News

1. COVID-19 numbers

Yesterday, Nova Scotia announced results of 738 new tests for COVID-19. Those tests showed 20 new people testing positive, bringing the total number of people who have contracted the disease in Nova Scotia to 147, with four people in hospital, and 10 fully recovered. Check out the rest of Tim’s graphs for the full picture.

As Tim reports in his daily update, Robert Strang has said that 96% of Nova Scotia cases have been traced to travel or contact with someone who has travelled, with one confirmed case of unknown or community spread, and several more cases still under investigation. Canada-wide, the estimated rate of community spread is much higher. Public Health Canada says 64% of cases nationally were spread in a community setting, with “no travel outside Canada in the 14 days prior to illness onset” and no known contact with a travel-related case.

The doubling time for the number of known cases in Nova Scotia is roughly 5 days, slightly better than the national doubling time, currently 4 days.

Across Canada, there are 8548 known cases, and 96 people have died so far, according to the government of Canada outbreak update. According to the journalists tracking things over at CTV News, 101 people who have died, and 1242 people have recovered.

Across the world, Worldometers reports 862,573 known cases, 42,528 deaths, and 179,127 people recovered from COVID-19, with those numbers changing every few minutes.

2. Coparenting complications

Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia Medical Officer Health, answers questions at a briefing on March 31, 2020.

In the Examiner’s COVID-19 daily update, Tim reports on Dr. Robert Strang’s answer to a question on the issue of kids in split-parenting situations. The gist of Strang’s answer: “It makes sense that the child remain in one home, isolated and kept separate in that one home, rather than going back and forth between two different family units.” In my bubble, this is going to cause a lot of potential upheaval and confusion, because up to now the prevailing wisdom has been that kids in co-parenting situations can move around, as they are in many cases legally required to.

Stay tuned to the Halifax Examiner for further on this story today.

3. Calling for a “rent freeze”, an extended eviction ban, and housing for the homeless

After starting a petition calling for a suspension of rent payments in Nova Scotia two weeks ago (soon to hit 10,000 signatures), Sydnee Blum joined forces with Acorn Canada to continue the fight. “Together, rent freeze petitions across Canada have gained almost a million signatures to date and they’ve only been up for a few weeks,” says Blum. “We’re really working together at the federal level with a lot of other organizations to try to make this happen.”

Blum and Acorn Canada are calling for a “rent freeze”, essentially a suspension of rental payments during the COVID-19 shutdown, as well an extension of the eviction ban, and the immediate housing of anyone homeless or living in a shelter.

The rent suspension will be better able to meet the varying needs of households in different situations than one-size-fits-all support payments from government, says Blum. And the suspension is important to prevent household debt from building up. “If we don’t have the money to pay rent on the first of the month,” says Blum, “we’re certainly not going to be able to pay two months’ worth of rent a few months from now.”

From the people who have come to me personally to tell me their situation. I think we’re going to see a lot of people who are going to be, you know, in eviction court fighting eviction because of COVID-related financial hardships. And I know a lot of people are worried about the debt that back payments are going to put them in.

That potential impending debt, as well as the current risks for those without homes, are the basis for the call to end all evictions. “We want a moratorium on all evictions,” says Blum, “including evictions that were in a process of being actively reviewed or in the court system. We don’t think anybody should be out on the street.”

Blum is also hoping that Halifax council will take a page from Toronto’s book, and get people without homes into temporary housing. Toronto is acquiring hotels and residential buildings to help house people in a way that will help prevent the spread of the new coronavirus. Says Blum,

We’re also pressuring the municipal government to redistribute hotel rooms and vacant AirBNB units to be used by people who are homeless or living in shelters. You know, it’s easy to kind of overlook the more vulnerable populations, but we really need to ensure that everybody has got a roof over their heads and are able to follow social distancing protocols. We want Mike Savage to follow the City of Toronto’s lead and implement that. 

Acorn is hosting video conference calls where people can ask questions about their legal rights as tenants, and what programs and services are out there that might help. (More info via the COVID-19 Rent Freeze Nova Scotia Facebook group.) “We’re trying to kind of get this on two levels,” says Blum.

