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Everything you need to know about COVID-19 in Alberta on Friday, March 12 –




Alberta continues to lower the age range of those able to get COVID-19 vaccinations, with people born in 1961 added to the list of those who can book appointments for the AstraZeneca/Covishield vaccine as of Saturday at 8 a.m.

The province reported 474 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday and five new deaths

Paul Burgoyne chose to receive the Covishield/AstraZeneca vaccine with a dream of sunnier days ahead. Alberta reported 425 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, as the province prepares to rollout the next phase of its vaccination program. (Alberta Health Services)

The latest on AstraZeneca/Covishield:

  • Alberta Health Services booking tool for scheduling immunization appointments for the Covishield/AstraZeneca vaccine experienced network issues Saturday morning. The website is now back online and working.
  • Alberta continues to book vaccine appointments for people aged 65 to 74 under Phase 2A of its immunization program. 
  • The province is currently rolling out AstraZeneca vaccines to all people 50 to 64 with no serious chronic health condition, and Pfizer and Moderna shots to people 75 and older.
  • AHS tweeted Friday that vaccine supply of Covishield/AstraZeneca is running low in certain areas — meaning that some may need to travel to another community to receive it or wait for additional supply.
  • Alberta began a staggered rollout of the AstraZeneca/Covishield vaccine on Wednesday for Albertans who don’t have a severe chronic illness.
  • There were two new groups eligible to book as of Saturday:
    • All Albertans born in 1961.
    • All First Nations, Métis and Inuit born in 1976.
  • This means that all Albertans born in 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960 and 1961 can now book using the AHS online booking tool or by calling Health Link at 811.
  • First Nations, Métis and Inuit people born in 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975 and 1976 are also able to book their appointments by calling Health Link at 811.
  • More than 15,000 Albertans had booked to receive the  AstraZeneca/Covishield vaccine by 11:30 a.m. on Friday — raising the total to more than 40,000 since booking opened on Wednesday morning, Alberta Health Services said.
  • The province will announce in coming days when the AstraZeneca rollout will be expanded to other birth years in the 50 to 64 range.
  • Additional shipments vaccine are expected to arrive in the province next week. 
  • Alberta Health is recommending the AstraZeneca/Covishield vaccine for people aged 18 to 64 if they do not have a severe chronic illness. The initial doses are not available at pharmacies and must be booked through AHS.

The latest on expanded rapid testing:

  • The Alberta government is shipping 924,000 rapid tests to sites across the province to speed up screening for COVID-19, Health Minister Tyler Shandro said Thursday. 
  • Rapid tests are intended to support screening programs to help reduce the spread of COVID-19, Shandro said, and will help prevent outbreaks at a range of businesses and sectors:
    • 325,000 tests to Suncor, Syncrude and CNRL.
    • 267,000 to long-term care, designated-supportive living and hospice facilities.
    • 100,000 for a new pilot program offering rapid tests in two Calgary schoolsIt’s expected that one Calgary Board of Education school and one Calgary Catholic School District school will participate in the pilot.
    • 100,000 to rural and remote hospitals, assessment centres and other health-care sites.
    • 76,000 to WestJet.
    • 56,000 to various other industries and groups across the province.

Students line up to have their hands sanitized at Eric Harvie School in northwest Calgary. The province is deploying 100,000 rapid tests for a new pilot project in two Calgary schools. (Mike Symington/CBC)

  • The tests will be used at Cargill’s High River meatpacking plant — which had the largest outbreak in Canada tied to a single site — over the next several months and the government said discussions are underway to provide tests to other meat-processing plants.
  • Mobile testing will also be used to help with the outbreak at the Olymel pork-processing plant in Red Deer.

The latest COVID-19 numbers:

  • The province reported 474 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday and five new deaths.
  • There were 4,594 active cases across the province, an increase of 48 from the day before.
  • The province reported 254 people were being treated in hospital for COVID-19, with 35 people in intensive care beds.
  • 8,873 coronavirus tests were completed with a positivity rate of about 4.8 per cent.
  • An additional 70 variant cases were recorded, bringing the total to 854. Of those variant cases, almost all — 839 — are the strain first identified in the U.K., and 15 are the strain first identified in South Africa.
  • Alberta’s R-value is 0.95. An R-value below 1.0 means the rate of transmission was decreasing during that period.

