Canadian federal health officials are so far offering few updates on the emergence of a new coronavirus strain in the U.K. that the World Health Organization noted on Monday appears to be more infectious.
At the same time, provincial health officials in Alberta are now urging anyone who has arrived from the U.K. in the past two weeks to immediately get tested and Ontario Premier Doug Ford said the potential for more rapid spread leaves him “extremely alarmed.”
“This is an extremely serious threat — one we must take seriously,” Ford said during a press conference on Monday in which he said the province will tighten health measures starting on Boxing Day.
The focus on the new strain comes after Canadian officials on Sunday evening announced a ban on incoming flights from the U.K. for three days as health experts work to gather more information on the new strain of the virus, which is not proven to be more deadly or cause more severe symptoms.
Canadians who either have to travel to the U.K. for essential business or who choose to defy the urging of health officials to avoid any non-essential travel are also being urged to use “extra caution.”
Health officials on Sunday said no cases linked to the new strain have been identified yet in Canada while a statement issued Monday from Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said the government is “closely monitoring” the new strain.
Countries around the world blocked travel from the U.K. over the weekend after reports of a new strain of coronavirus that appears to be transmitted more easily than the strain mainly circulating now.
This is not the first time a new strain has emerged, and it is common for viruses to evolve as they spread through hosts and environments.
But concerns about the potential for quicker spread come as many countries are already struggling to get the second wave of the virus under control, with exploding cases straining global health systems.
Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s emergencies program, said the indications that the new strain is around 70 per cent more infectious translates to an increase in the virus’s reproduction rate from 1.1 to 1.5, meaning countries may need to fight more to keep the spread contained.
“In some senses, it means we have to work harder,” he explained.
“Even if the virus has become more efficient at spreading, it can be stopped.”
Coronavirus: WHO says new virus strain from U.K. being studied
Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Toronto, said it’s important to recognize there are a lot of questions that still aren’t clear about the new strain.
But even if it is more infectious, there’s still plenty people can do to fight it.
“The public health measures will work the same regardless of what variant of the virus is circulating,” he said. “Masks, physical distancing, avoiding confined, crowded settings — these are all very helpful.”
There have also been questions on whether the variant strain identified in the U.K. could complicate efforts to test and vaccinate against COVID-19, given there appear to be early indications of small genetic changes in the spike protein of the coronavirus in the new strain.
Those spike proteins are a key target of the mRNA vaccines being rolled out in limited supplies in Canada, the U.K., and the U.S. over recent weeks, and set to continue through the New Year.
However, there’s no evidence to suggest that’s the case, said another expert.
“I think that’s probably minimal in terms of its ability to complicate how we’re diagnosing COVID-19,” said Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious disease specialist at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton.
“This protein is hundreds of amino acids long and the changes here are up to 14 amino acids, some less than that,” he continued. “So you still have antibodies that are binding to a lot of different sites and a lot of them that are still preserved in all of this.”
“So it shouldn’t affect vaccine development and should protect vaccine delivery.”
Ryan offered similar thoughts.
“What no variant has done yet is establish itself as having any higher level of severity or evading our diagnostics or hiding from the effectiveness of vaccines.”
Canada’s COVID-19 vaccination race
With files from Global’s Rachel Gilmore.
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
Ontario reports 3,422 new cases of COVID-19, 69 additional deaths – 680 News
Ontario is reporting 3,422 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday with another 69 people having died as a result of the virus.
It’s the third day out of the last four that the provincial case count has surpassed 3,000.
More than half of the new deaths, 36, are attributed to long-term care settings. The total number of people in the province who have died as a result of COVID-19 now sits at 5,409. More than 400 people have passed away since last Sunday from the virus.
Toronto reported 1,035 new cases of the virus – the first time in a week that the number of new cases has topped 1,000. Peel Region reported 585 new infections, while York Region reported 246 additional cases.
Provincial health officials conducted 60,183 tests in the last 24 hours, the first time in three days provincial labs failed to complete more than 70,000 tests. That leaves the backlog of tests to be processed at just over 30,000.
Hospitalizations sit at more than 1,500, however, as is the case on the weekend a number of hospitals have not provided data to provincial officials. There are 395 COVID-19 patients in the ICU with 293 currently on a ventilator.
Ontario administered just over 11,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine on Saturday, bringing the provincial total to over 200,000.
Potential COVID exposure on two flights – HalifaxToday.ca
NOVA SCOTIA HEALTH
Nova Scotia Health Public Health is advising of potential exposure to COVID-19 on two flights from Toronto to Halifax. In addition to media releases, all potential exposure notifications are listed here: http://www.nshealth.ca/covid-exposures.
Anyone who was on the following flights in the specified rows and seats is asked to continue to self-isolate and immediately visit https://covid-self-assessment.novascotia.ca/en to book a COVID-19 test, regardless of whether or not they have COVID-19 symptoms. You can also call 811 if you don’t have online access or if you have other symptoms that concern you.
