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Coronavirus variants could cause third wave in Ontario: expert panel

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By Allison Martell

TORONTO (Reuters) – New variants of the coronavirus are spreading rapidly in Ontario and unless they are better controlled, the province risks facing a third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, an expert panel advising the province’s government said on Thursday.

It warned that the next few weeks are critical as the progress made in bringing the coronavirus under control in the province has stalled.

“Variants of concern continue to spread across Ontario. Our ability to control the rate of spread will determine whether we return to normal or face a third wave of infection,” the panel said in briefing material.

While mutations in viruses are inevitable, strains identified as “variants of concern” have worrisome changes that may give the virus advantages, increasing transmissibility or reducing the effectiveness of vaccines, according to the briefing materials released by the province’s science advisory and modeling consensus tables.

Graphs published online ahead of the briefing showed cases of the new variants in Ontario have jumped from below 5 per 100,000 residents each week in early February to nearly 20 per 100,000 residents each week in early March.

That increase has been balanced to some extent by a decline in cases of earlier variants of the virus.

Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of the science advisory panel, said there are effectively two separate epidemics in Ontario: Early variants of the virus are under control, but new variants are not.

The Canadian government designated Thursday a National Day of Observance to commemorate lives lost and “the significant impacts” of the pandemic, which has killed more than 22,000 in Canada.

The country’s vaccination campaign is off to a slow start compared with other rich nations, with just under 2.7 million doses administered to a population of 38 million as of Thursday, according to volunteer-run tracking site COVID-19 Tracker Canada.

 

(Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Giles Elgood)

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Manitobans can now get federal proof of COVID-19 vaccination for travel – Winnipeg Free Press

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Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba chief public health officer, listens to a media question during a COVID-19 update at the Manitoba legislature in Winnipeg, Friday, Oct. 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

WINNIPEG – Manitobans can now get a federal COVID-19 vaccine passport that will soon be required for international and domestic travel.

People can go to the same website Manitoba has used since June to issue provincial COVID-19 passports and instantly download a federal digital QR code.

“You can print it off to carry it with you, if needed, or you can keep it on your phone or electronic device,” Reg Helwer, minister of central services, said Monday.

The provincial passport has been required to get into restaurants, pro sporting events, cinemas and other venues. Helwer said it is still preferable in those cases because it contains less personal health information than the federal one.

The provincial QR code reveals a person’s name and whether they are fully inoculated. The federal one also contains information on what kind of vaccines were given and on what dates, Helwer said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last week announced the plan for a national vaccine passport for travel. Starting Saturday, anyone over the age of 12 who wishes to get on a plane or train in Canada will need to prove full vaccination. There will be a short transition period until Nov. 30 to allow the unvaccinated to show a negative molecular COVID-19 test instead.

Data released Monday shows Manitoba remains in the midst of a fourth wave of the pandemic. Health officials reported 464 new COVID-19 cases over the last four days and two additional deaths.

The province’s chief public health officer said the numbers have ticked upward slightly in recent days, which could be tied to increased socializing over the Thanksgiving holiday.

“We saw a day on the weekend there with nearly 150 reported cases, so that’s higher than what we’ve typically seen,” Dr. Brent Roussin said.

“We’re going to have to continue to follow those trends. We’re certainly not done with this fourth wave.”

The province extended its public health orders for another three weeks, with one minor change for a handful of communities just outside Winnipeg.

The communities include Niverville, Ritchot and Headingley. They are part of the southern health region, where vaccination rates are generally low and retail capacity has been capped at 50 per cent.

Starting Tuesday, those communities will be lumped in with Winnipeg and have their capacity limit lifted. Roussin cited their proximity to Winnipeg and high vaccination rates compared to other areas in the southern region.

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

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Factbox: Countries respond to heart inflammation risk from mRNA shots

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Some countries have halted altogether or are giving only one dose of COVID shots based on so-called mRNA technology to teens following reports of possible rare cardiovascular side effects.

