Experts are growing increasingly concerned about the spread of more transmissible coronavirus variants in B.C. and a consequent spike in serious COVID-19 cases that they fear could overwhelm hospitals in the province.
Doctors say they’re seeing younger patients with the disease — aged 20 to 50 — requiring critical care, in contrast with predominantly elderly people who got badly sick during the first year of the pandemic.
“We do know that a lot of that is the variant[s], and it does seem like it is a more transmissible strain and it also seems that people do get sicker with some of these variants,” said Dr. Gerald Da Roza, head of medicine at Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster, B.C.
Da Roza says intake at the intensive care unit (ICU) has increased in the past few weeks at the hospital, where he reported that patients have spilled over into other departments.
“Some people say this is the busiest we’ve been in 15 years,” he said.
WATCH | How the P1 variant is taking hold in B.C.:
The P1 COVID-19 variant, first seen in Brazil, is creating a big problem for health officials because of how quickly it spreads. Currently concentrated in the Vancouver area, modelling shows it could spread out of control by late April. 2:06
The variants of concern in B.C. are B117, first detected in the U.K., and P1, associated with Brazil. Cases of both have so far been concentrated in the Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health authority regions, B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said Monday.
He said the number of cases of the P1 variant close to doubled over the Easter weekend.
“The most transmissive variants of COVID-19 are ultimately going to take over,” the minister said.
Dix said 60 of the current 320 coronavirus cases in B.C. hospitals are related to variants of concern. He also confirmed there are pressures on ICUs, especially at Royal Columbian and Lions Gate Hospital in North Vancouver.
‘Worrisome’ spread of P1
B.C. is now being identified by epidemiologists across the world as a notable hotspot for the P1 variant that has spread unchecked through Brazil, where COVID-19 has killed more than 300,000 people.
Dr. Eric Feigl-Ding, a Washington, D.C.-based epidemiologist and health economist, says the accelerating community spread of mutations in B.C. is “worrisome.”
He said that the P1 variant is more than twice as transmissible as the original coronavirus and initial data suggests it causes higher mortality rates and affects younger people more than the initial strand.
Feigl-Ding, a senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists, raised the alarm a few weeks ago when he compared B.C. to Florida, where variants are also growing in number.
Health Canada reported 379 cases involving variants of concern in B.C. on April 1, up from 84 on March 22. As of Monday, Dix said there are now a total of 588 of the two primary variants in the province: 373 of B117 and 215 of P1.
“I think this has woken people up because people think … young people are healthy, especially if you’re an athlete. You train well, you shouldn’t have any problems,” he said.
As of Monday evening, a total of 17 Canucks players — most of the team’s active roster — were officially being kept off the ice under the league’s COVID protocols, though that does not necessarily mean all 17 have tested positive for the coronavirus.
Several sources say an unnamed player from the team’s reserve “taxi squad” is quarantining and three members of the coaching staff have tested positive.
While health officials and the NHL have refused to confirm that the team outbreak involves one of the coronavirus variants, hockey insiders at media sources including The Sports Network and The Province have said it is suspected.
One of the players affected, Jayce Hawryluk, contracted COVID-19 last year.
Let this sink in—wealthy sports franchise, NHL <a href=”https://twitter.com/Canucks?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@Canucks</a>:<br><br>—Had >50% of its team <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/COVID19?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#COVID19</a> sickened <br><br>—Many decimated “very ill”<br><br>—Despite strict workplace protocols<br><br>—Despite big PPE budget<br><br>—Despite daily testing<br><br>➡️The <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/P1?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#P1</a> variant is just that badass.🧵<a href=”https://t.co/Ohve0bQqft”>https://t.co/Ohve0bQqft</a> <a href=”https://t.co/LzFkiRRYKp”>pic.twitter.com/LzFkiRRYKp</a>
An increasing number of younger people in British Columbia are becoming infected with COVID-19 and some are dying, just as vaccines are protecting older populations, the provincial health officer said Monday.
Dr. Bonnie Henry said younger patients who are ending up in intensive care units need more time there, in part because of clusters of cases in some communities.
“We saw that with some of the outbreaks that were happening in First Nations communities where people at a younger age were much more likely to need hospitalization or critical care. And sadly, where we’ve seen younger people die from the virus,” Henry said.
COVID-19 is spreading through crowded households and workplaces as cases rise among people between the ages of 20 and 39, and up to age 59, she said.
“With a higher number of people in that age group being affected, the probability that somebody is going to end up in hospital at a younger age goes up,” Henry said, adding some people who have been hospitalized have underlying health conditions.
Indoor gatherings, even with people having minimal contact, should be avoided as the variant first identified in the United Kingdom becomes more prevalent, transmitting COVID-19 easily as it spreads, Henry said.
