After more than a year of avoiding crowds, scrubbing our hands and wearing masks, infectious disease specialists say that the COVID-19 pandemic – as we know it – is coming to a close for Canadians.
“I think we’re actually there already,” said Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti, an infectious disease specialist, when asked how soon Canadians can expect to return to their pre-COVID activities.
“I think that we can open up safely and get to our previous lives now.”
But that doesn’t mean the pandemic is actually over for everyone, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
“I think people will be surprised to find that in the last week, cases globally have gone up, not down,” Dr. Peter Singer, an advisor with the WHO, told Global News.
“This is far from over. Cases are increasing, and it’s not over till it’s over everywhere.”
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The Global end of COVID-19
Under international law, a pandemic is defined as a public health emergency of “international concern,” one that is an “extraordinary” event with the risk of international spread, “where international … coordination is needed” to address it, according to Singer.
That means that until the COVID-19 spread no longer meets that definition on a global scale, the pandemic isn’t technically over.
While Canada is setting its sights on back-to-normal, the disease continues to spread among nations that haven’t been able to secure enough vaccines. This poses a threat to us all, Singer said.
“In some parts of the world, the vaccination rates, even at one dose, are one per cent, two per cent, three per cent, five per cent,” Singer said.
“As long as that vaccine inequity or vaccine injustice holds, nobody is safe.”
The more opportunities the virus has to spread and to live untreated in someone’s body, the more possibility there is that COVID-19 could develop new mutations — and therefore, new variants.
Some of these could threaten COVID-19 vaccine progress around the world, Singer warned.
“To be safe is for this fire to be put out everywhere in the world, because otherwise, if it’s burning anywhere, it’s going to be casting off embers that are going to ignite flames everywhere,” he said.
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If the epidemiological situation around the world were similar to the one in Canada, international organizations would be much closer to declaring an end to the pandemic. There’s an emergency committee at the WHO that meets “regularly” to assess whether the criteria required to declare a pandemic are still being met in the case of COVID-19, Singer said.
Those criteria are based on the definition of a pandemic, which Singer described as:
- a public health emergency of “international concern”
- an “extraordinary” event with the risk of international spread
- an event “where international … coordination is needed” to address it.
“Those criteria are still met and the public health emergency is still in effect,” Singer said.
In order to change this assessment — and officially declare the end of the pandemic — Singer said countries will need to ramp up their generosity when it comes to sharing vaccines.
The WHO has set a global goal for vaccination efforts. By September, the organization is hoping to see at least 10 per cent of the population of every country vaccinated. By December, the goal is to hit 30 per cent around the world.
“The problem is supply and demand, and in the short term, the way to deal with the supply problem is for countries that have doses to donate vaccine doses. About a billion doses will be needed between now and the end of the year to reach at least the initial targets,” Singer said.
This is the only way to truly end the pandemic, according to Singer. It’s not as simple as saying it’s over. While there are boxes to check off, it’s unclear how it will be designated as finished globally.
“The national security of Canada depends on vaccination in every country in the world and on suppressing this pandemic in every country in the world, otherwise it will just be generating variants that could come back to bite us,” he said.
“And that’s even before you get to the arguments from ethics that every human life is of equal value.”
Is COVID-19 almost over in Canada?
COVID-19 is a “tale of two pandemics,” Singer said — and according to Canadian infectious disease specialists, Canada’s COVID-19 story is in its final chapter.
“If you’ve been fully vaccinated, your risk of severe outcomes is essentially eliminated and you can go back to doing things that you did before,” Chakrabarti said — though provincial restrictions still prevent Canadians from a full return to normal for the time being.
Recent discussions about COVID-19 in Canada have been framed in a way that taps into “people’s fears” that progress on COVID will be “taken away from us at the eleventh hour,” Chakrabarti said.
“I want to assure people that I think this is very unlikely, if not downright impossible.”
Chakrabarti isn’t alone in his optimism. Dr. Zain Chagla, who is also an infectious disease specialist, agreed that Canadians are “just at the cusp” of being able to get back to their normal lives.
