Cases of COVID-19 are declining in many parts of Canada, but experts say those early positive signs are dependent on widespread restrictions.
Quebec, now under a province-wide curfew, has seen new cases decline. Ontario has showed 10 consecutive declines in its seven-day average, a metric that helps to spot long-term trends compared to daily numbers that can spike up and down.
Caroline Colijn, an infectious disease modeller at Simon Fraser University, said most of the provinces seem to be declining.
“Ontario’s kind of uncertain, Saskatchewan’s growing still or again, but the rest are kind of flat or declining,” said Colijn, who also holds a Canada Research Chair in mathematics for evolution, infection and public health.
“That’s the first decline we’ve seen in Quebec and Ontario for quite a while,” she said. “In our models, it looks like a genuine decline.”
More tools needed
In B.C., for example, Colijn said the epidemic is stabilizing with strict measures such as telling people not to socialize outside their household.
But Colijn fears Ontario’s stay-at-home order, Quebec’s curfew and restrictions in other provinces aren’t solutions that people can sustain for months.
If people don’t limit their number of contacts with others then cases will start to climb again until vaccinations reach the general population.
“Unless we want to do this for six months, we do need to be thinking about throwing other tools that we have available at this problem.”
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Colijn said widespread restrictions, symptomatic testing and contact tracing remain cornerstone tools. But those tools should be supplemented with wider rapid testing technologies coming to the fore, which Colijn believes could support re-opening the economy.
Sask. heading in the wrong direction
Nazeem Muhajarine, an epidemiologist at the University of Saskatchewan, divides the country’s into three main groups based on per-capita case counts:
- The top: Atlantic Canada, which has the fewest cases.
- The middle: Manitoba, Alberta and B.C., which have showed month-long improvements in COVID-19 activity following lockdowns. If trends in Ontario and Quebec continue, then they could be added to the middle group.
- The bottom: Saskatchewan, which Muhajarine said isn’t even heading in the right direction, with an average of 300 new cases daily.
Muhajarine is concerned about the steep climb in COVID-19 deaths in the Prairie province.
“On Dec. 1, we had 51 deaths and by Jan. 1 it tripled to 155,” he noted.
In the first 21 days of the month, another 84 people have died in Saskatchewan.
“We really need to reverse course,” Muhajarine said. “To do that, we need very strict measures with a stay-at-home order and enforcement of orders. When we see the case numbers reverse course, we have to get our testing, tracing and isolation regime back up.”
Restrictions on retail stores, restaurants and bars could help bring cases, hospitalizations and deaths down given how Saskatchewan is “stretched to the limit,” he said.
Even places with early signs of decline, like Ontario, will see hospitalizations and deaths continue to climb for a period because of the lag time from new infections in December, health experts say.
Essential workplaces key for Ontario
Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti, an infectious disease physician with Trillium Health Partners in Mississauga, Ont., said the province’s seven-day averages are encouraging.
“We’re now more than two weeks past what would be the New Year’s surge,” Chakrabarti said, referencing people socializing over the holidays despite advice from public health officials and politicians to stay at home.
Now that the holiday peak in new cases is over, regular winter transmission of the virus is happening in the population, he said.
Chakrabarti recalls how during the province’s first wave in the spring, cases came down and then were stuck at a plateau for months, which he said could happen again.
Driving case counts down further would ease pressure on health-care systems and protect vulnerable residents of long-term care homes.
The key, he says, is to tackle where transmission is still happening: essential workplaces.
“We were seeing people getting infected at work and then bringing it home to their family, where it was being amplified,” he said of the first wave. “That’s still happening and something a lockdown doesn’t address.”
It’s why Chakrabarti and others advocate for:
“Yes, there are some people who are breaking the rules,” Chakrabarti said. “But we also need to look at the very different industrial setups because these factors are huge, right? This is one of the reasons why things haven’t ever really turned quickly in Ontario.”
COVID-19 vaccination ramps up in several provinces as supply worries ease – CTV News
Several provinces began expanding their COVID-19 vaccination programs to members of the general population on Monday, as new recommendations on the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine suggested it should be targeted at younger Canadians.
A national panel of vaccine experts said provinces should not use the newly approved vaccine on people 65 and over out of concern there is limited data on how well the vaccine will work in older populations — even though Health Canada approved the vaccine for all adults.
Rather, the recommendations issued by the National Advisory Committee on Immunization noted that the AstraZeneca vaccine could help speed up vaccination for younger age groups, who otherwise would have to wait longer for protection.
The arrival of a third vaccine raises the prospect of further accelerating Canada’s efforts to inoculate the general population, which hit a new gear Monday in several provinces.
