The rising number of people testing positive for COVID-19 in Canada, coupled with the new threat from mutant variants, makes it more urgent to vaccinate our oldest and most vulnerable, experts say.
Vaccine supplies are now coming into Canada, and doctors say we need to get them into many more arms. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he plans to raise accelerating vaccine rollout with provincial and territorial leaders on Thursday.
More than 70 per cent of COVID-19 deaths in Canada have been among those aged 80 and older, according to an epidemiology update by the federal government. In Ontario, the province reported more than 2,700 pandemic-related deaths in long-term care homes as of Dec. 30.
Dr. Cara Tannenbaum, a professor in the faculty of medicine at the University of Montreal, usually treats outpatients as a geriatrician at Montreal’s geriatrics research institute. But during the spring wave of COVID-19, she joined the front lines at one of the city’s hardest-hit nursing homes.
“It was equally tragic and frustrating,” Tannenbaum recalled. “We had 150 deaths in our centre. Our seniors were isolated, depressed, dying.”
The “bodies in the hall,” she said, were grim proof that the oldest have borne the brunt of the coronavirus.
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And now Tannenbaum faces a hospital at capacity, which means there won’t be staffed beds available for more patients sick with COVID-19 and other illnesses — a reality that makes vaccinations all the more pressing.
“I’d be happy to get in my car and start driving around vaccinating older adults if asked to do that by the government. That’s how seriously I think it’s needed,” Tannenbaum said. “But of course, I can’t do that because I don’t have a –80 degree freezer [needed for Pfizer-BioNtech’s vaccine], so it has to be more co-ordinated.”
To Tannenbaum, there’s a path forward to get more shots into arms more quickly.
Israel offers a role model. The country has vaccinated more than a quarter of its seniors, a feat credited in part to its small size, dense population and centralized medical services.
“We could do this with army-like efficiency if we got organized,” Tannenbaum said.
“We have the doses here to get our seniors vaccinated, and let’s do it. I think it’s a duty. I think it’s respectful. I think it’s a combination of science, and it reflects our societal values.”
Role of community connections
Tannebaum said she’s concerned not only about residents in long-term care facilities but also about some older adults who live independently in the community and are now isolated.
The first step, she said, is to make lists of those who receive home care or who needed help getting groceries delivered to them in the spring.
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She suggests that pharmacies could compile such lists from their clientele, given that nine out of 10 seniors take prescription medications, and pharmacies may be physically closer than a doctor’s office.
The second part is facilitating delivery of vaccines into arms. If mobile vaccination isn’t available, working-age adults could volunteer to drive seniors to the locations where the shots are given by health-care workers, Tannenbaum said.
People 60 years of age and older are also a priority for receiving the vaccine in a computer model developed by Madhur Anand and Chris Bauch that still needs to be checked for errors before publication.
Anand, a professor in the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of Guelph, and Bauch, a professor of applied mathematics at the University of Waterloo, both in Ontario, helped to develop a computer model to determine the best vaccine deployment.
Public health measures ‘are essential’
Anand said what makes their model unique is the way it includes elements of game theory on how people interact in a group.
“Any interventions — whether it’s wearing a mask, keeping your contacts to an absolute minimum and getting the vaccine when it is offered to you — are all protecting not just you but everybody else in your community,” she said.
Anand acknowledged that lesson is easy to forget because everyone faces so many other competing problems during the pandemic.
But to eliminate COVID-19, the public health measures “are essential, and it’s something that absolutely can be done at the individual level,” she said.
Anand and Bauch adapted the susceptible-infected-recovered (SIR) modelling approach to vaccination to protect against COVID-19. (Susceptible refers to the group of people who haven’t gotten the disease before and can now get sick; infected includes those who are sick now; and recovered includes those who’ve recovered from the illness.)
“We talk about pandemic waves,” Bauch said. “These are not like ocean waves that expand and move past you. These are kind of waves of our own creation that will continue to move through populations as long as there are susceptibilities and as long as our infection control doesn’t work as well as it could.”
The mathematical reality behind the model adds to what Bauch called the “ground truth” that the virus will continue its insidious spread as long as there are more people susceptible to infection — unless stopped in its tracks by vaccination.
PM urges Canadians to cancel travel plans after data reveals 1M travelled over holidays – CTV News
After an analysis of mobile phone data revealed more than a million Canadians – the majority of whom were white and wealthy – traveled overnight during the holiday season, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said anyone with a trip still planned should “cancel it.”
