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Hinshaw urging Albertans to get their flu shot this year – 660 News



CALGARY (660 NEWS) — Alberta’s top doctor is urging Albertans to roll up their sleeves Monday and get their flu shots this year.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw wants to limit emergency visits and hospitalizations from influenza as the province continues to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Influenza is not new like COVID-19 but it is very serious,” Hinshaw said.

“The more that we can avoid influenza-related tests, emergency visits, and hospitalizations, the stronger our system will be to support those with COVID-19 and all other health needs.”

Hinshaw says about 8,500 Albertans contracted the flu last winter, resulting in 41 people deaths.

One in three Albertans were immunized for influenza last year, an increase from 2018/19. Hinshaw says the province must do better this year.

“The flu shot won’t prevent COVID-19, but it will reduce your chances of getting sick with influenza and spreading it to others,” she said.

Alberta Health Services (AHS) is offering vaccines through pre-booked appointments only to children under five years of age and their family and household members.

Alberta has ordered 1.96 million doses of the influenza vaccine.

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B.C. could allow outdoor gatherings, sports and some religious ceremonies in coming weeks – CTV News Vancouver



Health officials in British Columbia could soon be easing some of the tough COVID-19 restrictions that have been in place across the province for months.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the government is considering a relaxation of restrictions over the coming weeks that could allow residents to return to sports, attend some religious ceremonies, and gather together outdoors.

“I’d like to think of it as slowly turning up the dial again, rather than flicking a switch, because we know that we’re not yet in a place where we can go back to our pre-pandemic gatherings,” Henry said.

“What we are looking at as we head into March break or spring break, at the end of this week and into next week, is seeing the return of things like gatherings outside where it’s safer.”

Henry did not provide any further details on what those outdoor gatherings could look like.

She did hint at the possibility families or small household groups would also be allowed to travel between different regions during March break, but stressed that people should avoid “places that are not yet ready to receive visitors.”

“The risk is different in different communities in this province and we need to be mindful of that,” she added.

The provincial health officer said the resumption of sports and certain religious events could also happen in the coming weeks. Though she did not provide a firm timeline, she suggested people could be sitting in pews for Easter.

‘We know there are many important dates coming up in many faiths, and we are working on how to best safely enable these important and critical celebrations in our religious life,” Henry said.

None of the restrictions have been relaxed yet.

Less than two weeks ago, Henry broke the news that B.C. was not ready to take its foot off the brakes, pointing to a number of alarming metrics that officials use to determine the severity of the pandemic.

Those included a gradually increasing seven-day average for new cases, and an increasing COVID-19 test positivity rate.

The weekly average has hovered around 500 per day since, and increased to 520 in recent days.

Henry said the continually expanded understanding of COVID-19 variants of concern, rising temperatures and the ramping up of the province’s immunization program are among the factors being weighed in the government’s decision-making.

“It continues to be true that outside is better than inside, bigger spaces are better than smaller spaces, and our layers of protection will still be needed, and still work, even with the increasing numbers of cases caused by more infectious variants,” she said.

“As we head into the spring and summer, we know that the transmissibility starts to fade, as well. These principles will be guiding our decisions in the coming weeks.”

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



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



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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