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Quebec’s first presumptive case of coronavirus detected

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Quebec’s first presumptive case of the coronavirus has been detected in a woman who recently returned from a trip to Iran, according to the provincial health minister.

The woman took a plane from Iran to Qatar before arriving at the Montreal airport on Monday, Health Minister Danielle McCann said Thursday evening at an impromptu news conference.

She immediately went to an outpatient clinic in the Montreal region with minor symptoms and was quickly given a mask upon entering, McCann said.

The patient was then put in isolation at a nearby hospital where the proper infection-control measures were “very well implemented,” McCann said.

Health workers had no significant risk of exposure, said McCann, who declined to specify exactly where the medical facilities are located.

She said medical professionals are confident the patient had “limited contact” with others and that the infection-control methods were effective. However, health officials are still investigating who the patient may have come into contact with at the clinic and is monitoring everybody involved for signs of the virus.

“The detection of this case shows that our system is efficient, it is reliable and that the management protocol is well established,” the minister said.

“All the measures that are necessary to protect the population, to protect the workers and take care of the patients, if it occurs, are there.”

A diagnosis is considered presumptive until confirmed by the National Microbiology Lab (NML) in Winnipeg. McCann said those results are expected Sunday.

McCann said the woman did not take public transit to get to the clinic, and hadn’t gone back to work since returning from Iran. She is now in isolation at home for “a period of time and she is doing fine,” the minister said.

There are currently 21 other possible cases under investigation in the province.

“There is no need to worry,” said McCann. “The risk remains low.”

The ministry said a probable case of COVID-19 is determined by several factors, including a body temperature of more than 38 C and meeting COVID-19 exposure criteria.

The World Health Organization has declared the outbreak a global health emergency. More than 81,000 cases of the coronavirus have been detected since it emerged in the Hubei province of China last year.

In Canada, there are currently 13 confirmed cases, with the latest reported this morning.

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Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Saturday – CBC.ca

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The latest:

Cases of COVID-19 continue to surge in communities across Canada, with Ontario recording its biggest single-day increase on Saturday.

Ontario reported 978 more cases of COVID-19, with nearly 44,200 tests completed, two weeks after the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

Saturday’s count of new cases surpassed the previous high of 939, reported on Oct. 9. 

Locally, there are 348 new cases in Toronto, 170 in Peel Region, 141 in York Region, 89 in Ottawa and 51 in Durham Region.

Ontario reported 826 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday and nine new deaths linked to the virus.

Quebec on Saturday reported 1,009 new cases and 26 more deaths, after recording 905 new COVID-19 cases and 12 deaths the previous day.

As of Friday, there were 540 people in hospital, including 99 in intensive care. In its latest projections, the province’s national health institute said hospitals will not reach full capacity in the next four weeks due to the rate of transmission having stabilized in recent days.

WATCH | COVID-19 cases threaten to overwhelm Canadian hospitals, doctor says

CBC medical contributor Dr. Peter Lin stresses the need to make sure hospitals are equipped to deal with the resurgence in coronavirus cases. 8:42

Premier François Legault has said it’s likely the province will have to maintain many public health restrictions currently in place in red zones past Oct. 28, including keeping restaurants and bars closed.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, issued a statement on Saturday reiterating her warning from the previous day that the number of people “experiencing severe illness” due to the pandemic continues to rise.

“As hospitalisations and deaths tend to lag behind increased disease activity by one to several weeks, the concern is that we have yet to see the extent of severe impacts associated with the ongoing increase in COVID-19 disease activity,” Tam said.

“As well, influenza and respiratory infections typically increase during the fall and winter, placing increased demands on hospitals. This is why it is so important for people of all ages to maintain public health practices that keep respiratory infection rates low.”

WATCH | Reduce gatherings even more, health experts urge:

British Columbia’s Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry expressed concerns around the spread of COVID-19 at social gatherings, something that infectious diseases specialist Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti says is being seen across the country. 1:54

“Over the past seven days, there was an average of just over 1,000 individuals with COVID-19 treated in Canadian hospitals, including over 200 in critical care,” Tam said.

