Covid-19 Immigration Effects: Key slides August 2020

Key immigration and related program trends using IRCC operational data, August data where available:

Summary:

  • August immigration numbers continued to drop for permanent residents compared to July with a slight increase in temporary workers
  • PRs: Admissions continued to decline from 13,650 in July to 11,315 in August, driven by the decline in Economic. August Year-over-year decline: Economic 70.8%, Family 48.6%, Refugees 60% 
    • Applications: Increase from  10,380 in May to  11,957 in June. June year-over-year decrease 77.2%
    • Provincial Nominee Program: Decrease from 3,050 in July to 1,969 in August. August year-over-year decrease: 77.7%
    • TR to PRs transition: Further decrease from 2,950 in July to 1,705 in August (some double counting). August year-over-year decrease of 86.9% (i.e., those already in Canada)
  • Temporary Residents:
    • TRs/IMP: Slight increase from 11,475 in July to 12,565 in August. August Year-over-year decline: Agreements 38.4%, Canadian Interests 49.8%
    • TRs/TFWP: Slight decline from 8,060 in July compared to 7,390 in August. August year-over-year decline: Caregivers 53.4%, Other LMIA 25.2%. Agriculture had a significant increase of 73.8%, perhaps reflecting a later start this year
      • Web “Get a work permit”:  From 69,931 in August to 65,397 in September (outside Canada). September Year-over-year decline: 64.5%
    • Students: Sharp increase from 13,455 in July to 40,130 in August (peak month). However, August year-over-year decrease: 64.5%
      • Applications:  Stable from 3,352 in May to 3,286 in June. June Year-over-year decrease: 91.6%
      • Web “Get a study permit”:  From 67,292 in August to 59,474 in September (outside Canada). September Year-over-year increase: 12.5%
  • Asylum Claimants: Increase from 885 in July to 1,030 in August (about 75% inland). August year-over-year decrease: 83.7%
  • Settlement Services:  Decline from 112,380 in April to 101,415 in May. Year-over-year decrease 9.8 percent
    • Web “Find immigrant services hear you”:  From 13,216 in August to 6,007 in September (outside Canada). September Year-over-year decrease: 57.6%
  • Citizenship: Increase from virtually none in May (53) to 1,656 in June. June Year-over-year decrease: 92.0%.(2019 monthly average was about 20,000)
    • Web “Apply for citizenship”:  From 39,479 in August to 41,263 in September (outside Canada). September 2020-2018 increase: 39.3% 
  • Visitor Visas: Complete shutdown. China authorizations declined faster and sharper

The Second Wave: Science Meets Leadership

Good nuanced discussion of the complexities in finding a balance between public health, economic and other concerns:

When the pandemic first hit, none of us knew what to expect. Medical experts called for a lockdown and governments took their advice. This time round it’s different. Our political leaders are being called on to protect both our health and our economy. As Doug Ford noted on Tuesday, that can be an unpleasant place to be.

In his press conference, Ford commented on his decision to reinstate Stage 2 measures in three key regions of Ontario, much as François Legault has done in Quebec. It was, he says, one of the hardest decisions of his career. We get it but, frankly, he should get used to it. Governments everywhere may be called on to make lots more decisions like this in the months ahead.

Businesses are hurting badly, and many are stepping up the pressure on politicians to help them get through these tough times. This is not just about financial support. In Ottawa, for example, business groups have challenged Ford to produce the data that justifies stricter measures. There is a growing sense that politicians have the tools to open the economy without putting the public at risk, but do they?

We think this is a discussion worth having – cautiously and respectfully. We’re not disputing that public health is the No 1 priority. The hard question is whether it can be better aligned with other priorities. A recent poll from the Innovative Research Group helps us get at the issue:

The response to Question 1 caught our attention. It shows that Canadians are almost evenly split on whether they think experts have too much influence on governments. This sheds important light on the tensions Ford is dealing with, and why other premiers will likely face the same issues, as the second wave grows. Some, such as Legault, already are.

Basically, during the first wave, political leaders deferred to public health officials on how to respond to the pandemic. This served us well, but governments have come a long way over the last eight months. New knowledge and new tools like rapid testing and contact tracing now allow leaders to manage the risks in ways that were not possible before.

For example, experts now know enough about how the virus spreads to contain it within a region, so that governments don’t have to shut down a whole province. This is currently the approach in Ontario and Quebec.

However, there is a price to pay for plans like this. Generally, the more complex they get, the less likely they are to be guided by medical science. In Ontario, for example, the government’s decision to shut down bars, restaurants, and gyms while leaving schools open has raised eyebrows.

There are serious questions about how far the science on COVID-19 can help decision-makers assess the importance of getting children back to school. Striking a balance between public health risks and learning involves weighing lots of things that are outside the purview of medical science.

So, how are these tradeoffs getting made?

In a second slide, IRG reveals an important feature of our political culture. The slide uses a scale of 1 – 100 to assess how strongly Liberals, Conservatives, and NDP members feel about the role of experts in government decision-making. The poll finds a 24-point spread between Liberals and Conservatives, with the NDP in the middle. (See the line on Political Populism.)

Basically, the data show that our political leaders are predisposed to treat expert opinion differently: progressives are more inclined to accept it and conservatives to question it.

Neither predisposition is wrong, but predispositions of any kind can be a barrier to a thoughtful, informed discussion of the issues. They incline us to trust some views more than others and this can shape how we think and talk about the issues.

This is a critical consideration as the second wave advances. When health experts declare that “the evidence” calls for actions that favour health over, say, the economy, political leaders need a reliable way to weigh this advice against other concerns and priorities. And they shouldn’t look to health experts to provide it.

Health experts view the world through a health lens. Their role doesn’t train them to consider how this affects other priorities, such as the economy or learning. That is what elected officials are supposed to do – but they need a reliable way of thinking through the issues.

As things stand, the poll suggests that these decisions often come down to a leader’s predispositions – whether they are a conservative or a progressive. We don’t think that’s not good enough.

Increasingly, our governments are being called on to respond to all aspects of the pandemic, not just public health. Predisposition are not a reliable guide to this. They will not disappear, but we can be conscious of them and keep them in check.

Different priorities should be publicly discussed and balanced against public health. To be clear, we are NOT disputing that public health is the No 1 priority, but we do believe that governments need the flexibility to experiment with different options and to respond to other priorities.

That is the way forward.

Andrew Balfour is Managing Partner at Rubicon Strategy in Ottawa.

