Tag Archives: found

Montreal health agency says communications with family were ‘incomplete’ after woman found dead in ER

Montreal’s West Island health agency has admitted its communications were lacking with the family of a woman who was found dead last month on the floor of a room in the emergency department of Lakeshore General Hospital in Pointe-Claire, Que. 

But the family says that’s not enough.

In a statement emailed to the media this morning, the CIUSSS de l’Ouest de l’Île de Montréal said it has asked the coroner to investigate Candida Macarine’s Feb. 27 death. 

“Although the investigation is still ongoing, the CIUSSS is already able to say that its communications with the family were incomplete, especially at the time of the announcement of the death,” the statement said.

“The CIUSSS team is obviously sorry for the concerns this caused to the family of the deceased,” it continued.

Macarine died in a negative pressure isolation room that nurses in the Montreal-area hospital had warned managers about several times, saying it was difficult to see and monitor patients there.

The day of her death, Macarine’s family was told only that she had died of cardiac arrest. 

Learned circumstances of mother’s death from news report

It wasn’t until they noticed a CBC News story two weeks later about a woman found “dead and ice cold” on the floor beside her bed that they realized that woman was likely their mother.

The family and CBC News have repeatedly requested more information from the hospital during the last two weeks.

The agency finally acknowledged Tuesday that Macarine was the patient who died, and that it had failed to report the circumstances of her death to the family.

WATCH | Placido Macarine shares how it feels to know so little about his mother’s death:

The family of a woman who died at Lakeshore General Hospital in a room that staff had warned managers about for weeks only learned about the circumstances of her death after reading a CBC story earlier this week. 2:19

‘Unacceptable’

The statement comes a day after the family of Filipino heritage held a tearful news conference, accusing the hospital of racism.

In an interview with CBC Tuesday, Candida Macarine’s son Emmanuel Macarine said he wasn’t impressed with the hospital’s statement.

“No, no, I’m sorry, but for me it’s not an apology,” Macarine said.

He scoffed at the hospital’s admission that its communication with the family was “incomplete.”

“Incomplete? Well I don’t know how they tried to communicate with us! Until now, we didn’t receive anything — until after the press conference yesterday,” he said.

Head of CIUSSS offers to meet with family

The health agency intends to act on recommendations from the coroner’s investigation to “ensure that such a situation does not happen again,” CIUSSS said in its statement.

“Moreover, if it is shown that our staff acted inappropriately, the CIUSSS will not hesitate to take the decisions and actions that are necessary in such situations.”

The health agency statement didn’t explain why the family was never told of the circumstances of Macarine’s death.

In an email, a spokesperson told CBC News that the agency would not comment further until the CIUSSS CEO Lynne McVey has had a chance to meet with the family.

“Lynne McVey wrote to family members yesterday and asked to meet with them to offer her support in this difficult ordeal,” the statement said.

‘Cannot trust them anymore’

Emmanuel Macarine said the family has no immediate plans to meet with McVey.

“After all the refusals to our requests to know the truth of what happened to our mom, we cannot trust them anymore,” he said. “I mean, what are they going to say now?”

Macarine said the family would prefer to deal with the coroner’s office.

He said he and some of his brothers and sisters would hold a news conference Wednesday.

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Environment a chief suspect in mystery neurological disease found only in N.B.

Doctors in New Brunswick are being told to be on the lookout for symptoms of an unknown neurological disease that appears to be a new condition found only in the province and is believed to be linked to environmental causes.

At a public health update on COVID-19 Thursday, Dr. Jennifer Russell, the province’s chief medical officer of health fielded a number of questions about the mystery disease that was originally identified in the province in 2015.

In an internal memo obtained by Radio-Canada, sent on March 5 by the office of the chief medical officer of health to the New Brunswick Medical Society and to associations of doctors and nurses, the department highlighted a cluster of 42 cases of a progressive neurological syndrome of unknown origin.

Symptoms similar to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease

The disease has symptoms similar to those of the rare and fatal Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, but “testing so far has ruled out known prion diseases,” the memo stated.

The first case of the disease was diagnosed in 2015, according to the memo. Three years later, in 2019, 11 additional cases were discovered, with 24 more cases discovered in 2020 and another six in 2021. Five people have died.

The symptoms are similar to those of prion diseases, which include Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and some of its variants, including mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).

However, despite many similarities, tests for Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease have so far ruled out known prion diseases, the March 5 public health memo states.

Scientists are currently looking into the possibility that this is a new variant of a prion disease — or a new disease entirely.