Cases of COVID-19 continue to surge in communities across Canada, with Ontario and Quebec remaining the hardest-hit provinces; however, other provinces are seeing record increases.

Alberta reached the grim figure of 300 COVID-19 deaths on Friday while setting records yet again for new cases and active cases. 

The province reported 432 new cases and 3,651 active cases, the third straight day records were set.

Fifty inmates and five staff members at the Calgary Correctional Centre have tested positive for the infection, according to a statement from Alberta Health Services.

All inmates and staff are being tested, and isolation and monitoring of the positive cases are underway. Contact tracing for anyone potentially exposed to these individuals is ongoing.


What’s happening elsewhere in Canada

As of 12:50 p.m. ET on Saturday, Canada had 212,750 confirmed or presumptive coronavirus cases. Provinces and territories listed 179,537 of those as recovered or resolved. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC’s reporting rose to 9,920.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau updated Canadians on vaccine development Friday — a day after Canada tallied a record high of new cases in a single day at 2,788 — saying the federal government is spending $214 million toward the development of COVID-19 vaccines, signing deals with two Canadian biotech firms.

Trudeau warned it’s unlikely that any of these candidates will be ready to distribute to Canadians this year or early next year. It’s reasonable to expect that vaccines will start to roll out at some point in 2021, he said, but even then, supply will be limited, and high-risk populations will be prioritized for inoculation.

Trudeau said his government signed a $173 million contract with Quebec’s Medicago to secure the rights to buy 76 million doses of its vaccine, should it meet health and safety standards. The funding will also be used to establish a production facility in Quebec City, he said.

Ottawa is also investing $18.2 million in a potential vaccine from British Columbia’s Precision NanoSystems. Meanwhile, the National Research Council is spending $23 million to support other Canadian vaccine initiatives, Trudeau said.

WATCH | Study casts doubt on use of convalescent plasma for COVID-19 treatment:

An Indian study is casting doubt on the effectiveness of giving patients sick with COVID-19 the blood plasma of others who have battled it, to transfer antibodies. But Canadian researchers say it could still work, if the antibody levels are tested. 3:27

The prime minister said Canada has signed six agreements with a number of companies taking part in the global race to produce a safe and effective vaccine for COVID-19 .

Two more American vaccine makers, Moderna and Pfizer, have asked Health Canada to review their products, which are undergoing clinical trials.

In British Columbia, health officials announced 223 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday. Seventy-five people are in hospital, with 24 in intensive care.

Yukon‘s chief medical officer of health,  Dr. Brendan Hanley, has reported three new cases in Watson Lake, which he says are part of a “family cluster.” They hadn’t travelled outside Yukon, so it’s not known yet where they contracted the virus.

WATCH | Manitoba’s top doctor on the increasing community spread of COVID-19:

Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer, explains why increasing community spread of COVID-19 makes targeted approaches to control the illness less effective. 0:48

Manitoba reported a total of 163 new infections on Friday, most concentrated in Winnipeg. The province also said a man in his 80s is the latest death linked to an outbreak at Winnipeg’s personal care home Parkview Place, where 15 residents have died of the illness.

The province has announced new rules for northern Manitoba and schools in both the Winnipeg area and the north. Those measures will take effect on Monday.

Nova Scotia reported no new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, a day after the province warned residents against unnecessary travel to the Campbellton-Restigouche area of New Brunswick due to a COVID-19 outbreak.

The recommendation came after New Brunswick announced new restrictions for the Campbellton region, almost two weeks after it was pushed back to the orange phase of recovery. While Zone 5 will remain in the orange stage, people will be limited to interacting with a single household bubble, N.B. Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell said.

New Brunswick announced two new COVID-19 cases on Saturday, in addition to two new cases on Friday. That brings the total number of cases the province has recorded to 326, with four deaths.

Newfoundland and Labrador reported one new confirmed case of COVID-19 on Saturday, a man from the Eastern Health region in his 50s who had returned home to the province after working in Alberta.

Out of an abundance of caution, the province’s Health Department is asking passengers who travelled on Air Canada Flight 690 from Toronto to St. John’s last Tuesday to arrange for COVID-19 testing.


