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6 more have died as B.C. confirms unprecedented 1,120 new cases of COVID-19 over the weekend – CBC.ca

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B.C.’s COVID-19 numbers continue to grow at an unprecedented rate, with another six deaths and 1,120 new cases confirmed over the weekend.

Deputy Provincial Health Officer Dr. Réka Gustafson announced the latest numbers on Monday afternoon, revealing that the active caseload is now 2,945 patients, 90 of whom are in hospital, including 19 in intensive care.

The new case numbers confirmed for each of the last three days are the highest that B.C. has seen so far, with 352 from Friday to Saturday, 389 from Saturday to Sunday and 379 from Sunday to Monday.

“These numbers are concerning to all of us, but we have learned a lot about COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic,” Gustafson said.

She said the goal of public health officials will continue to be minimizing severe illness and death while keeping communities as open as possible.

The vast majority of new cases are in the Lower Mainland, including 830 in the Fraser Health region and 234 in the Vancouver Coastal Health region.

To date, 15,501 cases of the illness caused by the novel coronavirus have been confirmed in B.C. and 269 people have died. Three new outbreaks have been detected in the health-care system, bringing the total number of active outbreaks to 28, including 26 in long-term care and two in acute care.

There are now 6,448 people under active monitoring by public health workers because of potential exposure to the virus.

Asked about how big of a caseload B.C. would need to see before bringing in tighter restrictions seen elsewhere, including measures like closing restaurants and mandating masks, Gustafson said the province is paying more attention to things like the ability to trace contacts and provide testing.

“At this moment, we have a concerning number of new infections, but, at the moment, the number of hospitalizations is still stable,” she said.

‘Very irritating’ Halloween celebrations

Though Monday’s numbers are higher than ever before, they were not unexpected.

Health Minister Adrian Dix had warned British Columbians earlier Monday that the latest numbers would “capture people’s attention.”

That warning came after footage on social media circulated over the weekend of hundreds of people crowding Granville Street in Vancouver for Halloween festivities. 

“It’s a very irritating event because I think it was a visible symbol of people not following the rules of gathering, which are limited to 50 people,” he said. 

“Obviously, it was there for all to see.”

It will take up to two weeks before health officials can determine whether that event led to more transmission.

Despite those images, Gustafson maintained Monday that the “vast majority” of British Columbians are being safe.

In response to questions about providing neighbourhood-level updates about COVID-19 numbers in light of the Granville Street party, Gustafson said health officials are working to provide “more granular” information to the public about where outbreaks are happening.

Partiers crowd the Granville Entertainment District in downtown Vancouver on Oct. 31. (Submitted to CBC News)

Dix said a bigger problem is house parties and private gatherings, which are not visible on social media but are fuelling the province’s rising case numbers. 

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry issued a public health order last week limiting gatherings at private homes to members of a household and six guests. The order includes indoor and outdoor gatherings at private homes.

Officials in Fraser Health, B.C.’s worst-hit region, said people should limit gatherings to only those who live there.

Dix also discouraged people in Metro Vancouver from holding holiday gatherings this year. 

“This is an unusual time,” he said. “Let’s celebrate virtually and with the people in our household.” 

He said the province needs to more effectively tailor its message to younger people and to those who may not speak English as a first language. 

On Monday afternoon, Dix said the human desire to be together, which he described as “one of our greatest strengths,” can also be a major weakness during a pandemic.

“We need to turn the tide. I believe we can do that,” he said. “I ask everyone listening to us today and all the people you may talk to today to recommit to stop the spread.”

But he also stressed that there is no end in sight for this pandemic, saying British Columbia will be dealing with COVID-19 for “months and months and months and months and months and months.”

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Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Saturday – CBC.ca

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The latest:

Canada surpassed a total of 400,000 cases of COVID-19 on Friday as a panel of health experts released updated guidelines on who should first be vaccinated against the illness.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization said provinces and territories should prioritize long-term care home residents and staff, Canadians over 80, and health-care workers and adults in Indigenous communities where infections can have disproportionately more serious consequences.

The independent committee was assigned the job of deciding who should be inoculated first, although it will be up to the individual provinces and territories to decide, once the initial batch of roughly six million doses of vaccine is made available in the first three months of 2021.

The first batch will be enough for roughly three million Canadians. Pfizer’s vaccine, which is expected to be the first product approved for use in Canada, requires two doses.