On Thursday, Russell confirmed it is “most likely a new disease,” and noted “we haven’t seen this anywhere else” in Canada.

The cases have been reported to Health Canada’s Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease surveillance system, which determined that the rising number of cases should now be considered a cluster, Russell said.

At that point, she said, the March 5 memo was sent out to the province’s health-care professionals.


Moncton neurologist Dr. Alier Marrero said the leading hypothesis so far is that the disease is caused by something environmental. (Tori Weldon/CBC)

Doctors suspect environmental link

According to preliminary data from a research group on the subject, headed by neurologist Alier Marrero of Moncton’s Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre, the disease is not genetic.

“We don’t know yet where this is coming from,” but the leading hypothesis so far is that it’s environmental, Marrero said in an interview with CBC News on Thursday.

“We believe it is acquired from exposure to something in the environment … either food, water … toxins.”

Over the course of the six years since the disease first appeared in New Brunswick in 2015, case numbers have grown steadily and “clustered” in the Moncton and Acadian Peninsula areas of the province. 

“We have seen clustering of cases in some areas and we don’t know why,” Marrero said. 

According to the Public Health memo, the median age of the cases is 59 years, although female cases tend to be younger, with an average age of 54. Cases are distributed equally among men and women, the memo said. 

The symptoms of the disease are typically not very specific in the initial stages.

“It’s usually behavioural changes … for instance, an excess of anxiety, a little bit of irritability, unexplained pains in the limbs, muscle spasms, insomnia,” Marrero said.

As the disease progresses over a course of 18 to 36 months, loss of balance and co-ordination have been observed, and “sometimes patients have abnormal and rapidly progressing brain atrophy.”

No public health threat

However, Marrero and Russell both stopped short of calling the cases a public health threat. 

“Fear is usually bad advice because it will paralyze us,” Marrero said. “We are working very hard to figure this out, so we can stop it, so we can treat it.”

He advised that if anyone suspects they have symptoms of the disease, they should report them to their doctor, who will then refer them to the clinic.  

Symptoms that might appear to be related to the disease could actually be caused by another condition, he said. 

“For instance the patient could have multiple sclerosis, they could have Alzheimer’s disease … or some other condition that could be known and treated. So it’s important that they get referred and evaluated.”

Russell agreed.

“Right now, it’s just about awareness, making sure that physicians are watching for neurological symptoms like this so they can refer them to be assessed,” she said.

“We have a lot of work ahead of us in terms of trying to determine the cause.”   

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AstraZeneca says its vaccine review found no evidence of increased blood clot risks

AstraZeneca Plc on Sunday said it had conducted a review of people vaccinated with its COVID-19 vaccine which has shown no evidence of an increased risk of blood clots.

The review covered more than 17 million people vaccinated in the European Union and United Kingdom.

“A careful review of all available safety data of more than 17 million people vaccinated in the European Union and U.K. with COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca has shown no evidence of an increased risk of pulmonary embolism, deep vein thrombosis or thrombocytopenia, in any defined age group, gender, batch or in any particular country,” the statement said.

Authorities in Denmark, Norway, Iceland and the Netherlands have suspended the use of the vaccine over clotting issues, while Austria stopped using a batch of AstraZeneca-Oxford shots last week while investigating a death from coagulation disorders.

Ireland on Sunday temporarily suspended AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine “out of an abundance of caution.”

The drug maker said additional testing has and is being conducted by the company and the European health authorities and none of the re-tests have shown cause for concern.

There are also no confirmed issues related to quality of any of its COVID-19 vaccine batches used across Europe and rest of the world, the company said.

Health Canada says no issues with vaccine reported

While other countries paused use of the vaccine, Health Canada has maintained there is “no indication” the vaccine causes blood clots, adding that no adverse events from AstraZeneca doses have been reported in Canada so far.

“Health Canada authorized the vaccine based on a thorough, independent review of the evidence and determined that it meets Canada’s stringent safety, efficacy and quality requirements,” the department said on March 11. 

Canada is one of many countries, including Germany, France, Poland, Nigeria, and the United Kingdom who continue to use the vaccine, citing a lack of any evidence of a link to blood clots.

WATCH | Reassurance on safety of AstraZeneca-Oxford’s vaccine:

Despite some European countries temporarily halting use of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine after 30 cases of blood clots, experts maintain it is still safe to use in Canada. 2:01

There has been some confusion, however, related to Canada’s position on who should take the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommended last week that Canadians over 65 not receive an AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccination despite emerging evidence from countries around the world demonstrating its ability to prevent severe COVID-19 in older adults.

