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What Canadians need to know about COVID-19 before gathering over the holidays – CBC.ca

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This is an excerpt from Second Opinion, a weekly roundup of health and medical science news emailed to subscribers every Saturday morning. If you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do that by clicking here.


Canadians considering gathering with loved ones over the holidays this year need to come to terms with some harsh realities. 

The country faces a perfect storm: record rates of COVID-19 amid a growing sense of pandemic fatigue at a time when we typically travel to see loved ones and spend time together indoors.

But COVID-19 is insidious, an unwanted guest that can slip in unnoticed and wreak havoc despite our best efforts to control it. 

“We have to ask ourselves honestly, must we socialize? And the answer is probably no,” said Raywat Deonandan, a global health epidemiologist and associate professor at the University of Ottawa.

“There is no way to eliminate risk except not to do it in the first place.”

But we’ve learned a lot more about how COVID-19 spreads since it first emerged at the beginning of this year, which can help inform us on where we’re most at risk. 

Confusion over holiday guidelines

There’s understandably a lot of confusion about what sorts of holiday gathering might be reasonable to consider this year, especially since depending on where you live in this country the rules and recommendations differ.  

The official advice from Canada’s chief public health officer is to avoid large gatherings, non-essential travel and to keep things as small as possible within your household. 

Certain provinces, like Ontario, recommend skipping extended family gatherings altogether and taking precautions like self-isolating for 10 to 14 days for those travelling home from away, including colleges and universities.

While others, like Quebec, have put a lot of faith in their population by allowing gatherings of up to 10 people for four days over the holidays after a seven day period of self-imposed quarantine.

But Deonandan says we can’t necessarily rely on people to completely self-isolate on their own — that requires not leaving home for groceries, essential items or even to walk the dog. 

WATCH | Dr. Theresa Tam advises no large gatherings or non-essential travel

Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, says it’s clear that Christmas this year is not going to be like other years. She recommends against any gatherings but has some advice if people choose to forgo the public health guidelines. 0:48

“You’re also going to have outliers who have infectious periods longer than two weeks,” he said.

“If enough people do this, you’re going to get a sufficient number of people who do not fall under that umbrella who are indeed infectious and who start outbreaks.” 

Silent spread a ‘key driver’ of outbreaks

While we weigh whether it’s even possible to gather safely with friends and family in a pandemic, it’s important to keep in mind the unseen dangers we could be inviting in — even in parts of the country that have low rates of COVID-19.

“The problem with this virus is that it’s like many other viruses,” said Dr. Allison McGeer, a medical microbiologist and infectious disease specialist at Toronto’s Mount Sinai hospital who worked on the front lines of the SARS epidemic in 2003. “You shed virus before you get sick and some people who get infected don’t develop symptoms.” 

“That’s why what has worked is everybody wearing masks and everybody maintaining social distance, because you can’t tell who the next infected person is going to be.”

McGeer says viruses like influenza, chickenpox and measles typically present symptoms in the body before people are infectious — but the virus behind COVID-19 is different. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released updated scientific guidance this week that acknowledged asymptomatic or presymptomatic individuals account for more than half of all COVID-19 transmissions. 

“Silent transmission is one of the key drivers of outbreaks,” said Seyed Moghadas, a professor of applied mathematics and computational epidemiology at Toronto’s York University. 

“There is an incorrect notion in the general population that if someone feels fine then they are not infected. A person can certainly be infected, infectious, and feel completely fine.” 

Seyed Moghadas at York University says because of high rates of asymptomatic COVID-19 infections, silent transmission is one of the ‘key drivers’ of outbreaks. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Moghadas, the lead author of a study published in the journal PNAS on the silent spread of COVID-19 that was cited in the CDC guidelines, says this underscores how difficult the virus is to control, a challenge “magnified” in close quarters.

In Nova Scotia, which has successfully contained the spread of COVID-19 throughout the pandemic despite the bursting of the Atlantic bubble this week, catching those silent spreaders before they unknowingly infect others is key. 

Dr. Lisa Barrett, an infectious disease specialist at Dalhousie University, has partnered with public health authorities in a pilot project to use rapid COVID-19 tests on people without symptoms in high-traffic areas of Halifax. 

It’s only been a few days, but what they’ve found was surprising. 

On the first day they tested 147 people and found one asymptomatic case, the second day they tested 604 more and found another one, and on the third day they did 804 tests and found five more. 

