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
Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Monday – CBC.ca
With hospital intensive care units in parts of Ontario reaching capacity due to COVID-19, a new hospital will open in Vaughan, Ont., next month to help relieve pressure on other facilities in the Greater Toronto Area, the province announced Monday.
The Cortellucci Vaughan Hospital, due to open Feb. 7, will be a “dedicated resource to support the province’s COVID-19 response,” taking in critical patients from other hospitals, Premier Doug Ford said.
“It’s like reinforcements coming over the hill,” Ford said, adding that the province is also adding 500 additional surge capacity hospital beds in Toronto, Durham Region, Kingston, Ont., and Ottawa.
Canada’s vaccination efforts against COVID-19 took a notable step forward on Monday with the opening of mass immunization centres in Toronto and Brandon, Man. This follows the opening of a similar immunization supersite in Winnipeg two weeks ago.
Toronto’s supersite is being described as a “proof-of-concept” clinic that will help the city fine-tune the operation of its future clinics, “ensuring safety and increasing efficiency in advance of wider immunization,” according to a city news release.
Retired general Rick Hillier, who heads the province’s vaccine distribution plan, told CBC News on Sunday that Ontario wants to have everyone vaccinated by late July or early August.
The Toronto site is not open to members of the public and will instead operate with a sample group of health-care workers, including those involved in harm reduction and Streets to Homes staff who support the city’s vulnerable populations.
The clinic aims to vaccinate 250 people per day. However, due to the delay in obtaining the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine from Europe, the clinic inside the Metro Toronto Convention Centre is set to close until further notice after the work day on Friday, said Matthew Pegg, head of the city’s immunization task force.
He said anyone who got a first dose of the vaccine at the clinic will be able to receive a second dose within the recommended time frame.
Ontario reported 2,578 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, which is the fewest logged on a single day in about two and a half weeks. However, the province’s labs processed just 40,301 test samples for the novel coronavirus, nearly 20,000 fewer than the day before.
The province also reported 24 new deaths and a total of 1,571 patients with COVID-19 in hospital. Of those, 394 were being treated in intensive care units and 303 were on ventilators — the first time the latter has climbed above 300 since the pandemic began.
Meanwhile, vaccinations got underway at the mass vaccination site in Brandon on Monday morning, following an initial hiccup in which hundreds of health-care workers with immunization appointments were given the wrong address.
Joanna Robb, a cytotechnologist who works at Shared Health’s Westman Lab, which deals with COVID-19 specimens, was the first to receive a dose of the vaccine.
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“You hear the death tolls every day and the numbers, and it’s heartbreaking,” Robb said. “And we can do something.”
The Brandon site was slated to give out more than 550 shots on Monday alone, provincial officials said. The centre will be open 12 hour a day, seven days a week, for eligible health-care workers.
Manitoba registered 118 new COVID-19 cases and four more deaths on Monday. Forty-six of the new cases are in the province’s North Health Region.
What’s happening across Canada
As of 3:15 p.m. ET on Monday, Canada had reported 713,269 cases of COVID-19, with 74,475 cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 18,078.
Over the weekend, federal Procurement Minister Anita Anand sought to allay Canadians’ concerns about Pfizer’s decision to delay international vaccine deliveries while it upgrades its manufacturing facility.
Anand said on Twitter she has been in touch with the drugmaker and was assured that it is “deploying all efforts” to return to its regular delivery schedule “as soon as possible.” The minister said shipments for this coming week will be largely unaffected.
New Brunswick has rolled back the Edmundston and Grand Falls region to a more restrictive red phase, and other regions face the same prospect as the province continues to see a surge in COVID-19 cases.
The province reported 26 new cases on Monday. That follows a tally of 36 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday — 24 of them in the Edmundston and Grand Falls region, about 380 kilometres northwest of Saint John — marking its highest single-day total since the start of the pandemic.
The move to red-phase restrictions, which took effect in the region at midnight, mean some businesses — including movie theatres, barbershops and hair salons — must close, while restaurants can only operate with takeout and delivery. However, schools will remain open with additional health measures in place.
The rest of Atlantic Canada has not seen the recent spread of COVID-19 infections to the extent that New Brunswick has.
