Over the last couple of years, Canada has been through several COVID-19 waves that have extensively strained the country’s health-care system. And now, with the number of confirmed cases of the new XBB.1.5 subvariant on the rise, concerns are growing over the preparedness of hospitals should there be more waves.
Dr. Melissa Yuan-Innes, emergency physician at the Hôpital Glengarry Memorial Hospital in Alexandria, Ont., said that their hospital isn’t preparing for another wave in any “special way,” simply because there isn’t room in the health-care system for a surge in cases.
“We don’t have the capacity. Our health-care system is starting to look like a set of dominos that you’re starting to knock over,” she told Global News.
‘We don’t have any magic’
“People call the hospital the first line of defense. We’re actually the last line of defense. We’re there if everything else fails. So, we’re asking you to do your part,” said Yuan-Innes.
To avoid a surge, Glengarry Memorial hospital staff are continuing to wear personal protective equipment and the vast majority of them are vaccinated, according to Yuan-Innes.
But they are still short-staffed, she said.
New Brunswick company helping Canada’s airports test wastewater for COVID-19
“It’s not a question of do we have enough experience with it, it’s do we have enough personnel,” she said. “And we don’t.
“We want you to stay healthy and you want to stay healthy,” she added. “So please don’t count on the system. We don’t have any magic.
“Vaccination is the best step to take here because it makes your body recognize the disease instead of having to start from scratch,” Yuan-Innes said.
Hospitals have been battered with numerous waves of the coronavirus over the last three years, but according to Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases specialist at Toronto General Hospital, upcoming waves, if any, won’t impact the health-care system the same way they previously did.
And that is because “we have two things going for us,” he told Global News.
“One is pretty high rates of vaccination.”
“But on top of that, we can’t ignore that a significant portion of our population has been infected and recovered from infection. When you combine recovery from infection with vaccination, it’s what’s called hybrid immunity and you have some pretty robust protection at the community level,” Bogoch explained.
“We’ve sort of been there, done that.”
Moreover, the XBB.1.5 subvariant that has already been found in 35 countries around the world isn’t spreading as fast as was first thought, he said.
“It’s still growing and still expanding, but at a smaller rate,” he added.
However, it’s still important to acknowledge that the subvariant is around in Canada and there is still a lot of uncertainty, he said.
Another COVID wave ‘might happen’
As of Jan. 9, the total number of XBB.1.5 cases in Canada sat at 42, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC).
This was double the number of confirmed cases reported from the week before.
“It’s important to never sweep anything under the rug,” Bogoch said. “We’ve dealt with some really, really challenging waves. That might happen again.”
According to Dr. Brian Conway, medical director of the Vancouver Infectious Diseases Centre in British Columbia, the subvariant could likely become the dominant variant in Canada soon, especially given how rapidly it’s spreading in the United States and Asia.
“It may spread more easily, it may attach to cells more easily, it may not be as susceptible to protection by vaccination as the original Omicron (variant) or as some of the other variants, so we need to keep an eye on this going forward,” he told Global News.
With concern about long COVID is still present, Conway added that there’s reason to be more cautious. The greater number of times someone becomes sick with the virus, the more susceptible they become to long COVID, he said.
“So, if someone has had their vaccines, two vaccines let’s say, maybe even three,” Conway recommended that they get their bivalent boosters “as soon as they are able to.”
“I’d strongly encourage you to do so,” he said.
So far this year, some provinces have already seen an uptick in COVID-19 hospitalizations.
In Ontario, hospitals in Ottawa and Kitchener saw a record number of patients admitted this week. Factors at play range from respiratory illness to slips and falls commonly seen this time of year.
In a statement released last week, Queensway Carleton said it cared for 361 patients in a day. In Kitchener, Ont., Grand River Hospital said it cared for 295 patients in its emergency room in one day last week.
In provinces like British Columbia, however, cases of hospitalization have fallen, despite test positivity being up throughout the province. As of Jan. 5, there were 356 positive cases in hospital, down from 386 on Friday. The number of cases in critical care also fell from 34 to 25.
In Alberta, COVID hospitalizations have seen a post-holiday dip as well. Data spanning from Jan. 5 to Jan. 9 noted 878 people in hospital — 34 fewer than the previous reporting period. ICU admissions dropped by nine, to 31.
–With files from Global News’ Aya Al-Hakim & Amy Judd
New job as head baker helps Ukrainian newcomer find familiarity in Winnipeg – CBC.ca
Life in Canada is off to a sweet start for a Ukrainian baker who has found a new home for her creations in Winnipeg.
Hanna Tokar, who has only been in Canada for just over a month, is now the head baker at the Winnipeg location of the Butter Tart Lady.
Michelle Wierda, the owner of the bakery, offered her a job after seeing a Facebook post Tokar made where she shared her struggles finding employment in Winnipeg.
