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

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The latest:

Quebec Premier François Legault is expected to offer details on how the province will respond to increasing COVID-19 cases and increasing strain on the health-care system later Wednesday.

The province, which has seen more cases and deaths than any other during the pandemic, reported 2,508 new cases of COVID-19 and 62 additional deaths on Tuesday. Hospitalizations increased to 1,317, with 194 COVID-19 patients in the province’s intensive care units.

Sources told Radio-Canada that Legault has been asked to consider a range of measures, including extended school closures, limits on non-essential construction and manufacturing, and a curfew.

Dr. Matthew Oughton, an infectious disease physician at Jewish General Hospital in Montreal and an assistant professor at McGill’s department of medicine, told CBC News Network that given the rates of community transmission and hospitalizations in Quebec, something needs to be done to reduce the number of “face-to-face contacts the average citizen is having.”

Ontario, which reported 3,266 new cases of COVID-19 and 37 additional deaths on Wednesday, is also dealing with increased stress on the health-care system. Health Minister Christine Elliott said in a tweet on Wednesday there were 805 new cases in Toronto, 523 new cases in Peel Region, 349 in York Region, 208 in Windsor-Essex and 206 in Waterloo.

Hospitalizations in Ontario increased to 1,463, with 361 COVID-19 patients in the province’s ICUs, the province said in data released Wednesday.

Premier Doug Ford, who is set to hold a news conference at 1 p.m. ET, is expected to face questions about the province’s vaccine rollout and his former finance minister’s recent trip to the Caribbean.

In southern Ontario, the Windsor Regional Hospital said in a statement Tuesday that a “high volume of patients” with COVID-19 who needed to be admitted to hospital has forced the facility to begin moving some patients to other area hospitals “in order to create bed capacity at our two Windsor campuses.”

Meanwhile in the Hamilton, Ont., area, a hospital network CEO is the latest leader to face criticism over holiday travel. Dr. Tom Stewart, CEO of St. Joseph’s Health System and Niagara Health, travelled to the Dominican Republic in December.  Stewart, who apologized in a statement and expressed regret over the trip, has resigned from groups that advise the province about COVID-19.

WATCH | COVID-19 surge stretches Ontario’s hospitals to their limits:

A surge of COVID-19 patients has pushed Ontario past the threshold where hospitals warned surgeries would be delayed or cancelled. ICUs are stretched to the limit and some hospitals have had to find room for patients, and bodies, elsewhere. 2:06

As of 10:40 a.m. ET on Wednesday, Canada’s COVID-19 case count stood at 621,912, with 79,073 of those cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 16,270.

In Atlantic Canada, New Brunswick is stepping up restrictions as it deals with rising COVID-19 case numbers. Health officials reported 27 new cases on Tuesday, a record high in the province.

“Given our current path, we could see hundreds of new active cases daily in our province,” Premier Blaine Higgs said Tuesday. “To say this would be devastating is an understatement.”

Nova Scotia reported three new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, while health officials in both Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island reported one new case. 

Across the North, there were no new cases reported on Tuesday. In the Northwest Territories, health officials provided details of its COVID-19 vaccination strategyNunavut also released details around its COVID-19 vaccine plan, saying it will begin this week at the elders’ centre in Iqaluit. Vaccination efforts are already underway in Yukon.

In the Prairie provinces, Manitoba reported 130 new cases of COVID-19 and seven additional deaths. Saskatchewan reported 153 new cases of COVID-19 and five additional deaths, while Alberta reported 843 new cases of COVID-19 and 26 additional deaths.

In British Columbia, health officials reported 428 new cases of COVID-19 and eight additional deaths.

The province extended its state of emergency again on Tuesday in response to the COVID-19 pandemic nearly 10 months after it was first declared. Premier John Horgan said in a statement there’s hope with the provincial immunization program getting underway, but it’s too early to ease restrictions in the pandemic that has claimed 954 lives in B.C.

-From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 10:50 a.m. ET


What’s happening in the U.S.

WATCH | COVID-19 cases overwhelm California hospitals:

COVID-19 is hitting California so hard that hospitals and funeral homes are overwhelmed. Health officials in Los Angeles County say someone is dying there every 15 minutes and paramedics are being told not to bring people to hospitals if it doesn’t seem likely they’ll survive. 1:50

Hospitals in California are so swamped by the coronavirus pandemic that the state has ordered those with room to accept patients from others that are out of intensive care beds.

