OTTAWA — A claim by Chinese health authorities that the Omicron variant of COVID-19 was introduced to a resident of Beijing through a piece of regular mail from Canada was dismissed Monday as being ludicrous and comical.
A Chinese state-controlled news outlet first reported that the Jan. 7 infection of a Beijing resident was the result of receiving a letter or parcel from Canada that passed through Hong Kong.
The Chinese report attributed that scenario to the deputy director of the Beijing Centre for Disease Control in a briefing, even though organizations such as the World Health Organization and Canada Post say the risk of contracting coronavirus from a piece of mail is low.
Margaret McCuaig-Johnston, a China expert at the University of Ottawa who spent more than three decades in the federal public service working on China issues, said Chinese officials need to familiarize themselves with the latest scientific material on the spread of COVID-19.
“Unlike the early days, scientists have clarified that it does not stay on surfaces. To suggest that it would be on mail that came over days from Canada is ludicrous,” she said.
Canada Post says that the World Health Organization and the Public Health Agency of Canada have said the risks associated with handling mail, including international mail is low.
“According to the PHAC, there is no known risk of coronaviruses entering Canada on parcels or packages. In general, because of poor survivability of coronaviruses on surfaces, there is a low risk of spread from products or packaging shipped over a period of days or weeks,” says a statement by Canada Post.
“Currently, there is no evidence of COVID-19 being transmitted by imported goods or packages.”
McCuaig-Johnston said the Chinese allegation shows that its leadership is still angry at Canada after its long-running dispute over the arrest of high-tech executive Meng Wanzhou in 2018, an extradition case that was dropped last year, which allowed her to return to China.
Meng was arrested in Vancouver in December 2018 on an American extradition warrant for allegedly violating U.S. sanctions on Iran. Nine days later, China arrested two Canadian men, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, and accused them of being spies – allegations Canada and dozens of Western allies dismissed as baseless retaliation.
The matter plunged Canada-China relations to an all-time low. The U.S. dropped its extradition case against Meng in September, and she was allowed to go free and return to China. Kovrig and Spavor were repatriated to Canada simultaneously.
It is not clear whether Canada-China relations have begun any kind of meaningful rebound since that major issue between them was resolved.
McCuaig-Johnston said Chinese President Xi Jinping was personally angered by Meng’s arrest and is likely choosing to target Canada whenever it suits him. She said that could explain this latest innuendo around the Canadian postal system.
“Canada is the country that is targeted, suggesting that we’re still in Beijing’s crosshairs,” she said.
Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos appeared not to be aware of the controversy when asked about it at a press conference Monday.
He said that while he may have his own opinion of why China was making that claim, he deferred to experts on how COVID-19 can be spread.
“We’ll check with officials and our partners around the world,” Duclos said.
“I think this is something not only new, but intriguing and certainly not in accordance with what we have done both internationally and domestically.”
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole called the Chinese claim “comical” and said it was a reminder that news reports emanating from China can’t be trusted.
O’Toole reiterated his party’s criticism of the government for not conducting a comprehensive national security review of the proposed purchase of a lithium mining development company by a Chinese firm. O’Toole said Canada needs to protect its access to lithium because it is a key ingredient in the batteries for electric vehicles.
“Canada must safeguard our supply and access to critical minerals like lithium to protect our economy and our competitive advantage,” said O’Toole.
A statement from Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada said all potential acquisitions involving critical minerals are subject to a review by the Canadian security and intelligence community before deciding whether a full-scale national security review is warranted.
The department said it was bound by commercial confidentiality and could not comment on the current case. But in general, it said it can assess individual cases based on the “nature of the mineral deposits” and whether a company has full-scale operations in Canada or is “principally domiciled here for regulatory or other reasons with few local staff or assets.”
The company is question operates a mine that is under exploration in Argentina and is registered in Toronto.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 17, 2022.
Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press
Despite ample school security plan, Texas shooter found gaps
By Collin Binkley And Kantele Franko
Robb Elementary School had measures in place to prevent this kind of violence. A fence lined the school property. Teachers were ordered to keep classroom doors closed and locked. Students faced regular lockdown and evacuation drills.
But when an 18-year-old man arrived Tuesday at the school in Uvalde, Texas, intent on killing children, none of it stopped him.
Security failures allowed the shooter to massacre 19 students and two teachers, school safety experts say. The shooting already has led to calls to fortify schools further, on top of millions spent on equipment and other measures following earlier shootings. But more security offers drawbacks, with no guarantee of an end to mass violence. In the worst case, as in Uvalde, it could backfire.
“You can do the best job you can to prevent a school crisis, but we cannot read the minds of all the criminals who are out there,” said Ronald Stephens, executive director of the National School Safety Center, a nonprofit that works with schools across the country. “We cannot prevent all crime.”
According to a district safety plan, Uvalde schools had a wide range of measures in place to prevent violence. The district had four police officers and four support counselors, according to the plan, which appears to be dated from the 2019-20 school year. The district had software to monitor social media for threats and software to screen school visitors.
Yet when the gunman arrived at the school, he hopped its fence and easily entered through a back door that had been propped open, officials said. Behind the locked door of a fourth-grade classroom, he gunned down children and teachers.
Amid the attack, nearly 20 officers stood in a hallway because the on-site commander believed the gunman was barricaded in the classroom and children were not at risk, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw said at a Friday news conference, saying “it was the wrong decision.”
The case underscores that even the strongest security plans can be undermined by a seemingly simple lapse, said Curtis Lavarello, executive director of the School Safety Advocacy Council, which provides training on school safety. The Texas school appeared to be doing many things right, he said, but none of that mattered once the gunman was able to walk unobstructed into the building and into a classroom.
“All those things on paper mean nothing if they’re not followed in practice. And there seemed to be a number of gaps,” he said.
