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One year into the COVID-19 pandemic, what have we learned? – Global News

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On March 11, the world marked a grim milestone: the anniversary of the World Health Organization declaring COVID-19 a pandemic.

For many, the anniversary takes sombre tone. One full year isolated from friends and loved ones. One full year out of work. One full year of life as we know it, thrown into complete disarray.

To date, more than 2.5 million people — including 22,276 Canadians — have died from the virus, but its exact origin is still unknown.

Read more:
One year since Canada’s 1st COVID-19 case. Here’s how daily life has changed for some

A year into the pandemic, what has Canada learned, and how can these lessons be applied to the next health crisis?

For the most part, some experts agree Canada did a fairly good job at keeping the health-care system from becoming overwhelmed as COVID-19 rampaged through the country — but the federal government’s pandemic response was far from perfect.

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“We did a very good job of preventing a Bergamo (Italy) or New York City kind of disaster… We didn’t have people without ventilators, we didn’t have people dying in the hallways and stuff like that. So I think we did well from that perspective,” Andrew Morris, an infectious diseases specialist at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, told Global News.

However, if the ultimate goal is to avoid any disruption to the country’s health-care system, he said the pandemic has been a “massive stress” that has “consumed everyone” involved almost “24/7.”

“We need to count ourselves lucky that it didn’t get that much worse or the government knew when to pull off the side of the road when playing chicken,” said Morris.


Click to play video 'Is Canada’s vaccine rollout working? Doctor answers our COVID-19 questions'



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Is Canada’s vaccine rollout working? Doctor answers our COVID-19 questions


Is Canada’s vaccine rollout working? Doctor answers our COVID-19 questions – Mar 1, 2021

Investing in public health

As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said, there is still much more to be done before the next public health crisis hits and “we aren’t out of the woods just yet.”

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After the pandemic was first declared, many were shocked to learn how underfunding of Canada’s health-care system had left emergency stockpiles of personal protective equipment such as masks and medical gowns depleted and health-care facilities understaffed and underprepared.

According to the most recent data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), the federal government spent $265.5 billion, or $7,064 per person in 2018 — representing 11.5 per cent of Canada’s gross domestic product.

That number may seem astronomical, but is reflective of years of cuts that have placed Canada among the lowest in hospital spending when compared with 37 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, including the U.S., France, the Netherlands, the U.K. and Germany.

Under former prime minister Stephen Harper’s leadership, Canada’s hospital spending decreased from 5.7 per cent in 2005-2006 to 5.1 per cent in 2014–2015, remaining relatively unchanged at 5.0 per cent from 2015–2016 to 2018–2019.

In January, the federal government projected it would take $593.5 billion to effectively manage the pandemic.

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Dr. Eric Arts, chair of microbiology and immunology at Western University, said even re-investing a few billion into public health is just a “drop in the bucket,” and could be immeasurably helpful as Canada works to stave off a third wave and the emergence of aggressive COVID-19 variants.

This could go towards a variety of things, like keeping PPE in stock, hiring more frontline workers, giving Canadians better access to health resources and enhancing equipment, he said.

Arts also offered the possibility of a “seed vaccine bank.”

“Although it sounds like science fiction, it’s very feasible for us to generate vaccines against pretty well any coronavirus or flu virus or viruses that commonly jump into the human population just by simply sampling different wildlife that exist out there that are the potential reservoirs for that virus to jump, we can pre-prepare vaccines and then just keep them in a bank,” he said.

“Then we can just pour that vaccine out of our freezer bank and start getting it ready for distribution.”


A nurse notes the medical data of a COVID-19 patient at the Pasteur hospital resuscitation unit in Colmar, eastern France, on Jan. 22, 2021.


Sebastien Bozon / AFP via Getty Images

Investing in public health also means investing in the data systems needed to help public health workers coordinate.

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Dr. Barry Pakes, program director with the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, said a national data system connecting primary care, hospitals, laboratories and pharmacies is needed if Canada’s frontline workers are going to avoid further health-care disruptions in the future.

