COVID-19 Update: Health Canada Gives Green Light to Johnson & Johnson Vaccine, Says Safety and Efficacy Equal in Older and Younger People

Latin senior woman getting a COVID-19 vaccine by a doctor.

From new measures to protections for long-term care homes, we look at how health officials and governments are responding to a second wave of COVID-19. Photo: Javier Zayas Photography/Getty Images

Mar. 5, 2021

 

J&J Vaccine Gets Nod From Health Canada

Health Canada announced its approval for the Johnson & Johnson single-dose COVID-19 vaccine Friday. It will technically mark the fifth vaccine that Canada has approved, with AstraZeneca doses from India’s Serum Institute authorized as the fourth. Developed by Janssen Pharmaceutical Company, which is owned by J&J, the vaccine uses viral vector technology like the one from Oxford-AstraZeneca. But unlike the AZ shot, more older people were included in clinical trials. “Almost 20 per cent of the participants in the clinical trials were 65 years of age and older, and no differences in safety or efficacy were seen compared to the younger groups,” said Dr. Supriya Sharma, Health Canada’s chief medical adviser, at a press conference Friday morning.

Global clinical trials, involving 40,000 adults 18 and older, showed the shot from Janssen to be 66 per cent effective at mitigating moderate to severe illness and 85 per cent effective at preventing the most serious outcomes. Sharma also noted that its efficacy was 64 per cent in a trial in South Africa, where a variant of concern accounted for 95 per cent of the coronavirus circulating at the time. Despite this, the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines have shown to be far more effective, close to 95 per cent. Sharma addressed potential hesitancy around these latest and less effective viral vector vaccines, saying Canadians should be assured by “thorough review” that has shown “greatly reduced chance of getting COVID-19 with any of the five vaccines approved.”

“Our advice to Canadians is to get whatever vaccine is available to you. It’s that simple,” she said.

Sharma also announced that Health Canada has authorized a clinical trial of the Janssen shot in children aged 12 to 17. “This will be important research to support vaccine availability for Canadians of all ages,” she said. There are currently no approved vaccines for people under the age of 16 in Canada. Asked if the J&J vaccine could be its first, Sharma said Pfizer and Moderna are farther along in studying their vaccines on younger people, but that it would likely be the end of the year, or longer before the agency approves a COVID-19 vaccine for use in children.

The Janssen vaccine, Canada’s first single-dose shot, requires “fewer resources to rollout,” Dr. Marc Berthiaume, Health Canada’s director of medical sciences, pointed out. It can be stored in a regular refrigerator for up to three months, which “has an advantage in simplifying logistics,” he said during the press conference.

The federal government has a deal to purchase 10 million doses from Johnson & Johnson, with the option to order 28 million more, with first deliveries expected to arrive between April and June, Procurement Minister Anita Anand said at another press conference Friday. Health Canada officials also confirmed Friday that a vaccine candidate from Novavax is the only other under review by the agency but that approval may be weeks or months away.

—Tara Losinski

Mar. 4, 2021

 

Delaying Second Shot May Speed Up Rollout

New guidelines for when Canadians get their second shot of a COVID-19 vaccine will speed up getting everyone a first dose. With B.C. Monday announcing its plan to delay second shots in order to get every adult a first jab by the end of July — two months ahead of schedule, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) Wednesday recommended the interval between doses can be as long as four months. With shipment delays from both Pfizer and Moderna in February, the Public Health Agency of Canada requested the committee to look at the evidence for extending the time between doses. Both Britain and Israel have delayed second doses in an effort to get more people their first shot. “We’re the first country, that I’m aware of, that has gone to four months,” Shelley Deeks, vice-chair of the NACI, said Wednesday. “but given that the vaccine effectiveness is sustained and it hasn’t actually decreased at the two-month mark, the four-month mark is reasonable. Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta have said they will follow B.C.’s lead in delaying second shots.

Variant Outbreak Hits Alberta Nursing Home

Alberta has confirmed its first long-term care outbreak linked to a coronavirus variant. Since Friday, when the outbreak was declared, 27 staff and residents at Churchill Manor in Edmonton had tested positive by Wednesday — 19 cases testing positive for the variant. “This is a reminder that of course we are not out of the woods yet with respect to COVID-19, and the rapid spread that is possible with the variant,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said Wednesday at a news conference. She went on to confirm that residents at Churchill Manor got their vaccinations as scheduled on Monday. “That, of course, would not protect individuals who’ve already been exposed, but it will help those at that site to now be building their immunity, and those who haven’t been exposed would be expected to have some protection against infection and severe outcomes within the next couple of weeks.” According to tracking by the National Institute on Ageing, Alberta has seen 1,194 deaths from COVID-19 in long-term care — 64 per cent of the province’s death toll from the pandemic.

A Refund From Air Canada, But You’ll Still Be Paying for It

Anyone out money due to cancelled flights with Air Canada may be in luck — but it’s still going to cost you. As the CBC reports, the airline has agreed to offer refunds to passengers who had their travel plans cancelled because of the pandemic as part of a potential bailout package. Jerry Dias, president of Unifor, the union that represents airline workers, told the Toronto Star: “The precondition for receiving a federal aid package is that Air Canada and the other airlines will have to repay customers. I know that Air Canada has absolutely agreed to do that.” As the CBC also reports, Canadian airlines have already received more than $1.7 billion in financial assistance through the Canada emergency wage subsidy (CEWS). For further assistance, Ottawa will require airlines to offer passengers refunds for cancelled flights, reinstate regional routes cancelled over the past year, and promise to protect jobs.

—Tara Losinski

Mar. 3, 2021

 

100 Days of Pain

As the most heavily populated regions of Ontario enter 100 straight days of lockdown – the longest pandemic shutdown in North America – pressure is building on Doug Ford’s government to start easing restrictions on small businesses. “What was supposed to be only a couple of weeks has now extended into a fourth month. As each deadline has come and gone, officials have told small business owners to hang on just a little bit longer, only to have the football pulled away at the last minute each time,” said a statement released today by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB). According to the group’s research, the decline in revenue due to the lengthy lockdown means that 30 per cent of small businesses in the province “are worried about having to close permanently.” The CFIB is calling on the government to increase support for small business and “permanently replace lockdowns with other COVID measures in all regions, including rapid testing, screening and contact tracing.”

Biden Sets Bold Vax Goal

With the approval of the new Johnson & Johnson “one-shot” vaccine, U.S. President Joe Biden is boldly predicting that all Americans will be able to get their shot by late spring. “We’re now on track to have enough vaccine supply for every adult in America by the end of May,” Biden announced yesterday. The administration is able to set this new target, two months ahead of the previous goal of July, in part because of co-operation between two rival pharmaceutical companies – Merck announced yesterday that it would partner with J&J to manufacture the vaccine. This news comes a day after Biden’s press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that the U.S. will not be sharing its vaccine supply with Canada or Mexico. “The administration’s focus is on ensuring that every American is vaccinated, and once we accomplish that objective we’re happy to discuss further steps beyond that,” said Psaki.

—Peter Muggeridge

Mar. 2, 2021

 

65-Plus Won’t Get the AstraZeneca Vaccine, For Now

Just two days after Health Canada gave approval for a third COVID-19 vaccine, Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) on Monday recommended that the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot not be used for people 65 and over due to “the insufficiency of evidence of efficacy in this age group at this time.” Although Health Canada has no concerns about safety, the agency did note that “the results were too limited to allow a reliable estimate of vaccine efficacy in individuals 65 years of age and older.” So like other countries such as France and Germany, Canada will be waiting on more data from the drug maker as to just how protective the vaccine is in older people. Whereas other vaccine developers, like Pfizer, included older participants earlier on in their testing, the Oxford-AZ efficacy data for those over 65 is currently based on only two of 660 participants in that age group who became infected during a trial. Results from another trial, of 2,000 adults over 55 in the U.K., are reported to be forthcoming, as is data from a trial involving older people in the U.S.

B.C. Looking at the Bright Side, Moving “Everybody Up in the Queue”

British Columbia’s Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, said Monday that essential workers including first responders, teachers and those who work in settings where outbreaks have occurred will be prioritized for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. “We’ve had a number of places in communities around the province where we’ve had outbreaks, if we think about things like poultry workers working, people who work in some of our mail distribution centres,” she said at a daily press briefing. “So our B.C. immunization committee will be looking at how do we best use the doses that we have coming in.” With 60,000 doses of the AZ vaccine expected to arrive in the province next week, Henry said: “This is exciting news. This means we’ll be able to move everybody up in the queue.” With approval of a third COVID-19 vaccine and a decision to delay second doses, the province now says that every eligible adult in British Columbia should be able to receive a first dose by late July. And as of Monday, seniors 80 and older living in the community were invited to book an appointment for their shots, with the province beginning with those 90 and older on Mar. 8.

Take What You Can Get, Say Experts

In response to the NACI recommendations Monday, the Public Health Agency of Canada released a statement saying, “the best vaccine for a Canadian is the one they can get.” The sentiment was echoed by Tania Watts, an immunologist at the University of Toronto. “I would take what is offered as it decreases your likelihood of severe disease and death,” she told the Globe and Mail, adding that prioritizing mRNA vaccines, like Pfizer and Moderna’s, for older and immunocompromised people makes sense as they’ve shown to be more protective — over 90 per cent compared to AZ’s 62 per cent. Jennifer Gommerman, also an immunologist at the University of Toronto, agreed. “But for the rest of us, in the name of herd immunity, I would take what’s given as it contributes to the war on COVID,” she told the Globe. “All the vaccines prevent severe COVID requiring hospitalization. If you are offered a vaccine, you take it.”

—Tara Losinski

Mar. 1, 2021

 

Ontario LTC Minister’s COVID-19 Commission Testimony Released

The transcript from an interview with Ontario’s Long-Term Care Minister, Dr. Merrilee Fullerton, for the province’s Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission was released Sunday evening. “You were ahead of the chief medical officer of health in many respects, from your notes anyway,” John Callaghan, the commission lawyer questioning Fullerton, told her.

The minister’s notes from early in the pandemic, as early as Feb. 5, 2020, suggest that she was concerned about asymptomatic spread of COVID-19 in long-term care homes before the government acknowledged that risk. “I had suspicions early on only — well, because I’m a family doctor and spent many years dealing with the elderly,” she said. “They may not present with typical symptoms, and so you always have to be watching.”

The transcript showed that Fullerton also refused to suggest the risk of COVID-19 was low in a video filmed in early March. “I was very concerned about doing a video that would show or tell people that the risk was low, even though that was what health experts and the health leaders in Canada were saying,” she said.

Notes she made during the first wave, which were read out during the interview, show that Fullerton advocated for locking down long-term care homes before the province did so, and was concerned about staff wearing PPE at all times before the province made it mandatory. But as for limiting LTC staff to one location in order to help contain speed of the virus, the minister offered legal issues and staffing level concerns as for why the province trailed others in the move. And under Fullerton, the Ministry of Long-Term Care temporarily suspended a rule in place to protect residents, allowing untrained workers into nursing homes last March as means to address staffing shortages already being felt from the pandemic.

In her testimony, Fullerton also downplayed the importance of annual inspections of which, in the year leading up to the pandemic, the province did only a handful out of 626 facilities. In that same year, the Ministry of Long-Term Care, formerly a part of the province’s Ministry of Health, was created to “put a lens on the long-standing neglect” of the sector, Fullerton said. However, a year on, and with more than half a year of learning about just how vulnerable nursing homes were, the pandemic’s second wave resulted in even more deaths among residents than did the first wave, for which Fullerton blamed community spread rather than measures taken or not taken by the province.

As of Monday, Ontario has seen a total of 4,202 deaths in LTC — 60 per cent of its death toll from COVID-19. And according to tracking by the National Institute on Ageing at Ryerson University, 69 per cent of deaths from the illness in Canada have taken place in the long-term care sector, 14,174 of which were residents and another 26 were staff.

—Tara Losinski

Feb. 26, 2021

 

Canada Approves Third Vaccine Against COVID-19

Health Canada has approved British-Swedish drug maker AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine, which was developed in partnership with Oxford University. A statement posted Friday morning on the agency’s website reads: “The efficacy of the vaccine was estimated to be 62.1 per cent. Overall, there are no important safety concerns and the vaccine was well tolerated by participants.” Canada has a deal to purchase 20 million doses and, in addition, 1.9 million doses as part of membership in the COVAX vaccine purchasing initiative co-ordinated by the World Health Organization.

The two-dose vaccine is easier to ship and store than those from Pfizer or Moderna, but clinical trials have shown it to be less effective against the variant of concern first identified in South Africa and, in France, the vaccine is only being given to people under the age of 65 with officials saying there is lack of data about its efficacy in older people. However, a study in Scotland showed that the first dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, given primarily to older residents in its rollout, reduced hospitalizations by as much as 94 per cent.

In its approval, Health Canada stated: “Efficacy in individuals 65 years of age and older is supported by immunogenicity data, emerging real world evidence and post-market experience in regions where the vaccine has been deployed, which suggest at this point in time a potential benefit and no safety concerns.”

Two more COVID-19 vaccine candidates, from Johnson & Johnson and Novavax, are still under review for approval by Health Canada.

Health Canada also authorized doses from India-based Serum Institute, which has partnered with AstraZeneca to make its COVID-19 vaccine. At a press conference later on Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said 500,000 of the Serum Institute doses will arrive “within weeks” and that in “the coming months” 1.5 million more doses are expected. “This is very encouraging news,” said Trudeau. “It means more people vaccinated, and sooner. Because for AstraZeneca, just like we were for Pfizer and Moderna, we are ready to get doses rolling.”

As of Friday morning, 3.185 per cent of Canadians had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to COVID-19 Tracker Canada. In total, 2,066,400 doses (including both Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech) have been delivered to the provinces and territories, with 82.6 per cent of those having been administered. According to Bloomberg tracking, at Canada’s current vaccination rate it would take about three years to immunize 75 per cent of the population.

—Tara Losinski

Feb. 25, 2021

 

As Moderna and Pfizer begin ramping up shipments of vaccines to Canada, many provinces have competed campaigns to inoculate residents of long-term care homes and are beginning to target older people living at home.

Here’s a cross-Canada look at their progress with details on whether you qualify for a dose and how you can book an appointment.

British Columbia Starting in late February, health authorities will be reaching out to seniors aged 80 years and older, Indigenous seniors aged 65 years and older and Indigenous Elders to provide information on how to register for immunization appointments, either online or by phone. Here are details on B.C.’s vaccination plan.

Alberta Residents who were born in 1946 or earlier (age 75) can now book online to receive the COVID-19 vaccine or call Health Link at 811.

Saskatchewan People 70 years and older living in the community will receive information on COVID-19 vaccination appointments in their area through direct contact by phone or letter. There is no sign-up sheet or need to call at this time.

Manitoba The government announced yesterday that Manitobans 95 and older and First Nations people 75 and over can now book appointments for the COVID-19 vaccine. The province has posted a vaccine queue calculator to help residents find out when their appointment will take place. Click here to find out if you’re eligible to receive the vaccine and, if so, you can book an appointment by calling 1-844-626-8222 (1-844-MAN-VACC).

Ontario The province is currently focusing its efforts on providing doses to adults over 80 living in the community. The online vaccination scheduling portal and call centre for appointments will be ready March 15. Here’s a quick look at Ontario’s roll-out plan.

Quebec As of today, Quebecers who were born in 1936 or earlier can book their doses online or by telephone. Click here to book an appointment online or call 1-877-644-4545.

New Brunswick Details on how to register will be announced as vaccinations are completed within our priority groups. Click here for more details.

Nova Scotia By March 1, community-based COVID-19 vaccination clinics for seniors who are 80 and older will open across the province. Click here to learn more about booking an appointment.

Prince Edward Island As of yesterday, residents 80 years of age and older can use the province’s online platform to book their appointment or they can call 1-844-975-3303.

Newfoundland and Labrador The province is still in Phase 1 of its vaccination plan, which includes nursing home residents, those of advanced age and health-care workers. As details become finalized for future phases, click here for updates. 

—Peter Muggeridge

 

Feb. 24, 2021

 

Alberta Extends Vaccination to Residents 75 and Older

When you’ll be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine will depend upon where you live. Canada’s rollout has been left to the province’s and territories to co-ordinate — and that includes who gets one when. In Alberta, those born in 1946 or earlier can begin booking their appointment today, online or by calling 811. More than 230,000 seniors will be eligible, the province said. “For many folks, I know it will feel like you have been waiting a very long time for the vaccine, and you are keen to get a first dose as soon as possible,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said Tuesday. She noted that, unlike flu shots, there is no stockpile of COVID-19 vaccines, but said: “All Alberta seniors who want vaccines will be able to get their first dose before the end of March. It may just take a little time to get your appointment, as availability depends on the timing of the supply we receive in the province.”

Ontario Releases Timeline for Seniors, Tests Pilot for At-Home Vaccination

Ontario announced Wednesday that residents 80 and older will be waiting till March 15 to book their shot. The province also released a timeline for when remaining seniors in the community will be eligible to book: those 75 and above, will start April 15; 70 and above, will start May 1; 65 and above, will start June 1; and those 60 and above, will start July 1. Ontario is also rolling out a pilot program to test delivering vaccines directly to people who need them most. On Tuesday, residents of Jack Layton Seniors Housing, a publicly funded non-profit seniors building in Toronto, received shots on-site. “I think the main reason we wanted to do this is to try to figure out how best to deliver vaccines to seniors” 80 and older, Dr. Jeff Powis, medical director of infection prevention and control at Michael Garron Hospital, told the Toronto Star. “This is a bit of a trial run to see what we could do differently,” he said, starting with the highest risk apartments with a lot of older people, and then “very quickly moving out to other buildings that are predominantly seniors.”

Quebec Residents 80 and Over Can Start Booking Thursday

Hardest-hit Quebec confirmed yesterday that residents in the community born in 1936 and earlier are next in line for the shot and can start booking appointments on Thursday. Also included in the province’s next wave of inoculations are people aged 70 and older who are the primary caregiver of someone 85 or older. “This is great news,” Premier François Legault said yesterday. He called vaccines the “best hope” against COVID-19, citing a decline in nursing home deaths. “We have vaccinated everyone in CHSLDs [long-term care homes] and we are seeing the results; there are almost no deaths in CHSLDs.” Quebec has reported a total of 7,607 deaths among LTC residents — the most of any province or territory — according to tracking by the National Institute on Ageing. Vaccinating residents aged 80 or older, a group of the roughly 200,000, is expected to take about two weeks, the province said.

—Tara Losinski

Feb. 23, 2021

 

Canadians Support New Travel Rules, Have Little Sympathy for Snowbirds

The vast majority of Canadians support the new travel restrictions that came into effect Monday, a poll released yesterday by Ipsos suggests. Of 1,000 people asked, 83 per cent agreed that they support the new travel rules, including “pre-testing, testing upon arrival, and a mandatory hotel quarantine at the traveller’s own expense.” And there wasn’t much sympathy expressed for those already abroad, including snowbirds. Only four in ten agree (10 per cent strongly, 31 per cent somewhat) that the new rules should make exceptions for Canadians who were away when the changes were announced. While only three in ten agree (8 per cent strongly, 24 per cent somewhat) that we need to be more supportive of these Canadians who travel to second homes or longer-term rentals to enjoy a sunnier climate — with respondents aged 55-plus most likely to say they “strongly disagree” of being more supportive of snowbirds.

“Interestingly, the people who are hardest on snowbirds are older Canadians, which suggests that they’re making different choices than the people that they’re seeing who are travelling south and taking on their usual snowbird lifestyle,” Ipsos CEO Darrell Bricker told Global News. “Or maybe there’s a few people who would like to be snowbirds who are upset that other people can do it, but [there’s] not a lot of sympathy for snowbirds right now.”

Manitoba’s Close Contact Exposure Reduced From 15 to 10 Minutes

Manitoba has officially lowered its threshold for prolonged contact from 15 minutes to 10 minutes for all cases, in preparation for continued easing of lockdown measures. “These changes are to help address the diminished public health restrictions and also protect against community transmission of the variants of concern,” Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin said Monday as the province reported 97 new COVID-19 cases and two additional deaths. Now, if a person has been in close proximity with a known coronavirus case for 10 minutes or longer they would be considered a close contact and have to self-isolate. And moving forward, members of a  household with a confirmed case of COVID-19 will be considered close contacts. “In the past we allowed, in certain circumstances, positive cases to self-isolate within the home if they had certain precautions in place. We’ve changed that in the past for the variants of concern. We’re going to change that now for all positive cases. So everyone within a household with a positive case is going to be deemed a close contact,” Roussin said. The federal government continues to define a close contact as someone who has been within a one metre of a positive case for 15 minutes or more.

Shelter in Toronto Records 29 Cases of Unknown Strain

Public Health Ontario is doing genome sequencing to identify the exact strain of a coronavirus variant identified in a recent outbreak of COVID-19. Twenty-nine people have tested positive at the Maxwell Meighen Centre in downtown Toronto since Feb. 3. All clients who tested positive are now at a “dedicated isolation/recovery site with supports to recover,” officials have said. Those who were living at the centre at the time are considered close contacts, and all remaining residents are isolating in place. Advocates have called for Toronto’s homeless population to be prioritized for COVID-19 vaccination, with research from the Canadian Medical Association suggesting that the homeless in Ontario were 20 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than the general public, 10 times more likely to end up in intensive care and five times more likely to die within 21 days of a diagnosis.

Ontario is still in Phase 1 of its vaccine rollout, which includes seniors in long-term care homes, care workers and front line workers. The province says seniors aged 80 and above living in the community will get vaccinated next, still a few weeks away, but before essential workers.

—Tara Losinski

Feb. 22, 2021

 

Travellers Return Early to Avoid Hotel Quarantine

New international air and land travel measures take effect today. Everyone has to show a negative COVID-19 test to enter the country, but air travellers also have to face a mandatory three-day hotel stay, while a second test is completed, with some balking at having to do that at their own expense. “This mandatory quarantine is nonsense,” Danielle Beaudoin told the Montreal Gazette Sunday. “We don’t know how long these new measures are going to be in place, so we decided to come back. There was no way we were going to get locked up in a hotel at $2,000 each.” She and her husband were at Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport, having returned early from what was supposed to have been a two-month stay in the Dominican Republic. “The trip was part of our pre-retirement. We went through a lot of worries, especially with rules being changed at the last minute. We don’t agree with the new rules, but now we’re here.”

Ottawa has been advising against non-essential travel since last March but new measures are meant to further discourage it, and help limit the importation of coronavirus variants. While the Canada-U.S. border remains closed to non-essential travel, the government has said that it simply doesn’t have the infrastructure to enforce a hotel quarantine at land borders, as it has for international air travel.

Having tight border restrictions and strict quarantine is considered the secret to New Zealand’s success in curbing COVID-19 spread — the country has reported less than 2,400 cases and only 26 deaths. Currently, all arrivals are immediately sent to government-managed hotels where they are isolated for 14 days, provided with meals and tested regularly.

Meanwhile, Poland announced Monday that it is getting rid of quarantine for people who present a negative COVID-19 test upon entering the country. As stated on a government website, as of Tuesday “persons with a negative SARS-CoV-2 test result are exempt from the obligatory quarantine.” In December, Poland also put people arriving but vaccinated for COVID-19 on the list of those exempt from quarantine. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the country has recorded more than 1.6 million cases of COVID-19 and more than 42,000 deaths.

One Dose of COVID-19 Vaccine Cut Hospitalizations in Scotland, Johnson Reopening England

According to a preliminary study of vaccine rollout in Scotland, one dose against COVID-19 cut hospital admissions by more than 85 per cent. By week four after receiving the first shot, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine reduced risk of hospitalization by up to 85 per cent, and the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot by up to 94 per cent. “The brilliant news is that [the study suggests] the vaccine delivery programme, in its current format … is working,” said Dr Josie Murray, of Public Health Scotland, who was involved in the study, known as the EAVE-II project. “The other fantastic news is that we are potentially protecting our NHS [National Health Service] hospitals, from people needing to attend as a consequence of the COVID-19 if they’ve had the vaccine.” Further to the good news, the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which was mostly used in older age groups, appeared to perform very well — only two people given that vaccine were admitted to hospital during the study, between 8 December and 15 February. In that time, 21 per cent of Scotland’s population received a first dose, 490,000 having had the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

Prioritized in the first phase of Scotland’s vaccine rollout were residents in a care home for older adults and their carers; front line health and social care workers; clinically extremely vulnerable individuals; everyone aged 65 and over; those aged 16 to 64 with underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk of serious disease and mortality; and unpaid carers aged 16 to 64.

The findings come as U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson Monday laid out a timeline for slowly moving England out of its long second lockdown. Although schools will reopen in early March, and non-essential retail will open doors in April, it will be no earlier than mid-May when some social contact rules will be lifted — including pubs and restaurants being allowed to serve indoors, under limited capacity — and no sooner than mid-June before most rules will be removed — including limits on attendance of personal events, like weddings. Johnson told MPs that the reopening plan will be “cautious but irreversible” and at every stage decisions would be led by “data not dates,” explaining that vaccine performance, infection rates and variant transmission will all be factors taken into consideration.

—Tara Losinski

Feb. 19, 2021

 

Ontario Extends Lockdown

The Ontario government announced today it is extending the lockdown measures currently in effect in Toronto, Peel and North Bay-Parry Sound. The news comes as a blow to shop owners in these regions who were hoping that declining COVID-19 case counts might prompt an easing of restrictions and allow them to open their doors to customers. “I know we’re all tired. I know we have all sacrificed so much. But there is hope on the horizon,” Premier Doug Ford said in a press conference today. The move comes after medical experts called for the extension, citing high infection rates and concerns over the spread of the COVID-19 variants. The government also said today that the stay-at-home order that’s currently in place in these regions will also be extended to at least March 8. “Everyone is strongly advised to continue staying at home, avoid social gatherings, only travel between regions for essential purposes and limit close contacts to your household or those you live with,” said provincial health officer Dr. David Williams.

Vaccination Progress in Ontario and Alberta

Ontario also announced today that it has administered more than 167,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccines to long-term care and retirement home residents and that, beginning in March, it will move into the next phase of its campaign and begin inoculating all people over the age of 80. The government said that it will work with public health units across the province to discuss how best to reach this group. “This is great progress, but we would all like to be moving faster. I urge our federal government partners to do whatever it takes to get us more vaccines so we can better protect people and eventually defeat this deadly virus,” said Premier Ford in a statement. And in Alberta, Premier Jason Kenney shared the good news that all long-term care residents in the province had received two doses of the vaccine. He told a local radio station today, “We will be moving forward as soon as we get supply with everybody over the age of 75.”

—Peter Muggeridge

UN Urges Vaccine Sharing, Some G7 Leaders on Board

The United Nations says that 10 countries have so far secured 75 per cent of COVID-19 vaccines, while more than 130 countries have yet to receive a single dose. “At this critical moment, vaccine equity is the biggest moral test before the global community,” UN Secretary-General António Guterresin said Wednesday. He’s asking members of the G20 to create an emergency task force to promote more equal access. Meanwhile, leaders of the G7 — U.K., France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Japan and the United States — are meeting virtually today, with COVID-19 expected to dominate discussion. For his part, French President Emmanuel Macron is urging European countries to set aside four to five per cent of their vaccine supplies for developing nations. Germany is said to be on board, and Macron hopes to also gain support of “our American friends” who have “greater production capacity.” The U.K. is reported to have committed to giving “the majority of any future surplus vaccines” to the UN-backed COVAX effort to vaccinate the world’s most vulnerable people and will encourage other G7 countries to do the same. Canada, however, could receive as many as 1.9 million vaccine doses as a result of its membership in COVAX. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau today pledged another $75 million to the initiative, bringing the country’s total contribution to $940 million — part of which to secure doses for itself.

How Much Time Has Been Lost to COVID-19?

A study published Thursday in the journal Scientific Reports suggests that deaths from COVID-19 represent a total of more than 20.5 million years of life lost, the difference between an individual’s age at death and their life expectancy, with an average of 16 years lost per death. Researchers looked at 1.2 million death records, up to Jan. 6 of this year, in 81 countries (including Canada), finding that in heavily affected areas, COVID-19 could account for two to nine times the average years lost to influenza; between two and eight times traffic accident-related years lost rates; and between a quarter and a half of the rates attributable to heart condition deaths. They also found that the average age of death was 72.9 years. The authors note that although the average figure of 16 years of life lost includes the years lost from individuals close to the end of their expected lives, “The majority of those years are from individuals with significant remaining life expectancy.” If we apply the average to Canada’s death toll, which was 21,498 by Thursday evening, it would work out that 343,968 years of life have so far been lost to the pandemic.