Number one, we’re trying to keep pressuring the provincial government to enact the rent freeze, expand the eviction ban, and to provide housing and homes for people who are homeless or who are living in shelters. Just to make sure that everybody is able to follow social distancing protocols, is able to keep themselves safe. And then on the other hand, we’re trying to educate tenants about their rights and make sure that they have the resources that they need to stay in their homes, to stay financially stable as much as they can.

So far, the province hasn’t budged on rent freeze demands. “The message that we’ve been getting from the provincial government,” says Blum, “especially from Premier McNeil, is that, you know, this isn’t on their minds. This isn’t really top of the agenda. And we really feel like tenants are being left behind in that regard.”

4. Northwood Manor prepares for COVID-19

Northwood Manor. Photo: novacorpproperties.com.

Jennifer Henderson reports:

The confirmed COVID-19 infection of four staff and two residents at three other nursing homes in the province has prompted Northwood Inc. to step up its preparations. With 485 beds at its Halifax location, Northwood is one of the largest nursing home operators in Nova Scotia. And although Northwood has no cases, its staff are moving residents within the Gottingen Street complex to clear an entire floor to care for residents who could become infected in the future.

Henderson details the plans at Northwood, and looks at the situation at some of the other long term care facilities in Nova Scotia.

5. Bear hunting is the latest “pandemic pastime” for kids

From Bear Hunt Fort McMurray Facebook group.

Yvette d’Entremont discovers bear hunting, a new “pandemic pastime that’s sweeping neighbourhoods across the globe.” Explains d’Entremont:

Inspired by the book ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’ by Michael Rosen (here’s the author acting it out), people are placing teddy bears and other stuffed creatures in their windows. The idea is to give children hibernating at home a fun and safe activity that gets them out and walking or driving with their parents or guardians.

d’Entremont speaks with people in groups across Canada, including Tricia Mansfield, a Newfoundlander now living in Fort McMurray, who started her group online after hearing about the idea from her mother.

Mansfield said within 24 hours her group grew from zero to more than 1,000 followers.

“I wasn’t expecting that so fast. The response is so amazing. The children are having so much fun hunting bears and counting them,” she said. “The parents love it because they can get out of the house and do something with the kids during this difficult time.”

Mansfield said they’ve not had one complaint. Some families will walk the neighbourhood with their young children, always maintaining social distancing, while others will drive.

Some families will share photos of their bear hunting adventures to Mansfield’s page.

“My favourite comment/story would be seeing the little kids’ pictures, some with binoculars, hunting for bears,” she said. “I’ve been thanked a few times by the parents for putting this idea together. Makes it worth it for me right there.”

As the idea spreads, Mansfield hopes to see it catch on in large numbers in Halifax.

“I think it’s a simple but rewarding thing to do for the kids. I think all places should do this,” she said.

6. After nearly 50 years of solving crosswords, Dartmouth sisters publish their debut puzzles

If you are looking for a new mind-sharpening hobby to keep you occupied during the COVID-19 shutdown, Philip Moscovitch has you covered in this deep dive into the world of crossword construction. Moscovitch speaks to one of two Dartmouth sisters who have recently debuted on the scene, “part of a new, refreshing wave of constructors making culturally significant crosswords.”

7. Halifax Council to hold first “virtual meeting” Thursday

Council will be meeting Thursday, but not at City Hall.  Photo: Halifax Examiner

After weeks of cancelled meetings, Halifax council will meet remotely on Thursday at 1pm.  Items on the agenda include: approval of the contract to buy 150 diesel buses over the next 3 years; surplus property at 4 Fernhill Lane; a first reading of amendments to the animal by-law; and a request for a report on what the city can do to encourage “flexible working arrangements,” in order to help reduce congestion on city streets. It’s worth noting that the flex work initiative pre-dates COVID-19, but will certainly be heavily informed by it.

8. Pedestrian struck

A police release from yesterday:

Police are investigating a vehicle/pedestrian collision that occurred earlier today in Dartmouth.

At approximately 10:15 a.m. police were called to a vehicle/pedestrian collision that had occurred in the 600 block of Portland Street. A vehicle struck a woman as she was crossing Portland Street, and she was taken to hospital with life-threatening-injuries.


Views

1. The case for keeping compulsory drug licensing after COVID-19

Joel Lexchin, Professor Emeritus of Health Policy and Management at York University (among other things), explains Canada’s history with compulsory drug licensing, and makes a case for keeping it, even after the coronavirus is under control.

