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Coronavirus: Province says risk remains low as WHO calls global health emergency – Gananoque Reporter



Alberta does not have direct flights to China, which should cut down the risk of an outbreak here, say experts.

Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw provides an update on preparations for the novel coronavirus in light of the World Health Organization declaring it a public health emergency of international concern, at the Alberta Legislature in Edmonton Thursday Jan. 30, 2020.

David Bloom / Postmedia

Despite the World Health Organization declaring a global health emergency, Alberta health officials are reaffirming that local risk from novel coronavirus remains low.

Alberta’s chief medical officer, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, said Thursday that screening tests have still not resulted in any probable or confirmed cases of the virus in the province.

“The cases that we’ve seen in Canada are all travel-related and measures have been taken to isolate them and prevent infection from spreading,” Hinshaw said. “At this time, the risk to Albertans is still considered to be low, even though the World Health Organization has made this declaration.”

No immediate changes to Alberta’s approach will be made, Hinshaw said. She notes that the virus’s risk is lower in the province than elsewhere in the country because there are no direct flights from China to Alberta airports.

Hinshaw was not able to confirm the number of people the province had tested for coronavirus to date.

The WHO’s Thursday decision to declare coronavirus a global health emergency comes as the number of confirmed cases worldwide climbs over 9,400, with 212 deaths from the virus.

There have been three confirmed or presumptive positive coronavirus cases in Canada, including in British Columbia. That province’s public health officials said Monday a Vancouver-area man who had recently returned from a business trip to Wuhan, China, the centre of the outbreak, had tested positive after experiencing symptoms of the virus.

The federal government is preparing a charter flight to bring healthy Canadians stranded in China home. Hinshaw says the province is working with federal officials on the repatriation effort but details are scarce, including how many Albertans will be returning.

“We haven’t yet heard specifically those people will be brought back, when they will land and what those next steps will be,” Hinshaw said. “When we do get that information, we will be happy to share it.”

Some local agencies and schools with ties to China have reacted to the coronavirus breakout by cancelling travel or business plans.

A passenger wears a face mask and swim goggles as he arrives at the Hong Kong train station on January 29, 2020.

REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

The University of Calgary said Thursday it has suspended all university-related travel to China, including for seven students who were previously scheduled to study abroad there this semester.

“In order to protect the safety and well-being of UCalgary students, faculty and staff, the university is taking this precautionary measure and will continue to monitor for any new developments and will adjust our protocols as required,” the school said in a statement.

The U of C is also helping to make travel arrangements for three of its members — an undergraduate student, a graduate student and a faculty member — currently in Beijing.

In Edmonton, the University of Alberta is similarly cancelling or postponing all non-essential travel to China. The school has two students currently studying abroad in China, but that they are each in regions unaffected by coronavirus and are known to be safe.

A spring break trip to Beijing for students at Webber Academy has also been cancelled. It’s the first time the school has ever had to cancel one of its trips abroad, which are part of its language programs, said Barbara Webber, the academy’s vice-president administration.

“We had 36 children signed up for that trip, as well as four chaperones,” Webber said. “A couple weeks ago we decided we wouldn’t be going because there were just too many unanswered questions, even if things improved right away.”

A charter plane lands at March Air Reserve Base in Riverside, Calif., on Jan. 29, 2020, with passengers evacuated from Wuhan, the Chinese city at the heart of the coronavirus outbreak.

MATT HARTMAN/AFP via Getty Images

Travel Alberta, which promotes the province as a tourist destination in China, has suspended its marketing in the country until further notice.

“We are aware of some trip cancellations,” said Travel Alberta CEO Royce Chwin in a statement. “However, it’s too early to know what impact this will have on Alberta tourism. We are monitoring the situation and will keep in touch with our industry partners.

“We are asking partners to accept tour cancellation requests and offer refunds to Chinese visitors to assist them during a difficult time. This is an exceptional circumstance that goes beyond tourism.”

