TORONTO _ Canadian researchers are making advances in tracking the trajectory of viral illnesses, like the emergent coronavirus, as they try to stay ahead of any potential threat to Canada.
From global flight patterns to learning the names of individual patients, scientists say they have more ways to monitor infectious diseases than ever.
These insights are drawn from new data-driven technologies, improved communication across public- health agencies and increased transparency in reporting infections.
But as our interconnected world has made it easier to share information, it has also multiplied the opportunities for viruses to spread, said Kamran Khan, a Toronto doctor who specializes in infectious disease.
“On one hand, the world is rapidly changing, where diseases are emerging and spreading faster,” said Khan, a scientist at St. Michael’s Hospital.
“On the other hand, we happen to have growing access to data we can use … to generate insights and spread them faster than the diseases spread themselves.”
The newly identified coronavirus has so far sickened close to 600 people in China and killed at least 17. Other cases have been reported in the United States, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam and Hong Kong.
Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu said Thursday that several people in Canada are under observation for signs they may have contracted the pneumonia-like illness, but that the risk to Canadians remains low.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization determined Thursday that it was “too early” to declare the outbreak a global health emergency, but cautioned that “it may yet become one.”
Khan, the founder and CEO of BlueDot, said his medical analytics company has been monitoring the virus since first detecting signs of an outbreak on Dec. 31 in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where most of the early cases are concentrated.
Since the rise of commercial air travel, Khan said humans have become the key vectors, or virus carriers, driving the dispersion of diseases around the world.
BlueDot’s AI-powered system analyzes billions of data points, including airline ticket sales and online news reports, to map how viruses spread through the global transportation network and predict regions that are at the highest risk of an outbreak.
Khan said about 80 per cent of travellers from Wuhan to Canada are headed for Toronto and Vancouver, but he noted that there are no non-stop flights from the Chinese city, which means the volume of travel is relatively low.
BlueDot shares such insights with its clients across the private and public sector to keep them posted on the latest developments as an epidemic evolves, so they can co-ordinate their response, said Khan.
However, he admits that every prediction comes with some degree of uncertainty. For example, researchers are still piecing together the scale of the coronavirus outbreak, and how efficiently the virus is transmitted from person to person.
Meanwhile, laboratory networks across the country are working to make sure tests are available wherever cases may crop up, said Yoav Keynan, the scientific lead at the National Collaborating Centre for Infectious Diseases.
The coronavirus comes from same family that caused the 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, which killed at least 774 people worldwide, including 44 people in Canada.
Since then, Canada has taken steps to improve communication between provincial, federal and global public-health agencies, Keynan said.
“I think there’s a greater degree of knowledge-sharing across jurisdictions that allows us to track epidemics,” said Keynan, an associate professor in University of Manitoba’s medical microbiology department.
“Canadians should be encouraged by how much better the public-health infrastructure is compared to what it was 17 years ago.”
David Fisman, an epidemiologist at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, who was part of Ontario’s response to the SARS outbreak, said the new coronavirus could serve as a “stress test” for the protocols that have been implemented since.
For example, the virus appears to be highly transmissible in health-care settings, but not outside of them.
That means overcrowded hospitals and emergency rooms could potentially become petri dishes for the infectious disease.
“We’ve seen this movie before,” said Fisman.
“Our infection-control game is better than it was. But we still have this problem with the physical plant of our hospitals, with our emergency rooms, where people are stuck together cheek-by-jowl, and that creates vulnerability.”
One wouldn’t think that stopping at a stop sign would be such a problem for drivers. It seems relatively simple, come to a complete stop, look both ways and then go if it is safe to do so. With the poor compliance rate, we should ask is the stop sign the best form of traffic control for intersections that are not controlled by traffic signals?
Let’s examine what making a proper stop means and where it has to be done. You may be surprised to learn that the stop sign itself simply tells you what you must do, not where you have to do it.
The simplest case is one where there is nothing at the intersection other than the stop sign. Here one must stop before entering the intersection itself and in a position nearest to the crossroad where a driver has a clear view of traffic approaching on that crossroad.
Where there is a marked crosswalk along with the stop sign a driver must stop before entering the crosswalk. Doing so will protect against a collision if the driver has failed to notice any pedestrians present.
One failure of our current Motor Vehicle Act is not including unmarked crosswalks in this requirement. Not all unmarked crosswalks are preceeded by a marked stop line to provide some protection for pedestrians.