Newfoundland and Labrador added one new case on Sunday, in a person who returned home from work in Alberta.
P.E.I. reported four new cases on Monday, three of them linked to travel outside of Atlantic Canada and one involving someone who was in contact with a previously reported case, the province said in a news release.
In Quebec, high schoolers headed back to classrooms on Monday after a month at home, joining elementary students who returned to in-person instruction a week before the older kids. Among other health precautions, students must wear medical-grade masks and will be tested immediately if they show any COVID-19 symptoms.
The province reported 1,634 new cases on Monday, though it noted that a delay in the transmission of laboratory data caused a delay in the reporting of cases to public health departments on Sunday, as well as a drop in the number of new cases reported.
It also reported 32 deaths, nine of which occurred in the last 24 hours and 23 that occurred between Jan. 11 and 16.
Saskatchewan added 290 new COVID-19 cases and four more deaths on Monday.
The province administered 2,449 doses of COVID-19 vaccine on Sunday. The total number of vaccines administered in the province has now reached 22,618.
Alberta will have no more COVID-19 doses available to administer by the end of Monday or early Tuesday due to the Pfizer supply disruption, Premier Jason Kenney has announced.
The premier told a news conference on Monday that the province is putting a temporary hold on the first dose of COVID-19 vaccinations to ensure it has enough vaccine to provide a second dose to people who have already received their first shot.
Alberta eased some public health restrictions on Monday, allowing personal and wellness service businesses to reopen by appointment only. The province reported 750 new COVID-19 cases and 19 new deaths on Sunday.
In British Columbia, Kelowna RCMP issued a $2,300 fine to the organizer of a protest in the city’s downtown area on Saturday that contravened provincial public health orders related to COVID-19. Police did not name the organizer but said this is the third time they have issued a fine to this person for organizing a large gathering of people opposed to measures meant to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
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In the North, Northwest Territories health officials placed the hamlet of Fort Liard under a two-week containment order after three cases were discovered in the community.
A dozen employees of Agnico Eagle’s Meliadine gold mine in Nunavut are now in self-isolation after a worker at the mine tested positive for COVID-19, the company said in a news release on Friday. There have been nine confirmed cases of COVID-19 at the mine since the start of the pandemic, an Agnico Eagle spokesperson told CBC News on Saturday via email.
Meanwhile, members of Yukon‘s two mobile COVID-19 vaccination teams held one last dry-run at a Whitehorse high school on Friday before hitting the road.
What’s happening around the world
As of Monday afternoon, more than 95.3 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, with more than 52.4 million of those considered recovered or resolved, according to Johns Hopkins University’s COVID-19 case tracking tool. The global death toll stood at more than two million.
The head of the World Health Organization says it’s “not right” that younger, healthier adults in rich countries get vaccinated against COVID-19 before older people in poorer countries.
Director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus kicked off WHO’s week-long executive board meeting — virtually from its headquarters in Geneva — on Monday by lamenting that only 25 vaccine doses have been provided in a single poor country, while more than 39 million doses have been administered in nearly 50 richer nations.
“Just 25 doses have been given in one lowest-income country — not 25 million, not 25,000 — just 25. I need to be blunt,” Tedros said. He did not specify the country.
Tedros again criticized “bilateral deals” between drug companies and countries that hurt the ability of the WHO-backed COVAX program, which aims to get vaccines to all countries based on need.
“Most manufacturers have prioritized regulatory approval in rich countries, where the profits are highest, rather than submitting” data to WHO, he said, so it can approve vaccines for wider use.
In Europe, France on Monday began a campaign to inoculate people over 75 against the coronavirus, as its death toll rose past 70,000 over the weekend.
The new variant of COVID-19 first detected in Britain is now starting to gain a foothold in Belgium, officials say, with cases reported in several northern schools on top of an outbreak in a nursing home.
Officials in the Swiss mountain resort of St. Moritz quarantined employees and guests of two luxury hotels, closed ski schools and kept schoolchildren home from class on Monday after a dozen positive tests for a highly infectious coronavirus variant.
In Asia, a Chinese province grappling with a spike in coronavirus cases is reinstating tight restrictions on weddings, funerals and other family gatherings, threatening violators with criminal charges.
