It’s been a tough year, but with a light at the end of the tunnel now is not the time to drop our defences against the novel coronavirus, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday.
“Our fight against this virus is far from over even as we’re preparing to say goodbye — and good riddance — to 2020,” Trudeau said. “It may be the holiday season but we have to be more careful than ever.”
Vaccinations against COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, began rolling out this week nearly a year after the pandemic transformed life for many in Canada and around the world.
As Canada embarks on the largest immunization campaign in its history, Trudeau said he is confident the country has the planning and expertise in place to get the job done.
While that’s good news, the prime minister cautioned that there’s still a long way to go.
“We are still very much in the middle of this second wave,” Trudeau said.
Prime Minister Trudeau meets with COVID-19 vaccine recipients in Ottawa
Trudeau confirmed Friday that Canada is set to receive 500,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine by the end of January, with 125,000 doses of the vaccine arriving every week.
Four million doses of the Pfizer vaccine should arrive in Canada by the end of March, Procurement Minister Anita Anand said at a separate press conference Friday. That’s enough to vaccinate two million people.
Canada should also see doses of the Moderna vaccine begin to arrive before the end of December, pending regulatory approval, with more to come in the first few months of 2021.
Priority groups are first in line, with the goal of administering vaccines to the majority of Canadians by the end of the summer.
“With the guaranteed millions of doses coming in 2021, every Canadian who wants a vaccine will get one, no matter where they live,” Trudeau said.
But that promise of a future vaccine won’t help you if you become ill with COVID-19 while you wait for your turn, Trudeau said.
“Getting a vaccine in a week or in a month won’t do you any good if you catch COVID-19 today,” Trudeau said. “That’s why we need to keep working to halt the spread of COVID-19. So please continue to follow public guidelines.”
Canada is seeing daily case counts soar to new heights in the days heading into the Christmas holiday season. More than 7,000 confirmed cases of the virus were confirmed Thursday, marking a new daily milestone as infections continue to climb at a worrying rate.
Two of the largest provinces — Ontario and Alberta — hit grim milestones this week, as well. Ontario marked a new record of daily cases, while Alberta saw its highest number of deaths in a single day since the pandemic began.
There is growing pressure to further tighten restrictions within the hardest-hit parts of the country, particularly as hospitals fall under increasing strain. Doctors in Ontario have called for further shutdowns, warning of bed shortages, and increased deaths should the number of patients continue to grow.
Hospitals in Alberta and Quebec are warning of similar outcomes. Many have been forced to scale back health-care services and elective surgeries to attend to COVID-19 patients — an indication that things are headed for the worst, experts say.
The concerning numbers are starkly juxtaposed with the arrival of vaccines in Canada.
Coronavirus: Canada secures 2nd agreement with Moderna for early vaccine doses
Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine has already been doled out in a number of provinces. A second vaccine, from Moderna, is expected to be approved by Health Canada soon with 168,000 doses set to arrive in the country before the end of the year.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is also working toward issuing an emergency use authorization of the vaccine. U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence alluded to the imminent approval while he received his vaccination on Friday morning during a live televised event.
“The American people can be confident: we have one and perhaps within hours two safe vaccines,” Pence said.
The good news about vaccines has led many health experts, including Canada’s top doctors, to warn people not to let their guard down, especially as the busy holiday season approaches.
“It is important to remember that the vast majority of Canadians remain susceptible to COVID-19,” Canada’s chief medical officer Dr. Theresa Tam said in a statement Thursday.
— with files from Global News’ Sean Boynton
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Sunday – CBC.ca
Canada’s chief public health officer says the country is in a “critical” stage of the COVID-19 pandemic and is urging Canadians not to let up.
“At this stage of the pandemic, many of us are experiencing mental fatigue and exhaustion, which is certainly normal and expected,” Dr. Theresa Tam said in a statement on Sunday.
