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B.C. cancels sports tournaments, New Year's Eve parties in bid to flatten Omicron-fuelled curve – CHEK



The B.C. government is cancelling sports tournaments and New Year’s Eve parties as well as restricting capacity in large indoor venues as COVID-19 cases surge in the province, fuelled in part by the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the new orders would go into effect Monday, Dec. 20, until Jan. 31 at 11:59 p.m.

In addition, the province will also limit personal gatherings to one household plus 10 other individuals, or one additional household, so long as all individuals are vaccinated.

Henry said the province is responding to an increasing proportion of cases driven by the Omicron variant, with B.C. about a week behind Ontario, where Omicron is rapidly becoming the dominant strain of the virus.

It comes as cases surge in the province overall after 759 cases were confirmed Thursday, far exceeding the seven-day rolling average, which was closer to 360.

In particular, cases are increasing in the most populous parts of the province like the Vancouver Coastal Health region, driven primarily by unstructured social gatherings like parties, and mostly in younger people.

Officials say while there is limited data on the severity of illness linked to Omicron, so far the vast majority of those infected have been immunized for COVID-19 and have not experienced severe symptoms.

“This is of course not where we want to be. we had been making good progress, turning the corner of the wave we had been dealing with these past few months in B.C.,” Henry said Friday, adding that if cases continue to increase rapidly, “we know that a certain proportion of those people will need hospital care.”

Another new health order announced Friday is an amended vaccine card program requiring events of any size to require the BC Vaccine Card. Currently, only events of 50 people or must have people produce their vaccination records.

The province will also once again restrict movement at restaurants, meaning seated groups can not get up and mingle with other groups.

Officials said they were suspending all sports tournaments over the holidays beginning Monday because tournaments have been a significant contributor to the spread of COVID-19.

“I know there are a number of tournaments, particularly hockey tournaments, that were due to start on boxing day. Those will need to be suspended for the period of time of this order,” said Henry.

New Year’s Eve parties where people can come together and mingle have also been ordered cancelled because such parties have been super-spreader events in the past, officials said. However, restaurants will still be permitted to open for dinner on Dec. 31 — with no restrictions in place on operating hours or alcohol sales.

The province said it will also emphasize to the retail sector that businesses should have COVID-19 safety plans in place for holiday sales.

While Henry did not announce any new restrictions on inter-provincial non-essential travel Friday, she maintained that people who aren’t vaccinated should not travel.

So far, B.C. has confirmed 135 cases of the new Omicron variant with more than half — 71 — of those in Island Health.

The next highest total belongs to Fraser Health with 38. Among other authorities, Vancouver Coastal has reported 20, Interior Health has five and Northern Health has one.

Other provinces like Ontario have reintroduced strict public health orders to try to contain the spread of Omicron, and earlier this week the federal government issued a travel advisory discouraging non-essential international travel due to the variant.

While much about the variant remains unknown, so far it appears vaccination may not be as effective at stopping the spread of Omicron, according to Dr. Gerald Evans, a Kingston-based infectious disease expert at Queen’s University’s School of Medicine.

“We know that two doses of vaccination only provides about 30 per cent protection from being infected with Omicron, whereas it gave you about 70 per cent protection against being infected with Alpha and Delta,” he told CHEK News Thursday.

It’s still unclear whether Omicron causes more or less serious illness than Delta, but so far there are no known deaths in Ontario or B.C. associated with the new variant cases.

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Markets split on BoC decision as business survey, inflation loom – BNN



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The Bank of Canada is getting a pair of key indicators this week ahead of a rate decision next Wednesday that’s virtually a coin toss, as far as markets are concerned.

First up on Monday, the central bank releases its quarterly Business Outlook Survey, which provides a snapshot of how approximately 100 corporate leaders are feeling about the economy and their own business fundamentals.

When the last survey was released in October, it showed the broadest gauge of sentiment was at the highest level in the survey’s history. That was despite worsening labour shortages and as more than half of respondents (57 per cent) said they expected labour costs to accelerate over the next year.

“[Monday’s] Business Outlook Survey might have been completed too early to catch Omicron uncertainties, so expect respondents to retain a healthy dose of optimism,” said CIBC World Markets Chief Economist Avery Shenfeld in a report to clients Friday.

“The survey could show a majority expecting inflation to run above the top end of the Bank of Canada’s one-three per cent inflation band. If not for Omicron, that would spell a rate hike in January, but the uncertainties surrounding how long this disruption will last should be enough to defer that decision.”

Meanwhile, Statistics Canada will release the consumer price index for December on Wednesday. Economists are expecting to see inflation rose 4.8 per cent year-over-year in the month; that would be the fastest rate of growth since 1991.

As of 8:30 a.m. Monday morning, market data shows investors see a 59 per cent chance of a rate hike when the Bank of Canada delivers its decision on Jan. 26.

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House Price Index rose 26% in 2021, fastest pace on record – CBC News



The Canadian Real Estate Association’s House Price Index rose by 26.6 per cent in the 12 months up to December, the fastest annual pace of gain on record.

The group, which represents more than 100,000 realtors and tabulates sales data from homes that listed and sell via the Multiple Listings Service, said the supply of homes for sale at the end of the month hit an all-time low.

