Canada is preparing to respond to a possible pandemic as the number of coronavirus cases continues to climb around the globe.
Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam said the global threat posed by the novel coronavirus, now called COVID-19, is evolving fast. While the outbreak continues to be contained mostly to the epicentre in Hubei, China, she noted that the virus is spreading now at the community level, person-to-person, in several other countries.
“These signs are concerning, and they mean that the window of opportunity for containment … for stopping the global spread of the virus, is closing,” Tam told reporters in a teleconference Monday.
“It also tells countries like Canada, that have been able to manage and detect cases so far, that we have to prepare across governments, across communities, and as families and individuals, in the event of more widespread transmission in our community.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern, but so far hasn’t declared it a pandemic.
Tam said the trajectory of the coronavirus is unknown at this time and it’s possible that cases have occurred in other countries that don’t have the proper tools to diagnose and contain it.
Canada developed a pandemic response plan in 2009, which would serve as the foundation for any shift in the official response to the current outbreak, she said.
The response plan includes accelerating research work here and contributing to international efforts to develop a vaccine abroad. Tam said it also could lead to expanding laboratory testing capabilities and access to diagnostic tools, and taking stock of essential supplies to make sure authorities don’t run short. She added that Canada’s course of action would be much the same whether the WHO declares a pandemic or not.
Health Minister Patty Hajdu said Monday that a pandemic declaration by the WHO would render travel restrictions meaningless because it would mean that efforts to contain the virus had failed.
“As the window closes in terms of stopping the global spread, as we watch the WHO assess whether or not this is a full pandemic, obviously our attention turns more toward our domestic preparedness and what Canada can do to make sure our system and structures are ready for a change in our own population,” she said.
The WHO said today that China has reported 77,362 cases of COVID-19, including 2,618 deaths.
Outside China, there are now 2,074 cases in 28 countries, including 10 in Canada, and 23 related deaths.
Despite the rising numbers, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said officials are encouraged by the fact that the number of new cases continues to decline in China.
The epidemic peaked between Jan. 23 and Feb. 2 and has been steadily declining since, he said.
Tedros said a decision on whether to declare a pandemic is based on an ongoing assessment of the geographical spread of the virus, the severity of the disease and its impact on society.
“For the moment, we are not witnessing the uncontained global spread of this virus, and we are not witnessing large-scale severe disease or death,” he said.
“Does this virus have pandemic potential? Absolutely it has. Are we there yet? From our assessment, not yet.”
Tedros said labelling the outbreak a pandemic could create unnecessary fear.
Tam said that the goal now is to slow the spread of the virus, adding it’s difficult to stop its spread because more countries are reporting people with no or mild symptoms.
Canada has been successful so far in detecting imported cases and preventing person-to-person spread within communities, but is preparing for other scenarios, Tam said.
Tam said enhanced border control measures and messaging at airports will be broadened to include warnings to travellers returning from other countries with reported cases of coronavirus.
She said international travellers arriving at Canadian airports will be told to self-isolate if they’re experiencing flu-like symptoms.
Tam said all travellers should take general precautions and plan ahead by, for instance, making sure they have enough medication for a trip.
She repeated the standard public health messages encouraging people to wash their hands frequently, cover coughs and sneezes, keep track of federal travel health advice posted online and share travel history with health-care providers in the event of becoming sick.
BC floods: Evacuation ordered in Abbotsford area – CTV News
British Columbia says it’s prepared to use a national emergency alert system should the third in a trio of ongoing storms pose a risk to life and safety in the coming days.
Alert Ready is a Canada-wide system that allows government officials to issue public safety alerts through major television and radio broadcasters, as well as compatible wireless devices. B.C. has faced criticism for not using it during deadly natural disasters this year.
Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth says provincial officials are working with local governments, First Nations and emergency managers, adding the province is prepared to use the system should a community feel there is an imminent threat.
Farnworth made the comment during a briefing on an ongoing series of storms in the province in which officials warned that the third one, due to make landfall Monday, could reach intensities similar to those that destroyed highways, flooded communities and prompted mass evacuations two weeks ago.
Armel Castellan of Environment and Climate Change Canada says there is a lot of uncertainty at this stage, and while meteorologists hope the impacts remain as low as possible, they are urging maximum caution, vigilance and readiness for a “very strong storm and swell.”
