Category Archives: Worldwide pandemic

Canada’s pandemic response sends $16 billion to fossils, just $300 million to clean energy

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extraction_of_petroleum
Extraction_of_petroleum | Flcelloguy/Wikimedia Commons
The Energy Mix, by Mitchell Beer, July 16, 2020

Canada’s pandemic response to date has sent just C$300 million to clean energy, compared to more than $16 billion to fossil fuels, according to new data released this week by Energy Policy Tracker, a joint effort by multiple civil society organizations including the Winnipeg-based International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD).

The totals include C$13.55 billion (listed as US$10.05 billion on the site) for 42 policies that deliver unconditional support to fossil fuel companies, C$1.59 billion for three fossil support policies that carry environmental conditions, plus C$300.5 million for unconditional clean energy funding.

“A considerably larger amount of public money committed to supporting the economy and people of Canada through monetary and fiscal policies in response to the crisis may also benefit different elements of the energy sector,” the tracker states. “However, these values are not available from official legislation and statements and therefore are not included in the database.”

The Canadian numbers are just one segment of a wider data summary, which “shows that at least US$151 billion of bailout cash has been spent or earmarked so far to support fossil fuels by the G20 group of large economies,” with only one-fifth of that total “conditional on environmental requirements such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions or cleaning up pollution,” The Guardian reports. “The G20 countries are directing about US$89 billion in stimulus spending to clean energy, despite most of those governments being publicly committed to the Paris agreement on climate change.”

The United States is lavishing $58 billion on fossil industries, compared to about $25 billion invested in clean energy, the research shows.

“At this point in history it’s clear that investing in fossil fuels is as lethal to global economies as it is to life on Earth,” tweeted Climate Action Network-Canada Executive Director Catherine Abreu. “Yet Canada has funnelled at least US$11.86 BILLION to fossils in recent months, while directing only $222.78 million to clean energy.”

“The COVID-19 crisis and governments’ responses to it are intensifying the trends that existed before the pandemic struck,” concluded IISD Energy Policy Tracker lead Ivetta Gerasimchuk.

“National and subnational jurisdictions that heavily subsidized the production and consumption of fossil fuels in previous years have once again thrown lifelines to oil, gas, coal, and fossil fuel-powered electricity,” she said. “Meanwhile, economies that had already begun a transition to clean energy are now using stimulus and recovery packages to make this happen even faster.”

Other organizations involved with the tracker include the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies, Oil Change International, the Overseas Development Institute, the Stockholm Environment Institute, and Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.

The Canadian figures show the federal government has been “completely captured by the oil industry,” Greenpeace Canada Senior Energy Strategist Keith Stewart told The Canadian Press. “They just don’t understand how the world is changing.”

CP cites an internal Natural Resources Canada briefing, obtained by Greenpeace through an access to information request, that showed the pandemic “wreaking havoc right across the energy sector, including fossil fuels and renewables,” as early as mid-April. “This will challenge Canada’s climate and energy transformation agendas,” stated the document prepared for Deputy Minister Christyne Tremblay.

“An attached presentation deck from Tremblay’s department outlines the impacts, including the collapse in oil prices, plummeting demand for both oil and electricity, and a cleantech industry being brought to its knees,” CP writes. Cleantech “is heavily dominated by start-up enterprises and those in the research and development phase that are heavily reliant on capital investments,” the news agency adds, and “the onset of the pandemic threw ice water on those investments, including from the oil and gas sector itself as its own revenues dried up.”

CP says Clean Energy Canada Executive Director Merran Smith called on the government “to ensure this sector’s survival by making sure it is a big part of the COVID-19 recovery stimulus programs. She said that doesn’t mean investing just in things that generate clean power, like wind and solar farms and technology, but also in promoting the use of cleaner power, such as by electrifying cars and public transportation.”

The Guardian notes that the tracker results were released ahead of a G20 finance ministers’ meeting this weekend where post-pandemic economic stimulus will be on the agenda. “Some of the spending on fossil fuels is likely to be designed to quickly stabilize hard-hit industries, preserving jobs and preventing a worse recession,” the UK-based paper states. “However, green campaigners are concerned that so much of the money is flowing to companies with no conditions to force them to take even basic measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or other pollution,” in spite of the “green strings” demanded by civil society groups and introduced by some countries.

“Economists and energy experts have already shown that green spending can [create] jobs and a higher return on investment in the short and longer term,” The Guardian notes. At the same time,  “as the data studied by Energy Policy Tracker is focused on the energy sector, the figures may not capture all of governments’ green spending. For instance, governments have been urged to spend on many ‘shovel-ready’ non-energy issues, such as cycle lanes, tree-planting, nature restoration, flood resilience, and enhanced broadband networks to help people work at home, all of which will also contribute to a green recovery.”

