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Why Canada avoided a severe winter COVID wave



Three years after the pandemic began, Canada has managed to avoid a severe COVID-19 wave this winter despite a total lack of public health restrictions, a busy indoor holiday season and a rapidly mutating virus that is still very much circulating in the population.

“We are now at a point in Canada where COVID-19 activity has reached a relatively stable state,” Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, said at a briefing on March 10.

“While uncertainty remains about the seasonal patterns of COVID-19, the current trend suggests we may not see any major waves in the coming months.”

And new research continues to back up why: Hybrid immunity from vaccination and prior infection is holding up against hospitalizations and deaths and will likely continue to help control the severity of COVID-19 in Canada and around the world for the foreseeable future.


“We’re certainly in a much better position now than we have been at any time during the pandemic,” World Health Organization director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a news conference on Friday.

“It’s very pleasing to see that for the first time, the weekly number of reported deaths in the past four weeks has been lower than when we first used the word pandemic three years ago.”

More than 76 per cent of Canadian adults and close to 90 per cent of young adults (aged 17 to 24) are estimated to have previously had the disease as of mid-January, according to national blood donor data released by the federal government’s COVID-19 Immunity Task Force.

High levels of infection — combined with the more than 80 per cent of Canadians who’ve received at least two doses of a COVID vaccine, better treatment access and less severe infections than previous strains — have led to stronger immune protection against a virus that continues to spread globally.

“The high levels of hybrid immunity are one of the major factors explaining the contained number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths this winter,” said Dr. Sara Carazo, an epidemiologist and researcher with the Quebec National Institute of Public Health.

“This is explained also by the intrinsic characteristics of new circulating variants, which were not causing a more severe disease than previous Omicron subvariants.”

But infection is not without risk — and vaccination is still the preferred route of acquiring immunity, due to the strong protection it provides against severe illness and the ongoing risk of COVID complications in vulnerable groups.

A woman with long black hear who is wearing a mask holds a syringe.
A health-care worker prepares a COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in the Vancouver Convention Centre in January 2022. A growing body of research has consistently shown that the hybrid protection from vaccination and infection is superior to immunity from prior infection alone. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Hybrid immunity offers strongest protection

A growing body of research has consistently shown that the hybrid protection from vaccination and infection is superior to immunity from prior infection alone — meaning those who have previously been infected should still get vaccinated.

“Vaccine-induced immunity is what got us to the point of even asking the question of whether hybrid immunity is what’s getting us out of the pandemic,” said John Wherry, director of the Institute for Immunology at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

“It doesn’t look like it’s really helping with transmission, but it almost certainly is adding to the overall population immunity in a way that’s making [new subvariants] a lot less concerning.”

A Canadian study of health-care workers in Quebec published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases in January found that two doses of an mRNA vaccine and a previous Omicron infection offered substantial protection against future infection from Omicron subvariants.

“Importantly, this protection seems to have little waning over time during one year followup, which contrasts with the loss of effectiveness with time among persons vaccinated but not previously infected,” said Carazo, the lead author of the study.

“We also observed that protection from hybrid immunity was maintained even for distant variants and subvariants compared with protection from infection alone.”

Health-care workers are shown in a hospital wearing masks.
Medical staff are shown at Jean-Talon Hospital in Montreal in October 2021. A recent Canadian study of health-care workers in Quebec found that two doses of an mRNA vaccine and a previous Omicron infection offered substantial protection against future infection from Omicron subvariants. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Carazo’s research also found that those with a previous infection had a 90 per cent risk reduction of BA.4/5 hospitalization when combined with vaccination, compared with only about 70 per cent if they were unvaccinated and had immunity from infection alone.

“It’s safe to say that the relative lack of severity of the waves that we’ve seen here is because of immunity — it’s hard to argue anything differently than that,” said Deepta Bhattacharya, an immunologist and professor at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

“And obviously, given what fraction of the population has had a prior infection, you would have to think that hybrid immunity is a big part of that.”

Vaccination ‘the safest way to get immunity’

A new study of 613 patients published this week in Science Translational Medicine found that people who had received a COVID-19 vaccine after an infection showed much stronger immune responses than those who were either only vaccinated or only infected.

“The level of protection expected from hybrid immunity is significantly higher than that afforded by vaccination only or infection only,” said Thierry DeFrance, a lead author of the study and an infectious diseases researcher at the University of Lyon in France.

