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Ontario sees record new cases; Tam says Canada nearing same peak as 2nd wave

The latest:

Ontario has reported its highest daily count of new COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic, with 4,456 more infections confirmed on Sunday.

The province also registered 21 more deaths attributed to the respiratory illness. On Saturday, health officials confirmed 3,813 new cases and 19 additional deaths.

The province now has 1,513 patients in hospital for treatment of COVID-19, with 605 in intensive care.

The latest figure comes just days after the province ordered hospitals to halt non-emergency surgeries. A memo was sent to hospitals Thursday night telling them to postpone their non-emergency surgeries, effective Monday, everywhere but in northern Ontario. Pediatric specialty hospitals are excluded from the order. 

WATCH | COVID-19 patient says time in ICU was a ‘scary experience’:

Matthew Cardinal talks about his time in the intensive care unit, after he was put into a medically induced coma and on a ventilator after catching the B117 coronavirus variant. The 34-year-old shares his experience, which he described as ‘traumatic.’ 8:10

Meanwhile, Canada’s chief public health officer says the country is nearing case totals seen at the peak of the second wave.

Dr. Theresa Tam said in a statement on Sunday that intensive care admissions across the country increased by 23 per cent over the last seven days compared to the week before, which is putting strain on the health system. She also said that COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations are increasingly impacting younger people and says there’s been a jump in the number of hospitalizations among those 40 to 59 years old.

On the vaccine front, Pfizer confirmed to CBC News on Sunday that it it intends to seek approval from Health Canada “within the next few weeks” for children aged 12 to 15 to use its vaccine.

The drugmaker and it development partner, BioNTech, have already asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to expand emergency use for that same age group in the United States.

The companies say preliminary results through March 31 from late-stage testing in that age group found the vaccine safe and 100 per cent effective in blocking infections.

What’s happening across Canada

As of 8 p.m. ET on Sunday, Canada had reported 1,060,163 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 73,446 considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 23,315.

In British Columbia, a worker who was fired for refusing to wear a mask has had his complaint dismissed by the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal. The worker alleged he was discriminated against based on his religion. But the tribunal disagreed.

In Whistler, adults living and working in the ski resort community will be able to receive vaccine shots starting tomorrow. Vancouver Coastal Health says the move comes in response to increasing transmission recorded there.

Alberta logged 1,183 new COVID-19 cases and an additional death on Sunday.

Meanwhile, hundreds of people rallied outside the GraceLife Church just west of Edmonton on the first Sunday after it was shut down and fenced off by health officials for refusing to follow COVID-19 rules related to capacity, physical distancing and masking.

Dozens of police officers monitored the large crowd as they sang hymns and prayed for the church to reopen.

There was a tense moment around noon when a group splintered from the crowd and tore down part of the fence. RCMP and others from the crowd pushed back the group and re-established the fence.

PHOTOS | Hundreds rally outside Alberta church closed over COVID-19 violations:

In Saskatchewan, residents who are 51 can be vaccinated at a drive-thru clinic in Regina starting Sunday. The previous age range for eligibility was 52 to 54.

Manitoba registered 112 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday and no new deaths.

Quebec confirmed 1,535 new cases of COVID-19 and five more deaths.

In Montreal and Laval, the 9:30 p.m. curfew in those cities was pushed up to 8 p.m. on Sunday night.

People wait in line at a walk-in clinic to receive a dose of the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine in Montreal on Sunday. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

In New Brunswick, lockdowns came into effect in the Edmundston and Haut-Madawaska areas on Sunday, forcing all non-essential businesses to close and schools to move to virtual learning.

Additionally, residents must continue to maintain a single-household bubble and non-essential travel in and out of the area is not permitted.

The measures come as hospitals in those areas are reaching capacity due to an influx of COVID-19 patients, driven by coronavirus variants.

WATCH | 3rd wave renews pressure on Canada’s hospitals:

The fast-spreading third wave of COVID-19 is making younger people sicker and it’s renewing the pressure on hospitals across the country. 1:49

In Prince Edward Island, 12 pharmacies will start administering AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine shots to residents over 55 on Monday.

Nova Scotia reported five new cases on Sunday while Newfoundland and Labrador recorded one.

In Yukon, visitors to the territory can now apply to self-isolate in the wilderness instead of in hotels. The Wilderness Tourism Association of Yukon came up with the idea after seeing the government approve alternative self-isolation plans for the mining industry and for outdoor outfitters last year. It was approved by Yukon health officials last month. 

What’s happening around the world

As of Sunday, more than 135.5 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll had increased to more than 2.9 million.