The River Forecast Centre issued a new flood warning for the Coquihalla River and says the Nooksack River in the United States is at risk of overflowing its banks late today and spilling into Sumas Prairie.
Meanwhile, a new set of evacuation orders were issued for 56 properties in the Petit Creek-Spius Creek area west of Merritt, B.C.
“We’re in the middle of one of the most intense series of storms that we have seen along coastal B.C.,” Farnworth said.
“Once again, it’s time to be ready.”
Canada's first cases of the omicron coronavirus variant confirmed in Ottawa – CBC.ca
There are two confirmed cases of the omicron variant of the coronavirus in Ottawa, the Ontario government announced Sunday.
“Today, the province of Ontario has confirmed two cases of the omicron variant of COVID-19 in Ottawa, both of which were reported in individuals with recent travel from Nigeria. Ottawa Public Health is conducting case and contact management and the patients are in isolation,” the statement said.
These are the first cases of the omicron variant confirmed in Canada, coming just days after the country implemented new travel restrictions on foreign nationals who had visited several countries in southern Africa over the preceding two weeks.
Those travel restrictions went into effect on Friday. The omicron variant was first identified by South African researchers and has provoked global concern.
Little is known about the new variant, dubbed omicron by the World Health Organization and labelled as a variant of concern. It is being linked to a rapid rise of cases in a South African province.
It is not known at this time whether the variant is more transmissible, or more dangerous to the health of those who are infected by it, than other coronavirus variants.
“The best defence against the omicron variant is stopping it at our border. In addition to the measures recently announced, we continue to urge the federal government to take the necessary steps to mandate point-of-arrival testing for all travellers irrespective of where they’re coming from to further protect against the spread of this new variant,” said the statement from Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott and Dr. Kieran Moore, the province’s chief medical officer of health.
The provincial government urged residents to get vaccinated, including with booster doses, and to continue following public health guidance.
“Ontario is prepared and ready to respond to this new variant.”
More confirmed cases likely: health minister
In a statement released Sunday, federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said the confirmation of two omicron cases is a signal that the country’s monitoring system is working but to expect more cases of the variant.
“As the monitoring and testing continues with provinces and territories, it is expected that other cases of this variant will be found in Canada,” Duclos said.
“I know that this new variant may seem concerning,” he added, but said existing vaccines and public health measures were helping to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
In a separate statement, the Public Health Agency of Canada said border measures could change as the situation develops.
“The Government of Canada will continue to assess the evolving situation and adjust border measures as required,” it said
‘Better to be safe than sorry’
Reacting to the news, epidemiologist Dr. Christopher Labos emphasized the lack of information the world has so far about the omicron variant, noting that some other variants failed to take hold and out-compete the dominant strain.
“While it’s important not to under-react, it’s important not to overreact. We don’t have a lot of information about whether this variant is actually more dangerous than the variants that we’ve dealt with,” he said in an interview on CBC News Network.
Still, he said it was “better to be safe than sorry” and take precautions. But he said that until there was more information, it was not necessary to radically change behaviour, so long as you are vaccinated and otherwise acting in accordance with public health guidance.
“The stuff that worked before should work now.”
WHO urges countries to keep borders open
The World Health Organization (WHO) released a statement on Sunday summarizing what it knows about the variant. It said it is studying whether the variant is more transmissible than those currently spreading, such as delta, as well as whether omicron increases the risk of reinfection, as suggested by “preliminary evidence.”
The idea of travel bans in response to new variants has long been criticized by some as an ineffective measure at stopping the spread of the virus. South Africa has said the travel measures are “unjustified.”
Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s regional director for Africa, said instituting travel bans targeted at southern Africa “attacks global solidarity.”
“COVID-19 constantly exploits our divisions. We will only get the better of the virus if we work together for solutions,” Moeti said.
In an interview on Rosemary Barton Live that aired prior to the government announcement on Sunday, WHO special adviser Dr. Peter Singer said it “wouldn’t be a surprise” if the variant was in Canada.
He said the United Nations agency believes travel restrictions should be “risk-based and time-limited,” part of a comprehensive package, rather than the only measure taken to mitigate the risk of a new variant.