The notice from the high court in Hebei province did not give specifics but said all types of social gatherings were now being regulated to prevent further spread of the virus.
In the Americas, incoming White House chief of staff Ron Klain says the coronavirus pandemic will get worse in the U.S. before it gets better, projecting another 100,000 deaths from COVID-19 in the first five weeks of president-elect Joe Biden’s administration.
Speaking on CNN’s State of the Union, Klain said Biden was inheriting a dire situation, saying even with vaccines, “it’s going to take a while to turn this around.” Biden has set a goal of injecting 100 million doses of coronavirus vaccine in his first 100 days in office, a goal Klain said they were on pace to meet.
Brazil’s health regulator on Sunday approved the urgent use of coronavirus vaccines made by Sinovac and AstraZeneca, enabling Latin America’s largest nation to begin an immunization program that’s been subject to months of delay and political disputes.
Brazil currently has six million doses of Sinovac’s CoronaVac vaccine ready to distribute in the next few days and is awaiting the arrival of another two million doses of the vaccine made by AstraZeneca and partner Oxford University.
In Africa, South Africa, which has yet to receive its first coronavirus vaccine, has been promised nine million doses by Johnson & Johnson, the Business Day newspaper reported.
South Africa has delayed reopening schools as it faces a rapid resurgence of COVID-19 overwhelming the country’s hospitals and driven by a more infectious variant of the virus.
Ghana’s president said Sunday that infection rates are skyrocketing and include variants of the virus not before seen in the country, filling treatment centres and threatening to overwhelm the health system.
How well has Canada fought the COVID-19 pandemic? 3 experts weigh in – Global News
As new cases of COVID-19 surge across Canada, the federal government and the provinces have been imposing stricter measures to try to limit the illness’s spread.
The Canadian Press interviewed three leading Canadian experts in disease control and epidemiology, asking their thoughts on Canada’s handling of the pandemic, the new restrictions on activities — and what else can be done. Here’s what they had to say.
John Brownstein, Montreal-born Harvard University epidemiologist and chief innovation officer at Boston Children’s Hospital
Having a national testing strategy in Canada that uses rapid tests people could do at home would limit the spread of the virus, Brownstein says.
“That would enable us to get insight on infection and actually have people isolate,” he says.
No such tests have been approved in Canada yet.
The push to expand the use of rapid COVID-19 testing
“We’ve been saying this all along, so it’s not just a purely Canadian issue, but having a strategy that implements that kind of information would go a long way to drive infections down in communities while we wait for the vaccine.”
Brownstein says curfews have unintended consequences because they force people to get together over a shorter period of time during the day.
“We haven’t seen a lot of evidence that curfews have driven down infection.”
He says a mix of testing and quarantine is the best way to make sure international travellers don’t cause outbreaks when they return from the pandemic hot spots.
Testing alone is not enough, he says, because tests can come back negative during the novel coronavirus’s incubation period; people should be careful about relying on test results that could give a false sense of security.
Brownstein says pandemic fatigue is real and the governments’ support for people suffering in the crisis should continue.
He says promoting low-risk activities, including walking and exercising outdoors, is also important.
“Whatever we can do to allow for people to spend more time outside, probably the better.”
David Juncker, professor of medicine and chair of the department of biomedical engineering at McGill University
Canada needs a national strategy for how to use rapid tests for the virus that causes COVID-19, says Juncker.
Juncker is an adviser for Rapid Test and Trace, an organization advocating for a mass rapid-testing system across Canada.
“Initially the Canadian government (spoke) against (rapid tests) and then they pivoted sometime in October or September,” he says. The federal government then bought thousands of rapid tests and sent them to the provinces, where they’ve mostly sat unused.
“Every province is trying to come up with their own way of trying them — running their own individual pilots. There’s a lack of exchange of information and lack of guidelines in terms of how to best deploy them,” he says.
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Juncker says the testing regime based on swabs collected in central testing sites was working in the summer but it collapsed in the fall.
He says medical professionals prefer those tests because they are more accurate and can detect low levels of the virus, which is important for diagnoses, but rapid tests can be useful for public health through sheer volume, if they’re used properly.
A federal advisory panel’s report released Friday, laying out the best uses for different kinds of tests, is a step in the right direction, he says.
