Toronto health group abruptly cancels project that would see some young people get COVID vaccine now

North York General Hospital.

It was an innovative idea that deviated slightly from provincial guidelines but aimed to produce “herd immunity” in apartment buildings packed with senior citizens.

Any willing adult in the towers who was 18 or over would be eligible, meaning younger people could potentially get vaccinated months early, while helping protect more vulnerable neighbours.

But the plans by a hospital in north-end Toronto have suddenly been cancelled or tightly restricted, the last-minute decision coming in the wake of “advice” from the city’s public-health department after a National Post story about the project Saturday.

The changes would seem to underline the political sensitivities around Canada’s painfully slow vaccine rollout, where the hint of queue jumping — even when sanctioned by a health-care organization — is quickly snuffed out.

In another incident, a Toronto hospital appeared to offer anyone 16 and older the chance to take advantage of soon-to-expire vaccine doses left over at the end of the day. Within hours of inviting people to register, the hospital

narrowed the instructions

for its leftover-shots wait list, saying only those eligible in Ontario’s first phases of rollout could get the last-minute injections.

At a condo building whose mobile clinic was supposed to take place this Saturday, the cancellation has left a sour taste. Though most of the residents are elderly and many are over 80, it is a relatively well-to-do population, and that may have influenced the decision, suggests resident Roy Stephenson, 76.

“With all due respect to the government … it stinks to me of politics,” said the retired lawyer, resident of the Highgate condominium. “I think it has to do with the fact it is an affluent building.”

At two other buildings whose clinics were supposed to take place Tuesday for all ages, residents found out Tuesday morning that only those 70 and over would qualify. The day before, a notice had said anyone 50 and over could get a shot, before the instructions were modified further.

The change seems strange given reports of health officials having a hard time finding willing recipients of the vaccines, said Eric Thom, 66, who lives in one of the two buildings.

“Somebody saw (the National Post) article and bitched about the fact ‘What do you mean 20-year-old people are getting vaccinated? That’s not fair,’ ” said the advertising copy writer. “(But) fair across the board isn’t necessarily working. The bottom line is there’s a clock on these vaccines, so get it done.”

The pilot projects were the work of North York General Hospital and the affiliated North York Toronto Health Partners. They were implementing recommendations from the province’s COVID science advisory table to target so-called naturally occurring retirement communities, or NORCs, buildings that happen to have a high percentage of older residents.

Organizers planned to immunize everyone in the buildings, figuring that if they left the relatively few younger residents unvaccinated, those people could still pose a risk to the others.

But in a notice to the Highgate condo Sunday, program co-ordinator James Schembri said there had been “much discussion with Toronto Public Health this weekend.” The city had advised the hospital group that “mobile vaccine efforts must be focused on the highest risk buildings at this time,” said the note.

The hospital said Tuesday it made adjustments to the program to abide by provincial requirements.

“We regret any confusion and concern that this caused residents in the building who are under 70,” said spokeswoman Melissa Londono.

An official of the city’s public health department said the unit merely provided advice, based on its current rollout plan and provincial guidelines, and North York General decided to change its projects.

Given the limited supply of vaccine, the current focus is on inoculating “adults 70 years of age and older, frontline health care workers and other select high-risk groups,” Dr. Vinita Dubey, associate medical officer of health, said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Toronto’s Michael Garron Hospital caused a stir late last week when it invited people to register on a wait list for vaccine left unused at the end of the day. The original form did not have an age restriction, and linked from a page on the hospital’s website offering vaccine advice to people aged 16 to 59, said

Norm Di Pasquale

, a local school-board trustee.

But the hospital

announced the next day

the leftover doses were not available to that age group and were only for people who qualified under the province’s first two rollout phases. It closed the wait list after receiving 60,000 submissions in 30 hours.

“I’m going to guess phones started ringing, maybe from hospital administration or (Toronto) Public Health,” said Di Pasquale about the modified instructions.

But a hospital spokeswoman said Tuesday that it received no instructions from the city or province. It never intended to give priority to the younger group for standby doses and modified instructions to “help manage the expectations.”

Meanwhile, Michael Garron is “using all of our vaccine doses daily with minimal wastage,” she said.

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Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques

People affected by COVID-19 show more goodwill to computers, scientists say

During COVID-19, people started using technology more than ever before, buying products online, working from home, and attending school online. As a result, they showed the same kindness to their gadgets as they would show to people.

People affected by COVID-19 show more kindness and altruism to people and human-like technology, U.S. scientists say. 

According to findings published in the

iScience journal

, researchers from the University of Southern California,

George Mason University and the U.S. Department of Defense conducted a “dictator game” to study how humans behave with machines.

Surprisingly, the findings showed that people impacted by COVID-19 showed the same altruism toward computers as they did to humans. 

“The new discovery here is that when people are distracted by something distressing, they treat machines socially like they would treat other people,” said a senior author of the study, Jonathan Gratch, according to

USC News

. Gratch is also a research professor of computer science at the USC Institute for Creative Technologies.

“We found greater faith in technology due to the pandemic and a closing of the gap between humans and machines.” 

The researchers chose individuals who had been negatively impacted by COVID-19, measured their stress levels, and then engaged them in the game. The subjects also interacted with computers.

The game has two participants, who play the roles of a sender and a receiver. The sender gets an initial grant, which in the experiment was 12 lottery tickets, worth US$30. The sender decides how many tickets to give to the receiver, who has to accept what is offered. 

