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Threat from variants means provinces must be ready to lock down again quickly: Tam – OrilliaMatters

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OTTAWA — With new and more contagious variants of COVID-19 escalating in Canada, provincial governments lifting lockdown restrictions must be ready to slam them back into place at a moment’s notice, Canada’s chief public health doctor said Tuesday.

At the same time, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took another step toward trying to keep more variants from getting into the country, with a plan to start making people arriving in Canada by land show recent negative COVID-19 tests.

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said Canada’s COVID-19 picture is getting better, with daily case counts less than half of what they were a month ago and hospitalizations dropping.

About 100 people are still dying of COVID-19 every day but that’s down from almost 150 people a day in the last week of January.

Not all the news was good. Newfoundland announced 30 new cases Tuesday, its second highest single-day total in the pandemic thus far. The province invoked new public health measures in St. John’s, closing bars, lounges and gyms, while limiting capacity in restaurants.

But over the last week daily case counts have come down in most provinces.

In British Columbia, health officials said progress is being made in pushing back the spread of the virus as it announced 435 new cases. 

Ontario reported just over 1,000 cases Tuesday, its lowest total since the first week of November and less than one-third of the case totals a month ago. Quebec reported fewer than 900 cases, back to levels not seen regularly since October.

Both those provinces, and Manitoba, are relaxing some restrictions starting this week, with Quebec opening most shopping malls and hair salons, Ontario lifting its stay-at-home order for most of the province by next week and Manitoba starting to allow in-person dining for the first time since November.

All of it gives Tam pause.

“I think what my concern is that right now if we release some of these measures that a resurgence will occur,” said Tam. “But that resurgence could be due to one of these variants, and then it will be much more difficult to control.”

She said because we’re not yet screening every positive COVID-19 case for the variants, Canada probably doesn’t have a full picture of the Canadian presence of more contagious variants of the virus behind COVID-19. But because they could become the most prevalent sources of infection in Canada, any sign that they’re beginning to spread needs to be met with a rapid and decisive public health response.

“You’ve got to put the brakes on quickly,” she said.

The number of cases linked to any of the variants doubled in the last week, said Tam, and many are now not linked to any travel cases. 

Trudeau said Tuesday that as of Feb. 15, non-essential workers arriving at land borders will have to show negative PCR COVID-19 tests completed less than three days before arriving.

Failing to do so can net a fine up to $3,000 and increased enforcement of the required two-week quarantine. Land travellers will not be sent to the mandatory quarantine hotels for those arriving by airplane.

The government began requiring all people arriving in Canada by air to show negative PCR-based COVID-19 tests in early January.

Trudeau said Canadians arriving by land can’t be refused entry because they’re already on Canadian soil when they meet with border guards. Air travellers getting on planes on foreign soil can be denied boarding without the tests.

The latest statistics from the Canada Border Services Agency show that since the end of March 2.9 million people, excluding truck drivers, entered through land border crossings, while 2.4 million arrived by airplane.

Health Canada’s chief medical adviser Dr. Supriya Sharma also said Monday the department’s vaccine review team agrees with Pfizer and BioNTech that each vial of their vaccine contains six doses, rather than five.

Sharma said the review team is confident that sixth dose can be extracted consistently, if the special low dead-volume syringes are used. Those syringes trap less vaccine between the plunger and needle after an injection.

Dr. Marc Berthiaume, the director of the bureau of medical sciences at Health Canada, said if people administering the vaccine are careful and use the special syringes “it’s going to be very easy to draw the six doses from the vial.”

Canada has ordered 64 million of the syringes and is starting to ship the first two million to provinces this week.

The change however means Pfizer will fulfil its contract to ship four million doses to Canada by March by sending fewer vials. Next week Pfizer’s shipment of 67,275 vials will be said to contain 400,000 doses, instead of 336,000.

Provincial governments have reported varying success at getting a sixth dose already. Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro called the sixth dose change “frustrating.”

“The federal government has contracted out on the basis of doses, not vials, so it means the provinces are going to end up not getting as many doses, I think,” Shandro said.

He said even with the right syringe, they’re only going to get the sixth dose out of each vial 75 per cent of the time.

Dr. Mustafa Hirji, the acting chief medical officer in Ontario’s Niagara health region, said on Twitter medical professionals there were 100 per cent successful at getting a sixth dose, and half the time were even able to get a seventh dose.

Pfizer’s vials have 2.25 ml of liquid, including 0.45 ml of active vaccine and 1.8 ml of sodium chloride. Each dose is 0.3 ml, and when the amount trapped in syringes after an injection is accounted for, there is about 0.25 ml still left.

As part of the agreement to change the label Pfizer has to report to Health Canada every three months if there are any issues getting that sixth dose, and provide ongoing educational support. Health Canada is also providing training for medical professionals.

Canada’s contract with Pfizer and BioNTech is to buy 40 million doses this year, with four million to be shipped by the end of March, and most of the rest before the end of September.

The United States, Europe and the World Health Organization all made the dose change last month.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 9, 2021.