—Tara Losinski

Feb. 18, 2021

 

Life Expectancy Declines by a Year in U.S. CDC Reports

According to a report by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics, life expectancy among Americans has dropped by one year, to 77.8 — closer to what it was in 2006. “This is a huge decline,” Robert Anderson, who oversees the numbers for the CDC, told the Associated Press. “You have to go back to World War II, the 1940s, to find a decline like this.” The Black and Hispanic population experienced the biggest decline, losing 2.7 and 1.9 years respectively. And, as the report states, the findings are preliminary, based on deaths that occurred only during the first six months of last year and “do not reflect the entirety of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.” It was the deadliest year in U.S. history, with deaths topping three million for the first time, the AP report noted. The country has recorded more than 20 per cent of the world’s coronavirus deaths.

Conspiracy Theorists Less Likely to Get Vaccinated

Results from a study released Wednesday about vaccine hesitancy suggest that about one-third of Canadians are “on-the-fence” about getting a COVID-19 shot, and nine per cent of the 3,700 participants don’t intent to get it. The findings from Toronto-based  think tank BEworks showed that belief in conspiracy theories played a factor, with “vaccine-opposed” people 429 per cent more likely to believe conspiracy theories, while people who are on-the-fence were 163 per cent more likely to believe conspiracy theories. “Understanding why people are hesitant (or object out-right) and then deploying scientifically-grounded solutions will be essential if we want to encourage Canadians to get vaccinated,” said lead investigator and BEworks CEO Kelly Peters. The study also showed that health-care professionals and BIPOC Canadians are more likely to be “on-the-fence” when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine.

Snowbirds Looking for Way Around Hotel Quarantine

Snowbirds are planning their strategy to avoid having a hotel quarantine upon return from wintering down south. Faced with the prospect of quarantining at their own expense after touch down, they are getting inventive. “If I can avoid it, I’m going to do it,” Brian Cross of Burlington, Ont., told the CBC. Cross, 63, and his wife, Anne, 61, plan to fly back through Buffalo from Mesa, Ariz. this April. They’ll take a cab to the Rainbow Bridge at Niagara Falls, N.Y., and walk across the border to Niagara Falls, Ont., where friends will be waiting with the couple’s car. An elaborate return home, but Cross says it’s worth it. “Common sense says, well, let’s do the path of least resistance, right? If I can save 4,000 bucks, why wouldn’t I do it?” The couple will, of course, still need to show negative PCR test results to border officials, take another test upon arrival and then quarantine at home for 14 days — with a third test near the end of those two weeks. About the measures put in place for both land and air travellers, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said in an email to the CBC, “If people are not prepared to go through that rigour of keeping themselves and their communities safe, then I’d urge them to stay where they are, just to avoid all non-essential travel.”

—Tara Losinski

Feb. 17, 2021

 

U.K. Approves Human Challenge COVID-19 Trial

The world’s first human challenge coronavirus study has received approval from British regulators, and will begin in the next few weeks. A statement released Wednesday confirmed that up to 90 healthy volunteers, aged 18 to 30 years, will be exposed to COVID-19 in “a safe and controlled environment to increase understanding of how the virus affects people.” That would include things such as how much virus is needed for infection to occur and, help determine the most effective treatments and vaccines. “While there has been very positive progress in vaccine development, we want to find the best and most effective vaccines for use over the longer term,” said Kwasi Kwarteng, secretary of the U.K.’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. The release notes that in the past such trials have “been performed safely” and have helped in the development of treatments for diseases including malaria, typhoid, cholera, norovirus and flu.

More Variants Behooves More Caution, Says Tam

The U.K. variant is being blamed for an outbreak in Newfoundland and Labrador, which last week nearly doubled the province’s total reported cases of COVID-19. And from Friday to Monday, Alberta confirmed 50 additional cases of more contagious strains, bringing its total to 221 of the two strains first detected in the U.K. and South Africa. On Tuesday, Canada’s top doctor Theresa Tam said that the “smouldering” spread of variants now “threatens to flare up in to a new rapidly spreading blaze.” She confirmed yesterday that variants had been detected in all 10 provinces, including more than 540 cases of the B117 variant, first detected in the U.K.; 33 cases of the B1351 variant, first detected in South Africa; and one case of the P1 variant, first detected in Brazil. “Though we may feel tired and have all suffered losses, collectively we cannot afford to take the brakes off. We need to protect our progress and keep the runway clear for vaccine programs to expand,” said Tam.

Wife Kicked Out of N.B. Hospital for Holding Husband’s Hand

An 80-year-old New Brunswick woman was recently escorted out of Moncton Hospital when she was caught holding the hand of her husband, who has Alzheimer’s disease. “The only way that we can really communicate with him is through touch, is through holding his hand, talking to him, hugging him. He still responds with hugs — he’ll hug you back if you hug him,” Kim Crevatin told the CBC of her father Kendyl Terris. She says her father, who is awaiting transfer to an assisted-living facility, was moved to a new floor of the hospital after Christmas and, despite the region remaining in the same COVID threat level, contact was no longer permitted. Crevatin has appealed to both a patient advocate and hospital management for an exception to be made in her father’s case. “They’ve been married for 60 years. It’s very hard for my mother not to hold his hand, not to go up close to him, to touch him — especially since that’s our only form of communication with him,” she said.

—Tara Losinski

Feb. 16, 2021

 

Pharmacies Say They’re Ready to Give the Shot

With Canada still trailing in worldwide vaccination rates — with tracking showing that only 2.56 per cent of the population had received a COVID-19 vaccine shot as of Monday — Canada’s pharmacies have put their hand up to help. The Neighbourhood Pharmacy Association of Canada says that of the 11,000 pharmacies across the country, 90 per cent routinely administer vaccines, including the seasonal flu shot, and 95 per cent of Canadians live within five kilometres of a pharmacy. “This presents a really great opportunity to make the vaccine available, accessible and easy to access for Canadians, once we have the supply,” CEO Sandra Hanna told the CBC. As for supply, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday that, after shortages over the past weeks, Canada will receive more doses that expected from Pfizer next quarter — 10.8 million shots between April and June — and an additional four million doses has been added to the Moderna order, which he said should arrive over the summer.

A Rapid Test on the Grocery List

Meanwhile, U.S. shoppers may soon be able to pick up a COVID test with their groceries. Kroger Health, a division of the mass grocery chain, announced today that is has partnered with rapid-test maker, Gauss, to offer the first smartphone-enabled, at-home rapid antigen test. “Public health leaders agree that people need access to on-demand, reliable, rapid testing in their own homes, and that’s exactly what our test delivers,” Siddarth Satish, Gauss Founder and CEO, said in a statement. To take the test — still under review for emergency use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration — users will follow video instructions provided in an app, collect a nasal swab and complete the test on their own. After 15 minutes, patients will be prompted to scan their rapid test to get their results. To fulfill legal reporting requirements, the app shares results with public health agencies.

Are We Drinking and Smoking More?

Almost a quarter of Canadians report drinking more since the pandemic — 4.8 per cent of whom said they are drinking “much more.” So goes alcohol consumption, may go another vice: smoking. Early in the pandemic, a Statistics Canada poll showed that 6.5 per cent of adults had increased their consumption of cannabis and another 3.3 per cent their use of tobacco. Then there was the report in January from Altria Group Inc., maker of Marlboros, that sales were up five per cent — the reversal of a downward trend the company had seen for decades, the Toronto Star reports. “I don’t have empirical data,” Natacha Duke, a registered psychotherapist, told the Star. “But I can say from my clinical experience that smoking has increased, the same way that alcohol use and problematic eating behaviour has increased during the pandemic, as well as other types of habits that might not be best for our health.”

—Tara Losinski

Feb. 12, 2021

 

Singh Criticizes Trudeau Over Delay of Long-Term Care Standards

Speaking Thursday at C.A.R.P.’s annual general meeting, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh told the seniors advocacy group that in light of the devastation caused by the pandemic in nursing homes across the country, it’s time the federal government stopped dragging its feet and fulfilled its promise to implement national standards for long-term facilities. Speaking to an online gathering of health professionals yesterday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responded to Singh’s attack by placing the blame for the delay on the heads of several provincial premiers. Pointing out that long-term care is a provincial jurisdiction, Trudeau claimed that several provinces are resisting federal encroachment into their territory and holding up the process. Likening it to a game of “political football,” the Prime Minister promised that he would move ahead on imposing national standards for best practices in nursing homes, regardless of whether the provinces agree or not. “We have a responsibility to make sure all Canadians are safe,” he said. “So we are going to start by working with those provinces who want it and are eager to.” Trudeau aimed a parting shot at premiers who are pushing back against federal encroachments, saying that these leaders will have to explain to voters “why their parents and grandparents don’t deserve the same quality of care that people are getting across the country.”

New Poll Blasts Federal Vax Rollout

With dire warnings beginning to surface about the third wave of COVID-19, a new poll published today shows that Canadians are growing increasingly frustrated with the federal government’s inability to deliver a smooth vaccine rollout. With shipments of vaccines slowing to a trickle, coupled with the fact that our vaccination rate is slower than many countries around the world, a majority of Canadians told an Angus Reid Poll that the federal government’s vaccination efforts were “a failure.” In comparing Canada’s vaccination efforts to other countries, 59 per cent of respondents said “we should be doing better.” When asked to assess the federal governments efforts to secure vaccine doses, 57 per cent said that Canada had done a “poor job.” At the provincial level, close to 60 per cent of residents in B.C., Quebec and the Atlantic provinces say they have confidence in their governments to deliver doses in a timely manner.

Manitoba Signs Agreement for Made-in-Canada Vax

With Trudeau’s Liberals coming under increasing fire for failure to secure a sufficient supply of doses to inoculate Canadians against COVID-19, Manitoba has decided to break ranks with the federal vaccination task force and signed an agreement to purchase a vaccine that will be manufactured right the province. In a statement yesterday, Premier Brian Pallister announced that the Manitoba has ordered two million doses of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine, which is being developed by Alberta-based Providence Therapeutics and will be manufactured at a plant in Winnipeg. The therapy, which is similar to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines currently on the market, is still in the clinical trial phase but the company expects that Health Canada will approve it for use later this year. “This is great news for Manitobans and Canadians,” said Brad Sorenson, CEO of Providence Therapeutics. “We welcome the initiative demonstrated by the Manitoba government as this means that we are now on course to manufacture and deliver a COVID-19 vaccine in Canada in 2021.” While hailing the agreement as an important step forward in the effort to inoculate everyone across the country, Pallister criticized the federal government for its poor vaccine rollout, saying it was, “slower than almost 50 other countries, with weekly disruptions in supply.” He added that this much needed “made-in-Canada vaccine supply will put Canadians at the head of the line to get a COVID vaccine, where we belong.”

– Peter Muggeridge

 

Feb. 11, 2021

 

Second Wave Finally Lands in Newfoundland and Labrador

While new case numbers decline across the country and restrictions ease, Newfoundland and Labrador finds itself in the opposite scenario. The province today reported 100 new cases of COVID-19 — a record high for the second-straight day — bringing the number of cases recorded since Monday to 194  — more than a fifth of total cases reported. which now stands at 610. “I believe that going so long with low case counts of COVID led to complacency and we are now seeing the repercussions.” said Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald during an update Wednesday. The new cases are located in the Eastern Health Region — which includes St. John’s and Mount Pearl, where the outbreak is centred to a high school. Officials have put the region under a two-week “circuit breaker” lockdown with schools closed, restaurants cut to 25 per cent capacity, bars closed entirely and, people encouraged to work from home. All this as residents are set to go to the polls in a provincial election on Saturday. Under pressure to postpone voting day in hot spots, Thursday officials announced that in-person voting will not be taking place in 18 of 40 voting districts — with no word yet as to when it will take place.

The province has been closed to non-essential travel, with the exception of residents from the so-called Atlantic Bubble, since May. With news of the surge in cases, fellow bubble member Nova Scotia announced Tuesday that travellers arriving from N.L. will now have to quarantine for 14 days.

Provinces Not Making Use of Rapid Tests

A report by the CBC suggests that provinces are under-employing rapid tests for COVID-19. Alberta reported using the least — 17,000, or 0.89 per cent of the 1.9 million rapid tests it has so far received by the federal government — while Prince Edward Island reported using the most, but still only 25 per cent of its 37,000 allotment. Ottawa has supplied 20 million rapid tests to the provinces and territories and, during his call last week with premiers, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau encouraged their use. “We know that rapid testing, even right now with the variants spreading, is really important to get us to a place where we’re starting mass vaccinations with lower and lower case counts,” said Trudeau.

Despite rapid tests being known as less effective than PCR tests, “You have to conceive of them as a screening test. If you get a positive, you want to confirm it with the gold standard test still, but the point is we need the information,” Dr. David Naylor, Co-Chair of the federal government’s COVID-19 Immunity Task Force, told Power & Politics Wednesday. “We cannot be wilfully ignorant when we have the tools that can shed light on what’s going on in these settings where people are thrown together, where the risk of transmission is quite high.”

CDC Confirms Double-Masking Benefit, Eases Quarantine Rule

Double masking can significantly improve protection, says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Researchers at the American agency found that layering a cloth mask over a medical mask can block 92.5 per cent of potentially infectious particles by creating a tighter fit. “We continue to recommend that masks should have two or more layers, completely cover your nose and mouth, and fit snugly against your nose and the sides of your face,” said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, at a White House briefing Wednesday. The study found that both double masking — widely seen at President Biden’s inauguration last month — and knotting — folding mask edges inward and knotting ear loop strings where they meet mask fabric — both reduce leakage of potentially infectious aerosols.

In November, the Public Health Agency of Canada revised its guidance on masking, recommending that non-medical masks should have a third “filter” layer for “extra protection,” Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said at the time. “I keep emphasizing the fit is one of the most important things,” she added. “It fits around your mouth, on your nose, and it has to cover your mouth and nose. So that’s really important.”

While masking recommendations were stepped up, the CDC eased its requirements for quarantine of vaccinated residents. People who have received the full course of a COVID-19 vaccine can skip the standard 14-day quarantine after exposure to someone with the infection as long as they remain asymptomatic. “Individual and societal benefits of avoiding unnecessary quarantine may outweigh the potential but unknown risk of transmission (among vaccinated individuals),” the CDC said Wednesday about the move.

—Tara Losinski

Feb. 10, 2021

 

Charles and Camilla Get the Shot, Elton John “Still Standing” 

The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall are reported to have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Being over 70 — Prince Charles is 72 and Camilla is 73 — they are among the 15 million people being vaccinated in the first phase of the U.K.’s vaccine rollout, set to be completed by Feb. 15. The Queen and Prince Philip received their shots last month, putting the four royals among 12.6 million people in the U.K. to have already received at least a first dose. Of course, Prince Charles tested positive for the virus last March, displaying mild symptoms from which he fully recovered, while Camilla tested negative.

To promote vaccination in the U.K., the country’s National Health Service has enlisted some celebrity seniors, including Elton John and Michael Caine who are urging the public to get the shot. In the spot released Wednesday, John says that the vaccines have “met the necessary safety and quality standards” and, having received his jab, sings, “I’m still standing.”

Pfizer-BioNTech Vaccine May Reduce Infectiousness

In addition to protecting against illness, a study released this week suggests that the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine could help in reducing spread of the coronavirus. “These reduced viral loads hint to lower infectiousness, further contributing to vaccine impact on virus spread,” wrote researchers from the Israel Institute of Technology, Tel Aviv University and Maccabi Healthcare Services. They found the viral load — the amount of virus an infected person carries — was reduced four-fold for infections that occur 12 to 28 days after a first dose of the vaccine.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is one of two currently approved for use in Canada. Yesterday, the agency confirmed that it will get six, rather than five doses from each vial delivered. Pfizer requested Canada change its administration of the vaccine back in January, with a spokesperson saying at the time, “Obtaining six doses from the current multi-dose vial … can help minimize vaccine wastage and enable the most efficient use of the vaccine.”

Land Border Next on List for Travel Restrictions

After doing their best to discourage international travel, the government is now targeting land borders with new requirements. “As of Feb.15, when you return to Canada through a land border, you’ll need to show a 72-hour PCR test, just like air travel,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday. Although Canadians cannot legally be denied entry by border officers, Trudeau said that those who show up without proof of a test could face fines of up to $3,000. “What we can do is in cases of no test to show [is] apply a stiff penalty, a fine and demand and ensure a rapid and complete followup to make sure that they are getting tested, that they are being properly quarantined, that they are not putting at risk the safety of other Canadians by returning home without a clear negative test,” he said.

The Canada-U.S. border has been closed to non-essential travel since last March. On Friday, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair addressed snowbirds, some of whom went south this winter despite being urged to stay put amid the pandemic, saying that the impending land border changes “are for their protection, and for the protection of their friends, families and communities, to keep them safe.”

—Tara Losinski

Feb. 9, 2021

 

WHO Dispels Speculation of Lab Leak as Cause of Outbreak

The World Health Organization said Tuesday that the novel coronavirus is likely to have jumped from animals to humans rather than the result of a leak from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. A team has been in China since the middle of January, investigating for the original of the outbreak that led to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Our initial findings suggest that the introduction through an intermediary host species is the most likely pathway and one that will require more studies and more specific, targeted research,” said WHO food safety and animal diseases expert, Peter Ben Embarek. “However, the findings suggest that the laboratory incidents hypothesis is extremely unlikely to explain the introduction of the virus to the human population.” Wild animal trade has been speculated as a vehicle for the virus to make its way to people. Transmission through the trade in frozen products was also a likely possibility, Embarek said.

Hockey Players Can Dine Out in Ontario, But Residents Cannot

The Ontario government announced Monday that teams competing in the NHL’s all-Canadian North Division will be able to dine inside some Ontario restaurants, despite ongoing stay-at-home orders within the province. When asked why professional hockey players can do what the public cannot, Premier Doug Ford passed on answering, deferring to the province’s chief medical officer of health. “The rules of the NHL are very much strict with their protocols, with their frequent testing, their isolation of their players to the extent, and especially very tight transport within Canada,” said Dr. David Williams. “They do not leave the country, so they’re staying in this country the whole time. There are some players, of course, this is not their home, and [they] require some place to have some eating and food facilities.”

Prior to this move by Ontario to exempt players from the province’s public health orders, travelling players and coaches were only permitted at the hotel, arena or airport.

South African Variant May Not Have “Transmissibility Advantage”

After early study results were released Sunday that suggest the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is less effective against the South African variant, Monday the U.K.’s deputy chief medical officer said that modelling does not suggest a “transmissibility advantage” for the strain. “There is no reason to think the South African variant will catch up or overtake our current virus in the next few months,” said epidemiologist Jonathan Van-Tam about whether the variant would dominate the U.K. strain. However, discovery of the variant coincided with a surge of infection in South Africa and researchers in the country are reported to believe the strain to be around 50 per cent more contagious.

—Tara Losinski

Feb. 8, 2021

 

Oxford-AstraZeneca Vaccine Rollout Halted in South Africa

After early data was released Sunday from South Africa’s University of Witwatersrand, suggesting that the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine provides only “minimal protection” against a variant first identified in that country, officials said they were pausing rollout of the vaccine. The variant is said to account for 90 per cent of new cases in South Africa. The study involved 2,000 participants with an average age of 31 and “unfortunately, the AstraZeneca vaccine does not work against mild and moderate illness” said professor and study lead Shabir Madhi. But the vaccine works similarly to Johnson & Johnson’s candidate, which has shown to be 89 per cent effective in protecting against severe illness in another South African study. Madhi said extrapolating from that, “there’s still some hope that the AstraZeneca vaccine might well perform as well as the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in a different age group demographic that are at risk of severe disease.” South Africa has reported close to 1.5 million cases of COVID-19 and more than 46,000 deaths.

Health Canada has yet to approve the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, but Canada does have a deal to purchase doses — and could receive over a million as part of its involvement with a global vaccine purchasing pool.

South Korea to Test Pets

South Korea recorded its first case of COVID-19 in a animal, a kitten, on Jan. 21. Today, officials in Seoul  announced that pets who are displaying symptoms of the infection — including fever, cough and difficulty breathing — can be tested if they’ve had contact with someone who has tested positive for the coronavirus. “Starting today, the Seoul metropolitan government will offer coronavirus tests for pet dogs and cats,” Park Yoo-mi, a Seoul city official handling disease control, told reporters. If they test positive, the pet will need to isolate at home for 14 days — or at a kennel or cattery if their owner also has the virus. South Korea requires people who test positive to isolate at quarantine facilities, if they do not need hospital treatment.

According to the World Organisation for Animal Health, there have not been any reports of pets spreading COVID-19 to people. However, as Health Canada states, reports from the Netherlands suggest that a small number of workers on infected mink farms may have been infected by the mink.

PCR Test Able to Detect Variants 

As worry grows over the spread of more contagious variants of the coronavirus, Canada’s largest test supplier, South Korea’s Seegene Inc., says that it has developed the world’s first COVID-19 PCR test capable of identifying multiple virus variants at the same time — including the UK, South African, and Brazilian mutations. “Seegene’s new COVID-19 test technology can even pre-screen suspicious new variants, providing insight and data about additional variations as they emerge,” said James Yantzi, President, Seegene Canada, in a press release. The company says the test could be employed at airports and border crossings. On Sunday, Ontario confirmed Canada’s fist known case of a Brazilian variant, while both the U.K. and South African variants have already been identified in Canada though ad hoc genetic screening.

—Tara Losinski

Feb. 5, 2021

 

Now Moderna is Reducing Vax Shipments to Canada

Our COVID-19 vaccination rollout has hit another major bump in the road as yet another pharmaceutical company says it will temporarily reduce shipments of its precious doses to Canada. Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, head of the federal government’s vaccine distribution task force, revealed this alarming development to reporters yesterday, saying that in the first week of February, Canada is due to receive fewer shipments of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine. Instead of sending the expected 230,000 doses, Moderna will now only ship 180,000. Oddly, no one seems to know why the pharmaceutical company is not delivering its full order. “Moderna has not mentioned production problems or problems at the plant,” Fortin said yesterday, struggling to explain the bad news. “Moderna is facing growing demand. There are global challenges.” The reduced shipment from Moderna comes at a bad time as Pfizer has drastically cut its vaccine deliveries to Canada while it updates its manufacturing plant in Belgium. The best Fortin could offer Canadians worried about the dwindling supply of doses is that “We are in a period where quantities are limited.”

Lockdown Measures Slam Job Numbers

The lockdown measures on non-essential businesses, which have been in effect across most of the country since December, are beginning to take a toll on employment numbers. In its January Labour Force Survey released today, Statistics Canada blamed lockdown measures for causing the loss of 213,000 jobs over the course of the last month. This saw our unemployment rate increase to 9.4 per cent, the highest level since August 2020. The job losses hit part-time workers especially hard, with Ontario (154,000 out of work) and Quebec (98,000 out of work) feeling the brunt of the pain. There is some good news, however, as Statistics Canada reports that four provinces (Alberta, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and P.E.I.) all saw employment increases in December. And nationally, full-time workers in professional, scientific and technical services and finance, insurance, real estate, rental and leasing “have recovered to pre-COVID employment levels in recent months and were unchanged in January.”

Air Canada Balks at Issuing Refunds

Air Canada says it won’t start issuing refunds to people whose flights have been cancelled due to COVID-19 until it gets a bailout from the federal government. In effect, the airline is asking taxpayers to pay for their own refunds. The embattled airline, which has seen its revenue dry up during the pandemic as many Canadians put their travel plans on hold, said it would continue its policy of offering customers vouchers instead of refunds for their cancelled flights. Appearing before the House of Commons transportation committee yesterday, David Rheault, Air Canada’s managing director of government affairs, claimed that in order for the airline to keep afloat, it cannot drain its resources by issuing ticket refunds. “If we get some aid from the government, we’ll be able to refund,” said Rheault. This policy, however, could be a sticking point to whether or not Air Canada receives government bailout. In talks with the aviation industry, the government has insisted that for any airline to receive relief money, they must first refund customers.

– Peter Muggeridge

 

Feb. 4, 2021

 

Snowbirds Push Back Against “Quarantine Hotels”

The federal government’s announcement last week that people returning from abroad must quarantine at designated hotels for at least three days while they wait for results of their COVID-19 tests is causing a lot of angst among snowbirds. Yesterday, both the Vancouver Sun and Montreal Gazette ran items on winter vacationers who are balking at paying rates of up to $2,000 per person to stay in a hotel until they receive their tests results. Many are expressing anger at the exorbitant costs and are asking why they can’t isolate at home instead of paying enormous rates to stay at a “Quarantine Hotel.” Others are choosing to extend their stays down south until the new measures are relaxed. “We’re trapped down here [in Scottsdale] and we’re waiting for common sense to prevail in Canada,” one snowbird said.

Calm Before the Storm

While new COVID-19 cases continue to fall across Canada, health officials are getting worried about the virulent and deadly new strains of the disease. Yesterday, Canada reported 3,234 new cases, a sharp drop from the 9,213 cases we experienced on Jan. 8, the peak of the second wave. While this is cheering news, Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, says the country is in a “very delicate period,” as case counts for the new U.K. and South African COVID-19 variants continue to grow. With 148 cases of the new strains reported across Canada, Tam told reporters yesterday, “This is the initial signal that we need to be very vigilant and very cautious about relaxation of those public health measures.” With the new strains thought to be “30 to 40 per cent deadlier” than the original virus, health officials are worried that we could be in store for another deadly wave. “The hurricane is coming,” says Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

Vaccine Confidence Increases Worldwide

In order to lessen the blow of the next wave, it’s imperative for countries to vaccinate as many people (including long-term care residents, the elderly, those with health conditions and health-care workers) as soon as possible. While getting vaccine shipments to Canada remains a huge problem, the good news is that more people in this country and worldwide are expressing confidence in the safety and efficacy of the doses. A survey released yesterday by the Institute of Global Health Innovation at Imperial College in London shows that in 15 countries around the world, 54 per cent of the people who answered the January survey say they would be willing to get the shot when it became available. This figure is up sharply from November when only 41 per cent of respondents expressed willingness to receive one of the new vaccines. Canadians are also displaying more confidence in the vaccine – 45 per cent told the same survey that they would willingly accept the jab, as opposed to only 33 per cent in November. “It is very encouraging to see that, as a number of safe and effective coronavirus vaccines are being rolled out across the world, there has been an apparent positive shift in people’s perceptions of these products,” says Dr. David Nabarro, co-director of the study.

Ontario Schools Will Open Soon;  Businesses Won’t

While schools across Ontario are prepare to offer in-class learning by Feb. 10, provincial public health officials still haven’t put any timeline on when the business lockdown will end. Yesterday, Dr. David Williams, the province’s chief medical health officer, said the number of patients in ICU needs to drop below 150 before the government will consider allowing businesses to re-open their doors to in-store shoppers. “The numbers are not low enough to say the hospitals are out of the heat. They’re not. They’re in the thick of it,” said Williams yesterday, adding, “We don’t want to open up and then just crash and lock back up again.”

—Peter Muggeridge

Feb. 3, 2021

 

Canada Could Receive Vaccines From COVAX Membership

Participation in COVAX, a program co-ordinated by the World Health Organization for countries to pool funds for securing vaccines, may see Canada get more than one million additional doses of COVID-19 vaccine by the end of March. Canada contributed $440 million to the initiative in September— half to secured doses for itself, the other half to help 92 low- to middle-income nations secure vaccines. Procurement Minister Anita Anand told The Canadian Press that, if approved by Health Canada for use, 1.1 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine could arrive through COVAX by the end of March, and a total of 3.2 million by the end of June. “This represents a boost to the current six million doses expected from Pfizer and Moderna before the end of March,” said Anand.

Oxford-AstraZeneca Vaccine Works With One Dose

Researchers at the University of Oxford today published findings that a single dose of its Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is 76 per cent effective from 22- to up to 90-days post-vaccination. And efficacy increased to 82.4 per cent after two doses. The vaccine also appears to reduce transmission of the coronavirus. Speaking to the U.K.’s Science Media Centre, Helen Fletcher, professor of immunology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the data “suggest a possibility that the vaccine could have an impact on transmission but further follow-up would be needed to confirm this.” The researchers collected regular nasal swabs from some participants and found that the rate of positive PCR tests fell by 67 per cent after one dose, and by half after two doses of the vaccine. The authors also suggest there could be more protection with more spaced-out doses. Among adults age 18 to 55, the vaccine’s efficacy appeared to rise when the time between shots was spaced out from less than six weeks to more than 12.

“Absolutely Not” the Year to Have Super Bowl Parties

The U.S. has seen more than 26.4 million cases of COVID-19 and has reported more than 446,000 deaths from the illness — recording 114,785 new cases and 3,644 more deaths yesterday. Now is “absolutely not” the time for Super Bowl parties, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on Good Morning America Wednesday. Asked by ABC’s George Stephanopoulos about whether Sunday’s Super Bowl, being held at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, could become a super spreader event, Fauci said “I hope not.” He believes organizers are doing their best to keep people “separated enough in the stands, wearing masks, so you don’t have that proximity” and that could be okay as long as people “abide by that and don’t slip.” As for watching parties, it was an emphatic no. “Watch the Super Bowl on TV, enjoy it, have a party in your house with your family, with the people who are there,” he said. “You don’t want parties with people that you haven’t had much contact with, you just don’t know if they’re infected. So as difficult as that is — at least this time around — just lay low and cool it.”

