Corak: Ottawa is struggling to be a just-in-time government

Good commentary by Miles Corak and the need to rebalance between policy development and service delivery. The initial idea behind Service Canada was precisely to do just that, having policy being service and citizen-centric rather than stove-piped by department and program. Too risky an approach for government, and most DMs and other senior officials make their name and career based upon their role in policy development rather than service delivery, with the inevitable results of some major screw-ups like the Phoenix pay system.

We shall see how the government manages to deliver all of the COVID-19 measures, as I suspect, like Corak, that they will be judged on that basis. Of course, a few years later, evaluations and audits will highlight some of the accountability and integrity issues that arose with the new and expanded programs rushed out the door (given time being of the essence over full due process and safeguards):

Big government rode into town just in time, but alas, when he jumped off his bronco and reached for his six-gun, it became clear he wasn’t just-in-time government.

What is clear from the COVID-19 crisis is that we should always choose our leaders with one thing in mind: character. Character determines how they will stand up to the unexpected. That’s what matters, and whether it is François Legault, Doug Ford, Jason Kenney, John Horgan, Naheed Nenshi, John Tory or Justin Trudeau, Canadians feel they are all passing the test.

Opinion polling shows that strong majorities see their leaders as doing a good job responding to COVID-19. And it’s impressive, their sensibility to consult, their conviction to act. Now, when we need them, they’ve all shown up, just in time.

But we can’t be governed by character alone. Good governance needs an infrastructure that can deliver, and thank goodness Canadians can also count on a professional public service. But at the same time, we fear its muscles can’t flex in real time.

The biggest stumble of the past week was Ottawa’s overreaching ambition in the first draft of Bill C-13 – the COVID-19 Emergency Response Act – an attempt to skirt parliamentary oversight and seize control of taxing and spending for two years. Not immediately tasteful, not in character – and certainly not contributing to the we-are-in-it-together spirit that is crucial for good governance and success.

It was probably driven more by insecurity than partisanship, springing from having to look through the veil of uncertainty that has fallen over Ottawa. Staring into the mirror and seeing no reassuring reflection, Finance Minister Bill Morneau wished for a pot of gold, just in case, you never know, down the road, we may need it.

Insecurity about a fluid situation, and about how quickly programs can be delivered, flows out of clogged government plumbing, a hard constraint on Big Think. For years we’ve neglected, cut, denigrated, and now the public service has a tough time doing just-in-time.

Take, for example, Employment Insurance, that grand social insurance scheme born from the disaster of the Great Depression, intended to offer income support to all in need, to insure against the great social risks we collectively face – risks that would bankrupt private insurers in no time. How is it performing during a collective crisis of the very kind it was intended to address?

It is straining, with computer code written in the 1980s running its servers, processing power and devoted personnel stretched to the limit, service centres now shut down. The public service is doing the best it can with old plumbing.

Ottawa mandarins often muse about an “all of government approach,” a busting across the silos of different ministries to address all aspects of a policy challenge. But the biggest silos of all have never been breached, those between policy development and service delivery. And now the delivery plumbing is conditioning the choices that Big Thinkers can make.

What is also clear from the COVID-19 crisis is that we should always be investing and innovating in public service delivery, something that’s easy to ignore in normal times.

There is no doubt that the income-support programs the federal government moved quickly out of the drawing room and into legislation last week were designed with an eye, not simply to whether they were big enough, but to how they would be delivered. The cheques won’t be in the mail for weeks. In a time of pandemic, that’s a lifetime.

Our governments have to think big, but they can only implement incrementally, a couple of quick steps forward, one back. Events are moving too fast, capacity is too limited, for Canadians to expect otherwise, even if what they really need is both big and just-in-time government.

When Mr. Trudeau’s team first came to power, they were enamoured with the idea of governing with data. Measure outcomes, set targets, recalibrate in the face of results and move forward with a “there’s more to do” attitude. But lags in information and delivery make all that fall short.

There is always a big gap between intention and result, even more so in times of crisis, and that gap has to be filled with the trust that character instills in partners and citizens.

Trust gives us the assurance that the cheque is indeed in the mail, and character, now more than ever, needs to deliver. It can’t stumble too many times before trust rides away.

Source: Ottawa is struggling to be a just-in-time government: Miles Corak

Their work is keeping Canada safe. But they earn a fraction of the national average

Another example of the COVID-19 class divide (‘White-Collar Quarantine’ Over Virus Spotlights Class Divide):

They’re the workers keeping Canada safe and healthy in the midst of a pandemic. But some — like cashiers — bring home just around a quarter of the average Canadian’s annual income.

From food processing to warehouses to delivery services, the workers deemed essential to maintaining the country’s vital supply chain are significantly more likely to be low-wage and racialized compared to the rest of the labour market, according to new statistics from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

In some cases, they are bringing home less than half of the average Canadian worker a year.

“In the midst of a pandemic, many of us are going back to the essentials. We need to put food on the table for ourselves and our families. We need to have the medications that we require. And as there have been many new reports on, we all need toilet paper,” said Sheila Block, a senior economist with the CCPA.

“To keep us in these essentials, we rely on these workers whose work has often been undervalued and who are often marginalized.”

The CCPA study relied on 2016 census data, which showed average annual earnings across the entire Canadian economy stood at around $49,500. Analyzing the earnings of workers in essential jobs by both industry and occupation, Block’s research found that grocery store workers — a category that includes managers — earned on average half of that. Cashiers took home just 26 per cent.

Light duty cleaners fared poorly too, earning just over 40 per cent of the national average. Couriers and door-to-door messengers brought home just over 50 per cent.

Racialized workers make up 21 per cent of the total workforce in Canada, but they were overrepresented in sectors deemed essential during the COVID-19 pandemic, the CCPA’s analysis found.

In warehousing and storage, for example, racialized workers made up 37 per cent of the workforce; in food manufacturing, that figure was 30 per cent.

Kulwinder Singh, a truck driver based out of Mississauga, says he is working 10 to 12 hour days bringing goods to Shoppers Drug Mart, Sobeys, and the LCBO. He says the deliveries he makes every day are “essential” — but he’s afraid to come home at the end of his shift to his wife and daughter.

“It’s very risky,” he said.

As an independent owner/operator, he is technically self-employed — meaning he has no health insurance, no medical leave, and no access to protective equipment except for what he purchases himself.

“Everything I’m paying for out of my own pocket,” he said, adding that some companies will not let him use washroom facilities to wash his hands.

The CCPA study notes that many of the sectors deemed essential have low unionization rates; in Canada, less than 8 per cent of retail workers have a union.

Many essential workers — including truck drivers and most gig workers — are classified as independent contractors, meaning they struggle to join unions and or access basic employment protections.

“There is a real divide between the people who can self isolate and who can work from home and the people that we rely on to make that possible,” said Block.

“We have to be particularly concerned that we are relying on industries that have a history of rights violations in this time. These rights violations have historically been threatening to workers’ health for sure and sometimes lives,” she added.

