With COVID-19 variants of concern continuing to spread across Canada, new national modelling shows that even the current level of public health measures will not be enough to prevent a resurgence of the virus nationwide.
The dire warning comes as part of the Public Health Agency of Canada’s (PHAC) new pandemic projections.
Looking at only non-variant COVID-19 spread, if Canadians maintain their current number of contacts the epidemic will continue to come under control. Factoring in the more contagious variants, the trajectory changes considerably and cases will spike again under Canadians’ current level of precautions and restrictions.
The presentation made by Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam and Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Howard Njoo notes that, with variants of concern now detected in all provinces with “increasing prevalence and spread,” if Canada wants to keep flattening the pandemic curve, more stringent public health measures and individual precautions are needed.
Based on the current projections, the current pandemic controls may not be enough to fully control the variants. The long-range forecast predicts a “strong resurgence” in March and April in all provinces.
Accordingly, if people let their guards down and if public health measures are lifted the variants are forecasted to send infection rates spiking to levels far past what was seen in either the first or second waves.
This could result in up to 20,000 new daily cases by the spring. Currently the average daily case count is approximately 2,900 new cases a day across the country, which is an improvement from last month when some provinces were reporting nearly that many new infections in a day.
On Thursday, Tam joined Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on the weekly call with the premiers. She was asked Friday if she’s raised her concerns about easing restrictions with her provincial counterparts, as some provinces have already started scaling back on their lockdown measures.
In response, Tam said they are aware that in her view a robust plan to sequence variants and contact trace needs to be in place before restrictions are loosened, and “if you ease anything at all, it better be slow with a lot of surveillance testing.”
She offered the recent surge in cases in Newfoundland and Labrador as an example of how rapidly new outbreaks of these variants can spread.
During a press conference on Friday, Trudeau said that while what provinces and cities have been doing is working, the threat of the variants remains.
“We have to keep taking strong public health measures… Otherwise we could see a third wave that is even worse than the second or the first,” he said.
Noting that this is not news anyone wants to hear, Trudeau said provinces looking to ease measures must be ready to respond to new outbreaks with swift action and suggested updates to the national COVID Alert app may play a role.
The modelling is focused on three variants of concern: the B.1.1.7 variant first identified in U.K. the B.1.351 variant first identified in South Africa, and P.1 the variant first identified in Brazil.
As of Feb. 18, PHAC data indicates that there have been 664 confirmed B.1.1.7 variant cases, 39 B.1.351 variant cases, and one case of the P.1 variant. Tam said it’s possible that, at least in the case of the U.K.-originating variant that it becomes a “very common” strain of the virus over time.
Based on the current pandemic situation, daily case counts, deaths and hospitalizations are currently declining in most of Canada and fewer health regions are reporting high rates of infection across all age groups.
The short-term forecast predicts Canada will see up to 878,850 total cases by Feb. 28 and total deaths could reach up to 22,420 people by the end of the month.
IMPACT OF VACCINES?
The modelling does not explicitly factor in the increasing rates of vaccination in Canada. However, it shows that international experience with these variants have been that while vaccine programs expand, stringent adherence to proper mask-wearing, physical distancing and other precautions have helped control the spread.
“For the next months we’re not going to have a lot of people vaccinated, that’s a fact,” Tam said. “In order for the vaccine to have the best runway it can to take off, you need to make sure those cases are kept low.”
Referencing these new figures during question period in the House of Commons, Conservative health critic Michelle Rempel Garner asked whether the modelling shows the federal government’s “failure” on vaccinations, and whether it’s “made Canada vulnerable to variants, and is going to create more lockdowns?”
In response, the parliamentary secretary to the health minister Darren Fisher said the federal government remains proud with more than 1.5 million vaccines delivered across Canada to-date.
Later, at the House of Commons Health Committee, MPs began hearing from senior PHAC officials about the current outbreaks, occurrences, and modelling for COVID-19 variant spread in Canada as it relates to projected vaccination rollout timelines, including the capacity to surveil, assumptions on vaccine effectiveness, and the procurement of booster shots.
During his testimony, Roman Szumski, the senior vice-president of the vaccine acquisition branch at PACH, said that Canada’s current vaccine contracts don’t talk about the need for potential boosters to deal with variants, so in order to access those, new contracts would be required.
