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Minds behind pandemic predicting algorithm already thinking about future beyond COVID-19

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OTTAWA —
The Canadian researcher who was among the first to predict the deadly spread of COVID-19 says the world needs to change the way it monitors for and reacts to disease outbreaks.

Dr. Kamran Khan set out to make a “smoke alarm” that would detect disease outbreaks around the world when he created his pandemic-predicting software BlueDot.

Khan and his team of about 50 experts used big data and artificial intelligence to warn the world of a potentially serious viral outbreak three days before the World Health Organization, though they picked up on the signs even earlier.

Waiting for outbreaks to be declared typically takes too long, the University of Toronto professor of medicine and public health says, and the information often takes a long time to make it into the hands of the medical community and the public.

The world is changing, he says, and diseases are emerging with greater frequency and having bigger impacts.

Big data and artificial intelligence can provide a bird’s-eye view of diseases around the globe in real time, letting people move faster to quash new outbreaks.

It’s time we start using them, for the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, Khan says.

By this point, BlueDot’s story is famous around the world.

The software scours hundreds of thousands of sources of information in 65 languages around the world all day, every day, to look for signs of trouble.

Khan received the first indication something was amiss in Wuhan, China, on New Year’s Eve. The algorithm picked up a blog post in Chinese describing a pneumonia outbreak involving about 20 people.

Within seconds, the program was able to sift through anonymized international flight itineraries to predict 20 places the outbreak might spread.

The outbreak the algorithm described bore serious similarities to the 2003 SARS outbreak. Khan and his team submitted their findings in a peer-reviewed scientific journal on Jan. 6.

By the time the virus showed up in Bangkok, Thailand, on Jan. 13, the smoke alarm was ringing.

“If you see a case show up outside of Wuhan in another country, it’s telling you that the outbreak is much bigger than a couple dozen cases. Maybe hundreds, maybe thousands,” Khan says.

“That’s the moment we were quite concerned.”

Of the 20 places BlueDot predicted the virus could spread, 12 were among the first destinations to report outbreaks of the novel coronavirus.

The embers landed in Canada, and the house has caught fire.

While Canada’s health-care system has struggled even to count the number of manually confirmed cases across the country due to archaic data gathering systems, Khan’s team in Toronto have used their technology to measure how well people have been sticking to public health advice.

Using anonymized cell phone data, they’ve been tracking how much people have been moving about as health officials urge them to stay home.

Khan refers to this as the “fire extinguisher” function of big data during a pandemic, allowing public health authorities to target their efforts where they’re needed most.

“When there’s only so many people, your human resources in the public health sector are finite, you can’t be everywhere,” he says.

As Canada gets farther from the crest of the first wave of the pandemic, and people begin moving around the country and around the world again, the smoke alarm is going to be important, Khan says.

“We’re going to be thinking about introductions from other parts of the globe and trying to make sure that those embers are kind of snuffed out as quickly as possible,” he says.

This time, he hopes governments, institutions and individuals will be able to take smarter steps more quickly.

“We need to be using the latest in data and digital technologies to our advantage to do that,” he says.

What we do with the information also needs to change, he says.

Typically when a new outbreak is reported, public-health officials find out first. They share the information with governments, which then share it with the medical community and eventually the public and industry become aware.

That cascade of information means delayed reactions.

“If we are going to be able to be successful, we are going to have to empower the whole of society,” Khan says.

And if COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that everyone needs to work to extinguish the fire together, he says.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 25, 2020.

Source: – CTV News

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Edited BY Harry Miller

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Today's coronavirus news: Human clinical trials begin for Quebec-made COVID-19 vaccine candidate; India's cases jumped by another 28000 and are fast approaching 1M – Toronto Star

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KEY FACTS

  • 5:35 a.m.: Pence heads to Louisiana amid renewed surge in virus cases

  • 5:25 a.m.: Another spike brings India near 1 million cases

  • 5:15 a.m.: Health-care workers to announce political action in response to emergency orders

The latest coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Tuesday. This file will be updated throughout the day. Web links to longer stories if available.

8:05 a.m. Canadian trials have just begun for a prospective COVID-19 vaccine but its Quebec-based manufacturer is already downplaying its potential impact.

Dr. Bruce Clark, president and CEO of the biopharmaceutical company Medicago, cautions observers against holding unrealistic expectations that his product — or any of the numerous vaccines in development globally — will bring the pandemic to a screeching halt.

