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Record-breaking 622 COVID-19 cases reported in Alberta Friday – Edmonton Journal



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New COVID-19 cases reported in Alberta soared to 622 on Friday, the first time Alberta has seen more than 600 new cases in a single day.

The province has shattered its previous case record set last weekend when more than 500 cases were reported on both Saturday and Sunday. Of Friday’s new cases, 218 are in the Edmonton Zone. The zone continues to be the hotspot for the disease in Alberta, with 2,312 active cases, followed closely by Calgary Zone with 2,034.

Five more people have died from COVID-19 in the province.

Of these deaths, one is a man in his 70s in the Edmonton Zone. His death is not linked to any continuing care outbreaks, says Alberta Health spokesman Tom McMillan. A man in his 80s and another in his 90s have died in the outbreak at Edmonton General Continuing Care.

Eight people have died in the Edmonton General Continuing Care outbreak, according to a statement on Covenant Health’s website. There have been 91 cases including 61 patients and 30 staff.

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Delays, conflicts and confusion hampered Ontario's COVID-19 response: auditor general –



Ontario’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic was hampered by poor emergency preparedness, inadequate lab capacity and a disorganized public health system, according to a report issued Wednesday by the province’s auditor general. 

In a special report on COVID-19, Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk raises concerns that flaws in Ontario’s communication, decision-making and management of positive cases contributed to a wider spread of the virus during the eight months since the pandemic was declared.

The audit found “delays and conflicts and confusion in decision-making,” said the 231-page report, tabled in the legislature on Wednesday morning. 

The report also lays bare for the first time the structure and membership of the so-called “tables” advising Premier Doug Ford and his cabinet on their response to COVID-19.

Among the auditor’s key findings: 

  • The Ford government paid a consultant $1.6 million to develop an organizational command structure for its COVID-19 crisis response, a structure that the auditor criticizes as “overly cumbersome,” with no top leadership roles given to public health officials. 
  • Laboratory testing, case management and contact tracing were not being performed quickly enough to contain the virus.
  • Weaknesses in the public health lab and information systems that were repeatedly flagged following the 2003 SARS crisis were never fixed before the arrival of COVID-19.
  • The province hadn’t updated its pandemic-related emergency plans for years, nor run them through testing scenarios. 

“Ontario’s response to COVID-19 in the winter and spring of 2020 was slower and more reactive relative to most other provinces and many other international jurisdictions,” Lysyk said in the report. 

Bonnie Lysyk, Ontario’s auditor general, has issued a report saying Ontario’s pandemic response was hampered by poor emergency preparedness, inadequate lab capacity and a disorganized public health system. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

“As we continue into this second wave, it is still not too late to make positive changes to help further control and reduce the spread of COVID-19.”

At a news conference Wednesday morning, Health Minister Christine Elliott said the report is “a disappointment, and in many respects a mischaracterization of the province’s pandemic response.

“The reality is that over the course of the pandemic, there have been differing views. Differing views among public health officials, amongst the medical community, amongst policy makers, and of course the public,” Elliott said.

“We have different views on various aspects of her report.”

 WATCH | Health Minister responds to auditor general’s report:

Minister of Health Christine Elliott says the report as “a disappointment, and in many respects a mischaracterization of the province’s pandemic response.” 1:36

One chapter of the report focuses on the public health systems for COVID-19 testing, for managing the cases of people who test positive and tracing their contacts who may have been exposed to the virus.    

Across the province, fewer than half of lab tests have been completed within 24 hours of the patient’s specimen being collected, the auditor found.

As recently as September and October, public health units contacted only 75 per cent of people who tested positive within 24 hours of receiving the result, short of the province’s target of 90 per cent. 

The auditor said the largest urban public health units were particularly slow at case management — the process of contacting people who test positive, advising them to self-isolate and investigating how they likely contracted the virus. In September and October, the auditor found the average time it took to begin managing a positive case after the person got tested was: 

  • Ottawa – 4.5 days.
  • Toronto – Four days. 
  • Peel – 3.25 days.
  • York – 2.25 days.

The delays “may have led to further exposure and spreading of the virus,” Lysyk said in the report. 

