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Ontario asymptomatic testing program finds 57 COVID cases so far in more than 4,500 tests to date in Toronto, Peel, York, Ottawa – Toronto Star

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Ontario’s asymptomatic COVID-19 school testing program has so far found 57 cases after more than 3,600 tests in hot spots in Toronto, York, Peel and Ottawa, the Star has learned.

Almost half of those COVID cases were at one Toronto school, Thorncliffe Park Public School, which closed earlier this month after 26 were uncovered through the voluntary testing introduced by the government late last month.

The province is awaiting results on an additional 890 swabs, for a total of 4,544 tests conducted.

That means that so far, the positivity rate is less than two per cent, said a government source.

“It underscores what doctors have said all along: students aren’t getting COVID-19 in schools, they bring it into schools from the community,” said the source.

“Put this into perspective — in the highest-risk regions, with the highest rates of positivity, we have not seen asymptomatic spread.”

The province plans to expand the program, a first in the country, in the new year, as opposition critics continue to push for much more widespread testing in schools.

New Democrat MPP Marit Stiles, her party’s education critic and a former Toronto school board trustee, said until there is mass testing, “we are not going to have a handle on what we are dealing with.”

Amid rising cases in the community, the government sent a memo to boards advising them to prepare for online learning in case a quick switchover is needed.

Stiles, however, said the government needs to do more.

“Open or closed is not a plan,” she said. “Kids will be back at school” at some point, and the government needs to decrease class sizes, among other things, to allay families’ fears.

“The parents I have spoken to are very worried and upset about it,” she said.

Green party Leader Mike Schreiner urged Premier Doug Ford to “make the call now for an extended winter break for schools, so parents and educators can plan. And provide supports for parents who need to take time off or find child-care options during that time. Use the extended break to improve ventilation in schools and to reduce class sizes to ensure safe physical distancing when students return to school.”

At a press conference Thursday, Ford was asked about further lockdown measures, including the possibility of remote learning for students after the holiday break.

“Everything is on the table,” he said. “And if we do move forward and decide to do a further lockdown there are a lot of things to take into consideration. There’s the education, making sure that we have daycare, making sure the educators are ready … having hotels for people that have COVID, that we can put them into hotels instead of at home. We have to make sure that we have something for the businesses.”

Ford also said Education Minister Stephen Lecce “has put the schools on notice as well. So it’s all hands on deck. We have to be ready for anything. And the trend is moving at a rapid, rapid fashion right now. So we’re going to be ready.”

As of Thursday, Ontario reported an additional 170 COVID cases among students and staff in all public schools, for a total of just over 7,000 since classes began in September. Some 955 schools, out of the province’s 4,828 have reported cases, or roughly one in five.

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Meanwhile, a new memo to Toronto District School Board principals and vice-principals has raised concerns about reporting of cases and transparency over the holidays.

It says that “during the winter break, schools are NOT required to report cases to (the board’s) Occupational Health and Safety or the Ministry’s Go Secure website. Reporting of positive cases will resume as per the TDSB COVID-19 Response Plan on Monday, January 4.”

The memo, obtained by the Star, said that “in line with the Ministry of Education, the TDSB COVID-19 Advisories website will NOT be updated during the winter break, however any recommendation from (Toronto Public Health) for staff and/or students to self isolate will continue to be communicated to directly-impacted classes only.”

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Delays to Canada's deliveries of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine doses keep getting worse – Winnipeg Free Press

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Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin responds to a question on COVID vaccines during a news conference, Thursday, January 14, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin responds to a question on COVID vaccines during a news conference, Thursday, January 14, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

OTTAWA – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke to Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla by phone Thursday, the same day the company informed Canada delays to its shipments of COVID-19 vaccines are going to be even worse than previously thought.

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, the military commander now overseeing the vaccine logistics for the Public Health Agency of Canada, said last week a factory expansion at Pfizer’s Belgium plant was going to slow production, cutting Canada’s deliveries over four weeks in half.

In exchange, Pfizer expects to be able to ship hundreds of millions more doses worldwide over the rest of 2021.

Tuesday, Fortin said Canada would receive 80 per cent of the previously expected doses this week, nothing at all next week, and about half the promised deliveries in the first two weeks of February.

Thursday, he said the doses delivered in the first week of February will only be 79,000, one one-fifth of what was once expected. Fortin doesn’t know yet what will come the week after, but overall, Canada’s doses over three weeks are going to be just one-third of what had been planned.

