Updated throughout the day on Monday, Dec. 13. Questions/comments: firstname.lastname@example.org
Updated throughout the day on Monday, Dec. 13. Questions/comments: email@example.com
The World Health Organization said Omicron — reported in more than 60 countries — poses a “very high” global risk, with some evidence that it evades vaccine protection but clinical data on its severity is limited.
Considerable uncertainties surround Omicron, first detected last month in southern Africa and Hong Kong, whose mutations may lead to higher transmissibility and more cases of COVID-19 disease, the WHO said in a technical brief issued on Sunday.
From The Canadian Press:
Some universities are adjusting their plans for end-of-semester exams in response to the rise in COVID-19 cases.
The University of Victoria in British Columbia will not be holding any further in-person exams this month. The school said its instructors have been asked to offer alternative exams online or in another format.
Queen’s University in eastern Ontario has also postponed in-person exams due to rising COVID-19 case counts in the community. Exams will be changed to an “alternative delivery format” if possible, and those that must be done in person will be postponed until the new year.
From La Presse canadienne:
The Omicron variant is spreading at breakneck speed and there are indications of community transmission across the country, according to chief administrators of the Public Health Agency of Canada.
On Monday, Ontario’s COVID-19 expert panel revealed that the Omicron variant now accounts for 21 per cent of COVID-19 cases in the province. This is a staggering increase, as public health officials counted just 87 cases of the Omicron variant in Canada days ago.
Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, does not think Ontario is an isolated case.
In a virtual press conference on Monday, Tam said transmission may be weaker in other provinces, but “it’s a matter of time” before they follow in the footsteps of Ontario. She predicts that “in the next few days, we will have a lot more cases.”
Last week, the Institut national de santé publique du Québec (INSPQ) detected just one Omicron case in Quebec.
However, there are now several cases of Omicron in the city of Montreal that have no connection with trips abroad, which indicates that there is community transmission in Quebec, said deputy chief public health officer at the Public Health Agency of Canada, Dr. Howard Njoo.
He once again called on the provinces and territories to limit their gatherings for the holiday season.
From The Canadian Press:
An eastern Ontario city is limiting gatherings to a maximum of five people in response to the spread of the Omicron variant.
The medical officer of health for the Kingston, Ont., area says the new restriction is effective tonight at 6 p.m. through to Dec. 20.
Dr. Piotr Oglaza is also placing new restrictions on restaurants – they must be closed to indoor dining between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., not sell or serve alcohol after 9 p.m., ensure all patrons are seated when served, seat no more than four people at a table, and not allow dancing, singing or live music.
Oglaza says cases are increasing at a concerning rate and more must be done to protect the community.
Community spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has been confirmed in the region, which is seeing its highest collective case count during the pandemic.
The Kingston Health Sciences Centre says it has the highest number of intensive care COVID-19 patients in the province.
Premier François Legault, Health Minister Christian Dubé and public health director Dr. Horacio Arruda will be meeting tonight to discuss the state of the pandemic in the province, Legault told reporters on Monday.
The group is meeting to discuss projections and public health measures amid a rise in daily case numbers and the presence of the Omicron variant ahead of the holidays. Dubé will provide an update to Quebecers on Tuesday.
“There’s no reason for the moment to think that the variant is more dangerous than Delta or than other variants but it remains that we’re varying between 1,500 and 2,000 cases per day so we must remain vigilant,” Legault said.
Hospitalizations are still relatively low in the province compared to the U.S. and Europe, he added.
“But we have to be prudent” given the explosion of Omicron variant cases in Ontario.
“What’s happening with the Omicron variant in Ontario, we can think that it come here so, we can’t take this lightly and we’re following it every day,” he said.
Asked at which point hospitalizations would become a concern, Legault said it depends.
“We have to look at context,” he said. “It will depend on what projections are for the next few weeks.”
“There will be an increase in hospitalizations, but to what extent? That’s what the experts will tell us tonight.”
He said for the moment public health does not intend to change guidelines around holiday gatherings, which permit up to 20 people to assemble.
“We will continue to talk to public health and to follow the situation,” he said. “But for many reasons we think it’s important to keep that limit of 20 so that families can gather during the holidays.”
From The Canadian Press:
The federal government is extending, and slightly expanding, a travel exemption for Canadians trying to return home from South Africa.
Earlier this month, the government lifted a requirement for Canadian travellers from South Africa to have a negative COVID-19 molecular test result in a third country before coming to Canada.
An update on the federal government’s website says the exemption will remain in place until at least Jan. 7.
In addition, beginning Tuesday, the exemption will apply to eligible travellers on all indirect flights departing South Africa to Canada, regardless of the airline.