WATCH | Dr. Tam discusses COVID-19 vaccine priority groups:

Canada’s chief public health officer and Dr. Howard Njoo, the deputy chief public health officer, spoke with reporters during the regular Friday pandemic briefing in Ottawa. 1:50

“All adults of advanced age should be prioritized for initial doses of authorized COVID-19 vaccines, beginning with adults 80 years of age and older, then decreasing the age limit in 5-year increments to age 70 years as supply becomes available,” the final directive reads.

Canada’s long-term care homes have been hit hard by the novel coronavirus, with thousands of deaths reported since the onset of this pandemic.

Procurement Minister Anita Anand on Friday said Canada has increased its order with Moderna and now expects at least 40 million doses from the U.S. company in 2021 — twice as much as was previously guaranteed.

Anand said the country is exercising its option to obtain more of Moderna’s two-dose candidate, which should be enough to vaccinate almost 20 million people.

(CBC News)

News of a new milestone in cases and the vaccine rollout update came as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau noted case counts were “too high,” especially in Alberta “where the numbers are rising alarmingly.”


What’s happening across Canada

As of 6 a.m. on Saturday, Canada’s COVID-19 case count stood at 402,569, with 69,977 of those cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC’s reporting stood at 12,496.

Alberta reported more new cases of COVID-19 than Ontario on Friday at 1,828. To date 590 people have died of COVID-19 in Alberta. As of Friday, there were a record 533 people in hospital, including 99 in intensive care as the province announced a positivity rate of over 10 per cent.

The new cases on Friday included 1,780 infections in Ontario, including 633 in Toronto and 433 in neighbouring Peel Region.

The provincial government has tightened restrictions in three public health regions. As of Monday, Middlesex-London and Thunder Bay will be in the orange “restrict” tier, while the Haliburton, Kawartha and Pine Ridge District Health Unit will move into the yellow “protect” category.

Quebec reported 1,345 new cases of COVID-19 and 28 more deaths on Friday. The number of people in hospital with COVID-19 rose to 761 — an increase of 24 from the previous day — while the number in intensive care is at 97, down by two.

WATCH | Quebec premier says no gatherings allowed over holiday season:

Saying there is not enough time before Christmas to reduce the number of COVID-19 cases in Quebec, Premier François Legault backtracked on a previous commitment. He now says gatherings in the province’s red zones will not be allowed over the holiday season. 2:10

Quebec had planned to allow family gatherings of up to 10 people on specific days over the holiday period, but those plans were cancelled  for people living in red alert zones this week due to an increase in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

In Atlantic Canada, New Brunswick reported eight new cases of COVID-19 on Friday. Officials there have expressed hope that the Moncton and Frederiction regions could soon return to the yellow phase of recovery from the more restrictive orange phase.

“We are seeing some progress, people are following public health advice and measures,” said Dr. Jennifer Russell, the chief medical officer of health. However, the Saint John region, which is currently also in the orange phase, is a bit further behind, Russell said.

WATCH | Small towns in B.C. Interior see a COVID-19 spike:

There has been a spike in COVID-19 cases in smaller communities in B.C., where resources to fight the pandemic are scarce. 1:59

Nova Scotia reported 15 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, bringing the province’s active case count to 117. 

Prince Edward Island announced one new case of COVID-19 on Thursday, as Premier Dennis King said P.E.I. will not rejoin the Atlantic bubble until at least Dec. 21.

Newfoundland and Labrador reported three new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, bringing its active caseload to 27.

A man unloads Christmas trees at the Atwater Market in Montreal on Friday. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Manitoba reported nine new deaths linked to COVID-19 Friday. There are 320 new COVID-19 cases in the province, while two cases were removed from Manitoba’s total due to data correction. Some 361 people are in hospital, including 55 people in intensive care. Provincial officials say the numbers would be much higher were it not for broad restrictions that were put into place on Nov. 12.

Saskatchewan on Friday reported 283 new cases of COVID-19 and one new death related to the illness. There are 4,116 known active cases in the province, of which 126 are currently in hospital. 

British Columbia reported 711 new COVID-19 cases and 11 new deaths in a written statement on Friday.

In the North, Nunavut reported eight new cases on Friday, all in the hamlet of Arviat, which remains under restrictions.