The latest on vaccinations:

  • As of Saturday, the province said 346,135 doses of vaccine had been administered, and 91,520 Albertans have been fully immunized with two doses.
  • If shipments arrive as scheduled, the province says all adults in the province will receive their first dose by the end of June.

Monique Prud’homme, one of the first Albertans to receive the Covishield/AstraZeneca vaccine, on March 11, 2021, told Alberta Health Services she is ‘so excited’ and looks forward to someday having her grandchildren stay over, hosting family meals at home, visiting friends and her father. (Alberta Health Services)

  • A batch of AstraZeneca vaccine under investigation by international health authorities for possible links to blood clots is not part of Alberta’s supply.
  • Hinshaw issued a statement Thursday assuring Albertans that doses being administered in the province are safe. 
  • Vaccinations for those 75 and older (born in 1946 or earlier) are available at 102 community pharmacies in Calgary, Edmonton and Red Deer as well as at the 116 immunization sites operated by AHS across the province. A list of participating pharmacies is available on the Alberta Blue Cross website.
  • AHS began operating a vaccination site at the Genesis Centre in Martindale in northeast Calgary on Thursday, making it the 24th immunization site operated by the province in the Calgary Zone. 

The latest on reopening and restrictions:

  • A southeast Calgary church that has previously been fined for defying COVID-19 safety regulations has been handed two more public health order violation tickets. Two tickets for court summons were issued to Fairview Baptist Church by community peace officers on March 8 related to physical distancing and gathering over capacity, the city said Thursday.
  • The Alberta government announced Monday that the province could step fully into Step 2 of reopening, as hospitalizations have remained below 450.
  • Retail stores and malls are now allowed to increase their capacity to 25 per cent of fire code occupancy, and youth sports teams and activities are allowed to resume with up to 10 participants. Masks and physical distancing are still required.
  • Restrictions were eased for child, youth and adult performances, including singing, theatre and playing wind instruments, though participants must follow the same restrictions as for youth sports.
  • Banquet halls, community hall and hotels can now host permitted performance activities, wedding ceremonies with up to 10 people, and funeral services with up to 20.
  • The province says any decisions on moving to Step 3 of the reopening will be made on March 22 at the earliest.

See which regions are being hit hardest

Here is the detailed regional breakdown of active cases as reported Saturday by the province:

  • Calgary zone: 1,695, up from 1,661 (50,454 recovered).
  • Edmonton zone: 1,147, down from 1,155 (52,701 recovered).
  • North zone: 791, down from 822 (11,777 recovered).
  • South zone: 499, up from 467 (6,411 recovered).
  • Central zone: 451, up from 433 (10,056 recovered).
  • Unknown: 11, up from 8 (103 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

You can see active cases by local health area on the following interactive map. Scroll, zoom and click on the map for more information.

Here are the latest Alberta COVID-19 stories:

Dr. Deena Hinshaw says rapid tests can miss identifying positive cases of COVID-19 and that care must be taken to avoid “providing a false sense of security.” 1:46

  • For the latest on what’s happening in the rest of Canada and around the world, see here.

With files from The Canadian Press

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CANADA STOCKS – TSX falls 0.14% to 19,201.28



* The Toronto Stock Exchange’s TSX falls 0.14 percent to 19,201.28

* Leading the index were Stantec Inc <STN.TO​>, up 3.4%, Imperial Oil Ltd​, up 3.3%, and Corus Entertainment Inc​, higher by 2.9%.

* Lagging shares were Aphria Inc​​, down 14.2%, Village Farms International Inc​, down 9.9%, and Aurora Cannabis Inc​, lower by 9.4%.

* On the TSX 91 issues rose and 134 fell as a 0.7-to-1 ratio favored decliners. There were 24 new highs and no new lows, with total volume of 228.0 million shares.

* The most heavily traded shares by volume were Toronto-dominion Bank, Royal Bank Of Canada and Suncor Energy Inc.

* The TSX’s energy group fell 0.32 points, or 0.3%, while the financials sector climbed 2.46 points, or 0.7%.

* West Texas Intermediate crude futures rose 0.52%, or $0.31, to $59.63 a barrel. Brent crude  rose 0.4%, or $0.25, to $63.2 [O/R]

* The TSX is up 10.1% for the year.

