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Western provinces driving Canada's 4th COVID-19 wave as physicians warn cases 'out of control' – CBC.ca

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Canada’s western provinces are largely driving the country’s fourth wave of COVID-19 cases, and physicians are now raising the alarm — saying lax and late public health measures helped spark a rise in serious infections that’s already putting pressure on hospitals and impacting patient care.

In British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan, infection rates are high above the country’s average and far beyond every province to the east, including Ontario, whose population is larger than all three westernmost provinces combined.

The rate of cases in the last seven days in B.C. was 93 per 100,000 people as of Aug. 30, federal data shows, with Alberta’s rate at 159 and Saskatchewan’s at 135 — with no province to the east hitting more than 43.

In terms of raw case growth, Alberta currently has the most new infections in the country, with more than 7,000 cases reported in one week.

The province is now in the early stages of postponing surgeries and transferring patients to help boost capacity, but it has yet to reinstate major public health measures or bring in a vaccine mandate to curb case growth as the fast-spreading delta variant surges across much of the country.

“Things are going very poorly. They’re only going to get worse,” said Dr. Ilan Schwartz, an infectious diseases clinician and researcher at the University of Alberta in Edmonton.

“And the time for intervention was yesterday — or realistically, weeks ago — and if nothing is done, it’s only going to continue to spiral out of control.”



400-plus Albertans in hospital with COVID-19

In Alberta, it’s growing clear that rising vaccination rates couldn’t ward off a spike in serious infections driven by the delta variant — largely among unvaccinated residents — that are now putting pressure on the province’s hospitals.

There are currently more than 400 people being treated in hospital for COVID-19, including 98 in intensive care beds. Provincial data shows that all but two of those severe ICU cases are among people who aren’t fully vaccinated.

“We’re going to see the exact same thing we saw in the winter of last year, which is hospitals are filling up, ICUs are filling up, and it’s going to lead to a number of consequences,” Schwartz said.

On Sunday, Alberta Health Services transferred six patients out of one Grande Prairie hospital to neighbouring facilities due to an increase in COVID-19 patients requiring acute care.

Nurses and supporters rally in front of the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton on Aug. 11 during an information picket against cutbacks by the Alberta government. A spike in serious COVID-19 infections driven by the delta variant is putting pressure on the province’s hospitals. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Just two days earlier, the health authority announced it was taking steps to boost acute and ICU capacity in the province’s hospital system — which would mean postponing some non-urgent surgeries and procedures.

Dr. Aisha Mirza, who works in the emergency department at Grey Nuns Community Hospital in Edmonton, recently told CBC’s As It Happens that her facility is among those already feeling the impact of rising infection rates among mostly unvaccinated Albertans.

“People are in the waiting room way too long. That’s not normal. I’m showing up to a shift and hearing that there are five nurses short,” she said.

“Now, I don’t know if that’s because they’re sick, they’re leaving the province, they’re leaving acute care in general or they’re just burned out. But we’re short — and now we don’t have beds to use for those patients that are in the waiting room.”

WATCH | Kenney, Hinshaw quiet amid rising COVID-19 cases in Alberta: 

Kenney, Hinshaw quiet amid rising COVID-19 cases in Alberta

3 days ago

With Alberta seeing a surge in COVID-19 cases Premier Jason Kenney and Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw have been silent amid calls to reinstate public health restrictions, leading some businesses to take action on their own. 2:01

Sask. hospitals on cusp of ‘getting crushed’

Alberta officials said in mid-August that due to higher-than-expected hospitalizations, the province would be hitting pause on its polarizing decision to lift further public health measures.

But at this point, there’s no provincial mask mandate in place, and Schwartz said there are “no signs” the province plans to implement one or put in place other restrictions, such as a vaccine passport, to try to curb case growth.

“Albertans have really been left on their own and also left in the dark,” he said.

“I think those who aren’t at the hospitals, in the ICUs, seeing this in front of their eyes are going to be surprised — and they’re going to think this is something that happened really suddenly, but of course that’s not the case. This is happening in painful slow motion.”

It’s a similar situation in Saskatchewan, said Regina-based infectious diseases specialist Dr. Alexander Wong, where public health measures remain lifted while cases are spiking — with more than 110 people now in hospital for COVID-19 across the province.