“The only safe place for us to gather now in our small groups, with our friends and families, is outside,” she said of her public health order limiting gathering numbers to 10 and among people who must stick to the same group.
“I’m calling on all of us again to go back to our basics. This is not the time to be getting together even with a small group of friends. This is not the time to have that wedding. Put it off. Put it off to the summer and we will be a different place, a post-pandemic place.
“We are seeing things increasing, whether it’s the end of our second wave or the beginning of the third, it is worrisome.”
Henry said establishments hosting weddings and similar events will be held accountable for putting their employees and others at risk.
She also called on businesses to continue having safety plans in place regardless of whether owners or employees have been vaccinated.
“It takes time for that to come into effect. And it takes time when we have this much transmission in our community,” she said, adding businesses with ongoing transmission could be closed for at least 10 days.
“For all of us, don’t let up now. And if you are blatantly disregarding those public health orders, there are ramifications for that.”
Health officials have been meeting with religious leaders to finalize plans for the resumption of outdoor services with an announcement expected in the coming days, Henry said.
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Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, may have stepped back as working members of the Royal Family. But the attention often focused on the couple now living in California was at a fever pitch this week ahead of their televised interview Sunday night with talk-show host Oprah Winfrey.
Headlines swirled on both sides of the Atlantic, reinforcing an impression of growing tensions and a public relations tug-of-war between the couple and Buckingham Palace.
The American network CBS released clips from the interview, which included Harry’s worries about similarities between the treatment of Meghan and his late mother, Diana, and Meghan accusing the palace of “perpetuating falsehoods.”
All of this comes as Harry’s grandfather Prince Philip continues what has become a lengthy stay in hospital, which has led some to question whether the interview should be broadcast at all right now.
So far, any delay seems unlikely and any sense that things will settle down after the interview seems remote.
“I think the winner is likely to be the media and particularly Oprah,” British PR expert Mark Borkowski said over the phone from the U.K. this week.
“It isn’t going to come out as well as [Harry and Meghan] thought, but at the end of the day, their market is the U.S.A. and North America.”
While the broadcast — initially pegged at 90 minutes and since expanded to two hours — may focus on specifics of their royal life after their marriage in 2018, it’s also widely seen as part of their effort to chart their course outside the upper echelons of the Royal Family.
“Some of the things that they’re likely to say that might rile the Royal Family might rile the British media — that’s obviously a decision they’ve made because they’re building a brand,” said Borkowski.
And their choice of interviewer would appear to have its own strategy, too.
“I think Oprah is probably the best role model for who they’d like to become in terms of what she stands for, the qualities, the philanthropy, the ideals that she espouses,” said American public relations expert Howard Bragman.
It is a case, Bragman said over the phone from Los Angeles, “where [Canadian philosopher and communications theorist] Marshall McLuhan’s ‘the medium is the message’ is certainly at play.”
Bragman expects “a classic Oprah interview.”
“She’s not going to be easy on them. Nobody would respect her. She wouldn’t respect herself and that’s not what she’s known for,” he said.
“She’s going to ask the tough questions but in an empathetic way. She’s been there. Anything you’re talking about, which is giving up your privacy, the scrutiny, some of the backbiting they’ve had to deal with, she’s had to deal with these things. “
The interview Sunday evening comes a few hours after members of the Royal Family will take part in a television broadcast to mark Commonwealth Day. It will include a message from the Queen, with Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall; Prince William and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge; and Sophie, Countess of Wessex, also expected to take part.
The broadcast replaces the annual Commonwealth Service usually held at Westminster Abbey in London, which is not possible this year given the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s also in stark contrast to last year’s Commonwealth Service, where senior members of the Royal Family all came together at the abbey, with much observation focusing on how Harry and Meghan were — or weren’t — perhaps getting along with other members of the family.
From Borkowski’s perspective, the Royal Family “is still struggling” with how to deal with all that is swirling around Harry and Meghan right now.
High-profile royal interviews have a shaky track record for turning out as the interviewees might have hoped or intended. There were deep repercussions from Diana’s interview with the BBC in 1995, and from Prince Andrew’s with the BBC in 2019, in the wake of controversy over his friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
Both Borkowski and Bragman will be riveted to Sunday’s interview, and expect a lot of other people will be, too. (Deals have been struck to show the interview Sunday or early next week in dozens of countries, ViacomCBS Global Distribution Group has said.)
“It’s still going to have a long tail,” said Bragman. “People will talk, people will look at clips, people will analyze body language, hair and outfits and they’ll tear it apart.”
Overall, Borkowski doesn’t expect it will end well.
“It’s going to fall into two categories. Americans are probably going to love it,” he said. “The Brits are going to say, how dare you.”