The study compared what participants offered to humans and to computers. The results showed that people affected by COVID-19 made the same offers to both computers and to humans.

“Our findings show that as people interacted more via machines during the past year, perceptions about the value of technology increased, which led to more favourable responses to machines,” Gratch told USC News.

The scientists also pointed out that, generally, people mostly forgo social norms of human interaction, treating their gadgets differently. This behaviour persists even when machines become more human, such as Alexa, a virtual assistant they can talk to. Researchers explain that people’s default behaviour is often determined by heuristic thinking, a mental ability that people use to solve problems and make instant judgments in their daily interactions. 

Also, the fact that the scientists developed the COVID-19 vaccines in less than a year may have re-established our confidence in technology and can affect the way people deal with it in general, Gratch explained to USC News. 

The study results correspond to previous research that indicated that tragedies often reveal compassion in people. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, people became more dependent on technology, having to buy products online, work from home and attend school online. 

The results show that it is possible to promote friendliness to machines in different ways, and to potentially develop machines that display emotions or cultural cues.

On the other hand, the study raises concerns about people’s dependence on technology, noting that it could potentially allow

nefarious

programmers to commit fraud by building machines that look and sound like humans to make people trust them.

Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques

About 26,000 travellers arriving in Canada were exempt from mandatory quarantine hotel

A person looks out of a window at a quarantine hotel near Toronto Pearson International Airport in Mississauga on Feb. 24, 2021.

Almost one quarter of all air travellers arriving in Canada since the federal government’s requirement of an expensive three-day stay in a quarantine hotel were exempt from the controversial rules.

In the month since the order for mandatory stays in specified hotels has been in place, police agencies have issued 100 tickets to arriving travellers for refusing to go to a quarantine hotel, as of March 22, which is the most recent data released to National Post by the Public Health Agency of Canada.

That number of tickets for hotel violations represents more than one quarter of all Quarantine Act tickets issued by police to cross-border travellers over the entire year of isolation orders during the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada, signalling significant opposition to them.

And of the 94,135 COVID-19 tests done on all arriving travellers to Canada, both air and land, in the month since quarantine hotel restrictions were put in place, 1,213 tested positive for COVID-19.

That is a COVID-19 positivity rate of 1.3 per cent.

“On average, this is the equivalent of having one person with COVID-19 on every single 100-passenger flight arriving in Canada,” said Tammy Jarbeau, a spokeswoman for PHAC.

The new data help capture the efforts and outcomes of the federal government’s regulations aimed at curbing COVID-19 at the border.

Since quarantine hotel requirements went into effect on Feb. 21, 2021, about 26,000 travellers entering Canada by air were exempt from the mandatory hotel stay, representing 23 per cent of all air travellers in that period, according to the data.

That means those travellers, unlike everyone else, didn’t have to show proof of a pre-booked and fully paid stay at one of the approved hotels near the airports in the four cities in Canada allowed to accept international flights: Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Calgary.

Under the government’s rules, the mandatory hotel stays do not apply to travellers in several categories, including air crews, those deemed an essential service, emergency services workers (such as firefighters, law enforcement officers, paramedics or soldiers) arriving to provide that service or returning from providing it elsewhere, some government officials and some other exempt travellers.

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) could not or would not release a breakdown of which categories the travellers qualified for their waivers.

There have been 22,384 rooms booked at government-authorized quarantine hotels by the centralized booking system, as of March 22, according to the PHAC data. For the last month, travellers were also able to book directly with hotels on the government list.

 A woman awaits transport to a quarantine hotel from Terminal 1 at Toronto Pearson International airport on Monday February 22, 2021.

The mandatory three-night reservation must be fully pre-paid and is non-refundable, the government said. The rules are an attempt to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Other than exempt travellers, everyone arriving in Canada by air must have a COVID-19 test upon arrival and then stay in a designated hotel for three nights waiting for the results.

Since the measures were put in place, many travellers have reached out to National Post complaining of the process and expense of the regulations as well as questioning the necessity of it.

One traveller complained of booking and paying for a hotel and then testing positive for COVID prior to departure and not being able to use the room.

Another complained of the cost of a three-hour wait on a cell phone trying to book her quarantine room while overseas, and another said they spent nine hours intermittently on hold trying to book, both before the government allowed online booking.

A snowbird complained of having to book her “own jail” for returning to Canada. Another traveller said it took them longer to get out of Toronto’s airport than to fly to Canada.

The government added additional approved hotels eligible for quarantining in after the initial rollout, increasing the availability of accommodation. There are now five in Calgary, 18 in Vancouver, 19 in Toronto and 16 in Montreal.

Breaching the mandatory quarantine rules could bring a range of response from authorities, PHAC said, from a verbal warning to fines and arrest. Usually, it is up to the police in the local jurisdiction to handle that end of the stick.

Since the overall isolation for travellers rule was brought in last year as the pandemic was first cresting, PHAC has documented more than 70,000 travellers contacted by police to monitor compliance.

There has been a 98 per cent compliance rate, PHAC said.

“While the majority of travellers are following the rules, PHAC is aware of 493 contravention tickets issued to travellers for failing to comply with the Quarantine Act,” said Jarbeau. Of these tickets, 100 were issued in the last month for quarantine hotel refusals.

Canada Border Services Agency, which is responsible for border control, said travellers who refuse to take a COVID-19 test at the airport could receive a $3,000 fine.