And a recent systematic review of 65 studies from 19 countries in The Lancet found that a previous COVID-19 infection reduced the risk of hospitalization and death from a reinfection by up to 88 per cent for at least 10 months — equivalent to two doses of an mRNA vaccine.

“Clearly, the good news is sustained protection against severe disease,” said Dr. Christopher Murray, the lead author of the review and director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in Seattle.

“The less good news is that protection against infection is not as good and wanes much more quickly, meaning that there will be continued waves of transmission even though we have a very high level of immunity from either vaccination or infection.”

Three years in: What the pandemic changed and what comes next


Mar. 13, 2023 | Health-care experts tell us how COVID-19 changed their lives. Then, Kieran Oudshoorn explains a virus-detecting tool that went silent right before the pandemic hit. Also, what happens when the pandemic is declared over?

It’s also important to note that not all immunity carries the same risk, and an infection with Omicron or one of its subvariants is much different than an infection with previous variants, such as Alpha, Beta, Delta or even the original strain, prior to vaccines.

“The safest way to get immunity is through vaccination,” Murray said. “The risk you were taking was huge back in the days of Delta or even the ancestral strain, because the infection fatality rate was 10 times higher than Omicron.”

South Africa, a country that saw massive amounts of hospitalization and death following severe waves of infection early in the pandemic prior to the rollout of vaccines, is also now in a much different situation with COVID-19 due to high levels of immunity in the population.

“It has been over a year that we have had any large wave of infection that translates into hospitalization,” said Tulio de Oliveira, director of South Africa’s Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation.

“Is that long lasting? That’s the million-dollar question,” he said. “But what we know is that the current immunity wall is holding very well.”

Better access to antiviral treatments has helped

How well hybrid immunity continues to hold up in the population will determine how often additional booster doses should be offered, and it underscores the need to further protect elderly and immunocompromised Canadians who are less likely to have a prior infection.

Dr. Gaston De Serres, an epidemiologist at the Quebec National Institute of Public Health who researches hybrid immunity and co-authored the research with Dr. Sara Carazo, said the immunity landscape is drastically different in younger adults than elderly Canadians.

“Why it matters is because hospitalizations are, for the most part, occurring in elderly people,” he said.

“Having a large proportion of the younger population that has been infected helps. But the pool of individuals who are over 70 and who have not yet been infected is still quite substantial, and we may expect that future hospitalizations will, for the most part, occur in these individuals.”

De Serres said better access to antiviral treatments that can be given to older Canadians at the onset of a COVID-19 infection has helped reduce the number of hospitalizations, as well as the fact that Omicron and its subvariants appear less severe than previous strains.

“It’s not to say that Omicron or its subvariants are completely mild and not harmful — that’s not true,” he said, adding that 2022 “had more deaths than the two previous years of the pandemic.”

“Having said that, there has not been an overwhelming wave that flooded the hospital system last fall or now, and in that sense things are more under control.”

Wherry, at the University of Pennsylvania, said key goals for the future should be trying to improve on COVID-19 vaccine technology to recreate the protection that hybrid immunity provides in people who haven’t yet been vaccinated, such as children and those who are more vulnerable to severe illness.

“That still remains a major challenge, and hybrid immunity and vaccines are still not giving us a really durable benefit there,” he said.

“Immunity from severe disease may also wane. We haven’t been out long enough to really know. So I wouldn’t assume that we’re going to have five-year or 10-year immunity keeping us out of the hospital.”

The scientists tracking new COVID-19 variants — before it’s too late


The virus that causes COVID-19 continues to mutate amid reduced testing, adding to concerns that a new variant could explode before it’s detected and tracked. But Canadian labs are on the case.

The University of Arizona’s Bhattacharya said there could be some seasonal variation in terms of the severity of COVID infections — similar to the flu, where different strains emerge that are distinct from what the population had last acquired immunity to — that could drive future waves.

“But I still strongly believe that we’re not going to go back into the pre-vaccination era of early 2020,” he said. “I don’t think we’re going to see those dark days again.”


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They were turned away at the Canadian border. Now what? –



Toddlers ran through aisles filled with snacks and candies. Adults slumped in chairs. Multiple cellphones were plugged into a single wall socket. Backpacks and suitcases were scattered among the two rows of tables in a corner of this small-town bus stop and gas station. 

