COVID-19 Tracker: New Study Finds Moderna Carries Lower Risk of Breakthrough Infections Than Pfizer 

Covid Tracker

What you need to know about COVID-19 in Canada as the global pandemic continues. Photo: HRAUN/Getty Images

Jan. 21, 2022

Moderna Found to Have Lower Risk of Breakthrough Infections Compared to Pfizer 

A new study has found that those who received a Moderna COVID-19 vaccine are at less risk for breakthrough infections than those who received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

breakthrough infection is when an individual tests positive for COVID-19 more than 14 days after receiving the recommended two doses of a vaccine.

The study — out of Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve University published in the Journal of the American Medical Association — also found that those who received the Moderna shot were less likely to be hospitalized than Pfizer vaccine recipients when a breakthrough infection did occur.

Researchers looked at the electronic health records of more than 637,000 fully vaccinated patients from 63 health care organizations across the U.S., collecting and analyzing data on breakthrough infections, hospitalizations and death rates between July and November 2021. During that time, the Delta variant was the dominant strain in the U.S.

Breakthrough infections were included if the person had not previously contracted COVID-19 and did not receive a booster shot. Records included patients from diverse geographic backgrounds, ages, races and ethnicities, income levels, and insurance groups.

“Breakthrough COVID infections, hospitalization and mortality associated with the Delta variant were compared between recipients of Moderna mRNA vaccine and recipient of Pfizer mRNA vaccine while considering patient characteristics and the varying time since vaccination,” said Rong Xu, study author and Case Western bioinformatics professor, in a press release.

The study found that the “monthly incidence rate” of breakthrough cases was higher among those who received the Pfizer vaccine, compared to Moderna.

For instance, researchers reported that the data showed 2.8 breakthrough cases per 1,000 people in those vaccinated with Pfizer, compared to 1.6 cases in Moderna recipients for November 2021.

The study also found that the 60-day rate for hospitalizations for Moderna recipients was 12.7 per cent, compared to 13.3 per cent for those who received the Pfizer vaccine.

They found “no significant difference” in mortality rates among recipients of the two vaccines.

Authors of the study say more research is needed to “assess the results of booster doses and also the protection afforded especially vulnerable populations.”

Despite their findings related to breakthrough infections, authors of the study maintain that both vaccines are “highly protective against SARS-COV2 infection and especially against the most severe consequences of infection.”

—Andrew Wright

 

Ontario to Start Lifting COVID-Related Curbs, Quebec More Cautious

Canada‘s most populous province of Ontario has blunted transmission of the Omicron coronavirus variant and will gradually ease restrictions on businesses from end-January, Premier Doug Ford said on Thursday.

The health care system is starting to stabilize in the wake of limitations imposed on Jan. 5, Ford told a news conference, saying Omicron cases should peak later this month.

“We can be confident that the worst is behind us and that we are now in a position to cautiously and gradually ease public health measures,” Ford said.

The province will allow restaurants, malls, and cinemas to operate with a 50% capacity limit from Jan. 31, before removing more curbs in February and March.

“While February will continue to present its own challenges, given current trends these are challenges we are confident we can manage,” Ford said.

In neighbouring Quebec, premier Francois Legault said he would maintain restrictions to help protect the health care system even though Omicron cases had peaked.

“I understand we are all tired, but lives are at stake. I’m currently under a lot of pressure to remove measures, but my duty is to be responsible to protect the lives of Quebecers,” he told a news conference.

Ontario and Quebec together account for around 61% of Canada‘s population of 38.2 million people.

(Reporting by Ismail Shakil in Bengaluru and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Tomasz Janowski and Grant McCool)

—Reuters

Jan. 20, 2022

Ontario Announces Easing of Restrictions

Today, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced the “positive news” he alluded to earlier this week, which, include a plan to gradually lift COVID-19 restrictions put in place early in the new year.

The easing of restrictions will take place in three stages, beginning on Jan. 31, with more changes planned for Feb. 21 and March 14.  Changes kicking in at the end of the month include replacing total business closures with capacity limits, including a return to indoor dining at 50 per cent capacity.

Gyms and other recreation facilities will also be allowed to operate at 50 per cent capacity. Gathering limits will be increased to 10 indoors and 25 outdoors.

Restrictions that shuttered businesses and prohibited indoor dining have been in place since Jan. 5, measures that were put in place to stop the spread of the highly infectious Omicron variant.

On Wednesday, Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said she expects the Omicron-fuelled spike in COVID-19 cases to hit its peak this month in the province.

“We are starting to see glimmers of hope. The sacrifices you are making now mean we are beginning to see signs of stabilization,” Elliott said at a news conference.

Hospitalizations, she explained, will peak in the weeks following the peak in cases, which will still put a strain on the province’s health-care system.

Ontario is reporting 4,061 people in hospital with COVID-19, which is down 71 from Wednesday and 594 COVID-19 patients in ICU, which is five less than the previous day. Of those in hospital 55 per cent were admitted for COVID-19 and 45 per cent were admitted for other reasons but have tested positive for COVID-19.

Ontario health officials are reporting 75 deaths over the span of 19 days due to COVID-19, citing a data catch-up.

Ontario is reporting 7,757 new COVID-19 cases, but health officials say that number is an underestimate due to limited testing.

Prime Minister Urges Canadians of All Ages to Get Vaccinated

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is once again urging Canadians to roll up their sleeves as the Omicron variant continues to spread across the country.

Speaking at an update on the federal government’s response on Wednesday, his message to the approximate 6.5 million Canadians who remain unvaccinated was simple: “it’s better late than never.”

“We now have enough doses so that everyone can be vaccinated and even receive a booster dose, so there is no excuse. People must be vaccinated,” Trudeau said in French.

The country’s booster campaign is also lagging. Despite having enough doses for all eligible Canadians, just 35 per cent of the population have received their third jab, according to the federal health minister, who also joined the press conference Wednesday.

“We must continue to accelerate our vaccination efforts to trend towards universal coverage,” said Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos.

Trudeau also stressed the importance of vaccinating children between age five and 12. According to the government, only 48 per cent of the age group have received their first dose.

“We know as we get back to school, as kids are re-engaging, parents are worried about the health of their kids. Therefore, get them vaccinated. The vaccination rate for kids five to 12 is too low in Canada,” said Trudeau.

“Which means not only are kids more vulnerable, but all of society. Whether it’s teachers, whether it’s grandparents, whether its frontline health workers risking getting overwhelmed when those people start to get sick. We need to do what’s right… That means getting our kids vaccinated, it is safe and effective and the right way to get through this pandemic.”

Duclos also urged Canadians to stay prudent in following pandemic protocols.

“Though the risk of hospitalization is individually lower for Omicron, the sheer volume of cases will likely keep increasing hospital admissions. These forecasts underscore that we must continue to exercise considerable prudence in order to limit the coming surge,” said Duclos.

“We cannot overstate the importance of individual practices. Let us continue to wear a mask in public places, let us continue to limit our contacts, and most importantly, let us get vaccinated and when eligible get boosted as well.”

—Andrew Wright

 

Jan. 19, 2022

Alberta to Roll Out Fourth Dose for Immunocompromised

Alberta will soon offer a fourth dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to adults who are immunocompromised — which represents around 80,000 Albertans, according to Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw.

“Three doses is in fact considered to be a primary vaccine series for someone who is immunocompromised,” she said Tuesday, adding that a fourth dose for the group was similar to a third dose for those with normal immune systems.

