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Alberta outbreak of Brazilian COVID-19 variant linked to traveler – The Globe and Mail

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Alberta also confirmed a separate, unrelated P.1 outbreak at a workplace in the Calgary zone so far involving five cases, of which one is confirmed to be the P.1 variant.

Sarah B Groot/The Globe and Mail

A variant of COVID-19 first identified in Brazil is quickly spreading in parts of the Western provinces, where it has swept three work sites in Alberta and forced the closing of the Whistler-Blackcomb ski resort in British Columbia.

A single person who travelled out of Alberta is believed to be responsible for triggering a “significant outbreak” of the P.1 variant at the three work sites, according to the province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health.

Deena Hinshaw said the traveller returning to Alberta is believed to have brought the variant to a “large employer with multiple sites across Western Canada,” where employees then spread it across three sites in the Central and North zones.

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“We have now identified 26 COVID-19 cases linked to employees at these three sites, and their household contacts,” Dr. Hinshaw said in a series of tweets Monday afternoon. “So far, only three are confirmed P.1 cases, but this will likely increase as more results come in.”

Alberta also confirmed a separate, unrelated P.1 outbreak at a workplace in the Calgary zone so far involving five cases, of which one is confirmed to be the P.1 variant, she said.

Dr. Hinshaw did not identify any of the employers, however PTW Energy Services Ltd., headquartered in Calgary, confirmed the three employee P.1 variant cases at its Drayton Valley, Edson and Hinton offices.

The company said in a statement it has hired a third party to carry out a review and is working with Alberta Health Services and Alberta Occupational Health and Safety to monitor, communicate and manage the situation.

“Our thoughts are with our employees and their families at this time as our employees isolate and focus on their health and recovery,” the statement said.

Alberta reported 887 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, of which 432 were variants of concern. Nearly 40 per cent of active cases in the province are now variants. There are 312 people in hospital, of which 76 are in intensive care.

Meanwhile, British Columbia reported 890 new cases on Monday, and 999 the 24 hours prior. Since April 1, the province has confirmed 916 new cases that are variants of concern. Of 373 confirmed active variant cases, 215 are the P.1 variant, Health Minister Adrian Dix said.

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From a total of 3,559 variant cases, 737 are the P.1 variant, 2,771 are the B.1.1.7 variant first identified in Britain, and 51 are the B.1.351 variant first identified in South Africa. B.C.’s first cluster of 13 P.1 cases was detected on March 9.

Emerging research has shown the P.1 variant to be up to 2.5 times more transmissible than the common SARS-CoV-2 strain. A separate study found that out of 100 people to contract COVID-19, 25 to 60 could become infected again with the variant. Younger people are also experiencing more severe disease from the variants than they are from the original virus.

Dr. Hinshaw did not disclose where the person responsible for the P.1 outbreak had travelled. However, Alberta Health on Saturday advised some reporters that it was “out of Canada,” only to issue a correction the following day saying that was inaccurate.

Mr. Dix said he was not aware of a specific workplace outbreak that spread the P.1 variant from B.C. to Alberta.

“I think it’s fair to say that the virus has spread from other jurisdictions to here, and inevitably spread from here to other jurisdictions,” he told reporters. “That includes, for example, places like Whistler, where people have come from outside of B.C. to there. There was spread there, so maybe they’ve spread when they return home.”

On Monday, Canucks rookie Nils Hoglander was added to the team’s COVID-19 protocol list, bringing the total number of active players unavailable to play because of illness or potential exposure to 17. A number of the coaching staff and taxi squad have also reportedly contracted the disease.

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Postmedia reports that the P.1 variant is driving the Canucks outbreak, however neither the club nor the NHL has confirmed this.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said he remains confident that the team will be able to complete its schedule, telling The Canadian Press in an e-mail that the Canucks’ numbers are “concerning from a health and safety standpoint, not necessarily from a scheduling standpoint.”

Canucks general manager Jim Benning thanked fans for their support.

“Our players, coaches and their families are grateful for the messages and we all hope for a return to full health as soon as possible,” he said in a statement released Sunday.

“Our focus continues to be on the health of everyone involved and we are thankful for the extraordinary health care and guidance we have received from our team’s medical staff, B.C.’s health officials, and from NHL and NHLPA medical experts.”

The highly infectious variant of COVID-19 that has spread around the world since it was first discovered in Britain late last year is between 30% and 100% more deadly than previous strains, researchers said on Wednesday. Reuters

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U.K. advises limiting AstraZeneca in under-30s amid clot worry

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LONDON —
British authorities recommended Wednesday that the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine not be given to adults under 30 where possible because of strengthening evidence that the shot may be linked to rare blood clots.