Federal public health guidance has not changed regarding non-essential travel out of Canada and Trudeau, along with health officials at the local, provincial and federal level, have repeatedly issued strong warnings against vacationing at this time.
“My message to Canadians remains clear, no one should be taking a vacation abroad right now,” Trudeau said at his briefing Friday.
As March comes around the corner, the prime minister emphasized – “don’t book a trip for spring break.”
Current federal public health guidance says to avoid all non-essential trips outside of Canada, and despite several Canadian politicians being swept up in public backlash for travelling over the holidays – it turns out a substantial number of the public travelled abroad during the holidays.
Approximately 1.2 million people in Canada, many from affluent neighbourhoods, spent at least one night away from home between Dec. 23 to Dec. 30, according to mobile phone location data analysis.
The data – which was analyzed by marketing research firm Environics Analytics for The Globe and Mail – came from a database of location data comprised of 20 million mobile phones, which they then cross-referenced with census demographics and postal codes to build a profile of who was travelling.
The data shows that the vast majority who travelled were wealthy, with an average household income of approximately $118,000 per year, and 70 per cent of them were homeowners. The majority were white, with only a third belonging to racialized groups.
Environics estimates 3.3 per cent of Canadians travelled over the holidays, but most provinces saw a drop of at least 50 per cent in overnight holiday travel compared with the same period in 2019, according to The Globe and Mail report.
Minister of Public Safety Bill Blair echoed Trudeau’s words at the federal ministers COVID-19 briefing Friday.
“To be very clear, it is not the time to travel,” Blair said.
“Temporary restrictions remain on optional and discretionary travel….we will continue to strongly advise Canadians against travel abroad, unless it’s absolutely necessary,” he said, adding that the government had scaled up the presence of borderpPatrol and public health officers to ensure travelers follow quarantine protocols.
“Quarantine has been, and continues to be our most effective measure,” Blair reiterated.
Minister Dominic LeBlanc also urged Canadians to “stay close to home,” and avoid any international or even cross-Canada travel, saying the cabinet was considering even more stringent measures on anyone coming back into the country from abroad.
Currently travelers must show a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of departure to be allowed to fly into Canada, with a mandatory 14-day quarantine upon their arrival.
Canada's top judge is now acting Governor General, but expert urges speedy replacement – CTV News
Julie Payette’s resignation amid allegations of workplace harassment means that the chief justice of the Supreme Court will now assume the governor general’s powers, but a Crown expert says this temporary appointment should be as brief as possible as it presents potential conflicts.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accepted Payette’s resignation on Thursday following reports of a workplace harassment investigation that sources described to CTV News as “damaging.”
Chief Justice of Canada Richard Wagner will fulfill the role of administrator on an interim basis until Trudeau recommends a new governor general to the Queen, something Trudeau says he will do “in due course.”
Philippe Lagasse, a Carleton University expert on the Westminster system and the Crown, described Payette’s resignation as “a bit sad, really,” and stressed the importance of limiting the amount of time Wagner stays in this role.
“I have to say, as somebody who is concerned about how offices appear in public, it’s really not ideal to have the chief justice of the Supreme Court act as an administrator for any long period of time,” Lagasse told CTV’s Power Play on Thursday.
The reason: the Governor General is in charge of turning bills into law through royal assent. Having an active Supreme Court judge in this role could be potentially problematic down the road, Lagasse said.
“We can think in our constitutional metaphysics that they’re wearing a different hat when they’re providing royal assent, you can imagine that it could create discomfort on the part of the judge who wants to be seem completely and utterly impartial if ever that legislation appears before them in a constitutional or legal challenge,” he said.
Asked about the timeline to replace Payette, intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc said “obviously it’s not a question of months.”
“The constitutional role can be fulfilled as of tonight by Chief Justice Wagner and until a successor is sworn in,” LeBlanc told CTV’s Power Play.
“We obviously haven’t turned our attention to the details of how that successor would be recommended to Her Majesty, but we’ll have more to say about that in the coming days. But it’s not a circumstance that can go on for months and months.”
The Governor General holds the second-highest office in Canada after the Queen, with the role out-ranking even the prime minister. That’s because the Governor General can be called on to make decisions related to the formation of government, such as to prorogue Parliament or dissolve Parliament on the advice of a prime minister to trigger an election.
