OTTAWA — The fraught year of 2020 may be over, but experts warn the dawn of a new year doesn’t mean an end to the troubles caused by the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Patients in multiple Canadian hotspots are flooding hospitals at an alarming rate and expected to arrive in even greater numbers in the weeks to come, doctors and health centres said Friday.
“If these rates of increase continue the way they are, the months of January and February are absolutely going to be brutal. It’s just a question of how brutal will it be,” said Anthony Dale, head of the Ontario Hospital Association.
One-fifth of the province’s intensive care capacity is now devoted to COVID-19 patients, with Toronto and the regions of Peel, York, and Windsor-Essex hardest hit.
Dale said 45 of the 149 COVID-19 patients admitted into intensive care in Ontario last week have died.
“We will see accelerating numbers of unnecessary deaths — more people dying. We will see more people suffering in intensive care and in hospitals,” he said, calling the situation “totally unsustainable.”
The spike could jeopardize elective surgeries and other care. Some hospitals have already started to cancel procedures, adding to the backlog created after 160,000 were nixed in the first wave, he added.
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“Even though COVID’s going on, people still get cancer, they still get heart disease, they still need organ transplants.”
He said the pandemic has prompted staff shortages at numerous hospitals, with some front-line workers redeployed to testing centres, labs and long-term care homes.
Hospitals in the greater Montreal area are on track to exceed capacity within the next three weeks, with almost two-thirds of beds designated for coronavirus patients already occupied, according to a report from INESSS, a government-funded health institute.
“Unfortunately, if the trend continues, this will have to be compensated in particular by the additional shedding of non-COVID treatments in our hospitals,” Quebec Health Minister Christian Dube said Thursday in a Twitter post in French.
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However, the projection did not take into account Premier Francois Legault’s shutdown of all non-essential businesses in the province from Dec. 25 to Jan. 11., which could help curb the spread, said Dr. Luc Boileau, who heads the institute.
“The good news behind all of this is the vaccinations coming on,” Boileau said. “The impact of this will be manifest on the outbreaks inside health services and of course lowering mortality.”
Nearly 500,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which requires ultracold storage, have been distributed across the Canada since Health Canada approved it on Dec. 9.
The Moderna vaccine — green-lighted on Dec. 23 — has also started to roll off tarmacs, beginning to reach remote and First Nations communities over the past week. Its -20 C storage temperatures make for easier delivery compared to the -70 C needed for the Pfizer vaccine.
The country’s not in the clear yet.
Individuals need to make sensible choices around social distancing and staying home, said Tim Sly, an epidemiologist and professor emeritus at Ryerson University’s School of Public Health.
“We’re still seeing knucklehead parties from seven to 14 to 25 people, raving out there with no masks, lots of booze and drinking and hugging and kissing and so on,” Sly said. “That’s avoidable.”
Public officials are not above making dubious travel choices, with several prominent politicians taking heat for holiday travel despite public-health guidelines to stay home.
On Friday evening, the federal NDP released a statement saying that MP Niki Ashton travelled to Greece to see an ill family member, and would consequently be relieved of her shadow cabinet roles, which include transportation.
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“While we are sympathetic to Ms. Ashton’s situation and understand her need to be with her family, millions of Canadians are following public health guidelines, even when it made it impossible for them to visit sick or aging relatives,” the party said.
Earlier, Rod Phillips resigned as Ontario’s finance minister after cutting short a Caribbean vacation, while Alberta Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard came under fire for a Hawaiian getaway from Dec. 19 to Dec. 31.
Surgeries typically ramp-up following a winter holiday lull, but more could now be sidelined due to the ripple effects of rule-flouting, said Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious disease physician at St. Joseph’s hospital in Hamilton and an associate professor at McMaster University.
“If there’s no beds to put those patients in afterwards, unfortunately those surgeries just get cancelled,” he said.
St. Joseph’s has opened a satellite site in a revamped hotel, transferring dozens of patients to the renovated facility in order to keep the main health centre’s occupancy rate below 90 per cent to handle the expected surge.
“We’re filled to the brim,” Chagla said.
“I have patients that didn’t have COVID but had horrible outcomes because … they weren’t able to access care the way they should,” he added, recalling the first wave.
“I’m very worried about those individuals again going into the next three to four months, that we’re going to see a fallout of people that have missed cancer diagnoses or infections that needed to be treated earlier.
“It’s a lot of strain on a system that is already strained,” he said.
Most provinces and territories are not reporting new data on Friday due to the holidays.
New Brunswick added two new COVID-19 cases Friday, pushing its provincial total to 601.
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The Yukon added another four cases as well, with the territory’s total caseload standing at 64.
Canada’s two largest provinces reported new record highs of COVID-19 cases on Thursday.
