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The latest news on COVID-19 developments in Canada for Thursday, March 11, 2021 – OrilliaMatters

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The latest news on COVID-19 developments in Canada (all times eastern):

5:55 p.m.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority says it’s dropping the eligible age for seniors to book COVID-19 vaccination appointments to 80, down from 85.

Thursday was the launch of the province’s booking system, announced after people raised concerns about waiting to be contacted by public health to receive their shots.

The health authority says around 4,300 appointments were made by phone or online.

It was only open to residents 85 and older, but the authority says the age will drop to 80, starting Friday, after a successful first-day rollout.

5:50 p.m.

Yukon’s chief medical officer of health is warning residents to avoid all non-essential travel during the upcoming March break to limit the spread of COVID-19. 

Dr. Brendan Hanley says in a statement that non-essential travel out of Yukon is not recommended, and those who do so will have to self-isolate for 14 days upon their return. 

He says the designated quarantine facility in Whitehorse is not available for those who travel for recreation, entertainment or tourism purposes.

5:30 p.m.

Alberta has recorded 364 new COVID-19 infections and five more deaths. 

Chief medical officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw says about four per cent of tests in the past day came back positive.

There are 259 COVID-19 patients in hospital, including 38 in intensive care. 

The province also reported 41 more variant cases over the past day, bringing its total to 775.

5:30 p.m.

British Columbia’s provincial health officer is allowing up to 10 people to meet outdoors after nearly four months of restrictions that barred social gatherings between people from different households.

Dr. Bonnie Henry says restrictions on indoor gatherings and rules for restaurants, bars, retail stores and other venues remain in place.

She says while the infection curve of the pandemic is trending down on Vancouver Island and in the Interior and Northern health regions, COVID-19 is still circulating in communities, particularly in the Lower Mainland.

Henry announced 569 new cases today and three more deaths, pushing the death toll in the province to 1,397.

More than 360,000 doses of COVID-19 have been administered in the province so far.

3:05 p.m.

Health officials in Saskatchewan announced another 165 new cases of COVID-19.

In Regina, the Ministry of Health reports an increase in community transmission of variants of concern.

To date, many of the cases connected to the B.1.1.7 strain, first detected in the United Kingdom, have been found in and around the capital city.

There are 137 people in hospital with COVID-19 provincewide, with 27 in intensive care.

Officials say so far, the province has given nearly 96,000 doses of vaccine.

1:35 p.m.

Manitoba is reporting three COVID-19 deaths and 91 new cases.

However, three cases from unspecified dates have been removed due to data corrections, bringing the net increase to 88.

1:15 p.m.

Newfoundland and Labrador is reporting one new case of COVID-19.

The case involves a man in his 50s in the eastern region, where officials beat back an outbreak that spread through the metro region last month.

Officials say the outbreak initially spread through high school students, ultimately affecting at least 185 staff and students in 22 different schools.

The Department of Education announced today that St. John’s-area schools will reopen next week for students in kindergarten through Grade 9, but remote learning will continue for high school students across the province.

1:05 p.m.

New Brunswick is reporting two new cases of COVID-19 today.

Health officials say the two cases are in the Moncton area.

Officials are also announcing that starting today, residents aged 85 and older can set up COVID-19 vaccine appointments at pharmacies, which will begin administering doses March 17.

New Brunswick has 34 active reported cases of the disease. 

11:30 a.m.

Edmonton’s mayor says flags on municipal buildings will fly at half-mast to honour those who have lost their lives to COVID-19.

Don Iveson says the city’s iconic High Level Bridge across the North Saskatchewan River will be lit in white to mark the national day of observance.  

There have 810 deaths from COVID-19 recorded in the Alberta capital, which has a population of just under a million people.

Nearly 2,000 people have died from COVID-19 across the province.

11:15 a.m.

Ontario reported 1,092 new cases of COVID-19 today and has surpassed a million total vaccine doses administered.

Health Minister Christine Elliott says 293 new cases are in Toronto, 199 are in Peel Region, and 79 are in York Region.

More than 40,000 vaccine doses were administered since Wednesday’s update, taking Ontario past the million-dose milestone.

Ten more deaths were linked to the virus in Ontario.

11 a.m.

Quebec is reporting 738 new COVID-19 cases and 15 more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus, including three in the past 24 hours.

Health officials said today hospitalizations dropped by 18, to 563, and 111 people were in intensive care, a drop of one.