Borkowski suggests there might have been another way for Harry and Meghan to get their message out, as they work on building their brand, and their deals with Netflix and Spotify and so on.
“Let their content do the talking,” he said.
Prince Philip still in hospital
While details remain relatively scant regarding Prince Philip’s condition in hospital, Buckingham Palace has said he is recovering after a “successful procedure” for a pre-existing heart condition.
The Queen’s 99-year-old husband was admitted to hospital in London for treatment of an infection on Feb. 16 after feeling unwell.
Earlier this week, he was transferred to St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, which has Europe’s largest specialized cardiovascular unit, the BBC reported.
Philip underwent the procedure on Wednesday, and the palace said the following day that he would be staying in hospital to rest and recuperate for a number of days. On Friday morning, Philip was transferred back to the central London hospital where he had been admitted more than two weeks ago.
As is routine when it comes to matters of royal health, few details have been made public regarding Philip.
Given that, many outside the palace walls try to assess the situation in any way they can, observing how other members of the Royal Family — including the Queen — appear to be carrying on with their normal duties.
Any comment a member of the family makes spreads quickly. On Wednesday, Philip’s daughter-in-law, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, was at a COVID-19 vaccination centre in London when a volunteer asked her about him.
“We heard today that he’s slightly improving,” the BBC reported Camilla saying. “So, that’s very good news. We’ll keep our fingers crossed.”
Philip has had various stays in hospital in recent years, including for a hip replacement just before Harry’s wedding three years ago. The current stay is reportedly the longest he has had.
What’s in a royal baby name?
Tapping past generations for a new baby’s name is common in all families, royal or otherwise.
The latest royal baby’s name is in keeping with that practice — but the choice made by Princess Eugenie and her husband, Jack Brooksbank, represents a far less common option than monikers such as Elizabeth or George that recur with some regularity on royal birth certificates.
August Philip Hawke Brooksbank was born on Feb. 9, and his name was announced several days later.
“He is named after his great-grandfather and both of his great x5 grandfathers,” Eugenie wrote on Instagram.
The great-grandfather is Prince Philip. Hawke comes from the Brooksbank side of the family.
Hortense Mancini, a mistress of Charles II, set trends ahead of her time, establishing a salon in 17th-century London where her female peers had the same freedoms as men, new research shows. [The Guardian]
Another high-profile royal interview won’t be investigated by police in London. Controversy had swirled in recent months over the interview Harry’s mother, Diana, gave the BBC in 1995. [ITV]
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Even in 2019, amid her remarkable rise, Bianca Andreescu’s availability was a constant question.
That was the year she won the prestigious Indian Wells tournament, the Rogers Cup on home soil and became the first Canadian to ever win a singles major title at the U.S. Open.
In between, she played just five matches. After the U.S. Open, a left knee injury knocked her out of the season-ending WTA Finals in November.
It was over 500 days before Andreescu would play again. She was upset in the second round of the Australian Open last month and lost in the fourth round of a follow-up tournament.
The Toronto native then announced she would miss the next three tournaments for health reasons. Here we go again?
“Physically it showed that she had all those matches under her belt and quite a few were close and long three-setters. … But it’s not a situation where her injuries resurfaced or new injury surfaced,” said Andreescu’s coach Sylvain Bruneau.
Andreescu’s elongated absence was not solely based on injury. Bruneau said in March the plan was for her to return for the Miami Open — until WTA play was suspended due to concerns over COVID-19.
Even with her return on the horizon, Andreescu was stuck in a Melbourne hotel room for two weeks after Bruneau contracted the virus. Other players were allowed out of quarantine for training ahead of the Grand Slam.
“The most important thing for me was that she was able to play those two matches at the Australian Open and then four more [in] the tournament right after and get the confirmation that the old injuries were behind us,” Bruneau said.
WATCH | Breaking down Andreescu’s Aussie Open performance:
Anastasia Bucsis and Vivek Jacob react to Bianca Andreescu’s abrupt exit of the Australian Open, discuss what they saw from her performance, and how they think she’ll perform in Tokyo. 3:03
Bruneau says those matches met his expectations for Andreescu. Her movement “was not perfect,” but there was reason for hope. There were times she arrived at the ball on time and balanced, and other times Bruneau noticed she was reaching.
“She couldn’t have been full confidence because she obviously felt she was not at the top of her game, but just playing those matches after the Australian Open, winning those close matches, knowing you’re not at the top of your game, but your fighting skills and dealing with them are still there,” Bruneau said.
“[That] should be a step in the right direction and in some ways a confidence booster for what’s next.”
NBC tennis analyst Mary Carillo agreed with Bruneau’s assessment of Andreescu’s Australian run, saying she thought the Canadian looked “fit and eager.”