Ontario reported 3,328 new cases and 56 more deaths linked to the virus, matching the highest death toll from the first wave. In Quebec, there were 2,819 new cases and 62 deaths.
The Public Health Agency of Canada said Thursday more than 720 patients hospitalized with the virus are now receiving treatment in ICUs, including 337 in Ontario and 165 in Quebec.
© 2021 The Canadian Press
Canada should formally apologize for slavery, Essex historian says – CBC.ca
A Windsor-Essex historian wants the Canadian government to formally apologize for slavery, and she’s seeking the support of local municipalities in her advocacy efforts.
Elise Harding-Davis said an apology from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau could bring about healing and acknowledgement of the effects of slavery.
“African-Canadians might feel a little more comfortable in their own country, the country that they fought for … the country they’ve contributed mightily to and not gotten a fair shake,” said Harding-Davis, who lives in Harrow, Ont.
Harding-Davis spoke with CBC Radio’s Tony Doucette on Windsor Morning.
Slavery was outlawed in the British Empire in 1834, more than 30 years before confederation. Even though slavery pre-dates Canada, the nation still benefited from the vestiges of it, she said, and Black people were not invited to become citizens until 1911.
“People don’t know these things,” Harding-Davis said. “There were many, many anti-Black legislations over the years.”
Harding-Davis has written to the prime minister several times advocating for the apology and was also behind a petition last year.
She’s currently seeking support from municipalities in the the Windsor-Essex region and has letters of support from the towns of Essex and Amherstburg.
Harding-Davis appeared before Lakeshore town council on Tuesday to deliver a presentation on the topic, and council agreed to send a letter of support to Ottawa.
2017 UN report calls on Canada to apologize
Harding-Davis’ concerns reflect mounting criticism that the legacy of slavery within Canada has gone unacknowledged.
A 2017 report from a working group of the United Nations Human Rights Council noted that the enslavement of Black people in what’s now Canada began in the 16th century.
“Canada’s history of enslavement, racial segregation and marginalization of African Canadians has left a legacy of anti-Black racism and had a deleterious impact on people of African descent, which must be addressed in partnership with the affected communities,” the report’s authors stated.
The report called on Canada to apologize for the enslavement of Black Canadians, consider reparations and take steps to preserve the history of slavery in Canada, as well as the contributions of Black Canadians.
Prime Minister Trudeau asked about slavery apology
Last June, in the midst of the global reckoning on anti-Black racism sparked by the death of George Floyd at the hands of police, Trudeau was asked about the UN report and an apology for slavery.
He did not provide a direct answer but said the government has worked closely with the community to support Black Canadians and acknowledged more needs to be done.
Reached for comment on Tuesday, the Prime Minister’s Office referred CBC News to the office of Bardish Chagger, the minister responsible for diversity and inclusion as well as youth.
A statement from a spokesperson did not say whether the government would move ahead with an apology, but referenced the government’s recognition of the International Decade for People of African Descent and a 2020 private members’ motion to recognize Emancipation Day, which marks the abolition of slavery.
“Recognizing Emancipation Day at the federal level would be another step forward in acknowledging the multi-generational harms caused by slavery and the contributions peoples of African descent in Canada have made throughout generations,” the spokesperson said in an email.
The spokesperson went on to say that more needs to be done to tackle anti-Black racism and bring about awareness of Black history — “which is why we are committed to do the work.”
Over the years, Trudeau and his predecessors have formally apologized for historical injustices against various groups.
Among the official apologies include several to Indigenous peoples, an apology over the Chinese head tax and an apology for sending Japanese-Canadians to internment camps during the Second World War.
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How the spread of coronavirus variants could completely change the pandemic in Canada – CBC.ca
This is an excerpt from Second Opinion, a weekly roundup of health and medical science news emailed to subscribers every Saturday morning. If you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do that by clicking here.
More contagious strains of the coronavirus have rapidly spread to more than 50 countries around the world, raising concerns that they may already be silently driving spikes in cases in Canada that threaten to overwhelm the healthcare system.
Variants recently identified in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil are transmitting much more easily than the original strain, with the first estimated to be at least 56 per cent more transmissible.
But while early research shows the variants don’t necessarily lead to an increase in severe illness, health experts are growing more concerned about the effect the more transmissible variants could have on our already strained hospitals.
“We’re already at a breaking point,” said Dr. Susy Hota, an infectious disease specialist at the University Health Network and an associate professor of medicine at the University of Toronto.
“It’s happening at a time when the system’s already stressed to the point of potentially being overwhelmed.”
Dr. Eric Topol, a U.S. physician, scientist and clinical trials expert who heads the Scripps Research Translational Institute in California, said he’s “deeply concerned” about the spread of the new variants globally.
