News

1. COVID-19 Update

Graphic: Martin Sanchez/Unsplash

There’s some promising news from Tuesday.

First and foremost, we could have population immunity — when 75% of the population has been vaccinated — by early September. That’s seven weeks ahead of the province’s original projection.

Tim Bousquet explains why in his regular Covid report from Tuesday:

While Moderna is having a spotty delivery schedule for vaccines, an increased rate of Pfizer deliveries is more than making up the difference. And on Friday, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) issued a statement saying that mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) are interchangeable for first and second doses.

This means two things. First, people who received a first dose of Moderna can get a second dose of Pfizer. Second, Nova Scotia’s entire vaccination timeline is sped up — most people will be able to move their second dose appointment up two to four weeks (if they want to; no one will be required to). And — this is new — the appointment for the second dose doesn’t have to be at the same vaccination clinic as the first.

Since children under the age of 12 can’t be vaccinated, the province will need 85% of those eligible for vaccines to get their doses in order to achieve 75% immunity for the whole population, but officials stress that uptake is high in all age groups.

That 75% line should be ignored. 85% of those eligible for vaccines will need to get jabbed in order for 75% of the total population to be immunized, thereby achieving “population immunity.”

We’re close to having all ages eligible for vaccination appointments. On Tuesday, bookings opened up to all Nova Scotians aged 20 or older. And by week’s end anyone 12 or older will be able to make their appointment.

I’m all registered to receive my first dose at my neighbourhood Lions Club. I’m excited to get vaccinated, but equally excited about the possibility of a pancake breakfast. Fingers crossed!

One last reason for cautious optimism today: Dr. Strang said yesterday he expects by Friday he’ll be able to lay out a plan for some lifting of restrictions in the coming weeks.

Tuesday’s Numbers

Daily new case numbers and the seven-day rolling averages (today at 67) for the current outbreak, dating from March 28, the last day Nova Scotia had zero new daily cases.

There were 54 new cases of COVID-19 announced in Nova Scotia on Tuesday. There are now 846 known active cases in the province. There are 72 people hospitalized, 20 of whom are in intensive care.

As always, you can find the full breakdown of the province’s pandemic news from yesterday in Tim Bousquet’s daily COVID-19 roundup.  It has all the details about the new vaccine projections, a comprehensive breakdown of the numbers, the demographics of cases, locations for testing, and potential exposure advisories. There are also a number of handy charts tracking the current vaccination numbers and the planned schedule for the second dose, among other things.

If you still have questions about anything pandemic-related in this province, you might find the answers in Tim Bousquet’s ongoing “FAQs about COVID” article.

And a reminder that the Halifax Examiner is providing all COVID-19 coverage for free. Please help us continue this coverage by subscribing or donating.

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2. How realistic is Nova Scotia’s plan to fight the climate crisis?

Emera’s Brooklyn Energy biomass generator new Liverpool. Photo: Jennifer Henderson

Enough pandemic talk.

It may have the biggest short-term punch, but today Jennifer Henderson looks at a long-term issue — the issue, as far as I’m concerned — climate change. Specifically, how Nova Scotia plans to meet its goals to combat the crisis of our time.

Ever look at the province’s ambitious climate targets and think, ‘That’s great and all, but is it really possible?’ Like how can the province support Pieridae Energy’s proposed Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) megaproject for Goldboro — a project that could increase Nova Scotia’s greenhouse gas emissions by 18% above 2010 levels — and still expect to reduce emissions by 2030? How can biomass burning be a part of the clean energy solution given concerns about how green it is to generate electricity that way? How will changing winds, tides, and rainfall change the plans the province has today?

I sure have. As Henderson writes, so have some of our politicians:

Halifax-Needham MLA Lisa Roberts is as familiar as most Nova Scotians with the story about how province is “a leader” when it comes to fighting climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) — which are now 30% below 2005 levels. That Nova Scotia has legislated targets to produce 40% of our electricity from renewable sources by 2022. And that Premier Iain Rankin has set ambitious goals (although not yet firmed up in regulations) to close coal-burning electricity plants and become the first Canadian province to achieve “net-zero” carbon emissions by 2050.

Roberts told the legislative committee examining Nova Scotia’s plan to tackle climate change how she wishes she could “celebrate” these achievements but said she is “impatient” to see more progress.

“For the entire two terms since I’ve been elected, we’ve been working on a 2009 Climate Change Plan with goals for GHG reduction that were met in 2015,” noted Roberts. “This while the crisis of our time is proceeding apace. According to Statistics Canada, Nova Scotia households are among the most polluting in Canada, emitting six tonnes per capita a year, while households in British Columbia emit three tonnes a year”.

Is it an ambitious challenge or pie in the sky? Check out the full article here to see some of the other concerns with the province’s plans to fight the climate crisis, and how Jason Hollett at the Department of Environment and Climate Change responds to them.

