A new variant of the coronavirus first seen in Britain has been detected in several nations — including Canada — amplifying worries about its spread.
The first reported Canadian cases, identified in a couple in southern Ontario, came as the province went into a lockdown on Saturday. The pair had contact with someone who had recently returned from the U.K., health officials later said.
“This further reinforces the need for Ontarians to stay home as much as possible and continue to follow all public health advice, including the provincewide shutdown measures beginning today,” Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario’s associate chief medical officer of health, said in a statement.
On Sunday, health officials in British Columbia and the Ottawa area said they had identified people infected with the variant of the coronavirus first identified in the U.K.
The B.C. case was found in someone from the Island Health region who had recently returned from the U.K. The case was detected when the person developed symptoms while in quarantine, a statement from Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix said.
The statement said a “small number of close contacts have been isolated and public health is following up with them daily.”
Health officials in the Ottawa area said the case in that region also involved someone who had recently travelled from the U.K.
“The Ottawa Public Health Department has informed the individual who is now in self-isolation. Case and contact management investigation is underway,” a statement said.
As of early Monday morning, Canada’s COVID-19 case count stood at 552,020, with 79,863 of those cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 14,964.
Here’s a look at some of the latest developments from across Canada:
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last week announced that Canada is extending its ban on passenger flights coming from the U.K. until Jan. 6.
The variant was first identified in the United Kingdom but has since been detected in several other countries, including France, Belgium, Australia, the Netherlands and South Korea.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said Monday the cases have been confirmed in a family of three people who came to South Korea on Dec. 22.
Health officials in Finland reported their first case of the new variant on Monday, saying the case was in a Finnish citizen who had recently arrived from Britain for a Christmas holiday. The person’s recent connections were traced and his family members have been isolated. Finnish health officials said they believed the variant hasn’t spread further.
Nordic neighbours Sweden and Norway reported their first cases of the new COVID-19 variant on Saturday and Sunday, respectively. Denmark reported its first such case earlier in December.
Dr. Bruce Aylward, a senior adviser to the World Health Organization director general, told CBC’s The Current on Monday that it’s still “early days” in terms of the new variants in the U.K. and South Africa.
Mutations happen, said the Canadian physician, noting that research into new variants is ongoing.
He said governments and people need to keep “as much pressure” on the virus as possible by sticking with public health measures like physical distancing, masking and handwashing.
“Because if you give it space there’s going to be more mutations; there will be emergence of more concerning variants as we go forward,” Aylward said.
The Public Health Agency of Canada has said early data suggests the new variant may be more transmissible, but there is no evidence the variant causes more severe symptoms or impacts vaccine effectiveness.
What’s happening in the U.S.
WATCH | Trump signs COVID-19 relief bill, extending benefits for millions:
U.S. President Donald Trump on Sunday signed into law a $2.3-trillion US pandemic aid and spending package, restoring unemployment benefits to millions of Americans and averting a federal government shutdown in a crisis of his own making.
The U.S. Transportation Security Administration said it screened 1.28 million passengers on Sunday at the country’s airports, the highest number since mid-March, when the coronavirus pandemic slashed travel demand.
The number of U.S. air travellers is still about 50 per cent lower than the same date last year, but Sunday was the sixth day in the last 10 that volume surpassed 1 million. The rise comes despite public health officials urging Americans to avoid holiday travel this year.
The U.S. has now seen more than 19 million cases of coronavirus infection since the pandemic began, data compiled by Johns Hopkins University shows. America passed that mark on Sunday, just six days after it reached 18 million. The nation’s case numbers have more than doubled in less than two months.
COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. also have been rising, and now total more than 333,000. That’s more than one death for every 1,000 Americans.
California, which has seen more than two million confirmed cases of the novel virus, is expecting its situation to worsen as travellers return home after the holidays.
State officials are expected to extend the strictest stay-at-home orders in central and Southern California as hospitals there are quickly running out of intensive care unit beds for coronavirus patients ahead of the presumed post-holiday surge.
