New measures to combat the new omicron variant of coronavirus took effect in England on Tuesday, with face coverings again compulsory in shops and on public transportation, as the government said it would offer all adults a booster dose of vaccine within two months to bolster the nation’s immunity.
From Tuesday morning, all travellers returning to the U.K. must also take a PCR test and self-isolate until they receive a negative result. Previously they had been able to take a lateral flow test and no quarantine was required.
The reintroduction of mandatory face masks brings England closer in line with the rest of the U.K. — Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — which had kept some restrictions in place after England lifted all mandatory measures in the summer.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the new measures will “buy us time” in the face of the new variant. He said that while many people felt an understandable “sense of exhaustion” at the prospect of renewed restrictions, the U.K.’s position is “immeasurably better than it was a year ago.”
The government said Tuesday that 22 cases of the omicron variant have been identified across the U.K., a number that is expected to rise.
Much remains unknown about the new variant that was first identified in southern Africa, including how contagious it might be. It contains a large number of mutations that scientists say may make it more resistant to current vaccines than the currently dominant delta variant.
U.K. booster program expanding
Johnson’s government is expanding its booster vaccine program, with a booster dose to be offered to everyone 18 and up, three months after the second shot — halving the current gap. Until now, only people 40 and over and those deemed clinically vulnerable were eligible for the booster shot.
Britain has already delivered more than 18 million booster shots, and the change in advice makes another 14 million people eligible.
Johnson said at a news conference that the goal was to offer everyone a booster shot by the end of January. He said the shots would be given at hospitals, doctors’ offices, pop-up vaccination centres and more than 1,500 community pharmacies, with 400 troops called in to help medics and a “jabs army” of volunteer vaccinators.
“We’re going to be throwing everything at it in order to ensure that everyone eligible is offered that booster in just over two months,” Johnson said.
Jenny Harries, who heads the U.K. Health Security Agency, said that while there was still uncertainty in understanding the omicron variant, officials hope that the expansion of the booster shot rollout will “to some extent counter the potential drop in vaccine effectiveness we might find with this variant.”
She also urged people to be cautious and reduce socializing over the festive season if possible.
When asked if he agreed with Harries’ advice for the public to change their behaviour, Johnson told reporters “it’s always sensible to be careful,” but his government had no plans to change the “overall guidance about how people should be living their lives.”
It remains unclear where or when the variant first emerged — but that hasn’t stopped wary nations from rushing to impose travel restrictions, especially on people coming from southern Africa. Those moves have been criticized by South Africa and the World Health Organization (WHO) has urged against them, noting their limited effect.
Much is still unknown about the variant — though WHO warned that the global risk from the variant is “very high” and early evidence suggests it could be more contagious.
While it has urged against border closures, WHO has stressed that while scientists are hunting evidence to better understand this variant, countries should accelerate vaccinations as quickly as possible.
-From The Associated Press, last updated at 12:15 p.m. ET
What’s happening across Canada
What’s happening around the world
As of early Tuesday afternoon more than 262.4 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to the case-tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The reported global death toll stood at more than 5.2 million.
In Africa, South Africa’s President, Cyril Ramaphosa, is speaking out against travel bans, saying they punish his country for transparently disclosing information about a new variant.
“We are also insisting that these bans must be removed, they must be lifted,” the president said of bans on travellers from several southern African nations. “Because you do not try and contain a virus through imposing bans unscientifically and indiscriminately.”
In Europe, the omicron variant was already in the Netherlands when South Africa alerted WHO about it last week, Dutch health authorities said Tuesday, adding to fear and confusion over the new version of the coronavirus in a weary world hoping it had left the worst of the pandemic behind. The Netherlands’ RIVM health institute found omicron in samples dating from Nov. 19 and 23. WHO said South Africa first reported the variant to the UN health agency on Nov. 24.
The Dutch announcement Tuesday further muddies the timeline on when the new variant actually emerged. Previously, the Dutch had said they found the variant among passengers who came from South Africa on Friday — but these new cases predate that.
Epidemiological update for 30/11 on the <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/Omicron?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#Omicron</a> variant: 44 confirmed cases of SARS-CoV-2 Omicron have been reported by eleven EU/EEA countries, according to information from public sources.<br><br>More info:<a href=”https://t.co/0WPE8IgGRy”>https://t.co/0WPE8IgGRy</a>
Meanwhile, the COVID-19 incidence rate has dropped slightly in Germany and Austria and stabilized in the Netherlands since the three countries introduced new measures to curb the spread of the virus, new data showed. After becoming hot spots in a new wave of infections in western Europe, Austria went into a fourth full lockdown last week and the Netherlands and Germany imposed new restrictions.
