Tag Archives: children

Families eager for results as drug companies test vaccines for use on children, teens

On an unusually warm spring morning, a class of seventh and eighth graders exits the doors of Charles Gordon Senior Public School in Scarborough, Ont. They walk single file through the yard, masked and distanced from each other by a strict two metres — a sign of the times in Toronto, where kids only recently returned to in-person schooling after another lockdown.

The day’s lesson is about COVID-19 vaccines, and appropriately, it was being held at an outdoor classroom. Students had been asked to read up on the vaccines and present questions they would like to ask Canadian officials about the inoculations and their distribution.

As vaccines roll out among older adults, many of the questions from this group of students focused on the fact that children aren’t on the current inoculation schedule. Of the vaccines approved in Canada so far, only the Pfizer vaccine has been cleared for people as young as 16 years old, and the other three are currently meant for ages 18 and up.

Their teacher, Tracey Toyama, said the lesson was a natural extension of current events. “They see it every day on social media; they come in, they ask questions,” she said.

“Why are children not more prioritized in terms of receiving the COVID-19 vaccine?” asked one girl.

“Why wouldn’t we vaccinate children so that they don’t put those who are vulnerable at risk?” asked another.

Indeed, since most children tend to experience milder cases of COVID-19, they weren’t prioritized in international vaccine trials. Still, kids do get sick and they can pass on the virus.

In fact, more than 157,000 Canadians aged 19 or younger have caught COVID-19. So until both adults and children are inoculated against the virus, it’s unlikely society will be able to go back to normal.

Students at Charles Gordon Senior Public School in Scarborough, Ont., hold some of their classes outdoors during the pandemic. During this lesson, students discuss the questions they would like to ask Canadian officials about the vaccines and their distribution. (Sarah Bridge/CBC)

In recognition of this, a number of vaccines are now being tested on younger people.

Drug maker Sinovac submitted data to the Chinese government this week saying its vaccine is safe for children between the ages of three and 17.

Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Johnson & Johnson are now testing their COVID-19 vaccines on younger kids, too. Moderna’s trial includes children as young as six months old. Early data from Pfizer on its trials for children aged 12 years and older is expected soon.

Quebec-based Medicago, which is working through Phase 3 adult trials for its plant-based COVID-19 vaccine, says it has plans to move on to younger age groups as data emerges.

According to Nathalie Charland, a senior director with Medicago, the trials will be similar to those they’ve conducted with people aged 18 and up, though children will likely receive half the vaccine dosage.

Along with monitoring each of the test cases to make sure they’re safe, she said, “We will be looking at the immunogenicity of the vaccine candidate to see if what we saw in adults is the same that we see in children.”

Medicago has been conducting clinical trials of its plant-based COVID-19 vaccine on people aged 18 years and older. Nathalie Charland, a senior director with Medicago, says her company has plans to test the vaccine on younger age groups as well. (Medicago)

Dr. Noni MacDonald with Dalhousie University in Halifax said vaccinating children is “incredibly important.”

She said adults were “rightly” prioritized for COVID-19 vaccines because, “children have not been shown to be the big vector of transmitting this virus from one person to another; it’s mostly adults and young people.”

However, MacDonald added, “The problem we have is we know that we need to have the community immunity happen. So, if we have big pockets of children that are not immunized, that community is not immune.”

With variants circulating, she said, the impetus to vaccinate children as soon as possible is strong.

“This is not the end,” she said. “This is a wicked virus and we need to control it in all the ways we can.”

That urgency is especially acute in households where a family member is immunocompromised.

Torontonian Amerie Alvis, 15, has been worried about bringing the virus home to her mom this past year. Her mother, Jaeda Larkin, is a single parent with rheumatoid arthritis.

“What if she does get sick, and I’m all alone?” Alvis said.

