The new director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control says officials have “scaled up” their surveillance of new coronavirus variants in the United States.
CDC director Rochelle Walensky told ABC’s Good Morning America that previously “there has not been a public health infrastructure” to track such variants. Also, there weren’t resources to do “mass sequencing” of the virus across the country. She noted the coronavirus aid plan pushed by the Biden administration includes funds to improve such tracing.
However, Walensky said it was “concerning” the two South Carolina individuals who were diagnosed with the more virulent strain first identified in South Africa didn’t know each other or travel there, so the “presumption” is there’s “community spread of this strain.”
At a White House coronavirus briefing on Friday, Dr. Anthony Fauci said the emergence and increasing spread of coronavirus mutations means that vaccine makers must be ready to make new shots to stay ahead of the public health crisis.
“This is a wake-up call to all of us,” said the government’s top infectious disease expert, noting government scientists will be working to keep pace with virus mutations.
The nature of viruses is to change in ways that promote their spread, Fauci says. The evolution of mutant versions means scientists need to be “nimble” and ready to make tweaks to vaccines. So far, the mutations haven’t overwhelmed the protective power of vaccines.
Fauci said it’s important to vaccinate as many people as quickly as possible to keep new mutations from developing.
-From The Associated Press, last updated at 11:45 a.m. ET
What’s happening in Canada
WATCH | Ottawa offers assurance of Pfizer delivery amid confusion over doses:
As of 2:15 p.m. ET on Friday, Canada had reported 769,408 cases of COVID-19, with 55,429 cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 19,775.
Ontario reported 1,837 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday and 58 additional deaths. Hospitalizations stood at 1,291, a provincial dashboard said, with 360 patients listed as being in Ontario’s intensive care units.
The province’s health advisers warned Thursday that a highly contagious variant of COVID-19 first identified in the U.K. could become the dominant strain of the virus in the province by March.
Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of the province’s pandemic science advisory table, said the new strain could cause cases to spike again if precautions aren’t taken.
On Friday, public health officials in Waterloo region said a woman in her 30s is the region’s first case of this variant.
In Quebec, health officials reported 1,295 new cases on Friday and 50 more deaths, nine of which occurred in the last 24 hours.
Premier François Legault said on Thursday that while the situation is improving in the hard-hit province, the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations is “too high.” According to Friday’s provincial data, there are 1,217 people in hospital, including 209 in intensive care.
The province had previously suggested it hoped to lift some restrictions by Feb. 8, but the premier on Thursday suggested that was unlikely. “We have to be realistic — most of the measures will continue,” Legault said.
Manitoba reported 157 new cases and three new deaths on Friday, with more than half of the new cases in the province’s Northern Health Region.
A new public health order took effect in the province at 12:01 a.m. Friday, requiring most people travelling to Manitoba for non-essential reasons to self-isolate for two weeks.
WATCH | Increased pressure on B.C. premier to impose travel restrictions:
In Atlantic Canada, New Brunswick reported 16 new cases and one additional death on Friday, as the chief medical officer of health warned of an impending third wave of the pandemic that will be “much worse” than the first or second because of new variants.
Dr. Jennifer Russell said that because of the variant threat, no region will move past the orange level of restrictions for “many weeks.”
Newfoundland and Labrador reported four new cases, while Nova Scotia reported one new case.
Here’s a look at what’s happening across the country:
-From The Canadian Press and CBC News, last updated at 2:15 p.m. ET
What’s happening around the world
As of early Friday morning, more than 101.5 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, with 56.1 million of those considered recovered or resolved, according to a tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll was approaching 2.2 million.
Europe’s medicines regulator on Friday recommended approving AstraZeneca and Oxford University’s COVID-19 vaccine for people over the age of 18.
Europe urgently needs more shots to speed up its inoculation program with suppliers such as AstraZeneca and Pfizer facing difficulties in delivering the quantities promised for the early months of the year.