Anyone leaving their place of quarantine prior to the end of the 14th day of quarantine could be fined $3,000 for each day they are in non-compliance.

Anyone who contravenes the mandatory isolation or mandatory quarantine requirements could face a maximum penalty of a fine of up to $750,000 and/or six months in jail.

PHAC added that someone who causes a risk of imminent death or serious bodily harm to another person while willfully or recklessly contravening quarantine regulations, including submitting false information about a quarantine plan, could face a fine up to $1,000,000 and/or three years in prison.

Jarbeau said the agency is aware of complaints over the rules and takes them seriously.

The most common complaints made to PHAC by those staying at quarantine hotels are over wait times related to booking, the process of receiving the testing results, and hotel service issues, such as the food and questions over special dietary requirements.

“PHAC calls travellers and periodically visits all government-authorized accommodations to make sure hotels are meeting the requirements outlined by PHAC,” she said. “Hotels that do not adhere to the requirements set out by PHAC will no longer be used as a government-authorized accommodation.”

The Canada Border Services Agency said travellers coming to Canada who have been vaccinated are not exempt from complying with the COVID-19 testing, quarantine, and other requirements.

Travellers arriving by air who are not exempt are required to take a COVID-19 molecular test before leaving the airport.

 Travellers await transportation to a quarantine hotel after arriving at Pearson International Airport on Feb. 24, 2021.

They are also given a COVID-19 specimen collection kit to use for their test on day 10 of their mandatory quarantine.

CBSA urges passengers to register for their airport test in advance to save time at the airport and to also register their second test on their first day in Canada.

“Travellers flying into Canada must proceed to their pre-booked hotel to await results of their arrival test,” CBSA said in a statement. “If negative, they can go directly to their place of quarantine to complete the rest of their 14-day quarantine. If positive, they will be relocated to a designated quarantine facility or other suitable place of isolation.”

They are all required to contact Switch Health to schedule a telehealth appointment for their day 10 test to be guided through the specimen collection process, which includes taking a nasal swab, packaging it for testing, and arranging for it to be picked up and couriered to a laboratory.

The Switch Health appointments have created another bottleneck frustrating some travellers.

“PHAC is aware that travellers calling the test kit provider (Switch Health) for assistance are currently experiencing long wait times, with a small number having been unable to book their telehealth appointments within the required testing timeframe,” Jarbeau said.

Efforts are being made to resolve the problems, she said.

The current emergency quarantine order is set to expire April 21, but may be extended, as it has been previously.

“The Government of Canada is continually evaluating the impacts of border measures, in collaboration with our provincial and territorial partners, and industry stakeholders, based on the most recent evidence and the current epidemiological situation,” Jarbeau said.

“As more evidence emergences, public health authorities will make appropriate adjustments to recommendations regarding public health measures.”

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Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques

U.S. surrogate still caring for Chinese couple's baby 10 months after birth due to COVID-19

Emily and Brandon Chrislip with their son, Camden, and the 10-month-old surrogate baby they have been caring for.

Thanks to COVID-19, a 25-year-old surrogate got more than she bargained for.

Almost a year after the Idaho woman gave birth, she’s still caring for the child of a couple living in China,

Good Morning America reports

.

Emily Chrislip gave birth at the height of the coronavirus pandemic last May. Since then, pandemic restrictions have made it impossible for her to deliver the child to her biological parents.

Rather than pass the little girl off to a nanny agency, Chrislip and her husband, Brandon, have become temporary caregivers, and are being compensated by the parents in China.

“We just felt that it was the right thing to do,” Chrislip told Good Morning America. “We have a loving family and I’ve already carried her. So we said, ‘Let’s just do it.’”

The couple also has a two-year-old son, Camden. They said they have been treating the surrogate baby, whose name and face they are concealing out of concerns for her privacy, like a beloved member of their extended family, and preparing for her eventual departure.

“I kind of view her as like my cousin’s child,” Chrislip said. “I care for her. I love her and I will always care for her, but I know she’s not mine and she belongs with her parents.”

Chrislip did not know the biological parents before her pregnancy, and was matched with them through an agency, but now the families hold weekly video chats to keep in touch.

She hopes that the biological parents will be able to figure out the logistics of travelling to the United States and back before their daughter’s first birthday in May.

“I can only imagine the feeling that they’re going to have seeing their child for the first time,” she said.

“They had to wait a whole year.”

Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques

Big Bang Theory's opening sequence contains a snippet of Regina history

This circa-1885 photo of the original Regina Leader newspaper office was taken by Oliver B. Buell, an American photographer, who photographed the Northwest Rebellion and Louis Riel's trial. The Leader's owner and editor, Nicholas Flood Davin, is centre front, with a top hat and walking stick.

It ran for 12 seasons and has been in reruns for two, but it’s taken until now for someone to notice that the rapid-fire montage of images in the opening sequence of the Big Bang Theory includes an 1885 photograph of the first offices of the Regina Leader newspaper, which eventually became the Regina Leader-Post.

John Strother-Stewart

told CTV Regina

that he had watched about three seasons of the show, and it was only last week that something in the brisk opener caught his attention. He slowed it all down, and sure enough, the Leader’s building popped out at him. He had worked on a diorama for a museum project some 40 years ago for what is now the Civic Museum of Regina. (To be fair, someone at

geekslop.com

had unravelled all 109 images back in 2014.)

