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B.C. records 531 new COVID-19 cases, as variant strains become more prevalent – Times Colonist

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B.C. continues to rack up an average of more than 500 new COVID-19 cases per day, with 531 new infections detected in the past 24 hours, raising the number of cases since the virus was first discovered in the province to 85,650. More than 92.5% of those infected, or 79,309 people, are considered to have recovered because they have had two negative tests for the virus.

Some concern is that the number of infections that are considered to be of mutant strains of the virus, or variants of concern, are rising fast, and that those variants are thought to spread more easily.

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Health officials test for variants after they have initially detected that an individual has COVID-19, so all newly determined variant cases were not necessarily cases that were discovered overnight.

Nonetheless, B.C. reported that officials had discovered overnight 51 new COVID-19 cases that are variants of concern, for a total of 627 cases.

Of the people who have been infected with a variant strain, 109 are actively battling infections, while 518 individuals have recovered. The B.1.1.7 (U.K.) variant is the dominant variant strain in B.C., with 580 total cases, while there are 33 cases of the B.1.351 (South Africa) variant, and 14 cases of the P.1 (Brazil) variant, provincial health officer Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix said in a joint statement. 

The vast majority of the 4,861 people in B.C. actively battling COVID-19 infections have been told to self isolate, although 244 are in hospital, and 66 of those are sick enough to be in intensive care units. Health officials are closely monitoring another 9,051 individuals for symptoms because they have had known contact with people who have been identified as carrying the virus. 

One more person died from COVID-19 in the past day, which raises B.C.’s death toll from the virus to 1,394.

Vaccinations have yet to ramp up, as only 11,937 new people received their first shot of a vaccine overnight. Another 22 people received a second dose of the vaccine. This number of vaccinations is far below the average needed to vaccinate the eligible population of the province by September, much less July, which is newly health officials’ goal.

In total, 355,340 doses of vaccine have gone to 268,380 individuals, with 86,960 people having received needed second doses. 

Here is the breakdown of where the 531 newly infected people reside, by health region:
• 147 in Vancouver Coastal Health (27.2%);
• 291 in Fraser Health (54.8%);
• 19 in Island Health (3.6%);
• 42 in Interior Health (7.9%); and
• 32 in Northern Health (6%).

Some good news is that there were no new healthcare facility outbreaks overnight. 

None of the nine active outbreaks at seniors’ homes is in the Vancouver Coastal Health region or Island Health regions. 

The five active outbreaks at seniors’ living facilities in Fraser Health are:
• Chartwell Carrington House in Mission;
• Fleetwood Place in Surrey;
• Holmberg House Hospice in Abbotsford;
• Revera Sunwood in Maple Ridge; and
• Shaughnessy Care Centre in Port Coquitlam.

The only outbreak at such a facility in the Northern Health region is at the Acropolis Manor in Prince Rupert.

The three active outbreaks at seniors’ living facilities in Interior Health are:
• Brocklehurst Gemstone Care Centre in Kamloops,
• The Florentine in Merritt; and
• Cottonwoods Care Centre in Kelowna.

There are also eight active COVID-19 outbreaks at B.C. hospitals. They include:
• Chilliwack General Hospital in Chilliwack;
• Dawson Creek and District Hospital in Dawson Creek;
• Eagle Ridge Hospital in Port Moody;
• Kelowna General Hospital in Kelowna;
• Mission Memorial Hospital in Mission;
• Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster;
• Surrey Memorial Hospital in Surrey; and
• Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver.

gkorstrom@biv.com

@GlenKorstrom
 

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Factbox: Countries respond to heart inflammation risk from mRNA shots

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Some countries have halted altogether or are giving only one dose of COVID shots based on so-called mRNA technology to teens following reports of possible rare cardiovascular side effects.

Europe’s drug regulator said in July it had found a possible link between a very rare inflammatory heart condition and COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna.

However, the benefits of mRNA shots in preventing COVID-19 continue to outweigh the risks, European and U.S. regulators and the World Health Organization have said.

Here are some of the steps some countries are taking:

CANADA

The Public Health Agency of Canada said data suggested that reported cases of rare heart inflammation were higher after Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine compared with the Pfizer/BioNTech shots.

DENMARK

The Danish Health Agency said on Friday that it was continuing to offer Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine to under-18s, and that a statement on Wednesday suggesting a suspension had in fact been a miscommunication.

FINLAND

Finland paused the use of Moderna’s vaccines for younger people and instead would give Pfizer’s vaccine to men born in 1991 and later. It offers shots to those aged 12 and over.

HONG KONG

A panel of health experts advising the Hong Kong government has recommended in September children aged 12-17 should get only one dose of BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine after reports of heart inflammation as a side effect.

