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Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Thursday – CBC.ca

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The latest:

A spike in health-care spending during the COVID-19 pandemic could lead to some serious financial challenges for provinces as they work to rebuild their health systems in the aftermath, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information.

The spending surge is expected to reach a record $308 billion in 2021, say newly released projections from CIHI.

That is roughly $8,019 per Canadian.

“COVID-19 resulted in the single biggest increase in health spending we have ever seen in this country,” CIHI president David O’Toole said in a news release.

Health spending is projected to have increased 12.8 per cent between 2019 and 2020. That’s more than triple the average annual growth rate seen from 2015 to 2019, which was approximately four per cent per year.

Spending is estimated to have increased another 2.2 per cent between 2020 and 2021.

The agency said its estimates will be updated as final spending amounts are tabulated, and may be less accurate than normal given the nature of emergency funds spent during the pandemic.

Still, the numbers add up to a troubling future as Canada works to recover from the pandemic and get health systems back on their feet.

“We know that in times of fiscal restraint we have less to spend on health care, so there’ll be some decisions in the future. It’s obviously a finite pot of money,” said Brent Diverty, vice-president of data strategies and statistics for CIHI.

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Historically, increases in health spending have been in step, or slightly greater, than increases in economic growth. When provinces hit hard times, they usually spend less on health care.

But in 2020, the spike in health spending to scale up system capacity, testing and other pandemic responses was paired with a serious contraction in the economic health of the country. The GDP dropped 4.6 per cent that year, according to the latest federal budget.

Health-care backlogs

Now, as the fourth wave of the pandemic ebbs and health systems turn to the surgical and primary care backlogs left in its wake, they’ll have to figure out how to handle the extra load while carrying mounting health-spending deficits.

There may be other pandemic developments, however, like the rise in virtual care, that could offset some of the costs moving forward.

Some innovations are “in fact making the system more sustainable or affordable,” Diverty said.

Even before the pandemic, health spending had been rising steadily for decades.

-From The Canadian Press, last updated at 6:55 a.m. ET


What’s happening across Canada

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Infectious diseases specialist Dr. Zain Chagla answers viewer questions about COVID-19 vaccine booster shots including whether everyone needs one right away. 6:00


What’s happening around the world

People wait to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in Zagreb, Croatia, Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021. Countries throughout Central and Eastern Europe reported spiraling coronavirus cases Thursday, with several hitting new daily records in the regions that have lower vaccination rates than the rest of the continent. (Darko Bandic/The Associated Press)

As of Thursday afternoon, more than 248.4 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus case tracker. The reported global death toll stood at more than five million.

In Europe, top officials at the World Health Organization said Thursday that the continent has seen a more than 50 per cent jump in coronavirus cases in the last month, making it the epicentre of the pandemic despite an ample supply of vaccines.

“There may be plenty of vaccine available, but uptake of vaccine has not been equal,” WHO emergencies chief Dr. Michael Ryan said during a news briefing on Thursday.

He called for European authorities to “close the gap” in vaccinations. However, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said countries that have immunized more than 40 per cent of their populations should stop and instead donate their doses to developing countries that have yet to offer their citizens a first dose.

“No more boosters should be administered except to immuno-compromised people,” Tedros said.

Health workers conduct COVID-19 tests on travellers at the exit of Yantai Railway Station in China’s eastern Shandong province. (AFP/Getty Images)

Canada is among the countries that have started to offer third doses and boosters to at-risk populations, such as the immuno-compromised, older and Indigenous people. 

The director of WHO’s 53-country Europe region, Dr. Hans Kluge said the countries in the region were at “varying stages of vaccination rollout” and that regionwide an average of 47 per cent of people were fully vaccinated. Only eight countries had 70 per cent of their populations fully vaccinated.

The increase in Europe’s COVID-19 marks the fifth consecutive week cases have risen across the continent, making it the only world region where COVID-19 is still increasing. The infection rate was by far the highest in Europe, which reported some 192 new cases per 100,000 people.

“We are clearly in another wave,” Sweden’s chief epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell, said Thursday. “The increased spread is entirely concentrated in Europe.”