Jaeda Larkin, left, and her daughter Amerie Alvis. Amerie has chosen to do online schooling until she is able to get vaccinated, in order to minimize the risk of contracting COVID-19. (Sarah Bridge/CBC)

At nearly 16 years old, Alvis should be eligible for the Pfizer vaccine in a few months and said she is “all for it.”

In the meantime, she has chosen to do online schooling rather than go back to class, in order to minimize the risk to herself and her mom. Alvis said she won’t go back until she gets a shot, but she’s hopeful life could look different next fall.

Having lost some relatives in the U.S. to COVID-19, Larkin is similarly keen to see the two of them vaccinated against the virus.

“The thought of risking my daughter or, you know, potentially having her get sick is terrifying to me,” Larkin said.

Without available vaccine data for kids under 16, some parents of younger children are hesitant to commit just yet.

Torontonians Barry Ayow and Gina Athanasiou aren’t sure whether they’ll want to vaccinate their two youngest kids, who are 12 and 14 years old, against COVID-19 right away.

“I’m willing to experiment on myself. I’m willing to be a guinea pig. But to volunteer my children to be guinea pigs, that’s a different thing, right?” said Ayow.

At the same time, a sense of duty to their older family members and neighbours is weighing on the couple.

“Will duty outweigh our obligation to our kids to make sure that they’re safe? I don’t know,” said Athanasiou, who has concerns about possible side effects of the vaccines on her kids.

She added, “Maybe we’ll feel more comfortable when we have the studies.”

Barry Ayow, right, and Gina Athanasiou say they’re willing to get vaccinated for COIVD-19, but they aren’t sure whether they want to vaccinate their two youngest children right away. (Ousama Farag/CBC)

Dr. MacDonald said parents can be reassured that a push to vaccinate children won’t be coming “out of nowhere.”

“This is going to be based on evidence,” she said.

In fact, according to MacDonald, information about the COVID-19 vaccines will be more robust than what was initially available for previous vaccines, such as polio.

When the time comes for children to get vaccinated, she said, “literally tens of millions of doses of these vaccines will have been used in the population. We’ve never had that kind of volume whenever we’ve used vaccines in children before when we were starting.”

In a show of hands, about half the students in the Grade 7 and 8 class at Charles Gordon Senior Public School said they themselves would take the vaccine based on what they currently know, with others mostly citing the need for more information on their own age group.

What’s clear from nearly all of them during their classroom discussion, though, is that the stress of the pandemic isn’t just affecting adults.

For seventh grader Isaiah Velez, keeping his family and friends safe is a personal priority, he said, as is putting an end to the pandemic. “I miss going out in public and meeting my friends — a lot,” he said.

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How masks could affect speech and language development in children

A video of a one-year-old walking up to random objects, pressing on them and rubbing her hands together as she walks away went viral earlier this year. A toddler who thinks everything is a hand sanitizing station, though funny and super cute, begs the question: how are children growing up in the time of COVID-19 being affected?

Wearing masks is a public health measure that has spanned the globe for a year now, and while they can be annoying and awkward for adults, masks have also presented a unique set of challenges for children.

“That first year of life is when speech and language are emerging in a major major way,” said David Lewkowicz, senior scientist at Haskins Laboratories and a professor adjunct at the Yale Child Study Center.

Lewkowicz has been researching the importance of visual speech information, or lipreading, in children and babies since long before the pandemic. He co-authored a 2012 study that showed babies a short video of a woman talking, and used an eye-tracking device to capture where on the woman’s face the babies focused their gaze.

“What we discovered, in a nutshell, was that at four months of age babies were really interested in the eyes of the talker. But then at eight months of age there was a really dramatic shift … where they started to look much more at the mouth region of the person that was talking to them.”

A 2012 study that tracked the eye movements of infants found that they pay the most attention to the eyes of a speaker during the first few months of life, as seen on the left in research on a child at four months of age. But by around eight months of age (right), their attention shifts more to the person’s mouth as their speech develops. (David Lewkowicz/Haskins Labs/Yale University)

As they grow, babies use lipreading as part of speech and language development. This means that for infants who are in daycare settings, and therefore constantly seeing masked caregivers, “there may be some detrimental effects of at least extended exposure [to masks],” Lewkowicz said.