—Tara Losinski

Feb. 2, 2021

 

Deal to Make Novavax Vaccine in Canada

With shipments of made-in-Europe Pfizer and Moderna vaccines shrinking in recent weeks, the government today announced a deal for producing the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine in Canada. As the National Post reported, the company has signed a memorandum of understanding to use a National Research Council facility under construction  in Montreal, with production potentially beginning in late July. Novavax applied Friday for Health Canada approval of its COVID-19 vaccine candidate, which the company reported last week to have been 89.3 per cent effective in a Phase 3 trial of 15,000 adults, aged 18 to 84 — including against the U.K. variant and 66 per cent effective against the South African variant. Canada already has a deal with the drug maker to purchase as many as 52 million doses — two doses are required but the vaccine can be stored in regular refrigerators, making shipment and storage easier. Initial supply of the Novavax vaccine to Canada, once approved, would be made elsewhere but production would shift to the Montreal facility this summer.

Canada Trailing in Vaccine Rollout

As of Tuesday morning, COVID-19 Tracker Canada figures show that 1,122,450 doses of COVID-19 vaccines (including both Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech) have been delivered to the provinces, with 87.1% administered. The total number of Canadians who have been fully vaccinated is 118, 081, while 860,126 have received at least one dose of an approved COVID-19 vaccine. Since the beginning of January, Canada has gone from ninth to 34th in a ranking of vaccination per 100 people, despite being one of the first to approve a COVID-19 vaccine and, having ordered more vaccines per capita that any other nation. Israel, by far the leader with 57.6, also has no domestic vaccine-making production but sits at the top of the ranking. Meanwhile, Canada is in a five-way tie, at 2.6, with Singapore, Slovakia, Czechia and Belgium. The United Arab Emirates (34.8), the U.K. (14.4) Bahrain (10.2) and the U.S. (9.6) follow Israel in leading COVID-19 vaccine rollout in their populations.

Ontario said today that Pfizer and Moderna vaccine shipment delays will result in pushing its goal back for getting a first shot to all long-term care, high-risk retirement homes and First Nations elder care residents, which the province now hopes to have complete by Feb. 10 — not Feb. 5, as originally committed.

—Tara Losinski

Feb. 1, 2021

 

Snowbirds Balk at New Requirements for International Travellers

The government says air travellers returning from outside Canada should be prepared for new requirements to come into effect as soon as Thursday, after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced them Friday. They include a COVID-19 test upon arrival and hotel quarantine at the traveller’s expense, which Trudeau said could cost upwards of $2,000. Snowbirds abroad were quick to respond. “The vaccinated snowbirds returning from the U.S. with negative COVID-19 tests will be the safest people in town,” Susan Raymer told the Montreal Gazette Friday. Raymer, who has been down south since December despite a plea for snowbirds to stay put this winter, believes those who have been vaccinated should be exempt from the new quarantine rules. “They can monitor us either through our cellphone or use a prisoner’s ankle bracelet,” she went on to say. The Canadian Snowbird Association swiftly posted news of the measures after the announcement, saying that although it supports point-of-entry COVID-19 tests, “We are firmly opposed to the imminent mandatory hotel quarantine measure to be imposed by the federal government. The CSA believes that the current quarantine protocols should remain in place, and travellers should be permitted to quarantine in their own homes.”

Younger Older Canadians Doing Worse Through Pandemic

Results from a national survey by the Canadian Frailty Network suggest that younger older Canadians are doing worse through the pandemic, despite being at lower risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19. Nearly 4,400 people aged 55 and older responded to questions about their physical and mental health between Aug. 10 and Oct. 10, with those between 55 and 64 more likely to experience depression, anxiety and stress than their older peers and to have seen incomes fall or experience increased home life stress. The findings note that women were more likely to have taken a harder hit to their routine, support and stress — and were also more likely to comply with public health measures. And speaking of compliance, the 55-to-64 cohort were less likely to wear masks or social distance as compared to those 65 and older. The Canadian findings would seem to align with previous research, which has shown that the Silent Generation — born after the Greatest Generation but before the baby boomers — is coping best with the impacts of COVID-19.

—Tara Losinski

Jan. 29, 2021

 

Johnson & Johnson Single-Dose Vaccine Effective, But Less Than Others

Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose COVID-19 vaccine candidate has shown to be 66 per cent effective in preventing moderate to severe illness, says a news release from the New Jersey-based drug maker Friday. But the results from a global trial of more than 43,000 participants were varied, with the strongest protection of 72 per cent in the United States, 66 per cent in Latin America, and the weakest protection seen 28 days post-vaccination, 57 per cent, recorded in South Africa — where a more contagious coronavirus variant now dominates. The study also showed that J&J’s Janssen vaccine was 85 per cent protective against the illness’s most serious symptoms. “The potential to significantly reduce the burden of severe disease, by providing an effective and well-tolerated vaccine with just one immunization, is a critical component of the global public health response,” chief scientific officer Paul Stoffels said in a statement. “A one-shot vaccine is considered by the World Health Organization to be the best option in pandemic settings, enhancing access, distribution and compliance.”

Although as much as 25 per cent less protective, unlike COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, J&J’s can be stored in regular refrigeration. making it easier to ship and store. Canada has signed an agreement to purchase up to 38 million doses. but the Johnson & Johnson vaccine candidate has yet to be approved by Health Canada.

Modelling Suggests U.K. Variant Poses “Significant Threat”

Case numbers in Ontario continue to decline, with new infections falling from a seven-day average of 3,555 cases a day on Jan. 11 — a high for the province — to an average of 2,128 cases a day as of Thursday. New modelling released yesterday predicts the trend will continue if strict restrictions are kept in place — Ontario has been under a province-wide stay-at-home order since Jan. 15. But the projections also suggest that a coronavirus variant, B1117, first identified in the U.K. poses a “significant threat” to controlling spread. According to data from the province’s COVID-19 science advisory table, by March the more contagious, and possibly more fatal strain could be the dominant one in Ontario. And although new cases also continue to decline in long-term care facilities, the report notes that the death toll continues to rise. Ontario reported another 29 deaths Friday, bringing the total over the last eight days to 244. “We are still likely to surpass total deaths from the first wave,” the report states.

Will It or Won’t It, Sponsors Unsure Tokyo Games Will Go Ahead

Big sponsors, like Canon and Japan Airlines are scaling back on advertising for the Tokyo Summer Games, unsure the event will even go ahead, reports Reuters. Japan has advised residents to stay in as much as possible with infection rates reaching record highs this month. But, in the past weeks, both the government and the International Olympic Committee have come out to say that the Games will begin, as planned, on July 23. That said, Reuters also reports that even planning has been put off by sponsors for the torch relay kick off on Mar. 25, because it’s yet to be decided if spectators will be allowed to attend. “There’s normally an air of excitement leading up to the Olympics,” said Motoji Kawasaki, an official in Tokyo’s Higashimurayama city, which is on the relay route. “But it’s too naive to think about that this year. Now, it is all about coronavirus.” According to Team Canada’s website, which features a countdown clock banner, 11,090 athletes will attend the rescheduled Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, still set to open in 174 days.

—Tara Losinski

Jan. 28, 2021

 

B.C. Premier Disgusted by Vaccine Queue Jumpers

British Columbia’s Premier John Horgan had harsh words yesterday for “millionaires” who jump the queue illegally in order to access the COVID-19 vaccine. Horgan was responding to the outcry over the news that Great Canadian Gaming Corp. CEO Rodney Baker and his wife, Ekaterina, flew to the Yukon and posed as visiting workers in order to be vaccinated at a mobile clinic. “That was profoundly disappointing for me on a number of levels,” said Horgan. “You can’t measure the contempt British Columbians have for that individual taking those steps.” Besides becoming public pariahs, the couple were charged with violating the Yukon’s Civil Emergency Measures Act. Baker has since stepped down as CEO of his company, which owns casinos, restaurants and racetracks across the country. Horgan noted, “There is nothing more un-Canadian than going to another jurisdiction to jump the line because you have the means to do so.”

Two Masks Better Than One?

Comments made earlier this week by chief White House medical adviser Dr. Antony Fauci about wearing two masks has kickstarted a public debate over the effectiveness of public health guidelines regarding facial coverings. “If you have a physical covering with one layer, you put another layer on, it just makes common sense that it likely would be more effective,” Fauci said in an interview on NBC’s Today Show on Monday. The double-mask issue began percolating last week when multiple politicians and speakers at U.S. President Joe Biden’s inauguration were seen wearing double masks. There’s also growing concern that one mask isn’t enough to prevent the spread of two new COVID-19 variants, which are said to be 50 per cent more contagious than the original strain of the virus. Current Public Health Canada guidelines recommend that a good non-medical cloth mask (consisting of two layers of tightly woven fabric and a third layer of filter-type fabric) worn snugly over the mouth and nose should offer sufficient protection against air-borne droplets.

Vaccinated Nurse Tests Positive

Ottawa-area nurse Santosh Baral has tested positive for COVID-19, despite getting the vaccine two weeks ago. Baral, who works in a long-term care home, told CBC he was “speechless” after receiving two doses of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine. “I thank God I don’t have any symptoms so far, but who knows whatever is happening in my body,” he said from his home, where he is self-isolating. There are scientific explanations why a person who has received the full dose can still test positive. One possibility is that a person could be exposed to the virus before his body built up immunities from the vaccine. Another is that while clinical trials show the Pfizer vaccine is 95 per cent effective, that still leaves a slim possibility that the vaccine may not work effectively on everyone. Health experts say that cases like this one show that you should still follow social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines even if you’ve been vaccinated.

Peter Muggeridge

Jan. 27, 2021

 

Health Experts in Ontario Call for End to For-Profit Nursing Homes

Ontario has reported more than 3,600 deaths from COVID-19 in long-term care facilities — including another 39 Wednesday — which is more than 60 per cent of the province’s death toll. A group of health experts say it amounts to a “humanitarian crisis,” and they’re calling for the end to for-profit care in the province.”When you think about for-profit homes, they’re by design created to have one thing in mind, and that’s profits for shareholders. It’s not care for our seniors,” Dr. Naheed Dosani said Tuesday on CBC Radio’s Metro Morning. Dosani, a palliative care physician, is one of more than 200 doctors and researchers in Ontario to have joined the Doctors for Justice in Long-Term Care campaign.

They are calling for the provincial government “to end the violations of people’s human rights” and control the spread of COVID-19 in long-term care. In a letter submitted Tuesday, the group included nine actions that should be taken “immediately”:

  • Ending for-profit LTC homes
  • Hiring more qualified staff
  • A minimum pay standard for frontline LTC staff consistent with the hospital sector
  • Ensure 70 per cent of staff at each LTC home are full-time
  • Allow essential caregivers unrestricted entry into LTC homes with proper personal protective equipment
  • Establish partnerships between hospitals, primary care teams and all LTC homes
  • Keep hospital teams on standby
  • Call upon the military if required
  • Accelerate vaccination rollout to LTC homes

“We now have over 1,500 people that have died in long-term care from COVID-19 in the second wave alone. This week, we’ve had about 171 deaths and we’re losing basically about one person per hour,” Dr. Amit Arya, a palliative care physician specializing in long-term care and co-founder of Doctors for Justice in LTC, told CP24 Tuesday.

“One person per hour is dying of COVID-19 in our long-term care facilities in Ontario, so if this is not an emergency, what is?”

Pfizer Says Canada Not Getting Every Dose From Vaccine Vials

Pfizer says that if Health Canada revised its process to deliver six doses instead of five from every vaccine vial, the company could deliver less vials to fulfill its order of 40,000 million doses. “Obtaining six doses from the current multi-dose vial … can help minimize vaccine wastage and enable the most efficient use of the vaccine,” company spokesperson Christina Antoniou said on Tuesday. The change would see Canada receive 6.7 million vials of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine instead of eight million. But as the Globe and Mail reports, this don’t-waste-a-drop approach isn’t always possible and requires a special syringe — which are in short supply these days — as is the vaccine itself, with Pfizer having to halt deliveries this week and scale back next week’s while it scales up production.

All this comes as the European Union threatens to put export controls on vaccines leaving the 27-member bloc, which could include doses coming to Canada from Pfizer’s plant in Belgium. “We have from the very beginning worked extremely closely with European partners on vaccines,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said yesterday, when asked about a potential cap on vaccine deliveries.

“The close working relationship gives me assurance that the contracts we’ve signed and the supply chains we’ve established with European manufacturers are in good shape. We will continue, however, to work very, very closely and monitor and ensure Canada gets all the doses we’ve contractually signed for.”

Bill Gates: Things Will Go Back to Normal by End of 2021 for Rich Countries

In an interview Wednesday with Reuters, tycoon-turned-philanthropist Bill Gates says rich countries will see a return to normal by the year’s end — assuming vaccines can be rolled out to at least 70 per cent of their populations. But that won’t be the case for poor nations, which he predicts will be at least half a year behind. “The total number of doses that GAVI (Global Vaccine Alliance) [and COVAX] will have in the first half of the year is still very modest. Yes, they will get some doses out, but if you compare when they will reach the same percentage of coverage as the rich countries, that’s where I’d say it’s six to eight months, best case,” he said.

As Reuters reports, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has so far committed about US$1.75 billion in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It includes support direct to some vaccine makers, and funds for the COVAX vaccine-sharing initiative, co-led by the World Health Organization, which aims to deliver 2.3. billion doses by year-end — 1.8 billion doses of which will go to poorer countries at no cost to their governments.

—Tara Losinski

Jan. 26, 2021

 

Government Considering Ban on Non-Essential Travel

A day after Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau said he wouldn’t rule out invoking the federal Emergencies Act to limit travel, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland says the government is considering stricter measures to limit non-essential travel. “I very much understand and I’m very sympathetic to the view that, with the virus raging around the world, we need to be sure our borders are really, really secure,” Freeland said in an interview Monday on CBC’s Power and Politics. “And that’s something that we’re working on really urgently now.”

The Globe and Mail today reported that options being considered include stricter enforcement of the mandatory 14-day quarantine for returning travellers or requiring all returning non-essential travellers to quarantine at a government-designated hotel at their own expense. An all-out ban on non-essential travel, which Quebec Premier François Legault called for last week, would require Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to invoke the Emergencies Act —which he has so far been resistant to resort to.

According to tracking by the Public Health Agency of Canada, a total of 143 international flights and 63 domestic flights with confirmed COVID-19 cases have been identified in the past two weeks.

Made-in-Canada Vaccine Begins Clinical Trial

Toronto-based Providence Therapeutics Tuesday began a clinical trial of its vaccine, PTX-COVID19-B. The mRNA vaccine, which works similarly to the shot from Moderna, was developed in Canada and will be produced at a site in Calgary, if approved. As reported, 60 volunteers will take part in the Phase 1 trial. Pending regulatory approval, a larger Phase 2 trial with adults over 65, under 18 and pregnant women could start in May. Providence has said that results from animal trials of its vaccine were on par with Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines.

COVID Exposure Higher in the West

Analysis of blood samples taken from more than 35,000 Canadians this past October and November reveal that exposure to the novel coronavirus increased most in Alberta, from 0.48 per cent of people having COVID-19 antibodies in May to 1.79 per cent by November. By comparison, in Toronto —  one of Ontario’s hot spots — the rate of exposure was 0.98 per cent.  Saskatchewan and Manitoba also saw a steep increase in antibody presence — which is an indicator that the body has mounted a defence as a result of exposure to the coronavirus — jumping by five times since May. Overall, the study suggests that 1.5 per cent of Canadians have been exposed. “It tells us so many people are still vulnerable,” Dr. Catherine Hankins, co-chair of Canada’s COVID-19 Immunity Task Force, told the Calgary Herald. “What these numbers also tell us is Canadians have been really good at trying to keep that down.”

“The broader issue is to get people to stop transmission or we’re going to start creating our own variants,” she warned.

—Tara Losinski

Jan. 25, 2021

 

COVID Toll Greatest in Long-Term Care

One year after the first case of novel coronavirus was confirmed in Canada — a man in Toronto who had travelled to Wuhan, China — there have been 747,383 cases of infection reported and 19,094 deaths. People aged 60 and older account for more than 96 per cent of recorded deaths. And according to the National Institute on Aging at Ryerson University, almost 70 per cent of the deaths reported — nearly 13,000 as of Monday — have been among residents of long-term care facilities. Ontario, where nursing homes have been hard-hit, reported today that another 25 residents have died, brining the total to 3,575.

“What’s more tragic is how it’s unfolding in the second wave because there certainly could have been steps taken between wave one and wave two to significantly protect the most vulnerable population among us,” Dr. Isaac Bogoch of Toronto’s University Health Network said of the situation in Ontario’s nursing homes in an interview with the CBC on Sunday.

“What we’re seeing in the long-term care facilities just demonstrates, unfortunately, years and years of neglect, It was awful to watch this unfold but, sadly, it was predictable.”

U.K. Variant May Be More Deadly

Concerns are increasing over the spread of a coronavirus variant, first identified in the U.K., after it was reported Friday that early evidence points to it being more deadly as well as more contagious. The U.K.’s chief science adviser Patrick Vallance said that although the new mortality data is uncertain, he explained, “If you took … a man in their 60s, the average risk is that for 1,000 people who got infected, roughly 10 would be expected to unfortunately die with the virus. With the new variant, for 1,000 people infected, roughly 13 or 14 people might be expected to die.”

On Saturday, the top doctor of a health unit north of Toronto confirmed that the U.K. variant, B117, was identified in genetic sequencing of samples from five residents and one staff member of the Roberta Place nursing home in Barrie, Ont. Since an outbreak was declared on Jan. 8, the coronavirus has spread to all but two of its 127 residents, plus 84 staff members, and more than 40 deaths have been reported.

Meanwhile, with the U.K. variant already found in at least 22 states, on Sunday the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that the agency is scaling up study and surveillance to monitor “the impact of these variants on vaccines, as well as on our therapeutics,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, who took over as CDC director the day U.S. President Joe Biden was sworn in, said in an interview with Fox News.

Moderna Effective Against U.K. Variant But Not South Africa’s

A study released Monday by Cambridge, Mass.-based drugmaker Moderna shows that although its two-dose COVID-19 vaccine appears to be effective against the U.K. variant, it’s as much as six-fold less effective in protecting against the B1315 variant first identified in South Africa. The company is now looking to develop a booster that would improve protection. “Out of an abundance of caution and leveraging the flexibility of our mRNA platform, we are advancing an emerging variant booster candidate against the variant first identified in the Republic of South Africa into the clinic to determine if it will be more effective to boost titers against this and potentially future variants,” Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said in a statement. The Moderna shot is one of two COVID-19 vaccines so far approved by Health Canada.

—Tara Losinski

Jan. 22, 2021

 

Despite Rumours, Olympics to Go Ahead

Responding to reports otherwise — most recent by the Times of London yesterday — organizers of the Tokyo Olympics say games will go ahead this summer. “All our delivery partners including the national government, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee, the IOC and the IPC (International Paralympic Committee) are fully focused on hosting the games this summer,” read a statement released Friday. After postponment last year amid the pandemic, the games are set to open July 23. But support is reported to be low amongst Japan’s citizens these days, with polls showing 80 per cent believe the games should be further postponed — or cancelled. After attending a meeting of the International Olympic Committee Friday, David Shoemaker, head of the Canadian Olympic Committee, said via Twitter that “We continue in our preparation to participate at Tokyo 2020 with a focus on the health and safety of our athletes, their families, and their communities.”

Retail Sales Still Up

A report released today by Statistics Canada confirms that Canadians continue to spend — even with bricks and mortar shopping routinely prohibited through the pandemic. With November numbers in, the agency reports that retail sales have now risen for seven-straight months. And, sales are now more than 5 per cent higher than before the pandemic. Food and beverage stores saw the biggest increase in November — up 5.9 per cent — followed by building and garden supply sales — up 2.2 per cent. Overall, Canadian retailers brought in more than $55 billion in sales during the month — more than $600 million higher than in October. As to be expected, e-commerce continues to take more share, accounting for 7.4 per cent of retail sales in November — an increase of 3 per cent over last year. Retail therapy indeed.

In-person Learning Best for Kids During Pandemic

A panel of paediatric exports in Ontario say schools should only be closed as a very “last resort.” In an updated report released Thursday, a group led by Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto say that in-person school with “strong application” of infection prevention is the ideal scenario as apposed to keeping kids home — currently the case in the province’s hot spots. “It is critical to balance the risk of direct infection and transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in children and youth, school staff and the community with the harms of school closure, which is impacting children and youth’s physical health, developmental health, mental health and learning,” the report says. Better ventialltion and more rigorous testing in schools was recommended — as was smaller cohorts for younger children where physical distancing cannot be counted on. “This is based on our understanding of the activity patterns of young children. We know it’s hard for them to maintain physical distance,” said Nisha Thampi, medical director of infection prevention and control at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario and a co-author of the report. “Developmentally, at that young age, there’s a lot of movements within a classroom and learning doesn’t happen in a stationary format.”

—Tara Losinski

Jan. 21,  2021

 

New COVID Cases Declining Across Canada

Declining infection numbers in three of the hardest-hit provinces is providing a dose of much-needed good news. Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw reports that of the 14,000 tests completed on Wednesday, the province’s positivity rate (which reflects the percentage of COVID-19 tests that turn out to be positive) was 4.5 per cent,  its lowest total since late October. And Quebec, one of the worst-hit provinces, is reporting fewer than 2,000 new cases for four consecutive days. Ontario is reporting that its seven-day average fell to 2,850, marking 10 consecutive days of decreased cases numbers. While health officials are cautiously optimistic about a situation that appears to be trending in the right direction, Alberta’s Hinshaw warned that it’s “critical at this point is that we maintain enough measures to continue going down.”

Biden Gets Busy

On a day when the U.S. reported a record 4,131 COVID-19 deaths, President Joe Biden was busy on his first full day in office, signing executive orders to implement a mask mandate, launch an ambitious plan to vaccinate Americans and restore his country’s working partnership with the World Health Organization. The mask mandate will require people to wear facial covering on federal property and on airplanes and other forms of transportation. Biden’s vaccination plan will see the U.S. government hire thousands of health workers to administer the doses in an expanded number of sites across the country, including conference centres, gymnasiums and sports stadia. The goal is to deliver 100 million doses in 100 days and will start by vaccinating seniors, teachers and certain front-line workers. The president also restored the country’s relationship with WHO, which had been severed under President Trump. Anthony Fauci, Biden’s chief medical adviser, said the U.S. will restore funding to WHO, which he praised for having “relentlessly worked with nations in their fight against COVID-19.”

Are Vaccines Effective Against COVID Variants?

One of the biggest worries about the new COVID vaccines already on the market and those coming down the pipeline is that they won’t be effective against the newly discovered British, South African or Brazil strains of the virus. However, a new study (which has not yet been peer-reviewed) shows promising evidence that the vaccines will protect people against these highly contagious virus mutations. Researchers tested the two variants on blood taken from  people who had been inoculated with either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines. They found that while the vaccines weren’t completely successful in obliterating the new virus strains, they allowed individuals to produce enough antibodies to successfully neutralize their transmission. “When you start putting all these mixtures of antibodies together, what it means is that together they can take care of the variants,” said Dr. Michel Nussenzweig of the Rockefeller University in New York, who worked on the study. The gist of the study’s finding is that current vaccines should provide enough protection against the strains but that they need to be updated frequently as the disease continues to mutate.

Canada Slow to Approve New Vax

As vaccine shipments to Canada grind to a halt (there will be no Pfizer deliveries at all next week), there is increasing pressure on the federal government to speed the approval process of new therapies. For example, while AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine awaits approval in Canada, it’s already being deployed in the inoculation arsenal in countries like England and India. Instead of bowing to this pressure, Health Canada is adopting a cautious approach to approving the new AZ vaccine. “This review is being done through a rolling submission, where data is submitted by the manufacturer and reviewed by Health Canada as it becomes available,” says Health Canada spokesperson Eric Morrissette. “Additional data to support the quality, safety and efficacy of the vaccine are needed before a decision can be made.” While the approval process seems agonizingly slow, many health experts are applauding this prudent and safe approach. “Health Canada is doing the right thing by clearly taking their time to evaluate the vaccine. They’ve got it right. There should be no external pressure and no political interference,” says Dr. Isaac Bogoch, a member of Ontario’s vaccine task force.

—Peter Muggeridge

Jan. 20, 2021

 

Ford Appeals to Biden for Vaccines

With Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine deliveries expected to drop by 50 per cent over the next month due to manufacturing delays at a facility in Belgium, Ontario Premier Doug Ford put a plea directly to President-Elect Joe Biden yesterday. “There’s a plant, a Pfizer plant, six hours in Kalamazoo, Mich., with the Americans,” he said at a press conference Tuesday. “My American friends, help us out. We need help once again as we did with the PPE. You have a new president, no more excuses. We need your support — and we look forward to your support. And that’s a direct message to President (Joe) Biden, ‘help out your neighbour.'” Canada relies on doses from Europe as, under the Trump administration, exporting domestically produced vaccines was prohibited. But a report by CNN suggests that the Biden administration is unlikely to change course with vaccine shortage said to be already a concern of his transition team.

Trudeau Attempts to Quell Vaccine Shortage Concerns

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, the military commander leading the federal government’s vaccine rollout, confirmed yesterday that Canada will only get 82 per cent of the vaccine doses expected from Pfizer-BioNTech this week, and no deliveries next week. The shortage has prompted concerns among provincial and territorial leaders, with some putting a pause on first-dose appointments. Addressing the supply decrease yesterday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada is still on track to meet its vaccination goal. “This situation with the Pfizer delay is temporary. Our vaccination objectives for the first quarter of the year, January to March, are not changing,” Trudeau said from outside Rideau Cottage Tuesday. “The total number of doses committed to us is still the same,” he said, adding that “every Canadian” who wants to be vaccinated will get the shot “by September.”

Although one of the first three countries to approve a COVID-19 vaccine, and having ordered the most vaccine doses per capita, Canada’s vaccination rate — about 1.7 per cent of the population have received at least one dose as of Wednesday morning — is still reported to trail other countries, including Israel, where 25 per cent of the population have been vaccinated; the United Arab Emirates (UAE), with 20.88 vaccine doses administered per 100 people (as of Jan. 19); Bahrain with 8.39 (as of Jan.18); the United Kingdom (6.96) and the United States with 3.71 (as of Jan. 15).

Ban Vacation Travel, Quebec Asks Feds

As news that a member of Ontario’s vaccination task force has resigned after travelling outside the country in December — despite Canada’s continued recommendation against non-essential travel — Quebec is asking the federal government to ban everything but essential trips abroad. “Going to Cancun … and partying by the pool, I’m very sorry but that’s not essential,” Premier François Legault said at a news conference Tuesday. “I don’t understand how someone could go to an all-inclusive [resort] in Punta Cana.” He called on the prime minister to immediately ban all non-essential travel, saying, “we can talk about what non-essential means.” Legault also wants more in-person checks on people in quarantine after returning to Canada, saying that doing it by means of automated calls simply isn’t enough.

—Tara Losinski

Jan. 19, 2021

 

Snowbirds Getting Flack in Florida 

Florida is offering COVID-19 vaccinations to everyone aged 65 and older during the first phase of its vaccine rollout — and seasonal residents, including those from Canada, are welcome to register for the shot. But not everyone is happy about that, as the CBC reports. “They’re taking it from people that are ahead of them … It’s not their stockpile,” said Clare Archer, 67, a dual Canadian-American citizen who lives in Englewood Isles, south of Tampa. Archer told the CBC that her and her husband have not yet been able to secure an appointment to get vaccinated themselves. She also objects to seasonal residents travelling to Florida at all during the pandemic, saying, “They absolutely should not be here. It’s beyond infuriating.” Municipal and state officials are also reported to be against the move to vaccinate non-residents, including state Senator Rick Scott who, on Jan. 10, tweeted: “Vaccines must go first to Floridians, starting with our health-care and front-line workers and most vulnerable. In defence of the protocol to include anyone 65 and older, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has said: “We’re a transient state. People who are here, four or five months a year, they have relationships with doctors, they get medical care in Florida.”

China and WHO: Too Weak, Too Slow

An independent review panel established by the World Health Organization, the Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, today released its second report on the COVID-19 outbreak and say that China and the World Health Organization could have acted faster and more aggressively to the novel coronavirus. “What is clear to the panel is that public health measures could have been applied more forcefully by local and national health authorities in China in January (2020),” the report said. The first cases in Wuhan occurred between Dec. 12 and 29, 2019, according to city authorities. The cases weren’t reported to the WHO until Dec. 31. By the time a lockdown went into effect for Wuhan on Jan. 23, the virus had already spread to Japan, South Korea, Thailand and the U.S. The WHO then waited until Mar. 11, 2020 to declare a pandemic, weeks after the virus had already spread to almost every continent.