In the Middle East, Iran on Sunday reported 258 new deaths — its highest single-day death toll from COVID-19 this year — bringing the country’s total deaths in the pandemic to nearly 64,500, state TV reported.

People wearing face masks walk past closed shops in Tehran on Sunday following the tightening of restrictions to curb the surge of COVID-19 cases. (Atta Kenare/AFP via Getty Images)

In Europe, France said Sunday that residents over age 55 will be granted access to COVID-19 vaccinations starting Monday, which is earlier than had been anticipated.

In the Americas, Mexico will expand vaccinations to adults over 50 at the end of April, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said.

In Africa, Cameroon received 200,000 doses of China’s Sinopharm vaccine, the first vaccines to arrive in the country, which will enable it inoculate frontline workers as it battles rising cases of coronavirus, the health ministry said.

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CBC | Health News

Coronavirus variants causing growing alarm in B.C. as cases surge, hospitalizations rise

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.

Staff at Royal Columbian Hospital say the hospital is the busiest it’s been in 15 years. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Canucks off ice 

The fact that many Vancouver Canucks players have been affected — despite strict NHL safety protocols, testing and the use of personal protective equipment — should serve as an alarm bell, Feigl-Ding said.

“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. 

Da Roza said it’s now a race to get people vaccinated to offset the increased infections he’s seeing in younger British Columbians. 

B.C. is rolling out its vaccine largely based on age, starting with the oldest. As of Tuesday, all residents born in 1950 or earlier are now eligible for their first shot.

Da Roza urges people to be vigilant so that the variants don’t draw out the pandemic any longer.

“Hang in there for a few more months, and be smart about things,” he advised.

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CBC | Health News

India’s daily coronavirus cases soar past 100,000 for 1st time as western state tightens restrictions

India reported its biggest single-day spike in confirmed coronavirus cases since the pandemic began Monday, and officials in the hard-hit state home to Mumbai are resuming the closure of some businesses and places of worship in a bid to slow the spread.

The Health Ministry reported 103,558 new COVID-19 infections in the last 24 hours, topping the previous peak of 97,894 daily cases recorded in late September. Fatalities rose by 478, raising the country’s death toll to 165,101.

India now has a seven-day rolling average of more than 73,000 cases per day, and infections in the country are being reported faster than anywhere else in the world.

The biggest contributor to the surge has been the western state of Maharashtra, home to the commercial capital of Mumbai. The state has contributed more than 55 per cent of total cases in the country in the last two weeks.

The state will start shutting cinemas, restaurants, shopping malls and places of worship from Monday evening. Authorities will also impose a complete lockdown at weekends.

People wait their turn for a COVID-19 test outside a court in Mumbai on Monday. India now has a seven-day rolling average of more than 73,000 cases per day. (Rafiq Maqbool/The Associated Press)

Infections had receded in India for several months but started to rise again in late February. Since then, new cases have increased more than tenfold.

India has confirmed a new and potentially troublesome variant of the virus, but officials have cautioned against linking that or other variants to the surge.

Experts say the surge is blamed in part on growing disregard for physical distancing and mask-wearing in public spaces, including public gatherings. Some say the government has been sending mixed messages.

As health officials continue to warn of gatherings in public places, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his party leaders continue to hold mammoth rallies in several states where local elections are underway.

Health workers wait after taking the body of a COVID-19 victim for burial in New Delhi on Monday. (Manish Swarup/The Associated Press)

Modi’s government has also allowed a huge month-long Hindu festival to go ahead on the banks of the Ganges River in northern Uttarakhand state. The festival draws tens of thousands of devotees daily.

Vaccinations ramp up

India has intensified its vaccination drive in recent weeks, now administering more than three million jabs a day. But the shots have been slow to reach India’s nearly 1.4 billion people.

More than 76 million Indians have received at least one shot, but only 9.5 million of them have received both. Health officials want to cover 300 million people by August, but experts say the vaccinations need to move faster to stop the spread.

People wait to get inoculated in New Delhi on Monday. Those older than 45 are now eligible for the coronavirus vaccine. (Manish Swarup/The Associated Press)

The country has launched the third phase of its coronavirus vaccination drive with those older than 45 eligible for the jab. In the first two phases, front-line workers and people above the age of 60 were eligible.

India has reported 12.6 million virus cases since the pandemic began, the highest after the United States and Brazil.

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CBC | World News

B.C.’s health minister says it’s time to ‘dig in’ to obey COVID-19 safety rules as cases mount

B.C. Minister of Health Adrian Dix has defended measures in place to limit the spread of COVID-19, even as his province set one-day case counts records on Friday and Saturday.

“Right now they’re strict measures and we need everyone to dig in,” Dix said in an interview Sunday. “This is the time to follow those measures.”