Ontario, Quebec and B.C. started or announced plans to start vaccinating older seniors living in the community on Monday, after a first phase that focused largely on health-care workers, remote communities and long-term care.
In Montreal, mass vaccine sites including the Olympic Stadium opened their doors to the public as the province began inoculating seniors who live in the hard-hit city.
The government announced last week it would begin booking appointments for those aged 85 and up across the province, but that age limit has since dropped to 70 in some regions, including Montreal. The province has already finished vaccinating long-term care residents with a first dose and was almost finished in private seniors homes, the premier said Saturday.
There were long lineups and some frustration among vaccine recipients at the Olympic Stadium, but at another site, Montreal’s downtown convention centre, people reported a swift process.
Julie Provencher, a spokeswoman with the regional health authority asked people not to be too harsh. “For the first day of the biggest mass vaccination in the history of humanity, I think it’s going OK,” she said in an interview.
Several Ontario health units were also set to begin giving COVID-19 vaccines to their oldest residents after a provincial website for appointment bookings opened in six regions.
Some health units reported thousands of bookings and high call volumes, as regions such as York, Windsor-Essex and Hamilton began taking appointments for seniors aged 80 or 85 and up, depending on the region.
In York Region — where those aged 80 and older could start scheduling and receiving their shots on Monday — vaccination clinics were fully booked just two hours after they started taking appointments, according to a spokesman.
“At this time residents are urged to remain patient and will be notified as more appointment bookings become available,” Patrick Casey said in a statement.
A similar problem occurred in Nova Scotia, where the COVID-19 vaccination-booking web page was taken off-line Monday after it experienced technical issues the first day it opened to people aged 80 and over. The Health Department said high traffic to the site prompted the slowdown and suggested people could book by phone in the meantime.
In British Columbia, Premier John Horgan and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry outlined the next phase of the province’s immunization plan, which covers all seniors 80 and over and Indigenous seniors 65 and up.
Despite the good news, Horgan warned that the province still has several difficult months to come. “Although there is light at the end of the tunnel, we’re far from out of this,” he said.
The Public Health Agency of Canada is expecting delivery of about 445,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine this week and none from Moderna — numbers that are down from last week’s all-time high.
It’s unclear when the first doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine will arrive in the country, but a senior government official told The Canadian Press on background Sunday it could be as early as midweek.
The advisory committee’s recommendations raise the prospect of younger Canadians getting vaccine much earlier than originally planned.
There are no concerns that the vaccine is unsafe, but the panel said the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are preferred, especially for people 65 years old and above, “due to suggested superior efficacy.”
The advisory committee said AstraZeneca should be offered to people under 65 as long as the benefits of getting a good vaccine early outweigh any limitations the vaccine may have in terms of effectiveness. It also noted that because AstraZeneca, unlike the first two vaccines, is stable at normal refrigerated temperatures, it allows for “a variety of alternate vaccination sites.”
Both Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna reported about 95 per cent effectiveness at preventing COVID-19 overall, while AstraZeneca reported its vaccine to be about 62 per cent effective.
B.C. announced it would extend to four months the time between first and second doses of COVID-19 vaccine in order to allow the province to vaccinate more people sooner. Henry said the decision was based on evidence that showed the first two approved vaccines provide “a high level of real-world protection” after one dose.
Ontario confirmed Monday that it is considering following suit, adding that it’s asking the federal government for guidance on possibly extending the intervals between doses.
Despite the positivity surrounding vaccines, some Canadians were returning to lockdown on Monday.
Those included residents of the Thunder Bay and Simcoe Muskoka health regions in Ontario as well as Prince Edward Island, which entered a 72-hour, provincewide lockdown Monday meant to stop two clusters of COVID-19 cases from spreading.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 1, 2021.
— With files from Mia Rabson, Stephanie Marin and Holly McKenzie-Sutter
Huawei CFO’s lawyer disputes what HSBC knew as U.S. extradition case resumes
By Moira Warburton and Sarah Berman
VANCOUVER (Reuters) – Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou‘s U.S. extradition hearing resumed in a Canadian court on Monday with defence countering prosecutors’ claims that Meng misled HSBC about the Chinese telecom company’s relationship with its affiliate while doing business in Iran.
As five days of hearings in the British Columbia Supreme Court started, the defence drilled into the alleged sanction violations that led to Meng’s arrest. The daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei is accused by the United States of misleading HSBC about her company’s business arrangements in Iran, causing the bank to break U.S. sanctions.
Meng, 49, was arrested at Vancouver’s airport in December 2018 on a U.S. warrant and has been living under house arrest while her case makes its way through Canada‘s courts.