Panel co-chair and former prime minister of New Zealand, Helen Clark, was critical of the current international alert system for such outbreaks, calling it “an analog system in a digital age.” Delivering the report in Aukland, Clark said: “The impact on human lives, the great strain placed on health systems, and the scale of social and economic devastation brought about by the pandemic make it clear that the world must do two things: act more decisively now to stem the pandemic, and fundamentally reset its preparedness and response systems to help ensure that this doesn’t happen again.”

A Bit of Good News

After weeks of lockdown, both Quebec and Manitoba are seeing case numbers decline. Manitoba’s chief public health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin, shared some cautious optimism after reporting a six-day low of 118 new cases of COVID-19 Monday. He said the province will look at easing some restrictions in the coming days but added: “We’re definitely not out of the woods. We certainly still have a long way to go before we can return to normal.” Meanwhile, Quebec reported its lowest increase since the middle of December, with 1,634 new COVID-19 cases Monday (which included about 200 from the previous day). Health Minister Christian Dube noted on Twitter that the Quebec City region had seen a particular decline, which he said was a sign that “the sacrifices that we’re asking of Quebecers are bearing fruit.” He did, however, urge all Quebecers to continue their efforts to help reduce hospitalizations — which rose Monday after three straight days of decline.

—Tara Losinski

Jan. 18, 2021

 

Canada’s Vax Rate Lags Other Nations

India has vaccinated at least 381,305 people since starting its COVID-19 vaccine rollout on Saturday, according to a report by the country’s Health Ministry. On Monday alone, 148,266 people received shots from one of two approved vaccines (from U.K. drug-maker AstraZeneca and local pharmaceutical company, Bharat Biotech). Meanwhile, Israel has already vaccinated 20 per cent of its 9.29 million population, including 72 per cent of people over the age of 60, since beginning its vaccination program on Dec. 19. In comparison, as of Monday morning 549,234 Canadians have received at least one dose of an approved COVID-19 vaccine, with 31,199 fully vaccinated — having received both required doses of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines. That works out to 1.5 per cent of the population of Canada — one of the first three countries to grant approval to a COVID-19 vaccine back in mid-December. According to COVID-19 Tracker Canada, of 822,765 vaccine doses delivered to provinces and territories, 70.5 per cent have been administered since the first shots were given on Dec. 14.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said Monday that the province will run out of COVID-19 vaccines today or early Tuesday. First-dose appointments are being put on hold to ensure shots will be available for people scheduled for their second dose. “Due to the unexpected supply disruption the federal government announced last week, Alberta will have no more vaccine doses available to administer as first doses by the end of today or early tomorrow,” Kenney said in a news release. On Friday the federal government announced that shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will be reduced until mid-February.

Meanwhile retired general Rick Hillier, heading up Ontario’s rollout, told the CBC Sunday that a summer completion is his hope. “I’d love to see the province of Ontario done by the end of July or early August with all those who want to have a vaccine and who are eligible to receive it,” he said. “But until we get the vaccine allocation, until we know what’s coming, we just can’t do it.”

Canada’s First COVID Hospital Coming to Ontario

Ontario, which reported 2,578 new cases of COVID-19 Monday and another 27 deaths in long-term care, will open Canada’s fist pandemic-dedicated hospital just north of Toronto in a matter of weeks. The facility was to be the first new full-service hospital — not replacing an existing one — to open in Ontario in decades but with cases surging, the province asked Mackenzie Health network management to switch course. As the Globe and Mail reports. the Cortellucci Vaughan Hospital will be devoted to treating COVID-19 patients when it opens its doors in early February. “It can have some benefits. You can concentrate training. You can concentrate resources to heighten their infection-control procedures. You’re separating positive patients from others so you can reduce the risk of transmission,” Dr. Susy Hota, the medical director of infection prevention and control at Toronto’s University Health Network, told the Globe. “The things that would be challenging in our current environment is really staffing and logistics.”

Moving to the Country

According to a report from Statistics Canada, the country’s biggest cities are seeing an exodus to suburbs, small towns and rural areas, with Toronto (-50,375) and Montreal (-24,880) posting a record loss of residents from July 2019 to July 2020. As the report notes, Toronto lost people while nearby Oshawa, Ont., saw its population grow by 2.1 per cent — the fastest population growth in the country, followed by Kitchener–Cambridge–Waterloo in Ontario and Halifax, both tied for the second-fastest growth, at 2 per cent. Personal health, the ability to work remotely, and higher housing costs are among the most important factors contributing to the decision of many Canadians to continue — or to no longer continue — living in large urban centres hardest hit by the pandemic. But this urban-to-suburban trend is a blip, predicts Robert Hogue, a senior economist at RBC. “The very high levels of activity in the late stages of 2020 are probably going to settle down through the course of 2021,” Hogue told CTV News.

—Tara Losinski

Jan. 15, 2021

 

A Bleak Forecast

A grim new modelling report by Canada’s Public Health Agency (PHAC) projects that the number of new daily COVID-19 could triple to 30,000 per day if people don’t get serious about following public health measures. The report suggests that if Canada remains on this “rapid growth trajectory,” we could see as many as 100,000 people contract the virus over the next 10 days and over that of 2,000 deaths. “Quick, strong and sustained measures are needed to interrupt rapid growth and maintain COVID-19 control,” said the report. “Reducing COVID-19 activity is urgently needed as rollout of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines begins.” Current PHAC data shows that a total of 17,000 people have succumbed to the disease since the pandemic started. Of these,  11,000 were over the age of 80. many of them residents of nursing homes. Today, Ontario reported 100 deaths, it’s highest total since the pandemic started, with 22 occurring in long-term care homes.

B.C. Premier Floats Travel Ban

With B.C. health officials worrying about a patient who has contracted a South African strain of COVID-19, Premier John Horgan yesterday discussed the possibility of imposing a ban on non-essential travellers entering the province. While travel in and out of the country is still legal (a CBC report found that there have been 1,500 flights made between Canada and popular vacation destinations since Oct. 1), the practice has been heavily discouraged by health officials at all levels of government. Horgan feels that a travel ban would be more effective in stopping the spread of the virus from other parts of the world. “I think that we’ve tried our best to appeal to people’s common sense,” said the premier, acknowledging that the furor over the politicians who went abroad for the holidays has been a catalyst for the move to ban travel. Horgan said he would consult with lawyers to determine whether such a ban would violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

U.K. Study: COVID-19 Infection Grants Short-Term Immunity

A new British study has found that people who have contracted COVID-19 will likely be protected from further infections for at least five months. The SIREN study, conducted by Public Health England, found that while the large majority (83 per cent) of those who tested positive for the virus were immune from re-infection for a period of time. However, they still might be carriers of the virus and are at risk of transmitting it to others. Professor Susan Hopkins, senior medical advisor at Public Health England and the study’s lead author, hailed the findings as promising but cautioned that protection against reinfection isn’t “total” and that there’s no way of telling “how long protection lasts.” She further reiterated that even if you’ve had the disease, that doesn’t mean you can ignore public health measures. “Now more than ever it is vital we all stay at home to protect our health service and save lives,” said Hopkins.

Sask. Vax Rollout Hits Bump

The government’s goal of vaccinating all health-care workers and staff and residents of long-term care by February appears to be in jeopardy because of continued uncertainty over the supply of doses. Derek Miller, the province’s public health authority’s emergency operations chief, blamed the “variable, limited and unpredictable allocations” of the vaccine means only half of the priority populations (staff and residents in nursing homes, seniors, and adults in remote communities aged 50 and older) will receive their jabs by the first quarter of 2021. “Speed really matters in this. Every day counts to save lives and reduce the overall impact of COVID-19,” said Miller.

—Peter Muggeridge

Jan. 14, 2021

 

J&J Vax Shows Promise

An experimental COVID-19 vaccine produced by Johnson & Johnson is showing promising signs in early clinical trials. A New England Journal of Medicine  study released yesterday shows that the single-shot vaccine was effective in combatting the virus and that it was safe. If final trials go smoothly, the New Jersey-based pharmaceutical company hopes to gain approval of its vaccine from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration by early March 2021. If that timeline is realized, J&J says it will manufacture one billion doses by the end of the year. Unlike the two-dose Pfizer-BioNtech and Moderna vaccines — the only two so far that have been approved — the J&J therapy requires only one shot. “We are aiming for one billion doses in 2021. If it is a single dose, that means one billion people [will be vaccinated],” said Dr. Paul Stoffels, the company’s chief scientific officer. If and when J&J’s vaccine is approved, the federal government has already signed an agreement to purchase 38 million doses.

COVID-Busting Nasal Spray

While most vaccines are delivered through needles, one Canadian company is exploring a nasal spray to combat COVID-19. Early clinical trials show that SaNOtize’s experimental nasal spray effectively kills the coronavirus in lab tests. The Vancouver-based company developing this therapy says that the spray is based on nitric oxide, a natural substance produced by the body, that contains anti-microbial properties that could provide an effective barrier against the virus that causes COVID-19.

“This can act as ‘the hand sanitizer for your nose,'” says a SaNOtize White Paper, which also claims that its therapy has been shown to “inactivate more than 99.9 per cent” of the virus that causes COVID-19 “within two minutes.” It also suggests that nitric oxide, which is used to treat infected wounds, is safe on humans. “The fact that a relatively easy and simple nasal spray could be an effective treatment is welcome news and offers a significant advance in our therapeutic armoury against this devastating disease,” says Pankaj Sharma, Professor of Neurology at the University of London.

Ontario Ramps up Vax Campaign in Nursing Homes

With the death toll in Ontario’s long-term care sector topping 3,000 since the pandemic began, the head of the government’s vaccination task force announced that it plans to deliver the initial dose of the vaccine to all residents, staff and essential caregivers by Feb. 15. Retired Gen. Rick Hillier, head of Ontario’s vaccination campaign, told a news conference yesterday that his group is “75 per cent along to completing that mission.” The primary focus is to vaccinate seniors in high-risk zones like Toronto, Peel, York and Windsor-Essex, which will likely be done before the January 21.

Good News in Western Canada

The declining number of new cases in two Western provinces is providing much needed hope that the pandemic’s second wave may be abating. Alberta’s chief medical officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw said that while there were 875 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday, this marked the fifth day in a row that the province had reported fewer than 1,000 cases. “We are reducing the spread right now because of the choices that 4.4 million Albertans are making every day,” said Hinshaw. Manitoba is also showing signs of declining infections as deputy chief public health officer Dr. Jazz Atwal reported only 158 new cases, the province’s lowest total since November. “The actions taken by Manitobans are making a difference. However, it is too early to start a victory lap,” warned Atwal.

—Peter Muggeridge

Jan. 13, 2021

 

Ontario Nursing home Death Toll Passes 3,000

With close to 40 per cent of Ontario’s long-term care homes battling COVID-19 outbreaks, the province passed a grim milestone on Tuesday: reporting that more than 3,000 nursing home residents have passed away since the pandemic began last year. NDP leader Andrea Howarth was highly critical of the effectiveness of the new restrictions announced by Premier Doug Ford yesterday as he declared a second state of emergency for the province. “The lack of new measures by this premier is absolutely horrifying,” Horwath said. “Ontarians are going to pay the price.”

The government’s health minister, meanwhile, responded to criticisms that they aren’t doing enough to protect long-term care homes in the second wave. “We are building that iron ring around the long term care homes by … vaccinating the residents of long-term care homes, their essential caregivers and the staff that are coming in,” Christine Elliot said.

Peter Muggeridge

 

Alberta Running Out of Vaccines

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says that his government may seek to procure vaccines directly from the suppliers to offset the dwindling supply of doses from the federal government. “Next week, we’re projecting to be short at least 20,000 or more based on our pace of inoculations,” Kenney said on Monday, suggesting the possibility that the province will seek to make its own deals with pharmaceutical companies that manufacture the vaccine. However, yesterday medical experts claimed that Kenney’s attempt to bypass the federal government’s supply chain was unrealistic. “I don’t see any regulatory path for Alberta to import drugs from other countries without Ottawa’s approval,” said Dr. Lorian Hardcastle, a health and law professor at the University of Calgary.

 

Airlines Cut Routes, Layoff Staff

Responding to decreased demand due to the pandemic, Air Canada will layoff 1,700 workers and cut more flights to cities across Canada. Yesterday, the Montreal-based carrier announced it would suspend flights to Kamloops, Prince Rupert, Yellowknife, Fredericton, Gander and Goose Bay.  Pointing to the federal government’s promise to vaccinate all Canadians by September, the airline’s executive vice president and chief commercial officer Lucie Guillemette said she was “looking forward to seeing our business start to return to normal and to bringing back some of our more than 20,000 employees currently on furlough and layoff.”

Air Canada’s announcement follows a similar one made by Calgary-based WestJet, highlighting its plans to layoff 1,000 workers and curtail service.

 

COVID-19 Upends Sports

The pandemic continues to play havoc with sports schedules, both in North America and around the world. The NHL, which is due to start its truncated 56-game schedule tonight with a game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens, reported yesterday that 27 players have tested positive for the virus. The Dallas Stars have been forced to postpone the team’s first two games after six players and two staff members tested positive. And the Columbus Blue Jackets tweeted that 17 players were missing from practice “out of an abundance of caution and in accordance with NHL COVID-19 protocols.” Meanwhile, the Guardian is reporting that organizers of the Summer Olympics, set to be held in Tokyo this July, are pondering whether to cancel the games after a surge of cases in Japan. “I think we will have to make a very difficult decision around February to March,” said Yoshiro Mori, the head of the Tokyo games organizing committee.

—Peter Muggeridge

Jan. 12, 2021, 3:00 p.m.

 

Ford Government Shuts Down Province

Warning that the province’s health-care system is on the “brink of collapse,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford has declared a second state of emergency aimed at getting the spread of COVID-19 under control. “Our province is in crisis,” said Ford at a press conference today, where he unveiled the harsh measures. “The facts are clear — cases and deaths are the highest since the start of the pandemic and community spread continues to escalate,” he continued. The premier announced that he will issue a strict stay-at-home order, set to go into effect on Thursday at 12:01 a.m.. which will only allow people to go out for exercise, to buy groceries, visit the pharmacy, access health-care or if they’re considered essential workers. Those who fail to comply with the stay-at-home order will be liable to fines or jail time. Under the new guidelines, stores will also operate under reduced hours and outdoor public gatherings will be limited to five people. Some health services — including dental offices, physiotherapy and chiropractors — will be allowed to remain open. The strict new measures will be in place for 28 days. The Ontario government declared its first state of emergency on March 17, 2020, which remained in effect until July 24.

Peter Muggeridge

Jan. 12, 2021

 

Back to Normal Won’t Come in 2021, WHO Warns

With hopes that vaccines will bring a return to normalcy, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that measures to contain the spread of COVID-19  will need to stay in place “for the rest of this year” because it takes time to build up herd immunity. WHO chief scientist, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, says that immunity — where the majority of a population becomes immune to the virus either by being infected and recovering or, by getting vaccinated — won’t be achieved this year. “Because even as vaccines start protecting the most vulnerable, we are not going to achieve any level of population immunity, or herd immunity in 2021. And even if it happens in a couple of pockets in a few countries, it’s not going to protect people across the world,” she said at a daily briefing in Geneva Monday. Public health measures such as masks and social distancing will need to continue, she stressed.

“The vaccines are going to come. They are going to go to all countries, but meanwhile, we mustn’t forget that there are measures that work and … it’s really important to remind people — both governments as well as individuals — on the responsibilities and the measures that we continue to need to practice … for the next … well, for the rest of this year at least,” Swaminathan said.

 

Who’s Had It? Survey Will Say

The government is investing $7 million to find out how many people have been infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, or have had symptoms of the illness. As part of the Canadian COVID-19 Antibody and Health Survey, 22,000 households recently received a test kit. “Earlier studies from healthy blood donors in May suggested that under 1% of Canadians had had COVID-19, but this is likely higher now,” COVID-19 Immunity Task Force (CITF) Co-Chair Catherine Hankins said in a press release. Working with Statistics Canada, the CITF hope to get a response back from 44,000 Canadians, aged one and up, from across the country. Participants will need to submit to an online questionnaire about exposure and symptoms and, then take a finger prick sample so they can be tested for antibodies against the coronavirus, with results available to respondents once samples are processed.

As we continue through a second wave of COVID-19, chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, says determining how much transmission there is and, including in which parts of the country and in which populations, gives the government “important information” and will “further inform the public health response to COVID-19 across Canada.”

 

RCMP Investigate COVID Death at Alberta Meat-packing Plant  

An investigation by the CBC Calgary revealed yesterday that RCMP in the province have opened an investigation into a complaint filed by the family member of a man who died from COVID-19 earlier this year. The case marks the first criminal probe into a workplace death from the illness. As the CBC report states, Ariana Quesada, 16, filed a formal complaint Friday asking police to investigate potential criminal negligence in the death of her father. Benito Quesada, 51. He was hospitalized with COVID-19 in mid-April, one of hundreds of workers at the High River, Alta., Cargill meat plant infected with the coronavirus. “We have filed a complaint … to finally bring justice to my dad … to finally hold Cargill accountable for what they did,” Quesada told the CBC. “I spent Christmas with one less person to hug,” she said. “And all the executives and general managers, everyone at Cargill got to spend Christmas with their loved ones. And I did not get that.”

An investigation by CBC News has found that 33 people across Canada have died from COVID-19 after getting infected on the job.

—Tara Losinski

Jan. 11, 2020

 

Federal Sickness Benefit Loophole Being Closed to Travellers

Federal employment minister Carla Qualtrough announced today she will propose legislation to deny eligibility of the governments’ Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (CRSB) for international travellers who need to abide a mandatory 14-day quarantine upon return — including those returning from vacation, visiting loved ones and attending to real estate matters abroad. The CRSB was put in place earlier this year for people unable to work for at least half of their scheduled work week because they have tested positive for COVID-19. The Canada Revenue Agency will update the application process for the benefit today and the change will be retroactive to Jan 3. “The Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit, along with the other recovery benefits, was never intended to incentivize or encourage Canadians to disregard public health advice,” reads Monday’s statement. “Rather, these benefits were put in place to ensure Canadian workers could continue to make ends meet during the pandemic, and that no Canadian would have to make the choice between putting food on the table or going to work sick.”

 

WHO Goes to China

China’s National Health Commission announced Monday that a team from the World Health Organization, investigating the origins of COVID-19, will arrive in the country Thursday. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus welcomed the development of the “critical mission to identify the virus source & its route of introduction to the human population,” with a post to Twitter.

Last week, Tedros is reported to have expressed frustration after days of delays and confusion in negotiations between the agency and the Chinese government, saying that members of the international scientific team had already left their home countries for the journey, as per arrangements between the two. In response, China’s Foreign Ministry said that the country was open to a visit by WHO experts, but that it was still working on “necessary procedures and relevant concrete plans.”

As with SARS, the virus’s origins are believed to be bats, but then passed to humans through an intermediary animal sold in a traditional Chinese wet market in Wuhan — the epicentre of China’s COVID-19 outbreak.

 

Vax Pace Too Slow for End-of-Year Gaol

Less than one per cent of Canada’s population has been vaccinated against COVID-19. Figures from COVID-19Tracker.ca put the total at 328,797 as of Monday morning. As of today, 63 per cent of the total doses received (545,250) have been administered by the provinces. A report this weekend by the Toronto Star suggests that the pace needs to increase dramatically if we are to reach the federal government’s goal of giving everyone the shot by the end of this year. The Star analysis shows that the current average speed of vaccinations — about 23,400 per day — needs to be about 6.5 times faster to get even 70 per cent of Canada’s population — a number experts believe necessary for herd immunity — fully inoculated by Dec. 31.  “I think vaccination of everyone who wants to be vaccinated, starting with the highest risk groups, is the biggest priority in Canada today.” Dr. Anna Banerji, an infectious disease specialist at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, told the Star, adding. “There’s no reason we couldn’t do 100,000 vaccines a day. It’s possible.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday that Canada is on track to deliver approximately 1.3 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines by the end of February and, that vaccinations would “scale up” in February. For Canadians who want them, the government expects all to get their shots by September.

A new poll from Angus Reid shows that the number of Canadians who would get a vaccine for COVID-19 “as soon as possible” has increased from 48 per cent in early December to 60 per cent when asked a month later, — with respondents 65 and older most eager to get the shot. And overall, 42 per cent of Canadians asked feel their province is doing a good job/very good job of vaccine rollout, while 39 per cent said their province is doing a bad job/very bad job.

—Tara Losinski

Jan. 8, 2021

 

Pfizer-BioNTech Vaccine Protects Against Virus Variant

Early evidence suggests that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will protect against a more contagious variant of the virus that causes COVID-19. The development comes from a yet-to-be peer reviewed study by Pfizer and scientists from the University of Texas, as reported by Reuters. The vaccine neutralized the virus with the so-called N501Y mutation of the spike protein, originally identified in the United Kingdom, which has been found to make it 50 to 70 per cent more transmissible. Phil Dormitzer, one of Pfizer’s top viral vaccine scientists, said it was encouraging that the vaccine appears effective against the mutation — as well as 15 other mutations the company has previously tested against. “So we’ve now tested 16 different mutations, and none of them have really had any significant impact. That’s the good news,” he said, adding. “That doesn’t mean that the 17th won’t.” The researchers plan to test the vaccine is effective against other mutations found in the U.K. and South African variants, and hope to have more data within weeks.

 

Long-term Care Still in Crisis

Health officials in Ontario reported 89 additional deaths related to COVID-19 on Thursday— the province’s deadliest day of the pandemic. Among those who died were 32 residents from long-term care homes, 224 of which by Friday were under an outbreak. Friday saw 20 more deaths reported from long-term care settings, bringing the total over the pandemic to 2,897 — nearly 60 per cent of the province’s total deaths, which today reached 4,882. Speaking at a press conference Friday morning, Premier Doug Ford announced a goal to have all long-term care residents vaccinated by the 21st of this month, saying “that’s how we’re going to win this.” In response to a question about getting the shots to people outside of Ontario’s hot spots, Ford said: “All I need is vaccines. If there’s one thing the federal government can do is give us more vaccines.”

Meanwhile in British Columbia, officials reported Thursday on cases and deaths in long-term care facilities for the first time since October. Data revealed that 602 residents of long-term care, assisted-living or independent-living homes have died with COVID-19 — about 63 per cent of B.C.’s death toll, which reached 970 yesterday. Of the care-facility deaths, 336 are in buildings where an outbreak is still considered active — the worst, in Little Mountain Place care home in Vancouver, has claimed 41 residents in the past six weeks. Provincial Health Minister Adrian Dix said case counts in individual facilities will be shared every Thursday moving forward, and that the figures back up the province’s plan to prioritize long-term care residents and staff for vaccination. Dix also noted that he feels the situation in B.C. care homes is better than in other parts of the country. “But I don’t think people going through any of these outbreaks … is really that concerned about how they’re doing in Ontario or Quebec. They’re worried about their family, their loved one.” The province reported eight new COVID-19 deaths Thursday, all were seniors living in LTCs.

 

Asymptomatic Spreaders Account for More Than Half of Cases

According to a model developed by researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than half of all COVID-19 cases result from transmission by people with no symptoms of the respiratory illness.
The model, published Thursday in the journal JAMA Network Open, showed that 59 per cent of all transmission of the novel coronavirus came from people without symptoms. It breaks down to 35 per cent of new cases from people who infect others before they show symptoms, and 24 per cent from people who never develop symptoms at all. “The bottom line is controlling the COVID-19 pandemic really is going to require controlling the silent pandemic of transmission from persons without symptoms,” the CDC’s deputy director for infectious diseases and a co-author of the study, Jay C. Butler, told the Washington Post. “The community mitigation tools that we have need to be utilized broadly to be able to slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2 from all infected persons, at least until we have those vaccines widely available.”

—Tara Losinski

Jan.7, 2021

 

First Curfew of Pandemic

In his first press conference of the New Year on Wednesday, Quebec Premier François Legault announced new lockdown measures to curb COVID-19 spread and it will include an 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew for four weeks starting on Saturday. People will only be permitted to leave their homes overnight for work, with police asked to enforce the guidelines and fine residents as much as $6,000 for disobeying the curfew. “I know those measures are tough for our mental health, but we have to balance that with the situation in our hospitals. The situation is very serious,” said Legault. The premier noted that the virus is “especially dangerous” for people over the age of 65 and urged them to be particularly vigilant, but added: “We all need to stay home as much as possible for the next four weeks.” This marks the first curfew used in Canada as a part of pandemic lockdown measures.

 

Snowbirds Get the Shot

Canadians who went to Florida this year — despite being urged to stay here at home — have already gotten vaccinated. Canadian snowbird Perry Cohen, 74, who lives in Toronto but winters in the sunshine state, told the CBC that he and wife Rose, 71, received their first of two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in Florida on Tuesday. “I guess we were in the right place at the right time,” said Cohen. The couple signed up for a vaccine clinic on New Year’s Day in a gated community in Deerfield Beach, north of Fort Lauderdale, at which they own a condo. And the couple confirmed that they are scheduled for their second dose in a couple weeks. People aged 65 and older are included in the first phase of Florida’s vaccination plan and the state is allowing non-residents, including Canadian snowbirds, to get the shot. In an email to the CBC, the Florida Department of Health said: “Anyone that can prove they are 65 years of age and older is eligible to receive a vaccine at no cost in Florida.”

 

U.K. Flight Ban Ended, Negative COVID Test Required

On Wednesday, Transport Minister Marc Garneau confirmed that Canada is ending its ban on flights from the United Kingdom. The ban was put in place at the end of December in an effort to prevent a more contagious coronavirus variant, first identified in the U.K., from reaching our shores. “We have made that decision based on the fact that we have now put in place, since that original ban, a pre-departure testing protocol … so that will replace the ban that existed for the U.K. and it applies, of course, to all countries in the world from which flights may come to Canada,” said Garneau at a press conference. New travel rules require anyone flying to Canada to show a negative COVID-19 PCR test result before boarding a flight. Meanwhile, Canadian officials have already identified 11 cases of the COVID-19 variant — which has been found to be between 50 and 70 per cent more infectious than the initial coronavirus that causes the respiratory illness.

—Tara Losinski

Jan.6, 2021

 

Member of Ontario COVID Response Team Resigns

Just days after the resignation of Ontario finance minister, Rod Phillip, who’d vacationed in St. Bart’s over the holidays, non-essential travel has ended with another resignation — this time by a member of Ontario’s COVID-19 command table. It was revealed yesterday by the CBC that Dr. Tom Stewart, CEO of St. Joseph’s Health System in Hamilton, had travelled to the Dominican Republic over the Christmas break. “I regret this non-essential travel and I’m sorry,” Stewart said in a statement. “Everyone should be avoiding non-essential travel now, including me.” Stewart steps away from advisory positions on three committees: the Health Coordination Table, the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, and the LTC Incident Management System Table. In a statement confirming the resignation, Ontario’s deputy minister of health Helen Angus said: “The people of Ontario have made countless sacrifices during the pandemic and it remains critically important that everyone continues to follow public health advice. We all have a part to play to stop the spread of COVID-19.”

Prime Minister Disappointed by Vax Rollout 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has expressed frustration over the slow pace of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout and said he’ll take it up with premiers during a conference call later this week. “I think Canadians, including me, are frustrated to see vaccines in freezers and not in people’s arms,” Trudeau said Tuesday at a press briefing outside Rideau Cottage. “That’s why we’re going to continue working closely with the provinces both to deliver vaccines to the provinces and to support them as they need it in terms of getting more vaccines out to vulnerable populations and front-line workers as quickly as possible.” Canada is reported to have received more than 424,050 doses of the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines to date but with provinces administering only 35 per cent of those doses so far.

“Essential” Travel Being Defined, Restrictions Ratcheting Up

New Brunswick officials increased restrictions in every part of the province yesterday, moving every zone into the orange phase, in an effort to curb spread of the coronavirus. As part of the enhanced measures, Premier Blaine Higgs yesterday stressed the importance of not travelling outside of your zone other than for “essential” reasons such as work, school and medical appointments, and said enforcement of the “full 14-day self-isolation period” will be stepped up. Higgs also confirmed that a member of his cabinet will not be disciplined for travelling to Nova Scotia over the holidays as he followed protocols. But the premier did say that any ambiguity about what constitutes essential travel will be cleared up this week. “So the goal is that we’ll have a better definition of essential, to bring clarity about what we expect people to do and not do, who can travel and who cannot travel, and to be more precise,” said Higgs. The province currently has 81 active COVID-19 cases, reporting 27 new cases Tuesday — its highest single-day increase.

Meanwhile in Quebec, Premier François Legault is expected today to announce stricter lockdown rules that could include extended school closures, limits on non-essential construction and manufacturing, and a curfew. Quebec remains hardest-hit from the pandemic, recording more than half of Canada’s total deaths, with 8,441, and a third of its confirmed COVID-19 cases, with a total 215,358 as of Tuesday.