Europe’s drug regulator said in July it had found a possible link between a very rare inflammatory heart condition and COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna.

However, the benefits of mRNA shots in preventing COVID-19 continue to outweigh the risks, European and U.S. regulators and the World Health Organization have said.

Here are some of the steps some countries are taking:

CANADA

The Public Health Agency of Canada said data suggested that reported cases of rare heart inflammation were higher after Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine compared with the Pfizer/BioNTech shots.

DENMARK

The Danish Health Agency said on Friday that it was continuing to offer Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine to under-18s, and that a statement on Wednesday suggesting a suspension had in fact been a miscommunication.

FINLAND

Finland paused the use of Moderna’s vaccines for younger people and instead would give Pfizer’s vaccine to men born in 1991 and later. It offers shots to those aged 12 and over.

HONG KONG

A panel of health experts advising the Hong Kong government has recommended in September children aged 12-17 should get only one dose of BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine after reports of heart inflammation as a side effect.

NORWAY

Norway will hold off giving children aged 12-15 a second dose of a vaccine against COVID-19 until it has gathered more research. On Oct. 22 the health ministry said there was no urgency given that children have a low risk of falling seriously ill from COVID-19.

On Sep. 2 Norway decided on giving one dose of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to children aged 12-15.

SWEDEN

Sweden has extended the pause of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine beyond the original Dec. 1 deadline for people aged 30 and younger due to rare heart-related side-effects, the public health agency said on Oct. 21.

The agency said earlier in October that data pointed to an increase of myocarditis and pericarditis among youths and young adults vaccinated with Moderna vaccine Spikevax, and paused the use for all born 1991 or later.

SOUTH AFRICA

South Africa will start vaccinating children between 12 and 17 using the Pfizer vaccine, the health minister said, as the country looks to ratchet up inoculations ahead of final year examinations.

On the advice of its vaccine advisory committee the government would only give teenagers a single shot of Pfizer’s normal two-shot regime due to concerns that it may affect the heart.

UNITED KINGDOM

Britain has been offering all 12-15-year-olds a first a shot of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. Second doses would not be offered to the age group until at least spring when there may be more data from around the world.

 

(Compiled by Antonis Triantafyllou; Editing by Joanna Jonczyk-Gwizdala and Tomasz Janowski)

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Hong Kong’s zero-COVID policy undermining financial hub status – industry group

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A financial industry group warned on Monday that Hong Kong‘s zero-COVID policy and strict quarantine requirements for international travellers threatens to undermine the city’s status as a financial hub.

The Asia Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (ASIFMA) said a survey of members, including some of the world’s largest banks and asset managers, showed 48% were contemplating moving staff or functions away from Hong Kong due to operational challenges, which included uncertainty regarding when and how travel and quarantine restrictions will be lifted.

Hong Kong has some of the most stringent travel restrictions in the world and is virtually COVID-19 free, however unlike regional rival Singapore, which is slowly re-opening its borders, the Chinese-ruled city has no public plan for opening up to international travellers.

Local leaders say their focus is removing restrictions on travel from Hong Kong to mainland China, which also has strict entry restrictions. At present travellers from Hong Kong to the mainland must still undergo quarantine.

“Hong Kong’s status as an (international financial centre) is increasingly at risk along with its long-term economic recovery and competitiveness as a premier place to do business,” Mark Austen chief executive of Asifma wrote in open letter to Hong Kong’s financial secretary Paul Chan.

The letter made a series of recommendations including publishing “a roadmap for exiting Hong Kong’s ‘zero-case’ based COVID-19 strategy beyond solely the immediate goal of opening borders with China”, as well as prioritising vaccinations.

Hong Kong has reported just over 12,300 cases since the start of the pandemic, mostly imported, and 213 deaths.

Regional rival Singapore is expanding quarantine-free travel to nearly a dozen countries, but authorities are grappling with how to do so while averting a surge of Covid-19 cases among older people and those with weak immune systems.

 

(Reporting by Alun John; Editing by Michael Perry)

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