Source: The Second Wave: Science Meets Leadership

The Swedish COVID-19 Response Is a Disaster. It Shouldn’t Be a Model for the Rest of the World

Good telling analysis. By way of comparison, Quebec death rate is about 71 per 100,000, Ontario 21 per 100,000 and Canada less Quebec 13 per 100,000.

Money quote: “The Swedish way has yielded little but death and misery.”

The Swedish COVID-19 experiment of not implementing early and strong measures to safeguard the population has been hotly debated around the world, but at this point we can predict it is almost certain to result in a net failure in terms of death and suffering. As of Oct. 13, Sweden’s per capita death rate is 58.4 per 100,000 people, according to Johns Hopkins University data, 12th highest in the world (not including tiny Andorra and San Marino). But perhaps more striking are the findings of a study published Oct. 12 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which pointed out that, of the countries the researchers investigated, Sweden and the U.S. essentially make up a category of two: they are the only countries with high overall mortality rates that have failed to rapidly reduce those numbers as the pandemic has progressed.

Yet the architects of the Swedish plan are selling it as a success to the rest of the world. And officials in other countries, including at the top level of the U.S. government, are discussing the strategy as one to emulate—despite the reality that doing so will almost certainly increase the rates of death and misery.

Countries that locked down early and/or used extensive test and tracing—including Denmark, Finland, Norway, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam and New Zealand—saved lives and limited damage to their economies. Countries that locked down late, came out of lock down too early, did not effectively test and quarantine, or only used a partial lockdown—including Brazil, Mexico, Netherlands, Peru, Spain, Sweden, the U.S. and the U.K.—have almost uniformly done worse in rates of infection and death.

Despite this, Sweden’s Public Health Agency director Johan Carlson has claimedthat “the Swedish situation remains favorable,” and that the country’s response has been “consistent and sustainable.” The data, however, show that the case rate in Sweden, as elsewhere in Europe, is currently increasing.

Average daily cases rose 173% nationwide from Sept. 2-8 to Sept. 30-Oct. 6 and in Stockholm that number increased 405% for the same period. Though some have argued that rising case numbers can be attributed to increased testing, a recent study of Stockholm’s wastewater published Oct. 5 by the Swedish Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) argues otherwise. An increased concentration of the virus in wastewater, the KTH researchers write, shows a rise of the virus in the population of the greater Stockholm area (where a large proportion of the country’s population live) in a way that is entirely independent of testing. Yet even with this rise in cases, the government is easing the few restrictions it had in place.

From early on, the Swedish government seemed to treat it as a foregone conclusion that many people would die. The country’s Prime Minister Stefan Löfven told the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter on April 3, “We will have to count the dead in thousands. It is just as well that we prepare for it.” In July, as the death count reached 5,500, Löfven said that the “strategy is right, I am completely convinced of that.” In September, Dr. Anders Tegnell, the Public Health Agency epidemiologist in charge of the country’s COVID-19 response reiterated the party line that a growing death count did “not mean that the strategy itself has gone wrong.” There has been a lack of written communication between the Prime Minister and the Pubic Health Authority: when the authors requested all emails and documents between the Prime Minister’s office and the Public Health Authority for the period Jan. 1—Sept. 14, the Prime Minister’s Registrar replied on Sept. 17 that none existed.

Despite the Public Health Agency’s insistence to the contrary, the core of this strategy is widely understood to have been about building natural “herd immunity”—essentially, letting enough members of a population (the herd) get infected, recover, and then develop an immune system response to the virus that it would ultimately stop spreading. Both the agency and Prime Minister Löfven have characterized the approach as “common sense“ trust-based recommendations rather than strict measures, such as lockdowns, which they say are unsustainable over an extended period of time—and that herd immunity was just a desirable side effect. However, internal government communications suggest otherwise.

Emails obtained by one of the authors through Freedom of Information laws (called offentlighetsprincipen, or “Openness Principle,” in Swedish) between national and regional government agencies, including the Swedish Public Health Authority, as well as those obtained by other journalists, suggest that the goal was all along in fact to develop herd immunity. We have also received information through sources who made similar requests or who corresponded directly with government agencies that back up this conclusion. For the sake of transparency, we created a website where we’ve posted some of these documents.

One example showing clearly that government officials had been thinking about herd immunity from early on is a March 15 email sent from a retired doctor to Tegnell, the epidemiologist and architect of the Swedish plan, which he forwarded to his Finnish counterpart, Mika Salminen. In it, the retired doctor recommended allowing healthy people to be infected in controlled settings as a way to fight the epidemic. “One point would be to keep schools open to reach herd immunity faster,” Tegnell noted at the top of the forwarded email.

Salminen responded that the Finnish Health Agency had considered this but decided against it, because “over time, the children are still going to spread the infection to other age groups.” Furthermore, the Finnish model showed that closing schools would reduce “the attack rate of the disease on the elderly” by 10%. Tegnell responded:10 percent might be worth it?”

The majority of the rest of Sweden’s policymakers seemed to have agreed: the country never closed daycare or schools for children under the age of 16, and school attendance is mandatory under Swedish law, with no option for distance learning or home schooling, even for family members in high risk groups. Policymakers essentially decided to use children and schools as participants in an experiment to see if herd immunity to a deadly disease could be reached. Multiple outbreaks at schools occurred in both the spring and autumn.

At this point, whether herd immunity was the “goal” or a “byproduct” of the Swedish plan is semantics, because it simply hasn’t worked. In April, the Public Health Agency predicted that 40% of the Stockholm population would have the disease and acquire protective antibodies by May. According to the agency’s ownantibody studies published Sept. 3 for samples collected up until late June, the actual figure for random testing of antibodies is only 11.4% for Stockholm, 6.3% for Gothenburg and 7.1% across Sweden. As of mid-August, herd immunity was still “nowhere in sight,” according to a Journal of the Royal Society of Medicinestudy. That shouldn’t have been a surprise. After all, herd immunity to an infectious disease has never been achieved without a vaccine.

Löfven, his government, and the Public Health Agency all say that the high COVID-19 death rate in Sweden can be attributed to the fact that a large portion of these deaths occurred in nursing homes, due to shortcomings in elderly care.

However, the high infection rate across the country was the underlying factor that led to a high number of those becoming infected in care homes. Many sick elderly were not seen by a doctor because the country’s hospitals were implementing a triage system that, according to a study published July 1 in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, appeared to have factored in age and predicted prognosis. “This likely reduced [intensive care unit] load at the cost of more high-risk patients”—like elderly people with confirmed infection—dying outside the ICU.” Only 13% of the elderly residents who died with COVID-19 during the spring received hospital care, according to preliminary statistics from the National Board of Health and Welfare released Aug.

