- Ontario reports 5,839 new cases of COVID-19 over 2 days.
- U.K. sees record new cases as hospital receive doses of newly OK’d vaccine.
- Funeral homes in Southern California running out of space as deaths mount.
- Have a question about COVID-19? Send your questions to COVID@cbc.ca.
India has approved the COVID-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, paving the way for a huge immunization campaign in the world’s second most populous country.
Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar told reporters on Saturday the vaccine was approved on Friday. It’s the first COVID-19 vaccine to be approved for emergency use by India, which has the highest number of infections after the United States.
India has reported more than 10 million COVID-19 cases, though its rate of infection has come down significantly from a mid-September peak.
The country hopes to inoculate 300 million of its 1.35 billion people in the first six to eight months of 2021.
WATCH | Why Canada has been slow to get COVID-19 vaccines in arms:
In Canada, nearly 500,000 doses of the Pfzier-BioNTech vaccine have been distributed across the country since Health Canada approved it on Dec. 9.
The Moderna vaccine — approved on Dec. 23 — has also started to roll off tarmacs and began reaching remote and First Nations communities over the past week.
What’s happening across Canada
As of 1:30 p.m. ET Saturday, Canada’s COVID-19 case count stood at 589,449, with 79,406 of those cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 15,700.
In British Columbia, families are demanding answers after 38 residents at the Little Mountain Place long-term care home in Vancouver have died from COVID-19.
Alberta saw an estimated 900 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, according to the province’s chief medical officer of health. Dr. Deena Hinshaw said tweeted Saturday that Alberta’s hospitalization and ICU totals remained stable, and no additional deaths were reported.
In Saskatchewan, two staff and one resident have tested positive at the Willow Cree Healing Lodge near Duck Lake, according to a Correctional Service of Canada news release.
WATCH | High number of COVID-19 cases could last until mid-January, experts say:
Ontario reported a two-day total of 5,839 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday after the provincial health ministry did not release daily figures on Jan. 1. The province saw 2,476 cases on Friday and a new single-day high of 3,363 cases on Saturday.
In Quebec, three physicians and three other employees in Cité-de-la-Santé Hospital’s emergency room in Laval have tested positive, according to the regional health board. A union representing representing staff at the hospital is concerned about hospital staff’s ability to deal with a potential influx of patients in the new year.
The province will release its first COVID-19 update of 2021 on Sunday.
Nova Scotia announced 13 new cases, including five cases connected to a Dartmouth school. The province says all the new cases are close contacts of previously reported cases or linked to travel outside Atlantic Canada.
Newfoundland and Labrador‘s active caseload dropped to 11 after the province reported no new cases and six recoveries Saturday.
On Prince Edward Island, testing clinics are open in Charlottetown and Summerside after clinics were closed New Year’s Day.
Yukon added four new cases, which they say are “close or household contacts” of an out-of-territory traveller.
In the Northwest Territories, a non-resident worker in Yellowknife has tested positive. The territory says the individual travelled to Yellowknife by air, is asymptomatic and “safely isolating” in the city.
Here’s a look at what’s happening with COVID-19 across the country:
What’s happening around the world
As of Saturday, more than 84.2 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide with more than 47.4 million cases considered recovered or resolved, according to Johns Hopkins University’s tracking tool. The global death toll stood at more than 1.8 million.
In Europe, the U.K. has registered a record 57,725 daily coronavirus cases as hospitals in Britain have started receiving batches of the coronavirus vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, which was approved by British regulators this week.
WATCH | Virus variant 1st reported in U.K. spreads quicker than original strain:
In Asia, South Korea is extending stringent distancing rules for two more weeks as authorities seek to suppress a viral resurgence, while confirming its first case of an apparently more contagious coronavirus variant detected in South Africa.
In the Americas, funeral homes in Southern California are turning away bereaved families because they’re running out of space for the bodies. Los Angeles County has surpassed 10,000 COVID-19 deaths.
In Africa, Chad has locked down its capital N’djamena for the first time since the outbreak of the pandemic and has declared a dusk to dawn curfew due to a rise in infections.
Canada adds 206 new COVID-19 deaths while officials consider mandatory hotel quarantine – Global News
Another 5,957 cases of COVID-19 were reported by Canada on Friday as government officials considered a mandatory hotel quarantine for all incoming travelers.
The announcement comes amid news of at least one passenger aboard one of the 153 flights that arrived in the country over the last weeks testing positive for the novel coronavirus, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.