Dix along with Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry cancelled indoor dining, in-person worship and group fitness classes last week to curb an alarming growth in COVID-19 cases.

Other measures in place since November include restricting indoor gatherings to individual households only and to avoid travel to other health regions.

In early March, the province allowed for British Columbians to gather outside in groups of up to 10 people, following four months of restrictions on social gatherings. 

Surge in young patients

Dix said on Sunday that B.C.’s latest COVID-19 measures were very strict, and did not say if other new measures could be coming in days ahead.

A record 2,090 new cases of COVID-19 for Friday and Saturday were announced in a release from the province on Saturday, but it did not include information about deaths, variants of concern or the number of active cases.

The 1,018 new cases on Friday and 1,072 new cases on Saturday were both single-day infection records.

The release said 90 patients were in critical care, which was up 11 from 79 on Thursday.

Dix said on Sunday that a higher proportion of younger people are becoming ill from the disease.

“I’m not one bit happy about where we are at now,” he said, adding that provincial measures are targeting indoor transmissions.

On Saturday, a tweet from Dr. Kevin McLeod of Lions Gate Hospital in North Vancouver said hospitals are seeing a surge in young patients needing serious medical intervention for illnesses caused by COVID-19.

Dix said he saw the tweet and said its message was an important one.

“What it says to everybody is this is the time to take care,” he said. “Right now is the time to really follow public health orders whether you’re 25 or 75.”

The minister also said  B.C. had delivered a record number of vaccinations this past week.

A total of 856,801 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in B.C. to date, including 87,455 second doses.

Vaccine appointments are currently open for seniors aged 72 and up, Indigenous people over the age of 18 and people that the province has deemed to be clinically extremely vulnerable.

People between the ages of 55 and 65 are also eligible for the AstraZeneca vaccine in the Lower Mainland while more communities are expected to be added by the end of next week.

No travel, says Dix

Dix has also pleaded with people to stay local this weekend, as he said unnecessary travel has contributed to the rise in infections.

Some officials in tourist destinations in B.C. said over the weekend that they were noticing an influx of visitors.

“My feeling is that the province’s restrictions on indoor dining and the messaging about staying local are getting through certainly to a lot of people, not everybody,” said Tofino Mayor Dan Law.

In the Southern Interior, Osoyoos Mayor Sue McKortoff said it appears that more people are visiting her community this weekend than over the past two weeks, but not as much as a normal year.

She says people coming are doing so to play golf, visit wineries or be at properties they own and are playing it safe.

“We offer Canada’s warmest welcome, that’s our motto, and so it seems unusual. But I appreciate the fact that people are looking after themselves and looking after our businesses and looking after the community by obeying … the health regulations. I don’t see it being a problem.”

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CBC | Health News

Canada surpasses 1 million confirmed COVID-19 cases

The latest:

Canada has recorded its one-millionth case of COVID-19  according to tracking by CBC News, just over 14 months after the first case was reported.

The milestone — reached Saturday afternoon after B.C. reported 2,090 cases from the past two days — comes as many parts of the country enter a third wave, and variants of the illness cause increased concern. Nationally, the confirmed case total is now 1,001,651; the death toll stood at 23,050, while 921,465 cases were resolved and 57,136 were active. 

Canada reported its first presumptive case of COVID-19 on Jan. 25, 2020, a man who had returned to Toronto from Wuhan, China, where the virus was first detected. He ultimately survived. 

By the time the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic on March 11, 2020, Canada had recorded about 140 cases and one death, according to CBC News tracking. The country hit the 100,000-case mark about 99 days after logging its first case. 

After months of lockdowns, travel restrictions and a summer of declining cases, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared in September that multiple provinces, including British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec, were experiencing a second wave of the virus

“I know this isn’t the news that any of us wanted to hear. And we can’t change today’s numbers or even tomorrow’s … but what we can change is where we are in October, and into the winter,” he said at the time. 

Now, as a third wave of the pandemic lands in many of the same regions, all eyes are on two factors — vaccines and variants of concern.

Criticism of vaccine rollout

While Trudeau, and several other politicians, have promised that vaccines will be widely available this year for all those who want one, criticism has mounted amid delays and mixed messaging. 

According to CBC tracking of vaccinations, about three per cent of the eligible population had been fully vaccinated heading into the Easter weekend. 

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, the military commander in charge of Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution, had predicted that by this weekend, 9.5 million vaccine doses would be distributed.

“Our distribution tempo will keep on increasing, with over 40 million doses scheduled by end June and more than 100 million doses by end September,” said Fortin.

