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Confirmed cases of new COVID-19 variant in Canada are 'unsurprising', experts say – CTV News

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TORONTO —
A new, more contagious variant of COVID-19 that first surfaced in the U.K. has been detected in Canada, something health experts had already predicted.

Ontario’s Associate Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Barbara Yaffe, announced Saturday that there are two confirmed cases of the coronavirus variant in Durham region. The patients who tested positive are a couple, now in self-isolation.

“I’m not surprised,” Dr. Brian Conway, medical director of the Vancouver Infectious Diseases Centre, told CTV News Channel Saturday, in the wake of the news. “Obviously, this variant has been circulating for some time before it was actually recognized.”

In a news release announcing the cases, Dr. Yaffe said this “further reinforces the need for Ontarians to stay home as much as possible and continue to follow all public health advice, including the provincewide shutdown measures beginning today.

Durham Region Health Department has conducted case and contact investigation and Ontario is working in collaboration with our federal counterparts at the Public Health Agency of Canada.”

But even before today’s confirmation that this coronavirus variant is in Canada, health experts suspected it was already here. 

“It’s spread to other countries,” Ronald St. John, the former director-general of the Centre for Emergency Preparedness and Response at the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), told CTV News Channel earlier on Saturday.

“Since it’s been found since September, there’s no reason why people coming since September haven’t been able to bring that new strain to Canada.” 

The new variant that emerged from the U.K. has since been found in other countries around the world, including France, Japan, Israel and Sweden.

Only two days ago, PHAC said in a statement that there had been “no evidence of these variants in Canada to-date” and that it was enhancing screening and scrutiny of quarantine plans for inbound passengers.

Saturday’s news release thanked the “proactive work” of the PHAC in locating the two cases of the new variant.

Conway said that more measures need to be taken to understand how the variant made its way into Canada.

“We need to do much more testing, we need to understand where this couple became infected,” he said, adding that we can only interrupt the “transmission chains” if we understand them.  

On Dec. 20, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a restriction on flights from the U.K. to Canada in an effort to prevent the new variant from coming to Canada. That restriction has since been extended to Jan. 6.

St. John said these measures may have come too little, too late.

The two cases announced today have no travel history, high-risk contacts or known exposure.

“It’s a question of if the horse is out of the barn already, and are we closing the doors too late?” St. John said. 

Kirsten Fiest, an epidemiologist at the University of Calgary Cumming School of Medicine, also said stopping flights from the U.K. may not be enough to prevent the new variant from spreading in Canada.

“Almost certainly, it’s spread even further than we know right now,” Fiest told CTV Calgary. “If something can spread really quickly and rapidly and it increases the likelihood of infection, then our biggest concern should be long-term care facilities.” 

The new variant of the virus “may be up to 70 per cent more transmissible than the original version of the disease,” U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a press conference on Dec. 19, though a new study from the London School of Hygiene And Tropical Medicine suggests the virus is about 56 per cent more contagious.

Two other variants of COVID-19 have also been found in Nigeria and South Africa, leading Canada to expand screening and monitoring measures on flights inbound from South Africa.

“We need to be on the lookout for other variants,” Conway said. 

St. John said both variants need further study to understand how variations in the genes could impact the behaviour of the virus and its effects on how the disease presents itself in the people who have contracted it, adding that the variant found in South Africa also appear, “at this point,” to be more contagious than the base strain of coronavirus already in Canada.

As to whether or not the vaccines already being delivered in Canada will be effective in defending against these new variants, St. John said he doesn’t believe the virus will mutate in the same way seasonal influenza does, and that the vaccines will likely be effective.

“So far, as near as I know, the vaccine targets many different parts of the virus,” St. John said. “So it’s a good thing that it does, and that the virus probably will not escape the vaccine.”

Conway added that there is “no evidence that the vaccine works less well,” on the variant that first emerged in the U.K. 

BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin has also said he is “confident” his company’s vaccine, created with Pfizer, will be effective against the new U.K. variant of the virus.  

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Norway warns of vaccination side-effects, deaths in some patients over 80 – Global News

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Norwegian officials have adjusted their advice on who gets the COVID-19 vaccine in light of a small number of deaths in older people, leaving it up to each doctor to consider who should be vaccinated.

The Norwegian Medicines Agency on Thursday reported a total of 29 people had suffered side effects, 13 of them fatal. All the deaths occurred among patients in nursing homes and all were over the age of 80.

The agency listed fever and nausea as side effects which “may have led to the deaths of some frail patients,” Sigurd Hortemo of the Norwegian Medicines Agency said in the body’s first report of the side effects.

Read more:
No serious side-effects from COVID-19 vaccines so far, Health Canada says

More than 30,000 people have received the first shot of the Pfizer or Moderna coronavirus vaccine in the Scandinavian country since the end of December, according to official figures.

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“We are not alarmed by this. It is quite clear that these vaccines have very little risk, with a small exception for the frailest patients,” Steinar Madsen, medical director with the agency, told Norwegian broadcaster NRK.