The stop sign with a marked stop line seems to be the most difficult. Stop lines never seem to be placed at a point where the driver has a good view to the left and right if they stop as required. Consequently, stop lines are often ignored completely. The proper thing to do here is to stop at the line, move ahead to a point where you can see properly, stop again and then proceed after looking both ways to insure it is safe to do so.
Death by Stop Sign is an article in Psychology Today authored by John Staddon. He singles out the stop sign saying:
Look at the familiar stop sign. It does two bad things: First, it makes you look at the stop sign rather than the traffic—it distracts. Second, it doesn’t tell you what you need to know. It tells you to stop even when you can see perfectly well that there is no cross traffic. It shouts “don’t trust your own judgment!”
Dr. Staddon provides Britain as an example of how it should be done. Stop signs are a rare item beside their roads he says, you will find yield signs or their equivalent road markings instead. They have a lower collision rate than North America and yielding instead of stopping saves time and reduces pollution.
He also hints that the roundabout would be preferred over both stop and yield signs. These intersections can reduce collisions by 37% and fatal collisions by 90%.
So, until roundabouts become common in British Columbia, keep in mind that more than half of all collisions happen at intersections. Following proper stop sign etiquette places you in control in a high hazard area.
Cst. Tim Schewe (Ret.) runs DriveSmartBC, a community web site about traffic safety in British Columbia. For 25 years he was an officer with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, including five years on general duty, 20 in traffic and 10 as a collision analyst responsible for conducting technical investigations of collisions. He retired from policing in 2006 but continues to be active in traffic safety through the DriveSmartBC web site, teaching seminars and contributing content to newspapers and web sites.
Saskatoon / 650 CKOM
For those homeowners looking to recharge their inner batteries, thaw out and start Googling exotic vacation spots, SGI Canada is reminding them to hold on and double-check their home insurance checklists.
Western Canada’s current cold spell is an example of weather that can take a nasty, damaging toll on one’s home.
“We do see an increase in claims activity when the temperature plummets like this,” said Kurtis Reeder, the company’s senior director of personal lines underwriting.
“Two of the more prevalent claims are water escape due to water freezing in pressurized lines, and then expanding, breaking the pipes, and causing a lot of water damage in the home.
“The second one is due to fire. With the increased use of heating appliances in the cold, there is an increased risk of fire caused by the heating appliances.”
He recommended homeowners check with their insurance brokers as to the conditions their policies have for coverage when they’re away on vacation.
For example, SGI Canada’s policies say that if an owner is away for 10 days or more, they have to have someone check on their home daily, shut off the water supply to the house and drain the pipes or have a home security company monitor temperature decreases, he said.
Otherwise, the policy isn’t valid.
“Every company has similar conditions, but they could be a little bit different,” Reeder said.
Water pipes can freeze and burst if a door or window is left open over a long period, or a home’s furnace shuts down and can’t fire back up, he said.
Even for people planning shorter getaways, Reeder recommended someone checking on the home every day, picking up the mail and turning on different lights inside.
Those are deterrents to potential thefts and break-ins.
He also offered some digital advice: Avoid posting photos and travel updates on social media until the vacation is over.
“Share those pictures and your travel stories when you return and not while you’re on vacation, because it could make yourself a target for theft,” he said.
Reeder said SGI Canada’s website and social media feeds regularly post updated home and travel insurance and online security tips.
Saskatoon / 650 CKOM
Just months after the first iPhone was released in 2007, Nir Eyal and some of his Stanford classmates were part of a project creating apps that would be advertised and sold via Facebook.
This was before the app store existed and at a time when Facebook was open to third-party app developers.
The goal of the project was to learn about the psychology of Facebook and what drew people to it — or away from it.
Eyal served as the CEO of the business and within months the apps created by the class had 16 million users and they’d generated more than $1 million US in ad revenue. They understood how to design to create dependence.
While people may talk about being addicted to their phones or to social media, the reality is that they are dependent on those products because they’re designed that way.
Those products are designed to get you hooked.
Creating the habit
The group at Stanford, informally known as “The Facebook Class,” went on to work at Silicon Valley giants like Facebook and Google.
Eyal teaches, consults and writes about the intersection of psychology, business and technology. He’s the author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products.
“Of course these devices and apps are hacking our attention. That’s what they’re designed to do,” Eyal told Day 6 host Brent Bambury.
He says that five years ago, even he was hooked.
“I would check my phone when I meant to be with my daughter. I would check my phone when I meant to do a project at work. I would check my phone just for any old reason,” said Eyal. “And that actually caused me to reconsider my relationship with distraction.”
Eyal uses an example from the behavioural work of psychologist B. F. Skinner to explain how devices and apps are designed to become habit-forming.
