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COVID-19: Canada's vaccine schedule 'accelerating significantly'; Ontario reports 1,185 new cases – Ottawa Citizen

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What you need to know, at a glance

  • While the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 in Ottawa is relatively stable, “we have had a sharp rise of COVID in our wastewater,” Ottawa’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches said in a city media conference Tuesday. Etches said history has shown that whenever the wastewater indicators rise, the number of people testing positive follows suit.
  • Ottawa Public Health reported 40 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday and one new death
  • Ottawa’s health board chair Keith Egli implored the public to “please be kind to our case managers,” after hearing reports of resistance and even abusive behaviour towards the public health case and contact management team
  • Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday Canada’s vaccination schedule “is accelerating significantly,” with eight million combined doses from the four Heath Canada-approved manufacturers expected to arrive before the end of March
  • Canada received one million combined doses last week and is expecting another million this week. The 500,000 doses from the recently approved AstraZeneca vaccine are being distributed to provinces and territories “as we speak,” Trudeau said
  • Ontario is reporting 1,185 new laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases and six related deaths Tuesday

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While the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 in Ottawa is relatively stable, “we have had a sharp rise of COVID in our wastewater,” Ottawa’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches said in a city media conference Tuesday.

Etches said history has shown that whenever the wastewater indicators rise, the number of people testing positive follows suit.

While Ottawa is currently in the orange zone of the province’s colour-coded pandemic response framework, the weekly rate of COVID-19 per 100,000 people is at 37 — not far from the red-zone threshold of 40 in the framework.

Etches also said more transmission is being observed at private gatherings and among sports teams, including those for middle-aged and older adults.

Taking questions from reporters, Etches said she’s watching the situation very carefully, “but I think the people of Ottawa are paying attention and they’re holding things together, they’re keeping things steady as she goes, because we are still hanging out in the orange, close to red,” she said.

“We’re in orange because of people’s behaviour, and we could bring it down towards yellow, that would be great, but certainly holding it away from the red is a good goal for now, and I want to thank people — you’ve heard that message to limit your close contacts. It makes a difference.”

Meanwhile, Ottawa’s health board chair Keith Egli implored members of the public to “please be kind to our case managers,” after hearing reports of resistance and even abusive behaviour towards the public health case and contact management team.

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These staff members follow up with every Ottawa resident who tests positive for COVID-19 to identify places they might have visited while contagious, to get a list of close contacts, and to share information about measures needed to prevent further spread of the virus. They also notify high-risk close contacts of confirmed cases to provide info based on the individual’s level of risk.

“This work is important to the community as a whole. OPH staff are there for you, and they have been working tirelessly throughout the pandemic. Please treat them with kindness, patience and respect as they carry out their duties,” said Egli.

While it’s not the norm, Egli said he’s heard from senior OPH staff about instances where staff following up on contacts have been hung up on or yelled at.

Etches later pointed out that “we know that sometimes when things escalate to the point of abusive language, it can be a sign that people are struggling and they need more support.

“And so we do want people to understand — we get that too, this is a difficult time, many people have had very negative experiences because of COVID-19, and so there are supports available. That’s part of what we can do, is connect people to supports.”

She said staff are resilient, and OPH has taken pains to ensure they have the support needed when things escalate.

“We just can’t have an environment where this is something that’s tolerated. They’re human too, and so all of us, we just want to promote kindness and kind words.”

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Anthony Di Monte, general manager of emergency and protective services, said the city’s vaccination appointment booking line is receiving a significant number of calls from people who aren’t yet eligible to make vaccine appointments. He asked people to visit the OPH website and use the eligibility screening tool before phoning in to the booking line.

He also revealed that on the weekend, there were a couple of bars that “were not following the rules, that were going past the time, were continuing to serve individuals … Following complaints, we intervened rapidly and with the appropriate response, and there will be charges.”

The provincial framework permits bars and restaurants in orange-zone regions to sell or serve liquor only until 9 p.m. Establishments have to close at 10 p.m. and no liquor can be consumed after that time.

