The argument seems like a strong one: If Canadians would just follow the lead of countries and regions around the world that appear to have licked COVID-19 for now, not only would our health crisis be over, but so would our economic one.
As epidemiologists like Peter Jüni, director of the applied health research centre at Toronto’s St. Michael’s Hospital, know, under perfect conditions, breaking the link in the chain of viral spread for a mere matter of weeks would stop the disease in its tracks. Like a forest fire on an island, as soon as the available fuel is gone, it burns itself out.
“Theoretically if you have the possibility of doing a hard lockdown … after nine days you see the effect kick in very reliably,” Jüni said in a phone conversation Wednesday. “Stuff like that is theoretically possible.”
But in medicine, just as in economics, he said, theory and practice are two different things.
As the Vancouver-based Asia Pacific Foundation has shown in its research, places like China and Singapore did something very much like what Jüni suggests, got the virus under control and reopened businesses. In Taiwan, they never closed.
China imposed strict lockdowns and quarantines in places where the disease struck. Subways, restaurants and shopping streets were empty. Those who did go outside wore masks. The economy went into a tailspin, shrinking 6.8 per cent in the first three months of the year, its worse performance since the 1960s.
In China, after 85,000 cases and nearly 5,000 deaths, the country’s case count is now estimated at 400 in a population of 1.3 billion. That’s about the same number as Toronto reported on a single day this week.
Now, as China’s businesses reopen, the economy has bounced back. Retail spending recently climbed above pre-COVID-19 levels.
When the pandemic struck, experts at Johns Hopkins University in the U.S. “forecasted that Taiwan would fare badly due to its proximity and dense business and travel ties to China,” says an Asia Pacific Foundation report looking for lessons on how Taiwan stopped the spread of the disease.
In Taiwan, a fast response by government agencies, strict quarantines, near universal mask wearing and compliance with regulations meant that while businesses and schools did not close down, the total case count was about 600, with seven deaths.
Peter Vandergeest, an Asia specialist at Toronto’s York University and founding director at the York Centre for Asian Research, is irritated that critics put the region’s situation with the virus down to autocratic governments and an obedient population.
He said that certainly doesn’t apply to Thailand, a place he has often visited for his research and where cases remain low.
“Anybody who’s been to Thailand knows they are not rule followers,” said Vandergeest. “But when it comes to something like the virus, they take it very seriously.”
Vandergeest said that willingness to wear masks and comply with quarantines may be because of a history of experience with epidemic disease.
While scoffing at the idea that Asians are somehow all alike but different from North Americans or Europeans, Vandergeest, like many others, points to New Zealand, which has had only 25 deaths, and Australia, despite a second peak, which has cut serious cases to near zero.
Like Taiwan, New Zealand’s success can be partly attributed to its early and strict crackdown and careful watch on infections from abroad. But Australia was a different case, where the second severe lockdown led to complaints from business leaders at the time that it would be devastating for business. This week, restrictions were lifted and business began opening again.
While the St. Mike’s epidemiologist, Jüni, is encouraged by successes in Asia and Oceania, he is skeptical that they can be repeated here in Canada. That is because while it is theoretically achievable to stop the disease in its tracks, he believes that is effectively impossible in a climate where people spend so much of their time indoors.
“It has an unfortunate tendency in certain situations to become highly contagious in indoor settings,” said Jüni. “When we reach May and we all go outside again, we will be able to keep the thing relatively easily [under control]. But now it’s next to impossible.”
The problem of winter
Jüni even worries that Canada’s Atlantic bubble, based on early action, a relatively spread-out population and strict rules about new arrivals, could see a winter outbreak without careful attention.
Critics have pointed the finger at businesses and politicians who support them for worrying about short-term profit rather than long-term elimination of the virus, but research by Aya Aboelenien from the University of Montreal’s business school, the Hautes Études Commerciales, shows there are other issues at play.
“I think the problem is that the public trust in the government is fading,” said Aboelenien.
She points to new signs of coronavirus fatigue as businesses are asked to lock down a second time after the first one did not seem to work.
Jüni has sympathy for businesses that have suffered serious losses. And he is sympathetic with government officials who honestly do not know the best strategy to follow.
For now, he is convinced that the goal in Canada cannot be the virtual elimination of the virus, but something more moderate: preventing a growth in cases that would fill up hospitals and lead to a public health catastrophe.
Now that a vaccine seems feasible before next autumn, Jüni said the important thing is to keep businesses and their customers motivated and people staying within bubbles as much as possible, with the knowledge the reward will come in five months, when we move outside again.
“If we can make it to then without ending up in uncontrolled exponential growth, it will get easier.”
Follow Don on Twitter @don_pittis
Retailers call on Ontario to open non-essential stores, say restrictions aren't working – CBC.ca
A group of about 50 retailers called on the Ontario government on Tuesday to open all stores across the province — including those in lockdown regions, where they suggest imposing a 25 per cent capacity limit on “non-essential” stores.