“We recognized that there are a lot of people out there, even if they’re doing the right thing, that don’t know they’re infected, don’t know they’re infectious and could be spreading to other people,” said Barrett.

“When there’s community spread of a virus that has a long period of time when you can be infectious without symptoms, you have to test broadly in the community or you have no idea what’s going on.” 

‘A negative test is not a license to socialize’

One novel approach to avoid meeting with loved ones while unknowingly infectious that has emerged is to get a COVID-19 test beforehand to pre-emptively detect it. 

But the timing of that test is incredibly important and there’s a lot of room for error, so it may be a less effective strategy than it first appears.

A new study in the journal Science looked at 1,178 people infected with COVID-19 and more than 15,000 of their close contacts to determine when people were most infectious. 

It found most of the transition — 87 per cent — happened in a fairly wide window of time, up to five days before or after symptoms appeared, while 53 per cent was in the pre-symptomatic phase.

“It’s possible to be early in the disease cycle such that you won’t detect any viral presence. But in two days suddenly you’re infectious and now we’re screwed,” said Deonandan, at the University of Ottawa.

“So a negative test is not a license to socialize.”

Still, Deonandan says there will be people who are going to socialize anyway, so it’s better they do so with precautions in place like testing and self-isolating than nothing — even if those precautions aren’t perfect.

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or the winter solstice, Canadians are being told to consider meeting virtually, avoid risky indoor gatherings without masks and instead find ways to connect while still physical distancing.

“I think the pitch to people is that yes, we’re used to having time off school and we’re used to seeing everybody,” said McGeer. “But this is the year to delay.” 

WATCH | Tam on the holiday season and how the pandemic won’t go on forever

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam talks to The National’s Andrew Chang about the holiday season and getting to the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. 6:31

“The best advice this year is maybe not to go too far from home,” said Barrett. “Is it worth it to lose control of the virus?”

“We’re hanging on by a thread here. Please don’t let that thread break.” 


To read the entire Second Opinion newsletter every Saturday morning, subscribe by clicking here.

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Canada Post employee dies after contracting COVID-19 amid major outbreak at Mississauga facility – CTV Toronto

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TORONTO —
A Canada Post employee infected with COVID-19 during an outbreak that has impacted 224 workers at a Mississauga, Ont., facility died over the weekend, the union representing workers said.

Canadian Union of Postal Workers Toronto local president Qaiser Maroof told CP24 the employee at the Gateway East plant died on Monday.

He said the man worked nights on “Shift 1” at the Gateway East plant.

He was tested on Jan. 19 and isolated at home after his test.

Between the start of January and today, 224 workers at the facility have tested positive for coronavirus infection.

The spread at the 4,500-worker facility got so bad this month that 100 Canada Border Services Agency guards assigned to inspect packages at the facility were instructed to stay away.

More than 350 workers – an entire shift of workers in one area of the facility – were sent home to self-isolate last week as Peel Public Health sought to slow the spread of infection in the facility.

Maroof said the deceased employee was not part of the shift sent home to self-isolate, and sought out testing on his own.

He did not show symptoms prior to his test and was upset that he was not offered a test as a proactive measure, Maroof recalled.

“It is an unnecessary loss of life and our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends,” Maroof said in a statement. “This tragedy underscores why we have been insisting to the government that the postal workers are indeed frontline workers.”

Employees told CP24 news of death was shared informally with some workers on Tuesday.

Chief Medical Officer of Health for Peel Region Dr. Lawrence Loh would not comment on the death when asked Wednesday.

He said that rapid tests were used to detect cases at Gateway East.

Maroof said he did not know whether the man was hospitalized prior to his death or where in the GTA he passed away.

The man’s wife also works for Canada Post, at a Toronto facility on Eastern Avenue.

Canada Post did not comment on the death when asked Wednesday, only saying that the outbreak was impacting parcel processing speeds at the facility.

Correction:

A previous headline said the employee died of COVID-19. While the worker had tested positive for the disease, it has not yet been confirmed if it was the cause of death.

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Could zero-waste shopping be the solution to Canada’s plastic packaging issue? – Global News

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When you walk into The Tare Shop, you’ll notice one thing that sets it apart from other stores: no plastic bags or containers in sight.

When Kate Pepler opened her flagship store in Halifax’s north end three years ago, it was hailed as Nova Scotia’s first completely package-free bulk store.

