‘This is just bad public health policy’: New Ontario measures to curb COVID-19 draw fire


Sweeping new provincial measures designed to stem the spread of COVID-19 — including allowing police and bylaw enforcement officers to stop and question people in their cars and on the street — were met with widespread criticism on Friday.

“Blanket powers for police to stop vehicles like this bends our constitutional freedoms too far, and will cause a rash of racial profiling,” said Michael Bryant, executive director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, in a statement issued Friday afternoon.

The new provincial measures, which included closing parks and playgrounds, were announced Friday afternoon by Ontario Premier Doug Ford as COVID-19 infections soared to new highs in Toronto and provincially.

The one-day total of new COVID-19 cases reported in Toronto on Friday was 1,527, a record. Provincially, the number of new cases was 4,812, also a record.

The number of weekly cases in Toronto is now 302 per 100,000 people — also a record high, according to the Star’s Ed Tubb, who has been tracking transmission data since the pandemic began more than a year ago.

The number of daily new cases in Ontario could hit 30,000 by the end of May unless drastic steps are taken, the province’s COVID-19 advisory panel of medical and scientific experts said Friday. It is currently approaching 5,000 a day, forcing local hospitals to set up tents to treat patients.

Ford said that beginning Saturday, police and bylaw officers will have the authority to stop people and ask them for their address and ask them why they’re not complying with the provincial stay-at-home order. Those who refuse to comply could face a $750 ticket.

People may still leave home to shop for groceries, to go the pharmacy or access health care.

“I am very concerned about arbitrary stops of people by police at any time and I will be reviewing the regulations extremely carefully and discussing them with the Medical Officer of Health and the Toronto Police Chief,” said Toronto Mayor John Tory in a statement.

Both the provincial declaration of emergency and stay-at-home order have been extended for two more weeks.

“We are in the midst of an absolutely brutal third wave,” said Coun. Joe Cressy (Ward 10 Spadina Fort-York), who heads the city’s Board of Health, in a statement. “The coming weeks will test us like never before.”

Existing lockdown measures have not yet slowed the spread of COVID-19, driven now by the more contagious U.K. variant, B.1.1.7.

Hospitalization rates in Toronto are the highest on record and are expected to increase, according to a press release from the city. Without strengthened public health measures, projections indicate it will take until late this summer to reduce new case counts.

Ford blamed the current problems on lack of vaccine supply from the federal government.

But epidemiologist Dr. Andrew Morris, who has been critical of the province’s handling of the crisis, said Friday that Ford and his government are to blame for the current crisis.

“We are not much further behind than other countries vis-a-vis vaccine supply,” said Morris, medical director of the Sinai Health System-University Health Network’s antimicrobial stewardship program.

“Challenges with vaccine supply should have been expected. Only Israel, the U.K., the U.S. and a few small countries have had enough. This is just bad public health policy.”

Morris said the province also needs to provide workers with paid sick leave to encourage them to stay home if they feel ill, so they don’t transmit COVID-19 to colleagues. He said the province should also focus on getting essential workers vaccinated, restricting regional travel and keeping the outdoors open for recreation. He believes non-essential businesses and places of worship should also be closed.

He said police shouldn’t be involved except for egregious flouting of public health measures, and that allowing police and bylaw officers to stop people will target the most vulnerable.

“Have them police indoor parties. Or non-essential workplaces,” said Morris.

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Dr. Martha Fulford, infectious disease specialist and associate professor at McMaster University, said the province should be taking a more targeted approach, legislating paid sick leave and ensuring essential workers and people working in factories and plants are vaccinated.

She said the last thing the province should be closing is playgrounds, especially in light of the lack of evidence to support the idea that COVID can be spread outdoors.

“It feels to me extraordinary that a year into this, we’re incapable of having targeted interventions to try to decrease the risk of COVID and not cause even more harm to the fabric of our society, because of course COVID isn’t the only thing we’re dealing with anymore — we’re dealing with mental health, we’re dealing with despair, we’re dealing with broken lives, we’re dealing with overdoses, we’re dealing with domestic abuse, we’re dealing with child abuse,” said Fulford, who has been critical of school closures because of the damage they do to children.



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More people to be allowed on public transport in NSW from Monday


More people will be allowed on public transport in NSW next week as coronavirus caps are increased.