And do something green today!

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3. Auditor general to NSLC: How do the stores choose their booze?

The NSLC outlet on Wyse Road in Dartmouth. Photo: Halifax Examiner

Some people say your drink says something about you. Top-shelf scotch is for those who try to hide their alcoholism behind a thin veil of “refinement” and “class,” while vodka sodas and Michelob Ultras are for bland people who don’t care about the flavours life has to offer. These are objective, scientific opinions, not my own.

Now, the province’s auditor general is judging the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation for its drink selection.

The corporation, which sold $726.2 million of alcohol in 2020, netting $247.3 million in profit, does not have written policies governing the products it selects and advertises in its stores. In other words, according to a report released by the auditor general on Tuesday, the NSLC is too big not to have written policy in place on how it chooses its products, and how it displays them for sale.

Jennifer Henderson has the report:

“For a corporation this size, we expected to find policies and processes to show that important decisions are made and supported in a consistent manner,” Nova Scotia’s auditor general Kim Adair-MacPherson said in a video about the report. “Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation does not have clear policies and procedures in place to determine what products it sells and promotes, or how to price its merchandise, or where to display it in stores … [For suppliers], the product listing decisions can have a direct impact on sales and overall success.”

These comments will probably come as no surprise to local craft brewers and distillers who have negotiated with the NSLC to provide shelf space for their products, or to restaurant owners who have pleaded with the crown corporation to bring in wines popular with their customers.

They have red and white, don’t they? I’m no sommelier, but aren’t those the two wines most popular with customers? I don’t see the problem.

Apparently there is one though — or several (the auditor general’s report includes 11 recommendations to the NSLC). If you want to find out what they are, and get more details on why a lack of written policy is concerning, you can read more about them in Henderson’s full article here.

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4. Report says NS needs 30,000 permanent affordable housing units

Photo: Tierra Mallorca

Unless you’re living under a rock or in an ivory penthouse-condo tower, you’re probably aware there’s a bit of an issue in affordable housing in this province.

(Find a small sample of the Examiner’s reporting on the subject here, here, here and here.)

Today, you can add another to the list. Yvette d’Entremont reports:

What would it take to ensure that everyone has meaningful access to safe, permanently affordable, secure, supported, and adequate housing in Nova Scotia?

That was the question authors of a new report released today by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives-Nova Scotia (CCPA-NS) with the Housing for All Working Group wanted to answer.

The report titled ‘Keys to a housing secure future for all Nova Scotians’ offers a multifaceted plan to address the province’s affordable housing and homeless crises.

Created with collaboration from dozens of experts and community organizations across the province working on the front lines of the housing crisis, the 87-page report highlights the need to reframe housing as a human right so everyone has access to safe, affordable, and adequate housing.

“In Nova Scotia, thousands are without any place to call their own, living on the streets, couch surfing or staying in shelters. Others are in accommodations that they cannot afford, or which are not safe nor adequate nor properly maintained,” the report states.

“For others, there is a lack of housing that is accessible and accommodates their needs to live barrier-free. As housing becomes even more unaffordable in areas located close to employment, services and amenities, it pushes many out of their communities, isolating them.”

The report offers 95 recommendations to form part of a plan to address the affordable housing and homelessness crises. One of those recommendations is to build more than 30,000 affordable housing units.

The time to nip this problem in the bud has clearly come and gone.

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Views

Will we shake off a traditional greeting after the pandemic is over?

I don’t remember the last time I’d shaken someone’s hand before staging this photo. Photo: Ethan Lycan-Lang

Over the weekend the Colorado Avalanche completed a four-game sweep of the St. Louis Blues. My roommate’s an Avalanche fan — God, I wish they’d give Nathan MacKinnon back to the Mooseheads — so I watched the end if it with him.

After the game, the two teams skated by each other for the first post-series handshake of this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. Of all the traditions there are in hockey, this one might be my favourite. The postseason is a long, grueling affair, and up to the handshake, the only physical contact that opponents have with each other for four to seven games consists of getting smashed into a wall, smashed onto ice or smashed in the face. So, a gentlemanly handshake after all that rough stuff is an admirable show of sportsmanship that reminds us it’s just a game, and that these are hockey players, not goons. Most of them, anyway.

But is it a tradition that will continue? In and outside of hockey?

I’ve been hearing about the need to abolish the handshake since the start of the pandemic when Dr. Anthony Fauci — you might know him as America’s Dr. Strang — suggested we stop clasping each other’s germ-infested palms even after we have coronavirus under control.

It’s unsanitary they say, it spreads disease they say, [insert unsettlingly high number] per cent of people don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom, etc.