What’s happening around the world

According to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, the global total of confirmed coronavirus cases stands at more than 42.2 million. More than 1.1 million people have died, while more than 28.5 million have recovered.

In Europe, Polish President Andrzej Duda has tested positive for coronavirus, his spokesperson says. Duda’s diagnosis comes amid a huge surge in the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 and deaths in Poland, pushing the country’s strained health system to the breaking point. The government is preparing to open field hospitals, but it is not sure where it will find the doctors and nurses to staff them.

In the Americas, the U.S. hit a daily record of coronavirus cases on Friday with more than 84,000 reported infections, thousands more than the previous peak in July. The numbers are an ominous sign the disease still has a firm grip on the nation that has more confirmed virus-related deaths and infections than any other in the world. Many states are reporting a surge of cases and say hospitals are running out of space in areas where the pandemic seemed remote only months ago.

People have their temperatures checked as they enter an early voting polling station in New York City on Saturday. (Getty Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

In Asia, authorities in Sri Lanka closed at least two fishery harbours and many stalls after a surge of 609 cases linked to the country’s main fish market. Authorities say the outbreak is related to a cluster in a garment factory early this month, which has grown to 3,426 cases, almost half the country’s total of 6,287. Several thousand people have been asked to quarantine at home.

In Africa, the Ethiopian attorney general’s office said authorities can jail people for up to two years if they deliberately violate restrictions amid concerns that citizens are becoming lax after a state of emergency was lifted. The country has seen more than 91,000 cases and more than 1,300 deaths.

Have a coronavirus question or news tip for CBC News? Email us at COVID@cbc.ca

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Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Saturday – CBC.ca

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The latest:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is trying to offer Canadians modest hope about progress in testing and vaccine development after Canada notched an all-time high of new COVID-19 cases in a day.

Trudeau told a news conference Friday that the government is spending $214 million toward the development of COVID-19 vaccines, signing deals with two Canadian biotech firms.

But even as he touted Canada’s portfolio of potential vaccines, Trudeau warned it’s unlikely that any of these candidates will be ready to distribute to Canadians this year or early next year. It’s reasonable to expect that vaccines will start to roll out at some point in 2021, said Trudeau, but even then, supply will be limited, and high-risk populations will be prioritized for inoculation.

“We are hopeful that the vaccines will arrive yesterday, but they won’t,” said Trudeau. “There’s still a number [of] more months of work to do.”

Trudeau said his government signed a $173-million contract with Quebec’s Medicago to secure the rights to buy 76 million doses of its vaccine, should it meet health and safety standards. The funding will also be used to establish a production facility in Quebec City, he said.

Ottawa is also investing $18.2 million in a potential vaccine from British Columbia’s Precision NanoSystems. Meanwhile, the National Research Council is spending $23 million to support other Canadian vaccine initiatives, Trudeau said.

WATCH | Study casts doubt on use of convalescent plasma for COVID-19 treatment:

An Indian study is casting doubt on the effectiveness of giving patients sick with COVID-19 the blood plasma of others who have battled it, to transfer antibodies. But Canadian researchers say it could still work, if the antibody levels are tested. 3:27

The prime minister said Canada has signed six agreements with a number of companies taking part in the global race to produce a safe and effective vaccine for COVID-19 .

Two more American vaccine makers, Moderna and Pfizer, have asked Health Canada to review their products, which are undergoing clinical trials.


What’s happening elsewhere in Canada

As of 5 a.m. ET on Saturday, Canada had 211,732 confirmed or presumptive coronavirus cases. Provinces and territories listed 177,879 of those as recovered or resolved. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC’s reporting rose to 9,888.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, says authorities need the public’s help to rein in infection rates through practices such as limiting in-person contacts, wearing masks and physical distancing.

“The number of people experiencing severe illness continues to increase,” Tam told a media briefing Friday. “Over the past seven days, there was an average of just over 1,000 individuals with COVID-19 treated in Canadian hospitals, including over 200 in critical care.”

