As more countries around the world report cases of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus disease, Canadian officials are suggesting that we need to be prepared in case a pandemic eventually reaches us.
So what are Canada’s plans? They’re still being worked on and will obviously depend a lot on what exactly a COVID-19 outbreak actually ends up looking like in Canada. But we have some clues.
In a briefing to the House of Commons health committee Wednesday evening, Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Howard Njoo said that Canada’s approach to a viral outbreak comes in three phases: containment, preparation and mitigation.
Right now, he said, we’re still in the containment phase. But we’re starting to move into preparation.
“At the same time that Canada is maintain its containment posture… we’re also starting to prepare for a possible pandemic,” he said.
Federal and provincial health officers already meet regularly to discuss preparations, he said.
One foundation of their plan is the Canadian Pandemic Influenza Preparedness planning guidelines: a set of documents outlining how Canada evaluates risk and the kind of measures that can be taken to address a viral disease.
The goal, outlined in the plan, is: “First, to minimize serious illness and overall deaths, and second to minimize societal disruption among Canadians as a result of an influenza pandemic.”
A second document, the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Public Health Response Plan for Biological Events, is the other part of the pandemic plan, Njoo said. It includes measures like identifying cases, tracking contacts and ensuring rapid access to medical care.
Dr. Theresa Tam, the chief public health officer of Canada, said Thursday that the plan had been activated and was at level 3 – “escalated,” which triggers response planning.
Other measures that might be considered include public health messaging about things that individuals can do, like washing their hands and staying home when they’re sick.
In a scrum with reporters Wednesday, Health Minister Patty Hajdu told reporters that it might not be a bad idea for people to have around a week’s worth of supplies on hand, similar as they might for other emergencies.
“There’s no magic to this,” she said. “It’s really about first of all, making sure that you do have enough supplies if someone in your family becomes ill, if you yourself become ill, that you have what you need to survive for a week or so without going outside, to be prepared in terms of your own personal health.
“Maybe people have certain medications on a prescription basis, to have enough on hand.”
Tam echoed this advice Thursday, saying that people should make sure they have prescription medications on hand.
She also recommended that people make plans for taking care of children and others who might become ill, and seek out supports from the community should they need them someday.
COVID-19: Health Minister says international travelers are to monitor their own health, contact CBSA regarding health issues
The government has long advocated that people keep an emergency kit with about 72 hours of basic supplies at home, in case of all types of emergencies, even prolonged power outages.
Community-based measures are where things get more serious, and can include cancelling public events.
COVID-19’s impact on life for Canadians
In a case of widespread transmission, Njoo said, “We would be looking at measures such as what we call ‘social distancing.’
“Do we need to start looking at cancelling mass gatherings or public events? Would there be things such as looking at what we need to do with schools and students attending schools and people sick in the hospitals and so on?
“So that’s all in the future. We’re certainly not there yet. But we are actually taking a close look and making sure we’re prepared for that.”
Tam also said that people and their employers should be having conversations about working remotely. “Communities, schools and workplaces will also have a role to play in preparing for COVID-19,” she said. “Plans should be put in place to manage possible absences and to ensure business continuity, including flexible work arrangements such as teleworking.”
Organizers of community events should make plans based on advice from local health authorities, she said. Ultimately, she said, decisions to cancel events are made at the local level.
Border and travel measures are also listed in the flu pandemic plan, though they’re not recommended highly.
“While aggressive measures (e.g., widespread antiviral use and restriction of movement) to attempt to contain or slow an emerging pandemic in its earliest stages were previously considered possible on the basis of modeling, experience from the 2009 pandemic has resulted in general agreement that such attempts are impractical, if not impossible,” the document reads.
Right now, international travellers are asked to tell border officers if they’re experiencing flu-like symptoms and are asked a question at the customs kiosk about their travel history. Airlines are also required to report if they have someone sick on their flight, so airport staff can prepare, Njoo said.
People coming from Hubei are asked to limit their contact with others by staying home for 14 days. Other travellers are given an information sheet on what to do if they develop symptoms.
People coming from Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, Italy, Iran and South Korea, as well as the rest of mainland China, will be asked to monitor their health for 14 days and report to public health authorities if they develop any suspicious symptoms, Njoo said.
Tam said that border efforts were still focused on travellers from Hubei, China, as this is still the epicentre of the outbreak and where the majority of cases are.
Travelling during a viral outbreak
“I have asked Canadians to apply a lot of caution as they’re looking at the March Break obviously, because the March Break is coming,” said foreign affairs minister Francois-Philippe Champagne on Thursday.
Travellers should register their travel plans with the Canadian government and contact the government if something happens, he said.
They should also check the latest government travel advice before they leave. Travel advisories for China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, Italy, Iran and South Korea were recently updated in response to outbreaks in those countries.
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
No new Covid-19 cases reported in Northwest Territories – Cabin Radio
The NWT on Friday reported no new cases of Covid-19, only the third day of reporting to come back blank since the territory’s latest Delta-variant outbreak began in mid-August.
The active case count across the territory dropped from 42 to 35. Twenty-eight are in Tuktoyaktuk – which now has a rabies warning to contend with – while four are in Yellowknife and one each in Inuvik, Norman Wells, and Hay River.
