As COVID cases in B.C. begin to rise even as vaccine doses get into arms, the spectre of the third wave is becoming real in the province.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry confirmed that as she warned people to stay vigilant.
“We ask about whether we’re in the third wave, it really is,” Henry said. “We’ve come down from the peak of our second wave, but we have levelled out for many weeks now and it’s a slow and steady increase.”
She said that the increase in cases is happening largely in the Lower Mainland. Of the 1,785 cases reported in B.C. over the weekend, 469 were in Vancouver Coastal Health and 1,010 were in Fraser Health. The latter region has seen the bulk of B.C.’s COVID cases.
“This is a concern because… that’s where the highest population density is and this type of an increase can quickly get out of control,” Henry said. “And that is something we don’t want when we’re in this phase of the pandemic.”
B.C. currently has just over 10 per cent of its population vaccinated with the first dose, not nearly enough for herd immunity.
Henry said the escalating cases are connected to two main places: workplaces and homes.
“We know that people are gathering together in indoor spaces,” she said, a behaviour made even more dangerous by variants gaining steam in B.C. There have been 1,240 cases of the U.K. B.1.1.7 variant in B.C. so far.
“We know the B.1.1.7 variant is more transmissible. It’s much easier to spread it with with even minimal contact in indoor settings.”
While little has changed in the way that people should protect themselves from the virus – masks, good ventilation, physical distancing – now there is “even less margin for error.”
Henry said she had sympathy with people who are weary after an entire year of fluctuating COVID restrictions, but not those choosing to flout the rules.
“If you are blatantly disregarding these public health orders there are ramifications for that.”
For the rest, Henry asked people to gather outside only in small groups.
“The only safe place for us to gather, with our small groups, with our friends, with our family, is outside,” she said. It’s been nearly two weeks since B.C. gave the green light to the “trusted 10,” allowing groups of up to 10 family and friends to gather outdoors. That group is to remain the same, and not be constantly changing members.
For people hoping to have weddings and other events this spring, Henry urged people to push them to summertime.
“This is the time when we need to take those little sacrifices to continue to keep those important workplaces open we can continue to support our children in school.”
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Toronto close some workplaces amid COVID-19 surge
By Anna Mehler Paperny
TORONTO (Reuters) – Canada’s biggest city Toronto and neighboring Peel, both of which are in the midst of a third wave of COVID-19 infections, on Tuesday said they would order businesses to close if they had outbreaks involving five or more people, medical officials said.
The closures would be for a minimum of 10 days if workers “could have reasonably acquired their infection at work,” according to a release from Peel Public Health.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he is sending federal healthcare workers to help Ontario, the country’s most populous province, which includes Toronto and Peel.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford stopped short of closing workplaces like warehouses or manufacturers when he imposed a stay-at-home order over the weekend.
On Tuesday, Ontario’s science advisory table, which offers advice to the provincial government, called for paid sick leave, the closure of non-essential workplaces, and “public health guidance that works.”
“Our case counts are at an all-time high. Our hospitals are buckling. Younger people are getting sicker. The disease is ripping through whole families,” the science advisors said in the brief.
On Tuesday, Ford’s government appeared to open the door to implementing paid sick leave after months of refusing to do so.
Canada has been ramping up its vaccination campaign, but still has a smaller percentage of its population inoculated than dozens of wealthy countries, including the United States and Britain. On Tuesday, Canada extended travel restrictions.
There were 3,469 new cases in Ontario on Tuesday. Nationally, Canada has recorded an average of 8,680 new infections over the past week, a 7% increase from the previous seven days.
To accelerate vaccinations, Ontario, Alberta, Manitoba and British Columbia lowered the minimum age for recipients of the AstraZeneca Plc vaccine to 40 from 55. Quebec said on Tuesday it would lower the minimum age to 45.
Separately, the U.S. state of North Dakota will administer COVID-19 vaccines to Manitoba-based truckers transporting goods to and from the United States.
“With adequate vaccine supplies and all North Dakotans having access to vaccine … we want to do our part to ensure essential workers from Canada who are frequently traveling through our state are vaccinated,” North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum said in a statement.
(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny in Toronto, additional reporting by Allison Lampert in Montreal, writing by Steve Scherer Editing by Alistair Bell)
Alberta joins Ontario in lowering minimum age for AstraZeneca vaccine – Preeceville Progress
Two provinces will offer the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to those aged 40 and over starting Tuesday, officials announced Sunday following days of mounting pressure to lower the minimum age.
Alberta and Ontario had previously stuck to the National Advisory Committee on Immunization’s recommendation to offer the AstraZeneca shot to those 55 and over due to a slightly elevated risk of an extremely rare blood clot disorder.