Appointments for the fourth jab can be made starting Jan. 20 through Alberta Health Services or pharmacies by using the online booking system or by calling 811.

“We continue to rely on the latest research to guide our decision-making, and with evidence showing immunocompromised individuals benefit from a fourth dose, we are pleased to provide them,” Premier Jason Kenney wrote in a statement.

Saskatchewan Expecting Omicron Case Peak in Two to Four Weeks

Saskatchewan’s top doctor is expecting Omicron cases to peak in the next two to four weeks.

“Apart from school or work, we need to really minimize our non-essential contacts for the next two to four weeks,” Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer, said at a press conference Tuesday.

“That is going to be critical because once the hospitalizations peak, that is going to be due to exposures that happened two to three weeks earlier.”

She explained hospitalizations peak one to two weeks after cases plateau.

“So, unfortunately, we will see hospitalizations increase for another six weeks,” she added.

Ontario Expects to Reach Peak of Omicron Wave This Month

The Omicron-fuelled spike in COVID-19 cases is expected to reach its peak this month in Ontario, Health Minister Christine Elliott said Wednesday morning.

“We are starting to see glimmers of hope. The sacrifices you are making now mean we are beginning to see signs of stabilization,” Elliott said at a news conference.

She said hospitalization are also headed in the right direction, doubling around every two weeks — an improvement from earlier in the month when they were doubling every few days. Hospitalizations, she explained, will peak in the weeks following the peak in cases, which will still put a strain on the province’s health-care system.

Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, who joined the press conference, said that current restrictions appear to be slowing the transmission of the virus.

Premier Doug Ford has indicated that current restrictions, which include closing restaurants for indoor dining, capacity limits and closures, may be eased this week.

“We’ll have some positive news. I believe we’re going to make some announcements later this week about going back to other levels of restrictions,” Ford told Newstalk 580 CFRA’s The Morning Rush with Bill Carroll on Tuesday.

Today, Ontario reported 4,132 people with COVID-19 in hospital, down 51 from the day before. The province has reported 53.4 per cent of those patients were admitted to hospital because of COVID-19, while 46.6 per cent were admitted for other reasons and tested positive once there.

Ontario has also reported 589 patients with COVID-19 in ICUs, which is the highest since June 5 — during the peak of the third wave of the pandemic in the province. They say 82.1 per cent of those people are in ICU for reasons directly linked to COVID-19, while 17.9 per cent were admitted for other reasons.

—Andrew Wright

 

British Columbia Extends COVID19 Curbs Until February, Gyms Allowed to Reopen

 British Columbia will allow gyms to open from Thursday, but other restrictions will stay in place until Feb. 16 as the healthcare system continues to be impacted by COVID19, the Canadian province’s top health official said on Tuesday.

The Pacific province had shut gyms and bars, and placed capacity limits on restaurants and events before Christmas when COVID19 cases started to spike due to the Omicron variant.

“After looking at the data … today I’m taking the cautious step of reopening gyms and exercise facilities with capacity limits and the continued use of the B.C. vaccine card,” Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry told reporters at a briefing.

B.C. had released data on Friday that suggested Omicron infections might have peaked, but new hospitalizations were still a concern as those were projected to continue rising this week.

Nationally, however, cases of the Omicron variant of COVID19 could surge in coming weeks, putting significant new strains on the healthcare system, Canada‘s chief public health officer, Theresa Tam, said last week.

(Reporting by Ismail Shakil in Bengaluru; Editing by Sandra Maler)

—Reuters

WHO Says No Evidence Healthy Children, Adolescents  Need COVID19 Boosters

There is no evidence at present that healthy children and adolescents need booster doses of COVID19 vaccine, the World Health Organization’s chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said on Tuesday.

Speaking at a news briefing, she said that while there seems to be some waning of vaccine immunity over time against the rapidly spreading Omicron variant of the coronavirus, more research needs to be done to ascertain who needs booster doses.

“There is no evidence right now that healthy children or healthy adolescents need boosters. No evidence at all,” she said.

Israel has begun offering boosters to children as young as 12, and the U.S. States Food and Drug Administration earlier this month authorized the use of a third dose of the Pfizer and BioNTech COVID19 vaccine for children aged 12 to 15.

Last week Germany became the latest country to recommend that all children between ages of 12 and 17 receive a COVID19 booster shot. Hungary has also done so.

Swaminathan said the WHO’s top group of experts would meet later this week to consider the specific question of how countries should consider giving boosters to their populations.

“The aim is to protect the most vulnerable, to protect those at highest risk of severe disease and dying. Those are our elderly populations, immuno-compromised people with underlying conditions, but also healthcare workers,” she said.

(Reporting by Mrinalika Roy and Manas Mishra; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

—Reuters

U.S. to Make 400 Million N95 Masks Available for Free to Fight COVID19 Pandemic

The U.S. government will make 400 million non-surgical N95 masks from its strategic national stockpile available for free to the public starting next week, a White House official said, marking the Biden administration’s latest effort to help curb the COVID19 pandemic.

The face masks will be shipped to pharmacies and community health centers this week, the official said, and available for pickup late next week.

The move comes after President Joe Biden and his team faced criticism for not doing enough to foster masking or bolster testing as the Omicron variant raged across the country.

Addressing that criticism and the wave, the administration has made free tests available via a website that launched officially on Wednesday in addition to its announcement about deploying masks from the strategic reserve.

“This is the largest deployment of personal protective equipment in U.S. history,” the official said.

“To ensure accessing these masks is easy and convenient, the administration is leveraging the federal retail pharmacy program and the federal community health center program, so that free masks are available at many of the same convenient and trusted locations Americans go to get vaccinated and boosted,” the official said.

The masks will be available at tens of thousands of pharmacies and thousands of community health centers with supplies available by the end of next week, the official said. “The program will be fully up and running by early February.”

Masks like the N95 that form a seal around the nose and mouth are considered especially effective at preventing virus spread. Last week the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended that Americans wear the “the most protective mask” that they can.

Biden’s team previously said there is ample supply to share the masks.

Hospitals have recovered from the desperate N95 shortages of the early pandemic, but several executives told Reuters that healthcare supply chains remain fragile and that small and poorly funded hospitals are at most risk if Americans make N95s their “everyday” masks.

U.S. mask makers told Reuters they have the machines to make millions of N95s each month.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Additional reporting by Lisa Baertlein; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)

—Reuters

Jan. 18, 2022

Antiviral Drug Initial Supply Will “Not Be Great Anywhere”

Canada’s approval of Paxlovid, the new antiviral COVID-19 treatment, is encouraging, but concerns remain around the country’s rollout of the new drug.

“I think it will be an effective tool in high-risk individuals if they can get tested quick enough to be able to be in the window for therapeutic benefit,” Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious diseases physician and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore, told CBC News.

“If you can get it to people fast enough to keep them from needing hospitalizations, then that basically solves the major problem that we’re facing.”

The two-drug antiviral regimen, which was nearly 90 per cent effective in preventing hospitalizations and deaths in patients at high risk of severe illness in trials, is meant to be taken at home for five days beginning shortly after the onset of symptoms.

Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases physician and member of Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine task force, told CBC News Network on Monday that the drug’s approval is a “very promising development, but there’s still some work that lies ahead.”

“We also now, of course, need to distribute it to the provinces and to have the provinces work out how it’s actually going to be administered,” he said.

