Surfing the Waves of SARS-CoV-2 and Lockdowns in Canada and Around the World
In a way, writing about the ongoing insanity is helping me keep sane … that’s the last sentence of the conclusion of volume 2 of the Coronoia series. “The Coronoia Reloaded” was published on Bastille Day of 2021, sadly also coincident with President Macron’s announcement of vaccine passports to further establish totalitarian central control of life in France.
The book is currently awaiting re-approval from Amazon KDP (Kindle Desktop Publishing) after undergoing a few minor corrections. For the cover photo, I again took a picture of a discarded mask sullying my Southern Georgian Bay beach. The mask is a stark symbol of the futile precautions (see Chapter 13) we continue to engage in, while SARS-CoV-2 just wants to be its viral self (see Part I).
With non-pharmaceutical interventions against SARS-CoV-2, we are pursuing futile precaution at the cost of focused protection.
In an interview for the documentary “Planet Lockdown”, retired epidemiologist Dr. Knut Wittkowski mentions the subtitle of the famous play, “The Barber of Seville”. The subtitle “The Futile Precaution” refers to the literary theme of an older man’s useless attempts to prevent his young wife or love interest from running away with a younger man. The non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) — lockdowns, “social” distancing, and face-covering — mandated to slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2 increasingly feel like such a futile attempt at stopping a respiratory virus from running its course. As Dr. Wittkowski notes, “we have seen that theme be played on the largest stage possible, the entire world!”
To cope with the “world … gone bonkers” (quoted from Dr. Malcolm Kendrick), I signed up for daily emails from one-of-a-kind libertarian Tom Woods. His confident bashing of “lockdown supporters” has been quite uplifting among the dissonance of zealous-hysterical fear-mongering found across the (social) media. For months now, Woods has been promoting the work of twitterer Ian Miller. Miller shares graphs of daily new “COVID-19 cases” for different countries, US states and counties, and the occasional Canadian province, with markers for noteworthy policy changes such as the beginning and end of mask mandates; public news and statements about mask effectiveness; or major holidays or sports events that were expected to result in “spikes” of cases. The graphs unfailingly show no difference between the curves of states that pursued different approaches; no outbreaks after the lifting of lockdowns and mask mandates; but conversely epidemic curves increasing dramatically despite government restrictions. A small selection is shown here.
Following “the” science will get us nowhere – our pandemic response needs a greater diversity of strategies being explored and implemented
The lines above were the original title and subtitle for an opinion piece written by myself and five other Ontario academics, which was published this week in the Toronto Sun under the title “It’s time to follow the scientific method — and re-evaluate Canada’s COVID approach“. We did not intend to present any groundbreaking new findings around the disease or the pandemic response. We merely wanted to put another stake in the ground to argue for more open debate, the end of debasing, censoring, and deplatforming critical voices, and the return to common sense and evidence-based government decision-making.
The greatest strengths of the piece, in my opinion, lies in the group of authors, which consisted of a biotechnologist, two geographers, a historian, a physicist, a physiologist, and a statistician. Across these natural and social science disciplines as well as the humanities, we are united in the conviction that the Western world’s pandemic response to SARS-CoV-2 was badly mismanaged. Importantly, we believe that at this point in the pandemic, you do not need to be a medical or public health expert to speak up; every single person in the world is a stakeholder in the pandemic that they are experiencing and often suffering from!
Brock University in St. Catherines, Ontario, just announced its Fall 2021 return-to-campus procedures. The decision that “vaccines will not be mandatory“, which is highlighted in the title of the announcement, is a welcome distinction from certain other universities’ approaches. For example, under the guise of “safety first”, Western University in London, Ontario, “mandates vaccinations for students in residence“, noting possible exemptions under the Ontario Human Rights Code, and the University of Toronto requires students to have at least the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in order to provide a “safe and welcoming residence experience” (no exceptions mentioned). Unfortunately, my university just announced a 180-degree turn from last week and followed its big sister across town to require vaccines for students living in residence on campus. Our spokesperson is quoted saying “This measure is necessary to support students’ safety, growth and development“.