From Monday, capacity on city services will increase to about 75 per cent and return to 100 per cent capacity on regional services.

Passengers are still encouraged to wear masks where social distancing can’t be guaranteed.
Trains in Sydney will take more passengers from Monday. (Nick Moir)

“Health advice now allows public transport services to increase capacity, which means people can now sit next to each other on their trip,” Minister for Regional Transport and Roads and Acting Minister for Transport and Roads Paul Toole said.

“We know the fight against COVID isn’t over, so we’ll keep green dots on services in case we need them again down the track.

“We’ve already started to see people returning to the network, and this announcement will give customers even more confidence to use our services in a COVID-safe way.”

Transport for NSW Chief Operating Officer Howard Collins said other measures such as extra cleaning will stay in place.

“We are still asking customers to plan ahead before they leave home, register their Opal card for contact tracing when needed and follow good hygiene practices including staying home if unwell,” Mr Collins said.

“Wearing a face mask is still an important part in limiting the spread of the virus if there is an outbreak, and remains strongly recommended on public transport, especially during those busier times on the network.”

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Sydney News: COVID-19 restrictions on public transport to ease, rental prices hit record high


COVID-19 restrictions will be eased on public transport from next Monday as the government continues to encourage more people to return to the office.

Capacity will jump to 75 per cent in Sydney, all caps will be lifted on regional public transport.and people will no longer have to allocate spare seats between themselves and others.

In December last year, capacity was lifted to 55 per cent on trains, 45 per cent on buses, 51 per cent on ferries and 25 per cent on light rail.

Last month, face masks became no longer mandatory on public transport and are now only recommended.

Sydney’s housing rental prices hit record highs in the March quarter along with most other capital cities.

In Sydney’s Northern Beaches, Sutherland, outer south-west, outer west and Blue Mountains regions, rental prices are still rising along with demand.

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Chinese-Australians underrepresented in public service despite 'crucial' need to understand China



A think-tank paper says Australia needs China-literate policymakers more than ever, yet Chinese-Australians are underrepresented and underutilised in the public service.

Chinese-Australians are overlooked and underrepresented in the public service, despite an urgent demand for Chinese expertise and language skills, a new policy brief says.

The Lowy Institute paper says almost every government policy decision has a China angle and Australia needs China-literate policymakers more than ever, yet the country’s Asia literacy remains “meagre”.

The report by Yun Jiang, published on Monday, says the public service needs to value China expertise within its ranks and recruit more Chinese-Australians in policy roles.

“The dearth of China capability means the public service is not drawing on an important source of talent, skills, and advice to develop Australia’s policies on China,” the paper said.

It said there were fewer Chinese-Australians in the Australian Public Service than in the broader population, with about 5.6 per cent of Australians reporting Chinese heritage but only 2.6 of public service employees said to have Chinese heritage as of 2019, the report said.

Only 2.2 per cent of strategic policy roles – including those involved in developing China policies – were filled by people with Chinese heritage.

Meanwhile, among Australians of non-Chinese heritage, very few can speak Mandarin proficiently.

The policy brief said it would take time and money to increase China literacy in the Australian population but the public service could better draw on the knowledge and skills of Chinese-Australians.

“Australia will gain a competitive edge if it can harness the experience and skills of Chinese-Australians who speak a Chinese language fluently, understand the Chinese political system and its economy, and have significant cultural awareness,” the brief said.

It noted that China – Australia’s largest trading partner – was flexing its geopolitical muscle and expanding its influence, becoming even more assertive during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Understanding our near neighbour’s actions, intentions, and worldview has become more crucial and urgent.”

Chinese-Australians feel their background is an ‘impediment’

The paper suggested that when Chinese-Australians were employed in the public service, they could be limited by management “preconceptions”.

“The perception among at least some APS employees of Chinese heritage is that their ethnic or cultural background is an impediment to working on China-related issues, even when that is where their specialised knowledge or strength lies,” it said.

A Chinese-Australian employee in one department had commented that the APS “would never hire someone with my name [to work on national security]. It’s just too risky”.

“Another observed: ‘even though I was best-placed [for China-related work], I suspect they didn’t give it to me due to perceived conflict of interest, because of my ethnicity’,” the brief said.