In one case which seems representative of how seniors were treated, patient Reza Sedghi was not seen by a doctor the day he died from COVID-19 at a care home in Stockholm. A nurse told Sedghi’s daughter Lili Perspolisi that her father was given a shot of morphine before he passed away, that no oxygen was administered and staff did not call an ambulance. “No one was there and he died alone,” Perspolisi says.

In order to be admitted for hospital care, patients needed to have breathing problems and even then, many were reportedly denied care. Regional healthcare managers in each of Sweden’s 21 regions, who are responsible for care at hospitals as well as implementing Public Health Agency guidelines, have claimed that no patients were denied care during the pandemic. But internal local government documents from April from some of Sweden’s regions—including those covering the biggest cities of Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö—also show directives for how some patients including those receiving home care, those living at nursing homes and assisted living facilities, and those with special needs could not receive oxygen or hospitalization in some situations. Dagens Nyheterpublished an investigation on Oct. 13 showing that patients in Stockholm were denied care as a result of these guidelines. Further, a September investigation by Sveriges Radio, Sweden’s national public broadcaster, found that more than 100 people reported to the Swedish Health and Care Inspectorate that their relatives with COVID-19 either did not receive oxygen or nutrient drops or that they were not allowed to come to hospital.

These issues do not only affect the elderly or those who had COVID-19. The National Board of Health and Welfare’s guidelines for intensive care in extraordinary circumstances throughout Sweden state that priority should be given to patients based on biological, not chronological, age. Sörmlands Media, in an investigation published May 13, cited a number of sources saying that, in many parts of the country, the health care system was already operating in a way such that people were being denied the type of inpatient care they would have received in normal times. Regional health agencies were using a Clinical Frailty Scale, an assessment tool designed to predict the need for care in a nursing home or hospital, and the life expectancy of older people by estimating their fragility, to determine whether someone should receive hospital care and was applied to decisions regarding all sorts of treatment, not only for COVID-19. These guidelines led to many people with health care needs unrelated to COVID-19 not getting the care they need, with some even dying as a result—collateral damage of Sweden’s COVID-19 strategy.

Dr. Michael Broomé, the chief physician at Stockholm’s Karolinska Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit, says his department’s patient load tripled during the spring. His staff, he says, “have often felt powerless and inadequate. We have lost several young, previously healthy, patients with particularly serious disease courses. We have also repeatedly been forced to say no to patients we would normally have accepted due to a lack of experienced staff, suitable facilities and equipment.”

In June, Dagens Nyheter reported a story of one case showing how disastrous such a scenario can be. Yanina Lucero had been ill for several weeks in March with severe breathing problems, fever and diarrhea, yet COVID-19 tests were not available at the time except for those returning from high risk areas who displayed symptoms, those admitted to the hospital, and those working in health care. Yanina was only 39 years old and had no underlying illnesses. Her husband Cristian brought her to an unnamed hospital in Stockholm, but were told it was full and sent home, where Lucero’s health deteriorated. After several days when she could barely walk, an ambulance arrived and Lucero was taken to Huddinge hospital, where she was sedated and put on a ventilator. She died on April 15 without receiving a COVID-19 test in hospital.

Sweden did try some things to protect citizens from the pandemic. On March 12 the government restricted public gatherings to 500 people and the next day the Public Health Agency issued a press release telling people with possible COVID-19 symptoms to stay home. On March 17, the Public Health Agency asked employers in the Stockholm area to let employees work from home if they could. The government further limited public gatherings to 50 people on March 29. Yet there were no recommendations on private events and the 50-person limit doesn’t apply to schools, libraries, corporate events, swimming pools, shopping malls or many other situations. Starting April 1, the government restricted visitsto retirement homes (which reopened to visitors on Oct. 1 without masksrecommended for visitors or staff). But all these recommendations came later than in the other Nordic countries. In the interim, institutions were forced to make their own decisions; some high schools and universities changed to on-line teaching and restaurants and bars went to table seating with distance, and some companies instituted rules about wearing masks on site and encouraging employees to work from home.

Meanwhile Sweden built neither the testing nor the contact-tracing capacity that other wealthy European countries did. Until the end of May (and again in August), Sweden tested 20% the number of people per capita compared with Denmark, and less than both Norway and Finland; Sweden has often had among the lowest test rates in Europe. Even with increased testing in the fall, Sweden still only tests only about one-fourth that of Denmark.

Sweden never quarantined those arriving from high-risk areas abroad nor did it close most businesses, including restaurants and bars. Family members of those who test positive for COVID-19 must attend school in person, unlike in many other countries where if one person in a household tests positive the entire family quarantines, usually for 14 days. Employees must also report to work as usual unless they also have symptoms of COVID-19, an agreement with their employer for a leave of absence or a doctor recommends that they isolate at home.

On Oct. 1, the Public Health Authority issued non-binding “rules of conduct” that open the possibility for doctors to be able to recommend that certain individuals stay home for seven days if a household member tests positive for COVID-19. But there are major holes in these rules: they do not apply to children (of all ages, from birth to age 16, the year one starts high school), people in the household who previously have a positive PCR or antibody test or, people with socially important professions, such as health care staff (under certain circumstances).

There is also no date for when the rule would go into effect. “It may not happen right away, Stockholm will start quickly but some regions may need more time to get it all in place,” Tegnell said at a Oct. 1 press conference. Meanwhile, according to current Public Health Agency guidelines issued May 15 and still in place, those who test positive for COVID-19 are expected to attend work and school with mild symptoms so long as they are seven days post-onset of symptoms and fever free for 48 hours.

Sweden actually recommends against masks everywhere except in places where health care workers are treating COVID-19 patients (some regions expand that to health care workers treating suspected patients as well). Autumn corona outbreaks in Dalarna, Jönköping, Luleå, Malmö, Stockholm and Uppsalahospitals are affecting both hospital staff and patients. In an email on April 5, Tegnell wrote to Mike Catchpole, the chief scientist at the European Center for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC): “We are quite worried about the statement ECDC has been preparing about masks.” Tegnell attached a documentin which he expresses concern that ECDC recommending facemasks would “imply that the spread is airborne which would seriously harm further communication and trust among the population and health care workers” and concludes “we would like to warn against the publication of this advice.” Despite this, on April 8 ECDC recommended masks and on June 8 the World Health Organization updated its stance to recommend masks.

