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Feds announce plan to buy 7.9 million rapid COVID tests

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Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand today announced a plan to buy roughly 7.9 million rapid point-of-care COVID-19 tests from U.S.-based Abbott Laboratories.

The purchase is meant to offer other testing options to Canadians at a time when the country’s testing apparatus is being severely strained, with coronavirus caseloads spiking in some regions.

To date, the vast majority of tests have been done at public health clinics, with samples then sent to laboratories for analysis — a process that can take days.

A point-of-care test could be administered by trained professionals in other settings. The molecular test Canada is looking to buy — the ID NOW — can produce results from a nasal swab in as little as 13 minutes.

While Canada has announced this purchase from a well-regarded U.S. firm, the test itself has not yet been approved by Health Canada for distribution.

Proactive purchasing

“As with many of our agreements for equipment, tests and vaccines, we have pursued an advanced purchase agreement to secure Canada’s access to these tests conditional on Health Canada’s regulatory approval,” Anand said.

“These rapid tests will aid in meeting the urgent demands from provinces and territories to test Canadians and reduce wait time for results, which is key to reducing the spread of the virus.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) first issued an emergency use authorization (EUA) to Abbott for the ID NOW device in March.

Since then, some researchers have said the device has led to false positives in a small number of cases. The FDA re-issued a revised EUA on Sept. 18, saying that the test should be administered within the first seven days of the onset of symptoms.

Anand said that, beyond the Abbott deal, Canada will proactively purchase other rapid tests in bulk to supply the country.

With tens of thousands of tests being done each day, the demand is high.

The announcement comes as Health Canada bureaucrats in charge of regulating new testing devices are defending the government’s response to this point.

 

A lab technician dips a sample into the Abbott Laboratories ID Now testing machine at the Detroit Health Center in Detroit. Illinois-based Abbott Laboratories says its test delivers results within minutes. (Carlos Osorio/AP Photo)

 

Health experts — including Dr. David Naylor, the co-chair of the federal government’s COVID-19 task force — have for weeks been urging regulators to approve rapid testing to take the pressure off testing centres.

While other major Western countries such as the U.S. have authorized a number of point-of-care tests, Health Canada regulators have been slow to give the necessary approvals to deploy these devices.

Regulators approved Cepheid’s Xpert Xpress SARS-CoV-2 device in late March, a test that can be used in both lab and point of care settings.

The next approval for a point-of-care device — one that could be used in a doctor’s office or a walk-in clinic — only came last week.

On Sept. 23, Health Canada approved for use in Canada the Hyris bCube — a portable device that its Guelph, Ont.-based distributor says can be used “wherever people are — anytime, anywhere.”

The regulator hasn’t yet approved any antigen tests — a different form of testing that can be easily deployed to high-risk workplaces and schools to help identify positive COVID-19 cases.

In fact, Health Canada only posted guidance for antigen device manufacturers to its website today, seven months into the pandemic.

The antigen tests — which, depending on the device, use matter collected from a nasal or throat swab — don’t require the use of a lab to generate results.

While much faster, these tests are considered by some to be less accurate than the “gold standard” — the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing process currently in use across Canada.

 

U.S. President Donald Trump opens a box containing the ID NOW testing device during a coronavirus briefing at the White House in March. (Alex Brandon/AP Photo)

 

Antigen testing devices like Quidel Corporation’s Sofia 2 SARS, which received emergency authorization from the U.S. FDA in May, can produce results in less than 20 minutes. As of Tuesday, Quidel’s device was listed as “under review” by Health Canada.

Antigen tests have been used in thousands of U.S. long-term care homes for months.

Speaking to reporters on teleconference about Health Canada’s progress, Dr. Supriya Sharma, senior medical adviser to the department’s deputy minister, said she doesn’t think the authorization process has been slow to this point.

She said Canada’s regulatory regime is different from what’s in place in the U.S. and the department has been focused on approving lab-based PCR testing devices.

