High case numbers driven by the Omicron variant of COVID-19 are forcing changes in Nova Scotia’s approach to testing and case management.
“We have finite resources for lab-based testing, and we also have a limited supply of rapid tests over the next few weeks. We need to use those resources wisely given the current epidemiology,” said Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s Chief Medical Officer of Health. “Our priority for PCR testing has to be on people who are most vulnerable to disease and people who are needed to keep our healthcare system running. But everyone who needs a COVID-19 test will get one.”
More than a million rapid tests were distributed around the province in December. While Nova Scotians were initially encouraged to use them as a precaution for safe gatherings, these resources should now primarily be used when people have symptoms or are identified as close contacts.
“Nobody should be using these precious resources every few days just to feel safe. We need to focus most testing on people who have symptoms or are close contacts,” said Dr. Strang. “For at least the next few weeks, everyone needs to limit socializing to their consistent group of 10 which includes their own household, so there shouldn’t be a need for a lot of testing for social occasions.”
Everyone who has symptoms or who is a close contact of someone who has COVID-19 must immediately self-isolate. Today, December 24, and over the weekend, they can book PCR tests if appointments are available in their area. If not, they can use a rapid test if they have one or go to a pop-up site. The Halifax Convention Centre and Dartmouth Alderney Landing pop-ups are continuing. Other pop-ups and the public health mobile unit are being organized to focus on other locations around the province starting next week.
Starting Monday, December 27, people who are close contacts or have symptoms will need to complete the online self-assessment to find out which kind of test they need and book an appointment.
Most Nova Scotians who are close contacts or have symptoms will be directed to book an appointment to get a take-home rapid test from a testing centre.
Only certain people who are close contacts or have symptoms will be directed to book an appointment for a PCR test at a testing centre. This includes people who are at increased risk for severe disease, live in congregate settings, are being admitted to hospital or are integral to keeping the health system running.
The only other people who can book a PCR test are:
- domestic travellers who are not fully vaccinated and need two negative test results to stop isolating in Nova Scotia
- rotational workers and specialized workers who are not fully vaccinated and are required to get tested up to three times while in Nova Scotia.
When people test positive on a rapid test, they should notify public health by emailing their name, date of birth, health card number (if they have one) and contact information to PublicHealthPOCT@nshealth.ca. They need to advise their close contacts and follow directions for people who test positive at: https://www.nshealth.ca/testedpositiveforcovid .
More information and instructions on testing, isolation and next steps if either a PCR or rapid test result is negative or positive is available at the Nova Scotia Health Authority website: https://www.nshealth.ca/coronavirus .
Nova Scotia coronavirus website: https://novascotia.ca/coronavirus/
COVID-19 online self-assessment: https://covid-self-assessment.novascotia.ca/en
Information about COVID-19 testing and case management: https://www.nshealth.ca/coronavirus
Government of Canada: https://canada.ca/coronavirus or 1-833-784-4397 (toll-free)
The Mental Health Provincial Crisis Line is available 24/7 to anyone experiencing a mental health or addictions crisis, or someone concerned about them, by calling 1-888-429-8167 (toll-free)
Anyone with a non-crisis mental health or addiction concern can call Community Mental Health and Addictions at 1-855-922-1122 (toll-free) weekdays 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Kids Help Phone is available 24/7 by calling 1-800-668-6868 (toll-free)
For help or information about domestic violence 24/7, call 1-855-225-0220 (toll-free)
Markets split on BoC decision as business survey, inflation loom – BNN
The Bank of Canada is getting a pair of key indicators this week ahead of a rate decision next Wednesday that’s virtually a coin toss, as far as markets are concerned.
First up on Monday, the central bank releases its quarterly Business Outlook Survey, which provides a snapshot of how approximately 100 corporate leaders are feeling about the economy and their own business fundamentals.
When the last survey was released in October, it showed the broadest gauge of sentiment was at the highest level in the survey’s history. That was despite worsening labour shortages and as more than half of respondents (57 per cent) said they expected labour costs to accelerate over the next year.
“[Monday’s] Business Outlook Survey might have been completed too early to catch Omicron uncertainties, so expect respondents to retain a healthy dose of optimism,” said CIBC World Markets Chief Economist Avery Shenfeld in a report to clients Friday.
“The survey could show a majority expecting inflation to run above the top end of the Bank of Canada’s one-three per cent inflation band. If not for Omicron, that would spell a rate hike in January, but the uncertainties surrounding how long this disruption will last should be enough to defer that decision.”
Meanwhile, Statistics Canada will release the consumer price index for December on Wednesday. Economists are expecting to see inflation rose 4.8 per cent year-over-year in the month; that would be the fastest rate of growth since 1991.
As of 8:30 a.m. Monday morning, market data shows investors see a 59 per cent chance of a rate hike when the Bank of Canada delivers its decision on Jan. 26.
House Price Index rose 26% in 2021, fastest pace on record – CBC News
The Canadian Real Estate Association’s House Price Index rose by 26.6 per cent in the 12 months up to December, the fastest annual pace of gain on record.
The group, which represents more than 100,000 realtors and tabulates sales data from homes that listed and sell via the Multiple Listings Service, said the supply of homes for sale at the end of the month hit an all-time low.
