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COVID-19: A Tale of Four Countries (Germany, Sweden, Russia, Brazil)

On April 17, I did a blog post looking at how four countries besides Canada and the United States were doing in their struggle against the pandemic.  Here’s an update on their situation. As with us and our southern neighbour, it’s a bit of a good news/bad news story. First, the good news.

Germany On April 17, Germany’s case load and death toll stood at 143,685 and 4352. As of today at noon, the totals are 178,170 and 8213. As I noted in my previous post, while Germany hasn’t necessarily outperformed other European countries such as France, United Kingdom and Italy with infections, its death toll continues to be much lower, which has been attributed to a younger patient population and vigorous testing and contact tracing to limit the chance of an outbreak. Now, Germany is taking tentative steps to reopen its society/economy although the government remains alert to the possibility of future outbreaks.

Sweden On the good news/bad news scale, Sweden falls in the middle. Again, as I noted in the earlier post, Sweden has differed from most countries around the world in handling the pandemic in that it didn’t impose as stringent physical distancing and lockdown measures. Conservative pundits have held Sweden up as an example of how a country can balance public health and economic concerns.

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Saskatchewan Environmental Society To Host Webinar Series On Climate Change

Hopping Through The Looking Glass Of Climate Change (photo credit: Wascana Centre in Regina March 8, 2016)

The COVID-19 pandemic may be dominating the news cycle these days, but it’s only a “symptom” of a much broader challenge we face in the coming decade related to the deteriorating state of our environment and climate change.

With everyone practicing physical distancing and society largely shutdown, our fossil fuel use has plummeted, with predictable results — predictable in the sense that there’s been a sharp reduction in our greenhouse gas emissions and other forms of air and water pollution.

While a welcome reprieve from our head-long rush toward climate chaos, the effect is only likely to be temporary, as once the pandemic passes, pressure will ramp up for a return to “normal”.

In the midst of this nature enforced time-out, the Saskatchewan Environmental Society is taking the opportunity to host a series of 11 free webinars on Saskatchewan’s current reality with respect to climate change and potential opportunities for the future.

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COVID-19: Reality Continues To Trump Powerful Political & Economic Interests

When the pandemic first hit the U.S. in mid-March, the projected death toll with physical distancing measures in place was between 100,000 to 240,000. In early April, a more optimistic figure of 60,000 was put forward.

That was based on a University of Washington study.  Whether that figure was ever realistic is hard to know. But in the month since the study was released numerous parties in numerous ways have undermined the effectiveness of physical distancing guidelines. As a result, the U.S. has blown past the projections contained in the model with the infection/death totals standing at 1,333,540 and 79,252 as of noon today.

Since the pandemic started, the idea has been floated that, based on the usual pattern of a typical flu season, the virus might subside over the summer before perhaps returning in the fall. But a recent epidemiological report suggests that might not be the case. If that’s true, who knows how high the death toll might climb in the next few months.

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REVIEW: Neeson Acts Again in ‘Ordinary Love’

It’s hard to remember after three Takens and a bunch of Taken knockoffs, there was a time Liam Neeson was a thoughtful, understated performer. At 67, he’s trading grunts for acting again, at least this once.

Ordinary Love is as simple as a domestic drama can get. It relies heavily on the lead actors’ acting abilities, but doesn’t offer anything fresh in terms of story or ideas.

The film revolves around Neeson and the age-appropriate Leslie Manville (Phantom Thread’s MVP) as a mature, content couple. After spending decades together and enduring one unspeakable tragedy, Tom and Joan believe they’ve dealt with all the curveballs life had in store for them.

Not even close. Joan is told she has breast cancer, a diagnosis that sends her on a medical journey involving surgical procedures and chemotherapy. Tom wants to be supporting, but he’s mostly adrift, facing the certain possibility of another devastating loss. Dealing with debilitating treatments and the likelihood of death, Joan doesn’t have the energy to be reassuring and despite of their best efforts, the marriage struggles mightily.

Written and directed by Lisa Barros D’sa and Glenn Leyburn (responsible for the excellent Troubles dramedy Good Vibrations), Ordinary Love goes for naturalism while taking full advantage of Neeson and Manville’s acting abilities, without realizing both approaches are incompatible. Fox example, the moments of intimacy between Tom and Joan are beautiful, but in real life, no one is nearly as articulate.

While this is a story we’ve seen before (in a nutshell, it’s a year in the life), there’s a sliver of an idea worth exploring: One faces sickness alone, regardless how well-intentioned those around us are. The movie never digs deep into the subject and goes back to the tried and true relationship drama.

Ordinary Love is perfectly sturdy, but it’s hard to shake the idea it could have been more than that. If that doesn’t float your boat, in a couple of months Liam Neeson will become an Arizona rancher taking on cartel assassins. I’m not even joking. Two and a half feisty planets (out of five).