Concerns over variants

Concerns about Canada’s pace of vaccine rollout come as cases caused by B117, B1351 and P1 variants increase, heightening the need for Canadians to be vigilant with public health measures like distancing and masking. 

Some health officials and politicians have characterized the current phase of the pandemic as a race between the variants and the authorized vaccines. Studies have indicated that the variants are considerably more transmissible than the first iteration of the virus from early 2020, and can potentially lead to more serious cases, more serious cases, including hospitalizations and intensive care stays. 

WATCH | ICUs filling with younger COVID-19 patients:

The third wave of COVID-19 is putting a lot of strain on ICUs across the country and doctors say this cohort of patients is significantly younger than in previous waves. 2:02

In Ontario for example, variants of concern now account for 67 per cent of all cases, according to a report from the province’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table.

It’s because of the increase in variant cases and relatively slow vaccine distribution that Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said last week, a return to pre-pandemic “normal” is not imminent.

“It’s not going to be, ‘Here’s a date and after that date all is going to be good.’ It’s data, not dates,” she said. “By the fall — that’s what I think we should be aiming for.” 

WATCH | 2 doctors on how to deal with Canada’s coronavirus 3rd wave:

Infectious disease specialists Dr. Lynora Saxinger and Dr. Zain Chagla discuss the latest restrictions in several provinces and how they’re feeling about where we are in the third wave. 7:54

Health officials are projecting the death rate will be relatively lower than it was with past caseload spikes because some of the most vulnerable people — long term care home residents, seniors, Indigenous adults — have been vaccinated.

The public health agency said it expects many of the new cases to come from people aged 20 to 39. While death is less likely in this demographic, younger patients still face the prospect of severe health outcomes.

LTC homes, racially diverse neighbourhoods hit hard

The toll of the virus within Canada has not been uniformly felt in terms of demographics and geography.  

According to a study released in recent days by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), 69 per cent of the country’s overall COVID-19 death toll between March 2020 and February 2021 represented fatalities of persons residing in retirement communities or long-term care facilities, significantly higher than the international average of 41 per cent. During that time span, CIHI reported, more than 80,000 residents and staff members of long-term care homes were infected with the coronavirus.

WATCH | Doctors bring COVID-19 vaccines to homebound seniors:

Ontario’s Covid-19 science table is pushing for more mobile vaccine units to vaccinate seniors in their homes after new data reveals that 25 per cent of Ontario seniors 75 and older have still not received their first shot because they’re either unwilling or unable to leave home for medical reasons. A look at two doctors leading the charge. 2:03

Ontario and Quebec both suffered overwhelming loss of life in long-term care facilities, leading to inquiries to examine what went wrong. In combination with a greater population density than other provinces west of Atlantic Canada, the two provinces account for about two-thirds of all recorded COVID-19 cases in the country, about five to six percentage points higher than their share of the national population.

Long-term care facilities in Quebec and Ontario, along with a number of remote and Indigenous communities, have needed help from outside sources, including the Canadian military, in order to tamp down outbreaks.

The most racially diverse neighbourhoods in Canada reported COVID-19 mortality rates more than twice as high as those reported by districts that are overwhelmingly white, according to new data released by Statistics Canada in March.

The data affirmed what some Canadians had reported anecdotally for months: Black people in particular have been far more likely to succumb to the virus than members of other groups.

In areas where a quarter of the population or more identified as “visible minorities” — the term the government uses for non-white and non-Indigenous people — the mortality rate averaged 35 deaths per 100,000 people, compared to an average of 16 deaths per 100,000 people in regions where less than one per cent of the population was composed of racial minorities.

The data account for deaths between January 2020 and January 2021.

What’s happening across Canada

In British Columbia, health officials have expanded vaccine access and eligibility for residents in small, remote communities on Vancouver Island. 

Island Health now says any adult over 18 in Tofino, Ucluelet, Port Hardy, Port McNeill and Port Alice can now request a spot

Alberta announced an estimated 1,100 new cases for the second straight day.

WATCH | Lethbridge becomes one of Alberta’s worst COVID-19 hotspots:

Lethbridge is one of the worst COVID-19 hotspots in Alberta, and officials say it’s mostly because of social gatherings that break the rules. A Lethbridge woman remembers the pain of witnessing her father’s death in ICU, as local doctors raise the alarm. 1:59

In Saskatchewandrive-thru vaccination sites have opened in Prince Albert and North Battleford, and re-opened in Regina Saturday.

More drive-thru sites are anticipated to open this week across the province.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority website said the Lloydminster site is expected to open on Sunday, the Saskatoon drive-thru site is anticipated to open on Monday and the Yorkton and Weyburn sites are anticipated to open Tuesday. 

