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What’s behind Quebec’s targeted approach to the 3rd wave, and could it work?

The month of March featured considerable swings in Quebec’s messaging and action around the pandemic. If you’ve been having trouble keeping track, it’s understandable.

This week, the provincial government ordered schools and businesses in Quebec City, Lévis and Gatineau to close, only days after gyms in Montreal were allowed to reopen and churches allowed to welcome a maximum of 250 people.

On Tuesday, Premier François Legault said his government was watching the situation closely in select areas but insisted changes weren’t necessary — even as top experts, the province’s order of nurses and public health officials were questioning the lack of restrictions.

A day later, he called a 5 p.m. news conference and ordered three regions into lockdown, abruptly shifting them from an orange zone in the province’s colour-coded ranking system to a darker, more restrictive shade of red than in other red zones, including Montreal.  

Education Minister Jean-François Roberge, meanwhile, ordered English school boards to comply with a decree to have high school students return to class full time, even as students held protests saying they didn’t feel safe. And organizers of recreational hockey in Montreal are planning to restart in early April.

Health Minister Christian Dubé acknowledged the government’s decisions can seem confusing, but he insisted there is a logic in the chaos. 

“It can sometimes look inconsistent, but I tell you that we’re making all our decisions based on many factors, and I believe we are staying ahead of the game,” Dubé  told Radio-Canada on Thursday. 

So, what is the government trying to do? And is it the right move?

More targeted approach

In an interview Thursday, Dubé said the government is closely watching regions and sub-regions and acting as soon as its experts see transmission on the rise. The contagiousness of the variants means cases can spike much more quickly than in the second wave, he said.

Cases in Quebec City are now doubling every day, he said, and that region went from being a source of worry to a major concern overnight. (A single gym is now linked to more than 140 cases and 21 workplace outbreaks.)

“We act at the moment we’re certain of the trend, and before a major impact on hospitals,” Dubé told Radio-Canada.

Quebec is in a better situation than some other jurisdictions when it comes to vaccinations. More of the population has received one dose (roughly 16 per cent) than Ontario or France, both of which are seeing a more dramatic spike in cases.

Such a plan isn’t foolproof.

France tried a similar, targeted approach. But, with hospitals at risk of being overrun, President Emmanuel Macron reluctantly shut down schools for three weeks as part of another round of nationwide restrictions.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford, as well, ordered new provincewide restrictions on Thursday, including the closure of gyms and stricter limits on gatherings.

Dr. Karl Weiss, a microbiologist and infectious diseases specialist at the University of Montreal, said Quebec once again finds itself at a “critical point” — and that the vaccination campaign needs to move quickly to be able to fend off the rising number of variant cases.

He noted that Quebec is in a better situation than some other jurisdictions. More of the population has received one dose of vaccine (roughly 16 per cent) than Ontario or France, both of which are seeing a more dramatic spike in cases.

Why not tighten restrictions sooner?

Legault, Dubé and Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec’s public health director, have frequently used the word “balance” when explaining the province’s approach.

They’ve made it clear their public health decisions involve keeping the virus in check, but also factor in the impact of disruptions to the education of school-age children, the mental health of the population and the effect on the economy.

WATCH | What’s the outlook for Montreal?

Prativa Baral discusses the outlook for Montreal in light of the government’s tightened restrictions in some other Quebec regions. 0:56

The government is also seeking to keep people onside, an increasingly difficult task as the pandemic drags on. Officials closely watch survey data from the province’s public health institute, which documents whether enthusiasm for restrictions is rising or falling among specific age groups and in specific regions.

“We have to find that balance because if we act too fast, we’ll lose co-operation from the public,” Dubé said Thursday, echoing past statements by Legault.

“We need the balance with mental health. We did everything we could so people could go to school and play sports.”

But is that helpful, if less than a month later those measures are back in place?

Dominique Anglade, head of the opposition Liberals, suggested that “playing the yo-yo” can be even harder on morale.

“Go to a restaurant here in Quebec City, you have people who are crying because they didn’t see it coming,” she said Thursday, a day after the restrictions were announced.

Premier François Legault has been reluctant to close schools, but he ordered them shut in three cities this week. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

“The other regions are asking themselves the same question today. If you are in Lac-Saint-Jean today, if you are in Abitibi today, if you are in Montreal today, you’re asking yourselves the question, what’s next? We’re asking the government to tell us what’s next.”

Prativa Baral, an epidemiologist and doctoral candidate at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Md., says government messaging is crucial.

“Part of making sure people trust the government and trust the public health guidelines that are being put in place is the transparency aspect, but also thinking of things in the long term and not mixing that messaging,” he said.

Why would Montreal be any different?

As Legault has pointed out, Montreal has, so far, resisted a spike in cases.

The daily case tally has remained consistent for the past several weeks. But with looser restrictions, including the reopening of gyms and high schools back at full capacity, that may not last.

Baral said Legault’s categorization of Montreal as “stable” is worrisome.

“The rate of increase has not been as substantial as other regions that are going to be shut down, but we’re still averaging 300, 350 cases a day in Montreal,” she said.

“Because of the variants of concern, the 350 could very easily turn into a larger number of cases very quickly.”

Baral called the relaxation of restrictions in Montreal “incredibly premature,” and said the cause and effect is well understood: when restrictions are lifted, cases go up, as they did in the regions now in lockdown.

“There is no reason to think that the same thing won’t happen to Montreal, unfortunately.”

The city’s public health director, Dr. Mylène Drouin, has said repeatedly she expects to see a rise in cases — the goal now is to delay that to get as many people vaccinated as possible.

Earlier this week, Drouin said she expects variants to begin to make up more cases after Easter and it will be crucial to keep them under control.

“Every day we win against the variant is a day when thousands of people are vaccinated.”

People wear face masks as they wait for the start of a performance Centaur Theatre in Montreal, where a limited audience is now allowed. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

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CBC | Health News

Scientist behind COVID-19 mRNA vaccine says her team’s next target is cancer

The scientist who won the race to deliver the first widely used coronavirus vaccine says people can rest assured the shots are safe, and that the technology behind it will soon be used to fight another global scourge — cancer.

Ozlem Tureci, who founded the German company BioNTech with her husband, Ugur Sahin, was working on a way to harness the body’s immune system to tackle tumours when they learned last year of an unknown virus infecting people in China.

Over breakfast, the couple decided to apply the technology they’d been researching for two decades to the new threat.

Britain authorized BioNTech’s mRNA vaccine for use in December, followed a week later by Canada. Dozens of other countries, including the U.S., have followed suit and tens of millions of people worldwide have since received the shot developed together with U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer.

“It pays off to make bold decisions and to trust that if you have an extraordinary team, you will be able to solve any problem and obstacle which comes your way in real time,” Tureci told The Associated Press in an interview.

Among the biggest challenges for the small, Mainz-based company were how to conduct large-scale clinical trials across different regions and how to scale up the manufacturing process to meet global demand.

Along with Pfizer, the company enlisted the help of Fosun Pharma in China “to get assets, capabilities and geographical footprint on board, which we did not have,” said Tureci.

Co-operation and collaboration 

Among the lessons she and her colleagues learned was “how important co-operation and collaboration is internationally.”

Tureci, who was born in Germany to Turkish immigrants, said the company reached out to medical oversight bodies from the start, to ensure that the new type of vaccine would pass the rigorous scrutiny of regulators.

“The process of getting a medicine or a vaccine approved is one where many questions are asked, many experts are involved and there is external peer review of all the data and scientific discourse,” she said.

Amid a scare in Europe this week over the coronavirus shot made by British-Swedish rival AstraZeneca, Tureci dismissed the idea that any corners were cut by those racing to develop a vaccine.