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said Monday the antiviral treatment would be in “high demand” and anticipated early supply would “not be great anywhere.”

She also said provinces and territories will manage distribution.

So far, Canada has received 30,400 treatment courses of Paxlovid, with 120,000 more expected to be delivered between January and March.

Ontario Reports Rise in Hospital Admission as Ford Plans to Ease Some Restrictions

The number of patients in Ontario hospitals with COVID-19 has increased to 4,183, while the ICU admission related to the virus hit 580.

From Monday’s report, that’s an increase of 296 hospitalizations and two patients in intensive care.

According to CTV News, of the patients currently in care, 53.5 per cent were admitted due to a COVID-19-related illness and 46.5 per cent tested positive after they were admitted for another reason.

In the ICU, 82.1 per cent of the patients were admitted for COVID-19, while 17.9 per cent tested positive after the fact.

The increases come a day after Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore said he was encouraged by the slowing growth of cases in hospitals and ICUs, which he said may indicate a “plateau.”

“After 12 days of public health measures, we are making a dent on the number of people needing hospital care,” he told CP24.

The vaccination status of those in hospital include 2,050 fully vaccinated patients, 739 unvaccinated patients, and 195 partially vaccinated patients. The vaccination status of the remaining 1,199 patients is unknown, according to the government.

In the ICU, 196 patients are fully vaccinated, 195 patients are unvaccinated, and 17 patients are partially vaccinated. No vaccination information was provided for the remaining 172 patients.

The province reported 7,086 new cases of COVID-19 in the last day, but health officials have warned that those numbers are likely higher due to restrictions in testing access.

More than 5,400 of the reported cases were found in individuals who are fully vaccinated, while 1,087 were found in unvaccinated individuals. Partially vaccinated people account for 245 cases. The vaccination status of the remaining 314 cases is unknown.

Early in the new year, Ontario introduced new public health measures to combat the spread of Omicron and ease the strain on the province’s healthcare system, but Premier Doug Ford may be walking some of those restrictions back this week.

“We’ll have some positive news. I believe we’re going to make some announcements later this week about going back to other levels of restrictions,” Ford told Newstalk 580 CFRA’s The Morning Rush with Bill Carroll on Tuesday.

Quebec Hospital Confirms COVID-Related Death of 4-Year-Old Girl

Quebec’s Health Minister has offered his condolences to the family of a 4-year-old girl, who died from “circumstances related to COVID-19.”

“This is incredibly sad news,” Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé wrote on social media. “I would like to offer my deepest condolences to the family and loved ones of this little girl.”

The CHU de Québec — Université Laval network in Quebec City confirmed the child’s death in a statement Monday afternoon, but did not provide more details to maintain confidentiality.

As the Omicron variant spreads across the country, fatalities among children have remained extremely rare.

In November, Canada’s chief public health officer said a COVID-19 vaccine for toddlers and babies could be approved early in 2022, depending on the results of clinical trials.

—Andrew Wright

Jan. 17, 2022

Canada Has Approved Pfizer’s COVID-19 Oral Antiviral Treatment

Canada on Monday approved Pfizer Inc’s oral antiviral treatment for mild to moderate cases of COVID19 in people aged 18 and older but said supply shortages would keep doses from being made available immediately.

Infections and hospitalizations due to the Omicron variant have been rising in Canada, forcing provinces to put in restrictions and the federal government to support impacted businesses.

“(This) is particularly important, as access to easy to use treatments could help to reduce the severity of COVID19 in adults who become newly infected at high risk of progressing to serious illness,” said chief public health officer Theresa Tam.

Pfizer’s two-drug antiviral regimen, Paxlovid, was nearly 90% effective in preventing hospitalizations and deaths in patients at high risk of severe illness, according to data from the company’s clinical trial.

It is meant to be taken at home for five days beginning shortly after onset of symptoms.

Ottawa said last month it had signed a deal with Pfizer for a million treatment courses, pending approval. But getting those supplies could face hurdles.

“While there is currently limited global supply of Paxlovid, we are working to firm up a delivery schedule with the intent of bringing treatment courses to Canada as quickly as possible,” Tam told a briefing.

Ontario, the most populous of the 10 provinces, is seeing signs that Omicron cases may have peaked, said chief medical officer Kieran Moore.

“I’m starting to have much more hope … the number of cases is decelerating instead of accelerating in terms of hospitalizations and (people admitted to) intensive care units,” he told an Ottawa radio station.

Official data show that as of Jan 8, 87.8 per cent of Canadians aged 12 and above had received two doses of a COVID19 vaccine.

The U.S. authorized the Pfizer treatment for people ages 12 and older last month.

Canada is still looking at whether to approve Merck & Co’s oral antiviral pill, molnupiravir, which had less impressive results than Paxlovid in its pivotal clinical trial.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa and Ismail Shakil in Bengaluru; Editing by Franklin Paul and Bill Berkrot)

—Reuters

Students in Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba and Nova Scotia Return to School

Students in Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba and Nova Scotia return to in-person learning this week, despite concerns from teachers and parents about the spread of the Omicron variant.

Students in the four provinces started the new year online in response to record-high case counts, but government officials say the benefits of returning to in-person learning outweigh the potential risks.

As for controlling the spread of Omicron, deploying rapid antigen tests and addressing air quality in schools are among the precautions governments are taking.

However, in Quebec, officials insist air quality is of little importance in preventing infection in schools.

“We’re convinced that, if the other measures are applied, the current air quality in schools is really not a major factor in terms of transmission,” said Dr. Yves Jalbert, the medical director of public health protection at the Health Department said in a technical briefing Friday, according to the Montreal Gazette.

“There’s always room for improvements, but not to the point of thinking we’re taking a risk by sending children back into schools. Far from it.”

The province also isn’t budging on their refusal to provide N95 masks to teachers.

“In everyday life, the N95 mask hasn’t really proven to be superior in most situations,” said Jalbert.

Newfoundland and Labrador to Stay in Alert Level 4

Newfoundland and Labrador’s Alert Level 4, which has placed limits on gatherings and capacity for businesses, will last at least another week, according to a Department of Health media release.

The Alert Level 4 was issued in early January after the province reported a single-day record of 519 new cases of COVID-19.

The department said the decision to uphold current measures was based on the epidemiology of the province. The province will reassess on Jan. 24.

On Sunday, the province reported its fifth COVID-19 death in a week. They also reported 384 new cases and a total of 12 people in hospital with COVID-19.

—Andrew Wright

Beijing Olympics Tickets Will Not be Publicly Sold Due to COVID19

Tickets for the Winter Olympics set to begin on Feb. 4 will be distributed to “targeted” groups of people and will not be sold to the general public, the organising committee said on Monday, in the latest setback to the Games inflicted by COVID19.

Organisers had said in September that there would not be any international spectators at the Games, under COVID19 prevention policies that have all but shut China’s borders to international travellers.

It cited the “severe and complex” COVID19 situation and the need to protect the safety of Olympics personnel and spectators in Monday’s announcement.

Local spectators who receive tickets must observe strict COVID19 prevention measures before, during and after attending Olympic events, the committee said. It did not give further details, or further specify how tickets would be distributed.

China, which has largely managed to curb local COVID19 infections, is scrambling to prevent the spread of scattered outbreaks of the highly infections Omicron variant just as the busy Lunar New Year travel period begins.