“If a strain is more infectious, substantially more, that means more deaths, more hospitalizations, more ‘long COVID,'” he told CBC News.
“We keep hearing it doesn’t cause worse illness. Well, it doesn’t have to — it just causes more people to have that same illness.”
Topol said the variant first found in the U.K., also known as B117, exhibits changes in the spike protein — a key component of how the coronavirus binds to human cells. He said that those changes are likely behind its higher transmission, with the altered spike protein potentially allowing the coronavirus to infect cells more easily.
“A virus that was substantially more fit to infect more people was the last thing we needed right now, and we’ve got it and it’s not going away,” he said.
“The only thing we can do is slow its spread.”
How bad is the situation with variants in Canada?
Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said Friday officials “continue to monitor” the spread of the variants in Canada, with at least 25 known cases to date.
Ontario has already identified 14 cases of B117, three of which have no known link to international travel. That prompted concerns from officials it could already be driving spread more than detected in hard-hit regions of the province.
“If that’s confirmed, we have evidence then of community transmission and that is a very serious concern that the vaccine will not be able to address quickly enough,” Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario’s associate chief medical officer of health, said this week. “It’s very likely that we have more that we’re not aware of.”
Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, dean of the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health and co-chair of Ontario’s COVID-19 science advisory table, said if B117 continues to spread in Ontario the rate of new cases could rise to “scary,” “almost near-vertical” levels.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if by the time we prove that there is community transmission definitively, it’s already spread like wildfire,” said Hota. “It’s just the nature of the beast.”
Brown added the variant could already be driving “a very dramatic growth in cases” in certain parts of the province, similar to the way it did in the United Kingdom despite strict public health restrictions.
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“What we’re detecting is likely only the tip of the iceberg,” said Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti, an infectious disease specialist at Trillium Health Partners in Mississauga, Ont. “We absolutely cannot discount the possibility that it is here and it’s already having some kind of influence on the spread.”
British Columbia identified its first case of the variant first found in South Africa on Thursday, in addition to four previously discovered cases of B117.
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Thursday officials are investigating how the latest case became infected with the variant, due to the fact that they also had no known link to travel.
“It is, of course, concerning we don’t know where this arose,” she said, signalling the variants could be spreading more widely in the community.
Five cases of B117 have also been confirmed in Alberta, along with one case of the variant first discovered in South Africa, but officials say all of those cases are travel-related.
Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada’s deputy chief public health officer, said during a press conference Thursday that the mutation of the coronavirus is “normal” and that the “emergence of variants is not unusual or unexpected.”
WATCH | WHO says new U.K. studies confirm variant of COVID-19 more transmissible:
He added that while Canada initially stopped all flights from the UK over fears the variant could spread here, that ban was lifted last week in favour of mandating all travellers into the country present a negative COVID-19 test.
On Friday, scientists with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released modelling data that warned by March, B117 could become the dominant strain in the United States.
Jason Kindrachuk, an assistant professor of viral pathogenesis at the University of Manitoba and Canada Research Chair of emerging viruses, said he’s concerned Canada may be unprepared for cases of the variant increasing “underneath the surface.”
“We can’t judge when there’s going to be that sudden rise,” he said.
“You get a sense of the storm that could be coming and you’re watching that tsunami warning getting louder and louder — we need to be ready for this.”
Kindrachuk says the fact B117 took over as a main circulating strain in Ireland, England and Denmark in just a matter of weeks is “gravely concerning” for Canada because of the risk it could spread more widely here.
“The increases in cases we’re seeing right now are already concerning, but that’s not due to the variants,” he said. “So what happens when the variants start to take hold in different regions?”
Saskatchewan is the only province that currently says all of its COVID-19 testing will detect the B117 variant, while other provinces said that they only send positive test samples for further scrutiny if the context warrants.
“We’re not necessarily picking up on the cases of the known variants,” said Hota. “There may be other variants that are evolving as well under our noses.”
“The bottom line is, you don’t want to be stuck in a situation where by the time you have that information, it’s already your dominant strain.”
While efforts are underway to find a quicker way to test for variants, the current “deep sequencing” required is both expensive and time consuming — taking days to over a week to get results, said Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious diseases physician at St. Joseph’s Healthcare in Hamilton, Ont.
What can be done to prevent the spread of variants?
While many of the public health guidelines recommended to stop the spread of the coronavirus are thought to be effective against the variants, experts say we should be doubling down on them and avoiding risky situations.
“Think of it this way, we don’t need to do more of the same — we need to do better of the same,” Dr. Tom Frieden, the former director of the CDC told CBC News. “It’s all about limiting risk.”
