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Does this mean Christmas is cancelled? Your COVID-19 questions answered – CBC.ca

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We’re answering your questions about the pandemic. Send yours to COVID@cbc.ca, and we’ll answer as many as we can. We publish a selection of answers online and also put some questions to the experts during The National and on CBC News Network. So far, we’ve received more than 57,000 emails from all corners of the country.

In light of recent COVID-19 spikes throughout Canada, the trickiest part of the holidays might just be the planning. Reconciling your COVID-19 risk comfort level with your families could prove difficult. 

We’ve been hearing from Canadians who are concerned about what the holidays might look like, so we asked experts how best to negotiate gatherings this season.

Should we be cancelling our Christmas plans?

Kirsten Z. asked if she should cancel her holiday plans altogether.

First, it’s important to remember that officials and medical experts have been emphasizing that the large, extended family gatherings with family members from all over are not a good idea right now.

“Obviously the holidays will be different this year,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in a news conference earlier this week. How different, he said, depends on where you live.

“Maybe the Atlantic bubble can be spared, depending on how well they’re able to maintain things and what their policy is,” said Dr. Susy Hota, medical director for infection prevention and control at University Health Network in Toronto.

However, in many other parts of the country with more concerning case counts, it’s not looking promising. 

Get-togethers are being discouraged in most places across the country. In Manitoba and some regions of Ontario, they’re not allowed at all.

WATCH | How to navigate the holiday season as the pandemic continues:

An infectious disease expert and epidemiologist answer questions about navigating the holiday season during the COVID-19 pandemic, including what lessons may have been learned from Thanksgiving. 5:51

“This won’t be a popular answer, but sadly I don’t think [family gatherings] will be a safe thing for us to do in most areas of Canada,” Hota said.

Infectious disease specialist Dr. Zain Chagla agreed.

“It’s not looking hopeful that traditional things like Christmas dinner is happening,” said Chagla, who is an associate professor at McMaster University and consultant physician at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Hamilton, Ont.

“We’ve seen outbreaks associated with family dinners and sleepovers, and it’s just too much of a risk to the community to have another amplifying event.”

What if we isolate ourselves beforehand? 

Quebecers have been offered the option to quarantine themselves for a week before and a week after Christmas in exchange for the lifting of a ban on gatherings.

A number of you have written in asking if isolating before the holidays would make it OK to get together.

“I think it’s a pragmatic approach, informed in part by Canada’s experience over Thanksgiving.” said Dr. Matthew Oughton, an attending physician in the infectious diseases division at the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal, referring to Canadians who gathered despite warnings from public health officials. 

But he worries that due to the incubation period of COVID-19, which is sometimes longer than the seven days Quebec is advising, some may develop symptoms even after the second week of isolation and then spread the virus further. 

WATCH | Quebec’s holiday gathering rules

For four days, the rules that have kept Quebecers apart for months will be eased. But it’s not without risk. 4:39

Other experts worry that the idea is good in theory, but see flaws in its practicality. 

“I think there are too many holes in that strategy,” said Chagla. He pointed out there are just too many possibilities for someone to slip up and expose everyone to risk because isolation would require:

  • Adults working from home.

  • Keeping kids home from school.

  • Not going out in public at all, not even for groceries.

The notion also raises equity issues, noted Chagla, as many families simply don’t have the ability to isolate for 14 days due to work or other factors.

Hota agreed and said isolation would be unrealistic for most people.

“The problem is it’s very difficult to exclude contact from all people,” she said.

You’d also have to trust that everyone was being diligent.

“People start making their own judgments and decisions saying, ‘I got 11 out of 14 days and that’s good enough,'” said Hota. “That worries me about that strategy.”

But if we get negative test results, we’ll be okay, right?

Not necessarily.

Hota warned that a negative test could give you a false sense of security.

A nurse demonstrates testing at a drive-thru COVID-19 testing centre at the National Arts Centre garage on Nov. 18 in Ottawa, the day before it opened. Hota suggested negative COVID-19 test results could create a false sense of security during the holidays. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Testing isn’t always accurate, and whether results are accurate depend heavily on the timing.