Sweden’s government officials stuck to their party line. Karin Tegmark Wisell of the Public Health Agency said at a press conference on July 14 that “we see around the world that masks are used in a way so that you rather increase the spread of infection.” Two weeks later, Lena Hallengren, the Minister of Health and Social Affairs, spoke about masks at a press conference on July 29 and said, “We don’t have that tradition or culture” and that the government “would not review the Public Health Agency’s decision not to recommend masks.”

All of this creates a situation which leaves teachers, bus drivers, medical workers and care home staff more exposed, without face masks at a time when the rest of the world is clearly endorsing widespread mask wearing.

On Aug. 13, Tegnell said that to recommend masks to the public “quite a lot of resources are required. There is quite a lot of money that would be spent if you are going to have masks.” Indeed, emails between Tegnell and colleagues at the Public Health Agency and Andreas Johansson of the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs show that the policy concerns of the health authority were influenced by financial interests, including the commercial concerns of Sweden’s airports.

Swedavia, the owner of the country’s largest airport, Stockholm Arlanda, told employees during the spring and early summer they could not wear masks or gloves to work. One employee told Upsala Nya Tidning newspaper on Aug. 24 “Many of us were sick during the beginning of the pandemic and two colleagues have died due to the virus. I would estimate that 60%-80% of the staff at the security checks have had the infection.”

“Our union representatives fought for us to have masks at work,” the employee said, “but the airport’s response was that we were an authority that would not spread fear, but we would show that the virus was not so dangerous.” Swedavia’s reply was that they had introduced the infection control measures recommended by the authorities. On July 1, the company changed its policy, recommending masks for everyone who comes to Arlanda—that, according to a Swedavia spokesperson, was not as a result of “an infection control measure advocated by Swedish authorities,” but rather, due to a joint European Union Aviation Safety Agency and ECDC recommendation for all of Europe.

As early as January, the Public Health Agency was warning the government about costs. In a Jan. 31 communique, Public Health Agency Director Johan Carlsson (appointed by Löfven) and General Counsel Bitte Bråstad wrote to the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs, cautioning the government about costs associated with classifying COVID-19 as a socially dangerous disease: “After a decision on quarantine, costs for it [include] compensation which according to the Act, must be paid to those who, due to the quarantine decision, must refrain from gainful employment. The uncertainty factors are many even when calculating these costs. Society can also suffer a loss of production due to being quarantined [and] prevented from performing gainful employment which they would otherwise have performed.” Sweden never implemented quarantine in society, not even for those returning from travel abroad or family members of those who test positive for COVID-19.

Not only did these lack of measures likely result in more infections and deaths, but it didn’t even help the economy: Sweden has fared worse economically than other Nordic countries throughout the pandemic.

The Swedish way has yielded little but death and misery. And, this situation has not been honestly portrayed to the Swedish people or to the rest of the world.

A Public Health Agency report published July 7 included data for teachers in primary schools working on-site as well as for secondary school teachers who switched to distance instruction online. In the report, they combined the two data sources and compared the result to the general population, stating that teachers were not at greater risk and implying that schools were safe. But in fact, the infection rate of those teaching in classrooms was 60% higher than those teaching online—completely undermining the conclusion of the report.

The report also compares Sweden to Finland for March through the end of May and wrongly concludes that the ”closing of schools had no measurable effect on the number of cases of COVID-19 among children.” As testing among children in Sweden was almost non-existent at that time compared to Finland, these data were misrepresented; a better way to look at it would be to consider the fact that Sweden had seven times as many children per capita treated in the ICU during that time period.

When pressed about discrepancies in the report, Public Health Agency epidemiologist Jerker Jonsson replied on Aug. 21 via email: “The title is a bit misleading. It is not a direct comparison of the situation in Finland to the situation in Sweden. This is just a report and not a peer-reviewed scientific study. This was just a quick situation report and nothing more.” However the Public Health Agency and Minister of Education continue to reference this report as justification to keep schools open, and other countries cite it as an example.

This is not the only case where Swedish officials have misrepresented data in an effort to make the situation seem more under control than it really is. In April, a group of 22 scientists and physicians criticized Sweden’s government for the 105 deaths per day the country was seeing at the time, and Tegnell and the Public Health Agency responded by saying the true number was just 60 deaths per day. Revised government figures now show Tegnell was incorrect and the critics were right. The Public Health Agency says the discrepancy was due to a backlog in accounting for deaths, but they have backlogged deaths throughout the pandemic, making it difficult to track and gauge the actual death toll in real time.

Sweden never went into an official lockdown but an estimated 1.5 million have self-isolated, largely the elderly and those in risk groups. This was probably the largest factor in slowing the spread of the virus in the country in the summer. However, recent data suggest that cases are yet again spiking in the country, and there’s no indication that government policies will adapt.

Health care workers, scientists and private citizens have all voiced concerns about the Swedish approach. But Sweden is a small country, proud of its humanitarian image—so much so that we cannot seem to understand when we have violated it. There is simply no way to justify the magnitude of lost lives, poorer health and putting risk groups into long-term isolation, especially not in an effort to reach an unachievable herd immunity. Countries need to take care before adopting the “Swedish way.” It could have tragic consequences for this pandemic or the next.

Source: The Swedish COVID-19 Response Is a Disaster. It Shouldn’t Be a Model for the Rest of the World

High anxiety: In Toronto’s immigrant-rich apartment towers, elevators and density keep many students at home

Yet another example of inequalities at work:

When the final bell rings at Thorncliffe Park Public School, Canada’s largest elementary school, dozens of children burst through the doors onto the schoolyard, immediately pulling their colourful masks below their mouths with the same relief that comes from undoing one’s top button after a big meal. In the apartments housed inside a cluster of highrises, the rest of the school population marks the end of the day more quietly, logging out of their online classrooms.

Most of those students live within a five-minute walk of the school, but their families, many of whom were deterred by the vertical commute, opted for remote learning this school year. In a survey conducted by community organizers in September, 75 per cent of parents in Thorncliffe and neighbouring highrise community Flemingdon Park – both COVID-19 hot spots – expressed worries about waiting for elevators and physical distancing on them.

Even before COVID-19 this was a struggle, and families, community leaders and teachers feared the crowding and wait might worsen without the ability to pack a dozen or more people in an elevator like they had in the past.

The school eliminated its late policy and parents were encouraged to pack lunches the night before for their children, but that still wasn’t enough to assuage fears. “I worried so much about the elevator. I couldn’t imagine them being at school on time,” said Saara Khota, who shares her two-bedroom 16th-floor apartment with her husband and four children.

