This is an excerpt from Second Opinion, a weekly roundup of eclectic and under-the-radar health and medical science news emailed to subscribers every Saturday morning. If you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do that by clicking here.
As new outbreaks of coronavirus continue to appear in countries outside of China, experts are now recalculating the risk of the virus and our ability to contain it worldwide.
Until now, the focus of containing the coronavirus illness, known as COVID-19, has centred on China.
Millions remain under quarantine in China’s central Hubei province, where the outbreak began, and travel restrictions are still in place throughout the affected region.
But outbreaks have since emerged in South Korea, Italy and Iran. Infectious disease physicians say the rapid spread of coronavirus cases outside of China could signal a game changer in the response to the global outbreak.
“Globally, we will not be able to contain the spread of this virus. We can slow it down, but we can’t stop it,” said Dr. Allison McGeer, an infectious diseases specialist at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital who worked on the front lines of the SARS epidemic in 2003.
“The number of countries with cases is going to continue to increase.”
Officials are also concerned about the number of cases with “no clear epidemiological link,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Friday, such as travel history to China or contact with a known confirmed case.
He said while the number of cases outside of China remains small, they are “worrisome.”
“It’s in our hands now,” Tedros said. “If we do well within the narrowing window of opportunity, we can avert any serious crisis. If we squander the opportunity, then there will be a serious problem on our hands.”
1st case in Canada with no connection to China
Canada’s ninth presumptive case of coronavirus is a woman in her 30s who recently travelled to Iran and is now recovering at home in British Columbia.
Health officials were surprised to learn she had not travelled to China or any of its neighbouring countries, and have classified the case as a “sentinel event” — one that originated from a region that is completely unexpected.
Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer, said they are investigating where the woman may have contracted the virus, working alongside the Public Health Agency of Canada. The woman had a travelling companion, was visiting family and is now in isolation at home.
“Until very recently, we didn’t consider Iran as a place of transmission of COVID-19,” Henry said in an interview. “So that set off quite a number of warning bells for us.”
Henry said the investigation continues into where the woman travelled, but she hadn’t been to the city of Qom, where a handful of cases have been recorded. “She did report at the airport [in Tehran] that there were quite a lot of people who were sick and who were wearing masks,” she said.
The answers are important to public health measures aimed at containing the virus, such as whether Canada should expand its border-screening questionnaires for travellers from places beyond the epicentre in China’s Hubei province.
Henry said the exportation of a case from a country like Iran, which hasn’t previously reported a lot of infections, also has parallels with the start of the epidemic in China.
“The first exported cases from China were similar,” she said, “and essentially an indication that there may be more cases than were recognized.”
If it is confirmed the traveller was infected in Iran, then it likely means there’s more than a handful of cases there, said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease physician at Toronto General Hospital who is researching the outbreak.
“The real question is how much disease burden is in Iran and do they have the capacity to really get this under control,” he said. “We might be inching toward this situation where this infection is not contained and we have to really be prepared for a possible scenario where there’s more widespread transmission throughout the world.”
‘Alarming numbers’ in South Korea
South Korea is also seeing a surge in new cases — reportedly linked to what authorities call a “super-spreading event” at a church congregation where the majority of infections originated.
“What we’re hearing out of South Korea is starting to sound like alarming numbers,” said Bogoch. “But South Korea has a pretty robust medical system and a fantastic public health infrastructure.”
Bogoch said South Korea’s health-care system was tested significantly with an epidemic of MERS in 2015, much like Toronto was with SARS in 2003.
“We learned incredible lessons from SARS that are really implemented to this day that are helping us cope with this COVID-19 epidemic,” he said.
“Hopefully Korea has really learned some lessons from their MERS epidemic a few years ago to really help them cope with this.”
While managing ill patients and preventing hospital outbreaks are key to a country’s health-care infrastructure, McGeer said that infrastructure may have little to do with preventing the spread of the coronavirus.
“This is not about how strong your health-care system is,” she said. “They may well be able to identify chains of transmission and quarantine and isolate people. But the larger the number of cases, the more difficult it becomes.”
In northern Italy, officials shut down schools and public events after a cluster of 16 cases and one death were announced Friday. Five of those cases were identified as health workers.
WHO officials have pushed for countries to be transparent about its cases, so resources can be shifted to where the need is greatest.
For WHO, sub-Saharan Africa was a concern, given the degree of travel between China and Africa and limited ability to test for the virus in many African countries.
Stephen Hoption Cann, an epidemiologist at the school of population and public health at the University of British Columbia, said if COVID-19 continues to spread worldwide, there is the possibility of the virus becoming endemic — or something that re-emerges on a seasonal basis.
“Are we going to be able to contain this virus and prevent it from spreading into the next season?” he said. “It’s really hard to say now; it’s looking like there’s a possibility that we will be seeing it back again next winter.”
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Stable weather allows fire crews to focus on containment of B.C. wildfires
Crews battling the wildfire that has forced the evacuation of more than 500 properties in British Columbia’s southern Okanagan are taking advantage of calm winds and stable conditions to bolster fire lines.
The BC Wildfire Service says the the wildfire covers 68 square kilometres southwest of Penticton, with most of the recent growth due to planned ignitions needed to create the control lines.
An update from the wildfire service says newly created control lines are “holding well.”
It says a key objective is to continue mop-up work along Highway 3A in an effort to reopen the route connecting Keremeos and the evacuated community of Olalla with towns further north.