“We respect the extraordinary efforts you and your administration are making to safeguard the public interest during this extremely challenging time,” the retailers said in a letter to Premier Doug Ford and Health Minister Christine Elliott. “The problem is that Ontario’s policy of segregating ‘non-essential’ retailers from those deemed essential might actually be making things worse.”
The letter was signed by executives from several major retailers, including Hudson’s Bay Company, Canadian Tire, Ikea Canada, Roots and Staples Canada. It argues that the lockdowns in Toronto and Peel Region haven’t reduced the number of people shopping.
“Instead, it has funnelled those shoppers and the corresponding health risk into fewer, increasingly crowded stores within Toronto and Peel, as well as adjacent communities, such as we saw in Vaughan and Markham over the weekend,” the letter stated.
“At the same time, as the current policy pushes more Canadian consumers to a handful of big box retailers and discount stores, thousands of small, independent and local stores sit shuttered, with their hands tied, even though many sell the very same goods.”
According to the retailers, limited capacity in some cases — in combination with safety measures such as mandatory masks, physical distancing and hand sanitization — “can further reduce the potential for community spread while enabling more businesses to stay open across all regions during a make-or-break season for retail businesses.”
The letter notes that other provinces have taken similar steps in conjunction with public health officials and that these steps “will put fewer people in more stores, increasing safety for all. The current policy does the opposite.”
‘Difficult but necessary’
The province responded by noting the restrictions are aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19 to protect the health and well-being of Ontarians.
Alexandra Hilkene, a spokesperson for Elliott, said the government must limit opportunities for individuals to have close contact with others to help stop the spread of the virus. This includes allowing box stores to operate at half capacity.
“These necessary measures are being taken to limit community transmission of COVID-19 in order to keep schools open, safeguard health system capacity, and protect the province’s most vulnerable populations,” Hilkene wrote in an email to The Canadian Press.
“To be clear, moving regions into a lockdown is not a measure this government takes lightly. However, as we have seen around the world, lockdowns are a difficult but necessary step to stop the spread, safeguard the key services we rely on and protect our health system capacity.”
She noted that the Ontario government is providing $600 million in relief to support eligible businesses required to close or significantly restrict services due to enhanced public health measures.
Canada’s coronavirus cases surge past 380K while daily death toll average stands at 87 – Global News
The data, announced by public health officials across the country, pushed the country’s total COVID-19 cases to 383,132 and its death toll from the virus to 12,211.
To date, a total of 304,888 people — or 79 per cent of all cases — have also recovered from the virus, while over 14,779,000 tests have been administered.
On Tuesday, Canada’s minister of public services and procurement, Anita Anand, said the federal government was in frequent talks with several coronavirus vaccine suppliers to negotiate earlier delivery dates.
Health Canada is currently reviewing the approval of four vaccines, with the government previously estimating an initial rollout of six million doses — enough shots to fully inoculate three million Canadians — to come in the new year.
“The delivery window is within the first quarter of 2021 … I am negotiating with our vaccine suppliers every day for earlier delivery dates. So when the Health Canada approval comes we will kick into the delivery process ASAP,” Anand said.
Coronavirus: Feds provide additional support to Indigenous communities amid outbreaks
Leaked modelling revealed on Tuesday also showed that almost 800 Albertans were projected to be hospitalized with COVID-19 by mid-December, placing an increased strain on hospitals and intensive care units.
Canada currently has over 2,600 hospitalizations from the virus, with the number steadily growing alongside the country’s cases and deaths.
Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, said in a statement Tuesday that the number of people experiencing severe illness continues to increase, with an average of 87 deaths and over 2,250 people being treated in hospital over the past seven days.
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Ontario tallied the highest number of new COVID-19 cases Tuesday, with 1,707 more infections and seven new deaths. The province, which saw its daily coronavirus cases peak at over 1,800 on Friday, sent several of its hotspots into lockdown last week to curb its surge in new cases.
In Quebec, another 1,177 infections and 28 additional deaths were announced by health authorities Tuesday. The province has the highest number of COVID-19-related deaths in the country, which now stands at 7,084 following Tuesday’s increase.
Alberta reported 1,307 more infections as well, pushing it’s total caseload to 59,484. Ten more deaths were also added by health authorities Tuesday, with its provincial death toll now standing at 551. Manitoba reported another 282 cases while Saskatchewan added 181.
B.C. added 653 more cases on Tuesday, of which three were diagnosed as “epi-linked,” meaning cases that displayed symptoms and were close contacts of confirmed infections, but were never tested. A total of 336 patients are considered epi-linked in the province, while the death toll stands at 457 after 16 more fatalities were announced.
Several territories and Atlantic Canadian provinces reported new cases as well, with Nova Scotia adding 10, New Brunswick another seven and both Newfoundland and Labrador and Nunavut reporting just one.
P.E.I., and the Northwest Territories did not add any new infections, while the Yukon has yet to update its Tuesday case figure.