“They’re definitely not a silver bullet,” he said. Singer argued the international community should not create situations that disincentive countries from being transparent about new variants.
Singer said the most important things Canadians can do to protect themselves are the same as they have been throughout the COVID-19 pandemic: get vaccinated and follow public health measures.
“This is a call for individuals to raise their guard. There are things individuals can do which help with any variant or any version of this virus, including omicron.”
He urged Canada and other countries to redouble their efforts to provide resources to the global vaccination campaign, saying that’s the best way to stop the spread of omicron and potential future variants.
Canada finds first cases of Omicron COVID-19 variant in Ontario. Here’s what we know – Globalnews.ca
Canada has detected its first two cases of the Omicron COVID-19 variant.
A statement from Ontario’s Ministry of Health confirmed that cases of the variant, recently declared as the novel coronavirus’ fifth variant of concern by the WHO, have been identified in Ontario.
“Today, the province of Ontario has confirmed two cases of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 in Ottawa, both of which were reported in individuals with recent travel from Nigeria. Ottawa Public Health is conducting case and contact management and the patients are in isolation,” read the statement Sunday.
COVID-19: Doctors encourage vaccination as Omicron variant emerges
“In addition to the measures recently announced, we continue to urge the federal government to take the necessary steps to mandate point-of-arrival testing for all travellers irrespective of where they’re coming from to further protect against the spread of this new variant.”
Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore is set to hold a press conference on the variant’s discovery Monday morning, according to the statement.
Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos also confirmed Canada’s first two cases in a statement Sunday evening, and said that he was working with the province’s public health officials to contact trace the cases.
“As the monitoring and testing continues with provinces and territories, it is expected that other cases of this variant will be found in Canada,” read Duclos’ statement.
Staying ahead of a new COVID variant of concern
“I know that this new variant may seem concerning, but I want to remind Canadians that vaccination, in combination with public health and individual protective measures, is working to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and its variants in our communities.”
South African scientists first identified the heavily mutated variant earlier this week after an exponential surge in cases, prompting a host of nations — including Canada — to impose new travel restrictions on a wide swathe of southern African countries.
Public health experts and officials were alarmed by the variant’s high number of mutations — with preliminary data showing at first an increased potential for transmissibility, a reduction in vaccine effectiveness and increased reinfection.
Other experts were quick to point out South Africa’s low rates of vaccination, which currently sit at under 30 per cent of the total population, as well as a lack of evidence suggesting the variant is deadlier than the current dominant strains of the virus.
COVID-19: South African president “deeply disappointed” by travel restrictions due to Omicron variant
Canadian public health officials previously said that getting vaccinated was still the best way of preventing the most severe outcomes from contracting COVID-19, and that there was no definitive evidence yet of its ability to completely circumvent the protection offered by the inoculations.
Canada’s Chief Public Officer Dr. Theresa Tam also confirmed the detection of the new variant, and said that Canada has a “robust monitoring” system in place to detect genetic changes in the virus or new variants of concern, such as the Omicron.
“Last Friday, Canada announced additional travel measures for all travellers coming into Canada from the South African region. It is not unexpected that additional cases of this variant will be discovered in Canada,” read Tam’s statement.
A handful of vaccine makers have recently announced that they were also developing or examining ways to enhance or create new versions of their shots to combat Omicron.
The most recent was that of Moderna, whose chief medical officer Dr. Paul Burton told BBC that a new vaccine could be produced by “early 2022” if it was necessary.
“The remarkable thing about the mRNA vaccines, Moderna platform, is we can move very fast,” he said, noting that the company started work on an Omicron vaccine on Thursday.
Canada’s vaccination rates also stand among the highest in the world, with nearly 80 per cent of the country’s eligible population already vaccinated against COVID-19.
COVID-19: Vaccine against Omicron variant could be ready by early 2022, Moderna says
Public health experts told Global News earlier on Friday shortly before Canada’s announcement of new travel restrictions that they would not be surprised if the variant was “already here” and spreading within Canada’s borders.
On Sunday, the Netherlands, Denmark and Australia became the latest countries alongside Canada to discover the new variant among their cases.
The variant has already been found in Belgium, Botswana, Israel, Hong Kong, the U.K., Germany and Italy.
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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