Current health protocols require people flying into the country to present a negative COVID-19 test conducted within 72 hours of boarding a plane bound for Canada as well as a mandatory two-week quarantine on arrival, but the government is still considering further options to make it harder to return from trips abroad in light of the pandemic.
News of Canada considering further restrictions on incoming travelers comes as the country’s top doctor warned that easing the country’s virus restrictions could rapidly cause new case of the virus to increase again.
“Every day we are one step closer and better times are ahead. But there is no fast track. We must stick with public health measures and individual practices that we know are effective for controlling spread. Unless and until infection rates are low enough to allow public health authorities to test, trace and isolate effectively, easing of restrictions risks even stronger resurgence,” said Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam in a statement Friday.
Coronavirus: Dr. Bonnie outlines B.C.’s mass immunization plan
“This is why we must all continue to do our part to slow the spread: that means postponing vacation travel to a better time in the future.”
Canada’s total COVID-19 caseload now stands at 737,407 following the release of Friday’s case data. Another 206 deaths linked to the virus were also announced on Friday, with Canada’s COVID-19 death toll now standing at 18,828.
At least 651,000 patients have since recovered from COVID-19 however, while more than 21,041,000 tests have been administered to date. A total of 769,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have also been administered across the country so far.
Coronavirus: Tam reports 31 cases of U.K. variant, 3 cases of South Africa variant of COVID-19 in Canada
Ontario reported another 2,662 cases of COVID-19 Friday, as well as another 87 deaths. While daily case numbers in the province have decreased slightly in comparison to last week, Ontario is still on track to surpass Quebec as the province with the highest number of confirmed cases this weekend.
Quebec, which has been under a province-wide curfew for almost two weeks, reported another 1,631 infections and 88 deaths on Friday.
B.C. added another 508 cases on Friday, as well as another nine deaths linked to the virus. The coastal province’s total caseload now stands at 63,484, of which 565 are considered “epi-linked” — patients who were in close proximity to confirmed infections and display symptoms, but were never formally tested.
Alberta announced another 643 cases of COVID-19 on Friday, as well as 12 additional deaths from the virus. A total of 691 Albertans are also currently in hospital with COVID-19, of which 115 are in ICU.
Manitoba added another 171 cases on Friday, as well as two more deaths. In Saskatchewan, eight more deaths were recorded, as well as another 305 confirmed infections.
Several Atlantic provinces reported new cases Friday as well, with Nova Scotia adding another four COVID-19 infections, New Brunswick reporting another 30 and Newfoundland and Labrador reporting just one.
Nunavut reported a single case on Friday as well, its first infections since Dec. 28. Both the Yukon and the Northwest Territories as well as P.E.I. reported new COVID-19 cases on Friday.
Worldwide, cases of the novel coronavirus continue to increase with a total of 98,112,625 patients having been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to Johns Hopkins University. Over 2,104,000 people have since died, with the U.S., India and Brazil leading in both cases and deaths.
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
Canada is on the hunt for coronavirus variants — but may not be able to keep up with outbreaks – CBC.ca
This is an excerpt from Second Opinion, a weekly roundup of health and medical science news emailed to subscribers every Saturday morning. If you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do that by clicking here.
Canada is on the hunt for highly contagious strains of the coronavirus, but experts say they could already be spreading across the country and we may not be able to keep up with surveillance as more outbreaks occur.
Only five per cent of virus samples in Canada are tested for coronavirus variants, including those first identified in South Africa, Brazil and the U.K. — with the latter estimated to be at least 56 per cent more transmissible than the main coronavirus and potentially more deadly as well.
There have been at least 34 cases of variants confirmed in Canada in recent weeks, but several have no known link to travel and have prompted concerns the variants could be already driving outbreaks undetected.
“To ensure that virus variants that can spread more easily do not take hold, there is even greater urgency to suppress COVID-19 activity in Canada,” Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said Wednesday.
First variant outbreak in Canada a ‘wake-up call’
Canada’s first outbreak due to a coronavirus variant was identified this week at the Roberta Place long-term care home in Barrie, Ont., where at least 81 staff and almost all 130 residents have been infected with COVID-19 since the outbreak was declared on Jan. 8, including 27 who have died.
Local public health officials suspected the outbreak was caused by the variant first identified in the U.K., also known as B117, and sent samples to public health laboratories for further testing earlier this week.
Six preliminary samples have since tested positive for a variant, but it will take days to determine whether the outbreak was caused by B117 or a different strain.
“Barrie has become ground zero for what is likely a [coronavirus] variant of concern, which has spread rapidly throughout Roberta Place and we are concerned that it will spread into our community and into other long-term and retirement homes,” said Dr. Charles Gardner, Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit’s medical officer of health.