Patience is key
Neither Bruneau nor Carillo expect Andreescu to immediately regain her dominance, instead stressing that it takes time after such a long layoff.
“She is clearly somebody who can win multiple majors, but the length of time she spent suffering from one injury after another reminded me of Juan Martin Del Potro,” Carillo said.
Del Potro won the U.S. Open in 2009 at 20 years old but injured his wrist the following year. That setback periodically flared up throughout the Argentinian’s career, and he never won another Grand Slam, despite a couple lengthy runs.
ESPN tennis analyst Brad Gilbert made the same comparison.
“I think she’s exciting and I think she’s got a fun game to watch. And fingers crossed that that’s all I say. It was the same for [Del Potro]. It was like, ‘God, such a great game to watch.’ But you don’t want to be stopped by being injured,” Gilbert said.
WATCH | Andreescu stunned in 2nd round of return:
Mississauga’s Bianca Andreescu made a second-round exit at the Australian Open on Wednesday, dropping a 6-3, 6-2 decision to Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-Wei. 4:48
Knee injuries can be debilitating for tennis players, but Andreescu’s game doesn’t solely rely on speed — it’s her varied approach that makes her tough to handle.
At her best, there are no weaknesses.
“When she is playing, I tend to only watch her half of the court,” Carillo said.
“Almost every other woman is fairly predictable in how they’re going to play strategically. With Andreescu, you don’t know what the hell is going on in her brain. And all of a sudden there’s this gorgeous lob or this sweet little dropshot or she’ll break open the point with a heavy forehand.”
Gilbert was more cautionary about how a knee injury would specifically disrupt Andreescu’s game.
“In ’19 at the Open, the way she was flying around the court, I thought she was the best mover — even better than [current world No. 3 Simona Halep]. … That’s something crucial to her game because she’s not six feet tall,” he said.
‘Great ambition, ridiculous talent’
With the right dose of practice, load management and tournaments, none of Bruneau, Carillo and Gilbert would be surprised to see Andreescu right back where she finished in 2019.
“I am not sure that it’s totally possible to try to get her to peak for the Olympics or for wherever, as we just need to go through a process and look for her game and everything to fall back into place,” Bruneau said.
Andreescu is just 20. The Del Potro path is the darkest timeline, but it is far from certain.
“The best ability is availability. And if you don’t have availability, you can’t post results,” Gilbert said.
“I know there’s great ambition and ridiculous talent. I think what we need here is some patience,” Carillo added.
Given the time off, Andreescu’s middling results in Australia were a signal that her previous dominance won’t just come back on its own. It takes real matches and consistent practice to get there.
In one moment, she was one of eight women invited to the WTA Finals. In the next — 16 months later — Andreescu was upset by an unseeded player in the second round of the Australian Open.
“When you feel that great with your game, with your confidence, with everything about your tennis and you’re forced to take 16 months off, that’s not where you want that to happen usually. When you’re getting [to] the top of the mountain, you want to keep going,” Bruneau said.
Fifty-seven years ago, the 1964 Tokyo Olympics signified the rebirth of a nation that had risen from the ashes of the Second World War. Those Games helped launch the beginning of an extended expansion that turned Japan into an economic superpower.
But with the rescheduled 2020 Games set to begin July 23, the story is much different. The contrast is ironic.
“Most people are against it because of coronavirus issues, restrictions, costs in economic downturn, etc. If no COVID-19, then the majority would be for it,” said Robert Whiting, a Tokyo resident and an author and journalist who specializes in contemporary Japanese culture.
Back in the early 1960s, most Japanese were initially opposed to hosting the Olympics, but ultimately came to cherish the symbolism of the event.
More than a half-century later, the population appeared ready to back staging the Summer Games again, only to have a pandemic derail the event and flip public opinion in the process.
“When Japan won the bid in 1959 most people were against the idea,” said Whiting, who in 2018 published “The Two Tokyo Olympics 1964/2020.” “The cost was too high and Tokyo had a lot of problems.”
Whiting noted a litany of issues that organizers were confronted with ahead of Japan’s first Olympics as the host nation.
“There was only one five-star hotel — the Imperial — which was falling into disrepair, no highway system, you couldn’t drink the tap water and only one fourth of structures in the city had flush toilets,” Whiting said. “But the city put up eight new expressways, two subway lines, five new five-star hotels, a monorail to and from Haneda Airport and a bullet train.”
The transformation of Tokyo in five years was nothing short of phenomenal.
1964 a ‘huge success’
“Life Magazine called it the ‘best Olympics ever’ [at the time] and the Games were a tremendous source of pride for Japanese, symbolized their re-entry into the global community after defeat in war,” Whiting said. “It was a huge success.”
