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Children's hospitals under strain in Canada's 6th COVID-19 wave – CBC News



As Canada’s sixth wave of COVID-19 continues, hospitals caring for the country’s youngest patients are facing both high patient volumes and high levels of staff off sick.

This time of year, the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) in Ottawa normally sees up to 150 daily patients in its emergency department, but lately, it can be double that, with hours-long wait times.

Tammy DeGiovanni, CHEO’s senior vice president of clinical services and chief nurse executive, said around two-thirds of those kids are coming in with COVID symptoms. 

The hospital has also been forced to cancel some surgeries.

“The double whammy for us is that we also have many staff, medical staff and volunteers that are off as well because of COVID symptoms or COVID in the household,” DeGiovanni said.

She said that on any given day recently, roughly 10 to 15 per cent of the hospital’s workforce has been off work — with each staff member taking 10 days away to recover.

“That’s causing the additional pressure on the system right now, as opposed to in previous waves,” she said.

According to hospital figures, CHEO’s single-day record for the number of staff, medical staff, learners and volunteers restricted from entering for COVID-related reasons was 199 in early January — just as the initial Omicron wave was taking hold after the holiday season. 

The next highest day was April 11, at 191, with the facility still experiencing major daily staff shortages.

Children with COVID, other illnesses

In Saskatchewan, health-care facilities are also dealing with a surge of sick kids, alongside record overall hospitalizations — Wednesday’s provincial data showed a new all-time high of 417 people in hospital with COVID-19.

“There’s just a huge increased number of kids coming in with upper respiratory illness and related complications. Many of them, as you would suspect, have COVID,” said Dr. Alexander Wong from the Saskatchewan Health Authority. 

Esther Shi Berman, 10, receives a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Toronto on Nov. 25, 2021. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

“That’s creating a lot of pressure on the acute care side, with regards to hospitalizations, as well as ICU admissions, as well as on the emergency department.”

Data provided by BC Children’s Hospital in Vancouver shows a mix of both COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses showing up in young patients in recent months.

In February, 76 children tested positive for COVID-19 in the hospital’s emergency department, while another 29 tested positive for other respiratory illnesses. The following month, that ratio shifted, with 37 kids having COVID-19 and 72 having other respiratory illnesses, including one case of influenza. (The hospital did not provide April data.)

Health-care workers at children’s hospitals, like their adult counterparts, are “similarly affected by disease spread in their communities,” said Dr. Srinivas Murthy, a pediatric critical care physician and infectious diseases specialist with BC Children’s Hospital.

At McMaster Children’s Hospital in Hamilton, Ont., the number of admitted pediatric COVID patients has remained low and relatively stable through the fifth and sixth waves, a hospital spokesperson said in a statement to CBC News. 

However, the volume of kids coming to the hospital’s emergency department with respiratory symptoms — some of which are related to COVID — is very high. The spokesperson said that, combined with staffing pressures, has led to the system being “very challenged.”

Visits back to pre-pandemic levels

It’s a similar situation inside one of Canada’s largest health-care centres for youth, Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children (also known as SickKids).

The whole hospital is “under strain,” in part because of roughly 10 to 30 per cent of staff being off sick on any given day throughout the two Omicron waves, said Dr. Jason Fischer, SickKids’s division head of emergency medicine. 

Hospitalizations and ICU admissions remain high across Ontario, just as the number of patients coming to the emergency department at SickKids are expected to return to pre-pandemic levels, hospital data shows. 

There were more than 7,000 total emergency visits at the hospital in April 2019, but that tally dipped in April 2020, during the early days of the pandemic, when many health-care facilities experienced a major drop in visits. 

Dr. Jason Fischer, SickKids emergency department division head, says the whole hospital is “under strain,” in part because roughly 10 to 30 per cent of staff being off sick in any given day throughout the two Omicron waves. (SickKids/Supplied)

The total hit roughly 4,400 in April 2021 and nearly 4,000 young patients showed up in the first half of April this year — a daily average of 222 visits, roughly the same as before the pandemic. 

Despite those volumes, Fischer said it’s crucial to keep staff with COVID-19 home for a full 10 days.

“We’re seeing a lot of kids aged zero to five who are not immunized, and so we’re particularly conservative in ensuring that no one’s coming to work sick,” he said.

Low vaccination rate among kids

Across Canada, vaccination rates remain low among youth. The latest country-wide data shows just 40 per cent of kids aged five to 11 are fully vaccinated, while younger children don’t yet have access to an approved vaccine.

With millions of kids still vulnerable to infection — while hospitals are under pressure — it’s left some parents wondering about the best approach if their child does catch COVID-19.

