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Coronavirus: Experts predict rise of COVID-19 variant cases – CTV News

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TORONTO —
Infectious disease experts and COVID-19 modelers are sounding alarm bells of an approaching third wave expected to be driven by more contagious variants of the virus.

But while we brace for Wave 3, some are wondering if we ever actually cleared Wave 2, especially in populous areas of the country where transmission has remained more steady.

Experts say the definition of what constitutes a “wave” and pinpointing when it’s passed isn’t so clear.

Some say we’re on the tail end of the second wave now, as evidenced by the downward trend of cases across the country, while others say ebbs and flows haven’t been uniform enough to determine when one wave ends and another begins.

Caroline Colijn, a COVID modeler and mathematician at Simon Fraser University, says the word “wave” has been somewhat misleading. Waves of viruses tend to ease up on their own as immunity grows within a population, she says, which we haven’t reached yet with COVID.

Instead, the ebb and flow of SARS-CoV-2 has been dictated by our own actions, Colijn added, for instance restrictive measures that limit the ability of the virus to spread.

“This isn’t a wave, it’s a forest fire,” Colijn said. “We turn the hoses off and the flames build up again and we get exponential growth. Then we turn the hoses back on and cases decrease.”

Colijn, whose modelling predicts steep rises in cases around the end of February in six of Canada’s biggest provinces, says the challenge of “wave language” is that when waves recede, people think the threat has ceded with it.

But until we reach levels of herd immunity, she says, that’s not going to happen.

“We’re not seeing a natural tailing off. We’re seeing things drop because of restrictions — those fire hoses we put in front of the fire,” she said. “Then we turn the hoses off and we’re surprised that this wave is coming back.”

Canada’s top doctors said Friday that eight provinces have reported cases of new COVID variants, with three of them showing evidence of community transmission.

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said there had been 429 cases of the variant first identified in the U.K., 28 cases of the variant first identified in South Africa, and one of the variant first found in Brazil.

While it sounds like a small number compared to our population, University of Manitoba virologist Jason Kindrachuk says the heightened transmissibility of those variants makes the situation more alarming.

Compounding things further is that true prevalence of the variants nationwide is unknown, he added, though some jurisdictions have been doing point-prevalence studies to help determine that.

Kindrachuk says one or two cases, when caught early and isolated, aren’t too concerning. But danger proliferates as more pop up.

“You have that initial fire and then sparks start flying … and that leads to a bunch of small fires,” he said. “If those start to catch, you lose the ability to necessarily keep things in control.”

Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada’s deputy chief public health officer, says the presence of more transmissible variants means people should be more diligent in adhering to current safety measures aimed at slowing the spread of other COVID strains, including limiting contacts, mask-wearing and distancing.

The spike in variant cases comes at a time when Canada appears to be “two-thirds of the way down the curve,” Tam said, as overall COVID cases fall.

Some jurisdictions, like Ontario, have taken that as reason to reopen. Most of the province is moving away from its stay-at-home orders next week, even though projections released Thursday show a potentially rapid rise by late February.

Dr. Andrew Morris, an infectious disease expert with the University of Toronto, says reopening Ontario now could lead to further lockdowns in the province later.

“I anticipate our numbers over the next two weeks are going to be pretty good, but it’s four weeks from now, six weeks from now that I’m most concerned about,” he said.

Troy Day, a COVID modeler out of Queen’s University, says the problem with the variants is that they’re still lurking beneath the surface. And they may not truly be seen until they take hold more firmly.

Day said he’s concerned about a third wave in Canada because places like Britain have shown similar trajectories.

“Cases go down and you think everything’s OK, but underneath is actually an increase in variant cases that will eventually dominate everything,” he said.

Day says the word wave is “funny terminology,” adding he’s been hesitant to definitively label the ups and downs of COVID case counts that way.

“All the waves we’ve seen are driven largely by what we’re doing to control it,” Day said. “The more we open up and shut down, the more multiple waves we’ll have.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 12, 2021.

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Health Canada approves use of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine – CBC.ca

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Health Canada has approved use of the COVID-19 vaccine from AstraZeneca, clearing the way for millions of more inoculations in Canada.

Canada’s regulatory experts had been assessing the submission from AstraZeneca and Oxford University for safety and efficacy since October, and announced their approval Friday morning.

“AstraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccine is indicated for active immunization of individuals 18 years of age and older for the prevention of coronavirus disease 2019,” reads their website.

“The efficacy of the vaccine was estimated to be 62.1 per cent. Overall, there are no important safety concerns and the vaccine was well tolerated by participants.”

Canada has secured access to 20 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Some jurisdictions, notably France, have restricted the vaccine to people under the age of 65 despite the World Health Organization’s insistence that the product is safe and effective for all age groups. Health Canada said it has no immediate safety concerns for those 65 and older.

