1. COVID-19 by the numbers

This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses. Note the spikes that adorn the outer surface of the virus, which impart the look of a corona surrounding the virion, when viewed electron microscopically. A novel coronavirus, named Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China in 2019. The illness caused by this virus has been named coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

In Nova Scotia, as of March 17, 2020, there are 934 negative test results, six presumptive positive cases and one confirmed case of COVID-19.

In Canada, as of 8pm on March 17, 2020, there 569 confirmed cases and 26 probable cases of COVID-19. Eight people have died of COVID-19, while 12% of cases have resulted in hospitalization. About three-quarters of cases are from travellers, with another 11% from close contact with travellers. 32% of cases are in people who are 60 years of age or older.

The John Hopkins Coronavirus Information Center reports 199,418 cases worldwide, as of 8am, March 18, 2020.

2. PM says stay home

At yesterday’s press conference, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Parks Canada would be closing down visitor services, and that Global Affairs Canada will be administering an emergency loan program for Canadians abroad, “help secure their timely return to Canada and to temporarily cover their life-sustaining needs while they work toward their return.”

As for Canadians at home, especially those put out of work by COVID-19 protocols, Trudeau said an announcement regarding “economic actions to support Canadians as quickly as possible” would be coming sometime today.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland followed up later saying cabinet is looking into, “how can we take measures to ensure that no damage is done to sectors of the economy, to Canadian businesses. and that individuals are able to buy groceries, and pay rent.” Treasure Board president Jean-Yves Duclos talked about the double whammy that the pandemic shutdown is having on the economy, with major shocks to both supply and demand, calling it, ” a very new economic situation.”

Trudeau also mentioned the probability of a “brief return of House of Commons so that we can bring in emergency economic measures,” such as changes to EI and anything else requiring legislative action. “We are also examining the Emergency Measures Act to see if it is necessary or if there are other ways that will enable us to take actions to protect people,” he said.

Several times he stressed his key message: stay home.

Our doctors and nurses need your help. Your neighbours need your help. Vulnerable people in the community need your help. As much as possible, stay home. Don’t go out unless you absolutely have to. Work remotely if you can. Let the kids run around a bit in the house. Things will get better.

Thanks to the CBC for capturing the conference and making it available here.

3. Canada-US border non-essential travel closure imminent

The CBC reports:

Canada and the United States are finalizing a deal to close their shared border to non-essential travel — an extraordinary measure designed to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Multiple sources with direct knowledge of the talks say the details are still being worked out, and could be announced as early as Wednesday.

Once finalized, the mutual agreement would close the border to tourists and shoppers while still allowing Canadians to return home. The final deal is expected to allow some commercial traffic to continue to keep critical supply chains intact.

4. Latest COVID-19 restrictions: no gatherings of 50 people; take-out food only; bars to close; hospitals reduce services

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Robert Strang, CEO of Nova Scotia Health Authority Dr. Brendan Carr, and CEO of IWK Health Centre Dr. Krista Jangaard, at the Nova Scotia coronavirus update, March 17, 2020.

This item is written by Tim Bousquet

There are two new presumptive cases of COVID-19 in Nova Scotia, bringing the total to seven.

One of the two newest cases is travel-related, said Dr. Robert Strang, the province’s chief medical officer. The other case is “related to” one of the previous COVID-19 cases, said Strang. Strang would not say where the people live in the province, but said they are self-isolating at home and are doing well.

