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‘Reality bites’: Omicron vs Delta lie –



It might be tempting to treat Omicron as the “mild” cousin of its Covid predecessors but a comparison reveals the widespread lie so many are swallowing.

“Omicron is milder.”

It is the catchphrase uttered so regularly since the latest Covid-19 variant emerged that we take it as gospel.

But the truth about the impact of Omicron vs Delta is far less black and white.

Take the latest data out of the US.

Statistics from Johns Hopkins University and the World Health Organisation show there are more daily deaths attributed to Covid-19 in the United States right now than anytime since the pandemic began in late 2019 with the exception of two months last winter.

The only time daily deaths were higher in the US was when they spiked to a record high 4000+ in January last year.

What’s driving that number? Record high cases on the back of Omicron’s transmissability.

Yes, for many, Omicron is milder. But for others, the highly-transmissable variant is harder to avoid and delivers just as much punch.

Oncologist from the Mayo Clinic, Professor Vincent Rajkumar, shared the data on Sunday.

“Reality bites,” he wrote.

“US cases are dropping but it is are still higher than prior waves. Except for 2 months last year, US daily deaths are higher than anytime during the pandemic. Be patient. Stay safe.”

Harvard-trained epidemiologist Eric Feigl-Ding wrote: “It’s not over — COVID deaths with the so-called ‘mild’ Omicron wave has now exceeded both the spring 2020 wave and the 2021 Delta wave, and still hot on the tail chasing last winter’s COVID-19 peak. Are you boosted yet?”

World Health Organisation Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus issued a similar warning late last month about underestimating the danger of Omicron.

“Omicron may be less severe — on average, of course — but the narrative that it is mild disease is misleading, hurts the overall response, and costs more lives,” he told the media from the WHO’s headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.

“Make no mistake, Omicron is causing hospitalisations and deaths and even the less severe cases are inundating health facilities.

“The virus is circulating far too intensely with many still vulnerable.”

Australia’s own Dr Norman Swan agreed, telling The Project in January that Omicron was not “mild” as many believed.

“There is this myth that this is a mild virus. You hear it all the time from politicians. It is not a mild virus.” he said.

“They compare to Delta. Now, Delta was a virulent virus, yes, it is less virulent than Delta, but if you compare it to the Wuhan virus, it is just as virulent as that. That’s why we’re seeing deaths.

“Two things about Omicron. One is the natural infection with Omicron does not seem to provide anything like the protection that an immunisation gives, unlikely to protect against the next variant and they use this word endemic as if it is happy days when it goes endemic.

“All endemic means is that an infection is somewhere in the world circulating and never disappears. Smallpox was endemic. Nobody says that’s a mild disease. Malaria is endemic in many countries.“Influenza is endemic and it is not a harmless disease. Endemic does not believe it is harmless. This is an epidemic virus. I’m sorry to say, it is not all over Red Rover and we’ve got to learn lessons and letting it rip has caused economic damage and unnecessary deaths.”

While the US this week surpassed 900,000 Covid-19 deaths, a very different story is playing out in Hong Kong.

The city where strict virus control measures have kept Covid-19 at bay has had to push harder than ever to keep its zero-Covid strategy alive. The culprit is the highly-transmissable Omicron variant.

Officials were scrambling this week to ramp up testing capacity and warning that a tightening of restrictions could be needed to keep case numbers down.

Like mainland China and much of East Asia, Hong Kong has long followed a strategy of fighting the virus through contact tracing, targeted lockdowns and lengthy quarantines.

And as much of the world has chosen to open up and live with Covid-19, the city has dug in its heels, with Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam insisting she was still committed to achieving “zero-Covid” even as infections mount.

On Saturday, there were 351 confirmed cases, Hong Kong’s highest daily figure since the pandemic began, with 161 cases being either untraceable or pending investigation.

“Based on the current growth rate of cases, we estimate that (medical isolation) facilities will soon be unable to quarantine all patients,” health chief Sophia Chan told reporters.

Chan urged Hong Kongers to stay at home to slow the spread of the virus, though said that sewage analysis had revealed the virus had already been found in much of the city.

Health officials also said they would loosen rules that have seen thousands of close contacts of infected people detained in a government facility, suggesting they may be able to quarantine at home depending on their risk level.

Last month authorities locked down thousands of residents of a public housing estate after a superspreader event, prompting criticism that the city’s population density made home quarantine unfeasible.