‘Potential benefit’

The regulator said the clinical trial results “were too limited to allow a reliable estimate of vaccine efficacy in individuals 65 years of age and older.”

“Efficacy in individuals 65 years of age and older is supported by immunogenicity data, emerging real world evidence and post-market experience in regions where the vaccine has been deployed, which suggest at this point in time a potential benefit and no safety concerns,” said the approval.

“Efficacy in this age group will be updated as additional data becomes available from currently ongoing trials.”

Health officials are expected to give a technical briefing on the approval at 10 a.m.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, members of his cabinet along with Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam and her deputy Dr. Howard Njoo will give an update at 11:30 a.m. ET. CBC News will carry it live.

Regulator still reviewing 2 other vaccine candidates 

Earlier this week, Dr. Supriya Sharma, Health Canada’s chief medical adviser, told the House of Commons health committee that the regulator has received all the necessary scientific information from the company but was still looking into questions about labelling and the product monograph — the information disseminated by Health Canada to medical professionals about how and when a vaccine should be administered and in what groups.

Health Canada has approved the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which are already being rolled out in Canada.

Unlike those two shots, which are based on mRNA technology, the AstraZeneca uses more conventional viral vector technology.

Health Canada is reviewing two other vaccines: one from Johnson & Johnson and another from Novavax.

Other countries — notably Australia, the European Union and the United Kingdom —  have already authorized AstraZeneca for use in their jurisdictions.

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U.S. ticketing company's box office bust costing grassroots Canadian artists – CBC.ca

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Community theatre director Nicole Jennissen believed she did everything right staging her original play, Love in the Time of COVID, in September 2020.

It was written as a series of vignettes, keeping actors in two-or-three-person bubbles. It was performed outside obeying health guidelines. And it was completed inexpensively for non-profit Tumbleweed Theatre of Brooks, Alta.

“In fact, the only two lines on the budget were masks and hand sanitizer,” Jennissen said. 

But the romantic comedy became a tragedy.

Nicole Jennissen, left, acts in a scene from Love in the Time of COVID with fellow performer Cassandra Socchia. (Nicole Jennissen)

Tumbleweed used Seattle-based Brown Paper Tickets to handle ticketing online to avoid cash but Brown Paper is facing complaints and legal action over allegations of not paying collected ticket proceeds.

Jennissen alleged Brown Paper owes $2,030 for Love in the Time of COVID. Despite repeatedly contacting the company, she has no idea when or if Tumbleweed will be paid.

“It’s absolutely defeating,” she said. “We put all of this effort in and the money that our patrons expected to come to us is not sitting with us.”

A screenshot from Jennisson’s Brown Paper Tickets account shows the $2,030 earned from Love in the Time of Covid. (Nicole Jennissen)

Other Canadian artists and organizations alleged they too are owed money from Brown Paper or their audiences are owed refunds for events cancelled by the pandemic.

Washington State is suing, claiming it has received 583 complaints and the company owes more than $6.75 million US  across the United States. 

The state’s attorney general said 80,000 people in the U.S. may be affected by the company’s conduct.

Artists and organizations in Canada, having spent up to 11 months trying to get answers from the company, are wondering when or if they or their audiences will ever see the money they say Brown Paper collected on their behalf. 

A scene from Love in the Time of Covid, staged in a city park in Brooks, Alta. (Nicole Jennissen)

Popular with grassroots artists

CBC News called and emailed Brown Paper several times to comment on this story but received no reply.

In a September statement, the company promised better communication.

“While we can’t offer an estimated timeline for your specific refund at this moment, our team has been and continues to initiate full refunds to ticket holders… and pay event organizers,” the statement read.

“Like many businesses, we were unprepared for a crisis of this scale but we are making headway.”

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson, seen here in 2017, alleged in a statement that 80,000 people in the U.S. have been impacted by Brown Paper Tickets’ conduct. (Elaine Thompson/Associated Press)

Brown Paper is popular with smaller arts organizations for its low fees. 

Audience members purchase their ticket from Brown Paper online, then, after the event, Brown Paper passes collected money to event organizers, minus a service charge.

Jennissen said $2,030 might not seem like a lot but Tumbleweed relies solely on ticket sales for funding.

“When we can’t do a lot of shows… that’s a huge cut for us,” she said. “This is going to affect the ability for us to do shows.”

Brown Paper Tickets has posted statements online apologizing for poor communication and is blaming the inability to pay out some events on a rash of pandemic-related cancellations. (Liam Britten/CBC)

Festival hurting

Cowichan Valley Bluegrass Festival artistic director Robert Remington said his festival sold $20,415 of advance tickets through Brown Paper for their June 2020 jamboree on Vancouver Island. 

In April 2020, the pandemic forced the festival to cancel. Organizers told Brown Paper to issue refunds, which should have taken two to six weeks.

