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COVID variants may push cases to 20K/day by March – Brandon Sun

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Health-care workers wait in line at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Health-care workers wait in line at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

New federal forecasts project that COVID-19 variants could fuel a potential third wave that would eclipse its predecessors if Canada doesn’t double down on the strict protocols that have reduced infections.

The Public Health Agency of Canada released modelling Friday suggesting that while infections continue to decline nationally, the spread of virus mutations threatens to reverse that progress.

Canada’s chief public health officer says there are currently fewer than 33,000 active cases in Canada, a 60 per cent drop compared to a month ago.

But with more contagious variants now detected in all provinces, Dr. Theresa Tam says Canada may not be able to avoid a rapid acceleration of daily cases, predicted to hit 20,000 by mid-March, without continued vigilance.

“We are at a critical point in the pandemic and our efforts have begun to tip the balance in our favour,” Tam told reporters.

“Protecting our progress and limiting the impact of variants of concern will require stronger action.”

Even with current restrictions, the country could see infections increase by more than 10,000 per day in April, according to the modelling.

At a news conference Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he has spoken to provincial premiers about a cautious approach to lifting restrictions.

Trudeau also said Canada received a shipment of more than 400,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine on Wednesday — the largest delivery to date.

He noted the vaccine delivery is set to rapidly increase, as the provinces and territories prepare to roll out almost a million and a half doses of COVID-19 vaccines over the next three weeks in the race against the variants.

While it’s hard to make exact predictions, Tam said the concern is that Canada could be heading down a rapid growth trajectory that would outpace daily increases of roughly 8,000 new cases recorded in early January.

The current national average of 2,900 new cases per day is 60 per cent higher than the peak of the first wave, she added.

“We’ve been saying all along that if we ease measures too soon, the epidemic will resurge even stronger. But with highly contagious variants in our midst, the threat of uncontrolled epidemic growth is significantly elevated,” said Tam.

“Measures must be stronger, stricter and sustained long enough to suppress rapid epidemic growth of variants of concern.”

The variants are approximately 50 per cent more transmissible and linked to more severe disease outcomes, Tam noted.

Of particular concern is the B117 variant, which was first detected in the U.K., and has since spread to more than 85 countries, becoming the dominant virus in several European nations, said Tam.

“This is one variant where we may expect it to become the new sort of circulating virus,” she said.

The other variants — such as those first identified in South Africa, and Brazil — haven’t spread as widely across the globe, said Tam.

But even as these strains spread across the country, Tam said Friday’s forecasts indicate that Canada could control the outbreak with enhanced public health measures, such as restrictions, closures and community-based control protocols.

With several provinces lifting restrictions, Tam urged authorities to take a slow and steady approach toward reopening, or it won’t be long before they’ll have to reimpose strict measures.

“What you want to do is to keep avoiding this yo-yo-ing effect of up and down,” she said. “You need to avoid complete lockdowns and curfews and all of those things by trying to maintain a strong level of public health measures.”

“You can’t just keep doing the same thing and expect a different result.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 19, 2021.

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B.C. gets 1.7 million calls as lines open to book vaccine appointments for elderly – Alaska Highway News

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VANCOUVER — British Columbia’s health minister promised to “do better” on Monday after call centres to schedule vaccine appointments were overwhelmed on the first day of booking.

Adrian Dix said there were 1.7 million calls in less than three hours after the phone lines opened for people over 90 and Indigenous elders over 65 to book their appointments.

Dix said he believed that people who were not yet eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine were flooding the lines, but he also acknowledged that more staffing was needed.

“It’s really important in order to allow those over 90 to get their appointments that we only call when our age group becomes open for calling,” he told the province’s COVID-19 briefing.

“It’s also important that we do better. I know that people have called in and have waited a long time today.” 

Dix said that more resources would be added in the coming weeks, as more age groups become eligible to call to book their vaccines.

People born in 1936 or earlier can start calling for appointments on March 15 and those born in 1941 or earlier can start to schedule their immunizations March 22.

Fraser Health was the only authority to launch an online booking platform on Monday, but Dix said a web-based system would become widely available on April 12.

Some residents with elderly parents said they spent hours redialing their health authority’s number and only got a busy signal or a recorded message telling them to call back later.

Julie Tapley, whose 90-year-old father lives in the Vancouver Coastal Health region, said she was frustrated that the authority had not yet established an online booking system.

“I just want to get in the queue and start the process so that (my parents) can return to their normal lives.”

B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, said creating an online booking system is “quite a large project” and Fraser Health was the only authority with an existing platform.

Of about 80,000 people eligible to book appointments this week, roughly 26,000 have already received a shot, so a relatively small number of people should be calling, Dix said.

He said about 10,000 appointments were booked as of Monday afternoon and a “significant number” of those were scheduled through the Fraser Health online site.