Does a mandatory COVID-19 vaccine really provide a “safe and welcoming residence experience” and contribute to “safety, growth and development” of our students? It may indeed bestow a feeling of safety, which I argue is misconstrued as a consequence of persistent, possibly willful, ignorance of the science behind the vaccine trials and an outdated COVID-19 risk assessment.
Throughout 2020, state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell, in charge of Sweden’s moderate response to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, kept pointing to the longterm collateral damage caused by lockdowns and saying that the year-end excess mortality would be the earliest metric to assess the success or failure of the “Swedish model”, as compared to what we might call the “Chinese model” based on the origin of lockdown measures. Many a lockdown skeptic has been waiting for the annual mortality statistics, only to find out that even something as seemingly straightforward as recording deaths isn’t without challenges and delays, and moreover that the concept of “excess mortality” is anything but definitive.
Let’s examine mortality trends for Canada. Most of the data sources and graphs included here were inspired by Twitter user @Milhouse_Van_Ho, who has prepared and shared series of COVID-19 statistics for Toronto, Ontario, Quebec, and all of Canada since April 2020, and whose contributions to an evidence-based discussion of the virus threat and suitable response measures I want to gratefully acknowledge. Statistics Canada wrote about “Excess mortality in Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic” in August 2020, explaining that measuring excess mortality requires an accurate death count as well as “some way to determine the number of deaths that would be expected to be observed were there no pandemic”. Without giving details, they suggest that Canada is using an estimate that takes longer-term trends into account. And, “In the Canadian context, with an aging and growing population, the number of deaths has been steadily increasing over recent years and so a higher number of deaths in 2020 would be expected regardless of COVID-19.”
Documentary Explores the Science Behind the Pandemic
“CORONA.FILM” was conceived in April 2020 as a crowd-founded documentary to investigate the corona crisis. The credentials of Berlin-based director and producer Robert Cibis include the 2017 documentary “trustWHO”, which uncovered the influence of the pharmaceutical industry on the World Health Organization. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Cibis’s company OVALmedia had worked primarily for mainstream TV channels. Since mid-2020, they also act as the broadcaster of the weekly sessions of the German corona commission.
The 75-minute documentary “CORONA.FILM – Prologue” premiered on Tuesday, 23 March 2021, through contribution-based viewing, but within two days Vimeo deleted OVALmedia’s entire 10-year old channel. The filmmakers then released the film freely on Bitchute (https://www.bitchute.com/video/8jp63jH8kauM), Libry (https://odysee.com/@ovalmedia:d/CORONAFILM_prologue_EN:d), and also Youtube (censored), asking viewers for voluntary donations. The English copy of the film is subtitled (not synchronized), with some of interviews included in their original language (English, Italian, …).
Yet Another Review of the Terminology Used to Describe Techniques for Making Multiple Variables Comparable
Ok, here we go again. I wrote in this blog on 30 November 2013 about “Normalization vs. Standardization – Clarification (?) of Key Geospatial Data Processing Terminology using the Example of Toronto Neighbourhood Wellbeing Indicators“. Note the question mark in that title? Its length and that of my title and subtitle today, and the choice of words used in them, will tell you a lot about the challenge at hand: clarifying, reviewing, and settling – once and for all! – the meaning of terms like “normalization”, “standardization”, and “rescaling”. The challenge is related to the processing and combination of multiple variables in GIS-based multi-criteria decision analysis, for example in my ongoing professional elective GEO641 GIS and Decision Support, and extends to many situations in which we utilize multi-variate statistical or analytical tools for geographic inquiry.
In two other blog posts, I discussed the need to normalize raw-count variables for choropleth mapping. On 26 March 2020, I wrote about “The Graduated Colour Map: A Minefield for Armchair Cartographers“. The armchair cartographer’s greatest gaffe: mapping raw-count variables as choropleth or graduated-colour maps. In a post dated 3 November 2020 on “How to Lie with COVID-19 Maps … or tell some truths through refined cartography“, I go into more detail about why to use “relative metrics” on choropleth maps. These metrics can take the form of a percentage, proportion, ratio, rate, or density. They are obtained by dividing a raw-count variable by a suitable reference variable. In class, I used the example of unemployment, where the City of Toronto provides the number of unemployed people in each its 140 neighbourhoods.