The Olympics, to be held in the Chinese capital and neighbouring Hebei province, will take place in a “closed loop” that will keep athletes and other Games personnel separated from the general Chinese public. Most participants will arrive on special charter planes.

Last month, North America’s National Hockey League said its players would not participate in the Olympic tournament in Beijing due to COVID19 disruptions of the league schedule.

(Reporting by Tony Munroe; Editing by Gareth Jones and Alex Richardson)

—Reuters

India’s Main Cities Record Sharp Fall in COVID19 Infections

India’s capital Delhi and financial hub Mumbai have reported a big fall in COVID19 infections in the past two days and most of those who contracted the virus have recovered at home, authorities said on Monday.

Mumbai’s daily new infections fell below 10,000 on Sunday for the first time since early this month, after touching an all-time high of 20,971 on Jan. 7. It reported 7,895 infections late on Sunday, Mumbai’s municipal corporation said.

Delhi’s cases have fallen consistently since hitting a peak of 28,867 on Jan. 13 and is expected to be fewer than 15,000 on Monday, for the first time since early January, the city government’s health minister told reporters.

Both cities have said more than 80% of their COVID19 hospital beds have remained unoccupied since the fast-transmitting Omicron variant led to a massive surge in cases from the start of the year.

“With very large numbers of sub-clinical, asymptomatic and undetected cases, it is difficult to pinpoint a peak by new cases,” Rajib Dasgupta, head of the Centre of Social Medicine & Community Health at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, said in an email.

“In this situation, monitoring hospitalisation is more prudent; today’s case can be next week’s hospitalisation.”

Other epidemiologists say a national peak in cases could come by early- or mid-February.

Experts have attributed the low hospitalisations to high levels of previous infections and vaccination https://www.reuters.com/world/india/indias-new-covid19-cases-hit-seven-month-high-117100-2022-01-07. India has fully vaccinated about 70% of its 939 million adults and hopes to give the primary two doses to another 70 million or so teenagers by next month.

The government has advised states to mainly ask only people with symptoms of COVID19 to get tested https://www.reuters.com/world/india/indias-new-covid19-rules-aim-free-up-resources-carry-risks-2022-01-13 instead of random checks like earlier that badly stretched resources, especially in the last major wave in April and May when millions were infected and tens of thousands died.

India’s COVID19 infections rose by 258,089 in the past 24 hours, the health ministry said on Monday, taking the tally to 37.38 million – the most in the world after the United States.

Deaths rose by 385 – nearly 40% of them due to a delayed recording of previous fatalities in the southern state of Kerala – for a toll of 486,451. Only the United States and Brazil have reported more total COVID19 deaths.

(Reporting by Krishna N. Das, Chandini Monnappa and Neha Arora; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Clarence Fernandez)

—Reuters

Jan. 14, 2022

Canada Expects Omicron Surge in Coming Weeks to Strain Health Care System

Canada will see a surge in cases of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 in coming weeks which could put significant new strains on the healthcare system, chief public health officer Theresa Tam said on Friday.

Tam told a news briefing that scenarios suggested the wave might peak before receding into February.

New daily cases of COVID-19 have jumped to a record 37,500, which is most likely a drastic undercount of the true number, given constraints in testing capacity across the country, she added.

“A large surge of rapidly accelerating Omicron cases is forecast for Canada in the coming weeks,” Tam said.

Even though Omicron is less severe than the Delta variant it has replaced, it is much more infectious, and the sheer number of new hospitalizations “could result in significant levels of healthcare strain in the coming weeks,” she said.

More than 6.5 million eligible Canadians have had less than two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, she said, reiterating that the best way to avoid infection was to get inoculated.

Official data show that 87.6% of those aged 12 and older had received two shots as of Jan. 1.

The province of Quebec said on Thursday it was pressing ahead with a plan to levy a “health contribution” on adults refusing to get COVID-19 vaccinations, charging people at least C$100 to help contribute to increased running costs of the healthcare system.

Quebec said it is seeing signs that cases of Omicron may have peaked. Tam said it was too soon to say if this was true nationally.

“You can’t tell whether you’ve really reached a peak until after the peak is truly over … so we need to wait a little while to see if the trend continues on the downward trajectory,” she said.

(Reporting by David LjunggrenEditing by Paul Simao and Aurora Ellis)

Reuters

Health Canada 7 to 10 Days From Decision on Pfizer Antiviral Drug

Health Canada should be ready to make an authorization decision about Pfizer’s Paxlovid antiviral treatment for COVID-19 in a week to 10 days, chief medical adviser Dr. Supriya Sharma said Thursday, reports CP24.

But it’s still unclear when shipments will start or how much Canada will get at first as supply issues for the American-made drug have made it incredibly hard to get even it in the United States, where it was authorized before Christmas.

The drug prevents the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 from reproducing within a patient’s body. Pfizer’s clinical trial showed for high-risk patients it prevented hospitalizations by about 90 per cent.

Pfizer applied to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Nov. 22, and to Health Canada on Dec. 1.

The U.S. authorized it for use in patients at least 12 years old three weeks ago. The U.K. approved it Dec. 31.

Ontario ICU Patients Pass Key 500 Mark

Today Critical Care Services Ontario is reporting 510 adult COVID-19 related-critical illness (CRCI) patients in ICUs, passing the crucial 500 mark. (However, the province itself reports 527 patients in ICUs with COVID-19-related illness.) There were 289 CRCI patients were ventilated. There were 68 new adult admissions and 289 CRCI patients were ventilated. The seven-day rolling average of CRCI patients in ICU is 450.

Ontario health minister Christine Elliot reports that 80 per cent of patients admitted to the ICU were admitted for COVID-19 and 20 per cent were admitted for other reasons but have tested positive for COVID-19.

The province today reports 10,964 new cases of COVID-19, 10,964 patients hospitalized and 42 new deaths.

Toronto Geriatrician Calls for Military Assistance in Ontario LTC Homes

Today in Ontario there are 3,893 staff at LTC homes infected with COVID-19, the highest number ever during the pandemic, reports geriatrician Dr. Nathan Stall in a tweet. “In LTC, we now have a pandemic of staffing shortages. Homes need emergency staffing, including military assistance.”

Quebec’s 10 p.m. Curfew to End on Monday

Quebec’s 10 p.m. curfew will no longer be in effect as of Monday, Jan. 17. as officials predict the province’s explosive Omicron wave is coming to its peak, reports CTV News. The premier also said he hopes that restaurants and other venues will be able to open in the coming weeks.

“Experts tell us that the new cases have peaked,” Quebec Premier Francois Legault announced at a Thursday press conference.

The Legault government announced the 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew one day before New Year’s Eve.

The province also shut down bars, gyms, and indoor dining at restaurants in response to skyrocketing hospitalizations during the pandemic’s fifth wave. Those measures have not been lifted.

Legault said he hopes that restaurants and other venues will be able to open in the coming weeks.

The province did announce some measures would be lifted, such as the closure of non-essential stores on Sundays, which will come to an end in time for Jan. 23.

Ontario Approves Fourth Dose for Immune Comprised, Starting Today

Ontarians with compromised immune systems, including those on chemotherapy and dialysis, will qualify for fourth vaccinations starting today, providing they are 84 days past their third dose, the Toronto Star reports. The province’s chief medical officer made the announcement Thursday.