“The past year has been challenging and a lot has been asked of Canadians — to stay home, wear a mask, limit gatherings and adopt new ways of living and working, among others.”
Tam compared the pandemic to a marathon and said Canada is at “a critical point in the race.”
1/3 <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/COVID19?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#COVID19</a> key concerns in 🇨🇦 : a recent downward trend in daily case counts, is primarily being driven by decreasing cases in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario & Quebec; but renewed activity is being seen elsewhere…
“We are partway through, but with the current momentum of the epidemic and continued high rates of infection in many areas of the country, now is the time to strengthen our resolve, regroup and make sure that we have the stamina to keep our pace and make it across the finish line,” she said.
Tam also continued to urge Canadians to follow public health guidelines on wearing masks, physical distancing and frequent handwashing, saying they play a vital role in curbing the spread of more transmissible coronavirus variants.
“With vaccines rolling out in Canada and across the world, I am hopeful that the finish line will soon be in sight,” Tam said. “Together we can win this race.”
Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau says the federal government won’t rule out invoking the federal Emergencies Act to limit travel.
“We are looking at all potential actions to make sure that we can achieve our aims. The Emergencies Act is something you don’t consider lightly,” Garneau said in a Sunday interview on Rosemary Barton Live.
“But we are first and foremost concerned about the health and safety of Canadians. And if we can do that in a way that we have the regulatory power to do it, we will do it.”
WATCH | Garneau says not ruling out using Emergencies Act to limit travel:
The Emergencies Act would give cabinet the power to regulate or prohibit travel “to, from or within any specified area, where necessary for the protection of the health or safety of individuals.”
On Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged Canadians to rethink all travel plans inside and outside Canada’s borders, particularly as March break approaches.
What’s happening across Canada
As of 1:45 p.m. ET on Sunday, Canada had reported 746,660 cases of COVID-19, with 63,793 cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 19,067.
Saskatchewan reported 260 new COVID-19 cases and three more deaths on Sunday.
Manitoba announced 222 new cases and two additional deaths. More than half of the new cases — 116 — are in the province’s northern region, which was excluded from Saturday’s easing of some strict pandemic restrictions.
Quebec reported 1,457 new cases and 41 more deaths.
WATCH | Montreal woman ‘shocked’ after mother received doses of 2 different vaccines:
New Brunswick is reporting 20 new cases. The figure comes a day after the Edmundston region went into full lockdown.
Nova Scotia added one new case, but its active caseload dipped as it also announced two recoveries. Starting Monday, the province will ease some restrictions on sports and the performing arts.
Newfoundland and Labrador saw no new cases.
In Prince Edward Island, more people were allowed in churches and other places of worship after the province eased some measures this weekend.
Nunavut says it will tighten restrictions in Arviat after the territory announced 13 new infections in the hard-hit community.
In Yukon, the White River First Nation in Beaver Creek is calling for a harsher penalty against two Vancouver residents who broke COVID-19 rules and got vaccinated in the community.
What’s happening around the world
As of Sunday, more than 98.9 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, with more than 54.6 million of the cases considered resolved or recovered, according to the coronavirus tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than 2.1 million.
In Africa, four Zimbabwean cabinet ministers have died of COVID-19 — three within the past two weeks — highlighting a resurgence of the disease in the country.
In Europe, the French government says it may impose a third lockdown in the coming days if an existing 12-hour-a-day curfew doesn’t significantly slow virus infections.
In Asia-Pacific, New Zealand has reported its first coronavirus case outside of a quarantine facility in more than two months, although there was no immediate evidence the virus was spreading in the community.
In the Americas, the U.S. has surpassed 25 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began. The country accounts for roughly one of every four cases reported worldwide and one of every five deaths.
Taxpayers' watchdog sees complaints spike, raising worries about pandemic tax season – CTV News
Canada’s taxpayers’ ombudsperson says his office has seen a steep spike in complaints compared to one year ago, delivering an early warning about how complicated returns should be handled this year.