“Enforcement is not a solution,” Di Monte noted. “Each and every one of us have to internalize that if we want this to work. We have to follow the public health rules.”

Ottawa Public Health reported 40 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday and one new death.

There have now been 15,207 cases in Ottawa and 444 related deaths.

There are currently 512 active cases in the city, a number that has remained relatively flat in recent weeks.

There are 27 patients in hospital and two in ICU.

Ottawa remains in the Orange (Restrict) zone of the provincial framework, and while key indicators had been trending in the wrong direction, there have been some encouraging signs in local data released in recent days.

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Ottawa’s daily test positivity was 1.4 per cent on Monday, well below the weekly average of 2.2 per cent.

That weekly rate must remain below 2.4 per cent to remain in Orange.

Ottawa’s weekly average rate of infection is 36.8 cases per 100,000 population, down slightly from 37.9 on Monday. That rate must remain under 40 cases per 100,000 population to remain in Orange.

The R(t) number — another key indicator measuring the secondary cases generated by a single confirmed COVID-19 infection — must be between 1.0 and 1.1 to remain in Orange.

Ottawa’s R(t) number had approached that Red (Control) threshold in recent days with a 1.08 score on Monday, but that has since receded to an average 1.04 weekly score as of Tuesday.

Any number above 1.0 indicates the virus is spreading in the community, while any score under 1.0 indicates the spread is coming under control.

Updated vaccination numbers were not immediately available Tuesday, and as of the latest count, Ottawa had administered 63,576 of the 71,180 doses it had received.

Meanwhile, a staff member who last worked at the city’s Dempsey physical distancing centre on March 5 has tested positive for COVID-19.

According to a memo from Community and Social Services GM Donna Gray, the centre is now in outbreak mode and not accepting new referrals. Another physical distancing centre on Nicholas Street “continues to accept a limited number of new referrals for men and women based on the ability to safely separate within the facility,” said Gray.

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The city’s website directs those looking for placement at the Nicholas centre to call 311, then dial 4, for Social Services.

Federal

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday Canada’s vaccination schedule “is accelerating significantly,” with eight million combined doses from the four Heath Canada-approved manufacturers expected to arrive before the end of March.

Canada received one million combined doses last week and is expecting another million this week. The 500,000 doses from the recently approved AstraZeneca vaccine are being distributed to provinces and territories “as we speak,” Trudeau said.

Trudeau was vague, however, on the timeline for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to begin flowing into Canada.

Trudeau said government officials have had “many conversations” with the manufacturer, who have expressed some “challenges around the production” of the vaccine.

“We look forward to receiving those doses as soon as possible,” Trudeau said, and the government will release the delivery schedule once those details are known.

Approaching the one-year anniversary of the World Health Organization’s declaration of the COVID-19 global pandemic, Canada is designating the March 11 date as a National Day of Observance.

Trudeau joined other officials in mourning the more than 22,000 Canadians who have died from COVID-19.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said she felt a “mix of emotions” reflecting on the week ahead, with a sense of “solemn remembrance” while saying “it is clear our work is not done.”

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There have been more than 890,000 total COVID cases across Canada. There are now more than 30,300 active cases in the country, and an average of 2,900 new cases and 37 deaths each day over the past week.

There are more than 2,080 Canadians in hospital with 550 in critical care.

Provincial

Ontario is reporting 1,185 new laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases and six related deaths Tuesday.

There have been 311,112 total cases since the beginning of the pandemic and Ontario’s death toll is 7,083. Another 972 cases were resolved in the previous 24 hours, and of Ontario’s total case count, 292,806 are now considered resolved.

There was a steep increase in hospital admissions in the past 24 hours and there are now 689 patients in Ontario hospitals (there were 626 people in hospital as of Monday), with 290 in intensive care and of those, 184 requiring a ventilator.

The provincial test positivity rate continues to climb, with 33,264 tests conducted in the previous 24 hours at a 3.7 per cent positivity rate, showing a steady rise from last week’s low of 2.1 per cent.

The majority of Ontario’s cases continue to be identified in the Greater Toronto Area, with 343 new cases in Toronto, 235 in Peel and 105 in York region Tuesday.

