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Coronavirus cases are rising again in some countries. What can Canada learn? –



New coronavirus hotspots are unfolding around the world — some of which are in countries once lauded for containing the spread.

Experts have long warned that the green light to reopen can become a red light at any time.

For places like Australia and Spain, as well as a number of spots in Asia, that’s exactly what’s happening.

“These countries are an example,” said Zahid Butt, a University of Waterloo professor in the School of Public Health and Health Systems. “We need to look at them and think, ‘What will happen in Canada?’”

Read more:
Global coronavirus cases are on the rise. But not everywhere.


Australia once prided itself on rapidly containing COVID-19.

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The country implemented a ban on travellers from high-risk areas in February and closed borders to non-citizens in March. Later that month, schools, bars and other public places were closed and physical-distancing rules rolled out. Mask-wearing was also widely accepted, according to experts.

The strategy paid off at first.

By May, the country had successfully brought down its national daily case numbers to single digits, data shows, prompting the country to reopen. Principal health guidelines stayed put, but everything from schools to bars and restaurants to workplaces reopened nearly simultaneously.

Coronavirus: Australia looks to restrict return of citizens abroad amid new outbreak

Coronavirus: Australia looks to restrict return of citizens abroad amid new outbreak

That likely worked against Australia to some degree, according to Butt.

“They reopened everything and suddenly they started to see a rise in cases. It’s really a lesson-learned situation,” he said. “It’s definitely a lesson Canada can learn from, as well.”

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The drop in cases also ushered in the revival of domestic travel and the return of Australian citizens and permanent residents, many via air travel.

“That’s the bigger risk with this whole thing,” Butt said.

While there were pockets of new cases following reopening, hotspots — focused in Victoria and New South Wales — began in July.

Read more:
Coronavirus spread forcing some countries to rethink bars, schools and tourism

In Victoria’s capital, Melbourne, the outbreak is being blamed primarily on failures at quarantine hotels, where people who fly into Australia are required to complete a 14-day quarantine. Local reports suggest that private security personnel hired to maintain the hotel quarantine rules were improperly trained and are accused of rule-breaking. It’s believed the infection then spread from hotels to the community.

On July 31, Victoria reported 627 new infections. The state now accounts for about 60 per cent of the country’s 16,900 cases.

Canada also as a mandatory 14-day quarantine order and will provide accommodation in a hotel if required. While some travellers have been charged for breaking those rules, there have been no known outbreaks connected to the rule-breaking.

“It’s very geographically specific,” said Thomas Tenkate, a Ryerson University occupational health professor, who is originally from Australia. “So I think allowing travel to occur between areas that have a low number of cases is fine, but areas with much higher numbers, there needs to be more caution.”

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Spain has ping-ponged on containment.

It was dubbed Europe’s new epicentre for COVID-19 in April after cases surged.

Coronavirus: Concerns rising in Europe over new spike in cases

Coronavirus: Concerns rising in Europe over new spike in cases

Spain operated under a four-stage plan for easing one of the strictest lockdowns in Europe. On June 1, about 70 per cent of the country moved to a second phase. Hotspots, like Madrid and Barcelona, stayed under tighter Phase 1 restrictions.

The national lockdown was officially lifted on June 21.

While masks and physical distancing continue to be compulsory, the move restored freedom of movement and allowed bars, restaurants and other spaces to reopen.

Many new cases are tied to nightclubs, discotheques and other social venues that were given the all-clear. In Canada, outbreaks have also stemmed from the reopening of bars in some provinces, with young people at the centre of the blame.

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“They’re coming from younger people going to these things and they’re passing it to their parents and grandparents,” Butt said. “It’s a combination of reasons.”

Like Australia, Spain’s reopening plan also paved the way for some certain degrees of travel to resume.

Read more:
Growing coronavirus outbreaks lead some countries to reconsider tourism push

Spain, like many other countries, wanted to kick-start the economy through tourism. Dr. Jacob Mendioroz, the director and co-ordinator of the committee responding to the coronavirus in Catalonia, told Time reopening the economy to tourism may have been “rushed.”

This is where they may have gone wrong, according to Butt.

“Regional travel there is a risk, but it’s more of a risk with international travel and tourism,” he said. “You are obviously going to see new cases when you reopen, but you need to balance things like the economy and the health of the population.”

Less than four weeks after lifting the lockdown, national health authorities warned that Spain could be heading for a “second wave” of the virus.

On July 30, the country reported 1,229 new coronavirus infections, topping 1,000 for the second day in a row. It marked the biggest rise since the national lockdown was lifted, and prompted authorities to re-tighten restrictions.