Coronavirus: Small businesses falling through cracks for government aid
Cases of the virus continue to rise across the world, with 63,679,000 cases being reported as of today according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University.
A total of 1,476,900 people have also died from the virus so far, with the United States, Brazil and India leading in both infections and fatalities.
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
PM: Feds, provinces agree vaccine prioritization should be consistent Canada-wide – CTV News
As the precise order of who will follow seniors, health care workers and high-risk populations in line to get COVID-19 vaccines is still being sorted out, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the federal and provincial governments agree that there should be a cross-Canada “consensus” on the matter.
With Health Canada now beginning its assessment of a fourth potential vaccine candidate — Johnson & Johnson’s — the prime minister said talks are ongoing with the provinces and territories about the “challenging ethical and societal” aspect of the country’s vaccine rollout.
Logistics aside, governments and health care experts are having to weigh and decide who will be prioritized and what the eventual order of precedence will be for Canadians to line up and be vaccinated.
According to the preliminary guidance issued by the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, prioritization will be based on three factors: the state of the pandemic when the vaccine is available; the supply available and number of doses required; and the risk-benefit analysis of key populations such as those who are at higher risk for adverse outcomes if they contract the novel coronavirus.
Based on that advisory group’s preliminary guidance, the recommendation is that essential workers and others who face increased risks related to COVID-19 should be vaccinated against the disease before everyone else. Examples of those at higher risk include providers of essential services, or those whose living or working conditions put them at higher risk.
The subsequent order of who gets vaccinated next remains a largely open question, however, in the race to see 70 per cent of Canadians vaccinated by September.
“We talked about it with the provinces last week on our 22nd first minister’s call, and there was a number of perspectives, but there seemed to be a consensus that we should all agree across the country on what that list looks like and make sure that it is applied fairly right across the country,” Trudeau told reporters on Tuesday.
“There are more conversations to come and we will keep Canadians informed as we determine what that right order of priority is. Other elements of it is, certain vaccines might be more effective with certain populations versus others, and that’s why the experts are going to be so important in making determinations around, what is the best path to move forward for our country,” said the prime minister.
Though, Health Minister Patty Hajdu said later that provinces will be able to refine the prioritizations based on their own regional demographics.
“At the end of the day it is the provinces who deliver health care and it is the provinces who will decide on the priority populations and of course we’re working closely to make sure that we have coordination across the country, and that we agree on the principles, which in fact we have, we have a shared set of principles,” Hajdu said.
“There are also some federal populations that we will obviously have to take care of ourselves as the federal government,” Hajdu said. Examples of these groups would presumably be Indigenous communities and federal inmates.
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said on Tuesday that he and other premiers still have outstanding questions that need to be answered.
“Clearly we need our most vulnerable folks, our seniors… our front-line care workers to get the vaccine earlier, we can all agree on that. But the devil’s in the details, when you get beyond that. Should it be done on the basis of age? Or how do you determine vulnerability? Should it be done on the basis of ethnicity? Should it be done on the basis of race in some way? These questions have to be addressed,” Pallister said.
“We’re not saying the federal government has to do it all but we’re saying that we need to have the criteria established and the priority should be common, not different in one side of Saskatchewan’s border with Alberta than it is on the other, or not different than it is in Ottawa from Gatineau, but rather that we have a co-ordinated strategy.”
In an interview on CTV’s Power Play, New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs said in his province he doesn’t anticipate there will be a huge line up of people who want to get vaccinated early on, but communicating as clearly as possible in advance of who will be eligible first will help avoid a “panic situation.”
So far, just over $284 million has been spent on distributing vaccines to Canadians, with overall more than $1 billion allocated to Canada’s vaccine procurement effort, as part of a more than $14-billion commitment over the next several years on research into and development of vaccines and therapeutics.
AGE MAY BE KEY FACTOR: TAM
Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said Tuesday that work is underway right now on getting more “granular” in planning who among the highest risk groups will be first.
“That detail work is, you know, being taken very seriously by the provinces and territories as they begin to plan their immunization clinics.”
Then, once the priority groups are immunized, it’s possible the next easiest way to break down the order would be by age, said Tam.
“The age group, based on our analysis is actually the easiest and the most scientifically-sound way, I think, of increasing the population coverage,” she said.
“We know that underlying medical conditions put people at high risk but when we actually analyze all the different underlying medical conditions, and their age, it still comes out that the age is in fact the most important where you look at severe illness and mortality.”
There will also be groups who won’t be able to get a vaccine early on, due to the lack of research into the potential impacts on them, such as children and people who are pregnant.
“Kids haven’t really been engaged in a lot of the clinical trials, so that would be another age group for which data is needed, and we’ll be looking towards more data on pregnant women as well,” Dr. Tam said.
Asked whether he anticipates being among the earliest groups to get vaccinated, Trudeau said that he’s “going to trust the experts to make the right determination of what the priority populations are.”
With files from CTV News’ Ryan Flanagan
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