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COVID-19: Canadian hospital space a concern despite lessons from SARS, experts say – Global News



Canadian medical experts say the country’s already overstretched emergency rooms would find it difficult to cope if a true outbreak of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, were to take hold in Canada.

So far, the virus has been relatively contained to mainland China, thanks in part to one of the largest quarantines in modern history.

“We must not look back and regret that we failed to take advantage of the window of opportunity that we have now,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization, said in a message to all the world’s countries Friday.

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The risk of contracting the virus in Canada right now is extremely low, and public health officials have been lauded for their efforts to detect and isolate the nine cases confirmed in the country so far.

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The hundreds of patients across the country who have tested negative for the virus are also a sign that containment efforts are working as they should.

But Canada’s most recent case in British Columbia has raised fears about where and how the disease is being transmitted abroad. Unlike others who’ve imported the virus from China or from people who have recently been to China, the woman in her 30s contracted the illness while in Iran.

Coronavirus outbreak: China reports significant drop in daily cases, down to 397

Coronavirus outbreak: China reports significant drop in daily cases, down to 397

“Any imported cases linked to Iran could be an indicator that there is more widespread transmission than we know about,” said Canada’s chief medical officer Dr. Theresa Tam Friday.

Canada has taken major steps to prevent the kind of shock that befell Ontario during the outbreak of the coronavirus known as SARS in 2003 that led to 44 deaths. Creating the Public Health Agency of Canada, which Tam heads, is one of them.

The country is now better co-ordinated, has increased its lab-testing capabilities and is prepared to trace people’s contacts to find people who might have caught a contagious illness without knowing it.

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But once the number of incoming cases reaches a critical mass, the approach must change, according to infectious-diseases physician Dr. Isaac Bogoch of Toronto’s University Health Network.

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He likens the response to trying to catch fly balls in the outfield: as the number of balls in the air increases, they become harder and harder to snag.

“Every health care system has limits,” Bogoch says. “The question is, if we start getting inundated with cases, how stretched can we get?”

With COVID-19 emerging in new countries, health officials worry about untraceable clusters

Many emergency-room doctors argue Canada’s ERs are already as stretched as they can get and are worried about what would happen if they suddenly had to start treating COVID-19 cases en masse.

From the public-health perspective, the greatest challenge may be as simple communicating across all parts of the health system across the country, said Dr. Jasmine Pawa, president of the Public Health Physicians of Canada.

“We cover a very wide geographic area,” she said, though she added that Canada has made great strides over the course of the SARS experience and the H1N1 flu outbreak in 2009.

Coronavirus outbreak: British passengers disembark Diamond Princess cruise ship

Coronavirus outbreak: British passengers disembark Diamond Princess cruise ship

Dr. Alan Drummond of the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians, who works at the hospital in Perth, Ont., says he doesn’t want to fearmonger, especially considering all the lessons Canada has learned from past outbreaks, but the reality of life in the ER gives him pause.

“Our day-to-day experience in crowded hospitals, unable to get the right patient in the right bed on a day-to-day basis ? makes us really question what the integrity of our health-care system would be like in a major severe pandemic,” Drummond says.

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He envisions that a disease like COVID-19, if it spread widely, would have a major impact, including the possibility of cancelled surgeries and moving stable patients out of hospitals who would otherwise stay.

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“I think there would have to be hard decisions made about who lives and who dies, given our limited availability by both speciality and (intensive-care) beds and we would probably see some degree of health-care rationing,” he says.

The problem may be even more pronounced because of Canada’s aging population, he said. The virus tends to hit older people harder, according to observations made in China and abroad, and is also particularly dangerous for people with other health problems.

Older people also tend to stay admitted in hospital beds even when they are in relatively stable condition because of a lack of long-term-care beds across the country.

That keeps emergency rooms from being able to move acute patients out of the ER and into those beds, limiting hospitals’ capacity to handle new cases.

Repatriated Canadians from Japan to be treated individually if diagnosed with COVID-19

Repatriated Canadians from Japan to be treated individually if diagnosed with COVID-19

Tam agreed Friday that hospital capacity is a “critical aspect” of Canada’s preparedness for a potential coronavirus outbreak, but said even very bad flu seasons can have a similar effect on emergency rooms.

“If we can delay the impact of the coronavirus until a certain period, when there’s less influenza for example, that would also be very helpful,” she said.

