QUARTZ: Race to Zero Emissions, Mar 17, 2020

Michael J. Coren, Reporter
Here’s what happened over the past week that helped or harmed the world’s chances of cutting greenhouse-gas emissions to zero.
Reuters/Yves Herman

Decreases emissions

1️⃣ Global oil demand may see its biggest contraction in history. The coronavirus response and economic slowdown could shave 10 million barrels per day off global consumption for now, estimated oil-trading firm Trafigura.

2️⃣ A 10-state carbon trading scheme rescued a Pennsylvania nuclear power plant. The 1,872-megawatt Beaver Valley plant, set for deactivation in 2021, will now stay open thanks to the governor’s decision to join the climate initiative.

3️⃣ BMW will dump half its internal-combustion engine models for electric powertrains by 2021. The German automaker sold fewer than 150,000 EVs in 2019, but projected it would have at least 1 million EVs on the road by the end of next year.

4️⃣ CarbonTracker gave the coal industry a financial health checkup (pdf), and the prognosis is bad. In every major market, it’s cheaper to build new renewables than coal plants. Even existing coal plants will cost more to run than new renewables by 2030.

5️⃣ The Dutch city of Utrecht is turning a business park into one of the world’s largest car-free urban centers. The new neighborhood will have homes for 12,000 people and serve an expected 20,000 bicycles.


Oil’s collapse may turn renewables into a lucrative bet. Investors have long argued renewables can’t compete with higher returns from oil and gas projects. “That argument no longer holds at $35 per barrel,” argues the energy consulting firm Wood Mackenzie. Not only are renewables delivering similar returns (or better!), but they come with lower risk since the marginal price of fuel—wind or sunshine—is always $0. That could accelerate an energy transition away from fossil fuels. While still the minority of global energy use, renewables are already attracting the lion’s share of new energy investment, topping $288.9 billion in 2018.

Net-zero (for now)

1️⃣ The UK’s financial regulator plans to require companies with premium listings on the London Stock Exchange to disclose their climate risk or justify an exemption. The Financial Conduct Authority is considering similar standards for all regulated companies.

2️⃣ Emissions are already falling as the world responds to the coronavirus, but the looming global recession, predicted by more than 40% of economists surveyed by the World Economic Forum, presents an even bigger likelihood of a sustained emissions drop.

3️⃣ Crashing oil prices are not detouring the auto industry’s electrification strategy. “We have a clear commitment to become CO2 neutral by 2050, and there is no alternative to our electric-car strategy to achieve this,” said Volkswagen’s strategy head Michael Jost.

4️⃣ Compressed hydrogen is “the first viable option” for seasonal energy storage on a 100% renewable grid, says global consulting firm DNV GL. Hydrogen produced from wind or solar energy in the summer could be pumped into salt caverns and depleted gas fields for winter use, but it might take decades to become cost-competitive.

5️⃣ Shrubs and trees are overtaking tundra and savanna in a warmer, wetter world. The loss of these treeless landscapes, 40% of the world’s area, will alter global carbon cycles and the climate.

Plunging EV sales. Rock-bottom oil prices. Global financial worries. It may combine to dampen any hopes of record growth in the renewables sector. “It will definitely put downward pressure on the appetite for a cleaner energy transition,” says Fatih Birol, head of the International Energy Agency. Market turmoil will derail ambitious government spending on cleaner technology and energy efficiency as fossil fuel alternatives drop in price and access to easy capital dries up, goes the bear argument. But uncertainty reigns. The fossil fuel industry has never seen quite this shock, says David Doherty, an energy analyst at BNEF, as plummeting demand from the coronavirus response meets an oversupply of crude from Saudi Arabia and Russia.
1️⃣ Greenland and Antarctica, now on track for the worst-case warming scenarios predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, are melting six times faster than expected.
2️⃣ The economic fallout from the coronavirus is expected to shave 8% off China’s planned 24 GW of new wind power installations in 2020. While factories have restarted, they are not yet operating at full capacity.
3️⃣ Bloomberg New Energy Finance forecasts that global solar demand will fall by almost 10% to 108 gigawatts. A looming recession could make 2020 the first year global solar installations decline since the 1980s.
4️⃣ Donald Trump announced his intention to fill the US Strategic Oil Reserve to bolster the unprofitable US oil industry. Critics called it a “shaleout,” while politicians seemed reluctant to shell out billions of taxpayer dollars to prop up oil companies.
5️⃣ Ohio’s power sector is switching off coal, but its embrace of $5 billion in planned natural gas plants will lock in fossil fuel emissions for decades.

As of March 15, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was 414.24 ppm. A year ago, the level was 413.40 ppm


Lessons from COVID-19: We are only as strong as our weakest link

Image: NIAID/Flickr

Image: NIAID/Flickr

There is a lot we still don’t know about COVID-19 (coronavirus) and how hard it will impact Canada. But one thing we’re learning: we are only as strong as our weakest link.

COVID-19 is exposing a number of weak links globally and here in Canada.

For starters, critical to containing COVID-19 are two new 2020 buzzwords — social distancing and self-isolation. Health officials are asking people to do their part by staying home if they’re sick and preparing to have two weeks’ worth of medicine and provisions.

While staying home is known to help curb the spread of COVID-19, it’s hard advice to swallow if you’re poor, working poor, in the service industry or self-employed.

As Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction director Tom Cooper points out in this Hamilton Spectator op-ed, the working poor can’t afford to take unpaid time off and people on fixed (low) incomes — such as people on social assistance — don’t have extra cash to stockpile provisions.

“If we truly want to keep our communities healthy and protect against the spread of illness, whether COVID-19 or anything else in the future, we need to pay more attention to the relationship between health and income inequality in Canada,” Cooper writes.

It’s not just the poor who face barriers. Precarious workers have challenges too.

Jon Shell, managing director and partner at Social Capital Partners, points out that self-employed workers will suffer from COVID-19.

“Spare a moment for the self-employed today as you focus on not touching your face,” Shell tweeted. “They can’t avoid travel, need to go to client sites, and get no income if they self-quarantine. No corporate support and our social support system isn’t designed to help them at all.

“We constantly push people to be ‘entrepreneurial’ and to ‘hustle.’ Let’s remember that the lack of an appropriate and fair safety net for the self-employed is one of the many things this crisis is exposing. We need to fix it.”

In this Toronto Star column, Jim Stanford, director of the Centre for Future Work, points to the need for legislated sick pay, better job security for workers who may need to follow the 14-day self-isolation COVID-19 protocol and better employment insurance provisions for workers who cannot work because of illness.

Legislated sick pay is key: research shows that cities and states in the United States that require employers to provide paid sick days have fewer flu cases.

Getting rid of the need for doctors’ sick notes is also key. Why flood doctors’ offices with sick people when they should be at home resting and not spreading contagion?

