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Everything you need to know about COVID-19 in Alberta on Friday, Dec. 18 –



The latest:

  • Alberta recorded 30 COVID-19 deaths Thursday, the highest number ever reported on a single day. There have now been 790 deaths in the province due to the virus since the pandemic began.
  • The province reported 1,571 new cases over the 24-hour period that ended at midnight Wednesday. 
  • A photo of Premier Jason Kenney, Justice Minister Kaycee Madu and Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard seated around a table meeting without masks has sparked outrage and official complaints. Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, and Vieri Berretti, one of the meeting’s organizers, are also there and both are wearing masks. 
  • Alberta is expanding rapid testing for COVID-19 to long-term care facilities and rural hospitals, Shandro announced Thursday.
  • COVID-19 has now killed more people in Alberta than influenza did over the last 10 years combined, 760 people since March, Hinshaw warned Wednesday.
  • Hinshaw specifically targeted people ages 20 to 40 this week, reminding them they’re vulnerable to the virus. More than 32,000 Albertans in that age group have contracted the virus, hundreds have been hospitalized and a number have died.
  • Doctors say they are in day-to-day survival mode, as Calgary ICUs stretch the surge capacity.
  • The province now has 19,865 active cases.
  • There are 763 people in hospital, including 138 in intensive care.
  • At noon on Friday Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and with Calgary Emergency Management Agency Chief Sue Henry will hold a media availability to give an update on the city’s response to the pandemic.
  • And at 4:30 p.m. Hinshaw will give her update.
  • CBC News will carry both events live on the website and on Facebook.
  • Calgary students are being sent home with masks, sanitizer and COVID information from the province, in an effort to target areas in the northeast where public health data shows high rates of of infection. 
  • The province said earlier in the week that it would send COVID-19 care teams to the 11 worst-hit communities — nine in Edmonton and two in Calgary (all of northeast Calgary east of Deerfoot Trail). They’ll deliver care packages, provide information in multiple languages and arrange on-the-ground support and safe transportation to COVID-19 assessment facilities. 
  • The province has set up 16 self-isolation hotels that will provide a free stay and food for 14 days — six in Calgary, nine in Edmonton and one in Peace River. The Calgary hotels have capacity for 791 people, and the Edmonton hotels can accommodate more than 1,300, Premier Jason Kenney said on Tuesday. Those who self-isolate at the hotels will also be eligible for temporary financial aid in the amount of $625 at the end of their stay. 
  • The province received 3,900 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine on Monday and expects to get another 25,350 doses at the start of next week, officials say.
  • Alberta plans to administer doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to 29,000 health-care workers by the end of December, the province has said. 
  • During the first quarter of 2021, Hinshaw said Wednesday, the vaccine will be given to long-term care residents, staff who work in long-term care and designated supportive living centres, health-care workers in the highest risk areas of hospitals and people over the age of 75. 

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw says that the new vaccination against COVID-19 is safe and it works. 1:54

What you need to know today in Alberta

An image shared on social media by Justice Minister Kaycee Madu has sparked at least two complaints, alleging a violation of the province’s mandatory mask restriction for indoor workplaces. Madu, Premier Jason Kenney and Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard are seated around a table meeting without masks. Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, and Vieri Berretti, one of the meeting’s organizers, are also there wearing masks.  (Twitter/Kaycee Madu)

A photo shared on social media by Alberta’s justice minister has sparked outrage and two official complaints for allegedly violating the province’s COVID-19 public health orders related to mask use in indoor work places.

public health order issued by Hinshaw on Dec. 8 requires mandatory mask use in all indoor workplaces and facilities outside the home. It applies to all employees and includes any location where employees are present in person. An employee would be exempt if they are working alone in an office, in a safely distanced cubicle or if a barrier is in place.

The original photo shared by Justice Minister Kaycee Madu shows him, Premier Jason Kenney and Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard sitting around a board table without face masks. 

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, and Vieri Berretti, one of the meeting’s organizers, are also seated around the table and both are wearing masks. 

The premier’s office later released a photo from another angle at the Wednesday meeting and, in the different perspective, they appear to be sitting further apart than in the original photo’s perspective.

The premier’s office released this photo of the virtual townhall to provide a different perspective. (Office of the Premier)

The province is expanding rapid testing for COVID-19 to long-term care facilities and rural hospitals, Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced Thursday.

Rapid test kits will first be deployed to long-term care facilities and designated supportive care facilities in Edmonton that are contending with outbreaks, Shandro told a Thursday morning news conference.