“We are engaged directly with the suppliers and keeping current with their tracking of vaccine performance and plans for boosters or updates to their vaccines. They currently do not have boosters that are available,” he said.
In her remarks to the committee, Chair of the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI), Dr. Caroline Quach-Thanh, said the variants are on NACI’s radar and many questions remain to be answered, though initial data around vaccine efficacy indicates the mRNA vaccines—which both Moderna and Pfizer shots are— show effectiveness against the U.K. strain, where as the others may pose more of a challenge.
“NACI is monitoring the data and will issue a statement if a booster or new dose is needed, including consideration of any new vaccine candidates that are authorized by Health Canada,” she said.
COVID-19 cases are down across Canada, but hospitals aren’t celebrating yet. Here’s why – Global News
According to the country’s top public health official, new infections now stand at a national seven-day average of 2,960 cases daily — down from the average 5,270 cases exactly a month earlier. Several health experts and government officials have also said that the country was still on its way to meet its September target of having everyone who wants a vaccine inoculated.
Despite the positive outlook, hospitals and health-care workers aren’t celebrating just yet.
A report published by the Canadian Institute for Health Information on Thursday found the total number of health-care workers infected with COVID-19 has tripled since July of last year. By Jan. 15, the institute said health-care workers accounted for at least 65,920 — over nine per cent — of Canada’s 695,707 confirmed cases then.
The CIHI report also added 24 health-care workers have died from the virus since the start of the pandemic, including 12 in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta within the last six months.
Gillian Howard, vice-president at University Health Network in Toronto, told Global News that the organization has seen an overall decrease in COVID-19 patients over the last two weeks, but that the health-care system was still in danger of being overwhelmed.
As of last week, she said 95 per cent of the UHN’s beds were occupied and that ICUs were still full — which could pose problems for health-care workers should the COVID-19 variants trigger a third wave.
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“The concern is that the variants, which are present in the community, will drive a third wave and that if patients with COVID are admitted to the ICU, the length of stay is much longer than usual,” she said.
“The other concern is the delay in surgeries and procedures for patients who require ICU beds following surgery or because of other health issues.”
‘Psychological trauma’ for years to come
The decreasing case numbers of COVID-19 are encouraging, but Dr. Ann Collins, president of the Canadian Medical Association, noted that “it’s too early to celebrate.”
“No question it is good news, but we still have to be very mindful of the variance and what’s happened in other parts of the world,” she said.
The aggressive nature of the variants is concerning, Collins said, adding that health-care workers are still under a great deal of pressure.
“Being stressed is probably an understatement in many ways,” she said.
Even as cases fall, Collins said many health-care workers — particularly those working in the country’s COVID-19 hotspots — are exhausted, face severe burnout and have been forced to completely isolate themselves from family and friends due to the nature of their jobs.
Health-care workers have the added stress of working directly with sick patients who have developed anxiety or depression due to their illness.
“They’ve had to become almost like family to patients that they’ve been caring for in the latter days of their lives because no family has been able to be there with them because of restrictions around visitation and so on,” said Collins.
“We expect to see some psychological trauma well beyond whenever we say that this is over.”
Some provinces ease restrictions as variant concerns rise
Anthony Dale, president and CEO of the Ontario Hospital Association, said that COVID-19 has put pressure on our health system that was “unimaginable a year ago.”
As a result, he said hospital staff have also been re-deployed to provide support to a number of non-hospital services — whether it’s running COVID-19 assessment centres and laboratories, working closely with long-term care homes to protect residents or on Ontario’s vaccination rollout.
According to Dale, the only reason such staff redeployments were even possible in the first place was because COVID-19-related hospitalization crowding cancelled most scheduled and elective surgeries.
“Now we have new, highly contagious variants that are circulating in the province, a vaccination roll out that continues to be delayed and a health care system operating under significant stress,” he said.
“A month ago we saw an all-time high of 420 COVID-19 patients in our ICU, while that number has decreased we remain at an alarming 325 patients, which represents almost 20 per cent of open ICU beds today.”
Some provinces seeing improvement
Out of the country’s ten provinces, many say hospitals are now less full than they were at the height of the pandemic, though several still warn of several regions continuing to face strain in terms of capacity.
