What’s the latest?
With Ontario now under an “emergency brake” shutdown to stem the spread of COVID-19, some medical professionals say it will be especially challenging for those already struggling with mental health.
Ottawa reported another 240 COVID-19 cases on Saturday, the highest single-day tally in the nation’s capital since the start of the pandemic.
Western Quebec, meanwhile, confirmed another 131 cases.
Health Canada has issued a nationwide recall for disposable masks containing graphene, as the particles could pose dangers to the lungs.
A University of Ottawa virologist suggesting that people may have to get vaccinated annually against COVID-19, as the virus continues to mutate.
Residents of one street in Ottawa’s Westboro neighbourhood have been celebrating front-line workers each day for the past year.
How many cases are there?
As of Saturday, 17.825 Ottawa residents have tested positive for COVID-19. There are 1,516 known active cases, 15,842 resolved cases and 467 deaths.
Public health officials have reported more than 32,400 COVID-19 cases across eastern Ontario and western Quebec, including more than 28,800 resolved cases.
Elsewhere in eastern Ontario, 147 people have died. In western Quebec, the death toll is 174.
Akwesasne has had more than 270 residents test positive on the Canadian side of the border and seven deaths. It’s had more than 550 cases when its southern section is added.
What can I do?
Those sorts of factors explain why Ontario is now in a provincewide shutdown, with rules that are similar but not identical to rules that were in place in grey-lockdown zones.
Gyms and personal care services must close, while restaurants are only available for takeout.
Non-essential businesses are able to open at 25 per cent capacity.
Indoor gatherings are not allowed, except for people who live together and the usual exception for those who live alone.
Outdoor gatherings can have a maximum of five distanced people.
Religious services, weddings and funerals are capped at 15 per cent capacity indoors and as many people as can be physically distanced outdoors. Social gatherings like receptions fall under the rules for indoor and outdoor gatherings.
Schools won’t be immediately affected, although some boards have told families to be ready in case they have to close classrooms again and return to full remote learning.
The new rules may replace some or all of those local rules.
Schools, gyms, theatres, personal care services and non-essential businesses are closed until Monday, April 12 at 5 a.m. in Gatineau and in the MRC des Collines-de-l’Outaouais, which almost entirely surrounds the city.
Private gatherings are banned, except for a person who lives alone to see one other household.
Distanced outdoor exercise is allowed in groups up to eight people. Places of worship can have a maximum of 25 people.
The curfew now starts at 8 p.m.
The rest of the Outaouais is moving to red-zone rules, which closes restaurant dining rooms but keeps schools, gyms, theatres, personal care services and non-essential businesses open with restrictions.
Weddings and funerals can have a maximum of 25 people, while other religious services can go up to 250 distanced people.
The start of the curfew in this area remains at 9:30 p.m.
People across the Ottawa-Gatineau area are asked to only have close contact with people they live with, be masked and distanced for all other in-person contact and only leave their immediate area for essential reasons.
Distancing and isolating
This means it is important to take precautions now and in the future like staying home while sick — and getting help with costs if needed — as well as keeping hands and surfaces clean and maintaining distance from anyone you don’t live with, even with a mask on.
OPH says residents should wear masks outside their homes whenever possible.
ICYMI: Warmer weather is on its way! ☀️<br><br>The COVID-19 drive-thru assessment centre at City Hall/National Arts Centre will be closed as of Monday, April 5.<br>We will continue to serve the community at the drive-thru Assessment Centre on Coventry Road as of Wednesday, April 7. <a href=”https://t.co/DZOAwWnUto”>pic.twitter.com/DZOAwWnUto</a>
Health Canada recommends older adults and people with underlying medical conditions and/or weakened immune systems stay home as much as possible and get help with errands.
Four COVID-19 vaccines have been approved in Canada.
Canada’s task force said first doses offer such strong protection that people can wait up to four months to get a second.
About 312,000 doses have been given out in the Ottawa-Gatineau region since mid-December, including about 130,000 doses to Ottawa residents and about 45,000 in western Quebec.
