I have had a fairly productive weekend ensconced in my apartment. I made tuna casserole, baked chocolate chip cookies from a recipe provided by Ned Segal, the CFO of Twitter (we got to chat in a Twitter Spaces room recently), worked my way through a mountain of dirty dishes, and finally cleaned my kitchen counters. I also worked on a presentation I will be giving at the iLRN 2020 virtual conference, tentatively titled Herding Cats: Developing a Taxonomy of Metaverse Platforms (Social VR and Virtual Worlds), which must be submitted to the conference organizers by May 10th. I’m also working on moderating a May 29th panel discussion for the Educators in VR UniVirtual Experience conference, which will be taking place on various social VR platforms during the month of May. I’m quite busy!
I’m glad that I am so busy, because otherwise I would be consumed with worry about the latest twists and turns in the coronavirus pandemic, both close to home and far away. I have been following the increasingly grim news out of India, which has been setting daily records in the number of new COVID-19 cases and deaths. The chart of the seven-day average for cases and deaths in India is starting to turn vertical! The following charts are from the Daily Mail:
I have seen interviews where some expert say that the official figures may be too low by a factor of ten. The healthcare system in many Indian cities such as Mumbai and New Delhi is already on the verge of collapse, and the peak of the current wave is not expected for another two to three weeks! I fear that we will witness the first country to be utterly overwhelmed by the coronavirus, to the point of a complete breakdown of Indian society. Things are not looking very rosy in Pakistan, either. Canada has already suspended flights from both India and Pakistan, but the coronavirus variant suspected to be behind this unprecedented surge, named B.1.617, has already been identified in the Canadian provinces of B.C., Alberta, Ontario, and Quebec.
Meanwhile, here in Manitoba, stubborn premier Brian Pallister has resisted a rising chorus of calls from scientists, doctors, and Manitobans to enact a full shutdown now, before things get out of hand here. CBC reports on an open letter sent to the premier by 37 current and former Manitobans:
Author and gynecologist Jen Gunter, former Olympian Clara Hughes and kids’ entertainer Fred Penner are among a group of 37 well-known Manitobans and expats urging Premier Brian Pallister to take more action to stem the third wave of COVID-19.
In an open letter, the signatories urged the premier to enact tougher restrictions now or risk prolonging the pandemic.
“We watch in alarm as our province is led directly towards the same fate as Ontario, where some of us are now living and watching an unfolding humanitarian disaster,” the letter states.
“The attempts to stall the inevitable broader scale provincial shutdown for as long as possible appears to amount to a calculated decision to allow an increased number of Manitobans to become sick or die in order to keep a number of non-essential services operational.
“This approach has been shown to prolong the ultimate period of closures and is actually more harmful to our community via virtually every meaningful metric.”
Ontario has already declared a provincial emergency, locking down the province until May 20th, and closing its borders with Manitoba to the west and Quebec to the east to non-essential travel (the international border with the U.S. remains shut since March of 2020). Hospitals in many provinces, including Ontario and British Columbia, are at the breaking point, reporting that the newer coronavirus variants are making younger people sicker. Ontario has gone so far as to transfer sick hospital patients out of the Greater Toronto Area to parts of the province which have been hit less severely, like Northwestern Ontario, in order to free up beds for an anticipated surge.
So it is surreal to hear many Americans talking as if the pandemic is almost over, about a return to “normal” by summer. There is an English saying: There’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip. Most countries outside of Israel, the U.K. and the U.S. still have not vaccinated most of their population, at a time when coronavirus variants of concern are spreading much more quickly. Although vaccination programs have made some good progress, there is still a lot that could go wrong.
Stay safe and stay healthy!