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

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The latest:

  • Plexiglass can be ‘counterproductive’ to proper COVID-19 ventilation, experts say.

A new coronavirus variant has been detected in South Africa that scientists say is a concern because of its high number of mutations and rapid spread among young people in Gauteng, the country’s most populous province.

South Africa has seen a dramatic rise in new infections this week, Health Minister Joe Phaahla said Thursday during an online briefing, adding that the new variant appears to be driving the spike in cases.

“Over the last four or five days, there has been more of an exponential rise,” he said.

Scientists in South Africa are working to determine what percentage of the new cases have been caused by the new variant, currently identified as B.1.1.529. 

PHOTOS | South Africa working to replicate COVID-19 vaccine:

It has also been found in Botswana and Hong Kong in travellers from South Africa, Phaahla said.

The WHO’s technical working group is to meet Friday to assess the new variant and may decide whether or not to give it a name from the Greek alphabet.

The coronavirus evolves as it spreads and many new variants, including those with worrying mutations, often just die out. Scientists monitor for possible changes that could be more transmissible or deadly, but sorting out whether new variants will have a public health impact can take time.

After a period of relatively low transmission in which South Africa recorded just over 200 new confirmed cases per day, in the past week, the daily new cases rapidly increased to more than 1,200 on Wednesday. On Thursday, they jumped to 2,465.

The first surge was in Pretoria and the surrounding Tshwane metropolitan area and appeared to be cluster outbreaks from student gatherings at universities in the area, said Phaahla. Amid the rise in cases, scientists studied the genomic sequencing and discovered the new variant.

PHOTOS | South Africa’s vaccine train takes doses to poor areas:

“This is clearly a variant that we must be very serious about,” said Ravindra Gupta, professor of clinical microbiology at the University of Cambridge. “It has a high number of spike mutations that could affect transmissibility and immune response.”

Gupta said scientists in South Africa need time to determine if the surge in new cases is attributable to the new variant.

“There is a high probability that this is the case,” he said. “South African scientists have done an incredible job of identifying this quickly and bringing it to the world’s attention.”

South African officials had warned that a new resurgence was expected from mid-December to early January and had hoped to prepare for that by getting many more people vaccinated, said Phaahla.

A person is administered a COVID-19 vaccine shot in Diepsloot Township near Johannesburg on Oct. 21. (Denis Farrell/The Associated Press)

About 41 per cent of South Africa’s adults have been vaccinated and the number of shots being given per day is relatively low, at less than 130,000 — significantly below the government’s target of 300,000 per day.

South Africa, with a population of 60 million, has recorded more than 2.9 million COVID-19 cases, including more than 89,000 deaths.

To date, the delta variant remains by far the most infectious and has crowded out other once-worrying variants including alpha, beta and mu. According to sequences submitted by countries worldwide to the world’s biggest public database, more than 99 per cent are delta.


What’s happening across Canada

WATCH | Look inside a Winnipeg vaccine clinic for kids age 5 to 11: 

Look inside a Winnipeg COVID-19 vaccine clinic for kids age 5 to 11

6 hours ago

Kids age five to 11 started getting their first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech pediatric COVID-19 vaccine this week at Winnipeg’s RBC Convention Centre, with colourful stickers and cookies on hand. 1:43


What’s happening around the world

As of Thursday morning, more than 259.6 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s COVID-19 tracker. The reported global death toll stood at more than 5.1 million.

Coffins of people who died with COVID-19 are seen in the morgue of a crematorium in Giesen, Germany, on Thursday. (Julian Stratenschulte/dpa via AP)

In Europe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke of “a very sad day” as her country became the latest to surpass 100,000 deaths from COVID-19 since the pandemic began. Germany is the fifth country in Europe to pass that mark after Russia, the United Kingdom, Italy and France.

In the Americas, mayors across Brazil are divided on whether to maintain end-of-year festivities and February’s Carnival, traditionally celebrated lavishly in all four corners of the vast nation, with some fearing that now-low COVID-19 infection rates could roar back. Rio de Janeiro is moving forward with both New Year’s Eve and its legendary Carnival, but others have opted for a more conservative approach.

In Asia-Pacific, New Zealand will reopen its borders to the world over the coming months, allowing for the return of displaced residents from January and tourists from April. The South Pacific nation imposed harsh border restrictions when the pandemic began, effectively banning tourists and requiring returning residents to spend two weeks in a quarantine hotel run by the military.