State stay-at-home orders for the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California are set to expire Monday. State officials say the orders are likely to be extended but did not make a definitive ruling Sunday afternoon.
– From Reuters and The Associated Press, last updated at 8:50 a.m. ET
What’s happening around the world
As of early Monday morning, more than 80.8 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide with more than 45.7 million considered recovered or resolved, according to a case-tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than 1.7 million.
Novavax Inc. has begun a large late-stage study of its experimental COVID-19 vaccine in the United States, the drug developer said on Monday, after delaying the trial twice due to issues in scaling up the manufacturing process.
It will enroll up to 30,000 volunteers across about 115 sites in the United States and Mexico, with two-thirds of them receiving the shot 21 days apart and the rest getting a placebo, the company said.
Novavax lags behind other drugmakers in the global race for COVID-19 vaccine, with shots from Pfizer and Moderna authorized for emergency use in the United States.
In Africa, South Africa’s total infections crossed a million on Sunday, days after a new faster spreading variant was confirmed to be present in the country.
In the Middle East, Iran reported the lowest daily fatalities in more than three months.
In the Asia-Pacific region, Beijing tightened COVID-19 curbs over concerns that China’s mass travel during the holiday period could cause cases to spike in the capital.
South Korea, which continues to report near-record numbers of new cases each day, said it will extend physical distancing measures for another six days, to Jan. 3.
Sydney’s outbreak continued with more than a quarter million people in lockdown as Australia’s largest city awaited word on whether any public New Year’s Eve celebrations will be allowed.
In the Americas, Brazil’s vice-president Hamilton Mourao has tested positive for COVID-19, his office said Sunday. Brazil has seen more than 7.4 million cases of the novel virus, with more than 191,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins.
Argentina will begin vaccinating its citizens on Tuesday using the recently delivered Sputnik V vaccine.
In Europe, British regulatory approval of a COVID-19 vaccine candidate developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca could accelerate the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, cabinet office minister Michael Gove said.
Germany’s confirmed death toll in the coronavirus pandemic has topped 30,000 as the country hopes its lockdown will bring down case numbers. The national disease control centre, the Robert Koch Institute, said Monday that another 348 deaths were reported over the past 24 hours, bringing the country’s total to 30,126.
Moscow has started offering a domestically developed coronavirus vaccine to people older than 60 after Russia’s health ministry cleared it for use among the elderly.
Earlier this month, mass vaccination against COVID-19 started in Russia with the Sputnik V vaccine, which is still undergoing advanced tests among tens of thousands of people needed to ensure its safety and effectiveness. Front-line workers, such as doctors and teachers, were the first in line to get the shots, and until Saturday only those aged 18-60 were allowed to be vaccinated.
– From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 7:25 a.m. ET
Made-in-Canada coronavirus vaccine starts human clinical trials – CBC.ca
A made-in-Canada vaccine to protect against COVID-19 began human clinical trials Tuesday in Toronto, says the biotechnology company that developed the vaccine.
Toronto-based Providence Therapeutics said three shots will be given to 60 adult volunteers at a clinical trial site in Toronto in the first phase of the trial on Tuesday.
Fifteen of those volunteers will receive a placebo, and 45 will get the vaccine, called PTX-COVID19-B.
Brad Sorenson, the company’s CEO, said it’s the first time a vaccine designed and manufactured in Canada has begun clinical trials. The company has purchased a site in Calgary to mass produce the vaccine.
Vaccines are designed to trigger an immune response in the body. Providence’s product is an mRNA vaccine and is similar to the Moderna coronavirus shot being given to people across Canada.
Quebec-based pharmaceutical Medicago began clinical trials last July of its coronavirus vaccine that is based on another technology. Unlike Providence, a large portion of Medicago’s vaccine doses will be manufactured outside the country, in North Carolina.
Medicago’s vaccine is currently in Phase 3 clinical trials — the last stage before it can apply for approval from Health Canada and other regulators to market the product.
Sorenson said Providence designed and built its vaccine last March.