The Southern Alberta Institute of Technology tweeted that a “coronavirus-related” hoax took place on the school’s campus Thursday afternoon, with police investigating the incident.

“It looks like it was a prank that happened earlier with some people running through with Hazmat suits,” said SAIT associate director of communications Chris Gerritsen. “There’s lots of hoaxes around, there’s lots of disinformation around. In this time of heightened emotions around it, there’s no place for pranks like that.”

Hinshaw said she understands many Albertans may be feeling anxious about the health threat and said it’s important people get their information from reliable sources.

Coronavirus is a respiratory virus that has symptoms of a runny nose, fever, sore throat or coughing. Though a case of person-to-person transmission has been confirmed in the United States, coronavirus is most likely in those with a history of travel to Wuhan or who has been in close contact with a person who has recently travelled to Wuhan.

If any Albertans have specific concerns about exposure to or symptoms of coronavirus, Hinshaw recommends they call the Health Link hotline at 811.

Twitter: @jasonfherring

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Province secures larger supply of flu vaccine this year, will make shots available to all Ontarians next month – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News



Ontario’s health minister says the provincial government is spending nearly $90 million this year to purchase 7.6 million doses of the flu shot, an increase of more than a million doses over last year.

Speaking to reporters at a Toronto pharmacy on Tuesday morning, Deputy Premier and Health Minister Christine Elliott said the province is launching a larger flu shot campaign this season than last, purchasing 1.4 million more doses this year.

She noted that Ontario is prioritizing high-risk groups first but that the flu shot will be available to all Ontarians next month.

“As Ontario’s flu supply is delivered in multiple shipments and the schedule is determined by the federal government and manufacturers, the province’s initial supply of the flu vaccine was used to protect long-term care home residents and hospital patients,” she said.

“This month, flu shots are available for seniors, children between six months and four years old, pregnant women, and other individuals at high risk of flu complications.”

She said 1.8 million doses have been earmarked specifically for seniors.

“In November, we will continue to receive the flu vaccine in multiple shipments so we encourage everyone to be patient and call ahead to ensure the flu shot is available at your doctor’s office or at your neighbourhood pharmacy,” she said.

After launching what the province called the largest flu shot campaign in Ontario’s history last year, widespread flu shot shortages were reported at many pharmacies throughout the province.

It is unclear if the additional doses this year will be enough to keep up with increasing demand for flu shots amid a global pandemic.

“Last year, millions of Ontarians took advantage of the free flu shot and we saw historically low rates of flu across the entire province,” Elliott said.

She added that last year the province had only 25 lab-confirmed cases of the flu, a massive drop compared to previous flu seasons where thousands of cases are confirmed in a single year.

While Elliott attributed that drop to the effectiveness of last year’s flu vaccine, public health restrictions in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic very likely played a much more significant role in the decline in flu infections.

Elliott said those who are not yet fully immunized against COVID-19 can get their first or second jab at the same time as their flu shot.

“As we head into the fall and begin gathering indoors more often with family and friends, it is even more important to get your flu shot,” she said, adding that the province must protect its health-care system from overcrowding as it continues to battle COVID-19.

Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam warned last week that while last year’s flu season was “virtually non-existent” in the country, Canadians should prepare for the possibility of a resurgence due to lower levels of immunity and the easing of public health restrictions.

“This is definitely not the year to have influenza wreak havoc,” Tam said Friday.

-With files from The Canadian Press

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Exclusive-WHO-led programme aims to buy antiviral COVID-19 pills for $10 -document



A World Health Organization-led programme to ensure poorer countries get fair access to COVID-19 vaccines, tests and treatments aims to secure antiviral drugs for patients with mild symptoms for as little as $10 per course, a draft document seen by Reuters says.

Merck & Co’s experimental pill molnupiravir is likely to be one of the drugs, and other drugs to treat mild patients are being developed.

