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WHO expert's advice for Canada: don't just flatten the curve, curtail it – CTV News

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TORONTO —
The Canadian doctor at the forefront of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) fight against the novel coronavirus says Canada is taking the appropriate steps to flatten the curve, noting that the biggest challenge lies in the speed of finding new cases and isolating them.

“The danger that Canada faces, like any other country, are the cases you have in the country right now and how those are managed,” WHO official Dr. Bruce Aylward told CTV News Channel via Skype from Geneva Sunday.

“It’s going to need to be more then flattening the curve—it’s flatten and curtail, or cut that curve as much as possible.”

The Canadian doctor has become the WHO’s leading expert on COVID-19. During the height of the outbreak in Wuhan, China, the epicentre of the virus, Aylward led an international team on a fact-finding mission in the region.

As the outbreak spread across the world, Aylward studied the unprecedented response from global governments as they tried to “flatten the curve.”

“Canada has been doing all the right things,” Aylward said.

“It’s been working very hard to attack this on two fronts. The first is making sure the treatments and capacities are in place to take care of sick Canadians. But, as importantly, trying to find those cases rapidly and trying to isolate, because that’s what slows down the virus.”

Aylward says the best course of action in fighting this disease, so far, has proven to be a good defence and offence.

In a previous interview with CTV’s W5, he noted that China was able to stop the disease from spreading further by enacting “draconian” steps: self-isolation, mass quarantine and physical distancing measures.

He says both federal and provincial officials are taking the right steps to ensure the safety of Canadians, encouraging physical distancing measures and even shutting down provincial borders.

Our biggest challenge, he says, will be diagnosing and isolating mild cases of the disease to stop its rapid transmission.

“The only areas that have successfully managed to keep the numbers down have really been east Asia… China, Korea, Singapore. In all of these places what they did was make sure that they effectively isolated everybody with the disease, whether it was mild or serious disease, because they’re both going to spread the virus,” he said.

“You’ve got to do is take the heat out of this thing and that’s how they did it.”

Aylward says because the virus spreads so rapidly, the steps countries take to flatten the curve need to be equally as aggressive — something he admits is hard for the public to understand.

“Your real goal at this point is preventing your health services from being overwhelmed so you can take care of the seriously sick and save as many lives as possible,” he noted.

As of Sunday morning, more than 5,600 people in Canada have been infected with the virus and 61 have died.​

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Should everyone be tested for COVID-19? Most Canadians think so, poll shows – CTV News

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TORONTO —
Experts say widespread testing for COVID-19 is one of the most effective defences against a second wave of infections, a measure most Canadians support according to a recent poll.

More than three in five Canadians say they are in favour of testing every Canadian for the novel coronavirus, according to a Nanos Research poll commissioned by CTV News.

The random survey of 1,009 Canadians, which took place between May 26 and 28, revealed that 28 per cent of respondents support and 33 per cent somewhat support widespread testing measures, while more than one in three opposed the idea.

Polling data shows that residents of Atlantic Canada and Ontario have a higher intensity of support for universal testing than residents in Western Canada.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, provinces are working to expand their testing criteria to include people with very mild or even abnormal COVID-19 symptoms, an effort Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam says will help spot possible community cases that would otherwise go undetected.

Officials are also working to roll out the country’s first antibody test as rapidly as possible to help determine how much of the population may have been infected.

But some provinces, including Ontario and Quebec, have routinely fallen behind their diagnostic targets. The criteria for who can get tested also ranges widely between each province.

Nanos polling also shows that Canadians are more likely to say they are confident that there will be a vaccine available to fight COVID-19 within the next 12 months. However, four in ten respondents are not confident in that timeline.

Tam has noted that officials are working to understand how administering an eventual vaccine would be prioritized to certain segments of the population while considering “the maximum number of Canadians who may wish to be vaccinated.”

 

MOST CANADIANS HAPPY WITH PROVINCIAL RESPONSE

According to the poll, more than three in five Canadians are confident that their public health authorities have an accurate count of the number of COVID-19 cases in their province.

However, Ontario residents were less confident in the province’s data, with the majority of respondents doubting the official case count.

Ontario, one of the hardest hit provinces, has had several instances of reporting errors since the beginning of the outbreak.

On Thursday, the province recorded a spike in the number of deaths due to COVID-19 after days of relatively lower numbers. However, officials said the increase may have been due to a lag in reporting from local public health units. This comes just days after officials revealed nearly 500 COVID-19 patients were not flagged to local public health agencies for contact tracing due to a reporting error.

