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Today's coronavirus news: Experts believe COVID vaccine will work on new U.K. strain; Ontario vaccine clinics reopen today; Canada's Prairie premiers score lowest on virus handling, poll finds – Toronto Star

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The latest coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Tuesday. This file will be updated throughout the day. Web links to longer stories if available.

7:50 a.m.: Will COVID-19 vaccines work on the new coronavirus variant?

Experts believe so, but they’re working to confirm that.

A coronavirus variant in the United Kingdom has caused alarm because of the possibility that it might spread more easily. But even if that turns out to be true, experts say the COVID-19 vaccines being rolled out will likely still work on the variant.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, said data coming from Britain indicates the vaccines still will block the virus. But the U.S. also will do tests to be sure.

Viruses often undergo small changes as they reproduce and move through a population. In fact, the slight modifications are how scientists track the spread of a virus from one place to another.

But if a virus mutates significantly enough, one worry is that current vaccines might no longer offer as much protection. And although that’s a possibility to watch for over time with the coronavirus, experts say they don’t believe it will be the case with the variant in the U.K.

“My expectation is, this will not be a problem,” said Moncef Slaoui, the chief science adviser for the U.S. government’s COVID-19 vaccine push.

7:30 a.m.: As COVID-19 vaccines arrive in Canada, many are asking themselves whether they can trust them or not. Since the first news of this COVID-19 there has been such an incredible amount of information, disinformation and barefaced lies that it is almost impossible to work out what is going on.

Science has changed so rapidly that treatments first thought to be effective have now become discounted. In addition, the clash of politics and science has fostered tons of misinformation.

Yes, there are a lot of knowns, some unknowns and many myths about this vaccine.

As a group of medical professionals, doctors, health care workers, here is our summary of what we do know — not what we think we know about the Pfizer-BioNTech’s Vaccine — the first one authorized for general use in Canada, the UK, the USA and increasingly in other countries.

Read the full explainer from Dr. Mel Brecknell, Dr. Zain Chagla and Semir Bulle here.

7:15 a.m.: A new poll suggests the premiers of Canada’s three Prairie provinces are lagging counterparts from the rest of the country when it comes to how local residents feel they are managing the COVID-19 pandemic.

The poll from Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies found 30 per cent of respondents in Alberta were satisfied with the job Premier Jason Kenney was doing when it comes to COVID-19 – the lowest level of satisfaction for Canada’s 10 provincial leaders.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister, whose province has also been battered by new infections during the second wave of COVID-19, fared slightly better than Kenney with 31 per cent of provincial respondents approving of his management of the pandemic.

The only other premier with less than 50 per cent satisfaction was Saskatchewan’s Scott Moe at 39 per cent. Moe’s government has also been criticized for not responding sooner to a steady increase in infections in the province.

5:21 a.m. India has found six people who returned from the United Kingdom in recent weeks infected with a new variant of the coronavirus.

The Health Ministry in a statement on Tuesday said that all the six patients were isolated and their fellow travellers were tracked down. Close contacts of the infected patients were also put under quarantine.

India previously suspended flights from and to the UK until the end of the year, noting the new variant is “spreading and growing rapidly.”

5:17 a.m. Israel’s Health Ministry says the country has vaccinated more people in nine days than have been infected with the coronavirus since the pandemic began.

The ministry said Tuesday that nearly 500,000 people, or about 5% of Israel’s population of 9 million, have already received the vaccine since the country began its inoculation drive last week. More than 407,000 people have caught the virus in Israel, and over 3,200 have died.

Israel is hoping a mass vaccination campaign will help bring its current outbreak under control and ultimately wipe out the virus entirely. This week the country entered its third national lockdown, with much of the economy shut down to help bring down surging infection numbers.

5:12 a.m. German authorities say the coronavirus variant found in Britain has been detected in samples from two patients who were infected in northern Germany in November.

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The Health Ministry in Lower Saxony state said late Monday that the samples were tested more thoroughly after news of the new variant emerged in Britain, regional public broadcaster NDR reported. They were taken in November from an elderly man with other medical conditions who later died and from his wife.

The ministry said the man’s daughter had been in England in mid-November and likely was infected there.

5:10 a.m. Official figures show more people are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 in England than at the first peak of the outbreak in the spring.