In the Asia-Pacific region, Hong Kong expanded a ban on entry for non-residents from several countries as global health authorities raced to curb a potential outbreak of the omicron virus, while Australia is set to review containment steps after five people tested positive.
Cambodia barred entry to travellers from 10 African countries, citing the threat from the variant. The move came just two weeks after Cambodia reopened its borders to fully vaccinated travellers.
The Current20:09Omicron variant drives calls for vaccine equity, waiving of patents
In the Americas, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) said everyone aged 18 years and older should get a booster shot either six months after their initial Pfizer or Moderna vaccine doses or two months after their Johnson & Johnson shot.
Ecuador will impose entry curbs on travellers flying from or via a number of African countries and will request vaccine certificates from those arriving from other countries due to the new omicron variant, President Guillermo Lasso said on Monday.
In the Middle East, Iran on Monday reported 4,310 new cases of COVID-19 and 82 additional deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University’s case tracker.
-From Reuters, The Associated Press and CBC News, last updated at 12:05 p.m. ET
Have questions about this story? We’re answering as many as we can in the comments.
Kamloops ranch that refused vaccinated guest but kept their deposit now says they'll issue $3.2K refund – CBC.ca
A ranch owner in Kamloops, B.C., has been criticized by the province’s solicitor general for refusing to accept a vaccinated international traveller.
The Equinisity Ranch in Kamloops, in the province’s central Interior, is run by owner Liz Mitten Ryan. She told CBC News she catered almost exclusively to international travellers, including from England, Switzerland and Australia.
In a report in The Guardian, published Thursday, a prospective traveller called J.W. York said they had booked a $3,200 retreat (£2,000) with Ryan in May 2020, but the trip was put off due to lockdowns and other pandemic restrictions.
According to York, they were told recently they were not welcome at Equinisity anymore because they were fully vaccinated against COVID — and they would not be receiving a refund due to ranch policy.
Ryan confirmed that the ranch had a “no vax” policy for patrons, even though international travellers have to be fully vaccinated to enter Canada. The Guardian article quoted her as saying that vaccines were a “bioweapon depopulation tool” that could transfer to animals.
The entire episode was called “outrageous” by B.C. Solicitor General Mike Farnworth.
“I have asked my ministry, the consumer protection branch, to look into this,” he told CBC News.
“This is just wrong. Like, you want to subscribe to a wack job conspiracy theory. That’s your business. But you don’t rip people off like this. It’s unethical.”
Refunds will happen, says owner’s husband
In a statement, Kevin Ryan — Liz Ryan’s husband — said the ranch would eventually send refunds to customers.
“For personal reasons for this summer, [Liz] has implemented a policy of non-vaccinated guests only,” the statement read. “Not, I stress, realizing any regulations were being broken.
“Due to the current public interest in this situation, and the subsequent informed discussions, she now realizes that it is appropriate the deposit, in this case, needs to be returned to comply with said regulation.”
Ryan told CBC News all deposits “of a similar status” would be returned by the end of the month.
On its website, Equinisity says it provides “a unique journey” for patrons to find “true healing” through meditation, horse riding and other activities. Ryan says his wife had been running the establishment for over 15 years.
Their pricing guide shows that individual patrons can expect to pay $2,800 for an eight-day retreat, while couples can expect to pay $2,400 each.
Before her husband’s statement about refunds, Liz Ryan had suggested that any vaccinated traveller sell their booking. She also said her ranch had been shut down for two years, the longest such span of her career, due to border restrictions.
Farnworth told CBC News that Equinisity’s stance against vaccinated travellers would give international travellers a bad impression of the province.
“It sends a terrible message in terms of tourism here in British Columbia and Canada,” he said. “Because, let’s face it, this person that took this trip is now going to tell their friend … ‘Why would you want to come here?'”
Farnworth said his staff would be investigating if the ranch had received any COVID relief funding, and that the ranch would not be eligible in any case, given the requirements placed on vaccinated travellers.
“I don’t think it’s particularly good business practice,” he said.