“We reached out to the Canadian government in April and said, ‘Hey, you’ve heard of Moderna. We’re doing the exact same thing,'” Sorenson said in an interview.
“We went from concept into the clinic in under a year without the same level of support as our peers had.”
Purchased Calgary site
The federal government provided financial sponsorship and support for the early phase clinical trial through the National Research Council of Canada’s Industrial Research Assistance Program.
Currently, Canada lacks the capacity to manufacture the millions of doses of coronavirus vaccines needed to immunize people outside of a clinical trial setting. It’s why the federal government struck deals with Pfizer and Moderna — both manufactured abroad — to obtain the vaccines being rolled out across Canada.
While the company was developing the vaccine in pre-clinical studies, Sorenson said it also started to build the infrastructure to manufacture the vaccine in Canada as well.
The company purchased a 20,000-square-foot facility in Calgary that includes 12,000 square feet of lab space to mass produce the vaccine. The facility will be up and running in two months, Sorensen said.
Pending regulatory approval, a larger Phase 2 trial with adults over 65, youths under 18 and pregnant people could start in May, Sorenson said.
Initial focus was cancer research
If the vaccine proves safe and effective in clinical trials and Health Canada approves it, the goal is to have it ready for the global market by January 2022.
Sorenson founded Providence Therapeutics in 2013 to focus on cancer vaccines.
Several scientists contributed to the pre-clinical research on Providence’s vaccine, including those at the lab of Dr. Mario Ostrowski, a scientist at the Keenan Research Centre for Biomedical Science and an infectious disease clinician at St. Michael’s Hospital, Dr. Anne-Claude Gingras at Mt. Sinai Hospital, Dr. Samira Mubareka and Dr. Rob Kozak at Sunnybrook Research Institute, as well as Dr. Michael Pollanen, Ontario’s chief forensic pathologist.
In August, Ostrowski, whose laboratory performed the animal trials, said results were on par with tests of vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech at that stage.
Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Tuesday – CBC.ca
The European Union on Tuesday warned pharmaceutical giants that develop coronavirus vaccines to honour their contractual obligations after slow deliveries of shots from two companies hampered the bloc’s vaunted vaccine rollout in several nations.
The bloc already lashed out Monday at pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, accusing it of failing to guarantee the delivery of coronavirus vaccines without a valid explanation. It also had expressed displeasure over vaccine delivery delays from Pfizer-BioNTech last week.
“Europe invested billions to help develop the world’s first COVID-19 vaccines. To create a truly global common good,” EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told the World Economic Forum’s virtual event in Switzerland. “And now, the companies must deliver. They must honour their obligations.”
The statement Tuesday highlighted the level of distrust that has grown between the 27-nation bloc and pharmaceutical companies over the past week.
On Monday, the EU threatened to impose strict export controls on all coronavirus vaccines produced in the bloc to make sure that companies honour their commitments to the EU.
The EU said it provided €2.7 billion (more than $4.1 billion Cdn) to speed up vaccine research and production capacity and was determined to get some value for that money with hundreds of millions of vaccine shots according to a schedule the companies had committed to.
“Europe is determined to contribute to this global common good, but it also means business,” von der Leyen said Tuesday via video link.
Germany was firmly behind von der Leyen’s view.
“With a complex process such as vaccine production, I can understand if there are production problems — but then it must affect everyone fairly and equally,” German Health Minister Jens Spahn told ZDF television. “This is not about EU first, it’s about Europe’s fair share.”
The EU, which has 450 million citizens and the economic and political clout of the world’s biggest trading bloc, is lagging badly behind countries like Israel and Britain in rolling out coronavirus vaccine shots for its health-care workers and most vulnerable people. That’s despite having over 400,000 confirmed virus deaths since the pandemic began.
The EU has committed to buying 300 million AstraZeneca doses with an option on 100 million extra shots. Late last week, the company said it was planning to reduce a first contingent of 80 million to 31 million.