Omie Wise performs at the 2019 Cowichan Valley Bluegrass Festival. Remington says money lost due to the cancellation of the 2020 and 2021 festivals might impact the growing festival’s lineups going forward. (Robert Remington)

Almost 11 months later, no one has been paid back, Remington said, so the festival is reimbursing ticket holders from its own contingency fund.

“We just feel an obligation to our fans to take care of them,” Remington said. “For an all-volunteer, community-run festival… $20,000 is a lot of money.”

Refunding the tickets might mean a scaled-back festival going forward.

Cowichan Valley Bluegrass Festival artistic director Robert Remington says the festival will be back but might have to hire fewer headliners. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

‘It’s really frustrating’

Victoria-based roots rocker Stephen Fearing was to play a gig in March 2020. Brown Paper sold tickets online.

The show was cancelled over the pandemic. His promoter told Brown Paper to refund ticket buyers.

Some fans passed on a refund to donate $2,200 to Fearing but he still hasn’t seen a cent.

Musician Stephen Fearing said he is amazed by the generosity of his fans but angry he never received their donation. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

“Their generosity never got to me,” Fearing said. “It’s really frustrating.”

Marc Jenkins, another Victoria-based musician, had two Bob Dylan tribute shows at Herman’s Jazz Club in May 2020.

The shows were cancelled with $700 of tickets sold through Brown Paper. No refunds have yet been given.

Musician Marc Jenkins said any donations from his cancelled shows in Victoria would be helpful. The band is made up of independent musicians who have struggled for work since the pandemic started. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

“The most frustrating part is just being left in the dark and having to answer emails from folks,” Jenkins said. 

“I never got the money from them in the first place. I’m just standing in the middle getting yelled at.”

Jenkins said some of his audience members wanted to donate their money as well but he hasn’t been able to confirm how many and he hasn’t received any cash.

“It might not seem like a lot of money… but it is important,” Jenkins said. “It’s tough when there’s not many gigs coming in.”

Marc Jenkins said his cancelled shows at Hermann’s Jazz Club have led to numerous angry emails from would-be audience members unable to get a refund. (CHEK News)

Legal action

The lawsuit filed by Washington State is presently in the discovery stage, a spokesperson from the attorney general’s office said this week.

While individuals are not eligible to join in attorney general enforcement actions, the spokesperson said, the attorney general’s office “routinely” seeks court orders for financial restitution for all impacted consumers under the state’s Consumer Protection Act.

At least two separate class action lawsuits have been filed in the U.S., but CBC hasn’t seen any that are certified.

Pittsburgh-based law firm Carlson Lynch is behind one.

“It’s sort of like musical chairs… when the music stopped, they were holding all this money,” said lawyer Jamisen Etzel.

“Where did the money go?”

CBC Vancouver’s Impact Team investigates and reports on stories that impact people in their local community and strives to hold individuals, institutions and organizations to account. If you have a story for us, email impact@cbc.ca.

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Head of Canada's largest pension plan received COVID-19 vaccine in Dubai: memo – CTV News

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TORONTO —
The head of Canada’s largest pension fund received a COVID-19 vaccination while on a “very personal” trip to Dubai, he told staff in an email Thursday night.

Mark Machin disclosed the information in an internal memo after the Wall Street Journal reported he flew to the United Arab Emirates earlier this month, where he received the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and is awaiting the second dose.

Machin said in the email viewed by The Canadian Press that he remains in Dubai with his partner “for many reasons, some of which are deeply personal.”

“This was a very personal trip and was undertaken after careful consideration and consultation,” the memo reads.

CPP Investments did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday evening.

The federal government is actively discouraging Canadians from travelling abroad and recently implemented strict quarantine measures for those returning home.

Machin told staff he followed all travel protocols related to his role as head of the pension fund while on the trip.

“This trip was intended to be very private and I am disappointed it has become the focus of public attention and expected criticism,” he wrote.

Several politicians and health-care officials have become high profile flashpoints of public anger in recent months for leaving the country despite public health advice to the contrary.

Among them, the former CEO of the London Health Sciences Centre is now embroiled in litigation after his travel to the U.S. prompted the hospital to terminate his contract.

Rod Phillips, Ontario’s former finance minister, resigned from his post in late December after taking a personal trip to St. Barts.

CPP Investments, which had $475.7 billion in assets under management as of Dec. 31, invests money on behalf of retired and active employees covered by the Canada Pension Plan.

A spokeswoman for Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said that while CPPIB is an independent organization, the revelation is “very troubling.”

“The federal government has been clear with Canadians that now is not the time to travel abroad,” Katherine Cuplinskas said in an emailed statement.

“We were not made aware of this travel and further questions should be directed to the CPPIB on this matter.”

Machin, who has been in his current role since 2016, joined CPP Investments in 2012. Prior to joining the pension fund manager, he spent 20 years at investment bank Goldman Sachs.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021.

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