How Canada’s new NOC will affect Express Entry eligibility – Canada Immigration News
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) currently uses NOC 2016 to determine the eligibility of occupations under its temporary and permanent residency programs. However, IRCC must switch to NOC 2021 starting in November as per Canadian law.
The NOC is managed by Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) and Statistics Canada, which revise the system every 10 years. NOC 2021 will introduce new terminology and a revised classification structure that will affect IRCC programs.
As a result of these changes, the following 16 occupations will become eligible under Express Entry:
- Payroll administrators;
- Dental assistants and dental laboratory assistants;
- Nurse aides, orderlies and patient service associates;
- Pharmacy technical assistants and pharmacy assistants;
- Elementary and secondary school teacher assistants;
- Sheriffs and bailiffs;
- Correctional service officers;
- By-law enforcement and other regulatory officers;
- Estheticians, electrologists and related occupations;
- Residential and commercial installers and servicers;
- Pest controllers and fumigators;
- Other repairers and servicers;
- Transport truck drivers;
- Bus drivers, subway operators and other transit operators;
- Heavy equipment operators; and
- Aircraft assemblers and aircraft assembly inspectors.
There will also be three occupations that will become ineligible, including:
- other performers;
- program leaders and instructors in recreation, sport and fitness; and
- tailors, dressmakers, furriers and milliners.
These three occupations will remain eligible for programs with broader occupational eligibility criteria, such as some streams of the Provincial Nominee Program.
The major change to NOC 2021 is the current four-category “skill level” structure has been overhauled and replaced by a new six-category system. The new system outlines the level of Training, Education, Experience and Responsibilities (TEER) required to enter each occupation.
The previous NOC had four skill levels. NOC A represented jobs that tend to require university degrees, NOC B included jobs in the skilled trades or that require a college diploma, NOC C covered jobs that require intermediate skills or job-specific training, and NOC D was for labour jobs that require on-the-job training.
In September 2020, IRCC’s Executive Committee decided that the new TEER structure will be adopted as follows:
|NOC 2016||NOC 2021|
|Skill Type 0||TEER 0|
|Skill Level A||TEER 1|
|Skill Level B||TEER 2|
|Skill Level B||TEER 3|
|Skill Level C||TEER 4|
|Skill Level D||TEER 5|
NOC 2021 will use a five-tier hierarchical system to classify occupations. Also, occupations will now have a five-digit codification system instead of the current four-digit system. The TEER system has six categories, 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.
Statistics Canada explains there are two main reasons why the skill type model is being replaced by the TEER system. First, the TEER system aims to provide more clarity on the level of education and work experience required to work in an occupation. Second, the skill type model creates artificial categorizations between low- and high-skilled jobs. Implementing TEER is intended to give stakeholders a better sense of the skills required for each occupation.
This Statistics Canada tool allows you to see how your current NOC corresponds with NOC 2021.
© CIC News All Rights Reserved. Visit CanadaVisa.com to discover your Canadian immigration options.
More Canadians could face late-stage cancer tied to diagnosis delays during COVID pandemic – CBC News
It all started with a stomach bug.
That’s what Cheryl-Anne Labrador-Summers thought, anyway. It was October 2020, not long after she’d moved to the tranquil lakeside Ontario community of Georgina, and instead of relaxing with her family like she’d planned, the mother of three was struggling to figure out why she kept experiencing strange, unexplained stomach cramps.
Labrador-Summers tried to visit her family physician, but the office was shuttered because of the COVID-19 pandemic. So she searched for another clinic — only to be offered a phone appointment rather than an in-person assessment. She wound up being told that her grumbling digestive system was likely caused by a mild gastrointestinal illness.
By January, the 58-year-old had a distended stomach, looking — in her own words — “about nine months pregnant.” Again, she reached out to a physician, went for some tests, then headed to the nearest emergency department.
After finally seeing a doctor face to face for the first time in months, she learned the real cause of her discomfort: an intestinal blockage caused by cancer.
“It ended up being a nine-centimetre tumour, and it had completely blocked off my lower bowel,” she said.
An emergency surgery left Labrador-Summers with 55 staples along her torso and a months-long recovery before she could begin oral chemotherapy. Her question now is unanswerable but painful to consider: Could that ordeal have been prevented, or at least minimized, by an earlier diagnosis?