Ordinary Love is now available on VOD.

REVIEW: Blood Quantum Has a Hole in the Middle

As much regard as I have for zombie movies, the subgenre could use a moratorium. Maybe is The Walking Dead to blame, or the fact is the cheapest option for wannabe filmmakers to try to make their mark. Either way, the undead feel extra rotten these days.

Credit to Jeff Barnaby for keeping the living dead moderately interesting. The director, whose previous movie Rhymes for Young Ghouls found a fresh approach to the Residential School trauma, attempts to repeat the trick with Blood Quantum. Barnaby doesn’t fully succeed, but gets extra points for effort.

The setup is the most interesting part of the movie: The perfunctory zombie outbreak takes place, but only whites can turn. The Red Crow reservation survives relatively unscathed, relatively because while immune to the virus, they’re still edible. Continue reading “REVIEW: Blood Quantum Has a Hole in the Middle”

COVID-19: Recent Research Shows The Virus Can Rampage Through The Body

Since the pandemic first got going in early January, scientists around the world have been working flat-out to study the virus. And while progress is being made, COVID-19 is proving to be a tough (viral) nut to crack, so plenty of questions remain.

What is known so far is that while many people who become infected seem to sail through with little or no symptoms, many others become seriously ill. It’s also known that infected people who are asymptomatic can still transmit the virus, and the incubation period for those who do get sick is 14 days, so there’s plenty of time for them to contribute to community spread too.

Certain demographics such as the elderly and those with a compromised immune system or underlying medical condition such as chronic lung disease, diabetes and obesity are at special risk. But the virus can hammer healthy people in the prime of their life too.

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COVID-19: Saskatchewan Set To Announce First Stage Of Pandemic Exit Strategy

Saskatchewan premier Scott Moe is scheduled to address the province tonight at 6 p.m. to recap where Saskatchewan stands six weeks into the pandemic. Then on Thursday morning the government is supposed to unveil a plan to begin loosening restrictions on economic activity.

Discussions of this type are taking place around the world. In countries that have had success in limiting the spread of the virus, such as South Korea, Taiwan and New Zealand, there is cautious optimism that this can be done safely. In countries/jurisdictions where the pandemic is still spreading, though, suggestions that widespread economic activity could be resumed are generally seen as contrary to public health interests.

As a relatively remote province with a small, widely dispersed population, Saskatchewan was likely never going to be at risk for a major outbreak. And with the measures the province has put in place, we have been reasonably successful at limiting the spread of COVID-19.

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COVID-19: Hot Summer Bummer

Ordinarily around this time of year I’d be getting started on our Hot Summer Guide. It runs in our last June issue, and highlights a range of music/theatre festivals, fairs and other special events that are planned for Regina, Saskatoon and Saskatchewan’s “Hinterland” in the period from late June until Labour Day weekend.

Some years, spring may have already arrived. Other years, we might still be in the grip of winter. But regardless, the exercise always serves as a bit of a tonic as it allows me to look ahead to all the fun and fellowship that people across the province have planned over the summer months.

This year, though, it’s a much different situation.  Because of all the uncertainty around the pandemic, and the restrictions placed on large public gatherings, organizers of many popular events have made the difficult decision to cancel for 2020.

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COVID-19: Will The Pandemic Throw Our Consumer Habits For A Loop?

One thing that’s struck me as especially bizarro about the pandemic is how “innovative” professional sports leagues and associations have been in trying to continue their seasons/host their events.

Some events, such as Wimbledon, the Men’s and Women’s Curling/Hockey World Championships, British Open, CHL playoffs and Memorial Cup and NCAA Basketball Championships have simply been cancelled. Others, such as the French Open, Masters and U.S. Open Golf Tournaments, Tour de France and Kentucky Derby have been tentatively rescheduled to the fall (or in the case of the Summer Olympics and Euro 2020, until summer 2021).

In the case of North America sports leagues, hockey and basketball would ordinarily be into the first round of the playoffs now, while baseball would be in its opening month. And all sorts of brainstorming has been going on about how the games might be played. Even U.S. president Donald Trump has been part of the push.

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COVID-19: Federal Support For Oil Industry Provides Employment And Environmental Benefits

In a Friday blog post, it was noted that Alberta premier Jason Kenney and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers had petitioned the federal Liberal government for direct financial support for struggling oil producers and relaxed environmental regulations.

Later that day, Ottawa responded with $1.7 billion in funding to help the industry clean-up orphan wells with about $400 million expected to go to Saskatchewan. An additional $750 million was allocated to reduce methane emissions from fossil fuel production.

In an ideal world, those programs would be the responsibility of the industry that garnered billions (and even trillions) in profits from fossil fuel resources. But that’s not the way big business operates these days.

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