“Circuit breaker,” “wave breaker,” “fire-break” — the terms vary, but the concept is similar: a relatively short COVID-19 lockdown with a set end date as opposed to an extended lockdown until cases drop past a certain point.
It’s a strategy several European countries have implemented or are preparing to, as numerous regions battle a rise in cases.
Wales is in the middle of a two-week fire-break, and has had businesses and schools closed since October 23, with a plan to reopen on November 9. Northern Ireland introduced increased restrictions on October 16, to be in place for four weeks. Germany introduced a partial shutdown Monday, and England is set to enter a four week lockdown on Thursday, which will be followed by a tiered system of restrictions.
But how do these smaller lockdowns differ from the measures seen at the start of the pandemic, and is it something Canada should consider?
WHAT IS IT?
According to Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist at the University of Toronto, the idea has been around longer than terms like “circuit breaker,” which have popped up over the last few weeks.
He told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview that the general idea is “breaking the chain of transmission.”
Since the virus is transmitted directly from person to person, and those with the virus are generally thought to remain infectious for 14 days, theoretically, if no one in the country left their home for two weeks, transmission would simply stop, he said.
Of course, this thought experiment doesn’t capture the reality, he added. Even with tightened restrictions, people will still be moving about, and many will still have to work at essential jobs. The goal of a shorter circuit breaker lockdown is not an eradication of transmission, but a pause to hopefully allow cases to drop.
“You would continue to have new cases during that time because of prior exposure,” Furness said, adding that infections would also spread within households during the start of the lockdown, creating, potentially, a small boom of cases before the numbers began to drop off.
“It almost looks like a short-term rise and then a fall.”
HOW LONG IS A CIRCUIT BREAKER LOCKDOWN?
According to Furness, even a short lockdown would have to be longer than two weeks, which is the generally accepted stretch of time needed to self-isolate. Some people will contract COVID-19 from their household members maybe one or two days into a lockdown, he explained, so if the circuit breaker only lasted 14 days, those people could still be infectious at the end.
A lockdown of at least 18 days would be needed to drop cases down effectively, Furness said, adding that he would recommend 20 days for a short lockdown.
“That would bring us down from a 1,000 a day to maybe […] two, 300 a day. That might be achievable,” he said. “But you really need clear messaging for everyone that just said, this is it, we all have to row. We all have to do our bit.”
DOES IT WORK?
It depends on the metric of success — a strict lockdown of 20 days would not wipe out COVID-19.
“It won’t actually be an eradication or a real reset the way I think people imagine it,” Furness said.
But even a shorter lockdown would ease the pressure on contact tracers and allow them to catch up.
“It’s not just the number of cases that overwhelms contact tracers. It’s the fact that cases now have dozens and dozens of contacts instead of one or two or three,” Furness said. “If everyone’s in their house for two weeks and then someone gets sick, the contact tracing is very simple.”
It could allow countries to “regain control” of the situation, he said, including Canada, if it implemented such a strategy.
“We do not have control. We’re not using testing strategically, our resources are overwhelmed. Our hospitals are going to start to fill up,” he said. “We’re not in control.”
In Quebec, which has been the epicentre of the pandemic in Canada, deaths and hospitalizations are not rising at the same rate as cases. According to the most recent data, 13 people were admitted to hospital in the last day, for a total of 539. They added 1,029 new cases on Wednesday.
A short lockdown is easier to sell to the public and wouldn’t hit businesses as hard, Furness added, but it requires discipline and clear communication from public officials, something he pointed out has been lacking in some regions.
“Our ability to convey clearly to people — certainly in Ontario — what’s expected and what’s needed, has been really poor,” he said. “So there’s a real hypothetical there to have effective communication to get the compliance for this to even work at all.”
Although short lockdowns have allowed some regions to regain their footing in the battle against COVID-19, some have changed their end dates as the time to cease the lockdown approached. Scotland planned a two-week circuit breaker, but extended the restrictions for a further week, then announced they would be transitioning into a five-level system of restrictions depending on different regions of Scotland.
The move led many to suggest circuit breaker lockdowns do not work, or that two weeks is insufficient.
Announcing a temporary lockdown with strict restrictions and a planned end date could backfire if the government extended restrictions after advertising it as temporary, Furness said.
If people are’t compliant with the lockdown — through poor communication from government officials for what is expected of them, or insufficient help from the government to allow people to stay home for 20 days — and cases don’t really drop, “you’ve lost the public,” Furness explained.
“You’re gambling with a snap […] circuit breaker, you’re gambling that you can actually do it effectively, because if you can’t, you’ll really have people’s wrath.”
IS A LOCKDOWN INEVITABLE?
However, Furness said he’d be surprised if Canada’s hot spot regions were not seeing lockdowns again by January — not because lockdowns are the only way to handle rising cases, but because he believes we’ve failed at the other way to control a pandemic: aggressive testing.
“If you look at different countries’ approaches, there’s two ways that you can interrupt a pandemic or a big outbreak,” he said. “One is through lockdowns and the other one is through testing.
“In other words, we could test our way out of this.”