When it comes to the economic ramifications of the outbreak, nearly eight in ten Canadians say the opening up of the economy in their province is being done in a safe (33 per cent) or somewhat safe (46 per cent) way.

Residents in B.C. and Atlantic Canada were the most confident in the safety measures being taken to reopen the economy.

However, when asked which approach Canada should take to opening its border with the U.S., 40 per cent of Canadians say Canada should keep the border closed to non-essential traffic until the end of the summer. Thirty-one per cent say Canada should keep the border closed until there is a vaccine.

Twenty per cent of Canadians say the border should open to non-essential traffic once businesses are allowed to open, even if social distancing is still in place, with residents of the Prairies the most likely to be in favour of reopening.

 

METHODOLOGY

Nanos conducted an RDD dual frame (land- and cell-lines) hybrid telephone and online random survey of 1,009 Canadians, 18 years of age or older, between May 26 and April 28, 2020. Participants were randomly recruited by telephone using live agents and administered a survey online.

The margin of error this survey is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

The research was commissioned by CTV News and was conducted by Nanos Research. 

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Canadians living in China watch developments in Meng case closely – CTV News

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Canadian teacher Christopher Maclure remembers the first time he felt afraid living in China.

Almost all the newspapers there carried stories about how angry Chinese officials were when Huawei’s chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou was detained by Canadian authorities in Vancouver at the behest of the United States.

But it wasn’t until a few days later when the two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, were arrested by China that Maclure felt fear.

“That’s when I got really scared,” he said in a phone interview from China where he has lived for more than two decades. “It was the top news story in China.”

Meng has been held in Canada since December 2018. She’s out on bail while fighting extradition to the United States on fraud charges. Last week, her lawyers’ first round of arguments was thrown out by a B.C. judge, meaning the case continues.

Nine days after Meng’s arrest, Chinese authorities sent Kovrig, an ex-diplomat working for the International Crisis Group, and Spavor, an entrepreneur who did business in North Korea, to prison. They are accused of violating China’s national security interests, but Canadian argues the men have been “arbitrarily detained.”

Maclure said his family was quite worried while these events played out and their fears were renewed when the B.C. court ruled against Meng last week.

But Maclure said he has felt safer in China than in any country in the West, he said.

“Everything is on camera here. It provides me with a sense of security,” he said. “And I speak Chinese quite well.”

Maclure said he censors what he says on WeChat, a Chinese social media site.

“Being a teacher … I’m sometimes a little paranoid that I’d be a person to detain,” he said. “We have a saying in China that when it’s all the same the tallest tree gets the most wind. It means the more you express your opinion, the more critical you are, the more likely you are to get cut down.”

Myriam Larouche, a Quebec woman who is a graduate student in China, said she’s not worried about being affected by the Meng case. Larouche is in Canada now, but she plans to return to China once flights resume and school starts.

Larouche said she had “some concerns” when she heard the two Canadians were arrested, but “I asked some friends and they said ‘No, no you don’t have to be worried.’ “

Global Affairs Canada said there are currently 12,885 Canadian citizens in China who have voluntarily registered with the department.

Ottawa is “aware” of 118 Canadians currently in custody in greater China with the most common charges being drug-related and fraud.

A court in southern China handed down a death penalty to a Canadian in April of last year on drug charges. In a separate drug smuggling case, China sentenced Canadian Robert Lloyd Schellenberg to death in a sudden retrial in January — one month after Kovrig and Spavor were detained.

Wayne Duplessis had been living in China for more than two decades prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and said he hopes to go back.

He remembers reading about the arrests of Meng, Kovrig and Spavor.

“A friend contacted me a couple of days after (Kovrig and Spavor were arrested) and said, ‘are you concerned?’ I guess there was a brief moment when I thought ‘should I be concerned?’ “

But that passed, Duplessis said.

He said he and his family have been treated well in China and people there have a lot of respect for Canada.

“By and large I never feel uncomfortable about this. It seems very much unrelated to us.”

Duplessis said he feels badly for Spavor and Kovrig.

“I can’t imagine what it would be like to be in custody for more than 500 days — even one day. Terrifying,” he said

Canadians living in China can stay in touch with the embassy and cultivate “good working relationships locally,” he said.

“I hope this is a blip and I hope that things get cleared.”

But people can’t be ruled by their fears, he added.

