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There are now 34 confirmed cases of the B117 variant in Ontario and Toronto's top doctor says you should assume it is spreading – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News

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There are 34 confirmed cases of the B117 COVID variant in Ontario and officials are now acknowledging that the strain may not just be more contagious but could also cause “more severe illness” in some people as well.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams shared the latest data during a briefing on Monday afternoon. It is a big jump from last Thursday when officials were reporting just 15 cases of the so-called UK variant.

Of the 34 cases, 10 are in York Region, six are in Toronto, seven are in Simcoe, three are in Peel, three are in Durham and three are in Ottawa. Kingston and Midddlesex-London have also had single cases.

“The key issue is that with the aggressive nature of the UK variant in particular the reasons for being cautious and careful with masking and distancing are enhanced even further because it can be spread with breaches to those protocols in a very short period of time,” Williams warned. “We are going to have to be on our guard but the same measures that protect you from the other strain of COVID-18 will protect you from this one. But you have to do it consistently.”

Ontario has been screening positive samples from people who have returned from aboard for new variants as well as samples collected from large outbreaks.

Efforts, however, are now underway to conduct genomic sequencing on all of the positive samples from Jan. 20 to give officials a snapshot of how widely the variant might be circulating in Ontario but results are expected to take two to three weeks.

Speaking with reporters, Williams said that the variant was probably “moving around in Ontario” before it was discovered earlier this month and may now be “more prevalent than we think.”

For that reason, he said that a recent decline in case counts should be taken with somewhat of a “grain of salt” at this point as there remains a risk that transmission could ramp up again should the variant take hold.

“We don’t want to be casual and careless and open up too soon,” he said.

Just ‘assume’ variant is circulating de Villa

Officials have previously said that the B117 variant is at least 56 per cent more contagious but could be as high as 70 per cent more contagious.

At an earlier briefing on Monday afternoon, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa said that residents should probably just “assume” that the variant is circulating widely at this point and act accordingly.

That, she said, means limiting your in-person contact with people outside of your household as much as possible.

“We can create barriers to variants spreading widely if we avoid situations where COVID-19 can spread,” she said. “You have heard before what I am going to say next. I hope you will take it to heart more than at any other time. This means keeping apart as much as possible and it means making as few exceptions for contact as we can.”

De Villa said that given the risk posed by the variant in congregate settings, Toronto Pubic Health has reached out to all long-term care homes, retirement homes and complex and continuing care facilities to get the to “review, audit and reinforce” their current infection prevention and control (IPAC) measures.

She said that there are also “heightened practices for case and contact management when there is reason to believe” a given case may involved the B117 variant.

“You know I am sympathetic to the sacrifices and to the strain of life in the COVID-19 pandemic but for now the time has passed for focussing on impositions, inconveniences or frustrations,” she said. “This current situation in the simplest terms is not good. For now we need to focus on things as they are and do everything we can to make sure that things don’t get worse.”

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B.C. COVID-19 vaccine plan: Seniors 80+ can get shot starting March 15 – Vancouver Sun

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Vaccinations for people between the ages of 60-79 will begin in mid-April, while those under 59 can get their shots between July and September

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VICTORIA — Seniors over 80 and Indigenous people over 65 will start receiving their COVID-19 vaccinations on March 15, B.C.’s premier said Monday morning as he released details of the province’s mass vaccination plan for the general public.

The province will extend the timeline between the first and second dose to 16 weeks, or 112 days, to allow a broader segment of the population to receive vaccine protection sooner. During Monday’s press conference, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said research has shown that one dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine provides up to 90 per cent protection for up to four months.

Approximately 400,000 people, including 175,000 seniors over 80 living at home and 35,000 Indigenous seniors over 65, will receive their first dose of the vaccine in mid-March and early April as part of phase 2 of B.C.’s four-phase vaccination strategy.

About 190,000 vaccines are destined for high-risk groups, including health care workers, and high-risk people living in congregate settings, such as shelters or correctional facilities. Vaccines will also be delivered to about 9,000 people living in remote or isolated Indigenous communities who are still waiting for the vaccine.

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Premier John Horgan said while the vaccine plan will likely provide optimism for seniors, he stressed that it’s import for people to continue to follow public health guidelines over the coming months.

“Although there is light at the end of the tunnel, we are far from out of this,” Horgan said. “We have months to go. And I want British Columbians to take the good news we’re hearing today with the joy that it deserves but we need to remind ourselves not just today but next week and next month that we have a long long way to go.”

Seniors can begin calling to book their appointment on or after March 8. Each health authority will have their own call centre number.