“Had I maybe been able to see the doctors earlier, I would not be in Stage 3,” she said. “I might have been a Stage 2.”
951,000 fewer cancer screenings in Ontario
More Canadians could experience late-stage cancer diagnoses in the years ahead, medical experts warn, forecasting a looming crisis tied to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“We expect to see more advanced stages of presentation over the next couple of years, as well as impacts on cancer treatments,” said oncologist Dr. Timothy Hanna, a clinician scientist at the Cancer Research Institute at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont.
“We know that time is of the essence for people with cancer. And when people are waiting for a diagnosis or for treatment, this has been associated with increased risks of advanced stage and worse survival.”
One review of Ontario’s breast, lung, colon, and cervical cancer screening programs showed that in 2020 there were 41 per cent — or more than 951,000 — fewer screening tests conducted compared with the year before.
Screening volumes rebounded after May 2020, but were still 20 per cent lower compared to pre-pandemic levels.
WATCH | Late-stage cancer being diagnosed in Canadian ERs:
That drop in screenings translates into fewer invasive cancer diagnoses, including roughly 1,400 to 1,500 fewer breast cancers, wrote Dr. Anna N. Wilkinson, an assistant professor in the department of family medicine at the University of Ottawa, in a May commentary piece for the journal Canadian Family Physician.
“The impact of COVID-19 on cancer is far-reaching: screening backlogs, delayed workup of symptomatic patients and abnormal screening results, and delays in cancer treatment and research, all exacerbated by patient apprehension to be seen in person,” she wrote.
“It is clear that there is not only a lost cohort of screened patients but also a subset of missed cancer diagnoses due to delays in patient presentation and assessment,” leading to those cancers being diagnosed at a more advanced stage.
Tough accessing care in a ‘timely way’
The slowdown in colonoscopies may already be leading to more serious cases of colorectal cancer in Ontario, for instance, suggests a paper published in the Journal of the Canadian Association of Gastroenterology.
“Patients who were treated after the COVID-19 pandemic began were significantly more likely to present emergently to hospital. This means that they were more likely to present with bowel perforation, or severe bowel obstruction, requiring immediate life-saving surgery,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Catherine Forse, in a call with CBC News.
“In addition, we found that patients were more likely to have large tumours.”
In some cases — like Labrador-Summers’s situation — Canadians learned alarming news about their health in hospital emergency departments after struggling to receive in-patient care through other avenues.
Shuttered family physician offices, a shift to telemedicine, and some patients’ fears surrounding COVID-19 may all have played a role.
“It became harder for patients to access care and to access it in a timely way,” Hanna said.
“At the same time, there were real risks — and there are real risks for leaving home to go anywhere, particularly to go to an outpatient clinic or a hospital in order to get checked out.”
Dr. Lisa Salamon, an emergency physician with the Scarborough Health Network in Toronto, said she’s now diagnosing more patients with serious cancers, including several just in the last few months.
“So previously, it may have been localized or something small, but now we’re actually seeing metastatic cancer that we’re diagnosing,” she explained.
Lessons for future pandemics
Health policy expert Laura Greer is dealing with Stage four, metastatic breast cancer herself after waiting more than five months for a routine mammogram she was initially due for in the spring of 2021 — a precautionary measure given that her mother had breast cancer as well.
Unlike an early-stage diagnosis, Greer’s cancer is only treatable, not curable.
“It was an example of what happens when you don’t have the regular screening, or those wellness visits,” said the Toronto resident and mother of two.
“I most likely would have had earlier-stage cancer if it had been sooner.”
Pausing access to care and screenings for other health conditions can have dire impacts on patients, according to Greer, offering lessons for how policy-makers tackle future pandemics.
“We need to make sure that we’ve got enough capacity in our health system to be able to flex, and that’s what we really didn’t have going into this,” she said.
For Labrador-Summers, it’s hard to forget the moment her life changed while she was alone in an emergency department, learning a terrifying diagnosis from a physician she’d just met. Her mind raced with questions about the future and concerns for her family.
“My older son had just told us they were expecting a child, and I just wanted to be there for them. And I didn’t know what next steps were. And we had lost my mom to cancer a few years back — to us, cancer was always terminal,” she recalled.
“So again, I’m alone, trying to process all of this.”
A screening following Labrador-Summers’ surgery and chemotherapy treatment wound up finding more cancer.
“It’s now life-threatening,” she said.
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