“We’re literally on the cusp of our hospitals and ICUs getting crushed,” he warned.

COVID-19 and the delta variant didn’t deter more than 33,000 Saskatchewan Roughriders fans from packing Mosaic Stadium in Regina on Aug. 6 for a game against the B.C. Lions. Public health measures remain lifted while cases are spiking in the province. (Kayle Neis/The Canadian Press)

As of Monday morning, ICUs at hospitals in three Saskatchewan cities were full, which could be because of rising COVID-19 cases, said Dr. Jeffrey Betcher, critical care lead with the Saskatchewan Health Authority.

Local hospitals simply don’t have the space or staff to juggle both a surge of serious COVID-19 infections and everyone else who needs care, Wong said.

“It’s a perfect storm now. Everyone is burned out, tired, we can’t find staff…. It’s not like it was last March, when all the elective stuff stopped.”

B.C. bringing in mask mandate, vaccine passport

A combination of measures is required to beat back this delta-driven wave, Wong said, including boosting vaccination rates, wearing masks, physical distancing and avoiding large gatherings.

Physicians in Saskatchewan are calling for the return of public health measures and the creation of vaccine passports to access certain businesses — but so far, the province is holding off.

On Monday, Premier Scott Moe called the notion of a government-mandated vaccine passport “heavy handed,” instead saying he backs businesses launching their own programs.

Meanwhile, in B.C., where there are more active cases reported than in either Ontario or Quebec, officials are taking major steps toward tighter restrictions.

The province is bringing back a mask mandate in public places and at events, and it’s implementing a strict vaccine passport program that will prove the holder’s immunization status.

“Neither of those things are going to be immediately effective,” said Dr. Srinivas Murthy, an infectious diseases specialist and clinical associate professor in pediatrics at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

“I think we have some challenges with the timing of our interventions, like letting loose of the mask mandates earlier in the summer, then reinstituting them.”

A health worker administers a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Surrey, B.C., in May. The province is bringing back a mask mandate in public places and at events, and it’s implementing a strict vaccine passport program that will prove the holder’s immunization status. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

So is it all too little, too late? That’s the fear now — that any measures taken at this point, as cases are surging across Western Canada, won’t prevent many of the serious infections expected in the weeks ahead.

Even B.C. officials themselves acknowledged during a Tuesday modelling presentation that the more likely scenario is a plateauing of cases and hospitalizations in that province, or even a slight increase, rather than a dramatic drop in reported infections.

B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, and Health Minister Adrian Dix also said that in order to bring down case counts and hospitalizations before October, the vaccination rate will need to increase by an average of seven per cent across all age groups.

“We’re kind of getting to the desperation phase,” Wong said. “It hasn’t come remotely close to when it’s going to be at its very worst.”

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Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor arrive in Canada after nearly 3-year detention in China – CBC.ca

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Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor are back on home soil, almost three years after they were first detained in China.

The two men landed in Calgary shortly before 8 a.m. ET Saturday aboard a Royal Canadian Air Force Challenger aircraft. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was at the airport to welcome the two men, who had flown from China along with ambassador Dominic Barton.

Trudeau announced Friday evening that the two were out of Chinese airspace, just hours after the extradition case against Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou was dropped. Meng reached a deferred prosecution agreement with U.S. authorities related to fraud charges against her on Friday and landed back in China Saturday morning.

“These two men have gone through an unbelievably difficult ordeal,” Trudeau said Friday. “For the past 1,000 days, they have shown strength, perseverance, resilience and grace.”

Kovrig, a diplomat, and Spavor, an entrepreneur who worked in North Korea and China, were first detained in December 2018 — just after Meng was arrested in Canada on behalf of U.S. authorities. Their detention is widely considered to be a retaliatory action in response to the Huawei executive’s arrest.

Chinese authorities had consistently denied that the cases were linked.

Spavor was found guilty of spying and sentenced to 11 years in prison and extradition by a Chinese court in August. The trial for Kovrig concluded in March, but he had not yet been sentenced.

Michael Spavor waves after landing in Calgary Saturday morning. He and Michael Kovrig returned home after being detained in China for nearly three years. (Colin Hall/CBC)

Timing shows clear link between cases, experts say

Speaking earlier in outside a Vancouver courthouse after her extradition case was dropped, Meng thanked the court and the Canadian government for “upholding the rule of law.”