The public health order issued Tuesday night could result in patients being shipped to Northern California from Southern California and the agricultural San Joaquin Valley, where 14 counties were immediately ordered to delay non-essential “and non-life-threatening” surgeries in order to provide beds. The order, which will last at least three weeks, will also apply to any county where ICU capacity to treat COVID-19 patients is bottoming out.

“If we continue to see an alarming increase of COVID-19 patient admissions at hospitals statewide, some facilities may not be able to provide the critical and necessary care Californians need, whether those patients have COVID-19 or another medical condition,” said Dr. Tomas J. Aragon, the state’s public health officer.

The order could be a bellwether for California, where officials have warned some hospitals may have to start rationing care if an expected post-holiday surge in COVID-19 cases overwhelms the health-care system.

For much of the year, the nation’s most populous state did the right things to avoid a catastrophe. But now the virus is raging and California remains at or near the top of the list of states with the most newly confirmed cases per capita. Even with vaccines now being administered, albeit slowly, it is expected to take many more weeks to quell the contagion.

Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital in Los Angeles, where patients are being housed in its former gift shop, a chapel, tents and hallways, had more COVID-19 patients on Tuesday than its total capacity. The hospital, which serves a largely Black and Latino population in the south part of the city, has a capacity of 131 patients but was treating 215 patients, 135 of them with COVID-19, said Jeff Stout, the interim chief nursing and operating officer.

The hospital was emblematic of the worsening situation in Los Angeles County, the nation’s most populous with about 10 million residents. A COVID-19 surge has created a shortage of oxygen and led to a directive to ambulance crews in the county to stop transporting patients they can’t revive in the field.

Clinicians care for a COVID-19 patient in an isolation area at Providence St. Mary Medical Center amid a surge in coronavirus patients in Southern California on Tuesday in Apple Valley, Calif. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Dr. Marc Eckstein, medical director and emergency medical services commander of the Los Angeles Fire Department, said transporting someone without a pulse gives families false hope, takes the ambulance out of service, exposes workers to COVID-19 and requires decontaminating the vehicle.

“To be clear, we’re not asking first responders to decide who lives and who dies,” Eckstein said. “These are people who are clinically dead.”

Los Angeles continues to see hospitalizations rise day after day, setting a new record Tuesday with almost 8,000 hospitalized and more than a fifth of those in ICU. The county, which accounts for a quarter of California’s 40 million residents, has more than 40 per cent of the state’s 27,000 coronavirus deaths.

Some hospitals have had to close their doors at times because they’ve become so overwhelmed, leaving ambulances waiting up to eight hours and diverting others to different emergency rooms.

Stout said Martin Luther King hospital was finalizing its crisis standards of care, which are guidelines for rationing treatment when staff, medicine and equipment are in short supply.

“We’re not there yet,” Stout said. “Every day, every hour we’re trying to avoid going into crisis care. The ultimate goal with crisis care is never to get there.”

The state on Tuesday formally requested that 500 federal medical personnel be deployed in California to help staff hospitals and skilled nursing homes after learning that the USNS Mercy Hospital ship, which docked off Los Angeles earlier in the year for overflow patients, was in dry dock and would not be returning.

-From The Associated Press, last updated at 7 a.m. ET


What’s happening around the world

A row of ambulances is seen outside the Royal London Hospital on Tuesday in London, England. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

As of early Wednesday morning, there were more than 86.5 million cases of COVID-19 worldwide, with more than 48.5 million of those cases considered recovered or resolved, according to a tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than 1.8 million.

In Africa, Nigeria hopes to get 42 million COVID-19 vaccines to cover one-fifth of its population through the global COVAX scheme.

In Europe, the European Union’s medicines agency has given approval to Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine.

The decision Wednesday gives the 27-nation bloc a second vaccine to use against the coronavirus rampaging across the continent. The approval recommendation by the European Medicines Agency’s human medicines committee, which must be OK’d by the EU’s executive commission, comes amid high rates of infection in many EU countries.

There’s also been strong criticism of the slow pace of vaccinations across the region of some 450 million people

Portugal’s President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa said on Wednesday he would self-isolate after being in contact with someone who tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

The 72-year-old is campaigning to win a second term as the country’s president in an election on Jan. 24. He has several presidential debates scheduled before then.

Germany can hold out through a shutdown for a long time, German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said, noting that he expected lower levels of government debt than after the financial crisis of 2008.