In the Asia-Pacific region, China is on high alert at its ports of entry as strict policies on travel in and out of the country are enforced to reduce COVID-19 risks amid a fresh outbreak, less than 100 days out from the opening of the Beijing Winter Olympics.

In Africa, health officials in South Africa reported 344 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and 29 additional deaths, bringing the number of reported deaths in the country to 89,220.

In the Middle East, Bahrain has authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use for children aged between five and 11 years.

-From Reuters, The Associated Press and CBC News, last updated at 2:30  p.m. ET

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Hoping Omicron won’t wreck Christmas, Bethlehem lights up tree

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Residents lit up a giant Christmas tree outside Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity on Saturday, hoping that a new coronavirus variant doesn’t ruin another holiday season in the traditional birthplace of Jesus.

The Palestinian city in the Israeli-occupied West Bank was all but closed last Christmas, losing its peak tourist season to the pandemic.

This December has seen Israel shut out foreign travellers for 14 days to try to prevent the Omicron variant taking hold, and the hope is that the ban will end as scheduled, in time for Christmas travel. In its last pre-pandemic winter, in 2019/20, Bethlehem hosted 3.5 million visitors.

The giant tree, topped with a bright red star, was lit up with hundreds of coloured lights as red, white and green fireworks illuminated the night sky.

Mayor Anton Salman said the travel ban had prevented several foreign delegations attending.

Nonetheless, the audience in Manger Square in front of the church was far bigger than last year, when coronavirus restrictions kept even local spectators away.

“It is very joyful, a very nice evening. The air is full of hope, full of joy, full of expectation,” said Maria, a tourist from Finland who did not provide her full name.

 

(Reporting by Mohammed Abu Ganeyeh and Yosri al-Jamal in Bethlehem and Roleen Tafakji in Jerusalem; Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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Stuck in South Africa, new travel rules put this Canadian's trip home for the holidays at risk – CBC.ca

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Andrew Neumann’s hopes of making it home for the holidays have been cast into doubt by the emergence of the omicron coronavirus variant and the swift implementation of new pandemic border restrictions around the world.

“It’s actually a particularly sensitive time,” Neumann, a Canadian living in South Africa, said in an interview on CBC’s The House that aired Saturday. His son just started university in Toronto, his first year away from home, he explained. And there are other pressing concerns.

“My wife’s father is very ill. He’s in his 80s. He’s undergoing chemotherapy…. Likewise, my mother’s 91. She’s in sort of cognitive decline. I haven’t seen her in two years,” he told host Chris Hall.

“And there’s a question mark again in my mind: Am I going to be able to say goodbye?” Neumann said.

20:23Borders tighten again

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino discusses new restrictions and testing measures at the border and Peel Region medical officer of health Dr. Lawrence Loh explains how his jurisdiction is dealing with concerns about omicron. 20:23

Neumann has lived in Johannesburg since 2015. He was planning to return to Canada for the holidays when new travel restrictions were put in place affecting travellers from 10 countries, mostly in southern Africa. Canadians trying to come home from those countries must now meet a series of additional testing and quarantine requirements.

Travellers must get a pre-departure molecular COVID-19 test 72 hours ahead of their departure, something Canadians are now used to, but that test must be in a third country — not any of the 10 on Canada’s list. Neumann was planning to get a test during his connection in Germany, but additional rules put in place there have made that impossible.

Canadian, German restrictions clash

A letter Neumann received from the Canadian High Commission in South Africa said German airline Lufthansa would not allow Canadians to board because of that third-country testing requirement and restrictions put in place by Germany.

Neumann’s situation closely resembles that of the Canadian junior women’s field hockey team, which has also been stuck in South Africa. The team has asked for an exemption to leave the country.

Andrew Neumann and his family have been trying to come back to Canada from South Africa. (Submitted)

Neumann said he has been struck by what he says is the “cavalier” way the government has answered the questions of would-be travellers whose plans the restrictions have thrown into limbo.

He also says the restrictions themselves make little sense given what we now know about the spread of the omicron variant.

