Tuesday, July 6, 2021 | Category: Eduvation Insider
Good morning, and welcome to July!
I hope you enjoyed a safe and restful 5 days since my last issue, whether you celebrated Canada Day, World UFO Day, Air Conditioning Appreciation Day, Independence Day, Bikini Day, or all of the above.
Our thoughts are with those of you enduring record-breaking high temperatures in Western Canada, facing thousands of lightning strikes, scores of wildfires, and hundreds of sudden heat-related fatalities. (The scorching temperatures in Lytton BC were a curiosity last week, but quickly turned into tragedy as almost the entire town was incinerated.) UBC marine biologist Chris Harley estimates more than a billion seashore animals may have “cooked to death.” ICYMI, the Insider Recap on Climate >FFWD sums up environmental trends and implications for the future of PSE.
For the first time in years, I spent the past 5 days completely unplugged from the internet, in a cottage in the woods by Lake Huron. Rather than cut my vacation short, I thought I would give myself – and you – a break yesterday, so here (one day late) is my weekly “Pandemic Précis.”
Since my roundup last Monday (“Dog Days of COVID”), much of the northern hemisphere has continued to see case counts decline as warmer weather lures social gatherings outdoors. I want to stay as optimistic as anybody – I’m getting my second dose this morning, in fact – but there remain causes for caution, too. While some fortunate countries have started reopening, others continue to struggle against a pandemic tide…
Lockdowns in SE Asia
Facing 7x as many COVID19 cases this year as in all of 2020, Malaysia tightened its nationwide lockdown on Saturday, with a state of emergency and stay-at-home orders. Families are literally hoisting white flags to request emergency aid. Indonesia, the world’s 4th most populous country, is likewise reporting an exponential spike in cases that is straining its healthcare system, leading the president to impose emergency measures Saturday until Jul 20. Restaurants and non-essential offices are closed, and restrictions on movement and air travel are tightened. (Critics say the “half-hearted” measures are too selective to prevent disaster. The Red Cross warns of an imminent catastrophe.) The Philippines has extended restrictions on movement and businesses around the capital, Manila, until mid-July. South Korea is reporting the highest case counts in 6 months, largely thanks to clusters of Delta variant cases in restaurants and private educational institutions in the Seoul metropolitan area.
“Hospitals are overflowing, around 1 in 5 tests in Indonesia are reportedly coming back positive, and we’re experiencing more deaths now than at any point of the pandemic. Worryingly, as we’ve seen in India and Nepal, we know it’s only going to get worse.” – Ade Soekadis, Director, Mercy Corps Indonesia
Global Vaccine Inequity
The worldwide pandemic continues to rage because 99% of people in poor countries remain unvaccinated; to achieve global herd immunity, at least 5.5B people would need to be fully vaccinated. The wealthiest counties have contracts to purchase more than enough doses for their populations, while others will depend upon donations via COVAX. Current vaccine diplomacy efforts aim to vaccinate the world by the end of 2022, because “in our interdependent world no one is safe until everyone is safe.” Fast Company
Australia in Vaccine “Slow Lane”
Although Australia did well with a zero-tolerance approach to closing its borders and locking down its economy in 2020, as the pandemic fight turns to vaccination efforts, the country seems to be struggling with vaccine supply, distribution, and hesitancy – worsened by a reliance on the AstraZeneca vaccine. (The country is “at the back of the queue” for Pfizer doses.) With <7% of the population fully vaccinated, Australia still has no timeline for reopening borders or ending lockdowns – currently affecting 80% of the country’s population. On Jun 28, the government announced it would indemnify physicians against liability for administering the AZ vaccine to younger Australians. National Post
US Falls Short
Although US president Joe Biden aimed to vaccinate 70% of Americans by Jul 4, unfortunately widespread vaccine hesitancy has meant the country sits at just 55/47, despite ample vaccine supply. 100M eligible Americans still haven’t gotten their first dose, particularly rural, less educated, Republican and white evangelical Christians. Resistance is greatest among those aged 18-29, the poor, and those with less internet access. And of course, kids under age 12 may be waiting until 2022 for an approved vaccine. Meanwhile, the Delta variant is sweeping through unvaccinated parts of the country (such as MS, AL, AR, MO – but also poorer districts in California) and a uWashington model predicts an overall Fall surge in cases, hospitalizations and deaths – although likely reaching just 20% of last winter’s peak. Some experts are concerned that the CDC isn’t tracking breakthrough infections among the vaccinated, or investing in enough genomic sequencing to know how the coronavirus is evolving.
