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The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for Sept. 25

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A gravedigger works at the San Miguel Xico cemetery in Valle de Chalco, Mexico, on Thursday, amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Pedro Pardo/AFP via Getty Images)

 

Canada signs deal to secure 20 million more COVID-19 vaccine doses, though none have proven successful yet

Canada has signed an agreement to secure another 20 million vaccine doses as the global race for a COVID-19 vaccine intensifies. During a news conference in Ottawa Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a deal with AstraZeneca on access to a vaccine prospect now being developed at Oxford University. As a result, the federal government has now secured access to six leading vaccine candidates. None of the candidates have been proven to work so far.

“We’ve been guided by science since the very beginning, and right now, both the COVID-19 vaccine task force and the immunity task force are doing important work to help us identify the most promising vaccine options and strategies,” he said. There is no approved vaccine yet for COVID-19, though there are many in clinical trials and in development.

Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand said the global market is intense and unpredictable. “Each supplier and therefore each negotiation is unique, with its own set of concerns,” she said. “The resulting agreements contain terms specifying the quantity, the price, the anticipated delivery schedule, the manufacturing and finishing parameters for each vaccine. When a vaccine is ready, Canada will be ready.”

The federal government already has reached vaccine agreements with Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Novavax, Pfizer and Moderna, for a total of 282 million doses. Full payments to drug companies are contingent on the vaccines passing clinical trials and obtaining regulatory approval. Health Canada says it will review the evidence on safety, efficacy and manufacturing quality for each vaccine to determine if individual vaccines will be approved for use in Canada before they are made available to Canadians.

The government is also procuring equipment and supplies needed for vaccine manufacturing and packaging, as well as immunization equipment such as syringes, needles and alcohol swabs.

Trudeau also announced that Canada will provide $440 million to COVAX, a global procurement initiative meant to ensure fair, equitable and timely access to vaccines for less wealthy countries. “This pandemic can’t be solved by any one country alone because to eliminate the virus anywhere, we need to eliminate it everywhere,” Trudeau said.

Click below to watch more from The National

Desperate to avoid another series of COVID-19 lockdowns, health officials and experts are pushing for Canadians to wear masks in more situations, even in more outdoor situations and around loved ones. 2:00

IN BRIEF

RCMP mask policy for bearded front-line officers ‘must be rectified’: Ottawa

The RCMP is facing accusations of discrimination because of a policy requiring front-line officers to wear properly fitting N95 respirator masks — something that might not be possible with a beard. Calls for a change in policy arose after some front-line officers with beards — including Sikh and Muslim RCMP members who leave their hair unshorn for religious reasons — were reassigned to desk duties over the mask issue.

On March 19, as Canada began dealing with the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki sent out a directive outlining the use of respirator masks for front-line officers. Lucki said officers must ensure the respirator is sealed correctly, and “one of the most common causes of a breached seal is facial hair.”

World Sikh Organization legal counsel Balpreet Singh said Thursday the move has resulted in some Sikh officers being removed from their front-line duties during the pandemic. “It’s clearly a case of discrimination in that once again, Sikh officers are able to serve in the Canadian forces, were able to serve in different police forces, and there’s been really no issue. The fact that this has been allowed to linger for almost six months without a resolution — to me, it points to a larger issue of not understanding the need to accommodate.”

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair condemned the policy in a statement to CBC News on Friday. “All officers must be given equal opportunity to serve their community while practicing their faith. They must not experience discrimination based on religion,” read an email from the minister’s spokesperson. “The reports from the World Sikh Organization are concerning. It is essential for the RCMP to provide necessary personal protective equipment in a timely manner for Sikh officers. We have raised this matter with the RCMP, and expect that this be rectified as quickly as possible.”

Ontario closes strip clubs, imposes tighter restrictions on bars and restaurants 

The Ontario government is implementing a number of new provincewide restrictions and public health measures aimed at curbing a surge in new cases of COVID-19.

“Over the past five weeks, Ontario has experienced an increase in the rate of new COVID-19 cases,” the province said in a news release Friday afternoon. “Private social gatherings continue to be a significant source of transmission in many local communities, along with outbreak clusters in restaurants, bars, and other food and drink establishments, including strip clubs, with most cases in the 20-39 age group.”

As a result, the government is taking the following measures:

Last call at bars and restaurants, including nightclubs, is 11 p.m. All strip clubs will be closed until further notice. Require all businesses and organizations to comply with the advice of Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams, including screening people who wish to enter their premises for COVID-19 symptoms. The orders take effect at 12:01 a.m. Saturday.