“We have to move forward or we just don’t get anywhere. So, you try to be as cautious as you can, you try to understand the risks — there’s no sense in being foolish about it — but we do have to move forward.

“We do have to build our lives.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 4, 2020.

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Strains from Europe and Eastern Canada account for most COVID-19 cases in B.C., genomic data shows – CBC.ca

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Strains traced to Europe and Eastern Canada are by far the largest source of COVID-19 infections in B.C., according to new modelling presented by the provincial government Thursday.

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry revealed the results of genomic tracing of different strains of the virus, showing that of those samples that have been sequenced, early cases linked to travel from China and Iran appear to have been well contained, leading to relatively few other infections.

But beginning in March, with an outbreak that began with the Pacific Dental Conference in Vancouver, infections with strains from Eastern Canada and Europe spiked dramatically.

“One of the people that we knew was positive and had attended that conference had previously been in Germany during his incubation period before he became ill,” Henry said.

Strains traced to Washington state have also been linked to a large number of cases, particularly in long-term care homes in the Vancouver Coastal Health region.

Henry explained that this kind of tracing is possible because the genome of the virus changes relatively quickly, but not as fast as diseases like influenza.

Genomic tracing of different strains of the novel coronavirus show most infections are linked to variations that have been traced to Europe and Eastern Canada. (B.C. government)

She also announced nine new confirmed cases of the virus on Thursday, for a total of 2,632 to date. No new deaths have been recorded, leaving B.C.’s total at 166.

The new cases announced Thursday include four people who have already recovered, people that Henry described as epidemiologically linked to previous patients who have tested positive.

This means these four people were close contacts of known cases and developed symptoms of COVID-19, but may not have had access to testing at the time.

There are currently 26 people in hospital, including six in intensive care. To date, 2,265 people have recovered from their illnesses, and there are now 201 active cases across the province.

Meanwhile, there has been a new community outbreak at the Beresford Warming Centre in Burnaby, where three people have tested positive for the virus.

Richmond has lowest caseload in Lower Mainland

For the first time, Henry also provided more detailed geographic data about COVID-19 cases in B.C., breaking them down by the 16 health service delivery areas.

The numbers show that in the Lower Mainland, Richmond has had the lowest percentage of cases, with just 444 per million residents, compared to 832 in Vancouver, 911 on the North Shore, and 1,241 cases per million in the area from Abbotsford to Hope in Fraser Health.

The numbers also show that Richmond had no new COVID-19 cases in the last two weeks of May, the only part of the Lower Mainland where that was the case. 

As well, 83 per cent of B.C.’s new cases in the last two weeks of May were in just two health delivery areas — Fraser East and Fraser South.  

In the rest of the province, the only sub-region with a significantly higher percentage of COVID-19 cases was north Vancouver Island (comprising areas north of Qualicum Beach), with 483 cases per million residents compared to 92 cases in central Vancouver Island and 112 cases in south Vancouver Island. 

Men account for more deaths and hospitalizations

The figures presented by Henry also show a trend that has been noted in most other parts of the world. 

While slightly more women and girls have tested positive for COVID-19 in B.C., men and boys have been much more likely to have serious cases of the disease.

About two-thirds of COVID-19 patients who have been hospitalized were male — a proportion similar to those in intensive care and those who have died.

Data from the B.C. government shows that male patients are much more likely to be hospitalized or to die because of COVID-19. (B.C. government)

“We’ve talked about the biological reasons why this might be, but we do not have all the answers yet,” Henry said.

Meanwhile, people over the age of 70 are much more likely to die from the virus, even though people between the ages of 30 and 60 account for the majority of infections.

Other data presented Thursday suggest that since businesses and services began reopening on May 19, British Columbians have managed to keep their social contacts to between 30 and 40 per cent of what they were before the pandemic.

“That’s what we want to see,” Henry said.

She also said that modelling suggests that the partial reopening of schools that began on June 1 should have minimal impact on the spread of the virus, as long as adults maintain social distancing and those who are ill commit to self-isolating.

B.C. is now testing between 1,500 and 2,000 people for COVID-19 every day, and the percentage of those tests coming back positive has fallen in recent weeks. Anyone with symptoms can now get tested, and Henry said the province has the capacity to ramp up the testing rate if necessary.

If the curve of infection remains relatively flat, Henry said, she is hopeful that travel within B.C. will be safe by late June or early July.

If you have a COVID-19-related story we should pursue that affects British Columbians, please email us at impact@cbc.ca.

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