Under the exemption the flight to Canada must depart within 18 hours of the traveller’s arrival in the country of transit.
Prior to this exemption, Canadians travelling from one of 10 African countries, including South Africa, were required to obtain a COVID-19 test in the country they were leaving, as well as a second test while in transit in a third country before arriving in Canada.
Chief Public Health Officer of Canada, Dr. Theresa Tam, presented her annual report on public health Monday.
“Our public health system has been stretched dangerously thin and it is in need of critical enforcements,” she said.
Tam identified four main priorities in a news conference presenting her report at noon.
The first priority is to renew and reinvigorate Canada’s public health workforce, after the pandemic exhausted health-care workers across the country. The goal is to recruit and retain a diverse workforce that represents the communities it serves.
The second is to update the public health “tool box,” Tam said. Canada has a lack of data on race, ethnic origin, and between provinces and territories. A pan-Canadian health registry is underway between levels of government, but she said it needs to be accelerated in order to allow timely decision-making.
Canada also needs to modernize governance and collaboration, because complex health challenges require working across jurisdictions, communities, industries and borders, she said.
Lastly, Canada will need investments into public health. They tend to be scaled back after public health emergencies, Tam explained.
Hear Tam answer reporters’ questions below.
Omicron variant cases of COVID-19 are sweeping through Britain, causing ministers to sound the alarm on rapid transmission rates, CNN is reporting.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday confirmed the country’s first death from the variant.
In response to the cases, the U.K. has increased its COVID alert level and is accelerating the roll out of boosters.
Quebec reported another 1,628 cases of COVID-19 on Monday, bringing the total number of cases in the province since the start of the pandemic to 467,609. Of them, 14,251 are active.
At 1,683, the seven-day rolling average for new cases is at its highest point since January.
The province also reported another three deaths Monday, bringing that total to 11,611.
Hospitalizations increased by six from Sunday to Monday and there are now 268 people receiving treatment for COVID-19 across the province, after 30 more patients were admitted and 24 were discharged. There are 73 people in intensive care, an increase of five from Sunday’s total after 10 new patients were admitted and five were discharged.
Quebec reported that it analyzed 34,408 COVID-19 samples on Saturday (Quebec reports its daily testing figures from two days prior).
The positivity rate in the province currently stands at 4.9 per cent.
Another 25,629 doses of COVID-19 vaccine were administered since the province’s last update, including 24,009 in the past 24 hours and 1,620 before Sunday.
From The Canadian Press:
Confusion is now the defining state for many Canadians considering travel this month amid shifting advice, COVID-19 variants and layers of testing and quarantine rules.
The prospect of flying abroad is “incredibly confusing” as passengers remain uncertain about whether they will be tested at airports upon return or forced to quarantine — on top of the gamut of measures in other countries — said Marty Firestone, president of Toronto-based insurer Travel Secure.
“What do I need to get into that country? What do I need to get in this country? What do I need to get back into my own country?” he asked, paraphrasing client questions.
Many are now rerouting trips or cancelling altogether out of exasperation, Firestone said.
“We’re just in a disarray, there’s no other simple way to put it.”
COVID-19 testing is one area where uncertainty abounds.
The federal government has said all passengers entering Canada, except those from the United States, need to be tested on arrival and isolate until they get their results. (Those coming from 10 African countries face further restrictions following initial detection of the Omicron variant in South Africa, despite its prevalence in more than 50 countries.)
Public health authorities declared on Saturday a COVID-19 outbreak at the Lakeshore General Hospital after a handful of staff and patients tested positive.
According to the CIUSSS de l’Ouest-de-l’Île-de-Montréal, the regional health authority that oversees the hospital, all those who have been infected are fully vaccinated.
The promises made in long-term care centres, both public and private, are abundant: access to around-the-clock care, assistance with everyday life — in some cases tailored to residents’ individual needs.
But over the years in Quebec, stories contradicting those promises — sometimes significantly, sometimes in less overt ways — have emerged and intensified under the strain of the pandemic.
In the summer of 2020, John St. Godard began noticing staff at CHSLD Château Westmount intentionally blocking the camera he had installed in his husband’s room.
The arrival of the highly mutated Omicron variant is a wake-up call to develop vaccines less susceptible to the rapid changes of the coronavirus, leading virologists and immunologists say.
Most first-generation COVID-19 vaccines target the spike protein on the outer surface of the SARS-CoV-2 virus used to infect human cells. Omicron has prompted alarm among scientists because it has far more mutations than earlier variants, including more than 30 on its spike.