“I don’t think we’re slow. We’ve got staff working flat out,” she said. “There’s no file sitting on anyone’s desk not being looked at.”

Sharma said it’s difficult to state exactly when the Abbott test or an antigen test will be approved for use in Canada.

“Antigen testing is our number one priority and we are doing everything that we can to review these tests to ensure they are available to Canadians,” she said.

“We have increased the efficiency and we’re streamlining those review processes. We’re committed to getting a company a decision within 40 days,” she said, adding that the pre-pandemic process often would take months to complete.

She said regulators will not be rushed, citing the risk of approving a faulty test that tells people they’re clear of COVID-19 when they’re actually infected.

“A test that doesn’t meet this criteria could have devastating consequences for Canadians,” Sharma said.

When asked if the department was reluctant to approve new devices because of past missteps, Sharma conceded Health Canada’s early decision to authorize a device from Ottawa-based Spartan Bioscience — a test that later proved faulty — resulted in some “lessons learned” for regulators. In May, the National Microbiology Lab found problems with the test that made it unreliable.

While Canadian regulators have not yet given the green light, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced on Monday a plan to send 120 million COVID-19 antigen tests to low- and middle-income countries over the next six months to dramatically expand access to testing in places where PCR isn’t viable due to limited laboratory capacity.

The WHO touted these tests as “highly portable, reliable and easy to administer, making testing possible in near-person, decentralized healthcare settings.”

“High-quality rapid tests show us where the virus is hiding, which is key to quickly tracing and isolating contacts and breaking the chains of transmission,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the WHO, said in announcing the plan.

“The tests are a critical tool for governments as they look to reopen economies and ultimately save both lives and livelihoods.”

Asked about the WHO plan after a meeting with UN officials, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters Canada would rely on its own scientists to determine which devices should be used here at home.

 

 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appeared in a United Nations video conference on the COVID-19 crisis 0:47

“As much as we’d love to see those tests as quickly as possible, we’re not going to tell our scientists how to do their job and do that work. We are, however, ensuring that as soon as those approvals happen, we are ready to deliver these tests across the country,” he said.

Raywat Deonandan, an associate professor at the University of Ottawa and an expert in epidemiology, said that while antigen tests can be less sensitive than PCR tests, they can be useful for “reassurance” purposes.

“If someone needs a negative test to go back to work, we’ll use this,” Deonandan said in an interview.

“We need more creative tools on the table and this is one creative tool — again, with the caveat that it matters entirely how you use it, where you use it and by whom,” he said, adding that he believes antigen tests shouldn’t be a primary diagnostic tool.

While antigen tests can be less accurate, they’re also cheap to produce and easy to administer. That means they can be used multiple times to ensure a more accurate reading — not unlike a home pregnancy test.

“The advantage of these types of tests is that you can do them frequently,” said Ashleigh Tuite, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto and an infectious disease researcher.

“You could do it the day that you were going to visit the person who you cared about and it would basically tell you at that point in time, are you infectious? That’s incredibly powerful information.

“It just makes common sense — use every tool you have.”

Source:cbc.ca

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Ontario reports 841 more COVID-19 cases, 7-day average on the rise – CBC.ca

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Ontario reported another 841 cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, as the seven-day average of new daily cases — a measure that helps limit noise in the data — is starting to climb again after a brief lull. 

Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams said at a news conference that today’s number of new cases is the second highest the province has seen since the virus’s second wave hit.

“That’s concerning as we watch how this second wave is working through us in the province of Ontario,” Williams said.

The seven-day average now sits at about 761, still below the most recent peak of 781 that came earlier this month, but consistently on the rise in the last four days. 

The province also reported nine more deaths in today’s update, a second-straight day with nine new deaths. Forty people have died from COVID-19 in Ontario in the last week.