“This is a race against time and we need to use the COVID-19 vaccine as our most effective means to protect these residents. We have to do what we can to prevent other outbreaks.”
Local public health officials said Friday night they were accelerating the vaccine rollout in light of the outbreak and will begin vaccinating residents and staff at the long-term care home this weekend.
Prof. Robyn Lee, a genomic epidemiologist at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, said the situation at Roberta Place should be “another wake-up call that we really need to be doing something to stop transmission in the community and to test people to make sure that this doesn’t come into long-term care facilities.”
Lee is awaiting the full results from the Public Health Ontario laboratory to see which variant specifically was spreading at Roberta Place, but says it’s likely we’ll see more outbreaks across Canada in the near future.
“These variants appear to be more transmissible, which means we’re going to see more cases — especially if they do kind of kick off,” she said.
Lee says Canada needs to “very seriously crack down” with public health measures and speed up vaccination rollouts across the country in response to the threat posed by variants.
“What we’re seeing in Roberta Place is what happens when these get in and how aggressive they can be,” said Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious diseases physician at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton and an associate professor at McMaster University.
“The whole concern about this variant is it getting into care facilities and places with vulnerable people — and it did exactly that.”
Chagla said the Roberta Place outbreak has also raised concerns that variants could be the driving factor behind other recent COVID-19 outbreaks in Canada with unusually high numbers of cases in a short period of time.
“There certainly is a worry that some of those were actually related to coronavirus variants,” he said.
“There’s probably a bigger burden out there.”
‘Detective work’ identifying variants is slow
Testing for the variants is done through a time-consuming process called genomic sequencing, which requires highly specialized staff and equipment and takes days to return results — precious time when variants could spread more widely.
“We need to increase our surveillance of the virus in Canada,” said Art Poon, an associate professor in the department of pathology and laboratory medicine at Western University in London, Ont.
“We need the resources to do more sequencing so that we have better capability of tracking the spread of not only variants of concern, but other variants that may be arising in Canada.”
Catalina Lopez-Correa, executive director of the Canadian COVID Genomics Network (CanCOGen), which was formed in April 2020 to track variants and co-ordinate viral genome sequencing across Canada, said that while the number of samples tested in Canada is low, the testing efforts are focused on very specific samples.
“It’s not about the numbers, it’s about the strategy,” she said. “It’s about prioritizing the right samples and co-ordinating efforts.”
Lopez-Correa said CanCOGen’s strategy for testing for variants in Canada includes targeting fast-spreading outbreaks; geographic regions with an unusually high growth in cases; younger patients with very severe disease; reinfections; and those infected after being vaccinated.
There are currently eight labs across Canada testing virus samples for the variants, including the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg and seven other provincial labs.
“Some people are calling us genomic detectives and that’s exactly what we are,” said Lopez-Correa. “It’s detective work trying to figure out where those variants are and how to trace them.”
But although scientists are working around the clock to test the samples, they can only move as fast as the results will allow — meaning scaling up surveillance in the face of faster spreading variants isn’t easy.
WATCH | Coronavirus variant first detected in U.K. may have higher death risk: Boris Johnson
“If you have a contained outbreak in a specific geographical region, you don’t need to sequence everybody that’s infected in that outbreak, because most of them will have the same variant of the virus,” Lopez-Correa said. “But, of course, it’s a challenge to increase the amount of samples we’re doing.”
CanCOGen was created with initial federal funding of $40 million, half of which was allocated specifically for sequencing the virus, but Lopez-Correa said Canada could divert more money to staff and resources to test for the variants faster.
Lee said even with increased funding there is only a certain amount of surveillance Canada can reasonably do, given that the labs work on samples for all kinds of different viruses across the country.
“Ideally, we would be sequencing more, and I know there are efforts to do this, but there are some limitations,” she said, including the time it takes to collect samples, transport them to specific labs, sequence them and analyze the results.
“That involves a lot of different people and a lot of different resources. So, while it would be great to keep scaling up, there are going to be limits on what can be done.”
Canada ‘way behind’ on sharing data on variants
The World Health Organization called on countries around the world to increase their capacity to test for variants earlier this month, but also underscored the need to share the data internationally.
Poon said Canada is “way behind” in sharing data on variants around the world, partly because our public health system is understaffed and doesn’t currently have the resources to keep up with genomic surveillance.
“We are conservative about data sharing … I think that concerns about privacy have overridden calls to share data with other countries,” he said.
“Since this is a global pandemic, getting a clear picture of what’s going on requires open sharing of data between countries. But that’s not something that’s been happening with Canada.”