The recommendation led provinces to reorganize their vaccination plans for seniors. The result was people aged 60-64 could receive AstraZeneca-Oxford shots ahead of older age groups, who are at greater risk of hospitalization and death from COVID-19.

Quebec is the only province so far to ignore the national recommendations. Officials there said this week they would administer the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine to seniors in direct contrast to what the province considers outdated NACI advice.

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Lab tech who found B.C.’s 1st case of COVID-19 recalls ‘sheer terror’ of discovery

In the early days of the pandemic, Rebecca Hickman would carefully watch each sample being tested for the novel coronavirus in her lab at the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.

“I was so afraid of getting a positive,” the public health laboratory technologist told CBC this week.

That meant she was paying close attention as the first test came back positive at about 3:30 p.m. on Jan. 27, 2020.

“I actually started to see it get positive within a few seconds,” Hickman recalled. “My first feeling was sheer terror, from a personal point of view.”

The co-designer of B.C.’s test, medical laboratory technologist Tracy Lee, was in a meeting as the results were coming in. She remembers getting a call from Hickman and rushing to the lab to watch the test complete.

Lee felt “both fear and relief” as the test came back positive — fear for what this meant for the people of B.C., but relief that the test was working as planned.

Hickman shared those mixed emotions.

“To design, validate and implement a molecular laboratory test usually takes months if not years, and so to do that in the span of days is a huge achievement,” Hickman said.

There was also some excitement. She said she “felt like I was a part of something huge.”

Hickman spent the rest of that first afternoon sequencing a portion of the genome from the positive sample, and by midnight the lab had confirmed it was SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19.


B.C. CDC laboratory technologists Tracy Lee and Rebecca Hickman worked together to design the initial COVID-19 test to detect the virus in B.C. It is still being used today. (Michael Donoghue/BCCDC)

It had been a 16-hour workday.

“I went home and slept for five hours, then came back,” she recalls.

The next day, British Columbians watched as Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry confirmed the inevitable. The virus was here in B.C.

“This is the first time in my life I’ve ever found things out before I read it in the news,” Hickman said.

‘Instability and craziness’

A year later, B.C. has confirmed 66,779 cases of the novel coronavirus and 1,189 people have died.

Hickman has gone from anxiously checking the totals after the daily afternoon update from health officials to barely noticing as B.C. records hundreds of cases each day. She says COVID fatigue is real.

There have been difficult times, like in the spring when lab supplies and personal protective equipment began to run out.

“The instability and craziness of it all has been the hardest part,” Hickman said.

Watch: Rebecca Hickman recalls finding B.C.’s first case of COVID-19

Rebecca Hickman was just nine months into her new job at the B.C. Centre for Disease Control when she confirmed B.C.’s first case of the novel coronavirus. 1:11

Today, much of her time is spent doing whole genome sequencing for about 15 to 20 per cent of COVID-19 cases.

That work helps health officials track the new, more infectious variants that have popped up in different parts of the world. It’s also used for outbreak response — scientists can determine how the virus is spreading through a community or health-care facility and whether cases are being introduced from new sources.

Hickman was just nine months into her job at the B.C. CDC when she discovered the first case.

She said she’s proud to have played a part in such a major moment in history.

“It has been easily the most difficult year of my life but also the most fulfilling. What we have achieved here over the last year is huge,” Hickman said.

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B.C. identifies first case of infectious coronavirus variant found in South Africa

B.C.’s provincial health officer has confirmed the first case of a more infectious coronavirus variant discovered in South Africa.

Dr. Bonnie Henry said Thursday that health officials are investigating how the person in B.C. contracted the variant, as they have not travelled or been linked to any travellers.

“It is, of course, concerning we don’t know where this arose,” she said.

The variant is more infectious than the original COVID-19 virus and has rapidly become dominant in South Africa’s coastal areas.

Henry said testing in B.C. indicates that the new variant does not appear to be widespread in the community.

The province is conducting genomic sequencing on five per cent of its test samples to detect mutations. The samples are randomly selected, but the focus is on areas with known cases of the variant, Henry said. 

She noted the province is working on a strategy to improve its ability to detect variants. 

Henry also confirmed four total cases in the province of the variant linked to the U.K. Three of the cases in B.C. are tied to one traveller, while the fourth case is linked to a second traveller. 

“We don’t believe that this has spread at all from these four cases,” Henry said. 

The U.K. strain also spreads more easily and has been blamed in that country for record-high cases and surging hospitalizations.

B.C. announced its first case on Dec. 27, a resident from the Island Health region who returned from the U.K. in mid-December.

Neither variant is believed to be more deadly, and scientists say there’s no evidence vaccines won’t protect against them.

WATCH | Dr. Bonnie Henry says it’s not yet clear if the vaccine prevents a person from being infected

Dr. Bonnie Henry says while the COVID-19 vaccines are effective against symptoms and preventing death, it’s not yet clear if the vaccine prevents a person from being infected. 1:29

Increase in cases in Interior Health

Henry also announced that seven more people have died of COVID-19 in B.C., as the province recorded 536 new cases.

Active cases in the province continue to fall, with the tally now at 4,624.

Notably, Interior Health eclipsed Vancouver Coastal Health Thursday as the region with the second-highest number of new cases. Henry said holiday gatherings are a big reason for the surge in cases in B.C.’s Interior.

“It’s not focused in one area,” she said.

“What we’re seeing is more local, where people had come together in small groups and decided they could stretch those rules. We’re seeing transmission in small clusters that is moving through communities.” 

Fraser Health remains the hardest-hit region, although its total has plummeted in recent weeks. 

A total of 362 people are in hospital, 74 of whom are in intensive care. Nearly 70,000 people have received a vaccine dose. 

The death toll stands at 1,038. A total of 52,605 people have recovered from the virus.

‘Our borders are very different’

With COVID-19 case numbers soaring in other parts of Canada, the B.C. government is getting legal advice to determine whether an inter-provincial travel ban is a valid option.

Both Alberta and Saskatchewan have COVID case counts numbering over 300 cases per 100,000 population, whereas B.C. is around 126 cases per 100,000.

Henry said she would not issue a public health order against inter-provincial travel, such as the travel ban in place in the Atlantic provinces. 

“It’s hard to see how that is feasible in British Columbia, for many reasons,” she said.

“Our borders are very different. We have many ways that people can cross, particularly from Alberta.”

Henry noted there are many services and workplaces that involve people travelling between provinces.

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Indonesia officials say rescuers have found body parts, debris from plane crash

Indonesian rescuers pulled body parts, pieces of clothing and scraps of metal from the Java Sea early Sunday morning, a day after a Boeing 737-500 with 62 people onboard crashed shortly after takeoff from Jakarta, officials said.

Officials were hopeful they were homing in on the wreckage of Sriwijaya Air Flight 182 after sonar equipment detected a signal from the aircraft.

Transportation Minister Budi Karya Sumadi told reporters that authorities have launched massive search efforts after identifying “the possible location of the crash site.”

“These pieces were found by the SAR team between Lancang Island and Laki Island,” National Search and Rescue Agency Bagus Puruhito said in a statement.

Indonesian military chief Air Chief Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto said teams on the Rigel navy ship equipped with a remote-operated vehicle had detected a signal from the aircraft, which fit the coordinates from the last contact made by the pilots before the plane went missing.


Search and rescue teams conduct operations at sea where the Sriwijaya Air Boeing 737-500 is suspected to have crashed on Sunday. (Adek Berry/AFP via Getty Images)

“We have immediately deployed our divers from navy’s elite unit to determine the finding to evacuate the victims,” Tjahjanto said.

More than 12 hours since the Boeing plane operated by the Indonesian airline lost contact, little is known about what caused the crash.

Fishermen in the area around Thousand Islands, a chain of islands north of Jakarta’s coast, reported hearing an explosion around 2:30 p.m. local time Saturday.

“We heard something explode, we thought it was a bomb or a tsunami since after that we saw the big splash from the water,” fisherman Solihin, who goes by one name, told The Associated Press by phone.


“It was raining heavily and the weather was so bad. So it is difficult to see around clearly. But we can see the splash and a big wave after the sounds. We were very shocked and directly saw the plane debris and the fuel around our boat.”

Sumadi said Flight SJ182 was delayed for an hour before it took off at 2:36 p.m. local time. It disappeared from radar four minutes later, after the pilot contacted air traffic control to ascend to an altitude of 8,839 metres, he said.

There were 62 people on board, including seven children and three babies.


Relatives of passengers on board missing Sriwijaya Air flight 182 wait for news at the Supadio airport in Pontianak on Indonesia’s Borneo island on Saturday. (Louis Anderson/AFP via Getty Images)

Authorities established two crisis centres, one at airport and one at port. Families gathered to wait for news of loved ones.

On social media, people began circulating the flight manifest with photos and videos of those who were listed as passengers. One video shows a woman with her children waving goodbye while walking through the airport.

Plane was ‘airworthy’

Sriwijaya Air President Director Jefferson Irwin Jauwena said the plane, which is 26 years old and previously used by airlines in the United States, was airworthy. He told reporters Saturday that the plane had previously flown to Pontianak and Pangkal Pinang city on the same day.

“Maintenance report said everything went well and airworthy,” Jauwena told a news conference. He said the plane was delayed due to bad weather, not because of any damage.

Indonesia, the world’s largest archipelago nation, with more than 260 million people, has been plagued by transportation accidents on land, sea and air because of overcrowding on ferries, aging infrastructure and poorly enforced safety standards.


Indonesian soldiers stand near a crisis centre set up at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Tangerang, Indonesia, on Saturday. (Tatan Syuflana/The Associated Press)

In October 2018, a Boeing 737 MAX 8 jet operated by Lion Air plunged into the Java Sea just minutes after taking off from Jakarta, killing all 189 people on board. The plane involved in Saturday’s incident did not have the automated flight-control system that played a role in the Lion Air crash and another crash of a 737 MAX 8 jet in Ethiopia five months later, leading to the grounding of the MAX 8 for 20 months.

The Lion Air crash was Indonesia’s worst airline disaster since 1997, when 234 people were killed on a Garuda airlines flight near Medan on Sumatra island. In December 2014, an AirAsia flight from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore plunged into the sea, killing 162 people.

Sriwijaya Air has only has several minor incidents in the past, though a farmer was killed in 2008 when landing plane went off runway due to a hydraulic issue.

The United States banned Indonesian carriers from operating in the country in 2007, but reversed the decision in 2016, citing improvements in compliance with international aviation standards. The European Union has previously had similar bans, lifting them in June 2018.

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Indonesian navy says location of missing plane carrying 62 has been found

The Indonesian navy has determined the co-ordinates of a Sriwijaya Air plane carrying 62 people that went missing Saturday after taking off from the capital of Jakarta, navy official Abdul Rasyid said.

“The co-ordinates have been found and have been given to all Navy vessels in the area,” he told reporters.

The passenger jet lost contact with air traffic controllers just minutes after taking off from Indonesia’s capital on a domestic flight, the transportation minister said.

Budi Karya Sumadi said Flight SJ182 was delayed for an hour before it took off at 2:36 p.m. The Boeing 737-500 disappeared from radar four minutes later, after the pilot contacted air traffic control to ascend to an altitude of 29,000 feet (8,839 meters), he said.

56 passengers, 6 crew members

Boeing released a two-line statement saying it was aware of media reports from Jakarta and was gathering more information.

A statement released by the airline said the plane was on an estimated 90-minute flight from Jakarta to Pontianak, the capital of West Kalimantan province on Indonesia’s Borneo island. There were 56 passengers and six crew members onboard.

Irawati said in a statement that a search and rescue operation was underway in co-ordination with the National Search and Rescue Agency and the National Transportation Safety Committee.

Local media reports said fishermen spotted metal objects believed to be parts of a plane on Saturday afternoon in the Thousand Islands, a chain of islands north of Jakarta.


This radar image shows the flight path of Indonesian Sriwijaya Air Flight 182 before it dropped off radar on Saturday. (Flightradar24.com via AP)

Television footage showed relatives and friends of people aboard the plane weeping, praying and hugging each other as they waited at Jakarta’s airport and Pontianak’s airport.

Indonesia, the world’s largest archipelago nation, with more than 260 million people, has been plagued by transportation accidents on land, sea and air because of overcrowding on ferries, aging infrastructure and poorly enforced safety standards.

In October 2018, a Boeing 737 MAX 8 jet operated by Lion Air plunged into the Java Sea just minutes after taking off from Jakarta, killing all 189 people on board. It was the worst airline disaster in Indonesia since 1997, when 234 people were killed on a Garuda flight near Medan on Sumatra island. In December 2014, an AirAsia flight from Surabaya to Singapore plunged into the sea, killing 162 people.

Sriwijaya Air is one of Indonesia’s discount carriers, flying to dozens of domestic and international destinations.

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Alberta reports what could be Canada’s first case of coronavirus variant first found in South Africa

Alberta has detected what could be the first case in Canada of a COVID-19 variant first detected in South Africa.

The case involved a recent traveller, who is now in quarantine, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, announced on social media Friday.

Hinshaw said there is no evidence the variant has spread to anyone else.

Federal officials had said as late as Tuesday that the new variant had yet to be detected in the country.

A spokesperson with the Public Health Agency of Canada said in an email that all of the agency’s experts are enjoying a
“well-deserved weekend” and they would look into the matter on Monday.

The South African variant is more infectious than the original COVID-19 virus and has rapidly become dominant in that country’s coastal areas.

The province also announced Friday it will now offer the COVID-19 vaccine to all health-care workers in medical, surgical and COVID-19 units, meaning about 18,700 COVID-19 unit and medical and surgical unit staff are eligible for the first round of vaccinations.

In a letter sent Wednesday to Health Minister Tyler Shandro, 219 physicians from across the province said Alberta’s vaccination schedule has passed over workers on the front lines of Alberta’s battle against the virus.

Personnel employed in the specialized units — including family physicians, medical internists, nurses, clerks, aides, physical therapists and cleaning staff — contend with the same risk and should be next in line for inoculation, the letter stated. 

In the same news release late Friday afternoon, the province announced that doctors, nurses and pharmacists who are not Alberta Health Services employees will be permitted to deliver the vaccine.

As of Thursday, there have been 37,686 doses of COVID-19 vaccine administered in Alberta, about 852.3 doses per 100,000 population.

To date, three adverse reactions following immunization have been reported to Alberta Health and Alberta Health Services.

Latest COVID-19 numbers

On Friday, the province reported 24 more deaths due to COVID-19 and 1,183 new cases of the disease Friday. 

Alberta currently has 13,628 active cases of the illness.

Provincial labs completed 16,765 tests for the disease Thursday with a positivity rate near seven per cent.

Of the 24 deaths reported Friday, nine people were under the age of 70. So far 1,241 people have died of COVID-19. 

On Thursday, there are 851 people in hospital with the illness, 20 fewer people than Wednesday, 135 of them in intensive care.

Here is how the active cases break down among health zones:

  • Edmonton zone: 5,483 cases
  • Calgary zone:  4,839 cases
  • North zone: 1,508 cases
  • Central zone: 1,460 cases
  • South zone: 262 cases
  • Unknown: 76 cases

Hinshaw will hold her next news conference on COVID-19 on Monday. 

Premier Jason Kenney is also expected to speak Monday on vaccination plans in Alberta.  

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U.K. scientists worry vaccines may not protect against coronavirus variant found in South Africa

U.K. scientists expressed concern on Monday that COVID-19 vaccines being rolled out in Britain may not be able to protect against a new variant of the coronavirus that emerged in South Africa and has spread internationally.

Both Britain and South Africa have detected new, more transmissible variants of the COVID-19-causing virus in recent weeks that have driven a surge in cases. British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Monday he was now very worried about the variant identified in South Africa.

Simon Clarke, an associate professor in cellular microbiology at the University of Reading, said that while both variants had some new features in common, the one found in South Africa “has a number additional mutations … which are concerning.”

He said these included more extensive alterations to a key part of the virus known as the spike protein — which the virus uses to infect human cells — and “may make the virus less susceptible to the immune response triggered by the vaccines.”

Lawrence Young, a virologist and professor of molecular oncology at Warwick University, also noted that the variant detected in South African has “multiple spike mutations.”

“The accumulation of more spike mutations in the South African variant are more of a concern and could lead to some escape from immune protection,” he said.

Scientists including BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin and John Bell, Regius Professor of Medicine at the University of Oxford, have said they are testing the vaccines against the new variants and say they could make any required tweaks in around six weeks.

Greater concentration of virus particles with variants

Public Health England said there was currently no evidence to suggest COVID-19 vaccines would not protect against the mutated virus variants. Britain’s health ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The world’s richest countries have started vaccinating their populations to safeguard against a disease that has killed 1.8 million people and crushed the global economy.

There are currently 60 vaccine candidates in trials, including those already being rolled out from AstraZeneca and Oxford, Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Russia’s Sputnik V and China’s Sinopharm.

WATCH | The unknowns of single vaccine dosing:

According to epidemiologist Dr. Christopher Labos, the efficacy of giving people just one shot, or a half dose of a coronavirus vaccine, is unknown as there is no hard clinical data. 7:16

Scientists say both the variants from South Africa and the U.K. are associated with a higher viral load, meaning a greater concentration of virus particles in patients’ bodies, possibly contributing to increased transmission.

Oxford’s Bell, who advises the U.K. government’s vaccine task force, said on Sunday he thought vaccines would work on the variant from the U.K., but said there was a “big question mark” as to whether they would work on the variant from South Africa.

BioNTech’s Sahin told Germany’s Der Spiegel in an interview published on Friday that their vaccine, which uses messenger RNA to instruct the human immune system to fight the virus, should be able to protect against the variant found in the U.K.

“We are testing whether our vaccine can also neutralize this variant and will soon know more,” he said.

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New coronavirus variant has been found in Southern California

The latest:

A variant of the coronavirus that appears to be more contagious has been found in Southern California, where the state’s most populous county recorded more than 10,000 deaths, and authorities warned they will be patrolling streets to shut down large New Year’s Eve gatherings that could spread the infection.

Los Angeles County reached a “terrible milestone” with 274 additional deaths in 24 hours for a record toll of 10,056 deaths, Los Angeles County Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer announced Wednesday.

The COVID-19 daily death toll over 14 days has averaged about 150 people, or “about equal to the number of deaths from all other causes, which is about 170,” said Ferrer. “Most heartbreaking is that if we had done a better job reducing transmission of the virus, many of these deaths would not have happened.”

The county, which has had about 40 per cent of the state’s virus deaths, is one of nearly two dozen in Southern California and the agricultural San Joaquin Valley area where hospital intensive care units have technically run out of room, although ICU patients are being placed in other hospital areas under “surge” procedures.

Meanwhile, California became the second state after Colorado to report finding a new strain of the virus that was first confirmed in the United Kingdom.

The patient, who developed symptoms on Dec. 27, is a 30-year-old San Diego County man who didn’t have any history of travel, which could indicate that someone else already had brought the new strain into the state, officials said.

WATCH | U.S. COVID-19 vaccine delivery slower than planned:

Delivery of the COVID-19 vaccine has been slower than planned across the U.S. — only two million doses given of the 20 million that had been projected by the end of the year — but demand has been high with some waiting hours in line to get a jab. 2:02

It is common for viruses to undergo minor changes as they reproduce and move through a population. Scientists have found no evidence that the variant is more lethal or causes more severe illness, and they believe the vaccines now being dispensed will be effective against it. But the fear is that mutations at some point will become significant enough to defeat the vaccines.

Also, a faster-spreading virus could swamp hospitals with seriously ill patients.

In L.A. County, more than one in four COVID-19 patients sent to hospitals are winding up in ICUs, according to county figures. The struggle to find places for the most seriously ill means “it’s not just the virus that’s proving fatal, but also the nightmare scenario of Angelenos dying because they cannot get the appropriate care from overwhelmed ICUs,” Ferrer said.

The cases triggered a host of questions about how the version circulating in England arrived in the United States and whether it is too late to stop it now, with top experts saying it is probably already spreading elsewhere in the U.S.

Public health officials also began warning of stricter enforcement of stay-home orders that aim to reduce COVID-19 spread by keeping people from mingling outside of their households. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said hospitalizations and deaths linked to Christmas gatherings may show up in two or three weeks because of the infection’s lag time, and any New Year’s Eve gatherings could start to overwhelm hospitals later in January in a third virus surge.

“If you mix and mingle with people outside your household, it’s likely medical care will not be available when it’s needed in a few weeks,” Garcetti said. “We will feel it in our homes, in our ICU units and in our morgues.”

Garcetti said police will be out enforcing public health rules that prohibit large gatherings, and the city had disconnected utilities on Tuesday at a “chronic party house” in the Hollywood Hills.

The U.S. has seen more than 19.7 million cases of COVID-19 and more than 342,000 deaths, according to a tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University.

– From The Associated Press, last updated at 7 a.m. ET


What’s happening in Canada

WATCH | Hear what Ontario’s finance minister had to say after returning from Caribbean vacation:

Rod Phillips arrived at Toronto’s Pearson airport Thursday and expressed regret for vacationing in St. Barts while Ontario was under a COVID-19 lockdown. ters 4:46

Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips returned to Canada from his trip to St. Barts on Thursday and said he hoped to regain people’s confidence after facing significant criticism over his decision to travel despite calls to avoid non-essential trips.

“Obviously, I made a significant error in judgment, and I will be accountable for that,” Phillips said from Pearson airport in Toronto.

“I do not make any excuses for the fact that I travelled when we shouldn’t have travelled.”

Phillips said he will be speaking with Premier Doug Ford later in the day.

“I understand that my actions have angered a lot of people, and I have to earn back that confidence,” Phillips said.

