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No details on new public health orders yet, as Manitoba reports slight jump in daily COVID-19 cases –



Manitoba announced a slight jump in new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, as officials kept quiet about whether there will be any changes when the province’s public health orders expire Friday.

The current rules, which ban most gatherings and the sale of non-essential items, expire at 11:59 p.m.

But Manitoba’s acting deputy chief provincial public health officer hinted again there won’t be much change to the status quo come Saturday.

“I know not much has been said, but I wouldn’t interpret that [to mean] in any way that the orders will be lifted,” Dr. Jazz Atwal said on a conference call with reporters.

“We still have a high number of cases in acute care. We still have surgeries and diagnostics being deferred. We have staff who are allocated to acute care and ICU settings that are moved from other jobs, which affects other care.”

Atwal said details about what the new public health orders will include will likely be revealed Friday.

The province announced 208 new cases of the illness caused by the novel coronavirus on Thursday — a jump after daily new case counts stayed below 200 for days.

At the same time, Manitoba’s five-day test positivity rate was down to 9.9 per cent, the province said in a news release, marking the first time that figure dipped below 10 per cent since Nov. 9. In Winnipeg, the rate was 10.5 per cent — down one percentage point from the day before.

Manitoba’s five-day test positivity remains high, but dropped below 10 per cent on Thursday for the first time in nearly two months. (Bryce Hoye/CBC)

Meanwhile, the province revealed in a recently published vaccine rollout plan that it does not expect to immunize everyone who wants a shot before year’s end. That document says only about 70 per cent of Manitobans will get both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine before 2022.

Atwal said those projections are based on numbers the province has right now, and are likely to change over the coming weeks and months.

Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew said those projections show “a major failing” by the government to come up with a plan that will offer all Manitobans vaccination before the end of the year.

“Clearly, we need to see more investment, we need to see an improvement in the plan and we need to just be able to get to that 100 per cent mark,” Kinew said Thursday.

12 more deaths

The province also announced 12 more people have died from COVID-19, including a man from the Northern Health Region in his 30s and six others linked to outbreaks across the province, the news release said.

The deaths connected to outbreaks are a woman in her 90s from Brandon’s Fairview Personal Care Home, and five in Winnipeg: a woman in her 60s from the Convalescent Home of Winnipeg, a woman in her 80s from Concordia Personal Care Home, a woman in her 80s from the River East Personal Care Home, a man in his 90s from the Charleswood Care Centre and a woman in her 90s from Bethania Mennonite Personal Care Home.

The latest deaths, which bring Manitoba’s total to 717, also include a man from the Prairie Mountain Health region in his 60s, a Southern Health region woman in her 60s and three women — in their 50s, 70s and 80s — in the Winnipeg region.

A COVID-19 outbreak has been declared at the McCreary/Alonsa Health Centre in McCreary, Man., the province’s release said, while an outbreak at Winnipeg’s Seine River Retirement Home is now over.

There were 2,132 COVID-19 tests done in Manitoba on Wednesday, the release said. That’s the highest number done in a single day since numbers were announced after Christmas on Dec. 27. Those tests bring the total number done in the province to 432,839.

Manitoba saw a slight increase in COVID-19 tests done on Wednesday after fewer people got swabbed over the holidays. (Bryce Hoye/CBC)

About half the new cases announced Thursday (105) are in the Winnipeg health region, while just under one-third (60) are in the Northern Health Region, the release said. The remaining new cases are split between the Prairie Mountain Health and Southern Health regions (17 each) and the Interlake-Eastern health region (nine).

Seven previously announced COVID-19 cases were removed from Manitoba’s totals on Thursday, the release said, bringing the total number identified in the province to 25,742.

Sites where there have been possible COVID-19 exposures in Manitoba are listed by region on the province’s website.

Hospitalizations down

There are now 319 COVID-19 patients in hospital (down from 329 on Wednesday), with 35 in intensive care (down from 37), Shared Health Chief Nursing Officer Lanette Siragusa said on the conference call. Twenty-six of those patients are on ventilators, she said.

Siragusa said as some of those numbers drop, conversations are underway about when to redeploy staff and reschedule medical procedures put on hold by the pandemic.

“It does trigger us to be talking about how we make some decisions in the future, being very cautious about waiting for the numbers, watching the trends, and working very much collaboratively with public health,” she said.

To date, 20,519 people in Manitoba have been deemed recovered from COVID-19, and 4,506 cases are still considered active — though health officials say that number is still inflated by a data entry backlog.