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Canada updates travel rules for Canadians flying in from South Africa – Canada Immigration News

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Published on December 6th, 2021 at 10:30am EST

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Travellers walking through an airport with luggage, wearing surgical masks

Travellers walking through an airport with luggage, wearing surgical masks

Canada has temporarily tweaked its travel rules to allow Canadians to return home from South Africa without having to do a COVID-19 test in a third country.

Canadian citizens and permanent residents will be able to get a pre-departure test in South Africa, provided they meet all of the following eligibility requirements on the government website:

  • Get a pre-departure negative COVID-19 molecular test from an accredited laboratory in South Africa no more than 48 hours before the scheduled departure, or a positive test result from between 14 and 180 days before departure.
  • Fly from Johannesburg or Cape Town to Frankfurt, Germany on a Lufthansa flight that departs on or before December 13, 2021.
  • Transit through Frankfurt airport to travel on a direct Lufthansa or Air Canada flight to Canada.

Discover if You’re Eligible for Canadian Immigration

The Canadian government made the amendment on Saturday evening, after Canadians spoke out against the new travel rules. Many said the requirement to get tested in a third country prevented them from returning home.

Canada implemented the rules following the emergence of the Omicron variant. So far, travellers from 10 countries are restricted from coming to Canada:

  • Botswana
  • Egypt;
  • Eswatini;
  • Lesotho;
  • Malawi;
  • Mozambique;
  • Namibia;
  • Nigeria;
  • South Africa; and
  • Zimbabwe.

On Friday, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra tweeted four flow charts that offer visual guidance on the new travel measures.

Regardless of vaccination status, if you are a Canadian coming home from one of the 10 prohibited countries, you have to go into isolation after you arrive. You also have to do COVID-19 tests upon arriving to the airport, and on day 8 of your quarantine.

Vaccinated travellers from all countries other than the U.S. will need to do an on-arrival test and quarantine until they receive a negative result. If the result is positive, they must remain in isolation for 10 days.

Unvaccinated travellers from all countries other than the U.S. who are allowed to come to Canada, will need to quarantine at home for 14 days.

Discover if You’re Eligible for Canadian Immigration

© CIC News All Rights Reserved. Visit CanadaVisa.com to discover your Canadian immigration options.

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Federal government says Canada border testing contracts worth up to $631 million – CTV News

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OTTAWA —
When Halifax-based blogger and social media influencer Kayla Short pulled up to a Canada-U.S. land border last month, she was prepared.

She had all her receipts from her one-week trip to Boston along with her travel documents, proof of vaccination and a negative COVID-19 test from the day before ready to show Canadian officials at the Calais, Maine, crossing.

What Short wasn’t prepared for was to be selected for a mandatory COVID-19 arrival test — less than 24 hours after completing her last test.

The federal government has awarded three companies with contracts worth up to $631 million for COVID-19 border testing and other screening services as concerns about the Omicron variant deepen ahead of the busy holiday travel period.

Public Services and Procurement Canada said Switch Health, LifeLabs and Dynacare are carrying out testing of international travellers entering Canada at airports and land border crossings.

The random arrival testing program is part of broader COVID-19 screening and testing being rolled out by the three companies.

While air travellers selected for additional screening are usually directed to an on-site clinic for a test, travellers crossing land borders are usually handed a test to self-administer.

Short said while the intentions of the program are “good on paper,” she said trying to complete a test during a pit stop at a New Brunswick hotel room with unreliable internet was “cumbersome and overwhelming.”

“The whole thing took me probably two hours from creating an account online and then waiting 45 minutes to speak to someone over a video call with spotty Wi-Fi so they could walk me through the test,” she said. “Then the next day we had to do a detour in Moncton to find a Purolator drop-off box.”

Health Canada said it was working on responding to questions about the COVID-19 arrival testing program sent to the department last week. However, a response was not received before deadline on Monday.

Public Services and Procurement Canada spokesman Gabriel Leboeuf said Switch Health, LifeLabs and Dynacare provide comprehensive border testing services, including appointment booking, test administration and results management.

They also provide further testing support for temporary foreign workers, refugees, asylum seekers and international students, he said

Switch Health is responsible for testing in Ontario, Alberta and Atlantic Canada, with a contract value worth up to $440 million.

LifeLabs is providing testing services in British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Yukon with a contract worth up to $111 million, and Dynacare is operating in Quebec and Manitoba with a contract worth up to $80 million.

