Eduvation Blog

Canada Exhales, Others Gasp

Good morning – and hear ye, hear ye! Appropriately enough, today is Town Criers Day, in honour of the medieval “bloggers” who would share news of the Black Death in the town square. (If you prefer to celebrate something more contemporary, today is also Etch-a-Sketch Day, in honour of the tablet that primed my generation for the iPad.)

As I write this, my thoughts are with readers who are facing the looming threat of raging wildfires and smoke, particularly at Thompson Rivers U in Kamloops and Okanagan College in Vernon – and on the other coast, those in Atlantic Canada coping with the aftermath of tropical storm Elsa. For some of us, the risks of climate change might seem longer-term, but this year’s extreme weather events – like the world-record 54.4°C in Death Valley CA – serve to underscore the importance of urgent global response. (See my Insider Recap, “Climate >FFWD.”)

Small wonder the billionaires are practising for global evacuation, with Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic flight yesterday, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin flight planned 8 days from now, and Elon Musk’s SpaceX flight later this year. (Welcome to the “joyride era of space travel,” as the Atlantic puts it.)

More down to Earth, this week I’ll be attending my third conference of the Society for College & University Planners (virtually this time), and presenting a session on Wednesday morning, “Post-Pandemic Pivots: Seizing this Moment of Opportunity.” If you’re attending SCUP this year, I hope you’ll join me!

Today though, I want to interrupt my coast-to-coast survey of CdnPSE plans for Fall 2021, for my usual Monday summary of the current trajectory of the COVID19 pandemic. In general, things are certainly looking up for summer in Canada – but vaccine nationalism and hesitancy, and the ongoing game of variant whack-a-mole, could still throw us a curveball later this Fall, and will certainly have implications for international student mobility…

 

 

Pandemic Précis

COVID19 claimed its 4 millionth life last Wednesday (roughly the population of Los Angeles – although also probably a vast undercount), and pandemic recovery is profoundly uneven around the globe right now, thanks to seasonal differences, vaccine nationalism, and populist antivaxxers…

 

3rd Wave Hits Africa

In the face of a record-setting third pandemic wave and 360 COVID19 deaths per day, South Africa is finally racing to vaccinate after a series of vaccine setbacks. “Our vaccination campaign is gathering momentum, but obviously it’s too late to do much in terms of reducing the impact of this current resurgence.” Zimbabwe went back into lockdown Jul 6, and in all, 16 African countries are battling “the continent’s most dire pandemic week ever.” Less than 2% of Africa’s 1.2B people are fully vaccinated.  AP

 

“We could basically avert a significant fourth wave, maybe it could just be a minor fourth wave. But that is contingent on one thing: that we do not have to fight a new variant. As we’ve seen with the Beta and Delta variants, a new one could change everything.”Abdool Karim, Director, Center for the AIDS Program of Research, South Africa

 

 

Delta Hits Europe

The more virulent and transmissible Delta variant of COVID19 has now been identified in more than 100 countries, including many with high vaccination rates. In Europe, 53 countries have seen a 33% increase in cases over the past week. Germany, Greece, Portugal and the Netherlands also saw spikes. England’s infection rate has quadrupled since early June, but PM Boris Johnson still intends to scrap health restrictions almost entirely later this month. The WHO is sternly warning countries against “relaxing as though the pandemic is already over.”  Washington Post

 

“Step by step, jab by jab, we’re replacing the temporary protection of restrictions with the long-term protection of vaccines.”Sajid Javid, UK Health Secretary

 

 

“There are more than two dozen countries that have epidemic curves that are almost vertical right now. We’re not in a good place.” Maria Van Kerkhove, Technical Lead, WHO Health Emergencies program

 

 

Australia Locks Down

New South Wales hit a 2021 high of 77 new COVID19 cases on Sunday, in an outbreak of 566 cases driven largely by the Delta variant. 5M people around Sydney are in a 3-week lockdown, and Australia has reported its first COVID19 death of 2021.  CTV

 