After they were turned away at the Canadian border and spent three days in detention, the roughly 15 asylum seekers at the Mountain Mart No. 109 in the town of Plattsburgh, N.Y., south of Montreal, on Tuesday afternoon were trying to figure out what to do. 

They had tried to get into the country at the popular unofficial crossing on Roxham Road in the hours after a new border deal between Canada and the U.S. came into effect late last week. 


Alan Rivas, a Peruvian man who was hoping to reunite with his girlfriend who’s been living in Montreal for two years, said he’d spent $4,000 on making it this far.

“I’m trying to think about what to do now.” 

A sense of solidarity emerged as people recognized each other from various parts of their time stuck on the border, along with a sense of resignation and deep disappointment.

“Disappointing and heartbreaking,” said a man from Central Africa, whom CBC agreed not to identify because he fears it could affect his asylum claim process in the United States.

A man waves at the camera, a Greyhound bus in the background.
Alan Rivas, who is from Peru, was trying to reunite with his partner in Montreal, but was hours too late attempting to cross into Canada at Roxham Road after strict new border rules came into effect at midnight Saturday. (Verity Stevenson/CBC)

He had shared a cab ride with a man from Chad, who fled to the U.S. after the government of his country led a violent crackdown on opponents last fall. 

“It’s unfair. We are not home and we suffer. We’re looking for a better life,” the man from Central Africa said.

The man from Chad looked up and said: “No, looking for protection is not having a better life. I had a life.”

The Chadian was not let into Canada despite his wife and child being Canadian citizens, he said. Having a family member with legal status in Canada is one of the few exemptions to the strict new rules that make it nearly impossible to claim asylum at the Canada-U.S. border. His wife and child fled to a nearby country after the crackdown in Chad, but he explained that his wife’s family is still in Canada.

Other exemptions include being an unaccompanied minor and having a work permit or other official document allowing a person to be in Canada. 

“They made me sign a paper without giving me time to read it. They didn’t explain anything,” said the man, whom CBC also agreed not to name because he fears for his family’s safety in an African country near Chad.

The Canada-U.S. deal was implemented swiftly before the weekend, leaving local governments and organizations little time to respond and turned-away asylum seekers struggling to find food, shelter and rides.

A man's hands over a brown Canadian government envelope. A tag with the number 18 on it and a plastic bracelet with numbers.
A man from Chad, who was detained at the Canada-U.S. border for three days, shows the number he was given while waiting to be released back into the United States. (Verity Stevenson/CBC)

The man from Central Africa was trying to round up enough money to pay for a $200 bus ticket to Houston, where he would stay with a friend. The man from Chad gave him the $40 he was missing.

The Central African said he had spent his savings on coming to Canada. His hope was to live here until obtaining residency, and then arranging for his family to come to meet him. 

“I know a guy in Houston who hasn’t seen his family in 10 years. He still doesn’t have status,” he said.

A young Haitian mother cradled her baby as her toddler made friends with another child. Her family had paid an acquaintance in New Jersey $300 per adult to get to Roxham Road before midnight Friday, but the driver got lost and they arrived at 12:03 a.m.

Steven, a 24-year-old Venezuelan who attempted to cross into Canada at Roxham early Saturday morning, mingled with the people he’d met in detention. Then he tried to call his mom.

A woman leans her head on a younger man. Both standing outside a gas station.
Carmen Salazar, left, and Steven met in detention at the Canadian border this week. (Verity Stevenson/CBC)

“She doesn’t know,” said Steven, who didn’t want his last name used in this story because of fears it could affect his U.S. asylum claim. “I know I seem happy but I am sad.”

Carmen Salazar, 45, also from Venezuela, watched him from another table.

“It’s hard, really hard,” she said.

The group of asylum seekers at the Mountain Mart had found comfort in finding each other. They all boarded a bus leaving Plattsburgh at 7:45 p.m. Tuesday. Its main destination was New York City. 

Others haven’t been so lucky finding a way out of Plattsburgh.

The night before, a woman who was seen at Roxham Road early Saturday, sat alone at the bus stop crying.

3 nights in a motel and no plan

Across the street, in a small motel, a 34-year-old Haitian man and his pregnant girlfriend had one night left out of three that had been paid for by local emergency housing services. But they had no plan and only $41 to their name.

