Ontario public health units will be able to access rapid antigen test kits from the province to help prevent outbreaks at schools or child-care centres, the province’s chief medical officer of health said Tuesday.
The province foresees rapid antigen screening being used only for unvaccinated asymptomatic students and children who are not high-risk contacts. Symptomatic or high-risk contacts should continue to access lab-based PCR testing at assessment centres, said Dr. Kieran Moore.
“This is an extra tool in our tool chest to keep schools open,” said Moore, who added that public health units will have to assess their local case ratios to determine whether the tests should be utilized.
Public health experts say rapid tests can help break potential chains of transmission as they fare well at detecting persons with high viral loads, while reducing the strain on labs that perform PCR tests. Parents say the tests can help prevent their own work disruptions, as they are not pulling out their asymptomatic and COVID-negative children out of class for several days of remote learning in the face of one or two positive cases at their schools.
The announcement comes after groups of parents had organized surveillance testing for their schools using the rapid test kits, but the government told agencies to stop distributing them to anyone but businesses.
Moore, who in recent weeks has focused on the false positives that some brands of antigen tests produce, said the highly transmissible delta variant led to an evolution in approach. He also described it as unfortunate when children have to quarantine for up to two weeks at a time, as occurred in the last school year.
But, he said, widespread regular testing was not practical given that there are about two million students in Ontario elementary and secondary schools.
Ontario on Tuesday reported three additional deaths from COVID-19 and 429 new cases, with the seven-day average of new daily cases falling to 576.
What’s happening with vaccines
Johnson & Johnson says it has submitted data to the FDA for emergency use authorization of a booster shot of its single-dose COVID-19 vaccine in people aged 18 years and older.
J&J on Tuesday said its submission includes data from a late-stage study that found a booster of its vaccine given 56 days after the primary dose provided 94 per cent protection against symptomatic COVID-19 in the United States and 100 per cent protection against severe disease, at least 14 days after the booster shot.
The FDA has already authorized a booster dose of the vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc. and partner BioNTech for 65-year olds and older, people at high risk of severe disease and others who are regularly exposed to the virus. Moderna submitted its application seeking authorization for a booster shot of its two-dose vaccine last month.
J&J said it plans to submit the data to other regulators, the World Health Organization and National Immunization Technical Advisory Groups to inform decision-making on local vaccine administration strategies, as needed.
Meanwhile, AstraZeneca has requested emergency use authorization from U.S. regulators for its new treatment to prevent COVID-19 for people who respond poorly to vaccines because of a weakened immune system.
In a statement on Tuesday, the Anglo-Swedish drugmaker said it included data in its filing with the Food and Drug Administration from a late-stage trial that showed its antibody therapy called AZD7442 reduced the risk of people developing any COVID-19 symptoms by 77 per cent.
While vaccines rely on an intact immune system to develop targeted antibodies and infection-fighting cells, AZD7442 contains lab-made antibodies designed to linger in the body for months to contain the virus in case of an infection.
A U.S. authorization for AZD7442 — based on two antibodies discovered by Vanderbilt University Medical Center in the United States — could be a major win for AstraZeneca, whose widely used COVID-19 vaccine has yet to be approved by U.S. authorities. Trial results on the AZD7442 therapy, first published in August, were taken three months after injection, but the company hopes it can tout the shot as a year-long shield as trial investigators will follow up with participants as far out as 15 months.
What’s happening across Canada
What’s happening around the world
As of early Tuesday, more than 235.4 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus-tracking tool. The reported global death toll stood at more than 4.8 million.
In Asia, China reported no new local COVID-19 cases for the first time in more than three weeks.
In Europe, the Kremlin has implored people to get vaccinated, as Russian authorities mulled reintroducing health restrictions to cope with daily cases rising to their highest levels since January.
In the Americas, New York State’s largest health-care provider has fired 1,400 employees who refused to get vaccinations.
Have questions about this story? We’re answering as many as we can in the comments.
Overcoming scandal and PTSD, Japan’s Princess Mako finally marries college sweetheart
Japan‘s Princess Mako, the emperor’s niece, has married her commoner college sweetheart on Tuesday and left the royal family after a years-long engagement beset by scrutiny that has left the princess with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Mako and fiance Kei Komuro, both 30, announced their engagement four years ago, a move initially cheered by the country. But things soon turned sour as tabloids reported on a money scandal involving Komuro’s mother, prompting the press to turn on him. The marriage was postponed, and he left Japan for law studies in New York in 2018 only to return in September.
Their marriage consisted of an official from the Imperial Household Agency (IHA), which runs the family’s lives, submitting paperwork to a local office in the morning, foregoing the numerous rituals and ceremonies usual to royal weddings, including a reception.
Mako also refused to receive a one-off payment of about $1.3 million typically made to royal women who marry commoners and become ordinary citizens, in line with Japanese law.