Manitoba logged 181 new cases and one additional death over the past two days.

Meanwhile, the province has now administered more than 200,000 vaccine doses.

Ontario logged 3,009 new cases as a new province-wide “shutdown” took effect to try and curb soaring infection rates.

Quebec confirmed 1,282 new cases and three new deaths.

A group of physicians, infectious disease specialists and other health experts say the Quebec government needs to shut down the Montreal region, before the spread of coronavirus variants spirals out of control.

A sign is seen outside a COVID-19 vaccination site in Montreal on Friday. (Jean-Claude Taliana/Radio-Canada)

New Brunswick registered nine new cases, of which seven are in the hard-hit Edmundston region. Hundreds of residents of the region are scheduled to be vaccinated at community clinics over the weekend.

Nova Scotia saw four new infections, bringing the province’s active case total to 32.

In the Northwest Territories, an outbreak has been declared at the Diavik Diamond Mine about 300 kilometres northeast of Yellowknife after a second worker tested positive for the virus within a week. 

What’s happening around the world

As of Saturday, more than 130.3 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to a coronavirus tracking tool maintained by U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll stood at more than 2.84 million.

In Europe, Italy has entered a three-day strict nationwide lockdown to deter Easter travel and help prevent new surges of the coronavirus. Police set up road checks to ensure people were staying close to home. Extra patrols were ordered up to break up large gatherings in squares and parks, which over Easter weekend are usually packed with picnic goers.

Police stop a car at a road block in Rome on Saturday. (Gregorio Borgia/The Associated Press)

In Asia, South Korea’s daily increase in coronavirus infections exceeded 500 for the fourth straight day, a pace unseen since January, as experts raise concern about another viral surge amid a slow rollout in vaccines. South Korean officials have insisted they could afford a wait-and-see approach on vaccines as the country’s outbreak isn’t as dire as in the United States or Europe.

In the Americas, Argentine President Alberto Fernandez says he had an initial positive test for coronavirus, despite having been vaccinated with the Sputnik V vaccine in January.  The Russian Gamaleya Institute, which produced the vaccine, tweeted the shot has a 91.6 per cent rate of effectiveness against infection and 100 per cent against critical cases.

In Africa, Kenya has ordered a suspension on private importations of vaccines. Private health facilities have been charging about $ 80 US for the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, while the governments institutions are giving free AstraZeneca vaccines received from the global COVAX initiative

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CBC | Health News

British regulators increase number of blood clot cases after AstraZeneca vaccine to 30

British regulators on Thursday said they have identified 30 cases of rare blood clot events after the use of the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine, 25 more than the agency previously reported.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency said it had received no such reports of clotting events following use of the vaccine made by BioNTech SE and Pfizer Inc.

The health officials said they still believe the benefits of the vaccine in the prevention of COVID-19 far outweigh any possible risk of blood clots.

Some countries are restricting use of the AstraZeneca vaccine while others have resumed inoculations, as investigations into reports of rare, and sometimes severe, blood clots continue.

On March 18, the U.K.’s medicines regulator said that there had been five cases of a rare brain blood clot among 11 million administered shots.

WATCH | Should people who’ve had the AstraZeneca vaccine be concerned?

Infectious disease experts take questions about the changing advice for the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine including if those who’ve had a shot should be concerned. 4:22

On Thursday, it put the count at 22 reports of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, an extremely rare brain clotting ailment, and eight reports of other clotting events associated with low blood platelets out of a total of 18.1 million doses given.

In Canada, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommended on Monday that the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine for Canadians under 55 be immediately suspended.

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CBC | World News

‘Don’t make plans for Easter’: Ford hints at restrictions as Ontario sees 2,336 new COVID-19 cases

Ontario confirmed 2,336 more cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, as a government agency that tracks hospitalizations reported the biggest single-day jump in admissions of patients to intensive care since the pandemic began.

It’s a situation that Premier Doug Ford addressed Tuesday, speaking in one of the Toronto neighbourhoods hardest-hit by COVID-19. 

“I’m extremely concerned about the situation that we’re seeing,” Ford said of the number of people in intensive care, particularly young people.  

“Don’t make plans for Easter,” he said, saying further lockdowns could happen depending on the guidance of Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams. 

Tuesday also marked the last day for retired Gen. Rick Hillier, chair of the vaccination rollout taskforce, who maintained that by the first day of summer, all eligible Ontarians will have had the opportunity to be vaccinated.

Ford was also asked about whether Ontario might adjust its vaccination plan based on the fact that younger people now make up the majority of the province’s COVID-19 cases. 

“Our goal is to make sure we take care of the most vulnerable,” he said of the province’s strategy to vaccinate in descending order of age groups, adding there are no plans now to change that strategy. 

Critical Care Services Ontario (CCSO) says 46 more people with the illness were taken to intensive care units since yesterday morning, bringing the current total to 410. Admissions of COVID-19 patients to ICUs peaked at 420 in mid-January, during the height of the second wave in the province.

CCSO compiles a daily internal report that hospitals and health organizations use for planning. The latest data show that COVID-19 patients require, on average, about two weeks of critical care, according to the agency. 

The Ontario Hospital Association cautioned this morning that the province “could face a surge of patient transfers and cancelled surgeries as we fight a third wave” of COVID-19.

(You may notice that the ICU figures reported by CCSO often differ from those the Ministry of Health posts on its public COVID-19 dashboard. That’s because the ministry removes a patient from its count once they have stopped testing positive for the virus, even if that patient remains in critical care with complications. As such, CCSO’s count is regarded as the more accurate accounting of the COVID-19 situation in hospitals.)

Meanwhile, an infectious disease expert on Ontario’s COVID-19 science table told CBC News the pandemic is “completely out of control”  and that total hospitalizations are already more than 20 per cent higher than at the start of the last provincewide lockdown.

Dr. Peter Juni, also a professor of medicine and epidemiology at the University of Toronto, said the current pace of Ontario’s vaccination effort is not sufficient to curb the current growth in cases. The latest surge is largely fuelled by variants of concern, particularly B117, which was first identified in the United Kingdom.

So far, a total of 20,117 samples that tested positive for COVID-19 have also screened positive for a telltale genetic mutation that indicates the presence of a variant, including 1,210 added in today’s provincial report.

The science table projects that variants currently account for about 68 per cent of all new cases in Ontario. 

Premier Doug Ford is expected to provide an update on the immunization campaign this afternoon. The province has repeatedly expressed frustration at the pace of deliveries from the federal government.

On that front, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced today that Pfizer-BioNTech has agreed to move up delivery of five million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine to Canada from late summer to June.

The accelerated delivery means Canada now expects to receive 9.6 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine that month, he said.

As of yesterday evening, Ontario had received 2,358,965 doses of vaccines and administered about 89 per cent of them.

The new cases reported today include 727 in Toronto, 434 in Peel Region, 229 in York Region, 194 in Durham Region, 144 in Ottawa and 123 in Hamilton.

They come as labs completed 36,071 tests for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and logged a positivity rate of 6.2 per cent.

The seven-day average of daily cases climbed to 2,207, its highest point since January 26.

The Ministry of Education reported another 518 school-related cases confirmed between last Friday and yesterday afternoon, including 440 students, 77 staff members and one person who was not identified. A total of 58, or about 1.2 per cent of Ontario’s 4,828 publicly-funded schools, are closed due to the illness.

Public health units also recorded the deaths of 14 more people with COVID-19, bringing the official toll to 7,351.

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Serious COVID-19 cases on the rise among younger people in B.C., health officials say

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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Ontario records 1,699 new COVID-19 cases as vaccine bookings start for those 75 and older

Ontario reported 1,699 new cases of COVID-19 Monday, as the province’s vaccination rollout expands.

Health Minster Christine Elliott said there were 500 new cases found in Toronto, as well as 318 in Peel, 155 in York Region and 114 in Hamilton. The seven-day average, which smooths out peaks and valleys in the data, now stands at 1,600.

Those cases come with around 31,100 tests completed, which is well below the province’s capacity. Testing numbers usually dip over the weekend, before rising later in the week.

The province is reporting three new deaths of people with COVID-19, as well as 1,175 cases that have been marked as resolved. The death toll for the pandemic now stands at 7,244.

There are 813 people in hospital, up from 765 the day before — and that’s with the caveat of that figure being typically underreported on weekends.

There are also 298 people in intensive care, and 186 of those are on a ventilator, the province says. That’s down slightly from 302 and 189 the day before, respectively.

As of 8 p.m. Sunday, the province had administered just over 1.5 million vaccine doses, Elliott said. There were 31,335 vaccines administered Sunday, with 299,297 now fully vaccinated.

At a news conference Monday afternoon, Premier Doug Ford said the province is making “tremendous progress” on its vaccine plans, and lauded the work of front-line health-care workers.

“We’re so grateful to them for the vital role they’ve been playing in the fight against this virus,” he said. 

The premier once again pushed the federal government to provide more vaccine doses, saying Ontario needs a steadier supply.

“We’re at a fraction of our capacity. We need more vaccines,” he said.