“Testing really just tells you what your status is at the time you got tested,” Hota said. “It doesn’t tell you if you’re going to be developing the infections a couple of days from then, when you actually show up at your parents’ house.”

Is it safe to give and receive presents, cards or cookies?

Both Chagla and Hota agreed that gift giving and dropping off baked goods is safe, provided that you take the necessary precautions like distancing and hand hygiene.

“Once you wrap and give or receive your gift, just make sure to wash your hands,” said Hota.

If it’s a washable item, such as clothes, Hota suggested you launder them, which you should be doing with new clothing anyway.

However, she said it’s not necessary to wipe everything down with disinfectants the way we were early in the pandemic.

“We’re learning, over time, that the virus doesn’t really last on surfaces for that long, particularly on clothing,” she said in an earlier article.

A box wrapped in Christmas wrapping paper waits to be loaded after being sorted. Infectious disease specialist Dr. Zain Chagla said one way to be extra safe when exchanging gifts is to deliver them, let them sit overnight and open them together the next day — virtually. (Brett Purdy/CBC)

As for the exchange itself, Chagla said doing it while physically distanced, with masks and outdoors would be “a great option” if your local public health agency allows it. But in Toronto, for example, even outdoor socializing is being discouraged.

And if you wanted to take an extra precaution, Chagla suggested leaving the presents under the tree overnight before opening them together the next morning — virtually.

How do I tell Mom we’re not coming for Christmas?

We’ve heard from Canadians who have made the decision to stay home, but still want to know: What’s the best way to tell their family that they’re not coming over?

“Frame your message in terms of family-related considerations,” said Igor Grossmann, associate professor of psychology at the University of Waterloo.

He suggests telling your loved ones that you aren’t coming “not because you are trying to be selfish, but in fact, because you care about them and you care about your elderly parents.”

But what if they get mad or think you are overreacting?

One thing that’s important to keep in mind is you need to be compassionate and remain calm, according to Grossmann. 

“Don’t make any accusations, and don’t make them feel bad,” he said.

People can be quick to assume others are just being selfish and that’s the reason they are not following the rules and recommendations from public health officials, Grossman added.

“I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. It may be the case for some people, but often it’s a lack of proper information.”

WATCH | Why a January COVID-19 could be particularly problematic:

There is a lot going on in Quebec hospitals in January – more injuries, respiratory illnesses and cardiac episodes. And as infectious disease specialist Dr. Cécile Tremblay explains, that is also when COVID cases from Christmas will start to pop up, another source of stress on the health-care system. 0:53

Instead, Grossmann suggests asking them where they are getting their information and asking them to offer their perspective. Then explain to them why you think the way you think and where your sources come from.

“The best strategy is to engage in a dialogue where you don’t discount their opinion but instead elaborate on their sources,” he said. “This type of dialogue may often help people realize that their beliefs are based on misinformed opinions.”

If you’re looking to do some research before you run into this type of situation, make sure you are drawing information from trusted resources, such as the Public Health Agency of Canada, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

How do I talk to family/friends that don’t take the pandemic seriously or think it’s just the flu?

“The worst thing that you can do in this type of situation is tell them that they are stupid and they are wrong, because as research has shown, that will right away lead to them shutting off and not listening,” said Grossmann.

Even if you may not have much common ground to stand on, it’s still important to open up the dialogue and have a conversation, rather than an argument.

What happens if we go and they’re not taking precautions?

So you’ve talked about it and decided to visit with a small family bubble, but you get to Grandma’s house and nobody is following the rules you laid out. What next?

Don’t panic or overreact to anything, Grossmann said. You can still control things like wearing a mask and the amount of distance you put between yourself and others.

“You can always take a step back,” he said. “If someone gets too close to you, you can communicate to them: ‘Is it okay if I take a step back?'”

Above all else, Grossmann underscored the idea that if you don’t feel comfortable or if it goes against common sense you probably shouldn’t do it.

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Trudeau expects most Canadians could be vaccinated by September 2021 – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News

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Cassanda Szklarski, The Canadian Press


Published Friday, November 27, 2020 12:34PM EST


Last Updated Friday, November 27, 2020 1:32PM EST

Beset by ongoing questions about Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine strategy, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tried to assuage the public with assurances most Canadians could be inoculated by September 2021, with distribution led by a former NATO commander.