Officials say they administered 18,659 vaccine doses on Wednesday, for a total of 619,060.

Quebec has reported a total of 295,390 COVID-19 cases and 10,518 deaths linked to the virus; there are 7,134 active reported infections in the province.

10:35 a.m.

Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet is using a white rose in the House of Commons to remember those who have died from COVID-19 over the past year.

Blanchet is also calling for Canada to address the inequality and shortcomings in the national health-care system that were exposed during the pandemic.

He is also marking the sacrifices of health-care and other front-line workers, many of whom are women.

10:20 a.m.

Federal Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole is using an address in the House of Commons marking the one-year anniversary of the start of the COVID-19 pandemic by listing the many ways in which Canadians have suffered over the past year.

He’s also criticizing the Liberal government for what he describes as the slow pace of vaccinations to date.

O’Toole says many Canadians have lost their jobs over the past year, while many others are struggling with mental-health challenges, domestic violence and opioid addictions.

The Conservative leader says most Canadians remain unsure when they will get vaccinated, and Canada must learn from the past 12 months and ensure the country is not caught by surprise again in the future.

10:10 a.m.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is marking the one-year anniversary of the World Health Organization declaring COVID-19 a pandemic by remembering the more than 20,000 people who have died from the illness.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Trudeau also praised the health-care workers, military personnel and others who have stepped up over the last year to help Canadians through the pandemic.

The prime minister describes the past 12 months as “a tough year, a heartbreaking year, but it is a year we have faced together.”

10 a.m.

U.S.-based vaccine maker Moderna says it has now started giving doses of a B.1.351 COVID-19 variant booster shot to 60 people who have already been vaccinated with the company’s original shot. 

The phase two trial is testing various combinations, including two different sizes of doses of just the booster shot that has adjusted the original vaccine to account for the changes seen in the variant first identified in South Africa.

A third version combines both the original vaccine and the booster shot, attempting to see if one jab can cover the original virus and the new variant.

Lab tests showed Moderna’s original vaccine did produce antibodies when put up against multiple variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19, but the level of response against B.1.351 was as much as six times less than that against the original virus.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 11, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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Ontario hospitals may have to withhold care as COVID-19 fills ICUs

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By Allison Martell and Anna Mehler Paperny

TORONTO (Reuters) – Doctors in the Canadian province of Ontario may soon have to decide who can and cannot receive treatment in intensive care as the number of coronavirus infections sets records and patients are packed into hospitals still stretched from a December wave.

Canada‘s most populous province is canceling elective surgeries, admitting adults to a major children’s hospital and preparing field hospitals after the number of COVID-19 patients in ICUs jumped 31% to 612 in the week leading up to Sunday, according to data from the Ontario Hospital Association.

The sharp increase in Ontario hospital admissions is also straining supplies of tocilizumab, a drug often given to people seriously ill with COVID-19.

Hospital care is publicly funded in Canada, generally free at the point of care for residents. But new hospital beds have not kept pace with population growth, and shortages of staff and space often emerge during bad flu seasons.

Ontario’s hospitals fared relatively well during the first wave of the pandemic last year, in part because the province quickly canceled elective surgeries.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario told doctors last Thursday that the province was considering “enacting the critical care triage protocol,” something that was not done during earlier waves of the virus. Triage protocols help doctors decide who to treat in a crisis.

“Everybody’s under extreme stress,” said Eddy Fan, an ICU doctor at Toronto’s University Health Network. He said no doctor wants to contemplate a triage protocol but there are only so many staff.

“There’s going to be a breaking point, a point at which we can’t fill those gaps any longer.”

In a statement, the health ministry said Ontario has not activated the protocol. A September draft suggested doctors could withhold life-sustaining care from patients with a less than 20% chance of surviving 12 months. A final version has not been made public.

Ontario’s Science Advisory Table had been forecasting the surge for months, said member and critical care physician Laveena Munshi. During a recent shift she wanted to call the son of a patient only to discover he was in an ICU across the street.

“The horror stories that we’re seeing in the hospital are like ones out of apocalyptic movies,” she said. “They’re not supposed to be the reality we’re seeing one year into a pandemic.”

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In COVID-19 vaccination pivot, Canada targets frontline workers

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By Anna Mehler Paperny

TORONTO (Reuters) – Canada is shifting its vaccination campaign to target frontline workers, moving away from a largely age-based rollout as the country tries to get a handle on the raging third wave of the pandemic.