“It doesn’t matter how many frontline people you have, they can’t do their job properly because their job takes eight times as long as it would if there was a system they were working in and that was more efficient and resourced,” he said.

Pakes noted these data systems used to help hospitals and different levels of government track vaccines, COVID-19 cases and contact management are separate and independent of one another, meaning it can take longer to retrieve information. These systems were all created during the pandemic and have been subject to several changes over the course of the last year, he added, leading to confusion among health workers.

“Investing in frontline care and disinvesting in all of the background is like investing in a keyboard and a monitor for a computer without investing in the computer itself,” he said.

“Yes, those are the things you interact with. But without that thing in the background that actually allows the monitor, the computer and the keyboard to function, you just have nothing.”


Click to play video 'Researchers to study long-term care policies for family support visits during COVID-19'



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Researchers to study long-term care policies for family support visits during COVID-19


Researchers to study long-term care policies for family support visits during COVID-19 – Jan 6, 2021

Revamping long-term care

Long-term care facilities were a hotbed for COVID-19 cases last year, accounting for 10 per cent of Canada’s COVID-19 cases and 72 per cent of deaths in January.

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Damning reports of neglect, disregard for infection prevention methods and overwhelmed workers surfaced detailing harrowing accounts from the country’s worst-hit long-term care homes. A military report on five long-term care homes in Ontario released in May of last year described the level of care as “horrible.”

However, just $1.7 billion of the federal government’s $593.5 billion budget went towards Canada’s vulnerable populations, including long-term care homes.

In order for long-term care facilities to operate smoothly, Morris says “you need a reasonably well-rested, financially secure workforce that doesn’t have to work more than one job and feels comfortable being able to take days off sick and are supported in doing so.”

“Any other congregate setting — retirement homes, (homeless shelters), group homes, they’re all the same. All these settings, the things that they have in common is that they’re indoors, they’re congregated and the people who work there are underpaid. And they’re not only underpaid, but they don’t have significant job security,” he said.

Read more:
COVID-19 cases are down across Canada, but hospitals aren’t celebrating yet. Here’s why

Since last year, many changes have been made to the way long-term care is managed in Canada. Updated infection prevention and control guidance from the Public Health Agency of Canada includes mandated medical masks for all staff and visitors at all times, face shields and testing.

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One way to circumvent the issue is to continually hire more staff and expand long-term care capacity, Morris said. But another would be to reduce the number of people who have to be in long-term care.

Morris, who works inside a hospital regularly, said many patients who arrived at the hospital “didn’t necessarily need to come in,” and could have probably stayed home if long-term care was improved, or if more Canadians could receive care for their loved ones at home.

“If we reduce the number of people in long-term care by even 10 per cent in Ontario, that’s what, like 90,000 fewer people in long term care?”


Click to play video 'Supply chain issues could extend to vaccines and pharmaceutical ingredients'



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Supply chain issues could extend to vaccines and pharmaceutical ingredients


Supply chain issues could extend to vaccines and pharmaceutical ingredients – Nov 30, 2020

Global supply chain reliance

In the global race to vaccinate each country against COVID-19, Canada quickly fell behind the United States, the U.K. and Israel. This was largely due to the country’s reliance on a global vaccine supply chain, which was briefly thrown into chaos when Pfizer and Moderna announced vaccine shipment delays.

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On March 5, the federal government announced the accelerated delivery of Pfizer vaccine shipments to compensate for the delays that may speed up Canada’s goal of having everyone who wants a vaccine inoculated by the end of September.

Canada has also signed a deal with vaccine development company Novavax, to produce the vaccine in Montreal — the first of its kind.

Arts said Canada “obviously” needs to invest more in vaccine production and upscaling its capacity to manufacture vaccines, but he noted equipping Canada with vaccines won’t solve a global pandemic.

“If we do it only for ourselves, we’re not solving the problem,” he said.