“I saw her pictures and I thought, ‘I have to interview her,'” Wierda told host Marcy Markusa in a Tuesday interview with CBC’s Information Radio.
“I saw her attention to detail. Her work is just spectacular. It looked very delicious.”
Before coming to Canada, Tokar owned a bakery she operated by herself in her hometown of Kherson, a port city in southern Ukraine.
She was forced to permanently close its doors when she came to Canada, fleeing Kherson after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Tokar said she was shocked to get the offer to work at the Winnipeg bakery.
“I didn’t expect [to] … have an offer to work in a bakery, because it was actually my dream to have that job here. So it was amazing for me,” she told Information Radio.
Feb. 24 will mark the one-year anniversary of the war in Ukraine.
Since then, more than 800,000 Ukrainian nationals and their family members have applied for special temporary resident visas to come to Canada, according to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. The ministry said as of late December, more than 132,000 Ukrainian nationals had entered Canada since the start of 2022.
While Tokar’s parents are safe elsewhere in Europe, she says she prays for her grandparents who stayed in Kherson, which has experienced heavy damage due to shelling.
“I actually miss Ukraine. I actually miss my friends and my life — my previous life,” Tokar said.
“I really want them to really be proud of me, so that’s why when I have a job I called them and my grandparents really cried.”
As she settles into her new role as head baker at the Butter Tart Lady’s Winnipeg location, the return to what has been a lifelong passion provides Tokar with familiarity in a new place.
Although she is still new to the position, Tokar is already infusing the menu with traditional Ukrainian treats, something Wierda is excited about.
Of these treats is pampushky, a Ukrainian garlic bread that is traditionally served with borscht, Tokar explained.
On the two days she made pampushky, it sold out immediately, said Wierda.
As they look toward to the future, the two women are excited for their partnership.
“I love to be so creative and imaginative, and that’s what I’ve seen in Hanna, is that she’s very determined,” Wierda said. “She has a strong ambition to excellence and she’s always researching, looking for new ideas, new things.”
For Tokar, this experience provides hope for what life in Canada can be.
“You know, I never expect that, like, some foreign people can support me like that,” she said.
“And I really like appreciate the kindness of people.”
Information Radio – MB6:15Baker from Ukraine is frosting cupcakes while connecting with a new community in Winnipeg
Canadian team discovers power-draining flaw in most laptop and phone batteries – CBC.ca
The phone, tablet or laptop you’re reading this on is likely having its battery slowly drained because of a surprising and widespread manufacturing flaw, according to researchers in Halifax.
“This is something that is totally unexpected and something that probably no one thought of,” said Michael Metzger, an assistant professor at Dalhousie University.
The problem? Tiny pieces of tape that hold the battery components together are made from the wrong type of plastic.
Batteries release power because of a chemical reaction. Inside each battery cell, there are two types of metal. One acts as a positive electrode and one as a negative electrode.
These electrodes are held in an electrolyte fluid or paste that is often a form of lithium.
When you connect cables to each end of the battery, electrons flow through the cables — providing power to light bulbs, laptops, or whatever else is on the circuit — and return to the battery.
Trouble starts if those electrons don’t follow the cables.
When electrons move from one charged side of the battery to the other through the electrolyte fluid, it’s called self-discharge. The battery is being depleted internally without sending out electrical current.
This is the reason why devices that are fully charged can slowly lose their charge while they’re turned off.
“These days, batteries are very good,” Metzger said. “But, like with any product, you want it perfected. And you want to eliminate even small rates of self-discharge.”
In the search for the perfect battery, researchers have to watch how each one performs over its full lifespan.
“We do a lot of our tests at elevated temperatures these days. We want to be able to do testing in reasonable time frames,” Metzger said. Heat makes a battery degrade more quickly, he explained.
At Dalhousie University’s battery lab, dozens of experimental battery cells are being charged and discharged again and again, in environments as hot as 85 C.
For comparison, eggs fry at around 70 C.
If researchers can learn why a battery eventually fails, they can tweak the positive electrode, negative electrode, or electrolyte fluid.
During one of these tests, the clear electrolyte fluid turned bright red. The team was puzzled.
It isn’t supposed to do that, according to Metzger. “A battery’s a closed system,” he said.
Something new had been created inside the battery.
They did a chemical analysis of the red substance and found it was dimethyl terephthalate (DMT). It’s a substance that shuttles electrons within the battery, rather than having them flow outside through cables and generate electricity.
Shuttling electrons internally depletes the battery’s charge, even if it isn’t connected to a circuit or electrical device.
But if a battery is sealed by the manufacturer, where did the DMT come from?
Through the chemical analysis, the team realized that DMT has a similar structure to another molecule: polyethylene terephthalate (PET).
PET is a type of plastic used in household items like water bottles, food containers and synthetic carpets. But what was plastic doing inside the battery?