In the image, the Leader’s wood-clad western-style building sits virtually on its own in a field, with a stretch of structures in the distance. Around it, men stand as though awaiting news — or are in the midst of a chinwag about the news papers they seem to have discarded around the grounds. One of those men is the building’s owner, Nicholas Flood Davin, an Irish lawyer and politician, and who, as a journalist, founded the Leader partly to get provincial status for what was then the North-West Territory.

Just as this photo was taken, Regina had been chosen as the new capital of the North-West Territories. A short 10 years earlier, the Dominion Lands Act had been advertising to lure settlers out to the Saskatchewan district to buy 160 acres of land (for $10), and by 1885, Regina was a hotbed of activity with enough goings-on to keep a publisher in print.

 The early Leader building sits slightly out of the bustle of the growing town of Regina.

When Canada took over a vast region from the Hudson’s Bay Company and Britain in 1869, the 12,000 Métis of the Red River were not consulted. In response, Louis Riel started gathering supporters to rebel against the government. When the Northwest Rebellion hit in May 1885 — who can recite this from their Canadian History class? — the French-speaking Métis, under Riel rose up against government indifference to their rights, their land, their cultural distinctness as well as to protest the abuse of treaties. Riel managed to keep just 350 steadfast followers with him, and they took on 900 soldiers and Northwest Mounted Police; 91 people died, and within days the rebellion was over.

Riel was captured, tried and hanged on Nov. 6, causing a deep rift in French and English relations, and this was said to have been the big bang that created the divided feelings that continue to this day in Canada. And that was just part of what kept The Leader in print from its very earliest days on the frontier.

In the show’s opening sequence, we’re taken from the scientific big bang, of course, through single-cell entities to dinosaurs, the invention of the wheel, to the Pyramids, Christianity, Michelangelo, global exploration, the industrial revolution, art and even disco. Not to be overlooked, Toronto also gets a micro-second of fame with a shot of a subway train at Union Station.

Toronto’s

Barenaked Ladies

wrote and performed the music for the 15-second opening sequence. Frontman Ed Robertson claims to have

written the song in the shower

— just a five-minute shower at that. His brain must have gone through a cerebral big bang to create such tongue-twisting lyrics and brisk music just as he was up against deadline for handing it over to show creators Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady. The song is called The History of Everything.

Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques

Can we trust the WHO on COVID-19 origins? The serious flaws behind its China report

WHO team members visit the Wuhan Institute of Virology on February 3.

Today, the WHO will publish the final report of its investigation into the origins of COVID-19. The paper may offer some new details on the virus that has defined the last 12 months, but it would be a mistake to characterize it as a definitive or unbiased probe of the COVID-19 pandemic. Below, why we still have no idea where COVID-19 arose.

Every step of the report was conducted with strict Chinese supervision

Even in liberal democracies with a free press, attempting to probe the origins of a massive catastrophe can be a messy affair. The 9/11 Commission, for instance, took two years and thrice had to exercise its powers of subpoena (each time against a U.S. government agency). Even then, some of the commission’s conclusions have since attracted criticism for relying on

flawed testimony from U.S. intelligence

.

By contrast, the WHO-led investigation into COVID-19’s origins was a team of 17 Chinese scientists and 10 non-Chinese investigators that spent two weeks conducting interviews under the constant supervision of the People’s Republic of China.

This is not to discount the integrity of the team, which comprised veteran microbiologists and medical researchers, but no interview occurred

without several representative of the Chinese government at the table

. “The politics was always in the room with us on the other side of the table,” said team member Peter Ben Embarek in February. The constant presence of government officials is particularly relevant given that Chinese physicians, including

famed Wuhan whistleblower Li Wenliang

, have faced official consequences for going against Beijing’s line on COVID-19.

“It’s essentially a highly-chaperoned, highly-curated study tour … this group of experts only saw what the Chinese government wanted them to see,” Jamie Metzl, a former senior advisor under U.S. president Bill Clinton,

told 60 Minutes this week

.

 Peter Ben Embarek, a member of the World Health Organization team tasked with investigating the origins of COVID-19, speaks to media at Wuhan airport.

Senior scientists haven’t fully dismissed ‘lab escape’ theory

The National Post has

previously covered

why an unintentional lab escape of COVID-19 is a plausible theory as to the pandemic’s origins. While the evidence is only circumstantial, it’s not in dispute that a novel coronavirus sprang up within walking distance of the high-security lab operated by the Wuhan Institute of Virology that specialized in the study of coronaviruses. That same lab had also attracted

pre-pandemic criticism of its lax safety practice

, and has links with a

still-under-investigation laboratory security breach

at Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg.

Earlier this month, more than a dozen international senior medical researchers signed an

open letter

calling for a more reliable investigation to definitively rule out the possibility of a “research-related accident.” And over the weekend, the lab escape theory got its most prominent endorsement in the guise of Robert Redfield, a career virologist and former head of the Centres for Disease Control under former U.S. president Donald Trump. “I still think the most likely etiology of this pathogen in Wuhan was from a laboratory escape,” he

told CNN

.  “It’s not unusual for respiratory pathogens that are being worked on in a laboratory to infect a laboratory worker.”

 In this photo from January, 2020, then-CDC director Robert Redfield speaks at a press briefing alongside senior White House COVID-19 advisor Anthony Fauci.

The Wuhan Institute of Virology was almost completely excluded from scrutiny

According to the Associated Press, one of the few definitive conclusions of the joint report is that the likelihood of a lab escape is so “extremely unlikely” that it

isn’t worth studying further

. This conclusion was reached by the team after only a cursory examination of the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Despite being the most controversial origin story for the virus (and one whose possibility has received

tacit endorsement

by the U.S. state department), the theory occupies a relatively small share of the final report.