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“Doctors must now carefully consider who should be vaccinated. Those who are very frail and at the very end of life can be vaccinated after an individual assessment,” he added.


Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Ontario to complete long-term care home vaccinations in high-risk zones in upcoming weeks'



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Coronavirus: Ontario to complete long-term care home vaccinations in high-risk zones in upcoming weeks


Coronavirus: Ontario to complete long-term care home vaccinations in high-risk zones in upcoming weeks

Earlier this week, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health said that “any side effects of the vaccine will be outweighed by a reduced risk of becoming seriously ill with COVID-19 for elderly, frail people.”

It added that “for very frail patients and terminally ill patients, a careful balance of benefit versus disadvantage of vaccination is recommended.”

In its report, the Norwegian Medicines Agency said that 21 women and eight men had side effects. Beside those who died, the agency said nine had serious side effects without a fatal consequence and seven had less serious side effects. The nine patients had allergic reactions, strong discomfort and severe fever while the less serious side effects included severe pain at the injection site.

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Read more:
Coronavirus vaccine a ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ for LTC homes

Overall, Norway has seen 57,279 cases and reported 511 deaths.

Across the world, officials expect deaths and other severe side effects to be reported after any mass vaccination campaign given the huge numbers of people involved. But determining whether or not the vaccine caused deaths can be very challenging and requires that all other potential causes be ruled out first.

The United Kingdom and the United States have also reported a number of cases of side effects that had fatal consequences.

The European Medicines Agency said Friday that it will receive and consider monthly safety reports from companies authorized to sell vaccines, starting in January with the Pfizer jab.

© 2021 The Canadian Press

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Canadian home sales see a record December — and a record 2020 – CBC.ca

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National home sales set an all-time record in December, the Canadian Real Estate Association reported Friday.

Sales were up 47.2 per cent compared to December 2019, the largest year-over-year increase in monthly sales in 11 years.

The spike in sales from November to December, 7.2 per cent, was driven by gains of more than 20 per cent in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and Greater Vancouver.

It was a new record for the month of December by a margin of more than 12,000 transactions.

For the sixth straight month, sales activity was up in almost all Canadian housing markets compared to the same month in 2019.

It was also a record for the entire year.

Average home price up 17%

Almost 552,000 homes traded hands over Canadian MLS systems — a new annual record. It was an increase of 12.6 per cent from 2019 and 2.3 per cent more than the previous record year, 2016. 

The actual national average home price was a record $607,280 in December, up 17.1 per cent from the final month of 2019.

The CREA said that excluding Greater Vancouver and the Greater Toronto Area, two of the most active and expensive markets, lowers the national average price by almost $130,000.

This chart by the Canadian Real Estate Association shows the dip in sales as the pandemic began and the subsequent rebound. (Canadian Real Estate Association)

Many of the areas with the biggest price gains last month were in Ontario, including Belleville, Simcoe, Ingersoll, Woodstock and the Lakelands region, where prices were up more than 30 per cent from December 2019.

Areas with more modest price growth included Calgary and Edmonton, where prices rose 1.5 per cent and 2.7 per cent, respectively.

TD expects sales and prices to cool

“What a fitting end to a surprisingly strong year,” TD Bank economist Rishi Sondhi said in a note to clients. “Relative strength in high-wage employment, record low mortgage rates, rising supply of homes available for purchase and solid demand for larger units all supported exceptional sales and price growth last year.

“Looking ahead, we’re expecting sales and prices to cool somewhat from their robust pace in the first quarter. However, December’s surprisingly strong performance makes hitting our forecast a tougher proposition.”

Shaun Cathcart, CREA’s senior economist, said in a statement that Canada faces a “major supply problem” in 2021.

“On New Year’s Day there were fewer than 100,000 residential listings on all Canadian MLS systems, the lowest ever based on records going back three decades,” he said.

“Compare that to five years ago, when there was a quarter of a million listings available for sale. So we have record-high demand and record-low supply to start the year. How that plays out in the sales and price data will depend on how many homes become available to buy in the months ahead.”

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Quebec confirms it will delay second vaccine dose for CHSLD residents and staff – Montreal Gazette

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On Feb. 15, Quebec will begin vaccinating seniors ages 80 and over who live at home.

Health officials told the Montreal Gazette this week that they aren’t ready to release details about the next phase of vaccination plan.

Public health authorities say they’re closely monitoring seniors in CHSLDs who have received the first dose to make sure it’s still effective weeks later, said Richard Massé, a public health epidemiologist.

Massé defended Quebec’s decision to ignore a recommendation by the National Advisory Committee on Vaccination, which said if provinces delay administering the second dose due to logistical or epidemiological reasons, it should be given with 42 days of the first dose.

On Thursday, Canada’s Council of Chief Medical Officers of Health, which includes the Chief Medical Officer of Health from each province and territory, also weighed in on Quebec’s plan, saying if the second dose is extended beyond 42 days, “the impact on people vaccinated must be closely monitored.”

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