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COVID concerns: Nova Scotia cancels Yarmouth-Maine ferry service for 2020 –



HALIFAX — The Nova Scotia government has cancelled the 2020 sailing season for the heavily subsidized ferry service that links the province with Maine, citing the ongoing struggle to contain COVID-19 in the United States.

Premier Stephen McNeil said Friday the Canada-U.S. border has been kept closed for a good reason.

“Like many of you, I am concerned about the number of (COVID-19) cases that we hear about in the U.S,” he told a virtual news conference.

“We will eventually open up Nova Scotia even more to other Canadian provinces, but opening up to the U.S in the near future does not seem safe.”

The money-losing service, operated by Charlottetown-based Bay Ferries Ltd., had said in February that crossings were expected to start by June 26.

The company operates The Cat, a high-speed catamaran ferry that was to sail between Yarmouth, N.S., and Bar Harbor, Maine, where the company was completing renovations on the ferry terminal.

Bay Ferries CEO Mark MacDonald issued a statement Friday saying the decision to cancel the season was difficult but obvious.

“International non-essential travel worldwide has essentially come to a standstill,” he said.

“It is not clear when U.S. operations would be permitted to occur, what opportunity would exist for proper marketing of the service, and what short-term customer demand would be.  In the circumstances, we are focused on reduction of cost.”

The problem-plagued ferry cost provincial taxpayers an extra $4 million as it also sat idle for the entire 2019 sailing season.

Zach Churchill, the Liberal member of the legislature who represents the Yarmouth area, has said the additional costs are associated with tying up the ferry and upgrading the U.S. terminal.

In total, the province spent $17.8 million on the idled service last year.

The season was scrapped last year when Bay Ferries was unable to complete construction work at the terminal to meet U.S. Customs and Border Protection specifications. The work was necessary after the company moved its U.S entry point from Portland, Maine, where the ferry had operated for five years.

In 2018, work at the terminal forced Bay Ferries to cancel and delay bookings several times before finally suspending them in July.

Bay Ferries’ original plan for 2020 was to offer crossings six days a week — every day but Wednesdays — until the season ended on Oct. 13.

The ferry is expected to remain at its off-season port in Charleston, S.C. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 26, 2020.

Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press

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Oxford-Astra Covid vaccine review to start in Europe – Hindustan Times



European regulators are set to start an accelerated review of a Covid-19 vaccine front-runner from the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca Plc, according to a person with knowledge of the situation, in a sign the shot could be the first to seek approval in the region.

The European Medicines Agency is expected to announce the “rolling review” as soon as this week, according to the person, who didn’t want to be identified because the decision is still private. Such assessments are used in emergencies to allow regulators to see trial data while the development is ongoing to speed up approvals of drugs and vaccines that are urgently needed.

The move would be a key step forward for the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot after trials were halted earlier this month due to concerns about a participant in the U.K. study who became ill. The partners, along with companies such as Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc., are sprinting ahead with experimental shots as governments look for a way out of the global crisis.

The death toll from the disease exceeded 1 million this week, while the infection rate has rapidly picked up again in Europe.

While the British regulator cleared the Oxford-Astra trial to restart less than a week after it was paused and studies in South Africa, Brazil and India have resumed, U.S. authorities have yet to give the go-ahead.

Late Wednesday, Reuters reported that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had widened its investigation of the incident that led to the trial halt, citing people familiar with the matter.

The EMA’s head of vaccines, Marco Cavaleri, said in July the agency would start rolling reviews of potential candidates after the summer. The approach means that a final approval could be granted a matter of days after the review period ends. Cavaleri said at the time the first approval of a vaccine could come by the end of the year.

In a normal environment, drugmakers submit trial data to the regulator for a review that can take many months. Once that’s complete, an opinion is given on whether the product should be authorized for use, which must be signed off by the European Commission.

In emergencies like a pandemic, a rolling review avoids delays so that an EMA recommendation and approval from the European Commission can be sought as quickly as possible. The agency started such an evaluation of remdesivir to treat Covid-19 in April, while trials were ongoing, and the drug was given conditional approval three months later.

