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Province pushes on with huge revamp of health care amid pandemic – Winnipeg Free Press



More than 1,600 workers battling the pandemic braced for more upheaval after the Manitoba government said it would forge ahead with the second wave of health-care restructuring.

Health Minister Heather Stefanson and Mental Health Minister Audrey Gordon announced the plan on Wednesday.

“Key information management and public health roles (will be) consolidated within Manitoba Health and Seniors Care, while an integrated mental health and addictions service (will be) established within Shared Health, Health and Seniors Care.”

“By establishing a solid foundation within Shared Health, we will be able to adopt new and improved ways of delivering care provincially, in ways that improve access to these vital services closer to home for many Manitobans,” Gordon said in a news release.

Responsibility will be given to Shared Health, or another entity to be established by government, for Cadham Provincial Laboratory, Selkirk Mental Health Centre, the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba; as well as some employees who currently work in the Department of Health and Seniors Care, the Department of Mental Health, Wellness and Recovery; and the Department of Central Services. 

The changes were identified by the 2018 health system transformation blueprint, the province said, and the transfer won’t take place before May 20.

The reorganization represents yet another stressful challenge for health-care and front-line workers, who are coping with the challenges of COVID-19, says the head of the Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union.

“It is very concerning that this government would trigger such large-scale disruption for health-care staff and operations in the middle of the ongoing pandemic,” union president Michelle Gawronsky said in an email.

“Many of the impacted members are focused on processing COVID-19 tests. Others are providing mental health and addictions treatment at a time when we know the need for these services has never been greater,” Gawronsky said. Health workers are busy keeping the system going while it is under tremendous strain, she said.

“It is simply unconscionable that the government would add the disruption, anxiety, and risk associated with implementing large-scale restructuring on our health-care system,” Gawronsky said.

Critics said the timing of the announcement and the restructuring — on a day when the news media is focused on the inauguration of U.S. President Joe Biden and during a pandemic — is telling.

“The government shouldn’t be using the pandemic as cover to try and sneak through significant changes to the health-care system they had planned long before COVID-19,” said NDP Leader Wab Kinew.

He’s especially concerned about “turning the management of Cadham lab upside down during the pandemic.” 

“I don’t think they should be making these huge changes to the very office that is doing the testing for COVID,” said Kinew. “It’s an opportunity for more mistakes to creep into our pandemic response.” 

Pushing ahead with  “transformation” while COVID-19 is raging is “absolutely irresponsible and reckless,” Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said. The timing of the announcement, he said, suggests the Tories don’t want much publicity.

“It’s inauguration day in the United States. It’s pretty clear what’s going to be the lead story tomorrow… It’s not going to be the fact that the Pallister government, in the middle of a pandemic, is still pursuing more upheaval and more changes to the health-care system,” Lamont said.

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

   Read full biography

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Vaccination sites busy in Ontario regions offering COVID shots to seniors –



TORONTO — Some Ontario seniors braved frigid temperatures Monday to get a  COVID-19 vaccine as several regions in the province moved ahead with their plans to vaccinate the general public. 

With the broad launch of a provincial booking portal still two weeks away, some local public health units used their own systems to allow residents aged 80 and older to schedule appointments.

In York Region, where bookings opened Monday morning for shots that could be administered as early as the afternoon, dozens of seniors and their caregivers lined up outside a sports centre to get the vaccine.

Some huddled together for warmth – a winter weather advisory was in effect for the region – as the line to enter the centre in Richmond Hill moved slowly. 

Hassan Abbas Kara was saving a place in line while his grandmother waited in a car.

“I don’t want her to wait in the cold, so it’s a little thing I can do right now to help her,” he said.

Atta Hussain, 82, said the process was “beautiful” and well organized, and expressed relief after receiving his shot. 

“We thank everybody who is participating,” he said.

York Region said its vaccination clinics were fully booked just two hours after they started taking appointments. A spokesman said approximately 20,000 appointments were made Monday across five locations in the region.

Clinics were also offering shots to those 80 and older in Windsor-Essex County, and to those 85 and older at a hospital in Hamilton, where officials warned of long wait times amid high call volumes to its COVID-19 hotline.

Hamilton’s top doctor apologized for backlog on the phone line and asked people who don’t live in the city to not call about appointments. 

The provincial government has said it aims to begin vaccinating Ontarians aged 80 and older starting the week of March 15, the same day it plans to launch its vaccine booking system, which will offer a service desk and online portal.

It has said the vaccine rollout will look different in each of its 34 public health units. 

When asked about the lack of provincewide cohesion, Health Minister Christine Elliott said that public health units know their regions best and that’s why they have been given responsibility to set the pace locally. 

“Some of them are already vaccinating the over-80-year-old people that are living within their regions,” Elliott said Monday. “I think that’s something that we should be celebrating not denigrating.”

