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Why COVID-19 cases are surging across Canada and what needs to be done – CBC.ca

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This is an excerpt from Second Opinion, a weekly roundup of health and medical science news emailed to subscribers every Saturday morning. If you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do that by clicking here.


Six weeks ago, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the country was at a “crossroads” in the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Now, with cases spiking in regions that were practically untouched by the virus in the first wave, it appears we’ve taken a wrong turn. 

There have been more than 100,000 new cases of COVID-19 and over 1,000 more deaths in this country since Trudeau made those comments.

The percentage of COVID-19 tests across the country that have come back positive has also grown by more than 235 per cent — from 1.4 per cent in mid-September to 4.7 per cent in the past week. 

So where did Canada go wrong? 

Experts say a mix of insufficient public health measures and complacency brought us to where we are today and we need to act quickly to turn things around — or at the very least prevent them from getting worse. 

Canada ‘failed’ to follow lessons 

South Korea taught us that by building up a robust test, trace and isolate system, it’s possible to control the spread of the coronavirus without subjecting your population to a lockdowns at all. 

New Zealand locked down quickly, then shifted to a South Korean model focused on building up testing, tracing and isolating cases.  

But Australia learned the hard way in the second wave that, if you let the coronavirus spread unchecked for too long, tough action is needed to keep it under control through further lockdowns and strict public health measures.  

“The lesson across all of the world is that the places that do the best are the ones that act hard and early,” said Raywat Deonandan, a global health epidemiologist and an associate professor at the University of Ottawa. 

“That’s where we failed.”

Experts say Canada, comparatively, has seemingly not yet learned these lessons. 

“In Canada, we never set clear goals and so we opened up without having built a solid test, trace isolate strategy,” said Dr. Irfan Dhalla, vice-president of physician quality at Unity Health in Toronto. 

“We didn’t follow the indicators closely enough and now we’re paying the price. The good news is we’re not paying nearly as bad a price as people in some other countries are paying, but it would be a big mistake to compare ourselves to the worst countries in the world.”

Ontario ‘highly unstable’ 

In Ontario, there are currently almost 150 outbreaks in long-term care homes, the seven-day average of cases has grown to nearly 1,000 and the largest number of COVID-19 deaths in a single day happened this week. 

“The situation we find ourselves in right now is highly unstable,” said Dhalla, who is also an associate professor at the University of Toronto who sits on provincial and federal committees related to the COVID-19 response. 

“It wouldn’t take much to put us on a path towards the kinds of outcomes we’re seeing in Belgium, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, many American states.” 

But with over half of Ontario’s cases with no known link to previous cases and community transmission running rampant, experts say the province doesn’t have a clear enough view of the situation. 

“We don’t understand how many people are infected. We know that it’s a lot, but we really don’t know the magnitude,” said Dr. Andrew Morris, a professor of infectious diseases at the University of Toronto and the medical director of the Antimicrobial Stewardship Program at Sinai-University Health Network. 

“If this were an iceberg, we don’t know how much is above or below water.” 

Despite this, Ontario is moving to ease restrictions on much of the province, even without hitting its full testing capacity and contact tracing and isolation of cases not functioning in hot spots like Toronto due to the sheer volume. 

“We know in Ontario that 1,000 cases per day is not a sustainable situation. We have too many outbreaks in hospitals, we have too many outbreaks in long-term care homes,” he said. 

“We have to bring the number of cases down from 1,000 a day back down to something like 50 or 100 per day. And when we get back down there, we need to have a test, trace, isolate strategy that works.” 

WATCH | Ontario’s restrictions system under fire:

Ontario has announced a new tiered system for triggering COVID-19 restriction, but critics say the sky-high thresholds won’t stop the virus from spreading across the province. 1:59

Manitoba suffered from ‘complacency’

Manitoba went from one of Canada’s shining examples of how to successfully manage the spread of the coronavirus, to facing its single worst outbreak

“Some of us lost our way, and now COVID is beating us,” Premier Brian Pallister said Monday. “Perhaps we were cursed by our early success.”

