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Vancouver Island adds 72 new COVID-19 cases, officials eye 'modified return' to gatherings – CTV Edmonton

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VICTORIA —
Health officials recorded 72 new cases of COVID-19 and one more death from the disease in the Vancouver Island region over the weekend.

The new cases were among 1,462 cases found across B.C. since Friday, bringing the provincial total to 84,569 cases since the pandemic began.

Eleven people in B.C. died of COVID-19 over the weekend, bringing the province’s coronavirus death toll to 1,391. There have now been 28 COVID-19 deaths confirmed in Island Health.

The Vancouver Island region has recorded 2,587 cases of the coronavirus since the pandemic began.

There are 267 active cases in the Island Health region Monday, including 14 people in hospital and one in critical care.

Island Health officials identified the locations of 231 active cases Monday, including 130 in the Central Island, 53 in the North Island and 48 in the South Island.

B.C. health officials have also recorded 144 new cases of COVID-19 variants of concern, bringing the number of variant cases in the province to 390 since the pandemic began. Among those cases, 87 are considered active.

Six variant cases have been discovered on Vancouver Island since the pandemic began.

Health officials have now administered 333,327 doses of COVID-19 in B.C., including 86,925 secondary doses.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry addressed the overwhelming number of phone calls from B.C. residents looking to book vaccine appointments when the call centres opened Monday morning.

“While I’m grateful to see the enthusiasm that we have, we ask everyone who is outside the age group for this week to please be patient and wait your turn,” Henry said. “It may cause more delays for people trying to get appointments for themselves or for their loved ones.”

Easing COVID-19 restrictions

Despite the consistently high number of new daily infections in B.C., Henry said health officials are looking towards a “modified return” to easing COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings and business operations in the weeks ahead.

“We’re not going to rush to get things open,” Henry said. “I like to think of it as slowly turning up the dial again rather than flicking a switch because we know that we’re not yet in a place where we can go back to our pre-pandemic gatherings.”

Henry said the return of small outdoor gatherings and group activities will be at the forefront of the return normalcy, as will the return of religious services and limited travel within the province. 

With regard to springtime religious ceremonies, Henry said faith leaders have been meeting regularly with health officials to plan a safe return to in-person gatherings.

“The focus will be in the next few weeks to meet both the specific needs of different faiths around these celebrations and to ensure that public health measures and safety precautions remain in place,” she said.

When asked whether British Columbians could be back in church pews in time for Easter mass on April 4, Henry was affirmative.

“That is our goal,” she said, adding that in-person celebrations of Passover, Ramadan and Vaisakhi are also likely to get the green light.

“It may not be what Easter celebrations have been in the past,” she said. “But they will be celebrations and unless things go off the rails, we are planning for them to be in-person.” 

B.C.’s top doctor is also predicting a return to near-normal classroom environments for B.C. students come the fall.

“I can say with some confidence that school for K-12 will look much more normal by next September because the risks in our communities will be decreased by the immunization program,” Henry said. “Same for universities. I think we need to start planning that (students will be) back into campus and campus life.”

Henry stressed that masks may still be required at times, especially during flu and respiratory illness seasons. 

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Exclusive-Canada’s Ontario to expand use of AstraZeneca COVID vaccine as epidemic rages

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By Allison Martell

TORONTO (Reuters) – The Canadian province of Ontario will begin offering AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday to people turning 40 or older this year, according to a government source.

The change will broaden access to vaccines as a third wave of infections threatens to overwhelm hospitals in Canada‘s most-populous province, and should make it easier to use doses that in some cases have been accumulating at pharmacies.

The change will be announced on Monday and go into effect across the province on Tuesday, according to the source. The vaccine has already been distributed to pharmacies but currently can only be given to people turning 55 or older this year.

Ontario announced new public health measures on Friday, promising checkpoints at provincial borders, new police powers and closing outdoor amenities, while leaving many workplaces open. The measures were widely criticized by doctors and public health experts, and the province quickly reopened playgrounds and modified the new police powers.

On March 29, Health Canada said it would review reports of serious blood clots and bleeding in a small number of people who had received the AstraZeneca vaccine in other countries, and an independent panel called the National Advisory Council on Immunization (NACI) recommended that it only be given to people 55 and older. All provinces followed that advice.

