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Can Canadians travel safely as BA.5 subvariant spreads globally? Here’s what to consider – Global News



As the highly transmissible BA.5 subvariant of Omicron continues to spread around the world, experts are urging Canadians who are travelling this summer to have health insurance, be up-to-date on their COVID-19 vaccinations, and to continue wearing masks in crowded spaces.

Dr. Don Vinh, an infectious diseases specialist at the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC), says there are several ways Canadian travellers can minimize the risk of catching the subvariant and getting severely ill.

Read more:

Omicron BA.5 COVID subvariant spreading at ‘very intense level,’ WHO warns

He said travellers need to be familiar with the health system in the country they’re visiting and get health insurance to cover medical costs if they were to get hospitalized with COVID-19.

“If you were to get infected with BA.5 and fall sick in another country, how comfortable would you be to seek medical attention or be hospitalized?” Vinh said.

Click to play video: 'How the BA.5 subvariant is powering a new surge across Canada'

How the BA.5 subvariant is powering a new surge across Canada

How the BA.5 subvariant is powering a new surge across Canada

Another way to protect oneself against Omicron and its subvariants, according to Vinh, is by being vaccinated with at least three doses.

“The last dose needs to be taken within the last three months to protect you from getting severe disease,” said Vinh.

In Canada, a fourth COVID-19 dose is already being offered as the seventh wave takes shape in many parts of the country.

READ MORE: Ontario expands 4th COVID vaccine doses to those aged 18 to 59 amid 7th wave

As of July 14 in Ontario, anyone aged 18 and older who had their first booster at least five months ago can book an appointment to get a fourth shot.

Other provinces and territories, like Quebec, Prince Edward Island, Nunavut and Yukon, have also opened up eligibility for second boosters — or a fourth dose — to anyone over the ages of 18, provided their last shot was at least three months prior.

Vinh also recommended that Canadians continue to wear masks while travelling, especially in crowded spaces.

Read more:

Ontario 7th COVID wave expected to peak in 2 weeks, no mask mandate at this time

“You can acquire BA.5 here locally. You don’t have to travel around the world to acquire it, but you don’t have to acquire it and unnecessarily get sick, so there are measures to prevent that,” said Vinh.

Click to play video: 'White House to prioritize boosters, testing for Omicron BA.5 subvariant'

White House to prioritize boosters, testing for Omicron BA.5 subvariant

White House to prioritize boosters, testing for Omicron BA.5 subvariant

Dr. Earl Rubin, director of the infectious disease division of the Montreal Children’s Hospital, shared similar recommendations but added if a traveller is returning to Canada and has symptoms, they should not be out and about circulating the virus in the community.

“If there is an absolute, essential need to go out, make sure that you wear a mask and keep a two-meter distance,” said Rubin. “Avoid contact with vulnerable people.”

“I think that this is very important because public health is not tracking people (with COVID) like they did before, not enforcing (mandates). So we have to rely on people’s own sense of what is right and wrong,” he added.

READ MORE: New COVID-19 Omicron mutation sparks concern in India and beyond

The federal government announced plans Thursday to bring back random testing of travellers at Canada’s four main airports for COVID-19 next week, but intends to move the actual swabbing off-site.

Rubin said he believes random testing is now being put in place to detect any new variants that may enter the country. 

I think travel is a significant issue if there is a variant in the destination to where you’re going that we don’t have here,” he said.

For Vinh, this new testing strategy is just a “symbolic gesture to remind people that the pandemic is not over.”

“I think if perhaps the federal government has policies that remind us that the pandemic is not over, then from a federal perspective, it’s trying to protect or at least symbolically protect Canadians,” he said.

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Canada to resume random mandatory testing at airports'

COVID-19: Canada to resume random mandatory testing at airports

COVID-19: Canada to resume random mandatory testing at airports

On July 12, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that COVID-19 cases are rising across the world as BA.5 spreads at a “very intense level.”

The spread of BA.5, which is now the dominant version of the virus globally, is of concern because it has a growth advantage over other sub-lineages of Omicron, said WHO COVID-19 technical lead Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove at Tuesday’s briefing.

“The virus is spreading at a very intense level at a global level and our ability to detect cases has reduced since the surveillance strategies have changed,” she told reporters.

The WHO has seen a substantial increase in reports of BA.5 cases over the last four weeks alone, Van Kerkhove said, adding that the trend is expected to continue around the world.