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Air Canada signs C$5.9 billion government aid package, agrees to buy Airbus, Boeing jets



By David Ljunggren and Allison Lampert

OTTAWA/MONTREAL (Reuters) -Air Canada, struggling with a collapse in traffic due to the COVID-19 pandemic, reached a deal on Monday on a long-awaited aid package with the federal government that would allow it to access up to C$5.9 billion ($4.69 billion) in funds.

The agreement – the largest individual coronavirus-related loan that Ottawa has arranged with a company – was announced after the airline industry criticized Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government for dawdling. The United States and France acted much more quickly to help major carriers.

Canada‘s largest carrier, which last year cut over half its workforce, or 20,000 jobs, and other airlines have been negotiating with the government for months on a coronavirus aid package.

In February, Air Canada reported a net loss for 2020 of C$4.65 billion, compared with a 2019 profit of C$1.48 billion.

As part of the deal, Air Canada agreed to ban share buybacks and dividends, cap annual compensation for senior executives at C$1 million a year and preserve jobs at the current level, which is 14,859.

It will also proceed with planned purchases of 33 Airbus SE 220 airliners and 40 Boeing Co 737 MAX airliners.

Chris Murray, managing director, equity research at ATB Capital Markets, said the deal took into account the “specific needs of Air Canada in the short and medium term without being overly onerous.”

He added: “It gives them some flexibility in drawing down additional liquidity as needed.”

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said the government was still in negotiations with other airlines about possible aid.

Canada, the world’s second-largest nation by area, depends heavily on civil aviation to keep remote communities connected.

Opposition politicians fretted that further delays in announcing aid could result in permanent damage to the country.

Air Canada said it would resume services on nearly all of the routes it had suspended because of COVID-19.


The deal removes a potential political challenge for the Liberals, who insiders say are set to trigger an election later this year.

The government has agreed to buy C$500 million worth of shares in the airline, at C$23.1793 each, or a 14.2% discount to Monday’s close, a roughly 6% stake.

“Maintaining a competitive airline sector and good jobs is crucially important,” Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland told reporters, adding the equity stake would allow taxpayers to benefit when the airline’s fortunes recovered.

The Canadian government previously approved similar loans for four other companies worth up to C$1.billion, including up to C$375 million to low-cost airline Sunwing Vacations Inc. The government has paid out C$73.47 billion under its wage subsidy program and C$46.11 billion in loans to hard-hit small businesses.

Michael Rousseau, Air Canada‘s president and chief executive officer, said the liquidity “provides a significant layer of insurance for Air Canada.”

Jerry Dias, head of the Unifor private-sector union, described the announcement as “a good deal for everybody.”

Unifor represents more than 16,000 members working in the air transportation sector.

But the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents roughly 10,000 Air Canada flight attendants, said the package protected the jobs of current workers rather than the 7,500 members of its union who had been let go by the carrier.

($1=1.2567 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa and Allison Lampert in Montreal; Additional reporting by Julie Gordon in Ottawa and Munsif Vengattil in Bengaluru; Editing by Dan Grebler and Peter Cooney)

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U.K. advises limiting AstraZeneca in under-30s amid clot worry



British authorities recommended Wednesday that the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine not be given to adults under 30 where possible because of strengthening evidence that the shot may be linked to rare blood clots.

The recommendation came as regulators both in the United Kingdom and the European Union emphasized that the benefits of receiving the vaccine continue to outweigh the risks for most people — even though the European Medicines Agency said it had found a “possible link” between the shot and the rare clots. British authorities recommended that people under 30 be offered alternatives to AstraZeneca. But the EMA advised no such age restrictions, leaving it up to its member-countries to decide whether to limit its use.

Several countries have already imposed limits on who can receive the vaccine, and any restrictions are closely watched since the vaccine, which is cheaper and easier to store than many others, is critical to global immunization campaigns and is a pillar of the UN-backed program known as COVAX that aims to get vaccines to some of the world’s poorest countries.

“This is a course correction, there’s no question about that,” Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, said during a press briefing. “But it is, in a sense, in medicine quite normal for physicians to alter their preferences for how patients are treated over time.”

Van-Tam said the effect on Britain’s vaccination timetable — one of the speediest in the world — should be “zero or negligible,” assuming the National Health Service receives expected deliveries of other vaccines, including those produced by Pfizer and Moderna.