In the aftermath of the shooting, some Republicans have been calling for further investments in school safety to prevent more attacks. Some have pushed for more armed police in schools, along with metal detectors and measures to make it harder to enter schools.
Among those promoting physical security measures is Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. Appearing on Fox News on Wednesday, he brought up 2013 legislation that would have created grants to help schools install bulletproof doors and hire armed police officers among other measures.
If those grants had gone to Robb Elementary, Cruz said, “the armed police officers could have taken him out and we would have 19 children and two teachers still alive.”
Security experts say the Uvalde case illustrates how fortifying schools can backfire. A lock on the classroom door — one of the most basic and widely recommended school safety measures — kept victims in and police out.
U.S. Border Patrol agents eventually used a master key to open the locked door of the classroom where they confronted and killed the gunman, McCraw said at the Friday news conference.
Some argue that investments in school security have come at the expense of student welfare. Lockdown drills that have become routine for a generation of American students have traumatized students and added to strains on mental health, educators say.
Schools need more counselors and psychologists to help troubled students, not stronger buildings, said Dewey Cornell, a psychologist and director of the Virginia Youth Violence Project at the University of Virginia.
“We have systemically reduced the number of support staff in our schools, and focused too much on installing metal detectors and surveillance cameras and electronic door locks, which are very short term and reactive and very expensive,” he said.
In the wake of the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, schools across the country began spending huge sums of money on fortifications including bulletproof glass, metal detectors and armed security.
But such measures can create an atmosphere where students feel uncomfortable and less trusting, and it does not necessarily prevent attacks, said Matthew Mayer, a Rutgers associate professor who works on issues related to school violence.
“You’ll go down these sort of endless rabbit holes of how much security is enough. And when it comes to someone who’s coming in heavily armed, you’re not going to stop them,” Mayer said. “So the idea is you need to figure out why people do this in the first place and have ways — multi-level systems of prevention — to prevent it from happening.”
He advocates for a multi-faceted prevention approach that also includes steps such as improving mental health services, assessing threats more effectively and building trust so students and families are not afraid to speak up if they’re concerned someone has the means or intent to cause harm.
Still, schools can only do so much, he said, and he isn’t optimistic that public outrage over Uvalde will lead to significant change.
“The problem is that a lot of this public reaction, you know, sort of rises like a wave and then recedes over time, and the politicians have been accustomed to riding that out. You know, they make speeches and so forth, and sometimes there’s a commission that gets appointed, and they issue reports,” Mayer said. “But substantive change is lacking.”
The Associated Press education team receives support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
Moose is Loose: Canada’s Mitch (Moose) Hooper reaches World’s Strongest Man final
Not lacking for confidence, Canada’s Mitchell (Moose) Hooper made some bold predictions ahead of his first appearance at the World’s Strongest Man competition.
So far he’s been calling his shots.
In a recent YouTube video, the six-foot-three 315-pounder described his potential for the event and felt first- or second-place qualification results were realistic.
He backed up his talk this week at the Capitol Mall in Sacramento, Calif., by securing a berth in the weekend finals. Not bad for someone who entered the event as a relative unknown.
“I’m pretty in tune with what I’m capable of and what I’m not capable of,” Hooper said. “To put it simply, I knew that if I was one of the favourites I wouldn’t want me to be in that group.”
Strong showings in the loading race, deadlift ladder, car walk and log lift gave Hooper a healthy lead in his six-man group.
He only needed a single point in the wrecking ball hold Thursday to secure first place and one of two group berths in the two-day final starting Saturday.
“I was pretty spot on,” Hooper said of his predictions. “So yeah, I have a pretty good feel for what I can do.”
Hooper, 26, has a varied sporting background. He’s the director and founder of an exercise physiology business in Barrie, Ont., which helps people with injuries and chronic conditions.
Hooper played hockey as a youth, has run marathons and had varsity golf opportunities in the United States.
He played football at the University of Guelph and completed his undergraduate degree in human kinetics before becoming head strength and conditioning coach for the National Basketball League of Canada’s KW Titans.
“I have some family with chronic health conditions,” Hooper said. “I wanted to seek out something a little bit more meaningful. So I found exercise physiology.
“I looked up the No. 1 school in the world and that happened to be the University of Sydney. Off I went.”
Hooper completed his master’s degree in 2019 and “happened to stumble upon” strength sports while Down Under. He entered a few powerlifting competitions and got some attention by winning the Australia’s Strongest Man event.
A video of a Hooper deadlift in competition recently gained steam on social media and it wasn’t long before World’s Strongest Man organizers tracked him down and invited him into the 30-man field.
He hopes a top-three standing after Saturday’s competition would leave him in good shape for a Sunday showdown.
“I wouldn’t be surprised with first, I wouldn’t be surprised with seventh,” Hooper said. “I imagine I’ll land somewhere in between there.”
On a regular day, Hooper said he usually gets up at about six in the morning and eats five or six meals a day. He aims for about 2 1/2 hours of daily training.
“I try to hit 6,000 calories (daily) and about 330 grams of protein,” Hooper said.
“A couple of cartons of egg whites — one in the morning and one at night — that usually gets me covered,” he added.
Deadlift competition and the Flintstone barbell are among the events on tap Saturday ahead of the bus pull, Atlas stones and power stairs disciplines on Sunday.
This is the 45th edition of the World’s Strongest Man. Maxime Boudreault, a native of Kapuskasing, Ont., also advanced along with reigning champion Tom Stoltman of Britain and his brother, Luke Stoltman, the reigning European champion.
Hooper, meanwhile, is showing no signs of rookie jitters against such veteran competitors.
“It’s a psychological thing as much as it is a physical thing,” he said. “Consistency really trumps everything.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 27, 2022.
Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.
Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press
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