Last month, Ontario’s hospitalizations peaked at 1,701 patients — including 385 in the ICU, though the numbers have dropped dramatically over the last month to just 680 current hospitalizations due to the virus.
The COVID-19 Modelling Collaborative — a joint collaboration between doctors and scientists from the University of Toronto, University Health Network and Sunnybrook Hospital — said this week that ICU resources were still strained in “every region” and that 43 per cent of Ontario’s surgical ICU’s had fewer than two available beds, however.
Saskatchewan also peaked last month at a total of 238 hospitalized patients, including 33 in the ICU, due to the virus. The number has lowered to that of 135 receiving inpatient care and 16 in the ICU as of Saturday.
Manitoba also saw a gradual decline after peaking at just over 360 hospitalizations in December. As of Saturday, the province registered 189 current hospitalizations due to the virus, of which 27 were admitted to the ICU.
A spokesperson from Manitoba’s Department of Health and Seniors Care said in a statement there were no hospitals within the province currently at or approaching capacity.
“As of midnight today, 206 individuals are in hospitals throughout the province due to COVID, the lowest number seen in this province since early- to mid-November. This includes both active patient cases and those who are past the infectious period but still sick enough to require inpatient care,” the statement read.
Alberta’s demand on its health system from the spread of COVID-19 had also peaked in late December. Despite the decline, the province said that the demand still remained high and warned that a rapid growth in cases would have consequences on its health system.
“We are maintaining the health system’s high capacity right now. If Alberta experienced the same sort of rapid growth that occurred in November and December while hospitalizations remain high, the health system would be severely impacted,” read the government’s website.
Quebec worries new COVID-19 variants could derail progress
A total of 5,000 people have been hospitalized there due to COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, with the province currently at 262 hospitalizations — 51 of which are in ICU.
British Columbia health minister Adrian Dix said last week that the province was in a “fairly stable situation with respect to available beds.”
He said B.C.’s health-care system was currently operating at 74 per cent capacity, for a total of 3,531 available regular and surge beds. Meanwhile, he added ICU is operating at 51.7 per cent capacity with 367 available beds.
Quebec, which remains the hardest hit among all provinces, now currently sits at 599 hospitalizations, of which 112 are in intensive care.
The numbers are a far cry from the over 1,870 concurrent hospitalizations the province registered during the first wave of the pandemic, though health experts there have recently warned of a possible “nightmare scenario” of having to pick which patients are admitted to ICU and who will die should hospitalizations rise to similar numbers again.
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New Brunswick currently has one person in-hospital with COVID-19, though health systems there have previously warned of staffing and bed shortages caused by the onset of the pandemic.
In Nova Scotia, there is only one person in-hospital with COVID-19, who has been set up in the province’s ICU, while 10 are currently in-hospital with COVID-19 in Newfoundland and Labrador.
P.E.I. currently does not have any patients with COVID-19 admitted to hospital.
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
U.S. approves Johnson & Johnson's single-dose COVID-19 vaccine – CBC.ca
The U.S. is getting a third vaccine to prevent COVID-19, as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Saturday cleared a Johnson & Johnson shot that works with just one dose instead of two.
Health experts are anxiously awaiting a one-and-done option to help speed vaccinations, as they race against a virus that already has killed more than 510,000 people in the U.S. and is mutating in increasingly worrisome ways.
The FDA said J&J’s vaccine offers strong protection against what matters most: serious illness, hospitalizations and death. One dose was 85 per cent protective against the most severe COVID-19 illness, in a massive study that spanned three continents — protection that remained strong even in countries such as South Africa, where the variants of most concern are spreading.
“This is really good news,” Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), told The Associated Press Saturday. “The most important thing we can do right now is to get as many shots in as many arms as we can.”
Shipments of a few million doses to be divided among states could begin as early as Monday. By the end of March, J&J has said it expects to deliver 20 million doses to the U.S., and 100 million by summer.
J&J also is seeking authorization for emergency use of its vaccine in Europe and from the World Health Organization. Worldwide, the company aims to produce about 1 billion doses globally by the end of the year. On Thursday, the island nation of Bahrain became the first to clear its use.
Health Canada is still reviewing the vaccine. Canada has ordered 10 million doses from Johnson & Johnson with options for up to 28 million more, if necessary. Most of those shots are expected to arrive by the end of September.