—Tara Losinski

Jan. 5, 2021

 

Long-Term Care Outbreaks Worsen

Ontario is reporting 35 new deaths in long-term care and a record number of  nursing homes are experiencing outbreaks of COVID-19. Today, provincial data shows that that 219 homes are dealing with an outbreak, smashing the mark of 190 set during the first wave. This means that over a third of the province’s 626 homes are now in outbreak. St. George Care Community in Toronto has become an epicentre for the infection, reporting 94 active cases with six deaths while Tendercare Living Centre in Scarborough, one of the worst-hit homes, is reporting  85 active cases and over 64 total deaths. “There are so many homes with outbreaks that are growing extremely quickly, the death counts are mounting, and the hospitals are overstretched now,” says Natalie Mehra, executive director of the Ontario Health Coalition, which has recently called on Premier Doug Ford to call in the army to help deal with the situation.

 

6 Alberta MLAs Resign Amidst Travel Scandal

Six United Conservative Party MLAs have been forced to resign after in the wake of revelations that they took non-essential trips outside the province while people were urged to stay at home in lockdown. Tracy Allard resigned her post as municipal affairs minister after admitting that she took a trip to Hawaii during the holidays. Five other MLAs also stepped down from their posts, including Jeremy Nixon, Pat Rehn, Jason Stephan, Tany Yao and Tanya Fir. In a Facebook statement, Premier Jason Kenney chastised his UCP colleagues for demonstrating “extremely poor judgement” in taking the foreign trips and said that Albertans “have the right to be angry about people in positions of leadership vacationing outside of the country.” He hoped that the resignations would send a clear message that politicians will be held to a “higher standard of conduct during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

 

Airborne Warning

A group of scientists have written an open letter to federal and provincial health officials sounding the alarm on the airborne spread of COVID-19. While the science behind airborne spread of the infection is not entirely settled, the Public Health Agency of Canada says that the virus “spreads from an infected person to others through respiratory droplets and aerosols created when an infected person coughs, sneezes, sings, shouts, or talks.” In light of this, the letter’s signatories are urging provincial governments to combat airborne transmission of the virus by upgrading ventilation systems in all public buildings, such as schools and long-term care homes, as well as mandating stricter ventilation standards in other buildings, such as bars, gyms and restaurants. “With winter upon us, our activities are moving indoors and it is therefore imperative that workplaces, public institutions and individuals understand the risk of aerosol transmission as well as the actions that can be taken to combat it,” the letter contends.

 

Vax Rollout Too Slow

Health-care providers are criticizing provinces for failing to distribute their supply of vaccinations in a timely fashion. While each province has received shipments of doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, they have so far struggled to inoculate front line workers and at-risk seniors, suggests the Globe and Mail. “Why are they not treating the vaccine administration like the emergency that it is?” asks Dr. Nathan Stall, a geriatrician at Toronto’s Sinai Health System. Data shows that the province with the best vaccine rollout numbers, P.E.I., has only distributed 38 per cent of its doses. Still, its rollout far exceeds that of many provinces, like Saskatchewan, which has only administered 28 per cent of its available doses, Ontario (25 per cent) and Manitoba (17 per cent). Overall, Canada has inoculated 121,000 people, a dose-per-100 rate of only 0.31. This lags far behind world leaders like Israel, which has an inoculation rate of 14.14 per 100, the U.K. (1.39 per 100) and the U.S. (1.28 per 100).

—Peter Muggeridge

Jan. 4, 2021

Globetrotting Pols

As COVID-19 continues its second wave surge, public anger continues to boil against politicians who are ignoring public health recommendations regarding non-essential travel during the pandemic.

Traveling to foreign destinations isn’t technically illegal — as long as you follow quarantine regulations upon arriving back to the country. But politicians who are caught gallivanting around the globe are understandably catching heat at home. It simply doesn’t look good if governments are telling their citizens to stay at home while their own members are travelling around the globe.

Last week, Ontario MPP Rod Phillips’ trip to the Caribbean island of St. Barts caused so much controversy that he was forced to resign from his role as Finance Minister, after it was revealed he was enjoying a vacation in St. Bart’s while releasing this tweet that seemed to imply he was staying home in his Ajax riding.

Calling his decision to take a sunny vacation a “dumb, dumb mistake,” Phillips has since resigned as Finance Minister. But he’s not the only politician who decided they had to travel abroad in spite of the advice. Liberal MP Kamal Khera, from Brampton West, says she will step down from her role as parliamentary secretary after traveling to Seattle, Wash., to attend a memorial for her recently deceased family members.

Manitoba NDP MP Niki Ashton gave up her role in the shadow cabinet after tweeting that she was visiting her ailing grandmother in Greece.

And in the latest fallout, Premier Jason Kenney today accepted the resignations of Grande Prairie MLA Tracy Allard — who was outed for vacationing in Hawaii over the holidays — as minister of municipal affairs and his chief of staff Jamie Huckabay — who travelled to the U.K. while Albertans were being urged to stay home.

In a Facebook post, Kenney said he has also demoted five other MLAs who travelled internationally over the holidays.

“We should be here at home, plain and simple, if we carry a position of public trust,” said Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, in what will likely become the guiding travel rule for all politicians going forward.

—Peter Muggeridge

Dec. 23, 2020

Moderna Vaccine Receives Approval

Health Canada has approved Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine for use in this country, with the first doses expected to arrive by the end of the year.

The approval was announced on Wednesday after the federal department reviewed the company’s clinical trial data.

Health Canada says the new vaccine was found to be 94.1 per cent effective and that no safety issues or adverse events were discovered in testing.

The Moderna vaccine is the second to gain approval from Health Canada. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was approved on Dec. 9 and has been administered in parts of the country to high-priority groups.

Like the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the Moderna vaccine requires two doses to achieve maximum immunity. However, the new vaccine doesn’t require the same onerous sub-zero storage as its predecessor, which will allow administration of the vaccine in northern, remote and Indigenous communities.

Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada would receive up to 168,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine by the end of December and that deliveries would begin within 48 hours of Health Canada’s approval.

Ontario 

On Wednesday, Ontario reported its second-highest single-day tally with 2,408 new cases and 41 new deaths. There were 1,002 people hospitalized due to COVID-19, including a record-setting 275 in intensive care.

Ontario will enter a province-wide lockdown after midnight on Dec. 26.

Quebec

On Tuesday, Quebec recorded a record high in daily cases with 2,183 new cases of COVID-19. The province reported an additional 28 deaths, brining its death toll to 7,749.

Manitoba

Manitoba is reporting 155 new COVID-19 cases and 18 deaths as the number of cases continues to trend downward. Last month, the province imposed restrictions on public gatherings and business openings that will remain in place until at least early January.

However, Manitoba health officials say intensive care units are still running well above their normal capacity.

British Columbia

Meanwhile, British Columbia has entered its record-setting 40th week in a state of emergency as the province sees progress in their fight against COVID-19.

On Tuesday, B.C. health officials announced 444 new cases of COVID-19, the lowest number of cases since Nov. 5.

Dec. 22, 2020

Vaccination and the New Strain

The chief executive of BioNTech says the German pharmaceutical company is confident that its coronavirus vaccine works against the U.K. variant.

BioNTech’s vaccine, which was developed with U.S. pharmaceutical company Pfizer, is authorized for use in more than 45 countries, including Canada.

“We don’t know at the moment if our vaccine is also able to provide protection against this new variant,” Ugur Sahin said Tuesday. “But scientifically, it is highly likely that the immune response by this vaccine also can deal with the new virus variants.”

The company is currently testing its vaccine against the variant strain and expects results in the next two weeks.

“There is no reason to be concerned or worried until we get the data,” Sahin told Reuters.

If any changes are necessary, he says adjustments can be made in about six weeks, though the new shot would also need regulatory approval before they could be used.

On Monday, the Trudeau government announced it was restricting travel from the U.K. to prevent the new strain from entering Canada. Early data suggests that the variant is 70 per cent more transmissible than its predecessor, but Health Canada says there’s no evidence to suggest it has any effect on symptom severity, antibody response or vaccine efficacy. They also said no cases of the new strain had been found in Canada.

As of 7 a.m. ET on Tuesday, Canada’s COVID-19 case count stood at 515,314, with 77,361 of those cases considered active.

Ontario’s Boxing Day Lockdown Criticized

After news of a Christmas Eve lockdown had circulated over the weekend, the Ford government surprised everyone by pushing its commencement back to Boxing Day.

The Ontario Hospital Association said it was “surprised and disappointed” that it would be another five days before the lockdown started.

“People across the province need clear public health communication, and the December 26th implementation date sends a confusing message about what they should and shouldn’t do at this crucial moment,” the statement added.

When asked why the government decided to wait until Saturday to implement the new measures, Premiere Doug Ford said he wanted to give businesses time to prepare.

“[We need to] give them the opportunity to get ready and get ready to hunker down,” he said at a press conference on Monday. “We can’t do it overnight and leave these people with the inventory, especially the restaurants with food inventory.”

B.C. Case Numbers Levelling, But Still Too High

British Columbia has reported 41 additional deaths over a three-day period and 1,667 new cases.

While restrictions in the province appear to be working with case numbers levelling, Dr. Bonnie Henry warns its too high of a plateau.

“COVID spreads quickly but shows up slowly. With restrictions in place, the number of people that have had close contact has decreased, but it is still a substantial number,” she said.

“We have to remember that people getting sick today were in contact with others days ago, and as much as two weeks ago.”

As of Friday, 3,644 health-care workers in the Lower Mainland had received their first vaccine dose, and as of Monday, vaccines had arrived in every health region of the province.

Henry said she hopes to have all staff and residents of long-term care homes vaccinated “well before March.”

Dec. 21, 2020

Ontario to Enter Province-Wide Lockdown

Ontario will go into a Province-wide lockdown on Boxing Day instead of Christmas Eve.

The lockdown will begin at 12:01 a.m. on Dec. 26 and remain in place until at least Jan. 23, 2021 in the 27 public health units in southern Ontario experiencing record high daily cases.

For seven public health units in Northern Ontario, where daily case numbers are significantly lower, the lockdown is set to expire on Jan. 9, 2021.

“If we fail to take actions now, the consequences will be catastrophic,” Ford said at an afternoon press conference on Monday. “We need to do everything in our power to protect our hospitals and our most vulnerable.”

Under the grey-lockdown level, restrictions will include a ban on indoor social gatherings with anyone outside your household, the closure of many non-essential businesses and limiting restaurants and bars to take-out service only.

Meanwhile,  health officials are warning that the provinces “ability to control case growth is still precarious.”

The provincial report on the latest modelling data is predicting “rates of at least 1,500 cases per day for several weeks under current restrictions,” adding that “mortality is also increasing.”

The report also notes that there’s “been a reduction in people staying home, especially when compared to the spring” when a province-wide lockdown was first put in place.

“Patterns also continue to show trends of people moving across public health unit regions. Escalating case counts have led to increasing hospitalization rates and capacity challenges in many large urban hospitals, which has resulted in new disruptions to scheduled surgeries and procedures.”

Ontario is reporting 2,123 cases of COVID19 and over 54,500 tests completed.

Containing a New Strain

The federal government announced late Sunday that it is restricting travel from the U.K. to prevent a new strain of the virus that causes COVID-19 from making its way to Canada.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the 72-hour ban would take effect at 12:01 a.m. on Monday and said the decision was made after an hours-long meeting with members of the Incident Response Group.

“We focused on the new variant of COVID-19 identified in the U.K., and we have decided to implement new border restrictions in order to keep you — and people right across the country — safe,” he wrote on Twitter Sunday evening.

He also said that passengers who arrived in Canada from the U.K. on Sunday will undergo secondary screening and “enhanced measures,” including increased scrutiny of quarantine plans.

On Saturday, Britain’s Prime Minister said early data found the variant to be 70 per cent more transmissible than its predecessor, but emphasized that it was not expected to be more lethal and that vaccines should still be effective against it.

Viruses often change as they move through a population, which is why we need a new flu vaccine every year. New variants and strains of the virus that causes COVID-19 have been seen since it was first detected in China.

Health Canada said it would work closely with international partners and the World Health Organization to “better understand the variant and its impacts.”

Health Canada also confirmed that there was no evidence of the new variant having any effect on symptom severity, antibody response or vaccine efficacy and said no cases of the new strain had been found in Canada.

As of Sunday evening, Canada’s COVID-19 case count stood at 507,795, with 76,859 of those cases considered active.

Dec. 18, 2020

 

Ontario Ponders Tighter Restrictions

With Ontario reporting 2,432 new COVID-19 cases, Premier Doug Ford is expected to extend lockdown measures in Toronto and Peel (the two hardest-hit regions) as well as tightening restrictions in other danger zones. “Everything is on the table when it comes to protecting the health of Ontarians,” Ford tweeted Friday morning, signalling that he will likely extend the restrictions which are set to expire on Monday. Toronto Mayor John Tory also hinted that tighter measures are on the way for the city over the Christmas holidays, telling reporters that, “I think we need to do more and not less. I think it needs to be regional in nature so that we leave people with fewer options as to places they might go.”

“Surreal” Year in B.C.

In a year-end interview with the Vancouver Sun, B.C.’s chief medical officer Dr. Bonnie Henry reflected on what’s been a “surreal” and “nerve-wracking” year filled with incredibly long working hours and emotionally draining challenges. “This virus transmits through people, it doesn’t recognize that we’re tired, it doesn’t care that we haven’t seen our family in months, it just finds those opportunities to spread,” said Henry, noting that vaccines are providing her with hope for the future. “We can get through this and we just need to to really support each other to do that,” she said.

Alberta’s Deadliest Day

Yesterday, 30 people died from COVID-19 in Alberta, making it the deadliest day of the entire pandemic. This sad toll prompted the province’s top medical officer, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, to issue this warning to pandemic skeptics: “If anyone still needs reminding of the seriousness of this virus, of the importance of the restrictions that are currently in place, and the importance of doing everything possible to limit our interactions and break the chains of transmission, this is it.”

Good News in Nova Scotia 

In a week where most provinces are struggling to contain the spread of infection, Nova Scotia reported only six new cases yesterday. But Premier Stephen McNeil warned people that now is not the time to let their guard down. “While our case numbers are low, COVID-19 is still here and still moving into different areas of our province,” said the premier.”That is why we must be careful about our own movement and our social contacts.”

Manitoba Declares Santa an Essential Worker

Manitoba is showing hopeful signs that it’s getting its second wave of COVID-19 under control. Yesterday, the province reported only 221 new cases, the lowest total since Nov. 3. While reporting this cheering news, the province’s chief health officer Dr. Brent Roussin took the time to assure children that while families will be stuck at home throughout the holidays, Santa Claus will be allowed to travel freely on Christmas Eve. “Santa Claus is certainly an essential worker, which means that he is allowed to travel throughout Manitoba and able to come to anyone’s house,” said Roussin.

—Peter Muggeridge

Dec. 17, 2020

 

Finally! Federal Money for Beleaguered Long-Term Care

In a year-end interview with the Canadian Press, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his Liberal government will “happily” provide more funding to the provinces to cover the costs of improving long-term care. “There needs to be a sense that in this country we ensure that every single senior gets to age in dignity and in safety and we’re not there,” Trudeau said in his year-end interview with the Canadian Press. This money is contingent on each province working closely with the federal government to develop national standards, a partnership some premiers, including Quebec’s François Legault, dismiss because long-term care is a provincial jurisdiction. Trudeau hinted that uncooperative provinces may not get the funding and will have to answer for this to their citizens. “The provinces that don’t choose to give their seniors the highest level of standards will be asked questions on that by the folks who are sending their moms and dads into those senior centres,” Trudeau said.

French President Tests Positive

Yesterday, the French government announced that President Emmanuel  Macron has tested positive for COVID-19. The 42-year-old Macron recently attended a European Union summit meeting where it’s reported he came in close contact with other leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The Elysee Palace issued a statement that Macron will self-isolate for seven days while continuing to carry out his leadership duties.

Ontario Reports Record-High Cases

Ontario is reporting a record-high 2,432 cases, with another 23 deaths as the province’s hospitals call for stricter lockdowns in hard-hit regions.

After an emergency meeting to discuss issues of capacity, the Ontario Hospital Association’s board of directors have asked the government to impose a four-week lockdown in every public health unit with an infection rate of 40/100, 000 population or higher.

They say the move is necessary to prevent a surge in COVID-19 patients in January.

Alberta Plans Field Hospital

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, chief medical officer of Alberta, announced yesterday that the province is setting up a field hospital in case hospitals become overwhelmed by high demand. The province has 20, 169 active COVID-19 cases (the highest number of  in Canada) is bracing for an onslaught of patients needing respirators and ICU treatment. “There is no plan to staff these beds unless they are needed,” said Hinshaw. “This is a purely precautionary measure.”

Montreal Health Care Overwhelmed

Doctors in Montreal are sounding the alarm that hospitals may soon become overwhelmed as the number of COVID-19 cases continue to climb. With close to 400 people hospitalized due to the virus and 52 receiving ICU treatment, Dr. Paul Warshawsky, chief of intensive care at the Jewish General Hospital, warns that “We’ll probably reach overcapacity – at that point, will we be able to provide good care?”

— Peter Muggeridge

 

Dec. 16, 2020

Prioritized in Queue

Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador are expected to begin inoculating against COVID-19 Wednesday after receiving initial doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

“In that plane represents hope for 2021,” said N.L. Premier Andrew Furey as the first doses arrived yesterday. The province received 1,950 doses, which means 975 people will get immunized for now. A source at the St. John’s International Airport Authority said airside access was granted to the premier and Health Minister John Haggie, both doctors-turned-politicians, so they could be on the tarmac to watch as the vaccine was unloaded Tuesday morning.

Public health officials in the province released their vaccination plan with priority given to seniors living in long-term-care facilities; health-care workers at high risk of exposure; residents of advanced age, said to be over the age of 80; and remote or isolated Indigenous communities. The first doses today will be given at the Health Sciences Centre in St. John’s to front line health-care workers. “These are the men and women who are on the front lines, putting themselves at harm’s risk to protect the public, and so then they will be getting the first run of inoculations,” Furey said Wednesday morning.

Newfoundland and Labrador has reported a total of 359 cases of COVID-19, 20 of which are currently considered active, and four deaths related to the illness — all were people over the age of 60. As of data from October this year, the province has the oldest population in Canada with a median age of 47.4.

Front of the Line

Jumping the queue for a COVID-19 vaccine is the focus of a story today from the CBC. Both the National Hockey League and President Donald Trump are reported to have backtracked on plans to get it ahead of vulnerable or at-risk populations. As reported, top brass at Pfizer will also have to wait their turn. “None of the executives and board members will cut the line,'” said CEO Albert Bourla earlier this week. Pfizer has said there will be no private sales of its vaccine during the pandemic.

“Our COVID-19 vaccine contract is only with the federal government, and we’ll be providing doses according to the designated vaccination locations,” Christina Antoniou, a spokesperson for Pfizer Canada, said in an email to the CBC. “During the pandemic, [we] are committed to bringing this vaccine to help meet the global public health need and only plan to sell the vaccine to the Government of Canada.”

—Tara Losinski

Dec. 15, 2020

Moderna Vaccine Delivery on Horizon

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Tuesday that once it is approved, Canada will receive up to 168,000 doses of the two-dose Moderna COVID-19 vaccine before the end of December. “As with the early shipments of the Pfizer vaccine, this moves us even further forward on getting Canadians protected as quickly as possible,” Trudeau said at a public health daily briefing. He said the Moderna doses will be directed to Canada’s north as well as to remote and Indigenous communities.

A day after first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine were administered in Ontario and Quebec, approval of the second vaccine in Canada is expected soon. The chief medical adviser at Health Canada, Dr. Supriya Sharma, says things “look positive” for the vaccine from Massachusetts-based  Moderna but there are still some outstanding manufacturing documents needed before the decision can be made. The agency is in ongoing review of two more vaccine candidates. One from from U.K.-based AstraZeneca is said to need more study by the regulator, while review of another candidate, from Johnson & Johnson, is still in the early stages.

Canada has been keeping a close timeline to the U.S., with regards to green lighting vaccines and a report this morning by The Washington Post suggests the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will authorize the Moderna vaccine for emergency use as soon as Friday.

B.C. is expected to begin its first immunizations today. Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Monday that the first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine would be given in two locations — Vancouver and the Fraser Health region. It’s reported that health-care workers in long-term care homes and front-line workers will be prioritized. “This is huge,” said an emotional Henry at a press conference yesterday. But she urged residents to stay the course as the vaccine is rolled out. “We are going to be saving lives with every single dose that we give but it’s not enough yet to stop transmission in our community,. So we need to keep up and protect people,” she said. “My biggest fear right now is that we’re not going to do enough. We’re going to let off right now and people will unnecessarily be exposed.”

Front line health-care workers and residents in long-term care homes will be among the first to receive the two-dose vaccine in Alberta on Wednesday. Officials in that province have consistently confirmed that vaccination against COVID-19 will not be mandatory, although Premier Jason Kenney has said the government is recommending it. “We will encourage people to use it because the more people who use it, the better off we’re all going to be.”

Who Is Willing To Get It

A poll released Monday by the Angus Reid Institute shows that willingness to get vaccinated right away has increased among Canadians. Compared to 40 per cent a month ago, now almost half (48 pre cent) of people surveyed say they’ll got the shot as soon as the first vaccine becomes available.

Those 65 and over are among the most likely to say they’re eager to be immunized (61 per cent ). However, the needle hasn’t moved when it comes to those who say they won’t get vaccinated, which held at roughly one-in-seven Canadians. But asked if the a vaccine should be mandatory, 70 per cent of respondents agreed that it should be for health-care works and residents of long-term care facilities.

—Tara Losinski

Dec. 14, 2020

Canada’s ‘V-Day’

“This is V-Day,” retired Gen. Rick Hillier said in an interview with the CBC this morning.

He confirmed that the first doses of the Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine will be given at one of the hospitals in Toronto’s University Health Network (UHN) — because of security concerns, health officials aren’t saying which one.

“The number of vaccinations that take place today will probably be pretty small, but I think there’s a little trickle down the spine of every single person in the province and in the public service and in the health sector who have been working for months, who have been fighting COVID-19,” said Hillier, head of Ontario’s vaccination distribution task force.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford was reported to be there to greet the province’s first vaccine shipment as it arrived at Hamilton International Airport late Sunday night. “The province has been preparing for this day for months and we are ready for the road ahead,” Ford said in a statement early this morning.

Ford has said that health-care workers, long-term care residents and their caregivers will be at the top of the list to receive the vaccine. While adults in Indigenous communities, residents of retirement homes, and recipients of chronic home health-care will also be prioritized.

Meanwhile, doses also arrived in Quebec last night and the first COVID-19 vaccines in that province are scheduled to be administered this afternoon at two long-term care homes: Maimonides Geriatric Centre in Côte Saint-Luc near Montreal and Saint-Antoine in Quebec City. The province’s Health Minister Christian Dubé is expected to be on site at Maimonides at 1 p.m. to provide an update to media.

The CBC this morning spoke with Lucie Tremblay, the director of nursing at the Regional Health Authority for Montreal Centre-West, who gave the news outlet a virtual tour of the room set up at Maimonides for immunization of staff. She confirmed that residents will get the shot in the their own room “because this is the place where they live, and we want to make this as comfortable for them as humanly possible.”

As she spoke to the CBC’s Heather Hiscox, Tremblay said the residence — one of the largest nursing homes in Quebec — was still awaiting delivery of the 975 doses it was allocated but that “as soon as the box arrives, we’re going to make the wheel in motion and vaccinate as soon as humanly possible.” In addition to a pharmacist and nurses from Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital, she said a physician is also on site to monitor for side effects.

“I’m so emotional,” Tremblay said about how she was feeling. “Finally we’re going to have a tool to protect our residents.”

Today marks nine months and three days since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 to be a pandemic on March 11. To date, Canada has reported a total of 462,683 cases of the illness and 13,454 related deaths.

—Tara Losinski

Dec. 11, 2020

Rapid Response After Vaccine Approval

Two days after getting the nod from Health Canada, Ontario announced yesterday that it will administer its first COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer-BioNtech on Tuesday. Health-care workers from long-term care homes and other high-risk settings will be given the first of a two-dose shot at two hospitals, the University Health Network in Toronto and the Ottawa Hospital. The news came as the province recorded another single-day high Thursday, reporting 1,983 new cases of the illness.

“We are going to come after people who are in most vulnerable circumstances and our health care workers first and get them vaccinated because the tragedy has been visited upon them most,” said retired Gen. Rick Hillier, who is leading Ontario’s vaccine task force. As he told the CBC, Ontario will receive 6,000 doses on Monday and could receive 90,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine by the end of December. The province currently has the second most active cases of COVID-19 in the country, with 16,233, behind Alberta where 20,163 cases are considered active.

Canada has deals for seven other vaccine candidates, including one from Moderna, which has shown to be similarly effective as Pfizer-BioNTech’s. Health Canada’s chief medical adviser, Dr. Supriya Sharma, told the CBC earlier this week that out of three candidates currently being reviewed by the agency — Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson — the Moderna vaccine is “furthest advanced” and said she was hopeful it will be approved before the end of the year.

As reported by Global News, Moderna has said it can get initial shipments of its vaccine to Canada this month if Health Canada approves it for use. The federal government recently doubled its order of Moderna’s vaccine candidate from 20 to 40 million doses, two million of which are expected to through the first quarter of 2021.

Good News: Prince Edward Island and all three of Canada’s territories reported no new cases of COVID-19 Thursday — P.E.I. for the third straight day; Yukon for the second straight day; Nunavut for the first time in 22 days; and Thursday marked 27 days with no new cases reported by the Northwest Territories.

—Tara Losinski

Dec. 10, 2020

Canada’s Vaccination Plan Released

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Wednesday that 30,000 doses will be in the first Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine shipment, expected to arrive in Canada next week. After the vaccine was approved yesterday by Health Canada, the government made public its immunization plan, with a goal of having a vaccine available for each Canadian by the end of 2021.

“Governments recognize that Canadians have made great sacrifices to minimize the harmful effects of COVID-19 on our communities and that many Canadians are anxious to know where, when and how they can receive a vaccine,” the document begins.

By the end of March, the plan is to have 3 million Canadians immunized — about eight per cent of the population. From now to then, the focus will be on high-risk populations, such as the elderly, residents and staff of congregate living arrangements such as long term care facilities, front-line health care workers, and those in living or working conditions with elevated risk for infection or disproportionate consequences, including Indigenous communities.

Making COVID-19 vaccines available to the general population is expected to begin in April and continue through 2021.

The federal governemnt’s plan also includes expanded vaccine surveillance and monitoring “to ensure ongoing safety and effectiveness as well as sufficient coverage of the population.”

A paper published in The Lancet last month, suggested that 60 to 72 per cent of the population would have to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to achieve herd immunity — assuming a vaccine was 100 per cent effective at preventing illness. The newly-approved Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has shown to be nearly 95 per cent effective. But it was reported Wednesday that Health Canada has yet authorize the vaccine for use in people under 16 because of a lack of data on side effects.

“Widespread immunization presents the best option to protect people from COVID-19 and, over time, to lift the restrictions placed on our society to keep people safe and healthy,” the plan summary states.

“Until extensive immunization is achieved, public health measures will continue to be essential to minimize the spread of COVID-19 in Canada and save lives.”

With another 6,296 cases reported yesterday, the total number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Canada reached 435,330 Wednesday — 72,336 of which are considered active cases. And the country is set to top 13,000 deaths related to the respiratory illness. — 70 per cent of which were people over the age of 80, according to data from the Public Health Agency of Canada.

—Tara Losinski

Dec. 9, 2020, 12:00 p.m.

Health Canada gave the go ahead for emergency use of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine Wednesday.

In a decision summary posted to the agency’s website, the regulator said of its analysis of known and potential benefits and, known and potential risks:

“The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has a significant impact on public health. There is no vaccine authorized for the prevention of COVID-19 in Canada. The availability of a safe and effective vaccine will reduce the spread and severity of COVID-19 disease and reduce its social and economic consequences.”

The report also noted: “In subjects 65 years of age and older without evidence of prior infections with SARS-CoV-2, the efficacy of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine was 94.7%. Vaccine efficacy was consistent across age, gender, race and ethnicity demographics.”

In a post to Twitter, Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada said that the vaccine “meets its stringent safety, efficacy and quality requirements.”


A statement from Pfizer confirmed that Canada is the third country, behind the U.K. and Bahrain, to approve its COVID-19 mRNA vaccine.

“We commend Health Canada for its careful and thorough assessment of our COVID-19 vaccine and timely action to help protect Canadians,” said Cole Pinnow, President, Pfizer Canada.

The statement also noted that Pfizer Canada and BioNTech will supply Canada a minimum of 20 million doses (and up to 76 million doses) of the vaccine through 2021.