Trudeau has been under pressure to call Bourla, as the delayed doses force provinces to cancel vaccination appointments and reconsider timing for second doses.

Fortin said some provinces may be hit even harder than others because of limits on the way the Pfizer doses can be split up for shipping. The vaccine is delicate and must be kept ultra frozen until shortly before injecting it. The company packs and ships specialized coolers, with GPS thermal trackers, directly to provincial vaccine sites.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said earlier this week he doesn’t blame the federal government for the dose delays but wanted Trudeau to do more to push back about it.

“If I was in (Trudeau’s) shoes … I’d be on that phone call every single day. I’d be up that guy’s yin-yang so far with a firecracker he wouldn’t know what hit him,” he said of Pfizer’s executives.

Trudeau informed Ford and other premiers of the call with Bourla during a regular teleconference to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic. Until Thursday, all calls between the federal cabinet and Pfizer had been handled by Procurement Minister Anita Anand.

Ford also spoke to Pfizer Canada CEO Cole Pinnow Wednesday.

Trudeau didn’t suggest the call with Bourla made any difference to the delays, and noted Canada is not the only country affected.

Europe, which on the weekend thought its delayed doses would only be for one week after European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen spoke to Bourla, now seems poised to be affected longer. Italy is so angry it is threatening to sue the U.S.-based drugmaker for the delays.

Mexico said this week it is only getting half its expected shipment this week and nothing at all for the next three weeks. Saudi Arabia and Bahrain also reported delays getting doses. Pfizer Canada spokeswoman Christina Antoniou said more countries were affected but wouldn’t say which ones.

Fortin said Pfizer has promised to deliver four million doses to Canada by the end of March and that is not going to change with the delay. With the current known delivery schedule, the company will have to ship more than 3.1 million doses over 7 1/2 weeks to meet that commitment.

Deliveries from Moderna, the other company that has a COVID-19 vaccine approved for use in Canada, are not affected. Canada has received about 176,000 doses from Moderna to date, with deliveries arriving every three weeks.

Moderna has promised two million doses by the end of March.

Both vaccines require first doses and then boosters several weeks later for full effectiveness. Together Pfizer and Moderna intend to ship 20 million doses to Canada in the spring, and 46 million between July and September. With no other vaccines approved, that means Canada will get enough doses to vaccinate the entire population with two doses by the end of September.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 21, 2021.

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COVID-19 variant detected at Ontario long-term care home very concerning, public health officials say – CBC.ca

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More than 90 per cent of residents at a Barrie, Ont. long-term care home have tested positive for COVID-19 as of Thursday. 

At least 122 of 130 residents at Roberta Place Long-Term Care Home have been infected, the home said in a statement to CBC Toronto on Thursday.

Since the outbreak, 19 residents have died and 69 staff are infected.

Jeremy Taggart found out on Wednesday that his mother, Beryl Taggart, was one of the residents who had tested positive.

Taggart said only two weeks ago they were assured by the home that the outbreak would be contained.

“Now it’s just this heaving cesspool that’s just, ‘Dare go in there and you’re going to get COVID-19,’ I don’t understand,” he said.

Jeremy Taggart found out on Wednesday that his mother, Beryl Taggart, was one of the residents at the home who had tested positive for the novel coronavirus. (CBC)

Taggart says his mother has not experienced any symptoms yet but he is frustrated with the communication from the home.

“Clearly, they’re overwhelmed. They’re not admitting they’re overwhelmed, I don’t know why. They’ve needed help for two weeks and it’s a disaster and here I am, just kind of sitting and waiting.”

On Thursday, local public health officials said there is cause for concern for the yet-to-be identified variant of COVID-19 at the home.

The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit said the unusually rapid spread of the virus at Roberta Place earlier this month prompted officials to start testing for a variant strain.

Fifty-five people at the nursing home became ill within 48 hours of the first COVID-19 case being identified, said Dr. Colin Lee, the unit’s associate medical officer of health.

The variant was identified in six cases and further results are expected in the coming days, the unit said.

“The problem is that this spreads so quickly to so many people that ultimately you’re going to have a higher chance of more people severely ill and [more] deaths,” Lee said.

‘I can only wish I could turn the clock back’

Lee told CBC Toronto that the first variant case appears to be in a staff member. He said the person did have close contact with someone who travelled outside the country.

“I can only wish I could turn the clock back if we had a vaccine a month before we went in on Saturday. I think this outbreak would be a lot less severe,” Lee said.

There’s a “very high probability” that the variant detected at the home is one of three known COVID-19 variants — strains from the U.K., South Africa and Brazil, said Lee.