In the leadup to the 2020 Games, most polls showed a majority of Japanese were in favour of hosting another Summer Olympics, but once the COVID-19 crisis began and persisted, the pendulum began to swing the other way.
On Thursday, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declared a state of emergency for Tokyo and surrounding prefectures, the same day the city reported a record of 2,447 new cases of COVID-19. Japan has attributed over 3,500 deaths to COVID-19, relatively low for a country of 126 million.
But two polls in recent months illustrated the sentiments as the rescheduled Games draw closer. Sixty per cent of those who responded to an Asahi TV poll in November wanted the extravaganza postponed or cancelled outright, while a Kyodo News poll in July found that just 24 per cent supported holding the Olympics as scheduled.
The ever-increasing cost of staging the Games has soured many and made the athletic part of the Olympics almost an afterthought.
I am a little bit disappointed that more than 80 per cent of the people feel that the Olympics can’t be held.– Japan’s Kohei Uchimura, Olympic gymnastics gold medallist
Japan’s National Audit Board released a report in December that estimated costs for the 2020 Olympics would run to $ 28 billion, with only $ 5.6 billion coming from private funds.
“I don’t believe this is an efficient use of taxpayer money,” said Sanae Tanaka, a Tokyo resident. “This could be spent in more useful ways. Do we really need to use it for the Olympics?”
“I am worried about holding the Tokyo Olympics in this situation,” added Yuriko Komiyama. “I wonder if the situation will get better before next summer.”
The negativity that has begun to envelop talk of the Games has even trickled down to the athletes. In a recent interview, gymnastics legend Kohei Uchimura, the 2012 and 2016 Olympic gold medallist in the men’s all-around discipline and a six-time world champion in the event, cited his concerns.
Caution and safety
“I am a little bit disappointed that more than 80 per cent of the people feel that the Olympics can’t be held,” Uchimura said. “I would like everyone to think, ‘What can I do?’ and change their mindset in that direction. I know it is very difficult, but I wonder if the athletes will be able to perform unless they have the same feelings.”
Two-time Olympic figure skater (1976, 1980) and TV personality Emi Watanabe thinks caution and safety should be prioritized with regard to the Games.
“I know the pandemic has changed training schedules and many athletes in the world are suffering because they are not able to practice because of lockdowns,” Watanabe said. “We all have to sacrifice what is best for the human race rather than rush to hold the Olympics until COVID-19 disappears from our planet. I think it should wait until the world is a safe place again.”
The Tokyo-based anti-Olympic group Hangorin No Kai, which participated in a protest during a visit by IOC president Thomas Bach to Japan in November, made its feelings known in written responses to a series of questions submitted to them.
Rather than enhancing medical care and social security associated with COVID-19, a huge budget will be used to hold the Olympics and Paralympics.– Anti-Olympic group Hangorin No Kai
“Our mission is to stop the Tokyo Olympics and have the Olympics abolished,” the group, which was formed in 2013, wrote. “The IOC and Tokyo Olympics organizers have never tried to meet with us.”
Hangorin No Kai indicated that the overwhelming majority of the public they have conversed with are concerned about long-term issues and how hosting the Olympics will impact society.
“Rather than enhancing medical care and social security associated with COVID-19, a huge budget will be used to hold the Olympics and Paralympics.”
When asked if their views would be different if the Olympics and surrounding costs were entirely privately financed, the group didn’t hold back.
Novelty worn off
“We have already lost public spaces and services, including the privatization of public parks due to privatization for the Olympics,” Hangorin No Kai said. “At present, the promotion of the Olympics has even invaded public education and has caused great damage like brainwashing and mobilizing students to support the Olympics. In addition to these, there is concern that the privatization of public education will be accelerated if the event is held with private investment.”
Whiting believes the novelty of hosting the Olympics, which the country has done three times previously (Tokyo 1964, Sapporo 1972, Nagano 1998), had worn off for the Japanese ahead of the Tokyo 2020 bid.
“Now, people are more blasé. Been there, done that,” Whiting said. “Many think the Games are too expensive and money should have been spent on the March 11, 2001, [earthquake and tsunami] recovery. Businesses were against it.”
Whiting pointed out that despite several missteps early on, most people did support hosting the Games again after the bid was secured.
“When Japan won the bid in Buenos Aires [in 2013] attitudes began to change,” Whiting said. “People got behind it despite embarrassments like the flawed National Stadium design, vote-buying scandal, plagiarized logo, e-coli in Tokyo Bay, where water events were to be held, and holding the Games in the brutal summer heat. The 1964 Games were held in October because the [Japan Olympic Committee] said summer was too hot.”
Japan-Forward.com sportswriter Ed Odeven, who has lived in the country for 14 years and covered multiple Olympics, believes there is still hope for the 2020 Games.