“We’re coming soon to that point. Most of us can get a second vaccine in the next two to three weeks and a couple of weeks later are fully immune,” Chagla said, adding that this could bring us back to “pre-pandemic” conditions.
“There’s a little bit more time needed for some of our public expectations, in terms of masking and physical distancing, as part of our day-to-day lives. But that’s really rapidly starting to get smaller and smaller.”
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The specialists’ comments come amid enthusiastic vaccine uptake across the country. About 78 per cent of Canadians over the age of 12 have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam, and more than 44 per cent are fully vaccinated against the disease.
Canadians might not be aware of how good these vaccines actually are, according to Chakrabarti.
“We have really undersold what the vaccines can do. Even with variants, we still haven’t found a variant that will completely escape the effects of the vaccine, especially against the outcomes we worry about, which is hospitalization and death,” he said.
Clinical trial data from all four vaccines Canada has approved — Pfizer, Moderna, Janssen and AstraZeneca — showed that every single jab was extremely effective at preventing hospitalizations.
Every time Canadian provinces have locked down, it’s been because COVID-19’s spread was overwhelming hospitals — and spread needed to be slowed in order to avoid forcing medical professionals to make impossible decisions. But with vaccines reducing the power of COVID-19’s bite, catching the disease doesn’t mean what it once did, according to Chagla.
“The disease becomes fundamentally different in people that are fully vaccinated as compared to those who are unvaccinated,” he said.
“After vaccines, that link between cases and hospitalizations is not as strong.”
Living with COVID-19
Still, for Canadians, the highly successful vaccination rollout is setting a stage for a time when the country learns to live with COVID-19 — as we do with other diseases — as opposed to stopping in our tracks to prevent it.
This might take some time to get used to, according to Chakrabarti. “Shifting our perspective” will be an important part of going back to normal, he said.
“Looking at daily cases is not really productive anymore,” he said, noting the fact that an increase in cases won’t necessarily lead to an equivalent jump in hospitalizations anymore.
“I think this should be changed.”
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Chakrabarti added that a time will soon come when Canadians will have to enjoy parties, rather than wagging the finger at them.
“When we see groups of people doing things, even if it’s doing something that you may not be comfortable with, for example, an indoor party, we have to stop moralizing that,” he explained.
“If somebody has an indoor party at this point in time, it’s not something that’s going to set off a chain reaction that can then cause massive waves of infection and hospitalizations.”
Still, Chagla said there’s still a few weeks to go before Canadians can expect the only risk of a house party as being a noise complaint from the neighbours.
“There are populations that haven’t been reached by vaccines that can show themselves very quickly to strain health-care systems,” he said, pointing to the Waterloo region as an example — a region that saw a brief surge in cases driven by the Delta variant.
“It’s not catastrophic, but it is uncomfortable. So I think we’re just at the cusp.”
And once we cross that threshold — which Chagla said could happen around “mid-to-late August” — Canadians will have to start getting used to brushing shoulders with one another again.
Chakrabarti recommended Canadians ease into it if they feel nervous.
“I’m not telling you to go straight to a Tool concert indoors, but you might want to start with having other vaccinated people over at your house for dinner and just getting comfortable with that feeling,” he said.
“Having people there — you realize that you won’t even think about it, once you become comfortable. And then you can slowly grade back up.”
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
Fauci says prospect of open border for fully vaccinated Canadians part of active U.S. talks – CBC.ca
U.S. President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci says the prospect of opening the U.S. border to fully vaccinated Canadians is part of an “active discussion” in the White House.
“I can tell you that the border situation and letting Canadians in who are fully vaccinated is an area of active discussion right now in the U.S. government,” he told CBC News Network’s Power & Politics in an exclusive Canadian interview.
“As a public health official, sometimes it’s difficult to figure out why policies haven’t changed.”
Earlier this week, the U.S. government issued a renewal order keeping the borders with Canada and Mexico closed until August 21.
According to U.S. Homeland Security officials, the move is part of the government’s efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19 and the more contagious delta variant.
The delta variant has been wreaking havoc south of the border, where infections and hospitalizations are up in nearly all 50 states.
Fauci said the delta variant now accounts for 83 per cent of cases in the U.S. Those cases are concentrated in southern states, where vaccination rates are lower than the national average.