COVID-19 could rock the global economy

Speaking of contagion, fears over COVID-19 and an oil sell-off led to panic in the stock markets Monday, forcing the New York and Toronto stock exchanges to briefly halt trading.

In the U.S., United Airlines and Jet Blue Airlines are cutting back flights due to a drop in demand due to COVID-19 fears.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Federal Reserve and Bank of Canada have cut interest rates in an attempt to protect the economy from a COVID-19/oil sell-off downturn.

Businesses are cancelling travel, conferences and meetings in response to the COVID-19 threat.

It’s a reminder that the economy is only as strong as the health of our communities. And as Italy completely shuts down, COVID-19 is teaching us that we are only as strong as our weakest link in the global public health chain.

That’s why investments in public health — disease prevention, health promotion and protection — are so critical.

Cuts to public health hurt

It’s a lesson that seems to have gotten lost in Canada, all these many years after the SARS outbreak.

Across Canada, provincial governments have cut back on public-health spending. Just last year, the Ontario government made a move to slash public-health budgets and the Alberta government is in the process of implementing similar funding cuts. Other provinces have also seen dwindling public-health investments over the past decade.

The irony of public health is that it’s undervalued until an invisible virus emerges, making the value of public health visible. After SARS, that visibility led to new investments in public health, but over time, funding has dwindled.

This Springer article says “governments around the world underinvest in public health and public-health research.”

In the OECD, health spending for prevention is rarely higher than six per cent of the health care budget. In Canada, only 5.5 per cent of total health spending goes to public health, such as food and drug safety, health inspection and health promotion.

Trevor Hancock, retired public health professor at the University of Victoria, calls the underinvestment in public health short-term thinking.

“There are several factors at play, one of which may be that public health does not generate headlines, whereas dramatic life-saving interventions do,” Hancock writes.

“When public health is effective, nothing happens; nobody writes headlines about the hundreds of cancers that did not happen, only about the latest hi-tech drug or intervention that reduced the death rate from cancer.”

The advent of COVID-19 is helping us see public health in a new light.

When it comes to trying to contain COVID-19 spread, we have strengths. Canada’s public-health professionals took many lasting lessons from the 2002-2003 SARS outbreak and they are better prepared for COVID-19 than some countries.

Protocols were in place to quickly identify potential COVID-19 patients and the source of infection, test them, treat them in hospital if needed and, otherwise, ensure they’re self-isolating for 14 days. Even jurisdictions in the U.S. are struggling to meet these basics.

Communications from public-health officials in Canada have been steady, transparent, and reliable. In times of uncertainty, trust is key.

In order to maintain trust, Canada’s public-health system needs to be better funded over the long haul. In the short term, expect pressure on the federal and provincial governments to respond to the dual crisis of COVID-19 and oil sell-off with major stimulus initiatives.

Economists are already talking about the need to “supersize” refundable tax credits like the GST or the Canada Child Benefit, to get cash in the hands of those who need it. But this is also a moment to correct the chronic underfunding of public-health units across Canada.

If we manage to contain COVID-19, it will be because of individual efforts to follow public-health protocols and because of the expertise of public-health officials in quickly establishing those protocols.

These are our strongest links in the system. Let’s invest in keeping them strong.

Trish Hennessy is executive director of Upstream. This article first appeared on behindthenumbers.ca

US: Renewables to rise above coal and nuclear says FERC

US renewable

Image credit: Stock

Renewables are estimated to add nearly 50,000 MW, being more than a quarter of the total capacity according to a review by the SUN DAY Campaign of data, issued last week by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

According to the report, the mix of renewable energy sources (i.e., biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar, wind) provided 57.26% of new U.S. electrical generating capacity added in 2019 – swamping that provided by coal, natural gas, oil, and nuclear power combined

FERC’s latest monthly “Energy Infrastructure Update” report (with data through to December 31, 2019) reveals renewable sources (i.e. biomass, geothermal, hydropower, solar, wind) accounted for 11,857 megawatts (MW) of new generating capacity by the end of the year. That is a third more (33.97%) more than that of natural gas (8,557 MW), nuclear (155 MW), oil (77 MW), and coal (62 MW) combined.

Renewables have now also surpassed 22% (i.e., 22.06%) of the US’ total available installed generating capacity – further expanding their lead over coal capacity (20.89%). Among renewables, wind can boast the largest installed electrical generating capacity – 8.51% of the U.S. total, followed by hydropower (8.41%), solar (3.49%) [2], biomass (1.33%), and geothermal (0.32%). Thus, wind and solar combined now account for 12.0% of the nation’s electrical generating capacity.

Moreover, the FERC foresees renewables dramatically expanding their lead over fossil fuels and nuclear power in terms of new capacity additions during the coming three years (i.e., by December 31, 2022). Net generating capacity additions (i.e., “proposed additions under construction” minus “proposed retirements”) for renewable sources total 48,254 MW: wind – 26,403 MW, solar – 19,973 MW, hydropower – 1,460 MW, biomass – 240 MW, and geothermal – 178 MW.

By comparison, net additions for natural gas total 21,090 MW while the installed capacities for coal, nuclear, and oil are projected to drop by 18,857 MW, 3,391 MW, and 3,085 MW respectively. In fact, FERC reports no new coal capacity in the pipeline over the next three years.

Thus, while net new renewable energy capacity is projected to be nearly 50,000 MW greater within three years, that of fossil fuels and nuclear power combined will decline by over 4,200 MW. Between now and the end of 2022, new wind capacity alone will be greater than that of natural gas while that of wind and solar combined will more than double new gas capacity.

Moreover, if FERC’s data prove correct, then by the end of 2022, renewable sources will account for more than a quarter (25.16%) of the nation’s total available installed generating capacity while coal will drop to 18.63% and that of nuclear and oil will decrease to 8.29% and 2.95% respectively. Natural gas will increase its share — but only slightly – from 44.67% today to 44.78%.

As the Executive Director of the SUN DAY Campaign, I believed that the rapid growth of renewables and corresponding drop in electrical production by coal and oil in 2019 provides a glimmer of hope for slowing down the pace of climate change. In addition, renewables’ continued expansion in the near future – as forecast by FERC – suggests that with supportive governmental policies, these technologies could provide an even greater share of total U.S. electrical generation. SOURCE

Statistics presented in this article can be found here. Read the full FERC report.

Ten Thoughts on the Power of Pandemics

They disrupt, reveal, renew. They give opportunity to rethink what we’ve come to believe is normal.


Non-pharmaceutical interventions such as hand washing, social isolation and the banning of crowds can dramatically slow the spread of a viral plague. Images source: Wikihow

[Editor’s note: Tyee contributing editor Andrew Nikiforuk is the author of two best-selling books on epidemics: The Fourth Horseman and Pandemonium, both published by Penguin Books.]

“It is the microbes who will have the last word.”—Louis Pasteur

In 2016 the Commission on Creating a Global Health Risk Framework for the Future, a U.S. panel of health experts, warned that “the conditions for infectious disease emergence and contagion are more dangerous than ever” due to overpopulation, urbanization, industrial livestock crowds and mobility.