The provincial government also said it will work with municipalities to ramp up enforcement of public health regulations.

Why stock markets are up 44% amid the worst economic contraction in history

The economy is in a ditch, and millions of Canadian workers still find themselves unemployed or underemployed compared with where things were before COVID-19. And still the stock market is posting some record gains.

“It’s surprising how quickly they came back,” Robert Kavcic, senior economist at the Bank of Montreal, said of the markets. In March, stocks crashed. They fell so steep and so far that many assumed it would take years to rebound. In the end, the stock market recovery took just 150 days. Since it bottomed out on March 23 of this year, the broadest marker of the U.S. stock market — the S&P 500 — is up 44 per cent. So, what gives?

It’s always important to remember that the stock market is not the economy. Stocks are meant to reflect the future value of a given company’s stock, not the state of Main Street today. Kavcic said the sharp rise in equities shows how the pandemic has hit different sizes of businesses in different ways. For the most part, the big fish are doing OK, but the little ones are hurting.

“If you look where most of the economic damage was, it was and still is in smaller businesses and Main Street-type businesses that don’t necessarily trade on the equity market,” Kavcic said. “You don’t have a hair salon or a restaurant trading on the Nasdaq.” And yet, he said, digital companies such as Netflix, Cisco and Microsoft have fared incredibly well. And those are the companies driving stock market gains.

 

 

Stay informed with the latest COVID-19 data from Canada and around the world.

THE SCIENCE

Black Canadians get sick more from COVID-19. Scientists aim to find out why

Race-based data shows that Black Canadians are far more likely to get sick and be hospitalized for COVID-19 than other ethnic groups. A new study looking at antibodies in the blood of Black Canadians aims to understand the reasons in an effort to reduce the impact of the disease on Black communities.

The study is being led by Dr. Upton Allen, chief of infectious diseases at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. He says the data shows that across North America, Black communities are disproportionately affected by the pandemic, according to data from cities such as Toronto and Ottawa, and organizations such as the Edmonton-based African Canadian Civic Engagement Council and the Innovative Research Group.

In Toronto, for example, data from May 20 to July 16 found that Black patients made up 21 per cent of COVID-19 cases, even though they were only nine per cent of the population. “What is less clear in the Canadian context is why?” Allen said. “We suspect that it has to do with the types of exposures that people have. However, we really need the data to substantiate that.”

Researchers suspect that a number of risk factors might play a role: the work that people in the communities do, including how many are front-line workers and how many work several different jobs at different locations to make ends meet; living conditions, such as crowded, multigenerational homes; and pre-existing medical conditions that can increase risk, such as obesity and diabetes, which are often associated with poverty.

In order to find out if that’s the case, the study will be recruiting 2,000 Black Canadians and 1,000 non-Black Canadians from across the country, including both adults and children over two years old. Participants will answer a questionnaire and do a blood test.

The study aims to show: the extent to which certain communities are protected by “herd immunity”; the biggest risk factors in certain communities; and opportunities for support, such as providing a place for infected people to self-isolate.

AND FINALLY…

Royals facing $60M Cdn hit as pandemic drags tourism numbers down

 

A big financial hit looms over Queen Elizabeth and her family from the coronavirus pandemic, the monarch’s money manager said Friday. (Toby Melville/Getty Images)

 

Queen Elizabeth and her family are facing a 35-million-pound ($60 million Cdn) hit from the coronavirus pandemic, partly due to a shortage of tourists, the monarch’s money manager said Friday.

Releasing the royal household’s annual accounts, Keeper of the Privy Purse Michael Stevens said a lack of income from visitors to royal buildings was likely to bring a general funding shortfall of $25.6 million Cdn over three years. He said the impact of the pandemic is also likely to cause a shortfall in a 10-year program to replace antiquated heating, plumbing and wiring at Buckingham Palace, the Queen’s London home. Officials have said the palace’s aging infrastructure, which had its last major upgrade after the Second World War, is at risk of a catastrophic failure if it’s not replaced.

Stevens said the royal household would not ask for more government money but would “look to manage the impact through our own efforts and efficiencies.”

Source:- CBC.ca

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Why getting COVID-19 vaccines approved in Canada won't be 'overnight solution' to pandemic – CBC.ca

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For months, more than 150 teams around the world have been working at an unprecedented pace to develop a vaccine against the new coronavirus. 