“Whatever vaccine we get in this first round — unless it’s a miracle — it’s not going to be perfect,” says Clark, whose company began trials for its proposed vaccine Monday in Quebec City.

“It’s going to have to undergo development, it’s going to take probably years to come up with an understanding of the right vaccine, the right approach. It’s not the panacea.

“To assume that we can have, in 18 months, the solution to a pandemic that comes around once in a generation, is naive.”

So much is still unknown about COVID-19, notes Clark, including how it may manifest during the flu season later this year.

He suspects a more likely scenario is that a vaccine will offer only part of the solution, along with new therapeutics and ongoing public health interventions.

Medicago’s first phase of clinical trials will test a plant-based product on 180 healthy men and women, aged 18 to 55.

The randomized, partially blinded study uses technology that does not involve animal products or live viruses like traditional methods.

Clark notes that vaccine developers typically use chicken eggs to propagate a virus, but Medicago uses recombinant technology involving the genetic sequence of a virus, with living plants as the host.

The resulting virus-like particles mimic the shape and dimensions of a virus, which allows the body to recognize them and spark an immune response.

Clark says the plant-based approach is significantly faster and offers more consistent results than egg-based or cell-based methods.

While it takes five to six months to propagate a virus in eggs, the plant-based technique requires just five to six weeks, he says.

“In a pandemic, something like COVID, if you’re able to cut that much time off development, you have a substantial impact on public health.”

7:19 a.m. China is pushing harder to make territorial claims in the regional seas and even using the coronavirus pandemic to expand its influence and take strategic superiority, posing a greater threat to Japan and the region, Japan’s government said.

The report highlighting the government’s defence priorities was adopted by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet on Tuesday, less than a day after the Trump administration rejected outright nearly all of Beijing’s significant maritime claims in the South China Sea in a statement likely to deepen the U.S.-China rift.

The Abe government’s Defence White Paper 2020 highlights what are potential Chinese and North Korean threats as Japan tries to further increase its defence capability. Under Abe, Japan has steadily increased its defence budget and capability and purchased costly American arsenals.

Defence Minister Taro Kono recently scrapped the deployment of a pair of costly U.S. land-based missile intercepting systems due to technical issues, and Abe quickly announced his intention to revise Japan’s defence guidelines, possibly allowing Japan to go beyond its conventional defence-only role under the Japan-U.S. security alliance, including discussing a possibility of acquiring a preemptive strike capability.

The White Paper accused China of using propaganda, including spreading disinformation, about the spread of the coronavirus.

“The COVID-19 pandemic may expose and intensify strategic competition among countries intending to create international and regional orders more preferable to themselves and to expand their influence,” the report said. “We need to closely watch their move with serious concern affecting the national security.”

6:10 a.m. Britain’s government will demand people wear face coverings in shops as it seeks to clarify its message after weeks of prevarication amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock is expected to tell the House of Commons on Tuesday that anyone failing to comply with the order could face a fine. The order comes into effect on July 24, giving shops and the police time to prepare.

Many European nations, including Germany, Spain, Italy and Greece, already require masks to be worn in enclosed spaces.

Britain, which has reported one of the world’s highest numbers of coronavirus cases and deaths, had taken a more relaxed attitude, recommending masks but not requiring them — at least until now.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who in the spring spent a week in the hospital being treated for COVID-19, had not been seen in public in a mask until last week. On Monday morning, he urged people to wear them. Monday evening, his government announced it would be compulsory.

5:35 a.m.: Vice-President Mike Pence travels Tuesday to Louisiana, which has re-emerged as one of the nation’s hot spots for the coronavirus only months after seeming to contain its outbreak.

The Republican vice-president was scheduled to meet with Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, members of the congressional delegation and state health officials to talk about the state’s response to the COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus.

Pence’s visit comes as Louisiana’s confirmed virus cases, percentage of positive tests and COVID-19 patient hospitalization rates are surging — worrying public health experts about the level of virus spread in a state that previously appeared successful in combating its outbreak.

“Louisiana has been on the radar, literally front and centre, of the White House Coronavirus Task Force since the very beginning. We’ve never come off of that radar,” Edwards said. “I think that’s a big reason why the vice-president chose to come to Baton Rouge and to Louisiana.”