Ontario’s test positivity rate now 5.4%, top doctors say

Dr. David Williams, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said on Monday that the number of new cases daily, the test positivity rate and the percentage of new cases that are variants of concern are all on the increase in Ontario.

“We’re in the third wave. The numbers are slowly going up. They’re not going as fast as predicted by the modellers, and that’s to your credit. But … it’s still going up,” Williams told reporters at a provincial update.

“We’re not doubling, but we’re going up continually with our variants of concern and we’re now starting to see impacts on our hospital rates. That dip down to where we had hoped to get to, we didn’t get to, and now it’s picking back up again.”

Since its last update on Thursday, Ontario is reporting 7,064 more cases of COVID-19, according to Dr. Barbara Yaffe, the province’s associate medical officer of health. 

Ontario’s seven-day average for daily cases, which now stands at 1,600, is an increase from 1,350 last week and 1,155 two weeks ago, Yaffe said. The province is also reporting an additional 42 deaths since Thursday. 

A total of 31,089 tests have been completed as of Monday and the test positivity rate is 5.4 per cent, marking the first time since Feb. 1 that the test positivity rate is above five per cent, she said.

The average test positivity rate over the last seven days is 3.9 per cent, an increase from three per cent from the same time period last week.

Dr. Barbara Yaffe and Dr. David Williams speak during a provincial update. ‘We’re in the third wave. The numbers are slowly going up,’ Williams said on Monday. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Ontario reporting 1,424 cases of variants of concern

Ontario is reporting a total of 1,424 confirmed cases of variants of concern on Monday.

Of this number, 1,340 are of the B117 variant first identified in the United Kingdom, 48 are of the B1351 variant, first identified in South Africa, and 36 of the P1 variant, first identified in Brazil.

A mutation has been detected in a total of 13,226 samples, but the lineage has not yet been determined, Yaffe said. 

The seven-day rolling average positivity rate for variants of concern is 46.4 per cent, an increase from 37.9 per cent a week ago, she added.

Other public health units that saw double-digit case increases of COVID-19 were:

  • Ottawa: 85
  • Durham: 79
  • Simcoe Muskoka: 64
  • Halton: 57
  • Lambton: 42
  • Eastern Ontario Health Unit: 39
  • Sudbury: 34
  • Waterloo: 31
  • Niagara: 24
  • Thunder Bay: 16
  • Windsor-Essex: 16
  • Brant County: 15
  • Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph: 14
  • Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington Public Health: 13
  • Leeds, Grenville & Lanark District Health Unit: 12
  • Southwestern Public Health: 11
  • Middlesex-London: 11
  • Chatham-Kent: 10

(Note: All of the figures used in this story are found on the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 dashboard or in its Daily Epidemiologic Summary. The number of cases for any region may differ from what is reported by the local public health unit on a given day, because local units report figures at different times.)

Meanwhile, Ontario residents who are 75 or older can start booking their COVID-19 vaccines through the government’s online system starting today.

People in that age group were initially set to become eligible by the first week of April, but the province announced last week it was moving up the date, saying vaccinations are ahead of schedule.

Similarly, York Region has announced that it is now offering vaccine appointments for residents 70 and over, who were born in 1951 and earlier, effective March 23.

Also starting today, certain pharmacies and family physicians in some regions will be allowed to administer the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot to anyone 60 or older.

Ford said Monday that the province plans to expand that pilot project, with a focus on Peel Region and Toronto.

“We’re going to double the amount of pharmacies up to 750,” Ford said.

A number of regions are also moving to different restriction levels in the province’s colour-coded pandemic framework Monday.

The Brant, Chatham-Kent and Leeds, Grenville and Lanark regions are now in the red zone — the second-most restrictive.

Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph is now in orange, and four others — Timiskaming, Porcupine, North Bay Parry Sound and Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington — are in yellow.

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India’s COVID-19 cases rising despite widespread belief in country’s natural immunities

A crush of thousands upon thousands of people line the banks of the Ganges River in the holy city of Haridwar, in India’s northern Uttarakhand state, pushing forward to enter the water to wash away their sins. 

Steps away, a hand-sanitizing station sits empty. 

This is the Maha Kumbh Mela pilgrimage, one of the most important Hindu festivals, which happens only once every 12 years. Its location rotates between several holy Indian cities, but Hindu pilgrims believe bathing in the Ganges will cleanse impurities and help free them from cycles of rebirth.

The festival goes until the end of April, but this time it’s under the shadow of a pandemic. But you wouldn’t know it, looking around. 

There are few masks and little physical distancing. Large circles painted on the steps leading down to the river — meant to encourage standing apart from your neighbour — are mostly ignored. 