There were 20,426 patients in hospitals as of Monday morning — the last day for which figures are available — compared to the previous high of 18,974 on April 12.

Simon Stevens, chief executive of Britain’s National Health Service, said health care workers are back in “the eye of the storm” as they had been in the spring.

British authorities are blaming a new variant of the coronavirus, first identified in southeast England, for soaring infection rates. Almost half of England’s population is under tight restrictions on movement and on everyday life in an attempt to curb the spread.

5:04 a.m. The first study of the safety and effectiveness of a coronavirus vaccine in Iran began Tuesday, state TV reported, with dozens due to receive the domestically developed shot in the hardest-hit country in the Middle East.

The vaccine, produced by Shifa Pharmed, part of a state-owned pharmaceutical conglomerate, is the first in the country to reach human trials. President Hassan Rouhani has said Iran is co-operating with a “foreign country” to produce another vaccine expected to run in tests in human volunteers in February, without offering further details.

Iran has struggled to stem the worst virus outbreak in the region, which has infected over 1.2 million people and killed nearly 55,000.

The study, a Phase 1 clinical trial, will enrol a total of 56 volunteers to receive two shots of Iran’s vaccine within two weeks, according to Hamed Hosseini, a clinical trial manager, with results to be announced roughly a month after the second shot. Three people received the first injections on Tuesday at a ceremony at a Tehran hotel attended by the country’s health minister. Authorities expect to the vaccine to hit the market by late spring 2021.

Tuesday 5 a.m. COVID-19 vaccinations in Ontario are expected to return to full operations today after being scaled down over the holidays.

The province says five vaccination clinics were open on Sunday, 10 were back in action Monday and all of them are set to resume immunizations today.

The latest numbers released show more than 11,000 shots have been administered in Ontario since the province received its first shipment of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine midmonth.

The drug’s storage requirements mean it will be used primarily in hospitals, while the more recently approved Moderna vaccine will go to long-term care homes, congregate settings and more rural communities.

Critics have taken issue with the pause in vaccinations over the holidays, saying the province can’t afford to delay immunizations.

The province did not release its daily tally of new COVID-19 cases and deaths on Monday, meaning today’s numbers will cover two days.

Monday 9:57 p.m.: South Korea says 40 more coronavirus patients have died in the past 24 hours, the highest daily number since the pandemic began.

Officials also reported 1,046 new confirmed coronavirus infections Tuesday, taking the total caseload to 58,725, with 859 deaths.

South Korea’s previous daily high for COVID-19 deaths was 24, reported on both Dec. 21 and Dec. 22.

Some observers say surging fatalities reflect an increase in cluster infections at nursing homes and long-term care centres where elderly people with underlying health problems stay.

Click here to read more of Monday’s COVID-19 coverage.

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Additional steps Albertans can take as more cases of COVID-19 variants reported – Global News

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Health officials say current public health measures around masking and distancing will protect Albertans against the new variants of the novel coronavirus, but there are some extra precautions that can be taken.

Alberta Health reported Monday that there were 20 cases of the UK variant and five cases of the South African variant in the province; while most were travel-related, there is one case that appears to be the result of community transmission.

READ MORE: U.K. variant of COVID-19 ‘may have entered the broader community’ in Alberta: Shandro

Infectious disease epidemiologist Zahid Butt of the University of Waterloo said people will need to be more vigilant now about following public health guidelines.

“We need to be more careful about distancing now. We need to be more careful about wearing masks. We should be more careful about hand sanitization and other measures,” Butt said.

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The variants can transmit faster between people because of changes to the spike proteins on the virus’s surface, which allows it to enter cells more easily. Higher transmission of the virus means there is the potential for more cases and, with that, the possibility there could be more hospitalizations.

Should people wear two masks?

While some Americans are wearing two masks, Butt said he wouldn’t recommend it.

READ MORE: Officials confirm Canada’s 1st case of South African variant of COVID-19 detected in Alberta

“Currently they just recommend one mask because…it has a better fit, it’s a more comfortable fit,” Butt said, adding he recommends wearing a mask everywhere, even outdoors.

Butt also said that three layers in a mask will protect a person more than a mask with just one layer.