—Tara Losinski

Dec. 9, 2020

U.K. Reports Adverse Reactions

After two health-care workers suffered an allergic reaction to the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, U.K. health regulators issued a warning that people who have a history of “significant” allergic reactions should not currently receive the shot, reports The Telegraph.

The two National Health Service (NHS) workers developed symptoms of “anaphylactoid reaction” shortly after receiving the vaccine Tuesday. “As is common with new vaccines the MHRA [Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency] have advised on a precautionary basis that people with a significant history of allergic reactions do not receive this vaccination after two people with a history of significant allergic reactions responded adversely yesterday,” said Professor Stephen Powis, the national medical director for the NHS. “Both are recovering well.” Moving forward, anyone scheduled to receive the vaccine in the U.K. will be asked about their history of allergic reactions.

Dr. June Raine, head of the U.K.’s medical regulatory agency, reported the adverse reactions as she testified Wednesday at a parliamentary committee in London. “We’re looking at two case reports of allergic reactions. We know from the very extensive clinical trials that this wasn’t a feature,” she is reported to have said.

“But if we need to strengthen our advice, now that we have had this experience with the vulnerable populations, the groups who have been selected as a priority, we get that advice to the field immediately.”

Speaking about vaccine safety at a press conference yesterday, Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said Canada has a foundation of “robust” layers of surveillance and monitoring, including the Canadian Adverse Events Following Immunization Surveillance System (CAEFISS).

“As you can imagine, the clinical trials are actually really quite big, as compared to other vaccine clinical trails, with 30,000 to 40,000 people in each during which we will see from the regulatory authorities what kind of side effects might be experienced. We haven’t heard of any serious see effects so far — which is great,” said Tam. “But when you actually begin to roll it out to millions of people, even rare side effects can be detected.”

Meanwhile Ontario’s Health Minister Christine Elliott confirmed Tuesday that getting vaccinated for COVID-19 will not be mandatory in the province, when she was asked at a press conference as to whether or not employers, schools, or long-term care homes could be allowed to ask people for proof of vaccination. “We can’t force anybody to take the vaccine but I agree with the premier — we really encourage everyone who is able to, to have the vaccination,” she said.

But as for those who don’t get vaccinated, Elliott said: “There may be some restrictions in terms of travel or other restrictions that may arise as a result of not having a vaccination, but that’s going to be up to the person themselves to make that decision on the basis of what’s most important to them.

“But we do wish everyone to receive the vaccination.”

A survey released at the beginning of December by Leger and the Association of Canadian Studies found that 28 per cent of Canadians said they would take the first COVID-19 vaccine available to the public (a decrease of 9 percentage points since mid-November.  While 45 per cent said they would wait for other vaccines to be available (an increase of 12 percentage points since mid-November) and 9 per cent think vaccines are dangerous and should not be taken or given.

—Tara Losinski

Dec. 8, 2020

V-Day in Britain

The British press have dubbed yesterday “V-Day,” as a 90-year-old Englishwoman has become the first person in the world to receive the new COVID-19 vaccine. Margaret Keenan, of Coventry, received the Pfizer dose yesterday at one of 50 hubs set up in the country. Patients who are 80 and over who are in hospital or have been recently discharged are first in line. “Today marks a huge step forward in the UK’s fight against coronavirus,” pronounced Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Keenan, who was applauded by nursing staff on her way to receive the shot, was proud of her role. “I’m just glad that I’m able to play a part in this historic day,” she said.

And Martin Kenyon, a 91-year-old British man who also received the COVID vaccine, told CNN “There’s no point in dying now when I’ve lived this long, is there?”

 

 

Ontario Announces Vax Rollout

As the first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine arrive in Ontario (the province is expected to receive up to 85,000 by the end of the month), yesterday Premier Doug Ford urged virus-weary residents not to get their hopes up too high. “We’re still very far, and I’ve got to repeat that, very far, from having the millions of vaccines we need for mass immunization,” said the Premier, before outlining his government’s inoculation campaign. In Phase One of the plan, vulnerable populations will have first dibs on the vaccine, including Indigenous groups, long-term care and retirement home residents, those living with chronic conditions at home, long-term care staff and frontline health-care personnel who work in hospitals. When the bulk of the vaccines start to arrive in April, Phase Two will see inoculation campaigns begin for the rest of the province.

Long-term Care Residents May Have to Wait

The manner in which the vaccine must be stored is causing logistical headaches that may impede its distribution to long-term care residents, says retired Gen. Rick Hillier, who leads Ontario’s immunization task force. The Pfizer vaccine must be stored in freezers and kept at temperatures of -80 C and there is concern that it will deteriorate if it’s transported. As a result, “people will have to come to the vaccination site as opposed to taking the vaccine into those long-term care homes right away,” said Hillier. “As soon as we can move the vaccines, we want to be able to establish special vaccination sites and go into these long-term care homes and offer the residents the opportunity to have the vaccine,” he continued. “But we may not be able to do it right away.”

B.C. Cancels Holidays

With B.C. reported over 2,000 new cases yesterday – the highest total in the land – provincial health officials had little choice but to extend restrictions on public gathering restrictions until Jan. 8, 2021, thus becoming the latest province to effectively banning families and friends from celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah or New Year’s together.  “We can still be festive,” said provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, trying her best to put a positive spin on her Scrooge-like announcement. “We can still connect with family and with friends in a safe and virtual way.”

Alberta’s Top Doc Sounds Alarm

While the government of Alberta starts setting up vaccination sites in Calgary and Edmonton in anticipation of the imminent arrival of their share of the COVID-19 doses, it must first deal with an explosion of new cases, with over 1,700 new positive tests reported yesterday. “I will be blunt – we are not bending the curve back down,” warned chief medical officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw. “We are still witnessing very high transmission of the virus, which is putting enormous transmission on our hospitals, intensive care units and health-care workers. It is also putting enormous strain on our continuing care facilities and many other sectors.”

Peter Muggeridge

 

Dec. 7, 2020, 12:00 p.m.

At a press conference Monday morning, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that up to 249,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine will arrive in Canada before the end of December — as early as next week.

Trudeau was careful to note that delivery is pending Health Canada approval. “Any vaccine approved in Canada will be safe and effective. Canada is known for its high standards of medical approval — and this will be no exception,” he said.

The vaccine will be distributed per capita, with each province and territory receiving doses proportionate to their share of Canada’s population. Although they were not identified, 14 sites have been determined for initial rollout, with long-term care home residents and staff at the top the list for immunization.

“This is the largest mobilization of vaccines in Canada’s history and, being able to start with a small number and rapidly scale up as the flow of vaccine doses starts increasing quite rapidly — this is a good thing,” Trudeau said.

As the vaccine requires two doses, the initial delivery will be enough to inoculate 124,500 people — less than one per cent of the population. The prime minister urged Canadians to continue to “buckle down” in their efforts against spread of the coronavirus.

“While vaccines are on the horizon, they can’t protect you if you get COVID-19 now,” he said.

—Tara Losinski

Dec. 7, 2020

It has been reported that military personnel and health-care workers will go through a dry run today of the government’s plan to deliver COVID-19 vaccines across the country.

Canada could see doses of a vaccine from Pfizer within 24 hours of approval, an executive from development partner BioNTech confirmed Sunday. “Certainly from the discussions that we’ve had, Canada is in a good position to approve the vaccine shortly,” Sean Marett, chief business and chief commercial officer of the German drugmaker, told the CBC. “Upon approval, we then release the vaccine, and then it is shipped. We’ve already produced the vaccine and reserved doses for Canada.” The two-dose vaccine requires special handling, including continual storage at -70 C.

The news of moving closer to receiving and distributing a potential vaccine comes as Ontario reports the highest number of new cases today, with a record-breaking 1,925 additional cases of COVID-19 —  one more than yesterday and the third day in a row that the province broke a daily record of new infections reported. Hot spots, including Toronto and Peel Region, began a third week of lockdown Monday, while, starting at midnight, two more regions, Thunder Bay and Middlesex-London, adopt stricter public health measures, which include a maximum of 50 people in restaurants and bars and screening of all patrons entering stores.

Meanwhile, on Sunday, P.E.I. officials announced a two-week “circuit breaker” to limit the spread of a small but growing outbreak in that province — eight new cases were reported over the past five days. The restrictions go into effect today and include the banning of all in-restaurant dining as well as the closure of bingo halls and libraries. The island had seen a total of 80 confirmed cases of COVID-19 by Sunday, 11 of which are active, and no deaths related to the illness.

As case loads continue to rise across the country, in a post on Twitter Sunday afternoon, Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam tempered excitement about “widespread and lasting” immunity from potential vaccines, saying that calm and continued vigilence is “especially  important as we plan #COVIDsafe holidays.”

—Tara Losinski

Dec. 4, 2020

As Canada nears 400,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, federal officials are preparing for the first vaccine doses to be administered in January. Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, the former NATO commander leading the massive vaccine effort on behalf of the federal government, detailed the rollout plan at a press conference on Thursday, which included news of a “soft launch” rehearsal of the Pfizer vaccine scheduled for next Monday.

“We’ll have a dry run in every province, and they will execute, and they’ll ensure that — without the vaccine of course — they execute the process of handling and ensuring that people are comfortable with the very unique requirements of handling an ultra-low temperature vaccine,” Maj. Gen. Fortin said. Vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna need to be kept at approximately -80 C and -20 C, respectively, to remain stable, which presents a unique challenge for distribution efforts.

In the first three months of 2021, just three million Canadians are expected to receive the shots, with millions more expected to arrive as the supply chain stabilizes.

B.C. Revs Up Vax Campaign

B.C.’s provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says her province will be “absolutely ready” to begin its vaccination campaign early in the New Year. “We are planning to be able to put vaccine into arms in the first week of January.” But even as she was making this optimistic projection, federal deputy chief public health officer Dr. Howard Njoo’s was issuing a warning that: “we shouldn’t be so obsessive with the actual delivery of the vaccines, the dates and so on.”

Manitoba’s “Grinch”

The grind of showing up for daily press conferences appears to be getting to Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister. In a bizarre press conference yesterday, Pallister suggested that, “If you don’t think that COVID is real right now, you’re an idiot.” Fighting back tears, he likened himself to the “Grinch” cartoon character, saying: “I’m the guy who’s stealing Christmas to keep you safe.”

 

Quebec’s “Grinch”

Following Pallister’s lead, Quebec Premier François Legault walked back his recent promise to allow families to gather over the Christmas holidays. “I know we would all like to see our family, but it is not a good idea,” said Legault in a Thursday press conference. “The virus is very dangerous. We need to stay home and get some rest and we have to take care of one another.”

No “Crisis” in Ontario?

With Ontario reporting 1,780 new COVID-19 cases, 25 more deaths and over 200 patients receiving intensive care treatment, recent comments by Ontario health minister Christine Elliot downplaying the alarming developments are raising eyebrows. “Ontario isn’t in a crisis right now,” said Elliot during a session at Queen’s Park. “You wanna speak about who is in crisis? Have you taken a look at Alberta?”

Kenney Goes Off

Under immense pressure to impose stricter regulations to control the spread of COVID-19 in his province – 1,854 new cases as of Thursday afternoon – Alberta Premier Jason Kenney took his frustrations out on anti-maskers planning a protest. “If you’re thinking of going to an anti-mask rally this weekend, how about instead send me an email, call me all the names you want, send me a letter, organize an online rally,” he said in a press conference. “If you think this [virus] is a hoax, talk to my friend in the ICU, fighting for his life.”

—Peter Muggeridge

 

Dec. 3, 2020

As the pandemic wears on, recommendations and restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus continue to evolve.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced Wednesday that “acceptable alternatives” to their existing 14-day quarantine recommendation now include that quarantine can end after 10 days without a COVID-19 test if the person has reported no symptoms or, after seven days days with a negative test result if the person has reported no symptoms.

Canada’s mandatory quarantine remains at 14 days, but other countries have reduced that timeframe, including Switzerland and Germany, where it is 10 days. And on Dec. 15, the U.K. is moving from a 14-day quarantine to just five days of isolation, with a negative COVID-19 test.

Also Wednesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) modified its recommendations for face mask use, stating that where the epidemic was spreading, people — including children and students aged 12 or over — should wear masks in shops, workplaces and schools that lack adequate ventilation, and when receiving visitors at home in poorly ventilated rooms. The agency’s revised guidelines also include outdoors and in well ventilated indoor spaces where physical distancing of at least one metre can’t be maintained.

From the beginning of the pandemic to now, guidelines from the Public Health Agency of Canada have gone from not wearing a mask — outside of health-care settings — to the following current recommendations of wearing a non-medical mask or face covering when in public and when you might come into close contact with others; in shared indoor spaces with people from outside your immediate household; or as advised by your local public health authority.

Public health restrictions are also being ratcheted up again across the country as new cases continue to rise.

British Columbia officials announced yesterday that banning all indoor adult team sports is being added to a list of province-wide measures, and that more restrictions are being put in place for children’s programs. B.C. reported 834 new cases and 12 more deaths on Wednesday, with COVID-19 hospitalizations rising to another new high of 337, including 79 in critical care.

And in Quebec, rules are getting stricter for shops and malls ahead of the holiday season. Officials announced yesterday that maximum customer capacity (limits already in place, based on floor space available) must be displayed at the front of the store or shopping mall; signs with physical distancing rules must also be in place; and there needs to be clear markings for shoppers to more easily navigate the store. Business owners can face fines of $6,000 or closure if they fail to comply. The province has been hardest-hit by the pandemic, reporting a record 1,514 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday, along with 43 deaths.

—Tara Losinski

Dec. 2, 2020

The United Kingdom announced Wednesday that it has authorized emergency use of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, the first country to approve use of a vaccine against the illness.

In review of results from clinical trials, which showed the vaccine was 95 per cent effective overall — including protection for older people — the U.K.’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency gave it the go ahead.

“It’s fantastic,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said. “The vaccine will begin to be made available across the U.K. from next week. It’s the protection of vaccines that will ultimately allow us to reclaim our lives and get the economy moving again.”

The government is expected later today to release details about who will be prioritized for the initial rollout of 800,000 doses, with the BBC reporting that nursing home residents and staff, followed by people in their 80s and health-care workers are at the top of the list. Because the vaccine needs to be stored at -70C, the first vaccinations are expected to take place at hospitals, which already have such storage capability.

Pfizer’s vaccine candidate, developed with German drugmaker BioNTech, is one of seven that Canada has secured deals to purchase. In a tweet today, Health Minister Patty Hajdu said news of the U.K. approval is “encouraging” and that review here of the candidate vaccine is “expected to be completed soon.”


Health Canada’s chief medical adviser, Supriya Sharma, has said the agency is keeping up with the U.S., in terms of approvals. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is scheduled to meet on Dec. 10 to consider granting emergency use of the Pfizer vaccine.

According to Johns Hopkins University data, the U.K. has had 1,647, 230 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 59,148 related deaths. Today’s news coincided with the easing of a national lockdown, in place since the beginning of November to help control spread during a second wave of the coronavirus.

—Tara Losinski

Dec. 1, 2020

Ontario reported 1,707 new cases of COVID-19 Tuesday, a day after it set a record in hospitalizations during the second wave, with 618 patients receiving treatment for the respiratory illness. The province has reported more than 1,700 new cases for the past five days,

Alberta also saw record-high COVID-19 hospitalizations Monday, with 453 people in hospital, including 96 in ICU. The province also recorded another daily high, reporting 1,733 new cases yesterday, bringing its total active cases to 16,454 — the highest in the country.

Meanwhile, British Columbia reported 596 new cases Monday and 46 additional deaths from the virus — the highest over a three-day period. At a daily press conference, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry addressed the loss. “These people have faces, have names, have stories. This tragedy is all of our tragedy,” she said. “If you are thinking it may be OK to bend the rules, please remember this virus takes lives.”

In Manitoba, 343 new cases were reported Monday as a province-wide lockdown remains in place to help curb rising spread of the virus. A remote community in the province’s northeast is asking for military support, after confirming 30 new cases of COVID-19 Sunday, brining the total of known cases to 60 in Shamattawa First Nation.

On Sunday, the Canadian Armed Forces were deployed to another remote First Nation community, this one in Saskatchewan. Members of the Canadian Rangers will spend 30 days in service at Hatchet Lake Denesuline First Nation where, by Sunday, there were 89 active cases of COVID-19. The province report 325 new cases on Monday.

Good news: On the heels of final data showing that drugmaker Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate is 94 per cent effective, the company’s chief medical officer told the Globe and Mail Monday that Canada will be among the first countries to receive it, once approved. “I’m hopeful that you’ll see significant quantities coming to Canada [in the] first, second quarter of next year,” said Tal Zaks.

“Those first batches are going to be initially small and it’s going to take some time as we ramp up and accelerate our global manufacturing capacity. But we’re going to do our best to supply this vaccine that has such a high efficacy to as many people as we can. Canada’s in the front row.”

—Tara Losinski

Nov. 30, 2020

Moderna Inc. released final data Monday from the Phase 3 study of its mRNA-1273 COVID-19 vaccine candidate, which has proven to be 94.1 per cent effective in protecting people from the illness. The drugmaker will file
for emergency use authorization from the U.S. FDA today “and continue forging ahead with the rolling reviews that have already been initiated with several regulatory agencies around the globe,” says the statement, which identified Health Canada as one of those agencies.

Good news: On Sunday, Noubar Afeyan, co-founder and chairman of Moderna, told CBC’s Rosemary Barton, “Canada is not at the back of the line.” He said because Canada was among the first to place a pre-order with Moderna, the country is guaranteed to receive a certain portion of the vaccine’s initial batch, after it receives regulatory approval. The federal government made an agreement on Aug. 5 to purchase 20 million doses of a successful Moderna vaccine, with the option to procure 36 million more.

The number of active COVID-19 cases in Canada has more than doubled since the beginning of November, when it was 28,875, reaching 63,835 by the end of Sunday while the death toll surpassed 12,000.

And Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam confirmed Sunday that an average 2,111 people with the respiratory illness were in hospital during the last 7 days, as compared to an average of about 600 back at the beginning of October. She encouraged Canadians to start talking to family and friends about the holidays. “I know these conversations and choices may be difficult, but let’s focus on the things we can do, including doing our utmost to protect our families, friends and communities,” said Tam in her Sunday statement.

Also Sunday, the federal government extended existing international travel restrictions, barring entry to most travellers who are not Canadian citizens, permanent residents or people entering from the U.S. for “essential” reasons till Jan.21. In the same statement, the government did, however, open the door  to an exception for applications from “high-performance amateur sport organizations seeking to hold International Single Sport Events.”

As reported, more than 1,300 professional athletes have already been issued “national interest” exemptions, which allow those who don’t qualify under current COVID-19-related restrictions to travel to Canada, or to skip the mandatory 14-day quarantine when they arrive.

—Tara Losinski

Nov. 27, 2020

Health Canada announced Thursday that Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate could be approved as early as next month. In the first of what will be a weekly update about the government’s vaccine rollout strategy, Chief Medical Advisor Dr. Supriya Sharma said that Canada has “similar timelines” to the United States, with officials from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration meeting Dec. 10 to consider approving the Pfizer vaccine.

In the initial phase, three million Canadians are expected to have access to an approved vaccine, prioritizing those people at the highest risk of contracting COVID-19, those at high risk of transmitting it to vulnerable people and essential workers. As for when, Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Howard Njoo, said at the press conference: “As things stand now, we expect certain vaccines to become available in early 2021. … When a vaccine is ready, Canada will be ready.”

A poll by Ipsos for Global News, conducted between October 23-26, found that 54 per cent of Canadians would be willing to take a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as they could.

The news of a potential vaccine approval came as Canada recorded its third-highest daily case count of the pandemic, with 5,628 more people confirmed as testing positive for COVID-19 Thursday. And, as British Columbia set another single-day record, reporting 887 new cases yesterday. The province also confirmed an additional 13 deaths, brining its total to 384 — a third of which have been reported this month. People over the age of 70 account for 84 per cent of deaths related to COVID-19 in B.C.

Quebec also recorded its highest single-day increase Thursday, with 1,464 new cases of COVID-19. The province saw a decrease on Friday, reporting 1,269 more people have tested positive for the illness in the past 24 hours — bringing the total number of positive cases to 138,163, nearly 40 per cent of Canada’s total.

Meanwhile, Ontario confirmed 1,855 new cases of the novel coronavirus Friday — the highest number of cases recorded in a single day, with the previous record high on Saturday past when officials reported 1,588 cases.

Good news: After ten straight days, Nunavut reported no new cases of COVID-19 Thursday. The territory reported its first positive test for the coronavirus earlier this month, on Nov. 6, and has since recorded a total of 155 cases, five of which have recovered. There have been no deaths.

—Tara Losinski

Nov. 26, 2020

Ontario reported 1,478 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday, 572 of which were in Peel Region, 356 in Toronto and 111 in York Region — the province’s hot spots currently in lockdown. With a month to go before Christmas, Premier Doug Ford yesterday urged all Ontarians — in lockdown or not — to scale back celebrations over the holidays, gathering only with people in their household, with the exception of those living alone who can join another household. “After the year we’ve had its important that we find some time over the holidays but we have to do it safely,” he said in a press conference, adding. “Please don’t have big holiday parties, no large gatherings.”

Last week, Quebec announced that it will allow people from different households to gather between Dec. 24 and 27, provided they isolate for a week before and after. The province reported 1,464 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday — its highest single-day increase.

And on Tuesday, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister urged residents to adapt celebrations by connecting virtually with family and friends outside their household this year. “We have technologies now we can use that we didn’t have years ago,” he said. Manitobans are currently not allowed to socialize with anyone outside their household as part of a province-wide lockdown that began last Friday. On Wednesday, Manitoba surpassed 250 deaths from COVID-19 and reported 349 new cases of the illness, bringing its number of active cases to 8,758.

After promising news Monday that a third COVID-19 vaccine candidate could be as much as 90 per cent effective, U.K.-based AstraZeneca acknowledged yesterday that an error was made during the Phase 3 trial. As the CBC reports, one of the volunteer groups received a lower second of the two-dose vaccine by mistake. The good news? The vaccine appeared more effective in the low-does group, preventing illness 90 per cent of the time, versus 62 per cent effective for those who received two full doses. (When the results are combined, a 70 per cent efficacy is the result). But maybe the mistake will help scientists find the Goldilocks dose that protects best.

—Tara Losinski

Nov. 25, 2020

Ontario reported an additional 1,373 cases of COVID-19 and 35 more deaths linked to the illness on Wednesday. A report by Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk claims that “delays and conflicts and confusion in decision-making,” in the province’s response to the pandemic led to a greater spread of the coronavirus. “Ontario’s response to COVID-19 in the winter and spring of 2020 was slower and more reactive relative to most other provinces and many other international jurisdictions,” Lysyk said in the 231-page report, tabled in legislature this morning.

In Alberta, new restrictions were announced Tuesday after the province reported 1,115 new cases and 16 additional deaths from the virus. Indoor private social gatherings are temporarily banned, while students in Grade 7 and above will all move to at-home learning. At a press conference Premier Jason Kenney said the measures are necessary “to protect Albertans from the health, social and economic damage that a crushing lockdown would inflict.” As of Tuesday evening, Alberta had 13,349 active cases of COVID-19 — the highest in the country behind Ontario.

British Columbia, meanwhile, recorded a daily high for the province, reporting 941 new cases on Tuesday. Hospitalizations also rose to a record 284. The province added venues that offer gymnastics, dance, martial arts, yoga, pilates, cheerleading, and strength and conditioning to a growing list of suspended activities yesterday. “We need to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our province and that needs to happen now,” read a statement from Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix. “That is why we have paused all gatherings, events and indoor group fitness activities.”

Canadian breakthrough:  It’s been reported that Mitacs, a Canadian non-profit that honours home-grown research, has awarded an Alberta scientist for her work on making face masks more effective at blocking viruses. Ilaria Rubino, a recent PhD graduate from the University of Alberta, found that a solution of water and salt — which dries with sharp crystallized points — would catch  and kill coronavirus droplets when used on the first or middle layer of a surgical-like mask. The salt-coated mask may be available commercially as soon as next year.

—Tara Losinski

Nov. 24, 2020

Ontario reported 1,009 new cases of COVID-19 Tuesday, one day after a record-high increase of 1,589, although a technical issue means numbers were overestimated yesterday and underestimated today. Millions of residents went into a 28-day lockdown Monday in an effort to curb spread of the coronavirus in the provinces most populated regions of Toronto and Peel.

Manitoba also marked a record-high increase Monday, reporting 540 new cases of the respiratory illness. This comes just over a week after the province went into a second lockdown, banning dine-in-eating at restaurants and ordering closed a range of non-essential businesses and places of worship. Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin says that restrictions are working, pointing to the fact that the average number of contacts of people who test positive has decreased from seven to about two in the last week. “Certainly the trend is in the right direction,” he said in a press conference Monday.

In Alberta, a lockdown was urged for by 341 physicians Sunday in a letter addressed to Premier Jason Kenney, Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Chief Medical Officer of Heath Dr. Deena Hinshaw. After reporting 1,549 new cases in her news conference Monday, Hinshaw likened COVID-19 case loads to “a snowball rolling down a hill growing bigger and faster” and confirmed that she was meeting with government officials later that day to discuss new measures to reduce the rising spread.

Meanwhile in Saskatchewan, it was reported Monday that Premier Scott Moe is isolating out of an “abundance of caution” after potential exposure to COVID-19 at a restaurant in Prince Albert on Nov. 15. The province reported 235 new infections on Monday and a record-high 106 hospitalizations, including 19 people in the ICU.

Good news: “Our federal government has contracts for purchasing the most successful candidate vaccines. Canada has a group of vaccines that include all the vaccines that have produced positive results and include other candidate vaccines which we believe will be successful. That is a good thing,” Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said, speaking in French during a press conference Monday.

—Tara Losinski

Nov. 23, 2020

U.K. drugmaker AstraZeneca said Monday that late- and large-stage trials showed that the COVID-19 vaccine candidate its developing with Oxford University has shown to be “highly effective” in preventing the respiratory illness. “These findings show that we have an effective vaccine that will save many lives,” Prof. Andrew Pollard, chief investigator for the trial, said in a statement. “Excitingly, we’ve found that one of our dosing regimens may be around 90 per cent effective.”

The vaccine is one of several Canada has deals in place to purchase. And a review, published by The Lancet last week, found that trial participants over the age 70 were among those to experience a “robust” response to the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Ontario reported 1,589 new cases of COVID-19 Monday — the third-straight day of new cases counting more than 1,500. And today marks the beginning of a 28-day lockdown for parts of the province where new cases are concentrated, including Toronto, Mississauga and Brampton.

Meanwhile, the “Atlantic Bubble” has been burst, with Newfoundland and Labrador and P.E.I. each announcing Monday that all non-essential travel will be suspended for the next two weeks in what’s being called a “circuit break” effort. Up until now, the four Atlantic provinces were open to residents travelling between without having to self-isolate for 14 days, and without filing for a travel exemption.

Alberta on Sunday eclipsed new daily cases in hard-hit Quebec and Ontario, reporting 1,584 new COVID-19 infections. Health officials also reported 319 hospitalizations, with 60 patients in intensive care. With 12,195, the province has more active cases of the respiratory illness than does Quebec, with 11,128, and a little more than 700 behind Ontario, with 12,918.

Neighbouring Saskatchewan reported 236 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday after hitting a record high the day before, with 439 new infections. Premier Scott Moe confirmed Saturday that the province’s 7-day average for new cases had reached 203 — a record amount — and that public health officials will “have more to say early next week” about further restrictions to curb the spread of the virus.

In the north, 21 new cases were reported in Nunavut on Sunday, which brings the territory’s total to 130 — more than Yukon and Northwest Territories combined — in just a little more than two weeks after its first cases was confirmed on Nov. 6.

Good news: Quebec reported more COVID-19 recoveries, 1.282, than new cases, 1,164, Monday — a trend recorded for the fourth straight day.

—Tara Losinski

Nov. 20, 2020 – 3 p.m.

With total COVID-19 cases surging over 100,000 in Ontario, Premier Doug Ford today announced that starting Nov. 23, all non-essential businesses and services will once again be closed down in Toronto and Peel Region, two of the hardest hit regions in the country.

“The numbers [of COVID-19 cases] are going through the roof and we have to be diligent,” said Ontario Premier Doug Ford in a press conference today. “Further action is required to prevent the worst-case scenario.”

With Toronto reporting 420 new cases today, Ford said that other regions where cases are on the rise — including Durham and Waterloo — will be moved into the Red Zone, which means they are one step away from lockdown.

Starting Monday, the new measures, which will be in effect for 28 days, will mean that cinemas, casinos, gyms, hair salons, clubs, bars, restaurants (indoor and outdoor dining), retail stores (excluding curbside pick-up) will be closed in Toronto and Peel, which includes the cities of Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon.