“We have some anecdotal evidence on these sectors which suggests that total green recovery numbers can be higher,” Gerasimchuk said. “Similarly, global environmentally harmful recovery numbers can be higher as there are measures leading to deforestation, land degradation, overfishing, etc. A lot of government support policies remain unquantified.”

Last week, the Corporate Europe Observatory warned that “fossil fuel fingerprints” were beginning to accumulate on the much-touted European Green Deal (EGD).

“Its mere existence is a positive first step; but is the deal really as good as they want us to believe?” the Observatory asks. “The fingerprints of industry, and in particular the fossil fuel industry, can be seen all over the EGD. Carbon trading will continue to allow big polluters to slow the transition, emissions reductions targets are too modest and too slow, fossil gas is kept as a transitional fuel, and public money will finance industry ‘false solutions’. The fossil fuel lobby is taking advantage of its privileged access to policy-makers, as well as the corona-crisis, to secure these gains.”

World looks on in horror as Trump flails over pandemic despite claims US leads way

Donald Trump participates in a tour of Owens & Minor Inc, a medical supply company, on Thursday in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Photograph: Evan Vucci/AP

The president’s outlandish behavior as Americans suffer has inspired horror and confusion while alienating allies

The Guardian, Julian Borger in Washington, Helen Davidson in Sydney, Leyland Cecco in Toronto, Daniel Boffey in Brussels, Philip Oltermann in Berlin, Angela Giuffrida in Rome, Tom Phillips in Rio de Janeiro and Emmanuel Akinwotu in London; 15 May 2020

The Trump administration has repeatedly claimed that the US is “leading the world” with its response to the pandemic, but it does not seem to be going in any direction the world wants to follow.

Across Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America, views of the US handling of the coronavirus crisis are uniformly negative and range from horror through derision to sympathy. Donald Trump’s musings from the White House briefing room, particularly his thoughts on injecting disinfectant, have drawn the attention of the planet.

“Over more than two centuries, the United States has stirred a very wide range of feelings in the rest of the world: love and hatred, fear and hope, envy and contempt, awe and anger,” the columnist Fintan O’Toole wrote in the Irish Times. “But there is one emotion that has never been directed towards the US until now: pity.”

The US has emerged as a global hotspot for the pandemic, a giant petri dish for the Sars-CoV-2 virus. As the death toll rises, Trump’s claims to global leadership have became more far-fetched. He told Republicans last week that he had had a round of phone calls with Angela Merkel, Shinzo Abe and other unnamed world leaders and insisted “so many of them, almost all of them, I would say all of them” believe the US is leading the way.

None of the leaders he mentioned has said anything to suggest that was true. At each milestone of the crisis, European leaders have been taken aback by Trump’s lack of consultation with them – when he suspended travel to the US from Europe on 12 March without warning Brussels, for example. A week later, politicians in Berlin accused Trump of an “unfriendly act” for offering “large sums of money” to get a German company developing a vaccine to move its research wing to the US.

The president’s abrupt decision to cut funding to the World Health Organization last month also came as a shock. The EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, a former Spanish foreign minister, wrote on Twitter: “There is no reason justifying this move at a moment when their efforts are needed more than ever to help contain & mitigate the coronavirus pandemic.”

A poll in France last week found Merkel to be far and away the most trusted world leader. Just 2% had confidence Trump was leading the world in the right direction. Only Boris Johnson and Xi Jinping inspired less faith.

survey this week by the British Foreign Policy Group found 28% of Britons trusted the US to act responsibly on the world stage, a drop of 13 percentage points since January, with the biggest drop in confidence coming among Conservative voters.

Dacian Cioloș, a former prime minister of Romania who now leads the Renew Europe group in the European parliament, captured a general European view this week as the latest statistics on deaths in the US were reported.

“Post-truth communication techniques used by rightwing populism movements simply do not work to beat Covid-19,” he told the Guardian. “And we see that populism cost lives.”

Around the globe, the “America first” response pursued by the Trump administration has alienated close allies. In Canada, it was the White House order in April to halt shipments of critical N95 protective masks to Canadian hospitals that was the breaking point.

The Ontario premier, Doug Ford, who had previously spoken out in support of Trump on several occasions, said the decision was like letting a family member “starve” during a crisis.

“When the cards are down, you see who your friends are,” said Ford. “And I think it’s been very clear over the last couple of days who our friends are.”

In countries known for chronic problems of governance, there has been a sense of wonder that the US appears to have joined their ranks.