5:32 a.m.: China said the number of people in treatment for COVID-19 in the country has fallen to just 297, with only three new cases of coronarvirus reported, all brought from outside the country.

No new deaths were announced, leaving the total at 4,634 out of 83,605 cases of the disease.

A pair of experts from the World Health Organization were in China on Monday to make arrangements for an investigation into how the pandemic may have spread after the virus was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.

5:28 a.m.: Australia’s Queensland state is toughening the punishment for those who break coronavirus quarantine rules. Queensland Deputy Premier Steven Miles said the current fines for breaking a mandatory 14-day hotel quarantine for some visitors or lying about their whereabouts may not be a sufficient penalty.

The maximum penalty will now be a higher fine or up to six months’ imprisonment.

Queensland reopened its borders to all but Victoria state residents two weeks ago. Victoria is the centre of Australia’s recent outbreak, adding 270 new infections overnight to its more than 4,000 active cases.

5:25 a.m.: India’s number of coronavirus cases jumped by another 28,000 on Tuesday and are fast approaching 1 million.

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The 28,498 cases reported in the past 24 hours took the national total to 906,752. Cases have jumped by 100,000 in four days.

The Health Ministry also reported another 553 deaths in the past 24 hours, taking total fatalities up to 23,727.

India has largely lifted its nationwide lockdown, and the virus has been spreading at a significant rate, prompting several big cities to impose partial lockdowns.

India is the third worst-affected country in terms of infections, only behind the United States and Brazil.

5:22 a.m.: Pakistan announced Tuesday it would resume vaccinations against polio next week, months after the drive against this crippling children’s disease was halted because the novel coronavirus had overwhelmed the country’s health system.

The anti-polio campaign would last three days, from next Monday, with the plan to have about 800,000 children vaccinated, the officials said. Police departments have received requests to ensure the safety of the polio workers.

5:20 a.m.: The British Columbia government is expected to give a financial update today on how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected its residents, businesses and the economy.

Finance Minister Carole James says the pandemic has created “profound” challenges for people in B.C. and around the globe, fundamentally changing the ways people live and work.

She says the update will provide a summary of those impacts and outline the supports government has put in place and will continue to provide.

5:15 a.m.: A union representing Ontario health-care workers says it will announce “political action” this morning in response to the province potentially extending its emergency powers.

The Ontario Council of Hospital Unions, a division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, will be making the announcement at Hamilton General Hospital.

A spokeswoman for the union confirms that 98 per cent of its membership voted in favour of some form of political action over the weekend.

The Progressive Conservative government introduced a bill last week that would allow it to keep some emergency measures in place in the months ahead.

4 a.m.: A new poll suggests Canadians are torn on whether the federal government should turn off the spending taps to keep the resulting deficit from flooding the nation’s future.

The Leger/Association for Canadian Studies survey found 41 per cent think that COVID-19 support programs and payments must immediately be scaled back.

Forty-four per cent think the payments to Canadians and businesses ought to continue even with the $343-billion projected deficit.

The poll suggests 78 per cent are worried about that bottom-line figure, and 60 per cent think the way out of the hole is to cut government spending, while 21 per cent say raising taxes is the solution.

The poll surveyed 1,523 Canadians between July 10 and 12 and cannot be assigned a margin of error because online polls are not considered truly random.

Monday 9 p.m.: British Columbia’s health minister says several COVID-19 exposures in Kelowna serve as a reminder of the risks posed by private gatherings.

Adrian Dix said during a news conference Monday that warnings of possible exposures at a restaurant, spin studio, bed and breakfast and resort are believed to stem from “private parties” at the hotels.

Eight positive tests for the disease are linked to visits to downtown Kelowna and the city’s waterfront between June 25 and July 9, said an email from Interior Health, the regional health authority.

“When people come together for private parties — in this case it was primarily people in their 20s and 30s — the risks are considerably higher,” Dix said.

The exposures follow the move to a new phase of reopening in B.C. that allows for tourism within the province. Although the accommodation industry was not ordered to close during the pandemic, many operators did so voluntarily but began welcoming guests again as part of the new phase.

Infections in B.C. inched up on Monday as health officials announced 62 new cases since Friday.

Two more people also died for a total of 189 deaths in B.C.

The new figures bring the total number of confirmed cases in the province to 3,115, while 2,718 people have fully recovered from COVID-19.

Click here to read more of Monday’s coverage.

