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Flu cases rise in Canada amid eased COVID-19 restrictions – CTV News

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The easing of public health restrictions that were aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19 has lead to a surge in cases of another virus, experts say.

Since the start of April, Canada has seen a sharp increase in cases of influenza, something not typically seen in the spring. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada’s (PHAC) most recent FluWatch report, there were 1,580 laboratory-confirmed cases of the flu between May 22 and May 28.

This is down from the peak of 2,121 flu cases seen during the week of May 8 to 14, but PHAC warns that the number of flu cases “remains above the epidemic threshold.”

Last year, the period between May 23 and June 19 saw just one laboratory-confirmed flu case. Prior to the pandemic, a five-week period in May and June 2019 saw 864 laboratory-confirmed cases, an average of 172.8 cases per week.

Toronto-based emergency room physician Dr. Lisa Salamon says she’s also noticed more patients with the flu in her practice, particularly children.

“I’m really seeing influenza a lot in children. A lot of kids are coming through the emergency department with various upper respiratory tract infections, fevers and lasting quite a few days,” she told CTV’s Your Morning on Tuesday.

Influenza-like illnesses made up 1.6 per cent of hospital visits in the latest report. This flu season has seen a total of 438 influenza-associated hospitalizations, with 225 of these being children 16 years of age and younger. PHAC says influenza-associated hospitalizations among children “remains above levels typical of this time of year.”

Salamon says much of this trend can be attributed to the lifting of provincial mask mandates at schools and other indoor places that took place between February and May.

“We never have that much influenza at this time of year, but I really think that it’s lifting of mask mandates,” she said. “The fact that it’s circulating here now, isn’t that surprising. And also people are just congregating more”

Researchers have found that pandemic measures, put in place with the aim of slowing the spread of COVID-19, have helped stem cases of influenza. Last winter, normally the height of the flu season, the number of weekly laboratory-confirmed influenza cases peaked at 44, according to PHAC

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Theresa Tam also cited the lifting of public health restrictions as the driving force of increasing flu cases, but said PHAC remains “cautiously optimistic that the warmer weather months will give us some reprieve from high transmission rates.”

“When most population public health measures like closures and capacity limits were removed, we saw COVID-19 transmission rates rebound and now we’re seeing influenza activity increasing up to the seasonal threshold, despite the opposite trend being expected at this time of year,” she told reporters during last month’s COVID-19 briefing.

According to PHAC’s annual telephone survey on flu vaccine coverage in Canada, the vaccination rate among adults aged 18 to 74 is 30 per cent for the 2021-2022 flu season and 71 per cent among seniors 65 and older. Salamon said waning immunity from the flu vaccine may be another factor driving up cases.

“For those of us who got the flu shot back in the fall, it only lasts so long,” she said.

Even though it may not be mandatory to do so, Tam said Canadians should continue to exercise “personal protective habits” such as masking in high risk settings in order to curb the spread of both COVID-19 and the flu.

“Masks continue to be an important layer of protection for ourselves while also helping to protect our loved ones,” she said.

Salamon said this also underscores the need to stay home if you’re feeling sick, something that fewer people are doing now that COVID-19 restrictions are loosening.

“We did a really good job at staying home if we’re sick for two years. And now people are forgetting those simple principles,” she said. “We always see people getting colds throughout the year. We just have to remember that if we have symptoms, regardless if it’s COVID-19 or not, we should stay home.” 

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Coolest temperatures in a month expected to bring respite in B.C. wildfire fight

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Firefighters in British Columbia are expecting the warmer-than-usual weather to ease off today, fueling hope for more respite in their battle against more than 400 blazes.

The BC Wildfire Service says cooler temperatures and rain in the north slid into the central Interior on Wednesday, moving the mercury closer to seasonal norms for the first time in a month.

The wildfire service says the favourable forecast is giving crews a chance to make even more progress.

In the past week, at least 239 fires have been extinguished, and at least 124 fires have been brought under control.