Today’s new cases are concentrated in the following public health units:

  • Toronto: 335
  • Peel: 162
  • York: 106
  • Ottawa: 72

Other areas that saw double-digit increases include:

  • Durham Region: 29
  • Halton Region: 29
  • Simcoe Muskoka: 24
  • Hamilton: 20
  • Eastern Ontario: 10
  • Middlesex London: 10

Seventy-four of the newly confirmed cases of the illness are school-related, including at least 49 students and five staff. A total of 1,641 cases school-related cases have now been registered provincewide since the academic year began, with 501 schools having reported at least one in students or staff. That figure is equivalent to about 10.38 per cent of all publicly-funded schools in Ontario.

(Note: All of the figures used in this story are found in the Ministry of Health’s daily update, which includes data from up until 4 p.m. the previous day. The number of cases for any particular region on a given day may differ from what is reported by the local public health unit, which often avoid lag times found in the provincial system.)

Williams said cases in schools have been primarily found in students, but there has not been much evidence of in-school transmission.

“That means a lot of good work is being done … in the school settings,” he said.

But the province is, Williams said, seeing clusters of cases linked to social gatherings at weddings, sporting events and at household gatherings.

Ford wishes for ‘crystal ball’

At the province’s daily news conference Thursday, Premier Doug Ford was asked if he had any insight as to if the province will be able to lift its “modified Stage 2” restrictions that have been enacted in the parts of Ontario that have been hardest hit by the virus. When introduced, the province said they were planning for the measures to last for 28 days.

“I wish I had a crystal ball to find out where we’re going,” Ford said. “I pray in a couple of weeks that these numbers are going to change.”

“People have to follow the guidelines.”

Ontario has now seen a total of 67,527 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the first was reported in late January. Of those, about 86 per cent are considered resolved, including 741 more in today’s update.

There are 6,390 confirmed, active infections provincewide, a jump of 91 since Wednesday and a new record-high for Ontario. 

After a considerable decrease in Wednesday’s update, the number of people in Ontario hospitals with confirmed cases of the illness increased again, up 10 to 270. Some 74 patients are being treated in intensive care, and 48 are on ventilators — one fewer than Wednesday.

Meanwhile, there are active outbreaks of COVID-19 in at least 80 long-term care facilities. 

5 Toronto hospitals with COVID-19 outbreaks

Another Toronto hospital has declared an outbreak of COVID-19.

The Scarborough Health Network said six patients are infected in one unit at its general hospital in the city’s east end.

A spokeswoman for the health network said the unit has been closed to admissions in order to protect patients and staff.

Leigh Duncan added that enhanced infection prevention and control measures are in place in the affected unit.

Scarborough joins a growing list of Toronto hospitals that have declared an official outbreak, defined as two health-care-related cases of COVID-19 within 14 days.

St. Michael’s Hospital, St. Joseph’s Health Centre, Toronto Western Hospital and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health have also declared outbreaks among staff or patients.

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Beijing erupts at Canada after parliamentary committee says China's Uighur policy amounts to 'genocide' – CBC.ca

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China’s foreign ministry is lashing out at Canada after a House of Commons subcommittee concluded that the state’s mistreatment of Uighurs living in Xinjiang province amounts to a policy of genocide.

The committee’s report, tabled Wednesday, says that China’s persecution of this Muslim minority — through mass detentions in concentration camps, forced labour, state surveillance and population control measures — is a clear violation of human rights and is meant to “eradicate Uighur culture and religion.”

The committee said that it agrees with the experts who say China’s campaign against the Uighurs meets the definition of genocide set out in the 1948 Genocide Convention.

Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson for the Chinese foreign ministry, said today that this “so-called genocide” is “a rumour and a farce fabricated by some anti-Chinese forces to slander China.”

“Its groundless statement is full of lies and disinformation,” he said of the committee’s report, warning parliamentarians to “avoid doing any further damage to China-Canada relations.

“This is blatant interference in China’s internal affairs and reflects those Canadian individuals’ ignorance and prejudice. China firmly deplores and rejects that.”

