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Alberta's top doctor came up with plan to lift all COVID-19 orders: health minister – The Record (New Westminster)

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CALGARY — Alberta’s health minister says it was the idea of the province’s chief medical health officer to end isolation requirements for those who test positive for COVID-19 or who have been in close contact with someone who has.

Tyler Shandro said Dr. Deena Hinshaw came to the government with the plan. He said the government agreed with science and data supporting it and wanted to respect the independence of her position. 

“It came from Dr. Hinshaw,” Shandro said Thursday when asked about the province’s strategy. “This is work that was developed by those who are in public health.”

He acknowledged concerns about moving forward so quickly. “We have many different opinions in the medical community and that’s to be expected and that’s encouraged.”

He also said that while Alberta is alone in Canada in the approach, others will eventually follow suit. 

“We are leading the way in moving to the endemic (phase of the COVID-19) response. We’ve led the way throughout in the response to the pandemic quite frankly.”

Hinshaw has always said she presents scientific evidence, numbers and trends, but the final decision on how to respond to pandemic developments lies with the government.

Close contacts of positive cases are no longer notified of exposure by contact tracers, nor are they required to isolate. The government has also ended asymptomatic testing.

As of Aug. 16, individuals who test positive won’t be legally required to isolate either — although it will still be recommended. Isolation hotels will close and quarantine supports will end. 

Reaction to Hinshaw’s announcement Wednesday was swift and critical — much of it on Twitter. Opposition politicians, the medical community and private citizens all weighed in.

On Thursday, Dr. Daniel Gregson, an infectious disease specialist with the University of Calgary, said the government’s decision to end mandated isolation is irresponsible. 

“The message we’re sending is that if you have an infection with COVID, or think you might have an infection with COVID, you can do whatever you want,” said Gregson. “I would not agree with that.”

He said a fourth wave is inevitable, primarily among young and healthy individuals. “We are going to see a bump in our hospitalizations. The question is how much?” 

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said it’s inconceivable Alberta is eliminating almost all of its remaining COVID-19 public health orders as cases climb in the province.

“It is the height of insanity,” Nenshi said.

“It is putting the health of Albertans at risk to stop contact tracing, to stop testing people for the coronavirus and to become one of the first — if not the first — jurisdictions in the world to say that people who have tested positive, who are infectious, can just go about their lives.”

Nenshi said if he were in another jurisdiction he would contemplate travel restrictions on Albertans starting Aug. 16. 

“I’m aware of no science that backs this up,” he said. “Even the most fervent of the anti-maskers wouldn’t say (to) unleash people who are actually infectious into the population.”

Nenshi said he worries the decision to lift the orders is politically motivated and has nothing to do with science.

Rida Abboud also questioned the province’s motives. 

Abboud, who teaches at Calgary’s Mount Royal University and has a child starting kindergarten in the fall, said the United Conservatives are taking a gamble and the odds aren’t in their favour.

“I feel like I’m sending my child into the COVID Wild Wild West,” said Abboud. “It really feels like this government has no interest whatsoever in supporting families in … diminishing the risks to anyone under the age of 12 who can’t get vaccinated.”

She’s also worried about returning to the classroom come September. Abboud said poorly ventilated rooms and teaching an age cohort with lower vaccination rates is concerning, especially as it will be unknown who’s infected. 

“This government likes to gamble on a lot of different approaches. They’ve lost in many ways and this is, I think, unfortunately, another one,” she said. “It’s just so shocking and saddening that it’s on the backs of parents and women, in particular.” 

Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley urged the government to reverse course with necessary resources.

“This isn’t fair to Albertans. It’s not fair for them to be exposed and not know,” Notley said. “It’s also quite reasonable to keep asking Albertans who are infected to stay home until they are no longer contagious.”

She said the changes will do little to encourage uptake of vaccines.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 29, 2021.

— With files from Dean Bennett in Edmonton

Bill Graveland and Alanna Smith, The Canadian Press


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More than half of Manitoba's 64 new COVID-19 cases unvaccinated – CTV News Winnipeg

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WINNIPEG –

While more than half of Manitoba’s new COVID-19 cases are among the unvaccinated, the province reported 20 breakthrough infections.

On Thursday, Manitoba public health officials reported 64 new COVID-19 cases – including 36 unvaccinated cases and eight partially vaccinated cases. Twenty of the cases were among people who had been fully vaccinated.

“No vaccine is 100 per cent effective. However, people who are fully vaccinated typically have a better outcome than individuals who are not vaccinated,” a spokesperson told CTV News in an emailed statement.

“Public health continues to recommend that the best defence against COVID-19 is to get immunized.”

As of Thursday, 84 per cent of eligible Manitobans have rolled up their sleeve for at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Seventy-nine per cent of eligible Manitobans are vaccinated with two doses.

The spokesperson said while breakthrough cases can occur, the outcomes are typically not as severe as they are for non-vaccinated individuals. They said fully vaccinated people who get infected typically do not need to go to ICU.

As of Thursday, 62 people in Manitoba are in hospital with COVID-19, including 26 people who have active cases. Of those active cases, 20 are not vaccinated, four are partially vaccinated and two are fully vaccinated.

There are five people in the intensive care unit with active cases of COVID-19, all of whom are unvaccinated.

Data from the province obtained by CTV News shows there have been 728 infections and 16 deaths among the 915,200 people fully immunized in the province.

Of the 986,054 people who have been partially immunized in Manitoba, the data shows there have been 2,215 infections and 45 deaths.

The Southern Health region saw the most cases in the province on Thursday, with 23 new cases reported.