All-season shelters at 125 personal care homes in Manitoba will soon be ready to use, the release said. While the province remains at the critical red pandemic response level, the shelters will be used to allow one person to visit a care home resident at a time.

Sites that don’t have those shelters have identified spaces for visits with similar pandemic precautions in place, the release said. Masks will be required, physical distancing has to be maintained and visitors will be screened for COVID-19 symptoms or exposures. 

All visits will be by appointment only, with more details coming from each care home in the coming days, the release said.

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B.C. unveils plan to vaccinate millions by September – Toronto Star



Nearly one year after the first case of COVID-19 was identified in B.C., the province announced its plan to have everyone who wants a vaccine immunized by September.

B.C. has distributed 100,000 immunizations in the past six weeks, and the province announced its timeline for the general population on Jan. 22.

Beginning in late-February, the province will move on to Phase 2 of the vaccination rollout. From December to March 800,000 doses of vaccine are expected to arrive in B.C., from April to June 2.6 million doses, and June to September six million doses are expected in the province.

“The plan forward is one that will put 4.3 million British Columbians in a vaccinated situation by the end of September,” Premier John Horgan said.

“By the end of September everyone who wants a vaccination will have one and the community immunity that we’re all striving for will be a reality,” Horgan said.

The plan depends on a consistent supply of vaccine, which has been disrupted recently with Pfizer upscaling its production plant in Europe, Horgan said. New vaccines, not yet approved by Health Canada, will also allow amendments to the plan going forward.

The province announced plans Friday to establish vaccine distribution in clinics in 172 communities in March through local health authorities in partnership with businesses, volunteers and municipalities.

It will be the largest immunization program in the history of the province, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said, with 8.6 million immunizations (two doses per person, 35 days apart) planned in the coming months.

People born in 1941 and earlier who were not immunized in Phase 1 are eligible to receive the vaccine in Phase 2, starting in late February and early March, as the age group eligible for vaccine moves down from there in five-year increments. Starting in mid-to-late February, health authorities will be reaching out to seniors 80 years and older and Indigenous seniors 65 and older, and Indigenous Elders, to provide information on how to pre-register for immunization appointments.

Hospital staff, community general practitioners, and medical specialists not immunized in Phase 1 will be eligible in Phase 2 as well as vulnerable populations living in congregate settings and shelters and staff in community home support and home care programs.

People aged 16 to 69 who are considered extremely vulnerable will also be eligible during this time including those with specific cancers, people receiving immunotherapy, sever respiratory conditions, rare diseases, immunosuppression therapies, adults on dialysis, people who have had their spleen removed, women who are pregnant with significant heart disease (congenital or acquired) and those with significant neuromuscular conditions requiring respiratory support.

Vaccinations to begin on general population in April

Phase 3 (April to June) will broaden the vaccine distribution into the general population. Starting with B.C. residents aged 60 to 79, who will likely get their first shot in April.

As more vaccines are approved, particularly those with less stringent transportation and temperature restrictions, other age groups may be considered during Phase 3 — specifically those between the ages of 18 and 64 who are front-line essential workers or work in specific industries.

When Phase 4 begins (July to September) vaccinations will be available for those aged 59 and under, moving down in five-year cohorts to age 18.



When vaccine distribution starts coming to the general population in Phases 3 and Phase 4 clinics will be held at large centres including school gymnasiums, arenas, convention and community halls and mobile clinics in self-contained vehicles will be available for some rural communities and for those who are homebound due to mobility issues, with more details coming on those operations in late February and early March.

The province’s communication plan launching in late-February will let residents know when they can expect to be vaccinated, how and where to pre-register and how to access vaccination clinics. Residents can register two to four weeks before being eligible for a vaccine.

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As vaccinations ramp up, when will B.C. ease restrictions? Health officials weigh in – CTV News Vancouver



Big parties and international travel will likely remain unsafe for British Columbians this summer, despite the province’s plans to administer millions of COVID-19 doses over the coming months.

That’s the latest forecast from provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, who was asked Friday when B.C.’s dramatically ramped up immunization program might pave the way for residents to remove their masks and begin gathering again.

The short answer is that it’s still too soon to say, though Henry did offer a few predictions for the year ahead.

She suggested this summer will probably look like last year, at least when it comes to vacations and big gatherings.

“I absolutely think there’s opportunities for us to travel within B.C. this summer,” Henry said. “It’s not realistic to think there’s going to be a lot of safe international travel by this summer, just because of the situation around the world.”

Henry also expects the kinds of “big parties” that led to widespread COVID-19 transmission last July and August will remain off-limits. But much of the province’s most at-risk populations should be vaccinated by then, if everything goes according to plan, and Henry noted the virus doesn’t appear to spread as easily in the warmer months as it does in fall and winter.