The panel estimated that there was a 20 per cent chance that four pandemics could unsettle the globe over the next century.

The late Joshua Lederberg, a Nobel Prize winning biologist, warned more than a decade ago that the world had entered a disquieting era of plague making.

“We have crowded together a hotbed of opportunity for infectious agents to spread over a significant part of the population. Affluent and mobile people are ready and willing and able to carry affliction all over the world within 24 hours’ notice. This condensation, stratification and mobility is unique, defining us as a very different species from what we were 100 years ago,” he wrote.

As dramatic agents of biological change pandemics resemble tsunamis or bombs. They can wash over continents changing political arrangements, religious beliefs, artistic endeavours and economic habits.

Or they can blow up fossilized institutions and destabilize political dynasties.

In the past they have stopped wars and started them. Pandemics have the energy to rattle and even collapse civilizations. Think of them as mighty and uncertain biological recalibrations.

As COVID-19 provokes the usual spate of plague behaviours (fear, dread, generosity and compassion) it is worth remembering that pandemics remain critical and immutable social forces that shape our lives. They paralyze and disrupt. They reveal and renew. Here then are 10 characteristics that the global economy and its elites have mostly ignored about the energy of pandemics:

1. Pandemics are one of four biblical horsemen that give meaning to our lives and shape human history.

The White Horse represents the word of God or truth. The Red Horse symbolizes the power of the state over peace and war. The Black Horse, for good and ill, commands the busts and booms of economics and famines. Last but not least, comes the Fourth Horseman. It represents the disquieting influence of microbial life and pestilence. As I noted in my book The Fourth Horseman nearly 30 years ago, we don’t like to think that we are a part of history anymore, but we are walking memories of past plagues.

2. Pandemics may appear as random events, but are really the product of cultivated vulnerabilities by different civilizations at different times.

Homo sapiens have a long history of provoking plagues with overcrowding, dirty water, deforestation, poor nutrition, ruinous poverty, soil erosion and novel agricultural practices.

Influenza, for example, started to unsettle the globe when Chinese farmers added ducks to rice paddies to control insects in the 16th century. That single change put avian viruses in close proximity to pigs, which helped the virus jump to humans.

3. So-called “non-pharmaceutical interventions” such as hand washing, social isolation and the banning of crowds can dramatically slow the spread of a viral plague.

In contrast vaccines and drugs rarely arrive on the scene until the pandemic has waned. In fact material changes in human behaviour, housing, nutrition and hygiene have always had the most impact on slowing or stopping plagues.

The experiences of COVID-19 in South Korea and Italy illustrates how rapid changes in human behaviour can alter outcomes.

As of March 14 South Korea had 67 deaths. Meanwhile Italy has lost more than 1,266 citizens, a death rate of seven per cent for those known infected, much higher than South Korea’s.

4. Pandemics invite a rude parade of blame, conspiracies and religious zealotry.

As waves of plague undid Europe fearful authorities scapegoated Jews for spreading the Black Death. (They practiced better hygiene and therefore were suspect by the afflicted.) During the industrial revolution working people thought that the rich had invented cholera to murder the poor.

In scores of riots they attacked the rich, hospitals and doctors. When the Spanish flu pandemic hit Africa, white South Africans blamed blacks for the mounting death toll because blacks worked in the most crowded and appalling work places. That blame eventually morphed into a noxious political policy: apartheid.

COVID-19, of course, initially directed a surge of racism against Chinese citizens even though the virus probably did not originate in Wuhan’s wet market as widely reported.  The market merely spread the virus.

582px version of COVID-modest-proposal.jpg
A poster created by one of Spain’s most famous cartoonists, Miguel Brieva.
5. Global trade has always played a formidable role in disease exchanges.

The Silk Road brought rats and fleas to 13th-century Europe resulting in a demographic collapse in which one in four people died.  The slave trade bombarded two continents with epidemics. Waves of cholera epidemics followed European trade routes from the Ganges Delta to the slums of major cities. Global steamship traffic dutifully carried influenza around the world and played a key role in spreading the deadly Spanish flu pandemic.

6. Each and every pandemic leaves a unique and unpredictable legacy.

The Black Death killed so many people that feudal landlords were forced to increase wages and decrease rents to keep labour.  The die-off also changed humankind’s relationship with God and nature.

In the 17th century syphilis changed sexual politics between men and women and public baths fell out of fashion. Tuberculosis epidemics illuminated the perils of homeless and forced migrations. And so on.

7. As great disturbances in human affairs, pandemics invariably unsettle and change economies.

Smallpox emptied the Americas and allowed Spain to loot the region of its gold and silver. Smallpox also played a major role in shaping the ebb and flow of Canada’s bloody fur trade by dramatically killing off entire First Nations on the plains.

The Spanish Flu of 1918 to 1919 killed at least 50 million people and erased five per cent of global gross domestic production. Ebola ate up 10 per cent of the GDP of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea in 2014 and 2015. COVID-19 likely will be the costliest pandemic due to the complexity and fragility of globalization.

Some pandemics undo economies with mass die-offs but in most modern cases it is the fear of infection that bleeds financial systems.

8. Pandemics rudely outline weaknesses and faults in political leadership. Good leaders lessen their impacts while incompetent leaders add to the gravity.

President Woodrow Wilson was so focused on the First World War that he ignored repeated warnings about influenza and its impact on Atlantic troop movements to the Western Front. At the end of the war Canadian and U.S. authorities knowingly put sick troops on cramped ships with poor ventilation. As a result the flu killed 675,000 Americans while the trench warfare claimed but 53,000 U.S. soldiers.

President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa didn’t think HIV was caused by a virus and thousands died.

President Donald Trump, who initially accused his political rivals of perpetrating a “hoax” when they warned his administration wasn’t doing enough about COVID-19, failed to prepare the United States with adequate testing and containment.  Then, saying “I take no responsibility at all,” he falsely blamed the Obama administration for inadequate testing kits.

9. Pandemics are rarely equal opportunity events.

They might scare everyone but they don’t kill everyone: They tend to target the poor, the vulnerable and those wounded by bad health.

The Black Death struck down both rich and poor but really focused on the malnourished and the frail.

Smallpox became a terror for Indigenous Peoples because they had no immunity to this novel Old World virus. During the Spanish flu members of First Nations died at rates seven times higher than British Columbia’s provincial average.

Cholera primarily dogged the working class. HIV initially targeted marginalized communities: gay men and drug users. Ebola affected the poorest of the poor. To date COVID-19 seems to affect the elderly and unwell disproportionately.

10. Ultimately, pandemics invite us to question disturbances in the human family.

COVID-19, for example, could provoke challenges to the unsustainable complexity of technological life as well as the deadly biological traffic in all living organisms on a planet now crowded by eight billion people. We might, after the storm has passed, question the vulnerability of monocultures and the globalization of everything.