But as hospitalizations surged to unprecedented levels in Ontario and Alberta saw unparalleled rates of COVID-19, their governments announced matching plans to expand eligibility.
“Alberta is lowering the minimum age to receive the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine from 55 to 40,” Alberta Premier Jason Kenney tweeted on Sunday night. “This decision is based on growing scientific knowledge about the vaccine.”
He said more information would come Monday, and bookings would open Tuesday.
The office of Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott made a similar announcement hours earlier.
“Based on current supply, Ontario will begin offering the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to individuals aged 40 and over at pharmacy and primary care settings across the province effective Tuesday,” spokeswoman Alexandra Hilkene said in an email.
The statement came after Elliott’s federal counterpart told a news conference that such a move was well within the provinces’ jurisdiction.
“NACI provides advice to provinces and territories,” Health Minister Patty Hajdu said. “They can adjust their use for AstraZeneca as per their desire and the advice from their own public health authorities and medical expertise.”
She noted that Health Canada has licensed the AstraZeneca shot for use in people over the age of 18.
“NACI continues to review the advice on AstraZeneca use and will have updated guidance in the very near future,” Hajdu added.
Anthony Dale, president and CEO of the Ontario Hospital Association, tweeted that there is “‘surplus supply at risk of expiring.”
The head of the Ontario Pharmacists Association said most AstraZeneca doses in Ontario don’t expire until the end of May, but that a timer starts ticking as soon as a vial — which contains 10 doses — is punctured.
“Once a vial is punctured, it is only viable for up to 48 hours when stored in a fridge or six hours when not in the fridge,” Justin Bates said.
He said vaccine hesitancy around AstraZeneca has led to last-minute appointment cancellations, meaning some of those doses could go to waste — something pharmacists are working hard to avoid.
Many Ontario physicians took to social media to express their frustration with the province’s lack of action on the issue ahead of Sunday’s announcement.
“Pharmacies, listen up. DO NOT WASTE A SINGLE DOSE OF THE AZ VACCINE. Explain the risk and obtain informed consent to administer to people under age 55,” Dr. Brian Goldman said in a tweet Sunday.
Dr. Irfan Dhalla, vice-president of Unity Health Toronto, agreed.
“It’s hard to imagine the provincial government coming after pharmacies or family doctors for using AZ in people (under) 55,” he tweeted.
Later, he praised Elliott’s decision and urged the province to send more to COVID-19 hot spots.
Steven Del Duca, who heads up the Liberal party in the province, took that call even further.
“Doug Ford must release the AstraZeneca vaccine from pharmacy freezers and get it into the arms of anyone over 18 in a hot spot,” he tweeted Sunday. “(Patty Hajdu) was clear: there is nothing stopping him from getting shots into arms.”
Those in Alberta had made similar calls.
“It sounds like Alberta is having trouble using its AstraZeneca. Lower the minimum age; Gen X can help!” Lisa Young, a political science professor at the University of Calgary, tweeted earlier in the week.
Some have been hesitant to get the AstraZeneca vaccine due to a rare blood clotting condition, which has thus far affected two Canadians — one in Quebec and one in Alberta.
More than 700,000 doses of AstraZeneca have been administered in this country.
The global frequency of the blood clot disorder, known as vaccine-induced immune thrombotic thrombocytopenia, or VITT, has been estimated at about one case in 100,000 to 250,000 doses.
The risk of developing blood clots due to COVID-19 is much higher, and experts say people should accept the first vaccine they’re offered.
Meanwhile, the federal government announced Sunday that it was mobilizing its own resources and co-ordinating with lesser-hit provinces to send health-care workers and other support to help Ontario as it battles record-breaking COVID-19 numbers.
It wasn’t immediately clear how the Ontario government would respond to Ottawa’s offer.
Hospitalizations and admissions to intensive care units continued to reach record heights in the province, which reported 4,250 new COVID-19 infections in the last 24 hours.
Ontario announced a number of new restrictions to quell the skyrocketing numbers, but has faced pressure to roll back limits on outdoor activities, which critics have said will do little to stop the spread.
Meanwhile, data released by Canada’s chief public health officer indicated the average daily number of hospitalizations and deaths in the country jumped by more than 30 per cent between April 9 and 15 compared to the week before.
The latest national figures showed an average of 3,428 people with COVID-19 were being treated in Canadian hospitals each day during the most recent seven-day reporting period, representing a 34 per cent increase over the week before.
An average of 41 people died each day during the same stretch, which is 38 per cent higher than the previous week.
Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said cases, test positivity rates and intensive care admissions are all rising as Canada battles a wave of COVID-19 that is driven by more contagious virus variants.
Quebec, meanwhile, reported more than 1,300 new infections in the past 24 hours.