— With files from Dean Bennett in Edmonton.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

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'We need this:' Getting COVID-19 vaccine to remote and urban Indigenous populations – Kamloops This Week

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Chief Chris Moonias looked into a web camera as he prepared to get a COVID-19 vaccine just after precious doses arrived in his northern Ontario community.

“I’m coming to you live from Neskantaga First Nation community centre where our vaccines will be administered,” a jovial Moonias, wearing a blue disposable mask, said during a Facebook live video at the start of February.

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Moonias was first to get the vaccine in the fly-in Oji-Cree First Nation on the shores of Attawapiskat Lake north of Thunder Bay.

The vaccine had arrived by plane earlier in the day after weeks of planning, and the chief’s video was part of a campaign to get community members on board.

Moonias said in an interview that he had done his own research, had spoken with medical professionals and wasn’t concerned about getting the shot.

About 88 per cent of eligible on-reserve members have since received a first dose of the Moderna vaccine. Second doses are to arrive Monday.

However, earlier this week, the reserve declared a state of emergency due to a COVID-19 outbreak, with some cases linked to the Thunder Bay District Jail.

Moonias said four off-reserve members in Thunder Bay, all under the age of 40 — including his nephew — have died. And he’s worried about the 200 other members who live off the reserve — almost the same number as those on the reserve — and when they’ll get inoculated.

“I even thought about flying my peopleup… to get the vaccine,” said Moonias, who added it’s unlikely to be an option because of cost.

Canada is in the midst of the largest vaccine rollout in its history. The second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic has hit Indigenous populations much harder and Ottawa says they are a priority for vaccinations.

The actual distribution remains complex and varied across the country.

Neskantaga is one of 31 fly-in First Nations included in Operation Remote Immunity, part of the first phase of Ontario’s vaccination rollout. The operation was developed with Nishnawbe Aski Nation and Ornge, the province’s air ambulance service. The goal is to provide mass vaccinations by April 30 and it is having early successes.

There are challenges getting the vaccine to remote First Nations and questions about distribution for urban Indigenous populations.

The Assembly of First Nations says most Indigenous communities haven’t received sufficient supply to extend doses to their off-reserve members. The National Association of Friendship Centres says there is no national vaccination plan for urban Indigenous people.

There’s also concern there is no national plan to tackle decades of mistrust created by systemic racism and experimentation on Indigenous people.

There are many examples throughout Canadian history of scientists sponsored by the federal government or the government itself doing medical experiments on Indigenous people, including children, who were the subject of a tuberculosis vaccine trial in Saskatchewan that began in the 1930s.

Ontario New Democrat Sol Mamakwa, who represents the electoral district of Kiiwetinoong, said some constituents tell him they are scared to take the vaccine. They don’t trust it.

He has been travelling to communities to help promote it and received his first dose alongside members of Muskrat Dam Lake First Nation.

Community engagement has been key in vaccine uptake, Mamakwa said. Promotion begins weeks before vaccine teams arrive and includes radio campaigns, social media posts and live online question-and-answer sessions.

It’s about giving people information, he said.

“One of the only ways out of this pandemic is the vaccine,” said Wade Durham, Ornge’s chief operating officer, who added it’s key to have Indigenous people involved in vaccine planning.

Each First Nation in Operation Remote Immunity has a community member responsible for answering questions and setting up a vaccination site. Immunization teams are required to take cultural training and, when possible, include Indigenous medical professionals and language speakers.

Indigenous Services Canada said it is aware that a history of colonization and systemic racism has caused mistrust, so campaigns are being developed specifically for First Nations, Inuit and Metis communities.

Michelle Driedger, a Metis professor of community health sciences at the University of Manitoba, said experience has shown that stakes are high when it comes to Indigenous communities.

During the H1N1 pandemic in 2009, the Public Health Agency of Canada prioritized vaccines by geography. A main lesson learned was to increase Indigenous representation at decision-making tables, she said.

At the time, Indigenous people were over-represented in hospitalizations and intensive care stays, as well as in deaths. Those living in remote and isolated communities experienced worse outcomes.

Driedger said the vaccine response is better now, but there is “rational skepticism.” There needs to be a transparent vaccination plan for Indigenous communities — no matter where they are, she said.

The Matawa First Nations tribal council said its four communities reachable by road are not getting the same vaccine access as its five fly-in ones, and more needs to be done.

Provincial officials have said that remote First Nations received priority for the vaccine rollout because of less access to on-site health care and increased health risks. Chief Rick Allen from Constance Lake First Nation has said the vaccine needs to go where the outbreaks are.

Back in Neskantaga, Moonias said he’ll do anything he can to protect anyone he can.

He continues to give updates about his vaccination. In another Facebook video posted soon after he received his shot, the chief gave a thumbs-up and said he had no pain or discomfort.

“We need this. We need to beat this virus.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 27, 2021.

___

This story was produced through the Journalists for Human Rights Indigenous Reporters Program under the mentorship of The Canadian Press, with funding from the RBC Foundation in support of RBC Future Launch.

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One-third of new virus cases in north of province – Winnipeg Free Press

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As case counts, hospitalizations and test positivity rates continue to trend downwards across the province, northern Manitoba continues to take on the brunt of the province’s COVID-19 cases, with more than a third of new cases identified in the region.

