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Let's stop fixating on soft 'news' and pay attention to things that matter, Canada – CBC.ca



This column is an opinion by Wyatt James Schierman, a freelance writer from Alberta. For more information about CBC’s Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

It’s been a thoroughly disheartening month in Canadian political and domestic current affairs coverage; one that should test the patience of any engaged citizen with an interest in the country and the well-being of its people.

Don’t believe me?

Consider some of the national stories in the first few weeks of 2020 that galvanized the attention of Canadians.

For starters, in the opening days of the New Year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau returned to the country after a two-week vacation in Costa Rica. His arrival in Ottawa caused quite a stir, though not due to anything of substance.

Trudeau made no significant policy announcements. Nor did he declare any major staffing changes or a cabinet shuffle.

So what was all the media fuss about?

Merely that the Prime Minister came back from his holiday retreat sporting a new beard.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, seen at a news conference in Ottawa on Jan. 11. (Blair Gable/Reuters)

That was it. A bit of hair growth on his face. Some salt and pepper stubble to cover what was once Trudeau’s clean-shaven jawline.

It was hardly a newsworthy event, but you wouldn’t know that from the widespread attention it received at home and abroad.

Unfortunately, that was only the first of many banal and relatively inconsequential stories to come.

The relocation of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, to Canada was another story which consumed an inordinate amount of precious journalistic air time and prose

Harry and Meghan’s move, along with the relinquishing of their official titles, was even more obsessively covered by media outlets. While the story deserves some attention, it certainly doesn’t warrant the immense exposure it received, especially as neither Harry nor Meghan will have any substantial impact on the health, happiness and welfare of Canadians.

Britain’s Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, have said that they plan to move to Canada. (Daniel Leal-Olivas/AP Photo)

Then an even more ridiculous “news” event occurred.

Just the other week, Justin Trudeau tweeted out a photo of himself purchasing some gourmet doughnuts while en route to his government’s cabinet retreat in Winnipeg.

It all seemed harmless enough. But you wouldn’t have known it from the outrage on Twitter. Nor from the coverage the “scandal” received, extending even to American news organizations like CNN and Fox News.

And what was it that caused such furor, you might ask?  

Simply that Trudeau, “elitist” that he is, chose to purchase some expensive doughnuts — and not from that staple of Canadian identity Tim Hortons, but rather from a local bakery.

Never mind that Oh Doughnuts, the bakery in question, is Canadian-owned, while Tim Hortons is not. The outrage still ensued. As did the widespread media coverage of the absurdly silly affair.

Of course, this is not to say that genuinely important and newsworthy events haven’t been given the time of day. There has been in-depth coverage of a number of recent developments with major effects on Canadians, whether it be the escalation of tensions between the U.S. and Iran, President Donald Trump’s impeachment or the spread of the coronavirus.

And efforts have certainly been made to cover the Conservative leadership race here at home. Though not even that has been able to spark much excitement, now that it appears Peter MacKay’s coronation is well underway. Indeed, the race could certainly have been much more interesting if Jean Charest, Rona Ambrose and Pierre Poilievre hadn’t turned out to be such merciless teases.

But that’s beside the point.

What is the point here is that far too often it’s the trivial news stories which receive an overabundance of attention, at the expense of issues that truly matter and deserve the public’s meaningful consideration.

The January release of Oxfam’s annual report provides one such instance of an important issue deserving of much more scrutiny. In its findings, the organization detailed absolutely appalling levels of income and wealth inequality throughout the world. In fact, the inequality has become so rife that now, “The world’s 2,153 billionaires have more wealth than the 4.6 billion people who make up 60 per cent of the planet’s population.”

If you think Canada is exempt from such inequality, think again.

Even in relatively wealthy Canada, far too many citizens are struggling to pay their bills. According to the recently released Ipsos survey on behalf of accounting firm MNP Ltd., three in 10 Canadian households are unable to cover all their monthly expenses, and nearly half are on the verge of insolvency.

The latest Ipsos poll asked respondents about their financial expectations looking one year and five years into the future, and found that optimism was near a record low for the survey. (Graeme Roy/The Canadian Press)

What other issues deserve far more attention from the media and the public?

How about the fact that the country is in the midst of a “national crisis” as a result of ongoing and growing problems with opioids. As former Health Minister Jane Philpott has written, in 2019 alone about 12 people died “every day from an opioid-related overdose.”

Alas, the opioid crisis isn’t the only social emergency Canadians are contending with.

According to a statement from the Office of the Correctional Investigator of Canada issued Jan. 21, the population of Indigenous Canadians in federal prisons has reached truly alarming levels and continues to grow. Despite representing only about five per cent of Canada’s population, Indigenous people now make up over 30 per cent of those incarcerated in federal prisons.

