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FIRST READING: Could a prior Chinese international sports event have seeded COVID-19 in Canada?


Military athletes got badly sick while attending the Oct. 2019 Military World Games in Wuhan, China

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TOP STORY

An anonymous Canadian military officer may have shed new light on the origins of COVID-19, and how it was much more endemic than China let on . The People’s Republic of China did not announce its discovery of COVID-19 until New Year’s Eve, 2019. But according to a Canadian who was in Wuhan in mid-October of that year (he was there to attend the 2019 Military World Games), the city of 11 million was already acting as if it was in the grip of a severe pandemic: Empty markets, few pedestrians and only a handful of cars on the road. What’s more, the Canadian delegation was so badly infected with a severe respiratory illness that a “quarantine section” was established on the plane home. The officer said all this to Jamie Metzl, a former advisor to the administration of U.S. President Bill Clinton who has become one of the more prominent critics of the official Beijing line on the origins of COVID-19. “Although we cannot yet say for sure whether the Military World Games Athletes were infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus … this possibility at very least deserves a full and credible investigation,” wrote Metzl in a follow-up blog post .

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Allegations have come up before that the Military World Games acted as one of the world’s first super-spreader sites for COVID-19 . In June, lawmakers in the United States called for an investigation into possible early COVID-19 exposure at the games after revelations that the U.S. team was beset by COVID-like symptoms at the competition. At that team, one of the Canadian competitors spoke to the National Post and also described seeing a “ghost town” in Wuhan. “It was strange, but we were told this was to make it easy for the Games’ participants to get around,” they said.

The Canadian Armed Forces is aware of these allegations, but their response has largely been confined to a letter sent to Military World Games competitors in early 2020 telling them that their risk of carrying COVID-19 was “negligible.” This wasn’t based on any testing, but was premised largely on the assertion that competitors had left China “before the virus had begun circulating in Wuhan City.” However, subsequent genetic testing of the virus has found that it could have begun spreading through Wuhan as early as Oct. 6, 2019 – nearly two weeks before the official opening ceremonies of the Military World Games.

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A little-known study from earlier this year, meanwhile, noted that the more athletes a country had sent to the Military World Games in Wuhan, the harder-hit they were by COVID-19’s first wave . “There is a correlation between the number of individuals who travelled to the event and the number of COVID-19 cases in the country to which they returned,” concluded the study, published in the Irish Journal of Medical Science .

Excerpt of a Jan. 2020 sent by the Canadian Forces Health Services Group to participants in the 2019 Military World Games.
Excerpt of a Jan. 2020 sent by the Canadian Forces Health Services Group to participants in the 2019 Military World Games. Photo by JamieMetzl.com

IN OTHERS NEWS

A metric tonne of new COVID restrictions is about to ruin Christmas . At 6 p.m. ET Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau scheduled an emergency call with all 10 provincial premiers, where he recommended a suite of new COVID measures including a ban on non-essential travel, quarantine requirements even for the fully vaccinated and closing the border to everyone except non-citizens.

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Remember Andrew Scheer? The former Tory leader is in the news once again with a bid to crack open the Constitution and delete a sweetheart deal for the railroads that was first enacted in the time of Sir John A. Macdonald (who had personal reasons to be nice to railroads ). Specifically, an 1881 provision holding that the Canadian Pacific Railroad “shall be forever free from taxation.” The CPR – which like any major Canadian corporation actually has been paying taxes for quite some time – is currently taking the government to court seeking a $341 million tax refund. So, according to Scheer, all we have to do is crack open the Constitution, erase the “forever free from taxation” part, and Canada can avoid the unseemly scenario of paying nine figures to one of the country’s largest corporations.

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Thanks, Macdonald.
Thanks, Macdonald. Photo by Library and Archives Canada

Tomorrow is when Statistics Canada is expected to drop the news on whether inflation is getting any worse . Last month, of course, the statistics agency posted Canadian inflation at 4.7 per cent, the highest rate in a generation.  There’s just one problem: Much of the Statistics Canada website is down due to apparent concerns that someone could easily cyber-attack it , so the agency might have to release the data by emailing around a PDF.