The shot is the third COVID-19 vaccine given the green light by the European Medicines Agency, after ones made by Pfizer and Moderna. Both were authorized for all adults. The decision requires final approval from the European Commission, a process that occurred swiftly with the other vaccines.
WATCH | EMA executive director Emer Cooke on AstraZeneca vaccine approval:
“There are not yet enough results in older participants (over 55 years old) to provide a figure for how well the vaccine will work in this group,” the regulator said, but noted that “protection is expected, given that an immune response is seen in this age group and based on experience with other vaccines.
“EMA’s scientific experts considered that the vaccine can be used in older adults.”
Denmark will extend its current coronavirus restrictions by three weeks in order to curb the spread of a more contagious coronavirus variant first registered in Britain.
Portugal, which is facing serious strain on its health-care system, extended a nationwide lockdown until mid-February and announced curbs on international travel.
In the Asia-Pacific region, Vietnam’s health minister said on Friday a new COVID-19 outbreak was “basically under control” in the areas most affected, as cases spread to Hanoi, the capital.
Vietnam reported 53 new cases on Friday, including one in Hanoi and eight in nearby Haiphong city and Hai Duong, Quang Ninh and Bac Ninh provinces. That brought the total number of cases in the outbreak that began on Thursday to 149, the government said in a statement.
Health Minister Nguyen Thanh Long told reporters on the sidelines of the Communist Party congress, which is being held in Hanoi, that 3,674 tests had been conducted. Testing capacity was 50,000 a day, and the outbreak was under control in areas where the most cases had been found, Long said.
Sri Lanka on Friday began inoculating front-line health workers, military troops and police officers against COVID-19 amid warnings that the medical sector faces a collapse because of health personnel being infected with the coronavirus.
Sri Lanka on Thursday received 500,000 vaccine doses as a donation from neighbouring India. The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, also known as the Covishield, is manufactured by the Serum Institute of India.
In the Americas, Mexico’s death toll from COVID-19 surpassed India to be the third highest in the world. The country has seen more than 1.8 million cases and more than 155,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins.
Power outages in Rio de Janeiro may have spoiled hundreds of doses of COVID-19 vaccines, city health officials told Reuters on Friday, in a fresh setback for Brazil’s hamstrung immunization efforts.
Up to 720 doses of the CoronaVac vaccine developed by China’s Sinovac Biotech may need to be thrown out after a power outage at the federal hospital in the city’s Bonsucesso neighbourhood left them stored at an inappropriate temperature.
In the Middle East, Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister and its president on Friday condemned overnight violence in the city of Tripoli, where protesters angry over a strict lockdown clashed with security forces and set the municipality building on fire.
Thursday was the fourth straight night of unrest in one of Lebanon’s poorest cities, after the Beirut government imposed a 24-hour curfew to curb a surge in the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed more than 2,500 people and compounded an economic crisis.
In Africa, the African Union secured another 400 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine in a push to immunize 60 per cent of the continent’s population over a three-year period.
-From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 2:15 p.m. ET
Montreal sauna suspected origin of Canada’s monkeypox outbreak: doctors – Global News
The country’s first two cases were reported by Quebec public health officials on May 19.
Dr. Robert Pilarski, a general physician in Montreal, who treated one of those patients last week, said the individual likely got the virus from a sauna he recently visited.
“He actually got it from G.I. Joe. So this is the suspected epicentre of the epidemic,” Pilarski told Global News.
Another doctor, who did not wish to be identified, also said the source of Montreal’s monkeypox outbreak was Sauna G.I. Joe.
Government officials have so far stayed clear of confirming the origin of monkeypox in Canada due to concerns of privacy and stigmatization.
“As it was the case with COVID-19, we never confirm publicly outbreaks for both privacy and identification matters,” Jean Nicolas Aubé, a spokesperson for Montreal public health, told Global News in an emailed response.
“Rest assured that we always intervene directly with businesses or settings where an outbreak occurs or where our investigation could lead us,” Aube added.