She had big plans for the fall: For the first time in 13 years, she was going to go back to school to continue her education in computer science with hopes of finding work. Instead, over concerns about the elevators and her children’s abilities to wear masks properly, she signed three of her kids up for remote learning.Zoom/Pan

When school started, just 62 per cent of students returned to class at Thorncliffe Park Public School, which has a student body of 1,350. Later, even more made the switch and, this week, only about 56 per cent are registered to be in class, according to the Toronto District School Board.

It’s part of a larger trend of approximately 7,500 students across the board moving online in the weeks since school started as COVID-19 case counts have exponentially risen.

For decades, this neighbourhood has been a magnet for newcomers. Eight out of 10 residents are racialized (the majority are immigrants from South Asian countries) and the median household income is $46,595, about 30 per cent less than the city as a whole.

Toronto Public Health data show the coronavirus has disproportionately infected racialized and low-income people, who have also felt the virus’s secondary effects more acutely, logging higher rates of job losses, poverty and food-bank reliance.

School board data show families in areas with the highest COVID-19 case rates were more likely to select remote learning.

Keeping her children at home didn’t feel like a viable option for Sana Khan, a mother of two and a Pakistani immigrant.

Her children are in junior kindergarten and Grade 5 and she doesn’t feel equipped to parent and assist with their learning at home, so, with reservations, she sent them back to school.

“I’m always worried for the kids,” she said in the lobby of her building on a recent morning after school drop-off. “You don’t know who they’re coming across, who might make them sick.”

That afternoon after the pickup, she detoured to the nearby plaza after school – she needed to get groceries, but this is a common tactic neighbourhood parents use to avoid afternoon rush hour at the highrises.

A queue snaked out the door of Ms. Khan’s building until about 4:15 p.m. as one staffer played usher, managing the crowd and ensuring not too many crowded onto the elevators, while another deposited a squirt of hand sanitizer in every resident’s palm before they entered the lobby.

All the parents The Globe and Mail spoke to said they were pleasantly surprised by how smoothly things have gone with the elevators – they’ve made adjustments, as have the schools, but most importantly, far fewer students are actually leaving their buildings each day to get to school. The crowds have been so light that Ms. Khota decided to send her second eldest, who is in Grade 5, back to class this week.

Mehreen Ubaid, one of Ms. Khan’s neighbours, lives on the second floor of the building, but the elevator is still a part of her daily routine because she has a one-year-old who is usually transported by stroller. The risk of one of her three school-going children becoming infected with the coronavirus already felt high before school started: Her husband is a taxi driver.

Having arrived here from Pakistan in July, 2019, she is still learning English (she spoke to The Globe in Urdu through an interpreter), so assisting her children with anything they struggled with this school year would’ve been an impossibility.

Since the first day of school, a WhatsApp group for Thorncliffe parents who chose remote learning for their young children has lit up several times with inquiries about whether any neighbourhood teens might be available to tutor since the language barrier has left parents unable to assist their children with even simple assignments – 57.8 per cent of residents have a home language that isn’t English.

Shakhlo Sharipova, a member of that group, said the remote learners experienced a host of other problems as well. On the morning she assumed would be her daughter Khadija’s much-postponed first day of kindergarten at Fraser Mustard Early Learning Academy, which is beside Thorncliffe Park Public School, she couldn’t log into the online learning platform and learned she wasn’t the only one. Each morning for weeks she was greeted with a flurry of messages in the WhatsApp group: “Were you able to get into Brightspace?” “Has class started?” “Does your child have a teacher yet?”

Certain her daughter would not be able to wear a mask on the elevator ride for the journey from her apartment down to the lobby (let alone in class all day), Ms. Sharipova thought remote learning was the best option. But once classes finally began, Khadija was distracted and disengaged, especially as her teacher navigated WiFi issues, at one point clumsily reading a book to her virtual class while holding her cellphone out so they could see the pictures.

Ms. Sharipova found herself responsible for multiple hours of teaching each day, which she knew she couldn’t keep up after accepting a job at a local pop-up COVID-19 testing site. So she decided after a few days to send her daughter back to class – risks and all (about 3,000 other students have registered to do the same within the board). She says it’s a shame so many in her community don’t feel they have a true choice when it comes to how their children will be educated. “It’s disappointing and kind of unfair, you know?” she said.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-high-anxiety-in-torontos-immigrant-rich-apartment-towers-elevators/

#COVID-19: Comparing provinces with other countries 14 October Update

No changes in relative ranking as overall rate of infections climbs in most jurisdictions:

Weekly:
 
 

To Tackle Racial Disparities In COVID-19, California Enacts New Metric For Reopening

Worth considering in Canadian provinces as well, particularly in for our larger centres:

There are many things still unknown about the coronavirus. But one thing is certain: the disproportionate harm COVID-19 has caused in communities of color.

To address the issue, California has implemented a new health equity requirement on the state’s 35 largest counties — those with a population of more than 106,000. It’s believed to be the first such measure in the U.S.

In order to advance to the next phase of economic reopening, counties like Los Angeles will need to reduce the levels of the virus in their most vulnerable communities — by meeting certain test-positivity goals as well as showing targeted investments in resources such as more increased testing, contact tracing and education.

The goal isn’t simply to reduce the number of cases, but to bring the numbers in a county’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods more in line with the county’s overall level.

“We want to make sure that our focus on COVID has a look at every community, regardless of skin color or wealth, and that we are concerned about equity,” Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s health secretary, tells All Things Considered. “That means a disproportionate investment in populations and groups that have a disproportionate impact.”

Latinos make up about 40% of the state’s population, but account for 61% of coronavirus cases and nearly 50% of the deaths. The Black community is 6% of the population, but accounts for about 4% of cases and more than 7% of deaths.

Compare that to the white population — which is about 37% of the population, but 17% of cases and just about 30% of deaths.

Here are excerpts from the interview.

On business owners who might chafe at the health equity metric

For a county to be able to move forward with confidence and success, bringing all of their communities along with reduced transmission, flooding the communities that need testing with that, making sure that we have enough disease investigators and supporting isolation, really allow the county as a whole to move forward, even sooner and with greater confidence, because the disparate levels of transmission within a single county can really lead to problems for the entire county, as the level of mixing, while we reopen more of our business sectors, occurs. …

We know that so many of the communities that have the disproportionate impact are, in fact, the essential workers and the people who travel on public transportation and move into all parts of the community. So really, this is not just a focus on the race and ethnic impacts of COVID, but really a strategy to make sure we address transmission in a wise and thoughtful way across our state.