Dix urged eligible residents and their families to keep calling in the coming days. There are plenty of appointments available and it is not a “first-come, first-serve” system, he said.

Although B.C.’s case numbers have been on the rise, Henry said some restrictions would be eased in the coming weeks as the weather warms and immunizations ramp up.

Outdoor gatherings, larger meeting places and layers of protection such as masks will still be recommended, she said.

“I like to think of it as slowly turning up the dial again rather than flicking a switch,” she said. 

She also said she hopes to see the return of sports and in-person religious ceremonies within weeks.

Officials have been developing a plan with faith leaders to enable the gradual return of in-person services, as there are important dates in many religions coming up, Henry said.

A B.C. Supreme Court judge reserved his decision on Friday on a petition filed by three Fraser Valley churches who argued that a ban on in-person services violates charter rights.

Henry reported on Monday 1,462 new COVID-19 cases and 11 deaths over three days, pushing the death toll to 1,391 in the province.

She said there was one new outbreak in a long-term care home, the Cottonwoods Care Centre in Kelowna, where a high number of residents and staff had already been vaccinated.

The flare-up serves as a reminder that while vaccines are effective and prevent severe illness and death, they don’t necessarily mean that all transmission will be stopped, she said.

There have been 144 new cases that are variants of concern, bringing the total to 394 confirmed cases. Officials still do not know how about a quarter of the cases were acquired.

Henry became emotional when quoting Chief Robert Joseph, a knowledge-keeper with the Assembly of First Nations.

“We will celebrate our lives again, dream our dreams again and watch our children regain their hope,” Henry quoted him as saying, with tears in her eyes.

“That’s what we can look forward to in the coming months.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 8, 2021. 

Laura Dhillon Kane, The Canadian Press

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COVID-19 vaccine call centres flooded with 1.7 million calls on first day – Vancouver Is Awesome

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B.C.’s health minister is pleading with British Columbians not to ring up COVID-19 vaccine call centres unless they’re eligible to book an appointment for a shot.

Adrian Dix revealed Monday (March 8) call centres meant for booking vaccine shots have been flooded with 1.7 million calls since launching at 7 a.m.

Fewer than 100,000 British Columbians are currently eligible to book — 47,000 people 90 years old or above, and 35,000 Indigenous people 65 years or older.

“If you’re not in those categories, please don’t call us today so that we can continue to proceed through those appointments. We’ve got five days to do it, there’s going to be lots of time,” Dix said during a media briefing.

“Remember, this is not first come first serve, that there’s going to be appointments available all week.”

Initial bookings are to be done through dedicated call centres for the province’s five local authorities and family members are able to book on behalf of seniors who may not feel comfortable scheduling their vaccinations on their own.

Fraser Health is the only health authority providing online bookings.

Booking eligibility will expand to those 85 years and older by March 15, and 80 years and older by March 22.

Vaccinations for elderly British Columbians begin March 29 as the province continues to prioritize vulnerable groups and frontline health-care workers for vaccinations over the next three weeks.

Dix said an online booking platform will be ready to launch April 12 as the province begins vaccinating the broader population with more doses expected to be pouring in from manufacturers.

Details on the province’s online platform remain sparse and provincial officials said one week ago more information would be made available in the coming weeks.

The call centre will ask British Columbians for their legal name, date of birth, postal code, personal health number and current contact info.

Call centre workers will not be asking for financial info, such as credit card details.

Instructions for call centre bookings and local health authority call centre numbers are available at gov.bc.ca/bcseniorsfirst.

torton@biv.com

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City of Toronto launches website for booking COVID-19 vaccinations – MobileSyrup

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The city of Toronto has launched a website for booking and registering for COVID-19 vaccinations ahead of the province’s upcoming centralized online system.

Only eligible individuals are allowed to register at the moment. The website outlines that the availability of vaccination appointments depends on vaccine supply.

Provincial prioritization guidance states that people who are 80 years of age or older, health care workers in high priority risk groups and Indigenous adults are eligible for vaccinations right now.

Eligible individuals can use the website to either book an appointment or pre-register for when an appointment becomes available. You can book an appointment through the website, through a chat room or by phone.

The municipal government says the website is being used until the provincial government launches a centralized online registration website, which is currently in the works and set to roll out on March 15th.

Last month, the Ontario government provided a proposed timeline for when residents can start accessing the online booking system once it launches. Those who are age 75 and above can access the system starting April 15th, residents aged 70 and above can start May 1st and those who are 65 and older can begin June 1st.

The proposed schedule will be in place as long as the supply of vaccines remains steady. It’s also worth noting that although the booking system is expected to open for eligible people during these windows, it will likely take some time to get an appointment reserved.

Ontario is behind other provinces in launching the online booking system, as residents in Alberta and Quebec are already able to start booking appointments online.

You can access the city of Toronto’s booking website here. 

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