Quebec confirms 25 cases of monkeypox, plans to administer vaccine
Despite multiple attempts and inquiries from Global News about health regulations and tracing measures, there was no response from Sauna G.I. Joe by the time of publication.
Recent cases of monkeypox around the world have researchers scrambling to find out how the virus is spreading in countries that typically don’t see it.
Monkeypox, a rare zoonotic infectious disease, is usually found in certain parts of Africa, where it is endemic.
What started out as a small cluster of cases in Quebec is now being called a “serious outbreak” of the virus by provincial health officials.
As of Thursday, 25 cases have been confirmed in the province and about 20 to 30 suspected cases are under investigation.
The majority of confirmed cases in the province are tied to men aged between 20 and 30 years, who have had sexual relations with other men. There has been one case in a person under 18.
Monkeypox is not considered a sexually-transmitted infection, but the virus can survive on surfaces such as bedding and is transmitted through prolonged close contact.
“It’s not sexual activity as such that transmits it. It’s skin-to-skin contact that transmits it as far as we know at this moment,” said Dr. Michael Libman, a tropical disease expert and professor of medicine and infectious disease at McGill University.
Scientists trying to identify origins of Monkeypox cases detected in Canada
Stigmatization and transparency
Cases of monkeypox started emerging in Europe earlier this month.
Montreal public health said it had alerted physicians about a week before the first cases were confirmed. It also contacted “local actors” and communicated advice on hand hygiene and environmental cleaning procedures, Aubé said.
According to social media posts, Sauna G.I. Joe hosted a sex party on May 19, the same day Canada confirmed its first cases of monkeypox.
During a press conference on Thursday, Quebec public health officials said they do not think it’s necessary to single out locations over fears of “stigmatization,” adding that there are now measures in place.
“The enemy is the virus, not the people affected,” said Dr. Luc Boileau, Quebec’s interim public health.
However, experts stress that there should be greater transparency and omitting key public health information can be problematic.
Monkeypox is not a sexually-transmitted infection, WHO says
David Brennan, research chair in gay and bisexual men’s health at the Ontario HIV Treatment Network (OHTN), believes not disclosing information can have a negative impact on the community.
Hiding information could be interpreted as “men having sex with men is bad,” said Brennan.
There needs to be a culture shift and harm-reduction approach as has been the case in the past with sexually-transmitted infections, such as HIV/AIDS, added Nolan Hill, gay men’s health specialist at the Center for Sexuality in Calgary, Alta.
“I think it really does speak to this broader culture where we’re uncomfortable with the idea of sex and we’re uncomfortable talking about sex,” he said.
What is monkeypox and how is it transmitted?
Outside of Quebec, only one other case of monkeypox has been confirmed in Toronto.
On Saturday, Toronto Public Health (TPH) identified two locations connected to possible cases of monkeypox: Axis Club and Woody’s bar.
Kerry Bowman, a professor of bioethics and global health at the University of Toronto, said these details matter, especially when it comes to higher risk settings.
“I would argue it is important to identify where it is coming from because if you don’t then people are not in a position to protect themselves,” he said.
However, disclosing that information comes with the “added responsibility” of not feeding into any prejudice, Bowman added.
Federal public health officials are working to finalize and release guidance on case identification, contact tracing, isolation as well as infection prevention and control.
The Public Health Agency of Canada says this updated guidance will be released in the next few days.
Deputy chief public health officer Dr. Howard Njoo said Thursday mass vaccinations are not yet needed, but people can avoid infection by maintaining physical distance, masking and hand hygiene.
Monkeypox: 26 confirmed cases in Quebec, Ontario, officials recommend physical distancing
© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
Supreme Court of Canada to rule on sentencing for Quebec City mosque shooter
The high court decision in Alexandre Bissonnette’s case will determine the constitutionality of a key provision on parole eligibility in multiple murder convictions.
Bissonnette pleaded guilty to six charges of first-degree murder in the January 2017 assault that took place just after evening prayers.