“In some of the southern states where the level of vaccination is very low and the level of the transmission of the virus is very high, we’re seeing a significant surge in cases,” Fauci said.
“This virus has an extraordinary capability of efficiently spreading from person to person.”
The White House has enlisted the help of celebrities and athletes to encourage Americans to get vaccinated, particularly in states led by Republican governors. In recent days, high-profile conservative figures such as Fox pundit Sean Hannity have encouraged Americans to get vaccinated.
Concerts, vaccines, bobbleheads, and even <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/ManCrushMonday?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#ManCrushMonday</a>: watch Olivia Rodrigo and Dr. Fauci read fan tweets. <a href=”https://t.co/NnwKwrkNWW”>pic.twitter.com/NnwKwrkNWW</a>
Fauci said the U.S. must increase its vaccination rate to end current outbreaks of COVID-19.
“We’re seeing some of them starting to come around, which is a really good thing, because we’ve got to realize and act on it, that the common enemy is the virus,” he told Power & Politics.
“The virus doesn’t have any idea who’s a Republican or a Democrat or an Independent.”
Permanent residents in limbo waiting to immigrate to Canada – CBC.ca
Aashray Kovi refreshes his email several times a day hoping for good news from Canadian immigration officials.
The 28-year-old computer programmer who lives in Bangalore, India, is one of about 23,000 aspiring immigrants with expired or soon-to-be expired documents waiting to enter Canada.
“It’s really depressing for all of us,” said Kovi, who plans to settle in Ottawa but can’t travel because his confirmation of permanent residency (COPR) document expired in early June, prior to travel restrictions being lifted.
Late last month, the federal government lifted some COVID-19 restrictions, allowing anyone with a valid COPR to enter Canada, but that didn’t help Kovi’s case.
Despite having started the immigration process in 2018, Kovi says he’s never struggled to get clear answers from the government until this point. He says he’s been emailing and calling for weeks, waiting for the documents to be reissued, but has had no luck getting an answer on when he can expect to arrive in Ottawa.
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“I know it is not simple, there is COVID, the only issue with all of this is a lack of communication,” said Kovi.
“If provided with better communication, I could wait till 2022, but this is putting my life in limbo.”
Sameer Masih, his wife and son are similarly stuck in a mostly empty apartment in New Delhi, seven months after they got their initial approvals and started selling their belongings.
“I am actually surviving on a bare minimum setup,” said Masih. He says the wait cost him a job at his employer’s Toronto office.
‘It’s hard for my family’
Sophie Ballesteros, from Barcelona, had a job lined up in Halifax and her husband, Carlos, quit his in January to ready himself for the move to Canada. The delay has been devastating for the couple, who started their immigration process in November 2019.
Carlos says he left his job because the permanent residency invitation told him to get his affairs in order, and he felt he had just a certain amount of time to immigrate or else he’d lose out on his dream of moving to Canada.
Their COPR documents also expired in June and there’s been no word yet on when they’ll be renewed.
The only communication they’ve received from the government was in March, when a generic email advised them that a previous communication of theirs had been received and that they would need to continue waiting.
“This is the first time in my life that I am unemployed,” said Carlos. “I don’t sleep at night.”
Sophie says she is struggling to immerse in her new digital marketing job in Canada while staying physically in Barcelona, and also trying to find a preschool for her four-year-old daughter.
“I have to work within the time zone of Canada and sometimes there are some clients that are from Vancouver,” she said. “It’s hard for my family.”
A spokesperson for Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino acknowledged that global migration has been a nuisance for many people and that officials are working to help permanent residency holders into the country.
“We know that these disruptions have had a significant impact on many people hoping to start a new life in Canada, and we thank them for their patience at this difficult moment,” Alexander Cohen said in a statement.
Immigration lawyer Kyle Hyndman, in Vancouver, estimates more than half of those holding expired COPR documents are skilled workers who were chosen “to contribute to the Canadian labour market.”
He says communication from the federal government has been messy. He says sending documents that would expire to incoming residents, with directions to get their affairs in order, created a sense of working against the clock.