“There is a very rigid process in place and the process does not stop after a vaccine has been approved,” she said. “It is, in fact, continuing now all around the world, where regulators have used reporting systems to screen and to assess any observations made with our or other vaccines.”

Tureci and her colleagues have all received the BioNTech shot themselves, she told the AP. “Yes, we have been vaccinated.”

Aim to develop new tool in fight against cancer

As BioNTech’s profile has grown during the pandemic, so has its value, adding much-needed funds the company will be able to use to pursue its original goal of developing a new tool against cancer.

The vaccine made by BioNTech-Pfizer and U.S. rival Moderna uses messenger RNA, or mRNA, to carry instructions into the human body for making proteins that prime it to attack a specific virus. The same principle can be applied to get the immune system to take on tumours.

“We have several different cancer vaccines based on mRNA,” said Tureci.

Asked when such a therapy might be available, Tureci said “that’s very difficult to predict in innovative development. But we expect that within only a couple of years, we will also have our vaccines [against] cancer at a place where we can offer them to people.”

Workers pack boxes containing the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine as they are prepared to be shipped at the Pfizer manufacturing plant in Kalamazoo, Mich., in December. The vaccine was the first to be cleared for use in both Canada and the U.S. (Morry Cash/AFP/Getty Images)

For now, Tureci and Sahin are trying to ensure the vaccines governments have ordered are delivered and that the shots respond effectively to any new mutation in the virus.

On Friday, the couple were taking time out of their schedule to receive Germany’s highest award, the Order of Merit, from President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a trained scientist herself, was to attend the ceremony.

“It’s indeed an honour,” Tureci said of the award. “Both my husband and I are touched.”

But she insisted developing the vaccine was the work of many.

“It’s about the effort of many, our team at BioNTech, all the partners who were involved, also governments, regulatory authorities, which worked together with a sense of urgency,” she said. “The way we see it, this is an acknowledgement of this effort and also a celebration of science.”

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Senate Republicans rally behind Trump on eve of impeachment trial

Donald Trump’s defenders in the Senate on Sunday rallied around the former president before his impeachment trial, dismissing it as a waste of time and arguing that his fiery speech before the U.S. Capitol insurrection does not make him responsible for the violence of Jan. 6.

“If being held accountable means being impeached by the House and being convicted by the Senate, the answer to that is no,” said Republican Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, making clear his belief that Trump should and will be acquitted. Asked if Congress could consider other punishment, such as censure, Wicker said the Democratic-led House had that option earlier but rejected it in favour of impeaching him.

“That ship has sailed,” he said.

The Senate is set to launch the impeachment trial on Tuesday to consider the charge that Trump’s fighting words to protesters at a Capitol rally, as well as weeks of falsehoods about what he called a stolen and rigged presidential election, provoked a mob to storm the Capitol. Five people died as a result of the melee, including a police officer.

Many senators, including Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, immediately denounced the violence and pointed a finger of blame at Trump. Following the riot, Wicker said Americans “will not stand for this kind of attack on the rule of law” and, without naming names, said “we must prosecute” those who undermine democracy.

But with Trump now gone from the presidency, Republicans have shown little political appetite to take further action, such as an impeachment conviction that could lead to barring him from running for future office. Those partisan divisions appear to be hardening ahead of Trump’s trial, a sign of his continuing grip on the Republican Party.

On Sunday, Wicker described Trump’s impeachment trial as a “meaningless messaging partisan exercise.” When asked if Trump’s conduct should be more deserving of impeachment than that of former president Bill Clinton, whom Wicker voted to impeach, he said: “I’m not conceding that President Trump incited an insurrection.” Clinton’s impeachment, in 1998, was sparked by his false denial in a deposition of a sexual relationship with a White House intern.

Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky dismissed Trump’s trial as a farce with “zero chance of conviction,” describing Trump’s words to protesters to “fight like hell” as Congress was voting to ratify Joe Biden’s presidential victory as “figurative” speech.

“If we’re going to criminalize speech, and somehow impeach everybody who says, `Go fight to hear your voices heard,’ I mean really, we ought to impeach Chuck Schumer then,” Paul said, referring to the now Democratic Senate majority leader and his criticisms of Justice Neil Gorsuch and Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

“He went to the Supreme Court, stood in front of the Supreme Court and said specifically, `Hey Gorsuch, Hey Kavanaugh, you’ve unleashed a whirlwind. And you’re going to pay the price.”‘

Republican Sen. Rand Paul speaks while Trump looks on during a campaign rally in Lexington, Ky., in November 2019. (Susan Walsh/The Associated Press)

Paul noted that Chief Justice John Roberts had declined to preside over this week’s impeachment proceeding because Trump was no longer president. Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy will preside over the trial as Senate president pro tempore.

“It is a farce, it is unconstitutional. But more than anything, it’s unwise and going to divide the country,” Paul said.

Last month, Paul forced a vote to set aside the trial as unconstitutional because Trump is no longer in office, which legal experts say is disputable. But the vote suggested the near impossibility in reaching a conviction in a Senate where Democrats hold 50 seats but a two-thirds vote — or 67 senators — would be needed to convict Trump.

Forty-four Republican senators sided with Paul and voted to oppose holding an impeachment trial at all. Five Republican senators joined with Democrats to reject Paul’s motion: Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.

WATCH | Republicans face backlash for speaking out against Trump:

Although former U.S. president Donald Trump still has allies in the Republican Party, others are facing backlash for saying he should be punished for inciting the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol. 2:05

Some Republicans have said the vote doesn’t “bind” them into voting a particular way on conviction, with Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana saying Sunday he would listen carefully to the evidence. But even Trump’s sharper Republican critics on Sunday acknowledged the widely expected outcome.

“You did have 45 Republican senators vote to suggest that they didn’t think it was appropriate to conduct a trial, so you can infer how likely it is that those folks will vote to convict,” said Toomey, who has made clear he believes Trump committed “impeachable offences.”

“I still think the best outcome would have been for the president to resign” before he left office, Toomey said. “Obviously he chose not to do that.”

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, one of Trump’s ardent defenders, said he believes Trump’s actions were wrong and “he’s going to have a place in history for all of this,” but he insisted it’s not the Senate’s job to judge.

“It’s not a question of how the trial ends, it’s a question of when it ends,” Graham said. “Republicans are going to view this as an unconstitutional exercise, and the only question is, will they call witnesses, how long does the trial take? But the outcome is really not in doubt.”

Wicker spoke on ABC’s This Week, Paul was on Fox News Sunday, Toomey appeared on CNN’s State of the Union and Graham was on CBS’s Face the Nation.

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The father-daughter relationship behind the success of rising Canadian tennis star Leylah Annie Fernandez

Sitting on the living room couch at their Boynton Beach home in Florida, Leylah Annie Fernandez and her father, Jorge, are intently watching All or Nothing: Manchester City.

The pair are huge fans of City manager Pep Guardiola, considered one of the greatest soccer managers the game has known. As the intensely cerebral Spaniard breaks down the patterns he wants his players to exhibit on the pitch, Leylah and Jorge sink their teeth in.

“I love Real Madrid but right now we’re kind of taking a break from them and supporting Man City,” Leylah said. “I like Pep Guardiola, his style is kind of like my tennis game so I’m learning from him.”

Learning to use patience to dictate play. Maximizing angles to go for the kill. That soccer techniques have intertwined with tennis strategies is only fitting. 

Leylah’s coach through her formative years has been Jorge, a former pro soccer player of Ecuadorian descent who played across South America. He never had any association with tennis whatsoever, but took on the challenge when he saw a daughter in need.

The two have already seen some of the ups and downs of pursuing a tennis career. From tennis pro being the answer to what she wanted be at the age of nine to thinking there may be more to life than sports within a year, Jorge has stood alongside her through every decision.