In a recent  piece on CBC radio’s Sunday Magazine, Piya Chattopadhyay was speaking about the future of the handshake with an evolutionary biologist, Ella Al-Shamahi, who’d written a book on the subject. I caught a brief snippet of it when it aired and, after watching those hockey players lineup to shake hands, I was inspired to go back and listen to the whole conversation to see if this author thought there was a chance the custom might make a comeback, even with recommendations from health experts.

When I searched for the piece, it took a minute to find. Turns out, there’s been a lot written about the “end of the handshake” this past year. I found six articles from the CBC alone, ranging from the history of the handshake to the awkwardness of greeting people without shaking hands to the need to accept that we just won’t be able to continue the custom again after the pandemic. There was a lot of overlap.

There were also several editorials from international publications, most of them talking about how to adjust to a world without handshakes or how the author was enjoying having their personal bubble to themselves and didn’t want to shake hands again. My favourite opinion on handshakes — not that I agree with it — came from Andy Levinsky in the Boston Globe last week:

Abstaining [from handshakes] isn’t just a sensible strategy to avoid illnesses ourselves; it’s a thoughtful way to avoid spreading them to others. It should become the polite, not rude, response.

Personally, I believe that hugs should be reserved for trees but at least an embrace conveys affection. All a handshake suggests is infection.

I’ve met people who aren’t “huggers,” but that takes it to a new level. Family gatherings at the Levinsky household must be warm, inviting affairs. Fair enough about his sanitary concerns though.

He goes on to pose the question, “What is so magical about this ritual that can’t be accomplished by an elbow-bump or a wave?”

I’m not overly sentimental about shaking hands, but I’ll still try to answer that here.

Let’s get this out of the way first: the elbow bump, while health-conscious and ironically hilarious, needs to die as soon as we’re through this pandemic. It feels and looks ridiculous. That’s self-evident. No argument required.

And a wave isn’t an adequate replacement. It’s something you do as you’re passing by, or seeing someone from across the street. You don’t wave at someone when you’re standing face to face. That would also feel and look ridiculous.

Bowing seems like a good, safe way to greet people with respect without giving them a cold or a potentially fatal respiratory illness. It’s pretty common in some cultures. We could adopt it here, I suppose. It would take some getting used to. I’d probably need about five years before I could bow to someone without feeling self-conscious, but I think I could adjust.

But the handshake is more intimate and more tactile.

And it’s the most democratic greeting we have. You need two parties, working on an even playing field, doing the exact same action to create a handshake. It only takes one to bow. If you get snubbed bowing to someone, then you’ve just acted submissively to a bastard. If you get snubbed when you extend your hand, you may get offended, but no handshake has transpired. Like all the best things in life, it takes two.

It requires physical contact (something many of us have come to treasure more than ever since lockdown restrictions first took effect), cooperation and respect.

It makes friends out of strangers. When you shake hands with the parishioners at church on Christmas Eve, you stop feeling guilty that you only pop by once a year to appease your grandparents; you start feeling welcome. And if we lost the handshake, friends could welch on bets left, right, and centre.

Fist bumps and high fives have their place, but sometimes the situation calls for something a little more subtle and dignified. Would Princess Diana’s handshake with an AIDS patient have had as much impact if she’d been wearing PPE, or if they’d bumped elbows?

There is the sinister side of handshakes. Some men use it as a way to show you how insecure they are about themselves and how little they care for the bones in your hands. Some people jump to conclusions about a limp handshake (a noodle shake, as my uncle called mine when I was nine). And then there’s the Trumpian handshake, which turned a greeting into a comical war.

But we humans were made to be close to one another, like it or not. And a handshake gives us a chance to do that without being overly familiar. A chance to look another person in the eye, show we’re not above them, that touching them is not an offence to us.

For my part, I couldn’t really see handshakes going anywhere. Although some have always avoided them, I feel like, for most of us, they’re hardwired into our DNA, germs be damned.

While searching through articles on handshaking I came across this quote from theologian Henri Nouwen:

“Our humanity comes to its fullest bloom in giving. We become beautiful people when we give whatever we can give: a smile, a handshake, a kiss, an embrace, a word of love, a present, a part of our life … all of our life.”

Looking at that list, I suppose a handshake is the one thing I could stand to lose. It would at least be the first thing I’d lose, if forced to make a choice. But there’s another thought I have when looking at that list of beautiful things we can give one another: a handshake isn’t out of place on that list. And I hope it remains there, as vital a part of human connection — something that’s really taken a beating this year — as it ever was.

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Noticed

Small business and the lockdown, continued

In my Morning File last Wednesday, I wrote a bit about how small businesses were forced to stay shut if they weren’t selling non-essential items, while big box stores were able to sell non-essentials alongside groceries and hygiene products. Essentially, if you’re a small clothing store, you have to close, but you can still buy a shirt at Superstore.