It was that early success that caused the province to let its guard down, leaving it vulnerable to a surge in cases when the virus re-entered the community. 

“We had a very good proactive response in early spring. We shut things down very quickly, everybody seemed to be quite on board and cases receded,” said Jason Kindrachuk, an assistant professor of viral pathogenesis at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg and Canada Research Chair of emerging viruses.

“And that, probably, in some ways, fed a complacency across all levels.”

Kindrachuk said that because Manitoba didn’t bear the brunt of COVID-19 that other regions of the country had, it lost focus on the need to prepare for the future. 

“Then everything hit at the perfect time — we had exponential growth, we had community transmission, we likely had superspreading events, we had outbreaks that occurred in long-term care facilities,” he said. 

“The worst of the worst that could have happened, did happen.” 

Alberta faces ‘tipping point’ 

Alberta shattered COVID-19 records on Thursday, recording what health officials described as “about 800” new cases after specific numbers were unavailable due to technical problems with the province’s reporting system. 

It’s another province that saw low case numbers slowly rise after a lull in the summer, but waited to act on imposing stricter restrictions and now faces the prospect of a worsening second wave. 

Dr. Lynora Saxinger, an infectious diseases specialist and an associate professor at the University of Alberta’s faculty of medicine, called the situation “profoundly disturbing.” 

“You can have things simmering along, and then it just starts to boil over — there’s a tipping point, and it starts to change,” she said. 

“And when that happens, what we’ve seen across the world, is the actions in that early phase make a really big difference.” 

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney rejected the call for stricter public health restrictions this week, the same time a record 171 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, 33 of them in ICU, and nine more people died. 

“We’ve seen other jurisdictions implement sweeping lockdowns, indiscriminately violating people’s rights and destroying livelihoods,” Kenney said Friday, rejecting the call for further measures to curb the spread of the virus.

“Nobody wants that to happen here in Alberta.”

Saxinger said Alberta should look at emulating a “circuit breaker” model of controlling the virus from the U.K., focused on brief lockdowns that can interrupt transmission and reverse rising case numbers quickly if rolled out successfully. 

WATCH | Stop gatherings in homes, Kenney urges Albertans:

Premier Jason Kenney is calling on Albertans to not host parties or large family dinners and is expanding the 15-person limit on social gatherings to all communities on the province’s COVID-19 watch list. 2:42

“There’s a certain part of the population that’s just not really paying attention as much anymore,” she said. “So you might need to have that short, sharp, lockdown that’s visible to actually really get the whole population re-engaged.” 

Saxinger said she’s worried Alberta is past the point of “targeted” restrictions due to rising community transmission and inadequate contact tracing and is being “surged under” by new cases and hospitalizations

“I’m really afraid that it could take off in a really bad way,” she said. “A lot of us are very anxious right now and the hospitals are already stressed.”

Record numbers in B.C.

British Columbia was praised for its vigorous test, trace and isolate approach and became a global model for how to effectively control the spread of the virus, but could risk jeopardizing the progress it’s made if it doesn’t regain control of a surge in cases. 

The province hit a record high COVID-19 case numbers two days in a row this week, with 425 on Thursday and 589 on Friday adding to the 3,741 active cases in the province currently. 

Unlike Quebec, which saw its cases surge a month after school started and has been struggling to regain control, B.C. has largely seen outbreaks in community settings.

“Most of the transmissions are through gatherings … superspreader-type events that happen with lots of people in a room,” said Dr. Srinivas Murthy, an infectious disease specialist and clinical associate professor in pediatrics at the University of British Columbia.

“I think our lack of attention to that, and how we can target where we know those large-scale transmission events happen, was probably not as rigorous as it could have been.” 

Murthy said new public health restrictions focused on limiting the size of gatherings, mandating masks in health-care facilities and threatening businesses with closures for not following guidelines will hopefully drive down the numbers and avoid lockdowns — but it will take time. 