When people around infants in bilingual households wear masks it could present an even greater impairment, he said, because these children rely even more on lipreading to differentiate the phonetic sounds between the languages.

But parents and guardians, fear not. The advice for combating the potential effects of masks on speech development is relatively simple: increase face-to-face time with your baby at home.

“Simply just take them in your arms, pick them up, have them in front of you and interact with them as much as you can en-face. So they really get that full package — the auditory and visual package,” Lewkowicz said.

Julie Amoroso holds her seven-month-old son Isaiah. Researchers say the first year of a child’s life is a crucial period for speech and language development. (Jared Thomas/CBC)

Emotional barriers

Reading lips is obviously harder these days, but so is reading emotions. And for children who are still developing their interpersonal skills, masks can pose a challenge in that area as well.

It’s a challenge accepted by John Gelntis, a kindergarten teacher at King Edward Junior and Senior Public School in Toronto. He says now that his students are back to in-class learning and wearing masks all day, it’s more important than ever they learn to express their emotions clearly.

“It is harder, because they can’t get the full range of the emotions. But we try and do a lot of self-regulation activities where they can kind of navigate those things and see, ‘OK, how are you feeling today,’ right? Like, how can you check in?”

He’s also teaching them how to read the emotions of their masked peers.

“We always try and model empathy and how to care for one another. Now it’s just finding different ways of doing it … listen to the tone of my voice, look at my body … look at my eyes and my eyes crinkling at the sides, that means I’m smiling, I’m happy. My eyes are bugging out of my head probably means I’m scared,” Gelntis said.

Kindergarten teacher John Gelntis is helping his students overcome the challenges of mask wearing by encouraging them to express their emotions clearly. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Kang Lee, a developmental neuroscientist at University of Toronto, says emphasizing emotions is also good practice for adults interacting with children while masked.

“The type of words, that’s one. But also the sound that goes with the words. So you emphasize some of the emotions through words … I’m using my gestures, I use my posture. So I would suggest teachers try to accentuate this kind of information to compensate for the lack of facial expression,” he said.

Recognizing faces

Masks hide not only our emotions, but also our identity at times. The adult ability to recognize a face is reduced by about 15 per cent if the person has a mask covering their nose and mouth, according to a York University study published in December.

But kids may be having an even harder time, according to a second study from the same research team that is currently under review. It indicates school-aged children between six and 14 years old have their face-recognition abilities impaired by about 20 per cent when a mask is present.

To help children manage, masked adults should “wear something that is very personalized … for example, you wear a mask with the flower here and there to represent you as a teacher,” Lee said. “Don’t change your hairstyle. Don’t change your glasses. You know, these are the things that kids latch on to recognize you.”

This strategy seems to be working on the schoolyard in Toronto. When the kindergarteners were asked how they recognize their teacher in a mask, five-year-old Maisie said: “I know that’s Mr. G, because he has a turtle mask and that turtle is looking at me!”

As for how the kindergarteners recognize their friends, Matilde, also five, said: “By their clothes and their voice.”

Kindergarteners told CBC News that with everyone wearing masks, they tend to recognize friends more by their clothing and voices than by their faces at the moment. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

These are good strategies for the day to day, but Lewkowicz said there’s potential for long-term impacts of mask wearing on face-perception development.

To determine who they are looking at, adult brains perceive the face holistically, meaning they compute the distances between the features all at once and see the face as a singular object. Children are just developing these skills, and the masks could disrupt that development.

“There’s general agreement now that somewhere between four to five years of age is where the ability to start to perceive faces as holistic objects begins to emerge …. Now, if you imagine that those kids are now living in a world where half the face is blocked, that is clearly going to have an effect on the development of this ability, which is really really important for face recognition,” Lewkowicz said.