Coronavirus infections in the Czech Republic are continuing to surge, hitting a new all-time high. The Health Ministry says the day-to-day increase reached 17,278 cases on Tuesday. The previous record of 17,045 was set on Dec 30. New infections started to surge again this week after slowing down during the New Year holidays.

In the Asia-Pacific region, authorities in Thailand say they plan to expand coronavirus testing to thousands of factories in a province near Bangkok as they reported 365 new cases around the country and one new death.

An employee of the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority sprays water as part of cleaning and disinfection activities at the Yodpiman Flower Market in Bangkok on Wednesday, after the government imposed further restrictions due to the recent COVID-19 outbreak. (Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty Images)

South Korea rolled out mass testing for 52 prisons in the country after a massive prison outbreak and may extend flight suspensions from Britain, the health minister said.

Chinese authorities imposed travel restrictions and banned gatherings in the capital city of Hebei province, which surrounds Beijing, to stave off another coronavirus wave.

The Philippines is negotiating with seven vaccine manufacturers to procure at least 148 million COVID-19 shots as it seeks to inoculate close to two-thirds of its population this year, a senior official said on Wednesday.

Carlito Galvez, a former general in charge of the country’s strategy to fight the coronavirus, said the government hopes to close deals with Novavax, Moderna, AstraZeneca , Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Sinovac Biotech and the Gamaleya Institute this month, although availability could be a challenge amid stiff competition.

In the Americas, Brazil’s syringe manufacturers said they will supply 30 million syringes and needles for the country’s vaccination program after the government said it would requisition surplus supplies.

A bird sits on a cross in an area reserved for the burial of COVID-19 victims at the Nossa Senhora Aparecida cemetery, in Manaus, Brazil, on Tuesday. (Michael Dantas/AFP/Getty Images)

Brazil has seen more than 7.8 million cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, according to Johns Hopkins, with more than 197,000 deaths.

In the Middle East, Iran and Oman have now registered their first two cases of a highly contagious coronavirus variant that emerged in Britain.

-From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 8:45 a.m. ET

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MPs clash over pandemic response as Parliament resumes Monday – CBC.ca

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Members of Parliament continue to clash over the federal government’s COVID-19 response as the House of Commons is set to reconvene on Monday for the first time this year.

In a panel interview on CBC Radio’s The House, Conservative MP Michael Chong and Liberal MP Arif Virani offered duelling analogies to describe Canada’s pandemic response, days before deliveries of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are expected to drop dramatically over the next four weeks.

“It’s like saying that I have negotiated a contract with six fire departments to respond to my fire, but they won’t respond for six hours when I do have a fire. And my neighbour has negotiated one contract with a single fire department to respond in five minutes,” Chong told host Chris Hall.

“Personally, I’ll take the single contract with the fire department that responds in five minutes because that is going to save my house. We are the country that’s negotiated the contract with six fire departments … that’s the problem here.”

Canada has signed agreements to receive the vaccine from seven companies, including Pfizer and Moderna. Candidates from the remaining suppliers have yet to receive the regulatory green light from Health Canada, though Virani said the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson products are “on the precipice of hopeful approvals.”

“A different analogy would be, with respect to firefighting, about … how much water do you use on the fire? And we’ve been criticized, including by [Chong’s] party, for putting too much water on the fires in terms of the spending that we’ve been doing,” Virani said.

“But our position is clear. We will remain constant in having Canadians’ backs for as long as it takes to weather this pandemic, including running deficits to do so.”

CBC News: The House12:33The pandemic, Parliament and a possible election

MPs Heather McPherson, Arif Virani and Michael Chong discuss what they hope to see unfold in the months ahead after the House of Commons returns Monday. 12:33

Looking ahead to federal budget

In December, the House of Commons rose for a six-week break without deciding how Parliament should safely resume in the new year. It remains to be seen whether MPs will meet virtually with no members physically present in the Commons or whether they’ll continue to follow the hybrid model put in place last year.

“We have been having discussions with the other parties about the return of Parliament on Monday. Those discussions have been constructive,” read a statement from the office of Government House Leader Pablo Rodriguez.

But when Parliament does resume — amid soaring COVID-19 caseloads in parts of the country — it also comes as Ottawa prepares for its first federal budget in two years. 

