Variants of the virus behind COVID-19 double the risk of someone being admitted to intensive care — and increase the risk of death by roughly 60 per cent — according to a new analysis of recent Ontario data from the province’s science advisory table, multiple sources tell CBC News.
A briefing note prepared by table members for the province, which is expected to be made public early next week, is based on an analysis of Ontario hospitalization and death data between December and March.
The analysis is expected to show that variants substantially increase the risk of serious illness when compared to the initial strain of SARS-CoV-2, including:
- 60 per cent increased risk of hospitalization.
- 100 per cent increased risk of being admitted to an ICU.
- 60 per cent increased risk of death.
The data didn’t differentiate between variants, though most instances in Ontario right now are thought to be the B117 variant first identified in southeast England.
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The Ontario figures were also pooled with data from Denmark and the U.K., two countries hit hard by B117, several sources explained, with local data falling in line with those earlier international findings.
“Clearly, these variants are … more transmissible — so you’re more likely to become infected if you’re exposed to the virus — and also, you’re more likely to be admitted to hospital and to potentially die from the infection,” said critical care physician Dr. Kali Barrett, a member of the COVID-19 Modelling Collaborative, a separate group that was not involved in the science table’s upcoming briefing note.
Those health impacts are regardless of your age or pre-existing medical issues, she said of the international research.
People need to ‘protect themselves’
CBC News has not obtained a copy of the upcoming briefing note but did speak to multiple sources familiar with the expected contents. They asked not to be named because they’re not authorized to speak about the findings publicly.
Several sources said the analysis accounts for the fact that the age distribution of cases has shifted over time, and now skews younger, thanks in part to ongoing vaccinations of older populations.
It not only aligns with the growing body of international research suggesting variants such as B117 can have dire health impacts, but also the growing concern among Ontario clinicians that patients with COVID-19 are presenting both younger and more seriously ill.
“This is not just a disease that sort of strikes the older among us, it really strikes those in the prime of our lives,” Barrett said. “And we all have to be careful until everyone’s vaccinated.”
The overall risk of death from COVID-19 does remain fairly small, though it’s hard to pin down a precise figure given the evolving nature of the pandemic.
Canada’s case fatality rate is currently thought to be roughly 2.4 per cent, but it’s a number based on confirmed cases and deaths among all age groups, which doesn’t reflect people who never got tested for the virus, and has proven to be a moving target depending on who’s falling ill and who’s getting vaccinated.
With variants now making up more than half of all recent COVID-19 cases in Ontario, experts stress it’s a risky numbers game: more people getting infected with a more dangerous variant could cause more serious illnesses and deaths, even among a younger, healthier cohort.
“Unless we have more stringent public health measures enacted,” Barrett said, “individuals really need to be doing everything they can at an individual level to protect themselves.”
Evidence points to higher risk
Health experts around the world have been ringing alarms for weeks about the potential for variants to take hold and wreak havoc.
As early as January, preliminary findings from the British government’s chief scientific adviser suggested B117 carries a higher risk of death than the original SARS-CoV-2 strain.
Two Ontario COVID-19 science advisory table members who spoke on the record to CBC News — though not about the expected briefing note — said the growing body of research that has since emerged suggests those early concerns were valid.
“It’s confounded by a bunch of different factors, including different ages, and different social situations, and how people have acquired the disease,” said Dr. Andrew Morris, an infectious disease specialist with Toronto’s Sinai Health System.
“But I think the majority — or the overwhelming majority — of evidence that we have right now is that it is substantially more, not only contagious, but severe in the disease that it causes.”
Infectious disease specialist Dr. Gerald Evans, a professor at Queen’s University’s faculty of medicine in Kingston, Ont., said without restrictions in place over the past few months, Ontario may have fared far worse in terms of serious cases and deaths.
Restrictions loosening in various regions
Now, as Ontario is relaxing rules around indoor shopping, dining and other forms of gatherings in various areas, Evans and Morris both said some regions — and younger populations — largely spared in the first two waves of the pandemic could be harder hit the third time around.
“It’s hard for people to continue to just be holed up in their homes,” said Morris. “Perhaps the right thing to do is to just encourage people to spend as much of their time outdoors as possible.”
Indeed, in the Toronto area, for example, public health officials recently got their wish for a loosening of lockdown restrictions that now allow for outdoor dining.
But Morris cautioned that reopenings and reduced restrictions don’t necessarily mean there’s any reduced risk, though that might be the public perception.
“In no way, shape or form should people be minimizing this pandemic. It still has legs, unfortunately,” Morris said.
“And where you may have had some estimate of risk to yourself six months ago, even three months ago — that estimated risk has now increased a bit.”