Dr. Kieran Moore also warned that the closures of restaurants for indoor dining, gyms, movie theatres, plus other restrictions could remain in place beyond their scheduled expiry date as Ontario sets daily records in COVID-19 hospitalizations.

“I can’t guarantee the 26th,” Moore said of the January date for lifting restrictions imposed earlier this month. “We need as a society to continue to protect the health-care system.”

The director of the science table advising Premier Doug Ford and Moore said mobility of Ontarians is down, COVID-19 test positivity rates are down and hospital admission rates are slowing, and those are all good signs.

“If we’re a little bit lucky, we could start to see hospital occupancy plateauing next week,” said Dr. Peter Juni, who stressed it is “too early” to ease restrictions on businesses while the province gauges the impact of reopening schools on Monday.

Reversal of Vaccine Mandate for Cross-Border Truckers Reversed

A day after the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) said an incoming vaccine mandate for truck drivers crossing from the United States would not be going into effect this week, the federal government said the reversal was all a mistake, reports the Globe and Mail.

On Wednesday evening, the CBSA’s spokesperson said Canadian truck drivers would not have to quarantine if they are unvaccinated or had received only one dose.

But the ministers said beginning Saturday, Canadian truckers must be vaccinated if they want to avoid quarantine and molecular tests. Unvaccinated American truckers will be turned back at the border.

The United States is preparing to impose similar restrictions on Canadian truckers, expected to take effect on Jan. 22.

Sask. Premier Scott Moe Tests Positive for COVID-19

Premier Scott Moe said he had no idea he might have had COVID-19 as he met with reporters on Wednesday, CTV News reports.

He took a routinely scheduled rapid test Thursday morning and it showed positive.

The premier tweeted “I’m feeling fine and will be self-isolating and working from home for the next five days.”

Moe removed his mask at the news conference, which is permissible for television purposes. A sign language interpreter stood a few feet away and also removed her mask. The province’s chief medical health officer kept his mask on as did everyone else present.

Earlier this week, the premier attended a school function in La Loche. He tested negative before embarking on the trip north.

Moe is triple vaccinated and is the second premier to test positive in the past two weeks. New Brunswick’s Blaine Higgs has also had to self-isolate.

Jason Kindrachuk, a researcher into emerging viruses at the University of Manitoba, said no one can let their guard down.

“I think the major message is that right now Omicron is moving through our populations exceedingly quickly. People that are vaccinated still have to take precautions.”

Teachers in France Strike Over Chaotic COVID-19 Strategy for Schools

Tens of thousands of French teachers angry with the government’s COVID-19 rules walked off the job on Thursday and took to the streets to demand better protection for pupils and staff against infection, reports Reuters.

New testing requirements announced on the eve of the return from Christmas holidays and changed twice since coalesced the anger.

A joint statement by 11 unions blamed the government for what it called a “chaotic situation” due to “incessant changes of footing, unworkable protocols and the lack of appropriate tools to guarantee (schools) can function properly.”

The government stood by its policy to keep classes open and requiring all pupils in contact with an infected person to get tested three times.

Infections have surged in schools as France has set records with close to 370,000 new daily cases, sending families scrambling to get their children tested.

Good News: Sharp Decline in COVID-19 Wastewater Levels in Boston Area

New data suggest omicron cases may have peaked in the Boston area. In December, the level of COVID-19 found in the metro area’s sewage rose extremely rapidly. Now, those numbers show a sharp decline, reports WBUR.

“When I refreshed the website and saw it, I literally punched the air and let out a hoot because it was something I’ve been hoping for,” said Bill Hanage, a professor of epidemiology at Harvard’s School of Public Health.

The size of the decline, as well as the fact that it was consistent across the area, makes Hanage confident that the spike is over.

Hanage said the steep decline likely means major disruptions from illness and quarantines will subside. However, he warned that the strained health-care system will feel the repercussions of the Omicron variant for the next month or so.

More Good News: U.K.’s Daily Cases Drop to Lowest Level Since Dec. 27

The number of new COVID-19 cases has fallen to the lowest level since Dec. 27, with a further 109,133 lab-confirmed cases recorded in the U.K. as of 9 a.m. today.

The figures represent a fall of 16 per cent from the 129,587 new cases which were recorded yesterday.

The government also said a further 335 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for COVID-19, bringing the total to 151,342.

It comes as Health Secretary Sajid Javid announced that self-isolation is to be cut by a day to a minimum of five full days in England, as ministers start to relax COVID rules.

Under the new rules, from Monday those isolating after testing positive for, or showing COVID symptoms, will be freed from the start of their sixth day, as long as they have a negative lateral flow result that day, and the day before.

Australia Revokes Novak Djokovic’s Visa for a Second Time

The Novak Djokovic saga continues as the Australian government on Friday cancelled his visa for a second time, saying the Serbian tennis star may pose a risk to the community as he is unvaccinated for COVID-19, reports Deutsche Welle.

Djokovic was first denied entry to Australia last week. He claims to have tested positive for COVID-19 on Dec. 16 and therefore does not need a coronavirus vaccine to enter the country.

The Australian Open men’s tournament is due to start on Monday.

When Djokovic announced his plans to travel to Australia with a medical exemption earlier this month, many Australians responded with anger and frustration.

Australia, and Melbourne in particular, has witnessed some of the strictest lockdowns over the last two years, in order to ward off the coronavirus.

Critics not only targeted Djokovic for being unvaccinated, but also blamed the Australian government’s handling of the situation.

Judy Gerstel

 

Jan. 13, 2022

Good News? Latest Ontario ICU Numbers Not Increasing Exponentially

Statistician Bill Comeau wonders whether there may be a sliver of good news.

He tweets, “Opinion: Is there something to recent signals? Possibly, especially the harder evidence with new ICU admits which lag infections. They have clearly fallen off the consistent exponential growth trend over recent days.”

Ontario today reported 9,909 new daily cases of COVID-10, 3,630 hospitalized and 500 in ICU.

Critical Care Services Ontario today is reporting 485 adult COVID-19 related critical illness patients in ICUs. 274 CRCI patients were ventilated. There were 55 new adult admissions. The seven-day rolling average of CRCI patients in ICU is 425.

Meanwhile, the COVID-19 situation continues to worsen in Ontario LTC homes, according to geriatrician Dr. Nathan Stall. The change in the last 24 hours includes 20 more outbreaks for a total of 389 reported by Public Health Ontario, 166 more resident active cases for a total of 1,905, 355 new staff active cases for a total of 3,609 and nine new resident deaths.

Premier: “It’s up to Manitobans to look after themselves”

As the Omicron variant roars across the province, Manitoba’s premier has conceded the public — and not the government — must be responsible for limiting its spread, reports the Winnipeg Free Press.

“This virus is running throughout our community and it’s up to Manitobans to look after themselves,” Premier Heather Stefanson told reporters Wednesday.

“We must all learn to live with this virus; there must be a balance.”

With a record 454 COVID-19 patients in hospital reported Wednesday — up from 251 on Jan. 4 — and the novel coronavirus running amok, the premier was asked if public health officials had recommended more stringent measures to try and contain the spread.

Ottawa Reverses Vaccine Mandate for Truckers

Canada will allow unvaccinated Canadian truckers to cross in from the U.S., backing off from a decision requiring all truckers to be inoculated against the coronavirus, Canada’s border agency said on Wednesday, according to Reuters.