Long after the monotony of deprivation and separation, the survivors of pandemics will kiss and hold their loved ones with a new appreciation. They might light candles, true plague light, and offer prayers of thanksgiving.

The humbled will be thankful, as author of The Plague Albert Camus once was, for what pandemics have always taught those receptive to biological instruction: “There are more things to admire in men than to despise.”  [Tyee] SOURCE


Anatomy of a Pandemic

Like major contagions throughout history, the new coronavirus causes fear as well as illness. The remedy for both, it turns out, is the same


TO BE ALIVE is to be afraid; anxiety is the spirit of this age and, substantially, of all ages. However good things have gotten, at least for those of us in Canada—however low crime and unemployment rates have become, however much war deaths have declined, life expectancy has grown, or HIV, cancer, and age-adjusted heart disease death rates have shrunk—disquiet claws at us. Financiers may advise that what they call the downside risk—the potential for loss in the worst cases—is limited, but at an existential level, we know better. Everything could just go all to hell, no matter how shiny things look. You don’t need to be a wigged-out prepper in the woods to suspect it.

Things have always gone all to hell. Over 4,000 years ago, climate change came to Mesopotamia, causing drought and a subsequent famine so severe that the world’s first empire, Akkad, simply ceased to be. Farmers abandoned their crops and many scribes just stopped writing. For archaeologists, for the next 300 years: near silence.

This is from The Curse of Akkad, written around the time of the silencing:

Those who lay down on the roof, died on the roof; those who lay down in the house were not buried. People were flailing at themselves from hunger. By the Ki-ur, Enlil’s great place, dogs were packed together in the silent streets; if two men walked there they would be devoured by them, and if three men walked there they would be devoured by them.

In the third century, the Three Kingdoms war shattered China. The An Lushan Rebellion, five centuries later, shattered it again. Millions died in each of: the Mongol conquests, the nineteenth century’s Taiping Rebellion, colonialism in the Americas, the Thirty Years’ War in Europe—and, of course, the World Wars, which killed, conservatively, over 110 million.

Famine and war routinely bring civilizations low, but though he trots closely beside those two, the horseman who carries off the most has always been pestilence. The Roman Empire’s Justinian Plague, which was perhaps history’s first known pandemic, is thought to have killed millions in the sixth century and may have further stressed the weakening imperium. Procopius writes contemporaneously that death rates in Constantinople were as high as 10,000 per day:

And many perished through lack of any man to care for them, for they were either overcome by hunger, or threw themselves down from a height. And in those cases where neither coma nor delirium came on, the bubonic swelling became mortified and the sufferer, no longer able to endure the pain, died.

This was humanity’s first catastrophic involvement with Yersinia pestis, the bacterium that would resurface again during the Black Death, killing 30 to 60 percent of the population of medieval Europe. Western Europe’s population would not reach what it had been in the 1340s again until the beginning of the sixteenth century. In subsequent centuries, cholera also swept the urbanized world—crowding being a powerful accelerant for non–vector borne (that is, not insect- or snail-spread) infection. (Paleolithic peoples saw no sustained human-to-human infections; their numbers were too small to keep up chains of transmission.) What John Bunyan called the “captain of all these men of death,” tuberculosis, has been with us for at least 9,000 years, since the Neolithic period, and has killed more than a billion humans in the last 200 years alone. It was responsible for 25 percent of all deaths in Europe between the 1600s and the 1800s. It remains the most lethal infection worldwide, killing about 1.5 million people a year, and currently infects one-third of living humans.

Those infections are bacterial, but history’s worst pandemic was caused by a virus that swept the world only a long lifetime ago: the misnamed “Spanish” flu of 1918–1920 was a strain of H1N1 influenza of unknown origin (any place where pigs and chickens and people live is a candidate). That illness was often complicated by a supervening bacterial pneumonia, for which there were then no antibiotics, and it spread around the world over the course of two years, ultimately killing 20 to 50 million. It killed, on average, 2.5 percent of the people it infected, but certain communities were hit much harder: about 7 percent of Iranians died, a third of Inuit in Labrador, and 20 percent of the Samoan population.

In The Great Influenza, historian John M. Barry quotes an American Red Cross worker: “Not one of the neighbors would come in and help. I . . . telephoned the woman’s sister. She came and tapped on the window, but refused to talk to me until she had gotten a safe distance away.” Barry continues: “In Perry County, Kentucky, the Red Cross chapter chairman begged for help, pleaded that there were ‘hundreds of cases . . . [of] people starving to death not from lack of food but because the well were panic stricken and would not go near the sick.’”

Contagion may be a leading cause of death, but the worst thing it ever does is prompt us to recoil from one another—much the greater injury: to our health, to our communities, to whatever it is that stands in the way of this slouching beast.

This January and February, things started looking like they could again go all to hell. (They may yet.) Wuhan, in the province of Hubei, China, is a transportation hub of 11 million built where the Yangtze and Huan Rivers meet. In December, patients began presenting, in steadily increasing numbers, with symptoms and clinical findings suggestive of viral pneumonia. (Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs; it may be caused by viruses, bacteria, or fungi.) Tests for known pathogens capable of causing such an illness came back negative. This raised the question of whether a novel pathogen—an infectious agent not previously known to affect humans—had emerged.

A person in full-body protective gear looks at his shadow on the wall, which is a robed figure in a broad hat and a plague mask with a long beak.

Novel pathogens inspire a particularly pointed sort of anxiety among doctors. Many familiar pathogens are lethal on a broad scale—influenza caused over 34,000 deaths in the US in 2018/19, for instance—but their behaviour is known and tends to be consistent. Seasonal influenza, for example, is active in the northern hemisphere beginning in November; its spread slows dramatically by late March. It is monitored carefully and understood well enough that vaccines may be prepared that are usually effective at reducing disease incidence and severity. We know how to contain this virus, we know which patients will be the most vulnerable to it, and we know, within an order of magnitude, how many will die. The ceiling on that number matters. While the best-case scenario for influenza each year includes many deaths, we also have an idea of what the worst-case scenario is. The downside risk is not infinite.

With novel pathogens, this is not true. The worst-case scenario is undefined. Novel pathogens are not inevitably virulent or necessarily prone to become epidemic, but some of them do prove to be catastrophic—and doctors don’t know, when one emerges, what course it’s going to take.

The number of ill in Wuhan grew quickly, as did the number of medical researchers paying attention. On December 31, China notified the World Health Organization (WHO) that it was seeing an outbreak of pneumonia due to an unknown agent. By January 7, Chinese virologists had sequenced the genetic structure of this new virus—which has been dubbed SARS-CoV-2 (the illness that it causes is called COVID-19)—posting it online so that researchers around the world could access it. A few days later, an apparent connection to the Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market, in Wuhan, was reported to the WHO, and the market was quickly ordered to close. On March 11, following growing transmission in countries around the world, the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic, which it defines as “the worldwide spread of a new disease.”