“So far we’ve been able to, with pretty rigorous data collection, follow up and trace and isolate most of the cases in the superspreading events that have happened,” he said. 

“But if there is an increased, unlinked case number in the community that’s unable to be traced and isolated — then obviously large-scale social distancing would be probably the next step.”

Atlantic bubble needs vigilance

The Atlantic bubble, a success story for curbing COVID-19 spread, is another model that other parts of the country can learn from. 

The four Atlantic provinces imposed tight restrictions on points of entry, moved quickly to clamp down on new outbreaks of COVID-19 and focused on aggressive contact tracing and isolating.  

But epidemiologist Susan Kirkland said the recent surge in cases in parts of Canada that weren’t hit as hard in the first wave is a stark reminder of the need for the region to avoid letting its guard down. 

“We have to be constantly vigilant,” said Kirkland, head of public health and epidemiology at Dalhousie University in Halifax. “As long as COVID isn’t introduced, we’re OK. But the minute it is, the environment is rife for it to spread very, very quickly.” 

The Atlantic provinces have so far avoided rampant community spread of the virus with unknown origins, but Kirkland says rising numbers across the country show it could happen anywhere — even the North. 

Nunavut confirmed its first case of COVID-19 on Friday and while health officials say contact tracing is currently underway in the community, the territory’s rapid response team is “on standby to help manage the situation should it become necessary.”

WATCH | No sign of bubble bursting:

Like an extended family, the four Atlantic provinces have walled themselves in, creating measures to restrict outsiders and COVID-19 cases. So far, it’s worked and there doesn’t seem to be much of a rush to burst the Atlantic bubble. 5:09

Kirkland said Atlantic Canada has much more in common with the North than it does with more populous provinces like Ontario and both regions face an uncertain future. 

“Part of the reason that we’ve done so well is because we are isolated,” she said, adding that they have also benefited from strong public health messaging and a compliant public. 

“But the minute we have community spread, we’re again in that situation where we’re putting ourselves at big risk. So it’s hard to be complacent.”


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Canada adds 4,889 new coronavirus infections as global cases near 60 million – Global News

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Canada added 4,889 new novel coronavirus infections on Wednesday, bringing the country’s total case count to 342,132.
Health authorities also said another 97 have died after contracting COVID-19, pushing the total death toll to 11,618.

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A total of 2,218 people in Canada remain hospitalized after contracting the respiratory illness, while 273,391 have recovered after becoming sick.

Read more:
Two shots. A waiting period. Why the coronavirus vaccine won’t be a quick fix

Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the government has secured a deal with Eli Lilly to secure up to 26,000 doses of the pharmaceutical company’s therapeutic drug to treat COVID-19 patients.

“To keep Canadians safe, we need access to as many potential vaccines and treatments as possible,” he said.

[ Sign up for our Health IQ newsletter for the latest coronavirus updates ]

Trudeau added that Canada will have the option to purchase thousands more doses.

The prime minister also said Canada has signed “strong contracts” with various vaccine companies, adding that the government is “working closely with allies on ensuring that there is a free flow of delivery of contracts.”

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Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Canada’s top doctor says implementation of rapid tests up to provinces, territories'



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Coronavirus: Canada’s top doctor says implementation of rapid tests up to provinces, territories


Coronavirus: Canada’s top doctor says implementation of rapid tests up to provinces, territories

Trudeau said the leaders of the G20 nations discussed equitable access to a potential COVID-19 vaccine during the virtual summit last weekend.

“It’s really important to ensure that everyone gets access to vaccines around the world because no one place gets through COVID-19 until all places are done with COVID-19,” he said.

New cases in the provinces

In Ontario, 1,009 new cases were detected on Wednesday. The province also saw 14 new fatalities, bringing the death toll to 3,519.

Meanwhile, Quebec saw 1,124 new infections and 45 new deaths, pushing the total case count and death toll to 134,330 and 6,887, respectively. 

Between Manitoba and Saskatchewan, 646 new infections were reported.

