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Why lockdowns alone won’t save us from the pandemic

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The prospect of locking society down again the way we did in the first wave of COVID-19 — and the collateral damage that comes with it — is daunting.

The financial devastation on businesses forced to close and lay off employees, the increase in mental health issues, the halting of elective medical procedures and the continuing risks to essential workers on the front lines all factor in.

Keeping society functioning and supporting devastated sectors of the economy while limiting the spread of the coronavirus is key to navigating the pandemic until a safe and effective vaccine is here.

But experts acknowledge there is growing resistance to some of the restrictions that highlights a need to manage the public mood as the pandemic rages on.

You arguably could not find a more politically charged term right now than “lockdown,” since everyone has a different, personal idea of what it is.

“This term has become equated with so many bad things that no one really understands what it means,” said Michael Osterholm, director of the Centre for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

“It’s everyone’s worst fear about what somebody else is doing to them regarding the pandemic.”

Osterholm, a veteran of SARS and MERS who warned the world for 15 years that a pandemic was coming, thinks the term lockdown should be abolished altogether.

Instead, Osterholm said we need to look at it as targeted public health measures necessary to reducing the spread of COVID-19 and getting back to normal as quickly as possible, while at the same time supporting those who have suffered financially.

The key to successfully riding out the pandemic lies in finding balance between working with the population to help keep the number of cases low without substantially changing life as we know it.

“The challenge is, the end isn’t coming soon,” he said. “But it’s coming, and what we need to do is try to have as few cases as possible between now and the time a vaccine arrives.”

‘Pandemic fatigue’ can turn to ‘pandemic anger’

Managing the public’s frustration presents a challenge for public health officials in the second wave.

During a journalism conference at Carleton University in Ottawa on Thursday, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said that public health messaging can seem inconsistent because of the evolving science in the pandemic.

“We are living in a more challenging period right now,” she said, in which authorities have “to convince people who are fatigued to stick to sustainable habits or public health practices.”

Ontario and Quebec have already moved to close bars, restaurants and gyms in their hardest-hit regions amid rising cases, while Alberta and British Columbia weigh the need to tighten restrictions amid record-high rises in cases.

Osterholm said resistance to public health restrictions not only stems from the concept of “pandemic fatigue,” but also from something he calls “pandemic anger.”

“It’s people who don’t believe that the pandemic is real,” he said. “They think it’s a hoax.”

Raywat Deonandan, a global health epidemiologist and associate professor at the University of Ottawa, said the resistance also stems from “raw selfishness.”

 

Protesters clash with police officers during an anti-lockdown protest in London, England, on Sept. 26. (Hollie Adams/Getty Images)

 

“There’s an inability to think about community responsibility,” he said, explaining that people think they won’t personally be seriously affected by the virus because it has a comparatively higher survivability rate in younger age groups.

“But if you scale this up to a population, then that’s tens of thousands of deaths – and they don’t care.”

Perception of risk has a cost

The latest World Economic Outlook from the International Monetary Fund found that while lockdowns controlled the spread of the coronavirus, they also contributed to a global economic recession that disproportionately affected vulnerable populations.

But the IMF report also found the damage to the economy was largely driven by people “voluntarily refraining” from social interactions out of a fear of contracting the virus.

Osterholm said the perception of risk — and not strict public health restrictions — is what holds people back from doing things like travelling by plane or entering a retail store.

“Nobody is telling you you can’t go to the grocery store rather than ordering online — it’s just people don’t feel safe and secure,” he said.

“Well, how do you make that happen? You make it happen by making cases occur at a much, much lower rate than they’re occurring now. It’s not going to be just by telling the virus we’re done.”

Lockdowns should be last resort

Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease physician and a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore, Md., isn’t in favour of lockdowns as a first line of defence in the pandemic.

“If you’re going to take public health interventions, they have to be very targeted towards specific activities that are actually leading to spread,” he said. “You only use a lockdown when you have fouled up your response so bad that that’s all you have left to do.”

 

 

A group of international experts push back against the Great Barrington Declaration and its pursuit of COVID-19 herd immunity, calling it “a dangerous fallacy unsupported by scientific evidence.” 2:05

But ignoring lockdowns isn’t an effective strategy, either.