It is a most intriguing relationship the two share as Leylah looks to continue her ascension on the WTA circuit after having struggled for lift-off with her tennis aspirations as a child. Jorge’s gut instincts to coach his daughter have helped Leylah maximize everything within her 5-foot-4, 106-pound frame to put her on the cusp of making her name an unforgettable one in the tennis world.

The past 12 months has gone a long way toward that goal. She delivered a straight-sets win over Belinda Bencic, ranked No. 12 in the world, in February last year in a must-win match for Canada at the Billie Jean King Cup (formerly the Federation Cup). She following that up by reaching the first WTA Tour final of her career in Acapulco shortly after.

The Montreal-born 18-year-old is now ranked No. 89 heading into the Australian Open, which begins Sunday in Melbourne. She will open the tournament Monday against Elise Mertens of Belgium, the tournament’s No. 18 seed. It is the fourth major of her young career.

When Leylah first began playing sports at the age of five, she looked a natural at soccer, and though track and field joined the fray along with volleyball – tennis had her heart. She first started playing in their Laval home driveway where the goal was simply to avoid hitting the family car. She worked on her consistency by hitting a ball against the basement wall for hours on end, a practice that had her mother, Irene, stressing over whether the TV or wall would end up with a hole. As Leylah got older, she and her younger sister, Bianca, would ride their bikes to the tennis courts three blocks away.

“It’s the beauty of it,” Leylah said about why tennis appealed to her more than the other sports. “Every time I would watch tennis on TV, it was so beautiful: the way you can create something out of nothing is what attracted me to it. And then the competition: you’re on your own on the court, you make the decisions and if it goes well you get the win and if it doesn’t you lose. You don’t really need to depend on anybody else, you don’t need to depend on your teammate for the winning shot.”

WATCH | Fernandez wins Junior French Open:

16-year-old Canadian Leylah Annie Fernandez beats Emma Navarro 6-3, 6-2, becomes country’s first-ever junior champion at French Open. 1:13

As Leylah’s passion for the sport increased, she found a hero in 5-foot-5-and-a-half Swiss legend Justine Henin on YouTube, inspired by what someone with a relatable frame could do. Henin spent 117 weeks as world No. 1 and won seven Grand Slam titles, including the French Open four times. She also won an Olympic gold medal at the 2004 Games in Athens.

“She’s not the biggest player nor the strongest player but she always found a solution playing against bigger players,” Leylah said. “She had the talent, great hands, slices and drop shots to open up the court where not many could, and that inspired me that I could do it, too, and I want to inspire other kids to believe they can do it, too.”

The modern era has typically favoured taller players in the women’s game. Billie Jean King, at 5-foot-5, won 12 major singles titles and Chris Evert managed 18 at 5-foot-6, but both retired more than a decade before Leylah was born. The likes of Henin have been more the exception than the rule since. Of the 20 highest-ranked players on the women’s tour coming into this season, 16 are listed at 5-foot-9 or taller.

More encouragingly, the other four are world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty (5-foot-5), No. 2 Simona Halep (5-foot-6), and No. 4 Sofia Kenin and No. 8  Bianca Andreescu (both listed at 5-foot-7). They have accounted for half of the previous 10 Grand Slams won — compatriot Andreescu becoming the first Canadian to win a major singles title when she won the U.S. Open in 2019 — and Leylah hopes to join that list sooner than most prognosticators anticipate.

At 5-foot-7, compatriot Bianca Andreescu, right, provides inspiration for Fernandez, who at 5-foot-4 often finds herself battling taller players on the Tour. (Getty Images)

‘Big mountain to climb’

“Finish top 10 in the WTA,” she said when asked about her goals for 2021. “I know that’s a very big mountain to climb but I always think that it’s possible and me, as a player, I can do it.”

Leylah’s parents’ first step to helping her pursue a tennis career began at the age of seven when they enrolled her in a provincial development program in Montreal that was in partnership with the national program. The hope was to help her elevate her game, but they soon saw the challenges of chasing professional aspirations. Leylah, a left-hander, was found to have a flawed forehand technique, was slow on her fitness tests, and struggled with her serve. Losses piled up and before she could realize what hit her, she was cut from the program.

“I thought I was gonna get my weekends back,” Jorge said with a laugh. “She was crying and I’m looking at this little girl, ‘Honey, is this really important for you?’ She said yeah and that she really wanted to play. I said, ‘If you want, I’ll coach you.'”

Honey, is this really important for you?’ She said yeah and that she really wanted to play. I said, ‘If you want, I’ll coach you.– Jorge Fernandez

In the moment, Jorge viewed her fundamental deficiencies as secondary. He may not have known how to be a tennis player, but he certainly knew how to be a professional athlete. He had watched Leylah get coached from the sidelines and could see there were teaching methods she could benefit from. Tennis, after all, has been as traditionalist a sport as any. Perhaps a fresh pair of eyes could be exactly what she needed.

Jorge quickly decided to work on a plan of action, recognizing that if he was going to get the best out of his daughter, he was going to have to stick to his guns. After all, he could relate to the task at hand for Leylah, having signed his first professional soccer contract at the age of 13.

Whether it be coaching or any goal, Jorge’s first step is to write down his objectives and assign timelines. At the top of the list was to make Leylah mentally unbreakable. He knew it was going to require a plan that took not days or weeks or months, but years. By the time she was done her teens, Jorge wanted to ensure he had helped mould someone who could consistently showcase character and spirit.

He also put in time to study parents who have coached their kids to an elite level in tennis. In the women’s game, there’s hardly a better example than Richard Williams, who nurtured his daughters Venus and Serena to a combined 30 Grand Slam singles titles. Serena, with 23 to her name, is arguably the greatest tennis player the women’s circuit has ever seen. Steffi Graf, perhaps her biggest competition in the GOAT debate, finished with 22 Grand Slam singles titles and was also coached by her father, Peter Graf, in the early stages of her career.

Richard Williams hugs Serena Williams, right, after her 2012 Wimbledon championship. Sister Venus, left, is also a Wimbledon champion. (Getty Images)

Steffi and Peter Graf in 1989 after her Wimbledon championship, one of 22 major singles titles the German star won. (Getty Images)

Jorge would spend time watching Venus and Serena’s matches and try to understand game plans not only from each of the two sisters, but their opponents and how they would be countered.

“One of the things [with Richard] was the simplification of the sport,” Jorge said. “I think great salespeople have a way to simplify complexity and just focus on the assets that are going to get you where they’re going to get you. He focused on their power. 

“In the land of the blind the one-eyed-man is king. I had one eye, and I said, OK, since my kids and my wife don’t know better, I’m not going to get criticized too much. I decided we’re going to focus a lot on finesse, mental toughness, and speed. A lot of precision tennis, and every now and again, a knockout punch.”

Leylah’s first taste of Jorge the coach was a rude awakening. She was nine and trying to execute a basic drill of hitting the ball over the net. Unknown to her was a three-strike rule Jorge was going to enforce for repeating the same mistake. As the ball nestled into the net for a third time, she was told to run “suicides,” a high-intensity sprint drill. Leylah was taken aback, but Jorge wasn’t going to have it any other way. He wanted her at what he viewed as maximum output.

You have to be at the red line all the time, and then you find a new red line.– Jorge Fernandez

“You have to be at the red line all the time, and then you find a new red line,” Jorge said, conjuring the markings on a pressure gauge. “You have to be there until the red zone becomes a normal zone, then, the most beautiful thing happens. You become a better player and the mistakes you’re making, you’re no longer making them.

“You have a mental fortitude and what you didn’t think you could do, you now do regularly.”