There was no change to the number of hospitalizations, intensive care admissions, or deaths.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization on Friday dubbed the globe’s latest variant of concern Omicron.
Omicron, identified in South Africa, has a large number of mutations. Early evidence suggests it could be significantly more transmissible than Delta and present an increased reinfection risk.
However, the amount of evidence related to Omicron is low. The variant was only identified last week and the number of cases studied to date numbers in the low dozens.
Some countries, including Canada, moved swiftly on Friday to impose travel restrictions on South Africa and neighbouring nations.
Canada currently has no direct flights to or from the affected region, but nevertheless banned the entry of all foreign nationals who have travelled through South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, or Eswatini in the past 14 days.
Some observers criticized the rush to travel bans, arguing South Africa was in effect being punished for operating a particularly effective variant surveillance program.
Kids on P.E.I. receive first vaccinations against COVID-19 – CBC.ca
One hundred and thirty children in P.E.I. received the COVID-19 vaccine on Friday — the first day the shot was available to five to 11-year-olds.
A pediatric vaccine clinic was held at the County Fair Mall in Summerside, P.E.I.
“I think it’s important because it can help protect others,” said 10-year-old Alex DesRoche. “I was worried that I’d get COVID and spread it to my papa … because he has cancer.”
Her mom, Robin DesRosche, is happy to have gotten her daughter vaccinated.
“At any point in time, something can weigh in on your family and if you can do anything to try to prevent it, as a parent, I would,” said DesRoche.
There are 13,000 kids in the five to 11 age group in the province, and 2,500 have appointments booked so far.
Madeline Goguen, 10, said she was a little nervous to get the shot, but in the end, she said it didn’t hurt and was well worth it.
“I’m excited because it’s been a while since I’ve gone on vacation,” Goguen said. “It was just quick. It was a tiny pinch and that was it.”
Getting the vaccine will make going to see her dad in New Brunswick less stressful, she said.
“Every time that I had to get tested I was always worried,” said Goguen.
Her mother, LeAnne Weeks, shares that sense of relief.
“Now that Madeline is done, that’s our whole family, and we’re just excited that we feel safe now,” Weeks said.
The clinic has been set up just for kids and other community clinics will be too. With decorations from the movie Frozen and a free toy with every shot, it’s about making the kids feel more comfortable.
“I think kids and adults too are a little bit nervous about coming and getting needles, even if they know they really want it, and need it,” said Marion Dowling, chief of nursing on P.E.I.
“We just want to make it as welcoming as possible, and try to give them a bit of privacy with the stations, so they can sit as a family unit, and have the conversation, ask any questions they might have too, and be comfortable.”
PEI’s chief public health officer made an appearance at the clinic on Friday. Dr. Heather Morrison said she’s pleased to see so many parents booking shots for their children.
“I almost got goosebumps in there. There are children who are excited, there are parents who are that excited. Just to be a part of it was pretty special” Morrison said.
In a survey by the province, about 70 per cent of parents said they would get their child vaccinated, while others said they were undecided.
Morrison said she thinks word of mouth will convince many of them to sign up.
“We know it can influence others if we know that your friends have booked their vaccine,” she said.
“I saw children here today wearing stickers saying, ‘I got my COVID vaccine.’ They will start talking amongst their friends that ‘I got mine, and it feels good.'”
Five community clinics across P.E.I. are currently offering the vaccine for five to 11-year-olds.
In the new year, the plan is to set up school clinics for kids in grades four to six.
UK COVID genomics head says new variant likely to come to UK
A ban on flights from southern Africa came into force in Britain on Friday, and numerous other countries also restricted travel from the region.
“(B.1.1.529 is) something that I would guess is likely to be transmitted into the UK at some point, but it buys that time,” COG-UK Chair Sharon Peacock told reporters.
“I think buying time is important and it’s worthwhile, because we can find out what we need to know about that particular variant.”
Speaking at a briefing with other experts, Peacock praised the quick work of South African scientists who shared what they knew about the variant after a surge in cases centred on Gauteng province.
That early warning could be crucial in preventing the variant taking over rapidly from the Delta variant as the world’s dominant one, even as South Africa bristles at the swift imposition of barriers to travel.
“This is a different circumstance than Delta, and there might be some hope for maybe some amount of containment,” said Jeffrey Barrett, Director of the COVID-19 Genomics Initiative at the Wellcome Sanger Institute.
“The difference really is that the surveillance was so good in South Africa and other nearby countries that they found this, understood that it was a problem, and told the world extremely fast.”
Peacock said it was important not to assume that the variant had arisen in South Africa just because it had been detected there.
“Variants will fly under the radar in countries where there’s no sequencing capability,” she said.
A distinctive trait known as an “S-gene target failure”, which distinguishes the new variant from Delta, means that PCR tests can give a clue to the presence of the new variant without full genomic sequencing.
However, Wendy Barclay, a virologist who leads the UK National Virology Consortium G2P-UK, cautioned that some other variants also had the trait.
Many parts of Europe have been struggling with high and rising COVID rates for weeks, but Barrett said these were unlikely to be driven by B.1.1.529, even in places with less sequencing.
“They are consistently finding a mix of Delta variant, basically,” he said.
(Reporting by Alistair Smout; Editing by Kevin Liffey)
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