more critical you are, the more likely you are to get cut down.”
Myriam Larouche, a Quebec woman who is a graduate student in China, said she’s not worried about being affected by the Meng case. Larouche is in Canada now, but she plans to return to China once flights resume and school starts.
Larouche said she had “some concerns” when she heard the two Canadians were arrested, but “I asked some friends and they said ‘No, no you don’t have to be worried.’ “
Global Affairs Canada said there are currently 12,885 Canadian citizens in China who have voluntarily registered with the department.
Ottawa is “aware” of 118 Canadians currently in custody in greater China with the most common charges being drug-related and fraud.
A court in southern China handed down a death penalty to a Canadian in April of last year on drug charges. In a separate drug smuggling case, China sentenced Canadian Robert Lloyd Schellenberg to death in a sudden retrial in January — one month after Kovrig and Spavor were detained.
Wayne Duplessis had been living in China for more than two decades prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and said he hopes to go back.
He remembers reading about the arrests of Meng, Kovrig and Spavor.
“A friend contacted me a couple of days after (Kovrig and Spavor were arrested) and said, ‘are you concerned?’ I guess there was a brief moment when I thought ‘should I be concerned?’ “
But that passed, Duplessis said.
He said he and his family have been treated well in China and people there have a lot of respect for Canada.
“By and large I never feel uncomfortable about this. It seems very much unrelated to us.”
Duplessis said he feels badly for Spavor and Kovrig.
“I can’t imagine what it would be like to be in custody for more than 500 days — even one day. Terrifying,” he said
Canadians living in China can stay in touch with the embassy and cultivate “good working relationships locally,” he said.
“I hope this is a blip and I hope that things get cleared.”
But people can’t be ruled by their fears, he added.
“We have to move forward or we just don’t get anywhere. So, you try to be as cautious as you can, you try to understand the risks — there’s no sense in being foolish about it — but we do have to move forward.
“We do have to build our lives.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 4, 2020.
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