The Northern and Winnipeg health regions both reported 15 new cases. Winnipeg is sitting with a 1.2 per cent five-day test positivity rate.

The Prairie Mountain Health Region reported six new cases and the Interlake-Eastern health region reported five new cases.

The new cases bring Manitoba’s total to 59,526, including 599 active cases and 57,724 recoveries. Seven cases were removed from the total due to data corrections.

The provincial five-day test positivity rate is now 2.5 per cent.

The province also released some details of two deaths that were announced on Wednesday – both of which were linked to variants of concern. The deaths include a woman in her 70s from the Interlake-Eastern health region, linked to the Delta variant, and a man in his 80s from Winnipeg linked to an unspecified variant.

The total number of people who have died with COVID-19 sits at 1,203, including 201 deaths that have been linked to variants of concern.

In total, Manitoba has linked 18,065 cases to variants. 370 variant cases are active, and 17,494 have recovered.

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Goodbye Pfizer, hello Comirnaty: top COVID-19 vaccines renamed in Canada – KitchenerToday.com

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It’s pronounced koh-MIHR’-nuh-tee. Never heard of it? Well, get used to it. It’s what Canada will be calling the Pfizer vaccine from now on, at least officially.

Health Canada has approved new monikers for Pfizer, Moderna and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines and announced the change on social media today.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has now been dubbed Comirnaty, which the company says represents a combination of the terms COVID-19, mRNA, community, and immunity.

The Moderna vaccine will go by SpikeVax and the AstraZeneca vaccine will be named Vaxzevria.

Pfizer and Moderna say the change marks the full approval of the vaccines by Health Canada, which were previously approved under an interim order that was set to expire today.

During the interim order, the vaccines didn’t go by their brand names, but now that new and more long-term data has been submitted and approved they will go by their permanent name.

“Health Canada’s approval of COMIRNATY for individuals ages 12 and older affirms the vaccine’s safety and efficacy shown in longer term data submitted to Health Canada — and hopefully that licensure may improve vaccine confidence among Canadians,” Pfizer spokesperson Christina Antoniou wrote in a statement.

It’s the first time SpikeVax, until now known as the Moderna vaccine, has been fully approved anywhere in the world, Stéphane Bancel, the company’s CEO, said in a press release Thursday.

Health Canada points out the vaccines themselves are not changing — only the names are.

Although the name change has been approved, Canada will still receive vials labelled Pfizier-BioNTech for the next several months.

The FDA approved new names in the United States earlier this summer, and the vaccines have been going by their brand names in the EU since the spring.

Story by Laura Osman, The Canadian Press

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How concerning is the latest COVID-19 Mu variant in B.C.? – News 1130

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VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — A new strain of the COVID-19 virus is now in the province, and it is leading to questions around potential risk.

The B.1.621 — or Mu — variant was first discovered in Colombia in January and has been found in more than 40 people in B.C. since June. The World Health Organization has now classified the strain as a “Variant of Interest.”

The case numbers are minimal compared to the highly transmissive Delta variant, which has exploded across the country, leading to more COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

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In B.C. alone, nearly all the new cases of COVID-19 are linked to the Delta variant.

Still, there was a time when the impact of that strain was not known, prompting many to worry that the new Mu variant could be just as dangerous as Delta.

Sally Otto, a UBC zoology professor and modelling researcher, says right now, that’s not the case and there is no need to panic.

“Mu hasn’t actually been rising in frequency, it’s been kind of hovering under about two per cent frequency, relative to what we saw with Delta, which was once it got established, [there was] really rapid exponential growth,” Otto said.

“That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pay attention to it, we absolutely should keep an eye on it. But it’s not taking off. Right now, Delta is the main player, the main variant that is the most transmissible and the most worrisome in this country,” Otto said.

Dr. Birinder Narang, co-founder of This is Our Shot campaign, agrees. “It is not showing a significant impact in B.C., we need to watch,” he wrote on social media.

The bigger concern than the variant itself, Otto says, is how slow Canada is at sharing data from mapping virus sequences to discover variants of interest present in the population.

A new report found Canada among the worst for sharing data on genome sequencing.

Canada takes three months to present collected data to the global database, compared to the United Kingdom which is able to do it in just two weeks.

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The data is then studied by public health officials, scientists, and other experts around the world to examine what variants are present, and how fast they are spreading.

“There could absolutely be more variants. Now to be honest, Canada doesn’t have as much cases as there are globally so the chances are the variant of concern is going to arise somewhere else. But if a variant of concern arises in Canada, we can’t tell.”

She says the delay in information impacts making real-time decisions on public policy surrounding the virus.

“We can’t tell within Canada if there are subtypes of the Delta that are spreading faster than others, and that’s something we need to know,” she said about the mutations and which ones to pay attention to.

Otto says the disconnect of information sharing is even happening in Canada between provinces and territories.

“Here in British Columbia we are sequencing almost every single case of COVID to try and identify what exactly the genetic changes are inside the genome of the virus. But unfortunately that is not then being shared globally, and it’s not even being shared across Canada. And that means that scientists like me who aren’t inside the public health office, we can’t use our skills to look for the changes that are happening in these genomes,” she said, adding the last time B.C. updated their data was two months ago.

Despite fears, the BC Centre of Disease Control says the current vaccines protect against all variants of concern, including Delta, and because variants spread more easily, it is even more important for the majority of the population to be vaccinated.

“This helps protect people who cannot get vaccinated, including children under 12,” the BCCDC explained.

With files from Nikitha Martin

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