The New Public Health: Goodbye, common-sense compassionate care and social justice, and welcome, state-ordered child abuse.
In Sartre’s play “Huit Clos”, three individuals find themselves quarantined post-mortem in a room that serves as hell. They turn on each other to the point where the protagonist laments “l’enfer c’est les autres”. I won’t claim that I even begin to understand the existentialist nuances of these words, yet the superficial meaning of “hell is other people” is becoming more and more evident in the corona crisis.
My brilliant girlfriend had just made me aware of the Sartre quote that fits so well with the new hotel quarantine procedures for travellers returning home to Canada. But then the public health authority of our neighbouring Region of Peel raised the bid even higher. In a flyer summarizing what to do when a child is sent home after exposure to COVID-19 (e.g. because of a classmate with a positive test), they literally wrote:
“The child must self-isolate, which means: • Stay in a separate bedroom • Eat in a separate room apart from others • Use a separate bathroom, if possible • If the child must leave their room, they should wear a mask and stay 2 metres apart from others”
Source: Peel Region child dismissed protocol, posted at https://peelregion.ca/coronavirus/_media/child-dismissed-protocol-en.pdf until 28 February 2021
A few years ago, some American and international cartography and GIS experts banded together to hold low-key community mapping events under the Maptime label. The international site and the MaptimeTO Twitter account of the Toronto group are dormant, but the idea is alive and well – let’s start a Ryerson University map club under the MaptimeRU banner!
In class the other day, we had a look at “The True Size Of…” web app, which illustrates the size distortion of countries under the Web Mercator projection. Some students already knew the example of Greenland. In most online maps, Greenland looks about as big as the continent of Africa, but its size is greatly inflated under the Mercator projection due to its far-northern latitude. When you pull it towards the equator for size comparison, it shrinks to as little as 7% of Africa, and that is the actual ratio of their land surfaces.
Size comparison maps are popular talking points but they are surprisingly tricky to make in geographic information systems (GIS). After all, we usually aim to map things at their actual location on planet earth’s surface. John Nelson, cartography and user experience specialist at world-leading GIS company Esri, recently posted a blog and video tutorial on “How to make one of those size comparison maps” in ArcGIS Pro. As possible kickoff for a recurring MaptimeRU meetup, I will sit down with interested Geographic Analysis students during study week and replicate John’s instructions as well as try the same in the free and open-source QGIS package.
We Are in a Public Emergency Situation – Health Scientists Are Not Qualified to Lead the Response
According to a March 2 press release by the Government of Ontario, “A new Command Table will be the single point of oversight providing executive leadership and strategic direction to guide Ontario’s response to COVID-19.” The Command Table, whose membership has never been disclosed, reports to the Minister of Health, Christine Elliott. The Ministry’s existing Emergency Operations Centre “will continue to provide situational awareness and perform an overall coordination function”. Yet, the Minister, along with the Province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Williams, and municipal and regional MOHs such as Toronto’s Dr. Eileen de Villa, are the public faces of the pandemic response and use their powers to order sweeping restrictions on everyday live. The March 2 press release is clearly focused on the health and medical side, promising to “Safeguard [the] Public from COVID-19” and “Ensure Health System Readiness”.
While this singular focus may have been appropriate in the early phase of the COVID-19 outbreak, doubts have started to emerge as early as March 2020 and continue to grow. In a May 12 post titled “Corona Crisis – Tunnel Vision vs Comprehensive Risk Assessment“, I summarized a leaked report — known as the “false alarm paper” — from Germany’s crisis management specialist Stephan Kohn, in which the author argues that “a new crisis situation should be declared and the out-of-control pandemic crisis management itself be battled”. In “We Have a Different Emergency Than You Think“, an anonymous blogger and self-identified business professional provides a brief but scathing assessment of the Ontario government’s situation assessment and emergency response capabilities. He recommends listening to Canadian emergency management experts, at least two of whom have spoken up about the corona crisis: David Redman and Alex Vezina.