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Flu rates in Canada 'exceptionally' low despite more testing, says report indicating possible COVID dividend – The Post – Ontario

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But that does not mean that Canadians should avoid getting the flu vaccine, especially since this country is seeing a spike in COVID-19 cases

There are early signs that Canada may be experiencing one of the few silver linings of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite double the usual volume of laboratory screening for influenza, the number of people testing positive for the virus is “exceptionally” low so far this season, says a Public Health Agency of Canada report.

In fact, only eight positive tests came back in the most recent week of reporting from across the country, and half may have merely been signs of flu vaccination, not actual spread of the virus, says the agency’s latest “FluWatch” report.

Just 12 flu cases were reported between March and October, compared to an average of almost 600 in each of the last six years during the same period.

Southern hemisphere countries like Australia, which have their flu season during the northern hemisphere’s summer, reported unusually little influenza in 2020. Experts suggest that masks, social distancing and more hand washing designed to combat COVID-19 had curbed the other virus, too.

Canada’s season is just starting. But if it enjoyed the same kind of flu respite, it would alleviate fears of a double whammy of COVID-19’s second wave, on top of the regular influenza burden.

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It’s too early to tell yet from the numbers here if we’ll escape such a “twindemic,” but Australia’s experience is a good sign, said Dr. Jeff Kwong, a public health professor at the University of Toronto.

“That’s encouraging,” he said. “COVID is more contagious than influenza, so if we can manage to control COVID, we should be able to control influenza activity.”

But that does not mean that Canadians should eschew the flu vaccine, said Kwong, especially since this country is seeing a spike in COVID-19 cases. If the coronavirus is transmitting broadly, then other respiratory viruses will also spread, he noted.

“There’s little downside to getting (a flu shot), so one more layer of protection is helpful.”

A reduced flu season would also not mean that COVID had simply replaced it on an equal basis; with rates of death and severe illness estimated to be several times higher, the coronavirus is a much more serious threat, said Kwong.

FluWatch is a weekly report that primarily uses a network of labs, hospitals and health practitioners to track laboratory-confirmed cases of the flu. A much larger number of people actually contract the virus but never gets tested. The report also uses a group of “FluWatchers” who report their own respiratory-infection symptoms.

If we can manage to control COVID, we should be able to control influenza activity

According to the report for the week that ended Oct. 31, only one of the 40 or so regions it designates across country was reporting any flu — those eight cases — and there were no outbreaks.

By contrast, the report on the same week in 2019 reported 107 laboratory-confirmed cases — more than 10 times as many — in 24 regions of 10 provinces and territories.

That was despite 9,033 flu tests being administered during the 2020 week — more than twice the average. The percentage of positive tests was .07 per cent, compared to an average of 3.7 per cent during the previous six seasons — a 52-times difference.

And four of the most recent cases were linked to people receiving a flu shot, which contains an “attenuated” or weakened version of the actual virus. Such “live attenuated influenza vaccine” can be detected with a nasal swab, said the report.

“Despite elevated levels of testing, the percentage of laboratory tests positive for influenza has remained at exceptionally low levels throughout the period of March to October,” the document said.

The numbers could have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic, including “changes in health care-seeking behaviour, impacts of public health measures and influenza testing capacity,” it said.

In fact, last flu season ended “abruptly” in March as lockdowns to contain COVID-19 went into effect across Canada.

• Email: tblackwell@postmedia.com | Twitter:

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Ontario reports 1,707 new COVID-19 cases today, and seven new deaths from the virus – ThinkPol

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Ontario is reporting 1,707 new cases of COVID-19 today, and seven new deaths due to the virus.

Health Minister Christine Elliott says 727 new cases are in Toronto, 373 in Peel Region, and 168 cases in York Region.

The province also reported 299 new COVID-19 cases related to schools, including at least 253 among students.

Those bring the number of schools with a reported case to 737 out of Ontario’s 4,828 publicly funded schools.

In the province’s long-term care homes, 743 residents currently have COVID-19 and six new deaths have been reported today. 

The province says 109 of its 626 long-term care homes are experiencing an outbreak.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 1, 2020. 

The Canadian Press

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Ontario schools account for significant number of new COVID-19 cases – insauga.com

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Despite the fact Peel Region and Toronto are in lockdown, and Hamilton, Waterloo, Durham, Halton and York are facing stricter regulations, the number of new COVID-19 cases remains high.

According to the Ontario Health Coalition (OHC), between October 31 and November 18, the number of people infected in workplace outbreaks far exceeds the general community spread of the virus in the following workplace sectors: construction; schools and daycares; retail, restaurants and entertainment; and public services.

The number of cases in schools has increased by 1,865 cases for a cumulative total of 4,265 cases among students and education workers, as well 639 cases in childcare settings–this represents an 86.9-per-cent increase, the largest increase among workplace sectors.