The WHO team

spent only four hours at the facility

and their investigation was limited to interviews with laboratory staff. Investigators were told that the Institute saw “no disruptions or incidents,” and they

do not appear to have requested any documentation to support those claims

.

A formal audit of the lab was “far beyond what our team is mandated to do or has the tools and capabilities to do,” team member Peter Ben Embarek

told Science magazine in February.

He added “the fact that we assessed this hypothesis as extremely unlikely doesn’t mean it’s ruled out.”

 Members of the World Health Organization (WHO) team tasked with investigating the origins of the coronavirus disease attend a February news conference in Wuhan, China.

Critical early data was withheld from investigators

When it comes to figuring out where a pandemic came from, some of the most critical clues can be found in the case files of a disease’s first victims. After Canada’s 2003 SARS outbreak, for instance, investigators were able to detail the moment-by-moment movements of Kwan Sui-Chu,

who was identified as Canada’s patient zero

.

It’s precisely this kind of early case data that the Chinese government has withheld from outside investigators, including the WHO team. In February, it emerged that China refused a request to turn over 174 health records from COVID-19’s first patients in Wuhan. “They showed us a couple of examples, but that’s not the same as doing all of them, which is standard epidemiological investigation,” Dominic Dwyer, an Australian representative on the team,

told the Wall Street Journal in February

.

What this means is that there was no reliable way to determine how early COVID-19 was spreading through Wuhan, and whether it had a single point of origin. A mysterious flu-like illness

swept through staff at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in the autumn of 2019

, according to WHO team member Marion Koopman. The new WHO report found 92 cases of Wuhan patients with COVID-19-like symptoms in October 2019, weeks before the first cases officially recognized by the Chinese government. In both instances, investigators had to rely on Chinese assurances that serological tests had shown no link to COVID-19.

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Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques

Nearing an AR future: Toronto artist sells 'revolutionary' digital NFT house for over $500,000 in world first

The Mars House features a open-plan concept with glass walls drenched in hues of blue, juxtaposed against the fiery landscape of Mars

It’s a warm afternoon on the surface of Mars. You’re lazily stretched out on a red glass reclining chair by the pool on your patio. As its reflective waters lap at your feet, you glance up at the fiery Martian landscape, with towering mountains, red skies and blazing clouds.

There is no other human in sight, but you hear the thrum of peaceful music as you get up and walk through the glass doors of your house, featuring floor-to-ceiling windows and a minimalist design. The Italian glass furniture is painted in colourful hues and arranged with plenty of space to lounge or entertain guests.

All of a sudden, your stomach rumbles, signalling its time for lunch. You have no choice but to exit your dreamscape, shut down your laptop and head to your real kitchen for a bite to eat.

But soon, you’ll be back to Mars House.

That’s what Toronto designer Krista Kim has named her latest creation, a digital house that is meant to be explored in virtual reality, or, perhaps eventually, augmented reality.

“I want people to experience the light, the movement of the light. I want people to experience the healing qualities of the house through the light installation. That is the purpose of the house,” Kim said in an interview with the National Post.

The 3D file sold last week for over $650,000 as an NFT, or non-fungible token. NFTs are verified by blockchain technology, which is also used by cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, and they act as a certificate of authenticity, allowing artists to encrypt their signatures on digital artworks and designs.

Kim said she designed the digital NFT house, described as the first of its kind in the world, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the world was locked in their homes.

“I meditate twice a day. So my art is really a meditative experience,” she said. “And I thought, why not create a house that heals.”

The addition of a scorched Martian landscape, she said, was to bring a futuristic element to her design.

“I really wanted to put across that this is a breakthrough new concept,” she said. “It’s kind of a revolutionary concept, harnessing technology and integrating into tech architecture, for wellness and healing.”

The new owner of the artwork, an anonymous internet collector, paid Kim 288 Ether — a cryptocurrency that was worth $662,874.85 in Canadian dollars on March 29 — for the virtual real estate.

The artwork was initially valued at 33 Ether ($75,895.85).

“The collector and I, we started a dialogue,” Kim said, during which he emphasized his desire to invest in art in a manner that benefits the community as a whole, rather than just the artist.

He agreed to use the sale of Mars House to finance a world tour of healing light and sound installations by Kim and Jeff Schroeder, who created the soundtrack for her house, as part of an initiative by the Continuum Foundation.

Selling the house as an NFT was especially advantageous, Kim said, as it removed the need for an intermediary between the artist and the collector, eliminating commission fees.

 Mars House is the first-ever digital NFT house to be sold.

The collector, who will receive a 3D file directly from Kim, plans to upload the digital house to a Metaverse — a platform where one can experience virtual real estate as an avatar — and open it for viewing to the public.

“He wants to share Mars House with the world. And I’m obviously very pleased that he would want to do that,” Kim said.

Existing technology does not allow the house to be experienced in augmented reality, but Kim remains hopeful.

“There is an app called SuperWorld that is very early, but within two years will become the augmented reality interface of the world,” she said. On this app, users could buy virtual real estate and populate their land with 3D assets that are programmable.

“It’s going to revolutionize the NFT market,” she said.

Living an augmented reality life could allow people a host of avenues in which they can express their own creativity without being limited by the physical world.