Russia Gets Desperate

Russia has seen daily COVID19 cases more than double in the first half of June, thanks to rising variants, lax precautions, cavalier political leaders and a lack of vaccinations. (Despite having the world’s first vaccine, Sputnik V, Russia is at an appalling 14/11 vaxxed.) Polls show 60% of Russians are unwilling to get vaccinated. After grocery giveaways and lotteries, Russia’s vaccination campaign has still fallen short by a third – so 18 regional governments are now requiring vaccinations for workers in government offices, retail, healthcare, education, restaurants and other service industries. Moscow restaurants will be requiring evidence of vaccination from their customers. Companies have been instructed to suspend unvaxxed workers without pay, and will be temporarily shut down if they don’t get 60% of their staff vaxxed by Jul 15. A Kremlin spokesperson says “no one is making” Russians get shots: employees can always choose a different line of work. Vaccination rates have reportedly doubled in the past week.  AP

 

“[Russia] overhyped this vaccine so that people didn’t trust it. Then they took a series of measures that were clearly attempted to make it seem as though the government had everything under control, the pandemic was no big deal… And now they’re in this situation, not surprisingly, where low vaccination rates have left an opening for the Delta variant to come in.”Judy Twigg, Political Scientist, Virginia Commonwealth U

 

 

Catastrophe in SE Asia

The Delta variant is driving record increases in COVID19 cases and deaths in southeast Asia, where vaccination efforts were limited (many below 5% fully vaxxed) and relied heavily on the Chinese Sinovac vaccine. Now governments are imposing circuit-breaker lockdowns. Indonesia is reporting 6x the daily cases from a month ago and is running critically short of oxygen. (With just 12/5 vaxxed, the country is bracing for up to 70,000 daily cases – but one Indonesian epidemiologist is forecasting an astounding 300,000-500,000 daily cases by August.) Java hospitals and graveyards are overflowing. Myanmar, Malaysia and Cambodia are reporting record COVID19 deaths. Thailand is considering curbing international travel as it converts a terminal at the Bangkok airport into a 5,000-bed field hospital. Vietnam’s former success has been undermined, as the country reported more cases in 3 days last week than in the first 13 months of the pandemic.  Global

 

South Korea Retreats

After promising to relax restrictions in June, South Korea has intensified them instead, effective today, after COVID19 infections surged to record highs last week. Schools are going remote, nightlife is shut down, and evening social gatherings are capped at just 2 people. South Korea was hailed as an international success story for its management of testing and tracing, and avoiding lockdowns in 2020 – but experts say the country “lowered its guard against the coronavirus too soon.” (Currently South Korea is at just 30/10 vaxxed.)  Washington Post

 

Olympics’ Last Gasp

As Japan declared yet another state of emergency, the IOC backed down Thursday on its ambitious plan to permit domestic spectators at the Tokyo Summer Games, scheduled to start Jul 23. The Olympics will proceed without spectators at all, robbing the games of “their last vestige of pomp and public spectacle” – and substantial tourism revenues. (So far 3 athletes from Serbia and Uganda, and 4 others travelling with them, have already tested positive in Tokyo.) Olympic sponsors are concerned that anti-games sentiment in Japan could spark a consumer backlash. The government may also face a reckoning, at the polls later this year.  Global

 

Lambda on the Rise

So far, there have been 11 cases across Canada of the Lambda variant (C.37) first identified in Peru last August. (Although Quebec’s National Institute of Public Health also reports 27 cases from March and April alone.) PHAC is “monitoring carefully” for more, and watching emerging research on the effectiveness of vaccines against it. Lambda has spread to 29 countries, but is particularly prevalent in Peru, Ecuador, Argentina and Chile. As international travel resumes, and health restrictions relax, unvaccinated Canadians will be at greater risk. (Like Ontario CMOH Kieran Moore, COVID19 variants of concern should keep any thinking person “up at night.”)  CBC

 

Post-Vax US Summer?

