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Canada's pandemic lockdown worked, says infectious disease doctor – CTV News



Lessons must be learned out of Canada’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the extreme economic and social lockdown the country is emerging from now was the right move, says an infectious disease expert.

The fact that Canada has only seen a fraction of the illnesses and deaths projected in early worst-case scenarios is testament to the success of preventative measures, says Zain Chagla, a physician at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Hamilton Health Sciences in Hamilton, Ont.

Federal modelling released in early April forecasted that, without restrictions put in place, up to 80 per cent of Canadians could contract the virus and up to 300,000 could die. 

But with the strong lockdown measures instituted in March, Health Canada predicted the death range was likely to fall between 11,000 and 22,000 deaths. It then developed models based on between 2.5 per cent and 10 per cent of the population contracting the virus over the course of the pandemic.

As of Friday, the country’s cases topped 100,000, with a death toll of 8,300.

Canada’s lockdown measures minimized community spread of the virus and kept hospitalization numbers manageable, says Chagla.

More than 80 per cent of Canada’s deaths have come through long-term care homes, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada. That is leading to questions about whether Canada went too far in locking down much of its economy, enforcing physical distancing, and closing its borders. But Chagla says the overall success of the measures speak for themselves.

“We’re not remembering the catastrophic scenarios where hospitals couldn’t handle all the patients and people were dying outside hospitals,” Chagla said on CTV’s Your Morning Friday.

The toll of COVID-19 in Italy and New York City illustrate what happens when “profound spread” overwhelms hospitals, and deaths mount among health-care workers and the young, he says.

But there have been serious costs to the shutdown.

Canada’s unemployment rate is 13.7 per cent and relief measures have cost the federal government more than $100 billion so far. A University of Toronto study says the economic upheaval could add more than 2,100 suicides to the national average by the end of 2021.

And a study published in the British Journal of Surgery in May predicted nearly 400,000 elective surgeries would have been cancelled or delayed in Canada by mid-June. It’s expected the backlog could take more than a year to clear.

Delayed surgeries and health screenings and the burden of social isolation and economic lockdown have been severe, but Chagla believes the lockdown measures enacted in March in Canada were wise, nonetheless.

There are major lessons out of COVID-19, says Chagla, who is an assistant professor of medicine at McMaster University. The first is the need for better management of supply chains and emergency stockpiles, especially of personal protective equipment and the reagents and swabs needed for testing.

The country also needed to do a better job of early testing and contact tracing, and should have closed down the border to the United States earlier, he says.

The most drastic lesson comes in preventing and managing outbreaks in long-term care, says Chagla.

“Many of us didn’t realized the breadth and how profound this would be, in terms of hitting long-term care.”

Chagla says hospitals have the built-in infrastructure to deal with infection control that aren’t applied in long-term care, where sick people are housed together, staff often aren’t using PPE correctly, and staffing levels aren’t appropriate to the needed level of care, says Chagla.

“And that’s the perfect storm. If the disease gets in the door, and it did through multiple care homes and it is still getting in through multiple care homes, it sweeps like fire and multiple patients get infected at any given time.” 

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Canada saw 221 new coronavirus cases Saturday — all of them from Ontario and Quebec –



Canada added 221 novel coronavirus cases on Saturday, all in Ontario and Quebec.

In Canada, the total number of COVID-19 cases diagnosed is 107,326, while 8,773 people have died. According to figures released Saturday, just over 3.6 million in the country had been tested for the virus.

Saturday’s numbers were incomplete though, as only six provinces released COVID-19 data that day. Missing are the provinces of British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Prince Edward Island and the territories.

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In Ontario, officials reported 130 new cases and six deaths caused by COVID-19 for a total of 36,594 cases and 2,716 deaths. Saturday’s numbers mark an increase from Friday, which only saw a rise of 116 newly infected residents.

Over 1.6 million in the province have been tested while 32,422 people have recovered.