“There’s no one-size-fits-all opinion about the likelihood of Japan staging the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics,” Odeven said. “Plenty of people have doubts, but many observers within Japan can point to the successful completion of the Nippon Professional Baseball season, with gradual increases in maximum spectator capacity up to 50 per cent of venue capacity by season’s end.
“Other pro sports circuits, including soccer’s J. League and basketball’s B. League, and big competitions such as multiple Grand Sumo Tournaments have also adjusted to playing during the global pandemic, adhering to government health experts’ advice,” Odeven said. “This includes frequent COVID-19 testing for athletes, social distancing for fans in the overall seating setup and face masks for venue workers, media and fans.”
Odeven cited the recent approval of vaccines as being significant.
“The COVID-19 vaccine now starting to be administered could reduce fears about international travel to Japan for the Olympics if the efforts show a significant reduction in coronavirus cases,” Odeven said. “And that viewpoint would spread considerably among Tokyo 2020 organizers, athletes, coaches, etc. if other nations can demonstrate that the vaccine is working.
“People don’t seem to be particularly enthusiastic about anything set for next summer,” Odeven said. “Everyone is just eager for [the pandemic] to end and for the massive impact of the pandemic on their lives — and all of the disruptions to normal routines — to go away as soon as possible.”
Odeven thinks the vaccines are the silver bullet that could restore faith in holding a massive sporting event in one of the biggest cities in the world in the wake of a pandemic.
“The vaccines are the real litmus test,” Odeven said. “If they can make a real impact in slowing down the spread of the coronavirus around the world, I think people’s expectations about the Olympics will rise.”
The provincial government says it is extending online learning for elementary students in southern Ontario until Jan. 25.
That aligns with the date secondary students signed up for in-person learning in those regions are scheduled to return to class.
Elementary students and secondary students in the seven northern Ontario public health unit regions will proceed with returning to in-person learning on Jan. 11, the province said in a news release.
Many students were set to head back to class earlier in the month amid record-high COVID-19 numbers. Premier Doug Ford said Thursday that one in five kids under the age of 13 in Ontario who are being tested are now positive for COVID-19.
“That’s not mentioning all the other kids that haven’t been tested that might have a runny nose or a cough,” Ford said.
“The number one priority is not to put our kids in jeopardy, and I will never do that. Especially at the rates we’re seeing.”
Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams at 3 p.m. ET, which CBC News is carrying live in this story.
The premier also said that before the holidays, Ontario was seeing positivity rates of around three per cent.
“Now, the information I received as of late yesterday afternoon, that has jumped [by] 116 per cent,” he said. Data shared by the province Thursday shows that from Dec. 27 to Jan. 2, the positivity rate increase in the age 4 to 11 age bracket was 116.7 per cent.
That was the largest jump of any age bracket, followed by age 12 to 13 at a 97.9 per cent increase and age 14 to 17 with a 75.9 per cent increase.
Ontario’s current test positivity rate is 6.1 per cent.
Some regions already announced schools will close, before the government said anything about the entire province.
Public health officials are urging Canadians to dramatically limit their contacts with other people as the country continues on a “rapid growth trajectory” for COVID-19 cases and the holiday season begins.
This week’s approval of a COVID-19 vaccine has led to a groundswell of public optimism — but public health officials are warning the pandemic is a long way from over. Releasing new modelling from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) today, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said that if Canadians maintain their current contact levels, more than 12,000 new cases will be recorded daily by January.
If people increase their level of contacts, however, that number could surge to more than 30,000 cases daily by January, according to the modelling sheets.
PHAC modelling suggests combined efforts are “urgently needed” to bend the curve as outbreaks continue in long-term care facilities and First Nation communities, putting a strain on hospitals and regional health care systems.
Tam told a media briefing in Ottawa that only one per cent of Canadians have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, which means most Canadians remain vulnerable to infection.
3 weeks, 100K new cases
About 100,000 new cases have been reported across the country in just the last three weeks, with growth being driven primarily by the six provinces west of the Atlantic region. In recent weeks, each of these provinces has recorded its highest daily case count, and several also have seen their highest daily number of deaths to date.
“We have yet to see the kind of sustained decline in daily case counts that would indicate we are bringing the pandemic under control,” Tam said.
WATCH / Dr. Tam on impact of COVID-19 on health system
Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Tam, updates reporters with the rising number of COVID 19 cases in regions across the country and reveals modeling projections. 0:50
Health Minister Patty Hajdu said Canada is entering a tricky season, when people traditionally take a break from work to spend time with family. Despite the positive news on the vaccine front, she urged Canadians to be vigilant in practising public health guidelines because a “very clear danger” remains.
“We’re going to have to be very, very cautious over the next several weeks to protect those people who are counting on us to work together,” she said.