Hong Kong’s spike in cases came on the fifth day of the Lunar New Year holidays, during which the government warned against families gathering for festivities.

City leader Lam earlier said authorities could further tighten virus-control measures next week.

Hong Kong has recorded more than 15,000 confirmed coronavirus cases with 213 deaths.

Since the pandemic began, there have been over 5.7 million deaths.

The US has recorded the most Covid deaths with 902,266, followed by Brazil with 631,802, India 501,979 and Russia 335,414.

Taking into account excess mortality linked to Covid-19, the WHO estimates the overall death toll could be two to three times higher.

with AFP

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Feeling vexed by long COVID? Treatment may soon be available – North Shore News



Grace Parraga’s phone has been ringing off the hook since Tuesday with calls from long COVID patients from across Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. 

Parraga is the lead researcher of a new study that’s identified a minuscule abnormality in the lungs of long COVID patients that can contribute to the prolonged breathing difficulty they may experience post-infection.

Following the announcement of their findings, Parraga said people have been reaching out to her, excitedly seeking further clarification on their long COVID symptoms. Parraga, a professor at Western University’s Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry and Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Lung Imaging, said the response has been very humbling.

“We do this as scientists with the hope of helping people,” she said.

Human lungs, the organ under examination in this research, pack 2,400 kilometres of airways within them, Parraga explained. Stretched out across Canada, those airways would be long enough to start in Vancouver and reach all the way to Thunder Bay.

“That’s what’s packed inside of you to allow you to live,” Parraga said.

At the end of those airways are 500 million air sacs. When you inhale, oxygen moves into those tiny air sacs and hops onto your red blood cells. As you exhale, carbon dioxide hops off of those cells and is sent out of your body.

Using a very high spatial resolution MRI method, the research team was able to measure the function at the tip of those 500 million air sacs.

What they found, is an abnormally low red blood cell signal in the lungs of these long COVID patients that’s affecting their ability to breathe.

Parraga said it’s likely the lungs’ blood vessel tree is blocked by tiny, microscopic clots.

“That’s something that you can’t see with chest X-rays or CT scans, or any other method,” she said.

The study was conducted at five centres across Ontario that house this specific MRI technology and observed 34 long COVID patients.

Parraga said her team is now focusing on translating their work to other centres across Canada that also have this technology, such as BC Children’s Hospital and St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver.

Long-awaited evidence

Until now, Parraga said long COVID has been a vexing infection to have. Standard clinical tests are unable to pick up on this tiny piece of evidence that indicates something is wrong.

“Folks [with long COVID] look normal. The chest X-ray looks normal, the CT scan looks normal,” she said. 

“This is the first evidence that something is not normal.”

The study’s findings serve as a relief, Parraga said. As researchers, she said it’s encouraging to find something that they understand and is consistent with their previous understanding of lung infections.

“If you’re not feeling well, you can’t walk to the mailbox and think straight, you do start to wonder if it’s in your head,” she said. “I think that physicians were concerned and that really started us on this hunt.”

Parraga said she thinks the study is providing people with hope, knowing that this abnormality is something physicians can understand and treat.

Next steps: treatment

The discovery is only the first step in the journey to treating long COVID patients experiencing difficulty breathing. Following the release of the study, Parraga said her focus is now shifting to determine the why and how factors of the infection.

“We’ve identified the what, the where, and the when. [Now], the clinical folks are going to be using that information to target treatments,” she said.

Parraga said she plans to continue following the study’s participants “for as long as they want to come to the lab.” With their participation, she hopes to answer questions such as why certain people are susceptible to long COVID and what’s going to happen to these patients in the long term. 

In the meantime, Parraga and her team are taking a moment to reflect upon their success in a unique way, after sharing their results with the study’s participants.

“We created a word cloud from their emails back to us… [with] words like understanding, thank you, congratulations, thoughtful,” she said. “It was very humbling and fulfilling to see that.”

“That’s why we do this. To help people.”

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COVID-19 boosters recommended for the fall, Canada's vaccine advisory body says – CBC News



People at high risk of severe disease from COVID-19 infection should be offered a booster shot this fall, regardless of how many boosters they’ve previously received, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) said on Wednesday. 

That group includes everyone age 65 and older, NACI’s updated guidance said

Everyone else — age 12 to 64 — “may be offered” the additional doses in the fall, NACI said. 