There were 45 new cases in Ottawa, according to provincial data.

There are often discrepancies between Ontario’s daily case counts and those logged by local public health units. Ottawa Public Health pulls local data and reports the numbers around 12:30 p.m. each day. OPH says its data is typically the most up-to-date.

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New cases continue to rise in surrounding regions, with 10 new cases in the Eastern Ontario Health Unit, two in Hastings, one in Kingston, three in Renfrew County and seven new cases in Leeds, Grenville & Lanark.

Provincial officials are also tracking the spread of variants of concern, though no new cases involving variants have been identified in Ottawa or surrounding regions.

There were 29 new cases of the B.1.1.7 variant identified in Ontario on Tuesday, and there are now 908 confirmed cases involving that strain.

There were no new cases of B.1.351, and there remain 39 known cases of that strain; and no new cases of P.1, with 17 known cases of that strain in the province.

There remain eight known cases of B.1.1.7 and two known cases of B.1.351 in Ottawa.

On the vaccination front, another 31,047 vaccine doses were administered, and Ontario has administered a total 943,533 doses, with 276,193 Ontarians now fully immunized.

The province announced it reached a “key milestone” this week in the vaccine rollout to remote and isolated Indigenous communities, with teams now having visited all 31 fly-in northern communities. Moosonee will offer first doses as part of Operation Remote Immunity.

Vaccines are being administered to residents of First Nations elder care homes and Indigenous communities in remote areas, who face a disproportionate risk from the virus, the province said in a statement. The communities have few health-care facilities and resources, the province said, making the risk of COVID-19 “potentially devastating.”

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As of the latest update, 15,324 doses have been administered so far, including 12,660 first doses and 2,664 second doses.

COVID-19 BY THE NUMBERS

Ontario

1,185: New confirmed cases

311,112: Total cases

6: New deaths

7,083: Total deaths

689: Currently in hospital

290: Currently in ICU

184: On a ventilator

31,047: Vaccine doses administered the previous day

943,533: Total doses administered

276,193: People fully vaccinated

Ottawa

40: New confirmed cases

15,207: Total cases

1: New deaths

444: Total deaths

27: In hospital

2: In ICU

36.8: Weekly COVID rate per 100,000 population

2.2 per cent: Weekly test positivity percentage (excluding LTC)

1.04: Estimated R(t), seven-day average

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U.K. advises limiting AstraZeneca in under-30s amid clot worry

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LONDON —
British authorities recommended Wednesday that the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine not be given to adults under 30 where possible because of strengthening evidence that the shot may be linked to rare blood clots.

The recommendation came as regulators both in the United Kingdom and the European Union emphasized that the benefits of receiving the vaccine continue to outweigh the risks for most people — even though the European Medicines Agency said it had found a “possible link” between the shot and the rare clots. British authorities recommended that people under 30 be offered alternatives to AstraZeneca. But the EMA advised no such age restrictions, leaving it up to its member-countries to decide whether to limit its use.

Several countries have already imposed limits on who can receive the vaccine, and any restrictions are closely watched since the vaccine, which is cheaper and easier to store than many others, is critical to global immunization campaigns and is a pillar of the UN-backed program known as COVAX that aims to get vaccines to some of the world’s poorest countries.

“This is a course correction, there’s no question about that,” Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, said during a press briefing. “But it is, in a sense, in medicine quite normal for physicians to alter their preferences for how patients are treated over time.”

Van-Tam said the effect on Britain’s vaccination timetable — one of the speediest in the world — should be “zero or negligible,” assuming the National Health Service receives expected deliveries of other vaccines, including those produced by Pfizer and Moderna.

EU and U.K. regulators held simultaneous press conferences Wednesday afternoon to announce the results of investigations into reports of blood clots that sparked concern about the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The EU agency described the clots as “very rare” side effects. Dr Sabine Straus, chair of EMA’s Safety Committee, said the best data is coming from Germany where there is one report of the rare clots for every 100,000 doses given, although she noted far fewer reports in the U.K. Still, that’s less than the clot risk that healthy women face from birth control pills, noted another expert, Dr. Peter Arlett.

