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New variants could fuel huge spike in COVID-19 cases if health measures lifted, new federal model shows – Toronto Star

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OTTAWA—New, more contagious variants of COVID-19 are threatening Canada’s progress against the deadly coronavirus, as health officials warned Friday that a dramatic spike to beyond 20,000 new infections a day before the end of March if health restrictions are lifted.

The striking projections published by Health Canada assumed the new variants already detected in all provinces are 50 per cent more contagious than the original form of the virus, which has already killed more than 20,000 people in this country.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said the modelling shows there will be a sharp resurgence in daily cases if health restrictions designed to slow the virus are lifted as new variants take root.

While Tam did not cite specific numbers, a graphic published by Health Canada showed cases could skyrocket from the current seven-day average of around 2,900 daily infections to more than 20,000 by the end of March if public health measures are lifted.

And even if public health measures stay the same, the graphic said they “will be insufficient” to prevent a sharp increase in new cases that could surge to almost 15,000 per day in the coming weeks.

So far, 660 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant first found in the United Kingdom have been detected in Canada, along with 39 cases of the B.1.351 variant detected in South Africa, and a single case of the P1 variant from Brazil.

“These variants have been smouldering in the background and now threaten to flare up,” Tam said, describing how they have been found in all 10 provinces and have taken root and are spreading through the community in five of them.

“We’ve been saying all along that if we ease measures too soon, the epidemic will resurge even stronger. But with highly contagious variants in our midst, the threat of uncontrolled epidemic growth is significantly elevated,” she added.

“This is why measures must be stronger, stricter and sustained long enough to suppress rapid epidemic growth of variants of concern.”

Tam also presented the new modelling to premiers on their call with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday evening, according to an account released by the Prime Minister’s Office. It said that Trudeau then “spoke about the critical importance that public health measures will play in the coming weeks to prevent a third wave of the virus.”

Trudeau also “stressed the importance of wide-scale rapid testing, contact tracing, quickly identifying and isolating new variant cases, and ensuring an effective rollout of vaccines,” the release said.

Speaking to reporters Friday morning, Trudeau said he has confidence in “the very difficult decisions” provinces are making, as Ontario and Quebec lift restrictions imposed to suppress the surge of cases in recent weeks that eclipsed the first outbreak last spring.

And while he cited progress as the overall number of cases, hospitalizations, deaths and long-term-care outbreaks have dropped since peaking in January, Trudeau warned the “variants are real” and could drive a “third wave that is even worse than the second and the first.”

“There is a very real concern about what the variants can do,” he said, pointing to rapid outbreaks of the new variants in a long-term-care home in Barrie, Ont. that killed 71 people, and in Newfoundland where the spread forced officials to postpone the provincial election.

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“We need to make sure that, even as provinces look at loosening up certain restrictions, that other restrictions are kept in, and that there is an ability to both respond quickly when variants appear, and also an ability to use rapid-tests as a way of screening the population,” he added.

Top public health officials in Toronto and Peel Region — among the hardest-hit areas of Ontario — have also warned against relaxing measures designed to curb the spread of COVID-19 just as new variants of the coronavirus take root in their communities. Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s medical officer of health, said this week that she has “never been as worried about the future as I am today,” noting an increase of infections from new COVID-19 variants of almost 70 per cent over the previous week.

De Villa and Toronto Mayor John Tory urged the provincial government, which lifted restrictions across several regions of Ontario, to keep them in place in Toronto until at least March 9.

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B.C.’s rapid COVID-19 tests have produced only two positive results – Victoria News

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B.C. has completed 39 pilot projects on its available COVID-19 rapid testing technologies, including at seven outbreaks in long-term care facilities to screen employees who are not showing symptoms.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry responded this week to repeated calls for more widespread use of rapid testing, describing how nasal swabs and rapid result machines have been used in provincial prisons, workplace outbreaks and in B.C. schools where exposures have taken place. Results have not been encouraging.

“Of the thousands of tests that have been done, two of them have been positive, and both of those cases were in facilities that were having an outbreak,” Henry said at a COVID-19 briefing March 4. “So if our community transmission rates are low, screening with these less sensitive tests is not very effective. It doesn’t help us because the yield is so low and they have a very much higher false-negative rate. In those areas where we have an outbreak or where community transmission rates are higher, that’s when they might have more utility and those are the areas that we are looking at more closely.”

RELATED: COVID-19 Rapid tests not effective, use restricted, Dix says

RELATED: Rapid tests deployed for B.C. homeless shelter outbreaks

B.C. started receiving Health Canada-approved rapid tests in late October, but each batch required validation by a B.C. Centre for Disease Control lab, before pilot projects could be done. The first school test was at Garibaldi secondary in Maple Ridge, where a new variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus turned up in the more accurate genetic testing used for diagnosis.

“There are two situations that we use them in,” Henry said. “One is for testing of people with symptoms to determine whether they might have COVID or something else. This has been very helpful in situations where people have had a test three days before they go for surgery and the day of their surgery they have a bit of a cough or runny nose.”


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tfletcher@blackpress.ca

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Dentists, teachers, bus drivers want Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in B.C. – National Post

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VANCOUVER — Dentists, teachers and bus drivers are among the essential workers who hope to receive the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in British Columbia, as a provincial committee decides who should be prioritized for the shot.

BC Teachers’ Federation president Teri Mooring said her members should be included in the plan expected to be released by the B.C. Immunization Committee around March 18.

Education staff have had the second-highest number of COVID-19 claims accepted by WorkSafeBC, behind only health-care workers, and teachers have faced challenging conditions, Mooring said.

“It’s been a very difficult and stressful environment for teachers in B.C.,” she said Friday.