For example, in the near future, with the right technology, one could purchase their choice of digital fashion and overlay it on their clothes. People could even purchase a digital pet or tattoo. The possibilities are endless, according to Kim.

Global interaction would become easier.

“Artists will collaborate to beautify public spaces. Parks will be more interactive. There will be children playing with other children around the world. You don’t have to be from Toronto or Japan but now you could actually travel to Japan and play with other kids there.

“We are now entering a future civilization of decentralization,” she said.

“I think this is going to be the greatest transcendent experience of human civilization…. Beyond geographical, political, religious, or any barriers.”

Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques

Chinese diplomat blasts Trudeau, says he ruined relations with China and is a U.S. 'running dog'

A Chinese consul general in Brazil has derided Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as a “running dog” of the U.S. whose only accomplishment is to ruin friendly relations with China, the latest example of Beijing’s combative new, “wolf-warrior” brand of diplomacy.

Li Yang, based in Rio de Janeiro, also referred to Trudeau as “boy” and a spendthrift in an apparent retort to Canada’s recent Uyghur-related sanctions against China.

The tweet was written in English on a platform that’s banned in Li’s home country, suggesting the remarks were directed at neither Chinese nor Brazilian citizens.

“Boy, your greatest achievement is to have ruined the friendly relations between China and Canada, and have turned Canada into a running dog of the US.,” scoffed Li on the Twitter social media platform. “Spendthrift!!!”

Running dog is a pejorative Chinese term for lackeys of a more powerful, often evil, force, made popular by Mao Zedong during the early years of the country’s Communist government.

By Monday afternoon, the message had earned 3,000 likes.

“This is a very unfortunate and unnecessary tweet,” said Zhiqun Zhu, an international relations professor at Pennsylvania’s Bucknell University. “Insulting leaders of other countries is not a thing a diplomat should do. It is not only undiplomatic, but also against China’s own culture of being polite and respectful.”

More and more Chinese diplomats, though, seem to be following the wolf-warrior approach, even competing with each other to be the boldest, said Zhu.

Had the post been issued by a diplomat based in Canada, it could have been grounds for declaring the individual persona non grata and sending him or her home, said Charles Burton, a former Canadian diplomat in Beijing.

The fact Li is based in another country gives him cover of sorts, but his remarks were undoubtedly approved by highers up in the Chinese foreign ministry, said the Macdonald Laurier Institute fellow.

“Those are fighting words, and lack specificity,” said Burton. “They’re not explaining what it is that Mr. Trudeau has done to ruin the friendly relations. ‘Greatest achievement’ could be some kind of dig at him.”

The gibe might have been meant to contrast the current prime minister with his father, said Burton. Chinese Communist Party leaders have often claimed that Pierre Trudeau’s greatest achievement was making Canada one of the world’s first nations to recognize China’s government after the revolution, he said.

Tensions between the countries, already at a historically high level, ratcheted up recently after Canada joined the European Union, the United Kingdom and the United States in sanctioning Chinese officials over the widely documented repression of China’s Uyghur minority.

Beijing responded last week by similarly imposing sanctions on Conservative MP Michael Chong — who had instigated a House of Commons motion declaring the treatment of Uyghurs a genocide — and a Commons sub-committee.

Asked for comment on the tweet, Trudeau’s office referred to remarks the prime minister made earlier Monday, touting Canada’s efforts to defend human rights in Xinjiang province, where most Uyghurs live.

Chinese diplomacy was once characterized by a more circumspect approach, with difficult conversations taking place behind closed doors.

But the more confrontational wolf-warrior style, which alludes to the titles of Chinese action movies about special forces operators, has come to the fore in the past couple of years, partly a reflection of China’s more aggressive, nationalistic stance on the world stage.

Some within the Chinese foreign-policy establishment argue it’s necessary to defend the country’s national interests, and the style seems to be encouraged by top leadership, said Zhu. But the strategy has backfired and actually hurt China’s international image, he said.

“China is shooting itself in the foot by encouraging such a confrontational style of diplomacy,” the professor argued. “When China’s image suffers, one knows that this type of diplomacy is problematic.”

The French government last week called China’s ambassador to Paris in for discussions over tweets that attacked French lawmakers and labeled a think tank analyst critical of Beijing a “small-time hoodlum” and “crazed hyena.”

The embassy also warned French politicians against meeting with government officials on a planned visit to Taiwan.

Lu Shaye, the ambassador in France, would be familiar to many Canadians, having held the same post here until mid-2019. He was widely criticized when he suggested in an Ottawa newspaper article that complaints about the detention of Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor stemmed from “Western egotism and white supremacy.”

Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques

'There's a lot of resilience': Why mental health is holding up to COVID-19 better than expected

Two participants express their approval of a COVID-19 rapid testing program.

In the first chaotic weeks of COVID-19 lockdowns, there was a universal belief that the world’s mental health was about to head into a tailspin.

Even before they declared COVID-19 a pandemic, the World Health Organization said the disease would

bring a tide of loneliness and self-harm

. The Canadian Mental Health Association

girded Canadians for an “echo pandemic”

of anxiety and depression. Governments

poured funding

into crisis hotlines and online counselling programs.

But then something happened: Suicides — one of the most reliable indicators of societal mental health — either

didn’t change or started to go down

.

In Australia, England, Norway and Massachusetts, the deadliest days of the first wave were accompanied by suicide rates that remained

basically the same as before

. They

dropped by seven per cent

in British Columbia. In Alberta, suicide rates dropped so sharply that

100 more people were alive at the end of 2020 than if it had been a conventional year

.