The good news is kids are very adaptable, and Lee said one theory is that they may come out of the pandemic with heightened perception abilities in other areas compared to what they would have had otherwise.

“What we have learned in the past is when something like this happens, that you block some kind of information channel and kids have to navigate around it, suddenly their other kind of abilities increase, not decrease, because the child’s brain is very plastic and very adaptive.”

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Children, parents separated on arrival despite CBSA directive

Jean used to call Canada his “dream country,” but his family’s journey and eventual arrival here two years ago was nothing short of a nightmare.

After Jean arrived here seeking asylum, Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) detained him and took away his children.

“I didn’t want to leave my children. I said no. I cried, I cried,” he said.

After fleeing violence in their home country, Jean, his wife Anna, their four-year-old son and two-year old daughter embarked on the long trek from Brazil to seek asylum in this country. A particularly arduous portion of that 20,000-kilometre migrant trail between Colombia and Panama is known as Death Road.

Radio-Canada has agreed to withhold their real names and country of origin because their asylum application is still being processed, and they fear reprisals if they’re deported from Canada.

The family walked for days through the jungle without food or a compass. They lost everything when their personal belongings, including their travel documents, were washed away in a flash flood.

“There are no words to describe the fears we felt. We slept on the ground,” Anna said.

Different receptions

When they finally reached Mexico, authorities there were giving priority to the most vulnerable heading to the U.S. and Canada. Jean convinced Anna, who was then more than seven months pregnant, to go on ahead, promising to join her in Canada with the children as soon as possible.

Anna finished the journey alone, arriving in Montreal 10 days before the rest of her family reached the Canada-U.S. border.

“When I arrived at the [Canadian] border I was afraid,” Anna said. “I saw some women. They asked me if I had warm clothing for the cold weather. They gave me something to eat. The policeman was calm, nice. I said to myself, ‘Wow, that’s Canada. I made it.'”

The welcome her husband and children received at Roxham Road at Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Que., was very different. 

Jean and Anna speak with Radio-Canada’s Brigitte Bureau. (Michel Aspirot/Radio-Canada)

‘How can I leave my children?’

Because he lacked identity papers, Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers sent Jean to the immigration holding centre in Laval, Que., where he was detained. The children were sent to separate foster homes.

“The children were crying. They didn’t want to go. It was torture,” Jean recalled.

With no papers, Jean said CBSA officers didn’t believe he was the children’s father. He beseeched them to do a DNA test.

“How can I leave my children? I have travelled 20,000 kilometres with them,” Jean told them. “I cried all night. I didn’t know where my wife was, I was stressed out by the journey — imagine, my dream country!”

Asylum seekers arrive at temporary housing facilities at the border crossing at Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Que., in May 2018. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

In Montreal, Anna soon learned what had happened to her family.

“It was like the ground was collapsing,” she recalled. “I said, ‘No, not my children. No, no, no, please give me back my children. You cannot kidnap a child.”

2017 directive forbids separation

These events took place in 2018. According to a 2017 document titled National Directive for the Detention or Housing of Minors, CBSA must not separate or detain families except in extremely rare cases.

Yet according to new data from the group Action réfugiés Montréal, at least 182 children were separated from a parent detained in Laval last year alone. The organization, one of very few groups with rare access to the detainees at the Laval immigration centre, believes there are many more, because its numbers are based solely on families that requested its services.

Children were separated from their parents for weeks, sometimes longer.– Jenny Jeanes, Action réfugiés Montréal

“We were shocked to see children abruptly separated at the border,” said Action réfugiés Montréal’s Jenny Jeanes. “Children were separated from their parents for weeks, sometimes longer.”

CBSA doesn’t keep such statistics, a gap criticized by international organizations including Human Rights Watch.

Jeanes said Action réfugiés Montréal started keeping track of family separations when it became obvious that the 2017 CBSA directive, adopted by the Trudeau government to comply with international law, wasn’t always being observed.

