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Long COVID may now be less common than previously thought – CBC News



This is an excerpt from Second Opinion, a weekly analysis of health and medical science news. If you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do that by clicking here.

Long COVID can be a severely debilitating condition for those who live with it, but the growing list of symptoms and conflicting estimates on how often it occurs make it incredibly difficult to measure exactly how many people it affects.

Post-COVID-19 condition, as it’s called by the World Health Organization (WHO), is also not an inevitability for most people who get infected, and it now appears significantly less common than earlier research suggested — thanks in part to vaccination.


Based on data from the early in the pandemic, the WHO estimates placed the condition at a rate of between 10 to 20 per cent of COVID-19 patients, while the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) states it can occur in between 30 to 40 per cent of those not hospitalized.

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam went as far as to say back in May that long COVID can affect up to 50 per cent of all patients, adding that the symptoms can be “quite broad and non-specific.”

But with estimates that more than half of Canadians have been infected with COVID since December after the emergence of Omicron and its highly contagious subvariants, there is a lack of evidence to suggest there are currently millions of COVID long haulers in Canada.

Newer research suggests long COVID is occurring at a much lower rate than estimates from early in the pandemic, before widespread vaccination. PHAC is now working to better understand the true number of cases — while acknowledging their data is outdated.

“Long COVID is real. There are a lot of people suffering from it,” said Bill Hanage, an epidemiologist at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston.

“But you don’t serve those people by pretending that 40 per cent of the population is in that boat. In my view, it’s actually a bit disrespectful to the people who are genuinely suffering from long COVID to pretend that that is the case.”

WATCH | What life is like for Canadians living with long COVID: 

What life is like for Canadians with long COVID-19

4 months ago

Duration 7:12

Andrew Chang talks to Candice Makhan and Adriana Patino about when they realized they had long COVID-19, what their symptoms were like and how it’s changed their lives. They’re joined by infectious diseases specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch to discuss whether vaccines reduce the risk of developing long COVID-19.

Estimates based on outdated research

Many of the estimates cited by health organizations are based on early data that largely looked at patients in 2020, long before COVID-19 vaccines and Omicron dramatically changed the immunity landscape in Canada and around the world.

One study published in The Lancet in July 2021, cited by PHAC as one of its main sources for its estimate that 30 to 40 per cent of non-hospitalized patients develop long COVID, looked at fewer than 1,000 patients between April 2020 and December 2020.

“I assume that due to vaccination and the Omicron variant, fewer people will now be affected by long COVID,” Clara Lehmann, a lead author of the study and professor at the department of Internal Medicine at the University of Cologne in Germany, said in a recent email.

PHAC also cites two systematic reviews as evidence for its high estimates of long COVID — a preprint study authored by its researchers from late 2021 that has not yet been peer reviewed, and a study in The Journal of Infectious Diseases from April.

Many of the papers analyzed in the studies are from before the emergence of Omicron and COVID-19 vaccines, while a significant proportion also had no control groups from the general population to compare against. The lead author of The Lancet study PHAC cited also said she expected the rate to be much lower.

 “I believe that the proportion [of long COVID] has gone down,” said Bhramar Mukherjee, lead author of the Lancet study and biostatistics and epidemiology professor at the University of Michigan.

“There are many more studies now with a vaccinated population, and initially it was not really clear what the prevalence is, but it seems like there is a considerable effect.” 

WATCH | Some COVID long haulers see improvements after vaccination: 

Some COVID-19 long haulers see improvements after vaccines

1 year ago

Duration 2:10

Some COVID-19 long haulers are reporting unexpected improvements in their symptoms after receiving the first dose of a vaccine.

A U.K. study published this week in Nature identified up to 62 symptoms associated with long COVID, including hair loss and erectile dysfunction, and found 5.4 per cent of non-hospitalized patients reported at least one symptom three months after an infection.

In comparison, 4.4 per cent of people with no recorded evidence of COVID-19 infection reported at least one symptom — a difference of just one per cent. People in this group were not specifically tested for the study and found to be negative.

That’s in line with a recent survey from the U.K.’s Office for National Statistics that found the rate of long COVID was just over four per cent with Omicron BA.1 or BA.2 breakthrough infections in triple vaccinated adults, which was lower than with Delta at five per cent.