Americans have been revelling in a “post-vax summer,” with facemasks largely a thing of the past as packed audiences return to television studios and broadway shows. Nationally, COVID19 hospitalizations and deaths are still falling, but daily case counts have risen 40% in the past 2 weeks, the Delta variant now accounts for the majority of cases, and most ominously, hospitalizations are rising in areas with low vaccination rates (like Florida and Missouri). Many Americans who received the one-dose J&J vaccine are voluntarily “topping up” with a dose of Pfizer or Moderna, while Pfizer is proposing booster shots.  Sydney Morning Herald

 

“Those vulnerable clusters put all of the US — and to some extent, the world — at risk for going back to 2020, since high-transmission areas can become breeding grounds for Covid19 variants that could go on to evade Covid19 vaccines.”Elizabeth Cohen & John Bonifield, CNN

 

 

Canada Exhales

Across Canada, as vaccinations progress (we’re now at 78/44 for those 12+) and case counts fall, federal and provincial restrictions are being lifted at varying rates, and many think we’re getting back to normal…

 

 

60% Back to Normal

As of Jun 30, the world is back to 66% of pre-pandemic normalcy, based on a population-weighted analysis of movement, retail, office, transport, traffic, flight, cinema and sports data in the 50 largest national economies. Canada (pictured above – click to enlarge) has travelled about halfway back to normal from its low of 35% in Mar 2020. Hong Kong is actually 96% back, New Zealand 88%, Pakistan and Nigeria 84%. In the past 2 weeks, the 5 countries that have improved most include India, Turkey, Romania, Canada and Denmark – while those that have worsened most include South Africa, Chile, UAE, Ukraine, Indonesia, Russia, and China.  The Economist

 

Border Traffic Up 25%

Federally, Canada Border Services reports a 25% surge in incoming traffic since quarantine requirements for fully-vaxxed Canadians were relaxed last week. (Half of those attempting to sidestep quarantine didn’t actually qualify, because they weren’t 14 days past their second dose.) PM Justin Trudeau has reiterated that he will not jeopardize Canada’s recovery by prematurely opening the borders to non-Canadians, and that unvaccinated tourists will not be welcome “for quite a while.”  CTV  |  Globe & Mail

 

BC Wide Open?

British Columbia has done an exemplary job communicating health precautions consistently, and containing outbreaks during the pandemic – but it has also been the epicentre of many new variant strains arriving in Canada, and critics say it is keeping genetic data on VoCs secret. With 71/37 vaxxed, the province is reopening and shifting masks from mandatory to “recommended,” but the spread of the Delta variant will need to be watched carefully. A new report from the BC COVID19 Modelling Group warns that the province’s move into Phase 3 on Jul 1 “leaves the future trajectory of Delta wide open.” Vancouver Sun

 

The Wild West in AB

Alberta lifted virtually all pandemic restrictions on Jul 1 (with 63/45 vaxxed), and the Calgary Stampede launched Friday, as Canada’s largest experiment in post-pandemic reopening (with some added social distancing). StatsCan reports that Albertans also had the highest prevalence of COVID19 antibodies due to infection last winter. (4% – but ±5.7%, so who knows?) In the spring, premier Jason Kenney estimated 10-14% of Albertans had natural immunity due to infection. uCalgary microbiologist Craig Jenne observes, “Fewer people in the community are protected than perhaps were included in the initial modelling about when it’s safe to lift restrictions.”

 

Open Season in SK

The province of Saskatchewan fully reopened yesterday, no longer requiring masks indoors (although encouraging unvaccinated or partially vaccinated people to consider them, and allowing businesses to require them). With 63/47 vaxxed, premier Scott Moe says the province is in “a very good place,” but warns that, “although the restrictions are coming to an end, COVID is not.” CMOH Saqib Shahab warns that our Fall will depend upon vaccination rates: “COVID19 will continue to find those who aren’t vaccinated, and with vaccination rates lagging among younger people and in certain parts of the province, we will continue to see cases and clusters.”  Globe & Mail

 

“Outside of wartime, I don’t think a government has ever asked so much of its citizens. This was very difficult for all of us. But it was very necessary, and it does get us to where we are today.”Scott Moe, Premier, Saskatchewan

 

 

Progress in Manitoba

Manitoba promised new, more relaxed health orders this week, as the province surpassed its vaccination targets almost a month ahead of schedule (currently 66/48, or 75/52 of eligible people 12+). “Everyone wants their lives back, but we all don’t want a yo-yo effect. We’re going to take, no pun intended, conservative steps here to get our lives back.” Provincial vaccination cards permit fully-vaxxed Manitobans to participate in some activities that are still otherwise prohibited, and vaccinated Manitobans are eligible for $2M in prizes. The province plans a major “Vax-a-thon” this Wednesday, Jul 14.  CBC