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Manitoba saw 471 new cases and 12 new deaths, while Saskatchewan added 175 new COVID-19 infections.

However, health officials said no one else had died.

In Atlantic Canada, 44 new coronavirus infections were reported.

Read more:
‘Behaviour changed’: Emergency hospital visits fell 50% in early days of pandemic

Nova Scotia added a record 37 new cases, while New Brunswick saw five new infections.

Newfoundland and Labrador saw two new cases, while Prince Edward Island did not report any new infections.

None of the Maritime provinces reported any new fatalities related to the respiratory illness.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney declared a state of public health emergency on Wednesday, as 1,115 new cases and 16 additional deaths were reported.

The province is implementing more stringent measures for three weeks in order to stem the spread of the virus, including banning indoor social gatherings and expanding the holiday school break.

Meanwhile, British Columbia added 941 new COVID-19 infections, marking a new daily record.

Health officials in the province also said 10 more people have died.

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Cases rise in Nunavut

Ten new cases were detected in Nunavut on Wednesday, but health officials said no one else has died.

The new cases push the territory’s total case load to 144. So far, only two of those cases are considered to be recovered.

Read more:
For Canadians living abroad, a COVID-19 Christmas means difficult decisions

Neither the Yukon or Northwest Territories saw a new case or death related to the virus on Wednesday.

Global cases near 60 million

The total number of novel coronavirus infections around the world hovered below 60 million on Wednesday.

By 6 p.m. ET, there were a total of 59,597,658 confirmed cases of the virus globally, according to a tally from Johns Hopkins University.

So far, the virus has killed 259,372 Americans.

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Ford differentiates between Ontarians holding private gatherings and establishments defying COVID-19 rules – CBC.ca

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Premier Doug Ford drew a distinction between Ontarians flouting public health measures through private gatherings and establishments that openly defy the province’s COVID-19 rules Tuesday.

The remarks came in response to questions about at Toronto barbeque restaurant owner publicly vowing to keep his doors open amid the province’s lockdown for the city.

“They have to follow the rules. There can’t be rules for one group and not another,” he said at a news conference Tuesday, less forcefully than in other instances where the premier has come out swinging against people throwing large parties or weddings, for example.

“When it comes to private parties, that’s a different ball of wax,” Ford said. “I’m not going to get up here and start pounding the small business owner when the guy’s holding on by his finger nails. I differentiate between someone at home being reckless and having 100 people over and partying and renting a public storage place … that’s reckless.

“I don’t condone that he opened up but I feel terrible. My heart breaks for these guys … these business-owners, believe me. “But please, in saying all that, you’ve got to follow the protocols and guidelines.”

WATCH | Ford comments on Toronto BBQ restaurant vowing to stay open during COVID-19 lockdown:

Ontario Premier Doug Ford says the owner of a Toronto BBQ restaurant who opened for indoor dining in violation of provincial lockdown orders should follow the rules, and he says his ‘heart breaks’ for small business. 1:12

The restaurant was eventually ordered to shut down by the City of Toronto after bylaw officers, public health inspectors and police were called to the site, city officials said in a statement. 

Rapid testing begins, auditor general set to release report

The province also announced Tuesday that it has begun deploying rapid testing in long-term care homes, rural and remote areas — something the premier called a “gamechanger.”

The rapid tests, which can produce results in minutes rather than days, have been sent to 36 long-term care homes and 27 retirement homes, as well as some hospitals.

The testing kits are earmarked for a total of 22 hospitals, including two that are already using them, as well as remote
communities and some outbreak areas in hot-spot regions, the government said.

Some will also be sent to corporations such as Air Canada and Ontario Power Generation, while others will be used over several months in a pilot project involving private, public and non-profit sector employers to gauge the value of antigen testing on asymptomatic workers, the province said.

Ottawa began shipping the testing kits to the provinces late last month, but figuring out how to best put them to use has taken some time, and most jurisdictions are also verifying the results of rapid tests with a lab-based test.