Religious services will be limited to 10 people. Public indoor gatherings have also been banned and outdoor gatherings will be limited to no more than 10 people. Schools and daycare centres will remain open.

Doctor David Williams, Ontario’s chief public health officer, said the government was pleading with people living in the two most affected areas not to travel outside their hotspots. He noted that the government was stopping short of imposing a travel ban. “We’re going to be trusting and confident that people do the right thing,” he said.

Premier Ford, who was celebrating his birthday today, tried to soften the blow for people effected by this latest lockdown, but he didn’t sound very convincing.

“Tough times don’t last but tough people do,” he said thanking everyone for their continued efforts in fighting the virus. “I want to give people hope. We have a vaccine that will be online shortly,” he said, though without much enthusiasm.

Peter Muggeridge

Nov. 20, 2020

Quebec will permit 10-person gatherings for Christmas — from Dec. 24 to 27, Premier François Legault announced Thursday. People can gather with different groups of up to 10 people during those four days. But in exchange for that, Quebecers are being asked to engage in a “moral contract” under which they promise to stay in self-quarantine for a week before and after the party period. The province has also extended the Christmas school break by one week for high school students. Quebec reported 1,207 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday and 34 additional deaths related to the illness.

Ontario reported 1,418 new cases of COVID-19 today, eight deaths and 518 people hospitalized with the respiratory illness — 142 of which are in intensive care.

Alberta reported its highest daily case count of the pandemic on Thursday, with 1,105 new cases of COVID-19. That brought the number of active cases in the province to 10,382. There were also eight deaths reported yesterday including, for the second day in a row, a man in his 30s.

And active cases of COVID-19 and hospitalizations reached new all-time highs in British Columbia on Thursday. The province reported 538 new cases and one death. There are currently 6,929 active cases of the virus in B.C, with 217 people in hospital. Of those, 59 are in intensive care. Restrictions that had been in effect in Vancouver Coast Health and Fraser Health regions are now mandated province-wide, including masks in shops, indoor public areas and elevators. Places of worship are closed for groups and all events and gatherings are banned. There are to be no spectators at any indoor sports game. Travel vacation rentals will not be allowed in Whistler and Tofino, and people are discouraged from travelling for recreational or social reasons.

Restrictions are also being ratcheted up in Manitoba. As of this morning, big box stores will not be allowed to sell non-essential items and beginning tomorrow morning, stores must physically block customers from accessing them. Also, starting this morning, no one is allowed to be in a household they don’t live in unless they’re providing essential service or delivering items. People who live alone are allowed to designate one person they can visit or have visits from. Outdoor gatherings with a maximum of five people are allowed. Not surprisingly, outdoor winter apparel such as jackets and boots area considered essential items.

Good news: Canada made a deal in September to purchase up to 20 million doses of the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University. Yesterday, early results from Phase 3 trials showed that the vaccine candidate is effective and safe, including in people over 70.

Quote of the day: “You have to remember that the family is at the heart of who we are, it’s at the heart of our nation. For me, it’s part of my life — I need to see my family.” –Premier François Legault at a press conference Thursday explaining why Quebec is allowing friends and family to get together over Christmas.

—Judy Gerstel

Nov. 19, 2020

The AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine being developed at Oxford University has produced a “robust” response in older people, including those over age 70, according to preliminary results published today in The Lancet. Final results are expected before the end of the year. This is the third COVID-19 vaccine candidate shown to be highly effective against the disease in older people.

Ontario reported 1,210 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday with 361 in Peel, 346 in Toronto and 143 in York Region. There were 28 additional deaths also reported. This is the 14th straight day the province has reported case counts in the quadruple digits.

Toronto’s COVID-19 test positivity rate on Wednesday was 6.2 per cent. The same day New York City closed its schools because the positivity rate there reached 3 per cent. New York officials have said since the summer that school buildings would close if, over a seven-day period, 3 per cent of COVID-19 tests performed citywide came back positive.

On Wednesday, Manitoba public health officials announced 400 new cases of COVID-19 and 11 more deaths. The five-day test positivity rate was 14.2 per cent provincially, and 13.8 per cent in Winnipeg.

British Columbia reported 762 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday — a record increase for the second day in a row. There were 10 deaths also reported. The province is considering extending the December school holiday, as is Quebec which reported 1,179 new cases on Wednesday and 35 additional deaths. Ontario officials on Wednesday said the Christmas break would not be extended.

British Columbia premier John Horgan called on the federal government on Wednesday to establish a Canada-wide approach to discouraging travel between provinces during the pandemic. “The people of Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba need to know that they should stay in Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba until we get to a place where we can start distributing a vaccine across the country,” he said in a press conference.

The Canada-U.S land border will remain closed to non-essential and non-commercial travel for at least another month, until Dec. 21. The restrictions have been in place since March and were set to expire on Saturday. Postponements have occurred one month at a time. Meanwhile, Porter Airlines which has many flights to the U.S. and to Atlantic Canada, has announced it will not resume service until Feb. 11, 2021.

Nunavut began a two-week shutdown of schools and non-essential businesses on Wednesday. The territory reported 10 new COVID-19 infections on Wednesday, bringing its total from 60 to 70. Outdoor and indoor gatherings are limited to five people unless an individual family’s size is greater.

Good news: Ontario’s health minister on Wednesday suggested Canada could start receiving millions of doses of one or more COVID-19 vaccines as soon as January, including four million doses of the Pfizer vaccine between January and March, as well as two million doses of Moderna’s vaccine. Ontario will receive 1.6 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 800,000 of the Moderna vaccine. Both require two shots and have shown to be 95 per cent effective.

Quote of the day: “… wondering again if our current inaction on #COVID19 is motivated by not only ageism but sexism. The majority of older adults and those living in #LTC homes are women, and these individuals account for the majority of #COVID19 deaths. —Dr. Nathan Stall, Mt. Sinai Hospital, Toronto

—Judy Gerstel

Nov. 18, 2020

Interim results released yesterday from a study conducted by McMaster University of passengers arriving at Toronto’s Pearson Airport showed that 70 per cent of international travellers who have COVID-19 can be identified within 48 hours of arrival by means of rapid testing done the moment they deplane. A very small percentage of travellers tested positive for COVID-19 a full 14 days after arriving, with just under 30 per cent testing positive after seven days.

“Interim results from the border study support a test and reduced quarantine approach such as that being piloted in Calgary,” said Dr. Vivek Goel, co-principal investigator of the study, professor at the University of Toronto and a former CEO of Public Health Ontario. “Testing upon arrival with a follow- up test to catch later positive results could provide a reasonable path forward to help keep borders and the economy open while maintaining public safety.”

Tuesday was a record-breaking day for British Columbia with 717 new COVID-19 cases reported — the highest daily increase ever. There were 11 deaths also reported.

Nunavut’s COVID-19 cases more than doubled, with 34 new infections reported yesterday. There are now 60 active cases in the territory. An additional 26 cases have been confirmed in Arviat, a community of about 2,800 in western Nunavut. That brings the total in Arviat to 46. Arviat confirmed its first case of coronavirus just four days ago, while the territory confirmed its first case Nov. 6.

Alberta reported 773 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday and five deaths, while the test positivity rate in neighbouring Manitoba was 13.6, and 13.3 in the city of Winnipeg — more than fivefold the national rate of 2.7 per cent positivity for all people tested. There were 240 people in hospital in the province with the respiratory illness by Tuesday, including 41 in intensive care. Of those hospitalized, 30 were under the age of 50, as were nine of the patients in ICU.

And in Ontario’s long-term care homes, 700 residents are reported to have COVID-19 as of Tuesday and three new deaths were reported yesterday.

Good news: No new deaths have been reported in eight jurisdictions during the 24 hours prior to 7 p.m. Tuesday. These include Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, Yukon, Nunavut and Northwest Territories.

Quote of the day: “The real value of COVIDZero may be the idea to actually take the virus seriously in this country; to prioritize public health, and listen to the better scientists. Because sadly, getting to zero now is too far to reach, or at least so painful it might not be worth it, because we have screwed up so badly already.  —Bruce Arthur, columnist, The Toronto Star

—Judy Gerstel

Nov. 17, 2020

Canada’s total COVID-19 case load has surpassed 300,000 less than a month after the country crossed the 200,000-case threshold on Oct. 19. The tally reached 302,192 after British Columbia reported 1,959 cases on Monday afternoon. There are 50,878 active cases in Canada as of Monday evening.

Ontario is reporting 1,249 cases of COVID-19 today, with 569 new cases in Toronto, 256 in Peel and 94 in York Region.

The Canadian Armed Forces are working with the Public Health Agency of Canada to help plan its COVID-19 vaccination strategy and is also preparing to help distribute the shots once they become available, according to the head of a military unit that advises the chief of defence staff. The military “is assisting with the development of a logistics support plan for the rollout of the vaccine,” Maj.-Gen. Trevor Cadieu said Monday.

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health says the province is “at a critical time.” After announcing 860 new cases on Monday in addition to more than 2,000 cases announced over the weekend, Dr. Deena Hinshaw told reporters that if health restrictions measures put in place on Friday were not enough “we will be absolutely be bringing forward recommendations for additional measures.” There are currently 264 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Alberta, with 57 in intensive care.

Manitoba reported 392 new cases and 10 more deaths on Monday. “Our health-care providers are becoming overwhelmed,” chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said, announcing record-high hospitalization numbers. “We can’t sustain this number of cases in our health-care system.” Meanwhile, all 28 residents of a long-term care home on the Opaskwayak Cree Nation in northern Manitoba have been infected with the virus, the national’s chief announced Monday. The province continues to see some of the worst rates in the country.

Good news: Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, Yukon and Northwest Territories reported no new cases in the 24-hour period prior to 7 p.m. Monday.

Quote of the day: “This is NOT the new normal and pandemics have a beginning, a middle and an end. We are in the middle now; the end will come.” — Dr. David Fisman, Professor of Epidemiology, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, Toronto

—Judy Gerstel

Nov. 16, 2020

Canada has an agreement to buy 56 million doses of the Moderna candidate vaccine that has shown to be almost 95 per cent effective in a clinical trial involving 30,000 participants, including 7,000 over the age of 65. Two doses of the vaccine are necessary. U.K.-based Moderna said today in announcing the results that its mRNA-1273 vaccine can be kept for 30 days at standard refrigeration temperature and can remain stable at room temperature for up to 12 hours. This makes it easier to distribute than the Pfizer candidate vaccine, which was reported last week to be 90 per cent effective but must stay frozen while stored and distributed. Canada also has an agreement to purchase the Pfizer vaccine. Neither vaccine is expected to be available until spring.

Both vaccines, however, are unique in that they are made without using the actual coronavirus. As CBC noted, “The vaccine contains a piece of genetic code that trains the immune system to recognize the spiked protein on the surface of the virus.” This, of course, also allays fears that anyone could potentially contract COVID-19 through the vaccine.

Today, Ontario reports 1,487 new cases, 10 deaths and another 33,351 tests completed. There are 508 new cases of COVID-19 in Toronto, 392 in Peel Region and 170 in York Region.

Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan and Alberta all broke their single-day case counts over the weekend, while Manitoba logged its deadliest day of the pandemic, reporting 15 new deaths on Saturday. Canada’s top doctor Theresa Tam warns that at this rate, Canada could potentially see 10,000 new daily cases by mid-December. “Fires are burning in so many different areas, and now is the time to get those under control,” she said at a press conference Friday.

Ontario reported a record 1,581 cases and 20 new deaths on Saturday. The number of new cases reported in Ontario dropped to 1,248 on Sunday, but there were 29 deaths — the highest number since June 15, including the deaths of 20 long-term care home residents.

Alberta reported 1,026 new cases on Saturday, the highest daily case increase ever reported, and 991 new cases on Sunday.

Quebec reported 1,447 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday, a record-breaking single day increase, including 341 new cases in Montreal, and 1,211 new cases in the province on Sunday.

Saskatchewan had 181 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday and two more deaths, including one person in their 20s who died with the disease. The number of new cases announced on Saturday was the highest ever at 308.

Meanwhile, after months of remaining COVID-free, Nunavut reported an additional 10 cases on Sunday — doubling its total in just 48 hours — after announcing its first case of the illness on Nov. 6.

Hundreds of physicians and epidemiologists started #COVIDzero, a Twitter campaign calling for Canadian governments to defeat the disease with a test-trace-and-isolate system and support for those affected by pursuit of the zero-transmission, zero-disease target. The campaign rose to No. 1 in Canada on Twitter on Sunday. “There are many ways that this can be pursued,” suggested Dr. Andrew Morris, infectious disease specialist at Toronto’s University Health Network and professor at the University of Toronto, “but acceptance of various levels of low cases or rates of transmission have proved to lead to repeated waves and where we are today.”

Good news: Although the the number of new cases in Canada is reaching record highs, the number of deaths reported on Saturday (62) was less than a quarter of the number of deaths on April 16, the day when the most deaths (251) from the disease were reported.

—Judy Gerstel

Nov. 13, 2020

New modelling predicts as many as 6,500 cases of COVID-19 per day in Ontario by mid-December. “Our cases will likely exceed some jurisdictions in Europe that are now under lockdown,” said Dr. Adalsteinn Brown at a press conference at Queen’s Park on Thursday. “The rate of growth in new infections has risen from four per cent over the last seven days to six per cent in the last three days. I don’t believe there’s a way the cases will change without action.” The best case scenario, according to these projections, will see 2,000 daily cases if action is taken to slow growth.

There were 5,474 new COVID-19 cases confirmed in Canada on Thursday, a record high, and 1,396 new cases reported in Ontario today.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Johns Hopkins University data shows that the 7-day average of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Canada, as of Thursday, hit a new high of 4,636 — up nine per cent from the previous day and 47 per cent high than a week ago. And the 14-day average, 39,000, is a record 30 per cent higher than a week ago and 47 per cent higher than 14 days ago.

Alberta reported 816 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, prompting the prohibition of all group fitness, team sports and group performance activities in Edmonton, Calgary, Lethbridge and other cities, from today until Nov. 27. The province has the third highest number of active cases in the country, reaching 8,305 by the end of yesterday.

Meanwhile Manitoba reported 474 new cases of the coronavirus and the second day of a record nine deaths on Thursday. The five-day COVID-19 test positivity rate for Manitoba is 11 per cent, and 11.4 per cent in Winnipeg. In a daily press conference chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin urged compliance through the province’s new lockdown, which began Thursday. “It is going to be short-term and we’re going to get through this, but can only get through this together,” said Roussin. “We have clear messages, stay home, socialize only within your household. All of these messages, no matter how difficult they are to hear, is there to save Manitobans lives.”

Good news: Canada has purchased ten doses of potential vaccine for each of its citizens — the most for any country or alliance on a per person basis, according to a report by The Economist.

More good news: Nova Scotia health officials reported no new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, for the first time since Oct. 29.

—Judy Gerstel

Nov. 12, 2020

Ontario is reporting another record high with 1,575 new cases of COVID-19 reported on Thursday, surpassing 1,500 for the first time. On Wednesday, the new reported case count surpassed 1,400 for the first time. There are 472 new cases in Toronto, 448 in Peel Region, 155 in York Region and 91 in Ottawa.

After consulting its own public health agency and advisors, the province has rejected advice it received from health and medical professionals and set the threshold for the Red/Control level — the strictest level short of a full lockdown — four times higher than those recommended.

Meanwhile, as of Wednesday, 29 residents of a Scarborough, Ont., long-term care home have died since an outbreak of COVID-19 was declared on Oct. 2. Toronto Public Health has confirmed that 92 residents of the facility have tested positive for the respiratory illness since the outbreak was announced.

Manitoba, which begins a second province-wide lockdown today, announced nine new deaths related to COVID-19 on Wednesday — its deadliest day since the start of the pandemic. Two people who died were in their 60s, five were in their 70s and two were in their 80s.

Alberta reported 672 new cases and seven COVID-19 related deaths on Wednesday as the province set a record number of hospitalizations for a sixth straight day. The number of Albertans in hospital due to the coronavirus grew to 217, up from 207 the day before.

And the number of cumulative COVID-19 deaths per one million people is 56 for British Columbia. Only Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island have lower cumulative death rates, according to a Postmedia calculation. Ontario’s cumulative death rate is four times higher than B.C.’s, while Quebec has a rate more than 13 times that of B.C. — on par with the worst jurisdictions in the world such as Spain and Brazil.

In a report released today by Toronto-based human resources firm Morneau Shepell, of 3,000 workers across Canada surveyed from Sept. 28 to Oct. 19, a total of 14 per cent did not agree that the novel coronavirus is a serious public health threat. While 86 per cent did agree that COVID-19 presents a serious threat, six per cent said they do not agree and eight per cent said they were undecided.

Good news: Ottawa accounted for just 27 of Ontario’s 1,426 cases of COVID-19 reported Wednesday. And the city’s known active case count has dropped below 500 for the first time in two months.

—Judy Gerstel

Nov. 11, 2020

Ontario is reporting another single-day record with 1,426 new cases of COVID-19 recorded Wednesday, up from the 1,388 confirmed on Tuesday and 987 one week ago. The rolling seven-day average of new cases has surged to 1,216, up from 971 at this point last week.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday urged premiers and mayors to “please do the right thing, act now to protect public health. I would hope that no leader in our country is easing public health vigilance because they feel pressured not to shut down businesses.”

“To everyone in Toronto, I want to warn you in the plainest possible terms that COVID-19 is out there at levels we have not seen before,” advised the city’s medical officer of health, Dr. Eileen de Villa on Tuesday. “You should assume it is everywhere and that without proper precautions and protections, you are at risk of infection.”

New restrictions were announced for the city, which recorded 384 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday, and will take effect Saturday when, per provincial recommendations, Toronto was set to come out of a modified Stage 2. Instead, indoor dining will remain prohibited, meeting and event spaces will remain closed, along with casinos, and bingo halls. Gyms may reopen, but with no indoor group fitness and exercise classes. Religious services, weddings and funerals are limited to 30 per cent capacity with a maximum number of 50.

COVID-19 restrictions will remain in place for Quebec’s 12 red zones until at least Nov. 23, Premier Francois Legault announced Tuesday. Quebec health authorities reported 1,162 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, bringing the total number of cases in the province since the start of the pandemic to 117,151. Of them, 10,937 are active. Quebec’s seven-day rolling average now stands at about 1,180 cases per day.

And on Thursday, the province of Manitoba will go into a sweeping lockdown for a month. Non-essential public-facing businesses will shut down and social contacts will be restricted to household members only. Social gatherings will not be permitted. More than 2,000 cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the past week and 109 Manitobans have died from the disease since March.

Good news: The Canadian company behind a COVID-19 vaccine candidate says two doses of their adjuvanted, or boosted vaccine spurred a significant antibody response in 100 per cent of healthy subjects, aged 18 to 55, in an early Phase 1 trial. The drug maker also stated that “there were no severe adverse events reported and reactogenicity events were generally mild to moderate and short in duration.” Quebec-based Medicago hopes to launch the final phase of the clinical trials with around 30,000 subjects in different regions across the globe in early 2021.

—Judy Gerstel

Nov. 10, 2020

Ontario set a new record high with 1,388 additional cases of COVID-19 reported today, including 520 new cases in Toronto, 395 in Peel Region, 100 in York Region, 72 in Halton Region and 50 in the Niagara Region.

A study of the province’s nursing homes, published Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Association Network, found that COVID-19 mortality in facilities with low crowding was less than half of that in those with high crowding. The authors concluded that shared bedrooms and bathrooms in nursing homes are associated with larger and deadlier COVID-19 outbreaks. In Ontario, more than 60 per cent of nursing home residents are housed in shared rooms.

Nova Scotia has introduced strict new rules for people arriving in the province from outside the Atlantic region. With 15 new cases reported in less than a week, Premier Stephen McNeil announced Monday that travellers from outside the region must isolate for 14 days on their own, instead of with family or friends.

Quebec reported 1,169 new COVID-19 cases on Monday and 15 more deaths linked to the disease, bringing the total number of deaths in the province to 6,455 since the beginning of the pandemic — more than half of all deaths related to the respiratory illness reported in Canada, which by Monday had reached 10,564.

Good news: The announcement Monday that Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate appears to be 90 per cent effective bodes well for Moderna’s vaccine candidate, which uses similar technology. Moderna has said it could have early results later this month. The Canadian government said in August that it has ordered tens of millions of doses of Moderna’s vaccine as well as tens of millions of doses of Pfizer’s vaccine for delivery in 2021.

Plus, an experimental antibody treatment for COVID-19 approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Monday was developed by Eli Lilly in partnership with Vancouver biotech company AbCellera Biologics Inc. The COVID-19 drug was cleared by the FDA for people 12 and older with mild or moderate symptoms who do not require hospitalization. It’s a one-time treatment given through an IV. AbCellera Biologics and Eli Lilly have agreed to waive their royalties on the drug in low- and middle-income countries.

—Judy Gerstel

Nov. 9, 2020

The best news yet: Pfizer Inc. is today reporting that 20 million doses of its experimental COVID-19 vaccine were found to be 90 per cent effective in preventing the virus in large-scale interim trials. Experts suggest that a vaccine that has even a 50 per cent effective-rate would be acceptable. “Today is a great day for science and humanity,” said Dr. Albert Bourla, Pfizer Chairman and CEO, in a press release issued by the New York-based pharmaceutical company.

The Pfizer vaccine, developed in partnership with German pharma BioNTech, is currently being tested on over 40,000 participants. Besides its promise as an effective prevention against the virus, the early clinical trial data also reveals that it’s safe — “no serious safety concerns have been observed,” reported Pfizer. The development, manufacture and distribution of a safe and effective vaccine is seen as a crucial step in turning the tide in the fight against COVID-19. Pfizer said that after the vaccine achieves “the required safety milestones,” it will be then be submitted for emergency use to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. This could happen as early as the third week of November. However, supplies will likely remain limited until drug manufacturing plants are able to scale up production. The company, however, projects that it will be able to “produce globally up to 50 million vaccine doses in 2020 and up to 1.3 billion doses in 2021.” The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is one of seven that were ordered by the Canadian government on Aug. 5.

Ontario is reporting 1,242 new cases Monday and 13 more deaths. The seven-day average hit a new high of 1,106 cases a day or 53 cases weekly per 100,000.

On Sunday, news reports announced Saturday’s record-breaking, one day total of 4,248 new cases of COVID-19. That total included new highs in Ontario (1,328 new cases), Quebec (1,399 new cases) and Alberta (919 new cases). Manitoba reported 441 new cases, the second-highest daily total reported since the pandemic began.

Manitoba health minister Cameron Friesen announced a provincial probe Sunday after bodies of eight deceased people were pulled from Maples Personal Care Home in Winnipeg during a 48-hour period last week. The death toll at the for-profit nursing home — one of 19 long-term care facilities in the city with current outbreaks of the disease — has risen to 22, with more than 120 residents and 50 staff infected.

The federally appointed COVID-19 immunity task force will send 48,000 finger-prick blood collection kits to Canadians across the country in the coming months. People receiving the kits will be asked to respond to an online questionnaire and provide blood spots to be checked for antibodies that can indicate whether they have been infected with the coronavirus during the past several months. The data will allow researchers to better estimate how many people may have had COVID-19 in Canada, including those who did not experience symptoms. Survey results may help officials determine the best way to distribute vaccines when they become available.

—Judy Gerstel

Nov. 6, 2020

Ontario reported 1,003 new cases of COVID-19 Friday. There are 300 new cases in Toronto, 280 in Peel and 125 in York Region. Approximately 41,300 tests were completed.

As of Thursday evening, approximately one-quarter (24.2 per cent) of COVID-19 cases to date in Canada are 60 years old and over.

British Columbia broke the 400 barrier Thursday, reporting a record-breaking 425 new cases of COVID-19.

Manitoba’s COVID-19 caseload continued to climb with 427 new infections reported Thursday. Three people over the age of 70 died after contracting the virus while receiving unrelated care in hospital. Three hospitals in the province have had outbreaks, including the Winnipeg Health Sciences Centre. A woman in her 50s also died. Manitoba has had the most new cases per capita of any province in the past 14 days.

A total of 1,370 Canadians are hospitalized with COVID-19 as reported Thursday evening.

Older populations and people at high risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19, as well as essential workers, should be at the front of the line to receive the vaccine against COVID-19 when it becomes available, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommended this week. It will likely be several months between the first doses of the vaccine being made available and a full rollout to everyone who wants to be immunized. Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam said she is “cautiously optimistic” that a vaccine could be approved for use in Canada by March 2021.

Good News: No new deaths were reported in seven provinces or territories between 7 p.m. Wednesday and 7 p.m. Thursday, including British Columbia, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Yukon, and Northwest Territories.

—Judy Gerstel

Nov. 5, 2020

Ontario reported another 998 cases and 13 deaths today, with 35,754 completed tests. The seven-day case average set a new record high with 982 cases per day. The seven-day average for deaths is up to a second-wave high of 11 deaths per day

Quebec reported 1,029 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday. There are currently 9,466 active cases in the province. Montreal reported 205 new cases.

Air travellers arriving in Canada will soon have to submit their quarantine plans and contact information online before boarding their flights. They’ll have to be prepared to show their receipt to a border officer. Also, anyone who has arrived in Canada by air, land or sea will have to confirm within 48 hours that they’ve arrived at their quarantine destination and must complete a daily symptom self-assessment. The new rules take effect Nov. 21.

Manitoba reported 374 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday. There were two more deaths on Wednesday — a woman in her 80s at an LTC home and a woman in her 90s connected to the outbreak at St. Boniface Hospital.

The Public Health Agency of Canada quietly revised its guidelines without notice this week on how COVID-19 spreads, mentioning the risk of transmission from aerosols — or microscopic airborne particles that linger in the air when people cough, sneeze or speak — for the first time. This came weeks after other countries and international health organizations acknowledged the airborne threat of the coronavirus. “The big difference is that ventilation is important — distancing alone is not enough,” said Linsey Marr, one of the world’s top aerosol scientists.

Good News: A Canadian-made rapid test for COVID-19 that requires no refrigeration and provides results in an hour received Health Canada approval this week for use across the country. The rapid test is called Triplelock Test Strips and is made by Precision Biomonitoring in Guelph, Ont.

—Judy Gerstel

Nov. 4, 2020

Saskatchewan will be making masks mandatory in indoor public spaces in Saskatoon, Regina and Prince Albert, and reducing the allowed size of gatherings across the province. The orders were announced Tuesday and take effect on Friday for 28 days. The maximum allowable gathering size for private gatherings in the home will decrease to 10 from 15. Any event that occurs in a private home or inside other venues, including weddings, religious gatherings and funerals must abide by the 10-person gathering limit.

Ontario today reported 987 new cases of COVID-19 with 319 new cases in Toronto, 299 in Peel, 85 in York Region and 62 in Durham. There were nearly 28,600 tests completed. The province’s seven-day average for number of cases reported now stands at 972, the highest it has ever been.

The Public Health Agency of Canada recommended on Tuesday that Canadians should wear face coverings that are made of three layers including a filter. The nation’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said masks with a filter will help trap small infectious particles. She emphasized that fit is very important. “It has to cover your mouth and nose.”

Good News: As of Tuesday, there are no active cases of COVID-19 in Prince Edward Island and there have been no deaths in the province since the beginning of the pandemic. P.E.I also has the lowest per capita instance of COVID-19 of any province in Canada. The total number of reported cases since the pandemic began is 64 and all have been travel-related.

—Judy Gerstel

Nov. 3, 2020

Ontario Premier Ford today announced a new tiered regional system for business openings in the province during the pandemic. Restaurants and gyms in Ottawa, Peel and York Region will be able to open Saturday with restrictions on capacity and hours. Toronto will be able to open a week later with restrictions. With the new framework in effect, each of Ontario’s 34 public health units will be placed in one of five categories based on their current COVID-19 trends.

The five categories are prevent, protect, restrict, control, and lockdown. In all scenarios, except a full lockdown, indoor dining and gyms can reopen with modified guidelines in place. Schools and daycares will remain open. Gathering limits remain at 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors for private events, while organized events can have 50 people indoors and 100 outdoors, unless the region moves to the control phase.

Earlier today Ontario reported a record 1,050 new cases of COVID-19, with 408 cases in Toronto, 212 in Peel, 86 in Halton and 76 in York region.

Quebec is reporting 871 new Covid-19 infections today and 34 more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus.

Health authorities said today the number of people in hospital rose by 27 to 526, and 85 people were in intensive care, a rise of four.

On Monday, 28 new LTC resident cases were reported for a total of 530 resident active cases. There were 11 new staff cases for a total of 329 staff active cases.

The seven-day average number of cases in Ontario as of Monday now sits at an all-time high of 919.

There were 1,120 new cases of COVID-19 reported in British Columbia over the weekend. Health official said 352 cases were recorded from Friday to Saturday, another record-setting 389 cases were reported from Saturday to Sunday and 379 more positive tests were counted from Sunday to Monday.