After pausing for a few weeks in the early days of the pandemic, Canada’s housing market has been on an absolute tear for the past two years, as feverish demand from buyers wishing to take advantage of rock-bottom interest rates has drastically outpaced the supply of homes to buy.

That imbalance is a major factor contributing to higher prices, as buyers have to pay more and more to outbid others because of the lack of alternatives.

Various experts are suggesting that parts of the country are showing signs of being in a speculative bubble, and CREA says the biggest reason for runaway price increases is that there aren’t enough homes being put up for sale.

“There are currently fewer properties listed for sale in Canada than at any point on record,” CREA’s chief economist Shaun Cathcart said. “So unfortunately, the housing affordability problem facing the country is likely to get worse before it gets better.”

High prices not denting demand

CREA says the average price of a Canadian home that sold on MLS in December went for $713,500. That’s actually down from the record high of more than $720,000 in November, but still well up on an annual basis.

High prices don’t seem to be slowing demand, however, as 2021 was the busiest year for home sales ever. Some 666,995 residential properties traded hands on MLS last year, smashing the previous annual record by 20 per cent.

TD Bank economist Rishi Sondhi said that there was a less than two-month supply of homes for sale during the month, which means at the current sales pace, all listings would be gone in less than two months. Under normal conditions, there’s a five-month supply of homes for sale, and Sondhi says that supply and demand imbalance is a major factor in eye-popping price gains.

“With interest-rate pull-forward behaviour keeping demand so strong, and supply struggling to keep up, it’s little wonder why prices are continuing their relentless upward march,” he said. “Buyers pulling forward demand ahead of looming interest rate hikes kept sales at unsustainable levels last month. How long this effect will last is uncertain, but it should eventually fade.”

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COVID-19 antiviral: Canada authorizes Pfizer pill – CTV News



Health Canada has authorized the use of Pfizer’s COVID-19 antiviral treatment Paxlovid.

The federal health agency says the prescription-only medication can be given to adults ages 18 and older to treat mild to moderate cases of COVID-19, if they have a confirmed positive viral test and are at a high risk of becoming seriously ill. 

The authorization comes with specific instructions on scenarios in which the regime cannot be used, including to prevent COVID-19 infections or to treat patients who are already hospitalized due to severe COVID-19 cases.

The medication— two antiviral medicines co-packaged together— cannot be taken for longer than five days in a row, nor can it be given to teens or children.

More details about the authorization are being provided by Health Canada’s Chief Medical Adviser Dr. Supriya Sharma, in a technical briefing in Ottawa.

Pfizer submitted clinical data for the oral medication, on Dec. 1, 2021. 

The government has a deal in place with the pharmaceutical giant securing access to an initial one million doses of the therapeutic drug.

Responding to recent calls from the provinces for a swift rollout of this medication in the face of an expected surge in Omicron hospitalizations, the federal government has vowed that delivery of the drug will happen in short order.

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos and Procurement Minister Filomena Tassi will be holding a press conference to discuss the rollout of this treatment at 1:30 p.m. EST.

In November 2021, Pfizer released the results of their Phase 2/3 trials for the drug, stating that they had found the pills to significantly reduce hospitalization and death in COVID-19 patients. 

Pfizer said that in a randomized, double-blind study of more than 380 patients, there was an 89 per cent reduction in the risk of being hospitalized or dying of COVID-19 in patients that received Pfizer’s pill within three days of displaying COVID-19 symptoms, compared to the study group that received a placebo.

According to Pfizer, Paxlovid is designed to block the activity of an enzyme in SARS-CoV-2 that is essential for the virus to replicate itself, and also help to slow the breakdown of the pill’s ingredients in order to help combat the virus for longer.

“PAXLOVID stops the virus from multiplying. This can help your body to overcome the virus infection and may help you get better faster,” reads Health Canada’s authorization.

Paxlovid contains two medicines co-packaged together, a 150mg pink tablet of Nirmatrelvir and a 100mg white tablet of Ritonavir, which has been used in combination with other antiviral medications before.

The regime is meant to be taken consistently twice a day, for five days in a row. The agency has outlined on their website the detailed instructions for taking this medication, as well as a list of potential contraindications.

For example, Health Canada has issued warnings for patients with kidney or liver problems; patients with a human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection; patients who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or are planning to become pregnant; and patients who take a series of other medicines which may interact with Paxlovid.

Side effects can include an altered sense of taste, diarrhea, muscle pain, vomiting, high blood pressure, and headache. Though, given the limited use of this medication to date, the agency cautions that it is possible not all side effects are known at this time and advise speaking with a healthcare professional if other side “troublesome” effects arise.

The medication is what is called a “protease inhibitor antiviral therapy”, a type of medication that has largely been used before to treat HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C.  

Health Canada has also been reviewing an experimental pill from drugmaker Merck, called molnupiravir, since mid August. The federal government also has a contract to purchase 500,000 of Merck’s antiviral medication, with an option for 500,000 more pending regulatory approval.

In late December, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization for both Pfizer and Merck’s drugs.

With files from CTV News’ Alexandra Mae Jones and Sarah Turnbull 

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