Mobile units will be deployed in Edmonton starting Friday. The tests will be used on residents who are exhibiting symptoms. Mobile testing centres are expected to be ready to deployed in Calgary Zone starting the week of Dec. 21, and are expected to focus initially on sites with outbreaks.

On Thursday, 1,571 new cases were reported and the province now has 19,865 active cases. There are 763 people in hospital, including 138 in intensive care.

Click on the map below to zoom in or out on specific local geographic areas in Alberta and find out more about COVID-19 there:

Alberta reported another 30 deaths on Thursday, bringing the total deaths during the pandemic to 790 since March.

“This is a heartbreaking figure,” Hinshaw said Thursday. “While these deaths did not all occur yesterday, this is the highest figure that I have had the sad task of reporting.

“If anyone still needs reminding of the seriousness of this virus, of the importance of the restrictions that are currently in place, and the importance of doing everything possible to limit our interactions and break the chains of transmission, this is it.”

B.C.’s Big White Ski Resort is cancelling all upcoming reservations for people who live outside of the Central Okanagan as it responds to a cluster of COVID-19 cases that includes dozens of people.

Scheduled guests who live outside of the region with bookings between now and Jan. 8, 2021, have received emails from the Kelowna-area ski resort informing them that their reservation cannot be honoured.

Earlier this week, Hinshaw singled out Albertans between 20 and 40 with a warning that the virus can have a potentially long-term and devastating impact on them.

“In Alberta to date, more than 32,000 people between the ages of 20 and 39 have contracted COVID-19. More than 380 of them have been hospitalized, and sadly, eight of these have died.”

To put it into perspective, she said, if you gathered all the Albertans in that age group who had been diagnosed with COVID-19, they would fill the Saddledome in Calgary, the Centrium in Red Deer and the Enmax Centre in Lethbridge.

“For everyone of any age, including those between the ages of 20 and 39, it is vital to avoid in-person interactions whenever possible,” Hinshaw said.

“This includes not having holiday parties or other gatherings in our homes. Instead, we must all look for ways to connect virtually.”

Calgary’s ICU occupancy was below 100 per cent as of Wednesday thanks to the addition of 30 beds, which increased capacity. It’s part of Alberta Health Service’s surge planning, but it’s not clear how much more wiggle room there is. 

“It really is day-to-day survival mode,” said Dr. Selena Au, a specialist who works in three of Alberta’s ICUs.

An ICU doctor had previously told CBC the surge plans put in place to deal with soaring COVID-19 cases included 40 beds for Calgary that could be put into use in batches of 10.

The latest batch of 10 was released on Friday, bringing the total number of ICU beds in the zone to 96.

CBC News has asked AHS how many beds are still available as part of its surge plan for Calgary, and while AHS didn’t specifically say how many Calgary beds are still available, it reiterated that 425 additional ICU beds are being made available across the province. 

According to AHS on Wednesday, the Calgary zone was sitting at 82 per cent in terms of ICU usage and has hovered between 90 and 100 per cent in recent weeks. 

Alberta Health Services and the Red Cross are setting up a 100-bed temporary hospital in the Unversity of Alberta’s Butterdome.

Branded as an “alternate care centre,” the temporary setup on the University of Alberta campus could be used for patients recovering from COVID and who are at low risk of transmitting the novel coronavirus that causes the disease, Alberta Health Services said.

More women in Alberta have received federal caregiving aid per capita than in any other province, new data shows.

Experts say it’s partially because many women are taking on more caregiving responsibilities during tough financial times for many Albertans.

“Because women still are seen as the natural caregivers, those sorts of impacts tend to fall more on women than men,” said Janet Fast, professor in the University of Alberta’s human ecology department.

About 66 per cent of the 34,700 Albertans who received money through the Canada recovery caregiving benefit (CRCB) were women, according to Dec. 6 federal data.

Sweeping new restrictions intended to curb the surge of COVID-19 in the province took affect on Dec. 13. They will remain in place at least for four weeks — through Christmas and New Year’s. A full list of the tighter measures is available on the province’s website.

Here is the regional breakdown of active cases reported on Thursday:

  • Calgary zone: 7,043, down from 7,122 reported on Wednesday (26,373 recovered).
  • Edmonton zone:  9,525, down from 9,715 (27,004 recovered).
  • North zone: 1,214, down from 1,245 (4,455 recovered).
  • South zone: 541, down from 553 (4,081 recovered). 
  • Central zone: 1,462, up from 1,458 (3,450 recovered).
  • Unknown: 80, up from 76 (150 recovered).