“One result of this is that departments may spend an extraordinary amount of time and resources training public servants to speak a Chinese language and gain better understanding of Chinese society and culture, while those with existing China literacy, including language skills, are sidelined.”

But the paper identified “relatively simple” ways the government could start to address the underrepresentation and underutilisation of Chinese-Australians in the public service. 

The public service could collect greater and more detailed data on different culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) groups in the public service, allowing better investigation of issues relating to underrepresentation, the brief said.

It recommended CALD communities be targeted for recruitment, and that the public service better match roles with skills and experience rather than looking at “generic skillsets” based on classification levels.

The paper said country and regional expertise should be valued and rewarded, and a community could be created so public servants interested in China could meet regularly to exchange ideas.

“A better harnessing of the skills and knowledge of [the Chinese-Australian] community – including via improved recruitment processes, better use of data, skills-matching, and reviewing and clarifying security clearance processes and requirements – would have substantial benefits for Australian policymaking in one of its most important bilateral relationships,” the policy brief said.

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The public health scourge we don’t talk about nearly enough



Racism is a public health emergency. It always was. Read More

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Royal family sustained in their grief for Philip by public support, says Charles


T

he royal family are being helped through this “particularly sad time” by the public outpouring of support following the death of the “much-loved” Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales has said.

Charles spoke movingly of his “dear Papa”, who he said had devoted himself to the Queen his family and the country for some 70 years.

The UK is officially in a period of national mourning for the next week, up to and including Philip’s funeral on Saturday afternoon.

A remembrance service will be held at Canterbury Cathedral on Sunday, with the Archbishop of Canterbury in attendance.

Next Saturday’s royal service in St George’s Chapel Windsor Castle, will be like no other, with the Queen and her family wearing face masks and socially distancing as they gather to say their final farewell amid coronavirus restrictions.

Speaking from his Gloucestershire home of Highgrove, Charles said his father had “given the most remarkable, devoted service to the Queen, to my family and to the country, but also to the whole of the Commonwealth”.

He added: “As you can imagine, my family and I miss my father enormously,” and said Philip would be “deeply touched” by the people around the world sharing “our loss and our sorrow”.

Duke of Edinburgh death / PA Wire

Charles said: “My dear Papa was a very special person who I think above all else would have been amazed by the reaction and the touching things that have been said about him, and from that point of view we are, my family, deeply grateful for all that.

“It will sustain us in this particular loss and at this particularly sad time.”

While Charles spoke for the family on Saturday, his siblings visited the Queen – with the Duke of York and Princess Royal spotted at Windsor.

Duke of Edinburgh death / PA Wire

The Earl and the Countess of Wessex spent around an hour with the Queen at the castle, with a tearful Sophie telling reporters as she left: “The Queen has been amazing.”

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The Outlook for Public Schools in N.Y.C.


Weather: Mostly cloudy with a high in the low 60s. There’s a slight chance of showers this afternoon and through the evening. Tonight will be partly cloudy and in the low 50s.

Alternate-side parking: In effect until April 29 (Holy Thursday, Orthodox).


Temporary shutdowns may soon be less common in New York City public schools.

Until now, school buildings have closed for 10 days when two unrelated coronavirus cases were detected, regardless of the source of infection.

But on Thursday, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a new policy: Starting next week, schools can remain open unless there are four or more confirmed cases in separate classrooms within a seven-day period. The city’s contact-tracing program must also determine that the infections originated inside a school before that school closes for 10 days.

I asked my colleague Eliza Shapiro, who covers education in New York City, about the change — and the overall outlook for public schools. Here’s an edited version of our conversation:

Q: How was the previous school-closings rule affecting parents and educators?

A: The previous rule applied to school buildings themselves. So you could have had a middle school with two cases on one floor and an elementary school with zero cases on the floor below — and both schools would have to close.

In the last month or so, there was just this drumbeat of frustration and anger from families who felt like the rule was incredibly disruptive for them. And a lot of educators didn’t like it either, in terms of switching at the drop of a hat between remote and in-person.

Now, they’re focusing on individual schools, rather than buildings. [Read more about the other changes.]

Q: The deadline for families to opt for in-person classes instead of remote learning is today. What might the rest of this school year hold?