Green party Leader Mike Schreiner said he’s happy some public health units are offering shots already, but argued it could cause issues later when health units that have already started making appointments on their own systems have to switch over to the provincial one. 

The province also said Monday that it has asked the federal government for guidance on possibly extending the intervals between the first and second COVID-19 vaccine doses to four months. 

It pointed to British Columbia’s decision to do so and said there’s growing evidence suggesting intervals between the Pfizer-BioNtech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccine doses can be safely extended.

Monday also saw two Ontario regions – Thunder Bay and Simcoe Muskoka – return to lockdowns as a result of rising COVID-19 cases.

Restrictions on businesses and gatherings were loosened in seven other health units: Niagara Region, Chatham-Kent; Middlesex-London; Southwestern; Haldimand-Norfolk; Huron Perth; and Grey Bruce.

Municipal officials in Simcoe Muskoka raised concerns about pressure on small businesses and the effects of yet another lockdown on the public during a public meeting with the health unit on Monday.

The region’s top doctor said he’s heard concerns about the strict measures from people in areas with fewer cases. Dr. Charles Gardner said he’ll be in touch with the province’s chief medical officer about whether a full lockdown is required for the region.

In Thunder Bay, which entered a lockdown after reporting more COVID-19 cases in February than all of 2020, a local hospital reported it was expanding its COVID-19 and intensive care units to meet the needs of the community.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu said the Public Health Agency of Canada was reviewing a funding application for an isolation site in Thunder Bay after the city said it could no longer afford to keep it running.

Ontario reported 1,023 new cases of COVID-19 and six more deaths from the virus on Monday.

– With files from Cole Burston

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 1, 2021.

Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press

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B.C. extends wait between COVID-19 vaccine doses to four months – News 1130



VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – B.C. has decided to extend the time between first and second COVID-19 vaccine doses.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says the interval between the two shots will now be four months.

Citing data from around the world, as well as in B.C., Henry says we are seeing immunity last at least four months after a person is given a first dose of the vaccines. The extension will apply to all three vaccines currently approved in Canada, made by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and AstraZeneca.

“The important thing that we have learned is that these vaccines work, they give a very high level of protection, and that protection lasts for many months,” Henry said on Monday.

“In combination with the new vaccines that we have available, this gives us a very important and very real benefit to everybody here in B.C. That means we can move everybody up the list and more people will be protected sooner,” B.C.’s top doctor added, noting delaying the second shot “provides very high, real-world protection to more people sooner.”

Henry says health officials will be monitoring vaccine effectiveness going forward.

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Word of the extension comes as the province unveiled dates for when the most senior British Columbians will begin to have access to the vaccines.

A call-in system to book vaccination appointments for Indigenous peoples aged 65 and up and other British Columbians aged 90 and up will open March 8, with clinics starting to run March 15.

Seniors aged 85 to 90 can start booking on March 15, for vaccinations starting a week later. Booking opens for those aged 80 to 85 open on March 22.

Admitting the challenges restrictions at long-term care homes have had on residents and their families, Henry says the province will be revisiting when restrictions can be decreased “given what we know now about how effective these vaccines are.”

-With files from Frances Yap

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Data suggests everyone in BC will likely have first COVID-19 vaccine dose by July | News – Daily Hive



Every eligible person in BC will likely have their first COVID-19 vaccination by July, based on new provincial data unveiled on Monday.

During a press conference, health officials gave an update on the provincial COVID-19 vaccine rollout strategy. Officials announced that the window between the first and second doses of the two-dose vaccine has been extended to 16 weeks.

According to Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, the interval has been extended to 16 weeks because protection given by a first dose lasts for at least four months. Stretching the interval between the first and second dose will free up approximately 70,000 doses that will be used to expand coverage across BC.

This adjustment in the timeline means all British Columbians will be able to move up the priority list and get their first vaccination sooner, meaning second doses could start being rolled out en masse by July.

“We’re going to have a lot more come the third quarter and the summer months,” said Henry. “We will be starting on second-dose clinics in July, and we’re going to be re-jigging all of those time frames.”

Overall, she said, “this means that everybody moves up in line, and we’ll be focusing on second doses starting in the summer.”

Call-ins will begin on March 8, and vaccinations are scheduled to start on March 15. Each health authority across the province will have a unique call centre number and a number of available clinics where appointments can be made. People living in Fraser Health, however, will be able to book their appointments online.

In order to reduce the initial stress and volume on call lines, the general population over 80 years old will be divided into subgroups. People will be asked to only call in once they become eligible. Anyone who missed their week can book an appointment at any time — they will not lose their spot.

Seniors will be able to have family, friends, or people who provide additional support call and book an appointment for them.

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