Find out which neighbourhoods or communities have the most cases, how hard people of different ages have been hit, the ages of people in hospital, how Alberta compares to other provinces and more in: Here are the latest COVID-19 statistics for Alberta — and what they mean

What you need to know today in Canada:

As of 7:30 a.m. ET on Friday, Canada’s COVID-19 case count stood at 488,638, with 76,310 of those cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC’s reporting stood at 13,916.

British Columbia reported 673 new COVID-19 cases and 21 additional deaths on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the Big White Ski Resort near Kelowna has fired some of its employees for breaking a social responsibility contract after health officials announced that 60 confirmed cases of COVID-19 had been linked to the resort.

In Saskatchewan, new restrictions took effect on Thursday as the province reported 238 new cases and seven deaths.

Under the new measures, which are in place until at least Jan. 15, residents can no longer have guests in their homes and outdoor socializing is capped at 10 people.

Starting Saturday, bingo halls and casinos must also close, and personal care services, such as hairdressers, must reduce their capacity to half. Retailers have until Christmas Day before they also need to drop to 50 per cent capacity. Larger stores will be limited to 25 per cent.

Moderna could ship up to 168,000 doses of its COVID-19 vaccine before the end of the year once it’s approved by Health Canada, which is believed to be close. The prime minister said Moderna could ship vaccines within 48 hours of approval. 1:56

Manitoba reported 221 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, the lowest single-day increase in infections since 103 were registered on Nov. 3, as well as 14 more deaths related to the virus.

Its provincial test positivity rate, which has been among the highest in Canada, fell to 13 per cent, its lowest level since Nov. 15.

Despite the signs of improvement, health leaders say medical and intensive care units are still strained by the number of patients they’re seeing. There were 384 COVID-19 patients in hospital, including 48 in intensive care.

Ontario reported a single-day record of 2,432 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, as well as 23 more deaths. The new cases pushed the seven-day average to 2,026, also a new high, and the total number of confirmed, active cases to a record 17,484.

Across the province, there were 919 people hospitalized with COVID-19, 263 of whom were in intensive care.

In Quebec, tighter restrictions took effect in several regions on Thursday as yellow zones moved to orange, and orange zones to red, the highest alert level.

Saguenay and the Laurentians are among the regions that have become red zones, with restaurant dining rooms, bars, gyms, museums and theatres shutting down as a result.

The provincial government is attempting to reverse a worrisome trend in COVID-19 numbers. Quebec reported 1,855 new cases and 22 more deaths on Thursday, with 1,002 people in hospital — passing the 1,000 mark for the first time since June — including 134 in intensive care.

In Atlantic Canada, Prince Edward Island is easing COVID-19 restrictions, including allowing larger gatherings, more visitors in long-term care homes and a resumption of organized sports. The province reported one new case on Thursday.

Nova Scotia and New Brunswick each recorded six new cases on Thursday, while Newfoundland and Labrador reported three new cases.

In the North, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories recorded one new case each on Thursday.

Self-assessment and supports:

With winter cold and influenza season approaching, Alberta Health Services will prioritize Albertans for testing who have symptoms, and those groups which are at higher risk of getting or spreading the virus.

General asymptomatic testing is currently unavailable for people with no known exposure to COVID-19.

Those who test positive will be asked to use the online COVID-19 contact tracing tool, so that their close contacts can be notified by text message.

The province says Albertans who have returned to Canada from other countries must self-isolate. Unless your situation is critical and requires a call to 911, Albertans are advised to call Health Link at 811 before visiting a physician, hospital or other health-care facility.

If you have symptoms, even mild, you are to self-isolate for at least 10 days from the onset of symptoms, until the symptoms have disappeared. 

You can find Alberta Health Services’ latest coronavirus updates here.

A clinical allergist answers key questions about the vaccine:

Dr. Zainab Abdurrahman, a clinical immunologist and allergist, says only one ingredient in the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine has been known to cause allergic reactions in the past. And the ingredient, polyethylene glycol, is already widely used. The other ingredients are not known to cause allergy. 7:29

The province also operates a confidential mental health support line at 1-877-303-2642 and addiction help line at 1-866-332-2322, both available 24 hours a day. 

Online resources are available for advice on handling stressful situations and ways to talk with children.