The Conservatives technically tried to bring down the Trudeau Government on Monday, but were foiled by the NDP and the Bloc Québécois . Specifically, the Tories put forward an amendment to reject the Liberals’ throne speech, and draft a new one filled with terms more amenable to the Conservative Party such as “national unity crisis” and economic “stagnancy.” If passed, the amendment would have qualified as a confidence vote that would have toppled the government. The Bloc and the NDP have similarly stated their hatred of the throne speech but approved it anyways to avoid an election.

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Eyebrows have been raised in Newfoundland and Labrador after the provincial government earmarked nearly $140,000 for a set of four couches . To be fair, however, they’re really, really nice couches : Bespoke, locally made Victorian-style circular sofas set to act as centrepieces in the newly renovated Colonial Building, the 1850 structure that was Newfoundland’s seat of government during its time as an independent country. When questioned about the wildly expensive furniture by CBC, a government representative naturally referred to them as an “investment.”

The Colonial Building. Not pictured: $130,000 in couches.
The Colonial Building. Not pictured: $130,000 in couches. Photo by Wikimedia Commons/Shhewitt

REAL ESTATE

Canada’s house price-to-income ratio, one of the most reliable indicators of housing affordability, is the worst of any country in the developed world and it isn’t even close , according to new data published by the website Better Dwelling. Canada currently scores 164.8 on the index. The second place finisher for unaffordability, Germany, currently scores just 128.5 (and the Americans are at 94.2). “The detachment between home prices and incomes is like nothing any other G7 country has seen,” writes Better Dwelling. On a possibly unrelated note, a Montreal mansion just broke the record for Quebec’s most expensive real estate sale by selling for $18.5 million .

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New Zealand, which has been coping with a housing affordability crisis worse than Canada’s, just passed one of the world’s most sweeping densification laws to inject thousands of new homes into Kiwi cities. The law, which garnered support from both left and right-wing parties, basically steamrolls the powers of municipal governments to reject development applications, forcing them to allow townhouses of up to three storeys on any piece of real estate that will fit them. Back in October, the National Post examined how a similar law applied to Canada could do wonders to break our ever-worsening housing shortage.

Canada’s Minister of National Defence Anita Anand pictured on Monday delivering an official apology for sexual misconduct in the military. Columnist Matt Gurney noted it was strange that this was one of the few official apologies that was skipped by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. “The easy explanation is probably that he’s more comfortable with the performative aspect of the grand apology for things other people got wrong than he is with self-reflection and sincere commitment to actually make meaningful changes in how he and his own government operate,” wrote Gurney (whom you may have guessed is skeptical that the problem of military sexual misconduct is likely to improve).
Canada’s Minister of National Defence Anita Anand pictured on Monday delivering an official apology for sexual misconduct in the military. Columnist Matt Gurney noted it was strange that this was one of the few official apologies that was skipped by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. “The easy explanation is probably that he’s more comfortable with the performative aspect of the grand apology for things other people got wrong than he is with self-reflection and sincere commitment to actually make meaningful changes in how he and his own government operate,” wrote Gurney (whom you may have guessed is skeptical that the problem of military sexual misconduct is likely to improve). Photo by Government of Canada

CULTURE WARS

Columnist Rupa Subramanya isn’t buying the popular line that Quebec’s Bill 21 is inherently an anti-Muslim piece of legislation . The law, which bars the wearing of religious garb among public sector employees, recently resulted in Quebecer Fatemeh Anvari being removed from her teaching position due to her refusal to show up to work without a hijab. Subramanya writes that Anvari would have gotten in just as much trouble for wearing a kippah or a crucifix and “must accept the consequences of her actions.” Subramanya also finds it deeply ironic that the hijab in particular – a piece of headwear subject to mandatory strictures across much of the Islamic world – is being touted by Bill 21 opponents as a “symbol of freedom.”

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Montreal Gazette columnist Lise Rivary also believes English Canada could do well to simmer down on Bill 21. It was only a generation ago that Quebec lived under the near-authoritarian thrall of the Catholic Church, and Ravary writes that “ Quebecers have a serious fear of a resurgence of religion and the mayhem it would create .” She also throws shade on English Canada for tolerating religious concessions such as sex-segregated prayer spaces within public schools. “As a citizen of Canada, I respect what Canadians accept, but as a Quebecer, it makes my hair stand on end,” she wrote.

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