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Final COVID-19 update of the week to come as B.C. passes 10000-case milestone

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VANCOUVER —
Health officials in British Columbia have announced 119 additional cases of COVID-19 in their final update of the week.

There have been no additional deaths from the coronavirus in the last 24 hours, said provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and deputy minister of health Stephen Brown in their written statement.

Since the pandemic began, there have been 10,185 cases of COVID-19 recorded in B.C. and 245 deaths.

There are currently 68 people in hospital with the coronavirus, including 19 in intensive care. The rest of B.C.’s 1,406 active cases of the disease are recovering at home in self-isolation.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

Source:- CTV News Vancouver

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B.C. could ease some COVID-19 restrictions 'in coming weeks', Dr. Henry says – radionl.com

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B.C.’s top doctor is suggesting there will be some sort of a return to outdoor gatherings and even the possibility of some travel within the province during Spring Break, which is next week.

Dr. Bonnie Henry described the approach as “slowly turning up the dial” rather than “flipping a switch”.

“As we head into March break at the end of this week and into next week, [we could see] the return of things like gatherings outside, where it is safer,” she said during her briefing today. “Activities outside that we can do in groups with precautions in place — small groups that we can do for games and summer camps or spring camps — and safe, small groups with masks and safety precautions in place.”

“As well, we’ll be looking at how we can travel and explore during March break as a family or a small group together with our household, exploring our own region.”

Henry said health officials have been learning about the virus and how to respond to it for a little over a year now, noting there is a lot that people can look forward to in the months ahead.

“In the weeks ahead we can start to look at this modify return to some of the activities that have been on pause for the last month’s of winter, we aren’t going to rush to get things opened, but we are going to take a thoughtful, careful and phased approach over the next few weeks,” she said.

Henry says she is also working with faith leaders for a return to in-person services as well, and she hopes that could be in place before Easter and Passover at the end of this month.

“Throughout the pandemic we have been in dialogue with faith leaders and I am so grateful for that opportunity to speak with them on a regular basis and to understand the concerns and the needs,” she added.

This comes as Henry reported 1,462 new COVID-19 cases since Friday, as well as 11 more deaths, with 79 new cases in Interior Health.

B.C. residents have been living with COVID-19 restrictions on things like non-essential travel and social gatherings since Nov. 19, though the restrictions had been in place for the Lower Mainland since Nov. 8.

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B.C. call centres to book vaccines will 'do better' after hectic first day: minister – North Shore News

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VANCOUVER — British Columbia’s health minister promised to “do better” on Monday after call centres to schedule vaccine appointments were overwhelmed on the first day of booking.

Adrian Dix said there were 1.7 million calls in less than three hours after the phone lines opened for people over 90 and Indigenous elders over 65 to book their appointments.

Dix said he believed that people who were not yet eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine were flooding the lines, but he also acknowledged that more staffing was needed.

“It’s really important in order to allow those over 90 to get their appointments that we only call when our age group becomes open for calling,” he told the province’s COVID-19 briefing.

“It’s also important that we do better. I know that people have called in and have waited a long time today.” 

Dix said that more resources would be added in the coming weeks, as more age groups become eligible to call to book their vaccines.

People born in 1936 or earlier can start calling for appointments on March 15 and those born in 1941 or earlier can start to schedule their immunizations March 22.

Fraser Health was the only authority to launch an online booking platform on Monday, but Dix said a web-based system would become widely available on April 12.

Some residents with elderly parents said they spent hours redialing their health authority’s number and only got a busy signal or a recorded message telling them to call back later.

Julie Tapley, whose 90-year-old father lives in the Vancouver Coastal Health region, said she was frustrated that the authority had not yet established an online booking system.

“I just want to get in the queue and start the process so that (my parents) can return to their normal lives.”

B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, said creating an online booking system is “quite a large project” and Fraser Health was the only authority with an existing platform.

Of about 80,000 people eligible to book appointments this week, roughly 26,000 have already received a shot, so a relatively small number of people should be calling, Dix said.

He said about 10,000 appointments were booked as of Monday afternoon and a “significant number” of those were scheduled through the Fraser Health online site.

Dix urged eligible residents and their families to keep calling in the coming days. There are plenty of appointments available and it is not a “first-come, first-serve” system, he said.

Although B.C.’s case numbers have been on the rise, Henry said some restrictions would be eased in the coming weeks as the weather warms and immunizations ramp up.

Outdoor gatherings, larger meeting places and layers of protection such as masks will still be recommended, she said.

“I like to think of it as slowly turning up the dial again rather than flicking a switch,” she said. 

She also said she hopes to see the return of sports and in-person religious ceremonies within weeks.