Meanwhile, Premier Stephen McNeil has announced the following restricitons:

• effectively immediately, no public gatherings of 50 people or more;

• as of Thursday, restaurants can only offer take-out food, and all bars will be closed;

• as of tomorrow, NSLC is reducing operating hours to 11am-7pm six days a week (closed Sundays), and 10-11am for seniors and others at highest risk of contracting COVID-19

• Service Nova Scotia is closing all Access Centres for one week, “in order to establish a new way to provide services that avoids contact”; on-line service remain, and drivers licences and vehicle registrations that expire in March, April, and May will have the expiration extended to the end of August:

• hospitals are cancelling all non-urgent procedures. Specifically, according to a Nova Scotia Health Authority handout provided to reporters, this means:

— all elective outpatient visits are cancelled. Individual services will contact patients whose appoints are proceeding. Dialysis, chemotherapy and radiation treatments, and mental health and addictions appointments will continue

— all non-urgent diagnostic imaging appointments will be rescheduled and walk-in x-ray services will be closed. Cancer Care imagining, PET scans and other time-sensitive exams will continue

— outpatient blood collection services will not close completely but services will be reduced (i.e. reduction in hours and number of locations. Details regarding these changes will be communicated as soon as they are available.

— all same-day admission and elective surgical procedures are postponed. Cancer and urgent/emergency procedures will continue.

— As currently-occupied inpatient beds become available, they will be held open to create capacity to establish COVID-19 units in designated hospitals

New Brunswick and Newfoundland hospitals have prohibited all visitors, but as of today, Nova Scotia hospital has a limit of two visitors per patient. I asked Dr. Bernard Carr, the CEO of the NSHA, if that might change, and he made no commitment, saying only that it could change.

Monday, Ontario banned all evictions. Tuesday, I asked McNeil if he would prohibit evictions or implement rent controls (McNeil has the power to take either or both actions under the Emergency Measures Act). McNeil replied that he has been “working with our national partner” and “later in the week we will lay out a suite of public policy positions that will respond to the very real needs of [Canadians].”

5. HRM update on COVID-19

Mayor Mike Savage at podium, and Halifax Transit director Dave Reage, at HRM press briefing, Tuesday, March 17, 2020.

In a press conference Tuesday Halifax Mayor Mike Savage said council meetings will continue, though possibly with the assistance of technology. “We’ll let people know,” said Savage. CAO Jacques Dubé was home with a cold, but Chief Financial Officer Jane Fraser was on hand to assure everyone that HRM staff, contractors, and vendors would continue to get paid, despite major workplace disruption from social distancing and self isolation requirements.

In transit news, Savage reported that Halifax Transit’s ridership has been drastically down: 40% in conventional buses, 70% in Access-a-bus, and 50% in ferry service. Savage said, “this is proof that community efforts for social distancing are working, and we appreciate everyone making alternative travel arrangements or staying home.”

Online gratitude from a health care worker, using Halifax Transit to get to work. March 17, 2020.

Transit chief Dave Reage announced that starting today, March 18, people should board and disembark buses at the rear door, and that fares will be waived to allow for this. The front door will still be available to those who need kneeling bus access.

6. “People are freaking out”: prisoners fear COVID-19 outbreak in jail

The renovated North Unit day room at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility. Photo: Halifax Examiner

El Jones speaks to a prisoner in the Burnside jail, where there are no longer any visitors allowed, no information about the coronavirus outbreak being distributed, and no more court dates until June. Understandably, the stress levels are high. From Jones’ transcribed interview:

They still come to administer medication. But, nobody can tell us anything. Like, a little over a week ago Jason McLean [president of NSGEU and former correctional officer] said something in the paper that all the inmates and staff have access to some type of pamphlet on how to deal with it if it ever comes in the jail.

There’s no such thing. They aren’t giving us any information whatsoever. So we’re just basically sitting here, terrified, just thinking about it.

7. How stigma around COVID-19 might hurt vulnerable populations

Robert Huish. Photo: Twitter

Yvette D’Entremont speaks to international development professor Robert Huish about the “racial tendencies” underlying outbreaks, and the secondary health effects that we can expect in the wake of COVID-19. Huish warns that these effects will be different for different groups in society.

Huish added that Indigenous communities, rural areas, those living in poverty and under-resourced communities will suffer disproportionately.

“Those who have means are going to say ‘Well that wasn’t so bad. I stayed at home and I had a full pantry and my high speed internet worked and I enjoyed binge watching whatever series it was on Netflix. Maybe I finished Outlander,’” Huish said.