“These people are kind of in a holding pattern … you do a bunch of things to get ready to move that are kind of hard to undo,” Hyndman said.
Cohen says the pandemic has significantly impacted immigration processing times, and that the government will be contacting individuals with expired papers in the “weeks and months to come.”
Canada permitted 184,000 immigrants last year — the fewest since 1998 — compared to 341,000 in 2019. The government is aiming to jump-start immigration with 400,000 new residents per year for the next three years.
India flights to Canada: When will they be allowed? – Canada Immigration News
Earlier this week Canada extended its ban on flights from India until at least August 21.
The extension of the ban comes amid Canada continuing to ease its coronavirus travel restrictions for the rest of the world.
Denying flights from India is extremely disruptive to both Indians and Canadians alike. India is one of Canada’s most important allies and by far the largest source of new immigrants and international students. Some 20 per cent of Canada’s new permanent residents come from India. Indians comprise 30 per cent of Canada’s new international students. In Canada’s 2016 Census, nearly 1.4 million respondents identified themselves as being of Indian heritage.
Hence, it goes without saying that the flight ban is currently a major challenge for Indians, Indian-Canadians, families, and the Canadian economy.
While health is the main reason Canada introduced the ban, the decision to lift it will likely be influenced by other factors as well.
When making its COVID-19 travel policies, the Canadian government looks at factors such as domestic case counts, the rate of vaccination, as well as case counts and vaccination rates in other countries. It also evaluates variants, their transmissibility, and whether existing vaccines are proven to protect against variants.
In a written statement to CIC News on July 22, the Canadian government explained “While progress is being made, the situation in India is still very serious. This extension of the travel ban is based on scientific evidence and has been put in place to protect Canadians from an increased introduction of the Delta variant, which is prevalent in India.”
While health is the main consideration, an argument can be made that the Canadian government is also influenced by other factors, namely the impact of restrictions on its economy. Canada has stated it will begin to welcome fully-vaccinated tourists from the United States beginning on August 9. This decision comes amid rising COVID cases in the U.S. and that country’s vaccination rate stagnating.
On the other hand, the U.S. has extended its ban on Canadian tourists driving across the border. This means that it was not political pressure from the U.S. that caused Canada to decide to welcome American tourists again, but rather a combination of health and economic considerations.
As mentioned, the rising case count in the U.S. is cause for concern and has resulted in some Canadian media commentators questioning the decision to lift restrictions on American tourists. Conversely, the decision is being celebrated by those with an economic interest at stake, namely the Canadian tourism industry. Prior to the pandemic Canada welcomed 15 million American tourists per year and tourism supported about 10 per cent of Canadian jobs. Given the pandemic has decimated the tourism industry, the Canadian government likely felt significant pressure to reopen its border to U.S. tourists even if there were compelling reasons to keep it closed.
This should give us reason to believe that non-health reasons will play a role in Canada’s decision on India flights.
The pressure will be on from Designated Learning Institutions (DLIs)
Canada does not have any strong special interest groups that lobby on behalf of immigrants. This explains why groups such as Confirmation of Permanent Residence (COPR) holders have faced significant challenges throughout the pandemic. Temporary foreign workers, however, are backed by the Canadian business community while Canadian designated learning institutions (DLIs) advocate on behalf of international students.
International students are a major source of revenue for Canada’s colleges and universities. DLIs played a crucial role in getting Canada to lift its travel restrictions on international students last October. Given that Indians are by far the number one source of new international students, DLIs will remain vocal as they seek to obtain concessions from the Canadian government by August 21, ahead of the start of the academic year when the fast majority of new study permit holders arrive to Canada.
There may also be political pressure
It appears likely that prime minister Justin Trudeau will call a new federal election in the coming months as he seeks to obtain a majority government.
The stakes for the India flight ban may be higher than usual going into the election given the significant influence of Indian-Canadians, who tend to live in the country’s most vote-rich cities. Courting their votes will be key to Trudeau’s electoral ambitions, and he may feel it is worthwhile lifting flight restrictions on India to further encourage them to vote for him.
© CIC News All Rights Reserved. Visit CanadaVisa.com to discover your Canadian immigration options.
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