The agency said most of the cases reported have occurred in women under 60 within two weeks of vaccination — but based on the currently available evidence, it was not able to identify specific risk factors. Experts reviewed several dozen cases that came mainly from Europe and the U.K., where around 25 million people have received the AstraZeneca vaccine.

“The reported cases of unusual blood clotting following vaccination with the AstraZeneca vaccine should be listed as possible side effects of the vaccine,” said Emer Cooke, the agency’s executive director. “The risk of mortality from COVID is much greater than the risk of mortality from these side effects.”

Arlett said there is no information suggesting an increased risk from the other major COVID-19 vaccines.

The EMA’s investigation focused on unusual types of blood clots that are occurring along with low blood platelets. One rare clot type appears in multiple blood vessels and the other in veins that drain blood from the brain.

While the benefits of the vaccine still outweigh the risks, that assessment is “more finely balanced” among younger people who are less likely to become seriously ill with COVID-19, the U.K’s Van-Tam said.

“We are not advising a stop to any vaccination for any individual in any age group,” said Wei Shen Lim, who chairs Britain’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization. “We are advising a preference for one vaccine over another vaccine for a particular age group, really out of the utmost caution rather than because we have any serious safety concerns.”

In March, more than a dozen countries, mostly in Europe, suspended their use of AstraZeneca over the blood clot issue. Most restarted — some with age restrictions — after the EMA said countries should continue using the potentially life-saving vaccine.

Britain, which relies heavily on AstraZeneca, however, continued to use it.

The suspensions were seen as particularly damaging for AstraZeneca because they came after repeated missteps in how the company reported data on the vaccine’s effectiveness and concerns over how well its shot worked in older people. That has led to frequently changing advice in some countries on who can take the vaccine, raising worries that AstraZeneca’s credibility could be permanently damaged, spurring more vaccine hesitancy and prolonging the pandemic.

Dr. Peter English, who formerly chaired the British Medical Association’s Public Health Medicine Committee, said the back-and-forth over the AstraZeneca vaccine globally could have serious consequences.

“We can’t afford not to use this vaccine if we are going to end the pandemic,” he said.

In some countries, authorities have already noted hesitance toward the AstraZeneca shot.

“People come and they are reluctant to take the AstraZeneca vaccine, they ask us if we also use anything else,” said Florentina Nastase, a doctor and co-ordinator at a vaccination centre in Bucharest, Romania. “There were cases in which people (scheduled for the AstraZeneca) didn’t show up, there were cases when people came to the centre and saw that we use only AstraZeneca and refused (to be inoculated).”

Meanwhile, the governor of Italy’s northern Veneto region had said earlier Wednesday that any decision to change the guidance on AstraZeneca would cause major disruptions to immunizations — at a time when Europe is already struggling to ramp them up — and could create more confusion about the shot.

“If they do like Germany, and allow Astra Zeneca only to people over 65, that would be absurd. Before it was only for people under 55. Put yourself in the place of citizens, it is hard to understand anything,” Luca Zaia told reporters.

The latest suspension of AstraZeneca came in Spain’s Castilla y Leon region, where health chief Veronica Casado said Wednesday that “the principle of prudence” drove her to put a temporary hold on the vaccine that she still backed as being both effective and necessary.

French health authorities had said they, too, were awaiting EMA’s conclusions, as were some officials in Asia.

On Wednesday, South Korea said it would temporarily suspend the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine in people 60 and younger. In that age group, the country is only currently vaccinating health workers and people in long-term care settings.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said it would also pause a vaccine rollout to school nurses and teachers that was to begin on Thursday, while awaiting the outcome of the EMA’s review.

But some experts urged perspective. Prof Anthony Harnden, the deputy chair of Britain’s vaccination committee, said that the program has saved at least 6,000 lives in the first three months and will help pave the way back to normal life.

“What is clear it that for the vast majority of people the benefits of the Oxford AZ vaccine far outweigh any extremely small risk,” he said. “And the Oxford AZ vaccine will continue to save many from suffering the devastating effects that can result from a COVID infection.”