“But for a rural area that is already struggling with municipal services and access to affordable, healthy food, that is going to have secondary consequences as well.”

Huish said there’s a stark contrast between people who’ll experience very little discomfort and those who’ll wake up every morning stressed and overwhelmed with concerns about food, shelter, and other basic necessities.

“That inequity in itself will produce a stigma. It’s just the way that we will be discussing the disease, the way that we experience the disease,” he said.

“This is going to be a massive economic shock to many countries, and people will experience the outcomes of that very, very differently.”

8. Dental offices closed

This item is by Jennifer Henderson.

Most dental offices in Nova Scotia are now closed unless a patient requires emergency or urgent care. That’s defined as “the treatment of infection, acute pain, trauma, bleeding and for necessary post-operative follow up.”

Many dental hygienists have received layoff notices. The regulatory body for dentists — the Provincial Dental Board of Nova Scotia — has recommended cancelling regular appointments until March 30. Here is the message to patients from the website of the Micmac Dental Centre:

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our provincial dental board has advised that all non-essential and elective dental services be suspended. Thus, over the next two weeks we will only be open to see patients requiring emergency care (severe pain, swelling, bleeding). We will re-evaluate on March 30th. Please call ahead as our hours of operation will likely change.

9. 811 assessment tool online: “don’t call if you don’t need to”

The prevailing advice has been to call 811 if you have a new cough or fever, both symptoms of COVID-19, but in order to alleviate the extraordinary call volume being experienced at 811, the province has introduced an online assessment tool to help people determine whether they should indeed call 811 and speak to a nurse, or do something else.

And for general information about COVID-19, 811 recommends visiting the following websites, or calling 1-833-784-4397.

10. Social distancing 101: yes, you can go outside

The messaging around social distancing has been confusing, because it’s being confused with self-isolation, the much stricter measure that requires no contact with others whatsoever. The CBC’s Emily Chung wrote this great piece explaining what social distancing means, how it’s different from self-isolation, and why it is recommended on such a broad scale. The gist, writes Chung, is:

Social distancing involves:

  • Interacting with as few people as possible.

  • Trying to avoid getting too close (nearer than about two metres) when we do.

But that doesn’t mean never leaving your home. In fact, some jurisdictions are actually recommending that you get outside regularly. Chung spoke with Kate Mulligan, assistant professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto:

Many people have heard public health officials say things like, “Stay home unless you need to go out and get groceries.”

For those who aren’t self-isolating, Mulligan thinks that shouldn’t be taken literally.

“I think what they mean by staying home is not to go have social interactions with people,” she said. “Yes, you should be going outside.”

The City of Ottawa puts it this way: “You can still go outside to take a walk, go to the park or walk your dog. If you need groceries, go to the store. We simply recommend that while outside you make sure to avoid crowds and maintain a distance of one-two metres (three-six feet) from those around you.”


1. The amplification effect of degrading biodiversity

In the Guardian, John Vidal writes about how the destruction of complex ecosystems around the world could be contributing to the emergence of new viruses such as the novel coronavirus. He writes,

Only a decade or two ago it was widely thought that tropical forests and intact natural environments teeming with exotic wildlife threatened humans by harbouring the viruses and pathogens that lead to new diseases in humans such as Ebola, HIV and dengue.

But a number of researchers today think that it is actually humanity’s destruction of biodiversity that creates the conditions for new viruses and diseases such as Covid-19, the viral disease that emerged in China in December 2019, to arise – with profound health and economic impacts in rich and poor countries alike. In fact, a new discipline, planetary health, is emerging that focuses on the increasingly visible connections between the wellbeing of humans, other living things and entire ecosystems.

Vidal spoke with Kate Jones, chair of ecology and biodiversity at University College London, about the “amplification effect” that occurs in simplified or degraded ecosystems, where the remaining species are likely to “carry more viruses which can infect humans.”