“After announcing the business in Jan. 2018, I was flooded with messages from folks from all over Nova Scotia saying how excited they were to finally be able to shop at a package-free place,” Pepler tells Global News.

“You bring in your own containers and we encourage folks to reuse what they have.”

Read more:
Love Your Local: The Tare Shop

It’s a business model that has seen so much success, the 27-year-old entrepreneur just opened up her second location on Portland St. in downtown Dartmouth.

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The Tare Shop owner Kate Pepler in her newly-opened second package-free bulk store located in downtown Dartmouth.


thetareshop.com

“It’s really encouraging to see. It definitely feels like this way of shopping is catching on and is growing,” says Pepler.

She says she’s seen more customers — particularly new customers — during the coronavirus pandemic: an increase of about 30 to 40 per cent each month.

It’s a surge in new customers that doesn’t come as a surprise to Sylvain Charlebois, a Dalhousie University professor who studies Canadian food trends and habits.

“We do waste a lot of food and our lifestyles have changed since the start of COVID,” he says.


Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Soaring reliance on single-use plastics stalls zero-waste movement'



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Coronavirus: Soaring reliance on single-use plastics stalls zero-waste movement


Coronavirus: Soaring reliance on single-use plastics stalls zero-waste movement – May 24, 2020

“There are reports that suggest that we are wasting more than ever, especially when it comes to packaging, so I’m not surprised that more and more people are conscious about this issue and they’re willing to do something about it.”

Story continues below advertisement

And just how much work Canadians are willing to put in to their shopping trips to help the environment could depend on where they live, according to Charlebois.

“We conducted a study last year about food waste awareness or packaging waste awareness, and awareness levels on both coasts in Canada were higher than say, in the prairies, Ontario or Quebec. That’s probably because we can actually see the problem, they see things on the beach, they see things in parks. So I’m not surprised to see this movement actually getting some traction in our region,” he says.

Read more:
London’s first zero-waste grocery store could open by year’s end: Reimagine Co.

But, he says, while it may be a solution for some, he doesn’t believe a package-free shopping model will solve Canada’s food waste issue, as plastics have become a “safety net” for consumers.

“I do think that there is a good market for shops like that, but not for the masses. Everything that you have to do to visit these shops require more time. It’s a lot of work. The key is to save the planet, with convenient solutions for consumers,” Charlebois says.

He says during the pandemic, people simply aren’t focused on sustainability issues as public health takes centre stage. That said, Charlebois expects the focus to shift back to environmental issues soon.

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“We need to change behaviours as quickly as possible because right now, parks and oceans don’t care about the pandemic. The problem is still there,” Charlebois says.

Read more:
Toronto’s newest packaging-free market opens in east end

That is what motivates Pepler, who says she is happy to cater to those who are willing to put in the work today.

“It definitely can get very frustrating walking into a grocery store and not being given an option for a lower-waste or a plastic-free option. We can make these small changes in our lives, but we have to go one step further and push those big businesses and manufacturers and producers to take responsibility for their packaging and offer more sustainable solutions that are also economical,” she says.

“It’s been really great to be able to still provide folks with a safe way to shop a lower waste lifestyle, because, we are in a time of crisis, not just COVID-19, but the climate change and the plastic problem. We need to act, and we need to act now.”

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

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

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The latest:

Answering growing frustration over vaccine shortages, President Joe Biden announced that the U.S. is ramping up deliveries to hard-pressed states over the next three weeks and expects to provide enough doses to vaccinate 300 million Americans by the end of the summer or early fall.

Biden, calling the push a “wartime effort,” said Tuesday the administration was working to buy an additional 100 million doses of each of the two approved coronavirus vaccines. He acknowledged that states in recent weeks have been left guessing how much vaccine they will have from one week to the next.

Shortages have been so severe that some vaccination sites around the U.S. had to cancel tens of thousands of appointments with people seeking their first shot.

“This is unacceptable,” Biden said. “Lives are at stake.”

He promised a roughly 16 per cent boost in deliveries to states over the next three weeks.

The administration said it plans to buy another 100 million doses each from drugmakers Pfizer and Moderna to ensure it has enough vaccine for the long term. Even more vaccine could be available if federal scientists approve a single-dose shot from Johnson & Johnson, which is expected to seek emergency authorization in the coming weeks.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the government plans to make about 10.1 million first and second doses available next week, up from this week’s allotment of 8.6 million. The figures represent doses of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. It was not immediately clear how long the surge of doses could be sustained.