The document, which outlines the goals of the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A) until September next year, says that the programme wants to deliver about 1 billion COVID-19 tests to poorer nations, and procure drugs to treat up to 120 million patients globally, out of about 200 million new cases it estimates in the next 12 months.

The plans highlight how the WHO wants to shore up supplies of drugs and tests at a relatively low price after losing the vaccine race to wealthy nations which scooped up a huge share of the world’s supplies, leaving the world’s poorest countries with few shots.

There is precedent for lower prices of critical medicines for low-income countries during the pandemic.

AstraZeneca has pledged to sell its COVID-19 vaccines at cost of around $4 per dose during the pandemic and Pfizer is charging the U.S. government at cost – around $7 a dose – for 1 billion doses for the country’s donations to the ACT-A’s vaccine programme called  COVAX.

Still its COVID-19 vaccine will be a big revenue driver for the U.S. drugmaker – it charged wealthy countries around $20 for billions of doses in initial supply deals and will make an expected $33 billion in revenue from the shot this year.

A spokesperson for the ACT-A said the document, dated Oct. 13, was still a draft under consultation and declined to comment on its content before it is finalised. The document will also be sent to global leaders ahead of a G20 summit in Rome at the end of this month.

The ACT-A asks the G20 and other donors for additional funding of $22.8 billion until September 2022 which will be needed to buy and distribute vaccines, drugs and tests to poorer nations and narrow the huge gaps in supply between wealthy and less advanced countries. Donors have so far pledged $18.5 billion to the programme.

The financial requests are based on detailed estimates about the price of drugs, treatments and tests, which will account for the programme’s biggest expenses alongside the cost of distributing vaccines.

Although it does not explicitly cite molnupiravir, the ACT-A document expects to pay $10 dollar per course for “novel oral antivirals for mild/moderate patients”.

Other pills to treat mild patients are being developed, but molnupiravir is the only one which has so far showed positive results in late-stage trials. The ACT-A is in talks with Merck & Co and generics producers to buy the drug.

The price is very low if compared with the $700 per course that the United States has agreed to pay for 1.7 million courses of the treatment.

But Merck has said it is committed to providing timely access to its drug globally with plans for tiered pricing according to a country’s ability to pay. It also has licensing deals with eight Indian generic drugmakers.

A study carried out by Harvard university estimated that molnupiravir could cost about $20 dollars if produced by generic drugmakers, with the price potentially going down to $7.7 under an optimised production.

The ACT-A document says that its target is to reach a deal by the end of November to secure the supply of an “oral outpatient drug”, which it aims to be available from the first quarter of next year.

The money raised would initially be used to “support procurement of up to 28 million treatment courses for highest risk mild/moderate patients over the next 12 months, depending on product availability, clinical guidance, and volumes changing with evolution of needs,” the document says, noting this volume would be secured under an advance purchase agreement.

Larger additional amounts of new oral antivirals to treat mild patients are also expected to be procured at a later stage, the document says.

Another 4.3 million courses of repurposed COVID-19 pills to treat critical patients are also expected to be purchased at a price of $28 per course, the document says, without naming any specific drug.

The ACT-A also intends to address essential medical oxygen needs of 6-8 million severe and critical patients by September 2022.


In addition, the programme plans to invest massively in COVID-19 diagnostics in order to at least double the number of tests carried out in poorer nations, defined as low income and low-middle income countries.

Of the $22.8 billion, the ACT-A plans to raise in the next 12 months, about one third and the largest share is to be spent on diagnostics, the document says.

Currently poor countries conduct on average about 50 tests per 100,000 people every day, against 750 tests in richer nations. The ACT-A wants to bring testing rates to a minimum of 100 tests per 100,000 in poorer states.

That means delivering around 1 billion tests in the next 12 months, around 10 times more than the ACT-A has procured so far, the document shows.

The largest share of diagnostics would be rapid antigen tests at a price of around $3, and only 15% would be spent to procure molecular tests, which are more accurate but take more time to deliver results and are estimated to cost around $17, including delivery costs, the document shows.