In 2019, Bissonnette successfully challenged a 2011 law that allowed a court, in the event of multiple murders, to impose a life sentence and parole ineligibility periods of 25 years to be served consecutively for each murder.
A judge found the provision unconstitutional but did not declare it invalid, ultimately ruling Bissonnette must wait 40 years before applying for parole.
Quebec’s Court of Appeal struck down the sentencing provision on constitutional grounds and said the parole ineligibility periods should be served concurrently, meaning a total waiting period of 25 years in Bissonnette’s case.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 27, 2022.
The Canadian Press
‘Always hope’: Remains of Cree woman sent home to Alberta decades after disappearance
Violet Soosay’s search for her missing aunt began four decades ago.
The pursuit took her to parts of Alberta and B.C. and down paths of uncertainty as weeks, months and years passed without word of Shirley Ann Soosay.
On Friday, about 43 years after she was last heard from, the body of Shirley Ann Soosay is expected to be returned to her home community of Samson Cree Nation, south of Edmonton.
Her remains had been buried in a California cemetery in 1980 under the name Kern County Jane Doe. Last spring, the county sheriff’s office identified the remains as belonging to 35-year-old Soosay.
Violet Soosay has worked since then with the county coroner’s office and the California cemetery to transport the body back to Alberta.
“Now there’s closure. There’s healing that can start happening,” Violet Soosay said in a phone interview.
The website for the American non-profit group DNA Doe Project says the Jane Doe’s body was found in an almond orchard near Bakersfield, Calif., in July 1980. She had been sexually assaulted and stabbed.
Wilson Chouest was convicted of killing the Jane Doe, along with another unidentified woman in 2018.
Violet Soosay said she last saw her aunt in 1977 at a family funeral. She remembers her as caring, supportive and a free spirit.
“That was my constant memory that I kept because it gave me that sense of connection,” she said.
Shirley Ann Soosay was close with her mother and had maintained regular contact with her, whether it was through holiday cards or letters, said Violet Soosay. The last correspondence came in 1979.
“After that, she just disappeared. Nobody knew. My grandmother was very frantic and heartbroken. She knew something happened.”
A few years later, Violet Soosay said she promised her grandmother she would bring Shirley Ann Soosay home. Her grandmother died in 1991.
In early 2020, Violet Soosay said she came across an artist’s rendering of the Jane Doe on a Facebook post from the DNA Doe Project. She believed the woman was her aunt.
The volunteer organization formed in 2017 to help identify unidentified deceased persons using forensic genealogy. The Kern County Sheriff-Coroner Division contacted the project in 2018 hoping to determine the identity of its Jane Doe.
Dawn Ratliff, the coroner division chief, said her office set up tip lines and worked with media to broadcast stories hoping to identify the woman, but every effort led to a dead end.
“In all the years that we had her, we never received a single inquiry. And at that point I just knew she wasn’t local. But I just didn’t know where she would be from.”
Ratliff said when she eventually heard from Violet Soosay, she asked her to submit a DNA sample. It was processed and compared to DNA they had from the remains. The two were a familial match.
Violet Soosay said that when she got the call with the results, she was flooded with years of emotions, including frustration, anger and elation.
“It was a crazy moment when I found out that she was my aunty.”
The family is planning to bury Shirley Ann Soosay in a cemetery at Samson Cree Nation.
Violet Soosay said bikers are supposed to follow her aunt’s casket from a funeral home in Wetaskiwin to her final resting place. There will also be a wake with traditional drumming.
Before the body was disinterred in California, the Tule River Tribe performed a ceremony there with prayers and drumming, added Ratliff.
“To be able to restore her name has really been tremendous,” she said.
Violet Soosay said she is grateful for the support and work of Ratliff, investigators and those involved with confirming the identity of her aunt’s remains.
She said she also has a message for Indigenous families with missing loved ones: “There’s always hope. There’s always some way to bring them home.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 27, 2022.
Brittany Hobson, The Canadian Press
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