“As of November 30, 2021, the total approved value of the border testing contracts is approximately $631 million,” Leboeuf said in an email. “However, since companies are paid for services delivered, this amount may not be fully spent.”

Jordan Paquet, vice-president of public affairs with Switch Health, said most of the company’s randomized arrival testing at airports is done on-site.

He said the Canada Border Services Agency will put a sticker on a traveller’s passport or travel document indicating whether they can proceed directly to baggage claim or stop at the testing site first.

At land border crossings, however, Paquet said travellers who are selected for random screening are provided with a test kit to take with them.

“It would get massively backed up if we stopped people to do the tests in person, especially at the bigger land border crossings like the Detroit-Windsor bridge,” he said.

Travellers complete the at-home tests with the help of a Switch Health employee through a video call. They are then directed to put the test in an envelope provided and then in the mail.

“The validity of a test is going to be more guaranteed if someone is proctoring it online,” he said. “It ensures accuracy.”

Paquet said the average wait time to be connected with a Switch Health official online is 15 minutes, making Short’s wait time of 45 minutes longer than usual.

Still, while he acknowledged the inconvenience of being selected for additional testing, he pointed out that self-administering a test from a hotel room is likely preferable for many to standing in line at a testing centre.

Meanwhile, Paquet said the pandemic has shone a light on some of the gaps in the health-care system and has shown that companies like Toronto-based Switch Health can work with governments to improve patient experiences.

“We’re not there to replace anything in the health-care system,” he said. “Our whole goal as a company is to deliver better health care in general for Canadians and more decentralized diagnostics.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 6, 2021.

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COVID-19 antiviral drug molnupiravir to be manufactured in Canada – CTV News

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TORONTO —
Merck Canada announced on Monday that it is partnering with Thermo Fisher Scientific to manufacture its COVID-19 antiviral drug in Canada for global distribution in a deal Ottawa hopes will help jump-start the country’s position as a biomanufacturing centre and better secure its supply chain for future public health emergencies.

The existing Thermo Fisher facility in Whitby, Ont. will produce doses of molnupiravir, an investigational drug developed in collaboration with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, for distribution in Canada, the U.K., the European Union, Asia Pacific, and Latin America, pending approvals in those respective regions. The drug is awaiting approval by Health Canada.

The facility was chosen because of the capacity, capability, and speed with which it is able to produce the drug, Merck Canada’s new president Marwan Akar said during a press conference.

The Whitby location is one of three facilities in the world that will produce this pill, which would be the first drug treatment for COVID-19 patients can take at home.

“We are marking a very key milestone, and rebuilding Canada’s biomanufacturing capability,” Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry Francois-Philippe Champagne said during the news conference.

“We’ll be producing COVID medications for Canadians and indeed for the world… so to me this is a very big step in how we intend to rebuild our biomanufacturing sector in Canada.”

Earlier in the pandemic, Canada came under criticism for its inability to manufacture COVID-19 vaccines domestically, leaving Ottawa reliant on U.S. and European manufacturers to produce and provide doses. To ensure Canadians had access to vaccines as they became available, the federal government ordered hundreds of millions of doses of vaccine candidates from more than half a dozen companies.

Minister Champagne said the latest announcement is part of the government’s efforts to ensure Canada is better prepared and that “we redesign the supply chain so whatever may come next, we would be ready.”

The new manufacturing deal will also help Ontario’s economic recovery with a $19 million capital investment supporting more than 50 high-paying jobs in the region, according to Victor Fedeli, Ontario Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade.

ANTIVIRAL LESS EFFECTIVE THAN FIRST THOUGHT

Last week, the federal government signed a deal with Merck to purchase 500,000 molnupiravir pills, with an option for another half million, pending approval. Request for approval of the drug was submitted in August.

The company says its oral pill reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by about 30 per cent for at-risk, non-hospitalized adult patients with mild or moderate infection. This was sharply lower than the 50 per cent reported in the initial data.

In a narrow vote last week, a panel of expert advisers to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommended the drug be authorized for treatment of COVID-19, but expressed concerns over whether it could cause the virus to mutate and its potential to cause birth defects. Studies in rats showed the drug caused toxicity and birth defects at very high doses.

While Merck has yet to conduct specific research on the medication’s effectiveness against the Omicron variant, the company appeared confident that it should have some potency based on its effectiveness against other variants. Final authorization for emergency use by the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is pending.

Antiviral drug treatments are considered another tool in the fight against COVID-19, experts say, after personal protective equipment, testing, and vaccines.

With files from The Associated Press 

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