But as the second wave has hit Canada, testing rates have not gone up — in fact, the opposite has occurred in Ontario, one of the hardest hit provinces. Only 25,279 tests were performed on Monday, around half of what the province is capable of processing, while 1,050 new cases of COVID-19 were recorded.
Furness said that we have not been using testing proactively in a way that would help to control the virus. If testing had been deployed to test those at risk when lockdown restrictions were easing, we would have a better picture of where transmission is occurring.
Because it’s not just that case numbers are increasing. The percentage of new cases with no known epidemiological source — meaning it’s unknown how and where the person contracted the virus — is growing. According to data tracked by Public Health Ontario, cases with no known source now regularly make up more than a third of new daily cases.
“When we opened schools, it should have come with a plan to test teachers every week,” Furness said. “When we opened bars and restaurants, it should’ve come with a plan to test waiters and bartenders every single week. In other words, you can do these risky measures if you’re actually on top of it and grabbing cases.
“We’re not deploying testing at all now in the second wave in any way to try and slow transmission. That is a horrible mistake. And we’re going to have to lock down because of it. But we’re choosing that, we’re choosing to hurdle toward the need for a lockdown.”
If it does come to more lockdowns in Canada to control the areas where cases are currently rising, Furness believes those lockdowns will need to be severe, no matter how long they are. In March and April, he pointed out, stores that sold “anything remotely edible,” were able to remain open. At the next lockdown, this may not be the case.
“I think pretty much everything locked down except grocery stores, drug stores and arguably liquor stores, and obviously hospitals and public safety services,” he said. “We’re really going to have to clamp down on that. Really, no cake shops, no bakeries, no convenience stores.”
Canada weighs tighter rules for grow-your-own pot producers – CTV News
Canada on Monday launched a public consultation seeking to tighten rules for individuals who are allowed to grow their own medical cannabis, in an effort to clamp down on pot seeping into black markets.
In a draft guidance issued for the consultation, Health Canada highlighted recent police raids and arrests at production sites where people were using licenses to “cover and support large-scale illegal production and sale.”
The move comes as Canada tries to fix its ailing pot market, where illegal producers sell more annually than hundreds of licensed cultivators, even over two years after the country became the first major nation to legalize weed in 2018.
Households spent more than $3.1 billion buying non-medical pot from illicit channels last year versus $2.9 billion of legal purchases, according to Statistics Canada data.
“Abuse of the medical purposes framework undermines the integrity of the system that many patients and health care practitioners rely on to access cannabis to address their medical needs,” Health Canada said in the draft document.
Reuters first reported the news earlier on Monday.
The draft guidance for the first time sets out factors that the regulator may consider in refusing or revoking a registration for “personal production.” Factors include authorization of unjustified amounts and “criminal activity and/or diversion of cannabis.”
In January, Ontario Provincial Police seized over 180,000 cannabis plants and numerous vehicles and firearms by raiding illegal cultivation facilities, many of which exploit Health Canada’s personal medical weed cultivation licenses.
Under the rules, people using cannabis for medical purposes must get a daily amount authorized by medical care practitioners – doctors, nurses and social workers – to either be bought from official retailers or grown personally.
Health Canada said in December it was seeing a surge in the amount of pot personal cultivators were being authorized to grow.
The number of patients registered for purchase from federally licensed retailers was 377,024 in September last year, a 24% increase from June. Meanwhile, registrations for personal cultivation grew 29% over the period to 43,211.
Even though personal cultivators remain a small fraction of overall patient registrations, these people are allowed to grow as much as 36 grams per day on average, compared with just two grams authorized for daily purchase from retailers.
As part of its public consultation, Health Canada said it was inviting Canadians to share their views on the factors that should be considered in “refusal or revocation of a registration on public health and public safety ground.”
The consultation will run for 60 days through May 7, the regulator said.
After the end of the two-month period, the regulator plans to finalize the guidance and make it public.
Canada sees 3,069 new coronavirus cases as total infections top 890K – Global News
Canada added 3,069 new cases of the novel coronavirus on Monday, pushing the total number of infections in the country to 890,703.
Health officials also said another 31 people have died after contracting COVID-19, meaning to date, the virus has claimed 22,276 lives in Canada.
However, since the disease was first detected, 838,095 people have recovered after falling ill.
In a series of tweets on Monday, Canada’ top doctor Theresa Tam said Canada continues to “make progress with overall declines in severe illness and deaths.”
“But the decline in case counts has slowed and #VariantsOfConcern are increasing so we need to remain vigilant,” she wrote.
According to Health Canada, as of March 7, a total of 2,039 cases of the variants of concern had been reported across Canada.
Ontario is seeing ‘significant increase’ in number of coronavirus variants
“We’ve got what it takes to keep these variants down — public health measures + individual precautions — and as #COVID19vaccines continue to roll out, our future keeps looking brighter,” Tam wrote.
“Let’s hold on together to not give these variants an inch.”
So far, more than 2.5 million COVID-19 vaccines have been administered across Canada, meaning approximately 3.26 per cent of the country’s population has now been inoculated.