The subcommittee on international human rights, chaired by Liberal MP Peter Fonseca, heard from witnesses who survived the concentration camps China has built to suppress Muslims living in this oil-rich northwestern province.

Committee witnesses described “deplorable” conditions where they were psychologically, physically and sexually abused and subjected to forced assimilation and indoctrination into the dominant Chinese culture.

Asked about the camps, Zhao insisted they are “vocational training and education centres” where religious “extremists” were educated in the “national common spoken and written language, legal knowledge, vocational skills and de-radicalization.”

“The aim is to eliminate the root cause of terrorism and extremism,” he said.

In this Monday, Dec. 3, 2018, file photo, a guard tower and barbed wire fence surround a detention facility in the Kunshan Industrial Park in Artux in western China’s Xinjiang region. (Ng Han Guan/AP Photo)

The Commons committee also concluded that Chinese communist officials have forcibly sterilized Uighur women and girls and pushed abortions and intrauterine contraceptive devices (IUDs) on hundreds of thousands in a systematic attempt “to persecute and possibly eradicate Uighurs.”

Uighurs make up less than one per cent of the population in a country where Mandarin-speaking ethnic Chinese people — the Han — constitute the overwhelming majority.

While the Turkic-speaking Uighurs are just a small ethnic subset, Chinese government documents obtained by the committee show that approximately 80 per cent of all new IUD placements in China took place in Xinjiang.

Birth rates continue to plummet across the region, falling nearly 24 per cent last year alone — compared to a drop of just 4.2 per cent nationwide — according to statistics compiled by the U.S.-based Jamestown Foundation. The population control measures are backed by mass detention, both as a threat and as a punishment for failure to comply.

Witnesses also told committee members about a “poverty reduction” measure implemented by Beijing that forced Uighurs into camps to perform slave labour, making products that were to be sold in Canada and other western nations. 

A recent report titled “Uighurs for sale” by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute found that thousands of Muslims have been used as forced labour in factories that supply companies like BMW, Nike and Huawei, among others.

The Chinese government has facilitated the mass transfer of Uighur and other ethnic minority citizens from Xinjiang to factories across the country.

Under constant state surveillance through closed-circuit television cameras and mobile tracking devices, Uighur survivors have said they lived in constant fear.

They told committee members that Uighur expatriates are subjected to harassment and intimidation by the Chinese regime — even in Canada.

“The subcommittee unequivocally condemns the persecution of Uighur and other Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang by the government of China,” the committee’s report reads. “The subcommittee is persuaded that the actions of the Chinese Communist Party constitute genocide.”

The committee said these control tactics are designed to suppress the Uighurs because they “desire more autonomy or independence from China,” and the communists consider them a “threat” to economic development and prosperity.

Uighurs living in Turkey participate in a protest against what they allege is oppression by the Chinese government of Muslim Uighurs in the far-western Xinjiang province. (AP Photo)

The committee is recommending the federal government condemn China’s abuse of Uighurs, work with allies to secure unfettered access to Xinjiang for international observers to prevent further abuse, recognize that China’s actions constitute genocide and impose sanctions on implicated officials through Canada’s so-called Magnitsky law.

That law allows the government to impose sanctions and freeze assets owned by foreign nationals and prohibit financial transactions by known human rights abusers.

The law is informally named after Russian tax adviser Sergei Magnitsky, who was tortured and died in a Moscow prison after documenting fraud in Russia.

“Canada needs to take immediate action and live up to the values it espouses at home and abroad,” says the report. “Canada must act now to address China’s aggression against Uighurs and other Turkic Muslims.”

Canada ‘deeply disturbed’ by Uighur abuse

In a statement, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said he is “deeply disturbed” by the troubling reports documented by the subcommittee.

He said he raised the issue of Uighur abuse with Michelle Bachelet, the UN commissioner for human rights, during a recent meeting in Switzerland.

Earlier this month, Canada and 37 allies also expressed “grave concerns” about the situation in Xinjiang at the UN, he said.

Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne speaks a press conference in Athens, Greece. Champagne said Canada has expressed ‘grave concerns’ about Uighur abuse in China at the UN. (Petro Giannakouris/AP Photo)

Champagne said the government would back a push to send impartial advisers into the region to document the plight of the Uighurs.

“Canada takes the allegations of genocide very seriously. We will continue … with our allies to push for these to be investigated through an international independent body,” he said.

Champagne did not address a question about whether Canada would pursue Magnitsky sanctions like those slapped on Russian and Venezuelan officials in recent years.

This parliamentary report is the latest attempt by some MPs and senators to put pressure on the government to take a tougher stand against China.

In June, more than a dozen senators — including several appointed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — urged the federal government to impose sanctions on Chinese officials for “gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

Citing China’s detention of Uighur Muslims, its crackdown on democratic rights in Hong Kong, its decades-long repression of Tibet and its imprisonment of Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, the senators described the regime in Beijing as the “biggest threat to mankind and a danger to international security.”

That letter was followed by a call from 68 MPs and senators for Canada to levy sanctions on top Chinese officials.

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Canada officially removed from EU's permissible travel list due to rising COVID-19 cases – CBC.ca

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The European Union officially removed Canada from a list of countries that should not be subjected to incoming travel restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

CBC News reported about the expected development on Wednesday after EU officials recommended a change to the list the previous day at a regularly scheduled meeting and sent it down to bureaucratic committees to hash out the details.

The 27-nation bloc first put out a list of 15 countries in July that were deemed to be lower risk for transmission of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Canada was on the original list and survived the first culling of the list to 11 names in August when Serbia, Montenegro, Algeria and Morocco were booted.

On Thursday, the EU published the new list, and Canada, Georgia and Tunisia had been removed.

“As a result of these discussions, the list of third countries — should be amended. In particular, Canada, Georgia and Tunisia should be deleted from the list while Singapore should be added,” the EU said.

The new list consists of:

  • Australia.
  • Japan.
  • New Zealand.
  • Rwanda.
  • Singapore.
  • South Korea.
  • Thailand.
  • Uruguay.
  • China, subject to confirmation of reciprocity.

The EU also said restrictions should be lifted on people coming from Hong Kong and Macao, as long as those jurisdictions do the same for European travellers.

Travellers are shown walking past an information board at Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport. The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has played havoc with travel plans around the world. (Adrienne Surprenant/Bloomberg)

The list does not mean Canadians are forbidden from travelling to the EU, as it is merely a guideline for member nations to follow. But the bloc does nonetheless urge countries to abide by it for everyone’s benefit.

“Member states should … ensure that measures taken at the external borders are co-ordinated in order to ensure a well functioning Schengen area,” the EU said, referring to the 26 European nations that have agreed to allow free travel across their borders, as per an agreement signed in 1985 in Schengen, Luxembourg.

But “the authorities of the member states remain responsible for implementing the content of the recommendation [and] they may, in full transparency, lift only progressively travel restrictions towards countries listed.” 

Different nations, different rules

Indeed, different European nations have slightly different requirements. As of Thursday, Canada is still on Germany’s permissible entry list, and the country still allows visitors from various nations deemed high risk as long as they quarantine on arrival

As of Oct. 19, Canada is still on France’s acceptable travel list, even as France itself has imposed strict lockdowns domestically.

Italy also allows travel to and from Canada as long as people quarantine on arrival and don’t take public transit to get to wherever they are staying in the country as of Oct. 21.

The EU move is well short of an outright ban, but the change does suggest that Canada’s rising COVID-19 numbers — Canada now has more than 205,000 confirmed cases, including 2,266 new ones on Wednesday, according to the CBC’s coronavirus tracker — is becoming something of a concern for the rest of the world.

The EU said it bases its recommendations on a number of factors, including containment efforts but also on comparable ratios, such as the number of cases per 100,000 in the population, the number of tests being done daily and the positivity rate of those tests.

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