Quebec, the province hit hardest by the novel coronavirus,recorded more than 56,407 cases on Saturday after reporting 91 new confirmed cases — a drop from the 100 reported on Friday.

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Eight more people have died, leaving the total number of deaths at 5,620. By Saturday, slightly less than half of all active cases had recovered while over 954,000 were tested.

Four out of the six provinces that released new data on Saturday haven’t seen new cases in the last two or more days.

In Manitoba, officials said no one has been diagnosed with COVID-19 since June 30, leaving the province’s total number of confirmed cases at 314 plus 11 cases considered presumptive. Seven people have died and just over 69,000 people have been tested as of Friday.

Read more:
South Korea has entered its 2nd wave of coronavirus. What can Canada learn?

New Brunswick is on its third consecutive day without a new case of the COVID-19 and nobody in the province has died from the virus since mid-June. All but three of the province’s 166 infected residents have recovered while 46,214 have been tested.

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There were no new cases recorded in Nova Scotia on Saturday, which is on its fourth day without any newly confirmed cases and 20th day without COVID-19-related deaths. More than 58,000 people have been tested so far and 1,000 have recovered from the virus.

Newfoundland and Labrador, too, had no new cases or deaths to report on Saturday. Only three people in the province have died from the virus while 258 of its 262 cases have recovered. Over 20,000 residents have been tested.

British Columbia, which last released data on Friday, has recorded 187 deaths and 3,028 confirmed cases — nine of which are ideologically linked, which refers to when a patient may have been in contact with one or more people who tested positive with the virus but hasn’t been tested.

Overall, Alberta has seen 8,596 cases and 160 deaths. As of Friday in Saskatchewan, 15 people have died from the virus while the number of cases remains at 815. Prince Edward Island has yet to record any deaths linked to the virus, but confirmed 33 cases as of Friday.

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Nunavut has yet to have its first confirmed case, while the Yukon and Northwest Territories have each recorded 11 and five cases of the virus, respectively. All known cases in the territories have recovered.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Canada reports 10 new coronavirus-related deaths, more than 300 new cases –



Cases of the novel coronavirus in Canada surpassed 107,000 July 10, after 322 new infections were reported by provincial health authorities.

The new cases brings the total number of lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country to 107,105. Another 10 deaths linked to the virus were also announced Friday, bringing Canada’s official coronavirus death toll to 8,759.

A further 70,842 people — over 66 per cent of Canada’s total infected — have since recovered from the virus, while another 3.3 million tests have been administered.

Read more:
How many Canadians have the new coronavirus? Total number of confirmed cases by region

Ontario reported the highest number of new coronavirus cases on Friday, with 116 new cases and seven deaths. The province’s total COVID-19 infections now sit at 36,464, with 2,710 deaths from the virus.

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However, at least 32,155 people have recovered.

Quebec, the province hit hardest but the coronavirus, announced 100 new cases on Friday. Three new deaths were also reported within the province — one of which occurred before July 2.

Coronavirus: Psychologists break down why some aggressively oppose mandatory mask rule

Coronavirus: Psychologists break down why some aggressively oppose mandatory mask rule

The province’s total cases and deaths stand at 56,316 and 5,612, respectfully.

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Alberta reported 77 new cases of the coronavirus on Friday, the highest daily increase in new infections since May 10. The death toll in the province was lowered to 160 on Friday after a previous fatality was determined to not be COVID-19 related.

Confirmed cases in the province now total at 8,596.

British Columbia added 25 new cases on Friday, as well as one new death. The new numbers bring B.C.’s total infected to 3,044 and its death toll to 187. A further 2,679 patients have since recovered.

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Coronavirus: U.S. COVID-19 cases surge amid reopening debate

Coronavirus: U.S. COVID-19 cases surge amid reopening debate

Saskatchewan announced two new cases of the virus on Friday, as well, bringing its total infected 815. The province’s deaths still sit at 15, while 757 people have recovered from the virus.