Minors also detained

Family separation takes different forms. Jeanes said she’s witnessed many cases where the mother and children are released but the father is detained.

“Authorities seem to think it’s better to do that than to house more children,” she said. “But that doesn’t take into account the suffering that separation can bring, and it goes against the national directive that puts emphasis on preserving the family unit.”

The 2017 CBSA directive also says children shouldn’t be kept in immigration detention centres, except as a last resort. 

However, according to CBSA figures, that’s exactly what happened to 138 minors during the 2019-2020 fiscal year. Most of the minors were accompanying a detained parent at the immigration centre in Laval.

‘It was torture,’ Jean says about being separated from his son and daughter when they arrived in Canada in 2018. (Michel Aspirot/Radio-Canada)

Child welfare ‘our top priority’

“The welfare of children has to be our top priority,” said the office of Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, who oversees CBSA, in a response to Radio-Canada. “CBSA does not systematically separate children from their parents or legal guardians.”

When CBSA does separate families, Blair’s office said agents release children into the care of a parent, extended family or child welfare authorities. However, his office did not explain why so many children were separated from their parents last year.

Jean and Anna’s children spent one night in foster care. With the help of different organizations, Anna, who had been staying at a YMCA in Montreal, was reunited with them the next day.

But Jean was kept in detention for close to a month, during which time Anna gave birth to their third child, alone.

“We started out our life here with fear in the pit of our stomach,” she said.

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2 young children among migrants confirmed dead in crossing of English Channel

At least four migrants, including two young children, died Tuesday when their boat capsized while they and other migrants tried to cross the English Channel to Britain, French authorities said.

Fifteen people had been saved so far, and rescue and search operations were still under way, according to the regional administration for the Nord region. It said in a statement that the dead were a five-year-old and eight-year-old child, and an adult woman and adult man, and stressed that the toll could change pending further searches in the area.

Aid groups decried the deaths and called for more government help for struggling migrants, while British and French authorities expressed their condolences.

Such crossings have become increasingly common in recent years, but confirmed deaths are rare. French authorities reported four migrant deaths in total in small boats crossing the Channel over all of 2019.

On Tuesday, a sailboat alerted authorities to a migrant boat in distress off the coast of Dunkirk, and French authorities mobilized five vessels and a Belgian helicopter nearby to help with the rescue, according to the regional French maritime agency. It had said earlier that 18 people were rescued and were receiving treatment in hospitals in Calais and Dunkirk. The reason for the different numbers of rescued migrants was not yet explained.

The Dunkirk prosecutor opened an investigation into what caused the boat to capsize.

Protestors holding placards during a pro-migrants protest outside the government’s Home Office in London, Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020. The protest was to demand safer passage for migrants across the English Channel. (Frank Augstein/The Associated Press)

French maritime officials routinely rescue migrants trying to cross the Channel and warn against the risky crossing.

Despite joint police efforts on both sides of the Channel, migrants have long used northern France as a launching point to sneak into Britain, and the issue has long strained relations between the neighbours. Britain’s Press Association news agency calculates that more 7,400 migrants have crossed the Channel to the U.K. by boat so far this year, up from about 1,800 in all of 2019. French maritime officials have rescued hundreds more in routine operations in the Channel, known for high winds, strong currents and heavy maritime traffic. Last year, French authorities said at least four people died trying to use small vessels to make the crossing. 

‘Burgeoning humanitarian crisis’

British Home Secretary Priti Patel said she was “truly saddened to learn of the tragic loss of life in French waters this morning.”

“My thoughts and prayers are with their families and loved ones at this time,” Patel said in a statement.

“We are in touch with our French counterparts who are leading on the response and have offered whatever support they need as they investigate this incident,” she added. “This tragic news highlights the dangers that come with crossing the Channel and I will do everything I can to stop callous criminals exploiting vulnerable people.”