“I’m happy to see we’re slowly shifting from the point of view of ‘Should we use rapid tests?’ to a point of view (of) ‘How can we best use them?”’
More recent research suggests that rapid tests are more accurate than was previously thought, he says.
“We still don’t have enough capacity to test everyone so we’d have to use them in a strategic way.”
Juncker says the lockdowns in Ontario and Quebec should have happened earlier in the fall, when cases started to rise.
He says the late lockdowns in Canada won’t be as effective as those in countries such as Australia, New Zealand and South Korea, where early lockdowns effectively stopped the disease from spreading.
“Countries that were most aggressive early on, are the ones that have, I think, the best outcome.”
He says countries where health decisions are fragmented across the country, including Canada, have added challenges.
“If you live in Ottawa-Gatineau, you have one province (that) allows one thing, the other province allows another thing, so this creates confusion among the citizens,” he said.
Donald Sheppard, chair of the department of microbiology and immunology in the faculty of medicine at McGill University and member of Canada’s COVID-19 therapeutics task force:
Canada’s federal-provincial sharing of power over health care is highly inefficient and has led to major problems, says Sheppard.
“There’s a lot breakdown in communication, a lot of territorialism. It’s greatly impacted the efficiency of the response,” he says.
Alberta eases COVID-19 restrictions as cases drop
The problems in long-term care homes are examples.
“Quebec is screaming they want money but they’re refusing to sign on to the minimum standards of long term care,” he says. “I think it’s heinous.”
He says highly centralized authority and decision-making has had a stifling effect on innovation.
“It puts up roadblocks, and has led to the Canadian health-care system having lost any attempt to be innovative and nimble,” he says.
Sheppard says he doesn’t think there will be mass vaccinations for Canadians this summer and the September timetable that the federal government is talking about for vaccinating everybody is optimistic.
“Remember that we don’t have vaccines that are approved in under-11-year-olds,” he says. “There will still be opportunities for the virus to circulate in children, particularly children are in school settings.”
He suggested that the current immunization campaign’s goal is not herd immunity, eliminating transmission of the virus and rendering is extinct.
“The goal here is to create an iron wall of immunity around the ‘susceptibles’ in our population, such that this becomes a virus of the same public health importance as influenza.”
© 2021 The Canadian Press
Canadians leaving big cities in record numbers: Statistics Canada – CTV News
Canada’s biggest cities are experiencing a record-breaking loss of people as urbanites move to smaller bedroom communities in search of affordable homes.
According to a new Statistics Canada report, Montreal and Toronto both saw a record loss of people from July 2019 to July 2020 as urban-dwellers moved to the suburbs, smaller towns and rural areas.
Toronto lost 50,375 people over those 12 months while nearby Oshawa, Ont. saw its population grow by 2.1 per cent — the fastest population growth in the country. Kitchener–Cambridge–Waterloo in Ontario and Halifax were tied for the second-fastest growth, at 2 per cent.
Oshawa Mayor Dan Carter said this shift is great news for his city.
“It really introduces us to greater opportunities: new families, new friends, new communities and it really adds to the wonderful fabric of the city of Oshawa,” Carter told CTV News.
Over the same period, Montreal lost 24,880 people, while nearby communities such as Farnham, Que. and Saint-Hippolyte, Que. saw their populations rise.
Experts say the pandemic has accelerated the urban-to-suburban trend as more employers shift to a work-from-home model and young, first-time buyers look beyond the city for more affordable properties.
This shift has also inspired plenty of competition in communities where bidding wars are anything but typical.
“With the low supply issues that we are seeing in a lot of the major markets across the country, that is creating some challenges if you want to buy a home just because there is less to choose from,” said Geoff Walker, an Ottawa realtor.
Despite urban areas posting overall population growth due to international migration, the report found that high numbers of people from Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver chose to move away.
And despite border closures during the pandemic, international migration from July 2019 to July 2020 accounted for 90 per cent of the growth in Canadian cities. That number drops to just over one-third of growth in other regions.
Real estate markets in Canada’s biggest cities continued to grow during the past year, but Robert Hogue, a senior economist at RBC, expects some of that action to calm in the year to come.
“The very high levels of activity in the late stages of 2020 are probably going to settle down through the course of 2021,” said Hogue.
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