With that in mind, she expects “increased social interactions” will be allowed this summer.

“I do believe we’ll be able to get together in smaller groups, responsibly,” Henry said.

It’s unclear whether that means bigger social bubbles in 2021 than 2020. The provincial health officer noted there are “a whole lot of unknowns” in the province’s calculations, and that the government’s plans are prone to change as necessary.

As for the current restrictions that have been in place since early November, Henry said lifting those will depend on the public’s ability to slow the spread of COVID-19. It’s too early in the immunization program to expect the vaccine to do the heavy lifting there.

“We need to really focus on reducing the transmission risk in our community as low as possible, because that’s what drives outbreaks in long-term care, that’s what drives exposure events in schools, and that’s what drives the risk in our social gatherings,” Henry said.

“If we can do that, we can start having increased … social connection again.”

She also suggested the faster-spreading COVID-19 variants that have arrived in B.C. could impact the timeline if they lead to another rapid surge in cases.

The current restrictions, which generally do not allow for in-person socializing between different households, are scheduled to remain in place until at least Feb. 5. While Henry said health officials will be looking at potentially revising the public health orders at that time, she strongly discouraged British Columbians from making travel plans over the Family Day long weekend.

“Stay local,” she said. “We won’t be at a place where we can travel.”

And getting life back to normal, at least in terms of social interactions and gatherings, isn’t likely until the fall, according to Henry.

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Province rolls out plan to vaccinate 4.3M people against COVID-19 before October – Times Colonist



The province has unveiled its plan to vaccinate 4.3 million people against COVID-19 between April and the end of September.

Herd immunity to COVID-19 can be reached if the majority of people in B.C. choose to be vaccinated, said provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. Until then, restrictions on gathering will remain in place, and the need to maintain a physical distance from one another, wear masks in public places and practise infection-prevention remains critical.

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“We have a plan,” Henry said. “We know it’s going to take a few months but we have an end in sight and now is our time to stay committed to doing what we need to do to stop the transmission of COVID-19 here in British Columbia.”

The mass vaccination program, the largest in the province’s history, will be rolled out based on age in four phases, starting with those age 80 and older living in the community and ending with young adults. There are no approved COVID-19 vaccines for minors with the exception of some older teens with high-risk conditions.

“Age is the most important risk factor for hospitalization and mortality — that is the underlying driving factor,” Henry said.

Seniors 80 years of age and older and Indigenous seniors 65 and older can expect more information — via advertisements, public health notifications and media reports — in mid to late February about online and phone registration and vaccination clinics starting in March.

The province expects it will likely start vaccinating the 75-79 age group in the second half of March.

“Everyone in British Columbia has been affected by the pandemic,” said Premier John Horgan. “We are not equally vulnerable to the virus, and the science is very clear, the single biggest factor of death of severe illness is age — someone over the age of 60 is five times more likely to be seriously ill or die than someone under 45.”

The vaccines require two doses and the province plans to give residents the same product for both doses unless Health Canada advises otherwise.

After receiving their first dose, people will received a physical card as well as automated reminder of the date and place for their second vaccine. Once completed, they will receive a digital proof of immunization that can be viewed or printed.

The vaccine passport is for a person’s own health record, Henry said: “People will not be denied services based on vaccination status in B.C.”

To see as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible, later phases will include mass immunization clinics in local arenas, convention and community halls and school gymnasiums, mobile clinics, and residential visits for the housebound. Non-profit groups and the private sector will also offer vaccinations.

The province is on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s promise on behalf of the Canadian government that every Canadian who wants to be vaccinated against COVID-19 can be by the end of September 2021.

Canada has secured six million doses of vaccine for the first quarter of the year and expects to receive a further 20 million doses in the second quarter and 45 million in the third quarter.

Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are approved for use in Canada. It is expected that the AstraZeneca vaccine will likely be approved in coming months, and there are also other vaccines not as far along in the approval process.

B.C.’s plan, however, is based on only approved vaccines. If more are approved, it will allow for flexibility to target other populations, the government said.

Provincial health officials say they will adjust the plan if there are disruptions to the expected supply and delivery. Dr. Penny Ballem, chair of Vancouver Coastal Health and a former deputy health minister, is leading the province’s COVID-19 immunization plan and says the province is ready to adjust depending on the flow of vaccine.

Vaccinations for high-priority populations such as residents of long-term care homes began in December. All residents and staff in care homes throughout the province should have received a first dose in the “next few days,” Henry said.

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