The Governor General also plays a key role in minority governments, as is the current case. If a minority government loses a confidence vote in the House of Commons, the prime minister would then have to request Parliament be dissolved. The Governor General then has the discretion whether to agree to that, and call an election, or allow another party in the House to attempt to form a government that would have the confidence of the House.
For example, in 2008, Stephen Harper asked then-Governor General Michaelle Jean to prorogue Parliament to avoid a non-confidence vote that he was expected to lose, which she allowed.
Everything considered, Lagasse said it’s in the country’s best interests to appoint a new Governor General pronto.
“To the extent possible, we should have a full-on governor general appointed as soon as possible, given the possibility of an election on the horizon,” he said.
“And ultimately, I would imagine the chief justice is not really keen on the idea of having to make some of these decisions and make some of the calls, particularly if another election returns another hung Parliament, and if there’s controversy around a dissolution of Parliament in the middle of a pandemic. These are all things that I imagine the chief justice doesn’t want to be particularly involved with either.”
CTV royal commentator Richard Berthelsen said that the Governor General plays a critical constitutional role in Canada as a representative of the Queen, but is also seen as a moral leader.
“So this really was a day that, in a lot of ways, had to happen. It’s sad that it has happened, but the report has left everyone with no alternative,” Berthelsen told CTV News Channel.
With files from CTV’s Rachel Aiello in Ottawa and The Canadian Press
Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Friday – CBC.ca
Coronavirus infections may be about to hit a plateau in the United States based on recent seven-day averages, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, though the top U.S. infectious disease expert cautioned the country was still in a “very serious situation” with the virus.
At a White House briefing Thursday, Fauci also said that if 70 to 80 per cent of Americans are vaccinated by the end of summer, the country could experience “a degree of normality” by the fall.
The pandemic has killed 410,000 people and infected more than 24.6 million in the United States, the highest numbers anywhere in the world, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
Fauci said coronavirus vaccines can be modified to account for new variants of the virus, and that while the variant first identified in South Africa is concerning, it does not appear to be in the United States.
Another highly transmissible variant of the virus first discovered in the United Kingdom has spread to at least 20 U.S. states, Fauci said.
Fauci said he expects current vaccines will be effective against the recently discovered virus mutations.
“Bottom line: We’re paying very close attention to it for our alternative plans if we have to ever modify the vaccine,” he said. “But right now, from the reports we have … it appears that the vaccines will still be effective against them.”
The United States still has a limited ability to track the presence of new variants in its population, he noted.
Biden sets COVID-19 plan into motion
Fauci praised U.S. President Joe Biden’s willingness to “let the science speak” in contrast to the previous Trump administration, standing by his side earlier Thursday as Biden unveiled sweeping measures to battle COVID-19 on his first full day in office.
“This is a wartime undertaking,” the Democratic president said at a White House event where he signed executive orders to establish a COVID-19 testing board to ramp up testing, address supply shortfalls, establish protocols for international travellers and direct resources to hard-hit minority communities.
WATCH | Biden implements COVID-19 travel restrictions:
Biden also made a personal plea to all Americans to wear masks over the next 99 days to stop the spread of the virus. “The experts say, by wearing a mask from now until April, we’d save more than 50,000 lives,” he said.
Among other actions signed by Biden on Thursday was an order requiring mask-wearing in airports and on certain public transportation, including many trains, airplanes and intercity buses.
The administration will expand vaccine manufacturing and its power to purchase more vaccines by “fully leveraging contract authorities, including the Defence Production Act,” according to the plan.
The Trump administration had invoked the law, which grants the president broad authority to “expedite and expand the supply of resources from the U.S. industrial base” for protective gear, but never enacted it for testing or vaccine production.
The president has pledged to provide 100 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine during his first 100 days in office. His plan aims to increase vaccinations by opening up eligibility for more people such as teachers and grocery clerks.
As of Thursday morning, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it had administered 17.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine out of some 38 million distributed.
Biden has also rescinded Trump’s planned withdrawal from the World Health Organization.
The new president has put fighting the disease at the top of a daunting list of challenges, including rebuilding a ravaged economy and addressing racial injustice, and has proposed a $1.9-trillion US COVID-19 package that would enhance jobless benefits and provide direct cash payments to households to alleviate the financial pain from the coronavirus.
The House of Representatives is planning to bring the bill to a vote the first week of February, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Thursday.