The province has divided the over-80 population into subgroups the avoid overloading the call system, which has been a source of frustration in other provinces. The subgroups are as follows:

• On March 8, seniors over 90 and Indigenous people over 65 can begin calling to book their appointment starting March 15.
• On March 15, seniors over 85 can call to book a vaccination appointment starting March 22.
• On March 22, seniors over 80 can call to book their vaccination appointment starting March 29.

The province is asking people to only call when they are eligible. Anyone who misses their age-based dates can still call and book their vaccination any time after they become eligible.

Seniors can have a family member, friend or any support person call for them. Health authority call centre information and step-by-step process will soon be available via gov.bc.ca/bcseniorsfirst and health authority websites. Fraser Health Authority will also have an online booking system because of the number of seniors in the region.

When people call their regional health authority, they will be asked for their full name, date of birth, postal code, personal health number and contact information. People will be given a choice of nearby vaccination clinics and the call centre agent will confirm the time and location of the vaccination appointment. The province will also direct people to information if they are feeling hesitant about receiving the vaccine.

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To avoid fraud, the province is warning people that the health authority will never ask people for their social insurance number, driver’s license number or banking and credit card details.

Vaccinations for people between the ages of 60 to 79 will begin in mid-April as part of Phase 3. The vaccine will be prioritized based on five-year increments, starting with people aged 75 to 79 and Indigenous people over 60, who can start registering for an appointment at the end of March. People will be expected to register through a two-step online registration and booking system with a provincial call centre to help those who need it.

Finally, those under 59 will receive their vaccinations between July and September, again based on five-year increments, going from oldest to youngest.

The province is expecting 415,000 vaccines to arrive between now and mid-April, including 255,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine that will provide first doses until March 29. Two shipments, or 160,000 doses, of the Moderna vaccine are expected to arrive in mid-to-late March.

Henry said the third vaccine, the Oxford-AstraZeneca, approved by Health Canada on Friday, could provide the opportunity for some first-responders and essential front-line workers — such as postal workers, poultry workers, teachers and police officers — to get the vaccine sooner. She said those workers could have the choice between receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine sooner or waiting for until their age category for the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.

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“I think it’s really good news,” Henry said. “It means that everyone moves up in line.”

B.C. is expecting 60,000 doses of AstraZeneca by the second week of March. The federal government has secured 22 million doses, which are expected to arrive between April and September.

The two-dose AstraZeneca viral vector vaccine vaccine has been shown to be 62 per cent effective in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 starting from two weeks after the second dose, said Health Canada. It is considered “fridge stable,” making it easier to transport and distribute than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which have to be stored in extremely cold temperatures.

The first phase of the vaccination, which started in January, targeted residents, staff and essential visitors of long-term care and assisted living homes — the majority of whom have received their jabs — as well as health workers caring for COVID-19 patients and people living in remote Indigenous communities some of whom are still waiting for their shots.

During the first two weeks of March, vaccinations will be delivered to health care workers, high-risk seniors and staff in independent living homes, high-risk seniors living in supportive housing and high-risk people living in congregate settings like shelters, group homes, correctional facilities and residential treatment centres. Another 70,000 people will receive their second dose in March.

The biggest challenge for the province so far has been supply delays as Canada relies on drug manufacturers outside its borders for vaccine doses.

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The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which have been administered during Phase 1, have shown to be more than 90 per cent effective and have reduced COVID-19 outbreaks in long-term care homes.

As of Feb. 26, 252,373 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in the province, 73,808 of which are second doses. That represents about 3.5 per cent of B.C.’s population, which lags behind nearby Washington State which has vaccinated about 14 per cent of its population.

The B.C. government has promised that approximately 4.3 million British Columbians over 18 will be vaccinated by September, equating to 8.6 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

with files from Cheryl Chan

kderosa@postmedia.com
twitter.com/katiederosayyj


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B.C. unveils details of mass vaccination plan, approves four-month window between doses – CHEK

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The B.C. government is optimistic that with a longer window between doses and a more storage-friendly vaccine approved for use, everyone in the province 18 years or older will be able to receive a COVID-19 immunization by the end of September or even sooner.

The province provided more concrete details of its sweeping COVID-19 immunization program Monday, giving a glimpse of a potential end to a pandemic entering its second year.

“We can now see the light at the end of what has been a difficult and challenging time for us all. To get us through, we need to continue to work together and support each other,” Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer, said in a news release.