Nunavut counted three new cases of COVID-19, for a total of 22 active cases.
Prince Edward Island recorded three new cases, while Nova Scotia logged seven and New Brunswick added 10.
Farther west, Manitoba recorded 170 new cases of the virus and one added death, while Saskatchewan counted 289 new cases and one death.
Alberta, which is currently dealing with the highest rate of COVID-19 per capita in Canada, reported 1,516 new cases of the virus and three more deaths.
As of Sunday evening, Alberta’s rate of active COVID-19 cases was 405.6 per 100,000, compared to 282.26 per 100,000 in Ontario.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 18, 2021.
— With files from Morgan Lowrie in Montreal and Rob Drinkwater in Edmonton
Countries limit AstraZeneca vaccine use, EU findings on J&J shot expected
(Reuters) – Some countries are restricting use of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to certain age groups, or suspending use, after European and British regulators confirmed possible links to rare blood clots.
Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine has also been hit by concerns over blood clots. European regulators will issue findings later on Tuesday of their review into clotting issues in adults who had received the shot in the United States.
U.S. health agencies recommended pausing the single shot’s use temporarily on April 13 after reports of six cases in women under 50. A health advisory panel will meet on April 23 to discuss whether the pause should continue.
J&J has stated that no clear causal relationship has been established between the clots and its vaccine.
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has so far maintained that the benefits of the AstraZeneca and J&J shots outweigh any risks.
COUNTRIES USING THE ASTRAZENECA VACCINE WITH RESTRICTIONS
Recommended on April 8 that people under 50 should get Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine in preference to AstraZeneca’s.
Vaccination committee has said an alternative should be given for people under 30 where possible, but that people who have received a first dose of the vaccine should get a second shot.
Suspended use of vaccine on April 19 for women below 60 years who are at increased risk of thrombosis.
Said in early April it would pause offering the vaccine to people under 55 and require a new analysis of the shot.
Suspended use for people under 60 on April 7.
Using vaccine only for people aged 55 and over. On April 9, recommended that people under 55 who have had a first dose of the AstraZeneca shot should receive a messenger RNA vaccine for their second dose.
Using only for people aged 65 and over.
Using only in medical centres following the death of a nurse, Russian news agency TASS reported on March 19.
Restricts use to those aged over 60. Recommended on April 1 that people under 60 who have had a first dose of AstraZeneca should receive a different second shot.
Using the vaccine but has warned against giving it to people with a low blood platelet count.
Said on April 12 it was restricting use of the vaccine to those over 60.
Recommends use only for people over 60.
Drug regulator Cofepris said on April 7 it did not “at this time” plan to limit the vaccine’s use but was investigating the information raised by Britain.
Said on April 8 it would limit use of the vaccine to people over 60.
Health minister said on March 31 the vaccine would be limited to people aged over 60 as a precautionary measure.
Said April 19 it would resume administering the vaccine to under-60s after having temporarily suspended use on April 8.
Resumed use of the shot for people aged 30 or older on April 12 after suspending use in under-60s on April 7.
From April 8, giving the vaccine only to people over 60.
Using for people aged 65 and older.
COUNTRIES WHERE ASTRAZENECA VACCINE USE IS SUSPENDED
Said on March 18 it was suspending administration of shots the country was due to receive via the COVAX global vaccines-sharing scheme.
Said on April 14 it would stop using the AstraZeneca vaccine, the first country to do so. On April 19, Ritzau news agency reported that authorities may permit people to choose to have the vaccine.
The government suspended administration of the shot on March 11 and is assessing whether to follow an Institute of Public Health recommendation to end its use.
COUNTRIES WITH J&J VACCINE DELAYS AND RESTRICTIONS
J&J said it would delay rollout of the vaccine to Europe after regulators said they were reviewing rare blood clots. Findings by the EMA’s safety committee are expected later on Tuesday.
Use in the EU was not yet widespread as the company only began deliveries in the week of April 12. The EMA recommended storing doses already received pending its recommendations.
Delayed J&J rollout at the company’s request.
Started administering the J&J shot on April 15, saying benefits outweigh potential risks
Suspended rollout of J&J vaccinations on April 19, pending EMA decision.
Suspended use of J&J’s vaccine on April 13.
On April 13, U.S. federal health agencies recommended pausing use of J&J’s COVID-19 vaccine for at least a few days after six women under the age of 50 developed rare blood clots after receiving the shot.
On April 15, U.S. CDC advisory panel decided to delay a vote to April 23 on how best to use the J&J shot.
(Reporting by Pushkala Aripaka, Yadarisa Shabong, Manas Mishra, Vishwadha Chander, Amruta Khandekar and Mrinalika Roy in Bengaluru; Editing by Catherine Evans)
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