“That’s something that the public doesn’t quite understand because we only really think about right now how Canada is suffering from the lack of vaccine production in this country or lack of ability to procure vaccines.”

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To combat this, the World Health Organization and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance have created the COVAX Facility, a global vaccine sharing initiative aimed at ensuring vaccines remain available for poorer countries. As of Feb. 19, G7 countries had contributed more than US$7.5 billion, the group said in a joint statement.

Representatives of the initiative told the federal government last month that Canada was set to receive between 1.9 million and 3.2 million doses by the end of June.

Climate change still plays a role

As the Earth’s climate warms, Arts said human beings are venturing further into new areas for agriculture and food, disrupting the wildlife. According to Arts, a majority of new viruses emerging across the world have come from wildlife such as bats or mosquitos, which can pass on infections that can be deadly to human beings.

“People think, well, ‘it’s because people eat bats in China,’ but that’s not always the case and that’s not always true,” he said.

“People are encroaching on wildlife habitats more and more all the time and the more we encroach on those habitats, the more diseases will appear in our population. That’s clear fact now.”

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) released a joint report in July of last year identifying climate change as one of six driving factors in the emergence of diseases that jump from animals or insects to human beings — like COVID-19.

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“The science is clear that if we keep exploiting wildlife and destroying our ecosystems, then we can expect to see a steady stream of these diseases jumping from animals to humans in the years ahead,” UNEP executive director Inger Andersen said in a statement.

Arts echoed Andersen’s statements, saying that in order to prevent future diseases, “we need to reduce the contact we have with wildlife.”

“I remain fearful that we’ve become complacent. I hope that this has taught us a very painful lesson,” Arts said.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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CANADA STOCKS – TSX falls 0.14% to 19,201.28

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* The Toronto Stock Exchange’s TSX falls 0.14 percent to 19,201.28

* Leading the index were Stantec Inc <STN.TO​>, up 3.4%, Imperial Oil Ltd​, up 3.3%, and Corus Entertainment Inc​, higher by 2.9%.

* Lagging shares were Aphria Inc​​, down 14.2%, Village Farms International Inc​, down 9.9%, and Aurora Cannabis Inc​, lower by 9.4%.

* On the TSX 91 issues rose and 134 fell as a 0.7-to-1 ratio favored decliners. There were 24 new highs and no new lows, with total volume of 228.0 million shares.

* The most heavily traded shares by volume were Toronto-dominion Bank, Royal Bank Of Canada and Suncor Energy Inc.

* The TSX’s energy group fell 0.32 points, or 0.3%, while the financials sector climbed 2.46 points, or 0.7%.

* West Texas Intermediate crude futures rose 0.52%, or $0.31, to $59.63 a barrel. Brent crude  rose 0.4%, or $0.25, to $63.2 [O/R]

* The TSX is up 10.1% for the year.

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Air Canada signs C$5.9 billion government aid package, agrees to buy Airbus, Boeing jets

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By David Ljunggren and Allison Lampert

OTTAWA/MONTREAL (Reuters) -Air Canada, struggling with a collapse in traffic due to the COVID-19 pandemic, reached a deal on Monday on a long-awaited aid package with the federal government that would allow it to access up to C$5.9 billion ($4.69 billion) in funds.

The agreement – the largest individual coronavirus-related loan that Ottawa has arranged with a company – was announced after the airline industry criticized Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government for dawdling. The United States and France acted much more quickly to help major carriers.

Canada‘s largest carrier, which last year cut over half its workforce, or 20,000 jobs, and other airlines have been negotiating with the government for months on a coronavirus aid package.

In February, Air Canada reported a net loss for 2020 of C$4.65 billion, compared with a 2019 profit of C$1.48 billion.

As part of the deal, Air Canada agreed to ban share buybacks and dividends, cap annual compensation for senior executives at C$1 million a year and preserve jobs at the current level, which is 14,859.

It will also proceed with planned purchases of 33 Airbus SE 220 airliners and 40 Boeing Co 737 MAX airliners.