The push on tests is meant to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor, as only 0.4% of the about 3 billion tests reported across the world have been conducted in poor nations, the document says.

It would also help spot earlier possible new variants, which tend to proliferate when infections are widespread, and therefore are more likely in the countries with lower vaccination rates.

The document underlines that “vaccine access is highly inequitable with coverage ranging from 1% to over 70%, depending largely on a country’s wealth.”

The programme aims to vaccinate at least 70% of the eligible population in all countries by the middle of next year, in line with the WHO’s goals.

(Reporting by Francesco Guarascio @fraguarascio; Additional reporting by Michael Erman in New JerseyEditing by Susan Fenton)

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Ontario open to mass-vaccinating children against COVID at schools –



Ontario’s government is open to running mass-vaccination clinics at schools to get as many children as possible vaccinated against COVID, the province’s Health Minister Christine Elliott said on Tuesday.

Elliott’s comments come hours after Health Canada confirmed that it had received Pfizer-BioNTech’s official request to authorize its COVID vaccine for children ages five to 11.

To date, Health Canada has only approved COVID vaccines for people who are 12 and older. More than 83 per cent of all Ontarians who are 12 and older are fully vaccinated against COVID, and more than 87 per cent have received at least one dose.

The provincial government asked for and has since received all 34 of the province’s public health units’ plans to vaccinate kids between five and 11, Elliott added on Tuesday.

“The plans are now being reviewed by our central team at the Ministry of Health, and it’s a variety of ways that are going to be employed to vaccinate children, depending on the different geographic locations,” Elliott said.

Children who are older than five will be able to get vaccinated at pharmacies, their doctor’s office, or at other locations facilitated by the local public health unit, depending on where they live, according to Elliott.

As for schools, Elliott seemed to dismiss the idea that children would be immunized against COVID during school hours, saying instead that they could be used as mass-vaccination clinics on weekends or evenings, so parents can be present.

“Many parents with small children would prefer to be with their child when they received the vaccination,” Elliott said.

She also said that Ontario will be ready to rollout vaccines to kids as young as five, pending Health Canada’s approval.

“We have the forces on the ground ready to go, and I know that parents are concerned about this, but they need not be because we will be ready to go,” Elliott said. “We’re working on this and putting the final plan together right now.”

Seventy-four per cent of parents of children between the age of five and 11 in Ontario say they will get them vaccinated against COVID when the option becomes available, including 54 per cent who want to do so immediately, according to the results of a survey that the Angus Reid Institute released on Monday. Eighteen per cent of Ontario parents of kids in this age group said they wouldn’t get them vaccinated, while eight per cent were unsure.

So far, Ontario’s government has resisted pressure from some school boards and teachers groups to mandate COVID vaccines for children who are old enough to get immunized. Children attending primary or secondary schools in Ontario are required to have received vaccines against nine other diseases, or else risk suspension.

Teachers and other school staff also aren’t required to be vaccinated against COVID to continue doing their jobs in Ontario. They’re able to be exempted from the Ontario government’s vaccination policy by taking COVID tests twice a week.

As of Monday, two of Ontario’s schools were closed because of COVID outbreaks. There were also 1,255 active COVID cases in the public school system, which makes up about one-third of all cases in the province. The number of active cases in schools has been declining over the past two weeks, as it has in the province overall.

Two weeks ago, Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, said the province would “keep all doors open” to immunize kids against COVID.

Health Canada will review Pfizer-BioNTech’s clinical trial data from its trials in five- to 11-year-olds, as well as other data around how COVID-19 can affect children’s health, it said in a press release on Monday night.

With Pfizer-BioNTech currently studying use of its COVID vaccine in kids younger than five, Health Canada expects to receive an application for approval for its vaccine in this age group sometime in the next few months.

READ MORE: Ontario plans to immunize kids, pending Health Canada’s approval

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