FacebookTwitterPinterest  Trump’s press briefings have captured the world’s attention. Photograph: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

Esmir Milavić, an editor at Bosnia’s N1 TV channel, told viewers this week: “The White House is in utter dysfunction and doesn’t speak with one voice.”

Milavić said: “The vice-president is wearing a mask, while the president doesn’t; some staffers wear them, some don’t. Everybody acts as they please. As time passes, White House begins to look more and more like the Balkans.”

After Trump’s disinfectant comments, Beppe Severgnini, a columnist for Italy’s Corriere della Sera, said in a TV interview: “Trying to get into Donald Trump’s head is more difficult than finding a vaccine for coronavirus. First he decided on a lockdown and then he encouraged protests against the lockdown that he promoted. It’s like a Mel Brooks film.”

In several countries, the local health authorities have felt obliged to put out statements to counter “health advice” coming from the White House, concerning the ingestion of disinfectant and taking hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug found to be ineffective against Covid-19 and potentially lethal.

The Nigerian government put out a warning that there is no “hard evidence that chloroquine is effective in prevention or management of coronavirus infection” after three people were hospitalised from overdosing on the drug in Lagos. It was not enough to prevent a fivefold increase in the price of the drug, which is also used to treat lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

Trump’s decision not to take part in a global effort to find a vaccine, and his abrupt severance of financial support to the WHO at the height of the pandemic, added outrage and prompted complaints that the US was surrendering its role of global leadership.

FacebookTwitterPinterest  There is a sense of relief among Chinese state commentators that Trump’s antics have diverted some of the anger that could have been aimed at Beijing. Photograph: Xinhua/Rex/Shutterstock

“If there is any world leader who can be accused of handling the current crisis badly, it is Donald Trump, whose initial disdain for Covid-19 may have cost thousands of Americans their lives,” an editorial in the conservative Estado de São Paulo newspaper said last month.

The newspaper said Trump had only decided to take Covid seriously after finding himself “cornered by the facts” – and expressed shock at his decision to halt WHO funding.

“Even by the standards of his behaviour, the level of impudence is astonishing for the holder of an office that, until just a few years ago, was a considered reference in leadership for the democratic world,” it said.

Nowhere in the world is the US response to the pandemic more routinely castigated than in China. It is hardly surprising. Trump has consistently pointed to Chinese culpability in failing to contain the outbreak in its early stages, and the pandemic has become the central battleground for global leadership between the established superpower and the emerging challenger.

There is a palpable sense of relief among Chinese state commentators that the US president’s antics have diverted some of the anger that would otherwise have been aimed at Beijing.

“Only by making Americans hate China can they make sure that the public might overlook the fact that Trump’s team is stained with the blood of Americans,” said an English-language Global Times editorial late last month.

Its editor, Hu Xijin, tweeted: “US system used to be appealing to many Chinese people. But through the pandemic, Chinese saw US government’s incompetence in outbreak control, disregard for life and its overt lies. Washington’s political halo has little left.”

China’s failure to cooperate fully with the WHO and its heavy-handed diplomacy has won Beijing few friends, despite its dispatch of medical assistance around the world. But the German news weekly Der Spiegel argued that Trump had single-handedly managed to spare Beijing the worst of the global consequences for its failings.

“For a while, it looked like the outbreak of the coronavirus would throw China back by light years,” the magazine argued in an editorial. “But now it is US president Donald Trump who has to spend day after day in a stuffy White House press room explaining to the world why his country can’t get a grip on the pandemic.”

COVID-19 more deadly than previously reported, far more deadly than flu

Is COVID-19 deadlier than we thought?

Case fatality rate now twice what WHO reported in March
Graves of people who died in the past 30 days fill a new section of the Nossa Senhora Aparecida cemetery, amid the new coronavirus pandemic in Manaus, Brazil, Monday, 5/11/20. The new section was opened last month to cope with a sudden surge in deaths. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
Vallejo Times-Herald, By John Woolfolk, May 14, 2020
Among the key questions shaping debate around restrictive health measures to combat COVID-19 is how dangerous is the new coronavirus. Is it more like a bad strain of influenza, or is it deadlier?

Health experts say it’s too early in the pandemic for a definitive answer because the basic information to make that calculation — how many people contracted COVID-19 and how many died of it — isn’t fully known due to testing limitations.

But on March 3, before the rapid spread of cases prompted lockdowns around the U.S., the World Health Organization’s director- general reported that “globally, about 3.4% of reported COVID-19 cases have died,” and “by comparison, seasonal flu generally kills far fewer than 1% of those infected.”