We don’t know how many families will ultimately opt in. But based off what the mayor has said, we can expect it to be tens of thousands.

It’ll mean something different at every school: In some, many more students would be able to come back five days a week. But in others, those numbers would be lower since there’s less overall space.

Shifting social-distancing guidance could also affect the outlook for some grade levels.

Q: And what about the fall?

The mayor has tried to put his stake in the ground, saying we’re going to have as close to a normal school year as possible starting this September. And if vaccinations continue and virus variants don’t change the game, it’s highly likely.

Q: What other obstacles to a full reopening exist?

One big question will be what safety protocols look like. Most kids will not be vaccinated, and we’ll have to consider what virus testing, physical distancing and socialization now mean.

There are also still many families who have real concerns about sending their children back, even in the fall, which the city will have to address.

Hundreds of people are still without a home days after a fire erupted at their apartment complex in the Jackson Heights neighborhood of Queens. [CBS New York]


The Times’s Melissa Guerrero writes:

Although many performance spaces, museums and community centers are closed, people are finding creative ways to connect through virtual events and programs. Here are suggestions for maintaining a New York social life this weekend while keeping a safe distance from other people.

Visit West Harlem Arts’ new exhibit “Resilience,” which commemorates the work and resiliency of visual artists in West Harlem, and in nearby neighborhoods, during the pandemic.

Explore the exhibit on the website.

Watch a screening of short films about mental health, made by young filmmakers, on Friday at 6 p.m. Attendees can attend the post-screening Q. and A.

R.S.V.P. is free on the event page.

On Sunday at 10 a.m., in honor of Earth Day later this month, learn how to craft plantable recycled seed paper with wildflower seeds.

Register on the event page.

It’s Friday — enjoy the weekend!


Dear Diary:

It was two days after my 28th birthday and the middle of a blizzard in February 2017. I went to a meeting and afterward, with the rest of the day halted because of the weather, I stopped at Veselka to drink coffee and eat at the counter.

I struck up a conversation with a young man who was sitting to my left. He said he was about to embark on a nine-hour bike messenger shift.

He had a thin mustache and tangly, Kurt Cobain-style blond hair and was dressed all in black . Underdressed, really, with just a leather motorcycle jacket as his only defense against the ceaseless snow. He ordered challah French toast, eggs over easy and kielbasa.

“My family keeps sending me pictures from home, in Florida,” he said.

“But do you want to be in Florida?” I asked.

“Hell, no,” he replied.

A woman came in and sat down to my right. She ordered borscht and told me that she had been coming there for 30 years. The slice of bread that came with the soup used to be twice as thick, she said.

We talked about politics and mindfulness and being strangely attracted to men while ovulating. She told me that B&H Dairy had vegetarian liver on the menu in 1974.

She said she had an older dog that woke her up too early sometimes. She said she was striving to live in the moment. One day the dog would be gone, she said, and she would curse the days she now took for granted.

She thought the bike messenger and I were related.

“Is that your bro?” she asked, smiling. “Your little bro?”

“Oh, no,” I said. “We’re all just here by chance.”

— Marilyn Haines


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What would you like to see more (or less) of? Email us: nytoday@nytimes.com.

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Shepparton Art Museum offers public first look inside as they wait to see the final floors


The new Shepparton Art Museum (SAM) has opened its doors to the public for the first time, however they will still need to wait to see past the ground floor.

The ground floor which contains the Visitor Information Centre, Aboriginal art centre Kaiela Arts, and the museum’s shop are now open to the public.

However, levels two to four of the building will remain closed while work is still underway.

Chair of SAM Limited Stephen Merrylees said it would be worth the wait.

“Moving forward, they obviously are going to have to just wait a bit more and the eagerness will be well worth it in the end.”

With the officially opening of the building to take place in October, Mr Merrylees said there was a lot of work to do — including moving more than 4,000 pieces of artwork — before all four levels were open.

“We’ve got a plan for opening exhibitions. Some of that will involve the hanging of major artworks, cranes in here and everything,” he said.

Mr Merrylees said work was also ongoing in the search for an operator to take on the café and rooftop bar located inside the building.

He said the hit to the hospitality industry during COVID-19 has made it “doubly hard” to find someone.