“It just seems so disproportionate a response to southern Africa versus the rest of the world that you have to question the motivations,” he said.

In an emailed response to CBC News, Global Affairs Canada said this country’s entry requirements are meant to ensure the safety of Canadians. It said that the implementation of restrictions could disrupt travel plans but that “the decision to travel is the sole responsibility of the individual.”

“We can confirm that we are receiving reports of Canadians abroad affected by these new measures,” the statement said.

Debate over travel ban effectiveness

In a separate interview on The House, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said the restrictions are being implemented to give Canada the time to assess the risk of the omicron variant and “protect the progress” the country has made against the pandemic.

“I’d acknowledge that we’re at a moment where there will be some challenges, but we put in place public health measures because of the variant of concern.”

WATCH | New travel restrictions throw travel plans into chaos: 

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The uncertainty around the omicron variant and new COVID-19 testing and isolation requirements has some wondering if international travel is about to be upended again. 2:04

There has been significant criticism of the travel measures put in place by Canada and other countries, with growing evidence that the new variant had been circulating in several nations before South African researchers first discovered it in late November and travel restrictions were imposed.

Part of the debate has centred on the efficacy of travel restrictions themselves, with some experts arguing they do little to stop the spread of a new variant. The president of South Africa called them “unscientific” and “discriminatory.”

Mendicino said the restrictions on the 10 countries were not politically motivated but instead based on science.

“We’re doing it because we want to protect Canadians. This is not their first go-around. We’ve done this drill before, and we want to make sure that we’re taking the right decision when it comes to protecting the health and safety of Canadians,” he said.

WATCH | Debate over the effectiveness of travel restrictions: 

Travel bans unfairly target country that identified omicron variant, specialist says

3 days ago

Dr. Samir Gupta, a respirologist and associate professor at the University of Toronto, says travel bans to prevent the omicron variant’s spread can buy time, but penalize the countries that identify new virus variants. 7:52

For one medical officer of health in Canada, the bans are of some use but should not be the focus of government.

“You know, the honest truth is that it probably would have limited impact overall, but it may help to slow the introduction of omicron,” said Dr. Lawrence Loh of Peel Region, which hosts Toronto’s Pearson International Airport.

For Neumann, it’s clear the travel bans are not justified.

“When we know now that it’s also everywhere else in the world suggests that poorer countries are at a disadvantage, certainly versus Europe and Canada and the U.S.,” he said.

Despite the challenges so far, Neumann now has a flight booked for next Friday and describes himself as “somewhat hopeful” his travel plans will work out.

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Russia says airliner had to lose height to avoid NATO spy plane

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A Russian Aeroflot airliner flying from Tel Aviv to Moscow was forced to change altitude over the Black Sea because a NATO CL-600 reconnaissance plane crossed its designated flight path, Russia’s state aviation authority said on Saturday.

The state airline said flight SU501 carrying 142 passengers had had to drop 2,000 feet on Friday after air traffic control told it that another aircraft had crossed its path.

The crew were able to see the other plane when they passed in the sky, it said in a separate statement.

The aviation authority, Rosaviatsia, said a smaller CL-650 aircraft flying from the Black Sea resort of Sochi to Skopje had also had to change its course.

It did not say which NATO member the reconnaissance aircraft belonged to. Russia’s Defence Ministry said on Friday it had scrambled fighter jets to escort two U.S. military reconnaissance planes over the Black Sea.

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow made no immediate comment about the incident when it was first reported by the Interfax news agency.

Rosaviatsia said an increase in flights by NATO aircraft in the region was creating risks for civilian planes and that Moscow planned to lodge a diplomatic complaint over them.

International tensions have been rising over Ukraine and the Black Sea region.

Kyiv and NATO powers accuse Russia of building up troops near Ukraine, sparking fears of a possible attack. Moscow denies any such plan and accuses Kyiv of building up its own forces in its east, where Russian-backed separatists control a large part of Ukrainian territory.

(Reporting by Tom Balmforth and Gleb Stolyarov; Editing by Helen Popper and Kevin Liffey)

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