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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COVID-19: Protesters Channel Alt-Right Anger Against Science And Public Safety

When physical distancing and other lockdown measures were being introduced in mid-March, public health officials issued cautionary warnings that, as the pandemic progressed, and the measures (hopefully) helped reduce the infection and fatality totals, a backlash might arise where people would accuse governments of over-reacting.

You could attribute it to human nature, I suppose. Although it probably aligns most closely with a particular sub-set of people who see the world through the lens of alt-right broadcast and social media rife with conspiracy theories and alternative facts.

We haven’t seen too much of that so far in Canada. But south of the border, where the political environment seems to be growing more toxic by the day, that sentiment is definitely percolating.

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COVID-19: Different Countries Have Responded To The Pandemic In Different Ways

Most of the coverage we’ve done has focused on the U.S. and Canada. There are some interesting stories happening in other areas of the world, though, that highlight different aspects of how the pandemic is being managed. Here are a few:

Russia While Vladimir Putin’s government initially tried to play dumb about the virus, insisting that everything is under control, in recent days it’s become clear that the pandemic is spreading there as well. As of April 17 at noon, Russia’s case count stood at 32,008 infections and 273 deaths. Those numbers should probably be taken with a grain of salt because of Putin-inspired propaganda, but Moscow (population 12.5 million) and Saint Petersburg (5.3 million) have reportedly been especially hard hit.

Sweden Unlike most countries, Sweden hasn’t implemented major physical distancing requirements to address the pandemic. Schools have remained open, and businesses such as restaurants have continued to operate. Initially, the policy seemed to be working, and Sweden (irony of ironies, since it’s a socialist country) was being touted by conservative pundits as an example of how the pandemic could be managed without inflicting too much economic harm.

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COVID-19: The Trouble With Normal

The default word that most people probably use when fantasizing about the pandemic ending and restrictions on their lives being lifted is “normal” — as in, they want life to return to normal.

It’s an understandable sentiment, I suppose, but is it a wise one? As the normal that’s being referenced, by definition, created the very circumstances that we find ourselves in today.

Instead, some are arguing we should seize the opportunity presented by the tattered state of our current world and aspire to a new normal — one which addresses the true challenges that face us related to climate change and the broader health of the environment.

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COVID-19: Trump Tries To Shift Blame For Failed Pandemic Response By Cutting Funding To WHO

With the benefit of hindsight, it’s obvious now that there’s no shortage of blame to go around for how most countries and national agencies have responded to the pandemic.

China, where the outbreak appears to have started, is on that list. After the alarm was raised by a doctor in Wuhan on Dec. 30, the Chinese government’s first response was to admonish him for spreading false information. While criticism of China’s political response to the pandemic is justified, China’s scientific response in investigating the virus and sharing data with the outside world has subsequently been praised.

As the above-linked article notes, most of the criticism has come from right-wing politicians led by U.S. president Donald “China Virus” Trump, but also includes prominent conservatives in the U.K. Heck, even Conservative Party of Canada leader Andrew Scheer gets a shout-out in the article.

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COVID-19: Ignoring The White House, 10 States Announce Plans To Develop Their Own Pandemic Exit Strategy

Physical distancing guidelines are in effect in the U.S. until April 30. As I noted in two earlier blog posts, Trump and his Republican followers are desperate to see restrictions loosened ASAP so the economy can start to recover from the hit it’s taken.

With the November election looming, the stakes, in both a political and economic sense, are high. But the human stakes are also high. And the unfortunate reality is that, at this point anyway, the U.S. has had little success in “flattening the curve” of COVID-19 infections. Instead, the pandemic is still picking up steam.

Recognizing that reality, governors of states in areas that were especially hard hit in the pandemic’s early days have announced their intention to coordinate with each other on whatever strategy is eventually settled on to open up their economies.

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COVID-19: Houston, We’ve Had A Problem

Today’s post is only tangentially related to the COVID-19 outbreak.

If you check the calendar, this week marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 13 manned mission to the Moon. It launched on April 11, and followed two earlier Moon landings by Apollo 11 in July 1969 and Apollo 12 in November 1969. Unlike those missions, though, this one nearly ended in disaster.

In 1995, Apollo 13 was immortalized in a big-budget Hollywood movie directed by Ron Howard. Now, a researcher at NASA has put together a minute-by-minute audio-visual chronicle of the six-day mission. The chronicle features radio exchanges between the three-person crew and ground control at NASA, press conferences, even conversations between NASA officials and the astronauts’ families on Earth.

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COVID-19: Will Political And Economic Interests Trump Health Concerns In The U.S.?

In a March 25 blog post, I touched on the Trump administration’s desire to restart the American economy by Easter. Fortunately, that idea was eventually shelved after intervention by public health officials who warned that loosening restrictions prematurely would cause the COVID-19 case count and fatalities to spiral out of control.

For now, that remains official government policy. But the idea of restarting the U.S. economy in the midst of the pandemic, as former Fox News “journalist” Bill O’Reilly might say, still has “legs”. Okay, that’s not exactly true. What O’Reilly actually did say on Sean Hannity’s radio show in arguing that the economy should be restarted is that many people who were dying were “on their last legs anyway.”

While definitely on the crude end of the spectrum, O’Reilly is far from the only Republican politician/supporter who has championed the idea of getting the economy up and running again. Desperate to repair damage being done to his re-election bid in November as criticism over his administration’s “handling” of the pandemic grows, Trump continues to tout the idea of re-opening the economy as soon as possible.

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