Jorge recognizes that it’s difficult for kids to grasp the concept of pressure and stress. He felt it was important to convey that in the simple terms kids understand: good gets rewarded and bad gets punished. Leylah would often end up in tears and other coaches would shake their head at Jorge’s methods, but he wouldn’t let up. It was the way he knew best. Having recognized his daughter’s shock, though, he did have a conversation with her immediately after to see how she felt.

“He just wants me to improve, keep correcting, keep competing,” Leylah says now. “He said that’s going to happen a lot, that he’s going to put me in uncomfortable positions during practice and it’s up to me to fight through it and find solutions.

“When I said I wanted to be professional, that’s the place I wanted to go. That’s why he pushes me a little bit more every day, every year.”

While creating a “normal zone” in their coaching relationship, Jorge also wanted to make sure Leylah was never intimidated by the size of her opponent. While Jorge still had the time in Montreal, he played pickup basketball with some friends and decided that he was going to ask one of his muscular 6-foot-4 friends who happened to also play tennis to go up against his nine-year-old daughter.

The instructions for Leylah were to focus on the ball no matter what and just keep the rally going. Jorge watched from her side of the net as the rallies progressed and she was able to keep up. To take the challenge to another level, he walked over to the other side and asked his friend to crank up the power from time to time. Leylah would struggle, but she kept going.

Focus on the yellow fuzz coming at you

Jorge’s message was simple: in tennis, no one can physically hurt you. It’s not soccer where someone can get their cleats stuck into you, or basketball or hockey where someone might take a cheap shot. He felt the key in tennis is to ensure the ball going by you or into the net doesn’t phase you. Leylah left the court that day knowing all she needed to focus on was the yellow fuzz coming at her, not who was hitting it back.

The results speak for themselves. Leylah won her first national tournament, for players 16 and under, at the age of 12. She was soon invited to Tennis Canada’s U14 and provincial program and though she wound up leaving it after just a couple of months, her acceptance into the program gave the family confidence to pursue international tournaments and move to Florida, a renowned hub for tennis talent. Playing in the ITF Juniors, her biggest moment came in 2019 when she was 16, reaching the finals of the Junior Australian Open in January and then winning the Junior French Open a few months later.

Fernandez finished runner-up to Clara Tauson, left, in the Junior Australian Open in 2019. A few months later Fernandez won the Junior French Open. (Getty Images)

“With the help of my dad, him learning with me and my younger sister, too, and also my mom, they were all there and just encouraged me and told me that if I want to stop playing tennis, I can,” Leylah said looking back on her early struggles.

“Tennis is not the only thing in life that’s going to make you happy but, for me, I just kept improving, kept my head down and kept working. With time, a few years later, the results came and more opportunities came my way too.”

For Leylah to fully realize her potential, help with the fundamentals and technical aspect of her game were going to be necessary. In that regard, there was little Jorge could offer. He needed help. He positioned himself more as a head coach, like he knew in soccer, and the right assistants were to be pivotal to Leylah’s growth.

Jorge recruited Francisco Sanchez, a former hitting partner of pros Henin and Kim Clijsters, and coach Robby Menard when the family was still in Montreal. Now it is Frenchman Romain Deridder, who previously worked as the director of ITF team and player development at Proworld Tennis Academy in Delray Beach, Fla.

‘Compliment each other’

“Jorge and I have a really good relationship on and off the court,” said Deridder, who is with Leylah in Australia this month. “I think we compliment each other very well. Obviously, he has been on court with her his whole life so when we started I wanted to learn from him as much as possible and I still do, so I can fit into the team and understand what I can bring and how to approach Leylah.

“We sometimes get into situations that they both lived before and it helps a lot that he knows his daughter better than anyone. Two sets of eyes are better than one.”

Fernandez celebrates winning the second set in her first ATP final at the Mexican Tennis Open last February. She ultimately lost in three sets to Great Britain’s Heather Watson. (Associated Press)

Away from the court, there are movie nights, scarfing down burgers, Leylah making fun of her dad being the most immature person in the room and then both laughing. After dinner, Leylah and Jorge — and more recently sister Bianca — can be found shooting paper towels into a glass to see who can get it in first.

“He actually lets me eat what I want, which is pretty cool that he’s not too strict outside the court,” Leylah said. “The only thing he’s strict about is my schooling, like every parent is, other than that he just says balance your life, you have time to relax and hang out but when it’s time to work, you work. That’s all he wants for me, and to be independent.”

As Leylah has grown and matured, Jorge has stressed the importance of her making her own decisions and being able to live with them. 

He’s not one to control me. I have my opinions, my decisions, he wants me to be independent …– Leylah Annie Fernandez

“He’s not one to control me,” Leylah said. “I have my opinions, my decisions, he wants me to be independent so he teaches me all this stuff but leaves the decisions to me to open up, be a strong, independent woman and live with my decisions, whether it’s a bad one or a good one and dealing with the consequences. At the same time I know he’s always going to be there and be able to support me so that’s great.”

Whenever it’s time to take a break from dad, Irene and Bianca are there for her. Leylah sees her mother’s calming presence and encouraging manner as the perfect complement to her father’s more fiery style. With Bianca, who is pursuing a tennis career of her own and who is also being coached by Jorge, the two can share their experiences together. It was only recently the two stopped sharing a room, but when home, Leylah can be found hanging out with her little sister in her room, extending the closeness that developed.

“She’s the one teaching me sometimes,” Leylah said about her sister. “She has so much energy, we’re always so competitive, every time we’re on the court we’re trying to beat each other or even off the court we want to see who’s better at cleaning or cooking even.”

Leylah opened the 2021 season this past week by losing in the second round of the Grampians Trophy, a tuneup to the Australian Open. She pulled off an impressive 6-3, 6-1 win over 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens in the first round, but then lost to world No. 22 Maria Sakkari in straight sets in gusty Melbourne conditions. 

Every win over the next four months matters even more since a silver lining of the pandemic is that a door has been opened for Leylah to participate in the Tokyo Olympics — an opportunity her ranking wouldn’t have afforded her last year. She entered 2020 ranked 209th. With the one-year delay, qualification for the tennis singles competition has been extended to June 7, 2021, and the top 56 players in the world at that time will be considered eligible.

Olympic dream

“It would mean a lot to me,” Leylah said of Olympic participation. “That was one of my dreams when I was younger, just to represent my family and my country in the Olympics, hopefully get a gold, silver or bronze medal. Obviously, I want the gold medal, but just having that experience would be a checkmark off the book.”

While Leylah has high expectations of herself, Deridder keeps perspective on the Canadian teenager and emphasizes just how much further Leylah can go.

“She is still in development and transitioning from the juniors,” Deridder said. “Her game has so much room for development and improvement in every aspect: mentally, physically and technically. That’s the everyday work and that’s what we are here for.”

Jorge has been spending time more recently working with. It is all part of the process of recognizing that Leylah’s best will steadily come as he slowly lets go and gives more of her to the world. Just as he was the one to bring a fresh approach to her game when she needed it as a child, he is happy for others to keep adding to her repertoire. Leylah may tease him over abandoning her and moving on, but deep down she recognizes why it’s necessary.

“He sees weakness as an opportunity to improve and become your greatest weapon,” Leylah said. “He will always admit his faults, he will always say, ‘I’m not good at this but I can bring someone to mentor you and teach you at the same time so when the time comes and we need to go to a different path…’ 

“He will still know what to tell me, what to teach me, and we’ll keep working together.”

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CBC | Sports News

What’s behind the farmers’ protests that are blocking highways in India

Tens of thousands of farmers in India have been blockading main highways around New Delhi for two weeks — part of a much wider two-month-long protest by farmers across the country.