EU and U.K. regulators held simultaneous press conferences Wednesday afternoon to announce the results of investigations into reports of blood clots that sparked concern about the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The EU agency described the clots as “very rare” side effects. Dr Sabine Straus, chair of EMA’s Safety Committee, said the best data is coming from Germany where there is one report of the rare clots for every 100,000 doses given, although she noted far fewer reports in the U.K. Still, that’s less than the clot risk that healthy women face from birth control pills, noted another expert, Dr. Peter Arlett.

The agency said most of the cases reported have occurred in women under 60 within two weeks of vaccination — but based on the currently available evidence, it was not able to identify specific risk factors. Experts reviewed several dozen cases that came mainly from Europe and the U.K., where around 25 million people have received the AstraZeneca vaccine.

“The reported cases of unusual blood clotting following vaccination with the AstraZeneca vaccine should be listed as possible side effects of the vaccine,” said Emer Cooke, the agency’s executive director. “The risk of mortality from COVID is much greater than the risk of mortality from these side effects.”

Arlett said there is no information suggesting an increased risk from the other major COVID-19 vaccines.

The EMA’s investigation focused on unusual types of blood clots that are occurring along with low blood platelets. One rare clot type appears in multiple blood vessels and the other in veins that drain blood from the brain.

While the benefits of the vaccine still outweigh the risks, that assessment is “more finely balanced” among younger people who are less likely to become seriously ill with COVID-19, the U.K’s Van-Tam said.

“We are not advising a stop to any vaccination for any individual in any age group,” said Wei Shen Lim, who chairs Britain’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization. “We are advising a preference for one vaccine over another vaccine for a particular age group, really out of the utmost caution rather than because we have any serious safety concerns.”

In March, more than a dozen countries, mostly in Europe, suspended their use of AstraZeneca over the blood clot issue. Most restarted — some with age restrictions — after the EMA said countries should continue using the potentially life-saving vaccine.

Britain, which relies heavily on AstraZeneca, however, continued to use it.

The suspensions were seen as particularly damaging for AstraZeneca because they came after repeated missteps in how the company reported data on the vaccine’s effectiveness and concerns over how well its shot worked in older people. That has led to frequently changing advice in some countries on who can take the vaccine, raising worries that AstraZeneca’s credibility could be permanently damaged, spurring more vaccine hesitancy and prolonging the pandemic.

Dr. Peter English, who formerly chaired the British Medical Association’s Public Health Medicine Committee, said the back-and-forth over the AstraZeneca vaccine globally could have serious consequences.

“We can’t afford not to use this vaccine if we are going to end the pandemic,” he said.

In some countries, authorities have already noted hesitance toward the AstraZeneca shot.

“People come and they are reluctant to take the AstraZeneca vaccine, they ask us if we also use anything else,” said Florentina Nastase, a doctor and co-ordinator at a vaccination centre in Bucharest, Romania. “There were cases in which people (scheduled for the AstraZeneca) didn’t show up, there were cases when people came to the centre and saw that we use only AstraZeneca and refused (to be inoculated).”

Meanwhile, the governor of Italy’s northern Veneto region had said earlier Wednesday that any decision to change the guidance on AstraZeneca would cause major disruptions to immunizations — at a time when Europe is already struggling to ramp them up — and could create more confusion about the shot.

“If they do like Germany, and allow Astra Zeneca only to people over 65, that would be absurd. Before it was only for people under 55. Put yourself in the place of citizens, it is hard to understand anything,” Luca Zaia told reporters.

The latest suspension of AstraZeneca came in Spain’s Castilla y Leon region, where health chief Veronica Casado said Wednesday that “the principle of prudence” drove her to put a temporary hold on the vaccine that she still backed as being both effective and necessary.

French health authorities had said they, too, were awaiting EMA’s conclusions, as were some officials in Asia.

On Wednesday, South Korea said it would temporarily suspend the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine in people 60 and younger. In that age group, the country is only currently vaccinating health workers and people in long-term care settings.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said it would also pause a vaccine rollout to school nurses and teachers that was to begin on Thursday, while awaiting the outcome of the EMA’s review.

But some experts urged perspective. Prof Anthony Harnden, the deputy chair of Britain’s vaccination committee, said that the program has saved at least 6,000 lives in the first three months and will help pave the way back to normal life.

“What is clear it that for the vast majority of people the benefits of the Oxford AZ vaccine far outweigh any extremely small risk,” he said. “And the Oxford AZ vaccine will continue to save many from suffering the devastating effects that can result from a COVID infection.”

Source: – CTV News

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