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has criticized the Liberal government for not making paid leave accessible for workers who are helping to stop the spread of COVID-19. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

“We need to see some action from this government,” NDP deputy House leader Heather McPherson told The House in the same interview. “I mean, we have seen things like child care, we have seen things like pharmacare, over and over and over again in these Liberal throne speeches. But we haven’t seen the action taken.”

McPherson said a child-care strategy will be critical for economic recovery from the pandemic, on top of additional support for small businesses. When Parliament returns, she said the NDP will also be pushing the Liberal government on ending clawbacks of the Canada emergency response benefit and calling for expanded access to paid sick leave.

“If [the Liberals] continue to help deliver for Canadians, then we’ll continue to work with them,” she said.

Conservatives, Liberals lay out priorities 

Chong said that the Opposition will be zeroing in on vaccine procurement and improving the pace of Canada’s rollout, among other priorities. 

“We’re looking for two measures in the upcoming budget that we believe are really important, one of which the government has indicated it’s supportive of, and that is the changes to the Canada Child Benefit that would help Canadian families, particularly working women and single mothers,” the Conservative foreign affairs critic said.

The party is also looking for additional measures to help small businesses buffeted by a second wave of pandemic restrictions.

Virani said he was “keen” to hear the ideas proposed by his colleagues and laid out some priorities of his own, including immediately working to close a loophole in the federal sickness benefit that allows Canadians quarantining after personal travel to claim sick pay.

Virani, who is also the parliamentary secretary to the minister of justice, said the new Biden administration in the United States also changes what’s on the government’s to-do list. 

“We’ve now got a co-operative administration that understands the importance of greening the planet,” Virani said, “as well as working on issues that are germane to both of our nations.”

That includes a rise in systemic discrimination and online hate — the latter of which Virani says he’s been tackling with Justice Minister David Lametti. 

“We’re looking for progress on a number of files, but it starts with the pandemic and addressing the pandemic,” he said.

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Spartan Bioscience says Health Canada approves rapid COVID-19 test – CBC.ca

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Ottawa-based company Spartan Bioscience has received Health Canada approval for its made-in-Canada rapid COVID-19 test, authorizing the sale of the device. 

“Spartan’s test is the first truly mobile, rapid PCR test for COVID-19 for the Canadian market,” a news release from the company states. “The Spartan COVID-19 system offers the speed and ease of use of a rapid test, while using the technology of lab-based COVID-19 testing solutions.”

Health Canada originally provided regulatory approval for the company’s device in April 2020 — with the federal government ordering 40,000 tests monthly. At the time, the portable test was being called a “game changer” by health officials because it could deliver on-location results within 60 minutes.

The federal agency restricted the device to research use in May, however, after finding problems with the test that made it unreliable. Approval was granted on Friday after the company conducted clinical trials based on a new device design, Health Canada spokesperson Natalie Mohamed told CBC News in an email.

“The Spartan Bioscience test is a point-of-care molecular test,”  Mohamed wrote. “This new device meets Health Canada’s requirements for safety and effectiveness.”

WATCH | Health Canada approves Canadian-made rapid COVID-19 testing system:

Canada’s health authority approved Spartan Bioscience’s rapid COVID-19 testing system. 3:12

New swab, upgrades to chemistry kit

Dr. James Spiegelman, a co-founder of the company who also practises internal medicine at Humber River Regional Hospital in Toronto, said the problems stemmed from the efficacy of the swabs used to collect tissue samples, not the machine itself.

Spartan originally used a proprietary cheek swab that it developed for other DNA diagnostics, he said, but it became clear that the swab wasn’t collecting enough genetic material to produce consistent, reliable results.

The company now uses standard nasopharyngeal swabs to collect tissue from the nose.

“We found that that provides the best sample for increased sensitivity of the test,” Spiegelman said.

Spiegelman said the company also made improvements to the sample processing kit so that it no longer needs to be shipped and stored at frozen temperatures but can be stored at room temperature. 

With the Spartan test, a trained health-care professional swabs the nose of the person being tested, places the swab into a processing kit that generates a chain reaction and then puts that kit into the cube-shaped device, which takes about 50 minutes to analyze and produce results. 

Spiegelman said the test could be used to provide quick and accurate COVID-19 diagnostics everywhere from hospitals and workplaces to pharmacies and remote communities. 

“I think [Spartan’s rapid test] will really help alleviate and give us a tool in our toolbox to reduce the spread of COVID-19,” he said.