More than half of India’s workforce is involved in farming. While the sector once accounted for a third of India’s gross domestic product, it now accounts for only about 17 or 18 per cent of the country’s $ 2.9 trillion US economy, according to India’s Economic Survey 2017-2018

The farmers are angry about three agricultural reform laws the Indian government passed earlier this fall.

The government says the new laws will make the sector more efficient, allowing farmers to market their produce and boost production through private investment.

The farmers say they will deregulate crop prices and devastate their earnings. 

In Canada, rallies in support of farmers have been held in several cities, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attracted attention by wading into the debate last week.

Members of All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC) and activists of left parties and trade unions participate in a nationwide protest in Hyderabad, India, on Sept. 25. (Mahesh Kumar A./The Associated Press)

When did the protests begin? 

Farmers have been protesting the laws for nearly two months in the northern states of Punjab and Haryana. 

The situation escalated two weeks ago when tens of thousands marched to New Delhi, where they clashed with police and set up protest camps. 

They continued to block key highways this week, with protest leaders announcing a new blockade for this Saturday and a nationwide shutdown of businesses next Monday unless their demands are met.

Hiraganas Singh Sandhu, a body building champion, joins farmers protesting on a highway at the Singhu border between Delhi and Haryana states on Monday. Thousands of farmers are protesting reforms that they say could devastate crop prices and reduce their earnings. (The Associated Press)

“We will not allow the government to change the rules because they want to hurt farmers’ income by filling the pockets of big companies,” Gurwinder Singh, a 66-year-old farmer from Punjab told Reuters. Punjab is known as the food bowl of India. 

India’s government on Thursday offered to meet again with protest leaders, but rejected their demand to repeal the laws.

Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar told reporters that the government is willing to amend the new laws to allay the farmers’ concerns, and they “should give up their insistence on scrapping” them.

Five round of talks since November have failed to produce a breakthrough, with the farmers insisting on their demand that the laws be repealed.

Indian Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar on Thursday, as India’s government invited leaders of tens of thousands of protesting farmers for another round of talks to find a solution to their demands and end their two-week blockade of key highways linking the Indian capital to northern states. (Altaf Qadri/The Associated Press)

What are the key concerns?

The government of Narendra Modi enacted three agricultural reform laws in September. The reforms loosened rules around the sale, pricing and storage of farm produce that have protected farmers from an unfettered free market for decades. 

The government says the laws bring about necessary reform that will allow farmers to market their produce and boost production through private investment. 

Upon passage of the bills, Modi tweeted that they would “add impetus to the efforts to double income of farmers and ensure greater prosperity for them.”

Farmers say they were never consulted.

They fear the government will stop buying grain at minimum guaranteed prices and corporations will then push prices down. The government says it is willing to pledge that guaranteed prices will continue.

Most farmers currently sell the bulk of their produce at government-controlled wholesale markets, known as mandis.

Critics say the bills create an undemocratic mechanism where bureaucrats would become arbitrators to settle any contract disputes between farmers and buyers, rather than civil courts. 

They also say that in the absence of better infrastructure like climate-controlled storage facilities, proper roads and reliable irrigation and power supply, removing middlemen will not be helpful to the farming sector.

Anmol Singh, 33, who supports his family of six by farming, told The Associated Press he believes the new laws are part of a larger plan to hand over the farmers’ land to big corporations and make them landless.

“Modi wants the poor farmer to die of hunger so that he can fill the stomachs of his rich friends,” he said. “We are here to fight his brutal decrees peacefully.”

An elderly farmer listens to a speaker at the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh state border, India, on Wednesday. (Altaf Qadri/The Associated Press)

What kind of living do farmers currently make?

According to a 2016 survey by the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development, a farmer in India earned about 9,000 rupees a month (about $ 155). 

More than half of India’s farmers are in debt. According to India’s National Crime Records Bureau, 10,281 killed themselves in 2019.

Many factors are believed to contribute to farmer suicides, including poor crop yields, financial devastation or debt, and a lack of community support.

If you are thinking of suicide or know someone who is, help is available nationwide from Crisis Services Canada by calling toll-free 1-833-456-4566 or texting 45645 between 4 p.m. and midnight ET.

How has Canada reacted?

This past weekend, hundreds of people gathered in front of the Indian consulate in downtown Toronto to show their support for the farmers in India. 

Car rallies have also been organized in cities like Vancouver, Calgary and Charlottetown to show solidarity.

Protestors gather to drive to the India Consulate to protest the proposed regulations effecting farmers in India in Surrey, B.C., on Dec. 2. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau voiced concern over the Indian government’s response to the protests. “We believe in the importance of dialogue and that’s why we’ve reached out through multiple means directly to the Indian authorities to highlight our concerns,” he said.

That elicited anger from an Indian foreign ministry spokesperson, who called his comments “ill-informed.”

Trudeau reiterated his support a few days later, saying “Canada will always stand up for the right of peaceful protest anywhere around the world and we’re pleased to see moves toward de-escalation and dialogue.”

Protestors hold a placard and join others as they block the Jammu-Pathankot highway during a nationwide shutdown called by thousands of Indian farmers protesting new agriculture laws in Jammu, India, on Tuesday. (Channi Anand/The Associated Press)

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CBC | World News

The NBA has returned, but the NHL is behind

This is an excerpt from The Buzzer, which is CBC Sports’ daily email newsletter. Stay up to speed on what’s happening in sports by subscribing here.

Here’s what you need to know right now from the world of sports:

NBA training camps are open

That was fast. Only 51 days ago, LeBron James and the Lakers defeated the Miami Heat to win the 2019-20 title. Today, the shortest of off-seasons ended as players reported to their teams’ training camps. A few key points to know about what’s coming up:

There’s no bubble this time. The end of the 2019-20 regular season and the playoffs took place in a tightly controlled, sequestered environment on the Disney World property in Florida. The players refused to do that again, so this time everyone’s out in the wild. Camps, for the most part, are being held in teams’ home cities and the games will be played in their arenas. So players, coaches and staff will be getting on planes and staying in hotels as they travel throughout the United States for road games. The league is allowing teams to decide whether they let a limited number of fans into their buildings, though in many cases that decision is out of their hands due to local government restrictions. The NBA is more or less following the NFL’s blueprint for playing a season during a pandemic, and that’s not exactly going the smoothest right now.

The framework of the season is set. Five days of individual workouts and (mostly virtual) media availabilities will be held before full practices begin Sunday for most teams. Pre-season games start Dec. 11 and the regular season tips off Dec. 22. The all-star break (without the game or the other usual festivities) is March 5-10. The regular season ends May 16. A play-in tournament to decide the final two playoff spots in each conference will be held May 18-21. The playoffs proper open May 22 and a champion will be crowned by July 22 — one day before the Tokyo Olympics begin.

The schedule is still under construction. The plan is for each team to play 72 regular-season games, but none of those have been officially scheduled yet. All we have right now are the pre-season dates. Most teams have three, but it can be as few as two and as many as four. The NBA says the first half of the regular-season schedule (up to the all-star break) is coming soon. The second-half sked will be released during the “latter part” of the first half so that the league can add any games that might be postponed from earlier in the season.

The Raptors are in Tampa for the foreseeable future. The Canadian government wouldn’t allow them to play out of Toronto. So, like snowbirds in the Before Times, the team has relocated 2,000 kilometres south as winter sets in up here. Camp is at Saint Leo University — a small liberal-arts school about half an hour away from Amalie Arena, where the Raptors will play their home games. Toronto’s pre-season games are Dec. 12 and 14 at Charlotte and Dec. 18 vs. Miami.