READ MORE: 17M Canadians got Omicron in 5 months, new federal report says

Canada’s Public Health Agency projects more cases in the coming months due to increases in the BA.4 and BA.5 sub-lineages of Omicron, according to its June 30 statement.

Some sobering figures from Canada’s COVID-19 Immunity Task Force released last week showed how quickly the Omicron variant of COVID-19 and its subvariants spread across the country at the end of 2021 and the first few months of this year.

An analysis of data from blood testing suggested that 17 million Canadians were infected in only five months, between December 2021 and May 2022.

– with files from Global News’ Saba Aziz and The Canadian Press

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Medical assistance in dying given to 10K Canadians in 2021 – CTV News



More Canadians are ending their lives with a medically-assisted death, says the third federal annual report on medical assistance in dying (MAID). Data shows that 10,064 people died in 2021 with medical aid, an increase of 32 per cent over 2020.

The report says that 3.3 per cent of all deaths in Canada in 2021 were assisted deaths. On a provincial level, the rate was higher in provinces such as Quebec, at 4.7 per cent, and British Columbia, at 4.8 per cent.

“It is rising remarkably fast,” University of Toronto law professor Trudo Lemmens, who was a member of the Council of Canadian Academies Expert Panel on Medical Assistance in Dying, wrote in an email to CTV News. He noted that some regions in the country have quickly matched or surpassed rates in Belgium and the Netherlands, where the practice has been in place for over two decades.

Advocates say it isn’t surprising because Canadians are growing more comfortable with MAID and some expect the rising rates may level off.

“The…. expectation has always been it (the rate) will be something around four to five per cent, (as in) Europe. We will probably, in the end, saw off at around the same rate,” said Dr. Jean Marmoreo, a family physician and MAID provider in Toronto.

The report uses data collected from files submitted by doctors, nurse practitioners and pharmacists across the country involving written requests for MAID.

Among the findings:

  • All provinces saw increases in MAID deaths, ranging from 1.2 per cent (Newfoundland & Labrador) to a high of 4.8 per cent (British Columbia);
  • More men (52.3 per cent) than women (47.7 per cent) received MAID;
  • The average age was 76.3 years;
  • Sixty-five per cent of those provided with assisted death had cancer. Heart disease or strokes were cited in 19 per cent of cases, followed by chronic lung diseases (12 per cent) and neurological conditions like ALS (12 per cent);
  • Just over two per cent of assisted deaths were offered to a newer group of patients: those with chronic illnesses but who were not dying of their condition, with new legislation in 2021 allowing expanded access to MAID.

Documents show that 81 per cent of written applications for MAID were approved.

Thirteen per cent of patients died before MAID could be provided, with almost two per cent withdrawing their application before the procedure was offered.

Four per cent of people who made written applications for medical assistance were rejected. The report says some were deemed ineligible because assessors felt the patient was not voluntarily applying for MAID. The majority of requests were denied because patients were deemed not mentally capable of making the decision.

But other countries with long-established programs reject far more assisted death requests, said Lemmens, citing data that shows 12 to 16 per cent of applicants in the Netherlands are told no.

“It ….may be an indication that restrictions (in my view safeguards) are weaker here than in the most liberal euthanasia regimes,” he wrote in his email to CTV News.

But Marmoreo, who has offered MAID since 2016, sees Canada’s low rejection rate differently.

“It is more like that the right cases are put forward,” she said.

“We have a very good screening process right from the get-go. So before people actually even make a formal request to have assisted dying, they have a lot of information that’s been given to them by the intake….here’s what’s involved in seeking an assisted death, you must meet these eligibility criteria.”

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B.C. ‘clear’ there’s not enough housing as Vancouver encampment ordered dismantled



VANCOUVER — British Columbia’s acting attorney general says the province was “clear” with Vancouver officials that the Crown corporation responsible for subsidized housing does not have enough spaces available for people who are being told to dismantle their tents along a street in the city’s Downtown Eastside.

Murray Rankin, who is also the minister responsible for housing, says housing is a human right, and the “deeply concerning scenes from Hastings Street demonstrate how much more work we have to do to make that a reality for everyone in our communities.”

Rankin in a statement Friday says BC Housing has accelerated efforts to secure new housing for encampment residents including pursuing new sites to lease or buy and expediting renovations on single-room occupancy units as they become vacant.