The province reported 90 new cases of COVID-19 and four new deaths as of Saturday morning.

Of the new cases 37 were identified in the Northern health region, with an additional 34 in Winnipeg, eight cases each in the Interlake-Eastern and Southern Health regions, and three cases in the Prairie Mountain Health region.

The number of confirmed B.1.1.7 variant of concern cases in the province remains at five.

Manitoba’s five-day test positivity rate continues to dip closer to three per cent — the number health officials indicated could lead to looser restrictions — reaching 3.7 percent provincially and 3.2 per cent in Winnipeg.

Public health officials said Thursday loosened restrictions will be considered in two phases as early as March 5, with the second phase to come Mar. 26.

Manitoba completed 1,861 tests Friday, bringing the total number of lab tests since last February to 523,507.

The total number of lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases in Manitoba is 31,809, with 1,208 cases listed as active and 29,708 individuals who have recovered from the virus.

The COVID-19 related deaths reported Saturday include two women in their 80s, and a man and woman in their 90s, all from the Winnipeg health region.

The total number of virus-related deaths in the province is now 893.

Hospitalizations due to COVID-19 continue to improve, too. The province announced 69 people are currently in hospital with active cases of the virus, with an additional 120 people in hospital who are considered no longer infectious but still require care for a total 189 hospitalizations.

There are 11 people in intensive care units with active COVID-19 and 16 people who are no longer infectious but continue to require critical care for a total of 27 ICU patients, the province said.

julia-simone.rutgers@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @jsrutgers

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Indonesia approves free COVID-19 vaccine drive by private companies – Arab News

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JAKARTA: The Indonesian government on Friday said it would allow private companies to run coronavirus vaccination programs for workers and families alongside a nationwide drive to expedite efforts in achieving herd immunity.

The country is aiming to inoculate 181.5 million people out of the total 270 million population by year-end.

“The companies will provide the vaccines for free for workers,” Siti Nadia Tarmizi, health ministry spokesperson for the vaccination program, said during a press conference.

Tarmizi added that the ministry’s revised regulation, which serves as the main reference for the vaccination program, was issued on Wednesday to include articles regulating the private sector’s involvement in the vaccination drive.

“The number of vaccines distributed in the private-run program will match the number that the companies requested, and the inoculations will be conducted at private healthcare facilities or the companies’ own facilities,” Tarmizi said.

Additionally, the vaccines used in the program will be different from the free CoronaVac, AstraZeneca, Novavax and Pfizer vaccines that the government has distributed since mid-January.

While initial population targets included health workers, senior citizens, frontline public workers, teachers and lecturers, athletes, journalists, and lawmakers, the general population or those in their productive age will receive their first vaccine jab in April.

The private scheme, which the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce (Kadin) proposed, will require companies to purchase the vaccine from Bio Farma, a state-owned vaccine manufacturer appointed as the sole importer for all jabs that Indonesia procures.

Bio Farma spokesperson Bambang Heriyanto said the company is in discussions with Moderna and Sinopharm to procure vaccines for the private scheme, which has been dubbed “Gotong Royong,” an Indonesian term for mutual cooperation.

“In accordance with its name, this is a mutual cooperation initiative. The government will provide a space for any members of society that will want to assist the government in the vaccination program,” Arya Sinulingga, a spokesperson for the State-Owned Enterprises Ministry, said on Friday.

He added that the private drive will run in parallel with the government’s program and will not alter the existing schedule or priority groups being targeted.

Kadin said that about 7,000 companies had already registered for the vaccination drive as of Saturday.

“The enthusiasm is really high to take part in this program because it is quite costly for the companies to swab test regularly. It is better for the companies to allocate the cost to vaccinate their workers,” Shinta Kamdani Widjaja, Kadin deputy chairwoman, said at a press conference earlier this week.

She dismissed concerns that the program will commercialize vaccines, saying the government would closely monitor the program to avoid any violations of terms and conditions.

“There are also companies that are willing to vaccinate not only their workers, but also their families. It would be difficult for the economy to recover if we don’t achieve the herd immunity target. The business community is ready to support the government in the vaccination drive and economic recovery program,” Widjaja said.

However, opponents of the scheme said the private vaccination drive will “only enable queue jumpers who don’t really need the vaccine compared with the more vulnerable groups, and disregard the principle of equity for all citizens in a vaccination program.”

Dicky Budiman, an Indonesian epidemiologist, said in an online discussion: “There is also no guarantee that we will achieve herd immunity by inoculating 181.5 million people. This could be misleading the public and making them have the wrong expectation.

“This is also prone to make the government, the companies, and the public relax its compliance to the health protocols, testing, tracing and treatment,” Budiman added.

He said that achieving herd immunity is a long-term goal and that the vaccination drive could not stand alone in battling the pandemic without a comprehensive public health approach.

Pandu Riono, an epidemiologist at the University of Indonesia, agreed and said that the private vaccination program focused mainly on economic recovery targets instead of controlling the pandemic.

“It is clear from the start that the government does not view the vaccine as one of the ways to handle the pandemic, but it has been more about economic recovery,” Riono said.

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