The NHL is behind. There was hope of starting the season on Jan. 1, but that ship has sailed. Pierre LeBrun reported today that the league “still hopes to drop the puck in early January” but he senses the season could be further delayed. The main sticking point (besides, you know, coronavirus cases surging across the continent) is that the owners want the players to give back even more money. As part of the deal to return to the ice last summer, the players agreed to defer 10 per cent of their salaries for this season and also to allow up to 20 per cent to be held in escrow (essentially insurance for the owners against the near-certain financial hit they’ll take this season). Reportedly, the league is now asking for a 26 per cent deferral along with the agreed-upon escrow. Not surprisingly, the players aren’t happy about this. But it’ll need to be resolved before the NHL can move forward with a plan for a 2021 season.

CBC News’ David Cochrane confirms that the Toronto Raptors will begin the next season playing in Tampa, Fla., after their request to play home games in Toronto was denied by the federal government. 1:56


Toronto FC’s head coach surprisingly stepped down. Greg Vanney’s team just got upset in the first round of the playoffs and his contract was about to expire, but he was expected to get an extension. The 46-year-old American was the longest-tenured and easily the most successful coach in team history. He guided Toronto to an MLS Cup championship in 2017 and to two more appearances in the title match, in ’16 and ’19. He won the MLS coach of the year award in ’17 and was named a finalist this season after TFC finished with the league’s second-best record despite having to play nearly all its “home” games in the U.S. because of coronavirus restrictions. Read more about Vanney’s departure from Toronto FC here.

The Ravens-Steelers game is on Wednesday now. Baltimore’s team-wide coronavirus outbreak has now caused the NFL to postpone this matchup three times — from Thursday night to Sunday afternoon to Tuesday night and now to Wednesday at 3:40 p.m. ET. That unusual weekday kickoff time is reportedly because NBC, which has the broadcast rights, wants to show the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting ceremony at night. Yesterday marked the ninth straight day that at least one Ravens player tested positive, bringing the total number of Baltimore players who have either tested positive or been deemed a high-risk close contact to 22. Four Ravens were removed from the reserve/COVID-19 list yesterday but 20 remained on it — including quarterback and reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson. He reportedly tested positive last week and will not play Wednesday. Read more about this logistical nightmare of a game here.

The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League shut down for the rest of the calendar year. The 18-team league has had trouble navigating the pandemic since the moment it opened its season in early October. Outbreaks among teams and restrictions imposed by the Quebec government have caused numerous games in that province to be postponed, and last week’s dismantling of the so-called Atlantic bubble brought a halt to games in the six-team Maritimes Division. Now the QMJHL has suspended all activities through Jan. 3. This obviously doesn’t bode well for Canada’s other two major junior leagues — the WHL and OHL — which are hoping to launch their seasons in January and February, respectively. Read more about the QMJHL shutdown here.

Lewis Hamilton tested positive for the coronavirus. He’s already clinched his fourth consecutive Formula One drivers’ championship and the seventh of his career, matching Michael Schumacher’s all-time record. But the Mercedes star will miss the season’s penultimate race — this weekend’s Sakhir Grand Prix in Bahrain — after testing positive following his victory on Sunday (also in Bahrain). The team said Hamilton is experiencing “mild symptoms” and is in isolation.

And finally…

Did you know Darth Vader competed in the Commonwealth Games? James Earl Jones voiced the iconic villain, but Star Wars creator George Lucas wanted someone more physically imposing underneath the costume. So that role was filled by Dave Prowse, a 6-foot-6 actor/bodybuilder/weightlifter who represented England in the heavyweight division at the 1962 Commonwealth Games (he didn’t win a medal). If you’re wondering, Prowse is not the man you see when Vader’s mask is finally removed near the end of 1983’s Return of the Jedi (that’s a different actor). Prowse died over the weekend at the age of 85. Mark Hamill, who played Vader’s son, Luke Skywalker, called Prowse “a kind man and much more than Darth Vader.”

You’re up to speed. Get The Buzzer in your inbox every weekday by subscribing below.

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CBC | Sports News

Pro female soccer players being overlooked, left behind during pandemic, survey reveals

Women’s professional soccer players have seen wages cut or suspended amid the coronavirus pandemic in 47 per cent of the nations surveyed by international players’ union FIFPro.

FIFPro collected data from players’ associations from 62 countries. In the survey released Wednesday, 69 per cent of the women said that communication about the virus was poor or very poor, and 40 per cent reported that they had received no physical or mental health support during the outbreak.

In April, FIFPro released a report warning of COVID-19’s impact, saying it is “likely to present an almost existential threat to the women’s game if no specific considerations are given to protect the women’s football industry.”

And indeed there were setbacks, in part because federations experienced dramatic financial consequences from cancelled matches and tournaments, as well as restrictions on attendance.

FIFA said at the height of the pandemic all but four of its 211 member federations had ceased play. The global impact of the virus on the game was estimated to be $ 14 billion US.

In June, the FIFA Council approved a $ 1.5 billion relief effort, portions of which were dedicated to women’s soccer. FIFA also introduced eight new development programs for member associations in September, designed to further grow the women’s game.

Women in 52% of the countries FIFPro surveyed said their federations hadn’t reached out to national team players during the pandemic. The period covered in the survey was July-October.

FIFPro’s survey involved 62 players’ associations, or about 95 per cent of the union’s membership. Only 16 of the top women’s leagues is amateur. Based in the Netherlands, FIFPro represents about 65,000 pro soccer players.

The report did note some positive developments, including the National Women’s Soccer League vow to pay salaries for players regardless of whether they took part in the league’s Challenge Cup tournament or fall series in local markets.

It also pointed to the Netherlands, where players lobbied to allow the women’s league to return to play with the men’s league.

“Like most industries, women’s football is being severely affected by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the findings of this survey highlight what we have said from the outset, that both players and the game itself need strategic support to get them through these tough times,” FIFPro chief women’s football officer Amanda Vandervort said in a statement. “To that end, we also identified great cases of innovation and advancement in which new solutions are showcasing the unique potential of women’s football to thrive today and in the future.”

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CBC | Soccer News

The other numbers behind Canada’s 10,000 pandemic deaths

Canada hit another milestone in the COVID-19 pandemic on Tuesday, when the death toll reached 10,000 people.

That number may be inaccurate, though, and the true number could be higher. Statistics Canada has said the number of deaths from COVID-19 in the early months of the pandemic might have been under-reported. That’s because some patients might have died before getting tested for the coronavirus.

The numbers vary greatly between regions. Most of the deaths — more than 90 per cent — have been reported in Quebec (6,172 deaths) and Ontario (3,103). Those provinces also account for 80 per cent of Canada’s overall cases.

More than 70 per cent of Canada’s deaths have occurred in those aged over 80 — about twice the average of rates in other developed countries. Both Ontario and Quebec experienced severe COVID-19 outbreaks in long-term care homes which drove those numbers up.

There are currently more than 320 outbreaks in such homes across Canada.

Canada crossed the threshold of 5,000 deaths on May 12, a little over two months after the first death was reported.

COVID-19 case counts slowed across the country through the summer, but have taken a big jump in many areas this fall, with new daily highs regularly being set through Central and Western Canada.

The death toll has also climbed much more slowly since April and May, when outbreaks in long-term care homes and a lack of medical knowledge about the coronavirus led to more fatal infections.

Growing more deadly

However, the pandemic has grown deadlier over the past month. More than 600 COVID-19-related fatalities have been reported in October so far compared with 165 COVID-19 in September, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Equally troubling, the number of people experiencing severe COVID-19 illness continues to increase.

According to Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, data from the provinces and territories shows that an average of 1,010 people with COVID-19 were being treated in hospitals each day during the most recent seven-day period (Oct. 16-22), including 209 of whom were being treated in intensive care units. During the same period, there were an average of 23 COVID-19-related deaths reported daily.