Akiko Iwasaki, a professor of immunobiology at Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn., said it’s not entirely clear yet how much vaccination helps in preventing long COVID. Some studies have shown it can reduce the risk by half and others showed significantly less benefit, but emerging research suggests they lower the rate significantly.

“That could likely be related to the fact that we have immunity to some extent from vaccination and potentially prior infections,” she said. “Also there may be some intrinsic difference between the variants of concern.”

In a statement to CBC News, a spokesperson for PHAC clarified that “there is currently insufficient pan-Canadian data to estimate the number of long COVID patients in Canada” and the rates of 30 to 40 per cent on their website “predate the arrival of Omicron.”

“The estimates should not be used to extrapolate how many Canadians may have [long COVID] in 2022 since the arrival of the Omicron variant and sub-variants,” the statement read, adding they are currently in the process of updating their ongoing systematic review

“The evidence reviewed by PHAC suggests, based on a small number of studies, that COVID-19 vaccination prior to COVID-19 infection may help to reduce the risk of developing [long COVID].”

Many of the estimates cited by health organizations are based on early data that largely looked at patients in 2020, long before COVID-19 vaccines and Omicron dramatically changed the immunity landscape in Canada and around the world. (Peter Hamlin/The Associated Press)

Confusion over long COVID symptoms

The confusion lies with the different definitions of what long COVID actually is, coupled with the fact that the level of immunity in the population from prior infection and vaccination has vastly changed the risk of developing it.

And while some symptoms can be life-altering, others can be much less severe or hard to attribute to COVID-19 altogether — making it incredibly difficult to study accurately.

“It’s fuzzy, the criteria are not sufficiently settled to permit statements that are as strong as some people make,” said Hanage from Harvard. “You need to decide exactly what you mean by long COVID and recognize that there are a lot of different sorts of long COVID.”

The WHO lists dozens of long COVID symptoms that aren’t explained by another diagnosis — from fatigue, shortness of breath and cognitive dysfunction, to anxiety, depression, sleep disorders and loss of taste or smell — that can last at least two months after an infection.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classifies long COVID as at least 19 symptoms that range widely from general tiredness to respiratory and heart conditions, neurological symptoms and digestive issues that can occur after one or even three months.

PHAC states there can be more than 100 symptoms of long COVID weeks or months after infection but narrowed its list of common ones to nine — including general pain and discomfort, difficulty thinking or concentrating and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

WATCH | Doctors search for answers to long COVID as patients fight to recover: 

Doctors search to solve long COVID as patients fight to recover

8 months ago

Duration 6:14

Nearly two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, doctors and health experts are searching to find a cause and treatment for long COVID, while patients are simply fighting for their recovery.

“How frequently it occurs kind of depends on the definition of long COVID, and there is no universal definition currently,” said Iwasaki. “As with everything else, the statistics are changing at different stages of the pandemic.” 

She said the fact that there are currently more than 200 long COVID symptoms across various health organizations that range in severity and duration in different populations throughout the pandemic only adds to the confusion.

“The estimates are all over the place,” said Dr. Angela Cheung, a senior scientist-clinician at the University Health Network in Toronto who researches long COVID.

“Some will count any one symptom, like if you have one lingering symptom you have long COVID, and that symptom may be very mild and doesn’t really affect your daily life. Whereas some people have multiple symptoms and are totally debilitated and can’t work.”

The confusion lies with the different definitions of what long COVID actually is, coupled with the fact that the level of immunity in the population from prior infection and vaccination has vastly changed the risk of developing it. (Peter Hamlin/The Associated Press)

Canada updating estimates on long COVID

Canada may soon have a better handle on the true rate of long COVID occurring in the population with the release of a survey from PHAC and Statistics Canada to determine the prevalence, risk factors, symptoms and impacts on daily life of the condition.

The first leg of the survey was launched in April 2022, with results expected early next year. PHAC said in a statement it also plans to conduct followup studies to examine changes in long COVID over time and longer-term outcomes in those who are affected.

“We need to get a better understanding of the degree as well,” said Cheung, who is working with PHAC and Statistics Canada on the survey.

“Because while people may be more willing to put up with one or two symptoms, that doesn’t really affect their activities of daily living or work, whereas people are less accepting of something that really disrupts their life.”

Iwasaki said that while the rate of long COVID may be changing over time, the condition severely affects a significant proportion of the population who need ongoing support.

“People who’ve gotten long COVID in the original wave are still suffering,” she said. “Some of them haven’t recovered.”