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Coronavirus infections in Canada surpass 108,100 as global case count tops 13 million – Globalnews.ca

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The number of novel coronavirus case surpassed 108,100 on Monday, as worldwide infections topped 13 million.

Across the country, 366 new cases of COVID-19, and 12 additional deaths linked to the virus, were reported.

Ontario reported the most new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, with 116 new infections. The province also saw three additional deaths.

According to the province’s health authorities, 129 people have also recovered from the virus.

Read more:
Who cares about coronavirus? How different generations are dealing with the pandemic

So far, 1,712,315 people in Ontario have been tested for the novel coronavirus.

Meanwhile, in Quebec — the province hit hardest by the pandemic — 100 new infections were reported on Monday.

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According to provincial health authorities, one more person died.

So far, a total of 25,911 people have recovered from the virus in Quebec.

Saskatchewan reported 56 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday. The province has seen 15 coronavirus-related deaths since the pandemic began, and has tested more than 75,100 people.

So far, 766 people have recovered from the virus in Saskatchewan.






2:54
Coronavirus: Toronto officials positive about remaining in stage 2 of provincial reopening plan


Coronavirus: Toronto officials positive about remaining in stage 2 of provincial reopening plan

Health authorities in Alberta reported 72 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, and said one more person had died, bringing the total death toll to 161.

More than 540,100 people have been tested for the virus, and 7,989 people have recovered from infections

Health officials in B.C reported 62 new cases of COVID-19 in the province over the last 72 hours, and two deaths, both which occurred in long-term care.

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There were 21 cases from Friday to Saturday, 20 cases Saturday to Sunday, and 21 from Sunday to Monday.

[ Sign up for our Health IQ newsletter for the latest coronavirus updates ]

So far the province has conducted 219,601 tests, and 2,718 people have recovered from the virus.

Neither New Brunswick nor Nova Scotia reported new cases of COVID-19 on Monday.

Read more:
Coronavirus: Wage subsidy to be extended to December, Trudeau says

In New Brunswick, 46,489 people have been tested for the virus and 163 people have recovered from infections.

Two people have died from the novel coronavirus in New Brunswick since the beginning of the pandemic.

A total of 58,741 people have been tested for COVID-19 in Nova Scotia, and 1,000 people have recovered from the virus.

Manitoba reported no new cases of COVID-19 and no new deaths related to the virus on Monday.

So far the province has conducted 71,559 tests for the virus and 317 people have recovered from infections.






2:08
Harm reduction advocates claim the coronavirus pandemic has caused a surge in drug overdoses in Montreal


Harm reduction advocates claim the coronavirus pandemic has caused a surge in drug overdoses in Montreal

Health officials in Prince Edward Island said one new case of COVID-19 had been confirmed, but reported no new deaths on Monday.

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Since the pandemic began, 14,810 tests have been conducted and 27 people have recovered from the virus on the island.

Newfoundland reported no new cases of COVID-19 on Monday marking three full days without a new infection.

The province has tested 20,583 people for the virus so far, and 258 have recovered from infections.

According to health authorities, a total of three people have died as a result of COVID-19.

Read more:
Live updates: Coronavirus in Canada

Neither the Northwest Territories or Nunavut reported new cases of COVID-19 on Monday.

So far, the Northwest Territories has not seen any COVID-19-related deaths, and has tested 2,859 people for the virus.

A total of five people have recovered from infections in the territory.






3:00
B.C. health officials use contract tracing in Kelowna COVID-19 outbreak


B.C. health officials use contract tracing in Kelowna COVID-19 outbreak

Meanwhile, in Nunavut, 1,553 tests have been conducted.

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No new cases of COVID-19 or deaths related to the virus were reported in Yukon on Monday.

An update on the Territory’s website says 1,343 people have been tested for the virus, and 11 people have recovered.

Global cases top 13 million

The pandemic reached another grim milestone on Monday, with more than 13 million confirmed cases reported globally.

According to a tally from John Hopkins University, by 8 p.m. ET on Monday, 13,060,239 cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed around the world.

Read more:
In just 5 days, coronavirus cases surged another million to 12M worldwide

COVID-19 cases have continued to increase in several places around the globe, including in the United States, which remained the epicentre of the virus on Monday.

The U.S. now has more than 3.3 million confirmed cases of COVID-19.