“That’s the kind of data we’re getting across the board; that at a population level we’re not seeing changes,” said Brett Thombs, a leading McGill University medical researcher. “In many ways, things are OK.”

 Loreto Ibor (C) and two fellow nurses walk through the corridors of the laundry of the San Jorge hospital on 12 March 2021 in Huesca, Spain, on March 12, 2021 in Huesca, Spain.

For the last year, Thombs and an

international team of scientists

have been heading up a massive project to catalogue and review all of the world’s mental health research on COVID-19.

Called a “living systematic review,” the aim is to get a generalized picture of how the mental health of the world’s 7.6 billion people is faring under COVID-19. In the same way that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change regularly sums up the state of the world’s research on global warming, Thombs’ team has combed through more than 50,000 studies from around the world gauging everything from anxiety to depression to loneliness under the pandemic.

They reject the flimsier research — studies with small sample sizes or flawed data collection such as voluntary web surveys — and then sift through the rest to review research by its quality and potential bias. What’s left,

as shown on the project’s official website

, is a portrait of a planet that is coping relatively well with the stresses of COVID-19.

Population-level data in the United Kingdom found that depression and anxiety briefly spiked after the imposition of lockdowns, but then swung back to normal “possibly because individuals adapted to circumstances,”

wrote researchers

.

 In this October photo people enter Oxford Circus underground station in London

A massive survey of Norwegians found that the coming of COVID-19 caused

suicide rates to plunge 15 per cent

. Mental illness as a whole also went down noticeably in the first weeks of lockdowns.

A nation-wide study of Americans found that rates of

loneliness stayed about the same

. “Despite some detrimental impact on vulnerable individuals, in the present sample, there was no large increase in loneliness but remarkable resilience in response to COVID-19,” wrote Florida State University researchers.

One of the only major Canadian studies to examine mental health before and after the pandemic

looked at a cohort of students at McGill University

. Those with pre-existing mental health concerns saw slight improvements to their overall well-being under COVID-19. Those without pre-existing conditions saw increases in distress during the pandemic. But overall, the results for everyone were basically negligible.

None of this is to say that COVID-19 hasn’t been a traumatic experience around the world, but that humans are dealing with it better than anticipated. Says Thombs, “overall there’s a lot of resilience.”

One common indicator of the overall mental health situation has been calls to crisis hotlines, which have soared across the board since the beginning of COVID-19 lockdowns. While this could well be an indication of increased psychological distress, Thombs notes that it could just as well be a result of more awareness and funding given to these hotlines under lockdown.

He pointed to an

illuminating study of how young Swiss men were coping with COVID-19

. In a survey, clear majorities of the men reported that they were having difficulties coping with “abstaining from cultural events” or “not spending time with people privately.” But when the men ranked their overall depression and stress, the surprising result was that, on average, they were doing better under COVID-19. The pandemic was unpleasant, but not enough to bump them into a realm of worse mental health.

 Detail from the Swiss study. While young Swiss men reported fears and disappointments associated with COVID-19, overall their average mental wellbeing was better.

“All the evidence seems to be showing that there is not a tsunami of a mental health crisis,” said Thombs. As to why, it’s worth noting there has never been a comprehensive study into how human mental health responds to major global crises. One of the only exceptions was the British public’s response to the Second World War. Despite pre-war concerns that the pressures of aerial bombardment would lead to mass anxiety and “shelter mentality,” the result was a

static suicide rate and lowered admissions to psychiatric hospitals

. This has been called the “

come together effect

”; an unexpected surge of well-being and good feelings in the face of a common foe.

An

Italian study

featured by the project credited the “misery loves company” effect with increasing well-being under lockdown: The more time that Italians spent on social media looking at the pandemic travails of their neighbours, the better they felt about their own situation.

Even if society in general is holding up under the pandemic, as more data comes in it’s emerging that the mental health tsunami did indeed happen for a number of smaller demographics, including health-care workers, residents in long-term care homes and those with pre-existing mental illness.

Says Thombs, “I think we need to be concerned about vulnerable groups.”

If you are in distress, contact the help centre nearest you or the Canadian Suicide Prevention Service at 1-833-456-4566 or, in Quebec, at 1-866-277-3553. In an emergency call 911 or contact your local emergency services provider.

• Email: thopper@postmedia.com

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Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques

These Easter eggs don't come in a shell

Eat Just, Inc. has sold more than 100 million plant-based eggs since it first launched its pourable product in the U.S. in 2018.

Josh Tetrick knows firsthand how eager Canadians were for the arrival of a plant-based egg. From the moment word spread that they were making an egg from a plant, the co-founder and CEO of San Francisco-based food startup Eat Just, Inc. started fielding requests.

“Initially these emails — since I was the only one in the company pretty much — were coming to me,” says Tetrick, laughing. “Since I started the company a little bit over nine years ago, Canadian consumers have always requested this more than anywhere else.”

By April,

JUST Egg

(called JUST Plant Egg in Canada) will be stocked in nearly 1,700 stores, including various independent grocers and select locations of Buy-Low Foods, Loblaws, Metro, Save-On-Foods, Sobeys, Safeway, Walmart and Whole Foods Market.

Eat Just has begun its Canadian foodservice expansion as well, and the folded version of its plant-based egg will be available at all

Copper Branch

locations on March 29 as part of the vegan restaurant chain’s new all-day breakfast menu.