Lexchin explains how compulsory licensing works, pretty succinctly:

Compulsory licensing helps prevent drug shortages. Simply put, compulsory licensing means that generic companies can get a licence to produce and market a drug even if the drug is still covered by a patent. In return the patent holder gets a royalty. Under the COVID-19 Emergency Response Act, the government can issue the licence almost immediately without having to first enter into negotiations with drug companies. The act doesn’t set out the amount of the royalty.

Canada had compulsory licensing for about 20 years in the 70s and 80s, writes Lexchin, citing a 1984 Commission of Inquiry on the Pharmaceutical Industry which found that compulsory licensing reduced Canada’s “drug bill” by $211 million (about 13%) while costing brand name pharmaceutical companies “only 3.1 per cent of the market.”  But the 1987 Canada-US free trade agreement weakened compulsory licensing (NAFTA later killing it entirely), and although it has come up in the context of an Anthrax scare and the AIDS crisis, Canada has avoided it so far. Until now, that is. But compulsory licensing under the COVID-19 Emergency Response Act would only be temporary, with one-year licenses, all issued by September 30 of this year. Lexchin calls for a rethink of those terms.

Drug shortages in Canada have been around for a decade now and they won’t go away once the COVID-19 emergency is over. Public drug spending increased 6.8 per cent in 2018, 1.5 percentage points higher than in the previous year. As we move to a national pharmacare plan we will need more ways to control drug prices and compulsory licensing could be one of those tools.

Let’s make compulsory licensing permanent.

2. Should Nova Scotia be sharing more data about active cases?

An interesting conversation broke out in my Twittersphere recently about how much information is being shared with Nova Scotians about known COVID-19 cases. Specifically, Twitter user BigJMcC wondered why we weren’t getting the type of geographical information that other jurisdictions are offering up.

While New Brunswick and British Columbia are sharing slightly more information about where cases are popping up, it’s safe to say that nowhere is sharing as much information with their citizens as South Korea, where there are apps and websites showing information on the locations that people who have tested positive for COVID-19 have been recently.

Screencap from Coronamap.site, focused on Seoul, South Korea.

One of the reasons behind not sharing information widely in Nova Scotia is that, in the absence of widespread testing, we have been waiting for community spread to appear. During this time, cases appear very sparse, and there are large areas with no known cases at all. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t cases. In fact, the likelihood of this unknown community spread is one of the reasons the entire province has been under physical distancing orders.  And there’s a worry that in the absence of known cases in their area, people might not take the threat of community spread seriously, and may not comply with physical distancing.

South Korea, on the other hand, started testing aggressively very early. The Guardian’s Alexis Dudden and Andrew Marks reported:

Most importantly, South Korea immediately began testing hundreds of thousands of asymptomatic people, including at drive-through centres. South Korea employed a central tracking app, Corona 100m, that publicly informs citizens of known cases within 100 metres of where they are. Surprisingly, a culture that has often rebelliously rejected authoritarianism has embraced intrusive measures.

The sharing of large amounts of testing data in South Korea seems to be a tool for encouraging cooperation with preventative measures such as distancing and handwashing.

It will be interesting to see if the strategy in Nova Scotia will change in the coming days or weeks. Will sharing information turn a corner from liability to advantage? I’m awaiting the discussion.


Noticed

In the “brighten your day” department of social media sharing:

Here is part 1, 2, and 3 of “Quarantine Cutie” all in one tweet pic.twitter.com/L9pnEV4oZM

— jerm (@jerm_cohen) March 29, 2020


Government

Halifax Regional Council: “virtual meeting”,  April 2, 2020, 1pm.  Agenda here.


In the harbour

05:00: Atlantic Sail, ro-ro container, arrives at Fairview Cove from New York
11:30: Oceanex Sanderling, ro-ro container, moves from Pier 41 to Autoport
14:00: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, arrives at Fairview Cove from Saint-Pierre
15:00: Budapest Bridge, container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from New York
15:30: 05:00: Atlantic Sail sails for Liverpool, England
16:30: Oceanex Sanderling moves back to Pier 41
19:00: Sarah Desgagnes, oil tanker, arrives at anchorage from Saint John
22:30: Budapest Bridge sails for Rotterdamn


Footnotes

Week three and it still feels wrong to put on my ‘good’ clothes every morning, but they say it helps.