Hajdu urges collaboration
Asked if the government should impose more restrictive measures to stem the disastrous rise in cases, Hajdu said the best approach is for the federal government to collaborate with the provinces.
“Yes, it is a tragedy, I completely agree with you, that cases are rising,” she said. “They are rising globally. There are very few countries that are not seeing growth right now. But I will tell you this — I believe it’s that effort of partnership, that we-will-do-whatever-it-takes attitude, that will get our country through this.”
Short-term projections suggest there could be up to 577,000 cases and 14,920 deaths by Dec. 25.
As of Friday morning, Canadian public health officials were reporting a total of 443,922 cases and 13,154 deaths.
Today’s projections are particularly grim for First Nations, where the number of active cases has doubled in the last month. The current number of active cases is more than 20 times higher than the peak number during the first wave of the pandemic for First Nations on reserve.
Some of the thousands of minks culled to minimize the risk of them re-transmitting the novel coronavirus to humans have risen from their shallow graves in western Denmark after gases built up inside the bodies, Danish authorities said Thursday.
“The gases cause the animals to expand and, in the worst cases, the mink get pushed out of the ground,” Jannike Elmegaard of the Danish Veterinary and Food Administration said. He said it affected “a few hundred” animals.
The minks are buried in trenches that are two-and-a-half metres deep and three metres wide. A first layer of about one metre of dead minks are then covered with chalk before another layer of animals is laid, covered again with chalk and then with dirt, Elmegaard told The Associated Press.
But because the soil where they are buried is sandy, some have re-emerged. “We assume it is the mink that were in the upper layer that pop up,” he said, calling it “a natural process.”
“Had the earth been more clayish, then it would have been heavier and the mink would not have resurfaced,” he told the AP. The animals who resurface are reburied elsewhere, and authorities guard the site to keep away foxes and birds.
Mink farming to end
Denmark culled thousands of minks in the northern part of the country after 11 people were sickened by a mutated version of the coronavirus that had been observed among the animals.
Earlier this month, the Social Democratic minority government got a majority in parliament to back its decision to cull all of Denmark’s roughly 15 million minks, including healthy ones outside the northern part of the country where infections have been found. The proposed law also bans mink farming until the end of 2021.
The government had announced the cull despite not having the right to order the killing of healthy animals, an embarrassing misstep that caused it to scramble to build political consensus for a new law.
The coronavirus evolves constantly as it replicates but, to date, none of the identified mutations has changed anything about COVID-19’s transmissibility or lethality.
Both Newfoundland and Labrador and P.E.I are exiting the Atlantic bubble for at least two weeks as COVID-19 cases rise in parts of the region.
Newfoundland Premier Andrew Furey said the province will continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation in the other Atlantic provinces to see if the two-week break needs to be extended. Travel to and from Newfoundland and Labrador will only be for essential reasons, he said.
“The Atlantic Bubble has been a source of pride … but the situation has changed,” Furey said at a news conference.
P.E.I. Premier Dennis King delivered a similar message during a nearly simultaneous news conference, saying his government would re-evaluate over the next two weeks.
King said the changing epidemiology in the region was concerning, “and it forces us to use what I believe are the tools in our limited toolbox to do everything we can to avoid an outbreak here in P.E.I.”
He said that given the province’s small size, it wouldn’t take much for its health-care system to become overwhelmed.
Atlantic bubble established July 3
Newfoundland’s heightened travel restrictions will come into effect on Wednesday, and P.E.I.’s come into effect Monday at midnight.
Since July 3, residents of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, P.E.I and Newfoundland and Labrador were able to travel relatively freely across each other’s borders without quarantining.
COVID-19 case numbers in all the Atlantic provinces were low throughout the summer and fall, but that began to change last week in parts of the region.
New Brunswick tightened restrictions in Moncton and Saint John last week as cases rose, and the province reported its highest ever single-day case count on Saturday with 23 new cases. As of Sunday, that province had a total of 77 active cases.
Nova Scotia also started recording a spike in cases last week and public health confirmed there is community spread, with most transmission happening in the Halifax area. As of Sunday’s reporting, the province had a total of 44 known active cases.
Newfoundland and Labrador is currently reporting 23 active cases — including two new cases announced Monday — and P.E.I has two, with the latest one reported at Monday’s news conference.
No plans to burst N.S.-N.B. bubble
In a news conference Monday afternoon, New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs said the change will not affect New Brunswick’s rules.
He said he and the other Atlantic premiers held a teleconference last night when they discussed the decision.
“We certainly understand the situation that Newfoundland and Labrador and P.E.I. are in, and their concerns with our current situation in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia,” he said.