In Ontario, an additional 826 cases and nine more deaths were recorded, as Premier Doug Ford hinted more regions could be headed for a modified Stage 2 next week.

During his daily news conference, Ford called the situation in the Halton region “concerning” and suggested it and potentially Durham Region could join Toronto, Ottawa, Peel and York regions in a modified Stage 2 in the coming days.

WATCH | Ontario’s Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission releases recommendations:

The first wave of COVID-19 devastated Ontario’s residents in long-term care. Now, a commission is releasing an interim report on the fatal failure at those facilities just as a second wave again threatens the province’s most vulnerable. 3:38

Modified Stage 2 means the closure of indoor dining, gyms and other fitness centres, movie theatres, casinos, bingo halls and other gaming establishments.

Quebec on Friday reported 905 new COVID-19 cases and 12 deaths, four of which were in the past 24 hours.

There are 540 people in hospital including 99 in intensive care. In its latest projections, the province’s national health institute said hospitals will not reach full capacity in the next four weeks due to the rate of transmission having stabilized in recent days.

Premier François Legault has said it’s likely the province will have to maintain many public health restrictions currently in place in red zones past Oct. 28, including keeping restaurants and bars closed.

In Alberta, 50 inmates and five staff members at the Calgary Correctional Centre have tested positive, according to a statement from Alberta Health Services.

All inmates and staff are being tested and isolation and monitoring of the positive cases are underway. Contact tracing for anyone potentially exposed to these individuals is ongoing.

WATCH | Reduce gatherings even more, health experts urge:

British Columbia’s Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry expressed concerns around the spread of COVID-19 at social gatherings, something that infectious diseases specialist Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti says is being seen across the country. 1:54

Alberta reached 300 COVID-19 deaths on Friday and reported 432 new cases and 3,651 active cases.

While the premier and the province’s top doctor have called the numbers concerning, the government has reiterated it has no plans to bring in new restrictions.

“I believe we can continue to protect the health-care system without widespread disruption and lockdowns that have massive broader consequences,” Premier Jason Kenney said Thursday.

In British Columbia, health officials announced 223 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday. Seventy-five people are in hospital, with 24 in intensive care.

Yukon’s chief medical officer,  Dr. Brendan Hanley, has reported three new cases in Watson Lake, which he says are part of a “family cluster.” They hadn’t travelled outside Yukon, so it’s not known yet where they contracted the virus.

WATCH | Manitoba’s top doctor on the increasing community spread of COVID-19:

Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer, explains why increasing community spread of COVID-19 makes targeted approaches to control the illness less effective. 0:48

Manitoba reported a total of 163 new infections on Friday, most concentrated in Winnipeg. The province also said a man in his 80s is the latest death linked to an outbreak at Winnipeg’s personal care home Parkview Place, where 15 residents have died of the illness.

Manitoba has announced new rules for northern Manitoba and schools in both the Winnipeg area and the north. Those measures will take effect on Monday.

Nova Scotia reported new no cases of COVID-19 on Friday, a day after the province warned residents against unnecessary travel to the Campbellton-Restigouche area of New Brunswick due to a COVID-19 outbreak.

The recommendation came after New Brunswick announced new restrictions for the Campbellton region, almost two weeks after it was pushed back to the orange phase of recovery. While Zone 5 will remain in the orange stage, people will be limited to interacting with a single household bubble, N.B. Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell said.

New Brunswick announced two new COVID-19 cases and eight recoveries on Friday. That brings the total number of cases the province has recorded to 324, with four deaths.

Newfoundland and Labrador announced no new cases of COVID-19 on Friday. The province has recorded a total of 288 cases and four deaths.


What’s happening around the world

According to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md., the global total of confirmed coronavirus cases stands at more than 42.2 million. More than 1.1 million people have died, while more than 28.5 million have recovered.

More than 84,000 people were diagnosed with COVID-19 across the United States on Friday, according to a Reuters tally, a record one-day increase in infections during the pandemic as the virus surges again nationwide.

The spike of 84,218 cases — breaking the record of 77,299 set on July 16 — comes as University of Washington researchers forecast that the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 could reach a total of 500,000 by February.