Tale of the tape
Piece by piece, the team analyzed the battery components. They realized that the thin strips of metal and insulation coiled tightly inside the casing were held together with tape.
Those small segments of tape were made of PET — the type of plastic that had been causing the electrolyte fluid to turn red, and self-discharge the battery.
“A lot of companies use PET tape,” said Metzger. “That’s why it was a quite important discovery, this realization that this tape is actually not inert.”
Tech industry takes notice
Metzger and the team began sharing their discovery publicly in November 2022, in publications and at seminars.
Some of the world’s largest computer-hardware companies and electric-vehicle manufacturers were very interested.
“A lot of the companies made clear that this is very relevant to them,” Metzger said. “They want to make changes to these components in their battery cells because, of course, they want to avoid self-discharge.”
The team even proposed a solution to the problem: use a slightly more expensive, but also more stable, plastic compound.
One option is polypropylene, which is typically used to make more durable plastic items like outdoor furniture or reusable water bottles.
“We realized that it [polypropylene] doesn’t easily decompose like PET, and doesn’t form these unwanted molecules,” Metzger said. “So currently, we have very encouraging results that the self-discharges are truly eliminated by moving away from this PET tape.”
U.S. escalates trade concerns over Canada's online news and streaming bills – The Globe and Mail
Washington has escalated its concerns about the trade implications of Ottawa’s online streaming and online news bills, prompting a legal expert to predict the issue will be raised during President Joe Biden’s planned visit to Canada in March.
Deputy United States trade representative Jayme White stressed “ongoing concerns” about the two Canadian bills at a meeting last week with Rob Stewart, Canada’s deputy minister for international trade.
Senior Democrat and Republican senators on the influential U.S. Senate finance committee also weighed in last week, writing a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai about Canada’s “troubling policies,” which they said target U.S technology companies.
Both bills are making their way through Canada’s Parliament. Bill C-11 reached a third-reading debate in the Senate on Tuesday.
The U.S. is concerned that the two bills unfairly single out American firms, including Google, Facebook and Netflix.
Bill C-11 would update Canada’s broadcast laws, giving the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) the power to regulate streaming platforms such as Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Prime and Spotify.
The streaming platforms would have to promote Canadian content – including films, TV shows, music and music videos – and fund its creation.
Bill C-18 would force Google and Facebook to strike deals with news organizations, including broadcasters, to compensate them for using their work. The CRTC would have a role in overseeing the process.
Two sources told The Globe and Mail that the CRTC’s lack of experience regulating print media and digital platforms was raised by Ms. Tai and her team in previous talks with Canada’s Trade Minister, Mary Ng. The Globe is not naming the sources because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the issue.
A U.S. readout of Mr. White’s meeting with Mr. Stewart said the American official had “expressed the United States’ ongoing concerns with … pending legislation in the Canadian Parliament that could impact digital streaming services and online news sharing and discriminate against U.S. businesses.”
Shanti Cosentino, a spokeswoman for Ms. Ng, said the Minister “has reiterated to Ambassador Tai that both Bill C-11 and C-18 are in line with our trade obligations and do not discriminate against U.S. businesses.”
Last week, Democrat Ron Wyden, chairman of the U.S. Senate committee on finance, and Republican Michael Crapo, a senior member of the committee, raised concerns in a letter to Ms. Tai that the bills could breach the terms of the United-States-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement (USMCA).
Michael Geist, the University of Ottawa’s Canada Research Chair in internet law, said the intervention from both parties means it is now likely the issue will be on the agenda when Mr. Biden visits Canada.
“To see this raised in a bipartisan manner by two U.S. Senators from the powerful finance committee suggests that the issue is gaining traction in Congress,” he said.
The senators urged Ms. Tai to take enforcement action if Canada fails to meet its trade obligations.
Their letter said the online streaming bill would “mandate preferential treatment for Canadian content and deprive U.S. creatives of the North American market, access they were promised under USMCA.”
It added that Bill C-18 “targets U.S. companies for the benefit of Canadian news producers and raises national treatment concerns under USMCA.”
But Toronto-based trade lawyer and former diplomat Lawrence Herman, founder of Herman and Associates, said the U.S. politicians’ intervention is “a reflection of a well-orchestrated lobbying effort by the major digital platforms.”
He said there is no evidence that either bill discriminates against American companies.
“Canada is well armed to defend any trade complaint,” he said.
On Thursday, as Canada’s Senate debated Bill C-11 at third reading, Senator Dennis Dawson, sponsor of the bill in the Senate, said the legislation has been thoroughly scrutinized and should now be passed.
The Senate was due to begin debating C-18 this week. But that could now be delayed because of an error in the printed text of the bill sent over from the Commons, the Speaker of the Senate said.
The incorrect text included a sub-amendment that had not actually passed in a Commons committee. It will now have to be pulped and reprinted.
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