Physical distancing, mask wearing, hand hygiene and avoiding crowds are all effective, but Frieden says people should also reduce their time spent indoors with those they don’t live with, wear better quality masks such as N95s or surgical masks and have as few in-person interactions with others as possible.
WATCH | What scientists know about the new coronavirus variant (Jan. 8):
Frieden said that means, if possible, spending a few minutes in the grocery store to pick up essential items, or ordering online, as opposed to going in for an extended period to shop.
“In the past, with the earlier strain it was harder to get infected with it — you might have been in the same room, you might have been the same distance, and you would have evaded it,” said Topol. “But now, this has a more aggressive ability to infect.”
Frieden said at a population level, countries like Canada should focus on vaccinating as many people as they can as quickly as possible — especially older age groups and long-term care residents.
“Vaccines are enormously important. They’re the single most powerful tool that we have,” he said, “but a vaccination program is going to take a long time to go out.”
“The more we don’t take precautions, the more we can see explosive exponential spread.”
To read the entire Second Opinion newsletter every Saturday morning, subscribe by clicking here.
Canada records over 6,800 new COVID-19 cases as officials announce vaccine delay – Global News
Canada added over 6,800 new cases of the novel coronavirus Friday as federal officials revealed that vaccine shipments to the country would be delayed for four weeks over production issues.
In a press conference Friday, Procurement Minister Anita Anand said that only half of Pfizer-BioNTech’s promised COVID-19 vaccine doses would arrive in the next month.
The delay, which would impact production for a “short period” according to her, would be made up by the end of March and was due to the company scaling up its manufacturing capacity for European countries.
“This expansion work means that Pfizer is temporarily reducing deliveries to all countries receiving vaccine manufactured at its European facility — and that includes Canada,” said Anand, who reassured that the setback would not impact Canada’s long-term vaccination plan.
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Several provincial leaders including Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, B.C.’s Health Minister Adrian Dix and Ontario Premier Doug Ford have since raised concern over the delay, as a second shot of the Pfizer vaccine is expected to be administered within 21 days of the first for it to achieve maximum efficacy.
News of the delay also comes amid new federal COVID-19 modelling that showed the country was on track to surpass 10,000 new cases of the virus a day by February if Canadians kept maintaining the “current number of people we contact each day.”
Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam, who presented the modelling at a media conference, said that the rise in new infections was largely due to Canadians gathering during the holidays.
According to her, current measures would have to be “further intensified” in order to curb the virus’ spread.
According to the modelling, virus cases could potentially surge past 30,000 a day if Canadians increased their current contacts each day by February.
“If we ease measures too soon the epidemic will resurge even more strongly,” said Tam.
Coronavirus: Canada’s deliveries of Pfizer vaccine hit by ‘temporary delay,’ Anand says
As of Friday evening, cases of COVID-19 in Canada floated at just under the 700,000 mark, though a total of 601,000 people have since recovered. Deaths linked to COVID-19 now stand at 17,729 after another 192 fatalities were reported.
To date, more than 20,238,921 tests have been administered and at least 765,100 doses of the vaccine have been distributed across Canada.
Ontario reported the highest number of infections Friday with another 2,998 cases as well as 100 deaths, though 46 of those deaths were reported to have occurred earlier in the pandemic.
Quebec added another 1,918 cases Friday as well as another 62 deaths. More than 8,900 deaths have now been recorded in the province, which is the hardest hit in Canada.
Health officials in B.C. announced another 500 lab-confirmed cases Friday as well, pushing the province’s official caseload to 59,583. Another 534 cases are considered “epi-linked,” which are cases that displayed symptoms and were in close contacts of confirmed cases but were never tested.
Nine of those epi-linked cases were included Friday’s count.
Another nine people were reported to have died from the virus there, with the province’s current death toll standing at 1,047.
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Alberta added another 785 cases Friday, pushing its total caseload to 115,370. The province’s death toll from the virus also stands at 1,402 after 21 more deaths were announced.
Saskatchewan reported another 386 cases and four more deaths, while Manitoba recorded 191 infections and five more fatalities.
Several provinces in Atlantic Canada also reported new cases of the virus Friday.
New Brunswick added another 25 cases, Nova Scotia two more and Newfoundland and Labrador another infection. P.E.I. did not report any new cases Friday.
In Canada’s North, only the Northwest Territories reported one case of the virus.
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The country’s increase in cases also comes amid another grim milestone as over two million people worldwide were reported to have succumbed to the virus since the start of the pandemic, according to Johns Hopkins University.
To date, more than 93,751,000 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19, with the U.S., India and Brazil continuing to lead in both infections and deaths.
— With files from The Canadian Press and Global News’ Rachel Gilmore and Katie Dangerfield.
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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