“There are people out there that have a flashing sign on their forehead saying to delta: Infect me, infect me. Because the virus is going to find these people. It’s just so good at that.” – Eric Topol, Director, Scripps Research Translational Institute
Last week, Israel reinstated its mask mandate for the fully vaccinated (dropped back in mid-June) in response to a fresh COVID19 spike in the country – half of those cases among fully-vaccinated people. The country has also postponed reopening its borders to vaccinated tourists until Aug 1. Global
UK Reopens Despite Delta
Despite one of the world’s earliest vaccination rollouts (already at 86/64), the UK is facing another surge of COVID19 infections thanks to the Delta variant, the dominant strain in the country since mid-May. New case counts have spiked to their highest levels since January (25,000 per day), particularly among 15-30-year-olds – but thankfully, hospitalizations and deaths seem to be staying flat (<20 deaths per day). Prime minister Boris Johnson confirmed yesterday that social distancing and mask mandates will be lifted Jul 19 in England, as nightclubs reopen and WFH recommendations end. (The British press has dubbed it “Freedom Day.”) Legal requirements will be replaced by “personal responsibility,” and Britons will need to “learn to live with this virus.” Opposition politicians and some public health experts warn that the approach is “playing with fire,” and may facilitate more vaccine-resistant variants. AP | CTV
“I want to stress from the outset that this pandemic is far from over. We must reconcile ourselves, sadly, to more deaths from COVID.” – Boris Johnson, UK Prime Minister
In the past week, I haven’t noticed ANY new cases of COVID19 announced on CdnPSE campuses. Across the country, case counts are continuing to drop, vaccinations are progressing, and restrictions are being lifted (although some perhaps too quickly)…
According to the COVID19 Tracker, Canada is now at 68/36 (68% of the population has 1 dose, and 36% are fully vaccinated with 2 doses). In terms of the eligible population, that’s 78/42 (not counting children under 12). Where the Delta variant is concerned, what matters most is the proportion who are fully vaccinated, which ranges considerably from two-thirds in YK (74/66) and NWT (71/64), to just over 40% in MB (65/43), SK (62/42), NV (54/42), and AB (62/41), and about a third in ON (68/38), NB (69/36), QC (71/32), and BC (70/32). Most at risk are the Atlantic provinces with barely a quarter protected, including NS (72/29), NL (75/21), and PEI (73/21).
As vaccinations rise and Canada enters the heat of summer, provincial PHOs are easing pandemic restrictions. BC lifted its mask requirement, and now allows unlimited indoor and outdoor dining, outdoor gatherings of up to 5,000 people, fairs and festivals. Alberta dropped virtually all pandemic restrictions on Jul 1, including bans on social gatherings, limits on retailers, restaurants, churches or gyms, and mandatory masks. (Jason Kenney couldn’t wait to declare that “on Canada Day Alberta’s public health measures will be lifted and our lives will get back to normal.”) Yesterday Calgary city council voted to repeal its mask bylaw, too, after 11 months. (Vaccinations there are at 79/45.)
“We’re turning the dials slowly, but things are a lot brighter today.” – Bonnie Henry, BC Provincial Health Officer
“I think an increase in case counts is likely or probable based on what we’ve seen internationally, but the effect on the healthcare system — specifically in terms of hospitalizations or admissions to ICU — that will be the big unknown.” – Sean van Diepen, Prof of Critical Care Medicine, uAlberta
Even as Canadians get vaccinated, the highly transmissible Delta variant continues to spread among unvaccinated or partially-vaccinated people, sometimes overwhelming local healthcare capacity. Despite a vaccination program that is tops in Canada (currently 74/66), Yukon is dealing with an unprecedented spike in COVID19 cases, its “first true wave,” with 134 active cases and “widespread community transmission” among the unvaccinated. Waterloo region has been held back from reopening with the rest of Ontario, as rising cases of the Delta variant have resulted in patients being transferred to other regions.
A Bit TOO Relaxed
Of course, as soon as authorities start relaxing limits on gathering sizes, social distancing or mask requirements, there are plenty of people who get carried away and (regardless of their vaccination status) throw caution to the winds. (Certainly I saw plenty of that at the beach in Grand Bend on the weekend.) Although the limit on outdoor gatherings in Ontario is still capped at 25, police in Kingston broke up a 300-person street party in the university district near Queen’s, around 2:40am Sunday. Videos and photos of the event show “party-goers setting off fireworks in the middle of street, climbing on roofs, a car being smashed in, and at least one fight between two young males.” Police are still investigating, and charges may be laid. Kingston Whig-Standard | Global | CTV | Narcity
This pandemic always seems to disappoint the optimists with bad news around every corner, although most remain weak signals of potential trouble to come…
Protect Your Pets!
The novel coronavirus is zoonotic, and over the past 15 months I’ve reported on outbreaks among minks, tigers, and housepets. A new study out of Utrecht U has found that about 21% of pets living with an infected owner also had COVID19 antibodies, although the animals showed few symptoms, and they don’t appear to have transmitted the infection to other humans. The researchers urge people who test positive for COVID19 to practice precautions with their pets, just as they would with other people. Reuters | Gizmodo
Here Comes Lambda…
You knew it would happen. The WHO recently designated the C.37 variant of COVID19 (originally identified in Peru last August) as variant of interest “Lambda.” And yes, it has mutations that could make it resistant to neutralizing antibodies and more transmissible. And yes, it has already been detected in 29 countries, particularly in South America. (Not in Canada yet.) Although there is no evidence Lambda is more dangerous or fatal than other COVID19 strains, Peru does hold the distinction of the highest COVID19 death rate per capita since the pandemic began. CTV
As so much of Canada starts to lift restrictions, and CdnPSE begins to anticipate a return to campus and to international mobility this Fall, it seems fitting to share a new 40-sec “anthem” video…
World Without Limits
Saint Mary’s U (Halifax) launched a bold new brand last month reflecting a “bright, ambitious vision for the future” and building on the tagline, “World Without Limits.” President Robert Summerby-Murray explains, “It is about investment in people, about economies, international relations and social prosperity, changes in science, technology, environment and business. It is also about acknowledging and tackling the very real limitations placed on diverse and marginalized cultures and peoples, and addressing the mental health issues that many grapple with every day. It is about Saint Mary’s bold vision and our commitment to our university community, for Halifax and for Nova Scotia.” SMU News | Vimeo
As always, thanks for reading!
CdnPSE is generally feeling bullish about a return to campus in September, and I’m (still) compiling the announcements – but I’ll start sharing them with you next time!
Please do drop me a line if you spot something interesting, thought-provoking or cool happening on your campus, or elsewhere in the world!
Stay safe and be well!
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