The virus was found to be part of the family of Coronaviridae, or coronaviruses: a large group of viruses that are so named because, when examined with an electron microscope, they appear studded with projections that suggest a crown. Benign instances of coronaviruses cause up to a third of common colds. A more alarming example is the SARS virus, which leapt from an unknown agent (likely bats) to civet cats and caused a multinational outbreak, killing about 10 percent of the 8,000 people it infected, and which hit Toronto, where forty-four people died of the illness. Another coronavirus leapt from camels to humans in 2012 or earlier and causes a type of pneumonia called MERS, or Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome, which persists in Saudi Arabia. These new coronaviruses are zoonotic: they originated in animal populations and were then transmitted to humans. Researchers concluded early on that SARS-CoV-2’s leap to humans had occurred quite recently, likely sometime last November.

The story of this pandemic is, in many ways, a story about speed. HIV circulated among humans for about six decades before it was noticed. The quickness with which science has identified this new infection and defined the genetic nature of the virus causing it is unprecedented, but this is matched by the virus itself: the rapidity with which it was observed to leap to humans and the rate at which it was seen to disseminate among us has almost no parallel in modern medicine.

Everything about this story is fast: the science, the virus, and the almost instantaneous popular fascination with and fear of unfolding events—spread by social media but also by traditional journalism and a public sensitized by Ebola and 2009 H1N1. The spirit of our age anticipates disaster when once it anticipated flying cars. For a time after 9/11, every loud noise was a bomb and every brown man a bomber. The disasters of our time have been mostly human caused (or anthropogenic, as the climatologists put it). Given human obduracy, this is less reassuring than it might be.

The Chinese government’s information management around the COVID-19 outbreak worsened our general unease. China has been more forthcoming than it was with the 2003 SARS outbreak, but even so, it has not been broadly transparent. Frustration over this among the citizenry crystallized over the treatment of Li Wenliang, a thirty-four-year-old ophthalmologist in Wuhan who alerted his former medical-school classmates to the outbreak, on December 30, over WeChat, the Chinese messaging and social media platform. After being summoned for questioning by police and signing a statement that his warning had “disturbed [the] social order,” he was released—only to come down with COVID-19 himself, dying of it on February 7. The indignation and anger on Chinese social media was uncharacteristically plain-spoken.

The early clampdown on information had many repercussions. Echo Xie, a reporter for the South China Morning Post, travelled to Wuhan in the first weeks of the outbreak. As recently as late January, she told me, “a lot of people didn’t take it seriously. It’s been almost twenty days since the Wuhan health authorities first published information about the coronavirus, but some people still haven’t heard about it.” She went on to describe some of the people she had met:

A woman surnamed Xu, thirty-one, said her father, her brother-in-law, and a family friend had all developed severe pneumonia and breathing problems. Her father had caught a fever in early January, after a business trip to the southern region of Guangxi. He was treated for a common cold at first, but his condition kept worsening. He went to the hospital on January 12, where he was not formally admitted as the hospital had no beds left; he was instead put in an observation room—one that he shared with eleven other patients with different illnesses, with no partitions separating beds. An X-ray showed his lungs were infected, but at that time, he could still walk. On January 19, when he got another X-ray, three doctors told Xu that her father was in a very serious situation and there was a large area of shadow on his lungs. Still, he was kept in the same room as others, without quarantine facilities.

                                                                                                                                           People were asking for help online when almost every hospital was full and no longer accepting any new patients. Yuan Yuhong, a professor in Wuhan, posted on WeChat: “Parents of my son-in-law were infected by the coronavirus and they were diagnosed, but now no hospital accepts them.”

SEVERE VIRAL pneumonias are a familiar problem to intensive care units all over the world, and the level of resources that must be devoted to the care of such patients is high, often straining existing health care structures even with the comparatively low numbers of such patients that are usual most years. ICU care is expensive, costing more than $1,500 per day, and maintaining surge capacity—the ability to respond to an abrupt increase in caseload—is correspondingly expensive. And so, little elasticity exists in most Western medical systems, including Canada’s.

The H1N1 influenza strain of 2009 (commonly referred to at the time as “swine flu”) is perhaps the most recent outbreak in Canada that can give a sense of what COVID-19 would be like if it spread here in earnest. Intensive care units were profoundly taxed with patients who had needs that were similar to those of the most serious COVID-19 cases. Supporting critically ill patients—those in multisystem organ failure—requires ventilator support, dialysis, and one-to-one or sometimes even two-to-one nursing staff. It takes only a few such cases to stretch an ICU and its staff, together with allied disciplines, such as respiratory therapists, to their limits, or past them.

In the intensive care unit where I work as a critical care physician, in Nanaimo, on Vancouver Island, we began seeing such patients in late December 2009; by January, we were consistently over capacity. Nanaimo is a medium-size city of just over 100,000, and the Nanaimo hospital has nine ICU beds—a little fewer than the national average of about 12.9 beds per 100,000 people. In such a setting, even a handful of extra patients requiring high-level care can put unsustainable pressure on the system. And it did. By March, the nurses, who had worked long overtime hours for months, were spent.

Those days had a frenetic quality to them that lingers in the memory of clinicians. Usually, the patients were admitted through the emergency room after several days of fever and coughing—familiar symptoms of influenza, which progresses just as COVID-19 progresses. When pneumonia supervenes, breathlessness is the most common indication that things are going badly. This is a consequence of inflammation in the lungs limiting their ability to transfer oxygen to the blood and to permit the exhalation of carbon dioxide.

With respiratory distress comes confusion and agitation; if that distress becomes severe, there may be a decision to sedate and intubate the patient—to pass a plastic tube into the trachea in order to force oxygen into the lungs and facilitate the removal of CO2. The tube is connected to a ventilator and the pressures and volumes of oxygen-enriched air are titrated to adequately support lung function without overdistending the lungs—a narrow window with patients so sick. People with severe pneumonia are often laid prone, on their fronts, in their beds, usually chemically paralyzed and sedated to the point of anaesthesia. Special intravenous catheters will have been placed by this point, leading to the large veins that drain into the heart, to facilitate the administration of powerful medicines to support blood pressure. Dialysis catheters may also be necessary if the kidneys are failing, and that, in turn, will usually be treated with continuous dialysis machines, requiring a dedicated nurse and the help of kidney doctors.

That process of stabilization and the initiation of life support systems will occupy a physician, a respiratory tech, and three or four nurses for one to three hours, when it goes well. Three such admissions would fill a day—in addition to the care required for other patients, with heart attacks and abdominal infections and injuries from car accidents, which do not go away during a pandemic—and still leave our ICU short a dialysis machine.

This is what clinicians know: a few dozen extra cases—each of which may require many weeks of care—in a winter can be overwhelming. It is impossible to even imagine how hundreds or thousands of such cases would be managed.