Ontario’s first doses of Phase 1 generally went to care home residents and health-care workers.
As of the Easter long weekend, all health units in eastern Ontario except Renfrew County are vaccinating people 70 and older.
People can book appointments online or over the phone.
Phase 3, slated to begin in July, will involve vaccinating anyone older than 16.
Quebec also started by vaccinating people in care homes and health-care workers.
Officials expect everyone over the age of 65 to be vaccinated by mid-April and everyone who wants a shot to be able to get one by by Fête nationale on June 24.
Symptoms and testing
COVID-19 can range from a cold-like illness to a severe lung infection, with common symptoms including fever, a cough, vomiting and loss of taste or smell. Children tend to have an upset stomach and/or a rash.
If you have severe symptoms, call 911.
In eastern Ontario:
Anyone seeking a test should book an appointment.
New! Ray Friel arena is open on Easter Sunday for COVID-19 testing. Appointments are still available. For this Sunday only, please call 1-877-232-8828 to book an appointment at Ray Friel and select ‘option 2’. <br>Visit our website for more locations.<a href=”https://t.co/hWmOhBA5C3″>https://t.co/hWmOhBA5C3</a>
People without symptoms but who are part of the province’s targeted testing strategy can make an appointment at select pharmacies.
Travellers who need a test have very few local options to pay for one.
Check with your area’s health unit for clinic locations and hours. Some are offering pop-up or mobile clinics.
In western Quebec:
Tests are strongly recommended for people with symptoms and their contacts.
There are recurring clinics by appointment in communities such as Maniwaki and Petite-Nation.
Call 1-877-644-4545 with questions, including if walk-in testing is available nearby.
First Nations, Inuit and Métis:
Anyone returning to the community on the Canadian side of the international border who’s been farther than 160 kilometres away — or visited Montreal — for non-essential reasons is asked to self-isolate for 14 days.
Inuit in Ottawa can call the Akausivik Inuit Family Health Team at 613-740-0999 for service, including testing and vaccines, in Inuktitut or English on weekdays.
For more information
CANADA STOCKS – TSX falls 0.14% to 19,201.28
* The Toronto Stock Exchange’s TSX falls 0.14 percent to 19,201.28
* Leading the index were Stantec Inc <STN.TO>, up 3.4%, Imperial Oil Ltd, up 3.3%, and Corus Entertainment Inc, higher by 2.9%.
* Lagging shares were Aphria Inc, down 14.2%, Village Farms International Inc, down 9.9%, and Aurora Cannabis Inc, lower by 9.4%.
* On the TSX 91 issues rose and 134 fell as a 0.7-to-1 ratio favored decliners. There were 24 new highs and no new lows, with total volume of 228.0 million shares.
* The most heavily traded shares by volume were Toronto-dominion Bank, Royal Bank Of Canada and Suncor Energy Inc.
* The TSX’s energy group fell 0.32 points, or 0.3%, while the financials sector climbed 2.46 points, or 0.7%.
* West Texas Intermediate crude futures rose 0.52%, or $0.31, to $59.63 a barrel. Brent crude rose 0.4%, or $0.25, to $63.2 [O/R]
* The TSX is up 10.1% for the year.
Air Canada signs C$5.9 billion government aid package, agrees to buy Airbus, Boeing jets
By David Ljunggren and Allison Lampert
OTTAWA/MONTREAL (Reuters) -Air Canada, struggling with a collapse in traffic due to the COVID-19 pandemic, reached a deal on Monday on a long-awaited aid package with the federal government that would allow it to access up to C$5.9 billion ($4.69 billion) in funds.
The agreement – the largest individual coronavirus-related loan that Ottawa has arranged with a company – was announced after the airline industry criticized Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government for dawdling. The United States and France acted much more quickly to help major carriers.
Canada‘s largest carrier, which last year cut over half its workforce, or 20,000 jobs, and other airlines have been negotiating with the government for months on a coronavirus aid package.
In February, Air Canada reported a net loss for 2020 of C$4.65 billion, compared with a 2019 profit of C$1.48 billion.