Officials have been developing a plan with faith leaders to enable the gradual return of in-person services, as there are important dates in many religions coming up, Henry said.

A B.C. Supreme Court judge reserved his decision on Friday on a petition filed by three Fraser Valley churches who argued that a ban on in-person services violates charter rights.

Henry reported on Monday 1,462 new COVID-19 cases and 11 deaths over three days, pushing the death toll to 1,391 in the province.

She said there was one new outbreak in a long-term care home, the Cottonwoods Care Centre in Kelowna, where a high number of residents and staff had already been vaccinated.

The flare-up serves as a reminder that while vaccines are effective and prevent severe illness and death, they don’t necessarily mean that all transmission will be stopped, she said.

There have been 144 new cases that are variants of concern, bringing the total to 394 confirmed cases. Officials still do not know how about a quarter of the cases were acquired.

Henry became emotional when quoting Chief Robert Joseph, a knowledge-keeper with the Assembly of First Nations.

“We will celebrate our lives again, dream our dreams again and watch our children regain their hope,” Henry quoted him as saying, with tears in her eyes.

“That’s what we can look forward to in the coming months.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 8, 2021. 

Laura Dhillon Kane, The Canadian Press

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U.S. issues advice to those fully vaccinated, but no shift in Canada yet – BayToday

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New U.S. guidelines say people fully inoculated against COVID-19 can drop some precautions when gathering with others, but at least two provincial health ministers say existing public health advice holds for now.

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday that Americans who have waited two weeks since their second required shot can spend time with other immunized people indoors without masks or social distancing.

The same applies to gatherings by those at low-risk of severe disease, such as fully vaccinated grandparents visiting healthy grandchildren.

The U.S. guidelines recommend that fully vaccinated people continue to wear masks, avoid large gatherings and physically distance when in public.

British Columbia Health Minister Adrian Dix said Monday that physical distancing and other public health guidelines will be around for some time.

He said about 15 per cent of B.C.’s eligible residents are expected to be immunized by the end of the month, which is “nothing like herd immunity.”

“The future is bright, but we can’t live the future right now. We’ve got to live the now right now.”

Dix does expect visiting restrictions to be loosened in B.C.’s long-term care homes this month as about 90 per cent of residents and staff have been vaccinated.

University of Alberta infectious diseases specialist Dr. Lynora Saxinger said evidence on which the U.S. health agency based its advice is “very much in evolution” and such recommendations might not work everywhere.

Virus variants with the potential to break through vaccine protection are also a “wild card,” she said.

But Saxinger said the principles underlying the U.S. guidance make sense, especially since the initial vaccine rollout has targeted older individuals, many of whom have been kept away from their grandchildren for almost a year.

“They’re basically taking a balance-of-probabilities approach to say that if you’ve received vaccine, you should be highly protected against severe disease. Therefore this should be hopefully OK.”

Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said her province is still recommending people take precautions with gatherings and will take its cues from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization.

Ontario reported 1,631 new cases in its latest update, but said the higher-than-expected count was due to a system “data catch-up.” The seven-day average for new cases was at 1,155.

There were also 10 more deaths linked to the novel coronavirus.

Ontario lifted stay-at-home orders in Toronto, Peel Region and North Bay on Monday — the last three regions subject to the government’s strictest measures introduced two months ago.

Alberta also loosened some rules for banquet halls, community halls, conference centres, hotels, retail shops, performances and post-secondary sports, as hospitalizations stayed well below the provincial target of 450.

Health Minister Tyler Shandro said he believes it is safe enough to immediately ease more restrictions

The province reported 278 new cases of COVID-19 and six additional deaths. Six cases of the more contagious variant were also detected, bringing that total to 659. There were 254 people in hospital.

And residents in five regions of Quebec, including the capital, were again able to eat in restaurants and work out in gyms.

Restrictions remain in place in the Montreal area due to fear that variant cases will cause a spike in infections and hospitalizations.

Quebec reported 579 new cases in its update. New daily infections had been above 700 for the five previous days. The province also recorded nine more deaths.

All of New Brunswick shifted to a lower pandemic response level Monday. That means a circle of 15 regular contacts can socialize, up from 10. The Atlantic province had five new cases and 36 active ones.

Saxinger said a “judicious and slow” reopening is the safest approach.

She noted that many countries have seen their case counts come down, but the proportion of more contagious variants is higher, planting the seeds for a spike.

“We know that it’s possible that the variants can be responsible for another surge, that a variant surge is harder to contain and you need longer and more stringent restrictions to contain them.”

Also Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Thursday will be a “national day of observance” to commemorate the 22,000 people in Canada who have died from COVID-19 and to acknowledge all the ways the virus has changed our lives in the last year.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 8, 2021

— With files from The Associated Press

Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press

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