“They see it as a great opportunity, but by the same token people in the hospitality industry are probably just more looking after our own backyard before they probably look further afield. So, it’s just trying to work within those parameters,” Mr Merrylees said.

Chair of Kaiela Arts, Bobby Nicholls, said it gave him great pride to see the centre in the new building.

“It’s sort of like your head is in the clouds, you’re overwhelmed in terms of what’s here now,” he said.

Vice-chair Belinda Briggs said the new space would give Kaiela Arts greater exposure to showcase their stories and share them with visitors.

“That’s the beauty of what we’re able to share here across Kaiela Arts and with the SAM collection.”

Mayor of Greater Shepparton City Council Kim O’Keefe said the museum opened a range of opportunities for the region. 

“This building speaks for itself and there’s a lot of hard work to be done to make this work for all our community, but I think we need to have aspirations to grow,” Cr O’Keefe said.

“This is a testament to how greater Shepparton should be moving forward. We need to have change, we need to have opportunity, we don’t want to stand still.”

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Public investment in infrastructure would be a much needed boon to the Australian economy | Australian economy


In some good news, the latest payroll job numbers released on Tuesday showed that the number of jobs is back to where it was last year just before the impact of the pandemic shutdown hit in the middle of March.

But nothing is ever simple in the economy, and a closer look reveals that the growth has come from only a small number of industries – especially public administration:

Graph not showing? Click here

Scott Morrison likes to say governments don’t create jobs, but were it not for the public service, and the overwhelmingly public sector heath care industry, the overall picture would be much worse.

While total numbers look fine, there remains a lot of weakness in the economy.

Where there is some clear cause for concern is in the construction sector.

Work in construction always drops over Christmas, but this year it has failed to recover, and the number of jobs in the industry is some 3.8% below what it was a year ago:

Graph not showing? Click here

That’s not great given the government has been crowing about the success of its homebuilder program. But it just highlights that while home construction and renovations are important, so too is non-dwelling construction:

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And of course the public sector is also a great creator of construction work via infrastructure programs.

What construction workers, and the economy as a whole needs, is investment. But the latest finance and wealth data from the bureau of statistics revealed that 2020 was the worst year for investment in over 30 years:

Graph not showing? Click here

And we truly see the impact of that in the latest engineering construction figures released yesterday.

In the final three months of last year, engineering construction work – which includes a raft of aspects such as road, rail, bridges, telecommunication and sewerage – fell for both private and public sectors:

Graph not showing? Click here

The 1.8% fall for work done by the private sector for the private sector (as opposed to contracts for governments) means that for nine out of the past 12 quarters, private sector work has fallen.

It is a nice reminder that even before the pandemic, things were not going swimmingly.

Unfortunately we are not seeing the public sector take up the slack:

Graph not showing? Click here

The sudden drop-off in the last three months of last year might be somewhat due to shutdowns, but there was no real sign of any explosion of work before then.

In December the real value of infrastructure work done for the public sector was the lowest for five years – a big part of which was a drop in the amount of work done building roads and on the NBN:

Graph not showing? Click here

And given construction jobs remain well down on what they were a year ago, there does not appear to be much reason to believe there has been a strong pick up in infrastructure work in the first three months of this year.

That is a concern because while private investment remains down, the public sector needs to fill the hole, and right now, aside from the homebuilder program, there is little sign of that occurring:

Graph not showing? Click here

The return of the total job numbers to pre-pandemic levels is obviously good. But it should not be taken as sign that things are back to normal – or that the economy is as it was prior to the pandemic.

Firstly, prior to the pandemic the economy was not all that healthy, and secondly, the job numbers are very much driven by a minority of industries, while others remain very much in need of public investment and new infrastructure programs.

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‘Public servants and billionaires profit while others lose livelihoods from lockdowns’



University of Queensland Professor James Allan says “public servants” and “billionaires” profited while small business owners “lost their livelihoods” as a result of the lockdowns.

“I just cannot believe that our politicians did not take a pay cut – they were just deeming some businesses non-essential – and a lot of those people are going to not just lose their livelihoods, they will end up losing the family home which they put down to guarantee the mortgage,” he told Sky News host Alan Jones.

“It has been disgraceful.

“Public servants are coming out of this better – billionaires are making money through the whole lockdown.

“It has just been a disgrace how inequitable it has been.”

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