‘We’re champing at the bit to get more supply’
On Sunday, a U.S. advisory committee will meet to recommend how to prioritize use of the single-dose vaccine. And one big challenge is what the public wants to know: Which kind of vaccine is better?
“In this environment, whatever you can get — get,” said Dr. Arnold Monto of the University of Michigan, who chaired an FDA advisory panel that unanimously voted Friday that the vaccine’s benefits outweigh its risks.
Data is mixed on how well all the vaccines being used around the world work, prompting reports in some countries of people refusing one kind to wait for another.
WATCH | Will Canadians be able to choose which vaccine they get?:
In the U.S., the two-dose Pfizer and Moderna shots were 95 per cent protective against symptomatic COVID-19. J&J’s one-dose effectiveness of 85 per cent against severe COVID-19 dropped to 66 per cent when moderate cases were rolled in. But there’s no apples-to-apples comparison because of differences in when and where each company conducted its studies, with the Pfizer and Moderna research finished before concerning variants began spreading.
Collins said the evidence of effectiveness shows no reason to favour one vaccine over another.
“What people I think are mostly interested in is, is it going to keep me from getting really sick?” Collins said. “Will it keep me from dying from this terrible disease? The good news is all of these say yes to that.”
Also, J&J is testing two doses of its vaccine in a separate large study. Collins said if a second dose eventually is deemed better, people who got one earlier would be offered another.
The FDA cautioned that it’s too early to tell if someone who gets a mild or asymptomatic infection despite vaccination still could spread the virus.
There are clear advantages aside from the convenience of one shot. Local health officials are looking to use the J&J option in mobile vaccination clinics, homeless shelters, even with sailors who are spending months on fishing vessels — communities where it’s hard to be sure someone will come back in three to four weeks for a second vaccination.
WATCH | Canada’s procurement minister on Johnson & Johnson vaccine:
The J&J vaccine also is easier to handle, lasting three months in the refrigerator compared to the Pfizer and Moderna options, which must be frozen.
“We’re champing at the bit to get more supply. That’s the limiting factor for us right now,” said Dr. Matt Anderson of UW Health in Madison, Wisconsin, where staffers were readying electronic health records, staffing and vaccine storage in anticipation of offering J&J shots soon.
The FDA said studies detected no serious side effects. Like other COVID-19 vaccines, the main side effects of the J&J shot are pain at the injection site and flu-like fever, fatigue and headache.
The FDA said there is “a remote chance” that people may experience a severe allergic reaction to the shot, a rare risk seen with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
The vaccine has been authorized for emergency use in adults 18 and older for now. But like other vaccine makers, J&J is about to begin a study of its vaccine in teens before moving to younger children later in the year, and also plans a study in pregnant women.
All COVID-19 vaccines train the body to recognize the new coronavirus, usually by spotting the spike protein that coats it. But they’re made in very different ways.
WATCH | Provinces offer different timelines for COVID-19 vaccine rollout:
J&J’s shot uses a cold virus like a Trojan horse to carry the spike gene into the body, where cells make harmless copies of the protein to prime the immune system in case the real virus comes along. It’s the same technology the company used in making an Ebola vaccine, and similar to COVID-19 vaccines made by AstraZeneca and China’s CanSino Biologics.
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are made with a different technology, a piece of genetic code called messenger RNA that spurs cells to make those harmless spike copies.
The AstraZeneca vaccine — which was approved for use in Canada on Friday and is already in use in numerous other countries — is finishing a large U.S. study needed for FDA clearance. Also in the pipeline, Novavax uses a still different technology, made with lab-grown copies of the spike protein, and has reported preliminary findings from a British study suggesting strong protection.
Still other countries are using “inactivated vaccines,” made with killed coronavirus by Chinese companies Sinovac and Sinopharm.
Canada will not be pressured to release Meng Wanzhou, Trudeau says – Global News
Trudeau’s remarks were according to a transcript of a wide-ranging interview with NBC’s Chuck Todd and Meet the Press, which was provided to Global News. The interview is set to air on Sunday.
The two Canadian men — Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig — were arrested in China in 2018 on espionage charges, shortly after Meng was arrested by authorities in British Columbia on an extradition charge from the U.S.