Ontario Premier Doug Ford declared a state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic during this March 17 news conference, alongside Health Minister Christine Elliott and Dr. David Williams, the province’s chief medical officer of health. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

The report delves into the command structure set up by the government to advise on the COVID-19 response.

At the top is the Central Co-ordination Table, co-chaired by the province’s top bureaucrat, cabinet secretary Steven Davidson; and the premier’s top political adviser, chief of staff James Wallace.

Its membership includes nine deputy ministers, as well as five political advisers from the offices of the premier and the health minister. However, the auditor notes, neither Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams nor anyone from Public Health Ontario sits on this table.   

Below the Central Co-ordination Table are four others, including the Health Command Table, which the auditor found had as many as 90 participants. Its meetings were held by teleconference instead of videoconference until July, a format the auditor said was not effective for clear discussions.     

The auditor said Williams did not chair any of the Health Command Table’s meetings. She calls Ontario’s decision not to give its chief medical officer of health the lead role in its COVID-19 response “unusual.”  

Fewer than half of the COVID-19 lab tests conducted in Ontario have been completed within 24 hours of the patient’s specimen being collected, the auditor general found. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

At the same time, the auditor criticizes Williams for failing to use his full powers to issue directives quickly, notably for a provincewide masking order or for protecting temporary foreign workers on farms. Williams told the auditor he only issued directives after consulting with the Health Command Table.

The auditor’s report said Williams and the Ministry of Health were slow to react in the early weeks of the pandemic. The report questions why provincial officials: 

  • Waited until March 13, the Friday before the scheduled start of Ontario’s March Break, to warn against non-essential travel.
  • Refused to acknowledge community transmission of the virus until March 26.
  • Did not order all long-term care workers to wear masks throughout their shifts until April 8.    

The auditor finds instances where the government’s decisions did not follow the advice of public health experts, including allowing anyone who wanted to get tested to do so from late May until early October.

The auditor also details how the government ignored the advice of Public Health Ontario on setting infection thresholds for the restrictions in its colour-coded COVID-19 response framework. 

A report from Ontario’s auditor general lists the membership of the Ford government’s top advisory table on COVID-19, made up almost entirely of deputy ministers and political staff. (Ontario Auditor General)

She said Public Health Ontario has played a “diminished” role in responding to the pandemic and posed that this “may have been impacted by its funding.”  

The Health Ministry did not fully use the key lesson from SARS — the precautionary principle of acting as soon as there is reasonable evidence of a threat to public health — to guide its initial response to COVID-19, the auditor said.

The ministry categorized the risk to Ontarians as low even as the virus spread to more than 20 countries and the auditor said this meant Ontario developed its strategy for responding more slowly than other provinces. 

She points to repeated reports by her office since 2003 — a time period in which the Liberals were in power for nearly 15 years — warning of the need to strengthen the public health system and improve Ontario’s emergency preparedness.        

The auditor is working on a second special report on COVID-19, which will focus on health-related pandemic expenditures, personal protective equipment and long-term care, and said it will be issued soon. 

WATCH | How Ontario got to this point in the coronavirus pandemic:

With Premier Doug Ford poised to implement tighter restrictions in Toronto, Peel and possibly York, here’s a look back at how the novel coronavirus has surged this fall. 6:24

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‘Majority’ of U.K.’s vulnerable population could get coronavirus vaccine by April: PM – Global News



With major COVID-19 vaccines showing high levels of protection, British officials are cautiously — and they stress cautiously — optimistic that life may start returning to normal by early April.

Even before regulators have approved a single vaccine, the U.K. and countries across Europe are moving quickly to organize the distribution and delivery systems needed to inoculate millions of citizens.

Read more:
Boris Johnson to end England’s coronavirus lockdown on Dec. 2, implement tiered system

“If we can roll it out at a good lick … then with a favorable wind, this is entirely hypothetical, but we should be able to inoculate, I believe on the evidence I’m seeing, the vast majority of the people who need the most protection by Easter,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Monday after vaccine makers in recent weeks have announced encouraging results. “That will make a very substantial change to where we are at the moment.”