- Air Canada flight 604 travelling on Jan. 5 from Toronto (8:00 a.m.) to Halifax (11:00 a.m.). Passengers in rows 22-28 seats C, D, E and F are asked to continue to self-isolate and immediately visit https://covid-self-assessment.novascotia.ca/en to book a COVID-19 test, regardless of whether or not they have COVID-19 symptoms. All other passengers on this flight should continue to self-isolate as required and monitor for signs and symptoms of COVID-19. It is anticipated that anyone exposed to the virus on this flight on the named date may develop symptoms up to, and including, Jan. 19.
- Swoop flight 408 travelling on Jan. 8 from Toronto (5:30 p.m.) to Halifax (8:30 p.m.). Passengers in rows 16-22 seats A, B, C and D are asked to continue to self-isolate and immediately visit https://covid-self-assessment.novascotia.ca/en to book a COVID-19 test, regardless of whether or not they have COVID-19 symptoms. All other passengers on this flight should continue to self-isolate as required and monitor for signs and symptoms of COVID-19. It is anticipated that anyone exposed to the virus on this flight on the named date may develop symptoms up to, and including, Jan. 22.
Do not go directly to a COVID-19 assessment centre without being directed to do so. Please book an appointment online and do not go to a pop-up rapid testing location.
Currently, anyone who traveled outside Nova Scotia, PEI or Newfoundland and Labrador is expected to self-isolate alone for 14 days after arriving. If a person returning from non-essential travel outside Nova Scotia, PEI or Newfoundland and Labrador is unable to isolate alone, then everyone in the home where they are self-isolating will have to self-isolate as well.
When Nova Scotia Health Public Health makes a public notification it is not in any way a reflection on the behaviour or activities of those named in the notification.
All Nova Scotians are advised to continue monitoring for COVID-19 symptoms and are urged to follow Public Health guidelines on how to access care. Up to date information about COVID-19 is available at novascotia.ca/coronavirus
Ontario wants everyone vaccinated by early August, general says – CBC.ca
Ontario wants to have everyone vaccinated by late July or early August, the head of its vaccine distribution plan told CBC News Sunday.
The updated timeline came as the province saw 3,422 new COVID-19 cases and 69 more deaths, with Toronto alone recording more than 1,000 new infections.
Retired general Rick Hillier said while accomplishing the summer goal hinges on Ontario getting a steady supply of vaccine, there’s a plan to get them in arms.
“When they come, we’re going to be able to use them all,” Hillier told the CBC’s Rosemary Barton.
“I’d love to see the province of Ontario done by the end of July or early August with all those who want to have a vaccine and who are eligible to receive it. But until we get the vaccine allocation, until we know what’s coming, we just can’t do it.”
WATCH | Hillier’s full interview on Rosemary Barton Live:
Ontario has distributed the most COVID-19 vaccines of any province, but has administered only 72 per cent of the doses it has received. You can get the latest details by using the CBC News vaccine tracker.
For now, a provincewide stay-at-home order remains in place as Ontario tries to limit the spread of the virus.
GTA continues to see bulk of province’s new cases
Toronto reported 1,035 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday, marking another day that the province’s biggest city also had the most infections.
In addition to Toronto’s cases, there were 585 new cases in Peel, 254 in Windsor-Essex, 246 in York and 186 in the Niagara area. The new cases drive the seven-day average, a key figure that reduces noise in the data, to 3,143 new cases per day.
A further 69 more people with the illness died, bringing the province’s official death toll to 5,409.
At least 1,570 people are in hospital, and there are now 293 patients on ventilators. Just over 3,078 cases were marked resolved.
There were 60,183 tests completed, and the province’s positivity rate is now 5.2 per cent.
Ford, Tory touring future mass vaccination site
Ontario has now administered 200,097 doses of COVID-19 vaccine, and remains in the first phase of its rollout plan.
Premier Doug Ford and Toronto Mayor John Tory toured the city’s first mass vaccination site, located at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, on Sunday.
Mass vaccinations haven’t started yet (long-term care and health-care settings are being prioritized) but the Toronto facility is set to serve as a blueprint for what could be coming to other locations in the coming months. The city provided these details about the mass vaccination site, which it’s calling a “proof-of-concept clinic”:
- Opens Monday, but not to the general public.
- Will start with 250 vaccinations per day.
- Will use the Moderna vaccine.
Tory said he hopes the test site will provide some hope during the grey winter months.
“Vaccination is soon to come and we’re just working away at being ready to do that,” Tory said.
Ford said the province will be ready when it’s time to ramp up vaccinations in April, May and June.
“Our goal is to get as many needles in people’s arms as possible,” he said.
The two leaders didn’t take questions from reporters.
When will you get a COVID-19 vaccine? Here’s a look at how the province is prioritizing its rollout plan
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