“I’m also grateful to the Canadian people and media friends for your tolerance. Sorry for the inconvenience caused,” she said.

The timing of the releases of Meng, and Spavor and Kovrig, show China clearly saw a connection between the two, several diplomats and foreign policy experts told CBC News.

LISTEN | Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor freed:

CBC News: The House14:38Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor freed

What does Friday’s turn of events all mean for Canada’s relationship with China? Experts Colin Robertson, Guy Saint-Jacques and Lynette Ong join The House to discuss. 14:38

“China … up until now, has said that there’s been no linkage between the two, but by putting them on the plane [Friday night], they’ve clearly acknowledged that this was hostage-taking,” said Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat for more than 30 years.

Robertson told CBC’s The House “it really was one for the other” in an exchange that was reminiscent of Cold War swaps.

“The timing, it’s totally undeniable that the two Michaels were unjustly detained because of the arrest of Ms. Meng in Vancouver,” Lynette Ong, a specialist on China at the Munk School of Global Affairs, told The House host Chris Hall.

Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou reads a statement outside the B.C. Supreme Court following the conclusion of her extradition hearing. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The rapid series of events Friday “was a surprise,” said Margaret McCuaig-Johnston, a senior fellow at Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa.

She noted Spavor and Kovrig’s detention had already sent a message to other countries “that if they cross China, then Beijing will just pick up a couple of their citizens and hold them hostage.

“And that’s a chilling message for other countries to be receiving today.”

Robertson said Canadians should give significant credit for the release of the men to U.S. President Joe Biden.

“As the prime minister said, this was the top issue in terms of Canada China relations, but also a top issue in Canada-U.S. relations,” he said. “President Biden has delivered now for Justin Trudeau.

Michael Kovrig and Dominic Barton reboard a plane at the Calgary airport, after Kovrig and Michael Spavor touched down on Canadian soil for the first time since they were detained in China nearly three years ago. (Colin Hall/CBC)

Changed relationship with China

Trudeau has said the return of the so-called two Michaels has been a top foreign policy priority for the government.

But the prime minister deflected questions Friday about how the return on the two men would affect Canada’s relationship with China.

Guy Saint-Jacques, who served as Canada’s ambassador to China from 2012 to 2016, said it is impossible to ignore China, given its strength and importance in the world, but the approach should be “strategic” and “restrained.”

“The message to China is simple, it’s we have no problem with you being a superpower. But as long as you respect international treaties, international obligations and you don’t engage in bullying tactics,” he said.

Ong said she believes the relationship with China has been permanently damaged. She said public opinion in Canada has turned decisively against China and a return to normal would be “very hard” to execute.

“I don’t think Canada-China relations could actually be repaired. We’re living in an entirely different world now.”

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Canada COVID-19 booster update coming 'very shortly': Tam – National | Globalnews.ca – Global News

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Canadians can expect an update on the potential use of additional COVID-19 shots for the most at-risk “very shortly,” the country’s top doctor says.

Speaking at a news conference Friday morning, chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam told reporters she expects the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) will make recommendations on whether or not additional doses for those at the highest risk are needed.

In particular, the committee is looking at those who received a COVID-19 vaccine around the beginning of the year, Tam added.

“So that includes, for example, those in long-term care homes or congregate living for seniors,” she said. “So I expect the committee to have their deliberations completed on this group … very shortly.”


Click to play video: 'Biden says ‘majority of Americans’ who received Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine eligible for booster shot 6 months after 2nd shot'



1:50
Biden says ‘majority of Americans’ who received Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine eligible for booster shot 6 months after 2nd shot


Biden says ‘majority of Americans’ who received Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine eligible for booster shot 6 months after 2nd shot

Tam did not elaborate on a timeline further, but her comments come after the United States approved booster shots for Americans aged 65 and older, adults with underlying medical conditions and adults in high-risk settings, like a workplace or congregate living.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) endorsed the plan on Thursday, which is in line with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s authorization of the extra shot earlier this week.

Pfizer-BioNTech is the vaccine of choice. The extra shots will also be rolled out in long-term care facilities and are open to more than 20 million Americans who received their second Pfizer shot more than six months ago.