Trudeau faced a barrage of questions about when and how such a rollout would unfold at a morning press conference on Friday, acknowledging public anxiety amid alarming infection rates and hospitalizations that have already scuttled holiday hopes for much of the country.

But while promising vaccine news offered “light at the end of the tunnel,” Trudeau said “we must hold on a little longer.”

“What really matters is when we get across the finish line … The fact that the doctors highlighted that if all goes according to plan, we should be able to have the majority of Canadians vaccinated by next September, puts us in very good stead,” he said, offering the government’s most specific timeline yet.

“We’re going to continue to do everything we can to deliver for Canadians, listening to experts working with top people to make sure that we’re doing this right, and quickly and safely.”

Trudeau said Canada has turned to Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin to lead distribution and handle logistics that include cold storage requirements, data sharing, and reaching Indigenous communities. He insisted Ottawa was committed to working with the provinces and territories on securing safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines as quickly as possible.

That wasn’t good enough for Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who later Friday roasted Trudeau for failing to give provinces and territories specific information they need for a potential vaccine launch.

Ford said a conference call Trudeau held with premiers Thursday night was sorely lacking.

“I didn’t get the answer we wanted to hear, none of the premiers got the answer they wanted to hear,” said Ford, who appeared at a Friday press conference alongside the new head of the Ontario’s vaccine distribution task force, retired Gen. Rick Hillier.

“I can’t emphasize enough to the prime minister: The clock is ticking. We’re going to be hopefully getting these vaccines sometime – again, hopefully – in January. I asked him the three simple questions: When are we getting it? What type of vaccine are we getting? And how much of that vaccine are we getting? To have Gen. Hillier make a proper plan, we need to know.”

Ontario called on the federal government to immediately disclose its allocation plan, noting reports that other countries have already announced plans to receive doses.

U.S. officials have said 6.4 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine could reach some priority citizens within 24 hours of regulatory clearance, while Moderna’s vaccine could be available by the end of the year, although the general public likely wouldn’t get doses until the spring.

No matter when a vaccine arrives in Canada, Hillier said Ontario’s vaccine distribution plans would be ready on Dec. 31.

In Ottawa, Procurement Minister Anita Anand also faced questions over a precise delivery date but insisted she is in constant contact with suppliers to make sure they can be deployed as soon as they are approved for use.

“This is a complex process. This is an uncertain environment. But we are on top of it,” said Anand.

“I personally will make sure that we have vaccines in place in Canada when Health Canada has provided the regulatory approval.”

Trudeau‘s September timeline was echoed by deputy chief public health officer Dr. Howard Njoo, who had last week suggested the possibility of a fall goal line for vaccinating the majority of Canadians.

Njoo said Friday the Prime Minister’s prediction is “in the same ballpark” as previous rollout plans, and a good target to work towards.

But he cautioned there are still “a lot of unknowns.”

“Certainly we’ve always been sort of optimistic, cautiously optimistic, about what the vaccination rollout will look like,” said Njoo.

“Right now it’s a bit of a moving target. We have two vaccines which are very promising but they’re still in the process of going through the regulatory process. If all goes well, and they are approved, then they’re the first two out of the pipeline.”

The news follows more alarming daily COVID-19 case numbers from Ontario, which reported a record 1,855 new cases, and 20 more deaths on Friday.

Quebec reported 1,269 new COVID-19 infections and 38 more deaths linked to the virus, including nine that occurred in the past 24 hours.

Ottawa has finalized agreements with five vaccine makers and is in advanced negotiations with two more.

The deals would secure 194 million doses with the option to buy another 220 million, according to Public Services and Procurement Canada.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 27, 2020.

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'The clock is ticking': Ontario calls on federal government to provide clear timelines for COVID-19 vaccines – CTV Toronto

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TORONTO —
Ontario Premier Doug Ford is calling on the federal government to provide a clear timeline on when the province will receive the first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, saying that is “impossible” to plan distribution without that critical information.