“Now we are actually putting the health of the public at risk if we don’t have good enforcement of health standards.”

Some companies, including Amazon and Loblaws, are offering employees a $2 an hour premium for working during the COVID-19 pandemic — measures Block called a “welcome but insufficient response.”

“We have to really look at governments to respond in a longer term manner by increasing minimum wages, easing access to unionization, and increasing both protections and enforcement under minimum employment standards,” she added.

Last week, federal labour minister Filomena Tassi said experts at the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety were drawing up best health and safety practices to share with provincial labour ministries for at-risk workplaces such as trucking and food processing.

Enacting 21 emergency leave days during the pandemic — plus seven permanent paid sick days — is also a critical step at the provincial level, Block said.

Source: Star ExclusiveTheir work is keeping Canada safe. But they earn a fraction of the national average A new study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives shows low-wage and racialized workers are overrepresented in jobs deemed essential during COVID-19 pandemic.

Some U.S. religious leaders flout COVID-19 restrictions

Unfortunately, not that surprising among some evangelical groups:

School buses delivered hundreds of church-goers to Life Tabernacle Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on Sunday, defying physical-distancing guidelines and the state governor’s direct order banning gatherings of more than 10 people.

Religious service, steeped as it is in community, is one area where people are finding it hard to avoid gathering amid the COVID-19 pandemic. And while some churches in the U.S. are finding innovative ways to continue services, such as conducting them virtually, a few are still gathering in person, potentially exposing many people to the novel coronavirus.

South Korea has experience with the danger of public worship services: More than half of the country’s coronavirus cases were linked to the branch of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in Daegu.

But Life Tabernacle is flouting officials’ pleas in a state where, as of Monday afternoon, more than 4,000 have been infected and 185 have died, according to an ongoing tally by Johns Hopkins University.Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, on March 22 ordered a lockdown of all but essential services, which did not include religious worship services, and prohibited gatherings of more than 10 people.The father of Life Tabernacle’s pastor Tony Spell says the church is an essential service.

“The church is not a non-essential. The church is the most essential thing in all the world,” Timothy Spell told NBC News outside the church Sunday.

“No one is telling anybody you got to come to church. We tell people not to come if you have a fever, if you have any symptoms, if you’re aged, if you’re elderly, don’t come.”

Florida pastor arrested

That’s got local residents like Ryan Tregre fuming.

“If they really worried about just spreading the [spiritual] word, they would go on Facebook Live or YouTube or some kind of way to spread the word where they would not have to go and meet in places and spread this virus that’s killing people every day,” he told NBC.Life Tabernacle wasn’t the only church to defy public orders and open their doors to parishioners on Sunday.A video posted to the Facebook page of the River at Tampa Bay Pentecostal church in Florida on Sunday shows hundreds of parishioners standing side by side.

Rev. Rodney Howard-Browne has said he would close services only for the Rapture and that shutdowns were for “pansies.” He reportedly held two services Sunday, flying in the face of physical-distancing guidelines and attracting the attention of the local sheriff’s department.

Florida has not ordered a statewide shutdown of non-essential businesses, but on Monday the Hillsborough County Sheriff charged him with unlawful assembly and a violation of health emergency rules.

Canadian clergy urge compliance

It’s a different story in Canada.

A statement released by religious leaders across Canada on Monday urged people to follow public health officials’ guidelines.David Guretzki, vice-president of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada said there were no evangelical services that he knew of this past weekend and noted his group has signed on to statement.Still, members of all faiths are grappling with how to continue practicing.

Some mosques in the Toronto have stayed open after Ontario Premier Doug Ford declared a province-wide state of emergency March 17.

In Montreal, police were called to a synagogue after receiving a report that someone saw Hasidic men going inside, CTV reported.

Social distancing measures like working from home, school closures and cancelling sporting events could lead to a drop of new infections of coronavirus. 1:54

“Some wonder if this is too much, too fast, but in general the approach has been that, no, the best approach is just to shut down,” said Daniel Cere, an associate professor of Religion, Law and Public Policy at McGill University in Montreal.

“My impression is that on the whole, in Canada, the religious communities have fallen in line with the government on this.”

‘God will take care of your body’

One religious scholar in the U.S. attributes the defiance to a particular type of Christian teaching.

“There is this strand in modern American Christianity that has rejected the norms of science and medicine and that thinks health can be achieved through discourse with the divine, holy spirit,” said Bradley Storin, director of religious studies at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.

The philosophy is, he says: “If you are a good and true believer then God will take care of your body.”

He’s noted the church busing people in for services and passing out “anointed” handkerchiefs to people for protection.

“What we see pastor Spell doing is giving way to this ancient tradition of linking faith in God with healing in the body,” said Storin.

“It feels a little violative of the social compact that we have right now,” said Storin.

Source: Some U.S. religious leaders flout COVID-19 restrictions

And meanwhile, in Egypt:

For 55-year-old Coptic housewife Magda Mounir, knowing she can no longer pray at her local church is worse than all the precautions she has had to endure to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus in Egypt.

“The church is our haven; it is where we go to find moral support,” Mounir told Al-Monitor a few days after Egypt closed all places of worship, including mosques and churches.

The Ministry of Religious Endowments, more often referred to as the Awqaf Ministry, and Egypt’s Orthodox Christian Church both released statements March 21 announcing they would temporarily halt communal prayers.

Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church, to which the majority of Egypt’s Christians belong, said it would lock down churches and suspend masses for at least two weeks.

In multicultural and multifaith Egypt, Christians make up roughly 10% of the country’s 100 million-plus population, with the vast majority of Christians in Egypt belonging to the Coptic Orthodox Church.

“The holy week is coming, and we used to spend these days in the church. It seems this year we will not be able to do so for the first time in our lives,” Mounir said tearfully, referring to the Easter holiday on April 19.

Sandy Emad, a 27-year-old engineer, supports the ministry’s decision. “I support the decision [to close places of worship], and I can’t understand the anger of some people,” she told Al-Monitor. “We can’t kill ourselves and our families and say God will rescue us. God gave us brains to use and protect ourselves from any harm. This is what he ordered us to do,” Emad said.

“This decision is considered the most difficult decision the church has made in decades,” admitted Bishop Boules Boutros of St. Michael Church in the district of Heliopolis in Cairo. “However, it is necessary for slowing down the rapid spread of the coronavirus. God does not only exist in churches; we all have him in our hearts and can pray to him to heal the whole world,” Boutros said.

Boutros said he was not sure just how long the churches would remain closed, but it was unlikely they would be opened in time for Easter mass.

Egypt’s Awqaf Ministry decided to suspend congressional Friday prayers in all mosques nationwide until further notice. The suspension came after controversy erupted over Muslim worshippers insisting on flocking to mosques for Friday’s noon prayers despite a religious edict allowing people to pray at home due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“If it was necessary to shut mosques because of the crowd, why not close down the underground, which carries thousands every day?” Mohamed Abdel Monem, a 45-year-old Arabic teacher, said to Al-Monitor. “Now is the time most people need to resort to God and pray. Praying to God is our only way out of this ordeal,” he added.

