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Omicron: Some provinces face COVID-19 test backlogs – CTV News

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Canadians seeking a COVID-19 PCR test in recent days may have faced long lineups at testing centres and a shortage of appointment slots as demand has risen amid the spread of the Omicron variant.

The surge in tests has created a backlog in certain provinces, which in some cases has led to an adjustment in testing protocols.

Ontario was scheduled to announce new testing guidelines on Tuesday, but the update was postponed until later this week.

In a statement to CTVNews.ca, Ontario Health said, as of Dec. 27, labs were completing 53 per cent of PCR tests within one day of collection and 82 per cent within two days. While the lab network has the capacity to complete 100,000 PCR tests daily, the agency said turnaround times are likely to continue to rise as volumes increase.

“We understand that COVID-19 assessment centres, community testing sites and hospitals in some communities are experiencing increased wait times for testing appointments,” the agency said. “We are working with them as needed to meet community demands and align with the lab network’s testing capacity.”

The agency added it’s working on a number of strategies to optimize collection processes.

Testing centres in Quebec have also been overwhelmed. During a news conference Tuesday, the head of the province’s the vaccination program, Daniel Paré, said the centres are at “maximum capacity” now and PCR testing should only be sought by people who have COVID-19 symptoms.

“People have to isolate when they’re symptomatic and take these basic precautions. And for those who have rapid tests, use them well,” he said.

As of Dec. 27, PCR testing for the virus in Nova Scotia has been limited to people deemed high-risk. Only those who have symptoms or are close contacts and are at increased risk of severe disease, live in congregate settings or are front-line health-care workers are eligible.

All other Nova Scotians who experience symptoms or are close contacts can book an appointment to pick up a take-home rapid testing kit.

Manitoba, as of Dec. 27, also has changed how it administers COVID-19 testing. People who visit a testing site and are symptomatic as well as vaccinated will receive a take-home rapid testing kit. Those who are symptomatic and unvaccinated are eligible for a PCR test, with those deemed high-risk also being given a take-home rapid testing kit.

Dr. Brent Roussin, the chief provincial public health officer, said with the current testing backlog that people under 40 years of age with no underlying health conditions may want to consider self-isolating for 10 days if they develop symptoms.

On Friday, British Columbia announced the province had reached its capacity for processing COVID-19 PCR tests, which is about 20,000 per day, and that it would begin to prioritize such testing for people at greater risk of complications from the virus. This includes those who are aged 65 and up, have weakened immune systems or experiencing severe symptoms. PCR tests are also being reserved for front-line health-care workers.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry also said anybody who has COVID-19 symptoms should assume they have the virus and self-isolate for a week if they’re vaccinated or 10 days if they’ve had less than two vaccine doses.

With files from CTVNews’s Joe Lofaro, Natalie Lombard, Sarah Plowman, Mason DePatie and Ian Holliday, and CP24’s Chris Herhalt 

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Apple poised as Peloton's saviour among news the company is pausing equipment production – MobileSyrup

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A recent report from CNBC regarding Peloton’s manufacturing rate helped plummet the company’s stock by 24 percent in a single day.

The media outlet reports the exercise bike manufacturer has temporarily halted production of its fitness products because of a drop in consumer demand.

Internal documents revealed bike productions will pause in February and March. Production of Bike+ was halted back in December and won’t resume until June. The Tread treadmill won’t start manufacturing again for six weeks until February. Further, production of Tread+ was previously halted and likely won’t resume this year.

This fueled ongoing rumours surrounding the fitness company’s production problems, with Insider reporting Peloton will lay off 41 percent of its staff in its sales and marketing departments.

Once noted as the darling of connected exercise equipment, the company is now struggling. CNBC says that Peloton overestimated how many people would buy its products after a jump in sales tied to at-home workouts during the pandemic.

Now experts are saying the only way to save the Peloton is if tech giant Apple purchases it. Financial advice publication, The Motley Fool, reports Apple has the cash to spare and “wants to be a force in health and wellness.” However, the article also notes a possible acquisition would “benefit Peloton far more than it would Apple,” given the fitness company’s smaller “market opportunity.”

Peloton CEO John Foley has denied that production is slowing or halted and says media reports are “incomplete and out of context.”

“Rumors that we are halting all production of bikes and Treads are false,” Foley wrote in a letter of response.

However, he did acknowledge layoffs may soon be on the horizon.

“We now need to evaluate our [organizational] structure and size of our team, with the utmost care and compassion. And we are still in the process of considering all options as part of our efforts to make our business more flexible,” he wrote.

Image credit: Shutterstock

Sources: CNBC, Insider, The Motley Fool

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Latest research says combination of throat and nose swabs provides better COVID-19 rapid test results: Nova Scotia Health – CTV News Atlantic

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In a Canadian first, Nova Scotia researchers say COVID-19 rapid tests that include both throat and nose swabs provide greater accuracy in detecting the virus.

Up until now, the instructions provided by the manufacture has been for nasal swab only.

Now, based on research led by Nova Scotia Health’s microbiology team, public health is recommending Nova Scotians using rapid tests swab both their throat and nose when collecting their sample.

In a release Friday, Nova Scotia Health said its working to update the current testing instructions that people receive when they pick up a rapid test.

The research was prompted by public discussion theorizing that a combined sample may produce more accurate results.

Speaking to CTV Thursday, Dr. Todd Hatchette, the chief of the province’s Division of Microbiology, Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, said researchers found using a single swab on a person’s throat first, and then in both nostrils is more effective at detecting Omicron than doing either site alone.