NACI said it will provide recommendations on the type of booster to be given when evidence about multivalent vaccines — which prime the body’s defences against multiple variants, including Omicron and its subvariants — becomes available.

“Manufacturers are working on new COVID-19 vaccines, including multivalent vaccines and vaccines specifically targeting VOCs [variants of concern], although their exact characteristics and timing of availability in Canada are not yet known,” NACI said. 

World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement on Wednesday that Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 have caused COVID-19 case numbers to rise in 110 countries, “causing overall global cases to increase by 20 per cent.”

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, has also said those Omicron subvariants appear to be on the rise in this country. 

On Tuesday, advisers to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommended that the next wave in COVID-19 booster shots should include a component that targets Omicron to combat the more recently circulating subvariants.

NACI recommended that booster shots happen in the fall because, as with other respiratory viruses, “incidence of COVID-19 may increase in the later fall and winter seasons,” and new variants of concern could emerge. 

In addition to those 65 years and older,  NACI strongly recommends a fall booster for:

  • Long-term care residents.
  • People with underlying medical conditions, including cardiac disease, diabetes, cancer and kidney disease.
  • People who are immunocompromised. 
  • People who are pregnant.
  • Adults who are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 (including racialized communities).
  • Adults who are marginalized (including people with disabilities).
  • Adults from First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities. 
  • Residents of congregate living settings, including group homes, shelters, correctional facilities and quarters for migrant workers.

Health officials emphasize that three doses of the current approved vaccines continue to provide good protection against severe COVID-19 illness, hospitalization and death. 

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Quebec COVID-19 hospitalizations rising as new variants gaining ground



MONTREAL — Quebec is seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations driven by new Omicron subvariants that account for about 75 per cent of infections, the province’s public health director said Wednesday.

Dr. Luc Boileau said the subvariants, such as BA2.12.1, BA.5 and BA.4, appear to be more transmissible than previous strains but not necessarily more severe. The rise in cases was “expected,” though it came earlier than authorities had thought, he said, adding that the number of new infections should continue to rise in the coming days or weeks before declining.

Boileau said the province doesn’t plan on reimposing any broad-level public health restrictions, but he recommended that people who are over 65 or medically vulnerable take precautions such as wearing a mask. He was firm in his advice against a new provincewide masking order, insisting that such a measure was not “realistic” or necessary at this point.

“We’re not at all on a path to reimpose population-level measures such as mask-wearing, or other measures that needed to be taken in the last two years,” he said.

“We’re not there, and we’re not heading in that direction with the current variants.”

He said people who are over the age of 60, who are immunocompromised or who have chronic illnesses should seek a second booster shot if they haven’t had one or if their last shot was more than three months ago. As well, he said those who want to wear masks should be “encouraged” to do so, especially in crowded places.

His update came as COVID-19 hospitalizations rose by 34 in the previous 24 hours, after a 113-patient rise the day before. There were 1,260 people in hospital with COVID-19 in Quebec, including 35 in intensive care. Health officials also reported four more deaths associated with the novel coronavirus.

Dr. Don Vinh of the McGill University Health Centre says Quebec is facing a “perfect storm” of factors that include the emergence of new variants, waning immunity from vaccination or previous infection, and the removal of public health restrictions.

The new Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5, he said in an interview Tuesday, appear to be gaining ground and finding vulnerable people to infect, especially since the mutations seem to be better able to evade immunity compared with previous strains.

“You put the two together, the new variants and waning immunity from either infection, immunization or a hybrid, and what happens is you have a renewed pool of susceptible people with an emerging variant,” he said.

The rise in hospitalizations, he added, comes at a time when the health system is least prepared to handle it.

Hospital workers at “all levels” are overwhelmed, he said, from paramedics and ambulance drivers to ER staff and the community and home care workers who need to be present to care for frail people leaving hospital.

COVID-19 is also putting increased pressure on the system by forcing sick health-care workers to stay home at a time when they’re most needed, he said. “This a catastrophic, systemic failure being unmasked and perhaps even exacerbated by unmitigated community transmission.”

On Wednesday, Boileau said he was concerned with the impact the increase in cases will have on the system, adding that authorities were working with hospitals to readjust services when necessary. He said, however, that he didn’t expect the new rise in cases to get “very, very high” and that the numbers should begin to decline in the next few weeks.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 29, 2022.


Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press

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