“Teachers have not, from the very start, been satisfied with the preventative measures that have been in place in classrooms. What we see is one of the most lax mask policies in all of Canada.”

The province does not require elementary students to wear masks, unlike in Ontario and high-risk areas of Quebec. B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, has said young children don’t get as sick from COVID-19 or pass it on as well as others.

Henry has said the immunization committee will use public health principles, vaccine science and an ethical framework to reach its decision on which essential workers and first responders should receive the AstraZeneca vaccine.

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Once the plan is finalized, the vaccine will be administered in a parallel program to the province’s age-based strategy for the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines.

Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix said in a joint statement Friday that the newly approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine will become another tool in its program to accelerate the protection of more people in the province.

The officials reported 634 new cases and four more fatalities, pushing the death toll to 1,380 in B.C. Four new cases were confirmed to be variants of concern, bringing the total to 250.

The BC Dental Association said in a statement it would be “extremely pleased” if its members were included in the group to receive the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot. Dentists and their teams cannot treat patients remotely, work in very close proximity to the mouth and often use aerosol-generating procedures, it said.

The association also pointed out that dentists, dental hygienists and certified dental assistants are included in Henry’s recent order to help administer the vaccines.

“We would expect that any dentist choosing to participate in mass vaccination clinics would be required to have been vaccinated themselves prior to providing them,” it said.

Balbir Mann, president of Unifor Local 111, which represents Metro Vancouver bus drivers, said his members should receive the vaccine because they have been at risk throughout the pandemic.

“When people get on the bus to pay their bus fare, they’re literally a couple feet away. Our members, day to day, they’re scared of the sneezes and coughs they have to deal with on a daily basis.”

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Henry has suggested that workers in food processing plants will be prioritized because there have been a number of outbreaks in the facilities that have led to broader community transmission.

James Donaldson, CEO of BC Food and Beverage, said his organization has been advocating for food production workers to receive priority access to vaccines since they became available.

“Our industry is essential as it ensures the continuity of the food supply for people in B.C. and around the world,” he said.

Kim Novak, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Canada Local 1518, represents food plant workers including those at Grand River Foods in Abbotsford who recently grappled with a COVID-19 outbreak.

“It’s because of the nature of the work. People are working in close proximity. Even with enhanced (personal protective equipment), staggering breaks and other health and safety protocols that have been implemented, there is still a high level of exposure,” she said.

Novak’s union also represents grocery store workers and she hopes they will be included in the plan for the vaccine.

“In grocery stores in particular, there is a lot of exposure to different people in the public,” she said. “That exposure not only is a risk for our members … but also the public who interact with them.”

BC Trucking Association president Dave Earle, meanwhile, said his group represents both long-haul truckers and local drivers who return home every night. He wants to hear from the province about where the COVID-19 hot spots are in the transportation system.

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For example, in B.C., there are 300,000 people with a Class 1 licence allowing them to operate a semi-trailer truck, Earle said.

“Not everybody with a Class 1 licence operates a heavy truck at the moment and many of those who do don’t do it in an environment where they’re at any greater risk than you and I just going about our daily lives,” he said.

In some European countries, people have been hesitant to receive the AstraZeneca shot because of fears it is less effective than the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.

Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization has also not recommended AstraZeneca for people over 65, while Health Canada has approved it for all adults.

Henry sought on Thursday to assure essential workers that the AstraZeneca vaccine is extremely effective. The clinical trials for all three vaccines were done under different conditions and cannot be fairly compared, she said.

The groups representing essential workers said Friday they hadn’t heard any concerns about the AstraZeneca shot from members.

Earle said his association takes guidance from public health officials and they’ve been abundantly clear.

“Whatever you’re offered, take it. Let’s get out of this.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 5, 2021.

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Why it's 'urgent' BC teachers get vaccinated from COVID-19 before summer – Comox Valley Record – Comox Valley Record

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BC Teachers’ Federation is calling for the province to inoculate its exhausted teachers with the COVID-19 vaccine before summer.

“We’ve kept B.C. schools open throughout the pandemic but it’s come at a cost: teachers’ physical and mental health,” stated president Teri Mooring.

“It’s important for both their safety and peace of mind that they get vaccinated.”

With recent vaccine approvals in Canada, Mooring said there’s more space than ever for teachers to get vaccinated alongside other essential workers.

“There’s an urgency now that we know of 16 schools in the Fraser Health region that reported variant COVID-19 cases,” she told Black Press Media Friday.

RELATED: Variant of concern linked to COVID-19 outbreak at three Surrey schools

Even with the addition of rapid response teams in the sector, Mooring still doesn’t think enough is being done to prevent virus transmission in schools.

“Even before variants were detected, teachers were deeply unsatisfied with the safety protocols in place,” said Mooring, highlighting the federation’s ongoing appeal for a broader in-school mask mandate and reduction in class sizes.

“The provincial health officer continues to tell us that rates of COVID-19 transmission in schools are low, but the data is telling a different story.”

Evidence from WorkSafeBC shows teachers being infected with COVID-19 more than all others employed – aside from B.C. health care workers.

Eighty-two per cent of teachers’ COVID-19 claims have been accepted by the Workers’ Compensation Board, compared to 70 per cent from those in other sectors.

READ MORE: ‘Status quo is unacceptable’: BCTF calls on Fraser Health to improve school safety

Since early December, the education sector has seen a 250 per cent increase in claims relating to the virus, WorkSafeBC data reveals.

“Teachers would feel more comfortable if they at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine before going into the next school year,” Mooring stated.

“Vaccinations will also allow schools to be reliable and stay open.”


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