As part of the deal, Air Canada agreed to ban share buybacks and dividends, cap annual compensation for senior executives at C$1 million a year and preserve jobs at the current level, which is 14,859.
It will also proceed with planned purchases of 33 Airbus SE 220 airliners and 40 Boeing Co 737 MAX airliners.
Chris Murray, managing director, equity research at ATB Capital Markets, said the deal took into account the “specific needs of Air Canada in the short and medium term without being overly onerous.”
He added: “It gives them some flexibility in drawing down additional liquidity as needed.”
Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said the government was still in negotiations with other airlines about possible aid.
Canada, the world’s second-largest nation by area, depends heavily on civil aviation to keep remote communities connected.
Opposition politicians fretted that further delays in announcing aid could result in permanent damage to the country.
Air Canada said it would resume services on nearly all of the routes it had suspended because of COVID-19.
‘SIGNIFICANT LAYER OF INSURANCE’
The deal removes a potential political challenge for the Liberals, who insiders say are set to trigger an election later this year.
The government has agreed to buy C$500 million worth of shares in the airline, at C$23.1793 each, or a 14.2% discount to Monday’s close, a roughly 6% stake.
“Maintaining a competitive airline sector and good jobs is crucially important,” Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland told reporters, adding the equity stake would allow taxpayers to benefit when the airline’s fortunes recovered.
The Canadian government previously approved similar loans for four other companies worth up to C$1.billion, including up to C$375 million to low-cost airline Sunwing Vacations Inc. The government has paid out C$73.47 billion under its wage subsidy program and C$46.11 billion in loans to hard-hit small businesses.
Michael Rousseau, Air Canada‘s president and chief executive officer, said the liquidity “provides a significant layer of insurance for Air Canada.”
Jerry Dias, head of the Unifor private-sector union, described the announcement as “a good deal for everybody.”
Unifor represents more than 16,000 members working in the air transportation sector.
But the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents roughly 10,000 Air Canada flight attendants, said the package protected the jobs of current workers rather than the 7,500 members of its union who had been let go by the carrier.
($1=1.2567 Canadian dollars)
(Reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa and Allison Lampert in Montreal; Additional reporting by Julie Gordon in Ottawa and Munsif Vengattil in Bengaluru; Editing by Dan Grebler and Peter Cooney)
U.K. advises limiting AstraZeneca in under-30s amid clot worry
British authorities recommended Wednesday that the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine not be given to adults under 30 where possible because of strengthening evidence that the shot may be linked to rare blood clots.
The recommendation came as regulators both in the United Kingdom and the European Union emphasized that the benefits of receiving the vaccine continue to outweigh the risks for most people — even though the European Medicines Agency said it had found a “possible link” between the shot and the rare clots. British authorities recommended that people under 30 be offered alternatives to AstraZeneca. But the EMA advised no such age restrictions, leaving it up to its member-countries to decide whether to limit its use.
Several countries have already imposed limits on who can receive the vaccine, and any restrictions are closely watched since the vaccine, which is cheaper and easier to store than many others, is critical to global immunization campaigns and is a pillar of the UN-backed program known as COVAX that aims to get vaccines to some of the world’s poorest countries.
“This is a course correction, there’s no question about that,” Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, said during a press briefing. “But it is, in a sense, in medicine quite normal for physicians to alter their preferences for how patients are treated over time.”
Van-Tam said the effect on Britain’s vaccination timetable — one of the speediest in the world — should be “zero or negligible,” assuming the National Health Service receives expected deliveries of other vaccines, including those produced by Pfizer and Moderna.
EU and U.K. regulators held simultaneous press conferences Wednesday afternoon to announce the results of investigations into reports of blood clots that sparked concern about the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
The EU agency described the clots as “very rare” side effects. Dr Sabine Straus, chair of EMA’s Safety Committee, said the best data is coming from Germany where there is one report of the rare clots for every 100,000 doses given, although she noted far fewer reports in the U.K. Still, that’s less than the clot risk that healthy women face from birth control pills, noted another expert, Dr. Peter Arlett.