Chris Murray, managing director, equity research at ATB Capital Markets, said the deal took into account the “specific needs of Air Canada in the short and medium term without being overly onerous.”

He added: “It gives them some flexibility in drawing down additional liquidity as needed.”

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said the government was still in negotiations with other airlines about possible aid.

Canada, the world’s second-largest nation by area, depends heavily on civil aviation to keep remote communities connected.

Opposition politicians fretted that further delays in announcing aid could result in permanent damage to the country.

Air Canada said it would resume services on nearly all of the routes it had suspended because of COVID-19.

‘SIGNIFICANT LAYER OF INSURANCE’

The deal removes a potential political challenge for the Liberals, who insiders say are set to trigger an election later this year.

The government has agreed to buy C$500 million worth of shares in the airline, at C$23.1793 each, or a 14.2% discount to Monday’s close, a roughly 6% stake.

“Maintaining a competitive airline sector and good jobs is crucially important,” Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland told reporters, adding the equity stake would allow taxpayers to benefit when the airline’s fortunes recovered.

The Canadian government previously approved similar loans for four other companies worth up to C$1.billion, including up to C$375 million to low-cost airline Sunwing Vacations Inc. The government has paid out C$73.47 billion under its wage subsidy program and C$46.11 billion in loans to hard-hit small businesses.

Michael Rousseau, Air Canada‘s president and chief executive officer, said the liquidity “provides a significant layer of insurance for Air Canada.”

Jerry Dias, head of the Unifor private-sector union, described the announcement as “a good deal for everybody.”

Unifor represents more than 16,000 members working in the air transportation sector.

But the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents roughly 10,000 Air Canada flight attendants, said the package protected the jobs of current workers rather than the 7,500 members of its union who had been let go by the carrier.

($1=1.2567 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa and Allison Lampert in Montreal; Additional reporting by Julie Gordon in Ottawa and Munsif Vengattil in Bengaluru; Editing by Dan Grebler and Peter Cooney)

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U.K. advises limiting AstraZeneca in under-30s amid clot worry

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LONDON —
British authorities recommended Wednesday that the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine not be given to adults under 30 where possible because of strengthening evidence that the shot may be linked to rare blood clots.

The recommendation came as regulators both in the United Kingdom and the European Union emphasized that the benefits of receiving the vaccine continue to outweigh the risks for most people — even though the European Medicines Agency said it had found a “possible link” between the shot and the rare clots. British authorities recommended that people under 30 be offered alternatives to AstraZeneca. But the EMA advised no such age restrictions, leaving it up to its member-countries to decide whether to limit its use.

Several countries have already imposed limits on who can receive the vaccine, and any restrictions are closely watched since the vaccine, which is cheaper and easier to store than many others, is critical to global immunization campaigns and is a pillar of the UN-backed program known as COVAX that aims to get vaccines to some of the world’s poorest countries.

“This is a course correction, there’s no question about that,” Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, said during a press briefing. “But it is, in a sense, in medicine quite normal for physicians to alter their preferences for how patients are treated over time.”

Van-Tam said the effect on Britain’s vaccination timetable — one of the speediest in the world — should be “zero or negligible,” assuming the National Health Service receives expected deliveries of other vaccines, including those produced by Pfizer and Moderna.

EU and U.K. regulators held simultaneous press conferences Wednesday afternoon to announce the results of investigations into reports of blood clots that sparked concern about the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The EU agency described the clots as “very rare” side effects. Dr Sabine Straus, chair of EMA’s Safety Committee, said the best data is coming from Germany where there is one report of the rare clots for every 100,000 doses given, although she noted far fewer reports in the U.K. Still, that’s less than the clot risk that healthy women face from birth control pills, noted another expert, Dr. Peter Arlett.

The agency said most of the cases reported have occurred in women under 60 within two weeks of vaccination — but based on the currently available evidence, it was not able to identify specific risk factors. Experts reviewed several dozen cases that came mainly from Europe and the U.K., where around 25 million people have received the AstraZeneca vaccine.