Nicole Rajakovic, a Toronto mother of two, faced that dilemma in the last month. Her whole family wound up falling ill, with her five-year-old son the first to show symptoms back in late March. At the time, she said, he’d only had one vaccine dose, while the rest of the family was fully vaccinated. 

“He had a really serious coughing fit, which included an inability to breathe, and that was the scariest moment for us,” she recalled. “Do we call 911?”

Nicole Rajakovic, right, and her family all caught COVID-19 this year, one by one, starting with her five-year-old son. (Supplied by Nicole Rajakovic)

Rajakovic wound up caring for her son at home, and he’s since recovered from his illness. But she said it was a tough decision. 

“Where we would normally go to a doctor or urgent care, we’re not making those decisions anymore, because we know they’re short-staffed, and we know they’re exhausted.”

Fischer from SickKids agreed that health-care workers are often stuck working long hours, while families are facing long wait times for care. 

Even so, he stressed that if parents are worried about their child’s symptoms, they should still bring them to an emergency department, urgent care centre or use virtual care options.

According to the Canadian Pediatric Society, mild symptoms don’t require a hospital trip, but parents should seek medical advice if their child isn’t drinking well, has a high fever, is having trouble breathing or if their symptoms continue or worsen.

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UK’s Kendal Nutricare to deliver 2 million cans of baby formula to the US by June



London, United Kingdom (UK)- Will McMahon, the commercial director of Kendal Nutricare, has said the company will deliver 2 million cans of baby formula to the United States (US) by June this year.

Baby formula shortages began to take hold in the US last year amid supply chain issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the situation deteriorated in February when Abbott Laboratories, one of the country’s main manufacturers, with a 40 percent market share, recalled some of its products and shut down a manufacturing plant after four babies who had been fed formula made at the facility contracted a rare bacterial infection (Cronobacter sakazakii) with two of them later dying.

“The bigger opportunity here is as a company we have been in touch with the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and working with them for over five years with the aim of bringing a product into the US. There is enormous curiosity and demand for Kendamil in the States, so we are hopeful that we will have everything in place with the FDA to be able to continue to supply legitimately well beyond November,” said McMahon.

More so, the US normally produces 98 percent of the infant formula it consumes, with imports mainly coming from Mexico, Ireland and the Netherlands but last week, the White House eased import requirements and announced an effort to transport baby formula from abroad dubbed Operation Fly Formula.

Nevertheless, the FDA said it is doing everything in its power to make sure there is enough baby formula for parents and caregivers who need it adding that it is in discussions with other manufacturers and suppliers about bringing other baby formulas to the US.

“Our recent steps will help further bolster the supply of infant formula, including through the import of safe and nutritious products from overseas based on our increased flexibilities announced last week.

Importantly, we anticipate additional infant formula products may be safely and quickly imported into the US in the near-term based on ongoing discussions with manufacturers and suppliers worldwide,” said FDA Commissioner, Dr. Robert Califf.

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Trudeau cancels appearance at Surrey fundraiser over protest-related safety concerns –



Prime Minister Justin Trudeau cancelled plans to attend a Liberal party fundraising dinner in Surrey on Tuesday evening as a result of safety concerns over a large gathering of protesters outside the event.

Protesters allegedly harassed and hurled racial slurs at attendees and volunteers, many of whom were South Asian, according to Surrey Centre MP Randeep Sarai. 

The fundraiser was being held at Aria banquet hall.

Sarai says that a group of protesters were stationed outside the front gates of the event, eventually growing to around 100 people.

“They just started swearing, yelling, screaming at anyone that was going through,” said Sarai.

“We had a lot of South Asian volunteers… that were harassed, sworn at, called towel head, rag head, you’re all immigrants.”

He says it’s unclear what the group was actually protesting.

Surrey RCMP confirmed in a statement that there were several vehicles and larger trucks towing trailers that were travelling “in a convoy style loop around the roadway.”

“Due to the size and composition of the protest group and for the safety of everyone in attendance, a decision was made that it was not safe for the prime minister to attend the location,” said Cpl. Vanessa Munn.

Trudeau did not enter the building and spoke to a crowd for about three minutes by Zoom instead of making a speech in person. Trudeau said he would return to see his supporters in Surrey in the future.

WATCH | Justin Trudeau talk about the unruly crowd and its impact on free speech:

Trudeau says nobody should be intimidated for supporting a political party

7 hours ago

Duration 1:27

The prime minister comments on protesters yelling racial slurs at an event he was forced to cancel.

Wednesday, at an event in Saskatoon, Trudeau addressed what happened at the fundraiser in Surrey, adding that nobody should be intimidated for supporting a political party.

