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Why some Toronto businesses are betting improved ventilation will cut the risk of COVID-19

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The research suggesting air conditioning and poor ventilation can help spread the novel coronavirus isn’t exactly what you’d call conclusive yet, but business owners like Geordan Thomas aren’t waiting to find out.

The owner of United Boxing Club in Toronto’s west end is already taking steps to cut the risk of infection inside his gym prior to opening his doors again, as the city and province prepare to enter the next phase of reopening the economy.

And that includes doing whatever he can to improve the ventilation.

“We just have to adapt and I’m in the mindset of just making this work,” Thomas told CBC News.

“I’m not going to give up the business for nothing,” he said after closing his business for nine weeks due to the pandemic.

Once health officials give the green light, Thomas will require patrons to wear masks and ensure longer spacing between classes to reduce crowding between sessions and allow time for cleaning.

He’s also focused on “trying to get some air flow to have that feeling of freshness,” he said. Upgrading the building’s decades-old heating and cooling unit is too costly, so Thomas has shut it off completely.

Instead, he’s investigating upgrading his bay windows along Salem Avenue and Bloor Street West, which currently do not open, to make them either slide open, or open “garage-style” to improve ventilation.

“I’ve heard studies about the virus being held up in HVAC units … and recycling air, and I just want to give people an impression that this is a very safe space and that there’s air movement and there’s very low risk,” said Thomas.

Restaurant’s AC ‘prompted’ outbreak, study suggests

One of the studies Thomas and other business owners like him might have seen was published last month on the Centers for Disease Control website. The research suggests the source of a January outbreak of the novel coronavirus in Guangzhou, China “was prompted by air-conditioned ventilation.”

The woman deemed to have been the source of the outbreak was seated in an air-conditioned restaurant with no windows, and was more than a metre away from others who became infected and had no other source of exposure to the virus, the researchers found..

As a result, the preliminary findings suggest “strong airflow from the air conditioner could have propagated droplets” from one table to the next, and as a result the research team recommended “increasing the distance between tables and improving ventilation” at restaurants and other indoor places with crowds.

“We know that close contact is an important route,” said Jeffrey Siegel, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Toronto.

“We also know that there are some other routes, like surfaces becoming contaminated, but then there is this question about the airborne route.”

Ventilation, filtration could ‘reduce infection risk,’ engineer says

Siegel says he doesn’t want to “panic” people and says the belief that the novel coronavirus can spread through the air beyond a couple of metres is not “universally held.”

However “to the extent that there is airborne spread, then we can start talking about approaches to solve it,” he said.

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Covid-19 altering Canadians’ housing needs: RBC

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Amid a pandemic-driven shift in demand as well as a surge in new listings, the Canadian housing market remained strong in August, RBC Economics reports.

Citing preliminary data from local real estate boards, RBC said that markets in many areas of the country remained “red hot” in August.

“But the bigger story might be that Covid-19 is now prompting more people to sell,” the report said, noting that new listings surged in urban centres such as Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver.

“We think this in part reflects the pandemic altering the housing needs of many current owners — who are opting to move, something they might not have considered just a few months ago,” it said.

RBC noted that the Toronto market saw new listings jump 57% year over year in August, powering a 40% increase in home sales.

Sales were up more than 20% from July’s near-record levels, it said.

“Clearly, [that] market has fired on all cylinders this summer, making up for the major disruption caused by Covid-19 in the spring,” RBC said.

The primary drivers of sales activity and higher prices were low-rise homes, including single-detached homes, RBC reported.

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RBC’s customer base makes it a favourite of cyber attacks – security experts

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Royal Bank of Canada is among the most targeted institutions by cyber attacks due to its broad customer base, according to an analysis by Palo Alto Networks.

From December 2019 up to present, cybercriminals have been establishing malicious pages disguised as websites by major companies to conduct phishing attempts and other similarly invasive attacks.

RBC ranked third in the most spoofed domains list, more than streaming giant Netflix and professional networking portal LinkedIn. PayPal and Apple ranked first and second, respectively.

“When you look at the broad customer base that RBC has, it makes sense, especially when you compare it to some of the other big names,” said Jen Miller-Osborn, deputy director of threat research at Palo Alto Networks. “These attackers are going after [domains] where they can make the most money, so they’re focusing on these organizations that have really broad customer bases because that really ups the number of potential victims.”

In an interview with BNN Bloomberg, Miller-Osborn outlined what consumers should be looking out for to filter our fraudulent emails.

“Typically, the ones that are going to be scam-related are trying to invoke some sort of emotional response,” Miller-Osborn said. “So they might say something like ‘Someone tried to change your password, click here to say whether or not that was you,’ or ‘Click here to confirm this charge on your statement,’ or ‘We’ve locked your account for strange activity.’ Essentially, things that will make people anxious and will make them want to click first, and not take a step back and pause to think, ‘Is that really the kind of email that my bank would usually send?’”

Other red flags include misspellings and basic grammar errors in the message, especially the sender line.

“Attackers try to closely mimic domain names, so you might see the number zero substituted for ‘o’, or a one substituted for the letter ‘l’. Little thing like an extra ‘s’ or ‘c’ in the name. These things, people tend to glance over very quickly and not notice.”

Miller-Osborn said that these measures should be done in concert with the most effective step in deflecting a spoofing attempt: Calling the bank and asking them if the email that they supposedly sent was legitimate.

 

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Queen confirms new home at Windsor Castle with Buckingham Palace for ‘selected events’

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The Queen will be returning to Windsor Castle in a matter of weeks, with Buckingham Palace only used for ‘select events’.

Her Majesty and her husband Duke of Edinburgh will first spend time privately at Sandringham when they leave Balmoral next week, Buckingham Palace confirmed.

She had been spending summer at her retreat in Aberdeenshire amid speculation that she would not return to the capital amid the coronavirus pandemic.

A spokesperson said: “The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh will depart Balmoral Castle during the week commencing September 14 to spend time privately on the Sandringham Estate.

“Subject to the finalisation of the autumn programme, Her Majesty’s intention is to return to Windsor Castle in October and to resume the use of Buckingham Palace for selected audiences and engagements.

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