“When we tested just over 1,500 people, we found that either the nose or the throat both detected about 60 per cent of people, but if you did a combined nose / throat, it detected over 82 per cent of people,” said Hatchette.

The research started about a week ago. Officials at the microbiology lab worked with volunteers at the Halifax Convention Centre testing site to collect the data.

In Friday’s release, Nova Scotia Health says collaboration with volunteer-based community rapid testing sites was key to the project’s success and allowed the project to rapidly answer a question that many jurisdictions across the country have been asking.

The investigation compared results of a common rapid take-home test using three sample sites: nasal swab; throat swab and; combined nasal/throat, the release said. All results were confirmed with PCR testing. Compared to PCR test results, samples from nasal or throat swabs each detected 64.5 per cent of cases; however, combining the nose and throat swabs increased sensitivity to 88.7 per cent.

This research project has been submitted for publication.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, speaking Friday from Ottawa, welcomed the Nova Scotia swab study.

“I’ve asked our laboratory network, our laboratory experts, to take that into account and see whether we can provide some sort of guidance,” Tam said. “But, of course, I think we’ve been discovering that the Omicron variant may be behaving a bit differently to the previous variants, so this approach, this swabbing, might be useful.”

One thing to note, public health is advising that if only one location of the sample is being used, it should be the nasal swab, as the throat swab alone is not as effective as the nasal swab.

Nova Scotia is the first to report research results supporting a combined throat/nose collection method for self-administered rapid antigen tests.

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Gold price next week: a breakout or a sideways trap? All eyes on hawkish Fed and stocks volatility – analysts – Kitco NEWS

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(Kitco News) The gold market surprised with a breakout above $1,830 an ounce this week. And analysts say next week will be pivotal in whether gold breaks out or gets stuck in the sideways price action again.

In an unexpected move, the precious metal surged to two-month highs this week, with investors flocking to safe havens as volatility rocked the equity markets ahead of the Federal Reserve meeting next week.

With stocks and the crypto space selling off, money has to go somewhere, RJO Futures senior market strategist Frank Cholly told Kitco News.

“Gold rallied this week due to all the weakness in the equity market. Bitcoin is down pretty good too,” Cholly said. “We have a bottom in gold. The question is, are we going to go lower and stay sideways or climb towards $1,900. The precious metal needs another close above $1,830. It’s critical to hold that level before a move above $1,850.”

The move in gold did surprise some analysts because of how swift it was, said Gainesville Coins precious metals expert Everett Millman.

“The gold market has been going sideways for several months. To see a breakout in either direction was a bit surprising. Coming into this week, sentiment in the gold market was very negative. Many big banks were projecting the gold price to go down. This ended up playing in gold’s favor as negative sentiment set us up for a reversion in another direction,” Millman said.

Also, rising oil prices and strong retail demand have contributed to higher price levels in gold. “Higher oil does make it more expensive to get gold out of the ground. We could see constraints in the gold supply being mined. Plus, the real demand for gold is still strong. The U.S. Mint saw 12-year highs in gold sales, while the Perth Mint saw 10-year highs. Average retail investors are still buying gold at the fastest pace in ten years,” Millman added.

All eyes are on how markets will react to the Federal Reserve monetary policy meeting, scheduled for Wednesday. Cholly estimates to see a steeper sell-off in U.S. equities as the central bank maintains the same level of hawkishness.

“We could go through a more meaningful correction in equities. We’ll have more evidence of the Fed’s direction. And the stock market likes to throw tantrums to get the Fed’s attention. Next week, gold’s strength will hinge on equities moving lower and reallocation of money into precious metals. Silver may even become the leader as we move forward,” Cholly pointed out.

If gold does break above $1,850, it opens the door for $1,870-80 and eventually $1,900, he added.

Fed in focus

The Fed meeting, which will be followed by the central bank Chair Jerome Powell’s press conference, is the biggest macro event next week.

Analysts expect to get more hawkish clues in terms of the first rate hike in March and more clarity around the potential balance sheet runoff. Currently, markets are pricing in four rate hikes in 2022.

“With the Omicron wave now past its peak nationally, there is little to hold the Fed back, particularly if next week brings news of a further acceleration in wage growth,” said Capital Economics chief North America economist Paul Ashworth. “A dissenting vote, to raise rates immediately, from one of the hawkish regional Fed Presidents – who will be voting as part of the annual rotation – could also add fuel to the recent bond market sell-off.”



There is also a risk that the Fed could get even more hawkish by announcing the completion of the tapering process immediately, said ING chief international economist James Knightley.

“The Federal Reserve meeting will be the main focus, and we strongly suspect that we could see the announcement of the ending of QE asset purchases brought forward from the mid-March end-point currently signaled, to an immediate cessation, “Knightley wrote. “In an environment where the economy has fully recovered the lost output from the pandemic, where unemployment is back below 4% and where inflation is at near 40-year highs, it seems strange to say the least for them to continue stimulating the economy.”

Other key data releases to keep an eye on will be Tuesday’s CB consumer confidence, Thursday’s Q4 GDP number, jobless claims and durable goods orders, as well as Friday’s PCE price index.

“We expect to learn that fourth-quarter GDP growth was a slightly disappointing 4.0% annualized. But markets may focus more on the Employment Cost Index (ECI). Private wage growth hit 4.6% y/y in the third quarter and could have climbed as high 5% in the fourth, which would make a March rate hike a near-certainty,” Ashworth noted.

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