The new year may bring with it an uptick in COVID-19 activity in Canada, the country’s top doctor is warning.
Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, told reporters during a Wednesday news conference in Ottawa that while the nation has passed the peak of the last COVID-19 wave, it’s “too soon to let our guard down.”
“In Canada, variations in population level of immunity, and current global trends suggest that an uptick in COVID-19 could occur in the new year,” said Tam, who also cited an increase in more immune-evasive variants emerging in Canada.
“With the increased prominence of these variants in Canada, at a minimum, we could see a slower decline and a higher plateau in the number of infections, as well as hospital admissions in Canada as this respiratory virus season plays out.”
COVID-19 continues to circulate in Canada and is doing so alongside RSV and influenza. The three viruses have overloaded the Canadian health-care system in recent weeks.
RSV cases have levelled off nationally and cases are declining in some areas of the country, Tam said. Influenza, meanwhile, is continuing to exceed infection levels typically seen this time of year.
As for COVID-19, the dominant BA.5 subvariant appears to be dwindling off, Tam said. BQ.1 and BQ.1.1, which scientists have said are more immune evasive, are increasing in Canada.
BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 variants are sub-lineages of the BA.5, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), which warned on Dec. 2 that a growing decline in surveillance and vaccination could open the door to a new variant of concern. As COVID-19 activity began to ease earlier this year, many Canadian governments began easing restrictions designed to limit the spread of the virus.
As of Nov. 20, 6.8 per cent of all BA.5 sub-lineages sequenced in Canada were BQ.1, whereas 13.1 per cent were BQ.1.1, the latest federal government data shows. In the previous reporting period on Nov. 13, 4.7 per cent of BA.5 sub-lineages detected were BQ.1, and 14.5 per cent were BQ.1.1.
According to federal data published on Dec. 12, which was accumulated between Dec. 3 and Nov. 27, 17,376 COVID-19 infections and 243 deaths were reported in Canada. Archived data published on Nov. 28 showed that between Nov. 19 and Nov. 13, 15,085 infections and 267 deaths were logged.
Between Dec. 5 and Nov. 28, 5,638 Canadians occupied hospital beds due to COVID-19, up from 5,563 in the previous reporting period; 251 Canadians were in the ICU, down from 267 in the last report.
On Dec. 9, the federal government reported that 23 per cent of the entire population had either gotten two-or-three shots of a COVID-19 vaccine in the past six months; about 20 per cent of the population has received a booster dose since Aug. 1.
For weeks, health experts and officials have urged Canadians to stay up-to-date with their vaccinations, be it COVID-19 or influenza, and take up personal protective measures like mask-wearing indoors as hospitals feel the brunt of the respiratory illness season.
With the holidays fast approaching, Tam reiterated that message once again.
“When planning a holiday gathering, consider the potential impact of respiratory illnesses on your health and social plans, the health status and risk factors of the people you are gathering with, and the places you’ll be gathering in,” she said.
“Properly wearing a well-fitted, well-constructed facemask in indoor public spaces or crowded settings and taking steps to take the best ventilation possible are layers of protection that can reduce everyone’s risk.”
Chief science adviser issues recommendations to combat long COVID
Furthermore, Mona Nemer, Canada’s chief science adviser, on Wednesday released a series of recommendations that include Ottawa developing a list of criteria to diagnose long-COVID and guidelines for doctors to treat it.
The advice comes from a task force that was established in the summer to respond to long-COVID. As of August, roughly 15 per cent of adults who’ve had COVID-19 experience symptoms three months or more after their initial infection, Nemer said.
The 18 recommendations include strategies to identify and treat patients, track them, research the condition and prevent infections. Ottawa’s last budget included $20 million over five years to research the long-term impact of COVID-19 infections on Canadians, as well as the wider impact of the pandemic on health-care systems.
In a news release, the government said officials will review the recommendations, but has established a “Post COVID-19 Condition Secretariat” within PHAC to coordinate a “whole-of-government approach to address evidence and data gaps around the condition.”
— with files from The Canadian Press
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The state of the union? Unapologetically pro-American, to hear Joe Biden tell it
U.S. President Joe Biden offered no apologies for his spendthrift, pro-American economic strategy Tuesday, making clear in his second state of the union speech that he intends to persist with a protectionist approach that’s making for anxious allies, including Canada.
Biden, with newly elected House Speaker Kevin McCarthy over his shoulder, preached the virtues of working across the aisle as he found himself addressing a newly divided Congress, Republicans have wrested control of the House of Representatives away from Democrats in November.
With some Republicans spoiling for a fight as presidential election season draws near, Biden is under pressure to justify what political opponents say is a profligate approach to the federal purse, making it all the more important to ensure that money stays on U.S. soil.