In retrospect, after 2009 H1N1—as well as after SARS and the other recent near misses, to say nothing of the fifteen-century history of pandemics—the surprising thing is how little was done subsequently to prepare for the next disastrous outbreak. There are not boxes full of spare ventilators in the basements of North American hospitals, ordered in volume once H1N1 subsided. There are not broadly understood and detailed plans for coping with the toll of caregiver infection, for housing and feeding the many new staff the medical and ICU wards would suddenly require; personal protective gear has not been stockpiled in anything like sufficient quantities—indeed, according to Tedros Ghebreyesus, director general of the WHO, worldwide supplies are already under severe strain.

AS MUCH AS the COVID-19 story is about speed, it is also about fear. Frightened people behave badly; contagion makes them recoil from one another. This serves the purposes of the horseman, distracting from important problems and their solutions and making marginalized people—some of whom seem often to be deemed culpable for epidemics—even more vulnerable. Plagues preferentially consume, whether directly or indirectly, the poor and powerless; it is a taste they have exhibited since Procopius.

As a barometer of fear and social dissolution in pandemics, othering has a long history; contagion has, for centuries, been associated with disparaged minorities. The Black Death certainly did not inaugurate anti-Semitism, but there is evidence that it propelled it to new depths. More than 200 Jewish communities were wiped out by pogroms justified by the libel that Jews were responsible for the plague in that they had poisoned local wells. There is a terrible account in Jakob von Königshofen’s history of Agimet of Geneva, a Jew who was “put to the torture a little” until he confessed to having poisoned wells in Venice, Calabria, and Apulia, among others. This became a narrative that accompanied the plague as it moved throughout Western Europe.

A similar othering effort was applied to gay and bisexual men when HIV was first recognized, attributing the HIV pandemic directly to sexual practices and indirectly to drug use (particularly amyl nitrate, or “poppers”) that lowered inhibitions—which is to say, to the queer “lifestyle.” Bathhouse culture was implicated—as if promiscuity were only the province of gay men—as was intercourse between men.

The new coronavirus, it has been suggested, arose and became epidemic among humans in China because of the Chinese themselves. Chinese dietary customs were singled out early—though any sort of explanation would likely have served. In the first days of the outbreak, a clip from a 2016 travel show of a young Chinese YouTube celebrity eating bat soup in a restaurant on the Pacific island of Palau was widely circulated. (Throughout much of Oceania, bats—the only native mammal species to many of the Pacific islands—have long been considered a delicacy.) This was presented as evidence of the unnatural behaviour of the Chinese, which was in turn held to be the proximate cause of the epidemic. The response was disgust and contempt and a chorus of self-righteous disdain—just as is intended when malicious stereotypes are circulated in such situations.

Alongside these noxious comments, a competing—and equally racist—account of COVID-19 began circulating. A paper—later retracted—was distributed prior to peer review arguing that SARS-CoV-2 had such “uncanny” genetic commonality with HIV that it was probably bioengineered, presumably by the Chinese, who have a microbiology lab located in the Wuhan Institute of Virology. This fringe theory (the genetic sequences in question aren’t just in common with HIV but with many other viruses) was repeatedly espoused by Tom Cotton, a Republican senator from Arkansas. (He later walked back the claim.)

Sinophobia has acted at a more local level as well. During the height of the 2003 SARS outbreak, business at Chinese restaurants in Toronto dropped by 40 to 80 percent. Restaurateurs in Chinatowns across Canada were seeing customers stay away before the epidemic had even arrived. And, in January, parents in a school board just north of Toronto signed a petition demanding that a student who had recently travelled to China not be admitted to school; it now has just over 10,000 signatures. “This has to stop. Stop eating wild animals and then infecting everyone around you. Stop the spread and quarantine yourselves or go back,” wrote one signatory.

THE MEASURE of a plague is the number of people it infects and how seriously it sickens them. The number of people it’s expected to infect multiplied by its mortality rate yields its prospective death toll. And this, naturally, is the question that draws the most attention: How bad is it going to get? How many are going to die? What are the numbers? People seek numbers in times of uncertainty because it feels like they have a solidity about them. A quantified subject is a tamed one, to some extent.

The R0, or the basic reproductive number, is a tool that allows epidemiologists to describe how contagious a pathogen is in a given circumstance. It is the average number of people who will in turn be infected by each new infection. If it is less than 1, the infection dwindles. More than 1, it spreads. Regular seasonal flu has an R0 of about 1.4; pandemic flu between 1.5 and 2, depending on the strain. Some early calculations estimated COVID-19’s R0 to be as high as 4, but as with the mortality rate, successive estimations moderated the result, and by mid-February, most experts estimated it at between 2 and 2.5. Which remains high compared to influenza but is hardly unprecedented. Measles, in unvaccinated and crowded populations, can be as high as 18.

Other numbers are needed to understand how fatal a pathogen is. A point made often, early in the course of COVID-19, was that its mortality rate is much lower than that of SARS (10 percent) or MERS (34 percent). Though it is too soon to pin down the mortality rate of COVID-19, current estimates put it at between 1 and 4 percent. (In Wuhan, where the health care system has clearly been profoundly stressed, it is at the higher end of that range. Elsewhere, the early numbers, at least, have been lower.) This follows known patterns: as a general rule, there is an inverse relationship between mortality and spread; COVID-19 has infected many more people than SARS or MERS and has a lower fatality rate.

Paradoxically, the lower virulence of SARS-CoV-2 makes it more dangerous. With SARS, people who were infected but not yet symptomatic were mostly not contagious. When they did fall ill, they often felt so unwell so quickly that they took to bed or went to the hospital—where they became very contagious. Many nurses were infected, but community spread was limited.

With SARS-CoV-2, it seems that many quite contagious infected people may feel well initially or indeed throughout their infection. Decreased virulence is bought at the price of increased contagiousness, and even if infected people are a quarter as likely to die, ten times as many people have been infected, and many more infections are yet to occur. The Spanish Flu’s fatality rate was under 2.5 percent; the WHO believes it killed about 50 million, though some other estimates go as high as 100 million. Seasonal influenza’s fatality rate is generally accepted to be about 0.1 percent—though it, too, is lethal, killing tens of thousands of North Americans every year as a consequence of how widespread it becomes every winter.

There are reasons for optimism and reasons for pessimism.

One point that needs more emphasis is that epidemics have diminished in much of the Global North for good reason. There has not been an uncontained and uncontainable epidemic on the scale of 1918 in over a century. This is only partly because of specific antibiotics, antiviral therapy (for viruses like HIV and hepatitis C), and vaccines. A large part of this is due to affluence and, to a qualified and recently diminishing degree, justice. The poor in the rich parts of the world no longer often die of hunger. For a majority, drinking water is cleaner. The crowding and misery of Dickensian London saw tuberculosis become the leading cause of death among adults; over the course of the twentieth century, that death toll fell 90 percent. Streptomycin, the first effective antituberculosis antibiotic, was made available in 1947, but there was a huge drop in infections prior to that due to improvements in quality of life. There had been some redistribution of wealth, and the very poorest were less poor than they had been. Tuberculosis in most of Canada is almost gone. But, in Nunavut, which has Canada’s highest poverty rate, the incidence was recently comparable to Somalia’s.