Hanage said the situation for severe long COVID can be improved by ensuring people have prior protection from vaccination, improving research into the condition and finding therapies to help those who need it most. 

“Even if the actual risk of serious long COVID symptoms is pretty low, and I actually think it is, that’s not much comfort to the millions of people who are going to end up suffering severe long COVID,” he said. 

“It’s just that you individually being infected are more likely than not to make a full recovery.”

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Canada housing market: What to expect this spring as prices drop – Global News



With two kids under the age of six living in a two-bedroom, one-bathroom household, Jacquelin Forsey and her husband have long known it would only be a matter of time before their family outgrew their beloved home.

Long hours in the small space while Forsey was pregnant and toiling away from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, along with a visit to a neighbour who was selling their “beautiful” place that was “the perfect size,” convinced the couple to start their new home hunt recently.


Read more:

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“If there was any way to make this place bigger, we would never leave,” said Forsey, a PhD student, of the home her family owns in the Leslieville area of Toronto.

“We love it. We love the neighbourhood, we love our house, but we just can’t all be in this tiny house forever.”

The couple has spent recent months scouring listings and put in at least one failed bid, but Forsey has her fingers crossed that their fortunes will change this spring as economists and brokers predict activity to return to Canada’s housing market.

The market has been sluggish since last year, when prospective buyers started putting off plans to purchase homes as the Bank of Canada aggressively hiked interest rates eight consecutive times.

The quick succession of increases eroded buying power as borrowing costs rose and sent prices falling, discouraging sellers from listing their homes.

Click to play video: 'Canadian economics professor on housing market projection for 2023'

Canadian economics professor on housing market projection for 2023

With Canadian Real Estate Association data showing average prices have dropped 19 per cent from their February peak of $816,578 to $662,437 last month and BMO Capital Markets’ chief economist predicting they will bottom out after falling 20 to 25 per cent, realtors see many edging toward a purchase once more.

“We got a flood of buyers in January, in February and we still are getting more and more and we started seeing multiple offers return and bully offers return,” said Michelle Gilbert, a Toronto broker with Sage Real Estate Ltd.

“We’ve started getting calls where buyers are just like ‘I think I’ll just adjust what I want, but I don’t want to miss my opportunity.”

These clients are a mix of people who have to move because they are relocating for work or growing their families and also first-time homebuyers keen to not let lower prices pass them by.

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Many first-time buyers are finding it harder to qualify for mortgages, but still want to make a purchase, so they are compensating by adjusting their expectations, said Gilbert.

“Maybe they can’t get the square footage they thought they could get because they can’t qualify for as much but they still really want to get a good deal,” she said.

Over in Vancouver, Coldwell Banker Prestige Realty agent Tirajeh Mazaheri has also seen a resurgence in buyers.

Weeks after the Bank of Canada signalled further interest rate hikes were unlikely, she said properties started selling quickly and with multiple offers.

She spotted a condo listed for $699,000 garner 11 offers and a house listed for $2.8 million snag five bids last month.

Others aren’t wading into the market just yet but are preparing to do so soon.

“Everyone who wasn’t pre-approved is getting themselves pre-approved because people want to jump on buying something because they’re worried that prices are going to start going way too high again,” said Mazaheri.

Click to play video: 'Canadian home sales begin 2023 with a 14-year low'

Canadian home sales begin 2023 with a 14-year low

Despite such sentiment, she doesn’t see the market returning to the frenzied pace of 2021, largely because of the lack of properties available.

February’s new listings totalled 51,366, down 26 per cent from a year ago, the Canadian Real Estate Association recently revealed. On a seasonally-adjusted basis, they hit 57,535, down nearly eight per cent from January.

“A lot of sellers are beginning to want to list, but most of them, I am noticing, are a little bit cautious,” Mazaheri said.

Read more:

Here’s how much home you could buy in 8 Canadian cities — if you had a million dollars

“They’re noticing the shift in the market as well and they want to get top dollar for their property, so they’re thinking maybe let’s wait until the spring or the summer.”

For Forsey, there is no rush to buy a home, but she admits the pause on interest rates is giving her family some confidence in its decision to look for a new place.

While her engineer husband has been crafting spreadsheets calculating what they can afford, their amortization and the effects of potential interest rates, she said they’ve accepted “that we can’t time the market and we just have to do the best we can do and what we’re comfortable with and then hope it works out.”

