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Polio in Canada? Wastewater to be tested – CTV News

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Canada plans to start testing wastewater in a number of cities for poliovirus following new reports of cases abroad, the Public Health Agency of Canada confirmed on Friday.

Although Canada has been polio-free since 1994 – thanks to uptake of the polio vaccine – PHAC warns it could return, since it is still circulating in other countries.

New York State confirmed a single case of polio on July 21, and the Associated Press reported on Friday that the virus that causes the highly transmissible paralytic disease has been detected in New York City’s wastewater.

In a statement emailed to CTVNews.ca on Friday, the Public Health Agency of Canada said it is aware of the confirmed case in New York, and that it plans to launch a wastewater testing initiative in Canada “as soon as possible.” So far, no recent cases of polio have been detected in Canada.

“PHAC has been communicating with national and international partners who are experts in this field to finalize a wastewater testing strategy,” the agency wrote, adding it will also begin testing wastewater samples collected earlier this year from key high-risk communities to determine if polio was present in Canada prior to the reported international cases.

“PHAC will also be sending samples to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for additional confirmation,” the agency wrote. It did not say when or where testing will take place.

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Polio is often asymptomatic, but in some cases, the viral infection can lead to paralysis or death.

Since wastewater analysis can detect the presence of viruses in a community where asymptomatic cases might otherwise evade clinical detection, environmental scientist Mike McKay said it could be a valuable tool to public health agencies watching to see if the virus returns to Canada.

McKay is executive director of the University of Windsor’s Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research. He leads a team that has analyzed wastewater samples from Windsor, Leamington, Amherstburg, Lakeshore, London, Sault Ste. Marie, North Bay and Thunder Bay throughout the pandemic. While wastewater analysis was used to monitor drug use in Canada prior to the pandemic, it was only with the arrival of COVID-19 that scientists like McKay first began using it to track the spread of viruses.

“Wastewater has been underutilized, overlooked for so long, and realizing what a potential resource it can be to aid our understanding of disease transmission through communities is exciting,” McKay told CTVNews.ca in an interview Friday.

Following the successful use of wastewater testing to track COVID-19, McKay said some of his colleagues at other institutions throughout Ontario have already begun using it to monitor for diseases like influenza and monkeypox.

“Recognizing its broader application to public health is really exciting, and we’re happy to be able to participate and help public health units in responding to COVID-19, and hopefully future outbreaks,” he said.

Nonetheless, PHAC warned that accurately testing wastewater for poliovirus is a developing, and imperfect, science. For example, wastewater detections can be affected by extreme precipitation events, such as flooding in a community.

The agency said it’s important that children are fully immunized and up-to-date on their boosters, as countries where the virus isn’t normally found – such as the United Kingdom, Israel and the U.S. – report new cases.

“While the general risk to the Canadian public from polio remains low, these international cases are a good reminder to stay up-to-date with vaccinations, even for rare vaccine-preventable diseases,” the agency wrote. 

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Family says Bill Blaikie, who served as NDP MP for nearly 30 years, dies

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WINNIPEG — Manitoba politician Bill Blaikie, who spent nearly 30 years as a member of Parliament with the federal New Democrats, has died.

His son, NDP finance critic Daniel Blaikie, posted a family statement on social media saying his father died Saturday at home in the presence of his wife, Brenda.

Bill Blaikie had announced publicly earlier this month that he was entering palliative care.

“We thank everyone for their kind words and gestures over the last week since Bill publicly announced he was transitioning to palliative care,” the family’s statement said.

“Street-side pipers, food, flowers and especially stories of how Bill inspired and entertained people over the years were a comfort to him and us in his final days.”

Blaikie was first elected to the House of Commons in 1979 representing a Winnipeg riding for the NDP, and at one point was the longest-serving MP in the House of Commons.

He left Ottawa in 2008, won a seat in the Manitoba legislature the following year and was named the province’s minister of conservation before leaving politics in 2011.

The family statement says funeral details will follow in the days ahead.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, in a condolence message to Blaikie’s family, called the former MP a “giant” in the party.

“His unwavering commitment to social and economic justice, his legendary knowledge of Parliament, and his sense of humour will be missed by all,” Singh posted to social media.

“Rest in power Bill.”

Blaikie, an ordained United Church minister, also held a position as an adjunct professor in theology at the University of Winnipeg.

He was voted Parliamentarian of the Year by his fellow MPs, due largely to his reputation as a hard worker who avoided partisan cheap shots in debates.