Increasingly, says Jones, these zoonotic diseases are linked to environmental change and human behaviour. The disruption of pristine forests driven by logging, mining, road building through remote places, rapid urbanisation and population growth is bringing people into closer contact with animal species they may never have been near before, she says.

The resulting transmission of disease from wildlife to humans, she says, is now “a hidden cost of human economic development. There are just so many more of us, in every environment. We are going into largely undisturbed places and being exposed more and more. We are creating habitats where viruses are transmitted more easily, and then we are surprised that we have new ones.”


Two guys singing together, one with a guitar
Choir! Choir! Choir! live on Facebook, March 17, 2020 for an Epic Social Distan-Sing-Along!

Choir! Choir! Choir! have been around for nine years, mostly hosting amazing in-person events where they teach large crowds of people songs, and then sing them together. Yesterday, they took to the internet to host a virtual sing-a-long, and let me tell you, it was delightful. These may be unprecedented times because the prime minister is telling us to stay home and not touch our faces, but they may also be unprecedented due to the sheer wealth of online gatherings and entertainment that seems to be popping up to replace our nearly obliterated social lives.

The CBC’s Holly Gordon gathered the details on a whole bunch of upcoming online musical events that may tickle your fancy, including Neil Young, Measha Brueggergosman, Ashley MacIsaac, Lights, and Jeremy Dutcher, among others.

Just in case you think only Torontonian strangers get to sing together, here’s Halifax’s The Big Sing, with their rendition of Rihanna’s Umbrella.


No public meetings this week.

On campus

All events are cancelled.

In the harbour

09:00: Nolhanava, ro-ro cargo, arrives at Bedford Basin anchorage from Saint-Pierre
12:00: Ferbec, bulker, arrives at Pier 33/34 from Tuzla, Turkey
15:00: Algoterra, oil tanker, sails from Imperial Oil for sea
15:30: Graceful Leader, car carrier, arrives at Autoport from Boston
16:30: Tortugas, car carrier, sails from Autoport for sea
17:00: Sarah Desgagnes, oil tanker, sails from Irving Oil for sea
20:00: Atlantic Sky, ro-ro container ship, arrives at Fairview Cove from New York
21:30: Graceful Leader sails for sea


Does anyone else find it disorienting that things are moving so fast, and yet also slowing down?

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  1. Councillor Zurawski just finished on News 95.7 with misinformation regarding the death rate of 2%.

    Here is a scientific report : ” In a rare piece of good news about Covid-19, a team of infectious disease experts calculates that the fatality rate in people who have symptoms of the disease caused by the new coronavirus is about 1.4%. Although that estimate applies specifically to Wuhan, the Chinese city where the outbreak began, and is based on data from there, it offers a guide to the rest of the world, where many countries might see even lower death rates.
    The chance of someone with symptomatic Covid-19 dying varied by age, confirming other studies. For those aged 15 to 44, the fatality rate was 0.5%, though it might have been as low as 0.1% or as high as 1.3%. For people 45 to 64, the fatality rate was also 0.5%, with a possible low of 0.2% and a possible high of 1.1%. For those over 64, it was 2.7%, with a low and high estimate of 1.5% and 4.7%.

    The chance of serious illness from coronavirus infection in younger people was so low, the scientists estimate a fatality rate of zero.”

  2. Over 20,000 ‘delegates’ are scheduled to attend the Glasgow climate conference in November. Thanks to the Wuhan virus CO2 emissions have significantly declined.
    A Goldman Sachs assessment of the crude oil market : ” that there could be a record surplus of about 6.0 million b/d by April.”

  3. Something to bring to the attention of the metro housing authority: as of Monday, just one of two elevators at the 16+-story Harbourview Apartment Tower was in operation. Try social distancing when 6-7 people crowd in at once. There is not much point in waiting for it to return empty because there will just be more people wanting to get on. The second elevator has been out of service for some time and – up to this week – a contractor had yet to make it a priority.