Governors and top health officials have been increasingly raising the alarm about inadequate supplies and the need for earlier and more reliable estimates of how much vaccine is on the way so that they can plan.

Biden’s team held its first virus-related call with the nation’s governors on Tuesday and pledged to provide states with firm vaccine allocations three weeks ahead of delivery.

Biden’s announcement came a day after he grew more bullish about exceeding his vaccine pledge to deliver 100 million injections in his first 100 days in office, suggesting that a rate of 1.5 million doses per day could soon be achieved.

The administration has also promised more openness and said it will hold news briefings three times a week, beginning Wednesday, about the outbreak that has killed over 420,000 Americans.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the CDC reported that just over half of the 44 million doses distributed to states have been put in people’s arms. That is well short of the hundreds of millions of doses that experts say will need to be administered to achieve herd immunity and conquer the outbreak.

The U.S. ranks fifth in the world in the number of doses administered relative to the country’s population, behind No. 1 Israel, United Arab Emirates, Britain and Bahrain, according to the University of Oxford.

The reason more of the available shots in the U.S. haven’t been dispensed isn’t entirely clear. But many vaccination sites are apparently holding large quantities of vaccine in reserve to make sure people who have already gotten their first shot receive the required second one on schedule.

Also, some state officials have complained of a lag between when they report their vaccination numbers to the government and when the figures are posted on the CDC website.

Emergency debate in Parliament on vaccines

Canada is facing its own struggles with vaccine rollout, as provinces call for more supply from Ottawa to meet demand.

No doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will arrive in Canada this week, and there will be a reduction in deliveries next week too as the company retools a production facility in Europe.

During an emergency debate Tuesday night, Procurement Minister Anita Anand told the House of Commons that Pfizer has assured her it will ramp up its deliveries once its plant is upgraded and will still meet its contractual obligation to supply Canada with four million doses by the end of March. Another two million doses are scheduled from Moderna by that time.

With those two vaccines alone, Anand said the country remains on track to meet the government’s goal of vaccinations for every willing Canadian by the end of September. If Health Canada authorizes any of the other five vaccine candidates for which the government has contracts, she said that schedule could be accelerated.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole criticized Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for suggesting earlier in the day that Canada is “in good shape” when it comes to the vaccine supply.

“He thinks we’re in good shape when Canadians will only receive eight per cent of the vaccines his government promised Canadians just last month,” O’Toole said. “If this is what the prime minister considers good shape … what does he consider terrible shape? Three per cent?”

The vaccine rollout across the 27-nation European Union has also run into roadblocks and has likewise been criticized as too slow. Pfizer is delaying deliveries while it upgrades its plant in Belgium to increase capacity. And AstraZeneca disclosed that its initial shipment will be smaller than expected.

The EU, with 450 million citizens, is demanding that the pharmaceutical companies meet their commitments on schedule.

-From The Associated Press, The Canadian Press and CBC News, last updated at 6:30 a.m. ET


What’s happening in Canada

As of 11:25 a.m. ET, Canada had reported 760,020 cases of COVID-19, with 58,303 cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 19,505.

Ontario reported 1,670 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and 49 additional deaths. According to a provincial site, hospitalizations stood at 1,382, with 377 patients in intensive care units.

Quebec, meanwhile, reported 1,328 new cases and 53 additional deaths. The province on Wednesday reported having 1,290 COVID-19 patients in hospital, with 221 people in intensive care units.

The province said Tuesday it plans to ease COVID-19 restrictions in some regions as of Feb. 8 if the situation in the province continues to improve. Premier François Legault said the average number of new cases in the province has declined in recent weeks — something he credits to government measures that include a nighttime curfew.

In Manitoba, Premier Brian Pallister said Tuesday that people coming into the province will have to self-isolate for 14 days, with some exemptions.

WATCH | Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister announces changes for travellers:

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister says Manitoba is worried about variants of COVID-19 which have been detected in B.C. and Alberta. Starting Friday, anyone entering Manitoba, including people coming from Western Canada, will have to self-isolate for 14 days. 29:00

Here’s a look at what’s happening across the country:

-From The Canadian Press and CBC News, last updated at 11:25 a.m. ET


What’s happening around the world

As of early Wednesday morning, more than 100 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, with more than 55.4 million of those considered recovered or resolved, according to Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than 2.1 million.