Television footage showed Mako, wearing a pastel dress and pearls, saying goodbye to her parents and 26-year-old sister, Kako, at the entrance to their home. Though all wore masks in line with Japan’s coronavirus protocol, her mother could be seen blinking rapidly, as if to fight off tears.
Though Mako bowed formally to her parents, her sister grabbed her shoulders and the two shared a long embrace.
In the afternoon, Mako and her new husband will hold a news conference, which will also depart from custom. While royals typically answer pre-submitted questions at such events, the couple will make a brief statement and hand out written replies to the questions instead.
“Some of the questions took mistaken information as fact and upset the princess,” said officials at the IHA, according to NHK public television.
Komuro, dressed in a crisp dark suit and tie, bowed briefly to camera crews gathered outside his home as he left in the morning but said nothing. His casual demeanour on returning to Japan, including long hair tied back in a ponytail, had sent tabloids into a frenzy.
Just months after the two announced their engagement at a news conference where their smiles won the hearts of the nation, tabloids reported a financial dispute between Komuro’s mother and her former fiance, with the man claiming mother and son had not repaid a debt of about $35,000.
The scandal spread to mainstream media after the IHA failed to provide a clear explanation. In 2021, Komuro issued a 24-page statement on the matter and also said he would pay a settlement.
Public opinion polls show the Japanese are divided about the marriage, and there has been at least one protest.
Analysts say the problem is that the imperial family is so idealised that not the slightest hint of trouble with things such as money or politics should touch them.
The fact that Mako’s father and younger brother, Hisahito, are both in the line of succession after Emperor Naruhito, whose daughter is ineligible to inherit, makes the scandal particularly damaging, said Hideya Kawanishi, an associate professor of history at Nagoya University.
“Though it’s true they’ll both be private citizens, Mako’s younger brother will one day become emperor, so some people thought anybody with the problems he (Komuro) had shouldn’t be marrying her,” Kawanishi added.
The two will live in New York, though Mako will remain on her own in Tokyo for some time after the wedding to prepare for the move, including applying for the first passport of her life.
(Reporting by Elaine Lies; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa)
EU countries splinter ahead of crisis talks on energy price spike
Divisions have deepened among European Union countries ahead of an emergency meeting of ministers on Tuesday on their response to a spike in energy prices, with some countries seeking a regulatory overhaul and others firmly opposed.
European gas prices have hit record highs in autumn and remained at lofty levels, prompting most EU countries to respond with emergency measures like price caps and subsidies to help trim consumer energy bills.
Countries are struggling to agree, however, on a longer term plan to cushion against fossil-fuel price swings, which Spain, France, the Czech Republic and Greece say warrant a bigger shake-up of the way EU energy markets work.
Ministers from those countries will make the case on Tuesday for proposals that include decoupling European electricity and gas prices, joint gas buying among countries to create emergency reserves, and, in the case of a few countries including Poland, delaying planned policies to address climate change.
In an indication of differences likely to emerge at the meeting, nine countries including Germany – Europe’s biggest economy and market for electricity – on Monday said they would not support EU electricity market reforms.
“This will not be a remedy to mitigate the current rising energy prices linked to fossil fuels markets,” the countries said in a joint statement.
The European Commission has asked regulators to analyse the design of Europe’s electricity market, but said there was no evidence that a different market structure would have fared better during the recent price jump.
“Any interventions on the market and the decoupling of [gas and power] pricing are off the table,” one EU diplomat said, adding there was “no appetite” among most countries for those measures.
Other proposals – such as countries forming joint gas reserves – would also not offer a quick fix and could take months to negotiate. A European Commission proposal to upgrade EU gas market regulation to make it greener, due in December, is seen as the earliest that such proposals would arrive.
With less than a week until the international COP26 climate change summit, the energy price spike has also stoked tensions between countries over the EU’s green policies, setting up a clash as they prepare to negotiate new proposals including higher tax rates for polluting fuels.
Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban has dismissed such plans as “utopian fantasy”, a stance at odds with other EU countries who say the price jump should trigger a faster switch to low-emission, locally produced renewable energy, to help reduce exposure to imported fossil fuel prices.
(Reporting by Kate Abnett; Editing by Bernadette Baum)
Bad weather off Canadian coast preventing efforts to board container ship after fire
Sixteen crew members were evacuated from the MV Zim Kingston on Saturday. Five remained onboard to fight the fire, which was largely under control by late Sunday.
The company has appointed a salvage crew “but due to the current weather, (they) have been unable to board the container ship”, the coast guard said on Twitter.
“The containers continue to smolder and boundary cooling – spraying water on the hull and on containers near the fire – continues,” it added.
The ship is anchored several kilometers (miles) off the southern coast of Vancouver Island, in the province of British Columbia. There is no impact to human health, the coast guard said.
Danaos Shipping Co, the company that manages the ship, said on Sunday that no injuries had been reported on board.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Sandra Maler)
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