The premier made the comments on Friday afternoon alongside Health Minister Christine Elliott and retired Gen. Rick Hillier, the new head of the province’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution task force.

“Make no mistake, this will be a monumental effort,” Ford told reporters. “When you look at a province the size of Ontario, with as many variables as we’re facing, without proper planning or the proper information, this can be a logistical nightmare.”

“That’s why, as we continue planning, we need certainty from the federal government. We need to know which kind of vaccines we’ll be getting, because each vaccine will come with unique requirements and potential challenges. And we also need to know how many vaccines we will receive each week. We need a clear line of sight into the timelines of the shipments.”

Ford said it is “impossible” to plan distribution of the vaccine, including staffing and storage of doses, without that timeline and “the clock is ticking.”

“I asked (the prime minister) three simple questions. You know, when are we getting it, what type of vaccine are we getting, and how much of that vaccine are we getting,” he said. “To have General Hillier make a proper plan. We need to know.”

Doug Ford, Rick Hillier

The comments come hours after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau refused to provide a clear timeline for when Canadians will have access to a vaccine, saying only that he hopes to have more than half of Canadians vaccinated by September 2021.

“We have continued to work with the provinces on vaccine delivery and logistics since last spring,” Trudeau said.

“I can understand the eagerness with which people want to know, ‘When is this going to be over? When are we going to get the vaccines?’ What we can say is, we are working extremely hard to deliver as quickly and as safely as possible… if all goes according to plan, we should be able to have the majority of Canadians vaccinated by next September,” Trudeau said.

Elliott has previously said the province is likely to roll out the first doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccine between January and March of 2021, followed by a second batch from March until “about” July.

But since then the government has rolled back their vaccine rhetoric, saying that it is not clear if those targets will be achieved.

The COVID-19 vaccines have not yet been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but they could receive the stamp of approval as early as two weeks from now.

Doug Ford and Rick Hillier

Hillier said that while questions remain, the COVID-19 vaccine distribution task force is working to be ready for the new year.

“Our mission is clear,” Hillier said while speaking publicly for the first time since being named head of the task force. “The team is being built. It is largely present and in place and they’re building on the work that’s been done.”

“I’m not an over-the-top optimist, I’m the pragmatic person, but we’re going to be ready on 31 December for what the people of Ontario will need from us.”

Ontario health officials reported a new single-day record of COVID-19 cases on Friday, logging 1,855 new infections and 20 more deaths.

The total number of lab-confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus now stands at 111,216, including deaths and recoveries.

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Top general to lead vaccine rollout, aims to immunize majority by September: PM – CTV News

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Canada has tapped former NATO commander Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin to lead the national vaccine distribution effort, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced his target of immunizing more than half of all Canadians by September, 2021.

“Canadians can expect that if all goes well, to have more than half of us vaccinated by next September,” said the prime minister, adding this “significant positive news” comes straight from Canada’s federal health experts.

“I can understand the eagerness with which people want to know, ‘When is this going to be over? When are we going to get the vaccines?’ What we can say is, we are working extremely hard to deliver as quickly and as safely as possible… if all goes according to plan, we should be able to have the majority of Canadians vaccinated by next September,” Trudeau said.

Trudeau also spoke more about the government’s vaccine strategy of procuring up to 414 million doses from seven different pharmaceutical companies — enough to vaccinate every person in this country more than a few times over. Because COVID-19 is a new disease and there are different approaches to tackling it, Canada wanted to keep its options open, he said.

“Some are going to work better than others, and some are going to be speed bumps along the way that cause extra challenges, and we knew that creating an array of opportunities for Canadians was one of the best ways of making sure that we would get through this the best possible way,” Trudeau said.

Asked what the biggest question on his mind is ahead of administering the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to a Canadian, Trudeau said it’s concerning safety.

“I think the question we all have is: is it going to be safe? Is it going to be effective? That’s what our scientists are looking at very, very carefully right now… There are jurisdictions and countries around the world that have banked everything on one or maybe two different vaccines… Whatever vaccines end up being the right ones to get through this pandemic, Canadians have a very good chance of having access to millions of doses of those,” Trudeau said.