Research to determine the extent to which Omicron evades immunity from existing vaccines or prior infection is underway. New data on the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine show some degree of reduced protection with the two-shot regimen.
A recent poll suggests about 40 per cent of Canadians have a family member or friend who hasn’t been vaccinated against COVID-19, and most — 70 per cent — don’t raise the issue.
Half of those say they have given up trying to persuade the friends and family members to get the shots.
The survey, conducted by Leger and commissioned by the Association for Canadian Studies, shows that 35 per cent of respondents say it’s “not an issue” and that they get along well with those who are unvaccinated.
The United States on Sunday reached 800,000 coronavirus-related deaths, according to a Reuters tally, as the nation braces for a potential surge in infections due to more time spent indoors during colder weather and the highly transmissible Omicron variant of the virus.
The milestone means the U.S. death toll from this one virus now exceeds the entire population of North Dakota.
Even with vaccines widely and freely available, the country has lost more lives to the virus this year than in 2020 due to the more contagious Delta variant and people refusing to get inoculated against COVID-19.
Montreal epidemiologists are warning that with the Omicron variant set to become dominant in Europe, COVID-19 cases on the rise in Quebec, and Christmas around the corner, now is no time to let down our guard.
Quebec has been reporting the highest daily case numbers it has seen in nearly a year, hospitalizations are on the rise, and active cases have doubled over the past three weeks.
“I think we would be foolish and naive to think that an increase in community cases won’t affect the population as a whole,” said Dr. Donald Vinh, an infectious disease specialist at the McGill University Health Centre. “I think we have to err on the side of caution and be concerned.”
The tax treatment of COVID-19 tests and ownership of joint bank accounts were among the topics raised recently by readers.
Two weeks into the rollout of COVID shots for children in Canada, those leading vaccine efforts say it’s been a heartening start.
More than 725,000 children between 5 and 11 have received a first dose so far.
The vaccination rate varies across the provinces, as was initially seen when the shot was made available to adults, with 34 per cent of eligible children vaccinated in Quebec as of Thursday compared with 19 per cent in Alberta.
But it’s too soon to know if demand will continue and will reach the goals some provinces have set for themselves, namely of having half of eligible children vaccinated by the end of the month.
From The Canadian Press:
Ontario’s portal for booking COVID-19 vaccines appeared to crash Monday morning as residents 50 and older who received their second shot at least six months ago became eligible for booster doses.
The provincial vaccine booking platform opened for appointments at 8 a.m., but shortly afterwards showed a message to try again later.
Social media users reported a number of problems on Twitter and expressed frustration with the province’s online booking system.
“I waited in line for 30 minutes to get on and after entering in my info, I get a ‘Service unavailable’ message,” one person wrote.
“Giving up after an hour of trying, and crashes, and re-entering info; I have to do some actual work today. Will try later this week, or after the holidays,” another said.
Some, however, reported successfully booking a third dose after several attempts or waiting more than 30 minutes.
The government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
People can also book shots by phone, through local public health units using their own booking systems and at some pharmacies and primary care clinics.
Booster eligibility is set to open up to all adults on Jan. 4 but the province’s top doctor has said the schedule could move faster if capacity allows.
The expanded eligibility comes as Ontario’s panel of expert advisers on COVID-19 said that the Omicron variant — first detected in the province in late November — now accounts for 21 per cent of Ontario’s COVID-19 cases.
Cases of Omicron are doubling every three days, the group said.
“The current surge is mostly Delta, but it’s hitting us just as we need to be ramping up for Omicron — and it’s a sign of how vulnerable an un/undervaccinated province is,” the panel said in a tweet.
Monday also marks the deadline for long-term care workers in the province to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Staff, students and volunteers can’t enter long-term care homes without proof of both doses.
Quebec’s vaccine passport is mandatory for people 13 and older who want to access services and activities deemed non-essential by the provincial government, including bars, restaurants, gyms, festivals and sporting events.
Quebecers can use a smartphone app to prove their vaccination status or simply carry their QR code on paper.
We have published two guides to the passports – one looks at how to download and set up the app , and another answers key questions about the system, including how, when and why.
You can find more information on the Quebec government’s website – one page has details on how the system works, and another has a list of the places where a vaccine passport will be required .
Local health authorities have set up mass vaccination sites across Montreal.
You can book appointments via the Clic Santé website or by phone at 1-877-644-4545.
Quebecers can also visit walk-in AstraZeneca, Moderna and Pfizer vaccine clinics .
Here are the nuts and bolts of getting vaccinated , by Katherine Wilton. Her guide includes the age groups targeted, how to book appointments, and addresses of vaccination centres.