Part of this reduction in illness is also due to the sustained efforts of public health workers. Public health measures work. They worked to contain SARS in Toronto in 2003. Identifying and isolating infected and contagious people reduced the R0 to less than 1. The discipline of public health lacks the drama of the Salk polio vaccine or effective antiretroviral therapy, but it has saved countless lives nonetheless. It may be just beginning to work in Wuhan. Within a few weeks of the outbreak, there was a test for the virus. In a few weeks more, there may be a much more rapid and convenient test, perhaps available at the point of care, which would make isolation measures much more effective.

But the reasons for anxiety are compelling too. A vaccine is at least a year away. There is no drug with proven efficacy against the virus. As of this writing, the virus is present in more than 100 countries. There are nearly 8 billion humans on the planet; the next largest population of nondomesticated large mammals is the crabeater seal, around Antarctica: 15 million. We live, worldwide, mostly in cities and now in densities that make us profoundly vulnerable. As Michael Specter, writing presciently in The New Yorker about pandemics, has pointed out, few of us can completely isolate ourselves—and, in Wuhan, the lockdown cannot continue indefinitely. In other parts of the world, where the central government is less powerful, it could not even be initiated. People need food; people need medicine; people need one another.

Nothing important about us and our success as a species can be understood except by looking at our interdependencies. If many of us could not come to work—because of sickness, because of the need to care for loved ones, or because of mandated social-distancing—then the fabric of our society would begin to tear. Transportation networks would fail; airports would cease to operate. Human beings are ambivalent about their interdependence. To need others is to be vulnerable; when we’re under threat, vulnerability elicits fear.

Despite our hopes, and despite the unprecedented quarantine, COVID-19 was not contained in Wuhan as SARS, improbably, was contained and extirpated in Toronto and the other cities it broke out in. The Wuhan lockdown did slow the epidemic, however, and relieved the pressure on the city’s health care system, which was failing.

Now, the rest of us brace for a version of what the Chinese experienced. We must now contemplate how much we need one another. The instinct to recoil would be the worst possible response because doing so would ensure that the most vulnerable among us are consumed. And, in a pandemic, that injury would not be purely moral or social—though it would be those too. It would feed the contagion, overwhelm the hospitals, and increase the risk to the less vulnerable. Rarely is the argument for mutual devotion so easily made.

It might be that that this pandemic will turn out less severe than what is feared; it might be that the winter spike in Wuhan will not be replicated elsewhere. But, even if we contain this virus, there will be another. And this point, that some threats can be faced only collectively, will remain. We have to learn it. SOURCE


We know this script’: Naomi Klein warns of ‘coronavirus capitalism’ in new video detailing battle before us

In a new video from The Intercept, author and activist Naomi Klein explains how the Trump administration and other governments across the globe are “exploiting” the coronavirus outbreak “to push for no-strings-attached corporate bailouts and regulatory rollbacks,” and urges working people worldwide to resist such efforts and demand real support from political leaders during the ongoing crisis.

Klein, author of the 2007 book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, notes that President Donald Trump has pushed for a payroll tax cut that could bankrupt Social Security; promised help to major polluters like airlines, cruise companies, and fossil fuel firms that are driving climate disruption; and met with executives of private health insurance companies—in the words of Klein, “the very ones who have made sure that so many Americans cannot afford the care they need.”

“Look, we know this script. In 2008, the last time we had a global financial meltdown, the same kinds of bad ideas for no-strings-attached corporate bailouts carried the day, and regular people around the world paid the price,” says Klein. “We know what Trump’s plan is: a pandemic shock doctrine featuring all the most dangerous ideas lying around, from privatizing Social Security to locking down borders to caging even more migrants. Hell, he might even try canceling elections. But the end of this story hasn’t been written yet.”

“Instead of rescuing the dirty industries of the last century, we should be boosting the clean ones that will lead us into safety in the coming century,” Klein says, pointing to the Green New Deal. “If there is one thing history teaches us, it’s that moments of shock are profoundly volatile. We either lose a whole lot of ground, get fleeced by elites, and pay the price for decades, or we win progressive victories that seemed impossible just a few weeks earlier. This is no time to lose our nerve.”

Klein also discussed the COVID-19 pandemic on the Tuesday episode of Intercepted, a podcast hosted by The Intercept co-founder Jeremy Scahill.


Tribunal orders Canada to compensate parents who lost children in care

Kenneth Jackson
The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ordered Canada Monday to pay the estates of children who died in the on-reserve child welfare system which federal lawyers had argued didn’t qualify for compensation.

This also includes the estates of children that died waiting for medical services that should have been covered under Jordan’s Principle.

Canada had argued in part that the estates of children couldn’t face discrimination, so therefore didn’t qualify for compensation.

Monday’s ruling comes after the tribunal first ordered Canada on Sept. 6 to compensate First Nation children who were removed from their homes and put in a purposely underfunded child welfare system between 2006 to present day. It awarded $40,000 each, the maximum the tribunal is allowed.

The tribunal also ordered Canada on Monday to compensate children who went into care prior to Jan. 1, 2006 but remained in care as of that date, which Canada was also opposing.

“This ruling is such good news for First Nations children and families and comes at a time when the world needs to know justice can pierce through the most difficult of times,” said Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society that first filed the human rights complaint in Feb. 2007, along with the Assembly of First Nations.

The tribunal found Canada guilty Jan. 26, 2016 and since then has faced nine non-compliance orders.

“I am so grateful that children in care as of January 1, 2006 who suffered the discrimination and their caregivers will be compensated along with the estates of children and caregivers who died before they could receive the compensation that could have offered small measure of justice for them,” said Blackstock.

Since December Canada and Blackstock, along with the AFN, have been in talks to develop a compensation framework on how Canada would comply with the compensation order.

But federal lawyers argued only children that died after Oct. 24, 2014 were entitled for compensation, which is when final arguments were made at tribunal over the complaint. Canada was opposing compensation for the estates of children prior to that date.

Canada did win one challenge Monday, which will see children receive their compensation at the age of majority of their province or territory, which in this case only includes Yukon.

Cindy Blackstock

Breaking GOOD news! The Tribunal has just ruled in favour of First Nations children and caregivers on key issues regarding compensation for Canada’s discrimination. Read the order below- reasons to follow.

View image on Twitter
Canada has filed several appeals throughout this fight and most recently last fall in Federal Court. It’s judicial order to quash the compensation is still outstanding.

APTN News asked Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller if Canada intends to drop the judicial review but his office didn’t directly address the matter.