– From Reuters, last updated at 7 a.m. ET
What’s happening across Canada
As of 7 a.m. ET on Friday, Canada had reported 725,495 cases of COVID-19, with 68,413 cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 18,462.
In Ontario, the seven-day average of new COVID-19 cases continues to fall as the province reported 2,632 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, along with 46 more deaths.
While epidemiologists told CBC News that public health measures seem to be working as Ontario nears four complete weeks under “lockdown” conditions, they cautioned that the province is still far from ready for a return to normalcy.
WATCH | Research into coronavirus variants still early, epidemiologist says:
Meanwhile, local public health officials are expressing concern about a yet-to-be identified variant of COVID-19 at a Barrie, Ont., long-term care home.
The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit said the unusually rapid spread of the virus at Roberta Place earlier this month, with 55 people at the nursing home becoming ill within 48 hours of the first COVID-19 case being identified, prompted officials to start testing for a variant strain.
The variant was identified in six cases and further results are expected in the coming days, the unit said.
At least 122 of 130 residents at Roberta Place Long-Term Care Home have tested positive for COVID-19, the home said in a statement to CBC Toronto on Thursday. Since the outbreak, 19 residents have died and 69 staff are infected.
WATCH | Ontario criticized for delaying vaccine rollout for long-term care homes:
Alberta, like Ontario, has seen its long-term care homes particularly hit hard during the pandemic.
To date, 988 of the province’s 1,500 COVID-19 deaths have been in long-term care and designated supportive living facilities, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, said Thursday.
CapitalCare Lynnwood in west Edmonton is the site of Alberta’s deadliest COVID-19 outbreak, with 55 lives lost. A total of 262 cases have been linked to the outbreak, Alberta Health said in a statement to CBC News.
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New Brunswick continues to see a spike in COVID-19 infections, reporting 32 new cases on Thursday as officials declared an outbreak at another Edmundston care home.
At a COVID-19 briefing, the province’s chief medical officer of health said the situation in the Edmundston region remains “gravely concerning.”
There are now 113 cases in that area, “the largest number of any zone in the province,” said Dr. Jennifer Russell.
Premier Blaine Higgs said that a complete lockdown of the Edmundston region has been discussed and looks “likely” to happen in the days ahead.
Here’s a look at what’s happening across the country:
– From CBC News, last updated at 9:45 a.m. ET
What’s happening around the world
As of early Friday morning, more than 97.5 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, with more than 53.8 million of the cases considered resolved or recovered, according to a tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than two million.
In the Asia-Pacific region, South Korea reported 346 new cases on Friday, its smallest daily increase in coronavirus infections in two months as officials express cautious hope that the country is beginning to emerge from its worst wave of the pandemic.
Health authorities have clamped down on private social gatherings since late December, including setting fines for restaurants if they accept groups of five or more people. The 1,241 infections reported on Christmas Day were the country’s largest 24-hour jump of the pandemic.
In Africa, Mali plans to buy more than 8.4 million doses of coronavirus vaccine and expects to start a vaccination campaign in April, the council of ministers said in a statement on Thursday.
The sprawling country of about 20 million has recorded just over 7,900 COVID-19 cases and 320 deaths since the pandemic began, according to Johns Hopkins.
In the Middle East, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that China had approved delivery of a second consignment of the CoronaVac vaccine and 10 million doses could arrive in Turkey by this weekend.
Turkey has already received an initial consignment of three million doses of the vaccine, produced by Sinovac Biotech, and has so far vaccinated more than 1.1 million people, mostly health workers and elderly people.
In the Americas, Mexico has posted new one-day highs for the pandemic, with 22,339 newly confirmed coronavirus infections and 1,803 deaths related to COVID-19.
Mexico has recorded over 1.71 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 146,000 test-confirmed deaths related to COVID-19 since the pandemic began. However, official estimates suggest the real death toll is closer to 195,000.
Officials also said Thursday that hospitals remained at 89 per cent capacity in Mexico City, which is the current centre of the pandemic in Mexico.
In Europe, the number of people testing positive for the coronavirus in England decreased slightly in the latest week but prevalence overall remained high, the U.K.’s Office for National Statistics said on Friday.
The ONS estimated that around one in 55 people had COVID-19 within the community population in England in the week ending Jan. 16, a lower prevalence than the estimate of one in 50 people in the last full infection survey published two weeks ago.
– From The Associated Press, last updated at 8:45 a.m. ET
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