The Great Barrington Declaration, a controversial proposal from a group of scientists (backed by a U.S. think-tank) to lift restrictions, made headlines last week for its calls to protect “the vulnerable” from COVID-19 with strict measures while allowing those “at minimal risk of death” to return to normal life and build up herd immunity to the virus.

But it failed to present a logical counterargument for controlling the virus or concrete ways to protect the vulnerable (including the elderly and the poor), not to mention those who care for them.

Referring to the declaration, Deonandan said, “If there wasn’t a vaccine coming, if nothing changes and this has to be how we live in perpetuity, then OK, maybe we have to discuss some other options. But none of that is true.”

Canada has had more than 200,000 cases and is approaching 10,000 deaths, but modelling predicts the situation would be much worse if public health guidelines like physical distancing, mask-wearing and proper hand hygiene weren’t followed.

Osterholm said those pushing the the Barrington Declaration completely misunderstood the concept behind public health restrictions and the reasons behind enacting them in the first place.

“If you’re going to keep thinking about this as a lockdown, then we’re going to find a lot of resistance to this,” he said. “But on the other hand, if you don’t suppress transmission, we’re also going to see a lot of deaths.”

A question of public tolerance

Lockdowns are one of many tools a country can use in the face of an infectious disease outbreak, but their effectiveness is dependent on the public’s willingness to tolerate them.

China imposed some of the most severe public health restrictions in modern history upon the discovery of the coronavirus at the beginning of this year, something democratic nations would be unlikely to imitate.

But China is already seeing the rewards of its draconian efforts to control the spread. It’s the only major economy expected to grow this year, with retail spending surpassing pre-pandemic levels for the first time and factory output rising on the backs of demand for exports of masks and other medical supplies to countries like Canada.

Other regions like New Zealand, Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong acted swiftly by closing borders, imposing strict public health measures and opting for shorter, more strategic lockdowns, which have allowed them to carefully reopen society.

South Korea, meanwhile, didn’t lock down at all and instead focused on testing, tracing and isolating cases to control the spread of the virus successfully.

“The lesson here is you choose one path and you stick with it,” Deonandan said. “What is not acceptable is vacillating between different strategies.”

 

Lockdowns are one of many tools a country can use in the face of an infectious disease, but their effectiveness is dependent on the public’s willingness to tolerate them. (Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images)

 

Australia imposed targeted lockdown measures in the face of outbreaks, which University of Western Australia epidemiologist Dr. Zoë Hyde said has been “enormously successful” in eliminating the virus in much of the country.

“While lockdowns absolutely have harms associated with them, the harms are much less than those of an unmitigated epidemic,” she said. “Governments can also minimize the harms of lockdowns by making them short and sharp, and by financially supporting workers and businesses.”

Lockdowns ‘a sign of failure’

Hyde said the eastern Australian state of Victoria was a precautionary tale for the debate over lockdowns, because of mistakes made in a hotel quarantine system that allowed the virus to spread again.

“If governments have not tried hard enough to suppress the virus, then a lockdown is inevitable, whether people want one or not,” Hyde said.

“Lockdowns are a sign of failure. They’re a sign that governments have not been doing enough.”

Victoria was recording around 700 new cases per day in July, but a second lockdown coupled with a mask mandate have brought case numbers down to only a handful a day at most.

“Measures to combat the virus have to be tailored. They can’t be more than the economy can bear,” Hyde said, “but equally we must remember that the best way to protect the economy is to suppress the virus.”

“Ultimately it’s the virus doing the damage to the economy, not the measures designed to suppress it. No matter what we wish, the economy won’t go back to normal if a dangerous virus is circulating.”


Source: – CBC.ca

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Why the federal government lets Canadians travel abroad during the COVID-19 pandemic – CBC.ca

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News reports that many snowbirds are heading south this winter — despite the COVID-19 pandemic — have angered some fellow Canadians who feel they shouldn’t be allowed to go. 

“I think this should be absolutely, 100 per cent stopped,” said Barry Tate of Sidney, B.C. “This is a pandemic. This is life and death.”