Both Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador reported just one new case each of the coronavirus on Friday, bringing their provincial case totals to 33 and 262, respectively.

On Friday, Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam released a statement in lieu of a daily in-person update.

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“Resilience is a word that we have all come to understand in a deeper way as we face COVID-19 in our communities. It implies courage, tenacity and collaboration,” read the statement, which touches on the AIDS 2020 international conference.

“The HIV community has been a beacon in the fight against stigma. Approaches to community-led and culturally appropriate care, particularly in Indigenous communities, have served as models and improved our responses to other health challenges, including in the response to COVID-19.”

Worldwide, cases of the novel coronavirus have reached 12,459,000 according to a running tally kept by John Hopkins University.

Meanwhile, a total 558,683 people have since died.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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The great PPE panic: How the pandemic caught Canada with its stockpiles down –



This is the fourth in a series of articles looking at some of the lessons learned from the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic and how Canada moves forward.

To hear Minister of Public Services and Procurement Anita Anand describe it, Canada’s effort to supply frontline workers during the pandemic has been a significant — if uneven — success.

“We did procurement like it has never been done before,” said Minister of Public Services and Procurement Anita Anand. “We are in an urgent scramble to secure personal protective equipment and we will not let up until that task is accomplished.”

The federal government, she said, has conducted just under a hundred flights to Canada carrying Chinese personal protective equipment (PPE) and bringing supplies from the U.S. and Europe.

It was a remarkable, last-ditch effort. But could it have been avoided?

Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand listens to a question during a news conference in Ottawa, April 16, 2020. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Dr. Sandy Buchman, president of the Canadian Medical Association, gives Ottawa credit for pulling every lever it could when the need for PPE became critical. “But they wouldn’t have had to scramble to do that if we had adequate stockpiles, and the same goes for medication,” he told CBC News. “We should have maintained and had them available.

“We had a pandemic plan in place but we didn’t actually have things ready. We didn’t have adequate personal protective equipment for frontline health care workers.”

In fact, Canada still doesn’t have the PPE it needs to keep those essential workers safe.

Read more from the series:

Just take a look at the nation’s capital. Thirty out of some 600 Ottawa paramedics are currently reassigned from front-line duties because of a lack of N95 masks, according to their union.

CUPE ambulance rep Jason Fraser told CBC News that when he began as a paramedic during the SARS epidemic in 2003, he and his co-workers were fitted out with state-of-the-art respirators. 

“For 17 years, the gold standard of mask has been the N95 masks,” he said. “And due to a global shortage or difficulty obtaining proper PPE, all of a sudden surgical masks are OK protection.”

Fraser said his members don’t want to work with anything less than N95s and don’t believe they’d be asked to do so were it not for preventable shortages.

He points the finger of blame mainly at the Ontario government. But a shortage of N95s has been an issue in many places across the country.

PPE stock in poor shape

Canada’s pandemic response got off to a rocky start when it came to the basic tools: masks, gowns, gloves and other products.

Canadian PPE stockpile levels were woefully low when the pandemic hit; materials were allowed to expire without being used or even donated, and then ended up in landfills. The Trudeau government was widely criticized for sending 16 tons of PPE to China at a time when the novel coronavirus was still mostly a Chinese problem, and the Public Health Agency of Canada was still mistakenly assessing the risk to Canadians as “low.”

A cargo aircraft delivers medical supplies and protective equipment to Montréal–Mirabel International Airport. (Daniel Thomas/Radio-Canada)

Anand said her department responded to those shortages by fostering the creation of a Canadian PPE industry from scratch.

“Forty-four per cent of our contracts by dollar value are made with domestic manufacturers,” she said.

“This is an incredible effort on behalf of Canadians themselves to protect Canadians. So that is a heartening story and it’s also an important lesson learned.”

It’s a lesson nearly everyone involved in fighting the pandemic agrees has to be learned — if Canada wants to avoid the same experience when the next pandemic hits.