Prime Minister Trudeau had faced pressure from the main opposition party and trucking lobby to drop the vaccine mandate for truckers, due to come into force on Saturday, saying it could result in driver shortages, disrupt trade and drive up inflation.

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) said that unvaccinated, or partially vaccinated Canadian truck drivers arriving at the Canada-U.S. border will remain exempt from pre-arrival, arrival and post-arrival testing and quarantine requirements.

However, truckers from the United States will still need to be vaccinated or they will be turned back at the border from Jan. 15.

A Canadian government source said the decision was taken to ensure smooth supply chains.

Food and agricultural products could have felt the squeeze. The reliance on U.S. products is especially high in winter.

Ontario Study: Less Self-Harm, Overdose Among Teens, Young Adults

Among adolescents and young adults, the initial 15-month period of the COVID-19 pandemic was associated with a relative decline in hospital care for self-harm or overdose, according to a study published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association Open Network. Researchers evaluated emergency department visits, hospitalizations, and deaths from self-harm or overdose among adolescents and young adults born in Ontario between 1990 and 2006.

Ontario Schools Will Report Outbreaks When 30 per cent Are Absent

The Ontario government says parents will only be notified of a potential COVID-19 outbreak when approximately 30 per cent of staff and students in the school are absent, but data on absentee rates will be available to the public before that threshold is met, reports CTV News.

When student and staff absenteeism in an individual school reaches approximately 30 per cent from its baseline, it will trigger the principal to notify local health officials, the province said Wednesday.

At that point, a joint letter from the local medical officer of health and the principal would be sent to the school community.

The 30 per cent threshold will not automatically trigger a school closure, but a pivot to remote learning could be considered at that time.

Parents will not be notified of each COVID-19 case or exposure within their child’s school.

Parents with concerns about the potential spread of COVID-19 in their child’s school will have access to the school’s absentee rate, prior to the 30 per cent threshold being met. That information was not included in a news release on the subject issued by the government, but was clarified by the Ministry of Education Wednesday afternoon.

That data will be made available on the province’s website on a regular basis starting Jan. 24, according to a spokesperson for the ministry.

The Ontario government also announced it will give two COVID-19 rapid tests to each student and staff member when in-person learning returns.

Poll: Most Canadians Think Catching COVID-19 Is Inevitable

A new poll from the Angus Reid Institute released today found that 55 per cent of Canadians expect to get COVID-19 eventually, regardless of the precautions they take, reports CTV News. The percentage rises to 63 per cent among parents of children in grade school.

Regionally, 64 per cent of Manitobans believe they will catch COVID-19 eventually, while just 37 per cent of people in Saskatchewan believe they will catch the virus.

Some health officials do agree that there’s a chance most Canadians will catch COVID-19 at some point.

Given the sense of inevitability, a relatively high number of Canadians believe all COVID-19 restrictions should end and those at risk can manage themselves.

In total, 39 per cent of Canadians believe restrictions should end, while 62 per cent of Conservative voters and 89 per cent of unvaccinated people believe it’s time to remove restrictions.

Florida and Texas are two of the notable areas that have already taken this approach to handling the pandemic. More than 10 million people have contracted COVID-19 in both states combined, along with nearly 140,000 deaths, according to tracking data from Google.

U.S. FDA Head: “Most People Are Going to Get Covid” 

Earlier this week, Food and Drug Administration head Janet Woodcock told a U. S. Senate panel that “most people are going to get covid,” the Washington Post reported. It might be hard to process, she said, but it’s important to acknowledge as the country tries to chart a new path forward. “What we need to do is make sure the hospitals can still function, transportation, you know, other essential services are not disrupted while this happens,” she said. “I think after that will be a good time to reassess how we’re approaching this pandemic.”

Military to Help in U.S. Hospitals, Biden Will Announce

U.S. President Joe Biden will announce today that the federal government is deploying additional medical teams to six states — New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Rhode Island, Michigan and New Mexico — to help hospitals struggling to respond to the spike in cases of the Omicron variant, a White House official told the Washington Post.

It’s one of the actions Biden plans to highlight in a speech from the White House on the administration’s “whole of government COVID-19 surge response,” much of which is already underway. He is slated to be joined by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and a Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator.

The Biden administration is deploying 1,000 military personnel, to begin arriving next week at hospitals across the country, to “enhance surge efforts,” according to the White House official.

Survey: Staffing at U.K. Care Home 30 per cent Less Than Needed

Care homes are missing a third of the staff they need and more than one in four have closed their doors to new admissions in a deepening labour crisis that is “putting safety and dignity at risk,” according to the National Care Forum (NCF), which ran a survey of its not-for-profit care-home members.

With thousands of care workers off sick with COVID, on top of a rising number of vacancies, the situation in social care has become “grim, difficult and relentless,” reports The Guardian.

The director of the Relatives and Residents Association, Helen Wildbore, said that “untold harm is being done to lives and to wellbeing”.

She said staff shortages were “putting safety and dignity at risk.”

Record Cases in Israel, but Death Rate Lower

Israel broke its record for a daily caseload Wednesday with 48,095 new cases diagnosed in the previous 24 hours, reports the Times of Israel. However, there was no increase Wednesday in the number of patients hospitalized in serious condition because of COViD-19, according to Health Ministry daily figures published today.

Israel is reportedly seeing a significant drop in the number of seriously ill patients who need to be ventilated due to infection with the Omicron variant, compared to previous waves.

Though highly infectious, the Omicron strain now dominating the country is considered less virulent than previous variants, and Health Ministry figures show that the number of both seriously ill patients and deaths is lower than rates seen in the past.

South Korea Gets First Supply of Pfizer’s COVID-19 Pills

South Korea on Thursday received its first supply of Pfizer’s antiviral COVID-19 pills to treat patients with mild or moderate symptoms, reports CTV News. The medication has not yet been approved by Health Canada but is already available in the U.K. and the U.S.

Health officials have described the Paxlovid pills as a potentially important tool to suppress hospitalizations and deaths, as the country braces for another possible surge in infections driven by the contagious omicron variant.

South Korea’s initial supply is enough to support the required five-day treatment courses for 21,000 people. Officials say another batch of pills, enough to provide the required five-day courses for 10,000 people, will come by the end of January.

Judy Gerstel

 

Jan. 12, 2022

Thousands Sign up for Vaccine After Quebec Announces Tax on Anti-Vaxxers 

More than 7,000 people in Quebec registered for their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday, reports CTV News, the same day the province announced it will impose a health tax on Quebecers who refuse to be vaccinated.

“Our highest in several days,” tweeted Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé, noting that 5,000 appointments were also made on Monday. “This is encouraging.”

Dubé notes the appointments were made across all the age groups, and 107,000 doses of vaccine were administered Tuesday alone.

“A health contribution will be charged to all adults that don’t want to get vaccinated. We are there now,” Quebec Premier François Legault said Tuesday, according to Global News.

Legault said he felt the ire of the vaccinated towards the unvaccinated, whom he blamed for clogging up the province’s hospitals.

Only 10 per cent of the population is unvaccinated but they make up 50 per cent of patients in intensive care beds, according to the premier.

“All Quebec adults who refuse in the coming weeks to at least get a first dose, will be getting a bill,” he said.

Constitutional and human rights lawyer Julius Grey told Global News that he thinks the new measure could face legal challenges. “On each side there would be rational argument and the courts would decide,” he said. “It would be a close call.”