About 8.4 million Americans have tested positive and nearly 224,000 have died from the illness.

WATCH | Remdesivir does little to help COVID-19 patients, WHO says:

A clinical trial by the World Health Organization finds that antiviral medication remdesivir has little or no effect on length of hospital stay or mortality in COVID-19 patients. Dr. Srinivas Murthy weighs in on what this could mean for treating the virus going forward. 2:04 

The World Health Organization revealed on Friday that of the nearly 445,000 new cases of coronavirus reported worldwide in the past 24 hours, almost half were from European nations.

Coronavirus infections in the Czech Republic have hit a record high, soaring to over 15,000 in one day for the first time.

The country’s health ministry says the day-to-day increase of confirmed cases in the hard-hit country reached 15,252 on Friday. The previous record of 14,968 was set on Wednesday.

A woman stretches after a morning run at the medieval Charles Bridge on Oct. 22 in Prague, Czech Republic. (Gabriel Kuchta/Getty Images)

The record surge has continued for last two months despite tight restrictions, including limits on movement, closing stores, schools and restaurants and banning sports competitions and gatherings of more than two people. Face masks are obligatory outdoors and in cars.

The number of COVID-19 patients in the hospital has surpassed 5,000 for the first time, putting the health system under pressure.

The Czech Republic has had over 238,300 confirmed coronavirus cases, including over 78,000 in the last seven days, and reported 1,971 virus-related deaths.

In Poland, President Andrzej Duda has tested positive for coronavirus, his spokesperson said on Saturday. The spokesperson, Blazej Spychalski, said on Twitter that the 48-year-old conservative leader was tested the day before and his result was positive. He said the president feels all right and is in isolation.

Duda’s diagnosis comes amid a huge surge in the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 and deaths in Poland, a nation that saw only very low numbers in the spring. On Friday, the country hit another daily record of new infections — over 13,600, with 153 new deaths.

In Italy, protesters angered over new coronavirus restrictions, including a new regional curfew, clashed with police in the city of Naples on Friday night. Some threw rocks and smoke bombs, and police officers responded with tear gas. The protesters numbered several hundred, according to local media.

The virus is blamed for killing more than 37,000 people in Italy since the start of the pandemic.

Hundreds of protesters took to the streets of Naples, Italy late Friday to denounce coronavirus restrictions, including a curfew in the Campania region, imposed ahead of the weekend in response to a spiralling second wave of infections that saw nearly 20,000 new cases detected in the last 24 hours. (Carlo Hermann/AFP via Getty Images)

In Britain, bars, restaurants and most shops have closed across Wales for 17 days, starting Friday night, in the U.K.’s strictest lockdown to curb surging coronavirus cases.

Most businesses had to close, high school students will be taught online and people must avoid non-essential journeys.

The U.K. has Europe’s deadliest coronavirus numbers, with more than 44,500 confirmed coronavirus-related deaths. There have been 1,756 deaths in Wales, which has a population of about 3 million.

In Turkey, the mayor of Istanbul has tested positive for COVID-19, a spokesperson for the city municipality said Saturday.

Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu has undergone treatment in hospital and his condition is good, spokesperson Murat Ongun tweeted.

Authorities in Sri Lanka on Saturday closed at least two fishery harbours and many stalls on Colombo’s outskirts after a surge of 609 cases linked to the country’s main fish market. Hundreds of traders and fishermen are being tested. The government also widened the curfew in parts of Colombo.

India, meanwhile, has reported 53,370 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, taking the overall tally past 7.8 million.

A man rides a scooter through a market, a day before the Hindu festival of Dussehra in Mumbai, India on Saturday. (Francis Mascarenhas/Reuters)

The country’s health ministry on Saturday also reported 650 deaths, driving the country’s toll to 117,956.

The highest number of new infections is coming from Maharashtra, Kerala and Karnataka states. They’re also reporting the maximum number of daily recoveries.

Last month, India hit a peak of nearly 100,000 cases in a single day, but since then daily infections have fallen by about half and deaths by about a third, even as testing has remained consistent.