The shortfall of planned deliveries of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is expected to get medical approval by the bloc on Friday, combined with hiccups in the distribution of Pfizer-BioNTech shots is putting EU nations under heavy pressure. Pfizer says it was delaying deliveries to Europe and Canada while it upgrades its plant in Belgium to increase production capacity.
The European Medicines Agency is scheduled to review the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine Friday and its approval is hotly anticipated. The AstraZeneca vaccine is already being used in Britain and has been approved for emergency use by half a dozen countries, including India, Pakistan, Argentina and Mexico.
The delays in getting vaccines will make it harder to meet early targets in the EU’s goal of vaccinating 70 per cent of its adults by late summer.
The EU has signed six vaccine contracts for more than two billion doses, but only the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines have been approved for use so far.
-From The Associated Press, last updated at 7:15 a.m. ET
What’s happening in Canada
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As Parliament resumed Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau faced a barrage of questions from MPs of all parties as they blasted the Liberal government for what they described as a botched approach to rolling out vaccines.
Both Trudeau and Procurement Minister Anita Anand repeated the government’s promise that by the end of September, all Canadians wishing to be vaccinated will have received their shots.
Trudeau has stressed that the delay that is currently hampering vaccination efforts is only temporary and that Canada is expected to receive four million doses of the Pfizer vaccine by the end of March. The prime minister noted that the country is still receiving shipments of the Moderna vaccine.
Earlier Monday, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said there is “tremendous pressure” on the global supply chain for vaccines that the government has tried to mitigate.
“We are working on this every single day, because we know how important vaccines are to Canadians, to first and foremost the lives of Canadians and also to our economy,” she told a news conference in Ottawa by video.
WATCH | New urgency for vaccinations in long-term care homes:
Despite the vaccine delay, some provinces continued to report encouraging drops in the number of new cases and hospitalizations. Ontario reported fewer than 2,000 cases on Monday, as well as fewer people in hospital. It was a similar story in Quebec, where hospitalizations dropped for a sixth straight day.
As of early Tuesday morning, Canada had reported 753,011 cases of COVID-19, with 62,444 cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 19,238.
In Alberta, health officials reported the province’s first case of a COVID-19 variant first seen in the United Kingdom that can’t be directly traced to international travel. Health Minister Tyler Shandro said that while it is one case, the variant has the potential to spread faster than the original novel coronavirus and could quickly overwhelm hospitals if not checked.
“There’s no question that this kind of exponential growth would push our health-care system to the brink,” Shandro told a virtual news conference Monday.
Here’s a look at what’s happening across Canada:
–From The Canadian Press and CBC News, last updated at 6:45 a.m. ET
What’s happening around the world
As of early Tuesday morning, more than 99.7 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, with more than 55.1 million of the cases considered recovered or resolved, according to a tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than 2.1 million.
In Europe, the U.K. is set to announce changes to its quarantine rules later Tuesday that could see anyone arriving in the country having to spend ten days in a hotel at their own expense. Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said there will be an “announcement on this issue later on today,” but would not be drawn on what the changes would entail.
The British government has been reviewing its quarantine policies amid concerns over new variants of the coronavirus. Whether the changes will be universal and apply to everyone arriving, including British citizens, or just to those arriving from high-risk coronavirus countries, is unclear. Zahawi told Sky News that “as we vaccinate more of the adult population, if there are new variants like the South African or the Brazilian variants, we need to be very careful.”
The U.K. has seen more than 3.6 million reported cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, according to Johns Hopkins University, with more than 98,700 deaths.
Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s deputy prime minister and finance minister, said Monday that Canada is considering additional international travel restrictions. Speaking on CBC’s Power & Politics, Freeland said she is, “very sympathetic to the view that, with the virus raging around the world, we need to be sure our borders are really, really secure.”
In Portugal, the health minister said authorities are considering asking other European Union countries for help amid a steep surge in COVID-19 cases. Portugal has had the world’s worst rate of new daily cases and deaths per 100,000 people for the past week, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
Health Minister Marta Temido said sending patients to other EU countries is not uncommon in the bloc. But, she said, Portugal has the disadvantage of being geographically remote and hospitals across the continent are under pressure from the pandemic. She said the country may instead be asking for medical workers to be sent.