Rapid tests already in use across Canada 

Rapid diagnostic tests are already in use in many settings across Canada to test for COVID-19, including in homeless shelters, long-term care homes and remote communities. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Tuesday that the federal government had distributed more than 14 million to the provinces and territories. 

“Hopefully we see these integrated into work environments, especially work environments where we know they’re at greater risk for outbreaks,” said infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch, who is also a member of the Ontario COVID-19 vaccine task force.

“I think you could think about certainly integrating them into certain schools or certain school settings, rural, remote, underserviced locations. There’s a lot of places where rapid tests would be extremely helpful.”

Spartan Bioscience CEO Roger Eacock said the company currently has the manufacturing capacity to produce 60,000 of the tests per week, but the company plans to ramp that up to 200,000 per week in the future. 

Eacock said the company already has deals with the federal government and several provinces, as well as some airlines and resource companies, and that shipments are expected to begin in the coming week.

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Spartan Bioscience says Health Canada approves rapid COVID-19 test – CBC.ca

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Ottawa-based company Spartan Bioscience has received Health Canada approval for its made-in-Canada rapid COVID-19 test, authorizing the sale of the device. 

“Spartan’s test is the first truly mobile, rapid PCR test for COVID-19 for the Canadian market,” a news release from the company states. “The Spartan COVID-19 system offers the speed and ease of use of a rapid test, while using the technology of lab-based COVID-19 testing solutions.”

Health Canada originally provided regulatory approval for the company’s device in April 2020 — with the federal government ordering 40,000 tests monthly. At the time, the portable test was being called a “game changer” by health officials because it could deliver on-location results within 60 minutes.

The federal agency restricted the device to research use in May, however, after finding problems with the test that made it unreliable. Approval was granted on Friday after the company conducted clinical trials based on a new device design, Health Canada spokesperson Natalie Mohamed told CBC News in an email.

“The Spartan Bioscience test is a point-of-care molecular test,”  Mohamed wrote. “This new device meets Health Canada’s requirements for safety and effectiveness.”

WATCH | Health Canada approves Canadian-made rapid COVID-19 testing system:

Canada’s health authority approved Spartan Bioscience’s rapid COVID-19 testing system. 3:12

New swab, upgrades to chemistry kit

Dr. James Spiegelman, a co-founder of the company who also practises internal medicine at Humber River Regional Hospital in Toronto, said the problems stemmed from the efficacy of the swabs used to collect tissue samples, not the machine itself.

Spartan originally used a proprietary cheek swab that it developed for other DNA diagnostics, he said, but it became clear that the swab wasn’t collecting enough genetic material to produce consistent, reliable results.

The company now uses standard nasopharyngeal swabs to collect tissue from the nose.

“We found that that provides the best sample for increased sensitivity of the test,” Spiegelman said.

Spiegelman said the company also made improvements to the sample processing kit so that it no longer needs to be shipped and stored at frozen temperatures but can be stored at room temperature. 

With the Spartan test, a trained health-care professional swabs the nose of the person being tested, places the swab into a processing kit that generates a chain reaction and then puts that kit into the cube-shaped device, which takes about 50 minutes to analyze and produce results. 

Spiegelman said the test could be used to provide quick and accurate COVID-19 diagnostics everywhere from hospitals and workplaces to pharmacies and remote communities. 

“I think [Spartan’s rapid test] will really help alleviate and give us a tool in our toolbox to reduce the spread of COVID-19,” he said.

Rapid tests already in use across Canada 

Rapid diagnostic tests are already in use in many settings across Canada to test for COVID-19, including in homeless shelters, long-term care homes and remote communities. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Tuesday that the federal government had distributed more than 14 million to the provinces and territories. 

“Hopefully we see these integrated into work environments, especially work environments where we know they’re at greater risk for outbreaks,” said infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch, who is also a member of the Ontario COVID-19 vaccine task force.

“I think you could think about certainly integrating them into certain schools or certain school settings, rural, remote, underserviced locations. There’s a lot of places where rapid tests would be extremely helpful.”

Spartan Bioscience CEO Roger Eacock said the company currently has the manufacturing capacity to produce 60,000 of the tests per week, but the company plans to ramp that up to 200,000 per week in the future. 

Eacock said the company already has deals with the federal government and several provinces, as well as some airlines and resource companies, and that shipments are expected to begin in the coming week.

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