The “gold-standard” COVID-19 tests need to be processed in a lab, which can take at least a day. Rapid tests can yield results right where the patient is tested but are generally considered less reliable than lab-based tests.

One type of rapid test looks for the genetic material of the novel coronavirus, as does the traditional lab version. The other looks for the specific markers the virus leaves on the outside of a cell, known as antigens.

Ford said the province will continue to deploy the 98,000 ID Now tests and 1.2 million Panbio tests it has received from the federal government in the coming weeks. Health Minister Christine Elliott says another 1.5 million Panbio tests are expected to arrive in Ontario next month.

The announcement comes as a data error resulted in an artificially low daily total of 1,009 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday.

It also comes just one day before the province’s auditor general is set to issue a three-part report on the province’s pandemic emergency preparedness and its response to COVID-19, including lab testing, case management and contact tracing. 

A spokesperson for Health Minister Christine Elliott said that yesterday’s figure of 1,589 cases (which appeared to be a record high) inadvertently included eight-and-a-half extra hours worth of data from Nov. 22, meaning the total count was inflated. Today’s number adjusts for the mistake.

The new cases include 497 in Toronto, 175 in Peel Region and 118 in York Region. The seven-day average now sits at 1,395.

Other public health units that saw double-digit increases were:

  • Waterloo Region: 40
  • Windsor: 31
  • Simcoe Muskoka: 25
  • Ottawa: 19
  • Niagara Region: 19
  • Durham Region: 16
  • Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph: 16
  • Hamilton: 10
  • Thunder Bay: 14

[Note: All of the figures used in this story are found on the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 dashboard or in its Daily Epidemiologic Summary. The number of cases for any region may differ from what is reported by the local public health unit, because local units report figures at different times.]

Testing falls to about half of capacity

Today’s additional cases include 270 that are school-related: 223 students and 47 staff. The Ministry of Education said in a statement that the figure is not a one-day increase. Rather it reflects cases identified in schools from 2 p.m. last Friday to 2 p.m. yesterday, and also some others that were not reported Friday because of professional learning days in some boards, including the Toronto public and Catholic boards.

There are currently 703 publicly-funded schools in Ontario, or about 14.6 per cent, with at least one reported instance of COVID-19. Four schools are closed due to the illness, including one in Windsor with 39 cases, the largest school-related outbreak in the province.

There are now 12,917 confirmed, active cases of the illness provincewide, a slight drop from yesterday as 1,082 cases were marked resolved today. 

The further infections in today’s update come as Ontario’s network of labs processed just 27,053 test samples for the novel coronavirus, and added 29,316 to the queue to be completed. There is currently capacity in the system for up to 50,000 tests daily. Meanwhile, the province reported a test positivity rate of 5.8 per cent.

The official COVID-19 death toll grew by 14, up to 3,519. So far this month, 374 people with COVID-19 have died in Ontario. 

Hospitalizations of people with COVID-19 also jumped, up 27 to 534. Of those, 159 are being treated in intensive care and 91 with ventilators. Public health officials have identified 150 patients in ICUs as the threshold for when unrelated surgeries and procedures are likely to be postponed because of burdens on the hospital system.

Meanwhile, a group of engineers, physicians and other professionals issued an open letter to the province Tuesday, calling for updated COVID-19 guidelines that emphasize the importance of ventilation when it comes to curbing the risk of spreading the virus

‘With winter approaching, our activities are moving indoors and it is therefore imperative that public institutions, workplaces and individuals understand the risk of aerosol transmission as well as the actions that can be taken to combat it,” the letter says.

Backed by 36 professionals, it also calls on the province to mandate and fund ventilation assessments and upgrades of settings like schools and long-term care homes, establishing ventilation standards for reopening, among other measures.

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The latest news on COVID-19 developments in Canada on Nov. 23, 2020 – Kamloops This Week

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The latest news on COVID-19 developments in Canada (all times Eastern):

6:15 p.m.

article continues below

There have been 17 deaths in British Columbia over three days due to COVID-19 and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says most of the victims were seniors in long-term or assisted care.