We believe that it certainly gives us a greater path to addressing some of it. In the short run, we focus on creating access to testing. We create better, stronger lines of communication between public health officials and those communities, causing us to hire and bring on more bilingual staff that can relate and connect with the target population. So we believe it both focuses on COVID, but also gives us a pathway to continue to increase our connection and deepened impact with communities that, on so many health measures, have faced a disproportionate impact of disease and other bad outcomes.

Source: To Tackle Racial Disparities In COVID-19, California Enacts New Metric For Reopening

#COVID-19: Comparing provinces with other countries 7 October Update

Highlights:

Deaths per million: USA now ahead of UK

Infections per million: France and Quebec ahead of Sweden, Japan ahead of Atlantic Canada

Weekly:
 
 

‘Overlooked’: Asian American Jobless Rate Surges But Few Take Notice

A reversal from pre-COVID. Canadian data by visible minority group shows some comparable trend with respect to income but less so for most Asian groups:

The coronavirus pandemic is taking a heavy economic toll on Asian Americans.

From Vietnamese nail salons to Cambodian donut shops, Asian-owned businesses have struggled. And Asian American workers have gone from having the lowest unemployment rate in the country to one of the highest.

Jerry Raburn lost his job at a mortgage servicing company in Southern California in March, just six months after he started.

“The business decreased dramatically, and based on seniority, I was let go,” said Raburn, who came to the U.S. from Thailand when he was 8 years old.

He now shares a single room with his mom, brother and sister in another family’s house.

“Everything just went downhill,” Raburn said. “I’m still unemployed, unfortunately, and I’ve been looking.”

David Canlas, who is from the Philippines, also lost his job consulting for software startups when the pandemic struck.

“Right now, nobody has start-up capital,” Canlas said. “Nobody has the budget to go hire a consultant. Nobody even feels comfortable for me to come into their office.”

The spike in Asian American unemployment stands out, even amidst the widespread misery of the pandemic.

A year ago, the jobless rate for Asian Americans was 2.8% — lower than that of whites, Blacks or Latinos. But Asian American unemployment soared to 15% in May, and it was still 10.7% in August — well above the rate of 7.3% for whites and the Latino rate of 10.5%. Only African Americans had a higher jobless rate of 13%.

While disparities in employment among Latinos and African Americans have garnered headlines during the pandemic, Asian American job losses have attracted less notice.

“Asian Americans are absolutely overlooked,” said Marlene Kim, an economist at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. “People have the sense that Asians are fine. That they’re a model minority. That they have good jobs and are doing OK.”

Geography explains some of the newfound challenges. Asian Americans are concentrated in places like New York and California, where the virus has taken a heavy toll.

Occupation also plays a role. Nearly a quarter of the Asian American workforce is employed in industries such as restaurants, retail, and personal services such as nail salons.

“Those industries have been hard hit by the pandemic and they traditionally employ many Asian Americans,” said economist Donald Mar of San Francisco State University.

Asian Americans also worry about discrimination, and say President Trump hasn’t helped with his provocative labeling of what he has repeatedly called the “Chinese virus.”

Paul Ong of UCLA noted that Chinatown in Los Angeles suffered an earlier and deeper drop in foot and vehicle traffic than the city’s other commercial neighborhoods.

“People are avoiding these areas in part because of this myth that somehow Asian Americans are tied in with the spread of the coronavirus,” Ong said. “Certainly that is untrue and unfair. But there’s no question that it gets reflected in the impact on the ethnic economy.”

That can be a real problem for Asian Americans who are new to the country or have limited English skills. In ordinary times, the social and economic networks of an immigrant community can open doors and provide opportunity. But Ong warned over-reliance on those networks can be a trap during a crisis like the pandemic.

“If you’re in an ethnic sector and all the restaurants are facing the same problem of being shut down, your opportunity to find work is minimal if not non-existent.”

Raburn has filed numerous online job applications since he was laid off by the mortgage servicing company, even though he finds the process soul killing.

“You don’t talk to a person,” he said. “It makes me not ever want to look for jobs again. But I have to look for a job.”

Raburn is also attending community college, and said his younger brother recently landed a job at Home Depot. Events have tested but not yet beaten his immigrant family’s hope for a brighter future.

“Life is hard in any country,” Raburn said. “I believe America will get better.”

Source: ‘Overlooked’: Asian American Jobless Rate Surges But Few Take Notice

#COVID-19: Comparing provinces with other countries 30 September Update

Highlights:

Deaths per million:Canada less Quebec now ahead of Germany

Infections per million: Ontario now ahead of Germany, Canada less Quebec ahead of Philippines

Weekly:

Monthly Comparison (September 2-30 increase percent):
Infections: British Columbia and Prairies in top 5 jurisdictions with highest increases
Deaths: No provinces in top 5 in terms of increased death rates but British Columbia, Alberta and Prairies in top 10
The Globe has an editorial highly critical of the Ford government:

The German language probably has a word for the state of being surprised by the unsurprising, unprepared for the expected, and caught off guard by the danger you were on guard against. English does not have such a word. But when this pandemic is over, we are going to have to come up with one.

We’ll need it to describe what appears to be happening right now, in Canada.

Governments from coast to coast knew a second wave was coming. It was as predictable as fall. It was as expected as the rising of the sun. It was as surprising as the first snowfall – timing and severity uncertain; occurrence inevitable.

And yet, somehow, many governments have reacted like someone who forgot to set the alarm clock. Leading the parade of those surprised by the unsurprising is Premier Doug Ford’s Ontario government.

On Monday, Ontario reported 700 new cases of COVID-19, a new single-day record. Also on Monday, Ontario casinos reopened their doors to gamblers.

They say timing is everything in comedy and politics. In pandemics, too.

Also on Monday, the Ford government announced that, in response to the second wave, it would be hiring 3,700 more frontline health care workers. It’s a move that should have been made in May or June, not late September.

Still on Monday: Ontario reported processing more than 41,000 tests, but had a backlog of 49,586 waiting to be analyzed. By Tuesday, the backlog was nearly 55,000. The province, like many parts of the country, has recently seen enormous lineups at testing centres; lineups that are – how is this surprising? – driven by the predictable and predicted combination of rising infection rates and people needing to get tested to allow a safe return to school.