So far, demand appears to reflect the years of pent-up anticipation. “The velocities out of the gate even surprised me,” says Matt Riley, senior vice president of global partnerships for Eat Just. “We’re doing over 48 units per store per week on our folded at Whole Foods, for example. It took us a year to make that happen in the U.S. market and we’re doing it in the first month on shelf at Whole Foods in Canada.”

While Tetrick finds this “really interesting,” he wasn’t surprised: “Because for nine years, I’ve been getting these messages.”

 Montreal-headquartered Copper Branch, the world’s largest vegan restaurant chain, is launching a new all-day breakfast menu featuring JUST Egg and Field Roast.

Produced by

EggSolutions

, a food processing company headquartered in Toronto, and made from mung beans, the folded version of Eat Just’s plant-based egg is sold as a four-pack in the freezer aisle (the suggested retail price is $7.99).

Designed to be heated in a toaster, frying pan or microwave, JUST Egg can be chopped up and added to fried rice or noodles, and stuffed in a breakfast sandwich or wrap, as Copper Branch is doing for its all-day breakfast. Menu items include gluten-free pumpernickel bagel sandwiches with JUST Egg and tempeh bacon or a Field Roast Plant-based Breakfast Sausage Patty, and a JUST Egg southwest wrap.

Headquartered in Montreal, Copper Branch is the world’s largest vegan restaurant chain with more than 40 locations in Canada, Western Europe and the U.S., and plans to expand into Australia and New Zealand. CEO Trish Paterson says JUST Egg aligns well with the company’s desire to appeal to “flexitarians,” as well as vegans and vegetarians, with plant-based whole foods.

“We want to have things that (flexitarians) recognize to be natural foods that they would normally eat, and we figure a breakfast sandwich is one of those things,” says Paterson. She finds the innovation and minimal ingredient list of JUST Egg especially compelling. And as a plant-based eater, she appreciates how much it resembles its inspiration: “It’s like eating a real egg.”

Eat Just has sold more than 100 million plant-based eggs since it first launched its pourable product in the U.S. in 2018. Riley anticipates the liquid version, which scrambles like conventional eggs, to be on sale in Canada in three to six months. A new sous vide product will be available at select U.S. stores in the next several weeks, which he expects will eventually roll out in Canada as well.

Attitudes towards plant-based foods have changed drastically since Tetrick started the company nearly a decade ago. Then, when he expressed the idea that eggs didn’t need to come from chickens, the vast majority of people, including friends and family, didn’t expect it to materialize. Now, some of those same skeptics have JUST Egg in their freezers.

“Fast-forward to this world today that we’re living in. A world that’s seen a zoonotic disease sweep the planet. A world where people on a daily basis feel the impact of climate change in their lives. A world where there’s more awareness across the board that our fate has some connection to elsewhere … And the success that JUST Egg has had, not just in Whole Foods, but Walmart,” says Tetrick. “It’s a whole sea change from ‘I’m not sure this could be a thing,’ to ‘it seems like you should go a lot faster.”’

 Eat Just made history in December 2020 when Singapore approved its GOOD Meat cultured chicken, right, for sale in restaurants.

On December 19, 2020, Eat Just made history with

GOOD Meat

when Singapore approved its cultured chicken nuggets for sale at restaurant

1880

. A group of four youths between the ages of 12 and 17 were the first to dine on the cultured poultry, which sells for the same price as a premium chicken dish would at a restaurant (roughly $29).

In order to gauge consumer attitudes towards cultured meat, Eat Just commissioned a survey of 2,522 Americans and 1,175 Singaporeans. Results suggest that 72 per cent of American and 83 per cent of Singaporean chicken consumers would consider buying cultured meat; 91 per cent of restaurant operators are willing to sell it; and 60 per cent of Americans and 75 per cent of Singaporeans are open to substituting conventional chicken with cultured meat.

Earlier this week, Eat Just announced $200 million in new funding, the bulk of which will be used to increase capacity by setting up large-scale manufacturing infrastructure across Asia, Canada, the U.S. and Western Europe; accelerate research and development; and build the brand.

This year, Tetrick says, Eat Just’s goal is to build a larger manufacturing facility in Singapore, which will support expansion there. They’ve already presented their cultured meat approach to U.S. regulators, and will eventually do the same in Canada in preparation for a North American launch.

Meantime, the company continues to develop its plant-based egg, and version four will be launching in the U.S. before the end of the year. One of their main goals, Tetrick says, is to improve accessibility by getting the price lower than even the cheapest conventional egg.

They’re also continuing to hone taste, colour and texture: “so that there’s not a single person if you had them do a blind taste test that wouldn’t prefer an egg from a plant to a pasture-raised egg. It needs to be that much better. Not the same, but blowing out better.”

Tetrick envisions a future where restaurants might offer plant-based and cultured meat on the same menu, but not both conventional and cultured meat. Where cultured meat is so normalized, it’s simply a given, and to serve both would seem redundant.

“The personal thing I fixate on is, by the time my two-year-old niece, June, graduates from high school, I want that world to be the normal one — where the majority of meat that’s consumed doesn’t need to have one animal be slaughtered or any rainforest be bulldozed,” says Tetrick.

“We have a real opportunity to be a part of that shift in the next 10 or so years. With all the craziness going around, it’s a really awesome time where minds can shift and the world can shift, and we wake up and it just looks different. And I think it will look a lot better.”

Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques