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Wintry woes put Canadian holiday travel on ice, as airports brace for another blast

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The woes for travellers stranded by heavy snow at Vancouver’s airport have spread across the country and Toronto Pearson International Airport is now advising of an approaching storm that could derail things further.

Among the passengers worrying about making it home for Christmas was Fort McMurray, Alta., resident Jennifer Alberto, who sat on a bench at Vancouver International Airport Wednesday morning, cradling her six-year-old son’s head while he caught some precious sleep.

They and Jennifer’s husband, Jason, had spent a second night in the crowded terminal since arriving Monday evening on a flight from the Philippines. Their connecting flight home was cancelled.

“We don’t know what’s going on. We asked the same question this morning: what’s the plan? There is no plan,” Jennifer said.

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The Albertos are hardly alone in their plight, and they are closer to home than many other international travellers.

A statement from Vancouver’s airport says it halted all international arrivals for about 48 hours to deal with “congestion” caused by 27 centimetres of snow Tuesday.

The restriction, affecting 17 airlines and approximately 30 flights, is to lift at 5 a.m. Friday.

Airport officials issued another statement later Tuesday, saying improved weather and work by crews clearing runways had allowed an increase in takeoffs and landings, but delays and cancellations were expected to continue.

Meanwhile, the International Civil Aviation Organization said two runways at Victoria International Airport were to remain shut until 6 p.m. Wednesday due to snow. The airport was one of the hardest hit by Tuesday’s storm, receiving 36 centimetres of snow.

A fresh blast of wintry weather is expected to arrive in the region Thursday night.

Brian Proctor, an Environment Canada meteorologist based in Alberta, said another round of snow is forecast before shifting to rain late Friday or Saturday morning, as frigid temperatures begin to rise.

“It does look like it’s going to be a fairly significant precipitation event again,” Proctor said.

The highest accumulations of snow are expected in the Fraser Valley, though he said parts of Metro Vancouver could see up to 15 centimetres.

Trevor Boudreau, director of external relations at Vancouver International Airport, said halting foreign arrivals was a necessary step in light of the forecast.

“What that will do over the next 48 hours is giving us time to clear through the backlog. We have to prepare for the next new event that’s going to come late Thursday and into Friday,” he said in an interview. Boudreau predicted a “challenging week ahead.”

At Pearson, officials have advised travellers to check with their airline because airport operations could be affected by a storm forecast to arrive Thursday and potentially cause blizzard conditions the next day.

That would add to ripple effects from the disruptions in Vancouver and extreme cold in Alberta, which have already created challenges for holiday season travellers across Canada.

“By the time you look at what’s forecast to be in Toronto on Friday and what’s forecast in the Vancouver area over the next couple of days, we’ve got two of the major hubs in the country with aviation problems,” Proctor said.

Steven Flisfeder, a warning preparedness meteorologist with Environment Canada, said Toronto should be mostly clear on Thursday, but the coming storm will start as light rain, snow or a mix, before a cold front arrives later Friday.

“That will change temperatures drastically to the negative side and we’ll see a very rapid transition from rain to snow, at times heavy, plus very strong wind gusts.”

The combination of snow and strong winds will create “very hazardous travel conditions across Ontario, across southern Quebec and then, eventually, through the Maritimes,” Flisfeder said.

Bad weather on either side of the country has already resulted in hundreds of flight cancellations.

A statement from Air Canada suggests nearly 600 of its flights haven’t been completed over the last five days.

About 935 Air Canada flights depart every day worldwide, it said, with a flight completion rate “well above” 98 per cent since the beginning of December.

But over the past five days, the rate dropped to 87.25 per cent, the statement said, citing storms in Ontario and B.C.

Air Canada said travellers should rebook online if their flight is scrubbed, while WestJet is offering full refunds to passengers choosing to cancel proactively.

A statement from WestJet showed 86 flights cancelled Wednesday, a number that was expected to rise throughout the day.

It said 240 flights were grounded Tuesday due to disruptions in Vancouver along with frigid temperatures in Calgary and Edmonton, while 250 flights were cancelled Sunday and Monday.

The statement from Vancouver International Airport acknowledges that halting international arrivals until two days before Christmas will come as a blow.

“We fully recognize the impact this will have on individuals and families over the holiday season. However, the congestion caused by Tuesday’s storm events makes this action necessary,” it said.

A significant number of planes remain at the airport, causing congestion at its airfield, airport officials said in their subsequent statement.

Calgary airport officials issued a statement saying “it’s been a tough few days of travel delays for many.”

“While the harsh weather slows things down, we are working to ensure that first and foremost our guests and staff stay safe during these weather events.”

Officials at the Saskatoon airport said flights are departing and arriving, but “compounding issues from weather-related events this week in other parts of the country, notably Vancouver and Calgary,” have led to delays and cancellations.

Airlines are also facing ongoing challenges with crew and aircraft availability, it said, adding passengers are advised to check their flight status directly with the airline.

Back in Vancouver, the Albertos worry about having to spend another night at the airport.

Jennifer Alberto said she was also concerned about a friend on the same flight from the Philippines, a new immigrant bound for Calgary who slept at Vancouver’s airport on his first two nights as a Canadian resident because his connection was cancelled.

“He just came here and needs more support,” she said.

— with files from Amanda Stephenson in Calgary

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 21, 2022.

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More than 1,000 New Brunswickers report adverse reactions to COVID-19 vaccines – CBC.ca

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More than 1,000 New Brunswickers have had an adverse reaction after getting a COVID-19 vaccine, and more than a quarter of them were considered “serious,” according to the Department of Health.

A total of more than two million vaccines have been administered in the province, putting the incidence at roughly 0.06 per cent.

Spokesperson Adam Bowie did not provide any information about the nature of the reactions, but the Public Health Agency of Canada defines an adverse event as “any untoward medical occurrence which follows immunization.” It isn’t necessarily causally related to the vaccine.

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The adverse event may be any:

  • Unfavourable or unintended sign (for example: skin rash).
  • Abnormal laboratory finding.
  • Symptom.
  • Disease.

An event is considered serious if it:

  • Results in death.
  • Is life-threatening, such as anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction.
  • Requires in-patient hospitalization or prolongation of existing hospitalization.
  • Results in persistent or significant disability/incapacity.
  • Results in a congenital anomaly/birth defect.

Bowie did not provide a breakdown of reactions by type of vaccine or by ages, either.

Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reported a possible link between ischemic strokes in people aged 65 and older and the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 bivalent vaccine, which is designed to target the Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5.

An ischemic stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is interrupted or reduced by a blockage or clot. This prevents the brain tissue from getting the oxygen and nutrients it needs to survive.

“Although the totality of the data currently suggests that it is very unlikely that the signal in VSD [vaccine safety datalink] represents a true clinical risk, we believe it is important to share this information with the public,” the U.S. health officials had said.

Monitoring the situation closely

New Brunswick Public Health, the Public Health Agency of Canada and Health Canada are all aware of the U.S. report, issued on Jan. 13, based on their vaccine adverse event reporting surveillance system, said Bowie.

“So far, these safety concerns have not been raised through other vaccine safety monitoring systems in the United States, or in other countries — including Canada,” he said in an emailed statement.

“It should be noted the CDC did not recommend any changes to vaccination practices at this time, and that these adverse events have not yet been confirmed to have been caused by the vaccines administered.

If New Brunswick Public Health’s recommendations regarding the safety or suitability of this vaccine were to change, that information would be communicated to the public.– Adam Bowie, Department of Health spokesperson

“Additional analysis and reviews must be completed to further explore the causes of these reactions and that data is used as part of the continuous monitoring of the safety of these vaccines.”

Still, New Brunswick and federal health officials are “monitoring this situation closely,” said Bowie.

“If New Brunswick Public Health’s recommendations regarding the safety or suitability of this vaccine were to change, that information would be communicated to the public,” he said.

‘Less than five’ strokes after bivalent reported in Canada

As of Jan. 1, more than seven million doses of mRNA bivalent vaccines have been administered in Canada, and the Public Health Agency of Canada and Health Canada say they’ve not observed any elevated risks or safety signals for thromboembolic or vascular events following the administration of these vaccines, noted Bowie.

“Less than five” reports of ischemic stroke following the administration of an mRNA bivalent vaccine have been submitted to the federal bodies to date, he said. Only one of these involved a Pfizer-BioNTech bivalent vaccine for a person aged 65 years or older.

In New Brunswick, 1,148 adverse events related to COVID-19 vaccines have been reported to the Department of Health, from the 2,028,684 total doses administered between Dec. 14, 2020, and Jan. 14, 2023, said Bowie.

“Of those, 313 events were labelled serious in nature,” he said.

Benefits continue to outweigh risks

“Evidence indicates that the benefits of COVID-19 vaccines continue to outweigh the risks of the disease,” the federal website states.

Across Canada, of the 96,432,067 COVID-19 vaccines administered to date, adverse events have been reported by 53,611 people. That’s about six people out of every 10,000 people vaccinated who have reported one or more adverse events.

Of those, 10,565 adverse events were considered serious in nature, an incidence of 0.01 per cent.

“Citizens should be aware that vaccine providers are legally required to report any adverse events in New Brunswick under the Public Health Act, and immunization data is regularly monitored to ensure that any unusual safety trends would be identified quickly,” said Bowie.

Federal health officials also review data from provinces and territories across the country to identify any new or emerging trends, he said.

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WHO decision on COVID-19 emergency won't effect Canada's response: Tam – CP24

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OTTAWA – On Monday, exactly three years from the day he declared COVID-19 to be a global public health emergency, World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus will decide whether to call it off.

But declaring an end to the “public health emergency of international concern” would not mean COVID-19 is no longer a threat. It will also not do much to change Canada’s approach.

“In Canada, we’re already doing what we need to do,” chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said in her most recent COVID-19 update.

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She said the WHO discussion is important but COVID-19 monitoring and public health responses are not going to end. That includes continued surveillance of cases, particularly severe illness and death, and vaccination campaigns.

The WHO’s emergency committee, which was struck in 2020 when COVID-19 first emerged as a global health threat, voted Friday on whether to maintain the formal designation of a public health emergency.