NORWAY

Norway will hold off giving children aged 12-15 a second dose of a vaccine against COVID-19 until it has gathered more research. On Oct. 22 the health ministry said there was no urgency given that children have a low risk of falling seriously ill from COVID-19.

On Sep. 2 Norway decided on giving one dose of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to children aged 12-15.

SWEDEN

Sweden has extended the pause of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine beyond the original Dec. 1 deadline for people aged 30 and younger due to rare heart-related side-effects, the public health agency said on Oct. 21.

The agency said earlier in October that data pointed to an increase of myocarditis and pericarditis among youths and young adults vaccinated with Moderna vaccine Spikevax, and paused the use for all born 1991 or later.

SOUTH AFRICA

South Africa will start vaccinating children between 12 and 17 using the Pfizer vaccine, the health minister said, as the country looks to ratchet up inoculations ahead of final year examinations.

On the advice of its vaccine advisory committee the government would only give teenagers a single shot of Pfizer’s normal two-shot regime due to concerns that it may affect the heart.

UNITED KINGDOM

Britain has been offering all 12-15-year-olds a first a shot of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. Second doses would not be offered to the age group until at least spring when there may be more data from around the world.

 

(Compiled by Antonis Triantafyllou; Editing by Joanna Jonczyk-Gwizdala and Tomasz Janowski)

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Hong Kong’s zero-COVID policy undermining financial hub status – industry group

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A financial industry group warned on Monday that Hong Kong‘s zero-COVID policy and strict quarantine requirements for international travellers threatens to undermine the city’s status as a financial hub.

The Asia Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (ASIFMA) said a survey of members, including some of the world’s largest banks and asset managers, showed 48% were contemplating moving staff or functions away from Hong Kong due to operational challenges, which included uncertainty regarding when and how travel and quarantine restrictions will be lifted.

Hong Kong has some of the most stringent travel restrictions in the world and is virtually COVID-19 free, however unlike regional rival Singapore, which is slowly re-opening its borders, the Chinese-ruled city has no public plan for opening up to international travellers.

Local leaders say their focus is removing restrictions on travel from Hong Kong to mainland China, which also has strict entry restrictions. At present travellers from Hong Kong to the mainland must still undergo quarantine.

“Hong Kong’s status as an (international financial centre) is increasingly at risk along with its long-term economic recovery and competitiveness as a premier place to do business,” Mark Austen chief executive of Asifma wrote in open letter to Hong Kong’s financial secretary Paul Chan.

The letter made a series of recommendations including publishing “a roadmap for exiting Hong Kong’s ‘zero-case’ based COVID-19 strategy beyond solely the immediate goal of opening borders with China”, as well as prioritising vaccinations.

Hong Kong has reported just over 12,300 cases since the start of the pandemic, mostly imported, and 213 deaths.

Regional rival Singapore is expanding quarantine-free travel to nearly a dozen countries, but authorities are grappling with how to do so while averting a surge of Covid-19 cases among older people and those with weak immune systems.

 

(Reporting by Alun John; Editing by Michael Perry)

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Red Cross urges action for Papua New Guinea as COVID-19 overwhelms health system

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Concerted international action is needed to support Papua New Guinea as a surge in COVID-19 cases overwhelms the Pacific country’s health system, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said on Monday.

Coronavirus cases in the island nation of 9 million have been surging in recent weeks, with 385 new cases recorded on Thursday, according to latest available government data.

There have been 26,731 officially confirmed cases and 329 deaths in the country 150 km (90 miles) north of Australia.

Less than 1% of the population has been fully vaccinated, according to Our World in Data figures, although the government anticipated months ago that it would have enough shots by now for everyone who wanted to be vaccinated.

Misinformation, public apprehension, and logistical challenges with the rollout have slowed down vaccinations, the Red Cross said.

“Urgent efforts and further support are needed in healthcare to prevent a massive loss of life in the coming days and weeks,” Uvenama Rova, PNG Red Cross secretary general, said in a statement.

According to the PNG National Control Centre for COVID-19, all major hospitals have been hit with rising cases.

“We’re at the moment barely managing with the existing load,” Gary Nou, team leader for Emergency Medical Team at the National Centre, was quoted as saying last week in a statement on the centre’s website.

A medical team from Australia arrived in Port Moresby this month, and Britain was also to send a team.

While some other nations in the Pacific region, such as the Solomon Islands and Kiribati, have also had sluggish vaccine rollouts, the tiny nation of Palau had 99% of its population over 12 vaccinated by mid-October, while Fiji had 96% of eligible people with one dose, the Red Cross said this month.

 

(Reporting by Lidia Kelly in Melbourne; Editing by William Mallard)

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