RELATED: COVID-19: Triple-layer masks now recommended, what does that mean for Albertans?

“Additionally if you have a mask which you can actually put in a filter, in addition to your three layers, that will protect you better,” he said.

Infectious disease physician Dr. Stephane Smith agrees, saying she doesn’t think there’s any evidence to suggest wearing two masks is more protective than wearing one.

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Smith said N95 can filter small air particles but those are recommended for those working in hospital settings.

READ MORE: ‘Realistic possibility’ COVID-19 variant from U.K. could be deadlier, researchers say

“For most people in everyday settings, the surgical mask or its equivalent is effective in preventing transmission from larger droplets,” she said.

Smith said wearing masks indoors is very important and wearing masks outdoors is also important if you are going to be in close contact with someone, but she balks at wearing a mask at all times when outdoors.

“If you’re just out for a walk in your neighbourhood and you don’t actually interact with anyone then you probably don’t need to wear a mask at all,” she said.

Should people distance more than two metres?

Albertans have been told to distance two metres from people outside of their household, but Butt said people can take extra precautions and distance more than two metres to be safe.

Should people cut down the time they spend in indoor spaces?

Smith said, at this point, it isn’t clear how well established the new variants are in Alberta but she recommends curbing interactions.

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“If you need to go to the grocery store, go to the grocery store but limiting the amount of time you spend there is still the best suggestion,” she said.

Butt suggests only going out for essential tasks and he also recommends reducing the time spent in closed settings.

What about travel internationally, domestically and within Alberta?

Butt said people should avoid travelling right now, saying this is one way the variant can spread.

“No travelling across provinces and also, if you’re living in an area that’s designated a high-risk area, don’t travel from your high-risk area to a low-risk area,” he said.

READ MORE: Kenney clarifies he doesn’t encourage travel during pandemic despite thinking it’s safe, good for the economy

Smith said international travel right now is a “bad idea” and that the province should monitor what is happening in other provinces.

“If it does appear there are areas of the country that have widespread transmission of the new variant then I think we would have to look at some restrictions of people coming from that particular province,” she said.

READ MORE: Albertans angry over COVID-19 travel scandal, feel consequences came too late

“There have been outbreaks in Ontario related to the new variant. I think this data is emerging. I think we’ll have to keep a close eye on the information that we get from these other provinces to determine what we should be doing about restrictions within Alberta.”

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As for travel within Alberta, Smith said there is an increased risk any time you travel because there are more interactions with people that you wouldn’t normally interact with.

Smith suggests curtailing travel within the province unless it is essential.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Ontario reports 1740 new coronavirus cases, 63 more deaths – thepeakfm.com

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Ontario is reporting 1,740 new cases of the coronavirus on Tuesday, bringing the provincial total to 258,700.

Tuesday’s case count is lower than Monday’s which saw 1,958 new infections. On Sunday, 2,417 new cases were recorded and 2,359 on Saturday.

It is also the lowest increase in daily cases since Dec. 13 when 1,677 new cases were reported.

“Locally, there are 677 new cases in Toronto, 320 in Peel and 144 in York Region,” Health Minister Christine Elliott said.

The death toll in the province has risen to 5,909 after 63 more deaths were reported.

Read more:
Coronavirus: Toronto hospital nurse who died by suicide remembered as caring, dedicated

Meanwhile, 229,755 Ontarians have recovered from COVID-19 which is about 89 per cent of known cases. Resolved cases increased by 2,261 from the previous day.

There were more resolved cases than new cases on Tuesday.

Active cases in Ontario now stand at 23,036 — down from the previous day when it was 23,620, and down from last Tuesday at 27,615.

The seven-day average has now reached 2,346, down from yesterday at 2,371 and down from last week at 2,893 — showing a downward trend in new cases.

Ontario reported 1,466 people hospitalized with COVID-19 (up by 68 from the previous day), with 383 patients in an intensive care unit (down by 14) and 298 patients in ICUs on a ventilator (up by 15).

The government said 30,717 tests were processed in the last 24 hours. There is currently a backlog of 36,405 tests awaiting results. A total of 9,375,676 tests have been completed since the start of the pandemic.

Test positivity — the percentage of tests that come back positive — for Tuesday was 5.9 per cent, up from Monday at 5.5 per cent, and down from one week ago when it was 6.8 per cent.