“We’re here. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but we’re going to look for ways to be able to live. What I’m looking for — nothing more — is a place to rest and a place to work. Nothing else,” said the man, sitting in the lobby of the motel. CBC is not naming him because of fears it could affect his American asylum claim.

The couple had intended to stay in the U.S. after crossing the Mexican border, but the woman became pregnant and developed constant pains. In the U.S., they had to stay with separate family members far from each other and the man worried about his wife and being able to afford medical bills, so they decided to try to get to Canada, having heard it was easier to find work and that health-care was more affordable, he said.

Steven, 24, and his 21-year-old friend, both from Venezuela, wait for the bus to New York City at the Mountain Mart bus stop and gas station Plattsburgh, NY on Tuesday.
Steven, 24, and his 21-year-old friend, both from Venezuela, wait for a bus to New York City at the Mountain Mart bus stop and gas station Plattsburgh on Tuesday. (Verity Stevenson/CBC)

In an interview with Radio-Canada Monday, a man from another Central African country struggled to hold back tears.

He said the confusion after being taken in at Roxham Road by RCMP officers was hurtful because it wasn’t clear if he’d be accepted into Canada or not. When they called his name, he was filled with hope, only to be told he was being sent to U.S. Border Patrol. 

“I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know where to go. I don’t have anyone who will take me in,” he said. 

The response from U.S. Border Patrol appears to be uneven. Some asylum seekers CBC spoke with had taxis called for them, having to pay another $70 to get to the Mountain Mart. One woman was found on the side of the service road by the border and given a ride by a social science researcher and documentary photographer met by CBC.

The man interviewed by Radio-Canada was part of a group who were given a ride to the gas station by a Greyhound bus heading back to New York from Montreal. 

CBC reached out to U.S. Customs and Border Protection on Monday, asking what happens to asylum seekers rejected by Canada, but did not receive a response.

Luggage sits outside the Mountain Mart bus stop and gas station in the town of Plattsburgh, NY.
Luggage sits outside the Mountain Mart bus stop and gas station in Plattsburgh Tuesday as a group of asylum seekers turned back at the Canadian border wait for a bus to New York City. (Dave St-Amant/CBC)

Although in favour of some kind of change to reduce traffic at Roxham Road, one local official wants help from the federal governments to deal with the fallout. 

Michael Cashman, supervisor for the Town of Plattsburgh, says Canada and the U.S. to come up with a response to help asylum seekers get to where they want to go in the U.S. 

He isn’t against the move to restrict access to Canada at Roxham Road.

“There had to be a change,” he said, noting residents had been asking for one, but compared the way it was done to turning off a light switch before entering a room: “You’re going to bump into some furniture.”

The area is rural and has its share of struggles with transportation and housing, Cashman said. 

“There isn’t a robust infrastructure to be able to take on this humanitarian crisis as it develops.” 

On Monday and Tuesday, buses coming from New York carried only a few asylum seekers hoping to cross the border. Most knew about the new rules, believing their cases would fit some of the exemptions. Others still did not know.

By Tuesday, cab drivers were no longer ferrying people to Roxham Road, taking them to the official border crossing at Champlain, N.Y., and Lacolle, Que., instead.

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What is the grocery rebate in federal budget 2023? Key questions, answered



Canada’s economy might be recovering from the pandemic, but many Canadians are still struggling with the cost of living, thanks, in part, to the impacts of global inflation.

To help offset rising living expenses, the Government of Canada has built some benefit increases and fee reductions into its 2023 budget. Among these measures is a new grocery rebate in the form of a one-time payment for middle- and low-income Canadians that is designed to offset food inflation.

“Our more vulnerable friends and neighbours are still suffering from higher prices,” Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland said after tabling the budget on March 28. “That’s why our budget contains targeted, temporary relief from the effects of inflation for those who need it.”

Here’s what we know about the rebate.



According to the budget, the benefit will be rolled out through the GST/HST rebate system, once a bill implementing it passes in the House of Commons. This move essentially re-ups and re-brands the recent GST rebate boost.

While no specific date for the payments has been announced, upcoming GST/HST credit payment dates for 2023 include April 5, July 5 and Oct. 5. Because the rebate is automatically rolled into the GST/HST credit, eligible Canadians shouldn’t need to do anything besides file their tax return in order to receive the payment.


The Grocery Rebate is earmarked for 11 million low- to modest-income Canadians. It will provide eligible couples with two children with up to $467, single Canadians without children with up to $234 and seniors with $225 on average.