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Coronavirus: Spain reopens its borders to European tourists as state of emergency ends

Coronavirus: Spain reopens its borders to European tourists as state of emergency ends

Tenkate believes complacency plays a role here, too, as it likely does in other countries around the world seeing spikes, like the United States and parts of Asia.

“A lot comes down to the actions we take as individuals now,” he said. “We have a role as individuals to allow that reopening to be extended and be successful.”

What can Canada learn?

For one, reopening the U.S.-Canada border is not the right move at this point, said Butt.

“That will only risk a spillover of cases into Canada,” he said.

But looking to how Australia is managing its localized outbreaks, responding to hotspots with regional restrictions could be mimicked, Butt said.

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Read more:
Canada pushes back on U.S. Congress members’ call to reopen border amid coronavirus

He pointed to the “bubble” rule in Atlantic Canada, where residents from Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island can travel freely between each province without needing to quarantine for 14 days upon entry.

“These are provinces that have little to no cases. That’s a way to boost local tourism without going too broad,” he said.

The approach ultimately needs to be co-ordinated as Canada continues to open up, said Tenkate.

“Lifting restrictions will always pose a risk,” he said. “Various agencies and levels of government will need to ensure that the messages are co-ordinated.”

Like Australia and Spain, Canada should recognize that it, too, will lock down again if needed, Butt and Tenkate agreed.

“There is no one-size-fits-all model to this,” Tenkate said.

— with files from Reuters and the Associated Press

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

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Canadian firm develops biodegradable mask that's ready for production – CTV News



A private non-profit Canadian organization and its partners have created an eco-friendly biodegradable mask that is ready for manufacturing and public use, an innovation it says is the first of its kind in the world.

FPInnovations, a research and development centre that supports the Canadian forestry sector, said in a press release on Friday that the masks, which took only a few months to develop from research to market, are fully biodegradable, from the mask filtering materials, to the elastic ear loops and nose pieces.

“The development of a biodegradable mask clearly shows that stimulating the bioeconomy can contribute to a cleaner environment in Canada,” Stephane Renou, president and chief executive of FPInnovations said in a statement.

The project was highlighted by both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Minister of Natural Resources, Seamus O’Regan.

“We need to keep wearing our masks to keep each other safe. And now you can wear one without worrying about damaging the environment … This is Team Canada at its best,” O’Regan said in a video posted on Twitter.

A key element that makes this mask appealing is that its components can be easily assembled and produced on existing commercial mask-converting machines, the group behind the $3.3 million project said.

Third party labs have assessed the masks, it added, saying it “would set the standard” for non-medical grade masks for its filtration capabilities, breathability and biodegradability.

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Canada more than doubles COVID-19 vaccine distribution this week – CTV News



Canada is seeing an upsurge in vaccines distributed across the country, with numbers making up more than double of what was allocated in the last two weeks.

As of Feb. 21, Canada has made a total of 1,850,000 doses available nation-wide. This is approximately 400,000 more doses than what was distributed to provinces and territories the week of Feb. 14 and doubling what has been distributed in the first two weeks of February. 

In the past five days, Canada received even more shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a Friday briefing that Canada has now received a total of 643,000 doses, making it the largest week of shipments to date. 

Feb. 18 saw the highest ramp-up in vaccine distribution, having more than 305,000 doses delivered in a single day. Canada had just a little over 91,000 doses distributed the day before.

“We’ve been on hold for so long. We’re coming off hold now, and we really have to put our money where our mouth is. We have to do this right, we have to do this ethically, and we have to do this fast,” said Kerry Bowman, bioethics and global health professor at the University of Toronto, in an interview with “It’s almost March and we still have not vaccinated senior citizens living in the community, so we really need to target [them].”

To date, over two million doses have been distributed across Canada, with a majority of doses being the Pfizer-BioNTech shot. All provinces have been receiving shipments of both the Pfizer-BioNtech and Moderna vaccines, whereas territories only receive the Moderna vaccine. As of Feb. 26, 84 per cent of doses received by the two pharmaceutical companies have been administered to the Canadian population.

Canada is expecting to receive approximately 444,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine each week in March, which will follow the pharmaceutical company’s commitment of providing four million doses by the end of the first quarter.

“We’ve really got a huge responsibility right now to use these vaccines as efficiently and as ethically as we possibly can,” said Bowman. “The death rate will start to come down as we protect more and more vulnerable people like the older Canadians, the people with medical vulnerabilities and social vulnerabilities. We need to get them protected.”