France’s minister for citizenship issues, Marlene Schiappa, tweeted “great sadness” at the news. She said 19 people had been confirmed aboard the boat, but the overall toll “is serious, and still uncertain.”

Aid group Channel Rescue said in a statement that “This is a burgeoning humanitarian crisis … The government must urgently ensure safe and legal passage for those seeking safety.”

Clare Mosely of migrant support group Care4Calais said: “This unnecessary loss of life has to stop. No one should ever feel they have to get into a fragile craft and risk their lives crossing the Channel, least of all vulnerable children.”

She called for the incident to be a “wake-up call” for those in power in the UK and France.

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Hand sanitizer can be harmful to children, but experts say benefits outweigh risks in COVID-19 fight

One of many ways of trying to keep children safe from the COVID-19 illness has also meant increasing their exposure to products that can be toxic and have harmful side effects when misused or mislabelled.

Hand sanitizer has become ubiquitous during the pandemic as a proven way to fight the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. But as the virus-killing liquids, gels and sprays proliferate in our daily lives, so do their inherent risks, especially for young children.

The number of accidental poisonings involving hand sanitizer and children has sharply increased since the pandemic began when compared with previous years, according to the Ontario Poison Centre.

In Ontario, Manitoba and Nunavut (the data provided includes all three jurisdictions), there were 536 cases of accidental poisonings between January and September, compared to 318 cases in the same period last year.

August saw the sharpest one-month increase, with 101 reported poisonings. That compared with 29 in August 2019. 

The majority of cases involved children five and younger, according to the poison centre.

Dr. Anna Banerji says parents need to be cautious when using hand sanitizer with young children. (Submitted by Dr. Anna Banerji)

The amount of harm consuming hand sanitizer would have on a child would depend on the amount consumed and the ingredients, according to Dr. Anna Banerji, pediatric infectious disease specialist at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health.

Banerji said ingesting hand sanitizers could have less severe effects such as drowsiness, to more serious effects, including trouble breathing.

“It could even kill them,” she said in an interview.

Hand sanitizers containing methanol are of particular concern. They are not approved by Health Canada. Yet, a product has recently found its way onto store shelves in Canada. Earlier this week, discount retailer Dollarama recalled a brand of hand sanitizer containing the chemical.

Ingesting a methanol-based hand sanitizer could cause severe toxicity, blindness, kidney failure and could also be fatal, Banerji said.

Hand sanitizers have been growing in popularity for years, with big brands such as Purell becoming household names. Some even come in kid-friendly packaging, colours and scents. At least one product is marketed as “fruit flavour.”

Fruit Flavour Children Cartoon Hand Sanitizer is sold at Walmart. (walmart.ca)

Skin irritation

Along with the risk of young children accidentally consuming hand sanitizers, there’s also concern about what every day use can do to the skin.

Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are “drying agents” and when heavily used could be irritating to children with eczema or sensitive skin, according to Banerji. In more severe cases, hand sanitizers could dry skin to the point of cracking, which could be a risk for infection, she said.

There’s also the risk of over-sanitizing hands.

“It kills bad and good bacteria,” Banerji said. “It may change the flora of bacteria on your skin and allow aggressive drug-resistant bacteria to grow.”

The Ontario Poison Centre recommends using just one squirt when sanitizing the hands of young children and making sure to allow it to completely dry.

WATCH | How to determine a hand sanitizer is safe to use:

With recalls being issued in Canada for more than a hundred brands of hand sanitizers, The National’s Andrew Chang explains how to determine if one is safe and effective to use. 2:22

Liane Fransblow, co-ordinator of injury prevention at Montreal Children’s Hospital, said prior to the pandemic, hand sanitizer was not recommended for use with young children. Now it is, she said, but children under the age of six should be supervised by an adult when sanitizing.

Hand sanitizer should be kept out of reach and out of sight of young children, Fransblow said.