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson said the number of active cases of COVID-19 in the territory continues to fall, but it will be some time before community outbreaks are officially over. Nunavut lifted a two-week territory-wide lockdown on Wednesday.

Yukon confirmed one new case of COVID-19 on Thursday, while the Northwest Territories did not report any new cases.


What’s happening around the world

As of Saturday morning, there were more than 66 million reported cases of COVID-19 worldwide, with more than 42.14 million of those listed as recovered or resolved, according to a tracking tool maintained by U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than 1.5 million.

In South Asia, the health minister of India’s Haryana state on Saturday said he has tested positive for COVID-19, two weeks after receiving the first dose of a homegrown COVID-19 vaccine during its Phase 3 trial.

Anil Vij, 67, had offered to be the first volunteer for Bharat Biotech’s COVID-19 vaccine, Covaxin, last month. The trials he participated in were double blinded and randomized, meaning half the participants were given the vaccine while the other half were on a placebo.

Moscow has launched a limited rollout of Russia’s Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine. People from high-risk groups, such as health-care workers, were allowed to pre-register to get the shot at clinics, starting Saturday. Sputnik V is one of two Russian-made vaccines that have been granted regulatory approval, despite clinical trials still ongoing.

A nurse administers a Sputnik V vaccine at a clinic in Moscow on Saturday. Officials say the vaccine should be made generally available to the Russian public in early 2021. (Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty Images)

In the Americas, U.S. states faced a deadline on Friday to place orders for the coronavirus vaccine as many reported record infections.

The number of Americans hospitalized with COVID-19 hit an all-time high in the U.S. on Thursday at 100,667, according to the COVID Tracking Project, a volunteer organization that collects coronavirus testing data in the United States. That figure has more than doubled over the past month, while new daily cases are averaging 210,000 and deaths are averaging 1,800 per day, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

In the Middle East, Iran’s total deaths from coronavirus surpassed 50,000 on Saturday, with more than one million people infected, although transmission rates in the Middle East’s worst-affected country were slowing, state TV reported.

Tehran’s Grand Bazaar, shopping malls and several other businesses re-opened after a two-week shutdown, following a 10 per cent drop in infections over the past days.

President Hassan Rouhani warned against complacency, saying the country is headed toward 500 deaths from COVID-19 each day.

Turkey entered its first full weekend lockdown since May after coronavirus infections and deaths hit record highs in recent days.

The country recorded 32,736 new cases on Friday, the highest number since the beginning of the pandemic in March.

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Why international travellers are allowed to connect to domestic flights without quarantine – CBC.ca

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Jacob Frey never thought international travellers would be on his WestJet flight from Calgary to Edmonton — until he spotted several passengers wearing sombreros in the waiting area. 

After boarding the Nov. 22 flight, Frey said he learned that the passenger seated next to him and three passengers in the row behind were returning from vacation resorts in Mexico. 

“I was shocked,” said Frey, a laid-off sewer construction worker from Saskatoon who was flying to Edmonton to scope out job prospects. 

Frey worried that sitting near passengers who had visited resorts in Mexico could increase his chances of being exposed to the virus. 

“People going to an all-inclusive resort during a pandemic, that’s inherently irresponsible,” he said. “So it’s obvious that health is not their primary concern.”

Jacob Frey of Saskatoon received notice that someone tested positive for COVID-19 on his WestJet flight from Calgary to Edmonton. (Submitted by Jacob Frey)

When Canadian passengers take domestic flights during the COVID-19 pandemic, they may be sharing the cabin with international travellers on a connecting flight who have yet to quarantine. 

Although many travellers entering Canada must quarantine for 14 days, they don’t have to start the process until reaching their final destination — as long as they have no COVID-19 symptoms. 

When asked about this policy, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) told CBC News that the risk of COVID-19 transmission on a plane is relatively low compared to other enclosed settings.

Many travellers take connecting flights

Since Canada closed its borders to most non-essential travel in late March, more than 1.5 million Canadians and foreigners have entered the country by air.

Between March and September, an estimated 17 per cent of air passengers arriving in Canada took a connecting domestic flight, according to data compiled by Transport Canada.

Several countries, including Australia and New Zealand, require travellers to quarantine at their first point-of-entry before taking connecting flights. 

Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases specialist, says that’s an extreme approach to combating the virus’ spread that may not go over well with Canadian travellers. 