Today, by the WHO’s global case and fatality tally, the world’s COVID-19 death rate is twice what it reported in March — 7%. Other organizations tracking figures, such as Johns Hopkins University, show a similarly high global case fatality rate. Regionally, the figures vary more. WHO and Johns Hopkins figures for the U.S. show a rate around 6%, while the WHO’s figures for Europe indicate a rate of 9%.

“COVID19 is a pretty severe disease,” said Santa Clara Valley Medical Center Dr. Heng Duong, who rattled off similar case fatality rates to the Santa Clara County board of supervisors this week. “It is true most people do OK. But when folks get sick, they get really sick.”

By comparison, SARS — Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome — caused by a cousin of the new coronavirus killed 774 — 10% — of the 8,098 people it infected in a 2003 outbreak, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But that virus proved not nearly as infectious, so it didn’t spread far.

The 1918-19 influenza pandemic, one of the most severe in history, which killed an estimated 50 million globally and 675,000 in the U.S., is generally estimated to have had a case fatality rate of more than 2.5%.

Duong and other experts said the true case fatality rate for COVID-19 may be much lower because there likely are a large number of people who have been infected with mild symptoms and were not confirmed through testing, which has largely been focused on those seeking hospital treatment or in highrisk settings.

But Duong added that “even if the case fatality rate is closer to 1%, that’s actually very high,” noting that seasonal influenza’s fatality rate is about a tenth of that.

In the U.S., 80% of COVID- 19 deaths have been among those age 65 and older, according to the CDC.

What does all this mean for us? Dr. Robert Siegel, a Stanford University professor of microbiology and immunology, said the relative danger of the disease has been part of a tug-ofwar between advocates and critics of public health lockdowns aimed at checking the virus’ spread. But the specific case rate ultimately doesn’t matter much — the public health response will be the same.

“There is a political component in how these things are being estimated,” Siegel said. “The fact is, we know this is a serious disease. We already know this is more serious than the flu. If you get the disease and the case fatality rate is 1% or the case fatality rate is 5%, I think you’d treat those the same. That would be an alarmingly high rate — you wouldn’t play Russian Roulette with those odds. If it’s 1 in a million that’s something else.”

The debate comes amid recent reports acknowledging a wider array of symptoms and complications in many COVID-19 cases — from “COVID-toe” skin lesions and loss of smell to kidney, heart and neurological damage, blood clots and strokes. Duong noted that influenza can cause some of those symptoms in some cases too, though the frequency has been higher with COVID-19. Still, he said about eight in 10 infected with the disease are able to ride it out at home.

Dr. Stephen Luby, an epidemiologist and professor of medicine at Stanford University, believes broader testing will eventually increase the number of people who have been infected and pull down the case fatality rate. “Some people do become very ill from this virus, but I do not see any evidence that this is substantially worse than the cases reported out of China early in the epidemic,” Luby said. “I still expect the infection fatality ratio to remain less than 1%. I expect that it will be worse than a typical influenza year, but not as bad as the influenza pandemic in 1919.”

Reopenings risk more virus outbreaks in the U.S. and around the world

Reopenings bring new cases in S. Korea, virus fears in Italy

A street that is normally swarming with vacationers as the tourism season kicks off stands empty in Cyprus’ popular seaside resort village of Ayia Napa, Saturday, May 9, 2020. With coronavirus restrictions gradually lifting, Cyprus authorities are mulling ways to get holidaymakers back to the tourism-reliant island nation that officials say is conservatively estimated to lose at least 60% of its annual tourist arrivals. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)
Associated Press, by Nicole Winfield, Vanessa Gera, Amy Forliti, 5/1020

ROME (AP) — South Korea’s capital closed down more than 2,100 bars and other nightspots Saturday because of a new cluster of coronavirus infections, Germany scrambled to contain fresh outbreaks at slaughterhouses, and Italian authorities worried that people were getting too friendly at cocktail hour during the country’s first weekend of eased restrictions.

The new flareups — and fears of a second wave of contagion — underscored the dilemma authorities face as they try to reopen their economies.

Around the world, the U.S. and other hard-hit countries are wrestling with how to ease curbs on business and public activity without causing the virus to come surging back.

In New York, the deadliest hot spot in the U.S., Gov. Andrew Cuomo said three children died from a possible complication of the coronavirus involving swollen blood vessels and heart problems. At least 73 children statewide have been diagnosed with symptoms similar to Kawasaki disease — a rare inflammatory condition — and toxic shock syndrome. But there is no proof the mysterious syndrome is caused by the virus.