These are just a handful of the extremely important, ongoing issues in this country that deserve serious attention and consideration from both the media and the Canadian citizenry alike. Not whether two members of the Royal Family relocate to Canada. Nor whether our Prime Minister grows a beard or not. And certainly not what type of doughnuts he chooses to purchase.

There’s no doubt that the media needs to improve and prioritize its coverage of the stories of greatest importance. But Canadians, too, must be attentive and avoid becoming distracted from the critical issues of our day.

The more actively engaged we are in the really important things happening around us, the more equipped we will be — both as individuals and as a nation — to tackle these issues.

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Confusion, anger aboard quarantined cruise ship as coronavirus spreads – CTV News



Canadians quarantined on a cruise ship with a growing manifest of passengers infected by a deadly coronavirus expressed frustration with Ottawa’s response Monday.

Despite the fast-approaching end of the 14-day isolation period on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, Canadian citizens on board aren’t sure what’s happening next. Some expressed anger to CTV National News over apparently conflicting information provided by their own government.

On Monday, the ship confirmed 99 new cases of COVID-19 as Canadian passengers learned in a tweet from Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne that a plane was headed to Tokyo with Canadians expected to board Tuesday. Champagne’s tweet was deleted minutes later.

“The plane is now wheels up to Tokyo,” the since-removed tweet read. “We expect Canadians to board on Tuesday for their journey back home. Passengers will be screened there before boarding.”

On Monday night, CTV National News learned that the plane was indeed on its way to Tokyo, but was delayed on a tarmac in Portugal. Thirty-two Canadians on the ship are known to have coronavirus, according to the government.

For some Canadians on board, the deleted tweet was the first they’d heard of the plane’s status.

“It’s frustrating and confusing. We wish that we would just be told, specifically, when we are going and when we are to be ready,” passenger Kate Bedding told CTV News. “It’s just important — clear communication in a crisis.”

It’s unclear how many Canadians will board the flight. In a news conference Monday, Health Minister Patty Hajdu said there were about 100 Canadians of more than 250 on board that had yet to confirm their intentions with the government. If leaving the ship for the charter jet, Canadian personnel will run medical tests as they leave. Anyone exhibiting symptoms will not be allowed to board the plane.

Once the passengers return home, they will have to undergo a second 14-day quarantine as hundreds of Americans have already started doing after landing in California and Texas Air Force bases. Some Canadians are reportedly considering not boarding the flight to avoid another quarantine. Ottawa is advising against that decision. In emails to those passengers, the government warned they may be prohibited from boarding a commercial flight or entering other countries.

Adding to the frustration and fear, the ship saw its biggest one-day surge in coronavirus infections, with 99 new confirmed COVID-19 cases on board. At least 1,800 people have died worldwide among more than 72,000 official cases. The Diamond Princess houses the largest cluster of coronavirus patients outside China.

Some Canadians on board have questioned whether the cruise ship quarantine is even working.

“All these experts are saying ‘They should have never been confined to a ship in the first place,’” said Edmonton’s Mark Rodrigue. “Well maybe the experts should have told us that 13 days ago and we could have been back in Canada with our 14-day period half over.”

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Canadians on coronavirus-hit cruise ship await repatriation



Canadian passengers of a cruise ship that has been quarantined in Japan due to a coronavirus outbreak on board are still waiting to be repatriated as their American counterparts touched down in the U.S. on Monday.

On Saturday, the Canadian government said it had chartered a plane to bring home many of the 255 Canadians aboard Diamond Princess, off Yokohama, Japan, where some 3,500 passengers have been stuck for 10 days amid an outbreak of the novel coronavirus. So far, more than 450 people have been infected, including 32 from Canada.

Late Monday, Global Affairs responded to an email from a Canadian couple on board and told them the plane is expected to arrive in Japan on Feb. 19. The aircraft will pick up Canadian passengers who are not showing symptoms.

The email reply said the departure date will be confirmed once final arrangements have been made with the Japanese government and the cruise ship company.

Those who are transported back to Canada will be placed under quarantine for 14 days. There are also 330 Hong Kong residents and 35 Italians, including crew members, on board the ship or undergoing treatment in Japanese hospitals.

Passenger Trudy Clement, of Port Dover, Ont., told CBC News Monday that she and her husband are still waiting for results from a throat swab they had taken two days ago to determine if they’ve contracted the virus.

“It’s bad enough having to be here for two weeks but not knowing anything, it’s extremely stressful,” she said.