However, about 260 fires continued to burn out of control as of late Wednesday.

B.C. firefighters have been battling a spike in wildfires since the weekend, when dry weather and a heat wave were followed by tens of thousands of lightning strikes, triggering numerous fires.

Environment Canada is forecasting highs in the low or mid-20s in parts of the Interior, including Kamloops, Kelowna and Lytton, where temperatures breached 40 C just days ago.

Temperatures in the northern Interior, including Prince George and Williams Lake, are forecast to remain in the mid-teens.

Among the most severe wildfires in the province is the 225-square-kilometre Shetland Creek blaze near Spences Bridge, which has destroyed about 20 structures in the Venables Valley, including at least six homes.

Another fire of note is the four-square-kilometre Aylwin Creek fire south of Silverton in the Central Kootenay, which, as of late Wednesday, triggered an evacuation order for the village and 17 surrounding parcels.

On Vancouver Island, the Old Man Lake wildfire burns out of control about nine kilometres north of Sooke.

An update from the BC Wildfire Service says that fire, at just under one square kilometre in size, has seen some growth in unsuppressed areas, but the spread has been “away from any structures or critical infrastructure,” according to Julia Caranci with the Coastal Fire Centre.

“We have not recommended any evacuation alerts or orders associated with this incident currently,” Caranci says in an update posted on YouTube.

According to the Capital Regional District, the wildfire is burning a few kilometres south of the Sooke Lake Reservoir, which is part of the water supply area for about 350,000 people in Greater Victoria.

The district has enacted a number of recreational closures due to the Old Man Lake wildfire, including closing Sooke Potholes Regional Park, the Spring Salmon Place Campground and the access to Kapoor Regional Park.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 25, 2024.

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.



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Jasper wildfire burns buildings, while poor air quality forces some fire crews out

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JASPER, ALTA. – A fast-moving wildfire has hit Jasper, Alberta, destroying buildings and chasing some wildland firefighters away with dangerously poor air quality.

The social media account for Jasper National Park says the fire has caused significant loss within the townsite, but the specific locations or neighbourhoods affected are not being reported.

On the social media platform X Wednesday night, the account for Fairmont’s Jasper Park Lodge says the flames have reached the hotel’s grounds, but the extent of damage, if any, is not yet known.

As the flames consumed more fuel, officials say the air quality dropped to dangerous levels, prompting fire crews without breathing apparatus to evacuate to the nearby community of Hinton.

Structural firefighters stayed behind in the Alberta mountain town in an effort to protect key infrastructure.

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith issued a statement late Wednesday on Facebook, saying her thoughts are with the evacuees and those still fighting the fire.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 25, 2024.

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.



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Unclaimed bodies are piling up in Newfoundland. A funeral director blames government.

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ST. JOHN’S, N.L. – A funeral director in St. John’s says the bodies piling up in freezers at Newfoundland and Labrador’s largest hospital likely belong to people whose loved ones couldn’t get enough government help to pay for a funeral.

John Anderson, director and embalmer at Caul’s Funeral Home in St. John’s, N.L., says the province offers funeral homes too little money to provide services for people on income assistance and old age security programs.

He says people become frustrated with how little funeral homes can provide them, and some just walk away and leave their loved ones sitting in freezers.

Emails obtained by the provincial NDP through access to information legislation show health officials warning in November 2021 that morgues and freezer units brought in to handle overflow were at capacity.

Notes from a meeting of health officials on Jan. 9 this year say there were 27 unclaimed bodies in “temporary storage” at the Health Sciences Centre in St. John’s, up from 12 in November 2021.

Paul Pike, minister of children, seniors and social development, says his department is aware of some of the issues Anderson has raised, and it is working with funeral homes to update its assistance programs.

He says the province has provided funeral benefits for almost 700 people in the last two years, and the average assistance amount was $3,000 per service.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 25, 2024.

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.



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