Permanent residents in limbo waiting to immigrate to Canada – CBC.ca
Aashray Kovi refreshes his email several times a day hoping for good news from Canadian immigration officials.
The 28-year-old computer programmer from Bangalore, India is one of about 23,000 aspiring immigrants with expired or soon-to-be expired documents waiting to enter Canada during the pandemic.
“It’s really depressing for all of us,” said Kovi, who plans to settle in Ottawa but can’t travel because his confirmation of permanent residency (COPR) document expired in early June.
Late last month, the federal government lifted COVID-19 restrictions allowing anyone with a valid COPR to land in Canada, which comes after a significant drop in immigration in 2020.
The country permitted 184,000 immigrants last year — the fewest since 1998 — compared to 341,000 in 2019. Canada aims to jump-start immigration with 400,000 new residents per year for the next three years.
Quicker process to reapply
There is a silver lining for those like Kovi who, instead of having to reapply for a new document, waits for Canada to reissue the documents.
That will be a quicker process as Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada is making exceptions.
The pandemic has significantly impacted processing times, and the government is contacting individuals with expired papers in the “weeks and months to come,” according to a spokesperson for Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino.
Immigration lawyer Kyle Hyndman estimates more than half of those holding expired COPR documents are skilled workers who were chosen “to contribute to the Canadian labour market.”
Hyndman said the communication from the federal government has been messy, though.
“These people are kind of in a holding pattern … you do a bunch of things to get ready to move that are kind of hard to undo,” he said.
Barely holding on
Sophie Ballesteros from Barcelona, Spain had a job lined up in Halifax and her husband Carlos quit his job months ago to ready himself for a move to Canada.
Then the family’s COPR documents expired in June and there’s been no word yet on when they’ll be renewed.
“This is the first time in my life that I am unemployed,” said Carlos Ballesteros. “I don’t sleep at night.”
Sophie said she is struggling to immerse into her new digital marketing job in Canada while staying physically in Barcelona, while also trying to find a preschool for her four-year-old daughter.
“I have to work within the time zone of Canada and sometimes there are some clients that are from Vancouver,” she said. “It’s hard for my family.”
After receiving their initial approval documents, Sameer Masih and his wife began selling their belongings, including their furniture and car in New Delhi, India.
Seven months later, the couple and their son live in a mostly empty apartment waiting and hoping to find a better life in Canada.
“I am actually surviving on a bare minimum set up,” said Masih, who said the wait cost him a job at his employer’s Toronto office.
The lack of clarity has Masih wondering when his Canadian dream will come true.
“The word ‘soon’ is turning out to be a very negative and dangerous word in this context,” he said.
Canada offers ‘path to protection’ for Afghan interpreters amid ‘critical’ situation – Global News
- The Taliban is advancing rapidly across Afghanistan as U.S. forces withdraw.
- Afghans who aided Canadian troops during the war there are now facing torture and death from the Taliban, prompting urgent calls for the government to help them.
- The program announced Friday will see them and their families welcomed to Canada as refugees, though details on specifics of the plan are scarce.
Canadian officials are on the ground in Afghanistan and working to identify those eligible for a new “path to protection” for Afghans who supported Canadian troops during the war in that country.
The update from the government comes amid what Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino called a “critical” time for those who have helped Canadian soldiers and now face the risk of death and torture by a rapid Taliban advance across the country.
Details on the program are scarce so far but Mendicino said the program will welcome the Afghans and their families as refugees for resettlement. He said while the numbers are in flux, the estimate is that Afghans eligible under the program will be in the “thousands.”
Mendicino said the plan will focus on special immigration measures for Afghan interpreters, Afghans who have worked or are currently working to support the Canadian embassy, as well as their families.
It is also being kept deliberately broad in scope, and will also apply to those who worked in roles such as security guards, cooks, cleaners, drivers, and other roles in support of the embassy.
“We know that time is of the essence,” said Mendicino.
“We expect the first arrivals will be in Canada very shortly.”
Work continues to try to identify the Afghans who will be eligible, he said, but did not provide details when asked on how many individuals will be able to come to Canada or what the timeline is for the effort.
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said they could not provide further details because of “operational security,” and said planning with coalition allies on logistics is underway.
“The plan itself has to be guarded for the safety of the people we’re trying to bring to Canada,” he said.
Mendicino talks logistics of resettlement plan for Afghan interpreters, advisors
Canada withdrew troops from Afghanistan in 2011 but after roughly 20 years, U.S. forces are now also in the process of withdrawing from the country after waging a war to remove the Taliban from power.
The Taliban are Islamist extremists who enforce sharia law and held power in Afghanistan from roughly 1996 to 2001 when coalition forces overthrew them.