Have a coronavirus question or news tip for CBC News? Email us at COVID@cbc.ca

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Why lockdowns alone won't save us from the pandemic – CBC.ca

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This is an excerpt from Second Opinion, a weekly roundup of health and medical science news emailed to subscribers every Saturday morning. If you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do that by clicking here.


The prospect of locking society down again the way we did in the first wave of COVID-19 — and the collateral damage that comes with it — is daunting.

The financial devastation on businesses forced to close and lay off employees, the increase in mental health issues, the halting of elective medical procedures and the continuing risks to essential workers on the front lines all factor in.

Keeping society functioning and supporting devastated sectors of the economy while limiting the spread of the coronavirus is key to navigating the pandemic until a safe and effective vaccine is here.

But experts acknowledge there is growing resistance to some of the restrictions that highlights a need to manage the public mood as the pandemic rages on.

You arguably could not find a more politically charged term right now than “lockdown,” since everyone has a different, personal idea of what it is.

“This term has become equated with so many bad things that no one really understands what it means,” said Michael Osterholm, director of the Centre for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

“It’s everyone’s worst fear about what somebody else is doing to them regarding the pandemic.”

Osterholm, a veteran of SARS and MERS who warned the world for 15 years that a pandemic was coming, thinks the term lockdown should be abolished altogether.

Instead, Osterholm said we need to look at it as targeted public health measures necessary to reducing the spread of COVID-19 and getting back to normal as quickly as possible, while at the same time supporting those who have suffered financially. 

The key to successfully riding out the pandemic lies in finding balance between working with the population to help keep the number of cases low without substantially changing life as we know it.

“The challenge is, the end isn’t coming soon,” he said. “But it’s coming, and what we need to do is try to have as few cases as possible between now and the time a vaccine arrives.”

‘Pandemic fatigue’ can turn to ‘pandemic anger’

Managing the public’s frustration presents a challenge for public health officials in the second wave.

During a journalism conference at Carleton University in Ottawa on Thursday, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said that public health messaging can seem inconsistent because of the evolving science in the pandemic. 

“We are living in a more challenging period right now,” she said, in which authorities have “to convince people who are fatigued to stick to sustainable habits or public health practices.” 

Ontario and Quebec have already moved to close bars, restaurants and gyms in their hardest-hit regions amid rising cases, while Alberta and British Columbia weigh the need to tighten restrictions amid record-high rises in cases. 

Osterholm said resistance to public health restrictions not only stems from the concept of “pandemic fatigue,” but also from something he calls “pandemic anger.” 

“It’s people who don’t believe that the pandemic is real,” he said. “They think it’s a hoax.”

Raywat Deonandan, a global health epidemiologist and associate professor at the University of Ottawa, said the resistance also stems from “raw selfishness.” 

Protesters clash with police officers during an anti-lockdown protest in London, England, on Sept. 26. (Hollie Adams/Getty Images)

“There’s an inability to think about community responsibility,” he said, explaining that people think they won’t personally be seriously affected by the virus because it has a comparatively higher survivability rate in younger age groups.

“But if you scale this up to a population, then that’s tens of thousands of deaths – and they don’t care.”

Perception of risk has a cost

The latest World Economic Outlook from the International Monetary Fund found that while lockdowns controlled the spread of the coronavirus, they also contributed to a global economic recession that disproportionately affected vulnerable populations. 

But the IMF report also found the damage to the economy was largely driven by people “voluntarily refraining” from social interactions out of a fear of contracting the virus.

Osterholm said the perception of risk — and not strict public health restrictions — is what holds people back from doing things like travelling by plane or entering a retail store.

“Nobody is telling you you can’t go to the grocery store rather than ordering online — it’s just people don’t feel safe and secure,” he said.

“Well, how do you make that happen? You make it happen by making cases occur at a much, much lower rate than they’re occurring now. It’s not going to be just by telling the virus we’re done.”

Lockdowns should be last resort

Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease physician and a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore, Md., isn’t in favour of lockdowns as a first line of defence in the pandemic. 