There have been 1,933 new cases since Friday, with 1,304 of them diagnosed in the Fraser Health region.

There are 60 active outbreaks in health-care facilities, including 54 long-term care or assisted-living sites and six hospitals or acute-care facilities.

Henry says it’s now the most challenging time of COVID-19 and everyone is feeling the strain.

4:10 p.m.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe is self-isolating due to a possible exposure to COVID-19.

A spokesman for Moe’s office says the potential exposure happened on Nov. 15 in the Prince Albert area.

Jim Billington says the premier is not experiencing symptoms but was tested today out of an abundance of caution.

He says Moe is to work remotely from his home in Shellbrook until Sunday.

The province announced 235 new cases today and four new deaths.

2:55 p.m.

Nova Scotia is reporting 11 new cases of COVID-19 today.

The province says the new cases were identified on Sunday in the Central Zone, bringing its total active case count up to 51.

Eight of the infections are connected to previously reported cases, while three are still under investigation.

Officials say the recent rise in cases has led to stricter rules for metro Halifax Regional Municipality and parts of Hants County which go into effect today.

2:10 p.m.

New Brunswick is reporting one new death and 15 new cases of COVID-19.

The new death brings the provincial fatality total to seven.

The province currently has 89 active cases of novel coronavirus and has registered 445 total cases and 349 recoveries.

Premier Blaine Higgs says there are no changes planned at this point around the Atlantic bubble despite the temporary withdrawal of Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island.

1:40 p.m.

COVID-19 cases in Yukon have jumped to 38, 14 more infections than just a week ago.

Territorial health officer Dr. Brendan Hanley says two of the new cases involve children under nine years old and at least one of those infected is over 60.

Yukon increased restrictions last week as infection rates jumped in jurisdictions around it, requiring all but critical services workers to self-isolate for two weeks when they enter the territory.

Hanley says community transmission has not yet been ruled out in some of the latest cases.

1:40 p.m.

Manitoba health officials are reporting a record-high 543 new COVID-19 cases.

Chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin says there are some positive signs, however.

He says the average number of contacts per case is dropping, which could slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Manitoba brought in strict measures last week that limit store openings and public gatherings.

11:40 a.m.

Newfoundland and Labrador is reporting two new cases of COVID-19 and its first case confirmed in a school.

In a press conference today, officials announced one of the new cases is a student at the elementary school in Deer Lake, in western Newfoundland.

The student’s infection is connected to a cluster of cases in the area.

Officials say the other case is also in western Newfoundland, but is related to travel and is not connected to the ongoing cluster.

11:20 a.m.

Prince Edward Island Premier Dennis King has announced his province will be temporarily withdrawing from the Atlantic bubble for a two-week period starting tomorrow.

He says it’s a necessary step because of a spike in COVID-19 cases in the other three Atlantic provinces.

King says all non-essential travel to and from the Island will be suspended until December 7th, at which time the situation will be re-evaluated.

The Island reported one new case of COVID 19 today.

11:10 a.m.

Quebec is reporting 1,164 new cases of COVID-19 and 13 more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus, including three that occurred in the past 24 hours.

Health officials say today that hospitalizations decreased by eight, to 634, and 98 patients were in intensive care, a drop of five.

The province says 1,282 more people recovered from COVID-19, for a total of 115,367 recoveries.

Quebec has reported 133,206 COVID-19 infections and 6,842 deaths linked to the virus since the start of the pandemic.

10:45 a.m.

Ontario is reporting 1,589 new cases of COVID-19 today, and 19 new deaths due to the virus.

Health Minister Christine Elliott says 535 in Peel Region, 336 cases are in Toronto, and 205 cases in York Region.

The province says it has conducted 37,471 tests since the last daily report.

In total, 507 people are hospitalized in Ontario due to COVID-19, including 156 in intensive care.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 23, 2020.

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