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The U.K. has recorded more than 55,000 deaths linked to COVID-19, the deadliest outbreak in Europe. The pandemic has prevented families from meeting, put 750,000 people out of work and devastated businesses that were forced to shut as authorities tried to control the spread. England’s second national lockdown will end Dec. 2, but many restrictions will remain in place.

The British government has agreed to purchase up to 355 million doses of vaccine from seven different producers, as it prepares to vaccinate as many of the country’s 67 million people as possible. Governments around the world are making agreements with multiple developers to ensure they lock in delivery of the products that are ultimately approved by regulators.

The National Health Service is making plans to administer 88.5 million vaccine doses throughout England, according to a planning document dated Nov. 13. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are developing their own plans under the U.K.’s system of devolved administration.

Coronavirus: U.K. PM Boris Johnson announces end to nationwide lockdown

Coronavirus: U.K. PM Boris Johnson announces end to nationwide lockdown

The first to be vaccinated would be health care workers and nursing home residents, followed by older people, starting with those over 80, according to the document, first reported by the London-based Health Service Journal. People under 65 with underlying medical conditions would be next, then healthy people 50 to 65 and finally everyone else 18 and over.

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While most of the injections would be delivered at around 1,000 community vaccination centers, about a third would go to 40 to 50 “large-scale mass vaccination centers,” including stadiums, conference centers and similar venues, the document indicates.

The NHS confirmed the document was genuine but said details and target dates are always changing because the vaccination program is a work in progress.

Professor Mark Jit, an expert in vaccine epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said Britain has the advantage of having a well-developed medical infrastructure that can be used to deliver the vaccine.

But this effort will be unlike standard vaccination programs that target individuals one at a time.

Read more:
Boris Johnson claims he’s ‘bursting with antibodies’ while in coronavirus self-isolation

“The challenge now is to deliver the biggest vaccine program in living memory in the U.K. and other countries around the world,” Jit said. “We’re not vaccinating just children or pregnant women like many other vaccination programs…. We’re trying to vaccinate the entire U.K. population. And we’re trying to do it very quickly.’’

Other European countries are also getting ready, as are the companies that will be crucial to the rollout.

For example Germany’s Binder, which makes specialized cooling equipment for laboratories, has ramped up production of refrigerated containers needed to transport some of the vaccines under development. Binder is producing a unit that will reach the ultra-cold temperatures needed to ship the Pfizer vaccine.

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The German government has asked regional authorities to get special vaccination centers ready by mid-December. France, meanwhile, has reserved 90 million vaccine doses, but has not yet laid out its plan for mass vaccination. A government spokesman said last week that authorities were working to identify locations for vaccination centers, choose companies to transport vaccines and set the rules for shipping and storage.

In Spain, health workers will get priority, as will residents of elder care homes. Spain hopes to vaccinate some 2.5 million people in the first stage between January and March and have most of the vulnerable population covered by mid-year. The vaccinations will be administered in 13,000 public health centers.

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: UK says it has secured 5 million doses of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine'

Coronavirus: UK says it has secured 5 million doses of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine

Coronavirus: UK says it has secured 5 million doses of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine – Nov 16, 2020

But sticking syringes in people’s arms is just the last part of the enormous logistical challenge the worldwide mass vaccination campaign will pose.

First, drugmakers must ramp up production, so there is enough supply to vaccinate billions of people in a matter of months. Then they have to overcome distribution hurdles such as storing some of the products at minus-70 degrees Celsius (minus-94 Fahrenheit). Finally, they will need to manage complex supply chains reminiscent of the just-in-time delivery systems carmakers use to keep their factories humming.

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“It will be the challenge of the century, basically, because of the volumes and everything else which are going to be involved … ,″ said Richard Wilding, a professor of supply chain strategy at Cranfield School of Management. “It’s just the absolute scale.″

Vaccines from three drugmakers are considered leading candidates. Pfizer and Moderna have released preliminary data showing their vaccines were about 95% effective. AstraZeneca on Monday reported interim results of its vaccine developed with Oxford researchers that were also encouraging. Dozens of other vaccines are under development, including projects in China and Russia.