But NACI’s recommendations are not binding. Last week, Health Canada, the country’s drug regulator, said it had reviewed all available evidence and would not restrict the use of the vaccine, because its benefits outweigh its potential risks. Health Canada said at the time that NACI was reviewing its recommendations.

On Sunday, NACI’s chair told Reuters that the panel would make a new recommendation on Tuesday.

Health Canada said regulators in the UK had estimated the risk of clots to be very small, roughly four in a million people who receive the vaccine. It also said the complication was treatable. Two people have developed it in Canada, and both are recovering.

Several other countries have limited the use of the vaccine to older people. Denmark has withdrawn the shot, and Norway said on Thursday it would take more time to decide whether to resume use.

Ontario reported 4,250 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday. The Ontario Hospital Association said 59 patients were admitted to intensive care on Saturday, bringing the number of COVID-19 patients in ICUs to 737.

Health Canada says those who receive the vaccine should seek medical attention immediately if they experience shortness of breath, chest pain, leg swelling, persistent belly pain, neurological symptoms like severe headaches or blurred vision, or skin bruising or tiny blood spots under the skin beyond the site of the injection.

 

(Reporting by Allison Martell; Editing by Diane Craft and Peter Cooney)

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Trudeau mobilizes federal workers to battle COVID-19 in Toronto and rest of Ontario

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OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Sunday he would send federal healthcare workers to help Toronto and the province of Ontario battle a third wave of COVID-19 infections that has forced shutdowns of schools and businesses.

“We are mobilizing federal healthcare workers from across government departments to deploy on the front lines in Ontario and specifically the Greater Toronto area where the situation is most critical,” Trudeau said in a video posted on Twitter.

Other provinces, especially on the Atlantic coast, are working “to determine what human resources and equipment they could free up over the coming days,” Trudeau said, adding that the federal government would cover the costs of that help.

The government will also seek to boost rapid testing, especially for essential workers, Trudeau said.

The government of Ontario, Canada‘s most-populous province and industrial powerhouse, has moved schools online and announced more stringent public health measures on Friday, including shutting the provincial borders to non-essential travel.

On Saturday, federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair deployed two mobile health units to set up more hospital beds in Toronto and Hamilton, Ontario, and the prime minister said he stood ready to send the Red Cross to staff mobile vaccination clinics in Ontario if help is requested.

Canada‘s seven-day average of new infections was 8,669, the chief medical officer said on Sunday, a 26% increase compared with the previous seven days. Ontario reported 4,250 new cases on Sunday.

Canada has been ramping up its vaccination campaign but still has a smaller percentage of its population inoculated than dozens of other countries, including the United States and Britain.

More than 48 million doses are to be delivered by the end of June, which is enough for all of Canada‘s population of some 38 million to receive at least one shot, with a total of 100 million doses expected by the end of September.

 

(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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Canada has second case of rare blood clots after AstraZeneca vaccin

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(Reuters) – Canada on Saturday reported a second case of rare blood clots with low platelets after immunization with AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine in a week, while it said it still recommended the use of the shot.

The person who experienced the very rare event has been treated and is recovering, Canada‘s health ministry said in a statement, adding that the person lives in the province of Alberta.

Based on the evidence available, Canada still maintains that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine outweigh the potential risks, the statement said.

Canada health authorities “will continue to monitor the use of all COVID-19 vaccines closely and examine and assess any new safety concerns,” the statement said.

Canada reported a first blood clotting associated with the vaccine on Tuesday, and a day later, after a review, health authorities said they would not restrict use of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

A separate advisory council had earlier recommended Canada stop offering the vaccine to people under 55. That panel is in the process of reviewing its advice.

Canada has been ramping up its vaccination campaign, but still has a smaller percentage of its population inoculated than dozens of other countries, including the United States and Britain.

Amid a spiking third wave of infections, Ontario, Canada‘s most populous province, announced new public health restrictions on Friday, including closing the provinces borders to domestic travelers.

 

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru and Steve Scherer in Ottawa, writing by Steve Scherer; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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