Yet again on Monday: The Ottawa Citizen obtained a memo showing that provincial health bureaucrats ordered a reduction in testing in some areas, owing to labs being overwhelmed. It’s another unsurprising result of too little test-processing capacity meeting growing demand for tests.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the pinned tweet at the top of Health Minister Christine Elliott’s Twitter feed still said: “It’s never been more important to get tested for #COVID19.” She’s right. The more people who get tested, the more often, the better. That should include lots of people who have no symptoms. But if everyone takes that advice to heart in the current system, where there are not enough tests or facilities to process them, Grade 3 math points to the inevitability of a surprisingly unsurprising outcome.

For anyone who remembers what Ontario went through last spring, that outcome looks all too familiar. We have lived this movie before.

Yes, Ontario is conducting several times more daily tests than it did back in April. Yes, Ontario has the second-highest provincial testing rate (Alberta is tops). There has been progress. There just hasn’t been enough.

With case numbers rising, as in the spring, and testing not keeping pace, as in the spring, this looks a lot like a sequel. The script has a disturbing amount of consistency. If it were run through plagiarism-detection software, someone would be getting an “F.”

More unsurprisingly surprising findings:

The most recent data from Toronto Public Health, as reported by the CBC, show that most people testing for COVID-19 don’t get results for at least two days. And nearly half of those who test positive are not followed up by contact tracers within 24 hours. Both of those numbers are well below the targets that need to be met for a program of heavy testing and contact tracing – which the province is supposed to have, but doesn’t – to be able to quickly find infected people before they infect others, and even more quickly track down anyone they may have infected.

In an effort to speed things up, the Ford government last week gave the green light for some pharmacies to begin administering tests to some asymptomatic individuals. The province also intends to hire more contact tracers. The mystery is why it didn’t do that months ago.

And last week, the province began rolling out plans for its response to the pandemic’s second wave. But this is like announcing in January that, in response to recent snowfalls, you plan to put out a tender for snowplows. It’s a bit late in the game.

And CBC has an analysis of what went wrong in Quebec:

A little over a month ago, Health Minister Christian Dubé congratulated Quebecers for their hard work at containing the spread of the coronavirus.

It was a Tuesday, Aug. 25, and the province had registered just 94 new cases of COVID-19 in the previous 24 hours.

“We have really succeeded at controlling the transmission of COVID,” Dubé said at a news conference in Montreal.

It was a statement of fact, but the ground had already started to shift. In the weeks that followed, transmission increased. At first it grew slowly, then exponentially.

On Monday, the government implicitly acknowledged it has again lost control of the virus. The province is reimposing lockdown measures on Quebec’s two biggest cities, starting Oct. 1.

Until Oct. 28, Quebecers won’t be able to entertain friends or families at home. Bars, restaurant dining rooms, theatres and cinemas will also be closed.

“The situation has become critical,” Premier François Legault said Monday evening. “If we don’t want our hospitals to be submerged, if we want to limit the number of deaths, we must take strong action.”

The new measures will bring abrupt changes to the lives of millions of Quebecers. They will also prompt questions about how the public health situation could have deteriorated so quickly.

This story tries to trace how Quebec again lost control of the spread of COVID-19.

At first, a stern warning

As Dubé addressed reporters on that Tuesday in late August, public health officials in Quebec City were busy trying to track down patrons of Bar Kirouac, a watering hole in the working-class Saint-Sauveur neighbourhood.

A karaoke night at the bar ultimately led to 72 cases and the activity being banned in the province.

There were also numerous reports by then of young people holding massive house parties and flouting physical distancing recommendations. One of them, in Laval, led to a small outbreak.

On Aug. 31, as Quebec’s daily average of new cases neared 152 cases, Legault delivered a stern warning.

“There has been a general slackening in Quebec,” Legault said. “It’s important to exercise more discipline.”

Legault and his health minister threatened stiffer punishments for those who disobeyed public-health rules, but stopped short of imposing new restrictions.

Private gatherings identified as the culprit

In late August, public health officials were attributing the rise in infections to Quebecers returning home from vacations around the province, as opposed to the start of school.

Though Quebec’s back-to-school plan wasn’t met with widespread criticism, some experts expressed concern about the large class sizes and the lack of physical distancing guidelines for students.

The government also ignored advice that it should make masks mandatory inside the classroom.

But the first weeks of the school year went relatively smoothly. By the start of Labour Day weekend, only 46 out of the province’s 3,100 schools had reported a case of COVID-19. Importantly, there were no major outbreaks.

The problem was elsewhere. Outside schools, in the community at large, cases continued to rise. On Sept. 8, the province was averaging 228 cases per day.

By now public health officials had identified private gatherings as the main culprit behind the increase.Montreal’s regional director of public health, Dr. Mylène Drouin, was among those who urged more caution when hanging out with friends and family.

“Yes, we can have social activities, but we have to reduce contacts to be able to reduce secondary transmission,” Drouin said on Sept. 9.

Warning signs

In an effort to spell out the consequences of the increase in cases, the Quebec government unveiled a series of colour-coded alert levels.

Areas coded green would see few restrictions; yellow zones would see more enforcement of existing rules; orange zones would be the target of added restrictions; and red zones would see more widespread closures of non-essential activities.

When the scheme was announced on Sept. 8, Quebec City was classified yellow. Montreal was classified green.

At this point, though, health experts were already concerned that more was needed to curb the spread of the virus.”It is important to intensify these measures,” Dr. Cécile Tremblay, an infectious disease specialist with the Université de Montréal hospital network, said after the alert levels were announced.

The warning signs were starting to multiply.

Officials in Montreal were investigating 20 outbreaks at workplaces on Sept. 9; a week later that number had risen to 30. Long lines were also forming outside testing centres, filled with anxious parents and their children.

And more stories were circulating of private gatherings where the 10-person limit was ignored, angering the health minister.

He told reporters about a dinner with 17 people at a restaurant in Montérégie, which led to 31 cases. A corn roast in the Lower St. Lawrence, he said, resulted in 30 cases.

“To me, that’s unacceptable,” Dubé said on Sept. 15.”If people won’t understand from these examples then, I’m sorry, but they’ll never understand.”

He moved Montreal, and four other regions, into the yellow zones and banned bars from serving food after midnight. The province was averaging 338 new cases per day.

Second wave arrives

The warnings from the government did not curb the spread of the virus. By mid-September, authorities were reporting more cases in closed settings.

On Sept. 17, Herzliah High School in Montreal became the first school in the province to say it was shutting down for two weeks to deal with an outbreak. At least 400 other schools were also dealing with active cases of COVID-19.