The preppers weren’t prepared

One nation that hasn’t had to worry about PPE is Finland. Its history of Soviet invasion left it with a siege mentality that manifested itself in the construction of a secret network of bunkers stocked with supplies to carry its people through times of war or disaster — including a huge stockpile of masks.

Canada also has a National Emergency Stockpile System (NESS), launched in 1952 at the height of the Cold War and originally intended to help Canada survive a nuclear attack.

Lately, the system’s rationale has changed somewhat. “We began to move away from beds and blankets and increased our holdings of antiviral medications and key treatments,” Sally Thornton of the Public Health Agency of Canada told MPs at a committee hearing in May.

“We do not focus on PPE and that wouldn’t be a major element, because we count on our provinces, within their respective authority, to maintain their stockpile.”

Some MPs found that answer highly unsatisfactory, given that the NESS last year threw out two million N95 masks that had been allowed to expire.

Stockpile ‘completely unready’

“The stockpile system proved completely unready for COVID-19, and the degree of unreadiness goes well beyond the explanation that COVID-19 was was unexpected in terms of its impact and scale,” said Wesley Wark of the University of Ottawa, an intelligence expert who studied the NESS’s response to the pandemic.

“It was clearly underfunded. Cabinet ministers and senior officials have admitted that fact.”

Health Minister Patty Hajdu said in April that “federal governments for decades have been underfunding things like public health preparedness, and I would say that obviously governments all across the world are in the same exact situation.”

Inventory analyst Olivia Ivey organizes a stack of boxed personal protective equipment inside the massive warehouse in Langley, B.C. where the Provincial Health Services Authority receives and distributes millions of pieces of PPE. (Glen Kugelstadt/CBC)

What Hajdu said is true — although her own government closed warehouses and left the stockpile even smaller than it found it. NESS’s annual budget is only about $3 million and both the Harper and Trudeau governments routinely spent even less on it. It has a regular staff of just 18 people.

“But beyond its underfunding,” said Wark, “it basically lacked any kind of strategy as far as I can tell to prepare for an emergency …”

“There was really no planning done to integrate the federal government’s stockpile system with those held by the provinces and territories. It’s not until February — a month into the COVID-19 crisis — [that] the federal government wakes up to the fact that they don’t even know what is held in provincial and territorial stockpiles, nor do provinces and territories know what’s held in the federal stockpile. That points to a basic strategic failure.”

The come-as-you-are pandemic

When March arrived, Wark said, “the stockpile system had to transition into being a kind of portal for trying to get supplies hastily mobilized from domestic suppliers or international sources into Canada and passed on to provinces and territories.

“You know, I think the whole thing was just a desperate scramble. And it didn’t need to have been that way, if proper attention had been paid to the important role that the stockpile system was meant to play.”

A pandemic is a bad time to start shopping for emergency supplies. With COVID-19 engulfing one country after another, Canada found itself competing with dozens of other countries, as well as private U.S. hospital networks, to acquire the most sought-after items. 

Anand said the government has learned that lesson and will ensure that stockpiles of PPE, medicines and other essentials are maintained in future.

Stockpiles alone won’t solve the problem, she said, because PPE products have expiry dates and a major pandemic would at least start to exhaust any stockpile.

“Another part of the puzzle is also to make sure that we’ve got relationships with a diverse range of suppliers who can produce these goods so that we have priority when it comes to making sure that we have that product,” she said.

Unreliable suppliers

Canada’s two main markets for acquiring PPE supplies — the U.S. and China — have been problematic.

China’s PPE market quickly flooded with new companies that previously had been making things like baby toys or auto parts. They began to churn out PPE of wildly varying quality.

In the U.S., President Donald Trump ordered 3M to stop fulfilling contracts to provide N95 masks to other countries, and halted a shipment to Ontario in April. Thanks mainly to dogged resistance to that order by 3M executives, the threat was averted.

Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator, holds a 3M N95 mask as she and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence visit 3M headquarters in Maplewood, Minn., March 5, 2020. (Glen Stubbe/Star Tribune via AP)

But it it all served as a reminder of the risks involved in depending on other countries for essential supplies in a global emergency. Ontario Premier Doug Ford vowed to make his province self-sufficient.

“I’m not going to rely on President Trump,” he said. “I’m not going to rely on any prime minister of any country ever again. Our manufacturing, we’re gearing up and once they start, we’re never going to stop them.”

Anand said she is working to end Canada’s dependence on foreign sources. 

“The strategy from procurement has been to diversify our supply chains to make sure that we are not reliant on one country or one jurisdiction alone,” she said.

“We would very much aim to have domestic production of every item here in Canada.”

That would mean persuading the Canadian manufacturers that switched production over to medical equipment — such as clothing maker Stanfields in Nova Scotia — to stay in the game once the crisis passes.

Mixed messages on masks

The government’s early advice against wearing masks confused many Canadians, who suspected (correctly, as it turned out) that the guidance defied common sense.

That confusion also affected people in the medical field.

“I have been astounded that we are not being told to wear masks,” one occupational therapist told CBC News on March 31, describing conditions at the rehab hospital where she worked. “We are even being told we can’t wear our own masks and will be reprimanded and potentially disciplined for doing so.”

Some Canadian hospitals even had security guards order people to remove masks before they could enter.

A B.C. Ambulance Service paramedic wearing a face shield, an N95 mask and gloves is seen in the ambulance bay outside the emergency department at Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster, B.C., April 12, 2020. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Calgary ER physician Joe Vipond told CBC News the government’s position on masks struck him as irrational from the beginning.

“And I see that changing, but boy it’s slow!” he said.

He said that his own province of Alberta was “pretty late to the PPE bandwagon”.

“I know in B.C. on March 25 every single hospital and every single long term care facility were mandated to wear masks in all situations, in order to avoid pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic spread,” he said.

In Alberta, he added, that decision came “a good three weeks after. And so I think a lot of ways we were quite lucky to avoid a lot of transmission within our acute care facilities. That didn’t work out so well for our long term care facilities.

“I know there was one outbreak at the Lloydminster hospital and also in Winnipeg that were blamed on lack of universal masking. There was always a concern about N95, and we were told to be very cautious in our use.”

Vipond blamed the relentless search for cost efficiencies, cheaper vendors and just-in-time delivery for the shortages.

“There is value in having stockpiles and there is value in having your own domestic control over things,” he said. “I’m hoping that we recognize the value of being a masters of our own domain.”

Mike Villenueve, CEO of the Canadian Nurses’ Association, agrees with Vipond about the patchwork nature of PPE access across the country.

“It’s been a story of great success in many places … and the complete opposite in others — you can’t seem to get it, or it’s locked up, or I’m encouraged to not use it because it’s expensive,” he said.

“Our view is that we should err on the side of protecting people, and whatever the cost of an N95 mask is, [it’s] small compared to the cost of a life.”

‘A sense of mistrust’

Villeneuve said the fact that rules on PPE use varied from place to place led nurses to suspect PPE policies were being driven not by the best science but by harsh realities of supply and shortage.

“How come that filters down so differently across 13 jurisdictions, hundreds of employers and different practice settings and so on, when a nurse in a practice setting in Alberta is doing the same thing as a nurse in the same setting in Manitoba?” he said.

“That sort of sets up a sense of mistrust.”

Anand said that it’s up to provinces to set such policies — but she doesn’t rule out the federal government making uniform recommendations. 

She said her department soon will be rolling out new PPE supplier competitions on its supply hub website.

“We have had 26,000 businesses respond to our call out to suppliers, 26,000 businesses wanting to step up and assist in the Team Canada effort,” she said. And while only about 17,000 of those companies are Canadian, Anand argued it “suggests is that there is capacity in the Canadian economy to become self-sufficient in the area of PPE.”

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