In 2003, he lost his bid for leadership of the federal party to Jack Layton in a contest that pitted Layton and the trendy new left against Blaikie and the traditional, Prairie populist wing.

Blaikie finished his parliamentary career as deputy Speaker of the Commons, explaining he retired from federal politics because he did not want to continue commuting between Winnipeg and Ottawa.

His switch to provincial politics caught many off guard, some party insiders remarked at the time. He said he sought the nomination after former Manitoba NDP premier Gary Doer asked him to consider it when a member of Doer’s caucus quit to run for Blaikie’s vacated federal seat.

Former NDP MP Pat Martin lauded Blaikie as the first to raise the issue of climate change in the House of Commons back in 1983.

Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew called Blaikie a “lion” of the party.

“He fought with passion, intelligence and faith for working people in Transcona and across the country,” Kinew posted on Twitter.

“The Blaikie family has been so good to us, on behalf of our movement we send you our deepest condolences.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 24, 2022.

 

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Fiona hits Newfoundland: Houses collapse, resident rescued after she is swept to sea

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CHANNEL-PORT AUX BASQUES, N.L. — Neighbours pulled a woman from the waters off southwestern Newfoundland early Saturday after a storm surge caused by post-tropical storm Fiona enveloped her home, causing it and several others to collapse into huge waves driven by hurricane-force winds.

RCMP Cpl. Jolene Garland said police were also investigating reports that a second woman had been swept into the Gulf of St. Lawrence under similar circumstances, but the Mountie said the status of that woman had yet to be confirmed.

Garland said the first woman, who she did not name, was given medical treatment and is believed to be fine. As for the second woman, police have yet to confirm reports that the rising waters pulled her from her basement in Port aux Basques, N.L.

“It’s too dangerous for us to enter into a search for that woman at this point,” Garland said in an interview. “We can’t substantiate her current location.”

Meanwhile, Garland confirmed that other homes in the coastal community were evacuated as Fiona closed in on Newfoundland’s west coast.

Both incidents were reported between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. local time, when a storm surge raised water levels at Port aux Basques to a record level. At the time, two peak gusts were recorded at 133 kilometres per hour, according to the weather office in Gander, N.L.

“We’re all used to wind and rain here, but this is not a normal amount of wind and rain,” Garland said. “The ocean waves that surged onto residential properties is abnormal. It has caused a lot of electrical fires … and many are without power as a result. And there’s a lot of flooding.”

Earlier in the day, the town of 4,200 declared a state of emergency.

Rene Roy, editor of the weekly newspaper in Port aux Basques, said he saw evidence that nine homes, including a two-storey apartment building, had been washed out to sea as wind-driven waves hit the rocky shoreline and soared about 25 metres into the air.

“Lower Water Street is devastated with damage,” said Roy, who is also sales director at Wreckhouse Press Inc., which is named after an area in southwestern Newfoundland where howling winds are common. “There are homes gone. There are homes in the street.”

Roy said the small island at the head of the town’s harbour, which includes the Channel-Head lighthouse, usually protects Water Street East from the Gulf of St. Lawrence. But that didn’t happen early Saturday as the waves broke over the island.

“The water was smashing in, 80, 90 feet high,” he said. “It just took that apartment building.”

He said it was unclear what happened to the building, but recalled it backed on a 10-metre-wide lawn that once stood about two metres above the water in the town’s bay. It had about a dozen units, he said.

From his cousin’s home on Mouse Island, Roy said he could see three houses “now a pile of rubble in the ocean.”

Powerful gusts are common in Port aux Basques, which is at the island’s southwestern tip and is home to a busy port that includes daily visits from ferries that link Nova Scotia with Newfoundland.

The homes in the low-slung, coastal community are built to withstand the worst that the ocean has to offer, Roy said, adding he once used a device known as an anemometer to measure gusts reaching 130 kilometres per hour on his street.

Born in Port aux Basques, Roy moved away but returned home seven years ago. The former firefighter said a 52-year-old neighbour who has lived in the community his entire life confirmed that he had never before witnessed such a powerful storm.

“It’s one for the ages,” Roy said.

David Neil, a meteorologist at the Gander weather office, said Fiona’s extraordinarily low barometric pressure — which set a Canadian record when the storm made landfall in Nova Scotia between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. — would have been responsible for raising water levels at Port aux Basques to a record 2.73 metres at 10 a.m.

The low pressure at the centre of the storm acts like a suction cup, lifting the water well above its normal level. When coupled with the high tide, the result can be disastrous. It’s called the “inverse barometer” effect.