“We should keep hand sanitizer the way we would keep any other poison.”

At the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) and the Toronto Catholic District School Board, hand sanitizer is available at screening stations located at building entrances. Many classrooms have sinks, and handwashing is encouraged. In classrooms without sinks, hand sanitizer is provided.

Hand sanitizer is only accessible in staff-supervised areas, a TDSB spokesperson said.

Benefits outweigh risks

Experts say parents should be cautious about choosing and using hand sanitizer on their children, and continue to use it in the absence of soap and water.

Kelly Grindrod, an associate professor at the University of Waterloo’s School of Pharmacy, said hand sanitizer is helping to stop COVID-19 from spreading.

“Especially in this particular time, with cold and flu season and COVID, there’s probably a lot of benefit to using hand sanitizer throughout the day to avoid getting viruses into your eyes, nose, your mouth,” Grindrod said.

Associate professor of pharmacy Kelly Grindrod says that while there are risks involved with children using hand sanitizer, it is an effective way to kill viruses and should be used during the pandemic. (Kelly Grindrod)

Most of all, parents should be watching for methanol-based products and hand sanitizers not recommended for children or pregnant women. Grindrod said they have the most risk of causing skin irritation or other side effects and could cause the most harm if ingested.

“The solution is to have better hand sanitizer,” she said.

Grindrod said you should always look for a hand sanitizer’s Natural Product Number (NPN) or Drug Identification Number (DIN), which means it has been registered with Health Canada.

According to Banerji, the risks associated with hand sanitizer are something that can be managed through proper labelling and public awareness.

“Hand sanitizers used wisely and kept in safe place is something we need to continue to do,” she said.

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Tiffany Haddish Tearfully Explains Why Racism Makes Her Scared to Have Children

Tiffany Haddish Tearfully Explains Why Racism Makes Her Scared to Have Children | Entertainment Tonight

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Canadian doctors watching for inflammatory illness in children as part of COVID-19 diagnosis

Pediatricians and other health-care providers across Canada are on the look out for children with a rare, inflammatory illness as part of expanded surveillance during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said Wednesday that clinicians have been alerted to reports of the condition, called multisystem inflammatory vasculitis or variants of Kawasaki Syndrome.

“It’s really an alert to clinicians to think about what might be the underlying causes, because it’s not specific to COVID-19,” Tam told reporters.

“But it is important to catch people who are presenting with these syndromes and further determine whether COVID-19 could be a cause.”

WATCH | Montreal and New York see inflammatory syndrome in kids

After three children died in New York, questions are being raised about possible links between an inflammatory syndrome and COVID-19 in children. 3:39

Tam said the syndrome can be an effect of the body’s inflammatory or immune reaction to viruses and other infections.

Some of the signs and symptoms of multisystem inflammatory vasculitis include persistent fever, abdominal pain, gastrointestinal symptoms, including nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, as well as rash and inflammation of arteries of the heart.

At Montreal’s Sainte-Justine Hospital, doctors have seen between 15 and 20 cases, and they suspect the patients may have been affected with COVID-19 earlier, according to Dr. Stephen Freedman, a pediatric emergency medicine physician at the University of Calgary, who is leading an international study tracking about 1,500 children who’ve been tested for COVID-19 in 14 countries.

“It seems to lag in most countries about a month after the peak of COVID-19,” Freeman said earlier this week.

Scientists are still trying to determine whether the syndrome is linked with the pandemic coronavirus, because not all children with it have tested positive for the virus.

In Canada, the majority of COVID-19 infections in children are mild and do not need hospitalization, health officials say.

Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said the province’s case definition for COVID-19 will now also include the vasulitis, which may appear in children.

On Tuesday, the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Canadian Paediatric Society sent an alert to clinicians enrolled in the Canadian Paediatric Surveillance Program about the modified case definition, which is to be in place by next week.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention plans to issue a similar alert.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has said the state’s health officials were investigating 102 cases of a rare inflammatory syndrome that has been linked to three children’s deaths, and that 14 additional states including California and Connecticut had reported cases.