Tam also warned in her statement Monday that “as hospitalisations and deaths tend to lag behind increased disease activity by one to several weeks, the concern is that we have yet to see the extent of severe impacts associated with the ongoing increase in COVID-19 disease activity.”

WATCH | What doctors have learned about treating COVID-19:

One of many lessons learned treating patients this spring includes finding alternatives to early intubation. 1:21

Doctors have learned how to better prevent COVID-19 from spreading — through masks, distancing, hand hygiene and avoiding crowds — and have found better ways to treat it in hospital, for example, by not putting people on ventilators too soon, or by using steroid treatments like dexamethasone. 

Overall, deaths and hospitalizations in Canada are not as bad as some experts had predicted they would be by this point, and they are not necessarily in line with the rate of new cases seen early in the pandemic. It’s not entirely clear why that is.

According to the Coronavirus Resource Centre at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md., Canada’s COVID-19 case fatality rate is about 4.5 per cent, with about 27 deaths per 100,000 residents.

LISTEN | What have we learned about COVID-19 to keep my elderly loved one safe in long-term care this time around?

The Dose23:15What have we learned about COVID-19 to keep my elderly loved one safe in long-term care this time around?

Although the majority of people recently infected with COVID-19 have been younger adults, the virus has already made its way back into long-term care and retirement homes, with about 100 active outbreaks and counting across Canada. Dr. Samir Sinha, director of geriatrics at Sinai Health and University Health Network in Toronto, returns to The Dose with guidance on how we can use what we’ve learned about COVID-19 to keep our elderly loved ones safe while cases continue to rise outside the walls of long-term care homes. 23:15

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CBC | Health News

Is more testing behind the record numbers of COVID-19 cases in Canada? Your testing questions answered

We’re answering your questions about the pandemic. Send yours to COVID@cbc.ca, and we’ll answer as many as we can. We publish a selection of answers online and also put some questions to the experts during The National and on CBC News Network. So far, we’ve received more than 55,000 emails from all corners of the country.

COVID-19 testing is a crucial part of tracking and managing the pandemic. It has become a part of daily life that’s often necessary for returning to work or school or for keeping friends and family safe. 

But it also generates a lot of confusing news and advice from case counts to wait times to ever-changing instructions about who needs to get tested, when, how and why.

It’s no wonder CBC readers have lots of questions. We checked with experts to get some of the answers.

Is the present spike in COVID-19 cases in Canada related to the increase in testing?

Many provinces have been breaking daily new case records for COVID-19, including British Columbia, Alberta, SaskatchewanManitobaOntario, and Quebec. But these provinces are all running more tests now than they were at the previous peak in the spring when a shortage of tests meant even people with very typical COVID-19 symptoms couldn’t get tested. So, are the increased case counts simply due to more testing? For the most part, no. But the amount of testing does make a difference.

For Ontario, the new records are partly due to the increase in testing, said Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti, an infectious disease specialist with Trillium Health Partners in Mississauga, Ont., in an interview with CBC News Network.

Ontario completed over 48,000 tests on Oct. 7 (two days before setting a record of 949 cases in one day) — about quadruple the 12,000 it ran on April 24 when the province hit a spring peak of 640 cases. 

At that time, Chakrabarti estimates about three-quarters of cases were being missed, and there were likely closer to 2,500 cases a day in late April.

However, the real number of cases in Canada is definitely higher than it’s been since the spring peak. 

All things being equal, if you test more of the population, you will end up testing more people with COVID-19, which will cause the case counts to go up, but you will typically test even more people without COVID-19, causing the percentage of positive tests to decrease, said Cynthia Carr, founder of the Winnipeg-based epidemiology consulting firm EPI Research Inc.

But in fact, the percentage of tests that come back positive is increasing in many places, including Manitoba. In that province, the real number of cases is “definitely an increase relative to the spring.” 

And in Ottawa, SARS-CoV-2 virus levels in waste water in recent weeks are the highest they’ve been since testing began in June. That’s a measure of COVID-19 prevalence independent of the amount of testing at testing centres, said Raywat Deonandan, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Ottawa. 

The good news? Coronavirus levels in waste water seem to be going down since the province imposed stricter restrictions on social gatherings in the city before Thanksgiving.

WATCH | How sewage can be used to track COVID-19:

Wastewater samples from sewage are being used to determine the existence of COVID-19 in communities and could give advance warning of where a second wave is taking shape. 2:03

If we can test feces in waste water for coronavirus, why are we still doing invasive nasal swabs?

Having your nose swabbed can feel really uncomfortable, but Dr. Matthew Cheng, an assistant professor of medicine at McGill University, said there are practical reasons for it:

  • Public health doctors are more interested in knowing if the virus is in the respiratory tract, which the nose is part of, as it’s mainly spread via the respiratory tract.

  • Lab protocols are optimized to process lots of respiratory samples and having other kinds of samples could slow down analysis.

He said that there’s lots of work underway to be able to quickly analyze respiratory tract samples that are easy for people to collect themselves, such as “swish and gargle” saliva tests. Lastly, many people may not find collecting a stool sample easier than getting a swab in the nose.

WATCH | A closer look at saliva-based tests:

Instead of waiting in a long line for a COVID-19 test that involves getting a swab stuck up the nose and sometimes waiting days for results, scientists are developing saliva-based tests and produce results in minutes. Is the future of testing more comfortable and done at home? 5:58

How long are test samples good for?

With backlogs in testing in Ontario this fall, at least one local health director has complained about tests spoiling and having to be redone after they weren’t processed within 72 hours. Dr. Robert Cushman, acting medical director of Renfrew County and District Health Unit in Ontario, reported that the testing lab told him that about 10 tests had to be redone due to delays in processing.

So how long do they last?

It depends on how the swab is stored after collection, said Allison McGeer, an infectious disease specialist at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital, but generally speaking, it should last weeks.

Benoît Hébert, a Quebec-based biotechnology consultant, said most biological samples including nasopharyngeal swabs can be stored at regular fridge temperatures for up to 72 hours and should be deep frozen if there is any delay in testing or shipping.

According to Public Health Ontario, tests have about a 95 per cent accuracy rate as long as the test is processed within seven days of collection, and the sample is taken using a nasopharyngeal swab.

As of mid-October, more than half the tests in Ontario were processed within two days, the Health Ministry told CBC News in an email. It said that accredited labs conducting testing must have equipment in place to keep specimens at a stable temperature before testing, and it recommends freezing samples to preserve them.

“In the event a laboratory would report a specimen as expired, they would contact the testing site to ensure that re-collection occurs,” the ministry said.

WATCH | A closer look at rapid COVID-19 testing:

Doctors answer viewer questions about COVID-19 testing in Canada, including how effective it is and who should be tested. 4:58

I got COVID-19 and isolated for the required time. But I’m still testing positive. What does that mean? 

“Many people have these lingering positive tests,” acknowledged Chakrabarti, and that can happen weeks or months after they recover. But at that point, he said, “they’re not actually contagious.”

Dr. Zain Chagla, medical director of infection control at St. Joseph’s Healthcare in Hamilton, explained that’s because COVID-19 tests detect genetic material from the virus, which can be shed from your body even when all the viruses are dead.

So how long is a COVID-19 patient contagious?

Chagla said that researchers trying to culture live virus from patients have found there are minimal amounts in most people 10 days after they experience their first symptoms and after 20 days in critically ill patients. That suggests they’re not contagious after those periods.

“There’s also been no case reports of people being infected by others who are 10+ days into their illness,” Chagla added in an email.