AstraZeneca declined to comment. A spokesperson for the EMA declined to comment on the review.

“EMA has always stated that it will communicate the start of a rolling review for Covid-19 treatments or vaccines,” it said in a statement. “We have not made such an announcement for a vaccine.”

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Coronavirus Waterloo Region: 15 new cases of COVID-19 reported – CTV Toronto



Region of Waterloo Public Health officials reported 15 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, bringing the region’s total to 1,737.

There were another 12 cases of the disease that are considered resolved, bringing that total to 1,461.

Since the pandemic began, 120 people in the region have died from COVID-19. That leaves 156 active cases in the region, of which one is hospitalized. To date, 252 people have been hospitalized with the disease at some point.

One of the region’s six outbreaks was declared over on Thursday. Three child-care settings had declared outbreaks after a case was identified at each of them, but the region’s online COVID-19 dashboard shows that one of those outbreaks is over.

There are still five active outbreaks in the region: one at a congregate setting, with four total cases, one at a food and beverage service, which has four total cases, one at Kitchener Collegiate Institute, which has two cases, and two child-care settings, which each have one case.

Across Ontario, public health officials reported 538 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the provincial total to 52,248. Most of those were reported in Toronto-Area health units, including 229 new cases in Toronto, 101 in Peel Region and 43 in York Region. Sixty-six new cases were also reported in Ottawa.

There are currently 162 patients in Ontario hospitals with COVID-19. Of those 162 patients, 37 are being treated in an intensive care unit, while 17 are breathing with the assistance of a ventilator.

Ontario’s latest COVID-19 modelling data shows that Ontario is now doubling its new cases every 10 to 12 days, and the province could be recording 1,000 new cases per day in a matter of weeks.

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Ontario home-care providers push for expanded services to fight pandemic – CTV Toronto



Four major home-care providers are asking the Ontario government to increase support for their sector, saying it would reduce pressure on a health-care system burdened by COVID-19.

The companies — Bayshore HealthCare, Closing the Gap Healthcare, VON Canada, and SE Health — say bolstering home care will allow long-term care homes and hospitals to operate more efficiently.

The group has launched a campaign today on their call for support.

The CEO of Closing the Gap Healthcare says COVID-19 transmission rates in home-care settings are much lower than in congregate care.

Leighton McDonald says by focusing on community-care, the province can help keep more people safe from the virus.

According to provincial data through the height of the first wave of COVID-19 until the end of May, there were 235 virus cases related to home care, compared to 4,518 in long-term care homes.

“What didn’t happen early in the pandemic was home care wasn’t seen as a as a critical alternative to much of the institutional care” McDonald said.

“Had that happened, we would have seen many more people cared for outside of settings that could have been potentially hazardous.”

McDonald said the coalition is hoping to build public support for increased wages and stability for workers in the home-care sector, who he said are often paid less than their colleagues in hospitals and long-term care.

“We’d like to see more people on full time salaries, and have stable employment, so that they can actually earn a living and work with one employer,” he said.

Dr. Samir Sinha, the director of geriatrics at Sinai Health System and the University Health Network, has been advocating for an overhaul for the home-care system for years.

Sinha said more than 38,000 Ontarians are on wait lists to get into long-term care because there isn’t enough access to home care.

But the cost to care for someone in long-term care is $180 a day, compared to $103 a day in the home care system, he said.

“When we don’t actually have enough home and community care available it puts incredible pressures on our hospitals and it also creates incredible pressure on a nursing home system, which is expensive to run,” he said.

Sinha said keeping people out of congregate care settings, where COVID-19 has killed more than 1,830 people during the pandemic is an important strategy and will help the province address capacity issues in long-term care and hospitals.

Hamilton resident Barbara Weigelt and her 78-year-old husband accessed home-care services and support the calls to boost the sector.

Weigelt said her husband had a series of health problems over several years including a heart surgery and a stroke. With the support of a registered nurse at home, and on-call after-hours care, they were able to manage.

“I consider it a lifesaver,” she said. “If we hadn’t had that opportunity I don’t think we could have managed.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 1, 2020.

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