After pausing for a few weeks in the early days of the pandemic, Canada’s housing market has been on an absolute tear for the past two years, as feverish demand from buyers wishing to take advantage of rock-bottom interest rates has drastically outpaced the supply of homes to buy.
That imbalance is a major factor contributing to higher prices, as buyers have to pay more and more to outbid others because of the lack of alternatives.
Various experts are suggesting that parts of the country are showing signs of being in a speculative bubble, and CREA says the biggest reason for runaway price increases is that there aren’t enough homes being put up for sale.
“There are currently fewer properties listed for sale in Canada than at any point on record,” CREA’s chief economist Shaun Cathcart said. “So unfortunately, the housing affordability problem facing the country is likely to get worse before it gets better.”
High prices not denting demand
CREA says the average price of a Canadian home that sold on MLS in December went for $713,500. That’s actually down from the record high of more than $720,000 in November, but still well up on an annual basis.
High prices don’t seem to be slowing demand, however, as 2021 was the busiest year for home sales ever. Some 666,995 residential properties traded hands on MLS last year, smashing the previous annual record by 20 per cent.
TD Bank economist Rishi Sondhi said that there was a less than two-month supply of homes for sale during the month, which means at the current sales pace, all listings would be gone in less than two months. Under normal conditions, there’s a five-month supply of homes for sale, and Sondhi says that supply and demand imbalance is a major factor in eye-popping price gains.
“With interest-rate pull-forward behaviour keeping demand so strong, and supply struggling to keep up, it’s little wonder why prices are continuing their relentless upward march,” he said. “Buyers pulling forward demand ahead of looming interest rate hikes kept sales at unsustainable levels last month. How long this effect will last is uncertain, but it should eventually fade.”
COVID-19 antiviral: Canada authorizes Pfizer pill – CTV News
Health Canada has authorized the use of Pfizer’s COVID-19 antiviral treatment Paxlovid.
The federal health agency says the prescription-only medication can be given to adults ages 18 and older to treat mild to moderate cases of COVID-19, if they have a confirmed positive viral test and are at a high risk of becoming seriously ill.
The authorization comes with specific instructions on scenarios in which the regime cannot be used, including to prevent COVID-19 infections or to treat patients who are already hospitalized due to severe COVID-19 cases.
The medication— two antiviral medicines co-packaged together— cannot be taken for longer than five days in a row, nor can it be given to teens or children.
More details about the authorization are being provided by Health Canada’s Chief Medical Adviser Dr. Supriya Sharma, in a technical briefing in Ottawa.
Pfizer submitted clinical data for the oral medication, on Dec. 1, 2021.
The government has a deal in place with the pharmaceutical giant securing access to an initial one million doses of the therapeutic drug.
Responding to recent calls from the provinces for a swift rollout of this medication in the face of an expected surge in Omicron hospitalizations, the federal government has vowed that delivery of the drug will happen in short order.
Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos and Procurement Minister Filomena Tassi will be holding a press conference to discuss the rollout of this treatment at 1:30 p.m. EST.
In November 2021, Pfizer released the results of their Phase 2/3 trials for the drug, stating that they had found the pills to significantly reduce hospitalization and death in COVID-19 patients.
Pfizer said that in a randomized, double-blind study of more than 380 patients, there was an 89 per cent reduction in the risk of being hospitalized or dying of COVID-19 in patients that received Pfizer’s pill within three days of displaying COVID-19 symptoms, compared to the study group that received a placebo.
According to Pfizer, Paxlovid is designed to block the activity of an enzyme in SARS-CoV-2 that is essential for the virus to replicate itself, and also help to slow the breakdown of the pill’s ingredients in order to help combat the virus for longer.
“PAXLOVID stops the virus from multiplying. This can help your body to overcome the virus infection and may help you get better faster,” reads Health Canada’s authorization.
Paxlovid contains two medicines co-packaged together, a 150mg pink tablet of Nirmatrelvir and a 100mg white tablet of Ritonavir, which has been used in combination with other antiviral medications before.
The regime is meant to be taken consistently twice a day, for five days in a row. The agency has outlined on their website the detailed instructions for taking this medication, as well as a list of potential contraindications.
For example, Health Canada has issued warnings for patients with kidney or liver problems; patients with a human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection; patients who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or are planning to become pregnant; and patients who take a series of other medicines which may interact with Paxlovid.
Side effects can include an altered sense of taste, diarrhea, muscle pain, vomiting, high blood pressure, and headache. Though, given the limited use of this medication to date, the agency cautions that it is possible not all side effects are known at this time and advise speaking with a healthcare professional if other side “troublesome” effects arise.
The medication is what is called a “protease inhibitor antiviral therapy”, a type of medication that has largely been used before to treat HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C.
Health Canada has also been reviewing an experimental pill from drugmaker Merck, called molnupiravir, since mid August. The federal government also has a contract to purchase 500,000 of Merck’s antiviral medication, with an option for 500,000 more pending regulatory approval.
In late December, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization for both Pfizer and Merck’s drugs.
With files from CTV News’ Alexandra Mae Jones and Sarah Turnbull
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