But not everyone shares his views. Hassan Khaled, a 28-year-old graphic designer, agreed with the decision to shutter holy places. “Given that people insisted on going to the mosques despite the call to stay home, it is a wise decision to close down mosques,” he said. “If only one person is carrying the virus, thousands will be infected, and then they go home to infect their families,” Khaled added.

Khaled said while it is difficult to be deprived of places of worship during times like these, he also understands it is necessary for public health. “I imagine people will resort to praying in open areas if [prayers in mosques] continue to be banned,” he said.

Religion plays a major role in Egyptian society, so statements by religious authorities carry major weight on keeping people at home. Dar al-Ifta, Egypt’s body responsible for issuing religious edicts, issued March 24 a brief statement warning that “any call for people to gather in the streets in any pretext or under a slogan” would be sinful as it would jeopardize public health.

The statement stressed it is a “duty” under Sharia law to comply with official decisions to “protect people from epidemics and diseases.”

The Awqaf Ministry also modified the adhan — the Muslim call to prayer — to include warnings to stay at home and take precautions on preventing the spread of the coronavirus. The new adhan, broadcast on radio and television a day after religious sites were closed, urges believers to take “the utmost caution in adhering to preventive and precautionary” measures.

Islamic scholars say the special adhan was previously used during natural disasters and pandemics as well as in earlier times in Islam’s history when people were instructed to perform prayers at home.

Meanwhile, Minister of Endowments Muhammad Mukhtar Juma suspended on March 22 an imam and a preacher in Beni Suef governorate, south of Cairo, for violating the ministry’s order to close mosques. The two men were banned from giving sermons from the pulpit for a period of three months.

“Preserving life is a main aspect of Islam, and the faithful should comply with preventive measures taken by the government,” Sheikh Mohammed Mehana of Al-Azhar University told Al-Monitor.

“The images of empty mosques would break any Muslim’s heart, but the priority now is to save people’s lives. This is what Allah asked us to do, and the rest is his will,” said Mehana, adding he hoped the crisis would end before the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which starts on April 24 and goes until May 23, and that everybody would reunite for Taraweeh, the additional prayers carried out at night during Ramadan.

The Ministry of Health has reported some 609 cases of coronavirus and 40 deaths in Egypt so far.

A 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew has been imposed countrywide as part of strict measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus, Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouly said March 23.

All masses as well as public and private transport are suspended during the curfew.

Source: Egypt Egyptians feel demoralized by empty churches, mosques

The Ancient Text Where Jesus Prayed to a Greek God

The equivalent of the “satanic verses” of the Quran and the Rushdie novel of the same name?

The crucifixion was a difficult thing for followers of Jesus to wrap their heads around. How could the Messiah die such a humiliating death? According to the New Testament, in the waning moments of his life, Jesus cries out, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” In the Gospel of Mark these are Jesus’ final words. This cry of desolation, as it is known, is painful to read and theologically difficult to manage. But one important ancient copy of Mark has a different take entirely: in the oldest surviving Latin gospel Jesus seems to call out to the sun-god Helios instead.

The book in question, Codex Bobiensis, currently lives at the Turin National Library. It’s easy to overlook; the swarms of religious pilgrims who flood Turin each year prefer to visit the city’s considerably more famous Shroud instead. It’s one of thousands of texts of the New Testament—all of which differ from one another in small and significant ways—that scholars use to try to chart the history of the text of the New Testament.

Though some manuscripts are ornate or difficult to read, Bobiensis is refreshingly clear; the letters are even and, in as much as it is easy for anyone to read ancient manuscripts, it is comparably straightforward to follow. This late fourth or early fifth century book (or ‘codex’ as scholars call it) had come to Italy from North Africa by mistake, when Irish monks mistakenly associated it with the missionary St. Columba and placed it in a monastery in Bobbio. Though the book itself is incomplete and preserves only portions of Matthew and Mark, there’s enough material in it that scholars can draw some conclusions about its age and contents. Some date the version of the gospels in the book as early as the third century and connect it to the Bible used by Cyprian, a famous mid-third century Carthaginian bishop and martyr. Given that there are no first century manuscripts of the New Testament and there are only a few fragments that have survived from the second, it’s a very important text and earlier than the majority of Greek manuscripts.

Despite its ties to what someone who might figuratively be called an early Christian celebrity, most people and even most New Testament scholars don’t know much about this early Christian text. This is in part because it’s in Latin rather than Greek, but also because Bobiensis has some very peculiar, even shocking, features. In the portions of the gospels that have been preserved, sections of the story are missing. In some places the manuscript uses non-standard abbreviations for the sacred names of ‘God,’ ‘Lord,’ and ‘Jesus.’ Where Christian manuscripts would normally have IHS (derived from the Greek for Jesus) this manuscript has it spelled differently. There is even a mistake in the Lord’s Prayer (more on that later). But the most striking and, you might say, theologically troubling places are those instances in the life of Jesus where the copyist has substituted the name of pagan deities “Helion” (god of the sun) and Jove (Zeus) instead of the words for “Eloi” (the Aramaic for “my God”) and “sheep.” Many scribes make mistakes when transcribing and copying texts—our best guess for professional copyists is about one per page—but these kinds of errors are difficult to explain.

What kind of Christian doesn’t know the Lord’s Prayer? A non-Christian, or at least that’s the conclusion to which many scholars have come in the past. No Christian or Christian-employed slave copyist would have erratically omitted parts of the Jesus story. The book must have come from a different kind of source, most likely a late fourth-century North African bookshop. But book manufacturing, like any kind of luxury goods industry, was an expensive business. Parchment was costly and literary slaves were expensive. It’s easy to imagine how a pragmatic bookseller, who was painfully aware of his bottom line, instructed his copyist, who was clearly no Christian either, to leave certain portions out. The less parchment that was used in the production of this book, the greater the bookseller’s margins and potential profit would be.

But now scholar Matthew Larsen, of Princeton University and the author of Gospels Before the Book, has another explanation for Bobiensis’ peculiarity. Larsen told the Daily Beast that in a fourth or fifth century North African context, Jesus’ address to Helios isn’t as strange as it at first seems. During a visit to a late fourth century baptistery last October, Larsen “saw that in the very place where people would have stood while being baptized, there was not a quotation from scripture but a clear allusion to Virgilian poetry.” You can imagine, argues Larsen, “a community [like this one] using this type of gospel, with its strange readings about Helios and Jove.”