Ten of those vaccine candidates are now in Phase 3 clinical trials, in which each is given to thousands of people to ensure it’s both safe and effective — the final leg of the process before their potential approval.

In the fight against COVID-19, that feels like a light at the end of a long, dark tunnel.

But once at least one vaccine is approved, what comes next? 

“Approval itself is not going to be an overnight solution,” said Matthew Miller, an associate professor at the Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research at McMaster University in Hamilton.

“There’s going to be a significant amount of time required to distribute the vaccine and then have enough doses prepared to administer to the population.”

Public health and vaccination experts also say the months after Canada starts acquiring a vaccine will be rife with challenges, both logistically and ethically, as public health officials will need to determine which groups should get priority access — be it health-care workers or other vulnerable demographics — as production scales up to meet demand.

“There will inevitably be supply chain issues,” Miller warned. “It’s going to take time for the vaccine manufacturers to produce enough doses, and there’s going to need to be prioritization over who will get those first doses when they become available.”

WATCH | Dr. Theresa Tam on the flu and COVID-19 vaccines:

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam says preparations for administering this year’s flu vaccine is a “good rehearsal” for any COVID-19 vaccine. 1:01

Canada preordering 6 candidates

Earlier this year, the federal government said it put $1 billion into preorders of six foreign vaccine candidates

It’s a move that hedges our bets, with Canada set to receive 20 million to 76 million doses of each vaccine — if any successfully make it through clinical trials and gain approval from Health Canada.

Should at least one of the preorders prove safe and effective, federal and provincial officials need a strategy in place to roll it out among different groups, ensuring there are no “inequities” between regions, noted Alison Thompson, an associate professor in the Leslie Dan faculty of pharmacy and Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto.

“This is something that we can get out in front of,” she said. “We know a vaccine could become available in the next few months.”

In September, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said preparations for administering this year’s flu vaccine offered a “good rehearsal” for mass immunization programs for a coronavirus vaccine.

But some Ontario physicians recently warned those efforts fell short, with initial rounds of supplies drying up quickly amid early and higher-than-usual demand.

The province, however, has said more shipments are coming — and stressed the program was meant to take a staggered approach to rolling out the vaccine, first targeting vulnerable populations like long-term care residents before the general public. 

Protecting ‘vulnerable’ first

That “prioritization” approach could also prove crucial while rolling out a vaccine for the coronavirus, both to conserve supplies while production scales up and protect those most at risk.

“We may be looking at protection for really important health-care workers, first responders, people who keep the economy running,” Thompson said. “We might want to be protecting vulnerable populations first before anybody else.”

But who should be deemed most vulnerable, and first in line?

There’s no “one size fits all” approach behind that decision, Miller said, and in Canada a lot of factors are at play, from residents’ ages to their socioeconomic status to their pre-existing health conditions.

Health-care workers have proved at risk across the country, with a dozen dying and more than 21,000 falling ill — representing roughly 20 per cent of cases — in the pandemic’s first wave, according to a September report from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI).

The largest death toll, however, was more than 5,300 elderly residents in long-term care, with those facilities accounting for more than 80 per cent of all Canadian COVID-19 deaths in the first wave, CIHI findings show.

Racialized and marginalized communities have also been hard hit in areas like Toronto, where multiple diverse, lower-income neighbourhoods have experienced high case counts and test positivity rates for the virus have been more than triple the city’s average, Toronto Public Health data shows.

A resident of Toronto’s Fairview Nursing Home leaves with paramedics on Sept. 29, 2020 — the same day Premier Doug Ford announced a plan to scale back visitations to care homes as a means to curb a spike in cases. Fairview is in the midst of an outbreak of COVID-19. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Alongside health-care workers on the front lines, it’s remote Indigenous communities which “need to be first priority,” based on the severe comorbidities, residential overcrowding and lack of access to health-care facilities found in many areas, according to Dr. Anna Banerji, an associate professor at the University of Toronto and faculty lead for Indigenous and refugee health. 

“All Indigenous communities are at highest risk compared to non-Indigenous communities — by far,” she said.

Scaling up could take ‘many months’

Miller said the process of scaling up vaccinations from priority groups to the broader public could take “many months,” if not a year or more.

That time frame could also involve a less-discussed stage of vaccine research: Phase 4 clinical trials, after candidates are already on the market.

It’s a time to evaluate vaccines’ effectiveness and safety in a “real world” setting, Miller said, and could offer clues for future generations of COVID-19 vaccines.

“The first vaccines approved may not necessarily be the most effective vaccines,” he said. 

