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FIRST READING: What if Omicron isn’t all that bad?


Canada narrowly averts another U.S. trade war

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First Reading is a daily newsletter keeping you posted on the travails of Canadian politicos, all curated by the National Post’s own Tristin Hopper. To get an early version sent direct to your inbox every Monday to Thursday at 6 p.m. ET (and 9 a.m. on Sundays), sign up here.

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TOP STORY

Omicron cases are indeed spiking across Canada, which is to be expected for a variant that is at least four times more contagious than its Delta variant predecessor. However, amid growing reports that Omicron is also a much milder version of COVID-19, it’s still anybody’s guess how those cases are going to translate into hospitalizations or deaths. Canadians appear to be reacting to the news in one of two ways:

  • You can batten down the hatches and brace for a redo of March, 2020. This is certainly what most public health officials would like you to do. Quebec Premier François Legault wrote in a Saturday Facebook post that his province was going to be “hit hard” by the “overwhelming” variant. Ontario’s top doctor, Kieran Moore, is even advising people to stay away from “anyone older,” regardless of vaccination status. While the first wave of the pandemic was marked by people lining up for toilet paper, one of the most common scenes of the Omicron wave has been massive lineups of concerned Canadians queuing at COVID testing centres.
  • Or you can join the growing ranks of Canadians who don’t care anymore. “With a protracted or chronic public health crisis like COVID-19 … people’s mental capacity is stretched so thin that they’re no longer exercising the same level of caution when it comes to their decisions,” said York University health policy expert Ahmad Firas Khalid in a recent CTV piece on pandemic fatigue. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged last week that Canadians are starting to tune out public health orders, but he urged adherence anyways saying, “Omicron doesn’t care if we’re tired of restrictions.”

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In South Africa, birthplace of Omicron, early numbers are showing that the variant is roughly one third less likely to land its patients in hospital — and is largely fended off by existing vaccines. Although, South Africa was always more resistant than Canada to COVID-19 on account of its younger population.

A better comparison to Canada may be the experience of New York State, where Omicron is currently yielding some of the highest case numbers all pandemic while causing only a small rise in hospitalizations and appearing to have no effect whatsoever on the state’s COVID-19 death rate . Hospitalizations and deaths are lagging indicators and both could get far worse in the coming days, but it’s a promising sign that Omicron may yet dodge much of the destruction wrought by prior waves.

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An animated gif showing one of the first trucks to drive over B.C.’s newly reopened Coquihalla Highway on Monday. Despite being the roadway most catastrophically damaged by the province’s Nov. 15 floods, the Coquihalla was able to reopen months ahead of initial projections.
An animated gif showing one of the first trucks to drive over B.C.’s newly reopened Coquihalla Highway on Monday. Despite being the roadway most catastrophically damaged by the province’s Nov. 15 floods, the Coquihalla was able to reopen months ahead of initial projections. Photo by B.C. Ministry of Transportation

IN OTHER NEWS

“We’re all going to make mistakes,” was Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent response to a suggestion from CTV’s Evan Solomon that maybe he shouldn’t have taken a beach vacation on the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Inveterate Trudeau-haters may note that this is somewhat similar to Trudeau’s reaction when all those photos of him in blackface emerged during the 2019 election. In his official apology , Trudeau said that Canada still had “a lot of more work to do” on addressing racism.

Other highlights from Solomon’s year-end interview with the prime minister  …

  • Another round of pandemic stimulus could be in the offing, with Trudeau saying that the Conservatives “pulled back the support too quickly” in their response to the 2008 recession.
  • Questioned on how debt has doubled under his tenure, Trudeau said “the cost of servicing that debt is lower now than it was a few years ago.”
  • Trudeau said that providing government incentives to homebuyers risks driving up housing costs, telling Solomon, “Simply put, if you give everyone an extra $1,000 to buy a house, all the prices go up by an extra $1,000.”

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Trudeau’s cabinet gets a lot of bad press these days for allegedly being stacked with activist ideologues. So, the National Post’s John Ivison decided to sit down with the Trudeau cabinet’s most unrepentant capitalist . Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne loves foreign investment, made his bones in the private sector and says his “phone is buzzing with CEOs from around the world.” Ivison called him the “last Blue Liberal.”

With public health officials warning that we are now on the cusp of the pandemic’s darkest hours, Postmedia’s Brian Lilley saw fit to round up all the times that Canadian public health authorities have directly contradicted their own recommendations — often within weeks. “ The problem is experts are human just like the rest of us and prone to mistakes in spite of their knowledge and experience ,” he wrote.

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Canadian newsrooms were briefly seized this morning by the sudden news that famed author Margaret Atwood had died. Further investigation revealed the announcement to be a hoax. Atwood, who is very much still alive, responded by drafting this card reading, “Sorry, I can’t do it because I’m dead,” which she intends to send to people when rejecting their invites for book signings or author talks.
Canadian newsrooms were briefly seized this morning by the sudden news that famed author Margaret Atwood had died. Further investigation revealed the announcement to be a hoax. Atwood, who is very much still alive, responded by drafting this card reading, “Sorry, I can’t do it because I’m dead,” which she intends to send to people when rejecting their invites for book signings or author talks. Photo by Margaret Atwood/Twitter

FOREIGN AFFAIRS

Remember this time last week when Canada was threatening trade war with the United States? Disaster may have been averted thanks to the actions of a single senator from West Virginia. U.S. President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion Build Back Better plan is now to set to crumble after support was withdrawn by Democratic Senator Joe Manchin. Among other things, the bill included a $12,000 tax credit for American-made electric vehicles that Canada projected would decimate the Ontario auto sector .

One of the chief arguments against a full boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics is that it would unduly punish hundreds of Canadian athletes who have been training for this moment their entire lives. So it’s somewhat notable that retired Olympic snowboarder Drew Neilson called this week for Canada to boycott the games . “I’m really disgusted. I don’t even want to be called an Olympian anymore,” he told CBC .

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Speaking of sports in China, Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai mysteriously disappeared from public view last month after publicly accusing a top Chinese official of sexual assault . The saga got even more suspicious this week after Peng released a video saying that she never accused anyone of sexual assault, that the whole thing is a “misunderstanding” and that she’s simply been enjoying some private time at home without supervision of any kind by the Chinese Communist Party.

Dominic Barton, the recently resigned Canadian ambassador to China, has landed on his feet with another China-aligned gig . Barton was often accused of being too cozy with Beijing during his tenure. Only days after China’s release of the two Michaels, for instance, Barton was giving speeches actively endorsing closer Sino-Canadian trade ties. Barton will now take over as chairman of Rio Tinto, a mining conglomerate that currently does half of its business within the People’s Republic of China.

In other infectious disease news, a population of diseased rabbits who overran an Edmonton cemetery have now been eradicated by the sudden appearance of even more disease. The colony, which once peaked at around 300 individuals, has been struggling with widespread syphilis for a number of years. But a recent count determined that the cemetery rabbits have been almost completely killed by an outbreak of rabbit haemorrhagic disease, a virus that kills its host via catastrophic internal bleeding.
In other infectious disease news, a population of diseased rabbits who overran an Edmonton cemetery have now been eradicated by the sudden appearance of even more disease. The colony, which once peaked at around 300 individuals, has been struggling with widespread syphilis for a number of years. But a recent count determined that the cemetery rabbits have been almost completely killed by an outbreak of rabbit haemorrhagic disease, a virus that kills its host via catastrophic internal bleeding. Photo by Ian Kucerak/Postmedia

Get all of these insights and more into your inbox every weekday at 6 p.m. ET by signing up for the First Reading newsletter here. 

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