As early as the second century, added Larsen “we have evidence of Christians thinking about Jesus’ death and resurrection in association with the setting and rising of the sun, and in the third and fourth century we see a blending of imagery of Christ and Sol Invictus.” The person who made Bobiensis would not have been alone in incorporating sun-god imagery into Christianity, he would just be the first to integrate that idea into scripture itself. Of course, for modern Christians, the idea that Jesus (or any early Christians) believed in and spoke to Helios is deeply problematic. It’s one thing to say that Christians utilized pagan iconography in their artistic depictions of Jesus (which they did), but the idea that Jesus called out to Helios in his dying breath is considerably more challenging. Did Jesus believe in Helios? Almost certainly not, but it might be the case that some ancient Christians did and transposed their beliefs onto him.

Brent Nongbri, a professor at the Norwegian School of Theology, said that some differences in Bobiensis are just accidents, “But in other cases, it’s pretty certain that either the copyist of Bobiensis or one of its ancestor manuscripts intentionally changed the text to clarify its meaning.” For instance, later in the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:13), the copyist of Bobiensis writes “Don’t allow us to be led into temptation” rather than the standard “Lead us not into temptation.” Interestingly, this is the same kind of clarification about the origins of temptation that Pope Francis tried to implement last year. Nongbri told me, “Maybe someone was thinking along the same lines as Pope Francis and absolving God of the act of leading humans into temptation.”

Larsen pointed out that while diverging versions of the Lord’s Prayer seem almost blasphemous to us today, there were at least three other versions of the Lord’s Prayer used in the ancient world, so perhaps this version is not so strange. This manuscript is evidence of the diversity of thought and practice among early Christians. Larsen likened it to modern sports rituals: “Maybe the state of the Lord’s Prayer in Late Antiquity was a bit more like when my football team used to say the Lord’s Prayer together before a game and at two or three lines of the prayer the team would break unison and diverge into different versions of the prayer practiced by the communities we had all come from.” If that’s the case, then Pope Francis should be delighted to have an important early manuscript on his side.

Source: The Ancient Text Where Jesus Prayed to a Greek God

Chris Selley: Official nonsense on masks, travel bans is killing Ottawa’s COVID-19 credibility

From armchair generals to armchair public health officials. Given recent Ekos and Angus Reid polls, most Canadians appear overall pleased with the their federal and provincial government responses despite the delayed in response and the changing risk assessments and thus evolving measures.

As always, hindsight is 2020. And one of the benchmarks is with respect to how other countries have handled the pandemic where Canada lags of course South Korea but it ahead or in tandem with many European countries.

But I do think that Trudeau could be more open about acknowledging delays in hindsight, for both substantive and communications reasons:

On Saturday, the federal government announced passengers with COVID-19 symptoms would be barred from domestic air and train travel, effective noon on Monday. “It will be important for operators of airlines and trains to ensure that people who are exhibiting symptoms do not board,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters.

Does that make sense? It’s a question Canadians seem to be asking more and more about this country’s coronavirus response. And for governments and public health officials, it’s a dangerous one. All too often, the answer is “no.”

“What about buses?” many asked on social media of Saturday’s announcement. Buses are provincial jurisdiction, the feds noted. “What about ferries?” asked the Canadian Ferry Association. Good question. Ferries are Transport Canada’s business. No answer yet. Mind you, transport operators don’t yet have any guidance on how exactly they’re supposed to “ensure” symptomatic people don’t travel. It doesn’t make much sense.

Furthermore, we have been told over and over again that any measures carriers might implement — temperature sensors, for example — simply don’t work. “The positive predictive value of screening is essentially zero,” the authors of a widely cited 2005 study reported, based on Canadian airports’ experience with thermal scanners during the 2003 SARS outbreak.

One of the authors of that study was Theresa Tam, who is now Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer. She’s the one doling out all the science that Trudeau insists underpins every single decision he and his ministers make: “Our focus every step of the way is doing what (is) necessary at every moment based on the recommendations of experts, based on science and doing what we can to keep Canadians safe,” the prime minister said Monday.

It’s more than a bit awkward — but not as awkward as federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu’s immortal March 13th dismissal of travel restrictions: “Canadians think we can stop this at the border, but what we see is a global pandemic, meaning that border measures actually are highly ineffective and in some cases can create harm.” Five days later, the border slammed shut.

We are to believe all of the positions above were supported by the same scientific experts. That doesn’t make sense. Clearly the experts supported the more lenient measures, and then politics intervened.

Clearly the experts supported the more lenient measures, and then politics intervened

Appearing before the Health Committee on January 29, Tam strongly dismissed the notion even of having all travellers from COVID-19 hot zones self-isolate for 14 days. She warned against “stigmatizing” communities. She very nearly suggested we couldn’t implement travel restrictions even if we wanted to. “Right now… (the World Health Organization) does not recommend travel bans,” she warned the committee. “We are a signatory to the International Health Regulations and we’ll be called to account if we do anything different.”

The WHO still recommends against travel restrictions, even to and from especially affected countries. No one seems to be “calling us to account.”

It could well be that by the time Canadians started calling for travel restrictions, it was already too late to implement useful ones. That’s what research generally concludes. But research also acknowledges the political inevitability of travel crackdowns. They just make too much sense to too many people. Federal ministers and public health officials recklessly undermined themselves by so forcefully rejecting measures that made so much sense to so many people.

“Security theatre can be dangerous — but the absence of security theatre can be dangerous too,” Martha Pillinger, an associate at the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University, wrote in Foreign Policy last month. “Apparent inaction (or insufficient action) erodes trust in public health authorities, which undermines response efforts.”

Indeed, Tam is asking a lot of Canadians to set aside a lot of common sense right now. There is ample evidence that face masks — even homemade ones— can provide significant protection to the uninfected. But Tam warns only of the potential pitfalls: Masks can provide “a false sense of security,” lead to more face-touching or make us forget to wash our hands. “Putting a mask on an asymptomatic person is not beneficial,” she said at her Monday press conference.

That makes sense to a lot of medical professionals. A lot of regular people, however, are pretty sure they know how to wash their hands and not touch their faces. When officials say “masks don’t work,” a lot of regular people hear “we have an inexcusable shortage of masks for frontline healthcare workers so please give us your masks.” When officials say “you don’t need to be tested,” they are likely to hear “we have inexcusably few tests available and not enough lab capacity to process the ones we have.”

Officials recklessly undermined themselves by so forcefully rejecting measures that made so much sense to so many people

On Sunday, Tam sternly advised Canadians against retreating to any “rural properties” they might own. “These places have less capacity to manage COVID-19,” she told reporters in Ottawa. That makes sense, as do concerns about straining off-season supply chains. But let’s say you’ve been extremely careful. You’re symptom free. You pack up a week’s worth of groceries, drive 90 minutes or two hours non-stop to your cottage, camp, farm or chalet, and don’t interact with a single other human being. How dangerous, how irresponsible could that really be? If the cottage is good enough for Sophie Grégoire Trudeau and the kids, who beetled off to Harrington Lake on Sunday, some people might conclude it’s good enough for them.