Read more:
People of colour disproportionately affected by coronavirus in U.S., U.K.: study

Britain and other Northern Hemisphere countries may also get a boost from the weather, said Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer. Transmission of respiratory viruses generally slows during the warmer months.

“The virus will not disappear, but it will become less and less risky for society.”

But Johnson, who credited NHS nurses with saving his life after he was hospitalized with COVID-19 earlier this year, warned restrictions will continue for months and Christmas celebrations will be curtailed this year.

“We can hear the drumming hooves of the cavalry coming over the brow of the hill, but they are not here yet,” Johnson said.


© 2020 The Canadian Press

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Province unveils automated calling system | The Star – Toronto Star



Amid heartfelt condolences to another 12 families who have lost loved ones to COVID-19 and another 471 new cases announced, the province’s chief public health officer spoke of the rollout of an outbound automated calling system in the coming days.

“Today, we’re announcing Manitoba is introducing additional steps to improve case and contact investigations,” Dr. Brent Roussin said.

“This will expand on current methods for case and contact monitoring.”

In the first phase of the automated system, the calls will be used to determine if active cases can be shifted to the recovered category.

The automated system will ask as questions, and the person receiving the call can press a key and request a callback from public health. If the case or contact is at the end of the monitoring period, and has no further questions, the case or contact can be marked as recovered.

The second phase of system will be used to contact cases and related contacts.

“This allows us to be more responsive and reach people sooner,” Roussin said.

“Individuals will continue to receive calls from public health officials. The combined automated calls and the current monitoring process will be more efficient and effective in redirecting resources.”

Roussin said other provinces are safely using this method of communication. The system will help Manitobans quickly and efficiently receive information they need to make the informed decisions. Other provinces were able to make progress through the use of automated calls that offer information about testing, treatment and next steps.

“We believe that this similar system will be a valuable tool for our fight against COVID-19,” he said.

“People will be asked important information about testing, self-isolation and other public health guidelines. Then a question-and-answer format with answers provided via a keypad on the phone.”

Roussin advised Manitobans they will never be asked for personal health information or other personal information, such as banking information, social insurance numbers, credit card numbers, passport numbers or other non-health related identification data.

“If this is occurring, share this information with your local police department as it is suspicious,” he said.

Looking ahead to the next official holiday, the province has not made any specific decisions regarding a possible two-week extension to the usual school Christmas break.

“We’re at the biggest restrictions we’ve had to date. Although we’re not seeing the test positivity or case numbers climb over the last bit, we’re not seeing the numbers diminish as we would like,” Roussin said.

“We are looking at taking advantage of that natural break over the holidays and possibly extending that.”

He stressed again, as he does during most daily COVID-19 updates, that officials are not seeing high amounts of transmission within the schools.

“It’s more that we don’t want to go into the holiday season with a very high test positivity rate, where we know it’s going to be very challenging to limit gatherings. It’s something we’re definitely looking at right now. We haven’t landed anywhere. Hopefully, we’ll have some more definitive news on that shortly.”

But even before the holiday, another important date is likely marked on many a calendar: Dec. 11, the expiry of the current critical level red public health orders. Looking ahead, what is the plan?

“When, and it is a when, we will be able to lessen these restrictions … We don’t know exactly when that will be, but, we will be loosening these restrictions at some point. We’re going to have to do it in a very cautious manner. Much like we did in the spring and early summer, in a phased approach, and follow our numbers quite closely,” Roussin said.

He said the prerequisites are: diminished test positivity, diminished case numbers and a clear relief of the strain on the health-care system.

“Don’t have any specifics to look at. It’s something we’re always considering — where we would go first. At this point, we have to focus on getting these numbers down,” he said.



Regardless of what mid-December brings, Manitobans will need to adjust to the idea Christmas will not be the same in 2020.

“We’re a bit of a ways away from the holiday season. It’s quite possible that we could see a good trend by then, where we might be able to provide different advice,” Roussin said.

“If it’s advice that people are going to rely on, and they need it right now, that advice is to not gather outside of your household, to keep those gatherings as minimal as possible. Do look for alternative ways to celebrate, such as virtually. But we’re really going to try to get these numbers down to see if we can have some remnants of the holiday season outside of our household.”

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