Tate and his wife, Patti Locke-Lewkowich, usually travel to Mexico for two months each winter. But this year they’re staying home, due to fears of falling ill with COVID-19 while abroad. 

“We feel safer at home in the confines of our little home here,” said Locke-Lewkowich.

However, some snowbirds argue they’ll be just as safe down south, because they plan to take all necessary COVID-19-related precautions.

Barry Tate and Patti Locke-Lewkowich of Sidney, B.C. on a past visit to La Manzanilla, Mexico. The couple normally spent two months in Mexco, but won’t be going this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Submitted by Patti Locke-Lewkowich)

The federal government sides with Locke-Lewkowich, advising Canadians to avoid non-essential travel abroad during the pandemic.

But it’s only an advisory, which means Canadians can still freely leave and return to Canada — a decision that’s rooted in Canadians’ constitutional rights.

“It’s always a balance between allowing people to kind of live their lives, and the government attempting to keep health crises under control,” said Kerri Froc, a constitutional law expert.

Please don’t go

In March, the federal government issued its advisory not to travel abroad, to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

After the cold weather hit in the fall and some snowbirds started packing their bags, the government doubled down on its messaging.

Last month, it posted an alert on its website, warning seniors to stay home, because their age makes them more vulnerable to falling seriously ill with COVID-19. 

This month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland each made a public plea. 

“This is not the time for non-essential travel. It’s not a good idea,” said Freeland in French at a news conference on Monday. 

Watch: Canada’s chief public officer talks about COVID-19’s future

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam talks to The National’s Andrew Chang about the holiday season and getting to the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. 6:31

However, Freeland added that the government won’t bar people from leaving. “We will not stop them,” she said in French.

As a result, Canadians are free to travel to countries that have open borders, including the United States which — despite a closed land border — still allows Canadians to fly to the country. 

Meanwhile, some other western nations — such as Australia, France and England — prevent their citizens from travelling abroad for non-essential travel, as part of current lockdown measures to help curb infection rates. 

Scotland also bans citizens who live in designated COVID-19 hotspots from travelling outside the country. 

“Going on holiday, including abroad, is not a reasonable excuse to leave,” the Scottish government states on its website.

Why doesn’t Canada have a travel ban?

During a government committee meeting on Wednesday, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said that the government doesn’t have the authority to prevent Canadians from travelling abroad. “And they have, under the Constitution, a right of return,” he added. 

Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that Canadians have the right to enter and leave the country. 

Kerri Froc, an associate law professor at the University of New Brunswick, said that Canada must balance its handling of the COVID-19 crisis with Canadians’ constitutional rights.

Froc, an associate law professor at the University of New Brunswick, said the government could only limit that right for justifiable reasons, and that justifying a travel ban would likely be an uphill battle. 

“The court takes a really dim view of absolute bans,” she said. “I’m totally in favour of government taking the COVID crisis seriously, making policy to restrict travel, but they have to do so in a way that pays sufficient respect to people’s constitutional rights.”

What are the risks?

Locke-Lewkowich, who’s staying home this winter, said she accepts that Canadians have the right to travel abroad, but hopes those who do so won’t get government aid if they run into trouble.

“Is Canada going to bail them out with our money?” she said. 

When COVID-19 began its global spread in the spring and many flights were cancelled, Global Affairs Canada worked with airlines to fly stranded Canadians home.

But now the government department warns it may not assist Canadian travellers a second time round. 

“The Government of Canada is not planning any further facilitated flights to repatriate Canadians and may have limited capacity to offer consular services,” said Global Affairs spokesperson, Christelle Chartrand in an email. 

Chartrand advised that, before leaving the country, Canadians verify if their medical insurance covers COVID-19-related illnesses and a possible extended stay abroad. 

Travel insurance broker Martin Firestone said he advises his snowbird clients not to travel abroad during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Submitted by Martin Firestone)

Travel insurance broker, Martin Firestone, said if travellers fail to purchase adequate insurance and fall ill, they will be on the hook for the bill — and that includes any medevac charges. 