Public health officials want to prevent people from asking such questions, from making excuses for themselves, in hopes the maximum number of people will take the maximum precautions. They need smart people to forsake relatively low-risk things in order to counterbalance all the dumb people who do high-risk things no matter what they’re told. None of the measures will ever make perfect sense in every single situation. They are calls to collective sacrifice for the greater good. But they can’t keep changing on the fly, with no explanation other than “the experts got more worried overnight,” and remain credible.

On Monday, Trudeau declined even to say he regretted not moving quicker on measures he now insists are essential.

Does that make sense? No, that doesn’t make sense.

Source: Chris Selley: Official nonsense on masks, travel bans is killing Ottawa’s COVID-19 credibility

China’s COVID-19 disinformation push, aided by Canadian group, raises concerns about next pandemic

More on Chinese government disinformation efforts:

It’s safe to say China’s foreign ministry does not often pay much attention to obscure Canadian research organizations run by conspiracy theorists.

But earlier this month the ministry’s spokesman tweeted in English not once but three times about two surprising articles from the Montreal-based Centre for Research on Globalisation.

“This is so astonishing that it changed many things I used to believe in,” Lijian Zhao wrote to 500,000 followers on a social-media platform his fellow Chinese are banned from using. “Please retweet to let more people know about it.”

The “astonishing” piece suggested that COVID-19 did not originate in Wuhan, China, as Chinese and other scientists have reported, but was brought to Wuhan by American soldiers last November.

This is so astonishing

Despite the dubious source, Zhao tweeted about another article on the institute’s website — a hotbed of 911-deniers and champions of Vladimir Putin’s worldview — and then tweeted “it might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent!”.

Beijing and its media outlets did not stop there. They’ve also suggested recently the virus might have originated in Italy, and that a Wuhan doctor arrested after raising the alarm about the new virus — only to later die from it — was a Communist Party hero, not an inconvenient whistleblower silenced by the state.

Only a couple of months ago, China was pilloried for initially covering up and then underplaying the newly emerging coronavirus.

But as it emerges from a strict lockdown and claims to have snuffed out local transmission of COVID-19, the regime is casting the pandemic in a dramatically new light. It’s one that reflects brightly on the government of President Xi Jinping — and raises worrisome questions about the likelihood of China making changes that might prevent the next pandemic.

“The Chinese Communist Party sees itself as engaged in a global competition over the narrative surrounding COVID-19, its origins and government responses,” says Julian Gewirtz, Harvard-affiliated author of Unlikely Partners: Chinese Reformers, Western Economists and the Making of Global China.

“The disinformation, the conspiracy theory peddling and the wild and unsubstantiated accusations are prime examples.”

China’s role in the beginnings of the pandemic has, of course, become political fodder in the United States, where President Donald Trump insists on ignoring the medical name of the new disease, calling it the “Chinese virus” instead.

Increased reports of anti-Asian racism and xenophobia in the U.S. have followed. China is a convenient scapegoat now that the U.S. actually has more COVID-19 cases, a soaring death toll and overwhelmed hospitals in some places.

Meanwhile, China has received widespread praise for its eventual, aggressive response to the new virus, imposing a massive quarantine around the epicenter in Wuhan that helped at least slow the virus’s spread elsewhere. Chinese scientists have also been key in isolating the pathogen and mapping out its unique qualities.

The origins of the pandemic are a complex question best left to scientists, said China’s embassy to Canada in an email response to National Post questions.

“People of the world have all witnessed that it is under the leadership of the CPC (Communist Party of China) that the Chinese people achieved independence, freedom and liberation and made enormous progress in national development,” said the mission’s statement. “It is also under the leadership of the CPC that the Chinese nation united as one and speedily fought against COVID-19, buying precious time for the global response.”

The Chinese Communist Party sees itself as engaged in a global competition over the narrative surrounding COVID-19, its origins and government responses

But beyond name-calling by the U.S. and chest-thumping by China, there are clear reasons to look toward Beijing and its part in the expanding crisis, reasons that could determine if the world faces a similar calamity in the near future.

While the precise genesis of the disease is still something of a question mark, the current consensus reflects the conclusions of a group of 34 Chinese researchers, and one Australian, in the journal Lancet late last month.

The coronavirus, like others of its type, seems to have originated in bats, then jumped to live animals sold at a market in Wuhan, the specific culprit likely being an odd beast called a pangolin, and from there to humans, their paper concluded. Microbiologist David Kelvin of Dalhousie University, who has had a longstanding collaboration with researchers in Shantou, China, agrees.

It’s not totally implausible that it might have been circulating in humans earlier somewhere else — like Italy, he said. A “sero-prevalance” study that tested banked blood samples from well before the start of the pandemic might determine if there’s anything to the theory.

But, he said, “the data right now suggest that the origins are Chinese.”

In that regard, COVID-19 has obvious parallels.

The 2003 SARS virus, to which the new virus is closely related, is thought to have originated in bats, then leapt to animals sold at live markets in China’s Guangdong province — probably the civet cat — and on to people.

The H7N9 influenza virus, which has caused a string of relatively small but deadly epidemics in China, likewise moved from bats to wild fowl and then domestic poultry bought live by consumers, Kelvin said.

Wild animal sales were ordered stopped after SARS, then re-emerged. Beijing has now banned trade in live wild animals like the pangolin for food, though apparently not for use in traditional medicine.

Live wild game sales in China and other countries must be ended completely, otherwise “we predict with confidence that COVID-19 will not be the last viral pandemic,” virologist Nathan Wolf and “Guns, Germs and Steel” author Jared Diamond wrote in a recent op-ed article.

Some want a crackdown to go further. Wet markets, generally, even if just selling domestic animals, should be closed, says Kelvin.

Meanwhile, another human factor also seemed key to the spread of COVID-19. As doctors in Wuhan first became aware in December of patients suffering a mystery pneumonia — and infecting health-care workers — some put out the word to colleagues. But then eight of them, including ophthalmologist Li Wenliang, were brought in by police and accused of spreading false rumours. Li died from COVID-19 in February.

When officials publicly acknowledged the emergence of a novel pathogen, they at first played down its seriousness, questioning whether it could be transmitted between humans. A holiday banquet of 40,000 people went ahead in Wuhan on Jan. 13.

The Citizen Lab, a University of Toronto Internet watchdog, later reported that a Chinese live-streaming platform started blocking key words related to the outbreak in late December, with broader censorship following that.

Wuhan was eventually sealed off from the world on Jan. 23, inside a cordon sanitaire of unprecedented scale. Amid the initial suppression, virus carriers had already left the transportation hub in droves. The first Canadian case, a traveller who had visited the city, surfaced Jan. 26.

The emergence of COVID-19 was at first a public-relations disaster for China, an emerging superpower keen to bolster its international influence and prestige.

Then it began trying to change the conversation, and the pandemic’s core facts.

Among the first, startling examples was Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao’s posts earlier this month.