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Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande to Release Duet to Benefit Children Amid COVID-19

Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande to Release Duet to Benefit Children Amid COVID-19 | Entertainment Tonight

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Spain to let children outside after more than a month under strict coronavirus lockdown

Relieved Spanish parents welcomed on Wednesday a decision allowing children out on short walks for the first time in more than a month as the government voted to extend Spain’s lockdown until May 9.

With Europe’s second highest death toll of 21,717 and the world’s second-most recorded infections at 208,389, Spain’s tough restrictions have included a controversial ban on children leaving their homes since mid-March.

However, on Tuesday night, the government bowed to public pressure — including pot-banging protests on balconies — and said those under 14 would be able to take short walks outside under supervision from the weekend.

Parents welcomed the concession, although it came late for some, after nearly six weeks cooped up at home.

Tantrums ‘in crescendo’

“The escalation of anxiety, tantrums, irascible behaviour … have been in crescendo,” said Dr. Iban Onandia, 35, a neuropsychologist in the Basque province of Bizkaia, adding that children had paid an “indecent” price during the lockdown.

“The truth is that the educational system we have is not up to the job either because they’ve left many children to their own devices, including my own,” said the father of two children, aged four and two.

A dance instructor teaches online at home with her daughter during the lockdown in Madrid on April 3. (La Jara Center via Getty Images)

Ramon Motta, a Madrid-based maitre d’hotel with two daughters Carla, 11, and Ariadna, 8, resorted to setting up a tent in their fifth-floor apartment to keep them entertained.

“We have Disney Plus, Netflix and video games, but you don’t want your kids spending five, six, seven hours in front of a screen, yet at the same time there’s not much else to do,” he said.

“After such a long time locked in, kids and parents start losing patience pretty quickly. A couple of times Carla went into a tantrum.”

Children under 14 will be allowed outside between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. for up to one hour a day and must be accompanied by an adult with whom they live, according to a provisional government document seen by La Sexta television.

Children can “run, jump and exercise” but will not be allowed to use play parks and must respect social distancing rules, says the document, which is still under debate and could change.

Spaniards optimistic nightmare is easing

As his left-wing coalition marked 100 days in office, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez sought parliamentary approval to prolong a state of emergency until May 9 — the third such extension.

With the epidemic seemingly past its peak, the lockdown could start to be phased out toward the end of May, although measures will be eased gradually, he told lawmakers.

The photographer’s son and daughter watch a live stream during the girl’s birthday party on April 13 in Barcelona. (David Ramos/Getty Images)

A slowdown in infections and deaths has Spaniards optimistic their nightmare may be easing. The official tally, however, fails to account for those who were more than likely killed by the virus but never tested.

The Madrid region on Wednesday released its own tally, showing 4,275 extra deaths confirmed or suspected as COVID-19, or 56 per cent more than health ministry data. Nearly 4,000 of these were care home residents.

Nevertheless, officials were increasingly focused on restarting the flagging economy.

Tomato-throwing fiesta off

In another sign of nascent recovery, vehicle manufacturer Volkswagen’s Spanish unit SEAT, which employs around 15,000 people, said it plans to resume production from April 27, although with 3,000 coronavirus tests a week on its workforce to minimize risk.

Nissan  also said on Wednesday it would restart production in Barcelona from May 4.
Spain was set to receive the highest level of orders ever for a euro zone bond sale — 15 billion euros ($ 22.96 billion Cdn) — as debt for stimulus programs drew high demand.

But in a blow to tourism, authorities in the Valencian town of Bunol postponed the 75th annual Tomatina festival, where thousands gather every August to pelt each other with fresh tomatoes.

It was the first cancellation since 1957.

On Tuesday, the San Fermin bull-running fiesta in Pamplona was also suspended, for the first time in four decades.

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