Two members of the White House coronavirus task force — the heads of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Food and Drug Administration — placed themselves in quarantine after contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19, a stark reminder that not even one of the nation’s most secure buildings is immune from the virus.

Elsewhere, Belarus, which has not locked down despite sharply rising infections, saw tens of thousands turn out to mark Victory Day, the anniversary of Nazi Germany’s defeat in 1945. Authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko has dismissed concerns about the virus as a “psychosis.”

That was in contrast to Russia, which skipped the usual grand military parade in Moscow’s Red Square. This year’s observance had been expected to be especially large because it is the 75th anniversary, but instead, President Vladimir Putin laid flowers at the tomb of the unknown soldier and a show of military might was limited to a flyover of 75 warplanes and helicopters.

Worldwide, 4 million people have been confirmed infected by the virus, and more than 279,000 have died, including over 78,000 in the U.S., according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University. Spain, France, Italy and Britain have reported around 26,000 to 32,000 deaths each.

Germany and South Korea have both carried out extensive testing and contact tracing and have been hailed for avoiding the mass deaths that overwhelmed other countries. But even there, authorities have struggled to find the balance between saving lives and salvaging jobs.

Seoul shut down nightclubs, hostess bars and discos after dozens of infections were linked to people who went out last weekend as the country relaxed social distancing. Many of the infections were connected to a 29-year-old man who visited three nightclubs before testing positive.

Mayor Park Won-soon said health workers were trying to contact some 1,940 people who had been at the three clubs and other places nearby. The mayor said gains made against the virus are now threatened “because of a few careless people.”

Germany faced outbreaks at three slaughterhouses in what was seen as a test of its strategy for dealing with any resurgence as restrictions ease. At one slaughterhouse, in Coesfeld, 180 workers tested positive.

Businesses in the U.S. continue to struggle as more employers reluctantly conclude that their laid-off employees might not return to work anytime soon. Health officials are watching for a second wave of infections, roughly two weeks after states began gradually reopening with Georgia largely leading the way.

Some malls have opened up in Georgia and Texas, while Nevada restaurants, hair salons and other businesses were able to have limited reopenings Saturday or once again allow customers inside after nearly two months of restrictions.

The reopening of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park along the Tennessee-North Carolina border was a bit too tempting a draw as scores of nature lovers crowded parking lots and trails and even trekked into closed areas, park spokeswoman Dana Soehn said. Many did not wear masks.

In Los Angeles, hikes to the iconic hillside Hollywood sign and hitting the golf links were allowed as the California county hit hardest reopened some sites to recreation-starved stay-at-homers.

Mayor Eric Garcetti urged “good judgment” and said the city would rely on education and encouragement rather than heavy-handed enforcement: “Not our vision to make this like a junior high school dance with people standing too close to each other,” he said.

In New York, a Cuomo spokesman said the governor was extending stay-at-home restrictions to June 7, but another top aide later clarified that that was not so; the May 15 expiration date for the restrictions remains in place “until further notice,” Melissa DeRosa said in an evening statement.

The federal government said it was delivering supplies of remdesivir, the first drug shown to speed recovery for COVID-19 patients, to six more states, after seven others were sent cases of the medicine earlier this week.

Italy saw people return to the streets and revel in fine weather.

Milan Mayor Giuseppe Sala warned that “a handful of crazy people” were putting his city’s recovery at risk and threatened to shut down the trendy Navigli district after crowds of young people were seen out at the traditional aperitivo hour ignoring social-distancing rules.

The Campo dei Fiori flower and vegetable market was also bustling in Rome. But confusion created frustrations for the city’s shopkeepers.

Carlo Alberto, owner of TabaCafe, an Argentine empanada bar that was selling cocktails to a few customers, said that since reopening this week, police had threatened to fine him over crowds outside.

“Am I supposed to send them home? They need a guard here to do that,” he said. “The laws aren’t clear, the decree isn’t clear. You don’t know what you can do.”

Elsewhere, Pakistan allowed shops, factories, construction sites and other businesses to reopen, even as more than 1,600 new cases and 24 deaths were reported. Prime Minister Imran Khan said the government was rolling back curbs because it can’t support millions who depend on daily wages. But controls could be reimposed if people fail to practice social distancing.

In Spain certain regions can scale back lockdowns starting Monday, with limited seating at bars, restaurants and other public places. But Madrid and Barcelona, the country’s largest cities, will remain shut down.

“The pandemic is evolving favorably, but there is a risk of another outbreak that could generate a serious catastrophe,” Spanish health official Fernando Simón said. “Personal responsibility is vital.”


Gera reported from Warsaw, Poland, and Forliti reported from Minneapolis. Associated Press journalists around the world contributed to this report.