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She also suggested people who are concerned about the possibility that they’re developing COVID-19 symptoms should call ahead to a hospital so they can make proper arrangements for containment and isolation.

Canada is doing its best, along with every other country in the world, to seize this time of relative containment and plan ahead, Tam said.

© 2020 The Canadian Press

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World AIDS Day kicks off Indigenous AIDS week in Regina –



Dec. 1 is a day of awareness and celebration for those who are impacted with HIV/AIDS worldwide, and a local organization is using World AIDS Day to kick off Indigenous AIDS week in Regina.

All Nations Hope is a network that provides supports and services to those impacted with HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C in the city. The program director said they are dedicating a week to celebrate and focus on those impacted by HIV and AIDS.

“We dedicated each day to a group of people,” said Leona Quewezance. “We will have something special for them every day.”

Read more:

Saskatchewan government apologizes after World AIDS Day tweet draws ire

Quewezance said during the week-long activities, they will also be testing those who wish to be tested.

“We encourage people to get tested, if they wish that,” she said. “We would like access them to link them into care for treatment and support.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, it was difficult to focus testing on HIV/AIDS in the city. However, All Nations Hope have took it upon themselves to find data within Regina.

“For the past nine months…people had issues accessing testing,” said Quewezance. “We did testings on Wednesdays for the last nine months and the nurse seen approximately 316 people. We had 21 new HIV identifying cases and eight new cases for syphilis.”

In a statement, the Saskatchewan Ministry of Health stated in 2019, Saskatchewan had roughly triple the national average of newly-diagnosed HIV cases at 16.4 per 100,000, while the national rate was 5.6 per 100,000 people.

Read more:

History shows COVID-19 may fade out, but likely won’t disappear

“Preliminary data indicates there were 185 cases of HIV identified in 2020, a decrease of seven per cent, down from 199 cases in 2019,” according to the statement.

“However, testing numbers for 2020 are lower, likely due to fewer public HIV testing events, front-line health-care providers being focused on COVID-19 response, and fewer individuals presenting for testing due to the pandemic.”

Work through All Nations Hope will continue to break down the stigma attached to HIV and AIDS and will provide awareness is all year round, not just one day out of the year.

“The people that are living with HIV and AIDS are no different than us,” said Quewezance. “They are no different than people living with diabetes and any other kinds of illnesses. They are people just the same as we are.”

The province said work initiated through the HIV Strategy continues and is supported by annual Ministry of Health funding of approximately $4.86M to support HIV services in the Saskatchewan Health Authority and community-based organizations.

Click to play video: 'Saskatchewan government apologizes after World AIDS Day tweet draws ire'

Saskatchewan government apologizes after World AIDS Day tweet draws ire

Saskatchewan government apologizes after World AIDS Day tweet draws ire – Dec 2, 2020

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Pfizer begins application for Canada’s approval of COVID-19 pill



Pfizer Inc said on Wednesday it had started the real-time submission of its application seeking Health Canada‘s approval of its oral COVID-19 antiviral drug candidate.

The pill, PF-07321332, is designed to block a key enzyme needed for the coronavirus to multiply.

The move comes after the Canadian government announced on Tuesday that it was in advanced talks with Pfizer and Merck & Co Inc regarding a purchase agreement for their COVID-19 antiviral drugs, as the country attempts to control the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant.

The country has identified seven people with the new variant as of Nov. 30.

The drugmaker last month submitted its application seeking U.S. authorization of the experimental pill, which was shown to cut the chance of hospitalization or death for adults at risk of severe disease by 89% in a clinical trial.

(Reporting by Manojna Maddipatla in Bengaluru; Editing by Amy Caren Daniel)

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These early signs made omicron different from previous Covid variants, experts say – Yahoo News



When Jeremy Kamil got his first look at B.1.1.529, the coronavirus variant that would soon be named omicron, it didn’t take long to see the differences.

More than 30 mutations made the variant’s spike proteins, which cover the outside of the virus and are the main targets of vaccines and the body’s immune responses, different from those of the virus that first emerged in late 2019.

“The number of changes blew people’s minds,” said Kamil, an associate professor of microbiology and immunology at Louisiana State University Health Shreveport.

The World Health Organization has identified and tracked more than 20 variants. Yet unlike with others that popped up around the world before they mostly fizzled out (including the lambda variant, which was first documented in December in Peru, or the mu variant, which was detected a month later in Colombia), there were early signs that the omicron variant’s cocktail of mutations made it different and worthy of swift action — even overreaction — experts say.