One of the Montreal centre’s articles he tweeted about suggested that American soldiers who visited the World Military Games in Wuhan in December might have brought over the virus. Another suggested they caught the bug from a shuttered U.S. disease lab.

The centre’s website, globalresearch.ca, is replete with such conspiracy theories, including claims that Al Qaeda and the 911 attacks were an American invention, that the U.S. manipulates the weather as a potential weapon of mass destruction and vaccines are “genetic poisons.”

The website earlier came to the attention of the Latvia-based Strategic Communications Centre (StratCom), a NATO-affiliated thinktank, because of its consistent dissemination of articles reflecting Kremlin propaganda. A recent piece suggested NATO was preparing to attack Russia.

Those articles tend to reflect disinformation that was originally spread by Russian operatives. Then, to bolster the legitimacy of the dubious reports in a sort of “information laundering,” the Canadian items are quoted back by Kremlin-controlled media, Janis Sarts, StratCom’s director, said in an interview Friday.

“When Russia needs to refer to a Western source, this is typically the site that is quoted,” he said.

In a similar vein, the site’s articles on COVID-19 quote extensively from the Chinese Communist party’s Global Times, only to be later cited by a Beijing official.

For those not convinced the pandemic originated in the U.S., state-controlled media like the Global Times and CGTN have proffered another suggestion: that it began last November in Italy.

We have not seen the last Li Wenliang

But when Italian newspaper Il Foglio reached the supposed Italian source for one such report, the pharmacology professor told the outlet “it’s propaganda. The virus is from Wuhan. Science has no doubt about that.”

Then there is the reinvention of Li Wenliang’s tragic story. His death triggered an outpouring of public grief and anger at authorities “unlike anything else I can remember,” said Gerwitz.

That was before the regime claimed him as one of its own. Local police were punished for unfairly persecuting him and official organs described him as a loyal party member.

So how does all this bode for the future? If another new virus emerges within its borders, will China be more transparent, allowing public health to quickly and definitively stop the germ before it spreads? Will traditional food commerce be changed for good?

Gerwitz says all countries, and particularly his own, need to be held accountable for how they handled the pandemic, which has killed over 1,000 Americans under a president who also once downplayed its gravity.

As for China, though, he’s not overly optimistic.

Rather than make the necessary changes, Beijing may see the crisis as a reason to intensify even further its surveillance and control of the population.

“We have not seen the last Li Wenliang,” Gerwitz said of the doctor whistleblower. “The question his case raises is whether the next Li Wenliang will even have the opportunity to send that first message.”

Source: China’s COVID-19 disinformation push, aided by Canadian group, raises concerns about next pandemic

California: Understanding ‘Stay-At-Home’ When It’s Not In Your Language

More on language. Surprising nothing in Spanish among other languages:

Many people scrambled last week to figure out if they could even leave their homes after getting “stay at home” orders from state and local officials.

But for those who don’t speak English, making sure you have the correct information has been even harder.

One problem with the multiple orders that came out of L.A. County, Orange County and the State of California? The actual documents are still only available in English.

While many state and county websites offer Google Translate, there’s an information roadblock once a person has to navigate to an English-only document.

This has some immigrant advocates worried that non-English speakers may be at risk for citations under the new orders if they don’t have the right information.

WHAT’S BEING DONE

Some counties, including Los Angeles, say they’re working on it. In the meantime, some community groups are translating what they can themselves.

Last week, during Orange County’s order confusion, a multicultural press conference was held on Facebook Live by VietRISE, Chíspa and other local activists to address the language issue.

Hairo Cortes, executive director of Chíspa, a Santa Ana-based advocacy group, is one of the many organizers in the area working to get information out to their communities. With a lack of resources from local and state governments, Cortes said people are having to rely on each other for information.

“For Latino communities, at least here in Orange County, broadcast media is a pretty important source of information more than anything else,” said Cortes. “And people are sharing information with each other through social media and one-on-one conversations.”

With people having to stay home now under the new orders, Cortes has seen a drop in the flow of information between communities and local governments.

“With a lot of different things going on, I think at this moment, there’s a big need for just better communication from local government, especially the county and the public health agency,” said Cortes. “That needs to happen.”

Chíspa joined VietRISE, a group for Vietnamese and immigrant communities, at their press conference last Tuesday where they discussed the xenophobic repercussions of COVID-19, and translated health information into Spanish and Vietnamese. (VietRISE also manages thisresource guide.)

VietRISE has called on local governments to make better use of social media to reach out to immigrant communities.

“The county and state governments should be taking more proactive and aggressive measures to make sure that immigrant community members and businesses are getting all updates and orders related to COVID-19,” said VietRISE on their Facebook page. “That means providing it in multiple languages and using more strategies to ensure we receive this information.”

Going forward, the O.C. community groups plan to focus on issues affecting people’s quality of life by working with city governments to address the pandemic through housing moratoriums and outreach, according to Cortes.

TRANSLATIONS

Neighboring areas, such as the San Bernardino and Riverside counties, have made more strides with direct translation and have a few documents available in Spanish or Mandarin.

“We send everything to the translators as soon as they’re complete, and the turnaround seems pretty quick,” said David Wert, San Bernardino County’s public information officer in an email. “Oftentimes the translators are present in the County’s coronavirus Joint Information Center. There might be a lag in getting the documents uploaded because everyone is so busy.”

While San Bernardino County’s latest information on COVID-19 isn’t translated yet, Wert said they are working to get more staff to post the materials online when it’s available.

Currently, Orange County Public Health has an outdated health order and FAQ section with an inconsistent Google Translate ability. The department recommends visitors to refresh their cache to see it. When asked if they would have this site updated, the department provided email saying that they would refer people to the governor’s order. However, there’s no option for this on the website.

Similar to other counties, L.A. County does offer Google Translate on all of its site, except for the orders which officials say are pending translation. A translated FAQ section can be found under the Health Officer Order menu.

“The LA County Public Health Officer Orders are being translated into other languages,” said Steven Frasher, an L.A. County public information officer in an email. “Some are still in approvals processes. There is increasing outreach to Spanish and other ethnic media outlets to increase the reach of official messaging.”

At the state level, the California Department of Public Health said they are, “working continually to translate materials to ensure at-risk populations are receiving information.” Their website offers a dedicated Spanish version of COVID-19 information and translated guides, but as of March 27, the California “stay-at-home” order is not directly available in other languages.

Source: Understanding ‘Stay-At-Home’ When It’s Not In Your Language

Australia: We Need To Get Rid Of Harmony Day

The history of Australia’s Harmony Day to replace the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, as part of the Howard government’s more positive historical narratives and opposition to what was called the “black armband” history:

On 21st March 1960, protestors in Sharpeville, South Africa were demonstrating against the country’s discriminatory apartheid laws when police opened fire, killing 69 innocent people and wounding 180 more. Information and photos of what we now refer to as “The Sharpeville Massacre” circulated around the world, demonstrating the brutality of racial discrimination and police militarism that is still echoed in every nation across the globe. In 1966, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed that March 21st be observed as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. This day commemorates the lives of those who died in the fight for equality during apartheid, but it also calls on the international community to continue doubling down on its efforts to eliminate racial discrimination.

