Two new large-scale reports are giving a clearer picture of the long-term impacts of COVID-19 infections on Canadians and the health-care system.
One report, published Monday by Statistics Canada, found that nearly 15 per cent of people who’ve contracted COVID-19 say they experienced lingering symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath or brain fog three months or more after their initial infection.
But compared with earlier phases of the pandemic, the report found that a much smaller proportion of those infected since the Omicron variant hit Canada late last year reported such long-term symptoms.
StatsCan, which conducted the survey in partnership with the Public Health Agency of Canada, describes it as the first nationally representative report of its kind.
A separate study also published Monday, in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), found that people who tested positive for COVID-19 in Ontario used more hospital and other health-care resources in the months after their infection cleared than those who tested negative.
The reports are the latest in a growing body of research into the scope of long COVID, a catch-all term for a range of post-infection health effects.
Fewer people report long COVID since Omicron: survey
The World Health Organization has estimated that what it calls “post-COVID-19 condition” affects 10 to 20 per cent of those infected, but those figures are based on earlier phases of the pandemic. Newer research suggests long COVID is now occurring at a much lower rate.
StatsCan says its data suggests some 1.4 million Canadian adults — or about five per cent of the total population — experienced symptoms three months after a COVID infection. The survey was conducted among Canadians who tested positive for COVID-19 or suspected they had the disease.
“This is a significant number of people impacted by long COVID,” said Dr. Fahad Razak, an internal medicine specialist and epidemiologist at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, and a former head of Ontario’s COVID-19 science advisory table.
“Clinicians in Canada’s research community have been waiting anxiously for the results of this and the data does tell us that we are like other countries,” said Razak, who was not directly involved in the study, in an interview with CBC News.
Because the survey data is based on people’s self-reports of post-COVID symptoms and isn’t compared with a control group of uninfected people, Razak and other physicians said the results should be interpreted with some caution.
The StatsCan report does not indicate how severe people’s post-COVID symptoms were, nor does it indicate whether symptoms waned at any point after the three-month mark.
StatsCan’s survey found that a notably smaller proportion of people infected since the Omicron wave report long-term symptoms, compared with those infected during the first year and a half of the pandemic.
The survey found 25.8 per cent of Canadian adults who contracted COVID-19 before December 2021 had symptoms at least three months after their infection.
Among those whose cases date from December 2021 onward, 10.5 per cent reported symptoms three months or more post-infection.
The lower rate of long COVID among Canadians infected since last December is good news, says Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious diseases specialist in Hamilton, who was not involved in the study.
“The people that are really, really suffering the most are people that were infected very early in the pandemic,” said Chagla in an interview with CBC News.
Vaccines likely key to lower frequency: doctors
Both Chagla and Razak said the benefit of vaccination is likely a key reason for the lower frequency of long COVID among those infected over the past year.
The survey also provides further evidence linking the likelihood of long COVID with the severity of illness when first infected.
Symptoms at least three months post-infection were reported by:
- 36.4 per cent of Canadian adults who rated their initial case of COVID-19 as severe;
- 15 per cent of those who rated their initial case as moderate;
- 6.3 per cent of those who rated their initial case as mild.
Dr. Angela Cheung, senior physician scientist with the University Health Network in Toronto, said those figures from the Statistics Canada report are consistent with previous research.
“I’m glad this survey happened and that we are actually trying to get a handle on the number of people affected by COVID-19 with lingering symptoms,” she said in an interview.
Findings can help prepare for demand, researchers say
Cheung, who was not involved with either report, also said the CMAJ study published Monday is important for quantifying increased use of the health-care system after a COVID-19 infection.
The study led by researchers from Toronto’s Sunnybrook Research Institute and at the non-profit research agency ICES looked at the health-care use of more than 530,000 Ontario residents who were tested for COVID-19 via PCR before March 31, 2021.
The researchers matched the demographics of those who tested positive and those who tested negative and found “significantly higher rates of health care use” in the period starting at least eight weeks after a positive test.
The researchers found a 47 per cent increase in the average number of days spent in hospital per year by women who’d tested positive and a 53 per cent average increase among men.
The researchers said the findings can help the system prepare for health-care demand associated with long COVID.