Health Canada will need to evaluate each candidate before it can be administered to Canadians, and on Thursday that agency’s chief medical adviser said that the first COVID-19 vaccine approval could happen before Christmas, in line with expected approvals in the U.S. and Europe.

“We are expecting to make a final decision on the vaccines around the same time,” Dr. Supriya Sharma told reporters Thursday, during the first of what will be weekly public briefings on the status of procurement and rollout plans.

This means Canada could see first approvals in December, initial prioritized groups vaccinated between January and March, and expanding out to more Canadians over the following months.

“And then we’re going to have to figure out all of those shipments,” she said.

That’s when the military is expected to play a role.

TOP MILITARY GENERAL TAKES LEAD

As first reported by CTV News ahead of Trudeau’s Rideau Cottage address on Friday, Fortin will be in charge of overseeing what is set to be a massive logistics-heavy operation of delivering the vaccine.

Trudeau called it the “greatest mobilization effort Canada has seen since the Second World War.”

There are already Canadian Armed Forces military logistics teams working with the Public Health Agency of Canada on planning for the rollout of vaccines to millions of Canadians in the coming months. This work has quietly been underway for months but with positive vaccine trial news coming out in recent weeks, the country’s attention has been largely seized with assessing where Canada stands.

According to the military, there are currently 27 staff working out of the national public health agency, including operational planners, pharmacists, health-care administrators, engineers, and IT experts, with more expected to follow.

Known as the National Operations Centre, Fortin will head up the logistics and operations within the centre. He is being named Vice President Logistics and Operations at PHAC, and will be assisted by Brig.-Gen. Simon Bernard and Brig.-Gen. Krista Brodie with logistical planning and co-ordination.

“This will be the biggest immunization in the history of the country,” Trudeau said. “We must reach everyone who wants a vaccine, no matter where they live.”

Fortin most recently served as the Chief of Staff for the Canadian Joint Operations Command, but has also served as the commander of NATO’s Iraq mission between 2018-19. He graduated from the Royal Military College Saint-Jean in 1991, and has also spent time working for the U.S. Army and with the United Nations in Bosnia.

“The Canadian Armed Forces will assist on planning, including to meet challenges like cold storage requirements, data-sharing, and reaching Indigenous and rural communities,” Trudeau said.

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Further complicating the tall task of distributing millions of vials across the country, a number of the vaccine candidates being tested—including the Pfizer vaccine— require two doses and must be stored at very cold temperatures.

The government has begun procuring freezers that are able to stay cold enough to keep the vaccine supply stable, and the procurement process is underway for a contract tender to ship, fly, and drive doses to all regions of the country.

The military says it is helping “synchronize” vaccine deliveries, put in place “risk-mitigation tools” and conduct “a series of exercises” ahead of vaccines being administered.

Right now the military isn’t set to play a role in actually administering needles to the public, but Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said if the provinces indicate they need assistance, it could be considered.

The prime minister spoke with provinces again Thursday evening about the COVID-19 response and said the federal government is offering the latest information it can, after frustration and confusion about timelines and plans bubbled over this week.

“We have continued to work with the provinces on vaccine delivery logistics, since last spring. We’ve been engaged, understanding that a vaccine was the way we were going to get through this pandemic,” Trudeau said.

‘TOUGHEST DAYS OF THIS PANDEMIC’

Noting that Ontario hit a new record for the highest number of COVID-19 cases reported in a single day on Friday, and Canadians from coast to coast are adjusting to new levels of restrictions in the face of the second wave, Trudeau said that Canada is in “some of the toughest days of this pandemic.” Trudeau restated that as the country waits for vaccines, the standard public health measures still need to be taken.

As Tam reported on Friday, Canada is now averaging 5,300 new daily cases a day, with continued “rapid growth,” in many parts of the country. She said Canada is on track to double the new daily case counts within a week or two if Canadians don’t limit their outings and interactions to those that are essential.

“We’re in this together, and the more we work as a team, the better we’ll all do,” said the prime minister on Friday.

With files from CTV News’ Michel Boyer and Solarina Ho

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