The pilgrimage is taking place just as India is seeing some of its highest numbers of new infections so far this year — more than 25,320 as of Sunday. 

WATCH | COVID-19 cases rise in India amid religious festival and vaccine hesitancy:

One of the world’s largest religious festivals is taking place in India and public health officials are worried. Not only is the country a COVID-19 hotspot, but vaccine hesitancy is high and experts say many people falsely believe the country has attained herd immunity. 2:17

Minutes after he took a quick dip in the Ganges, Bhavesh Patel told CBC News he had zero worries about the virus spreading at this massive festival.

“Nobody’s infected here, nobody. And even if they are, once they dip [into the Ganges], they are all pure,” he said. “There is no COVID here.”  

‘The river … sanitizes us’

Patel, 56, travelled to the festival from New York and said he was determined to attend, “COVID or no COVID.” The feelings he expressed are prevalent here. 

“I’m not worried about the virus, because I take care of myself,” said Anita Verma, standing beside her father, Sitaram. They’re both from Rajasthan, a 12-hour drive away.

Just then, her father interjected, and Verma repeated his sentiment: “The river itself sanitizes us from the COVID virus, so it’s very pure. It saves us,” she said. 

The festival comes as India is seeing a spike in other large gatherings, namely political rallies in several states holding elections next month.   

“[The gatherings] are religious, they’re political, they’re social,” said Dr. Srinath Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation of India, and a member of the country’s COVID-19 task force. “Unfortunately, we are giving the virus free rein.” 

Reddy blames complacency over following public health guidelines on the marked decrease in infections at the beginning of this year, which saw India’s daily case count fall to 10,000 a day from a mid-September high of more than 97,000.

Saints and worshippers gather on the banks of the Ganges to celebrate the Kumbh Mela festival. (Salimah Shivji/CBC)

“There was a general feeling [in early 2021] that the pandemic has receded, at least as far as India was concerned,” Reddy said. “There was also the feeling that the mythical herd immunity had arrived, that we have achieved that nirvana and therefore people need not worry about it.”

Hope for herd immunity

Those factors, plus the controversial approval of a homegrown vaccine, Covaxin, before efficacy data was fully available, led people to reconsider getting vaccinated, Reddy said. (Covaxin has since released data that shows an 81 percent efficacy rate, two months after it received emergency approval for use.) 

The World Health Organization has established that herd immunity should be reached through vaccination and not simply by exposing people to the virus. WHO has also said that it doesn’t know what percentage would achieve herd immunity when it comes to COVID-19.

Herd immunity in India is a “nebulous” concept and a myth, according to Reddy, who pointed to a lack of nationwide data proving a sufficient level of immunity. 

“The 55 per cent rates that are being reported are in large metropolitan areas like Delhi and some pockets of Mumbai,” he said. “So you’re really not seeing all of India crossing even the 40 per cent threshold, and we do not know what the herd immunity threshold for this particular virus is.” 

In explaining the plunge in cases earlier this year, experts point to the fact that more Indians started following public health guidelines to mask up and physically distance after cases peaked. 

Dr. Srinath Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation of India, said the country has some social demographic advantages. ‘We have two-thirds of the Indian population in rural areas, where there’s less crowd density,’ he said. (Salimah Shivji/CBC)

But the sharpness of the drop was puzzling to many. That led to speculation that India’s warmer climate and younger population were also contributing factors, as well as other innate advantages.

India’s social demographic advantages 

There’s a theory, bolstered by two new studies done by Indian scientists — which have yet to be peer-reviewed — that Indians are less vulnerable to COVID-19 because they’re exposed to more infectious diseases from birth, thus making their immune systems stronger. 

India has the third-highest tally of COVID-19 cases in the world, at 11.36 million, but counts fewer deaths per capita than countries such as Canada, the United States and France, with 11.73 deaths per 100,000 people compared to 163.31 in the U.S. and 60.51 in Canada.

Reddy said there are some simple explanations. 

“We must remember that India has social demographic advantages. We have two-thirds of the Indian population in rural areas, where there’s less crowd density,” Reddy said. 

He pointed to the fact that rural homes are more ventilated, people largely work outside and their social bubbles are much smaller than those living in the city, leading to far less risk from the virus.  

But India is now heading in the wrong direction, with cases spiking again in at least eight states and coronavirus variants spreading. 

The country’s vaccination drive has also been slow to ramp up, with only 1.5 per cent of the population having received a first dose. The current pace is far from what’s needed to meet the government’s goal to have 300 million Indians, about a quarter of its population, vaccinated by August. 

“We are seeing a lot more opening up, a lot more commuting, a lot more superspreader events and the [variants],” Reddy said. “There is cause for worry.”

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