Read more:
U.S. CDC overrules advisors, recommends COVID-19 boosters for all high-risk people

Tam said in addition to looking at American data on boosters, Canada has its own measures to follow as its vaccine approach is different.

“For example, while we use the mRNA vaccines that are the same as the United States, many Canadians actually had an extended interval compared to the United States, and what the data is showing us is that the extended interval produces a more robust immune response and vaccine effectiveness is better with a longer interval,” she said.

“So the Canadian data must be analyzed on top of what we’re gathering from the international community as well, and we are taking a thorough, thoughtful and phased approach to looking at additional doses.”

Read more:
NACI backs 3rd dose of COVID-19 vaccine for immunocompromised

Canada has already OK’d additional doses for some immunocompromised individuals, announcing the new measure on Sept. 10.

“NACI continues to examine the need for booster doses, which unlike additional doses are intended to restore initially adequate immune protection that may have waned over time,” Tam said at the time.

Booster shots, however, continue to be a divisive issue among health experts and internationally.

Read more:
COVID-19 vaccine inequity now top of mind at United Nations meeting

Vaccine inequity was among the agenda items at the United Nations’ annual meeting this week. The leaders of many African countries, whose populations have little to no access to the shots, spoke out.

It is “of great concern” that the global community has not supported the principles “of solidarity and co-operation in securing equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines,” Cyril Ramaphosa, South Africa’s president, said.

“It is an indictment on humanity that more than 82 per cent of the world’s vaccine doses have been acquired by wealthy countries, while less than one per cent has gone to low-income countries.”


Click to play video: 'U.S. to donate half a billion additional Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines'



0:47
U.S. to donate half a billion additional Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines


U.S. to donate half a billion additional Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines

On Wednesday during a global COVID-19 summit, President Joe Biden announced the U.S. would double its purchase of Pfizer’s shots to share one billion doses with the world, in an effort to vaccinate 70 per cent of the global population within the next year.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was also in attendance, committed to that goal.

“In order to get this done, Canada will build on the important progress we have made so far, and focus on increasing the production, availability, and delivery of vaccines,” a read-out of the summit said.

“To date, Canada has contributed more than $2.5 billion to help address this crisis globally. We have also committed to sharing tens of millions of vaccine doses with the rest of the world, including through the COVAX facility.”

Tam said on Friday that more than 80 per cent of Canada’s eligible population is now fully vaccinated against COVID-19. According to Johns Hopkins University, 32.71 per cent of the world’s population is fully inoculated.

Earlier this month, University of Toronto bioethics professor Kerry Bowman told Global News that Canada needs to fight the pandemic with a global approach.

“Booster shots may well be required for immunocompromised people and a subset of people, (but) I think in the short term, we should not have widespread booster shots — meaning third doses — at all, for ethical reasons and epidemiological reasons,” he said.

“We really have to start making a deeper commitment to the larger world to protect ourselves and because it’s the right thing to do.”

–with files from Reuters and The Associated Press

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

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Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Friday – CBC.ca

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The latest:

New Brunswick has reinstated its COVID-19 state of emergency as the province’s chief medical officer of health warned the province is at a “tipping point.”

“The pace of the fourth wave is beyond what we had anticipated,” said Dr. Jennifer Russell at a briefing Friday as the province reported a single-day record of 78 new cases and three additional deaths.

As part of the mandatory order, which will take effect at 11:59 p.m. AT Friday, residents must stick to their household bubbles and a “steady 20” of close contacts.

The order will be reviewed every two weeks and come into effect whenever there are 25 people hospitalized with COVID-19, said Premier Blaine Higgs. The number of people hospitalized currently stands at 31, including 15 in intensive care, he said.

Dr. Gordon Dow, infectious disease specialist with the Horizon Health Network, said the lifting of health-protection measures almost two months ago was an error.

“Many other jurisdictions made the very same mistake,” he said at a technical briefing earlier Friday, citing Alberta, Saskatchewan, the U.S. and the U.K.

WATCH | Lifting restrictions was a mistake, N.B. official says: 

‘That was not the right decision to make’

9 hours ago

One of the province’s top infectious disease specialists says lifting restrictions at the end of July was a mistake. 1:39

Dow said the province’s previous efforts to combat the virus focused on a successful “elimination strategy” that was used to rapidly shut down seven distinct outbreaks. But the province wasn’t ready for the delta variant, he said.