How does increasing interest rates actually help curb inflation? – CBC.ca
Once again, the Bank of Canada has raised its benchmark interest rate — this time to 4.25 per cent — reassuring us that its seemingly unending series of hikes are going to eventually help take the bite out of inflation.
It has a ways to go. Inflation is currently 6.9 per cent and the central bank wants it back at two per cent.
But for many Canadians, all they’ve seen is gas and food and just about everything else stay more expensive than ever, while mortgage rates soar.
CBC News readers have asked: So how is increasing interest rates actually supposed to be helping? According to economists, making it tougher to afford things is part of the plan.
Why is the Bank of Canada increasing interest rates so much?
In 1991, the Bank of Canada and the Canadian government decided that “low, stable and predictable inflation” would be the best thing for Canadians — and they agreed that a target inflation rate was two per cent.
That’s around where it’s been in Canada for the past 25 years.
But about a year ago, inflation started to rise — and rise, and rise — due to several factors, including supply chain issues that resulted from pandemic lockdowns, the war in Ukraine and climate change.
To get it down, Governor of the Bank of Canada Tiff Macklem says interest rates must go up.
“It’s a bit counterintuitive for Canadians,” he told CBC’s Peter Armstrong last month.
“Their rent’s going up, their groceries are more expensive, gasoline is more expensive. And now their borrowing costs are more expensive. So how does that work? Well, that does slow spending. That makes anything you buy on credit more expensive. So you you pull back and that helps get the economy balanced and that’ll relieve those price pressures.”
And that’s the whole point.
The Bank of Canada wants people to buy less stuff and slow the economy down. When the economy slows down, it says, prices will come down.
At the same time, there is a tacit acknowledgement that it’s going to hurt.
“Our economy will slow as the central bank continues to step in to tackle inflation,” said Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland in October.
“There will be people whose mortgage payments will rise. Business will no longer be booming in the same way it has been since we left our homes after the COVID lockdowns and went back out into the world. Our unemployment rate will no longer be at its record low.”
How does raising interest rates slow inflation?
Macklem says the economy is still “overheated” — with demand high and supply low. And the difference between the two drives prices up.
So in the central bank’s reasoning, if it can get demand down — get Canadians to want to buy less — that pressure on supply will ease.
“We do need to slow the economy,” he said. “We don’t want to over-slow it. We don’t want to make this more difficult than it has to be.”
But at the same time, he said, if they do it in a half-hearted way, it will just prolong the pain.
Won’t it just make it harder to pay my mortgage or utilities and buy necessities like food and gas?
For now, yes. And Sheila Block, senior economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, points out that inflation has a really different impact depending on a person’s income level.
“The cost of food, rent, gas — all of those have paced above the overall [consumer price index] rate,” she told Power and Politics.
“And that is really going to have a tough impact on those lower-income people who spend a larger share of their income on those essentials. And also people who don’t have that kind of cushion to ride this out.”
Is hiking interest rates the only way to get inflation down?
Not according to economist Jim Stanford. The director of the Centre for Future Work told CBC News that a broader mix of policies is needed.
“I think that our tool-kit itself needs a more diverse set of tools.”
Stanford says the government needs to introduce longer-term structural policies to address what he calls “the true causes of this inflation” which he says include “supply chains, energy price shocks, and the housing crisis in most parts of Canada.”
He says raising interest rates will do nothing to help global supply chains.
“In fact, they’ll probably make things a little bit worse because they discourage investment in new capacity and infrastructure by businesses,” he said on the CBC podcast Front Burner.
“What they will do, though, is basically throw a giant bucket of ice water over the entire economy. And we’re already seeing the signs are that we’ve seen a dramatic slowdown in employment growth. We’ve seen a dramatic slowdown in GDP growth. And this is just the beginning.“
He says it would be more effective to try and cool off “the least productive sort of froth in the economy,” such as the housing market. He suggests making better use of rules on mortgage insurance and stress tests “to cool off the property bubble without having to hammer the whole economy with higher interest rates.”
I’m hearing this slowing of the economy could send Canada into recession.
Some economists are indeed suggesting that Canada could be headed for a recession in 2023.
“I think a recession is both likely globally and most probable in Canada,” said former Bank of Canada and Bank of England governor Mark Carney in October.