Military: About 41 per cent of Winnipeggers May Have Active COVID-19

As many as 41 per cent of Winnipeggers might have active COVID-19, military modelling suggested Tuesday — one week after the province acknowledged it can no longer accurately record the soaring number of cases.

That estimated prevalence reported by the Winnipeg Free Press is based on the typical ratio of known cases to asymptomatic ones that don’t ever get tested, the timelines people incubate the novel coronavirus and when they are most infectious to others, according to a dashboard designed for the Canadian Armed Forces.

Meanwhile, infections could be hitting a peak soon, reports CTV News. The government website estimates that Winnipeg is expected to start seeing cases decline in the next seven to 10 days.

The tool is designed for the Canadian Armed Forces to understand their risk level in different areas of Canada and internationally, and isn’t used to advise other aspects of government.

“The tool was made available globally to provide easy access to CAF medical advisors irrespective of their location and as part of the Government of Canada open data initiative,” a spokesperson told CTV News in an email. “It is important to note that the numbers found in this model are not case numbers, but rather estimates based on existing epidemiological information.”

Projections on the website are similar for Toronto, Montreal and Halifax, where cases are also expected to drop in the coming weeks.

And B.C.’s top doctor says the COVID-19 peak there is a few weeks away.

“We may be entering soon into the place where we will see a decline,” Dr. Bonnie Henry said in an update Tuesday.

U.K. Prime Minister Apologizes for Partying During Lockdown

Boris Johnson has — for the first time — admitted he attended a drinks party at No. 10 during the first lockdown. He offered a “heartfelt apology” but said he had believed it to be a work event.

Labour Leader Keir Starmer and other MPs questioned how Johnson could have thought the party was a work event. Witnesses said both the PM and his wife were among about 30 people at the event in May 2020. At the time it was forbidden to meet more than one person outside. An enquiry is ongoing.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday another 379 COVID deaths were recorded in the U.K., as well as 120,821 new cases.

Cases in Germany, Norway Reach New Daily High

Germany has reported more than 80,000 new daily COVID-19 infections, marking a new daily record, according to the Guardian.

A total of 80,430 coronavirus cases and 384 deaths were recorded for Tuesday, figures from the Robert Koch Institute show.

Norway also set a new daily record for COVID-19 cases with 9,622 new infections registered in the last 24 hours, This is 3,000 cases more than the average of the previous seven days (6,622), local media reports.

World COVID-19 Cases Increase, Number of Deaths Stable

The number of new coronavirus infections in the last week jumped by about 55 per cent, although the number of deaths remained stable, the World Health Organization said in its latest pandemic report., according to the Toronto Star.

In the weekly report issued Tuesday night, the U.N. health agency said there were about 15 million new COVID-19 cases last week and more than 43,000 deaths. Every world region reported a rise in COVID-19 cases except for Africa, where officials saw an 11per cent drop.

Judy Gerstel

 

Jan. 11, 2022

Highest Adult ICU COVID-19 Admissions in Ontario in Any Wave

Critical Care Services Ontario is reporting 465 adult patients with COVID-19-related critical illness (CRCI) in ICUs. 249 CRCI patients were ventilated. There were 80 new adult admissions, which is the highest number in all waves. The seven-day rolling average of CRCI patients in ICU is 370.

Today, Ontario reported 7,951 confirmed new cases of COVID-19.

Health Minister Christine Elliott tweeted that, starting tomorrow, “We are updating Ontario’s public reporting to distinguish patients hospitalized due to COVID-19 from those admitted for other reasons with COVID-19.

“While this doesn’t change the serious situation in Ontario’s hospitals, it is important to share this data to provide additional context on the state of the pandemic.”

Ontario Parents Won’t be Informed if Kid’s Classmate has COVID

The Ford government confirmed Monday that in-person learning will resume across Ontario on Jan. 17 and issued a seven-page document, reported by CTV News, stating that “Ontario parents may not be notified of COVID-19 exposure in child’s class.” As well, public school students will only be eligible for free PCR COVID-19 testing if they develop symptoms while at school. Dismissing cohorts of students or even notifying families after exposures is now a thing of the past.

Majority of Canadians Favour Latest Restrictions to Control Omicron

A new poll suggests a slim majority of Canadians support the latest round of lockdowns and other government-imposed restrictions as the Omicron variant continues send the rate of new COVID-19 infections soaring, reports the Globe and Mail.

Fifty-six per cent of respondents in the poll conducted by Leger and the Association of Canadian Studies agreed that governments are making the right decisions to limit the spread of Omicron and to keep the health system from being overrun.

Another 31 per cent said they did not believe Omicron poses a serious health risk to most of those who are infected, and that governments should leave things open and let Canadians live with the risk.

The remaining 14 per cent said they did not know.

Canada Sees More COVID-19 Cases in 40 Days of Omicron Than All of 2020

Canadian officials have documented more cases of COVID-19 in the 40 days since the first case of Omicron was detected here than they did during the entire first year of the pandemic, reports CTV News. As well, experts say there are even more cases going undetected.

Don’t Travel to Canada, Americans Warned

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Monday advised Americans not to travel to Canada because of a rising number of COVID-19 cases, reports CBC News.

The CDC elevated its travel recommendation to “Level Four: Very High” for Canada. The CDC currently lists about 80 destinations worldwide at Level Four.

COVID-19 Hospitalizations in U.S. Reach Record High

COVID-19 hospitalizations in the United States have reached a new record high, surpassing the previous peak from January 2021, according to data from the US Department of Health and Human Services, reports CNN.

There are 145,982 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19 — about twice as many than two weeks ago. Nearly 24,000 intensive care unit beds are in use for COVID-19 patients.

Pediatric hospitalizations have already far surpassed previous peaks — with nearly 5,000 children currently hospitalized with confirmed or suspected COVID-19. That’s nearly double the previous peak from September during the Delta surge.

The HHS data on COVID-19 hospitalizations includes both those patients who are hospitalized because of COVID-19 complications and those who may have been admitted for something else but test positive for COVID-19. This has been true throughout the pandemic, though the share of patients who fall into each category may have changed over time.

WHO: Half of Europe May Be Infected by Omicron in Next Two Months

More than half of the population in the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) European region could be infected by Omicron within the next two months, the UN agency warned on Tuesday.

WHO Regional Director Dr. Hans Kluge said Omicron “represents a new west to east tidal wave” sweeping through the 53 countries that make up WHO’s Europe region, reports BBC News.

More than seven million infections were confirmed across the region in the first week of 2022, more than doubling over a two-week period.

“As of 10 January, 26 countries report that over one per cent of their population is catching COVID-19 each week,” said Kluge.

“At this rate, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) forecasts that more than 50 per cent of the population in the region will be infected in the next six to eight weeks,” he said.

Manitoba’s Pandemic Death Toll Rises

Manitoba’s pandemic death toll swelled over the weekend, as the province reported 19 more deaths due to COVID-19 and 2,383 new cases Monday, according to the Winnipeg Free Press.

A total of 7,083 cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Manitoba since the last public health update on Jan. 7. (Manitoba has now exceeded 100,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began.)

Monday’s number is said to be an undercount of infections as the province has largely pivoted to using rapid antigen tests to diagnose COVID-19. Results of rapid tests are not tracked by the government.

Judy Gerstel

 

Jan. 10, 2022

Pfizer CEO: Omicron Vaccine Ready in March

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla on Monday said a vaccine that targets the Omicron variant of COVID-19 will be ready in March, and the company’s already begun manufacturing the doses, reports CNBC News.