The recommendation came as regulators both in the United Kingdom and the European Union emphasized that the benefits of receiving the vaccine continue to outweigh the risks for most people — even though the European Medicines Agency said it had found a “possible link” between the shot and the rare clots. British authorities recommended that people under 30 be offered alternatives to AstraZeneca. But the EMA advised no such age restrictions, leaving it up to its member-countries to decide whether to limit its use.

Several countries have already imposed limits on who can receive the vaccine, and any restrictions are closely watched since the vaccine, which is cheaper and easier to store than many others, is critical to global immunization campaigns and is a pillar of the UN-backed program known as COVAX that aims to get vaccines to some of the world’s poorest countries.

“This is a course correction, there’s no question about that,” Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, said during a press briefing. “But it is, in a sense, in medicine quite normal for physicians to alter their preferences for how patients are treated over time.”

Van-Tam said the effect on Britain’s vaccination timetable — one of the speediest in the world — should be “zero or negligible,” assuming the National Health Service receives expected deliveries of other vaccines, including those produced by Pfizer and Moderna.

EU and U.K. regulators held simultaneous press conferences Wednesday afternoon to announce the results of investigations into reports of blood clots that sparked concern about the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The EU agency described the clots as “very rare” side effects. Dr Sabine Straus, chair of EMA’s Safety Committee, said the best data is coming from Germany where there is one report of the rare clots for every 100,000 doses given, although she noted far fewer reports in the U.K. Still, that’s less than the clot risk that healthy women face from birth control pills, noted another expert, Dr. Peter Arlett.

The agency said most of the cases reported have occurred in women under 60 within two weeks of vaccination — but based on the currently available evidence, it was not able to identify specific risk factors. Experts reviewed several dozen cases that came mainly from Europe and the U.K., where around 25 million people have received the AstraZeneca vaccine.

“The reported cases of unusual blood clotting following vaccination with the AstraZeneca vaccine should be listed as possible side effects of the vaccine,” said Emer Cooke, the agency’s executive director. “The risk of mortality from COVID is much greater than the risk of mortality from these side effects.”

Arlett said there is no information suggesting an increased risk from the other major COVID-19 vaccines.

The EMA’s investigation focused on unusual types of blood clots that are occurring along with low blood platelets. One rare clot type appears in multiple blood vessels and the other in veins that drain blood from the brain.

While the benefits of the vaccine still outweigh the risks, that assessment is “more finely balanced” among younger people who are less likely to become seriously ill with COVID-19, the U.K’s Van-Tam said.

“We are not advising a stop to any vaccination for any individual in any age group,” said Wei Shen Lim, who chairs Britain’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization. “We are advising a preference for one vaccine over another vaccine for a particular age group, really out of the utmost caution rather than because we have any serious safety concerns.”

In March, more than a dozen countries, mostly in Europe, suspended their use of AstraZeneca over the blood clot issue. Most restarted — some with age restrictions — after the EMA said countries should continue using the potentially life-saving vaccine.

Britain, which relies heavily on AstraZeneca, however, continued to use it.

The suspensions were seen as particularly damaging for AstraZeneca because they came after repeated missteps in how the company reported data on the vaccine’s effectiveness and concerns over how well its shot worked in older people. That has led to frequently changing advice in some countries on who can take the vaccine, raising worries that AstraZeneca’s credibility could be permanently damaged, spurring more vaccine hesitancy and prolonging the pandemic.

Dr. Peter English, who formerly chaired the British Medical Association’s Public Health Medicine Committee, said the back-and-forth over the AstraZeneca vaccine globally could have serious consequences.

“We can’t afford not to use this vaccine if we are going to end the pandemic,” he said.

In some countries, authorities have already noted hesitance toward the AstraZeneca shot.

“People come and they are reluctant to take the AstraZeneca vaccine, they ask us if we also use anything else,” said Florentina Nastase, a doctor and co-ordinator at a vaccination centre in Bucharest, Romania. “There were cases in which people (scheduled for the AstraZeneca) didn’t show up, there were cases when people came to the centre and saw that we use only AstraZeneca and refused (to be inoculated).”

Meanwhile, the governor of Italy’s northern Veneto region had said earlier Wednesday that any decision to change the guidance on AstraZeneca would cause major disruptions to immunizations — at a time when Europe is already struggling to ramp them up — and could create more confusion about the shot.

“If they do like Germany, and allow Astra Zeneca only to people over 65, that would be absurd. Before it was only for people under 55. Put yourself in the place of citizens, it is hard to understand anything,” Luca Zaia told reporters.

The latest suspension of AstraZeneca came in Spain’s Castilla y Leon region, where health chief Veronica Casado said Wednesday that “the principle of prudence” drove her to put a temporary hold on the vaccine that she still backed as being both effective and necessary.