“You aren’t getting medevaced home unless you give them a credit card first and they put it through and then it reads approved,” said Firestone with Travel Secure in Toronto. “To the best of my knowledge, I don’t see it falling back on the taxpayer.”

Despite the risks, many snowbirds still plan on heading south; Firestone said that around 40 per cent of his 1,000 snowbird clients have already booked their trips.

“That’s with me telling them not to go,” said Firestone who advises his clients not to travel during the pandemic. 

“Even as good as you protect yourself, you still can’t protect yourself against [the] total unknown.”

Canadian travellers returning home must quarantine for 14 days. Freeland said that the rule will continue to be “very strictly enforced.”

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Canada adds over 5,000 new coronavirus infections as global cases top 60 million – Global News

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Canada added 5,018 new novel coronavirus cases on Wednesday, bringing the country’s total number of infections to 347,150.

Health authorities across the country also said 92 more people have died after testing positive for COVID-19.

The virus has now been linked to 11,710 deaths in Canada. 

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A total of 2,243 people are in hospital after contracting the respiratory illness, while 277,232 have recovered.

Read more:
Mystery of the coronavirus origin: Experts still seeking answers

In a statement Wednesday, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said “more and larger” COVID-19 outbreaks are occurring in long-term care homes, congregate living settings and hospitals and in Indigenous communities and remote areas.

“These developments are deeply concerning as they put countless Canadians at risk of life-threatening illness, cause serious disruptions to health services and present significant challenges for areas not adequately equipped to manage complex medical emergencies,” she said.

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Tam also said the number of Canadians across the country experiencing “severe illness continues to increase.”

“This situation is putting pressure on local health-care resources and forcing hospitals to make the difficult decision to cancel elective surgeries and procedures in several areas of the country,” she said.

Tam said “collective effort” from individuals and public health officials is needed “to support and sustain the response through to the end of the pandemic, while balancing the health, social and economic consequences.”


Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Trudeau says Canada working to ensure equitable access to vaccines'



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Coronavirus: Trudeau says Canada working to ensure equitable access to vaccines


Coronavirus: Trudeau says Canada working to ensure equitable access to vaccines

Between Ontario and Quebec 2,473 new cases of the virus were reported.

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Ontario saw 1,373 new infections, while health officials in Quebec said 1,100 new cases had been identified. The provinces also reported 35 and 28 additional fatalities respectively.

In Saskatchewan, 164 new cases of COVID-19 were detected, but health authorities said no new deaths associated with the virus were reported.

Meanwhile, Manitoba saw 349 new coronavirus infections on Wednesday and eight new fatalities, pushing the provincial death toll to 256.

Read more:
Mexican ambassador slams vaccine ‘selfishness’ following Tories’ comments

In Atlantic Canada, 21 new novel coronavirus infections were detected.

New Brunswick saw three new cases, while Nova Scotia added 16 new cases. Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador each saw one new case, bringing the provincial totals to 70 and 324 respectively.

None of the maritime provinces saw any new deaths associated with the respiratory illness on Wednesday.

In Alberta, 1,265 new cases were reported, and health officials said eight more people had died.

The province has now seen 50,801 infections and 500 fatalities related to COVID-19.

British Columbia saw 734 new cases and 13 new deaths, bringing the total number of confirmed COVID-19 infections to 28,770 and the death toll to 371.

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Coronavirus: Trudeau says Canada working on vaccine distribution, ‘premature’ to give date


Coronavirus: Trudeau says Canada working on vaccine distribution, ‘premature’ to give date

Nunavut added 11 new cases of the virus on Wednesday, pushing the territory’s total case load to 155. The territory has not yet seen a fatality related to COVID-19. So far two people have recovered after falling ill.

Meanwhile the Yukon reported one new case of COVID-19, but no new deaths.

The Northwest Territories has not reported any new cases of the virus since Nov. 13, and health officials say all 15 confirmed cases are considered to be recovered.

Global cases top 60 million

The number of cases of the novel coronavirus worldwide topped 60 million on Wednesday.

By 6:30 p.m. ET, there were a total of 60,207,001 cases globally, according to a tally from Johns Hopkins University.