The budget doesn’t pinpoint any eligibility brackets based on income, but outlines hypothetical scenarios where a couple earning $38,000 per year and an individual earning $32,000 both received the maximum rebate.

Since the rebate will be rolled into the GST/HST credit, the eligibility criteria for that credit might offer some insight into who will be eligible for the maximum Grocery Rebate amounts.

The GST benefit is reduced as income rises. It’s phased out entirely once income reaches just over $49,000 for a single person, $50,000 for a couple without children and more than $60,000 for a couple with four children.


The average family of four will spend up to $16,288.41 on food this year, according to the latest Canada’s Food Price Report, published by the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University.

“For a family of four, their food bill will increase by about $1,100 this year,” the lab’s director, Sylvain Charlebois, told CTV News Calgary on Tuesday.

The cost of staple grocery items based on March 2023 prices listed on (CTV’s Your Morning)

The most substantial increases will be in the cost of vegetables, dairy and meat, according to the report. Food inflation has softened somewhat in recent weeks, Charlebois said, but even with that softening and the extra cash in their pockets from the grocery rebate, Canadians aren’t out of the woods yet.

“We are expecting things to be a little more manageable for households probably in the summer, (but) not before then,” he said. “We are expecting to finish the year with a food inflation rate of about four to five per cent. It’s still high, but it’s better than 10 per cent.”


As finance commentator Pattie Lovett-Reid pointed out during an interview on CTV’s Your Morning on Tuesday, a maximum grocery rebate of $467 for a family of four doesn’t even offset half of the additional $1,100 families can expect to spend on groceries in 2023.

“It’s a small amount that will help a family of four,” she said. “But, is it enough? No, it’s not, we’ve got to get inflation down.”

With their spending power significantly weakened, a growing number of consumers are looking for new ways to save on their grocery bills.

According to a March 22 report published by the Agri-Food Analytics Lab, in partnership with Angus Reid, some of the methods Canadians are using to save money at the grocery store include reading weekly flyers, using coupons, taking advantage of volume discounting and using food rescue apps such as Too Good To Go and the Second Harvest Food Rescue App.

– With files from Senior Digital Parliamentary Reporter Rachel Aiello 


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International selling Pop Reggae artist, D Howell Drops New Single “Man Dem”



D Howell Drops New Single



                                “MAN DEM” 

                                 By way of Spanish Town


Toronto, On – International selling Pop/ Reggae artist, D Howell drops his new single, “Man Dem “available now, on all major music platforms.  The release featuring Ding Dong & Nicky B follows a long list of hit music from the talented pop-reggae artist.  Howell’s single, ’Wine Bounce” with Jamaican born reggae artist Dominant ft. Nick B was picked up by Universal Music, solidifying Howell’s career with the likes of Sean Paul, Elephant Man and Sarani. The artist contributes his Jamaican roots to the success of his brand.  Keeping his early beginnings in Spanish Town, Jamacia close to his heart, “Man Dem” (meaning multiple men) was created.  The single is inspired by the multicultural people of Toronto with special consideration to the immigrants from Jamaica. Their specific style of talking is heard on every street corner in Toronto.  The new generation have made it their own, a way of bringing and keeping their heritage alive.  Howell’s music speaks to that, making the heritage & the music one.  The highly anticipated release of “Man Dem” will take you home to Spanish Town.   

DJ, producer and artist, D Howell knows what it takes to make hit singles.  It’s not just talent that makes a single a hit, but the chemistry & respect for your fellow artists.  Knowing what works and what doesn’t between artists is key.   Mixing different instruments, sounds and styles to create his always evolving pop reggae sound has made Howell an in-demand producer and artist.  From the super hit ‘Jumanji’ to a lineup of multi-selling collaborations featuring his unique reggae influenceHowell makes it work.  Collaborations with Karl Wolf (Fall in Love”), Danny Fernandes (Party”) and the man himself, Sean Paul (Time to Party”).  Howell writes for and brings together a wide range of artists from different genres into his studio to create a combination of sounds that works on the music charts today. D Howell brings the love, nurture & music of his early beginnings to his seat at the industry table.  “Man Dem” takes you on that journey…  


Listen to Man Dem” 


Follow D Howell:  

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 Sasha Stoltz | | 416.579.4804

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