And he didn’t just defend Buy American. He doubled down on it, promising new rules for federal infrastructure projects that would require all construction materials — not just iron and steel, but copper, aluminum, lumber, glass, drywall and fibre-optic cable — be made in the U.S.
“On my watch, American roads, American bridges and American highways will be made with American products,” Biden said.
“My economic plan is about investing in places and people that have been forgotten. Maybe that’s you watching at home. You remember the jobs that went away. And you wonder whether a path even exists anymore for you and your children to get ahead without moving away.”
Protectionism notwithstanding, most Canadians still see the U.S. as their country’s closest ally, a new poll suggests — but they seem less certain that their powerful neighbour is a force for good in the world.
Nearly 70 per cent of respondents to the online survey, conducted by Leger for the Association for Canadian Studies, said they still see the U.S. as Canada’s best friend, while 16 per cent said they disagreed and 15 per cent said they didn’t know.
Those surveyed were much more divided, however, on the question of whether the U.S. is a positive influence on international affairs: 41 per cent disagreed with that statement, compared with 38 per cent who said they believe it’s true. Twenty-one per cent abstained.
Part of that is likely due to the hyper-partisanship that has come to define U.S. politics and was on clear display as Biden turned to domestic issues like drug costs, oil and gas production, corporate tax increases and the ever-present debt ceiling controversy.
McCarthy has insisted Republicans won’t vote to raise the debt ceiling, a necessary step to avoid the U.S. going into default, without an agreement to reduce spending to 2022 levels, a cut of roughly eight per cent.
Biden said Republicans were proposing deep cuts to cherished programs like Social Security and Medicare, an allegation that prompted eyerolls from McCarthy and catcalls and boos from Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert, among others.
“Let’s commit here tonight that the full faith and credit of the United States of America will never, ever be questioned,” he said, before accusing certain Republicans of trying to “take the economy hostage” by proposing an end to those social programs.
“I’m not saying it’s a majority of you … but it’s being proposed by some of you,” Biden told his detractors as they expressed their disdain, which he took as evidence they were backing his position.
“So we all apparently agree: Social Security and Medicare is off the books now, right? All right, we got unanimity.”
The night wasn’t entirely acrimonious.
Biden spelled out an ambitious effort to curb the flow of deadly drugs like fentanyl into the country, to redouble the search for a cancer cure and to mitigate its causes, to better support veterans at risk of suicide and taking on the mental health crisis.
He twice generated rare bipartisan showers of applause — first in introducing RowVaughn and Rodney Wells, the parents of Tyre Nichols, who died last month after a savage beating by police in Memphis. “Let’s commit ourselves to make the words of Tyre’s mother come true,” Biden said.
“‘Something good must come from this.'”
The chamber roared again for Nancy Pelosi’s husband Paul, who was attacked in his California home by an intruder, his rage fuelled by the conspiracy theories that now pervade right-wing politics in the U.S., apparently looking for the former House speaker.
Biden also reiterated his call for a ban on assault weapons, cheering Brandon Tsay, the 26-year-old California man who disarmed the gunman who killed 11 people at a dance studio in Monterey Park last month. And he celebrated Ukraine’s defiance in the face of Russian aggression, as well as the American display of unity, solidarity and leadership that helped to make it happen.
With all eyes again shifting toward the coming race for the White House, Biden’s protectionist rhetoric is likely aimed mostly at winning over a domestic political audience, and most observers agree that it’s not Canada but Beijing that the U.S. has in its sights.
And with the country up in arms over what Chinese officials insist was a weather balloon that drifted through Canadian and U.S. airspace last week, downed over the weekend by U.S. jet fighters, the president has ample reason to argue for economic decoupling from China.
But it would be a mistake to assume that the U.S. will automatically turn to Canada for its energy, raw materials and manufactured goods, said Flavio Volpe, president of Canada’s Auto Parts Manufacturers Association.
“Canada will do well to not assume that we are inside the tent. We will have to prove and reprove ourselves on many points we take for granted,” Volpe said.
“Look for transactional language to begin dominating our relationship rather than ideology. Shared values matter, but sharing value matters more.”
Despite what the president may say publicly, however, the U.S. understands how important Canada is to its own economic fortunes, said Innovation Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne, who will be in Washington later this week with Defence Minister Anita Anand.
“I think it is well understood … that in order for the United States to be resilient, Canada has to be part of the equation,” Champagne said in an interview.
“There’s a lot of opportunities ahead of us. And for me, the big question is how can we innovate more together, how can we do more together, and how can we sell more together to the rest of the world.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 7, 2023.
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