Source: – CTV News

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Facebook downplays ‘old’ breach exposing info on 533 million users

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Facebook is downplaying the significance of a data breach that saw the personal information of 533 million of its users accessed online, saying the information is old and the vulnerability that was exploited was closed almost two years ago.

Over the weekend, Business Insider reported that personal information of Facebook users in 106 countries was found on a low-level hacking forum, free of charge. Cybercrime intelligence firm Hudson Rock calculated that almost 3.5 million Canadians were included.

Information included names, phone numbers, locations, birth dates, email addresses and other identifying details. No financial or payment information was accessed, Facebook said.

In a statement on its website Tuesday the social media giant said the information was gathered via a vulnerability the company fixed almost two years ago, and disputed that it was a hack.

Data scraped, not hacked: Facebook

“It is important to understand that malicious actors obtained this data not through hacking our systems but by scraping it from our platform prior to September 2019,” said product management director Mike Clark.

Scraping refers to the act of gathering information that is already out there but somewhat hidden on public databases.

The company said whoever collected and assembled the data did so by abusing the contact importing service, which allows users to find other people in their network on Facebook.

Facebook said whoever did it seems to have uploaded a large set of phone numbers to see which ones matched Facebook users.

David Masson, director of enterprise security at cybersecurity firm Darktrace, says the information has likely been out there and spread widely for a while, before being outed recently.

“It’s been on the Web for quite a while, probably for sale to people,” he said. “But now somebody’s just offered it up for free.”

Building a profile

Greg Wolfond, CEO of data security firm SecureKey, said that in a vacuum, much of the information taken can seem innocuous and harmless, but when taken together can be very dangerous.

“What the hackers do is they try and get little bits of data about you in this case something like your phone number,” he told CBC News in an interview. They can then combine that with other bits of information — an address, a full name — and start building a profile.

What’s most dangerous is once they have gathered enough to attempt to gain access to a cellphone account. With the right combination of information, a telecom company may allow someone walking in to port the account number to a new phone.

 

Cybersecurity expert David Masson with Darktrace says Facebook users shouldn’t assume the company’s size and scope make them better at fending off attacks. (Darktrace)

 

“They take over your phone, and within minutes of taking over your phone, they’re trying to get into your bank account, to get into your Facebook account, your Google account, whatever you use that phone as your recovery for,” he said.

Typically, consumers are urged to fight data theft by doing things like changing passwords frequently, and making the complex. But those things are of little use when companies claim the right to reams of data about their users, and promise to keep it safe.

“Empowering individuals to share their data and putting a responsibility on parties that have the data to keep it secure,
is super important,” he said.

Not Facebook’s first user-info incident

Although the company is downplayed in the incident, it is far from the company’s first misstep with user info.

In 2018, the social media giant disabled a feature that allowed users to search for one another via phone number following revelations that the political firm Cambridge Analytica had accessed information on up to 87 million Facebook users without their knowledge or consent.

In December 2019, a Ukrainian security researcher reported finding a database with the names, phone numbers and unique user IDs of more than 267 million Facebook users — nearly all U.S.-based — on the open internet.

Spark15:32Digital security expert shares tips on how to protect your data while working remotely 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we are spending more of our time at home online than ever before – and according to Citizen Lab’s John Scott-Railton, this makes us vulnerable to privacy and security threats. 15:32

Facebook says it will “continue aggressively go after malicious actors who misuse our tools,” and touted its dedicated team focused on this work” but  Masson says users shouldn’t make the mistake of assuming that the company’s size and scope somehow make them better equipped to keep user data safe.

“It doesn’t matter how big or sophisticated you are, they can be attacked,” he said.

Like many breaches, this one was only discovered long after the fact, and that’s because the technology company’s use isn’t keeping up with the ones the hackers are using.

“There are better technologies that actually work on what happens once the bad guys get inside your network rather than when they’re banging on the door outside. So people [have] got to realize this will happen again.

Source: – CBC.ca

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