 

Ontario Plays Catch Up

Ontario (now vaxxed at 69/46) has accelerated phase 3 of its reopening by 5 days, allowing indoor dining, larger crowds, and gyms and movie theatres to reopen at 50% capacity starting this Friday – although masks and distancing remain mandatory. (Cineplex expects plenty of pent-up demand, and MTAC objects to the 1,000-person cap as “arbitrary and unreasonable.”) The next phase could occur as early as Aug 6, if at least 70% are fully vaxxed.  Globe & Mail

 

“Folks, this isn’t over by any means. We still have a good battle on our hands.”Doug Ford, Premier of Ontario, on Jul 9

 

 

“There is still a fair amount of the pandemic left to bite us, unless we do everything possible.”Andrew Morris, infectious-disease physician, University Health Network, Toronto

 

 

Quebec Youth

Quebec has fallen from 1st to 7th place among the provinces for vaccinations (now 71/38), and is particularly struggling to get young people vaccinated (just 2% of 12-17-yos, and 16% of 18-29-yos, are fully vaccinated). Since Quebec proposed a vaccine passport to control access to some activities on a limited basis starting in September, the pace of youth vaccinations has increased. (Proof of vaccination would only be required during regional outbreaks.)

 

Atlantic Canada

Things are looking up in the east too (aside from the treacherous weather). Prince Edward Island (at 74/27 vaxxed) has dropped mandatory mask requirements and reduced rapid testing at its borders, after 25,000 tests in 2 weeks turned up zero cases of COVID19. New Brunswick has achieved 70/44 vaccination, and has just 7 active cases after 4 straight days without new cases. Nova Scotia has just 39 active cases, with 73/38 vaxxed. Newfoundland & Labrador has just 16 active cases – 14 of them aboard a cargo ship anchored in Conception Bay – and has reached 75/28 vaccination.

 

 

Although things are looking pretty sunny for summer in Canada, we may still face another wave in time for Fall, and there are a lot of complications coming from vaccines and variants alike. Stay tuned…

 

 

#ICYMI

I’ve observed for decades that humour can be a double-edged sword in higher ed marketing, with embarrassing results more often than not… but here are 2 bold examples, ICYM them…

 

Distributed Learning at Tyndale

 

Tyndale U’s director of distributed learning, James Robertson, manages to pull off some humour in this new 3-min video that’s worth a look to start off your week with a smile. Plenty of bloopers and special effects punctuate his description of course delivery options, for “roomers” and “streamers” alike. (“Oh, come on, editing!”) Perhaps it doesn’t convey as much detailed information as more conventional vids, but it is fun to watch. (Thanks, James!)   YouTube

 

 

Another light-hearted vid this weekend came from Victoria BC…

 

Steenkamp vs TikTok

 

Royal Roads U president Philip Steenkamp was recently named #2 in ED’s list of “The Top 5 Higher Ed Presidents Who are Killing It on Social Media.” ED explains that instead of “squeaky-clean and triplicate-vetted” polished presidential presences, they were attracted by the “gold” that presidents create by themselves, “spelling errors, misplaced commas, double spaces, awkwardly shot selfie TikTok videos and all.” (Hey, what’s wrong with double spaces?) ED cites Steenkamp’s active use of Twitter, and authenticity as a champion of diversity and inclusion, as “informative, bold and polished, yet warm and human.” But of course, like any self-respecting academic, Steenkamp can’t resist competing more aggressively in a higher ed ranking. uFlorida’s Kent Fuchs took the top spot, for his geeky, fun-loving use of TikTok, so in this 1-min response, Steenkamp “guns for number one” and tries out a few TikTok gimmicks. (On ED’s list, you’ll also spot Lethbridge College’s “down-to-earth” Paula Burns at #3, and UBC’s Santa Ono at #4.)   YouTube

 

 

I didn’t want to inundate you with pandemic news on a Monday morning – so believe it or not, I saved half of it for tomorrow. As always, thanks for reading!

 Stay safe and be well!

Ken

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