Skinner taught pigeons to tap a disc in order to get a pellet of food. The food was their reward.
Eventually, Skinner changed the pattern so that the pigeons would get their rewards inconsistently. The birds might tap the disc but would not always get a food pellet.
“What Skinner observed was that the rate of response the number of times the pigeons pecked at the disc increased when the reward was given on a variable schedule of reinforcement,” explained Eyal.
“We see the same, what we call intermittent rewards, in all sorts of things. It’s what makes gambling so engaging. It’s what makes the news interesting,” he said. “It’s what you don’t already know.”
The same desire for intermittent reward apply to books, movies and sports – the outcome is unpredictable.
“And of course, it’s at the core of many habit forming products online like social media, email, Google searches. All of these things utilize an intermittent reinforcement.”
That unpredictability is why users keep checking Facebook and Twitter and Instagram – will there be any likes? Will there be any retweets? What’s trending?
Sounding the alarm
Chamath Palihapitiya was a Facebook executive in the company’s earlier years. Today he’s a venture capitalist and a critic of social media.
In a talk at Stanford University in late 2017, Palihapitiya acknowledged that while it wasn’t intentional by Facebook executives, “I think in the back of the deep, deep recesses of our minds we kind of knew that something bad could happen.”
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It is safe to say that condo insurance is becoming a sore spot for condo corporations not only in Ontario but across Canada. Condo corporations have seen soaring premiums and deductibles. In some jurisdictions, it has been reported that premiums have risen 780%.
The reason for the increase seems to be multi-faceted including, but not limited to, higher property values, reduced number of insurers, rising costs for insurers and drastic weather patterns.
The issue is so pressing that the Insurance Bureau of Canada is engaging a risk manager to make recommendations to condo corporations to reduce risks. The problem, however, is that the Insurance Board of Canada has no cap on condo premiums and the government does not require insurers to apply for rate increases.
So, what can a condo corporation do to mitigate this risk?
1. Standard Unit By-law
One of the key features of a Standard Unit By-law is defining the components of the units that the condo corporation is responsible to insure and defining the components that the owners are responsible to insure. Condo corporations should be passing Standard Unit By-laws and removing items such as flooring and countertops from the items that are the Corporation’s responsibility.
For condo corporations that have Standard Unit By-laws or Standard Unit Schedules (which are prepared by Declarants), boards should be reviewing these documents to determine if other items should be removed.
The purpose of removing items from the condo corporations’ insurance responsibility is not to merely pass the buck to unit owners. Rather, it mitigates the collective risk of unit owners and common expense increases.
Unit owners sometimes forget that the condo corporations’ insurance premiums and deductibles (when paid) form part of their common expenses. They also sometimes forget that if an insurance claim is made by the condo corporation pertaining to damage to a unit, the condo corporation will be required to pay the deductible. In this scenario, one unit owner may have his/her flooring replaced (the cost of which could be $15,000) but all unit owners will be required to contribute towards the cost of the deductible.
2. Insurance Deductible By-law
Speaking of deductibles, condo corporations may pass by-laws which extend the circumstances in which unit owners may be responsible for the lesser of the cost of repair and deductible.
Under the existing Condominium Act, 1998 (the “Act“) the deductible may only be charged back to the unit owner if the damage was caused by the unit owner’s act or omission and only for damage to that owner’s unit. The Act, however, allows by-laws to be created which makes unit owners responsible for these costs in the event the damage is from their unit irrespective of any act or omission and for damage to other units and the common elements.
There are two key considerations to keep in mind. First, the charge back must pertain to insurable events such as floods or fires. Second, the charge back is limited to the lesser of the cost of repair and deductible. For example, if the cost of repair is $50,000 and the deductible is $10,000, the condo corporation is only authorized to charge back up to the deductible irrespective of whether a claim is made by the condo corporation.
Amendments to the Act will be coming into effect which will make unit owners responsible for the lesser of the cost of repair and deductible for damage to other units and the common elements in the event the damage resulted from an act or omission of the unit owner and the damage did not result from an act or omission of the Corporation or any of its staff. To be clear, the Corporation (once these provisions come into force) will no longer need to pass a by-law to extend the circumstances to address damage to other units and common elements.
The one catch to the amendments of the Act is that the ability to pass no fault charge back by-laws appears to have been removed. As noted above, this scenario deals with insurable events where the source of the damage is the unit but the owner’s acts/omissions were not the cause. However, it appears that condo corporations will be permitted to amend their declarations to address these no fault scenarios. The threshold to amend the declaration for this purpose is quite high and requires 80% consent of the unit owners.