Still, Higgs said he and Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil have decided not to burst the Nova Scotia-New Brunswick bubble for now.
He said most cases in Nova Scotia are in the Halifax region. He said there has been a focus on testing there, and people in the Halifax area are being encouraged to not travel outside of the region.
Higgs said enforcing an isolation requirement for Nova Scotia would not be a good use of resources.
“We want to keep our resources deployed along our northern borders between New Brunswick and Quebec, and to enhance our activity along the border between Maine and New Brunswick,” he said.
“We’re aligned in containing this in Nova Scotia and in New Brunswick independently, and I think we’re best served to ensure that we each follow our own protocols.”
He said any New Brunswickers travelling to P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador, including for work, should contact the government in the two provinces to see how the changes will affect them.
Higgs also said the change does not affect New Brunswickers coming home after working in P.E.I. or Newfoundland and Labrador.
While the New Brunswick-Nova Scotia border remains open, Higgs still urged New Brunswickers to avoid non-essential travel. That message was also in a news release from the Council of Atlantic Premiers on Monday morning, which advised caution while travelling within the Atlantic bubble.
The office of Premier Stephen McNeil confirmed Monday that travellers from all other Atlantic provinces can still enter Nova Scotia without quarantining.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Monday she has the authority to issue a second stay-at-home order to curb the spiking coronavirus if necessary and called a comment by an adviser to U.S. President Donald Trump urging people to “rise up” against Michigan’s latest restrictions “incredibly reckless.”
The Democratic governor spoke with Capitol reporters a day after announcing limits amid a surge of COVID-19 cases that has led to increased hospitalizations and deaths. Other Midwest states are facing similar second waves as the weather cools, and she has urged the public to “double down” with precautions to avoid a shelter-in-place order like what was instituted in the spring.
Whitmer responded to a tweet sent Sunday night by Scott Atlas, a science adviser to Trump, who urged people to “rise up” after the governor’s announcement. Trump himself has urged supporters to push Whitmer to reopen the state following virus restrictions, though many rules had been lifted previously.
“It’s just incredibly reckless considering everything that has happened, everything that is going on,” Whitmer said. “We really all need to be focused on the public health crisis that is ravaging our country and that poses a very real threat to every one of us.”
Atlas later tweeted that he “NEVER” would endorse or incite violence. Fourteen men have been charged in connection with an alleged plot to kidnap the governor.
Under the restrictions that start Wednesday, Michigan high schools and colleges must halt in-person classes, restaurants must stop indoor dining and entertainment businesses such as casinos, movie theatres and bowling alleys must close for three weeks. Gathering sizes also will be tightened.
Whitmer called it a “targeted approach” informed by epidemiologists and public health experts. She renewed her call for the Republican-led legislature to codify a mask requirement in law in part to send a unified message to the public, calling it “the best weapon we have against our common enemy.” The proposed legislation is opposed by Republican legislative leaders.
She noted that lawmakers enacted laws keeping intact unemployment benefits and addressing other matters after the state Supreme Court’s October ruling striking down a law she repeatedly used to respond to the pandemic, but said her administration can continue largely combating the pandemic unilaterally under a health law.
“This is precisely the power that one of the justices pointed to in terms of actions we can and should be taking throughout this pandemic,” the governor said.
Michigan’s seven-day average of daily new cases has more than doubled from 3,113 to 6,684 over two weeks. It is up nearly five-fold from 30 days ago. The number of patients currently hospitalized, about 3,000, has risen six-fold in under two months.
Urging federal agreement on aid
Asked if the state can do anything to assist closed businesses and their soon-to-be laid-off employees, Whitmer again urged Trump and Congress to enact a relief law. She said she and the governors in a loose “compact” of other Midwest states — Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Kentucky — will have a joint media event Tuesday.
Brian Calley, president of the Small Business Association of Michigan and a Republican former lieutenant governor, also called on Congress and the president to act.
“I think we have to expect that this will mean catastrophic failure for many of them (small businesses),” he said of the state order. “They’re just in no condition to weather these types of conditions, given the fact that some of them were required to be closed for five or six months earlier this year.”
In Detroit, an early virus hot spot where infection rates are lower than in the suburbs, Mayor Mike Duggan said businesses “are being shut down because of irresponsible behaviour in the surrounding communities.”
Whitmer said Republican legislators have been included in calls in which health experts model cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Without aggressive steps now, she warned, Michigan could see 20,000 more deaths by February. The state has reported nearly 8,400 confirmed or probable deaths tied to COVID-19 and about 275,000 cases.
“The restrictions are absolutely necessary right now. The pandemic is out of control. Nurses are at their breaking point, so any help the public can give us would be great,” said Jamie Brown, a critical care nurse from Kalamazoo and president of the Michigan Nurses Association.