OTTAWA — Canadian medical experts say the country’s already overstretched emergency rooms would find it difficult to cope if a true outbreak of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, were to take hold in Canada.
So far, the virus has been relatively contained to mainland China, thanks in part to one of the largest quarantines in modern history.
“We must not look back and regret that we failed to take advantage of the window of opportunity that we have now,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization, said in a message to all the world’s countries Friday.
The risk of contracting the virus in Canada right now is extremely low, and public health officials have been lauded for their efforts to detect and isolate the nine cases confirmed in the country so far.
The hundreds of patients across the country who have tested negative for the virus are also a sign that containment efforts are working as they should.
But Canada’s most recent case in British Columbia has raised fears about where and how the disease is being transmitted abroad. Unlike others who’ve imported the virus from China or from people who have recently been to China, the woman in her 30s contracted the illness while in Iran.
“Any imported cases linked to Iran could be an indicator that there is more widespread transmission than we know about,” said Canada’s chief medical officer Dr. Theresa Tam Friday.
Canada has taken major steps to prevent the kind of shock that befell Ontario during the outbreak of the coronavirus known as SARS in 2003 that led to 44 deaths. Creating the Public Health Agency of Canada, which Tam heads, is one of them.
The country is now better co-ordinated, has increased its lab-testing capabilities and is prepared to trace people’s contacts to find people who might have caught a contagious illness without knowing it.
But once the number of incoming cases reaches a critical mass, the approach must change, according to infectious-diseases physician Dr. Isaac Bogoch of Toronto’s University Health Network.
He likens the response to trying to catch fly balls in the outfield: as the number of balls in the air increases, they become harder and harder to snag.
“Every health care system has limits,” Bogoch says. “The question is, if we start getting inundated with cases, how stretched can we get?”
Many emergency-room doctors argue Canada’s ERs are already as stretched as they can get and are worried about what would happen if they suddenly had to start treating COVID-19 cases en masse.
From the public-health perspective, the greatest challenge may be as simple communicating across all parts of the health system across the country, said Dr. Jasmine Pawa, president of the Public Health Physicians of Canada.
“We cover a very wide geographic area,” she said, though she added that Canada has made great strides over the course of the SARS experience and the H1N1 flu outbreak in 2009.
Dr. Alan Drummond of the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians, who works at the hospital in Perth, Ont., says he doesn’t want to fearmonger, especially considering all the lessons Canada has learned from past outbreaks, but the reality of life in the ER gives him pause.
“Our day-to-day experience in crowded hospitals, unable to get the right patient in the right bed on a day-to-day basis … makes us really question what the integrity of our health-care system would be like in a major severe pandemic,” Drummond says.
He envisions that a disease like COVID-19, if it spread widely, would have a major impact, including the possibility of cancelled surgeries and moving stable patients out of hospitals who would otherwise stay.
“I think there would have to be hard decisions made about who lives and who dies, given our limited availability by both speciality and (intensive-care) beds and we would probably see some degree of health-care rationing,” he says.
The problem may be even more pronounced because of Canada’s aging population, he said. The virus tends to hit older people harder, according to observations made in China and abroad, and is also particularly dangerous for people with other health problems.
Older people also tend to stay admitted in hospital beds even when they are in relatively stable condition because of a lack of long-term-care beds across the country.
That keeps emergency rooms from being able to move acute patients out of the ER and into those beds, limiting hospitals’ capacity to handle new cases.
Tam agreed Friday that hospital capacity is a “critical aspect” of Canada’s preparedness for a potential coronavirus outbreak, but said even very bad flu seasons can have a similar effect on emergency rooms.
“If we can delay the impact of the coronavirus until a certain period, when there’s less influenza for example, that would also be very helpful,” she said.
She also suggested people who are concerned about the possibility that they’re developing COVID-19 symptoms should call ahead to a hospital so they can make proper arrangements for containment and isolation.
Canada is doing its best, along with every other country in the world, to seize this time of relative containment and plan ahead, Tam said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 22, 2020.
Laura Osman, The Canadian Press
Interior Health begins rolling out COVID-19 vaccines for children aged five to 11 – radionl.com
Kamloops children between the age of five and 11 will now be able to get their COVID-19 vaccine starting this week, as the province begins rolling out the vaccine to people under the age of 12.
Parents and guardians are being encouraged to register their children for the vaccine – either online or by phone at 1‑833‑838‑2323 – if they haven’t done so already. Children can be registered on or after their fifth birthday.
“We’re launching the next phase of our immunization campaign by now offering the pediatric COVID-19 vaccine to children,” Interior Health interim chief medical health officer, Dr. Sue Pollock, said. “This vaccine is safe and effective at preventing COVID-19 in children, which means less disruption to school and the activities children and their families enjoy.”
The lead of B.C.’s vaccine rollout, Dr. Penny Ballem, says about 365,000 children in B.C. are now eligible for the vaccine.