“The safety of Canadians choosing to make their voices heard in politics should never be in question as it was last night,” he said.

“The fundamental freedoms we have as a country, and we enjoy as Canadians, need to be defended, need to be protected.”

Protesters swore at Prime Minister

Protesters used expletives as they chanted against Trudeau and honked horns outside the convention centre. About half a dozen RCMP officers stood by watching the crowd.

Sarai says the protesters turned the event into a hostile environment.

“This is not reflective of Surrey at all,” he said.

“Surrey is a very diverse city, a very friendly city, a very welcoming city.”

And while he respects the public’s right to protest, he says “you should never spew hate and use the vulgarity that was being used there.”

Protests against party leaders

Earlier this month, police began investigating after a video circulated on social media showed people hurling verbal abuse at NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh during a protest in Peterborough, Ont.

The federal NDP leader had dropped by the campaign office of an Ontario NDP candidate running in the provincial election.

A video shows Singh encountering protesters as he left the campaign office, and they can be heard shouting expletives at him and calling him a “traitor”‘ as he gets inside a vehicle.

Singh later told reporters he found the experience “intense, threatening [and] insulting”‘ but that he is more worried about what it means for politics in general.

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The latest on the French-language Conservative leadership debate in Laval



LAVAL, Que. — Conservative leadership hopefuls are squaring off — in French — in the second official debate of the race, which is being held in Laval, Que.

Here are the latest developments. All times eastern:

8:55 p.m.

Conservative leadership candidates Patrick Brown and Leslyn Lewis took turns attacking rival Pierre Poilievre for his embrace of the cryptocurrency Bitcoin as a solution to inflation.

Lewis, who is often reading from her notes during the French-language debate in Laval, Que., said Poilievre’s position was wrong.

At one point, Brown said Poilievre’s position on Bitcoin was similar to that of the leadership in El Salvador, which adopted Bitcoin as legal tender.

The International Monetary Fund urged the Central American country to drop Bitcoin as its official currency earlier this year, citing its volatility.


8:20 p.m.

Former Quebec premier Jean Charest says Canada must renegotiate the Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States.

He says that is how he would deal with “illegal immigration,” such as migrants entering the country through the unofficial border crossing at Roxham Road south of Montreal.

Candidates were asked about immigration as the first question in the debate.

Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown used the question to say he was trying to build an inclusive party and attacked Ottawa-area MP Pierre Poilievre for not publicly condemning the “white replacement” conspiracy theory espoused by Pat King, a leader of the Ottawa convoy protest.

Poilievre responded by saying he has in fact condemned King’s remarks and that people couldn’t believe anything Brown says.

While answering a question about public safety, Poilievre said the country needs to better deal with guns illegally brought into Canada.

Charest said Poilievre has no businesses talking about law and order when he supported the Ottawa convoy, which he called an illegal blockade.

The room then erupted into a mix of cheers and boos.


8:10 p.m.

Candidates took to the stage and began by outlining one by one what legacy they wanted to leave behind as leaders.

Pierre Poilievre says he wants his legacy to be making Canada the freest country in the world, including by making sure people don’t feel forced to get vaccinated and that young people are able to afford a home.

Patrick Brown says he can win in urban areas, which the party needs, and has what it takes to build a party that can succeed in a general election.

Roman Baber, an Independent member of the Ontario legislature, introduced himself to the crowd.

He says he knows Canada is bilingual and has taken lessons, but still asked those watching to forgive his French.


8:05 p.m.

The Conservative party’s leadership organizing committee announced before the debate began that it will announce the results of the leadership race at a downtown Ottawa convention centre on Sept. 10.

The party’s president, Robert Batherson, says it will be the first time since 2018 that members will gather together at a national event.

The party held a convention in Halifax in 2018.


7:50 p.m.

House music issued from amplifiers as Conservatives of all ages began to take their seats ahead of tonight’s leadership debate.

Several hundred attendees, who were not wearing masks, crowded the ballroom of the Chateau Royal venue north of Montreal, seated between television cameras and the stage.

The six contenders are slated to appear at their podiums at 8 p.m.


7:30 p.m.

Conservative leadership candidates filed in for the race’s only French-language debate, being held at a reception hall north of Montreal.

The suburban venue in Laval, Que., saw scores of federal Tories and onlookers mingling in the foyer before the six contenders take the stage.

Former Quebec premier Jean Charest greeted a handful of supporters with kisses, while Ontario MP Scott Aitchison chatted with party members amid sign-up booths for each candidate.

Bookending the stage beneath ballroom chandeliers were a bank of speakers and 14 flags — six with the Fleur-de-lis, eight with the Maple Leaf.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 25, 2022


The Canadian Press

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