The vaccine for human papillomavirus, or HPV, was later expanded to protect people against more strains of the virus, for instance, while an early version of the shot for shingles was far less effective than a later form which has an efficacy of more than 90 per cent.

In those instances, people wound up getting additional rounds of newer vaccines to ensure the highest level of protection, Miller explained, adding it’s still not clear if people will need revaccination to protect against this coronavirus. 

The more pressing concern now is getting at least one first option out to the public in hopes of winding down this months-long pandemic.

While the threshold for achieving herd immunity — which occurs when a large portion of a community becomes immune to a disease, making its continued spread less likely — isn’t clear yet for COVID-19, it could be as high as 70 per cent of people, said epidemiologist Raywat Deonandan, an associate professor at the University of Ottawa.

That’s a level of protection Canada won’t hit for quite some time after a vaccine becomes available, assuming enough residents get the shot.

“If we don’t get there, then we have a functioning society, with some restrictions still in place, like distancing and mask wearing and maybe limits on gatherings, but no more lockdowns and things like that,” he said. 

“So either way, the vaccine is going to help us.”

Front Burner28:37Inside Canada’s race for a COVID-19 vaccine

A global race for a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine is underway. More than 160 of them are in different stages of testing around the world. Canada is in this race too. A group of scientists at the University of Saskatchewan’s VIDO-InterVac – the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization in Saskatoon – are trying to get through a decade’s worth of testing and approvals as early as next year. Today on Front Burner, CBC Saskatoon reporter Alicia Bridges takes us inside a lab working on a Canadian COVID vaccine, and inside the lives of the scientists trying to find it. 28:37

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EU removes Canadians from list of approved travellers because of COVID-19 – CBC.ca

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European Union officials are moving to halt Canadians from travelling to the bloc of European countries amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In July, the EU set up a so-called white list of countries whose citizens would be allowed access for non-essential travel.

Canada had been on the approved list from Day 1, along with 14 other countries.

The United States has been on the list of banned countries from the start.

In August, the EU removed Algeria, Montenegro, Morocco and Serbia from the white list because of rising COVID-19 case numbers in those countries.

Officials meet every two weeks to decide if any changes should be made to the white list, and no changes had been recommended since then.

Rising case numbers

On Wednesday, officials met for their regularly scheduled meeting. According to Reuters, Bloomberg and other reports, they decided to remove three countries — Canada, Tunisia and Georgia — while adding Singapore to the approved travel list.

An EU official speaking on condition of anonymity confirmed to CBC News that the bloc has decided to change the makeup of the white list, the finalized version of which is expected to be made public within days.

According to CBC’s coronavirus tracker, there are more than 203,000 confirmed cases of the disease across Canada, with 2,251 new cases on Tuesday.

After the changes, the white list consists of nine countries: Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand, Rwanda, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand and Uruguay. 

The decision doesn’t ban travel immediately, nor is it necessarily strictly enforced in every EU country.

Some countries, such as France, have not placed any restrictions on visitors from countries on the white list. Germany has pared the list down while Italy requires a period of self-isolation and demands travellers take a private vehicle to their destinations even if they are on the white list.

The Canada Border Services Agency doesn’t provide a detailed breakdown of how many Canadians have been travelling to various EU countries, but Statistics Canada does note that in July, the month with the most up to date data, 57,000 people came to Canada from France, 11,000 came from the Netherlands and 42,000 from Germany.

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Immigration slowdown could prove costly for Atlantic Canada, economist warns – CBC.ca

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Hanlyn Barlomento speaks with her husband, Cedric Fuentes, every day by video conference, lifting up their baby girl, Celeine, so her father can talk to her.

With the family separated due to the pandemic, Fuentes hasn’t yet been able to hold his eight-month-old daughter.

“It’s very, very difficult. I’m very emotional,” said Barlomento.

“I remember when I found out about the pandemic and how everything is going on lockdown all over the world. I was crying for weeks because, you know, I’m a first-time mom and I need him to be here with me.”

Barlomento is a Canadian citizen who met her husband on a trip to visit family in the Philippines. They married and began the process for him to immigrate, anticipating he could have his permanent residency this year. 

But she’s still waiting for the immigration paperwork to be processed, and she’s been unable to get any kind of time estimate from immigration staff. 

“I can’t even explain the loneliness that I feel right now,” Fuentes said. “My family is away from me, especially now that my daughter is growing up without me.” 