Cases accumulated too in private seniors homes (known as RPAs), a major source of concern for public officials given the vulnerability of the residents to COVID-19.There were only 39 cases in RPAs at the start of the month, and 157 by Sept. 20.

On that day the government announced it was moving Montreal, Quebec City and the Chaudière-Appalaches region into the orange zone, the second-highest alert level. Private gatherings were capped at six people.

The province was by then averaging 501 new cases per day. The second wave had begun, according Quebec’s public health director, Horacio Arruda.

Red zone

Over the last week, Quebec’s health system has shown signs of strain as authorities race to contain the spread of the virus.

Drouin, the Montreal public health director, admitted on Sept. 21 that her contact-tracing teams were swamped by the demand.

Until now, the increase in cases had not been accompanied by a corresponding surge in hospitalizations. Most of the new cases were concentrated in younger people.But the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in Quebec has increased by 45 per cent in the last seven days. Hospital staff are starting to get stretched. Several thousand health-care workers are in preventive isolation.

“We’re feeling the second wave,” Dr François Marquis, the head of intensive care at Montreal’s Maisonneuve-Rosemont hospital. “We were apprehensive about it, but now it’s a reality.”

On Monday, Quebec reported 750 new cases of COVID-19. Montreal and Quebec City were classified as red zones later that evening.

Source: How Quebec went from COVID-19 success story to hot spot in 30 days

Kingwell: We are all students of The Plague

Kingwell on reading the plague during COVID:

Albert Camus’s 1947 novel The Plague has enjoyed renewed success during the 2020 pandemic, to the point where it is no longer easy to get a hold of a copy in person or by mail. When I set it as the first text in a small seminar I’m teaching this fall, Ethics and Literature, I knew it would prove both timely and provocative.

The syllabus for this course was fixed some months ago, but since then two significant facts have been added to the resonance of the novel. The first is that this class, a limited-enrolment course for first-year undergraduates, is happening entirely online. The second is that, owing to a visit to the United States to help with my in-laws’ acute but non-COVID-19 medical care, I’m in quarantine right now.

This isn’t onerous. During initial lockdown and even over the more liberated summer months, I spent most of every day at home, with books and screens for company. My spouse and I would meet in the evening to cook dinner and drink some wine. We might go for a walk, or sometimes meet someone in the park nearby. No ballgames, plays, restaurants, or travel.

But a grim truth of Camus’s story is how much it matters whether you are homebound by choice or by decree. Likewise, the routine boredom of his setting, the sleepy town of Oran, becomes a fearsome restlessness under cordon conditions. The denizens, lacking long-distance communication – even the mail is halted for fear of infection – fall back upon themselves in attitudes that run from religious mania and suicidal tendencies to resolute fortitude and various degrees of self-delusion.

There are also many instances of bureaucratic incompetence and heartlessness, of just the sort we have come to expect from authorities in our own plague days. Attempting to cross into the U.S., I was challenged to justify my existence in a manner as stonily ruthless as anything in Kafka. “What do you need him for?” my American spouse was asked incredulously. (To her credit, her first response was, “Well, he’s my husband.”) I managed to say nothing during this hostile exchange, even though I really wanted to point out that, barring family duty, I had no desire to visit the insane, disease-riddled, conspiracist-authoritarian wasteland that used to be America.

The most unsettling period was between this first “interview” and the second stage of inspection, which we endured in a parking lot without our passports. Like many Canadians, I take for granted the magical niceness of the Canadian passport, which usually opens doors without a pause. At that moment, I felt the tiniest twinge of stateless anxiety, the feeling that you are nothing absent highly contingent credentials. We got across, finally, and spent the next 10 days dealing with hospitals, caregivers, medical supply companies and big-box stores that sell everything from baby monitors and special pillows to probiotics and painkillers.

One of the students in my seminar is in quarantine, too. Another is in Delhi, attending the class late at night. The rest are scattered around Toronto and distant parts of Canada and the U.S. There is no such thing as a perfect technology, but our online meetings have been upbeat and fun considering how depressing the subject matter is. A shared story creates community. The students are especially fond of the chat function on our video platform, adding a running commentary to the main conversation that I find funny and they find engaging. So far so good.

In their weekly papers and comments during class, though, a darker mood emerged. Camus’s novel offers many obvious parallels to the COVID-19 pandemic, not least the initial refusal of citizens and authorities alike to take it seriously. Then, as the pestilence takes hold more firmly, comes a creeping sense that life may never be the same again.

One of my students wrote, “I’m constantly questioning whether it’s possible for us to go back to the way things were, or if the pandemic will ever end at all.” Another said: “Before the plague, the people of Oran are imprisoned by their habits but, during the plague, they are prisoners to their city and furthermore imprisoned within themselves. … [T]he irony of the situation is that they yearn to go back to being prisoners of their habits, almost as though suffering from Stockholm syndrome.”

This is Camus on the larger point: “[N]ow they had abruptly become aware that they were undergoing a sort of incarceration under that blue dome of sky, already beginning to sizzle in the fires of summer, they had a vague sensation that their whole lives were threatened by the present turn of events.” A plague is many things, sometimes only incidentally a potentially fatal disease. It is above all a social condition and a challenge to self – and maybe an opportunity for reflection. One needn’t be an absurdist to appreciate how Camus demonstrates the lurking meaninglessness of ordinary life when it is unmoored from familiar lines, habits and experiences of time.

Consider perhaps the most interesting character in the novel, the loner Jean Tarrou. In one of his notebooks we find this query: “How contrive not to waste one’s time? Answer: By being fully aware of it all the while. Ways in which this can be done: By spending one’s days on an uneasy chair in a dentist’s waiting-room; by remaining on one’s balcony all a Sunday afternoon; by listening to lectures in a language one doesn’t know; by traveling by the longest and least-convenient train routes, and of course standing all the way; by lining up at the box-office of theaters and then not buying a seat; and so forth.”

Later, speaking of his choice to affirm life over death, he says this: “[O]n this earth there are pestilences and there are victims, and it’s up to us, so far as possible, not to join forces with the pestilences.” Not all plagues are physical, after all. Unwasted time is a form of resistance, especially when the hours drag. Lively minds in action, struggling with new realities and old books, my seminarians remind us all how to cope when life feels stalled and out of joint. The cardinal virtues are patience, humility and compassion – because, in philosophy class or out, we’re all plague students now.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-we-are-all-students-of-the-plague/