Defence lawyer Frank Addario kicked off a new phase of hearings with an assertion that HSBC’s global client relationship manager, tasked with overseeing its dealings with Huawei Technologies, knew that Huawei controlled Skycom Tech Co Ltd’s accounts.
U.S. prosecutors allege Skycom operated as a Huawei affiliate in Iran and that Meng misrepresented this relationship. Meng allegedly made statements suggesting Skycom was sold to an arms-length third party, according to the prosecutors, when it was in fact sold to a parent company controlled by Huawei.
Addario countered that HSBC employee emails show that information about Huawei’s control of Skycom was shared freely before and after this relationship was first reported by Reuters. (https://reut.rs/3q0dtIc)
Addario said that U.S. prosecutors’ evidence that HSBC made decisions based on Meng’s statements “is very misleading in that it underplays the global relationship manager’s knowledge.”
Canadian prosecutor Robert Frater opposed Addario’s call to admit new evidence on Monday afternoon, insisting that an extradition hearing is not a trial. He told the judge she’s “not here to draw inferences about their (the bank employees) state of knowledge.”
Frater argued that Meng’s defence lawyers will have an opportunity to cross-examine bank witnesses about their knowledge of Huawei’s affiliates at trial.
Following testimony from Canadian border officials and police officers involved in the case in late 2020, the latest hearings will also focus on then-President Donald Trump’s alleged interference in the case, as well as outstanding issues from witness testimony and other abuses of process arguments.
Meng’s arrest caused tensions between Beijing and Ottawa, and soon afterward, China detained two Canadians, who continue to have limited access to legal counsel or diplomatic officials.
Meng’s case is scheduled to wrap in May.
(This story drops reference to South District of New York in paragraph nine)
(Reporting by Moira Warburton and Sarah Berman; Editing by Denny Thomas and Lisa Shumaker)
'Each time we get a different answer': Do older children arriving to Canada have to stay in quarantine hotels? – CTV Toronto
A group of Toronto-area parents are struggling to interpret Canada’s rules over whether younger adults and older children have to book themselves into so-called quarantine hotels when they return to Canada.
The problem appears to be the use of two definitions for whether a child or a young adult qualifies for an exemption and can go straight home — with two different ages — and, if someone is caught in between, no one is sure what will happen when they get to the airport.
“Each time we get a different answer,” said Michael Stavsky, whose 20-year-old son Isaac is slated to return to Canada after spending two years studying in Israel on March 10. Stavsky said his son has received both doses of the vaccine while studying abroad.
“We had answers ranging from, ‘sure it says 22 and under, that’s no problem,’ to others that said ‘no it’s 19 and under and even one saying, ‘it’s 20 and under.’ We don’t know,” he said.
The Stavskys aren’t the only family that’s had this issue, said Peter Kent, the MP for Thornhill. He said he’s received several calls from people who aren’t sure where government officials will send their children.
“It’s been very inconsistent and CBSA, Health Canada and Immigration Canada, the messaging is all over the place,” Kent told CTV News Toronto.
The hotel stay requirement can cost between $1,000 and $2,000 depending on the hotel and require all incoming air travellers to Canada to spend at least three days in an approved hotel at their own expense as they await the results of a COVID-19 test they were required to take when they landed in Canada.
Some guests have complained to CTV News about a lack of bottled water and hot, prompt meals; others have said the hotels have been very difficult to book.
CTV News Toronto reached out to the Canadian Border Services Agency about the question of whether young adults must stay in the hotels, but the department referred the inquiry to the Public Health Agency of Canada, which didn’t respond by deadline.
The answer, however, may lie in the order-in-council that explains the quarantine regulations. It says most people are required to “quarantine themselves without delay at a government-authorized accommodation…and remain until they receive the result for the COVID-19 molecular test.”
The rule doesn’t apply to a “diplomatic or consular courier” and an “unaccompanied dependent child or an unaccompanied minor.”
If that seems clear, it isn’t, said immigration lawyer Michael Battista, who pointed out that “unaccompanied minor” is customarily someone under 18, while a “unaccompanied dependent child” for immigration purposes is someone who is under 22 — as long as they are not married.
“To use both definitions simultaneously does create confusion,” Battista said.
He said strictly the language implies that if a person meets either definition they should be eligible — but it is going to be up to the border guards — because any legal appeal will take too long to make a difference for a two-week quarantine.
The people coming into Canada from Israel are much more likely to be vaccinated than those already here — more than 93 per cent of adults in the country have received at least one dose, while less than five per cent of Canadian adults have.
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