“This is a specially-formulated vaccine for children. The real advantage that we have, particularly in view of the last weather event, is that it’s stable at 4 C for a long period of time, 10 weeks which is a very different situation from the other vaccines we’ve been dealing with,” she said.
“Eleven year-olds will receive the pediatric vaccination. After their 12th birthday, they will be eligible for the adult dose. And if a child is 11, receives the pediatric vaccination for their first dose, and then they turn 12 within the eight-week timeframe, they will get the adult dose for their second dose.”
Similar to how it was with adults, people who have registered for the vaccine will be told by text or email when it is time to book an appointment.
“Immunizing children brings additional protection to everyone in your family,” added pediatrician Dr. Shannon Wires, in a statement. “The pediatric COVID-19 vaccine has gone through a rigorous review and approval process. It provides excellent protection and I recommend parents get their children vaccinated as soon as possible.”
For more information on registering and booking appointments with your children, go here.
For a list of all Interior Health COVID-19 immunization clinics and other resources, go here.
– With files from Colton Davies
Celltrion signs COVID-19 antibody therapy supply deals with Europe
South Korean biotech company Celltrion’s distribution arm has signed supply deals for its monoclonal antibody to treat COVID-19 with nine European countries, Celltrion Healthcare said on Tuesday.
The European Commission earlier this month approved the company’s antibody therapy Regkirona, granting marketing authorisation for adults with COVID-19 who are at increased risk of progressing to a severe condition.
The first batch of 50,000 doses will be shipped to Europe this year and the company is in talks with 47 other nations including in Asia, Central and South America and the Middle East, Celltrion said in a statement.
The antibody treatment was initially approved in South Korea and has been administered to around 25,000 local COVID-19 patients as of last week.
Laboratory-made monoclonal antibodies mimic natural antibodies in fighting off infections. Unlike vaccines, they do not rely on the body to create an immune response, and can therefore help individuals with weak or compromised immune systems.
(Reporting by Sangmi Cha; editing by Richard Pullin)
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Hong Kong expands travel curbs, Australia reports 5 cases
Hong Kong expanded a ban on entry for non-residents from several countries as global health authorities raced to curb a potential outbreak of the Omicron virus, while Australia’s cabinet will review containment steps on Tuesday after five tested positive.
Omicron – first reported in southern Africa and which the World Health Organization (WHO) said carries a “very high” risk of infection surges – has triggered global alarm, with border closures casting a shadow over a nascent economic recovery from a two-year pandemic. In Australia, the five travellers with Omicron are all vaccinated and in quarantine, health officials said, adding they are asymptomatic or display very mild symptoms.
Vaccine makers start work on Omicron-tailored shots
BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are working on vaccines that specifically target Omicron in case their existing shots are not effective against the new coronavirus variant, the companies said on Monday.
A top South African infectious disease expert said Omicron appears to be more transmissible than previous variants, including to people with immunity from vaccination or prior infection.
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China will deliver another 1 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines to Africa and encourage Chinese companies to invest no less than $10 billion in the continent over the next three years, President Xi Jinping said on Monday.
China’s imports from Africa, one of its key sources of crude oil and minerals, will reach $300 billion in the next three years, Xi said, adding that the two sides would cooperate in areas such as health, digital innovation, trade promotion and green development.
Coronavirus reinfections rarely severe
Reinfections with the virus that causes COVID-19 are rarely severe, new findings suggest. Researchers in Qatar compared 1,304 individuals with a second SARS-CoV-2 infection against 6,520 people infected with the virus for the first time. Reinfected patients were 90% less likely to be hospitalised compared to patients infected for the first time, and no one in the study with a second infection required intensive care or died from COVID-19, said Dr. Laith Jamal Abu-Raddad of Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar in Doha.
“Nearly all reinfections were mild, perhaps because of immune memory that prevented deterioration of the infection to more severe outcomes,” he said. It is not clear how long immune protection against severe reinfection would last, the researchers noted. If it does last for a long time, they speculate, it might mean that as the coronavirus becomes endemic, infections could become “more benign.”
Experimental smartwatch COVID-19 detection improving
Smartwatch alerting systems for early detection of COVID-19 infection are coming closer to reality, researchers reported on Monday in Nature Medicine. They tested their new system, developed with open-source software, in 2,155 wearers of Fitbit, Apple Watch, Garmin watches or other devices. Ultimately, 84 of the volunteers were diagnosed with coronavirus infections – including 14 of 18 people without symptoms.
Overall, the researchers’ algorithms generated alerts in 67 (80%) of the infected individuals, on average three days before symptoms began. “This is the first time, to our knowledge, that asymptomatic detection has been shown for COVID-19,” they said. Presently, the system mainly depends on measurements of wearers’ resting heart rate, said study leader Michael Snyder of Stanford University School of Medicine in California. When watches can report other health data such as heart rate variability, respiration rate, skin temperature, and oxygen levels, it will become easier to distinguish the COVID-19 cases from other non-COVID-19 events, researchers said.
(Compiled by Karishma Singh; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)
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