Cedric Fuentes speaks to his infant daughter by video conference from the Philippines. (CBC/Patrick Callaghan)

Barlomento hoped to return to work or school after her husband arrived to help care for the baby, but those plans are on hold for now.  

According to a senior economist at RBC, this scenario is a common one and concerning for Atlantic Canada. 

“This might be a temporary thing, we might be seeing a rebound in the fall or in the spring, depending on what … happens with the coronavirus and the federal government’s response. However, if this keeps up, we’re in danger of falling off track,” said Andrew Agopsowicz. 

Agopsowicz studies immigration and labour trends for RBC and has analyzed the latest numbers released by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. He saw what he described as a “complete shutdown” of immigration between late March and June due to border closures. 

Andrew Agopsowicz is a senior economist with RBC who studies immigration and labour trends. (CBC/Patrick Callaghan)

Days before the border shutdowns, the federal government put forward a goal of bringing in 341,000 new permanent residents in 2020. Based on permanent resident admissions so far, Agopsowicz predicts the country will reach about 70 per cent of that goal. 

“It doesn’t look like, from the recent data, we’re in a position to catch up from the last quarter,” he said. 

Agopsowicz said even if the loss is temporary, it could still translate to a “very costly” year.

“The Atlantic provinces, it could hit particularly hard,” he said, adding because the region is aging overall it relies heavily on immigrants to grow its labour force, particularly in areas like health care and support for the elderly. 

The Canadian government closed its borders to most international travel in March, shortly after releasing new targets for taking in 341,000 new international immigrants in 2020. (Nam Y. Huh/The Associated Press)

“The Atlantic provinces are less prepared, I think, to handle that shock than say, central Canada or the West,” he said.  

Meghan Felt, a St. John’s, N.L.-based lawyer who specializes in immigration law, said many of her clients are frustrated with the slowdown they’ve seen during the pandemic. 

“It’s making a problem that was already there, worse, really,” said Felt, a partner with the law firm McInnes Cooper. Felt does a lot of work for employers trying to bring in health-care workers and other critical infrastructure workers. 

In her experience, applications from people deemed non-essential workers are at a standstill, and even essential worker applications that might have previously taken a couple of days are taking upward of six weeks. She said some clients are trying to speed up the process by appealing to local politicians. 

She thinks some applications could be abandoned. 

Meghan Felt is a partner with McInnes Cooper in St. John’s, N.L., who specializes in immigration law. (Rob Antle/CBC)

“You have employers who are working really hard to get people here and want them here yesterday. And then they’re afraid they’re going to lose these people to move to maybe a different country or just decide that they’re going to stay put,” she said. 

“And then individuals I’ve seen many times, time and time again, just a complete frustration with the process and with the timelines. And so a lot of them will give up.” 

On Prince Edward Island — a province still leading the way on population growth — the head of the Charlottetown chamber of commerce said her members are monitoring the immigration situation, but it’s not time to sound the alarm.

Penny Walsh-Maguire said immigration has been a big part of P.E.I.’s “social story” and economy recently, but given the pandemic, some restrictions had to be expected. Some of her members are re-examining their hiring practices and even reporting a small increase in people arriving interprovincially instead of internationally.

Penny Walsh-Maguire is the CEO of the Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce. (CBC/Kirk Pennell)

“P.E.I. and the Atlantic provinces are seen as a very safe destination,” she said. “What I am hearing from members is when they do post a job, they are seeing a little bit of an increase … of applications coming from other [places in] Canada, particularly Alberta and Ontario.”

Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino plans to deliver an update on Canada’s immigration targets in November. He said there’s no doubt that COVID-19 has had an impact on the immigration system.  

“But I am very optimistic and confident that as a result of a number of innovations that we’ve introduced and technologies that we’re taking full advantage of, that we will make actually quite remarkable progress despite the interruption that has been caused by COVID-19.” 

Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Marco Mendicino takes part in a press conference during the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa on June 8, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick (THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Mendicino said those new innovations and technologies include putting more services online, such as virtual citizenship ceremonies. He did not say whether Canada is likely to meet its current targets, or whether the targets would change, but emphasized that immigration will be part of the COVID-19 recovery plan. 

As for Hanlyn Barlomento and her family, IRCC said it’s increased the number of people able to make decisions on spousal applications and hopes to process almost 50,000 applications by December. 

For now, she remains hopeful that IRCC will be able to respond to the situation. 

“I really want them to actually understand what we’re going through,” she said.

“If they have to triple the workforce or get people to actually speed things up, then that’s what I want them to do.” 

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