Now, the Taliban insurgency has been making rapid gains and now holds roughly half of the 421 districts as U.S. forces retreat, raising concerns that the militant extremists will be in a position to support other regional terrorist groups like ISIS and also target those who helped Canadian forces during the war.
Thousands of people have fled the Taliban advance.
As the fighters retake broad swaths of territory, former military leaders and veterans of Canada’s fight in Afghanistan have been urging the government to act quickly to honour the “moral obligation” this country owes to the Afghans who supported the coalition mission.
Mendicino echoed those sentiments on Friday.
“Not only does Canada owe them a debt of gratitude, we have a moral obligation to do right by them,” he said, and described the risk they will face retaliation from the Taliban as “grave.”
Afghan interpreters face death threats from Taliban after U.S. troops leave
In recent days, a group of Canadian veterans have been working to virtually try to coordinate a way for some of the Afghans who worked with soldiers to get to a safer place, pending evacuation, by using their existing network of contacts in the country.
“We managed to get a guy who was surrounded by gunfire, active airstrikes coming in to try and clear the Taliban from the area. He was trapped. And we got him to safety,” said Robin Rickards, a Canadian veteran of the war.
“Well, to relative safety.”
Global News was able to speak with that man — a former Afghan interpreter who was stuck in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province currently under siege by the Taliban. Out of concern for his safety, Global News is not identifying the man or where he is currently located.
“They already have information about the people who work with the coalition forces,” said the interpreter of the Taliban fighters entering the city.
He described witnessing fighting just 500 metres from his home, and said Taliban fighters are dumping bodies of those who helped coalition forces on highways and roads to send a signal as they continue to retake territory across the country.
“They wanted to show the people … we’re going to kill all of them,” he said.
“We want the government to start evacuation as soon as possible.”
Canadian veterans mobilize to help, as Taliban targets Afghan translators
The U.S. State Department said on Monday it plans to evacuate around 2,500 Afghans who assisted American troops during the conflict, and fly them to a military base in Virginia within days.
The U.S. also has what’s known as the Special Immigrant Visa program which allows those who worked with U.S. troops in Afghanistan or Iraq to apply to immigrate. NBC News has cited U.S. officials as saying thousands of Afghans in the process of applying to that program will be flown to either military bases or a third country in order to be able to complete their application in safety.
It’s not yet clear to what extent Canada could coordinate with the U.S. on the evacuations or on moving the Afghans to a safer third country or area while their paperwork is processed.
Sajjan said while Canada is in discussions, he could not provide specific details.
Both the Conservatives and NDP, though, said the government could and should have acted sooner.
Tory Leader Erin O’Toole said the advance of the Taliban was predictable and that there should have been action before now to get the Afghans and their families to safety.
“The Liberal government should have made this announcement weeks ago. The Americans made it clear that they would be leaving Afghanistan months ago, and the rise of the Taliban was an expected result,” he said in a statement.
“Instead of putting forward a plan to help the heroic Afghan interpreters, support staff, and their families, the Trudeau Liberals sat on their hands and did nothing. It’s quite disappointing that these Afghans who saved the lives of our men and women in uniform were an afterthought to this Liberal government.”
NDP defence critic Randall Garrison accused the government of treating the Afghans as an “afterthought” and criticized the lack of details about the plan from the government.
“The US government has committed to providing airlift services for Afghans while their applications are processing, but details of the program are lacking from the Canadian government, including how quickly they will be able to bring them to safety,” he said.
“These collaborators, who played a vital role, have been abandoned for a decade without the support they desperately needed to find safety in Canada and deserve better. Countless interpreters and vital staff along with their families have been living in danger while the Liberals dragged their feet.”
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
Heat waves are increasing across Canada — and hotter nights are also dangerous – CBC.ca
When it comes to climate change, there is one fairly well-understood extreme that will affect humans in the decades to come: heat.
Scientists know that climate change will see events like hurricanes, droughts, floods and heat waves increase in frequency or intensity. But when it comes to heat waves in particular, it’s already being seen across the world with deadly consequences. According to a recent study published in the journal The Lancet, more than five million deaths annually between 2000 and 2019 were associated with “non-optimal temperatures,” with roughly 500,000 of these deaths related to heat.
While many of these deaths occur in tropical countries, heat waves are beginning to affect more northerly climes.
During the heat wave that suffocated British Columbia at the end of June into the first week of July, more than 800 people (as of this writing) died in the province. For comparison, in the same period last year, there were 232 deaths, according to B.C. Coroners Service’s chief medical officer, Dr. Jatinder Baidwan. The coroner’s office is continuing to investigate all of the deaths in order to nail down exactly how many were heat-related.