The sector that saw the second-largest increase was retail, restaurants and entertainment, which saw cases increase by 71.65 per cent; followed by public services, which saw cases increase by 39.14 per cent.

Based on these findings, the number of work-place related cases has increased by 39.74 per cent in non-health-care settings during this three-week period.

Additionally, during the week of November 18, 35.4 per cent of new cases couldn’t be traced back to a source.

The number of cases with an unknown source of exposure has continued to increase during the second wave, as Public Health Units in hotspots have been unable to keep up with contact tracing. 

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Ottawa must be more transparent regarding COVID-19 vaccine rollout: expert – Lethbridge Herald

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By Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press on November 30, 2020.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford puts his mask back on during the daily briefing at Humber River Hospital in Toronto on Tuesday November 24, 2020. Ford says he wants a clear delivery date for the province’s share of COVID-19 vaccines, stressing that “the clock is ticking” when it comes to fighting the novel coronavirus. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

TORONTO, Kan. – As some provinces push for clarity on when they will receive their share of Canada’s COVID-19 vaccines, one expert says the government should be more transparent about the terms of its contracts with the companies making the shots.

Kerry Bowman, who teaches bioethics and global health at the University of Toronto, says it’s likely Ottawa doesn’t have the information the provinces are seeking regarding the timing and quantity of vaccine deliveries, particularly if its contracts with drugmakers are conditional.

But he says if that’s the case, the federal government should state it clearly or risk eroding public trust in its system.

Bowman says that while news that COVID-19 immunizations could begin in some countries in a matter of weeks is good for Canada in the long term, it will lead to widespread frustration in the near future if the country is lagging behind.

As well, he says any delay in immunization translates to more COVID-19 cases and deaths, and mounting economic strain.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford renewed his calls Monday for a clear delivery date for the province’s share of vaccines, stressing that “the clock is ticking” when it comes to fighting the novel coronavirus.

Ford said he was set to speak to Pfizer, one of the drugmakers that has entered into an agreement with Canada, Monday afternoon but expected to be told the information must come from Ottawa.

The premier cited reports that other countries, such as the United Kingdom, are on track to start COVID-19 immunizations soon, adding Ontarians “need answers.”

Meanwhile, the American biotech company Moderna said Monday the first 20 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine will be shipped to the United States next month.

The chairman of the American vaccine maker told the CBC on Sunday that Canada is near the front of the line to receive the 20 million doses it pre-ordered, confirming that the country’s early commitment to purchasing the shots means it will get its supply first.

Moderna is one of several companies to have already submitted partial data to a “rolling review” process offered by Health Canada. Rather than presenting regulators with a complete package of trial results, the would-be vaccine makers file data and findings as they become available. Canada has been looking at Moderna’s first results since mid-October.

The issue of when Canada will receive its orders came to the forefront last week when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the country will have to wait a bit because the first doses off the production lines will be used in the countries where they are made.

Trudeau has repeatedly defended his government’s vaccine procurement policy, saying Ottawa has secured multiple options for the country.

The federal government was pressed on the matter further during Monday’s question period, as some MPs called for greater transparency regarding vaccine rollout, noting other countries such as Australia have made their plans public.

Health Minister Patty Hajdu said the government has been working with the provinces and territories to ensure the plan is robust.

“Canada is well-served by the diversity of vaccines we have purchased early and in fact in great quantity. Canadians can be assured they too will have access to these vaccines that will bring us to the end of COVID-19,” she said.

Case counts remained high in several provinces Monday.

Ontario and Quebec, the two provinces with the bulk of COVID-19 cases, reported 1,746 and 1,333 new infections respectively, as well as eight and 23 new deaths related to the virus.

Toronto, one of two Ontario hot spots currently under lockdown, recorded a daily high of 643 new infections.

In Manitoba, health officials stressed residents must limit their contact with others in order to bring down the numbers, as the province reported 342 new cases and 11 additional deaths.

The provincial government imposed strict measures on business openings and public gatherings more than two weeks ago, but officials said the test positivity rate remains at 13 per cent.

Nunavut, however, will begin to lift the lockdown measures it enacted in mid-November on Wednesday, as more people recover from the illness.

Only Arviat, which has 86 active cases, will continue to be in lockdown for at least another two weeks, with travel restrictions in place, Nunavut officials said.

The territory reported four new cases Monday, bringing the total to 181.

Out east, six new infections have been recorded in New Brunswick today, while Newfoundland and Labrador reported one.

Nova Scotia reported 16 new cases of COVID-19, bringing its total of active cases to 138.

On Sunday, the federal government announced it will extend a series of travel restrictions meant to limit the spread of COVID-19 into January, in light of the steady rise in case counts across the country.

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair and Hajdu said in a statement the measures, which were first enacted near the start of the global health crisis, would be in effect until Jan. 21, 2021, for travellers entering Canada from a country other than the United States.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 30, 2020.

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