We are regularly updating our list of what services are open, closed or modified in Montreal and Quebec, including information on the curfew and other lockdown measures.
Montrealers can be screened at test centres across the island.
For other parts of Quebec, check out this page on the Quebec government’s site .
Stay informed with our daily email newsletter focused on local coronavirus coverage and other essential news, delivered directly to your email inbox by 7 p.m. on weekdays.
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As of Jan. 21, P.E.I. had the highest reported rate of COVID-19 cases, with 1,050 per 100,000 people, of any province in Canada over the last seven days.
Only one jurisdiction, the Northwest Territories, surpassed the province’s rate of cases over the last week, with 2,024 cases per 100,000 people. The next closest province to P.E.I. was Alberta with 759 cases per 100,000.
But Susan Kirkland, head of Dalhousie University’s department of community health and epidemiology, said daily case counts and case rates do not capture the whole story.
“There does become a point where following cases – it collapses.”
Susan Kirkland, Dalhousie University Department of community health and epidemiology
Kirkland says it is now clear that community spread of COVID-19 is widespread in Atlantic Canada, including in provinces like P.E.I., where testing of incoming travellers had previously helped contain spread of the virus.
Kirkland said differences in testing criteria, as well as differing reporting details mean comparing case rates between provinces is becoming less and less useful.
While P.E.I. still allows PCR-RT testing for anyone with symptoms, Nova Scotia has limited PCR testing to specific vulnerable populations that are symptomatic. Rapid antigen tests are provided to the general population that is symptomatic.
In many provinces, daily positive case counts are not capturing the full number of people who have contracted the virus. New Brunswick has also stopped reporting daily case counts in COVID-19 briefings because of this, although the information is still available on the province’s website.
Kirkland said other indicators like hospitalization rates and test positivity are better indicators of how well a province like P.E.I. is faring amid the Omicron wave.
“Ultimately, what we are trying to do is stop the health-care system from (collapsing),” Kirkland said.
P.E.I.’s most recent test positivity rate was 20.7 per cent – significantly higher than all three other Atlantic provinces. There have been 19 hospitalizations since the first Omicron case was announced on Dec. 14.
After weeks of escalating case counts, P.E.I. Premier Dennis King imposed tighter public health restrictions on Jan. 19, closing gyms and in-room dining in restaurants.
Since Jan. 18, the P.E.I. government has stopped recording daily counts of outbreaks associated with long-term care homes, shelters, the provincial correctional centre and other congregate settings.
While the lack of daily reporting has occurred in conjunction with continuing escalating case counts, P.E.I. may not be the only province to have made a decision to report less information about outbreaks.
Nova Scotia is continuing to report daily positive cases associated with long-term care outbreaks, but the province has recently decided to not report school outbreak numbers.
As an epidemiologist, Kirkland said she was not sure what she thought of public health offices restricting reporting on outbreak case counts.
She said Atlantic Canadians have become used to COVID-19 being contained. This has made it difficult for public health offices to communicate that overall containment of the virus is less feasible, due to the higher transmissibility of the Omicron variant.
“I think that what public health is now doing is trying to turn the corner to say, ‘we have to start to learn how to live with COVID,’ ” Kirkland said.
“We have to deal with the things that we know will reduce risks – we have to wear masks. We have to improve ventilation where we can. We have to limit social contacts in areas where we can,” she said.
But Kirkland also believes governments are faced with the challenges of prioritizing a safe reopening of schools.
“Very often people will say, ‘why is it safe for kids to be in school but we need to close restaurants,’ ” she said.
“That’s not the point. The point is that the priority is to keep kids in school. So, we have to do these other things in the community so that kids can stay in school. Because that’s what we think is the most important.”
Less than half of Canadian children ages five to 11 have received their first COVID-19 vaccine dose, but Canadian experts say now may not be the time to start mandating them for students attending school in person.
In December, Windsor’s city council endorsed a recommendation from its health unit that all elementary school students be vaccinated before returning to school.
Meanwhile, in the United States, New York City now requires students to be vaccinated before taking part in extracurricular activities. California, which already has strict vaccine requirements for students, is mulling the addition of the COVID-19 vaccine to that list.
“For provinces that don’t have vaccine mandate policies, to start a conversation about vaccine mandates at a time where emotions are very heightened around vaccination is a risky endeavour,” said public health researcher Devon Greyson.
Greyson, an assistant professor of health communication at the University of British Columbia, has studied the efficacy of childhood vaccine mandates. They found that while uptake does increase, the boost can’t be solely attributed to mandates. Better communication, access and reporting systems also played a role.