Francois Boileau says the number of complaints from taxpayers about the Canada Revenue Agency was up 93 per cent in December from the same month in 2019.
Urgent requests, for people in dire financial straits, are up 120 per cent since the start of the pandemic, he says.
Boileau says the statistics paint a portrait of the difficult circumstances some Canadians find themselves in as a result of COVID-19, and the need for the agency to improve services for the coming tax season.
He says too many Canadians still spend hours trying to get through to a call centre agent.
Boileau adds that delays are especially frustrating for people who received the Canada Emergency Response Benefit last year and are now trying to sort out whether they have to repay some of the aid.
Just a few weeks ago, the CRA sent out letters to 441,000 people questioning their eligibility for the CERB, and warning they may owe back some of the payments. The Liberals have promised leniency for people who will have problems paying the money back, but have yet to say what options will be available.
Boileau noted that some callers continue to complain about waiting five hours or more to speak with an agent.
He says he is worried the CRA won’t be able to meet response-time standards as the calendar ticks closer to what will likely be a complicated tax season due to the pandemic.
“I hope it (won’t) be,” Boileau says. “They are preparing for it. They know what’s going on and they’re taking all the necessary steps.”
While the pandemic has been a focus of Boileau in his first few months as ombudsperson, his office continues to work away on a review of how the CRA has handled the processing of Canada Child Benefit payments.
Boileau’s predecessor, Sherra Profit, launched the review of the CCB in late 2019 after three years of flagging overly stringent eligibility rules that prevented payments to some of Canada’s most vulnerable families.
In some cases, newcomer families to Canada haven’t receive child benefits because they can’t get needed documents, such as a note from a school or family doctor. In other situations, women fleeing domestic violence have felt like they need to get their partner’s signatures on forms and other information about custody — despite the government promising that wouldn’t be the case.
Boileau says some of these situations add complications for the CRA, which has to take time to sort things out.
“It takes time and time is of the essence with the CCB,” he says.
“It’s really touching the lives of citizens, taxpayers that are in a vulnerable state of mind.”
Boileau says his officials are currently reviewing answers from the agency to some additional questions, although there is no firm timeline on when the review will be complete.
The office of the federal auditor general is doing its own review of the CCB, which it expects to publish this year. According to the auditor general’s website, the review will focus on whether recipients were eligible for the benefits, and that payments are made in a timely and accurate manner.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 24, 2021.
'It wasn't called COVID at the time:' One year since Canada's first COVID-19 case – CTV News
The patient, when he came into the hospital ER with what seemed to be mild pneumonia, wasn’t that sick and might otherwise have been sent home.
Except the man had just returned from China, where a new viral disease was spreading like a brush fire. His chest X-rays were also unusual.
“We’d never seen a case like this before,” says Dr. Jerome Leis. “I’d never seen an X-ray quite like that one.”
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It was the evening of Jan. 23, 2020, when the team at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre decided to admit the 56-year-old patient. That same day, Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, told the country:
“The risk of an outbreak in Canada remains low,” Tam said in a refrain she and other officials would repeat for weeks on end.
Less than two days after admission to Sunnybrook, the man would become “Patient Zero” — the first COVID-19 case in Canada.
For several weeks, Leis, the hospital’s medical director of infection prevention and control, had been anticipating just such a moment. He had known since the end of December about the outbreak in Wuhan, China, and he’d been following Chinese authorities as they published information about the new pathogen and its effects.
Drawing on lessons learned from the SARS epidemic years earlier, Sunnybrook’s screening staff were already asking new specific questions of incoming patients. Protocols were sharpened. Just that morning, in fact, internal-medicine residents and faculty had done a refresher around protective gear.
“We were extremely suspicious that this was the novel coronavirus that had been described,” Leis says. “It does feel like a lifetime ago and yet it does just seem like yesterday.”
Dr. Lynfa Stroud, on-call general internist and division head of general internal medicine at Sunnybrook, was notified the new patient needed to be admitted.