“The reported cases of unusual blood clotting following vaccination with the AstraZeneca vaccine should be listed as possible side effects of the vaccine,” said Emer Cooke, the agency’s executive director. “The risk of mortality from COVID is much greater than the risk of mortality from these side effects.”

Arlett said there is no information suggesting an increased risk from the other major COVID-19 vaccines.

The EMA’s investigation focused on unusual types of blood clots that are occurring along with low blood platelets. One rare clot type appears in multiple blood vessels and the other in veins that drain blood from the brain.

While the benefits of the vaccine still outweigh the risks, that assessment is “more finely balanced” among younger people who are less likely to become seriously ill with COVID-19, the U.K’s Van-Tam said.

“We are not advising a stop to any vaccination for any individual in any age group,” said Wei Shen Lim, who chairs Britain’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization. “We are advising a preference for one vaccine over another vaccine for a particular age group, really out of the utmost caution rather than because we have any serious safety concerns.”

In March, more than a dozen countries, mostly in Europe, suspended their use of AstraZeneca over the blood clot issue. Most restarted — some with age restrictions — after the EMA said countries should continue using the potentially life-saving vaccine.

Britain, which relies heavily on AstraZeneca, however, continued to use it.

The suspensions were seen as particularly damaging for AstraZeneca because they came after repeated missteps in how the company reported data on the vaccine’s effectiveness and concerns over how well its shot worked in older people. That has led to frequently changing advice in some countries on who can take the vaccine, raising worries that AstraZeneca’s credibility could be permanently damaged, spurring more vaccine hesitancy and prolonging the pandemic.

Dr. Peter English, who formerly chaired the British Medical Association’s Public Health Medicine Committee, said the back-and-forth over the AstraZeneca vaccine globally could have serious consequences.

“We can’t afford not to use this vaccine if we are going to end the pandemic,” he said.

In some countries, authorities have already noted hesitance toward the AstraZeneca shot.

“People come and they are reluctant to take the AstraZeneca vaccine, they ask us if we also use anything else,” said Florentina Nastase, a doctor and co-ordinator at a vaccination centre in Bucharest, Romania. “There were cases in which people (scheduled for the AstraZeneca) didn’t show up, there were cases when people came to the centre and saw that we use only AstraZeneca and refused (to be inoculated).”

Meanwhile, the governor of Italy’s northern Veneto region had said earlier Wednesday that any decision to change the guidance on AstraZeneca would cause major disruptions to immunizations — at a time when Europe is already struggling to ramp them up — and could create more confusion about the shot.

“If they do like Germany, and allow Astra Zeneca only to people over 65, that would be absurd. Before it was only for people under 55. Put yourself in the place of citizens, it is hard to understand anything,” Luca Zaia told reporters.

The latest suspension of AstraZeneca came in Spain’s Castilla y Leon region, where health chief Veronica Casado said Wednesday that “the principle of prudence” drove her to put a temporary hold on the vaccine that she still backed as being both effective and necessary.

French health authorities had said they, too, were awaiting EMA’s conclusions, as were some officials in Asia.

On Wednesday, South Korea said it would temporarily suspend the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine in people 60 and younger. In that age group, the country is only currently vaccinating health workers and people in long-term care settings.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said it would also pause a vaccine rollout to school nurses and teachers that was to begin on Thursday, while awaiting the outcome of the EMA’s review.

But some experts urged perspective. Prof Anthony Harnden, the deputy chair of Britain’s vaccination committee, said that the program has saved at least 6,000 lives in the first three months and will help pave the way back to normal life.

“What is clear it that for the vast majority of people the benefits of the Oxford AZ vaccine far outweigh any extremely small risk,” he said. “And the Oxford AZ vaccine will continue to save many from suffering the devastating effects that can result from a COVID infection.”

Source: – CTV News

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