0:54
Coronavirus: Trump says he has a ‘very good relationship’ with Dr. Fauci


Coronavirus: Trump says he has a ‘very good relationship’ with Dr. Fauci

Speaking to reporters outside Rideau Cottage in Ottawa on Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the “complex” situation in the U.S. means there is still no firm timetable, at this time, for when the border will be reopened to non-essential travel.

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Since the novel coronavirus was first detected in Wuhan, China, in December it has claimed more than 570,776 lives.

The virus forced mass closures around the globe and devastated the world economy.

In the last several months, however, many countries — including Canada — have made steps to gradually reopen.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Where the jobs are: Some sectors rebounding faster as Canada emerges from lockdown – CTV News

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TORONTO —
Jobs lost during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic are coming back – but not all at once, and not in the same order they disappeared.

Statistics Canada reported July 10 that more than 950,000 jobs were added in the country in June. While only a small fraction of the three million or so positions that were lost as lockdowns were imposed in March and April, the number represents a record increase as those measures are lifted.

“There’s a lot of places that are still hiring amidst all the doom and gloom that we’ve been experiencing over the past few months,” Carolyn Levy, president of the technologies division of staffing and recruitment agency Randstad Canada, told CTVNews.ca on Monday via telephone from Calgary.

Breaking down the numbers by industry yields clues into where the first wave of rebound hiring is taking place. More than 20 per cent of the added jobs were classified as wholesale and retail trade – with 16 per cent in accommodation and food services, 12 per cent in health care and social assistance, and eight per cent apiece in construction and manufacturing.

This suggests that the retail and restaurant workers who were among the first to be let go when their establishments were ordered to close were also among the first to be hired back when limited activity was allowed to resume.

There is still a long way to go before those sectors can be back to normal, though. In food services alone, it is believed that 400,000 Canadian jobs eliminated during the pandemic have yet to return. Many businesses in the broader service sector say they do not expect to ever return to pre-pandemic staffing levels.

Also notable, StatCan found, is that there were more wholesale jobs in Canada in June than there were in February, before the pandemic hit. Levy chalked this increase up to the surge in online shopping, which has left companies needing extra staff in warehouses and other parts of the supply chain.

On manufacturing, Levy said the increase could be due to companies retooling their lines to produce personal protective equipment or other items suddenly in demand due to the pandemic.

EMPLOYERS RETHINKING OLD ROLES

For the nearly 2.5 million Canadians who remain unemployed, though, knowing where hiring has recently happened only paints part of the picture. More helpful is information about where hiring is happening now.

According to the federal government’s job bank, the most in-demand jobs right now are sales associates, administrative assistants and customer service representatives, followed by truck drivers, general farm workers and light-duty cleaners.

A popular website used by job-seekers to connect with employers is seeing similar patterns. Brendon Bernard, an economist with the Indeed Hiring Lab, wrote July 7 that retail and customer service jobs are among those that saw the biggest drop in new postings on Indeed earlier in the pandemic, and have since seen some of the biggest rebounds.

“Sectors narrowing the gap relatively quickly in recent weeks include ones featuring lower-paying positions, like retail, and customer service,” he wrote.

“Areas posting roles with many mid-wage jobs have also seen noticeable bounce-backs, like construction, as well as education and instruction.”

Levy said that some employers are also creating new roles as they look to respond to their customers’ needs during and after the pandemic. Opportunities created by this include more positions for financial advisers, she said, as well as an even greater demand for tech workers.

Postings on Indeed for higher-paying jobs have been slower to bounce back, Bernard said. Indeed has tracked two categories where new job postings have fallen off since early May – security and public safety, and aviation.

Bernard reported that the number of new job postings on Indeed as of July 3 was 21 per cent lower than it had been one year earlier. That gap had been as large as 70 per cent in mid-April. Smaller provinces, which have generally been less affected by COVID-19, have kept job posting levels closer to where they were in 2019 than larger provinces.

Levy said she is seeing employers increasingly show interest in hiring for temporary contract positions. This benefits them because it allows them to avoid making long-term commitments in an uncertain environment, she said, but can also be good for those looking for jobs because it gives them a chance to find work that they might not otherwise have.

“Companies have had to take a step back and start to reimagine how they have to work in this new normal,” she said.

“Businesses have to look at what do we need to do to reskill, what do we need to do to retrain, given the way we operated our business four months ago is not the way it’s going to be … from now on.”

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