“We didn’t know what exactly we were dealing with,” Stroud says. “We had early reports of presentations and how people evolved. We were a bit nervous but we felt very well prepared.”
The following day, as China was locking down Hubei province, Dr. Peter Donnelly, then head of Public Health Ontario, was asked about lockdowns in Canada. “Absolutely not,” he declared: “If a case comes here, and it is probably likely that we will have a case here, it will still be business as normal.”
Confirmation of the clinicians’ suspicions at Sunnybrook would come from the agency’s laboratory, which had been working furiously to develop and validate a suitable test for the novel coronavirus based on information from China. The agency’s lab had been testing samples for two weeks when the Sunnybrook call came in.
“They sent a sample to us in a cab,” says Dr. Vanessa Allen, chief of microbiology and laboratory science at Public Health Ontario.
It would be the start of a round-the-clock effort to test and retest the new samples.
“The last thing you need is a false signal or some kind of misunderstanding,” says Allen, who had been a resident during the SARS outbreak.
By about midday of Saturday, Jan. 25, the lab was sure it had identified the new organism that would soon take over the world and become a household name.
“It wasn’t called COVID at the time,” Allen says of the disease.
Over at Sunnybrook, Leis received the confirmation without much surprise.
“It was consistent with what we were seeing and what we suspected,” he says. “I was actually happy that the lab was able to confirm it.”
Within hours, public health authorities would let the country know that Canada had its first case of the “Wuhan novel coronavirus,” although further confirmation from the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg was pending.
“I want Ontarians to know that the province is prepared to actively identify, prevent and control the spread of this serious infectious disease in Ontario,” Health Minister Christine Elliott declared as the province announced a new “dedicated web page” for latest information.
The wife of “Patient Zero” would also soon be confirmed as COVID-19 positive but was able to self-isolate at home.
“This (man) was one of the first cases to report on the more milder spectrum of disease, which was not something we were aware of,” Leis says. “It helped to teach us about the larger spectrum in disease severity that we see with COVID-19, which is very different from SARS.”
Looking back now at their roles in a small piece of Canadian pandemic history, those involved talk about how much we didn’t know about a virus that has since infected three-quarters of a million people in Canada, killing more than 18,800 of them.
“The initial detection, in some ways, was the easy part,” Allen says. “This virus and the implications are extremely humbling, and just the prolonged nature and impact of this was certainly not on my radar in January of last year.”
Yet treating “Patient Zero” and his wife afforded valuable lessons about what was then a poorly understood disease. For one thing, it became apparent that most of those afflicted don’t need hospital admission — hugely important given the massive number of infections and resulting stresses on critical-care systems.
“To be honest: We would have sent this patient home from the emergency room,” Stroud says. “We admitted him because, at that time, it wasn’t known very well what the course of illness was.”
Sunnybrook alone has now assessed more than 4,000 COVID-19 patients. To survive the onslaught, the hospital developed a program in which patients are screened and, if possible, sent to self-isolate under remote medical supervision.
Both “Patient Zero” and his wife recovered. Their cases would mark Canada’s first minor health-care skirmish of what was to become an all-out global defensive war against COVID-19. It also marked the beginning of relentless work hours for those on the front lines of health care.
For health-care workers, it’s been a long year since those first energized, if anxious, days one year ago. There’s a weariness in their voices, a recognition the war is still raging, even as vaccines developed with stunning alacrity offer some hope of a truce.
“We have been working essentially non-stop since last January and it’s not slowing down now,” Leis says. “Health-care teams are tired. There’s a lot of concern about burnout. It’s been challenging for sure.”
Despite COVID-19’s deadly toll, the vast majority of COVID-19 patients, like “Patient Zero,” recover. Still, even for some of those, their battle might never be over.
“These people just don’t get magically better,” Stroud says. “Some will have lifelong lung scarring and damage to their lungs.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 24, 2021.
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