Portuguese hospitals are under severe strain, Temido told public broadcaster RTP. “We have beds available,” she said. “What we’re struggling with is finding staff.”
That request may be difficult to fulfil, because all countries in the 27-nation bloc are dealing with their own pandemic strains, made more difficult now because of the emergence of virus variants.
In the Asia-Pacific region, health authorities in Taiwan are quarantining 5,000 people while looking for the source of two new coronavirus cases linked to a hospital.
Indonesia’s confirmed coronavirus infections since the pandemic began crossed one million on Tuesday and hospitals in some hard-hit areas were near capacity.
Indonesia’s Health Ministry announced that new daily infections rose by 13,094 on Tuesday to bring the country’s total to 1,012,350, the most in Southeast Asia. The total number of deaths reached 28,468.
The milestone comes just weeks after Indonesia launched a massive campaign to inoculate two-thirds of the country’s 270 million people, with President Joko Widodo receiving the first shot of a Chinese-made vaccine. Health-care workers, military, police, teachers and other at-risk populations are being prioritized for the vaccine in the world’s fourth-most populous country.
Chinese airlines are offering refunded tickets as the coronavirus continues to spread in the country’s northeast. The offer Tuesday from the government’s aviation authority comes amid a push to prevent people travelling during the Lunar New Year holiday next month.
In the Americas, Mexico’s death toll passed 150,000 on Monday following a surge in infections in recent weeks.
In Africa, Russia and China have approached Zimbabwe about supplying vaccines to tackle its escalating COVID-19 outbreak amid concern about Harare’s ability to afford the shots.
In the Middle East, Oman said earlier this week it will extend the closure of its land borders for another week until Feb. 1.
-From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 7:10 a.m. ET
Five big lessons experts say Canada should learn from COVID-19 – CTV News
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, The Canadian Press interviewed a group of leading Canadian experts in disease control and epidemiology and asked them what should be done to reduce the harms the next time a germ with similar destructive potential emerges. Here are the five most important lessons they offered.
SOCIO-ECONOMIC AND HEALTH INEQUITIES HAVE MADE SOME PEOPLE MORE VULNERABLE
COVID-19 has exposed fault lines in the Canadian society by showing how long-standing inequities contributed to higher rates of infections and mortality, said Steffanie Strathdee, a Toronto-born epidemiologist at the University of California in San Diego.
“The people who are, by and large, getting COVID are people who are poor, or of-colour, or living in poor socio-economic conditions,” Strathdee said.
In an analysis of COVID-19 deaths between March and July, Statistics Canada found that death rates because of the virus were double in Canadian neighbourhoods where more than 25 per cent of the people are members of visible minorities compared to neighbourhoods where minorities are less than one per cent of the people.
Strathdee said people in many areas in Canada have limited health services.
“In my sister and mother’s region of Stouffville (a suburb of Toronto), it’s very, very difficult to get a doctor,” she said.
“What we need to do is invest in our public health and health care infrastructure, because this isn’t going to be the last pandemic we see.”
University of British Columbia professor Erica Frank, a doctor and population-health expert, said almost all those who have died because of COVID-19 had pre-existing risk factors, including age.
“Not paying enough attention to reduction of chronic-disease risk has greatly increased the cohort of susceptible people to COVID,” she said.
She said there is a need to spend money on public health systems and on social determinants of health, such as housing, to decrease sickness and death.
CANADA’S DIVISION OF HEALTH-CARE RESPONSIBILITIES IS INEFFICIENT
The disconnect between federal and provincial or territorial actions to fight the pandemic is getting in the way of an effective response, said Donald Sheppard. He’s the chair of the department of microbiology and immunology in the faculty of medicine at McGill University and a member of Canada’s COVID-19 therapeutics task force.
For instance, Sheppard said, after Eli Lilly’s COVID-19 antibody treatment was approved by Health Canada, bought by the federal government and greenlit by the federal therapeutics task force, British Columbia health authorities decided to reject the federal approval of the medication.