There is a 24-hour family violence information line at 310-1818 to get anonymous help in more than 170 languages, and Alberta’s One Line for Sexual Violence is available at 1-866-403-8000, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

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Canada's vaccine deliveries further threatened as Europe mulls export controls – CTV News



Canada’s anxiety-laden COVID-19 vaccine programs are facing further threats as Europe warns drug makers it might impose export controls on European-made vaccine doses.

All of Canada’s current vaccine doses from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are made in Europe, potentially putting at risk the entirety of Canada’s vaccine deliveries.

Europe — like Canada — is being shorted on deliveries from Pfizer as the company slows production to expand its plant in Belgium.

But AstraZeneca has also now informed Europe productions issues will reduce initial deliveries of its vaccine, which Europe is expected to approve for use later this week.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen says in a tweet today that the world’s largest trading bloc will establish “a vaccine export transparency mechanism.”

Canada has no ability currently to produce COVID-19 vaccines but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has insisted repeatedly that Canada will get enough vaccine doses for all Canadians who want it by the end of September.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2021

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From GameStop to Blackberry, here's why the shorts are getting squeezed: Morning Brief – Yahoo Canada Finance



The Canadian Press

Review: Ani Di Franco makes the political personal on album

Ani Di Franco, “Revolutionary Love” (Righteous Babe Records) Pioneering folkie activist Ani Di Franco is a standout instrumentalist whose guitar could kill fascists. Alas, on “Revolutionary Love,” her six-string doesn’t play a major role — or many notes. Not that Di Franco has gone mellow. With characteristic passion on her first studio album since 2017, she makes the personal universal, and the political personal. Her title cut is a seven-minute pledge to propel social movements with love and forgiveness, the message underscored by a slow-burn soul groove. Elsewhere Di Franco quotes Michelle Obama, skewers an ex-president and calls for resilience in the wake of depressing news headlines. Such topics are mixed with couplets about personal pain and bliss, sometimes within the same song. The best of “Revolutionary Love” is very good. Di Franco’s acoustic guitar is most prominent on “Metropolis,” and it’s beautiful — a love ballad with shimmering reeds that evoke her description of “fog lifting off the bay.” The equally compelling “Chloroform” laments domestic dysfunction as a string quartet creates dissonance of its own. Elsewhere Di Franco blends elements of folk, jazz and R&B, and makes music suitable for a rally. She’s at her most politically vociferous on “Do or Die,” singing about “Yankee Doodle Dandy” to a Latin beat. Di Francophiles will find it positively patriotic. Steven Wine, The Associated Press

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Merck ends development of two potential COVID-19 vaccines – The Globe and Mail



Merck said on Monday it would stop development of its two COVID-19 vaccines and focus pandemic research on treatments. Reuters

Drugmaker Merck & Co said on Monday it would stop development of its two COVID-19 vaccines and focus pandemic research on treatments, with initial data on an experimental oral antiviral expected by the end of March.

Merck was late to join the race to develop a vaccine to protect against the coronavirus, which has so far killed more than 2 million people and continues to surge in many parts of the world including the United States.

The company will record a pre-tax discontinuation charge in the fourth quarter for vaccine candidate V591, which it acquired with the purchase of Austrian vaccine maker Themis Bioscience, and V590, developed with nonprofit research organization IAVI, Merck said in a statement.

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In early trials, both vaccines generated immune responses that were inferior to those seen in people who had recovered from COVID-19 as well as those reported for other COVID-19 vaccines, the company said.

The announcement is a setback to the fight against the pandemic and comes a month after Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline delayed launch of their shot to late 2021, underscoring the challenges of developing vaccines at record speed.

Tens of millions of doses of vaccines from rivals Pfizer Inc and German partner BioNTech as well as from Moderna Inc have so far been administered globally.

Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca Plc and others are also racing to develop safe and effective vaccines to protect against the virus.

Merck said it would focus COVID-19 research and manufacturing efforts on two investigational medicines: MK-7110 and MK-4482, which it now calls molnupiravir.

Molnupiravir, which is being developed in collaboration with Ridgeback Bio, is an oral antiviral being studied in both hospital and outpatient settings.

Merck said a Phase 2/3 trial of the drug was set to finish in May, but initial efficacy results were due in the first quarter and would be made public if clinically meaningful.

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Merck said results from a Phase 3 study of MK-7110, an immune modulator being studied as a treatment for patients hospitalized with severe COVID-19, were expected in the first quarter.

Shares of Merck fell 1 per cent to $80.12 in trading before the bell.

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