In the Asia-Pacific region, China has given more than 22 million coronavirus vaccine shots to date as it carries out a drive ahead of next month’s Lunar New Year holiday, health authorities said Wednesday. The effort, which began six weeks ago, targets key groups such as medical and transport workers and has accelerated vaccinations in China. About 1.6 million doses had been given over several months before the campaign began.

“The carrying out of vaccination has been ongoing in a steady and orderly manner,” Zeng Yixin, vice chairman of the National Health Commission, said at a news conference.

He said that 22.76 million doses had been administered as of Tuesday. It’s not clear how many people that represents since the vaccine is given in two doses, and some may have received their second shot.

China, which largely stopped the spread of the virus last spring, has seen fresh outbreaks this winter in four northern provinces. About 1,800 new cases have been reported since mid-December, including two deaths. Authorities are strongly discouraging people from travelling during the Lunar New Year holiday, a time when Chinese traditionally return to their hometowns for family gatherings.

Health workers in protective gear spray disinfectant in a blocked off area in Shanghai’s Huangpu district on Wednesday after residents were evacuated following the detection of a few cases of COVID-19 in the neighbourhood. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

South Korea has reported 559 new cases of the coronavirus, its highest daily increase in 10 days, as health workers scrambled to slow transmissions at religious facilities, which have been a major source of infections throughout the pandemic. The figures released by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency on Wednesday brought the national caseload to 76,429, including 1,378 deaths.

Nearly 300 of the new cases came from the Seoul metropolitan area, home to half of the country’s 51 million people, where infections have been tied to various places, including churches, restaurants, schools and offices.

Bangladesh started vaccinations against coronavirus in the nation’s capital, with the hope of administering more than 30 million doses over next few months.

In Europe, health authorities in Spain said they are running short of COVID-19 vaccines due to delays in deliveries by pharmaceutical companies. Northeast Catalonia, home to Barcelona, said 10,000 people who had received the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine won’t be able to get their required second dose administered as planned 21 days later.

Regional authorities for the territory surrounding the capital of Madrid also said they were halting the administration of the first shot of the Pfizer vaccine to ensure that those awaiting a second shot could get it as scheduled.

Spain has administered 95 per cent of the 1.3 million vaccines it has received as part of the EU plan, according to its health ministry.

Meanwhile, the daily number of new coronavirus infections in France remained over 20,000 on average for the fourth straight day on Tuesday, while hospitalizations reached an eight-week high of 27,041.

A couple wearing face masks walk along a promenade in Barcelona on Wednesday. With more than 2.6 million infections and more than 56,000 deaths for COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, Spain ranks among the worst-hit countries by the coronavirus in Europe. (Emilio Morenatti/The Associated Press)

Portugal’s government was urged to transfer COVID-19 patients abroad as deaths hit a record high and the oxygen supply system of a large hospital near Lisbon partly failed from overuse.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, said on Wednesday that the global COVID-19 pandemic could drag on unless millions of people receive protection from the virus. He made the comments while speaking at a virtual meeting of the World Economic Forum.

In the Americas, Mexico’s Deputy Health Minister Hugo Lopez-Gatell said emergency use of Russia’s Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine should be authorized within days.

WATCH | Brazil struggles to keep up with rising COVID-19 infections:

Brazil has the world’s second-highest COVID death toll, and the health care system cannot keep up with new infections. Doctors on the ground say they’re exhausted and desperate for more equipment. 2:28

In Africa, South Africa has approved AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use and is reviewing applications by rival manufacturers, Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer, the medicines regulator said on Wednesday.

In the Middle East, Bahrain said it’s discovered a mutated strain of the coronavirus on the island kingdom and will send students to home for remote schooling for the next three weeks. The island in the Persian Gulf off Saudi Arabia also said it would stop dining-in service at restaurants and cafes during that time period. The restrictions are set to begin Sunday.

Iran urged the new U.S. president this week to lift sanctions that it said were hampering Tehran’s fight against the pandemic, and approved the import and production of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine.

-From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 10:50 a.m. ET

Have a question or something to say about the pandemic? CBC News is live in the comments now or you can send your coronavirus questions to COVID@cbc.ca

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