On Monday, Premier John Horgan revealed that through the end of April, under Phase 2 of the plan, there are more than 415,000 people set to receive their vaccinations including:

  • Seniors over 80
  • Indigenous people over 65
  • Any remaining medical staff and specialists not immunized
  • Vulnerable people in close quarters
  • Those who work in senior community home support and nursing

Those mass vaccinations will begin in the latter half of March, with a call-in system being launched March 8 for those targeted in Phase 2. On the following dates, seniors and Indigenous people can call in to book their appointments:

  • March 8, 2021: Seniors born in or before 1931 (90 years+)/Indigenous peoples born in or
    before 1956 (65 years+)
  • March 15, 2021: Seniors born in or before 1936 (85 years+)
  • March 22, 2021: Seniors born in or before 1941 (80 years+)

Vaccines for that group will begin taking place on March 15. The government is asking people to visit its senior vaccination website for more information on health authority contacts, call-in schedules and step-by-step instructions on how to make an appointment.

The government also revealed that over the weekend, it approved a four-month window between doses one and two of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines because the first dose has been higher than 90 per cent effective after three weeks, with protection lasting four months.

Because of that, more initial doses will be made available to a broader segment of the population sooner, according to the province.

The province has been operating under Phases 1 and 2 of its immunization plan over winter, with the most at-risk and vulnerable populations receiving the vaccine so far.

Also not included in the government’s rollout plan was the recently approved Astra-Zeneca vaccine, which Henry touted as being more “fridge-stable” compared to the current two vaccines in use. She also said it will speed up delivery plans even further. Canada is expected to get 24-million doses of the vaccine between April and September. The province is not yet sure how much of that it will be getting and when.

Once Phases 3 and 4 begin more of the general population will be able to schedule their vaccination appointments by phone or through a government website.

One such immunization clinic was held at the University of Victoria over the weekend, where front-line health care workers received their first doses of the vaccine.

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Ontario reports fewest number of coronavirus-related deaths in a single day since late October – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News

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Ontario logged just over 1,000 new cases of COVID-19 today and six more virus-related deaths, the lowest single-day death toll reported since late October.

Ontario health officials confirmed 1,023 new cases of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus on Monday, down from 1,062 on Sunday and 1,185 on Saturday. Today’s case count is also lower than the 1,058 infections logged one week ago.

Six new virus-related deaths were confirmed today, the lowest single-day death toll reported since Oct. 28, when just five new deaths were logged in the province.

The rolling seven-day average of new deaths now sits at 16, down from 24 at this point last week.

Just over 35,000 tests were processed over the past 24 hours with the Ministry of Health reporting a provincewide positivity rate of 3.1 per cent today, down from 3.3 per cent last Monday.

The rolling seven-day average of new infections is now 1,099, up from 1,045 last week.

According to the province, there are now 659 patients infected with COVID-19 who are receiving treatment in hospital, up from 646 seven days ago.

The number of patients in intensive care is now 280, down from 289 on Sunday but unchanged from last Monday.

It should be noted that hospitalization data is less reliable early in the week due to gaps in reporting from some hospitals in the province.

The number of active cases of COVID-19 in Ontario is now 10,570, up from 10,335 last Monday. Of the new cases reported today, 280 are in Toronto, 182 are in Peel Region, and 72 are in Ottawa.

New restrictions imposed in 2 Ontario regions

The Thunder Bay and Simcoe-Muskoka public health units are under new restrictions starting today following a surge in COVID-19 infections in both regions. The province activated its so-called “emergency brake” last week to place both public health units into the grey, or “lockdown,” category of its colour-coded reopening framework.

The move forced restaurants to shut down in-person dining once again and close gyms, barbershops, and hair salons.

The rise in cases in those regions has been partially attributed to the circulation of more transmissible COVID-19 variants. The Simcoe-Muskoka District Health Unit is reporting a total of nearly 200 confirmed cases of the B.1.1.7 variant, which was first detected in the United Kingdom. This accounts for more than a third of all confirmed cases involving a variant of concern across Ontario.

The province reported another seven cases of the B.1.1.7 variant on Monday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 535. There are a total of 27 confirmed B.1.351 variant cases in Ontario along with three of the P.1 variant of concern.

Thousands of additional cases have screened positive for a variant of concern but have not yet undergone full genome sequencing. The province has said it is only a matter of time before the B.1.1.7 variant becomes the dominant strain in Ontario.

The province’s continues to roll out vaccine doses as part of Phase 1 of its COVID-19 vaccination program and starting today, multiple regions of Ontario, including Hamilton and York Region, began inoculating members of the general population over the age of 80. Ontario has administered a total of 704,695 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine to date and 263,214 people have received two doses for full immunization.

The numbers used in this story are found in the Ontario Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 Daily Epidemiologic Summary. The number of cases for any city or region may differ slightly from what is reported by the province, because local units report figures at different times.

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