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Etches asks province to move Ottawa into 'grey' COVID-19 lockdown – CTV Edmonton

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OTTAWA —
Ottawa’s top doctor is calling for a new lockdown in the city, saying the spread of COVID-19 has reached an unprecedented point and new restrictions are needed to bring it under control.

“What I asked the chief medical officer of health to do is move us into the grey level,” Dr. Vera Etches said Wednesday. “Further restrictions in our city are needed in our city to manage this situation.”

Etches said it has become clear that the current red zone restrictions aren’t enough to stop the spread of the virus, and discussions with the province are underway to tighten restrictions further.

“We are at a point that we have never seen before in this pandemic,” Etches said. “We are seeing what we feared. The vaccine hasn’t arrived in time to outpace the growth in our community.”

Etches said she has asked for the city to be moved into the grey zone before the Easter long weekend.

Premier Doug Ford said earlier Wednesday to expect an announcement on Thursday about possible new restrictions in the province. Provincewide, there were a record 421 patients in critical care as of Tuesday morning.

Ottawa entered the ‘Red-Control’ zone less than two weeks ago, on March 19. Since then, the COVID-19 case count has grown. The city has recorded seven straight days of triple-digit new case counts, the longest such streak of the pandemic.

A move to the grey zone from the red zone would mean the following changes in Ottawa, among others:

  • Social gathering limits would no longer be allowed, instead of being capped at five
  • Indoor dining would no longer be allowed, instead of 50 per cent capacity
  • Indoor fitness would no longer be allowed, instead of a gym capacity of 10 people indoors
  • Personal care services, like salons, would be allowed to open as of April 12, but under reduced capacity
  • Retail capacity would fall to 50 per cent in groceries stores, from 75 per cent. Capacity for all other retailers would be 25 per cent, instead of 50 per cent.

In Ottawa, the rate of COVID-19 infections is 85 per 100,000 people, and Ottawa’s per cent positivity has soared to nearly six per cent.

“Our health care system is stretched. Cases are rising, hospitalizations are increasing, the testing centres are maxed out, and our case management team is no longer able to contact trace as we have in previous instances,” Etches said.

Etches said the virus continues to spread the most at private gatherings, including parties, after-work gatherings and team sports, and even at outdoor events such as barbecues and bonfires.

In particular, Etches cited the rapid growth of COVID-19 variants of concern in the city’s wastewater samples, which have been a reliable predictor of the virus’s spread.

Variants of concern in the wastewater grew from 10 per cent on March 20 to 50 per cent just five days later, she said. This shows the variants’ higher rate of transmission than the non-variant strain of the virus.

With the Easter weekend approaching, Etches implored residents to limit their close contacts to their immediate household.

“Do not gather with friends or extended family indoors. Do not share meals. Do find other ways to celebrate,” she said.

“If we don’t get levels of COVID-19 under control, we will see stronger lockdowns like we have seen in other countries around the world, and for longer.”

Schools should remain open

Despite the request move to the grey zone, Etches is still calling for schools to remain open.

“I am not advocating for schools to close. I have not made any comments or requests to the province about school closures,” she said. “We know schools are an essential support for families. Many families don’t know what they’ll do to cope if schools are closed again.”

Etches said that while the rising levels of COVID-19 in the community are a concern, and they are leading to larger numbers of school-aged children testing positive for COVID-19, she believes reducing transmission within the broader community remains the best way to ensure schools remain open unti the summer.

Dr. Lindy Samson, Chief of Staff with CHEO, echoed Etches’ comments. 

“Schools are essential. We want to ask, if not plead with the public to do everything they can to follow public health restrictions each and every time, everywhere, to get this surge of activity under control,” she said.

“The impact of the school closures on the overall wellbeing of children and youth and families in our community has been huge and we really want to avoid that.”

It’s different now

Etches says she knows she’s been repeating the message of keeping physical distance, sticking to members of one’s household, and wearing masks for much of the last year and she recognizes that these measures take a toll on people’s mental and emotional wellbeing; however, she is stressing that the current situation Ottawa finds itself in is different compared to past waves.

“I definitely have said these kinds of things for a year—to distance, to wear masks—but it’s different. Our context is different right now,” she said. “One way is how stretched our health-care system is, with trying to not only provide procedures, care for COVID patients, do testing to extremely high levels again, vaccinate people. We have also the variants of concern. It’s different now. They are leading to transmission in kinds of settings we haven’t seen before, like outdoor sports.

“And we have an end in sight. We can see the vaccine will come and will protect our population to a much greater degree. I hope that can give people enough encouragement to hang on a little bit longer.”

Etches said the grey restrictions from the provincial level may not be enough to fully contain the spread in Ottawa, but her main focus is on ensuring people fully understand the situation.

“We are thinking about how can we help people get the message that they should really only be gathering with people outside of their household with distance?” She said. “We know there are also provincial discussions underway. When I see what the province decides about Ottawa and I’ll take a look at those gaps and whether anything local needs to be done.”

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Ontario hospitals may have to withhold care as COVID-19 fills ICUs

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By Allison Martell and Anna Mehler Paperny

TORONTO (Reuters) – Doctors in the Canadian province of Ontario may soon have to decide who can and cannot receive treatment in intensive care as the number of coronavirus infections sets records and patients are packed into hospitals still stretched from a December wave.

Canada‘s most populous province is canceling elective surgeries, admitting adults to a major children’s hospital and preparing field hospitals after the number of COVID-19 patients in ICUs jumped 31% to 612 in the week leading up to Sunday, according to data from the Ontario Hospital Association.

The sharp increase in Ontario hospital admissions is also straining supplies of tocilizumab, a drug often given to people seriously ill with COVID-19.

