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Percentage of COVID-19 variant cases on the rise in Alberta – Global News

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The percentage of cases of COVID-19 variants of concern making up all active cases in the province is rising, and one mathematician said the province may be at a tipping point.

Chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said that in late January, variant cases made up three per cent of all active cases; as of last Wednesday, she said that variant cases made up nine per cent of all active cases in the province.

READ MORE: The big picture: a timeline of increasing COVID-19 variants in Alberta

“Having that said, in other jurisdictions they have seen a much more rapid growth of variants of concern as a proportion of all COVID cases,” Hinshaw said.

“This means our health measures, both the overall restrictions as well as the targeted measures for variant cases, are working to slow the growth and if we continue to work together, we can continue to limit the spread.”

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Other numbers provided to Global News by Alberta Health show that from January 25 to 31 inclusive, there were 41 variant of concern cases and a total of 3,038 new cases of COVID-19 – or 1.3 per cent of new cases.

From March 3 to 9 inclusive, there were 230 variant of concern cases and a total of 2,282 new cases of COVID-19 – or 10 per cent of new cases.

“Please note that when a positive COVID case is identified by the lab, the sample is sent for variant screening or whole genome sequencing which can take some time. As a result, variant case counts are already included in the total cases reported. This means that each day, historic info on variant of concern cases is being updated, so numbers fluctuate day to day,” said spokesperson Sherene Khaw.


Click to play video: 'Toronto’s top doctor warns COVID-19 pandemic ‘not over’ as variant cases rise'



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Toronto’s top doctor warns COVID-19 pandemic ‘not over’ as variant cases rise


Toronto’s top doctor warns COVID-19 pandemic ‘not over’ as variant cases rise

Developmental biologist Gosia Gasperowicz with the University of Calgary said cases of the variant are doubling fast.

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“It’s not as fast as they could but definitely they are growing,” she said.

“They are still a low absolute number and always with exponential growth, it looks innocent at low numbers…Once you start doubling from 300 then, just in two doubling times, you are at 1,200.”

Gasperowicz is a proponent of the COVID zero strategy, which aims to get COVID-19 cases down to zero. A growing number of variant cases could put Alberta is in a tricky position,” Gasperowicz said.

“We are doing better than other jurisdictions in not letting the variant grow as fast as it can grow but it’s still growing. We are not speeding at 200 km/h but 100 km/h, which is still speeding.

“Once restrictions are eased, there’s possibility for it to spread and it will spread.”

READ MORE: First cases of Brazil COVID-19 variant detected in Alberta

Gasperowicz said it is important for the R value of variants of concern to be reported, which they currently are not. Alberta Health only releases the R value for the province, Edmonton zone, Calgary zone and the rest of Alberta. Requests for the R value of variant cases to Alberta Health have been declined.

“This number is not reported and I think it should be,” she said.

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Mathematician Daniel Coombs with UBC said Alberta is at a “reasonable tipping point now” with nine or 10 per cent of cases qualifying as variants of concern.

“If you think of the variant as an entirely new disease, it is spreading into a more or less untouched population,” he said.

“In the same way there’s not a particular number of cases we really worry about with regular COVID, we just know we don’t want it to go up because you’ll end up with lots of people in hospital and other serious effects. It’s the same with the variant.”

Coombs said that, with the increase in percentage of variants in all active cases in Alberta, the prediction most people would make now would be more robust growth of the B.1.1.7. variant, which was first discovered in the U.K., and the predominant strain of a variant of concern in the province, over the next few weeks.

“Certainly what’s happened in other places in the world, is that the B.1.1.7., once it is finished invading, once it is growing robustly, it comes to completely dominate the epidemic,” he said.

Read more:
Ontario Hospital Association declares 3rd COVID-19 wave, cites sharp rise in variant cases

Coombs said it is now a race between the variants and vaccinations.

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“The sooner we can get the shots in arms, particularly in vulnerable people and people who come into contact with a lot of others, the better off we will be,” he said.

“Anything we can do to slow down the rapidly growing variants of concern, anything we can do to vaccinate faster and make sure no vaccines are left unused over the next few months is really critical.”

Read more:
AHS says website issues resolved as Alberta begins Phase 2A of COVID-19 vaccine rollout

Dr. Chris Mody, the head of the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Infectious Diseases at the University of Calgary, said the arrival of the P.1 variant, the strain first identified in Brazil, was to be expected. Alberta recorded two cases of the P.1 strain over the weekend.

“Eventually we were going to see the variant…we knew it was coming,” he said.

Alberta saw 136 new variant cases over the weekend, a number Mody said is not entirely unanticipated.

“I think for a number of weeks, everybody has been saying the variants are coming. It is a question of how strong and how fast,” Mody said.

“We’re all hoping they will come slowly and in small numbers and so far we still are dealing with slow and small numbers. But the variants are, in terms of a virus, they’re an amazing virus. They are built to spread – that’s what a virus does.”

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Click to play video: 'Rising fears about COVID-19 variants spreading, rules relaxing'



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Rising fears about COVID-19 variants spreading, rules relaxing


Rising fears about COVID-19 variants spreading, rules relaxing

On Monday, Hinshaw said Alberta identified 65 new variant cases, bringing the province’s total to 985 cases of a variant of concern. It’s not clear how many of those are current active cases.

“We certainly are seeing a growth of variant cases,” Hinshaw said Monday. “We’ve been able to slow the rate of growth through our interventions, but it is rising.”

She said the percentage of new COVID-19 cases that are variants of concern has risen over the last six weeks.

“We are seeing that per cent of new cases sitting at around 11 per cent-ish of our new cases right now, which of course is a concern as we see those numbers rise,” Hinshaw said.

Read more:
5 more residents from Edmonton’s Churchill Manor die over weekend amid COVID-19 variant outbreak

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Alberta’s top doctor said the province will be adding information to its website this week that shows the exact day each variant case was first identified.

“We want to make sure that Albertans have access to that daily information that shows what day each variant case was originally diagnosed with COVID-19 on a graph over time so you can see the different types of variant cases and that daily change.”

Hinshaw said Alberta labs continue to test every single positive case of COVID-19 for variants of concern.

— With files from Emily Mertz, Global News

© 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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