With the rise of vaccine shipments and Health Canada approving the AstraZeneca vaccine Friday, Trudeau says that Canada is on track to receiving a total of 6.5 million doses by the end of March, and that vaccines will continue to arrive faster heading into the spring.

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Canada announces partnership with India-based company to secure more AstraZeneca jabs – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News



Melissa Couto Zuber, The Canadian Press

Published Friday, February 26, 2021 12:31PM EST

Canada’s vaccine rollout received a boost Friday with the approval of a third COVID-19 inoculation, giving the country another immunization option at a time when case counts remain nearly 75 per cent higher than they were at the peak of the first wave of the pandemic.

Health Canada approved a vaccine from AstraZeneca, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said jabs will keep arriving “faster and faster as we head into the spring.”

While numbers of cases and hospitalizations have dropped from all-time highs just weeks ago, variants of concern are rising in parts of the country.

Canada’s top doctor Theresa Tam said nationally there are 964 reported cases of the variant first detected in the U.K., up from 429 reported two weeks ago. There were also 44 cases of the variant first discovered in South Africa, and two cases of the version first found in Brazil.

“The risk of rapid re-acceleration remains,” Tam said. “At the same time new variants continue to emerge … and can become predominant.”

Tam added that average daily case counts in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia have increased between eight and 14 per cent over the previous week.

Thunder Bay, Ont., will move into lockdown on Monday after community leaders called for government action following a recent spread of COVID in the city. Outbreaks have been declared there at correctional facilities, among the homeless population and at a number of local schools.

Ontario’s Simcoe Muskoka region will also go into lockdown next week after a spike in infections, but restrictions will loosen in seven other areas in the province.

Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada’s deputy chief public health officer, said the country’s vaccine rollout will be just one method in slowing the spread of new variants and avoiding a third wave.

He said public health measures aimed at halting transmission such as physical distancing and limiting contacts remain important, adding that jurisdictions that have recently reopened need to keep a keen eye on transmission rates.

“Certainly if there’s any indication that the case rates and … the emergence of variants are increasing, we would need to adjust as appropriate,” he said. “But the vaccinations, and certainly the introduction of more vaccines coming to Canada is very, very good news.”

Experts advising the Ontario government said this week more contagious variants of COVID-19 are expected to make up 40 per cent of cases by the second week of March.

Ontario reported 1,258 new cases of COVID-19 and 28 more deaths linked to the virus on Friday, with 362 of them in Toronto, 274 in Peel Region and 104 in York Region.

Parts of Atlantic Canada have also seen rising case counts. Newfoundland and Labrador reported four new cases of COVID-19 while Nova Scotia added 10 more to its tally.

Of the new Nova Scotia cases, the province says two are related to travel outside Atlantic Canada.

Prince Edward Island, which reported an outbreak of three cases earlier this week, had one more new case Friday that does not appear to be directly linked to the others.

Quebec, meanwhile, reported 815 new COVID-19 infections and 11 more deaths. Health officials in the province said hospitalizations have dropped by 13, to 620, while intensive care also decreased by three to 119.

Saskatchewan health officials announced 153 new cases and no new deaths, while in Manitoba there were 64 new infections and one additional death.

In Alberta, with 356 new infections and three more deaths, doctors with the Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association’s pandemic committee urged the province to hold off on possibly easing more restrictions next week. They said they are concerned that new daily active cases have stopped decreasing and the number of new infections that result from each case is growing.

As of Thursday evening, federal data showed there have been 858,217 COVID-19 cases in Canada, including 21,865 deaths, since the beginning of the pandemic.

While Tam warned that COVID-19 variants can spread more quickly and easily become dominant, progress on the vaccine front is a source of optimism, she noted.

“To date, over 1.7 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered across Canada. And there are early indications of high vaccine efficacy.”

Trudeau also announced on Friday a partnership with Mississauga, Ont.’s Verity Pharmaceuticals and the Serum Institute of India that will deliver two million more doses of the AstraZeneca jab – in addition to the 20 million doses Canada already secured with AstraZeneca.

Trudeau said as vaccinations ramp up across the country, many provinces have expanded the number of health professions able to administer a COVID-19 vaccine, and he asked dentists, midwives, pharmacy technicians and retired nurses to lend a hand in the rollout.

“Job 1 remains beating this pandemic,” Trudeau said, adding the federal government will continue to send rapid tests to provinces in hopes of getting more Canadians tested.

“We still have to be very careful, especially with new variants out there. We all want to start the spring in the best shape possible.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 26, 2021.

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