In fact, in some jurisdictions, mandates did more harm than good by pushing some people away from vaccination, Greyson says.
“I recommend first really trying to build confidence in the population and make it as easy as possible for people to get vaccinated before considering a policy that has potentially negative consequences on children or parents,” they said.
No provincial or territorial governments have announced plans for a COVID-19 vaccine mandate in schools, but jurisdictions such as Ontario and New Brunswick already require vaccinations for certain preventable diseases in students entering the public school system.
Legislation to strengthen mandatory-vaccination rules for N.B. schoolchildren was proposed in 2020, but was defeated. “There are varied opinions, and very strong opinions,” Premier Blaine Higgs, who voted in favour of the change, said earlier this month on CBC’s Power & Politics.
Dr. Cora Constantinescu, a pediatric infectious diseases expert who counsels vaccine-hesitant parents, says that with lower vaccine uptake among five- to 11-year-olds — and children returning to classrooms — there’s an urgency get them vaccinated as soon as possible. But she stopped short of calling for a mandate.
While Constantinescu believes that a vaccine mandate could be effective she pointed out some children risk being kept out of the classroom as a result of such a policy.
Only about five per cent of children ages five to 11 have been fully vaccinated, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed concern over the low vaccination rate on Wednesday, saying that it puts society’s most vulnerable people at greater risk.
In October, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that the COVID-19 vaccine would be added to the list of vaccinations required for students to attend school in-person. The policy will be enforced after the federal government approves the vaccines, and the state will grant exemptions for medical reasons, plus religious and personal beliefs.
Some school districts have already enacted mandates in the state.
Young children are particularly good at spreading respiratory illnesses — and that’s likely the case for COVID-19 as well, according to Annette Reagan, adjunct assistant professor at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health in California.
She says that justifies the addition of COVID-19 vaccines to existing mandates.
“Increasing vaccination rates and stopping transmission in younger children is a good thing for our community, but it comes with the mandates,” said Reagan, noting that such policies limit parental autonomy.
The reasons behind low uptake among the pediatric group in Canada are varied, according to Greyson, but might be explained by timing and limited access to clinics.
Pfizer’s Comirnaty vaccine was approved by Health Canada for the five to 11 cohort in late November — just weeks before the holidays when non-emergency medical appointments tend to slow down.
Pediatric vaccine doses may also be less widely accessible compared to adult doses, said Constantinescu, making it more difficult for parents to get their kids immunized.
“The low-hanging fruit of vaccine uptake is always access,” said Constantinescu. “We have not made this as easily accessible as we could have.”
Constantinescu believes, however, that the narrative children experience more “mild” illness when they contract COVID-19 is a key factor behind the low vaccination rate — a message that parents should reconsider.
“We pray and hope that it’s just going to be a mild illness in most kids. That would be fantastic and I sure hope that, but we don’t know,” she said.
“What we do know is that the vaccine is safe and we have enough supply.”
Perhaps the most significant risk that comes with vaccine mandates, however, is the potential for children with vaccine-hesitant parents to miss out on in-person learning.
Constantinescu argues that some children may not get the protection provided by vaccination or the benefits of learning in person.
With new evidence that negative side effects, such as myocarditis, are rare in the five to 11 bracket, she says now is the time to “shout from the rooftops” that vaccinating against COVID-19 is safe.
“This is the top vaccine-preventable threat to our children and we have a safe vaccine,” she said.
“We need to tell parents this is about protecting your child, first and foremost. It’s not about saving the pandemic, it’s not about saving the world.”
“This is because it’s in the best interest of your child.”
Written by Jason Vermes with files from Ashley Fraser, CBC News and The Associated Press.
In a news release Saturday afternoon, health officials in Nova Scotia said 82 people were admitted to hospital and are receiving specialized care in a COVID-19 designated unit. 11 people were reported to be in intensive care.
According to the province, the age range of those in hospital is 23-100 years old, and the average age is 67.
Of the 82 people receiving specialized care for COVID-19 in hospital, 79 were admitted during the Omicron wave.
There are also two other groups of people in hospital related to COVID-19:
The number of COVID-19 admits and discharges to hospital was not available Saturday.
On Jan. 21, the Nova Scotia Health Authority labs completed 3,682 tests.
According to a news release, an additional 502 new lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 are being reported.
Of the new cases; 219 are in the Central Zone, 88 are in the Eastern Zone, 59 are in the Northern Zone and 136 new cases are in the Western Zone.
Nova Scotia remains under a state of emergency. Provincial officials first declared a state of emergency on March 22, 2020 and it has now been extended to February 6, 2022.
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