The previous record for positive tests recorded in a single day was 317. As of Monday, there were 2,945 active cases in B.C., the highest active caseload the province has ever recorded. The previous active caseload record was 2,390.

The number of new cases reported in Canada on Monday was 2,681. There are 30,003 active cases.

Good news: Canadian company Symvivo Corporation says it has begun clinical trials for its oral COVID-19 vaccine. The biotechnology company based in Burnaby, B.C. announced on Monday the enrolment and dosing of the first healthy volunteer in its COVID-19 Phase I clinical trial in Australia. The vaccine can be taken orally as a capsule instead of by injection, and can be stored at room temperature, bypassing cold-chain supply logistics.

More good news: For the first time in almost two weeks, New Brunswick reported no new cases of COVID-19 on Monday. There are now 33 active cases in the province. Monday marks the first day New Brunswick has reported no new cases since Oct. 20.

—Judy Gerstel

Nov. 2, 2020

 

Ontario reported 948 new cases of COVID-19 today and 977 on Sunday. Meanwhile, Premier Doug Ford is expected to announce tomorrow the loosening of restrictions currently in place for hot spots.

Ottawa Public Health recorded 132 cases of COVID-19 on Sunday. OPH also reported five new deaths. There have now been 328 COVID-19 related deaths in Ottawa since the start of the pandemic.

With 509 LTC resident active COVID-19 cases in Ontario reported on Saturday (an increase of 50 from the previous day) and a case fatality rate of approximately 30 per cent in this population, Mt. Sinai geriatrician Dr. Nathan Stall predicts many more deaths will be recorded in the coming days.

Beginning today, international travellers arriving at the Calgary International Airport and at the Coutts border crossing can take a rapid test instead of quarantining for 14 days. They will be required to self-isolate for 24 to 48 hours until they get their results and, if negative, get another test within the next six to seven days and complete daily symptom checks. They’ll also have to remain in Alberta for 14 days. If this pilot project is successful, it will be extended to other airports and border crossings in Canada.

Manitoba reported 312 new cases of COVID-19 and six deaths related to the disease on Sunday. Four people who died were over the age of 80, one was in his 70s and another as in his 50s. Three were LTC residents and two were linked to the outbreak at St. Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg. The death toll in the province now sits at 75.

Alberta reported 622 new cases of the virus on Friday — a new daily record — pushing the number of active cases in the province to a record 5,172. Malgorzata Gasperowicz, a developmental biologist at the University of Calgary, predicted the province could see 4,000 daily new cases before Christmas if more measures were not taken, given the province’s current doubling time.

Good News: Per test positivity in most age groups is declining for the first time in a while in Ontario, including for people between the ages of 40 and 80. The rate has not declined in the over 80 age group. The decline is thought to be due to restrictions imposed on October 11.

—Judy Gerstel

Oct. 30, 2020

Ontario today is reporting 896 new cases of COVID-19 with 314 new cases in Toronto, 173 in Peel, 115 in York Region and 92 in Ottawa. Also, three workers at Premier Doug Ford’s constituency office in Etobicoke North tested positive for the disease, forcing the office to close today.

Manitoba again was a hotspot Friday, reporting a record-setting single-day increase of Covid-19 cases for the second day in a row, with 480 more people diagnosed with the disease, compared to 193 reported on Thursday.

Bars, restaurants, movie theatres, and concert halls in the Winnipeg area will be closed as of Monday and non-urgent surgeries and endoscopies are cancelled.

And in Quebec, the number of COVID-19 rose above 1,000 again to 1030, the province reported Thursday. There were 25 deaths. However, the number of hospitalizations and ICU patients continues to fall. A total of 509 people are in hospital with COVID-19, a decrease of 17. Among those in hospital, 78 are in intensive care, a drop of 11.

British Columbia reported 234 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday along with one new death, an 80-year-old woman who had attended a small birthday party. Most of those who attended the party ended up testing positive, said Dr. Bonnie Henry, the provincial health officer. The case emphasizes how many of B.C.’s new infections are directly linked to social gatherings including ones hosted in private homes, said Henry.

The Public Health Agency of Canada has posted a tender notice for logistics service providers to distribute COVID-19 vaccines across the country, including one that has to be kept at minus 80 degrees Celsius. The federal government has secured access to up to 358 million doses of multiple candidate vaccines. The challenge now is getting them by air and road to 38 million Canadians. Interested companies need to be able pick up, store, track and trace and deliver the frozen vaccines. The government intends to award a contract to one or more companies by Nov. 23. Those selected will have to demonstrate their ability to perform the work by Dec. 15.

Good News: At a press conference Thursday afternoon, Ontario health official Dr. Adalsteinn Brown responded to a question about the number of deaths from COVID-19 originally projected in the province. That number ranged from 3,000 to 15,000. There have already been 3,118 deaths as of Thursday evening. Dr. Brown said that, while “this disease … can dramatically turn, and you can have rapid, rapid growth, quite quickly,” he thought the number of deaths from COVID-19 would be “well below the high end of the original estimates.”

Also, St. Michael’s Hospital Dr. Amol Verma told CBC, “Someone who gets COVID-19 today is more likely to survive and have a better outcome than someone who got COVID-19 in the spring.”

—Judy Gerstel

Oct. 29, 2020

Ontario today reported 934 confirmed new cases of COVID-19, with 420 cases in Toronto setting a new record.

Ontario’s health officials warned Thursday afternoon at a press conference that the projection for number of cases in the short term is 800 to 1200 cases daily. However, the trajectory is slowing, said Dr. Adalsteinn Brown and although there is still continuing growth in cases, hospitalization and ICU use, the rate of growth is slowing. The exception is the sharper growth rate in LTC homes with 27 deaths reported last week.

As of late Wednesday, 44 confirmed cases of COVID-19 were linked to a large multi-day wedding in Vaughan ending on Sunday, October 18. York Region Public Health reported the first confirmed case on Monday, Oct. 26.

In the last week 18,939 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in Canada, 12 per cent more than the previous week. This brought the total number of reported cases to 225, 229.

Manitoba emerged as the hotspot this week with 169.4 active cases per 100,000 population, compared to 105.3 in Quebec,108.6 in Alberta and 50.8 in Ontario.

On Tuesday, Manitoba set a record single-day increase in COVID-19 cases, with 184 new infections. The province’s ICUs are nearing capacity.

An outbreak at St. Boniface Hospital in Manitoba has spread to three units, resulting in 31 cases, including infections in 22 patients. A long-term care home in Winnipeg, Parkview Place, has had 92 residents infected with the virus, with 19 fatalities and 35 cases still active.

In Ontario, the Toronto Star reported that hundreds of COVID-19 infections may be going undetected each week because far fewer Ontarians are getting tested on the weekend, leaving possibly infected people more time to expose other people, according to University of Toronto professor Dionne Aleman, an expert in pandemic modelling.

Good News: The National Research Council of Canada is investing more than $23 million in six Canadian companies developing COVID-19 vaccines. One company, Providence Therapeutics, has reported that its vaccine produced strong antibody responses that were highly effective at neutralizing the virus. These responses were accompanied by T cell responses, indicating possible long-lasting immunity. The results put Providence Therapeutics on track for human vaccine clinical trials in Canada later this year. Worldwide, there are 42 Covid-19 vaccines already in various stages of human trials. Eleven of these are in large, late-stage trials. More than 100 others are under development. As well, there are currently 32 active clinical trials in Canada related to efforts to stop the virus, according to Health Canada. They include attempts to stop the progression of the disease in the most severely ill patients to experiments with drugs found to be effective against other illnesses.

—Judy Gerstel

Oct. 28, 2020

More than 10,000 Canadians have died from COVID-19, a “horrific national tragedy,” said Prime Minister Trudeau yesterday. Less formally, he added, “This sucks. It really, really does.”

More than 90 per cent of the deaths have been reported in Quebec (6,172 deaths) and Ontario (3,103). Those provinces also account for 80 per cent of Canada’s overall cases.

More than 70 per cent of Canada’s deaths have occurred in those aged over 80 — about twice the average of rates in other developed countries.

So far in October, more than 600 COVID-19 fatalities have been reported in Canada compared to 165 in September, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada. Ontario reported 834 new cases of COVID-19 today, and 5 new deaths due to the virus. Quebec reported 963 new cases and 19 more deaths yesterday. Alberta set another record with 4,738 active cases of COVID-19 reported yesterday, an increase of 261 from the day before. The death toll reached 309.

However, even Canada’s highest-reporting regions are low compared to places south of the border, according to a chart prepared by CTV comparing a 7-day rolling average of cases per million to U.S. states, including the District of Columbia. Quebec had a lower number than all but 9 states. Only 8 states, including New York, had lower numbers than Manitoba and Alberta. Only two states, Vermont and Maine, had lower numbers than Ontario, Saskatchewan and British Columbia. The Maritime bubble – New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island – and Newfoundland and Labrador all had a lower 7-day rolling average of cases per million than any U.S. state, as did Nunavut, Northwest Territories and Yukon.

Good News: Quebec’s RT rate, the rate of transmission, dropped to .96, reported Southlake Regional Health Centre biostatistician Ryan Imgrund today. That means each person with COVID-19 infects less than one other person. An RT rate of less than one, if sustained, leads to a significant reduction in the spread of the disease.

—Judy Gerstel

Oct. 27, 2020

Manitoba now has the highest rate in Canada of active COVID-19 cases per million people (1,373 cases) and more than double the rate of Canada as a whole (642). The prairie province is followed by Quebec with 1,080 cases per million and Alberta (830). Ontario has 464 active cases per million while Nova Scotia has the lowest number with six.

British Columbia yesterday restricted gatherings in private homes to no more than immediate household members and six additional people after the province announced a record high 817 new cases over the weekend. There are 2,325 active cases of Covid-19 in B.C.

Quebec has extended its partial lockdown order for another four weeks.

Gyms, bars and most entertainment venues will remain closed until Nov. 23 in the province’s biggest cities. The premier said businesses that refuse to obey lockdown orders will be fined.

Alberta is imposing a mandatory 15-person limit on social gatherings in Edmonton and Calgary. People are advised to wear masks at work and to limit their circles to three cohorts. The province reported 1, 440 new cases from Friday through Sunday.

In the seven days from Oct. 16 through Oct. 22, an average of 1,010 people with Covid-19 were being treated in hospitals each day in Canada and there was an average of 23 Covid-19-related deaths reported each day.

Good news: Ottawa COVID-19 wastewater numbers are coming down. Researchers in Ottawa conduct daily wastewater readings to help track Covid-19 in the community. The wastewater covid-19 increase in mid-July preceded Ottawa’s summer and fall case resurgence.

—Judy Gerstel

Oct. 26, 2020

Over the weekend, Ontario reached a new high of new COVID-19 infections, surpassing the 1,000 mark for the first time with 1,042 cases reported on Sunday. That number dropped to 851 cases announced today.

Ontario’s seven-day average for new infections has set a record high with more than 889 cases.

Also over the weekend, Quebec’s total of cases climbed beyond 100,000. Today, the province reported 808 new cases.

Meanwhile, Manitoba on Sunday reported record hospitalizations and ICU rates for COVID-19, with 161 new cases, the third-highest number of new cases.

The first confirmed case of COVID-19 in a Canadian dog was reported today in the Niagara Region. Four members of the household tested positive for the virus but are doing well. Experts said the pet had no symptoms and a low viral load. Researchers said there is low risk of dogs passing the virus on to others or becoming seriously ill.

Alberta will begin a pilot rapid testing program on Nov. 2 in partnership with the federal government that could replace the 14-day mandatory quarantine requirement for travellers coming into Canada, reducing the quarantine period to a few days.

Good news: One of the leaders in COVID-19 vaccine development announced that its experimental vaccine produces an immune reaction in elderly people as well as in young people. Also, it triggers lower adverse responses among the elderly. It’s expected that the vaccine, developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca will be available early in the new year.

—Judy Gerstel

Oct. 23, 2020

Canada has hit a new high with 2,786 COVID-19 cases reported today. Of that total, Quebec reported 905 of those cases and Ontario accounted for 826. Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto announced an outbreak of five cases in its surgical unit.

Premier Francois Legault said it’s unlikely that the 28-day partial lockdown imposed Oct. 1 on Montreal and Quebec City would end on Oct. 29 but said he will wait until early next week to make a decision about extending the lockdown.

Two provinces also hit new record high numbers of daily cases for the second straight day. British Columbia reported 274 cases and Alberta had 427. British Columbia and Alberta both broke new daily case records for the second straight day, adding 274 and 427 cases, respectively. B.C.’s Dr. Bonnie Henry blamed social gatherings. “Much of the recent surge that we have seen in new cases in B.C in the last couple of weeks is directly linked to social events,” she said. “These events have caused clusters and outbreaks that have now spilled over into our health-care system.”

Alberta’s top doctor attributed the rise in his province to Thanksgiving socializing.

The U.S. Canada border now remains closed to non-essential travel until at least Nov. 21. This week, Canada was removed from the European Union’s “safe list” but individual members of the Union may choose whether to act on the recommendation. Greece, Portugal and Italy are expected to open to travellers from Canada by the end of October.

Nevertheless, the Government of Canada continues to advise Canadians to avoid all non-essential travel.

—Judy Gerstel

Oct. 22, 2020

Quebec remains hardest-hit, recording almost half of Canada’s total COVID-19 cases. The province has reported more than 1,000 new cases for five of the past six days and another region has become a red zone under its COVID-19 alert system. In a press conference Wednesday, Health Minister Christian Dubé announced new restrictions for Mauricie-Centre-du-Québec — halfway between Montreal and Quebec City — where she said there has been a “worrisome increase” in cases. The measures, which include the closing of bars and restaurants, take effect Saturday and match those instituted earlier this month for Greater Montreal, Quebec City and Chaudière-Appalaches.

Meanwhile in the west, B.C., with 203, and Alberta, with 406, both reported record single-day increases in COVID-19 cases Wednesday. Alberta also hit a record of active cases, with 3,372 in the province — close to 15 per cent of the country’s total, which was 22, 783 as of Thursday morning.

It was also confirmed Wednesday that Alberta’s Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard has tested positive for COVID-19 and that Premier Jason Kenney is in self-isolation, having attended meetings last week with Allard and three other members of his government. In a statement posted to Twitter Wednesday night, Kenney said he has tested negative but will isolate until Oct. 29, as per public health guidelines.

Oct. 21, 2020

Halloween is just the latest in a year-long line of celebrations put in peril by the pandemic. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed Tuesday that he will not be taking his kids out next week.

“Listening to public health officials means that my family will not be going trick-or-treating this year,” he said at a press conference Tuesday.

Trudeau and his family reside in Ottawa — one of Ontario’s four COVID hot spots where public health is recommending families keep festivities at home this Halloween. For the rest of the province, people should go out trick-or-treating only in household groups and the province includes wearing face masks for both those collecting and giving out candy as part of its guidelines.

What was essentially the cancelling of Halloween for parts of Ontario came a week after Canada’s top doctor said that trick-or-treating could go ahead — with precautions. Remarking on the creative ideas she’d seen for giving out candy more safely, “there are ways to actually manage this outdoors.” said Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam last Tuesday.

Halloween will be a mixed bag across Ontario, but also across the country as each province provides its own guidance. Trudeau urged Canadians to listen to their local health authorities. “I think families will be creative in how they respond to giving their kids as fun a holiday as we can while always listening to public health officials and respecting local guidelines.”

But experts warn that rule-following can be eroded by conflicting messaging. “Public health authorities] have to struggle with the context of local conditions being different and that can result in a variation in recommendation … and that can also result in public health authorities changing their minds as we’ve seen with masks,” Timothy Caulfield, a professor of law at the University of Alberta and Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy, said in an interview with CTV Tuesday.

“When you’re frustrated and perhaps have a particular ideological leaning, you are more likely to gravitate to a narrative that fits your personal brand and that’s definitely happening now, you’re seeing that more and more,” he said.

Oct. 20, 2020

It was reported Tuesday that the U.K. will spend £33.6 million ($57.3 million) funding the first human challenge trial of a vaccine for COVID-19.

Unlike Phase 3 clinical trials, during which thousands of volunteers are given an experimental vaccine with a certain percentage expected to be exposed to the virus naturally, researchers will dose participants with a vaccine candidate as well as the virus that causes COVID-19.

Although human challenge trials are considered to be more efficient, requiring less volunteers — as few as 100 — and less time, participants are generally healthy and young (18 to 30), which is not representative of people at higher risk for severe outcomes from COVID-19. And there is still no effective treatment for the respiratory illness should a volunteer need it.

Such a trials are “never undertaken lightly,” said Peter Openshaw, study co-investigator, professor and director of the Human Challenge Consortium. “However, such studies are enormously informative.”

“It is really vital that we move as fast as possible towards getting effective vaccines and other treatments for COVID-19.”

The trial may begin as early as January. After exposure to the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, vaccinated volunteers will stay in a biosecure facility at London’s Royal Free Hospital until they are no longer infectious. They will be monitored for a year afterward, with researchers looking for any side effects.

According to the World Health Organization, of the more than 100 vaccines for the novel coronavirus in development around the world, 10 are currently in Phase 3 clinical trials. And as the CBC reports, one of 11 candidates being developed in Canada is now in Phase 1 trials.

A recent survey of 1,539 Canadians by polling and market research firm Leger found that 63 per cent said they intend to get a COVID-19 vaccine once one is approved by Health Canada and is free of charge. The firm also queried 1,000 Americans for the poll, with 47 per cent saying they would get vaccinated.

Oct. 19, 2020

As Canada closes in on 200,000 cases of COVID-19, more of the country adopted stricter public health measures Monday in an effort to curb spread of the novel coronavirus.

In Ontario, York Region joined Toronto, Ottawa and Peel Region, moving back into a modified Stage 2 for 28 days. Gyms and movie theatres have been closed as part of the measures and, indoor dining is banned at restaurants and bars while public gatherings have been capped at 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors. Visits to long-term care homes are also now restricted to essential visitors, including caregivers, at facilities in the York Region to match measures already put in place for the province’s three other hot spots.

Ontario has also officially advised against traditional Halloween celebrations in the four areas now under tighter restrictions. In a statement released Monday, the province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams said: “Given the high transmission of COVID-19 in the modified Stage 2 public health unit regions of Ottawa, Peel, Toronto and York Region, traditional door-to-door trick or treating is not recommended.” He suggested that, instead, people have a candy hunt with members in their own household, and went on to warn families to “not travel outside of their neighbourhood to celebrate Halloween.”

Meanwhile, in Winnipeg and surrounding areas, where the vast majority of Manitoba’s new cases are concentrated, gatherings have been lowered to a maximum of five people for two weeks starting today. Nightclubs, bars, casinos, bingo halls and live entertainment venues have also been closed. Restaurants, however, will stay open but are now limited to 50 per cent capacity and can only seat up to five people at a table.

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, as of Sunday there have been a total 198,148 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 9,760 deaths related to the respiratory illness.

Oct. 16, 2020

The U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has put rec hockey in its crosshairs for potential to be a “superspreader event” for COVID-19.

In its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report released today, the CDC detailed its review of a mens league game back on June 16 in Tampa, Fla., from which 15 people became ill and 13 tested positive for the novel coronavirus. All but one, an arena staff member, were players, aged 19 to 53, nine from one team and five from the other.

The agency stated that the players did not have other common exposures in the week before the game and, that the “index patient” — the first documented case — started showing symptoms two days after the game.

“The ice rink provides a venue that is likely well suited to COVID-19 transmission as an indoor environment where deep breathing occurs, and persons are in close proximity to one another,” the CDC wrote in its report.

Amateur leagues across Canada have taken measures to limit contact in an effort to curb spread of COVID-19, including the closure of locker rooms, banning of spectators and reducing play to 3-on-3 or 4-on-4. And, as reported, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia would also consider taking play outdoors, if necessary.

In its conclusion, the CDC said: “The indoor space and close contact between players during a hockey game increase infection risk for players and create potential for a superspreader event, especially with ongoing community COVID-19 transmission.”

“Superspreader events, in which one infectious person infects many others, can lead to explosive growth at the beginning of an outbreak and facilitate sustained transmission later in an outbreak.”

Oct. 15, 2020

Demand for the annual flu vaccine is causing long lines and shortages across the country.

According to a report by the CBC, an online reservation system in Montérégie, Que., crashed on Tuesday — the first day residents were able to book an appointment for this year’s flu shot. And in B.C., there are already long wait times being reported as the province’s flu vaccination program gets started.

None the less, health officials are urging people to get inoculated against influenza especially this year in order to avoid what experts are calling a “twindemic” — a convergence of people becoming ill as both influenza and COVID-19 circulate.

Expecting higher demand for the flu shot this year, Health Canada increased its order from 11.2 million last year to 13 million doses this year. There were nearly 49,000 cases of influenza recorded in Canada during the 2018/19 flu season but only four out of 10 Canadians got the 2018/19 vaccine — a dose reported to have prevented 60 per cent of influenza cases.

In response to demand in Nova Scotia, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Robert Strang said: “We’re asking people to be patient.” He assured residents that anytime over the next eight weeks is a good time to get vaccinated, anticipating a rush that normally happens when the shots are first available.

Oct. 14, 2020

Although Quebec, Ontario and Alberta continue to see the largest resurgence of COVID-19, smaller provinces are also starting to see a concerning uptick in cases.

Manitoba reported its third record-breaking day in less than a week, with 124 new cases on Tuesday. The province’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin confirmed that the increase in cases has strained contact tracing efforts. He recommended people reduce their contacts in general and noted that a number of new cases had exposure to others while symptomatic.

“We just cannot succeed in this pandemic if people are out and about when they’re symptomatic,” he said at a daily press conference.

Roussin also said that another lockdown — as we’ve seen in hot spots of Ontario and Quebec — is possible as the province is running out of “targeted tools” to stop the spread of COVID in Winnipeg, where 95 per cent of new cases are located.

Meanwhile, New Brunswick declared a second special-care home outbreak. The facility, in Campbellton, had one of six new cases reported Tuesday, bringing active cases in the province to 82 — the highest number seen in N.B. during the pandemic.

Moncton, where the first special-care outbreak was declared, and Campbellton were put back into a more restrictive Orange Phase Friday past “because of additional potential public exposure to the virus identified through the investigation of existing cases, possible community transmission and reports of low compliance in some higher-risk settings,” Premier Blaine Higgs said.

On Tuesday, P.E.I. — one of four provinces in the Atlantic bubble along with N.B. —  advised islanders to avoid non-essential travel to the Moncton region.

Oct. 13, 2020

As we wait on the edge of our seats for a vaccine, Monday brought news of a set back for one candidate.

Drugmaker Johnson & Johnson has paused all clinical trials of its Covid-19 vaccine candidate. ENSEMBLE, because of an unexplained illness in a study volunteer. “Following our guidelines, the participant’s illness is being reviewed and evaluated by the ENSEMBLE independent Data Safety Monitoring Board (DSMB) as well as our internal clinical and safety physicians,” read a statement from the company.

“Adverse events – illnesses, accidents, etc. – even those that are serious, are an expected part of any clinical study, especially large studies.”

The company did not say what the illness was but made it a point to note that such a development is par for the course. “A study pause, in which recruitment or dosing is paused by the study sponsor, is a standard component of a clinical trial protocol.” Doctors will now work to determine whether it’s a dangerous side effect or a coincidence.

Johnson & Johnson is one of four pharmaceutical companies with which Canada has deals to purchase doses of successful vaccine candidates.

This is the second Phase 3 coronavirus vaccine trial to be paused in the U.S. The American portion of a global clinical trial by British-based AstraZeneca is yet to resume after pausing last month, with the US Food and Drug Administration investigating a neurological complication that arose in a study participant last month.

Experts have been sounding the warning about a second wave of COVID-19 well before the first wave had even peaked. With new daily case totals now at the highest we’ve seen during the pandemic, their predictions have — unfortunately — come to pass.

The Next Best Test

Health Canada has approved two rapid tests from U.S.-based Abbott Laboratories. The first antigen test was given the green light on Oct. 6, it works by detecting the presence of viral proteins and has shown to be effective 93.3 per cent of the time. Although less effective than the PCR test currently in use across the country, it’s touted as easier to administer and less expensive. Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand announced at the same time that the federal government signed an agreement to buy more than 20.5 million of the tests and that they would be distributed to COVID-19 hot spots across the country

That news came a week after Health Canada approved the ID NOW rapid test on Sept. 29, also from Abbott, It can provide results from a nasal swab in as little as 13 minutes. Premier Doug Ford applauded the federal government for its plan to purchase 7.9 million of the tests, saying the move will be “a game changer.” As reported, Air Canada has also ordered 25,000 of the rapid test kits — in partnership with McMaster University, the airline has been testing them with passengers returning from abroad to Toronto’s Pearson International Airport.

In the Greater Toronto Area increased demand for testing has led to long lines and multi-day result delays. To increase capacity, testing was opened up to symptom-free residents at select Shoppers Drug Mart locations near the end of September. With the province working to clear a backlog, assessment of the pharmacy swabs is being outsourced to a lab in California, according to a report by the CBC.

Long-Term Care Lessons Learned?

As we brace for what’s to come with a second wave, we’ve already had a harsh lesson about what can happen to vulnerable populations. The first wave of the pandemic cut a deadly swath through long-term care facilities across the country, killing more than 7,500 nursing home residents — 80 per cent of all virus-related deaths. The situation got so grim in Quebec and Ontario that the military had to be called in. Premiers of both provinces promised that changes would be put in place to ensure the second wave wasn’t so deadly.

Ontario finally responded with something concrete when on Sept. 28 Doug Ford announced that his government would invest $52.5 million to “recruit, retain and support” Ontario’s front line health care workers and caregivers “to ensure our health care system can meet any surge in demand.”

He followed, the next day stating that visits to long-term residences would be limited to staff, essential visitors and essential caregivers only in regions of the province experiencing a spike in cases. “We can’t let COVID-19 get into these homes,” the premier said at a daily press conference. To that end, Ford added an additional $540 million in funding for long-term care homes to combat the second wave.

The moves were a welcome development but, with the second wave already causing outbreaks in numerous elder care homes, many worry that it was too late.

Targeted Lockdown

On Oct. 10, Ontario put three of its hot spots — Toronto, Ottawa and Peel Region — back into a modified Stage 2, for 28 days. The move followed Quebec’s lead with three jurisdictions — Greater Montreal, Quebec City and Chaudière-Appalaches, where most of the province’s new COVID cases are concentrated — having entered a second lockdown on Oct. 1, also for 28 days.

Localized lockdown is considered a success in having avoided a major second wave of coronavirus in Australia. Restrictions were slowly lifted in the country’s second most populous state, Victoria, after a strict quarantine was instituted on July 9. Stay-at-home orders were finally lifted in Melbourne on Oct. 26 after 112 days. Victoria is home to about 24 per cent of the country’s population — comparable to Quebec, where about 23 per cent of Canadians reside.

The Bottom Line

A second lockdown could mean the end of many businesses, warned Business Council of Canada CEO Goldy Hyder in an interview with the Financial Post.

“We have to do everything we can to preserve the economic resilience of  this country — for businesses of all sizes,” he said. He added that businesses should be trusted to operate safely through a second wave because, pandemic or no pandemic, “it’s in their self interest to do so.”

Predictions have been dire for one sector hit hard by the pandemic. A survey released at the end of August by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce found that 31 per cent of food service businesses — an industry reported to employ 1.2 million Canadians — say they can only operate with social distancing in place for 90 days. The chamber fears that 60 per cent of restaurants could close permanently by December.

It’s not just the provinces and economists who want to avoid another widespread shutdown through the second wave. “To prevent small clusters from becoming major outbreaks, communities may need to enact short-term closure orders,” the Liberal government said in its recent throne speech.

And since, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that his government is targeting new pandemic recovery spending with $10 billion on infrastructure projects over the next three years. “With smart, targeted investments, we can get people back on the job, grow the economy while building a healthy, sustainable future for everyone,” he said.

Short-Term Pain for Long-Term Gain

Addressing the nation in a broadcast after the throne speech, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was confident that doubling down on efforts to flatten the curve would once again pay off, rallying all Canadians to do their part.

“We can’t change today’s numbers or even tomorrow’s, those were already decided by what we did do — or didn’t do two weeks ago. But what we can change is where we are in October and into the winter,” he said.

“It’s all too likely we won’t be gathering for Thanksgiving, but we still have a shot at Christmas. Together, we have the power to get the second wave under control.”

Super Centenarians

The one thing we know beyond a shadow of a doubt is that the novel coronavirus is particularly dangerous for older people — especially those with an underlying condition. But according to one scientist, the first wave of COVID-19 yielded this surprising finding — people over a hundred years of age are inexplicably surviving it.

“When people ask me why these people are surviving, I usually answer that it’s probably precisely because they are centenarians,” says geneticist and director of the Human Genome and Stem-Cell Research Center at the University of São Paulo, Mayana Zatz, who is studying the phenomenon. “Apparently, these people have a huge resistance to any challenge coming from the environment, including COVID-19.”

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