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14 Comments

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  1. Why are we buying diesel buses… that item should be a discussion of the absolute failure of Metro Transit management to take any meaningful action on climate change.

    1. Dube explained this months ago at a council meeting. Electric buses require significant infrastructure. Email your councillor and you will get a very simple answer. Any failure belongs with the current council in power for 41 months and with a different agenda.

      1. Actually, an electric bus pilot, which is obviously where we would start, requires a reasonable amount of infrastructure, and we have already paid people to plan how it might happen. And the cancellation of our pilot is most certainly the responsibility of Halifax Transit management. But obviously council allowed it to happen. https://www.halifaxexaminer.ca/city-hall/who-killed-the-electric-bus-halifax-transit-turns-down-electric-bus-funding-opts-to-stick-with-diesel-instead/

        1. What is a reasonable amount ? Transit needs a new garage, a new garage requires more land, more land means a new location. Any location needs significant electrical infrastructure. A new transit centre was estimated to cost $112,000,000 according to HRM budget documents. A pilot would require a charging centre. Staff would need to be trained to maintain electric buses.
          The good news for MetroTransit is the dramatic and probably permanent decline in the cost of oil.

          1. Interesting, Colin May, how the politicians came up with trillions of dollars for the Covid-19 crisis, when it became clear that it presented a serious threat, after warnings years earlier from the likes of Bill Gates – when they would have had time to prepare.
            Anyone who cares to look seriously at the science, will conclude that we do not have the time to dither over whether to transition to renewables or wait a few years.
            At the moment, it’s all hands on deck to fight a deadly virus. Buying electric buses now rather than waiting three years will not… oh, never mind. We’re sleeping while the planet burns, and all our civic “leaders” can do is declare a Climate Emergency.
            The first Climate Change staff report was presented to council in September of 2006, so to say that Halifax Transit needs 3 years to plan and prepare for electric buses ignores the fact that the city has known about the approaching Climate Emergency for 14 years. It is no longer “approaching”. The crisis is here. Now.
            The sad thing is that you and I, won’t feel a thing as – in the words of Paul Kelly in the song Sleep Australia Sleep – “kingdoms jump off the cliff’. But our children and grandchildren will be facing a dystopian future that will make the Covid-19 pandemic look like a walk in the park. Yeah, a few electric buses, who cares.

      2. Yeah I remember all that. Neither Metro Transit or Council showed much leadership on this issue. As Erica points out below, there was a pilot but Metro Transit/Dube basically killed it and Council didn’t do much about it. I guess a couple of million dollars isn’t enough to do a pilot? What the actual fuck.

        I think at this point Council should hire an outside management consultant to review the management structure and practices of Metro Transit.

    1. To be honest, the ‘good’ pile is anything not ripped or stained, which makes up my usual wardrobe for staying at home. I hope I’m not alone in this!

  2. Not every landlord is a millionaire! If there is a freeze on rent payments, there should also be a freeze on mortgage payments for those who depend on the incoming rent to pay their mortgage!

    1. While every landlord may not be a millionaire, every single landlord is a rent-seeker. You’re part of the rentier class, as defined in wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rentier_capitalism. Have you ever considered how absurd it is, that by virtue of nothing but having the extra money to own a second (or more) properties, you then get people to give you money that they had to work to earn, just so that you can pay the mortgage on your completely unnecessary property. You have contributed nothing useful to society and yet you can profit off the fact that you own a property you don’t actually need.
      The genius of capitalism is that it makes this seem normal. It keeps us all divided in the fight for a better more sane society in which housing would be just one of a number of things that is seen as a human right and not as a way for some people to enrich themselves at the expense of others’ hard work.
      As for a mortgage payment freeze; give me a break! You can sell your property. Your renters don’t have the option of moving somewhere else if they can’t pay for your mortgage.

      1. Missing from this perspective are homeowners who are renting a unit or two within their own home. In that case the mortgage is paid in part by the owner of the building, and part by the renter. Benefits to society: denser housing, social connection, reduced carbon footprint, probably others.

        1. Justify it any way you like. It doesn’t change the fact that there are two classes – owners and and those who are owned by them.