The agency said most of the cases reported have occurred in women under 60 within two weeks of vaccination — but based on the currently available evidence, it was not able to identify specific risk factors. Experts reviewed several dozen cases that came mainly from Europe and the U.K., where around 25 million people have received the AstraZeneca vaccine.
“The reported cases of unusual blood clotting following vaccination with the AstraZeneca vaccine should be listed as possible side effects of the vaccine,” said Emer Cooke, the agency’s executive director. “The risk of mortality from COVID is much greater than the risk of mortality from these side effects.”
Arlett said there is no information suggesting an increased risk from the other major COVID-19 vaccines.
The EMA’s investigation focused on unusual types of blood clots that are occurring along with low blood platelets. One rare clot type appears in multiple blood vessels and the other in veins that drain blood from the brain.
While the benefits of the vaccine still outweigh the risks, that assessment is “more finely balanced” among younger people who are less likely to become seriously ill with COVID-19, the U.K’s Van-Tam said.
“We are not advising a stop to any vaccination for any individual in any age group,” said Wei Shen Lim, who chairs Britain’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization. “We are advising a preference for one vaccine over another vaccine for a particular age group, really out of the utmost caution rather than because we have any serious safety concerns.”
In March, more than a dozen countries, mostly in Europe, suspended their use of AstraZeneca over the blood clot issue. Most restarted — some with age restrictions — after the EMA said countries should continue using the potentially life-saving vaccine.
Britain, which relies heavily on AstraZeneca, however, continued to use it.
The suspensions were seen as particularly damaging for AstraZeneca because they came after repeated missteps in how the company reported data on the vaccine’s effectiveness and concerns over how well its shot worked in older people. That has led to frequently changing advice in some countries on who can take the vaccine, raising worries that AstraZeneca’s credibility could be permanently damaged, spurring more vaccine hesitancy and prolonging the pandemic.
Dr. Peter English, who formerly chaired the British Medical Association’s Public Health Medicine Committee, said the back-and-forth over the AstraZeneca vaccine globally could have serious consequences.
“We can’t afford not to use this vaccine if we are going to end the pandemic,” he said.
In some countries, authorities have already noted hesitance toward the AstraZeneca shot.
“People come and they are reluctant to take the AstraZeneca vaccine, they ask us if we also use anything else,” said Florentina Nastase, a doctor and co-ordinator at a vaccination centre in Bucharest, Romania. “There were cases in which people (scheduled for the AstraZeneca) didn’t show up, there were cases when people came to the centre and saw that we use only AstraZeneca and refused (to be inoculated).”
Meanwhile, the governor of Italy’s northern Veneto region had said earlier Wednesday that any decision to change the guidance on AstraZeneca would cause major disruptions to immunizations — at a time when Europe is already struggling to ramp them up — and could create more confusion about the shot.
“If they do like Germany, and allow Astra Zeneca only to people over 65, that would be absurd. Before it was only for people under 55. Put yourself in the place of citizens, it is hard to understand anything,” Luca Zaia told reporters.
The latest suspension of AstraZeneca came in Spain’s Castilla y Leon region, where health chief Veronica Casado said Wednesday that “the principle of prudence” drove her to put a temporary hold on the vaccine that she still backed as being both effective and necessary.
French health authorities had said they, too, were awaiting EMA’s conclusions, as were some officials in Asia.
On Wednesday, South Korea said it would temporarily suspend the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine in people 60 and younger. In that age group, the country is only currently vaccinating health workers and people in long-term care settings.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said it would also pause a vaccine rollout to school nurses and teachers that was to begin on Thursday, while awaiting the outcome of the EMA’s review.
But some experts urged perspective. Prof Anthony Harnden, the deputy chair of Britain’s vaccination committee, said that the program has saved at least 6,000 lives in the first three months and will help pave the way back to normal life.
“What is clear it that for the vast majority of people the benefits of the Oxford AZ vaccine far outweigh any extremely small risk,” he said. “And the Oxford AZ vaccine will continue to save many from suffering the devastating effects that can result from a COVID infection.”