While Canada’s vaccine rollout has been slow, the federal government has repeatedly stated that all Canadians who want a COVID-19 vaccine will have access to one by the end of September.
New cases, deaths
In Ontario, 1,631 new cases and 10 new deaths were reported, while Quebec added 579 new infections and nine more fatalities.
Meanwhile, health officials in Saskatchewan said 97 more people have contracted the illness and one more person has died.
In Manitoba, 63 more people have tested positive for COVID-19, while also reporting one additional death.
Coronavirus: Manitoba’s top doctor says positive tests being screened for variants
In Atlantic Canada 10 more people have tested positive for COVID-19.
Five new infections were reported in New Brunswick, while health authorities in Newfoundland and Labrador said three more people have fallen ill.
Prince Edward Island officials said two new cases were detected in the province.
None of the Maritime provinces or Newfoundland and Labrador reported any more fatalities on Monday.
In western Canada, hundreds of new cases were detected.
British Columbia added 385 new infections and four new fatalities, while health officials in Alberta said 304 more people have fallen ill. Six more deaths have occurred since Saturday in Alberta as well.
No new cases or deaths were reported in any of Canada’s northern territories.
Global cases top 117 million
The total number of COVID-19 cases around the world topped 117 million on Monday.
According to the latest tally from Johns Hopkins University, a total of 117,055,507 people have been infected with the virus globally.
The United States has reported the highest number of cases at 29,030,476. The country has also seen the most fatalities associated with COVID-19, with 525,541 to date.
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
U.S. issues advice to those fully vaccinated, but no shift in Canada yet – CTV News
New U.S. guidelines say people fully inoculated against COVID-19 can drop some precautions when gathering with others, but at least two provincial health ministers say existing public health advice holds for now.
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday that Americans who have waited two weeks since their second required shot can spend time with other immunized people indoors without masks or social distancing.
The same applies to gatherings by those at low-risk of severe disease, such as fully vaccinated grandparents visiting healthy grandchildren.
The U.S. guidelines recommend that fully vaccinated people continue to wear masks, avoid large gatherings and physically distance when in public.
British Columbia Health Minister Adrian Dix said Monday that physical distancing and other public health guidelines will be around for some time.
He said about 15 per cent of B.C.’s eligible residents are expected to be immunized by the end of the month, which is “nothing like herd immunity.”
“The future is bright, but we can’t live the future right now. We’ve got to live the now right now.”
Dix does expect visiting restrictions to be loosened in B.C.’s long-term care homes this month as about 90 per cent of residents and staff have been vaccinated.
University of Alberta infectious diseases specialist Dr. Lynora Saxinger said evidence on which the U.S. health agency based its advice is “very much in evolution” and such recommendations might not work everywhere.
Virus variants with the potential to break through vaccine protection are also a “wild card,” she said.
But Saxinger said the principles underlying the U.S. guidance make sense, especially since the initial vaccine rollout has targeted older individuals, many of whom have been kept away from their grandchildren for almost a year.
“They’re basically taking a balance-of-probabilities approach to say that if you’ve received vaccine, you should be highly protected against severe disease. Therefore this should be hopefully OK.”
Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said her province is still recommending people take precautions with gatherings and will take its cues from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization.
Ontario reported 1,631 new cases in its latest update, but said the higher-than-expected count was due to a system “data catch-up.” The seven-day average for new cases was at 1,155.
There were also 10 more deaths linked to the novel coronavirus.
Ontario lifted stay-at-home orders in Toronto, Peel Region and North Bay on Monday — the last three regions subject to the government’s strictest measures introduced two months ago.
Alberta also loosened some rules for banquet halls, community halls, conference centres, hotels, retail shops, performances and post-secondary sports, as hospitalizations stayed well below the provincial target of 450.
Health Minister Tyler Shandro said he believes it is safe enough to immediately ease more restrictions
The province reported 278 new cases of COVID-19 and six additional deaths. Six cases of the more contagious variant were also detected, bringing that total to 659. There were 254 people in hospital.
And residents in five regions of Quebec, including the capital, were again able to eat in restaurants and work out in gyms.
Restrictions remain in place in the Montreal area due to fear that variant cases will cause a spike in infections and hospitalizations.
Quebec reported 579 new cases in its update. New daily infections had been above 700 for the five previous days. The province also recorded nine more deaths.
All of New Brunswick shifted to a lower pandemic response level Monday. That means a circle of 15 regular contacts can socialize, up from 10. The Atlantic province had five new cases and 36 active ones.
Saxinger said a “judicious and slow” reopening is the safest approach.
She noted that many countries have seen their case counts come down, but the proportion of more contagious variants is higher, planting the seeds for a spike.
“We know that it’s possible that the variants can be responsible for another surge, that a variant surge is harder to contain and you need longer and more stringent restrictions to contain them.”
Also Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Thursday will be a “national day of observance” to commemorate the 22,000 people in Canada who have died from COVID-19 and to acknowledge all the ways the virus has changed our lives in the last year.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 8, 2021
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