Bourla said the vaccine will also target the other variants that are circulating. He said it is still not clear whether or not an Omicron vaccine is needed or how it would be used, but Pfizer will have some doses ready since some countries want it ready as soon as possible.

“The hope is that we will achieve something that will have way, way better protection particularly against infections, because the protection against the hospitalizations and the severe disease — it is reasonable right now, with the current vaccines as long as you are having let’s say the third dose,” said Bourla.

Bourla said it’s not clear whether a fourth dose is needed. He said Pfizer will conduct experiments to make to determine if another dose is necessary.

Israel has made a fourth dose of Pfizer’s vaccine available to people over the age of 60, people with compromised immune systems and health-care workers.

Israeli scientists found that a fourth dose of the vaccine increases antibodies that protect against the virus fivefold a week after receiving the shot.

COVID Cases Threaten to Overwhelm Ontario, Quebec Hospitals

Critical Care Services Ontario is reporting 427 adult patients with COVID-19-related critical illness (CRCI) in ICUs, 231 CRCI patients were ventilated. There were 54 new adult admissions. The seven-day rolling average of CRCI patients in ICU is 341. Hospitalization cases are nearing or reaching record highs in Quebec, Ontario, and New Brunswick, reports CTV News. At Hamilton Health Science’s Juravinski Hospital, the ICU is operating above capacity. Staff have had to double up patients in critical care rooms. Ontario reported 9,706 confirmed new cases Monday.

Meanwhile, schools will open today in Alberta and British Columbia, according to the Globe and Mail, amid concerns by many parents about school safety.

Pope Suggests COVID Vaccination is “Moral Obligation”

Pope Francis suggested Monday that getting vaccinated against the coronavirus was a “moral obligation” and denounced how people had been swayed by “baseless information” to refuse one of the most effective measures to save lives, reports AP News.

“Frequently people let themselves be influenced by the ideology of the moment, often bolstered by baseless information or poorly documented facts,” he said,

“Vaccines are not a magical means of healing, yet surely they represent, in addition to other treatments that need to be developed, the most reasonable solution for the prevention of the disease.

Some Catholics, including some conservative bishops, have claimed vaccines based on research that used cells derived from aborted fetuses were immoral, and have refused to get the jabs.

The Vatican’s doctrine office, however, has said it is “morally acceptable” for Catholics to receive COVID-19 vaccines based on research that used cells derived from aborted fetuses. Francis and Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI have been fully vaccinated with Pfizer-BioNTech shots.

Spain: More COVID-19 Reinfections in Two Weeks Than Rest of Pandemic

The number of COVID reinfections reported in Spain in the past two weeks has exceeded the total number of repeat infections documented during the rest of the pandemic, according to the latest data from Spanish researchers, reported by The Guardian.

In the span of two weeks in late December and early January, 20,890 reinfections were reported in Spain.

While the bulk of cases appeared to be mild, the number is higher than the 17,140 cases of reinfection documented from the start of the pandemic to 22 December. The Spanish data includes both confirmed and suspected reinfections.

Researchers attributed the growing number of repeat infections to the fast-spreading Omicron variant.

The Spanish data adds to previous research that has linked Omicron to an increase in reinfections. A report released by researchers at Imperial College London in mid-December estimated the risk of reinfection with Omicron to be 5.4 times greater than with Delta.

In South Africa, where the Omicron variant was first identified, preliminary research suggested the variant appears to be reinfecting people at three times the rate of previous strains.

“Previous infection used to protect against Delta but now, with Omicron, that doesn’t seem to be the case,” said professor Anne von Gottberg, from South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases, in early December.

The findings from the U.K. and South Africa were echoed online by the World Health Organization in late December. “Individuals who have recovered from COVID-19 are three to five times more likely to be reinfected with Omicron compared with Delta.

In Spain, the researchers pointed to several factors that may explain the rising number of reinfections. “Either the virus mutates or a person’s immunity wanes,” said Dr Pere Domingo, COVID co-ordinator at a Barcelona hospital. in comments to El País. “In this wave, we’ve seen both factors at play.”

Others suggested that the potential for reinfection was magnified given the large number of COVID-19 cases being reported. “Even if the possibility of reinfection is small — say, one out of 100 — if there are millions of infections, the reinfections will be in the tens of thousands,” Madrid University professor José Antonio López Guerrero told Nius.

Recent weeks have seen the number of cases in Spain rise to record highs, pushing the 14-day infection rate to 2,723 cases per 100,000. To date, the sharp rise in cases has not resulted in a surge of hospitalizations; the number of patients in intensive care units is about half that of the figure from a year earlier.

Italy Extends Restrictions for Unvaccinated

New regulations in effect as of today in Italy mean most public travel and team sports are off-limits to those without a COVID-19 vaccination, reports Deutsche Welle.

In order to visit restaurants, hotels, trade fairs, ski lifts, or ride on local or long-distance trains and buses, you must now present proof of vaccination against or recent recovery from COVID-19. Previously, a negative test result was also accepted.

The new rule also applies to team sports — so all professional soccer players must be vaccinated in order to play.

Italy has seen a spike in infections recently. The latest incidence rate showed 1,669 new cases per 100,000 residents in the last seven days.

The majority of schools opened Monday for a new term, despite calls from teachers, the doctors’ union and some mayors to delay the return to class for at least two weeks. Top virologist at the Sacco de Milan hospital, Massimo Galli, said opening schools was “imprudent and unjustified,” while public health expert Walter Ricciardi described the situation as “explosive,” reports Al Jazeera.

The virus is “in an exponential phase. The reopening of schools will bring additional stress, and I fear the number of infections will grow at least until the end of January,” said virologist Fabrizio Pregliasco.

Study: Common Cold May Offer Some Protection Against COVID-19

A small study published today in Nature Communications, involved 52 individuals who lived with someone who had just caught COVID-19.

Those who had developed a “memory bank” of specific immune cells after a cold — to help prevent future attacks — appeared less likely to get COVID-19.

Experts say no one should rely on this defence alone, and vaccines remain key, reports the BBC.

Researchers at Imperial College London understand better why some people catch COVID-19 after being exposed to the virus and others do not.

COVID-19 is caused by a type of coronavirus, and some colds are caused by other coronaviruses — so scientists have wondered whether immunity against one might help with the other.

But the experts caution that it would be a “grave mistake” to think that anyone who had recently had a cold was automatically protected against COVID-19 – as not all are caused by coronaviruses.

In September 2020, researchers studied 52 people who had not yet been vaccinated but who lived with people who had just tested positive for COVID-19. Half the group went on to get COVID-19 during the 28-day study period and half did not.

A third of the people who did not catch COVID-19 were found to have high levels of specific memory T-cells in their blood. These were likely to have been created when the body had been infected with another closely related human coronavirus — most frequently, a common cold, they say.

Researchers accept other variables — such as ventilation and how infectious their household contact was — would have an impact on whether people caught the virus, too.

Dr Simon Clarke, at the University of Reading, said although this was a relatively small study, it added to the understanding of how our immune system fights the virus and could help with future vaccines.

Buy, he cautioned, “It could be a grave mistake to think that anyone who has recently had a cold is protected against COVID-19, as coronaviruses only account for 10 to 15 per cent of colds.”

Judy Gerstel

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