“Our focus remains on finding an equitable, fair and comprehensive settlement on compensation that will ensure long-term benefits for those individuals harmed by past government policies and their families, and support community healing,” said spokesperson Vanessa Adams in a statement.

“While we maintain that there are real and substantial issues with the CHRT’s order as written, we engaged with the parties in the spirit of collaboration and openness, and as ordered by the CHRT. Working together, our Government, the First Nations Caring Society, and the Assembly of First Nations have achieved important progress, and we remain fully committed to moving forward on compensation in a respectful way.”

Blackstock said she hoped the government accepts the tribunal’s ruling.

“I plead with the Government of Canada to not appeal this decision at a time when First Nations children and families and their allies need good news and we are all reminded of the sacredness of life and family,” said Blackstock.

Jordan’s Principle is a child-first principle named after Jordan River Anderson, a First Nations boy from Norway House Cree Nation who died waiting for medical care while the federal and provincial governments argued over who should pay for it.

The tribunal also ruled in January 2016 Canada was responsible for Jordan’s Principle and needed to properly fund it. SOURCE

View: Get ready. A bigger disruption is coming

The Covid-19 pandemic reflects a systemic crisis similar to the seminal crashes of the 20th century.

The front page of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle proclaimed ‘Wall St. In Panic As Stocks Crash’ on the day of the initial Wall Street crash, ‘Black Thursday’, Oct. 24, 1929. (FPG/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

As global supply chains break, airlines slash flights, borders rise within nation-states, stock exchanges convulse with fear, and recession looms over economies, from China to Germany, Australia to the United States, we can no longer doubt that we are living through extraordinary times.

As global supply chains break, airlines slash flights, borders rise within nation-states, stock exchanges convulse with fear, and recession looms over economies, from China to Germany, Australia to the United States, we can no longer doubt that we are living through extraordinary times.

What remains in question, however, is our ability to comprehend them while using a vocabulary derived from decades when globalization seemed a fact of nature, like air and wind. For the coronavirus signals a radical transformation, of the kind that occurs once in a century, shattering previous assumptions.

In fact, the last such churning occurred almost exactly a century ago, and it altered the world so dramatically that a revolution in the arts, sciences and philosophy, not to mention the discipline of economics, was needed even to make sense of it.

The opening years of the 20th century, too, were defined by a free global market for goods, capital and labour. This was when, as John Maynard Keynes famously reminisced, “the inhabitant of London could order by telephone, sipping his morning tea in bed, the various products of the whole earth.”

This maker as well as consumer of global capitalism could invest “his wealth in the natural resources and new enterprises of any quarter of the world.” He could also “secure forthwith, if he wished it, cheap and comfortable means of transit to any country or climate without passport or other formality. MORE

How measures to contain COVID-19 may clash with Canadians’ Charter rights

With Canada facing a pandemic that puts the health of millions potentially at risk, and governments imposing stringent measures, questions are being raised about what role constitutional rights play in times of crisis, and whether governments have the manoeuvring room to protect society. Sean Fine looks at the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in dangerous times.

Q: What powers do governments have for this crisis?

A: Widespread quarantine powers, the ability to close borders, restrict the movement of goods and people, close buildings and even order individuals to seek treatment. New powers were developed after the SARS crisis of 2003 left provinces realizing they lacked the legal authority for health emergencies.

Q: Does Canada need the Charter at a time of such peril?

A: More than ever, constitutional scholars say, to ensure the country does not abandon its principles such as protection of the vulnerable. “The Charter is there to stop decisions that are entirely fear-based and speculative,” says Michael Bryant, chief executive officer of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, and a former Ontario attorney-general. For instance, if a province attempted to quarantine Asian-Canadians or Asian visitors in the beginning stages, the move would have been vulnerable to a constitutional challenge, he said.

Q: How flexible is the Charter in taking a health emergency into account?

A: Section 1 can impose reasonable limits on fundamental freedoms. But it needs to justify those limits on the basis of evidence, if challenged in court. What’s reasonable depends on the context and situation, says University of Ottawa law professor Carissima Mathen. Also, Section 33, the notwithstanding clause, allows the government to opt out of fundamental freedoms. But the federal government has never invoked it.

Q: In what specific situations does the question of reasonable limits arise in the current emergency?

A: Bail hearings may be unavailable to accused persons, as most courts have closed many of their operations down, Mr. Bryant says. The Charter contains a right to timely bail, and federal law spells out how quickly such hearings need to be held. “In those circumstances I think they have to be released. They haven’t been convicted of a crime – there’s no legal authority to detain them.” He said he has been visiting jails and speaking to corrections officials and criminal defence lawyers to get a sense of what is happening to bail rights.

Q: What about Canadians who are symptomatic, and are now barred from entering Canada on an airplane, a decision of the federal government?

A: Section 6 of the Charter says, “Every citizen of Canada has the right to enter, remain in and leave Canada.” The notwithstanding clause doesn’t apply to this section, underlining the importance of the right. The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act also guarantees that same right not only to citizens but to permanent residents. The federal Quarantine Act contains measures that, on their face, are in conflict with the Charter and the IRPA, Mr. Bryant says. Thus, the CCLA has put the message out on social media for Canadians in this situation, or those trying to visit symptomatic Canadian relatives abroad, to contact them. “Right now it seems to be the area of constitutional vulnerability,” Mr. Bryant said. However, Prof. Mathen said, “there is at least an argument that if you’re actively showing symptoms of a highly contagious condition, any government probably has a reasonable basis for saying, ‘We cannot permit you to board an aircraft.’ ”

Q: What constitutional issues would there be with the emergency powers declared by Ontario Premier Doug Ford on Tuesday, such as limiting places of worship to gatherings of 50 people, or ordering restaurants closed?

A: If the worship limit were challenged in court, the government would likely have to show it’s a minimal intrusion on freedom of religion in the circumstances, Mr. Bryant said. On the closing of restaurants, Prof. Mathen said there is no right to earn money in the Charter, and no property rights, unlike in the U.S. Constitution. Only if the limits had the effect of starving people, she said, would they have a constitutional case under Section 7, the right to life, liberty and personal security.

Q: Can governments actually limit the right to life, liberty and security?

A: Only in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice, as Section 7 puts it. But no more than that, at least so far. Nothing the Supreme Court has ever found fundamentally unjust under Section 7 (such as a ban on medical assistance in dying) has ever been ruled a “reasonable” limit under Section 1. But the court has said that war, insurrection or disease could allow for such a possibility.

Q: What might the Charter (and the courts, if a challenge arrived) have to say about a citywide or even countrywide quarantine?

A: It would be seen as a sweeping move, and require a justification based on evidence of peril, perhaps including evidence that many people were not obeying social-distancing directives. “I’m not saying it would be impossible,” Prof. Mathen said. “I think the courts generally permit the government a fair bit of latitude to say, ‘In our judgment, this is the risk, and we need to be able to manage the risk.’ ” But it would be tricky. SOURCE