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Read more:
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Since the virus was first detected, it has claimed 1,417,906 lives around the world.

The United States remained the epicentre of the virus with more than 12.7 million cases and 261,874 fatalities to date.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Canada still on track for January 2021 vaccine rollout, despite domestic dose disadvantage: Feds – CTV News

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OTTAWA —
The federal government is still eyeing January 2021 as the start date for when people in Canada will begin to receive COVID-19 vaccines, despite frustration and concerns levelled at the Liberals by the opposition on Wednesday about Canada’s position in the queue to receive doses.

“At the beginning of next year, in January of 2021, assuming those approvals are given… Canadians will be able to start being vaccinated,” Queen’s Privy Council for Canada and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs Dominic LeBlanc said in an interview on CTV’s Power Play.

The approvals he is referencing are Health Canada approvals, which will be required before vaccine doses are doled out.

LeBlanc wouldn’t say what specifically the contracts say in terms of licensing and schedules for delivery, but disputed that Canada is at the back of the line and said that the number of doses coming to Canada will increase over time.

“We will start to receive the first millions of doses early part of 2021… those contracts are in place and that distribution will be made very effectively with provinces and territories,” he said.

In a separate segment on CTV’s Power Play, Conservative health critic Michelle Rempel Garner cast doubt on the timeline, saying there is no publicly available evidence to substantiate the government’s January 2021 target will be attainable.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sought to temper Canadians’ expectations around the timing and rollout of an eventual vaccine or vaccines to immunize against the novel coronavirus, acknowledging that Canada is at a “disadvantage” because Canada “no longer has any domestic production capability” to make our own and is relying on other nations.

While there has been promising news about some vaccine candidates that Canada will receive millions of doses early next year— to be distributed on a priority basis—several other nations are making plans to begin administering vaccines next month.

Among the promising candidates so far are Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca, all of which Canada has begun the domestic approval process for. However, Trudeau said that the countries where these pharmaceutical companies are based, including the United States, will “obviously” prioritize vaccinating their citizens before shipping doses internationally.

This caused a flurry of questions levelled at Trudeau during question period on Wednesday, with the opposition slamming the government’s handling of vaccine procurement.

“Why did this prime minister sign deals that placed Canadians months behind Americans for getting a COVID-19 vaccine?” asked Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole.

“The announcement of vaccines gave people hope, but when the prime minister said we’re not able to produce it in Canada people were afraid… They need to know that there’s a clear plan with dates,” said NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh during question period.

In a press conference, Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet said it was “unacceptable” that vaccines could still be months away from arriving in Canada, saying the federal government should have moved sooner to secure manufacturing rights and to ramp up production capacity at home.

Trudeau sought to defend his government’s handling, noting that it was under the previous Conservative administrations that Canada’s domestic capacity dwindled away.

Canada has begun funding domestic vaccine production capacity but Trudeau has said it will take “years” to get in place and likely won’t help Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine situation, but will be in place should there be future pandemics.

On Wednesday, LeBlanc suggested that should there be a second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine required, or subsequent booster shots in years to come, the domestic ability to produce the vaccines could be ready.

Canada does produce some vaccines, but not the kind so far looking promising for COVID-19. Pharmaceutical companies Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline make protein-based vaccines, but the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, for example, are mRNA vaccines, which use messenger ribonucleic acid to produce an immune response.

“One is like making wine, one’s like making Coke,” Andrew Casey, the CEO of BioteCanada, told The Canadian Press Wednesday. “Yes, they both grow in bottles. Yes, you can drink both out of a glass. But the manufacturing processes used for the two is so completely different. You can’t just say well, we’ll shut down the protein one, and we’ll switch over to the mRNA.”

On Friday the Public Health Agency of Canada confirmed to MPs that the country is on track to receive an initial six million doses by March, four million from Pfizer and two million from Moderna.

In total, Canada has signed deals with seven vaccine manufactures, securing more vaccines per capita than other countries. The deals include an agreement with Canadian-based Medicago, whose vaccine candidate remains the farthest away from approval of those Canada has contracts with.

With files from The Canadian Press

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