Lopez-Correa said Canada could improve its capacity to share data across the country and internationally. She said data is first shared domestically before being sent overseas.
“We could do better, but we’re submitting the data,” she said. “If you look at regions like Africa, Latin America, they’re not generating that data. They don’t have the capacity.”
Without effective international sharing of data, Canada could continue to see new variants arise in the future that are only identified after they’ve spread around the world.
WATCH | Vaccinations a race against coronavirus variants:
In the meantime, Lee said, the emergence of variants in Canada further underscores the need to vaccinate those most at risk of severe illness and death as soon as possible.
“Vaccination is going to play a critical role in this. We need to get everyone vaccinated who is in those long-term care facilities and all of the staff as well as their primary caregivers,” she said.
“I think that has to be the No. 1 priority at the moment.”
To read the entire Second Opinion newsletter every Saturday morning, subscribe by clicking here.
Canada deporting thousands even as pandemic rages
By Anna Mehler Paperny
TORONTO (Reuters) – Canada deported thousands of people even as COVID-19 raged last year, data seen by Reuters shows, and lawyers say deportations are ramping up, putting people needlessly at risk in the midst of a global health emergency.
Like many other countries, Canada is struggling to stop a second wave from spiraling out of control, and its political leaders are begging residents to stay home to prevent the spread.
Lawyers and human rights advocates are decrying Canada‘s November decision to resume deportations. Until now, the extent of the country’s pandemic deportations was not known, but recent interviews with immigration lawyers and scrutiny of government numbers has shed light on the situation.
Canada counted 12,122 people as removed in 2020 – 875 more than the previous year and the highest number since at least 2015, according to Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) data seen by Reuters. The government says this was necessary and done safely.
The CBSA says the high number last year is because it includes people who decided to leave on their own, termed “administrative removals.” In 2019 there were 1,657 administrative removals, compared with 8,215 last year.
Even subtracting those numbers, that leaves thousands of people deported as the pandemic raged and governments cautioned against travel of any kind for safety reasons.
Even as Canada continues to deport non-citizens during a health crisis, U.S. President Joe Biden paused deportations for 100 days within hours of being sworn in on Wednesday.
Canada officially imposed a moratorium on deportations in March that it lifted at the end of November.
“As much as a human rights concern it’s a common sense concern,” said Bill Frelick, director of Human Rights Watch’s Refugee Rights Program.
Countries’ deportation practices have varied over the course of the pandemic. Several, including the United Kingdom, suspended deportations before resuming them. Others, like Ireland, have kept suspensions in place.
The CBSA said it has been prioritizing deportations for reasons of “serious admissibility,” including criminality.
The vast majority of people deported in 2020 were for reasons of “noncompliance.” Even taking into account administrative removals, more than 1,000 people were deported during the suspension, the data shows.
Public health experts have warned that travel of any kind can spread COVID-19 from one place to another, a risk that grows with the advent of more highly transmissible COVID variants.
Many of the deportation trips involve transfers at multiple airports and flights during which people are placed in enclosed space in close quarters with other people for hours at a time, a situation ripe for transmission.
Since August Canada has been conducting deportations with CBSA escorts, so Canadians are also making thousands of these round-trip flights for deportation purposes.
Organizations including the Canadian Bar Association and the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers spoke out against Canada‘s decision to resume deportations.
“As everybody is putting in place more restrictions in an effort to flatten the curve … CBSA made a shocking decision to simply go back to business as usual,” said Maureen Silcoff, president of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers.
“Canada has taken the position that nonessential travel is barred yet people are now being removed and there’s no indication that those removals are essential.”
The CBSA said in a statement it lifted the moratorium on deportations because foreign government offices and borders had reopened, airlines restarted their routes and public-health protocols “have contributed to a high degree of safety for persons being removed by air.”
“Canada continues to uphold both its human rights and public safety obligations in relation to the removal of inadmissible foreign nationals,” the statement said. “The removal process includes many checks and balances to ensure that the removal is conducted in a fair and just manner.”
But these deportations are endangering not only the people being deported but the government officers tasked with accompanying them to their destination, lawyers say.
Immigration lawyer Lorne Waldman’s Toronto office went from getting no removal cases to getting three or four in the space of a week, he said. He is now fighting for a failed refugee claimant with two young Canadian children who faces deportation to Egypt Monday.
“They’re ramping it up as if there was no pandemic,” he said. “It’s unbelievable.”
(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny in Toronto; Editing by Denny Thomas and Matthew Lewis)
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