French health authorities had said they, too, were awaiting EMA’s conclusions, as were some officials in Asia.

On Wednesday, South Korea said it would temporarily suspend the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine in people 60 and younger. In that age group, the country is only currently vaccinating health workers and people in long-term care settings.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said it would also pause a vaccine rollout to school nurses and teachers that was to begin on Thursday, while awaiting the outcome of the EMA’s review.

But some experts urged perspective. Prof Anthony Harnden, the deputy chair of Britain’s vaccination committee, said that the program has saved at least 6,000 lives in the first three months and will help pave the way back to normal life.

“What is clear it that for the vast majority of people the benefits of the Oxford AZ vaccine far outweigh any extremely small risk,” he said. “And the Oxford AZ vaccine will continue to save many from suffering the devastating effects that can result from a COVID infection.”

Source: – CTV News

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Facebook downplays ‘old’ breach exposing info on 533 million users

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Facebook is downplaying the significance of a data breach that saw the personal information of 533 million of its users accessed online, saying the information is old and the vulnerability that was exploited was closed almost two years ago.

Over the weekend, Business Insider reported that personal information of Facebook users in 106 countries was found on a low-level hacking forum, free of charge. Cybercrime intelligence firm Hudson Rock calculated that almost 3.5 million Canadians were included.

Information included names, phone numbers, locations, birth dates, email addresses and other identifying details. No financial or payment information was accessed, Facebook said.

In a statement on its website Tuesday the social media giant said the information was gathered via a vulnerability the company fixed almost two years ago, and disputed that it was a hack.

Data scraped, not hacked: Facebook

“It is important to understand that malicious actors obtained this data not through hacking our systems but by scraping it from our platform prior to September 2019,” said product management director Mike Clark.

Scraping refers to the act of gathering information that is already out there but somewhat hidden on public databases.

The company said whoever collected and assembled the data did so by abusing the contact importing service, which allows users to find other people in their network on Facebook.

Facebook said whoever did it seems to have uploaded a large set of phone numbers to see which ones matched Facebook users.

David Masson, director of enterprise security at cybersecurity firm Darktrace, says the information has likely been out there and spread widely for a while, before being outed recently.

“It’s been on the Web for quite a while, probably for sale to people,” he said. “But now somebody’s just offered it up for free.”

Building a profile

Greg Wolfond, CEO of data security firm SecureKey, said that in a vacuum, much of the information taken can seem innocuous and harmless, but when taken together can be very dangerous.

“What the hackers do is they try and get little bits of data about you in this case something like your phone number,” he told CBC News in an interview. They can then combine that with other bits of information — an address, a full name — and start building a profile.

What’s most dangerous is once they have gathered enough to attempt to gain access to a cellphone account. With the right combination of information, a telecom company may allow someone walking in to port the account number to a new phone.

 

Cybersecurity expert David Masson with Darktrace says Facebook users shouldn’t assume the company’s size and scope make them better at fending off attacks. (Darktrace)

 

“They take over your phone, and within minutes of taking over your phone, they’re trying to get into your bank account, to get into your Facebook account, your Google account, whatever you use that phone as your recovery for,” he said.

Typically, consumers are urged to fight data theft by doing things like changing passwords frequently, and making the complex. But those things are of little use when companies claim the right to reams of data about their users, and promise to keep it safe.

“Empowering individuals to share their data and putting a responsibility on parties that have the data to keep it secure,
is super important,” he said.

Not Facebook’s first user-info incident

Although the company is downplayed in the incident, it is far from the company’s first misstep with user info.

In 2018, the social media giant disabled a feature that allowed users to search for one another via phone number following revelations that the political firm Cambridge Analytica had accessed information on up to 87 million Facebook users without their knowledge or consent.

In December 2019, a Ukrainian security researcher reported finding a database with the names, phone numbers and unique user IDs of more than 267 million Facebook users — nearly all U.S.-based — on the open internet.

Spark15:32Digital security expert shares tips on how to protect your data while working remotely 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we are spending more of our time at home online than ever before – and according to Citizen Lab’s John Scott-Railton, this makes us vulnerable to privacy and security threats. 15:32

Facebook says it will “continue aggressively go after malicious actors who misuse our tools,” and touted its dedicated team focused on this work” but  Masson says users shouldn’t make the mistake of assuming that the company’s size and scope somehow make them better equipped to keep user data safe.

“It doesn’t matter how big or sophisticated you are, they can be attacked,” he said.

Like many breaches, this one was only discovered long after the fact, and that’s because the technology company’s use isn’t keeping up with the ones the hackers are using.

“There are better technologies that actually work on what happens once the bad guys get inside your network rather than when they’re banging on the door outside. So people [have] got to realize this will happen again.

Source: – CBC.ca

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