“I think in general, many people would not be accepting of having to stay in a quarantine hotel at that point of arrival.”

Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist at Toronto’s University Health Network says air travel does carry risks, but that the risks while actually flying appear to be low. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

Dr. Bogoch, based at Toronto General Hospital, also said it’s unclear how beneficial a point-of-entry quarantine policy would be in Canada, considering the number of COVID-19 infections associated with international travel is small.

“It’s a drop in the bucket. So you have to ask yourself, would a policy like that significantly contribute to our pandemic response?” 

Over the past eight months, the percentage of COVID-19 cases linked to international travel has ranged from 0.4 per cent in May to 2.9 per cent in July, according to PHAC. Last month it was 0.6 per cent.

Passenger tests positive 

PHAC data also shows that, since March 25, more than 2,000 domestic and international flights in Canada have carried at least one passenger who, shortly afterwards, tested positive for COVID-19.

Frey learned five days after his WestJet flight that someone seated near him had tested positive.

He said he got tested and was negative, but Alberta Health Services still directed him to quarantine for 14 days. 

“Basically, I’m sidelined for two weeks,” said Frey who’s self-isolating at a friend’s place in Edmonton. “It’s frustrating.”

He doesn’t know if the COVID-19-positive passenger was returning from Mexico. Even so, Frey said if he had known that international travellers would be on his flight, he would have cancelled it — unless Westjet provided assurances they’d be seated in a separate section.

“They can be the first ones on the plane, last ones off and keep them separate from everyone else,” he said. 

WestJet told CBC News that it’s not necessary to separate international and domestic passengers on a plane, because the airline has implemented stringent health and hygiene policies, and Canadian health officials have found that the risk of transmission on an aircraft is low.

Canada’s chief medical officer, Dr. Teresa Tam said last month that protective measures such as mandatory mask policies, health screenings and effective ventilation systems have made planes a relatively safe place to be during the pandemic.

“The modern aircraft is actually really good in terms of air exchanges and the way airflow occurs in the cabin,” she said. “There have been very few reports — extremely rare reports, actually — of transmission aboard aircraft.”

WATCH | How airborne transmission increases the need for ventillation: 

As aerosol transmission of COVID-19 becomes more widely acknowledged, schools and businesses are looking for new ventilation solutions to guard against it. 8:00

Dr. Bogosh agrees that the actual plane ride is fairly safe, but said there are other aspects of air travel that pose a danger such as boarding and exiting the aircraft, and picking up checked luggage. 

“There is a risk because there’s more bottlenecks and people crowding together.”

He added that domestic passengers also pose a threat due to surging COVID-19 infections in Canada, so the best way to avoid exposure is not to travel.

“We should be staying as close to home as possible, avoiding non-essential trips.”

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Why some say Canada needs to do more to protect essential workers until COVID-19 vaccine arrives – CBC.ca

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As Canadians await the rollout of the first round of COVID-19 vaccines, experts say Canada needs to double down on protecting essential workers most at risk of exposure to the coronavirus in the coming months. 

Canada will only have a limited supply of vaccines to start, with just 3 million expected to be vaccinated in the first few months of 2021, but the news of COVID-19 vaccines on the horizon could not come at a more critical time.

Over 400,000 Canadians have tested positive for the coronavirus since the pandemic began and the situation in our hardest-hit provinces shows no signs of slowing down. 

The percentage of COVID-19 tests across the country that have come back positive during the past week has skyrocketed to 7.4 per cent — up from 1.4 per cent in mid-September and 4.7 per cent in early November. A rising positivity rate can signal that cases are being missed and more people could unwittingly be spreading the virus.

“There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, but we still have to get through the tunnel to get there,” said Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti, an infectious disease specialist at Trillium Health Partners in Mississauga, Ont.  

“You also don’t want to be in a situation where you have a raging fire that’s going on and when you’re trying to roll out a vaccine, you’re doing it in a setting where the hospital is overwhelmed and health-care workers are getting sick.”

While much of the focus on public health messaging throughout the pandemic has been focused on individual actions, experts say Canada isn’t doing enough to protect those most in need of support in the coming months. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Alberta positivity rate tops 10 per cent

Of all the COVID hotspots, Alberta has the biggest fire to put out at the moment, and this week asked the federal government and the Red Cross to supply field hospitals to help offset the strain COVID-19 is having on the health-care system.