During the interview, the prime minister said the men were detained on “national security trumped-up charges” and have been detained for nearly 800 days “in an attempt to try and pressure us to release the executive.”
“We, of course, are a country of the rule of law,” he said. “We will not do that. We live by our treaties and live by the rule of law.
But it is extremely difficult for Canada to be going through this, when we know it’s fundamentally unfair of China to have arbitrarily detained our citizens.”
Biden calls on China to release Michael Kovrig, Michael Spavor
Trudeau’s comments come just days after he and newly sworn-in U.S. President Joe Biden shared their first bilateral meeting.
Shortly after the leaders met virtually, Biden vowed to work with Canada to secure the safe release of Spavor and Kovrig, saying “humans are not bartering chips.”
Trudeau told Meet the Press his conversation with Biden regarding the two men was “very positive,” adding that they have agreed to work together to try to resolve the situation and “hold China to account.”
During the interview, Trudeau was also asked about the Keystone XL pipeline expansion project, which has been a point of contention between the two countries since Biden became president.
Hours after he was sworn into office, Biden signed an executive order to revoke a presidential permit signed by his predecessor, Donald Trump, that would have allowed the cross-border Keystone XL pipeline expansion project to continue.
The democrat had long-promised to revoke the permit in an effort to honour one of his campaign promises to shift the U.S. from fossil fuels towards clean energy.
However, the move dealt an especially hard blow to Alberta and Saskatchewan, whose energy sectors were counting on the US$8-billion project.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney called the move a “gut punch” and urged the federal government to consider sanctions if the Biden administration refused to discuss the project further.
However, Trudeau said, “it’s fairly clear that the U.S. administration has made its decision on that.”
“And we’re much more interested in ensuring that we’re moving forward in ways that are good for both of our countries,” he said.
Trudeau said the government does have “concerns” about the Line 5 initiative.
Trudeau questioned on cancellation of Keystone XL project, impacts of calls to shut down Enbridge’s Line 5
“We want to make sure we’re continuing to sell hydro-electricity into the United States, and that the two of us are partnering in ways that are going to create good jobs and compete successfully against the world for cleaner products and cleaner solutions,” he said.
Ultimately, Trudeau said there is “so much” Canada and the U.S. can do together that he doesn’t “spend too much time worrying about the tension points.”
“It’ll always come up in our relationship, but we’ll work through them, particularly given the alignment on so many things that we’re able to bring with this new administration,” he said.
Trudeau said the decision around the Keystone XL pipeline expansion project “was a disappointment,” though.
“But when you talk about clean energy and hydro-electricity from Canada, when we talk about what we can do around smarter grids, what we can do around electric vehicles and transportation, there is so much we’re going to continue to do together.”
Canada’s vaccine rollout
Trudeau was also asked about Canada’s vaccine rollout plan, which has been repeatedly hampered by delays from manufacturers.
He conceded that the rollout has not been “going as fast as everyone would want,” but said “we are going to have everyone vaccinated probably by the end of the summer.”
“And that is something that we’re very positive and excited about,” Trudeau said.
However, Canada has fallen considerably behind even its closest allies when it comes to vaccine rollout.
As of Saturday afternoon, only 1,816,797 doses had been administered across Canada, amounting to approximately 2.43 per cent of the country’s population.
Asked if he regrets not investing in a company in Canada to develop a vaccine at home, Trudeau said the country didn’t have the domestic pharmaceutical capacity to do so.
Health Canada green lights the AstraZeneca vaccine
“We had had it in decades past. But off-shoring and globalization meant that we no longer have the capacity,” he said. “We had from the very beginning of this pandemic started re-investing in Canadian pharmaceutical capacity which will be online in the coming year, not quick enough for this wave. But certainly moving forward, we have rebuilt and are rebuilding our scientific and domestic capacity so that we can be ready.”
“That’s what international supply chains are for,” he said. “And that’s why we’re pleased that we were able to sign so many contracts in order to be able to say we’re going to get all Canadians vaccinated in the coming months.”
Trudeau has repeatedly said Canada remains “on track” to deliver vaccines to all Canadians who want one by the end of September, despite the delays.
On Friday, Health Canada announced it had approved the COVID-19 vaccine from Oxford University-AstraZeneca for use in the country.
To date, three vaccines have been approved for use in Canada.
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
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