Canada‘s approach thus far has left unvaccinated many so-called “essential workers,” like daycare providers, bus drivers and meatpackers, all of whom are among those at higher risk of COVID-19 transmission. Provinces are now trying to adjust their strategy to tackle the surge driven by new variants.

Targeting frontline workers and addressing occupation risk is vital if Canada wants to get its third wave under control, says Simon Fraser University mathematician and epidemiologist Caroline Colijn, who has modelled Canadian immunization strategies and found “the sooner you put essential workers [in the vaccine rollout plan], the better.”

Initially, Canada prioritized long-term care residents and staff for the vaccines, as well as the very elderly, health workers, residents of remote communities and Indigenous people.

Targeting vaccinations by age made sense early on in a pandemic that ravaged Canada‘s long-term care homes, Colijn said. But now, immunizing those at highest risk of transmission brings the greatest benefit.

“If you protect these individuals you also protect someone in their 60s whose only risk is when they go to the store. … The variants are here now. So if we pivot now, but it takes us two months to do it, then we will lose that race.”

Data released on Tuesday from the Institute of Clinical and Evaluative Sciences showed that Toronto’s neighbourhoods with the highest rates of COVID-19 infections had the lowest vaccination rates, underscoring the disparities in vaccination.

‘IT’S A JUGGERNAUT’

On Wednesday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced a plan to have mobile vaccine clinics target COVID-19 “hotspots” and high-risk worksites, although he stopped short of giving people paid time off to get the shot.

Karim Kurji, medical officer of health in York Region north of Toronto, characterizes the shift in vaccination priority from age to transmission risk as moving from defence to offence.

“It’s a juggernaut in terms of the immunization machinery, and turning it around takes a lot of effort,” Kurji said.

Meanwhile, officials in the western province of Alberta say they are offering vaccines to more than 2,000 workers at Cargill’s meatpacking plant in High River, site of one of Canada‘s largest workplace COVID-19 outbreaks. Provincial officials said in a statement they are looking to expand the pilot to other plants.

Quebec will start vaccinating essential workers such as those in education, childcare and public safety in Montreal, where neighbourhoods with the highest vaccination rates have been among those with the lowest recorded infection rates.

The people doing the highest-risk jobs, from an infectious disease perspective, are more likely to be poor, non-white and new Canadians, health experts say. They are less likely to have paid leave to get tested or vaccinated or stay home when sick and are more likely to live in crowded or multi-unit housing. They need to be prioritized for vaccination and their vaccination barriers addressed, experts say.

Naheed Dosani, a Toronto palliative care physician and health justice activist, said making vaccines available to high-risk communities is not enough without addressing barriers to access.

“The face of COVID-19 and who was being impacted changed dramatically. The variants seemed to take hold in communities where essential workers live. … This [pivot] is a step in the right direction and will hopefully save lives.”

 

(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny; Editing by Denny Thomas and Aurora Ellis)

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Canada finance minister: Pandemic an opportunity to bring in national childcare

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OTTAWA (Reuters) – The COVID-19 pandemic and its damaging impact on women has underlined the need for a national childcare plan, which would also help the economic recovery, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said on Thursday.

Since taking up her job in August, Freeland has repeatedly spoken about a “feminist agenda,” and has said childcare will be part of a stimulus package worth up to C$100 billion ($79.6 billion) over three years. She will unveil details in her April 19 budget.

“I really believe COVID-19 has created a window of political opportunity and maybe an epiphany … on the importance of early learning and childcare,” Freeland told a online convention of Canada‘s ruling Liberal Party.

The budget is set to be a springboard for an election that Liberal insiders say is likely in the second half of the year.

Canadian governments of various stripes have mused about a national childcare program for decades but never acted, thanks in part to the cost and also the need to negotiate with the 10 provinces, which deliver many social programs.

Freeland said a childcare program would help counter “an incredibly dangerous drop” in female employment since the start of the pandemic.

“It is a surefire way to drive jobs and economic growth … you have higher participation of women in the labor force,” Freeland said. “My hope … is that being able to make that economic argument as well is going be to one of the ways that we get this done.”

Freeland, who is taking part this week in meetings of the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations and the International Monetary Fund, said U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen had told her they saw early learning and child care as a driver for economic recovery.

($1=1.2560 Canadian dollars)

 

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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