He said there many more examples, including the handling of long-term care homes.
“Quebec is screaming they want money but they’re refusing to sign on to the minimum standards of long-term care,” he said.
He said there have been poor communication and a lot of territorialism since the beginning of the pandemic.
“There should be a time when it’s all hands on deck and we don’t play games,” he said. “That didn’t happen. We saw these fragmentations between the provinces and the feds leading to, frankly, people dying.”
CENTRALIZED DECISION-MAKING IN HEALTH CARE STIFLES INNOVATION
Sheppard said the Canadian health care system can’t be nimble because federal and provincial governments have seized control of decisions on how to handle the pandemic.
“During a new disease like a pandemic, when we’re learning about things, the people on the ground actually are learning a lot faster than the people sitting in Ottawa, Quebec City or Toronto,” he said.
He said Canadian businesses and universities have been struggling to get approval for testing strategies that use rapid tests to reopen safely.
“The way that the ministries of health are set up, they actually make it incredibly difficult to set those type of things up, because they hold on to all the power with a stranglehold.”
Sheppard said there’s no process private entities can use to launch innovative testing programs.
“The dogma from the ministries of health are simple: What we’re doing is right. There is no other better way to do anything … therefore we will not help anybody do anything different than what we’re doing. And anything other than that is a threat to our authority,” he said. “That’s the mentality, and it’s just killed innovation in the health-care setting.”
LACK OF COORDINATION STYMIED RESEARCH
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown how crucial research is to inform health decisions, said Francois Lamontagne, a clinician-scientist at the University of Sherbrooke.
He said Canadian scientists have played prominent roles scientifically during the pandemic but recruiting patients to participate in clinical trials has been a challenge due to lack of coordination.
“There have been a lot of studies launched. A lot of those studies overlapped,” he said.
He said having too many studies at the same time has resulted in shortages of suitable patients who are willing to be subjects in clinical trials.
“This, essentially, dilutes all of the studies and you end up enrolling very few people in too many studies.”
Lamontagne said the United Kingdom has been the locomotive of the world in enrolling patients in clinical trials because research is an integral part of the country’s national health system.
“It’s not something that happens in a silo. It’s part of the (National Health Service),” he said. “This led them to build the infrastructure … And then there’s an effort to co-ordinate and prioritize studies so they do one study and they do it well and they get the answers very quickly.”
He said creating better research infrastructure and coordination should be a priority for Canada.
“This is a criticism directed at me as well. I am part of ‘us’ — researchers. We have to get our act together and there has to be an effort of coordination.”
Lamontagne said health research in Canada is largely funded by the federal government whereas health care is a provincial jurisdiction and both levels need to co-operate.
“The stakes are so important for not only how we respond to pandemics now and in the future, but also for the sustainability of a public health-care system,” he said.
GOOD MESSAGING AND COMMUNICATION MATTER
Strathdee said good science communication with the public is important to address misinformation regarding the novel coronaviruses and its vaccines.
“We need for people to understand that science and medicine don’t have all the answers all the time, that we’re learning just like everybody else,” she said.
Strathdee said guidelines will be updated as more data become available and that’s what happened when more data showed that face masks reduced the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
She said government officials should be trained in health literacy.
John Brownstein, a Montreal-born Harvard University epidemiologist, said minority communities, including Indigenous communities, tend to have more mistrust in vaccines and for good historical reasons.
“We got to figure out how to improve communication and improve confidence,” he said.
Strathdee said it’s critical for politicians and public health officials to be honest with the public by “making people aware that, you know, it could get worse before it gets better, and that they need to stay the course.”
She also said people need to understand that if segments of the population are left behind in vaccination, like prisoners and homeless people, that will put everyone at risk.
She said Canada did a good job in detecting COVID-19 cases because it was hit hard by SARS.
“We have to make sure that we don’t unlearn those lessons going forward and that we build upon what we’ve learned from COVID and prepare for the next pandemic.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2020
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
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