There, the percentage of COVID-19 tests coming back positive hit an astonishing 10.5 per cent on Friday.

COVID-19 cases in Alberta are growing at such an explosive rate they’ve even outpaced Ontario, a province with 10 million more people, for the first time in the pandemic — with cases in Edmonton alone totalling more than those in Toronto and Peel Region combined

“If you think this is a hoax, talk to my friend in the ICU, fighting for his life,” Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said during a Facebook livestream Thursday.

“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.” 

Yet while much of the focus on public health messaging throughout the pandemic has been focused on individual actions, experts say Canada isn’t doing enough to protect those most in need of support in the coming months. 

Ontario, Quebec see surge in workplace outbreaks

While elderly Canadians are most at risk for severe outcomes from COVID-19, totalling close to 90 per cent of all deaths, essential workers on the front lines are facing a worsening situation.

For the first time in the pandemic, active outbreaks in workplaces in Canada’s biggest provinces have outpaced those in long-term care facilities — accounting for 30 per cent of the outbreaks in Ontario and 40 per cent in Quebec, as first reported by The Globe and Mail

While limited information is available on exactly where the spread of COVID-19 is occurring, Ontario’s ministry of health said in a statement to CBC News the hardest-hit industries include construction, manufacturing, mining, warehousing and transportation.  

WATCH | Essential workers talk about being on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic

Essential workers — from grocery store employees to truck drivers — talk about their experiences on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic share how it has affected them and why they do it. 11:43

Because of the disproportionate risk of exposure they face, the union for workers in food retail, manufacturing, long-term care, home care and security said Friday that frontline workers should also be among the first recipients of COVID-19 vaccines.

“Workplaces are a big deal,” said Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious diseases physician at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton and an associate professor at McMaster University. 

“There are people that need to go to work, unfortunately, for us to support society, and again we have to be willing and able to give them at least some measures of safety in their workplace.”

Paid sick leave key to stopping spread of COVID-19

Chakrabarti says one area that could help address rising transmission rates in workplaces is more paid sick leave for those who are unable to miss work due to COVID-19. 

Unlike policing people’s contacts in their own homes, it’s a problem policy could tackle, he said.

“Workplaces are things that are really important because you can only do so much to keep things safe.” 

If people are going to decide between putting food on their table … or going into isolation … they’re going to show up to work sick.– Dr. Zain Chagla

Chakrabarti says mask wearing and physical distancing aren’t always possible in certain situations in workplaces, especially those that involve workers in close quarters indoors — as evidenced by outbreaks in meatpacking plants, warehouses, and mines.

“Many people are financially unstable and they’re scared because if they do have to go off work, they’ll end up losing income,” he said. Undocumented workers may also be hesitant to speak up about symptoms for fear of being deported

“So you have a lot of these kinds of factors that I think are barriers for people getting tested.”

Chagla says more targeted education, oversight and internal audits to control COVID-19 transmission are needed in high-risk workplaces, in order to ensure compliance and accountability. 

“There’s certainly tons of essential workplaces that will continue to have issues unless people actually intervene and do this type of stuff,” he said. 

Last month, the federal government created Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit to give up to $1,000 of support to workers with COVID-19 over two weeks, but Chagla said more could be done. 

“You have to incentivize people to get tested,” Chagla said. “If people are going to decide between putting food on their table and paying their rent, going to work or going into isolation … they’re going to show up to work sick.”

Isolating, outreach better than ‘finger wagging’

Chakrabarti says another way to protect essential workers is through the creation of more dedicated isolation facilities for those recovering from COVID-19. 

“One big place that amplification is happening is in large families,” he said. “So if you have a place for people to have their meals covered and they can isolate away from their family, that’s going to really help to reduce amplification of the cases that we’re seeing in workplaces.” 

Chakrabarti says the “condescension and finger wagging” in public health messaging across the country against individual actions isn’t always effective — especially nine months into the pandemic.

“Community outreach often helps,” said Chakrabati, who is also a member of a recently formed South Asian task force to connect with and inform people in Peel Region.

“I think that a lot of the focus right now is on people. ‘Hey, you stay home, stay home, stop partying,’ that kind of stuff. Whereas we don’t hear a lot of what’s happening in these workplaces.” 

“This is going to be a problem throughout the entire pandemic,” said Chagla. “Because they have to stay open.” 

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