“Did we under-call this one? I would say yes, and I think most New Brunswickers would agree with that,” he said. “But I would also say that we got it right 85 per cent of the time.”

Meanwhile, Ontario is easing capacity limits at certain venues where proof of vaccination is required, including sports facilities, cinemas and concert venues.

The province’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Kieran Moore, says the province’s COVID-19 cases and health indicators have been stable recently, though it doesn’t mean the province can let its guard down in the face of the delta variant.

Ontario on Friday reported 727 new cases of COVID-19 and 11 additional deaths. There are 193 people in intensive care units due to COVID-19.

— From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 5:30 p.m. ET


What’s happening across Canada

WATCH | Tam is asked to advise parents considering vaccinating children against COVID: 

Tam is asked to advise parents considering COVID-19 vaccines for children

10 hours ago

A reporter asks Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, for her advice to parents considering vaccinating their children once the COVID-19 vaccine becomes available to those younger than 12. 4:01

Canada’s chief public health officer says the country is seeing about 4,300 new cases of COVID-19 per day, up from about 3,500 per day three weeks ago.

The bulk of cases and severe outcomes are among the unvaccinated, Dr. Theresa Tam said at a news briefing Friday.

From early August to early September, the average weekly rate of new COVID-19 was 11 times higher in those who were unvaccinated than in fully vaccinated people, she said, while hospitalization was 38 times higher.

While more than 80 per cent of eligible Canadians are fully vaccinated, more than six million people still have not received one or more doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, Tam said.

— From The Canadian Press, last updated at 5:30 p.m. ET


What’s happening around the world

A woman wearing a mask sits near an open-air café, which has been cordoned off, in Seoul on Friday. (Kim Hong-ji/Reuters)

As of Friday afternoon, more than 230.9 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s case tracking tool, which collects data from around the world. The reported global death toll stood at more than 4.7 million. 

In the Asia-Pacific region, South Korea has reported its biggest daily jump in coronavirus since the start of the pandemic as people returned from the country’s biggest holiday of the year.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said more than 1,750 of the 2,434 new cases reported Friday were from the greater capital area, where officials have raised concern over an erosion in citizen vigilance despite the enforcement of the strongest physical distancing rules short of a lockdown since July.

In the Americas, a live televised interview with U.S. Vice-President Kamala Harris was slightly delayed Friday after two hosts of the The View learned they tested positive for the coronavirus just before she was to join them on the set.

Co-host Sunny Hostin and guest host Ana Navarro were at the table for the start of the show, but were pulled from the set. Harris, who had planned to join the table, instead was interviewed remotely from a different room in the ABC studio in New York.

In Europe, Portugal is scrapping many of its remaining COVID-19 restrictions after becoming the world leader in vaccination rollout. The country has fully vaccinated nearly 85 per cent of the population, according to Our World in Data.

The government says starting Oct. 1, it will remove limits on how many people can be in cafés and restaurants, at weddings and baptisms, shopping malls, concerts and cinemas. Bars and discos will reopen, although only for vaccinated people and people with negative coronavirus tests.

Meanwhile, Norway’s government says the country will reopen society on Saturday, ending pandemic-curbing restrictions that have limited social interaction and hobbled many businesses.

“It is 561 days since we introduced the toughest measures in Norway in peacetime …. Now the time has come to return to a normal daily life,” Prime Minister Erna Solberg told a news conference.

Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg, left, is hugged by the country’s Health Minister Bent Hoie as they provide an update about the COVID-19 situation in the country on Friday. (Javad Parsa/NTB/AFP/Getty Images)

The decision to no longer require physical distancing will allow culture and sports venues to utilize their full capacity, rather than just a portion of seats, while restaurants can fill up and nightclubs reopen.

About 76 per cent of all Norwegians have now received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine while 67 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated, according to the Institute of Public Health.

In the Middle East, Yemen received its third batch of COVID-19 vaccines through the COVAX global vaccine-sharing scheme, the health ministry said

In Africa, Egypt has authorized Russia’s single-dose Sputnik Light vaccine against COVID-19, the Russian Direct Investment Fund, which markets the shot abroad, said on Friday. The country approved Russia’s two-dose Sputnik V vaccine in February.

— From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 5:30 p.m. ET

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