“We can stay here until the right opportunity comes and we don’t have to rush out and we don’t have to make a rash decision,” she said.

“And if it doesn’t work out for a long time for us, that’s OK because what we’ve got is pretty great.”

&copy 2023 The Canadian Press

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Canada extends emergency travel program for Ukrainians fleeing war



The federal government is extending a program that temporarily resettles Ukrainians fleeing the war with Russia in Canada.

Ukrainians will now have until July 15, 2023, to apply to the Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel (CUAET) program. The program was set to expire on March 31.

It’s a special measure that allows Ukrainians, and their family members of any nationality, to settle in Canada for up to three years. CUAET allows successful applicants to apply for work and study permits free of charge.

Russia and Ukraine have been at war since 2014, but Russia stepped up its invasion significantly in February 2022. The federal government has provided military, financial and humanitarian aid to Ukraine and has slapped sanctions on thousands of Russians and Russian entities.


Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Sean Fraser made the announcement Wednesday.

“We’re going to closely monitor the ongoing needs of Ukrainians and Ukraine, to see how we can continue to lend our support and help win this war,” Fraser told a news conference.

The government has received just under a million applications to the program since it began in March 2022, and has approved 616,429 of them. Over 133,000 people have arrived in Canada through the program.

Fraser said the temporary nature of the program aligns with what Ukrainians want.

“When I speak to the vast majority of Ukrainians who’ve arrived here, their hope is that Ukraine is going to win this war. They want to go home one day,” Fraser said.

“To create a program that allows them to have temporary safe haven in Canada, while we await the circumstances on the ground becoming safe one day for people to return, has allowed us to help tens of thousands of people more than what otherwise would have been the case under a traditional refugee resettlement model.”

Fraser did not say whether the government would extend the program if the war continues beyond July 15. He said it will monitor the situation.

Ukrainians in Canada welcome extension

Kseniia Chystiakova, who is from a suburb of Kyiv, applied to CUAET just days after it launched in March 2022. She now lives in Winnipeg with her husband, son and mother.

Chystiakova’s father is in Germany because his application hasn’t been approved yet, and Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) hasn’t offered an explanation. Her mother, who did get approved, initially stayed with her husband but came to Canada last week as the March 31 deadline came closer.

But Chystiakova said she’s happy about the extension because it gives her father some time to get approved.

“I want them to be near us and to see their grandchild, but still we have hope that everything will be okay,” she said.

A woman in a sweater holds up a phone and smiles.
Kseniia Chistyakova, a Ukrainian who came to Canada through CUAET, phones her father in Germany to tell him about the extension of the program. Her dad has not yet been approved to enter Canada through the program, but she said the extension gives her hope. (Karen Pauls/CBC)

Chystiakova works at a staffing agency helping other Ukrainians find work. Her husband, who is not a Ukrainian citizen, is taking language classes and her son is enrolled in a local school.

“It’s a really great opportunity for him and for his future,” Chystiakova said.

“I think that we will stay here.”

Fraser made the announcement at Café Ukraine in Ottawa. The community cafe provides services, including language classes, to newcomer Ukrainians and host families.

“We’re only able to provide the support for Ukrainians because the government of Canada has generously opened the door for Ukrainians to come and find safe harbour here,” Yaroslav Baran, Café Ukraine’s co-founder, said at the announcement.

“The announcement that you’ve made today is a continuation of a long tradition, 130 years, of generous opening of doors by Canada to Ukrainians.”

The Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC) welcomed the government’s announcement.

“Our community is also grateful to the thousands of Canadians from coast to coast to coast who have opened their hearts and their homes to Ukrainians, the volunteers who work tirelessly to welcome Ukrainians in cities and towns across Canada, and the settlement services which deliver essential programs and supports,” Alexandra Chyczij, the UCC’s national president, said in a media statement.

“With increased support from allies like Canada, this year can be the year that the Russian armies are driven out of Ukraine and peace returns to Europe.”

Refugees walk along vehicles.
Ukrainian refugees walk alongside vehicles lining up to cross the border from Ukraine into Moldova near Mayaky-Udobne, Ukraine on Feb. 26, 2022. (Sergei Grits/The Associated Press)

Iain Reeve, associate director for immigration research at The Conference Board of Canada, said CUAET has brought new workers into Canada at a time when the country is facing a labour shortage.