As well, Neil said the waves were reaching 12 metres high close to shore.

“This storm was extreme, even for that area,” he said. “It was a perfect combination to hit that area hard.”

— By Michael MacDonald in Halifax.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 24, 2022.

 

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Federal government unlikely to declare victory on COVID as travel restrictions loosen

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OTTAWA — The thundering sound of hoofbeats charging toward the end of the track was met with a chorus of cheers from thousands of revellers in cowboy hats and jeans, dazzled by the colourful lights of the midway in the distance.

The Calgary Stampede attracted 500,000 visitors in 2021 after a year of pandemic isolation and uncertainty, epitomizing Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s “best summer ever.”

Kenney beamed from behind a podium that spring as he declared that Alberta had “crushed” the spike of COVID-19 infections and heralded the return of backyard barbecues, dream weddings, concerts, parties and, of course, the stampede.

“Today we are truly near the end of this thing. We’re leaving the darkest days of the pandemic behind and walking into the warm light of summer,” Kenney declared.

Months after what came to be known as Kenney’s “mission accomplished” moment, Alberta was pummeled by the Delta wave. The province’s intensive care units were devastated.

The moment left a lasting impression on the country’s political psyche.

Such a jubilant, if premature, declaration is not likely to be seen again in Canada’s COVID-19 response, even as other world leaders appear ready to leave the pandemic behind.

“The pandemic is over,” U.S. President Joe Biden said last week, striding down the blue carpet of the Detroit Auto Show in Michigan during an interview with “60 Minutes.”

The president said there is still work to be done, but suggested the disaster had passed.

“No one’s wearing masks, everyone seems to be in pretty good shape and so I think it’s changing.”

Canada’s cautious political message about the virus has never ceded to such optimism.

“What we have seen consistently is that people are still struggling in hospitals across our country with the impacts of COVID,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday at a press conference at the UN General Assembly in New York.

He encouraged people to get up to date on their vaccine booster doses, assuring the public “we will make sure this pandemic gets behind us as quickly as we possibly can.”

Two senior government sources, speaking on the condition they not be named because they were not authorized to speak publicly, told The Canadian Press that Trudeau has agreed in principle to let Canada’s vaccine mandates expire on Sept. 30.

When the order expires, the ArriveCan app will no longer be mandatory for international travellers, either.

The decision to put an end to some of the last vestiges of federal COVID-19 restrictions is expected to be announced officially on Monday.

Trudeau has yet to speak publicly about the change, but the tenor of that announcement could be telling as to how the federal government plans to navigate this new transitional phase of the pandemic.

The last time the Liberals loosened restrictions in June, removing vaccine mandates for domestic travellers, the tone was decidedly circumspect.

Rather than proclaim the mandates were no longer needed, federal officials said they were merely “suspended,” and warned they would “bring back” necessary policies if there’s a resurgence of the virus in the fall.

“I think part of the restraint that provincial and territorial governments and the federal government have, as far as walking past COVID, is because we have our memory of how that didn’t actually work out well,” said Dr. Alika Lafontaine, president of the Canadian Medical Association.

Of course, Alberta’s cautionary tale isn’t the only reason for the federal government’s political COVID-19 message.

“In Canada, our focus has been, every step of the way, on listening to science, to responding to the facts on the ground,” Trudeau said Thursday, repeating a similar message when questioned by reporters in Ottawa Friday.

The Conservatives, meanwhile, allege the Liberals are more focused on “political science.”

“There’s a lot of questions that Canadians have, why the government appears to be making decisions not based on medical science, but based on political calculations,” Conservative health critic Michael Barrett said last week.

The official opposition has accused the Liberals of using the pandemic and federal restrictions as a political wedge since the last election, when Trudeau first floated the idea of vaccine mandates.

“There’s no question of whether politics plays a role in the decision-making,” said Julianne Piper, a research fellow with the international Pandemics and Borders project at Simon Fraser University.

“I think there are different political, geographic, public health factors that play into those decisions.”

That alchemy of politics and public health has the potential to set the tone for the rest of the country, she said.

“I think it signals the general feelings around the pandemic and potentially signals what different actors who would be impacted are going to expect,” she said.

Lafontaine said it will be important for politicians to keep that in mind during this next phase of the pandemic.

“I think it’s really important for politicians to realize that the things they say have an enormous impact,” he said.

“We need, more than ever, for people to be clear about the problems that we’re facing, to declare crises when there are crises and to talk about plans for after crises when it’s time to walk through those problems, into what comes next.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 24, 2022.

 

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press

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