If you’re from Australia, you may not have heard of this day before. It’s not because Australia has solved racial discrimination – far from it. It’s because In Australia, the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination is patronizingly called “Harmony Day”. During this time of celebration, people across the country are encouraged to wear orange clothing to signify “social communication and encouragement of mutual respect” while schools often have children make art with the celebration’s slogan, “Everybody Belongs”. As you can imagine, this is disingenuous for a plethora of reasons.

When Harmony Day celebrations began in 1999, they purposefully coincided with the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination so as to “re-centralize a singular and unifying notion of Australian-ness within multicultural policy”, according to the Howard government. But Prime Minister John Howard was himself an active opponent of multiculturalism. In 1988, he helped develop the “One Australia” policy that called for an end to multiculturalism, and this stance never changed. Although Howard eventually commissioned an anti-racism study to “explore the subtleties and nature of racism in Australia”, he actively rejected its findings. The study revealed that 85% of the study’s respondents recognized that racism was widespread and multi-faceted in Australia. These results did not align with Howard’s belief that Australians were not racist, so he rejected them. Instead of creating Harmony Day to focus on eliminating racism, his administration promoted a “living in harmony” approach and suppressed the study’s findings until 2011.

Referring to March 21st as “Harmony Day” acts as a smokescreen that hides the true extent of racism within this country, and conceals the painful yet important history of the date. According to The Secretary for the New South Wales Fabians, “Rather than focusing on tackling racism and the structural barriers that continue to exist, it is instead a self-congratulatory day about how “harmonious” we apparently are.” It almost serves to gaslight the Australian population. Commercial and technology lawyer Dan Ryan states that, “The problem with the harmonious society is not just the disconnect between the rhetoric and the reality. The truth is, while superficially sweet-sounding, the idea is illusory and utopian.”

The day infers that, in Australia, “Everybody Belongs.” But that simply isn’t true. When we examine how Indigenous Australians and people of colour are treated in this country, we see that peace is a far cry from reality. Research shows that 72% of Indigenous Australians and 70% of the general population believe Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians are prejudiced against each other. 27 years since the end of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in Custody, more than 400 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have died in custody. The indigenous population is still massively over-represented in the Australian prison system. In 2017, 27% of inmates were of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent, much more than their 3% share of the population. Proclaiming that “Everybody Belongs” only diverts attention from anti-racism action to an illusory concept of harmony.

Harmony Day needs to be rebranded as International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. That way, it can focus on what is really important: decisive action against racism. Instead of dressing children in orange while they draw stick figures standing hand-in-hand, we can teach them cultural competency and the history of racial discrimination. Rather than hold a “Harmony Day Morning Tea”, we can explore the entrenched racism in contemporary society. As opposed to turning away from the past, we can look right at it, finally acknowledge the mistakes made, and the path we must take.

Source: We Need To Get Rid Of Harmony Day

New Site Collects Reports Of Racism Against Asian Americans Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

Of note. Similar instances in Canada:

As the coronavirus spreads and disrupts life across the country, Chinese Americans and other Asian Americans are facing a secondary threat: racism.

The virus was first detected in Wuhan, China, and some now blame the country for its global spread. In recent weeks, blame has escalated into reports of harassment and even assault in places with large communities of Asian Americans.

Last week Russell Jeung, a professor of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University, started tracking these attacks on a new website he helped launch called Stop AAPI Hate. In the site’s first eight days, it received more than 650 reports of discrimination — largely against the Asian American community.

Jeung spoke with NPR’s Steve Inskeep about this spike in reports. Here is some of what he had to say:

On the need for the site

We recognized early on that people were experiencing a lot of bullying, a lot of shunning, a lot of avoiding when the coronavirus outbreak occurred. And we didn’t have any hard data to document what was going on, so the first thing we did was we looked at news trends, and we counted news stories that had coronavirus and discrimination or xenophobia in it.

We found hundreds of articles about policies that people thought were xenophobic, economic boycotts of Asian businesses and then later on about interactions that Asian Americans were having where people were bullying, taunting, harassing and now attacking.

We had hundreds of accounts to go to the state legislature and say, “This is happening. We need to get it documented. We need to proactively address these trends.” And since the government didn’t have the capacity in California, we started our own website as a reporting center, and it just was launched last week and we’ve been getting over 100 reports every day.

What types of reports the site is receiving

Name-calling and verbal harassment — microaggressions are the most common. It moves up to people having bottles and cans thrown at them, their homes being vandalized, and then … maybe three times a day, we have people actually being physically attacked, assaulted, being hit or punched, pushed on subways.

Are there things that have made it worse?

After [Sept. 11] people were attacking Muslim Americans and President Bush came out and said we have to not discriminate or mistreat Muslim Americans. What President Trump did was he insisted on calling it the “Chinese virus” and labeling coronavirus as a racial disease. And by othering Asians — and it’s not just Chinese, anybody who looks Chinese — it just gave people license to attack us, to blame us for the disease, to say we’re the source of it. And it’s not the people who are the source of the disease, it’s just, you know, a virus that doesn’t discriminate.

On whether President Trump helped this week when he tweeted that the virus is not the fault of the Asian American community

Yeah, we appreciate that. I think that was due to the pressure that we exerted and the complaining. But I think it’s a little too little, too late. He’s already opened the door to this racism. It was already starting even before he made the China virus remarks, and he just sort of exacerbated the situation. He still uses this us vs. them binary that argues that, “Oh, we’re really working with them” and that “We’re protecting them,” that we’re still outsiders and foreigners and not part of the American fabric.

Hear the full interview on Morning Edition here.

Source: New Site Collects Reports Of Racism Against Asian Americans Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

‘White-Collar Quarantine’ Over Virus Spotlights Class Divide

Not unique to the USA but gaps wider:

For about $80,000, an individual can purchase a six-month plan with Private Health Management, which helps people with serious medical issues navigate the health care system.

Such a plan proved to be a literal lifesaver as the coronavirus pandemic descended. The firm has helped clients arrange tests in Los Angeles for the coronavirus and obtained oxygen concentrators for high-risk patients.

“We know the top lab people and the doctors and nurses and can make the process efficient,” said Leslie Michelson, the firm’s executive chairman.

In some respects, the pandemic is an equalizer: It can afflict princes and paupers alike, and no one who hopes to stay healthy is exempt from the strictures of social distancing. But the American response to the virus is laying bare class divides that are often camouflaged — in access to health care, child care, education, living space, even internet bandwidth.

In New York, well-off city dwellers have abandoned cramped apartments for spacious second homes. In Texas, the rich are shelling out hundreds of thousands of dollars to build safe rooms and bunkers.

And across the country, there is a creeping consciousness that despite talk of national unity, not everyone is equal in times of emergency.