Watch: Trudy Clement describes the wait for news aboard the Diamond Princess:

The Canadian government says it’s chartered a plane to bring home many of the 255 Canadians aboard the cruise ship that has been quarantined for 10 days amid a coronavirus outbreak. 6:16

The quarantine in Canada will be good for the peace of mind of friends, family and the community, Clement said. She said all the passengers she’s been able to talk to agree that Canadian aid did not come quickly enough.

“If this had of been started earlier, it would have ended earlier,” she said.

If she does test positive for the virus, she’ll be removed from the ship and taken to hospital in Japan.

If not, the passengers will be tested for any symptoms when they disembark, then again when they arrive in Trenton, Ont. Then they’ll face another two-week quarantine in Cornwall, Ont.



Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, appeared to offer assurance on Monday that Cornwall has no worries about transmission.

Tam said Canadian health officials are “taking every precaution” to keep the city of about 46,000 “safe and healthy,” as those quarantined stay in an isolated section of the Nav Centre, a hotel and conference training facility in Cornwall.

Health Minister Patty Hajdu says the government is working to bring home a number of Canadians onboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship in quarantine off Japan. 0:24

Americans back home

Also on Monday, more than 300 American passengers, including 14 who tested positive for coronavirus, were being quarantined at military bases in California and Texas from Japan on charter flights overnight.

One plane carrying cruise passengers touched down at Travis Air Force Base in Northern California just before midnight Sunday, while another arrived at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas early Monday. The passengers will remain at the bases for two weeks.

Japan’s Defence Minister Taro Kono tweeted earlier that Japanese troops helped transport 340 U.S. passengers on 14 buses from Yokohama port to Tokyo’s Haneda airport. About 380 Americans were on the cruise ship.


U.S. passengers repatriated from a cruise ship in Japan disembark from a Kalitta Air flight at Kelly Field early Monday in San Antonio, Texas. (William Luther /The San Antonio Express-News/The Associated Press)


The U.S. said it arranged for the evacuation because people on the Diamond Princess were at a high risk of exposure to the new virus that’s been spreading in Asia. For the departing Americans, the evacuation cuts short a 14-day quarantine that began aboard the cruise ship Feb. 5.

The State Department announced later that 14 of the evacuees received confirmation they had the virus but were allowed to board the flight because they had no symptoms. They were being kept isolated from other passengers on the flight, the U.S. State and Health and Human Services said in a joint statement.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, said Sunday an infected person who shows minimal symptoms could still pass the virus to someone else.


Paul Molesky, right, and Cheryl Molesky, who evacuated off the quarantined cruise ship the Diamond Princess, film a selfie video aboard a Kalitta Air plane bound for the U.S., at Haneda airport in Tokyo. (Cheryl and Paul Molesky/The Associated Press)


It’s unclear which base the 14 who tested positive for the virus went to.

Officials said the evacuees who arrived at Travis Air Force Base will be housed at a different location from the more than 200 other Americans who were already being quarantined on the base, in a hotel. Those people have been at the base since early February, when they arrived on flights from China.

No Travis officials will have contact with the passengers, officials said.

Now that they’re in the U.S., the cruise ship passengers must go through another 14 days of quarantine at the military facilities — meaning they will have been under quarantine for nearly four weeks.

New cases

The latest updates follow the release in China’s official media of a recent speech by President Xi Jinping in which he indicated for the first time that he had led the response to the outbreak from early in the crisis. While the reports were an apparent attempt to demonstrate the Communist Party leadership acted decisively from the start, it also opened Xi up to criticism over why the public was not alerted sooner.

In his speech, Xi said he gave instructions on fighting the virus on Jan. 7 and ordered the shutdown of the most-affected cities. The disclosure of his speech indicates top leaders knew about the outbreak’s potential severity at least two weeks before such dangers were made known to the public.

The death toll from the coronavirus outbreak in mainland China rose to 1,868 as of the end of Monday, up by 98 from the previous day, the National Health Commission said on Tuesday. Across mainland China, there were 1,886 new confirmed infections on Monday, bringing the total so far to 72,436.


A medical worker in protective suit takes a break at an isolated ward of Wuhan Red Cross Hospital in Wuhan, the epicentre of the novel coronavirus outbreak, in Hubei province, China, on Sunday. (China Daily via Reuters)


With fears of the virus spreading further, Chinese and residents of nearby countries and territories have begun hoarding supplies of everything from masks and other personal protective gear to instant noodles, cooking oil and toilet paper.

In Hong Kong, local media reported that police had arrested two men and were seeking three others who allegedly stole a load of 60 packs of toilet paper at knifepoint early Monday morning. Supplies of the commodity have become extremely scarce, with often only low-quality imports still available. Police were expected to discuss the matter later.