He says BC Housing is aiming to make a “limited number” of renovated units available next week, with more opening later in the fall.

Vancouver fire Chief Karen Fry ordered tents set up along Hastings Street sidewalks dismantled last month, saying there was an extreme fire and safety risk.

Police blocked traffic Tuesday as city staff began what’s expected to be a weeks-long process of dismantling the encampment but little had changed by the end of the week with most residents staying put, saying they have nowhere to go.

The city has said staff plan to approach encampment residents with “respect and sensitivity” to encourage the voluntary removal of their tents and belongings.

Community advocacy groups, including the Vancouver Area of Drug Users and Pivot Legal Society, have said clearing the encampment violates a memorandum of understanding between the city, the B.C. government and Vancouver’s park board, because people are being told to move without being offered suitable housing.

The stated aim of the agreement struck last March is to connect unsheltered people to housing and preserve their dignity when dismantling encampments.

The City of Vancouver may enforce bylaws that prohibit structures on sidewalks “when suitable spaces are available for people to move indoors,” it reads.

The province is not involved in the fire chief’s order or the enforcement of local bylaws, which prohibit structures on sidewalks, but it is “bringing all of BC Housing’s resources to bear to do what we can to secure housing for people, Rankin said.

“I recognize the profound uncertainty and upheaval people impacted by the fire order are facing, and we will provide updates on this work as we have news to share,” he said.

Rankin, who had been serving as minister of Indigenous relations, was appointed acting attorney general after David Eby stepped down to run for leadership of the B.C. NDP.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 12, 2022.


The Canadian Press

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N.W.T. RCMP deploy controversial roadside cannabis screening devices



YELLOWKNIFE — RCMP in the Northwest Territories have begun using roadside cannabis-screening technology that has faced criticism from defence lawyers elsewhere in Canada.

Mounties in the territory announced late last month that they had deployed devices designed to take a saliva sample and test for the presence of tetrahydrocannabinol, also known as THC, the main psychoactive substance in cannabis. They said the technology would help them detect impaired drivers and make roads safer.

But some criminal defence lawyers have raised concerns about these devices’ ability to deliver reliable test results, particularly in cold temperatures. They argue the technology isn’t effective at determining whether someone is impaired.

“It can lead to people being arrested who are actually innocent,” said Kyla Lee, a lawyer based in Vancouver.

Lee said research has shown the devices may be more likely to deliver false results in extreme cold temperatures, and movement during analysis could also affect outcomes. She added that while the devices can deliver either a positive or negative test result, they do not indicate how much THC may be in a person’s bloodstream.

Lee recently represented a Nova Scotia woman in a constitutional challenge of the law that allows for roadside drug testing technology in Canada.

Michelle Gray, who uses cannabis for multiple sclerosis, had her car impounded and her licence suspended for a week after she failed a cannabis saliva test at a roadside checkpoint in 2019, even though she passed a sobriety test that same night.

“The technology just doesn’t exist yet to allow police to make a determination of impairment via drugs using physical equipment,” Lee said.

Lee is awaiting a decision on the constitutional challenge in Nova Scotia. She said she expects there will be further court challenges in other Canadian jurisdictions where these devices are used, including the Northwest Territories.

There are two devices approved for roadside cannabis screening in Canada: the Drager DrugTest 5000 and the Abbott SoToxa mobile test system. The companies that manufacture the devices recommend they be used in temperatures no lower than 4 C and 5 C, respectively.

Cpl. Andree Sieber of the Regina Police Service, which began using roadside devices to detect cannabis use in early 2020, said officers bring drivers to their vehicles for testing to prevent issues with weather conditions or temperatures.

“We’ve used it throughout all seasons here in Regina,” she said. “We have very cold winters and some pretty nasty, snowy cold days and you have the person attend back to your vehicle with you where it’s heated and it’s not an issue.”

Sieber said the more THC a person has consumed, the more likely they are to show signs of impairment and to test positive.

The RCMP said roadside screening devices are just one tool they use to detect and investigate drug-impaired drivers alongside officers’ observations. They said field sobriety testing and drug recognition experts remain the primary enforcement tools.

“Police officers rely on what they see and hear, as well as what they smell when investigating impaired drivers,” the RCMP said in a written statement. “Regardless of how a drug is consumed, there are signs of that consumption and police are trained to recognized them.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 13, 2022.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.


Emily Blake, The Canadian Press

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