As of 8 p.m. Monday, the province has administered 295,817 COVID-19 vaccine doses. There are 83,285 people fully vaccinated with two doses. Both Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, the only two vaccines currently approved in Canada, require two shots.

Here is a breakdown of the total cases in Ontario by gender and age:

  • 126,519 people are male — an increase of 874 cases.
  • 130,723 people are female — an increase of 875 cases.
  • 33,791 people are 19 and under — an increase of 243 cases.
  • 94,667 people are 20 to 39 — an increase of 636 cases.
  • 74,605 people are 40 to 59 — an increase of 497 cases.
  • 37,300 people are 60 to 79 — an increase of 252 cases.
  • 18,288 people are 80 and over — an increase of 110 cases.
  • The province notes that not all cases have a reported age or gender.

The province notes that the number of cases publicly reported each day may not align with case counts reported by the local public health unit on a given day. Local public health units report when they were first notified of a case, which can be updated and changed as information becomes available. Data may also be pulled at different times.

Here is a breakdown of the total deaths related to COVID-19 by age:

  • Deaths reported in ages 19 and under: 2
  • Deaths reported in ages 20 to 39: 22
  • Deaths reported in ages 40 to 59: 222
  • Deaths reported in ages 60 to 79: 1,594
  • Deaths reported in ages 80 and older: 4,068
  • The province notes there may be a reporting delay for deaths.

Read more:
Provinces sitting on millions in COVID-19 funds for long-term care homes: CCPA

Ontario long-term care homes

According to the Ministry of Long-Term Care, there have been 3,389 deaths reported among residents and patients in long-term care homes across Ontario which is an increase of 24 deaths. Eleven virus-related deaths in total have been reported among staff.

There are 246 current outbreaks in homes, which is a decrease of 10 from the previous day.

The ministry also indicated there are currently 1,164 active cases among long-term care residents and 1,905 active cases among staff — down by 102 cases and down by 105 cases, respectively, in the last day.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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5 more deaths, 94 new cases of COVID-19 reported in Manitoba today – CBC.ca

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Five more deaths and 94 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in Manitoba on Tuesday.

This is the first time the daily caseload has been below 100 since Jan. 12, when there were 92 new cases. Prior to that, the province last saw a sub-100 daily count in mid-October.

One of the province’s health regions — Interlake-Eastern — reported zero new cases.

The Winnipeg area has the most new cases of any single health region with 41. The northern region has 36 new cases, while the Prairie Mountain Health region has 15 and the Southern Health region has two.

The total number of deaths in Manitoba due to COVID-19 is now 809.

One of the five new deaths is a woman in her 90s from the Prairie Mountain Health region, who is linked to the outbreak at Fairview Personal Care Home.

The other four deaths are from the Winnipeg area — a man in his 70s, a man in his 80s, a woman in her 80s who is linked to the outbreak at Seven Oaks General Hospital 5U1-3, and a man in his 90s who is linked to the outbreak at Fred Douglas Lodge.

Dr. Jazz Atwal, acting deputy chief provincial public health officer, said today’s low number of new cases — compared to the seven-day average of 170 — “is trending the right way, but we still have a number of people in hospital.”

There are currently 277 people in hospital with COVID-19, including 38 ICU patients.

That shows there “still is a burden on the acute care system,” Atwal said.

While the province is seeing benefits from its aggressive contact tracing, it is unrealistic to think the daily case totals will drop to zero any time soon, he said, but tipped his hat to the Interlake–Eastern region.

“This is a pandemic. This isn’t going away quick,” Atwal said. “We need to do what’s being asked of people to do by public health … to keep our case counts low.

“Every interaction we have has a risk of propagating an infection. The more interactions we have, with the more people, that risk has a multiple on it. That’s where you get that exponential growth.”

The vaccination program will eventually help reduce that exponential risk “but we are still early on, on that vaccine side,” he said.

The current five-day COVID-19 test positivity rate is 10.3 per cent provincially and 6.4 per cent in Winnipeg after 1,118 tests were completed on Monday.

The province on Tuesday declared outbreaks over at the Boyne Lodge Personal Care Home in Carman and Health Sciences Centre unit GA4 in Winnipeg.

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