Tedros will make the final call Monday based on the advice the committee gives him.

He warned earlier this week that he remains concerned about the impact of the virus, noting there were 170,000 deaths from COVID-19 reported around the world in the last two months.

“While I will not pre-empt the advice of the emergency committee, I remain very concerned by the situation in many countries and the rising number of deaths,” he said Jan. 24.

“While we are clearly in better shape than three years ago when this pandemic first hit, the global collective response is once again under strain.”

He is worried not enough health-care workers or seniors are up to date on vaccinations, that access to antivirals is limited and that health systems around the world remain fragile following three years of pandemic strain.

In Canada, there was a noticeable rise in cases, hospitalizations and deaths over Christmas and early in January but all are trending down again. Tam said there were no surges of the virus anywhere in Canada, though the latest variant of Omicron was being watched closely.

Federal surveillance data shows more than 30 people are still dying of COVID-19 every day, and hundreds of people are still hospitalized.

The formal designation of the global public health emergency was made on Jan. 30, 2020, when 99 per cent of confirmed COVID-19 cases were still restricted to China.

The decision was made to declare an emergency because human-to-human transmission was starting to occur outside China, and the hope was that by designating an emergency it could prompt a public health response that could still limit the impact of COVID-19.

That did not happen. On March 11, 2020, Tedros declared a global pandemic, practically begging countries to do more to slow it down.

The declaration of a pandemic meant that there was exponential growth in the spread of the virus.

By WHO terminology, a “public health emergency of international concern” is the highest formal declaration and the one which triggers a legally binding response among WHO member countries, including Canada.

It is what is done when a health threat is “serious, sudden, unusual or unexpected,” when it carries global public health implications and may require “immediately international action.”

A designation prompts the WHO director-general to issue recommendations for member countries including increased surveillance to identify new cases, isolating or quarantining infected people and their close contacts, travel measures such as border testing or closures, public health communications, investments in research and collaboration on treatments and vaccinations.

Dr. Sameer Elsayed, an infectious diseases physician and the director adult infectious diseases residency training at Western University in London, Ont., said to his mind the WHO should end the global emergency designation even though the pandemic itself is not over.

“I don’t know that we should continue to call it an emergency,” he said. “I hope they say that we’re going to bring it down a notch.”

Elsayed said for vulnerable populations, including the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, COVID-19 continues to pose a serious threat, but for most people there are far bigger threats, including suicide. He said with limited health resources, COVID-19 needs to be put in its proper place alongside other health issues.

Children, in particular, said Elsayed, are much more at risk from influenza and RSV than COVID-19 in wealthy countries, and from food insecurity and the lack of access to clean water in many developing nations.

Tam said regardless of what WHO decides, Canada won’t stop monitoring the evolution of the virus that causes COVID-19, including for new variants that may require adjustments to vaccines or other treatments.

She also said we must continue to monitor the ongoing developments in long COVID.

“We mustn’t, I think, let go of the gains that we’ve had in the last several years,” she said.

“I think whatever the decision is made by the director-general of WHO, I think we just need to keep going with what we’re doing now.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 27, 2023.

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COVID still a concern despite drop in flu, RSV cases: expert – CTV News

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As RSV and flu cases steadily decline in Canada, the World Health Organization (WHO) is set to announce on Monday whether it still considers COVID-19 a global health emergency.

Ahead of that announcement, one of Canada’s top infectious disease specialists warns that the WHO’s consensus won’t necessarily mean the virus is behind us.

“I think it’s important to point out that this is not about … whether COVID is gone or not,” said Dr. Lisa Barrett, an assistant professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology as well as the Department of Medicine in the Faculty of Medicine at Dalhousie University.

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“This is a real committee-based decision at the WHO level to decide in whether this is still a public health emergency of international concern,” she told CTV News Channel Sunday.

Barrett explained that this a matter of prioritizing access to resources and research, and not to determine an end point for COVID-19.

“So what this all means is that COVID is not done,” she said. “And the way it looks in different countries is different in many situations. That’s what they’re trying to decide at this point, not whether a pandemic is done or whether COVID is going away.”

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus will make the official call on the status of COVID-19, based on the advice of his committee. Earlier this week, he warned that he remains concerned about the impact of the virus and mentioned that there were 170,000 COVID-related deaths reported around the world in the last two months.

The WHO update comes at a time when concerns over a combination of respiratory illnesses are easing. Canadian data shows that influenza hospitalizations are now dropping.

“We’re starting to see influenza, perhaps RSV, starting to come down somewhat,” Barrett said.

“There’s still a lot of debate about whether we’re catching many cases that are not important. But really, I think the big [question] from the last year as we start to see influenza and RSV maybe go down is, what’s the best way forward?”

Barrett noted that the FDA recommended a change to booster shot roll outs.

“They’re suggesting a once-a-year, similar to a flu shot. I think that’s the right approach at this point,” she said.

“I think the first thing we should remind Canadians is that if they are due for an additional dose in the vulnerable populations — older folks, people who have bad immune systems — please don’t think it’s too early to go out and get that last dose from the fall if you haven’t.”

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