We should note that it is questionable how existing Insurance Deductible By-laws with no fault provisions will be treated once the amendments to the Act come into force, but it is our opinion that there is still value in passing these by-laws.
3. Water Escape Detection Devices
Devices are available which detect water escape and immediately shut down the water line. These devices should mitigate damages and provide comfort to insurers when ascertaining risk and in turn, calculating premiums and deductibles.
Prior to installing water escape detection devices in the units, boards are encouraged to review the legalities of such installations in the unit with management or counsel.
The above list is in no way exhaustive, but if these steps are taken, condo corporations should be able to mitigate their risk pertaining to rising premiums and deductibles.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.
Canada Safety Council
It’s a scene that is far too familiar on roads across Canada: a cell phone sounds an alert, the driver reaches for the phone, and in the short time it takes to read the screen, a collision has occurred.
Distracted driving is a trend on the rise, a dangerous and life-threatening behaviour that must be stopped. To mark this year’s National Safe Driving Week, the Canada Safety Council and the Insurance Brokers Association of Canada (IBAC) share a crucial message: distraction behind the wheel is entirely preventable. Just don’t do it.
Distracted driving statistics are understated because distraction isn’t always easy to prove. In fatal accidents where distraction was a possible factor, there may not be evidence of phone usage or, sadly, a living witness to tell the story. This has resulted in a significant underreporting of the issue – still, the data currently available reveals staggering numbers.
According to Transport Canada, distraction was a contributing factor in 21 per cent of fatal collisions and 27 per cent of collisions resulting in serious injury in 2016. Comparatively, those numbers were reported at 16 and 22 per cent, respectively, in 2006.
The Canadian Council of Motor Transportation Administrators (CCMTA) provides further context to these numbers: 1.7 per cent of fatal collisions and 1.9 per cent of collisions resulting in serious injury involved electronic communication devices between 2010–14. While more recent statistics are not available, the prevalence of mobile devices in today’s society makes it a reasonable assumption that these numbers, too, are on the rise.
And if you’re fortunate enough to avoid injury or fatality, you’ll still be subject to fines and potentially demerit points depending on your province. Refer to this chart by the Canadian Automobile Association for a detailed breakdown.
To further compound the financial costs, your auto insurance premiums could sharply increase if you’re found to have been operating a vehicle while distracted.
“Insurance is all about risk, and distracted driving is an extremely risky behavior,” said Peter Braid, Chief Executive Officer of IBAC. “That’s why insurance brokers are partnering with the Canada Safety Council to raise awareness of the danger and encourage drivers to keep their eyes on the road. The stakes are high – death, injury, property damage, fines and rising insurance premiums. Whatever the distraction, it’s not worth the risk.”
The challenge in addressing this issue is cognitive dissonance and, where distracted driving is concerned, willingly engaging in behaviours that are known to contribute to the likelihood of collisions. Studies in provinces across Canada have borne out the same result: a majority of drivers understand that distracted driving is dangerous and illegal; yet, the same respondents report using their devices behind the wheel anyway.
“Personal accountability is a major component of society’s role in reducing distracted driving deaths,” said Gareth Jones, president of the Canada Safety Council. “If you’re in the majority of road users who understand the risks, you owe it to your family and to fellow road users to put the phone away and otherwise minimize distractions. It’s a choice that each of us has completely within our control. Building a culture of safe driving happens one person and one decision at a time, so let’s choose well.”
Other types of distraction
While the topic of distracted driving is often discussed in the context of texting and calling behind the wheel, other forms of distraction exist and can also be harmful. Distracted driving is characterized as any action that removes your focus from the road. This can include eating, adjusting music, heat or GPS, applying makeup and interacting with passengers in the vehicle.
Tips to avoid distraction behind the wheel
- Put your phone on silent or on Do Not Disturb mode. You won’t be tempted by an alert you don’t hear.
- Even better, use an app or a built-in function that activates a Do Not Disturb feature automatically when connected to your vehicle’s Bluetooth or when increased speed is detected. See the enclosed tip sheet for examples.
- Out of sight, out of mind – put your phone in a glove compartment, a zipped purse or knapsack, or even the back seat.
- Make sure to leave enough time in your schedule to eat and groom before getting in the car.
- Ensure that your temperature, music and GPS are set before you leave.
- If it’s really that important, pull over.
Above all else, remember that driving is a potentially deadly task that requires your full attention. You wouldn’t take a call while operating a bulldozer; why do the same with a vehicle capable of going at much higher speeds?