The good news is, he also thinks it won’t be deep or long, citing the country’s strong labour market and low unemployment as reasons why Canada will do better than other countries.
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Macklem is optimistic, too.
“This is the biggest test we’ve ever had. But monetary policy works. It takes time to work. And we do have to go through a difficult adjustment.”
But he insists Canada will come out of it.
“Growth will pick up. We’ll have solid employment growth and we’ll have low inflation.”
Air Canada facing pressure to retain Sask. to Calgary route – CTV News Regina
Saskatchewan businesses and political leaders are expressing their disappointment over the cancellation of Air Canada flights from Regina and Saskatoon to Calgary.
The service will end in mid January but efforts are underway to convince Air Canada to maintain the crucial route.
“You know it’s disappointing any time that any of our two major airports lose direct air services to other major cities,” Minister of Highways and Transportation Jeremy Cockrill said.
Air Canada has been flying between Saskatchewan and Calgary in competition with WestJet. The NDP opposition is concerned about the potential impact of having only one carrier remaining.
“I think there are [negative] impacts, you think of the last week we’ve had Agribition and Grey Cup here. That is very concerning,” NDP leader Carla Beck said.
Economic Development Regina (EDR) has sent a letter to Air Canada asking it to reconsider.
“We know as a city we need to be as competitive as possible and that also means as connected as possible, so losing connection to another hub in Western Canada is a bit of a challenge for us and we want to work together to restore that service,” CEO Chris Lane said.
Member of Parliament Michael Kram thinks the province is being shortchanged by Air Canada.
“Well it’s certainly very frustrating especially since Air Canada received about $500 million from the federal Liberal government during the pandemic in the form of the wage subsidy, so it’s very fretting that Air Canada has chosen to take the money and run,” Kram said.
There are several new low-cost air carriers in Canada that are now establishing a route system. Air Canada’s decision to focus on Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver could give the new players an opportunity to enter the Saskatchewan market.
Ontario pharmacists get greenlight to prescribe COVID-19 treatment Paxlovid – CBC.ca
Starting next week pharmacists in Ontario will be able to prescribe the antiviral drug Paxlovid as a treatment for COVID-19, the health minister said Thursday.
Sylvia Jones made the announcement at a morning news conference in Toronto, where she said the prescriptions will come at no cost to patients. The new policy takes effect December 12.
There are about 4,000 pharmacists in the province who are already dispensing the drug. The prescription program will work on an opt-in basis, so it is unclear how many pharmacies will choose to take part.
Ontario’s chief medical officer of health said in a related statement the change will expand access to the medication, increase protection to the most vulnerable, and ease hospital pressures.
It’s a move Dr. Kieran Moore said last month the government was considering in part to help keep people out of hospital, especially in rural areas where access to primary care physicians can be limited.
The antiviral medication is taken orally within five days of symptom onset and is recommended for people at higher risk of COVID-19 complications, including people over 60 and people who are immunocompromised.
The announcement comes as hospitals in the province continue to strain under pressure from multiple respiratory illnesses.
Across all ages, the number of Ontarians going to emergency departments with respiratory complaints remains well above pre-pandemic seasonal averages, according to Ontario’s Acute Care Enhanced Surveillance (ACES) database.
Some pediatric hospitals have stopped surgeries and other procedures to maintain capacity for patients seeking care for respiratory symptoms.
Meanwhile, Ottawa’s children’s hospital has accepted staffing help from the Canadian Red Cross and opened a second pediatric intensive care unit, though others had not sought extra support as of this week.
Jones touted co-operation between pediatric and community hospitals one innovation helping to make sure more health-care professionals are trained to treat children with respiratory illnesses.
She also said it has been a difficult flu season and thanked health-care workers for their efforts under tough conditions.
“I really want to reinforce that these are incredibly dedicated, incredibly talented, educated people who have stepped up and continued to step up through what has been a very challenging virus season,” she said.
Throughout the surge in respiratory illnesses in Ontario, Jones has insisted that the province was prepared to handle it. With respect to steps some hospitals have had to take to deal with an influx of patients, both Jones and Premier Doug Ford have credited them with “thinking outside the box” and not doing “business as usual.”
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