“The Ukrainians come with a really wide variety of skills that can fit really well into a lot of available positions across Canada,” Reeve said.

“We see the enthusiasm that a lot of communities have had to welcome people, not just for the really obvious humanitarian benefits, but also because they see the potential labour market and economic benefits of welcoming Ukrainians — even if it is only on a temporary basis.”

But Reeve said the government will have to think carefully about the future of those coming in through the program.

“There’s a balance to be struck between not wanting to bring a bunch of people here under very difficult circumstances and maybe rob Ukraine of exactly the people that they’ll want to have back in the country to help rebuild once the conflict is hopefully over,” he said.

“But at the same time, if people want to stay in Canada, maybe we want to try to give them options to do that.”


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Liberal MP Han Dong leaving caucus amid foreign interference allegations



Han Dong, the Toronto-area MP at the centre of allegations that his election campaign benefited from Beijing’s meddling, says he is leaving the Liberal caucus and will sit as an Independent.

“I’m taking this extraordinary step because to [sit] in the government caucus is a privilege and my presence there may be seen by some as a conflict of duty and the wrong place to be as an independent investigation pursues the facts in this matter,” he said , reading a statement in the House of Commons on Wednesday night.

“I will be sitting as the Independent so that business of government and indeed the bills of Parliament is not interrupted as I work to clear my name and the truth is presented to Parliament and to Canadian people.”

His comments follow a story from Global News, alleging Dong advised a senior Chinese diplomat in February 2021 that Beijing should hold off on freeing Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor — the two Canadians being held by China at the time.


The Global story cited two unnamed national security sources who said Dong made the suggestion because their release would be helpful to the Conservatives. CBC News has not verified the allegations.

Dong confirmed to Global that he had a discussion with Consul General Han Tao, but denied that he advised Beijing to delay releasing Kovrig and Spavor.

MP Han Dong says Beijing has ‘absolutely not’ played a role in his election


MP Han Dong discusses alleged election interference after a media report said he was one of the candidates believed to have been supported financially by the Chinese government heading into the 2019 election.

“Let me be clear. What has been reported is false, and I will defend myself against these absolutely untrue claims,” said the Don Valley North representative in his remarks to Parliament.

“But let me assure you as a parliamentarian and as a person, I have never and I will never, and would never advocate or support the violation of the basic human rights of any Canadian, of anyone, anywhere, period.”

A spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s Office said the office “only became aware that a conversation took place after Mr. Dong told us, following recent media questions.”

“I am a proud Liberal,” said Dong, his voice breaking during his remarks.

“Before concluding, I want to assure Mr. Michael Spavor and Mr. Michael Kovrig and their families that I did nothing to cause them any harm.”

“Mr. Speaker, I am in your hands as to what happens next.”

Dong spoke to reporters Tuesday

Alison Murphy, a spokesperson for Prime Minster Justin Trudeau, gave no other comment Wednesday night.

“I’ll refer you to Mr. Dong’s statement in the House tonight,” she wrote in an email.

An earlier Global News story, also citing anonymous sources, alleged national security officials gave an urgent briefing to senior aides from Trudeau’s office in 2019 “warning them that one of their candidates was part of a Chinese foreign interference network.”

Global’s sources allege the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) believed Dong, who was re-elected in 2021, was a “witting affiliate” of China’s election interference networks.

Dong spoke to reporters for the first time Tuesday since that story broke in February.

“I was not offered, I was not told, I was not informed, nor would I accept any help from a foreign country, whether during my nomination or during my election campaign,” he said.

Dong also said Tuesday he had not been contacted by either CSIS, the RCMP or Elections Canada.

A CSIS spokesperson would not comment on whether the lack of contact with Dong was unusual.

“There are important limits to what I can publicly discuss, given the need to protect sensitive activities, techniques, methods and sources of intelligence,” Eric Balsam said in an email to CBC News on Wednesday.

“Disclosure could allow our adversaries to interrupt or harm our operations, techniques, methods and sources of intelligence. These limitations are therefore essential to ensure the safety, security and prosperity of Canada.”

Dong’s comments come as opposition MPs try to uncover what the Liberal Party knew, or didn’t know, about Beijing’s alleged attempts to meddle in Canada’s elections.

An independent panel tasked with overseeing the 2021 election concluded that foreign meddling did not affect the outcome.

CSIS calls foreign interference activities by China’s government the “greatest strategic threat to national security.”


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