Crews are keeping a close eye on weather conditions as a storm approaches from Washington state, bringing showers later this week and possible lightning strikes on Wednesday.
The wildfire service has recorded 564 blazes since the season began, 58 of them in the last seven days, and lists the fire danger rating as high to extreme on Vancouver Island, the entire B.C. coast and across the southern quarter of the province.
Of the eight wildfires of note currently burning in the Kamloops and Southeast fire centres, only the blaze near Penticton continues to keep residents out of their homes.
None of the other seven have grown significantly in recent days and the wildfire service website says the roughly three-square-kilometre fire in grasslands northwest of Kamloops is now listed as “being held,” allowing crews to finish building control lines.
Wildfires of note are either highly visible or pose a threat to people or properties.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 9, 2022.
The Canadian Press
Warrant issued for man in Amber Alert, Saskatchewan children believed to be in U.S.
REGINA — Saskatchewan RCMP say an arrest warrant has been issued for a convicted sex offender at the centre of an Amber Alert for two children.
Police say seven-year-old Luna Potts and eight-year-old Hunter Potts, along with their mother, are believed to be in South Dakota with 50-year-old Benjamin Martin Moore.
“We are very concerned about the well-being of those children,” RCMP Chief Supt. Tyler Bates said Tuesday.
“We feel they are in danger.”
Bates said Moore has a history of sexual offences against children and was previously convicted of sexual interference with a minor.
Moore now faces a charge of failing to report information within seven days of changing his address, which is required for convicted sex offenders.
RCMP said Moore was being investigated by social services when he left with the children and their mother.
Officers went last week to their home in Eastend, southwest of Regina, to question Moore but found it abandoned.
Police issued the Amber Alert on Monday evening for the girl and boy. Bates said RCMP enacted the alert after social services received an apprehension order for the children.
Bates did not say why police believe Moore crossed the border into the United States, but said RCMP were looking to extend the Amber Alert into South Dakota.
Moore is described as being five feet 10 inches tall and weighing 200 pounds with black hair.
Police also said Moore, the children and their mother may be travelling in a 2015 dark blue Chevrolet Equinox with the Alberta licence plate CGC 2492.
Police have received a slew of tips in the case.
Bates said officers have also been contacted by a person who is believed to be a victim and encouraged any others to come forward.
Court records show Moore was convicted in 2009 for sexual interference of a minor. He was sentenced in Regina provincial court to two years and two months in prison.
Records also say he served another three months in jail in 2011 after he was convicted of breaching a recognizance order.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 9, 2022.
Mickey Djuric, The Canadian Press
Senegalese diplomat arrested by Quebec police owed former landlord more than $45,000
MONTREAL — The detention and alleged beating of a Senegalese diplomat by Quebec police last week occurred while a bailiff was attempting to seize property at her residence in connection with a court judgment against her.
Quebec’s rental board in June ordered Oumou Kalsoum Sall to pay a former landlord more than $45,000 for damage to a furnished home she occupied from Nov. 1, 2018, to Oct. 31, 2020. The tribunal found that she caused flooding that led to structural damage and that her use of the property forced its owner, Michel Lemay, to replace most of his furniture.
“The pictures speak for themselves,” Anne A. Laverdure, an administrative judge, wrote in her ruling. “The furniture is full of cockroaches. Pieces of furniture are scratched and scuffed. Some are missing. Everything is dirty.”
Laverdure awarded Lemay almost $13,500 for structural damage to the home and $23,000 to replace furniture. The administrative judge awarded Lemay another several thousand dollars for other damages.
Court records show that the debt was not paid and that a bailiff went to Kalsoum Sall’s residence in Gatineau, Que., across the river from Ottawa, on Aug. 2 to seize property in connection with the debt.
Kalsoum Sall is a first counsellor at the embassy of the Republic of Senegal in Ottawa, according to a federal government database of foreign delegations. The Senegalese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has claimed that the diplomat had to be hospitalized after being handcuffed and beaten by police.
Quebec’s independent police watchdog said Monday it opened an investigation into the incident. Gatineau police have said that they were called to the residence to assist a bailiff and that they arrested a woman with diplomatic status after she allegedly hit a police officer in the face, adding that she was tackled to the ground after allegedly biting another officer.
Global Affairs Canada has described the incident as “unacceptable,” adding that the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations — which Canada has signed — gives diplomats immunity from any form of detention or arrest.
Gilles Rivard, a former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations and to Haiti, said that while he doesn’t know exactly what happened during the Aug. 2 incident, some diplomats can be aggressive because they believe there will be no consequences for their actions.
“They can be aggressive because they know that they have immunity, so they believe that they can do whatever they want,” he said in an interview Tuesday.
While police are not officially supposed to arrest a diplomat, Rivard said, it’s possible a police officer might handcuff an individual while they wait to confirm the person’s diplomatic status.
“But if after that, that person shows that she is a diplomat, or he is a diplomat, normally they have to be released,” he said.
In 2001, a Russian diplomat struck and killed a woman while driving in Ottawa. The Canadian government asked Russia to waive the diplomat’s immunity so he could be charged in Canada, but Russia refused, Rivard said, adding that Canada’s only option in that case was to expel the diplomat.
Rivard said he doesn’t think the Aug. 2 incident is serious enough to damage Canada’s very good relationship with Senegal.
The Senegalese Embassy in Ottawa did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment Tuesday afternoon. A call to the embassy was not answered.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 9, 2022.
Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press
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