“This is a white-collar quarantine,” said Howard Barbanel, a Miami-based entrepreneur who owns a wine company. “Average working people are bagging and delivering goods, driving trucks, working for local government.”

Some of those catering to the well-off stress that they are trying to be good citizens. Mr. Michelson emphasized that he had obtained coronavirus tests only for patients who met guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, rather than the so-called worried well.

Still, a kind of pandemic caste system is rapidly developing: the rich holed up in vacation properties; the middle class marooned at home with restless children; the working class on the front lines of the economy, stretched to the limit by the demands of work and parenting, if there is even work to be had.

“I do get that there are haves and have-nots,” said Carolyn Richmond, a Manhattan employment lawyer who is advising restaurant industry clients from her second home, on Long Island, as they engineer layoffs. “Do I feel guilty? No. But I do know that I am very lucky. I understand there’s a big difference between me and the people I work with every day.”

Long before the new coronavirus, another kind of equalizer was being promoted: the internet. For decades, tech evangelists cited the democratizing power of the World Wide Web, which they said would bring high-quality services to strata of society that had previously gone without them.

Some of those predictions have come to pass. In recent days, time spent on the site of the Khan Academy, a well-regarded online curriculum that is free, is up about two and a half times from this time last year.

In March, the federal government broadened its coverage of so-called telemedicine services through Medicare, giving many more people access to a doctor over the web.

Still, the technology that makes these services accessible remains out of reach for many Americans. While data on internet access is inexact, the most recent Federal Communications Commission figures, from 2017, showed that 30 percent of households did not have even a slow broadband connection.

Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democratic member of the commission, said millions of Americans had only phones, often with strict caps on data usage. “Imagine using a mobile device to look up your class work, type out a paper,” she said. “No parent would choose that as the primary tool for their child’s learning.”

Like many districts around the country, the Brownsville Independent School District in Texas sought to transfer much of its curriculum online when it closed its doors this week. Schools encouraged students to use digital platforms like Google Classroom, Apple Teacher and Seesaw to keep up with their studies.

But unlike wealthier areas, Brownsville has notoriously spotty internet access. Nearly half of households there lacked broadband in 2018, putting it at the top of a list of worst-connected citiescompiled by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, an advocacy group. “We’re limited when it comes to online services in our community,” said the district’s superintendent, René Gutiérrez. “It’s not where it needs to be.”

The situation has sent many families scrambling. Anahi Rubio, 11, and her mother just moved into an apartment that lacks an internet connection. Anahi has struggled with balky access while using a laptop at her aunt’s house, where she couldn’t get the videoconferencing app Zoom to work.

“They’re always telling you to use YouTube to learn multiplication, or to look something up on Google,” said her mother, Betsy Rubio. “Online, everybody gets to be on the same page. But if not everyone has good internet, like my daughter, you don’t. I’m concerned about her falling behind.”

And internet access is far from the only challenge confronting the less affluent. Marc Perrone, the president of the United Food and Commercial Workers, which represents over one million workers in industries like groceries and meatpacking, said child care was a top concern when the union held a telephone town hall this week with about 5,000 supermarket workers in New York State.

“In some cases, if they’re old enough, they’re latching them — becoming latchkey kids,” Mr. Perrone said, alluding to the option of leaving a child home alone.

Until a few weeks ago, Darlyne Dagrin would drop her 22-month-old son off at a day care facility on her way to work at a nursing home in Cedar Grove, N.J. But the center has closed temporarily amid the pandemic, leaving her with no choice but to skip work when she can’t find a friend or relative to care for him.

“This week I called out twice,” Ms. Dagrin said Wednesday. “They called me and said: ‘We won’t accept no more callouts. If you call out again you’re out of a job.’” She said she didn’t know what she was going to do for the rest of the week.

Unlike Ms. Dagrin, Maggie Russell-Ciardi doesn’t have to choose between going to work and providing child care for her young child. A nonprofit consultant in New York City and part-time yoga teacher, Ms. Russell-Ciardi can slot work around her 3-year-old son’s sleep and play schedule — even if it sometimes requires waking up in the wee hours — and simply makes do when he’s awake and active.

“It’s better for me to do my own practice when he’s sleeping,” she said of the yoga classes she now teaches online. “But it’s nice to have him growing up feeling like he’s part of the yoga community even if it’s now a virtual one. It’s an important teaching for him.”

The ability of the middle class to quickly shift life online has been striking. The Brooklyn Conservatory of Music, where roughly 100 faculty members on site teach several hundred students each week, has shifted its entire music instruction to videoconferencing. Over 95 percent of the students enrolled in private lessons have resumed their classes since the school reopened online last Friday.

By contrast, said Dorothy Savitch, an administrator, the school operates a music education program in 25 local public schools, with large numbers of children below the poverty level. Ms. Savitch said about one-third of those children might take part when the program resumes online next week, though she hopes to reach 60 percent of them eventually.

But the middle class is not free of anxiety in this pandemic moment. Otherwise-privileged people have become acutely aware of the options they lack. “For the first time in my life, I feel the difference between myself and my more affluent friends,” said Deb Huberman, a freelance television producer living on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. “I desperately want to get out of the city but I can’t afford to rent something.”

Ms. Huberman estimates that half the neighbors in her building have fled to second homes. Many have joined other wealthy New Yorkers in the less densely populated East End of Long Island.

“I feel guilty about friends and colleagues who don’t have the ability to leave,” said Joe Bilman, who moved with his family from Park Slope in Brooklyn to his vacation house in East Hampton. “We knew it would be easier for us to isolate and be part of the quarantine. We have a backyard and the kids can go for bike rides.”

Hamptonites have often managed to recreate the amenities of home, except with more space and beachfront views. Many children enrolled in Manhattan prep schools continue to be taught by teachers in conventional classroom formats, albeit over the internet, while public schools have frequently substituted individual study with materials supplied online.

MyTennisLessons.com advertises that “coaches are continuing to give 1-on-1 lessons” and lists a few pros available in Hamptons ZIP codes. Zabar’s, the Upper West Side food emporium, will deliver an assortment of noshes for a $300 to $400, depending on the distance.

“I don’t even take a markup — it’s whatever the messenger service charges me,” said Scott Goldshine, the general manager. “Obviously, for most of the people out there getting these types of delivery, money is not an issue.”

At some summer retreats, like Martha’s Vineyard and the Jersey Shore, local officials have taken to discouraging second-home owners and renters for fear of overtaxing local infrastructure.

In other cases, the rich aren’t going east or west, but down. Gary Lynch, general manager of Rising S, a Texas maker of safe rooms and bunkers that range in price from $40,000 to several million dollars, said he had added a second shift of 15 workers to handle the flood of new orders, mostly for underground bunkers.

“I’ve never seen interest like there is now,” said Mr. Lynch, who has taken to turning his phone off at night so he can get some sleep. “It has not let up.”