Public health officials will be carrying out more testing at the home and will be trying to immunize as many residents and staff at the facility as possible, he said.

An earlier immunization effort saw only 21 residents vaccinated as most others were already infected with COVID-19, he said.

“We went in there on Saturday and immunized as many as we could,” he said.

Primary goal is to prevent further spread

The health unit is trying to reach all close contacts of those infected as quickly as possible so they can self-isolate if needed, said Lee.

“One of our primary goals right now is to prevent the spread further, as it gets into households and other hospitals,” Lee said.

Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario’s associate chief medical of health, said public health officials will also be stepping up infection prevention and control at the home.

Yaffe said the source of infection is still hard to determine as the outbreak at the home is still under investigation.

“At this point, we know a mutation is in there. The 501 mutation that’s associated with increased transmissibility … We don’t know which mutant it is, or which variant of concern,” she said.

“So it’s hard to say right now how widespread it is because we don’t even know exactly what it is.”

Fifty-five people at the nursing home became ill within 48 hours of the first COVID-19 case being identified, said Dr. Colin Lee, the local public health unit’s associate medical officer of health. Lee describes the spread as ‘tremendously rapid.’ (EVAN MITSUI)

Last week, the Canadian Red Cross was deployed to Roberta Place to help with the growing outbreak.

Orillia Soldiers Memorial Hospital, along with other local organizations, has also been asked to help manage it.

The Ministry of Long-Term Care said Thursday that it was working with its health partners to ensure staffing levels at the home were sufficient.

“This development underscores the need for everyone to stay home to stop the spread of COVID-19 and help protect our long-term care homes, especially as we find more evidence of new variants in our communities,” said spokeswoman Krystle Caputo.

Taggart says he wants Canadian Forces to come in to help his mother and other patients at the facility in the same way the military assisted a number of Ontario long-term care homes during the first wave of the pandemic.

“They had the military in the spring. What the hell is going on? Where are they? Anything! We need all hands on deck,” Taggart said.

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Even with new COVID-19 vaccine approvals, rollout won’t increase before April – Global News

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Even with two new COVID-19 vaccines under regulatory scrutiny, Canada’s vaccine supply is unlikely to increase before April.

The country’s rollout currently depends on vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, both of which are in short supply amid overwhelming global demand.

Read more:
Coronavirus: Toronto’s mayor speaks to Pfizer about improving COVID-19 vaccine production

Canada is set to receive a combined six million doses by the end of March, enough to vaccinate three million Canadians on the vaccines’ respective two-dose regimens.

Federal officials confirmed Thursday that a delay in Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine shipments to Canada will cause short-term delays across the country. They also released a table showing how many people would be able to be vaccinated with the addition of all of the yet-to-be approved vaccines for which Canada has signed procurement deals.

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Vaccine shortage to travel bans, doctor answers top COVID-19 questions


Vaccine shortage to travel bans, doctor answers top COVID-19 questions

If other vaccines apart from the Pfizer and Moderna products are approved in the coming months, 10 million more Canadians could be vaccinated by the end of June, making for a collective total of 23 million. However, the approvals would not boost supply in Q1, which spans January to March.


Supplied – PHAC.


Supplied – PHAC

Despite hiccups in the supply chain, Canada continues to be “on track” to receive the allotted four million doses from Pfizer-BioNTech by the end of March, deputy chief public health officer Dr. Howard Njoo said.

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“We will have enough supply,” Njoo said, highlighting all vaccinations are on track to be completed in Canada by the end of September.


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Supply chain expert says countries can learn lessons from COVID-19 vaccine rollout disruptions


Supply chain expert says countries can learn lessons from COVID-19 vaccine rollout disruptions

Major-General Dany Fortin, head of the country’s vaccine distribution efforts, said despite some provinces being “disproportionately” impacted by the Pfizer-BioNTech shortage, Canada has managed to distribute 1.1 million vaccines across provinces and territories.

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Fortin further maintained that such “losses” will in time be “rebalanced” once the supply picks up.

Read more:
‘We need the vaccine now,’ health official says as COVID-19 variant found in Ontario nursing home

Canada has administered some 700,000 shots – that accounts for roughly 1.7 per cent of the population who have received at least one dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna products. In Ontario, about 40,000 people have been fully vaccinated against the virus.

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Meanwhile, Health Canada regulators are still reviewing clinical trial data for both the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson products. Three other vaccine candidates included in Thursday’s vaccine supply projection are not yet in the rolling review phase.

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

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