That’s why 10 days (instead of 14 days) is now the standard time recommended to self-isolate after your symptoms start in places such as Ontario and B.C. 

It also means long-haulers, people who are still experiencing symptoms months after they got infected, are not contagious.

WATCH | Doctors take questions and give answers about COVID-19 testing:

There is a growing push to have Canada focus on COVID-19 tests that detect who is contagious rather than who is positive for the virus. These tests are available elsewhere in the world, cheaper and can be done at home, but they aren’t approved in Canada. 6:05

I’ve recovered from COVID-19, but my boss says I need to test negative before I can return to work. Can they ask me for one?

Given that people can test positive for weeks or months after recovery and aren’t contagious, a request like this may be frustrating.

But the answer is yes.

Even if you’ve completed isolation and public health has cleared you, employment lawyer Howard Levitt said it’s within your employer’s rights to require a negative test — and they’re not obliged to pay you if you’re unable to work. 

“Safety trumps privacy. That’s the bottom line,” said Levitt, noting that employers could ask for a negative test result every two weeks, if they wanted to, needing no other reason than ensuring a safe workplace. 

So what can workers do?

You could try talking with your boss or getting a doctor’s note, said Maggie Campbell, a partner at Vancouver law firm Roper Greyell. 

Other than that, Levitt says there isn’t much you can do. You can offer to work from home, if possible, or you could take your employer to court, but he cautioned that courts may not be in workers’ favour in the current climate. 

“Employees should understand that anything an employer is doing to protect other employees of theirs will be seen very sympathetically by the courts.”

However, companies should be up-to-date with the latest public health guidelines, he said. 

If your employer sends you home without pay while awaiting a negative test result, you could apply for Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit, providing you are eligible.

WATCH | Labour lawyer answers questions about work during pandemic:

Employment lawyer Howard Levitt answers your question about work during the COVID-19 pandemic, including when it’s in your best interest to refuse to go back to work. 14:13

I have symptoms but tested negative. Do I still have to self-isolate?

It’s always best to check with your health-care provider or local public health unit for advice specific to your personal situation. But symptomatic individuals may be advised to continue isolating for the remainder of the isolation period, even if they get a negative result. 

That’s because a negative result isn’t a guarantee that you don’t have the virus.

According to Dr. Kelly MacDonald, head of the infectious disease program at the University of Manitoba, the nasal swab test is accurate 99 per cent of the time in a laboratory setting, but in a clinical setting errors can happen when the sample is taken. For example, the swabbing may not be done properly. 

A negative test could also mean that you were tested too early before viral levels are high enough to be reliably measured

Ultimately, context is important, and your doctor or local health unit would form their advice on a number of factors, including whether there was exposure to a known case, the kind of symptoms you have, how long you’ve had them and whether you’re a student, or you work with vulnerable individuals, for example.

And even if you don’t have COVID-19, you could still be contagious with something else — perhaps the flu — in which case, the same public health advice to stay home when sick would still apply.

On the other hand, if you get a positive test, you almost certainly have COVID-19 — the false positive rate is very low — less than one per cent of tests overall, estimates Dr. Philippe Lagacé-Wiens, a medical microbiologist at St. Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg.

WATCH | Why people with COVID-19 symptoms should be reassessed if they test negative:

Infectious disease physician Dr. Isaac Bogoch discusses new research on the rate of ‘false negatives’ in coronavirus tests and why people with persistent COVID-19 symptoms should be reassessed even if they test negative.  2:24

If you’re a contact of someone who tested positive, why are you supposed to get tested within 2 weeks of exposure? Wouldn’t the virus still be developing?

While it can take up to 14 days for symptoms to develop, Charkrabarti said that most people start to develop symptoms within seven days.

“And you can actually test positive a couple of days before that,” he said.

So ideally, you should wait about three to four days after exposure before getting tested, he recommends. 

However, any result could still be a false negative, so if you were exposed, you should remain in quarantine for 14 days even if you test negative.

Are tests at pharmacies as accurate as those at provincial testing centres?

Two provinces have been offering tests in pharmacies to people without COVID-19 symptoms: Alberta and Ontario.

In general, people with no symptoms are more likely to get a false negative than those with symptoms, but it’s not known by how much.

In Alberta, the tests are identical to those offered at provincial testing sites and analyzed at the same labs, the provincial Health Ministry says. That means they should have similar accuracy to tests of asymptomatic people at testing centres. However, Alberta announced on Oct. 20 that it would stop testing asymptomatic people with no known exposure to COVID-19 — the only people who could get tested in pharmacies.

In Ontario, there are some differences between pharmacy tests and those offered at provincial testing centres. Pharmacy tests use shorter nasal swabs instead of the long nasopharyngeal swabs, and they’re sent to the California lab of Quest Diagnostics instead of in-province labs, says the provincial Health Ministry.

Chagla says the sensitivity may be slightly lower with the shorter swabs, but this shouldn’t be a big risk, as the probability of asymptomatic people having COVID-19 is lower than people with symptoms, especially if they haven’t been exposed.

WATCH | How pharmacy testing works in Ontario:

CBC’s Tahmina Aziz speaks with Thibert and outlines the criteria Windsorites must meet to be tested in a pharmacy. 1:45

I think I had COVID-19, but I’m better now. Can I be tested to confirm?

The nose swabs at testing centres can only detect current or very recent infections, not whether you’ve been previously infected. To find that out, you need an antibody test. Such tests are available 14 days after active infection, with a doctor’s prescription, in some provinces. Dynacare offers the service in Ontario and Quebec. Ichor Blood Services offers it in some communities in Alberta, Ontario and New Brunswick. The fee is typically $ 70 to $ 80.

However, studies have shown that even among those infected, antibodies fade with time, and it happens far more quickly in those who never showed symptoms.

WATCH | A closer look at the 1st antibody test Health Canada approved in May:

Health Canada says it has authorized the first COVID-19 serological test for use in the country to detect antibodies specific to the virus.   3:09

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Canada’s Mike Woods 2nd in Stage 6 of Spanish Vuelta, 25 seconds behind winner

With some help from his brother, Ion Izagirre won the sixth stage of the Spanish Vuelta on Sunday in Sallent de Gallego, and Richard Carapaz snatched the overall lead from defending champion Primoz Roglic.

Ion Izagirre was guided by older brother Gorka Izagirre during the final parts of the stage and made a strong attack on the final climb of the 146-kilometre stage. The stage was originally planned to cross into France but had to be altered to stay in Spanish territory because of tightened coronavirus restrictions. A Spanish rider for Astana, Izagirre finished 25 seconds ahead of Ottawa native Michael Woods and Rui Costa of Portugal.

“I have to thank Gorka because he made things easier for me,” the younger Izagirre said.

Roglic crossed the line in 20th place, nearly two minutes after Izagirre, dropping to fourth place in the overall standings. The Jumbo-Visma rider was 30 seconds behind Carapaz. Hugh Carthy of team EF Pro moved to second place, 18 seconds off the lead, with Dan Martin of team Israel Start-Up Nation close behind in third place.

Ineos Grenadiers rider Carapaz finished 12th in Sunday’s stage marked by wet and cold conditions.

“This is a reward for the team, we had worked well all week,” the 27-year-old Ecuadorean said. “There’s still a lot of Vuelta left, we will try to defend this jersey.”

Roglic, a contender in the Tour de France until the final competitive stage, had been wearing the leader’s jersey since winning the first Vuelta stage.

Monday will be the race’s first rest day. On Tuesday, riders will face a hilly 159-kilometre stage from Vitoria-Gasteiz to Valdegovia.

The Vuelta is taking place amid tight health restrictions after Spain recently endured a surge in coronavirus cases. The race was postponed from earlier in the year because of the pandemic.

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CBC | Sports News