Hospital care is publicly funded in Canada, generally free at the point of care for residents. But new hospital beds have not kept pace with population growth, and shortages of staff and space often emerge during bad flu seasons.

Ontario’s hospitals fared relatively well during the first wave of the pandemic last year, in part because the province quickly canceled elective surgeries.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario told doctors last Thursday that the province was considering “enacting the critical care triage protocol,” something that was not done during earlier waves of the virus. Triage protocols help doctors decide who to treat in a crisis.

“Everybody’s under extreme stress,” said Eddy Fan, an ICU doctor at Toronto’s University Health Network. He said no doctor wants to contemplate a triage protocol but there are only so many staff.

“There’s going to be a breaking point, a point at which we can’t fill those gaps any longer.”

In a statement, the health ministry said Ontario has not activated the protocol. A September draft suggested doctors could withhold life-sustaining care from patients with a less than 20% chance of surviving 12 months. A final version has not been made public.

Ontario’s Science Advisory Table had been forecasting the surge for months, said member and critical care physician Laveena Munshi. During a recent shift she wanted to call the son of a patient only to discover he was in an ICU across the street.

“The horror stories that we’re seeing in the hospital are like ones out of apocalyptic movies,” she said. “They’re not supposed to be the reality we’re seeing one year into a pandemic.”

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In COVID-19 vaccination pivot, Canada targets frontline workers

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By Anna Mehler Paperny

TORONTO (Reuters) – Canada is shifting its vaccination campaign to target frontline workers, moving away from a largely age-based rollout as the country tries to get a handle on the raging third wave of the pandemic.

Canada‘s approach thus far has left unvaccinated many so-called “essential workers,” like daycare providers, bus drivers and meatpackers, all of whom are among those at higher risk of COVID-19 transmission. Provinces are now trying to adjust their strategy to tackle the surge driven by new variants.

Targeting frontline workers and addressing occupation risk is vital if Canada wants to get its third wave under control, says Simon Fraser University mathematician and epidemiologist Caroline Colijn, who has modelled Canadian immunization strategies and found “the sooner you put essential workers [in the vaccine rollout plan], the better.”

Initially, Canada prioritized long-term care residents and staff for the vaccines, as well as the very elderly, health workers, residents of remote communities and Indigenous people.

Targeting vaccinations by age made sense early on in a pandemic that ravaged Canada‘s long-term care homes, Colijn said. But now, immunizing those at highest risk of transmission brings the greatest benefit.

“If you protect these individuals you also protect someone in their 60s whose only risk is when they go to the store. … The variants are here now. So if we pivot now, but it takes us two months to do it, then we will lose that race.”

Data released on Tuesday from the Institute of Clinical and Evaluative Sciences showed that Toronto’s neighbourhoods with the highest rates of COVID-19 infections had the lowest vaccination rates, underscoring the disparities in vaccination.

‘IT’S A JUGGERNAUT’

On Wednesday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced a plan to have mobile vaccine clinics target COVID-19 “hotspots” and high-risk worksites, although he stopped short of giving people paid time off to get the shot.

Karim Kurji, medical officer of health in York Region north of Toronto, characterizes the shift in vaccination priority from age to transmission risk as moving from defence to offence.

“It’s a juggernaut in terms of the immunization machinery, and turning it around takes a lot of effort,” Kurji said.

Meanwhile, officials in the western province of Alberta say they are offering vaccines to more than 2,000 workers at Cargill’s meatpacking plant in High River, site of one of Canada‘s largest workplace COVID-19 outbreaks. Provincial officials said in a statement they are looking to expand the pilot to other plants.

Quebec will start vaccinating essential workers such as those in education, childcare and public safety in Montreal, where neighbourhoods with the highest vaccination rates have been among those with the lowest recorded infection rates.

The people doing the highest-risk jobs, from an infectious disease perspective, are more likely to be poor, non-white and new Canadians, health experts say. They are less likely to have paid leave to get tested or vaccinated or stay home when sick and are more likely to live in crowded or multi-unit housing. They need to be prioritized for vaccination and their vaccination barriers addressed, experts say.

Naheed Dosani, a Toronto palliative care physician and health justice activist, said making vaccines available to high-risk communities is not enough without addressing barriers to access.

“The face of COVID-19 and who was being impacted changed dramatically. The variants seemed to take hold in communities where essential workers live. … This [pivot] is a step in the right direction and will hopefully save lives.”

 

(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny; Editing by Denny Thomas and Aurora Ellis)

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Canada finance minister: Pandemic an opportunity to bring in national childcare

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OTTAWA (Reuters) – The COVID-19 pandemic and its damaging impact on women has underlined the need for a national childcare plan, which would also help the economic recovery, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said on Thursday.

Since taking up her job in August, Freeland has repeatedly spoken about a “feminist agenda,” and has said childcare will be part of a stimulus package worth up to C$100 billion ($79.6 billion) over three years. She will unveil details in her April 19 budget.

“I really believe COVID-19 has created a window of political opportunity and maybe an epiphany … on the importance of early learning and childcare,” Freeland told a online convention of Canada‘s ruling Liberal Party.

The budget is set to be a springboard for an election that Liberal insiders say is likely in the second half of the year.

Canadian governments of various stripes have mused about a national childcare program for decades but never acted, thanks in part to the cost and also the need to negotiate with the 10 provinces, which deliver many social programs.

Freeland said a childcare program would help counter “an incredibly dangerous drop” in female employment since the start of the pandemic.

“It is a surefire way to drive jobs and economic growth … you have higher participation of women in the labor force,” Freeland said. “My hope … is that being able to make that economic argument as well is going be to one of the ways that we get this done.”

Freeland, who is taking part this week in meetings of the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations and the International Monetary Fund, said U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen had told her they saw early learning and child care as a driver for economic recovery.

($1=1.2560 Canadian dollars)

 

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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