While it’s too soon to know what the mutations mean for the effectiveness of vaccines or how sick people could become from the variant, the emergence of the omicron strain also highlights the frustrating reality of the Covid pandemic: Variants will continue to pose serious threats until countries around the world have more equal and ready access to vaccines, experts say.

“It’s definitely sobering,” Kamil said. “It’s an exaggeration to say we’re back at square one, but this is not a good development.”

Within hours of the WHO’s designating omicron a “variant of concern” Friday, dozens of countries imposed new travel bans, places that had loosened restrictions reintroduced mask mandates, and anxieties ran high.

It was the kind of quick and intense development reminiscent of early stages of the pandemic, prompting some concern that governments were overreacting before enough about the omicron variant was known.

“It’s partly why people started facetiously calling these things ‘scariants,’” said Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease doctor and a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

But even before it was given the “omicron” designation, the variant quickly gained attention among Covid researchers.

South Africa was the first to report clusters of cases involving the omicron variant last week. Days before, data about the newly identified variant had also been uploaded to GISAID, an online database for disease variants, by a research team in Hong Kong, followed by more early sequences from scientists in Botswana.

The number of mutations observed with the omicron variant hasn’t previously been seen with other strains, Adalja said. There are concerns that specific mutations to the spike protein could make the omicron variant less vulnerable to the so-called neutralizing antibodies generated by vaccines or natural immunity from previous Covid-19 infections.

“There’s a very good chance this variant will be very resistant to neutralizing antibodies, but we can’t yet say with any degree of certainty how resistant,” said Theodora Hatziioannou, a virologist at Rockefeller University in New York City.

Researchers have been preparing for this possibility.

In lab experiments with a virus that was genetically altered so it didn’t pose a threat to humans, Hatziioannou and her colleagues produced myriad combinations of spike protein mutations and tested how well they were able to evade Covid-19 antibodies.

One of their more worrisome outcomes was observed in a lab-produced spike protein that carried 20 mutations — more than had been observed in any other known variant at the time but fewer than in the omicron variant. It was largely resistant to neutralizing antibodies from both vaccines and natural immunity.

More research is needed to understand how the omicron variant behaves in real-world settings, but Hatziioannou said many of the variant’s mutations correspond to the types of changes she and her colleagues studied in the lab.

“Nature essentially reproduced our experiment, only at a much larger scale,” she said.

Scientists around the world are racing to characterize the omicron variant, focusing in particular on whether it is more contagious, causes more severe disease or can evade the protection of vaccines. Those open questions may awaken anxieties from early in the pandemic, but Carl Bergstrom, a professor of biology at the University of Washington, said drug therapies and the vaccines still offer crucial advantages.

“We have a whole bunch of tools now that we didn’t have before,” he said. “But it’s disappointing, for sure. There was kind of this general feeling that we’re coming off this delta wave, we’re triple-boosted, and it could almost be like 2019 again.”

Adalja said the emergence of the omicron variant should spur people to get vaccinated or to get booster shots. Countries should also increase testing for Covid-19 to track where — and how quickly — the variant is spreading.

Since omicron was designated a “variant of concern,” more than 40 countries have banned travel from southern Africa.

Hatziioannou said such sweeping measures, which may have been a “knee jerk reaction” to the most recent devastating wave of delta infections, are largely ineffective.

“The variant is likely already here,” she said. “Closing the barn door after the horses have bolted is useless.”

Cases involving the omicron variant have been detected in at least 16 countries. The variant hasn’t yet been confirmed in the U.S., but the country’s leading infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said it’s possible that the omicron variant is already spreading in the country.

“When you have a virus like this, it almost invariably is ultimately going to go essentially all over,” he said Saturday on NBC’s “Weekend TODAY.”

President Joe Biden, who said Monday that people should get fully vaccinated or get booster shots, tried to allay fears about the threat of the new strain.

“The variant is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic,” he said.

Kamil similarly said it’s too early to know what impact the omicron variant may have in the U.S. and around the world. He added, however, that it underscores the importance of vaccine equity and the need for wealthy countries to help provide that access.

“A booster shot in America has a far smaller effect of preventing variants than the first dose that someone gets in Chad or Benin or Togo,” he said. “If we do not protect other nations, we are all going to sink together.”

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