Another 1,200 doctors and nurses from China’s military began arriving in Wuhan on Monday morning, the latest contingent sent to help shore up the city’s overwhelmed health-care system.

The city has rapidly built two prefabricated hospitals and converted gymnasiums and other spaces into wards for those showing milder symptoms, but residents still say they are being wait-listed for beds and even ambulance rides.

Wuhan has accounted for the vast majority of mainland China’s 70,548 cases. Some 60 million people in that area and other parts of China are under lockdown in a bid to prevent the virus from spreading further.

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Canadian protection standards for COVID-19 to be reviewed, health agency says – Global News



The Public Health Agency of Canada says it will review its protocols for health-care workers after nurses’ unions denounced the national guidelines set out for dealing with the novel coronavirus earlier this month

The agency says feedback from the nurses’ unions and other associations will be considered by a national advisory committee on infection prevention and control as it looks to update the guidance.

The protocols set out how health workers should protect themselves and their patients if they encounter a potential case of the new coronavirus, or COVID-19, including the kind of protective equipment they should use.

What are coronavirus symptoms? In mild cases, just like the common cold

The Canadian Federation of Nurses’ Unions wrote to Health Minister Patty Hajdu last week to tell her the guidelines are unacceptable since they assume the virus cannot spread easily through the air, only through larger droplets from coughing or sneezing.

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In a statement Monday, the federal public-health agency says the guidelines were approved by a special advisory committee of federal and provincial representatives.

“Protecting health care workers and patients from exposure to the novel coronavirus is our priority,” an agency spokesperson wrote Monday. “We will continue to engage with stakeholders and apply evidence and expert advice in updating guidance.”

Coronavirus outbreak: Ontario couple ‘would like to go home’ after quarantine on Diamond Princess cruise ship

Coronavirus outbreak: Ontario couple ‘would like to go home’ after quarantine on Diamond Princess cruise ship

Though Canada’s current federal guidelines are in line with World Health Organization recommendations, both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States and its European counterpart call for added precautions to protect against the possibility the disease is airborne.

Provinces can also set their own standards and protocols to protect workers from possible exposure to the virus. Ontario has already called for its workers to wear respirators when dealing with potential cases of COVID-19, rather than surgical masks as the federal agency suggests.

So far, only eight cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed in Canada, but public health authorities agree they must be prepared for that to change.

Vancouver’s Chinese-Canadian businesses report up to 70% business drop amid virus fears

The health agency says it’s trying to chase down some people who left a cruise ship in Cambodia, the MS Westerdam, before one of their fellow passengers tested positive for the illness.

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“Canadian passengers from the MS Westerdam were identified so that they would be screened upon arrival at a port of entry into Canada,” it said in a written statement Monday.

They’ll be given information about COVID-19 and asked to isolate themselves for two weeks, the agency said, and to fill out a form so their local public-health authorities can contact them.

Coronavirus outbreak: Hajdu stresses shutting down borders over illness ‘not effective at all’

Coronavirus outbreak: Hajdu stresses shutting down borders over illness ‘not effective at all’

But those screens went up too late for some of the hundreds of Canadians who were aboard the Holland America ship.

“Some travellers returned before these measures were put in place. The Public Health Agency of Canada and the Canada Border Services Agency are working together to identify those individuals who will be contacted by PHAC officials,” the agency’s statement said.

Canada is also preparing for another wave of evacuees with possible exposure to the virus, though health authorities say their risk of infection is low.

COVID-19: Ontario couple on quarantined Diamond Princess say days are ‘long and boring’

Hundreds of Canadians who have spent almost two weeks in isolation on a second cruise ship, the Diamond Princess docked in Yokohama, Japan, will be flown home to Canada to spend another two weeks of quarantine in Cornwall, Ont.

The Diamond Princess has had more than 450 cases confirmed on board so far.

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During their repatriation the Diamond Princess passengers will follow the same rules as the Canadians and their families who recently returned from Wuhan, China, the centre of the outbreak.

Coronavirus outbreak: A look inside Wuhan hospital for those with symptoms

Coronavirus outbreak: A look inside Wuhan hospital for those with symptoms

Some in Cornwall, including the town’s mayor Bernadette Clement, have expressed reservations about hosting a large population of people who may have been exposed to the virus. They will be housed in an isolated section of the Nav Centre, a training centre with attached hotel and conference facility.

Health officials have assured people in the area the risk of those repatriated Canadians having the illness when they arrive in Canada is low, and they are taking precautions.

“We are satisfied that the infection control precautions and quarantine procedures will meet the needs of the quarantined individuals while also keeping the public safe,” the Eastern Ontario Health Unit’s medical officer of health, Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, said in a statement Monday.

© 2020 The Canadian Press

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