The province reported yet another record high COVID-19 case number on Thursday, with 3,328 new infections. Health officials also reported 56 additional deaths, bringing the provincial death toll to 4,530.


Hospitalizations stood at 1,235, with 337 COVID-19 patients in Ontario’s ICUs, according to data released by the province.

Ford said Wednesday that he didn’t know about his finance minister’s travel plans in advance but did learn about them later after a phone call with Phillips.

“At that time, I should have said, ‘Get your backside back into Ontario,’ and I didn’t do that,” the premier said Wednesday as he took questions about the trip and what he knew about it.

“We’re going to have a very tough conversation when he gets back,”  Ford said.

As of 10:35 a.m. ET on Thursday, Canada’s COVID-19 case count stood at 576,310 with 73,987 of those cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 15,527. 

The federal government, meanwhile, said Wednesday it plans to require air travellers to test negative for COVID-19 before landing in Canada, in response to concerns that people vacationing abroad could bring the novel coronavirus home with them.

WATCH | Will COVID-19 tests for passengers arriving in Canada help reduce coronavirus spread?

Testing passengers for the coronavirus before arriving in Canada is ‘not a big answer’ to the problem of community spread, says infectious disease specialist Dr. Michael Gardam, but he says it might be more useful when widespread travel resumes. 5:27

Cabinet ministers met Wednesday morning following criticism from the premiers of Canada’s two largest provinces that federal efforts at the border were too loose and allowing new cases and strains of the virus to enter the country.

Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc said all passengers on flights entering Canada will soon be required to have a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test three days before their arrival. PCR tests are designed to detect minute amounts of the virus that causes COVID-19, usually through a swab up the nose or in the mouth. A 14-day quarantine for incoming travellers will still be required.

It wasn’t immediately clear when the new requirement will be put in place, with LeBlanc saying more information would follow in the coming days. It does not appear to apply to anyone crossing by car into Canada through a border point with the U.S.

Here’s a look at some of what’s happening with COVID-19 across Canada:

– From The Canadian Press and CBC News, last updated at 10:40 a.m. ET


What’s happening around the world


Workers in protective suits disinfect the Ottoman-era Fatih Mosque to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Istanbul earlier this week. (Murad Sezer/Reuters)

As of early Thursday morning, more than 82.8 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, with more than 46.8 million considered recovered or resolved, according to Johns Hopkins. The global death toll stood at more than 1.8 million.

A four-day lockdown is set to begin in Turkey at 9 p.m. local time on Thursday in a bid to stem the spread of COVID-19 over the New Year’s holiday. Istanbul’s governor said some 34,000 law enforcement personnel will be on duty to enforce the rules in Turkey’s most populous city.

The Interior Ministry said more than 208,000 officers will be working across the country and have set up thousands of control points. Tourists, who have been exempt from lockdowns, will not be allowed to go to symbolic squares and avenues.

Turkey has reported nearly 2.2 million cases and has seen more than 20,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins.


In the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates has shattered its single-day record of new coronavirus infections for the second consecutive day, with 1,730 cases recorded ahead of New Year’s Eve celebrations expected to draw tens of thousands of revellers to Dubai from around the world.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Tokyo is seeing a record surge in coronavirus cases as the governor of the Japanese capital implored people to stay home.

“The coronavirus knows no year end or New Year’s holidays,” Gov. Yuriko Koike told reporters.

She asked people to skip countdown ceremonies and expressed concern people were out shopping in crowded stores.

“Please spend a quiet New Year’s with your family and stay home,” she said, switching to English for “stay home.”

In Europe, the Czech Republic headed for the New Year with a record surge in coronavirus infections. The Health Ministry said the daily increase in new infections hit a record for the second straight day on Wednesday, with 16,939 confirmed cases. It’s over 500 more than the previous record set on Tuesday.


A woman reads while lining up to receive a vaccination at the NHS London Bridge Vaccination Centre 1 on Wednesday in London. (Hollie Adams/Getty Images)

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered millions more people to live under the strictest COVID-19 restrictions from Thursday to counter a new variant of the virus that is spreading at a “sheer pace” across the country.

In the Americas, the COVID-19 vaccine developed jointly by AstraZeneca and Oxford University was approved for use in El Salvador.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, meanwhile, said officials were investigating a case of suspected abuse of power by a family to obtain shots of COVID-19 vaccine.

In Africa, Zimbabwe has postponed the reopening of schools planned for next week due to a surge in coronavirus infections and a tropical storm sweeping through the region.

– From The Associated Press and Reuters, last updated at 7:40 a.m. ET

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