While we know that daytime temperatures are rising, in some regions — specifically in parts of Ontario and Quebec — nighttime temperatures are warming faster.
Those warmer nights mean our bodies don’t have any time to cool off. For people with health issues like heart disease or asthma, for example, this can be extremely problematic and potentially deadly.
“Our bodies were not designed to put up with environmental heats that exceed the high 30s,” Baidwan said. “If you think about it, what happens to an air conditioning unit? When you stress it, it builds up with lots of ice on the outside and then it stops working. And in some ways that’s a great analogy for what happens to our bodies. With extreme heat, we just find it really hard to do the usual homeostatic sort of mechanisms and protocols that happen in our body.”
WATCH | How can we better prepare our homes and buildings for rising temperatures?
The heat wave that affected the Pacific Northwest was highly unusual — a one in 1,000-year occurrence, according to a recent analysis by the group World Weather Attribution, a collection of scientists who analyze severe weather events. However, parts of eastern Canada, including Ontario and Quebec, are seeing more frequent heat waves and tropical nights, defined as nighttime temperatures 20 C or higher.
For example, according to the Climate Atlas of Canada, the number of tropical nights in Toronto averaged roughly 6.9 annually from 1976 to 2005. With climate change, under a scenario where carbon emissions decline substantially, that is expected to climb to 17.6 annually from 2021 to 2050.
If current rates of carbon emissions continue, the average number of tropical nights in Toronto is expected to hit 20.6 annually from 2021 to 2050. From 2051 to 2080, under the two different scenarios for emissions, the average number would rise to 26.4 and 42.8 respectively.
In 2018, a heat wave blanketed Montreal from June 29 to July 5; temperatures averaged roughly 34 C during the day. Nighttime temperatures didn’t fall below 20 C. In all, 66 people died.
“We’re seeing an increase in hot extremes in Canada that’s larger than the global mean warming,” said Nathan Gillet, a research scientist with Environment and Climate Change Canada. “The average warming in Canada is about twice the global mean warming. And the heat extremes are also increasing at a similar rate. And it’s not just the hottest, maximum temperatures, but the minimum temperatures, the nighttime minimums that are also increasing.”
Widespread effects on nature
Average temperatures in Canada have already warmed by 1.7 C and the country is warming at more than twice the rate of the planet.
Increasing heat waves with higher-than-average temperatures during days and nights are also taking a toll on animals and delicate ecosystems, as well as crops.
A study published in the journal Global Change Biology last October found that nighttime temperatures are rising across most of the world. In those areas that saw more nighttime temperature warming than daytime, there was more cloud cover, higher precipitation and more humidity. This can affect nocturnal animals, but also animals that are active during the day who use the cooler nighttime temperatures to recover from heat stress.
“[The changes] increase the boundaries at which nocturnal species can operate. So you may get shifts in ranges, which then messes up ecosystems from changing competition and changing predation/prey relationships, and things like that,” said Daniel Cox, lead author of the study and a research associate in the U.K. at the University of Exeter’s Environment and Sustainability Institute.
A new set of metrics
With the changing climate, governments are finding they need a new set of metrics for severe heat events.
In 2013, Australia added new colours to their heat maps, as temperatures soared beyond anything they’d experienced in the past.
More recently, on Tuesday, the U.K. Met Office issued its first Amber Extreme Heat Warning as temperatures were forecast to rise to the 30s in parts of the country. Daytime temperatures in the 30s may not seem high compared to some parts of Canada but it’s all about what people are accustomed to.
This is how all the Junes since 1880 stack up.<br><br>This is Northern Hemisphere temperature anomaly compared to the long term average 1951-1980. <a href=”https://t.co/97Bn0SnuGn”>pic.twitter.com/97Bn0SnuGn</a>
In another example of how governments are attempting to adapt to a warming climate, a team from the Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS) in Quebec, together with the Institut national de santé publique du Québec (INSPQ) announced on Wednesday that a new heat wave warning threshold for the province should be introduced. Quebec’s warm seasons, researchers said, are starting earlier and ending later.
As Earth continues to warm, air conditioning may seem like a possible solution. The problem is that energy is needed to operate them, and this also produces heat. And cities create “heat islands” where heating is further amplified by concrete structures, adding more stress to people who are living in a hotter climate. Some cities like Toronto and Montreal are trying to introduce greener building codes and designs to address this.
“[Heat waves aren’t] something we think about as a big hazard in Canada, but as the climate warms, we’re going to see this more and more,” said Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Gillet. “Heat waves cause deaths and and are dangerous. And yeah, it is something … that we’re going to see more and more here in Canada.”
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