Two days later, the province announced another $17 million would be available for small business relief, with individual businesses eligible for up to $10,000, double what was previously available.

Following that news, Victoria Walton wrote up a similar piece for The Coast about how small businesses were asking that non-essential items be roped off in stores. The premier said that’s difficult to enforce and that what’s essential for one family might not be essential for another, so it’s hard to define as well.

I like the way Walton lays it out at the end of her article, so I thought I’d share a snippet here:

Rankin did, however, say that small businesses that wanted to stock essential goods could re-open, following restrictions on capacity and social distancing.

“There are businesses that sell essential items that are allowed to open now,” he said. “And if a small business has any essential items to sell, they should do so.”

That list of essential categories can be found here. And while we certainly aren’t suggesting any non-essential retailers throw open their doors, if you want to stock a $10,000 gold-threaded face mask—hey, that’s essential.

On that note, here’s some other goods you can add to your stock list that are considered essential:

  • Garden gnomes (garden supplies)
  • Cat toys (pet supplies)
  • Staplers (office supplies)
  • Alarm clocks (electronics)

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Government

City

Wednesday

North West Planning Advisory Committee Public Information Meeting (Wednesday, 7pm) — Case 22267, Session #2, livestreamed on YouTube; proposal to develop a five-storey residential and commercial building on Wardour Street

Thursday

North West Planning Advisory Committee Public Information Meeting (Thursday, 7pm) — see above

Province

No meetings


On campus

Dalhousie

Wednesday

Virtual Alumni Days (Wednesday, 8am) — livestreamed via Facebook, continues tomorrow

Everybody Hurts (Wednesday, 12pm) — Christine Chambers, Natalie Rosen, and Shanna Trenamen discuss our understanding of pain during various life stages, and what can be done about it

Safe Space for White Questions (Wednesday, 12:30) — a series of free, public, monthly drop-in sessions that are open to all but aimed at people who identify as white and are interested in working toward collective liberation. Come ask the questions about race, racism, social change, and social justice you always wonder about but feel nervous asking.

Unravelling the early evolution of eukaryotes through genomics and molecular phylogenetics (Wednesday, 4pm) — PhD candidate Taryn Jakub will speak. Bring your own eukaryote.

Saint Mary’s

Wednesday

“All Things Asian” Trivia Contest (Wednesday, 12pm) — Michael (Xiaoou) Zhang will MC; win a $40 gift certificate for the Bookstore. Info and sign up here.

Thursday

Asian Heritage Month: Rhythm & Poetry (Thursday, 5:30pm) — a “joyful online celebration of the diverse rhythms and poetry of the world’s largest and most populous continent.” With the Maritime Bhangra Group! Sign up in advance.


In the harbour

Halifax
09:00: Algoma Verity, bulker, sails from Gold Bond for sea
13:00: Augusta Unity, cargo ship, sails from Pier 31 for Bilboa, Spain
14:30: Asterix, replenishment vessel, arrives at Dockyard from sea
19:00: MSC Eleni, container ship, arrives at Berth TBD from Sines, Portugal

Cape Breton
No arrivals or departures


Footnotes

1. It was light enough and (more importantly) warm enough at 5:30 am to enjoy my breakfast on the deck this morning. Couldn’t see the sunrise, but I’ll take the great in lieu of the perfect pretty well any day.

2. This is also the first Morning File I’ve written without a coffee. I ran out of beans last week and decided to save my money and guts and get off the stuff for a while. It can be tough when my roommate grinds up a cup in the morning and the smell wafts through the house, but otherwise the experiment is an early success. If anything I’m more awake because I sleep better. I’ll still treat myself to a latté on Sundays. My favourite café is accepting refillable mugs again!

3. I still feel cranky. Not from caffeine deficiency. The Canadiens lost again.

4. In the Sunday Magazine interview (it’s a light, fun listen, by the way), Al-Shamahi, who is British, talks about the UK government’s “touch timeline”: the schedule for easing restrictions so that Brits can have more physical contact. Recently, government officials said hugging is once again allowed. There’s just something so off-putting about a state-sanctioned hug.

5 – That CBC article on the history of the handshake was written by Planifax co-founder Utyae Lee, who’s now based out of B.C.

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Ethan Lycan-Lang

Ethan Lycan-Lang is a Morning File regular, and also writes about environmental issues, poverty, justice, and the rights of the unhoused. He's currently on hiatus in the Yukon, writing for the Whitehorse...

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  1. Well for those of us who are blind or partially sighted it is an essential form of connection and acknowledgement that we are humans too.
    i don’t want any one squeezing the life out of me with a hug that might not be welcomed, but I also don’t mind the funny elbow bump either to keep germs off of me.
    Milena and guide dog louis