“If you’re going to take public health interventions, they have to be very targeted towards specific activities that are actually leading to spread,” he said. “You only use a lockdown when you have fouled up your response so bad that that’s all you have left to do.” 

WATCH | Push to pursue COVID-19 herd immunity is ‘dangerous’:

A group of international experts push back against the Great Barrington Declaration and its pursuit of COVID-19 herd immunity, calling it “a dangerous fallacy unsupported by scientific evidence.” 2:05

But ignoring lockdowns isn’t an effective strategy, either.

The Great Barrington Declaration, a controversial proposal from a group of scientists (backed by a U.S. think-tank) to lift restrictions, made headlines last week for its calls to protect “the vulnerable” from COVID-19 with strict measures while allowing those “at minimal risk of death” to return to normal life and build up herd immunity to the virus.

But it failed to present a logical counterargument for controlling the virus or concrete ways to protect the vulnerable (including the elderly and the poor), not to mention those who care for them.

Referring to the declaration, Deonandan said, “If there wasn’t a vaccine coming, if nothing changes and this has to be how we live in perpetuity, then OK, maybe we have to discuss some other options. But none of that is true.”

Canada has had more than 200,000 cases and is approaching 10,000 deaths, but modelling predicts the situation would be much worse if public health guidelines like physical distancing, mask-wearing and proper hand hygiene weren’t followed. 

Osterholm said those pushing the the Barrington Declaration completely misunderstood the concept behind public health restrictions and the reasons behind enacting them in the first place. 

“If you’re going to keep thinking about this as a lockdown, then we’re going to find a lot of resistance to this,” he said. “But on the other hand, if you don’t suppress transmission, we’re also going to see a lot of deaths.” 

A question of public tolerance

Lockdowns are one of many tools a country can use in the face of an infectious disease outbreak, but their effectiveness is dependent on the public’s willingness to tolerate them.

China imposed some of the most severe public health restrictions in modern history upon the discovery of the coronavirus at the beginning of this year, something democratic nations would be unlikely to imitate.

But China is already seeing the rewards of its draconian efforts to control the spread. It’s the only major economy expected to grow this year, with retail spending surpassing pre-pandemic levels for the first time and factory output rising on the backs of demand for exports of masks and other medical supplies to countries like Canada.

Other regions like New Zealand, Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong acted swiftly by closing borders, imposing strict public health measures and opting for shorter, more strategic lockdowns, which have allowed them to carefully reopen society. 

South Korea, meanwhile, didn’t lock down at all and instead focused on testing, tracing and isolating cases to control the spread of the virus successfully. 

“The lesson here is you choose one path and you stick with it,” Deonandan said. “What is not acceptable is vacillating between different strategies.”

Lockdowns are one of many tools a country can use in the face of an infectious disease, but their effectiveness is dependent on the public’s willingness to tolerate them. (Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images)

Australia imposed targeted lockdown measures in the face of outbreaks, which University of Western Australia epidemiologist Dr. Zoë Hyde said has been “enormously successful” in eliminating the virus in much of the country. 

“While lockdowns absolutely have harms associated with them, the harms are much less than those of an unmitigated epidemic,” she said. “Governments can also minimize the harms of lockdowns by making them short and sharp, and by financially supporting workers and businesses.” 

Lockdowns ‘a sign of failure’

Hyde said the eastern Australian state of Victoria was a precautionary tale for the debate over lockdowns, because of mistakes made in a hotel quarantine system that allowed the virus to spread again. 

“If governments have not tried hard enough to suppress the virus, then a lockdown is inevitable, whether people want one or not,” Hyde said.

“Lockdowns are a sign of failure. They’re a sign that governments have not been doing enough.” 

Victoria was recording around 700 new cases per day in July, but a second lockdown coupled with a mask mandate have brought case numbers down to only a handful a day at most.

“Measures to combat the virus have to be tailored. They can’t be more than the economy can bear,” Hyde said, “but equally we must remember that the best way to protect the economy is to suppress the virus.” 

“Ultimately it’s the virus doing the damage to the economy, not the measures designed to suppress it. No matter what we wish, the economy won’t go back to normal if a dangerous virus is circulating.” 


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